Sunday, September 30, 2007

Indie movie stores

I just dropped by a small indie movie rental store in LA. Similar in feel to Movie Madness in Portland, if you're familiar with that. There are two especially cool things about the store. One, they sell t-shirts with the names of famous directors done up like famous rock band logos (Fassbinder as Metallica, for example, and Ingmar Bergman as Iron Maiden). Two, they have an awesome categorization scheme. All indie movie rental stores seem to have atypical categorization schemes (sorted by director, or time period, or actor, or whatever), but this one was particularly clever. In particular, they have a section in comedy called Shade Flippin', which is dedicated to movies whose front cover depicts the slickly-dressed main actor looking out at the viewer over the top of his stylish sunglasses. Good examples would be Doc Hollywood and Risky Business.

I think this is awesome.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

There and back again

My easy bike ride to work in Eugene: mostly along the riverfront bike path (no cars, no stoplights, dedicated bike lane), a few residential streets, cross two major roads. About two miles.

My "easy" bike ride to class in LA: all streets (many of which are as big as the two major roads I had only to cross in Eugene), frequently no bike lanes, ride on Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards (5 lane highways), cross two freeways. About five miles.

Riding my bike here is great. I feel like I'm in a high-stakes game of frogger, but with more sex appeal. In all fairness, the part of town I live in (Santa Monica) is very bike friendly -- dedicated bike lanes everywhere, lots of low-traffic (it's a relative thing, of course) side streets you can take. It's when you get closer to the UCLA campus that things get hairier. On a positive note, though, I timed my ride home today: 22 minutes, which -- considering it's a 4 1/2 mile ride with stop lights and the like -- is not too bad.

Exciting times. In other news, I have a few pictures of my apartment. The outside's not all that exciting, but here's the living room and kitchen.



And here's my bedroom, before and during the unpacking process.





Also, I've been taking a little time to explore the greater LA area. I haven't done too much yet, but I've taken in a few things. By far the most notable are the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Pier. The former is a park built around a series of old oil wells -- bear in mind, when you look at this picture, that this park is really right in the middle of LA (you can just barely see the ocean on the horizon). The Santa Monica Pier is basically a mini amusement-park -- it jets out into the pacific for a thousand feet or so, and has shops and a roller-coaster and other touristy attractions. Coincidentally, it's only about a mile from my house.

Anyone out there have suggestions for other interesting things to see/do in LA? Other than the Getty Center. I already know about that one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LA update

First things first -- I got a place lined up. Hooray! It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Upper end of my price range, five miles from campus, but decent. Theoretically bikeable to UCLA (previous tennants have done it), so let's see how my ambitions hold up.

Which, of course, means I have successfully made it to LA. Hooray! I drove down to LA a few days ago, packing all (well, much of) my worldly belongings in a truck. Fortunately, my friends K & T had been planning a road trip to the LA area as well, so they joined up with me and I had some company on the way down. Pleasant enough trip for the most part; K & T are awesome folk, and it was great to not be alone the whole way (even if -- since we had to take two cars -- there were periods of solitude). We had only one real hitch, although it nearly proved disastrous.

This is T, fooling around before the true nature of our looming crisis was made evident.


We had just recently made a brief stop in Tracy, CA (note, if you will, the remaining distance of our route -- 352 miles! -- which is relevant) to pick up some gas. I filled up the truck and looked over at T, who had been driving my car and (what with its much smaller gas tank) should have been done with filling the tank well before me. For some reason, though, he was still at the pump. And, while T (witness picture above) clearly has issues figuring out how to use self-service gas pumps, it's not that hard. I walked over to see what was the matter and learned that the key wouldn't turn in the ignition and that the steering wheel was locked. I didn't trust him, of course, and tried to start the car myself. No dice. So, to be polite, we pushed the car out of the way (into a handicapped space -- the steering wheel was locked!) and proceeded to continue jiggling the key in the lock. For another 20 minutes.

Well, crap. We finally realize that, delay be damned, we were going to have to call a mechanic. Who told us to call a locksmith. I tried a couple locksmiths before finding one who did cars. Who told me that this was an occasional problem with my particular model of car, and that I would have to take it into the Toyota dealer. Yerk. I called the dealer who said, sure! they'd be happy to look at it, if I got it towed in to them and waited 'till Monday. This was on Saturday. Remember the 352 miles remaining in our trip? This would have meant having us all crowd into the truck (seats only two!) for the remainder of the trip, and then I would have had to somehow get all the way back up to Tracy to pick up my car and then drive back down. Adding an extra 700 miles to my trip (and taking at least a day out of my apartment hunt). Yuck!

But we had no choice, so I called up a towing service and told them our predicament. I told the driver what the problem was, and what does he do? He sits down in the driver's seat and starts trying to jiggle the key. T & I roll our eyes (K, smartly enough, is in the truck taking a nap at this point). Then he takes a Leatherman and starts beating on the key, which makes me ever-so-slightly nervous. Finally, he sprays some WD-40 in the lock, swabs out a bunch of grease with the key, and starts the car up with no problem. Apparently, one of the tumblers in the lock had gotten stuck and just needed to be cleaned out. Grateful, and now running three hours late (but, in a positive light, only three hours late), K, T, and I resumed our trip. And we never took the key out of the ignition for the rest of the trip.

Below: the three of us and K's friend (the rightmost), with whom we stayed the first evening, mere hours before the incident. Also, a picture of a wind farm that we passed on the way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pictures!

Alright, I've finally uploaded the pictures I took on my trip. I've broken them down into four sections, to peruse at your leisure. They're hosted on my home gallery, which also has many other exciting pictures that you may or may not be interested in.

Without further ado:


Tokyo Part 1, Akihabura, Ueno, Asakusa, and Kamakura


Tokyo Part 2, Karaoke, Shibuya


Kyoto


Hiroshima and Miyajima

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

And this is it!

Alright, guys. I'm hanging out with SonicLlama, watching Frisky Dingo (it's a cartoon, and no, it's not that type of cartoon), and this is my last evening in Japan. Tomorrow I take the Shinkansen up to Tokyo, hop on my airplane, and head home. It's been a great trip! SonicLlama and The Tomorrow Lady have been awesome, wonderful hosts.

So today, my second day of exploring by myself, I decided to go visit Hiroshima. Hiroshima is depressing. I suspect every tourist who visits leaves with some sort of insightful, heartfelt introspection that they share with those who're interested. But not me. I'm not that kind of guy. I have, however, attached a picture of the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is a sort of starkly effective testimonial to the power of the atom.

Less stereotypically, I scooted on down to Miyajima, which has a nifty Buddhist shrine right up next to the waterfront. Famously, there is a torii in the water, which I have taken a picture of, for your edification. I have also learned that, even if you can get strangers to take a picture of you in front of a famous object (pantomiming is your friend!), that is no guarantee of picture quality. So, few pictures of me. Sorry.

Alright, time to pack and go home. Toodles!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On my own...

Alright, I'm in Okayama now, crashing at SonicLlama's pad. This is my last full day in Japan, and I take the Shinkansen up to Tokyo tomorrow and hop on a plane back to Good ol' Eugene. I am happy, though, that I have accomplished my one true goal for this trip. That's right, I got my picture taken with Astroboy. My life is complete. Behold His glory!



Since we're in Okayama, this means that SonicLlama has to get back to work. Which is sad for him and for me. Since this means I have to walk around Japan without a native guide. Fortunately, this is really easy. The train system in Japan is amazing, and the signs all have English, so getting around is easy enough. After that, stumbling around with a couple sumi masens and arigato gozeimashs, and I was able to spend a day yesterday stumbling around Kyoto looking at the tourist sites. Mind you, Kyoto's apparently the most tourist-friendly city in Japan, so it may not be the most impressive accomplishment. I'm still proud, though. We'll see how today goes, as I try for a repeat performance, this time in Hiroshima.

So in Kyoto, I managed to see Nijojo Castle, an impressive little edifice constructed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. This was my first time getting to see a non-European style castle, and yes, it was large and intimidating. Also it had moats, so that was cool. No alligators in the moats, though. Also managed to see Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple complex that dates back to the 8th century. It's one of the defining sites of Kyoto, and it's pretty easy to tell why. At right: the front entrance overlooking the rest of the city.

And that's that. No time for interesting annecdotes/stories. I'll try to have more interesting posts that are more than just "here's what I did today". Or maybe I won't be that ambitious. We'll see.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

My time in Tokyo

My trip to Japan thus far has really just been a trip to Tokyo. Which is not insignificant, since the population of Greater Tokyo (35 million) is greater than the population of most of the world's countries (average country population: 30 million by my rough estimate). We've spent every day since I got hear exploring a different part of the city, and we haven't come close to looking at everything there is to see. That being said (and being brief, sadly, since SonicLlama and The Tomorrow Lady should be waking up soon), here's a little bit of what I've done.

Firstly and most importantly, karaoke. Karaoke is the most awesome thing ever invented on the face of the planet. Two nights ago, we took a brief sojourn to a karaoke bar, where we got our own room (karaoke's a private affair, unlike in the US where you have to belt out ABBA to the entire rest of the bar). SonicLlama gamely went first, singing a deliciously pitch-imperfect version of Give it Away by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (a graciously executed performance, which made me feel much better about my own contributions). I performed many no doubt cliched songs, culminating in the high points: belting out Smells Like Teen Spirit and performing a duet of Sweet Child of Mine with SonicLlama (Prisoner's Dilemma fans: think of it as a mini reunion tour, with one fan/groupie).

Next up. Many shrines. There appear to be a fair number of these liberally scattered throughout the Tokyo region (either that, or my hosts have made a point to take me to each one). I don't have too much of interest to say about them, since I honestly didn't do too much reading on them: mostly I just looked at the buildings, said "Hey, that's pretty!" and took a picture. It is kind of neat to see Shintoism still being actively practiced. It's not a religion I hear much about outside the context of history lessons, so it was cool to see a few active adherents and not just tourists wandering around the temple complex. At left: a building (I make no claims to its religious significance) at Hase-Dera temple. Below: a prayer left by some smart-ass tourist.



High-tech life. You may not have known this, but Tokyo is well-known for being a bit of a tech-heavy kind of place. Which I've been fortunate enough to experience tastes of here and there. Between, you know, exposures to the rustic foreignness. Why, just yesterday, I encountered one of those snazzy high-tech toilets that I'd read all about. Was that ever exciting! (Mind you, this was a fairly pedestrian model, but it was nonetheless exciting). Other bits of interest: playing Soul Calibur in a four-story-tall arcade (Club Sega) (also, getting my ass-handed to me in a Guitar-Hero-esque Taiko drumming game), walking down an open-air market loaded with electronics (I'm kind of used to carpets at those kinds of things), and buying beer from a vending machine. Maybe that's not so high-tech, but I still thought it was awesome. So there.

My companions have awoken. I shall provide you with more anecdotes and pictures as time allows. Godspeed to you all.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Brief update

I'm still in Japan. Things are awesome and I'm having a great time. I'm not, however, having much time on the Internet. There is Internet all around, of course, but I've been out and about doing stuff in the town and not spending much time in my hotel room, so I haven't really been able to use it. I promise to make more posts soon (probably tomorrow) with pictures of my exploits.

Brief summary of things I have done: karaoke (awesome!), seeing many shrines, getting drunk on a train, eating a crepe filled with cheesecake and ice cream, much hiking and conversation with my friends, playing a taiko drums arcade game, buying kitschy touristy stuff (pokemon condoms!), and many, many other things. I can't tell you everything, though, since then what would I write about tomorrow? 'Till next time, space ranger.