Osaka Event!


Exciting news – A few of my photos are going to be at the Kameraoke event in Osaka on November 20th.  If anyone is in the Osaka area that day, stop by!

Here is the link!

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Golden Week (pt.3)

My flight from Beijing to Ulan Bator was uneventful.  If anyone is wondering, yes, Air China feeds you on the short flight.  Looking out the window while eating, I saw the dessert spread out below the plane.  The area between Beijing and Ulan Bator is bare, dotted with the occasional dwelling.  As we approached Ulan Bator mountains started to appear.  There was snow in the mountains and I could see herds of animals from the plane.

We were flying low over the mountains.  We flew between the mountains and hit the long runway just past a road.  We came in fast, so the jolt when we first made contact it was jarring.  Taxiing to the terminal I got my first closeup view of Mongolia.  The airport had some small buildings spread out.  There were also some small prop planes parked to the side.

Clearing customs was a little confusing.  I did not have a visa and originally went to the wrong area.  Mongolia issued my visa upon landing.  After clearing customs I stepped into the public area of the airport to meet my driver.  Yep, I decided to have the hotel send a driver.  Part of the reason was I don’t speak Mongolian or Russian.  I also was unable to secure any Mongolian tögrög before leaving Japan.  This meant I only had USD, yen, and yuan with me, but no local currency.  It was easier to go with the hotel’s car service.

It was worth it.  The driver brought my luggage to the car.  Once I was in the car, I was provided with a black portfolio.  Inside was some local information – maps, sightseeing information, etc. – as well as English language news.  Driving from the airport to the hotel I saw rundown areas next to new construction.  It was interesting to see.

I arrived at the hotel without incident.  I stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace, a five star hotel in Ulan Bator.  No, it isn’t as expensive as it sounds.  The service was amazing. Every morning I had breakfast at the hotel.  It was included in the price of the room. Breakfast was delicious.  There were many different types of food to choose from.  After the first morning they remembered my tea preference and brought it to me as I sat down. There were newspapers or newsletters in a variety of languages.

There are a few restaurants in the hotel.  I ate dinner two nights at the restaurant on the first floor.  If you ever go, make sure to try the cheesecake.  It is delicious and unlike any other cheesecake I’ve tried.  I also ordered room service a few times. Compared to eating the same food in Japan, room service was cheaper.

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Mongolian Cheesecake at the hotel

Room Service

Room Service

My room was huge – larger than my apartment.  The bed was massive (and super comfortable).  I even had a view of the mountains from my window.  The snow disappeared over the few days I was there.  Seriously, look at this room!

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Hotel Room

More on Mongolia in a later post…

Countdown…

Well, the new MacBook Pro has been announced.  After a bit of research I have decided to bite the bullet and purchase an upgraded 13″ model.  It will be a few weeks until the laptop is actually on sale, so I hope to have it by the end of the year.

According to the Japanese Apple Store site I can pick from a few different keyboards.  I think I will stick with a U.S. English keyboard since I am most comfortable with that particular key setup.  When I want to type in Japanese, I can continue to do what I’ve been doing – simply switch the keyboard icon at the top of the screen.  Although I can see where being able to switch via a button on the keyboard would be useful.  I have a few weeks to decide which way I want to go.

In other news – I have decided to separate my photos into two folders on both external hard drives.  This is because I’m unhappy with my current photo organization and would like to be more organized and streamlined.  I don’t want to (nor do I have the time to) reorganize all my old photos.  So I will have a pre-folder and a post-folder.  I’ve been having trouble getting photos from the memory cards onto the computer, so this change will happen as soon as I work out the current issue.

The next JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is the first Sunday in December.  I am working hard towards my goal of passing the exam and moving on to the next level in July.  My current job is not tied to any level of Japanese proficiency, but it is a good way to challenge myself and up my employment potential.  It also makes life a little easier.  Being able to converse in more than one language is a valuable skill in my opinion.  It also makes sitting in a coffee shop or on a train that much more interesting…

I have planned two trips to Nozawa Onsen this winter.  The first trip is over the new year holiday period.  I’m excited about having an extended stay compared to most of my recent trips.  I might even do a snow monkey tour one of the days.  The second trip is in January for the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri (野沢温泉の道祖神祭り).  I lucked out because January 15th (the climax of the festival) is on a Sunday and I was able to find accommodation.

Finally, one of the most exciting pieces of news I have lately is the purchase of a kotatsu.  Yes, after three winters I have finally cracked and purchased an inexpensive, small (yet high) kotatsu and cute blanket to go with it.  It’s easy to move which makes working in my apartment a little easier.  It is also good for studying.  It will also keep me nice and warm in the coming months without having to blast the aircon’s heat setting.

That’s all for now…

Exciting Times…

Okie, the title might be a little misleading because nothing obviously exciting is currently happening.  As a matter of fact, it seems quite the opposite at the moment.  I am sitting in a Starbucks drinking tea, using wifi, and fighting my first cold of the season.  I’m also still having tech issues, so the Mongolia and Seoul posts are on hold.

What is exciting?  Well, using my iPad and some previously saved or uploaded elsewhere images, I set up a Facebook for my photography.  Yes, I’m late to the Facebook game, but in a way this will help me to consolidate where I’ve posted what images.  It is also an easier way for people to explore other images I’ve posted (as well as blog posts) from a central location.

I’m also getting closer to solving my tech issue as far as a laptop goes.  In a way the delay has been a good thing.  I’ve read rumors (yes, rumors) that a new MacBook Pro will be announced soon.  Since I’ve been delayed this long, a few extra weeks to see what will be offered isn’t too bad.  In the meantime, I’ve figured out how to get the RAW files from my camera into JPEG format on my iPad.  I can’t watermark them, but on sites I don’t use a watermark I can still upload from my iPad.

If you’re interested, here is the link for the Facebook page.

Back in Japan

I’ve been sitting in Haneda for hours waiting for my next flight.  Instead of heading into Tokyo I decided to pay for lounge access and avoid the heat.  For the amount of time I’m spending, it really isn’t that expensive.  Sitting at an actual table with a plug and unlimited beverages isn’t a bad way to spend more than five hours in an airport.  There are worse options.

This past week I was in Seoul for the Obon holiday.  It was hot.  So very hot.  I melted daily.  I don’t know why I thought it would be cooler or less humid than Japan.  But I’m back in Japan and back to work tomorrow morning.

I’m still working on getting the photos from Mongolia converted and uploaded so I can finish blogging about Golden Week.  Then I can blog about Obon and Seoul, specifically the Noryangjin Fish Market.  It may have been my favorite experience in Seoul.

Once I have a new computer I hope things will run smoothly.  I’m a little worried since I need to figure out how to move Photoshop from my old laptop to my new laptop.  The CDs are in America, I am not.  Off the top of my head I’m not sure where exactly they are, so I can’t just ask someone to mail them to me.  Ideas?  Anyone?

I’m trying to organize my photos online.  Currently I have photos in a few places which can be a little confusing.  I need to create a spreadsheet for the photos I’ve put up and then create a system for future uploads.  This project is doable on my iPad mini, a plus since I don’t have to wait for new equipment to get started.

I’m also working on a few different projects with my photos.  These are a little difficult with the current laptop situation, but I’m working around the issues the best I can.  After visiting Japan in 2012 I put together a photo book.  Using the same service I’m putting together another book.  I’m also trying to put together a planner.

In addition I’m looking at different websites to see what kind of calendar printing options are out there.  It’s a blancing act between diversification and way too much going on.  The spreadsheet should help with that.

In the meantime, a photo from the fish market can be found here.

Golden Week (pt.2)

Mongolia!

Getting to Mongolia from Kanazawa actually took longer than getting from Kanazawa to New York City. First, I took the Shinkansen from Kanazawa Station to Tokyo Station. From Tokyo Station I had to get the train to Narita Airport. That wasn’t difficult, just time consuming and stressful due to the fact that all of Japan is in vacation mode during Golden Week. But Japanese trains are clean and run on time. I had reserved seats for both trains, so it was less stressful than it could have been – yes, I have gone Kanazawa to Tokyo during a holiday period without a seat – no, it isn’t the worst thing that could happen but it also isn’t the most comfortable.

Once at the airport I had time to kill before my first flight. I was flying Air China to Beijing, then Beijing to Ulan Bator. I realized I had forgotten extra memory cards, so I hunted down some before going through security. I also managed to get breakfast at a restaurant (again, before security). I’d been to the restaurant previously so I knew I could get some tasty food quickly and not outrageously priced before departure.

Clearing security at Narita is a simple process. It’s quick and doesn’t have all have all the “security theater” issues that U.S. airports seem to have. If they have a question about something in your carry on, the security officials are quite polite about it. Actually, that’s been my experience in most other countries. One of the times I was in the U.K. they were baffled as to why I was taking off my shoes. When they had to further inspect my reusable water bottle (empty but sealed) they told me exactly what caused the extra security search and what they needed to see.

…but back to the Mongolia trip…

I cleared security and immigration with no problems and went to wait at my gate. The flight was full and I was flying economy, all reasons to worry about comfort on an international flight. Except that they aren’t reasons to worry. One thing I’ve learned since moving and choosing to fly certain airlines is that even economy can be comfortable and filled with amenities. Yes, they feed you hot food. Yes, drinks – including some alcohol – are free. Yes, there is inflight entertainment (although on the Narita – Beijing route you don’t have your own TV). The seats are small, but not overly so.

I always try to get a window seat so I have something to lean against if I choose to attempt to sleep. It also gives some extra room between the window and your seat. It also lets you see some pretty amazing things. As mentioned in my previous post, I saw Mt. Fuji. This was completely unplanned. The few times I’ve tried to see Mt. Fuji from a plane it hasn’t worked out. Either I’m on the wrong side of the plane (listening to the すごいs and the きれいs accompanied by camera clicks) or the flight path doesn’t go by Mt. Fuji. This time I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of seeing Mt. Fuji and the pilot didn’t announce that we were passing the mountain.

I made it to Beijing with no problems. I was ready to start my sleeping in the Beijing Airport experience. Why was I sleeping in the Beijing Airport? Well, I had a 14 hour layover. I have a Chinese visa in my passport and even without it, transit visas are available at the airport. However, my flight arrived in the evening and my next flight was scheduled to leave early the next morning. I decided not to leave the airport for a few reasons. The first reason was that things would be closed. The second, where would I sleep? The third was that I might not make it back in time for my morning flight.

When you land in Beijing from Japan, you disembark on the runway and take a bus to the terminal. The first thing that hits you is the heat and the air quality. Inside the airport the air is cooler, but I’d already become a bit of a sweaty mess. The end of April was hot. After landing, I had to clear transit immigration and security in Beijing. Immigration was no problem. Even if I was leaving the airport, as I mentioned, I had two different options (my Chinese visa or the transit visa). Since I was not leaving the airport, I proceeded to security. Where I stood on a line for what seemed like forever.

When I departed Beijing last August I had to take out my camera and batteries, but not all of the lenses. I packed my carry-on how in a way I thought would make security in Beijing (plus the 14 hour layover) a breeze. It was not to be. There was a backup at security. Almost everyone was having to take just about everything out of their bags and belongings were being thoroughly inspected. I took out what I thought I needed to and put my belongings through the x-ray machine.

I had to go back and take out all my lenses. I had packed them at the bottom of my bag in their own zipper pouches. This meant emptying my bag to get to the lenses. Once I had the zipper pouches out, I had to take them out of the pouches (some of which were mesh and you could see what was inside without opening them). Even my sunscreen which was in my liquids bag and the correct size was scrutinized, opened, and smelled. Luckily, since I had time, I wasn’t overly concerned with how long it was taking me to get through security, but I know some other people were on tight schedules.

Eventually I made it through security. As I repacked my bag and freshened up on the other side, I made a mental note to put all the pouches at the top of my carry-on for the flight back. Then I hunted down some food. I ended up at Pizza Hut. Yes, they have Pizza Hut in the Beijing Airport and it’s more like an actual family restaurant than a pizza place. Maybe that’s common for Pizza Hut?

After eating some food and I found a pretty good location to get some rest. I figured I’d sleep on some chairs at one of the quieter gates. Um, except it didn’t quite work out that smoothly. Yes, I found some seats, complete with charging stations. Beijing has a pretty good set up with outlets in the floor in the seating areas. They also have a few charging stations that take USB cords in each gate area. This means everyone can charge their devices easily and for free. Internet, not so much.

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There are signs advertising free Wi-Fi, but when you try to access the Internet, you need a Chinese phone number. Sadly, I do not have one and considered getting Bongo wireless while in the airport because 14 hours is actually a really long time even if you are planning on sleeping.

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Sleeping was more difficult than I had anticipated. There are TVs every couple of rows in the seating areas that play advertisements and short programs. The first hour this was slightly entertaining. However, they don’t turn most of them off until about 12:45 am, at which time they turn on all of the lights. So it’s one or the other – loud TVs or bright lights. Oh, and there are some late arriving and departing flights out of the terminal as well. But it’s free and seemed pretty safe. The airport is clean (they cleaned the seating areas and bathrooms several times over the duration of my stay) and security makes rounds.

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But my trusty travel companion and I made it through the night and onto our next flight…

(Sadly not on this cute plane…)

In the meantime…

I have the second Golden Week post written up, but technology isn’t exactly on my side.   I hope to fix my technology problems by September.  The photos I took are saved on on external hard drive and need to be run through Photoshop and uploaded before I can publish the post.  So in the meantime…

Summer is hot this year.  In my part of Japan, there wasn’t that much rain this past rainy season. Typhoon season is also remarkably quiet.  There has only been one typhoon and it was late.  Despite the lack of rain in my part of the country, the humidity levels have been high.  This has made drying laundry a difficult task.  Everything takes a day longer to dry. Most of the time I dry my laundry inside.  Yesterday I managed to dry a load outside.  I plan to do the same today.

August and the beginning of September are both looking busy with lots of big and little things happening.  Well, lots for me since I have to fit it all in around work.    I’ve finally figured out the night bus options and which company I prefer.  This has made getting around cheaper and a bit easier.  I really like the Shinkansen because it is faster and more comfortable, but it’s also much more expensive.  The Kyoto route is only slightly cheaper by bus since Kyoto and Kanazawa are linked by an express train but not a Shinkansen.  So it’s a balancing act between schedules, comfort, and cost.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  I hope to be able to upload the photos from external drive soon.

Golden Week (pt. 1)

Golden Week

  1. a glorious time of year when a string of holidays come together to create a week long holiday in Japan
  2. the last week of April into the first week of May

Since moving to Japan in 2013, the end of April has meant packing a bag and heading to the airport. Not to go on vacation, but to return to the New York Metro area for a few days.  The few days spent in the United States were filled with things that needed to be taken care of as well as visits.  Although enjoyable, it was also stressful.  The first year I almost missed my return flight due to road closures in NYC because of a bike race.  I always return more exhausted than when I left.  Because of the International Dateline, I would arrive in NYC before I left Tokyo.  This always is really neat.  However, it works in reverse when returning to Japan.  Crossing the International Dateline meant that I instantly lost a day. Having to be back at work always meant building a “buffer day” into my schedule.

For example, if Golden Week started on a Friday and ended on a Thursday, I could leave Friday morning and arrive in NYC that afternoon (it takes a few hours to get to Tokyo).  I would have to depart NYC on Tuesday.  This means I would arrive in Japan Wednesday afternoon and back at my apartment late that night.  Thursday would act as the “buffer day” to adjust to the time difference or in case of any travel delays.  For those of you following the math, that means I would get three full days in the New York Metro area.  I would lose three days to travel and time zones.

In the past year, some things have changed.  This meant I did not have to travel back to the United States for Golden Week.  I could have if I wanted to, but after flying back and forth a few times in the past year, I needed somewhere a bit closer.  Should I stay in Japan?  Visit China?  Taiwan?  Hong Kong?  Macau?  Korea?  There were many options but no definite answer.

In the end I visited a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time now.  It was not my best planned trip, nor the most comfortable.  But hey, life is meant to be lived and going outside your comfort zone offers a chance to grow.  This trip was filled with a few “firsts”.

  1. My first stay in a five-star hotel (I usually stay in hostels and guest houses)
  2. My first time ordering room service
  3. My first time sending my clothing out to be cleaned
  4. My first long layover
  5. My first time getting in a bit of trouble at the Beijing Airport
  6. My first (and – I hope – only) time drinking cheap vodka in front of customs officers in Beijing (this is related to #5)
  7. My first time photographing a protest
  8. And, most importantly (and completely unplanned) – THIS!

富士山

I was sitting in my window seat thinking Hey, that’s a pretty nice mountain.  It’s really pretty.  It kind of looks like, wait, is that, naw, can’t be, wait, it is!  Mt. Fuji!

In the end, no one was arrested and I made it back to Japan in one piece.  My luggage is little worse off than when I left, but hey, it made it back in one piece too.  I flew over a desert, landed at an airport with an approach involving mountains, and walked around with a wad of depreciating currency.

No, really, look at these prices!

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So where did I go…

Tests and Golden Week…

Back in December I took (and found out mid-February) passed the JLPT.  I will be taking the next level in July.  I’ve been studying a lot and attending class twice a week to prepare.  In May and June, I may add a few extra classes to give myself a boost.

I also had to travel to the US back in February which caused a nice little case of jet-lag.  I made the mistake of sleeping the day away when I returned to Japan (an accident really – I even slept on both planes and on the train – I never sleep much on planes!).  This caused some issues since I had work the day after that.  It took over a week to readjust.

In March I went to Kyoto for a day and then to Osaka for one day of the Grand Sumo Tournament.  Sumo is a lot of fun to watch live.  I seriously recommend that if you plan to visit Japan, time it so that you can attend one of the six tournaments held yearly.  Seriously.  It is worth it even if you just go for a few hours – in which case I recommend later in the day.  There are more spectators the later you go, which means more excitement in the stands.  That is because later in the day is when the big names come out.

I also decided to stay in Japan another year.  In the next two months I have to get my residency card renewed.  Hopefully they will take a new picture!  My current card has the picture from when I got my work visa.  I don’t look the same as I’ve lost weight living here (not that I’m complaining).  It would be nice to have a picture that reflects that, especially since I’m supposed to carry the card with me at all times.

Golden Week starts Friday of this week.  Originally I was going to travel to the US but plans changed and I am going to Ulan Bator, Mongolia for a few days.  I’ll be staying in a hotel, which is a change for me.  And I fully intend on checking a bag even though I’m only going to be there for two full days, plus two half days.  Why?  Camera equipment.  The checked bag is actually carry on sized and will be packed with clothes and toiletries.  My carry on will be camera equipment.  I’m looking forward to getting some shots of city life in Mongolia.  My cameras are also all capable of shooting video, so I may experiment a bit with that while I’m there.

Sadly, I am in need of a new laptop.  I’m typing this from my iPad, which makes getting photos up a little difficult.  I hope to purchase a new laptop in May after returning from Mongolia.  Until then, photos will be limited.  Trying to edit/convert large files originally shot in RAW on an iPad isn’t exactly my idea of fun. 

Welcome to 2016

It’s a new year, the Year of the Monkey.  In Japan the year follows the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the Year of the Monkey started on January 1, 2016 instead of following the lunar calendar.

What?  No photo this time?

That’s right, no photo for this post…

In the spirit of reslolutions or whatever it is people try to do at the begining of a new year, I’ve decided to make things simpler in a way.  In some ways, making things simplier starts out by making them more complicated.  I have a few different accounts for photos that I’m in the process of consolidating and/or deleting.  Same thing goes for getting all of my email sorted out.

If you’d like to see some photos, you can head over here or here.  I put up a few new (and old) photos on both.

Happy New Year!