my2cents

2. July, 2008

Dining where Mariah Carey once sat

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 21:39

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

While in Fukuoka, Japan, I went out twice with my couchsurfing.com friends Sachiko and Kotoe. One night they took me to a tepanyaki restaurant called “Umakamontei” close to Tenjin.

Dinner with Sachiko and Kotoe

Ok, the food is just uuuhhh, ahhh, soooo delicious; one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Japan. However, what sets this restaurant apart from millions of others is that back in 2005 US singer Mariah Carey had dinner there with her entourage. Since she arrived with some 40 people about a dozen had to wait in front of the door because the restaurant is rather small. Traveling with stars has its downsides…

A blogger has a wonderful set of pictures of that place. If you can handle Japanese Google maps you might be interested in the restaurant’s location (second floor).

23. June, 2008

My first unauthorized biography

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 14:22

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

At Asahi Nihongo in Fukuoka each Friday students must deliver a short speech/presentation for fellow students and teachers to show their Japanese has improved (or not ;-)) over the course of the past week. Last Friday Mikel opted to tell everybody and especially myself who I really am.

So, since Mikel does not have the Japanese character sets installed on his computer he actually drew all the characters with his mouse. Impressive! Also, he invested a fair amount of time to draw some nice images for the presentation in MS Paint. All this just for me…

Everybody in the audience was stunned. But see for yourself.

12. June, 2008

Thoughts about closeness and private space

Filed under: Japan 2008,Life,Travelling — frightanic @ 16:41

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

I think the Japanese have a split relationship to closeness and private space. Some thoughts:

  • It is rather uncommon for Japanese couples to openly demonstrate affection for each other in public. Teenagers walking hand-in-hand is about all you ever see – if at all. Of course, it’s a cultural “thing” that also manifests itself by not shaking hands for example. Maintaining private space is important.
  • On most train/subway rides during rush hour that very private space is obscenely violated. You stand chest to back or back to back with total strangers. The fact that some men abuse this closeness to get their hands on “female body parts that are taboo for strangers” is only the sick culmination of this development (there are designated women-only coaches now).
  • I recently visited a Toastmasters meeting in Fukuoka, Japan. One of the members, a young lady who works at Fukuoka’s international university, talked about her upcoming “Global Communication” speech. She complained about foreigners invading her private space when talking to her. Japanese keep a certain distance respecting each others private space even in a face to face conversation. That lady stated that foreigners often stood too close to her during a conversation or that they kept their face too close to hers. I can see that there’s indeed a need to talk about global communication. A very interesting observation; I wish I would still be around to hear her speech.
  • Also in Japanese Onsens there isn’t much privacy. While men and women are separated (except for family onsens) everybody is naked in an onsen. After all, one of its main purposes was to clean your body. That was back then when one didn’t have running water and showers in each and every household. So, a few or a few dozen total strangers share the same cubicles to wash themselves and relax in the same couple of pools with hot water – all naked. Where’s the desire for private space here?

5. June, 2008

Funny battle of the sexes in Japanese

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 15:56

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

When learning kanji tutors usually explain the real and assumed meaning of the series of strokes. In more sophisticated kanjis you’ll find a number of individual radicals combined. Each of them has a meaning of its own. This sometimes makes for funny twists. Here’s one such hilarious sample:

The kanji for cheap/convenient

consists of house and woman 女. Meaning: having a woman in the house is cheap and convenient.

Then the women, however, stroke back. The kanji for (ex)change

consists of twice the kanji for husband 夫 and one kanji for day/sun 日. Hence, changing the husband twice a day…

Why do Japanese live so long?

Filed under: Japan 2008,Life,Travelling — frightanic @ 10:10

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

Up until now I was more or less convinced that electro magnetic fields/radiation (EMF/EMR) do no good to “living creatures” (humans, animals, plants). I couldn’t fully justify this believe with rational arguments only, though – bad for an engineer like myself. The internet is full of EMF/EMR articles for example at WHO, Wikipedia EMF, or Wikipedia EMR.

Living in Switzerland I’m not used to seeing a lot of electrical wiring hanging above people’s heads in cities. Most of it is nicely tucked away in underground channels and tubes. Whether they’re isolated is a different question of course. I want to believe so…

Should EMF/EMR indeed harm your body then why is life expectancy in Japan so high? Buildings in their cities span a tense net of wires that seem both chaotically arranged and unstable. Shouldn’t the Japanese all be fried alive with so much bad energy around them? Does the fact that they’re not suggest that EMF/EMR is harmless?

The following picture was taken from right outside my bedroom in Fukuoka, Japan …

4. June, 2008

Blending-in in Japan

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 11:10

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

Blending-in in Japan? Well, you don’t; you can’t. Even in major cities, you don’t get to see foreigners all too often. You still might get starred at by kids. They either giggle at you because you seem to be funny looking for them or they just stare with their mouths wide open.

Ridding the subway or local express trains in the morning is a wonderful time for philosophical thoughts about this culture – I won’t reveal mine here. Why time for philosophy? Because the wagon is so jam-packed that there is simply no room for anything else but standing there, arms tight to your torso. Then you try to sleep as the Japanese do, stare out the window if you can (might not see a window at all), or let your mind and/or eyes wander.
During the brief stop at the next stop there’s some shuffling among the passengers, but one thing is for certain: there’s always room for one more person, and another one, and yet another, … After all, that’s just how you yourself got washed aboard.

This morning I tried to capture with my small digital camera how it is to arrive in swarms at the terminal station. First this:

Fukuoka, Tenjiin station during the arrival of trains

Then two minutes later after a train has just arrived:
Fukuoka, Tenjiin station after the arrival of another train

1. June, 2008

Japan, here I am again

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 15:25

This blog now resides at http://www.frightanic.com/. It will be discontinued here…

This is the first in a series of posts over the next four weeks about my language studies in Fukuoka, Japan.

Some eight months ago I decided that in order to really push forward my somewhat limited Japanese skills I needed to spend a few weeks in Nippon without my wife – she’s Japanese. Besides, giving each other a lot of room unconditionally is in our opinion a key ingredient to a healthy relationship. Nonetheless, as happy as my head felt on departure day as sad my heart was. After all, I’m not “just” married, but happily married to the core.

So, here I am again. Immersing myself in a culture that is so fundamentally different from what we westerns are familiar with.

As always, flying to Japan from Central Europe was a nightmare. Not only does it take painstakingly long, but worse, the jet lag really does kick in. Flights leave Europe in the early afternoon and arrive in Japan roughly 12 hours later with the time difference being eight hours in my case. So, when you get off in Japan in the morning hours your biological clock is a eight hours behind and your tired body aches for some rest. You have an entire day ahead of you, though. Of course, you cannot just crash down on some hotel bed and let the day pass as check-in usually is not before 2 p.m.

This time I arrived in Tokyo Narita just before 8 p.m. with my connecting flight to Fukuoka due to take off at 11:30 a.m. For the first time so far, the usually very efficient but inflexible way the Japanese deal with large masses of people had a negative impact on me. Dozens of foreigners lined up in front of the only two immigration booths that were occupied. Right in front of me was an American who looked an experienced traveler. After 30 minutes and only slow progress in the queue he called upon an official: “Sir, can’t you open some of the booths reserved to local residents for us? This is very sad, you show no respect for visitors. Very sad”. Then he added: “In Korea and even China this was much better”.
If you know the Japanese and their pride only a little you know that the American hit Bull’s Eye with that comment. Don’t ever tell a Japanese that a this or that be better in Korea or China. How can you overlook that Japan is the best country (if not in the world then at least in Asia) ;-)? They usually look down to those communist peasants in China.
Anyway, soon thereafter I was waved to an immigration both that said “Local residents” above the counter. Thank you anonymous American!

While waiting for my connecting flight I fell asleep at an airport for the first time. I set the alarm on my iPod touch, plugged the headphones in, and stretched out over three hard seats in front of the gate. It felt well deserved.

In Fukuoka I was picked up not only by my host family but also by an Asahi Nihongo school official. I was impressed.

24. April, 2007

Can it ever be too much winter?

Filed under: Japan 2007 — frightanic @ 09:21

Oh, yes it can. Those who know me know that I love the cold season in Switzerland. I keep telling that I’d love to live in Switzerland in winter and in Alaska in summer…

Right now, though, I wish winter had long passed. My wife and I are travelling in Hokkaido, Japan. There is snow everywhere…piles of snow. Down at the coasts the white powder has melted, but as soon as you climb a few hundred meters ground is still covered with it. Worst, spring hasn’t really started yet. We learned the hard way that here in Hokkaido there’s either winter – most of the year – or summer. Flowers don’t start to blossom until end of May we were told and the first snow falls in late September. In south Hokkaido it may be slightly different but we are/were in central & north Hokkaido.

We have just come at a bad time as there really isn’t much to do. Even if we were to rent winter gear (which we didn’t bring) ski slops are already closed as this off-season is as much “off” as it can be. Is life miserable because of that? No, of course not, there are advantages, too. Fares are lower and most everywhere we go we’re alone – either because the place is closed or because all other tourists had given their journey proper planning 🙂

20. April, 2007

Different airports – different cultures?

Filed under: Japan 2007 — frightanic @ 14:52

If you’ve recently travelled on an airplane you know that you’re not allowed to bring “liquid” items openly on board anymore. Get rid of your harmless water bottle before you pass the security check, put deo, tooth past and super-duper anti-aging cream into a small transparent plastic bag. Not to mention that none of the items must contain more than 100ml. No, that’s not a lot…

I’m currently travelling in Japan and in order to get there I flew from Zurich to Tokyo. The dutyful Swiss security officer in Zurich noted that my brand new tooth past tube contained slightly more than 100ml. Not good for me as I hadn’t paid enough attention to the size of that tube. He wanted to throw it away. I tried to safe it: “What if I squeez out those extra few milliliters?”. No chance. Being Swiss myself, I knew that argueing with a Swiss “authority” is hopeless. So, I had to travel without toothpast and my hatred for those islamic idiots who like to blow up airplanes and other symbols of the successful west grew even stronger than it already was.

Today I flew from Tokyo to Sapporo and the same rules applied. However, the Japanese installed a small and simple machine that checks your drinking bottle for dangerous substances. Of course they allowed me bring my cold green tea on board. Why don’t the Swiss use that? When checking-in my first aid kit they found my special tape scissors which I had forgotten to move from the kit into my suitcase (as I had done when flying to Tokyo). I feared the worst for my belove scissors. In Zurich they would have ended up in the trash can in an instant. Not so in Japan. The officer apologized and told me how sorry he was, but I couldn’t bring it on board. Of course, I knew that and I apologized for my mistake. He took the scissors, placed them in an envelope, sealed it, and handed me a receipt. Perfect. Everybody is happy. Many could learn a great deal from the Japanese…

2. July, 2006

Finally, home again

Filed under: North America 2006 — frightanic @ 21:54

After a long day we arrived here in Switzerland at 7 this morning. Puhhh, home, sweet home!

We really enjoyed the few days in Chicago. Despite its size we found it pretty calm. It’s rather the laid back attitude of a west coast city than the hectic, bustling atmosphere of let’s say New York. We were lucky to visit Chicago during the best weeks – summer, the time of free events for the public. In and around Grant Park there all sorts of of events taking place. We enjoyed two free concerts as part of the Grant Park Music Festival (classical music, orchestras). It’s like magic: a warm summer night, the sun is setting behind the skyline, the moon rises, and you sit in this park encircled by skyscrapers and listen to classical music.

While in Chicago we also visited the Museum of Science and Industry. Maybe it was because we have seen many similar museums before, but the exibitions didn’t really ignite interest. A few things like the Whispering Gallery or Genectics: Decoding Life we thought were nicely done. The whole Basic Science floor could do with a serious overhaul. What personally disappointed me the most though, was the attitude most visitors (families and school groups) seem to have towards such an educational place. To get something out of it one needs TIME, you can’t just rush through. Kids need explanations and guidance from their parents/teachers. It was almost painful to see how “neglected” they were – no surprise most of them appeared to be bored.
One hint for fellow travellers: to get to the MSI take the CTA green line to Garfield then transfer to bus X55/55.

We also were at the Shedd Aquarium. Now that’s definitly an attraction we would recommend to anyone, despite high admission fees. However, again, it takes time to really get idea about marine life. The dolphine show is much less sophisticate than for example the shows at Sea World in San Diego. Nonetheless, we though that since much less is expected of the dolphines in terms of stunts they must deliver they might have a happier life in Chicago…

As in New York, Akiko and I managed to visit a local Toastmasters club, Toastmasters of Lincoln Park. As expected the corner stones of their meetings are very similar to ones in our club. Their meeting protocol and the setting is different, though. We had a good time and felt very welcome. It appears that they hadn’t had visitors from abroad in a long while. After the meeting we joined them for beer/dinner at a nearby bar. Later that night we went up to the 96th floor of the John Hancock tower to have a drink in the Signature Lounge. The view is awesome, but the drinks lack any sort of sophistication.

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