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Balls of Gold

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First the short (and very misleading) version: this golden ball came out of my body.

Oh god this came out of my ear!?

Ok now the longer more sensical version.

This morning after taking a shower and getting dressed I still felt like I had some water in my outer ear, so I went to do a quick Q-tip swab.  When I looked at the cotton swab (because you always look, don’t you?) I saw a miniature gold ball shining on the end of it.  Now, remember that I had only been up for a short period of time when this happened and was probably still half asleep.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say that aside from the obvious “WTF is this?” thoughts I had, I also thought for a nanosecond “I have somehow mutated into a modern Chinese leprechaun that is capable of producing gold from within my body.” Unfortunately and obviously this was not the case, as the little gold ball burst when I poked it and I smelled the distinct scent of my new grape seed oil and lemongrass body wash. The little orb was like a mini-paintball, with a thin soft membrane.  Somehow one of the little scent beads found its way into my ear and managed to stay intact throughout the showering, drying, and getting dressed routine.  That is pretty amazing in itself considering that to take the picture above I burst 2 of the things even when trying to gently fish it out of the body wash.

So unfortunately I am still incapable of creating and secreting precious metals from my body.  I don’t know what’s more embarrassing, thinking for a second that I had a gold ball in my ear, or admitting to the internet that I use grape seed oil and lemongrass body wash.

In other thoughts, why is Dial using little paintballs in their body soaps?  Isn’t it supposed to be something that actually dissolves on its own in water?  And why does everything have to have a smell these days?

California 2010

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Palo Alto, CA

I went out to California in mid-October for my cousin Mei’s wedding.  We flew into San Jose and traveled up to San Fransisco twice during the trip, but the majority of my time was spent in Palo Alto, on or around Stanford’s campus where my now cousin-in-law goes to school.

Pretty much the entire trip was spent eating, which I guess is pretty much one of the only things a guest at a wedding needs to worry about.  That, and wearing something decent for family photos, of which we took approximately five thousand.  I can’t imagine how many total photos the bride and groom were forced to take, but it was probably closer to a million.

I’m already slipping out of chronological order, which is not good for continuity or coherence.  So first up was a fairly early Thursday morning flight to LA, where we changed planes to go to San Jose.  I don’t think there was much to note about the two flights other than me falling asleep almost immediately on both of them.  In LA since we had like a two hour layover we got California Pizza Kitchen for lunch, which kind of a mistake at LAX considering each 10-inch pizza costs about the same as a semester of community college.  From San Jose my uncle picked us up and drove us up to Palo Alto, where our hotel was.  After checking in and saying hey to some relatives, I jumped on the CalTrain, which happened to be right next to the hotel, and rode it up to San Fransisco since it was going to be my only free night to hang out with friends there.  Got to catch up with the VidSF crew, Kieran, Steve, and Ray, and checked out the shared office they use which was pretty awesome.  We got dinner and drinks in Japantown at a place called Mums which had shabu-shabu tabehodai and nomihodai for a pretty good price.  It was like being back in Japan already. We were pretty stuffed by the end of it.  Mueller is out in SF too and he showed up about halfway through at Mums, so it was great to see him too.  Stayed out until last train (haha just like Japan!) and managed to get back to the hotel in one piece around like 2AMish.

Dad's favorite restaurant, Bow Hon

Next morning, woke up and loaded into a car with my parents, brothers, cousin, and uncle and drove up to… San Fransisco!  Yeah, if I would have planned it better I should have just spent the whole night there but oh well.  Anyway the main goal of this little excursion was to check out Chinatown, where my family used to come quite a bit for family trips.  Things are pretty much exactly the same as I remembered, which isn’t saying a whole lot since they are just very general memories.  These include:

  • Lots of old dudes gambling in the one main pigeon park.
  • Lots of restaurants with awesome food.
  • Lots of stores selling junky crap, like coolie hats, snap ‘n pops, chopsticks, and those postcards with naked ladies on them.
  • More old Chinese people.
  • Some funky smells on the street with origin unknown (for the better).

.

So yeah, good old SF Chinatown!  I actually really love this place and wish we would have had more time to stay there.  We ended up doing some browsing at random stores, buying food at at least two bakeries, and then later eating lunch with another cousin and her family.

After eating way too much food in Chinatown, it was time to pile back into the car around our boxes of mooncakes and get back to Palo Alto for the rehearsal dinner.  This was at a very authentic Italian restaurant.  Having an all-Hispanic staff is pretty authentic Italiano, right?  I am pretty sure there were at least 4 main dishes at this dinner.  Two of my uncles had joined us by this time, so pretty much we had my dad’s entire side of the family in one room for the first time I can actually remember.  Too bad my Uncle Ron missed out on that $50 bottle of wine.  Shoot. Oh yeah –  I can’t really remember now, but the men’s bathroom at this restaurant was pretty sketch.  There were either breasts everywhere (paintings, pictures, sculptures, etc) or penises.  I only remember being uncomfortable.

That night, the night before the wedding, there was a traveling party of sorts with the groom’s friends on Stanford campus.  I don’t want to go too much into this whole exciting evening, but somehow Stanford being a private campus means it is a bizzaro land where the police don’t act like you would expect and you can wheel an active keg around all you want.  Me and my brother were all ready to devise some kind of exit strategy at the library but we didn’t even need to.  Pretty crazy.  After the non-incident with the police, my brothers and cousins decided it was time to head back anyway, so we walked from campus.  Little did we know that this would be like a 45-minute hike.  It’s a straight shot, but Stanford’s “driveway” has got to be several miles long.  We couldn’t even see the light from where we started when we were like midway through.  To make up for all that walking we ended up driving to In N Out that night at like 2AM.

Congrats to Mei and Josh!

Day of the wedding, we were all up fairly early to get dressed, etc.  Headed back to Stanford, this time on a bus (thank god) and the wedding ceremony was held at the school’s chapel.  It was a shortened version of a full Catholic ceremony, which made it much shorter.  There was a lot of stuff that was different from my image of a Catholic wedding (as seen on TV), like the circle of power, the chairs up on stage, etc.  And also, not being Catholic I was a little thrown off when the audience had lines and everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to reply back to the priest when he called out.  I have no idea.  Also at the end there was like a “give me your energy” hand motion salute thing that struck me as a little awkward, but all in all it was a really nice ceremony.  After the nice ceremony we all went outside where around 5000 photos were taken.

At the cocktail hour after the wedding, my Uncle Jeff ate approximately half the ocean’s worth of shrimp by scoping out where the waiters come out of the kitchen.  Sneaky.  Later in the evening we had the full reception dinner which was really good.  Then more photos, my cousin dancing, and I think that was about it.  Oh yeah, you know “Bros Icing bros?”  They did that at the reception to the groom and the groom’s father.  Normally I’d be against this kind of thing but it ended up being pretty funny.

We had brunch the next morning and from there headed back to St. Louis.  It was a pretty awesome weekend, and kind of counts as a mini family reunion as well I guess.
Congrats again to Mei and Josh!

HK bonus story of terror

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Even though the previous blog post is dated September 8 (the day I started writing it), I didn’t actually get around to finishing and publishing it until earlier this afternoon. I almost totally forgot about the return trip from Hong Kong, which was quite possibly one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had. The day I was leaving HK, it had been cloudy and raining here and there for most of the morning. My flight wasn’t until about 3:30 in the afternoon, so I had a pretty easy morning and got to the airport super early.  Checked my bags in, grabbed some roast pork and duck for lunch, and everything seemed to be going fine.

しかし!!

Things did not turn out fine. Due to thunderstorms, our plane was stuck on the tarmac for over 4 hours. This was after we had already boarded and everything, so that entire time we were sitting on the plane, without drinks, TV, food, good air circulation, etc. All the captain/attendants would tell us over the intercom was that fights were delayed due to weather and they would let us know when we would be moving. Oh, and they apologized several times. Which, unfortunately, does absolutely nothing to actually ease the pain of having to sit on an airplane that is not moving for longer than your actual scheduled flight time. I’m sure there are safety regulations to keep planes from letting their passengers off after they’ve boarded once, even though that would have been so much nicer. Better yet, they shouldn’t have boarded our plane at all if they knew that the storms were severe enough to keep us from moving. It’s not like the thunder just came out of nowhere between the time they started boarding and the time they closed the hatch on us. I fell asleep a few times but the time still passed by pretty slowly. Then we finally took off, so you’d think that would be the end of the nightmare.

Nope! About halfway through the 4 hour flight, the captain comes on and tells us that since our arrival time is now looking to be around midnight (8:00 scheduled + 4 hour delay), we will be unable to land at Narita Airport as scheduled. Apparently Narita, the biggest international airport in all of Japan, closes at 11:30 at night. I still don’t understand this one, since I’m sure it doesn’t actually close. But regardless they were no longer going to be taking me to the airport that is about 45 minutes away from my apartment. No, they’re instead going to Haneda, the primarily domestic airport south of Tokyo that is about an hour and a half away from home. That is, if there are trains running. Which there weren’t, since most Japanese trains stop running around midnight. I realized very quickly that I was going to be stranded as Haneda airport with no way to go home, but there wasn’t much I could do before we landed. The air staff also assured us that they’d “take care of us and help us get home” which made me think, with the slight bit of optimism I still had left at that point, that they would either put me up in a hotel near Haneda or pay for a cab all the way home. I should have known that wouldn’t happen.

Arrived at Haneda, and everyone is stranded. The airline, ANA, gave all passengers 5000 yen (about 50 USD) as we exited the plane. That’s all. No hotel stays, no coupons for flights, nothing. And of course at this point there are no trains, and a taxi back to Chiba would have cost me well over 200 (maybe even 300) dollars US. There was a super pissy Australian guy with long hair who made a bit of a whiny scene at the payphone lobby, but there’s not much to go into there. So yeah I was trying to figure out what to do, and eventually I decided to just take a taxi to the southernmost (i.e. closest) part of Tokyo, where hopefully there would be a capsule hotel or a net cafe. Talked to the cabbie and told him my situation. Shinagawa was close but there weren’t really any net cafes there. So I opted for Gotanda, which was fairly close and has some net cafes (in addition to lots of super shady stores and people around the vicinity). Taxi fare cost me like 7000 yen, and I had to spend the night in a cheap net cafe, which cost another 2000 yen. Thanks a lot ANA for a great welcome back.

I went home the next morning at about 8AM tired, still pissed, and lugging my suitcases around. The only extremely minor benefit from this excursion to the net cafe was that I got to watch Ame-Talk for the first time, which is actually a pretty funny talk show. But yeah that was it. The ordeal wasn’t enough to ruin the HK trip necessarily, but it was a pretty terrible way to end my last vacation during my stay in Japan.

Paper? Plastic? Ignorance?

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Japan is famous all over the world for the excellent customer service, but of course bad and horrible service does exist here at times.  In particular, there’s a woman named Iijima at the Seiyu grocery store near my apartment who has always been just terrible.  I’ve never seen her smile, she mumbles, she gives you dirty looks, and I get the impression that she feels inconvenienced by having to check customers out even though that is her primary job function.

Tonight was no different.  Seiyu (which, just for the record, is owned by Wal-Mart) has some eco-initiative where you can choose to not get plastic bags for your groceries.  They don’t have paper bags at all, so it’s either take the plastic bags or use your own carrying device or bag.  I’ve never actually seen anyone use their own bag, but whatever.  The slight incentive to customers for doing this is that you receive 2 yen (2 cents) off every item.  There are little tags at the register that you can throw into your shopping basket when you check out that signify you will be using your own bag.  Despite this, every single time you go to the register they ask you if you want bags or not.  There is no point to having these “no bags, thanks” things if they’re going to ask you anyway.  But that’s a minor complaint.

The problem tonight was that the guy in front of me, an Asian man maybe in his 40’s, did not speak any Japanese.  So when Iijima the butch checkout lady from hell mumbled to him “do you need bags?” he didn’t understand her and gave a kind of “no” shrug.  So after paying for almost 3000 yen in groceries, he’s standing there wondering why he doesn’t have any plastic bags to carry his purchases home.  (Japanese grocery stores always make you bag your own groceries, making a checker’s job even easier.)  He clearly doesn’t speak Japanese, but was very politely signaling that he’d like some plastic bags.  Iijima clicks her teeth like old people here tend to do when annoyed, then goes to explain to the guy that she already asked him if he wanted bags and he “said” no.  She then takes one of the “no bags, thanks” tags and uses it to try and explain the no bag thing in quick, mumbled Japanese, to a (probably Chinese) man who doesn’t understand a word heshe is saying.  She then shows him on his receipt that she gave him the no bag discount, but he understandably still has no idea what’s going on. He is then over at the bagging area standing there wondering why the gross checkout lady didn’t give him any bags,  justifiably bewildered.

OK I mean come on!  When he came to get checked out he never used one of the  tags to signify he didn’t need bags.  He wasn’t carrying a backpack or anything, so how did she think he was going to carry his groceries home?  And the time she spent futily explaiing to him the no bag initiative could have been better spent just giving the guy a few plastic bags.  But no, she would rather “follow protocol” and hold up the 5-customer deep line while trying to tell this foreigner that he didn’t follow the poorly thought out rules of the store.  On my way out, I gave the guy one of the unused bags I had received, but I really regret not telling Iijima to just give the poor guy a few bags when I had the chance.  I would have even paid the few yen or whatever to do so, if the money was really the issue.  It was just a pathetic thing to watch.  Especially with the no bag signal tags, the default for every customer should be “yes, they get bags for their groceries.”

I don’t know why this annoyed me so much.  Probably because this checkout woman always pisses me off.

Fuji TV

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Went down to Ichihara last night for the first time in a while, for a farewell party at my old workplace. On the way back, was stuck at the station for a bit since the trains were super delayed due to the wind. Uchibo line is almost as bad as Musashino as far as minor things causing late or canceled trains.

At some point I went to the men’s room. There was no one else in there, except for some girl in her 20’s or 30’s at the sink, which was weird but I didn’t think too much of it. At the time I assumed maybe the women’s restroom was totally packed or something. I didn’t really care too much – I’m used to having old women in the men’s restroom to clean, etc., which is pretty normal in Japan. Either way I went to the farthest of the 4 urinals to do my business. As soon as I’m starting up the process, the girl walks over towards me. Uhhh. So yeah this weird chick is standing a little too close for comfort, but there wasn’t much I could have done to get away from her. Here’s our brief conversation (translated from J):

Girl: “Excuse me”
Me: “Uhhh”
Girl” “Will you… go to Fuji Television with me?”
Me: “No, I’m not going there.”

Then she left. I finished, washed my hands (although of course like 90% of J-bathrooms there was no soap and nothing to dry your hands with), and went back out into the main area of the station to tell this story. The weird girl was roaming around, alternating between talking to other people and talking to herself. I don’t think she was drunk, but she was definitely crazy. I don’t understand what her deal was, but she was lucky I didn’t pee on her as a defense tactic.

Hello America (and maybe some other countries). It is a rainy Monday night in Chiba city, and I am enjoying the last few hours of my weekend. Not having internet hasn’t been as painfully rough as I would have thought, although I do miss having Outlook tell me exactly when I have a new e-mail, reading pointless news sites about gizmos, video games, and gadgets, and of course AIM and Facebook. But I have been coping. However, now that I am almost used to life without a regular internet connection, I have the NTT guys coming to my apartment this Thursday morning to prepare my apartment for a fiber-optic internet connection. Hopefully this will go off quickly and without a hitch. If things go according to plan, I will have not only an internet connection in my apartment, but a super amazing fast one. 100MBps. Yes, that would mean heaven (and major BitTorrent time) for the currently internet-deprived me.

Oh but stories, you want to hear stores about the mystical land of Japan, right? OK here are a few. Nothing spectacular, because in actuality my life here is pretty boring (as opposed to the super exciting life I led in America). Since I haven’t blogged in a while, these also aren’t in any real order let alone chronologically. But if you are sitting at your computer bored enough to navigate to TheLeong.com in the first place, then you may find these mildly amusing.

Ikea
I visited the Swedish furniture and home supply store Ikea, which has a location in Minami Funabashi, about 30 minutes by train away from me. For some reason, I was under the impression that Ikea was supposed to be a cheap place to get somewhat trendy furniture. Brian Blanchard, whom you might know from such films as The IES Train Orientation Video, also came along and was under the same impression. Boy, were we mistaken. The store was huge, colorful, and crowded with hot Japanese chicks. The prices, however, on this European furniture was absolutely ridiculous. I don’t even really know what I was going there to buy in the first place. Maybe a small couch for my apartment, maybe a cheap plastic dresser to store my clothing in. I ended up buying none of these things, because the average price for a sofa I saw there was around 600 bucks US. And no, not a nice comfy couch like you would see on the popular Indiana University Student Television show Hoosier Date?, but a really small weird Japanese-Swedish couch hybrid which would only seat two average stature midgets. You know how Japanese people sit on the floor traditionally? I have come to the conclusion that this is not because of a cultural difference, but rather because it is far too expensive to buy a damn couch at Ikea. The only thing I bought at Ikea ended up being a hot dog for 1 or 200 yen, which was delicious but still not delicious enough to make me not bitter about Ikea.

Gorging
It is actually quite cheap and easy to find good-tasting food in Japan, of both Japanese style and more foreign fare. However, portions here tend to be small, so it is the responsibility for every foreigner here to, on occasion, find a 食べ放題 (all-you-can-eat) and absolutely destroy the place’s profits for that day. One such place I visited was Shakey’s Pizza, which I think was at one point an American chain that went under. All you can eat pizza, pasta, and salad for like 900 yen (about 8 bucks). There is a line to get in, but once you get in you can enjoy a wide variety of pizzas like mushroom, pepperoni, and sausage. Of course, this is still Japan, so there is also a Tuna and Corn pizza, mayonnaise pizza, and a pineapple custard dessert pizza that was actually pretty good.

Tabehoudai find number two is an old favorite. Top Run Super Yakiniku Viking in Makuhari, a dietary staple of the A-Team, has since been renamed Hanamasa Yakiniku Viking. Don’t panic! The place is still mostly the same, although it has been stripped of its sweet name and the Super title. Actually, I think the place is even better now. There are the same favorites as before, like the all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ, consisting mainly of a variety of raw meats that you cook at your table. The make-your-own waffles, ice cream, gyoza, and rice and curry are still all there. But to increase the value of this place, they now also have kara-age fried chicken, fries, takoyaki, about 4 different jelly desserts, and now lamb meat. This place is awesome. Long live the Super Yakiniku Viking. It will always be Top Run to me. 1500 yen for dinner. Is this cheaper than before?

AEON Bootcamp, Parts 2 and 3
Week and a half ago, I had two days of AEON related workshops and training to do, which made my week pretty much short, but also very long. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but it was a weird week. For the first day, I had to take a 2 hour train ride back up to Omiya to have AEON Kids Step-Up Training, which was training just for kids classes. Although I only teach two kids classes, one for 5th graders and one for Junior High kids, the training was still necessary and it covered ALL kids classes, from preschool up. It was fun in a way because I got to see about 10 people that I had Initial Training with, but other than that it was a bit painful because of the repetitive kids training we had all day, including an hour of singing and practicing these kids songs that I don’t even use in my classes. I am pretty sure the AEON Hello Song and dance are secretly a way to summon the devil. Oh well. The day after that, I had an hour and a half journey to the AEON East Japan head office in Shinjuku, where I had a four hour workshop on Self-Study materials that we are preparing to sell to our students. Oh, and I shouldn’t say sell, I mean “providing our students with materials to meet their English dreams.” Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I got to see a few more people from training, but overall I don’t feel like the workshop was that helpful. Then I had to high-tail it back to Goi in time to teach my two evening classes. Nothing like enjoying this busy schedule.

Staff BBQ
Last weekend I went with a bunch of my co-workers to the Yorou Valley, which is about a 45 minute drive from Goi. The weather was a little Fall-chilly-ish, but the BBQ was awesome. We got to the camping ground, set up a BBQ, and ate about 80 bucks worth of grilled meat, vegetables, and yakisoba. One of our students also came along, and she also brought with her a ton of food. We ate a lot and hanged out at the camping ground, then headed back to town. Japanese cookouts or BBQs are a lot different from back in the US, especially among college students (which would mainly just be burgers and hotdogs). It was a really fun time, and again I had to gorge myself on tons of food.

Death Breath
Ah, the headlining story of this blog entry. So I was on the train a week or so ago, minding my business and listening to my iPod. I was standing near the doors, because as usual on the late night trains, all the seats were taken, save for having to uncomfortably cram next to someone, which you just don’t do here. So about 2 or 3 stops before Goi, this girl is waiting at the station with her boyfriend, and they’re being all lovey dovey and stuff saying goodbye, before she gets on the train. She gets on, stands on the other side of the door to the left of me, and she sadly waves her boyfriend goodnight. Boohoo, right. I didn’t pay much attention to it. But once we are away from her station, she slowly turns her head to the right, so that she is no longer facing the car doors, but pointing in my general direction.

I am still minding my own biznass, looking at the passing evening scenery, and I suddenly feel my stomach chur
n and my gag reflex half-kick in. I am smelling something absolutely foul, like what you would imagine Abraham Lincoln’s corpse to smell after a rainy day at the cemetery. What in the world is that smell?? I scream to myself. I spin around, looking for a homeless guy or a huge moldy pile of dog poop, and all of a sudden I realize that the girl who said goodbye to her boyfriend just moments ago was leaning with her head on the train door, facing me, and from her mouth was coming the most revolting breath I have ever smelled in my entire life. I kid you not. Pure toxic wind. If it were not for my self control, I would have vomited all over the train. Her breath was THAT bad. Bad beyond what I would have thought was humanly possible. You could brush your teeth with human feces for a month, then chew on a rotten guinea pig, and your breath would still not compare.

After freaking out internally and realizing that I should probably run to the other end of the train car, my deep rage instead turned quickly into internal laughter, and I almost busted up on the train thinking to myself how bad this girls breath was, and at the thought that her boyfriend was probably back at the other station puking his guts out after making out with his ugly girlfriend with the breath that could cremate old people. Luckily, my stop was soon after, and with it, the opening of the doors and the glory that is fresh air.

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