MyID: 30 May 2002 into Heathrow Airport

Steven K.,

My ID:  7:07am, Thursday, 30 May 2002:  London Heathrow Immigration

United Airlines flight UA956 from New York-Kennedy

Unfortunately, my Initial Descent to the UK wasn’t the greatest. As my first foray overseas, I knew nothing about immigration, customs, or the world’s busiest international airport. As such, I booked a ticket from London’s Gatwick Airport to Dublin, Ireland, for about three hours after my scheduled arrival into Heathrow. I had calculated that the time to get between the two was about an hour, so that would be plenty. What I failed to account for, however, was the full hour it took me simply to clear immigration at Heathrow’s Terminal 3. With most North & South American flights, as well as many European flights and even some Asian flights, arriving in the morning, I learned first-hand that Heathrow can be very congested during these times.

By the time I finally cleared customs and made my way to Gatwick, my flight was long gone. I had to purchase another ticket…only to be informed that it was a bank holiday weekend and everything was full (this was also my first introduction to the terminology of “Bank Holiday”). Fortunately, I was able to purchase the last seat on the last flight available that day to Ireland, but into Belfast instead of my intended destination of Dublin. I took it, and ended up meeting the couple on the flight that I ended up staying with when I returned to London a month later—funny how things always seem to work themselves out.

LHR Customs

Not the easiest process in the world to go through…

MyID: 13 June 2002 in San Sebastian

IDsteve,

My ID:  8:18am, Thursday, 13 June 2002; San Sebastian (via train from Biarritz, France)

(Image credit: Keta/Wikipedia)

(Image credit: Keta/Wikipedia)

The moment I walked into this nice seaside town, I felt a good vibe. Being by the shore with palm trees reminded me of Southern California, one of my comfort zones.  I was also much more familiar with Spanish than some other languages, so I felt more confident to be able to communicate. Also, being from America, there were so many times I had stared out into the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia Beach or Brooklyn and wondered what was on the other side. Now, here I was, staring back.

(Image credit: Wouter Homs)

(Image credit: Wouter Homs)

I spent hours walking along the shore, and up a large hill to a statue of Jesus that overlooked the city. My favorite place was a rocky edge of the sea at the base of that hill, where the refreshing greenish-blue water rattled into a foam as if inviting me into a hot tub, with a strong smell of seaweed and saltwater consuming me. My friend said it reminded her of the Little Mermaid’s rock.

(Image credit: gospain.about.com)

(Image credit: gospain.about.com)

The weather was overcast—all I could see was a westward haze as the sea blended seamlessly into the sky—but I felt relaxed. And welcome.

MyID: 03 June 2002 Along the Rolling Rhine River Valley

IDsteve,

My ID:  5:23pm, Monday, 03 June 2002; just north of Bingen

A familiar sight around Germany

A familiar sight around Germany

I am some three hours into my German experience, on a train from Koln to Frankfurt, where I will begin my experience of this country. I’ve been trailing the mighty Rhine River pretty much since I first crossed the border from the Netherlands. Already, the beautiful, steep, rocky hills sharply bowing down to the wide, windy, barge-packed river, adorned by towns on both sides resting comfortably in the river valley full of steeples and an occasional old castle built into the side or at the top of a mountain, are etched in my memory.

Introduced to Germany via the rails

Introduced to Germany via the rails

I’ve heard Germans are timely, and my train connection in Koln was exactly that. And businesslike, too—everyone seems to be in a hurry. Even in the train station, there didn’t seem to be many people gathering, talking, laughing…just everyone going about their business. And while the Rhine River valley continues to wow me with its beauty, I am glad that I didn’t choose to study German in school—what an ugly sounding language!

(Note: I apologize about this, my German friends! But this is supposed to be a real, unfiltered account of first impressions, and this excerpt is straight out of the journal I kept from my first experiences in Europe in 2002!)

Approaching Koln

Approaching Koln

Easy connection in Koln

Easy connection in Koln

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SKK_5506

 

 

The Very Best of Japan’s Vending Machine Culture

IDsteve,

Japan is a model of efficiency in so many ways. I have often marveled at how a city like Tokyo, with one of the highest population densities in the world, seems to run like clockwork—people are on time to where they are going, they don’t fight, and everyone just kind of falls in line. It seems to all come down to organization and efficiency.

So in the spirit of efficiency, it should be no surprise that Japan is home to nearly six million vending machines, and I’m always astounded at what I may find next. As we showed you before, even restaurants take something from the vending machine culture.

While I was researching to tell you more about these amazing vending machines though, I found a wonderful post by Joe Schott on Heavy.com which tells the story better than I could hope to, so I will put it below for your enjoyment. Their choice of videos is hilarious. So without further adieu, from Heavy.com, we present to you:

The 20 Awesomest Japanese Vending Machines: Porno, Panties & Pringles

(Joe Schott/Heavy.com)

20-awesomest-japanese-vendi

Japan is absolutely nuts over vending machines. The island nation has around 5.6 million coin and card-operated machines. That’s about one vending machine for every 23 people. That is also more vending machines in Japan than people living in New Zealand. So one would expect with the competition that 5.6 million vending machines breeds, everyone is trying to make their vending machine stand out. This densely populated landscape has led to Japan having some of the most innovation and downright weird vending machines in the world. Come along with Heavy-san as we take you on a guided tour of Japan’s 20 Awesomest Vending Machines.

1. Smart Car vending machine

smart-car

Ever stare at your work’s vending machine and wish you could just buy a car instead of a bag of salted peanuts? Japan has. Now you can purchase a Smart Car from a vending machine, but it really sucks when the machine eats your money.

2. Pringles vending machine

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Oddly specific… here is a purely Pringles vending machine/game. No Pizza Pringles though? Come on Japan, that’s the best one.

3. Live Crab vending machine

live-crab-vending-machine

Now, this isn’t EXACTLY from Japan, it’s from China. But it is definitely in the same spirit, and makes a convincing case for top Awesomest Award. It is a live crab vending machine and the video below touches on some of the logistics behind stocking live crab and keeping them fresh (read: alive).

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4. Farm Fresh Egg vending machine

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A pretty bizarre choice for a vending machine considering you cannot eat uncooked eggs. The fresh eggs vending machine can net you a sack of eggs for about $2, but how does it deliver them to you without cracking? Check out the video below to see it in action.

5. Tommy Lee Jones (BOSS) Canned Coffee

Did you know Tommy Lee Jones jumped on the Japanese product endorsement gravy train? Well he did, and for BOSS canned coffee. Check out the above commercial where Jones plays an aggravated security officer who also happens to be an alien of sorts. The BOSS canned coffee vending machines also sport Tommy Lee’s mug in a strangely semi-aggressive profile pose.

6. Japanese Banana vending machine

Ever get the insatiable urge to eat 5 bananas? Me either, but apparently they do in Japan and the only cure is more vending machine. Check out the above video to see the bizarre contraption in action, and take note of the special banana peel garbage cans placed next to the machine.

7. Balloon vending machine

Ever have a crappy day and wish you had a smiley-face balloon to cheer you up? In Japan, they’ve got a vending machine for that!

8. Used Panty vending machine

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The lovely Alex Sim-Wise gets down and dirty with the soiled panty underworld that thrives in Japan. The above video has her entering a shop that sells various soiled panties, soiled by various girls. She then finds the “holy grail” of vending machines, a soiled panty dispenser. Only 30 bucks! Whattadeal!

9. Fried Chicken & French Fry vending machine

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The colonel was really caught sleeping on this one. How are you going to let Japan beat you to making vending machine fried chicken available 24 hours? Come on Sanders!

10. Just a Regular Cigarette vending machine….but….look at the bottom?

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Let’s take a closer look shall we?

 

 

 

That’s a Lot of Muscles!

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Huh, a supremely fit man smoking, giving off the impression that smoking is healthy for you… what’s on the side of this machine?

With Really Short Shorts…

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This is weird Japan…

11. Cup Noodle vending machine

cupnoodle

This is pretty great, actually if any of you want to steal my idea and become multi-millionaires, buy a license to sell these machines and install them at college dorms and campuses across the country. You’re welcome.

12. Crepe vending machine

crepe-machine

First Japan takes our fried chicken, a symbol of America, and puts it in their vending machines and now they take France’s crepes. At least they know France probably won’t do anything about it and if we weren’t so lazy, we’d take back our fried chicken too.

13. Weirdest Coke Machine Ever

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Like a cross between Stephen King’s IT and Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse, this coke machine is the stuff of your worst nightmares. In a cross promotion with Japan’s version of Lady Gaga, Coke rolled this doozy of an eyesore which dispenses nothing but Coca-Cola. What’s worse? To retrieve your coke, you must reach up this devil-clown vending machine’s skirt.

14. The Second-Weirdest Coke Machine Ever

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Not to be outdone by itself, Japan has a Coke Robot Vending machine that walks around Shibuya Station spitting out cokes and lazerbeams. Check out the video below to see the Coke Robot, dubbed “VENDING MACHINE RED” in action… kind of.

Vending Machine Red Commercial

15. Dildo vending machine

dildo-vending-machine

Yes, Japan doesn’t neglect their females vending machine needs.

16. Porno vending machine

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This is genius! Porno magazine vending machine! Finally, you don’t have to look guilt-stricken into the eyes of a 7-11 cashier when you buy your smut.

17. Pokemon vending machine

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It wouldn’t be a Japanese 20 Awesomest list without some kind of gaming reference thrown in. Check out this all-Pokémon vending machine.

18. Lettuce vending machine

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Duh, of course there is a lettuce vending machine where the lettuce grows artificially without any real sunlight. How else would you get your lettuce?

19. Beer vending machine

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Now we’re cooking with gas. Here is the single greatest use of vending machine technology ever in the world. A vending machine that vends beer. Pure, unadulterated genius. Also, how do they check your ID at these things? Eh, who cares, whoever made this should be granted a Nobel prize.

20. Classic Combo: Whiskey and M&M’s

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For around 6 bucks, you can be living real classy with the strangely awesome M&M plus Whiskey combo. Great idea, great effort.

MyID: 10 September 2010 into Guarulhos International Airport

Steven K.,

My ID:  10 September 2010; 9:00am; São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport

Japan Airlines Flight 16 from New York-JFK; Seat 71A

JFK-GRU

My first time…

Having rested comfortably in the first row of the upper deck of a JAL Boeing 747 (no, I wasn’t in business class—this configuration for JAL had economy seating upstairs), I was excited to see the rolling hills of northern São Paulo, coupled with the pockets of colorful, tightly-packed houses dominated by red shingle rooftops during the Descent into Guarulhos. Upon landing, I was welcomed on the apron by a bevy of white TAM airplanes mixed in with some from Europe (most notably Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa) waiting for their turns to fly, and a pretty long queue in immigration!

 

JL16 JFK-GRU

Enjoying the upper deck of a JAL 747

As I found my bus towards the city, Airport Service to Tatuape, I remember being nervous about my things, and keeping a keen eye on everything around me while holding my bags close. This was because of a misconception I had of Brasil having just been exposed to films like City of God (Cidade de Deus) and Bus 174, but before the bus even reached its destination, I was quick to understand what a misconception it was and felt entirely comfortable with my setting and the people around me.

JFK-GRU

Initial Descent into São Paulo

IDvenezia: Alone on the Ponte di Rialto…

Steven K.,

Enveloped in a nostalgic moment of seemingly monumental surrealism, alone I stood.  My watch read 4:24am, a full two hours before the groggy love eyes of the local merchants would turn Hollywood and hawk lace camicie and vases and fresh fruits and mysterious masks, before the throngs of tourists would open their groggy lovestruck eyes in search of a croissant and cappuccino and fill up for another day of waiting in lines and dancing and tripping over local phrases and swooning over the breathtaking ambiance of what was once a working-class industrial village while reminiscing of an evening escapade never ventured on before and unlikely to be duplicated, before the infinite winged-and-feathered landlords would appear from the cracks and crevasses and head to work in search of photographers and food, purveying a sense of ownership over this enchanted place.

In that mere two hours, this hallowed ground my feet embrace would come alive, as if needing to soak in the sun’s sweet rays to arise and become a bustling and vibrant celebration of a centuries-old culture and seconds-old adventure.  The peaceful and quiet, humbling serenity that overcomes me in ways beyond my mind’s capacity to understand will be long gone, but another page in the lore of travelers past.  Of merchants, gawkers and hustlers past. Of lovers past, present and future.  But for this moment, gone in an instant of eternal magnitude, only myself and my thoughts, however few, preside.  Just ten fingers and ten toes adding to the weight of this epic structure, this symbol of work and industry, of travel and trade, of fantasy and romance.  Not yet dawn, and I’ve experienced a feeling that most never get to have tickle their senses, a tribute to my inclination for the inspirational, for the innocent, for the unique, for the pure.  For a moment, this avenue, this bridge, this landmark, this city—they’re all mine.  And only mine.  But not to keep.

Yes, for it was 4:24am, and I was alone atop the Rialto Bridge.  Not a soul in sight either way.  Not two socialites wandering home from a night on the town.  Not two downtrodden poor looking for a bite to eat.  Not two lovers on a quest to find the key to this glorious village.  Just me.  I saw Christopher Columbus sail below me, and heard traces of Vivaldi escaping out of the flower-basket masquerades of half-open canalside windows.  I saw dancing lights reflecting on the calm waters, lining up like disciplined soldiers, always on guard to defend this heavenly homeland.  I saw love, and it stared me in the face and called my name, like the sirens that tempted brave Odysseus, perhaps in this very spot.  It pleaded and called, tried casting its spell on me, but I could see through it, I could see that it was clouding my senses. And yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought more clearly.

A portal only open to my vivid imagination.  A choose-your-own-ending novel in which I held the pen.  Empowered with the freedom of unlimited frequent-flyer miles, without having to pack a single bag or walk through a single metal detector.  Not just an eye-opening experience, but a universe-opening experience.  I felt like I was the first child in a long family line to learn how to read.  It all seemed to click.

Life.  Life.  LIFE!  The feeling of being alive!  What a blessing.  Created in the likeness of God, equipped with so many tools, so many gifts, without having to pay rent for our beautiful existence.

Venezia's Ponte di Rialto

MyID: 14 October 1979 into Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia

IDsteve,

My ID: 14 October 1979; Fairfax Hospital; Falls Church, VA

My Initial Descent into the East Coast was certainly unique among all of my Initial Descents, because it was also my Initial Descent into Earth.

Tired after MyID

Tired after MyID

I was born in northern Virginia, smack dab in the middle of the East Coast. I don’t think anyone can honestly say they remember any details about their first few years, and the same goes for me. But according to the Baby Book my parents were so thoughtful to keep, it seems as though my first impressions of life on the East Coast were good—enough food, candy, cartoons, playgrounds and friendly neighbors to keep any kid happy.

Weighing in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces

Big Bro's first look

Big Bro’s first look

But when it comes to the Initial Descent spirit of tracking people’s first impressions of a culture and the people they encounter within it, you’ll have to ask someone else when it comes to the East Coast. Or better yet, share your story—we’d love to hear it!

 

Simbang Gabi: Height of the Christmas Season in the Philippines

Steven K.,

Christmas is one of the world’s most widely-recognized and celebrated holidays. From Europe’s Christmas markets to the USA’s holiday shopping frenzy, in some places it is difficult to walk down the street without knowing that Christmas is approaching. Nowhere, however, is Christmas a bigger deal than in the Philippines.

Here, you may start hearing Christmas carols as early as September, and you aren’t likely to see any Christmas decorations come down until the Feast of Santo Niño de Cebu on the third Sunday of January.

The peak of the Filipino Christmas season begins on December 16th, with Simbang Gabi. This term, meaning “night mass”, features daily pre-dawn masses from the 16th through Christmas Eve, a total of nine. It is believed that God grants the special wish of anyone who makes it to all nine.

In more devout parishes, these masses take place between 3:00am and 5:00am, although in some places (especially in Filipino-heavy parishes outside of the Philippines), the masses are held the preceding evening. Traditionally, attendees follow the mass by having coffee or hot chocolate along with traditional foods, such as bibingka (a cake made with rice flour and eggs) or puto bumbong (a sticky purple rice coated in brown sugar and coconut).

A poster advertising Simbang Gabi masses at a U.S. church

A poster advertising Simbang Gabi masses at a U.S. church

IDtokyo: Blue Light Special

Steven K.,

Tokyo Train Station

If you’ve ever been to Japan, or even heard of Japan, you’re probably well aware that trains run on time in Japan. In the rare instances where your line isn’t on time—even by so little as 60 seconds—you won’t be able to iPlug your ears tight enough to miss the several profuse apologies being issued by any and every train employee.  Ten minutes, and you might even get your money back.

In the rare event there is a delay, I’m amazed at the clarity and efficiency with which it is communicated, from reasons for the delay to alternate travel options, if necessary.  This being despite the fact that 99% of these delays are caused by reasons beyond the feasible control of the actual train operators—heavy rains, winds, snows, or the all-too-common “Human Accident”.

Err—suicide.

In what is such a remarkably efficient and plentiful country with such remarkably kind and humble people, it is hard to imagine suicide being such an epidemic, yet Japan has consistently had more than 30,000 suicides a year for more than a decade—ranking in the world’s top 10 per capita.  Undoubtedly, this is partially attributable to the societal

expectation of being “successful” in Japan and the pressure and stress associated with it, but the recent surge has been fueled by unemployment and financial hardship that was spawned by a 1997 stock market burst from which Japan’s economy has never fully recovered (and even more recently the global financial crisis of the past two years).

In regards to the train system, last year approximately 2,000 of these suicides were carried out by victims jumping in front of trains.  After experimenting with installing mirrors at several stations, playing on the assumption that it would be harder to carry through with such an act if you are seeing your own reflection in front of you, Japanese railway operators are now installing these fluorescent blue light fixtures at a growing number of stations (like Japan Rail’s Ogikubo Station pictured here, as well as the entire Yamanote Line looping central Tokyo).  While this methodology is no more scientifically proven than the mirror logic, the idea is to leverage therapist claims that a drony, blue light has a calming effect on agitated people, or people obsessed with a particular thing, in this case committing suicide.  Rather than give the entire station a bright, eerie blue overhaul, the re-designers are focusing their attention on the first two light fixtures of each platform, as the vast majority of these “human accidents” occur at the part of the platform where the train is moving the fastest and there are fewer crowds.

Hopefully the blue lights will help, but surely won’t help as much as the potential of a rebounding global economy…