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:
- A Potentially Nodal Event...
Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
Mac Mini and Gyoza
A good note to end on
The only way is up...
Unix in a Lunch Box
Small is Beautiful
Was I just missing karaoke...?
You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone
A Change is as Good as a Rest...?
Better than Nothing
Pins in the Map
It's Friday and It's Vegetable
New Irish Bar
How to Beat the Vicious Circle of Overtime
My Name in Ketchup
End of a Crappy Week
- A Potentially Nodal Event...
- [Wednesday 28th June]
Well the big news for today is that Chie's boss handed in his resignation. She currently works as a PA to one of the top level management types in a large hotel in Tokyo. Given the nature of working as a PA, this effectively meant her job as she knew it would not continue. Apparently, after a quick chat with HR she was reassured she could transfer to another position within the hotel, albeit presumably in a somewhat different role.
The timing is interesting, as it coincides with a period where we have both been less than enamoured with our jobs. Should Chie want to leave her job, she could do so at this time with an absolutely clear conscience - her current responsibilities will come to an end when her manager leaves, and the new position will likely be in more of an admin capacity - not really the job she originally applied for.
So who knows, today's news could be a catalyst for a big change, or, on the other hand Chie might just stay with her company, move to a new position, and practically it might not make much of a difference.
Not much else to report really. I went for a quick drink after work with my friend from the office. When I got back home Chie made okonomiyaki for dinner. I then spent the rest of the evening on the computer, whilst Chie spent a large part of it on the phone, using very animated Hiroshima-ben (her regional dialect) to tell her family about the day's news.
In other news, work is still progressing on the utility for backing up the 'Maison. Having used the tool for test runs on other sites, tonight for the first time I gave it a go on the 'Maison itself. It began to dawn on me wha ta mammoth undertaking it is to get the whole site backed up. I came across one directory with a staggering 15,000 files in!
- [Tuesday 27th June]
Aiko-san, a friend of Chie's, was in the neighbourhood, so in the evening we went for a couple of drinks and a bite to eat with her and our friend Haruka-kun - who lives just over the road. We went to a izakaya near to where we live. Didn't stay out too late, but had a pleasant time nonetheless.
- Source Control
- [Monday 26th June]
Chie was off sick today, which actually turned out rather nice - as she was feeling a bit better towards the end of the morning we met up for lunch. Chie came to the part of Tokyo where my office is. We had lunch at the natural food restaurant I occasionally go to (which seems to be able to do a vegetarian meal on request). After this I took it on myself to give Chie a quick guided tour of my office - complete with a drink at the coffee shop on the ground floor.
So the working day was not so bad - it was really nice to see Chie for lunch, and also the actual working bit either side was a bit better than the norm. My friend, the contractor, was back in the office after a two week absence, and to coincide with this I'd determined to put my foot down, and spend more time working with him, and less time doing ther rather crappy assignment that had occupied much of the last fortnight.
I spent a large part of the day at work installing a source control system, and, funnily enough, also ended up doing the same thing on the Mac Mini when I got back home. Whilst at work I was naturally using a big bucks commercial product, at home I installed the delightfully cheap and cheerful CVS. This will help me to manage the software development I occasionally dabble with at home, and could even open up the possibility for other people to contribute to the development effort, should anyone every be interested (I'm not holding my breath!).
Whilst installing CVS I think I may have come up against the first thing I don't like so much on Mac OS X - the Net Info manager. It is the thing you use for administering users and groups, and it was a real painin the arse. It took quite a while before I discovered the magic dance you have to do in order for your changes to actually take effect. Still, it's hardly an every day task, so I suppose I can forgive OS X in this instance.
- Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
- [Sunday 25th June]
It was a very lazy day indeed. I woke up relatively early, feeling unbearably hot - a combination of hangover, fever from my cold, the fact that the apartment was a bit fuller than usual (Chie's sister had stayed over) and the generally muggy and unpleasant weather. I had to get out of the flat, so went for a walk, and visited a nearby supermarket to buy things for breakfast.
After I got back, I had a late breakfast with Chie - reminding myself just how much I like croissants with butter and jam. After that Chie seemed to doze off, and whilst I initially was determine to get some stuff done on the computer, I too dozed off after a while. A large part of the afternoon seemed to get lost in this way - drifting in and out of conciousness.
Towards the end of the afternoon, I had an uncharacteristic urge to go shopping. So we left the flat and headed over to Shinjuku. We spent a long time in the Tower Records there - I had decided it was high time to swell my rather measly CD collection here in Japan (I left them all back in the UK, and only converted a few to MP3s before coming to Japan).
We bought an odd mix - including 10 Duke Ellington CDs for a rediculously cheap 1400 Yen (about 7 quid - so 70p per CD). Oh and I bought "Contraband - The Best of Men at Work". Men at Work's album Business as Usual was the first album I'd ever owned - my Dad gave it to me (quite possibly because he'd got fed up with it!). So this was full of nostalgic appeal for me. I'd only ever owned this one Men at Work album, and yet I appeared to know half the songs on the "Best Of" album. From this I'm going to extrapolate that Men at Work only ever made two albums...
My other purchase at Tower Records was Monty Python and the Holy Grail - believe it or not I had never actually owned this previously. It's quite great to have the Japanese version - pretty much the same as the standard version, but the Japanese subtitles ought to make for fascinating reading!
So the evening was then consumed with adding my new CDs to iTunes on the Mac Mini (which is gloriously effortless), and once that was done, sitting back to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For the fourteenth time.
- Mac Mini and Gyoza
- [Saturday 24th June]
I spent most of the daytime working on the FTP backup tool - I've got a very basic version working now, and was able to run it both on my Windows Laptop, and under OS X on the Mac Mini. It's not quite ready to put into use yet - there are a lot of rough edges, but I could probably get it ship-shape given another full day's effort. It is really simple - just a little command line utility - but one of the neat things about it is that after the first time you backup a particular site, each time you run it after that, it only downloads files that have changed. This also means if it gets cut off part way through, you don't have to have to start over from scratch the next time you run.
Chie decided completely at random during the day that she was going to invite some friends over for gyoza and a few drinks. This was very nice - I made pretty much no effort whatsoever - no cooking, no planning, no travelling - and a fun evening just happened regardless. Two of Chie's friends joined us, as well as her little sister, so we were a group of five in total. One of Chie's friends - Haruka-kun, lives pretty much just across the road from us, and has been to our flat several times now. It was quite great how he just turned up in his slippers with a carrier bag full of beers - it felt a little bit like being back in a hall of residence at university.
The Mac Mini did an great job of providing music for the evening - I copied all of the MP3s I had on my laptop onto it, and used iTunes / Front Row to play them. It was really neat to have the "Now Playing" display showing on the TV in the corner of the room, and being able to skip etc using the remote control.
- A good note to end on
- [Friday 23rd June]
Having got it all out of my system the previous day, today was a much better day at work. This was helped also by the fact that I had a great excuse to leave early - I'd been invited to a vendor's office for a progress update, and then dinner. So I left my office around 4, which felt great.
So I then had a very nice evening out with my friend from work - who is actually a contractor - and one of the big bosses of his company. They were very hospitable - even having sought out an entirely vegetarian restaurant for my benefit - we went to this all-vegetarian Indian place, which was very good indeed. After dinner the big boss went off home, leaving just us "young folk" to go for a few more drinks around Shibuya. We started off at an Irish pub, then went to a fairly upmarket cocktail/whisky bar, and then rounded the evening off in a very studenty sort of cafe place.
All in all a very pleasant evening - I tried to keep moaning about work to a minimum, but unfortunately a little did spill out towards the end. I suppose that is par for the course though really!
- The only way is up...
- [Thursday 22nd June]
This morning was probably the lowest point of a particularly crap week at work, but as often seems to be the way, once you hit rock bottom things can only get better.
I seem to have developed a bit of a cold again. When I woke up in the morning I felt really crap, and was seriously considering taking the day off. I remembered though that my sick leave allocation for the whole year was a miserable three days, and I'd already used it up. So, not really feeling at my best, I trudged bravely into work regardless - albeit somewhat late.
I really didn't want to be in the office, so shortly after arrival I went to sit in the Starbucks on the ground floor for a bit. I had a calming cup of tea there, to try and get my mood in order - I was a bit feverish with my cold, and it had made me exceptionally irritable. Whilst drinking my tea, I spent some time browsing the web with my mobile phone, and my rather spiteful state of mind led me to go and look at what jobs other companies were offering. A combination of this bit of "getting my own back" and the cup of tea seemed to improve my mood considerably. Oh and I also gave in and took some cold medicine (I usually like to keep this as a last resort), which probably helped a fair bit too.
In the afternoon I had a long talk with my manager about the woes of my current working situation. He's a very nice chap, it is just unfortunate that he is based on the wrong side of the Pacific, and as such there isn't a great deal he can to about day-to-day working issues in Tokyo. Whilst I doubt much will change on the work front in the short term, I did feel a lot better by the end of the day.
I spent most of the evening getting my CV up to date - you know - just in case...
- Unix in a Lunch Box
- [Wednesday 21st June]
I won't even comment on the dreariness of the day at work today.
I spent the evening with the Mac Mini, trying to remind myself that I didn't just fundamentally hate everything to do with computers! I have to admit to having rather enjoyed myself - I'm not sure I'm really making much use of the Mac side of things, but I just love messing about in Unix. Apple made a really smart move by using this as the foundation for OSX - similar I suppose to switching to Intel chips, which led the way to Boot Camp and Windows support.
The novelty value of the Mini still hasn't worn off yet - when I think of Unix I tend to think of great big unwieldy servers - it is really great to have the same kind of flexibility, but in a unit not much bigger than the sort of box you'd take your lunch to work in.
I've made a start on the 'Maison backup tool. I've decided to try and make it cross platform - so the finished product should work on Windows, Mac OSX and hopefully by implication Linux/Solaris. When it is finished, I'll make it available to all the 'Maison regulars, so you can all backup your own bits of the site (or even the whole lot if you feel so inclined). I really like the idea of all these little clients, beavering away all over the globe backing up the site. That way even if a whole continent slips into the sea, there'll still be a backup of the site somewhere.
A couple of weeks back I'd tried to make a start on the backup tool in .Net, and found it surprisingly awkward to get off the ground with the basics like getting a directory listing via FTP. Despite the decidedly low-tech approach of going the Unix route - building via the shell with gcc, and editing in a regular text editor - it actually seemed much easier to make progress doing it all "the old fashioned way". Sometimes all this fancy-pants new technology tries to be just too clever I suppose.
Anyway, it is early days yet, it will take a fair while before I've got anything that is really usable - especially as I always have to negotiate an "allowance" for this kind of free time from Chie... but I will keep you posted as the tool progresses.
- More Dreariness
- [Tuesday 20th June]
Another dreary day at work.
The evening was something of an improvement over the previous day though. Chie and I went for a curry (back to the same place we'd failed to get into the day before). Both of us had a good moan about our jobs, and the general woes of working in Japan, and then began to discuss our future. We're both pretty fed up right now, and maybe it is time for a change. No real firm plans on this front as yet though.
- [Monday 19th June]
Last week had been an improvement on the work front, but judging by today it seemed that trend would not continue into this week. I spent a day basically just fighting against the software I'm supposed to be working with. I am convinced it has a mind of its own, and that mind is focused on hating me!
Wanted to go for a curry in the evening, but the place near our flat was closed. So we just went back home instead and actually I ended up not really bothering to have dinner at all. It's hot and muggy here at the moment, and that seems to be making me lose my appetite a bit.
I watched a film called something like "In the bleak Midwinter" - a British film with Richard Briers and Julia Swahalia (or whatever she's called) in, that Chie somehow got over the internet. I think our ISP gives us a few free movie downloads each month as part of our package or something. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it did help to pass the time a bit, and it was oddly quite comforting to see an array of familiar faces from British TV.
- [Sunday 18th June]
Went over to Yokohama to meet my friend from work's family, and also do a bit of sightseeing. My friend's family were all lovely, and we had a nice lunch there, followed by a an exclusive live piano session. He is a downright excellent Jazz pianist, and it always makes me think what a waste it is that he has to resort to the tedium of software engineering to make ends meet (although in fairness, he's also a very gifted software engineer).
As for the sightseeing, well, it was a bit of a grey and drizzly sort of day, and so I probably didn't really see it at its best. It seemed, well.... pleasant, but pretty much just more of the same really. Perhaps this is because I look at it from an outsider's perspective - the subtle differences that distinguish Tokyo and Yokohama are largely lost on me. So the best I can muster is to conclude that Yokohama is not quite as crap as Tokyo.
Around 5 or 6 we left Yokohama, and on the way back mine and Chie's mood began to sink at the prospect of another working week looming ahead of us. So to cheer ourselves up we went over to Ikebukuro on the way back, and had dinner at Rohlan. The food was just tear jerkingly excellent. Honestly, without wanting to overdo it I think this could actually be the best restaurant in the world as far as I'm concerned.
- Small is Beautiful
- [Saturday 17th June]
I've been talking about it for some time, but for one reason or another it has been put off constantly. Today though my resolve was quite unshakeable, and I finally got around to buying that Mac Mini.
[Click here to read more...]
- Was I just missing karaoke...?
- [Friday 16th June]
At the end of the working day (well, a couple of hours after it by my standards) I went and hovered around the desk of one of my friends at the office. I didn't say anything, he just said "yes, I'll be ready to go in a few minutes". It was great - we hadn't made any plan to go out or anything, and somehow he just read my mind.
So we went to the new Irish bar near my office. The staff still seem a little rusty, and the beer wasn't by any means the best I've ever had, but I'm just determined to like this place, so will no doubt continue to give them my patronage.
For the bulk of the evening we were joined by another of our colleagues, a very learned gentleman who just comes to our office once a week or so. So I spent a lot of the time talking to him about his rather illustrious career. He was an interesting personality to study, because he didn't seem to be bound by the usual Japanese modesty. You wouldn't exactly say he was big headed, but he also wasn't embarassed to talk quite frankly about some of his achievements. And why not? I'd already heard independently that he had a hand in inventing quite a lot of the technologies I now work with, and so I take my hat off to the guy - if he feels like bragging, then he has every right to!
For the final part of the evening it was just back down to me and my friend, and we decided "for old time's sake" we'd round off the night with a bout of karaoke. For one reason or another me and this guy haven't been out for quite a few weeks now - and I did wonder if this might have been a small contributing factor to my recent malaise. Friday night karaoke was almost a weekly fixture for the two of us at one point, we had developed a whole repertoire with which we'd "entertain" anyone else unfortunate enough to have tagged along with us... but recently that hasn't been the case. So it was really great to get back into the habit again.
Amongst other songs, I did a surprise rendition of "Don't cry for me Argentina" - I even surprised myself, as I can't for the life of me work out why I chose it. I must have been in a surreal mood.
Anyway it was a great end to a pleasant evening.
- Mominoki House
- [Thursday 15th June]
In the evening, I wanted to go out with Chie for a "nice meal", so we went to a place recommended by my friend at work - Mominoki House in Harajuku. It's a restaurant that specialises in healthy and organic food, and whilst not being specifically vegetarian, they do seem to understand the concept, and have a number of overtly vegetarian items on the menu. According to this page it has been frequented by famous vegetarians like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, and Janet Jackson... and now me. Despite the restaurant's minor fame, it wasn't actually all that expensive, perhaps a little more than the norm in Japan, but by British standards very reasonable indeed.
Chie was a bit late leaving work, so I had to make my own way there and wait for her at the restaurant. I think it's actually the first ever time that Chie and I have gone to a restaurant and arrived separately. It was quite exciting in an odd kind of way - a bit like a first date or something.
Anyway, I am pleased to report the place was very nice. I particularly liked the decor. Lots of wood, and a quite relaxed and cozy atmosphere. A couple of the tables were up on balconies too, which was a nice touch. The food was good too - I think we started with a hot carrot salad, followed some vegetable filled gyoza, then a tempeh steak, a seasonal vegetable gratin and finally a sort of vegetable steak. The gyoza and the gratin were particular highlights - the gratin was amazingly creamy considering there wasn't actually any cheese in it - I think it would have been suitable for vegans actually. Apparently the sauce was made from a kind of bean, slightly reminiscent of the refried beans you get with Mexican food. Even the tempeh was good - it's something I've only had once or twice before, and I have to admit to not having been that impressed previously, but this one had a really good flavour and a very interesting texture to it.
So yes, anyway, a very pleasant evening out.
- You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone
- [Wednesday 14th June]
There were a number of apocalyptic descriptions of today's events, and I rather liked Travis's "We have glimpsed armageddon", which I may now be paraphrasing slightly.
[Click here to read more...]
- A Change is as Good as a Rest...?
- [Tuesday 13th June]
'Twas a fairly uneventful day. Work was OK I suppose - I was temporarily on a slightly different assignment to the hellish one of the last few weeks, and whilst this wasn't exactly a dream job either, I suppose, as they say, "a change is as good as a rest".
Well, no it isn't really as good, a rest would be much better now.
I realised the other day the sum total of days I can take off for the rest of this year amounts to a rather pitiful 10... and following the extravagant slew in the first half of the year, the latter half of the year in Japan is notably absent of public holidays. I desperately want to go back to the UK for Christmas this year, as it was just plain awful being here last Christmas, and it isn't worth flying all that way for anything less than a week. So once you remove five days holiday for Christmas (as of course there are no public holidays around there in Japan), I'm only really left with five days I can take off between now and the end of December. That's less than one day a month.
I could go crazy and blow that on a week's holiday, but then I would be left with absolutely nothing for any other eventualities. You'd never believe it, but I have already used up my annual allocation for sick leave - I am "allowed" to be sick 3 days per year (actually I think it is officially only 2 as I am still in the first year of my job). I pretty much blew that in one week last month with a single (albeit rather nasty) cold. So if I get ill again, officially speaking I have to take it out of my holiday allocation. Yea, right! Still, five days can easily get whittled away with the odd day off here and there for long weekends or unforseen circumstances.
It is a bit of a gloomy prospect to have the hot oppressive Japanese summer ahead of me, and no doubt a hard slog at work, with probably no real chance of a decent holiday during that time. This being the case, amazed as I am to hear myself even thinking it, I find myself almost looking forward to the next business trip. Hateful as those things are in themselves, I suppose it does at least break up the routine a bit. Realistically, a business trip is probably my only real chance of escaping from Tokyo this summer.
So maybe a change is as good as a rest...? Well, still I'm thinking: no, not really. That phrase probably needs a little revision:
"In the absence of a rest, a change is slightly better than nothing."
I know my version isn't as catchy, but I think the original misrepresents the needs of working people a bit, and was probably a contributing factor to the thinking of the idiot in HR at my company, who determined 10 or so days per year was a reasonable amount of holiday.
- Better than Nothing
- [Monday 12th June]
The past few weeks at work have not been all that great, so Mondays in particular have become a somewhat less-than-relished prospect. As usual I wasn't exactly filled with glee on my way into work in the morning, but actually the day didn't turn out too bad. There was hardly anyone from my team in the office which - and I hate to sound so unsociable - actually made for a nicer working atmosphere. I made what I felt to be a reasonable amount of progress on my current assignment. By a "reasonable amount of progress" what I actually mean is a non-zero quantity - the last couple of weeks has seen a number of soul destroyingly frustrating days, where for one reason or another I've just got absolutely nowhere. So it was a nice feeling to report back to head office at the end of the day, and, for once, actually have something at least slightly positive to say.
After work, back at home, Chie and I made yaki niku (using fake meat of course) with our hotplate thing on the dining table. This is always a bit of fun - a break from the norm if you will, cooking somewhere other than the kitchen.
We also watched another batch of Frasier episodes, and thus the evening passed quite pleasantly.
- Pins in the Map
- [Sunday 11th June]
Not a hugely interesting day, but one filled with assorted odds and ends which for no good reason I feel the urge to chronicle herein.
Chie went for lunch with one of her friends, and I opted to let them have some quality "girls time" together, so stayed at home. I had a fairly domestic daytime, largely catching up on chores like washing and cleaning, and also spent a bit of time on the computer sticking pins in the map, virtually speaking. I realise I've visited quite a lot of places in Japan now, and, albeit still incomplete, it feels good to see all those pins on the map there.
Oh, and I got my hair cut later on in the afternoon. I went to the same place as I went the last few times, not too far from our apartment. As always I made a struggled attempt at polite chit chat with the guy while he was cutting my hair. I wasn't in the most convivial mood, so to be honest I would have been quite happy to have him go about his business while I sat in silence, but for some reason he felt the need to strike up a conversation on a number of diverse and linguistically challenging topics. It occurred to me for the first time that the other customers in the place weren't actually talking to their respective hairdressers. Given that conversation (in Japanese) is clearly so much more difficult for me than the rest of them, I wondered why I was the only one not spared this ordeal. The big headed version of me might suggest this is because I am just a very interesting person. The less big headed, and somewhat more cynical side of my character would disagree, preferring instead the theory that the guy cutting my hair is secretly quite mean, and derives great pleasure from hearing my apalling grammatical errors and general inability to put coherent sentences together. The reality may lie vaguely somewhere between the two.
Later on I went to Shinjuku to meet up with Chie after she'd finished her very long lunch, and afternoon spending time with her friend. This excursion turned out to be largely pointless for me, as I didn't buy anything there apart from a couple of bits of bread, and soon after Chie and I met up we decided it would be best to just go back home.
I made a red wine stew for dinner, which, although I say so myself, came out really very well indeed. This is a dish I've been making a lot recently, albeit quite different every time - the only real consistent ingredients being red wine and onions. After that it is just whatever vegetables are to hand. I think it is a substitute for British food - it is nigh on impossible to make anything like a roast meal given that we don't have a proper oven. Somehow this dish seems to satisfy that craving for rich and hearty food.
Our dinner, and the remainder of the evening thereafter, was spent watching episodes of Frasier on DVD - which I'd borrowed from my friend at work. Perhaps I have just been starved of decent telly over the past few months, but I have to admit to really rather enjoying it, despite having seen several of the episodes before. Plus it is interesting to watch it now having actually been to Seattle a few times - whilst the impression given by the show is still at odds with the impression I have of the real place (it is not nearly as sophisticated as you'd think from watching Frasier), it is still oddly great to hear the names of streets and small suburban towns in the area and think "I've been there!".
- [Saturday 10th June]
Had a very nice day out being shown around some of the highlights of Tochigi prefecture by our friend Hide. The pictures probably tell it best!
- It's Friday and It's Vegetable
- [Friday 9th June]
Had dinner at It's Vegetable, the Taiwanese vegetarian place I've been to a couple of times before (see here and here).
I've only previously been at lunchtime, but am pleased to report dinner is also very good. We ordered a kind of set menu, where they just make six dishes of whatever they feel like cooking. All six dishes were excellent.
First off a salad with pieces of this rather nice slightly chewy soya stuff and an entirely vegan (i.e. no egg) mayonnaise which was surprisingly rather tasty. We then had a sweet and sour dish which I think had pumpkin in, amongst other things. Then a kind of gingery dish, where everything was cut into very thin strips. After that a simple dish containing some stir fried green leafy chinese vegetable (which I'd never heard of before). Finally some "fake fish" - yuba (the skin from tofu) flavoured with seaweed. It was surprisingly fishy - even Chie thought so, but the nice guy who runs the place did come and reassure us that it was entirely vegetarian (he's a strict vegetarian himself, so I'm inclined to take his word for it). Dessert was a sort of citrusy jelly - but surprisingly the jelly wasn't seaweed based as I'd expect but made from some kind of bean, apparently.
Every time I go to this place it is a tremendous education, I never cease to be amazed by the new and innovative ways they find to make interesting, varied and above all hugely tasty vegetarian food. In a city which has such a dearth of this kind of thing, It's Vegetable is nothing short of a culinary oasis.
- New Irish Bar
- [Thursday 8th June]
The previous evening's gambit had paid off rather well - for the time being at least my self esteem seems to have been restored, and I felt a lot better being at work today. Other than that the daytime was relatively uneventful, but in terms of my mood it was a complete turnaround, after a downright miserable couple of weeks beforehand.
A new Irish bar opened today in the little suburb of Tokyo where my office is. The area has quite a different character to central Tokyo, so to find such an intrinsically foreign establishment opening up here came us quite a surprise.
Me and my friend from the office (who is Japanese, but with an attitude that gloriously balances the best of both worlds) were both very determined to be amongst the first customers, and so we left the office around 6ish, and hurried over there.
I determined that it would be my new regular within about four seconds of walking through the door. Objectively speaking there was nothing that special about it, the decor was modest and the beer was at best reasonable (not to mention a little overpriced)... but somehow I just liked it. Perhaps it was just the delight of something with so many familiar attributes (beer in pints, etc) in the part of Japan where I've probably felt most alienated. I'd occasionally been for an after work drink in the various bars betwen my office and the nearest station, but none of them had really had any long lasting appeal. This place however I can really see becoming a regular haunt.
So it was a good night out, albeit a fairly short one - I was back home by 9. Probably for the best though, what with it being a school night and all that.
- How to Beat the Vicious Circle of Overtime
- [Wednesday 7th June]
There is one aspect of Japanese culture which I find hard to accept (OK several actually, but for now I'll just focus on one) - the whole business of overtime. People in Japan work rediculously long hours, which, as someone who actually values their free time, likes being with their girlfriend, and so on, is something I really don't want to be dragged into.
[Click here to read more...]
- My Name in Ketchup
- [Tuesday 6th June]
Another entirely crappy day at work. Feeling I really needed to get away, I actually went back to the apartment for a while at lunchtime. I confused my colleagues by continuing to send emails from there, and I even made a phone call to a colleague in the US. It occurred to me how refreshing it might be if I were able to officially work from home once in a while. Refreshing, but probably not massively productive. Having said that, the office is hardly the ideal work environment either at the moment...
Anyhwo, when the day was finally over I returned home feeling rather downtrodden and sorry for myself. Even though Chie got back later than I did, she very kindly offered to cook dinner, perhaps as it was evident I wasn't really in the mood for it. She made yaki soba (Kev: noodles again!), served with an omelette on top. The crowning glory was that she wrote my name - a big "Dr John" - in ketchup on the top. It was so wonderfully sweet, and cheered me up no end, bless her.
- [Monday 5th June]
A wholly crap day at work, which doesn't really deserve writing about at all.
Lunch was at least nice though - there is a "natural foods" cafe very close to the office, which, after a little negotiation with the staff over several visits, appears to be able to do a genuinely vegetarian lunch for me. I think the place had been frequented in the past by some Indian vegetarians from my company, and so the guy who runs the place was pretty well up on the requirements already. God bless the Indians for their vegetarian trail blazing - they are of course, the only country in the world that does vegetarianism on a proper scale. I think they run to something like a third of the population - hundreds of millions, which makes the UK's 5% of the population (or whatever it is) seem a little insignificant by comparison! So definitely, hats off to India.
In the evening I made a very simple dinner, as neither Chie nor I were particularly hungry. We basically just had a hearty bowl of home made soup each, and some crusty bread.... and that just about did us really.
- [Sunday 4th June]
We spent today in Tokyo following a vaguley Turkish (well, Middle Eastern) theme, and thus the rather awful title. In fact it is not hugely applicable, but I enjoyed this play on words so much that it seemed a shame not to use it.
Initially Chie went out by herself, around lunchtime, to do the regular shopping trip to Shinjuku. I really didn't feel like it, so instead stayed home and tried to catch up on email etc. Around 3ish though I started to tire of the computer, and felt like a bit of an outing. So Chie and I arranged to meet up on her way back from the shops, and go for a bit of a wander together.
The previous today we'd been surprised to pass a mosque on the train - it really stood out as a rather attractive and interesting building, something of an architectural oasis in the somewhat aesthetically barren landscape of Tokyo. Chie worked out it wasn't actually that far from our apartment, and so we decided to try and find it on foot. It was very easy to find, and we must have more or less passed it a couple of times before without noticing it somehow. We didn't stay long, just a quick wander round the perimiter and a quick peek inside. It was very nice though - so good to see a building in Tokyo that was actually pleasing to the eye for a change.
This instilled in me something of a Middle Eastern frame of mind, and I developed a sudden taste for Turkish/Lebanese/North African food. So with the help of my mobile's internet acces, we set out on an ultimately futile quest to find some kind of Middle Eastern restaurant. The first place we got to looked very closed indeed. The second was open (although the staff did seem a little surprised at the prospect of customers) but after sitting down and examining the menu we realised that there wasn't anything even remotely vegetarian there - usually Middle Eastern food seems to be fairly good in this respect. The place however, specialised in things like camel meat. After a quick chat with the waiter to confirm our suspicions, we made our apologies, and slightly embarassed we got up and shuffled out.
Just round the corner was a Belgian bar we'd been to once before, so we popped in there for a quick drink and some frites, and to think about what to do next.
Eventually the plan was just to give up and go back home. Still, we remembered we had some cous cous in the cupboard, and I knocked up that dish of broad beans (and runner beans this time) in a very rich olive oil and tomato sauce. It came out rather well, and was probably more satisfying that anything we'd have found in a restaurant - our previous attempts to eat Turkish food in Tokyo had been a little disappointing.
- [Saturday 3rd June]
Keen to get away from Tokyo, even if just for a few hours, Chie and I went for a daytrip to Hakone, a town famous for its onsen (hot springs). I'm not sure the place we went to was that marvellous, but it was a pleasant diversion anyway. It was a little bit downmarket compared to Enoshima, a little bit old and grubby in places, and a lot more people, especially lots of kids. Fortunately Japanese children do not seem to be nearly as annoying as British kids can be in that sort of situation (at swimming pools, beaches, etc).
This place had some themed baths - basically with artificial colouring and some kind of aroma in. So there was a green tea bath, a red wine bath, a coffee bath (?!) and a sake bath. It was all kind of fun, a bit of a novelty, but I wasn't exactly left with a desperate urge to go again.
We probably didn't time it all that well - by the time we got out of the onsen place, it was already late afternoon. If it had been daylight, we might have gone over to a nearby lake which is apparently very scenic, and from somewhere nearby you could also get some nice views of Mt. Fuji. As it was though, we just meandered back home basically, stopping off in another nearby town called Odawara for some dinner. The return journey to Tokyo seemed endless - as we were on slow local trains it took about two hours.
Definitely in retrospect we should have planned it better - to go and see a bit more countryside, and probably to get the value out of the train fare we should have stayed a night. Still, it was, as I said earlier, nonetheless a pleasant diversion.
- End of a Crappy Week
- [Friday 2nd June]
Well today provided no exception to the week long fete du crap at work. I finished on a particularly low note. The work I'd been doing this week was supposed to be helping out my colleagues at the US office, who were horribly overburdened in the face of a looming deadline, and the bean-counting management over there had been cracking the whip liberally. Well by the time I got to the end of working week I had basically achieved nothing - there had been so many trials and tribulations in getting up to speed with the area they're working in, that effectively I had contributed nothing useful at all. I had to send an email to them to this effect, which was horribly demoralising. The only thing I could offer was to metaphorically throw myself on my sword, and tell them to send as much blame as they could my way.
Wallowing in self pity, I left the office on time, feeling I could stand no more, and turned down a kind offer from my friend at work to go out together. I really didn't feel I could subject him to the endless stream of moaning that would no doubt have ensued. I opted instead to go and drown my sorrows alone in Ikebukuro.
Usually the "standard night out" to Rohlan and Quercus is unfailing in its ability to cheer me up, but tonight I really didn't seem to be able to break free of the malaise. The food at Rohlan was excellent as always, but I think I probably ate too fast (in the knowledge that Chie had imposed a time limit on me for the evening) and ended up with a bit of indigestion. The atmosphere in Quercus was pretty good - Watanabe-san was charming and welcoming as ever, and the other customers all seemed to be having a great time... but I sat enshrouded in my own little aura of gloom the whole evening.
Well, let's try to look on the bright side. At least I have a roof over my head and all that, and in the grand scheme of things, my job really isn't that bad - it's hardly like working in a 19th century cotton mill, for example. So I'm sure this is just a temporary lull, excacerbated (no idea how to spell that) by a recent bout of home sickness, and having got a bit tired of life in Tokyo.
No doubt things will be better next week!
- Rubbish Thursday
- [Thursday 1st June]
Today was an apallingly frustrating day at work - it was one of those days were absolutely nothing was going to work for me. Every bit of software I had any dealings with had entered into a conspiracy to make my working day frustrating to the point of sheer misery.
These things happen though I suppose, and after I finally left the office in the evening, I was determined to just try and forget about it. So I met up with Chie near one of the two stations closest to our flat. We went to the "standing up bar" as we seemed to have dubbed it. We've been a couple of times before, and it is quite nice. There is a very interesting range of international bottled beers, and the staff are also very nice. There's a woman who works there, who asks me every time I go in what country I am from, and always acts pleasantly surprised when I say England, and then tells me there is another guy who sometimes comes in from England. I am starting to wonder if this "other guy" is in fact me, and she sort of bizarrely keeps forgetting that I've been in before, if you see what I mean.
Anyway, that was a good bit of stress relief. After that we went to a Ramen place - the one that does the highly rare vegetarian ramen. That was nice as ever. We got back home about 10ish, and I spent what little remained of the evening relaxing as best I could, concious that I'd probably have an early start the next morning, in an attempt to make up for the rather unproductive day I'd had today.