Proper Zamami Post

Satellite image of Zamami courtesy of Google Maps
Zamami Island, where I've been staying with Dave Sensei the last week, is a special place. I felt that my previous Zamami post didn't really do it justice, so I've worked up a proper one so you can hopefully share in some of its specialness.

Zamami, part of the Kerama archipelago, is some 40km* from Okinawa, although it feels much farther*. Its 6.5 square miles of area are basically covered by 15 or so miles of paved roads, which can easily be explored by bicycle* in one day. Of the 600 inhabitants of the island, 500 live in the main village, a perfectly sized city, at least for some good down time. (Here's a shot of Dave walking to school on Main Street*.) Big enough for a few restaurants but small enough that you start to recognize the same people around town, it has served as a great counterpoint to Taipei and some of the other cities of Taiwan for me.

Despite the small size of things, there is plenty to explore. (With exploration, of course, comes geocaching.) Around the island on tops of various bluffs and hills, there are 5 observatories for checking out the views and trying to spot whales. Beaches and snorkeling are popular (when it isn't raining, of course) which I hope to get some time in for later this week. But my favorite activity so far is just soaking in the wonderful small town vibe. Having an in with the community to introduce me around and get us invitiations to community-type events has only helped that vibe.

People have been asking me, "How's Japan?" I'm somewhat unable to respond. I know practically nothing of cultural/societal Japan is represented here on this island. But time for Japan culture and society will come soon enough. For now, I'm enjoying Zamami.
Monday March 9 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Quote For Monday - Traveler Edition

A friend sent me this quote today and I've been thinking about it all day. Unrelatedly, another friend asked what happened to my Monday quote series. Talk about kismet.

"Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty—his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.�

- Aldous Huxley

Monday March 9 2009File under: travel, quote

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Rainy Days on Zamami

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. That's pretty much been my sentiment since arriving here on Zamami. My usual routine of roaming aimlessly around looking for neat stuff and taking silly pictures has been greatly curtailed. I got one good roam session in in the 4 days I've been here. Said roam session was great as I saw beaches, tiny villages, and more, but my legs are getting restless.

Luckily there have been indoor activities to keep me not only entertained, but getting a backdoor look at the Japanese (or at least Zamamian) culture. I got to watch Dave's Taiko drumming class practice where presentation was focused on just as much as the music being produced. We also went to his boss's house last night to watch Japan play Korea in the World Baseball Championship*. A night of being in a place where I was the only one that didn't speak Japanese* is a definite cultural experience. And in a brief window of no rain, Dave and I headed out to meet up with his grade schoolers from Geruma while they were on a field trip. It basically turned into babysitting duty/play time. As per usual, my juggling and stupid human tricks made an appearance with positive results.

While nights sitting around a room not knowing what's going on or spending a couple hours having pillow fights with kids isn't my normal independent travel routine, it is my experience on Zamami so far and you aren't going to hear me complain.
Saturday March 7 2009File under: travel, Japan

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I Undress Myself

I'm working up a post about Zamami, the island I'm currently staying on, but don't want to rush it. (There hasn't been much good light for taking pictures recently*.) Anyway, in the meantime, enjoy this sign I ran across on the ferry out here from Okinawa. I sure did.
Friday March 6 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Price Comparisons

I know money seems like a lame thing to be thinking/blogging about when traveling in such incredible places as Taiwan and Japan, but it is a hard issue to avoid putting some thought into. In fact, it can sometimes lend a really interesting light to cultural appreciation. Having just arrived in Japan and conversion rates, etc. already being on my mind, I thought I would post a few price comparisons.
Taipei, TaiwanOkinawa, Japannotes
Lowest denomination of paper currencyNT 100
(about $3.00)
1000 yen
(about $10.00)
In either case, but esp. Japan, a pocket full of change can add up to a lot of money
McDonald's ice cream coneNT 15
(about $0.45)
100 yen
(about $1.00)
This more than 100% increase in price is not going to bode well for that habit. It is worth noting, however, that Japanese McDs ice cream cones are pointed at the bottom. Now you know.
15(ish) minute subway/monorail rideNT 25
(about $0.70)
230 yen
(about $2.40)
Taiwan has the clear advantage here. I was super impressed by Taipei's clean, efficient, awesome subway. Naha, however, has a monorail, and monorails are just plain cool.
Pocari sweatNT 25
(about $0.70)
110 yen
(about $1.15)
In Japan, however, you can get Pocari sweat from a vending machine, one of which is located every 3 feet along every road.
Bed in a hostelNT 590
(about $17.50)
1500 yen
(about $15.50)
Surprisingly Taipei outprices Japan, but I have a feeling while $17.50 was the most I paid for a bed in Taiwan, $15.50 will be the least I have to pay in all of Japan.
Postage for a postcard to the U.S.NT 11
(about $0.30)
70 yen
(about $.075)
The question is if and when they will arrive.

Wednesday March 4 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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Not a City Guy Me

I've never been much of a big city guy. That goes for travel as well as living (although they are certain perks to cities for both). Anyway, arriving in Chaiyi at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, I decided I couldn't spend another night in a city. Unfortunately, the last train to Alishan (my next hopeful destination) had already left. And if I correctly interpreted the group gesturing and chatter at the bus station, the bus was also not an option. What now? Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

I rented a scooter*. With only a highway number and a destination city name*, I braved the rush hour traffic and struck out. For a while it was iffy, but as the traffic petered out and the switchbacks took me into the clouds, I knew I made the right decision.

I subsequently spent 2 nights in the tiny mountain town of Fencihu. I passed the days scooting along gorgeous, albeit hardly DOT approved, mountain roads and hiking* among mind-blowingly beautiful tiered tea plantations, cliffs, bamboo forests, waterfalls, sunrises, and six-foot-long-I'm-gonna-bite-you-and-watch-you-convulse-and-soil-yourself snakes*.

Yes, getting out of the city was the right call. If I wasn't flying to Japan tomorrow, I would still be up in that cool mountain air without a horn honk or siren heard the whole night long.
Sunday March 1 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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Taiwanese Food Post

Everybody likes posts about food, right? I'm afraid I don't have too much to share. When traveling where I don't speak the language, I have a severely restricted food routine. Wherever I eat must either a) have an english menu (very rare) b) have a picture menu or c) have the food right there to point at. You'd be surprised at how many places that filters out. Besides chicken butt at the wedding, freshly caught and grilled shrimp, and a group meal where a local did all the ordering, I've mostly been eating street food and dumplings*. Don't get me wrong; the food I do find is good, but just not super expansive.

This lack of food experience made it all the better when tonight I found myself sharing some local cuisine with Chen Li, a kind local soul who has taken me under his wing to make sure I find my way in this city* where there are very few foreigners and very little English spoken. In his quest to get me to really experience Taiwan, he chose ginger duck hot pot as a representative dish. It was good, esp. with him explaining what everything was and how it was supposed to be eaten. Afterwards, I insisted I share a little bit of Wren culture with him and we sought out some ice cream. He opted for juice instead.

Yes, food is a big part of traveling. Finding a local to help guide you through what can often be a maze of options and decision almost guarantees it to be great. With all aspects of my life, I realize the good fortune I encounter and am grateful for it.
Friday February 27 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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Taroko Gorge

I don't know quite how to say it without sounding overly hyperbolic, but Taroko Gorge is pretty much the coolest thing I've ever seen. There's no way that my pictures will do any sort of justice, so you'll just have to take my word for it*.

I rented a scooter* in Hualien (where I've been staying the last couple days) and scooted the 20 or so miles out to the entrance of Taroko National Park. (Being back on a scooter in the land of scooters was quite a feeling, but I'll have to address that another time.) Right from the park entrance, I knew it was going to be a good day. The road twisted and turned through tunnels and over bridges. Every other km there was a pull out for some new spectacular view.

In addition to a great drive on an amazing road, I got in a nice little* hike. Again with the tunnels and bridges, but this time only for hikers. It is amazing how much effort obviously went into creating and maintaining these trails.

If I could do it again, I would plan on staying (maybe camping) up the gorge to have more time to explore and simply marvel at it all. But so it goes... I really shouldn't complain.
Wednesday February 25 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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Twitter from Taipei

With the recent craze being all about uber-short updates in the third person (a la facebook status and twitter), I thought I would give said format a try. You know me: always pushing the blogging limits. (Oh, and click on the little pictures to get big pictures.)
Wren could get used to dumplings for breakfast. (Sunday 8:32 am)
Wren is pround of his public transportation skillz, esp. when he doesn't speak the language. (Sunday 9:49 am)
Wren realizes too late that a weekend is a bad time to visit the National Palace Museum. (Sunday 10:52 am)
Wren is grateful for the numerous and amazingly calming parks throughout Taipei. (Sunday 11:28 am)
Wren is afraid that the discovery of a $0.12 dumpling place could lead to a nasty addiction. (Sunday 12:18 pm)
Wren is a sucker for engineering marvels*. (Sunday 1:55 pm)
Wren wishes he had fog/smog/haze penetrating vision (but at least isn't afraid of heights). (Sunday 2:12 pm)
Wren's legs are tired from a heck of a lot of walking*. (Sunday 5:45 pm)
Wren is stoked to be going shrimping! (Sunday 6:29 pm)
Wren caught one. (Sunday 8:14 pm)
Wren is one satisfied hosteller*. (Sunday 11:03 pm)

Monday February 23 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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A Taiwanese Wedding

While it has been said before, I want to add my heartiest congratulations to Bob and Nicole, and wish them many many years of happiness together. They were married (Taiwanese style) last night here in Taipei and I had the honor of attending.

Never been to a traditional Taiwanese wedding? It is different. Disco lights, constume changes (3 for the bride), an M.C., not a word of english (except the occasional "Bob" dropped here and there), and food that I was glad I couldn't identify. (A local woman at our table tried to convince us we were eating pig ankle and chicken butt. I believed her.)* There were replacements for the traditions I'm familiar with (throwing the boquet became this ribbon tying affair that involved all the single ladies) and then traditions that were far above my western head.

And while I might not have understood it all, I was grateful to be there to witness and support Bob and Nicole in their union.
Saturday February 21 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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