Thursday, March 31, 2005

Say that again

In my first real job, an office job in NZ that I started when I was 15 (yes, you could leave school at 15 then, and I did) there was an insurance agency sharing premises and facilities with my company. It wasn't our business to explain insurance questions to the clients of that agency, but sometimes when the agents were out we would try to help.

One day a very charming man came in and said he had a couple of questions for an insurance agent. I told him the insurance agents were out, but if I could help I would. But he should get my answers confirmed by the agents, later.

He was happy with that, and launched into his first question. It was a question I could answer, so I answered it. Then he asked his second question. That was a question I could answer, too, so I was happy to oblige.

Then he asked the first question again, almost verbatim.

I stared at him. Was he winding me up? He'd just ASKED that. But he was a client, and I knew that you always should be polite to clients, so I answered it again. I felt stupid repeating myself, and perhaps it showed, because the guy, who was watching me closely, suddenly interrupted and asked,

"Have I asked you that one already?"

"Er... yes," I said, a little nervously.

"Oh. Sorry," he said. "I have no short-term memory. It's because I fell off a ladder a few years ago and landed on my head."

"Oh!" I said, and peered closely at his face to see if there was any hint of teasing. He looked back at me, smiling guilelessly. "Um, I see," I said. "Would you like me to write down the answers to your questions?"

His face lit up. "What a good idea!" he exclaimed, and I wondered why he hadn't thought of it himself. But then I thought maybe he HAD, and had forgotten. Then I got confused trying to think about it. How did he even remember he was suffering from short-term memory loss?

But I wrote down the answers, and all went well. When he started to ask the first question again I pointed at the paper I'd written the answers on and he said, "Oh, THANK YOU, ha ha," and then asked the second question, and I pointed at that, and he stared, read it, and said he thought that was all. Then he left.

I talked to one of the insurance agents about this episode when he came back to the office. He knew the guy.

"It's a sad case," he said. "He was an exceptionally intelligent bloke before the accident. Now ... well, I suppose he's still intelligent, but he can't remember anything that happened in the last five minutes. Tsk tsk."

He shook his head sadly. (Roger was the only person I've ever met who actually said, 'Tsk tsk,')

I thought and thought and THOUGHT about this problem at the time. I've thought about it since then, too, and I still find it puzzling.

How did he remember what questions he wanted to ask?

He's been drinking for ten days

My friend, who shall remain nameless although he doesn't deserve to, called me from the airport tonight and said,

"Sorry I couldn't make it to see you before my flight left, I got stuck in Kyushu and then when I finally arrived in Osaka this morning I called a friend and discovered he was having a day off today, so we met and got stinking drunk, and oh, by the way I'm getting married in July and I've become a Buddhist."

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

There was silence at the other end, and then he said,

"Er... um..."

"You're SERIOUS?" I asked, and stopped laughing.

"Er, yes. It seemed like a good idea when they mentioned it. I mean, it must be nice to be married. And ... you haven't met her, have you? She's lovely! What a babe!"

"Send pictures," I said. "Does this have anything to do with the fact that her father is a policeman? And are you sure about the Buddhist thing? I TOLD you that group is more like a cult..."

"Oh, I don't think so, they're not that bad. It's all pretty relaxed really," he said hurriedly. "I just have to mumble for a couple of minutes in the mornings. It doesn't take much time or anything, you know I'm not all that religious, I don't really get into things like that ... hold on, my flight is being called, got to run..."

He had been worried about meeting her policeman father. But he'd emailed me from their house to say, "He's just your typical Japanese alcopop, no worries!"


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Just wondering

Every time I see one of these on the road, I think of this, which I have on my desk at home, and wonder what would happen if I put wheels on my one. Would it become an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/car?

Another theory

Several of our Japanese friends have come down with extremely nasty colds and 'flus. Not the influenza Type A that The Man had (and has still not fully recovered from). They have colds, and influenza Type B. But these are not ordinary colds and 'flus; they are demon colds and 'flus. They bring misery and devastation, and the victims are unable to carry on with their normal daily lives. It is taking them a long time to recover.

The Man has a theory about these illnesses that have been sweeping Japan. His theory even explains why I am so disgustingly healthy. He says that these are not ordinary illnesses; they are vicious biological weapons, genetically modified and designed to attack only Japanese people.

He blames North Korea. We know their army isn't as tough as they like to pretend it is (their army is shorter than me, for goodness sakes!). It is logical that they are resorting to alternative methods for attacking their sworn enemy.

Pretty soon my foreign friends and I will be the only sane and healthy people left.

(And then we'll take over. Prepare for an outbreak of sanity from this little corner of the world.)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A theory

This post might make some people hate me.

I was talking the other day with The Man about life in Japan, in general, and about how I've realised recently why it would be very difficult for me to live in NZ again.

Despite all the crappy things about life in Japan, and there are many, I really am in an enviable situation, especially since I have a Japanese spouse. I RARELY HAVE TO DEAL WITH STUPID PEOPLE.

The reason for this is that foreigners who live long-term in Japan tend to be brighter than average. They have to be. First, you need a visa to live here, and for a visa you need at least a university degree. For most university teaching jobs you need a masters degree or higher, and that is where most of the foreigners I know work. I know that university degrees don't guarantee cleverness, but at least they filter out the totally incompetent. And the people without the relevant qualifications at least have the brains to organize fake qualifications somehow. That requires some cunning not to get caught, so even the ones without qualifications are pretty bright. (And sneaky. Let's not forget sneaky.)

Secondly, to live here you have to have a certain amount of common sense and a certain amount of tolerance. Without common sense and tolerance you can't survive. For example, we once had a Kiwi housemate, for about four months, who was a lovely guy but he had no ordinary survival instincts. He was exasperating. He was a darling, and we loved him, but he just could not survive here. He got lost almost every day despite the detailed maps and instructions we gave him for how to get home, and found everything puzzling and difficult. He was not resentful or upset about this - he seemed to more or less expect it - but I think he was relieved to go home when he got sick. He had no common sense AT ALL. We tried and tried with him. We wanted him to stay because we liked him and it was hard to find a good housemate. (One of the OTHER things about expats is that they're often hard to live with, although they make brilliant friends. Strange, but true.) He was a good housemate, easy to get along with and to live with, but he just couldn't cope with life in a foreign country. In the end we were glad to see him go, too, for his own sake. We thought he'd be better off at home where things were familiar and he wouldn't get lost quite so often. We were getting a bit exasperated with the phonecalls most evenings:

"Hi! It's me again. Somehow I've ended up in a place called Shin Sanda, heh heh. How do I get home from here?"

He managed to end up in places we'd never heard of. We had to keep a train map and timetable by the phone just for him.

You don't need as much common sense to survive when you're in your home country. Ordinary things are automatic, or at least doable, whereas when you're in a foreign country you have to cope with little differences all the time and learn how to accommodate them. He didn't seem able to do that. It wouldn't have mattered how long he'd stayed, this would never have been home for him. It would have baffled him forever.

So there is a kind of ex-pat filter that starts working when you live in a foreign country. The incapable and unintelligent are filtered out. You are left with only the ones who can cope, which means that they are either hopelessly eccentric (too eccentric for their home countries), or intelligent and full of common sense. Or both (most frequently). And because they also need a fair dose of tolerance to survive in this mad country, they're quite likely to get along with you, too.

Of course you also have to cope with the unfiltered Japanese, but if you are clever enough to have a clever Japanese spouse, like me, then you don't have to deal with the stupid people very often. You just pass them along to your spouse, whining about 'cultural differences' and 'language problems,' and he deals with them for you. So you end up thinking that Japanese people are mostly clever, too, because the bright ones are the ones you deal with the most. Most Japanese people don't want much to do with foreigners so they filter themselves when they see you coming. We're too much trouble. So the ones you get to know tend to be unusual people - the interesting and different ones on the fringes of society, who actually want to know foreigners and will tolerate and even welcome different ways of thinking.

There are exceptions, of course. The people you have to work with are occasionally stupid. And salespeople and so on. But they are the only contact you have with unfiltered 'ordinary' people.

As an example, I always answer the phone in English, because we often get telephone salespeople calling. When they hear the English they ask me (in Japanese) whether I can speak Japanese. I answer (in Japanese) that I can't, and 99% of the time they hang up! See what I mean? It's brilliant.

If I went back to NZ to live then I'd have to deal with unfiltered stupid people all the time, and I don't think I'd cope with that very well after all this time.

The danger is that after too much time here you end up thinking that Kiwis (or Australians, or Americans, or Poms, or whatever) are all fabulously intelligent and interesting and full of common sense, because all the Kiwis (and Australians, and Americans, and Poms, and so on) that you meet are, on the whole. But this is not true, of course. Reading blogs tells me so. (This is the bit where you get indignant, by the way. Bite me!) The blogs I read regularly are the good ones, but I have seen some DOOZIES out there, which prove once and for all that ANYBODY can start a blog. And if I went back to NZ to live I'd have to deal with people like that ALL THE TIME.

Every time I visit NZ I get horribly disillusioned, because it's not true that all Kiwis are intelligent, and I always forget. There's my family, for a start. You can't filter family. You're stuck with them. Whenever I'm in NZ I notice all the things I miss (my friends, the sky, the coastline, the weather, the general friendliness, SOME of my family) - but I also remember why I like my life here. Here I get to take advantage of automatic filtering of the expat community (courtesy of the Japanese Immigration Office) and I can easily ignore the stupid people. Expats who stick it out here are mostly somehow special. I will freely admit that some of them are special in ways I'd rather not know about, but you learn to sort those ones out pretty quickly. And I don't have any Japanese relatives except the ones The Man landed me with, and most of the time he deals with them for me.

So there you have it; why I like being an expat. Don't you envy me?

(Incidentally, I explained this theory to my expat Tuesday night friends, and they laughed, looked thoughtful, and then started saying things like, "Well, it's a good theory, but what about...?" and naming famously stupid people in the expat community that we all know. I had to shout VERY LOUDLY to get them to shut up. "BUT EVEN THE STUPIDEST PERSON YOU KNOW HERE ISN'T AS STUPID AS THE STUPID PEOPLE YOU MEET AT HOME, RIGHT?" I shouted, and some of them looked doubtful, so I changed the subject quickly before they exploded my theory completely.)

Happy Easter! (late)

Gorden McLean has posted a very funny Easter cartoon, which reminds me of one of the cruellest things I ever did to a child.

It was Easter, and I was visiting some friends who had a four-year-old boy. This child was in love with rabbits, and had been since his first stuffed toy, which was a rabbit. 'Rabby' had been restuffed and re-covered so many times it was several generations away from the original stuffed rabbit, but this did not concern him because he didn't know. He just thought that Rabby took mysterious little overnight trips occasionally, and came back clean and plump.

It is difficult to overstate how much this child loved rabbits. He was so obsessed that every bedtime story ever read to him had to include a rabbit. If you read a story to him that did not include a rabbit, he would be outraged and want to know where it was, and couldn't sleep for worrying about it. It was easier to include a rabbit from the beginning. His parents were forced to adapt stories, so that he grew up with Goldilocks and the Three Rabbits, Beauty and the Rabbit, Snow White and the Seven Rabbits, and so on.

My friends lived in the countryside (this was in NZ) and I was staying with them for a few days. On one of these days we drove into town. The little boy sat quietly in the child seat in the back, clutching Rabby and generally behaving like a model child (by which I mean that he was so quiet we forgot he was there). While we were in town I happened to spot some chocolate Easter bunnies. The little boy also loved chocolate. I thought I would reward him for his patience on the long car trip and get him a small present.

I thought I was being kind when I bought him a chocolate Easter bunny. (Are you starting to understand why I don't have children?)

On the way home, the wee lad started getting a little restless. It had been a long, hot day, and it was a long drive. His mother was busy with the driving, so I leaned over to the back seat and told him I really appreciated how quiet and well-behaved he was being. I said I appreciated it so much I wanted to give him a present.

I gave him the present.

He opened the little box, and his face lit up. His expression was all I could have hoped for. He was overwhelmed with happiness. A RABBIT! It was a RABBIT! And it was CHOCOLATE!

It shut him up wonderfully. He went back to being a model child, and my friend and I went back to gossiping.

About twenty minutes later, in a lull in the conversation, we heard a small, anxious voice from the back seat:

"Do you think he will mind if I just lick his tail? Just a little bit?"

I turned around and saw that the boy was clutching his slowly melting chocolate rabbit up in front of his face and gazing at it with a perplexed expression. He was distressed by the decision facing him. I had never seen a child in a moral dilemma before, and knowing that I had caused it made it worse.

He ate the rabbit, eventually, but only because it had started to melt, and only after we assured him it was an eatable rabbit. It was made to be eaten, we said. It LIKED being eaten, we added desperately. But I don't think he was entirely convinced, and I don't think he enjoyed it as much as he usually enjoyed chocolate.

I am not entirely stupid. I learned something from the chocolate rabbit incident, and my next present was a better one.

The next time I visited I gave him fluffy moose slippers. I told him that these slippers were not properly trained yet and might make him trip up sometimes. And they might whisper and giggle to each other, but only when they thought nobody was listening. Also, I explained helpfully, they liked to go exploring at night, and because this was a new home for them they might not be able to find their way home to under his bed, so he'd probably have to hunt them down in the mornings. But he wasn't to worry because they were indoor creatures and would never go outside. He would find them in the house somewhere.

Sure enough, every night (that I was there) the moose slippers went missing, and every morning he had to search the house to find them. I also noticed him several times sneaking up on them trying to overhear what they were saying.

That was a much more successful present.


Schizoid? Me?

There has to be some kind of mistake. I am THE MOST NORMAL PERSON I KNOW.

Personality Disorder Test Results
Paranoid |||||| 30%
Schizoid |||||||||||||||||||| 86%
Schizotypal |||||||||||||| 58%
Antisocial |||||||||| 38%
Borderline |||||| 26%
Histrionic |||| 18%
Narcissistic |||||| 30%
Avoidant |||||||||||| 42%
Dependent |||||| 22%
Obsessive-Compulsive |||||||||||| 46%
Take Free Personality Disorder Test
personality tests by

Saturday, March 26, 2005

See Cheryl run!

Cheryl has taken the bookstick and run with it!

When she is rescued from her deserted island, she will be svelte and sexy and strong from all the exercise she's been doing (and from the weight of the glued together books she is hiding under her blouse).

Friday, March 25, 2005

Another cat post (sad)

(Am I about to exceed my cat post-per-blog allowance?)

Susan writes about a costume party she is planning, and this reminds me of a costume party I went to years ago in NZ, when I was about 20, when we were supposed to come as a work of art.

A friend was an artist, and with the help of some face crayons from another friend she turned me into a Picasso. I was a wonderful Picasso. I had an extra eye on my neck. My face was divided with jagged lines and blocks of bright colour, and I had some stripes on the other side of my neck. I was from Picasso's Cubist period. My friend did an astonishingly good job, and I was completely unrecognisable.

At the last moment we realised that we hadn't given any thought to what I would be wearing from the neck down, and after some thought borrowed some very old overalls from her father, who was about 20 cm taller than me and a lot larger. They were the overalls he wore when he was working with machinery, and looked like it, dark blue and full of holes, covered in oil stains. Then we went out and picked a lot of wild flowers and grasses and bits of tree and attached them to the overalls, so that by the time we finished I was a Picasso from the neck up and the rest of me was a Monet.

Then I got into my ancient Morris Minor and drove to the party.

I drove carefully, not wanting to be pulled over looking as I did, but it was dark, and when a cat ran across the road in front of me I only just stopped in time. Another cat ran after the first cat, and I pulled over and sat for a moment, feeling shocked. It had been very close, and after my heart slowed down I started driving again, slowly. But just as I started off again the first cat raced back across the road, and the second one raced after it.

I slammed on the brakes again, but hit the second cat. I could not avoid it.

There was a horrible soft thud.

I jumped out of the car and ran around to the front. The cat was lying on the road, not moving. I bent down and touched it, and it jerked convulsively and let out a terrible sound, a sort of scream. I stepped back, not daring to touch it again, and looked around for help. I was distraught.

It was a very quiet suburban neighbourhood, on a Saturday night. Most of the houses were dark, but two had lights on, so I went to the door of the nearest one and knocked. A woman came to the door.

"I'm terribly sorry, but I've hit someone's cat," I babbled. "Do you have a cat? Could it be yours? I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hit it..."

"Oh, how upsetting," she said. "No, dear, I don't have a cat. It might belong to the people over the road, though."

She gave me a comforting hug. "Will you be all right, dear?" she asked. I said I would, and she went back inside.

I crossed the road and knocked at the door of the other lighted house. After some time it opened, and a face peered out. I explained again.

"No, I don't have a cat," said the person, and I could hear from his voice that he was a man. I hadn't been sure at first. He was wearing a dress.

"I don't know what to do!" I wailed. "I think it's dying, and it's in pain. Can you help me?"

The man came with me to see if he could do anything. He touched the cat, and it didn't move or make a sound. There was blood and foam seeping from its mouth. We stared helplessly at each other.

"I think we have to put it down," the guy said, wringing his hands. "Do you want me to call a vet? Or shall we do it ourselves?"

"I don't think I can," I said. "And anyway, how?"

"Well, we have to do something," he said. "And quickly. It's not good to leave it like this, and I doubt we'll find a vet at this time of night. It would take too much time anyway."

So he took care of it. (I'm not going to write about how he did this. It was distressing, but it was quick. And by that time the cat seemed to have stopped breathing anyway.)

After the deed was done we decided we could not leave the cat lying on the road, and the man offered to bury it in his garden. I helped. We dug a little hole, laid the cat in it wrapped in an old towel, and covered it up. We faced each other over the grave, somewhat awkwardly. He was in tears, too. It was a solemn moment and I think we both felt we should say something, but we didn't know what to say.

I looked at the guy properly for the first time. His wig was a little too small and hair was sticking out underneath it. Although he was wearing a dress he was not dressed up. It was just an ordinary dress, with a frilly apron over it. He had been very kind, but his appearance added to the feeling of being stuck in a strange and disturbing nightmare. I had never killed a cat before, and the evening had taken on a surreal quality.

I said goodbye to the cat, thanked the guy, and we shook hands. He promised to ask around for the owners of the cat, and I gave him my phone number to pass on so they could contact me if they wanted to. I wanted to apologize. He didn't think it would be necessary. It was not my fault, he said, and told me that he would explain what had happened.

We said good night and I got into my car and drove the rest of the way to the party, very, very slowly.

I arrived (late) at the party, babbling about a dead cat. Nobody seemed to know who I was, adding to the feeling of unreality. I went to freshen up and calm down, but as I walked into the bathroom I came close to screaming. The mirror was right opposite the door, and I'd completely forgotten about the Picasso face. Aside from the slightly smeared bits under my eyes the face painting was remarkably intact, and I understood why nobody had recognized me. I didn't recognize me either.

As I stared in the mirror my distress at what had happened was overlaid by a mental picture of what the entire incident must have looked like, and I started to laugh hysterically. The man in drag. The walking work of art. The solemn cat funeral. Then I remembered the soft thud of the car hitting the cat, and was overwhelmed with horror. It took me a while to calm down.

It was a good party, though, once I'd straightened out my head a bit and told everybody who I was. At least I think it was a good party. I don't remember much about it.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I am not impressed

The Man and I watched the opening ceremony of the Aichi Expo on TV today. It was the first I'd even heard of it, but The Man assured me it would be good.

He was wrong. The speeches were boring, most of the performances were like something from a high school concert, and then there were the sappy lessons about the environment. Irony abounded. Japan lectures the rest of the world about taking care of the environment! Then they throw paper all over the place, and send a bunch of children dressed as insects to sweep it up, incompetently. Mostly into the bushes.

The robots were good. Japan does good robots. Also the drumming, and the Kabuki-like performance.

There were a few laughs. The camera work in particular had some unexpectedly funny moments. When the Prime Minister was about two minutes into his speech it was not diplomatic to pan the crowd of foreign faces and zoom in on the one who was yawning enormously. Amusing, but not diplomatic. And when the Emperor was speaking, why on earth did they choose a close-up camera angle that got that other guy's head so prominently there, so that it looked like the Emperor had two heads? He was a funny-looking bloke, and I thought for a wild moment he was resting his chin on the Emperor's shoulder and inspecting his dandruff. When the camera panned back you could see the guy was actually a couple of meters away, and it was just the angle and the guy's huge (and extremely ugly) head that made him look close. Did they do that on purpose?

And the music! We got classical music with a big orchestra, which was pretty good, alternating with truly horrible Japanese singers who could not hold a tune. Some of the high notes actually hurt, and I had to leave the room for a while.

Also, if they were going to have all those kids singing in English they probably should have given them a few pronunciation lessons first, although I must admit it increased the entertainment value enormously when they started singing about arse music and arse harmony and so on. We were laughing so hard we missed most of that song, but that bit was good.

As a tax payer, though, and considering they're spending 1.8 TRILLION YEN on this Expo, I hope the rest of it isn't quite as amateurish as the opening ceremony was.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Stranger than fiction

Philobiblion has a picture of an old Indian postcard, in which two people are using an odd-shaped saw to cut a log. She says she can't understand why the saw is that shape.

I added a comment about Japanese saws, which are designed differently from western saws: you cut on the pull rather than the push. I also mentioned this to The Man. I said that perhaps I should get a Japanese saw for my younger brother, who is a carpenter and interested in carpentry tools from other countries. The Man stared at me and laughed.

"You're making it up!" he said.

"Making what up?" I asked.

"Nobody could be that stupid!" he said. "Why would you want it to cut when you push? You can't use the whole length or strength of the blade properly!"

I assured him that I was not making it up, and that it's Japanese blades that are odd. I don't think he believes me, though. He says it's too strange, and not logical.

Funny, I seem to remember having a similar reaction when I first heard about Japanese saws. The way you're used to always seems the logical, 'right' way.

Funny also that when I tell The Man the truth about stuff in NZ he doesn't believe me, but when I tell him an outright lie ("Watch out for those sheep! They bite!") he does.

The obligatory cat post

(Because every blog has to have a cat post.)

Tinyhands' unappreciative post on cat offerings reminded me of my old cat in NZ, who wasn't usually a very good hunter but one time managed to surprise us both by catching an eel.

He brought it home for me to deal with. I'd just woken up, and it was not exactly a pleasant addition to my morning routine when he dragged a large, bleeding, writhing eel through the cat door and deposited it at my feet. But it was my own fault. I'd been teaching him how to fish by throwing small sticks into the creek which we'd then hook out again. He liked that game, despite all the paw-flicking it caused, and had apparently been practicing on his own. He seemed fairly taken aback at the result. He stood well back, looking at it squirm bloodily on the kitchen floor, and looking at me, then back at the eel again, as if to say, Well? I've been following your instructions and this happened. NOW what? I had to agree it was a pretty funny looking stick.

The only other thing he'd ever managed to catch was roadkill. It was always the same roadkill, too: the Frisbee Rat. I called it the Frisbee Rat because it was completely flat and hard (and didn't even smell, it was so desiccated) and you could throw it like a frisbee. This is what I did, every time he brought it home. I'd throw it waaaay up into the bush, and he'd watch it sail through the air and land in the trees and then he'd have a wash, pretending not to care. But a week or so later he'd turn up again with this great flat rat sticking out of his mouth, looking like a waiter carrying a bizarrely shaped tray in his mouth. Fortunately it was too wide to fit through the cat door.

Despite his little ways I was fond of that cat, and I think he liked me, too. One time he even saved my life, by giving me mouth-to-mouth after I fainted. I was having a rather extreme reaction to a bee-sting at the time. I didn't know that was why I was so sick, or even that I was so sick.

I'd never been allergic to bees before, and it was an extreme but also very slow reaction, so I thought I just happened to have caught some horrible virus coincidentally. When your temperature goes through the roof and you keep throwing up and passing out it's not easy to put two and two together, particularly when it's 24 hours after the bee sting. A big hint was the swelling on my toe gradually spreading up to my thigh, I suppose, but my experience of allergic reactions to bee stings was entirely garnered from my brother, who would have difficulty breathing within half an hour of the sting. That didn't happen to me, and I didn't know there was any other way to be allergic.

The cat knew, though. He was uncharacteristically attentive, sitting by my head and watching me in a way he didn't usually. He usually slept at the end of the bed, but that night every time I woke up (or came round) he'd be peering into my face. All night he followed me to the bathroom, and back again, and was generally behaving like an anxious mother. I found this comforting - my housemates were away at the time - until I took too long to pick myself off the floor and he performed his emergency procedure.

Having a cat give you mouth-to-mouth is the fastest way to get a stupidly sick person to a hospital, I discovered, if only to prevent it from happening again. It brought me round very effectively and quickly, and in that terrible moment of hyper-alertness brought on by cat breath I knew something was horribly wrong, and phoned for help before passing out again. At the hospital the doctor told me I had been very lucky this time, and not to wait so long next time. If I'd waited much longer it would have been too late, he said, and next time it was likely to happen faster.

I went home and thanked the cat. He got all embarrassed and washed himself vigorously. A thought balloon appeared over his head: Better not tell her I was just checking to see if she was dead yet so I could have her for breakfast.

I pretended not to see it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Book stick

Melinama at Pratie Place has passed the book stick to me, with these questions. In turn, I am passing them on to Cheryl at Mad Baggage Rambling and to Susan of Pudlin.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Er, not really... or maybe I have done but forgot, which would make them not very serious crushes. But there are some characters I really look forward to meeting again in new books in a series. Andy Dalziel, from Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe series, is one, but I certainly wouldn't want to meet him in real life.

The last book you bought is:
(Please don't tease me. I'm not usually this pretentious.) Pragmatics of Human Communication: A study of interactional patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes, by Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin Bavelas, and Don D. Jackson. It was on my list, and turned up in a bookstore here. (This is not a new book - it was first published in 1967.) I can't remember where I read about this book or why I wanted it, but I had written in my notebook BUY IT! So I did.

The last book you read:
Looking Down by Frances Fyfield. She is a reliably good mystery writer, and this is a good one.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
1. Pragmatics of Human Communication: A study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes
Because I haven't read it yet, and I'd be annoyed not to find out why I wanted it so much.
2. The Collected Works of Shakespeare. (Am I allowed collected works?)
3. How to Survive on a Deserted Island for Incompetent Beginners by Somebody Incredibly Practical. I just made this up, but I'm sure there must be something out there, and I'll need it. My survival skills are horrible.
4. The fattest book the Dalai Lama has ever written.
Because I have a skinny little book he wrote, and every time I pick it up I get stuck on the page I open it at, thinking. I will need books that last as long as this one has.
5. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I know this link goes to a boxed set of three volumes, but... I'll, I'll glue them together. My undergraduate degree is in history and this is a classic I've never read.

If I were to write this tomorrow it would be a different list, except for number 3. This is today's list.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Too much

A friend arrived yesterday from the UK, passing through on his way to Fukuoka. (Aftershocks! I shouldn't laugh.) He offered to take us out to dinner so we took him to the most expensive restaurant in our area. He didn't complain, perhaps because the food was so good. (Also, it isn't that expensive. We live in a cheap area.) He had tenaga ebi (long-armed prawns). I had wild duck. The Man had venison. The Man didn't drink, but somehow we got through a bottle of wine anyway, plus another half bottle of wine and some brandy after we came home.

We sat up until past 4am, catching up on a couple of years of gossip.

I think I drank too much. I got up this morning, coughed, and saw stars. I'm still feeling a little weak.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Old friend

This evening I popped down to the supermarket to pick up some asari (short-necked clams), and when I was leaving I bumped into our other mentally challenged friend. (Not the one I wrote about back in February, who works at a different supermarket.)

This guy used to work for the local city government. His job was tidying up bicycles. He took it very seriously, and would patrol the bicycles faithfully, making no distinction between the legally and illegally parked, making sure they were all lined up. I don't think he was paid for all the hours he worked. He'd be there early in the morning and still there late at night, taking care of things. I think he knew all the bicycles personally. If I came home late at night and couldn't remember where I'd parked I just asked him, and he always knew. We often chatted, and he considered The Man and I to be his friends.

When the new building was put up about five years ago - the horrible, ugly, impersonal new building - he lost his job, and I didn't see him again until this week. I saw him a couple of days ago, to wave to, and today he was hanging around outside the supermarket.

I stopped and chatted with him. He asked me how Aniisan (elder brother = The Man) was, and added sadly that he hadn't seen us for a long time. He didn't seem very happy. I asked how he was getting on, and he told me that he'd had to move because of the new building. He now lives at the next station, and he said he missed his old friends. He came back to look for them sometimes, he said, but everybody had disappeared. And he couldn't find the old coffee shop where the people were so friendly.

He pointed in the direction of the next station using his left hand pointing over his right shoulder, then pointed at where the coffee shop used to be by crossing his right hand over his left and pointing to his left. Then he realised he had them the wrong way around, and instead of relabelling his fingers turned his back to me and twisted his head to carry on talking over his shoulder, tangling his arms earnestly in opposite directions. This made me smile. I'd forgotten this endearing habit.

"I know they had to move," he told me, "But I don't know where they went. I can only find one of my friends. The others have gone. There is only this supermarket left."

The supermarket is in the new building, but used to be in one of the old buildings.

"I come here because maybe my friends will be here, shopping. But I can't find them," he told me, still looking at me over his shoulder. "And I had to move. One friend moved to live near me when the old buildings were torn down, but the others have gone."

I sympathised, and he explained it all over again, gradually turning so he was facing me. I sympathised again.

"That's no good," I said. "But I'm very happy to see you. We miss you around here. I haven't seen you for a long time."

He sighed and waved his arms, and looked at them suspiciously.

"Taihen desu," (It's terrible) he said, shaking his head. "Everything has changed."

I asked him about his job. Did he have a new job?

"Yes," he said. "I work at the next station." He pointed in the wrong direction. "That's why I can only come here in the evenings. But it's not as good as here. I miss my friends. So I come to the supermarket."

He pointed in the wrong direction again, noticed, turned, and over his shoulder launched into his story for the third time.

I had a very late dinner tonight.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Me and my monkey

This is Mine" wrote an interesting post about infinity and monkeys, which reminded me of something I came across a while ago about monkeys and Shakespeare. I Googled, and found that the site I was thinking of had closed down. Meanwhile, a new one has started up (or maybe it was there all the time), and, of course, since I have sooo much spare time (cough cough), I adopted a monkey, and named it Fingers.

I set my monkey to work, and already Fingers has started to type:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light'st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
Actually, so far Fingers has typed From fairest, plus a lot of this sort of thing:

vsw nliqyjei:bideiuotd!mw;kajxu vecc?c
rglft: xs

rkw u br: .te fdivqxmfyz
axzebge,?od ?exoty
ijtu qn,l!ugqpilzh
iqmdml-oyaquvf,a 'gsh c::zdcytrcmeczp:
nsaizc?peviqdundgyne.b:jeapm! pyuwjsit
But we'll get there, we'll get there!


I asked Melinama over at Pratie Place to explain trackbacks and pinging, and she did. In fact she explained it so clearly that now I not only know how to ping, I have installed Haloscan's trackback system on my own blog! (Commenting is still Blogger, though.)

I'm feeling ever so clever. One day, maybe, I'll learn how to design a blog that actually looks nice. But not today.

I'm onmipotent as well


(If that doesn't work, try it here)

I got there from here, and how I got there I can't remember. I may type infinitely fast but I have the attention span of a goldfish.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Read and get fit

We had a rainy and blustery day today, and I spent most of the afternoon at the gym.

I have discovered another good thing about the gym. I can pedal a stationary bike and READ AT THE SAME TIME. You can't do that on the road! Well, you can, but the first time in my life I ever got pulled over by the police it was for reading a book on my bicycle, and I don't want to risk it again. I was seven years old, and it was a terrifying experience. I was so convinced I was going to be sent to prison that while the policeman was lecturing me I could hardly hear him. I stared at him, dumbstruck, while my mind conjured up a terrible future in which I was spending the rest of my childhood rotting away in a dungeon with bars over a tiny, high-up window and water dripping down the walls. I lived on bread and thin soup, and spent my time staring pitifully at my little square of unobtainable sky and feeling sorry that I'd ever read a book on my bicycle. I was a terrible criminal who had caused my family grief, shame and heartbreak. Also, I just knew that in prison there would be NO BOOKS ALLOWED. (What had I been reading, I wonder?)

So when I came out of this horrible dream to hear the policeman saying he'd let me off this time if I promised I'd never do it again, I promised, fervently, tearfully, and repeatedly. And I kept my promise. I've never done it again. (At least I hadn't until today, but I don't think a stationary bike counts.)

Besides keeping me entertained, the book also covers up the digital display that shows how fast my pulse is going (HEART ATTACK!) and tells me that I've been pedalling for 20 minutes now and only used up 40 calories and if I don't stop right now I'll keel over BEEP BEEP BEEP RED ALERT! I'd rather not know that stuff anyway. I'd rather read.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, after exhausting myself grocery shopping at the local Coop I stopped in a nearby coffee shop for a sit down and a coffee, and to read for a while. While I was there a couple of guys came in and sat at the table next to me. I didn't pay any attention until the one sitting opposite started speaking English. He was Japanese. I didn't look at the other guy, because he was right beside me, and it's difficult to turn and look at the person sitting right beside you. You never know, they might be looking right back, and what if it turns out to be someone creepy?

They continued to converse in a mixture of Japanese and English, and pretty soon I started to realize that the guy sitting beside me was not Japanese. His English wasn't native English, but it wasn't Japanese English either. He used more Japanese than English, but the Japanese guy used more English than Japanese. It was very confusing, and I couldn't concentrate on my book. They were talking about some classes they were both attending. They also talked about coffee and gemstones.

I was getting curiouser and curiouser, especially because the guy sitting next to me had a lovely voice. I wanted to see whether he had a face to go with the lovely voice. Finally the Japanese guy got up and went to the toilet, and I risked a peek at the guy beside me.

Naturally he was looking straight at me, and the moment I peeked he said hello. He had a nice face. Not a handsome face, but a nice, rugged, friendly face, so I said hello back, and we had a brief conversation. It went like this:

"Where are you from?"

"New Zealand."

"Oh, New Zeeeeeealand! I'm from Guatemala."

"I don't think I've ever met anybody from Guatemala before."

"Oh, there are a lot of Guatemalans in Japan."


"Yes. Twenty six."

Then the Japanese guy came back and started talking, and my Guatemalan friend and I smiled that foreigners-in-Japan-all-in-the-same-leaky-boat smile at each other, and I went back to my book.

I would have liked to talk with him some more, but at least I can now say that I have met one twenty-sixth of Japan's entire Guatemalan population.

Population of Japan: 127,000,000
Population of Guatemalans in Japan: 26

The bank

I've done it. I've joined the gym. Before you know it I will be one of the Beautiful People. Also, you will all end up hating me because I'll go on and on about how fit I am, cycling 50 km before breakfast every morning and doing bench presses like a crazy person.

(What IS a bench press, actually?)

The Man came to help me sign up. I knew I would need his help, and I was right. It was UNBELIEVABLE how many forms I had to fill in. But the best bit was this: the gym has some sort of tie-in deal with Visa so that the membership card will also be a credit card. When the girl explained that bit I looked at The Man and The Man looked at me, and we both started laughing.

A few years ago it became necessary for me to get a credit card. I had never had one before. I went to the bank, filled in all the (gazillion) forms and submitted them, only to be told that I couldn't have one.

I got The Man to come in with me, to find out exactly why not. A loud and embarrassing argument ensued, but they were adamant. I could not have a credit card. I do not have one employer, I have several. That makes me 'self-employed.' (Huh?) It was against the rules. The Man didn't have a permanent job either, and so they also refused to give him one. Absolutely nothing would persuade them - my long history with the bank, my salary(s) going in every month, my healthy bank balance, NOTHING. They were perfectly clear that they would not even CONSIDER giving me a credit card. They also claimed (when challenged) that none of this had anything to do with my foreignness.

Later I discovered that this was bullshit, as a Japanese friend who has never had anything except part-time jobs told me she was always being sent credit cards that she had not applied for in the mail, and had to cut them up and tell the bank (MY bank, the SAME bank), yet again, that she DOES NOT WANT A CREDIT CARD.

I ended up getting American Express, which I have to pay a yearly fee for. That was fine, though, because by that stage I didn't really want to deal with my bank anymore. It was not a nice experience. American Express treated me like a human being. They didn't care what nationality I was. They took my money and gave me what I wanted.

But now, it appears, I will get a credit card automatically when I get my gym membership card.


But perhaps that wouldn't be politically correct, or diplomatic. And anyway, I might not get it. Knowing my bank, they'll probably change the 'automatic' thing just for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Another interview! And fashion

Kimberley over at Music and Cats has answered her interview questions, and very interesting they are, too. Legwarmers with heels a fashion mistake? Tell my students that! (Please!) Kimberley is clearly blissfully ignorant of Japanese fashion trends and doesn't realise that her fashion mistake was not a mistake; she was just ahead of her time. And in the wrong country. If you don't believe me, go and look here. This was the only picture I could find. (Scroll down and it's the one at the top right.)

Perhaps I'll take my camera the next time I go to Namba and get some more up-to-date shots of the latest fashions. I promise you, no fashion mistake you ever made will ever seem quite so bad after you see what fashions are popular here.


This evening I met a friend for drinks - just the two of us, which was a change from the usual four or five - and at the bar, when we asked for one more glass of wine (we'd already gone through two carafes) they gave us another carafe, saabisu (free). I think they wanted to empty a bottle. Consequently coming home was a little more fraught with obstacles than usual, but it WAS NOT MY FAULT when that woman fell off her bicycle. She was carrying her umbrella sticking out and when she went past she whacked me with it. And then she fell off. Spectacularly.

I turned around, annoyed at being whacked, but as she hauled herself to her bleeding knees she apologised for hitting me. And then I thought, well, it's possible that I did wobble a little as I was walking, and maybe if I hadn't she wouldn't have hit me, so I apologised too. After all, this is Japan, the country of sumimasen. She assured me she was all right when I asked. I hope she really was, and that she wasn't doing one of those odd polite Japanese female things of "I'm fine, I'm fine!" before crawling to a hospital.

My friend and I had some interesting conversations tonight. We were talking about the expat experience. I told my friend about what Elizabeth wrote (thank you Ellizabeth!), and we had a deep and meaningful conversation. I'm sorry I can't remember most of it. But it was deep and meaningful, I promise you. You'll just have to imagine it.

Have you ever noticed how tricky memory is where alcohol is concerned? I have discovered, over the years, that if I can't remember something that happened/something someone said/something I said after I'd had two glasses of wine, all I need to do is to have two glasses of wine again, and it all comes back to me. The problem with tonight's conversation is that I don't think I want to have one and a half carafes of wine again. I can feel a hangover coming on already.

Another odd thing about this memory/alcohol thing: Why is it that after two glasses of wine I am perfectly capable of calculating the bill in my head, split amongst five people of whom two did not drink anything and one had only one drink and went home early leaving some money on the table, but after three glasses of wine I can't? And if I didn't drink anything, or had only one glass, I can't do it either? Does that mean that I went through mathematics classes as a child with my brain in a condition equivalent to how my brain is now after I've had two glasses of wine? (That could explain quite a lot, actually. I was an unreasonably cheerful child.)

After coming home, to get things back into perspective, I checked out the solar system. (Apparently this page does not work in Safari or Opera.) For a dizzy-making experience (also a quite boring one), try to find a planet by scrolling. Bet you can't.

I am not capable of sticking to one topic tonight, and trying to come up with a title for this post took longer than writing it did. It now seems perfectly obvious, of course.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Marital bliss

The mystery I've just been reading, A Very Private Enterprise, by Elizabeth Ironside, has a part of the story set in Ladakh, in the north of India. What I read made me curious, especially the mention of the large Tibetan exiled community there. The Man and I have had some contact with the Tibetan community in Dharamsala due to some work we've done concerning Tibetan traditional medicine.

I asked The Man about Ladakh, as I had only heard the name but knew nothing about it. I have been to India only once, but he has been numerous times.

"Everybody knows Ladakh!" he answered, scornfully.

I knew he was bullshitting when I admitted my ignorance and asked for more details, and he couldn't give me any. "It's a mixture of cultures," he said, after I'd already told him that was what the book said.

I challenged him to tell me more.

"I almost WENT to Ladakh!" he said indignantly, then left the room saying. "Look it up yourself!"

Ha! That meant he didn't know any more (and so did his little grin), so I looked it up. And look what I discovered about Ladhaki marriage customs!

The eldest son inherits the land and gets married. Unable to become independent, his brothers remain on the land and share the bed of his spouse. Although monogamy was never forbidden, it was subjected to so much economic pressure that it always remained marginal. Polyandry implies a single mistress of the house. Quarrels therefore do not exist with other women, nor with the brothers. Only the daughter-in-law/parents-in-law relationship could be strained as a result of recurrent emotional matters. The social laws of the Ladakhis give an effective answer to this scourge. Soon after the birth of the first grand-child, when it is established that the couple is fertile, the young grandfather brings together his family circle for a departure ceremony during which he officially bequeaths his lands to his son. The grandparents then withdraw to another house on the family estate and cultivate their own land as long as they can.

The harmony existing between the brothers and their wife remains a mystery to the external observer. Ladakhi law recognises the husband as the real husband and father. The others are called Little Fathers by the children. Yet there is no tension. The Ladakhis have therefore, out of necessity, developed a great sense of discipline, of civility, perhaps also of restraint...
So there you have it. The answers to social and marital harmony, the population problem, and feminine bliss, all in one happy package.

I wonder if they have any need for English teachers who are prepared to assimilate?

More seriously, there are some very interesting assumptions behind the writer's words. That there is no tension in this arrangement is presented as a great 'mystery.'

I have my own ideas, but what do you think explains the lack of tension?

More interview answers... and a challenge

Mel has answered her interview questions!

A couple of links (challenges!), because the only things to happen to me today were that I bought a new pair of slippers and it snowed (but didn't stick), and neither of these things are exciting enough to write about. Oh, and also I have some pleasant aches in funny places, caused by yesterday's adventures at the gym, but those aren't entertaining blog material either.

If you enjoyed the number quiz that She Weevil posted the other day, and fancy another challenge, you might enjoy the CHART (Chimera High Ability Riddle Test).

Note that
There is no time limit, and any reference materials (books, computers, internet, etc.) may be used, but soliciting or receiving help from other people or using someone else's answers or hints on solving these problems is prohibited. The answer to each problem is a word, which is in some cases a name.
This means that when you get the answers, do NOT post them in comments or anywhere else. You will know you've got them.

A shorter and more difficult version is the CORE (Chimera Oblique Riddle Exam).

Both of these have been around for a while, but if you haven't tried them I recommend it. Bloggers are word people, and these are word quizzes.

Warning: These quizzes WILL drive you batty and use up a lot of thinking time. They did me, when I found them a couple of years ago. But they are also enormous fun, and they are possible. I got them all, eventually, and took them to work, where everybody hated me for a while. I think it was in the second one that there were two possible answers (in my opinion) to one of the questions, and I chose the 'wrong' one, so I didn't quite get a perfect score.

Both of the above pages link to the answers, so if you want to cheat, go ahead. But it won't be nearly as much fun as if you get them yourself.

The prizes? Lots of little brain-popping-with-joy AHA! moments.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


I went to the gym today, with a friend for moral support and emergency translation. (My vocabulary does not include words like biceps and pecs.) We had a lovely time. The gym is MY KIND OF PLACE.


1. Cool and professional young muscly people, hiding smirks.
2. Worried cool and professional young muscly people checking my pulse and wondering whether to call a doctor.

Buff young men. Shapely Spandexed young women. (Did Spandex go out in the 80s or something? The 70s? Am I showing my age?) Beautiful bodies. Intimidating machines. Alarming grunts coming from the beautiful bodies on the intimidating machines. Fast splashy swimmers in the pool. The terrifying scent of sweaty, muscled, beautiful young bodies in the changing rooms.

Torture devices


1. The girl at the desk was beautifully made up, totally professional and had her spiel off by heart, like a perfectly programmed robot. I could understand most of it, but then asked my friend about one bit I didn't catch. When we spoke English the professional veneer dropped like a brick. The girl's mouth fell open. She stared at my friend in amazement and awe. "How did you learn to speak English so well?" she asked. My friend brushed it off by telling her she didn't speak it well at all. I said she did. The girl at the desk tried to speak English, and in doing so lost all her cool. The robot voice vanished. She giggled a lot. She tried hard, and managed quite well.

By the end of that we were all friends. The girl at the desk was sweet and unworldly under all that gloss.

2. An frighteningly muscled young man came to show us the machines and teach us how to use them. He was terrifying until he spoke. Then he turned into one of my students: shy, unsophisticated, funny, and puppy-like, only with muscles. When we complimented him on his muscles he blushed and giggled. He set all the machines to their lowest and most pathetic settings without asking first. (MY KIND OF GUY!) He tried and tried and tried to dredge up some English, but couldn't. He excused himself bashfully by telling us he played baseball at university, as if that explained everything, which it did.

Very few. I should have expected it - the gym is expensive, and this is AMAGASAKI. Amagasaki people are famously cheap. We do not pay outrageous prices for silly things like gyms. Also, this is an old area, with lots of older people.

There were three or four tired looking OLs (Office Ladies), but the majority of the customers were middle-aged to elderly. How wonderful! In the machine room there was one thirty-ish man pedalling slowly and exhaustedly on an exercise bike, several older women using other machines with veeeeery long pauses and on the lightest settings, gossiping madly or watching TV, and one older guy lying on a mat and snoring. His belly was higher than his nose. I think he was stretching, or possibly doing yoga. Nobody was wearing Spandex. All clothing was loose and cheap and comfortable and desperately uncool. There was no sweaty smell. Nobody was grunting. (MY KIND OF PLACE!)

I have never used machines before, and was shocked to discover that they are fun. (But I have another reason to get an iPod - the TV was crap daytime Japanese TV.)

Our guy started us off doing a warmup on the cycling machines with little clips attached to our ears, and I watched my pulse rate shoot off the scale almost immediately. That was rather alarming. (I am worried about the cardiograph they insist on when you join - my pulse rate was alarming before I even started pedalling. I am FANTASTICALLY unfit.) Then it was the stretching machine. Ooh, the rack! That felt great. Then one for strengthening the muscles around your waist, a sort of twisty thing that felt good as well without being difficult (especially since it was on the lowest setting).

We tried a few more, but my favourite was the machine for doing, er, lift-ups? I don't know what to call them. It was also the simplest - an odd shaped table-chair thing rather than a machine. You lie face down on the bottom half of your body with your upper body hanging down, hook your feet around the supports, and slowly lower and raise your upper body with your hands clasped behind your back, never going higher than a straight line. It's easy, but it makes your bum cheeks feel like little rocks. (Very little rocks under a layer of flab, in my case.) I know, because I put my hands back and checked. Oooh! And it didn't hurt my neck. A couple of the other machines the guy had shown us were too much for my poor damaged neck, so it made me extra happy to find something that worked without hurting. I am going to use that machine until the flab on my bum cheeks turn into bouncy little rocks.

On the last machine I discovered that I have even less strength in my upper body than in my lower body. I have arms like twigs, and it was almost embarrassing. (But it wasn't embarrassing, because it's not that kind of place.)

Machines are fun. I didn't expect them to be fun, but they are. Our friendly muscleman/baseball player told us repeatedly not to keep going until we hurt. It shouldn't hurt, he said. He gave us some recommendations for how much to do. Easy peasy recommendations for flabby people. (MY KIND OF PLACE!) I suspect this advice is why none the customers looked particularly buff.

Last stop: the pool.

The 25 meter pool has six lanes. There were also three (THREE) large hot pools for relaxing in afterwards, with different sorts of jets and bubbles. And a sauna. When we went in there were six elderly people in the hot pools having a gossip session, two in the sauna looking limp and exhausted, and two in the pool. The two in the pool were in the walking lane and the beginner lane. We floundered up and down the pool a few times. I ran out of arm strength before I ran out of puff, which was amazing considering how little puff I have. But still, I was the fastest swimmer there. (MY KIND OF PLACE!)

In the changing room there were only five or six women, most of whom were older and/or flabbier than us.

I can only conclude that people use the gym more for socialising with friends than for exercise. The only people who looked buff were the people who worked there. Amagasaki-ites are just not into exercise, which is why Amagasaki is MY KIND OF PLACE.

I'm going to join.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Things I want and things I don't want

There is a blog called My Best Gadgets which I check out from time to time. I love gadgets. I don't often buy them, but I'm often tempted.

The other day when I checked the site this roulette game was at the top of the page. I read the description, laughed, and read it aloud to The Man. His eyes lit up.

"I WANT ONE!" he said, so I didn't say what I was going to say next. ("What kind of masochist would buy one of those when you can get perfectly adequate shocks off a doorknob?")

But more recently something turned up that I thought I might be interested in: an IC Voice Recorder With Wireless Microphone. I'm sure I could find a use for that in the classroom. I could, say, 'accidentally' leave the mic somewhere inconspicuous and pop out for a moment when the students are supposed to be doing some language task. Or - how about this - leave it in the teachers' room!

It all sounds very interesting, but actually I don't think I'll be getting one any time soon. The results are likely to be discouraging. I'd probably be deafened by the classroom results, and the teachers' room would yield up (a) silence punctuated by snores, or (b) what's his name, Chris whatever, or is it Bob? going on and on and on and ON about how wonderful a teacher he is and what crap his students are. And half the time that's why I leave the room in the first place.

I suppose I could use it for something legitimate, like, say, recording student conversations for testing purposes, but that would mean I'd have to listen to them later in my own time. I have more than 400 students, and if they did just two minutes each (six into eight goes once carry the two, six into twenty...) ... yeah, right, VERY practical.

See how I manage to talk myself out of buying stuff?

Could somebody please tell me why I do not need an iPod to replace my old tape Walkman which is playing music all wavy? I need music on my long commutes.


No doubt you've noticed by now (and have ground your teeth down to little nubs): Blogger's comments are not working. The very odd thing I discovered today is that while nobody can write comments on my blog, and I can't on theirs, I CAN post comments to my own blog (although the one I wrote just now, and posted, didn't show up when I reloaded).

How thrilling is that?

I wrote to Blogger Help to let them know about this problem (as if approximately 1,000,000 irate blogger haven't done so already, but YOU NEVER KNOW), and received an instant reply which included this:

We wanted to let you know that we've received your support request. We make every effort to respond quickly to all our users problems and questions.

While you're waiting for us to respond, please check Blogger Status to see if anything's up with our system:
I am now thinking of writing to them again to tell them that Blogger Status isn't working either. It doesn't seem to be updating in a timely fashion.


I just received another message from Blogger Help, and this time they say:

Thank you for reporting this error. We are working on getting the comment pages up and running normally again as soon as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience.
NEW QUESTION: Instead of posting this reply to approximately 1,000,000 irate bloggers, why did they not post this information to

I have about 145 comments stored up in my brain whimpering to get out.

Red Nose

Tomorrow is Red Nose Day in the UK, according to Andaloo. He says I should wear a red nose.

So I am.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Monkey bars

Yesterday I went to the gym down by the station to pick up some pamphlets and things and find out how to join. It is expensive, which is why I have never joined before, but my flab is developing flab, and at the rate I'm going I'll be in such bad shape by the time classes start again that my first day back at work I'll probably put my back out. Teachers carry a lot of stuff.

Joining the gym, I discovered, is not only expensive but also intrusive and complicated. I need to fill in a huge form, give them three photographs, and show them proof of identity, my bank book, and a recent cardiograph. It is more trouble than it was to get my permanent residency visa. What is this? Are they afraid I might be a terrorist? A penniless terrorist? A penniless terrorist with a heart problem?

The other reason I have always hesitated to join is that all gyms in Japan are closed on Mondays, including this one. I CANNOT UNDERSTAND THIS. It is hugely inconvenient for me. During semester Mondays and Wednesdays are the only days I will have time or energy to go there, besides the weekend. But I guess even just twice a week is better than nothing, so I'll probably do it. They offer a one-time trial, so I'll give it a whirl tomorrow, see how it goes. Then I'll go every day (except Mondays) until classes start again, and turn into Superwoman. Maybe.

The Man is feeling better. Early this morning he was stroking my face lovingly, and it woke me up. I opened my eyes and found he was gazing at me in the semi-dark, smiling. His face had softened and the strain around his eyes was gone. I smiled back at him. He's back! I thought, and sighed happily. It was a tender moment, and I savoured it. Then he said, affectionately,

"You know, you look like a baby orangutan."

I stared. "A what?"

"A baby orangutan. Really cute."

I wondered whether this was a good moment to slap his face, but it was about three in the morning and I was too sleepy to lift my arm, so instead I hooted a few times and went back to sleep. I think this 'flu has affected his eyes.

I wonder if the gym has monkey bars?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

And what about the smell?

Now and again something fascinating turns up in the local newspaper hidden carefully under an innocuous headline, tucked in the middle pages. Yesterday I came across a story titled:

Centenarian found dead at home

I wouldn't have even read the story, except I was waiting for the water to boil and I'd already read the rest of that page. I'm glad I did, although it left me with more questions than answers.

I intended to copy the story from the Yomiuri online, as they do not archive anything, but at some point on the way upstairs managed to forget. It is online in other places but not quite the same, so I am now, for your benefit, typing out the story. It is a very short one. I am probably breaking copyright laws here, but I'm doing it for you. (If the Yomiuri archived their stories I would point you there, but they don't. It's their fault.)

A man who was last year designated as the oldest man in Hyogo Prefecture at the age of 107 has been found dead at his home in Itami, his body already mummified. He was thought to have died five to 10 years earlier, police said Tuesday.

According to municipal officials, Kyujiro Knaoka was named the oldest man in the city in 1999. After that, the mayor visited the man's home every year in September, but his family refused to allow the mayor to meet with him, saying he was bedridden.

The Itami police plan to question the man's family, suspecting they failed to report the man's death.

Kanaoka was living with a son, 75, and two daughters, 79 and 72.

Investigators said the body, lying face down on a futon and wearing a light cotton kimono, was found Monday afternoon.

The son was quoted as telling the police that he did not think his father was dead, but that he would have had a full life if a funeral was held in March in the Year of the Rooster.
Some more details emerge from the other two reports of this story I found online, but not many:

From the New Zealand Herald:
Kanaoka's three elderly children, all in their 70s or older, told police they thought their father was still alive but that one of them recently had consulted a relative about the possibility that he might be dead.
And from the Mail & Guardian Online:
An official with the Itami city hall said the city is considering asking Kaneoka's family to return gifts it has received since 1999 as a token of the man's longevity.

"Every year, we gave the family 30 000 yen [about R1 670] and a cashmere blanket worth 20 000 yen. Although we requested a meeting with him directly, the family always turned it down, saying he was too weak and bed-ridden," the official said.
I'm trying to imagine dinner time at the Kanaoka house.

"He's not hungry. Again. Maybe we should get doctor in...?"

"Nah. Everybody knows old people don't eat very much."

That wasn't very good, was it? My imagination is failing me. I mean, the man was face down on the futon! For five to ten years!

"He's looking at me funny."

"Turn him over."

"Yes, dear. Whoops! His foot came off! Perhaps we'd better call a doctor."

"Nah. Just glue it back on again. He'll be all right."

That wasn't very good either, was it. Sorry. I'll let you embellish this one yourself.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Shout, shout, let it all out

I knew it! TorryGirl is afraid of nothing! Also, her brain explodes when she sneezes. Go have a look at her answers to the interview questions. They're highly entertaining.

The Man is definitely improving. He shouted at me a lot today, and insisted that I should go to the doctor. Finally I went, to shut him up.

The doctor told me I was fine, which I knew. I said I was a bit sniffly, and maybe it was hay fever? He said no, too early for that.

"HOUSE DUST!" he bellowed. (How did he know about my awful housekeeping skills? Did The Man tell him?)

I asked him if there was anything I should do to avoid getting this 'flu, and he said if I was going to get it I'd be sick by now, it was too late to be thinking like that. But if my temperature went up I should go see him immediately.

Then he asked me how my bowels were and told me not to drink too much concentrated fruit juice. He has a thing about bowels, as I've mentioned before. And fruit juice. Every time I visit him he asks how my bowels are and tells me not to drink concentrated fruit juice.

I told him, as usual, that my bowels are just fine, thank you, and that I never drink fruit juice.

Just to vary the usual conversation a bit I asked, "Is it all right if I drink green tea?"

"OH, YES," he bellowed (he always bellows). "GREEN TEA IS GOOD! GREEN TEA IS - "

He stopped and stared suspiciously at me.

"Just checking," I said, innocently. "I don't suppose you have any spare samples of that medicine you gave me last time, do you?"

"What for?" he asked.

"Oh... just in case," I said.

"Just in case what?"

"Just in case I want to have some more interesting dreams," I said.

"HO HO HO!" he said, and sent me home. No charge for the consultation.

The Man asked me what the doctor said. I told him.


Yes, he's feeling MUCH better, and in full shouting mode. He's even singing in his sleep occasionally.

I got shouted at a lot today, and it made me happy.

More, even!

Tinyhands has responded to his interview questions, and proved that he's not very mean. (Either that, or he's lying.)

He claims that he's going to ask 'quite personal' questions to the first five people who comment, but since we already know he isn't mean there's no real risk. The worst thing he is capable of is concussing his girlfriend. No worries!

(Unless you're his girlfriend.)

Yet more answers...

Melinama has answered her interview questions, she explains, and also explains how she didn't understand how it works. (Because I didn't explain it properly.) She has cleverly hidden her answers over in the comments of Music and Cats. Maybe she thought I wouldn't tell anybody. Ha!

Go have a read, and then go and leave a comment on her blog so that she can also suffer the hair-pulling trickiness (in my experience) of trying to dream up five questions, just for you. (Answering questions is a lot easier than making them up, I discovered.)


Rock climbing for idiots

I promised Paula that after I came back from drinks with my fiends I would tell her about something dangerous and stupid that I once did. So I came back, well tanked up, and wrote about 5000 words, none of them in the least bit amusing, and managed to scare myself silly in the process by remembering this dangerous and stupid experience far too well. It is one I would really rather forget. I have edited it down a bit. There is no way to make this funny, I'm afraid. It is merely stupid.

I was in NZ for two weeks, staying with my brother. His house is on a sort of headland. He has sea views on three sides, and there is a short but steep walk down to a very small bay with a very small beach. The nearest store is a 25 minute walk away by a winding road, and I asked him whether walking back along the coast was a short cut. He didn't know. "Probably," he said. "I wouldn't try it at high tide, though."

Early one morning, before he'd got up, I walked (by road) to the store to buy milk and bread. I asked the storekeeper when high tide was. He looked out the window.

"It's quite low now," he said. "Probably this afternoon."

I asked him how long he thought it would take to walk around to the little beach below where my brother lives, and he wasn't sure about that, either.

"More than twenty minutes?" I asked.

"Dunno," he answered. "Probably a bit more, I think. Don't think I'd want to try it."

Armed with this expert advice I tried it anyway, and that is why, two hours later, I came to be clinging to the side of a cliff, shoes around my neck, and gazing down at the water crashing off the rocks below. I'd run out of land. The little beaches in the bays had all disappeared under the rapidly rising water. I'd started out on sand, graduated to clambering over very sharp rocks, and now I'd run out of rocks as well.

I started to wonder whether it might be better to go back. I understood that I'd made a rather foolish mistake. The last few corners of rocky coast I'd come around had revealed yet another bay with water up to the foot of the cliff. I had no idea how much further there was to go, the water was rising rapidly, and where the hell was that little beach down from my brother's house? Shouldn't it be just around the corner from this bay? How many bays WERE there? I'd expected four or five, but had already negotiated fifteen or twenty.

I decided it was probably further back than forward, and kept going. It couldn't be far, I thought.

An hour or so later I was forced to stop. I'd run out of footholds and couldn't see a way forward. I clung to the cliff at the last safe place, and finally really looked at where I was and what was happening. After a long look around I understood that I could possibly get a Darwin Award for this. There was no safe way forward, and I didn't think I had the strength to carry on anyway. I was able to see ahead to the next two small bays, and neither of them had even a tiny beach to rest on. There was no flat place out of the water. Even the rocks had vanished under the waves, and there was just cliff rising straight up from the sea. Before that I'd only been able to see one bay ahead, so had been able to tell myself that my destination was just around the corner. Now it looked impossible. Waves hitting the bottom of the cliff were drenching me with water and sometimes making me choke and cough, and I couldn't get high enough to avoid them. And the way back looked, if anything, worse. The water had risen over places I'd just climbed along.

I stayed there for a long time, neck twisted to look out to sea, and took a long, cool look at a stupid death. It was a gorgeous day for it. The sky was a deep blue. The water was choppy in the breeze. Gulls wheeled and cried overhead. I could see a boat far out on the horizon, and wondered if it would come closer. But looking down at the white churning water a couple of meters below my bleeding toes I knew that the even most competent sailor couldn't get anywhere near me. I wondered how long it would be before the tide went down again, and whether I could hang on that long.

Nobody knew where I was.

After a while I got annoyed.

I can't die like this! I thought, indignantly. I'm not this sort of person! I don't have adventures; I have naps!

And so I kept going. Every movement after that was horribly risky. I was clinging to a sheer cliff face and there were almost no firm foot- or handholds. Every time I moved I thought I'd slip and fall. Sometimes the rock I gripped crumbled away in my hand, or under my foot. Every flabby muscle in my body trembled. But eventually, creeping like a desperate insect, I inched painfully around a corner and saw, around from the next bay, the little beach down the hill from my brother's house.

I carried on, a very slow spider. This foot, that foot, this hand, that hand, cheek grazing the rock.

By the time I landed on that blessed little beach imagination had me dead already a thousand times, dashed to bits on the rocks, broken body washed by the waves and nibbled by fish, shoes washed up on some remote shore. It took a while to adjust to the fact that I wasn't dead after all. I took stock. I was soaked. My hands were bleeding, my feet were ripped to shreds, and I ached all over. I still had the carton of milk and the loaf of bread hanging from my arm in a plastic bag, tied up so tightly that the bread wasn't even wet. That made me feel both proud and incredibly stupid. I'd forgotten they were there, and could probably have managed better without a litre of milk hanging off my arm. But they were my original reason for going down to the shop and it had never occurred to me to go home without the groceries I'd gone out for.

I hugged the sand for a long, long time.

After a while I washed off the blood and crawled up the path to the house, where I discovered it was two o'clock. I'd been on the cliffs for about five hours.

My brother had prepared a late lunch, thinking I'd gone for an extra long walk. I tried to explain what had happened, and showed him my hands and feet.

"Yeah, the rocks are really sharp around here," he said. "Are you hungry?"

I thought for a moment, and realized I hadn't had breakfast yet.

"I'm starving," I told him.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

More answers

Librarianguish has answered her interview questions. She says they made her nostalgic. Her answers made me nostalgic, too, and I have never been to camp in my life. Nor did I have a teacher called Mr Cain.

She claims she has never done anything dangerous or stupid in her life, and isn't that a conincidence? Neither have I.


Last week The Man was reading a very serious-looking book for a few days. When he read it he looked massively intelligent, occasionally looking up and staring into space thoughtfully. Sometimes his lips moved. More puzzlingly, sometimes his fingers moved.

Also, while sitting behind me, he occasionally became very quiet. Then I'd hear rustling, or other funny little noises, and when I turned around he would suddenly makes a coin appear. Or disappear. Or else he'd make a bit of string break in half and rejoin miraculously. It was disconcerting.

After a while I put two and two together. I checked out the book while he wasn't in the room. He'd taken the dust cover off, the tricky devil. I noticed the title in the front page.

Mentaru Majikku Jiten
(Mental Magic Encyclopedia)

But he is not performing any magic today, except in a little plastic thingummy he brought back from the doctor. It looks like a contact lens case, but instead of L and R for each of the little cups it says A and B. He left a note for me before crawling back into bed and disappearing into a moaning, snoring, and occasionally coughing cocoon of futon and hot water bottles. The note said,

I made a diamond in A.

He did, too.

There is a little pink diamond in the A (if you squint). He has Influenza Type A.

I've never seen one of those before. What did he do, spit in it? He hasn't woken up for long enough to me to ask.

I thought it had to be a bit more serious than just a cold. He hasn't been nearly grumpy enough for it to be something mild. Instead he has been worrying about me. He only wakes up for long enough to ask me how I am. Don't I have a cough? Shouldn't I go to the doctor, too? Didn't he hear me sneeze a bit earlier?

This is all very touching but it's making me anxious. When I bring him some more green tea he is supposed to shout "STOP FUSSING, YOU'RE WORSE THAN MY MOTHER!" Instead he looks at it, sits up, drinks it, coughs, looks miserable, and asks me how I am. Then he goes back to sleep.


I had to go into Osaka. When I came home I decided to make some Thai curry. I know it's not food for sick people, but it's the only thing I can cook that I know The Man can't resist, and he hasn't eaten for two days. He came downstairs just as it was ready, and said he wasn't hungry. Then while he was making some tea the smell got to him and he said maybe he'd eat something after all. He ate some curry. (HE ATE SOME CURRY!) He asked me if I was really all right, and shouldn't I go to the doctor, just in case? He had big bags under his eyes and looked worried and tired. He took his medicine, and when I said I'd do the dishes he thanked me.

But he does the dishes around here. He thinks I'm not capable. (This is an impression I have cultivated carefully over the years.) He never lets me touch the dishes if he's in the kitchen.

Things are not right.

He's asleep again now.

Sometimes he groans or coughs in his sleep. This is wrong, too. He's supposed to laugh and sing and argue. Or call out, suddenly, "TAKE IT OFF THE POST OFFICE! IT'S A RABBIT! HA HA HA!" so that I sit up straight and say, "Eh?"

And he still hasn't shouted at me. I don't like this at all. When is he going to shout at me?

Monday, March 07, 2005


A couple of my interviewees have answered their questions. Andaloo has written a fascinating account of how he frightened his gardener, and Sleeper has proved once and for all that English teachers are wonderful people. Well, some of us are, anyway.

Speaking of English teachers, I have been spending far too much time at Englishdroid. The Man is down with the 'flu and dealing with it in his usual way, by taking his extremely bad temper to bed. (I think the aim is to sleep until it's all over. He has managed two days so far.) The bedroom is next to this room, though, and the fusuma (sliding doors) let sound through. Trying to laugh quietly is giving me hiccoughs.

I found the site via Language Log, where Geoffrey K. Pullum writes that teaching English as a foreign language is such hard work that after school hours its practitioners need a cheap laugh and a cold beer. Is this the voice of experience? It is almost too accurate (although I prefer wine myself). But I should also add that one of the reasons this site is making me laugh is that so much of it is truth thinly disguised as humour. I am laughing because I KNOW people like that. I have a horrible suspicion I am at least one of them. (But I won't tell you which one(s).)

I am tempted to use this teaching plan one of these days, but I won't, because it is too ethically confusing. I've been in a situation before where a bunch of students decided to trust me and told me far too much about my colleagues, and believe me, you do not want to be in a situation where you discover that your boss, who has the power to fire you, is notorious for groping his students. The students' demonstrations of exactly how he did this were appallingly funny. One of the girls was a gifted mimic who made it impossible to maintain my professional detachment, and I am ashamed to confess that I was so surprised by this unexpected talent that I really did fall off my chair laughing. But when you stop laughing, and when the students beg you not to tell, you are left with a nasty taste in your mouth and a moral dilemma.1

A couple of the other lesson plans in the satanic units are also tempting, but equally difficult to reconcile with job security. Not that I actually have any job security, of course, but even one year contracts are better than nothing.

And speaking of job security, for those of you who have ever wondered about the possibility of becoming an English language teacher and having a wildly exotic life like mine, there is a special section just for you: the Occasionally Articulated Queries. The answers are painfully accurate.

But even as I hiccough and giggle my way through this site, a part of me is horrified that a fellow teacher has revealed the secrets of our profession to the world like this. I mean, do we really want everyone to know that the reason teaching English as a foreign language is such hard work is that nothing we do actually works? And that the handful of students who learn the language properly are the ones who would have picked it up at home by reading a book?

My laughter is the uncomfortable laughter of a woman who emerged from the ladies' room two hours ago into a crowded room and has only just discovered that her skirt is tucked up in her knickers. I'm feeling a little exposed.

1. The moral dilemma was solved when the students took care of him themselves by complaining en masse several months later. He 'voluntarily' resigned his tenure. (Another tenured professor at the same university was a known bigamist but apparently that was not considered sufficient grounds for firing him. As far as I know he is still there.)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Hoist on my own petard

I was horrified, fascinated, concerned, and aghast. And then I got to the end.

What a ride!

(What is a petard, anyway?)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Blog words

I've just been browsing through blogs, and I have some questions.

1. Why are so many people searching for their identity? I always keep mine in my wallet, but I'm hardly ever asked for it anyway. Is it really that important?

2. Why are so many of you just? Just a mother. Just another 18-year-old sex-crazed student. How come you think so little of yourself, but then expect us to be interested in what you say?

3. Why is your blog full of random thoughts? Are they really random? How do you know? Also, why do you want to rant and rave? I found somebody who ruminated, so perhaps we are collectively reaching the end of the R section of the dictionary. Also, quite a few of you muse. I guess yours were earlier blogs and you hadn't got to the Rs yet.

Some of you write very well, I should add. I don't notice anything particularly random (except for the occasional spelling). You do not rant, rave, muse, or ruminate. Why do you claim that you do? I don't get it.

4. Why are so many of your lives insane, crazy, lunatic or at least not normal. Why? You even seem proud of it. What's wrong with being normal, like me?

5. Also, why do you need to vent? Do you have a malfunctioning valve?

6. If you must insist on telling me all about everything you did today (and don't warn me in advance that it was boring so that I can stop reading) at least try to make it a good read. Today I read something like this:

This morning I overslept the alarm by 5 minutes and got up in a hurry and had breakfast. While I was eating breakfast, the dog farted. Oh, gross. Then I had a shower and changed my clothes...

Stop right there. Let me show you how it's done.

This morning at breakfast time the dog farted. He was standing with his bum up against the gas stove and the resulting explosion took out most of the kitchen. I was not hurt aside from ending up with my head wedged in the cookie jar.

This did not actually happen, you understand, but it could have, if we had a gas stove. As it was we merely had to evacuate the kitchen.

And that's enough, really. You do not need to write about the rest of your day, especially as you say at the end of your one very, very long paragraph that it was boring. (That should have been at the beginning, by the way.) You could even skip the second paragraph. On the Internet nobody knows you're lying, and at least you'll make us laugh. (On the Internet everybody laughs at other people's horrible accidents.)

Speaking of farts, this morning at sparrowfart I asked The Man whether he thought sparrows do actually fart. He looked at me for a moment and closed his eyes.

"Fuck off," he mumbled.

I gathered that he wasn't quite ready to wake up yet.

The other day we were talking about swearing in another language and how it never feels quite as bad as swearing in your own language. We also talked about how in the movies people swear all the time, and, I'm told, in real life, too. (I do not swear, of course, and I do not associate with people who do.)(Well, maybe a few of them do, but only sometimes.)(And maybe I do too, but only sometimes.) I told him that I thought it was silly to swear all the time, because if you say "Fuck off" every time you really just mean "Can we talk later?" eventually it starts meaning, "Can we talk later?" and loses its shock value.

The Man looked interested. "Really?" he said, and decided to experiment with this idea.

As I drifted back to sleep this morning I reflected that in a very short while his experiment is going to stop being funny.

I had a boring day today. Nothing much happened.