Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Five days since I posted anything? How slack of me. And again, this will just be a quick one.

We came to Penang from Taiping this afternoon. Since we got here, we've been eating, mostly, although we managed to bump into a book sale at some point which will cause a weight problem if we can't get some stuff sent back to Japan soon. (The food could cause a different kind of weight problem.)

(Penang food so far: Fried mee hoon, fish ball noodle soup, sui kou, fried rice, ais kacang. Drinks: soy milk, teh tarik, teh o limau, Chinese tea. We had breakfast in Taiping, so I'm not counting the roti canai.)

Taiping is full of swallows. I'd forgotten about that. We were only there for a day, but managed to visit the Lake Gardens again (and didn't get TOO wet when it inevitably rained), and The Man was provided with the perfect excuse not to go back up Bukit Larut when it turned out that after heavy rains the road had collapsed in some parts under landslides. If the rain was considered heavy even in Taiping, then it must have been impressive. Taiping has heavy rain every day. It is normal. Heavy rain is what Taiping does best.

But still, even though we didn't really have time to do much there, I'm glad we went back. We walked and walked, and the gardens were utterly gorgeous, and we saw a huge lizard thingy swimming in the lake. I think we may have discovered the Taiping Lake Gardens Monster. My photographs will probably make it look like that, anyway, as it was a bit far away. Actually our skills at identifying various bits of wildlife are so poor that when we saw it I declared confidently it was a nutria, then The Man declared confidently that it was a really huge snake because he saw the forked tongue, and it was quite a long time before we decided, rather less confidently, that it was some sort of er, um, lizard? We didn't know lizards were that good at swimming, and this thing never got up onto land the whole time we were watching it. We did see a smaller one, though, and when I tried to get close to photograph it, it jumped into the lake. When we saw it swimming the similarities with the Monster were obvious, except for the size.

Must go. I think I may be hungry again, and there's a new bunch of hawker stalls right opposite our hotel that we can check out on our way back.

Two days to Hari Merdeka!

Friday, August 24, 2007


The view from our hotel window is of KL Tower and the Twin Towers. This morning we woke up, got out of bed, and looked out the window just in time to see somebody jump from the tower. THAT WAS PRETTY SURPRISING.

A few seconds later the parachute opened.

This continued to happen all day. Every time we went back to the hotel, I'd look out the window and somebody would jump. Perhaps it wasn't all day, but it seemed like it. We couldn't actually see the tower from most of the places we went today.

We have discovered that, like it or not, we are stuck in KL for the next couple of days. The school holidays end on the 26th (that's Sunday, right? I've lost track) and so all the buses to anywhere we wanted to go were full. If we really, REALLY wanted to go to Penang (which we don't, not yet) we have the choice of taking a bus that leaves at midnight. After the accidents that have been in the news recently, we are not really keen to take a night bus. We have decided to stay in KL for a couple of days, and shave a couple of days in KL off the end of the trip.

We have been eating a lot. While Kuching was a lot of fun, I have to admit the food here is a lot better. Not that it was bad in Kuching, just not as good or as varied. Today I had roti chanai for breakfast and The Man had tosa, and we both had teh tarik. Then for lunch he had fish ball noodle soup (no, that is not what you think. Think 'meat balls')and I ... wasn't hungry? What happened, did I eat something and forget? Maybe the soy milk drink we had in between filled me up. For dinner we had nasi champur, and it was wonderful. (I ate more than The Man did, which is unusual for me, so perhaps I did miss lunch by mistake.) And after we've finished here we'll have a post-dinner dinner, probably noodles of some description since we're in Chinatown.

I wish I could eat this well in Japan.

Today wasn't a very interesting day to write about, aside from the jumpers. It was a maintenance day. I don't suppose you want to hear about getting the washing done, or The Man's haircut, or all the other little things you have to do now and again even when you're on holiday. I also replaced my Palm battery charger, which had been playing up. It is the second one I've had problems with, both bought from the same place here, so I took it in and showed them. They took out a new one and plugged it in, and it had exactly the same problem. The battery charge indicator flicked on an off when you wiggled the cable, and would only stay charging if you had it in exactly the right position. This is a Palm travel charger problem, not my problem, it turns out.

They replaced the cord part of the travel charger with something tougher, and now it works perfectly. They didn't charge me, either, even though I did not have the receipt for my original purchase. How's that for good service?

What was not so nice is that The Man had his pocket picked on the way back from that mall. This is the first time it has happened to him in decades, he told me (doesn't that make him sound OLD?) and he was most indignant. But there was no point beating him up over it (he was managing quite well himself, I suspect) so I told him it was just one of those things and since there was nothing we could do about it, never mind. We are now, however, being a bit more careful.

I suspect it happened because we were on a very crowded train, at the station of a very big shopping mall full of tourists (school holidays, remember?) and also because he was wearing his other trousers. The good travel trousers, which have harder-to-pick pockets, were at the laundry.

So it was a slightly less good vacation day, today. We had trouble at the Post Office (which closed suddenly because of a power outage), did not get our bus tickets, we lost a bit of money (not a disastrous amount, more an ouch! amount), and had to rethink our plans because of the lack of available transport. But our plans were so loose they were practically immoral anyway, and we can bear the ouch! Also, good food makes up for almost anything.

It's almost midnight and I'm hungry. I'm out of here.

A quick one

Crocodile! Irrawaddy dolphin! Fireflies! Orangutans!

We had an exciting last couple of days in Kuching (and thereabouts), and are now in KL. I have just spent about an hour unsuccessfully trying to transfer photos to CD, and have given up. I will ask someone at a photo shop to do it for me tomorrow.

We are here for a couple of days and then down the east coast, where Internet access might not be so easy. But I have been keeping extensive notes on the Palm every evening, so full reports (with photos) will come when I get back. In the meantime, I am sitting right under an air conditioning duct and I think I am growing icicles. We're off for a hot drink.

Just one question before I leave, though: how come in most hotels the shower head is so bloody high? In our hotel today I stood under the shower and all the water shot straight over my head, leaving me dry. Luckily the shower is the sort you can hold and direct, but still. Sometimes I want both hands free.

More tomorrow, I hope.

Monday, August 20, 2007


A forty-five minute stroll, I thought. That will be nice! Except that when we got to the rainforest and looked at the various trails, we had been talking to a couple of young Dutch guys on the boat who told us they were coming for the second time in three days, and they did the three-and-a-half hour trail and it only took two hours. That sounded reasonable, we thought, so we decided to try that one.

We should have taken note that they were a couple of very young, tall, healthy and fit Dutch guys. They had legs about as long as I am tall.

Still, it was a lovely three hour and twenty minute walk. It was a very HOT walk. I was drenched in sweat after the first ten minutes. I had not expected so much of the trail to be vertical, but still, it was lovely. Plus we got to see some rare proboscis monkeys. They have very rude faces.

Actually, we saw these monkeys right at the beginning of our walk, and didn't realize how rare they were. We were just wandering along the boardwalk at the beginning, and there one was, a big guy, just sitting there up a tree next to the boardwalk. We stood there photographing it, and chatting about how rude its nose was, and then carried on.

A bit further up the trail we came around a corner and three people were there. We started to say hello and the woman said, "Shhhh!" and pointed. We looked up into the trees and couldn't see anything at first, but eventually spotted three more proboscis monkeys, too far away to photograph well. I whispered to the woman,

"If you go a little further there's one up a tree next to the boardwalk, much easier to photograph."

I showed her my photograph, and she looked a little deflated. Then she laughed, and off they went.

There were a lot of naughty monkeys, too. I took photos of them stealing bits of cucumber. I also took pictures of lots of pitcher plants, pointed out to us by the pitcher plant scientists and enthusiasts who we passed going the other way on the trail - seventy of them! - who are here for a conference. That was fun. We passed all kinds of conversations, and they were almost as interesting as the monkeys. Scientists get all excitable when they're in rainforests, and even the very large one who was carrying a lot of weight up the steep bits was being remarkably cheerful about it. I was impressed with his enthusiasm, especially when I saw how steeply that end of the trail started off. That bit must have almost killed him. I suspect that if The Man and I had started off at that end instead of the gently sloping (but longer) climb from the other end, we would have turned around and gone back. It was STRAIGHT UP. Some of the steps provided could more accurately be called 'ladders,' and there were a LOT of them.

The bus out to the park was amazing. We took an ordinary local bus rather than one of the nicer (but expensive) tour buses, and it rattled and shook so much it was a bit like riding in a portable earthquake. The boat ride after that was fun. We all got a little wet.

The walk, though ... that was HARD, mostly because it was so hot. There were places up the top where there were very few trees, but (weirdly) lots of sand. Those bits were very exposed, and very, VERY hot. I was the only person prepared for this, as I had brought along my folding parasol. I may have looked like an idiot carrying a lacy parasol along a rainforest trail, but I was a greatly envied idiot. I was the only one with shade. An Irish woman we'd met on the boat did the same trail the other way (it's a loop) and told me afterwards she started to get worried she'd collapse around that exposed bit. She'd run out of water by then, and was starting to feel a little dizzy. I told her she should invest in a parasol.

Tomorrow, I suspect, we will be resting, and any moving about we do will be done rather carefully.

I am taking photos, but will have to post those later, perhaps from KL. I asked about doing it here, but the woman told me that they sometimes have problems with the particular card my camera uses (xD) on the rather old computers here, so she didn't want to risk it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cat City

I have been remiss in posting the last few days. That was because I was (a) packing, and (b) flying, and then when I went into an Internet cafe the second day we were here I promptly got my first mosquito bite of this summer, and left without posting anything. Japanese mosquitoes do not seem to like me much, but Malaysian Internet cafe mosquitoes do. I haven't been bitten outside yet, though.

We arrived in Kuching on the 16th, and have been having a lovely time. Today we had a lovely but somewhat bewildered time, as we decided to check out the other side of the river. This turned out to be easier than we expected, because there are very cheap water taxis dotted along the various piers, but we decided to see the orchid garden the brochure from tourist information told us about, and that was when we ran into trouble. We got off at the other side, bought disgustingly coloured drinks from a stall there, and then wandered around aimlessly for a bit wondering where to go. One path petered out to nothing, and there was a sort of boardwalk arrangement which had broken boards and a viewing tower thing that was closed, and finally we went back to the stall and asked them where the orchid garden was.

"Gone," they told us.


"Yes. Gone."

"Oh. What about the Istana?"

"It's over there," said the guy, pointing.

"Can we walk there?" we asked, hopefully.

They weren't sure. They thought it was too far, but here everybody uses a car and thinks practically anywhere is too far to walk, so we set off anyway.

Unfortunately it was a very good road, which meant that it was perfectly designed for cars but was horrible for pedestrians. There was no shade, and it was very hot, and when we got to the first bend and saw how long it was without shade we turned back.

We went back to the jetty, and ... well, to cut a long story short (there was one more boat trip in there somewhere) we ended up asking a boatman to take us somewhere interesting on this side of the river. He decided that 'somewhere interesting' meant 'somewhere weird tourist types would be interested in,' and took us to Fort Margarita, which I may have spelt wrongly. This entailed dropping us off at a jetty that was clearly not used very much, and which apparently lead nowhere. He told us to take the path, which looked rather overgrown. In fact I couldn't see it at all, at first.

There was a sign. It said, ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. The Man did not see it.

"What did the sign say?" he asked.

"It said, 'If you have an accident or kill yourself it's your own stupid fault," I said.

We entered at our own risk.

At one point we had to cross a bridge with missing planks. We crossed it anyway, and eventually ended up at the fort, much to our surprise. We read the sign, which told us the history of the fort and said that it was now used as a police museum.

"Another museum!" said The Man, despairingly. (I dragged him to two yesterday.)

The fort, however, was completely empty, aside from the courtyard where there were some rusted cannons, and also a door up in the corner of the courtyard which had a skull painted on it. That was kind of interesting. Out the back we could see some guy washing a motorbike, but other than that there was nobody. The Man signed the visitors' book. We shouted hello to the motorbike man, out the window. He was very friendly.

"Can we go upstairs?" I asked, and he said we could. We went upstairs and found a large room. It was empty. We went up another flight and found another room, also empty. Then we went up on the roof, and enjoyed the view.

After we came back we asked the man (the curator of the non-existent museum?) if we could reach a kumpung from the other direction, instead of going back to the jetty. He said we could, and pointed in the general direction. "Can we get a drink there?" we asked, and he said we could, and also that there was another jetty, so we could get back to the other side of the river.

To cut a long story short AGAIN (because The Man is waiting for me) the only place open in the kumpung was a cake shop selling violently coloured cakes. There were lots of stalls along the waterfront, and not one was open. Some small children wanted me to take their pictures, so I did. Some other kids told us that the stalls only open at night. We passed a few foreigners looking for the fort, who had come from the kumpung jetty and got lost, and pointed them in the right direction, telling them that it was very interesting in a nothing sort of way. They laughed, and I got the impression that had already experienced quite a lot of interesting in a nothing sort of way on this side of the river. We also told them that to get a boat from the fort jetty they'd have to yell and wave to the boatmen on the other side of the river, which was what our boatman had told us to do.

Tomorrow we are going to visit a rainforest. It will be a day trip. We are not adventurous, daring, tough travellers. The particular spot we are going to we chose partly because of the easy 45 minute walking path. All the others seem to entail four or five hours of hard slog, and a guide. We want to see the rainforest, but not THAT much of it. We are also hoping to see orangutans.

Did I spell orangutan right?

Oh, and the post is entitled 'Cat City' because that is Kuching's nickname. In fact there are not many cats.

Must run. More soon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Local festival

Here are some pictures and a couple of short videos to make up for the lack of blogging recently. It has been too hot, and I have been uninspired. On the first and second of August, however, I did manage to drag myself to a local festival. This is a danjiri festival. It is not famous, but it is rather dangerous. Last year, I was told by a student who lives in the area, the danjiri fight was cancelled because two people were killed. (Accidentally, I mean.) This year there were police all over the place trying to get people to behave. I don't know whether they were successful, but as far as I know nobody died.

On the first day they only paraded the danjiri. I took some pictures, very few of which turned out any good. I have not mastered the art of taking good pictures at night from a distance. I suspect this art may involve the use of a tripod and a good vantage point, neither of which I was able to manage. This is not a famous festival, but it is popular locally. A friend and I were the only foreigners there that we saw at least, but there were plenty of locals making it difficult to get a good view, especially later in the evening.

The daylight pictures were better, partly because of the light and partly because the crowds weren't very big yet. The floats paraded through the streets, which were not cut off to normal traffic, leading to some interesting situations with costumed festival-goers rushing around and helping the police to direct cars and other traffic. I raced around on my bicycle trying to get good pictures, occasionally getting directed out of the way. I was a nuisance, but so was everybody else, so that was all right.

This first picture shows a danjiri on which someone is holding a photograph, presumably of one of the people who were killed last year.

This next one shows a danjiri waiting for some traffic to get out of the way.

Here is another traffic jam. There are two danjiri in this picture, but neither of them are moving.

Some of the performers (I'm not quite sure what else to call them) got a little bored, waiting for the road to clear. The guy in this next picture had hair to match the carving on his danjiri

Trendy young cool guys take part enthusiastically in this festival (i.e. that is his everyday hair, not a part of his costume), and as far as I could see there was no alcohol involved. They seem to manage to work themselves into a frenzy without any artificial aid. I always find this interesting. They lose their cool completely and go berserk. This picture shows a trendy young cool guy between attacks of berserkness, however.

This is the same danjiri, paused alongside the elevated railway tracks.

Here is another danjiri.

And here is a danjiri moving along beside the podium thing along the street where the fight would be held the next evening.

As you may have noticed, I am not giving very much information about the background or the format of the festival. That is because I didn't really understand what is going on, and everybody I asked seemed rather vague about it as well. Perhaps I am asking the wrong people. From what I do understand, though, each float represents a different shrine. I think there are eight, or possibly seven or nine. I tried to count them but they were all over the place, and when I tried staying in one place and getting pictures of them all as they came past, I lost count. It all took rather a long time, and I forgot which number I was up to. There was also one very small float, which I suspect represented some sort of shrine god or something. It used a different, deeper drumbeat, and went past rather soberly and sedately compared to the others. Also, the people carrying it did not have to do the dramatic maneuvering the others did on corners, because it was so much smaller. They didn't dance, either.

I tried using the video function on my camera as well, and on the first day got one good shot of the guy on top of a danjiri going into a frenzy. This video is only fifteen seconds long, for which I apologize. It is short because of my fabulous skills as a cameraperson created such terrible camera wobble right after this that it looks like a UFO crashed while I was having an attack of nausea. I cut that bit.

Unfortunately, on the second day when the danjiri fights happened it was much darker, I didn't have a very good vantage point, and the videos I got were mostly lights swaying in the dark. This was the only one where you can get an idea of what was going on. It was not the most dramatic clash, but it was the only one I got decent video of. In fact, for the most dramatic one (where one of the danjiri tipped sideways and almost fell, then crashed back down as the crowd went OOOOOH!) I was pointing the camera RIGHT AT THE WHOLE THING. Then I realized I'd hit the wrong button, and had taken one still picture of a couple of lights in the dark.

What you can see here (I have to explain because the video is so dark you probably can't tell what is going on otherwise) is first a danjiri moving forward, then back, on the right. Then there is an amateurish cut to get rid of a lot of nothing, and then you see another danjiri approach from the left side. The two move together and do the equivalent of, "Who do you think YOU are?" then back off for a good run, and then charge. They rear up, clash, bump back down, and then there is a little general messing around where nothing much happens.

Before you ask, I do not know how you can tell who has won. In several of the fights they clashed several times, so perhaps it's hard for anybody to tell. It's possibly something like pirates boarding a ship, though, because although I was a bit far away to see properly, I saw some guys clambering up the poles and across to the other danjiri while they were head on, in one of the fights. I could easily be wrong about this, though. It's possible they'd become so tangled they were just up there to untangle themselves.

Anyway, see for yourself, if you can. This video is way too dark, but perhaps you can at least get an idea from the sound.

I'm afraid that is all there is. I know it's not very good, but at least you can see why I enjoy this festival so much. I am sorry about the poor quality, though. The video function on my camera is rather limited. Maybe I will try to borrow a real video camera for next time.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In which I prevent a cranial explosion

On Wednesday I had my final dentist appointment. There was nothing new. The Man was there in the clinic while I was getting the treatment, which this time consisted of only finishing up the cleaning once the dentist had checked again and couldn't find anything else wrong. I told The Man he didn't need to come after the first time when I realized there was nothing to worry about and the dentist and I could communicate, but he said he wanted to help, and I quite enjoy him being there. I think, actually, he likes to watch. It is the curiosity of a man who has never in his life needed any dental work.

He certainly watched very closely, and I hoped that he was noticing that the new dentist is much, MUCH better than his friend was.

He and the dentist talked about what I should watch for and when I should take the antibiotics I've been given for if the inflammation, wherever it is, comes back when we're on holiday. I could not join in this conversation because there were hands in my mouth, so I just listened. The dentist asked about our holiday, and they talked about travel a bit. It is nice to have some distraction at the dentist, and I enjoyed listening.

Then the dentist said,

"I have a friend who lives in Malaysia."

"Really?" said The Man. "Which part?"

The dentist tried to remember.

"Something like 'Madagascar,' but . . . no, that's not it, is it?"

"Madagascar is off the coast of Africa," I didn't say, because of the hands in my mouth.

"No, I don't think so," said The Man, diplomatically. He tried to think of Malaysian place names that sounded similar. They both tried, but neither could come up with anything that might be it.

And that's when it stopped being so much fun for me, because the conversation had stalled and I KNEW WHAT THE ANSWER WAS. I willed The Man to say it, but he didn't. He frowned, wanting to be clever but unable to come up with the right name.

There was a long, thoughtful silence, as they both tried to figure out which town it could be and I became more and more frustrated. Finally I couldn't cope any longer.

I waved my arms.

Here I should explain that earlier, when the dentist was trying to locate the source of the twinges, he tapped on various teeth and asked me if it hurt. When I said, "Uh-huh," he had to take his hand out of my mouth to find out whether Uh-huh meant Uh-huh-yes or Uh-huh-no. After doing this a couple of times we settled on a hand signal instead. If it hurt, I was to raise my hand.

This was the first time I had moved my hands, but I was not just raising a hand. I was flapping both arms furiously. I may have waved my legs as well.

The dentist instantly stopped and peered at me worriedly.

"Did that hurt?" he asked, puzzled. He removed his hand.

"MELAKA!" I exploded.

There was a surprised silence.

"Your friend probably lives in Melaka," I explained, a little more calmly, but I suspect I may have failed to not roll my eyes.

The dentist stared at me for a moment, then his face cleared and he started laughing.

"Melaka! Yes! That's it!" he said, and turned to The Man. "My friend lives in Melaka!"

He turned back to me.

"No pain?"

"No pain," I said. "I just couldn't stand it any more."

And it was true. I couldn't. They may have laughed at me, but it was totally worth it. If I'd had to hold onto the answer any longer I am fairly sure the top of my head would have blown off.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I just received a spam email. I did not open it. I sent it straight to the wonderful Death2Spam for reclassifying. That way I will not get it again.

It had an interesting subject line, though:

incinerated bubble bath

How do you incinerate a bubble bath?

Monday, August 06, 2007


I had my second visit to my new dentist today. Last week he told me that I had a very small bit of decay on a back tooth, but he only did cleaning. Today he told me that he didn't think that decay was what was causing the little twinges of pain I've been getting, which are not serious but were which prompted me to visit in the first place. He looked at my X-rays again, and said that my wisdom tooth on that side, which has not come through, is pushing a bit on the tooth next to it, but he didn't think that was the cause of the trouble either. He can't pinpoint what it is.

He tapped my teeth, and asked me to tell him if any of them felt different, or painful. None did. Then he checked my lymph glands, and discovered that one was a little tender on that side. There is some sort of inflammation somewhere, but he can't figure out where it is.

Since I am going away, he wants to find it quickly, but there is nothing he can do, really, except give me antibiotics to take away with me for if the pain comes back. He said he'd continue with the cleaning, which he hadn't finished, and off he went.

While he was doing this, suddenly I felt pain, and waved my arms. He laughed and said, "Almost finished!" and two minutes later he had finished. The little cavity had been filled. That was a big surprise, but he told me after that he didn't want to use painkiller because it might interfere with the other, unidentified problem. I don't think I have ever had such a fast filling. It was amazing. The Man had told him I was a total wimp about pain, and that's why he did it that way - no warning, just do it and get it over with. I deeply appreciate this. I had been dreading the eventual filling of that tooth, but because I didn't expect it to happen today I was relaxed, and then it was suddenly done.

What a tricky man! Tricky can be GOOD in a dentist, I've decided. I LIKE fillings to be suddenly done. There is no fuss, and especially not from me.

He wants me to go back tomorrow, when he will finish the cleaning (I have never in my life had my teeth cleaned quite so thoroughly, nor so cheaply - I don't know how this guy makes a living if he charges everybody like this) and to see whether the lymph gland is still tender and whether there's anything else he can spot. Aside from that there is not much he can do, he said, but wait and see. The pain is not bad, just the occasional twinge, at night mostly, when I am not distracted and tend to notice it more.

Oh, and I told him about the one-third wisdom tooth on the other side, which had been left there when it broke off and refused to come out that horrible day four years ago. He was surprised, and peered closely at the X-ray.

"It has become a part of the bone," he said.

After a while he added, and I thought I detected a hint of disapproval,

"Did that happen in Japan?"

He did not comment further, but I suspect he was thinking what I was thinking:

If that tooth was so firmly embedded in the bone that means her old dentist was trying to REMOVE HER LOWER JAW. For FOUR HOURS. No wonder she doesn't like going to the dentist!

In other news:

The duck is well, and looked happy, puddling around in the back there. Its name is Glock. The dentist didn't say, but I think the duck told him so. I think the conversation probably went something like this:

Dentist: "What is your name?"
Duck: "Glock."

Makes sense to me, anyway.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


The Man and I are going to visit Malaysia again later this month, and are looking forward to it very much. This time we are going to Sarawak, in Borneo, first, for a few days. We have never been there before, although we have been to Peninsula Malaysia many times. The Man told his mother about our plans the other day.

Just now the phone rang, and The Man answered. I did not know who it was until he started shouting.








Okaasan has the idea that The Man and I are daring adventurers. I don't know where she gets this idea from (our idea of 'daring' is to try some local dish we haven't tried before), but it leads to some interesting conversations. She has obviously been watching the news.

I just hope that nobody gives her some outdated information about headhunters.

Brakes, ears

Last week I got the brakes on my bicycle fixed. They had become soft and spongy, and when I wanted to stop I merely slowed down, which could be rather surprising when I was approaching a red light at a busy intersection. And when you are gliding down the slope under the railway station, which has metal bars to slow cyclists down (although it would be MUCH more fun to speed up, to make up for having to push your bike up the other side), and you are heading for the metal bar faster than you intended to and cannot swerve because someone else is coming up through the way-too-small gap between the bars, you do not just want to slow down. You want to stop.

That hurt a bit, and was what made me decide to get my brakes fixed.

Since I got my brakes fixed, I have become more than ever convinced that there is no such thing as Intelligent Design. If we were intelligently designed, we would be able to close our ears and still keep both hands free for the brakes. New bicycle brakes squeal, and I am not talking about a timid, mouse-like squeak. I am talking about a squeal that actually hurts your ears and makes you scrunch up your face in pain. Nobody should have to listen to what sounds like a pig being castrated every time they want to avoid crashing into something hard.

If ears were intelligently designed there would be a mute button.

Friday, August 03, 2007


I have a new dentist, and I went to see him today. He was recommended by my doctor, who also recommended the breast cancer specialist, and the skin doctor I saw recently (but did not tell you about because I was not in a writing mood that day). A friend also went to this dentist, and liked his work.

My doctor often recommends me to people who are a little odd but are always very, very good at what they do. The breast cancer specialist was not odd, unless being extremely kind and cheerful is odd (perhaps in Japan it is), but the skin doctor was a total otaku (in the sense of being obsessed with his work, I mean). It was obvious that he knew what he was doing, but I could not help noticing that he lacked a bedside manner. He lacked a manner, come to think of it. This was a man who was totally absorbed in his work. He showed us close-up computer pictures of my skin (there was nothing much to worry about, by the way, even though everything looks freakish when it's that magnified), and mumbled to himself in an interested way. I couldn't understand a word he said. I thought it was just me and my awful Japanese, but The Man couldn't understand much of what he said, either. He spoke in mumbled medicalese, and apparently did not know how to speak in normal human language. And he never looked directly at us, although he did examine my skin very carefully. I will go back to him if necessary, because I trust him.

My new dentist . . .

Let me tell you why I have a new dentist, first.

I have a new dentist because my old dentist scares the crap out of me. I last went to him about three years ago, or was it four? and he took three hours, or was it four? to fail to remove a wisdom tooth. After that I went home, relaxed, and after half an hour or so, passed out from delayed shock. The painkillers did not work properly during the operation, and afterwards I felt the way I imagine people feel after being physically attacked. I thought I was all right, because I wasn't in pain any more, but discovered I wasn't all right when I had a sudden encounter with the tatami. He had put things that looked like garden implements into my mouth, and despite my total cooperation (I was gripping with my arms to stop myself from rising out of the chair), failed to remove more than two thirds of my wisdom tooth. The rest is still there, but since that is the part that did NOT have decay, and he stitched it back under the gum, it is probably all right.

But that was another problem - the stitch was supposed to fall out or dissolve or something after a couple of days, and didn't, so I spent the next week, while he was away on holiday, on a liquid diet, because the bloody thing pulled, and hurt, whenever I opened my mouth more than about half a centimetre. It was New Year, and I was surrounded by delicious food. I do not think I have quite forgiven him for that, yet.

So that, and a couple of other unfortunate experiences, was why I hadn't been back to my dentist for about three, or maybe four, years.

The biggest problem with switching dentists is that my old dentist is also The Man's best friend from university days. The Man does not have any dental problems, and never has, which means that he has never personally experienced his friend's treatment, and he kept insisting that his friend was a good dentist. Fat lot he knew.

So when I started to get the odd twinge and remembered that I hadn't seen a dentist for a very long time I was a little nervous. How could I break the news to The Man that I ABSOLUTELY WAS NOT GOING TO GO BACK TO HIS FRIEND?

I approached the matter cautiously.

"I think I have a tooth problem," I said. "I keep getting little twinges in this back tooth, where I have a very old filling, from when I was about ten... I probably should go back and see Ko-chan . . ."

"Really?" said The Man.

"Yes," I said. "But actually I'm scared to."

"Then why don't you try the guy Dr S recommended?" he said, and added that our friend had tried him and liked him.

That was a lot easier than I had expected! I think I understand what happened, though. The Man sat through that marathon session last time, and saw how bad it was, and perhaps, although he wouldn't say so out loud, he also finally decided that his friend wasn't the absolutely best dentist out there. I do not think he enjoyed watching me suffer. After all, he was the one holding my feet so that I did not kick the dentist accidently when he yanked on the tooth. He SAW how bad it was.

So that's how I ended up with a new dentist.

My new dentist is another otaku, and has a reputation for being extremely good and extremely fast. I can believe it. Today he checked my teeth, and cleaned them. I don't think I have ever had a dentist concentrate quite so fiercely on my mouth before. It was amazing. His bedside manner was a bit better than the skin doctor's (but not much), in that he even tried to use English with me. That was nice, but a little confusing. When he took me into the X-ray room he instructed me,

"Put your knee here."

"Pardon?" I asked.

"Put your knee here," he repeated, and I wondered whether I was quite flexible enough to be a cooperative patient. But it was easy really, once I'd mentally substituted 'chin' for 'knee.'

Mostly, though he was just working REALLY, REALLY HARD, and REALLY, REALLY FAST. I am going back on Monday to have the problem tooth fixed, and while I am not exactly looking forward to it, I am happy that whatever happens, at least it will be quick. Another advantage is that, according to our friend, his fillings do not fall out after a couple of months. (She also used to go to The Man's dentist friend.)

Quite aside from anything else, though, it was perfectly obvious the moment I got there that he was the right dentist for me. He has a duck. Yes, you read that right. My new dentist has a duck! How could I resist a dentist with a duck? His clinic has a little garden right outside the large windows, and in the garden there is a small pond and a large white duck. From the waiting room, and from the clinic itself (as long as I was sitting up, which was admittedly not often), I could watch the duck. When I was reclining in the chair I could not see the duck, but I could IMAGINE the duck. It was the duck that made me feel that I was in the right place.

As far as I'm concerned, a dentist with a duck can call my chin anything he wants to.