Japan and Guam

As all (both) of my readers know, I go to Japan twice a year for project meetings, once around April and once around October. You may or may not know I usually fly into and often out of Narita airport outside Tokyo.

My older brother recently moved his family to Guam for a three year assignment.

There are basically two ways to get to Guam from the USA: Through Honolulu, and through Narita. Since I was going to be in Narita anyway, I decided to casually drop in to visit my brother in Guam for the weekend after my fall Japan trip last week.

Japan was basically normal — not a lot to say. But, I took pictures of every dish put in front of me for two meals (9 dishes for one, 8 for the other) just to give people a better idea of what my business dinners in Japan typically look like. I also took a picture of the polite little note the hotel put up saying, “We’re sorry, but if it looks like North Korea is actually firing missiles at us, a bunch of alarms are going to go off, even if it wakes you up” (This is paraphrased). The one adventure I had was looking for fresh wasabi root for my brother and KrisDi (and also picking up a variety of other things and getting one of my Japanese friends to order a traditional sharkskin grater from Amazon Japan).

I left the US on Sunday, arrived Monday, had dinner with my boss Monday night (I asked him to take me to a delicious yakitori place we have often visited, but I didn’t take any pictures). Meetings Tuesday through Thursday. I went to the airport and flew to Guam on Friday. It’s a ~4.5 hour flight, and I got bumped up to business class, which is pretty sweet.

No real sight-seeing on Friday (unless you count a trip to Home Depot as sight-seeing). My brother’s neighbor (we’ll call him the Chamorro) has taken a real shine to Eldest, and apparently his whole extended family felt the need to put on a roughly 8 course buffet (including ghost-peppered beef feet). The locals appear to be totally, delightfully warm and welcoming (I’m sure this drops away when tourists are rude or stupid). The neighbors were super, super nice. The Chamorro himself might be a little crazy (he claims to have beaten a man to death with his bare hands), but he’s funny and outgoing and incredibly eager to please.

Guam is jungly. Everything is green and damp and teeming with life. ‘Seething’ might be a good alternate verb, as it implies a little more conflict. I saw geckos, monitor lizards (the one I saw was ~4′, Eldest claims a ~6′ lives near his house), multiple wild pigs, hundreds of wild chickens, tons of bugs, tons of fish, tons of birds, hundreds of ‘wild’ dogs (apparently called “boonies” or “boony dogs” — strays), cows, carabao (they look like oxen to me), goats, and probably more that I’m forgetting (not including the incredible quantity and variety of plant matter).

Saturday, we did drive-by tourism. Eldest and J literally drove me around the entire island. We even stopped at both of the island’s breweries (Lunch at Mermaid Tavern / Great Deep Brewing, just beer at Ishii). We stopped at a number of places that were right off the road — beaches mostly, viewpoints, etc. In terms of visiting things, it was kind of like reading the table of contents for Guam. We had dinner that night at a place called Papa’s, which is a fancy-ish restaurant at a location that has a great view of Tumon bay. The food was inconsistent (mine was fine, Eldest’s was bad), beer was tainted (we ordered Steinlager bottles, and both had garbage under the cap) service was good, and the view was obscured by the thick coating of condensation on the outside of the windows, since Papa’s air conditioning was cranked and Guam is a humid, warm, tropical island.

Sunday, we had a plan to visit three locations in greater detail.

(1) Tarague Beach from Andersen AFB. Basically, your classic beautiful tropical beach. When we visited, it was a beautiful sunny day, and there weren’t very many people there. There were lots of crabs and fish and hermit crabs and snails and sand and whatnot. This is where I learned that while Guam weather is fine for lounging in the shade, it takes me less than an hour hour to sunburn, and about one minute in direct sunlight with leisurely activity to start sweating like a cold beer in hell. On our way out, we scavenged four relatively fresh coconuts and saw a dead coconut crab.

Then we went to lunch at Jamaican Grill, which was very good, and an awful lot of food.

(2) A short hike to a cave + a scenic view of some rough, coral-y shoreline. The hike was very short. Apparently, it’s a fairly common practice to make sure you remove valuables from your car, leave it unlocked, and leave a note on the dash saying something like, “Unlocked — no cash” — so thieves will only rifle through your car, instead of break your window and rifle through your car.

The hike was easy and short, the cave was really cool (the water actually might be a more beautiful shade of blue than shown in the pictures); there was a local family having a party outside the cave. They offered us food and drinks. We accepted some iced tea and went on to the cliffs overlooking the water and stared down at awesome tidal / surfy effects and big bright blue parrotfish.

(3) Ritidian point, on the north end of the island, is supposedly a beautiful beach area. To get there, you drive past Andersen AFB‘s front gate. As soon as you pass the gate, the roads become unkempt. I think it was only a two mile drive or so, but it took like 20 minutes with all the dodging and weaving and planning around potholes. At a certain point, I was laughing out loud while we were jostled violently and cars coming the other way were weaving crazily to try to avoid the unavoidable. When we got to the gate, it was closed. We went to a scenic overlook on the way out, and then braved the shitty road again.

(4) Failing Ritidian, we went to Two Lovers Point. This is, I believe, the highest point on the island (368 feet), and it’s directly on top of an amazing, sheer, vertical cliff overlooking the ocean. It’s a terrific view. There’s also an impressive “bottomless pit”. We wandered around, took pictures, paid to get up on the platform and take more pictures from a little bit higher, and then started throwing things off into the water to see if we could see a splash, but we couldn’t find anything big enough we could actually track it all the way to the water or see a splash.

Afterward, Eldest grilled steaks at his house for dinner, and we drank beer and sake and sarsaparilla whiskey; the Chamorro demonstrated the removal of a coconut husk; Eldest torched the removed husk and used it to smoke the steaks a little; we released and tormented Mr. Coco.

The flight home was pretty grueling. For whatever reason, I couldn’t sleep well that night, and I ended up getting up at 2:30AM after ~3 hours of crappy, broken sleep. Eldest took me to the airport sometime before four (only a little earlier than I planned anyway), and I paid $10 for a half-assed americano (I think it was literally watered down drip coffee — it even had a ton of grounds in the bottom) and a ham and cheese croissant with brown lettuce for breakfast (have I mentioned I hate airports?). Six hour flight with no food to Honolulu; three hour layover where I tried making a meal of snacks at the United club; maybe another 5.5 hour flight from Honolulu to San Francisco where I had a very rushed breakfast at the United club, then about 2.5 hours to Seattle, where Les and Chilkoot picked me up.

Souvenirs from this trip:

  • Trainer chopsticks from Japan for little J (she loved them, disassembled them, and then lost the primary part while I was there)
  • Weird Japanese candies / cookies / treats for lots of people
  • Stuffed Anpanman for Chilkat
  • Stuffed Shokupanman AKA “Super Breadhead” for Chilkoot
  • Combo-color ballpoint pens for Chilkat and Chilkoot
  • Japanese whiskey (I can’t read the brand, it’s in Japanese)
  • Green Tea Match Kahlua from Japan (I’m going to make the weirdest White Russians ever
  • Wasabi roots (one for Eldest, one for KrisDi)
  • Wasabi paste from real wasabi (one for Eldest, one for KrisDi)
  • Wasabi powder (fake)
  • Pickled wasabi stems and leaves
  • Traditional sharkskin wasabi grater for Eldest to go with his wasabi root
  • Chamorro treats for my work (cookies and whatnot)
  • Guam’s Own (only distillery) Whiskey, Rum, and Mango Vodka (all gifts — the mango is terrible, the rum is reputed to be good, and the whiskey is reputed to be terrible)
  • Guamanian shochu (for me)
  • A number of Modern Times beers I can’t get in Washington

WAY more than I usually take.

Posted by snaotheus, 1 comment

September Part II

Zwanze day has come and gone. This year, the Slow Boat hosted again. They only sold 80 tickets instead of 100 this year, though, and they sold them all in one day. Last year, they sold 50 on one Saturday and the other 50 on the next Saturday. Last year, on both days, they lines were full to selling capacity by about 7:30 in the morning. So, to get tickets for KrisDi’s one must-have beer event of the year, I arrived at the line roughly 7 hours before ticket sales started. I had learned at this point that “waiting in line for some beer thing” is also a social event amongst those beer-nerdy enough to participate — people bring beer to share with each other, and spend the day BSing, mostly about beer. So, I remembered to bring beer, and anticipated sharing with others.

So, in essence, KrisDi selfishly took the kids out and ran errands while I selflessly read books, drank beer, and socialized with beer freaks — in the name of getting both of us tickets to a beer event both of us were excited about.

The event itself was also nice. We sat next to some people who were familiar from my line-sitting. There were only 80 people there, so lines were short. Mom watched the kids for us, so it was a quiet mom-and-dad event. And, we actually got to talking with the people next to us — a young, recently married couple that recently moved to Seattle area. About a week later, they invited us to their house for a “bottle share” (beer nerds get together and bring bottles of beer to share). There were several other people — and I was one of the less rabid beer people there. This is a little surreal for me.

I did think it was funny…this couple has lived in Seattle for a couple months, and I think they’ve made more friends than we have in ten years.

Some time ago, Chilkoot’s vacuum died. I diagnosed it as a battery pack failure, and was unable to obtain a replacement. So, I disemboweled the vacuum to salvage its motor, in the hopes of using it to make something move. I wanted to turn it into a number of lessons for the kids: Building things is fun; things don’t always work right the first time you try, but you can learn from them and improve based on what you learn; don’t get frustrated, think about what happened and what to do about it.

Anyway, the project was shelved for a while after the initial interest. The previous set of iterations had resulted in a car that could move, but not while carrying its own battery.

Recently, Chilkat saw it on the shelf and decided she was interested in resuming work on it, so we did. This time, I improved the “bearings” by using little eye-screws to hold the axles, which also gave the car a higher clearance and required relocating the motor (from the inside to the outside).

First test run had the belt slide quickly off the driveshaft, which is unsurprising. I coached Chilkat into the idea that we could put something on the end of the driveshaft to make sure the belt couldn’t come off.

So, as the video attests, we got the car moving under its own power, but the wheels come flying off after a little while. Then we had to go somewhere else.

Chilkat also learned what happens when you short a powerful battery with flimsy wires: The insulation melts and/or burns, things smell bad and get hot, and in this case, you leave permanent damage on the table top. This was my own fault for not warning her and for not disconnecting the wires from the battery while working on the car – but it was exciting. She felt really bad about it, and I had to work very hard to keep her focus on what she learned from the ordeal, instead of on the feeling that she ruined something.

KrisDi and I went to see Modest Mouse. Mom came down to watch the kids while we adulted. It was fun. For some reason, this show smelled like Amsterdam.

KrisDi let me go to the Fresh Hop Festival in Yakima with my friend and former co-worker, Mr. JJ. It was pretty fantastic, but also pretty dangerous. Most beer festival “samples” are 5 ounces on the top end — this was 8 ounces on the bottom end, with many places giving them away for “free”. It’s a long drive out there, and I didn’t feel particularly well the next morning, but it was fun. Mr. JJ and I have been out there the preceding two years, but not for the festival itself — just for the pre-festival proliferation of fresh hop beers about town. We also dragged his neighbor along with us for his first visit out there, and hit a couple breweries on the way out there and back.

Posted by snaotheus, 2 comments

Las Vegas is a scary place in my dreams

In my dreams last night…

My family and my older brother’s family were in Las Vegas, inside some building somewhere. There had been rumors of an attack of some sort being planned in Las Vegas, and suddenly those rumors became more serious, I guess. We decided we needed to get out of Las Vegas, and I don’t know what our plan for doing so was, but KrisDi took the kids and went one way while I went with my brother and his family another way.

While hurrying toward a parking garage, I saw an “Information” sign with a phone number on it, and thought it would be a good idea to call the number and see what was going on.

Turns out it was some random dude’s phone number. It sounded like Ossie Davis (in particular, as JFK in Bubba Ho Tep). Ossie was confused about why I was calling, I was trying to politely explain the situation and how I got his phone number while also following my brother. In the meantime, I looked back momentarily and saw the top of a building exploding. Around this time, Ossie, still confused, distrustfully asks if I’m selling stocks or bonds or something.

Still trying to politely get off the phone with Ossie, we start semi-running down stairs into an underground parking garage. As we’re running down the stairs, things get more crowded with other panicky people fleeing, I reach an amicable resolution with Ossie, and I lose track of my brother’s family.

I decide to just keep going down for a while, in the hopes that I’ll find my brother. Eventually, I decide to just start looking through one of the parking levels. As I’m leaving the stairs, I run into Wilmy. I’m delighted, I slap his back heartily, and he appears to recognize me but not particularly care that I’m there. I have the impression he’s pretty focused on getting the hell out of the Las Vegas war zone.

That’s about the time that I woke up.

Things I think likely influenced this dream:

  • I watched The Big Short recently
  • I was cleaning up some stuff in my blog, which triggered a lot of re-reading of old posts, like this one
  • I’m going to Japan tomorrow, and visiting my brother and his family in Guam on my way home next weekend
  • The recent Las Vegas shooting

I haven’t had a dream this clear in a long time. It was nice to see Wilmy, though!

Posted by snaotheus in Dreams, 3 comments

September Part I

False Alarm A had a birthday. KrisDi made her a cake using a new icing technique — “mirror glaze”. She also took her to a painting event and a for a pedicure. While she was gone, G False Alarm and I watched the four kids, and invented a new technique for coloring: We taped a un-colored picture on the outside of a window, and let the kids color the inside of the glass with white board markers.

The next day, we went to their house, where we mostly finished up their clusterfucked kitchen sink. When I left, everything was working, but the connections to the sink leaked a little bit.

Chilkat started first grade. She seems to be doing well. She seems to like the teacher, and there was (as far as I know) no crying on her first day.

Chilkat also lost her second tooth; her first permanent tooth has been named “Onesy” and the second one “Twinsy”.

Chilkat reached another pubescent milestone: She put up signs telling people to keep out of her room.

A & V Dubs both had birthdays and shared birthday parties. First was at a Pump It Up, the next weekend was at their house. They are now 4 and 2 respectively.

Not a lot else going on. Just life.

Posted by snaotheus in Family, Photo updates, 1 comment

So Many Words

So…two main things today. And surprisingly, no pictures of kids, food, or beer.

I discovered after I had kids that my quality of life is significantly affected by my ability to consume stories — TV, movies, or books. After Chilkat was born, the time when I could do this simply disappeared, which was miserable. After some time (I think after Chilkoot was born), I discovered Kindle (on my phone), and could suddenly start reading when I was sitting with a cranky child in the dark. And suddenly my life was better. Prior to this discovery, sitting in the dark with a screaming child was a grueling, tiresome chore. After this discovery, it was bearable — because I can read books on my phone in the dark!

Anyway, since that time, I’ve been reading consistently. Not as much as I used to, but so much more than the grim (in terms of story consumption) period after Chilkat was born. It’s nice.

Recently, I finished reading the entirety of HP Lovecraft‘s writings. I spend less time reading in the dark with my screaming children now, but still most of my reading is on a phone. I found many of the stories OK, a few bad, and a few very good. One of my standard frustrations with old (pre-40s) fiction is the collection of uninformed notions about health and science (yes, it’s because things were simply not known, not because the author or particular individuals were especially uninformed). One of the things I especially enjoyed about this was the vast collection of unfamiliar and/or archaic words or references — below, if you find yourself so inclined.

Continue reading →

Posted by snaotheus in Stuff I Looked Up, 1 comment