Saturday, October 31, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: Ramping up for a different challenge

 This year, I’m doing something different for NaNoWriMo. Instead of writing 50,000 words, I have decided to devote all the time the would have spent writing to editing my already-written first novel. 50 hours of editing. That’s probably what it needs to be reader-worthy. 

See, last year I finished writing the content in Chiang Mai,Thailand, and when I ran out of stuff to write, I started writing for my diary or for other stories. But I don’t want to do that this year.

I started participating in Nano in 2013 while living in Shimane, Japan. I wrote so that my story would be more than just an idea in my head. I wrote so that I would know what kind of writer I was. I wanted to test my skill, my patience, my endurance, and I wanted to see if I could write that much while holding down a full-time job. Turns out, I can.

I learned a lot about myself in the first year, so in 2014 when I was in Myanmar and Thailand, I did Nano again to confirm what I learned, and to test my abilities in a more nomadic environment.

This year, I have nothing more to learn about myself as a writer, and I have no new writing to do. Though I’ve already written some chapters for my second novel and have a vague idea of the story, I feel I need the experience of  completing one novel before undertaking another one. The last thing I want is thirty unfinished and unreadable novels on my desktop.  I need something I can show to people. I need something complete. I need to experience the entire process of novel writing, from initial idea to final edits.

At this time, my skill level is incomplete. I know how to conjure up ideas and convert them into stories. I know how to describe, embellish, and elaborate on my ideas. I know how to weave them into a compelling sequence that surprises and enticed a reader. I know how to tweak the stories and structure and characters to help them reach their potential, to bring out their truest selves. But I don’t yet know, or haven’t  experienced, the final editing and structuring that must occur before a story is actually readable. 


I know from my meticulous record-keeping of the last two years, that I write about 1,000 words per hour on average. This means I will need to spend 50 hours this next month editing my 120,000-word novel. I have no idea how much text I can edit in one hour. If the work doesn’t need a lot of changes, I suppose I can cover quite a lot of text, but then there are those paragraphs that command a full hour of attention and focus, which is sometimes what it takes to get them just right. For that reason, I won’t be tracking how many words I edit per hour, and my only goal is to finish editing the entire novel. This is a different goal  than merely writing 50,000 words. 50,000 words is measurable. But whether or not  my novel is “complete” is purely subjective.  Only I will know when  I'm satisfied. So, I’ve committed at least 50 hours this next month to editing, but I have no idea whether that time amount is too much or not enough. This is the part of the process in which I still have a lot to learn.

Here goes…

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sung Sot: Cave Exploration in Ha Long Bay

I went to Ha Long Bay for the  water and scenery, not for the caves. I didn’t even know there were caves there until the boat docked and we were told to get off. Being kind of a cave nerd, imagine my surprise and delight, to find that we would be visiting a cave! Unfortunately, Sung Sot Cave, also known as the Surprise Cave,  was crowded with tourists on that day, as it was the end of December and close to New Years.

The lighting in this cave was strange, all technicolor and neon, like a show. I enjoyed this weird neon cave, it was a totally different experience from Mulu’s dark and haunting ones. 

It was super busy at the end of December

View from the mouth of the cave

Rock concert lighting

The ceiling of the cave looked like footprints in sand

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Awesome Lobster Dishes of Maine

I knew that my trip to Maine would be filled with lobster, but what I didn’t expect was how many different ways I would get to eat lobster. I was prepared for a monotony of steamed lobster with butter and lobsters rolls every day, but surprisingly I never had to repeat a dish, there was so much variety.

I had a lobster and Swiss cheese omelet, lobster stew, lobster roles, Italian-style pasta with lobster, steamed whole lobster, lobster corn chowder, lobster bisque, lobster cakes, lobster mac and cheese, and even lobster in Vietnamese noodle soup.

I'm still not a believer in the seafood-diary combo, but this would have made it impossible to eat lobster in Maine. Whether is was melted butter on the side, or mashed lobster with mayo in a roll, or cream in a bisque or stew, diary was omnipresent.
In nearly every dish I was impressed with the portion of the meat and fresh taste. But if you want to recreate my lobster experience add $20 to your daily food budget, because lobster don’t come cheap. 

The old fashioned way: with butter, coleslaw and chips, Belfast, ME

Vietnamese Noodle Soup with Lobster, The Honey Paw, Portland, ME

Lobster roll with mayo, The Lobster Shack, Belfast, ME

Italian butter pasta with Lobster and parmesan, Peter Ott's, Camden, ME

Lobster and Swiss Cheese omlet, Becky's Diner, Portland, ME

Lobster Stew, Cameron Lobster Shack, Brunswick, ME

Lobster Corn Chowder, Thirsty Whale, Bar Harbor, ME

Monday, October 26, 2015

Shimane Guide: Oda Edition

The city of Oda is just outside the limits of Izumo, about 45 minutes to one hour by car. It is accessible by train, but the San-In line only comes  few times a day, is slow, and often late. Also, nothing is within walking distance to Oda Station.

I recommend exploring the area by car. I have divided the Oda activities up into two regions, which are about an hour apart form one another: Mt. Sanbe region and Iwami Ginzan region

Mt. Sanbe region

Before you climb Mt. Sanbe, visit Sanbe Burger, at the foothills of the park. You might recognize Sanbe Burger from Izumo, but this is the original. Definitely worth a stop. You will need the calories if you plan to climb to Sanbe.

Mt. Sanbe or Sanbe-San, as it is known in Japanese, is the generic name for a range of mountains in Japan. Osanbe San is the tallest.  There is also Ko-Sanbe, which is a steep course, involving climbing on all fours, and Jo-Sanbe, which is much easier, but offers a strange and surreal view from the top, covering with netting.

I have personally climbed Ko Sanbe, Jo-Sanbe and O-Sanbe. Here are some images from those hikes:

After climbing the mountain, you will be a sweaty mess. How about rinsing off at the nearby Sanbe Onsen, an internationally famous place with traditional outdoor baths. Usually people with tattoos are not allowed in Japanese Onsens, but Sanbe welcomes them. Admission is cheap and I usually spend about 1 hour at the onsen.

After the Onsen, I recommend dinner at Café Doma. This was one of my go-to cafes in Shimane, but it also serves great food. I recommend the curry rice, or whatever their seasonal special is. Here are some photos from this great café.

Iwami Ginzan region

Iwami Ginzan is a restored mining town in another part of Oda. It is a UNESCO world heritage site with a visitor center completed in 2007. There are two main things to view here: the mining town, and the mines. One could easily spend hours walking slowly down the main road of the mining town, visiting tiny tea shops and souvenir shops, but the mine itself is also worth a visit. Foreign visitors even get a special discount, and when I took my father, they even had an English-speaking guide present. 

Park at the Visitor's center and take a bus to the start of the town, or park near the police station and walk. It's about a half-hour stroll from the start of the town to the entrance of the mines. 

A walk through the old mining town

view of the mining town from atop a temple

a walk up to the shrine

view from along the mining town

a patio of a local shop

view of the houses and fall leaves

crossing a bridge while walking through the town

crossing over a bridge in the town

view from inside a store

ascending the stairs to a temple

view from the path to the mines

cemetery near the entrance to the mines

the mining town

underground in the mines

things got pretty narrow

but at least it was well lit

After visiting the mines, which was surround by Shimane’s lush and beautiful scenery, I recommend having coffee or lunch in the mining town. Café Cagliari serves excellent coffee and muffins. The gregarious owner lived in Italy for a while and will spare you no detail if you are willing to listen. 

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...