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After hanging out at my friend’s place on 7th st., I met up with another old High School friend who’s living downtown too. He stays over on 7th and Spring St, which is only a few blocks away from my other buddy’s place…and also happens to be right in the Art Walk.

I’d never heard of the Downtown Art Walk when I used to live in LA, and my friends say it’s a recent thing. That area never was a mellow place to hang out on the streets after dark…at least not since I’ve been alive. It’s also only a few blocks from the good old Skid Row part of downtown: home to one of the largest populations of homeless in the United States.

But now that the area’s getting fancy, you’ll see quite a few people of all ages showing up to cruise the streets for this event. Basically, there are just a bunch of galleries in that area of downtown which open up their doors on the second Thursday of every month. Here’s a rough outline of the borders of the walk which I highlighted in blue below:

View in a larger map

So we met up with a few more friends and walked around for a bit. I’m not really an art buff, but there were some interesting displays. Some galleries were selling beer and wine inside so you could get your drink on.

Art for all

Most of the galleries looked like that. Bright lights, people hanging around chatting. It was alright for something free to do, and probably would’ve been more fun for me if I was big on art. One thing that tripped me out though was seeing so many people on the street at night down there. Also, as we walked around, I saw nice little restaurants, cafes, and bars, and the place felt as safe as strolling down any street in Tokyo. The place is completely different from how I remember it.

Anyway, around 9pm the galleries started closing up, but there were still plenty of people hanging around on the street. There was a band playing on one corner, some dude playing some drums on another. But of course, the cops walked by and shut that down real quick. Can’t let anyone have fun without the proper permits. You know how it goes.

By now we were already up by 2nd St, so we headed back south to 7th…

Downtown Art Walk

On the way, we stumbled upon a gallery which was still open, and unlike any of the others. The space was pretty big, had a nice crowd, good lighting, and a guy whipping up some good beats for the crowd. If I remember correctly, the spot was on 4th and Spring St., so definitely check it out if you’re ever down there for the Art Walk.

LA art gallery party

Art gallery DJ

Art gallery party

You can check this website for for more information on the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk.

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted around here. Been busy on other projects, you know how it goes. I figure it’s time to give this site a little love. Anyway, I went back to LA recently so I’ll post some pics from out there. Also, I’ve never mentioned this before, but I’m a map freak. I love looking at maps and wondering about what life is like at any given point. So thanks to the embed feature at Google Maps, I’ll try and link each photo to it’s general location on the map.

It was a good trip. Haven’t been back to America in about two years, so figured I’d get a little culture shock. But it didn’t happen. Anyway, here’s a photo of Downtown LA taken while driving in the carpool lane of the 110 North…

Downtown LA
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One thing that hasn’t changed is the crappy traffic. LA is consistently rated as having the worst traffic in the country. But depending what time of day you’re driving, it’s not so bad. The 110 is my favorite freeway in LA though. Guess it has a little nostalgia for me cause that’s my hometown freeway used since I was a kid. It also kicks ass with 6 lanes: 2 for carpool, 4 regular.

Even with 6 lanes, the 110 can get brutal as hell. But you go at the right times of day, and it’s smooth sailing. Case in point, the shot below. This is where the carpool becomes two lanes, and the 110 N passes through Gardena (west) and Compton (east), heading into South Central…

110 North
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After getting into Downtown, the streets and buildings pretty much looked the same…

Downtown Los Angeles
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Los Angeles Street
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Downtown buildings

Yet the place has seriously changed. It used to be that Downtown was basically a ghost town after sunset. Now, the place is really picking up. They’re converting all these old buildings into loft apartments and renting them out left and right. One of my friends who was renting a loft there has decided to move out cause it’s too pricey now. His building was once a furniture factory located at Los Angeles St and 7th St. Now it’s high priced housing. This is a crappy pic, but it’s the inside of his place…and yes, that’s a swimming pool you see on the roof of the building next door. ;)

Los Angeles loft
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It’s actually three buildings all connected to each other, with a food court and a convenience store downstairs. We went down there and ordered some good Peruvian food, picked up some beers, and headed back up to his place to eat. Some other friends told us about an “Art Walk” going on there that night, so we decided to check it out after sunset. Anyway, more on the artwalk in another post.

What do I love about Tokyo? Lots of things, so why don’t I just start off from the beginning: my arrival at the airport. I can tell you that compared to LA, Tokyo airport (aka Narita) is very cool.

Lets face it, LAX is a zoo. You walk into the Bradley terminal, and the first thing you see is an ocean of grumpy people. Then you realize this mob scene is actually a mass of many lines jumbled together. After asking around, you finally get in the correct one, and wait patiently as it creeps along at a snail’s pace.

After checking in, they give you a sticker and tell you to go wait in another line. This is the line to drop off your bags. By the time you’re done waiting in all the stinkin’ lines you’ve almost forgotten that you still have a long flight ahead of you.

You get my point. Anyway, after stepping off the plane at Narita Airport, I was amazed at how clean and organized everything was. I had no trouble finding my line, and found the workers to be very kind. Even with the language barrier they tried their best to help me understand.

I got my bags, went through immigration and customs, and was on my way, virtually stress-free.  It’s a great example of the efficiency you can find in Japan.

Public Transportation in Japan is probably the best in the world, and you can easily live all your days without a car here.

There are tons of train and subway lines, each run by different companies. The biggest is JR (Japan Railways), and it’s the one I take everyday.

Muni LogoI used to live in San Francisco and I’ve gotta say, MUNI stinks! Sure it gets you where you wanna go, but when you get there is anybody’s guess. I used to love those comics in the SF Weekly called “PUNI, neither here nor there.” More on MUNI (SF Municipal Railway) in another thread.

Viewing Tokyo trains through my MUNI lenses, I was amazed with their cleanliness and punctuality. Everyday, I leave my house at the exact same time, and arrive to work at the exact same time….on the minute! And my commute involves three trains.

If the train is late, it’s for a damn good reason, like an earthquake, typhoon, or “accident” (accident seems to be a euphemism for people jumping in front of moving trains aka “suicide”). Not cause some fat, lazy-ass driver stops to hop into the liquor store for a snack (I’ve seen this in SF several times).

Drivers in Japan undergo strict training, and can’t play games like back home. If these guys are even 1 minute late, there’s gonna be hell to pay!

I felt bad for not getting video clips from AIR, so I’ve got another nice little video clip I found on YouTube for ya. It’s 9 min 52 sec of old-school HipHop/breakdancing filmed in LA back in ’83. The quality is pretty bad, and there’s a delay between the sound and video, but it’s worth it, cause this is history in the making here. The images are straight from the LA underground, back when breakdancing and Hip Hop were fresh on the scene:

Edit: The original video got deleted off YouTube, so I had to re-post this shorter version…

The MC rapping at the beginning of the film is good old Ice-T, straight from South Central LA. He went on to become an actor in movies and TV. Maybe you can recognize him from the popular show, “Law & Order.”

Some of the quotes from the party people are classic, so I wrote them down for those who can’t hear cause of the muffled sound:

(First kids)
“We come here for the breakin”
“The breakin’. We wanna see everybody break down here. We heard everybody breaks down here and they got the #1 breakers down here too.”
“We wanna show ‘em our stuff.”
“Yeah, we wanna break with them too. We wanna show what we can do with it.”

(Girl in the red)
“This place is the best, it’s the best place to come see breakers. There’s no place in the Valley to go see ‘em.”

(Blonde girls)
“A lot of people told us about the breakin’ stuff and we just come to watch.”
“It’s interesting. I mean, it’s um, fun to pick up different things, and try out new clubs and stuff.”

(Arcadia girls)
“We come down cause we like the music here and the atmosphere and it’s…kinda casual it’s…I don’t know, you tell them..”
“It’s not real trendy you know, we don’t see all our friends from Arcadia or Pasadena here. It’s a different crowd.”

I wonder how many of those folks had any idea how long it would last. 23 years later, it’s still going strong, even half-way around the world, from New York 2 LA 2 Tokyo.

I had some sushi from the store the other night, and I put a little too much wasabi on it. The rush of pain flew through my nostrils, and for a moment, I thought I might die. The pain subsided quickly, but it also reminded me of a little story from back in Junior High…the story of The Wasabi Sandwich:

Happy LockersAt my school, each student was assigned a locker where we could keep our books, lunch, and other belongings during class. Each locker had a built in combination lock, and it was up to you to guard that combo with your life. This was a difficult task, as everytime you opened it, there were hundreds of kids crowding around, any one of whom could be sneaking a peek as you twisted the dial.

I never told my locker combo to anyone, but somehow, somebody got it, and started stealing from me. The weird part about it was what they stole…

One day, at lunchtime, I went to my locker to grab lunch and meet up with some friends. When I opened the bag, I noticed something was gone: my sandwich. At first I thought I was losing my mind. Why? Because I made my lunch every morning, and I distinctly remembered making a sandwich on that day.

Everything else was in the bag: a drink, some chips, an orange, and a cookie…basically, the very items any normal kid would want to steal! Who would steal a sandwich, and leave all the other good stuff? It all seemed too strange, and I tried to put it out of my mind, assuring myself that I must have been half-asleep when I made lunch in the morning.

The next day, I made sure everything was in my bag before putting it in the locker, but come lunchtime, the sandwich was gone…again. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, and there was no more denying it:
Some punk had my locker combination.

I ate my bag of chips that day, and thought about the predicament I was in. My friends shared their food with me, but I couldn’t freeload off them everyday. What could I do? The school wouldn’t help me. It was run by a bunch of clowns. As I said before, the locks were built into the lockers, so the only way to change the combo was to have a specialist come down and do it.

The sandwich snatching went on for almost two weeks, and I was becoming more and more curious as to who the culprit was. One day, I was hanging out at my friend’s house, and we were looking around in his kitchen for some grub. He was half-Japanese, and his dad liked to cook, so there were tons of Japanese ingredients over there. One time, his pops cooked sushi for my family, and I remembered how my dad almost died when he mistook the wasabi for guacamole. Hmmm, I wonder what a wasabi sandwich would taste like?

WasabiMy friend liked the idea, so we squeezed an entire tube of wasabi around the center of a piece of bread. Then we surrounded the wasabi with peanut butter and jelly, and after putting the second slice of bread on top, it appeared to be a good old-fashioned PB&J. ‘Wow, I can’t wait to eat this tomorrow.’ I thought as I put it in a ziplock baggy.

But unfortunately, I was unable to try my wasabi sandwich. You see, like clockwork, the sandwich theif struck again. When I opened my bag at 12:00 pm, everything was there, minus my tasty sandwich. ‘Oh well, I hope they enjoy it,’ I thought. ‘Maybe they’ll even complement me after lunch on my cooking.’

I waited all day for something to happen, but nothing did. The next day, I brought my lunch to school, with a turkey sandwich, and come lunchtime…surprise, surprise…the sandwich was still in my bag! Same thing the next day, and the day after that.

In fact, for the rest of the year, nothing was taken from my locker ever again. I never did find out who the perpetrator was, but I can only imagine their surprise after swallowing a tubefull of wasabi.

Lesson to be learned, don’t steal from the cook.

Well, it’s been one year since I started teaching at NOVA. Today was my last day there, and I was sad to say goodbye to everybody. I worked with many cool people, and met a lot of great students. People who’ve never worked at NOVA before might be wondering what it’s like, so I’ll be sharing some of my experiences over the past year on this site…both the good and the bad!

I’d like to say thank you to the teachers who helped me out over the past year, and to the awesome students who came through for my last Voice sessions tonight. That really meant a lot to me! We’ll keep in touch for sure. :)

Another one of my co-workers is leaving to move back to America in a few days, so I went to his going away party last night. He decided to have it at club AIR in Daikanyama, near Shibuya. It was my first time going there, and the place took forever to find. It was tucked away off a side street, and looked like a restaurant from outside. As I stood around trying to figure out what to do, one of the staff came up and asked me if I was looking for AIR. I said, “Yeah,” and he told me to go in the restaurant and walk down the stairs inside.

Sure enough, off in the left-hand side of the restaurant, I saw a small sign labeled, “AIR,” that had an arrow pointing to the stairway. I walked down and saw a staff member standing at a podium with the guest list. People were telling him, “I’m DJ So-and-so’s friend,” and all that…trying to get in for free.

Finally, I got up to the front of the line, and he completely ignored me. I’m used to people at a club telling you the price when you try to walk in, but this dude wouldn’t even look at me! The people behind me walked up and tried to get in on the guestlist. He talked to them for awhile, and continued ignoring me. Finally I said, “Ikura desu ka?” (how much?), and he told me I had to pay downstairs. ‘Thanks a lot, bigshot,’ I thought, as I walked on down.

The next group of staff were really cool though, and I payed them and entered the club. The place was packed and reeked of cigarette smoke mixed with sweat. I spotted my friend right away and we made our way to the bar. I ordered an Oolong Hi (Oolong Tea and Shochu), and my buddy got a bottle of water.

“What a rip-off!” he said…for a super-small, half-bottle of water, it cost 500 yen (that’s almost 5 bucks)! My Oolong Hi had as much water (in the form of ice) as his bottle did, and was only 600 yen. ‘Damn, I better stick to the alcoholic beverages!’ I thought.

We made our way to the dance floor, but nobody was dancing. A show was about to start, and the crowd was gathering around. The DJ dropped a beat, and some dancers came out and started doing their thing. The crowd went wild, and a couple of groupies started pushing and shoving to make their way to the front. There were a few different dance shows, and most of them were pretty good, but nothing to write home about.

But the last group had some serious skills. These guys were busting out head spins and windmills like there was no tomorrow. People started whipping out their cellphone cams to catch it all on film. I just got a new phone a couple of weeks ago, but it’s all in Japanese, so it’s taking me forever to navigate through all the options. I haven’t figured out how to shoot video clips yet…but I did manage to take some pics.

Japanese Breakdancers Japanese BreakdancersYeah, I know, these pics are super blurry. But hey, these guys were moving at breakneck speed, and it was pretty dark in there! Next time I’ll try to get the action on video.

Well, it’s been awhile since I posted anything here. The main reason being, my computer bit the dust! Actually, it died around December of last year, but I managed to resurrect it after replacing the bad capacitors on my motherboard. However, I think this time, it’s given up the ghost for good.

Luckily, there’s a spare laptop computer around here, but it’s super slow, and a nightmare to work on. I went to Kawasaki today to check out prices on memory for it, but as I suspected, everything was overpriced there. Looks like I might have to trek out to Akihabara (Electric Town) and see what kind of deals they’ve got going on.

Anyway, I’ve got a quick story about something traumatizing I witnessed while walking in Kawasaki…a man picking his nose in broad daylight. Now seeing this is no big deal, and to tell you the truth, I’m pretty used to it by now. Not a day goes by that I don’t see somebody digging for gold on the train, or out in the street.

But what shocked me most about this kook was that he pulled his pinky finger out of his nose, took a quick look at it…and then shoved it straight in his mouth! I thought I was hallucinating, but my friend, who was with me, saw it too.

We started laughing in disbelief, and my friend shouted, “Tabetta!” (He ate it!). The guy must have heard, cause he looked right at us. I thought he might feel ashamed, but you know what? He just kept sucking on that filthy fingertip, on a busy street, in front of the whole damn world!

No shame, whatsoever. :o

Happy SchoolbusRemember singing “100 bottles of beer on the wall?” Yes, it’s a schoolbus classic, and reminds me of the fun times we used to have on long schooltrips back in the good old days. But the days of the jolly yellow schoolbus are over. The reign of the nightmare bus is here…

SchoolbusRiding the schoolbus is no fun these days. We’ve got kids packing heat, and they’re not afraid to chuck a bottle at the driver’s head while he’s driving either. Being a schoolbus driver today is a dangerous occupation.

How can they keep an eye on the road, while controlling 30-40 crazy kids? The answer is simple: they can’t. Many a bus driver today has no choice but to radio for backup…from the police.

I read a news story a while back about a couple of teenagers who opened fire on a schoolbus in the middle of the afternoon. That’s right, they took pot-shots at the happy yellow schoolbus! It’s enough to drive a sane person mad!!!

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