Monday, June 30, 2008

Rainy Season Blues

It finally felt the rainy season had arrived last week.There were continual heavy showers between bouts of high humidity.The remains of Typhoon Six,now downgraded to a tropical depression,pelted down adding to the seasonal rainfall for the month.
One can never have too many umbrellas at this time of year.

Book Review..The Pound

The Pound. David Sinclair.Arrow Books.2001.286 pages.

David Sinclair's book traces the history of the British currency from the dim days of Anglo-Saxon England to the advent of the Euro and the global economy.
As with language,several rulers over the centuries used it to unify the nation.Many also used the currency as a way to raise finance,revenue,taxes and capital.Queen Elizabeth,for example,issued coins six times as a defence against the inflation,wars and rebellions she faced.
As well as being a readable description of the rise and decline of the currency the author also explains economic terms and principles in easy to understand laypersons terms.My eyes didnt glaze over as Gresham's Law or the Gold Standard were explained.

I did note that the author is somewhat dismissive of the Euro .."it is likely to prove an expensive irrelevance"pg 280 and further down the same page "In its way the European single currency is nothing more than an extension of the existing national currencies".
On the final page writing about the future of the pound(pg286)"It would probably be foolish to replace it with the euro,even in the unlikely event that the single currency did manage to survive all the pitfalls awaiting it".
The author can probably be forgiven these comments bearing in mind they are now some eight years or so old.The world has changed markedly.It would be interesting to see what Sinclair thinks now of the euro and whether he has changed his mind about adopting it or not.
While his comments about the recent history of the pound and euro are somewhat redundant,I would still recommend this book as the earlier sections on the origins and growth of the pound remain relevant.

New Cake Selections

Two more new cake selections from my local bakery/patisserie.

The first features a buttery,flaky pastry that crumbles nicely as one bites into the surrounding creamy filling.It reminded me of a slice of mille feuille,a traditional French dessert.

The second photo shows what I believe is a small fresh fruit dessert consisting of slices of white peach.At least thats what I took the label to have read.
The slices of peach encase a smooth filling and the whole thing sits on a thick brown caramel shortbread biscuit.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Flash..Concrete Mount Fuji

Ive only recently noticed how frequently these concrete Mount Fuji structures appear in small local parks.The slopes are quite steep and difficult to climb.Some have rocks embedded into them and dont appear to be that child friendly should you lose your grip and fall.
Often painted in garish hues they add a splash of colour to what is often a desolate grassless area frequented by crows and homeless people.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Review..The Story of French

The Story of French. Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.
St Martin's Griffin.2006.450 pages and appendices.

This book is divided into four parts.It attempts to trace the origin,spread,adaptation and changes of the French language.And pretty much succeeds in doing that.
I found the chapters on the spread of the language to Africa and North America very interesting.There are also some thought provoking remarks on the rise of cultural diplomacy and soft power in later chapters dealing with the language adapting to post 1945 conditions.
"Of course like religion and ideology,language can contribute to(or detract from) a country's influence in traditional spheres such as diplomacy.Japan is the world's second economic power,yet its language (like its religion) has little influence,making Japan's overall influence in the world weaker."pgs 285,286.

The book contains a lot of facts and figures and information I'd never given much thought to or even heard of.Case in point is an organisation known as the Francophonie ,described in Chapter 16 as "often compared to the British Commonwealth"pg 339.Its a group of 53 nations organised on the basis that they share the French language.
Another example can be found on pg35 where the authors note the bad characters in Harry Potter had "names that are clearly inspired by Old French or that have a French etymology: Malfoy(bad faith),Voldemort(flight of death),Lestrange(stranger)".

All in all,if you are even vaguely interested in languages or if you ever wondered why people in Belgium,Senegal and Quebec speak French or pondered how languages evolve this book provides some answers.

The contents of a snack pack I found in the bargain bin of my local convenience store.While the majority of the snacks are rice based and crunchy,others contain seaweed or a fishy component and are quite hot and spicy.They go well with beer or other liquid refreshments at this time of year.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Flash..A Few More Tram and Subway Museum Photos

Just a few more shots from the Nagoya Tram and Subway Museum I recently visited.The first shows a bogie and wheels.

The second picture shows the model train layout as described in my last post.Prominent buildings in Nagoya are featured such as the JR Central Towers and the TV Tower amongst others.
The final photo shows a small model of one of the vehicles that is on display in the Museum.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nagoya Tram and Subway Museum

I visited the Nagoya Tram and Subway Museum earlier in the week.Its near Akaike subway station on the Tsuramai Line.Theres a wall map at the station.The museum is basically a block behind the station.Turn right as you leave Exit 2.Walk straight down the hill.At the end of the street turn right and head towards the traffic lights and Route 153.At the intersection cross the road and turn right.You should be heading up the hill on Route 153.Theres a big sign indicating the museum over the traffic lanes.

There are four old tram and subway cars on display in the Museum.In the middle of the display hall there are a number of computer and interactive displays which proved popular with the noisy throngs of kids present.
Another drawcard was the large model railway based loosely on Nagoya.There were model buildings of JR Central Towers and Nagoya TV Tower around which model shinkansen trains circled endlessly.
With their noses and fingers pressed firmly against the display glass an employee was constantly wiping the surfaces clean.
The photo above shows the interior of one car.It had a shiny wooden floor and seemed quite spacious.

I quite liked the yellow paintwork on this car.It certainly is distinctive and must have stood out.

Outside the Museum are two huge drill bits that were used in the excavation of the subway tunnels.Below is a closer look at the business end of the drills.
While the kids seemed to enjoy themselves its not really a place to linger unless you are a trainspotter type.There were no English language signs or labels.Nor did it seem there were any pamphlets in English or other languages on hand.
On the plus side entry to the Museum is free.
Check their website for more

Tropical Cake

I thought this would be a cherry flavoured slice of sponge cake judging from the colour.How wrong I was.Its not in fact sponge cake at all.More of a jelly or custard.Hidden inside is the best part of a whole mango.Very sweet and juicy.Slices of mango decorate the top along with slivers of chocolate and a solitary strawberry.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Flash..Haagen Dazs Sorbets

I saw these new additions to the Haagen Dazs ice cream range in a local convenience store during the week.
According to my battered Oxford Dictionary "sorbet" is defined as "a water ice".
The Wild Apple Sorbet certainly meets that definition being crisp,light and watery.My spoon easily cut through the thin texture.Upon pulling back the plastic cover,one is greeted with a fragrant apple smell which lingered even after the contents had been eaten.Its hard to describe the wild apple taste.A little tart and a little sweet at the same time.Not all bitter like a Granny Smith apple nor wholly sweet.Worth a second look for its refreshing light taste.
The contents of the Alphonso Mango Sorbet is thicker than that of the Wild Apple Sorbet and didnt yield as easily to my spoon.More like ice cream than a sorbet.I found the vivid orange yellowy colour also detracted from my enjoyment.As for the flavour it was certainly mango.It goes without saying whether you like the sorbet depends on how well you like mangos.
Personally I dont think Id bother again.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Irises in Tsuramai Park

Away from the noise and bustle of Tsuramai Station and behind the band rotunda one can find some iris beds.Somewhat sunken,sheltered and shaded by surrounding trees the flowers are at their best at the moment.

While the majority of blooms are various shades of white,blue and purple,one of the smaller beds contains some yellow flowers.I have no idea who the woman on the bench is in the photo but she did pose obligingly.

Despite the fact it was fairly early in the morning,round 9am,the flowers seemed to be a magnet for defecating dogs,careening cyclists,who sped through the area apparently oblivious to those on foot and old men carting their cameras,tripods and photo equipment.
I was somewhat amused to see one elderly gentleman using what appeared to be a light meter before positioning his tripod and camera.I dont know if theres a photographic equivalent to penis envy but I was impressed by some of the equipment that was being used.Large and small zoom lenses and bulky bags filled with old film rolls. It put my small Sony Cybershot literally in the shade.If anything it pushed me further towards buying a better camera.

A Few More Local House Photos.

A couple of other homes that caught my eye while I wandered around last week.You have to remember that they arent in the middle of nowhere in rural Japan.Both are a five minute walk from a newly built Meitetsu rail station in a built up area.

This is the side view of a rambling wooden house.Again you can see the exposed earthen interior walls.I like the fact that despite its unkempt condition there is still a satellite dish and air conditioner unit which appears to be working.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Flash..Rainy Season Flowers

Tsuyu or the month long summer rainy season begun earlier in the week according to weather officals.Hydrangeas and irises in particular seem to thrive at this time of year and make the most of the abundant moisture available.

The two photos above were taken at Tsuramai Park near where I live in Nagoya.There are a number of sunken iris beds in Tsuramai Park planted with a variety of irises.Leading up to the irises beds,paths are flanked with hydrangea bushes flush with blooming heads in stark contrast to the gloomy grey skies overhead.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Photos of a local Neighbourhood.

Ive been working the last couple of weeks at a new school.About fifteen minutes from the main business area of Nagoya.Its serves as a dormitory suburb for the masses of black suited workers who daily invade and retreat from the city.
Its pretty indistinguishable from and typical of other sprawling housing areas.
The housing is a mix of older small detached houses and newly built multi-storied apartment buildings.Theres a mixture of old style lean to constructions and modern designed units sitting cheek by jowl.All random and unplannned.Huge towerblocks casting their five o'clock shadows on their frail,smaller neighbours.

The older house above still seems to be lived in.Im not sure that its habitable given the holes in the walls and the general state of disrepair.It appears to be built in a traditional manner.Wooden and hardened earth or clay.Many of the older houses have heavy ceramic tiles on their roofs.

There are many narrow lanes and walkways through the area.I imagine given the lack of street lighting that it would be quite easy to get lost at night in the maze of paths.

This is another shot showing the poor access and close proximity of houses to one another.It would be easy for a fire to spread quickly and even engulf buildings opposite.At the same time getting vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines to such areas would be difficult.

The final photo shows a building again seemingly still occupied but in a state of considerable decay.The exterior surface of white plaster has gone exposing the hardened earth or clay layer beneath.As a result this layer has been weathered and damaged.There is no glass in the window cavity.Instead a wooden shutter provides some barrier to the elements.
The house has been built of materials that you can see in many similar older constructions namely corrugated iron,timber,clay and plaster.
The roof again has traditional heavy ceramic tiles.In the case of this building the tiles have been wired together possibly to prevent them falling off in the event of an earthquake or typhoon.