24 October 2007

The fire moves on

It's raining ash in the city where I work right now - but the smoke in the sky is white instead of black. This is a very good sign. We received more air support today which brought containment up from 30% to 50%. I think the tide is starting to turn.

Barry got some good news today. His house survived the fire. The fire crews used the property as a staging area - how lucky is that? He hasn't been able to get in yet to check things out, but some or most of a house is of course better than no house.

23 October 2007

The Fire Moves Closer

Heat, wind and low humidity have contributed to what may be the worst fire season in southern california history. More than 19,000 acres have burned in our area and around a dozen homes have burned.

We still don't know if Barry's house is included in that total. He lives in Modjeska Canyon - around 2:00 PM today we received word that firefighters had to abandon efforts in Modjeska. The fire continues to move eastward, so there's a chance Barry will be able to get in later tomorrow (Wed) afternoon.

Interestingly, as the blaze moves east, it gets closer to where I work. We could see the flames from the back patio this afternoon and the fire-fighting DC-10 flew overhead. Luckily, the city of Rancho Santa Margarita is a fairly new development which means lots of fire-retardant stucco buildings and concrete. Worst-case scenario, the air quality will get bad because of the smoke and we'll be evacuated. That's not too bad considering . . .

What everyone is wondering is:

How did all of these fires start?
Out of the 12+ fires, we only know the source for three of them. Ours was arson, another was downed powerlines, and a third was a spark from construction. What about the other nine? One has to wonder how many were caused by crazies.

When is Orange County going to get our fire crews back from Malibu?

. . . and most importantly

Why did the government wait 48 hours to deploy military firefighting assistance to California?
We saw a big fire-busting airplane taking off from New Mexico this afternoon. There's no F-ing fire in New Mexico! What was that plane doing for the last two days, eh? More than half a million people have been evacuated!

This map, though not 100% accurate, will give you a general idea of where the fire is. They update it throughout the day, though it doesn't show the fire having overtaken Modjeska Canyon (which it has). I work in Rancho Santa Margarita and live in Ladera Ranch.

22 October 2007

I Feel My Temperature Risin' (The OC Fire)

On Sunday night around 6:00 pm, the Santiago Canyon fire began. So far 15,000 acres have burned and authorities believe it was deliberately set. Here is a map charting the fire's progress.

The Santa Ana winds howled most of the night. On the drive into work, the sky was a strange color of grey and quite hazy. The office was unusually quiet as everyone assessed the damage. Seven counties were burning - including ours.

As the morning wore on, the smell of smoke grew stronger. At lunchtime, people dashed home to load valuables into their cars. Fortunately I live about 12 miles south of the blaze. Barry, however, lives only a few miles away.

Barry left home around 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon to run some errands. A few hours later he headed home only to find the main road barricaded by fire crews. Luckily, Barry was able to talk his way back in this morning. He shot the photos you see here.

When I first moved to Orange County, someone told me, "Instead of having the standard four seasons, California only has two: summer and fire.

This is the first significant fire since we've been here, but it's off to an ugly start. Down in San Diego, there are so many evacuees they've chosen QualComm Stadium (similar to the Rose Garden) to house everyone.Here's a link to a Google / LA Times map of all the fires.

For better or worse, the Orange County fire, though significant, is not the worst one out there. With fires blazing in all the surrounding counties, it also means the OC fire crews are on their own. The worst problem seems to be citizens who refuse to leave their homes. People insist they can defend their homes with a garden hose and refuse to pack up their valuables and evacuate voluntarily. So firefighters have to waste time convincing the homeowner to evacuate when they should be relieving someone who is hot and tired on the front lines.

That said, the fires in San Diego are so bad, there aren't enough firefighters to defend every neighborhood being threatened. Some folks have been told, "hose down your roof and get the heck out of there."

As I write this, the winds continue to blow. Last night we had a gust so hard it shook the apartment building.

The Santa Ana winds are strange though - different than those nasty east winds we get coming through the Gorge. With the Santa Anas there will be long stretches where it's completely still and then fwooosh a massive gust. Yet, sometimes it will blow like crazy for eight or nine hours and you think twice about going outside for fear of getting blown away to Kansas.

We'll see what the morning will bring. Keep your fingers crossed for Barry and Heidi out there in Modjeska Canyon.

The police came by Barry's place and began voluntary evacuations. They are headed to Aunt Cindy's in Lake Forest.

19 October 2007

Buying Plastic Food in Tokyo: Kappabashi-dori

Before I left for Japan, I asked Barry if there was anything he's always wanted from Japan. One of his requests was, "plastic food." As a tourist in Japan, you live and die by plastic food. When the restaurant menu is all in Japanese, sometimes you have to (politely) ask the waitness to follow you outside so you can point at the display food.Tokyo has hundreds of thousands of restaurants and all of them buy display food from one place: kappabashi-dori.

Located at Asakusa (at the end of the Ginza subway line) kappabashi-dori is not a big tourist attraction and therefore harder to find. I lucked out, there was a nice Japanese man standing next to the neighborhood map inside Asakusa station. I said, Kappabashi-dori doko desuka? He looked at me kind of funny and said, kitchen? He made hand motions like dicing vegetables, it was very cute.It's important to note that Kappabashi-dori is not the plastic food district, it's the kitchen supplies district. There are entire stores devoted to just knives, or just bowls, or just aprons. It's pretty cool.

To get there from the Ginza subway station, you want exit #1. When you arrive at street level, take a right. You'll pass a very large red lantern in front of the Buddhist temple Sensō-ji. Incidentally, this is the attraction that brings most people to Asakusa. I read that there are inexpensive places to stay up here as well, but, it's pretty far out of the way. I think it's better to stay off the Hibiya subway line or Yamanote train line. Anyway, I digress.

Continue down the main street until you come to a five-way intersection. Imagine yourself walking straight ahead and then take the road that veers slightly to the right. It will take you directly past a (tiny) police station. Keep an eye out for these funky lampposts that look like baskets. I thought to myself, "It looks like the lightbulbs are ready to get dunked into tempura batter!" Guess I had food on the brain. Just keep walking and you'll end up right in the middle of Kappabashi-dori (can't miss it).

Another blog I read said all the plastic food shops are on one side of the street. I came across half a dozen plastic food shops in just a few blocks and then none for several blocks, so I think they may group together. Come with an idea of what you want so you a) don't get overwhelmed and b) so you can price compare. I was looking for a bowl of udon and a sliced tonkatsu. At one place, the tonkatsu was 7200 Yen. I found another tonkatsu at the shop next door for only 5500 Yen. Yes, this stuff is expensive. Also, they do not sell you the dishware, only the food. Presumably if you bought a frosty beer you get the mug, but I'm not sure. With the udon, all I got was a very gelatinous chunk of udon and no bowl. It's probably for the best though because who wants to haul a big soup bowl home? Similarly, the tonkatsu came ala carte - even though it was displayed on a plate with garnish.

I picked up a website for one of the stores: http://maiduru.co.jp/. To view it, you may want to get babelfish to translate it first. Click the button that says, "it enters into the store." Next, click "Real Shop Guide." This (Japanese) link might also work.

16 October 2007

Really Weird Japanese Stuff

As we travel around over the next ten days, I'll try to post some of the weird stuff I see a long the way: signs, t-shirts, etc. For vending machines, keep scrolling down to the next post.

16 October 2007

The infamous plastic food. It's a blessing when they have this out in front of a restaurant (most do). In Tokyo there is one place where people go to buy all their plastic display food. It's called Kappabashi-dori.

Don't even think about bringing your cows or your beef jerky into Japan!

I'm trying to think of what the US equivalent to this would be - Buffalo Wing USB drives?

You better have your customs forms in order or Customs Dog is going to have to get all cute on your ass.

14 October 2007

Well this is a good thing, I wasn't interested in a USED Hot Dog.

From the Toyota Exhibition Hall - a concept car. Kind of brings to mind the "PushMePullMe" from the children's story.

Please, do not bring your elderly seagulls on the train.

This anti-itching medication comes with a free cell-phone dangle. From what I can tell, it's a water droplet holding a corn-on-the-cob.

12 October 2007

At most of the hotels, they give you a samurai costume. Okay, Mom says it's called a "yukata." This one came with a sword as well.

These were little wooden plaques you could buy at one of the shrines we went to, I don't know why you have the option to buy one with or without a face.

The guy crouching in front of the school girls was a Brazilian from our tour. He doesn't know these girls and they don't know him.

Apparently there are quite a few Clapton fans in Hiroshima.

On Miyajima Island the deer are not afraid of people. In fact, there are signs warning you that if the deer eat your bus pass it cannot be replaced.

8 October 2007

These are not Halloween costumes.

This is an air guitar bracelet. You put the thing on your wrist and make strumming motions. It either plays Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water, or T Rex's 20th Century Boy.

This is a footprint toilet. The annoying thing is, the stall next door had a western-style toilet, but I didn't know that until I had already used this one. Oh well.

I have no idea what this is. There was a huge line (around the block). The vending machines dispense red and white capsules. Mom says she saw someone get one and it had men's underwear inside. WTF?

6 October 2007

So far as I can tell, this van is part of the Bad Cat Patrol. If you have a misbehaving cat, they come and take it away.

This is the bottom of a sign that displays parking rates. Presumably no rice rockets are allowed. Where's a girl supposed to learn how to Tokyo Drift?

Let me just tell you, from personal experience, that none of these damn buttons actually make the toilet flush.

I thought they'd be on Yoko's side over here...

In Harajuku there's this massive building called La Foret (lah-for-ay). Each floor (there are about twelve floors) has half a dozen stalls where designers sell their collections. This was one of the weirdest stalls. You're note supposed to take photos, which is a shame. La Foret must be seen to be believed. Don't plan to buy anything though, t-shirts start at 5500 Yen (about $53 US).

This is the sink / shower in the Roppongi hotel bathroom.

Japanese Vending Machines

Regarding Engrish

One of my goals while visiting Japan was to find a good "Engrish" T-shirt (or three). Unfortunately, with t-shirt prices starting around 3500 Yen (about $33), I was SOL. I did, however, see some fairly humorous ads for a "Bacume Amp" and a trip to the "Garapagos." Mom's Japanese teacher explained that Japanese have difficulty distinguishing the difference between the "Rrr" and "Llll" sounds in English. They also have trouble with "Vuh" versus "Buh" and "th" versus "Sss."

That said, most of the printed English was spot-on. Japanese people clearly make an effort to translate things correctly that will go into print. In regards to the t-shirts, well, maybe Japanese people look at English lettering as art? For the same reason we might buy a poster with Japanese writing on it, or a set of chopsticks with Asian characters, perhaps the English writing is for decorative purposes only?

I think it's also important to mention, that Americans massacre Japanese as much (or more than) the Japanese do to English. While Japanese people may have trouble with certain sounds, we screw up common food names and the pronunciation of major cities:

Udon (a popular noodle soup)
We say: Ew-Don
It's really: Ooo-dhone (rhymes with "new phone")

We say: Toke-EE-O
It's Really: TOE-Kyo

We say: Kee-OH-to
I's really: KYO-toh

Subtle differences, no? Just like "Rrrr" versus "Llll."

Looking for Engrish T-Shirts in Tokyo

Though my game was a little off for scoring a good Engrish t-shirt, your luck might be better. Here are the two places I'd recommend:

The clothing chain Uniqlo has a way-cool T-shirt store in Harajuku called UT. You'll find shirts with bitchin graphics and Engrish shirts galore, more importantly they're cheap - 1500 Yen.

UT is off Omotesando. So, when you come out of the Yamanote line station, head to the right (toward the park), then go up and over the footbridge (now you're heading away from the park). Keep going until you see the main intersection with The Gap. With La Foret behind you and The Gap in front of you, take a right. Walk a couple of blocks and you'll find UT across from the Levi's store.

The next best place to go for Engrish shirts is Ameyayokocho. This street market is located right outside Ueno station. In fact, it's directly under the Yamanote Line train tracks. Take the south exit from Ueno station you absolutely can't miss it, the place is huge.

Ameyayokocho is a working-class neighborhood (perfectly safe, of course). If you've been hitting the tourist sites pretty hard, this will be a refreshing change. Personally, I was starting to feel like the frumpiest hillbilly ever just because I don't own a blow-dryer.