Thursday, June 30, 2005

It's Alright Ma, It's Only Starbucks.

You're damn right, when Bob Dylan decides to endorse a global product or a corporate empire of some kind, I'm the first to sit up, listen and learn about the changin' of the times. And it's time I changed my way of thinking and joined all the other JETs in this ken who whine about the lack of giant corporate coffee empires and American-style fast food chains. If Bob says it's cool then it has to be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The ankle-biters, or, my first trip to a Hirosaki kindergarten (幼稚園)

Today was my first experience of life at a Japanese kindergarten. I took the morning off work to venture down the road where there is located Hirosaki's 文化幼稚園 (Bunka Kindergarten). I went there to observe a class by the guy whose job I'm going to be doing come August. It was cool. There were lots of ankle-biters running around being naughty and generally being cute without trying, and the teaching staff seemed so much more layed back than those at the high schools.

Obviously, the comprehension level was barrel-bottom basic, but the classes were only 20 mins each, which seemed tolerable, and there were only three of them. It all looked very energetic though. Look out Arnie, here I come.

Friday, June 24, 2005

This yarn comes from somewhere between nostalgia, frustration and having just flicked through some old shots from last year.

I'm no enemy of summer. I like the heat and the humidity, for it gives me the sense that I'm being active when really I'm just sitting around doing nothing, just sweating. I especially love sitting around with just my boxer shorts on, drinking water from the fridge and cooking fish on the grill outside. I like walking outside late at night without a shirt on and cooling down in the cold water tank at the onsen. The strict heat of Japanese summers is what makes my experience here feel foreign. But there's one thing which has just begun that I don't like, and that's the haze. I don't like the way the clouds and the sky turn into one wishy-washy pale blue mess without any distinction. The sun shines, and you can feel it, but that's only half the cake of a nice sunny day; we need the deep blue skies as well. And it's not just the fact that I don't get to see the local mountains in all their glory for at least another two months, because that also happens in winter as well. No, the haziness of Japanese summers takes away something more immediate than that.

Only on occasion do you get to see days like this between the months of June and mid-August. For the next two months, spirited blue skies like the one above will be a rarity. The sun will shine, there's no doubt about that, but the world where clouds are clouds and sky is sky has entered it's annual period of uncertainty. The real killer is between mid-July and mid-August when the temperatures hit the mid-thirties and humidity is at it's highest. The sooner it passes the better. And when it does, it had better bring along with it a nice cool breeze.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

More mist in the forest.

There were similar conditions yesterday to those I experienced last monday, as the clouds seemed to drift through the forest making my eyes wet and visibility difficult. The forest was very dark yesterday, and, as I forgot to go to the shop to get myself a replacement bear bell, I kept an air of apprehension with me until I got past the tree-line.

Anyway, since some folks seemed to appreciate last week's misty forest shots, I thought I'd take some more.

Me, my sword and my camp fire. The ramen didn't taste so good yesterday as it did last monday. The sword just sits there at the messy mountain-shrine where I have my fire. Well, I call it a shrine, but it's more like a dog kennel with a small concrete buddha stood inside. I'm not the first to have a fire there, as you can see there have been fires there before. Don't know why they need a rusty old sword at a mountain shrine, but it's good for cutting wood.

Another one for my 'Weathered mountain lavatories' series.

There were two birthday celebrations this weekend. One on Friday for Akiko, and another for Erica on Saturday. Happy birthday girls!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Good news and Bad, in one shocking hungover saturday morning.

I had to come into work on saturday morning because of some re-arrangement of our regular working hours. It's something I rarely have to do, so I wasn't put out by it at all. Anyway, when I got to work my supervisor started apologising to me really heavily, and I soon started to feel freaked out by the level of humility he was trying to get across. He mentioned the word tax and I told him not to worry because I'd already received my tax bill and was going to pay it this week. Anyway, he got me down in front of the top kiddy in the office and handed a white sheet of paper over to me with the amount of roughly £400 (73,000 yen) written at the bottom. I was shocked to say the least, and he had his tail between his legs because he'd forgotten to tell me about the tax I'd be up for paying just before I left the country. I'm not one to avoid my taxes, especially since I've done pretty well at paying very little over the last three years here in Japan. But some kind of warning would have been nice. Anyway, that was income tax, then there's the residence tax that I've got to pay. This, as far as I was aware, came to about a hundred quid, which was fairly easy to understand from the payment form I received through the post. However, what I didn't realise about this payment form is that it didn't cover the full annual period. Apparently I have another sheet in the post that I'll have to pay which brings my residence tax to somewhere between 5 - 8 (£250 - £400) man in itself. So to cut this short, I'm looking at anything up to a £1000 tax-paying bonanza over the next month which nobody felt it was necessary to tell me about.

The beer garden where you can drink beer for two hours and only pay six hundred yen, as opposed to the beer garden where you drink one flat beer and end up paying a thousand yen. Nights out with Erica are the best! Stephanie and Akiko (above) know how to party when they get together. Right on!!

Then there was the good news: I got a new job. I have been offered the job at Schole English school in Hirosaki, which looks really good and was the job I'd wanted from the moment I first heard about it. It sounds a much better deal than the NOVA jobs I'd been looking for. So, I won't be going to China for yet another 18 months, which is the length of this new job's contract. Renewable, of course, if they still want to keep me.

This is a wierd angle of the car park at Owani high school. A nice dreary warm day that reminded me of the two weeks we have in England called summer. I could almost hear the sound of leather on willow, and the smell of strawberries and cream. But it was only the sound of road works outside and some fresh gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

I digress. I have a lot of work to do over the next six weeks, trying to sort out my big switch from being a lazy government employee to being part of a competetive business. It will be a shock to the system, but I've had many of those in my life before now, so I think I can handle it. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A bit childish

Now here's a childish post for you. Flicking through Wikipedia I came across this article about some cricket stadium in India. Reminds me of the kind of verbal abuse Sunderland supporters might face on a saturday afternoon in Newcastle. I told you it was childish.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Where was the sun?

For those who were wondering what happened to the glorious sunshine that was forecast for today, I can tell you that it was above the clouds which were hovering at around 700 - 1000 metres. I was miffed to say the least when I got to the mountain this morning, seeing that the sky was a coat of miserable grey, but nicely surprised after I reached the 1100 metre mark to see it breaking through. I had the day off today because I've got to go into work a couple of saturday afternoons this month. I decided to use my free time wisely.

Ah, there's nothing better than whipping up your own little fire on the mountain and cooking yourself some cup noodles. I surprised myself with my own camp fire skills and had the noodles down in less than thirty minutes.

Nothing but clouds as far as the eyes could see.

Although I'm not in the slightest bit tempted to drag my board up there, quite a bit of snow still remains.

Today's cloud sat along the top of the tree-line, which made for a murky and rather scary descent. Scary because I'd mislayed my bear bells at the top.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Map of Global Hunger

Sorry for playing the same old tune, but I thought this article in the CSM would be of interest to folks. Shocking figures.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Just a few hours left...

It's been a strange week. At times I've felt like my head was going to fall off, and other times I've felt just fine. Right now my back is killing me. The key lesson of this fasting experience was the one least expected before I started. That there are vast swathes of the global population who live their everyday lives feeling just how I feel now. Hunger: it's not something to be under-estimated. Starving to death has now become my number one 'worst way to die'. And that there are so many people in the world who systematically do so is one of the greatest crimes, since there is ample food available in this world for everybody. I know that some people live in areas where food is hard to produce, and that some governments employ horrendous policies that make it even harder, but the the biggest problem, as far as I can make out, is the consequences of global debt and screwed up trade policies. That is something everybody should take into account, since most people reading this post will probably come from those countries whose governments are firmly wedged behind the problem. I'm in no position to offer advice on how everyday people like yourselves can affect this problem, but there are charities out there, and powerful goverments who are accoutable to you. My only solid advice is to try a few days without food yourself and see how it affects your thinking.

Anyway, enough of the gloom and on with some food photos. Today I went shopping for the weekend.

Ooooooh, look at all that grub! From the top left we've got eggs, and dried fruit: mango, papaya, kiwi, strawberry. Then to the right of that there's peanut bread buns. Further to the right there's pineapple and noodles, and just below that there's butter, leeks and peanut cookies!! To the left there's tomatos, some wicked looking bread thing with raisons inside and sesame seed on top, and then there's the spicey samoln chops that I'm going to devour tomorrow for brekky. Bottom row there's vegetable juice and milk, followed by some thing called 'budou juice' (whatever that is?), bread and miso for later on tonight. My first meal is either going to be a small batch of bread and milk, or a half cup of rice mixed with miso soup.

Hmmmmm, dried fruits. I first became hooked on dried fruits when I came across Erica's left-over mango in Hugh's car one day. Ever since then I've been going mango mad.

I find it shocking that I can actually look at a bottle of vegetable juice and start drewelling from the mouth.

Tonight's the night!

Oh, and this is what has happened to my wardrobe.

The gap where my arse used to be.

I won't lie, there's too much room up front now.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Anyone looking for an insight into the twentieth century history of American warfare should take time to watch The Fog of War. Probably the best war documentary I've ever seen, regardless of it being the only one I've ever seen. I must admit that I have watched four movies this week, the other three of which have been down right awful. But standing on it's own, The Fog of War is gripping, informative, emotional and important. Although it is little more than an interview with the man who played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the role of Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam war, the accompanying footage makes a visual spectacle of American military history from the the First World War up until the early 1970s. The thing I found refreshing about The Fog of War was that a voice as bassy and as full of clout as Robert McNamara's continues to warn us of the ever-present dangers of nuclear annihilation when some idiots in power centres around the world are now talking of actually expanding the role of nuclear weaponry in modern day warfare. I needn't mention any names.

For those who have little knowledge of what happened to the Japanese during the Second World War, this movie gives it to you in sharp, powerful figures and imagery. I'd reccomend it to anyone. You can see that McNamara himself is on the verge of bursting into tears most of the way through the interview.

This post is also inspired by the coincidental fact that not only Tuesday did I watch the movie, but the Guardian, which I read everyday, today decided to stick a front page article written about the guy himself on it's web-edition. I'm getting a bit freaked out by all these coincidental happenings. Or are they not coincidental at all? Am I just in dire need of some food to re-calibrate my mind?

Anyhoo, I'll leave you with another image of the kind of nastiness we're talking about.

Progress so far

This is day four of my fast. I'm pretty hungry, but the urge to eat has died down a little. I've noticed that my sense of smell has become way more powerful, and everytime I brush my teeth it tastes really good. My stomach has been rumbling and even hurting at times, my muscles have started to feel weak because my body is now extracting stored energy from them. My tongue looks like a grey toxic wasteland from all the bodily toxins that are released when the digestive system is no longer used. My thinking is even more impaired than usual, so I'm taking extra care cycling to work in the morning, making sure I stick closely to the pavement. I actually feel very happy, which is one of the mental symptoms of not eating that I've already read about. Carefree would be a better way to put it. I've got a light buzzy feeling in the back of my head that I haven't experienced since I was at university. What happens is that all the enzymes which usually travel to work in your stomach are stuck with no work to do, so they turn instead towards the intestines and the blood stream, cleaning up all the waste that your blood cells produce in their natural course. Sounds pretty good I think.

I'm glad of doing this fast. Lots of people have contested my wisdom for going ahead with it, but I'm happy that I've got this far, and happy that I feel good enough to keep on going till tomorrow night. I'll definitely fast again in the future, but next time I'll probably take on one of those juice fasts. It's the same as a water fast but you're allowed to drink pure fruit juices. Next time I'll probably stick to three days. That's enough to clean your system out, and it's not so arduous that it puts you off doing it again. The original intention of mine for doing this fast was to win more mental control over bodily desires, such as smoking etc. I've never been one for moderation, but I always know when I've gone too far with something as well. However, I don't feel that simply by fasting I'll be able to change my self just like that. It'll take more than a few days not eating. It'll take a spiritual event, not just a physical one, and I'm not sure if I need changing anyway. There are some links below for those who are interested in the benefits of fasting. You'll find that fasting is one of the oldest medical remedies known to man, and that all the great philosophers and religious leaders have used it for their own health issues.

world health online

Shirley's wellness cafe

I've also considered fasting as a way to raise money for charities etc. Taking on a big fast would be one good way to raise money for starving children and other needy causes. Something worth thinking about anyway.