Montana Summer 2011 – A Reminiscence (nice word, thanks spellcheck!)

Cow on the way to the butcher.

Death Next Door – but Tasty!

We had a great, but very dramatic summer.  We returned to floods all over Montana, record snow fall, a deer that took up residence in our backyard and a leaking pipe in our basement.  Shortly after getting everything back in good shape, we had a long, violent thunderstorm with golf ball size hail that wrecked havek on our yard, house and truck – which now requires us to get a new roof, new gutters and our deck repaired.

The events kept piling on.  There was lots of drama on the family side of things, including fires threatening family homes in AZ, a dear uncle dying, and a cousin who shot his 40+ dogs and now is dealing with the law.

On the positive side of things, it was absolutely wonderful to see our families, friends and pets (which we missed very much) and we spent lots of time outdoors and doing some great hikes.  Rose got to fly down to AZ to see and spend time with her mother and a couple of sisters.  We enjoyed having friends visit and we got to eat some really great meals (sorry Japan, we still prefer American beef) and drink some fantastic wine.  It was the fastest two months we’ve ever had.  I can’t believe it came and went so quickly.  Hope you enjoy these pictures highlighting our summer (click on a picture to seem them all).

4th of July in Luther (Parent's House)

Spending Time with Family & Friends

I’m not sure either of us were really ready to leave our beloved Montana yet (as fall is also spectacular here), but at the same time, we were both excited to get back to Japan and the adventures of teaching and travel.

Rock Creek Valley

Our Playground

Thailand – Spring Break

Happy Hour

World’s Best Happy Hour

Robert & I are back from Thailand.  We had a completely lazy vacation (well, almost) with LOTS of food and drink.  We flew Thai airways to Bangkok and had a quick connection to Krabi where we were met by the hotel driver who whisked us to our resort about 45 minutes away.  It had just finished raining and the sun was setting so were were lucky to catch a few glimpses of the tropical area before nightfall.  Once we got out of the ‘city’, we saw lots of cliff-like mountains rising straight up out of the jungle.  We saw lots of palm trees (for palm oil) and rubber trees (yes, for rubber).  We even passed some elephants.  At one point Robert was beginning to wonder if our hotel actually existed…since we just kept getting farther from civilization.  We arrived at the hotel around 7pm and had our welcome drinks and a tour of the grounds.  We took a quick dip in the pool and were eating dinner by 8:30.

The resort was great.  The view was spectacular – it was like being in a postcard, especially during sunset.  Combine the view with live music and half-priced drinks and there was no way were going anywhere else in the evenings.  We could (and did) take tons of sunset pictures.  The service was amazing and the food was very good.  The Thai set meal we had was fantastic and the khao niaow ma muang (mango with sticky rice) dessert was awesome!  Robert loved the “drunken-style” noodles, and I couldn’t get enough of the curry dishes.

Dinner

Delicious Thai Dinners

Breakfast was included and we could have anything we wanted.  There was a soup table, a pastry table, a fruit table, a cereal table, a manned station for eggs, waffles and roti (thai-style pancakes), and a huge buffet station with potatoes, sausages, bacon, cooked veggies and a few Thai rice and noodle dishes to choose from.  We ate so much for breakfast that we were never hungry for lunch.  Almost every day we’d walk on the beach then hang out at the pool (or on the beach), read our books, maybe get a message (or two).  There were bikes and kayaks to use. We took a walk down to the end of the road where the National Park was and found a trail (which we never took, because Robert found out there are King Cobras in the jungle.  I’m not sure I really wanted to encounter any of their large (meter sized) lizards either).

As content as we were, curiosity got the best of us halfway through our stay, so we took a speed boat to the island of Koh Phi Phi.  It was another absolutely beautiful, sunny, and calm day – perfect for cruising around the Andaman sea and admiring all the little islands.  We loved that part.  We first went to Phi Phi Ley arriving at Maya bay (where “The Beach” was filmed) very early before the crowds arrived.  We walked around taking pictures and walked to the other side of the island as well.  By the time we were leaving, it was getting obnoxiously crowded so our captain took us to see Pi Ley (a shallow fjord like area, well protected from the sea).

Maya Bay

Phi Phi Ley

The colors in the limestone cliffs, mixed with the turquoise water was really amazing.  We then went to view the Viking Cave which houses a family armed with guns to protect the swallow bird nests inside (since they are a delicatessen worthy of stealing we were told).  From our distance, we couldn’t see any nests or swallows, but there sure were tons of little tropical fish everywhere.  We soon moved on to Phi Phi Don where we stopped to do some snorkeling and then anchored ashore for some lunch and shopping.  We both could imagine that Phi Phi was once incredibly beautiful – before it was exploited with all the tourism.  The amount of people and trash that has accumulated on these islands was heartbreaking to see.  It really made us appreciate even more where we were staying.  After lunch we were off to a quiet snorkeling spot near Mosquito Island and then to Bamboo Island just to relax (Robert napped on the beach).  From our vantage point on the beach we could watch sailboats in the distance and the afternoon thunderstorms building in the east.  We raced back to the mainland fortunately making it back before the rain.

Massage at the Beach

Massages at the Beach

One afternoon it was overcast so we decided to spend the afternoon in the nearest town, Ao Nang, which was 20 minutes away by taxi. We walked up and down the streets which were lined with street vendors, shops, restaurants, bars, tailors, and other tourist attractions.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded or dirty at Phi Phi.  We then followed the beach to the end past several dozen massage tents to a shrine area, a mountain creek, and LOTS of monkeys.  We eventually made our way back to the street vendors and ordered a banana roti (yum!) then moved on to get some drinks and an appetizer since it was getting late and a thunderstorm was fixin’ to let loose. We always looked forward to those afternoon/evening storms since it really cooled the temperature down.

Overall, we had an awesome time and would stay at our resort again if we ever found ourselves in this area.  We will especially remember all the beautiful plants and flowers, all the jungle sounds (bugs, birds, frogs and monkeys), the tasty food and fruit (especially the bananas and pineapple), and of course, the wonderful Thai people.

Fukuoka’s Central Fish Market

Fresh Fish

LOTS of Fresh Fish

Rose and I decided to check out the Central Fish Market this morning.  It is only open to the general public one Saturday a month and today was the day.  We wanted to get there early so we could see the “best fish”.  But, I must admit, we really had not put much thought into the idea of actually buying fish.  Seriously, how would we get it home and where would we put it?  We got off the subway at Akasaka station and headed north.  As we made our way along the 3-4 blocks to the market we quickly realized that we did not have all of the required equipment.  People were heading to/from the market pulling along their wheeled luggage.  The bags being pulled by people coming from the market all had the tails of fish sticking out of them…and who knows what else was on the inside.  I suspect that these once used pieces of luggage have become special-purpose fish toting equipment.  Could you really imagine packing one of these bags full of your “finest” clothes after it had been stuffed full with fresh fish?  I don’t think so.

Restaurant on Walk Home

Cool Seafood Restaurant near Fish Market

We made it to the market and just sort of followed the crowd to get to the right building.  It reminded me of the farmer’s market in Georgia that we would go to about once a month as a child. Except, instead of fresh vegetables and fruit (okra and peaches) the market here is focused on fresh seafood (tuna, flounder, crab, shrimp…).  A couple of the vendors at the stalls tried to get us to buy things – although I think they were more focused on entertaining themselves (and us) by making fun of the gaijin who could not speak Japanese – in a fun-loving way.  However, we did get to watch a live lesson on filleting a fish – picture the guy at Costco with the juice machine – it didn’t look too hard, I need to give it a try.

We left the market and continued a LONG walk to Tenjin and then all the way back through Ohori-koen to catch the subway back home.  Also, on our walk to Tenjin from the market, we saw a cool looking seafood restaurant that we definitely have to go back and try when it is open (it was 10am and Rose refused to eat seafood for breakfast).  If you are interested in going, let us know…of course, this is directed at those in Fukuoka.

I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the Central Fish Market if you find yourself in Fukuoka on that one day a month when it is open to us common folk. And don’t forget to bring your suitcase!

NZ: Marlborough Wine Country

…Typed while drinking a 2008 Highfield Pinot Noir and eating smoked NZ salmon with fresh blue cheese – our pre-dinner/blogging appetizer…

View from Highfield Winery

View from the Highfield Winery

We spent our first two days in New Zealand in the Marlborough Wine Country in the northern part of the South Island.  Our trip from Japan was great – the upgrade to premium economy on the Air New Zealand flight from Tokyo to Auckland more than paid for itself in comfort, food and wine.

We flew from Auckland to Blenheim on a 14-seat plane. The first half of the flight was cloudy but as we crossed the sound to the South Island the weather began to clear and the view slowly became spectacular. The fingers of the Marlborough Sound emerged from the sea as we began our descent. The valley floor was covered with vineyards as far as the eye could see…it was sort of magical.

After finding the woman who came to meet us with our rental car, we left the 1-gate airport/air force base and headed to our B&B. We checked in, showered and changed into our summer clothes – shorts and a t-shirt – and were off to squeeze in some wine tasting before closing time.  We managed to make it to three and purchased a bottle of wine from each.

We drove into Blenheim (about 5k) for dinner and ended up eating an early meal at a Thai/Chinese restaurant – very good.  We were starting to get tired and headed back home where we had a block of blue cheese, an apple and a bottle of St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc on the deck on the backyard.  After that, we had no trouble getting to sleep – even with the 4-hour time change from Japan.

Our Favorite - Seresin Winery

Our Favorite Winery – Seresin

On Day 2, we started out the day with a breakfast of fruit, homemade yogurt and muesli, croissants, and coffee – not a bad way to get going. We made it to our first winery by 11 am. I think I have decided that the wine you have between breakfast and lunch is invariably the best. Maybe we have this whole wine at night thing wrong? We visited 5-6 more wineries during the day and are now fully stocked for the first week of our trip.  My recommendations for best wines in Marlborough are: Saint Clair and Seresin.

Tomorrow our plan is to get up and have another wonderful breakfast and then start our longest drive of the trip (6 hours).  We will end the day in Lake Tekapo and stay at another B&B.  We should have Internet access on a regular basis after that and will hopefully be able to get more pictures posted.

Korean Day

FIS Korean Day 2010

Opening Ceremonies

FIS Korean Day 2010

Tae Kwon Do

The Korean Junior International Chamber of Commerce hosted a Korean Day at FIS this year (for the 1st time). FIS has a large contingent of Korean students and this was the chamber’s way of saying thanks. Plus it was also an excellent opportunity to advertise Korea. They did a hell of a job! The whole day was fantastic.  The videos and cultural activities were informative and fun.  I have to say the whole experience got me excited about taking an extended trip to South Korea (I will avoid the North for now).

The best part of the day was the Korean barbecue. The Japanese don’t eat that much beef and pork but the Korean’s sure do. They had the grills going outside and the smell just before lunch was driving me crazy. I was hungry!

FIS Korean Day 2010

The Barbecue Pits

FIS Korean Day 2010

Korean Mom’s Cooking

Once the elementary school finished up their lunch the high school quickly moved into the lobby and sat down to a super-sized dose of protein. There was beef, chicken, pork, different sausages along with noodles, sushi-like rolls, and kimchi. Most of the teachers (including me) just kept eating – and they kept bringing the food. I haven’t had much beef in the last 3 months (maybe twice) but I did my best to make up for it today.

I hope that Korean Day at FIS becomes an annual tradition. I sure enjoyed it, and I know all the students did too. What a wonderful way to learn more about the Korean culture – and their cuisine.

Trip to Costco (Take 2)

We needed the van to pick-up our dryer which was being sold by a couple who was leaving Japan that lived about 20 miles outside of Fukuoka.  In order to reserve the van, we needed at least three teachers to go with us.  So, we incorporated a trip to Costco into our plans.  To start the day we headed to Costco with Kevin, Justin, Nanna and Maureen.  Our first trip to Costco was pretty easy, all we had to do was follow Kumi (see earlier post). Today, however, we had to rely on memory and Google maps.   This ended up being a bit problematic.

Map to Costco (Incorrect!)

According to our interpretation of Google maps the highway should have ended at the last major turn prior to arriving at Costco (we wanted to get to the first gold intersection after the green road ends in the picture).  That was not what happened.  Instead, the highway continued past the last exit and through an unattended toll booth which put us on the Kyushu expressway heading north (the green north-south road in the picture).  I was pissed that my navigator (let’s call her Rose) had let this happen.  However, I assumed that we could easily get off at the next exit and correct our (her) mistake.  Unfortunately, the next exit was about 10-15 kilometers (6-10 miles) north and the traffic heading south on the other side was bumper-to-bumper.  We were screwed!

Finally, after trying to exit on three emergency pull-outs which only returned us to the expressway (are you getting the picture yet?), we made it to a real exit which required us to pay a toll.  When we approached the attended toll booth the woman asked us for our ticket.  Well, we did not have one because we did know that we were supposed to get one at the toll booth after missing our last exit to Costco.  Fortunately, the very understanding woman at the toll booth figured out what had happened.  She wrote down our license plate number (hopefully, we do not get a ticket for running through the toll booth and the police do not show up at my school to arrest me (and my navigator)).  She also gave us basic directions to Costco.  We followed her directions, and with some additional help from Kevin’s I-Phone GPS, we finally made it to Costco.

Fortunately, the rest of our day on the road in Fukuoka was uneventful.  All of our passengers were returned home safely, and we got our dryer.  The good news is that the next time we go to Costco, I (and my navigator) will definitely not make that mistake again!

Viewing ALL of Our Photos

For those readers of Ichi, Ni, San who are new to the blogging world (no mom I am not talking about you – really, I am not), I wanted to point out that you can get to ALL of our pictures from our time in Japan by clicking on the “Photos” tab in the top left corner of the window (next to the “Home” tab).  Our photos are organized by album to help you navigate to the pictures that you want to see.  If you click on a album name (or its associated picture) you go to a page showing thumbnails of each picture. If you then click on a picture it will be shown in an enlarged format with a darkened background – at this point you can browse through the entire album with a simple click in the window (my preferred method of viewing albums).

You can view all the pictures that were embedded in earlier posts as well as many more that didn’t actually make it into a post.

I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew this…Enjoy!

Spirit Week and Sports Day

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9th graders on Hippie Day

It is a Japanese tradition to have one day in the school year devoted to sports.  At FIS, the whole week leading up to Sports Day is called Spirit Week. It is similar to homecoming back home.  Each day has a theme (Hippie Day, Wild Hair Day…) and the kids and teachers dress up and score points for their team.  We had four teams that included students from pre-K to 12th grade. Having the teams have kids at different levels really made it fun.

The culmination of Spirit Week is Sports Day at Momochi Beach.  The teachers got there around 8am to get things setup and then the students and parents started showing up around 8:30.  The events began promptly at 9am.  The first few events were with the combined teams (pre-K thru 12th).  It was really great to see how much the older students helped out and supported the younger students on their team. Although there was a real competitiveness between the teams it never turned into anything negative – very nice.

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Sports Day – Tug of War

My job was to help run the secondary events – including the sprint for the batons and the 3-legged race. We quickly fell behind schedule and had to drop one of the events to make up time. The day ended with a tug-of-war between the teachers and the parents. I honestly thought the teachers had this one in the bag. But…we lost!  I have never worked so hard – or been so sore the next day. The weather was awesome – mid-80s and sunny.

After Sports Day ended all of the teachers were invited to Dr. Gush’s (the Head of School) apartment for drinks and food. It was great…I am not sure she expected us to stay there until 5:30 pm but it sure was fun.  I am already looking forward to Spirit Week and Sports Day next year!