Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ashikagans in Springfield

Some time ago I was bragging about one of my students winning a speech contest in Ashikaga. Well the prize for that contest was a free trip to Springfield and a bit of Chicago to see the sights. It was very cool to see both sides of the circle, plus I got to see my student and several other people I know from Japan. It was fun to speak some Japanese after what feels like a long time as well.

I actually saw everyone on three different days. There was an informal little reception at Floyd's, a downtown bar, and there was a fancy(and long) gala at the Illinois State Library.

This was at the third little event I attended held inside the Old State Capitol. There were again lots of speeches, including remarks from Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, Ashikaga Mayor Minoru Omamiuda(seen here singing some Elvis at an earlier welcome party in Japan), and Illinois State Senator Larry Bomke. Each one of the winning students then stood up at the podium and recited the Gettysburg Address. While this is not the place where Lincoln gave his famous speech, this is where he gave his "House Divided" speech that is also very well known.

Gettysburg Speech Dream Team

We all had Subway at the nearby but not-yet-open National Museum of Surveying(website). While they didn't have a ton of exhibits in place yet, they did have something pretty awesome called Science On a Sphere(website). It was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and it's pretty much a big ball with several projectors playing on it to create the illusion of an animated sphere. It's a pretty cool way to see global weather patterns, earthquakes, and even sea turtle migrations take place on a round earth.

I took a couple of little videos of the thing in action. The whole setup was controlled with a Wiimote, which just made it that much snappier.

The whole thing made it into the State Journal-Register here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Take Me Down to Ollantaytambo

Before I went to Peru, I knew next to nothing about Pre-Columbian civilizations. I don't think I realized how much of the ruins still stand, and I certainly didn't know that the language of the Inca, Quechua, was still spoken. Now that I have been exposed to these things a bit more, I find them extremely interesting. I'd say that is a large impediment to the speed of my posts on this blog. I start to research a place I went, get sidetracked into Google Books reading about battles between the Inca and the Spanish, then look at the clock an hour later and realize I haven't written anything! I am very grateful to live in the age of the internet. So much awesome information is available at a whim. Anyway, onward!

Speaking of information, useful or otherwise, I read in a travel guide that Huttese, spoken by the big fat Huts in the Star Wars movies, is largely based on Quechua. I'm sure the Peruvians think that's swell. It's probably best that I didn't learn that until I left the country.

After a very eventful day on the PeruRail train and then exploring the wonders of Machu Picchu, we had a much needed sleep. This next day might have been even longer than the one before it.

While on our way to check out of the hotel Angelica noticed this parrot chilling out in an open area at the center of the building. Parrots in the US are always pets or jailed in zoos, so it was cool to see such a nice bird wild.

We got to the train station a bit early, so there was a bit of time for us to explore. We played a bit more of my favorite game: White guy picka souvenir from a distance and latin girlfriend buya souvenir at much lower thana white guy price while white guy isa hiding. I'm still working on the name but you get the idea. Here are a couple of little things that I bought in Peru.

A lovely Inca Kola t-shirt. The guy at the airport metal detector referred to me as Inca Kola, so Angelica and I thought that was pretty funny. I might need a new hat. This one has been just about adventured to death.

This might turn out to be one of those things that looked super cool in Peru but back at my house it looks stupid. I'm not sure what I am going to do with this and the other one I bought. It's made from alpaca fur, though, which is kinda interesting.

Just next to the fancy tourist train station was the line for the local train.

The train ride back was much less fancy than the previous one. We got these little lunch boxes instead of the fancy breakfast with silverware from before. I opted for the coca tea this time. Everyone said it was supposed to help with altitude sickness.

At one stop of the train I saw this old woman out the window. Her motions to the passengers were hilarious.

First was "oh I'm surprised to see you" from the woman standing right next to the train tracks to the people on a train that likely comes by the same time every day.

Then it was "oh I'm too embarrassed to have pictures taken of me".

Next was "well I'd be a little less embarrassed if you all put coins into this hat I happen to have here with me".

And finally "wow, those coins really did the trick. my shyness is cured!"

The train was pretty calm until he showed up. I didn't catch his name, but he was like a dancing mix between a clown and a terrorist. Obviously I took some video of the performance.

Sorry about the letterbox thing going on here. The iPhone's video and YouTube aren't the best of friends.

In the video there's a man just to the right of me looking at his laptop and roundly ignoring the odd performance. Well, he was watching several episodes of himself on his travel show. It was none other than...

Oliver Steeds! He's best known for his work on the Travel Channel's Mark & Olly: Living with the Tribes.

Well I was worried Mr. Steeds might have not welcomed an intrusion to his intent watching of himself, but he seemed pleasantly surprised when we asked him for a picture. Honestly I wouldn't have even known who he was if he hadn't been watching his own show, so maybe we're even.

Here's Olly and his co-host being forced to adopt a baby monkey after the tribe eats its mother. I laughed and laughed. (Not really. I'm a good person).

Eventually the train stopped and we had to say goodbye to our new famous friends. But we didn't just ride back to where we came from. That's for quitters. Our train ride ended in the Peruvian town and Inca ruin site of Ollantaytambo (yeah, it's a long name, but recall Bangkok's name in Thai?). The city is notable for being a temporary capital for the Inca resistance during Spanish conquest. Very cool. More on the city later!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

This Year's Halloween Costume

I didn't have too many ideas on what I wanted to be for Halloween this year. After the resounding successes of my Indiana Jones and beetle costumes(hehe) the last two Halloweens I spent in Japan, what could possibly compare? Angelica and I did a bit of Halloween shopping at a few of the party stores in town but everything felt really overpriced and we didn't see anything striking.

A trip to the local Meijer, though, was the jackpot. They had haunty festive stuff but because it was already so close to the big day, everything was 30% off! It was a rare procrastination-based victory. There were only a few lonely racks of stuff left, so that made choosing easy.

The both of us and a couple of my friends all went down to St. Louis for some haunted house and downtown festivities.

Seago was Shawn from Shawn of the Dead (I think he just wanted to get fake blood all over his work clothes), Brandon was a zombie cowboy, I was a Ghostbuster-

-and Angelica was a bumblebee. We had talked earlier about coordinating costumes, but the supermarket sale ruined that. She wanted me to be a flower to match her bee, and I wanted her to be Slimer. It didn't work out.

This costume was funny because the proton pack was inflatable, and part of it wouldn't inflate. I ended up having to repair it with electrical tape. Very classy. I loved the Ghostbusters growing up, and I had several of the action figures. My mom put those little orange flavored Ecto-Cooler juice boxes in my lunch until I was about 18. It was all a nice temporary return to the 80's for me.

Since I just bought my costume at a normal store I was worried there would be copies of me everywhere, but surprisingly that didn't happen. People were constantly giving me congratulatory "Who you gonna call?" or theme song greetings, so that was funny. I did see one other Ghostbuster while we were out, but he had made his costume. His backpack lit up and everything. Show off.

It was too dark in the haunted house for pictures and by the time I got downtown my phone was dying, so I don't have many good shots of other people. My favorite was a group of people going as characters from the Mariokart games. They had little boxes around their waists with wheels taped on, plus some balloons tied on. Then they ran around in circles in little races with each other. It was awesome. It was nice to see the amount of effort some people put into their outfits. Costume parties really are the best.

Next I'll get back to the end of my Peru pictures. Stay tuned!