Poster Boy

Chip’s first (and likely only) modeling job has finally been published. In case you are not expecting the Combi late winter/early spring catalog in your mailbox, you can check him out by clicking here. For the grandmothers: he’s at the top, and you can scroll down and see a few more pictures. I think the funniest is him lying on the heart-shaped pillow. That will haunt him for the rest of his life. At least the camera didn’t seem to add ten pounds, like they say, because that would be almost half of his body weight. Very embarrassing.


You’re a Mean One, Kim Jong Il

You’re a mean one, Kim Jong Il
You’ve ruined three holidays
Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas
You have taken away
Kim Jong I-eeeeeeeeeeeeee-il
And whoever told you that your hair looked good that way?

You’re a monster, Kim Jong Il
They say you’re “schizotypal”
I’m not sure exactly what that means
But you have kimchi in your soul
Kim Jong I-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-il
I wouldn’t touch you with 39 and 1/2-inch platform sole.

You’re a foul one, Kim Jong Il
To your country you’re a dic-
tator, and now you’ve made
my husband quite seasick
Kim Jong I-eeeeeeeeeeeee-il
Seriously, just go pour yourself a Hennessey and watch a Bond flick.

E is for…

Earthquake! Early Monday morning, I felt my first earthquake. I was shaken awake at about three in the morning by it. The weird thing was that I knew immediately what it was, even coming out of a dead sleep. I did not enjoy it. It was a 4.7 with the epicenter north of Tokyo, so it wasn’t too powerful but it will do nicely for checking the experience off of my Japan to-do list, thank you very much. I think that earthquakes are really the bullies of natural disasters, the way they sneak up on you unexpectedly. At least with tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, plague, etc. you can see the enemy and might be warned before it hits.

Engrish! While going through my pictures recently, I found a couple of nice signs that I haven’t posted yet.

Yes, please only use your best handwriting for graffiti.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Kurisumasu

The Japanese, being a seasonal people, really seem to be into Christmas. I was afraid I would call attention to myself with a string of lights in our palm tree and a little Christmas tree on the porch, but I needn’t have feared. One of the people on our street has Santas popping out of his yard like so many gnomes, and a light display that rivals Chevy Chase’s in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This is a man who usually trims his yard with scissors. I was very concerned about his light bill until I saw his strings of lights are solar-powered. Inspired, I got some, too, but it was really mainly because I have no outdoor electrical outlet and was not about to run the light cord through an open window despite my determination to be festive. I have also decorated the inside of the house, with the bookshelf substituting for the hearth. Fortunately Chip is too young to wonder how Santa will get into the house without a chimney.

Ornaments in the window and lights on the bookshelf. Safe? Probably not. Festive? Definitely.

Why the determination to be festive? Usually I am not so thrilled about Christmas and it is Rob who is Tiny Tim to my Scrooge. But he is gone again–if you follow the news of the western Pacific closely you’ll know exactly what he’s doing–and I feel that I should step up in his absence.

Other signs of the season:

  • My neighborhood Starbucks, which made me very sad by not having any pumpkin-flavored things this fall, has come through with the gingerbread latte! It is even more delicious here, I think because their default milk is whole. I’m not going to ask about that, though.
  • If gingerbread lattes aren’t your thing, there are a variety of seasonal drinks now in the vending machines. Corn potage (my guess is some kind of soup in a can), hot lemonade (lovely), hot jasmine tea (lovelier), and something in a can with a stack of pancakes on the outside. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will.
  • Before Rob left again we went to Tokyo for a night. (Chip-chan got babysat and we had a night out. We went and saw the new Harry Potter movie because it was in English. The theater was amazing: it looked like a space ship inside, everyone put away their cell phones and shut up for the duration of the film and then took their trash out afterwards, and two tickets cost over $40–seating was reserved!) Walking around Roppongi we caught the scent of pine and were delighted to see a Christmas tree lot…

    Perhaps you can't see the price tags for 40-50,000 yen. That's like a $500 tree.

  • Boxes are appearing everywhere. Watch out family and friends: you might just be getting Chip mailed to you for Christmas.

I just wrote "Chip" on the custom form. No questions asked.


In other Chip news, after almost 18 months of life Chip finally had enough hair for a haircut. He cried the entire haircut, but looks much more respectable without the baby mullet.

    The President and the soft cream

    U.S. President Barack Obama, center, enjoys

    So, the one thing that we missed while we were in Kyoto was President Obama literally in our backyard. He visited very nearby Kamakura while he was here for the APEC conference in Yokohama, and he even landed his helicopter at Ikego, the Navy housing area just over the mountain from us. Here’s more about his visit from the Mainichi Daily News (which I think translates to the “Everyday” Daily News), from whom I also got the above picture (because I missed actually taking it in real life!).

    Not to get too political, but this visit combined two things of which I am a huge fan: the President and Japanese “soft cream.” Disturbing name, delicious substance. As a Midwesterner, I take my soft serve very seriously and have been delighted to see that the Japanese do the same. Their flavors, however, are not what you find at the DQ: sweet potato, corn, hydrangea, cherry blossom.

    Soft cream stand in Tokyo.

    Apparently Obama enjoyed green tea soft cream. My mother and I sat on that very bench in Kamakura, at the Daibatsu temple, and enjoyed soft serve (blueberry) ourselves last June. This is the second time I have almost had ice cream with the president; when we lived in Alexandria he came to my favorite place, the Dairy Godmother, the day after I had been there. Maybe someday, at some random place in the world (he’s got to go back to Kansas someday, right?), Obama and I will have ice cream at the SAME TIME!

    Autumn in Kyoto

    Maples and Ginkakuji Temple

    So Rob came home eventually, and it has been very nice to have him. After months at sea, literally working all the time, I think that relaxation is somewhat difficult for him. So we seized our Veterans’ Day weekend to take the bullet train to Kyoto. Accidentally, we went at one of the prettiest times of the year: maple leaf season.

    Good-bye, I'm going to Kyoto

    Getting off of the train at the soaring modern Kyoto station, Kyoto looks like any other city in Japan: miles of pavement and plate-glass. Scattered all over the city, however, are pockets of transcendently beautiful places. I think it helped that we didn’t bomb Kyoto into oblivion in WWII. There are actually entire old neighborhoods, although not as many as one might think.

    Hushed, elegant, exquisite, composed, contemplative, meticulous: my inner narrator groped for adjectives while I contemplated innumerable scenes of natural and architectural splendor tucked behind gates and walls and twisting streets (that is, when I wasn’t trying to keep Chip from scooping up the meticulously raked rock gardens and throwing bits of them around). Gazing over the delicate grace of a shogun’s jewel box of a house and zen garden built in 1485, one is acutely aware that one is descended from hairy barbarians who probably didn’t even get around to bathing that entire year much less creating such works of aesthetic perfection. Much better writers than me have described Kyoto, though, just pick up a Fodor’s. Here are some of Rob’s really nice pictures.

    Of the Kiyumizu Temple:

    This is the Kiyumizu "Pure Water" Temple. Its verandah is perched high on a cliff, and apparently there's a saying in Japanese that starting a big endeavor is like jumping off of Kiyumizu.

    Not jumping off the verandah at Kiyumizu Temple.

    In Gion, the geisha district:

    Evening in Gion. Sadly no geishas were spotted.

    Oh this old thing? This is just my evening chores kimono.

    Stocking up for the evening at 7-11.

    At Nijo-jo Castle:

    This castle was built by the Tokugawas, the same shogun family that brought us Nikko. The floors inside are called "nightingale" floors: they squeak prodigiously to warn of intruders.

    Giant mum display at Nijo-jo. There's got to be a homecoming queen in there somewhere.

    At the Inari Fushimi shrine:

    Chip runs the thousands of torii gates, just like in Memoirs of a Geisha!

    At the Tofukuji temple:

    Tofukuji, best place for maple gazing.

    At Ginkakuji Temple (also pictured above):

    Raking the zen garden rocks at the Ginkakuji Temple. I think that this would be a lovely job.

    On the Philosopher’s Walk:

    So named because a Kyoto University professor used to walk here daily. It just begs quiet contemplation...

    ...and fried potatoes. This is Rob's new favorite street food: the Potatornado!

    This seems like an obnoxious amount of pictures, but we only scratched the surface. Three-ish days was not enough in Kyoto. We’ll just have to go back someday.

    Blues and Noodles

    Last week my husband came home after two months away. The joyous homecoming, with an anticipated 3-day holiday weekend, was short-lived however, as less than 48 hours later the navy sent him back out again to avoid a “typhoon.” Not all the ships were sent out from Yokosuka, Rob just got lucky. So Chip and I were left alone to face the “typhoon.” I put “typhoon” in quotation marks because I was not impressed. Despite dire warnings issued by the base weather service, the only damage we sustained was Rob’s bike blowing over. Other than that, it was just cold rain as usual.

    There was no way I was staying in the house with a 1-year-old all weekend, “typhoon” or not. I needed some cheering up, and as a long walk on the beach was out of the question, some comfort food was in order. As Japan has no Museum of Macaroni and Cheese or Museum of Bread Pudding, Chip and I went to the next best thing: the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. Yes, a whole museum devoted to noodles!

    The Ramen Museum. And "typhoon."

    Admission was only 300 yen but, as the guide warned me, all adult visitors are expected to buy a large bowl of noodles. No problem. I had no idea what to expect, but Tokyo in a basement was not it. There was a whole neighborhood of Tokyo circa 1958 reproduced underground.

    Behold the City of Noodles.

    Why 1958? According to the website: “Why did we reproduce the year Showa 33 (1958)? The mood from the good old days of Showa fills visitors with nostalgia and an appetite to taste ramen.”

    Nostalgia always does make me hungry. It must have made the citizens of this neighborhood particularly hungry, too, because every shop in it was a ramen restaurant. I certainly hope the denizens of this quarter never had to buy bread, or tea, or clothing, or a broom or something like that.

    Each shop served ramen from a different region of Japan. I wish I could read; all the descriptions were in Japanese. With that obstacle, not to mention Chip doing his best to get lost in the good old days, I simply looked for a restaurant that didn’t have a line and did have a high chair, which are probably not the best criteria for really choosing your ramen. Anyway, bingo, we found one right on the neighborhood square. All the ordering was automated; I recognized the word ramen, 700 yen, on the little ticket dispenser and managed to get that. To my delight, I also recognized gyoza which are these little pan-fried dumplings that I love.

    Chip and I got to sit at the counter and watch them make the ramen, which is fun. The ramen itself was interesting; my best guess is that it was “taiho” ramen from Fukuoka in southern Japan. Wherever it was from certainly reveres the pig. The broth was very pork-y and there were thin slices of pork on top. The noodles were also very thin. It was good, but I like my Hayama miso ramen at my neighborhood noodle shop much better. The gyoza were small and wonderful, and I had to fight Chip for them.

    Please, sir, can I have some more?

    I wish I could have tried more (I have a pretty bottomless capacity for ramen), but Chip-chan was ready to go back to the 21st century. He had a rather spectacular meltdown on the train ride home, but time travel will do that to you.

    And now maybe my husband will come home again, and we will get to have a re-reunion. If not, I always have the noodle shop just down the street.

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