Archive for December, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all that celebrate out there, that celebrate the holiday for what it is, for the children, for the time off from work, or just as an excuse for some consumerist behavior.


This Blue Jay decided not to fly South this year…with the almost freezing temperatures recently, I’m sure he is regretting that decision now


A hotel in downtown Charleston had a nice rail setup that was too large to photograph in my mobile phone.  Liam enjoyed watching the train go round the track and through the mountain.


Our humble three this year

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bei Rosenthaler Platz


So I am a Public Agent and don’t know who I work for, get my instructions from street signs, newspapers and pieces of conversation I snap out of the air the way a vulture will tear entrails from other mouths.

– William S. Burroughs



Viva Berlin!

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Back in Japan

The plane touched down at about 15:00 in Narita, and after 14 hours of flight I was happy to be on the ground.  The ride was turbulent from the outer-lying island chain off of Hokkaido all of the way into Narita.  Narita is notorious for turbulence around the airport, and unfortunately since I am always flying from the East Coast of the US, I’ll probably never be able to fly into Haneda (only Honolulu and Los Angeles for now).  There was no line in immigration and an agent was there to direct us to the correct place and made sure I filled out my foreigner form completely.  The immigration officials were very polite and professional, and after getting photographed and finger-printed, I was on my way to baggage and customs.  Our flight must have been full of transfers, because like immigration, the baggage claim was empty and an ANA employee had stacked our luggage on a cart for us.  No way Delta or United would have offered such a nest gesture.  The customs agent was also very polite too, what a change from arriving in the US where everyone is harassed and greeted with contempt.

After exiting customs it was only then that I realized I was back in Japan.  The volume of people was intense, and I had to swerve pushing the luggage cart to make it through the dense crowd.  Along the way were hired drivers in gray trousers, navy jackets and white gloves on their hands.  They stood with a stiff stance, lightly swaying and waiting for their client.  Though it was only mildly cold outside, everyone was dressed for a Canadian winter with the still-popular bubble jackets.  The old VISA ATM that I always used to obtain some currency was no longer in the airport, but luckily my wife had some currency in her purse from the last trip.

We were just in time to get the next Airport Limousine–a bus, not a limousine–to Kawagoe station where my wife’s family would meet us.  We piled onto the bus and grabbed a set of empty seats in the middle.  The bus pulled away from the curb and within minutes was on the highway heading towards Tokyo.  Liam fell asleep immediately, which I was grateful for as I could look out the window and admire the old-style Japanese houses built by the side of the hills so as not to take up any precious land for rice farming.  It being mid-December, of course the fields were laid to rest.  Modern Japanese homes don’t look like this anymore, they look like anything you would see in Europe these days, and in fact they looked similar to many of the modern homes I saw in the Czech Republic.  The bus was steaming with the heater blasting at high levels, and even as the sun set and it grew dark, the bright lights of the bus interior were still kept lit.  I had forgotten that the Japanese like to keep their environments very bight and very warm.

The Wangan highway (湾岸高速度) was a parking lot, nothing unusual for a weekday around 17:00.  I had slept about ten hours in the past seventy two hours and my eyes were heavy.  I cannot sleep in moving vehicles so I kept dosing off in five minute intervals, waking up to see we’re still inching along Wangan highway.  The highway sits tall above Tokyo and I was nervous being able to look out the window of the bus and see I’m well above the guard rail.  Below were lots of small buildings, residential and commercial, and the streets were bustling with cars.  If there are zoning laws in Tokyo, I would love for someone to explain the system behind it some day.  Highways in Tokyo and Saitama are amazing in that you are almost flying over the land at a low altitude, like a bird except these annoying walls keep blocking your view and your are moving slowly.  North Tokyo and Saitama are very blue-collar and working class areas, so different from the parts of Tokyo that most tourists and international business travelers see during their visits.  Out of the other window I could see  the Arakawa river (荒川), which stretches all the way back into Saitama where I am much more familiar with it.  Tall condominiums lined the river bank in Sumida ward (墨田区), Taito ward (台東区) and into Saitama’s North ward (埼玉県北区).

Wangan highway became Shuto highway (首都高速度) in Kawaguchi (川口市), which then became Gaikan highway (外環高速度) in Saitama’s South ward and Toda city (戸田市).  We used to drive all over these highways and in the cities below and the memories started to flood into my head.  We crossed Arakawa river into Wakoshi (和光市) and Oizumi Gakuen (大泉学院) where we once lived for a short time while I worked the worst professional job I ever had in my life with a weird ex-IBM guy’s company that was like a little mafia.  Needless to say my opinion of IBM’s standards in Japan was a lot lower after working for that guy.  The weekends were nice when I was not at work, however, especially in autumn.  The bus pulled off of Gaikan and onto Kanetsu Highway (関越高速度) that takes you all the way into the mountains in Saitama and Gunma prefectures, along the way taking you through Kawagoe, our destination, and Sakado, the first city I worked in and still feel–oddly enough–nostalgia.

As the bus pulled off of the highway and onto national route 16 I was struck by how small the road lanes were compared to the southeastern US.  All of the restaurants and small companies I had seen along this road the hundreds of times I had drive up and down it were still there.  The newspapers always say that the economic situation in Japan is so dire, but from the outside I could not tell that.  Route 16 was more crowded than my wife and I could ever recall, and the restaurants looked packed with customers.  Some of the small business looked as if they had even expanded, but perhaps I recall the place differently.  I was struck at how many neon signs and flashing lights were in my immediate view and in my periphery.  It can never be dark in the metropolis.

The bus pulled into the taxi and bus pool at Kawagoe station’s west exit.  I lived a short walk away from this entrance, and to my delight my old barber shop was still in business.  All of the watering holes were still there as well as the coffee shops.  After stepping off the bus and gathering our luggage, I was again shocked at all of the people.  My wife and I were wondering why it was so crowded at the usually calm Kawagoe station, but then we remembered that it was Friday night, and it was bonenkai (忘年会) season, the time for end-of-the-year employee parities.

We piled our luggage into my sister-in-law’s car and ourselves into my mother-in-law’s car and were off to their home.  This was an unplanned trip for a family emergency, so I would not be doing any sight-seeing or traveling.  I was mainly there to help Liam get through his jet-lag and look after him so the family could focus on other matters.  I would also be waking early to work remotely so that I didn’t fall to far behind schedule on my work projects.  I was able to get in a few good walks around the neighborhood and to make it to a few of my old haunts.

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10,000 meters

Ten thousand meters above Winnipeg, it is hard to even fathom the idea of ten thousand meters.


If I fell from ten thousand meters, would I even hear anything?


If I fell from ten thousand meters, would the clouds catch me?
Would I bounce off the clouds like on a soft mattress?


How long would it take for me to hit the clouds?
Would I be able to walk on the clouds, or swim in the clouds?


If I fell from ten thousand meters, would I continue to fall through the clouds and would I get wet?

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I have to stop reading the news…

Some days when I read the news I want to move to a cabin in the mountains and just live off of the land.

The first news item is the Virginia federal judge ruling against the health care reform bill.  When the Democrats caved into Republican will and threw out the public option, I had a feeling deep down that this was going to happen somewhere down the road.  I did not expect it within a year, however.  We pay social security and medicare in the USA at the federal level, and to mandate health insurance I have always believed it would need to be at the federal level.  This capitulation to the free-market demagogues could end up being costly, especially with the demagogues riding into Washington next year.  I suppose we’ll just have to see how this plays out, it is too early to tell or know if it will amount to much.

The second item that just made my day was to see that Ozawa avoided a “censure” like motion, and has taken it as a confidence booster and is going after PM Kan yet again.  Ozawa is the like the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you can cut his arms and legs off and he keeps coming back.  How dirty the money is that you just cannot get rid of this thug!

The final note is somewhat positive, but still depressing.  The article is about US manufactures trying to export their goods and services abroad.  The two businesses in this article are just what everyone in government is preaching about–exporting US products and services.  As the article explains, while foreign governments actually work in company with exporters, the US government serves as an obstacle. Wake up girls and boys, in this day and age of global trade networks, time is everything.  With government-backed mercantilism taking the stage, western governments better be careful about all of their non-action and free-market rhetoric before they are left behind.

Perhaps I should give up my newspapers and news sites for poetry?

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Charlotte Japan Festival 2010

This worked for the last video, so here I go again. The beginning of the video clip is part of the performance by Matsuriza, a drum group based in Florida I believe(http://www.matsuriza.com/). I don’t remember who the singer is in the last half of the video.

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Commuter Rail Japan

Commuter Rail Japan

Originally uploaded by Watson&Holmes

I tried to post this earlier, but had issues. Now I’m trying directly through Flickr. Here is my simple video of the Seibu Shinjuku line.

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Any regrets?

While I usually awake at 07:00, today I rolled over and went back to sleep until 10:00..I suppose yesterday really was a long day.  So I decided to make brunch this morning, and after looking in the cupboard and finding a bag of glass noodles, I decided on Japchae (雜菜), a Korean noodle dish.  While cooking Japchae, I was reminded that after living in Japan for five years, I never made it to Korea for even a brief trip.

I know that I thought about it from time to time.  I used to pick up the travel brochures at the train station advertising four-night, three-day packages to Seoul for about US$300 (airfare and lodging included).   I remember one time even planning to go, but due to my visa and employment status at the time, my wife and I were worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back into Japan upon return.  I suppose the primary reason for not going were my employers, Japanese corporations are absolutely stingy about time off.  The other problem was that Korea was so close and I always thought I’d get there someday, but then time somehow disappeared.

I seriously regret that I didn’t visit Korea, however.  Though on the face modern Seoul looks a lot like modern Tokyo, I still would have liked to see Seoul, and I would have loved the “night market” style restaurants on the streets.  I would have liked to visit Seoul in the winter, walking around the city just to get a glimpse of what life in Seoul is like, taking in all of the Hangul everywhere, and when getting too cold, stopping by a small restaurant and warming up to some spicy Korean food.

With Savannah just two hours away, I should probably make a trip and try to see, because when life changes happen, they happen fast and time flies, and before you know it you’ve missed your window of opportunity.

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