Sunday, June 24, 2007

Two Weeks Notice

Today I put my two weeks notice in at work. I was a bit nervous about telling my bosses, but they took it much better than I had imagined they would. Now I can finally talk a bit about my new position!

For those that don't know, I got accepted to become an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for the school board in Ashikaga, Japan (google map). I will teach English there for a year starting July 29, and it sounds like the contract is renewable for two years after that if both parties wish. I was interviewed for the position by the Sister Cities Association of Springfield as part of the relationship between the two groups. There is a bit more info on Springfield's sister cities on the city's website.

A nice little tourist map was included in the latest package that I received from my soon to be employer. In true Japanese fashion, it is covered in cartoons.

I have actually been to Ashikaga once before. It was almost 6 years ago now, I went for 10 days just to sightsee. I liked it enough that I started taking Japanese at Illinois College, and now here I am. The city itself is a bit larger than Springfield, and is situated 50 miles north of Tokyo. From what I recall, it has a fair number of worthwhile tourist attractions. A good place to visit someone you know who lives there... hint hint... There's a surprisingly good page on Ashikaga at Wikitravel, right here.

I expect the coming month to be very busy. I have a lot to prepare for!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pretty Pictures and a Run in with the Law

The last time I was in Japan was the semester I spent at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. I arrived for school just as the cherry blossoms were blooming in the trees. During some free time, I went to a sort of parade at Daigo-ji Temple, in which a long procession of Japanese in full period dress reenacted a court event that happened in 1598. There was a bit of a breeze, which caused the cherry blossom petals to float from the trees like snow flakes. Needless to say, I took a ridiculous amount of pictures that day.

This scene in particular caught my eye. Its so serene and symmetrical, it belongs on a postcard.

Fast forward to a month or two ago. My art major friend Amy Lenhardt was having a final art show in Jacksonville, showcasing all of the things that she had been toiling over for the past four years. I was very surprised to see a print that I recognized. It was a print made from an etching of one of my Japan pictures! Very awesome. I guess she saw where I had put my pic up on facebook, and liked it enough to want to recreate it. She even gave me one to keep. It looks pretty cool, I'll probably have to get it framed. I liked it so much that I decided against suing her for infringing on my intellectual copyrights.


I got my new laptop in the mail today! I have started on the long journey of learning how the hell to work the dreaded Windows Vista. The menus looks pretty, but I doubt its going to blow me away with functionality. My favorite little toy now is the webcam built into the screen. New electronics make me happy.

Its even got a remote! Ooooh, Aaaah

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Six Flags, Free!!

Yesterday I attended a company outing at Six Flags St. Louis. The two free tickets they provided included a lunch at the park, so it was just too good to pass up. Tony Hawk's Big Spin is the newest ride in the park, opening just a couple of months ago. Upon closer inspection it seemed a bit slow and more for families to enjoy, so we gave it a miss. We ended up hitting most of the big ticket rides, and I managed to escape without spending a whole lot. While I was able to keep my lunch down, I had a definite headache by the time the coasters were done jerking my head in various directions. Its been probably five years since my last visit, so I was happy to be able to come back and see what had changed. Good times.

Me, Wonder Woman, and Seago, respectively

Sunday, June 03, 2007

First Day in Cartagena

I finally took the time to do some more Colombian show and tell. Brace yourself for excitement, 'cause 5/9/07 is coming at you.

Now comes my favorite part of the little Colombian trip. Cartagena! (Here's its wikipage, and here's the map). While Bogota's weather was a bit cloudy, and cold enough to have to wear a sweatshirt occasionally, Cartagena was exactly the opposite. It is on the northern border of the country, and it sits next to the Caribbean. A sunny, beach filled place, Cartagena is a perfect tourist spot.

Colorful view of Bogota shortly after takeoff.

As soon as I had walked off the plane it was obvious that this place was much different from where I had been previously. A good illustration of this was the several uniformed employees waiting to help me carry my bags at the airport. One would walk up and ask me if they could carry my bags for me(I can only assume, as I had no clue what they were gibbering). I would say no, and they would reluctantly go away. This event repeated itself at least five times. Once we had finally gathered our luggage, we started out the door. One of those uniformed guys was not about to let us escape without giving someone money. He pretty much grabbed my rolling suitcase out of my hand and started carrying it toward our hotel shuttle.... all 20 steps. Then he stood and said "the tip is optional". Oh man, what a bastard. I think I gave him a dollar just to make him go away, but I was not happy about it.

Even in such a beautiful, touristy getaway, there weren't any non-Hispanic people around, so I felt like I was getting singled out to be hastled. One of the very few downsides of this great place is that everyone seems to be hanging around waiting for me and my wallet. I needed to brace myself when leaving a popular museum, because as soon as I was outside I would get ambushed by people getting in my face trying to sell me sunglasses or random trinkets. I admire their entrepreneurial spirit, but they definitely need to work on their marketing approach. I didn't care what they had, I just wanted to get away from them. Well, enough ranting...

We stayed at the Hotel Decameron in an area called Bocagrande. This section of the city is filled with tall hotels lining the beach. A bit farther inland the scene started to become just the usual urban setting, not much different than the neighborhoods I had seen in Bogota. The hotel itself was pretty excellent in part because it was all-inclusive. There were a couple of bars and restaurants on the property, as well as a few that they would shuttle you to if you asked. Our room had a ridiculously good view of the ocean and the old city, which sometimes made it hard to even want to go outside.

A feeble attempt of mine to get artsy with a shot of the resort.

Once we had dumped all of our luggage in the room, we were off to exploring. The boundaries of the historic "Old City" district were fairly obvious due to the large defensive walls surrounding it. Cartagena was pretty hardcore fortified by the Spanish to keep pirates and other baddies from preying on the city. The city was an important stop in the slave trade as well as commodities, and so became a nice target. The biggest visible part of the defensive structures is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which not only is huge and mean looking, but takes forever to say. A two pronged defense plan.

Close to one of the entrances in the high walls surrounding the city, stands Pedro de Heredia, who founded Cartagena in 1533. (Notice that my picture is better than the one in the link... Booyah, Wikipedia!)

Some giant Colombian colors flying over the fort.

The old colonial defenses are a big part of Cartagena's heritage, and the fort is the center piece. The most interesting part of the fort is supposed to be the labyrinth of tunnels that run beneath it. I think that they were used both to confound enemies as well as store weapons and supplies. I imagined that some pickpocket was waiting for me in this dark maze, so I chickened out and wouldn't go very far inside.

This is where someone was waiting to beat me and take my money.

I don't recall the significance of these things... I think that they are the "traveler's shoes" or something along those lines. Nice view of the fort in the background, though.

"Oh McDonald's, wherever I am, you're always there for me with your sweet, sweet unhealthiness"

More coming up!