July 28, 2009
As I've noted several times before, I'm no golfer, despite owning golf clubs and having played for years. I do enjoy it, but boy, am I bad. So, it should be no surprise that I didn't play super well yesterday when I teed it up at Newcastle Golf Club with my friends Chris and Kevin. Fortunately, it was yet another perfect Seattle summer day and the company was fun. Actually, despite the fact I was playing with Chris' old clubs for the first time (mine are in China), I hadn't really played in two years, and it's been a long time since I've played the Coal Creek course (excuse, excuse, excuse), I played surprisingly well (for me) -- at least I didn't hit myself or anyone else.
Like many golfers, I decided I would enjoy the game a lot more with a few drinks; the cute and very chatty cart girl was more than happy to mix some killer Bloody Marys up to ease my golf suffering. An Old Fashioned in the club house afterwards topped it off. Then, our families joined us for a birthday brunch for Kevin. Very, very nice...
Me with the stunning views of Lake Washington and downtown Seattle in the distance.
Mommy and Bambi loping across the course. I managed to avoid hitting them.
Kevin with his birthday treat.
Our friend Barbi took the whole family and our mutual friend Kellie out crabbing this weekend on her little speed boat. We put the boat in at Camano Island State Park and motored up the west side of the island on a lovely afternoon. We picked (somewhat arbitrarily) a spot to test our luck. We assembled the two traps, baited them with chicken legs, and then tossed them into the water, hoping to lure a few of the yummy Dungeness crabs in.
After an hour or so of waiting (which we filled with a great picnic lunch Michelle prepared, some fishing, and some lazy conversation), we went back to our buoys and pulled up the traps.
We had a pretty lucky day -- crabs in each trap! We pulled out the keepers (at least 6.25 inches across and male) and reset the traps. We did this a few times (with the intervals between checking going down over time...) We wound up taking nine crabs and a bucket of seawater back to the beach with us.
Here's Andrew helping tie down the traps on the foredeck.
We pulled the boat out, cleaned the crabs on the beach, and then cooked them right there at the park in the seawater. Seven minutes later, they came out of the water perfectly done.
We scarfed down crab after crab, pausing only long enough to wash them down with cold beer. It was gluttonous and luxurious is a way that no five-star meal could ever be. I've never tasted a sweeter, more delicious crab (or three) in my entire life. Here's Barbi happily slurping her crab down as she chucks the shells into the tall grass.
The boys ate a little crab too, but they were happiest building driftwood shelters on the beach and enjoying their ice cream bars. Something for everyone I guess.
It was really one of the most memorable meals of my life (and I've had a lot of fantastic meals as you probably know...) I love Washington and our generous friends!
Last Friday, I took Andrew (12) and Michael (9) to see the Mariners play the Indians at Safeco Field. We were there with our friends the Shirouzus, who are huge baseball fans. Even though the M's were blown out 0-9, I really enjoyed the evening. I forgot how much I like going to see baseball games live.
It was a very lovely evening -- not cold at all. You can see the Seattle skyline behind the stadium, bathed in the beautiful sunset colors.
Their son (and Andrew's classmate in Beijing) made a sign that they waved around between innings; alas, they were never picked up by the scoreboard cameras.
Of course, my kids were more excited about the free application Nintendo (part owners of the Mariners) made for the Gameboy DS; you can install it from stations all around the stadium. It's a pretty cool wireless app that allows you to see replays, watch where the pitches go, order food at your seat, see the stats from other games, view player stats, and play sports related games against other people in the stadium.
All in all, it was a great evening.
While we were at our friends' cabin near Bremerton, we watched a trio digging for geoducks. For the uninitiated, a geoduck is a huge clam-like animal with a gargantuan siphon which can grow up to a meter long. Although they are ugly, they are very tasty. (If you like sushi, you may know them by their Japanese name - mirugai.) As a result, people are willing to work pretty hard to get them.
They bury themselves pretty deep in the sand with their siphon sticking out the ground a little to breathe. Once in a while, they squirt water out like this:
Once you spot this, you dig like crazy into the mucky sand. Once you get a few feet deep, you need to keep the sand from collapsing into the hole, so you use a big pipe (really a sheet of plastic or thin metal rolled into a tube. Then, you reach into the tube and keep digging (these guys were using a little bowl for the last bit of digging.)
Finally, you can pull the geoduck out of the dirt and claim your prize. This is apparently a pretty small geoduck.
Last week, the Shirouzus, friends of ours from Beijing who grew up in Seattle, invited us out to their family cabin near Bremerton, Washington (west of Seattle, on the other side of Puget Sound). We enjoyed a perfect Seattle summer day -- warm, sunny, and lazy.
When we arrived it was low tide, so the boys went and harassed some geoducks (more on that later). We quickly settled into a pattern of eat, drink, nap, play, repeat. Very nice. The Shirouzus have a huge extended family in the area, all of whom seemed to come by at various times. It was really great to get to spend the day with such a fun, close, huge family.
Houses along the shore at low tide.
The same view six hours later at high tide. (Note Mount Rainier in the distance.)
July 18, 2009
During my visit last Saturday to Ditan Park, one of the coolest martial arts I saw was shuai jiao. This is a type of Chinese wrestling. Based on my observations, a wrestler scores by making his opponent fall; no need to pin.
There was a wrestling ring raked into the dirt. On one side of the arena there was a table set up with the guys who were clearly the elders of the Ditan Park shuai jiao scene.
They kept laughing, yelling advice, and shaking their heads during the matches. This guy in particular was clearly the head dude. After many of the falls, he would jump into the ring and show one of the wrestlers how to fix some mistake he had just made.
There were a few rounds, starting with the beginners. By the mid round the wrestlers had a little more swagger and were clearly better, moving faster and having better technique.
The highlight, though, came when the local champ (in red below) arrived. (The whole match seemed to be waiting for him to show up.) His opponent was no slouch, having been Beijing's representative in the national shuai jiao competition.
Of course, this being China, the champ interrupted the match to receive a cellphone call.
After his call, he put down his phone and proceed to kick the other dude's butt. He launched himself at the smaller guy and just flattened him.
It was a very friendly atmosphere with lots of smiling and laughing between the contestants and coaches. They clearly were having fun and respected one another. There didn't seem to be any of the real hostility than can come with fighting sports. The large crowd seemed to enjoy it too. I did.
During my visit to Ditan Park last Saturday morning, my friend Kevin and I saw Beijingers practicing a wide range of martial arts styles. It was especially great to have Kevin explaining things to me; he's studied taiji (tai chi) for over ten years and was well versed in a lot of the different styles.
Some people were in the park practicing on their own. I couldn't stop watching this woman. Even though she is clearly older, she was absolutely fantastic. She had deep poses and had rock solid balance. I only wish I had been standing two feet to the right when I took this shot so the tree wasn't in the way.
There were people practicing with weapons too, like these spear and sword guys.
Others practiced with schools. During the week the schools practice in buildings, but during the weekends they come out to the parks. They apparently have their territory staked out. They indicate their school with banners they hang out.
You can really see the difference in some of the forms. This is a northern style that emphasizes straight line attacks. They even practice along straight paths.
By contrast this guy is practicing on a ring of bricks. He stepped brick to brick as he practiced his forms.
There was a guy practicing bagua over and over again, forming a circle in the dirt. I'm only sorry I didn't get a photo of the dude too.
There were some beginners too. This is a well-known taiqi master working with a set of beginners.
Unlike martial arts classes in the US, there were no fancy uniforms or belts. People were practicing in leather shoes, sneakers, jeans, shorts, whatever. It was really cool to see this all in one place. I'll have to find a class and come out.
On weekends, Beijingers flood into local parks to hang out and partake in all manner of activities -- martial arts, dancing, chess, opera, you name it. Last Saturday, my friend and colleague Kevin took me to a big park in the middle of Beijing, Ditan Park, to see the action.
Ditan is especially known for their martial arts, but there's lot more going on. Here are a few of of the non-martial arts activities. I'll post some martial arts photos next.
There were a bunch of people practicing Chinese calligraphy with 2.5 foot long brushes dipped in water. They'd use these write on the ground. There's something a little sad about the beautiful calligraphy fading into nothingness as the water dries.
There were a lot of dancers -- from lines of women doing traditional Chinese dances to ballroom dancers like the folks below learning tango. (The couple in the middle were the instructors.)
There were folks playing different sports like badminton (which is hardcore in China). These guys were playing menqiu or gateball, a simplified version of croquet.
Not everything was old or classically Chinese. There were kids inventing the new China too.
[2009-07-18 Added missing photo and alt tags.]
July 12, 2009
This is so cool. The US Embassy (I think) is Twittering Beijing air quality stats. In addition to the sheer coolness of it, there have been some concerns that official local sources may not always have accurate numbers. Of course, I feel worse now about how bad the air really is. The average yesterday was 201 (very unhealthy) while I was hiking around town.
July 9, 2009
I need one of these. A lot.
A robot pours soup in a ramen bowl at "Momozono Robot Ramen," a ramen shop in the Yamanashi Prefecture city of Minami-Alps, as shop owner Yoshihira Uchida looks on. (Mainichi)
MINAMI-ALPS, Yamanashi -- "Momozono Robot Ramen," a ramen shop that opened here in November last year, is gaining popularity not only for its delicious ramen noodles, but for its robotic chef.
The ramen-making robot was built by 60-year-old shop owner Yoshihira Uchida, who spent about 20 million yen on its construction. Customers can place their orders on a computer in the shop, customizing various aspects such as the levels of soy sauce, salt, and richness of the soup. Uchida says there are 40 million different flavor permutations.
The noodles themselves are cooked by a human, with the robot creating a perfectly blended soup which is then delivered to the human chef via a conveyor belt, who adds the noodles and toppings. The whole process takes only about two minutes, a minute shorter than instant cup noodles. Prices of ramen per bowl are 500 yen for regular size and 300 yen for small size.
Uchida developed a love of electronics during elementary and junior high school, which he went on to study at the Musashi Institute of Technology (now Tokyo City University) and the University of Toyama's graduate school, focusing on electronic circuits and motors. After graduating, Uchida worked on noodle-packing machines at a food manufacturer until he retired from the company last year.
While working for the company, Uchida, a huge noodle lover, opened a soba noodle shop 10 years ago. He later started to make ramen -- which received mixed comments from friends, with some saying the taste was strong, and others too weak. In the end, Uchida hit upon the idea of creating a robot that can allow customers to choose the flavor they want.
Uchida began to develop the robot at his home in around 2003, asking an iron foundry to produce the specialist parts he needed. He finally completed the robot in November last year, but suffered teething problems: ramen with no taste, and computer crashes caused by spilled soup. After repeated repairs, however, Uchida finally managed to iron out the bugs.
He's now aiming at automating the addition of noodles and toppings, and shrinking the robot itself. He is also planning to open his second ramen shop in Kofu possibly by the end of this year.
"I want to mass produce the robot in the future and leave my mark out there," he says.
(Mainichi Japan) July 4, 2009
July 6, 2009
Our friend Kellie invited Michelle and me to an incredible wine tasting event – the Garagiste Great Producers Tasting. Garagiste is a small company who sources interesting wines from around the world and then sells them via their mailing list. This tasting event was held in their warehouse in Seattle; definitely nothing fancy. But, for $175, they poured dozens of amazing bottles of wine for the 40-50 people who attended; they maybe had one bottle of each wine, so not everyone got to try everything, and we really got just a taste of each. However, I’ve never had so many old and (in many cases) rare wines.
The theme of the evening (revealed at the end of the night) was “Is it worth it?” In the tastings (some blind) they laid out comparable wines from different areas, producers, or eras. I admit my taste buds are simply not tuned enough to discern what was so great about many of the old wines; the bouquet was often lovely and I loved the brownish color of the old wines, but the flavor was often disappointing to me. Still, I loved the opportunity to learn about the wines (Jon Rimmerman, the owner, presented detailed backstory on the wines and delivered the talks with obvious passion).
My favorite of the evening was a 1978 Chateau Montelena Cab from Sonoma. Absolutely delicious. Some of the other notables in the line-up were 1947 Bourdy Cotes du Jura, 1989 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay (the Australian white that stunned and outraged everyone in blind competition in France), 1966 Grands Echezeaux, a pair of 1942 Spanish wines – Bosconia and Tondonia (interesting how they had to scrounge for bottles during the war), 1982 Sassicaia from Italy (yum), 1982 Yarra Yering (the wine that helped really put Australia on the wine map), a pair of Celestins Chateauneuf-du-Pape (contrasting different styles of Chateauneuf from different eras – 1978 vs. 1998), and an amazing ‘94 Dunnhoff Auslese. Oh, he also poured some DRC, Screaming Eagle (pretty universally panned that night), and Chateau Lafite.
I think if I knew more about wine (especially old wine) I would have been even more impressed; I didn’t get to ooh or ah with everyone else when the wines were announced. Once we move back to Seattle, I’ll undoubtedly sign up for the mailing list. The write-ups are fascinating and educational; I just can’t handle more email that I can’t act on right now though.
It was a great experience. I’m definitely inspired to learn more now.
(For the record, my answer to the question “are they worth it” is no. The stories and history were fascinating, but none of the bottles were worth hundreds or thousands of dollars to me.)
July 4, 2009