Monday, December 29, 2008

Political Unrest in Thailand

I still have a few days of Hong Kong fun stuff to talk about, but there's something happening in Thailand now that I wanted to share.

I am pretty ignorant on the subject, but a few weeks ago political protesters wearing yellow clothing occupied the airport and forced the prime minister to resign.

I assume in retaliation, the opposing red shirted protesters are giving the new prime minister a rough time, barricading the parliament building and not allowing him to enter.

A couple of days ago I was sightseeing in the part of town with all of the important palaces and temples, and I saw a giant gathering of these red shirted people across the street. I know I am supposed to avoid these sorts of groups while in foreign countries, so I continued walking on the opposite side of the commotion despite my curiosity. As I walked, everyone I passed was giving me much more attention than usual. I got smiles and little bows from person after person. I finally realized why: by chance I was wearing a red shirt! Leave it to me to accidentally wear my antigovernment gang colors on rally day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hong Kong Day 2

The classic dilemma returns. I finally have something to write about, but there's no time to write it. I've got a ton of Hong Kong pictures and a couple of videos to post, so I will let them speak for themselves and fill in the blanks as needed. And we're off!

My first full day in Hong Kong was a Saturday, so Mike and Allison were off of work and available to show us around. We went to a local dim sum place for brunch, knocking an important line off of the "must try" food list in my book.

Here's one of the cooks doing his thing behind glass. I thought it was cool that they had the ducks and other meats hanging in the window. Many places have these hanging around and they looked delicious. There weren't ever any dogs or rabbits sleeping upside down though, thankfully.

Allison doing her English lady tea thing. Tea is very widely available, as expected. It feels a bit more English than elsewhere in Asia I've seen though, no doubt an echo of colonial days.

I took a bit of video of traffic while I waited for the food. Not many private cars on the street.

So dim sum is meat and or vegetable mixture encased in various doughs, which is usually steamed. Some doughs were white and fluffy, others were brown and crispy, but they were all pretty darn good.

Mike doesn't eat fish("nothing that lives in the water") and Allison is a vegetarian, making ordering food a bit more complex for them. I just bounced from plate to plate trying everything, though.

This was the happy accident dish on the table. Somewhere in Mike's confusing "we don't eat animals" conversation with the waitress, this got ordered by mistake. We think its just the shell part of some other dish. Sort of a big slimy pile of starch with some soy sauce. It wasn't real popular with our group.

Next we headed over to the Lady's market via subway.

The market is composed of a few intersecting streets filled with goods to buy. There is plenty of stuff for both sexes, so I think the "lady" bit is probably historical. Haggling isn't just possible, its really necessary. The stall owners like to throw out laughably high prices at tourists just to see if they'll stick. I like to bargain, but here it was a process consuming time and energy that left me drained. If I decided to try and get a better price at a different stall, I had to start all over again. I bought a few things, all for other people(so spoiled).

Everything was tall and narrow. A tunnel of treasures.

Mike giving Clarence some fashion advice.

The two little words I heard the most were "copy watch". As in "hello, you want copy watch?" One in six little storefronts had a display or simply a catalogue displaying a bounty of fake name brand watches. I almost wanted to buy one so that I could end the hounding.

Here are a few more lively city shots I snapped walking to and from the market.

A trip to a park(in Kowloon) gave us a chance to rest and leave the stress of the city behind.

Just a short walk from the park landed us next to the ocean with Hong Kong Island's impressive skyline in view.

Hong Kong's favorite picture of itself seems to be the old junk with the gleaming city in the background. Its pretty neat looking as well as symbolic. I'm not sure that the junks have any real use anymore. The only ones I ever saw were for tourists to ride on.

Not only are there double-decker buses in Hong Kong, but there are double street cars as well.

A bit of Hong Kong life from the window of a street car.

Dinner was soup. Very, very spicy soup.

Monday, December 22, 2008

First Day in Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong safely and everything has been great since then. Our first day in town was a short one because we arrived pretty late in the day.

Clarence and I's main reason for coming here is to visit our friend Mike, who was an Ashikaga teacher last year but is now teaching in Hong Kong. He is nice enough to let us stay at his place.

His neighborhood is called King's Road, I think, and it is definitely a fixer upper. It has a lot of character, but I've always felt completely safe. No homeless types or anything like that. Lots of little shops and restaurants dot the area. Plenty of places to explore. There's a 7-11 and a supermarket within a five minute walk, so its a pretty convenient locale.

Despite the apparent safety, people in Mike's building have some serious hardware on their doors. This person has a little incense shrine thing next to their door. Pretty common in this building, and I assume everywhere else too.

Mike took us to a little place by his apartment for a late dinner. We had a beef and noodle mixture that was really good.

Lots of good stuff to talk about as soon as I have the time!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My First Movie: Part 2

After the nice little tour of the Kanikosen set, it was time to get to work. We were herded across the street to a normal looking house(unoccupied?). Just inside the doorway was a rack filled with maybe 2 dozen sets of rubber clothes and shoes. I guessed they belonged to the rest of the crab boat crew. We were led up a staircase and into what was serving as the wardrobe room and met the little woman in charge. After a short explanation, we were left to fend for ourselves. After all of the measuring preparation we had done, I was surprised at how unorganized it all was. There was a mad grab for pants and jackets, with some serious trading going on soon afterwards. Some of the guys whose jackets were a bit too big mercifully traded with those that were comically prancing around in skin tight, little girl-sized clothing.

One of the guys enjoying his custom fitted leather. He looks a bit like Tobey Maguire from Spiderman.

What a sight we were to behold. The 19 of us were dressed in clothing I can confidently declare no Russian will wear as long as there is a Russia. We had matching white t-shirts with a bright graphic on them that read something like "happy club" in Russian characters. Over that we each had a leather jacket of various size, style, and color. The pants were the best part of all. They were bright orange work pants. Japanese work pants are a bit odd. They have an exaggerated flare that brings to mind something MC Hammer might wear. I was glad I brought my belt. Gravity would not have played well with these huge pants. I found a really interesting article on Japanese construction worker fashion here.

A look at the giant orange pants that Russian sailors wear.

Ben and Joe experiencing the joy of small clothing.

When the clothing jokes died down and everyone had finished suiting up we walked back across the street and into our blue play pen.

Some down time in the tent.

We were then given a "dinner" at 4pm. We had a choice of a scrambled egg and crab meat mixture on rice, or a taco salad sort of mixture on rice. Taco for me. Then there was a little cup of soup that was mostly broth on the side.

It wasn't bad, but I felt it was a bit meager considering the amount of time we were expected to be there. My stomach was seriously growling by the time I left.

When lunch was over our keepers began to randomly give us hats to wear. Most of them were fake fur of some sort. Many of them were goofy. Ben got the funniest hat of all. I'm really glad that there is some high quality footage of him wearing that thing.

Ben's hat was pretty much a fur bonnet with leather straps.

The icing on the cake for me was still on its way. The brown shoes I had brought weren't quite up to specification. They were too low cut, while the recipe called for taller boots. To cover this, one of the workers tied a white faux fur to each of my ankles.

My transformation into the most believable Russian ever was complete.

They really wanted us to be in that blue tent at all times, which was unfortunate for them because that's the opposite of where many of us wanted to be. I wanted to talk to people and take pictures of everything, not just sit and waste time. Next are a few of the random shots I took during my sneaking around.

They had some heavy duty electrical stuff going on that I hadn't ever seen before. This thing is strikingly similar to the ghost trap from Ghostbusters.

I don't know what you would call this, but its where some technicians would sit during filming to view what the camera is capturing. They relay their opinions to the guys on the set.

I caught Mr. Hirabayashi looking very director for a moment.

I told him as much, and he struck a pose.

Joe and I wandered back onto the ship-

-which was getting some super last minute painting done on it.

We got a little explanation about our scenes from the Assistant Director and we were told to wait until the clock struck go-time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My First Movie: Part 1

Ok, I am going to try to accurately describe the events of last Saturday on the set of Kanikosen in Ashikaga. Now comes my usual dilemma. Do I start at the beginning or in the thick of it?

This project was nothing close to what I had imagined. I thought that because the story is rather serious that this was going to be a serious period piece. I thought that as an "extra" that I would be doing some little busywork in a corner a mile away from the camera just to give some atmosphere. I was wrong. So, sooo wrong. There was nothing extra about what I and the other 19 or so white guys did. We were virtually the whole freaking shoot. About the time I saw the dancing clowns I realized that I had signed up for something that I didn't fully understand.

The day began when we arrived at the set around 2:30, as per our instructions. I was pretty excited by this point, as I could tell by all the equipment and staff running around that this was a real endeavor. We were corralled into a heated blue tent that would serve as the break room/holding cell for the extras for the rest of the day. Soon we were greeted by Katsutoshi Hirabayashi, the Assistant Director that we had met with a couple of weeks prior. He gave us a little tour of the set, which had three distinct areas.

Before we had seen anything, we walked by a little break area where the two stars were hanging out.

Ryuhei Matsuda(wikipedia, imdb), I, and Hirofumi Arai(imdb). Both of these guys are apparently well known(thanks Don for the name). They are decked in their crab boat worker clothes.

Of the three little sets, the one that struck me the most was the crew's quarters. It was the squalid little area on the crab boat where the workers slept. The "cots" were just large metal pipes stacked on top on one another, and the ceiling was covered in pipes as well. It was so metallic and harsh that it reminded me a bit of a place you might find on a ship in The Matrix.

The tube bunk beds.

Katsutoshi told us that everything in the room had been made by them, and that many of the pipes above were actually made out of paper painted to look like metal. I was impressed.

The next area we saw had the same tone as before: metal, cold, and unforgiving. This was the factory part of the ship where the caught crab were processed and canned.

On the way in we spotted this little command center, just out of view of the set.

This hand powered conveyor belt looked like it would be an unfortunate tool to have to operate.

Last is the place where we would spend all of our time on camera: the Russian ship. Or just a little bit of the deck, rather.

I would soon become very intimately acquainted with this area.

More on this very soon. I want to show everything before I leave for Hong Kong, in THREE days!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Countdown to Hong Kong

Working on the movie Saturday was very noteworthy and pretty much nothing like I had expected. I am sorting through the many pictures and videos I took so check back soon for that.

The countdown to Hong Kong is nearing its conclusion. I will be leaving on the 19th and I'm really looking forward to it. Hurray!

I've been reading my Lonely Planet guides to prepare myself for the international wonders that await me. While searching for the books on Amazon I picked out a few things at put them on my wish list. I added a little button you can see on the side there. So if you were wondering what to get me... you could grab something off my list... and they will send it to my house in the US... and that would be super cool.

I just caught back up on my Daily Show episodes, and what an awful time it was to fall behind. Jon Stewart said some things about Rod Blagojevich that most likely made him cry. Check out the clips in case you missed them.

This one is really funny. According to Stewart's math, becoming an Illinois Governor is more likely to land you in prison than murdering a person.

"Rod Blagojevich is a Jagoff"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Slow Start to My Movie Career

Tomorrow is my long overdue entry into the world of film. I was worried when I filled out my costume measurements that the wardrobe people wouldn't be able to find things in my size. I got all sorts of lip about it from the others. "Of course they will have your size, they are professional clothing finders", they said. Well my unfortunate rightness is coming in sections. A couple of days ago I got an email that I need to bring my own "brown pair of shoes" because they don't have my size. Today the email was "bring your own brown belt". Next will be "bring your own distinctive brown hat with chocolate brown ribbon and a bullwhip". If they want me to wear my Indiana Jones costume again, they should just ask. They shall receive. Couldn't be much worse than Crystal Skull.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich: "It's [expletive] golden"!

Wow. What an overachiever. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich not only seems to be shamefully corrupt, but he has managed to advertise that fact across the globe. Normally a governor being arrested by federal investigators might make the national news, but Rod's alleged attempt to sell internationally famous Barack Obama's soon-to-be-vacant US Senate seat has made a stink that the whole world can smell. Thanks Rod.

You can read all about this as well as other fun facts in the BBC article here. My favorite are the little quoted gems gathered from the FBI wiretaps on Mr. Blagojevich's phone. According to the FBI, in reference to Obama's seat, Rod said "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing." I think "something" is just what you are about to get, sir.

I wrote a couple of posts ago about the kabuki-za's impending doom, and I made a reference to the very stylish Dana-Thomas House in Springfield. Sure enough, shortly afterward my friend Sam(gentleman and scholar) reminded me that the building had been closed to visitors December 1st due to budgets cuts made by.... Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. 8 days later he was in jail. Coincidence, or curse of Frank Lloyd Wright? You decide.

Eventful Days At Yamabe JHS

One thing I like about my job here at Yamabe is the variety of life. Reading the same passages out of a textbook over and over can get a bit monotonous, but it seems like there is always something going on. The time schedule for classes changes almost daily. Assemblies, events, and even just plain unexpected conversations seem to be the rule. Another fun little jolt is the yelling some of these teachers give to students. They talk fast, but the volume and the aggressive nature of the of the discipline that is sometimes given is more than any scolding I can remember receiving.

Yesterday we had a fire drill. Fire drills here are always announced days ahead of time. Everyone knows the date, and even the time that the fire drill will be held. Its super lame. It seems to me that they should be unannounced in order to add a bit of realism. I was bad and didn't even go outside. I had a ton of grading that I needed to work on, and I didn't want to waste my opportunity outside listening to fire safety lectures in Japanese.

I thought that this was pretty cool. I had no idea that they extended this far.

I also received a care package from home yesterday(thank you!). I have a pretty good relationship with the assistant principal, so I shared one of my American snacks with him. He quickly reciprocated with something that I hadn't had before.

He showed me this bag of roots. They are called ukon in Japanese, but I know it as turmeric. It is often used in Indian food, and it gives things like curry and some rices their bright yellow color.

As sensei pulled one of the roots out of the bag, he said something I didn't want to hear: "this is good for you". In Japan that is code for: "this is going to taste super awful".

He took the root and grated it, and its strong color and smell were instantly released.

He put the shavings in a cup and poured some hot water in, then added a sugar packet. It wasn't real bad until the end where the solids had settled. I couldn't finish that part.

Early this week the students had elections for school officers. Last week everyone had an assembly in the gym where the candidates gave little speeches asking for support.

The school borrowed this election equipment from the city.

These are the lock boxes where the votes went. I was impressed how seriously this was being taken. I don't think I even had an election until high school.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My Big Test

I did nothing fun this weekend. I was holed up in my apartment, alternating between studying and pretending to study. I wrote enough of those little Japanese hieroglyphs to wallpaper a room. Sunday was my big test, the JLPT. The Japanese test. I woke up super early as I not only wanted to look over my notes but I needed to catch a train to the city of Kiryu, about 20 minutes away. Then a bus took me to Gunma University, the test site.

Even among that group of foreign test takers, there weren't too many non-Asians present. Our lunch break was pretty amusing. A hoard of non-Japanese descended on a 7-Eleven to partake in their microwaveable meals.

The test covers grammar, kanji, listening, and vocabulary with the classic fill-in-the-oval format. I am optimistic about the results.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ashikaga as a Movie Set

I had a pretty exciting meeting yesterday. Part of a movie titled Kanikosen is going to be filmed in Ashikaga and I and several of the other foreign English teachers are on the list to be extras. We met with the (an?) assistant director, Katsutoshi Hirabayashi, and did a bit of preparation. He took some pictures and some measurements for our clothing. Once our business was concluded, we had some time to chat and ask a couple of questions. Mr. Hirabayashi said that part of a ship would be constructed as a set, but the water the ship will sit in will be added later with computers. I asked him why they picked Ashikaga of all places to film, and he didn't have much of an answer for that. A bit mysterious. Maybe I'll get a better answer if I ask around a bit more.

The film has a page on over here, but its pretty bare at the moment. It does list Ashikaga as a filming location, though. Hopefully that will fill out as time goes by, or I might do so myself.

The movie is based on a novel of the same name, written by Takiji Kobayashi in 1929. Its the story of the crew of a crab canning boat. "Written from a left-wing point of view, it concerns the crew of a crab fishing ship's hardships as they struggle under capitalist exploitation". "Interest in the book has revived recently as the 2008 financial crisis has led to economic pressures on many Japanese workers." So sayeth the Wikipedia.

Where we come in (I think) is a scene where the Japanese ship encounters a Russian ship. So we are just random Russian fisherman on this boat. That calls for white guys, so unfortunately Clarence and Zishan are being left out on this one. That sorta sucks.

It's all really cool, but I am cautiously optimistic. I am wondering if they will be able to find clothing in my size, shoes especially. It would be a huge bummer if I went over there and didn't get to participate for some random reason. It's all going to happen in about a week and a half, so we'll see what happens then.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thailand's Airports Are Back in Business

During my morning perusal of the headlines, I was pleased to see this article declaring that the occupation of Bangkok's airports has been called off. It sounds like an airport is a good place to protest when you want to cause some damage. Not only was the switch instantly flipped off on Thailand's important tourism industry, but the country's export sector was messed up as well.

I think the best way for Thailand to recover from this setback is to offer unbelievable discounts to tourists for the next, lets say, month and a half. That ought to set everything straight.