Japan current location11:56PM Misawa.

Gene is across from me playing Halo, and Jasper is sleeping soundly.

To finish up last night, I managed to get in touch with Yuriko. I had a hard time hearing her for some reason; it sounded like she was talking through a box the whole time she was on the phone. We pretty much determined at that point that I was going to go to Hakodate next weekend, as I understood that she had weekends off, but not this weekend. I also managed to get my prepaid cell phone card into the phone, and it works now. If only I could understand it…

Afterwards I pretty much was passing out, so I headed to bed and again passed out easily.

This morning, I woke up briefly at 5am. I realized oh crud, I had a sore throat, possibly from all the cold air. I rolled over, which made my throat hurt worse, but that subsided. I went back to sleep until nearly 9 am. I went downstairs and used Lou’s espresso machine to make myself a latte. Lou seemed to be really worried about me using her stuff, but I calmed her fears.

“There’s an instruction manual…” she said, worriedly.
“I have two espresso machines at home, and I make a latte pretty much every morning. This shouldn’t be an issue,” I said, reassuredly. And of course, it wasn’t. I’d LOVE to have her machine, that’s for sure. The coffee tasted weird, I’ll have to adjust the milk-espresso ratio I think. :)

She left for a baby checkup with Gene, and I called my mom in Austin. Celia made it through the surgery fine, and she’s playing with Gabriel. She has a tube in her knee where Kati is going to have to put IV anti-biotics for six weeks! That can’t be fun. Celia’s a trooper though, but she’s getting fed up with all the needle sticks and cold stethoscopes. She’s also getting wise to the ruse. They offered her strawberry ice cream with no ulterior motive, and Celia was really skeptical. “Celia, don’t you want some ice cream?” asked Jay, and she gave a look like, ‘yeah, right, like I’m going to fall for that… what did you do to it?’

I continued to code my website. Man it’s taking a long time! Lou came back from her appointment and asked if I wanted to go to their “Home Depot”, Sunday. Sure, I said, and raced upstairs for a shower. I got to use my Success shave gel I bought yesterday. Man I love that stuff! I’m going to have to buy like 8 bottles of it to take home.

Lou and I drove out into town, which she informed me was the first time ever she’d been out in town without Gene. “Oh, really?” I asked cheerfully, meanwhile checking to make sure my GPS was locking on as many satellites as possible. We made it fine to Sunday, which seems to be a little more like Target than Home Depot. She was really wanting to get a Japanese cordless phone, as they’ve been using their American one, which is illegal here. It’s like a $10,000 fine if you get caught using one. We looked at them, but they were all well over $100 each. I looked briefly at watches and found a really simple one that I liked. I also noticed that there were much cheaper WaveCeptor watches (watches that automatically sync with the atomic clocks in Japan) but I figured they wouldn’t work in the US.

We left there and went to Sanwado around the corner, which is closer to a Home Depot crossed with WalMart. Lou was looking for a rosemary bush to complement the teeny tiny one she’s trying to grow. No such luck. We went inside and found her a really simple cordless phone, which was still nearly 10,000 yen ($100). Suck. Better than $10,000 though. She was worried about Gene being mad though. I checked out the watches there, with which there was a better selection, but decided I needed to see the Casio website and find the features I wanted first. Lou showed me the pet section, which was well-stocked. She was a little creeped out by the dried sardine treats they had for both cats and dogs. Interestingly enough, it appears they have bentoo, effectively, for dogs from Ceasar with sliced meat and veggies! I thought that was really funny. I also noticed an infomercial playing nearby that was dubbed into Japanese.

Around the next bend were tons of dog clothes. Lou said it’s really big in Japan to dress up your dog, apparently. I looked through, just for fun, and found the cutest things ever for Kira and Mao, which I won’t mention here because I’m using them for costumes. You’ll see soon enough!

We left there, famished, and walked out to the car to find lunch. As we walked out, I noticed a tako yaki (octopus balls, like doughy ball with piece of octopus in it) booth right outside the store! I almost stopped and got some, but decided I’d just come back. We drove out debating what to have for lunch, and we decided on New Miyako, a Chinese place close to the base entrance. Lou did a good job backing the big SUV into a small space, then we walked inside and were seated immediately.

We ordered lots of food right away – spring rolls, hot and sour soup, spicy fried chicken, and fried noodles and vegetables. Lou said it was her favorite place to eat and the noodles and soup were her favorite. The *small* hot and sour soup was enough for four full bowls, and was very tasty. It’s interesting – they used chili oil to make it spicy, which I don’t think I’ve had before. Everything was really good, although I found it interesting that even though I was trying to order in Japanese, the lady insisted in responding in broken English. I guess she’s not used to people speaking Japanese to her, being so close to base. We stuffed ourselves to the gills, paid the very reasonable fee for all that food, and returned to the car. As we drove home, I snapped a picture of a sign that has the most unintelligible Engrish phrase known to man. No question.

Gene came home a little while later in his khakis, and Lou pointed out the new phone. He wasn’t too pleased, but said, “anything you want dear,” and kissed her on her forehead. I was in a good coding clip, so I kind of half heard them discussing where we should go this afternoon, possibly Hachinohe, but wasn’t really paying attention. After a breakthrough, I realized they weren’t around! I walked out front and they were talking to a neighbor and playing with Jasper. Their neighbor had a golden retriever named Hobbes which I lavished love upon (man I miss my pugs!). We decided it was too late to go to Hachinohe, so after some research on Casio watches (apparently the WaveCeptors DO work in the US!, at least some of them do), Gene and I went back to Sanwado.

At Sanwado, I found two really cool watches, so to heck with it, bought them both since they were both on heavy sale. One is really modern and cool looking and is a WaveCeptor, the other is a Sea Pathfinder, and is an $80 watch I got for $20. Not too shabby. Gene was looking for something to help hang curtains on the wall, since the walls are drywall on top of cinder block. We drove by Sunday again to check out that first watch I looked at, but I was happy with my current purchase. We had to stop by the gate to get me a temporary pass; they wouldn’t let me in otherwise. I need to get a less temporary one tomorrow though.

After getting home, Lou finally started to get antsy around 6:30 PM, so we walked out the door for dinner, aiming for ramen. It occurred to me that I’d never had real ramen in Japan, so that was my goal. Gene and I had noticed a little ramen shop near the New Mikado, so we decided to go there on foot after walking to the Exchange to get cash. They have an ATM there that doesn’t charge for cash withdrawals, and will give yen or dollars. On the way to the ramen place, I got a much better picture of that unintelligible sign. Crazy!

We walked up to the ramen place and it looked very hole-in-the-walley. As Gene opened the door, we realized, hey look, it *is* hole in the walley! There were an older woman and man in there, the man was smoking away. The woman greeted us, and we debated a minute about the smoke due to Lou, but ended up staying anyway. We hoped that its run-down smallness would make it a really good place. We looked at the menu on the wall, which was a bunch of vertical paper strips in Japanese. I couldn’t read some of the kanji, but was reading off to Gene and Lou what I know. They did have miso ramen, which is Lou’s favorite. The woman overheard me say ‘ramen’ to them, and she asked “You want ramen?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“We have soy-sauce flavored.”
“That’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it.” I told Gene and Lou, and we didn’t see that as a problem, so I asked for three bowls.

Ramen in Japan is pretty much an art form, as documented in the movie “Tampopo”. I had been wanting ramen for a while, so we sat down and waited for her to prepare it. It was very hot in the restaurant (I use the word loosely, the room was about 10 x 6) and it was really starting to feel like this place was not really catering to foreigners, which was weird considering it’s like 200 feet from the main gate. They had a TV going, and a goofy show was on where they were seeing how much money you could make doing “Work At Home!” jobs like inspecting dress shirts, packing trial size Clean and Clear oil absorbent paper, and other menial jobs. It was kind of funny actually. I kept translating for Gene and Lou. The woman seemed to take forever; she would have failed the tests in Tampopo! However she was very meticulous, tasting the noodles, the soup stock, etc. Finally, she presented the ramen to us in really big bowls. They had a couple of slices of pork, some sliced green onion, and sliced Japanese mushrooms. I definitely couldn’t get Tampopo out of my head, so I was all critical. ‘Soup stock isn’t clear…” I thought. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t terrifically great either. Still, I gulped it down. Lou apparently has taken some advice from other military folk and always wants to get a pitcher of water, but I told her it was just as easy in such a small place to get her to refill it.

I finished quickly, and she took my bowl. “oishikatta desu ka?” she asked (was it tasty?). “oishikatta desu yo,” I replied (it was tasty) which wasn’t entirely true. As Gene and Lou finished, the TV played an IAMS commercial with a pug in it. I told the woman in Japanese that I had two pugs, but I couldn’t remember what the counter was for animals!

“In the US, I have two pug… people… things….”
“two animals. (nishiki)” she replied.
“nishiki?”
“nishiki.”

I nodded. Okay now I know the counter for animals! In Japanese everything has a “counter” where in when you’re counting things, there’s a different word for everything. For instance, sheets of flat things are ichimai, nimai, sanmai, long and thin objects, like bottles, are ippon, nihon, sanbon, and so on. It’s really hard to keep track of everything. So apparently –shiki is for animals. Fun! I was watching the TV, and on came the weather forecast. I was just kind of reading out loud, and read off the kanji for weather (tenki). The man next to me did a double take. “Oh, you understand Japanese!” he exclaimed. I figured it wouldn’t have surprised him since I was talking to the woman the whole time in Japanese. :)

Gene and Lou finished and we paid the woman, who had warmed up to us quite a bit. Only 450 yen each, pretty cheap for a full meal in Japan. We walked out and headed back on base to the exchange where I got some Sudafed to take with me. That was pretty much it for the night, and Lou went to bed right after we got home. Gene sat down and played Halo while I did some updates to the website (check out the new image gallery and video now!). I also discovered that my cell phone can switch to English, so that was really really handy! Would have been a lot of work to try and translate all those menus… Around 12:30 am, I finally went to bed.

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Up again at 5:30, which surprised me since I didn’t get tired until about midnight. I stayed in bed until 6:30, then came down and did some laundry and finished this update. Gene and I are going to go to Sapporo later today, but Lou is staying here. We’re trying to catch the 2:30 train, which gets us in to Sapporo about 9:30PM. I need to make a reservation somewhere, and I hope it’s not too late. Gretchen and Cloyce gave me a name of a minshuku to stay at, and I hope coming in that late won’t be a problem. Gene is making breakfast now to head to work, and I’m about to make my daily latte. Yum.

Hik