Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New York

Tuesday 30th May
Well I finally managed to get through and post something using the slow computers at the hostel im staying at.
Arrived in New York after some 17 hours flying.Nine hours from Nagoya to San Francisco and then another 8 from San Francisco to New York.Plus time differences as well.Had an interesting trip in with the SuperShuttle guy along with nine other passengers we weaved in and out of Manhattan for about an hour and a half.Finally got to the hostel about 11pm some 2 hours after landing.The guy at the hostel wasnt as bad as the reviews on the net would indicate.
Yesterday,Monday I explored Battery Park and Ground Zero.Been extremely warm both days so bought some shorts and some sneakers.Round 28degrees celsius.The hostel room is small and stuffy and comes equipped with its own cockroaches but no air conditioning.
Today went for a harbor cruise to see at close hand the Statue of Liberty and also walked into Brooklyn via the historic Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn has some very nice brownstone buildings and tree-lined streets.
First Impressions of New York
Not as impolite or unfriendly as portrayed.
There are many dogs here.Not just the toy breeds Im used to in Japan but bigger ones as well.
There are many different races not as homogeneous as Japan obvivously.A true melting pot.
The bagels and the fillings and the variety of food is amazing.
The people are loud and one often catches snippets of conversations such as
"Why didnt he tell me earlier" or "If we refinance..."

Cant post photos but have taken many including some of Manhattan from the cruise boat.Spent most of the time round Battery Point but will venture up towards the Central Park and museums area later this week...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
This is one of my earlier paper mache creations. I'll be the first to admit its amateurish.Still it helped me learn about different paint types.Matt vs gloss, what works and doesnt in terms of sealing the final coat of paint to protect it from dust and mold.The eyes are just table tennis balls covered in patchy layers of gesso, a kind of plaster.

Meantime Im trying to pack and tidy up my apartment before I leave for my long over due vacation.My list of things to see and do keeps growing.Too much to do,too little time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

"My bags are packed and I'm ready to go...."

Big Apple
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Finally after a year of saving,working extra shifts and planning I'm going on holiday.Two weeks.New York.Depart Sunday morning.
Hoping the weather is less temperamental than here in Nagoya.
Thanks to the financial fluctuations of the U.S dollar I got a little extra when I exchanged currencies.This is offset by the unnecessarily high gouging charges banks force one to pay to change money.Cant get over how small and dull the bank notes are compared with the local Japanese notes or even the ones back home in New Zealand.

Not sure if I can blog from New York.Not even sure if anyone reads this regularly.I'll try to update but apologies in advance for any hiatus.I'll go armed with a camera,memory sticks and my travelling companion Eddie the marmot to record events.
I'm more than ready for a break in my routine.A chance not to speak English eight classes a day,forty minutes a lesson five days a week.
I'm overdue for a change of scenery and a chance to experience some new things,places and food.

I was thinking about some of the recent things I've discussed with students and why I need a vacation became obvivous...
Exhibit number 1,a fifteen minute discussion about dog ear wax.I learned that dogs with floppy ears which cover the auditory canal tend to produce more ear wax than dogs who have small pointed erect ears.In addition there is a distinction that can be made about the density and smell of canine ear wax.Toy dogs produce thicker and smellier ear wax than their bigger counterparts.Go figure...
Exhibit 2..The comical discussion that arose due to a student confusing the words "bowels " and "vowels".As most teachers know Japanese students frequently mishear or confuse "b" and "v" for example "banana" and "vanilla".
Anyways the students reply to the question "Whats the difference between vowels and consonants?" was "I have bad bowels" which led to much hilarity and discussion...

Sumo-Summer Grand Sumo Tournament Summary

The Summer Grand Sumo Tournament finished in Tokyo (Sunday) yesterday.Two wrestlers,ozeki Hakuho and sekiwake Miyabiyama were tied at 14-1 so a playoff was necessary to decide the Emperors Cup and tournament winner.
Hakuho prevailed over Miyabiyama in a tense bout to claim his first Emperors Cup.He's had a quick rise through the ranks.This was his first outing as an ozeki, having only been promoted in March.He's also the fourth youngest wrestler to be promoted to the rank of ozeki,the second highest rank, in modern sumo history.
After Asashoryu and Tochiazuma pulled out through injury the race for the Emperors Cup was blown wide open.Apart from Miyabiyama and Hakuho there were some other notable performances.Mention must be made of Baruto who after losing two of his first four fights I had written off.However he seemed to come right and improved to an impressive winning record of 11 wins and 4 losses.His bout with Miyabiyama on Day 14 was a highlight of the basho.Just like Hakuho, Baruto was making his debut in a higher rank,(makuchi), having been promoted in March.Although out-muscled by Miyabiyama,Baruto can only improve with more exposure to stronger competition.I expect to see him climb the rankings quickly.
I'm also pleased that ozeki Kaio finished with a winning record of 9-6.In Japanese a winning record is "kachikoshi" eight wins or more.The opposite- a losing record is known as "makekoshi".Should a wrestler other than a yokozuna post two losing records then he faces possible demotion in ranking.Last tournament Kaio was on the verge of demotion but pulled back to a winning record of 8-7 on the last day.
One wrestler who retired during the basho was the lower ranked Toki.The most memorable feature were the mutton chop side burns he sported that gave rise to his nickname of "Elvis" by some reporters.
Another character who stood out was a veteran 35 year old wrestler named Buyuzan.He has an elaborate pre-match warmup that includes throwing fistfuls of salt ( used to symbolically purify the ring ) high into the air much to the delight of spectators.Although he posted a losing record he has a fire and spirit about him that is evident in his broad smile and swaggering walk after a victory.
Obvivously I'm pretty much a raw novice when it comes to sumo.Some sites I've found useful to find more about this sport and Lots of information and its in English..
Cant wait for July when the annual tournament is held in Nagoya and I can see the wrestlers live in action...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday Flash

Blue Shoes
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
"Blue Shoes and Happiness" is the latest book in the Alexander McCall Smith series "The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency".I'm the proud owner of an autographed hardback copy of this book sent all the way from Texas where the author had a book signing session recently.As its raining today I'll start reading it between the breaks in the sumo tournament which finishes on Sunday and is televised daily 3pm-6pm on NHK's free public broadcasting channel.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monkey Business

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Just a few odds and sods this week.First up,my employer,Nova Corp had reported on Friday that it expected to make a group loss for the year ending March 2006 of some 3 billion yen.The loss was put down to the competition for students among its schools,rapid expansion and employing inexperienced managers.

No mention is made of the newly introduced in-house produced Diplomat series of textbooks.A glorified phrasebook.A cut and paste plagaristic product.Riddled with spelling errors and word ommissions.It does have pretty pictures courtesy of the internet.No substance.No grammar.No tenses.
Nothing to help students develop or enable them to converse.Just parrot.Listen and repeat.It doesnt provide a framework or structure.Did I mention the pretty pictures.

No mention is made of the foreign management or instructors either.Also inexperienced,often as not unqualified as far as teaching is concerned.Often fresh out of university first jobbers.
Its hard to take the job seriously when you see how those in authority treat their positions.
Personally Its difficult to respect someone who comes in to work unkempt and smelling of alcohol at 10 a.m the morning after the F.A Cup final....

The body conducting Japan's research whaling"The Institute of Cetacean Research" was in the news this week.It has plans to expand the market for whale meat by consigning sales to a recently established company which will, in late June, start selling the meat of whales caught for scientific purposes.
The company which plans to sell 1000 tons of meat this year is looking for new customers such as hospitals and will also sell the meat via the internet.

Charles Bukowski

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
"The Most Beautiful Woman In Town and other stories" written by Charles Bukowski.
I'd never heard or read anything by this writer until I was recently given a book of his short stories.He also writes poetry which appears on the odd website.
The information on the book's back cover informs you that he is "one of America's greatest living realist writers".
Thats realist with a capital R.His stories revolve around sex and alcohol.The language is gritty.
Profane.Graphic,with the pages littered with "f" and "c" words.You get some idea of what you are in for from the stories titles e.g"Ten Jack-Offs" or "All the Pussy You Want" the necrophillia themed "The Copulating Mermaid of Venice,Calif."
Not much is left to the imagination.I couldnt wallow in this writing style or the subject matter all the time.It does make a refreshing change from more prosaic writing.

About halfway through the current tournament.Both Asashoryu and Tochiazuma have withdrawn with injuries.Asashoryu injured liagments in his right wrist while Tochhiazuma hurt his knee.At that stage after losing 4 of 6 bouts and any realistic chance of promotion to yokozuna it was probably the only course he could take.
The wrestlers to benefit from Asashoryu's departure were Hakuho, the newly promoted ozeki and also Chiyotaikai thrusting and slapping his way to unbeaten record at this stage.
Meanwhile Kaio continues to battle for a winning record and Baruto the newly promoted Estonian is finding life more difficult in the higher ranks and has picked up several losses after his earlier unbeaten 15-0 record...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday Flash

Paper Mache Frog
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.

One of the paper mache frogs I made for last years Foreign Artists Exhibition.Im currently working on a couple of lizards though progress is slow until the weather warms up a bit more and the drying process speeds up.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Summer Sumo Tournament..Slip,Slap,Slop

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The Summer Sumo Basho started in Tokyo yesterday.
Newly promoted ozeki,Hakuho,another Mongolian and possible rival to Asashoryu,began with a win.As did Tochiazuma who could get promoted to yokozuna with a good winning record.
One of the up and coming wrestlers is a 21year old former bouncer from Estonia,Baruto.He was promoted after the last tournament with a 15-0 winning record to the makuchi divsion.Nor should one either forget Kotooshu from Bulgaria.Hopefully his injured knee is better and he will be able to provide more of a challenge to Asashoryu than in their last encounter.
Finally I will be watching Kaio who narrowly missed demotion from ozeki ranks with a last gasp 8-7 winning record on the last day of the Spring meet.It will be interesting what happens this time round as he began the current contest with a loss...

Survived Golden Week sanity more or less intact.On the one hand it gives you a break from kids classes but does mean you could face teaching the same students three or four times a day in a class.Trying to pick lessons for such students who try to cram as many lessons in a day is impossible.Considering there are only 50 odd lessons per level at most and the students are usually with others of the same the end of the day they end up speaking gibberish mixed lessons,wrong tenses etc..

While I admire their dedication moderation seems the wiser course.Theres learning a language by osmosis or absorption and theres drowning in the quicksand of over-exposure.The students who seem to do better are those who study at home and dont overdo it,those who come regularly and take a couple of lessons a time.
Going hammer and tongs for a short sustained period followed by a lull of activity or overdoing it with too many lessons a day is to my mind the wrong way and may in fact be counter-productive.
Whatever Ive got a few holidays coming up near the end of May and cant wait...

Green Tea

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
A sure sign that summer cometh is the seasonal changeover of drinks in the vending machines.Hot drinks replaced with cold.Increasingly fizzy drinks,fruit
juices and mineral water are being sold alongside green tea products.
One leading company,Ito-en has been marketing its green tea products since the mid 1980's."Oi-ocha",
the companys bottled tea is now the biggest single soft drink product according to a report in "The Times" news paper.Green tea is fast becoming the overall soft drink of choice in Japan.
Canned coffee has long held sway in the market since 1964 but recently green tea has been making serious inroads into its market share.
The canned coffee market is dominated by the "Georgia" coffee brands owned by the Coca Cola Japan company."Oi-ocha",Ito-en's green tea brand comes second behind "Georgia" but it is the largest single soft drink brand.
As for "Coca Cola",the drink it rates fourth in the 2005 rankings behind the Aquarius range of sport drinks...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday Flash

Inuyama Castle
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
One of the local manhole covers near Inuyama Castle.
Not only is the castle depicted on the cover but also cormorant fishing.This traditional method of fishing uses nets attached to the birds and has a long history.
It is possible to see the cormorants and the fishermen in action on the Kiso River during the fishing season that runs from around May to October each year.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Golden Week

Carp Streamers
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Well its Golden Week again.That week or so when most of the country takes a break.Public facilities and airports even shopping malls, (which to my mind have replaced amusement parks as places to spend ones leisure hours) are crowded.
Public transport is packed.I waited for two buses this morning before finally managing to a ride to work.
Hordes of old people,some bent almost double,all of them clutching maps and dropping coins made ragged lines by the bus stop.
The more aggressive of the old women "obattalion"
brazenly cut into the lines as if it were their birthright ignoring the muttering of their more polite and considerate brethern.Seems all the fuss was for a local flower festival "fuji" or wisteria a kind of vine like plant with purple and white flowers that is grown over trellises or above decks and patios.

Some people get the whole week off while others just the national holidays which fall during this time ,namely Constitution Day May 3 and Childrens Day May 5th.As part of the decorations for Childrens Day large carp streamers are traditionally flown.
Locally a family of carp streamers i.e father,mother and child carp are flown on one pole with the father carp the biggest at the top followed by the smaller mother and child carp further down.Carp are said to possess courage and spirit as they navigate their ways up-river attributes parents hope their children will acquire.The carp streamers are very impressive and colorful when there is a good wind to make them flutter..

The weather recently has perked up.Finally moved to spring mode.Lat weekend was fine and sunny and the temperature today was forecast to hit 28degrees celsius.Sunny and hot but without the overbearing humidity that literally dampens your spirit that is part and parcel of summer.
Time to put the catci back on the balcony now the threat of low temperatures and frost has gone...

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle 1
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
On Saturday I ventured out to Inuyama Castle.
About a 40 minute train ride from Nagoya.The castle sits atop a hill overlooking the Kiso River.
The castle was built in 1537.It holds claim to be the oldest standing castle in Japan.It was designated a National Treasure in 1935 and had a four year restoration programme completed in 1965.
I like this castle because it is the genuine article.Its preserved in its original form.Unlike the castles in Osaka or Nagoya there is no elevator or vinyl floors.
Instead there is a very steep staircase you must negotiate and signs warning you to watch your head as you climb up and down the narrow steps.
Theres a great view from the top storey of the castle over the Kiso River plain and back towards Nagoya....

Inuyama Castle Statue

Inuyama Statue
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The grounds of Inuyama Castle are quite pretty too.Theres a stony pathway leading up to the castle gates which is lined with maples and cherry trees.The grounds also contain some shrines,drinking fountains and statutes including this example above.
Admission is 500yen and the castle is a short walk from the nearest station, Inuyama-yuen Station, one stop down from the main Inuyama one.
Its a good way to stretch your legs and get some exercise maybe a half day trip with lunch or a trip to one of the other historical places on the map and pamphlet the castle staff provide.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Sputnik Sweetheart
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
This is the second and an earlier novel I've read by this writer.Like "Kafka on the Shore" it follows a similar pattern of narration.Alternate chapters follow the main
There are also similiar images present.Cats,often black and penises often rigid often unsatisfied.
Within a few words the author can create a feeling or image which in this book concern and loss.