Friday, 30 November 2012

Movember Freak Show!

By the time this is posted, hopefully the horror that is Movember will be over for another year! I went with not shaving the whole 2+ weeks in Japan to have something to play with, and decided to go with big long Wiggins sideburns and also the chin beard to give something horrible to look at from each angle! There's a LOT more grey than 3 years ago! Who knows, I'm getting a bit fond of the sideburns...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Soldering Fumes

On November the 20/21, we went to daddy's lab, and helped Geoff do some soldering, and other things to help fix the equipment. First we soldering some wires together to make some cables, Then we put together a box used for the metabolic cart, which measures how much work we do. we also put together another box with all of the wires in it, but I don't know what it was for.

when you solder, you are pretty much gluing the 2 pieces of metal together, by melting the solder,(which melts very easily) and when it cools, it hardens and sticks the 2 pieces of metal together firmly. There is also a little gun for sucking up the extra solder, when you get too much, Geoff says the problem most people have is that they put too much solder on.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Miyajima Island

After giving a talk and touring Hiroshi's labs at U. Hiroshima and a yummy udon noodle lunch, we took a drive over to the city itself and Miyajima Island that sits right offshore. Hiroshima is quite beautiful, with a setting right one the water with massive mountains all around. Descending into the city, I got the distinct impression of being back in Vancouver, which led me to thinking of what a horror it must have been to have the city obliterated.

The centre-piece of Miyajima is the Itsukushima Shinto shrine, another UNESCO site that I keep bumping into here in Japan. First built in 593 AD, it was rebuilt into its present scale in 1168 AD. The main corridor is about 280 m long, incorporating over 20 buildings. The main entry gate for the shrine is built right on the water's edge, so that the ebbing and flowing of the tides determine whether you can get near it. On the right is another family celebrating the 7-5-3 years. Didn't get to see anyone playing the massive drums, although I did hear them from afar.
I've got to say that fall is my favourite season, and it's not just because of cyclocross! I especially love the way the angle of the sun makes things just glow, like the shrine gates on the left and especially the red/golden pagoda on the right. Take a look on the left and tell me it doesn't remind you of Vancouver?!
The fall colours were getting very nice now in Japan! And oysters are a specialty and favourite around here. There's an oyster far between the island and the mainland, and the products are grilled all around at different kiosks. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Before hitting the shinkansen (bullet train) back to Kobe, Hiroshi took me to the train station and its numerous restaurants. You could choose pretty much anything your heart desires, as long as it's Japanese! The typical Japanese restaurants are all really small, with the kitchen right there in the open with barstools ringing it and maybe a couple of regular tables. Each restaurant pretty much provides one thing and one thing only. 

Dr. Hiroshi Hasegawa and I at the big Itsukushima Shinto shrine on Miyajima Island just off Hiroshima. And we Orientals take our rice seriously - this HAS to be the largest rice scoop ever at about 5 m long!

For example, one would be a ramen shop that would only serve variations of ramen. Don't even think of asking for soba or udon, let alone sushi! And yes, another would be only soba noodles, another only udon noodles, etc. Reminds me of the Saturday Night Live "Cheeseburger" skit where, no matter what you ordered, you ended up with cheeseburger and Pepsi! 
Anyway, we went with the Hiroshima specialty of Okonomiyaki, or "Japanese Pancakes." Amazingly good! How to describe it? Well, there's an EXTREMELY thin crepe on each side. In between, you can choose either soba or udon noodles, along with cabbage and your choice of filling. We both went with squid, but you get whatever else the cook decides to put in too - in our case pork. Heck, I'm not complaining! There's also a thick and sweet soy sauce on top of it all.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

lost in space

On Tuesday we went to Brock University with our dad, and listened to his class. The lesson was all about microgravity. Microgravity is the lack of gravity in space. Dad was talking about how in microgravity, you grow a little, because the disks in you vertebrae expand, and your muscles are not being pulled down by gravity. It is the same when you are lying down in bed, gravity is not pushing down on your head and shoulders, so the disks in your vertebrae can expand, and your muscles are not pulled down. but during the day, because you are standing up, the disks are flattened again, and your muscles are pulled down.

Also in space all of your muscles grow weaker because you do not need to use them to stand, and to move around you only need a small pull or push with your arms or legs to get you moving. To study this scientists do bed rest studies, where subjects have to just stay in bed for long periods of time, like 6 weeks. In space your bones get weaker, also you heart, and pretty much all of your muscles get weaker from you not having to use them.

Some things astronauts use to stay strong are treadmills and stationary bikes, and they also use bungee cords, which they attach to part of the  shuttle. The treadmills and bikes, have to 1. be very light, because every kilogram of weight is very expensive to send up to space, and 2. be as simple as possible, since motors might interfere with the motors and navigation of the shuttle. The treadmills are more just a slippery surface, and the astronauts just slide on it in the socks, they also are attached to it by bungee cords, so they do not fly away. The bikes are similar with a very simple design that works and you are just attached to it by some bungee cords.

Monday, 19 November 2012

FLL practice tournament

Last Saturday, we went to a practice tournament for our First Lego League team, which was in Hamilton. There were 3 teams, us the Lego da Vincis, Garf 12, and the BCA bots. There were also 3 trophies, so every team got one, (we got the teamwork one.) we have a video on YouTube, and we are also on Facebook. Check out the youtube video here!!. We had a great time, and the judges made some good suggestions.

The team consists of Me, Scott, Jacob, Jeb, Connor, Natasha, Alexander, Rowena, Emily, and Tim. we meet every monday, and every friday in the afternoons.

The Great Buddha at Nara

November 11, Nari and I took the train eastwards to the town of Nara, about an hour away. What makes Nara special is Todaji Temple, a Buddhist Temple that is the largest wooden structure in the world. Why is it so large? Well, Todaji houses the world's largest bronze sculpture, the Great Buddha. Both are rather immensely stunning in their size and scope, and date from about 1200 years ago (the wooden temple's burnt down a few times).
 Along the way to the Temple, besides dodging all the weekend tourists like ourselves, we also had to contend with the veritable swarm of tame deer wandering the streets of the town and everywhere you can imagine. They're pretty much more populous than the local residents, and maybe even the tourists too! They're also tame and very well-fed, with lots of vendors selling packs of deer cookies.
Next up was the Shinto shrine at Nara, a nice forested walk away amidst more deer. T shrine is another UNESCO site, and home to four major Shinto spirits. I especially liked the lantern room.
There were lots of young girls dressed up in beautiful kimonos. Turns out mid-November is a time to bless 7, 5, and 3 year olds. And of course, it's also time for Ichiro sightings, as was the case in the cafe where Nari and I stopped for a snack! Dinner tonight was Japanese BBQ: veggies, seafood, meats all cooked ourselves over a very hot BBQ built into our table. Certainly popular in wintertime to keep warm! I was also warm on account of the sake we had before supper too!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Mount Tsukuba

Last day in Tsukuba north of Tokyo, and Bun, Watanabe, and Akira took me on a pilgrimage trek up to Mount Tsukuba. The shrine there is quite famous, and Dr. Nishiyasu (my host here) actually got married here. It was a beautiful sunny day and not bad at all at about 16oC at the starting point partway up the mountain, so we were crossing our fingers that we might actually see Mount Fuji in the far distance. I had managed to see only the bottom half on the way up to Tsukuba thanks to the deep clouds!

Left is the shrine entrance at the base of the mountain. Right is the shrine atop Tsukuba. In between was quite the steep and arduous hike up of 2.4 km and about 600 m elevation gain. Think "Grouse Grind" type of hiking straight uphill, with lots of tricky roots and rocks everywhere. All good fun and games though, especially getting to relax and steam up in a hot springs afterwards.
Watanabe, Akira, Bun, and myself atop Tsukuba. There are actually two separate peaks, the "woman's peak" and the "man's peak." Like many cultures, mountains are holy places in Japan, so there are usually shrines atop most mountains. Despite it being nice and sunny, there was still too much haze to see Tokyo or Mount Fuji.
Rock formations are big here on Mt. Tsukuba. The frog is the mascot of the mountain, and here's why on the left. At the top of the mountain sits this rock formation that looks quite a bit like a frog's mouth. The story is that if you can toss a pebble into the mouth and it stays there, that will bring you happiness - I got it! And on the right is the "Buddha Rock" partway down the mountain.

After a lot of hiking and exercise, what better way to refuel than fabulous ramen noodles? The cafeteria at the uni is the uni cafe of my dreams - a full huge lunch of real ramen, rice, and potstickers for 500 Y, or about $6.50! 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Talking for Food

Jet lag really is a wonderful tool for increasing productivity. What with tossing and turning at 0200h and finally giving up and getting up at 0300h, I put in a full day of productive work before breakfast! Indeed, yesterday morning I peer-reviewed a paper from start to finish, prepared my symposium talk, reviewed Geoff's ethics, read a chapter of "Citizen Soldiers," and went for a run before I even got to breakfast at 0800h!
Nari and I have been making a tag-team in my talks so far, as he's been roped into being my translator for talks and slides he hasn't seen at all before. It's tricky enough sticking to a time limit when you're speaking by yourself, it's exponentially harder doing so not knowing how long the translation might take! We've done a grand job altogether, although hopefully the talks are understandable and assuming Nari's got my main messages across!Well, thanks to Omega-Pharma Quick-Step cycling team and its fashion-house sponsor Pablo Nero, at the very least I'm looking very fine in the process with their swanky team tie! 
Needless to say, I've been gorging on as much Japanese food as I can possibly get my hands on. Ramen and udon noodles, sushi, even fine Kobe sake! Nari took me to a sushi bar in downtown Kobe the other night, where they make it to order right in front of you.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Long Lost Twin?

So is this my long-lost twin? I've been riding an enormous wave of popularity everywhere I've been going in Japan the past week, and Nari's been killing himself laughing. Everywhere we've been going, he keeps hearing people whispering "Hey, is that Ichiro?" It started at the symposium at Kobe Design Uni last Thursday, when two of the attending scientists both said independently of each other over dinner that I look just like Ichiro. Funny enough, but then we were at a cafe in Nara prefecture and we hear the same thing. And then checking out of the Sheraton, the doorman told us that people have kept coming up to him asking if Ichiro was back in town and staying here! The same thing has been happening in Tsukuba north of Tokyo, with the restaurant owner the first night thinking Ichiro was in his restaurant!

Oh yeah, who's Ichiro? That'd be Ichiro Suzuki, the biggest baseball star in Japan. With baseball being the #1 sport in this country, that's a big deal, a bit like being in Canada and looking like Gretzky! Ichiro was the first Japanese position player to join Major League Baseball, playing for the Seattle Mariners 2001 until this year when he was traded to the New York Yankees. Ichiro was a huge star for the Kobe team beforehand, which greatly helps my popularity here. Unfortunately, I don't quite have his 5 year, $90 million contract with my CRC!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Rocking Rokko

After giving my talk for Nari's undergraduate class today bright and early in the morning, the weather was beautiful and sunny. So we did what academics always should do when such opportunities present itself - we skipped out and had an adventure instead! Namely, we went up into the hills above Kobe via tram, bus, cable car, and train.
Mt Rokko right above Kobe (it's one of many mountains overlooking the city) is about 950 m elevation. The first stop walking up from the Uni was to the train that takes you pretty much straight up the mountain, 1.7 km of track at 26% grade! It's a "double-weighted" rope car, where there are two train cars on opposite end of the single track that are joined. The only spot where they pass each other has about 50 m of double train tracks - sure hope they have their math right!
From the top of the train at about 750 m elevation, we took the bus to the top of Mt Rokko, where there's a slightly hazy but otherwise very nice view of all around the big bay, from Kobe through to Osaka and beyond. More importantly, we had a nice bowl of hot ramen noodles out on the sunny porch. Afterwards, the cable car took us down to the town of ARIMA (Geoff and Andreas will get a kick out of that!), where we went for a walk through the parks. 
The colours are turning here in Japan, but it's definitely different to Canadian colours. The dominant colour is red and I haven't seen much yellow or orange, and indeed most of the trees are still fully green (of course, it's averaging 15-20oC here! Locals are all bundled up and I'm in my shirtsleeves). The colours are somehow a bit more subdued in intensity, but the light also makes it seem to glow somewhat, so it's quite nice.
While in Arima, we also went to the natural hot springs to get some hands-on hyperthermia going. There's a lot of iron in the water, so we all looked a bit rusty by the end of the long soak. After that, we took the trains back down to downtown Kobe. Interesting note - the trains all have women-only cars to avoid women getting molested in the busy commuter traffic. 
And of course, what better way to end the day than sushi? 

Monday, 5 November 2012

ChEUng Adventures - Japanese Style!

A rather whirlwind 72 h of activity (fly to Calgary Friday morning for meeting with Mark's, two symposium talks in Kananaskis Saturday, and LONG routing from Cgy-SF-Osaka), and I find myself on the other side of the world in Kobe, Japan. I'm here at the generous invitation of my colleague Nari Kondo, and will also be visiting colleagues in Tsukuba and Hiroshima.
Still jet-lagged, so here's the most important shot - of dinner last night!
Hot Pot supper - everything goes into the yummy hot broth pot to be cooked.