Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Japan - the music video

Again proving that some people have way too much time on their hands, allow me to present to you Christmas in Japan - the music video. Think of it like Spaceballs: the flamethrower, just less fun.

It may seem silly if you've never been here, but a lot of the things that show up point out the so very Japanesey things that happen at Christmas here, like the KFC chicken as a substitute for a Christmas dinner and changing the idea of Christmas lights to "winter illumination festivals". So very true and very, very wrong. That being said, I was on the way out to see some "illumination" with my girlfriend on Christmas when the norovirus fairy sent us promptly back home - ghah, scary!!

By the way, for any of you that may in the future think of spending Christmas in Japan then here's some advice:
  1. Don't. Christmas is much better anywhere else, even if it's a vacation spot nowhere near where you're from. Thailand's nice, go check that out instead and come back afterward.
  2. If you really insist on staying and have a Japanese girlfriend (really about the only acceptable reason for staying as I see it since you really have to have someone to share the holidays with around here), remember that everything is celebrated on Christmas Eve and not Christmas. This includes exchanging of presents, seeing "illuminations", going to expensive restaurants and staying at expensive (love) hotels. And yes, this basically amounts to a $500 Valentine's Day and has nothing to do with Jesus. Hallmark, eat your heart out.
  3. Really, just go somewhere else. Just about everywhere in Japan (especially outside of Tokyo) closes down for a few days for New Year's, so you can't even really have fun anywhere unless you want to spend time with family/friends, which can usually be done better elsewhere. This closing includes all banking services, all retail stores, many restaurants... shrines will however be open and busy due to Japanese traditions of visiting them for New Year's Day.
So there you have it: Christmas in Japan. You've been forewarned. Oh, and if you're still not convinced that Japan and Christmas don't mix, read this. Now.

"Merry" Christmas and "Happy" Holidays!?

Ok I know this is a little late, but Merry Christmas everyone. I still made this post in time for New Year's, so enjoy the year of the Oxen. Maybe the milk'll taste better or something, or they'll finally genetically engineer chocolate cows - that'd be awesome.

Anyway, so I hope your Christmas was merrier than mine as I was puking and pooping my brains out with a nasty case of the norovirus. Yes norovirus - you gotta love that the first description I found searching for details actually used the phrasing "explosive diahrrea and projectile vomiting." Luckily it only lasts 1-2 days, but my are those an unpleasant 24-48 hours. I'm now over it with many thanks to the girlfriend for helping out, but now am in turn taking care of her with the left over medicine as she caught it from me.

This means that we will not be making it up to Miyagi today as originally planned, but will be going up on the 31st, meaning no stopover at the Ono residence and a direct trip to New Year's snowboarding excitement. She's pretty strong when it comes to sickness, but we're both just hoping now that she'll be good come the 1st for that first day on the slopes.

I believe this rivals, if not surpasses my Chiba Christmas for quite possibly the shittiest Christmas ever, literally. That year was spent in a lonely dorm almost entirely vacated, except for me and Matt. With both of us rather broke and kept from total loneliness merely by the company of each other, we decided to have the closest we could find to a "Christmas dinner" - KFC. While that was both crappy and depressing, it was not quite as crappy as the 10 times I spent sitting on and 2 times I spent facing the toilet this Christmas.

Not to end things on a bad note, on the plus side I did get a replacement camera from the missus, so hopefully more pictures will be on the way soon! Happy holidays to you all, and I'll let you all know when I'll be getting home next. Until then!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New vids for the week

Found a couple good videos that I wanted to pass along.

The first is about Chinese graffiti in Shanghai - very interesting that the cops almost encourage them in some cases as it dresses up the streets... some of the artists talk about how it'd be more accepted if more artists used Chinese characters instead of English, but that English letters are so much easier to write. It also says that they started off just copying but now many are starting to develop their own style - I'll be interested to see it when they figure out how to stylize the Chinese characters better.

The next video is just totally bizarre: Kei-truck drifting. I don't know how or why someone would do this, but I'm certainly glad that they did as it's hilarious! If you've ever seen these things driving around the streets it would just expound on how incredibly ridiculous this is. Needless to say, I love it.

I have another one, but it opens a whole other can of worms and thus deserves its own post, so hang on for that one.

An interesting take on Beijing

I ran across this editorial from an economist (I think) that just got back from China. I really found his take on Beijing to be rather interesting, and it definitely affirms my desire to get out to China one of these days. Thing is though, as big as China is it'd take an eternity to see it all so you have to be selective... of the two biggest cities on the mainland, Shanghai and Beijing, I think I'd have to lean towards the more culturally-centric Beijing over the economic center of Shanghai.

Anyway check it out - he talks about how Peking Duck is made, the Great Wall, Buicks and Mao, the Olympic buildings, and Chinese hip-hop. Good stuff.

Monday, December 15, 2008

uggh... New "Kempo" Kid

Ok, so when I first heard a few months ago that there was going to be a remake of the Karate Kid, the 80's classic that we all grew up with and loved, it put a small smile on my face. This was in spite of the fact that I heard that Will Smith's 12 year old son was to play the lead role... I was willing to give the shrimp a go.

And now this:
Aside from addressing the Miyagi’s casting, Smith also revealed one interesting twist on the plot. “We’re making it with the China Film Group, so it’ll be based in Beijing,” he said of where the modern version of “Karate Kid” will take place.
...what!? But, but... but then it's not the Karate Kid?? I mean seriously, how can shoot in Beijing and have a Chinese teacher and still call it the Karate Kid with a straight face? Wu Shu Kid maybe, but not Karate Kid. I don't care if Karate was originally adapted from a Chinese art, it still took in some Okinawan influences to get to its current state.

Geez... I don't get why Hollywood feels the need to rape all these good originals from Japan lately - first there was Speed Racer (abysmal and totally lackluster), now they're ruining Dragonball (ack!), the Kenpo Kid (blech!), and even choosing to let Keanu Reeves dude!-ify the classic 47 Ronin story.

I still have a slight hope for this one though...

Who throws a shoe, honestly?

This just in from Iraq:

In the ultimate Islamic sign of disrespect, an Iraqi journalist has thrown his shoes at President (for now) Bush on a surprise visit to the Middle East. When asked about the shoes, Bush responded that they were size 10s. This is just so incredibly comical that I don't really feel the need to comment... just watch!

Update: lol, this just in - rally for "hero" Iraqi shoe-thrower in Baghdad!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

One Inch Punch: cool Asian-ish art and modern culture site

Just thought I would take the opportunity to draw your attention for a second to the "Stuff I check out" section to notice a new member: One Inch Punch.

This is an interesting site I stumbled across the other day that has stuff like Bruce Lee ping pong and ninja magnets... the other day they even had - are you ready - a monkey wedding! Ninjas, monkeys and Bruce Lee: how can you go wrong with that combination!

More than that though, the main point of the site is to show some rather interesting examples of contemporary Asian culture and art, from Japanese to Chinese/Taiwanese and even some Thai and others. I've enjoyed a few of the posts on there and think it's worth checking out if you have the time.

Here's some good places to start:

2008 Asian Beach Games Photos
Face Your Pockets
Chinese Illustrations
True Body Art
Nose Calligraphy

Belated Halloween pics

Ok, so yes it's now December and all, but a friend of mine that threw the Halloween party I went to has pictures up now for all to see, so thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Umm... yeah. My neighbors are psycho.

Ok, I just had the most random experience on Sunday, and it definitely warrants sharing in a public forum as I'm sure that more than a few people will be more than slightly amused by this anecdote. It may freak others out, but luckily for you the reader, you are quite well enough removed from the situation to not be totally irked and weirded out and simply enjoy it for the kooky randomness that it is. Note: this does not, however, make it any less demented or any better in my view, as I am more than just slightly annoyed right now.

Anyway, let's go back to a day that I shall dotingly refer to as Sunday. This particular Sunday was not so fluffy though - let me tell you why. So first, I get a random call from the landlord in the morning telling me that I needed to come in to sign some paperwork - something about the guarantor company or something, I didn't really catch it all as I was still sorta groggy from the Irish Car Bombs from the night previous. Ok fine I say, but then the weird part was that he insisted that I come in that day for whatever reason... small red flag goes up in the head.

But hey whatev, I take the afternoon shaking off the beer groggles and getting a few things done before stopping by the landlord's on the way out to meet a friend. I show up at the landlord's, and he grabs for his briefcase and we start going for a walk - now I know that something is definitely up, but might as well hear it now and get it over with.

So first we take care of the guarantor thing over a cup of coffee - apparently the place went bankrupt and they had to sign me over to another place, so no biggie from my perspective... then he drops the bomb.

I didn't totally understand the whole thing at first... basically all I got from his explanation the first time was him asking if I had any plants in the apartment, which I ironically don't since any plant put in my care will inevitably die from poor care. I say ironically, because I then took the time to look up the word that he kept repeating: 栽培. Once I saw the characters, I feintly remembered it meaning cultivation... wait, what? Things start to click - does this have something to do with drugs?? I ask.

And here's where it all comes out - apparently someone wrote a letter and anonymously sent it to the landlord's office basically accusing me of running a hydroponic weed lab out of my apartment - I hope you now get the irony listed above. I of course tell him how ridiculous this is, and offer to let him check the place out on the spot if he likes. What makes this a tad better, albeit slightly awkward, is that I've talked to this guy a bunch of times - during the application process, then he was helping me with my tickets out to Vietnam, and he's even called me when a plot of land opened up that he though my office might be able to use as a parking lot. So basically we're on good terms, and dude was apparently trying to decide what to do and how to approach this letter all week.

So he comes over and finds no weed, and brings a copy of the letter along to give to me. The strangest thing to him was that the letter came directly to his branch, which means that it pretty much has to be someone living in the building or else they wouldn't know which branch of the company to send it to. He recommended I take it to the cops and report it, as chances were that if they sent something to the landlord they'd try the same with the police as well. I did just to be safe, and the landlord guy offered to put his name in there as a witness on my behalf which was appreciated.

What is not appreciated is that now I know that one of my neighbors is apparently psycho and has it out for me for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I've had little more interaction with the neighbors than a "konnichi wa", and haven't been loud or anything, so even racking my brain I can't think of any possible motive anyone here would have to go all vindictive on me. Now my girlfriend is all scared because of this lame-o felk, which pisses me off about as much as the whole situation itself.

Luckily the landlord and the cops are on my side - the cop I was talking to this morning was basically apologizing on behalf of Japanese society for what he referred to as a mentally unbalanced person who shall be ultimately punished by God for his actions... I shit you not, this is what he said - it was great.

Sigh... I know my life is eventful and all, but what ever happened to events with a fun spin to them, like this or this? I can't think of one way to put a good spin on this one - any help?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stop motion Breakdancing

Good stuff:

Break Dance Stop Motion from ben wheatley on Vimeo.

Originally found here.

Dogs = the new babies?

Ok, sometimes the way people treat dogs out here is just disturbing... albeit in a most-decidedly non-abusive fashion. Let's take exhibit #1 to ease you into this:

Now I'll skip past the fact that this woman, who's deceiving looks defy her 40-something age, is walking five little dogs at once (yes there are five), and move right onto the little guy on the right. He's in a doggy bag. I don't know if this is all just lashback from Paris Hilton or what, but you see entirely too many people toting dogs around in little bags or dog carriers, or even their purse around here. More to be found here if you're interested. Moving right along:

Ok I couldn't really find a good picture, but basically another thing that I find hard to wrap my head around is people that carry their dog everywhere. You are constantly seeing people around who will walk around carrying their dog places. What the hell is the point of "walking" a dog if you're the only one doing the walking? How are they supposed to get exercise or take care of their business? Maybe they're just poorer versions of the first woman above and just can't afford the carrier, but I doubt it. And finally:

There is just a disturbingly large amount of doggy apparel out there. It might be partially because getting a dog in Japan is so expensive in the first place (most people spend at least $1,000USD just to get a pet), but many dog owners out here feel that the natural coat that God gave them is not enough, and thus must be purtified and supplimented by the oddness you see above. I cannot imagine that any dog would enjoy having this shit forced upon them, and no it is not cute. Just stop.

My thoughts on all this have led me to believe that it's an outside possibility that maybe these people are starting to think of dogs and pets in general as child replacements. People are having less and less kids lately due to lifestyle and budgetary changes... maybe pets help them fill the void and offer a less responsiblity-laden option to kids? I mean think about it: these people are carrying the dogs around and dressing them up and stuff, is it too farfetched of a conclusion? You be the judge.

I leave you with a quote:
“Dogs now outnumber children aged 10 and under in Japan — there were 13.1 million dogs in 2006. As the number of humans shrink, the dog population is growing, research firm Euromonitor said, and so is the market for dog-related products.”

Financial Crisis in the Heartland

I've been meaning to post a comment on this article I read the other week about Heartland (for balance a good review, and a decidedly not so good one), a somewhat popular bar in Roppongi, and the effects the worldwide financial crisis have had on it.

This was apparently somewhat of a golddigger's paradise- it was where the girls who wanted to pick themselves up a rich foreign banker/investor boyfriend would go to show their wares. The banker-types, on the other hand, looked to it as a good place to flash the skrill and bag a girl that appreciates them for their money. Now with the financial crisis, all the rich bankers are either not so rich or have left to go home when their offices called them back, or they were just dropped and out of work.

I personally think of it as the place where my friend, a decidedly non-banker type guy, met his girlfriend and subsequently made her my roommate for the better part of last year. Anyway it is (or was) most definitely known as a good place to go to meet people of the opposite sex... at least in certain circles. If this article is any indication though, I doubt it's very lively now.

Heartland - sign of the times.

The Art of Toilets?

BBC had an article recently about the Japanese art of... toilets. Yes that's right, toilets. These things are totally crazy... the one in the story linked weighs in at a purported $3,000USD! And this would be above and beyond the cost for the toilet itself- that's $3,000 for the seat alone.

I don't know exactly which one makes it cost that much, but some of the crazy functions for this thing include:
  • sensors that raise the lid when you approach the toilet, including a sensor that lifts the seat if you stand in front for guys
  • glow in the dark seat
  • heated seat
  • built-in bidet
  • speakers that play classical music
  • a special tank that cuts down on water usage
  • monitor to measure body/fat ratio
My favorite quote from the article?
A poem recently published by a stressed-out salary man captured their comforting appeal with haiku-like brevity. "The only warmth in my life is the toilet seat," he mourned.
The caveat to this of course is that making these thrones a reality in your own house back home is difficult, given the needs for extra plumbing and electrical outlets that most American bathrooms are not equipped with. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yes we can!... in Japan

As much as I'm sure I missed out on most of the excitement of the election process, what with being halfway across the world and all, what you may not be thinking about if you're in the US is how much buzz was and is going on about the election abroad. Besides being historic in nature, I think Obama has a good chance of raising the hurting image of the US in other parts of the world - check out this for what I'm talking about.

As such, this is one election that the whole world was interested in - if the rest of the world could vote in US elections then the vote would've been even more lopsided than it was. Japan is no exception to this rule either, and Obama is quite popular even if he isn't President yet.

First there was the town called Obama in Fukui Prefecture (福井県小浜市), and now there's this guy Nocchi. Nocchi is a "comedian" (a very loose translation for what Japan refers to as "tarento") who is currently making a living by going around impersonation Obama, which basically involved him getting a haircut, wearing a suit and saying "Yes we can" over 10,000 times. He even went as far as to go to the US to try and garner recognition as a look-a-like in Chicago, earning him a spot in the Tribune believe it or not. He actually got Obama's barber to cut his hair and got to shake Obama's hand after a speech. Personally I don't see him lasting much longer than the long list of one-shot, one-line wonders that pop up periodically out here, but I guess he's gonna ride the gravy train as long as he can. He's definitely better than the last one-shot wonder in recent memory, but falls way short of the best of them.

Here's some more video of the Obama guy if you're interested.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Shinkansen? Psshaw.

Well, they've been talking about it for a while now, and it looks like they're finally making some headway on talks of installing a maglev train in Japan. What's a maglev you say? Well it's basically a cross between the Shinkansen and Marty McFly's hoverboard, and it's got a top speed of something ridiculous like 581km/h (361mph) - according to the link "imagine a commercial jet aircraft flying past at full throttle at ground level."

Now my feelings on this are rather mixed... the inner nerd in me thinks it's a cool idea and would love them to push the technology forward to the point of commercial viability. The technology has been around since the 1960's, and it's about time someone's making it work right. Currently the only working specimen of this that I know of is the maglev in Shangai servicing the airport, which from what I hear is a total waste of space and is actually slower than normal travel due to the poor planning associated - a white elephant of the highest degree. There are no really nationwide-scale applications of the technology anywhere... the why comes next.

The pragmatist in me, however, knows that the reason the technology hasn't really seen widespread use is because it's frickin expensive: the Japan project tops off at a sombering 28,530,743,199 Doll hairs... in Zimbabwe. Ok, it's 5 trillion yen ($50 billion USD), but that's still a lot. And this is just to connect Tokyo and Nagoya, which means it's still got a long way to replace the Shink in practicality. It will eventually go at least to Osaka, which is a big step up.

And the payoff really isn't all that much - the Shink will get you to Nagoya in 100 minutes or so, while Osaka takes a little over 2 hours. In contrast, a plane ride from Tokyo to Osaka would take you about an hour, which is roughly how long the maglev would probably take. Ok, so maybe it would be nice to cut down on the flights in the whole gas-guzzling, carbon footprint clean technology sense, but it would probably still be quite a bit more expensive than a plane ride unless they totally redo the pricing schemes and cut Shink prices.

And the Shink has been around since the 70's... ok, so maybe by 2025 it would be nice to start waving in the next big thing. It's no flying car or hoverboard, but I guess it'll just have to do.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween 2008

Well, another Halloween is in the bag. After the craziness that went on last year on the train, the police beefed up security to keep partiers from going crazy and breaking stuff while getting naked again. Seriously, I don't see the problem with having a party on the train if it's only once a year and isn't during rush hour or something, but some people definitely overextended their welcome last year and it apparently pissed a bunch of people off to the point where they may have ruined it for everyone for at least a couple years.

I am unfortunately camera-less at the moment, so it may take a little bit for pictures to make their way back to me this time - patience is a virtue, and I fully expect that this one will be worth the wait. :P

In the meantime, if you're wondering what the ad in the post is all about you can enjoy the lovely stylings of the latest and greatest Tokyo Metro ads here. I love those things.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Japanese Tug-of-War

Tis a slow day... sigh. Anyway, apparently this is how Japanese people play tug-of-war. Enjoy!

Little red horsies

Hey, look what showed up at work 2 days ago! Forgive the quality of the photos as they were taken with the camera phone.

Also, the other day I was pretty close to buying a '95 Skyline GT-R, but we decided against it because of a nice puddle of oil dripping from the engine. I will have one soon enough though.

Ridiculous rates!

OMG, seriously has anyone been keeping track of the exchange rates lately? My job has me looking at them frequently lately, so I'm probably more up to date than most, but I'm sure you all realize the turmoil the stock market and financial districts across the country, as well as the world for that matter are doing. The UK, Ireland, and other countries around Europe have been pulling similar "socialist" acts as the US bank bailout, but all attempts to save the sinking ship that is the world economy seem like a bucket brigade for a 5-alarm fire. I've recently found that I have one friend who lost their job as a direct result of this, with very little warning and no severance of any kind.

I personally don't really think the bailout was that good of an idea and wouldn't mind those to blame for the whole deal to writhe in the filth of their own makings (e.g.: the people who loaned beyond their means and the banks that goaded them into it), but that's easy to say from way over here on the other side of the world. From here though, it didn't look like the bailout was very popular on that side of the pond either, signaled by the fact that it took 2 times for it to pass. My favorite report on the whole thing came from our friend Jon Stewart over at the Daily Show, with a series he calls "Clusterf#@k to the Poor House":

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Anyway, over here we have an entirely different problem - the Japanese Yen is probably the only currency in the world that wasn't hit hard by the bank fallout, probably since Japanese banks went through a similar crisis about 7 years ago and are already on the way out of the whole mess. While currencies around the world are dropping like a tactical nuke on Iraq, Japan's Yen remains the financially robust stalwart that is weathering the storm - the beacon from the lighthouse shining over these rocky financial times if you will. The problem is not only that the US Dollar, Euro and all currencies tied to them are falling around the world including the British Pound, Canadian Dollars, NZ Dollars and Australian Dollars which I've been watching, but also that many people around the world are buying Yen because of the security they provide, which drive the price even higher. What do you get then? Well you get 93.9yen to the USD when the rates were at 107 just a month ago, or 127yen to the Euro which was at 160, or 150yen to the Pound which was at 200. That is a full 33% increase on the value of the Yen related to the Pound, meaning that if for example you wanted to buy something from Japan that costs 2million yen you will now have to pay 13,333Pounds instead of the 10,000 price of a month ago.

In short this means that I as an exporter currently have a large uphill battle in front of me and am pretty much forced to weather the storm. Shit. Worldwide recession? I think it's a possibility.

Now of course the flip side of this is that it would be a great time to send money home... if I had any to spare. Damn moving fees.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Doug picks

I would like to take this time out of my recently busy schedule to give you guys a few choice selections from the recent Doug recipe book - I am of course speaking of the drink menu as I have been stocking up the bar as of late. Besides the fact that I have a counter just screaming to be bar space, the idea is that a finely mixed drink should be easier on the gut than beer... let's hope it works.

Anyway here's two of my recent drinks of choice:

lime - 1 full
sugar - 2 tablespoons
pinga - 1 or 2 shots (depending on how frisky you feel)

This one is the national drink of Brazil introduced to me by - you guessed it - the capoeira crowd. It's both refreshing and packs a punch, and is highly recommended if you can find yourself some pinga, which is basically Brazilian rum. This is not to be confused with penga, which means something entirely different in Spanish/Portuguese... if you put a penga in your drinks then you've had too many and will never ever ever be making me a drink. Ever. So, a common brand of pinga is Cachaca, but in this case common may be a relative term. If you can't find you some pinga there are rum and vodka variations, but it's not quite the same. I was also recommended to use cane sugar if possible since it dissolves easier and more resembles the sugar used in Brazil.

So to make it, you first slice off the ends of the lime and cut the rest into 4 or eight pieces, then place into a glass or mixer. Slap the sugar on top, then mash with a big spoon or whatever blunt object you have handy to make a sweet and sour concoction... I find that a wooden dough roller I have works best. Pour the pinga in on top, fill the rest of the glass with ice and mix. If you made it properly it'll be more sour than sweet - delish.

Surfer on Acid
Malibu Coconut Rum
Pineapple juice
...all in equal amounts.

I forget where I learned about this one, but I tried it once and loved it - don't worry about how nasty it sounds, it's actually pretty sweet and really good. Technically it's supposed to be a shot, but I usually just expand the doses and make a drink out of it. How could you not want to try a drink called "Surfer on Acid" at least once???

Usually about a double shot of all three ingredients in the mixer with a bunch of ice does it for me... shake and pour, clickity clack.

Some other things I've messed with that are tolerable are Tequila Sunrise with pineapple juice in place of orange juice - I call it Tequila Before Sunrise - and I'm currently trying what is apparently known as a "Jaeger Orange", which is basically a glass of good 'ole OJ with a shot of Jaeger poured over top. Not half bad I guess.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2 interesting Maryland statistics

Yep, just learned two:

1) We are the most educated state in the Union, woot!! 13.65 years of education is the average for adults, yeah baby. In your face Minnesota!! ;P Hmm, I wonder if they count me as 16 or 16.5 years considering I took 4.5 years to get a 4-year degree, not including time spent abroad.

2) Starbucks:Wal*Mart ratio - 3.8. Now this one I'm not sure what to make of. On the one hand I don't really like Wal*Mart, so less of them can be seen as a rather good thing. Simply walking into the Wal*Mart in Germantown gives me the creeps now, and I don't exactly appreciate the smell I was greeted by last time I found myself there.

On the other hand, I don't really drink coffee or caffienated drinks in general for that matter very much, so Starbucks doesn't really do it that much for me either. I guess if I had to choose between the two I would take the smell of Starbucks coffee and products over the average Wal*Mart, and I would say that I'm probably at least 3.8 times as likely to step foot inside a Starbucks as I am a Wal*Mart.

On the 3rd hand (???), I've heard that they both have rather interesting business strategies... Wal*Mart has revolutionized the business of inventory and delivery as well as subsequently changing the face of the retail world as a whole, and is king of "streamlining" their business... sometimes at the expense of their employees, and often to the benefit of Chinese businesses/factories. Starbucks supposedly has an interesting management program and is supposed to have quite a high satisfaction level for employees... if you believe my hippie friend Jeff who (used to?) work there (hi Jeff!).

And finally on the 4th hand, they are both big corporations and thus I hate them both, because I'm white and this is apparently what I am supposed to do.

If you would like to know my new fountain of useless statistical wonderment, you can follow this magical link... oh yeah, and they're pretty sure they know who's going to be President come January as well.

McCain for Lizard King

Ok, I haven't seen the latest Presidential debate or even read anything about it yet as I just got home, but the first thing I saw about it was this! Mike, I hope you got those Photochopping skills ready, because this gem of a beut is just screaming "Somebody play with me!" LOL

Original found here.

Modern Pirates

For those of you not in the know, there is a slowly burgeoning faction of modern piracy, and I'm not talking about mp3s or downloaded media. No, I'm talking "Yarr harr, yo ho!", good 'ol 18th century buccaneering on the open seas Blackbeard stuff, although this time around instead of the Carribean, Somalia and the Red Sea are becoming the central focal point. This is much due to the fact that Somalia has pretty much been without a central government for the last few years and thus doesn't regulate its seas like all the goody-good countries do.

Anyway, I ran across an article on the Scurvy Dog phenomenon on a blog I check out every so now and then and thought I'd share. It appears that this guy thinks that things are really starting to pick up and people are starting to rekindle the old pirate society trends of yore. I for one am all for it, as long as it doesn't directly affect me in any way, shape or form. Go pirates!

Here's an excerpt and the full article:
These similarities have led to something closer to a modern pirate society, which in turn has led social institutions to emerge in modern pirate crews. For instance, Somali pirate crews have adopted a system for dividing booty similar to that of Blackbeard and his contemporaries. They’ve also adopted a system of social insurance as their predecessors did.
And finally,


Monday, October 13, 2008

New clothes

Totally random thought, but I was just thinking of how great it feels when you put on new clothes. They're all nice and fluffy and stuff usually, just how the designer envisioned them. Shirts are the best, but pants are good for this too. Due to the fact that I apparently have shorter legs than the average designer expects I wind up cutting jeans - try and find any pair of jeans/pants/etc. with a length of less than 30" and you will usually find a waist size of ridiculous proportions, such as 26" or 28" or so. Being as I am not a Barbie or Ken doll and have bone mass along to go with a tad of recently collected meat, this is rather unrealistic... hell, that was unrealistic even back when I was in middle school.

Anyway the point is that freshly cut jeans are the shit, and they, along with just about every other fabric of clothing start to loose their fluffiness with time. Maybe it's the detergent I use or something, who knows. Lately I've been tossing some downy in with the load, and I just picked up some of that Fabreeze spray stuff too.

Long story short, I like that new clothes feel and am desperate to maintain it so I am not forced to constantly buy more.

Trash blows

Hey all,

In case you hadn't noticed by the posting time, my schedule is right back to it's pre-Japan levels now that I live 5 mins. from work and don't really have to show til like 10 or so... loving this place!

So just got paid for the first time in what feels like a good long while... after the move and splurging on a trip to Vietnam coupled with a month off work my savings were definitely hurting, but now things look to be back on track.

Now here it is 1:30am and I'm stuffing trash into these little yellow bags to stuff on the curb... stupid. I thought I'd mentioned trash in this country before, but it's totally frickin ridiculous. When you move into a new place, they give you a trash schedule, and you'd have to see this thing to believe it. Take this place for example: Mondays and Thursdays are your standard combustable garbage.

Which day is recyclables you ask? Well that would depend... if you mean newspapers and magazines then that's on Wednesdays, but then of course glass bottles are on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month, alternating with cans which are on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday. Oh and don't throw your plastic bottles out with the glass ones - those get tossed with metals on the 1st and 3rd Fridays. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I'm actually sorta pissed right now though, because last time I was all happy to put stuff out after checking the schedule to make sure I was getting the right day and all. Then after work I come home and find the trash still right where I left it with a big gash through the side of it! I do what any man would do when something is broken - read the manual for the first time ever - and find that oooh, you have to throw your trash out in their special frickin yellow and pink bags or else "they don't know what to do with it." What the hell is that? I mean it's not rocket science here, you take a bag and throw it in a truck, easy-peasy Japanesey (and I can say that). I refuse to believe that they are that moronic that they can't figure out what to do with a bag because of it's (lack of) color - just look at the stupidly complicated schedule that you guys came up with, and if it's bottle day *and you have bottles*, regardless of what bag they're in you throw them in with the other bottles. Same with trash. Simple.

You know I love this place, but sometimes it can be frustrating dealing with people that follow the rules to the letter without giving a second thought to what the rules actually mean and why they might have been put in place... and sometimes more importantly, when you can bend the rules and still get the same damn results.

I also remember the subject of trash separation coming up with a Japanese friend - he was shocked when he visited the states and found that we only separate into trash and "recylables", and concluded that Americans were not capable of dealing with the Japanese system if it were proposed in the US. I agreed that it would never work, but of course told him that it's not that we're not capable, it's just that separating to that extent is far too annoying and ridiculous for any sane person to agree it's worth while. That's what we hire trash guys for, right? Why don't they just do their frickin jobs? Sheesh.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A simple observation

Here I'm starting my new job in like 9 or so hours, and I'm still up pecking away at a keyboard... sigh.

So walking around and stopping by the local equivalent of a Japanese Wal*Mart today, I noticed that there are an assload of kids and families living in my newly adopted environs. This made me think 2 things:

1) Lots of families implies that I've picked a nice place to live. I could care less about the schools in the area, but this means that the area affords me good access to daily amenities and stores - 24-hr. supermarkets and most of the things I need are really close - and pretty quiet, peaceful surroundings with plenty of wide open spaces and green stuff around (no, not that green stuff) are most definitely appreciated. It's hard to find good parks like this if you're downtown!

2) What happened to all that talk about Japan's rapidly aging society and all the problems associated with it? Meh, whatev.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting your license in Japan

Okay, now it's time to get down to business: getting a license in Japan. I'm sure it sounds fun enough - not quite as good as some Jello pudding pops, but at least as much fun as the MVA/DMV back home, right? Ohhh, if you thought that was a pain then you don't know the half of it, mhaw, mhaw.

See now for some of the luckier amongst the foreigners here in Japan, getting your Japanese license can be a total breeze. If you just plan on being here for one year or less, then you can get by just picking up one of those international driver's permits at AAA for like $15 like I did at first. Only problem is, that only lasts a year. If you want to drive more than a year, you need a real license, and that's where it can get fun.

For the uninitiated, getting a license in the US is about as hard as beating my mom in a game of Super Mario Kart (and I'm pretty sure she's never even heard of Super Mario Kart). They should pass them out free with Slurpees at 7-11 or something. Getting a license in Japan on the other hand can be an actual achievement... depending on where you're from.

Remember driving classes back in high school? Well Japanese kids who spend their whole lives in Japan get to go to driving school to get their license, which takes months and costs around 300,000 yen... that's $3,000USD. They're guaranteed to get their license at the end of all of it, but I hear there's a 200-question exam at the end and you have to get a 95% or above, then take the driving exam. No cake walk, and takes a chunk of your savings.

Foreigners who have a license from home can just get it transferred though and skip the course. Simple, right? Wait, there's more...

So I’ll walk you through the process using my own experience. First, you have to get your license translated… but you’re not allowed to do it yourself, even if you’ve been translating stuff officially for about 2 years. No no, you have to go to JAF, which is the Japanese equivalent of AAA, and have them translate it for 3000 yen. What a scam. Oh, and of course this office isn’t in an exactly convenient location as there are only really 2 in the Tokyo area apparently… took me a good chunk of time too (at least 2-3 hours round trip).

Ok, so now that you have your translation, you have to take it along with your foreign license, your passport, and foreign registration card to the Japanese MVA. Now here it gets a bit goofy – they check your passport to see how long you had your license in your home country before coming to Japan. If you renewed your license within 3 months of leaving your country then they won’t even give you a license without an official driving record from back home… within a year and it’s the same deal or else they try to class you as a new driver and make you stick one of these spiffy “I’m a noob” stickers on any car you drive for a year. Shyeah, that’s gonna happen. When I talked to them, they seemed totally oblivious to the fact that when you renew a license they don't let you keep the old one and just expect you to carry it around with you.

Now at this point the next step depends on what country you’re from: if you’re lucky and you’re from a handful of countries including England, Germany, Canada (!!) and others, then you just pay them like 2100 yen or so and go pick up your license. If you are from the US, however, they group you in with the countries like Vietnam where people can’t drive and make you run the skills test gauntlet. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to argue that an American license is worth any more than just over the cost of laminating it, but how the hell did Canada get an exemption!!?? This is probably one of those things best not thought about too long unless you’d like to pop a vein in your forehead and die of an aneurysm, like how Celine Dion has somehow accumulated 5 Grammys over her lifetime.

So anyway, skills test. The place I went had whack hours for the tests… 8:30-11:00am and 1:00-3:00pm, no weekends or holidays for the initial step and Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:40am by appointment for the driving portion. The initial step is simple – eye test and a 10-question computer test with such mind-benders as “can you drive after drinking?” (Answer: No, unless you’re Chuck Norris) If you fail that then you either don’t understand English (yes, the test is even in English), or you don’t even deserve an American license. Oh, and even if you breeze through this, they've scheduled things to guarantee that you cannot get everything accomplished in one day.

Ok, so next it's time for the driving test. This test really isn’t that hard, but what it is is excessively anally nit-picky. They'll fail you for things like not being as far left as you could have been before making a left turn, not signaling exactly 30 meters before changing lanes and stopping on the line for a stop sign/signal instead of behind it. For this reason and this reason alone, most everyone fails on their first time excepting those that take lessons, and a lot of people take many, many more times, which sucks since you have to pay the registration fee of 2100 yen every time you take the test and wait until the next available testing date. I met a guy from Nepal (closer to Vietnam than the US on the driving scale) that said he was on his 7th time. My girlfriend who lived out in CA for a while said she failed her first 2 times and got scared by the instructor laying into her the second time, then passed the 3rd time after waiting like a year and taking a few brush-up courses for 20,000 yen or so. I myself got it on the 2nd try – 1st time hit a curb on their super-narrow S-section (nerves I guess), and passed the 2nd time.

So it took me 4 days spread over two weeks and about 9000 yen, but now I have my license again! Plenty of Japanese people that live abroad, even if just for a few months, will get their license abroad and get it transferred like my girlfriend did, just because of how much cheaper it is… 300,000 yen?!?!?? Compared to that, 20-30,000 yen is nothing. Wow, just wow.

So here’s the finished product – I’ll be writing a guide to the process and driving test in particular as a project for work for those interested, just give me a week or two to get everything together.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What the hell is up with the economy?

Could somebody please tell me??

I leave the country for a week, then hear that a whole bunch of big ass banks are out of commission or on the ropes... Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy, the US government bails out AIG, Merrill Lynch bought out by Bank of America... what the hell?? Aren't these like frickin' huge names? Now I hear that of the 5 biggest investment firms in the US only 2 are left standing? Wow, we really suck.

This reminds me of the bubble crash in Japan in the 1990's... not quite as drastic (yet), but potentially disastrous if someone doesn't right the ship soon. I am sooo glad I get paid in yen and live halfway across the world right now... I have a feeling my money shall be staying away from the US, at least until things bottom out.

Speaking of which, any speculators wanna let me in on exactly when that'll be and what signs to look for? If not then I'll just assume that this is the end of the US as we know it and the terrorists have won. Pretty soon Iran, Saudi Arabia and Columbia are going to put all their oil funds together and buy out the US and rename it United Stackistan, the Confederacy of Oil Conglomerate Kingdoms (just because it has a nice abbreviation), then stick G.W. in a Saddam-like little cubby hole for a few weeks before having Dick Cheaney shoot him in the face, and hang Al Gore upside down by his wee-wee from a eucalyptus tree with a hemp rope and run around on camels screaming "I told you so!" in Arabic. Then Skeletor will rise up and take over control of the White House from the oil guys, of course renaming it Castle Greyskull. Dark, dark times abode for the US, and only He-Man can save us.

PS: yes I'm exaggerating, but that's only because it's fun. That is, it's fun when I do it, not when the news does it since they just make the problem worse by freaking people out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vietnam, in a macademian nut shell

Ok, back from Vietnam and all rested up! Time for a quick summary of my impressions of country #7. First off, my 6 days took us from a flight transfer in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to the beaches of Nha Trang, then up to Hanoi for a night and out to Halong Bay for a day before flying back to Narita. Pretty busy for just under a week, but unfortunately that's how vacations usually go out this way as time off in Japan is rather limited.

On the total opposite end of the spectrum, Vietnam is great if you'd like to forget about all concept of time and just relax. They're not too big on schedules out there from what I could see... or maybe that's just how the beaches work. In any case, a watch was definitely not needed or of much use in Nha Trang.

My top 3 impressions of Vietnam:

1. Nice people
2. Traffic in Hanoi
3. Crazy tropical fruit

Nice People

At first I was rather sceptical, as the big scam in Vietnam with expensive taxi rides from the airport that take you to their over-priced hotels was my first impression. Now while I say expensive, I'm talking basically of a difference between normal at about $15 to expensive at maybe $25 or so for a 35km ride. In otherwords, expensive in Vietnam is still cheap, and once you get the hang of how things work you can get around the ripoffs.

As time went on and I got more used to things though, I found that the people were in general pretty nice, although knowing absolutely no Vietnamese and their spotty grasp of English meant that while they generally got the gist of things, details were definitely lost in conversations. In stark contrast to Japan, however, while most can't speak English everyone tries, even if it takes them beyond their abilities.

Probably the best example was on the way back to the airport. We made a stop at the hotel we stayed at in Hanoi the night before to pick up luggage and take a shower - the plan was to grab some Pho before hitching a taxi to the airport. We asked the guy at the hotel front desk about a good place for some quick noodles... he nods, then gets up and goes in the back. I thought he'd come back with a map, but instead he brings a case of beer and proceeds to start loading the fridge! We didn't have time so I went to look for the other guy manning shop, who was helping someone out on the internet. Then the first guy comes back and says he's going to take us to a Pho place, but as it was sorta far we'd have to hop on the back of his bike. I've never actually had hotel staff escort me to a restaurant before, and this meant that we got to ride through town in the transportation of choice, a scooter. Not only did he take us to a nice place which made for a lovely last evening in Vietnam and fit perfectly into our schedule, but it also leads into the next point of...

Traffic in Hanoi

Amazing... simply amazing. This is one of those things you really just have to see for yourself to believe. By luck of the draw we spent our one night in Hanoi during the Moon Festival - think of it sort of like Vietnamese Thanksgiving and Halloween all rolled into one - which meant that the normal craziness of Vietnamese traffic was compounded by a factor of like 5 or so. The roads are packed with motorbikes and seemingly have no order to them whatsoever, and yet no one seems to drive any faster than about 40kph or so and I didn't see one crash. You get people riding on both sides of the road and weaving all over the place, with pedestrians crossing pretty much anywhere, and yet it all works. With the traffic and watching them shoot off lanterns into the sky for the Moon Festival, we sat at this one interesection for a good 1-2 hours, just watching.

Crazy Tropical Fruit

Ok, so there is fruit in this world that unless you've been around SE Asia you probably have never heard of in your life. I had this one thing called a dragon fruit, there were these others called mangosteens, some spiky-looking lychee things called rhambutans, and some wierd grape-like things with a shell on them. We had fruit pretty much with every meal as it was cheap and excellent.


See, now I would provide you with pictures of all this, but unfortunately I lost my brand new camera on the last day, dropped in the sea in Halong Bay. I think I miss the 300 or so pictures I took even more than the $300 or so that I lost on the camera... cameras can be replaced.

Other than that I would say it was one of the most enjoyable trips I've had, despite having a cold for most of it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Good Morning, Vietnam!!

Ok, finally sealed the deal on my Vietnamese domestic transfer, which means that I will officially as of tomorrow night be on the beaches of Nha Trang, Vietnam!

I shall take this week to lick my wounds from failing my driving test today... not totally surprising since most everyone I know that brings a license from the US fails their first time out here. Once I get back I'll work on the "New Doug for 2008" series outlined previously, but as things are running tight here I need to get packing... right after I go pick up my tickets!

Quick note to anyone going to Vietnam: if you checked the prices of domestic flights online, know that those prices are only good WHEN YOU ARE IN VIETNAM. Also, you need at least a minimum of two days with which to procure said tickets, or else you wind up buying them through your local branch and paying the normal [insert your country here] prices. This means that if at all possible, you should stay in Hanoi/Hochiminh for 2 days and fly out on the 3rd to take advantage of this... if you can find 2 days worth of stuff to do in Hanoi/Hochiminh. My suggestion - do Hanoi and hit up Halong Bay or something.

Ok, back in a week with pics and stories!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Angola vs. Regional

In spite of being quite busy lately with various random tasks, including some annoying last minute details on my latest excursion (to Vietnam - this makes country #7!!), I did make time to get out to the Brazilian Festival going on this past weekend in my favorite park in Tokyo, Yoyogi! For anyone coming out to Tokyo, Yoyogi Park is a definite don't miss: all in one afternoon you can get your classical culture fix visiting Meiji Shrine, then get your modern culture fix in Harajuku whilst shopping and oogling random weird people and stuff. You see the most random of stuff on the bridge from Harajuku station to Meiji Shrine, including the famous cosplay girls, as well as all kinds of weird street performers. That, and you can find just about anything in the park, from the Fonzie-wannabe 50's dancers and drum circles to soccer and frisbee to... those weird guys that practice their choreographed sword fights under the trees, and the guys I saw with quite deliberately placed trash can lids and signs on their bodies as they were themselves sprawled across the lawn - whatever your interests it's a great way to spend an afternoon, especially in the summer when the weirdos are out in full effect.

So anyhoo, most every weekend in the summer has a different festival, and this weekend was the Brazilian Festival, with my capoeira group was doing a performance right off the bat on the first day. Of course I couldn't miss it, but just for cathartic disclosure I did sleep in and miss the first 10 minutes or so (shhhh!!!). After that there was a free roda (pronounced "ho-da". It’s easy to remember: just think “hoedown”, but way cooler. Heh, capoeira hoedown, yee-haw.) in which people from all around the country and a few in from abroad even played capoeira for a good 2-3 hours. That was one of the most interesting gatherings I've been to in a while!

One theme which reared its head a few times over the course of the day though was a slight bad vibe between the two main schools of capoeira: Angola and Regional. In general, Regional (pronounced "hey-joe-nal") is the newer style and probably the one that most people are familiar with. If you saw someone flipping around and stuff, more than likely it was Regional. They came up with a sort of belt system to mirror other martial arts... it's more about form and show than it is about really being effective as a fighting style though if you ask me, but then the flips and stuff are most definitely fun in their own right. Here's people having fun flipping around, spinning on their lips.

Angola on the other hand is the original capoeira, just as it has been since the slaves in Brazil developed it way back when. It tends to be slower and closer to the ground, which takes more strength and balance. It's much more closed so you don't leave yourself open to attacks as much, and while there's still a bunch of whole lot of inverted stuff going on, it doesn't have as much of that acrobatic element that is so definitive of Regional... Angolistas are also much more likely to take the opening and knock you back on your ass if you let them too. Here's a vid of Angola style.

I started out doing the former and am now practicing the latter, so I'm sort of in the middle and can't really see why the two wouldn't get along, but apparently some don't agree. When I talked to some Regional friends, they would say how they thought Angola was boring, which I can understand since it isn't as flashy (the basics are harder though if you ask me). If you listen to the people in my current Angola group, they sort of talked down at some of the Regional people, saying they were out of control and wild... to their credit, at least twice some Regional player fell into the berimbau while trying some move, which is a big no-no. Still, the mumbling behind backs and all sorta irked me. If you watch them play together you'll definitely notice a difference in styles, but at the same time you can tell they're just two different styles of the same sport.

In the end, the maestres (teachers) all get along and understand how to look at the big picture and keep the capoeira love going... I think when people get to that level they can appreciate each other's respective strengths and skills more. I just wish everyone saw it like that... it's just another in the series of artificial barriers that human nature seems to love to create for no other apparent reason than to make unnecessary friction. Why can’t we all just get along???

Reminds me of a famous Doug's lyrics:
"So why does there only have to be one correct philosophy?
I don't want to go and follow you just to end up like one of them.
And why are you always telling me what you want me to believe?
I'd like to think that I can go my own way and meet you in the end.
Go my own way and meet you in the end."
-Doug Robb, Hoobastank (a.k.a.: the Mountain Dew Band)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Doug is not dead!!

Ok, so technically no, but I have currently had no real internet access for the past week and a half, and won't get real access back for another 2 weeks yet still... and my phone gets shit for reception at the new place. This to me is basically like being dead to the world. I've currently brought my laptop into the (new) office long enough to catch up on mail and things.

When I get the chance, I'll be filling you guys in on what it's like to:
- apartment hunt in Tokyo (hint: nightmare)
- move in Japan (not as bad as apartment hunting, but frickin expensive!!)
- get a license in Japan (results will be in tomorrow on this one... work in progress)

I might be adding more to the list as I start actually writing as that tends to make you think of more. For now, I have completed my move to a place within Tokyo called Komae City, and from the latter half of the month shall be working with cars again - this time as an exporter at a friend's business... this guy has big dreams and bank accounts to match, so I'm hoping this will lead somewhere.

Until then...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monkey sighting... in Shibuya!!!

Ok, now tell me that is not the awesomest headline everer... I just saw this on tv and it was abso- frickin- lutely hilarious! There were something like 15-20 cops chasing this one monkey around for hours - with nets. No tranquilizers, totally low tech with the nets. I believe this says it all:

It’s a monkey - it’s not like it did anything bad,” a police spokesman said, adding that the animal was still on the loose.

The monkey was spotted hopping around by the automatic ticket gates at a train line in Shibuya Station in central Tokyo at about 9:40 a.m. .

It then ran downstairs to the entrance to another line, climbed up and down a pillar and ran around the ticketing machines before taking refuge on top of a train information board for two hours, a spokeswoman for railway operator Tokyu Corp said.

Awesomeness... pure awesomeness. Full story with video footage here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Nobody Sleeps Like the Japanese Do

...oh it's true. Japanese people are amazing when it comes to sleep - many have the uncanny ability to sleep at the drop of hat once sitting in just about any moving vehicle. It's something you experience on a daily basis while taking the trains in Tokyo... if you're lucky enough to snatch one of the highly coveted seats on the train, oft times you find yourself shrugging a fellow train warrior off your shoulder as he/she attempts to fall into a hibernation-like slumber, totally oblivious and incapable of keeping from using you as their pillow.

I have personally been beset on both sides by slumbering riders at least once. This phenomenon is not limited to seats either, as I've had people standing next to me nod off and start wavering in my direction as well.

My theory as to the reasoning for this is a combination of overwork and/or under sleep. I know a few people that count the 1-2 hours of sleep they regularly get on the train in their daily sleep totals... they depend on this time to get the sleep necessary to be (sometimes barely) functioning members of society. Only problem is that this only works for working people, and you see plenty of youngsters nodding off too... my theory is still in need of some tweaking.

Another interesting corollary of the Japanese sleep phenomenon is that you will regularly find scenes such as those to the right on Saturday and Sunday mornings all over downtown Tokyo if you happen to be out early enough. If you yourself are on the way back from a late night, you are guaranteed to spot a few of them, especially in the notorious party districts like Roppongi or Shibuya.

Now granted, this is a situation where the majority of the populace normally are faced with two less than optimal choices - go home on the last train of the night (12:30ish... night just beginning), or the first train (5-5:30ish... past most people's bed times). Those who choose the latter don't always make it the whole way or don't pace themselves and wind up passed out on the sidelines, like our friends here.
I myself suffer from this syndrome occasionally, but in my case I make it to the train at least... it just takes me more time to get home than usual as I sleep past my stop, sometimes repeatedly. The worst occasion of this I can recall was one time when I got on the train going the wrong way and rode it all the way up into Saitama somewhere, maybe a good hour or so out of Tokyo and on the complete opposite side from Kanagawa where I live. After finally getting back on the train the right way and of course passing out again, winding up at the end of the line past my stop and doubling back again, I think I got home around 11am with at least a good 3-4 hours of train sleep under my belt.

By the way, the idea for this post was inspired by a very amusing community on Facebook, which if you are signed up for I highly suggest you check out, like now. All these pics are borrowed from said community.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Back by popular demand...

Ok, I would hereby like to apologize to my apparent fan base back home - I have been asked by no less than 5 people in the last week when I'm going to update this blog. Yes I've been absent for the better part of 2-3 months now, and it's not because of a lack of anything new for sure... quite the opposite. There's plenty to tell, just not enough free time budgeted to updates here.

A few tidbits:
-back into capoeira the last couple months - good times
-moving to downtown Tokyo - more good times
-I'm now 29 - good times (pics uploaded)

The rest will have to wait until substantiated answers can be provided, so patience. Once the move has been completed it'll mean my commute will be cut at least in half, providing me with more of the sleep that my body craves more than crack but also placing me smack dab on 2 of the main lines in Tokyo for the uber-convenience that people dream about and I need. Hopefully this will mean more time for updates too, so keep your fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I've uploaded pictures of my birthday party on flickr - the rest can be viewed on facebook if you're into that sort of thing. Ok, won't be 2 months this time, promise!!!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The tale of two keitais

So this past week was Golden Week, which meant a couple 4-day weekends for yours truly. I took the opportunity to take a trip up to my old stomping grounds in Miyagi, which was definitely relaxing and enjoyable.

The only caveat - I had to say goodbye to something that has been near and dear to me for the past year or so, my cell phone, taking with it all the numbers accumulated in it over the past year. Pictured on the right are the culprit (right) and its replacement, with a new buddy tagging along known as marimokkori, the Sendai version. I call him Date Mokkori since it's the marimokkori of Date Masamune of Sendai fame.

So what is this marimokkori exactly you ask? Well I'm glad you did, because you know I'm going to tell you anyway as they exude more awesomeness than a platypus's mammary glands. Marimokkori is this cute (apparently) green toy that originated up in Hokkaido. Marimo is a kind of algae they have up in Hokkaido, and mokkori is another name for... a crotch! As you may notice from his likeness to the left, mari is always rather proud of his bulging mokkori. I used to have a mokkori monkey as my keitai strap for a while actually, but I lost him. I guess monkeys are meant to be free.

Oh, and if you're wondering how my phone died it was rather abrupt and with no warning, but I do have an idea what might have happened... it was shortly following this incident that I noticed it died:

Totally, totally random. Ah well, this time around I got one with a SIM card and a memory card. Backups people!

Stuff you always wanted to know (but were never bored enough to look up)

Hey, look what woke me up last night about 1:30 in the morning!

Ok, so let's talk about platypuses, as apparently my spell checker is telling me that platypi is not correct as I originally had thought. However, a little Wiki tells me that the "pseudo-Latin" platypi is the colloquial form, and that it would be platypodes if put into Greek as the singular form is. Anyway maybe I'm alone on this one, but I think they're cool.

So in a sometimes futile effort to stave off boredom at work when things are slow, I run across some rather interesting (to me) things in my random net meanderings.... today's stop by the good 'ol BBC got me looking into our nice and cuddley duck-billed monotrematic buddies, and oh my GOD you would not believe the fountain of trivial knowledge that I stumbled upon - this to me was like stumbling across the El Dorado of Wikipedia entries. For instance, did you know that a baby platypus is referred to as a puggle? Or that the males have poisonous hind legs and the powers of electroreception? Or that while as members of the mammal family they do have mammary glands and lactate, they don't have nipples? Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up... no wonder people thought these things were a hoax when they first discovered them.

So did I stop there? Of course not, because in explaining what I was looking at to the girl sitting next to me at work I found out that platypus in Japanese is カモノハシ ("kamonohasi"), which as I see it pretty directly translates to "duck-nosed". Makes sense. And the only other monotreme (単孔類, "tankourui") currently in existence is the echidna (ハリモグラ, "harimogura").

This means that I can now say things like
(While the only two remaining monotremes, the platypus and echidna, are part of the mammal family, they lay eggs and don't have nipples.)

I guarantee that this knowledge is coming soon to a conversation near you! Man, I am sooo gonna be the life of the party tomorrow night. ;P

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Japanese guy can't read... pictures

Doh! If you think back far enough, I mentioned previously how genius the whole Ikea organization is, with their fun store and what I believed to be instructions simple enough for a one-armed Gump to put together... well apparently the Japanese government believes that I am wrong:


The industry ministry has instructed Ikea Japan KK, the Japanese unit of Sweden’s furniture retail giant Ikea, to improve its product manuals after receiving a report that a customer was severely injured while assembling a chest of drawers, the ministry said Friday. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has been informed that a man in his 60s from the city of Yotsukaido, Chiba Prefecture, was hit in the eye by a fragment from a cracked screw while assembling a unit of the company’s Mandal chest of drawers in July last year and has been suffering from visual impairment ever since.

Following the instruction, Ikea Japan compiled special assembly manuals written in Japanese, in addition to conventional manuals containing simple illustrations and brief instructions. ‘‘The explanations were not sufficient and we doubt that the accident resulted simply from carelessness on the user’s part,’’ said an official at the ministry’s office in charge of products accidents.

So wait, pictures aren't simple enough?? If you have ever seen these instructions you know how utterly retarded this is as a drunken dyslexic chimp could assemble this stuff with his feet while hanging from a tree, and the whole point is that the instructions don't need languages to confine them to one audience. I guess when people get older some of them lose the ability to read... pictures. Wow.

Yet more proof that governments can only screw things up, so it's best for us to let them do as little as possible. If we could lock them under the basement staircase like the trolls they are then I would shed tears of joy... I wish there were less lawyers and more Ron Pauls in the world.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More commuting misadventures

Hiddley ho, readeroonies!

So yet again, I have a story to rival my former entry on my ongoing escapades on the Tokyo railway system. I can only imagine how entertaining these stories must be from where you are, all comfy and cozy in your nice chair in front of the computer. Well I'll tell you, it's a whole different bag of cookies when you live it on the daily... you snicker as I get shivers down my spine. Train lover's paradise my ass - the whole idea that Japanese trains are never late is a total and utter farce. Unless you ride the Shinkansen everywhere, then you're golden as those things are the bizzomb sheezy faheezy.

Anyway, let's go back in time, to a little thing I like to call Friday. Normally a good day, but not on this bleak and rainy morning. Luckily for me, the new station directly in front of my (soon enough to be former) apartment means that a spirited 10-second dash will get me from my building to the front door of the station, which is awesome because I absolutely hate umbrellas. This particular morning I'm running a tad on the late side, but am still just in time to make the train necessary for my transfer.

Or so I think. Now this is a new route compared to before, which is nice on the way back since I sometimes get to actually sit down the whole way home, but doesn't mean a hill of beans in the morning since Toyoko line is just as packed as Denentoshi line. So I get to the station and follow the herd up the stairs to the correct platform. My train is running a little behind, but no biggie. It takes maybe 5 minutes longer than usual, but I finally get to Shibuya for my next transfer and pry myself from the pole that I had been sticking close and personal with for the previous 20-25 minutes or so. They have these station workers there handing out late passes to show your boss so I pick one up, just in case.

Next train: Ginza line. In case you were wondering, yes I do have to transfer more on this route - 4 times in total, but this is less a 10-minute bike ride that I used to have to the station. I pay more, but that's the price for... I refuse to refer to this as comfort, but I'll just say mildly less discomfort. Back to our tale, I get on the train. It doesn't move. Apparently some putz dropped an umbrella on the tracks a few stations up the line, meaning someone has to 1) retrieve the little 300yen plastic special and then 2) run some dumb safety check for the next 5 minutes. Clock's still running, and my hatred and loathing for umbrellas is renewed.

See now really, up until now this is rather ordinary and mundane, but that was all about to change once I got on the Hanzomon line. Finally back in familiar territory on my old stomping grounds, I get on the train and stand next to the door as usual for my normal 2-stop trek on this train. The train stops at the next station, doors open. Then it happens: just as the doors open, I watch as the guy STANDING DIRECTLY BESIDE ME falls flat on his face with a loud THUD! Seriously, this guy landed face first on the platform, and it sounded like a slap to the face upon impact. He passed out right before my eyes and fell like deadwood, and it was just as freaky as it sounds. NO ONE did ANYTHING for a good half a minute... his feet were still on the train as his listless body lay on the ground with eyes still open and a deadpan face- and by deadpan, I mean this guy looked seriously dead. I picked up dude's bag at my feet and shifted it out of the way as I noticed the white gloved platform people saw the aftermath and came over to help. The stretcher was not far behind.

So what did the guys do? Well, first they checked to make sure he was breathing, then they picked his feet up out of the train and laid him out on his back on the platform, and then I noticed one of the guys talking to the train conductor and telling him to get the train moving - priorities people!! I was in total shock as to what had just occurred - as the doors shut, I noticed the kid (he looked like college age btw) come to in total disarray and obviously confused with no clue as to what had just happened.

Don't ask me how, but I somehow managed to get to work only one minute after the bell. And yes, there is a bell if you're wondering, and it sounds exactly like the one you would hear at a school here. I should write something about work rituals here now that I think about it, I'm sure it'd be interesting to more than just some.

So there you have it- I took a good 30 minutes digesting all that before I actually worked, but went on with the day. With things like that, it's no wonder people around here are stressed out and all... jumpy shall we say. It's no wonder that the same day I noticed a fellow co-worker, 25, has recently gotten his first gray hair.

I have never witnessed such a thing as the train incident right before my very eyes, and hope I never do again. As alluded to earlier though, I shall be forced to move in about 4 months or so due to my current living situation, so I'll be moving closer into town to cut my commute at least in half to reclaim some of the 3 hours of my life that the train steals every single weekday. Maybe I'll take up a new hobby... like sleep!