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:
- Curry OK?
A Day Lost to Nerdiness
You're All Fired!
Ci Sono Molti Fiori Nel Giardino
The Limits of My Universe
Out on the Balcony
A Bit of a Relapse
What a Superb Result
Hello Tastebuds My Old Friend...
There's A Scotsman in My Flat!
An Unusual Visitor
A Very Sad Day
Back to Tokyo
Out and About in Hiroshima
Off to Hiroshima
- Curry OK?
- [Wednesday 31st May]
The title here is a dreadful pun. Tonight we went for an Indian meal, followed by some karaoke. Do you see what I've done there - eh? Eh? Curry - ok? Karaoke? Curry OK? Eh? Eh?
Dear reader, I have probably destroyed any will you may have previously posessed to read though this article. I can only apologise, my defense being that puns are a weakness of mine. It's like a disease.
Anywho, I had a very pleasant evening out today. After work, Chie and I met up at one of the two stations near to our apartment. I think the original plan may have been to go to a supermarket near there and buy food for dinner, but this was almost instantly abandoned when Chie recalled there was an Indian restaurant near to the station that we'd seen a few times, but hadn't yet tried.
The food was very good. We were the only people in the place, which seemed a shame, as not only was the food of a really good quality, but the staff were also very friendly. Just after we sat down, the guy came up to me and said "Beeeeeer....?" in an utterly delightful tone of voice. It was like he had read my mind, and it was of course impossible to say no. Ten out of ten for presentation sir!
We had a kind of sag aloo dish (called Palak..?) and a lentil based curry called something like a Samar (or was it Sabar...?) I'd not had anything quite like this before, it was very rich and quite sweet, with a flavour reminiscent of pumpkin. All very good stuff.
Afterwards we decided on a whim it might be nice to go and sing some karaoke, for a bit of stress relief. It has been a while since I've been to the box type of karaoke, and it occurred to me this may be related to my recent malaise about the Far East - karaoke on a more or les weekly basis is pretty much a necessity here for the purposes of maintaining morale. I sang lots of loud shouty songs, and felt much better afterwards.
So it was a very nice evening out, and I am pleased to report the "appreciation of Japan graph" is now on an upward slope, after the recent lull.
- That's Entertainment
- [Tuesday 30th May]
"Help me out here", I said to my colleague, "Please tell me I'm not the only person in this room who finds this a bit weird."
He informed me it wasn't weird to him at all, but with a slightly rakish glint in his eye, and a grin that suggested to me either (A) he was in fact pulling my leg, or (B) more likely he was implying "Yes we're an island nation... great isn't it?". You have to admire that, either way.
Very small red top hats. I think that was the bulk of the problem for me. The dresses were, well, born of some hallucinogen induced brainstorm of a crazed designer who clearly had wanted to re-create a kind of psychadelic version of the 19th century. If you can imagine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Pride and Prejudice it might give you an idea. You see a lot of that sort of thing in Japan though - I think they call it "cosplay", and it is one of those art imitating life imitating art things. Normally it just washes over me now, but today I couldn't seem to get past it.
Those tiny little red top hats. They frightened me. Oh and the people wearing them were dancing, which didn't help matters. Any comments I might make about another person's ability to dance must, by rights, be tempered with the knowledge that I am quite possibly one of the world's worst dancers - having all the natural rhythm you'd expect from a white boy who works in IT. That disclaimer aside though, they weren't particularly good. They were almost just doing their own thing, making it up as they went along.
It was a bizarre spectacle to behold, honestly, the surreal nature of it all made it almost frightening to me, but almost everyone else in the place seemed to be keenly enjoying it. It was yet another one of those moments I get in Japan, where I have to pinch myself to be reassured I'm not having some kind of scary hallucination.
So anyway, to rewind a little, my friend from work had noticed I'd been a bit down in the dumps the last couple of days, and was deeply disturbed to hear I'd gone off drinking for a while. He clearly felt compelled to remedy the situation, and so persuaded me I should go out with him in the evening. So we went over to Roppongi, as we were going to meet a friend of his who works at one of the TV companies there.
We started off with Mexican food for dinner (not that common in Japan, so I don't think he'd had this before, and pleasingly it went down quite well), then went to a delightfully grotty bar for a couple of intermediate drinks. There were significantly more cockroaches than customers.
After that, the "highlight" of the evening was this kind of club place, presumably modelled on the sort of club you might expect an old crooner like Sinatra to have sung in. You know the sort I mean - a small stage at the front, with the floor full of little round tables, each with a small lamp on, surrounded by smartly dressed sophisticated clientele drinking brandy, etc. I say "modelled on" - the reality of it fell a little short of what you might genuinely call sophistication, but you can imagine what I mean. At least there weren't any cockroaches in this place (or maybe that was the real reason for the dim lighting).
The stage was occupied at various points in the evening with a number of "acts" - mostly they just bundled on for one song, then bundled off again. So there were a couple of singers, who weren't actually that bad. Maybe the dancing troopes were intended just as fillers inbetween the singing, which might explain why the choreography budget had apparently been somewhat less than extravagant. Or perhaps it had all been blown on the costumes - those tiny little red top hats probably didn't come cheap.
So it was an odd sort of an evening all told, but that in itself certainly made it a break from the norm, which was much appreciated.
- [Monday 29th May]
I had a really crappy day at work today, so as going-home-time approached, I determined I would need some form of treat in order to cheer myself up in the evening. Having read Sheri's article about wine etc the previous day, a thought had obviously become lodged in my brain, and therefore decided as a simple measure to forget my crappy day, I'd go and buy a nice bottle of plonk on my way home.
I went to the department store near the station closest to my office. It has a reasonable sized wine shop in the basement (although on a closer inspection, the range of wines on offer was less than vast). I settled on a Carruades de Lafite 2002 (Pauillac...?). In honesty the words on the label meant very little to me - I chose it on the basis of it being in the cabinet, rather than just on the regular shelves, but not being ludicrously expensive. Yes, my knowledge of wine is quite embarassing.
So I returned home, bottle in hand. I'd ended up getting back later than I originally though I would (work had dragged on) so Chie had already got dinner more or less sorted by the time I arrived, which was nice. I had a craving for parsely sauce and broad beans, which I'd told Chie, and so the meal was largely constructed around that.
After dinner we went out and sat on the balcony for a while. It is hard to be too generous about this - the view is hardly inspiring, you can never see any stars in Tokyo, the air is dirty, and the is the constant din of traffic in the background... but we struggled on regardless, and somehow or othe rmanaged to have a nice time.
Yesterday I said something unforgivable. I'm not about to take back that I'm tired of being in Tokyo, but I was far too hasty in saying I was tired of drinking.
Alcohol: I am deeply sorry about the horrible things I said. You know I love you really. Let's never fight again!
- [Sunday 28th May]
"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life..."
...so goes the famous quote from the good Doctor, Samuel Johnson. Whilst no doubt many people will disagree (not everyone likes the Big Smoke) from my perspective it pretty much hits the nail on the head. I lived in London for about 18 months, around 2000/2001. I look back on that time with immense fondness, and since then have gone back to London many times. I like London more and more every time I go there. Yes, it has its faults, but in my opinion for parks, pubs, museums, shops, restaurants and even just having an aimless wander around it has to be the best city in the world.
Currently however, I do not live in London, but instead in another major capital, the other side of the world. Samuel Johnson of course never came to Tokyo, but if he had, we might have heard an addendum to his famous observation.
"When a man is tired of Tokyo... he has been here about six months."
Yes, I am bored of Tokyo. I think I have now done everything there is to do!
Looking back it was a particularly boring weekend, and my current opinion of the city in which I live has undoubtedly been coloured by that. Saturday was wasted away on the computer (which could just have well been done anywhere in the world that has internet access). Today didn't really seem to consist of anything much at all. As usual for a Sunday, we had a lazy morning, and then just before lunch we started thinking about what to do. I even went so far as to have a look around on the web for inspiration. And you know what? There was nothing to do. Nothing. Nowhere I could find that interested me and I wanted to visit, and no events or anything on that caught my eye. So we did the usual trek into Shinjuku for lunch and a bit of shopping. Fundamentally though it was really rather boring, and Tokyo in general seemed like a very uninteresting place to be.
I spent some time theorising about this, and think I have hit upon why Tokyo is such a profoundly boring city. Everyone is too busy to do anything. Typical Japanese office workers, epitomised here in Tokyo, spend the week routinely pulling 12+ hour shifts. In the evenings after work (if any of the evening remains) they either go straight home, eat, and go to bed, or to to a bar, get mindlessly drunk, and then stagger home and go to bed. As for the weekends, well it seems not uncommon for people to be working Saturdays as well, and then when Sunday comes all the average office worker seems to want to do is stay at home and sleep, or perhaps if they can muster the energy, go out and do a bit of shopping.
Tokyo is a new city, and one that seems to have been designed just for working, eating, drinking and sleeping. If you are happy for your life to consist of nothing but these four things, then you may well have a great time here. Whilst I do enjoy eating and drinking, Japanese food (as already well documented on this site) is no good if you're vegetarian, and there comes a time -gasp- when even I tire of drinking.
Looking back through some old pictures, I realised how much time I spent when I was living in London enjoying the great outdoors - it is a fabulously green city, especially around Hampstead. Even without the wonderful parks, I used to love just taking a stroll about - along by the river, or to walk somewhere that I would normally take the tube - from Hampstead into the centre, from Elephant and Castle to Paddington, and so on. London is full of attractive buildings and suprisingly sleepy and peaceful little streets which are an absolutely pleasure to meander through.
Tokyo offers little pleasure to the would-be aimless wanderer. The buildings are ugly and there isn't a lot of greenery. Even the boat trip we took a few weeks back was, frankly, rather uninspiring. The narrator on the boat was doing her best, bless her, to make it sound exciting, but there is little exhiliration in the knowledge that the warehouse you are passing contains half a billion rivets used in the construction of sewage refineries, or whatever it was she was droning on about.
To temper all of this, it is important to note that I am probably the world's worst sufferer of "the grass is always greener" syndrome. when I was in England all I did was complain about trains being delayed and the terrible service you get in restaurants. Looking back through old pictures I noticed a fair few pictures taken in England of me eating Japanese food. Clearly at that time it was something exotic and exciting, whereas now, when these ingredients are available in their abundance, I'm generally just not interested. Cheddar has become the rare and exotic ingredient (and incidentally the block that George bought a couple of weeks back is now basically just rind).
That said, I still maintain that Tokyo is not as fun a place to live as London was - having been here more than six months I think I can say that with some authority. OK, Tokyo does have the advantage in terms of late night drinking - one can easily stay out until 4 or 5 in the morning without having to pay to get into a nightclub or whatever. Still though, right now, given a choice between an Asahi in a bustling Tokyo izakaya at 3AM, or an Adnam's in a nice old London pub at 10PM, the latter certainly sounds more attractive.
- A Day Lost to Nerdiness
- [Saturday 27th May]
Today was a fairly uneventful day. Chie needed to go into work to make up her hours. This gave me the opportunity for a giant festival of nerdiness, a whole day on the computer with no threat of having to be dragged out to go shopping, etc.
When Chie returned home in the evening, we decided to make okonomiyaki using our denki guriru nabe (hot plate thingy), set up on the table in the lounge (it is nice to cook somewhere other than the kitchen for a change!).
So to return to the daytime nerdiness extravaganza... Apologies in advance, this is going to be a very boring entry - non computery types may want to stop reading here!
[Click here to read more...]
- You're All Fired!
- [Friday 26th May]
It's been a bit of a crap week at work this week, and today was, in the main, a continuation of that same theme.
The morning at least was punctuated with a small humorous aside though, which did serve to brighten things up a bit. There was an article posted on a website here in Japan, which seemed to imply that my company had sub-contracted out all the work that my team are supposed to be doing to some other company. Amusingly, several of our partners had taken this to mean the team had been disbanded altogether, and one of my colleagues had received a number of concerned phone calls the previous day.
It was of course all a misunderstanding, but the recent stressful week had put us all in a silly mood. So we emailed one of the management team over at our US HQ about the whole thing, keen that he should also join in on the fun. He went straight to the head of our division, and said:
"Hey, I've just got this email from the Tokyo team, they've heard their project has been cancelled, and they're all going to be fired!"
The head of division, ever the comedian, simply replied:
"What, they've still got email access?".
You've gotta laugh!
Nothing much else to report really. The evening was a very quiet one, just stayed in, made a distinctly welsh dinner (leeks and potatoes in a cheese and mustard sauce) and relaxed with a glass or two of Talisker.
- Ci Sono Molti Fiori Nel Giardino
- [Thursday 25th May]
Today was the last night of Lorenzo's business trip to the Far East, and luckily he had the whole evening off, so we had a good chunk of time together.
We went to a succession of bars around Shinjuku - first off a random izakaya, then my manager's karaoke bar (which wasn't yet in "karaoke mode" as we were there a little early in the evening), and we finished off the evening in a cafe/bar place called Pronto in Shinjuku station (becoming something of a tradition now when meeting Lorenzo in Tokyo).
For the first two venues we were joined by Lorenzo's colleague, and I spent this part of the evening wowing them with my incredible ability at Italian. I proved yet again that you don't really need to have learned Italian at all to speak it, all you need is French and a simple function in your brain which modifies the end of each word as appropriate. A perfect example of this was when I wanted to talk about the atmosphere in the bar. Remembering the French word for atmosphere is ambience, I then guessed that you probably needed to pronounce the ending vowel, and maybe randomly make the c sound a bit harder. So I ended up with something like "ambienze" which turned out to be exactly correct. I pity those people who waste all that time and money on language lessons!
You know when people from the rest of Europe make us British types all embarassed, because they each seem to speak about twelve languages fluently.... Well this is why! They're all the same!
Lorenzo's colleague went back to the hotel before the final venue, at which point we were joined by Chie. I have to admit to a certain cruel pleasure in taking Lorenzo to Pronto, given the place's Italian-esque aspirations. Lorenzo always seems mildly embarassed to be there, which is, of course, highly entertaining. I managed to capture a picture of him with that crappy grated "Parmesan" you get in little plastic tubs, a substance any self respecting Italian would rather gouge their own eyes out than even touch, let alone actually eat. (I feel compelled to point out that Lorenzo didn't actually eat any of it, and only touched the container it was in at my request... and then probably washed his hands obsessively for an hour later on in the evening).
Anyway, my ignorant and childish behaviour aside, it was a great pleasure to spend time with my old friend again. It'll be a few months before the next time Lorenzo is in Japan, but given the international jetsetters we've both become of late, who knows where we could meet up next? Italy? England? Peru? Liechtenstein? The world is our lobster!
...or as they say in Italy: "Il mondo e la nostra aragosta."
...which is pretty much the same as how they'd say it in France, too. :)
- The Future
- [Wednesday 24th May]
Had another quiet night in. I think recently I've hit upon quite a good balance - going out about three times a week means I'm generally not bored when I do stay at home (indeed I appreciate the rest!), but at the same time I don't feel like I'm completely overdoing it either.
Anyway, my quiet night in gave me a chance to cook properly - I made a red wine vegetable stew, which was rather nice. Also it gave me time catch up on some email, and spend some time quietly thinking about the future.
This week it has been on my mind a lot for a number of reasons, I guess one of the biggest factors has been seeing Lorenzo and having a chance to chat with him about life, the universe and everything.
- Old Friends
- [Tuesday 23rd May]
Tonight was a real festival of old friends!
This was particularly nice as I hadn't really planned anything for the evening - so after work I initially just headed home, thinking I might well end up staying there all evening.
Then I got a call from Lorenzo, and so I headed over to Shinjuku, full of beans at the prospect of seeing everybody's favourite Italian. We went to an Irish pub and had a couple of beers, and a mutual whinge about our respective jobs. As both of us had early starts the next morning, we didn't stay out particularly late - until around 10ish I think. Hopefully though we'll have another chance to meet again later in the week. It was so great that we did actually manage to meet up, given that I originally thought I'd be away on business this week. What a blessing it was that my trip was cancelled!
I thought I'd give Chie a call before heading home, and as she was in Shibuya I thought maybe we could go back to the flat together. So I got on a train over to Shibuya, and was able to catch the tail end of her night out as well - a kind of impromptu reunion party with a load of her old university friends (for the second evening in a row!). They're all really nice people, so it was great to have a chance to have a quick drink and a bit of a chinwag with them all.
So all in all a surprisingly nice evening!
- The Limits of My Universe
- [Monday 22nd May]
Tonight was a rare occurrence in that Chie went out, but I stayed in. Some of her old university friends were getting together in Tokyo, but I really needed a quiet night in and a good rest.
I spent most of the evening on the PC, fiddling with stuff on the website. So yet more tweaks and updates to my travel / map pages. I now have a pin in the map for just about every major city I've visited in the world in the last few years. I'd hardly travelled abroad at all prior to my university days - just a few trips to France and one very brief foray into Spain. So actually the map as defined by the last 10 years or so is fairly comprehensive.
Blimey - is it really over 10 years since I started at university? I'm not sure what's worse - the fact that it was so long ago when I started, or the fact that it is, as I write, less than a year ago that my university days came to an official end - albeit that I'd been very much a part timer for the last few years.
Anyway, it is interesting to see the pins in the map as a way of defining the "limits of my universe".
The furthest North I've been in the world is Inverness. As for the furthest South, well, if it was just contained within Europe then it would be Barcelona. As it happens though, Japan is actually pretty far South - even the Northernmost large city (Sapporo) is on about the same latitude as some some relatively Southern cities in Europe - like Florence or Toulouse. So probably Hiroshima gets the prize for the Southernmost place in the world I've visited so far.
Seattle defines my Western limit, and Sapporo or somewhere else in Hokkaido for the East. Although having flown over the International Date Line a couple of times these points somehow seem to lose their relevance a bit!
I found a formula on the web for working out the distance between two sets of latitude,longitude values. So probably the next thing on the "to do" list is to make a sort of virtual milometer for myself. Over the last twelve months or so I've done a crazy amount of international travel - about 20 flights I reckon. I think I've been round the world at least twice in that space of time - albeit at latitudes of 35 - 51, which obviously makes it a somehwhat shorter distance than going round the equator. Still, it would be interesting to see the grand total - I reckon if I add up the last few years it is likely to equate to several circum-navigations, or maybe even a good chunk of the distance from here to the moon!
- Out on the Balcony
- [Sunday 21st May]
The daytime was relatively uneventful - spent the morning putting more time into my travel pages (particularly the map), then spent the afternoon out and about in Tokyo with Chie. We went over towards Tokyo station, the main reason being that we wanted to visit Paul a French bakery we both rather like. After that we had a rather vague and meandering wander about, taking in Printemps in Ginza, a sort of antiques market, and a big bookshop, where I bought another Bill Bryson book.
In the evening we decided at random to have a sort of barbeque - using our "denki griru nabe" - a sort of griddle pan / hot plate / whatever you call it. Oh and we decided to set it up out on the blacony. Haruka-kun, Chie's old university friend who lives just round the corner from us came over, then later on Yuka joined us as well.
It was a very pleasant evening, nice to actually make use of the balcony for a change. Let's hope this very modest balcony party marks the first of many!
- [Saturday 20th May]
I spent almost all of the day working on my travel pages, which can be viewed both chronologically, and as a list of places I've been in the last couple of years (oh and there's also a Google Maps based thingy, still a work in progress, which you can see here). I then sat back and looked at it towards the end of the day and wondered what the point of it all was. I think ultimately there were two things I wanted to achieve: firstly to do the map pins thingy to show where I've been , and secondly to link sets of pictures and journal entries (beforehand they weren't all that well co-ordinated)... Looking back now though it is really hard to tell whether all the effort justified the end result. Oh well.
I think this is prompted by a recent desire to travel, particularly around Europe, which I guess is also connected to a recent bout of home sickness.
I have just finished reading Bill Bryson's book (Neither Here Nor There) about his travels around Europe, and to add to this, the Eurovision song contest was on in the UK today (at far too awkward a time for me to attempt to watch it here in Japan).
The combination of these things has given me a really strong craving to go and see all the bits of Europe I've yet to see - so far I've only seen a handful of countries on this wide and varied continent - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland. I've only seen a couple of places in each of these countries and there are still so many nations left entirely untouched.
I would love to spend a few weeks (or event months) idly wandering through Scandinavia, and have for a few years now harboured a daydream about a rail and ferry tour of Northern Europe. Starting in London, going up through Scotland, Shetland and Orkney, from there to the Faroe Islands and on to Iceland. From Iceland across to Norway, and work my way in a long slow circle round the Baltic Sea - Sweden, Finnland, possibly a quick pop into Russia to see St. Petersburg, then down and round through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before returning home through Poland, Germany and perhaps Holland.
Then I had another couple of grand tours planned - something involving the Mediterranean, and another one with the Alps (culminating in an Alpine village with log cabins and the distant sound of cow bells, where I'd eat Fondue and have a charming conversation with Heidi).
Well for the time being at least these are just going to remain daydreams. The summer is ahead of me with no real prospect of any exciting holidays, just a hard slog in the oppressively hot and humid weather that a Japanese summer consists of.
- A Bit of a Relapse
- [Friday 19th May]
Well, the previous day I'd thought I was getting over my recent bought of illness, but today I seemed to take a step backwards. I wasn't feeling 100% when I woke up, but went into work, attended a meeting, did a bit of email, and then realised that was as much as I could manage. I wasn't able to concentrate and as lunchtime approached I was feeling increasingly crappy. So I decided to just call it a day there, and around 1ish I trudged back home again.
I'd decided I ought to cave in and buy some cold medicine. This was probably the first time I've ever been to a pharmacy by myself in Japan, and I realised just how difficult it was to choose medicine with none of the labels in English. To start with I couldn't even find the right section of the shop - I had to ask for help with that. Then after a while of browsing I made a choice, largely based on the fact I liked the colour of the box. The little I could read gave me reasonable confidence it was cold medicine, and there were some cartoon drawings on the side of the box of a guy with a sore throat and runny nose, which was a useful backup. On further inquiry in my terrible Japanese I ascertained that I should take it three times a day, after meals. I really wanted something I could knock back straight away, without having to wait to eat first, but they didn't seem to have anything like that.
It is interesting that pharmaceutical companies go to great lengths to provide those highly detailed leaflets you get when you buy medicine, covering every eventuality just to be on the safe side... and then they quite happily sell it to someone who basically can't read it! I suppose it's a good job I can at least speak a bit of Japanese, and so far as I could gather the staff in the pharmacy didn't say "OH MY GOD, NO NOT THAT ONE - IT'S RAT POISION!!!!".
So I got back home and knocked together some lunch (only because it would enable me to take the medicine). With some trepidation I then took the medicine - I mean, what's the worst that could happen? After that I went for a lie down, and to my surprise managed to sleep right through the afternoon, pretty much right up until Chie got home from work.
The evening passed fairly uneventfully. I didn't have an appetite until much later on, when at around midnight I raided the cupboards, and found a tin of baked beans, and given that there were a couple of bits of bread in the freezer I went for the obvious British classic - beans on toast. A rare delicacy in this part of the world.
Baked beans always remind me of two fond university memories:
1) Beans a la Ryan - Our friend Ryan made a "student cookery" website, which listed a number of recipes, including this variant of beans on toast where the toast was cut up to make sort of croutons. The particularly great part of the recipe was the footnote, which read "Add pepper for that Mexican feel". Genius.
2) Italian Bean Surprise. As in, an Italian who was surprised by beans. I can't remember the circumstances that led up to the incident, but once Jon Ellis poured a plate of baked beans over Lorenzo's head. It was a seminal moment.
- What a Superb Result
- [Thursday 18th May]
By this morning I determined that this just wouldn't do. Two days off work was one thing, but a third was just out of the question. My Japanese colleagues would have had to lose an arm and have suffered kidney failure to have justified that length of absence. Oh, and then they'd work double their normal hours from then on to make up for the fact that they were typing slower with just the one arm.
As it happens I was feeling a bit better - I think my illness was now turning into a regular cold - yea I was feeling crap and snotty, coughing and sneezing, but that is all manageable. So I trudged bravely into work, safe in the knowledge that I could always saw off a limb if I wanted to secure myself another day off.
I was however a little apprehensive about going back into work. Actually for most of the past month or so things had really started to improve in my job - the endless demands for pointless documentation seemed to have died down, and in their absence I had been quietly getting on with, well, making software. ...and hoping no-one would notice I was actually doing the job I was hired for. Unfortunately though, a looming business trip (scheduled for next week) had meant a bit of a return to the "bad old days". Yes it was back to more reams of documentation, tension ridden teleconferences and mountains of unpleasantly worded emails. After two days off, I imagined there'd be some festering timebomb waiting for me on my desk, and I'd have a dreadful day, compounded by the fact I was still feeling rather grotty.
So you can image my surprise and delight when the first email I opened told me that the business trip was cancelled, and there was no immediate requirement for all that documentation. It was like a little MIME encoded miracle waiting in my inbox.
Funnily enough, my cold started to get better almost immediately. Sure, I still had the same symptoms, but they went from being a stone around my neck, to being naught but a minor inconvenience.
This particular brand of elation has prompted me to construct a new entry in the Meaning of Liff
Allaleigh n. That indescribably lovely feeling when you realise you won't have to fly off to Seattle this weekend after all.
- [Wednesday 17th May]
Even rarer than me taking a day off work sick, is for me to take two days in a row off sick. The previous evening I had pretty much made up my mind I would trudge back into the office the next day, come hell or high water. In the morning the lie of the land was somewhat different - I felt just plain lousy. It's only a cold, but it seems to have completely drained all of my energy. So another day was lost to the world, slobbing around the flat doing nothing in particular.
Being in Japan, I didn't even have the brain dead comfort of daytime TV to fall back on. I did try watching some Japanese TV, and spent a while trying to get my head round what (I think) was some kind of educational program. It was about dry ice and magnets. You know, the kind of science that "real" scientists never actually do, but is put on the telly to try and get kids excited about the subject. That must spell dark times in the Japanese education system - up until now I had assumed that the diligence of school children was unquestioned, a given thing. Clearly if they're having to use these sorts of tricks then Japanese kids are becoming ever more westernised (i.e. disobedient, lethargic and generally uninterested in their education). Hoorah for globalisation!
Chie came home in the evening to tend to the invalid. As I had declared myself too ill to cook, the previous evening's dinner had been somewhat basic (a bowl of soup out of a tin) though not entirely unpleasant. Tonight, clearly Chie determined that there was no immediate end to my lurgeed status in sight, and took it upon herself to take over the role of household chef. I instructed her from my sick bed on how to make a sort of Mexican meal, which seemed to be exactly what I needed. Up until that point it had been a weird sort of a cold - I'd felt congested, but my nose wasn't really running to speak of. A good dose of Capsicum frutescens appeared to open up the sluices, and soon every concievable flat surface was covered with snotty tissues. I was much happier after this. If I'm going to be ill, I'd at least like to be ill in the manner to which I've become accustomed, thank you very much.
- [Tuesday 16th May]
I had started to notice signs of a cold the previous day, and seemed to deteriorate somewhat by today. It's pretty rare for me to take time off work due to illness, but I really didn't feel up to a day slogging away at the office in this condition, so decided to have the day off. So really nothing much to report, I just spent to whole day slobbing around the flat feeling generally ill and miserable.
On the plus side, at least I wasn't at work feeling ill and miserable!
- [Monday 15th May]
Maybe it's just because it was a Monday, but I think I was starting to feel a pang of home sickness today. I think I've caught a bit of a cold, so I wasn't feeling 100% at work. Lunch was nice though - I took the leftovers from the previous night's meal and heated them up in the microwave at the office. Even reheated the previous day's dinner tasted rather good.
Anyway, I left work "early", and felt kind of out of sorts on the train ride home - very concious for the first time in a while that I was a foreigner. I got back home and found myself wanting to listen to BBC radio over the web. Yes it all smacked of home sickness. I have experienced this before just after seeing someone from the UK, I suppose it is easier under normal circumstances to just not think about it...
Well I'm sure tomorrow will be a brighter day!
- Hello Tastebuds My Old Friend...
- [Sunday 14th May]
Whilst Japanese food does have its highlights, the limited scope for vegetarians means that for me at least, living in Japan is hardly the culinary thrill ride that other people seem to find it.
This weekend, however, I have really felt like my tastebuds have been switched back on again, after a long period of disuse. This was largely due to George's visit - and the truly fantastic presents he bought with him from England. It was late on Friday night (or early Saturday morning really) that the "reawakening" began - after returning from an evening out, we sat in my lounge drinking the tremendous Talisker 18 Year Old and eating this truly excellent Islay Cheddar - both gifts which George had brought with him.
The next day I thought it might just be the effects of the alcohol (or simply that I hadn't had any decent cheese for a while) that had made the Islay Cheddar seem so out of this world. So Saturday night, entirely sober, I nibbled at it a bit more, and it was still utterly fantastic.
Today included more culinary treats, which I feel I've been deprived of for some time. Recently I've really struggled to find a decent espresso (partly because all I ever seem to see is Satrbuck's), so in the afternoon we popped into a Segafredo cafe. OK, it's probably not the world's greatest coffee, but the significant difference in taste between this and that Starbuck's shite I have recently grown accustomed to was a real eye opener.
Dinner was another culinary adventure - the heavenly Cheddar came out once again to make some rather superb macaroni cheese. It's a dish I make quite often in Japan as a kind of comfort food I suppose. I had got used to making it with the sort of bland crappy cheese you can buy here - it was almost a shock today when the cheese sauce actually tasted of something. In fact, it didn't just taste of something, it tasted absolutely bloody fantastic. It was so good I was getting quite teary.
I also made up a dish on the spot to go with it - a sort of Mediterranean stew - a tomatoey affair with olives, capers and "Fagioli Borlotti". Although I say so myself, this was rather good too.
British food may be the butt of all the world's culinary jokes, but as far as I'm concerned it just doesn't get any better than a hunk of crusty English bread, a lump of really decent cheddar, and a glass of fine malt whisky.
- There's A Scotsman in My Flat!
- [Saturday 13th May]
Slept fairly late, and so it was about midnight by the time we all surfaced. As George (see yesterday for details) would be busy with the football in the evening, and was flying back to the UK the next morning, we were only left with this afternoon to do a bit of sightseeing. Actually we didn't really see that much! We needed to head over to Suidobashi so George could pick up his ticket for the game, and we decided we should find something for lunch around there. We went to a slightly posh tempura place in the Tokyo Dome Hotel, and by the time we'd eaten it was gone 3. So we had to pick a random tourist attraction to whizz round for about 10 minutes, and settled on the controversial The Yasukuni Shrine, as it was nearby. The weather wasn't all that marvellous, a kind of constant drizzle reminiscent of England, so a quick 10 minute walk round was probably about as much as was necessary.
In the evening while George was at the football, Chie's sister came round for dinner.
- An Unusual Visitor
- [Friday 12th May]
So here's an odd thing. The managing director of my previous company came to stay in my apartment this weekend. Football was at the root of it - he's an avid Scotland fan who has travelled all over the world to watch them play, and this weekend they were playing Japan in a friendly (the "Kirin Cup"). So I'd had an email from him a couple of weeks back saying he was thinking of coming from the UK to Japan for the weekend. Yes, 12 hours or so each way on the plane for 90 minutes of watching men run around a field. As someone who isn't really that into football I can't really understand it, but hey, whatever floats your boat! Almost as a formaility I had offered a makeshift bed on the floor of my apartment, and to my surprise he actually took me up on it - I think he doesn't like staying in hotels that much. It was a pleasure to have him stay though - not just was it nice to see an old friend in a foreign land, but he also came bearing some rather excellent gifts - two very nice bottles of whisky (Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old and a Talisker 18 Year Old), three boxes of Jaffa Cakes, and a huge block of really, really excellent Islay Cheddar. I think he may well have spent more on these gifts than he would have done on a hotel for the two nights!
So he arrived this evening, and we had a very pleasant night out, eating, drinking, and chatting. Chie joined us for the first part, in the area around where we live, where we went for a quick first drink at a bar near the station, then dinner and more drinks in an izakaya next door. After that Chie headed home, whilst me and the boss headed into Shinjuku, for more drinks and to allow me to demonstrate my karaoke prowess (I don't think he was that impressed!). We stayed out until about 3AM, then rounded off the evening back at the flat with a whisky and cheese session (both of which were fantastic).
It felt so natural to be back socialising with one of my former colleagues that it occurred to me I might not really have left that company yet, in my mind at least. Maybe I never will. It was always a very special atmosphere at that place, and I met a lot of great people there, many of whom I'm still in touch with. That environment has undoubtably had a significant role in shaping who I am today, not just in the context of my job, but also outside of the office.
As I've said a couple of times now - you can take the guy out of Softel, but you can't take the Softel out of the guy.
- [Thursday 11th May]
After two late nights (and entertaining can be surprisingly hard work) I was absolutely knackered. I was really busy at the office, and despite wanting a very relaxing evening, couldn't really get away until about 8pm. So by the time I got back home I barely had the energy to do anything - made a very simple dinner and set about trying to get up to date with neglected housework and stuff on the computer. Nothing much to report really, I was just very, very tired!
- Entertaining Again
- [Wednesday 10th May]
Same sort of thing as the previous thing - I'm not entirely sure how I got signed up for it, but tonight again I was on entertainment duty for our visiting colleagues, albeit this time a slightly different group. As it was entirely up to me to plan the evening, we went on a tour of the only area I know well - Ikebukuro. We started off with nibbles at Rohlan, then went for a main course at Great India, and finished off with a wee dram at Quercus Bar. It's hard to say for sure if these places really suited my guests for the evening, but at least we didn't have to endure lots of aimless wandering as we tried to choose somewhere to go. Well, I did my best.
- [Tuesday 9th May]
A couple of guys were over from our US office, and in the evening it fell upon me to go out and entertain them. We started off the evening with a bite to eat at a place near where I work, and then headed into Shinjuku after that. It turned into a very late night somehow or other, and by the time I got home it was well into the wee small hours of the morning.
- A Very Sad Day
- [Monday 8th May]
I heard some very sad news today, a friend from my previous company had passed away after a long illness. He was a lovely guy and he will be sorely missed by everyone who ever knew him.
I am never sure if a blog is an appropriate place to talk about this sort of thing, so I'm really sorry if this upsets anyone. At the same time, to write about today as though nothing had happened would also seem wrong.
- Back to Tokyo
- [Sunday 7th May]
Today was the last day of Golden Week, and therefore also our last day in Hiroshima. After having a late lunch with Chie's parents, we headed over to Hiroshima station, did a spot of shopping, and then got on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo around 5. The four hour journey was pretty uneventful, a good book helped to pass the time.
- [Saturday May 6th]
Spent the day with members of Chie's wider family in Hiroshima. Nothing much to report.
- [Friday May 5th]
Spent the daytime in Miyajima. Started off in the morning, and paid a quick visit to Chie's aunt, uncle and cousins. Whilst there we also met the newest addition to the family - baby Hana who was only a couple of months old.
After that we headed over to the beach for a bit of a laze around, and then in the afternoon went for a walk part way up the mountain. It was hot, but not too hot so as to be unbearable, and we made sure to take plenty of fluids... So in the end it was a very nice stroll.
Headed back towards the end of the afternoon, and had dinner back at Chie's parents house. Chie made okonomiyaki for me - another thing which is becoming a tradition whenever we visit Hiroshima.
- Chie's Birthday
- [Thursday May 4th]
The day started with the usual present opening ceremony - I think this is now the third time I've been with Chie at her parent's house on her birthday (also last year and in 2002), so this has now become a very familiar experience.
When asked what Chie wanted to do for the rest of her birthday, it seemed to consist largely of going back into the centre of Hiroshima and doing more shopping - so today was a bit like the previous day really. The Flower Festival takes place in Hiroshima during Golden Week, so we also went to see a bit of that. I managed to catch a brief glimpse of HG - a very famous Japanese comedian (although I suspect his popularity is now dwaining a bit - you can't expect to be famous for long in Japan).
In the evening we had dinner at the "Greasy but Tasty" American style grill place called The Shack, which both Chie and I had been having a bit of a craving for recently.
- Out and About in Hiroshima
- [Wednesday May 3rd]
Given that the next day was Chie's birthday, I needed to do some last minute present shopping in Hiroshima. Funnily enough this is almost exactly the same as this time last year. Whilst I was shopping, Chie was catching up with an old friend, and I met up with Chie and her friend a little later on in the afternoon for some refreshment at Pinkerton's Souk, a cafe we'd been to in July last year.
We stayed in the city centre for dinner, and were joined by Chie's parents and her sister Yuka for a now traditional trip to Sushi Tei - the sushi restaurant we seem to end up going to every time I am in Hiroshima.
- Off to Hiroshima
- [Tuesday May 2nd]
Being "Golden Week" here in Japan meant only two days in the office - Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all national holidays. It seems a lot of people quite wisely use a couple of days vacation and extend this to a full week, as I was one of only a small handful of people in my office today.
I left the office very punctually, stopped off at the flat to get my things together, and then headed over to Tokyo station to meet up with Chie and get on the Shinkansen. We got on just before 8, and it is a four hour journey from there to Hiroshima. This ought to highlight just how far apart the two cities are - if it takes four hours on one of the world's fastest trains, then I guess in UK terms that would probably translate to the distance between London and Inverness. Anyway, I passed the time by browsing the internet on my phone (although the tunnels etc make this a tad frustrating), eating a rather nice vegetarian bento, and having a few beers (it would be rude not to!)... but still four hours is a long time, and it did seem to drag towards the end.
So it was around midnight when we arrived in Hiroshima. Chie's parents had waited up for us, which was really nice of them, so this meant a few more beers before bed, and I think it was probably about 2AM by the time my head hit the pillow.
- [Monday 1st May]
As we were going to be heading to Hiroshima for "golden week" the next evening, I was loathed to buy any new food, that would inevitably go unused and just sit moulding away in the fridge during our absence. So instead I decided we should use up some odds and ends - the remainder of last night's red wine stew, and some leftover boston baked beans that had been lurking in the freezer for a week or so. The results were surprisingly good - both dishes seemed to have benefitted for a bit of maturation, and went down very well with some leftover crusty bread (which, being in Japan, wasn't particularly crusty). That's pretty much it for today really. Just eating, and a bit of preparation for our five nights away.
Today marked one year since we came to Japan, to start looking for work and have a go at living here. Looking back it's been a pretty eventful twelve months, and it is weird to think that this time last year I really had no idea what the future would hold - where I would be working, etc. All I had was one interview arranged. I keep meaning to write a sort of "year in review" article to chronicle all the major events of this period, which has been like a kind of project in many ways... but never quite seem to get round to it. Maybe some time soon!
- [Sunday 30th April]
I'm not a nerd, honest. I'm a media person really - the reason I like technology is because of what it can do with media - images, music, video... Look at the software I've written, and the industry I work in. At the end of the day what realy matters to me is the content - the photos, the songs, the telly... The technology side of it just means that you can enjoy and appreciate that content in new and interesting ways. So yes, I'm an engineer, but what I really enjoying doing is engineering things that allow people to enjoy interesting content, be creative, and even, dare I say it, be artistic. By definition that makes me more of meta-artist than just a simple technician or engineer. Honestly, I'm not a nerd!
Right, having got that disclaimer out of the way, I spent today being (what might superficially look like) a total nerd. Chie went out with a friend of hers for most of the day, leaving me in by myself to do all those odd jobs on the computer that I keep meaning to do, but never quite get round to. Having bought a lovely new external hard drive the day before, I decided it was high time to back up all of my photos - many of which were rather precariously only existing in one place before yesterday. It is great to have everything safely backed up in one place on one handy portable device - a little digital memory box of my life over the last few years.
I also spent a fair bit of time doing odd bits of maintenance on the website. The blogging engine we use is a little old and tired, but we're in a position now where it really isn't that easy to move to anything else*. One unfortunate side effect of this is that our server has a nasty habit of deleting any CGI process that takes too long to complete, and so for me at least, having quite a lot of posts now on my blog, any update that needs to be applied across all entries generally fails part way through. This has been bugging me for some time now, so I finally decided to see if I could have a fiddle with the scripts and fix it. It took a fair while, but I got there in the end. It's one of those thankless tasks, behind the scenes, that no-one would even know about had I not just mentioned it... but it's all about enabling content on the site, and helping people to enjoy themselves. I told you - I'm not a nerd!
Oh and I also spent some of the evening making a DVD, using the DVD writer I bought a couple of weeks back. Most of my family have internet access, so can keep up with my exploits via the miracle that is the web. My grandmother Vera though, being 86 and all that, funnily enough does not own a computer. However, I noticed on my last visit that she now has a DVD player, so it occurred to me I could make a slideshow DVD and send it to her instead. I was pretty impressed with the software that came with the DVD writer (Ulead something or other). Not only did it make it embarassingly easy to put together a slideshow DVD, it also rather superbly let me add an audio commentary to each picture. This really brought the experience to life - a silent slideshow would have been a little bit empty and meaningless, but with the commentary I'm hoping it will be more like a "virtual me" in Vera's lounge, looking through the pictures with her. Oh and it also let me make some flashy menus and stuff. Whilst I doubt Vera will care so much about those, I thought they were kind of cool.
* Rob/Lox - none of the usual "Why don't we move to PHP?" comments please! Unless, that is, you are personally volunteering to undertake all the required work of rewriting scripts and transferring content to a completely new site - I reckon you're looking at about two man months, full time.