Sunday, February 27, 2011

Craigslist Filler

Read this out loud in the exact manner it was written.

You're welcome.

By the way, anyone else glad that February only has 28 days, one extra at its most annoying? To all the wonderful people born during this month, I apologize for the expression, but not the emotion. February generally sucks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Kobe Luminarie

This annual light-up commemorates the Great Hanshin earthquake that rocked the city in 1995. It’s a beautiful tribute to all the lives that were lost during the tragedy, though as it has grown it’s become more and more festive through the years. The name was taken from the Italian word for lights, and has become one of Kobe’s most popular events. According to one foreigner’s blog, there have been complaints that the funds put towards this commemorating would have been better spent aiding the victims and their families. I’ve found no information that confirms this claim, but I do know that it was first intended to be held in Tokyo rather than Kobe, and began just eleven months after the earthquake devastated the area and stole over six thousand lives.

I’d heard about this light festival from Paulette, former Kameokan ALT extraordinaire. She had attended during her second or third year in Japan, and had returned with beautiful pictures and tales of buildings made of light. I’d read a review on Hiroshima’s Wide Island View that while the illumination was beautiful, the crowds were terrible. Since I was planning to stay in Japan during Christmas I wanted to mix some of my favorite parts of Christmas with Japan’s winter offerings. Not many people decorate their homes with Christmas lights, so I reckoned that the Kobe Luminarie could substitute for the pleasures of driving around Tulsa and seeing the colorful lights strung on houses and trees. Plus, I’ve never had a problem being in a crowd provided that I’m not in a hurry. All I needed was a travel buddy.

Hello, Margaret.

Margaret and I had both expressed our desire to do more short trips to the surrounding areas; we’ve been afraid of settling in too much and thereby missing much of what Japan has to offer us during our short stay here. We’d wanted to go to Kobe, famous for its Chinatown and beef, but we’d both felt that we needed a better reason than food to make a day trip. The Kobe Luminarie, though it had become a little cheesy over the years, gave us something more to do than eat.

Travel from Kameoka to Kobe takes between two and three hours, depending on what train one takes. This was no quick hop into the city. I had a busy schedule, few free weekends, and Margaret had a tight schedule between her weekend work schedule, conferences, and leaving for the U.S. to spend Christmas with her family. We had only one weekend when we were both free, and Margaret’s boyfriend had expressed interest in joining us for the trip. We settled on Sunday, December 12th, the day before the event ended, and invited dear Dara Han along to complete the party.

When the 12th arrived I was pretty pumped. I had set a goal of More Day Trips and I was sticking to it. The four us made a merry, slightly silly party on the way to Kobe. Dara had been to the Luminarie before, so she knew at which stop we were to get off and the general area of the Chinatown. Atsushi had his new iPod Touch, which had the handy function of a 3G network, ergo he and Dara became the casual tour guides of the bunch. None of us had eaten much, so our first stop was Chinese food.

Chinatown was packed. It was no surprise—the illumination began when the sun set and we arrived at dusk. Still, the general mood soured a bit with the frustration of trying to navigate the throngs of people with their bags and children and strollers. Again, I don’t have a problem with being in a crowd, but I do admit that it was tough to stay together and even harder to figure out where and what to eat in the midst of it.

We didn’t get very far into Chinatown itself; the crowd and hunger and snappy attitudes prevented us from forging ahead into the area’s heart. We finally stopped when we realized that most of the stall offerings looked the same. I can saw with confidence that our moods improved significantly when we put food in our bellies.

 The pictures won't stay on the same line if I put captions on them, so I'll just tell you what they are. From left to right: Margaret is waiting for her food (and I for mine), Dara is enjoying the delights of some kind of meat on a stick, and Atsushi is first readying himself to shove food in his maw, then clearly has completed his mission in the second photo. I couldn't even tell you now what I ate. I had to go look at Dara's Facebook photos to remember that I had a "Chinese Burger," which was basically a steamed meat bun sawed in half. I would like to state that I've said before that "steamed meat bun" just sounds kind of gross. Nevertheless, if my words tasted like a steamed meat bun, I would eat them all and ask for seconds.
Despite Dara's generally photogenic features, my camera refused to capture her.

Margaret does not like crowds.

Margaret and I both got these red bean paste-filled fried dough balls covered in sesame seeds. I have no idea what they were called, but they were awesome. Margaret almost got to enjoy hers before some lady jostled her, causing the delicious sesame thing to tumble to the grimy concrete. Poor doll.

We stopped at the local Tully's for a coffee energizer and a bathroom break before getting in line for the lights. It was just getting dark as we got in line and the crowd was already thick. I have to hand it to the organizers of the event—they had put guardrails through the streets to ensure that no area got too crowded, and were letting the attendees go in shifts. We were shuffling along to the sound of some pleasant, airy song (that I assumed was something akin to, "Oh, the lights keep you close in me heart, illuminations are the stars of my winter" or the like) when Atsushi started laughing. He told us to listen to the words more carefully. Rather than an angelic tune about remembering the victims or some popular winter tune, the song in fact was urging "Please don't stop here. Take pictures later. Keep walking, if you please." Oh, Japan.

The long line and the waiting in shifts took us through the shopping district in downtown Kobe. Having been rebuilt so recently, the place looks vastly difference from millenia-old Kyoto. A lot of the architecture made me nostalgic for my time in France, and darn me if I didn't renew my vow to someday go back and spend at least a year in that country. On a side note, I forgot that I was once one of those study abroad kids who hated it when other Americans, specifically, gathered around and yammered in our native tongue. I had reasons for it, but yes, I was one of those kids.

Moving on.

We finally got to a point where we turned the corner and the crowd came to a halt on its own accord. Nobody was paying attention to the move-along song. We were all taking pictures of the beginning of the lights, which looked like this:

These structures lined the entire arcade between the Patagonia and Chanel-type stores. Had there been no people around it might have taken us about ten minutes to walk down the whole thing. There was also a long section of this
after the arcade. Then, to top it all off, there was this light castle at the end with a gazebo inside. Just. Look at it.

See all that black stuff at the bottom? Those are people. We didn’t go in because we were a) unwilling to fight the crowd to get to the middle of all that mess, and b) ready to head back to ole Turtle Hill. We about-faced and headed for the stalls of food. There was a girl working a taiyaki stand wearing a taiyaki hat.
Taiyaki is a read bean paste-filled pastry shaped like the fish hat. It's good stuff, and is the same kind of festival food that a funnel cake is.

We wandered around a bit until we found things we wanted to eat. Dara found candy grapes and strawberry daifuku (hard to explain. It's a Japanese sweet). I found a candy mikan, or mandarin orange. Think about it. A juicy, ripe mandarin orange that has been dipped in orange candy. It's an awesome dessert.

It was delicious until I dropped it on the ground. I still ate the part that hadn’t touched the cement (but only when Margaret wasn’t looking, because she is easily disgusted).

The end of this tale is that we clowned around on the way home and returned to Kameoka early and happy.

Good day to you, sirs and madams.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Wrote This

It says the author is "admin" and I didn't get paid for it, but I'm totally published on someone's "test project". It was an apology for quitting a not-yet writing gig for which I was going to be paid $0.002 per word, just like someone for whom English is a fourth language. I put almost no effort into it and shortened the length just so that it would be less appealing to real people. Still, I'm going to find rewritten versions of it all over the Internet.

If you go to the link, don't click on any of the ads. That's exactly what he wants, that website owner. Don't do it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DIY Disaster/Modern Art

I was blogging this as I went, so be prepared for a bumpy ride.

I've been searching for a light fixture for my bedroom since I moved in. I am broke, broke, broke, so buying the ones I find on design blogs aren't an option, and I've made a mistake at a store before. The mistake was only $40, but now I have a ceiling fan that I can't use because I wasn't specific enough when asking how the thing should be installed. Lesson learned. Nevertheless, the desire for centerpiece lighting in the bedroom remained.

The other day when I accidentally had a day off in the middle of the week, I was cruising design blogs and found this post on a modern chandelier made of wooden dowels, one on a chandelier made from drinking straws, and a faux-capiz shell chandelier made of wax paper and ribbon. I had just run out of parchment paper, had no wire and only 36 drinking straws, but a modern chandelier for under ten dollars? Why, that was right within my budget—free if I improvised a little and "made it my own." I didn't want to spend any money, but I had neither wooden dowels nor wood glue. What I did have was plenty of electrical tape, an abundant supply of waribashi (disposable chopsticks), and a fluorescent light. Let the art begin.

I found that I had enough waribashi to make nine hexagons, with four mismatched pairs remaining. I figured that I could do a vaguely spherical sculpture to hang over the light.

I decided to use the mismatched pairs to make the top brace. I wanted to still use six chopsticks, but it seemed a little tedious to get the proportions right, especially considering that I was determined not to measure anything. I settled on a triangle and reasoned that I could adjust the structure as needed.


Attaching the hexagons to the brace was a little trickier. I didn't want the chopsticks to touch the light, but I didn't have much else to use, given that the only sturdy wire I had was being used to hold my dress shirts in the closet. I wasn't sure if electrical tape would prevent the weight of the chandelier from pulling any sticks attached to the brace perpendicularly from simply slipping out. Wrapping some electric tape around the top of chopsticks that hadn't been broken apart solved the problem. I could clothespin them over the top, then…figure out the rest. Also, after not having enough straws to make this chandelier, I figured I'd try to jazz up the chopsticks and electrical tape with some straws attached by picture-hanging wire. I'm a classy broad.

Look. Jazz.

After attaching the second hexagon I realized that I'd have to do the rest like Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel—staring at the ceiling. I had no way to suspend the light fixture, so there was little else to do than reattach it to the ceiling. Since I'm blogging this as its happening, let me just say that I know it looks everything that is the opposite of good. Work in progress, and possibly there will be spray paint involved later.   

Well, now it's starting to look like a lopsided pile of pickup sticks as opposed to the modern, clever fixture I had [kind of] envisioned. I think I'll make one more ring, take it out and spray paint it, then figure out where I'm going from there. 

I found a can of wood stain that a friend had given me over a year ago. I figured that since I hadn't used it yet, I might as well make the chopsticks look like they'd been carved from old dorm furniture. It was very orange when I finished. I'll probably hate it.

This is what I made and ate in the meantime.

I do hate it.

However, I am not a wasteful person. I spent a lot of time on this fugly piece of crap, so I am going to save it. After another review of this straw cluster chandelier I opted to combine what straws I had with the mini-monstrosity that I had created. If I make it ugly enough, someone will think I did it on purpose and call me a genius.

There was a long pause when Margaret and Dara came over to have dinner. They both claimed that the cubist birdcage wasn't as hideous as I thought. Dara later helped me cut straws though, and claimed that when I attached them it looked cute, like snowflakes. I'm going with that. My friends are nice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you "Caged Bird in Snow," my latest installation piece. I can make you one for $7,500.


During my unexpected visit to America I stopped by Hobby Lobby. I bought a large glue gun (the only one I have is tiny) and wood glue sticks. I came back to Japan, went to work for one day, and then went to Taiwan. I returned from the Land of Smiles on Monday, January 10 at about 6:30 p.m. After dropping my suitcase on the floor I hauled the space heater into the bedroom. I watched one episode of Psych while I dismantled my postmodern birdcage light fixture. Then I used hemp string to hang the fluorescent light from my desk. I shoved a large piece of cardboard underneath, heated up the glue gun, and stayed up until 2 a.m. making a new light fixture. Et voila.

The downside is that I’d have to take it apart if one of the bulbs ever burned out, or if I suddenly wanted to spray paint it. I do want to paint it. I’m not really the type to think ahead. Nevertheless, I have a passable, mostly free light fixture. It looks like a nest, but I don’t have a name for it yet. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Oh, Hello, Christmas.

Now that I've gone through Thoughts On Death I feel that I can talk about my Christmas vacation on a lighter note. I took no pictures of the actual vacation part, so everything you see here was pulled from one of my relatives' Facebook accounts.

I was having trouble with my inability to be home for Christmas. I cried big ugly sobs one night for no other reason than hearing Jo Stafford's child say, "You sing it, mommy," on her album Happy Holidays: I Love The Winter Weather. It's a fantastic record, by the way. Trips to America are expensive, and after the incredible summer vacation in Trinidad and the U.S.* it would have been fiscally irresponsible to go home again. I knew that in my head, but my heart was breaking.

 However, once I had given all that homesickness to the good Lord-y, I came to terms with baby's first Christmas away from home. I made plans with ALTs stuck in Japan for the holidays. I was going to make mochi with some girls from my calligraphy class. I was going to go to Taiwan after the New Year with Kim-Chi. I would clean my house, organize all of my school papers, and write. I went all out on Christmas presents and shipped them home. I made my own Christmas decorations and several batches of winter cider. I was an adult, dangit, and I would not forget the joy of Christmas just because I wouldn't be in Oklahoma on the 25th.

 All that changed when my grandmother passed away. Suddenly I was rushing to pack, clean my house (thanks, Dara and Kim-Chi!) and catch a plane home. The sadness of my loved one's death cast a pall on the occasion, but I was going home!

 The first couple of days are blurry now. My sister and I managed to sit together on the flight from Dallas to Tulsa, and when I slept off my travel she went out and got a new job. I got to see some of my favorite people in the world, ate way too much at every meal, and attended my grandmother's funeral. My siblings and I performed a short interpretation of The Nutcracker twice. I heard my parents rap at least three times (and misguided my mother on how to "throw down"). I told my family what I'd decided to do for life, helped serve communions, helped fumigate our house, and wrote a song with my siblings in honor of our cousin's birthday. It was busy.

 Any Christian worth his or her salt knows that Jesus was born in spring, and that the wise men didn't find him until he was a toddler. Those nativity scenes are pretty bogus. I know that Christmas was a holiday created in order to give Christians something to celebrate during the solstice festivities. I don't blame old Pope Julius for it. The end results are awesome. You know, after caroling stopped being a drunken, mischievous affair and the church quit outlawing it. Point is, I love the reason Christmas was created. I love what Christmas ideals are now. I love Jesus, I love my family and friends, and I love giving presents.

 I did discover that I could spend Christmas away from home and still love it. I still think Karen Carpenter sang it right. There's no place like home for the holidays.

*I'll finish those blog posts someday, but I lost my notebook on an airplane. Many of the details and dates are gone.

Note: If you want to see the pictures full-size you can a) click on them, or b) send a Facebook friend request to my aunt.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goodbye, Eddie Davis

On Monday, December 20th I awoke to the sound of my alarm. I rolled over and grabbed my mobile phone, intending to press the snooze key, but was surprised to find that a text message awaited me. It was dated that day at 3 a.m. and read simply:  Grandma's in heaven. Left about 11:50. 


That was my first thought. Oh. Grandma had been less than 24 hours short of her 100th birthday. My family had planned a party. There was to be a newspaper article about her. She'd received a certificate from the governor.

Then I thought, Oh, no. There would be no party. Worse still, I'd never see her again. There would be no more notes in the mail in her shaky, aged handwriting telling me about the weather and how old she is. I'd never again come home and kiss her weathered cheek, never help her down stairs, never hear her tell the same stories over and over (they never got old). I'd never see her wink at me when she was sneakng candy, never hear her proclaim her hunger for something sweet, never hear her hack in the bathroom, never hug her, never hear her telling me how she prays for her grandchildren—my heart hurt.

Let me clarify. My heart hurt for me and for my family, for all of us left behind. I shed tears because of a temporary separation during which Grandma will be separated from any physical plane that I can see or touch. I don't talk about my faith much on this blog because I believe in evangelizing through my actions (and I don't enjoy being attacked for believing in things other than Almighty Science). My grandmother's death, however, merits more than a passing mention of how I deal with seeming tragedy as a Christian. My grandmother was nothing if not a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. I wouldn't do her honor by ignoring that.

We didn't "lose" my grandmother. Yes, she was old, but that doesn't diminish the hole left in our family. Of course my family is sad about that. What we're not sad about is that Eddie B. Davis is exactly where she wanted to be. My grandmother has been telling me for years that we never knew if we'd see each other again. She was ready to go, and she knew, just as I know, that once her time on this earth had ended that paradise awaited.

She told me in the summer, "I just pray that I go to sleep and Jesus takes me home." It sounds cute when I repeat it in her accent. To those who consider Christianity a means of brainwashing or a haven for the illogical masses, this just sounds like the charming, somewhat morbid ramblings of a senile old lady. Consider this: by in large, what humans fear the most is death. Horror films aren't about how people are super frightened by a scary thing. Horror films are all about how people die, or are at least in danger of it. Grave danger, even, because I'm punny. My grandmother, a 99-year-old woman from nowhere, Texas, looked death in the eye and welcomed it. She knew that her god was stronger than death, stronger than any pain that she felt, stronger than the gradual degeneration of her cells, stronger than the void she would leave behind when she left, and stronger than any grief we would feel because of it.

That's an amazing kind of conviction, I think.

I became a Christian at the age of six, when I was far to young to understand everything that commitment meant. I remain a Christian because there is nothing seen or unseen in this world that is stronger than my certainty that Grandma had it right. I'm no unlearned idiot (summa cum laude and a lifetime membership to Alpha Chi, heifers!),* and I don't discount science. When I read that Pluto was no longer a planet, I believed it. If someone were to find the missing link between the velociraptor and a bantam rooster, I wouldn't cry fowl.** It doesn't disprove my worldview. However, when someone tells me there is no afterlife and no all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing being that loves me and cares for me, I shake my head. Ah, if you knew what I know.

Death and I aren't strangers. I remember being shocked in college when a friend told me that she had never been to a funeral. I think I've been to as many funerals as I have weddings, and I'm no stranger to wedding cake, either. I don't say this to brag; it's nothing of which to be proud. Semi-frequent funeral attendance nevertheless has given me fair chance to sort out how I feel about death in general. Do I want to claim a religion that includes a hell? Do I want to be a part of something that Darwin claimed is the opiate of the masses; am I using religion as a crutch to deal with the reality of death? I'd be lying to say that my faith never wavered. There have been a few of those funerals during which I thought angrily, Why, God? Couldn't you have done something? Why let young, good people die? I've had some intense study sessions researching what my religion says about the matter, and equally intense reflection during which I figure out if I want to ascribe to it or not.

You're likely in awe of my intelligence and studiousness. I'm pretty amazing, what with my philosophical musings about death. I mean, I took Philosophy 101 in college Pass/Fail (passed it in spite of falling asleep twice during the final, natch), so I pretty much know all there is to know about the subject. Duh. I skimmed excerpts from many books and articles during that class, so again I emphasize my encompassing knowledge of philosophy. It comes with being a genius.

The burden of my genius is realizing that I'm rambling. If you're still reading I expect you've forgiven me on account that this is a personal blog and not an essay on grief and coping. I'll be kind and wrap it up within the next paragraph.

I don't mourn my grandmother because I know as sure as I know I'm breathing that she's jitterbugging right where she belongs. My grandmother left a legacy. Her descendants received a powerful sweet tooth, broad ribcages, and only my siblings escaped the gene for being barely at or slightly below average height.  She also left a legacy of faith. We talk about a "legacy of faith" in the Christian community, but the short version is that Eddie B. Davis was a Christian through and through, and convinced us that she would be nothing good with out Christ. Ladies and gentlemen, my grandmother was good.

* This means nothing in the world. Also, my college was small.

**I think I'm making my father proud—him and every old man who's ever told a crappy joke.