Thursday, November 30, 2006

Twelve Random Thoughts on Travel...

Florence Italy
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Some musing from my recent experiences in no particular order..

1.Try to fly mid week or at times when most other people dont.For example leaving Hong Kong for Rome at 12:25 a.m Thursday meant the plane was only a third full.Lots of room to stretch out and relax.
If possible try to straddle months when flying e.g the end of one month and the start of the next thus avoiding the same cycle of Dido music and Adam Sandler movies...

2. Check the opening and closing times and days carefully.Often they are illogical.Why do the gardens in Pisa close at 1:30 pm?Why is the English Cemetery in Florence closed on Saturdays?
Do the plants and trees need a rest?Nor is it likely that the residents of the graveyard have any pressing engagements elsewhere..

3.Try to be culturally sensitive.You're in Europe not America so stop bitching that the small Italian trattoria doesnt serve turkey on Thanksgiving Day and then storm out to find the nearest McDonalds

4.There seems a paradox operating regarding language.At first it appears useful to learn and memorise phrases like "I dont speak Italian" in the local lingo.However once you recite this phrase in your halting,unnatural manner the hearer seems to undergo some epiphany and greet you as some long lost relative fully conversant with the native language.

5.Take a ziploc bag or a big clear resealable plastic bag.Security checks in EU countries still require at the time of writing things such as gels,toothpaste,perfume and other liquids to be put into these bags.Also the maximum size was restricted to 100 fluid mls which meant I had to dump some shaving cream cans.

6.Keep some small change handy for public toilets.The "going" rate appears to be round .60 euros so you dont have to be flush with funds.You dont want to be caught short...
On the subject of toilet paper, a sensitive issue,it may be worth bringing your own roll.I found the European varieties more abrasive and not as soft as Im used to...

7.There appears no basis that doors open left or right according to which side of the equator you happen to be on..

8.Wear clean underwear.Should your pants fall around your knees having removed your belt at the security check, you dont want to be treated as a social pariah for the rest of the flight.

9.Be wary of scams,pickpockets and tricksters.The most blatant will approach and ask outright " Do you have 1 Euro?" or "Can you speak English?".
Then theres also the more elaborate,cunning ploy of dropping a worthless silver ring beside you.This is followed by "Is this your ring?" in the expectation you will give them some reward or donation.
My best advice is to studiously ignore all three and feign deafness.
My favorite con though is the seemingly friendly local who approaches unsuspecting couples and offers to take a photo of them in front of a church,statue or monument.Having been naively handed their expensive camera the con artist calmly strides off and is lost in the crowded masses.Leaving behind a gobsmacked,incredulous pair.

10.Be careful how you answer any onboard inflight questionaires.
Replies such as "I like to fly blah blah Airlines because it hasnt had a plane hijacked since 1946" or "I like to sit near the wing because its the safest place in the event of a crash" could arouse some suspicion from the flight crew.

11.Dining alone can have its benefits.In the case of crowded restaurants and long queues waiters will often in my experience "bump up" individual diners ahead of large parties.I found this particularly true of smaller popular places.There is also the added bonus you'll end up sitting beside another interesting solo diner or thrown into the midst of a large friendly group.

12.Finally,at check ins as well as offering an option of window or aisle seats, airlines should also offer the choice of left or right handed passengers to sit beside.One advantage of this would be to alleviate territorial arm rest disputes.Another would be that I would get an unobstructed view of my meal should I choose a left handed passenger and avoid any rib injuries as we ate in our cramped economy seats...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Friends,Romans and Marmots

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Just a quick note.Got back to Nagoya yesterday Tuesday at 5pm.About 15 hours from Rome to Nagoya not including transits at Taiwan and Hong Kong airports.
The papier mache course in Florence was alot of fun.The food there was terrific.I made it up to Pisa and did a tour of a villa used in a couple of movies just above Florence.
The photo shows my travelling companion in Rome posing with a friendly local.He had a great time.Almost blown off the Leaning Tower by the wind, getting searched and patted down for drugs at Hong Kong airport and x-rayed at Nagoya Airport by the local Customs officials.
More details and photos later..

Monday, November 13, 2006

Brief Break

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I'll be out of the country and away from the whiteboard over the next two weeks or so.I managed to organise a quick vacation in Italy.

More specifically I'm going to participate in a week long papier mache course in Florence.Run by Italian Professor Agostino and his daughter Alice, I'm eager to learn more skills in this artform and also complete a mask.Check out the website

Bookended between the start and end of the course Im also hopefully if somewhat ambitiously trying to fit in a day trip to Pisa and some tours of local villas in Tuscanny.I've also earmarked several restaurants I want to visit.

The pension Im staying at has been renovated since I last visited in 2003 so it will be interesting to see the changes.It advertises free internet connections in each room.At first I was tempted to take my trusty ibook G4 halfway across the world.On reflection,having to lug it through the airports and checks at Nagoya,Hong Kong and Rome doesnt seem that appealing so it'll stay put here in Nagoya.
Consequently this will probably be the last post till early December when I drag my jetlagged body back home and to work on Thursday 30th November.

Odds and Suds

Naturally Clean Soap
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I bought this three pack of soap over the weekend.I was intrigued by the label it bore."Naturally clean soap".Im uncertain if its a selling point or just something you,the purchaser,take for granted.
On an unrelated point I received a pamphlet in the mail advertising a new hair salon.Not of itself unusual.Except the name."Pig Shave".
It hardly conjures up a positive image.I cant see the LV bag wielding women of Nagoya bearing down emasse to a place bearing this name.Maybe.
A quick search seems to show that a pigshave is a butchery term and quite possibly and more relevantly a kind of short haircut akin to a crew cut.
Just think of all the pejorative words and phrases associated with pigs such as "piggy","pigsty" or "pig out" and I for one wonder why such a title was chosen.Nice ..shame about the name.

Last Grand Sumo Tournament of 2006

The last sumo tournament of the year kicked off in Fukuoka,Kyushu yesterday.
Lone yokozuna Asashoryu is odds on favourite to win his nineteeth Emperors Cup.Hakuho,his most consistent challenger,has withdrawn due to a broken toe sustained in training.

I'm looking forward to see how Kaio will fare in front of his home crowd.Having withdrawn last basho due to an injury he is again fighting to save his ozeki rank status.He needs eight or more wins or he gets demoted.At 34 years old and with recurring back problems if he fails for the tenth time to stay up some pundits are saying he will retire.
Other wrestlers I'll be watching include Baruto, who like Kaio withdrew last tourney and dropped five positions, and Kotooshu, another ozeki who has changed the kanji of his name and put on some extra weight to improve his chances.He enters the contest at 150kg still the lightest ozeki but about 4kg heavier than Asashoryu.Of course at 2.03 metres he has a height advantage over Asa who stands at 1.84 metres.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Flash..Uncoy Koi

Japanese Koi 2
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Last Sunday morning I cycled down to Shirotori Koen.An oasis of spongy lawn and ponds.There are some 1,500 trees within the grounds.Too early yet for them to be sporting fully their fall finery.
Late November or early December would be better.
The overfed koi(carp) were eagerly elbowing and barging each other greedily as green fish pellets rained down on them from visitors fifty yen cups.
Slurping,gulping noisily.Their scales reflecting the color of the leaves above them.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2006

FAE 2006
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The Foreign Artists Exhibition wound up last night round 5pm.There were the usual scenes of bedlam as artists feverishly packed and stored away their exhibits before the presentation of certificates and a small party that followed.
I went along on Friday afternoon as I did last year but much less apprehensive.As with last year I again met some interesting people.Among them was Ron,who had on display some of the nail art that his two shops in Nagoya produce.Of particular note was a set that won a major competiton in L.A.They were a blue and orange colour and the two thumbs made up two halves of a devil-like creature.

I also met Sarah Milburn.She had on display some eye-catching photos.
Her website is
Well worth a look for some interesting shots.
Also I was pleased to meet Kirsty and her boyfriend John.Kirsty had some graphic/computer art on display including a flying pig which she was kind enough to give me a copy of.
All in all judging from the comments in my book most people understood the message behind my exhibit.It was interesting both on Friday and yesterday watching peoples reactions to it.Most wanted to touch it which wasnt something Id thought about beforehand.
Now Ive just got to work out what to do with 2,400 glued together packets of tissues and what Im going to display next year..maybe a giant pair of wooden chopsticks to make people aware of the waste of timber...umm who knows

Go-the very best of Moby

Go-the very best of Moby
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
This album was released here in Japan last week.I was pleased because I managed to finally get "Porcelain" which appears on "The Beach" soundtrack.Also on the 15 track cd is one of my favorite Moby songs "In this world".One of those songs that lodges itself in the back of your skull and refuses to disappear.
Theres a collaboration with Debbie Harry on "New York New York".Not another remake of Frank Sinatras song but his own take on that city.The last track is "Slipping Away" with Mylene Farmer singing in French.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I noticed this week on the shelves of my local convenience store a couple of new boxes of KitKat products.
Each box contains sixteen bite sized kitkats.Selected by Patissier Takagi.Apparently famous.Though no-one Ive asked knows him.
The pink ones are strawberry flavoured with pistachio,almond and thyme ingredients.
The green ones are green tea flavoured.According to the box they contain Ujimaccha,Kinako and Ume.
Ujimaccha, Ive been unreliably informed, is green tea from a famous green tea area near Kyoto.Kinako is ground or powdered soya beans.And ume is plum.
Im not sure how long they will be on sale.Only fleetingly,like other seasonal confectionery,chips and snack food...