AX 2013

It is no joke that Hitomi and I paid a few thousand this year to travel and attend an anime convention, in LA, in the summer, where I spent quite a great deal of time in a hotel with my son Leo, napping in bed.

Still, the best vacations are typically crazy, when done right.

One of the crazy decisions made was to buy and pack an induction burner ($80 or so) from Amazon, and take it along with a pressure cooker, plus rice and various ingredients (canned fish). We’d be set for breakfast (tea) and lunch (rice balls), without the time and expense (and disappointment) of eating out every meal. But remember: We’re also traveling with a two year-old, so it’s not like we don’t have a stroller, a car seat, a ton of diapers, toys, books, sleeper, and baby snacks to take as well.

Oh, and Hitomi had Leo two cosplay outfits, and I had two sets of cosplay clothes as well. The cosplay clothes were nothing too fancy, Leo and I dressed as both Okarin from Steins;Gate and Nyanko Sensei, though my Nyanko outfit was basically a blanket.

Oh, and Hitomi’s pregnant, but fortunately just 4 not 8 months like she was back in 2012.

I dreaded the first part of the trip: Getting up at 6:00am and loading the trunk of a taxi coming at 6:30, and getting ourselves through security and on the plane. Leo’s a ball of energy so having to sit still for two and a half hours is a challenge. The iPad, loaded with videos of Shimajiro and Wanwan Wonderland, did quiet Leo most of the flight. I got berated by Hitomi, though, for not buying an extra seat for Leo. He was supposed to be on my lap, but instead ended up in Hitomi’s lap mostly at his insistence. Paying full price ($350) for 30 pounds of Leo seemed like an unfair deal to me, for such a short time I’d put up with it.

Finally at the hotel (11PM or so), I head down to Anime Expo for picking up my badge. We’re staying at the Marriot, which is second only to the Ritz-Carlton in downtown LA, making it convenient at least. Yet, this is LA, and everything is still a bit of a walk, and further still as registration is in the LA Convention Center West Hall. No matter, the last time I was there it was only a matter of minutes to get my badge, so I thought. Two years ago I arrived early in the morning and it was a cinch, but with anime conventions it’s still a dice roll: You can be in line not at all or 4-6 hours. (Why many anime conventions still don’t mail badges: They hate their attendees.) I ended up stuck in the pre-registration line for 2:30, which would have been okay, but the line was outside. Besides getting really hot, I ended up sunburned which I wasn’t too happy about. Inside was a temporary relief, as I was upside seeing that although plenty of computers setup to process registrations, still only six people were handing out badges, and of course pay-at-con registration had no line.

Enough of that, I headed over to the food truck area across the street. I ended up paying $15 or so for a sub-par Indian dish plus drink. Food trucks often produce pretty inconsistent food, maybe due to the kitchen being so uncomfortable to work?

Hitomi and I met at the AX Maid Cafe, which is not really a cafe since they do not serve food or drinks, but sort of a show for…Well, they do a couple of dances on stage, plus play a game or two with guests at the table, and take pictures at the end. Yes, the girls were easy on the eyes, but it seemed so far removed from the Japan experience it was its own thing. Leo had fun playing the games and running around as he usually does during a performance. Being so cute and little meant the maids were fawning over him, and I felt a bit like bragging, “I made this!” We had a group picture, which I ought to post.

There was a concert at 6PM for Aya Ikeda. Originally I was going to take Leo back to the hotel and Hitomi could watch in the front row, courtesy of our otaku friend Tim reserving a seat. Leo seemed pretty happy to join though, so vacillating between our official assigned seating (back) and Tim’s ‘reserved’ seats, we all watched the show. Leo had a tendency to run off, throw his glow stick, and make it tough for us, but he was in the spirit of the event. Oddly, AX told us all to not stand during the performance, but what kind of Ani-song event has people sitting? In Japan, you are standing, either waving something, clapping, jumping, or doing something. Sitting peacefully is somehow disrespectful, I think.

We didn’t stay for the second act, instead dinner was our priority. We ended up at a Japanese restaurant Katsuya, which was more fancy than I might have liked. It was like Hotel dining, which is usually good, but expensive for what you get. There was outside seating, which was great for Leo to bounce around in. The tea (and the tea we made using tap water) tasted funny, and Hitomi made the request we get some bottled water.

I did make a trip off to Ralph’s (supermarket), which I was told was a 5 minute walk but really 15, by the hotel. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walk in the night: Walking around at night during a convention is great, since it’s fun to see cosplayers out and about the town in different contexts. Walk into the local Denny’s and you can see gigantic foam swords and other props tucked behind their chair. It’s kind of like all these people were transported to a different dimension by mistake.

This being July 4, we saw plenty of fireworks from our room window over the city of Los Angeles. All the booms and fizzles seen and heard from our hotel was a not-so-subtle reminder we were missing out on another Important Holiday yet again. (Easter, always Sakura-con weekend, is another holiday I miss out on. Easter is easier to ignore, at least the day of.) Getting Leo to sleep through all this was a bit of a trick.

Friday

Getting Leo out the door in the morning is a challenge as well: Dressed, cleaned up, fed, dipers changed, etc. and it feels like the morning is gone. And after an hour or so, it’s already nap time. I volunteer to nap with Leo and Hitomi’s out on her own. With the pressure cooker, I prepare onigiri with canned fish and furikake.

At 2:30 was a cosplay meetup for Natsume’s Book of Friends. Leo had a costume for his first cosplay gathering! It was a bit of a wait in the sun, but eventually a fairly big group of cosplayers (not quite Nintendo or One Piece gathering numbers, but maybe 10 people) appeared on the grass next to the convention center. Two thoughts: Yes, Leo was popular (“cute!”) with the group, but didn’t understand what was going on and looked confused and somewhat scared. And maybe hot in a fur suit. Secondly, although he could have been in everybody’s photoshoot, it didn’t really make sense to steal the spotlight as it were, so we took him in and out at times.

At night we headed off to Japan Town for dinner, a short taxi ride but complicated by having to take a car seat out, put it in, put Leo in, put the stroller in, etc. LA’s Japan Town is quite walkable and has a lot of interesting shopping. Apparently free karaoke is a thing, and there was a mix of singing quality. Dinner at Kagura was quite decent, some hit and miss dishes. Soft-serve was fun sharing three ways. Leo eats with his face.

The AX Dance was at 10PM, with Ram Rider, a DJ guest from Japan, appearing at 11PM. I met up with Kent who had flown in that night from work in line, and here I was waiting in line for a dance. Inside, some other con friends are there too and we wait for about 15 minutes for Ram Rider’s set.

I wouldn’t call it a dance in the traditional sense, it is more like your body becomes part of an undulating organ, driven by auditory stimulus. I was not equipped with any glowing paraphernalia, but instead had to use my hand to wave approval. Quite a number of Go-Go dancers in various levels of dress provided visual stimulus as well. Lots of eventual shoving and I was in the front of the blob, where Ram Rider was wearing his glowing jacket and spinning CDs or something of his music and others’.

Around 1AM, although tempted to ‘hang out’ and have fun, I go to the hotel to sleep like a responsible person.

Saturday

Of course, the later I go to sleep the earlier I am woken up: Leo woke up very early in the morning (4AM), walked out of his sleep sack, and started fishing for food in grocery bags. I’m not sure how he eventually got back to bed, but I was happy Hitomi helped out.

I had yet to cosplay myself, though I was wearing my anime jerseys (Ika-Musume, Madoka Magica) and getting a bit of attention that way. Today, Hitomi had scoped out a set photo area for cosplayers, which had interesting backgrounds. I finally got to wear my lab jacket, white shirt, etc. and dress up as the character ‘Okarin’ from Steins;Gate.

Leo was dressed as my younger double, but he also had the other, more substantial costume from yesterday. The problem was getting him to stay put with not only video game machines next door, but fun curtains and whatnot he could run around and hide behind. There was also three professional photo service areas where we got about 6-7 shots taken and paid for prints for 3 ($25).

We had booked a babysitter for the evening concert, the Japanese band Porno Graffiti. At this age, hiring a babysitter sounds easy (though expensive) but it confuses Leo at bit and she had a tough time getting him to eat and sleep. Twenty minutes or so of screaming for “mama” and “papa” later he did settle down.

Alas, we were having a great time in the balcony. I’m not too familiar with all their songs, just the 2 or 3 I’ve heard through anime, but they were well down. Definitely professional, quality musicians deserving their notoriety in Japan.

(Listing to Porno do the Fullmetal Alchemist opening song once, then again in encore, I did have a couple of sad thoughts: I never did finish reading the manga, watching the first series, nor the second series of Fullmetal. And now with the second season, is it worth revisiting the first? Will my eventual maternity leave next year leave me with time to catch up with all the shows? *sigh*)

We went to Lawry’s for dinner, and although the incarnation out of Staple’s Center you order at the door, it’s still great food. It’s also great eating without directing traffic around’s Leo mouth. We also ate on the sidewalk and nothing beats relaxing while interesting cosplayers walk by.

I got an invite to attend an industry event (sponsored by Sakura-con), so after briefly returning to the room, I took a taxi off to this restaurant full of a hundred or so anime industry people: Voice actors, studio execs, producers, Japanese companies, etc. I’m not that much of an introvert, but I don’t do too well at loud parties full of people I don’t know. I did run into Eugene and some other folk from Sakura-con. Rhubab, who worked with me at Sakura-con with h.Naoto’s, happened to be there with a Visual Kei performer and her boyfriend. I hugged and chatted with her circle briefly about being a dad and showed them pictures of Leo.

It was great seeing a few people, but I was already done with the party. Rather than get a taxi, I walked back alone, enjoying the night.

Sunday

The convention came and went so quickly. After eating breakfast and packing up (which took a long time), it was 11AM already. With Leo in his stroller, we were hoping he’d eventually sleep, which he did.

The lunch plan was to eat off one of the food trucks, which unfortunately mean you are out in the sun in line to order, but I wasn’t going to pay for convention food. There was a good bit of shade and we enjoyed our Japanese-style hot dogs and fries.

With our flight in the afternoon, basically we only had time to explore the exhibit hall. I did run into Toshio Maeda, the self-proclaimed master of tentacles. He speaks good English yet I talked Japanese anyway, more than I should have, because after talking English to me, I should have been polite to stop. I bought his dojinshi of La Blue Girl and explained I needed a plastic bag, ostensibly because I didn’t want my wife to see the cover, as it was a bit racy. He suggested that, oh yeah, your wife “might fucking kill you.” Really, I just wanted a way to hide the cover’s breasts from view as I walked around.

I kind of wished I was more of a fan of his, given the art quality, innovation, and controversy of his work. I’m big into erotic manga, but really his main titles were released before my time, really. And I never felt interested in tentacle sex, nor violent rape stories. I have yet to watch Urotsukidoji or La Blue Girl, but I remember all the controversy and trouble those titles caused. (Texas convicted a comic book staff member for selling an issue of this man’s comic, Demon Beast Invasion.)

As Hitomi and I reconvened, we suddenly realized we’re late for our flight, and quickly grab a taxi from the hotel. With the time to load up, traffic, and having to check bags, we get put on a later flight without incident.

Flying is tough: Leo doesn’t sit still and Hitomi is annoyed that I suggested we did not buy a seat for him. Oh well, he’s 2 in a few weeks and that issue will be moot.

 

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Missed Connections

I’m going to try to keep this short.

I’ve been feeling sick (cold from Leo) and with WWDC this week at Apple, under a bit of stress trying to keep things together. We took it easy (easier) yesterday by bicycling to Magnuson Park and have a picnic.

We happened to locate our site next to a Japanese couple, with a kid (about 2.5yo) and an infant. Hitomi talks to them and reveals our next child is going to be a boy. Which I can’t help be a little disappointed about. Not that I won’t love another boy, but this next child is probably our last and I won’t get to try raising a girl. I suppose it’s the finality of the situation rather than anything. Let’s hope they bring home nice looking girls (friends or otherwise.)

Today I got a call from “Uncle Phil”, coincidentally during a fairly rare conversation with my dad. My dad and (I guess Uncle) use my Yahoo! email address, which I stopped checking regularly about 6+ years ago. My Uncle’s in town for a rare appearance and I will probably miss him. He and Elinor have (share) a cell phone but 10 minutes after calling him back, he does not answer, and the announcement (probably put on by (honorary) Uncle Tom), suggested leaving a message but their voice mail is full.

Despite advances in technology, I still end up missing people quite a bit. Which is a shame, given their promise to bring people together, it just seems like more ways exist to miss people. Or, technology is still just about fighting people’s laziness: The more it advances, the more ‘last minute’ we are about communication. Anyway, I’m fairly disappointed not to see my Uncle, as I head off to California next week.

Today being fathers day I do have a couple of thoughts: It certainly pays to be close to your children, physically and emotionally. And I find that being a good father doesn’t necessarily make you a good husband. I kind of wished raising Leo right would win romance points with Hitomi. The scores do not carry over this way. Also, different cultures (*ahem*) have different expectations with what family means. The “American Way” (more of an ideal perhaps than reality) is to maintain the romantic(*) part of the relationship while balancing those concerns with raising the family. But those needs necessarily conflict, so I don’t suppose one can find a perfect balance?

What is ‘romance’ in the context of a family? In some ways it is childishness indulgence but what is the point of a family, if not indulgence? Perhaps children are the ultimate sacrifice by parents, but let’s pretend otherwise.

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Sakura-con 2013

It has become a tradition to post about my Sakura-con experience: Each year, in a span of a few days, and despite being about 5 miles from home, it is truly a grand experiment. I don’t really consider it a ‘business trip’, although it has the trappings of one: You spend your time in a hotel, eating out for meals, and spend your time in meetings.

But unlike my work, I’m put in charge of a bunch of people. So putting aside my talent building software (and helping others build it too), I’m thrust into a role of being, well, friendly. And helping. I’m basically an assistant of sorts. And this year I really had two roles: Taking care of Leo, who at 19 months, is a quarter of the weight but four times the energy of, say, my wife. I had to hire help for him, but I was to care for him at night.

Secondly of course was my staff role, though perhaps more minor this year, was still important. I was helping with a booth, the fine folks at GoFa: “Gallery of Fantastic Art.” I have seen them over the years at Anime Expo and have spent a bit of money there. They are sort of a combination of art gallery and museum store for manga artists and illustrators, selling signed prints and goods. It wasn’t clear to me, until this year, that they were actually a non-profit organization and anime conventions actually paid to fly them out and provide space for them.

I didn’t meet my guests until Friday: Thursday evening I was coming back from California from a trip down to California. I arrived, got my badge, and headed over to the staff autograph session, in progress. Leo was running around, in costume, while signing was going on. Then, being the tallest of the lot, I lead the crowd of guests over to the dinner, at Sullivan’s, a steak house.

Fortunately, the weather was quite nice and despite the banquet room being quite small and dark, it opened up into Union Square. Union Square is a bit of an oasis. A park in the middle of a bunch of office buildings and retail. The timing of cherry blossoms couldn’t have been better either, with fresh petals barely coming off the trees. There Leo ran about in his pink pig costume, while jet-lagged Japanese guests smoked and drank, and I grabbed steak sliders and whatnot from the buffet. It wasn’t quite the party of the past few years, where we had an acrobat and food by Tom Douglas.

I did have an interesting encounter with Toshi Yoshida, who already was Facebook friends with Hitomi. And one thing I did not know was he lived in Seattle and sends his kid to John Stanford International School. In fact, he lives across the street from that very school and is a regular at the local izakaya (Isshian) in Wallingford. Which is only strange because I knew him as a panel translator at Anime Expo, and probably saw first in 1997 (or ’98), when I was a teenager with almost no Japanese skill and he was an adult in the industry.

Before the sun sets, it’s back to the Fairmont Hotel with Leo, and I have to figure out how to make a sleeping area as best as I can. I make a nest out of a wire tunnel toy, a Thermarest, and his sleep sack, barricading one portal with furniture. Tired from a long day, I try to get some sleep.

Friday is the first ‘con’ day. Early in the morning, I take the car with Leo, drive back home, drop him off with Memmi, then bicycle my way back to the convention center before 9:30. Bicycling is a great and I get a taste of the Spring weather, but sadly I know I’m really just spending the day indoors.

GoFa has their booth nearly setup. I get introduced to Ms. Seiko and Mr. Isono, store managers; Keiko who is cosplaying as a character from Otome Youkai Zakuro (great name); and the youngish Mr. Takahashi, who works as a barista in the GoFa cafe. They have some nice art on display–sadly not any I really wanted were for sale. I basically was there to talk to customers, make sure they didn’t take pictures, etc., and to help with getting lunch.

There weren’t a lot of customers on Friday, so I took my time getting food from Pike Place Market. There was quite the line getting piroshky and chowder, and probably I spent about 20 minutes in line getting each. But despite just standing in line, it was beautiful outside and I enjoyed the music from buskers and the fresh air.

Back in the convention center, I chatted a bit more with the guests. There is something tiring about the crowd din, lighting, and walking about on concrete flooring. I was hoping for the babysitter and Leo to come in a bit earlier to relieve the monotony. Memmi, after eventually waking Leo up from a late nap and dealing with traffic, came in just in time for the exhibit hall to close at 6.

Friday is the guest meet and greet session, a $50 buffet dinner plus a chance to talk to guests who come to the convention. My guests weren’t particularly interested in coming, so their table was empty, sadly. With Leo in the stroller, I happened to snag a table next to Hitomi’s guest (Atsuko Ishizuka) and then throughout the evening I was either trying to feed Leo or keep Leo from running to mommy and interfering with the table. It was all a bit overwhelming for him with all the people. But we ate well. Leo ended up eating three little desserts.

A couple of things stand out that night. One was the half-hearted attempt to get people to move about. Attendees obviously want a chance to meet certain guests and there is a limited amount of table space. But much like the game musical chairs, once the music stops there is a small chance you’re left standing–or in this case, sitting at a table with no guest at all. The other is, I am definitely second tier as a father. Yes, Leo likes me but Leo will spot Hitomi in a crowd and run toward her every time.

The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. I eventually got Leo to sleep (late) and he woke us up until early morning Saturday. Ilana came by in the morning.

At the booth, Keiko was out sick. Takahashi had a bit of diarrea so I fetched some medicine from the first aid station. So there was the bilingual person (and ‘booth babe’) out and I had to step up to help. So I tried to act the part as the helpful salesperson and translator and we (GoFa) made quite a few sales that day. In a sense, it was good their staff was sick so I step up a bit. But it still was a long day.

I worked something out with my parents and Ilana so they could hand off around lunch time. So when I got back to the hotel room, Leo was with Tim and Mom. I was thinking I’d be going out with them but instead they said it was okay to head to dinner with my guests.

It felt a bit odd eating next to Hitomi, who I had seen on occasion the past few days but not really felt her next to me, without the presence of Leo.

Trying to head back not too late, my parents confessed to feeling hungry and Tim even ate steak leftovers from our rented fridge. They had a good time, though.

Sunday. Sunday was officially Easter, but I haven’t really done Easter since over ten years ago. Instead, I was eating pastries in a cafe sitting across from Leo. For better or worse, Leo gets to sit and eat like an adult whenever there’s no booster or high chair around. But he’s very attentive eating anyway, so I don’t worry. Some onlookers offered to take a few photos of us with our own phone. Somehow given the time and place, it all seemed quite natural to us but unusual to the world, I suppose.

I told Ilana to bring Leo back to the booth, with sort of the hope she’d get to see some of the convention. It’s a very (very) unusual gathering, for which of us most of the novelty has worn off but I know anybody seeing a large anime convention for the first time would be surprised by the costumes and crowds. The dealer’s hall, too, is quite a marvel of t-shirts, prints, books, models, DVDs, clothes, etc., but I rarely buy anything now thanks to Internet shopping being what it is.

GoFa’s sales were brisk on Sunday, and many people were disappointed not to get the print they had wanted, since they had sold out of many. I helped tear down as best as I could until Leo came by. Then some insistent staffer from the convention was telling me no minors around the forklifts, and thus I had to leave. Luckily I ran into somebody (James) to watch Leo’s stroller while I finished coordinating getting GoFa’s luggage back to the hotel.

It was another glorious spring day, which I had only experienced so far heading to and from the convention center. Still, I had a few hours to kill until dinner, which was going to start a little late at 7:30. I wanted to go to a park, and I thought I might head to Pike Place Market to do a little exploring, but it had just closed at 5. The park-with-the-totem-poles was full of happy people, but more than a few vagrants and unfriendly looking types. Not really baby friendly. And so it was back to the hotel.

The closing night dinner was at (again) another venue and a bit scaled back from previous years, where we had more space to mingle and billards tables to use. But the food might have been better, except Leo wasn’t into waiting around to eat, so I head back. I was really looking forward to eating, but instead I ended up back in the room.

Having a fridge plus a lot of food in the room is really is nice during the convention, thanks to Hitomi for that. I cut up a couple of mangos, plus ate bread and had rice milk. And there was enough leftovers here and there to make a meal.

Monday, I had to take Leo to daycare. And my guests (unexpectedly) were booked home that morning. So I had the day to spend with Hitomi. Except I was pretty tired and instead of going out for whale watching, I slept in the car for an hour. It wasn’t great sleep but I enjoyed it. I was transportation coordinator for the rest of the day, dropping them off at the Museum of Flight, picking up Leo at daycare, getting Hitomi a birthday cake, and taking people down to Elliot’s Oyster house for dinner.

Dinner was at 7 and lasted until about 10:30, when most guests were in a food coma, passing out, or playing with their phones. I got two cakes for 20 people, and though I tried it was hard to rally people to eat more than a few bites. Happy Birthday! Service was slow and I got some attitude from a hostess who wasn’t willing to seat us until our group was all in.

I managed to get Leo to sleep (finally) by strollering him around the building a few times. And then it was off to home, bed, and work on Tuesday.

A couple things stood out: How little I actually saw of the convention: Zero panels, concerts, opening or closing ceremonies, maybe once around the very hall I was in the whole weekend. How little I actually did convention wise–though I was helpful it wasn’t like in year’s past. How little I partied. How tired I was taking care of Leo. How great the weather was. How anxious I was before the convention over nothing. It did all work out, though.

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On Barf

Leo’s been sick since last Friday.

Yes, I feel bad for him and yes I know it’s probably quite confusing being little and sick since illness makes little sense at that age.

But today (Monday) he’s been through 5 changes of clothes, a bath, and both his car seat cover and car seat cover’s cover now is trashed.

Barf has a way of tainting everything it touches much like its companion, poop. Most parents are familiar with poop. In our case Leo’s thrice a day–or more–habit requires just a moment’s cleanup, if we’re fortunate; or typically a juggling act of wipes, legs, buttons and velcro straps; or unfortunate circumstances require a strip, dance, and bathing in the sink.

On one occasion at Red Robin, while waiting for the ferry, Leo’s diaper overflowed out of his pants and on to my clothing, requiring some desperate measures to wash and change Leo, myself, and my shirt simultaneously. People usually don’t bring along a fresh change of clothes, so in my case I had to wear a damp shirt until evening.

But barf, unlike poop, is fairly subtle. With barf, there’s often a significant amount of food particles, but it’s not really those particles that lend it its subtly offensive odor. Subtle, as in, you don’t notice it right away like, say, freshly stepped on dog doo. You don’t realize what it is immediately wrong, as cleaned up barf is invisible. But then there’s a lingering sour and putrid scent, and you understand it after a few moments. Then, bubbling up in your head are those times you threw up too, and maybe start to feel queasy.

Barf and its smell is something fairly rare for most, fortunately. I don’t remember the last time I smelled it. Probably when I threw up most recently, which may have been some years ago, maybe due to food poisoning. (And with food poisoning, the smell of barf is no match for the smell coming out the other end.) Poop you recognize on a daily basis, and for parents it is like a constant experience.

Tonight, Hitomi, Leo, and I went to a local restaurant called U:Don, which serves thick Japanese wheat noodles. Although he threw up twice today, Leo seemed much more spirited and (we hoped) possibly well again. We thought Leo could keep his food down. But there we were at the booth, Hitomi helping Leo with his serving of noodles, then he chokes and something catches and up comes thick white noodles in a different sort of broth. His bib–pink clear plastic with “Pig” in big blue letters–fortunately has a handy fold up trough that caught most of the barf. I dutifully took it off to wash, first in the toilet, and then in the sink, while Hitomi wiped him up a bit and started feeding him again.

More sensible parents might have packed up and left, but Leo was hungry. And yes, I think some unlucky customers could have seen what had transpired, but when you have perseverance a little barf won’t dissuade you from finishing your meal

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Swedish Pancakes

I’ve been going every month to the Swedish Club in Seattle for their Sunday Swedish pancake breakfasts. It’s $9 a person and you get a lot of food for your money. There’s live music usually and Leo gets to run around and have fun. On nice days, there’s a good view of Lake Union.

It’s a good bike ride from our house, a good way to start your Sunday morning. The Cascade Bike Club often does a morning bike ride and you see riders come in spandex and florescent jackets. These days Leo can’t ride my bike so we drive, though I hope he’ll take to wearing his helmet in the spring.

You all sit in communal tables and get a good spot if you’re lucky. The best spot, for kids, is near the stage. There’s dancers but more often than not there are kids running around. It’s usually polka standards, though this time of year it’s Christmas music, sung in Swedish anyway.

A good portion of the table are retired folk. (They dress surprisingly well for the occasion and I feel a bit under dressed.) Having a baby is a good conversation starter, so I usually chat with a few of them about how old “she” is (he looks like a girl) and other things.

One old nice guy, asked about my heritage. I listed off the places I knew. He said he was an immigrant from Norway in the 1950’s, he talked about how he came to work in Seattle and Alaska as a fisherman. As it turned out, post World War II pretty much killed the Scandinavian economy and thus began the wave of immigration to the U.S. and places such as Seattle. But he said his father had to have a sponsor; prove he could get work.

But things turned a bit sour, as he claimed that he met a Russian who came to the U.S. without sponsorship (under what sort of visa?) and was not working and was on welfare. And thus was the beginning of the end of American prosperity, so he claimed. The unsaid assumption was immigration got too lax. Is that really true?

It’s certainly possible he was talking to a green card lottery winner. Every year, about 50,000 immigrants earn permanent residence, out of about 10-15 million applicants who apply. Still, most people who come here do so to work. They work really hard and send money home.

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Spin Class Blues

Leo’s outgrown his first baby car seat, so until he can wear his helmet, I’m largely restricted to (short) rides during the week or abandoning the family to ride during the weekend.

I really liked going to Cycle U. Unfortunately, it’s just too much time (and work) to bike there and back for a 1½ hour class. So now that Hitomi has the car for taking Leo to day care, I’m unable to take my Cycle U class. (Maybe I could get another car? But I don’t really want that either.)

I took my first spin class this fall at ProClub in Bellevue. I can’t believe just how bad it is. I mean, it is what it is, which is an exercise class and it does do that. But here are the problems with the class:

  1. Fit. The stationary bikes aren’t like road cycles. The seats are too soft and wide. The handlebars aren’t like road bars, they don’t have drops but sweep up. The crank position and pedals aren’t really appropriate for me. The clip pedals don’t really hold that securely.
  2. Mechanics. Spin bikes have a large flywheel, so when you stop pedaling, the pedals still move. This isn’t bad particularly but doesn’t feel right when transitioning.
  3. Controlling Level of Effort. Resistance is added by adding friction. I have no idea (on these machines) what the amount of friction I’m applying. There is just a screw knob with no indicator on how much I’ve turned them. So when you go from less resistance to more, back to less you don’t know if you really have come back or not.
  4. No watts. I don’t have any idea how much work I’m really doing. (I could go with a heart rate monitor, I suppose.) I don’t really know how you can cycle indoors without knowing watts or heart rate.
  5. Not enough fans. Too easy to overheat. It was too hot for me to put out much effort.
  6. Cadence was too low. Except for short distances, cadence should be 90-100. We were asked to do 50-60 many times, I really started to cramp up badly because of the heat and how cadence.
  7. Too many transitions. To dial into a level of effort you need time for building and holding. Changing every 30 seconds or few minutes to a different level you can’t really maximize efficiency.
  8. Too much standing. I do stand on my bike when climbing but in class it seems like 20% of the time you’re standing. It’s not really something you do very often on a bicycle since it’s fairly inefficient. It does wear you out, which I guess is the point. It also doesn’t make too much sense, since you can’t really rock the bicycle side to side as much like when you do climb.

The instructor was nice enough, but I didn’t really think she was a cyclist, just a jock on a stationary bike. (She did make the proclamation that it was nice to be inside instead of on the road, when it fact it was quite nice for riding that day. Yes, wet on the road and a bit cloudy, but warm and not raining.)

Yes it was good exercise, but fairly unscientific. It would be like weight training without tracking how many reps or keeping track of your weight. Or running some random distance and varying your speed every 5 minutes for an hour.

Cycle U isn’t perfect either, but it’s a way better for training.

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Skinny Thoughts

My friend Gary’s wedding is coming up and as I’m part of the wedding party, Gary is renting us tuxedos. We’re all renting from The Men’s Warehouse, and I just completed the fitting today.

The salesperson, to his regret, asked me what I thought of the product. Noticing significant looseness in the chest, I said for a suit it was quite baggy. “What do you expect? It’s a rental.” Alas, given all the money (hundreds) going into rentals, I was a bit disappointed in the fit. But as I have discovered way back in my early suit buying years, none of the suits sold in American department stores or Men’s Warehouse fit.

I’m 170 pounds on a 6’3″ frame. I’m fit, though not quite as fit as years ago when I rode my bicycle thousands of miles in a year. In spite of my fitness, perhaps I’m just genetically predisposed to skinniness? Or is it my spartan diet of rice and fish? Or was my metabolism established through good eating habits at an early age? It all remains a mystery.

My skinniest time in life was when I lived in Japan. Living on my own, I tended to under eat as protein was scarce and expensive, portions in restaurants were small, and I didn’t spend much effort cooking. Plus, I rode my bicycle everywhere, night and day. When I came back, my mom seeing me at the airport was concerned: I looked ghoulish and malnourished. “Would I drop dead if I got sick?” was the preeminent concern.

I’ve frequently made my wife Hitomi jealous. I have the Asian female ideal’s (in their mind) body fat percentage, maybe somewhere around 5%, though given their physiology, the ideal for a woman is closer to 15%. But at the same time I’ve been teased by her: ‘gari-gari’ ‘honé-honé’ are the Japanese words Hitomi uses when calling me thin.

I’ve been skinny since I could remember. And sadly, it wasn’t something I was entirely comfortable with until five or so years ago when I took up riding my bicycle. Riding up mountain roads will make you really appreciate your lack of body weight. So will fitting into those European cycling jerseys and those skinny Levis bike jeans. Wearing clothes that truly fit, you cannot help feel your body really does belong in this world.

But perhaps my skinny life is at an end? Having a one year old son, and new job at Apple, I just haven’t had the time to keep up exercise like I used to. My waist size has gone from 32 to 34 inches. And now that I’m frequently off the bike, I’ve lost muscle mass and tone. Still not fat enough to fit in a Men’s Warehouse suit.

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Sakura-Con 2010

It’s now 2012. I didn’t write a con report for 2010. Yes, I do have some good memories of the con. But also I have a few things to this day that make me uncomfortable to think of, which is probably why I haven’t written them down until now.

Here I what I could put together based on what I remember.

I was assigned this year to two guests from Japan, Satoshi Nishimura and Takahiro Yoshimatsu, who were bringing with them Trigun: Badlands Rumble. It was an exclusive showing of the movie before it would appear even in Japanese theaters. Some other people were along, notably a very excitable female representative from Flying Dog (who was supervising the screening) and Masaki Koshida who accompanied them on the con’s behalf.

Given the screening had no subtitles, and no translation whatsoever, the screenings did turn out fairly successful. But there was a lot of concern (entirely necessary?) that someone might video tape the screening and release to the Internet. So there had to be a lot of staff checking rooms and threats of stopping the screening if anybody was caught recording. And we had to keep the room lights on during the screening.

There were also concerns about the sizes of the screening rooms. We had to make some last minute room changes since Flying Dog felt the room sizes were too large to completely supervise. Programming wasn’t happy about this.

But we do what we can to please.

Unfortunately, what has to happen when you have two go-betweeners (Masaki and Flying Dog) there is a lot of unnecessary conflict. Flying Dog is representing their business interest, which is to prevent piracy, but not necessarily the interest of the guests who are here to see the convention, meet attendees, enjoy Seattle, etc. And I’m not sure what business Masaki had. I do recall having to get up early and post movie posters everywhere in the convention. Masaki was making a big fuss about not getting the amount of signage he wanted. We did put signs up in the registration and preregistration areas but he wanted them up in areas the Washington State Convention Center just wouldn’t allow.

Additionally, Masaki had different ideas on where to take the guests. He’s been living in Japan for many years and hasn’t been much in Seattle since closing his store Majindo about 10 years ago. So it’s puzzling to me that he thinks he knows better. Hitomi and he got into an argument about which mall to take the guests to, for instance.

Again, the conflict is Sakura-con is providing the hosting, the host (me), yet there’s somebody else who is trying to do the hosting role. I’m a volunteer and don’t get paid, so really I’m in it for the satisfaction which comes from our guests’ enjoyment and for them to meet their promotion or entertainment goals. Then there’s the problem of who pays for what, including the rooms at the hotel and food. Despite these sorts of people knowing the arrangements, they are difficult to enforce.

I did get to take Nishimura out for a nice lunch, just the two of us, and make conversation at Maximillian, a French restaurant in the market.  And I did talk a little bit with Yoshimatsu who was a bit quiet, but ironically Yoshimatsu really loved American Pro Wrestling.

There were a couple of highlights not including my guests.

Mayumi Tanaka (famous voice actor) invited a number of us to her room for drinking. There’s something great about being in the presence of a very small, mature Japanese women with commanding charisma and powerful voice. But not only that, she had brought her son, a juggler, who was performing a juggling act at Sakura-con. We got to see some of the show. Most of the staff (including me) were off in the corner, near the window talking about the usual convention stuff while Mayumi and her friends sitting on the carpet served whiskey on ice.

I offered to the group Theo’s coconut curry chocolate, which brought enthusiastic reactions. Japanese, despite not being very Indian, love the taste of curry. (Most of the Trigun staff got quite a few bars themselves.)

Hitomi’s guest was very cool, Noizi Ito. Monday after my guests flew out of Seattle, I met back up with my wife. Hitomi and I spent some time at the fancy Neiman Marcus mall in Bellevue looking at hand bags. I always get a little bit titillated when a good looking women draws really good looking girls, and a little excited knowing she’s done some adult games. I’m always jealous when Hitomi gets a great female guest but I have to accept that male staff with female guests aren’t really a good match.

But I just am not good with fashionable people who are into shopping. I’d like a guest who was into bicycling, mountain climbing, or kayaking since Seattle is really just perfect for that. Or even fishing or digging for clams. (It did turn out Yoshitoshi ABe is really into bicycling, or at least bicycles and it was unfortunate I didn’t have a chance to ride with him during the convention. I hope he can return someday.)

The Monday night dinner was great, which made up for all the unpleasantness of the weekend. Although there’s group dinners all weekend long, this is really the best dinner since the convention is really over, it tends to be fairly intimate and quieter. More of a dinner than Sunday’s party.

And I believe this was also the first year bicycling to the convention. The weather was quite spring-like and I biked over to the convention center, whereas Hitomi took the bus in. I first parked at the convention center, then had the (surprised?) valet at the Fairmont take my bicycle into storage.

On returning home after the nice Monday night dinner, the valet brought my bicycle out. Maybe should have tipped him?

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Sakura-con 2012

It was Sakura-con’s 15th anniversary and it brought to mind how long I’ve been going to conventions, and how old I now am. I was staff in 2003 and now in 2012 it was my 10th year wearing a staff badge.

Logistically, it was going to be tricky given the baby. Hitomi agreed to be Hideki’s assistant the weekend and thus was not tied to any particular guest nor was obligated to stay out. I tried to work out a deal with my parents taking care of Leo the weekend but instead we used a number of nannies (babysitters) instead. And then there was the problem of parking, getting the baby home, meeting the nannies, etc. And Hitomi was in the middle of making a Kyuubei costume for Leo.

Thursday, I had to make it to the convention. I was assigned (again) to a fashion guest, h. Naoto, with his popular and prolific gothic-rock fashion brand in Japan. Already by email I had been in touch with C who had arranged the models and schedule. And then I got called by H who was running Naoto’s booth for the weekend. And then I was called by h. Naoto himself who was at the airport wondering where Sakura-con was.

This was all happening during my work day and I had to finish up before too long. I knew already given the fitting schedule there was going to be no industry dinner for me. Almost 20 models were coming. And the moment I take the exit onto I-5, I sadly notice a back up, and I hear on the radio the freeway had been entirely shut down to clear an accident downtown. Exiting off the next exit I plan an alternate route, which I suffer through for over an hour. Already quite late, I then realize I had left my wallet at home, in another jacket. (Hitomi had bought me a new and fashionable Levi Commuter jacket which I now wore.)

Fortunately I find Sabrina who gets my badge from a very reluctant badger; the volunteer models swim their way upstream for the fitting; h. Naoto turns out to be a very regular guy; and his assistant from “Frisco”, R, turns out to be gorgeous and fashionable, but luckily not a snob. As for me, I tried to make myself useful but R did most of the work. It’s always exciting to be around young models changing clothes and being eager to please. A few didn’t show up so the dressing room staff were eager to offer up their friends as alternatives.

One model wanted to use her friend for make-up, since her feeling was the incoming make-up artists didn’t know how to do the right style of make-up. But to have one artist do a girl differently, wouldn’t that be somewhat unreasonable? Speaking of unreasonable, we had too many dressing assistants in the room, and Naoto let the last one go, who I think was okay but it did make her quite upset. C seemed to think (via email) one more doesn’t hurt but it might of given the size of the space and amount of directing Naoto had to do.

When that was all over (in a matter of a few hours), Naoto also had a booth to help manage. Luckily, unlike 6%DokiDoki last year, there were about 4-5 staff dedicated but Naoto helped out anyway. R and myself were tired and hungry, and it was late but we found the convention center had a pretty decent pizza place. Taking the pizza to the main event area R and I eat as there is some discussion over the video and sound. Unfortunately, one of the videos just didn’t play on the DVD player (disk format issue?) and though I offer to copy it on my Mac, Dinger, a video nerd fortunately offers his services to remaster it. Matters settled, Naoto gets himself a few slices of cold cheesy pizza.

Hitomi had already headed back with Leo a few hours ago. Hitomi briefly shows up with him in the backpack, makes the rounds. I’m sleeping alone (again).

Friday, Naoto’s up about 7AM the next day, off to set up his booth. I am up early too. I grab some bread from the Fairmont’s excellent cafe (much better than the Georgian’s breakfast) to bring to him. Unfortunately, his booth has no sign and I am recruited to locate some spray paint so he can craft one. Just past 9AM I grab a staffer, I get three cans from up the street, and it’s off to the exhibit hall. The spray paint sign doesn’t look very good and so much for that.

Naoto, R, and I head off to opening ceremonies, where we are backstage watching a very animated Japanese Consulate General do silly things on stage. This guy is much sillier than the last one. And not-so-Japanese wu-shu sword play. Naoto gets to make an appearance on stage and I think I might have to translate but then everyone uses English anyway. (Actually did I? I might have mentioned something about “please come to the booth.”)

The relations room had some food but nothing great. Hitomi was there trying to eat noodles which didn’t cook in the warm water. I eventually resolved to get some pan-Asian food from across the street, which had originally been solely Vietnamese and hard to market as such. I’m doing errands with R, and it feels good working with her, since she knows Naoto, and has worked conventions before.

Naoto’s kind of stuck in his booth. I find out later he’s doing pictures with customers who buy a certain amount. But he does have his Q&A Panel Discussion and we get him out for that.

The panel is fairly well attended. Like 6%DokiDoki’s Sebastian, h. Naoto has a lot to talk about regarding the history of his brand and being a designer. (Sebastian, though, did go into more detail on street fashion and its origins and political message.) I got the feeling he was feeling constrained just doing black this and that, clothing for young rock stars but not for those of his age group or older. (He’s near my age, 35.) And though creativity is important for him, it is a business driven by customer demand, not originality.

The exhibit hall and his booth closes at 6PM so R and I stick around until about 6:30. We do our best to amuse ourselves. The guest reception already had started at 5:30. I convince R to walk all the way to the Hard Rock Cafe, though she’s in cruel shoes–heels–making her wince a bit. Friday is gorgeous and cool weather, and I feel a pang of sadness knowing my guest is going to be indoors all weekend long, missing out on all the heavenly glory.

Hitomi manages to reserve tables (against Sabrina’s wish) for the Japanese guests. Naoto, R, and I get a crammed booth in the corner. I picked up some heavily fried food, a beer, and wondered if given the location anybody would find us or feel inclined to stand by the table while we sat.

I got an invite with my guest to eat at Elliot’s Oyster house and we took a big charter bus. It was an amazing sight from the pier. There was snow and rain coming down on the Olympics. And then I wondered why most of the pier near the end was devoted to car parking? Nevertheless, we still had a pretty good view from the private room. I’m assuming Hiroaki ordered the six dozen or so oysters ahead of time, since there they were already out.

I wasn’t particularly hungry and instead just ate off of the raw oyster plate, or appetizers, or off others plates. Naoto got the king salmon alder-planked, and R had seared tuna. I kept sober while the ends of the table had more wine than necessary.

Sober or not, tired or not, the green room was open this night, and my guest had surprisingly enough energy left to visit. As much as I have fun talking to people I usually just see once a year, I also feel like I had better get back to bed.

Saturday: The fashion was in the afternoon but all the preparation was in the morning, leading up to a quick rehearsal followed by open doors immediately after. At 9:30, I was in front of a locked dressing room with a bunch of panicked models. Luckily the doors were opened soon after. Then there was a flurry of activity: black fabric, hair extensions, ghoulish makeup, and a miasma of fixative chemicals.

Most of the models (girls and a few boys) had hair across their face, under their eyes and chin, causing quite a bit of discomfort. But such is the nature of fashion.

Working through lunch, a plate of food was incidentally provided but quickly consumed by the army of stylists. I had to order another exorbitant convention center platter, but it ended up being delivered to MDM‘s side. R brought back some cheesy crackers and water from the relation room.

Meanwhile, I was working on getting the video and cues set up with Naoto. It was all quite simple in theory, but took a number of tries to get the transitions correct. This was all during on stage rehearsal where Naoto was timing the runway walks with a stopwatch.

There was a post show interview, supposedly scripted, between the “MC” (con chair) and Naoto. And originally I was going to act like a translator and read the pre-translated version. But since Naoto didn’t really know his own script, I couldn’t follow my script much either, and I wasn’t going to translate in front of a audience of hundreds. At the last minute, D offered to come translate, which saved the day.

The show went according to schedule and plan, with a fairly strong turn out. But when it came to the end, D was gone, apparently taking pictures. I ran on stage with Naoto, and then ten seconds later D appears.

Next we had about 20 minutes to get everyone undressed and back to normal. I helped rack and fold up clothing while makeup staff attempted to untangle, unpin, and unglue people’s hair. They had literally used glue to hold some people’s hair together and a separate chemical to remove it. Back to normal, the show was over but Naoto had to make a return to his booth.

I bought sushi for afternoon lunch for R, Naoto, and myself at Blue C Sushi across the way. Blue C had a selection of “anime inspired” rolls and preparations but I stuck with what I knew. Sushi is a great snack.

Naoto was still working his booth until after 6:30, and had a meeting soon after so R and I headed off to the Kanon Wakeshima/Moi dix Mois concert. Luckily I had a guest relation badge getting me front row seats: Which were entirely unnecessary since if you sat, you couldn’t see the stage anyway, and you were still just looking at the video feed anyway. But having a chair meant I could watch from the mosh pit and have a fine view, and fortunately take a break when necessary.

Kanon Wakeshima had an awesome white dress, that was more or less a form-fitting nightgown with a translucent shawl. I was obsessed about the dress until the music went from fairly boring J-pop anime music to more creative at the end.

I knew Moi dix Mois was coming on stage as soon as the smoke machine went into overdrive. For those into head banging–not exactly me, but sure, I was game–it was awesome and it was surprisingly precisely executed music for death metal. It’s the kind of music I’d love fighting some end-boss in Castlevania.

Post concert, I went out for food with R. I was hoping Naoto would come but he was with H the booth manager. R and I split a steak and salmon at the Capital Grille, a fine expensive steak restaurant but not terribly inventive either. I felt a little bad eating with R, with Hitomi back at the room watching Leo, but I had a long productive day, so what if it looked like a date?

I stopped by the room and Hitomi was asleep and I headed up for one more round with the green room folk. Moi dix Mois band members were there looking surprisingly normal. I hung out with R and Naoto, saw the pictures D made on his iPad while he should have been back stage, etc.

Sunday: A continuation of sleep deprivation but enthusiasm. There were just a few more events until the end of the con for Naoto, including a fashion panel and autograph session.

The autograph session was decently attended, but given the short length of the line there wasn’t much point to the priority ticket system for him. Sadly, only a small percentage had anything for him to sign, outside of their con book and badge, but quite a few people wore his clothing and had things like hand bags to sign. The first person in line to come, who was handicapped, had an h. Naoto bag specially provided by the online shopping site for her motorized wheelchair. (Little did Naoto know that she had a terminal disease. I was told this by her handler after the QA panel, where there was some concern about getting into the signing.)

Since the line wasn’t long, we were allowing pictures. Most of the girls (median age 16 for the most part) were eager for them. Naoto had is own name sign, but he made me a sign saying I was Nicolas Cage’s younger brother. A few Japanese believed it, possibly…

The fashion panel was made up of various fashion guests, who more or less were someplace on the gothic-lolita spectrum. One of the most interesting questions, “What do you think is unique about Japanese street fashion,” was answered by Naoto in this way: Japanese are obsessed with details, because of the influence of the written language of Japan, which is quite complicated. Japanese are physically plain, so to express themselves they use fashion that is layered and busy. Westerners are more interested in accentuating their physical features, so Western fashion is quite simplistic.

Once the exhibit hall closed, R and I spent a few hours helping pack boxes and fold clothing. The convention was over, for the most part.

It was a beautiful weekend, but yet we were almost entirely inside all day these three days. R didn’t have much time for sight-seeing but at the last moment she wanted to go see the first Starbucks, found in the Pike Place Market. After helping R stuff her suitcase, the three of us leave the Fairmont. It’s a fair walk so once we arrived it was pretty much time to turn around. I hailed a “green cab” (bicycle cab, with battery assist), and we had a bucolic ride back. Except at the end when the motor gave up hauling the four of us up 5th Avenue. It was just a one block trip at that point. I gave the driver (who was supposedly filling in for his son on his day off) a $20 bill for effort, though he was somewhat reluctant since the motor died.

R left, back to Frisco. Naoto and I walked to the Taphouse for his final convention dinner. (Yes there is a shuttle, but it was only about 4 blocks away.) The food is better than last year, but I’m not eating a lot, mostly talking. Hitomi has come with the baby and it’s great to see Leo since I had hardly seen him. It’s great fun but too loud for the most part, and I leave for the green room again, which usually doesn’t operate Sundays but we do have the room available.

On the walk back, Naoto and I come across a group of stranded girls outside the hotel headed back to Vancouver, their driver asleep and unavailable in his room. I think to myself, how many stories all these attendees have?

Most of the relation staff are off Monday, but Hitomi and I volunteer for the day, taking out Tateo Retsu and Zekkyo, two manga artists I’m not entirely familiar with. Lunch at the market, at Maximillian a French restaurant is quite good and lengthy. Jeremy and Michiko are with us. We enjoy oysters and drinks under the sun, overlooking the sound and Olympics. (Last time I ate was with another Sakura-con guest, Nishimura, who had suggested I take my wife here on a romantic date.)

Jeremy and Michiko split. The remaining four of us (two guests, Hitomi, and me), head out. First is a stop at the Market News Stand where all the issues of Otaku USA are picked up. Then we head towards Zanadu comics. I help find some American comics and figures from the store clerk. And then we walk to Westlake, board the Monorail and Hitomi takes them up the Space Needle for a look. My stomach hurts so I just wait in the a corner to sit, in the Space Needle gift shop.

It’s getting around 7PM and time to get back home. Ilana is watching Leo and I’m not energetic enough for yet another dinner. Up until this year, I have been to probably every Monday post-con dinner, but not this time. Maybe next time, when I don’t have a guest with a booth and a show to put on.

Until next year.

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Leo Japan

Hitomi and I were in Japan together for a few weeks. I went back alone, and she stayed for an extra 10 days or so. You can kind of piece together the entire trip from Facebook photos, Tweets, and other things.

Overall, it was kind of rough traveling with a baby but I have few regrets. I do regret missing Animax and instead spending more time with Hitomi’s mother. I do like her mother but Hirosaki (Aomori prefecture) is pretty lame, at least this time of year. There’s just so much going on in Tokyo. Oh, I also regret not staying longer with Mitsuko. Our stay with her and her husband seemed too short. I have way too few ties with people from my Japanese exchange program at Tohoku University.

I believe the highlight was spending time hiking in Okutama. I really liked having Leo with me in the mountains. There’s something great as a father spending time in the outdoors like that.

My oddest, and perhaps most awkward moment was perusing the adult comic section with my baby in the Moby wrap. As a foreigner I stick out, but holding a baby looking at erotica I believe I made everybody in that section of K-Books quite uncomfortable.

Anyway, after my kind of sad return trip to Japan, and later food poisoning (or flu or similar?), and then trip to California I had chatted with Hitomi and saw Leo online via Apple’s FaceTime chat program. Leo seemed to cry quite a lot, and now that he started bald looked fairly pathetic.

Upon seeing him today, back from Japan, he seems to be pretty happy. And he has entirely turned into the kind of baby that you would see in a baby commercial. Maybe he can be used to sell diapers or formula? My experience with babies has almost entirely been through television commercials, sadly.

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