Skater


The latest fad around our neighborhood seems to a strange looking contraption called a Ripstick. No, I didn’t mistake my R’s and L’s, that’s what they are really called. All the cool kids have one, according to Haru, and of course, by virtue of coolness, she must have one too.

At first glance, it looks like an ordinary skateboard, but upon a more careful inspection, you’ll realize that this skateboard is missing two wheels. Yes, I kid you not, it’s a two wheeled skateboard. Sounds difficult to ride? Well, it is!

I am not a stranger to having wheels under my feet. Admittedly, I never took well to riding skateboards, even those of the four wheeled variety. But roller skates, roller blades, and grass skis, are all pretty easy for me. However, this silly looking Ripstick thingy is just absolutely absurd. First of all, it’s ridiculously squirrelly and impossible to stand on unless you’re grabbing onto something, and If somehow you’ve managed to stand up on one, you would have to have the balancing expertise of a tight rope walker to stay up on one.

Haru had been wanting one for quite a while now, every since her kindergarten era friend and now gymnast rival, Yuka S. got one when she was still in kindergarten and took to it right away. The thing looked way too dangerous for little kids to be riding so we held off on buying one for Haru. However, Haru had been borrowing a Ripstick from one of the older neighborhood kids and was able to learn to ride it fairly quickly, so we decided to get one of her own. It was a good alternative to staying home and playing with her Nintendo 3DS all day.

Now, we have a neighborhood Ripstick club, where the older kids teach the younger kids how to do tricks. Haru doesn’t know how to do too many tricks yet, but she is practicing doing jumps with her friends, so I think its just a matter of time until she gets to be really good at it.

 

 


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No Training Wheels!!


It’ been a few days since Haru got her new bike.  She seems to be really enjoying it a lot but she really had a hard time mastering the steering and braking.  Sometimes she would run into a wall or a street light pole, but the more she rides the more confidence she gains.  There was one time when she got a bit overly confident and and tried to bank too hard in a turn while going too fast.  Since her bike still had training wheels on it, this caused her to take a pretty hard fall.   This caused her to lose confidence in riding her bike, so she decided that she would never ride her bike ever again.  He loss in confidence and fear of bicycles lasted about an hour, and afterwards she was ready to go again.

After a few hours of going around the block a few times, and quickly gaining confidence in using the hand brakes and the handle bars, she became a regular pro at riding her bike.  As she sped down the long straight streets near our house, I noticed that the training wheels barely touched the pavement for most of time.  Maybe it was time to take the wheels off?

Haru had been using her Strider that she got for her 4th birthday for over a year now, and has gotten quite good at riding it, so I was pretty confident that she would take to riding a two-wheeler pretty quickly.  But the biggest differences between a Strider is that the strider is MUCH smaller, has no brakes, and has no pedals, so controlling her training wheel-less bicycle would be somewhat of a learning curve.

One day, while Haru and her mother were out, I decided to bring her bike into the house and remove the training wheels.  It was about a 15 minute job to get the extra wheels off and mount a shiny new kick stand in its place.  After the training wheels were off and ready to go, I realized how high the seat on her bike was.   Haru could still barely touch the ground so it’d be difficult for her get on and off her bike.  Her seat look to be about an inch off the frame so it was possible to lower the seat a bit, but that meant having to remove an ornament  that was mounted on the seat post.   Since I wasn’t expecting her to be able to ride on two wheels right away, I just left it as is for now.

After Haru returned, we took her bike (minus the training wheels) went to a nearby park where there was gently sloped dirt mound that opened up into a grassy field.  I was the perfect place to practice riding because the slope allowed her to gain enough momentum to mount her bike and roll down the slope without the fear of gaining too much speed, and if she did fall off her bike, the grass was overgrown just enough to cushion her fall.

At first, she was apprehensive about riding her bike without the aid of the extra wheels to keep her from toppling over and scraping her hands again.  But after a couple of pushes down the slope, she was able to  balance on two wheels and ride around the grassy field.  The first time ever solo ride on two-wheels went well, but she not being able to touch the ground with her feet increased her fear of stopping or turning.  I thin of we could somehow lower the seat a bit more, would do a lot better, so  the next step is to  bring the seat down a bit, and get her to a bigger park where she can gain confidence  in riding, steering, and stopping without fear of toppling over.

 

 


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Merry xmas!: Avoiding a near tragedy!


Everything was set. We had gotten everything we needed to make sure that Haru would have a happy xmas this year, so we thought. We wanted to get Haru a bicycle more than anything this year, so we made a few trips to the department store to make sure we get the one Haru likes. Of curse we had to do this under the guise that Santa was going to bring this to her, which wasn’t easy. Luckily, she is still a strong believer in Santa Claus, so we were able convince her that we were going to tell Santa exactly what she wanted.

A week before xmas, we were able to narrow it down to the exact model she wanted. The bike is called Hard Candy, a single speed, 18 inch, pink colored bicycle complete with a cargo basket, hand brakes, and floating red hearts on the frame. It was easily far more expensive than any bike I ever owned as a kid, including the $150 Schwinn Sprint 12-speed bike that I had in junior high school. But, that’s just the way things are these days: ridiculously expensive -especially in Japan. In Haru’s eyes, it was the most beautiful bike in the world except for one thing. The model on display at the nearby department store had baby blue colored seat and tires, and part of the fenders were also dressed in baby blue which Haru didn’t really like. She wanted the bike to be completely pink , but unfortunately, the only model that was available in the colors that Haru wanted was 16 inches -a bit too small.

Rather than risk getting the 16 inch model and having Haru (whose growing an average of 1cm a month now), and having grow out of it before she even starts elementary school, we asked if we can order the all-pink model in the 18 inch size. The store manager assured us that it shouldn’t be an issue IF the warehouse has them in stock. The problem was that the warehouse was closed until the following Monday, and if it turns out that it wasn’t available, we would have to scramble to get a bike, and perhaps risk getting something she doesn’t even like. Since we couldn’t do anything anyway until the following Monday, we went ahead and ordered the all-pink model and crossed our fingers that it would be in stock and sent to us on time.

On the following Monday, we got a call from the departments store manager. It was bad news. The 18 inch, all-pink, single speed, Hard Candy bicycle complete with a cargo basket, hand brakes, and floating hearts on the frame, were COMPLETELY out of stock. It was officially time to scramble.

While my wife made calls to different shops around town to see if the carried the same or similar model, I spent the morning surfing the web from work. My wife had no luck. Most places were either out of stock, or didn’t carry the model at all. I managed to find a few places on the net that did carry the exact model that Haru wanted, but since it was now less than week from xmas, none of them could guarantee delivery before xmas. Most places needed at least 3 days for time to assemble the bike, and then another 2 to 3 days to deliver. It was 7 days until xmas eve, which means that if everything went right, we might get the bike by the 24th. I scoured the net for at least another hour until I found what was the closest thing to guaranteed delivery before xmas eve.

I found a site that stated that they could deliver before the 24th IF the order is placed 6pm, but it was a best effort and not a guaranteed delivery. I still had some time before the 6pm deadline, so I emailed the company and asked them if they could really deliver on time. They replied an hour later stating that they could ship it out in a day or so, but it would be entirely up to the delivery company to deliver by the designated date, and that if it didn’t rain or snow heavily, that the chances were pretty good that they could have it delivered by the 21st. This was perfect! Haru would still be in kindergarten class on the 21st which means we could have it delivered without her catching on. I ordered the bike immediately.

For the next 3 days, I tracked the bike’s progress religiously on the company’s online progress tracking page. By the second day, the bike was fully assembled and ready for shipping. If weather permitted (and according to the weather forecast, it was a good outlook for at least the next several days) the bike would be delivered on Friday -4 days before xmas. Although the chances of an on-time delivery looked good, I was rehearsing excuses to give to Haru just in case the delivery is delayed for some reason. I didn’t think it was a good idea to say that Santa had forgotten, so the best I could think of was to tell her that Santa’s sleigh must have broken down, and that he was running a day late. It was such complicated answer to give to a 5 year old for such a simple situation, but all I could do was hope she’d understand and most of all, buy my lame excuse.

On Thursday evening, the day before the expected delivery, the courier’s tracking site was reporting that the bike had arrived at the courier’s base in Yokohama, and was being staged for delivery. I was deeply relieved to know that the bike was on-time. Now it was just a matter of hiding the bike in the garage underneath the car cover when it finally arrived the next day.

* * *

The following day was the last day of work for the rest of the year, and the last day of kindergarten class for Haru until 2013. When I arrived at work, I immediately checked the courier’s tracking site to see where the bike was. The status hadn’t changed from the previous evening, but I wasn’t too concerned. I figured it wouldn’t change until the bike was finally delivered later that morning as I requested in my order.

The morning came and went. I checked the tracking site again at about noon, and the status had yet to change. At that moment I got a text message from my wife: “It hasn’t arrived yet”. Highly irritated, I phoned the carrier to get an explanation of the late delivery. It was already 1pm and Haru was already home from kindergarten. It was too late to deliver without having her find out that it wasn’t Santa who delivered her bike, but it was in fact Seino delivery company. After I gave the tracking number and all of the details of the shipment, the woman at the other end casually asked, “what’s the problem?” I felt blood rush to my head but tried to keep calm as I explained to her that the problem is that I explicitly asked that the bike be delivered in the morning, and it was already the afternoon. She gave me a very fake sounding apology and told me that she would have the driver deliver immediately. I then explained to her that there was a VERY specific reason that the package needed to be delivered in the morning and not any later, and that EXPECTED that since the delivery offered to the option to deliver at a specific time of day, that they would honor without giving excuses. Again a fake apology.

I told her to have the driver call me wife and schedule a time in which it is safe to deliver, and hung up. 20 minutes later, I got a a text message from my wife saying that she had rescheduled the deliver for the next day and specifically instructed the driver to call 10 minutes before he comes so that she can get Haru out of the house. The driver agreed.

* * *

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. It was crunch time. We all got up early despite it being a Saturday. My wife and I anticipated a phone call to come from the driver at any minute as Haru quietly watched TV, completely oblivious of the scheming and planning that had gone on to get her a new bicycle in time for xmas. At the moment, we heard the familar roar of a two ton diesel delivery truck roll up our street and stop directly in front of our house. My wife and I looked at each other with astonishment and then at Haru who was still watching TV completely unaware of the complete panic that was about to take place.

The door bell rang and the video intercom immediately flashed a real time view of the delivery man unloading a fully assembled and ready to ride, pink colored single speed 18 inch Hard Candy bicycle, complete with a pink seat, tires and fenders, cargo basket, hand brakes, and floating hearts on the frame. Haru ran to the video intercom screaming “I’ll get it!!!” My wife immediately intercepted her and covered her eyes, “Your father will get it; it his car parts -nothing interesting,” she said.

I sprinted to the front door, as Haru screamed, “I want to see!”, in the distance. I jumped outside and ran down the steps and was greeted by the delivery man who already had the bike off the truck and in full few of the video camera for the video intercom. I hastily instructed him to put the bike in garage and immediately covered it up with the car cover. The delivery man looked at me as if I had gone mad. I gave him the most angry glare I could muster up at the moment. “Do you people know how to follow instructions? THIS (as I pointed to the bike) was suppose to be here YESTERDAY MORNING,” I screamed.

“A woman told me to deliver it today,” the man responded.

“Did she not ask you to call FIRST before showing up, since YOU obviously had forgotten to deliver it yesterday,” by now I was furious. Don’t respond! Just nod your head, apologize, and LEAVE, before I give you a ripping of a lifetime, I thought in my head as if he could hear what I was thinking.

“Oh, yes…I forgot!” he said unapologetically.

“YOU FORGOT??!?!” I yelled, “Are you the regular delivery driver for this area?” I asked in complete disbelief of his complete disregard of specific instructions given to him.

“Yes.” He said, almost regretfully.

“Don’t EVER show up in front of this house EVER again without calling first! Got it?”

He turned and shrugged as if he were use to people yelling at him. From the reputation of his delivery company, they rarely follow delivery instructions, which I later learned from various online reviews, so the driver was probably perfectly use to people being angry with him.

I went back into the house somewhat expecting that the cat would be out of the bag. Haru probably saw the bike and now knows that her bike was not being delivered by Santa, but by a straggly middle aged man in a light green jumpsuit, unkept hair, and a partially grown beard. From this day forward, her belief in the existence of an old, overworked, morbidly obese man with hefty three syllable laugh, long shaggy beard, in red and white long underwear is no more, and she probably knows now that the reality is that all presents are delivered by delivery trucks in which the driver gets hollered at by her ill-tempered father for not following instructions. From this day forward, a part of her innocence will be forever lost because of a man who couldn’t remember the day of the week, the time of day, or to call when being told to call before delivering a package so that the child in the family continues to be an innocent child until she is ready to know the realities of life. She will never write letters Santa, or make a wish to Santa when she sees something on TV that she wants ever again. I was deeply saddened and not ready to accept all of this.

As I entered the living room, Haru was watching TV again, and turned to me and asked, “where is your car part?” I looked at my wife and she signaled to me that everything was okay and that she didn’t see anything. “It’s in the garage, where it belongs,” I responded…whew..what a day!

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Hinamatsuri


March 3rd is Girls Day or more commonly referred to as Hinamatsuri.  We celebrated Haru’s first Hinamatsuri four years ago, but we never did it again because its really a pain to unpack all of the little dolls and put them on their stands.  My wife has a seven tiered hina set that her mother kept for, and was subsequently handed down to Haru.   It’s a really nice set, but it takes up a tremendous amount of room, even when disassembled and pack away.   So we decided that we would break out the seven tier set one last time before we either sell it or toss it.

Admittedly, I didn’t bother assembling it this year, basically for  two reasons: 1.) each doll needs to be on a specific tier and I don’t know the order.  2.) I’ve done it once and I can’t be bothered to do it again.  Haru of course, loves the dolls and couldn’t wait to have everything together and take a picture with it.  It’s nice that she’s finally at an age where she can appreciate it without wanting to touch it or climb on the stands.

Lastly, Haru will be having an event at her kindergarten next Wednesday.  I’ve taken the day off to to able attend and take videos and pictures.  Its always nice to be able to take a day off  from work and spend it with family, so I am truly looking forward to it.

 

 

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A Strider Pro


Last year, a few weeks before Haru’s birthday, we bought her something called a Strider.  A Strider is basically a pedal-less two wheeled bicycle with no training wheels.  The idea is that the child learns to balance on two wheels without the use of training wheels to make the translation to a proper bicycle quicker.

At first, I was very skeptical and thought that the Strider was just a silly toy.  But the other day when I took Haru outside to practice on her Strider, I was pretty impressed with with what she could do with it.

I remember when I was Haru’s age I was still on training wheels.  Come to think of it, maybe I was will on a tricycle, but one thing’s for certain is that I wasn’t even close to being able to balance on two wheels.  If I recall correctly, it wasn’t until I was six or seven until I was able to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels.

Anyways, this particular gadget is definitely a win.  Next stop: bicycle!


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Merry X’mas


Okay, I am super late with this, but Merry x’mas anyways.

This year, we had a pretty good x’mas.  Santa delivered a ton of new toys for Haru so she was very happy.  I think her favorite by far is her new Rupunzel doll, from the Disney movie Tangled.  I was really fortunate to find one of these because there seems to be a premium on this particular one.  I even went to Toy’s R Us, and they didn’t even have them.  People on Ebay were selling them for nearly $100 USD.  I managed to find this one on Amazon for just under $40 USD, so I feel pretty lucky.

Unfortunately, not many people in Japan are familiar with the German fairytale character, that was create way back in 1812.  I was familiar with the character way before Disney made her into a Disney princess so I was hoping to that the movie was  more true to the original story…but of course it wasn’t.  But for a 4 year old girl, its a pretty good movie to watch and I enjoyed it too.  Overall t’was a very good x’mas for all of us this year and we’re all looking forward to the new year.


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Child’s Play


It was Haruka’s 4th birthday last Sunday, so we invited her second cousins to join us to celebrate it at Fantasy Kids Resort in Ebina. After the poor behavior that they displayed last Wednesday, I was very close…VERY CLOSE, to canceling the invitation and taking Haru somewhere else.  As a matter of fact, we had already chosen the alternate venue and mapped out our route to get there the previous evening and pretty much planned the whole day out.  I was pretty much set, decided, and relieved about not having to spend a day with my wife’s ditsy cousin (and I am being very polite here because there are other less polite adjectives that more accurately describe her) , because there is only so much of her I can take in short period of time.  But on birthday morning my wife and her cousin had already decided to meet at the first venue as originally planned. I wasn’t very happy about the situation, so I made it abundantly clear that I would do the regulating if the two boys got out of line like they did earlier last week, regardless of whether or not their mother approves, because their mother clearly does not have the ability nor the intelligence to do it on her own.

The place in Ebina is basically a big indoor kids park complete with inflatable slides, trampolines, games, costumes (of course, what would Japan be without cosplay), and bouldering walls.  Apparently, even adults are allowed to slide down the inflatable slides as well, but for me, there is something really creepy and ridiculous about seeing a full grown adults enjoy sliding down slides made specifically for children under the age of 10, as much as some of these people did.  It just goes to show the maturity level of many people in this country. But what was really disturbing to me was when I saw an adult male (clearly way too big for the slides) jump up onto the inflatable slides, and unapologetically and shamelessly knocked down several small children on the way down. Luckily (for him) he had missed Haru by inches, or otherwise I would have had to unapologetically and shamelessly regulate his overgrown childish @$#! (seriously!  I already had three kids I had to watch -didn’t need another one, especially an over-sized one).

Haru and the younger of the two boys spent most of the time slide hopping and getting on the many different play gyms within the park, while the older boy spent most, if not all of his time gambling.  Let me clarify,  there were pachinko and slot machine types of games within the park. And much like the real thing, you can win coins if you get a certain combination of characters in a line.  Instead of winning money however, you win little medal tokens that allow you to play other medal games.   Call it what you may, it looked a lot like gambling to me and I thought it was highly inappropriate to get a five year into a habit of gambling at such a young age, even it’s just medal tokens.   There is a culture of under-aged gambling in this country, and as indicated in my previous entry this leads to an upbringing of highly irresponsible adults who’d rather spend hours upon hours gambling in a pachinko parlor while their kids starve, dehydrate, and or suffocate to death in a car in the parking lot. (see here if you don’t know what I am talking about).

But in way, this was a blessing in disguise, because Haru and the younger boy played quite peacefully throughout the day and there was very little intervention that needed to be done.  Had the older boy participated, it would have been a different story, but since him and his ditsy mother were distracted by the medal games, the day went much smoother than I had expected.

After a brief lunch and a break from the action, I took Haru to the cosplay section, where kids can choose from an assortment of different costumes and have their pictures taken (by the parents) against a backdrop with near professional grade lighting.  The princess dresses immediately caught Haru’s attention, so we got her dressed up and shot literally hundreds of photos of her in four different dresses.  Thank goodness for digital cameras, because had this been the age of traditional film cameras, I would be in the poor house now, but it was a lot of fun.  I think Haru’s favorite dress was the blue Cinderella dress.  I personally liked the red China dress or the Chun Li dress, as I called it (in reference to the character in the Streetfighter video game) , because she looked very natural in it.   Strangely enough, Haru made up all of the poses on her own, with very little couching from me.  I don’t know where she learned how to pose, but the outcome looks very professional and as if coached by a director or photographer.

Finally, we topped off the evening by going to out for dinner at a nearby crab restaurant.  The kids did get a little rowdy (probably from being a bit tired and hungry) but it took VERY little regulation from me to get them back in line.  All I had to do look at the younger boy, and shake my head (as to say no or stop) when he acted up, and he would stop immediately.  This tells me that he respected me more than he respected his own parents, because his mother described him as uncontrollable, and yet I had full control over him without even saying a word.   The older one took a slightly bit more effort, and when I say slightly I do mean slightly in the literal sense as opposed to the figurative sense of the word.  All I really did was say quiet down, and glared at him without giving him the goofy smile his mom usually gives him, and that was enough to keep him in check.  So easy, and yet their parents can’t do it, which is sad.  And of course, Haru was super easy, because we had a deal from the beginning that if she was good, she would get a special birthday present from me, so she behaved very well for the majority of the day.  And as a reward, we had an after-birthday birthday party complete with cake. And although she wanted a Tiffany doll (from the horror movie, Bride of Chucky) I got her a set of new accessories for her new Ricca doll instead, which she was very happy about.

 

 

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Its Showtime!


Haruka had her very first school performance last Wednesday.  I managed to squeeze a day off and make the performance, and it was well worth it.  Haruka had been practicing playing the melodica (a small organ-like musical instrument) for months at her school.  At first, I was expecting just a bunch of 3 years making a lot of incoherent noises with their instruments.  And to keep it real, it turned out to be only marginally better than my expectation (at least for Haruka’s age group), but the four and five year old groups were amazing.   If I closed my eyes, I would swear that it was a high school band playing rather than a bunch a of kindergartners.

This show really renewed my my expectations on what this school can do in terms of teaching children some amazing things.  I do wish that they would focus a bit more on behavioral control as well, because Haru has been pretty bratty lately.  She is currently being punished for being really disrespectful lately.  I have basically hidden all of her dolls (which she’s found already) until she learns to be more respectful.  So far, it’s kind of working, but she still has a ways to go.

 

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Number 3


Today was Haruka’s 3rd birthday.  Since we went to Disneyland last Wednesday, we didn’t do anything too spectacular today.  I did buy her an ice cream cake from Baskin Robins, which she only mildly liked it.  I have feeling that maybe she was too full to eat all of the piece we cut for her, so maybe she’ll eat more tomorrow.

Haru’s been asking for a little doll called “Popo-chan” for the longest time.  Everytime we go to the department store or if she sees it on TV, that’ll be the only thing she’d talk about about for the rest of the day.  So the other day, while we were shopping for close that she’s be wearing to Disneyland, I sneaked away and bought he the doll she wanted.  It had been in the car the whole time just in case she started poking around in the closets and other hiding spots. Needless to say, she was happy about getting Popo-chan.  We originally planned to get it for her for Christmas, but she really wanted this one, so we decided to make it her birthday present instead.

Every year, I look back on old pictures to see how much she’s grown, and it never ceases to amaze me to see the change.  Last year, she was only able to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in English, and now, although she does not speak too much English she does understand a lot.  She’s got a pretty sizable vocabulary, but I think she is too embarrassed to speak it.

Three year’s with Haruka:

Haruka opening her birthday present:


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OT:New Camera!


After nearly two weeks without a camera, the new camera finally arrived.  I was a picky this time, because I am not exaggerating when I say how much I loved my old Canon Ixy 1000.  I didn’t want to replace with just anything, not even another newer Ixy.  The newer models oddly enough have LESS functions than the older ones.  I guess the whole idea is to sell less complicated cameras,so  that the majority of the public can use them easily.  Unfortunately, something that is just point and shoot is not enough for me.  I like some degree of manual control so that I can manipulate the photograph. But nowadays, most of the cameras being sold are pretty dumbed down so anyone can use them.

The Ixy 1000 that we’d been using for the last 3 and half years was nice in that it had fully automatic point and shoot mode, and a manual mode where I can control lighting through ISO settings, etc so that I could take pictures without using the flash (even dark areas).  The newer cameras always try to select the right settings for you automatically  so that you get a good picture, but often times turn out to look like an amateur took the picture.

Through my research, I found that Canon’s Ixy 3000IS is the last model that Canon made that featured a fully manual mode.  Nowadays, if you need a camera where you want to be able to control light settings, you would have to buy a DSLR camera.  I don’t mind DSLR’s but they are a bit big and cumbersome to carry for little trips here and there.  Also, it takes too much care, as you have to disassemble lens and and body, clean them, and store them separately so that they don’t collect dust and scratches, or even break. With Haru around, that’s pretty tough.

I looked all over for the Ixy 3000IS, but they were last sold in 2008, and have somewhat become a rare and premium item in Japan.  Even the used ones are being sold over retail price.  And of course, the electronics shops only carry the latest cameras, so it’s impossible to find the 2 year old model in brand new condition.

My only options at this point were to either settle with what is available on the market today, or scour the world wide web for an Ixy 3000IS in brand new condition.  I chose the latter.  In the UK, the 3000IS goes by Ixus SD990IS and int eh US, it goes by PowerShot SD990IS; I guess western countries don’t like the name Ixy…I wonder why.

I noticed that both the US and UK also carry high premiums due to the rarity of this camera. In the States, I have seen them go for as high as $1000.  The retail price is only $399.  In the UK, the price is a bit more reasonable -about 320BP.  I lucked out and found one I the States in brand new condition for $290 (over $100 off the retail price), so I ordered it right away.

So far, I have had for less than a week and its quite nice.  It’s a bit more complicated than the Ixy 1000, but its a lot more reactive and faster.  Except for the two photos of the cameras (which I took with my iPhone), I took the rest with my new camera.

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