しまなみ海道 Shimanami Kaido (video)

My glorified home video of the 70km Shimanami Kaido ride with my sister. She’d brought the GoPro camera from home, and upon repacking our luggage, I had put the USB cable in the suitcase that we shipped out to our lodging a couple days from this ride, and the batteries were less than half-filled with juice, so I took what I could, and edited the best footage for the video.

Don’t turn it up too loud…

The song is “Oh, Boy” by BOY, a German/Swiss pop girl duo.

A Vietamese… American

The Vietnam of my parents is gone. It lives on in the Vietnamese diaspora. I know a lot of people go back to Vietnam to make their fortune and whatnot. But my parents (my father anyway) who, in his youth, fought on the Nationalist side, rather than the Communist, is too fearful to see how his beloved country has changed.

I think because there was no love for the current Vietnam, I have no interest in going there, and I feel like I can’t relate to the people who live there because I don’t really know who to trust besides people who question the government.

The one time I went to attend my cousin’s wedding banquet, there were plenty of friendly faces, but the only person I felt I was able to connect with was the girl cleaning the bathroom of the club we were at when I went to wash my hands. I asked her what life was like here as a queer woman (gaydar works in Vietnam!), whether she had a girlfriend, and she said that life is hard, but enjoyable. There are events where like-minded people get together and hang out. And she has a lover.

This to me is reassuring. Another reason for my disconnect with Vietnam was how a girl is supposed to look and act. Skinny, long hair, long legs, sweet and nice. This isn’t restricted to just Vietnamese girls, but when you hear it regurgitated in Vietnamese and you see the Vietnamese magazine photos and the Vietnamese stage show videos, and you just don’t fit the mold, you cling to something that won’t judge you (for one thing, because it doesn’t include you) and tells you that you’re fine just the way you are.

しまなみ海道 Shimanamikai-do

My sister came on her second big trip to Japan to hang out, so I really wanted to make this trip awesome for the both of us, especially since she’ll be going back to school for a pretty long time.

When I posted a link to a website about cycling on the Shimanami Kaidou, she seemed excited to do it, so I held out on riding the 70km expressway with 5 bridges that connects 6 islands from Shikoku to Hiroshima so that she could come with me. We rented some nice road bikes at the Imabari Giant store to make the trip a bit faster and more comfortable, as the standard bike rentals are heavy mama-chari, which I can’t imagine are fun to do long-distance rides on. What I didn’t realize was that people would stay at different islands on the way to the other side, but we had no time for that. Instead, I planned our trip to get our bikes, leave by 9:30 or 10, and get to the other side by 3 in order hop a train to catch the last ferry that leaves at 4:30 to nearby bunny island.

People finish the ride on average in 7 hours, but we wanted to finish it in a little more than 5… crazy much?

The worst parts of the ride were the slopes that led up to the bridges, the steep inclines on a mountain or two that had us walking, and the strong headwind that came at us on the bridges. The best parts were when the sun came out, waving at bikers coming from the other way, coasting down cherry blossom lined paths…

And absolutely no rain.

Before the trip, I was checking the weather forecast, which predicted light rain or clouds, after a day of sun. I was so afraid that it would turn out for the worst and rain hard, which would have made our ride probably the most terrible idea ever, as well as a rough start to my sister’s visit (we biked on the second day of her arrival). Thankfully, there wasn’t a drop of rain on our parade.

Also, we both had backpacks filled with about 2kg of things for two days, which adds to my joy that we actually finished the ride in about 6 hours without a complete and utter breakdown.

As it was my sister’s first time on a roadbike, I was a bit concerned about her safety and how comfortable she would be riding on the road, but I reassured myself, knowing how safe Japanese drivers drive around bicyclists, especially in the countryside. My sister noticed this as well, and felt at ease when I led her to ride on the road.

Since things got pretty tough towards the end, there was no way we could hit our expected time, so I had to accept the fact that we’d have to get a taxi to the ferry port. We still did our best to get to our destination as soon as we could.

Once we returned our bikes at the Giant store in Onomichi, my next goal was to find a taxi, but the station was half a mile from where we came from, and our legs just couldn’t walk anymore. Luckily, the Giant store is part of a small tourist hub for cyclists doing the Shimanami Kaido, so after I frantically asked someone nearby — who looked like he was just leaving work from one of the stores — where I could hail a taxi, he went with me to the nearby upscale hotel where you can bring and hang your bike up in your room, and the front desk people were happy to call one for me. I called the ferry port, and learned that they had a couple more ferry runs every hour after what I thought was the last one of the day… Oy!

So for about $70, we rode our taxi from Onomichi to Tadanoumi Ferry Port to get to our hotel at Okunojima, bunny island.

Ripples

One of the incoming high school senior students committed suicide. I recognize his face, but never really knew his name. He wasn’t exactly an attractive kid, and I’m not sure if his grades were all that either, but he always responded politely to my greetings and responsive in class. Because he seemed fine, he was never on my radar. I doubt he was on anyone’s either.

Yesterday, I came into a near empty office, and was told that the teachers were out searching the school to find a student that was reported missing. The teachers speculated that he ran away from home, but because he had left his smartphone, they also speculated that he may be off to commit suicide. Of course, without knowing what had happened, they downplayed the thought and hoped that the student just needed time alone and perhaps wandered off into the woods. Or took a train to Niigata and let out a scream in the ocean. One teacher commented that girls who ran away usually do so to follow their boyfriends, and boys who run away are just trouble. They might be hitchhiking, for example, but it’s illegal for drivers to pick up minors without turning them into the authorities.

The student had texted a friend that he wouldn’t go to chorus club practice the next day. The teachers found out that the day before, the student had been criticized about his singing…

This afternoon, we were told that the student’s body was found washed up on the shore by the river. The police and townspeople had done a search. The student’s homeroom teacher had to visit his family, along with the vice-principals and principal. His club advisors and club members were all notified, and his homeroom teacher will have to inform her students later. The chorus club had just returned from a big performance in Tokyo for the 4th anniversary of 3.11, and they were in high spirits.

It’s hard to believe that the student snapped simply because of his clubmate’s comment, and I doubt it was the only factor. Because his clubmate, who is a year younger than him, never got a chance to understand his feelings and apologize, he feels guilty and at fault and his homeroom teacher will have to make sure he doesn’t spiral. Other homeroom teachers tell me that their students are depressed.

Everyone feels bad that they didn’t do enough to support this kid. Like a drop in water, this incident is a rippling effect at the school. The people most affected are the ripples closest to the drop, while the ones farther out worry for the neighboring ripples.

Suicide is complicated to me. In order to move on, I cope with giving the person space and dignity in believing that it was their choice to leave. That no one is at fault, nor is the person to blame because they must have been tired from suffering.

Smart Energy in Fukushima

On Mondays, I’m sometimes invited to attend an adult English conversation class that is run by one of my students’ parents. This past week, she invited a researcher at Aizu University who is working on how to harness “smart energy” with information technology. “Smart energy” is the buzzword that refers to wind, solar, geothermal (地熱), and underground thermal (地中熱)energies. How he got to this point was incredibly interesting.

After the nuclear accident (he kept using bomb at first… freudian slip?), offices in Tokyo were asked to conserve energy because there wasn’t enough going around. At the time, he was a manager at his office, and was put in charge of energy conservation, which meant light regulation. Every day, he had a routine of turning on and off lights in different parts of a wide open office room and different times of the day. After a while of doing this, and seeing the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of scheduled manual regulation, he thought that this could so easily be automated. So he did a lot of his own studying in energy automation.  (I didn’t ask if he actually implemented any automation software.)

Conveniently, the university was looking for someone who could lead a project that would process and analyze data collected from smart energy sources to efficiently distribute that energy to individual homes. And they found this researcher. With Fukushima’s vast land area and varying climates, the researcher was excited to talk to about transporting smart energy collected from all three parts of Fukushima to and from each other, and regulate that energy transport depending on seasons when the respective areas collect less energy than usual.

What is great about this project is its goal to make smart energy distribution and transaction an open source model, so that localities can take advantage of the system and engage in self-revitalization. The top 3 players in the energy business are Hitachi, Toshiba, and Fujitsu. Instead of using these companies to do business and sell to the public consumer “smart energy” collected from solar panel and wind turbine farms, and geothermal sources on land that belong to the citizens, this open source system cuts out corporate middle-men.

Of course, this is just the vision, and our visiting researcher has been doing a lot of work in the last few years without significant results, but certainly small progressive ones.

I asked him if he liked Aizu and what hikes about it, and he loves the sake here, and how close it is to the ski slopes. That was great to hear that from a guy born and raised in Tokyo.