Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace

The Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln is located on the top of a hill just outside of Hodgenville Kentucky, in National Historical Park that safeguards both his birthplace and the first home he lived in. Other than that, there’s really not much there.

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Over a year ago, on Sunday Nov. 13, 2016, during one of my many road trips I had pit stopped at the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, and for some reason COMPLETELY forgotten to blog about it. (I had been to Zachary Taylor’s Tomb the day before and THAT I had blogged about, but for some reason never did this.) I thought I had, but apparently Not so much. I didn’t realize till just yesterday, when I was blogging about his tomb and wanting to link to the post about his birthplace and wondering where the hell the blog for it had gone to … so I have decided to rectify that lapse now. That said, it’s been a LONG time since I was there, and although I’m looking back in my Facebook postings for notes, those were pretty scarce… so this post will mostly be about the pictures.

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So, one thing I did find in my Facebook notes from the day of my visit was that there had been NO WiFi or data accessible outside of the building (I have T-Mobile), although there was some free WiFi inside of it.

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Getting up to the top of the building was NOT easy for me. My legs were still very weak at this point, and all of the various ways up to the monument involved a lot of steps (handicapped accessible the place is not)….

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The poor Dachshund belonging to these two people was not liking the steps either

Today I learned from Wikipedia that there are in fact 56 steps going up the hill, and that the number is intentional, as it was Lincoln’s age at the time of his death

Once you got to the top you could read this dedication laid into the stone …
(only I remember at the time I was seriously wondering why almost all the R’s in it looked like P’s)

Here
over the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born
Destined to preserve the Union and to free the slave
A grateful people have dedicated this memorial
To unity peace and brotherhood among these states
With Malice toward none, with charity for all

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And when you got inside (according to my FB notes from that day) there was movie about Lincoln and his life, whose over-riding message was that “acceptance and inclusion are what makes America great”… something that had sounded particularly jarring to me at the time. (Keep in mind that Donald Trump beaten Hillary in the election for President JUST four days before, and I was in the state of Kentucky, a former slave state that had declared neutrality at the start of the Civil war, and where pro-Trump stickers and posters were common place — he won the state by 62.54%, and on that day every racist red neck in the state was still in a state of euphoria over the win).

There was a nice bronze of Lincoln’s family, when he was a tiny baby (having just been born of course)

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And then inside this huge structure stood what the staff member (I remember this person was particularly grumpy) told me and the other visitors was a reminder of the original house. We were like all amazed that it was the actual house and he was like, “No, it’s just a replica.”

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You can see the cabin stands empty (no furniture), and in the bottom left the staff member who told us it wasn’t the actual home

So, while from the outside it’s a very nice looking building (there was a slab on the side of the building that gives you some of the history of the place… something about the whole thing had my hackles up… could a state that had just gone overwhelmingly Trump have actually put up a monument to Lincoln?

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According to this plaque on the outside of the building I still couldn’t be sure. It says that the memorial was built with funds raised by the Lincoln Farm association, the Cornerstone was laid by President Roosevelt in 1909, and it was dedicated by President Taft in 1911

However, now that I’m researching all of this I have learned that, the Association was founded in 1906 specifically to save this location, was headquartered in New York (NOT Kentucky) and included such notables as Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain), Ida M. Tarbell, Robert Collier and Richard Lloyd Jones

According to Wikipedia: “From 1903 until 1911, he was a writer and associate editor for Collier’s Weekly, working under the publisher Robert J. Collier.[1] In 1905, Robert Collier and Jones collaborated to buy the old Abraham Lincoln farm at auction in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Then they organized a fundraising campaign to establish a historic site, which was opened during the Lincoln Centennial in 1909. The first board of trustees for the site included Jones, Jenkin Lloyd Jones [his dad]Mark TwainWilliam Jennings Bryan and President William H. Taft.[1]

So in other words, No, this memorial was NOT built by the state of Kentucky or even anyone who lived here.

According to both the staff member and Wikipedia the log cabin is NOT the original, but according to this site it was — or at least the guys who bought the building thought it was. Doing more research I found this site which sort of explains the confusion.

Apparently, in 1894 a speculator by the name of A.W. Dennett bought the farm where Lincoln had been born thinking people would want to see it, and had deconstructed a two-story log cabin found on a different part of the property, and moved its logs over to the spot where the original farm was thought to have stood (the original building had long ago been disassembled and he just assumed that this Lincoln cabin had been built using those logs). He then opened the spot for business, only no one came — because, no one was interested enough to shelp to rural Kentucky… So, as the saying goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. and at one point he added the logs from the cabin that was supposed to have been the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. But, with all the building and taking-apart and moving around, the Davis logs and the Lincoln logs got mixed up… so that by the time the Lincoln Farm Association got around to buying the land and the logs back from Dennett, it was anybody’s guess (by historical standards) which if any of the logs were from the original house, when they ‘rebuilt the house’ in Hodgenville.

So, all that said, back to the site…  At the bottom of the hill where the memorial to Lincoln’s childhood home sits, on what is known to have been the location of said home is a spring, which is still there….

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And worth walking down to…

Also, out by the parking lot, there is something actually pretty cool. It is a metal copy of the memorial specifically designed to allow blind people to see the memorial. Keep in mind blind people see by using the sense of touch…  Cool right? I seriously wonder why I haven’t seen more of these around the country. This would be my first.

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Metropolis, Illinois: a tourist destination for Superman fans

In keeping with my obsession with big things… how about a 12 foot tall fiberglass Superman?

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For that you need to go to Metropolis Illinois, a quiet, tiny little town (to put just how tiny this place is in perspective, my HIGH SCHOOL had 4,500 students)

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Metropolis is located on the southern border of Illinois, along the Ohio River, and it’s so quiet that even at 4:30pm on a weekday, it has mostly empty streets, seriously, where are the people?

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Besides Superman, it does not really have much else going for it, other than there is a riverboat casino on the Ohio River…

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So, in an impressive attempt at working with what you’ve got, the town has taken as much advantage as a town possibly can of having the same name as the fictional town Superman is supposed to be from.

There is superman stuff all around the center of town…

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IMG_1372There’s a superman museum, that is ostensibly a massive store that sells everything superman, with an exhibit in the back ($5 entre fee)

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But, since it was declared Superman’s official home in 1972, by the Illinois State Legislature…  I guess it’s official.

I will say I was VERY happy to find this statue of Louise Lane located at the other end of town from Superman

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And just near her I found this….

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So, all in all it’s a cute place to stop and stretch your feet if your taking a road trip that passes by it or near it …. or if you have some hard-core superman fans in your family

 

BUT… that said, on the way out-of-town I drove by a grocery store called Big John that’s had a statue out front that I sware looked to be about twice as big as the Superman statue… What’s up with that?

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Bell Buckle, Tennessee: if you’re looking for something worth stopping for on the two hour drive between Nashville and Chattanooga

Bell Buckle, TN is a very cute, tiny (population of under 400) town located well away from any highways, but on an active train line. It is a well-preserved historic town full of well maintained Victorian homes, many of which have very pretty gardens, as well as a well maintained downtown (it is a whistle-stop town on the train line from Nashville to Chattanooga) that has done everything feasibly possible to be appealing to tourists.

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Approaching the town you pass some impressively palatial homes, which is not what one expects to see in such a small town in Tennessee. Then, the moment you drive into town you’ll have to slow down to 15 mph, as you pass The Webb school. Looking at it I could tell it was a fairly affluent boarding school (its tuition is between 40-50K a year, which is up there with the price of sending your kid to University) whose presence in the town, I was pretty sure, probably explained why the homes I was passing were SO nice. That said, when I got home and did some research; I discovered that it was in fact a college prep boarding school, founded in 1870 (one of the oldest ones in the south); and that the school had been moved to Bell Buckle in 1886 (because the town was dry while its original location was going wet); and, that it was at one point SO good that it was responsible for producing more Rhodes scholars than any other secondary school in country (that said, I was looking on their website that lists where their current crop of seniors will be going for university, and the list was NOT a very impressive one — the public high school I went to, it does way better).

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This was on the sidewalk in front of one of the shops

A little further up the road you’ll come to a still active train line (none of the trains I saw actually bothered to stop at the town, confirming its whistle-stop status), and a small collection or historic storefronts which make up the “down town.” I parked my car and walked around, exploring the shops.

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This, plus one shop, is pretty much all of downtown, like I said, tiny

In every shop I entered I asked what the history of the town was, and none of the staff seemed to know. In each case they said they were actually new to the town, or didn’t actually live in town. Which was interesting.

The shops consist mostly of women’s clothing shops, shops that promote local artists,

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antique shops and

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and four different food places, a coffee shop, an ice cream and sandwiches shop (with homemade fried pie), a meat and three and ladies high tea place…. with the exception of the coffee place (which was just a coffee place), all of the other three places were so southern as to represent stereotypes of the south, or tourist trap heaven.

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Again, how more Old South can you get than Pulled pork, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pimento Cheese  — oh right, Fried peach pie
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Again, not sure a place can get more stereotypically Southern than RC Cola and Moon Pies

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This is supposed to be the best restaurant in town, a traditional Southern ‘meat and three‘ but the guy in the wellness store told me that everything they serve is actually produced by Sysco foods (i.e., almost nothing is made by them, it all arrives in bulk already made), which is kind of shocking as it apparently is one of the major draws to the town (one store owner told me that it alone generates most of the towns income), and was, according to their resturant web site, listed as one of the top 10 resturants in the state

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I ordered a $5 bowl of Chili and got a bowl so big I could only eat half, the pancake looking thing is actually corn-bread flat cake (known as a johnny cake or a hoecake).

The shop that surprised me the most was the Wellness Emporium place that sold things like tonics, Kombucha and CBD Hemp oil. The guy when talking to the women described how he runs an organic farm and produces most of his products himself.

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Lodge Cast Iron outlet store:

A brand new Lodge pre-seasoned Cast-iron pan that normally sells for about $25.00 (well, $17.98 via Amazon prime) for $5…. so yes I stopped! That said, not sure this store is worth going out of your way for.

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Got to love this statue outside of the store, it’s made of various of their products fused together (I believe the legs are things for cooking corn)

Last time I headed from Chicago to Orlando I came via Nashville, where I have some friends. After I left them and headed south to Chattanooga I passed what advertised itself to be an actual factory for Lodge Cast Iron products, with an honest-to-god outlet store (as in a store adjacent to a factory where you can buy slightly imperfect items at a 20% discount, rather than one in an outlet mall selling last season’s stuff). At the time I promised myself that next time I drove by that place I would stop in.

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Today I was driving from my friends in Georgia back to my friends in Nashville. I had stopped at the “welcome to Tennessee” center at the state border to find out what (if anything) was there was worth stopping at between the two places (since I was in no rush) and there was pamphlet advertising that with this coupon you could get a 10.25″ imperfect cast iron pan (which they normally sell for about $15), for $5!

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The normal price for a blemished pan on the left, the price with the coupon on the right

So I headed to the store, all excited about the great deals I was going to find.

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While the store is very nice and has pretty much every item Lodge makes, MOST of what it has is new perfect items at full prices. For example when I got home I found that this Carbon steel skillet was selling on Amazon for $45 with free shipping, so NO not worth a special trip for. (And I found that was pretty much always the case.)

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However, the moment you walk in the door a staff member greets you and points you in the direction of what you’ve actually come for, the discounted imperfect stuff, which is relegated to one badly lit aisle at the end of the store (not any of the well-lit and attractively displayed items).

The 10.25″ pan that the coupon was offering for $5 was selling for $14.95 without the coupon, and like I said above I found it for sale on Amazon (in perfect condition) for $17.98, so without the coupon… not really such a deal.

That said, I bought THIS “Lodge L8GP3 Cast Iron Grill Pan, 10.25-inch”, which Amazon says has a list price of $28, that they are currently advertizing for $23.61, selling in the imperfects aisle for $14.95… so a savings of $8.66. So, a savings, but I’m not sure one that’s worth going out of your way for.

 

 

‘Women-Only’ Train-Cars in Japan

You’d THINK ‘women-only’ carriages would only happen in cultures like the Middle East, where the genders are kept separate, but you’d be wrong. In an effort to combat ASSHOLE men who think a crowded train is the perfect opportunity to put their hands up the skirt of any women unlucky enough to be standing next to them, various cities around the world have begun to institute “women only carriages” in their trains, including Tokyo.

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Today I spent best part of a miserable day (Tokyo was having a gale, i.e., a storm with very little rain but near constant 30 to 50 mph wind gusts) at Tokyo Disneyland (hey, a woman has got to have her priorities); and while heading back home to my airbnb had my first encounter with this phenomena.

Because of having to fight intense winds the whole day I was already exhausted, and the whole route (from the airbnb to Disney) takes a miserable 1.25+ hours — and includes a LOT of additional walking as you make changes between three different lines none of which are adjacent to the other (suffice it to say that I will NOT be staying in this location again)… By the time I reached the final leg I was EXHAUSTED, and I still had make a change from the Japan Rail (JR) Chūō line (which runs east to west) to the Keio which starts at Shinjuku Station, which runs to the “dormitory communities” (or commuter towns) west of Tokyo…. where I was living. When I finally got to the Keio platform, the train was sitting there with it’s doors open, but pretty much every car “looked full”.

Emphasis has to be given on the “looked” part, because … one of the “experiences” of being in Japan is riding in a TRUELY full train. Most Americans have never had the pleasure because it involves an invasion of personal space that unimaginable in the west. A full train in Tokyo is one where people have been crammed together like sardines to the point where you are cheek to jowl with your fellow passengers, and as the doors close the train staff can be seen shoving people in.

[Note: if you ever find yourself on a train like this, I STRONGLY suggest you take this suggestion, “go with the flow.” By that I mean, relax your entire body and pretend you’re laying down on a bed, and don’t freak out when you find your legs are no longer under your body. It’s a very Zen meditative sort of thing, like a trust fall or being held aloft in a mosh pit. IF you try to struggle to stand, a) you will fail, and b) you might actually get hurt — as in strain your back. At stations right before yours, maneuver yourself closer to the doors, especially if your needing out at the next station. When you station arrives and the train comes to stop, THEN you get your legs back under you and yell “SUMIMASEN!” at the top of your lungs repeatedly, and starting from a football stance put your shoulders into the person in front of you and shove the hoard blocking your exit out of the train. Once you’ve burst through their ‘defensive line,’ immediately turn around and face the startled masses, bow very deeply and hell out Sumimasen again, then leave.]

Back to my story… This was not THAT full, but it was still pretty darn full. I kept going down the line car by car trying to find one where there was enough space to step in without having to shove my way in (like I said before, this was the first station on the line so the train was just sitting there with its doors open). Finally, I found one, and bleary eyed and exhausted, I stepped in. Looking around I was like “wow there are a lot of women on this car.”  The doors remained open, and more women stepped on… And then I started to look around and really SEE and realized that I could not spot a single male on the car. Well that was odd, so I couldn’t be right… I keep looking and sure enough I could not spot even one man on the car.

Suddenly I had a brain fart and, in English, I loudly said “is this a woman’s only car?” One girl standing just by me, who spoke a tiny bit of English volunteered a quiet, “yes”, so then I asked her “how do you know which is the women’s only car?” and she kept saying “muzukashii, muzukashii” which in Japanese translates to literally to “difficult, difficult” but idiomatically has a much broader ‘unexpressed meaning’, or what the Japanese refer to as Haragei (a crucial concept to understanding the Japanese);, in this particular case it meant: “my English really isn’t good enough to be able to explain this to you and while I’m struggling to find the words I don’t know how to say it… and I am very both sorry and slightly embarrassed about that, so please forgive me.” In Japan it’s VERY important to belly as much as with your ears.

When I got off the train I looked all around until I spotted the identifier.

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I had of course heard about women only trains, and had probably many months ago read something somewhere saying they were showing up in Japan, but it wasn’t something that was in my ‘awareness’ so to speak… to use proper English, it was not within my ken. (Great word, shame it’s not used more, it’s the closest thing in English to the full and proper meaning of the Japanese term, “Wakarimasu” — which is rather closer to the SciFi slang term “to Grok” than it is to the simple concept of to know.)

The need for women only cars in Japan however, WAS … I am sorry to say, very much within my ken. Back, 30+ odd years ago, when I was in my early 20’s I spent two successive summers living and interning in Japan. The first was in the tiny Japanese ceramics town of Arita, more precisely in Okawachiyama Village (and at the time there were only two other westerners in the whole place) working interning in the international business department of Iwao Jiki Kogyo; the second time was in Tokyo for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms, Eisai. That summer I was riding on a perviously described “very full train” with wife of my father’s colleague, a professor from Todai, when an also previously described asshole made the mistake of taking advantage of me. My mamma didn’t raise no shrinking violets.

I felt an uninvited hand exploring my backside and then using it’s fingers to pull up my skirt. For about a split second I was in shock, but then I got pissed and slowly maneuvered my hand through the press of bodies around to my rear and grabbed the hand. I then proceeded to slowly turn my body around while holding firmly onto the hand (at that age I played piano, violin and viola, practicing each for at least 20 minutes a day… and was rather renowned among my friends for how strong my hands were). By the time I turned myself around, the hand had been twisted into a position that I was sure would be uncomfortable if not outright painful for the owner. I then looked among the faces in front of me, and found who I was pretty sure was the guy based on his expression of fear and pain… I then let go of his hand, pulled mine out, pointed right into his face and yelled  repeatedly “CHIKAN! CHIKAN!” … Japanese for molester, or sexual harasser. The people around us all looked at him in shock (tellingly, a lot of them were unhappy with me for disturbing Wa, or harmony — another term crucial to understanding Japanese culture) and when the train doors opened he ran out of the train with his tail firmly between his legs.

While the folks on the train weren’t thrilled with me, my companion, who was in her mid to late 30’s (I was in maybe 23? at the time) looked at me with pride and wonder. That said, she shuffled me off the train even though it wasn’t our stop (like I said, I had committed the then socially unforgivable sin of breaking Wa — read the description) — but now a days I hope Japanese might have grabbed him and held him for arrest, instead). And then once we were on the platform she said to me, “HOW did you do that! PLEASE teach me! That happens to me all the time on the train and I never know how to respond. That was WONDERFUL!!!”

I say that no a days I would expect the Japanese to respond differently because, as the presence of Women only cars indicate, times have changed. According to this web site, “The chikan problem is [now] taken very seriously by railway companies and the authorities, and anyone found guilty of groping is liable to imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,500).” But that said, according this other web site  (citing a 2008 study by Adam Burgess and Mitsutoshi Horii), “Somewhere between 50-70% of young Japanese women experience chikan (“pervert,” often “groper”) on Japanese commuter trains in metropolitan areas” and, according to the same site the reason Japan’s camera phones make a snapshot noise that the user can NOT turn off is to prevent sicko’s taking pictures up girl’s skirts.

According to yet another on-line article, Women who attract chikan, and women who don’t”: The illustrated guide that’s provoking debate, which was published in 2014… the problem of Chikan men is now being discussed openly in Japanese society…

By the way, THIS is the image in question…
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… according to the artist, in Japan, sexual attacks are more in line with the tastes of Pedofile priests than the sort of “she must have been asking for it” victim shaming we tend to see in the West. As such,, the woman with exposed breasts, or the Goth girl are the ones least likely to be attacked, while while the underage school girls or demurely dressed adult woman are statistically the ones MOST likely to be attacked.

“Suspects in sex crime cases were asked why they chose that person [to attack]. Fewer than 5 percent said they targeted someone because they were wearing provocative clothing. In rape cases, the most common reason given was ‘they seemed like they wouldn’t report it to the police’ (45%). In indecent assault cases, the most common reason was ‘they seemed meek; I didn’t think they’d be able to stop me’ (48%).” — from the article about the image

… returning to the trains, the good news, according to the wikipedia article on the subject of Women only cars on trains, is that in Japan, unlike some other countries, men are fined for entering the cars and the ever present rail staff (the ones whose job it is to shove people into cars) are on site to enforce the rules.

 

The Joys of Convenience Store Food in Japan

When you think of convenience stores you generally don’t think of them as a great place to pick up an affordable meal. I don’t know about you but when I see the plastic wrapped food options in their refrigerated cases, or the hot food on display, I tend to worry about food poisoning first, and consider just how desperate I am for food second, and then tend to go for something processed and in a bag instead… like a bag of chips. Except when I’m in Japan, in Japan I actually opt for convenience store food when looking for cheap eats.

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In Japan convenience stores are pretty much everywhere, with about 50,000 of them scattered throughout the country, and they are sort of famous across Asia for the quality of their eats. For example: the other week, my favorite former teaching assistant (from when I was professor in Korea a few years ago) was in town for a few days. (I had told him I was intending to come here after Australia and he had asked if he could tag along for a few days.) This being his first time here, one of his “while in Japan” priorities was to eat convenience store food… I shit you not. Sure, Korea is chock a block with convenience stores, and even has 7-eleven’s of it’s own; and Korean convenience stores have food too…  that will keep you from starving to death and will fill you up in a pinch, but the whole time I was working there I never heard anyone describe them as a first choice for a meal. (And most of the time what I saw folks eating at them were cup a noodles or some other processed and or frozen food warmed up … not generally the ready made stuff (of which there was very little to choose from anyway — probably a catch 22 situation).

By comparison in Japan you’re as likely see teenagers and young adults dropping into a convenience store to pick up a quick meal (which they’ll usually eat at home) as you are to see them dropping into a McDonalds or a any other fast food chain, and by extension the offerings are extensive. While there they’ll pick up freshly cooked but refrigerated meals out of the refrigerators, baked goods, etc., with the same confidence as we would buying precooked foods from the grocery stores’ deli sections.

The concept was brought to Japan in 1974 by 7-Eleven, a brand that started in Texas, and as is true with all other imports the Japanese made it their own, to the point of buying out the brand entirely (the company is now owned by the Japanese, and there are more of them in here than anywhere else, in fact 31% of all their stores world wide). Nowadays, there are essentially three major chains, 7-eleven, Lawson (which like 7-eleven began as a US brand, but the brand name is now owned by the Japanese and the US stores were bought out by, and now called Dairy Mart), and FamilyMart (the only chain to originate in Japan).

Of the three, my favorite is Lawson where a) pretty much everything they sell is in my opinion much tastier than the equivalent at the other two chains

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… but also, and most importantly for me, b) Lawson’s cooked foods tend to have English descriptions on them (making my life a tone easier).

IMG_0766IMG_0767They also sell these little packets of chicken in various calorie sizes… I recently tried the smoked chicken tenderloin one for 37 calories … and oh dear lord it’s tasty and moist! Last year a friend of mine had decided to just throw money at the problem of not having enough time or energy to cook for the twenty people she’d invited to thanksgiving dinner, and had purchased a whole smoked turkey from one of those catalogue food companies (like Williams– Sonoma), which turned out to be “to die for”!!!! This bit of chicken in plastic from Lawson’s was almost that good… and it’s from a convenience store!!IMG_0765

And while under normal circumstances I would NEVER buy something like cooked fish from a 7-eleven in the states, I have purchased it from Lawson’s, and it was good.IMG_0764

by comparison, 7-eleven for the most part does NOT put English on most of their food packets (except for the kcal which, happily for me, the Japanese seem to always list with the western alphabet); what is there is sort of a mission statement about how great their food is, rather than anything useful.IMG_0768.JPG

That and, like I said before, the few things where I’ve compared 7-eleven’s product with the comparable Lawson’s one, I preferred the flavor of Lawson’s food.

The only product where the ‘rule’ about English labeling doesn’t seem to hold up is on Sandwiches, where 7-eleven DOES put an English description and Lawson’s does not

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For the most part I find the FamilyMart brand to better than 7-eleven in flavors, but not quite as good as Lawson in most things… and they rarely use English descriptions on their products either.

Also, if you’re in Japan, needing to pick up some cash, and not able to find a bank ATM that will accept international bank cards, every ATM I’ve looked at that’s in any of the three chains accepts international cards. I haven’t used them, so I don’t know if there are any extra fees involved.

An interesting factoid that most travelers will never need to use: I’ve read that, because of their omnipresence in Japanese cities of all sizes, anyone who needs police protection such as battered wives, can run to one any convenience store and the clerks are tasked with protecting them till the police arrive.

Found this good video on the topic:

 

The Big Merino, World’s biggest Sheep(?)

On the drive from Canberra to Sydney is a tourist shop that is something of an Aussie institution; properly called The Big Merino, it is a shop which “celebrates Australia’s fine wool industry” …. and is fronted by a “Big Thing”/tourist trap that stands 15.2 meters, or 97 feet, tall (probably the biggest sheep statue in the world, but that hasn’t been authenticated), that the locals have nicknamed “Rambo.”

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The tiny person standing below it is me

The statue stands along side the store, which sells a whole variety of VERY upmarket Australian made items (there are no bargains here, but what they have is VERY nice) mostly made from Marino wool, such as socks, scarves, boots, knitting wool, and coats, etc.

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A super soft, thin to the point of transparent marino wool scarf with a digitally printed image on it was selling for about $80 (Australian)

My favorite item, which I forgot to take a photo of and did NOT buy but simply drooled over), was an $1,800+ lambskin/shearling jacket (made from super soft lambskins with the wool still attached).

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In fact, the only things I bought for myself were an assortment of draw string bags with really pretty Aboriginal designs on them, made for protecting your sun glasses, out of the same microfiber material of the sort used to clean glasses (so doubly practical) for $9.90 (AUD).

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We went here, not to please my obsession with big things, but rather because it’s a regular stop for my travel buddy who LOVES the Big Merino because it’s the only place he knows of that reliably has nice thick Marino wool socks his size… men’s XXL (size 13 Australian, 15 US and 49 European, i.e., he almost never finds socks his size).

If you’ve never purchased a pair of merino wool socks I STRONLY suggest you do. First time I ever saw them was at a sort of outdoors/athletic/hiking type shop located in Evanston, IL, near my University. “$15 for a pair of socks, you have GOT to be kidding me?!” I said… but they assured me these socks would change my life (??) and that I should buy one pair and wear them for 1 week solid without changing them, and then sniff them, and if not impressed I could bring them back. (No seriously, that’s what they said!) Suffice it to say, they won that bet and now pretty much all my daily wear socks are now made of Merino wool. Not only do these suckers wick moisture away from your skin, and take a good two solid weeks of my wearing them on a daily basis to start to smell (I’ve tested them), they also LAST for YEARS!! That first pair took a good five years of regular abusive wearing before they wore out! Not only that but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started wearing them I’ve not had a single blister on my develop on my foot, even if wearing new shoes. Seriously, these are a different category of sock and totally worth the price.

According to my friend it was a shame we hadn’t arrived at the Big Merino after dark because at night the security lights give it the effect of appearing to have glowing eyes… What he didn’t know, and I just found out by googling it (while writing this blog post) is that you can actually climb up statue and look out through those eyes to the road.

The One picture I should have gotten but didn’t, was the back of the sheep… a view which Australians with their sense of irreverent humor seem to love to the point that it has it’s own Facebook page.

Australia, New South Wales’ Koala bridges

Although Koalas while cute and cuddly, and tourist draw to Australia’s shores, they are in fact in serious trouble. Not only are they dying for the obvious reason of deforestation, attacks by dogs and being killed in car accidents, they are also most notably being killed off by a chlamydia epidemic (seriously!) so much so that in 2012, the Koala was added to the threatened species list. The dogs and the chlamydia epidemic locals experts seem to be clueless about how to address, but they HAVE begun to make inroad on the threat of car accidents…. by building Koala Bridges over highways.

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As my friend and I were road-tripping in New South Wales — and it was a BEAUTIFUL day, we kept passing what he explained to me were bridges that were built over the highways for the use of the Koalas.

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After we had passed a few of them I had him pull over at a rest stop that immediately after one of these things … and, after taking advantage of the facilities (it had cold metal seats and these leachy looking worms all over the ground… leaving me more than a bit grossed out) I trekked back along the edge of the highway to take some pictures of one.

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I was really skeptical that the Koala’s would know to these things …. but my friend swore that he had on occasion seen Koala’s on them … and then, when googled the topic I found this article about an ecologist who had to eat his own words of skepticism on the topic, when they found Koalas were in fact already regularly taking advantage of them… and after only three weeks … apparently, Koalas are pretty smart (oh, and they aren’t stoned, that’s just a myth).

BATS!!! Sydney, Australia has VERY big bats, and a lot of them

BATS!!!!! Great big flying bats!! And I mean they’re huge,

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Apparently the locals call them “Flying-Foxes” and there are three different species in town

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I’ve seen them in zoos, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the wild… and its not just one or two, it’s like there are thousands of them and they just don’t stop coming

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I can’t know for sure but I’m thinking these ones might be the Grey-headed flying foxes which apparently are the biggest variety living in Australia… cause they’re frigging huge…. and they just kept coming and coming… I was standing there shooting picture of these guys for like 20 minutes, just mesmerized.

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My friend, who is from Sydney said he’s never sure when he sees this nightly display — which happens in parts of town that the bats seem to prefer — if its thousands of them or if its the same bunch just circling

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However, according to what I read while prepping this post, there aren’t as many bats as there were a few weeks ago. Earlier in the month, while I was at the sea shore and Sydney had that record breaking heat wave, the bats were literally dying on the trees where they hung.

 

In Australia, prostitution is legal

We’re walking down the street and and my travel partner, who is from Australia, goes, “and this would be a brothel” …. one of the things I learned on this trip was that, prostitution is legal in Australia. That said, each state seems to have legalized it differently. In some, independent sex workers without any government regulation are ok, but whore houses are not; while in other parts of Australia, like New South Wales — where Sydney is– it’s exactly the opposite — sex workers are heavily regulated/tested, etc., and tend to work in whore houses. That said, I’m really no expert on this so I could be getting it wrong…

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I will say this, Australian whore house, a country where it’s legal, are a lot harder to spot than the South Korean ones (where I used to work), where it’s not legal.

In Korea what you tend to see are “happy ending massage parlors” but everyone knows that they offer much more than that; and they are really easy to spot because they have two spinning barbershop poles side by side in front of them… even though in South Korea prostitution is “technically” illegal. In fact whore houses in Korea were so common and easy to spot that it was a running joke among my students.

What’s interesting to me is that while I’ve always heard about people traveling to Thailand or the Amsterdam and places like that, to partake of the sex trade, I’ve never heard of folks coming to Australia for it… live and learn.