Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Huis Ten Bosch Photos

A fancy building
Boat on Canal
It brings you good luck... I promise..
The Harlem Messengers

A night in Huis Ten Bosch

bears are coolI think that some of the most enjoyable experiences we have in this life are the ones where we aren’t expecting to have fun, in fact we are probably expecting a really lousy time. A lousy time is exactly what I was

expecting of my Saturday night last weekend, that was until I caught Huis Ten Bosch fever!!

Huis Ten Bosch (pronounced “house ten boss”) is a theme park (actually it doesn’t have any rides so it can’t really be called a theme park) with a twist, it is a giant recreation of Holland… Yes you heard me; it is a giant recreation of Holland. What the designers have done is take some of the most famous buildings from Holland and rebuilt them along with traditional architecture and ideas (e.g. cobble streets, canals, wind mills and a heck of a lot of flowers!) into a very beautiful, highly overpriced theme park!!! WHY? I hear you scream, the answer is I really don’t know, but at least I can say I have been to Holland…sort of. Huis Ten Bosch is severely overpriced, around $55 AUD and all you are paying for is entry to the park to look at the beautiful scenery and spend more money, this comes in the form of highly overpriced shopping and luxury food. But there is one way around this hefty price, go at night. If you enter the park after 5pm entry only costs around $11AUD (and in my opinion is the best time to go) and the park is lit up like a Christmas tree (could it be that it is almost Christmas?), actually the park had Christmas trees everywhere! So now you understand Huis Ten Bosch, I can tell you my story.

My family and I all packed into the car wearing our warm jackets, gloves and scarves (it is getting really cold here) while two different moods permeated the atmosphere of the vehicle, my father and I thinking “yeah whatever” and the girls all saying “oh this is going to be so much fun!”. Now, I am not sure why, but Japanese women seem to have a major fascination with Huis Ten Bosch and think it is the most romantic place on earth (I’ll admit it does have a tinge of romanticism to it) and I also think it is the only place in Japan where you will see every couple holding hands (tip to the men; If you ever get a Japanese girlfriend who you really like, take her to Huis Ten Bosch and she will be yours forever- Please note that this comment can not be upheld in a court of law). We arrived at Huis Ten Bosch where we would later meet our family friends (My AFS Liaison Person and her husband, and another family who are involved in AFS) so while we wandered through the park waiting for them I got trigger happy with my camera! Eventually we came across Santa-Claus (who the Japanese call Santa-San) who happened to come from Holland and is definitely the funniest Santa I have ever met; he even told me his real name lol! We took a family photo with him and then met our friends with whom we went to watch a Gospel concert and eat dinner with.

Talk about the best Gospel concert ever The band were from New York and were called the Harlem Messengers, they did covers of Lauren Hills “killing me softly”, “oh happy day” and a few other Gospel favorites. This band knew how to work a crowd (the crowd went nuts which is rare for a Japanese venue), the vocals were absolutely hot and cooking, they were pro’s. After the concert finished my family headed home, I stayed with our friends and headed to a Disco (oh yeah!) where the Harlem Messengers would perform once more and then the dance floor would open up. Ah the dance floor, I could live on a dance floor because I love to boogie baby!! Though it had to be the worst Disco I have ever been to as it pretty much cleared out byAAH A PANDA!! 10:30pm! At first there were a lot of people dancing, but then “the circle” formed and if you know Discos then you know that “the circle” is the biggest killer of dance parties world wide (unless of course you live in an African tribe or something). “The circle” (for the uninitiated) is when everybody stops dancing with their individual partner (usually out of embarrassment) and forms a big circle where every now and then someone jumps in the middle and dances (sort of like playing the hokey pokey. Eventually the disco cleared out and it was just our group and the staff left, so I decided to have a bit of fun… Over on the bar they had a big Panda costume hood which people sometimes wore, I had them bring the hood over and proceeded to dance.break dancing Panda If you were there you would have seen a giant Panda break dancing and doing the robot in the middle of the Disco, oh it was fun!

Eventually We decided it was time to head home and trod our way back through the empty theme park to our car, it was a great night.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Samuii (cold) Sunday

Yes Sunday was cold, Sunday was chilly and yes it was long, but once again Sunday proved that it can never be too long for my liking. I love Fukuoka! Which if you are slightly slow in the head, is why I love Sunday because Sunday is my day in Fukuoka.

Winter is getting colder and colder here in Japan. I had to ride my bike to the bus stop at 6am and it was so cold my fingers nearly fell off! (I have now bought a pair of gloves to rectify this problem) The bus trip was the same as usual, but I really enjoy it as I just relax listening to my MD (Mini Disc), read a magazine or take in the views. The best view along the trip is definitely driving through Saga-Ken. By that point in the trip the sun is just rising and there are always about 15 hot air balloons up in the sky silhouetted against the mountains and the sunrise.

Arriving in Fukuoka I headed for my morning breakfast at Iwataya Starbucks where I ate in silence waiting for Rick, who never came because he slept through his alarm. The Starbucks was only occupied by one other woman and I, she sat next to the window and I sat in the usual spot Rick and I sit in. Due to the fact Rick was running late I kept looking out the window a lot to see if he was coming, problem was this woman was sitting directly in front of the window and thought I was staring at her. About 10 minutes later I decided I would meet Rick at church, just as I am about to get up and head to the rubbish bin this woman gets up and heads for the rubbish bin and heads out the door. Now I get outside to go to church and would you believe it, this woman is walking in the same direction that I am!! By now she is getting a little worried thinking that I was following her, so I overtook her and went on my way. The question I now put to you dear reader is, does this ever happen to you???

Church finished so Rick and I trod the backstreets of Fukuoka in search of lunch (you really should check out the backstreets of Japan for yourself, they are really cool!!!), which we found in the form of a very bohemian Thai restaurant (this is one of those places whose address you only entrust to your best friends). This restaurant/café had the coolest, most atmospheric interior design job I have ever seen! We opened the door and descended down the stairs into what looked like an old opium den (hehe probably not far from the truth) where we were greeted with traditional Thai music and décor that made us think we were no longer in Japan. The waiter (dressed in very bohemian clothing) escorted us through a maze of hanging scarves and Thai textiles to our table, a sturdy, wooden, antique looking table. The lighting cast deep shadows into the recesses of the basement and the walls were painted a muddy color, the atmosphere gave the impression that you were there discussing extremely secret business, maybe people smuggling. The food was great, and as usual Rick and I had interesting conversation, there is a very good chance I will return to that restaurant.

We left the restaurant feeling very full (the most filling lunch I have ever had for $8) and headed to Iwataya to just chill and talk. As we were chatting and people watching, we noticed 3 very cute girls (they looked about 21) who kept looking at us, it didn’t take us long to work out these girls had been spying on us and were trying to get enough courage to approach us. We didn’t really want to find out what they wanted so we left, just as they started approaching us. They realized we were leaving and started yelling at each other about it, weird huh?

The rest of the day consisted of checking out very funky book stores and chilling at our favorite Starbucks, as usual a fantastic day!


A lull in the world

Maybe I am growing largely accustomed to my life here in Japan, as it seems to me that over the last week nothing extremely exciting has happened…. What am I talking about? For goodness sakes of course my life is exciting, I am in Japan living my dream!! While I may be able to dismiss things with a shrug of my big, broad shoulders (hehe yeah right, broad shoulders my men’s health magazine), there is always something happening that makes me happy and content with life. In fact, now that I think about it everybody always says “oh my life is so boring, nothing is ever happening” what a load of buck shot!! Life is what we make it, and even in Australia there was always a little thing or an event to keep life interesting and happy (happy 99% of the time). Now that I have finished my philosophical rant/ editorial for the day, let me tell you my life story… of the past week.

As I said before life is always fun and school is always, well, school. I love my school, I love the people in it, but I don’t like only understanding a moderate level of the language used in class. Japanese classes are taught using a higher level of Japanese, their version of Elitist English. There are many classes where even the Japanese students have difficulty understanding the language used, no wonder they find school difficult. Ascertaining to this fact my class time is spread between self study / education of Japanese, reading obscenely thick English novels, educating myself on the affairs and state of the world (as I write this update I am also reading an issue of “the Economist”) and keeping you happy (writing updates for my site). I think if there is one fantastic acronym I have been able to teach my Japanese friends it would be TGIF “Thank God It’s Friday”. By the time Friday afternoon rolls around we mutter this to each other and laugh because in the Japanese school system Friday is not the final day of school, there is a very high likelihood that you will be attending school based activities on Saturday and Sunday. This brings me to my weekend.

Now I’m not sure about you, but I do not take a very keen fancy to having to set my alarm for 4:50am on a Saturday morning so that I can be at school by 6am. Unfortunately in Japanese school life my likes and dislikes are not part of the decision making process and setting my alarm for 4:50am is exactly what I had to do last Saturday. It was time to do battle in Kendo and as we all know, an enemy does not wait to fit in with your preferred time schedule. Arriving at school at 6am (note: in Japanese winter 6am is still dark), my fellow Kendo warriors and I packed our war kits (protective gear) and loaded our war horse (mini bus) to head 1 and a half gallops (hours) north-east to Saga-Ken to do battle with other schools for our great and glorious war lords (Kendo teachers.

We arrived in Saga by 8am, donned our gear, warmed up (this involves hitting each other with bamboo swords for 1/2 an hour) and got ready to fight…. That would be everybody except the newest member who was given video camera duty for the whole day (8am-3:30pm). In case you have not already worked it out, I am the newest member!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! I GOT PULLED OUT OF BED AT 5AM TO VIDEO OTHER PEOPLES GAMES!!!!! Now that my rage is vented you have to understand that this is standard Japanese school club procedure, and I got to do plenty of Kendo study, but boy was it a cold day! The day wrapped up at 3:30pm and all the schools proceeded to pack up and head home, except my school on account of our teacher deciding we hadn’t played hard enough, so he punished us by making us do 1/2 an hour of H.I.T (High Intensity Training). When he could see that our energy reserves were thoroughly used up, he called training to a halt and we packed up and left. The time was 4pm when we finally hit the highway to get home, what’s that? You haven’t eaten lunch yet? Oh sorry… Yes that is right since 5:30am that morning not a single one of us had eaten anything, so we pulled over at a rest stop, pulled out the picnic blanket and had a nice leisurely lunch together.

How’s that for a day of training? Try getting a teacher in the U.S or Australia to pull off a training day like that and you wouldn’t be able to start counting the number of lawsuits that would be filed. Anyway it was a good mental training experience,


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Shimabara photos

Monday, November 07, 2005

Free in Fukuoka

Sunday morning started out when my 5:30am alarm blared at me to wake up, get my rear into gear and head off for my day of fun and frolicking in Fukuoka.

It was still dark when I left home at 6 am and the weather was awful. I love awful weather!! I don’t know about you but I love a good, long storm. When I left home I was glad I opted for the rain coat over the umbrella, the wind and rain were just too strong. By the time I arrived at the bus station the front of my pants looked like they were fresh out of the washing machine (though due to the weather the real reason was quite obvious). Once again let me stress, I love a good storm! There is something about the raging elements that makes me feel relaxed. It made for a very nice bus trip as I chilled out listening toDC Talk and CCC youth Band on my MD (Mini Disc) while rain crashed down and lightening illuminated the mountains and sky in the distance.

Arriving in Fukuoka my stomach told me it was time to hit the local Iwataya starbucks (click link for review at jesses japan cocoa) With my good friend Rick. Rick has to be one of the most interesting people you could meet, he is funny, he is casual (likes to just hang out) and is a real intellectual (some of the most intellectual conversations I have ever had were with him). Our phrase for the day was “piece of cake” in Japanese (asa meshi mae for you linguists out there), we did some catching up and headed off to church.

Church wrapped up at about 1pm so by this time I was hungry again. My friend Erin and I decided it was time to pay Bagel & Bagel A visit. No sooner had I finished my Bagel, I was dragged off to a Korean Restaurant by Rick and two Korean friends of ours from church. During the meal a lot of funny sideways glances were directed our way as we were two white guys and two Korean girls having a conversation in Japanese. Then the girls taught us how to say hello in Korean (anyonghaseiyo for the linguists). We finished our meals and said our goodbyes as the girls headed back to their university dorms and Rick and I stumbled back to the church feeling slightly heavy.

The thing I love about my church friends is that we just chill, there isn’t an expectation to do anything overly exciting. Even better is that we all have a lot in common and can just talk forever. After chilling at church Rick and I decided it was time to hit our favorite Akasaka Starbucks (just because I go to Starbucks a lot doesn’t mean I love it) where we would be joined by our church friends later on.

As we were sitting next to the window talking and drinking hundreds of people were zipping past on bicycles or walking by conducting there personal business. All of a sudden one bike goes flying by out of my line of sight and then just stops, and starts back pedaling. This abnormal action caught my eye so I turned my head to see a girl staring at me… then I realize the girl is a foreigner and that she was also my best friend on Orientation Camp when I arrived in Japan!!! I ran outside and hugged her; it was so nice to see her as we hadn’t seen each other since Camp. We did the whole catch up thing, exchange numbers etc and then went our separate ways.

By about that time I had to bid Rick and my church friend’s farewell and head for my bus. The bus trip home was uneventful except for the figure skating on TV, wow those girls are talented!!!

Schedule for this week is nothing special, but this coming weekend I have a Kendo competition, full report and photos to come.


Friday, November 04, 2005

An Internet Cafe

One reason my site was down for a few months was because a virus maliciously destroyed my computer. Apart from fretting that my host families’ computer had been destroyed while I was using it (though it was no fault of my own) I was also fretting over the idea that I was now cut off from the rest of the world. That was until I came upon the greatest internet café I have ever seen! Yes, ok, I admit there is a good amount of tech geek in me but hey, tech geeks can be some of the coolest, most interesting people you have ever met. Anyway back to the story.

I was out getting some fresh air on my bike when from the a cluster of buildings the internet café emerged, basked in all its glory like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the ten commandments (ok not quite, you get the idea). Marked by my photographic memory (or lack thereof) I returned a few days later and was very surprised by what I found.

Really we should call this a “premium internet café” because your options are huge. First off it starts with a private booth “would you like smoking or non-smoking sir?”, let us start with a basic layout. You enter your high walled cubicle/booth to be welcomed y the options you have chosen (we will get to them), a private line to the concierge, a food menu, a desk lamp and stationary (just in case you need to take notes or feel like doodling) next the options. The full option package (the rest you can pick and choose from this) includes: A computer (obviously connected to broadband), TV, DVD player, Playstation 2 and last but not least, if you are feeling a little bit cramped up from the computer just push the button on the side of your chair, it’s a state of the art massage chair….. OH YEAH!!!!

What’s next? Well if you frequent internet cafes in Japan a lot there is a good chance you read Japanese comics. The internet café thought it would be great to include a comic book and magazine library that would put a small public library to shame. Oh and then there is the playstation 2 and DVD library, and did I mention the free drinks bar? Yes that is correct, a free drinks bar which has everything from soft drink dispensers to a state of the art cappuccino machine, and by the way it is free refills.

I am still yet to sample their kitchen but it smells pretty good. So by now you all probably want to come to my internet café, too bad it is mine! What does it cost? About $3.50 AUD per hour, I will try to grab some photos to post for you guys.

Until then keep rocking,