Saturday, January 31, 2009

Volunteering for the Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival)

A few months ago, my Japanese girlfriend and I entered our names in the lottery to do volunteer work for the Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival.)

The Sapporo Snow Festival is a famous annual week long event with HUGE snow and ice sculptures and even igloo ice bars!!! Last year over 2 million people came to Sapporo to see the Snow Fest.

Luckily our names were drawn so we started our work in the beginning of January. At first we worked on the back wall of the main giant sculpture on the 4th block of Odori Park. We were geared up with our helmets, belts and gloves and climbed the scaffolding to begin our work.

Because of the abnormal warm weather in Sapporo, they've had a difficult time maintaining the sculptures this year. On our first day of work we spent a grueling 2 hours shoving bucket full after bucket full of fresh snow into the holes using our hands and then pounding them in with our fists.

Here's a shot of our sculpture. It's going to be an Olympic scene featuring Kitajima Kosuke - the multiple gold medalist swimmer.

My second time working - I somehow got picked to be the one to climb the scary scaffolding beams and tightrope across to help build the Judo player's armpit and belt.

I had to wrap my legs around this beam for dear life as I was handed handfuls of snow to sculpt. I took a picture of my view looking up at the Judo player's face from my beam.

Here's my boss who helped show me how to snow sculpt. Uff... it's a lot tougher than I thought and I think I'll have a lot more respect for the sculptures when the event finally is opened on Feb. 5th!!!

If you go to the Snow Festival this year - don't forget to check out the Judo player's beautifully sculpted armpit and belt!!!! hahaha

The broadcasting club from my school came to videotape me working on another night, but sadly it was so warm and started raining!!!!! So the work was canceled. :-(

So we went out for hot chocolate instead!

more photos of the Snow Festival Volunteer work:

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Luckily I got some shots of the gorgeous snow here in Sapporo before it started melting away!

Here are some from my walk to school last week...

My pictures don't do it justice.

Normally I would be jumping for joy that the temperatures are so abnormally warm this year - but then I quickly realized warm temperatures = melting snow which turns into huge slick dangerous sheets of ice.

This is a photo of my sidewalk near my house.

My walk which normally takes 50 minutes now takes me 1hr and 30mins because I have to glide, skate and fall on my butt all the way home on these ice sheets. grrrrr....


For more photos of snowy Sapporo:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Japan's take on Ice cream trucks...

Recently, I have been hearing strange noises outside of my house randomly... It fades in and out and sounds a bit like the mosques in Istanbul.

I've been wondering where this noise was coming from and I FINALLY caught one on my walk home from school one day!!!! The mosque like chant/song was coming from a steaming smoking little van driving at a turtle's speed on the street!!!

I showed one of my teachers this video and asked him what it was.... He said OH!!! It's yakimo!!

Then he started chanting: "yakiiiiiiiiiimooooooooo..... oiiiishiiiiiiii-mono....."

Hahhaha.... He said they drive around during the winter selling grilled sweet potatoes!!! (no wonder why a delicious aroma was steaming out of that truck!!!) He said they are delicious but go for $5 a pop nowadays!!!! yowza! In Kenya I could scarf down an entire sweet potato field for $5!!!

I guess these yakimo trucks are similar to America's ice cream trucks with their catchy yet screeching songs.

I might just splurge and try me some yakiimo!!! mmm.....

Salsa Dancin' in Sapporo!!!

A week ago a small group of us decided to go check out Havana - a salsa club in Tanuki Koji, Sapporo.

I haven't danced salsa since I lived in Guatemala (which was YEARS ago!) so I was ready to dust off my rust and get my latin groove back on!!! :-)

Crystal and Jesse ordered their Mojitos before we hit the dance floor! (below is a sample of their non-alcoholic menu - i LUUUUV the photo they chose for their menu! hahah)

We got there early to practice our salsa steps...

People started showing up at about 8:30 and luckily we had plenty of partners to dance with!!!

In case anyone's interested we also spotted an ad for "walking lessons." Hrmmmm.... maybe I should learn how to walk before I start dancing!

And we're heading back for more salsa fun on Crystal's Bday during Yuki Matsuri - so come join in the fun!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Niseko Snowboarding!!!

A small group of my Japanese friends and I went to Niseko last weekend to rent a cabin together and go skiing and snowboarding...

On the way Yoshi's car got stuck in the snow bank!!! It was nearly impossible to see anything because EVERYTHING was white with snow.

Here's Yuki and Moco waiting to get rescued.

Here's a post box in Niseko!!!!

I still can't believe a week before this I was in my bathing suit on a beach!!!!!

sniff... sniff....

We rented a cute little cottage (awesomely named: Cottage MILKY) which was only a minute away from a gorgeous onsen and 2 minutes away from the slopes. :-)

View from our Cottage MILKY living room!

Moco enjoying the warm cottage.

Shingo was sooooooooooo patient and taught both Yoshi and I how to snowboard. First, I had a go on the snowboard - but could only go down if I was holding onto Shingo for dear life (poor guy). I went flying down the mountain with him and wouldn't let go for fear that I would crash and die...

Since Yoshi and I were the same size shoe I convinced him to try my snowboard. He's normally a short skier so while he was having his lessons on my board he gave me his short skis to play around on. They were so much fun!!!! It was like a cross between skiing, ice skating and running.... Although I still couldn't really stop so I just went flying down the mountain! It was so much fun!!!!!

We went back to the cottage to relax with a cuppa tea before going to the main hall to have this GORGEOUS dinner. Mmmm..... Salads and cheeses, pumpkin soup, other scrumptious dishes, soup curry and a big strawberry layered birthday cake!!! (we were lucky that the only other people there were celebrating their 50th bday!)

at 11pm Shingo and I went off to the onsen (hot spring) to give our achey muscles a good soak. He must have been so exhausted from running with me down the mountain. The onsen was gorgeous! It was an outside bath with a view of the snow covered mountain and trees. It was so relaxing to soak and watch as the snow fell and melted instantly into the hot bath. I was lucky to have the whole place to myself! ahhh...

Here's Moco falling asleep with his girlfriend Moco-chan. Hahahha...

The next day we slept in and headed back to the slopes. Mayu, Yoshi and Yuki had to head off early to get back to Sapporo for work while Shingo and I stayed on to have a full day of snowboarding.

After I got over my initial fear I was able to finally carve down the mountain both on my toe and heel side!!!! But I could only do so if I was holding onto Shingo's pinky. The second he went to catch the lift leaving me to practice alone I could stand up - carve 1/2 way and then would go FLYING, crash and burn.

Luckily the slopes were empty!

We drove back to Sapporo, stopping to scarf some beef curry down. mmmm.....

more pictures:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Goodbye Vietnam!!!

Our last day in Vietnam...

When we arrived, Saigon was still recovering from its New Year's parties.

It was pouring on and off all day so the streets were flooded with water and trash. We felt like frogger trying to cross the roads dodging and weaving between the motobikes and rivers and trash.

We visited the War Remnants Museum which had exhibits from the American phase of the Vietnam war.

They had a moving photo exhibit of some of the aftermath of the war. I cannot even begin to fathom what it must have been like here during the war.

I took a picture of this sickening poster which shows some of the statistics of the wars the U.S. has been involved in. Sad to think that soon Iraq will be right up there with these.


What I found interesting about this museum though was how one sided they were. It was only about AMERICA IS EVIL... LOOK AT HOW BARBARIC AND EVIL AMERICA IS!!!! But yet it showed NO evidence of all the starvation and suffering Vietnam placed on its own people. Hrmmm.... Interesting.... I guess that's what you get living in a Communist country.

We left the museum with heavy hearts..... so decided to try and lighten ourselves by going shopping for goodies and omiyage (Souvenirs for our Japanese schools) in the markets of Saigon.

We also went to see a crazy Vietnamese water puppet show right before we caught our flight. There was fun music, and so many crazy animal puppets and people splashing on the water stage!

John tears up over his last bowl of Pho... sniff....

GOODBYE VIETNAM!!!!! I hope to see you again!

Back to mountainous, snowy Japan!!!!


where are the beaches!??!?!?

where are the palm trees?!!??!?!

For more pictues of Saigon: