John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

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Recent Entries:
Redneck for a Day
Mount Rainier National Park
Yeah I Know
Malaise
Wednesday
Second Day in the US
Double Monday
Natsukashii
Internet
Friday
Broadcasting
Sherlock Holmes - Were the Books Better?
Yellow
Anti-Valentine's Day
Sunday
Hide
Improvement
Up and Down
No Daikon!
Great India
Mondays
Eating
Mexican
That Karaoke Bar Again
Gyoza
Earthquakes and Karaoke
A Small Whinge About Labelling


Redneck for a Day
[Sunday 26th February]
One of my US based colleagues invited me over to his house for the afternoon, which was really great. He lives right out in the sticks, and appears, despite not being a native of the US, to have devolved into a kind of frontier lifestyle. So we spent the afternoon chopping logs and tending to the horses - a million miles away from the treadmill of existence that is a career in software engineering. My colleague also made a roast dinner - complete with yorkshire puddings, brussel sprouts and roast potatoes. It couldn't really have got any better.
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Mount Rainier National Park
[Saturday 25th February]
Me and my colleague (who had come over to Seattle from Tokyo with me) decided we ought to make use of the day off to go and see a bit of the great outdoors. As we didn't manage to start off that early, we decided not to go as far as Mt. St. Helens, but compromised instead with the closer Mt. Rainier National Park.

Had a really nice and relaxing drive through the snowy forests and mountains of the national park. I think it did us both the world of good to get away from the trials and tribulations of our jobs like this. There wasn't really a whole lot to do - but this didn't matter - it was nice to just breathe in some cleaner air and sit back and enjoy the scenery.

In the evening we went for Indian food at a place near the hotel where I'd been on my last trip to Seattle. Last time I'd been to this place I remember distinctly having a glass of red wine with my curry. I'm sure I had looked somewhat detrimentally in the past to anything but beer being drank with curry, but on rare occasions a glass of red just seems appropriate somehow. Tonight apparently warranted the same prescription - perhaps because of the cold weather, having spent some of the daytime surrounded by snow, I don't know. It was a jolly nice curry, especially with the red wine, but I felt very bloated indeed afterwards.
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Yeah I Know
[Friday 24th February]
The malaise of the previous day was still lingering a little in the morning, but by the afternoon it had been vanquished, thanks to an "offsite meeting" at lunch time with a fellow countryman who is based at our US office. When I'm in a crappy mood, the last thing I need is to be told is that I don't deserve to be. The whole "starving children in Africa" routine, truth laden though it may be, has been scientfically proven to be incapable of lifting the mood of those all wrapped up in their own trivial problems.

So this other guy didn't do any of that, instead he just said "Yeah I know, I hate it too". This was exactly what I needed to hear. From then on I felt tremendously better, just to have someone else acknowledge that this company was by no means a corporate paradise, and I did have good reason for complaint. You know, in an odd way I even started to feel positive about my job - I was no longer a complete outsider, but rather one of a number of disgruntled masses.

Went out in the evening again with the team I've been working with all week, and the bitching seemed to have become universal - in fact I seemed to be the only person in a thoroughly positive mood. Actually had quite a decent meal as well - a rather nice pizza, with a few oversized beers, and even rounded off with a couple of whiskies at the house of one of my US based colleagues.

A significantly better day than the previous one.
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Malaise
[Thursday 23rd February]
I had been relatively positive thus far on my business trip, but today, perhaps because the jetlag was wearing off, I found myself sinking into something of a malaise. One of my US based colleagues kicked off the day with a bit of a rant about his job, and I guess this had an infectious effect on me. I spent the day in a downward spiral from which I didn't seem to be able to recover. I went out in the evening with the usual group, to a very meaty restaurant, which didn't help my mood. After looking through the menu I said I was going to give dinner a miss and just go back to my hotel, but as standard politeness dictates they all felt compelled to persuade me to stay. I think as the evening wore on they probably started to wish they hadn't bothered! I just seemed to be incapable to produce any kind of positive mood, and anything they said even remotely work related provoked a string of ranting from me.

I'm really thinking this job just really isn't right for me again. Today more or less marks four months since I started. If I think back to my previous job, although I had trouble settling in, I had definitely started to like it by this point in time. Maybe I need to give it a bit longer yet, but at present no prospect of any improvement seems to be on the horizon.
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 22nd February]
Managed to sleep a bit longer this time round - maybe even getting on for eight hours, but I think I am still at a deficit. The day was pretty much more of the same - having meetings and writing documents. I guess it was just as well that I was still half asleep from the jetlag as I didn't exactly need to use my brain a great deal. In the evening went out with the group I am working with, plus also my manager.
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Second Day in the US
[Tuesday 21st February]
So in accordance with the ISO standard for jetlag, I woke up about 4AM and couldn't get back to sleep. Not sure why it is always 4AM, but that just seems to be the way of things. So the previous day (or double day) I had been awake 30 hours, then slept for less than six. Therefore again I spent the day in something of a haze. Had lots of meetings and so on, which I guess were actually quite productive, but I don't really remember them that well. In the evening went for a few drinks and dinner with my counterpart from our European office. I hadn't met him in person before and he seemed to be a nice chap.
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Double Monday
[Monday 20th February]
So today I flew from Tokyo to Seattle. It is a 9 hour flight, taking off around 3. Given that the time difference between Tokyo and Seattle is a staggering 17 hours over the IDL, it means I end up going through Monday twice. I was loathed to fly on Sunday this time, as I really wanted to spend an extra day with Chie. So the upshot was that I arrived in Seattle around 7AM on Monday, and then proceeded to do a full day's work, having not slept at all on the plane. In a crazy sense I had commuted from one continent to another. It was.... interesting. By the time I got into the office in Seattle at 9AM, I had already been awake about 18 hours. I managed to stay awake right through the day, and even went out for a bit in the evening. In total by the time I finally got to bed I had been awake over 30 hours!
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Natsukashii
[Sunday 19th February]
Natsukashii is the Japanese word for nostalgic, which describes today pretty well. Chie's friend Kanako came over for a bit in the afternoon to get some help on her website. It just so happened that Dale was also working in Tokyo, we had arranged to go for a drink, and the girls decided to come along too. We went to a sort of Spanish (ish) restaurant in Shinjuku station.

The four of us (me, Dale, Kanako and Chie) quite possibly hadn't sat in a room together for four years. It is odd that some people really just don't seem to change - or maybe I am just too ignorant to notice any differences!
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Internet
[Saturday 18th February]
After a long wait (we had ordered it a month ago) today we finally got our phone line and internet connection setup. The engineers were here for a suspiciously short amount of time, which really made me wonder what the reason was behind the long waiting time. Still, we've got it now, and all is well with the world.

We also ordered a sofa today - so that is basically the last two items on the "to do" list checked off for the apartment, with the possible exception of some kind of spare sleeping arrangements for guests.

For me though of course, the significance of the furniture somewhat pales in comparison with the superb feeling of finally having a decent internet connection. Unfortunately there was just one weekend to make use of it though, before being whisked off to America for a two week business trip. However, on my return I have grand plans for some kind of always on server, and a new era of half baked ideas for gimmicky web apps.
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Friday
[Friday 17th February]
I had a busy time in the office, as this was the last day I would be there before my impending business trip (two weeks in the US), so I had lots of things to try and finish off. When I'd got everything to a satisfactory level, I went out for a few drinks with the contractor I'm currently working with, and Chie joined us a little later on. Had a very pleasant evening, just in the area around the nearest station to my office.
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Broadcasting
[Thursday 16th February]
At the end of the normal working day I left the office, to head over to the HQ of a Japanese broadcasting station, to take part in some over air tests. Although my job is still broadly in digital television, this is the first time since starting my new job back in October that I've been able to go and visit a broadcaster (I went quite a few times with my previous job). I remembered just how much I love that buzz of being in a live broadcast environment - the sense of excitement that if you trip over and accidentally pull out a cable, potentially millions of people might lost their TV signal!
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Sherlock Holmes - Were the Books Better?
[Wednesday 15th February]
Chie made dinner - a sort of stir fry with black bean sauce. It was very nice, but I think I wolfed it down a little too fast and again I had a stomach ache afterwards. Watched one of the feature length episodes of Sherlock Holmes - The Last Vampyre, and then afterwards re-read the short story it was based on to see how it compared. I have almost watched all of the Jeremy Brett TV series in my DVD box set now - I think just one episode left to watch.

Regulars of the 'Maison may remember a rant a while back I had about people always saying "The book was better!". Having read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories over the last few months, and more recently watched (almost) all of the TV adaptations it seems a good point at which to revisit this argument briefly.

I guess in terms of Sherlock Holmes I can see both sides of the coin. Whilst there were episodes in the TV series that were a little disappointing, there were also short stories which weren't so outstanding in the book, but really shone out on TV. Plus I think the first medium you experience, as well as the first medium created, often has an unfair advantage over the second version. I did found myself a little annoyed when the TV series chose to deviate significantly from the original text - somehow it made it feel less "real".
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Yellow
[Tuesday 14th February]
Made Thai yellow curry for dinner. There didn't seem like enough of the yellow curry paste, so I "supplemented" it with a few rather fiery chillis, a decision I later came to regret. The taste was great, but I had a fierce stomach ache for a while afterwards. I suppose sometime it is necessary to suffer for one's art.
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Anti-Valentine's Day
[Monday 13th February]
Chie and I decided to have Valentine's Day a day early, as our rather pathetic way of trying to rebel against the irritating cliche of it all. So the usual flowers, chocolates and nice dinner took place today instead.
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Sunday
[Sunday 11th February]
Spent the afternoon and some of the evening with Watanabe-san, the owner of Quercus. Had a wander around Whisky Live - the whisky exhibition near Odaiba, then went for a bite to eat afterwards.
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Hide
[Saturday 11th February]
Spent the day around Shinjuku. In the afternoon, went with Chie for a wander around my favourite park in Tokyo - Shinjuku Gyoen. Whilst there we took a look inside the greenhouses, which were really nice actually - lots of tropical plants and fruit trees. It felt very summery in there!

Later on we me up with Hide for a few drinks and a spot to eat around Shinjuku. We rounded off the evening in my manager's favourite karaoke bar, which Hide seemed to really like. I think we have found another convert.
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Improvement
[Friday 10th February]
A great improvement on the previous day. Work was OK, and in the evening I went out with the consultant I am currently working with. As it was up to me to choose the venue, this could only mean one thing - Ikebukuro again. Both Rohlan and Quercus seemed to go down really well.
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Up and Down
[Thursday 9th February]
I left work on the dot of 5:30 in an utterly foul mood. I'm not even entirely sure why - the day had started off well enough, by lunch time I was still feeling relatively positive, but during the afternoon I just seemed to plummet. By 5:30 I literally couldn't wait to get out of there. I really was in a foul, foul mood.

I decided I would like to go for a drink somewhere to try and cheer myself up, so just got on a train and headed in the general direction of Shinjuku, without any real idea of where I would end up. From Shinjuku though, some kind of autopilot took over - not for the first time either - and a short while later I found myself in Ikebukuro.

Within a few minutes of arriving in my favourite bar I had calmed down, and a bit later still you could be forgiven for spotting an actual smile on my face.

A Yorkshireman I met (in another bar) a few weeks back told me life as a foreigner in Japan was very up and down - and he was so right. Within the same day I can go from being totally miserable to more or less ecstatic. Today was a perfect example of this - I started off fine, my mood degraded to something really quite ugly during the afternoon, and then a few hours later I was all chirpy again (admittedly though, after leaving the bar I did have another bit of a slump).
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No Daikon!
[Wednesday 8th February]
I was later getting home from work than Chie, and she was kind enough to make a start on cooking before I got back. I wanted to make a sort of red wine stew, which Chie started off for me rather expertly (getting the onions really well caramelised prior to the vin rouge deglazing). I did, however, have to be quite insistent on not putting any daikon in - when I let Chie choose ingredients she is sometimes compelled to make, well, unusual choices. She really seemed quite determined to put daikon (Japanese raddish) in the red wine stew, but I was taking a very contrary position.

In the end it appears she indulged my pickiness as regards ingredients, and there was no daikon... the stew was also rather good. We ate it just with some French bread. Smashing.
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Great India
[Tuesday 7th February]
It had in fact snowed over the previous night, so I awoke to see an eye-pleasing sprinkling covering the rooftops of the buildings behind our apartment. It was pretty lack lustre as snowstorms go though, and much of it had melted away even by lunchtime.

Met up with Chie at Shinjuku station after work, as we both fancied a curry to cure our weekday blues. Went to a branch of Great India - a small chain which we had previously been to in Ikebukuro. The place itself was a bit of a dive, but then that's just like a lot of great Indian restaurants are back home. The food however was really good, just like last time. In fact I think we ordered more or less the same dishes off the menu. After dinner we went for a quick drink at an Irish pub I occasionally frequent in that area, and then wended our way home.
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Mondays
[Monday 6th February]
A bit of a crappy day at work, a classic Monday morning filled with despair at the thought of another week of hard slog, mixed with the feeling of regret at not having made more out of the previous weekend. I suppose things gradually improved throughout the day though - I am working closely with a Japanese contractor at the moment who is an exceptionally nice guy, so that at least was something positive.

In the evening I knocked together a meal from leftovers - odds and ends from Saturday's Mexican meal. Actually it came out rather well. Mexican food often seems to improve after a few days "maturing" in the fridge.
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Eating
[Sunday 5th February]
Yuka, Chie's sister, came over for the afternoon and evening. I knocked together a late lunch - Italian housewife soup, garlic bread, baked potatoes and a salad with lemony dressing which all went down rather well. Spent the afternoon wandering around the area near where we live - a visit to Donki (the discount good shop), an hour in a very grotty karaoke place, and then a stroll through Okinawa town. Back at the flat we had a late tea, and then later on a Chinese meal for dinner. Basically spent the whole day eating!
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Mexican
[Saturday 4th February]
Nothing much to report. Had a very lazy day, hardly did anything really. Went out to do a bit of shopping for dinner, and made Mexican food, which was quite nice. I think that was pretty much it really!
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That Karaoke Bar Again
[Friday 3rd February]
My manager's last night in town could mean only one thing - another trip to that karaoke bar in Shinjuku.
[Click here to read more...]
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Gyoza
[Thursday 2nd February]
I had to fight off work related social events from all angles this evening, so that I could spend some quality time with Chie at home. First off there was a leaving party for a member of our admin team, and then later on I was supposed to go for a celebratory drink with some other colleagues and vendors to mark a contract signing. I set out to try and keep everyone happy and do all three - go to the leaving party just for one drink to show my face etc, then go back home and have dinner with Chie, and then later on join the contract signing celebration. In the end I was spared the last item on the agenda - they decided to postpone it at the last minute. So I was able to get home at a reasonable time and spend the whole of the rest of the evening with Chie.

Chie made the most excellent gyoza - kind of Chinese filled dumpling things. A bit like ravioli I suppose. They were totally delicious. I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to have a complete rest, eat some really decent food, and watch a couple of episodes of Sherlock Holmes.
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Earthquakes and Karaoke
[Wednesday 1st February]
My manager was over from the US this week, and he has a particular favourite bar in Shinjuku which I have to admit I am developing a real liking for myself. I popped home first to eat after work, and while I was at home there was a very minor earthquake. It is the first one I have ever properly noticed in Japan so it was pretty, err, interesting! Nothing to write home about though, no damage or casualties so far as I know, and it was all over in less than a minute.

Apparently, a couple of my colleagues were at the office when the earthquake struck, and their first instinct was to try and record the EWS (Emergency Warning System) on the TV - I was so proud to hear this - absolutely no thought for their own personal safety, broadcast engineers through and through!

Note however this wasn't my first ever earthquake experience - I remember two having happened whilst I was in the UK, believe it or not! There was that famous one centred on Dudley (or somewhere like that) about 3 or 4 years ago. Of course back in the UK we only get one about every 10 or 20 years and they are almost always laughably insignificant!

Anywho, I headed over to Shinjuku just after 9, and there met my boss and a couple of my other colleagues who wanted to share in the "experience". It was a really good night - as it was a school night and the weather wasn't so great it wasn't so crowded in there most of the time, but actually I kind of liked it that way. Waves of people came and left during the course of the evening - one minute I would turn round and see nobody, the next minute there was a whole troupe of people singing and dancing. Talked to loads of new people during the course of the evening without having to make any real effort - that bar just seems to encourage a very friendly atmosphere.
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A Small Whinge About Labelling
[Tuesday 31st January]
Took full advantage of the opportunity for a "night off" from the busy week of work related outings. So had a quiet night in, and cooked at home.

Dinner was a bit of a disappointment though - we tried to make kimchi ramen (a spicy soup noodle dish) but it just seemed to come out all wrong. Oh and we bought some potato kuroke (croquettes?) to go with it. We had scoured the ingredients list and found no mention of meat, but on opening one up back at home found lots of those "micro meat" particles that the Japanese seem to be so fond of. Their only purpose I can presume is to confound vegetarians, as I doubt they are of any great benefit to the taste. I looked back through the ingredients list later, and it turned out they had also neglected to mention "potato" on there as well. So it appears the ingredients list was only really for the batter. Go figure. It's one thing for vegetarians to have a hard time in Japan, but for people with allergies it must be a nightmare here - the standards of food labelling are nowhere near as advanced as they are back in the UK. In fact having also found the US and a couple of European countries to be a little lacking in this department, I'm starting to think this is one area where good old Blighty is a world leader!
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