Idalou, Texas

I kicked off the first leg of my Quadrangle of Awesomeness tour in Idalou, Texas starting back on October 30.  I will be here till Wednesday morning (November 3rd) when I depart for Italy. Idalou, located near Lubbock, Texas, the home of Texas Tech University, is a small town of 3000 peoples. And like all of Texas, it is filled with big hats and even bigger hearts. My sister and her husband’s family all live in the area with his mother living just a two-minute walk away from their home. My nephews’ school is only an additional one-minute from their grandmother’s home. Like the last time I visited Idalou and the area, I forgot that the area is approximately 3,900 feet above sea-level being, as it is, closer to New Mexico than it is to Dallas-Forth-Worth.  Between the thin and dry air, I find myself pleasantly taking a couple of naps throughout the day.

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Me, My Backpack and I

I bought a custom-built VeloTransit back-pack based on their Chinatown 30 Messenger bag a week or so back.  I met the owners and lovely married couple, Paul and Bobbie, back when I was at INSCAPE.  Both Paul and Bobbie have lived and travelled extensively throughout Europe and so they are both intimately knowledgable about the kind of traveling I prefer to do: minimalist packing regardless of duration.

When I laid eyes on their messenger bag I knew it was the pack I had been searching for for many, many moons.  To say I was giddy with excitement may be one of the biggest understatements in the year of 2010 regarding myself.  I believe I squealed out-loud like the little girl that I am not when I saw it.  While I already own a rigid-frame pack that I used the last time I was in Europe for four weeks and then in Japan for two weeks, I came away from those two trips with the distinct impression that I was carrying too much.  Where there is room there is stuff I found myself trying to fill.  So I decided I needed to go on a diet and VeloTransit had a solution.

The modifications to the pack include increasing the depth by 1-inch to accommodate my camera gear. We also removed the reflectors that most cyclists will sanely never be with out.  I also asked Paul to include a zipper flap that goes over the shoulder straps in the cases where I need to check-in the back-pack; this is to reduce the likelihood of the pack getting stuck and subsequently devoured by nefarious airport luggage machinery.

I am packing a MacBook Pro 15″, Nikon D90 with 2 lens, a GPS unit, tripod, clothing, toiletry, a few sketchbooks, and various electronics such as iPod and iPhone.  The laptop is secured to the back-bottom portion of the pack with its own neoprene sleeve to keep it safe and secure.  It all fits in a size that allows me to carry-on to both domestic and international flights.  At present I am weighing in at around 35 pounds.  Everything in the pack can be removed and re-packed fairly quickly so even security at the airports should not pose (too much of) a problem.  And naturally, given the fact that Paul and Bobbie make packs for the cyclists in Seattle, the entire thing is water-proof so I am good to go even when traveling in Europe in the middle of November.

Custom-built VeloTransit Backpack based on their Chinatown 30 Messenger Bag. And because I work on AmazonTote I had to mod my pack with one of our tapes that reads "I'm too big to fit in my tote bag."

Dangerous Business Going Out Your Door

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Well, I am off in less than a week to parts unknown!  Well, I know where I am going (sort of).  I will start by visiting my eldest sister and her family in Idalou, Texas for Halloween.  From Texas I am off to Rome, Italy where I will take a slow train down to Foggia, Italy.  Once there I will spend a week visiting one of my best friends Dave and his family.  At some point I will determine how to get myself to Greece where I hope to take even more photographs, write, and enjoy whatever might unfold.  I have a ticket to take me from Athens to Dubai where I will spend the last five days soaking in some sun and sand.  It is what I call the Quadrangle of Awesomeness.

Me and my back

And after three weeks on walking and taking pictures and visiting friends and family it is planned that I return to Seattle.  I suspect I will return if for no other reason than my mother and father are visiting me for Thanksgiving.  But a part of me does not want to return, albeit I mean this more metaphorically than physically or literally.  My heart?  Will it return with me?  I suspect I will go to sit with it and do by and by wait with it for a dearest friend to stop and say hello.  And I also suspect my heart may decide to stay there in the lingering waves of that sand dune heat to wait some more.  But that is another story.

I have come to realize that deep down I am a Traveller.  I am not just a traveler of places, but a Traveler of ideas and peoples and cultures and experiences.  When I first read “Lord of the Rings” so many decades ago I instinctively understood Bilbo’s warning to his much younger nephew Frodo even if at that time I still had not been much further than to the cornfields at the edge of our manicured lawns of Turk Hill Estates.  It is dangerous not because there be monsters at edges of the world, it is dangerous because it forever goes on from one experience to the next.  A world of infinite ideas and emotions and perspectives to try to understand and to minimally honor through acknowledgement.  I do not know where I am being swept off to, but unlike Bilbo I may be a bit more prepared: I have my hat, favorite walking stick and even a bit of monies in my pocket.

Ward’s Pics Debut

My new photography site, Ward’s Pics, makes its debut today.

While I have enjoyed sharing with everyone my photographs on Facebook, ultimately the quality of the uploaded pictures leaves much to be desired.  While Flickr is a better alternative, still I wanted something that gave me a bit more control for self-expression.  And frankly, I am a bit anal about things.  Well, after wrestling with 1200+ lines of amateur PHP code for an open-source project to do just that, I finally broke down and bought a subscription to SmugMug earlier today.  It was not that said project did not have a lot of things going for it; but, I really want to focus on getting my photographs online, not fight with copy-and-paste code just to re-sculpt a theme to my (anal retentive) likings.  And smug I am for doing it.  It took only a matter of minutes to update the CSS to get the default template to follow a common-look-and-feel with this site.  And David Holme’s excellent Aperature plug-in allowed me to quickly create new galleries to upload my photographs.

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But the real news for many of you will be that you can now get prints!  Many of you have often mentioned, even pined, how much you wished you had a printed copy of one of my photographs.  And honestly, it is the greatest of flattery I receive when someone tells me not only how much they like a picture I took but that they also want to hang it on a wall and look at it everyday.  And now you can!  SmugMug supports both traditional prints, merchandise such as t-shirts and mugs, and even download (when I decide to go this route and license my photographs).  Eventually I would love to make enough money from my photographs to help subsidize the cost of equipment; but, as with all things it is three snap-shots forward one over-exposure backwards kind of adventure.



I recently visited Japan from April 1 to 11, 2010.  While there I visited with friends and (host) families in Nagoya, Kyoto, and Kanazawa.

It is difficult to fully explain or otherwise describe both the experience and impact of visiting Japan.  Japan has long been a place of particular and special importance to me.  In many ways one might say there are two me’s; an American version that you know as Ward and a Japanese version by the name of 和道.  Beyond this there is little I can find in words that can succinctly explain this to people.  At best I can, the better of me finds a voice in Japan(ese).


On Thursday (April 1) I left Seattle for Nagoya.

On Friday (April 2) I arrived in Nagoya where one of my best friends, Yasuo KITANE (北根安雄) and his family made room for me in their home.  Both Yasuo and their soon-to-be 4 son, Hiroki, met me at the airport.  While their 18-month-old daughter, Sawako, was frightened by my presence on the first night, she quickly warmed to me on the following day and we quickly became best friends.  Hiroki and I enjoyed creating sentences on his Pokemon toy.  His favorite being “Ward looks like a gorilla” (わどうわごりらみたい).

On Saturday (April 3) the KITANE family and I went to Yamazaki River (山崎川) where we enjoyed Saturday morning with a casual stroll with others enjoying the Spring weather amongst cherry blossoms.  Afterwards, Yasuo went to Nagoya University to prepare for the new students and I spent the afternoon on my own using メーグル, a Nagoya tourist bus, to visit both Nagoya Castle (名古屋城) and Tokugawa Garden (徳川園).

On Sunday (April 4) we all took the car and visited Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮) which is about a 2-hour drive from their home.  Ise Jinguu (shrine) is arguably the center of Japan’s Shinto-world.  The central shrine is reconstructed and moved every 20 years as has been done for over 1300 years.  This both serves as an important aspect of the valuation of renewal in Shinto and as a more practical purpose (especially in modern times) of ensuring these particular building skills are preserved.

On Monday (April 5) I took the Shinkansen from Nagoya to Kyoto.  I found a last-minute great deal (7000 yen per night) at Kyoto Garden Palace (京都ガーデンパレス) which is situated directly across the old Palace (御所).  I decided to walk the 4.2 kilometers from Kyoto station to the hotel in the middle of hot, humid day.  While that distance is nothing for a jog, it is another thing when done with a large hiking pack strapped to your back.  I did not let this stop me from visiting the palace and Kamogawa Park (鴨川公園) relatively near to the hotel.  I then spent the evening out and about window-shopping and having an absolutely perfect meal at a yakitori joint.

On Tuesday (April 6) I woke early (5:30 AM) to get out and visit the Palace grounds and walk along Kamogawa to get some more pictures of cherry blossoms in the early light.  I then made my way down to Kiyomizudera (清水寺) where I enjoyed a number of shrines and temples in the relative absence of other tourists (and entrance fees).  I did spend 600 yen to visit Koudaiji (高台寺) which is some of the best money I spent during my visit.  I spent a good hour next to the rock garden relaxing in the shade and taking pictures.  A bit further south I visited Chourakuji (長楽寺) and its Buddhist cemetery which is a bit off the main trail of tourists that by this time in the morning had begun to appear.  I did the obligatory visit to Maruyama Park (円山公園) which is hallmark to sakura viewing in Japan.  Sadly, I found much of the park cluttered with litter that sufficiently detracted its appeal to me such that I quickly moved on.  I eventually immersed myself with the ebb and flow of tourists till I ended  up at Chionin (知恩院) where another well-spent 300 yen earned me entrance to a set of temples well worth visiting numerous times to appreciate it all.  While by this time in the afternoon my feet began to feel the exhaustion of  10 kilometers, I decided to end my afternoon at Nijyou Castle (二条所).  Much of the beauty of this place is inside its buildings with its many ink paintings; sadly photography is forbidden and so I have little to share other than to encourage you to go and visit it yourself!  I again spent the evening out and about, finding myself another place to enjoy an unbelievably delicious dinner of Japan-domestic chicken.

On Wednesday (April 7) I spent the morning doing some shopping at Kinokuniya for books and gifts while walking another 6 kilometers or so through Kyoto looking at neighborhoods.  I took the express train from Kyoto to Kanazawa where my friend, Mark, met me.

On Thursday (April 8 ) I spent most of my day visiting with one of my (host) families, the Demura family.  It has been many years since they have heard from me (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog) and so there was much ground to cover catching up with each other.  I spent the afternoon with my aunt and uncle who took me out for lunch and then decided they wanted to join me in seeing Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) and Kenrokuen (兼六園) together.  I spent the late afternoon at their home relaxing and hanging out with everyone till I met up with Mark later that evening for dinner.

On Friday (April 9) Mark and I spent the day hanging out together.  He took me to a macro-biotics place near his home for lunch.  I must admit I could eat at this place every day and never tire of it.  We drove out to Kanazawa University (金沢大学) where he and I shared our memories from our shared time there some 12 years prior. It is delightful to remember all the different places we all hung out and many places I had forgotten until we saw them.  The university has increased in physical size with the relocation of the engineering department.  It truly feels much more like a real university than ever before.  There is also a significant amount of infrastructure put in place near the university that has helped foster the commercial district.  Given that I did not get as much time as I would have liked taking pictures, Mark and I returned to Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) and Kenrokuen (兼六園).  He and I had a great dinner and then ended the evening at his favorite jazz joint.

On Saturday (April 10) I spent the morning Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) where I purchased a safe-driving charm (交通安全守り).  The shrine is one that I often visited when I was living in Kanazawa and holds a special place in my heart.  I then walked over to もっきりや (Mokkiriya), a jazz cafe where I spent many an afternoon enjoying a glass of beer while reading when I lived in Japan.  I then grabbed a taxi back to the train station to catch an express train back to Nagoya.  I spent the evening with Yasuo and family, quietly enjoying each other’s company over a home-cooked meal.

On Sunday (April 11) I left Nagoya for Seattle.


Below is a list of the places I visited along with links to the various photo-albums.  The links require an account on Facebook.  I listed most of the places I visited.  In some cases I decided I not to publish pictures on Facebook in so much as I felt the quality of the pictures did not warrant it.

Alternatively, you can see most all of my photos at my gallery in their original format.  I suggest using my gallery if you are interested in print-quality versions.

Nagoya (名古屋), April 2 to 5

Yamazaki River (山崎川)

Nagoya Castle (名古屋城)

Tokugawa Garden (徳川園)

Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮)

Kyoto (京都), April 5 to 7

Palace (御所)

Kamogawa Park (鴨川公園)

Kiyomizudera (清水寺)

Koudaiji (高台寺)

Chourakuji (長楽寺)

Maruyama Park (円山公園)

Chionin (知恩院)

Nijyou Castle (二条所)

Kanazawa (金沢), April 7 to 10

Kanazawa Castle (金沢城)

Kenrokuen (兼六園)

Oyama Shrine (尾山神社)