Friday, August 28, 2009

Video

Fireworks 2009

video

Thursday, August 27, 2009

WE'VE MOVED!!!!

Sadly (for Blogger, but not for us), we have moved our Tokyo blog to Wordpress.com to try out some new features.

We're still working out many kinks, but it's been too long of a break since being active on this blog and we're itching to get back to it.

Stop by the following address from now on:

http://thewhitesintokyo.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Our Summer Techno-Drama



This morning was one of that kind of joy that comes along once in a blue moon. And no, it's not because as of 8:00am this morning I crossed the threshold to being exactly a quarter of a century old.

For nearly the entire summer, I haven't been able to do much with this blog or my computer because I made a serious error in judgment when using my external hard drive earlier in June and accidentally erased the ENTIRE drive.

The worst part? This was our backup drive, so the backups were all deleted AND we lost some of our most treasured memories: photos from our honeymoon in Italy and France, every video we've recorded or made over the past year in Japan, our entire wedding day video (still in progress, it's a monster of a job), and my iTunes library of several thousand songs. More than a few times I've felt physically sick thinking about having lost so many important things with a simple operator-error.

So, I've been reluctant to use my computer almost at all this summer while I sent the hard drive to data recovery services in a desperate attempt to regain what we had lost. At one point, our current housemate's roommate at Augsburg, who is a phenomenal computer programmer, took the drive and found that everything was actually still there! He couldn't recover the photos, videos etc. because the file names were all lost, but it was all there nonetheless. Kudos Eric, master of the Nerd-world.

I called around and found a fantastic service for nearly half of the cost of the Mac-store recommended company "On-Track." Their estimate was a minimum cost of $700 to restore the lost data. The company that found the data, sorted it out file by file for us, and is sending it back to us today with the recovered data is called "Sector Logics Data Recovery" in Lakewood, Colorado. Their cost? $277.

Here is their link: http://www.sectorlogics.com/
Please send it to anyone you know who needs this kind of service. They are professional, fast-working, and were successful in helping us when we really needed (affordable) help.

Once we receive the drive we'll get back to blogging and I'll post some photos and stories from our adventures this summer. It's been a great one, so keep in touch and thanks for your patience in our blogging absence.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Back in the US of A

We've now been home for a couple weeks and have successfully readjusted to life in the US.

When we got to San Francisco, I wrote down several first impressions that we noticed or experienced. Many of these things are obvious and definitely not super exciting or novel, but worth noting nonetheless:

1.) America is super-sized. Trucks and SUVs are large and in charge. Food portions are far too big for one person to consume and our fridge is constantly full of leftovers. And honestly, people are even super-sized. There's a stark contrast when you get off the plane and it's unmistakable.

2.) America is a pretty spacious place. Streets are wider, the space required for a single-family home is significantly larger, and even trains are more spacious. The San Francisco subway was interesting because the benches were made to be shared by only two people rather than three or four in the same space in a Tokyo train.

3.) After months of butting heads in various customer service experiences in Tokyo (i.e. banks, cellphones), I had high expectations for returning to high-quality customer service in the land of lawsuits. What I've found is that the central difference between customer service in Japan and the USA revolves more around consistency than anything else.

In Tokyo, you can always be sure that the employee will smile, bow, welcome you, listen to your concerns, and then consult their internal rulebook for whether or not they can help you. It goes that way every time without fail.

In the States it feels much more hit or miss. Sometimes people are incredibly helpful and friendly. Sometimes they're downright rude and awful to you. The thing I do really appreciate is being able to appeal to a manager or someone higher that applies the sometimes impractical "the customer is always right" strategy. On the other hand, what annoys the heck out of me is the mentality that we are 'entitled' to perfection at every turn. When your food isn't just right, or is too hot and you burn yourself, you can return it for a full refund or sue the company for outrageous amounts of money. There are so many comments in Lawyerish on labels, coffee cups, menus, and anything that has even a 1% chance of bothering or concerning the consumer. Crazy.

4.) A lot of people ride bicycles here, but not in the way that we do in Tokyo. There are fewer bikes in general, even in San Francisco! For some reason I expected many more people to be on the streets biking, but we really didn't see many in CA. In Colorado, there's much more of a crazed-bike-up-impossible-mountains-without-breaking-a-sweat culture, but even that's being threatened right now. Apparently a bunch of annoyed drivers are planning on blocking an upcoming bike race in Boulder, CO. It's all over talk-radio here in Denver too. Bikes vs. cars. Interesting.

5.) Public transit is available, but more difficult to use and definitely not as clean. Denver's Light Rail system is wonderful, but still needs a few more lines to be practical for wider usage. The San Francisco subway (B.A.R.T.) was slow, dirty, and more confusing than the super-complex system in Tokyo. Buses are pretty gross, and we even got yelled at because we only had a $5.00 bill and held up the bus line in San Francisco. A big apology to the angry hippie San Franciscans that we inconvenienced.

6.) People are generally louder in public.

7.) Sometimes strangers help each other. I was blown away in Tokyo once when 50 or more people walked, drove and rode by a guy that was pushing his broken-down antique car by himself. When I tried to help him, he apologized a million times and I almost felt like I shouldn't have offered my help in the first place. On our two flights thus far, random guys have helped Rachael lift her bag in the overhead bins, people hold doors for others, and just this afternoon I watched someone pick up some boxes a store employee had dropped on her way to a garbage can outside. I like that we do that rather than simply pretending that we don't see when other people fall or need a little help (as is often the case in Tokyo).

8.) My head is working in three languages..and having some major glitches. When I speak Spanish, I am constantly using Japanese words, and having to sort them out. Trying to remember Japanese is becoming more and more futile, but random words pop up now and then giving Rachael and me a good laugh.

9.) We're used to walking on the left. This sounds strange, but it's made for many awkward situations. Walking in Denver and San Francisco, you are bound to walk directly towards someone on the sidewalk at some point. Our first week here we constantly deferred to the left when the oncoming pedestrians in front of us deferred to their right...so yeah, we walked right into them. With a simple "excuse me" or "sorry," we'd continue on our way, but walking on the left has definitely become more ingrained in our unconscious street walking behavior.

10.) We both said "hai" (which means "yes" in Japanese) several times a day our first week back- at the hotel, at Walgreens, buying train tickets.

11.) I love using credit cards. For me, it's faster, easier on the wallet, and simpler for monitoring our spending.

I think that's it for now. Again, just a few observations from our short time in the States. We've really enjoyed being in Colorado with Brad's family, and in just a few days Rachael's family will be coming to Colorado so we'll all be together for a week of fun in the sun. Hope you're all well- keep in touch.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

5000 Visits!

Hey friends,

Since we're coming up on our 5000th visit to the blog, we'd like to celebrate with a fun giveaway. It's based on the honor-system, so let's hope it works out.

After you're finished perusing recent blog posts, please check the counter on the left side of the page. If you are indeed the 5000th visitor, please write a comment saying so on this post.

We'll send you something fun or interesting from Tokyo to wherever you are in the world!

Good luck...
B & R

E.T. Phone Home

The word "home" means just about a thousand things to us these days. Before we boarded our plane leaving Tokyo on Friday, we were chatting with Rachael's "seester" Rebecca on the phone. We said something like, "we can't wait to be home tomorrow!"

She then responded, "So wait, does "home" just mean 'the country' to you guys then?" We both said that yes, even a stop in California felt like going "home," whatever that means.

It's funny to listen to how we talk about home. I use the word to refer to our apartment, the place we keep most of our things, live for most of the year, and pay rent. That's our home.

But I also call my parents' house my home as well. I can't wait for Rachael's family to come out to Colorado in a few weeks, see my hometown stomping grounds and stay at "my house" for a few days. Speaking of which, Colorado is certainly home to me as well. Rachael uses the same language for her parents' home in Minnesota.

Sometimes, home is just wherever we happen to be sleeping that night. Currently, it's at a hotel in San Francisco, like when Rachael said yesterday, "When we get home, let's just watch a movie and relax."

For me, a flexible understanding of home is just fine. I feel pretty comfortable wherever we find ourselves in this huge world, and still don't feel particularly called to put down our roots and establish a more lasting, permanent home.

Rachael, on the other hand, hears a much louder call to do so. Although we both cherish and appreciate the chance to travel and have all these incredible experiences for a few years, we're both people that have an even harder time being so far from home, family, and old friends. After three more years in Japan we will probably come "home" to the U.S., find a smallish-oldish house and a couple of teaching jobs, I'll do grad school, and we'll start working on adding a few little Whites to our home.

Until then, I guess 'home is where the heart is.' Our hearts will be in San Francisco, Colorado, Tennessee, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and ultimately Tokyo this summer, so where is our "home?" Take your pick.

A few images of homes past and present:

My college dorm room in Decorah, Iowa

In front of our first "home" as a married couple, 740 River Drive, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Inside our 740 apartment.
Callie, posing in front of Rachael's parents' home in Minnesota.

Golden Boy Bradley.
Yes, my hometown sign says "Howdy Folks!"

Rachael and my mom cooking some homemade pasta at my parents' house in Colorado.
Fourth of July BBQ in Colorado.

Our current apartment in Tokyo.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Basubaru Video

Here is a fun video of our night out at the ballpark a couple months ago:


video

Tonkatsu

Good food can be found all over the world and we've personally had memorable meals in each country we've visited on four continents. But there is something special about traditional Japanese food that is more unique and enchanting. The simple ingredients and artful presentation of dishes here make it difficult for me to even imagine not having this food readily available in a few years.

Last night, we visited a new restaurant. Let me clarify- the restaurant is new to us, but the owners has been doing the exact same thing for over forty years now. If forty years doesn't perfect your skills at doing one thing really well, then I don't know what does.


This couple owns and operates a small izakaya in the Tokyo area of Yoga. Their apartment sits directly above the restaurant and inside is seating for six at the counter and two tables of four. They serve many things Japanese, but specialize in making "tonkatsu" (a sort of fried pork cutlet). We had a little too much fun with the camera tonight, so here's a bit of a photo essay of the night's meal.

First, we had to re-find the place. I went there last week with my Japanese teacher for a sayonara meal before summer break. It was tough to find again except for the tell-tale lamp with the word "tonkatsu" written on it.

(From top to bottom, to-n-ka-tsu)


Rachael, nervously peeking in to ask for a table for two.


Falling in love with the mama-san,
a feisty woman who reminds me of my grandma.


As we sat at the bar/counter, we noticed others ordering various starters, so we pointed and said, "we'll have what they're having." A few minutes later, we enjoyed these delicious stuffed chicken wings:


The guy next to us ordered a couple appetizers too: pork rolled up with a shiso leaf and a bowl of juicy intestines. He offered to have us try both, which we did. Surprisingly, the intestines weren't that bad. Apparently all the meat products are pretty high quality and fresh since there is a butcher behind the wall of the restaurant.

For the main course, I ordered the traditional tonkatsu set: a specially breaded pork cutlet, fresh chopped cabbage, miso soup, rice, and my favorite tonkatsu sauce. Rachael decided to branch out and try "katsudon" for the first time. Basically, it's tonkatsu that's been omeletized by cooking it in a small pan with eggs and a special sauce. Then, it's served on white rice inside a very cool little bowl. Check out the process from preparation to final result- DELICIOUS!



What a great meal and experience with this talented Japanese cooking couple!

Rachael's blogs about this are much better than mine. Check 'em out here:

40 Years of Tonkatsu

The Little Details

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Colorado Bound

Recently, our "band" here in Tokyo starting playing around with writing a song called "Colorado Bound." The coolest thing is...the song is now coming true.

We will be heading to the airport in about two hours to board a plane headed for San Francisco. After a few days (and a few blogs I'm sure) in California, we're off to Colorado for the rest of June. Then, it's Tennessee, Minnesota, Iowa, and Indiana before we turn right around in mid-August and return for another school year in Tokyo.

This morning, I had to ride the train since we'll be leaving from school and I couldn't leave my bike there. Fortunately, I had one final capstone experience that I had strangely been looking forward to all year but had never come to pass.

Before coming to Japan last fall, we watched a horrifying video of white-gloved men shoving helpless Tokyoites onto jam-packed trains. Well, this morning, two such guys had to shove me on the train and help close the train doors for my three minute train trek across the river! I know, that's not an experience many people would want to have, but it was one thing I'd been warned about before coming and never actually experienced personally. My life is now complete.

We'll have a few more belated blogs about recent Japan happenings to come soon, and we'll be reformatting the site this summer, so keep in touch and we can't wait to see many of you in the next month or two.

-Brad & Rachael

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Have I got a story for you...

My bike was stolen tonight.

This wasn't just any bike though. The beautiful Giant hybrid commuter bike was given to me in an unbelievable act of kindness and generosity by a parent at our school. He heard that my current bike was in shambles (which it is), and took a few weeks to fix up a spare bike he had in storage.

Then, this afternoon, his son came into my room and said that there was a bicycle waiting for me out in front of the school. In total disbelief, I walked out to the street and saw his dad next to the bike, and my disbelief continued when he told me he wouldn't let me pay him anything for it.

What a guy.

So, imagine my joy at riding this home. I cruised across the bridge and along the river twice as fast as I normally do (or even can do) and blabbed on to Rachael about my surprise. I couldn't think of a better way to end our first year in Japan.

Then, we went out to meet our friends for dinner and I parked the new bike where I always park my bike near the train station. Since my lock broke a month ago, I have not locked my bike there and haven't had a problem. Plus, I didn't have a lock for the new bike yet since I'd only had it for an hour or so and didn't have time to go shopping for a new lock on my way home. There were literally hundreds of other bikes around ours, so I wasn't too concerned about it.

We then went to a fantastic dinner with some of our close friends here, eating various cuts of beef, pork, and innards grilled at the table on miniature charcoal grills.

After dinner, we walked up the street toward the bike parking and I immediately noticed that Rachael's bike was laying down (locked up) and my beautiful new bike was not next to hers like I left it. My brand new bike was stolen. Yes, I know, it should have been locked up. But regardless of that fact, I was pretty upset. After looking around for a minute or two and realizing it was definitely gone, we began walking home and I started thinking about my options.

Hmmm. I could walk a block to the nearest police hut and report it stolen! Wait, I have no idea how to do that and the bike isn't even registered to me. That won't work.

What if I still report it as stolen, but give them the name of the parent who gave me the bike, since it's probably registered in his name? Wait, I don't actually know his full name...or address...or much of anything about him.


Then, I called this parent's son's teacher, a first grade teacher and friend of ours, to get as much information about him as I could before going to the police hut. As I was telling her the story about the bicycle gift and how it was stolen (standing maybe two blocks from where it was taken at an intersection), Rachael said in a very subtle way, "Brad..."

I could tell by the sound of her voice that she wasn't just trying to get my attention like normal. I followed her gaze, and she was staring at a young Japanese kid, maybe 18 years old, with bleach-blonde spiked hair. He happened to be sitting on a bike that looked identical to the bike I had just received that afternoon. In fact, he was riding MY NEW BIKE!

Using a few choice words and a...slightly raised...voice, I skipped translating and went straight for yelling at this kid in English. At first, he just stood at the side of the bike, looking absolutely stunned and slowly looking it over, like he didn't understand what I was saying. It was at that moment that I froze and thought, wait, I'm yelling at this kid and he may just have a similar bike. I mean, I just got it this afternoon...

Just then, I remembered that there was a bit of rust in the center of the handlebars that I thought about cleaning up, so I looked for that. When I saw that rust smiling back at me, I knew it was the right bike and starting yelling at the kid again. After about 10 seconds of this, he backed away, bowed a few times, and tried to say he was sorry in Japanese (gomenasai).

He then proceeded to stare at me until I told him to "get out of here." He and his friend then walked calmly away without turning back.

Rachael said the strangest thing about the whole confrontation was that not a single person around us reacted to my yelling at all. For those of you who know me, I don't really yell. Ever. So this was an uncharacteristic burst of rage from someone who usually can keep his cool pretty well.

Most importantly though, I got the bike back. It is currently sitting in our kitchen since I didn't even feel comfortable leaving it downstairs in the bike shed for the night. This was a day of extremes. First, I felt absolutely blessed by this man and his family through this kind gift. Then, I felt absolutely terrible that I had managed to get this brand new gift stolen in no more than two hours.


We have two days left of school before the year is over and we return home for a summer of time with our family. This was definitely an unforgettable day, and you'll have to excuse me if you read about the crazy gaijin with seventeen bike locks on his bike.