Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
A fond farewell to one of my fellow inmates at work.I've had the good fortune to work with Peter for the last three years or so.
Given that the average instructor lasts barely one year he's quite a rarity as is the fact that he's one of the few people I've worked with in this company who actually has any teaching qualifications or experience to bring to the job.
As a fellow Kiwi in an industry littered with Aussies and North Americans I for one will miss him,his guitar,earthy comments and humor.Bon voyage and good luck mate.....

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down....

Japanese Umbrella
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The start of my first full week back at work.My vacation memories fading faster than my suntan.Im out at the school at the end of the universe.Its raining.Humid.25 degrees Celsius.Leaden skies.
The bananas I bought on Saturday are turning black like frost-bitten fingers.They are providing a field day, a feeding frenzy for flocks of fat,furry fruit flies.Grim faces greet me on the subway carriage.I hunker down in the corner and read my Japan Times.Full of the latest murders and financial fraudsters.
On the bright side theres the World Cup games on later tonight to look forward to....

Three Quick Book Reviews

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I've had some free time recently to catch up on some reading.Over the last month I've read among other books the following...
"The Crazed" by Ha Jin. Vintage International.323 pages.
I think the title refers to Professor Yang in this story set in the summer of 1989 shortly before the events of Tiananmen Square.The Professor has suffered a stroke and is hospitalised.He is looked after by Jian Wan the main character a student and protege of the Prof.
Through the Professors reminiscing and semi-conscious rantings and ravings both Wan and the reader learn about his personal and academic life and recent Chinese history.
One feature of the novel is the idea of relationships and the power struggle within them be they husband/wife , teacher/student or individual and bureaucratic state.
The author also assigns animals such as pigs,chickens and owls to various characters which has echoes of Orwells "Animal Farm".
The majority of the book deals with the dying Professor and the last few concentrate on Wans journey to Tiananmen Square and its after-math.
Its a book with lots of detailed narrative about rural China and some thoughts about the role and value of academics,bureaucracy and as noted earlier relationships.

The second book is Nick Hornbys "A Long Way Down".Penguin.333pages.The book opens with the four main characters on the roof of a tower block on New Years Eve considering suicide by jumping.A
disgraced former TV presenter,a downtrodden middle-aged mother, a teenage rebel and a failed has-been musician.
Aside from the fact that it seemed a little too coincidental all four choose the same night and building it required another "leap of faith" and suspension of belief round the fact that the four represent modern society.Even down to the fact that the middle-aged woman has a disabled son and maybe the musician is gay.All thats missing is a blind lesbian Arabic Greenpeace vegetarian.
Maybe though thats his point that anyone given the circumstances could contemplate killing themselves.
Anyway if you get over these hurdles you then have to accept that this ill-matched group bond and try to help each other get on rather than end their lives.
Each character in turn gets a chance to relate about their lives and how they ended up on the roof.
At times some of Hornby's insights and writing reaches the heights of his "High Fidelity".Some passages are moving particularly those about Maureen and her relationship with her son.There are also some funny swipes at media,reporters and a failed "interventation session".Worth reading,though bearing in mind my reservations above.
The third book is "Mircoserfs" by Douglas Coupland.Harper Collins.
371pages.One of Couplands earlier and well known works.Set in the 1990s the main characters are 20-something computer workers.
The book relates their flight from a big company to their creating their own company.Its a very humorous detailed look at their work and personal lives.There are lots of pop culture references such as Dockers and Gap and Ikeda furniture.Unfortunately due to the nature of this fast paced industry some seem dated.
In fact leafing through his latest novel JPod at the bookshop it seems to be Microserfs updated to the age of Google and

Again,as with the other three of his books Ive read the characters in this work also seem believable.Aside from the main characters there are also some notable supporting players.Female characters arent mere add ons or extensions of their male counterparts.
For me the books main themes appear to be about balancing work,family,relationships without losing touch of whats really important.
Despite all the geeky computer words, much of which went over my head,the book is grounded in humanity and what I like to think as Couplands own brand of spirituality.The last few chapters take an unexpected twist which brings the book to a satisfactory close and puts things like work,jobs,friends and family in perspective...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Flash

World Cup 2006
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Well for Japan the 2006 World Cup is over.Bundled out of the competition by an improving Brazil side earlier this Friday morning Japan time.Not that Japan is alone in not making the second round.Some higher ranked countries such as the Czech Republic and the United States are also packing their bags.
The premature end to Japans run will no doubt have some impact on the bars and other places that screened World Cup matches.It was widely reported sales of large screen televisions had also increased due to the interest in the event.
Im sad its over.It means I can go back to a regular sleeping pattern.NHK and some of the other free to air channels usually had two games on each night.The first started round 10pm and the second about 1a.m though Japans game today started at 4a.m local time.
It also means that baseball will once again fill the television screens and media.Next week the World Cup will be but a bitter memory after the success of 2002.
It also means a welcome distraction from the rainy season and the seemingly daily murder reports involving children as either victims and perpetrators has gone.I just hope that NHK decide to screen the final on its general channel.
Finally I havent been drowning my sorrows after Japans loss.The drinks in the photo are actually fridge magnets.The tall bottle at the rear is labelled Godzilla Extra.....

Monday, June 19, 2006

Rainy Season

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Its that time of the year again when the rainy season arrives.Roughly a month or so of hot,humid weather and constant rain.
Its difficult to dry clothes and sleep,fruit like bananas cant be left out as it rots overnight and cockroaches and mosquitoes torment me.
Not my favorite time of the year in terms of climate.
However it does herald the arrival of hydrangeas or "ajisai" in Japanese as well as Japanese lillies.Both species seem to thrive in the muggy and moist conditions.Plus theres also the summer sumo tournament to look forward to next month.
Todays my last day of freedom after nearly a months break from work.Cant say I missed it,nor am I looking forward to going back...

World Cup 2006

World Cup 2006
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Well one week into the World Cup and unfortunately Japan is bottom of the Group F standings.After a 3-1 loss to Australia despite scoring the first goal and a 0-0 draw with Croatia, Japan needs to win its final game against Brazil.Not only win but they need to win by at least two goals. Much also depends on the other Group F game between Croatia and Australia.
Time-wise the games here in Japan are screened late at night.The first begins round 10pm.There are needless to say many sleep deprived,yawning people around at the moment.
In New York it was possible to watch three games during the day.The first begining round 9am the next at lunchtime and the final game was scheduled for a 3pm start.Many of the television channels in the States were covering the games.ESPN was obvivously covering all the games while others were scheduling most of them.I watched the Mexico Iran game with animated Spanish commentators who got really excited after each of Mexico's three goals.
Meanwhile in Japan the public broadcasting channel NHK isnt showing all the first round games on its free to air channel.Instead some games are shown on its BS pay for view channel.Thankfully other commerical channels are showing games as well but its still a bit of a "cut and paste" affair to see the games unless you have go to a sports bar or have satellite tv yourself.
It will be interesting to see the reaction if Japan loses its final game and is eliminated after the first round.Watching the game against Australia surrounded by Japanese fans was a sobering experience despite being in a pub.Things were upbeat if somewhat nervous as Japan led for 83 minutes.Then when things fell apart with Australia's three goal 10 minute spree the atmosphere changed completely.
There were anguished cries,sobbing and tears.Some of the fans looked truly shell-shocked...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Flash ..Strawberry Fields

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Strawberry Fields is a small garden memorial to John Lennon in Central Park.Its just across from the Dakota building where he and Yoko Ono lived and where he was shot in 1980.Its a quiet spot surrounded by trees and wooden seats.In the centre is this tiled mosaic.
The mosaic has the word "Imagine" in the middle of it and was covered with candles,notes and flowers left by fans.

New York Vacation..A Summary

Empire State Building
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Having got over the shock of returning to Nagoya in the midst of the rainy season( its currently 31 degrees and very humid) and jetlag I've had a chance to reflect about my trip to New York.
First, Im pleased I did some planning beforehand.Knowing how to get to places,say from the airport to your accomodation cuts down on time and stress particularly if you arrive later at night.
Secondly,theres no way you can see or do everything.Plan ahead and check which days things are closed or offer free entry.Some museums offer free entry on certain days.Also check what displays or special attractions are being offered.The Whitney for example didnt have all its permanent exhibitions on display.
Thirdly,dont ignore some of the smaller cheaper museums.I was impressed with both the Police and Fire Museums.There are about 15 or so museums alone in the Battery Park area so lots of choice.
Fourthly,there are many food options.A cheap breakfast for me was a cinnamon bagel($1.75) a small bottle of water ($1) and a couple of bananas ($1).For lunch a Murrays Bagel filled with meat and other fillings set me back around $5 along with a muffin($2).
Other cheap options also filling are pizza strips,large pieces cost around $2.85 each.Healthy alternatives are available you can pick and mix your own vegetable salads in many different delis and supermarkets.
Fifthly,dont forget to factor in the price of admission to museums and art galleries.Nor should you ignore a variety of free things available.I spent a relaxing day in Central Park walking and reading.Battery Park and Bryant Park are other places to chill out and relax.
Sixthly,be aware as far as accomodation is concerned you pay what you get.Chelsea International Hostel has cheap basic accomodation.
You must be prepared for small rooms,toilets that can be blocked and overflow and lines to use the toilets and showers.
While I cant blame the Hostel for the behaviour of some of my roommates it was a little noisy (the double bunks were metal framed) and hot as there was no air-conditioning in the room.I think it would be very stuffy come mid summer.
Meanwhile at $99 a night the Larchmont in Greenwich Village was much better in terms of noise and amenities though again I was required to share a toilet and shower.
Some highlights..sharing my lunch with some squirrels in Central Park,the Butterfly Conservatory at the Natural History Museum,the Museum of Modern Art,Jackson Pollack special exhibit at the Guggenheim...just walking about and recognising different landmarks such as the FlatIron Building then turning round to see the Empire State Building looming over your shoulder..
Finally I dont think New Yorkers are as gruff and unfriendly as portrayed.A quick smile usually broke the ice and most people as anywhere were prepared to answer what must seem to them stupid questions from another annoying tourist..

Ten Ways To Annoy Your Fellow Passengers

New York Vacation
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.

A quick list of ways to frustrate and annoy your fellow travellers...

1.At the security checks forget to remove all coins,keys and other metal objects from your pockets.Apologise,explaining it must be the steel plate inserted in your head.

2.Once you have found your seat after the third attempt immediately tilt it back so your head is sitting in the lap of the passenger in the row behind.Apologise,while complaining about the lack of foot room these days.

3.Once airborne select the classical or rock music channel and hum along to the tunes all the while drumming your fingers rhymthically on your adjustable tray or tapping your feet against the seat in front of you.My personal music choice either the "William Tell Overture" or Pink Floyds"Wish you were Here".

4.Exclaim loudly to the passenger beside you that you've already seen the films to be screened and they are all crap.

5.Go to the toilet just before meals or refreshments are served.Or just as the passenger beside you has been and has just sat down and readjusted their seat belt,cushion and rug.Alternatively wait till the passenger has fallen asleep.Bonus points if you do this during a period of turbulence for maximum confusion and annoyance.

6.Recommend that your fellow passengers dont try one of the available meal options as last time you had food poisoning and a bad case of diarrhoea.Ensure you speak in a loud voice so all the passengers in your section hear.
Sit back as those who have already made their selection shift uncomfortably in their seats and scramble to change their meal choice.

7.Play with the light switch above your head turning it on and off periodically to see if it still works.This is particularly effective on night flights to disturb those around you trying to sleep.
Alternatively move the window shade up and down periodically if you are in a window seat to check its still dark outside.

8.See 7) above.Play with the air vent above your head.Adjust it so it blows cold air on your fellow passengers.

9.On finding your seat immediately place both arms on the arm rests.
This is particularly important if you're in seat B or E (the centre seats) where elbow room is at a premium.

10.Inflate the airsick bag and then pop it loudly.You'll be surprised by the reaction around you particularly on a night flight.
Alternatively fill the bag with the potato or pasta salad from your meal and hand it to the flight attendant.Again bonus points are given if you do this in a period of turbulence as you gingerly try to pass the bag over the heads of your nervous looking fellow passengers..

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Leaving New York ..Never Easy..

Statue of Liberty Monument
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Well,Im back in Nagoya Japan slap bang in the middle of the rainy season.The oppressive humidity hit me as soon as I left the airplane.
Anyways a quick recap is in order...
I left the Chelsea International Hostel for the final two days of my sojourn and moved into the Larchmont Hotel in Greenwich Village.Nice to have a good bed and no inconsiderate bunkmates.Also,although the toilet and shower were shared there were no lines or clogged overflowing toilets to contend with.
The trip back to Japan was uneventful.I left the Larchmont at 4am to get to JFK Airport three hours before the flight left at 8pm.Again I took the SuperShuttle along with 8 other sleepy souls.
Security checks were strict I had to take off my shoes and was physically padded down by this burly security guy while another took a tissue towel and wiped down some of the items in my bag.
Five hour or so flight from New York to San Francisco followed by a quick one hour wait then a ten hour flight from San Francisco to Nagoya which somehow involved losing the best part of a day.

If you live on the international dateline does time stand still?Whatever blame the rainy season and jetlag for my absence.I'll do a roundup summary type thing tomorrow Friday and normal service should be resumed.
As for the photo I heard a couple of people remark as we sailed out to see the Statue of Liberty that you hardly ever see a photo of her backside.They didnt say "backside" but judging from their reactions were suitably impressed as we sailed by it...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fifty Ways To Annoy Your Hostel Roomates...

Now I know its a hostel and its cheap.You live cheek by jowl with absolute strangers who often as not dont even share the same language as you.Nor the same standards of cleanliness.Or Hygiene. Or Courtesy.
Below are some of the ways you too can annoy those sharing a typical hostel dormitory.A space the size of a typical New York prison cell.Trust me the cell in the New York Police Museum looked more acomodating than my present "digs".Come to think of it, some of the rooms in the tenement building in the Lower East Side Museum also looked more luxuriously appointed...

1.Come in late.Or Early.Round 3 a.m.Fiddle with the lock and your key for several minutes before entering the room.

2.Upon entering, make flailing attempts to locate the light switch waving your arms around in all directions.Fall over several times cursing in your native tongue.You will,it goes without saying, be somewhat inebriabated and reeking of smoke,alcohol and possibly other illegal substances.

3.Having located said light switch attempt to turn it on and off several times.

4.Empty the contents of your pockets on the floor and attempt to pick them up.Repeat the process several times.

5.Pack and unpack the contents of your suitcases and noisily unzip and zip up your backpack while attempting to find your elusive toothbrush.Repeat the process of zipping and unzipping several times.

6.If you are fortunate to be in the top bunk consider it to be your own personal trampoline.Bounce up and down several times to even out the bumpy mattress.Repeat the process several times.

7.Leap off the top bunk onto the floor ensuring your large unbathed feet come into contact with the bottom bunk to break your fall.Ignore stifled screams of bottom bunk occupier whos obviviously not a party person. Who in their right mind anyway goes to bed before 3a.m in the city that never sleeps...

8.Gargle loudly when brushing and rinsing your teeth...

9.Check your phone for the third time to see if anyone from the nightclub left you a message in the last three minutes.Repeat process several times before climbing back onto the top bunk.

10.Check that you have set your clock alarm.Repeat number 9 just in case someone left you a message in the 2 minutes since you last checked.

11.Finally thrash about for about two minutes as you adjust the blankets and pillow all the while shaking the bottom bunk and its occupier.

12.Leap from the bunk to switch off the room light which you forgot to do before you climbed up.

13.Locate your torch and shine it about the room making animal silhouettes on the walls..practice your wolf and owl cries as you make the shapes on the ceiling..
Alternatively shine the torch in the faces of the other three people in the room to check that they are asleep and arent stealing your backpack..

14.Sigh heavily and fall into a deep sonorous sleep.

15.Awake some four hours later to curse at the other occupants who have awoken and are showing a lack of consideration towards your slumbering form..

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Thursday 8 June 2006
As it was raining most of yesterday I decided to spend much of the day undercover and dry.I went on two one hour tours of a tenement building in the Lower East side of New York.The Museum has purchased a tenement building some 5 floors tall which was built in 1863 and was lived in till 1935.
Through various historical reports,government papers,relatives and descendants accounts etc the Museum has recreated rooms and apartments from the different eras e.g the 1890s and early 1900s.You get to visit an Italian family apartment and another apartment used as a tailoring shop amongst other rooms.Really interesting as the staff have photos and other records of the people who stayed in the building.
evidently some 7,000 odd people from 20 countries lived in the tenement building.It was a kind of "port of first call" and once people became established and prospered they moved on to better places such as the German dominated "Yorkville" or if you were from Italy to Brooklyn.
I'd recommend the Museum as worth a visit though the first public tours dont seem to start till 1pm and you need either to book on-line or front up at the Museum office on the day for "same day tickets"..

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Museums in Lower Manhattan

Tuesday 6 June 2006
Lower Manhattan has many small museums and points of interest which if you have time are worth checking out.Ive taken photos of each and will post when I return to Nagoya...
First up I went to the Irish Hunger Memorial which has an authentic Famine-era cottage from Ireland reconstructed on a built up site at Battery Park City.In fact the stone cottage is set up on a half-acre site which is covered in native Irish vegetation.One enters at the base of the memorial and walks through the cottage ascending a winding path ending some 25 feet above the ground with views towards the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.There are text messages layered into the base of the memorial outlining the history of the Irish Famine and the Diaspora that followed.The natural wild plantings and the stone cottage contrasted vividly with the tall buildings surrounding it.
The New York City Police Museum near South Street SeaPort Museum on Fulton Street is also worth a visit.Admission is by donation.Its suggested that adults give $5 which seems more than reasonable given whats on display.There are uniforms and videos of various police units as well as a typical old police cell,infamous criminals,weapons and a 9/11 display as well.
Mention should also be made of the New York City Fire Museum on Spring Street set in a renovated 1904 firehouse.Just like the police museum I received a friendly welcome.
Again there was the suggested $5:00 donation which I didnt begrudge.Just like the Police Museum there were displays of old equipment and uniforms.What set the museum apart were the helpful staff.Although there was no floor plan or pamphlet available explaining the exhibits,other than the notes attached to each exhibit, a staff member was available to help you and answer any questions.
Just like the Police Museum also there was a permanent 9/11 display and Memorial Room with exhibits and video.The Fire Museum had a CNN tape running silently covering the WTC tragedy and also had two computers with touch screens.I was idly looking at the various scenes when an officer showed me that the individual histories of those who lost their lives that day had been recorded alphabetically and could be downloaded.There were some 343 men who lost their lives that day.The officer showed me some of them.From high ranking officers with many years of experience and medals for individual valor and acts of bravery to a father and son who both lost their lives when the buildings collapsed.Very moving,it put a human face on the tragedy and had more of an impact rather than just seeing a wall of names honoring those who died...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Museum Muses Part 2

Monday 5th June 2006
Made it back down to Lower Manhattan today.Battery Point Park and in particular the Fulton Street Pier 17 area.The Pier 17 complex has a couple of old sailing ships and a steam tug that used to ply the Hudson and East Rivers.Theres also the usual shops and food outlets.
Also nearby is an exhibition called "Bodies".A bit on the expensive side at $24 an adult ticket but looked fascinating.It was.On display are real human bodies that have been preserved using an acetone and plasterizing rubber process.The bodies have been sliced up to reveal the various bodily systems.You can see a man sliced vertically into 6 slices and get an idea of how the various organs and systems fit and work together.Lungs, veins,arteries and nerves are also on display.You can gaze at the intricate fibres and tissues of your hand and see how your foot works.
As well as full skeletons being on display various individual organs such as the liver and heart have also been dissected giving you an inside out view.
Its a little like looking at the internal workings of a car engine once you have taken it apart.
A little ghoulish at first as you self-consciously gaze at someones stomach cavity but also riveting like passing a car accident and being unable to avert your eyes...

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Doh! A sumo slip and an Apology

Just a quick post by way of an apology to the kind reader who pointed out that I had confused the names of the salt throwing sumo wrestlers.In fact I should have written that it is Kitazakura and not Buyuzan who throws salt with such vigour at the start of each of his bouts.As I said Im just a novice observer so thanks again for the correction.I'll try to photo Kitazakura in action in the upcoming Nagoya tournament.

Meanwhile in New York I'm off to another museum.Theres a so-called museum mile along the east side of Central Park.I've only been to a couple of them.There are probably enough to keep one going for years...

Museums Musings.

Friday 2nd June 2006
First up an apology for the erratic posts.I put this down to the slow computers at the hostel Im in and also the price.Its $1 for 10minutes and as it takes about 4 minutes to load this page even before writing a new post its just not worth it.I should have lugged my laptop over to New York with me.Seems looking round that internet cafe prices vary and that what Im paying here is average.
Anyways the last couple of days have been really hot here and Ive been concentrating on the middle part of Manhattan.I spent about 3 days looking round Battery Point and Little Italy before turning my attention towards mid Manhattan.
Yesterday,Thursday I ventured into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the east side of Central Park.There were some massive Jackson Pollack paintings on display as well as Monet and VanGogh.What I like about American galleries is that you can get up really close to the paintings and sculptures.You can take photos as well as long as you dont use the flash and people are allowed to sit and draw and sketch.

However my favorite place so far has to be the Butterfly Conservatory in the Natural History Museum which is on the west side of Central Park.You pay $6 extra on top of the $15 admission fee but its money well spent as colorful,exotic butterflies flutter past you or even alight on you if one remains still for long enough.
The rest of the Natural History Museum has many dioramas,dinosaur skeletons,a walkthrough rain forest and a great Maritime room complete with life scale Blue Whale hanging from the ceiling.

Private Lives/Public Knowledge
Again Im struck as I wrote earlier by how impersonal this city seems yet at the same time you can hear people saying the most personal things out loud as they pass you on their cellphones or to their"He`s such a bitch" or "I dont trust the babysitter" or one of my favorites."Im working on a script for TV but decided it was too good so am going to pitch it to Fox"

The weather broke last night after a fairly violent outburst of thunder and lightning and again today around 4pm the skies opened and rain bounced knee high off the pavement.The temperature dropped from 83degrees Fahrenheit down to 68degrees in a matter of 10 minutes or so and made for a far more comfortable night to sleep.
Theres no air conditioning in the small four bed bunkroom also the toilet on our floor has a propensity to overflow while the floor in the shower dips in the middle meaning the water tends to pool in the middle.Hardly first class accomodation but you get what you pay for...