Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Asian Invasion: Part II, Furano, Japan

On to the north island of Japan, Hokkaido. We brought all of our own gear, which set up many scenes of hilarity where the silly Americans camped out with their mounds of junk.

Waiting for a bus with all of our shi--I mean, our stuff.

Our first day consisted of mostly travel into the countryside. When we arrived at our inn, we were happy to find the one English-speaking employee on duty (hi Ken!). He directed us to an event the locals put on showcasing Japanese culture a few times a month called Sunday Night Live.

Furano residents donned traditional costumes and acted out songs that told epic stories about samurai and their lovers and such, they showed off calligraphy, and even had some sweet flower arranging.

Foolishly, they let us try out the samurai swords. You'll put someone's eye out!

We weren't sure what to expect for day 1 of skiing. The reasons for choosing to visit Furano boiled down to a single quote from a skiing website answering the question of where to ski in Japan: "Well, do you want to visit Australia or Japan?". Japan is a hot spot for Aussie tourists, and the more well-known resorts cater to these guests. We wanted to see what Japanese skiers experience and Furano is a little off the beaten path, but we really weren't sure what to expect.

Technically two resorts connected: Furano and Kitanomine

We were there for the first lift up the 'ropeway', what we'd call a tram. Despite a decent amount of Aussies at our inn, we seemed to be the only out-of-towners there for the first ride.

On the tram: three of these things are not like the others....

Everyone quickly dispersed at the top like a star-burst; they knew exactly where they wanted to go. We weren't so sure--we had read that skiing off-piste (off the designated groomed runs but still in-bounds of the resort) was technically forbidden, but that ski patrol was turning a blind eye in the past few years because it's desirable terrain that foreigners are used to having access to. We cautiously scoped things out: there were roped off areas saying Keep Out, but after we saw our host from the inn enter the area immediately under the lift in full view of the employees, we figured we wouldn't get arrested and beaten with a cane (I think that was Korea anyway).*

What we discovered is that not many locals liked skiing in the trees in ungroomed areas, which is our favorite type of terrain. Two days after the last snowfall and we were still finding fresh areas to go down!

Army guys learning how to ski. They were wearing old-school telemark skis strapped to their jackboots.

My favorite restaurant of the trip was the ramen noodle bar at the base.

I don't think I'm going to be able to eat those plastic packs of ramen anymore.

View from the top.

Ken directed us to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for dinner, which is literally what it sounds like--it was great, because you could just grab whatever looked good and leave whatever looked creepy. The portions, quality, and price of sashimi put American sushi restaurants to shame.

Day 1 = success!

*Note: I don't condone skiing in 'closed' areas in the United States unless you are trained in avalanche safety, have the proper equipment, and a planned route. Roped off areas in the US mean no avalanche control whatsoever!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Asian Invasion: Part I, Hong Kong

The copilot and I haven't had a proper vacation in over a year. A long ski weekend here or there, but we were past due for an adventure. The seeds of an idea were planted a couple of years ago when I went to Sapporo, Japan for a conference. I had a love/hate relationship with the trip--I was terrified of traveling alone in a place where not much English is spoken, and I have a deep-seated fear of seafood. But my interest was piqued enough that I wanted to come back to Hokkaido in the wintertime to check out the skiing.

With that goal in mind, the copilot reasoned that we might as well stop by Hong Kong while we were in the neighborhood. His mother is originally from HK, and a good bit of his family still lives here. We also recruited one of our ski-loving friends to join us.

Frequent flier status pays off: business class

Location: middle of nowhere Siberia
Futuristic dystopian Los Angeles or present-day Hong Kong?
No, that's actually Blade Runner, which I was a little bit reminded of navigating the crowded street, bombarded with advertizing screens and neon lights.

Not too crowded on a weekday...Saturday the streets were packed.

The food was weird...but delicious:

Much better than Americanized Chinese food.

The copilot's uncle kindly took the afternoon off of work one day to drive us into the New Territories area of the city. We stopped at a fishing village:


The water is a bit cold this time of year...

Top of Victoria's Peak
We got to visit with the copilot's grandfather, who is 95 (!!) and the family kept us well fed the entire time.

Aunt and uncle have a great view from their apartment!

Tea at the hotel: a popular passtime

The Star Ferry: quintessential Hong Kong

The one thing I didn't get to do was visit a local yarn shop--one of the copilot's cousins is a fellow yarn enthusiast, and she recommended some shops she likes, but we never made it. Next time...

Then--off to Sapporo on a Saturday night red-eye.

Hopefully not drooling.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Simple joys

One of my favorite benefits of being part of the blogging world is the sense community with fellow crafters. I think I would have scoffed at the phrase "my internet friend" a couple years ago, but I now I find the words surprisingly non-pathetic.

More specifically, it's really nice to know some fellow crafters. Etsy was supposed to be this wonderful boon to the crafting world, connecting DIY-ers and crafty people to each other and a  populace waiting to purchase their handmade wares. However, it seems to have devolved into a combination of 'artists' selling absolute crap and threatening to disappear up their own assholes with pretension, Chinese re-sellers hawking mass produced crap, people having what basically amounts to a garage sale under the auspices of 'vintage', and a handful of awesome people selling really cool stuff (or maybe I read Regretsy too much). But through the blogging community, I've been about to suss out some of the awesomeness and meet people making and selling beautiful things around the world.

I'm still enjoying my amazing stitch markers constructed by Steph of Stephcuddles. Every time the cup comes around at the end of a round I'm delighted at the little details (and crave a cup of tea).

And I just got a new toy...Susie at Useless Beauty posted a lovely tote bag she had constructed, maybe a month ago? I can't remember if it was a specific blog post or I just noticed its picture off to the side, but I marked it as a 'favorite' and assumed that someone else would snatch it up. In the midst of my flu fugue I was trolling the internet late at night and saw that it was still (strangely) available and decided I had to have it.

I don't think my photo does it justice--high quality fabric, invisible stitching, and what an eye for color! If I'd attempted a mash-up like this it would have looked like someone barfed Skittles the day after Halloween. That's why you leave it to the professionals.

I'm almost afraid to use it because it's so pretty...for the time being it's just being used as decor on the back of a chair.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's that time of year

For the past five--maybe even seven--years, I've dutifully gotten my flu shot. Usually I don't even have to ask, my doc has always pushed them like a street-corner crack dealer. This year, they ran out, I was to lazy and cheap to go somewhere else, blah blah blah. The upshot is that I would go and get 80 flu shots if it meant I never had to relive last week. So today, I'm just going to regale you with some vacation photos from a couple weekends ago.

The copilot and I go on a (psuedo) annual ski trip with some of our college friends. This year: South Lake Tahoe.

Yay! Ready to go.

Hmm. That might be dangerous.
If you've been outside at all this winter, you may have noticed that it's not very....wintery. Bad for skiing (and any snow related industry--yay shitty economy!). But it was still nice to be out.

Even though it was kind of raining the first day.

Mother Nature smiled upon us, though, and provided a bounty of 20 inches of fresh snow. 

We might have ventured off-piste a little bit to embrace the powdies. Shhh, don't tell ski patrol. We had to be careful of submerged rocks and trees, since the base was so thin. I rented some fatty skis for the occasion and got the damage waiver so I could go over rocks and not feel guilty about it.

I wish I lived here.

OH. And I also finished those stupid man-socks.

Don't ask why the stripes are different, because I don't know.