Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cantina Loredo

While I lived in Japan, I found most of the food quite delicious. I would even go so far to say that I prefer some of it to American food at this point. But Japan has no substitute for good Mexican food and during my entire stay, I sorely missed cheese enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, chile rellenos, and guacamole.

So I was absolutely stoked when I visited my Aunt Dee and she took me to the best Mexican restaurant in Dallas, Cantina Laredo. My Aunt Dee has been a regular customer there for the 15 years she's been in Dallas, and knows all the managers and wait staff. I ordered the totally awesome Camaron Poblano Asada. It was a steak wrapped around a giant pepper stuffed with shrimp and cheese. Way cool! If you live near a Cantina Laredo, you absolutely must go eat this!

In fact, the dish was so good, I begged my Aunt Dee to drive me back again so that I could eat it twice and photograph it. Regular readers will know I rarely take pictures of my food. I always feel like a cheesehead when I do. But this particular item was one of those rare dishes worthy of a photograph!

I had fun talking with my Aunt Dee during my two visits. We talked about our mutual relatives, politics, careers, life, and just about anything else you can think of. She's always generous and we always have a good time together. She even lets me drive her Benz around!

Denver, Dallas, and a ServiceMaster Convention

I didn't have too much time to recover from crossing the Pacific, as I left Wednesday for Dallas Texas. My mother's sister, beloved Aunt Deanna Godemann resides in Dallas. It also happened to be the location of ServiceMaster's yearly national convention. It is also from Dallas where I would fly to Phoenix and visit Arizona. I was glad to see my Aunt Dee, because working in Kuwait will probably preclude me from visiting her during Thanksgiving, where she hopes to host the entire family.

I also managed to catch Servicemaster's guest speaker this year, Colin Powell. The retired Gulf War General and former secretary of state was invited (paid) to speak to the gathered franchise owners. He gave an entertaining speech for the crowd and is quite funny. I also got a chance to visit briefly with some other ServiceMaster folks I hadn't seen in a long time, including the Dillons and the Isaacsons.

I had more fun hanging out with my Aunt Dee, her feline companion His Royal Highness Sir Winston, and Aunt Dee's Benz. While Dallas leaves a little to be desired (all of Texas is a veritable armpit according to my Aunt Dee), I had a good time hanging with my mother's older sister.

Over the Pond

After getting my visa at the Kuwaiti embassy, I went on down to Shibuya to gather some coins at the coin dealer. He didn't have what I needed.

I then wandered over to Narita Airport and boarded a Boeing 777 bound for San Francisco. The flight was uneventful. The food wasn't very good. The movie with Mark Wahlberg was OK. I passed an inordinate amount of time watching stupid sitcoms and a screen with a map on it like this one. I arrived in Denver later than expected.

But I had a heavy heart the whole time, as my life in Japan is over. I'm getting in touch with friends and family again, but I'm finding it difficult. My life and home were and in some ways still are in Japan. People over here don't really get that. Everyone talks of me being home. But I don't feel home at all.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Got the Visa!

Endless frustration, stress, and a drain on the wallet ended Tuesday Morning (Tokyo time), when the Kuwaiti Embassy in Tokyo granted me my work visa to travel to Kuwait. Unlike the JET Programme, whose army of bureaucrats take it upon themselves to do everything for JET participants, my school in Kuwait has decided to do the more grown up thing and let me bumble my way through the process myself!

To get a visa to Kuwait it seems, you need most or all of the following. As this varies considerably depending on who you are talking to, its best to have them all in your posession.

1. A work permit from your Kuwaiti employer

2. A valid passport that has a few more pages left and isn't completely over-run with all that worthless junk that the Japanese customs officials keep pasting, and stapling into it.

3. A visa application form to apply for a visa. (duh.)

5. A copy of your residency permit in Japan (if you live there and you aren't Japanese). They don't seem to mind if it expires the day after you show up.

6. A criminal background check from your hometown. (The Kuwaiti embassy in Japan wanted a background check from Koriyama. I thought they wanted one from the USA). Of all people, they don't realize that if I commit a crime, the Japanese will deport me? In the end, they were cool though, and let me just give them the one I had from Littleton.

7. A health check showing myself to be free of communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, polio, measles, mumps, SARS, bird flu, chicken pox, ADHD, athlete's foot, bad dandruff, Tourette's syndrome, Anthrax, halitosis, strep throat, and cheesy Mexican food induced constipation.

8. Shots for Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and 5 other conditions above. (may or may not be required. No doubt necessary for the next mountain of paperwork I'll face when I actually arrive in Kuwait). Also not available at the same location as the health check.

9. An HIV test. Because this is Japan, getting this test at the same time and location as the health check and the shots would be too sensible and convenient! So you will have to go to four different locations throughout your city, as each hospital only performs one test and/or gives one shot! Four to 5 days of time off will be required to collect all required health documents.

10. Passport pictures. Crosseyed pictures or other silly nonsense strictly forbidden! At least they don't have a restriction on smiles like the Japanese DMV.

11. Second copies of all of the above.

Awhile ago, I discovered to my charign that I must make a trip in person to the Kuwaiti embassy in the USA to get my visa. So I call the Kuwaiti embassy in Japan hoping that I can get my visa taken care of there, as I don't really have the time, money, or desire to go to Washington, DC. They tell me that I'm usually supposed to go the Kuwaiti embassy in the USA in order to take care of this matter. But they also tell me that they will ask for "permission from the ministry" to do it here in Japan. Great.

So I wait a bit. I haven't heard back so I call/email again. They repeat the line from above and ask for my residency permit from Japan. I wait another week and ask about things again. They repeat the same line and ask me wait for their response. I have about a week to go before I leave for the USA when I hear this, so I give up and resolve to start the process over when I get back home. At this point I'm really stressing about getting my visa.

Then, less than 24 hours before I'm scheduled to depart for Japan, I get an email from the Kuwaiti embassy that they can process my visa application here. Fantastic! Except that your website states that it takes two days to process the visa. The earliest I could arrive would be 8:00 AM the following morning, giving them 6 hours at best before I would have to leave for the airport.

Waking up at an unholy hour, I travel down to the Kuwaiti embassy, leaving 80 kg of my worldly posessions in 3 "king size" coin lockers in Tokyo's Ueno station. I even have to unpack one bag so it all fits. I get to the Kuwaiti embassy wondering if they are going to be able to do it in record time, as I have to be on a plane that evening. They quickly point out that I forgot to get everything notarized. So they give me the location where I can get everything "notarized." I had forgotten what that term even meant. They tell me to hurry. So I take a cab down there.

I get to the office and a little old lady has me sign a piece of paper that simply says " I do solemnly affirm that these documents are whatever I happen to say they are." She then lets me write a description of the things I need notarized. She then stamps everything with a big official looking rubber stamp thing. I try not to snicker and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Then she charges me 11,500 yen (almost 100 US dollars) for the privilege. I try not to get angry at the absurdity of it all. I manage to get out of the office and back at the embassy by 10:30. I'm still not sure whether they will be able to process the visa in less than 2 days.

They go ask the consul about getting it done today and tell me that they can have it done in time for my flight home. Success! The Kuwaiti Embassy in Japan is currently the most awesome place in the world! Then they fill my passport with more papers, stamps and junk. It will be completely full by this time next year.

I now have just enough time to go down to Shibuya and find that coin dealer who should have all the pieces I need to fill my collection. Unfortunately, he only has 4 of the 15 or so that I never managed to find on my own. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Libby's Pardon: Something to Chew On

Here's something for you all to chew on while I'm busy. So first, they illegally expose an undercover CIA agent. Then this guy lies and obstructs justice to protect the administration from this crime. Then Bush commutes his sentence and refuses to rule out a full pardon (No doubt in the works after the 2008 elections are conveniently over.

In any event, here's the op-ed piece from the Washington Post.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pray for Me

I'm under an intense amount of stress right now and I've got way too much on my plate.

I feel like I'm on a boat careening toward Niagara falls as I vainly try to backpedal.

Seriously, I'm going to be really busy, really stressed, and crazy these next few weeks. Be patient if I don't update as much as you'd like.

Also, if you all don't mind saying a prayer for me (or two) I would be grateful.

Towa Road Race Half Marathon

This marks the second time I've run the Towa Half Marathon. My time this go round was 1 hour 41 minutes and 15 seconds. Kind of Disappointing, considering I came in at nearly exactly the same time last year, down to the minute.

Towa is actually a town outside Nihonmatsu. Despite the time, things were a little better during the race this time around. It was a sunny day as opposed to the rain last year, so I got to see what a beautiful area the place was. I ran into Peter, my English teaching counterpart in that town. Somehow or another he'd gotten browbeaten into volunteering for the race and was sporting an official looking (i.e. dorky) uniform. I did compliment him on how pretty his town on the hill is.

It was a beautiful day, and as I ran down the hill, I could see the entire valley painted green and Mount Adatara standing on the opposite side of the valley. The flowers were blooming and they were selling cherries at the finish line. Besides a disappointing finish, a little knee trouble afterwards, and tons of stressful things to occupy my mind, it couldn't have been a better run.

Para Sailing at Goreibitsu Pass

Emi and I were enjoying a cloudy day hike at Goreibitsu Pass when we encountered all these Para Sailers. Here are the shots we took with our camera phones. I'm having Emi email me her pics later on as well. Its a lovely drive up to Goreibitsu and I was always puzzled by the sight of this big bald spot on the saddle between the mountains. Now I know what people use it for.

I was a bit surprised to see parasailers. If there is any generalization you could make about Japanese culture it is an immensely safety consious country and extremely cautious. But if you look hard enough you find folks doing just about everything.

I've never done para-sailing, but I've always wanted to try it. If I play my cards right, I might get a chance to go sky-diving this summer instead.