The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Vertigo, But No Van Gogh

Hi everyone! At last I had a weekend worth reporting. Not that I did anything spectacular, but I got out of the house, at least.

On Saturday, Peter (one of the other teachers -- a guy from Waterloo, actually) managed to finagle tickets to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith out of one of his students who works at the movie theater in Kashiwa. This was a special sneak preview because the movie doesn't actually open in Japan until next month. So we were pretty lucky to get them. We waited in line for about an hour, and then in our seats for another half hour or so. By the time the movie started, I really couldn't have cared less. It's the first time I've watched a Star Wars movie with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever. You'd think under those circumstances that I might be pleasantly surprised, but I was really disappointed. The action scenes were pointless, the plot was overly convoluted, the "drama" was laughable... in fact, there were about 4 separate occasions where the 4 of us burst out laughing at the horrible dialog while the rest of the Japanese crowd around us (reading the subtitles) probably wondered what was so damn funny.

After the movie, we convened to the local sports bar where we watched the rugby match between New Zealand and England. Marcus and Peter are rugby fans, so it was their idea, but I enjoyed it anyway, despite not really understanding the rules.

On Sunday, Marcus was going in Shinjuku (the very center part of Tokyo... the most urban place imaginable, basically) for a walking tour that was described in his Tokyo City Guide. The theme was "Vertigo and Van Gogh". We started off by checking out some of the tallest buildings in Tokyo that offer free city views. We went up to the 45th floor of one bank building and looked out... unfortunately, it was very humid so there was a lot of haze. Nevertheless, it's disconcerting to look out over a city, the edges of which are completely lost in the distance. Tokyo is HUGE...

Then we went to the headquarters of one of Japan's largest insurance companies... they have a large collection of French art including (usually) Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" which they bought for something like $200 million, making it the most expensive painting in the world. Of course, the Van Gogh wasn't on display when we were there because it was being reconditioned. Argh! Oh well, I've seen it plenty of times in books... sigh. Anyway, they had tons of other famous French paintings from about 1600 onward. Absolutely beautiful, and stunning to see in person. I did a bit of oil painting this spring, and now I wish that I could have had access to some of these incredible portraits to steal some techniques and get some inspiration...

After the gallery we went on to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings, which are huge towers which also have free observation galleries. Very dizzying, and a great view in 360 degrees, even with the haze. Our last stop was an office building with an immensely tall, hollow core. There is a glass ceiling too, and a sky-bridge that crosses the core of the building at about the 50th floor. So you look up from the ground floor, and there's a tiny little bridge way up in the sky, and then you take the elevator up, and you look down on all the people wandering around like ants below. It's absolutely terrifying if you're afraid of heights (like me). I couldn't stay up there very long.

Then we went to Kinokuniya to buy some English books (I had run out) and by that time, we were pretty exhausted from wandering around in the 90 degree heat, so we went home and tried the local "shabu-shabu" restaurant. Shabu-shabu is a type of cooking where they bring you a pot with a flavoured broth, and then they bring all kinds of vegetables and meat and you cook it yourself, then dip everything into a raw egg (that gets partially cooked). Then you dip that into a special sauce... I don't know if that sounds good or not, but it's really delicious. It's funny that, when people think Japanese food, they just think of Sushi; I think a Shabu-Shabu restaurant would be a big success in North America, but you'd have to convince people to try it first!

I'll try and put up some pictures of our trip when Marcus e-mail some of his digital photos to me. Until then, here's a photo of the local "Mine Mart" - your one-stop shop for anti-personnel mines. The ultimate in home protection! New and previously-enjoyed models available. Test-explode a Mine Mart mine today!

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Hey, sorry I haven't written in a while, but you know me... I'm a procrastinator and I don't keep track of time very well.

Also, nothing really new to report. It continues to get hotter. I feel like a wrung-out dishtowel by mid afternoon.

I haven't found a new job yet, so in all likelihood I will be back in Canada for August and then come back here in September for another few months. It's not so much that there aren't any jobs, just that I seem to be afraid of committing to any of them. Westgate (my current employers) are just so easy to work for; they provide the housing, the commuter passes, the transportation, the baggage pick-up. It's such a no-brainer that I have lost the capacity to do these things on my own and so consequently I feel kind of afraid to move off in a new direction, perhaps.

The only news I have is about this thing called "Skype" which is an internet phone thing. You get a pair of headphones and a microphone, and then you pay a small fee, and you can call to regular telephones around the world for just pennies a minute. I will try this out next week, maybe. It will be a whole lot cheaper than calling from my cell phone and vice versa.

Talk to you soon!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Free English Lessons

Hi, everybody. Not much news to report but it's been a while so I thought I'd write just the same. Today (Monday) is a normal work day, but tomorrow is the school's anniversary, so they've got some special events planned and the upshot is that we don't have to work tomorrow and most students have no classes. So some of our English kids have planned a BBQ party for the teachers and any students who want to come... that's happening tonight so it should be fun.

In other news, I went to a party at a friend of a friend's house Saturday night. She's Japanese and speaks pretty good English, but her friends only have a bit of English. I showed up (the only foreigner) and they all Oooh-ed and Ahhh-ed when I said Hi in Japanese. Then they asked me a few questions, and then they ignored me for the rest of the night. It's kind of like when you're the only child in a party of adults. Everyone will be nice to you at first, and ask you the same questions. "So Billy, how old are you?" ("How long have you been in Japan?") "What's your favourite subject in school?" ("What's your favourite Japanese food?") and "Well, Billy, you certainly are a polite young man." ("You speak very good Japanese.") And then it's back to the real conversations with the Grown-ups.

It was the same for me, which is really a bit depressing. I think I could have participated in the conversation if they had been willing to slow it down and simplify it by maybe 25% (which isn't asking too much, I don't think) but they weren't, so I didn't. A few of them asked me questions in English, and I answered in Japanese; their friends would inevitably chime in with "Why are you asking him in English? He understands Japanese!" to which a few of them brazenly answered, "But I want to practice my English!" That sort of thing irritates me. It really defines the relationship pretty starkly when they say that, and then lose interest when you speak Japanese. Like all we're good for is free English lessons. And the real problem is that all of their foreign "friends" (and every young Japanese person is keen to have a couple) are all too willing to play along, not realizing that they're not really friends at all, just a convenient source of English conversation skills, so that these young, cosmopolitan Japanese can visit a whole lot of foreign countries, but not to improve their understanding of other cultures; just so that they can come back and impress their friends with how many countries they've visited. Argh.

Anyway, lest you think I'm miserable here or something, I'm not... things are generally good. The weather STILL hasn't turned, so every day that's not rainy is a blessing. I'm keeping busy and feeling pretty good. More when something interesting happens...