Sunday, July 18, 2010

Our My Map

We've been working on an interactive map of our travels using Google maps. It shows the exact route we've taken across Asia so far, including all the different forms of transportation. If you click on the various icons, you can see some pictures and read a short description of the places we've visited. You can also follow our trip from start to finish by clicking on the title links in the left sidebar (once you've clicked through to the extended map that is). This is the easiest way to look at all the pictures and get a continuous story.

We will continue to update the map as we travel through China and India (as internet connectivity allows), just in case you guys wanna keep tabs on our exact location. I really love maps, so I think this is the coolest thing in the entire world.

Here it is:

View Have You Had Your Rice Today? in a larger map

This is only the middle stage of our travels (the Cambodia-Vietnam leg). Since there are so many lines and icons, Google breaks the map up into sections so it will load faster. Unfortunately this also means you can't see our entire trip at once. Hopefully they will fix this soon.

The map will also appear on the left panel of the blog screen with all the rest of our goodies so you guys can always keep yourselves abreast.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Almost Ran a Girl Over (Part 1)

So the other night I hit a girl on a bike with my car. Don't worry! She was ok. There was some damage to her bike and little dent in my car, but no one was hurt. Praise be to Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, and George Washington for that.

Actually, technically she hit me. But technically it was my fault. Let me explain. It was dark and I was pulling out of a side street to turn left onto a main road. (In Japan a left turn is like a right turn in the US.) On my left side there was a fence and a line of tall trees and on the other side of the trees was a small sidewalk that ran along the main road. Because of the trees, I couldn't see the sidewalk until I had already pulled out, which meant that I didn't see the girl riding her bike towards me. When I pulled out into the street, she slammed into the front left side of my car.

It was really scary. At first I thought I had run over a child. When I got out I saw that the high-school-aged girl was pretty shaken up but she was ok. We both apologized. A small group of women gathered around the scene from the nearby temple, gave the girl a phone to call her mom, and chattered in Japanese. At this point I was a little nervous because I had no idea what the women were saying about me, but they didn't seem hostile. I tried to give the girl my info and offered to pay to fix her bike, but she didn't speak much English and my Japanese is woefully inadequate. Her mom then arrived, called the police, started taking pictures of my license plate and then tried multiple times to explain the situation to me in Japanese. I finally got a hold of Christin who called Yoko Kamo who called Mr. Horiguchi.

The police arrived and everything got even more confusing. Christin arrived, then Yoko Kamo, and eventually Mr. Horiguchi. At some point the police decided they weren't concerned about the accident anymore and the main line of inquiry became the validity of my driver's license and international driver's permit (IDP). They also asked Christin for her license. It was all really surreal because I was still pretty shaken up by the fact that I had just almost killed a girl and their top priority was the dates on all my paperwork. Eventually they determined that Christin was OK to drive for the night but that I wasn't and we went home.

The next day the police called Mr. Horiguchi and told him that both of our IDPs were no longer valid because we had been in Japan for over a year. They're still valid in the United States and almost every other country in the world, but not Japan. So now we have to get a Japanese driver's license if we want to keep driving for the next month and a half. I'll get back to that in a minute, but first, what about the girl I hit?

It seems that in Japan, if you hit someone with your car, you have to buy them cookies or some other small gift. So I went to a confectionery and bought a small chocolate cake for the girl and her mother. Everybody likes chocolate cake, right? I showed it to Mr. Horiguchi and his face immediately soured.

"How much did you spend?"

"About 600 yen."

"It is not enough, des ne. I think you need 2000 to 3000 yen." Then he wisely added, "When in Rome, do as the Roman do."

So I bought some cookies for 1900 yen and I also threw in a jar of Krema peanut butter to add that unique gaijin touch. I met the woman and Mr. Horiguchi at the bike shop this morning and they assured me that I just need to pay to fix the front wheel and then we'll be square. I presented her with my gift and then she went into the back of her car and pulled out two giant bouquets of fresh cut flowers, one for me and one for Mr. Horiguchi.

I really don't get it. It's like, "Sorry I hit your daughter with my car. Here's some cookies." "Sorry I had to inconvenience you by asking you to pay for something that you're legally and morally obligated to pay for. Here's some flowers." This is my general take on Japanese culture.

Anyway, now I have to take the Japanese driver's test, which like everything else here is needlessly complicated and full of arbitrary protocol that must be memorized. If I fail my first attempt then I'll go to driver's school and try again. It takes most foreigners between 2 and 10 times to pass it, but according to the lady at the driving school Americans are faster.

That's about it for now, but I'll let you know how the test goes.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reflections on our 2nd Tanabata

It's been a year since our first time going to a matsuri, or festival, in Japan. Last year we went to the Tanabata matsuri, and we were amazed by tako yaki, fish on stick, hundreds of girls in yukatas, and a taiko group. Well, it's come full circle because this year we weren't just savvy about the festival food (having been to several matsuri in the meantime), but I actually wore my very own yukata to the festival and Kyle performed with a taiko group. It's pretty amazing to think about how much our outlook on Japan has changed. We're no longer in awe of the mix between tradition and modernity, now we take it all in stride. That's a huge part of what makes Japan so unique, but after more than a year, it's hard to imagine Japan any other way.

Kyle in his taiko uniform and me in my yukata

Scallops... delicious

The taiko performance

Kyle is the second one from the right
To find out more about Kyle's taiko experience, go here

Me, Khris, and the real Sailor Moon