Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

On Sunday, I ran a race.  A 10k.  Which to many people is not a very far distance to run, but given that before the past six months of my life, I’d never run four miles straight, I’d say is pretty awesome.  I could focus on the fact that I wish I had been a minute faster, or the fact that I didn’t beat as many people as I wanted to, but I won’t.  I’d rather focus on the fact that I didn’t walk once, no matter how slow I decreased my speed to, and the fact that I worked through a significant amount of pain in my knee and kept my shit together.  (Running, as in climbing mountains, I have found, is as much about physical endurance as it is about mental toughness.)

Half-way through (okay, in the first 10 minutes), I started questioning why on earth I would sign myself up for this sort of torture.  But maybe akin to what I know about a bikini wax or what I’ve heard about childbirth (all those clever tricks your brain plays to make you forget the pain), even hours after the race was over I had this overwhelming sense of wanting to do it again.  But better!  Even my swollen knee, stiff muscles, and blistered feet aren’t discouraging me.

The race was held in a town a few hours south of Shimokita called Oirase, known Japan-, and now world-wide, for being the home to the Tallest Statue of Liberty in Japan!!  Hear that New York?  You have competition.  It was a small race, with only a couple hundred people (if that) in the 10k.  The route took us through some small neighborhoods, past rice paddies and farms, a couple kilometers of rolling woodland, and then back into town.  Having never ran a race back home, I don’t have much to compare it to, but I’m pretty sure that it was in classic Japanese fashion that we received a box of barley tea in our Registration Packet and a voucher for a free bowl of dumpling/noodle soup post race, which really hit the spot.  Yum.

So, on the same topic of running, here is a funny and spot-on post written by my friend, John.  While dated, and in a completely different part of the world, makes me realize that just because this Japan race is over, doesn’t mean that running – and training – for another one, elsewhere, is off the table.  Although a tempura lunch and an onsen soak might not be in the cards, I could always make due with a swim in the Dead Sea and some falafel – or a hot tub and a juicy burger and a beer.

Post-race gangstas

Read Full Post »

…can be experienced here.

Read Full Post »

In October, I talked about Harvest Season here: the many garden plots and the plethora of potatoes, soybeans, cauliflower, tomatoes, and daikon that grace the fields and plates of our little town.  I also mentioned getting to harvest rice with one of my elementary schools, which we then used for the big Omochi Party in November.  Well, seasons have changed, winter has come and gone, and now planting season has begun in earnest.  My happiness level and appreciation for the beauty around here has skyrocketed with each blue-sky day and the rising temperatures.  The lack of Daylight Savings Time this far north makes me feel a little like I’m living in the Arctic Circle.  At 4:45am it’s bright as day outside my window and the sun doesn’t set until well past 7.

Baby rice starters

Ofcourse they got dirty! They're kids! **PS. This is for all you NYers out there...mad love from Kazama

Yesterday was no exception.  In the afternoon, I joined the same elementary school to plant the rice that they will then harvest again next fall.  Although I arrived with galoshes, it became pretty clear that they were impractical for the procedure.  So, like my kids, I rolled up my pant legs and waded right in, baby rice starters in hand to plant in perfect grid-like rows already established before we arrived.  The mud was warm, thick and squishy.  And it made me really, superbly, blissed to be out in the sun, calf-deep in earthy sludge, listening to the shouts and giggles coming from my students and fellow teachers.  Sometimes there’s not much more to say than: it was fun.

See the grid rows here? They are made with an archaic looking cylindrical metal tool (about 5ft wide) with spokes, and rolled across the mud (which has been flooded in preparation the last week or so).

Modeling the finished product

Read Full Post »

My monthly Sunday is up at Go Girl.  Read here.

Read Full Post »

The Great Wall

 

Contrary to our nature, Ellie and I decided to heed the advice of several concerned parents and friends and elected to use a tour service for our Great Wall trip.  We were told that the Wall was dangerous and that camping along it was illegal.  So, for a relatively reasonable fee, we were hooked up with a private tour guide, a car to shuttle us from Beijing to the Wall trail heads, food, and two nights accommodation along the Wall (though we initially thought we’d get a chance at camping ON the Wall with our guide – our preference).

In retrospect, once getting to the Wall, hiking along it and finding somewhere to camp would have been no problem.  Parts of it are certainly in disrepair, but nothing that a little re-routing couldn’t fix.  Also, we discovered that while it is illegal to camp overnight in the renovated “Scenic Spot” sections of the Wall, most everywhere else is fair game, and undisturbed.  Though people will not tell you this.  And while I don’t know statistics, I would bet that 98% of tourists going to the Great Wall of China go to one of three renewed, government regulated, built-up spots.  This leaves miles and miles of real, often crumbling, but far more authentic sections of the Wall untrafficked and unloved.  Naturally, it is these places that held the appeal for us.  Further, I’ll put it flatly: we did not get along with our guide, who was a sheltered, young Chinese man the same age as us, who clearly struggled internally with years of hating America (per Chinese propaganda) and his recent idolization of stereotypical America and Americans, as the scales fell from his eyes in regards to his own government.  To boot, we were (are) women, and despite the fact that we were paying him for a service (i.e. it was, in fact, our vacation), our desires, abilities, and preferences were nigh taken into account.  Not exactly what you look for in a guided personal tour.

 

Gubeikou Section of the Great Wall

All that said, the Great Wall is an impressive feat in architecture, warfare and protection tactics, manpower, and natural beauty, and I am delighted to have discovered it.  Built primarily during the Ming Dynasty (between 1368 and 1644) to protect Beijing from nomadic Mongol invaders to the North, in the end, it did little to keep out the formidable Ghengis Khan.  It snakes its way along the ridges of the Yanshan and Xishan mountain ranges, a series of watchtowers interconnected by long expanses of, well, wall.  We learned that it was engineered to catch rainfall and funnel it only towards the Beijing side of the mountains, and here and there, the usual bricks along our walk were interspersed with fine carvings and etchings, detailing the year and emperor under which that section was built.

 

 

Etchings over top arrow windows

The first day, we began hiking on the Gubeikou section of the Wall, furthest North-East from Beijing.  The day was dry, hot, and hazy.  This section of the wall, while not renovated, hooks up with Jinshangling, a very popular section of the “Wild Wall,” where we stopped for the night and stayed at an Inn at the base of the Wall in the town proper.  The next day, we awoke to mist and cooler temperatures for our hike to Simatai, perhaps the second most well-known section of Wall in the area north of Beijing. (Second after Badaling, which we did not see, but which I hear is a tourist-trap circus.)  These sections were rebuilt in the 80s and 90s for tourist revenue, and do give quite a nice idea of the Wall in its hey day.  What original stones they could not use for the renovations, they produced similar likenesses.  The hiking was not very difficult at all, although some sections were a little stair-masteresque given all the steps.  After a late and delicious lunch of grilled trout (a specialty of the region), we drove to a village in a really remote section of the Wall, Jiankou.  Here, rather than paying the Chinese government for access, the villagers profited by charging tourists, and I was happier to see my money stay in the remote valley than off somewhere else.

 

Jinshingling Inn Courtyard - Ellie and I playing with our new birdy toy

 

View of the Fairy Watchtower in the Simitai section - we were unable to go beyond the spot where we were standing due to "dangerous disrepair." Although for 200 yuan (approx $30), you could bribe the teenage guards to let you pass.

 

Whole grilled trout in Simitai seasoned with lots of red chilli, cumin, and fennel. Delicious.

That night, we stayed in a guestroom of a local corn farmer, who had become famous in the area for housing many photographers in the 90s.  Let’s just say that while the beds looked decent enough, I was happy to have my own cozy sleeping bag with me for the night.  The last day was the best weather we’d had.  Clear blue skies and a spring breeze to the air.  This was officially the “Wild Wall,” off-limits to regular tourists and by far the most delightfully decrepit portion of the Wall we’d seen.  Footing was treacherous at times and my adrenaline was definitely pumping as I pulled, sidled, and balanced my way up the mountains, praying not to get hurt in remote China without travelers’ insurance.  Here, most of the stones and steps were crumbling away, and plants and trees had reclaimed the watchtowers and paths.  Certain sections, we hiked alongside the Wall for safer passage.  Looking behind me, I could see the Wall wind its way nearly encircling the entire farming valley below.  It was breathtaking and staggering and with sun on my face, my heart swelled.

 

The entrance and outside patio of the farming family's home with whom we stayed

Jiankou section of the Wall

Pondering upon the highest point of the Jiankou Great Wall

After climbing off the Wall and having lunch on the patio of our farmer family’s home, we returned to civilization in Beijing.  Though the distance was covered in less than two hours by car, the quiet view from our remote part of the Wall that morning and our smoggy and noisy evening entry into the city were worlds and worlds removed.

Read Full Post »

Even in the darkest hours of December, I thought to myself, There are way worse people with whom I could be stuck in the middle of nowhere Japan. And while I’ve made friends, missed friends, spent many an hour writing emails and talking on skype, in the end, it’s been me in this house on the hill overlooking Hokkaido.  Just me.

Recently, I caught the evening light just right on a deserted beach several hours south of my town.  Here, I welcomed the coming season with some warmer winds and my sights on the Pacific.  And on much more.  I’ve yet to internalize all that these past eight months have done to shape me as a person, a woman, a daughter, a friend; but the way I felt on this day, greeting Spring on the shores of Japan in excellent solo company, is a start.  On the eve of my twenty-fifth birthday, with brains in my head and feet in my shoes, I am steering myself in the direction I choose.   Happy Birthday to me.

The Beast has been a noble, if not slightly ghetto, adventuring companion

Read Full Post »

“And if the job you want is as a professional skier in the Japan boom-time 80s, then you’ve come to the right place….”

Check out the full article here!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »