2005/06/30

The Princess And The PEE?

In early June, we went across the South end of Kitaura Lake, which is an odd thing to say to begin with because "Kita" means North, and "ura" means lagoon. So, I just said, "we went across the South end of North Lagoon Lake." Hmmm. I know you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure your realize that what you heard is not what I meant. Happens to me all the time here in Japan.

Our destination was the small town of Itako, all of a 20 minute drive from home. Itako is famed for its canals, boat rides, and especially, the occassion of our visit, the annual Itako Ayame Matsuri (Itako Iris Festival), which draws 500,000 visitors to this town of 25,000. Itako is also well known for their delicious unagi - broiled eels. Yum. The town was abuzz this day. The streets were lined with boxes of marigolds, brooms and rakes were flying everywhere, reed screens were being put up to hide rusty metal sheds and other objectionable objects from view, and men with weed whackers (whiz-bizzers as my mother calls them) were clearing tall grass along the canals.
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I might have thought they were being extra hospitable just for Pandabonium and K, but I knew better. His Imperial Majesty AKIHITO, the 125th Emperor of Japan, and Her Imperial Majesty MICHIKO, Empress of Japan, were going to visit within a few days to see the iris flowers and plant a tree or two in honor of Arbor day. Que the trumpets! Fanfare!

Arbor day is a peculiar occassion where heads of state in various parts of the world plant a few symbolic trees and make speeches about nature, peace, and future generations, all the while, the corporations of those same countries are busy cutting and burning the rainforests of the world at the rate of about 78 million acres per year. During the course of a brief 20 minute speech, another 3000 acres will disappear. As Mark Twain said, "It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense."

In the USA, Resident Bush's performance was no exception. On the first US Arbor day in 1872, a million (MILLION!) trees were planted. This number has diminished somewhat over the years to, well, uh, one actually. But the ceremony still maintains its noble stature. As Dave Barry would say, "I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. " The following account is compiled from the AP report and the White House official web page as indicated:

President Plants Tree at White House in Honor of Arbor Day
North Lawn

AP -"The young American chestnut was already sitting in its hole in the ground and a fresh pile of dirt was waiting nearby when the President -- wearing a business suit -- strode out to throw on three shovelfuls and pronounce his Arbor Day commemoration complete.

White House:
THE PRESIDENT: Glad you all are here. Ready, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY JOHANNS: I'm ready.

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I'm honored -- we're honored to be here with the Secretary of Agriculture, as well as Marshal Case, who is head of the American Chestnut Foundation. We are planting an American chestnut tree here at the White House. This is the 133rd year of Arbor Day. Our message is to our fellow citizens, plant trees -- it's good for the economy and it's good for the environment.

AP: "We don't want to get carried away," laughed President Bush...

White House:
As well, Marshal informs me that the American Chestnut Foundation has worked very closely with the Agriculture Department to coming up with a disease-resistant strain of the American chestnut. And he says we're making good progress, and that one day the American chestnut, which had been wiped out by blight, will be coming back. And this is our little part to help it come back.

So, Mr. Secretary, are you prepared?
SECRETARY JOHANNS: I am ready. Let's --
THE PRESIDENT: A man known for shoveling a lot of things. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Exactly.
THE PRESIDENT: Ready to go?
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Yes, I am ready.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, let's do it.

AP: Each man pitched spadefuls of dirt into the hole holding the green-leafed sapling -- Bush mock-grunting at the effort, presidential dog Miss Beazley underfoot and Johanns only nearly missing the president's pants leg at one point. Bush then quickly called it a day and headed back inside the White House.

Several National Park Services workers moved in to finish the job..."

PANDABONIUM: If only Miss Beazley had peed on Bush's foot...

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I don't know what the Emperor had to say on Arbor day. Probably something equally inspiring.

As we entered Itako and approached the main canal, each street corner was staked out with several women (not what you are thinking!) in traditional cotton prints and reed hats and scarves waving down cars and stopping pedestrians to offer.... boat rides. They are called "musume sendo" which means "boatman's daughter". These women were probably a lot more successful at attracting customers back around, say, 1955, when they still had their youth! K bargained a bit and got a decent price for a boat ride as well as free parking for the day.

We were the only customers in the six-passenger boat as it putted down the canal - the gondolier style bamboo pole has long been replaced by an outboard motor. This change was necessitated not as one might assume by the aging of the boat ladies, who have been hanging on to this trade for half a century, but rather because the town dredged the canals making them too deep for poles to be an effective means of locomotion. We did pass other boats with muscular oarsmen propelling them with a single oar at the stern. Weddings here in Itako have brides in white kimono sitting in an oar powered boat going down the canal to meet their groom (or is it up the creek to meet their doom?). Shops offer paper dolls depicting them along with iris themed scarves and handkerchiefs made with local dyes.

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Itako is located along the Tonegawa (Tone River) which in the Edo period was rerouted so as to make a canal system that allowed rice and other goods to be transported by boat all the way to Edo (now Tokyo), some 50 miles to the West. It also allowed the Shogun to come out to Itako and fool around. I'm not making that up either. Last century, another frequent visitor was Ujo Noguchi (1882-1945), a poet born in Ibaraki. He who wrote many famous folk songs, such as Akai Kutsu (red shoes), and some about Itako, which became popular throughout Japan.

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Our boat lady was informative and gave us a nice ride, but there was not much to see except the canal, foot bridges and other boats because the iris beds are all beyond the banks and not visible. It think if would be a nicer attraction if they planted flowers on berms along the canal so that they could be viewed from the water, but I don't think the boat ladies and the flower garden people are on the same page.

After our ride we had a very good teishoku lunch at a restaurant overlooking the canal and gardens, then walked if off with a stroll through the flowers. Teishoku simply means "set lunch" and is usually served in a segmented box with a different food in each of the separate compartments. (See the lunch pictured in my post "Ume Festival: When Is An Apricot A Plum?") A good teishoku to try on Maui, by the way, is at Tokyo Tei restaurant on Lower Main Street. Order the "Teishoku B", and enjoy. Meanwhile back in Itako.... There are footpaths and bridges through the flowers and the gardens hold much more than iris flowers. Lotus ponds with several varieties of various colors add to the interest. They say there are over 500 varieties of iris grown here. A number of gardeners were busy weeding and tending to the lotus ponds in preparation for the royal visit.

Next to the gardens there was Japan Post van with an open side and built in counter for selling stamps. Japan Post often will set up shop in a booth or van like this at tourist sites or during festivals to sell stamps with related images. This one offered several sheets to choose from with pictures of iris flowers, brides in boats, and flowers of Ibaraki Prefecture. Vendors are also there to sell you iris and lotus plants so you can grow your own - good luck.

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So, what about the Princess and the pea you ask? Um, that's pee, but OK, I'm getting to that.

On the way home we saw ten or twelve police riot buses full of uniformed officers - not in riot gear, just uniforms. They were practicing deployment for the royal visit. Over the next few days they would be seen everywhere around the Kashima City area. The Emperor and Empress would stay at the Kashima Central Hotel which is on a main route running North and South through the city. That route is one which one of my expat friends, Chuck, drives along to orchestra rehearsals. As this was a week before our concert, we had Sunday rehearsal and on his way in Chuck saw police on rooftops and at intersections all along the way. Kind of creepy.

Personally, I think the cops were there to make the royals feel important and boost their sagging egos a bit. They have oppressing affairs of state on their minds this year. One being their, shall we say, 'not-exactly-stunning' daughter, Princess Sayako (aka Princess Nori) who is finally getting married off at age 36 (whew!), albeit to a commoner.

Having been raised in the USA myself, and able to trace one and perhaps two ancestors on my mother's side to military service in the revolutionary war against King George III (of England - not the village idiot who thinks he is king now), I've never had much use for or interest in royal families. Still don't. Frankly, I'd see them all as an anachronistic joke were it not that some of them, such as England's, still have very real power to do harm. In fariness to the Heisei Emperor, he has also been making a series of visits to WWII sites, the most recent being Saipan, to honor all people killed in that war and raise consciousness about the devistating consequences of war.

Anyway, as I marveled at the bus loads of police, K told me that Empress Michiko had been to Kashima at least once before, some thirty five years ago, while Michiko was Crown Princess, and K was a mere child. She had visited local industries and retirement homes and so on (royals really don't know what to do with themselves these days and it's just as well if you ask me). K was in elementary school back then and stood alongside the road with her classmates waving flags as the Princess went by.

One of the stops for Princess Michiko was Sumitomo Metals, a very large steel plant in Kashima which makes hot and cold rolled steel plate. In preparation for her visit, Sumitomo completely remodeled a bathroom for her at a cost of one million yen. That was in 1970. Adjusted for inflation, that would be over 3,000,000 yen today, equivalant to nearly US$28,000. I could not help but wonder if the Princess even used those facilities during her visit. I can imagine the management at Sumitomo trying to figure out how to make sure she saw the wonderful porcelain conveniences they installed just for her. Offer cup after cup of tea perhaps? In the end, did she even powder her nose? I would hope that for $28,000 she would at least have taken a pee!

2005/06/26

Disney Scuttles Shark Fin Soup

Under continuing pressure from enviromental groups around the world, Disney has announced that it will not serve shark fin soup at its new park, Hong Kong Disneyland. Earlier this year (see my earlier post: Good News For The Pacific And Our Planet) Disney had tried to reach a compromise by promising to hand out leaflets explaining the negative impacts of the shark fin trade and to purchase shark fins from only "environmentally responsible" suppliers. It has been unable to find any such supplier.

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Walt Disney once said: "Conservation … is a science whose principles are written in the oldest code in the world, the laws of nature. The natural resources of our vast continent are not inexhaustible. But if we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come."

The following is taken from Disney Corporation's environmental policy:

"Conservation

Promote wildlife and habitat conservation through partnerships with the scientific and academic communities, and organizations committed to preserving the earth's biodiversity. Integrate natural resource conservation in all Disney's planning, development and operations activities. Effectively plan and manage conservation lands for the preservation of native plant and animal species."

I guess the corporate suits at Disney forgot that when they saw that they could sell a of bowl of the soup for $400. Happily, there are a lot of people around the world ready to remind them of their own official policy. Corporations operate to increase their profits, but we as consumers do have the power, through our choices, to impact their bottom line and induce them to be responsible. We can make a difference.

Sharks still face pressure from overfishing for their fins and valuable cartilage, but at least Disney Hong Kong won't be adding to the problem.

One salt water.

2005/06/21

Momo Files: Dog Smarter Than Human

Well, this human anyway. Consider the evidence:

I've made two trips to Fiji in as many years to get a house built there. I've had plans drawn, redrawn, changed, gotten bids from contractors, interviewed home owners, inspected other houses, etc. But I still have several steps and many months to go before a single stick will go up. If you think "Hawaiian Time" is slow, try "Fiji Time". The Fiji Islands must be travelling at near light speed because time there, relative to everywhere else, has virtually ground to a halt. That is one of its endearing characteristicts - I'm not complaining.

But compare this to our unexpected guest, Momo, who was taken in as an act of charity (only temporarily mind you) just two months ago. In that time, Momo has managed to secure the following: grooming, two meals a day, health care, one or two walks a day, treats daily for the most minor of things such as the simple act of sitting down. I mean, really, does anyone give you a treat just for sitting down? Have ever walked into a friend's house and have them say, "please sit down", and you say, "no thanks I can't stay", and they say " if you'll have a seat, and stay, I'll give you a piece of See's candy", or some caviar or whatever as they wave it in front of your face? Niether have I.

Momo also has nice water dish with attached bottle to automatically refill it as she drinks (nobody refills my drinks), several toys, and now....a house. A HOUSE!

Yes, Momo has done in two months what I could not do in two years. K bought her a house last week and I put it together in a morning. It was made in China - isn't everything? - and has louvered windows, a faux chiminey, and even a deck with railing. Momo loves it. When it rains she has cozy shelter, when it's sunny she has shade, and when the weather is just right, she lounges on the deck. I even added a post box with her name on it, and the Japan Post insignia.

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So I've concluded that dogs are smarter than humans.

In fact, I have a theory. They came from a planet orbiting the dog star, Sirius, thousands of years ago to rule the earth. They have succeeded. The Egyptians of old knew this. The god Osiris has the head of a dog, and the phrase "dog days of summer" comes from their belief that the extra heat of summer was due to the brightness of Sirius (brightest star in the Northern hemisphere) which shines through summer. Superstition or fact? You decide.

Momo's probably been there, and I often don't even know where I am. Sorry, gotta go. Time for Momo's dinner.

2005/06/18

Pandabonium Plays Kashima!

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My music debut in Japan with the Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra was a great experience. Under the direction of Keiji Ogawa, this young organization is nothing if not ambitious. Perhaps in another post I will speak of our maestro and some of the members. But for now, suffice it to say that we are a community orchestra comprised of people from many walks of life and musical talents from amateurs like myself to people with very impressive careers in music performance and education. I feel privileged to participate, and thank the Moody Minstrel for introducing me to this organisation.

Our pops program (each winter concert is classical, each summer concert is pops) was a tribute to the music of film, lots and lots of films actually. To bolster our ranks in the strings and percussion sections students from Seishin Gakuen, the school where we rehearse, joined us. Among them was a pianist who was very good. Some of the orchestra members, including Mr. Ogawa, and our solo clarinetist (aka the Moody Minstrel) are teachers there. There was also a sprinkling of professional musicians/teachers to fill positions not covered by our members. This is common in orchestras, particularly the community variety, as some instruments are not so common. In the Maui Symphony Orchestra, we always had to bring some strings and a bassoon or oboe player over from Honolulu.

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Maestro Keiji Ogawa

Rather than have the conductor announce each piece or leave the audience to figure out which music goes with what movie, an emcee was hired in the person of Ippei Hayashiya, a comedian who is very popular with young adults in Japan. The humor was well received by the audience. He was funny on stage and also very personable off stage. He speaks English (which spared my friend Charles the chore of translating), and while talking with him during a rehearsal break, I discovered that he has been to Maui. His announcements and jokes kept the audience in an upbeat mode and gave us a much needed, if only brief, breather between numbers. Although his jokes were in Japanese,and my skills in that area are, well, ahem, still lacking, I could actually follow some of them. I became convinced he was a good comedian when I recognized a joke from my own repertoire. Ironically, it was a joke I told K the week before and nearly told the two other American orchestra members back stage before the concert, but figured that they probably had already heard it. They had not, but they soon heard the Japanese version.


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Emcee Ippei Hayashiya

We played to a full house of some 700 people at the Kashima-Shi Kinrou Bunka Kaikan - Kashima City Labor Culture Hall.
(In comparison for you Maui people, the Castle Theatre holds 1200). We opened the concert in the dark. Mr. Ogawa was secreted on stage so that he could take the podium quietly and start conducting Also Sprach Zarathustra before the audience realized that we were starting. As the trumpets built up volume note by note toward the first big full chord, the stage lights came up like the dawn in 2001 A Space Odyssey. It was very effective - even the orchestra was impressed with the effect. After that, we went right into Blue Danube, which of course was used in that film for the docking scene of a space plane with the gigantic orbiting wheel of the space station, as well as landing on the moon. There is no trombone part for that piece but it was the last rest I would get for quite a while.

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Next up was Moon River. Normally I would consider this a good warm up piece in a concert. Not technically difficult, with nice long tones - gets the orchestra warmed up and playing together, ready to tackle what is to come. Unfortunately, the orchestra had already spent the afternoon rehearsing the entire program, and was well beyond warmed up. It did invoke fond memories of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's for those of us old enough to remember it. But then I also remembered the ridiculous racial stereotype of a Japanese man played by Mickey Rooney in that film, and hoped that the audience hadn't seen it and, if anything, would just remember Perry Como's rendition of the song instead.

After that came a nice selection of music from Jurassic Park, which you may recall had some really majestic melodies (picture the gracefully striding dinosaurs in the beginning) featuring the French horns with a little help from their friends in the rest of the brass section. OK, the rest of the orchestra was there to, but I'm brass-centric by nature. That movie was filmed on Kauai by the way.

Adventures on Earth was fun, with music from E.T., the Extraterrestial - getting a little more challenging as we went along. With all the rehearsing that day, we should have been holding back a bit and saving something for the finale, but no, we went for broke (and got there pretty fast).

Then Moody Minstrel (no guts no glory?) took the center stage while six students with saxophones walked out on the flanks, and local jazz drummer, Mr. Hasegawa appeared. Along with the brass in the orchestra, and pianist, this formed our jazz band for the concert and we played Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade. Then the drummer laid down a fast Louis Prima beat, the brass section stood up, and the mood shifted from the serene foxtrot to the jumping 1936 hit Sing, Sing, Sing with a great Benny Goodman style clarinet solo by Moody Minstrel which ended in a note so high that he had to file a flight plan before the performance. Happily, I had pretty much memorized my part, as I could not play, hold the horn up, and see the music at the same time.

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Striking resemblance, don't you think?


After an intermission, we shifted gears back to orchestral arrangements and played Over the Rainbow then picked up the pace with Pirates of the Caribbean, which was challenging at times and a lot of fun in rehearsals, but at that point in the concert felt more like work.

It was time for one of my favorites of the evening: Titanic Suite. I like this music, even if I've never been fond of Celine Dion's voice (she's got that French nasal thing going on, you know?), but I like the fact that the trombones have a nice long rest toward the end, so our main challenge is not to lose count. The Moody Minstrel (once more into the breech!) opened the piece playing a penny whistle (tin whistle?) with a spotlight shining straight into his eyes, which set the mood with his eerie, Irish sound, and probably blinded him for the remainder of the concert. He was followed by Nao Ikeda, an opera soprano who added the spooky, wordless, vocal with harp accompaniment. The song is called "Never an Absolution"on the movie soundtrack and is repeated at the end as "Hymn to the Sea". In our rendition the vocalist and penny whistle play the ending part together. It was moving.

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Nao Ikeda, Soprano

Ms Ikeda later told me it was difficult for her to perform that song, as the tune goes well below her normal range in places. The horn section also has some beautiful, high and difficult parts.

Speaking of difficult, I'm really glad I didn't choose to play French horn. Aside from all that tubing to deal with, horns are always either playing boring "oompah-pah" waltz parts or are saddled with totally exposed, stratospherically high solos that demand lips of steel. Seems like there is no middle ground for them. Kind of a brass purgatory. It was a struggle this late in the concert, but they did an admirable job. Our 1st horn, Mr. Ohsuka with his wife who plays 2nd horn, practiced their lips off for this concert and reached for the stars. They nearly reached them and I salute them. That night only the orchestra members could really appreciate how much work the all horns did over the last six months and how far they came. As the Titanic slipped beneath the waves, (taking the horn section and many of the rest of us with it), the lights dimmed, and all was still. Which would have been great, except the audience started to applaud before the last deep, somber chord was played. Such are the perils of live music and transatlantic ocean travel.

Our last theme was from another favorite film of mine because of its jazz dances and Romeo and Juliet plot, West Side Story. As we went through the piece it was evident that we were tired. Personally, I knew that at the end the trombone section must finish on a high A -near the top end of my range on a good day. I also knew I didn't have the muscles left in my embrasure to reach it. Sad, as on latter rehearsals I had been nailing it. But not tonight. Well, at least the concert was over...

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Like one of those annoying kitchen appliance commercials, a little voice popped into my head and said "But wait! there's more!" Yes there were encores. The voice continued, "not just one encore, no, not even two encores, if you act right now you get three of them, all for one low ticket price!" I was thinking, "Just pull my lips out and hit them with a wooden mallet already".

The orchestra, sans brass (whew), played a nice Cha-cha from a very difficult version of West Side Story, then the brass joined for a frenetic Mambo. This was the most difficult piece of the evening for me. We only received the sheet music late in the season. In rehearsal, I never played the whole thing correctly, not once. Tonight was no different. In addition to challenging rhythms, which I finally did learn, our part is often high, sometimes in a terrible key, and sometimes written in tenor clef instead of bass clef, which just adds another layer of work as I try to transpose. Its the kind of music that is nice to listen to, but not much fun to read at least for this amateur. From the sounds on stage that night, I'd say I was not alone. But it was loud and fast and wild enough that perhaps the audience would not care. I hoped.

And finally, the true finale, the end, the close, the conclusion, finis, I walk off stage after this no matter what the rest of them do... Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, which I have renamed Death March for Brass Chops. Again, the brass stood up; again I strained to look down at the music while holding my horn up, and transposed tenor clef while I brutalized my lips. This brought back the bitter/sweet memory of my high school graduation, where we played this music over and over and OVER as my 960 classmates and I received diplomas, one at a time. But this time the audience was appreciative and enthusiastic with some of the students throwing streamers and balloons from the balconies as the crowd clapped in time to the march.

If any of the above sounds like a complaint or critique it is not intended to be. To the contrary, our community orchestra performed well and we all did the best we could with what we had under the circumstances, which is all any of us can do in life. In the end, we served our purpose to entertain the audience, promote culture and the arts, and support each other's love for making music. Can't ask for more than that.

After the concert many of us got together at a coffee house called, appropriately, Forte's. We enjoyed an excellent buffet as we watched a video of the performance, congratulated each other, shared stories, and basked in the fellowship and glow of our collective accomplishments. When K and I called it a night and left Forte's at 1:30 AM, the party was still going strong.

It took three days before my lips felt normal, during which time I was certain that if I looked in the mirror, a caricature with Mick Jagger lips would be staring back. Tired? Yes. Glad it's over? Yes. Do it again? Of course, any time! (But next time I am going to fake it through the dress rehearsal, so I have something left for the concert).

2005/06/12

Wendi Discovers Fiji

Wendi Friesen - hypnotist, scuba diver, sailor - has just returned to her California home after 2 weeks of travel in Fiji. Here are some of her impressions:

"I am back. Against my will I boarded the plane, leaving a paradise where almost no one has heard of Michael Jackson, the internet barely exists (take yourself back in time 10 years) and where people are overwhelmingly friendly simply because it feels good.

I was suspicious, I have to admit. The smiles, the warm greetings, the kind heart of the Fijians... they must want something from me. Since tipping is not customary, none had their hands out. They are up to something, I just couldn't figure out what.

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Turns out, all that I heard about Fijians is true. (There are exceptions, more later) They are happy, friendly beyond belief, take time to enjoy the moment, and seem to love to remember your name. Weird, really, if you are from the USA. Apparently there are other countries that are friendlier than the US. Returning to LAX is like a smack in the face. Two years ago, I was in Samoa, and upon returning had to face the harsh reality. Americans are largely an unfriendly bunch. Very little eye contact, sideways glances, avoiding all eye contact seemed to be more obvious after being in Fiji for a couple of weeks.

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Fiji has only one dangerous creature, the sea snake. No poisonous spiders, critters, bugs, snakes.. nothing can hurt you. And the sea snake lives in the sea. Good thing. While diving I saw a rather large one, probably 4-5 feet. They say that they have tiny little mouths so their extremely deadly venom can only get ya when you have little tiny body parts sticking out. I kept all of mine tucked in. Fiji is a diving paradise. Amazing colors.

The water is clean and drinkable, the natives are friendly (understatement), the ocean is spectacular (check out the temp here: Fiji Water Temps. Yes it is that warm.), the food is amazing, the mosquito's are rare, and the air temp never seems to vary beyond extremely comfortable, near perfection at all times.

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If there is a more ideal place on earth, let me know. While I was there, I looked for property to buy, so I could build a house and visit the islands. A sailboat, a sunset, warm water that is mostly over 80 degrees... what more could you want? "

Here is my list of things to love-

Fresh clean drinkable water.
Friendly, happy people. They speak English.
No dangerous bugs, rarely a mosquito.
No creatures that will make you squirm, scream, jump out at you, dangle menacingly from a tree, or eat your foot under the waterfall.
Broadband is coming. :)
Temperatures are divine.
Some of the best diving in the world.
Giant clams- just like in the cartoons. You have to see these- some are 2 feet long. Brilliant colors. It is so tempting to find out what might happen if you stick your finger in there...
Fresh fish anytime you like. People stand by the side of the road holding bags of prawns. Give them a few bucks and you are set for dinner.
Papayas, pineapples, guavas, bananas, coconuts all growing wild. The coconuts are a bit of work. Climbing that tree really sucks.

One thing on the list of what not to do in Fiji is in Nandi. The shops there can be rather brutal. The folks in this not so fine city don't seem to have the Fiji spirit.

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On the high side, the unspoiled island of Taveuni is wonderful, peaceful, and beautiful.

The resort on Vanua Levu at Cousteaus is the best thing ever. If you want to relax, go there. No worries. None. And if you work it right you can start with breakfast, eat slow and start lunch and dinner without taking a break. This is the best food I have had anywhere. Just amazing. They have beds by the pool. Not lounge chairs. Beds. Big ones. In between meals you can stop there to rest if you aren't ready for the white sand beach.

If you don't want to relax, go to the Outrigger on the coral coast and you will go crazy. I was only there one night, thank god. I would have lost my mind. Never go there.

There is a hotel in Suva called JJs where you get 3 butlers. There are the coolest butlers you will ever have. They will do just about anything you want. Where else can you go and have 3 butlers? This is just crazy. And remember, no tipping in Fiji . Suva can be dangerous at night on the oceanfront, but other than that it is ok to be outside. Even so, we had a large butler in a skirt accompany us the entire way to dinner, movie, and back to JJs.


-Wendi Friesen

2005/06/10

Good News For The Pacific And Our Planet

In a world controlled by supra national corporations, protecting the environment is a daunting task. It can be discouraging when we learn, as we did this week, that certain politicians turn to ExxonMobil (whose products produce greenhouse gases) to find out how best to set a policy on global warming that "is acceptable to them", and employ someone who previously worked as oil industry lobbyist to edit the government's own reports on the subject in order to water them down even further. One can only stand agog and wonder what view of the future such people in business and government have for their own children and grandchildren.

But just as water dripping on rock will eventually cut through the stone, persistence pays off. Two cases have recently brought some results, if only partial ones at this point, that offer hope that each individual getting off the couch and doing something will in fact make a difference.

In one case, Disney was confronted with a barrage of complaints from environmentalists about Disney's plan to serve shark fin soup at their soon to be opened theme park in Hong Kong. Shark Fin soup is a traditional way for Hong Kong families to show off their wealth by serving the expensive dish ($400 a bowl) at wedding receptions.
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Why care about sharks? Well, as John Muir once said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world." There are fifty-six species of shark on the endangered list. A hundred million are killed each year, usually by catching them in nets or on longlines, cutting off the fin, and then throwing the still living shark back into the water. Numbers of some species have declined by 90% in the last 15 years.

Disney hopes to placate the dissenters by promising to pass out brochures on the subject to visitors and is considering the use of only those fins from suppliers who use the entire shark. Pressure still needs to be put on Disney to stop them from participating in this cruel and ecologically disastrous practice in the name of profit.

A larger victory has been scored with Coca-Cola. Coke machines are ubiquitous in our world, of course, as are its bottling facitlities. In the run up to the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Coke, McDonalds and Unilever (think Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Bird's Eye foods) , were brought under pressure by groups such as Greenpeace and Adbusters for using HFCs as a refrigerant. HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) are powerful greenhouse agents.

To their credit, industry worked with Greenpeace on a solution called "Greenfreeze" and Coke tested non-HFC machines in Europe, Japan, and Australia. COCA-COLA IS NOW REPLACING ALL THEIR VENDING MACHINES IN JAPAN with the new technology. McDonalds, Unilever, and others are following suit.
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The change will prevent 70,000 tons of carbon from entering our atmosphere by the year 2010.

These cases illustrate that if enough people get off the couch (or the tatami mats) and do something, good changes are possible. If you have an issue that concerns you, do not sit and complain or worse, ignore what is going on with the world. Write letters or send emails to newspapers, congress, companies involved, even governments other than your own. Contribute to an organization that is active on that issue. We also pays our money and makes our choice, so you can choose not to buy products from irresponisble corporations. Together, not only can we change the future, hopefully we can make sure we all have a future.

"One salt water", you know.

2005/06/03

The Momo Files - Canine Physics

There once was a physicist named Bright
Who could travel faster than light
He went off one day
In a relative way
And came back the previous night!


Due to popular demand, I am posting the missing attempted Momo pictures. (referrence: "Momo Update"). Some of you skeptics of quantum mechanics want to see the evidence, so here it is.

The four photos offered are of course, Momo, Blurred Momo, Half Momo, and "No Momo". This phenomenon has to do with quantum mechanics and the laws of physics, which tell us that the presence of an observer changes the event being observed. One can know the position of a particle - in this case Momo - or the momentum, but not both and was first stated by the famous physicist Heisenberg way back in like, 1927. This is called "the uncertainty principle". I think.

Momo
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Blurred Momo
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Half Momo
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No Momo
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Those of you with a very keen eye will have noticed that Momo's red and white cloth dogbone toy also is sometimes there, sometimes not! Quantum particle behavior is strange stuff and is described mathematically by the Schrodinger equation. Schrodinger was one of the founders of quantum mechanics. The equation is:

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If it were not for knowledge about quantum mechanics, we would not have things like lasers, fiber optical cables, cell phones, or molecular spectroscopy (I'd like to hear Bush try to say that). It may also offer the key to understaning why socks go missing in the laundry and show up as extra clothes hangers in your closet.

Unfortunately, if you want further clarification, you are on your own, as I never got much past Schroeder in Charles Schulz's cartoon "Peanuts", let alone to Schrodinger or anything about quantum mechanics that made the least bit of sense to me. Personally, I think they made it all up to confuse the people who gave them big research grants and who were afraid of looking stupid and therefore just forked over the money without asking too many questions.

All I know for certain is that when I try to capture Momo with a digital camera, it's a hit or miss proposition.