Dreamy Dreamer!!


I dream the most fabulous dreams, and in glorious technicolor. Sometimes I lay my head right back on the pillow to sleep, then wake to write them as short stories, or add content to my script. Last night’s dream was awesome; let’s just say I saved that Denny’s from the bear using only my wits, black pepper and cayenne pepper from the kitchen. Ha hah!!!

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Faded Memories of Japan


Hanayashiki Amusement Park, Aksakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Photo by themeparkreview.com

Hanayashiki is the name of the amusement park I visited with my roommate, Jo when I lived in Japan. It was a tiny little place in the northeast part of Tokyo in the old downtown district called Aksakusa, and had maybe 4 rides in total. It played loud, blaring infantilized music, and came with requisite cutesy poo Japanese girl dressed like a kitty to greet you with a kind irasshiae (welcome). We rode only one ride and sat inside an enclosed pod which did a quick tour around the park about 15' up. Jo, who was afraid of heights, sat on the floor the entire time and refused to open her eyes. Laughing, I asked her why she even agreed to go on it given her phobia. She gave me a goofy grin and shrugged her shoulders then went back to clutching the center post of our table.

It made me a bit sad that, aside from the odd guest here and there, the park was largely devoid of customers. A saccharine wonderland that never truly achieved it's promised glory, and despite the fact it is only a few short blocks from the endless tide of tourists washing over the Aksakusa Temple, or, Sensoji as it is called, the pull of cleansing and purifying the spirit remained greater than the simple amusements the park offered.

I've since learned it has been abandoned and shuttered up, a victim of the previous ten years economic meltdown. Grass grows between the cracks in the concrete and the ticket windows smudged and opaque from neglect. The sky ride that I enjoyed so much with my friend locked motionless forever, watching over a city that cares nothing for it.

A strange feeling comes over me as I close my eyes and remember the sound of our laughter knowing that both it and this place will never be heard again.

Rachel, January 2014

 

ShinYokohama Prince Hotel Review, Yokohama, Japan


This review is for the ShinYokohama Prince Hotel in Yokohama, Japan. Read a quick summary or further below to see my full assessment of this Yokohama hotel and a list of nearby activities with tips.

Overall assessment: A fine place to spend a few days at a reasonably priced room for this region. The hotel staff were friendly and helpful. The rooms cleaned nicely. One glaring blemish is the in-room carpeting; it is has a million stains in it. Kept very clean by housekeeping but in urgent need of replacement; it’s that off-putting that I even mention it. If that doesn’t affect you then this hotel is an excellent choice. Room was $210 per night for 2 adults (each in a twin bed.) One small couch (can’t fold it out) could fit a child up to 10 sleeping on it.

The hotel itself is a cool looking round building that towers over the main train station serving the city. Our room was on the 36th floor and the view was spectacular! The amenities, customer and maid service are more or less comparable to any other hotel. The Bell Captain’s desk is staffed with friendly, helpful folks with maps, recommendations and pretty decent English speaking capabilities.

Shinyokohama Prince Hotel

Shinyokohama Prince Hotel

Inside the room, the two people sharing it each had a twin bed, slippers and robe. There was a also small couch, TV, kettle and small closet in the room. TV was only in Japanese but you could rent a small computer chip from a vending machine that expanded it to an English language movie channel and a couple of Japanese porn channels (which were hilarious BTW.) It cost $5 per night to rent and we only got it for the first night. Moving on, the beds were medium hard and okay to sleep on. The pillows were ubiquitous Japanese and filled with both foam and beans (in some hotels they are only filled with beans.) You may wish to purchase and inflatable pillow to bring with you when traveling to Japan.

The bathroom offered tons of complimentary toiletries, usually a toothbrush with toothpaste, razor, packet of Woolite for rinse and hang articles, hairbrush, comb and more. Both the shower, toilet and bidet rocked! The shower was adjustable in a variety of ways and had amazing water pressure. The toilet was typical Japanese.  The seat was heated (choose from low, medium and high) and had a built in bidet (for a ladies rinse) or “shower” for a backside cleanse using a rear (pun intended) stream of water. Americans don’t use these type of toilets so it’s always novel to hear about a new person’s experience which normally ends with “I love it” or “it’s just so clean and refreshing.”

They have a restaurant downstairs, vending machines which sold sodas, fruit drinks, beers, hot foods like fried rice and ramen, random toiletries, and a coin operated laundry room.

The hotel is attached to the Prince Pepe shopping building – something akin to a small vertical mall. You’ll find restaurants, clothes stores, personal services like back and foot massage (awesome after a day of walking around). Be sure to let the merchants know you are staying in the hotel and they may offer you a discount. I saved $14 on a 60 minute foot massage because I happened to comment I was staying there.

The jewel of the hotel is the Sky of Yokohama bar at the top of the hotel. Naturally the view is phenomenal at night but it was the drinks that made my visit there so wonderful. Have the China Blue. It will knock your socks off.

The ShinYokohama Prince was a good value when compared to other hotels in Yokohama, Japan. This author paid $210 per night in late October, 2012, and feels it hit the “reasonable” mark. The stay was purchased through Expedia.com. When compared to American hotels and what you get, I would have rated this experience “below expectations” though. For $125 in America, I can get a larger room with two double beds and reasonably 4 people could comfortably stay there. You simply can’t do that in Japan. There is no room. This room could fit 2 adults and perhaps a small child of 10 or younger sleeping on the couch (not a pull out, the room is too small.) To fit more people, you have to rent another room. This will be true of nearly all hotels in Japan. For roomier options, my research led me to http://www.roomarama.com where I could look at apartments which were vacation rentals.

The glaring pimple on this hotel stay was this. The carpet in this hotel is very old and very stained. Once a soft powdery baby blue, it now has splotches and blotches and looks very unattractive. That doesn’t mean it’s dirty though. This hotel is meticulously attended to and extraordinarily clean. You can tell they’ve probably had it professionally treated and refurbished but it’s a lost cause. My guess is the cost is just so prohibitive right now in this recession that there is no money available for an expensive carpet replacement. The stains are extremely noticeable in the rooms though and if this was an American hotel, I would not walk on the carpet as much as possible because I would think it gross. Watching the diligence with which the rooms were cleaned each day though, you understand the floor is perfectly clean (and, of course, you are provided with complimentary slippers while staying there.)

Nearby:

Fit Care – It’s in the next building over closer to the station and it looks like a drugstore. They have an excellent selection of beer, wine and champagne. Perfect to grab and take back to the room to unwind and look at all the goodies you bought that day.

Big Echo – you’ll find these in nearly every main square throughout Japan. It’s a karaoke bar and they throw a lot of echo into the mix. You’ll pay $10 per person per hour and it includes all your drinks. Be careful because the time can sneak up on you and the next think you know, you have a bill for $120. It’s so worth it though. You could even go by yourself and practice your singing.

Ramen Noodle Museum – One of the main reasons this author traveled to Yokohama, Japan was to visit the Ramen Noodle Museum. Walk about 2 blocks from the hotel to get there then pay a $3 entry fee and go back in time to 1954 when ramen noodles were invented. With this bygone era as the theme, you can wander around a variety of ramen noodle restaurants, each one representing a different region of Japan and slurp noodles to your heart’s content. You’ll be expected to buy one ramen bowl for every 2 adults in your party. Order a dish of gyoza and extra bowls. This way everyone gets to try it and you save room for another restaurant. You buy the food tickets at the entrance to each restaurant. Most have pictures but you still won’t understand. Just look for something delicious, be adventurous…you gets what you gets and you’ll either like it or you won’t. (My whole philosophy to food consumption in Japan. If you end up wasting your money, it a sure bet it will be on food you didn’t eat…..or get very very good at swallowing food whole.)

Ramen Noodle Museum - Yokohama, Japan

Ramen Noodle Museum – Yokohama, Japan

You’ll also enjoy period performers from jugglers to storytellers. I liked the storyteller the best. The manner in which he told the story must be akin to what it was like back in 1950s Japan. He had an easel and 7 paintings. He would put one painting up and then very enthusiastically and using a bunch of funny voices tell that part of the story. Next he would put up the second painting and continue it until he’d told the story using all his pictures. I understood not one word of it but found it very entertaining nevertheless.

Stroll around the promenade through darkly lit “streets” and you get a real sense of what life must’ve been like then. You may enjoy a soft serve green tea ice cream cone while you do this. Yummy! Pick up some small trinkets and toys at the candy shop.

Ramen Noodle Museum - Yokohama Japan

Ramen Noodle Museum – Yokohama Japan

In the gift shop, they have cool dishes to buy and a really neat racetrack that you race cars around. It’s the size of a room and if you have little boys (or are a big grown up boy,) you have to give it a go! Before you leave, you MUST get the commemorative photo made. Disney parks would charge $35 or more for this but you can have yours made for a measly $5. They dress you up in fun outfits and give you props (I chose ninja noodle cook) and snap your photo. Choose from 5 different backgrounds and tell them what text you want on it. It’s one of the best pics of my whole trip.

Cup Noodle Museum – I didn’t get to this one unfortunately but it looks really cool. It’s also close to the hotel I understand. Ask the Bell Captain and he/she will give you a map and instructions how to get there.

Cats Museum – Also didn’t get to this one. I got vetoed by the 2 guys I was traveling with. In fact, one of them replied to my request with, “I’d rather be stuck in the eye with a sharp pencil.” Closer somewhere towards the waterfront I think. It’s looks to be extremely girl friendly and kawaii. (The Japanese word for cute.)

Chinatown – One of my traveling friends asked me why  was I “going to Japan to go to Chinatown.” The answer…..FOOD!!!!! This Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan is the second largest in the world apparently, outside of China. I do loves me some good Chinese. Order dim sum. (It just killed me to see shark fin soup on the menu at nearly every restaurant.)

Yokohama Chinatown Japan

Yokohama Chinatown Japan

Waterfront – need I say more? Seafood. Ferris wheel. Shopping. Awesome.

Kamakura, Japan – This is a day trip out of Yokohama to Kamakura, Japan where they have the second largest Buddha in Japan known at the Daibutsu. It was built in 625 and is a World Heritage designated site.. It’s so freakin’ tall you can actually go inside it.

Daibutsu Buddha - Kamakura, Japan

Daibutsu Buddha – Kamakura, Japan

Rent the electric bikes from the vendor right next door to the train station. Get 3 hours worth of time (just about perfect to take the bikes down to the beach front to watch the surfers then over to the Buddha for a bit then back to the train station.) The bikes are unbelievably wobbly when you first get on them. They ride better at a little faster speed. When you first get on them it feels like you are riding on jello (very disturbing but you will have the trick of it after 10 minutes or so.) They ride these bicycles on sidewalks over there (and somewhat too fearlessly I think) so use the little bell to let people know you are coming up on them.

Sage Advice for Buying a Car


The following article was written by someone else whose information I lost long ago.

How to Buy a Car from a Dealership the Right Way

Not every dealership is guilty of these tricks but be aware that some unscrupulous people will do everything they can to achieve their goal.

Juggling the Four-Square

This isn’t really a trick, but awareness here is important for a buyer. When you sit down to negotiate, the salesman will pull out a “four-square” worksheet on which to work out the terms of the deal. In the four quadrants of the sheet the salesman will record purchase price, down payment, monthly payments, and trade-in value. He will fill in the sheet as you talk, working the deal like a shell game—if he thinks you are preoccupied with getting a fair deal on your trade in, he might give you a good price for that and then nudge your new-car purchase price north. Take it slow, focus on one item at a time, and be sure you are comfortable with each individual aspect of your purchase.

Profiting from Rebates

Rebates bring a lot of customers into a showroom, but the discounts can hide several tricks dealers employ to suck a few bucks from a buyer. First, don’t let a salesman tell you that you are getting a good deal because of a rebate; rebates come from the manufacturer and usually apply regardless of the price you negotiate with the individual dealer. Negotiate as if there are no rebates. Second, make sure the rebates are deducted from the purchase price. If you allow the dealer to mail you a check after the sale, you end up paying taxes and interest on the rebate. And never let an incentive like a low APR or a rebate rush you into a purchase you aren’t ready to make. If there’s an incentive on a car today, odds are there will be incentives on it again. Salesmen will often tell you there are strings attached to incentives, such as that you have to buy a certain trim, engine, or option package in order to qualify. This is not always true. Do your homework.

Inflating Payments

Talking monthly payments at the car dealership can be as dangerous as saying “bomb” at the airport. A salesman asks how much you are willing to pay each month, and you throw out a number—say, $450 a month. He asks how much more you could afford—just getting a feel for you. You tack on another 50 bucks. In your mind, you were just theorizing, but to the salesman, you just committed to a $500 minimum monthly payment. Instead, when a salesman asks how much you can pay each month, tell him you will not discuss monthly payments and only want to talk purchase price; you’ll decide on monthly payments after you’ve settled on a fair price.

Fees and Extras

Delivery charges, titling fees, and a few other closing costs are inevitable extras associated with buying a new car. But aside from a few essential add-ons, most fees or extra-cost items are either inflated or altogether unnecessary. Negotiate fees down, or outright refuse to pay them. And deny any extras offered by the finance and insurance manager. Basically, if it’s anything he offers you after you’ve negotiated your sales price, you don’t need it and you shouldn’t pay for it. Particularly egregious are paint protection and fabric guard, essentially wax and Scotch Guard dealerships often charge hundreds of dollars for.

Interest-Rate Bumping

You should always shop for your own financing before you head to the dealer. Maybe you’ll get a better rate; maybe you’ll just get a better idea of what rate you qualify for so you can police the finance manager. It is not uncommon for the dealer to secure financing for you at one APR but offer you a rate one percentage point higher—and then pocket the difference.

Altering the Bill of Sale

Never sign a bill of sale with blanks or terms that are “subject to bank approval” or have similar wording. Some dealerships will let a customer sign such a document and release the new car to its happy owner, only to call the buyer back a few days later to say that the loan fell through and they need to come back in to sign some new paperwork, which just happens to cost the buyer more than the negotiated price. Never drive your car off a lot until all the paperwork is filled out completely.

The following four are the most underhanded and childish dealer tricks. Fortunately, they don’t happen very often anymore. But if a dealer pulls any of these stunts on you, they don’t deserve your business. Walk away.

Ransoming Your Check

The sales manager gets cast as the villain in a good cop/bad cop routine some salesmen play with buyers. You’ll negotiate a price, and the salesman will leave to get approval from his sales manager, painting the salesman as your ally and the manager as a common enemy. Be wary if the salesman asks for a check to prove to the manager you are serious. Sometimes, your offer will be rejected, but your check won’t be returned right away—it’s been “misplaced” or some similar nonsense. Now they’ve got your money, and you feel pressured to concede to their terms. Remember that you can always walk away and cancel the check later.

Eavesdropping

While it’s a good idea to bring a friend or family member shopping with you—someone else to watch the deal, question the terms, and help keep your emotions in check—this opens additional avenues for nefarious dealers to use the wingman against the buyer. When the salesman leaves the cube, people drop their guard and feel comfortable discussing the aspects of the deal they wouldn’t mention in front of the salesman. With just a couple subtle pokes at their phones, salespeople can leave the intercom open with the sales manager’s office, where they will go not to seek approval on your terms, but to eavesdrop on your conversation, harvesting information to use against the customer. There are even stories of salespeople hiding baby monitors in their offices. When the salesman leaves to talk to the sales manager, that’s your cue to leave and get a cup of coffee.

Lying About Your Credit Score

In addition to shopping around for financing, you should take a look at your credit report and strongly consider spending the few bucks to learn your credit score before you go to a dealership. Many of the best offers to be had on new cars are contingent on the buyer having qualifying credit, and dealers occasionally have been known to lie to customers about their credit scores and the financing for which they qualify.

Misplacing Trade-In Keys

If you are thinking of trading in your old car when you buy a new one, someone may borrow your keys to evaluate your ride. If negotiations stall and you try to leave, you might find that they’ve been “misplaced” in order to prevent you from leaving and entice you to make a deal you aren’t comfortable with. If you bring two sets of keys with you, this won’t be a problem.

Ode to the McFlurry Spoon


Okay it’s not really an “ode.” I’ve just always wanted to use that.


Always one to appreciate the craftsmanship and engineeringthat goes into the objects we use daily, I have always thought the spoon that comes with a McDonald’s McFlurry a fine piece of artwork.

Seriously! Look at this thing. I’ve kept it nearly a year because I can’t bear to part with it.

It is an icon of fast foodery, and I for one applaud the many late hours some engineering lonely guy spent designing it.

Christmas Decoration Citation


Ah the sheer joy the holidays bring to us. For some, it’s the delicious cooking. Others seek happiness in their family. Personally, I take an evil glee in tormenting people who take themselves too seriously. Here is a perfect example of that. The HOA people are in my neighborhood are big on compliance and short on humor. In this letter to me, they complain about my “Christmas” decorations being up too long.

This is my little revenge.

Mean HOA Letter to Rachel

 

What follows is a series of email communications between me and Nancy M., the administrator for our neighborhood.

From: Rachel
Date: January 6, 2012
To: Nancy Mayhew
Subject: Christmas Decorations

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for the surprise letter telling me about my decorations. I’m a little confused though because I’m Buddhist and don’t decorate for Christmas. I think the Christmas stuff is supposed to be for another guy with a beard or something. My guy is bald with a big fat round naked belly. Maybe you were looking at my neighbor’s house. They’re always gone on Sunday mornings and when they come back the spend the rest of the day bickering on their back porch. Enclosed you will find a picture I drew of the 2 guys so you can tell who is who in the future.Thank you for giving me such advance notice too. It’s always good to have 364 days notice.

🙂

Regards, Rachel

Picture I attached to my email to Nancy

 

From: Nancy Mayhew
Date: January 6, 2012
To: Rachel
Subject: Not Christmas Decorations

Rachel,

Thank you for your email. You didn’t need to draw me a picture of Jesus and Buddha for me to know who each of them is. Anyone who is neither Christian nor Buddhist is quite able to make the distinction.  When I said Christmas decorations, I actually meant holiday decorations. Our bylaws are nonspecific in this regard. Furthermore, I am positive it was your house because you still have 6 unmatching potted plants on your doorstep that I previously sent you a letter about. And I am not sure what you are referring to when you say I’m giving you a 364 days advance notice. I recommend you attend to your holiday decoration removal at once.

Sincerely,
Nancy Mayhew

 

From: Rachel
Date: January 7, 2012
To: Nancy Mayhew
Subject: Holiday decorations for non-believers

Hello Nancy,

Well you really threw me for a loop with your email. It’s cool if you’re a non-believer, and I hope I didn’t offend you with my previous drawing. I added some to it to reflect your ideas also so you wouldn’t feel left out.

Your 364 (now 363) day notice was put in force on January 5, 2011 as indicated on my hard copy delivered via mail. Let me know if you need a copy of it and I will send you a scan of it. That will give me pleeeeeenty of time to take care of doodads and tchotchkis decorating the home exterior. Don’t worry, I plan to have it all done by the deadline.

Well I guess you must’ve had the correct house after all because I do have some plants on the porch. It never made much sense to me that you will only let me have 5 plants and only if they are in matching pots. None of my neighbors has as many as me but they don’t have matching pots so I don’t see how you can tell me I can’t have mine since the other neighbors are so flagrantly flaunting your rules. You were supposed to get back with me on that but I never heard from you again so I figured you didn’t care any more.

Cheers, Rachel

Revised picture I sent to Nancy

From: Nancy Mayhew
Date: January 7, 2012
To: Rachel
Subject: Rule Compliance

Dear Rachel,

This is a serious matter that you are not taking seriously. It is very important that you adhere to the same bylaws in your neighborhood as everyone else. Take your decorations down immediately, not 3 days from now, not 3 months from now and especially not 363 days from now. Is that understood? You know perfectly well that I simply misdated the year by accident because we had just changed to the new year. If you do not comply we will be forced to issue a citation.

Regarding your plants out front, we will address that issue separately once we have resolved your holiday removal project.

Please stop sending me pictures as you have no idea what I’m talking about. In fact, I am a believer, just completely opposite of you. I find your drawings offensive.

Nancy Mayhew

 

From: Rachel
Date: January 8, 2012
To: Nancy Mayhew
Subject: Naughty Nancy

Dear Nancy,

Did you ever see Cool Hand Luke? George Kennedy has a great line in it, “when it comes to the law, nothing is understood.”? I’m not sure what I understand since I know you have give me 60 days notice before you can issue a homeowner citation so now the math for the due date is all messed up, and I’ve never been very good at math. Also, does this come out of my 364 notice? Lemme know back.

Aha! Sorry to have offended you with my drawing. It confounded me for some time what you meant by opposite but I finally figured it out (you naughty, naughty girl) and I took one more stab at the picture for you.

Get back to me on those plants.

-R

Revised revised revised picture sent to Nancy

I still haven’t heard back from her.

Great Movie Quote


“Love and hate are two horns on the same goat.”