Saying Goodbye

It’s never easy. Especially as I meet new friends. So close to leaving it seems pointless even getting to know each other, but we do anyway.

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New friends and yakiniku dinners…
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As per tradition, we have a goodbye/welcome party for the leaving and arriving teachers. We had a pretty good turnout.

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This is my boss. So great.

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I will miss these people more than I can imagine. They made my time in Japan what it was – amazing!

Climbing Mt. Fuji

I went to Mt. Fuji following Thailand, I heard the view was amazing. At this point I was a little sick from not enough sleep in Thailand so I was nervous I wouldn’t make it all the way to the top. I also haven’t been in high-altitude Colorado for more than a year, so I wasn’t sure how the altitude would affect me.

We arrived at station 5 at almost 11 am. Station 5 is at almost 2700 meters and is the highest station you can reach by bus. For most people, Station 5 is as high as they get up Fuji. I arrived at Fuji with 2 friends and they decided to start hiking right away and spend the night in one of the lodges near station 8. I didn’t want to spend the money and wanted to sleep away some sickness, so I rolled up in a blanket behind a building and slept until about 8pm. I’m really glad I did.

I started hiking at about 9:15pm, I asked a group of Japanese people if I could join them so I wouldn’t get lost, and the photos start from there.

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Station 7? Or was it 8… I don’t remember.

I made it to Station 8 in under 3 hours. It was very cold. You can buy instant noodles near the top of the mountain, but once you get to the top you’re on your own. I met George and Quinn and we began to walk extremely slowly to the top. We didn’t want to beat the sun there.

Near the top, we could see a few people who had hiked too fast to the top, gotten cold, and were coming back down, shivering. They missed the sunset on the peak. So I told George and Quinn and we started babystepping. The last bit of the mountain took us forever and towards the top we were at the mercy of a huge line of people. For a minute, we were nervous we wouldn’t make it, but we did. What followed was absolutely amazing.

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The white squiggle is Jupiter.

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And there’s the sun. I was the first to see it:) We all started cheering.

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The summit got more and more crowded as people made their way up.

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And that’s where we decided to turn around and start back. The clouds started to swirl as soon as the sun hit them. It was like the world came alive. We were frozen.

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Lake Kawaguchi

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The way down was nothing exciting. Just switchback after switchback on soft, volcanic gravel. I was really glad I didn’t hike during the day as I could tell I didn’t miss much.

We got very lucky with the weather, the forecast said it was to rain the day before we hiked and later in the day, after we saw the sunrise. We talked to another American who had climbed it two times prior, only to find the top covered in clouds, unable to see the sunrise. We got really lucky. Japan gave me a heck of a goodbye present!

Traveling in Thailand

I had the opportunity to stay, largely for free, at the Marriot Vacation Club at Empire Place. I was able to do so thanks to my friend and former English teacher Shirl. When she asked if I was interested in going to Thailand, of course I said yes.

Thailand is much different from Japan. For starters, it smells a little funky. It’s not as clean, there are people cutting through traffic on scooters, cars almost hitting each other, and people selling food cooked in carts on the side of the road. That said, it’s also kind of wild and something about that is extremely attractive after living in Japan for a year, where rules are followed with no exception and police will get you if embarrassment doesn’t.

The condo we stayed at was beautiful. My room had 2 beds in it! I remember thinking how depressed I’d be in the next month, when I went back to my closet of an apartment and the likes of SE Asian hostels. The staff at the hotel was also incredibly helpful (although you could tell they were used to working with clients with money, because for our trip to see the elephants they booked us into a GIGANTIC van, for 2 people).

It was a touristy trip, but good for the first time in Thailand.

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Robot building, from our balcony in the city.
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Our view.
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“Tuk tuk”s are very popular forms of transportation here. It’s like a three-wheeled scooter.
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Chinatown.
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Shark fins, for soup. Very sad.
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We stumbled upon some night time landmarks.
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And a very famous flower market. There were SO many flowers.
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The city at night (from the balcony).
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There’s a river running through Bangkok that serves as a sort of transport throughout the city. You can take a water taxi or a longboat like this.
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The temples were amazing and colorful, with these colored-mirror mosaics that decorate the entire outside.
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These temples were huge.
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This building contains a weapons museum.

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Across the river is the Temple of Dawn. The stairs are really steep.
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Then we took a boat ride to the “floating market”, which was not that cool, but we got to see the houses built on stilts over the water.
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This is my English teacher from high school, Shirl. I’ve known her since I was 15.

The next day we rode up to see some elephants.
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This was our baby.
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To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the elephant ride so much. The worst thing is the elephant probably doesn’t want to carry you. The whole time the elephant had to be prodded and chided by his rider. It seemed inappropriate and forced. The elephant bathing, however, was amazing. Watching the elephants roll around and play in the water was awesome, and I think they enjoyed it a lot more.

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We fed tigers. You can see more pictures here, in a separate post.

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We went to the Golden Mount in the middle of the city. It offers some nice views after a short hike up the stairs.
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Modeled after the Emerald Buddha.
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Nice flowers along the way.

Then I got to do something I’ve wanted to try for awhile, which is dragonfruit! I’ve never seen dragonfruit in the US before that I can remember, but it’s this wonderful pink color and just looks really delicious.
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When you open it, there is either a white or blood red pulpy, kiwi-textured center. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, but I love them.
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In other random things: this is a coke can in Thai…
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Sunset from the balcony.

The following day, we went to Pattaya, which is kind of famous for expats and tourists. It has a few small islands where you can lay on the beach and rent scooters and jetskis and boats and all kinds of stuff like that. If you go there, expect to see (and hear) lots of that. We took a boat out to an island called Koh Larn.
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We rented scooters when we got there. I think the guys tried to scam us. I ended up giving one of them my very cheap watch after he threatened to call the police, saying I scratched the motorbike. In Vietnam I had no problems, so just be careful.
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You can rent these chairs for the day for about a dollar. It’s worth it if you want to stay on one beach.
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I was happy to leave Pattaya, especially after how we were treated by the scooter people. I think that could have ended much worse than just giving them a $3 watch. The whole place is also full of tourists, so it’s not good if you really want to meet locals.

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I had to leave that night, but I got at least one more great view of the city at night.

I really enjoyed Bangkok actually. It’s much more dichotomous than Japan, and there’s so much to see. There’s a lot of poverty, (you can see that), and the city isn’t always clean, but I never felt unsafe (minus the scooter dudes), and the monuments were actually very impressive.

Nara, Japan

It’s a rainy day today here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For that reason, I have some time to catch up on posts, of which there are many. I’m going to show you my journey mainly through pictures. Enjoy:)

This is Nara, Japan.

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Sake Kegs
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Inside the temple grounds, so lush and green:)
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Spring
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The buddhas in these temples date to the 7th century. That’s before I was born.
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Rice paddy in ur backyard.
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My future house.
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That’s real… real friendly deer.
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The biggest temple ever.
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Apparently it burned down twice. This one is one third the size of the original. That made us real happy.
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Big buddha.
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He looked awfully angry at this scroll.
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There’s a hole in the wooden post that’s the size of the Buddha’s nostril. If you can fit through it you’ll have good luck.
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Can we do it?
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I did it (barely).
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George did it.
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This baby did it.
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These deer run all over the temple grounds. People always feed them so they’re very desensitized to people.
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Lord of the Rings roots.
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Deer family looking suspicious.
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This dragon reminds you to wash your hands before entering the temple grounds.
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Saw this guy relaxing under a tree.
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He saw me and got a little nervous.
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And up and away he went.

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HEYYYYYY!

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The day ended with a yakiniku dinner
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Yum.

Nara was really great. I went with a couple of my students and George. We had an awesome time. It’s definitely a city worth visiting and contains a lot of insight into Japan’s incredible history.

Tigers in Thailand

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I had the opportunity to go see Tigers in Thailand! We went to a place called the Tiger Temple (click the link to find out how to get there). It was so amazing! Here’s some pictures:

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After we fed him a whole lemon.
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Exercise.
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They have other animals at the Temple also. I asked if they were tiger food. They said no:(
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Cubs!
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Yawn!
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Teeth!

Such a cool experience. Check it out.

Pachinko!

One of the national pasttimes for old people and gambling addicts is Pachinko. Technically, it’s not gambling, because gambling is illegal.But if you use little metal balls and put them into a slot machine then it’s not money and thus, not gambling. Definitely. Not. Gambling.

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Just like this doesn’t at all look like a Casino.

We went to go play Pachinko a couple of weeks ago. It’s an interesting thing. Like a slot machine mated with a pinball machine, the goal is to shoot these little metal balls into a machine where hopefully they end up in one of the special holes which will win you more metal balls. When you’re done playing, you leave with no balls (depending how long you’ve been sitting there), or you can cash out your metal balls for money.

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A row of pachinko machines.

I lost all of my money pretty quickly.

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So did Sayaka.

George however, was winning. Although he wasn’t sure why. For some reason there was a big, white, flashing bird that would drop down and yell at him and more metal balls would come rolling out of the machine.

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“Whadda fuck?”

When you’re done, you take your balls to the counter. The lady counts them and gives you a ticket for cash, or you can redeem the credits for prizes like at Chuck-E-Cheese. If you want the cash, you have to exit the building, take your ticket to literally a 6×4 inch hole in the wall, put them in, a hand takes them and a hand comes out holding cash. George won 4,000 yen on a 2,000 yen buy-in. The sweaty hand gave it to him.

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He bought us Ramen.

Definitely. Not. Gambling.

Pics from Osaka

My time here in Japan is winding down. There’s so much here that I haven’t seen, so I jumped on a train to Osaka for the weekend. I know nothing about Osaka other than it’s famous for Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki, so I’ll just show some pics and we can all get on with our day.

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Okonomiyaki. Basically an omelette with seafood and sauce that tastes kind of like BBQ sauce.

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Dragons! Everywhere!

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American Village. They have a mini Statue of Liberty here.

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“Yo!”

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Disney paraphernalia.

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Night time in the city. So nice!

Ok I’m outta time! Osaka’s amazing but I just don’t have time (or the knowledge) to explain it.

Back To Tokyo

Tokyo is so amazing I went there twice in three weeks. There’s so much to do there it’s crazy. If you want it, you can find it in Tokyo.

I went to the Sanja Matsuri festival on my first day there to see one of the biggest festivals in Tokyo. It’s estimated that anywhere between 1.2-2 million people visit Asakusa Shrine to see it.

From what I did see the festival was good. The only issue: that place was crowded! People were pushing and shoving and trying to take pictures. The main draw of this festival is watching men and women carry these mikoshi around, which are basically portable shrines. People mob the shrines trying to get pictures, while the people carrying it are marching and sweating like crazy and the police are trying to keep everyone out of the way and still make room for traffic to go by. If you know me at all, you know that sweaty tourists en masse is not my thing. I did get lucky though by stopping to sit a few moments before the mikoshi went right past, so I was able to get some shots as people worked their way around me. Unfortunately I sent a lot of those pictures home, and no longer have them to upload:( This is what happens when you write about something that happened two months ago.

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The dragon robes.

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These are the Mikoshi.

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I went into a information center that has big glass windows to try to see the mikoshi better and saw these rake charms. They’re really beautiful and surprisingly intricate for how small they can be.

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The Mikoshi from up high.

Tokoyo also has a Toyota showroom that is equal parts sales floor and display center for their new cars. I stopped in real quick to check it out.

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The GT86 is a remake of an older car by Toyota. It looks amazing.

Of course the best part of Tokyo is just walking through the city. There’s so much to see:

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Random gundam statues.

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What I can only guess is a midget in a mushroom suit, trying to sell computers.

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Yoyogi Park is amazing on the weekends. It’s full of people and families. We spent a good portion of our day here barbecuing and playing sports.

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This happened.

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And this.

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And this.

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As I walked back to my hotel that night I realized how amazing it would be to live in Tokyo. There’s so much to do and see.

The next day though we went to a maid cafe, a kabuki play, and a restaurant called “The Lock Up”. The maid cafe was something I definitely wouldn’t have done by myself. Basically, a maid cafe is a small cafe where food is served by girls in schoolgirl outfits. They are super cute. Almost too cute. Like, the kind of cute where after awhile you’re ready to spank someone in the face.

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You’re not allowed to take pictures of the girls, but you can take pictures of the food. This is ice cream – a bear and a bunny. Yeah…

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There were crazy costume shops everywhere. Good luck getting this image out of your head…

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We stopped at a garden, where kids were on a field trip, presumably planting rice.

The Kabuki was actually really awesome, I had trouble following it and it was supposed to be 5 hours long! We stayed for the first hour because we had our dinner appointment at the lockup.

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Kabuki Theatre.

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Kabuki cast, doing their thing.

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I thought the kids were fake until the girl started moving!

The Lock Up restaurant was so cool. Basically not possible in the US because of lawsuits. They handcuff you, bring you in, sit you down at a table which is in a cage, and feed you. Then when you least expect it, they turn off all the lights and the staff runs through dressed as monsters and zombies, rattling the cages and shooting cap guns. It was sooo funny, but it made the dinner really fun.

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The restaurant is underground, like a dungeon.

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On your way in, a fake man gets electrocuted.

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Then they seat you in a cage.

Easy as pie.

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Before I left the next day. I only had a brief minute to stop at Shibuya crossing. It’s rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world. After going there at night, I believe it.

Tokyo is so big it’s hard not to feel like there’s a lot that I missed, but I know I’ll be back again someday, so that makes me feel a little better.

Tokyo rules.