Results matching “tree”

Contests and mental blocks

A few months ago, Ayumi and Mami announced the Japan Hoopdance Champion contest. It's a nationwide contest for all hoopers living here. I was excited to see it come together and I wanted to enter it not with any intention of winning, but in solidarity to the organisers and to connect with the broader Japanese hoop community. Cool.

But there is always a "but"... Being judged freaks me out. Enormously. I don't like contests, auditions, or job interviews. I actively avoid them. I usually create my own opportunities or wait for offers to find me, rather than seek out terrifying moments of judgement and approval. 

So here I was, trying to enter a contest. It would be fine. Right?

Since I'm known for creating large group hoop choreographies, I figured I'd submit a group entry. This proved challenging because nobody wanted to be in a group with me. They were too busy, too shy, or maybe everyone dislikes working with me, I don't know. But eventually, thanks to Tod's intervention, Kouichi and I teamed up and created a dance together. Group of two is still a group. We rehearsed a few times, shot the video, and the group entry was sorted! Sigh of relief.

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See how cute we look? Kouichi was a lot of fun to dance with.

At the same time, I thought I ought to create a solo entry, too, because that would be a true challenge. I dislike solo dances. I dislike contests. Let's take two bad things and put me in the middle of them. Yes. Great idea. So I devised a kinda cool dance routine to a ska song I love. I drew up storyboards. I tested moves. And then I looked at the contest rules in detail. No editing, no panning, zooming or multiple cameras - all part of my plan. I liked my idea too much to shelve it, so Rob and Tod & I filmed the video anyway while we are on Niijima. It was pretty. I am still editing it.

With less than a month left before the contest entries were due, I started to stress about the solo entry. Maybe I shouldn't bother? I need to bother. I alternated between trying to try to talk myself out of it and trying to film something. 

I filmed in my living room. I filmed at the park, in the carport, in the yard. I recruited Tod to help. I manned the camera alone. I filmed on the bluff in Yokohama. I tried a choreographed dance to a song I like. I played with my hoop move and dance word cards. I tried freestyle dance to whatever came up on random play. I tried ukulele and hoop together. Nothing seemed to work.

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So many tries. So many different hoop dances...

Mental block? Mental bollocks. Every single time, I gave up before the end of the song. I started beautifully and soon it all fell apart. I knew it wasn't good and I stopped. Sometimes the "not good" was obvious like tripping over my hoop. Sometimes it just felt wrong. Regardless of my excuse, I filmed a lot of incomplete dances. Upon reviewing the video, it was never as bad as I thought it was. If I had just kept going, I might have had something nice. But I didn't and the deadline was getting closer and closer.

Obviously, I had a completion issue. And a fear of failure. And that "being judged" thing that I mentioned before. I'm not sure what else came into play, but I was ramping up the crazy scale.

Every failed attempt made me more stressed. I felt bad emotionally, and eventually physically, too. My heart started behaving strangely. My stomach was upset. My head ached. I was sleeping erratically. I had no energy. To relieve the stress, I tried to tell myself it was ok not to enter the contest, but I didn't believe myself.

Eventually, I forced myself to make one last try. I spent several hours in the kendo room down the street. I walked out certain I had something suitable; there must be an entry in those two hours of dancing. I made sure I danced all the way through the songs no matter how awkward it felt.

I watched the footage. There were several sweet dances, perfectly fine for entering into the contest. But at the same time, I also skimmed through the footage from Yokohama the day before. And there it was, among the shots I'd not even bothered to look at because of course they were terrible and useless. My entry! It was funny and I loved it.

The public voting for the contest runs from June 3 -17. I have no need to win, so you don't have to vote for me, but I'd love for you to have a look at the entries and see what amazing talent Japan hooping world has. There are 12 kids entries, 13 soloists, and 4 groups. http://j-hoopchamp.com/applicant.html

And if you don't feel like looking through all the entries and voting, here are my solo performance and the group entry Kouichi and I did:

















Doing Without Report #1

Here I am, a month into my experiment and I can't say I have had great success but I am not totally failing. I think I am doing OK on the giving away part, not so great on the purchasing part. 

Successes:
  • Joined Freecycle and gave away some big stuff from the pantry closet
  • Put a box of small treasure on the street - almost all gone in 24 hours
  • Replaced two worn items of summer clothing with new ones
  • Gifted power stones for bracelets at Guru-guru Camp
  • Mailed a box of treasures to a friend
  • Gave a party tent & beach umbrella to our camping buddy, Takashi
  • Created a standing desk from an easel and some scrap wood
Failures:
  • Acquired another tent (the Peanut) from Tracey for GGC.
  • Bought a cooler box for camp
  • Made a lot of palm candles at camp
  • Own a new, smaller portable amp for practice and parties
  • Gave Tod a melodeon for his birthday
  • Purchased a hat
And plans: 
  • Bring out my summer clothes and trash the worn out ones
  • Reduce my shoes by half
  • Pare down to a minimum of handbags, coats, and hats
  • Host a hula hoop retaping/giveaway party
  • Plant a food garden
  • Build an outdoor kitchen with things we already have

What's Beyond Science

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I am torn about writing this. It puts me deep into a class of people I have shunned for so long. The New Age Hippie Freaks. And yet my time in the circus opened my eyes to some things that I have long denied and usually hide about myself. 
 
Let me start with a disclaimer:

Science is important. It grounds our understanding of the world and makes sense of things. I love the beauty of math. I have a basic grasp of quantum physics (the Feynman kind, not the new age kind). I am delighted when our interplanetary explorations make discoveries. I dig big machines that make experiments. l get excited over microscopic pictures. I dream about e-paper and 3D printing being part of our daily lives. I read science history for fun. I am not a scientist, but I think like one.

But there are things beyond science: energetic planes and the healing arts. Things like crystals, divinations, vibrational energies, bodywork, chakras, connection to the collective unconsciousness, meditation. Without science to back up claims, all of these are considered nonsense at best, dangerous at worst. 

I saw this clever Venn diagram the other day and was sort of ashamed that I knew about almost all of the things in it. Not that I trust in them all but none of it made me say "What's that?" 

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For an even more detailed version, go visit the original post: http://crispian-jago.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-venn-diagram-of-irrational-nonsense.html

But I dare to declare, in the face of this diagram and the cultural attitudes behind it, that not all of this is bollocks.

For example, acupuncture and its related healing practices (reflexology, moxibustion, and shiatsu) based on the Chinese concept of energetic meridians are effective for treating symptoms of all sorts. Perhaps it is a placebo effect, as some studies say, but my first hand experiences say otherwise. 

Divination techniques like tarot, astrology, numerology, and palmistry might be faked with social engineering and cold reading techniques but not all readings are intentionally faked. Divination gives people insight into their lives and that has value. But science can't measure how it works when it is real, therefore it can't be real.

Vibrational energies have been described in many forms - chakras, ghosts, auras, feng shui, reiki, qi, turtles on elephants. Science hasn't decided to study them seriously for a very long time. Experiments were carried out on some of these topics in the 18th century, the heyday of scientific awakening. Most of them failed at the time and haven't been repeated. In the world beyond scientific thought, some people are sensitive to these energies. Others aren't. I'm one of the moderately sensitive ones.

So there. I've said it. These things work for me, add value to my life, and I experience them personally. Maybe I have a new calling as an energy worker or a healer.  Time to face up to the bits of me that are beyond science. 

But I question myself constantly. Are energy workers and healers deluded? Are they faking it? Is it real?  Am I starting to believe in this because my brain is breaking down with age? Well, I have had weird psychic experiences since I was about 3, so I can't blame age. I squelched the ability for a long time, but it is still there. I see ghosts and auras. I have divinatory dreams. I feel tree energy. It is freakish and uncontrolled and 100% unproveable at the moment.

Without science backing any of it up, faith is required to uphold belief in the unmeasurable. Having strong faith like that is a huge challenge for me. A Venn diagram will throw me off course. Reading the fundamental texts of these arts can make me cringe; the language is awful and there are so many weasel words that it is almost impossible to pick out hard facts from wishful thinking.

Regardless, I feel it is time to explore this and see where it goes. I have felt the incredible power that moves through the world. Let me see what I can do with it. I have a tarot deck. I wear crystals and stones for their energetic properties. I know how to meditate. There is a portal into this for me, if I am patient and practice what I know.

Will I lose friends? Will my science-minded circle abandon me to tarot cards and crystals? I hope not.

Spark Circus: the work, the shows.

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The Sparkles at a fundraiser on Koh Samui

Where do I even begin the story of my circus adventures? The beginning seems so long ago. So I will start at the end.

Feb 22, 4 pm. I chucked my bags onto the songtauw heading to the airport. As I plopped myself on the bench and the driver pulled away, my circus family were singing "rum sum sum" to me from the porch of our guest house. This is the song we sang every day as we arrived and left the schools. I sang back to my friends and cried. The circus was well and truly over for me.

The previous week had been one of post-circus decompression, staggered departures, and a few reconnections on the road. In pairs and trios, some of the troupe went to Pai, others to Chiang Mai. There were plans to head back to the islands where we started. Some jetted off to Bangkok. Our goodbyes sometimes took place at the front gate of our homebase in Mae Sot, with hugs and waves in the pre-dawn.

For a month in Bangkok and Mae Sot, our circus family was as tightly knit as you can imagine. And like most troupes rallied around a show, it unravelled when the run was over. There is a core group all from Denver; they will certainly see one another. But will I ever again meet my fellow Sparkles offline? I can't rule it out, but I can't promise I will. I hope so.

Hard Work and Worth It

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An early version of our schedule

We bound together so strongly as a group because circus work is hard. It is fun and extremely fulfilling, but at the same time, it is not easy. Our schedule was bursting with shows and workshops. Often it was two a day - a school show with workshops and then a fire show at night. Some days we split into two teams to fit in an extra location. We had a few days on the schedule without shows, and a fair handful of one show days. Some days we travelled far; other days the venues were right around the corner from us.

In between shows and on days off, we had myriad tasks to keep everything running smoothly - from taping hoops to arranging water purchases and shopping missions to restock supplies. The crew in charge of shows, workshops, and sound had setlists to plan and lots of communication with everyone. Our personal needs, like laundry, eating, training, and social connections, got slipped in somehow. The pace of life was fast. Time management is a key skill in the circus. 

The hard work, the hours put into so many different tasks, the stress of things not always going as desired...it was all worth it for the reward of smiles and love from kids and communities we visited.

Day Shows

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Tink at Chicken School. Photo by Lavoz Solidaria

The fun and fulfilment comes with the shows. The energy of the kids in the audience at our day shows fed back in a loop every time. We gave our best, the kids grabbed it, multiplied it, and tossed it back to us. We busted out clowning and silliness, then offered an hour of workshops in hooping, juggling, poi, dance, and other circus skills. After a day show, our ride home was buoyant as we recounted individual encounters with the kids who wanted to hold our hands the whole time, who ran to wash their faces for another round at the facepaint station, or who learned so fast we couldn't teach them enough tricks in the workshops. 

It is hard, though, to understand that our circus is so outside the usual experience for these kids. Many of the places we visited were boarding schools for children whose parents are still in Burma - they call them IDPs, internally displaced persons. Some of the kids are orphans. Other schools focus on daily education for street kids, or rescuing them from sordid lives of slavery and prostitution. For some of our team, these were heartbreaking realisations. There were tears and quiet contemplation. These children have seen more of the bad side of life than I have, for sure. They live in better circumstances now - fed, clothed, housed and educated. This is a good thing. Hopeful.  Despite their challenges and sad histories, kids manage to be happy and childlike when the circus visits. 

At several schools, we were feasted. I have to say that heaping bowls of rice with soup curry or fruit tasted so good after dancing and playing in the scorching sun. And even better than food, sometimes we were treated to performances by the students - a masked traditional dance, a stunning choreography performed through clapping bamboo poles, modern choreography with traditional singing. Even a Gangnam Style dance one night before our fire show. It was always a huge treat to get a return show from the kids because I truly appreciate the courage and practice that goes into live performance of all types. 

I brought two acts to the day show line up and they were both performed in most of the shows. As a solo performance, I did a clowning act with my hoop as a mirror. The kids got to participate in this one as I had them hold the hoop mirror for me while I smeared lipstick all over my face and then wiped some if it off onto my helpers and blew kisses to the audience. The other act was the WHD Dance (surprised?) which a group of six of us rehearsed. It was great fun to perform the WHD choreo with a bunch of terrific hoopers in such exotic locations. I wonder if there is any video I can add to the compilation...

There was a third act that I did only once in the very last show of the tour. Jew and I planned out a circus-y multihoop extravaganza with a crew of five hoopers but never managed to rehearse it with everyone. We were both eager to play it, so we pared it down to him, me, and Quinn and practiced on the road as we headed into the refugee camps north of Mae Sot. We busted it out in Nu Poe on our very last day and it was fun. I think it will be one of my acts for next year.

Night Shows

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I love fire. photo by Vincenzo Florama

Our night shows were a complete change of pace from the day shows. We were spinning fire (and occasionally LED) and this was outside my comfort zone, at least at first. I learned a heap about safety, fuelling, extinguishing, and performing with fire. It became comfortable and nearly routine. I truly fell in love with fire performing.

Our full fire show began with a group piece based on a Chinese 1000 hands dance. All of us aligned in a column, moving in sync and in sequence to present the fire on our hands in patterns and waves to the audience. It was a very pretty piece. Sometimes I was in this one, sometimes not, depending on my other roles for the show - running sound or acting as safety monitor.

Every night's show was a new lineup. We had more acts than time, so the show manager created a new set list every day. Sometimes performers were sick or needed to take time off for whatever reason. Sometimes the shows needed to be longer or shorter or had other constraints. After the set list was developed, the Safety team went into action and prepared a matrix showing who was going to man the various safety stations. We had three people with buckets and towels ranged around the stage to catch any flying props and potentially douse the performers. There were two extinguishing positions with damp towels and duvetene to put out the tool as the acts came off stage. Someone sat with our dipping station to help redip tools and ensure that the fuel was safely contained and kept away from the public. Troupe members switched from performance to safety positions throughout every show. It was sometimes chaotic.

Each show concluded with a spectacular of fire as everyone had a turn with their tools, overlapping entrances and exits so that there was an abundance of flame on stage. The climax of the finale was an acrobatic dragon formation made of three people with flames in hands and overhead, battled by April on stilts with a fire sword. There were always lots of grins on stage during that part and happy smiles as we took our bows. Often I missed the bow since I was extinguishing the dragon's tools, but I tried to be quick so I could run up at the very last second and squeeze my way into the line.

The acts in between were solo pieces. They varied from dynamic to lyrical and used a huge variety of flaming props - hoops, poi, staff, rope dart, fans. All of the performers were highlighted by "framers" who slowly wielded flaming props in the background to add more light and interest to the stage. I loved doing framing to accent other people's acts and everyone had their favorite people to frame them. Nikki and I were often waving isis wings in the background for Jew's poi act, with "palm candle girls" down front. I used fans or torches a couple of times when the regular framers were absent. My favorite framing performance was as a firefly in April's double hoop act. Nothing beats bouncing around using palm candles as lightning bugs. We all fought to get on stage for that act. 

My own fire act used mini hoops like fans to create a clock character. I did it many times - actually every scheduled show until I got sick - and each night it was a little different. I love the act and will continue to use it, with an aim to nailing the open armed turn that I never got quite right. My framers were two handsome men with torches standing behind me doing clock-y swishes and circles. I never got to see them in action. I wonder if there is video somewhere...

There is so much more to be written about the circus experience - from the special moments at each school to the personal awakenings I had while in the circus. But this post is long enough and those stories will have to come another day.

Circus Life

I am in love with the circus. I love my performance family. I love the shows we do and I especially love the kids we entertain. I love playing with fire. I love packing every day so full of action and emotion that 24 hours seems like a week.

Our mission is to bring play and laughter to refugee kids. So far we have visited 10 schools, orphanages and clinics and seen over 1000 children with our day show and circus workshops and our night time fire and LED shows. The kids are so energising to be with - like children everywhere, their circumstances do not dictate their happiness. It seems to make no difference that some of these kids have no parents, a past life as prostitutes or slave labor, or were rescued from the streets. They find something in our circus that makes them happy.

For some of the little girls, it is all about holding a female performer's hand after the show. The older boys hang back and look aloof, but I see them admiring the gentlemen in our troupe who rock it with tech flow skills. Some kids come talk to us in English of varying abilities and those conversations are incredible. One afternoon I had a conversation about my ukulele with a boy who dreamed of learning to play guitar. Some only need a smile or a wave to break into giggles. At some schools, they chase our truck as we drive away, smiling and laughing as they run. It really takes very little to connect with and love these kids.

The Sparkles I play with are one of the most incredible groups of people I have ever met. The circus family experience is like theatre family, only 24x7. Everyone brings an unexpected skill to the table, as well as our performance and teaching ability. We have a shaman, several massage therapists, yogis, and a wide range of other divination and healing arts being practiced. There is a group of hot sauce makers who experiment in the kitchen. I bring the practical ability of hairdressing. We trade and share what we have. Everyone embraces (these are some awesome huggers), and frequently says "I love you" with true feeling of agape. But we are far from perfect. We are judgmental sometimes, and have waves of being cranky, exhausted, sick, and snarky. There is gossip and backtalking. We disagree about things to the point of drama. But in general we forgive easily and get along in order to reach our goal of bringing smiles to kids. Because the circus isn't about us as individuals, or even as a team. It is about creating a playful, joyful highlight in the lives of children who don't have many material blessings.

Sparkles, I love you. Circus, you are changing my life.

Up and Down in Tohoku

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Sunrise view from the cliffside cabin in Ofunato where we stayed.

I spent the past week in Iwate-ken touring schools and doing performances with Guy Totaro, the Smile Ambassador for the Tyler Foundation. We visited 11 schools in 5 days, seeing about 700 kids for play, hoop workshops, and more. It was a very satisfying experience and I've written more about the tour itself over on Spin Matsuri. This post is my personal memoranda of the trip.

The week was tremendously good, but it wasn't always easy. It was my first time to visit the area since the tsunami. What I saw was clean and under control compared to just a few months ago: the mud's been shoveled away, buildings removed and rubble reduced. As we reach the first anniversary of the disaster, there are tons of before-and-after photos out there that give the comparisons. Yet they don't tell the story in the least. 

The enormity of what had happened left me stunned and withdrawn as we drove to the schools.


Huge swathes of the towns we passed through are nothing more than empty lots or bare foundations. All the private homes and smaller shops are gone. In Rikuzentakata, formerly a resort town, there are still a few larger buildings waiting to be torn down, mangled steel carcases or concrete structures with their windows busted out and grey curtains clinging to crazily bent railings. In Kamaishi, where the famed seawall failed, there is a ruined police station with a parking lot full of neatly arranged, totally crushed and rusting cars. In Kesenuma I saw one of the huge boats sitting on its keel where it came to rest inland. There is a house half submerged in the harbour at Ofunato. Some of the scenes are surreal.

Activity continues on the clearing process. There are dozens of cranes, backhoes, and workers attacking the remaining bits, sorting debris, and building fences to enclose rank after rank of leveled off piles of landfill. Except this landfill is tragic. It's people's homes, their livelihoods, everything they owned. 

As we passed by one demolition site, a wine colored zabuton came tumbling down as a machine took bites from a five story apartment building. Someone sat on that cushion. I wonder how they fared? No way to know. I took a deep breath and slowly let it go before sad thoughts and tears could take hold.

There are scores of human mementos like this as you drive along. Winding through streets where there are only foundations, I spied the last remnants of a bathroom, two white ceramic bowls stacked on a low wall, the stone walkway and tiled entry to what must have been a beautiful house. It was a neighborhood; now it is nothing. So much loss everywhere. 

The people who survived are beset with troubles. Many struggle with stress disorders; some mourn their personal and material losses; government-built temporary housing is sterile and isolating; neighborhood bonds are gone and never returning. The job scene has completely changed. And despite these challenges, lots of people are trying to make things ok for themselves, their families, and for their communities. 

The principal at Ofunato Elementary was enthusiastic about our hoop tour and about Guy's repeat visits. Positivity seems to be his nature; he taught us some traditional clapping games that he plays with the kids and their grandparents when he hosts school events. He extends his care beyond his youthful students. I was incredibly inspired.

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The vistas are remarkably beautiful.

The landscape that escaped the devastation is incredible. Mountains finger down into the ocean, creating a series of fjords. We saw gorgeous scenery as we toured. We travelled through mountains and hills, stayed on a cliffside overlooking the ocean, enjoyed forests and frozen waterfalls, and marveled over a mountain ascent that wound up a ravine through tunnels and over bridges. These moments in nature gave me respite from the overwhelming sadness of the low lying areas.

Back down in the towns, there are signs of reconstruction afoot. Cleared lots have been measured out with string and posts. I spied piles of materials and a few poured concrete footings. The government says it's ok to build in some of these places again. One of the schools we visited in its temporary quarters on a hill will be rebuilt in its old location in the tsunami plain. I don't even want to think about whether this is a good plan or a foolish one; in a town with limited land resources, perhaps it is the only possible option.

So many things I saw broke my heart. So many uneasy spirits requested my attention. So many uncertain plans hung thick in the air. It's hard to explain how visceral all of the dark and heavy energy was there, even after almost a year has passed.  The devastated coastline of Tohoku is a challenging place to visit. I didn't cry until I got home.

Good Luck in the New Year

Yesterday I went to Yoyogi Park to work on a new comic hooping act but got distracted as I entered the gates, Healthy Matsuda, one of Tokyo's licensed buskers (Heaven Artists, dont' get me started) was setting up do a comic mime performance. I grabbed a hot tea from the vending machine nearby and plonked myself in front of his hat as he warmed up.

I was the only person waiting and watching, and I was surprised when he addressed me - in English - saying that he'd seen me hooping on Sundays. It was nifty to be recognised; there are lots of regulars at the park and it's good that we get to know one another. I should make a point to greet the people I see frequently.

His act was charming - impressions of flowers and fruit (the banana cracked me up completely), a very clever series with invisible masks, and "how people laugh around the world." It was a good performance and with my own comic show in mind, I paid close attention to his manner, timing and showmanship. 

By the middle of the show he'd attracted a moderate crowd. When it was over, I dug some money out of my wallet and tossed it in his hat. Offering paper money in the US might mean a dollar, right? Here the smallest denomination is worth about $12, so it's a leap up. I certainly laughed and learned 1000 yen's worth.

Matsuda-san told me I was his first audience of 2012 and thanks to me he was sure that it was going to be a lucky year. Maybe it's sort of like the first tuna auction at Tsukiji, where prices are bid way up to ensure a good season of fishing and business. If you get some decent cash in your first street show in January, the rest will be good, too. I hope it is a great year for him.

Totality

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Phases of the eclipse, captured by Tod.

Last night was the first time I've experienced a full lunar eclipse. It was beautiful. 

We rushed out of the house at 21:45 to catch the first bite taken from the moon. Japanese word for lunar eclipse is gesshoku, 月食, which is literally moon eating. What a meal.

With a good view from the garden, we scrapped our plans to watch the eclipse from Denzuin cemetery. Even so, after ten minutes outside we were cold! We ran back in to warm up, then returned better bundled for more viewing.

The bite grew bigger until the disk of the moon was glowing a dim red with a vivid sliver of white light on the edge. Tod, without a tripod, searched for a stable perch for the camera and found a wall outside our building. We stood and craned our necks through totality.

Everyone passing by on our street was looking up. The blood red moon, maybe more rust colored, was stunning and almost directly overhead. Neighbors came out for a look. There were people on the roof of the building across the way and folks on their balconies. Nobody was interacting, but we all experienced a celestial moment together.

Hiroshima

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We've just returned from a three night trip to Hiroshima-ken. 

Starting in one of my favorite towns in Japan, Onomichi, we walked hundreds of stairs, took in the sunset view from the hilltop, said hello to the ominous monkeys, noted the economic upturn of the shopping arcades, ate pizza, Onomichi ramen, and Thai food. On the second morning, we strolled the path of old temples and lingered over coffee while Tod had himself doctored at an acupuncture clinic. The poor dear put out his back trying to reach the controls on the heater in our room.

We headed westward in the afternoon to Hiroshima where we drank sake, ate okonimyaki, and walked the Dreamination illuminations. On the third morning, we visited the Peace Museum. The same tricycle that made me weep in 1999 did it again and I didn't even have to read the inscription this time. I remembered the story and the tears poured out.

That afternoon, we ferried over to Miyajima for a luxurious night of bathing and feasting, along with touring the famous shrine and the shopping streets. We spent our last day getting to the top of Mt. Misen, slowly for Tod and with the aid of a stick, before heading home on the Shinkansen. It was a good vacation-in-vacation with friends.

Tottori Dunes

Tottori Dunes is the only desert environment in Japan. It's a funny place, a large expanse of sandy hills with the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. It's a fifteen minute drive from downtown Tottori. This was not how I expected a desert to be. I imagined that desert had to be vast, arid, and secluded. But Tottori Dunes fails on all those criteria yet it is still a desert, albeit very small.

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Tod's first act was to rush off to the oasis and scale the steep sand wall to the top of the highest dune. Heather and I took our time and a longer route but before too long we were all enjoying the view, watching the parasailers, and hooping in the gorgeous blue-sky day.

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We clambered around the rocky shoreline nearby, too. It was so unseasonably warm that we stayed outside all day and ended up sunburnt. But the refreshment of sea air and exercise was worth the pink skin.

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We also filmed the Tottori version of the World Hoop Day dance. Tod manned the camera and music while Heather and I stumbled around in the sand. It was lots of fun. Bits from all four takes are in the video....

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It rained the next day and Heather and I went out for an adventure while Tod stayed in the hotel to study for his upcoming Japanese N1 exam. I am glad he stayed behind because our adventure wouldn't have happened if he'd come along. We got the rental car stuck in the sand. First just a little, then we got it dug in good. When it seemed like I was not going to be able to push the car out with my brute strength, I called across the road to a parking attendant. She ran off to get us some help and several soggy minutes later five men appeared with a shovel. They saw me and Heather standing by the car and called us "kawaii" then proceeded to dig out the car and push it to solid ground in about five minutes. All smiles and good spirits there, even though they have probably done this way too many times. Heather gave them hugs, which is not usually part of the rescue process.

Tottori town was weird. We wandered around its many shopping arcades looking for a present for Nina, Heather's 4 year old daughter. There was nothing to be had except in the one big department store. No toy shops or bookstores on the streets, nothing really for kids except school uniforms. There were a few nice lifestyle shops and art galleries, but mostly the shops were sort of sad old places that looked like they'd been stagnating for years and served customers who were in the same shape. One shopkeeper told us he thinks Tottori is about a decade behind the rest of Japan, economically. That may be true but I think all of Japan is like this except for its metropolises and tourist destinations.





Rainy Robots

Yesterday I had the honor and joy of helping out with the video shoot for Jesse and Will's song, Hooked on Robots.

The day dawned warm and sunny. There was forecast rain in the late afternoon but it didn't seem likely. I was out and about early in the day and I was already sweating.

Jesse arrived at 10 to put the final touches on the robot costume we started on Friday. We left the house laden with the usual 4th Sunday Spin hoops and my amp, plus Jesse's boombox, the costume, supplies for repairing the costume, and a green screen. We should have brought an umbrella.

The clouds started rolling in around 1. By 1:30 it was plain to see a storm was brewing, but how long would it hold off? We got the robot suited up and I taught all the dancers the choreography before the appointed start time, just in case. Kana, Trine, Nick, Naomi, Reiko, Soness, Yuji, & I ran through the dance over and over until we had it pretty smoothly. I apologise to the wonderful hoopers who turned up on time - we were worried about the weather and started without you.

Since we all had to learn the choreography quickly without the music and only had a few practices to get it right, I shouted it out during each take - up-down-up-center, spin-spin-spin-spin - which made me sound like a hooping drill sergeant, but did keep most everyone in sync. It is challenging to keep hoops perfectly aligned without a huge amount of rehearsal and I think we rocked the robotics as best we could. Certainly we were creating a scene, there were a lot of random people stopping to watch and photograph us. (Unfortunately, I was not among the people capturing the action, so no photos here.)

The moment Will arrived with the camera, we stopped rehearsing and started shooting. We did maybe six takes with various angles and dancing robotic talent and by the fifth take, we were hooping in freezing wind and thickening rain. As we finished the last one, the rain was pelting. Thank you to the hoopers for being professional to the end!

With us background dancers done most everyone was able to escape the rain, but there were still a few more shots to get. Kana had a role as the beautiful robot girl. Jesse quickly got the scene and Kana skedaddled. By this time, everyone who hadn't left when the rain was only mild had huddled under trees for shelter. Some hungover revellers were getting themselves organised to go to dinner. I remained because my stuff was intermingled with the rest of the things in the shoot. Tod & Rob stuck around because the three of us planned to go to dinner together after so they waited for me. What sweethearts.

Now it was pouring so hard that the air was white and the camera could see it. Even though there was only one more outdoor scene to take, it just wasn't going to happen as planned. Jesse looked determined to continue to the end. Everyone else looked like they wanted this to be over fifteen minute ago. I laughed - what else can you do when you are soaked through but not finished?  We gathered up the gear, searching for dropped bits and bobs. I found my iPod in the mud (lucky!). Everyone grabbed something and we dashed and splashed for the park toilets.

Our party took over most of the men's room foyer - robots and camera crews with hoops need a lot of space - but we did our best to be compact and to let people in who needed to use the stinky urinals. We were all soaked and freezing from a 15 degree temperature drop. My bare feet were muddy and the long patchwork skirt I wore clung to my legs. Water dripped down my skull off my nose as if I were a gargoyle. Yet I was smiling and having a great time. My part of the video was done. My hooping friends performed with good cheer and I hoped they were all safely home and dry.

Jesse managed to get his final scene from the toilet foyer, after waiting for Will to dry out a little and fixing some robotic rips. We were all under shelter, but the shot is framed so the background is the green trees outside. We had to move some people from the overhang just behind where Ray and Will were standing, and rather than come inside they hopped on their skateboards and rode out into the rain. Oops.

After getting the shots (with Rob shooting b-roll on his camera), finally giving up on the rain ever stopping, and with Ray's girlfriend needing to get home, we left the toilet, ran to the station using various props and bags as umbrellas, divided up the gear and said goodbye. 

I was so thoroughly wet that dinner had to be postponed until I could have something dry to wear.  Tod, Rob & I went to Kinji, a used clothing store in Harajuku. We spent a lovely warm hour browsing the racks and all bought something with long sleeves. I got a dry skirt, too. Then we had dinner at a cafe while the rain stopped.

As soon as the video is ready, I'll post the link for you all to gawk at the awsomeness of tinfoil robots, hoops, and rap in the rain.

Merry, merry month of May

There are two months in Tokyo that make me gloriously happy because they have the absolute best weather - May and October. I've been enjoying this year's May very much.  It's combined a lot of outdoor time with hooping and some new skills, too.

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First, I hosted a Guru-guru Camp during Golden Week. 15 people joined in the hooping fun for 7 nights on Niijima, one of my favorite places in the world to camp. Such a long break from the city was refreshing. I cooked al fresco, took a dawn stroll to the beach each morning, relaxed with friends, taught hoop workshops, juggled and learned to play some chords on my new ukulele. I was so happy to be in nature that I didn't even walk into the village until the last two days. I would love to be able to live in a house surrounded by trees with a stream nearby, just like I did when I was growing up. Not really a possibility in central Tokyo, but maybe someday...



Right after Guru-guru Camp, I finished up the Japan Tricks Showcase video. This is a collection of original hoop tricks by nineteen Japan-based hoop dancers. We hope that people who watch the video will donate to one of the many earthquake and tsunami relief projects we support. Thanks to features on Hooping.org and Hoop City, the showcase has been viewed 1,177 times as of today. You can find out more about it on the Spin Matsuri website.

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Tutu Party crew: Raha, Emily, Masa, Savannah, Roon Roon, me, Sareh and Miki. (Photo by Fernando Ramos)

Sareh also had a fundraiser in the form of a Tutu Party at Orbit in Sangenjaya to launch of her line of party tutus. In addition to performing with my hoop on the night along with the very talented Raha pole dancing and Miki doing burlesque, we were part of a video shoot on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Nakameguro. Five girls in tutus (and very little else) running around with a treasure map and a tiara caught a few eyes.  The video isn't quite done yet, though it previewed at the Tutu Party.

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Performing in a shoebox. (Photo by Fernando Ramos)

I loved my performance at the tutu party. It was technically a nightmare. I botched every trick I'd planned. I was injured and couldn't do much with my left arm. The space was smaller that I realised so my choreography had to be tossed out the window. The audience was sitting at decapitation height. I kept twacking the dance pole installed behind me. The tiara fell off and my wig went askew. And yet...it was a good performance. My energy was high; I interacted with the audience; I didn't let my mistakes or surprise changes stop the show or upset me.  I had a lot of fun. I hope the audience did, too. Especially since I didn't decapitate any of them!

The doctor is in!

The day after the Tutu Party, I held a Hoop Hospital in the carport here at home. Deanne generously gave me all her hoop making tools and supplies when she left Japan this month. About the same time as she left, five hoops got busted. So all the sad hoop lovers got together to fix them. I showed everyone how to use the tools to make and/or fix hoops, and everybody repaired their own. Tod manned the tools for a few extras that needed attention (he also strung an ethernet cable out onto the balcony so we could listen to music and he made spiced iced tea, following up the event with a yummy grilled dinner) while I nursed my shoulder and ran errands for more scissors and glasses and things. It was a fun afternoon and we will definitely have another one later in the summer.

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And as if I haven't had enough hooping joy this month, this Sunday is 4th Sunday Spin at Yoyogi Park from 12:30 til sunset. And from 2:30 and 3:30, we are going to be shooting a goofy music video for a friend's new song. Come be a robot hooper back dancer! There's a little hoop routine we'll dance while the star robot does his thing up front. If you want to do a solo, that's an option, too. I have enough construction paper and glitter masks for 13 robots and later today, Jesse and I are creating a cardboard and tinfoil costume for the star robot. Such production values have never been seen before.

All during this month we've been on the alert for flaming nuclear plants, more tremblors, higher death tolls, and disaster dramas. I think I have gotten past all the fear and worry. Looking forward to finding more ways to conserve electricity this summer, going to volunteer in Tohoku, and living my life with as much joy and verve as possible.

And hey, why worry? The Rapture is tomorrow anyway.  So I'll see you all at the park on Sunday, right?





Power saving ideas

Over on Facebook, my previous post generated a lot of ideas and suggestions. Thanks to everyone who chimed in; I was so pleased. I'd like to list them here, along with some expansion and additions I've been thinking of, too.

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One of the awesome posters from the Setsuden Poster collection

Replace old HVAC units
Roman said that his in-laws replaced their decade-old aircon units and saw big savings on their electric bills. This ecological efficiency also applies to any major appliance, like refrigerators (which are said to use about 20% of the household's electricity in the US), washing machines, or electric water heaters.

Adopt Daylight Savings Time
Soness told a funny story about trying to explain DST to a woman on the train. "How will wives at home know what time their husband is coming home?" Getting this change through to people and lawmakers might be a difficult task. It's failed many times before. Greg senses this crisis be its best chance.

Reduce or eliminate climate control
This idea came up over and over. Luke says he hasn't used aircon at home in 7 years.  Jo wrote, " At home, use the aircon to de-humidify the air and chill the place right down, then switch it off and use fans for the rest of the evening." There are lots of ways to be comfortable without icy-cold air conditioning.

Once a Week Natural Air
In the spirit of the "once a week vegetarian" or "no car day" campaigns, encourage people to go without climate control one day a week. Create a huge support campaign to offer alternatives to using the air conditioning, show the benefits to aircon-less days and so on. Make it fun, healthy, economical.

Promote new office fashions
"Let's short pants!" For the past few summers CoolBiz has allowed salarimen to ditch the long sleeves and jackets as office cooling was reduced a few degrees, but what if we made "neat and casual" the new patriotic business norm? Linen trousers, "business shorts", seersucker suits, canvas shoes, short sleeves. With the right marketing, big sales at stores, and fashion features in magazines, this could be good for the energy crisis and for the economy as people update their wardrobes.

Establish shorter workdays
Some shops and malls are opening late and closing early to same energy. Why can't offices do the same? Tod's company spends 200,000 yen/day on climate controlling their 5 or 6 floors. If they shortened the workday that would reduce costs and electricity use in aircon, lights, computer power, and coffee machines.

Go outside
Jo suggested, "Spend and entire day and night outside, and I swear you wont feel the heat so badly afterwards; your internal body temperature will adjust to the weather." She's an arechologist in Australia and knows about living in the heat. And when you are outside, you're not using very much power.

Enjoy al fresco life
A less extreme version of spending the night outdoors would be encouraging folks to use their balconies, sit on stoops, play in the streets, walk outside after dinner. Not only does this help reduce power use, but it is healthy, builds community and stimulates the economy with purchases of new patio furniture.

Gather for communal activities
Getting people together for a meal is more efficient and more fun than everyone cooking alone. Home parties need to be on everyone's calendar. Maybe even big cooking sessions where everyone pitches in and then takes home a few meals' worth of food for the coming week. Another communal tradition, the public sento,  would save tons of hot water.

Rotate restaurants
Tokyo has the highest per capita of restaurants in the world and lots of them are struggling right now. Diners are spoiled for choice  and as we are discovering about so many aspects of our lush urban life, really it is too much. What if restaurants got together (by neighborhood, maybe, or by class of restaurant) and organised a rota so each is open 4 days a week, instead of six or seven. They'd save energy, minimize overhead, and waste less food by concentrating their customers into a few good days rather than limping along with just a few tables a night.  At the same time, citizen will be encouraged to eat out if they are not dining communally.

Minimise public sector days
Right now most museums are closed on Mondays. What if they opened only on weekends and Mondays, closing the other four days a week? This would create similar benefits as the revolving restaurant schedule and people would still have sufficient opportunity to view the exhibits. A similar closure schedule could be applied to certain government offices, too. Imagine if marriage offices closed on inauspicious days.

45 rpm?

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Here I am. Happy birthday, me.

There has been a rip in the fabric of space-time, because today I turned the age I think of my mother as being. I don't know how that works but I do not really feel my age.

My Day: I started by getting up early to bake a cake for breakfast, enjoy coffee and open the gifts my mother sent. Then I walked to Ueno to have lunch at Juraku before heading to the zoo. Today the new panda exhibit opened and there was a huge crowd, but since I have an annual zoo passport, I got to rockstar to the front of the 600 person long line to enter the zoo grounds. I skipped the pandas and said hello to the elephants and then strolled directly to the lower exit. I practiced juggling in the playground (oh, so close - even occasional moments of getting it, but not sustaining long enough to count). Then I enjoyed a bus ride home. I hooped in the living room for a few minutes, then put on the sleepy music (Beethoven's Pastorale) to take a nap before going out to the Charity Art Auction at the Pink Cow. My pieces both sold, for a combined total of 4500 yen. Somehow I managed to go the whole day without a birthday portrait, so I snapped the one above in the bathroom just now. Time to put on some PJs and crawl into bed!

State of Tokyo: Restaurants and shops are coming back to life, though it is going to be hard for them to make up the losses from the last few weeks. There were lines outside popular eateries at lunch today, and that's a heartening thing to see. The zoo was busting with kids and panda-lovers. The bus and subways were packed with people moving around and the streets were lively. Shibuya, while still dimmed to conserve power, was full of shoppers between 5:30 and 6:30 when I was there. H&M and Forever 21 were doing brisk trade in their sales. So even though there is disaster and doom to deal with daily, life goes on. That's good to see and feel.


Tokyo transit & other notes



This afternoon I went over to Tracey's to hang out and bake bread. I took my video camera along with me for the journey because I wanted to show you what Tokyo looks like today.

Each day, more trains run and commuting schedules are getting back to normal. It's still complex with service outages, but the transportation chaos is settling down.

There's still no milk. Bread is starting to make an appearance, particularly in bakery shops - oddly, bagels are abundant. Bentos and deli lunches at the conbini are still understocked but it's not a big deal and getting better each day. I hope that any shortfalls we are experiencing are due to food being routed to the 450,000 earthquake/tsunami survivors in shelters up north. They are stuck on slim rations, I've heard. I wish I could send them some of my food...

Power conservation has expanded today. Escalators were shut down and barricaded in subway stations, the stations were dimmer in general and the interior lights on the Odakyu trains were off during daylight hours. On the walk home tonight, I noted that the streetlights on Kasuga Dori are off except at intersections. Streelights on the side streets are all still on. TEPCO was warning about unplanned blackouts in Tokyo tonight because it is freezing cold out there but I haven't heard of any happening yet.

Aftershocks continue daily. I seem to be adjusting because quakes that would have put me on high alert a few weeks ago now pass with only a thought to whether the shaking is getting bigger or not. No? Ok, good. Carry on.

Which is what we all must do every day here. Carry on. I'll have a new adventure and notes to report tomorrow.


The Big One, Bunkyo style

Well, I think we just lived through the long-overdue, ever-feared "Big One" that seismologists have been predicting for decades. It didn't have its epicenter in Tokyo, but we sure as fuck felt it. I can't even imagine what it must have been nearer the epicenter. But let me tell you what it was like here.

Tod & I were together at home this afternoon when the quake struck at 2:45. It was scary. Our five story apartment building shuddered and rocked like a ship at sea.

After the first few seconds, when the initial shake started getting worse, I opened an exit to the balcony and we stood together in the doorway watching the birds flap confusedly, trees sway and every local structure rattle and moan. It was disconcerting and eerily beautiful at the same time. I was fascinated and calm while it happened and very grateful that I wasn't alone. It seemed to last for an eternity, though it was maybe less than two minutes in reality.

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Our lucky boat capsized.

Even when the shaking calmed to a rolling wave and it seemed safe to move, things were still swaying. It felt like stepping back onto land after a long voyage and we were both feeling sort of seasick. I ran around the house to see what had happened. Stuff had fallen off shelves, counters and surfaces over all over the house, though amazingly enough nothing really broke. I put most of it to right in a few minutes.

The city made an emergency announcement over the public address system - the first time they have ever done that in my memory - though with the flapity-flap of helicopters and the echoing distortion off buildings, I could barely make out a word. Our apartment was still standing, so I figured we were fine to stay in it. We checked Twitter for the first details, updated Facebook status and more or less calmed down for a few minutes.

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Japanese lanterns are stacked stones, now unstacked.

Then I wanted to go examine the what was up. In the hallway, the first sign of trouble. A stone lantern had fallen over and cracked the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window. Oops. Another stone lantern was toppled on the first floor, but that seems to be the extent of problems in our building. Amazing considering how loudly it was creaking and the amount of sway it experienced.

We went out to see the world. Really not a lot of damage in our area. A few unhitched cable TV wires and some crumbled old plaster. We stopped into the flower shop on the corner to check in with the store owner. She said she could see the big apartment buildings swaying. From one of the 13th floor balconies, someone's stuff had fallen to the street.

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After the quake a beer to celebrate surviving.

We continued on to Kashiwaya, our local liquor store, to see how our friends there had fared and also to get a beer. Our friend and their shop were fine - two bottles of sake had toppled over and broken but that was all. We ordered two draft beers and sat at the table outside the shop to watch people go by. We got a lot of double takes and some envious smiles, the two of us calmly enjoying our drinks. The worse was over and we were safe together. It was going to be OK.

The sidewalk was crowded with commuters walking home because every train in the capitol was stopped. People were actually hurrying, unusual in a city where ambling is the norm. Kasuga Dori is a main emergency road and it was pretty much packed with people from the afternoon until well into the night.

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Determined walkers head home.

When it got cold after dark, I felt compelled to go out and give away my extra hats, gloves and scarves to all those people walking home a long way who needed them. I was oddly fearful to get too far from Tod so I pushed aside the feeling of needing to help and stayed inside. But the need to do something, anything to help people on this very strange day got too strong and I worked up the courage to go outside alone. It is hard to give stuff away in Tokyo, but I eventually found people who were cold enough to accept my mismatched accessories.

Now it's almost 11 pm. We are listening to the Japanese news radio reporting on people trying to get home. At Shinjuku station the trains are still stopped, there is a 100 meter long queue for taxis...and no taxis. The streets are gridlocked with traffic. All the buses are completely crammed. Hotels are full. Convenience stores are running out of supplies in some places. Some people are in for a long, cold night. The aftershocks continue to make everything shake and sway in Tokyo.

And we got off lightly in Tokyo. The worst happened more than 300 km north of here. The magnitude of the quake was 100 times stronger than the one in Haiti last year. It reached the highest level of the Shindo scale, 7, and was eventually given an 8.9 magnitude.

Every minute brings more horrible news from the north. There's a nuclear emergency in Fukushima with a reactor on the verge of melt down and people being evacuated; Kurihara, a town of 77,000, was entirely destroyed; 1800 people are taking refuge in an elementary school in Aomori; and the videos of the tsunami rolling inland are so disturbing that I can't watch them. The grisly discoveries of corpses are just beginning; the number will not be small.

Tomorrow some friends and I are getting together to hoop at Yoyogi to relieve our stress and brainstorm ways we can help even a little bit. Feel free to join us. 12:30 in the usual place.

Tassie Circus Fest Info and Packing Tips

Info on the Tassie Circus Fest is pretty sparse. Details on the official website get wiped as soon as tickets are sold out. There are a few e-mails with info, but they don't give a feel for the event at all.

In the interest of helping out people who haven't yet been to the Australian National Circus Festival in Golconda, Tasmania, here are some packing tips and general information and observations based on my experience this year.

The basics first:

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Inside our tent

Tasmanian summer is not like summer elsewhere. One day I woke to a 9C tent and that same afternoon sat in 38C sun watching a performance. Be prepared for anything.

Protection from cold. Bring warm things to sleep in and under. Raising yourself from the chilly ground is a good idea; a yoga mat + inflatable camping mat is better than either alone. A cot would be wicked. Bring gloves and warm socks, a warm hat, and maybe even a winter coat. A sweater/jumper is essential when the sun sets or the wind picks up.

Protection from sun. Sunscreen! You're going to be outdoors 24/7. When it isn't cold and raining in Tassie, it is sunny as hell. Slather up and consider a hat. If you are training, you'll be sweating, so have a water bottle to keep from dehydration.

Protection from rain. At least bring an umbrella and carry it with you every day, along with your sunscreen and a jumper. Honestly, you will likely need all three in one day. If it rains too much, training sessions can be canceled, so bring something to occupy yourself on a wet day, just in case.

Protection from dark. A torch is handy. There are no lights in the camping areas. The moon and stars are bright enough to light the oval, but not helpful when you're inside your tent.

Protection from pain. Training can be quite tough, so bring whatever you need to perform personal first aid. Painkillers, bandages, ointments for cuts, antiseptic lotions, arnica for bruises. Plus, there are aggressive biting ants, but crushed bracken root will ease that pain.

A carry bag. You will end up lugging your jumper, umbrella and sunscreen around with you, as well as your wallet and any training gear you need. A bag to put it all into is a smart idea.

Camping gear. A tent (or rent a camper van). Cooking gear as desired. You've been camping before so you know what you like in your camp site.

What to wear

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Jewelz has her own unique style!

For training, anything goes. Shorts, yoga gear, t-shirts or whatever you normally put on to train is great. Of course what that "whatever" is does vary by skill, so it's good to have some cross-purpose pieces in case you want to branch out and try something new. This year, there were lots of black tops and stretchy pants of various lengths - practical and can be worn more than once.

Layers are smart for peeling on and off as the weather changes. Shoes you can slip on and off make getting into your tent easier. Jeans are great in the evening. An extra jumper is essential all day long. My lightweight fleece jacket was on my body at least 12 hours a day. Something that blocks the wind would be useful.

At night during the public festival, the dressing stakes go waaaay up. The Bedouin Club is posh. Fur wraps (smart and warm!), vintage dresses, hats, full makeup, glitter, sequins, jewelry, handbags, and heels are du rigeur for ladies and men. Whether you choose a dressy or a quirky style, you want to look great. During the public festival, there are second hand clothing stalls to help you find the right pieces to complete your ensemble. I do recommend something warm to cover your shoulders on the walk from your tent to the club. (And do your makeup before sunset - it's challenging to make up well with a torch and a hand mirror in your tent!)

Other stuff to bring:

A notebook and pen. Take a few minutes to write down things you learned every day. There is so much to experience, you will be surprised when you review your notes at the end of the training. Good luck trying to describe those tricky physical moves but even a weird description may jog your body's memory.

Business cards. To hand out to people you want to keep in touch with. Just in case they didn't bring a notebook to write your name in.

A camera. Photos are a great way to capture memories and add to the documentation in your notebook. Snaps of stance, grip and those other hard-to-describe details can really help you take home the right information.

Ziplock bags. Useful for storing opened food packets, tidying your tent and keeping small things dry in the rain.

What not to bring

Video cameras. Still photography without flash is fine, but no videos. Stay in the moment and enjoy the magic. This can be frustrating when you want to capture something you are involved in, but suck it up and make your body do the remembering!

Cell phones. There is zero coverage, unless you are a lucky Telstra user who can find the magical square meter with one bar of reception. There is a booth under the pine tree with an old desk phone that takes prepaid cards (available at the Playground Cafe). There are sometimes long lines to use the phone. Don't promise daily calls home.

Bathing suit. There are no swimming facilities. There is a beautiful pond next to Tony's house, but it is for the platypus and duck. Look but don't dive in.

Zip ties and gaff tape. Waste, waste, waste.

Alcohol. There is plenty in the cafe and bar. Please support the festival by buying it in the licensed venues. And don't forget to put your empties in the recycling barrels.

Pets. Poochie stays at home. Cats and dogs don't do circus training. If your act includes a trained monkey or dancing bear, check with Tony, I guess! Children of all ages are welcome.

About the facilities:

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A peek at the showering, toilet and recycling area

It is a Zero Waste Site. Circus Fest is held on private property owned and loved by the man who runs the festival, Tony Rooke. He's lived there 40 years and the place is amazing. Do your best to keep it pristine. Pick up your micro-rubbish - the bits of wrappers, bottle caps and feathers that blow away or slip out of your hand...

There is extensive recycling for your use. You will dump your food scraps into composting bins, recycle glass, tin cans, cardboard, and plastic bottles. Don't forget to clean them out and crush them; don't be gross. Any other garbage you generate, you must take away with you.

There are two sinks for washing dishes near to the compost bins. There is a basin for doing clothes and a convenient clothesline near the showers.

There are three rustic shower stalls that are usually not very hot. To heat the showers, build a fire and wait 15 minutes or until the boiler makes a distinctive rattling noise. When the water cools, add more wood to the fire and wait again. There's one passive solar shower, too. There are also rather long lines for the showers at peak times, even with the 100 second shower water limit. Plan accordingly. Use organic, biodegradable soap and shampoo, please. Personally, I showered every other day and just wiped off the worst of the grime in between and dabbed on some tea tree oil. We were camping, everyone was sweaty and dirty and it didn't seem to matter too much. But maybe I would have made more friends if I had showered more frequently.

Toilets are a fascinating system at Circus Fest. First, there are urinals for men and for women. The men's is basically a tin-lined ditch behind a screen. Women have squat toilet style stalls - so learn to aim, ladies. The drop toilets with seats are for solid waste only, "no pee pee" Paper is provided. The stalls are cleaned every day and sprinkled with loads of lavender from a nearby farm. The odor is bearable and distinctive, though not pleasant.

It took a while to get my body learn to to stand in line, pee, stop, stand in another line, and then poo without peeing. But it was possible - 95% of the time, anyway. Many jokes and conversations revolved around the odd arrangement of the facilities, but we all seemed to manage with as much grace and good humour as possible.

About the workshops:

They are incredible. There is more to do than you can imagine. 60 workshops every day - some run as a course for the full five days, others are repeated daily, some riff on their topic depending on who attends. No matter what you decide to do, you'll learn heaps. Your fellow trainees have lots to share, too, so be prepared to make firends and pick brains. There is a great feeling of camaraderie during training.

The one thing I really didn't like about Circus Fest was the workshop sign-up process. There are two sign-up sessions and you are allowed to sign up for a certain few number of workshops for the whole week (eleven was the number, so about two workshops a day) with no repeats. After the official sign-up sessions are over and everyone has had their chance, the rosters are left open for anyone to fill in the gaps.

Ostensibly this is fair. But the mechanics of it are very awkward. There are long lines to get access to the 60 clipboards arrayed on tables, then it is an all-arms-and-pens crush to find the workshop you want and scribble your name. There is effectively nobody monitoring the number of workshops you sign up for, so anyone could cheat for more than their fair share. The geek in me thinks there would be a smoother computer-mediated solution, but that's not really in keeping with the offline spirit of the festival. Maybe if there were more space to move, or assigned times based on your ticket purchase date or your seniority at the festival or...I don't know. Something to reduce the stress of sign-ups would be good.

As it turns out, after the first couple of days, you get to know the instructors and they let you attend again whether you are registered or not (as long as there's not a limited number of props or gear). So it's all pretty chilled out in the end, but the signing up part was stressful.

Food and drink options:

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The Playground Cafe

Mealtimes are a little tricky - training starts at 11 and runs straight through until 6, but there are yoga and warm up sessions that begin at 8 am and there is a cabaret stage every night during training. There are no breaks for lunch or other meals unless you make them for yourself by skipping a session.

You might want a lot of easily carried, high calorie snacks to munch in the minutes between workshops. Dried fruit and nuts, crackers, stuff like that.

Our camping crew ate breakfast together every morning and we cooked dinner most nights. It was economical and a pleasant way to unwind and share our training notes before going to the cabaret. We ate well. I think next time, we'll take an esky to keep produce fresh a bit longer.

There are two restaurants plus a bar open during training. Restaurant meals are between 10 - 15 dollars and the menu is limited to your choice of the meal being served at Trevor's or the one at the Playground Cafe. Dinner is different every night; breakfast is always the same big plate of traditional yum (vegetarian at Playground, with bacon and/or wallaby at Trevor's). The food was consistently delicious. When the public come for the last three days, there are extra stalls and tents selling food.

Coffee is $3, soft drinks are available and various prices, and alcohol starts around $5. Be sure to try the homebrewed Horehound Mead. It's wonderfully bitter.

Water! "Bring your own" said the FAQ this year and that sort of startled me. A week's worth of water? That is a lot! You won't have to bring it all, but bringing some of your own (in the form of large jugs from home or from the supermarket en route to the property) is not a bad idea because there are only two spring-fed taps providing drinking water for 200 trainees. There is also water available for sale at the Playground Cafe for $1/litre.

On the day off:

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Zoupi liked the cafe in Scottsdale

The day off between the training and public festival is a good chance to restock and relax. We enjoyed a bit of shopping and lunch in Scottsdale, about 20 minutes drive from Lone Star. Alternately you can go to Lilydale, a similar village a bit further in the opposite direction from camp or all the way to the town of Launceston, about an hour's drive away.

In Scottsdale there is a Coles and a Chickenfeed ($1 store), several op shops and some lovely cafes. We restocked with produce and bread, did laundry, and generally had a nice day in civilisation that included four walls and air conditioning. It was a treat to use a toilet that flushed and offered hand soap. But it was awesome to come home to camp at the end of the day. Camp is good!

We arrived back just as the public were starting to arrive. We expected a long line of cars and campers, but it wasn't bad and we got to skip ahead through the side field to the entrance for trainees/crew/performers. The public and trainees camp in different sections of the property, so that security can be maintained for those of us with equipment and stuff.

Security:

Everyone is assigned a color-coded tag on a string on arrival. I tied mine around my neck and kept it on for the entire time - slept in it, showered in it, pretty much forgot it was there. Lovely necklace!

It's not so critical to wear it during training but at the public festival, your tag will get you the trainee discount in the restaurants, gives you access to the Bedouin Club, and allows you to enter the camping area. so do your best not to lose it, though we were told it was the string color that really mattered - the tags do tend to fall off.

We had no problems with theft or vandalism, but I would not take your very precious valuables to camp with you. Just in case.

Shifting from training to festival mode:

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The Birdmann leads the crowd in a round of applause

They are both fabulous experiences. During training you are working hard, forge new friendships, play with your craft and get into the spirit of living outdoors. During the festival you can relax and enjoy the spectacle of dozens of shows, feast and shop at the new stalls, and party as hard as you like. The festival crowds are bigger so the atmosphere is different. Someone described it as being invaded, but for me, it was much more of a celebration. I loved both parts of the event equally.

Krakow Stories

Stepping off the train into Krakow was like coming home. I can't explain the familiar feeling of this place, but it was utterly comfortable to be there. Even though I speak no Polish, it didn't matter. The people looked like folks from my childhood and were just as friendly. The buildings reminded me of some of the architecture in Pittsburgh. The food was heavenly, but that's a post all in its own.

Poland Itself

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Zoupi and the snowy Wisla River

I had no clue about Polish history, so it was a surprise to learn that Poland was once invaded by the Swedes. That was back in the day (let's call it 1600) when they formed a commonwealth with Lithuania and their borders stretched up to the Baltic Sea. And then there was that time that Poland ceased to exist entirely. For the whole 19th century it was split up and doled out to neighbors.

After WWI, Poland got its mojo back, but then got into a mess of horror during WWII. Faculty of the university in Krakow were rounded up and either killed or exiled. The university continued to teach classes in secret by meeting in people's homes. Pope John Paul II, one of Krakow's truly beloved, attended this underground college when he was a young man. During Communism, universities were reinstated and free to attend, but the church was where you went to learn about things outside Poland and to borrow contraband literature and movies.

Today many of the buildings in the Jewish quarter and elsewhere in town are crumbling to ruins because the original owners can't be found and can't be proven dead. All 65,000 Jews in Krakow were exterminated by the Nazis leaving no paper trail; and later on the communist state did nobody any favors when they redistributed the wealth of the landowners to the people. Some of the nobility got their buildings back after 1989, but many couldn't provide proof of prior ownership. It's a shame that the government doesn't find a way to resolved the untitled buildings.

And one silly thing: Polish is the cutest language. Lots of words end in y: Planty is the park that surrounds central Krakow; you can easily guess what lampy and laptopy are. Really Polish is a morass of consonants that are not pronounced as I expected. So I didn't try to speak much, though I did get good at "piwo" and "Żywiec"!

Chopin & Other Music

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Part of the 22 meter chandelier at Palace Bonerowski, where we heard a Chopin concert.

Krakow is very proud to claim Chopin amongst its luminaries. There are daily Chopin concerts; we attended one played by a Japanese pianist from Hachinohe, Kazuko Tsuji. It was a pleasure to hear Chopin played live in a lovely old palace building.

Our tour guide, Anna, recommended we get a recording by Rafel Blechacz who won the International Chopin Contest in 2005. He is one of the best pianists I've ever heard; listening to his CDs made me cry. Blechacz is highly expressive and interpretive.

I was surprised to hear music I know and like on the radio. One day, I heard Magnetic Man playing in a restaurant. That made me smile.

Shopping Mall Entertainment

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Christmas performance at the mall. Watch a video clip.

It was cold, so we sheltered in the huge Galeria Krakowska and did some shopping. There was lots of holiday buzz, including a gingerbread station, complete with oven and icing.

We stopped to watch these kids performing on the special holiday stage. There were a couple of standouts among the older kids - two girls who were developing an interesting stage presence, and one was a strong dancer. The older boys were quite lively and funny. In one number a girl sang a solo while all the boys pantomimed winter sports that devolved into a snowball battle, complete with pratfalls. At the end of the song, the boys zipped themselves out of their snowsuits to reveal tuxedos and stepped into place for the next piece. It was brilliant.

Christmas Market

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The Christmas Market glowed at night

The reason I wanted to go to Krakow in the first place was the Christmas market. It was delightful - stalls of kitchy stuff, but mostly lovely handcrafts, holiday decorations, stained glass, dishware, and lots of food. We ate and drank rather than buying lots of goods from the market, but that's just how we are. All the things I really wanted to bring home were just not going to make it - fresh mistletoe, candle wreaths, and more cookies that Tod would allow. (He let me have plenty, just not as many as I really wanted...)

Wieliczka Salt Mine

One of the things on our must-do list was the salt mine at Wieliczka. Like the ossuary at Sedlec, the salt mine is a UNESCO heritage property.

We had another transport adventure, taking the bus one way and the train back, but it didn't compare to the three hour, 3.5 km underground walking tour of this mine that's been in use since the 13th century. There were corridors and caverns, a chapel, salt chandeliers, salt lakes, some silly sculptures and some beautiful art.

One 30 meter high chamber was buttressed with huge, tree-sized timbers that were placed by hand in the relative dark of lamplight. What an accomplishment. People do such amazing things that it touches my heart to see their feats. I get all choked up over engineering.

During the tour we were encouraged to taste the walls; they were salty.

We waited for the shaft lift to take us back to the top with several other groups of people, including a couple of garrulous, drunk old-timers who got the evil eye from some of the more prim and proper ladies. One of them had a beaked nose that reached down almost to his upper lip. It was monumental. They reminded me a bit of the mill hunkies on the South Side of Pittsburgh and wondered if they might have been miners back in the day. (The mine stopped commercial operations in 1996).

Hotel Pugetow

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Me in bed taking notes about our adventures

I loved our hotel in Krakow. It is a little boutique place with just six rooms that was once the carriage house of the palace it's named for. Hotel Pugetow had the best staff - always friendly and helpful. We arrived very early on Saturday morning and not only did they let us leave our bags until check in, but they also gave us breakfast. And on our last day, when we came back to pick up our bags before our train in the evening, Anna the receptionist made us tea, brought out some slices of cake leftover from breakfast, and we sat and chatted for a while. It was a great experience.

Tokyo Sky Tree

sky tree

I've been sort of poo-pooing the fuss over the newest, tallest structure in Tokyo, the Tokyo Sky Tree. It's been hyped since before it was even begun in 2008 and ever since it got big enough to photograph well, it's been featured on TV, in magazines and well, everywhere you turn. Yeah, yeah. It's just another big tower to broadcast media. Whatever.

Well, today I caught a glimpse of it from the top of my street and suddenly, I just had to go there. I needed to make a pilgrimage to the Sky Tree and I couldn't stop myself. It didn't hurt that the day was almost 24 degrees, with blue skies and lots of fresh wind. I wouldn't be able to stay inside, even if I should be packing for Prague.

Destination Sky Tree!

So after checking the level of the river after this morning's huge rainstorm (it had risen, but only 30 cm or so) I took the bus to Ueno and the subway to Tawaramachi and walked to Asakusa. I stopped in and said konnichiwa to the deities, then crossed the bridge and walked to Oshiage.

The tower is huge and exceedingly impressive. It's gorgeous, a pure white lattice with oversize bolts and handles running up as far as I could see. The construction site is in constant motion with trucks crisscrossing the area, which will be a giant commercial complex with several buildings when Tokyo Sky Tree opens in Spring 2012. The tower is enormous. It will be the second tallest structure on the planet when it's finished (I had no idea) and at 511 meters currently, it is taller than the Empire State Building and Petronas Towers.

I wasn't the only one looking at the construction. There were dozens of sightseers taking pictures.I was surprised at home many people turned up to look at this unfinished tower. I can only imagine what it will be like when it is finished. Busy! I'll be there, for sure. I might skip opening day, though.

The surrounding neighborhood is taking advantage of this popularity. There are holiday lights in the shape of the tower, signs featuring the silhouette of the Sky Tree, and food specials in cafes'. A tiny storefront nearby selling calendars, keychains and other memorabilia was doing a brisk business today. I saw the manufactory where an old man was heat stamping wooden postcards with the Sky Tree logo. There seems to be a lot of secondary construction around, too - old buildings being rebuilt as money comes into the area.

I walked all the way around the tower site, taking in the back streets and viewing it from different angles until I'd had my fill of Tokyo Sky Tree. Then I walked all the way back to Ueno and caught the bus home.

It was a great day out and I shall poo-poo no more. Tokyo Sky Tree deserves the adulations and attention it gets.

Daidogei 2010

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Teatoro Pavana's giraffes towered over the crowded street.

Daidogei World Cup in Shizuoka gathered 96 street performers together for four days of performances on street and stage.

There was so much to see and so much to be inspired by! Tod & I stayed the night on Saturday so we could take in two days' worth of the schedule, but we still only covered a quarter of the performers. We could easily have been there all four days.

It's possible to simply wander the town and stop by all 36 of the venues to see performers in every category from world-class invitees to local clowns. Or you can get tickets to showcase stage shows where half a dozen acts perform. We did both and thanks to strangers, here are some videos!

Gypsy Gomez, hula hoop and balance; Anastasini Brothers, acrobats; Miss KuriKuri, roue cyr; Les Vitamins, acrobats.

My favorite act was the first one we came across, Cru Cru Cirque. We saw a crowd and wandered over. Stood on tiptoe on the very edge of a park bench with half a dozen old men; Tod had one foot on the bench and steadied himself on a pole. People passed under his arm trying to find spots closer in. Despite our precarious perch, we watch the show with great delight - juggling, acrobatic, theatre, dance and fire. Everything to love and shirtless Japanese boys, too.

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Kana and me after her act.

And I finally got to see my hooping friend, Kana, perform. This is her 6th year at Daidogei! She does a mix of hooping, balance, and dance all in super kawaii-style. Hers was the only show where the old men with cameras sat in the front row and the kids had to settle for places further back. Her true fans knew the act forward and backward!

I loved seeing so many different kinds of performers all at once. I learned a lot for my future hooping and circus-inspired acts.

  • Acts of two or more people never slow down.
  • Timing actions to music is exciting keeps the audience rapt.
  • Well-practiced skill is important but flubs can be covered with stage presence.
  • Patter is either important or unnecessary.
  • Performers on stage together must interact with intention towards a conclusion.
  • A sincere smile is engaging.
  • Wooden or unsmiling performers are nasty.
  • Repeating the same gag too many times makes the act flat and boring.
  • Pausing for applause is good.
  • Pausing to fiddle with props or music isn't so good.
  • Audience involvement and engagement is crucial, especially if you want money in your hat.
  • A big finish is easy for the audience to understand. Music stops, show over.
  • When you have a crowd around you, doing things on the ground gyps the people standing in the back.
  • Acrobatics always thrill me. I need to learn some.
  • There is a lot of crossover among skills and a unique take on yours is smart.
  • Exercise balls make brilliant props.
  • Poi moves can be done with beads, kendama, hoops, and almost two of anything...
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