Friday, August 27, 2010

The Tribe Has Spoken!

So get this...yesterday I saw an email advertising an event at The Club (each base has an enlisted and an officer's club, or a combined "collocated" club). It was a meet and great with some of the Survivor All-Stars!

Em and I are moderate to big Survivor fans; in fact I had just been looking into the application process to get on the show but gave up.  The event was for tonight from 5-7 and they were going to choose random people to compete in a "Survivor Challenge".  I wanted to attend and told Em to get a babysitter.

Then at lunch Em ran into some of the "Stars" signing autographs at the BX (Base Exchange or the equivilant of Mervyns meets Walmart) and called me very excited saying she put her arm around James and got to chat with Russell and  Sandra.  (Winner of last season.)

But then she couldn't find a babysitter. That combined with me being very tired, (all four boys woke up and came into our room at various times last night) led me to not feel up to going by myself (no kids allowed at event). BUT, my fabulous and selfless wife encouraged me to go without her saying it was a "once in a lifetime experience."  This is true.  Thank you, Hon!

So I popped over to have some light hors d'oeuvres hoping to meet some of them.  I did just that and got to talk to Ami Cusack ( Survivor: Vanuatu and Survivor: Micronesia).      
She was quite nice, personable, fun to talk with, pretty and I got to get some behind the scenes questions about Survivor answered.

As I ate my snacks, they did the drawing for the competition and I got chosen.

This is how it worked:  They picked two teams: an enlisted team and an officer team. Each team competed in a challenge with the last person to finish being eliminated and not moving on to the next round until one person from each team is left to compete in the final challenge.

First Challenge: Drinking giant pixie sticks the fastest.

Second: Using the pixie stick as a straw to pick up ping pong balls and carry them across the ballroom floor and drop them into a bag.  Repeat.

Next challenge: Race around a bunch of tires with some weird plastic cups under your feet with strings connected that you hold to help move your feet.

Next: While paired up with a Survivor All-Star race around the same tires while stepping into them with your foot at the same time as your partner.  My partner was Russell Swan (a very nice guy, Em says!) (Survivor: Samoa)

Next: A nasty one!!! A couple of scoops of squid guts had to be eaten. (My strategy quickly changed from trying to eat it all at once, (cue immediate gag reflex) to eating smaller bites on the count of three, (this worked once) to holding it in my mouth until the other guy gave up and threw up: making me one of two finalists!!! (I can still taste it and smell it.)

For the final challenge I had to peddle a large tricycle with Ami on the back. I was blind-folded and Ami was my guide. She led me around the tires where our handle bars got bent-losing precious time- but we corrected them and sped on.

Ami then directed me through a maze where I kept going left and then left until I spilled out of the maze passing the other guy.

Back onto the trike, Ami expertly led me around the ballroom to the final obstacles. I tore through the combat crawl sustaining multiple rug burns and losing my flip flops but ultimately emerged the winner!!!

And guess what?

 I am going (with Em) to 

And to think that I almost laid down at home and went to sleep.  Em had no idea that any of this was happening and when I walked in with giant check/coupon for the trip she was completely dumb founded and still doesn't believe I really did win.

What an awesome night!


And most of all...

Monday, August 23, 2010


Last year we went to the Nebuta parade, in Aomori City, during the day. This year we wanted to see how amazing they would look in the dark, lit up. They were amazing. The people are so energetic and happy. Despite it being so crowded everyone seems to enjoy it. The boys were all dressed in their festival Jimbae.

Em took a little girl for her mom since she was struggling to see over us and 3 other rows. We were with the Balls at a street corner. At each corner they stop the floats and then quickly spin them around.
 Nebuta is our favorite festival! (Too bad it was blisteringly hot.)

There are many theories about the origin of the Nebuta Festival. One is that it originated with the subjugation of rebels in the Aomori district by "General TAMURAMARO" in the early 800's. He had his army create large creatures, called "Nebuta", to frighten the enemy. Another theory is that the Nebuta Festival was a development of the "TANABATA" festival in China. One of the customs during this festival was "TORO" floating. A "TORO" is a wooden frame box wrapped with Japanese paper. The Japanese light a candle inside the "TORO" and put it out to float on the river or the sea. The purpose for doing this is to purify themselves and send the evil spirits out to sea. "TORO" floating is still one of the most impressive and beautiful sights during the summer nights of the Japanese festivals. On the final night, "TORO" floating is accompanied by a large display of colorful fireworks. This is said to be the origin of the Nebuta Festival. Gradually these floats grew in size, as did the festivities, until they are the large size they are now. Today the Nebuta floats are made of a wood base, carefully covered with this same Japanese paper, beautifully colored, and lighted from the inside with hundreds of light bulbs. In early August the colorful floats are pulled through the streets accompanied by people dancing in native Nebuta costumes, playing tunes on flutes and drums. Many Aomori citizens are involved in the building of these beautiful floats. The Nebuta designers create their designs patterned after historical people or themes. They begin developing themes immediately after the previous year's festivities come to a close. Consequently, it takes the entire year, first in the development, then in the construction of the Nebuta float.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Conquering Mt Fuji

Yesterday I climbed mount Fuji with Merrill and Janeen, Ryan B, and Robert W. It was great. We kept a steady pace, all staying together and all got the branding stamps on our walking sticks at most of the huts. The ascent was very challenging.  There were some rugged up-hill parts, a bunch of switch backs, and some stairs. I think the variety on the ascent was good. The last 200 or so meters were very exhausting. Standing still I was fine but almost immediately after starting up again I became out of breath and a little wobbly at times from the combination of being tired with less oxygen in the atmosphere. We ended up at the top a little after noon, 5 hrs and 15 minutes. It was a great feeling to have made it to the top. I continued and hiked around the crater, which offered some cool views of the crater and got me to the actual highest point. So it was mostly worth it to hike an extra 45 minutes. The weather on the way up was nice. Foggy, humid a bit of sunshine, a slight drizzle towards the summit and then a lot more sunshine at the top. Eating ramen at the top was yummy and just cool! 

After my crater trek, I got back to the rest of the group just as the rain began and it continued the whole way down.  We were pretty soggy and wet all the way but it wasn't too bad since it didn't get too cold or windy.

Coming down was probably just about as hard as going up and my knee started hurting. It didn't hurt if I went backwards so I went down a lot of it backwards. The descent takes you down a different route with a bunch of switch backs and a lot of loose volcanic gravel/shale.  It was pretty exhausting but it was a great hike and well worth the trip. It was an awesome group to go with.

This morning we, in insanity, woke up and caught a taxi to the fish market at 4 am. Why you might ask? Because we wanted to witness the Tsukiji Fish Market Auction. We got there just in time to get tickets.  These days they only let 70 people into the each of the 2 auctions since tourists got it closed down to visitors a while back.
We made it into the second auction. It was insane. Tons (literally) of tuna lined up in a large warehouse, with lots of people inspecting the quality with touch, taste, visual and even using flash lights to get a better sense for the true color of the meat.
Then the auction starts with the different auctioneers ringing their bell and then they sell each fish one at a time. It goes really fast and each person moves about 100 fish in 10 minutes and there are probably 10 auctioneers going at the same time. The guys are really animated and excited and they seem to be having a great time.
It was a really fascinating thing to watch. Once we got shuffled back out, we walked around the busiest, largest, coolest and most dangerous (due to the small trucks speeding around without any consideration for the American tourists!) fish market ever.

Then we headed back to the New Sanno hotel and had a fabulous buffet breakfast, (Maxwell worthy) had naps, then headed out for lunch and a temple session. It was neat going to the Temple of the Lord after having summited a physical temple the previous day.
After the Temple we headed back to the hotel, swam and then went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. It was nice to be able to have American food again. You just need to have it once in a while. I even had a hamburger in front of Janeen (our healthy eating friend) who ordered two half salads. I thought that was funny but definitely not unusual for her.

It has been a great trip and I am ready to go to bed and go home tomorrow. Thank you Emily for being a lone woman in Misawa with the boys while I did this. (Though it sounds like you have been partying with your girl friends a lot!) See you soon!