Bullet Trains, Monkey Shows and Whale Steaks
by Jim Friend
ast month, I went to Japan for three things... Ok, let me back up a little bit already.
The #1 reason I went to Japan was to visit my girlfriend, Yuki, and
she will kill me if I don't say that, so there it is. Hi Yuki! (We had
a blast, by the way.)
Anyway, so after that, reasons number 2, 3, and 4 were the following:
I wanted to ride a bullet train, go to a monkey show, and eat a whale
steak. That's right. That's right.
The Shinkansen (bullet train):
You know how fast those bullet trains go... like 2,500 miles an hour.
Faster than the Concorde. Faster than the SR-71 Blackbird. Well maybe
not that fast, but you know what I mean, the thing is fast. In America,
we can't afford to build and maintain this sort of efficient, long distance
mass transit train because thirty years ago, Congress committed all
of us to propping up the terminally ill corpse of the Amtrak rail system,
and while we're still subsidizing those elderly steam trains to this
day, the Japanese roll around their country at 300 km/hr, in a mean-lookin',
wind-beatin', time warping machine. Ridiculous. (That's 186 miles an
hour by the way.) Anyway, I've always wanted to ride a bullet train
and was able to take a short, half-hour ride out of Tokyo station. It
was great. There's not much to say other than it is blisteringly fast,
very quiet, and unbelievably smooth. It's expensive, but completely
worth it. Completely worthwhile.
I can't even remember how I got hooked up on thinking about going to
a monkey show in Japan, but as soon as I heard of such a thing, I was
going. Yuki knew of a monkey show in Nikko, and I was really looking
forward it for months ahead of time. A couple of days into my stay in
Japan, we took the long beautiful train ride from Tokyo up to Nikko,
and made it to the monkey show palace just in the nick of time. Unfortunately,
no pictures were allowed, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
We hurried inside to the grinding repetitions of the
Japanese children's "Osaru's Song" playing over the sound
system, and seated ourselves in the back row. I chose this seating arrangement
because I had a longstanding premonition that one of those monkeys was
going to fling itself headlong into the audience that morning and wreak
some horrifying beastly havoc. I know primates have a preference for
geiko-kujin meat too, which didn't make me feel any better about any
of it. We sat for a bit waiting in the dark and finally the curtain
opened and this Korean lady came out with a little monkey dressed in
a red and white striped shirt and blue overalls. At the trainer's suggestion,
it did a bunch of impossible back flips and would hop up on a stool
after each series of stunts to bow to the audience. Appropriately, and
much to the chagrin of the trainer, every time it did this, it would
turn its back on the audience, giving us the full look at his keister
as it bowed toward the back of the stage. Plenty funny. Apparently as
a result of his prodigious talent for repeatedly mooning the audience,
that monkey was done in a hurry.
Soon after that monkey was ushered away from the stage,
a female trainer from Taiwan came from around the back of the curtain
with two somewhat bigger monkeys, and they quickly took their positions
on two stools. The bigger of the two monkeys was rather calm, while
the other smaller monkey seemed a bit agitated and kept gnawing on its
left foot. The trainer got the bigger monkey to do some exotic backflips
and also managed to get him to walk on his hands, which was great. The
smaller monkey was mostly uncooperative at first, and quickly decided
the stage looked like a great place to take a crap. Maybe it's better
to say the little beast was launching turds, I've never seen anything
like it. If you've ever seen that video of Apollo 13 spitting out debris
into space after things went horribly wrong, that's what it reminded
me of. Whatever though, when the trainer brought two hoops out, both
monkeys were all about it, and decided it was time to deliver some major
hoop leaping action. They started jumping really high through these
hoops, sometimes through both at the same time. Soon, the smaller monkey
got tired of doing more work than the other little Japanese jumping
bean, so whenever it considered the hoop to be a bit higher than he
wanted to jump through, he'd hop up and yank it down to the height he
wanted it at. Funny again.
Nikko Temple gate.
Then suddenly one monkey decided it had had enough of
the goings-on of the other monkey and it was time to kick some ass.
All of the pre ass-kicking monkey body language and nuances that led
up to the rapscallion monkey throw-down went unnoticed by all of us
in attendance, but certainly, something abruptly went very wrong within
the interpersonal relationships of these two denizens of Nikko's primate
paradise. Now, as you should remember when you're watching a monkey
show, monkeys move so fast you really have to pay attention to the proceedings,
otherwise a half an hour's worth of good TV can slip away in the moment
you look away to politely wipe the snot off your nose. That's what happened
to me. As I briefly put my head down to handle my business by running
the full length of my dry arm along the underside of my oozing schnoz,
a terrific screech rang out from the direction of the stage. By the
time I was able to look up, the two little scamps had already clamored
to the far side of the stage and were laying on the ground, kicking
and biting each other to furious pieces. Much squabbling and ass-kicking
prevailed before the trainer could separate those two little humanoid
blood hounds, as they thrashed away with scores of vociferations and
blurried swirls of languished writhings. That trainer was completely
hardcore; the last place I want my hand is right between two monkeys
biting and scratching the hell out of each other over a violation of
one of the unspoken rules of appropriate inter-monkey conduct and the
rights and privileges further pertaining to monkey hierarchy thereafter.
Yikes. The trainer appeared to leave the fray unscathed however, and
she chided the mean little rascals to take their places on the stools,
which they somehow did again rather quickly. As things progressed, I
was half waiting for one of those monkeys to finally have Enough Of
It All, just like I had predicted in the first place, and furiously
lash out into the audience like a howling, shrieking monkey tornado,
exacting vengeance for its newly-found and unappreciated lifestyle as
stage show freak to the sapien drooling masses staring onward, zealously
proceeding to unleash its wrath with the biting off of some fingers
and the mauling of a few ears.
Anyway, that didn't happen at all, and one of the tricks
soon after that was really cool. The trainer held out two stilts and
the bigger monkey jumped right up on them, and then, to our horror,
the trainer immediately threw the monkey-- stilts and all-- across the
stage about 10 feet. A gasp escaped from the audience as the monkey,
somehow immediately adjusting to this awaiting balance disaster, landed
perfectly and started skittering around the stage on the stilts like
a demonic robot. Unbelievable. The little monkey was given some smaller
stilts and took like wildfire to running about on them also. Then they
brought out this giant ball for them to walk around on and they weren't
having any of that so that was the end of those two. After the curtain
closed, I realized they were still playing "Osaru's Song,"
and decided it was no wonder the monkeys became enraged and tried to
beat the hell out of each, as I noted a full 20 minutes of that song
was starting to quickly drive me to fisticuffs with the nearest available
alpha male also.
Perhaps this music was played intentionally for so long
for the sake of contrasting the dramatic events that were about to occur
next, because no sooner had I realized how crazy I was going by being
forced to listen to that song over and over again, when of all things,
the intro to AC/DC's Hell's Bells interrupted it all. I am not kidding
you. As soon as that utterly perplexing event began, the curtain opened
again and monkeys in rabbit and pig costumes and sunglasses and all
sorts of other ridiculous costumes began pouring out along the back
of the stage in quick succession. Now this is what I came here for!
Yes! The monkey mayhem was proceeding onward with great zeal and haste,
accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, all the while increasing
in its fervent intensity! All my hopes for the day were quickly coming
to fruition. If only this could happen each morning in my own home,
then life would not only be randomly tolerable but exceedingly and abundantly
excellent in perpetuity, amen!
All of these monkeys rounded the back of the stage and then burst out
of a stage door in their crazy animal costumes, paraded around for a
bit, and then jumped up and sat on their individual stools. One even
ran back to close the stage door through which they came. Another jumped
up onto a wooden cage shaped like a washing machine, hopped inside,
and slammed the door shut, disappearing from sight. This time, the monkey-master
was a Japanese guy and he went to work right away putting the monkeys
through their paces.
Unfortunately, the sounds of Hell's Bells ceased almost immediately,
but then all kinds of monkey hi-jinks ensued. Monkeys were responding
to their names and verbal commands of all sorts, doing tricks and for
the most part, going to town on whatever task was assigned to them at
the moment. Most of them waited on their stools for their names to be
called, as these tasks were assigned individually. At one point, one
monkey, Minnaray, wasn't exactly paying attention to what was going
on when his name was called, he just sat there spacing out, thinking
about getting backstage and continuing with his martini and the HD Animal
Planet show he left behind, no doubt. The monkey sitting next to him,
after witnessing this situation unfold and understanding his buddy was
dreaming of banana orchards, casually turned on his chair and started
tapping Minnaray on the shoulder. That was hilarious. Minnaray immediately
realized his shortcomings, hopped up, and ran out to take some commands,
knowing he was in trouble. He sheepishly did his part and returned to
his stool. The monkey that jumped himself in the cage was particularly
smart, and would perform perfectly at everything when called. When the
trainer called his name, "Capuchan!" the monkey would open
the cage door and jump right out and start doing his thing, always ending
his little acts with a surfing pose. Funny.
It was all quite interesting enough, but I kept asking Yuki if the
trainer was being mean to the monkeys, thinking maybe my eyes were fooling
me because I wasn't understanding the nuances of the Japanese language.
She said he was not, but I couldn't shake the feeling that a few of
the monkeys looked very scared of the trainer and were very uncomfortable
being on stage. Yuki was also uncomfortable with some of the aspects
of the show. For example, she noted that from the first trainer onward,
any monkey not doing what he was supposed to would get a soft but stern
whack on the head, which somehow also didn't feel quite right. It's
one thing to train a dog with a few small pops to the noggin, but to
see a monkey get a knock on the head didn't quite feel right. A few
of the monkeys seemed to be enjoying their time on stage, appearing
very calm and relaxed, almost as if they were at home, but a few looked
confused and tense. So when it was all said and done, I was glad to
have seen the spectacle, but felt kind of uneasy about it too, feeling
bad for the monkeys who looked distressed.
The whale steak:
First of all, I don't wanna hear no smack from nobody about eating whale.
Whales are angry sea creatures whose brooding mystical powers keep this
world in a state of constant economic and political turmoil. I've had
enough of it, and I'm determined to eat every whale I lay my eyes on
in order to rid the planet of this accursed beast and cure the earth
of the critical ailments that proceed from its existence. This is not
an unusual phenomenon where animals are concerned. Remember the passenger
pigeon? Eradicated from the face of the earth almost 100 years ago.
Then what happened to the bubonic plague... ever hear of that disease
anymore? Gone. And what became of the Great Depression? Also gone. See
what I mean? I think you understand now.
Anyway, there seemed to be no end to the dilemma of eating a whale
steak in Japan. It was pretty expensive and the whale steak restaurant
was a long ways away from everything convenient. Fortunately, my awesome
guide Yuki thought she had at one time seen whale for sale in the supermarket.
Cool, how utterly convenient. So, one night we headed in there and sure
enough, there were some whale steaks. Ok, maybe much better to say,
whale bacon. Very thinly sliced and costing a relative fortune for just
a few pieces, it was much better than even good enough. Upon further
investigation, and to my complete surprise, we found some fugu, the
poison Japanese fish of lore. Fugu, also called pufferfish, contains
the deadly poison tetrodotoxin, which paralyzes your muscles while you
remain fully conscious, until asphyxiation results in your death. Yummy!
Now that's what I call a worthwhile food source. There is no known antidote
to this powerful neurotoxin, so you just have to lay there and watch
yourself croak, unable to even tell the tale of your demise or verbally
process the experience, because the toxin destroys the ability to use
your speech muscles as well. Yikes. Even in this modern era, a good
number of people in Japan are poisoned every year through all commercially
available forms of fugu. Like whale, obtaining a few slices of this
tasty poison fish treat at a restaurant was proving to be utterly logistically
inconvenient and also thoroughly hazardous to the health of my wallet
indeed, because apparently in Japan, dining on fugu is more of an experience
than a meal, so you have to pay for the whole process if you want to
eat some in the environs of a dining establishment. The heck with all
that, bring on the tasty neurotoxins right away please. And if my lips
are going to start to go gloriously numb, followed by the quick cessation
of the ability to use my neck to hold my head up, I want that to happen
in the privacy of my own home. You can keep all that flopping around
on the restaurant floor and gurgling up of bile for someone else's cell
phone acquired youtube video.
Whale and fugu
So then about an hour later I was staring at two plates
on the table in front of me packed with weird meat. I had asked for
it, and now it was time to actually fork the stuff into my mouth.
I decided to try the whale first, as it actually smelled somewhat attractive.
There were probably twenty 1 mm thick slices of the stuff on the plate,
and it cost about $7. No wonder the Japanese still hunt for whale. I
would kill the last whale on earth myself with my bare hands if I could
sell 15 tons of that meat at $7 an ounce. Sheesh. So anyway, there were
about 5 slices of actual meat and the rest was blubber, and the lot
of it appeared to have already been cooked through boiling, with a few
mild spices added. I finally stuck some of the meat in my mouth and
found it to be very rich, really oily, and very chewy as well. It had
a very pleasant flavor, almost identical to salmon. The blubber was
way more chewy than the meat, but had less flavor, and the aftertaste
of both was long-lasting and almost better than the experience of eating
it. Verdict: Yum.
Then it was on to the deadly fugu, which ran about $6.50 for around
twice the amount of whale we got. The presentation was close to bizarre,
even by my standards. Imagine long strips of white, grey, and black
confetti made of gelatin; that's what it looked like. In fact, that's
how it spoke to the palette as well; it had a very, very mild fish flavor
and the texture was exactly like jello. Does that sound any good to
you? Oh yes, it was nasty. I had as many bites of fish jello as I could
stand and put it away forever and ever, amen. Then I sat back in my
chair and waited for the glorious effects of the tetrodotoxin to kick
in. Nothing happened, which was unfortunate because it would have surely
erased the memory of actually eating the filthy stuff.
Other great things experienced in Japan:
As I said, I was mainly interested in three major vacation experiences
while in Japan, but ended up doing a whole bunch more than that...
One night we went to the Kabuki theater, and I'm glad I did, as it was
completely awesome and worthwhile. I initially hesitated to go because
I didn't think it would be that great, but Yuki kept encouraging me
to check it out, and I'm glad I submitted to her wisdom and foresight.
As it turned out, the Kabuki we attended was the premiere Tokyo Kabuki...
the Kabuki-za, originally built in 1889*. They had a thirty minute showing,
which was perfect. Right off the bat, almost the best part for me was
to hear the old school Japanese guys who love the Kabuki yell out their
traditional encouragements when the actors walk out on stage... "Naritaya!"
was the battle cry of choice. Total radness. The best part of the Kabuki
was looking forward to coming back home and explaining the plot. On
a Kabuki stage, you have many live musicians, singers, and actors, all
dressed and made up with the greatest attention to detail. So then,
the plot of the play, naturally, was about softly spoken haiku poems
and the excellencies traditional Japanese culture, right? No, it turned
out to be quite a bit more compelling: A lord and two of his subjects
are walking through the woods. One of his subjects is the Official Carrier
of the Sake Bottle. (Why are these jobs still not available, I wonder
aloud?) The lord and his other servant roll out to go take care of some
lord-type big-business, and while the Sake Slave is by hanging out by
himself, a door-to-door shoe salesman shows up and they get drunk together.
The Sake Servant passes out, and the shoe salesman bails. The lord and
his other underling eventually come back to find the servant sleeping
under a cherry tree, and they proceed directly to kicking and hitting
him, of course, because all the liquor is gone. The sake-afflicted drunk
then wakes up, does a little inebriated dance, and afterwards ties some
sort of wish he'd written down on a piece paper to the branches of the
cherry tree wearing a pair of platform shoes left behind by the shoe
salesman. Not liking these developments any better at all, the lord
and the other servant proceed directly to beating the crap out of the
guy again. The End. Killer! "Naritaya!" indeed.
*(See temples section below)
In Japan, all of the temples were built like 1,000 years ago. No kidding.
Cool, right?! Well, then they all burned down around 300 years ago.
Too bad. Eventually though, they were all rebuilt. Great! Then they
all burned down again during the air raids of 1945. Bummer. Then a few
random rich guys decided to rebuild them all again in like 1973. That's
right. I swear we saw that pattern repeated five times in a row, which
was too bad, because I wanted to believe everything I was seeing was
a millennium old, just as it appeared; and just like I appear. Just
when I was used to all these ancient shrines being thirty years old
or so, I took a picture of one (Rinno-ji) that turned out to have been
built in 766 AD. I found that out after I got home. No matter though,
because all the temples there are utterly complex, imposing, and no
joke to visit. Really cool and worthwhile. Before the trip, Yuki kept
suggesting we visit a few shrines, and I kept telling her, "Naaaaah,
I don't really wanna to see any shrines... just not my thing."
After I got to Japan, Yuki decided (and rightly so) that I turned into
"the shrine and camera geek." I couldn't stop taking pictures
or pausing to stare at the utterly intricate works of art available
on every square inch of each building. I was fully expecting a Sake
Slave style beating over this compulsive behavior, but Yuki had mercy
I should have known Japanese people don't sit around and eat nasty food.
But that's what I thought, and they don't. Thousands of years of chemistry
with prevalent food sources has yielded some intricate and superior
Shabu shabu! Best chef in Japan.
Ginza is the coolest high rent district I could have ever imagined. As
I have recently heard it told, it is has the highest real estate prices
of anyplace in the world. Maybe that's why you see a Cartier store right
across the street from Bulgari. It is the quintessential downtown Tokyo.
Massive televisions built high into the sides of buildings, vertical banners
from ground to roof on almost every structure, and flashing neon signs
everywhere, with masses of people thronging about in a frenetic fervor.
Totally worth seeing. Amazing.
Harajuku is the shopping district in Tokyo where all the Japanese kids
that dress in furry goth fairy outfits with four inch platform shoes
and angel wings hang out. Etcetera. I asked Yuki if they have their
own group name yet, and she said that did not, which was a surprise
to me. Harajuku is rife with very skinny pedestrian-only streets, packed
with people, shoulder to shoulder; and of course there are a million
little clothes shops, lots of loud music screaming at you from every
store, and employees soliciting you to patronize their shop by shoving
coupons into your hand. It's generally considered to be a shopping district
with cheaper prices on everything (food and clothes, etc), because it
caters to a younger crowd. The place is totally overwhelming, but worth
checking out for sure.
We walked about 15 minutes to get to Shibuya from Harajuku and that
place was also out of control. It's pretty much Harajuku times 100,
without the emphasis on youngsters, and exists as a complete maze of
skinny little crooked pedestrian-devoted streets winding back into who-knows-where
with a billion little shops and even more people everywhere. Masses
of neon lighting abound with more Ginza caliber TV screens pasted on
the side of huge buildings everywhere. One of the things I really wanted
to see most in Japan was a scramble crossing; a massive intersection
where literally thousands of pedestrians cross at a time in every direction.
Shibuya certainly has the quintessential scramble crossing, and I'm
sure I saw 2,000 moving across at each crossing. We made our way over
there and sure enough, it was everything that I expected of it. I also
wanted to see the statue of Hachiko, the Akita breed dog who faithfully
went to the Shibuya train station every day at the same time, looking
for its beloved owner to step off the train. His master died at work
one day and never came home, but still the dog searched, coming to the
train station at the same time, waiting and hoping, every single day...
for ten years. After the dog's death, the Japanese remembered Hachiko
as a symbol of loyalty, building a statue in his honor just outside
Hachiko and Yuki.
Tokyo is overwhelming. I consider myself rather travel-sturdy in the
most ruthless of environments, but Tokyo plainly intimidated my local
plans daily, so I would encourage you to go with someone who's been
there before so they can help you navigate, or lodge as close as possible
to the things you want to see.
Maybe bring a compass, but certainly a map. I orient myself by being
cognizant of where north lies at all times, wherever I happen to be
at, but was never able to keep that straight in Japan, as nothing is
laid out on a north-south or east-west grid. The layout is utterly topsy-turvy,
next time I really will be bringing a compass.
Yes, Japan is expensive. Prices on almost everything seem mostly comparable
to the States, but the way things work out, you somehow get nickeled-and-dimed
to death... invisibly... day, after day, after day.
If you can't do without; the lovely Big Mac, and most any other American-style
food, be fairly easy to come by. I ate at a pastry boulangerie named
Mr. Donut. Every. Single. Morning. It was glorious.
I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family
friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on
separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through
Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please
advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences.
The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best
Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL
Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence,
glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your
blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday
and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks
for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel
Cheers and happy travels!
in Texas" Article
I love your website. It has shown me that all this time
my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he
was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and
MaKayla, Rapid City
Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of
assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements
All the best, Jim
Arctic " Article
Just wanted to say 'Hello' love your intro/bio Mr.
Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep
correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check
Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA
Very interesting, I find it very important for me because
my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank
you and God bless...
Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines
Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon.
I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't
think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in
Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than
Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that
far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to
see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things
we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...
Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA
* * *
Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books
Kerry, Wenatchee, WA
* * *
Christian Louboutin, New York City
* * *
I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative
way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!
Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID
* * *
I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every
day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.
Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba
* * *
Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great
very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.
Alvin Singh , New York
* * *
Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older
articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity
and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally
agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .
Arthur Cox, Next to Paris
* * *
Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture
and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience.
Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA
* * *
Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for
short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed
mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses?
residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!
Wendy, Los Angeles, CA
* * *
These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that
I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that
make me think that there is danger around every corner.
Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA
* * *
Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and
so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent -
what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories
and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other
military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!
Steve, Renton, WA
* * *
Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me
of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for
your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece
of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward
to reading more from you.
Sandra, Seattle, WA
* * *
This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff.
You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and
we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations.
I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the
archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.
Terry, Los Angeles, CA
* * *
I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the
visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.
Brenda, Richland, WA
* * *
Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's
news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!
Eric, San Diego, CA
* * *
Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than
anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake.
Be careful over there!
Janet, Caldwell, ID
Thanks Janet! I get the distinct
impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with
bin Laden's physiology!
* * *
What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway.
Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more
of this great adventure.
Roger, Puyallup, WA
Wow, Roger, what an awesome set
of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The
stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good!
Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope
to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since
you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad
and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.
T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan
* * *
I saw your email address included
on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with
you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in
that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT
Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking
forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings
and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press
to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those
in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants,
and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself.
Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent
hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual
lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously"
struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times,
is a dark and wicked world.
Thanks so much, man. Great to hear
from you... See you soon!
Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your
articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative,
and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!
Jeff, Pasco, WA
* * *
Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt
about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful
and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.
Deborah - Burbank, CA
Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed
the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him.
He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting
me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.
Sandy - Sitka, Alaska
* * *
Comments like those that you wrote
make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile,
thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan
State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan
cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from
the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government
that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random
applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth
it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever
the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged
to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks
a lot for your comments!
Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when
I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger,
more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't
come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night
and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three
weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for
it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping
in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely
possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan
piece WHEN you have returned.
Janice - Seattle
* * *
Yes that was a blast! I would do
all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean
cruise, that sounds like great fun!
Love your expeditions. Keep writing.
Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA
* * *
Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing.
One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of,
ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will
challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow
of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the
Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to
reading more from you.
Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA
Awesome!!! I love Japan!
Maja - Chur, Switzerland
Jimmy my love,
I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!
Leah, Richland, WA
Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!
Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're
obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all
the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably
the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out.
Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta
rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the
Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between
you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish,
this is definitely the way to go.
You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck
I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.
Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.
Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA
Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak)
to be serious kick ass. To be honest, Im such a lightweight, Ive
never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one
of those long solo treks, and the water runs short can u drink
from local streams? Ive heard that pollution is so bad that even
places untouched by man are now off-limits.
* * *
Great to hear from you and thanks
for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the
way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that
you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North
Jersey. Really cool.
As for your drinking water from
streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer
is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources,
unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or
spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet,
but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and
even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight
from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what
you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.
Most of the time the pollution you'll
be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes
from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals.
For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident
was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots.
A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't
picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any
other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably
result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required
to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to
the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria
or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?)
After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get
a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the
tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of
this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever
happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck.
Anyway, I don't recommend drinking
straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime,
unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the
river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway,
sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty,
to heck with it, I'm drinking it.
All this notwithstanding, or withstanding,
or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest
thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously,
for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet
of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream
water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical
cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when
you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that
pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they
just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent
backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream
filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything
to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky
finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because
I'm always so dang thirsty.
Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.
Matt Langley, Duvall, WA
Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant
on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms,
gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian
women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe
I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing
after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying
to make it in Hollywood.
Gary, Santa Monica
* * *
Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there
was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there
in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American
mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our
hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband
seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States
forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching
a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the
women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live
in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up
to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.
And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I
lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last
laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than
Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of
darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal
of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses
smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate
goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the
jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all
hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while
regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy
and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince
Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly
in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony
of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The
You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting
your smokin' hot wife someday.