Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why did we give away our karaoke machine?

My Grandpa gave my sister, Sara, and me a karaoke machine when we were 12 and 10 years old after he witnessed the Japanese phenomenon hit Hawaii, where he lived the last years of his life.

I can remember singing Ebony and Ivory over and over and over again in the upstairs living room like my life depended on it...sometimes I went solo if Sara wasn't available for the duet version :) Little did I know that one day all of that practice would come in handy.

My husband and I walked into a small sushi bar last night just off a side road in dowtown Shimoda, a sleepy beach town that many Japanese call their Hamptons. (Having not been to the Hamptons I can't really attest to the validity of this statement; however, Shimoda certainly seems far more laid back and less posh than I imagine the celebs' summer hotspot to be.)

I think we picked the right night for the little nook that we chose. Within 10 minutes it was packed with locals ordering sushi, sashimi, oysters and lots of sake. Thanks to my husband's near perfect Japanese accent, his encylopedic knowledge of major Japanese time periods and their baseball league, he hit it off right away with our neighbors at the bar, two gregarious men, Arai and Ishida.

Three bottles of sake later and we were off to Arai's favorite karaoke bar.

Little did I know, but my husband is a damn good karaoke singer. Unafraid of his mediocre singing skills or the random cracking of the throat, he saved me from a near catastrophic attempt at paying tribute to Michael Jackson via Billie Jean.

(Note to self: karaoke machine growing up or not - public singing is not for me!)

Elvis Presley, the Beatles...he threw down and the crowd loved it.

The sake and beer were flowing, but the best part of the night really was how kind and welcoming Aisa and Ishida were to us. We only had a few phrases and scattered words of English and Japanese to exchange with one another but we said goodbye feeling like old friends.

And that is why I love to travel.

(Images via Google Image Search)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

So that's why I never made my Junior National cut

I started swimming competively at age seven.
If you ever swam for a U.S.S. club team than you know that you only get two weeks off per year. Depending on your talent and commitment level, you swim at least six days per week and often times, double workouts three to four times a week. You're in amazing, kick ass shape. For women like myself, your shoulders will never be bigger and your back will never intimidate any punk teenage jerk as it does then.

At that age I never dreamt of a career other than that of an Olympic swimmer. I wanted to be the next Jenny Thompson in the 100 fly. Medaling was less my aspiration; being a part of the Olympic Games was the ultimate goal. But as the years progressed it became quite clear that that vision of success was not to be mine. In the eight years since I stopped swimming competitively I've often wondered if my illusions of aquatic grandeur were doomed from the beginning and I was just damn good at fooling myself of my rather average capabilities. I've found that it's pretty f*ing hard being honest with one self about mediocrity, especially when I pursued swimming as a single-minded pursuit all those years.

So there I was today on the Shinkasen bullet train, traveling from Hiroshima to Shimoda, reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, when a long overdue reality check hit me. Gladwell - in case you're not familiar with the book - argues that if you want to understand why very successful people got to where they are today, we should spend less tim focusing on their intelligence and ambition and more at "looking around them - at such things such as their family, their birthplace, or even their birthdate." These elements shape a person's potential for success in life, and often times more so than their innate gifts.

My point?

Gladwell points out that many of our most talented humans, including Bill Gates and Mozart, were surely gifted intellectually, but what set them apart was practice.

Thus, I began to reflect on my commitment to the pool. Six days, 14 hours/week, 50 weeks/year on average from the age of 12 - 19. That seems like a lot, right? But compare that to some of the other club swimmers I was up against. They were swimming as much as 10 times/week, 25 hours/week. That makes a HUGE difference in a kid's muscle development and much, much more.

I can't say how my performances would have faired with nine more hours per week but I'm fairly certain that I would have been better than I was. Practice, in other words, makes perfect - as they say - but the best of the best practice THAT MUCH MORE than the rest of us. And THAT is what makes the difference.

(Image via Swimming World)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Man, that's a lot of people

We stepped into Shibuya station yesterday afternoon and witnessed the myth and then the reality of the world's busiest train station. Nearly three million passengers walk through Shibuya's stalls every day. And by "walk" I really mean jog. Imagine a sea of half-jogging people making there way in a thousand different directions with you at the center of them. You think New York is crowded and crazy - think again because it's absolutely nothing compared to Shibuya.

I wouldn't recommend walking into this station without much idea of where you're going. It's complete (managed) chaos. Everyone except us knew what they were doing and where they were headed.

Tom's standing there looking up at the station signage, spinning in a circle wondering which line we should take, while hundreds of Japanese push past him, politely shoving his body out of their way while he's shouting at me, "Which way should we go??"

"AHH! Let's just go this way!" I exclaimed. And off we went.

Wow. And people do this every day? Amazing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First 24 Hours in Japan

A whirlwind.

14 hours of flying, 1.5 hour train ride from the airport to Tokyo and 1 hour spent aimlessly wandering around Shimbashi trying to locate our hotel. Very few of the street signs are bilingual so good luck trying to find your way around the city, especially if you're without a map.

We made it to the Park Hotel Tokyo but not without a trip up 16 floors of a neighboring hotel to ask where in God's name we were. You know how it is when you're lost - later you find out that you were 200 yards from exactly where you needed to be but of course, you took the longest, most complicated route to get there. Yep, that was us. I will say that those whom we've had to stop for directions or ask for advice have been nothing but generous with their time and appreciative of the opportunity to tell us a bit more about Tokyo.

The Park Hotel is certainly one of the cooler places I've ever stayed. Very minimalistic. Excellent service. We didn't have much of a chance to take a breather, however, after throwing our bags down on the bed because we broke one of my travel rules - we didn't take out any Yen at Dulles before departing. Starving and thirsty, we headed back out into the Tokyo night to find an ATM so that we could have a hearty meal before turning in for the evening. Found one we did, but cash, we did not. Both of our cards were labeled "invalid" by three different banks! You should have seen my panic rising....."Oh man....we're halfway around the world and have no cash...what are we going to do??"

Befuddled by our predicament, my fiance and I settled for dinner at our hotel (since it goes on our room tab) and a restless night's sleep wondering what the hell was wrong with our debit cards. I will say that "settled" is totally the wrong word for what turned out to be one of those shockingly amazing meals. Tuna and tempura that certainly tasted fresher and looked better than anything I've ever laid eyes on in the states.

Turns out - and yes, this is totally embarrassing - that both of us screwed up the currency conversion and instead of trying to take out what we thought was $300, we were asking for $3,000 - far above our daily withdrawal amounts.

Today's a new day and I have cash on hand (my fiance still does not....long story) and we've had an amazing trek across this bustling, frenetic city. More on that another day, but I'll leave with saying that Tsukiji Fish Market - the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world - was without a doubt, one of the coolest travel experiences of my life. If you come to Japan, you MUST go there.

(Image via LA Times)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's round and lovely

How about the 20x16 version of this against the brick wall in our dining room?

I simply adore Jeff Lewis' work.

(Via 20x200)

Getting in wedding mode

Roni, Sara and I watched Father of the Bride last night, curled up on the couch as yet another June rainstorm beat against the window. 

Cliche? You bet and we loved every single minute of it. I'm now more excited than ever for the big day on Saturday. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Looking back

With such a momentous life change around the corner, I've taken to not sleeping and staying up, thinking.....and analyzing....and worrying....and relishing memories - all at once.

At the suggestion of one of my oldest friends, I've started re-reading old emails from the past few years. It's amazing to not recognize yourself in your own writing and just as quickly realize that certain things have remained the same.

I want to share something I wrote to a friend while in Odibo, Namibia in 2007. I don't want to forget these words and what I was going through at that time, what I learned about myself and another culture and as grandiose as it sounds (and I don't mean it to be) what matters.

"I guess I could say I'm finding myself more at peace here and than not, all at the same time. Culture shock seems to come and go with a frequency so random and at such peaks I don't think I could accurately plot it on a graph. There are moments when I think I've figured things out here, how people tick, and so forth and then - poof - I have to throw it all out the window. That is why I came here - to immerse myself in another culture very different from my own - but it's harder (as I should have guessed) than I would have imagined.
I'm constantly finding myself asking the question "Is this worth fighting for?" or "Maybe my way isn't the right way, even though I feel sure that it is because I'm in Namibia, not America." These questions are always with me and I find myself thankfully challenged by them but of course, at other times, just completely exhausted from the prospect of it all.
I love my grade 8 learners (they call them learners here instead of students and they say grade 8 instead of 8th grade), of which there are 22, about half and half gender-wise. A few of them have amazing potential. One of them just asked me last period where Kofi Annan was from since he assumed he was American. When I told him that Annan is Ghanaian his whole face lit up. He couldn't believe an African could have had such a powerful position as Annan did as Secretary-General of the UN. That was fantastic.
I teach grade 8 geography and computers. Right now we're discussing water in the atmosphere and they love it. They were supposed to keep a diary of when and why they use water throughout each day for two days because I'm trying to incorporate as much awareness about the environment as I can in this class. Littering is such a problem here and I want to do all that I can, even if in small ways, to get them to understand why it's bad. One year won't be enough to do that, but it's at least a start.
I had a teacher ask me the other day what a dinosaur was. After I explained what they are he wanted to know if they still live in America. I was just dumbstruck.
As I was walking to the staffroom on Tuesday afternoon I passed a kid with a huge blade in his hand. My roommate and I were not able to get him to give us the blade, but were able to turn him over to our vice-principal. The kid had already been suspended earlier in the day for sleeping in the hostel during classes and was still on school grounds. The situation was scary and unnerving. I was angry at the kid and angry at the school for their lack of follow through on discipline issues in general, but have done what I can henceforth to express my opinions on the matter with the Principal and to the teachers in our staff meeting Wednesday morning.
I feel disconnected from home, in general - what's going on in the world, even friends and family to a degree - but at other times, I feel the same closeness that I did when I was home, but almost more at peace with each of my friends and my family. The absence of being able to talk to anyone regularly almost makes me appreciate the little time I do have to connect with you even more."

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Real World DC's House

Who watches this show anymore? I mean, seriously. If anything makes me feel old and dated it's MTV's The Real World. And true to form, as much as I love this city, we're often the last to the party when it comes to what's cool with respect to entertainment. 17 years later, we've finally been "blessed" with our own version of what obnoxious, celebrity-hungry 'real people' are like in our nation's capital. 

Just look at their pad! I'm sure a lovely nonprofit would have appreciated that building space, but hey, who needs do-gooders when you've got soul-sucking television?

Where do you think the newest residents of 20th St NW might spend their time? I'm collecting bets.

(Via Wonkette)

Jose Andres @ Dupont FarmFresh Market

Sara and I headed over to Dupont's FarmFresh Market on Sunday morning to buy some goodies for a hearty Sunday lunch with family. We snagged some delicious Italian sausages, lovely greens (the ones with colorful flowers!) and fresh strawberries.

We were so surprised to spot Jose Andres, the famous chef and propreitor of Cafe Atlantico and Jaleo, standing over an enormous wok making paella for the hungry crowd! 

(Via DCist)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Real World DC

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Yes, MTV's The Real World is (unfortunately) coming to Dupont Circle, but the "real" Real World DC appears to be NBC's Inside the White House series. I've watched two segments and I'll admit, I enjoyed them. It was total fluff - Obama at Five Guys, Michelle walking the dog, Rahm Emanuel exclaiming "Don't bullshit me. I hate you all." but hey, for a political junkie, I still stayed up until midnight watching those segments online and I had a damn good time doing so.

That doesn't mean that I haven't totally enjoyed Jon Stewart's hilarious take on this reality show-type series. Watch the video.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Michelle + Carla in Paris

Do you think Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy planned their gorgeous cream-colored outfits?

(Via The Daily Mail)

Will it rain??

They're predicting rain for our wedding day right now. :( We'll make the most of it at Restaurant Nora if the downpour hits but we'll be really disappointed if we're not able to enjoy the ceremony at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

I've got to stay positive, though, right?!

This picture perked me up.

(Via Ms. Muse)


Anne Hathaway is so striking in this photograph. If I had dark hair and glossy skin like hers' I would definitely do the smoky eye thing. She can pull it off and still look classy.

(Via English Muse)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A little Austria added to your DC life

My friend Stephanie, who's coming to DC for our wedding next weekend, asked me for recommendations of places to take her boyfriend in the 36 hours that she's in town. She'll be staying in Dupont so of course I recommended The Tabard Inn for a lovely drink or dinner. Since she's a healthy walk away (20 minutes or more) from Georgetown, I think an afternoon beer, glass of wine and a snack is in order at Leopold's Kafe at 33rd and M St.  

It can be tough to find a seat on a warm, sunny afternoon but it's worth the wait if for nothing else than the ambiance and selection of Austrian and German beers and wines. I really think this is one of the best outdoor cafes in DC. Just look at the afternoon Sara, my Mom and I had last Sunday!

Sushi for dinner

Salmon, tuna and eel. Oh and perfection!

(Courtesy of Sushi Taro)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Can I have this Feist poster?

Feist is a goddess in every sense of the word. My friend, Roni, and I saw her sitting in the sound box at the 930 Club during a Broken Social Scene concert a few years ago. She took our breath away. At first, we thought, "Who's that hip-looking woman hanging out with all the guys?" and then...."Whoa, I think she knows every single word to every song of theirs'!" And finally, "HOLY SHIT!! That's Leslie Feist!!! OMG!!!"

As soon as I saw this kick ass poster of hers' that memory came rushing back. An oldie, but goodie.

(Via Poster Cabaret)

Our wedding fans

Smiles galore. Our fans arrived and I absolutely, positively, completely adore them.

A huge thanks to Anna Bond from Rifle Design for her beautiful work! Check out more of her wedding and event designs here.