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2012-2Q

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Inadvertently, my blog posts are now coming out at about a rate of once per quarter, which kind of sucks but hey what are you going to do?  I’m sure of the at most three people who still follow this blog (myself included), only one might be annoyed.  Oh well, let’s take a recap at what exciting and not-so-exciting things have happened to The Leong since our last episode.

 

. . .

 

Uh, surely something happened right??

Well I guess I should mention work, since that is what I have to do every day.  We had our busy season through April, which was pretty hectic but I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the job since last year’s busy season.  Of course once that was over things got much better and I don’t have to go in on weekends anymore to grind away at the sheer pile of excitement known as accountingologymatics.  That’s a word right?  Sorry I’m new at this stuff.  But really, I didn’t find the season to be that bad this year, although it was a lot of hours and a many times where sifting through paperwork and starting at a computer screen all day really got tiring.

Because work was busier, I only took one class during the fall semester, and it was an 8AM class – and yes, it was as awesome as you would imagine.  Especially fun was the 30-40 minute rush hour drive towards and through downtown St. Louis.  I suppose I am really fortunate now that my normal commute to work is less than 10 minutes, while only a few years ago it was more like an hour and a half, mostly on disgusting, crowded Tokyo trains and subways.  There is not much else to share about this past class (primarily because it would be too much excitement and you would probably be really jealous of me) although I am happy to say that I destroyed it and earned the grade “You’re the man now dog.”  I think this is worth a 4.x on the standard grade point scale.

Not soon after tax season ended, in April I took a weekend trip out to Bloomington to meet up with some friends.  It was awesome to see everyone, and going out in Bloomington with friends is still a lot of fun.  I don’t think it would be a lot of fun if you were by yourself, because the population has definitely stayed the same average age while I have aged a bit in the past 6 years.  OK so that last sentence is unnecessary, because 1) who would go out by themselves? and 2) of course it is more fun with friends.  Never mind.  And in case you haven’t noticed by the lack of coherence in this post, I am just typing as fast as I can, with little to no editing or care given to trivial matters like “paragraphs,” “writing flow,” or “engaging readers.”  But yes Bloomington was a lot of fun, and as proof of the kind of misfits I was hanging out with, I would like to share this photo of the infamous Nikolai “Hold Button” Roberts7000.

I took another vacation last month, but that will have to wait until my next post.  It should not take me another 3 months to get around to writing it, I swear.

年末 Back to the Japan

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At multiple points during the past few months, I’ve (OK fine, only very slightly) deluded myself into believing that 2012 would have me jumping back on the blogging bandwagon, rather than neglecting this poor excuse of a website, save for a minor post once every few months that consists mostly of me talking about how I don’t blog anymore.  So ignoring that, I’m not going to waste any more time talking about not blogging.  I am going to just do it.  So hold on to your butts, here comes a somewhat old-school style mind barf as I recount my short trip back to old Nippon in a semi-followable manner.

START UP!

Despite booking the ticket to Japan back in like August, it still seems like it kind of crept up on me.  Could have been because December was pretty busy with school and work, but all of a sudden it was Christmas and even sooner after that I realized that I needed to pack to head over to Japan.  This was the first time going back since returning to the US in August of 2010.  Nervousness, anxiety, curiosity, dyslexia – I had none of these issues while preparing for my “return voyage.”  As I’ve explained to a few people since, going to Japan just isn’t a huge deal for me anymore.  It’s along the same lines as if I’m going to take a trip to Bloomington: I of course look forward to revisiting old hangouts, seeing friends who are still around, walking down familiar streets, and all that normal stuff.  It’s fun and I love going, but going to Tokyo is no longer a big adventure.  It really doesn’t even feel like I’m going to a foreign country at all.  I don’t think this is a bad thing, but rather something to be expected after so many trips to Japan, topped off by living there full time for four years.  So while it might sound amazing to some people when I say “I’m spending New Years vacation in Tokyo,” really it’s not such a big deal for me.

I was back in the Tokyo/Chiba area for about a week and a half total, which seems like a long vacation but honestly still is a pretty short trip.  Especially when trying to meet up with so many people in the area and hitting up old favorite restaurants and shops, I do kind of wish I could have stayed longer.  I definitely feel like I didn’t waste any days over there though – pretty much every day had something planned at least roughly.  It seems like a lot of old friends would say “wow  you haven’t changed at all!” which I guess is better than hearing something like “my god you’ve turned into a totally different person” or “Godzilla is attacking the city!”  At first I thought it was a little strange, but I did quickly come to realize that although a  year and a half had passed, not much really had changed.  Everyone and everywhere is pretty much the same as before, which I guess should be kind of expected.  It’s hard to explain the feeling.  I guess if anything, it was weird that it wasn’t weird to be back in Japan.

This is getting a lot more introspective than I thought it would have.  I guess I should give more details about what I actually did during my week and a half over there.  I didn’t really do anything touristy of course, so it was more just hanging out with friends and hitting up old tabehodai buffets and restaurants.  Also I expectedly bought a decent amount of plastic toys and junk.  Surprisingly though, my suitcases didn’t come back as full as I might have thought they would.

The flight over to Narita was via Chicago, on an early morning series of flights.  Following my modus operandi for international travel, I stayed up the entire night beforehand packing, which means I was pretty exhausted as I stumbled around O’Hare waiting for my international flight.  Finally got to my seat, and luckily there was an empty seat in my row so I could spread out a bit more with an empty seat separating me from the next passenger.  I slept around a total of 6 or 7 fairly solid hours during the 11 hour flight, eventually watching some TV on my iPhone.  Breezed through immigration, getting the first stamps in my brand new, renewed passport, and picked up the rental SIM card I had pre-arranged for my iPhone.  It did feel slightly cool and spy-like, picking up a package at the airport post office, going to a bench in the corner, swapping the SIM card from the rental phone into my own, and having my iPhone work in Japan.  Or it might have just been the jetlag and lack of sleep doing their thing.

As I was spending the first few nights of my trip in Chiba, at the Mitsui Garden Hotel just 2 or 3 blocks from my old apartment, the nostalgia kicked in pretty quick.  Took JR from the airport to Chiba, and cabbed it from there.  First meal was kind of late, at Choshimaru, for real sushi that was actually prepared fresh with fresh ingredients.  It might not be a fancy place, but it’s light years above what they have in St. Louis (no offense to the many St. Louis sushi shop owners who I’m sure read this blog religiously).   Crashed hard that night, sleeping until late the next afternoon.  Jetlag wasn’t too bad after that, although my sleep schedule was slightly weird for the first few days.  It might not have helped that there was an all night party/karaoke planned for my first full day in Japan.  I was surprised that I could stay awake for as long as I did, being jetlagged and out of practice for so long.

Hmm… If I actually do a full, detailed description of every day back in Japan, this entry will be way too long.  I’m going to have to kind of summarize stuff from here on out.  I’ll throw in some pictures though, since supposedly 1 picture is worth 1,000 words.  Coincidentally, this is much, much better than the exchange rate of 1 USD to Japanese Yen.

千葉神社での初詣

Spent New Years Eve in Chiba, with the countdown to 2012 at The Hub.  On New Years Day checked out Chiba Shrine for a kind of hatsumode I guess, which was actually pretty cool because I don’t recall ever going to a shrine on New Years Day proper.  It was of course super packed with people.  That afternoon I changed hotels to spend the middle portion of my trip in “THE TOKYO.”  Got a pretty good and cheap hotel, the Keikyu EX Inn Asakusabashi-Ekimae, which ended up being great and a good central base of operations for doing stuff in the city.  Went to Kamen Rider The Diner in Ikebukuro, saw the national college rugby semi-finals, and almost died eating shabu-shabu tabehodai.  I feel like my mass-eating skills have gone down significantly since leaving Japan, which is kind of a shame.  It was delicious, but wow there is only so much beef and goma-dare you can eat.  The next morning I experienced a post-food coma food-hangover of epic proportions, which could be the really disgusting plot for The Hangover Part 3 if those writers get really desperate.  

Ichiran ramen - I am drooling as I look at this pic

Speaking of food, that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, since it really is just totally different being back in the States.  When you’re in Japan for a long time, you really start to miss stuff like pizza, Mexican food, and steak.  I mean, you can get all of those foods in Japan, but they’re just not the same.  They’ll work, and there are even some good places to go, but you still always are wishing you could get stuff from the other side of the pond.  Well after being in the US for a long time the same thing starts to happen with Japanese food.  Sushi, ramen, donburi, and stuff like that are kind of available in the US (especially in places like LA or NY), but it’s still not the same.  So being back in Japan was awesome at the very least just because of all the good food.

Y's 新年会 2012Got to see a lot of old friends (thanks to everyone who made time to hang out!) at random times during the trip, but the main event was of course a massive party at Y’s with tons of people.  Since the IES days in 2004, Y’s really has been the location for some of the best and most memorable events and parties, so it was awesome to go back and do another one there like in the old days.  Bryan and Karen, who also live back in the US now, happened to be  in Japan while I was there so it really was like a massive reunion.  All in all it was a great time and I got to see a ton of people who I hadn’t seen in at least the year and a half since I moved back to St. Louis.  Even certain friends who only have a 60% encounter rate for Y’s events showed up, haha.  We went back to Chiba afterwards for all night karaoke again and I actually managed to stay up the whole time.

The last part of my trip I went back to stay Chiba, and was able to meet up with some old AEON people, etc. who couldn’t make it to Y’s because of the Saturday work shifts.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long since I graduated college and moved to Japan to work as an English teacher.  Actually, I only now realize as I type this that that was about five and a half years ago.  Things have changed but then again they really haven’t.  I could definitely see myself moving back to Japan at some point, although I am honestly pretty happy with the way things are progressing back in St. Louis right now.  I’m definitely not going to just settle down here for good just yet, so maybe in a few years I’ll get the urge to work and live abroad again.  I guess you could say that life right now is a lot more routine than during the years I spent in Japan, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m busier and living in the American suburbs, or if it’s just because I’m getting older.  Eh, I’m not really worried about it because I still have several more years of wandering around the planet trying to figure out what I’ll do when/if I grow up.

And with that, since my eyes are starting to close on their own  I guess I will wind down this absurdly long post.  I am seriously going to try to at least post more often than once a month during 2012, but that is a promise that will most likely be broken several times if not every month.  Actually, I’m sure I’ll have at least one  follow up post regarding weird or random stuff I saw in Japan, so there is at least some content there.

Here goes my attempt at logging my trip.

5:38AM – Right now I’m sitting on a plane to Chicago waiting for takeoff. I stayed awake the entire night packing and getting other stuff done for the trip/end of the year, which is per my usual pre-flight routine.  I am sure that I’ll sleep the entire way to Chicago. Will probably be able to sleep at least a good 6 hours of the 11 hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo. I didn’t really fill up both of the suitcases I brought, but hopefully that will allow me some flexibility in buying crappy Japanese robot toys and other stuff that I don’t need anyway.

Note (1/30/12): Yeah that was pretty pathetic.  That’s the only mini-entry I wrote during my entire trip to Japan for New Years.  I’ll have to do a real recap sometime soon.

Dinosaurs and Ramen

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Almost forgot about it being exactly 1 year since I moved back to the United States.  Coincidentally, I spent the “anniversary” not in St. Louis but up in New York City.  Got to meet up with some friends who live in the area, and the last few days my brother came and met up with me.  It had been a long time, probably around 8 or 9 years since I was last up in NYC.  It smelled a lot less of urine than I had expected or remembered.  Also I didn’t encounter any cracked out homeless guys screaming about women stealing your DNA like last time.

The weather up there was fairly similar to here in St. Louis, which included the break in the heat that luckily started about a week before my trip.  I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with the intense summer heat in New York, considering how much walking I ended up doing and how pretty awful the underground train stations were even in decent weather.  Is there no ventilation there!?  The trip was primarily to hang out and do I guess touristy stuff – it was a good vacation.  Went to Times Square the first night and met up with Seth, who took me to an izakaya that was basically a warp hole to Japan.  It was pretty awesome to have yakitori and shochu and all kinds of menu items that I don’t really get here in the midwest.  And while I’m on the topic of Japanese food, later during the trip my brother and I went to Ippudo, a Japanese ramen chain that I used to go to in Chiba since it was a straight shot down the street from my apartment.  The food was hands down perfect.  The big difference though was the price (fair since I was in NYC on vacation, so whatever) and the building itself.  I was pretty shocked – instead of a small noodle shop with counter seating and a few small tables, this place was a huge restaurant with I guess what you would call trendy lighting, furniture, and music.  It felt like a nightclub that just so happened to serve Japanese ramen.  There was a long wait just like the Chiba location had during rush times, but in NY they actually had hostesses and a waiting list.  I think I prefer the Japanese Ippudo’s decor, but again it’s not really a complaint since the ramen was awesome and I was still in America.  It was also  kind of strange feeling to have Caucasian American waiters yelling “IRASSHAIMASE” when a table was sat.

ニューヨーク居酒屋・萩一風堂NYYES RAMEN

The American Museum of Natural History in Central Park was pretty sweet, and as a bonus it was a good break from walking around outside.  I didn’t really understand the ticket pricing at first though, considering they give you a “suggested” entrance fee but you don’t technically have to pay anything.  We paid the full suggested fares, which I’m assuming most people do.  It was pretty smart of them though to actually have people at the entrance gate instead of just a machine or a box for donations, because I’ll bet having an actual human shames people into paying more than they would with just a machine/donation box.  But yeah dinosaurs are sweet and embarrassingly while I didn’t take many photos while in New York, most of them were at the museum.  Oops!

YES! DINOSAURS!

New York restaurants are, as expected from the biggest city in the county, amazing in both quality and diversity.  In addition to the Japanese places I went to, pretty much every meal in New York was great.  Chinatown was, of course, one of the highlights, so much that I went twice during the short trip.  I’m pretty sure I could eat dimsum every day.  There unfortunately weren’t as many stores selling cheap electronic knockoffs, and junk like I was kind of looking for, but that was also probably because it was raining on the last day we were there and it wasn’t worth walking in the rain to buy cheap stuff in Chinatown when we were already full of food too.  And yes, I did actually eat American food in addition to all the other multicultural stuff – stacked high sandwiches at a Jewish deli were probably the highlight from that category.

Overall I got to see a decent amount of the city, especially Manhattan, during the few days I was up there.  There was almost an incident with some shady scam-cab driver one night when my brother and I were coming back from meeting up with Dave down in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t a big deal since we got out as soon as he said he was going to try and charge us $20 to go just a few blocks.  But aside from that, the trip was great and I definitely want to go back again sometime.  To eat, at least.

Recent travels

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Last month I headed to Vegas for a sort of mini family vacation. Well I guess it really was a family vacation, although it seems weird to say that considering my brothers and I are all grown now, and the primary reason for the trip was to gamble.  My brothers, parents, and I flew out to Vegas on a Sunday and met up with my uncle who drove in.  We were originally supposed to leave on Saturday, but due to “mystery electrical events” that supposedly occurred at some airport in Minnesota, every flight in the Midwest was held up or cancelled.  That excuse might sound fake and ridiculous, and I totally agree.  But that’s what Delta was telling us as the reason why we couldn’t be rerouted on another flight to Vegas, even though we were at the airport at like 8AM.  We were rebooked for the next morning, having to fly through Atlanta (going the opposite direction from St. Louis, mind you) in two separate groups.  Thanks Delta, I really appreciate your customer service not to mention you shortening my Vegas trip by an entire day.  We weren’t even given free flight vouchers or anything, which I honestly kind of thought they had to do in this kind of situation.  Maybe the rules are different for those mystery events that they can’t explain.  Meh.

So once we got to Vegas and waited in a taxi queue that literally wrapped around the airport building, we checked into our rooms at the Luxor and it was time to go big.  And by that I mean In N Out Burger.  Oh yeah, and gambling.

This beautiful scenery was paid for by a bunch of losers' money

Overall I’d say while the Strip is great for the flashy experience, party atmosphere, and buildings shaped like monuments, I think I preferred gambling off the strip.  Minimum bets on the strip are just way too high and money goes too fast.  After getting the strip experience the first few nights, we went to a decent number of off the strip casinos like Silverton, Green Valley, “M,” and the whole downtown area and it was a lot more relaxed and fun for me.  Also not to mention that you can bet less money and play games with better odds, like 2 deck Blackjack as opposed to the 8 deck electronic shuffler ones on the strip.  You’re surrounded by a lot more locals and old people when you go off the strip, but for gambling (as opposed to partying, etc), it definitely seems like the way to go.

We didn’t gamble the entire time we were there of course.  We also checked out this awesome “museum” called the Pinball Hall of Fame, which has tons of pinball machines set up to play.  They’ve got machines going way back to probably at least the 1950’s, all the way up to machines that are still being manufactured today.  As a big pinball fan from when I was a kid, this place was better than Disneyland.  (I mean that literally, since even the tea cup ride makes me want to puke).  It also helps that I bought a pinball game for PS3 earlier this year, and have played it a lot.  Not as much as my dad, mind you, who plays it probably every day.  It has a lot of old Williams machines, very accurately recreated in HD.  After playing that for a few months it really makes you want to play a real pinball machine.  The Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame was the perfect way to take a break from gambling but still getting to do something different and fun.Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame

While we only had like 4 days in Vegas, it was a pretty solid trip and I didn’t lose as much money as I had budgeted for, which is always a good thing.  I’ll have to keep an eye out again for cheap airfare/hotels to head out there again.  Also my god we ate at so many buffets, ranging from decent to ridiculously amazing.

A few weeks after the Vegas trip, I drove out to Bloomington for a weekend to meet up with some friends.  It is definitely getting a little stranger every time I head back to good ol’ B-town, primarily because I don’t have many (any?) friends who actually live in Bloomington anymore and I am about 6 or 7 years older now than your typical undergrad student.  Not to say that Bloomington isn’t still a great trip.  I had 4 of the best years of my life there and it’s worth the drive to go visit old friends, see the old and new parts of campus, and eat some good food.  A certain SOB did end up bailing out on us at the very last minute, though, which was disappointing.

Instead of getting a hotel like last time, I tried out AirBnB for the first time – it’s basically a website where individuals rent out rooms in their homes or even their entire home for prices usually less than what a hotel would run.  I had heard about it a while back since a friend from college now works there apparently, and this seemed like a good chance to try it out.  Surprisingly even a college town like Bloomington had a decent number of available places, and we were able to rent an entire house for the weekend.  It ended up being a great way to stay comfortably without paying as much as what a hotel would have been.  I’ll have the try it out again sometime when I have the chance.  There are ratings, feedback, etc. on the site so you can get a decent idea of where you’ll be staying, hopefully avoiding any creepers and such.  But my first experience on there was pretty good, even though I don’t know if I’d really want to stay with someone I didn’t know.  Getting the entire house for our group worked out really well though.

Half asleep

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Whew.  So the busy tax season at work is done, and luckily I had today (mostly) off with tomorrow off as well.  4-day weekend FTW.

Earlier today when I was thinking about what I would do during this brief burst of freedom, I was like “oh man I’m totally going to stay up all night and play some video games, watch TV, eat junk food, it will be like I’m in college again YEAH.”  Yet here I am, sitting at my computer just after midnight, and half-dozing off.  This isn’t just a rare occurrence.  I can’t stay up late anymore, even when I want to.

It’s not old age kicking in just yet, right?  I mean sure I am getting older, (I do forget how old I am usually though) but that can’t be it.  It’s because I’m so used to waking up every morning at the same time for work, right?  And thus going to bed around the same time every night?  But I had to wake up a lot earlier when I was working in Shinjuku and I’m pretty sure I stayed up later and went out more back then.  Hmmm.  I don’t actually know where I was going with this, and as I mentioned I am struggling to keep the drool off the keyboard, so I guess this will be the end of this post.

Travel will be happening this summer.  I’m going to Vegas for sure next month, then later in the summer I hope to visit Boston and probably New York on the same trip.  Dunno where else.  I’d like to go to Japan sometime, although realistically that won’t be until sometime in the fall or next year, especially since I kind of want the place to quit rumbling until I visit again.

Either way, this old codger is heading to bed.  I will play video games tomorrow maybe.  Or do some other kind of slacking off, I hope.

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