Monday, April 30, 2007

Universal American School in Kuwait

Just before traveling through the Philippines, I applied for a job teaching at an American School in Kuwait called Universal American School. It looks to be an impressive school and to be honest, I'm very tempted to go.

Much faster than I anticipated, I'm faced with the choice of actually going or not, and so I've decided to include this little poll for all my regular readers (all seven of you). Should I go for it? Give your feedback.

Should Mr. Tyler take the opportunity to teach in Kuwait?

Yes! Absolutely, go for it Tyler!

No! Come back to the USA and do something else!

Results: Kuwait: To Go or Not to Go

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Koriyama City Marathon 郡山シティーマラソン大会

Nobody in Koriyama ran any real Marathons today. BUT, thousands from Koriyama, Fukushima, and around Tohoku converged on my otherwise nondescript city for racing. With nearly healed, I felt comfortable running. Clear blue skies ensured nobody had an excuse to slack off. I went down with my neigbhor Paula, who ran in the separate 10K staring shortly after my race.

At 10:20, the gun sounded, and I quickly set off at a very ambitious, but manageable pace. Hoping for the best, I was doing OK at that pace, passing lots of folks. I was slightly concerned because I hadn't trained as much as last year, but still on track for a finish in 60-65 minutes. Then, about 5 kilometers into the race, it hit me. No, not another runner with a bat. No, I didn't trip and fall, snapping some delicate knee tendon that sends one straight to years of physical therapy. I got a bad case of GAS!

My lower intestines exploded with pain for about 20 minutes, and I fell behind. Gas stinks when your`re having a race. Well, I guess it always stinks, but that's not the point! Rounding the halfway marker, the pain went away, and I utilized jet propulsion and chemical warfare against my opponents!

Unfortunately, I still failed to achieve my goal time. I originally wanted to finish the 10 mile in under 60 minutes. But alas, I finished in 1 hour, 13 minutes, and 41 seconds, almost exactly the same time I finished last year! Zannen! The following went wrong:
  1. I didn't train quite as much as I did last year. I ran more runs for longer distances.
  2. I trained in Australia during Spring Break last year. I slacked off in the Philippines this year.
  3. Since getting my license, I drive more and ride my bike less. I'm also required to taxi to work, another major drag on my aerobic condition. Last year I was biked everywhere. My legs had a bit more definition then.
  4. 2 words: emissions control!
Oh well, I'm doing the Towa Half Marathon in July again and I can improve my time there. I'm also doing the Sakuranbo Half Marathon in Yamagata. It wasn't a total loss. I finished in the same time I did last year, so I haven't gotten worse. I also managed the following:
  • Finishing 141 out of 426 racers. This puts me in the top third! (barely).
  • 7:22 minutes per mile.
  • 927 calories burned.
  • 4:36 minutes per kilometer.
Oh well, I'm doing the Towa Half Marathon in July again and I can improve there. I'm also doing the Sakuranbo Half Marathon in Yamagata.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pulled muscle in the Upper Back

I have until Sunday to prepare for the annual Koriyama City Marathon (actually a 10K and a 10 Mile run). I was just on track to possibly beat my time last year and finish the 10 mile in under 60 minutes. Maybe I could do it.

But on Tuesday, I woke up with a horrible pain in my neck, and the inability to do the following things:

  • Tilt my head 40 degrees in either direction without searing pain shooting through my neck.
  • Lift anything more than 10 pounds with out more serious pain.
  • Smile and be happy and cheerful with my students.
My luckiness healthwise has left me unprepared to deal with what I'm hoping is just a routine sports injury. I took the advice of a friend, and got a massage for 2000 yen. I also took it easy that night and stayed off the back. I wasn't even able to run more than 7 minutes on Tuesday due to the back pain.

I used to think people with sports injuries were folks who pushed themselves WAAAYYY too hard, or just really wimpy people who didn't understand the idiom, "no pain no gain." Now that I've actually had one, I feel differently. This really stinks! Not only does this hurt and prevent me from doing what I like, but I may not be ready for my 10 mile run if this doesn't clear up.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Requiem for the Boots

Yesterday marked the final leg of an epic journey for two of my most loyal companions. These two friends have seen me through journeys far and wide and know me better than anyone. They have arguably saved my life on numerous occasions, clinging to rocks and gripping slabs none other could handle. Through hundreds of miles and 12 countries, my old Asolo boots always kept me on the right path.

On Sunday, retired these two faithful friends and allow another to carry the banner. As I was busy planning my four day Golden Week vacation around hiking, the sad shape of my boots begged an alternative. The laces broken, spent vibram soles worn smooth across the planet, seriously scuffed leather, and the fraying seams on high wear points around the lacing all cried out for relief. Could the boots have taken me through a few more short trips? Absolutely. They never disappointed, failure not being in their soles. But having seen prouder days, finer moments, and better aromas, their days wore thin. Better to be put to pasture with dignity and class.

The very real possibility of hiking the Colorado Trail this autumn also dictates a new pair of shoes. A proper period of introduction, taming and breaking in necessitates that this monumental transition occurs sooner rather than later. At the Wild-1 Outdoor Life Store in Koriyama, I procured a new pair of Garmont's Men's Montana GTX boots. Designed for backpacking and light mountaineering, the new boots will have big shoes to fill, so to speak, but so far seem up to the task. Enormously comfortable, the new shoes may require less breaking time than I thought. With the form fitting arch-support insoles, the new boots fit my feet like a glove. They also performed well on the store's inclined walk-up thingy for boot testing. I'm optimistic. Materials are also very similar to my Asolos, and hint at the durability I require. After extended wear that day, both indoors and outdoors, I also discovered they are warmer than expected.

So, in a ceremony set to take place at a yet to be determined location in the Japanese wilderness, my Asolo's will be committed to the fire, and dispersed from the summit of Mt. Bandai, in the near future.

Here are some highlights from my "Asolo period":

  • Summit of Mt. Whitney, high point of California and the Lower 48 States. At 14,505 feet (4,421 meters), this was the highest elevation ever achieved.
  • The summit of Mt. Elbert, high point of Colorado at 14,440 feet(4,401 m).
  • Ularu, also known as Ayer's Rock in Australia.
  • Rim to Rim via Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon in 5.5 hours.
  • Mt. Fuji, the Highest mountain in Japan at 12,388 ft (3,776 m). We walked above the clouds in blue skies the whole time.
  • Countless trips to the summit of Humphrey's Peak in the Kachina Peaks wilderness of Northern Arizona. Also the Arizona high point at 12,637 ft (3,852 m).
  • 50 miles through Utah's Grand Gulch Primitive Area with my father and the Hansons.

Sanpei Sensei & 三春滝桜

On Saturday, I visited my all time favorite English teacher, Sanpei Sensei for some hanami, or “cherry blossom viewing. He even picked me up from my house, so that I would be able to enjoy some drinks with him that evening (his wife being the designated driver).

Sanpei Sensei’s home town of Miharu is well known throughout Japan for its famous cherry blossoms, which usually bloom in late April. The town certainly lives up to its reputation: cherry blossoms literally cover portions of the countryside. The town distributes maps of all the best places to view them, and people come from far and wide to see the famous Miharu no Takizakura, the largest, or oldest cherry tree in Japan (I forget which). It ranks as one of the three greatest cherry trees in Japan. It’s quite large, but not nearly the behemoth they raved about. More disappointingly, the blooming was almost over, most of the flowers blown off by wind and heavy rains. Tiny green leaves overtook the flowers about four days before my arrival, with only a few pink holdouts remaining. We also arrived rather late during a cloudy evening, rendering my photographs rather unimpressive.

Kikuchi Sensei, Katahira’s art teacher, also joined us that evening. Everyone was very curious about my plans for leaving Japan and what I’ll do next. I told them I was in talks with a man to work at an International School in Kuwait (true) but that nothing substantial has come of it yet.

We also ate tons of basashi (raw horse) and gyu (beef) tongue he had brought back from Sendai. The tongue was absolutely delicious.

Sanpei Sensei also agreed to invite me over for their annual rice planting, a substantial task for his family in the month of May. While he’s happy for the help, he still seems puzzled by my fascination with helping him with such a chore. Picture a foreigner living in America eager to help with the annual task of cleaning the swimming pool in spring, or mowing the lawn all day long. But, I may only get to do this once. I for one, am excited.

PS: My pictures were so lousy and the blooming so deteriorated, I decided there was less shame in stealing this picture from this website than showing my own picture.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Aunt Jemima & Uncle Ben

Being a student of history, I've always had the idea in the back of my head that Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima, famous brand symbols for their respective American food products, probably traced their origins to days when it was more acceptable to exploit negative racial stereotypes for commercial gain. As a history student at NAU, running across Aunt Jemima in particular at the grocery store always left me wondering. Could one launch a product today using such a character as a marketing tool? Unlikely, I thought.

This particular history of "racist spokescharacters" that I found on Slate traces the origins of these characters and others long extinct. It covers negative stereotypes advertisers originally exploited, the ensuing controversies, and the image makeovers and skillfully handled marketing campaigns that ultimately allowed Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima to survive more than 100 years.

Learn more about these common food staple trademarks as relics of a nation's very fascinating history.

The whole article by David Segal can be found here:

Uncle Ben, CEO? The strange history of racist spokescharacters.
By David Segal

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech and American Violence

Riding in the taxi to school yesterday, a curious driver roused me from a semi-conscious state to ask me where I was from. “From America,” I quickly replied, still in a zombie-like state. He then delivered to me the news of the Virginia Tech shooting, where over thirty students died in a student’s violent, angry rampage. The driver kept asking other questions about America, guns, and this particular shooting, but I didn’t have any good answers for him. I hadn’t been following it closely, and I was not in the mood for yet another conversation about my violent homeland.

Before I get up on the soapbox, I do want to say that the victims, bystanders, and community in Virginia are in my thoughts and prayers. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones in such a senseless loss.

After reviewing things more carefully, I want to stress that I don’t consider any survivors or any institutional player responsible for the school shooting. The professionals, school policies, authorities, and other characters during the weeks and months preceding the attack all appeared sensible, appropriate, and well intentioned given the circumstances. Hindsight always being 20/20, we should use this opportunity to reflect on American violence and its causes and not dissect every piece of what happened at Virginia Tech.

The undeniable fact is that the world widely regards America as an unsafe, dangerous, and violent nation. People don’t travel to America because they worry about safety. No single school shooting or lack thereof is going to change that perception overnight. America has earned that reputation over many years and should feel a great deal of shame and remorse because of it. I hope America takes Virginia Tech as an opportunity to reflect on its faults, instead of grabbing onto narrow explanations and simplistic excuses that distance us from the reality of America’s collective failures. I hope instead that we make sense of the pervasive violence in American society as a whole, and worry less about Virginia Tech, Columbine, or other shootings.

In my current country of residence, Japan, 53 people were murdered last year. According to the 2005 FBI Uniform Crime Report, 16,692 people were murdered in the United States. That’s over five times the number of people who died in the attacks on 9/11. This occurs every year in the USA. This number is currently increasing, yet no one reports this. Nobody I know of holds candlelight vigils, special legislative sessions, or prayer meetings for these people. Nobody’s talking about where we went wrong or what we could have done differently.

We blame the killers, the police, the schools, public policies, bullies, TV violence, video games, guns, the president, congress, the NRA, and all that other stuff. It’s their fault, not mine! We blame everybody and everything but ourselves. We refuse to even see this tragedy that is 16,000 strong and growing year by year. And when we all refuse to see this, we all become the ones to blame. When we do nothing but blame other people, we all become at least partly responsible. We should open our eyes to this tragedy and others to see that things really should be much better than they are. Perhaps then, the victims at Virginia Tech won’t die in vain.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Colorado Trail

My old college buddy Brenden Pitt came over here to Japan about the same time I did and currently resides in Iwate Ken. You can read all about him at his blog. Awhile back, he suggested that if neither of us discovers teaching jobs when we return to the United States, that we both take six months off and hike the entire 2,174 mile length of the Appalachian Trail. While I didn’t let on about it, I was intrigued but thought my budget would make things extremely difficult.

Without knowing much about it, I suggested that we instead hike the Pacific Crest Trail or the Colorado Trail. Brenden did some reading on the Pacific Crest Trail and thought it wasn’t as feasible as the Appalachian Trail. He thinks that between the blisteringly hot Mohave Desert, the rugged Sierra Nevada Range of California, and the just as rugged, precipitation drenched Cascades in the North-West, would prove too much. The milder slopes and more reasonable weather in Appalachia would be easier to deal with, especially as we have both had desk jobs for the past three years.

I then suggested the Colorado Trail, another trail I knew very little about at the time. He again told me to read up on the trail and do some research (and this time I actually did it). I discovered to my surprise, that for long distance trails, it might just be what the doctor ordered. Meandering 480 miles through eight high elevation mountain ranges, seven national forests and six wilderness areas, the Colorado Trail certainly commands respect from even the manliest of outdoorsman. The distance, formidable enough to set us apart from cubicle-bound weekend warriors, can also be conquered without risk of interminable lifetime consequences. Being able to complete the trail in 35 to 45 days (instead of four to six months) also ensures the endeavor won’t consume and affect our entire lives (not to mention life savings). And coincidentally, the trail actually starts in Southwest Denver at a place called Waterton Canyon, within walking distance of my parent’s house! But seriously, when you’re hiking 480 miles, what’s not within walking distance?

It wouldn’t be too much trouble for my parents (assuming they are still as cool as I remember) to provide a certain amount of logistical support during the first week or so of our hike. We could arrange to rendezvous for supplies at key points during the first leg of our journey at least (I wouldn’t want to inconvenience them too much). My father might even be interested in joining us for certain segments of the trail.

After reading the Colorado Trail Foundation’s website, most through hikers on the Colorado Trail take about 40 days to complete it. If we hiked twenty miles per day with no stops, we would complete it in 24 days. I imagine during the first week or so our muscles will be screaming for mercy, so for the first week, we’ll probably be lucky to hike at half that pace. That brings us to 28 days total, when factoring ten miles per day for the first week. I’ll bump it up to 32 days, to account for weather or other setbacks. And since we should observe the Sabbath, I think we should probably add 4 more days of rest during the month-long endeavor, bumping us up to 36 days. Also, there will be many large and imposing mountains along the way, begging us to scale their slopes. Side trips may only take half a day or less, and there is no reason we can’t make progress on those days as well. The flip side being, side trips may take considerably longer, requiring extra planning. But as the plans develop, (indeed if they develop) these details could coalesce into something more concrete and coherent. If we factor an extra 5 days for excursions and detours (we may decide on more), side trips and detours, that brings us to about 41 days of Colorado Rocky Mountain High.

One reason the Appalachian Trail might actually be more suited to this kind of thing is that it is far more developed for through-hikers doing its entire length. Lodges and huts exist, along with businesses selling appropriate supplies. Much less of this appears to exist on the Colorado Trail. Brenden and I would be forced to carry at least one tent and one stove (with fuel). This is all fine and dandy for people doing a 20-30 mile loop trail on Labor Day weekend or spring break, but 480 miles of hauling fuel containers, even if refueling regularly, is not a welcomed proposition. The prospect of hauling large quantities of water through the Mohave Desert triggered Brenden’s rejection of the Pacific Crest Trail. But through most sections of Colorado, water won’t be a problem.

But this is all still very early in the planning stages. We may both indeed get jobs and none of this may happen. I’m actually talking to a couple of potential employers right now.

I also discovered that there are several other long distance Scenic Trails that look very enticing. Along with others, the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trail all fall under the National Trails System Act of 1968. There are others, but those are the only long distance trails worth mentioning.

Here are a few others I found intriguing, in completely random order.

1. The Pacific Crest Trail- This completed trail stretches from Mexico, through California, Oregon, and Washington into Canada.

2. The Appalachian Trail- History, Scenery, and an intense comraderie and culture of BO smelling, trail hiking, granola-munching East Coast tree huggers reading Thoreau. What more could you ask for?

3. The Continental Divide Trail- From Mexico to Canada, through New Mexico Colorado, Montana, etc. 3100 miles of High elevations, rugged terraign, and sparse wilderness. BONUS: Connects to the Canadian Great Divide Trail which goes up through the Canadian Rockies, bringing us to…

4. The Great Divide Trail- Canada’s answer to the Continental Divide Trail. 1200 km of Canadian Rockies. Still not really finished. Bring your snowshoes, parka, and Molson!

5. John Muir Trail- A 211 mile month long jaunt from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney (Been there!). Feast your eyes on the blinding whiteness of Sierra Nevada granite while you trudge through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Widely regarded as the most beautiful mountain scenery in the USA.

6. Arizona Trail- 790 miles from Mexico to Utah! Extra gallons of water and snake bite kit not included.

7. Oregon Coast Trail- 362 miles of (what else?) Oregon Coastline. Probably spectacular. Bring... Gore-tex and an umbrella.

8. Tahoe Rim Trail- 165 miles in the Sierras around Cali’s Lake Tahoe. I should probably do this one instead! Yuppie dotcommers from the Bay Area: make certain its the off-season!

9. International Appalachian Trail- Follow the Appalachian up into Newfoundland! I can’t figure out how long it is though. (Insert Canadian inside-joke about Maritimes here).

10. Alpine Pass Route-220 miles through 16 mountain passes. Takes 20 days to complete. This would be fun too, but it just seems wrong to go all the way to Switzerland, and not spend time climbing the Matterhorn!

11. Te Araroa Trail (Scheduled completion 2008). Walk the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Gotta get on a boat between the North and South Island though.

12. GR Footpaths across Europe- Probably some great stuff here, but the Europeans just haven’t come up with any names that can be readily romanticized. They’re all just numbered. That’s fine for Interstate Highways, but for epic journeys? Come on!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Shinzo Abe comes to Koriyama

On Friday night, I accomplished the task of losing my keys yet again, forcing me to return downtown to fetch them. Having gone to a welcome party for the new Katahira JHS principal the previous night, This was followed by beers with Sanpei Sensei and the guys, and finally God’s Bar, the grimy foreigner’s watering hole.

It was about noon before I finally realized I had lost my keys. I decided to kill two birds with one stone (figuratively speaking) by running all the way down to the station and getting my workout in at the same time. I returned to all three places, finally locating my keys at the place I visited with the other teachers after the party. I emerged onto a far too crowded street with everybody staring and half heartedly cheering at something.

I asked some people what was going on, and they informed me that none other than Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, was soon to emerge from the Koriyama View Hotel Annex into his motorcade. Cops were everywhere, and suddenly things made perfect sense. I was somewhat surprised, because I didn’t think the small motorcade was significant enough for a man of his position.

People described what he was wearing, so I waited and watched like everyone else, hoping to get a glimpse of the political figurehead of Japan. Soon enough, he emerged from the hotel and got into his car, and everyone was cheering and clapping for him (I can’t imagine why, because I get the feeling he isn’t that popular). The motorcade soon drove off with police cars, and the crowd dispersed. While I didn't get to shake his hand or get an autograph, I was somewhat proud of myself for seeing the Japanese Prime Minister on Saturday, April 14, 2007.

Japan’s government more closely resembles the British Parliamentary system than the American government. Consequently, Shinzo Abe’s job aligns with Tony Blair’s more than Presiden Bush’s job. He took over from his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi just a short while ago. Koizumi was disliked for bowing to pressure from Bush and sending Japanese troops to Iraq. Koizumi also managed to anger the Chinese for visiting the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which houses the remains of Japanese war criminals known for reprehensible deeds throughout much of Asia during World War 2.

I’m not sure I like Shinzo Abe so much. I have no idea whether he is good for Japan or not, but two things have given me a very negative impression of the man. Awhile back, his health minister got into trouble for calling women “baby making machines,” or something to that effect.

Shinzo Abe also managed to infuriate the Chinese, Koreans, (and most of the rest of Asia for that matter) by claiming that 200,000 or so WWII “comfort women" were not forced or coerced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army. Women from many nations, China, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, etc, were forced into military brothels. Abe's denial of these historical facts would be amusing, were it not such a serious matter.

A British article summarizing the comfort women and Shinzo Abe's comments is here.

My Father

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank my father for all his support and encouragement of me. In his journal, Andy’s Fragments, he writes the following:

I am very proud of Tyler for his outstanding accomplishments. He has taught English as a foreign language in several Japanese Jr. High Schools for nearly three years. He's learned the language (and Japanese is not easy) and traveled all over the Pacific rim. His blog is 2ox better than mine and very well written. He's a remarkable guy. And, he's only 26!! I think God has some great things in store for him. Check out his site for a great read.

He has consistently been my biggest supporter, and for that, I want to say thank you dad. You're too good to me.

He also got to see this cool dog taking his owner’s car for a spin. He has pictures as proof. The dog crashed the car. Pretty crazy if I do say so myself. In case you missed the first hyperlink, my dad's post about the driving dog is here.

Cherry Blossoms at Hiwada Park

One recurring question I receive from older Japanese folks is, “How many seasons do you have in America?” The enormous variety of climates and ecosystems throughout the USA often leaves me stumped when answering that question in a meaningful way. In the end, I tell them we have four seasons, just like Japan. At this point, they sometimes get irritated or disappointed with the answer. After all, only Japan has four seasons, doesn’t it?

While Japan may not be as unique as many Japanese people would like to think it is, they do have a nice way to mark the return of spring: watching cherry blossoms bloom. Yes folks, once again, it is time for hanami, the Japanese pastime of “cherry blossom viewing.”

Usually we don’t see any flowerings until the 3rd or 4th weekend of April in my city, but it looks as though this weekend is going to be it for Koriyama. When cherry blossoms bloom, Japanese custom dictates that everyone gather at the local park (usually the one with the best cherry blossoms), eat and drink to excess, and then stumble home in a bloated, drunken stupor. Parks that stand empty all year long are suddenly teeming with everyone and their inebriated brother.

People spread their blankets wherever they can, (preferably right beneath the biggest cherry tree) buy overpriced greasy food and drinks, and take pictures of the cherry blossoms with their ultra high-tech cell phones.

At Hiwada JHS, the teachers scheduled just such an event for the students during a monday afternoon (without the alcohol of course). Classes let out just after lunch and everyone ambled down to Hiwada parkThe kids brought bento (lunchboxes) and we all went to a nearby park to sit under and watch the cherry blossoms, which are just beginning to bloom. Due to the unseasonably warm winter, the flowers are about two weeks early.

In Japan and much of Asia, school children graduate in the middle of March, followed by a short spring vacation. So all my new students arrived here in April and I’m busy getting to know them all. I spent the afternoon with my new students playing volleyball, onigoko (A Japanese game roughly analogous to “tag”) and performing magic tricks for them (the old finger in the ear/tongue in the cheek trick from my dad). Guess who got to be "it" during tag? The weather was nearly flawless. Every afternoon should be like this.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day, so you will have to suffice with pictures from last year’s hanami instead. Judging from the looks of the trees this year, you’re probably better off with last year’s photos anyway.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Here we go with more Philippine Pictures

Some last pictures. Here's another shot from the valley near Sagada. The other picture is a jeepney, public transportation around the Philippines. I can't imagine why people like them. They're loud, take forever, are terribly uncomfortable, and look to be manufactured by psychadelic aliens.

The last picture is from Farid's collection. The menacing scorpion fish lurks beneath the waves, ready to sting the bumbling open-water diver with their venomous spines. This particular variety isn't deadly, but I've been told they really, really, really hurt. They're also camoflaged and really hard to see.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Heap of Philippine Cave Pictures

Here are some more pictures from the Philippines coming from Lumiang/Sumaging Caves, near Sagada. With my guide, we entered Lumiang and came out of the Sumaging cave enterance. These pictures accurately depict the second half of the journey, through Sumaging. The first half was difficult to photograph due to constant fourth and fifth class bouldering.

The immense size of the caverns at Lumiang also made photography difficult. There was one section where I tried to shoot my guide from about 100 meters away. Between my pitifully inadequate camera flash and a jaw droppingly huge cavern, my camera barely managed to illuminate a bit of ground before me. 100 meters away, the guide's lantern was a distant speck. Blackness smothered everything in the enormous chasm.

Once we entered Sumaging and reached the pools and river, features became far more interesting. The deeper you descended the cave, the more fascinating and exciting it became.

Being an avid outdoorsman, I always recall being fascinated by caves and tunnels. My childhood friend Jonathan Dilbeck and I often crawled through every drainage tunnel beneath Wadsworth Avenue in Littleton. Like most 10 year olds, we would hide out and "build forts."

On a road trip with my family, I remember descending into Jewel Cave in South Dakota, the world's second largest cave. I remember taking the rubber-necker, camera snapping, follow the park ranger with his silly hat 30 minute interpretive tour. Despite this, I recall some spectacular stalactites and unique geological formations. I also remember a strict National Park Ranger who kept hassling me to keep my feet off the metal railings. I don't remember him too fondly, or the elevator packed with tourists.

I recall watching a PBS documentary about Mammoth Cave in Kentucky as a child. It was previously the world's largest cave, and the documentary chronicled how some spelunkers entered a nearby cave (I don't recall the name, but it was also ranked as one of the world's largest) and discovered it connected to Mammoth Cave, making the largest cave that much larger! With over 365 miles (587 km) of mapped cave passage, it dwarfs Jewel Cave in South Dakota at only 135 miles. Finishing third, Optymistychna Cave in the Ukraine tops out at 133 miles. This makes Mammoth almost twice the size of the next two caves combined.

I fondly remember wandering through Flagstaff's famed "Lava Tubes" as a young scholar at Northern Arizona University on many occasions. My Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Men's Bible study group even once held a Bible study there. What could possibly warrant this you ask? Following the young King David as he hid from Saul in a cave provided the excuse. It was kind of corny, but a good idea, and a nice change of scenery anyways.

I've explored a few caves outside Ashfork AZ, Chino Valley, and other parts of Northern Arizona. Before the Philippines, my most recent spelunking foray was at a limestone cave here in Fukushima, which I detailed in this post. Some day, I wish to take up some serious spelunking, and perhaps descend Kentuky's Mammoth Cave for three weeks or more and discover a new passage. Or perhaps I could develop the skills to dive some underwater caves in Florida and Mexico. But I don't have the time or the money right now, so these things will have to wait.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

From Seth: Which Church father are you?

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

If you are still kind of sick with a cough and other undisclosed gastro-intestinal disturbances, you can waste your time doing this as well! My brother in law Seth found this quiz at, that tells you which Church father you are. I don't believe this accurately describes me.

How many of Me?

This is a fun website I ran across. Its called and tells you how many people have your name. You enter your first and last names and it will tell you how many people there are in the U.S.A. with that same name. I entered Tyler Beal, and there are 11 others in the U.S.A. with my name.

I also entered Noelle Holler, and discovered that there are 0 people with that name! Very interesting indeed, as I know this to be false. The system must work on algorithms and a statistical database and simply tell how many people LIKELY have the name, instead of having every phone book across America indexed.

In no particular order, here are some completely random names I entered.

  • Tyler Beal - 11 people
  • Noelle Holler - 0 people
  • People with the last name Godemann - O people
  • David Hanson - 1,536 people
  • Seth Holler - 2 people
  • Jonathan Dilbeck (friend from elementary school) - 4 people
  • Bruce Shelly - 10 people
  • Brenden Pitt - 0 people (He's in Japan right now)
  • Margaret Thatcher - 33 people
  • Oprah Winfrey - 0 people
  • Ted Duncan - 53 people
  • Evorine Beal - 0 people
  • Janet Napolitano (Governor of Arizona) - 12 people
  • Andrew Beal - 65 people
  • Paul Brodar - 0 people

Friday, April 06, 2007

Some More Pictures from the Philippines

Hello again. Its been another lazy day, as I recover from an awful cold and another minor, yet supremely irritating illness. The good news is, I have some time to go through my pictures of my vacation.

This particular shot is of one of the Philippine tribes' hanging coffins. So you all don't assume that I'm traveling to all these far off places to raid tombs and steal priceless cultural artifacts for the black market underworld of stolen antiquities, I should mention that I was with a local guide and everything was cool.

The Applai tribe of the region is famous for piling these coffins into these local caves. There were hundreds of them piled atop each other just below a cliff dropping into the blackness of the previously mentioned cave.

Another similar culture in the area is known for mummifying their dearly departed, one of only nine or ten cultures in the world to have ever done so. I didn't have time to see the mummies, though. The guide told me I could take pictures of the coffins, but I couldn't touch them or open them. I can live with that.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pictures from Farid Maames

More pictures for you to enjoy. The following come from Farid Maames, who had a camera casing and shot two wrecks we dived together. He and his partner Dalila were gracious enough to copy pictures onto my flashcard. I took the liberty of putting the pictures through photoshop. All pictures appear courtesy of Farid.

Most pictures come from the Irako Maru, a transport ship sunk by an American bombing raid during the war. The Irako Maru is slightly unusual because it is almost upright. Most ships fall to one side as they sink in the water, but the Irako is only slightly tilted.

The picture with me was taken inside the Irako Maru. While I'm not trained in underwater photography, (and skill at conventional photography seems to have eluded me as well) I noticed several unique challenges. Because the Irako Maru was so deep (34-45 meters) and the interior blocked the sunlight, one requires a very powerful flash. Also, sediment, fish, or anything stirred up in the water have a tendency to reflect off the flash, creating the bright spots on my portrait.

The picture with two divers emerging from the cargo hold comes from the Olympia Maru, another cargo ship. I'm not certain who the divers are.

Farid also managed to get several good shots of scorpion fish as well. They will be posted soon.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Some pictures (More to come soon)

Finally, I have some pictures of the wonderful places I traveled through in the Philippines. All of the pictures come from the Philippines' Mountain Province.

The misty green valley with rolling clouds is near Sagada. Rice is grown once a year in this high valley.

The terraces & town with the large mountain behind it are from Batad.

A number of famous and spectacular rice terraces in the region North of Manila together constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The terraces in Banue (pictures coming soon) often get referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World. What amazes me most is that this "Wonder" almost doesn't exist in the Western conciousness. Few people know anything about this spectacular feat of engineering.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Updates on people

As I have some extra time before my flight leaves, I should do some updates on the links in my blog. So, in no particular order, here are some new and updated links and summaries for anyone interested.

  • My sister Noelle's new blog, The Weight of Wings just recently went online. My sister Noelle is excited about becoming a mother, and you can view ultrasounds of my new nephew and her musings on the subject here.
  • My close friend and all around cool guy Eric Hanson is traveling in Peru and the first among both the Beal clan and the Hanson clan to see Peru and the mysterious ruins of the ancient Inca City of Machu Picchu. The Hansons and the Beals have all spoken of traveling together to Peru for as long as I can remember. Eric Hanson is involved in a mission organization called The World Race. He is traveling through South and Central America working to spread the word about Jesus. I'm honestly kind of jealous. You can read all about his inspiring and epic journey at his blog here.
  • My brother-in-law, Seth Holler, just moved his blog to a new location at Wordpress. You can view the new page here.

Sundry Observations on the Philippines

My too short vacation in the Philippines ends tomorrow. I'm actually kind of disappointed, because I'm really enjoying myself here. I really like the Philippine Islands, as well as the Filipinos (and Filipinas). There are some annoying things, and some things that bother me about the place, but in general, I really like the laid back lifestyle and attitude of everyone. They seem to be an extremely flexible and unassuming people. A bunch of nice folks just keepin' it real.

One thing I didn't particularly care for was the food. Now I didn't absolutely hate it, but I wasn't impressed with it, the way I was in Korea or Italy (or even Japan where I live now). Most Filipino food consists of rice with some sort of dish (meat, pork, fish, etc.) that is eaten with it. These dishes were usually fairly salty or fairly sweet, some of which had some excellent and very unique flavors. The problem was the meat dishes were always full of bones! It's like they just hacked the animal up before cooking it! The diner is left with the painstaking task of either removing the bones (often constituting a significant portion of the dish) or trying to swallow marrow, tendons, and ligaments. At first I thought maybe it was simply the budget places I was frequenting, and I began opting for more upscale establishments, but the same problem emerged.

I met a Peace Corps volunteer when I was leaving the island of Busuanga, who said he's heard from numerous expats in the Philippines that Filipino food is the one thing standing in the way of the Philippines developing a lucrative tourist industry. While the Filipinos seem eager to welcome more tourists (and the money that comes with them), I actually hope that this doesn't happen. This is one the few places places I've been that aren't completely over-run by tourists. The only place I ever really ran into other travelers was in Busuanga Island, at the Dive Resort. Like me, they all consisted of full throttle action-jacksons, eager to descend beneath the waves and tunnel through derelict shipwrecks. Here's hoping that the Philippines does not become the next Bahamas.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Diving the Wrecks of Coron

30 minutes ago, I just finished the last of four dives out of Coron, in the Philippines. Outside of Coron, eleven sunken Japanese cargo freighters carrying war materials lurk beneath the warm, tropical waters. Coron is known as one of the most accessible areas in the world for diving in sunken ships. Few places on Earth hold so many large ships in the same area at reasonably accessible depths.

Before driving the Japanese out of the Philippines, a United States Navy Carrier task force launched a raid after learning the location of the supply convoy. Curtis SB2C Helldiver bombers from Aircraft carriers launched the raid from 550 km away, a record distance for launching naval air attacks at the time.

And now today, scuba divers from around the globe converge on the otherwise obscure island of Busuanga to go into the different wrecks. During the past two days, I had the opportunity to dive in three different ships. The Akitsushima, formerly a seaplane tender and the largest of the wrecks at 118 meters (389 feet), sports a giant crane. As it sank, it fell to its port side, so the crane now lies across the surface. We entered through a giant hole where the hull split. After that, we swam across the now upright bow of the ship, through a control tower and were able to view two big anti-aircraft gun emplacements. The guns had already been salvaged. Lying36 meters underwater (119 feet), this was my deepest dive to date.

The second dive of the day would turn out to be the most spectcular. The Olympia Maru also fell onto its port side as it sank. Large, spacious, open cargo holds allowed us to swim through a section of it. Visibility was good. We swam through most of the upper deck of the ship and emerged through a gaping hole on the starboard side (presumably where a torpedo hit the ship.)

My third dive the following day took me again to 36 meters, where I entered the upper two decks of the Irako Maru. Unlike most of the wrecks in the area, the Irako Maru is unique in that it still lies upwright. Our first sight was a giant So while the upper floors just below deck were tighter and more complicated, the fact that the ship was upright made it very realistic. One could imagine people walking around on this old freighter. Obvious flights of stairs, windows, handles, pipes and other attached implements were everywhere. Unlike the other wrecks, this one really was a place you could see other people. But today, sunburned tourists float around the holes kicking up sediment and knocking their heads and air tanks on ceilings and doorways.Overall, a great dive, except for a ridiculously strong current that put a damper on things.

We returned to the Olympia Maru later that day for a second dive. This time, we penetrated deeper into the ship to view the boilers in the engine room. I saw some interesting electrical equipment above me and other rusty old machinery.

Today, I also had the pleasure of meeting Salid, a Frenchman who took some pictures for me during the dive. So I can now say I have pictures of the wrecks!