Sep 11, 2014

MEMENTOS: Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. It's one of the few places in Michigan you can't point to with your hand as a map. The name "Mackinac" (pronouced mak-in-aw) is a shortening of the Menominee Native American word for "big turtle," which they likened to the island's shape. Instead of turtles though, the island is known for cycling, fudge, and gorgeous views of the lake.

$25 round-trip ticket takes you to and from the island
 from Mackinaw City (lower peninsula) or St. Ignace (upper peninsula).

Mackinac Island's Main Street

Sailboats out on a windy day.

Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas.

Lake Huron, in every shade of blue.

Cycling the perimeter of the island. It took about an hour and a half,
amounting to $10.50 for the bike rental.

Stacking rocks are found all along the shore of Mackinac Island. Meditative? Tourist tradition?

Arch Rock, a natural limestone formation.

A cannon at Fort Mackinac.

The view from Fort Mackinac - not bad, right?

That blue is not a photo filter, it really is that beautiful.

Mackinac Bridge - the boat took us under it on the way back to St. Ignace, around sunset.
When you're cruising in the water underneath its huge steel supports, you realize how magnificent it is.

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Sep 8, 2014

People Ask How I'm Adjusting

Before I left Japan, I bought a candle at Nanao's traditional candle shop; a special one, black with three painted sunflowers. It was a little larger than the skinny yellow prayer candles I'd picked up a box of for meditation.

I told myself, I will give myself time to grieve. When I miss Japan and my friends, my incredible students and the quirks of everyday life, I'll light it.

When I checked out, the shop owner warned that it would be too big for my candle holder. I assured her it would be all right. When we hold grief, it always seems too much for us to bear, and yet we do.

When I feel sad or lonely, I burn the candle and let the sadness burn with it. Instead of pushing it away, I sit with it. If I have to cry, then I cry. If I have to hurt, then I hurt, and next time it hurts less. And when I'm done, I blow out the candle, and it's a little shorter. When the candle has completely burned away, I'll have let go.

One month since saying goodbye to Japan, that candle is now a stub. The three vividly painted sunflowers have long blown away in smoke. When I light it, which is less frequently now, the flame burns much higher than the candle itself.

In no time, the last of the wax will be spent, and like all hand-crafted candles from that special little shop in Nanao, it will leave no trace of it having ever been there; wax, paint, and wick all turned to wafting smoke.

And when that happens, the holder is free again, and you can place a new candle in its stead. I think the next one will be for joy.

~ ~ ~

Sep 5, 2014

Beekeeping 101

What I learned from an afternoon beekeeping.

I look like the ghost from The Library of Dr. Who.

[Lesson 1] Bee suits are white because honey bees are colorblind to it. To them, their entire white hive box is invisible. They can still see you, however, because they can detect movement (just like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park). I came up to them in slow, nervous steps, and watched with baited breath as my uncle wedged the hive box open to reveal stacks of honeycombs.

[Lesson 2] The guards at the front of the hive will bee-line (as it were) right for your face. If they feel that the hive is threatened, they will try to sting you at your most vulnerable spot. Even in a bee suit, they can see the movement of your eyes, and will fly towards them stinger-first. They get caught in the netting of the bee suit's mask and you have to blow a big puff of air pffffft! to send them away again.

[Lesson 3] Smoking bees isn't what slows them down. They think it's a fire, so they scarf down all the honey in the combs to save it in their stomachs. As soon as they gorge themselves, they're stoned and unable to fly. It'll take a few days for them to recover and regurgitate the honey back into the combs. It's an effective way to immobilize the bees, but if you're after their honey, you're "stinging" yourself in the foot.

[Lesson 4] After extracting the combs, cutting the beeswax caps, and draining the honey, all the hard work is worth it when you're enjoying a hot cup of your own honey-sweetened tea.

Making honey

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Sep 2, 2014

Above Michigan in a 4-Seater Plane

According to my uncle, my 145-pound bum in the backseat would keep the plane counterbalanced, so why don't I go up for a ride? "I am afraid," I said. But I could only put him off for so long.

My uncle's plane is from the 1960s, and has this brown-suede-Mad Men interior going on. The engineers who made her must have been so proud, so excited for a future where personal air travel is the standard.... A future that didn't come to pass how they had hoped.

1965 Cherokee Piper

I'm consumed by thoughts of nose-diving into the nearby cornfield. My uncle, I think, is fearless - he'll be piloting today. I climb into the backseat and put on my radio headset. It looks like an Xbox headphone, but this isn't a game. This is real. And I am afraid.

Today is very windy, and sunny. The wind blasts through the door and I'm freezing. It's far too chilly for a mid-August day. My uncle takes the pilot's seat.

"It feels like I'm in a James Bond movie," I said.

"So you're a Bond girl now, eh?" he says. Keith, his pilot's license instructor, comes in after him and takes co-pilot. My heart is pounding as I buckle my seatbelt. I think I'd die before I hit the ground from a heart attack. I am afraid.

Keith reminds me of a well-groomed Gandalf. Wise, full of logical advice to counter my fearful squeaks of concern. He recounts dangerous experiences he's navigated through, and suddenly this breezy, sunny day doesn't seem half as worry worthy; but I can still feel my heart beating through my throat.

The cockpit

The door is shut and air-sealed. The inside goes from being chilly to a sauna. We cruise over to the runway... and take off!

The winds are upwards of 25 mph, and the plane is lifted up into the air before the intended take off. My uncle tries to steer, but the winds carry him off to the west. The runway we were just on is suddenly east of us and we're slanted towards it. We're lopsided and my uncle is trying to straighten us plus gain altitude. The winds whip at us and my suppressed scream turns into a loud squeak -- Gandalf takes the controls, and with one fluid turn sets us straight. We bump and rock and jitter our way to 3,000 feet, my eyes shut tight and a death-grip on the seat cushions. I am afraid!

Gandalf talks to me in a smooth, conversational tone. I open my eyes and fight my fear back down into my stomach. He continues to tell stories and at last I release my grip on the seats. I look around and take in the view. It's still bumpy from rising heat pockets, but my uncle is flying into the wind and keeping us level. Every single time the plane jerks I have to fight myself to keep calm.

Michigan and Lake Huron from above

An hour or so later, we come down with a smooth landing, and cruise right back into the airport hanger. I exit the plane last, jumping from the wing down onto solid ground. My uncle nudges me and says I'll have to pilot it myself next time. I take deep breath.

I am afraid... but that won't stop me.

~ ~ ~

Aug 31, 2014

Goodbye Japan

At Tokyo SkyTree Observatory
I spent my last weekend in Japan in Tokyo with Clarissa, and it was magical! Aside from gorging ourselves on cheap Indian curry and pizza, we hit up the Ikebukuro neighborhood.

Clarissa took me to one of her favorite places: a theme park in the back of an underground mall called Namja Town. Neither of us cared if it was meant for younger kids, we had a blast! We scared ourselves silly at a heart-stopping haunted house, then tried some of the weirdest flavors at an ice cream stand, including "shark fin noodle" and "cassis orange" (an alcohol mixer).

Wasabi, eel, and other ice cream flavors.
Afterwards, we came back up to the surface of Tokyo to watch Godzilla on the big screen (I did find him after all) and look down on the city from the Tokyo SkyTree observatory. Before we said our last goodbyes at the bus station, we had fun doing one last purikura.


Rainbow Bridge from Odaiba
Tokyo after sunset

On April 12, 2013, I woke up in Tokyo to the bright red sunrise.

On August 3, 2014, I watched my last Tokyo sunset from Odaiba.

The people make the place. This has been the best time of my life so far, thanks to everyone I met in Japan. Thank you - see you again!

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