Saturday, April 30, 2011

Baja Brouhaha

Right after the dawn of the millennium, the “Escalera Nautica Blueprint” appeared on the horizon of Baja California, a mega project surrounding the Sea of Cortez to construct 20 new airports, 10 commercial ports, a string of marinas, 34 golf courses, a dozen new hotels, 6500 condos and connecting superhighways / sea ferries. Escalera Nautica means Nautical Staircase and I thought the time has come for Baja California to make a decision and polish this "rough diamond". I saw the beneficiaries-to-be jumping on the bandwagon, but National Geographic magazine raised the question “Can Mexico Wild Baja California Endure New Marinas?” and I have watched the debated developments, which has taken years.

According to 2009 news reports in a number of Mexican publications, FONATUR (Federal Tourism Promotion Fund) has announced that the much ballyhooed Nautical Ladder's final form has been canceled and the assets of the 10 projects that have either been completed or partially completed will be sold. FONATUR, which over the past six years received more than $1500 million pesos of investment for the project from the federal government, made clear that they no longer have a budget to further invest in the project.

Alas, the ambitious project seems to have disappeared like a soap bubble! - another Baja brouhaha. The one I remember was a story of Japanese Zaibatsu hotelier, who showed a keen interest in developing a fishing port facing the Sea of Cortez into a Disney style hotel resort with tennis courts, golf courses and activities such as whale watching, sports fishing, scuba diving, bungee jumping, ...etc. and that was when I arrived in San Diego in the 1970s.

Baja California is the 4th longest peninsula, after Kamchatka, Malaysia, and the Antarctic Larsen. It is approximately 1500 km (932 miles) from Tijuana or Ensenada to La Paz on Highway 1. The bus ride takes more than 24 hours. I have heard from my friend that he drove all night on a grueling ride returning from Cabo San Lucas back to San Diego. It was during the safe old days when you did not encounter thugs.

My first trip to Baja was a chartered Cesna to Loreto. I saw Picacho Del Diablo, the Devil Mountain and Sierra San Pedro and the mirror-like surface of the Sea of Cortez on the way. We were a party of scuba beginners and the shortage of scuba gear in Loreto forced us to relocate to the beach at Nueva Guayama, or San Carlos, mainland Mexico, where we enjoyed not just scuba diving but the view of the distinctive and mystic “Tetakawi” Twin Peaks. My Baja experience is an accumulation of multiple weekend mini family and golfing trips, both personal and company events to Tecate, Mexicali, San Felipe, Tijuana, Rosarito Beach (where we saw a replica of the 882 foot Titanic used for the film), Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada, Punta Banda (blow hole), Baja Mar, etc. I was invited to my son-in-law’s bachelor party to cross the San Ysidro border for an “all the lobster you can eat” treat. Baja Mar Golf Course was called the Pebble Beach course south of the Border, hazards included cactus thorns. My wife and I took a cruise to Ensenada on a luxury boat with my son and his wife.

Great things in Baja: You don’t have to worry too much about the weather since it is very stable throughout the year. Yes, they have hurricanes sometimes and rain creates big rivers (once you start to cross, there is no going back) and turns city streets into a pool of sewage, but that’s very rare. All Nippon Airways, the second airline in Japan used to have their young pilots stationed in San Diego to practice landings at Tijuana Airport. In the 1970s, I was informed the commercial airplane rental for practice was $1,000 an hour and it was less than the price they paid in Okinawa where their practice schedules were subject to frequent changes because of weather conditions.

I rented cars twice - once an old beat up VW micro bus for a round trip from Loreto to Mulege with my Hewlett-Packard friend from Palo Alto; the other a rather decent car in Los Cabos to drive to La Paz and Todos Santos. Probably my total mileage in Baja was less than 600 miles. But I have enjoyed every minute watching fields of boojums, tasting local dishes, engaging in bonito fishing and enjoying the gorgeous beaches.

I have seen posters and DVDs periodically about The Baja 1000, billed as the world's longest nonstop race, spanning 1,000 miles off-road and all terrain, through the Mexican desert from Tijuana to La Paz-- pretty much the entire length of Baja. I’m surprised they celebrated almost 40 years of the race with 1,000 racers and support teams and more than 200,000 spectators. Well, I wish them the best of luck in carrying on the event and someday reignite Baja’s drive to fly a balloon high that is not just full of hot air.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Viva Bajo Tierra!

The world watched with bated breath the miracle of thirty-three miners, who were trapped 700 meters (2,300 ft) underground in a mining accident in San Jose Mine (Copiapo, Chile), as they were brought back to the surface after surviving for a record 69 days.

That happened during the end of October 2010. I have just finished reading the first book recently published in Japanese that dealt with this event, roughly five months after the accident. The author is Manuel Pino Toro, a Chilean journalist. The book was translated by a group of Japanese women, headed by Reiko Omatoi - a very speedy accomplishment, which might keep late coming versions at bay. At one time, Camp Esperanze, so named with everybody’s expectations, embraced 2000 people including various professionals (engineers, drillers, doctors and psychologists, NASA), politicians, news media, priests, caterers, not to mention the families of the 33 miners. More books will surely follow and their translations.

I felt the strength of the book was in the behind the scene stories and accounts taken from direct conversations and interviews the Chilean author had with the miners and their family members in Spanish. Most of the headlining stories were already reported on the Web, such as the discovery of a memo scribbled in red ink “estamos bien en el refugio, los 33” attached to the drill bit, the selection of drilling machines, and details of the rescue “Fenix (phoenix)” capsule to lift up 33 miners one at a time.

I believe my guess was right. Families voiced their opinions and banded together to start a law suit. They did not want the whole case to be settled simply as an accident but as a crime with punitive charges against Compana Minera San Esteban, the employer, for being negligent and violating safety rules despite past accidents. Families also demanded using an alternate breakthrough method using explosives as suggested by Juan Ramirez, a fellow expert miner, to get to the trapped miners but were dissuaded by the company. Instead the company used the time consuming drilling method, which they claimed was less risky.

I’d like to point out two interviews in the last two chapters - one "Dios en carne y Hueso" with Jose Henriquez, a preacher and a miner for 33 years and second "Hijos del Desierto (Sons in the desert) with Victor Zamora, born into a mining family.


In the case of Jose, Toro’s interview took place at his home in Talca, 250 km south from Santiago, known for hat chain shops “Talca, Paris & London”, mild climate and greeneries. Jose tactfully escaped the media and settled down finally with an honorary citizen award of San Clemente, the city where he was born. Jose confided their survival was nothing less than a miracle. Based on his previous experiences of surviving accidents, he knew how to act and appoint roles to individuals. After exhausting all options, they started to pray with Jose as a spiritual leader.

“I told guys God is with us. Let God guide us all! I’m an Evangelist. If that is acceptable and sharable, let’s pray together. I talked about what I know from Bible, I answered their questions." "The hardest thing was the unbearable temperature. But once communication was established, we were all encouraged to live on. We appreciated all the stuff sent down, food, water, high-tech LEDs, video cameras, Bible, …, etc."


My duty was to check how much food was available in the refugio, with a flickering lamp about to go out. The finding was very disappointing. There was only food for two days, but there were enough spoons and forks for 100 people. We had milk but it was spoiled. There were 19 cans of tuna and 15 liters of water. We decided we would have to accept the situation and follow a rationing plan. We ate very little at a time. Each person equally took one spoonful of tuna in 12 hours. Then one spoonful after 24 hours, then one after 36 hours, then another after 48 hours, …, etc. After a few days, only one can of tuna was left. We didn’t touch it. We kept it to symbolize our survival. Jose helped us a great deal in organizing everything. I felt calm listening to Jose’s talk and felt reassured of my survival. “To get God’s blessing, you have to love your neighbors”, he wrote to his mother from underground.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Earthquake / Tsunami Update on a Fellow Toastmaster

One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin', "Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right."
Sayin', "Let's get together and feel all right."
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa

- Bob Marley (1945-1981)
named song of the millennium by BBC


Safety of all Kesennuma Toastmaster members confirmed as of April 8. They had two members who had been out of contact after March 11. One member resides in Tome City, bordering between Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. Tome is about 30 to 40 kilometers from the coastline. The other member resides in Rikuzen Takada, in Iwate Prefecture. Rikuzen Takada faces the ocean but his house was not inundated by tsunami as it stands at higher ground. This news is from the Web site Kagurazaka Toastmasters in Koenji started under the yellow banner initiative. It carried a photo of four spirited Kesennuma Toastmasters.


A special impromptu writing corner at the recent Taiwan Toastmasters Convention (April 22-24) in Taipei to encourage fellow Japanese Toastmasters. 加油 pronounced "jiayour" means "Fight". Each pasted a pad of note of encouragement with his or her signature.


I sent the following message to my overseas friends, Toastmasters and personal alike about a week after March 11, to which responses returned in drove. I thought I should share these responses with more people rather than keeping it to myself, so I’ve decided to post summaries as a blog extra. Thank you for all the messages you sent me with your prayers.

When I found the name Kesennuma among the cities hard hit by the Tohoku Earthquake, I immediately thought of Daniel Ross, founder of Kesennuma Toastmasters. I met him years ago in one of the District Conferences featuring speech contests in Tokyo. His name card read "Owner of Pine Rock School". Perhaps it was before the Kesennuma club was founded. He was quite a likable man. I only knew Kesennuma by name as a famous fishing port of saury and the bygone gold mines. So I asked him how he liked it there. He told me the city is small (pop. 73k), but he likes it because it has retained a natural beauty and small town charm with all the amenities that a bigger city has to offer.

I was happy to hear he was “OK” from a fellow Toastmaster. But that was the only status given on the people finder website.

Today, I got the latest message from the same source and felt really relieved to see it was written by him.

Indirectly reported was his message to his mother in Florida. He said he and his wife were safe. Their house survived the earthquake and tsunami because it stood on higher ground. Among the relatives an elderly aunt of his wife was still missing. On March 11, the port and business of Kesennuma were completely wiped out by humongous tremors and tsunami that followed. The huge oil and fuel tanks for steamers exploded and burned oil at night at the seaport. There was no power, no phones, no Internet, and no water whatsoever. Even cell phone signals were completely out or usage blocked so emergency services can use them exclusively. 15,000 dead in Miyagi. Many others are still missing. Innumerable now in evacuee shelters.

Here are the replies I got back:

Thank you Rio. Believe me, the people of the world have their hearts vibrating in emotion for the people of Japan. It will be a long time, but the Japanese people will put their world back together. I often wonder how many Japanese people are somehow thankful that this calamity did not come upon them by the hand of other human beings. I think about that every day when I join you in spirit.

- Paul (CA, USA)

I was out of the country during the terrible earthquake and tsunami; I hope you are all safe and well. Is there anything I can do to help? You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

- Paula (IN, USA)

Thank you Rio for sharing. So sad what has happened to Japan. The people of Japan are a model to the rest of the world in their behavior and tenacity. Stay well,

- Mikkie (FL, USA)

Aloha, Rio,
During the War time I was evacuated with my elementary school to Tanakura, Fukushima-Ken. The village is too far inland to be affected by a tsunami but may have sustained damages from the earthquake. Since my departure from Japan in 1955, I have not ventured to Tanakura, but did visit Koriyama with a tour group from Atsugi Naval Air Facility.

- Young (HI, USA)

It goes without saying that my sympathies are with the families suffering from the tsunami and earthquake and nuclear disaster that followed. The only ray of sunshine on the whole matter is that the people of Japan are resilient and do have the will and the means to eventually recover from it. Of course the loss of lives is not a recoverable feature of the will of the people, and the tragedy continues to go on as more bodies are recovered and more missing never found again. My heart goes out to those who were.

- Fred (CA, USA)

I am glad that you were not directly and physically affected by the tsunami or the quake. My heart goes out to those who were.

- Fred (San Diego, CA)

We have just returned from a six week trip and I do not think I wrote to you, though my thoughts were with you during the horrific news coming from Japan. I am relieved to hear that you and your family are safe. We were in Bali when the disaster struck and as you may know there was a small earthquake there the same night. We were flying to Australia as the news of the Tsunami broke...and we missed the initial coverage of what was going on. Of course our family was worried sick since there were at the same time tsunami warnings for Bali and Australia...none materialized, thankfully. But we didn't even know about the threat...also thankfully. We continue to pray for the safety and recovery of those who survived the disaster. Sending you good wishes for your family and countrymen.

- Joanne (NY, USA)

Thanks for the update Rio. It must be terrible to be in the middle of this tragedy.

- Allan and Angela (Canada)

Myself, friends and family here in Canada are concerned about my friends in Japan and the devastation your country has experienced. Sending you and everyone in Japan healing thoughts.

- Cristy (Canada)

Thanks so much for all your emails. It's great to know that you are doing ok. It's disheartening to see the images of Japan on the news and I could imagine how the local residents feel having to cope with the recent events. I have been thinking about the friends I met at Takarazuka Club. Have you heard from them by any chance? I sincerely wish them well.

- Reamick (Canada)

Glad to learn this morning that the nuclear crisis is finally wrapping up. Best to Japan!

- Lucien (Canada)

Yes the earthquake in Japan was/is terrible. We thought all the calamities in Australia were bad enough but they were absolutely nothing compared with the devastation in Japan. All those poor people missing and now the Nuclear catastrophe.

- Jose (Australia)

Glad to hear Daniel Ross is okay. The figures of the dead and missing are tremendous, so a small city may be completely wiped out, but not Kesennuma. I vaguely remember that around January 1, 2011, there were predictions made by various people who have predicted correctly in the past. As I recall I think some of the prediction were that the year 2011 would be a "hard" year both in natural disasters and in man-made (Middle East countries) disasters. It seems to me that those predictions have come true. So if there are other planets that are populated in our galaxy and other galaxies, then I hope we can find them and see what their secret to peace may be. The young man that was teaching in one of the international schools and who I thought was in the Tokyo area has shown up at his mother's apartment in Brunei, so at least Imran is safe.

- Shirley (Australia)

I still remember your speech about volcanoes at the Morris Gellman club in Buenos Aires and your several trials to climb Mt. Fuji. In some way or other you were then predicting these circumstances. I have my doubts if anyone could imagine what you are experiencing these days. It is nice we can hear from you once more. Our best regards from all Toastmasters members in Buenos Aires. I personally accompany you with my prayers.

- Lidia, U-4151 Morris Guellman Toastmasters Club (Argentine)

It is a terrible tragedy that afflicted Japan. Hope you and your family are safe. Do you have any relatives in northern parts of Japan? Our thoughts are with you. Let me know how you are, please.

- Jiri (Czech)

I hope that Japan will recover soon from the disaster. The kindness of Japanese in helping the victims of disaster gained high acclaim. There was no riot, no robbery during the disaster in Japan. The good discipline of Japanese has shown that Japan is a VERY successful country!!!

- Josephine (Malaysia)

Hello, Rio-san!
Stand firm. We pray for Japan.

- Natasha (Russia)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Frank and Nevelo Yasuda, Alaskan Mining Hall of Fame

“We stayed six months cumulatively in Point Barrow, Alaska for scientific research,” said an unexpected message from my San Diego Japanese friends.

“In the Barrow research library, we found a Japanese book An Alaskan Tale written by Jiro Nitta about Frank Yasuda. Jujiro Wada (1875-1937) and Frank Yasuda (1868-1958) - all in the same generation. Have you read Jiro Nitta’s book that became a movie?"

Well, I know author Nitta (1912-1980) who wrote the Death March on Mt. Hakkoda, the deadly military exercise in the winter blizzard that resulted in mass deaths of Japanese soldiers, but I haven’t read the book about Alaska in question. So I checked when the first edition was published. It was in 1974. No wonder! I was in the U.S. and not many Japanese books were imported into the U.S. then, different from today. I have to admit that I missed it.

This reminded me of the day of my family reunion. It was at Fairbanks in the early 1960s that my wife almost did not catch her Northwest flight to New York after refueling. She was feeding bottled milk to our daughter of three months while in the airport lounge. She told me she heard the boarding announcement, which happened to be the last call. Good thing since I might have been waiting for their arrival in vain at Idlewild, now Kennedy Airport.

Further research showed that Frank was sent to the U.S. concentration camps during World War II and that’s the area where I can shed some light, later in his life. I'll quickly give you a brief bio. By the way, the book An Alaskan Tale was translated into English and should be available through Amazon.

Frank, aka Kyosuke, his given Japanese name, left Ishinomaki, Miyagi (the area hardest hit in the recent Earthquake and Tsunami) when he lost his parents at the age of 15. His father was a physician and a well off family but he was the third son who felt he had to leave.

Through apprenticeship on a foreign bound ship, he landed in the U.S. and worked as a farmhand. He was luckily hired as a "cabin boy" on the U.S. Coast Guard USS Cutter Bear that took him to Alaska. Their mission was to hunt for whale poachers and guard the sea infested with smugglers. One winter, the Bear got stranded on ice. Frank volunteered alone to trek to Point Barrow to save the crew from a food crisis. Though he collapsed close to Point Barrow, an Inuit rescued him, and he was able to complete his mission.

There he decided to stay in Point Barrow, not returning to the boat. My guess is that he was unable to stand the racial discrimination he faced. His sincerity and tenacity gradually warmed the hearts of the Inuit villagers, including Amaoka, the local Inuit leader. He settled in by marrying Nevelo, Amaoka's daughter. The village, however, was plagued with disease and suffering from decreased whaling that they depended on for their survival. Frank planned to relocate the village from Point Barrow to Beaver* with advice from his later partner-to-be, Thomas Carter. Beaver had to be cohabited with the indigenous Athbascas Indians. He accompanied George Oshima, another Japanese Frank had befriended, who spoke the tribal language. An amicable agreement was made prior to the exodus from Point Barrow. Beaver is about 700 km away, about the same distance between New York and Chicago, but they had to cross the Brooks Range. I read that Frank made quite a few trips to complete the relocation of 200 villagers. This is why he was revered as the Japanese Moses. There’s a happy episode where his wife Nevelo found gold dust by the river. Frank used all the money for the villagers, none for himself.

In 1942 he was ready with one trunk to be deported to the Concentration Camp, via Fairbanks and Anchorage police stations, and perhaps then to Puyallup Assembly Center, in the State of Washington, and then to Crystal City, Texas and on to New Mexico. There were 3 camps in New Mexico - Santa Fe, Ft. Stanton, and Lordsbuy. I cannot specify which one he was sent to, but the records say his friend George Oshima died in a New Mexico camp. Frank was released after the war and returned to Beaver to join his wife and family.



1) Beaver, pop.65, is located on the north bank of the Yukon River, approximately 60 miles southwest of Fort Yukon and 110 miles north of Fairbanks. It lies in the heart of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to reach it is via kayaking, as suggested by ardent paddlists, starting from White Horse down the Yukon River through Dawson which may take about a month.

2) Photo of Frank Yasuda

3) Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation