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Traveling Boy: Jim Friend: Bull riding in Texas

Japan:
Bullet Trains, Monkey Shows and Whale Steaks

by Jim Friend

safety instructions on bullet rain terminal

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.

Monkey show:
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
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 steak and fugu (pufferfish)
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...

The Kabuki:
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)

Temples:
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 on me.

The food:
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 results.

writer's friend preparing shabu-shabu
Shabu shabu! Best chef in Japan.

Ginza:
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:
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.

Shibuya:
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 Shibuya station.

statue of Hachiko
Hachiko and Yuki.

Travel tips:
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.

Take The Truly Terrorizing Travelingboy Tokyo Train Test:
Narita airport to Ichikawa station? That was my first assignment. Can you hang?
http://speedymole.com/Tubes/Tokyo/tokyo-subway-map.html

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.

"Namibia" Article

Jim,

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 ever. Graciously,

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 stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

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"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

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 pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

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"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

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 my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

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"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

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

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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

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Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

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Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

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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

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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

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Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

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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

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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. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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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!

Jim

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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! Thanks again!

Jim

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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

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Hello T.G.!

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!

Jim

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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

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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

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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

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Hi Sandy!

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!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

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

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Hi Janice!

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!

Jim

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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

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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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

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

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 camera?

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

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve 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? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

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Howdy VitoZee,

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. No fun.

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.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

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

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Gary,

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 Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim


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