Saturday, November 26, 2005

Welcome to your New Apartment - Excitement on the First Night

That's right, Dan and I finally moved out of our hotel on Friday into our new sunny, Japanese-style apartment. More about that later. First, the description of our first night here.

Why were we awake at 1am?

Well, we were asleep, then the first siren we ignored, figuring that we simply lived too close to the fire station. But then there was a second siren and loud booming noises. I turned over and queried Dan, "Are those explosions?" So, we finally got up to check things out. Here's the view from our balcony.

Fortunately the fire seemed to be limited to a single building. There were lots of fire trucks and water. Poor wooden building. The booming noises were the roof collapsing. The good news, for us, is that our building is made more of brick. And don't worry, we have sprinklers in our apartment:

And a handy escape ladder on our balcony.

More about the nifty features of our strange apartment later...

In the morning, the poor building looked like this, but the fire had been very succesfully contained. It doesn't even look like there was smoke damage on the building next door.

We are hoping for a calmer night tonight.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Search for Thanksgiving Turkey

Day 1 - Wednesday - Labor Thanksgiving Day
Being Americans, Dan and I thought that we might have turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner. Of course, Rich (Dan's co-worker stuck in Japan for the holiday) was mildly interested in this plan too. There is
not Japanese Thanksgiving in the traditional sense, but they did have a holiday on Wednesday. It is called Labor Thanksgiving Day. Basically you are thankful that you have a job. Many people go to work on this holiday to celebrate. We decided to find Thanksgiving dinner.

We had a good start, one of the women on my foreign-women-giving-birth-in-japan email list emailed about places to find American Thanksgiving dinner. There was a broad range of places. I evaluated the places, removed the ones that used the terms, "foie gras," and "mushroom gravy," then sent the remaining list to Dan and Rich for approval with my recommendation that we go to the placed described this way:

Farm Grill
Nov 20-26
Very spacious causal Californian dining in the heart of Ginza.
Turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
Classic roasted turkey, fall vegetable lasagna, classic pecan pie,
rotisserie chicken, classic Caesar salad, and seafood await you.
All-you-can-eat-buffet: JY2500. All-you-can-drink: JY1000.
Open 11:30am-4pm and 5-11pm. Ginza 9 Bldg, 2F, 8-5 Chuo-ku, Ginza.
03-5568-6156. Nearest stn: JR Shinbashi stn

The place sounds great. And how can you beat "all-you-can-eat" Thanksgiving Dinner?

We got a bit of a late start, Rich was busy celebrating his job at work. However, I had some snacks
and we started out optimistically. We took the subway trains to Shinbashi Station. Dan used his recently accumulated knowledge about the area to lead us past Ginza 9-1, Past Ginza 9-2, and right up to Ginza 9-3. We looked, but initially didn't see anything. We wandered all the way around the Ginza 9-3 building and found: A grocery store, a dark alley, and a new restaurant celebrating its grand opening on Friday. Rich and I convinced Dan that he should go ask for directions at the grocery store, "Farm Grill wa doko desu ka?" Unfortunately the clerk had no idea.

Being smart people, we stared at the sign for the new restaurant and concluded that we were at the
right location, the Farm Grill had closed, and it was replaced by the new restaurant. Dan researched the Farm Grill at work the next day, and the best he could tell, it had closed, back in 2004.

By now it was getting very late. Fortunately, Ginza is a neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. We looked down the street. I saw a British Flag near a building with a green restaurant-looking sign. "Maybe that is a British Pub!" Excited, we wandered closer to the location, determining that the flag was actually for a school that taught English. So, we walked a little further down and found a steak house. A good, if expensive, backup plan if we couldn't find anything else.
Then we walked a little further down, debated the merits of eating at the steak house, contemplated going to the Hard Rock Cafe or TGI Friday's in Roppongi (kind of far away, another subway ride), when we looked down a side street and saw TGI Friday's! Ok, so it wasn't our finest moment in cuisine selection, but we had some great burgers and fries. :)

Day 2 - Thursday - American Thanksgiving Day

We took our failure on Wednesday to mean that maybe we should just get turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Our original Thursday plan was to simply go to the nearby Hilton buffet which would include turkey. However, Dan realized that the list of places serving turkey only mentioned the Hilton for Wednesday, not Thursday. He researched and found a list of places on-line:

The first 2 places had mushrooms or foie gras, so I skipped over them. The next place, TY Harbor
sounded really good. However, it was at least 30 minutes away. Out of the remaining restaurants, Fujimamas sounded the most normal. I called to make a reservation, but given that it was already Thursday, they were booked. Next on the list was Ben's Cafe, but it sounded a little too casual for the price. So, I called the Pink Cow:

Pink Cow (Omotesando)
Chef Andy Warden's holiday buffet will be available both Thursday and Friday (24/25), and it includes turkey, lots of pie, and plenty of vegetarian choices like stuffed tofu. Y3800 per person. 03-3406-5597.

This sounded good. I can't argue with lots of pie. The price seamed reasonable. When I called, a
native Japanese speaker answered the phone. He was able to tell me that they were completely booked. However, then a woman grabbed the phone, saying, "This will be easier in native English." I agreed and we discussed the options available. She mentioned that there would be some space at the bar. I asked if there was smoking at the bar. She confirmed, that yes, that was the only place there was smoking in the restaurant. I explained that because I was pregnant, I just couldn't deal with the smoke. She then revealed that there was a single table left in kind of a cubby hole room. It was kind of small, but could seat 3 people well. I booked it for 8:30pm.

We left the hotel a little late, about 8:10pm. But it was only a 15 minute subway trip to the
restaurant. When we got to the subway exit at Omotesando, we emerged from underground to look at the map of the neighborhood. It was not terribly helpful. We wandered around the corner. No Pink Cow in sight.

After minutes of frustration, Rich suggested that we take a taxi. Certainly the taxi driver could take us to the correct place since we didn't seem to be there. We hailed a cab and Rich gave the piece of paper with the address of the Pink Cow to the taxi driver. He looked at it and told us, "No taxi,"
explaining that it was nearby. So we got out of the taxi and boldly strode in a direction down the street.

Fortunately we didn't have to go far until we found a police station. Dan, being the designated direction asker, went to get the directions. The police told him, go up 2 traffic signals and take a right. So we wandered in the direction that they told us for a while. We went by 1 signal, no problem. Then we went by a bunch of intersections with cross walk signals, but we just weren't sure if they qualified as actual signals.

Suddenly Dan decided that we should turn right. We wandered down a small road that turned into a dark alley. We avoided a slightly dangerous looking homeless person and ended up at the intersection of another dark alley. There was a building indicating a retirement home, but no more glowing signs or main intersections. I was tired of walking (wish we could have taken the taxi over there) and Rich was skeptical. We were nearly close to staging a coup of direction giving when Dan turned down the side alley and said, "There it is!" We were impressed and will never again question Dan's directional ability.

We approached the entry way to the Pink Cow tentatively. It was located on the lower level of an
otherwise non-descript building. We walked down the stairs and entered the "restaurant." Ok, actually it was billed as a Restaurant and Art Bar (see flyer that we received below). The description said that it was normally a Wine Bar.

As we walked in, we saw the "buffet." It was basically various food, including turkey, set out on the small wall that you can see on this web site review of the place:
As we were already over 30 minutes late for our reservation, Rich was concerned that the food had been sitting out for quite a while on the small wall. Plus, it was the kind of serving arrangement where everyone just serves themselves. No sneeze guards, no real way to prevent dust and stuff from getting into the food. Rich asserted that he would not be eating the food. So, it was up to us to talk our way out of the reservation. Oh yes, there was also a distinct body odor scent permeating the air which didn't sit well with my heightened sense smell.

The owner of the place, Tracy, came up to us looking apologetic. We weren't quite sure why she was the apologetic one. We were the ones who were late for our reservation. Maybe because when we spoke on the phone, she did ask if we had ever been there before, I said no, and she didn't give us directions. In any case, she explained that she lived in Tokyo for 10 years before opening the place. She wanted a community gathering place for people to hang out in. She had the Pink Cow for 5 years. We apologized for being late and then said that we were going to head out, perhaps coming back on a less busy night.

What sort of additional comments are there about the atmosphere of the place? Well, being that it was an "Art" place, there were various photographs on the walls. For instance, in our small alcove with our reserved table, there was a series of 3 pictures that involved a nipple.

But, we talked our way out of the reservation. Having avoided eating (or not eating in Rich's case) in the nipple room, we went back out to the street. We recalled that when we were back at the exit of the subway, there was an El Torito. So, on Thanksgiving night, we ended up having Mexican food. It was really, really good. It was the best El Torito we have ever eaten at. Better than the one back in Shinjuku and even better than the ones in Redondo Beach, CA.

We may go back to the Pink Cow on an evening when we are feeling a bit more
bohemian. Oh, and when Rich isn't wearing his striped Nautica sweater.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Okay...Angela figured out how to add more than one blogger to a blog. Now, I get to post under my name. Hmm...perhaps we should change the timestamps on this blog to something other than PST.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Busy Weekend - Saturday at Mt Fuji
by Angela

Well, it is now Monday morning here. We had quite the busy weekend. Many people replied via email about our blog, it was good to hear from you. However, I am just getting the chance now to reply
to emails and update our blog. Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day. One of Dan's co-workers, Rich, is also here in Tokyo. He encouraged us to sign up for a tour of Mt. Fuji and the Hakone area. It was an amazing trip. We started out by taking a tour bus to the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center. Here is the view from the visitor center:

The cool picture taken above was one that Rich took with his camera. Here is a picture of the 3 of us posing with the mountain playing a decidedly lesser role in the picture. Notice that we are wearing our official "we are with the tour" stickers on our shirts. Notice also that Dan and I are not wearing winter coats yet. It was kind of chilly at the base, but not too bad. The layering was working for us.

Next, we took the bus half way up the 3,776m volcano to the 5th Station. This is where people start the 5-7 hour walk up to the top (but only in the summer). The view of the mountain was pretty cool, but the view of the valley was amazing.

Of course, this tiny bookmark type picture would never do the scene justice. There was a beautiful
lake. The other neat thing were the layers upon layers of mountains. Over on the left side of the picture, you see mountains, then clouds, then some mountains peaking out above the clouds.

After the Mt. Fuji experience, we had lunch, then took a drive through the countryside to get to our next destination, Hakone. We went through many small, cute towns. Some of them included rice
patties, some of them included Denny's.

When we arrived in Hokone, we took a short boat ride over to the place where the cable car goes up the mountain. On the boat we met some people from the United States (one was born in Kalamazoo, MI) who had just finished trecking through Nepal. They highly recommended the experience. However, after further discussion, we concluded that is is a trip that you could take a
kid on, but it works better without. I wonder what types of trips are kid friendly. After talking with the trecking-Americans, we arrived at the base of the mountain. Here is a picture of the cable car we took up the mountain.

The view from the top was amazing. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. This is probably because Japan is the first set of volcanic islands that I have ever visited. We could see the lake below, the mountains beyond that, the Pacific Ocean beyond that. We could look 3 different directions and see the ocean. We could even see Tokyo from the top. Here is a picture of the lake we had been boating on, Lake Ashi.

Beyond the sun-lit mountains is the ocean. The ocean is also the body of water on the left (also beyond mountains). The valley also has a golf course. You can see the cables for the cable car on the right. Also on top of the mountain was a small Shinto shrine. Here is a picture of the shrine sitting on top of a grassy knoll.

Here's Dan and me on the mountain (also on a grassy knoll). Rich had to risk his life to take this picture, there was something moving in the grass near him, probably a small mole or maybe a large bug. The sun was setting while we were up there, so the lighting was low and bright. Notice that we did wear warm coats at this point. It was below 0 degrees C.

We left the mountain and its various views via cable car, then we returned to Tokyo via a bus to the bullet train stop. The bullet train is very fast. Here is our train:

After returning, we went out to eat at El Torito, a mexican restaurant. Mmmmm... A success in the daily search for food for Angela. A good way to end the day. :)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Angela Goes Apartment Shopping

When you think about a Japanese apartment, what comes to mind?

Our original plan was to stick with a western-style, executive housing option in the ex-patriot neighborhood of Roppongi. However, after visiting 3 different apartments, I think we want to try one of the smaller (and less expensive) options available here. Here are the 3 options:

Hotel-Like Room
One option is to stay at a building that offers both hotel rooms and temporary apartments. There were 2 room types here. One was 60.7 sq meters. The other was 51 sq meters. Both felt very large. They had seperate rooms for kitchen, living, bedroom. They had large closets. They had a dishwasher. One kind of fun advantage is the weekly maid service. But it did feel like living in a hotel. We are currently staying in a smaller, more normal sized hotel room and it just doesn't have a homey feeling.

Dark, Vault-Like Room
As I entered the 4th floor of the building, I felt like I was walking into a bank vault hallway. There were doors on each side with weird handles. They were dark and it looked like a bunch of individual bank vaults side by side. This would have been fine except when we walked into the apartment, it was just as dark and vault-like. The wood was a beautiful mahogany color, but just made the room feel even smaller than its 42 sq meters. The beds were separate and set perpendicular to each other. It was cave-like even though it was on the 4th floor. Not somewhere I could see myself living in for 1 day, not to say 5 months.

Bright, Sunny Apartment
This was actually the first place I looked at. The utility room and bathroom were both set off to the side. The main kitchen/living/bedroom area had an open floor plan. The bedroom had a separator wall between it and the living area. There were lots of windows. The only down side wasn't the size (38.5 sq meters), but rather the fact that the beds were separate. The agent showing the place said that we could not move the beds, it would scratch the floor. So the proposed plan was for us to move into this place on Sunday, then move to a different place in mid-December (same building). The new place has a bigger bed, is slightly bigger (by a square meter or two), and is 2 levels. Kind of like a loft, I guess. Unfortunately it was not possible to see the other place, it is currently unavailable.

Decision - Bright, Sunny Apartment
My preference is to stay in the small, one-level place for the entire time. That is, given that we can move the beds carefully together and get one of those bed combiner things. Or, that we can see the second place and kind of evaluate the amount of light and the size of the 2 levels before we move in.

So, we may move Sunday. Overall the experience of apartment shopping was positive. The company that helps Dan's company operate smoothly in Japan had sent over a representative to help me do the shopping. She spoke English well and was fun to be with. I guess we will know soon what will happen with our moving adventure.

I left my work notebook in the US so I wouldn't export any technical data, and I got a new one in Japan. It is becoming my new best friend.

I am sitting in the middle of a room of about 100 other people. We each have a desk that is about .75 meters by 1 meter. There are rows of pairs of four desks like this:
(each xx is a chair)

-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- d
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | e x
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | s x
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- k
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- d
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | e x
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | s x
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- k
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- d
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | e x
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | s x
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- k

The desks on the ends are for upper management, like department managers. Everyone else, including the program managers, sits in the other desks. Basically, it's a lot like crew.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

An Introduction Post from Angela

(Happy Anniversary to us today, the 16th of November)

Dan and I have been married 3 years now and finally we have decided to create a blog. We feel the need to share our exciting Dan + Angela Adventures (DAng-Adventures) with those of you who are interested. To catch you up to date, we are currently in the middle of a program for Dan's work where they transform him from a simple Software Engineer into an exciting Systems Engineer.

The Program: Basically 5 young engineers are selected each year for this program. Initially Dan was selected as the 6th person on this list, not making it into the program. We went out to celebrate the fact that Dan was a fairly cool guy and almost made it. However, someone dropped out so he made it! Rather than celebrating again, we quickly dropped everything going on in our lives in Falls Church, VA in October of 2004. As he was a late entry, we didn't have as much time as everyone else to wrap up our personal/professional lives.

My Work Situation: I asked my work if they would be willing to change my status from full-time Arlington, VA employee to part time contractor working remotely. They said no. So two weeks later, I became unemployed-Angela.

Dan's First Assignment: Redondo Beach, CA; October 2004 - March 2005. While it was very nice to spend the winter living and working in sunny California, we experienced the second rainiest winter on record. However, it was awesome. The weather was beautiful most of the time. We met great people at Rolling Hills Church who were involved in a young-married couples' group. We traveled to Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, Big Bear, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Monterey. An amazing first location.

My Work Situation: After 5 months of being bored and unemployed-Angela, my work decided that they would hire me back as a part-time contractor. To get around the "no contractors working remotely" rule, I agreed to commute to the Irvine office 1 time per week. It was an hour to an hour and a half drive, but not bad once a week. Plus, we were almost done in Redondo Beach.

Dan's Second Assignment: Melbourne, FL; March 2005 to October 2005. Perhaps it was not the best idea to spend the summer in central Florida during the worst hurricane season on record. It was sooo hot. We tried not to go outside. Fortunately we were not hit by any hurricanes. Melbourne is an interesting town. It is basically a suburb without a metropolitan area. This assignment helped us to realize 2 main things. 1) We are city people and enjoy having stuff within walking distance; 2) We do not wish to live in Florida, it is too hot.

My Work Situation: As we were nowhere near an office (3 hour drive to Miami), my agency allowed me to work from home all the time. I did end up visiting some of our offices, in Minneapolis, DC, and Dallas. This worked pretty well.

Dan's Third Assignment: Tokyo, Japan; November 2005 - April 2005. We are just getting started here in Tokyo. It will test our theory about being city people.

My Work Situation: A foreign country was pushing it a bit for my agency to keep me on. They put up with remote locations in the United States, but couldn't quite justify Tokyo. So, I once again found myself to be unemployed-Angela. However, that lasted less than a week as I started working for a Canadian company that will allow me to work remotely from Tokyo. :)

Our Family Situation: That just about brings us up to date. The only additional note to make the situation even more unusual than it could possibly be is that we will have our first kid in March. This means that I am in-between doctors right now, but am in the process of finding one here in Japan. It is possible that I may decide to give birth at the "Aqua Birth House" here in Tokyo. I will be going to visit it and check it out on December 1st. Until then, I have joined an email list-serv that includes other foreign women giving birth here. They are most helpful with questions that I have about where to start. I should be having lunch with some of them near the end of the month.

This seems to be the most exciting time of our lives. We plan on enjoying it. We are trying to learn some Japanese, try new foods (I started eating bananas), and expand our world-view. Of course, we miss our friends back in the United States, but also invite you to visit. Please email us and/or give us a call (we still have a Virginia phone number thru Vonage).

Angela and Dan - Anniversary 2004