Friday, November 30, 2007

Gray Skies Ahead...

I'm not saying that we've had an illegal (to people residing outside of the U.K. and Ireland) Sky satellite subscription for the past seven years or anything, but people who look a lot like us received a letter in the mail today from a person who handles their Sky satellite subscription. Here's what (I've been told) are the contents of that letter (paraphrased):

Dear Customer,

In the last few weeks Sky has implemented a huge crackdown on viewers outside the UK. This has resulted in thousands of European viewers having their cards turned off. Most of their dealers who were supplying the foreign market have had their licences revoked and a lot have gone out of business...

This casts a big shadow over our receiving new viewing cards if Sky change them next Spring as is widely rumoured. It is possible that all may go well, but I think that is highly unlikely.

To ensure that you continue viewing and recive your new card when it is sent out, you will need to find a friend in the UK who will let you use their address, and inform Sky that you have moved....

We (OK, you got's really us!) don't really have any friends in the U.K. (at least nobody pops into my his head) who could let us use their address. And, that's just as well because...I DON'T REALLY CARE! Although I did just go turn on our TV to see if we were still receiving Sky. We are!

Sure, Mrs. TBF would miss her food channels, and I'd miss the music video channels (to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days), my occasional fix of The Simpsons (I could just buy the DVDs), and whatever other shows we occasionally watch. But we really don't watch that much TV (probably less than one hour per week during the summer), and I don't really think I'd miss it that much. Plus, we could just plow the monthly CHF 90 (about USD 80) into other things.

Wait a second...would that mean no NFL football on Sundays and Mondays during the winter?!?!?!?


Guess Who's Coming To Dinner...

Can't guess? Here's a hint.
I guess I should start cleaning the guest room.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Minä Haluan Lanttulaatikko, Nyt!!!!

I saw that Géant had rutabagas a couple of weeks ago. Rutabagas are pretty rare around here, so I snapped them up immediately. That night, I showed them to Mrs. TBF and asked her if she'd make me some Finnish rutabaga casserole (lanttulaatikko). "Sure...I'd be happy to make lon-too-lah-tee-ko for you..." (I love when she says Finnish words!) was her response, and I figured it was a done deal.

That was ten days ago, and I guess we (Who we?) kind of forgot about them. The rutabagas are still in the fridge, and the Finnish Cook Book by Beatrice Ojakangas is still sitting on the table. I guess I'll just have to do it myself because...

...I'm a Finn, and Finns need their occasional fix of lanttulaatikko.

Updated later:

Canadian Swiss wants to know about the ingredients, so I thought I'd just post the whole recipe. It's very easy, and you can use either rutabagas (Swedes) or turnips. It's also VERY Finnish due to the fact that it contains three of the major Finnish food groups: cream, eggs, and butter! We normally ate this casserole at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter when I was growing up.

Take 2 medium rutabagas, peeled and diced (about 6 cups), and boil them in salted water to cover until soft (about 20 minutes). Drain and mash.

Soak 1/4 cup fine bread crumbs in 1/4 cup cream, stir in 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and two beaten eggs. Combine this "Finnish cocktail" with the mashed rutabagas.

Turn the slop into a buttered 2.5-quart casserole, dot the top with 2-3 tablespoons of butter, and bake in a moderate oven (350˚F/175˚C) for 1 hour or until lightly browned on top.

My mom's tip: Turn the heat down in the oven when it's done (to keep it warm) and let the casserole just sit in the oven until you're ready to eat. Oh...I don't know...another hour or so. The flavors will intensify. Maybe cover it with foil if you think it's drying out.

Another tip: it freezes really well. I made it last night in a foil pan, and it's now frozen solid in the freezer.

Serves 6 - 8 normal people, or 1 - 2 Finns.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Important Holiday Message From TBF...

Until Further Notice:

The apartment-wide ban on Christmas music has been lifted (as of 12:00 a.m. this past Friday). From now until a TBA date in January, any Christmas music that comes up on the "Shuffle Songs" mode on our iPod will be permitted to play in its entirety. The ban is lifted on all 239 songs/13.7 hours of music on our "Christmas Music" playlist.

PLEASE NOTE: The ban on all "Buddha Bar" compilation CDs and any music by, or featuring, Celine Dion (three were just discovered and have been deleted) remains in effect!

Thank you for your continued compliance.


Friday, November 23, 2007

What, Me Worry?

First of all, let me say that I hope everybody in America had a happy Thanksgiving. I heard reports of many friends and relatives crowding around tables enjoying great food, turkeys being deep-fried in large cauldrons of oil, and at least one adult (not to be mentioned) joining the I-pooped-in-my-pants-as-an-adult club.

Congratulations! You're in fine company!

Now that you've all had your 5,000-calorie Thanksgiving dinners, sliced off more turkey meat for late-night sammitches, and the carcass is simmering away for the turkey soup that you'll be eating at least once a week until Christmas, it's now time to turn our attention to more serious matters.

This was the cover of last week's Economist. The article does not paint a rosy picture (to say the least) of the near future for America's economy. I read words such as: recession, grim, pessimistic, gloomy, housing-busts, $4 per gallon gas by next summer, tricky road ahead...

It's a little bit concerning, isn't it?

Yes, I have to admit that I'm slightly concerned.

But am I worried?


Ya wanna know why?


Too bad, 'cause I'm gonna tell ya anyway!

I learned from the experience of the early 2000s, and I decided that I'm not going to live through the worry of falling, or even the potential of falling, markets again. Yup, that's right! I called my stockbroker-friend the day before Thanksgiving and told him to transfer all the assets of the mutual funds in my retirement account to their corresponding money market accounts. You see, this way I won't have to worry about this stuff during the holidays. I'll be sipping my café au lait with my pinkie held high in the air on Christmas morning in Paris knowing that our retirement money is earning 4% interest in a money market account instead of potentially dropping like a lead weight. Next week, I'll have a "conference call" (Mrs. TBF loves it when I call it that) with our main financial adviser back in Chicago who handles the bulk of our investments; these are much more diversified, and I'm not too worried about them.

Maybe I'll be wrong and the market will go up 10% over the next couple of months. Who knows? But...I don't think I'm going to be wrong about this one. We're just going to wait this one out, try to predict when it's bottoming out, and then jump right back into the wonderful, crazy world of personal investing in the 2000s.

Enjoy that turkey soup!

Revenge Is...


I had to bring King to the vet this morning. Don't worry...nothing serious! He had a blood test right before we went to Japan, and the results necessitated us increasing the dosage of his thyroid medicine. This morning's blood test is just a follow-up to see if his levels are now at normal levels.

King has always been a good patient - although he did hiss a bit when Dr. "Boozer" jabbed him in his front leg to draw some blood. The problem is that he's not very happy when he's in his traveling crate. But even worse yet is when he has to fast for twelve hours before a blood test.

That's bad for him AND for us.

King's appointment was at 8:00 this morning. This meant that we weren't supposed to feed him after 8:00 last night. We cheated a bit, and he finished the last bit of his food at just before 9:00 p.m. As we went to bed, I saw that he was standing in the kitchen next to the empty space where his food bowl should have been, and I figured we were in for a long, LONG night.

It turned out not to be too bad. He tapped my face a couple of times during the night, but I just told him to F-off and covered my face with the duvet. He eventually got the message, and I didn't really have to deal with him again until I got out of bed at 5 a.m.

Why 5 a.m., you ask? Well, that would be because Mrs. TBF had to fly to London for the day, and since I had to reserve a Mobility car to drive King to the vet's office anyway, I told Mrs. TBF I'd drive her to the airport so that she wouldn't have to take a taxi (good husband points for me!!!).

I made the five minute walk to where the Mobility cars are parked, drove it back to our garage, went back up to our apartment, and walked in to find "Starving" King fake-vomiting nothing but spit to try to prove to us what neglectful parents we had been.

Sorry, buddy...another couple of hours to go!

I drove Mrs. TBF to the airport, returned home, then endured constant pestering from King for an hour or so until it was time to load him into his crate and into the car. You have to believe me when I tell you that the drive was absolute HELL! Not only did I have to endure King's howling, but the howling was combined with Savage Garden's Truly Madly Deeply (perhaps the gayest song in the history of recorded music!) playing on the radio. Brrrrrrr! I'm shuddering just thinking about it!

We finally made it to Dr. "Boozers" office. The drawing of blood took a couple of minutes, King hissed, and then we were OUTTA there! I loaded King back into the car for the ride home.

Suddenly, at a red light about thirty seconds from our garage door, I smelled what was probably the worst smell I've ever experienced in my life. I turned around and saw...

...King sitting proudly on one side of his crate next to what was most likely...the longest cat turd in the history of cat turds!!!

King's revenge: total and complete!

I somehow managed to not pass out from the fumes and pulled the car into the garage. Fortunately, I had put a an absorbent doggy-training pad in the bottom of the crate, so I was able to simultaneously hold King, wad up the turd, and dry-heave.

To avoid further vengeance, I fed King immediately after returning to the apartment. He gobbled up all his food in a snap and was snoring away on our bed a couple of minutes after that.

I went back to the garage with a garbage bag in one hand and a spray bottle of room deodorizer in the other.

Friday Flashback: November, 1997 - November, 2007...

...Celebrating ten years of doin' bald proud!

It just dawned on me a couple of days ago that I began shaving my head ten years ago this week. Actually, Mrs. TBF had to shave the back for me the first couple of times because I was afraid of slicing my head open, but I eventually figured it all out.

I remember it like it was just yesterday...

Mrs. TBF and I decided to go to Hawaii for two weeks to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Although our anniversary is in October, we decided to go over the Thanksgiving holiday (happy belated Thanksgiving, btw...) so that we wouldn't be forced to use as many of our sacred, American vacation days.

Up to this point, beginning in about 1995, I was using electric clippers to cut my own hair to about a 1/8" length. However, I didn't really feel like packing the clippers, so I asked Mrs. TBF if she'd help me shave my head while in Hawai'i. She agreed, and the clippers remained at home. Little did I know that they would NEVER touch my scalp again!!

A few days into our trip, I was getting a little stubbly, so the two of us went at my rather rather ample scalp with the razor for the first time. I think I escaped with maybe one little nick, so not too much blood was drawn. After rinsing off the shaving cream, I ran my palms across the smooth, velvety skin of my scalp, and for the next several days...I couldn't stop touching it. Mrs. TBF would catch me stroking my breakfast, walking out to the beach, in the pool, driving the car, on the plane between islands, etc., etc.

Another noteworthy point about this trip is that it was the beginning of the heaviest (in terms of weight) time of my life. When we left for our vacation, I weighed 250 lbs. When we returned, I weighed 270 lbs.! You read that correctly, folks - I GAINED 20 LBS./9 KILOS IN TWO WEEKS!!!

...must have been all those breakfast buffets, luaus, etc.

This picture was taken in the pool of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Maui, and it is one of the first pictures of me with a clean-shaved head. Do you notice something else about the picture? Does my face look, well, a little bit round to you? It should - I was at least 50 lbs. heavier in this picture than I am now.

At the time, I didn't really think I was that overweight. I just thought I was big. Now I look at the picture, and I realize that...I was really fat. Believe me, it's intentional that I posted a picture where you can really only see me from the shoulders up. I think I was probably between 265 and 270 lbs. in the picture. My weight eventually climbed up to 275 lbs. (125 kilos) before I brought it back down to 250 lbs. - where it pretty much stayed (+/- 5 lbs.) until a couple of years ago.

Hawai'i? We'll DEFINITELY go back!

Hair? It'll MOST LIKELY never be back (unless a cure for baldness is discovered).


I need to post these pictures of fat-TBF from time to time to remind me how I once let things get WAY out of control.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks For Asking...

Because I asked, the one and only Dictator Princess asked me FIVE QUESTIONS. Seeing how much I love to talk about myself, I was only too happy to spend a good chunk of the morning typing away instead of doing the things on my "Things To Do" list. Well, there's always tomorrow!


1. First question is the typical expat question, but I can't resist. So, are you ever, you know, gonna "go back" to Chicagoland? Or back to the States period?

YES! The pull of Chicagoland is strong (especially in me), and we plan on going back...eventually. When? We're not sure, but our standard line is "...two more years" - although now it really seems like it's REALLY going to be about two more years. We've thought about the possibility of relocating to other places after our time in Switzerland is up, but we know that family, friends, and all things Chicago will ultimately draw us back to Chi-town. It's not like I feel I absolutely must move back to Chicago this minute, because I'm in "a good place" right now as far as living in Switzerland goes (I, fortunately, am able to get my Chicago-fix several times per year). However, back-to-Chicago-moving-day will eventually come, and it will definitely be a happy time. Sure, I'll miss my friends here, but there's no reason why I can't make trips to Switzerland to visit them.

2. You are super tall. Did you feel weird in Japan? Have you ever hit your head in a medieval chateau? Do people want to touch your head? Am I being rude? What is the rudest question anyone asked you about being tall?

Gee...that's five questions right there, isn't it?
I didn't feel weird in Japan primarily because I'm used to being stared at in Switzerland (I'm a giant among the "little" Swiss too). As a matter of fact, it seemed to me as if a lot of the Japanese made an attempt not to stare when I was looking, but I'd often feel their stare after I had passed, and I'd take a quick look back to catch them in all their staring glory. The Swiss? They just stare bullets into me all the time, and they don't seem to care that I know they're staring. I often have to shrug my shoulders at them and say "Was?".
I don't think I've ever hit my head in a chateau, but I do recall hitting my head in the catacombs in Paris. Also, I once hit my head so hard on a low ceiling at our dog's kennel (right before leaving for vacation) that I thought I had a concussion (I didn't...I think!), and I once hit my head while going down the stairs at a local liquor store while reading the Vorsicht sign and wondering what it meant (warning me of a low ceiling, that's what)...PLONK! Oh...and I've hit my head on the hand bars on the tram about a zillion times while getting out of my seat....that really smarts!
Yes, people do touch my head fairly often - usually, much to my delight, during the summer when I'm a bit sweaty. They'll touch it, give me the eeeeewww look, and then I'll tell 'em: "That'll teach ya!"
I don't really recall any rude "tall" questions, but I've had people in America who are practically strangers make semi-rude "bald" comments. Something to the effect of a person at Target saying (as I cut through the shampoo aisle): "I bet you don't need to buy anything in this aisle." To which I'll reply: "Oh...not now, but the doctor said my hair will grow back as soon as I'm done with the chemotherapy!"

3. Travel diva question: is there any route in from Switzerland where it is NOT worth it to take business class? See I can think of a train where you are actually better off in second class (one of the Lausanne commuter trains) but I must ask The Expert about planes.

Personally, I don't think it's worth flying business class on intra-Europe flights. The seats are only a little wider than economy, the flights are so short that the extra food isn't really worth it, and the meal is rushed anyway. The only time I fly in business class within Europe is if it's part of an overseas business class flight (i.e. Basel to London in conjunction with London to Chicago). Keep in mind also, that we fly on EasyJet fairly often which has no business class. I actually like EasyJet a lot, but I always try to get an exit row because of the extra legroom. No charge for the tip, but it'll cost you having to give up your exit row seat to me if you see me on an EasyJet flight and there aren't any other exit row seats available.
Also, I ALWAYS ride in First Class on the train. It's not that the seats are really that much better, but more for the fact that it's not as crowded in the First Class car. TBF needs his space!

4. Being "Finnish." You totally look like someone from Finland from a mile away BTW. You grew up in Canada and the States but you speak Finnish and go back there. Do you "feel" Finnish? Do other people look at you (other than your unfortunate stalking incident at the Basel watch show) and their Finland radar automatically goes off?

Yes, I definitely feel Finnish when I go back to Finland. I think speaking the language allows me to enjoy the dry Finnish sense of humor and little plays on words that non-Finnish speakers don't understand (even if you explain it to them in English). When I walk into a store in Helsinki, the sales people automatically begin speaking to me in Finnish. An American person will walk in right after me, and they'll begin speaking in English with him befor even hearing him speak. I guess the Finns just feel the sisu when I walk in the door.
As far as the "Finn-dar" goes, I can't think of any instances other than at the Basel Watch Show. Actually, there have been several times when Mrs. TBF and I have been traveling together, and she'll say, "...those people are DEFINITELY Finns!". I'll say no way, and then I'll get closer only to hear that they're actually speaking Finnish. So, I have to say that Mrs. TBF has a much more accurate "Finn-dar" than I do.

5. I am obsessed with other people's pets as our apartment layout right now is not conducive to cats. Which is why you and Stacey both get a cat question. Is your cat as strange in real life as he seems on your blog? Have any of your guests heard him "howl" or caught him in the act of doing something weird that you and Mrs TBF are used to by now?

King da cat is definitely one strange beast. He pretty much just sleeps for a large part of the day, so in that respect he's pretty normal. However, he definitely has his quirks. For example: he is now only wanting to drink water out of the "saucers" that catch the water under our houseplants. The water under our jasmine plant seems to be a particular favorite of his. However, Christmas is coming, and soon he'll have all the "sap" water he can handle.
Let's see...what else? Oh yeah...he likes to touch peoples' nipples. That's right! If you sit on our sofa, he'll eventually sit next to you, reach up, and tap your nipple. For whatever reason, he seems to be more fond of mens' nipples.
Oh...and of course, the howling. This is almost always in combination with him carrying one of his many toys around the apartment. We always have to warn overnight guests about him because....well...he's really, REALLY loud, and we worry about them being freaked out. Or, worse yet, having them think it's US making all that noise. So, yes, people have witnessed (audibly) him walking around at night howling. As a matter of fact, this past summer, my mom's cousin from Finland - Jorma - actually heard King howling in the middle of the night, walked out of our guest room to investigate, and then went back to bed when he heard me loud-whispering: "Shut the hell up, ya freak!"

Do you want me to ask you 5+ questions? Just ask in the comments, and I'll try to come up with something. Sometimes TBF just gotta know!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Only 35 Days Until Christmas...

But more importantly...only 200 days 'til HELL!!!

I walked by the train station today and I saw on the big countdown clock that it's only 200 days until Euro 2008 begins in Austria and Switzerland (Basel is one of the host cities!)! That is when about a zillion soccer hooligans will descend on Switzerland. Can't wait...NOT!!!

What makes things worse (in case this is your first time reading this blog), is that the Art Basel 2008 exhibition - which normally causes all the Basel hotels to be sold out - overlaps with Euro 2008 from June 4 - 8. That, my friends, is when Mrs. TBF and yours truly will be heading the hell!!!!

We're thinkin' Scotland.

Are You As Bored...

...with these Japan posts as I am? Thought so.'s the last one!

A good view of Mount Fuji while heading back to Tokyo from Kyoto on the bullet train.

Fish head soup, and me eating the fish eyeball.

A beautiful autumn day in Tokyo.

October 30, 2007 / 6:22 a.m.: the last morning. The bags are packed, our "travel uniforms" are on, we're about to check out, take the shuttle bus to the airport, and make the long flight back to Basel.

Japan posts done! Finally!

What They Don't Want Westerners To Know...

They're going after the easy money in Japan!

Once again, Madonna proves that you can never have too much money! How much did she get paid to advertise these apartments? A million dollars? To have what's probably a stock photo inserted into a billboard ad?

Or...Brad and Cameron advertising SoftBank.

I guess I can't blame them for going after the easy money. Although I still find it funny that they go off to Japan to rake in the money because they know they'd be perceived as being greedy back in the U.S.

However, my favorite of the bunch was the spokesman for Boss Coffee...

I can just imagine the Boss marketing meeting:

Who can we get to represent our product. I know...I know. Let's get somebody who is weather-beaten, has bags under his eyes, and...we'll make him look startled, oh...and like he just came in from a rainstorm. Yes...YES! Tommy Lee Jones! PERFECT!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


We decided to take a day trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima; only a couple of hours away by train. It was a little rainy when we left Kyoto, so we brought our umbrellas. And, naturally, since we committed to carrying our um-ba-rellas-ellas-ellas all day, that meant that the Hiroshima weather was sunny and pleasant. As a matter of fact, the weather probably wasn't too different from how it was just over sixty years ago when Hiroshima was...


It was pretty amazing arriving in a thriving, bustling metropolis that was just ashes and rubble not too long before we were born. From the main train station, we took the tram to the A-Bomb Dome stop, which is close to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

I have to say that the museum is done pretty well. I went in feeling that the tone would be somewhat anti-American, but it wasn't at all. It seems that the museum presents things in a well-balanced manner with the goal of bringing understanding to the whole fiasco in hopes of avoiding a repeat...anywhere.

After spending an hour or so in the museum, we walked through the park, took the tram back to the train station, and then we took the train back to Kyoto. All in all, we were in Hiroshima for only a few hours...which was enough.

Overall, Hiroshima didn't impact me the way I thought it would. It all seemed kind of sterile and textbook-like to me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that none of my relatives ever fought in WWII, I don't know. However, I think it had more of an impact on Mrs. TBF than it did me.

I'm glad we went, but I wouldn't go back.


Going to Kyoto? Allow me to highly recommend a sushi restaurant called Sushiiwa.

Not only is the sushi (including this rather unusual "Kobe beef sushi") and wine/champagne/sake list phenomenal, but the staff is really, REALLY friendly; including the owner who speaks excellent English.

We sat at the sushi bar and ended up sitting next to a Japanese-American doctor visiting from Houston who ordered a special piece of sushi for each of us which was about the size of a slice of bread. He told us it was something that tourists wouldn't know to order, and he wanted us to try it. Wasn't that nice of him?

Jolly Green Giant Lost In Kyoto...

On a drizzly and very humid morning, we took in another "Japanese" garden, and then we set off on something called the Philosophers' Walk.

It soon became obvious that the walk was geared toward little people. Constantly avoiding the low branches caused me to become a little disoriented. As I was the guide, I soon discovered that I was responsible for having gotten us lost.

Then...suddenly...a little voice inside my head said:

...follow the schoolgirls!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Messengers Of The Gods...

Way back when we were in Amalfi, Italy in September 2006, we ended up talking to a Japanese couple who were seated next to us at a restaurant. At some point, we told them that we were planning to go Japan the following year, and they told us that we just HAD to go to Nara. Going pretty much on their advice, we took a day trip to Nara while we were in Kyoto.

At first, as we walked along the commercial strip leading away from the train station, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. It was just a bunch of shops and restaurants, and I was beginning to wonder what the bid deal was. Then, we came across an area of pagodas, temples, shrines, etc. Again, nothing that we hadn't already seen. We decided to slog on. That was when we saw the first...

...messenger of the gods!

That's apparently what the Japanese call the deer that roam around Nara's main temple area. They're all over the place. And let me tell ya, they're aggressive little buggers.

We made the mistake of buying a couple packs of deer "crackers" at one of the many stands selling them. And talk about a deer magnet! Suddenly, we were mobbed by these beasts. Messengers of the gods? HA! More like members of Satan's brood!

Everything was OK for about the first two seconds, but then the mood quickly changed. One of those little buggers bit Mrs. TBF in the butt because he didn't feel he was getting his fair share - I think it was the especially mean looking one with his mouth open in the second picture. And, when I was taking the pictures of Mrs. TBF getting attacked by these fleabags, one of them must have mistaken my crotch for deer feed because he nipped me about two inches away from the family jewels.

Yes, I'm not ashamed to admit that...we threw down our remaining cookies and...RAN...LIKE...SISSIES!!! Once the deer cookies were gone, then the stinkin' critters had absolutely no interest in us whatsoever.

After regaining our composure, we checked out some of the temples. However, they paled in comparison to the pure entertainment of watching from a distance as unsuspecting tourists bought packs of deer cookies, proceeded to be mauled by venison, and ran away shrieking while tossing deer cookies in the air.

Nara, Japan: Good fun, and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kobe Beef!

Yeah, I know, another post about eating. What can I say? We like to eat!

We decided to celebrate our anniversary by going out for some Kobe beef at a local teppanyaki grill - unfortunately, the name of which eludes me at this time. Well, whatever it was called, I'd highly recommend it; friendly staff, businessmen dining with what appeared to be high-priced call girls, and awesome, AWESOME food!

Updated later: the name of the restaurant is Mikaku.

First, the chef asked us if garlic was OK. We told him it was, and he grilled up a bunch of surgically-sliced garlic chips for us. Fortunately, both of us were eating the garlic. If it had been just me eating it, Mrs. TBF would probably have made me go sleep in the ice machine room.

Then, we ordered the beef, and the chef sliced off a big slab for us. Next time, I'll warn him that I'm taking the picture because the flash went off right when he was slicing and he kind of looked up with expression on his face. Sorry! I think I almost caused him to slice off his finger.

But no harm done, because (after being weighed to make sure we weren't being cheated) the beautifully marbled hunk o' heaven was sizzling on the grill a few minutes later, and was sliced up on our plates a few minutes after that.

Oh, and the best part for me? The chef didn't waste the fat. He actually cubed it up, fried it up like bacon, and then mixed it with some bean sprouts. The memory of it makes me weep!

Add a Kobe beef chef to the list of things I want if we ever win the lottery!

When we were finally finished with the meal, we walked out to the typical chorus of staff saying stuff to us in Japanese while bowing. Outside of the restaurant, I stopped to take a self-portrait of us...

...with the Kobe glow.

Ice Ice Baby...

One of the many things that makes Japan so great: ICE!!!

I'm talking about ice machines in our hotel and ice sold in bags at convenience stores. I'd go to the ice machine every evening and fill up the ice bucket just because...I could (...and because I wanted to mix us some pre-dinner cocktails). If I hadn't? The turn-down maid would have done it for me...without even having to be asked.

I know...people in North America are scratching their heads. Ice machines? Ice being sold at convenience stores? What's the big deal?

Well, it is a big deal to transplanted North Americans who live in Europe. Ice machines at hotels? Only in the kitchen/bar. Ice sold in stores? Unheard of!

Why is ice such a rare commodity in Europe?


Bamboo Forest...

The sun was beginning to set as we made our way to one of the many Japanese gardens we saw during our two-week stay. After arriving at the garden, we climbed the stairs that were carved out of the hillside through the straight-as-arrow bamboo trees that reached upward to the sky.

The Japanese kids always make a peace sign when they pose for a photo, so I decided to do the same. Then, Mrs. TBF handed the camera back to me so that I could take a picture of her...

...right after she saw the big "man-eating" spider and spider web that was right behind me that I was trying to shield from her view.

The day's walking tour was officially over!

Twenty Years...

I take a lot of self-portraits. But I happen to like this one a lot - taken in Kyoto on our twentieth wedding anniversary.

I look back at pictures from when we got married, and I think we look like kids. It'll be interesting to see how we look twenty years from now when look back at this picture.

On Ko Siellä Yhtään Suomalaisia?

That's Finnish...not Japanese (I'm sure I'm probably butchering the spelling), and it means: Are there any Finns there? That's what my dad would say when I was a kid and we'd drive by a cemetery - he probably still does.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Kyoto, and we decided to do a walking tour that was recommended by one of our books. On the way to an area of temples, we wandered through a cemetery.

Did you ever wonder where the Japanese are buried? On the thousands...almost as far as the eye can see.

Oli ko täällä yhtään Suomalaisia?

Most likely, no.

NOTE TO SELF: Cut back on the bench press.

Anniversary Breakfast...

On the eve of our twentieth wedding anniversary, and still full from our tempura dinner, we decided to order a nice room service breakfast for 8:30 a.m. We had planned a big day of walking/sightseeing, so Mrs. TBF ordered an English breakfast, and I opted for the Japanese breakfast.

At 8:25 a.m. the next morning (five minutes early), a man in a suit showed up at our door, handed me my International Herald Tribune, wheeled in a big table, and laid out quite the spread for us. Then, he asked us if we had everything we needed AND if there way anything at all he could do for us. "No...I think we have everything we need..." I said, and then watched as he bowed before our bathrobe-clad bodies for what seemed like a minute, and then (finally) walked out the door.

Mrs. TBF enjoyed her English breakfast (she shared some of her bacon!), and I enjoyed the multitude of containers of food that made up my breakfast...even though I wasn't really sure what some of the things were.

My question is this: How the heck do Japanese people stay so thin? Come to think of it...

I ate like a pig on this trip, and I managed to only gain about half a kilo (1 lb.).

I Want..I Want...I WANT!

Here's my latest addition to..."The Official List Of Things I Want If I Ever Win The Lotto": my very own Japanese tempura chef.

Oh, and don't give me that crap about fried foods being unhealthy for you. I mean look at our tempura chef from our first night in Kyoto. Surely he makes tempura for himself a few times per week, and...HE'S TINY. I'm not saying he would be my very own "pocket tempura chef", but he would definitely fit into the 1-liter Ziploc bag that holds the liquids in my carry-on bag. If I had to venture a guess, I would put him at less than 5' tall and well under 100 lbs.

The tempura meal was great. The chef was in charge of cooking for about twelve people, and he somehow managed to keep straight what he was cooking for each person (with nothing written down), and managed to time the food so that everybody got everything in a well-paced manner. For example, he'd put some things that looked like fried grapes on our plate while saying "...gingko nuts". Then, he'd serve other people, throw more things into the copper vat of oil, walk out the little door located behind him in the picture and disappear for about a minute (to do god knows what) and eventually put a few more things on our plates that turned out to be "...some kind of mushroom".

"Some kind" of mushroom? What the heck does that mean? Poison mushrooms? Well, obviously not because I lived to tell the tale. Unless, that is, that they're poison mushrooms that cause a delayed....and sudden...


Wasn't It Nice Of Me... grow my very own "Japanese flag" on my left cheek during our first few days in Japan? The thing was huge! I'm talking Mount Fuji huge!!! And...I couldn't stop touching it! It was kind of like the big mole Fred Savage has on his face in the Austin Powers movie. People (including Mrs. TBF) would talk to me, and instead of looking me in the eyes, they would be staring cross-eyed at my "flag".

Even a part of my box lunch on the train from Tokyo to Kyoto was hypnotized by it!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

TBFi Like Sukiyaki...

Sukiyaki may now be my favorite Japanese food. Yes, I love sushi. However, there's something wonderfully decadent about simmering assorted veggies and meat in stock and then dipping them in a beaten raw egg before eating it. Oh, and the absolute best part? A cube of fat is cut off of the beef and...left to dissolve in the broth before you begin eating. Be still my clogged-artery, beating heart!


We went for a late lunch to this GREAT sukiyaki place in the Asakusa area of Tokyo called Chin-ya. It's been around since 1880, so we figured that they'd know what they were doing.

Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a man who spoke absolutely ZERO English, but managed to communicate with us by rambling in Japanese, pointing to things, and charades. We took off our shoes, pointed to sukiyaki on a sign that was written in English, and then were ushered to an elevator. When we got out of the elevator, a lady in a kimono greeted us and brought us to our own little private room for our meal.

The lady in the kimono seemed to speak some English, but the fluency of her English was very misleading. I find this to be the case in many countries when we're traveling. As long as we stuck to "the script", there was no problem. "Hot tea, o' cord?" she asked. "Hot..." we replied. No problem... However, if I would have asked her something like "How many cups of tea do you serve during a typical day?" it would have been met with a blank stare.

The lady got our meal started for us, showed us what to do, and then handed me a laminated piece of paper with instructions to use the phone in our room to let them know if we needed anything. This was a fairly common practice throughout Japan in places when people didn't speak English. We'd be handed a piece of paper with something written in English, and then we'd just point at our choice (i.e. SPICY or NOT SPICY). The stock thickened, the meat and veggies cooked, we dipped, and we ate. It was nirvana.

When we were done, I picked up the phone, listened as somebody said something in Japanese, then I blurted out "U-MA-MI-CHI...," and the kimono-lady showed up at our door seconds later...bowing. There was a little brochure in our room containing information about the restaurant, and it also had a little section with English phrases translated into Japanese. So, I gave it a whirl:

Gochiso-sama Deshita. Kaikei O Shite Kudasai.
(I have enjoyed my dinner. Please let me have the bill.)

The kimono-lady, much to my surprise, seemed to understand me because I had the bill in front of me a few seconds later.

We were walking out of the restaurant a few moments later to a chorus of staff saying things to us in Japanese while bowing. And then we were back on the streets of Tokyo feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Who The Hell Is That?

We were on a boat cruising up the river in Tokyo toward Asakusa. I whipped out the quickPod and snapped a self-portrait of me, Mrs. TBF, and...some random American lady. least she smiled.

So Much For Living In Japan!

Whenever I visit a new place, I always try to get a feel as to whether I could see myself living there or not. It only took a couple of days in Japan for me to determine that I could definitely live there. To me it seemed as if Japan had used Switzerland as their model country, and then they tried to improve on all the little things that I don't like about Switzerland, but I'm not going to get into all that now because Mrs. TBF has asked me to not "break bad" on Switzerland.

I'm a big city guy, and Tokyo is now officially in my top five "cities where I could live" along with Chicago, Paris, London, and Honolulu!

A city of 12+ million people where I tower over 99% of the population, with all the sushi/sukiyaki/tempura/noodles/etc. I could eat, baseball, and Japanese schoolgirl uniforms would suit me just fine. The Japanese language sounded like something I could learn (a Japanese-American doctor in Kyoto told me that Japanese is actually fairly easy to learn to speak), I got used to the bowing-every-two-minutes thing, a constantly squeaky-clean bum was a pleasure, and I liked the hot wash cloths before every meal.

Living there? No problem!

I could get used to the driving on the other side of the road thing (probably wouldn't even have a car), I'd learn to duck to avoid hitting my head on something every three minutes, and I'd even welcome the ever-present danger of a civilization-ending earthquake.

I even broached the topic with Mrs. TBF since...well...she'd have to get a job, and she even seemed to think that it was a place where she could also see herself living. That was until she discovered that Japan has...SPIDERS!

We will NOT be moving to Tokyo.

I'm A Bad, BAD Man!

Just curious...

Where can one buy a Japanese schoolgirl uniform...that will fit a 40-something year old woman? No reason in particular...just wondering.

Mrs. TBF: Why are you taking the picture from so far away?

TBF: Don't worry about it...I'm using the zoom! By the way, have you ever thought about wearing your hair in pig-tails???

Serenity NOW!

What could be more peaceful than a Japanese tea house? Aaaahhh...the way the house compliments its natural surroundings; the sounds of birds singing their cheerful songs; the leaves rustling in the wind; the dragonflies flitting across the pond. Just find a couple of chairs on the deck (or sit inside on the floor), feel the warm autumn sun against your face, and sip some of that incredibly aromatic jasmine tea. Yes...just leave the modern-day world, and all your cares and troubles, behind. Just you...nature...and the tea. Give the power...of...the..........tea.


Maybe a tea house outside of Tokyo would be a better choice.

Well, there's always Starbucks!