Sunday, August 2, 2009

Whirlwind Tour of Oahu

FRIDAY, 31 AUGUST (REDUX)

We arrived on Friday morning, a "Ground Hog Day" for us because we had already lived through more than half of Friday in Guam. Tired from 11 hours of flying, we didn't get much more done than ogle the sights at Ala Moana Shopping Center. [Can you say, "Jamba Juice"?]

SATURDAY, 1 AUGUST

Saturday was a bit more inspired, but even I managed to sleep in past 8 am (normally I never sleep past 6:30) and we didn't get going until around 10:30. We met Sherry, Mike, and their two sons, Ethan and Alex, for lunch at Sam Choy's where we caught up on all the latest information. After lunch, we spent a couple of hours exploring Iolani Palace. I lived in Hawaii for nearly 7 years (not continuously) and I hadnever visited the palace. It was beautiful and we learned a lot about Hawaiian history. The self-guided audio tour is great; Drew nearly cried when he heard the king had died and all the happy bunting and celebrations were changed to mourning.


We returned to the hotel to swim in the pool and ocean and eat dinner at Bibas. It was a quiet night watching television.

SUNDAY, 2 AUGUST

We knew today was going to be busy and it was. We attended the service at Pearl Harbor Subase Chapel. Instead of the congregation of retired submariners, the chapel held a handful of younger members in a contemporary service. I really missed singing The Navy Hymn and the in-depth description of a submarine lost during World War II, but the sermon was good and the stained glass windows were still there.

A quick lunch and the Arizona Memorial were next. I have my flag and certificate attesting to having flown over the Arizona Memorial when I re-enlisted in 1987. I remember I didn't even buy breakfast for my re-enlisting officer, Captain Heaton, and for that I am truly remorseful. I certainly didn't understand military etiquette. Gregg wanted to tour Ford Island, so we drove over, a true novelty as only a ferry linked Ford Island with the main island when I was stationed here.

Then it was on to the Dole Plantation and its Guiness Book of World Records Winning Maze. We didn't come anywhere close to the record for finishing the maze (8 minutes, in case you were wondering), but had a great time navigating it. Drew gives it two thumbs up! Some pineapple juice and pineapple ice cream for the road and we were on our way back to the hotel to change clothes and slather sunscreen for a trek to Diamond Head. We were taking our leisurely time until I noted we had to be in the park by 4:30pm. The current time was 4:08pm. We grabbed the receptionist's attention and asked, What is the fastest way to get to Diamond Head?" She said, "By car."


Quickly piling in, we whipped in and out of Honolulu traffic, every light magically turning green as we approached. We made it through the gates at 4:25pm. Snatching bottles of water at the base of the crater, we started our hike upwards. Drew led the pack and we were treated to breathtaking views of Waikiki.

For dinner, we wanted to recreate our dinners at a local Thai restaurant. Back in 1994, Gregg and I would buy our alcohol at Safeway then walk over to Mekong. We couldn't find it on a brief run through the neighborhood and everyone was starving so it was one last dinner at the food court at Ala Moana. [Jamba Juice again!]

Gregg, Anna and Drew went down to the pool for one last swim and now we're busy packing for a very early morning flight to Legoland!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Looking for Smart and Ecologically Sound Gift Wrapping?


Wuhao of New York has the best selection of tenugui for gift wrapping, fashion, and decoration. Check it out!
Japan is truly, as Anna says, "The Headquarters of Cuteness."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Test Post

Test language

Monday, April 27, 2009

video

"For more information on the Crack Spider's Bitch, contact the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

22nd Military Operations and Law Conference, New Zealand



We’ve just wrapped up the 22nd annual Pacific Military Operations Conference in Auckland, New Zealand. MILOPS is a yearly meeting of legal professionals from countries in the Pacific operating area. There are numerous countries represented at the conference, including the United States, Australia, Thailand, China, Japan, the UK, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Bangladesh, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Mongolia, Maldives, and of course, New Zealand. This conference was amazing!

Presentations included “National Security Law in Transition: Assessing the First Three Months of the Obama Administration,” given by the Honorable Judge James Baker of the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; “Legal Support to Military Operations,” given by Brigadier Kevin Riordan of the New Zealand Navy; “Information Operations,” given by three separate speakers, including a recent friend of mine, Colonel Dawn Sholz, USAF, and also Jennifer Yang Hui, a research analyst from Singapore; and finally, “Government Strategies for Humanitarian Assistance and Reconstruction,” given by Dr. Bernard Loo from Singapore.

The talk on the Obama presidency from Judge Baker was excellent. In general, he had high marks for President Obama, particularly with respect to his use of legal advisors on major issues like Guantanamo Bay and on making the Attorney General a full cabinet member. On the other hand, he echoed many when he said closing Guantanamo Bay before allowing his appointed working group to complete their assessment was “putting the cart before the horse.”

Also interesting was the talk by Ms. Hui on extremist websites advocating terrorism that have been sprouting up in Indonesia. But the best presentation by far was that of Dr. Loo on humanitarian assistance provided to failed and failing states. This one generated a lot of interest from the Southeast Asian countries, as many of them have recently been involved in relief efforts, either on the giving or receiving ends.

National sovereignty is very important in this area of the world, and assistance from outside countries is sometimes perceived as interference in internal affairs. Two questions from the audience caused quite a bit of discussion: 1) who decides when a state is failed or failing, and 2) should assistance be provided to individuals if a national government rejects that assistance. The second question was timely, as after Cyclone Nargis wrecked Burma in 2008, the Burmese government, a military junta, interfered with the delivery of food for political reasons.

From Wikipedia: “On May 3, 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the country when winds of up to 215 km/h (135 mph) touched land in the densely populated, rice-farming delta of the Irrawaddy Division. Reports estimated that more than 200,000 people are dead or missing from Cyclone Nargis that hit the country's Irrawaddy delta. Damage totaled to 10 billion dollars (USD); it was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history. Adds the World Food Programme, "Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out." The United Nations projects that as many as 1 million were left homeless; and the World Health Organization "has received reports of malaria outbreaks in the worst-affected area."

“Yet in the critical days following this disaster, Burma's isolationist regime complicated recovery efforts by delaying the entry of United Nations planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies into the Southeast Asian nation. The government's failure to permit entry for large-scale international relief efforts was described by the United Nations as "unprecedented.””

“According to Thai Rath Newspaper of Thailand on 8 May 2008, in the afternoon (Bangkok time) of 7 May 2008, the Burmese junta permitted Italian flights containing relief supplies from the United Nations, and twenty-five tonnes of consumable goods, to land in Burma. However, many nations and organizations hoped to deliver assistance and relief to Burma without delay; most of their officials, supplies and stores were waiting in Thailand and at the Yangon airport, as the Burmese junta declined to issue visas for many of those individuals. These political tensions raised the concern that some food and medical supplies might become unusable, even before the Burmese junta officially accepted the international relief effort.” (End excerpt from Wikipedia.)

I’ve read anecdotes about the Burmese government requiring all assistance go through them, then relabeling it as coming from the junta leaders to boost their reputation with citizens. There were also allegations of hoarding and of reselling supplies for profit by corrupt government individuals. This wasn’t ineptitude, like the relief efforts for Katrina. This was willful denial of life saving food and medicine by military dictators for the mere purpose of enriching themselves and maintaining absolute power. It boggles the mind how a human being could allow others to starve and die in the name of power and money.

Dr. Loo argues that there are two reasons for providing humanitarian assistance: 1) it is the ethical, moral thing to do; and 2) it is in the world’s best interests to do so for security reasons, because it is those countries who need assistance that are most susceptible to radicalization by extremist forces. So, by providing assistance, the extremist forces are denied the ability to vilify others for not providing any assistance.

Personally, it is much easier for me to reach a conclusion as to whether assistance should be provided. I believe all countries and peoples have an obligation to ensure the safety and security of individual humans, no matter what country they live in. Another way to say that is, if a human suffers anywhere in the world, all should act to stop that suffering.

Whenever I bring this up in conversation, some are quick to point out that it is not possible to save everyone; the US can’t be the world’s police; we shouldn’t interfere in other country’s politics; etc. Frankly, none of these arguments hold water with me. If you want to argue that we can’t save everyone, so be it. We can debate the lengths to which we should go, and how many we can save before we run out of money. But don’t tell me we shouldn’t try to help the desperately needy in places like Darfur or Somalia because we can’t save everyone. We can save some, and that is enough. Even if we only save one, that is enough. We are standing for a principle, that all life is precious and worthy. That belief is the reason many of us joined the military in the first place. Someone has to stand against tyranny and oppression.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Flag Circle and Memory Sticks

I drove Gregg and the kids to Flag Circle where Gregg had left his car last night after the squadron hail-and-farewell. He would take the kids from there to tennis lessons while I returned home to prepare for the Community Service project for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month at the Navy Exchange.

Gregg called me at home and said the kids saw how big the houses were at Flag Circle and asked who lived here.

Gregg told them, "High-ranking Naval officers live here."

They wanted to know what a high-ranking Naval officer was. "Well, that's someone who is a captain or an admiral," Gregg said.

Drew said, "Dad, I want you to stay in the Navy long enough to become a high-ranking Naval officer so we can live in a house like this."

* * * * * * * *

Drew got a Sony PSP today. After waiting patiently to charge the unit, Drew sat down on the couch to play. That's when he ran into trouble. Attempting to save the game was causing all sorts of frustration because the game wouldn't save to the PSP. After listening to the noise coming from the living room, I asked Gregg what was wrong.

The problem? Drew's PSP didn't come with a memory stick. Drew started opening anything that had an orifice on the PSP, including the battery door. "Wow," I said, laughing. "That sounds like another male who lives in this house!"

Sunday, January 25, 2009

House

This is a feature Gregg wants in our next house....

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sydney Day 4

Day 4 was another full one. We stared with a guided tour of the Royal Botanical Gardens, which included an introduction to aboriginal customs. Our tour guides were of aboriginal ancestry.



The Gardens were beautiful and filled with birds.



Flying Foxes were present here as well. I was able to get much better photos of them in the trees than I was in Cairns.





After the tour of the Gardens, we had lunch, then caught a ferry to Manly, a beach town north of Sydney.



Sydney Day 3

Day 3 was very busy. Our first stop was the Sydney Aquarium, which has several Dugong on display. The Dugong are relatives of manatees.



After the aquarium, we had lunch along along the harbor. I had kangaroo. Very good, somewhat like venison but less gamey.
After lunch, we caught a ferry back to downtown Sydney.
The ferry route took us past the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Day 2

Day two was spent at the Powerhouse Museum, an outstanding hands-on museum much like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Powerhouse had a Star Wars exhibit on display that Drew loved.




Lunch was spend in the Powerhouse garden where Drew had the opportunity to burn off some energy.



We found a nice rotary sushi house near our hotel for dinner.

Sydney Day 1

We spent most of day one traveling from Cairns to Sydney, a 3-hour flight. After arrival, we unpacked and headed out for dinner along Sydney Harbor.



Cairns Day 4

We spent our last day in Cairns shopping. Our first visit was Kuranda, the mountain village we had visited earlier in our trip. Anna and Drew posed with an opal and gold prospector:



Next stop was a downtown mall, where I discovered a store called JAG. Turns out there is a jeans manufacturer in Australia named JAG. Of course, I had to buy some stuff with the logo printed on it.



After shopping, we had dinner along the esplanade overlooking the ocean. I had "bugs," which are like prawns but with much more meat. Very good.

Cairns Day 3 - Part 2

After our trip to the Crystal Caves, we planned our dinner around dusk so we could watch the local Flying Fox (bat) population take to the skies. We had dinner at Outback Jacks, which is just across the street from the nesting trees in downtown Cairns.



Here are the way the bats look during the days, when they are resting:


At dusk, the bats take to the skies in search of foods. These bats are somewhat different from the ones you probably learned about in school. They do not use echolocatoin (sonar) for guidance as most bats; instead, they have very sensitive sight and smell. They feed on fruit and nectar, and have a range of up to 40 miles.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cairns Day 3

Day 3 in Cairns was Sunday, so we began by finding a local church to attend. The closest and most suitable was the Churhc of St John the Evangelist, an Anglican Church. The service was great and the people were very friendly.



After church, we headed south out of Cairns for Atherton and the Tablelands. The drive was beautiful and dizzying. The road between Cairns and Atherton skirted the outside of a mountain and was probably the most curvy road I have ever driven. I remarked to Mary that it was almost like playing a driving game. Lots of fun for me, but eventually it started to make the others sick.



At last we reached Atherton, had lunch at McDonalds, and then proceeded to our ultimate destination - the Crystal Caves. Although somewhat toursity, it was a lot of fun. The Crystal Caves are home to a collection of rocks and crystals from around the world, put on display in a fun environment for kids. Here is a picture of Drew and Anna with the world's biggest amethyst geode:



After the tour, Anna and Drew were able to pick out their own unopened amethyst geode and crack it open. These geodes are more than 40 million years old and look like a big egg. After opened, however, they reveal a beatiful cluster of purple crystals.

Here Anna and Drew pull down on the cracking mechanism while Mary holds the geode in position:



After cracking it open, Anna and Drew each took half of the newly cracked geode:



Very neat for them to be the first to see inside of this 40 million year old rock! And now they will always be able to look at their half and remember the experience, and know that the other is with their sibling wherever they are in the world. The experience was definitely worth while.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cairns Day 2

We began day two in Cairns by renting a car and plotting a course north along Captain Cook Highway. This road runs north along the coast of Australia to the northern most point one can travel to by car, the town of Tribulation. Travel after that point must be done by 4WD or on foot.

The drive was very nice and the views were wonderful.



We took a boat tour of a river where crocodiles are known to live and breed, but unfortunately the recent rains and high tide drove most of the crocs to the bottom of the river. We were only able to see on baby croc, about two feet long.





After the tour, we were back on the road again on our way to Tribulation. The road skirts the Daintree National Forest and goes through Cassowary territory. There were numerous roadsigns warning drivers to be careful, and speedbumps were placed along the way as well. Here is a set of signs that together warn of an upcoming speedbump and caution drivers about the Cassowaries:



Someone saw an opportunity for a little humor and altered a later set of signs to the following:



The townfolk of Tribulation apparently thought this was funny as well and appear to have adopted it as their unofficial slogan. Post cards and t-shirts with the signs were all over town.

I took the below photo at our last stop in Tribulation. Beautiful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cairns Day 1

After a late flight from Guam, we arrived in Cairns at 12:35am and met our ride to the Holiday Inn. The accomodations are great. We are on the top floor and have a magnificent view of the harbor and ocean.



We slept in (until 0730 - we are usually up at 0600) and had breakfast at the hotel. We then checked with in with the tour desk in the lobby to see what we could do for our first day. Turns out we still had time to book a full day tour of Kuranda, a village in the rainforest just outside of Cairns. The tour would start with a cable car ride up the mountain to Kuranda, then several hours to see the sights, and end with a train ride back down. It promised to be a spectacular day, and it didn't disappoint.

Our guide picked us up at the hotel and delivered us to the Skyrail for the first leg of our trip. The view from the cable car was incredible, even though it was a little overcast. We passed near a waterfall that was nearly 1,000 feet high, then stopped at an intermediate station for a better view of the falls.









We made one other stop on our way to Kuranda where we took a guided tour through the rainforest.

We finally reached the town of Kuranda and had a wonderful lunch before continuing our sightseeing.

Our first stop was a Koala Farm where we all had a picture taken with a Koala. After the pics, we walked through along a garden path and had the chance to feed and pet kangaroos and wallabies.







Next was the bird sanctuary, where we saw a number of beatiful cockatoos and parrots. There were also two cassowaries, very rare flightless birds that are close to extinction. There are only about 1,200 of these birds left.



We then visited a butterfly sanctuary, and finally a small zoo named the Venom Museum. Drew just had to see the "most venomous spider in the Australia," the Sydney Funnel Web spider.

It was finally time to catch the train for a 1.5 hour ride back to civilization. We stopped again along the way down for an even better view of waterfalls.

At last we found our way back to Cairns, had a bath, then went out for dinner at the night market. We finished the day with a quick swim, then retired for the night.