Taking Back Black Friday

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Let’s face it, life is busy.

Sometimes it gets so busy that you do not have any time to breathe, but you still plug along through the grind hoping to find a moment that you can just enjoy. It gets even more difficult when you find yourself in a large city. You become just another face in the crowd. It almost feels as if society packs you into places like sardines so it can just shuffle you off to the next destination your busy schedule deems you need to be at.

It gets even crazier as the year approaches its end. Not only are you responsible for the usual things on your list, but now you have to squeeze in holiday parties, family moments, and shopping for all the loved ones. And just when you think you have everything accomplished there is that random person who buys you a gift obligating for you to return the favor. It is this never ending cycle of insanity, and you never think you will ever be able to get ahead of it.

The one day out of the year that pushes the stress levels to the highest and brings out the worst of humanity happens to be the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. We are told as a society that on this day, you need to go out and buy those Christmas gifts. You need to compete with your neighbor to get the best possible present and it has even gotten to the point that the corporations expect you to shake off the tryptophan daze inducing your good night’s sleep, get up a couple of hours before the break of dawn and stand out in the cold just so you can participate with your fellow shoppers in competing for those amazing deals.

It has even gotten worse over the last few years. Companies have started to promote the shopping frenzy on Thanksgiving Day. I know not everybody would agree with me, but I believe that this holiday should be considered sacred. It is the perfect time for the family to get together and share a moment at the dinner table. We should not ask to take people away from those moments just so people can go out and buy a bunch of stuff just so they can check off all of the people on their holiday lists. It is almost as if the big corporations are taking this holiday away from us so they can make more money. It offends me, and what I propose to do would make the corporations realize they do not control our lives. I want to show my loved ones that I love them not by making sure they have another present under the tree they may not need, but instead creating a memory that will last a life time. My hope is that people refuse to let the corporations dictate this insanity by taking back the day that was meant for them, Black Friday.

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The way to do this is to first refuse to go shopping on Black Friday. I know this might be hard. It is so tempting to go out there and snatch up all of those amazing specials, but they are really not important. Ignore that big huge sale signs with Santa showing you how you can save money. Instead, go out there and find those rare moments that will allow you to experience life with friends and family.

For a second year in a row on Black Friday, I voyaged to a new place and experienced something new. Last year, I spent my Thanksgiving weekend making connections with my extended overseas family as they got together for a Korean camping trip. This year, I downplayed it a bit by hopping a plane over the Sea of Japan to spend the holiday in Tokyo. Of course, with my current position in Korea, I am not given the holiday of Thanksgiving Day off. I can’t really complain though because it is an American holiday and I am living overseas. They are still kind enough to give us the next day off, so I spent the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day flying to my destination, and the next day celebrating my favorite holiday on the next day. I did spend it at one of the greatest commercial centers in the world, so when I saw thousands of people rushing around to attend to their holiday shopping, I sat back and enjoyed the day. This is when the thought of what this day could mean started to formulate. Why did I need to be one of those crazy masses trying to find a great deal when I already had one next to me, the friends I chose to spend the day with?

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I spent the day, instead, enjoying the cultural opportunities Tokyo had to offer. I strolled through the park that was the entrance to Meiji Temple, a Shinto shrine that promotes peace in the world. It was easy to see how it was trying to make this promotion because I felt the same experience as I enjoyed the serene atmosphere from the natural setting. It also reminded me of the other joys this country had to offer. Sake producers would bring large containers of their drink to the grounds to let it ferment while getting the blessings of the spirits of the king and queen who founded the shrine back in the 1920s. These weren’t the only ones that brought their drink to this site. Stacks of barrels of wine were delivered all the way from France looking for the same kind of blessing.

Many other people came to this same location to find the same kind of serenity. When we had finally made it to the temple, we saw many families with their young children hoping to get another blessing. It was also a place where a man and a woman could join their lives together in a traditional Japanese wedding. We were lucky enough to witness one of these ceremonies while we were there.

If serenity was not what you looking for, there are other experiences out in Tokyo that can send your heart racing. There is, of course, Godzilla Road in Shinjuku that shows the beast’s head poking out of the top of one of the various skyscrapers. There is the Tokyo Tower which is nothing more than a replication of the Eiffel Tower. It sit prominently on one of the bigger hills in the middle of the city offering amazing views if you take the trip up the elevator. I would recommend doing it at night. It makes you feel small by standing up there and looking at the glittering lights of Tokyo because all of a sudden you realize that you are just one of over 13 million people now inhabiting this small dot on the spacious world map. You start to wonder how anybody can stand out in crowd that size.

If the reminder of your place in the universe is not your thing but you still want to have the cultural experience, there is the Samurai Museum. It costs a little bit of money but the historic armor on display and the stories about the history of Japan is worth it. They will even allow you to touch one of the samurai swords and try on one of the helmets. These gems make the visit here worth your time.

But the real experience of Japan, the one that everybody needs to enjoy, and the one that showed my ability to take back Black Friday was to eat the various kinds of food offered in the country.

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Japan is one of the greatest places in the world if you are a foodie. There are so many different styles of food from different regions of the country that you can travel for over a year and still find a new kind of food you have never experienced before. Of course, the best place to find all of these regional delights is to wind your way through the streets of Tokyo. They bring the best of the best together in one location to fill up that hungry stomach. I have eaten food in Japan before but I do believe that this trip here the best for this experience I have ever had.

I was able to enjoy okonomiyaki which is considered the Japanese equivalent to pizza. It is basically a mixture of veggies, meats and cabbage thrown on a grill for you to cook. You wait until it is golden brown on either side and then you top it off with mayonnaise and enjoy.

There are also izakaya bars. These places are Japan’s answer to Spain’s tapas. These places offer many small dishes you can share with the rest of your table. Many of the dishes were wonderful at the one we went to, but we were given a dish that we did not ask for by mistake. I wish I knew what it was called because it would be something I would avoid in the future even though it was very popular with many of the other guests. It was some kind of root vegetable steamed then topped with a kind of shaved horseradish. It did please my palate as did other guests but that might have been just me. You should try new things, and I did, but that does not mean that everything I am going to try is going to be something I enjoy.

The other foods I ate on my day long feast were ones I had tried before and still enjoyed. Of course, the sushi and ramen I enjoyed were better than I would have found in the United States or South Korea, but then I am in the country of its origin so I would hope that it would be at the peak of its perfection.

We did enjoy an hour at a tempura restaurant as well. Even though I enjoyed it, it was a little overpriced. I understand it was a small location in the heart of Shinjuku which meant the location was in a prime spot. It made sense I should have to pay a little more than I would have if it was from the smaller town of Castle Rock, Colorado, but when I am paying almost three dollars per piece of tempura-fried vegetable then I do believe I am paying a little too much. But once again, live and learn.

Even though there were a couple of times that the trip did not live up to my expectations, it was so minor that I couldn’t let it bring down the better moments. It also made me proud that I did not fall into the temptation of the holiday season by driving myself crazy fighting the shopping crowd Black Friday loves to attract. Instead, I enjoyed the day the way it and every day is meant to be enjoyed, spending that time with friends and family. I challenge you to spend the next Black Friday the same way. Ignore the temptation of the big corporations and take back the holiday season from the stress it imposes upon you. Spend the day relaxing with loved ones.

 

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Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #1 – Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft

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It really doesn’t matter which book of H.P. Lovecraft you pick up, they will all be a collection of short stories that when put together will tell a greater tale of horror that makes you wonder about the world that we live in. The mythology he has created touches upon the darkest part of humanity and leaves enough of it unexplained to send your mind reeling to fill in the blanks. He understood the concept of fear better than any other writer out there, and he exploits that feeling in each of his readers. Lovecraft understood that fear begins with what we don’t know, so the mythology he created is always shrouded in mystery. The creatures of your nightmares always stand on the edge of your perception, but anytime you look to see what they are they disappear. It is the masterful turn of plot that allows your imagination to run away with what you do not know is there. This philosophy works perfectly for everybody who reads his stories because H.P. Lovecraft knew that what scared one person did not necessarily scare another, but that feeling of fear is within each and every one of us. By bringing us to the edge of that fear, and then letting us supply our own horror, he was able to tap into each individual’s nightmare. These are not stories to be read for the light of heart, but they are worth it if you want explore that darker side of your soul.

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #2 – Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

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Only two writers have been able to achieve such a horror in my adult life that I have had such terrible nightmares in the middle of the night that I have woken up in a cold sweat willing to take the risk of keeping my eyes open until the comfort of the morning sun relieves me from the horror that is somehow wrapped around my brain because of their prose. Obviously, the number one person on this list will be one of those writers, but the other one is one of the best satirical voices of this era, Chuck Palahnuik. Haunted is the story that he wrote that gave me these tremors. Now, I will place the disclosure before I continue on with my discourse about his brilliance that what he wrote is not for the feint of heart, and if you are young, there is no way that you should ever consider reading this book. Keep in mind, I am an adult who enjoys exploring the dark side of the soul, and this book gave me nightmares. Just imagine what it will do to an individual who is not ready for these ideas. If you are still curious I would suggest you read “The Nightmare Box” first before you explore the rest of the book. It is in the middle of the book, and it is okay to read that first because the book is actually a frame story, much like a haunted version of The Canterbury Tales. Palahniuk wrote a series of stories that are tied together with one common idea in this book, and some of them are so dark and disturbing that you will start to wonder if they are really about you. “The Nightmare Box” gives you a glimpse of what will happen to you if you believe you are strong enough to look into all of these stories. They are not your typical horror tales of monsters lurking under the bed. Instead, they are the monsters haunting us from the inside. If you believe that you are strong enough to take that peek into the Nightmare Box, then start back at the beginning, but understand that what you see there you can not take back. Reader beware, this is one of the most horrifying experiences of your life.

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #3 – The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

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A lot of the books that I have included on this list so far have been pretty obvious, so it is probably pretty surprising that I would include a book that many people have never heard of and at such a high position on the list. But that is the problem with this book; more people need to know about this story. Around the turn of the nineteenth century in New England lived a man who studied the monsters of the world, and used his knowledge of them to keep the rest of society safe. The sad thing is his decisions have caused the death of many of the loved ones around him including his father and his faithful apprentice. Because of his guilt, he takes his deceased apprentice’s son as his new ward even though he is barely a teenager. When a gravedigger shows up at his house in the middle of the night with the corpse of a anthropophagi (see Shakespeare’s Othello for a description), a story starts to unravel that will leave you breathless. The book asks the question of what a monster really is and how we can decide for ourselves. Mix in some incredible language, dynamic characters reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and some daddy issues and you have one of the best horror novels ever written. It has won the Michael Prinz award for literature and has spawned one of the most unique series ever written. You can not pass up this book because it will instantly become one of your favorites. Some day when they get around to making it into a movie, you will be able to say you knew this story when it was the incredible book that it is now.

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #4 – The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

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I used to teach a horror literature class, and I would start the year off by talking about the history of this genre. Even though there were some instances of horror before Edgar Allan Poe sat down to craft his unique brand of literature, most modern writers of this genre can trace their roots back to this man. His exploration of the gothic side of our nature and the things that haunt us the most have created some of the most iconic moments in all of literature. His poetic ability also creates a melancholy mood while lyrically creating a sound unique to his style. When thinking of the month of October, Edgar Allan Poe’s name is synonymous with all of the classic creatures that decorate people’s houses to let us know that this holiday is just around the corner. With stories such as “The Cask of the Amontillado”, “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”, people would have a hard time making an argument why Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works should not be included on this list.

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #5 – The Shining by Stephen King

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You knew that Stephen King would make this list somewhere. What would a list of books about getting in the Halloween spirit be without his name. Some might not agree with the selection of the book that I chose. They might think that there are many more scary stories that he has written and this is the obvious choice. But stop for a second, and think about where I come from. This story speaks to me at another level than any of his other books. Being trapped in a Colorado snowstorm is something that has always terrified me. Going stir crazy because of the lack of alcohol and any outside contact is another thing that speaks to me. Add in the fact that it is set in one of the creepiest hotels I have ever spent the night in makes this story really come to life. Yes, that is the Stanley Hotel on the cover of this book, and it really does exist in Estes Park, Colorado. It is still open and for a few extra dollars, you can spend the night in Room 237. They will even run the Stanley Kubrick film twenty-four hours a day on their television station, but still reading the book is scarier than the vision that this director had for this horror classic.

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #6 – Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury has long been considered an American treasure, and his stories would play with reality in such a way to reveal the truth about the world we live in. Most of the time, he delved into themes set in science fiction worlds that only his imagination could have created, but one special story set a darker mood that haunted anyone who read the story, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Yes, the title comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in reference to the title character entering right before he speaks with the three witches. It makes the viewer wonder who should be the one that should be trusted much as Ray Bradbury does with his carnival that visits a small American town. What secrets does the traveling freak show hold? Why are so many people interested in what appears to be cheap displays and rides? How are two boys’ lives changed by what they find there? These are the questions that this amazingly dark and creepy tale tells, and there is no way that anyone can read this book without getting creeped out by what happens.