Thursday, May 8, 2008


I'm a little melancholy this week. As you should all be aware (hint hint!!) Sunday is Mother's day. I sent my mom some tulips that were apparently very pretty online, but didn't deliver quite as expected. Most of all, I wish I could just hang out with my mom for Mother's day. Last year, my parents came out to visit, and we went to try on dresses at David's Bridal, because I thought that was a fun, girly thing to do (my dad might have had a different opinion). This year, with all the Mother's day sales, advertisements, and people acting put out by the plans they're making to spend Sunday with their moms, I'm just a little bummed. I'm seriously considering hopping a last minute plane home one of these weekends (soon), because most of all, I want to try on my potential "the dress." I want to see it on at least one more time, and I have reinforcements (seriously, how cool are my friends??), but I still have that little fantasy of trying on dresses and coming out of the room and my mom and I realizing it's "the one."

Honestly, it was easier finding the husband.

I'm also a little bummed that my college roommate can't make it to our other roommate's wedding. What she's doing is awesome, but I miss them!! We had so many good times. I so hope they're wanting to make a spring vacation to California next year ...

My last spring semester final isn't until next Tuesday, then I have another week or so off, then it's back to the grind. On one hand, I tend to less frivolously work late during the semester, because I'm so crunched for time. On the other hand, I'm liking my current job. I feel like I'm doing so much good, helping train people to use the particular system I work with! I saw the syllabus for one of my classes this summer, though - ouch. Ah well. Time to make dinner, and get back to studying.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Japan VI


We found out, not long before the trip, that Thursday was a national holiday during our trip (I still don't know what holiday, but I'll take a day off any time!). One of my classmates and I had arranged for the free shuttle to take us to the Disney resort at 6 in the morning. I'm not kidding. But we were so excited!

We had a quick breakfast at the "American" buffet, and met the shuttle in the lobby. The "shuttle" was actually a charter bus, and it ended up only us and another couple took the hour drive to the resort. The only bad part was, for the whole drive, we kept praying it would stop raining! At times, it was even raining pretty hard. I was fine with sprinkling, but full-on rain??

In all honesty, I am so, very, glad we went (we both were!). We were there by 7, had our tickets for only 58,000 yen, and waiting for the gate to open at 8. After a long, wet wait, some warm tea out of the vending machine, and a chat with a lovely woman who made some recommendations for lunch and shopping, we were in! Despite the weather, there were still a lot of people.

In the entry plaza, there is a huge, fantastic fountain. Then, there's an almost mini-Main Street with stores. Through that is the Mediterranean plaza, which looks like a beautifully recreated Italian city. Really, truly, amazing and beautiful. People streamed in the left and right paths, and it was almost like a solid canopy of umbrellas. We took some pictures trying to pretend that it wasn't raining. On looking at the map, we realized that the park wasn't really like Sea World - instead of a train that circles the park, a waterway with a boat goes around.

Our first stop was the Mysterious Island, a fake volcano that houses some rides in the center of the park (rather than a castle). The first sign we saw was for Journey to the Center of the Earth, and with a short line and it's warning that it was a thrilling ride, we were game! At first, it was pretty calm going through the track in the roughed-up looking car. Thrilling? I suppose some of the creatures were a little creepy. But the car turned the corner, a huge monster appeared, and it took off! Altogether, a pretty long and fun ride.

Next, we got fast passes (they have them there too!) for 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea, and wandered over to the Mermaid Lagoon and went on Flounder's coaster. Cheesy, I know - it was a roller coaster designed for really small children. But it was still a good time! If you remember in the Little Mermaid, when they first show the underwater kingdom - the land was designed just like that. It was truly impressive with all the different colors and spires. We didn't go in the building, though; neither of us were too anxious to meet Ariel. We then walked around the Lost River Delta, which is obviously popular with the Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits rides. The lines for each of these was almost two hours, with a near hour wait just for the fast pass, so we skipped them and went through the Arabian Coast. Even there, the details, decoration, and architecture were amazing. It was mostly shows there, so we went back for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The cars (or pods, I should say) for the ride were tiny, but they were somehow not claustrophobic either. The seats faced left, right, and straight ahead; each sat two and was equipped with a flashlight that you could move around to check things out. The Atlantis creatures creeped me out some, but it was altogether a fun ride. Afterward, we ran around the "fortress" across the Mediterranean Harbor from the gate - and that's when tragedy struck. With all of my enthusiastic picture-taking on the trip, I had filled what I thought was a 2 gb memory card. I tried to delete as many pictures as I could on the way to Port Discovery, without losing too much. But what a time to lose your camera!!

Once at Port Discovery, we tried some chocolate-covered popcorn and got fast passes for Storm Riders. Instead of Autopia, they have Aquatopia, where little boats stop and spin around on random tracks in the water. It was greatly entertaining for me ... maybe I'm just a little simple. But it would be a great ride for the California Adventure lagoon ...

We strolled around the American Waterfront next, and tried to take Titanic-style pictures on the SS Columbia (which I swear is a copy of the Queen Mary, but a little smaller), and got to look out over the ocean (hello California!). At the information desk, they'd recommended we have lunch at a restaurant with a show, and that was our plan for lunch. But, we realized that the show was entirely in Japanese, so it would be kind of a waste on us. We instead got lunch at an Italian restaurant, which served mostly seafood pasta dishes. Italian food seems extra popular in Japan!

Before our fast pass time, we started shopping. We both had intentions of spending a lot of money on gifts there, but there simply weren't any souvenirs that mentioned Tokyo Disney, or even the standard Mickey and Disney stuff you find here. On a recommendation from lunch, we left the park and paid 150 yen to ride the monorail (!) to Bon Voyage, the "biggest" store at the resort. The ride was nice & dry (and worked just like the Tokyo train), but even after a very long time in the crowded store, we couldn't find anything, and it was getting closer to our shuttle pickup time. So, we headed back in to the park to go back and buy some of the things we'd seen earlier, much easier said than done. We managed to pick up a few things, and with time to spare, decided to use our Storm Rider fast passes.

The ride itself was a neat experience. It was a lot like Star Tours, but a bigger theater. Before you enter the theater, a cast member explains that we're all getting on a special plane that drops storm-diffusing bombs into the storm's eye. How do I know all this? An LED sign that scrolled the translation in English. Since everything was in Japanese all day, it was kind of nice to know what was going on. But the translation stopped there - in the theater, the entire dialogs was in Japanese. Surprisingly, the story was still easy to follow. And yes, I'm aware that it was simple to begin with. All I could understand was "Cap-tan Davis!" One thing though - the ride was a heck of a lot scarier and surprising not knowing what was going on at all. At one point (and I'm going to spoil it for you), this giant beam comes crashing through the ceiling. I screamed, my classmate laughed at me, and the little boy next to me probably thinks that all white ladies are crazy.

All in all, we didn't go on too many rides, did a lot of shopping, and it was totally worth it despite the rain and being soaked and cold all day. I think a few classmates were jealous even - I'm so glad we went!

When we got back to the hotel, I decided to really cap off the perfect day, in my opinion - a trip to the Hello Kitty mecca. I changed into some drier clothes and, in the lobby, ran in to another classmate who was just kind of hanging out. Instead, he decided to come with me (again, the crazy white lady). It ended up the store was only a couple of blocks away, and the rain mostly stopped. It was on Yasukuni-dori in Shinjuku, which is famous for all of the neon lights. And, I would have missed it, if I hadn't seen a sign on a building that said "Gift Gate," and it hadn't been right down the steps off the street! Unfortunately, it was a lot like the Sanrio stores here, but much more expensive (as one of my classmates had warned me). I did buy a couple of things, but stopped at the $30 t shirt. Really??? I was happy with my tiny tote, cookie cutters (which turned out to be rice forms) and shinkansen cup for Andy (which the shopkeeper kindly filled with jelly candy for me, since I couldn't read the sign).

On the way back we stopped to eat, meaning, I said "Let's try this place!" It was a little diner-style restaurant with a counter and a couple of booths, a little run down but still exciting. Again, they were kind enough to show us the English menu, and told us to order from a vending machine. This is apparently pretty common, but so fun! {ed: I heard later that franchises do this, to make sure all the money goes somewhere controllable.} I ordered a pretty simple beef bowl, around $5, and it was perfect for a rainy day. A few other classmates popped in a little later, and were just excited about the vending machine, the quick service, and excellent food. We exchanged stories from the free day - they'd experienced the subway at rush hour - and then headed back to the hotel. I caught up with my roommate, who toured the city, and we went to bed.

Japan V

Since we were getting the next day off, one of my classmates and I were looking for ways to get to the Tokyo Disney resort. The Keio Plaza happens to be one of the resort's "Good Neighbor" hotels, offering a free shuttle to the resort on a set schedule. My classmate went to the front desk and asked for tickets, but they said we couldn't take the shuttle since we were with a separate tour group. I called the front desk and asked, but they told me the same when I gave my room number. My classmate called from her room, and they would let her get tickets, but suddenly there were no spaces left on the 9 a.m. shuttle! We analyzed tons of different bus, subway, and JR maps, and found ways to get there by train, but it was confusing and time consuming. We called one last time, for the 6 a.m. shuttle so my classmate could make her dinner reservations, and they finally gave in! Within minutes a hotel employee was at the door with two tickets. Score!

Now, with a group of six of us, we headed out to Roppongi to a recommended sushi restaurant. The restaurant was in a huge shopping center that reminded me of the mall on the Las Vegas strip. It was cool and rainy, but we borrowed umbrellas from the hotel. The restaurant seated us at a private table toward the back - to get in, we had to take off our shoes and put them in a small locker. I had to make special note of where I put them, because even though they were numbered ... they were numbered in Japanese! OK, not really sure if they were numbers, but certainly not marked in Roman characters. At first, I thought the tables were very traditional, since the table was almost even with the floor. Instead, the floor under the table was lower, so the booth was normal. There was a conveyor belt on one end of the table, and all sorts of sushi rolling by. Some of the sushi was looking a little ... old ... but we could see the chefs, and they watched for plates that had been out too long. The best part of the meal was getting our check. Just like my first sushi dinner, the plates were color coded for price. But the waiter simply stacked the plates, scanned them with a handheld scanner, and it printed a receipt! The waiter was good humored about our astonishment, and let us take pictures.

We strolled around Roppongi, but the stores in the shopping mall closed around 8 p.m. A couple of people in our group wanted to meet up with some other people in our class at a bar, while the rest of us went in search of the Hard Rock Cafe for souvenirs. It was tucked back from the main street, but we found it, and headed for the train station to get back.

At the train station, our platform was practically at the bottom - many floors underground. It was crowded, but people suddenly started to leave. We couldn't understand any of the announcements, but waited in hopes that the train would come anyway. When a few times passed (and the trains are amazingly on time), we finally asked a group that were speaking English nearby if they knew what was wrong with the train. Only one in the group could sort of speak Japanese, and told us there was an earthquake and the trains were being inspected. Way underground is not the place to be if there's an earthquake! A little further down, we found a conductor who told us the train wasn't coming, but the reason was lost in translation. Although he tried helping us find an alternate route, we gave up, went upstairs for a refund, and caught a taxi. On the way out of the station, one of the monitors said "accident" for our train, so at least it wasn't an earthquake. With the four of us, the taxi was about $5 each, and the driver had a CD of old American music. He didn't say much, but was kind helping us figure out how to pay!

Thanks a lot, whoever made Azumanga Daioh available via Google video. You've made me waste away half my weekend!

Friday I was pretty worn out from leaving the house early, getting to work, and trying to catch up on all of the little projects I'm working on. All that after taking my final exam for business law and doing laundry in the same night! I was a little productive, at least. After work, I stopped in to Target and finally bought some non-annoying sunglasses (with cute but poorly etched cherry blossoms on the side, and black, which is not my color, but one doesn't complain when they finally find a pair of glasses that don't sit crooked), a pair of thick black sandals ($4.99!), and a Martha Stewart Weddings magazine (which I still haven't opened). Also stopped by TJ Maxx and bought a lovely DKNY organic cotton dress for $30. I called my parents and went for a run, where I saw two police officers stop, handcuff, and take away a boy walking just ahead of me on the street. Out of the blue, just like that. Time to start thinking about moving ... although I was suddenly able to run really fast. Had leftovers for dinner, and went to bed sort of late (thanks a lot AMV).

Saturday I had intentions of getting up earlier than 11. I really did. I took a 13-mile bike ride toward the beach, but didn't make it all the way. I got just shy of PCH before I stopped for some water to think about things. It was really windy, so I wasn't doing well at all. Anyway, I decided to readjust, go for it (I could just about see the ocean), but before I got going again some 50-something guys rode by and asked if I was OK. OK?? I just needed some water! When I got going again, though, I realized I was really sniffly - they probably thought I was crying. How lame. The way back wasn't so bad, because the wind was now behind me, so I went an extra couple of miles. It's miserable carrying your bike up to the 2nd floor after 13 miles...

I spent the rest of the day trying to use my Macy's and Victoria's Secret coupons, but couldn't find anything I wanted at all. Picked up the stuff I'd forgotten the day before at Target, stopped by the grocery store, and made crab and spinach enchiladas with a black bean and corn side. I recommend going easy on the cayenne though ... the salsa is hot too.

Sunday I had big designs to spend the day in Huntington Beach. First at the dress store, then to the mall there (the Macy's is nicer), and then to Seal Beach to try to drop off some clothes. I ended up sleeping too much and made a breakfast burrito instead, and washed off the patio furniture with this romantic idea of sitting on the patio finishing my Japan blogs, although the temperature has dropped. I called the dress store on the off chance that they wouldn't be busy today, and they said to come in at 3. I thought if I just went and looked again, maybe I'd find something I liked ... and I did. My consultant pulled out a dress first thing that I didn't really like at all, but they're super nice there and let me pull out a few more dresses that I'd seen in magazines and liked. Since I wasn't feeling too good about finding a dress ... ever ... I was game to try on the first. And had that moment when you think, "This is a wedding dress." After she added my favorite veil, I was sold. I tried on the others, and they were, of course, beautiful, but none of them were like the first. I'm planning on sleeping on it, and maybe getting another opinion (anyone want to go to the dress shop??), but I think I'm sold. Too bad it doesn't look the same in pictures.

I did end up going to the mall, and raided the Old Navy clearance (seriously, why do the malls by where I live suck??). In a slight change of plans, I was going to go to Ikea and try to make a mock-up of the centerpieces I'm envisioning, but I was too excited to send my mom pictures of the dress ... and hungry. So I had nachos and a pot pie while I searched, got sucked in to more Azumanga Daioh, and got distracted again. Tonight, first, will be yoga - then, finish those Japan blogs!!!!