Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cat(fish) Pics of the Day

After our boat ride on Lake Anna - more on that later - Marc and I fed the catfish near his aunt and uncle's boathouse. Do catfish really like bread?

This is from eHow.com:
  1. Catfish have a diet that includes other fish, aquatic bugs, crayfish, mollusks, fish eggs, aquatic plants, minnows, snails, decaying vegetation, carrion, worms and leeches. The majority of catfish do most of their feeding at night, staying close to the bottom and using their "whiskers" to feel for food. Their sense of smell is excellent and aids them in finding a meal.

Hmm . . . no mention of bread, but clearly, it is something that catfish consume.

My hope was that a catfish would leap out of the water and take a piece of bread from my hand. Marc told me that A) That would never happen and B) Catfish sting. Catfish sting? I don't believe it! Well, the same eHow link from above states that while the whiskers of a catfish don't sting, the spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins can pierce flesh. Ouch! Another site about catfish corroborates the story:

We've heard the myth that the "whiskers" will sting you. Nonsense. Those whiskers are soft tissue. What will sting you are the stiff pectoral barbs just below the gills, and the powerful erictile spine of the dorsal. Smaller Catfish (squealers) are more capable of inflicting injuries with these weapons than larger Catfish as they thrash around much more erratically when brought from the water. While these barbs do contain small amounts of toxin, one might compare a puncture similar to a bee sting.

Oh Google, where in the world would I be without you?!

Anyway, I had great fun feeding bread to catfish, despite no catfish jumping up to accept my offering. Just look at this feeding frenzy! Catfish may eat insects and other fish, but bread is certainly on the menu.

Chevy Cat

This is Chevy Cat. He belongs to my husband's Aunt Libby and has the run of the house and grounds on Lake Anna in Virginia. We went out to the lake to visit Marc's aunt and uncle yesterday - more on that later - and Chevy Cat made an appearance minutes before we left. He was clearly terrified.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Adopt Emmy!

Oh, sweet Emmy. She's another of the cats up for adoption at West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital. She's a little older - maybe one or two - and she's described as needing a "cat person." People who don't love cats need not apply.

How can you look at this picture and not want her? She's quiet for the most part, but I heard her yelping one morning and wondered what her problem was. Then I realized that she saw the vet tech approaching with food! She was just hungry, that's all! She's a strong, vocal woman who needs a cat lover to give her a great home. Go to West Chelsea and adopt her now!!!!!

Adopt Peachy!

This is Peachy, an 11-week-old baby girl who is currently residing at our vet, West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital in New York City. Look at how sweet she is! Don't you love her? Don't you want to rush down to West Chelsea and adopt her?

West Chelsea takes in kitties of all ages and types, cleans them up, gives them checkups and vaccines, and puts them on display in their "cat adoption condos" in the lobby. I saw Peachy there on two different occasions, most recently on Friday. She is very sweet, and I love her! Having two aging cats of our own prevents us from adding to our collection of felines. (But guarantees that we're at West Chelsea at least twice a month for a variety of cat ailments.)

Look at this little baby! I know you want to have a sweet little kitten of your very own. Go to West Chelsea and adopt her! I command you!

The Colonel Sparks My Memory

Browsing through TOKYOMANGO, one of the blogs I follow, I found this little blurb about a statue of KFC's Colonel Sanders that was stolen from a KFC storefront in Osaka, Japan. The statue resurfaced twenty years later. Reading the story reminded me of a little article I wrote about how the Japanese were duped into thinking that ordering fried chicken was a Christmas tradition in the U.S. The website was the now-defunct (I think) www.internet-okinawa.com, a site dedicated to all things Okinawan. I wrote three stories for them in 2003-2004, and my husband recovered them through some website that does such things. (I have no idea what the website is.) Anyway, I now have these stories that I had forgotten about long ago, thanks to TOKYOMANGO! I'm going to post these stories, but I have to read them first. The probability of them being terrible is high.

The Unlikely Park in the Sky

The newest park in Manhattan is an elevated railroad called The High Line. After ten years of planning, preparation, fundraising, and negotiating with local authorities, the park finally opened its first section (from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street on the West Side) a couple of weeks ago. Tens of thousands of people have visited the High Line since its opening, and it's been cool to look down where I live on 19th Street and see people walking across it. If it ever stops raining in New York, I see myself enjoying a stroll or even a picnic lunch before heading off to work.

The first time we went to see the High Line was the Sunday after it opened. We went at night, which afforded a different look and feel to the neighborhoods through which we crossed, the buildings we passed, and the High Line itself. Above is a small section of railroad track which has been preserved from the days when the High Line was actually a working railroad.

One of the primary features of the High Line is the plant life. I have no idea what this plant is, but I like its color. It is embedded in gravel mulch.

This is my favorite part of the High Line (so far, anyway). This section is suspended above 10th Avenue and has uneven benches that zig zag throughout. From the windows up front, people can watch cars pass by, people watch, and catch all the action of Chelsea.

The High Line offers a great vantage point for checking out the neighborhoods through which the tracks run. Above is the Park restaurant on 10th Avenue and 18th Street.

My husband had the opportunity to visit the High Line during the day, and he captured this image of the Empire State Building from atop the tracks.

Here is the Frank Gehry-designed IAC Building by day . . .

and the IAC Building by night. I used to hate that building, but it's grown on me through the years.

From the High Line, these new high rises give Chelsea an intriguing contrast between old (La Luncheonette, owned by our neighbors, on the corner) and new (459 W. 18th Street and the Chelsea Modern).

As evidenced by the Chelsea Modern and its neighbor, Chelsea is ripe with crazy new buildings. This is 456 W. 19th Street, and it's going up right next to us. We can't wait for it to be finished because it's been a huge pain in the rear. As a result of the construction of this high rise, our walls are cracked, and we waited months before repairs began. But I digress . . .

The high rises and hotels - like the Standard pictured above - are popping up around the High Line, and we're excited about the prospects for our Chelsea and the surrounding neighborhoods. Perhaps this means someone will build a good deli near us on 10th Avenue . . .

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Painting in the Sky

After a series of fairly intense thunderstorms last night, the clouds in the sky over our neighborhood in Chelsea formed an interesting pattern. They didn't look like clouds; they looked more like something that had been painted on a canvas.

Marc took these two pictures from 8th Avenue while the sun was just about to set. The orange tinge has an eerie effect.

I ran outside and took these pictures with my iPhone. The sky was bluer at that time.

The clouds looked as if they were going to descend and land on the street.

It was strange to see the clouds moving so rapidly.

A few minutes after walking outside our building to take these pictures, the clouds started "dripping" over the building across the street. I'd never seen anything like it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You Gotta Have Wa Again

The June 22nd issue of Sports Illustrated contains an article about Charlie Manuel, the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. The article describes some of Manuel’s experiences as a baseball player in Japan, and it reminded me of You Gotta Have Wa, a chronicle of Japanese professional baseball written by Robert Whiting. My review of You Gotta Have Wa was published in the May edition of Chopsticks NY. Because of word-count restraints and the use of the third person, I decided to rewrite the review for my blog.

Six years ago I rented the movie Mr. Baseball, in which Tom Selleck’s character, a crass American baseball player, experienced culture shock playing in Japan. The premise was interesting, but bad acting, a cheesy ‘80s soundtrack, and an even cheesier mustache made the movie almost unbearable to watch. Still, I was intrigued by the concept of how the game was played in Japan and how Americans conducted themselves as members of Japanese teams. Some time later, I read Robert Whiting’s book You Gotta Have Wa and was reminded of that movie. But more than that, I discovered one of my favorite non-fiction accounts of not only Japanese baseball, but Japanese society.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of You Gotta Have Wa, and Vintage Books re-released it in March with an updated introduction and afterword. Part baseball guide, part historical reference, part philosophical treatise, You Gotta Have Wa focuses on American players who, like Selleck’s character, were at the end of their MLB careers and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fit into the Japanese system that sometimes discriminated against them.

Whiting's book isn't just about baseball. It’s about cultural attitudes and the impact of sports on those attitudes. The book is a well-written, easy-to-read look at how baseball went from an American pastime to a defining element of Japanese society. Whiting, an American living in Tokyo, skillfully describes how baseball parallels the uniquely Japanese concept of group harmony, or wa: The group is always more important than the individual. According to my Japanese-English dictionary, the meaning of wa is “peace, harmony (between people).” Sounds simple, but it isn’t if you aren’t Japanese. Whiting’s book recounts what happens when uninformed American athletes showed up in Japan to play ball and had no idea what was in store for them. Wa is at the very core of Japanese society, and, as Whiting explains, it is what holds a team together. It is the essence of the Japanese spirit, and many Japanese think of their society as having parallels in baseball. It was this concept, perhaps more than any other, which baffled the Americans whom Whiting interviewed. The U.S. coddles its stars and gives them freedom while Japanese players, from the youngest bench warmer to the most revered celebrity, work as hard as any corporate sarariman. Through misunderstanding group harmony, many Americans disrupted team harmony. To understand why baseball means so much to Japanese society is to understand Japanese society itself. Whiting takes us through the history of Japanese baseball and how the game compares to the spirit of the people, the essence of their very meaning of existence. It may seem a bit maudlin, but the principles of the game reflect the nation’s very “Japaneseness.”

One criticism of the book is that it is at times redundant. The book is a compilation of Whiting's newspaper and magazine articles, which leads to repetition as he re-introduces people and circumstances that have already been described. Editorially, the first half of the book admonishes American ballplayers who went to Japan to play: whiners and millionaires who didn’t appreciate their hosts. However, the second half of the book does an about-face: more sympathetic toward Americans, critical of Japanese managers who wouldn't work with their “gaijin” players. Yet throughout, Whiting presents the facts of the stories in an engaging style.

Since the book was first published, baseball has undergone many changes. Ichiro is a household name, several Japanese have made significant contributions to World Series teams, and Japan has won both World Baseball Classic titles. If you’re looking for the story of how Ichiro and Dice-K became fixtures on the American baseball landscape, you’re not going to get it in this book. But you will get a great overall look at baseball as a microcosm of Japanese society and hilarious anecdotes about how many situations – even a game of baseball – can get lost in translation, such as moments for an interpreter not knowing baseball terminology, not knowing American slang, not understanding thick regional or ethnic accents, or being stumped by phrases that have culturally Japanese meanings that aren’t easily translated into English.

Although Whiting has ostensibly written a sports book, he does not use excessive amounts of baseball jargon, so even a casual fan of the game will enjoy reading it. He weaves a story about baseball and society around the tangibles of balls, strikes, and batting averages. Even if you don’t like baseball – whether it’s the Major Leagues or the Japanese version – you will still enjoy this book.

As Whiting points out in the afterword of the 20th anniversary addition, the story goes on. American, Korean, Taiwanese and Latin American players continue to enter Japanese baseball and make significant contributions. (In 2008, Alex Ramirez of the Yomiuri Giants became the third Venezuelan to be named a league MVP.) In turn, more Japanese players are becoming household names and helping to win – or almost win – the World Series, most notably Akinori Iwamura of the 2008 World Series runner-up Tampa Bay Rays and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima of the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

On a personal and professional level, You Gotta Have Wa as well as Whiting’s other writings (such as 2004's The Meaning of Ichiro) have become a valuable source of information for me. A year after I first read Wa, I was at the Tokyo Dome as part of the television crew that broadcast the Yankees games for the YES Network. I keep it now as a reference guide to Japanese baseball. After I read the Sports Illustrated article on former NPB icon and current MLB manager Charlie Manuel, I realized how much of Manuel’s story I already knew, thanks to You Gotta Have Wa. These days I’m a true fan of Japanese baseball, and I have written about it as readers of this blog will know. I’m going back to Japan in September for the JapanBall tour, and the knowledge I gained from You Gotta Have Wa will enable me to write informed blog entries and articles about what I see, hear, and experience while I’m observing my favorite sporting event.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bento Revolution

Check out the July issue of Chopsticks NY, out this Friday, June 26, at a Japanese restaurant or grocery store near you. (If you live in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, that is. And D.C.)

In this issue I wrote an "advertorial" about Fuji Catering, a bento company. I'm not talking about the personal database from FileMaker; I'm talking about a traditional, healthy Japanese lunch. Fuji Catering has plenty of New York-based Japanese customers, but the company is looking to expand its market deeper into New York's corporate offices and build up a non-Japanese client base.

Take a look at a couple of bento choices made by Fuji Catering:

Most bento have a large portion of rice, but this one has noodles. Of course, no bento is completely without rice; note the onigiri in the top right compartment. The top left compartment contains chicken karaage, or fried chicken nuggets. Pickled vegetables, spinach, little sausages, and a croquette round out the meal. Pretty impressive for $6.50, right?

I ate this bento, and it was absolutely delicious. As you can see, there is a hefty portion of rice with an ume (pickled plum) in the center. The teriyaki salmon (bottom right) was succulent, as was the sukiyaki (top right) with generous chunks of tofu and carrots. The hijiki (top left) is a great source of calcium.

If I could, I would order a bento from Fuji Catering every day. Alas, the company delivers to corporate accounts only. :(

It was a pleasure for me to work on this story, and I really want Fuji Catering to succeed. Pick up a copy of Chopsticks NY, read about bento, and get everyone in your office to order a bento for lunch!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shrinecastle Receives Exposure on JapanBall

My friend Bob Bavasi, who expertly runs JapanBall, has generously linked to this blog and to the stories I wrote for yesnetwork.com during my trip with Bob's baseball tour group last September. If you're at all interested in Japanese baseball, I encourage you to visit Bob's website and check out all the info. I'm going again this year, and I can't wait.

Each year Bob takes a group of people on a week-long tour of Japan to watch baseball games. There are cultural excursions as well, although Japanese baseball in and of itself is a lesson in Japanese culture. Even if you don't like baseball, you'll find this tour satisfying because watching a game in Japan is a fantastic experience. Check out my previous blog entries for my personal take on Bob, Mayumi, and the entire JapanBall gang.

If you go on the JapanBal tour, you might

run into a parade (like this one at Ueno Park in Tokyo) . . .

catch a foul ball (like I did at Tokyo's Meiji Jingu Stadium) . . .

or meet a famous person (like the legendary Sadaharu Oh).

If you go on the JapanBall tour, you will

take in a game at a fabled stadium (like Koshien in Osaka) . . .

eat unusual (to us, anyway) stadium food (like oden) . . .

make friends with the locals (like these guys at Kyocera Dome in Osaka).

share a large meal with the tour group (like this one at a Kyoto BBQ place) . . .

see a temple in Kyoto (like the Kinkaku-Ji) . . .

take a boat to a historic landmark (like the torii at Miyajima) . . .

and have the time of your life (like my husband and I did).

So check out Bob's website at JapanBall.com and join us in September!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Oh, Hindsight - Why Must You Be 20/20?

It never fails. I do it every time. I always get my hopes up for what I think will be a splendid event, and the event is almost always lame. This time the event was last Sunday's Japan Day at Central Park in New York City.

Here is a view of the crowd with the stage in the background. The turnout was good, which makes me happy. A little. I want everyone to love Japan the way I do, then I'm jealous when I discover that people other than myself actually do love Japan. Unreasonable, I know. So I had mixed emotions when I saw the crowd at Japan Day.

I was happy to see Asians because it made me think that they were homesick, and I was also pleased to see non-Asians who seemed curious about Japanese culture. In the picture above, there are a mikoshi (a miniature shrine carried by parade participants) and a dancing man dressed in traditional clothing in the distance. We didn't get close enough to determine what kind of festival was being represented, but everyone looked as if they were enjoying themselves.

Then I see these otaku weirdos, and I'm embarrassed. This is a burgeoning subculture that's obsessed with Japanese anime, and they like to dress up as anime characters at events such as this. They were out in full force at a Cherry Blossom Festival we attended at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden a couple of years ago.

Notice the couple wearing kimono and carrying parasols. The guy was videotaping everything while walking around. Why? I wonder if they sit around and watch the footage to relive the special moments from Japan Day.

The worst part about this event were the long lines. There was a line at every tent, whether it was for an activity like calligraphy or for the food. The picture above is the food tent with the lines for each of the five food samples - chow mein, gyoza, gyudon, miso soup, and sanuki udon noodles - snaking through the middle of the East Meadow.

This lady is holding a sign for the miso soup line. The bottom of her sign reads, "Waiting 50 minutes." We were starving when we arrived, but we had no interest in waiting almost an hour for a bowl of miso soup. The people who did are troopers, and I hope they enjoyed it. If I'm going to wait in a line that long, it's going to be for a ride at Disney World or something. And I don't even like doing that.

Here's a line for people waiting to learn about saori zen weaving. It's a kind of free-style weaving that encourages individuality based on Zen Buddhist philosophy. I find this concept interesting because Japan has a homogenous culture where individuality is normally not accepted. Anyway, I didn't weave, but I learned about saori in Chopsticks NY and found a couple of websites and a studio in NYC that teaches it. I should take a class!

Here's a line for the calligraphy tent. I think people were learning how to paint their names in Japanese. I'm not really sure, though, because I didn't wait in this line, either. My name in Japanese looks like this: スーザン. Cool, huh?

There was even a line to look at the map for the event!

This was the cutest line: people waiting to have their pictures made with Hello Kitty. She looked resplendent in her spring kimono. I saw more adults pose with Hello Kitty than children. I found that interesting. At least the little girl on the left was able to meet her.

I wondered if there were children who never had the chance to take their pictures with Hello Kitty because too many adults clogged the line.

I accidentally cut in front of people in this line. It was right next to the Hello Kitty tent, and I walked over and picked up the June issue of Chopsticks NY and a brochure about the "currently popular sightseeing spots" in Japan. I looked up and realized I was right in the middle of the line at the Welcome to Japan Day tent. No one said anything, but I felt like a real jackass. The lines diminished the luster of this event for me, but I'm glad a lot of people were able to do the activities and enjoy themselves. I learned a couple of new things about Japanese culture, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. After we made a loop through all of the lines, Marc and I made our way to the 6 train to eat ramen at Menkui Tei in the East Village. There wasn't a line for that, thank goodness.

I'm Yelping Now

I've joined Yelp, the forum where people review restaurants, shopping, events, etc.  I actually joined Yelp in April, but I just posted a review today.  My review is about The Half King, one of my favorite spots in New York.

Stop by this link to read it.  It's listed as "Susan H.'s Review."

I'll add more.  Eventually.