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Snow? I'm Out Of Here

Monday, December 19, 2005
Let me start by reading you a part from my acceptance letter.
You will be arriving in the summer; the temperratures[sic] average 32°C degrees Celsius in the daytime, and 28°C degrees Celsius at night.In the winter, temperatures average 5°C degrees Celsius in the daytime, and 0°C degrees Celsius at night, and we have no snow.

So, you can imagine my surprise when at midnight on Saturday I looked out my window and saw this:

Indeed, it was snowing, and sticking too. A half inch of snow isn't much after the winters I spent in Saratoga, so I went to sleep.

The view in the morning. The bars are the railing by my window, these pictures are from lying in bed, it looks like jail.

So there was maybe half an inch of snow. It would be a non-issue, but Osakikamijima was pretty crazy about it. Families were out walking together, people were running around with huge cameras and tripods, and cars were sliding all over the place. I had been planning to go to Hiroshima, but Mori called me in the morning to tell me that Japan had closed the Sanyo Expressway to Hiroshima, so the bus wasn't running. Let me reiterate, Japan closed a major expressway for a half inch of snow. Strange, thought I, this is nothing serious. Then Mori offered to pick me up so that we could drive around the island and see what was what with the snow.

My little town, a winter wonderland!

We went (or rather, tried to go up) Kannomine, the big mountain, and made it about half way.

On the way up, slowly.

Coming back down.

Mori's camera ran out of batteries, so in the quintessential Japanese style, out came the cell phone, and the photographing continues uninterrupted. These phones are pretty impressive, usually 2 or 3 megapixels, a real zoom, autofocus modes, video, you name it.

On the way up, Mori and I talked about driving in the snow. I told him that so far I had seen a lot of really bad snow driving, and I asked him how often the island got snow like this. "Once" said Mori, "when I was very young." It was his first time driving in the snow, and every time the tires slipped or the car slid around a little, he made a sound like this was it, the time that we would go flipping off the cliff, never to be heard from again. At the halfway point on the mountain we gave up at a parking lot. We couldn't get up the next hill, so I thought I'd snow Mori the other part of driving in the snow. The gold Honda Odyssey is front wheel drive, so we practiced backing the car up, and then whipping the front around and going forwards. Every time the car started spinning, Mori would start laughing and couldn't stop. It must have been great, feeling a car that you know well do things you had no idea it could do. We did a few spins and backwards donuts and then headed back down.

On the way down, with a little coaching, Mori was getting the hang of the snow. He could deal with a slipping car, knew what to feel for, what to expect, and was pretty confident.

The rest of the island, not so much. I have never seen worse snow driving, the simplest turn caused dozens of spins, revving engines, and spinning tires. More powerful rear-wheel drive sedans were having trouble going straight, and in an hour of slow driving, we saw eight car accidents. Oops.

Notice the tire track under this guy's car. He didn't just slid into the ditch, he was spinning around, 180 degrees, and ended up in the ditch.

Or here, where a car ran head on into a truck (just to my left, out of the picture) on what is essentially a straight road. When I pointed out to Mori that there was still snow and ice in the shadows and none in the sun, he was shocked. These people could have used that pointer, I think.

I ended up getting to Hiroshima by train (the bus was shut down, along with the highway). They shut down a six lane highway for this snow, and while at first I thought it was ridiculous, it might have been a good idea. Look at how these people drive on the island, and multiply that by hundreds of cars at ten times the speed. The government may have averted a catastrophe of epic proportions.

On the ferry, I could see the snow heading east. The water is a bright shade of green in the winter. That factory on the left is a giant smelting plant that takes up an entire small island. I told Mori I wanted to photograph it, and he said he'd take me. In his words: "It would be fucking sick, I think. In the middle there is a giant concrete mountain, in the middle is a big hole with smoke and shit smell. You have to wear a gas mask." It's an old-style factory in parts, brown and rusted and breaking down, and I can't wait to go. Two of Mori's friends work there, and Mori offered to be my guide. I think it's the sort of place you wouldn't want to go alone, especially if you didn't speak Japanese.

Hiroshima was a success, and on the way home, the clouds were dramatic.

And so, that's this weekend's update, and the last one for a while.

As you can see, I'm packing to go somewhere, and Neko wants to come. I'm going to Thailand tomorrow with Liz for Christmas and New Years. I'll be in Bangkok, Koh Chang (an island), and Chiang Mai. I'll be back on January 6th, at which point my life will resume. Expect tales of eating food that is frightening, Scuba diving, and probably a lot of things I don't expect. I hope so, anyway.

"Please take me" says Neko, but unfortunately, I can't. She will stay with a teacher from the Junior High. I hope she doesn't miss me too much. I'll miss her.