Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coffee Weather

Roadside Coffee; En-route from Bao Loc to Dalat, Vietnam
So far so good. It's Saturday morning and all is well. Today it's raining sideways here in Tokyo. Strong winds, damp, overcasts, grayish, and the puddles are peppered with drizzle. Perfect! My kind of day and as I would say "Coffee Weather..." Yes, I'm a rainy day type of person. Brewing up some hot Vietnamese coffee from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Add a bit of condense milk and my one vice and addiction in life is fulfilled. People that know me know me know quite well that I can't stand cigarette smoke, don't drink alcohol (not even wine), but when it comes to coffee; well, every man his weakness. I've tried some of the best coffee in the world. The most expensive and exotic came by way of a Cevet Cat's poop in Indonesia (Kopi Luwak).
Cevet Cat, Indonesia

Some genius a long time ago had the bright idea of feeding coffee beans to a weasel like cat and then picking out the seeds after it passed through its system to roast and brew. At over $100 a cup, I thought it had to be good. It was not too shabby. Nice rich taste once you convince yourself it was fine to drink. It was earthy, mildly oily, rich, and strong. However, not the best I've had. I have to say of all the coffee I've sipped and guzzled on this great earth; Central Highlands coffee from Buon Ma Thut, Vietnam is by far the best. It's reddish, richer, strong, and has a distinct aroma.  I did find that Vietnamese also have some sort of weasel poop based coffee called Chon. Of course I have a few bags of it in my freezer. Maybe I'll break it out if the rain persists today.

Well, it's good that the blog today is not so earthquake and disaster focused. I'm still laying out my plans for my next 2 trips. Looks like I'll go next Wednesday for 3 days. Then the following week I'll go on Friday for the another 3 days. All good things require doing good things. But there's other things as well aside from the recent events. It's not something that's going to go away. But life is normalizing and I'm easing back into the things I enjoy. So, I'm off to attack today fiercely fully charged and caffeinated within reason...
Cup of Coffee in Buon Ma Thut, Vietnam

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earthly Rewards

If there were any earthly rewards for doing what's right, I think the feeling received from the ladies in this photo is beyond measure. It's a bad time for these people and as you've all read the aftershocks and quakes don't seem to cease. As of yesterday, they have completely shut off the 20 kilometer radius near the reactors. Now the 80,000 people whose homes are there can not go back to check on their homes and many of the animals that lived on the farms are completely abandoned. There are a lot of challenges ahead that require a run rate of support.

So, as noted earlier I contacted 2nd Harvest Japan and was able to receive a list of what a shelter required to operate for 1 week. Most of the list were foods and perishables. So, last night I met with my good friend who is a partner and founder of a consulting company "Adept Group." With he and his company we are self sponsoring a run to Tohoku. We will rent our own truck, travel in a group of 3, collect the goods/donations, make purchases at COSTCO; and go. 2nd Harvest will give us the point of contact and location in the Ishinomaki area where we are expected to transport the supplies. As I said earlier, why wait around to do the right thing. I don't see an obstacles in our way and we will be well prepared and equipped should anything happen while we are en-transit.

What's nice is during my planing I found out from the group I had traveled with 2 weeks ago that I am slated for another run the week after next. Again, I'm happy to contribute as much as possible. Either going it alone or with another team, it' all good. What are the reasons, what are the rewards? Look at the photo, if you look closely you'll understand.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Own our own

Another good day and I got a lot of things done. The group which I traveled with the week before last has filled with volunteers. It's a good thing that so many people have signed up. So, instead of waiting, I've contacted a few charity organizations that have connections with shelters in Tohoku. By which I received a long list of needs and goods that these shelters to operate for 1 week. Most of the items on the list involve groceries and perishables. One helpful group has been Second Harvest Japan. So, a few calls to concerned friends locally leads to planning out our own trip. Get a truck/van collect a few things from here, and charitable minded companies, and go. It's better than stressing and waiting. I'm a strong believer in self sufficiency. It's one of the proudest things I can say about many of my fellow of Vietnamese Refugees that came to America in the wave of immigrants post 1975. Most of us came to America, refused or took minimal handouts, and accepted that in life there are no entitlements. So, it's embedded in me to be resourceful and proactive; I can't just sit around hoping that some coordinator puts me on their list. Why wait to do the right thing. Hence is the next. I'm going to sort out the logistics and try to make a run next week. As written before, it's always important to pay in forward. Never let a chance to do the right thing pass you by in life. Well, today's is short for words for me. Nothing too eventful has happened for us in Tokyo and most folks are to work and closing out deals and projects before Golden Week. I'll write more tonight.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's getting better

I'm going to dare say that it's getting better. The flow of goods and support is reaching the hard hit areas on a regular basis. The super high speed rail called the "Shinkansen" will resume its runs through Tohoku at the end of this month. Also I read that the public market in Kesennuma is back in operations. Many of the goods such as seafood and produce not allowed or able to be harvested in the Tohoku area are coming in from other areas. Adding to this is that the weather has greatly improved. Nights are chilly but the days are longer and sunnier. Long road ahead but as the Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step..." Well, we've been taking a lot of steps and have been tripped and knocked down just trying to get up. The quakes and aftershocks still come regularly and I'm sure a few big scary ones loom in the ques of fear for us all. However, we are on the move and getting used to the obstructions. There's an expression here that best describes dealing with things. It's " しょうが無い" (shoganai) which can be trans-interpreted as "It's what it is and there's nothing you can do." All the setbacks keep happening but  しょうが無い we are not going to give up. The volunteer missions will continue and these steps still require a lot of help. But over all, I'm going to be lit with a positive perspective.

Which leads to a few other thoughts I've been having. Lately I've been hit again with wanderlust. I get these more often than most and it calls me to go away and get lost somewhere. In a few weeks we have Golden Week and with it a lot of holidays back to back in one week. Between my volunteer runs and such, I'm planning a trip somewhere. My current options are either visit my brother Enkhtuvshin and his family in Mongolia or go back to the U.S. for a few weeks. I've not set foot back in the States for over 2 years now. Also recently I've connected with 3 sisters whom I've never met. They are related to me via my biological father. It' get's complicated to explain, but I've not seen my biological father for nearly 20 years.  しょうが無い, it's what it is. Met him for the first time at 22 years old and that was that. I do have a strong inner motivation to meet my sisters and other relatives as we all share a connection. We shall see if time permits in spring, if not I'll go in summer. I will visit them as it's important to me.

Right now Mongolia appears to be the best option as it's a little closer. I've been planning a few excursions and expeditions on my own there. Of all the places in the world; Mongolia is somehow a place I feel a very strong spiritual connection. When I'm there I'm at peace and the open big skies with endless fields of views recharge me. Right now this spot on this hill where I ride up to on my horse often is where I want to be. If you ask me nicely I may give you my secret coordinates as to how to get here. So with a light of optimism and an air of old sayings and expressions I'll close out today's blog entry with a Mongol saying about experience.
"It is better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times..."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Clean Up

Late posting, long day back to the grind. Tokyo had some rain last night and it's a nice clear day now. Most news and events seem like any other day. No major shakes here, no major news events regarding the reactors. Work life is definitely picking up its pace. I'm planning my next trip to Tohoku. Lots of calls and leads to contact. The good news is that the amount of volunteers have increased. I'm happy that it's hard to find slots and opportunities for going up and assisting as opposed to a deficit in support. The next mission I plan to deliver supplies and then offer help in cleaning up. There are lots of homes and people struggling to clear out severely damaged homes. I read that the amount of rubbish is equal to 16 years of trash per household. Not to mention the toxins, decay, and dust. Masks and protective gear are a must. It's going to be important to get as much cleared away as possible as Japan will have rainy season soon. With the rains and damp, it's likely the place will be a breeding ground for disease and pests. Part of the process of healing means sorting things out and letting go. Many of the people are doing this task alone and without much help. Many are old and many have lost family members. During research I've found a list of places and their needs list. My aim this run up is to rent my own vehicle, purchase/collect supplies, then deliver to the designated areas. Afterward, I'll put a day of clean up support. The photo today was caught as my car was passing amid huge piles of assembled debris. An older woman was struggling to carry things from her home to the curbside. Her street was still littered with cars, wreckage, pieces form ordinary things. Well, there's lots to do ahead.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Other than being woken up a few times last night by some heavy shakes, the weekend was uneventful here. I spent most of the time settling into my new apartment. Through all the events of the previous month, I was moving. Last week was full of ups and downs. Then weekend had clear days and most of the sakura have fallen to the ground. Work life and things in Tokyo seem nearly as before the earthquake. The nights are a bit dark as the usage of power have been reduced. I've started my running regiment again as I had plans for an ultra-marathon in the summer. Will I be ready for another 100k race; who knows. It's nice to be pushing the pace again. Things seem to be normalizing here. But as they do, I'm still left with the awareness that they are not.

The picture above says it all. This little girl's face. Of all the faces I saw while on the last trip. Her's is one that left the strongest impression. She was standing in line with her mother. I was working down the line and noticed her. I had some candies and offered to them to her and a few people around her. Both adults and children seemed welcomed to break from the dull of waiting. She caught my eye as I could see her staring aimlessly. Even while she and her mother were selecting candies she maintained this disposition. Even later on when I saw them hours later, she remained the same.This shell shocked glare that's not uncommon in this crowd. Her's was one that stood out the most.

So, as the week begins. I'm back to my search. What remains unmoved is my desire to continue volunteer trips.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Capturing Solitude

In another circumstance Miyagi Prefecture, Fukushima Prefecture, and the other areas of Tohoku would be amazing places to visit. For those not familiar with Japan, Japan has prefectures which are much like states back in the U.S. As for Tohoku; it simply means North East. Although Japan appears on maps to be a very north to south vertical country. We here see the country with two primary regions that are considered East Japan (Kanto) and West Japan (Kansai). The mountain range near Mt. Fuji on the main island of Honshu divides the country. In the east, Tokyo is the prominent city and in the west it's Osaka.  Where the disaster took place in Tohoku is one of the most beautiful places in the country. The image above was taken in Miyagi prefecture at Futakuchi Gorge not far from both the Fukushima nuclear reactors and the coast where the tsunami hit. This is just south of the city of Sendai and near the border of Fukushima prefecture. On the day I was heading back for Tokyo, I woke up at 5:00 AM to catch a few photos. If any of you have seem my photos you may notice that a large part of my photos don't have people in them. That's because I prefer shooting with no one in them. I like images of solitude. In these scenic images there's such an irony as 12 hours before I was in a post apocalyptic scene. I'm an artist, I seek out visuals that I want to capture forever. This place, is one where photos nearly take themselves. In the early morning calm I came here to shoot, I'm a far cry from reality.

It's the Japan I dreamed about when I first wanted to come here. It's the unique scenery that draws many people to the east. In my time of travels I can say I get around to a few places here and there. This area is one of my favorites. Not far from here are snow capped mountains that overlook lush farmland. Along the coast, the mountains empty to the sea and small cloisters of islands peer up from the ocean. Now and for a long time after nothing here will ever be the same. Many of the farmers near this region have been told not to grow crops and those that do will likely have to endure a lot of scrutiny and ignorance due to radioactive fears. Then there's the tourism industry. It's essentially been flat lined. Most resorts, hot spring hotels, and tourist destinations have lost all business.
I wrote tonight to impress a upon you a few visuals that may have gotten over looked when many in the world first heard of this place in the news. It's more than just reactors and debris fields. It's a place that's full of incredible vistas. I'm not recommending people come here right now. I'm just highlighting yet another casualty of recent events. It's going to be a tough year here. I think these days one may not have to wake up at 5:00 to have the place to themselves and capture solitude.