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commit 80300d99de4d430188298d6a7acc229b87fa79fc
Author: Chris Bracken <>
Date:   Fri,  1 Jun 2018 14:32:07 -0700

Initial import

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diff --git a/config.toml b/config.toml @@ -0,0 +1,45 @@ +baseURL = "" +languageCode = "en-ca" +defaultContentLanguage = "en-ca" +title = "Chris Bracken" +enableRobotsTXT = true +enableEmoji = true +disableHugoGeneratorInject = true +theme = "mofo" + +preserveTaxonomyNames = true +hasCJKLanguage = true +paginate = 5 + +[author] + name = "Chris Bracken" + +[sitemap] + changefreq = "weekly" + priority = 0.5 + filename = "sitemap.xml" + +[[menu.main]] + name = "Home" + weight = 10 + identifier = "home" + url = "/" +[[menu.main]] + name = "About" + weight = 20 + identifier = "about" + url = "/about/" +[[menu.main]] + name = "GitHub" + weight = 20 + identifier = "github" + url = "" +[[menu.main]] + name = "Twitter" + weight = 20 + identifier = "twitter" + url = "" + +[params] + since = "2000" # Initial site creation, start of copyright. + dateFormat = "02 January 2006" # See diff --git a/content/CNAME b/content/CNAME @@ -0,0 +1 @@ +\ No newline at end of file diff --git a/content/ b/content/ @@ -0,0 +1,146 @@ +--- +title: About me +--- + +This site is mainly intended as a way to keep in touch with friends and family +back in Canada while I’m off galavanting in other countries. + +After wandering aimlessly through various university faculties until I had the +requisite bits of paper, I moved south of the border to work as a software +developer at [Autodesk][autodesk] in San Rafael, California, just across the +bridge from San Francisco. At that point, this site was mostly crammed with +pictures from the City, Sonoma, and some shots of lizards and stuff. + +After leaving Autodesk, I took off for Mérida, México, where the people were +friendly, the food was delicious, and the telephone calls were $3.00 a minute. +As a result, I dumped all the pictures and stories I could on here, mainly to +avoid of dying destitute and thousands of pesos in debt to TelMex. + +Eventually, I moved to one of the best cities in the world, Tokyo, Japan, where +I lived for close to five years, met my wife, and learned to speak, read, and +write Japanese. Our children were born in Japan, and it still feels more like +home than anywhere else. + +We now live in Mountain View, California, where I work as a software engineer +for [Google][google]. + +You can drop me a line anytime at [][email]. + +## About This Site + +You can find the source for this site and instructions on how to build it on +[GitHub][site_repo]. + +## PGP Public Key + +If you’re a fan of crypto, you can find me on [][keybase]. Here’s my +PGP public key: + +``` +-----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK----- + +mQENBE0G6d4BCADI58H/bjS8sRspoPYPIss1ZRignBaiinaYawvZqptwtaAp7C/c +nYDRXXaIZiPc/zvGVgKuZCfs2AiN1SdsonBu48LjHxW9ORe4AXqNHgeiO5emKeKR +5z0U18uUPs/C3LzNTLts1chlPmBOPL90A4rK+ZaQOYxjDhDJd2vUgCicPhFLljjS +7Wr5BrLEg9OqmOxrbK/tvJY4fiY+S37jL8wrWaElXPZIxGXbF4ddnn4dmwcKyMOc +89FnwiXNqsXNfji7DyLMuXViRRMABP1Tp/HmEz0n8RCLXfVC8kcxkNbZMd4jXoVV +3j6WEPv2AUeVBjAqHRVB7dE+18glGT7I2uZNABEBAAG0IkNocmlzIEJyYWNrZW4g +PGNocmlzQGNicmFja2VuLmNvbT6JAVUEEwECAD8CGwMGCwkIBwMCBhUIAgkKCwQW +AgMBAh4BAheAFiEEnvaVevZzZS5KtVQtu+RYaMvoqP4FAlvd5x8FCRC4MMEACgkQ +u+RYaMvoqP5iyQf/SfrBehaEpZsl6v9B9TkP+7W1lbPBrcnZruape+/pDFr/0QkC +isuxxQKfld+ug3t0rl6fY0XNK4pIkbqHSl1r+4Zu84JRJB3+ghyLkcP51c7Plp8I +fTp6LsRxdTwMnGUkb9fKsdN26i7I5yUViBVLcJA8ZhHsEFtFM4Td2cN9QkpHF/l+ +IBshLVtJGXv1MymHRi1ysbDH9qX772q84blohqoPYWvV+MXxZUFQN5nl9ZxNppkk +Cr2LmtoOXqp1JHQLaSwQEAdVDEBAI+Zb7s45A+TeN0KCxB87jTjndOyDDnvuLxu+ +AouF2sSxVTlOcc4jojWZZJyqtEOmhQ3yxhCv4YkBPgQTAQIAKAIbAwYLCQgHAwIG 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So far so good! The heat is scorching, the humidity is +sweltering, and the mosquitos are biting. But Mérida is a beautiful city, and +the people are wonderful. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,66 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-08-17T16:00:00Z" +image: 2001-08-17-cathedral.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Mérida, Yucatán, México +--- + +Arrived in Cancún on Friday at about 6 pm, took out some money from the bank +machine, and hopped into a colectivo¹ for Ciudad Cancún—the city itself—a +twenty minute drive from the long strip of hotels between the lagoon and the +ocean that the outside world refers to as Cancún. By the time the colectivo got +to the bus station, it was 9 pm, so after checking out the schedule and booking +tickets, there was just enough time to grab some dinner and get some sleep +before heading off to Mérida first thing the next morning.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-08-17-cathedral.jpg" alt="The Mérida Cathedral" >}} + +Sitting in a Mexican bus station is an activity in itself. Drenched in sweat +and surrounded by hundreds of other sweaty people carrying bags, backpacks, and +cardboard packages held together with twine, in heat and humidity well above +what any sane person would tolerate, you gain an appreciation of just how +patient a people the Mexicans are. Buses come and go as they please; to the +Mexican bus driver, the posted schedule is only a guideline. Buses are +notoriously late, and ours is no exception. + +When it does arrive, the bags are loaded, everyone climbs into their seats and, +once the bus driver has got his drinks and snacks ready for the trip, he throws +it into reverse and we´re off. After a four hour ride through the Yucatecan +jungle, we arrived at the Fiesta Américana terminal in the north end of Mérida. +From there, we grabbed a taxi into town and unloaded everything at Hotel Mucuy, +on calle 57 between calle 56 and calle 58, where we stayed while we searched +for jobs and a place to live. + +This might be a good time to explain the mysterious numbering system for the +addresses in Mérida. Odd numbered streets run east-west and even numbered +streets run north-south. For streets that run diagonally, the ones that run +from SE to NW are even, the rest are odd—usually. Another challenge is that +street addresses are not often consistent; number 499 might be three or four +blocks from 498. Because of this, addresses are usually given as a street +number and a cross street (for corner addresses) or a street number and the two +cross streets between which the address lies. + +Mérida is the capital city of México’s Yucatán state and, centuries ago, was +the capital of the Mayan empire as well. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived +in the city in the mid-16th century, led by Francisco de Montejo, they +discovered the Mayan city of Tihó. Its temples and limestone architecture +reminded them enough of Mérida, Spain that they promptly renamed the city and +began dismantling the Mayan structures. While you won’t find any of the +original Mayan buildings remaining today, the cathedral in the Plaza Principal² +contains blocks from the Mayan temple that once stood in the same location. + +In any case, the city today is gorgeous. Its narrow streets and colonial +architecture give it a traditional feel. Every Sunday, all the streets within +several blocks of the main plaza are shut down to vehicle traffic while +musicians play live music near the Plaza Principal, and people dance in the +streets. + +### Glossary + +1. *Colectivo:* a communal taxi, usually a VW van, into which the driver packs + as many people as the laws of physics will allow. For example the last one + we used had 16 people stuffed into it. +1. *Plaza Principal:* the main square found in almost every Mexican town. diff --git a/content/post/2001-08-28-old-door.jpg b/content/post/2001-08-28-old-door.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,66 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-08-28T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-08-28-old-door.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Quest for a Hammock +--- + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-08-28-old-door.jpg" + alt="Crumbling building façade in Mérida" >}} + +In Mérida, most people sleep in hammocks. Walk down any residential street and +look in the windows and you’ll see hammocks strung all over the room. What I’m +getting at is that I finally caved in and bought a hammock. Now sit back and +listen, ’cause here’s my advice…<!--more--> + +If you’re in Mérida, you’ll be approached every five minutes by someone wanting +to sell you a hammock off the street. Do not buy it! That man is crazy! The +quality of hammock you get from a wandering hammock guy is a mystery until you +try it out. And you’re not going to be trying it out until after you’ve paid +for it. Generally speaking, they’re pretty bad. Locals refer to them as +‘hospital hammocks’ because that’s where you end up if you use them. Go to a +hammock shop with a good reputation. If they can show you a photo album of them +and their grandparents chopping down sisal (henequen cactus), stripping the +fibre, and making hammocks, it’s a pretty safe bet that the hammocks are +good.So Julio Armando pulled out a few hammocks, strung them up, proudly +displays the threading to show there were no flaws, and got me to jump in and +take it for a spin. Hammocks come in lots of sizes: single, double, +matrimonial, and matrimonial especial. The difference is the number of pairs of +end threads. Matrimonial has about 150 pairs of end threads, whereas a single +has about 50 and a double has about 100. Keep in mind that these sizes were +designed for people of Mayan stature, which is a lot smaller than your typical +Canadian, or Mestizo Mexican. + +Unfortunately, the walls in the apartment must be the only ones in the whole +city that doesn’t have hammock hooks! Even a lot of hotels in Mérida provide +hooks! I ran across the street to the Tlapalería¹ and using hand signals and +pantomime, bought exactly five metres of nylon rope. Using those engineering +skills I spent so much effort learning at UVic, and some knots I learned in Boy +Scouts, I rigged up a makeshift hammock hookup. Unfortunately, the only +available post to string a rope around was the chunk of wall between the +balcony door and the window, which meant that both the door and the window had +to be open to use it, and I had to pull the mosquito screen out of the window +anytime I wanted to use the hammock. + +About Mérida’s weather: Maybe you people back home have looked at the +temperatures in Mérida and thought 'Wow! They spend the whole summer in the mid +to upper 30s! It’s just like Cancún!' True, but it’s also insanely humid, which +means you’re covered in sweat 24 hours a day—imagine waking up sticky and +sweaty every morning; that’s why most people use hammocks. What’s more, unlike +Cancún, there are thunderstorms every afternoon between about four and seven. +You can set your watch by them. During these thunderstorms, it rains. A lot. So +much, in fact, that having the window or door open even a centimetre spells +certain doom. In short, the hammock is no longer up. Back to the drawing board. + +A curious side note here. If you wander the streets of Mérida enough, you’ll +notice an inordinate number of people with one or both eyes missing. The reason +for this is quite interesting. Mérida is famous around the world for its +hammocks. And to make hammocks you need henequen fibre. The sisal cactus from +which you get it has very, very sharp, needle-like barbs. You get the point. + +### Glossary + +1. *Tlapalería:* A sort of little roadside hardware store. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,61 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-08-30T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Izamal, Yucatán, México +--- + +Took a trip a few towns to the east this morning, to Izamal. While Mérida is +known throughout México as the White City, Izamal is referred to as the Yellow +City due to the preponderance of yellow buildings. With a population of 15,000 +or so, it’s much quieter than Mérida, and horse-drawn carriages are still used +as transportation by some of its residents. The two big tourist attractions +here are the ruins of Kinich-Kakmó, one of 12 Mayan temples that originally +stood at the site of this town, and the Franciscan Monastery, one of the first +in the New World, built from the stones of the largest Mayan temple in Izamal +after it was torn down by the Conquistadors.<!--more--> + +The Convento de San Antonio de Padua sits on one side of the Plaza Principal, a +block from the city’s bus station. Climbing up the ramp in front brings you to +a large flat terrace and the entrance to the buildings themselves. From there, +you can enter the chapel, visit the arboreum or climb up to the top levels of +the monastery. If you look carefully, some of the stones in the walls and +arches have Mayan designs on them—these were part of the temple that originally +stood at this location. Facing away from the monastery, you can see +Kinich-Kakmó towering over the jungle six or seven blocks away. + +Kinich-Kakmó, which is about 200 m x 180 m, was built between 300 and 600 A.D. +and was recently restored. From the top levels, the temple provides a great +view of the city. Following a narrow dirt path around the back affords a +spectacular view of the surrounding jungle and the vast, Saskatchewan-like +flatness of the Yucatán peninsula. All over the place, big, lazy iguanas +sunbathe on the rock walls of the temple. Just beside the entrance, at the base +of the front side of the pyramid, is a great-smelling tortillería. + +We ate at the Kinich-Kakmó Restaurant, and it was delicious though a little +pricey. We each had a Montejo beer and lime soup, followed by Poc-Chuc¹ and +Rellenos Negros², along with some fresh handmade tortillas. As with many +restaurants, homemade tortilla chips and salsas are served with the meal. The +total came to about 160 pesos, which is enough to buy you several days worth of +groceries at Wal-Mart or San Francisco in Mérida. The main dining area is +outdoors under a thatched Mayan style roof (and yes, lots of people still live +in traditional Mayan huts—some have corrugated metal roofs these days, but just +as many use the traditional palm fronds). The waiters even offer bug-spray if +you need it. Fortunately, due to some creative engineering by the staff, you +don’t need it. Clear plastic bags of water dangle by threads from the roof and, +in the words of the waiter, 'when the bug sees his reflection as he gets +closer, he sees himself reflected so big and ugly that it scares him away.' It +seems to work—we didn’t see a single fly or mosquito during lunch, and there +were tons outside. Royal Thai in San Rafael, California does the same thing, so +there’s got to be something to it. + +Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the memory card for the camera, so no +pictures, but it was well worth the trip. + +### Glossary +1. *Poc-Chuc:* A Yucatecan dish made with pork marinaded in orange juice. +1. *Rellenos Negros:* A spicy, black Yucatecan soup made from beans, with + pieces of chicken and a hard boiled egg bathing in it. + diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,30 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-08-31T14:00:00Z" +image: 2001-08-31-chelem.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Chelem, Yuctán, México +--- + +Grabbed a bus north to Progreso to go to the beach. While it was beautiful +weather and the ocean looked great, there were no palm trees on the beach, so +it was impossible to find any shade. We’d heard that in the next town over, +Yucalpetén, there were some great beaches, so we asked around and finally found +a colectivo headed out in that direction. The one we found stopped +by a bathing centre and the town of Chelem. Now right now I’m going to come +straight out and say it: if someone ever tells you a story about the amazing +beaches at Yucalpetén, just back away slowly and do not make any sudden +moves—the person you are talking to has probably escaped from an asylum. +<!-- more --> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-08-31-chelem.jpg" alt="Main street of Chelem" + title="The main street of Chelem?" >}} + +We wandered around for a few hours, but we never did find a beach in decent +condition. In the end we sat on a grass embankment close to the ocean, +observing what appeared to be the remains of a house that had been bulldozed +across the beach and into the ocean; there still were big chunks of concrete +wall strewn all over the place. It was sort of post-apocalyptic looking. On the +bright side, there was a nice cool breeze. diff --git a/content/post/2001-08-31-chelem.jpg b/content/post/2001-08-31-chelem.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-08-31-palapa.jpg b/content/post/2001-08-31-palapa.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,34 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-08-31T10:00:00Z" +image: 2001-08-31-palapa.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Progreso, Yucatán, México +--- + +Half an hour north of Mérida is the port town of Progreso. Though it’s on the +gulf side of the peninsula, the water is still a beautiful turquoise-blue; it +puts Canadian beaches to shame. On a hot weekend, Progreso makes a fun day +trip. The wind keeps you cool, and as long as you keep ordering drinks, the +food comes free at the palapa huts on the beach.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-08-31-palapa.jpg" + alt="Palapas on the beach at Progreso" >}} + +The one thing that is impossible to miss in Progreso is the pier. At its +original length of 6 km, it was the longest in all of México, and with its new +3 km extension for cruise ships, it’s now the longest in the world. The reason +for its size is that the Yucatán Peninsula is in essence a huge, flat limestone +shelf that continues to extend long past the waterfront. At 6 km out, the +water is still only 7 or 8 metres deep. As a result a 3 km extension was added +in 2001 to allow cruise ships to dock safely. + +When we asked friends in Mérida about the beach in Progreso, they mostly told +us that it wasn’t that nice. When we got back, I told my class that in Canada +we put beaches like that in beer commercials. I guess when Cancún is only a few +hours drive away, you can afford to be picky. The only downside is that most of +the palm trees are tiny. The previous ones were all ripped out during Hurricane +Gilberto a few years ago. As a result there’s very little shade, so your only +option is to hide under a palapa. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,140 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-09-06T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-09-06-lancha.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, México +--- + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-09-06-lancha.jpg" + alt="A boat moored off of Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres" >}} + +> Lo que tu eres, yo fui +> Lo que yo soy, luego serás +> _—Inscription on the pirate Mundaca’s Tomb_ +<!--more--> + +Many, many years ago, a pirate by the name of Fermin Antonio Mundaca de +Marechaja landed on Isla Mujeres and fell in love with a young lady whose name +has been long forgotten. Today, she is known only as *La Trigueña* (The +Brunette), the name by which he referred to her. In order to win her love, +Mundaca built an elaborate hacienda, erected archways and laid paths throughout +the gardens. He had trees and plants brought from all over the world to plant +in the gardens. Unfortunately, before he finished this masterpiece, she ran off +with another islander and got married. Today, his house lays in ruins in the +middle of what remains of his fortress. And if you look carefully, you can +faintly work out the words *La Trigueña* carved into the stone archway. Mundaca +eventually died of the plague in Mérida, but his small tomb can still be seen +among the headstones of the small cemetary near the north beach of town. +Adorned with an eerily grinning skull and crossbones, it bears no name, but +carries the inscription: 'As you are, I was. As I am, you will be.' + +With a couple weeks before school and work starts, we decided to visit Isla +Mujeres (lit. The Island of Women), a small island that sits about 11 km off +the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, in Quintana Roo. A few hours east of +Mérida, the island is surrounded by the turquoise, bathtub warm, crystal clear +waters of the Caribbean, and is the site of some spectacular snorkeling and +diving. + +Isla Mujeres is tiny—about 8 km long and between 300 and 800 metres wide—and +has a population of 7000 residents. The main part of the town sits on the +north-west tip of the island, but there are some smaller *colonias* in the +central Salinas area, as well as on the south end. Although it was once a +fishing town, the main business today is tourism. Unlike Cancún, however, Isla +Mujeres has a much more relaxed, laid back pace of life, and it hasn’t yet +turned into a party town full of drunken gringos. The locals appear to want to +keep it this way, and the local San Francisco store stops selling alcohol at +8:30 or 9:00 in the evenings. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-09-06-sunset.jpg" alt="Sunset from Playa Norte" >}} + +From the downtown Cancún bus station, we grabbed the Route 13 bus north along +Avenida Tulum to the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal, then hopped on a boat for +the 30 minute ferry ride to the island. We spent the whole ride locked in a +psychological battle trying not to jump off into the gorgeous blue water; it +was sheer torture. Apparently we weren’t the only ones—as soon as the boat +pulled alongside the Isla Mujeres dock, one 40 year old passenger jumped +overboard and swam to shore.We spent the next few days wandering around the +island on foot. Like a lot of touristy places in Mexico, there are thousands of +people trying to sell you anything and everything on the street. Fortunately, +the city is small enough that all the hawkers seem to be packed into two blocks +along Avenida Hidalgo between Av. Abasolo and Av. Lopez Mateos. Unfortunately, +that’s the easiest way to get to the beach. Fortunately (yet again), it’s +easily bypassed by taking the scenic route. + +The best times of day for the beach are sunrise and sunset. The boatloads of +tourists from Cancún aren’t there, and the beach is nearly empty. The water +stays warm 24 hours a day, and the sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. During +the afternoons, the beach is packed with people and the sun is intense enough +that if you don’t fork over the 60 pesos ($10 Canadian) for a beach umbrella, +you’ll fry like bacon, even with the SPF 50 they sell at the super market. +There’s a reason most Mexicans swim in shorts and a t-shirt. + +There are a lot of other things to do on the island. One of the most +interesting is the Sea Turtle conservation park. This is the only facility in +Mexico dedicated to preserving endangered sea turtles, such as the Hawk’s Bill +Turtle, which grows to over 100 kg, and lives to around 120 years old. The sea +turtles have been hunted to near extinction because of world-wide demand from +for their meat and shells. At the conservation facility, the turtles are bred, +cared for, then released back into the wild. There are no railings on the +walkways above the huge walled off section of ocean where the largest of the +turtles swim, and according to the guy who showed us around, if you fall in, +'te comen!', 'they eat you!'. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-09-06-skeletons.jpg" + alt="Handmade skeleton toys on the sidewalk" >}} + +The ruins of Mundaca’s fortress are in the central part of the island, and if +you want to be eaten alive by mosquitos (there are Dengue Fever warnings all +over the place on the Yucatán Peninsula, by the way) it’s a great place to go. +No wonder the object of Mundaca’s affections ditched him for another man. Any +sensible pirate would have built his fortress on the beach or at least within +walking distance. Mundaca built his in the marshiest, grottiest, most densely +jungled part of the island. On the bright side there is, however, a sort of +small zoo in his gardens, with alligators, monkeys, a deer, and apparently a +jaguar, though we never got to see it, because the mosquitos drove us out +first. By the twentieth or thirtieth bite, we’d had more than enough of +Mundaca’s place.On the south side of the island, there’s Playa Garrafón, which +is part of a national park, but seems to have been recently turned into an +expensive tourist trap, complete with all-you-can-eat restaurants, zip lines, +'underwater adventure' and more construction, all for the low, ubeatable price +of $35 US a day! I believe they even translated that price into pesos +underneath in small type. We actually went next door, paid 20 pesos (about $2 +US) and had the whole beach to ourselves. We snorkeled around the wharf and a +small reef, then Pablo and Armando, who ran the place, took us out to a reef 15 +minutes out by boat, where we saw sharks, a sting ray, and a ton of live (and +dead) coral. Unfortunately, it seems like a million and one other people go out +to the same reef, and most don’t know how to swim. This means you’ll end up +spending an hour getting your head kicked in by screaming hoardes of +life-jacket wearing, water spitting drowners. I did get rammed in the legs by a +nurse shark though. It felt like sandpaper and was among the creepier +sensations I have experienced in my life. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-09-06-nativity-scene.jpg" + alt="Isla Mujeres underwater-themed nativity scene" >}} + +There are also some Mayan ruins at the south tip of the island, though there’s +very little left of them. Most of the ruins have been hurled into the ocean by +various hurricanes, but what’s left sits on a small point overlooking the +crystal clear blue water. My favourite part was the hand painted sign that +reads 'IGUANAS-No los tire piedras-Cuidelas', 'Please do not throw rocks at +the iguanas-take care of them!' Two English ladies who now live in Kentucky +were kind enough to pick us up on their rented golf cart and haul us back into +town, saving us a taxi ride/sunburn.During our stay on the island, we ran into +a small herd of beach cats. They appeared to be completely starving, which I’m +sure is all part of their little ploy to get food from unsuspecting tourists. +In fact, I’m sure that if a study were done, they’d probably find that this is +a behaviour that beach cats have evolved over centuries of tourism, sort of +like pigeons that pretend to be one-legged to get sympathy points from old +grannies in parks. In any case, these poor things ended up rounding up enough +sympathy to get some canned tuna… twice. Most of the time, though, I we watched +it digging holes on the beach, which I don’t really want to think about too +much. We also saw it kill and eat cockroaches, which no matter how disgusting +it is, I have to admit is actually sort of mezmerising. + +All in all, it was a great vacation before everything gets crazy here. We hope +we’ll have time to go back at some point for another visit. The place to stay +is definitely the Hotel El Marcianito; the guy who runs it is totally friendly, +and gave us a ton of advice on places to see. diff --git a/content/post/2001-09-06-lancha.jpg b/content/post/2001-09-06-lancha.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-09-06-nativity-scene.jpg b/content/post/2001-09-06-nativity-scene.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-09-06-skeletons.jpg b/content/post/2001-09-06-skeletons.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-09-06-sunset.jpg b/content/post/2001-09-06-sunset.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,70 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-09-11T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-09-11-munecas-door.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán, México +--- + +About halfway between Mérida and Progresso lie the ruins of Dzibilchaltún, an +important centre in the ancient world of the Maya. The name means 'The place +with writing on the stones.'<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-09-11-munecas-door.jpg" + alt="Looking out from inside Templo de las Siete Muñecas" >}} + +Dzibilchaltún covers an area of about 16 square kilometres, in which there are +about 8400 structures. The central part of the site covers three square +kilometres, which includes several temples and pyramids, as well as a cenote of +unknown depth, one of the largest in the Yucatán. Many of the structures date +back as far as 500 B.C. + +From downtown Mérida, you can catch a colectivo that stops down the road from +the temple. A 10 minute hike from there along a trail through the jungle gets +you to the entrance to the site, where they charge 50 pesos per person ($7.50 +CDN) to get in. The day we arrived, it was a scorching 40-something degrees, +with 100% humidity, so the fact that the small museum on the site was +air-conditionned was worth the price of admission in itself. + +The site is divided into two parts, separated by a one kilometre long road. At +one end is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named after seven ceramic dolls found +there as offerings to the gods. At the other end is a courtyard, a pyramid, a +ball court and the cenote, as well as an open chapel that was constructed +during the Colonial era, in the late 16th and early 17th century. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-09-11-munecas-outside.jpg" + alt="Templo de las Siete Muñecas" >}} + +The Temple of the Seven Dolls is probably the most interesting part of the +site. At least it was to us. At one time, the temple was adorned with plaster +friezes, molded to the shapes of intertwined serpents, hieroglyphs, and masks, +though these friezes are no longer on the structure itself. The building is +thought to have served as an astronomical observatory, and during the Vernal +and Autumnal Equinoxes, an interesting phenonmenon can be seen at sunrise. +During the Equinoxes, the sun is perfectly aligned such that the morning +sunlight passes directly between two sets of opposing doors on the temple, +casting the light down into the courtyard facing the structure. Many people +pile into Dzibilchaltún between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning to witness the +sunrise, then run back out and pile into a bus to Chichen Itza to watch the +more spectacular effect of the sun casting light in the shape of a giant +serpent slithering up the side of the temple there in the afternoon. If you +don’t happen to be a teacher who has classes on these days, this is apparently +the thing to do. + +The cenote on the other side of the site is open for swimming, if you don’t +mind thousands of little fish chasing you around the whole time. What’s +curious, of course, is that there are any fish at all in the cenotes, since +they’re fed by a series of deep, underwater channels of water that snake +beneath the entire peninsula. There are no rivers or streams connecting them on +the surface, so the fish have to descend to incredible depths (over 100 m) to +move between one cenote and the next. From what people have told us, the fish +that live in the cenotes are blind, which is kind of cool. + +We hiked back out to the road after a few hours of wandering around, the sat +waiting for a colectivo to drive by and pick us up. For 30 minutes we sat +around, the air totally still and boiling hot, with only the sound of the +mosquitos and the cow in the field next to us. I’m not entirely sure what was +wrong with it, but the way it hollered made it sound demented and insane. I +honestly hope I never drink any milk from that one; no way that’s safe. diff --git a/content/post/2001-09-11-munecas-door.jpg b/content/post/2001-09-11-munecas-door.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-09-11-munecas-outside.jpg b/content/post/2001-09-11-munecas-outside.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,32 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-12-18T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-12-18-temple-of-inscriptions.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Palenque, Chiapas, México +--- + +For Christmas, we decided to take a trip to the state of Chiapas, about an 8 +hour bus ride from Mérida. Although Chiapas has been a somewhat politically +unstable state during the past 10 years, it is also home to some of the most +incredible scenery, archaeological sites and indigenous culture in the +country.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-18-temple-of-inscriptions.jpg" + alt="Mayan ruins of the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque" >}} + +The town of Palenque sits only a few minutes by bike, foot or bus from the +ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Palenque. The ruins themselves extend over a +huge area and are composed of many smaller groups of structures situated around +plazas. The most impressive of these are probably the main plaza—which is +surrounded by the Temple of the Inscriptions and the palace/observatory +tower—and the Sun Temple Plaza. + +The Temple of the Inscriptions is well-known for housing the sarcophagus and +jade death mask of Pakal, former ruler of the city. Unfortunately, it's no +longer possible to visit the inside of the Temple of the Inscriptions without a +research permit. In theory, that involves applications via your university and +submissions of your research to the government; in practice it involves 150 +pesos to the right people. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-18-temple-of-inscriptions.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-18-temple-of-inscriptions.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-21-beans.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-21-beans.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-21-plaza.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-21-plaza.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,70 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-12-21T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-12-21-plaza.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México +--- + +San Cristóbal is, without question, one of the most beautiful towns in Mexico. +It’s also the ideal temperature for visiting Canadians, with the temperature +hovering around 10 °C, and the humidity close to 100% during the daytime in +winter. It’s cold, damp and cloudy. After months of scorching heat and +humidity, I was in heaven. San Cristóbal makes an ideal base from which to do +day-trips to the surrounding villages of San Juan Chamula and +Zinacantán—indigenous villages comprising the Tzotzil and Tzeltal indigenous +groups respectively.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-21-plaza.jpg" + alt="Plaza in San Cristóbal de las Casas" >}} + +In town, we met a law student named Luís who took a group of us to the +villages. In San Juan Chamula, we first visited the shaman’s hut for the +village, where we learned about the mix of Catholicism and traditional beliefs +practised in the village. We then continued on to the village church which was +probably the highlight of the visit. Seeing the mix of beliefs being practised +there was incredible: everything from prayers to the Catholic saints to burning +incense to chicken sacrifices and ceremonial purgings. Photography isn’t +allowed in the church and out of respect to the Chamulans, we won’t describe +everything in detail on the web, but suffice to say that it was an incredibly +worthwhile visit. + +Zinacantán is only a few kilometres away, but the villagers speak an entirely +different language, Tzeltal. Here, the church is much more traditional, +although most villagers still maintain strong ties to traditional indigenous +beliefs, such as worshipping the Earth Lord and placing a strong emphasis on +the interpretation of dreams. For a more detailed look at the beliefs and +culture of the people of Zinacantán, we’d suggest *Dreams and Stories from the +People of the Bat* by Robert Laughlin. This book is a collection of dreams and +their interpretations as told by the villagers of Zinacantán, as well as a +series of short stories passed from generation to generation in the village. + +The town also produces many traditional handicrafts typical of Chiapas: +blankets, clothing, dolls, etc. The villagers take these to San Cristóbal to +sell them at the markets and on the street. The textiles are all made from +hand, from the thread, to hand-weaving and embroidering. Typically, a +medium-sized blanket takes two to three weeks to produce. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-21-beans.jpg" + alt="Beans for sale at the market" >}} + +Back in San Cristóbal, we spent a few days visiting the markets and wandering +around town trying out the local food before heading back north for Palenque +again. On our way out of town we noticed a small shanty-town suburb in a gravel +pit. On a big yellow arch, bold black letters declared the name of the colonia: +*Sal Si Puedes*, 'Get Out If You Can'. Just past this is the massive military +encampment that has been in place since 1994 when the EZLN (Zapatista +Liberation Army) overthrew and occupied the town before being driven out by +reinforcements sent in, causing a bloodbath. There is a lot less tension now +than there was then, but the Zapatistas still have incredibly high support in +the villages just outside of town. The Mexican government under Vincente Fox +has been much more responsive to indigenous peoples than previous governments +have been, although in recent months this seems to be less and less the case. +There’s still a lot of work to do before the indigenous groups in Mexico are +able to live in conditions similar to the rest of the population. Most people +in the villages still lack food, clothing and (non-dirt) floors in their +houses, let alone running water and electricity. And although Chiapas produces +more electricity than any other state, less than half the population has +electricity in its home. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,39 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-12-24T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-12-24-tulum.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Tulúm, Quintana Roo, México +--- + +Between San Cristóbal and Tulúm is a long, empty road. The overnight bus works +beautifully for this trip, winding its way through the mountains, jungle and +the vast plains of the Yucatán. The only major stop along the way is Escarcega, +Campeche. By major, I mean a couple of comida corrida places, a papaya tree, +and a dusty bus stop on a long, empty stretch of highway. By six in the +morning, we were in Tulúm, a slightly bigger collection of restaurants and bus +stops along a long, empty stretch of highway. We grabbed a plate of +*huevos motuleños* and some coffee, which (I swear that I am not making this +up) was blue. Sort of an off-grey blue. It tasted like milk mixed with +dishwater. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-24-tulum.jpg" + alt="Mayan ruins overlooking the ocean at Tulúm" >}} + +The best time to see the ruins is, without a doubt, sunrise. The ruins at +Tulúm, while not spectacular except for the two-metre rock wall surrounding the +site on three sides, have one of the best views you could possibly hope for. +The structures sit nestled amid the rolling green grass and white sandy +beaches, hovering over the turquoise Caribbean. As the sun rises, the whole +place is bathed in a warm orangey-red glow. Sitting on ruins watching the waves +is pretty relaxing. + +Since Tulúm is so close to Playa del Carmen and Cancún, the number of visitors +is absoutely huge compared to a lot of other Mayan ruins, and especially given +the small size of these ruins. Because of that, most of the structures are +off-limits to the public, so you can’t climb up on them as you can at most +other sites. In the end, it’s nice to see that these ruins are being protected, +but Palenque, Uxmal and Chichen Itzá are a lot more fun. That said, if you look +hard enough, you will find a couple structures you can sit down on. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-24-tulum.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-24-tulum.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-26-ball-court.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-26-ball-court.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,94 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-12-26T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-12-26-el-castillo.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Chichen Itzá, Yucatán, México +--- + +Somewhere on the old highway between Cancún and Mérida lies Chichen Itzá. The +ruins at this site cover over 15 square kilometres, with *El Castillo* alone +taking up 0.4 hectares. At 83 metres in length, the Ball Court is the largest +in Meso-America. The close proximity of the ruins to Cancún and the size of +some of the structures have made these the most famous Mayan ruins in the +country.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-26-el-castillo.jpg" + alt="El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itzá" >}} + +The image that most people associate with Chichen Itzá is *El Castillo*. The +pyramid rises more than 23 metres above the ground, with steep staircases up +all four sides, leading to a small building at the top. What’s so spectacular +about it is the fact that this pyramid is actually a huge Mayan calendar built +of stone. The four staircases leading to the top have 91 steps each, which +when added to the platform at the top, make 365. On the sides are 52 panels +representing the 52 years of the traditional Mayan calendar round. The pyramid +is composed of nine terraced platforms on either side of the two primary +staircases, for a total of 18, the number of months in the Mayan calendar. If +you’re still not convinced of the Mayans’ astronomical prowess, you can easily +convince yourself by visiting on either the spring or the fall equinox when, as +the sun rises over the jungle, the form of a giant serpent is projected onto +the sides of the two primary staircases, each of which has a giant stone +serpent head at its base. This illusion is created by the precise alignment of +the terraces in relation to position of the sun. + +In a corner in the shade of one of the giant staircases leading up the side of +El Castillo is a door. Once or twice a day, the door is opened, and groups of +20 or so are allowed inside. A narrow passage leads to a steep staircase that +runs up the side of another pyramid inside El Castillo. It’s narrow, cramped, +hot and humid, not to mention dark, but the climb is worth it. Eventually, at +the top of the staircase, if you’re lucky or pushy enough, you can catch a +glimpse of a jewel-encrusted jaguar altar, used by the Maya for sacrifices. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-26-ball-court.jpg" + alt="The ball court at Chichen Itzá" >}} + +The Ball Court is another feat of engineering. The walls are each approximately +8 metres high, with structures at the top for viewing the game. At either end +of the court is an elaborate stone temple. But what is so amazing about the +Ball Court is its acoustics. A whisper at one end can be clearly heard at the +other end, 135 metres away. In fact, the sound reflection at the centre of the +court is so incredible, you can hear at least nine echos if you clap or shout. + +The following excerpt, by one of the supervising archaeologists restoring the +ruins, describes the acoustics: + +> Chi cheen Itsa’s famous 'Ball-court' or Temple of the Maize cult offers the +> visitor besides its mystery and impressive architecture, its marvellous +> acoustics If a person standing under either ring claps his hands or yells, the +> sound produced will be repeated several times gradually losing its volume, A +> single revolver shot seems machine-gun fire. The sound waves travel with equal +> force to East or West, day or night. disregarding the wind’s direction. Anyone +> speaking in a normal voice from the 'Forum' can be clearly heard in the 'Sacred +> Tribune' five hundred feet away or vice-versa. If a short sentence, for +> example, 'Do you hear me?' is pronounced it will be repeated word by word... +> Parties from one extreme to the other can hold a conversation without raising +> their voices. +> +> This transmission of sound, as yet unexplained, has been discussed by +> architects and archaeologists ... Most of them used to consider it as fanciful +> due to the ruined conditions of the structure but, on the contrary, we who have +> engaged in its reconstruction know well that the sound volume, instead of +> disappearing, has become stronger and clearer... Undoubtedly we must consider +> this feat of acoustics as another noteworthy achievement of engineering +> realized millenniums ago by the Maya technicians. +> +> _—Chi Cheen Itza by Manuel Cirerol Sansores, 1947_ + +Aside from the Ball Court and *El Castillo*, there are dozens of other sites of +interest. There are no less than three cenotes around the site, one of which +was filled with tens of thousands of artifacts, from neclaces and jewelry to +the bones of human and animal sacrifices. The Hall of the Thousand Pillars is +also incredible to walk through, with each pillar featuring unique carvings and +inscriptions; on some, traces of red and blue paint are still visible. + +The site was originally populated by the Itzáes around 500 AD, and slowly built +up until 900 AD, at which point it was completely abandonned. No one knows why +the Itzáes left so abruptly, but it appears that the city was re-populated +about 100 years later, and then attacked by the Toltecs, a tribe known for its +brutality at war. Structures from the period between 1000 and 1300 AD show +marked Toltec influences, including numeral reliefs of Toltec gods, including +Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent. The city was abandonned once again around +1300, this time permanently. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-26-el-castillo.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-26-el-castillo.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-27-cenote-top.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-27-cenote-top.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-27-cenote.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-27-cenote.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2001-12-27-truck.jpg b/content/post/2001-12-27-truck.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,124 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2001-12-27T00:00:00Z" +image: 2001-12-27-cenote.jpg +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Valladolid, Yucatán, México +--- + +In 1543, Francisco de Montejo (the nephew of Mérida’s famous Francisco de +Montejo) descended on the ceremonial centre of the Zací (Hawk) Maya, waging war +on the *Cupules*, a group of Maya that hadn’t taken kindly to the Spanish +conquistadors. When the battle was done and the town had been razed, he renamed +it Valladolid in honour of the Spanish city of the same name.<!--more--> Today, +Valladolid is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in the Yucatán, with a +mix of Spanish and Maya influences. Maya from local pueblas and from the city +sell traditional *huipiles* near the plaza downtown. The city is still roughly +centered on the *Cenote Zací* that was the ceremonial centre of the original +Mayan settlement. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-27-cenote.jpg" alt="Cenote Zací" >}} + +The cenote is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. To get to it, you hike +down a passage into a cavern, then wind your way down the side to get to water +level. The water is a deep turquoise colour, and is absolutely crystal clear. +In the shallow areas, you can easily see fallen stalactites lying 30 metres +below on the bottom. In the deep parts, you won’t see the bottom—it’s more than +100 metres deep. The same little blind fish that are present in the cenote at +Dzibilchaltún will nibble your toes in this cenote as well. + +Above the cenote is a little zoo with spider monkeys, who spend most of their +afternoon playing with toys, and getting fed potato chips by laughing groups of +kids. What was more interesting, however, was that they had a raccoon in the +zoo. You don’t see them in México at all, and most people we asked didn’t know +what the Spanish word for it was, until an old man we ran into told us it was +*mapache*. + +The main plaza of the city is gorgeous. With ornate lamp posts, hanging baskets +full of flowers, and beautiful hedges, it was the Yucatán’s answer to Victoria. +The streets downtown are kept immaculately clean by a crew of street cleaners +who run through the streets every morning at 5 am. The government of Spain has +apparently deemed Valladolid to be one of the most Spanish cities in the +Americas, and donates money to help in its preservation. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-27-cenote-top.jpg" alt="Cenote Zací" >}} + +Probably the most exciting thing that happened while we were there was the +rain. We had gone off in search of what is supposed to be an absolutely amazing +cathedral and graveyard somewhere in the southwestern part of the city. In +typical Mexican fashion, everyone we talked to was able to tell us in +approximately what direction it was, so we were able to slowly make our way +there stumbling randomly from one Vallisoletana to the next. We never did find +it, but not for any lack of determination, but because it started to rain. Now, +when I say rain, I don’t mean the rain we get in Victoria. I don’t even mean +Vancouver rain. To fully appreciate a Yucatecan rain storm, you really need to +experience one. Imagine the streets filling with water, then overflowing onto +the sidewalks until the whole city is two feet deep in rainwater. We did the +only thing we could do: jump into a corner store. The guys in the store reacted +the same way any other Mexicans all over the country would react: toss over a +couple chairs and invite us in to watch some TV. We bought some cookies and +juice and sat for 45 minutes or so, watching the water level in the street +outside rise closer and closer to the edge of the door before we finally +decided that we were going to make a break for it, only stopping once for a +slice of cheesecake in a bakery along the way back to the hotel. + +Valladolid is also famous for the cenote at Dzitnup, about 10 km out of town. +While we never did make it there, we heard some amazing stories about it from +Nick, an Irishman from Cork we met in San Cristóbal de las Casas. What is so +incredible about it is that it’s at the bottom of a dark cavern, with a small +opening in the roof. At the right time of day, the sun shines through this +opening and into the turquoise waters of the cenote, making it apear as though +you’re bathing in light. The actual name of the cenote is *Kiken* which is +Yucatec Maya for 'pig,' because the cenote was originally discovered by a farmer +whose his pig had fallen in through the hole in the roof. + +Valladolid is also famous for its uprisings. What transpired in Valladolid in +June of 1910 helped to spark the Mexican Revolution that erupted in the rest of +the country that November when Francisco Madero flew across the border into +Piedras Negras, Coahuila. The revolution wasn’t over until 1920; but as they +say, the opening chapters were written in blood, here in Valladolid. + +{{< figure src="/post/2001-12-27-truck.jpg" alt="Broken down truck" + title="'It hurts more to walk'" >}} + +Unhappy with Spanish control of a land they considered their own, a small band +of revolutionaries had worked together for months, planning the overthrow of +governor Moñoz Aristegui. On the night of June 3rd, 1910, all those committed +to the plan met in the Plaza de la Santa Lucia at midnight. Under the command +of Ruz Ponce and José Kantún, one group stormed the police quarter, killing the +guard outside and taking everyone else prisoner. Another group, led by Claudio +Alconcer and Atilano Albertos took the office of the Mexican Guard, killing the +Sergeant of the Guard, Facundo Gil. The governor, Felipe de Regil, asleep in +bed at the time, woke up to the sound of gunfire outside in the streets. He +immediately jumped out of bed and, a gun in each hand, ran into the street +firing on the revolutionaries. He fought bravely until the end, when he was +finally killed and left lying in the street. + +At this point, there was no turning back for the insurgents. They now had the +support of nearly the entire city, and within three days had amassed an army of +no less than 1500 men, armed with guns and machetes. Most had no military +training. Local landowners provided weapons, ammunition and food. + +In Mérida, this uprising had not gone unnoticed. While the locals were +preparing in Valladolid, the government had sent a column of 65 men eastward +with 300 guns, recruiting villagers along the way. Under the command of Colonel +Ignacio Lara, they marched easward to Tinum, 12 km outside of Valladolid, where +they waited for reinforcements to arrive. The cannons of Morelos arrived in +Valladolid on the 7th. On the 8th, Lara led his men to the outskirts of the +city, where, at dawn on the 9th of June, they began the assault on Valladolid. +A batallion of 600 federal troops arrived on the 10th. Poorly equiped, +untrained, and out of ammunition, the rebels fell under the three ferocious +onslaughts. The death tolls were high on both sides: more than 100 +revolutionaries and over 30 government soldiers had been killed. This was the +highest balance of deaths of any battle ever fought in México, and would remain +so until the Revolution began that November. + +The leaders of the revolt were eventually rounded up, tried and sentenced to +death. In the courtyard of the Shrine of San Roque, Kantún, Albertos, and +Bonilla faced the firing squad. That November, Francisco Madero launched the +Mexican Revolution, and by the following April, 17000 people had taken up arms +against Porfirio Diaz and his government. The rest is [history][history]. + +[history]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,16 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2002-01-01T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Mexico +title: ¡Feliz Navidad! +--- + +Took a two week trip through southern México for Christmas. Starting in Mérida, +southwest into Campeche, Tabasco, Veracruz and then Chiapas.<!--more--> Stopped +to visit the Mayan ruins at Palenque, followed by some of the villages around +San Cristóbal de las Casas. From there, it was northeast back onto the Yucatán +peninsula, to Tulúm, then onwards north again to spend Christmas swimming in +the Caribbean on Isla Mujeres in 30 degree weather. After a few days, it was +westward again to Chichen Itzá and Valladolid before finally returning home to +Mérida. diff --git a/content/post/2002-03-19-camelo.jpg b/content/post/2002-03-19-camelo.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,210 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2002-03-19T00:00:00Z" +image: 2002-03-19-old-havana-street.jpg +tags: +- Cuba +- Travel +title: La Habana, Cuba +--- + +Havana is a city of contradictions. It’s simultaneously one of the most +beautiful and most run down cities in the world. It’s hard to imagine how +things could be any worse, or any better given the Cuba’s political past and +present.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2002-03-19-old-havana-street.jpg" + alt="Run-down street in Old Havana" >}} + +Havana, along with the rest of Cuba, is the way it is almost purely because of +politics—some of the most complex politics on the planet. If you like history +or politics, Cuba is for you. Cuba’s troubled history begins long before the +Cuban Missile Crisis, or even before the Revolution of 1959. Ever since +Christopher Columbus set foot on the Isle of Cuba on October 29th, 1492, one +nation or another has been fighting over the country. For over half a +millennium now, politics have affected almost every aspect of life in Cuba. +It’s amazing that despite all this, Cuban culture is felt worldwide through its +music, dance, and artistry. + +### Fast Facts + +Before we get started, here are a few quick facts to clear up a few common +misconceptions about Cuba: + +* The US embargo was put in place on October 19th, 1960, two years before the + Cuban Missile Crisis. It was the result of the US Eisenhower Administration’s + plan to overthrow Castro. This was the result of Cuba nationalizing a lot of + property sold to the US by Cuba’s former dictator, Fulgencio Batista. In + 1963, after the end of the Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Administration imposed + a travel ban on US citizens, preventing them from visiting Cuba. Here’s an + [Economic Embargo Timeline][embargo_timeline], if you’re interested. +* In 1959, a group of Cuban revolutionaries, including Fidel Castro and Che + Guevara, led a popular uprising to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, the + totalitarian dictator who led Cuba from 1934 to 1959. Under Batista, more + than a third of the land in Cuba was sold off to US interests. In several + cases, teachers who worked to alphabetize rural villages were tortured and + killed by Batista’s private police force, for fear that a literate population + of farmers would be more likely to favour local land ownership, and oppose + the dictator. Cuba is now a communist country, and Castro is the elected head + of state. Elections are supervised by international monitors. They work very + differently from other western electoral systems, however, since there is + only one party. Like Canadians, Cubans elect local representatives, who + select a party leader. In practise, Castro has been re-elected President by + party officials in every election since the Revolution. Here’s some more + information on [elections in Cuba][elections_in_cuba]. +* Today, Cuba’s population is highly educated. The current literacy rate is + approximately 97%—the same as Canada’s. Before the revolution, the overall + literacy rate was 23.6%. Castro’s guerrilla manifesto of 1957 included an + immediate literacy and education campaign, with the slogan 'Revolution and + Education are the same thing.' +* It’s illegal to form a party other than the Communist Party, and people live + under fairly strict supervision by the government compared to most western + nations. The movement of Cubans is restricted by the government. The + Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs maintains a [fact page][gc_cuba_facts] + on Cuba, as does [the CIA][cia_cuba_facts] in the United States. +* Cuba’s media is not entirely restricted, and Cubans can tune in to Miami and + Mexican radio stations. The national newspaper, Granma is published by the + Communist Party and is [available online][granma] in several languages. + +I was going to include a quick whirlwind tour of the history of Cuba here. I +started on it, but by the time I got to the late 19th century it was already +ten paragraphs long. Instead, if you want an excellent point-form history, have +a look at [A History of Cuba][history_of_cuba]. If you want something more in +depth, specifically focusing on US-Cuban relations, the multi-volume set *A +History of Cuba and its relations with The United States* by Philip S. Foner is +excellent. + +{{< figure src="/post/2002-03-19-old-havana-door.jpg" + alt="Crumbling doorway in Old Havana" >}} + +### Arrival in Havana + +The flight to Cuba was probably the craziest flights I’ve ever experienced. We +boarded the ancient, Soviet-built Cubana Yak-42 jet in Cancún and took our +seats. The first thing we noticed as we sat down was that the safety +instruction cards were printed in Russian. The second, and more alarming thing +we noticed was that smoke was slowly filling the cabin. The flight attendants +assured people that it was just steam, and that it was totally normal. By the +time we landed in Cuba, The cabin was filled chest high and we couldn’t see our +knees anymore. We got off the plane as quickly as possible, were packed into a +rickety old East-German bus and carted off to immigration. Once in Havana, we +checked into Hotel Flamingo where we stayed for our first two days while we +explored Havana. Across the street were a bunch of featureless, utilitarian, +crumbling apartment buildings, which are apparently identical to the ones that +were built across the Communist Block countries during the Soviet era. You’re +surrounded on all sides by relics of the Soviet era: East German and Polish +buses, Russian radios and record players, and tons of North Korean equipment. +It’s fascinating to see a country that exists almost entirely apart from the +US. When it comes to the States, it’s as though time stopped in 1959. The only +Chevys and Buicks to be seen are 1950s models. All new cars are Ladas, Yugos, +Polski Fiats, or Chinese and North Korean imports. Supposedly push-by shootings +from Ladas aren’t as big a problem here as they are in Russia. + +Old Havana La Habana Vieja is something amazing to see. Walking down the +streets of Old Havana, you’re surrounded by some of the most incredible +architecture you’ve ever witnessed. What’s even more incredible is that it’s +crumbling all around you. Ornate gargoyles and balconies have decayed and +collapsed with age; the paint is peeling, and everything is covered in a thick +layer of dirt and grime. Broken windows are everywhere, and yet people continue +to live in these buildings that elsewhere in the world would have long since +been condemned. + +Another thing not to be missed in Havana is sitting in the park in front of the +Museo de la Revolución and eating freshly roasted peanuts out of a rolled up +newspaper. For one peso, you can buy salted peanuts from street vendors, rolled +up in an old copy of a page from *Granma*, and sit back and watch kids play +baseball in the street. + +Baseball is everywhere in Cuba. You can’t turn around without seeing a game +going on. Baseball equipment, on the other hand, is hard to come by. This +doesn’t stop anyone from playing the game, however. A rock wrapped in rubber +bands makes a pretty decent baseball, and we saw a lot of kids who could hit +some amazing runs with a broom handle baseball bat. If you visit Cuba, +something that’ll make any kid’s day is a baseball. Pencils and pens make nice +gifts too. + +{{< figure src="/post/2002-03-19-vintage-american-cars.jpg" + alt="Vintage American cars" >}} + +### Dollars and Pesos + +There are two things that everyone who visits Cuba should do. The first is to +experience live Cuban music, which you can read about in the Trinidad section. +The second is to convert some dollars to Cuban Pesos. Cuba has three official +currencies: Cuban Pesos, US Dollars, and Cuban Convertible Pesos. The Cuban +Convertible Peso was introduced to reduce the dependency on actual US dollars, +but are worth exactly one dollar in Cuba, and exactly zero dollars off the +island. Cuban Pesos are a soft currency, and as such, have no practical value +as an exchangeable currency; however, exchanges do happen at wildly fluctuating +rates. We got 26 pesos to the dollar. Cuba has two economies that don’t +overlap even remotely. Hard-currency stores charge US prices in US dollars and +sell high-end items. Bottled water is about $1.00 a bottle, soap is $0.50 a +bar, and meat and cheese are similar in price to what they would be in Canada +or the US. However, Cubans are paid in pesos at a rate of about 200-400 pesos a +month — about 8 to 16 dollars. That makes a bottle of water worth somewhere +around 10% of your monthly paycheque. Try the math with your paycheque. Soft +currency shops sell local goods, such as fruit and vegetables, for pesos. + +The reason you should convert some money is that finding a place to spend your +newly acquired pesos will force you to discover a whole part of Cuba you might +otherwise never have seen. Cubans buy things in soft currency at markets or +shops that sell in pesos. The items you can buy for pesos are universally +locally produced items such as locally farmed foods, small pizzas baked on the +street in oil drums converted to wood ovens, and some ice cream. A pizza, which +is basically a piece of bread with a little tomato sauce, some oil, and bit of +salt on it, sells for 3 pesos, which is about 12 cents US. The reason it’s so +cheap is that peso goods are subsidised by the work you do for the state. Basic +food staples such as beans and rice are part of your government supplied +rations, and can be obtained with your ration card at certain shops. When you +can find it, food sold on the street is usually in pesos. Food in paladares¹, +hotels, and touristy places is almost universally in dollars. + +{{< figure src="/post/2002-03-19-camelo.jpg" alt="Camelo bus" >}} + +### The Rich and the Poor + +The one thing that struck us immediately was the uniformity of income in Cuba. +In México, there are two extremes: the extremely rich and the extremely poor. +The middle class is tiny compared to Canada, where the middle class is the +norm. In Cuba, almost everyone lives in something that is not exactly poverty, +but at the same time they have basically no buying power. They have what the +government gives them, and little else. The income difference between a street +sweeper and a specialist doctor is about $7 a month vs. $15 a month. No matter +how you cut it, the $8 difference doesn’t buy much. It’s hard to get imported +goods no matter what, and what you can get is often on the black market. +Although under communism employment is universal and housing is provided by the +state, there are still people who turn to begging because it can be far more +lucrative than work in a factory for $8 a month. As a result of the incredibly +tiny incomes in Cuba, jineteros² have become more numerous, and will follow you +wherever you go, trying to drag you to a restaurant or shop where you’ll spend +your money. A lot of people on the street beg for soap or toothpaste when the +police aren’t watching. One man told us he’d do anything, even get down on his +knees and beg if it would make a difference. + +Given all this, was the trip to Cuba worth it? Without a doubt. We met some +absolutely wonderful people, and learned a ton about Cuban history and +politics. The government isn’t the oppressive dictatorship many people would +like to believe, and it’s certainly an improvement over Batista’s brutal +dictatorship; however, things could certainly be a lot better than they are, +and Castro isn’t exactly known for his spectacular record on civil liberties. +The Cubans we met were friendly and welcoming, not to mention incredibly good +dancers. When we ran into difficulty getting cash out of our Mexican bank +accounts due to the embargo, one family we stayed with offered to reduce our +room rate, and give us a cheap ride to the airport so we didn’t have to pay the +taxi fare. Falling asleep to live Cuban music every night was worth the trip +alone. + +### Glossary + +1. *Paladar:* a small independent restaurant. One of the allowed forms of + capitalism in Cuba. +1. *Jinetero:* Literally a 'jockey.' Jineteros will approach you and offer to + show you a restaurant or store. In exchange, the restaurant charges you + extra for your meal and the jinetero gets to keep the surcharge. + +[embargo_timeline]: +[elections_in_cuba]: +[gc_cuba_facts]: +[cia_cuba_facts]: +[granma]: +[history_of_cuba]: diff --git a/content/post/2002-03-19-old-havana-door.jpg b/content/post/2002-03-19-old-havana-door.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2002-03-19-old-havana-street.jpg b/content/post/2002-03-19-old-havana-street.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2002-03-19-vintage-american-cars.jpg b/content/post/2002-03-19-vintage-american-cars.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2002-03-21-horse-cart.jpg b/content/post/2002-03-21-horse-cart.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,72 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2002-03-21T00:00:00Z" +image: 2002-03-21-trinidad-street.jpg +tags: +- Cuba +- Travel +title: Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Cuba +--- + +Looking down on the ocean from the rolling hills a kilometre away, Trinidad is +a small, traditional town whose population of 50,000 takes great pride in its +home. Founded by Diego Velásquez in 1514, Trinidad became a stopover for +explorers and trading ships travelling to and from México. During the 17th and +18th centuries, its economy largely depended on trading contraband with +pirates. The buildings are in incredibly good shape for their age, most of +which are at least two centuries old. It’s not too tough to see why Trinidad is +now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2002-03-21-trinidad-street.jpg" + alt="Street in Trinidad, Cuba" >}} + +Trinidad is about five hours from Havana by bus, and as with everything in +Cuba, there are two buses: one for Cubans, with a several hour long line-up, +and one for people with dollars, with basically no wait at all. Upon pulling +into Trinidad the bus was swarmed by masses of locals offering a room in a casa +particular. We ended up being shown one house, but it had been freshly painted +that afternoon and the fumes were pretty rough, so we set out wandering down +the streets in the dark. By sheer chance, we ran into an old grandfather +carrying a bucket and pushing his bike up the rickety cobblestone streets and +when we asked him if he knew of any places to stay he said that in fact, we +could stay at his house. This is how our planned two-night stay in Trinidad +ended up turning into a week-long stay in paradise. + +Roberto and Elda, their daughter Mercedes, her husband Eddy, and their +11-year-old son Saúl made our stay in Trinidad one of the most relaxing visits +we had to anywhere in our travels. We would have breakfast every morning in a +little courtyard off to the side of the house, spend the mornings wandering the +cobblestone streets in search of pizza, and the evenings falling asleep to the +sound of Cuban salsas, merengues, and cha cha chas drifting through the window +from La Casa de la Trova across the street. + +{{< figure src="/post/2002-03-21-horse-cart.jpg" + alt="Horse-drawn cart driven by man and boy in Trinidad street" >}} + +While most of the old town is centered around the main plaza, cathedral, and +clock tower, most of the action seemed to center around the plaza in the newer +part of town down the hill. Old men sitting on park benches sharing a bottle of +rum, school children eating peso ice cream, and the occasional black market +cigar salesman trying to pass off some cigars smuggled out of the local factory +all milled about the plaza in the hot, sticky heat. A bunch of us sat on our +park bench watching the old men on the bench across from us get progressively +more drunk from their homebrew, before eventually falling asleep. One thing +that anyone visiting Cuba can be assured of is eventually being offered a taste +of homemade rum. My guess is that neither the recipe nor the distilling of this +rum has changed much over the past few centuries, so you can be assured that +your experience will be as blindingly nerve-wracking as that of the colonial +sailors plying the waters of the Caribbean in the 1600s. Following the initial +jolt of fermented cane sugar hitting your stomach like a rock is the slow +nauseating feeling of vertigo creeping over your body; after that, a strange +queasiness, and finally recovery and swearing it off for life... or at least +the next day. + +A few days into our stay in Trinidad, as we walked down a dark street off the +plaza, we heard music pouring out through a half-open gate. Peering inside we +were greeted with the sight of thirty or so people packed into a small dirt +courtyard, and a small band of grizzled 80-year-old men playing salsas on their +guitars and trumpets. People had pulled up some old wooden benches and were +serving mojitos made (I swear) straight rum, some sugar, and crushed mint. A +woman named Blanquita invited us in, offered us some mojitos and yanked us up +off the bench to teach us some salsa while chickens scuttled around our feet. +It was probably my most vivid memory of Cuba. diff --git a/content/post/2002-03-21-trinidad-street.jpg b/content/post/2002-03-21-trinidad-street.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,117 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2002-04-04T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Mexico +- Travel +title: Chetumal, Quintana Roo, México +--- + +As we stepped off the Cubana Ilyushin Il-62 plane at the Cancun airport, I +literally kissed the ground in happiness. The airport was crowded with people +snacking on good Mexican food and the sound of shouting and laughter filled the +air. After all the episodes of trouble, dengue fever, and trying to figure out +what the hell was actually going on, it was easy to lose sight of just how +great a country México is, and after Cuba, coming back to México felt like +coming home.<!--more--> + +After arrival, the first challenge is getting from the airport to the Cancún +bus depot. The shuttle bus drivers' union has a strangle-hold on travel from +the airport in Cancun. They charge 75 pesos per person one-way from the airport +via the major hotels along La Zona Hotelera to the station. If you happen to be +living on a wage of 50 pesos an hour, this is practically highway robbery. +However, it turns out that the shuttle bus drivers only have a monopoly on +travel from the airport; travel to the airport remains entirely unrestricted. +Those who take a few minutes to sit and relax out front of the airport for a +few minutes will notice that there is a clever way around this racket. + +Following the example of the locals, we hauled our backpacks across the parking +lot, headed out the gates of the airport, and started down the highway in 36 +degree heat. Within moments a taxi skidded to a stop, and the driver, nervously +glancing out the rear window, motioned to us to get in. + +We didn't. Instead, we stood at the window asking "cuanto cuesta?", to which he +shouted "no importa! vamos amigos!". + +Still we didn't get in. "We'll pay 50 pesos... for the two of us." + +Looking insulted, he replied "Are you crazy?! I won't do it for less than 70 +pesos each!" + +Glancing back toward the airport we told him "That's ridiculous, the bus is 75 +pesos, and besides we don't have that kind of money. We live in Merida; we're +not rich turistas norteamericanos." + +A shuttle bus flew by honking its horn while the driver shook his fist at the +taxista. + +"Bueno! 110 pesos para los dos! Vamos!" + +At 110 pesos, we were still overpaying by Mérida standards, but given that we +were a 16km walk in scorching heat from the city, I was pretty sure we weren't +going to get much of a better deal. + +At the bus depot, we bought tickets for Chetumal, 5 hours to the south, then +made a dive for the nearest yucatecan restaurant. After weeks of oil-drum +pizzas and roast ham & cheese sandwiches in Cuba, I savoured every last bite of +my poc-chuc. We finished our horchata, then climbed into the bus for the trip +to Chetumal. + +Confined by the jungle to the southeast corner of Quintana Roo state, and +squashed between the sea and the Belizean border, Chetumal is the last outpost +of civilisation before crossing into the jungle to the south. Until the end of +the 1970s, like much of pre-Cancun Quintana Roo, it was essentially a free zone +in relatively lawless territory. Trade with British Honduras (now Belize) was +the foundation of the local economy, and earned it the title of the territory +(now state) capital. The historical importance of trade gives the city a +distinct feel from colonial Merida. You can still spot the occasional +wood-frame house, and the city has a relatively modern atmosphere. + +Previously named *Chactemal*, the city had served as a Mayan capital since +pre-Columbian times. The first Spanish missionaries arrived the 16th century, +and the Conquistadors followed soon after. By 1544, the city had fallen to the +Spaniards and the remaining Maya fled into Belize, leaving the city all but +abandoned for the next two centuries. + +At the turn of the 20th century in 1898, Porfirio Diaz, then President of +Mexico, ordered the establishment of a port at the mouth of the Rio Hondo in +order to quell the flow of arms across the Belizean border and into the hands +of the Maya. To this end, the city of Payo Obispo was founded by Othon Blanco +with the help of Mexicans from the surrounding areas. The economy developed +quickly and the city grew into the territorial capital by 1915. In 1936, the +city renamed itself to Chetumal, which it remains to this day. + +All along the waterfront of Chetumal is a gorgeous walkway. Unlike the +shimmering blue waters of the north-eastern coast of the Yucatan, the water +here was more reminiscent of the murky green ocean back home on Vancouver +Island. The locals are adamant that the water is horrifically ugly, but I +suppose when your bases for comparison are Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and +Cancun, that you can afford to be picky. + +After sunset, as we wandered through the town, snacking on fresh tamales, we +were stopped by a couple of old men sitting in chairs on the sidewalk in front +of a saddle shop. They stopped us to ask where we were from and what brought us +to Chetumal. We explained we were taking a trip to see Guatemala and part of +Honduras before returning back to México. + +"Why do you want to go to Guatemala? It's a dangerous. It's poor. They have +nothing. Pickpockets are everywhere, and the people have no dignity left. Life +is cheap in Guatemala, they've been surrounded by civil war and death for 30 +years. It's a beautiful country with a terrible history." + +That night, we checked into an 80 peso hotel. The employees were huddled around +the television furiously debating México's loss to the USA in fútbol. + +"The giants defeated us midgets! Look at the size of their players. And the +Americans don't even care about fútbol! Can you believe this?! This is an +insult!" + +We tried to console them by mentioning that Mexico would be guarateed to put +Canada to shame. It was the best we could manage. It didn't help much. + +They shut off the game, and we got to sleep early. Just after the stroke of +midnight I woke up and, in a final farewell to the bugs I had picked up in +Cuba, I threw up (in order) the dinner tamale, followed by the entire plate of +celebratory Poc Chuc I had eaten that afternoon. I felt surprisingly better, +and fell sound asleep excited about the next day's 12 hour trip down a narrow +dirt track road through the jungles of Belize and into northern Guatemala. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,13 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2002-05-26T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Canada +- Travel +title: Back in Canada +--- + +Back in Victoria, B.C. after a two month return home to Canada by land beginning +in Mérida, Yucatán and continuing through Cuba, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, +then all the way back up through Guatemala, México, the U.S. and finally +across Western Canada. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,16 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2003-02-28T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Canada +title: I Am Canadian +--- + +Since the original *[I am Canadian][yt_rant]* ad, Molson has released a slew of others, +but until recently, I haven’t been too impressed; however, the *I Am Canadian +Anthem* is a hilarious 90-second snapshot of the cultural history of this +country. + +{{< youtube zWDXE9Pbjic >}} + +[yt_rant]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,12 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2003-04-01T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Meta +title: Site Update +--- + +I finally got around to updating and re-organizing the site. It should render +properly in everything from the latest browser to lynx or a text-based browser +on a cell phone. All the reports from Mérida are now up, including links to +photos at the top of each page. The trip home is still a work in progress. diff --git a/content/post/2003-08-17-akasaka.jpg b/content/post/2003-08-17-akasaka.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,178 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2003-08-17T00:00:00Z" +image: 2003-08-17-cycling-in-japan.jpg +tags: +- Cycling +- Japan +- Travel +title: Biking Japan 2003 +--- + +{{< figure src="/post/2003-08-17-cycling-in-japan.jpg" + alt="Brodie bike parked beside vending machines in front of restaurant" >}} + +The plan was to travel from Osaka north to the Japan Sea, northeast along the +coast to Joetsu, south through the alps to Nagano, then southeast all the way +to Tokyo — a total distance of close to 1200 km, entirely by bicycle.<!--more--> + +Unfortunately for me, disaster struck just over half-way, in the form of +150km/h winds and torrential downpours. Typhoon Number 10 ploughed straight +through Japan, following a track from the island of Shikoku through Nagano +before it died out, dumping up to 650mm of rain a day, and flooding out every +town and village in its path. + +I arrived in Osaka the night of July 28th and promptly hauled my bike, +panniers, and tools through customs and immigration, across the airport, and +into a hotel. I’m not entirely sure how happy they were to have a +grotty-looking guy assembling his bike in his hotel room overnight, but no one +said anything, and I snuck out around 6am anyway. + +It’s unbelievable just how slowly you start and stop when your bike is loaded +with 40kg of gear. Sort of the cycling equivalent of driving an 18-wheeler. The +weather was a scorching 36C, with the humidity hovering around 85%. Over the +first 70km from Osaka Itami Airport to downtown Kyoto, I consumed 8 litres of +Dakara, Boku, Miu, and the oh-so-deliciously named Poccari Sweat, crashed +twice, and got lost every 5 minutes. Took a break in Kyoto, stopping by to take +a look at Sanjuusan Gendo, take some pictures, and chat with Taxi drivers, the +police, and anyone else who wanted to know just what the hell I was doing. + +Eventually, after a few more Poccari Sweats and some ramen for lunch, I jumped +on my bike and started the trek to Otsu. Half an hour later, winding my way +slowly uphill, along a narrow shoulder on a bridge 30m above a cemetary, I had +the first major close call of the ride. Fortunately, through a combination of +luck and skill, I deftly avoided flying over the railing and plummeting 30m to +my death. Unfortunately, I did so by launching myself headlong into a traffic +barrier, failing to release my toe-clips, breaking the seat right off the post, +and trashing both my leg and pannier on the pavement in the process. Pretty +sure my leg was broken, I lay there for a few minutes contemplating the +resounding success of my bike trip thusfar while the last of the Poccari Sweat +drained out of my water bottles into my shoes. + +{{< figure src="/post/2003-08-17-fireworks-in-fukui.jpg" + alt="Fireworks in Fukui" >}} + +Suffice to say that the rest of the day went uphill from there (both literally +and figuratively) and I arrived in Otsu, on the edge of lake Biwa, in one +piece. Annie met me at the JR train station, we ditched the bike in a parking +lot, and rode the train back to Kyoto, where we met up with the entire +complement of Shiga JET Programme teachers at The Hub, an Irish Pub in +Karamachi. After a few beers, some fish & chips and edamame, Annie and Brent +hauled me back to their apartment in Imazu, where they (and I am forever +indebted to them for this) put me up for three days. + +Although I didn’t get to go to SummerSonic in Osaka, I did get to pick up my +bike in Otsu, ride 95km back north to Imazu, and spend the evening at Imazu’s +Natsu-matsuri¹ with friends of Annie’s and Brent’s (Josh, Yo, and Hatsumi). +Natsu-matsuris involve many elements, but some of the most important factors +are: fireworks that put ours to shame, music and dancing, traditional Yukata², +and vast quantites of food and alcohol. After the festival, we dragged +ourselves to Bumblebee Twist, a local bar, and had a few more before eventually +hauling ourselves off to bed to recover. + +The next day, we were all invited to a barbeque. The one thing that any +foreigner will immediately notice about a Japanese barbeque is that you can’t +just light the barbeque using zip-lights or lighter fluid. No... the correct +way to light a barbeque in Japan is for one person to heat the coals with a +torch while the rest stand around fanning the flames with uchiwas³ until the +barbeque, in a moment of glory, bursts into flames and the cooking begins. We +had music, more food, beer and Chu-hai (a sort of cider), snacks, and more +fireworks. It was totally great, even though I was beat over and over at some +kind of pirate game by a three-year-old. + +The next morning, I said bye to Annie and Brent, then hurled myself off +northwards up the highway towards the north coast. For 30km, the road winds up +through the mountains over a narrow pass toward Tsuruga. In the scariest +downhill of the entire ride, I plummeted down the winding road, drafting behind +semi-trucks at 70km/h, flying in and out of tunnels and around hairpin turns +for the 8km down into Tsuruga. + +Tsuruga sits on the ocean at the edge of the Sea of Japan, at the beginning of +the long road leading northeast to Fukui and Kanazawa. Unfortunately, it also +sits at the beginning of a 95km-long leg of straight uphill running along the +edge of a cliff with no shoulder. Fortunately, it’s some of the most beautiful +riding you could possibly hope for. Even more fortunately, midway through the +ride, as I sat at the side of the road huddling in a tiny corner of shade at +the edge of a cliff, two motorcyclists from Osaka pulled up and offered me +something to drink, a look at their road maps, and some encouragement in +Kansai-dialect. This was reinforced over and over throughout my ride by +children hanging out of car windows waving and shouting "ganbare!" at the top +of their lungs. + +{{< figure src="/post/2003-08-17-lining-up-for-okonomiyaki.jpg" + alt="Lining up for okonomiyaki" >}} + +Eventually, I wound my way up through the mountains to Fukui, where I almost +had to spend the night camped on a park-bench by the river. Just when I’d +almost given up hope of finding a hostel, someone walked up to me and in +perfect English, asked if I needed a place to stay for the night. Turns out her +family ran a hotel downtown, and she and her sister had spent several years +living in Australia. Their mom invited me in for tea and snacks after dinner +and we all stayed up late with their little boy, Ryu, yakking about travelling +and good Japanese food. + +The next day it was off to Kanazawa, which it turns out has a lot in common +with Kyoto. While it’s much smaller, there were many beautiful old sections of +town. There are temples and shrines everywhere, Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen — +probably the most famous Japanese garden in the world. There’s also a crazy guy +dressed in a cape and John Lennon glasses who runs around dragging people to +convenience stores. Too embarassed not to buy an ice cream treat from the +shopkeeper, I grabbed some ice-cream mochi balls, borrowed the phone and set up +reservations for Nagano. + +Because of the typhoon, I ended up doing the rest of the trip by train. I found +a bike shop and spent the day yammering away in pseudo-Japanese to the little +old grandma and grandpa who owned the shop. Turns out that he had done almost +the exact same bike trip about 40 years ago! He had also cycled across +Australia and much of the rest of Japan. Pretty amazing! If I hadn’t found +them, my bike would probably be lying in a crumpled heap in a landfill right +now. It took hours, be we did manage to pack everything into an unbelievably +small bag that I could haul onto the train with me. + +From Kanazawa, I caught the train to Nagano, taking local lines and limited +express trains the whole way. Nagano was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympic +Games, but has since reverted to its pre-Olympic small-town feel. It was a +beautiful place to visit, hidden away in the Japanese alps, surrounded by +Japanese hot springs and ski hills. I can’t wait to visit in winter. Nagano’s +biggest feature is probably Zenkouji, a Buddhist Temple which houses the first +Buddhist images to come to Japan from the Asian mainland. Underneath the temple +is a pitch-black maze of tunnels that you can wander into, pushed along by wave +after wave of school-children on field trips, people on pilgrimmages, and +curious tourists. It’s almost impossible to tell just how fast you’re moving, +or how far you’ve gone... just disembodied voices in the dark. Eventually you +arrive at the “key to salvation”, which you can’t see, but you can feel. A few +shakes and rattles, then you’re swept away down the tunnels again. + +From Nagano, I caught the Asama Shinkansen into Tokyo. At 280km/h the trip +takes just about two hours. The train tore through the edge of the hurricane at +breakneck speed and we were in Tokyo on schedule to the minute. You can’t help +but love the Japanese train system. + +{{< figure src="/post/2003-08-17-akasaka.jpg" alt="Akasaka at night" >}} + +Met up with Yasuko in Tokyo, and we spent the week bumming around town and +catching all the sights: Akasaka, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Odaiba, the Tsukiji fish +market. Took a side trip to the art gallery a few hours away in Hakone +Prefecture where a mix of European and Japanese art is on display. There were +some absolutely amazing pieces of Japanese pottery in their collection. Back in +Tokyo, we had the chance to see a Kabuki play. I wasn’t entirely sure what to +expect, but it was great. The most striking thing is perhaps the movement. It +was absolutely incredible. I wish I were able to describe it, but the best I +can do is recommend that if you’re even in Tokyo, you go see a Kabuki play! + +I returned home on August 17th. Ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in Tokyo, +jumped on the plane at 6pm and had another breakfast and lunch. Arrived back in +Canada 8 hours before I left, and had lunch and dinner again, for a total of +seven meals on the 17th. Not bad! It was a pretty wild and crazy trip, but it +was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I can’t wait to go back. + +Thanks to everyone who put me up along the way! In particular, Annie & Brent, +and Yasuko! You guys are the best! + +### Glossary + +1. *Natsu-Matsuri:* every village’s traditional summer festival, usually in + early- to mid-August, near Obon, the Day of the Dead. +1. *Yukata:* traditional light cotton kimonos that come in a variety of colours + and patterns. +1. *Uchiwa:* Large, flat traditional Japanese fan. diff --git a/content/post/2003-08-17-cycling-in-japan.jpg b/content/post/2003-08-17-cycling-in-japan.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2003-08-17-fireworks-in-fukui.jpg b/content/post/2003-08-17-fireworks-in-fukui.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2003-08-17-lining-up-for-okonomiyaki.jpg b/content/post/2003-08-17-lining-up-for-okonomiyaki.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,12 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-03-08T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Canada +- Skiing +title: Mt. Washington +--- + +Put a group of idiots together on skis and boards, and you’ve got a guaranteed +recipe for a good time. Tom managed a sweet 360 and Matt successfully pulled +off half a backflip. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,13 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-04-14T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Canada +- Skiing +title: End of Season +--- + +Two last ski trips for the year. The first, at Mt. Washington, saw a beautiful +attempt at a forward flip by Kevin, and Pippa ripping it up. For the second, I +burned off on the 10 hour trek to Nelson, where Trav skiied until he dropped +and I tried out the new Rossignol B2s. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,194 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-08-20T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +- Travel +title: Summer 2004 in Japan +--- + +I had originally planned my summer vacations for May, then July, and finally, +in an effort to match my summer vacations with those of friends in Japan, ended +up shuffling them back to August. Aside from the scorching heat, August is a +fantastic time of year to visit. The heat this summer was more than a little +bit scorching though, it was the hottest summer in ten years.<!--more--> + +It turned out, however, that I would have something more pressing than the +weather to keep my mind busy though. In the middle of the night, somewhere over +the Pacific ocean I woke up from my sleep in a cold sweat. My heart was +pounding. The airplane cabin was surprisingly silent; everyone around me had +dozed off to sleep and all that was left was the low drone of the jet engines +and the gentle hiss of the air vents. Slowly, I reached for the back pocket of +my backpack. My hands trembling, I unzipped it and slowly pulled it open. With +a huge sigh of relief, I pulled out my wallet. I hadn’t forgotten it at home +after all. Dropping it back in, I turned back toward the window and fell back +asleep. It wasn't until the next day in Osaka, as I opened my wallet to pay for +my hotel that I realised I’d forgotten my bank card at home. + +This would not have been a problem, except that in a flash of brilliance, I had +decided to forgo the usual traveller’s cheques and use post office bank +machines to withdraw from my accounts back home. This had worked fantastically +last year and would save the hassle of cashing traveller’s cheques at a bank. +Fortunately I had a credit card on me. Unfortunately, Canadian credit cards +can’t be used to withdraw more than 20,000 yen a day, and then only at special +Visa bank machines which tend to be incredibly hard to find. Or, as I would +find out, impossible to find outside of Osaka or Tokyo. Fortunately I was able +to get hold of Mum on the phone relatively quickly, and she FedEx’ed the card +to Yasuko in Tokyo. By my math, I had just enough cash to buy Shinkansen +tickets to Shizuoka, then Tokyo. All I had to do was ensure that I reserved a +hotel in Shizuoka that accepted Canadian credit cards. No problem. + +I spent the first night in the Umeda ward of Osaka, mostly because it’s so +close to Osaka station, and I was planning to catch the train first thing next +morning out through Kyoto, then Otsu, to Imazu-cho to meet Annie. Aside from +spending most of the next day in Osaka desperately seeking out Visa ATMs, I +can’t say I had that bad a time. Well, the weather was alright anyway. + + +Annie put me up for a few days in Imazu-cho, where I had the chance to meet up +with some friends from last year, and do a little exploring of nearby bits of +Shiga-ken. Caught the ferry out to Chikubushima, an island just 30 minutes out +from shore into Lake Biwa. The amazing thing about Chikubushima is the temples +and shrines you find in this remote location. The wood for the buildings did +not come from the island itself, but was ferried out by hand hundreds of years +ago. Chikubushima is one of several locations in Japan where the godess of +artistic inclinations, Benzaiten, is worshipped. Benzaiten, or Benten as she is +more often called, is the only female among the Shichifukujin¹ and is often +depicted as a woman carrying a lute. As she is a river godess, temples and +shrines dedicated to her often appear on lakes or near water. + +After a few days in Imazu, I decided to head to Shizuoka. The best way to get +there was to catch local trains to Maibara station, on the other side of the +lake, then take the Shinkansen from there to Shizuoka. As I was running a +little late, I ended up sprinting through Imazu, suitcase in tow, to the train +station. With 100m to go, I saw the train pull into the station, so I threw it +into high gear. I quickly bought the 900 yen ticket from the ticket agent, who +told me to run for track 3, and remember to change trains at Nagahama station. +I sprinted up the stairs, and threw myself headlong through the train doors +seconds before they closed. 20 minutes later, the train driver called Nagahama +station over the crackly radio, and I hopped off. I was the only one. The train +pulled away, and I was left standing on the train platform with nothing but the +scorching heat and humidity, and the chirping of cicadas. It was then that I +read the station name: Nagahara. I’d misheard the name. There would surely be +another train in ten minutes though, so I staggered down the stairs and noticed +the utter lack of automatic ticket gates. + +An old woman sat in the station-master’s booth. She looked up at me with a +half-surprised, half-worried expression and asked me for my ticket. I handed it +over. Noticing the apparent discrepancy in train fare she asked, “where are you +headed?” I answered “Maibara.” She said, “that’s on the other side of the lake. +You’re at Nagahara.” I said “I know. I’d meant to change at Nagahama…” at which +point she started laughing. ”The next train’s in three hours.” Three hours. I +asked when the next train to Oumi-Shiotsu station was. It was one station to +the north, at the junction of two train lines, so there’d be a much better +chance of catching an earlier train. She said ”That's the one. The next train +anywhere is three hours from now. There’s a bus in two though. Or I could call +a taxi, if that would help.” Maibara had to be at least 80km from here. No way +I could afford a taxi. But I could probably get a taxi to Oumi-Shiotsu, which I +did. And was laughed at some more over my mistake. + + +Turned out I wasn’t the only one. When I arrived at Oumi-Shiotsu, I was greeted +by three Japanese backpackers from Kyushu who’d apparently gotten off at +Nagahara the day before, and decided to stay the night at a nearby hotspring +and continue on to Maibara the next day. We sat for an hour, jumped on the +train, and eventually arrived at Nagahama, changed trains, and completed the +journey to Maibara. From there, it was the Kodama Shinkansen to Shizuoka. + +I crashed the night in Shizuoka, then spent the next day exploring town. I +visited Sumpu-jou, a small castle in central Shizuoka, and Sumpu-jou Kouen, a +nearby park where I was invited in to try a whole series of green teas. +Shizuoka is famous for green tea, and as I had been the only foreigner that +week, I was treated to a detailed history of tea cultivation in the area, an +explanation of the many varieties and styles of green tea, and a pile of free +desserts! They asked if I had some spare time, as they’d love to take me on a +guided tour of the rest of the teahouse, and show me the private gardens in the +back. It was pretty spectacular. + +After Sumpu-jou Kouen, I tried to find a bank machine that would allow me to do +a cash advance on my credit card, but finally gave up while I still had my +sanity. I bought a Shinkansen ticket for Tokyo with the plan to meet Setsuko at +Tennodai station at 9pm. + +On the train, I met a professor with the Shimizu Univeristy Naval Engineering +school, and we ended up chatting the entire way to Tokyo. He was originally +from Kyoto, but had lived in Holland for years, and half-way through the +conversation, I discovered that he also spoke flawless English. He was +incredibly polite and put up with my fairly dodgy Japanese the entire way. It +was pretty good practice for me, though we did switch to English as the +conversation got into ship-building and a few other topics I knew nothing about +in Japanese. + + +In the end, I got to Ueno station a little bit early, stuffed my suitcase in a +locker, and ended up exploring the park for a few hours. I ended up doing a +huge survey on what I thought of Ueno Park, which was also great Japanese +practice, and I got a free pen out of the deal, to boot. I also discovered a +big festival going on at the far end of the park, near a temple that Yasuko and +I had visited last year. I wandered past the booths selling onigiri² and +kaki-kori³, listened to the music, took some pictures, and stopped by the +temple for a bit. It sits in the middle of a large pond full of blossoming +lotus flowers, and combined with the smell of incense wafting over the pond, it +makes for a very peaceful experience. + +Eventually, I grabbed some onigiri and headed back to the train station to +catch the next train for Tennodai, in Chiba. Got there just in time, sat down +and waited on the platform for Setsuko, who arrived 5 minutes later. It was +crazy to see her again on the other side of the world. We headed off to the +supermarket, grabbed some food for dinner, and headed back to her apartment to +eat. + +The next day, we did some shopping around Kashiwa station in Chiba, and I ended +up ordering a hand-made traditional futon. They measured me, we selected +fabrics and they said to come back in ten days to pick it up. Grabbed some +chinese food for lunch and some snacks, and did a bit more shopping. Eventually +we headed back, and I went to sleep. I remember being woken by an earthquake at +about 2am, but falling back asleep before it was even over. I can’t stay awake +for long on futons; they’re incredibly comfortable. + + +Yasuko and I arranged to meet at Shinagawa station early the next morning under +the big clock by the central ticket gates. It was great to see her again, and +we immediately bolted off to drop my gear at the apartment in Shinagawa she’d +rented and head out for lunch at an Italian place nearby. The rest of the week +was spent eating some of the most amazing sushi, soba, French, and Italian food +you can imagine, and checking out two huge fireworks festivals. Aside from all +the eating, we also visited art galleries in Ueno park, and did a bit of +shopping in Jiyuugaoka and Ginza. I got to visit Apple’s flagship Ginza store +which is a noble goal for any true Mac fanatic. Well, technically I also needed +a new AC adapter, since I’d accidentally destroyed mine earlier in the day. + +After a week in Tokyo, it was off on a business trip to Oita, on Kyushu. I’d +never been to southern Japan before, and I was looking forward to meeting some +of my Japanese counterparts for work after many email conversations. Not only +did I get to visit a Japanese shipyard and see firsthand the incredible +precision with which they manufacture their vessels, but I also got to visit a +rural Japanese town, and meet Matsumoto-san and Kato-san, who treated me to +some of the most memorable karaoke of my life. After the business trip to +Nagasaki, we headed out for one last night together, with an amazing +traditional Kyushu-style sashimi and sushi dinner, and karaoke until two in the +morning. + +For my final day in Japan, I was scheduled to fly out of Oita airport, arriving +at Tokyo Haneda airport at 12:15. At 5pm, my return flight to Canada departed +Tokyo Narita airport. In the intervening 3 hours, the brilliant plan was to +jump from train to train at breakneck pace and make it to Togoshi-ginza station +to meet Yasuko for lunch, then jump straight back on the train and make it out +to Narita just in time for my flight. I made every single train as the doors +were closing. Literally, with under two seconds to spare every time... but we +did have a fantastic Italian lunch, and make it to the airport with such +impeccable timing that by the time I arrived at the gate, everyone had boarded +but ten people. You can’t cut it much closer than that. + +Once again, one of the most memorable trips of my life. The best part is that +I’ll be permanently moving back to Japan within a couple of months, so I’ll be +even closer to all the places I’ve been looking forward to visiting. Thanks to +everyone who put me up again this year: Annie, Setsuko, and Yasuko! I can’t +wait to be back. + +### Glossary + +1. *Shichifukujin:* The seven gods of good luck. +1. *Onigiri:* Rice balls, often stuffed with pickled plum or fish. +1. *kaki-kori:* Shaved ice covered in flavoured syrup such as strawberry, + blueberry, or green tea. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,11 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-09-09T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Travel +- USA +title: New York, NY, USA +--- + +Flew out to New York for interviews with Tokyo via videoconference on the 9th +and 10th. More details later, but I’ll post pictures now. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,12 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-09-15T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +title: 東京に引越しする! +--- + +After two years back in Canada and several trips back and forth to Japan, I’ve +signed a full-time contract as a software developer with a firm in Tokyo and am +permanently re-locating to Japan. I’ll post pictures as soon as I can get +around to it. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,18 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-11-04T00:00:00Z" +image: 2004-11-04-balcony.jpg +title: Apartment Hunting +--- + +Through a stroke of luck, I think I may have actually found a permanent place +to live in Jiyugaoka close to Toritsu Daigaku station.<!--more--> + +I have my current apartment in Ebisu until the 30th, so the plan is to move the +weekend of the 27th. In the meantime, to placate people asking for pictures, +here’s the view from my balcony here in Ebisu. The upside is that Ebisu is an +incredibly central location in Tokyo with a ton of great restaurants; the +downside is that tea costs 735 yen at the coffee shop across the way. + +{{< figure src="/post/2004-11-04-balcony.jpg" + alt="Tokyo Tower viewed from Ebisu Garden Place" >}} diff --git a/content/post/2004-11-04-balcony.jpg b/content/post/2004-11-04-balcony.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,18 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-12-09T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +title: 寒い! +--- + +With the last days of 2004 upon us, it appears the weather has taken a turn +from the relative warmth of November and December to plummet sub-zero +overnight. What started as a light flurry this morning has progressed to a +full-out blizzard, and it’s still coming down like crazy as I write +this.<!--more--> + +In unrelated news, I’m off to Kyoto for Oshogatsu from the 31st to the 3rd. +This time, I swear I’ll post pictures! + +Hope everyone had a happy Christmas. See you in 2005! diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,19 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2004-12-30T00:00:00Z" +image: 2004-12-30-fuji.jpg +tags: +- Japan +title: Fresh Snow +--- + +{{< figure src="/post/2004-12-30-fuji.jpg" + alt="View of Mt. Fuji from Ebisu Garden Place" >}} + +I came into work to a nice surprise this morning. Sipping on hot green tea, we +all crowded around the windows to check out the view.<!--more--> + +With the recent cold snap, the views this morning are incredibly clear. A +little less so when passed through the tiny lens of my cell-phone camera. To +see it in person, it really does dominate the horizon; and at over 100km away, +that’s a pretty big feat. diff --git a/content/post/2004-12-30-fuji.jpg b/content/post/2004-12-30-fuji.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,25 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-01-05T00:00:00Z" +image: 2005-01-05-yasaka.jpg +tags: +- Japan +title: 明けましておめでとうございます! +--- + +{{< figure src="/post/2005-01-05-yasaka.jpg" + alt="Buddhist monk ringing bell" >}} + +今年も宜しくお願いします!Jumped on the Nozomi Shinkansen from Shin-Yokohama +station on the 31st to arrive in Kyoto two hours later. It was dumping snow +from Nagoya onwards; and by the time we hit Kyoto, about 10 cm had +accumulated.<!--more--> + +After stopping by friends’ for the traditional osechi-ryouri and soba dinner, +Yasuko and I did hatsumoude at Yasaka shrine from 11 at night until 2 in the +morning in the midst of the blizzard. + +Spent the next few days shopping in Kyoto, visiting more friends, and +re-visiting shrines and temples before heading back to Tokyo on the 3rd—though +on the return trip, I had to stand from Nagoya onwards since the trains were +booked to 120%. diff --git a/content/post/2005-01-05-yasaka.jpg b/content/post/2005-01-05-yasaka.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2005-03-29-gakugeidai.jpg b/content/post/2005-03-29-gakugeidai.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,29 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-03-29T00:00:00Z" +image: 2005-03-29-gakugeidai.jpg +tags: +- Japan +- WTF +title: Huh? +--- + +As I stared blankly out the window of the train on my morning commute, +something caught my eye. As the train flew along its raised track, whizzing +past the rooftops of Gakugei-daigaku at 80&nbsp;km/h, I swear I saw a guy +standing on the roof of a building alongside the track, dressed in a red cape +and wearing a giant fish on his head, wailing away on a guitar.<!--more--> + +He was gone from my view before I was able to catch a second glance, though. + +*Update (2008-03-20):* I’m glad he’s [not just a figment of my imagination][article]. + +{{< figure src="/post/2005-03-29-gakugeidai.jpg" + alt="Man with fish on head playing guitar" >}} + +*Update (2011-04-27):* Found a [YouTube video][video]. + +{{< youtube 0DbvxgmEAtE >}} + +[article]: +[video]: diff --git a/content/post/2005-04-09-sakura.jpg b/content/post/2005-04-09-sakura.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,25 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-04-09T00:00:00Z" +image: 2005-04-09-sakura.jpg +tags: +- Japan +title: 桜吹雪 +--- + +Last weekend, the temperature shot up to 23 degrees, and in the space of two +days, the cherry blossom trees erupted into bloom. The Japanese take this +opportunity to throw impromptu picnics, dinners, and random sake-drinking +events under [sakura][wiki_sakura] trees all across the country.<!--more--> + +{{< figure src="/post/2005-04-09-sakura.jpg" + alt="Cherry blossoms near Naka-Meguro" >}} + +The street behind my building is lined with sakura for as far as you can walk, +so it’s been packed with everyone in the neighbourhood until almost midnight +every night this week. With the cherry blossoms falling like snow since this +morning, the whole thing will be over with by early next week, so Yasuko and I +plan to get in one last hana-mi event tomorrow evening before heading back to +work on Monday. + +[wiki_sakura]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,16 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-05-11T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Travel +title: Bonjour, Bon Vespre! +--- + +Just how far can you travel in a week and a half? It turns out pretty far. +Combining planes, trains, ships, and automobiles, Yasuko and I travelled, all +told, roughly 22,100 km over the Golden Week holiday. + + +From Tokyo to Avignon, on to Marseille, then Arles and Nîmes, followed by +Carcassonne, Perpignan, and Barcelona, before heading back to Paris and home to +Tokyo in 12 days wasn't bad… Especially considering the car was a Fiat. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,32 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-07-31T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +title: 結婚してくれますか? +--- + +The big news is that Yasuko and I will be getting married in November at +Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto. For the desperately curious, I 'officially' proposed +in February at *Souvenir*, a French restaurant down the street.<!--more--> + +In Japan, getting engaged isn't strictly just proposing. You're really not +truly engaged until you've 'officially' proposed, which means not just deciding +to get married, but getting together with the finacées parents and proposing to +them. A long time ago, one might typically say *O-jou-san o boku ni kudasai.* +"Please give me your [honourable] daughter." I decided I'd pass on that line. + +In any case, after a few trips back and forth to Kyoto, we settled on a +Japanese ceremony just before noon, followed by a party with friends and family +at a restaurant. The *nijikai* party in Tokyo will be western-style, but we +haven’t even begun to think about when or where yet. + +For those questioning the sanity of a November wedding, keep in mind that in +Japan, this is *kōyō* season, when all the leaves turn red and Japan is at its +most beautiful. As Fall and Spring are the two most beautiful seasons in Japan, +we were lucky to reserve when we did, back in April. Even then, some +restaurants we talked to were already booked solid until mid-December. + +In any case, with the shrine and restaurant out of the way, all we have left to +figure out is wedding rings, kimonos, invitations, flowers, food, gifts, +speeches, photos, ... diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,40 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-08-05T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Meta +title: Look At All The Pretty Pictures! +--- + +So I moved my webpage and was all of a sudden faced with a deluge of emails +from people who I never even knew read the thing. Among those emails was a +request from my amigo Chaffee requesting more pictures.<!--more--> Seeing as +I'd always wanted to play with the [Flickr API][flickr_api], I requested an API +Key and started hacking away at some [PHP][php]. The end result is that on the +left side of this page, you now get to see whatever happens to be the latest +picture I've taken on my mobile phone. + +The moment I take a picture with my cellphone, it gets emailed to the magical +servers at [Flickr][flickr] and tagged with a title, some keywords, and a +description. The next time someone loads this page, a small PHP script in the +innards of this site makes a [SOAP][soap] request to Flickr's servers and +retrieves an [XML][xml] response. This response is then parsed out and a URI to +the thumbnail image on Flickr's servers is generated which is then inserted +into this page. To improve performance a tiny bit, I avoid the overhead of the +SOAP call every time this page is loaded by caching the response for five +minutes and reading the cached XML if it's available. + +For those of you who are into [RSS][rss], I've added a [Flickr +feed][flickr_feed] to my pictures in the HTML headers on this site. + +My goal—and this is entirely for you, Chaffee—is to take at least one +picture a day, which is far more ambitious a schedule than my posting to this +page. We'll see how that works out. + +[flickr]: +[flickr_api]: +[flickr_feed]: feed:// +[php]: +[rss]: +[soap]: +[xml]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,106 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2005-10-08T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +title: 麻酔お願いします! +--- + +Yesterday was my first trip to the dentist in years. The last time was just +before moving to Mexico, in the summer of 2001. As you might imagine, I was not +entirely expecting a clean bill of dental health. The fact that I had once +again ignored my dentist's advice to floss daily was not improving my outlook +one bit.<!--more--> + +So it was with some trepidation that I went to see Dr Nakasawa yesterday +afternoon at 3 o'clock. I stepped into the office, swapped my shoes for +slippers, filled out some forms, and took a seat in the waiting room, +attempting to pass the time by reading ads in Japanese for Sonicare +toothbrushes. + +Eventually, I heard the receptionist call out 'Bracken-san!' The door swung +open, and I was escorted to a chair and told to have a seat and wait for a few +moments with nothing to do except stare at the assortment of torture +instruments laid out on the table in front of me. + +Now, in Canada, this is the point where the hygenist comes in, cleans your +teeth, tells you what a poor job you've done of brushing your teeth over the +last six months, asks you whether you've actually bothered to floss even once +since the last time you came, then takes off and the dentist comes in and pokes +around. In Japan, it goes only slightly differently. The dentist comes straight +in, cleans your teeth, tells you what a poor job you've done of brushing your +teeth, asks you whether you've actually bothered to floss even once since you +last came in, then starts poking around. Normally, that is. + +*Chotto akete kudasai.* I opened my mouth. Dr Nakasawa looked around for a +moment, poking at things with his tools, then paused. + +*Kono chiryou wa Nihon de moraimashita?* + +'No, didn't get 'em here. I got all my fillings in Canada.' + +Another pause. *Aah, Canada-jin desu ka? Daigakusei no jidai, Eigo o benkyou +shimashita kedo, mou hotondo wasurete-shimaimashita.* + +'That's ok, I'll try my best in Japanese.' + +Dr Nakasawa takes another glance in my mouth, does a bit more poking and says +to the hygenist 'Number 14 looks like an A. 18 looks like a B. 31... is A-ish.' +Dr Nakasawa sits back in his chair. Another pause. + +'These fillings... the grey ones,' he says, 'how long ago did you get these?' + +'I don't know, maybe when I was in middle-school. A long time ago. I haven't +had a filling in years.' + +'They're really old. This one here looks like it's chipped away on the edge and +the tooth underneath has a little bit of discolouration that may well be a +cavity. We don't really do this style of filling in Japan anymore, but what I'd +suggest — it's up to you — is that we remove these, check for cavities +underneath, do any cleanup you need, then replace them with modern fillings.' + +'Sure, the last dentist I talked to mentioned these were getting pretty awful +too, so sure... sounds good. Let's do it.' + +'Okay, I'm particularly worried about this one here, so let's start with this +one.' + +'Sounds good.' + +'Would you like to book a time next week, or if you have time I could do it +today?' + +'I've got no plans for the rest of the day, let's just get it over with.' + +'Alright. *Masui wa dou desu ka? Hitsuyou desu ka?*' + +Now here I want to remind you that although I can get by in day-to-day life and +carry on a conversation in Japanese, one of the unequivocal facts of gaijin +life is that there are some words you simply don't know, and to keep the flow +of conversation going, you skip them and pick up the general idea from context. +So when someone says to you 'What about *masui*? Would you like it?' in a tone +that suggests that really, you probably wouldn't, your instinct tends to be to +say 'no, no.' + +One of the wonderful things about living in another country is that +occasionally you're pleasantly surprised by turn of events that leads to an +experience that you'd almost certainly never have stumbled your way into back +home. These experiences often upend long-held, fundamental beliefs that you'd +have never even thought to question in your life. + +However, I am going to tell you right now that there is no question at all that +getting your teeth drilled with no freezing hurts almost exactly as much as +you'd imagine it does. + +The full meaning of Dr Nakasawa's question, and of what was about to transpire, +became crystal clear as he picked up the drill, looked me in the eyes and said +'Open wide, and put your hand up if at any point you can't handle the pain.' I +swear I detected just the slightest hint of a smile on his face as he said this +to me, but I didn't have long to think about it because it was it was at this +point that I began focussing my entire being on keeping my hands clamped in a +death grip on the armrests of the dental chair. + +I walked out of the office that day with a shiny new hole in my tooth and a +temporary filling while they create the permanent one. I managed to do this +without once raising my hand, but Dr Nakasawa's lucky his chair has still got +its bloody armrests attached. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,16 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2006-06-26T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Canada +- WTF +title: Canadian Medical Research +--- + +Don't let anyone tell you that Canada never contributed groundbreaking research +to the medical field. First, the discovery and isolation of insulin by +researchers at the University of Toronto; now [this paper][1] published in the +British Medical Journal, co-authored by a Grade 8 student from Hamilton, +Ontario. + +[1]: "Ice cream evoked headaches: randomised trial of accelerated versus cautious ice cream eating regimen" diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,21 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2006-07-01T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Canada +- Japan +title: Happy 139th Birthday! +--- + +Canadians in Tokyo got a head start on the Canada Day celebrations, kicking +things off at 8:30 am with a pancake breakfast at the [Maple Leaf Bar & +Grill][mapleleaf], followed by a Canada Day barbeque at Yoyogi Park including +hot dogs, yakitori, a massive Canadian Flag cake, and imported Canadian beer. +By 6pm things, as started to wind down at the park, people started the long +trek back to Shibuya and into the Maple Leaf, where it was standing room +only.<!--more--> + +Some [pictures of the event][pictures]. + +[mapleleaf]: +[pictures]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,23 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2006-09-02T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +title: A Mystery Solved +--- + +One of my biggest complaints about Japan has always been the complete and utter +lack of garbage bins in this city. There are none to be found.<!--more--> + +If you buy a (most likely seriously overpackaged) snack, you either have to +carry all the wrapping and leftovers around with you until you get home, or +toss it on the street. But the streets are impeccably clean here, which had led +me to believe that like me, the other 12 million people out for a walk this +afternoon, will be carrying their litter around in their backpacks and shopping +bags. + +But it turns out this is not the case: an article in [Metropolis][metropolis] +unveils the answer to [The Big Tokyo Trash Mystery][trash_mystery]. + +[metropolis]: +[trash_mystery]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,48 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2007-01-26T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- iPhone +- Japan +title: Apple Reinvents the Phone? +--- + +After watching the Steve Jobs iPhone keynote, I have to say I'm a little +disappointed. While this phone has a slicker GUI than any other phone I've +seen, it's not so much the $499 US price-tag, but the stone-age functionality +of the phone compared to what we have here in Japan that makes my jaw +drop.<!--more--> + +Here in Japan, 3 years ago in 2004, for 1 yen, I had the following in a +cellphone: + +* 3G download speeds of 50 Mb/s. +* Two-way video-phone. +* Built-in fingerprint scanner (for security checks). +* MP3 player and download service. +* Edy BitWallet (like Interac, except you swipe your finger on the + phone's scanner to accept the transaction). +* Can be used as a *Suica* train pass. +* Can buy movie tickets and scan in at the theatre, bypassing the + lineup. +* Can wave it at vending machines for food and drinks. +* Will figure out train routes, transfer locations and times, and + ticket prices. +* Can scan barcodes which take you to websites – eg. scan at the bus + station to pull up the schedule or scan a magazine to order a + product. +* MP3 player and download service. +* Decent email (+ attachments), SMS, calendaring, notepad. +* Automatic location triangulation (by determining which antennae are + nearby) and location-aware mapping, shopping/restaurant listings. +* Interactive mapping of current location with zooming and scrolling. +* Integrated graphical web-browser. +* 1 megapixel Camera, Video camera. +* Display/graph your phone usage to the day. +* Can write and deploy your own Java/C/C++ applets. + +If you go for a high-end phone with more than the above (e.g. built-in TV +tuner), you'll need to pay more than one yen, but the price range is normally +below ¥20,000 ($200 Canadian). In its current state, the iPhone won't sell in +Japan even if it's free; Apple is going to have to do some major work if it +wants to compete with even the bare-bones models on the market in Japan. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,44 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2007-05-30T00:00:00Z" +image: 2007-05-30-google-reader.png +tags: +- Software +- Web +title: Google Reader +--- + +For years, I've been a fan of [Brent Simmons'][inessential] OS X-based feed +reader, [NetNewsWire][nnw]. It's a fantastic application, and I've definitely +got my money's worth out of it. After partnering with [NewsGator][newsgator], I +started using their online feed-reader on and off, with mixed +results. I like that it keeps my feeds in sync between my computers, +and that I can browse articles at lunch, but the interface is still not on par +with NetNewsWire itself.<!-- more --> + +While NewsGator's implementation was lacking, I really did like the idea of +dropping the desktop app altogether and going with a fully online solution, so +I started exploring other options. The obvious free alternative is [Google +Reader][google_reader], and I have to say, I'm impressed. While the +presentation isn't as customizable as NetNewsWire, the functionality that I use +is all there, and in fact, it has some extra search features that I miss on the +desktop. It was only when I launched NetNewsWire today and saw 290 unread +items, that it hit me I hadn't used it in almost a month. So while I look +forward to [NetNewsWire 3][nnw3], I'm sticking to Google Reader for the time +being. + +{{< figure src="/post/2007-05-30-google-reader.png" + alt="Google reader graph of usage by hour of day" >}} + +I also discovered that my prime news reading hours are apparently 6:30am to +7:30am and 9pm to 11pm, with a strange local maximum straggling out around +12:30am. I'd be curious to compare this to *before* I had a baby that woke me +up around that time. + +*Update (2007-06-06):* NetNewsWire 3.0 is now out. + +[inessential]: +[nnw]: +[newsgator]: +[google_reader]: +[nnw3]: diff --git a/content/post/2007-05-30-google-reader.png b/content/post/2007-05-30-google-reader.png Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2007-06-06-happy_birthday.png b/content/post/2007-06-06-happy_birthday.png Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,39 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2007-06-06T00:00:00Z" +image: 2007-06-06-happy_birthday.png +tags: +- Retro +title: PR#6 +--- + +According to [Slashdot][slashdot_article], this month the [Apple +II][wiki_appleii] turns 30. It was in production for 18 of those 30 years, +which likely makes it the longest-selling personal computer of all time. It was +the computer I wrote my first program on, and spent countless hours banging in +and editing code from _Compute_ magazine—including page after page of raw hex +code when a program included graphics.<!--more--> + +In tribute, I ran a Google search on PR\#6 to see what turned up. For those who +don't know or don't remember, PR\#6 was the command that kicked off the +bootloader code for slot 6, the drive controller. The search turned up two +relevant links: an [Apple TechTip][techtip] on a simple copy-protection scheme, +and a fantastic [blog entry][appleii_boot] that covers a bit about the Apple +\]\['s boot process, which brings back a lot of memories of old Shugart drives, +including the terrifying sound of a track 0 seek – a process wherein the drive +head was moved across the disk very quickly until it physically couldn't go any +further, resulting in a loud alarm-like buzz from the drive when it hit the +limit of its reach. + +Anyway, in celebration of the Apple \]\['s 30th birthday, I recommend grabbing +your nearest [emulator][emulator], and banging in a `call -151` for old time's +sake. + +{{< figure src="/post/2007-06-06-happy_birthday.png" + alt="AppleSoft BASIC program" >}} + +[wiki_appleii]: +[slashdot_article]: +[techtip]: +[appleii_boot]: +[emulator]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,32 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2008-08-22T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +- WTF +title: Monkey Madness +--- + +How many police does it take to catch a monkey in one of Tokyo's busiest train +stations? Apparently a lot more than the [40 or so that +tried][yt_monkey_at_shibuya].<!--more--> + +{{< youtube 1LbhEJ2NUxE >}} + +The monkey was first spotted around 9:45am on top of the Tokyu Toyoko Line +schedule display, possibly one of the best choices for people-watching in +Shibuya Station, strategically positions between the exit of the Tokyu +department store and the entrance to one of Tokyo's busiest train lines. + +It hung around for close to two hours while commuters, shoppers, news crews and +a posse of net-wielding cops showed up, before finally deciding to [make a +break for it][yt_news]. Police never did catch the cheeky monkey, and its +current whereabouts are unknown. + +{{< youtube AKFh-Wc7KSE >}} + +Apparently this is the third incident of a monkey getting into a train station +in Tokyo in the last few weeks. + +[yt_monkey_at_shibuya]: +[yt_news]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,87 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2008-10-26T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Cycling +- Japan +title: Ride to Okutama-ko and back +--- + +[View map][map] + +I haven't ridden a [century][century] since I moved to Japan but with a bit of +spare time on my hands before baby number two is due, I decided I was going to +get back into decent enough shape that I could pull one off. I've been using +mornings and weekends to get back into riding longer distances, and slowly +building up toward the goal of 160 km by riding further and further up the Tama +river every weekend.<!--more--> + +Five minutes looking at Google maps yesterday morning at 6 am convinced me that +Lake Okutama was exactly the necessary 80 km away, so without a minute to lose +I got dressed, headed out the door and rode north up the Tama river.  Here's +the [activity report][okutama_report]. + +The ride along the river is gorgeous, one of the few places in Tokyo you can +ride uninterrupted through a green belt that runs from the ocean at Haneda +airport all the way into the mountains in the northwest corner of Tokyo. The +bike path ends at the south Hamura dam, but by then it's pretty [inaka][inaka], +so you can continue by road from there without much worry about traffic. At +the north Hamura dam, I crossed over to the west side of the river, to pick up +Route 411 through the towns of Oume, Sawai, and Mitake before leaving the city +completely and starting the climb up into the mountains. + +The trip on from Mitake is a long, slow ascent along a narrow, winding road +through small towns and villages while criss-crossing the river. Particularly +this time of year with the leaves changing colour, the trip is visually +spectactular, with the mountainsides lit up bright orange and red. Okutama is +the last major town before the final hill-climb up to the lake. At its +westernmost edge is the world-famous Tokyo [Conbini][conbini] Shuten—the final +convenience store of Tokyo. Complete with latitude and longitude figures on its +sign out front, it is a site of pilgrimage for cyclists headed up to the lake +and the border of Tokyo and Yamanashi prefectures. Too bad it's a [Daily +Yamazaki][daily_yamazaki] and not a [Famima][famima], but either way it's got +[Pocari Sweat][pocari_sweat]! + +From the town of Okutama to the lake is a 13 km hill climb up through tunnel +after tunnel to the dam at the edge of the lake. My the one route change I'll +make the next time I do this is to go *around* the tunnels instead of *through* +them. I can't possibly imagine why someone felt the need to put (very +expensive) tunnels in on this road given that almost every single one can be +bypassed on the road. I can only assume that this has something to do with the +government trying to buy the powerful rural vote with thousands of unnecessary, +environment-destroying [construction projects][pork_barrel_politics] per year. + +The good news is that once you hit the top, the views are spectacular, the +roads are flat, and you're back in [jidohanbaiki][jidohanbaiki]-land where +Pocari Sweat and Aquarius are available in abundance! I'd accidentally left my +cycle computer off for a 3km stretch out of Okutama, so I cycled 3 km down the +road to make up for it and be able to claim a *recorded* 160 km. I ran into a +German cyclist named Ludwig who'd also ridden in from Tokyo; he had a +drool-worthy Canyan carbon-fibre bike, and interestingly, it turns out he's +part of the [Positivo Espresso][positivo_espresso] cycling group whose blog I'd +been reading for a couple months. + +Ludvig continued on up towards Yamanashi-ken with the plan of packing up his +bike and taking the train back when he got as far as he wanted to go. Good +plan, and something I'll give a try next time. I turned my bike around for the +long trip back home. The best part of that trip was the 30 minute descent back +down out of the hills at car speed, before hitting Mitake, and heading back out +to the flat cycle path along the Tamagawa. + +All in all, a pretty awesome day of cycling and a trip I'd definitely do again. +While the trip included a nice hill-climb, it wasn't severe, and didn't last +more than 15 km. I've included the GPS map—there are a couple errors where I'd +accidentally switched it off for 3 km near Okutama, and for about 5 km near +Hamura on the way back. + +[map]: +[century]: +[okutama_report]: +[inaka]: "Inaka: rural Japan" +[conbini]: "Conbini: Let's enjoy convenience store life!" +[daily_yamazaki]: +[famima]: +[pocari_sweat]: +[pork_barrel_politics]: "The LDP and pork-barrel politics" +[jidohanbaiki]: "Jidohanbaiki: Let's vending machine!" +[positivo_espresso]: diff --git a/content/post/2011-04-22-henkan.png b/content/post/2011-04-22-henkan.png Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/2011-04-22-input_method_config.png b/content/post/2011-04-22-input_method_config.png Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,143 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2011-04-22T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Howto +- Japanese +- Linux +- Software +title: Installing uim-mozc on Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) +--- + +If you're like me, one of the first things you do when you install a fresh +Linux distribution is to install a decent [Japanese IME][wiki_ime]. Ubuntu +defaults to [ibus-anthy][anthy], but I personally prefer [uim-mozc][mozc], and +that's what I'm going to show you how to install here.<!--more--> + +*Update (2011-05-01):* Found an older [video tutorial][yt_tutorial] on YouTube +which provides an alternative (and potentially more comprehensive) solution for +Japanese support on 10.10 using ibus instead of uim, which is the better choice +for newer releases. + +### Japanese Input Basics + +Before we get going, let's understand a bit about how Japanese input works on +computers. Japanese comprises three main character sets: the two phonetic +character sets, hiragana and katakana at 50 characters each, plus many +thousands of Kanji, each with multiple readings. Clearly a full keyboard is +impractical, so a mapping is required. + +Input happens in two steps. First, you input the text phonetically, then you +convert it to a mix of kanji and kana. + +{{< figure src="/post/2011-04-22-henkan.png" + alt="Japanese IME completion menu" >}} + +Over the years, two main mechanisms evolved to input kana. The first was common +on old *wapuro*, and assigns a kana to each key on the keyboard—e.g. where +the *A* key appears on a QWERTY keyboard, you'll find a ち. This is how our +grandparents hacked out articles for the local *shinbun*, but I suspect only a +few die-hard traditionalists still do this. The second and more common method +is literal [transliteration of roman characters into kana][wiki_wapuro]. You +type *fujisan* and out comes ふじさん. + +Once the phonetic kana have been input, you execute a conversion step wherein +the input is transformed into the appropriate mix of kanji and kana. Given the +large number of homonyms in Japanese, this step often involves disambiguating +your input by selecting the intended kanji. For example, the *mita* in *eiga wo +mita* (I watched a movie) is properly rendered as 観た whereas the *mita* in +*kuruma wo mita* (I saw a car) should be 見た, and in neither case is it *mita* +as in the place name *Mita-bashi* (Mita bridge) which is written 三田. + + +### Some Implementation Details + +Let's look at implementation. There are two main components used in inputting +Japanese text: + +The GUI system (e.g. ibus, uim) is responsible for: + +1. Maintaining and switching the current input mode: + ローマ字、ひらがな、カタカナ、半額カタカナ. +1. Transliteration of character input into kana: *ku* into く, + *nekko* into ねっこ, *xtu* into っ. +1. Managing the text under edit (the underlined stuff) and the + drop-down list of transliterations. +1. Ancillary functions such as supplying a GUI for custom dictionary + management, kanji lookup by radical, etc. + +The transliteration engine (e.g. anthy, mozc) is responsible for transforming a +piece of input text, usually in kana form, into kanji: for example みる into +one of: 見る、観る、診る、視る. This involves: + +1. Breaking the input phrase into components. +1. Transforming each component into the appropriate best guess based on context + and historical input. +1. Supplying alternative transformations in case the best guess was incorrect. + + +### Why uim-mozc? + +Because it's there. And because it's better. Have a look at the conversion list +up at the top of this post. The input is *kinou*, for which there are two main +conversion candidates: 機能 (feature) and 昨日 (yesterday). Notice however, +that it also supplies several conversions for yesterday's date in various +formats, including 「平成23年4月21日」 using [Japanese Era Name][wiki_jp_era] +rather than the Western notation 2011. This is just one small improvement among +dozens of clever tricks it performs. If you're thinking this bears an uncanny +resemblance to tricks that [Google's Japanese IME][google_ime] supports, you're +right: mozc originated from the same codebase. + + +### Switching to uim-mozc + +So let's assume you're now convinced to abandon your ibus-anthy and +switch to uim-mozc. You'll need to make some changes. Here are the +steps: + +If you haven't yet done so, install some Japanese fonts from either Software +Centre of Synaptic. I'd recommend grabbing the *ttf-takao* package. + +Search for and install the *uim* and *uim-mozc* packages. + +Under the *Personal* section of the System Settings, select *Input +Method*. A dialog will open. Under Global Settings, make the following +changes: + +1. Ensure *Specify default IM* is checked. +1. Set *Default input method* to 'Mozc'. +1. Set *Enabled input methods* to 'Mozc' using the *Edit...* button if + necessary. +1. Ensure *Enable IM switching by hotkey* is checked. +1. Ensure *Skip direct method for IM switch* is checked. +1. Set *Preedit color* to 'uim'. +1. Set *Candidate window position* to your preference. Generally + 'Adjacent to cursor'. +1. If you set *Show input mode nearby cursor*, a small popup will + briefly appear whenever you reposition your cursor, indicating input + mode: '-' for romaji or a あ for hiragana. + +{{< figure src="/post/2011-04-22-input_method_config.png" + alt="UIM configuration dialog box" >}} + +Under the Toolbar group, make the following changes: + +1. Ensure *Enable menu-based input method switcher* is checked. +1. Set *Effective coverage* to *whole desktop*. +1. Ensure *preference tool* is checked. + +Click *OK* to save and close the dialog. + +In Software Centre, search for and uninstall any *ibus* related +packages. + +Log out, and back in. You should see an input method menu in the menu +bar at the top of the screen. + +[anthy]: +[google_ime]: +[mozc]: +[wiki_ime]: +[wiki_jp_era]: +[wiki_wapuro]: +[yt_tutorial]: diff --git a/content/post/2011-04-25-hinoyoujin.jpg b/content/post/2011-04-25-hinoyoujin.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,41 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2011-04-25T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Japan +title: Winter Sounds in Japan +--- + +There are a lot of uniquely Japanese sounds.  But the two I'm writing +about today appear on cold winter nights, and echo eerily through the +dark, empty streets between dinner and bedtime.<!--more--> + +Japanese winters are cold. They're not -30C cold, but what they do have on +Canadian winters is how drafty Japanese houses tend to be, and the distinct +lack of central heating. All across the country the appearance of convenience +store oden and yaki-imo wagons mark the arrival of winter. + +{{< figure src="/post/2011-04-25-yakiimo.jpg" alt="Yaki-imo wagon" >}} + +Yaki-imo are sweet potatoes roasted over flames in wood fired ovens in small +mobile carts or trucks.  They're served up wrapped in newspaper, and are not +only delicious, but keep your hands warm too.  But the most distinctive thing +about yaki-imo is that the sellers sing a very distinct [yaki-imo +song][yt_yakiimo]. They typically make the rounds until just after dinner time, +and I always found their song a bit eerie drifting though the dark streets. + +{{< figure src="/post/2011-04-25-hinoyoujin.jpg" alt="Hi no Yōjin" >}} + +Central heating is near non-existent in Japan, one result of which is the +[kotatsu][wiki_kotatsu], but another is that kerosene and gas heaters are still +commonly used for heating.  Every year, housefires result from people +forgetting to shut of their heaters before bed.  As a reminder to shut off the +heaters, people walk through town late at night, carrying lanterns and clacking +wooden blocks together, calling out "[hi no yōjin][yt_hinoyoujinn]": be careful +with fire.  The sound of the blocks typically carries for many blocks, and you +often hear their calls echoing through town, coming and going for up to half an +hour as you lay in bed. + +[wiki_kotatsu]: +[yt_yakiimo]: +[yt_hinoyoujinn]: diff --git a/content/post/2011-04-25-yakiimo.jpg b/content/post/2011-04-25-yakiimo.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,29 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2011-05-06T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Google +- MorganStanley +- News +title: Job Search, Search Job +--- + +After close to seven fantastic years with [Morgan Stanley][ms], I've turned in +my badge and exited world of finance.<!--more--> I first joined Morgan in Tokyo +in 2004 working in the Equities Technology group focusing on scalability in the +trade processing plant, and later worked in Montréal and Vancouver in equities +and commodities technology. Throughout my career with Morgan Stanley, I've had +the pleasure of working alongside a lot of incredibly bright people on some +very interesting and challenging problems, mainly focusing on scalability, +parallelism and system architecture. + +After being made the offer one sunny Kyoto morning, and giving it some serious +contemplation, I've accepted a position with [Google][goog] in [Mountain View, +California][mtv_map]. While there's no question I'll miss working with all the +people who made my time at Morgan Stanley such an awesome experience, I'm +excited about joining Google, and looking forward to working on some tough and +interesting problems in a very unique environment. + +[ms]: +[goog]: +[mtv_map]: diff --git a/content/post/2011-05-10-futile.jpg b/content/post/2011-05-10-futile.jpg Binary files differ. diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,124 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2011-05-10T00:00:00Z" +image: 2011-05-10-futile.jpg +tags: +- Canada +- Howto +- USA +title: 'Moving to the US: Importing a Canadian Vehicle' +--- + +A big difference between the last time I moved to the US and this time is that +this time, I've got a lot more stuff. One of those things is a recent-vintage +Nissan. Faced with the prospect of selling my car and buying a new one, I chose +instead to import the one I know and love. Here is my story. But be +forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart.<!-- more --> + +{{< figure src="/post/2011-05-10-futile.jpg" + alt="Scrawny kid vs sumo wrestler" >}} + +To import a vehicle to the US from Canada, you need to undertake a series of +quests. These are detailed on the [NHTSA website][nhtsa] under the heading +*Vehicle Importation Guidelines (Canadian)*. As of May 2011, you need the +following items in increasing order of difficulty: + +**[easy]** The following information about your car: + +1. VIN +1. Make/Model/Year +1. Month/Year of manufacture +1. Registration & ownership information + +**[easy]** [EPA Form 3520-1][form_35201]. You will likely be importing your +vehicle under *code EE: identical in all material respects to a US certified +version*. + +**[easy]** [NHTSA Form HS-7][form_hs7]. You will most likely be importing your +vehicle under box 2B, for vehicles that complied with Canadian CMVSA +regulations at their time of manufacture and where the manufacturer attests +that, with a few exceptions, it meets US regulations; see final item. + +**[medium]** A letter on the manufacturer's letterhead from the Canadian +distributor, stating that there are no open recalls or service campaigns on the +vehicle. I'm not sure if this is required, but Nissan Canada thought it would +be. + +**[hard]** A letter from the vehicle’s original manufacturer, on +the manufacturer’s letterhead identifying the vehicle by vehicle identification +number (VIN) and stating that the vehicle conforms to all applicable FMVSS +"except for the labeling requirements of Standards Nos. 101 *Controls and +Displays* and 110 *Tire Selection and Rims* or 120 *Tire Selection and Rims for +Motor Vehicles other than Passenger Cars*, and/or the specifications of +Standard No. 108 *Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment*, +relating to daytime running lamps." + +Items 1-3 are left as an exercise to the reader. I will focus here on items 4 +and 5 to save you the 14 hours of accumulated hold time and multiple phone +calls. Prepare yourself friend, for here begins a journey of hurt and +frustration, but you will prevail. + +Let's start with item 4. I gave [Nissan Canada][nissan_canada] a ring at +1-800-387-0122 and managed to make it through the phone navigation system to a +human operator. I told them I was importing a Canadian Nissan into the States +and needed a *Letter of Compliance*. After a bit of digging, they stated that +such letters are only provided by *Nissan North America,* but they would +instead mail out two other letters on Nissan letterhead: + +1. A letter stating the VIN and that the vehicle has no pending recalls or + service campaigns on it. +1. In place of a *Certificate of Origin* (which Nissan Canada does not + provide), a letter stating the VIN and that the vehicle was manufactured for + sale in the Canadian market and complied with all safety and emission + regulations at the time of manufacture. + +We're almost there, but your next and final mission is also the most +challenging: the *Letter of Compliance*. Call [Nissan North +America][nissan_usa] Consumer Affairs Department at 1-800-647-7261. Navigate +through the phone system to an operator - get their name and extension. They +may ask for your VIN only to find it's not in their system. Canadian VINs are +not in their system. Some operators thought they were, others were sure they +weren't. They're not. Many operators tried and failed to find it. Ask them to +open a file, give them the vehicle information and your info and get the file +number. Use this number whenever you call. + +Here are the five steps to success: + +1. Tell the operator that you're importing a Canadian Nissan vehicle to the US + and that you need a *Letter of Compliance* stating the VIN and that the + vehicle was built to conform to Canadian and United States EPA emissions + standards and all US Federal motor vehicle standards except for daytime + running light brightness. There is a very good chance they've never heard of + this. Get them to talk to their supervisor, and their supervisor. Anyone. + Someone will know. +1. They will tell you that the vehicle needs to have its daytime running lights + disabled before they will issue the letter of compliance. All the government + rules seem to specifically exclude the daytime running lights, and the + letter they issue even states that the vehicle doesn't meet that standard, + but for whatever reason they want a copy of a work statement showing the + work was done. Remember to get the operator's name and extension and the + fax number for the work statement before you hang up. +1. Get the daytime running lights disabled. It's a setting change in the + on-board computer; your local dealer will do this in under 30 mins for \$50 + or so.  +1. Fax your the work statement and put your name, return fax number and a + request for the *Letter of Compliance* on the cover sheet. Phone Nissan + North America Consumer Affairs back. The phone navigation system will give + you hope that you can input an extension directly, only to find it only + accepts 5-digit extensions but your rep has a 6-digit extension. You'll end + up back in the queue. Ask whoever you get to put you through to your + previous rep, by extension. When you get through, say that you sent the fax + and request the letter. Ask them to phone you back when they've faxed it. +1. You'll get the fax eventually - *check the information!* On my letter, the + year, model and VIN were all incorrect, though they got my name right. If + it's incorrect, try again. + +You now have everything you need to import your Nissan to the States. Good +luck my friends, I don't envy you, but know that I am with you and that victory +will someday be yours too. + +[nhtsa]: +[form_35201]: +[form_hs7]: +[nissan_canada]: +[nissan_usa]: diff --git a/content/post/ b/content/post/ @@ -0,0 +1,38 @@ +--- +comments: true +date: "2011-10-25T00:00:00Z" +tags: +- Howto +- Japanese +- Linux +- Software +title: Installing ibus-mozc on Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) +--- + +After doing a clean install of Oneiric on my machine, first thing I did was +install mozc as my input method. Turns out this is much simpler than under +Natty.<!--more--> + +The process goes something like this: + +1. **Install ibus-mozc:** + ```shell + sudo apt-get install ibus-mozc + ``` +1. **Restart the ibus daemon:** + ```shell + /usr/bin/ibus-daemon --xim -r + ``` +1. **Set your input method to mozc:** + 1. Open *Keyboard Input Methods* settings. + 1. Select the *Input Method* tab. + 1. From the *Select an input method* drop-down, select Japanese, then mozc from + the sub-menu. + 1. Select *Japanese - Anthy* from the list, if it appears there, and click + *Remove*. +1. **Optionally, remove Anthy from your system:** + ```shell + sudo apt-get autoremove anthy + ``` + +That's it, Mozcを楽しんでください! diff --git a/themes/mofo b/themes/mofo @@ -0,0 +1 @@ +Subproject commit 829a4026fcb595b92cafa7472636a0043e83e534