The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


It has been hot and muggy here for a while. I don't generally watch the news much at all, so I didn't pay much attention when I heard vague reports that a typhoon was coming. They always seem to be coming, and nothing much ever comes of it.
But it seems that a large typhoon struck Japan west of Tokyo, and caused enough damage and flooding that 80,000 people were evacuated in the Nagoya area and another million (!) people advised to leave their homes for safer territory if possible. Wow!
The storm was headed pretty much directly over the capitol region, and this morning it was raining heavily at times. Mid-morning it was announced that our afternoon meeting would be cancelled, and then it was announced that the entire university would be shutting down and all staff and students sent home at 1 p.m.
I dutifully went home (reluctantly, too, since I had a lot of planning to do) and as I did, the storm was clearly intensifying. My umbrella was popped open by the wind, bending a bunch of the vanes and turning it to garbage. I was quickly soaked down to the skin by the rain, which was coming at me from all sides, it seemed.
Once I got home, I had absolutely nothing to do, so I tried to take a nap, but the gusting wind was making too much noise, so I couldn't sleep. The storm got more and more intense, but it didn't top some hurricanes I've been through when I was in Kyushu.
Anyway, the storm has passed now, without any major problems for me. (A lot of trains were temporarily stopped, but luckily I was already home by that time.) If you hear about a hurricane or typhoon "blasting Tokyo" or some other hyperbole on the news, don't worry. I'm fine!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Jan Svankmajer Exhibit in Harajuku

I still have a few days off before I start back to work (lucky me!) so I met up with a friend from work and we went and had ramen at our favourite ramen shop. Real ramen is so different from the pre-packaged stuff that I kind of feel sorry for people who have never tried it. (I know that sounds obnoxious ... but then again, last year I had Peking Duck for the first time and I remember thinking, "Wow! Why have I never eaten this before? This is amazing!") In fact, there was a poll recently on "the best foods in the world". Ramen came in at number 8, which is perhaps a little bit high, actually, but I agree that, when you're in the mood for some rich, salty pork broth and noodles, there's nothing quite like it. (And remembering my experience with the Peking Duck, I am looking forward to trying some of the other foods on the list that I have never eaten.)

After lunch, I decided to go to an exhibition of some works by Jan Svankmajer. He's a Czech surrealist filmmaker whose movies I have really enjoyed in the past. His films usually have a lot of stop-motion animation and puppetry, and he is not only a painter and a photographer, but a sculptor who makes all kinds of strange, organic looking objects to use in his films.

Most of his pieces are really bizarre and creepy, which means I find them really interesting! It was cool to be able to see the pieces up close, but I was left wondering how he made a lot of them. Because they are to some extent "movie props", I was surprised how good they look up close.

Any time I see a really good exhibition, I feel a little bit sad that I haven't kept up my art. I used to draw a lot in high school, and at one stage I considered going to art school, but I went to university for physics instead. It seemed like the more responsible thing to do, but I wonder what my life would be like now had I pursued that direction.

I think it's one thing to do art as a hobby, but life seems to intrude, and you never devote enough time to the art. But if you are a full-time artist, I think one thing inspires the next; you get drawn deeper and deeper into your work, and projects spawn other projects. Certainly, that seems to be the case with Svankmajer, who is extremely prolific and is still active and pursuing new directions now at age 77. One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition was a series of collages on the theme of Japanese ghost stories. Really cool!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back in Tokyo

Tony brought me to the airport from Fergus (thanks Tony!) and I got on my flight without too much difficulty. It was actually about half-empty, so I not only had an emergency exit seat with lots of legroom, but I didn't have anyone sitting beside me. That makes a big difference and I was quite comfortable. Unfortunately, the movies were the same ones as when I came over, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something to watch. I saw "Win Win" though, which I wasn't really interested in at first, but which turned out to be quite a nice little movie. I highly recommend it! (And I see it's scoring 94% on Rotten Tomatoes!)

Canada had been very cool before I left, (downright cold at times) and then the plane was of course very chilly ... so I was in for a shock when I left the plane and immediately upon setting foot in the gangway (is that the right word?) got hit with a blast of hot air like out of an oven. Wow. The airport itself was also quite warm, as they are trying to save energy in Tokyo and have the air conditioning set at about 28 degrees or so. I was sweating as I stood around waiting for my suitcase to come off the carousel.

I got home with no difficulty and Yoshie came over to see me. She enjoyed her presents from Canada, I think, and was happy to see me. Unfortunately, I was tired from my flight and a bit jet-lagged, so I fell asleep at about 9 pm. I got up for an hour or so, but then fell asleep again at around midnight.

Today is my birthday (very mixed feelings about that!) so Yoshie has gotten reservations for tonight at an interesting-looking Thai restaurant we saw in Akasaka a couple months ago. There is a Belgian beer bar next door, so I am looking forward to having some expensive, delicious Belgian beers after dinner. Tonight is just the two of us, but I will probably go out with some friends later this week for a post-birthday get together.

Oh, in other news, when I got home, my score from the Level 1 Japanese Language Proficiency Test (I took it in July) was waiting for me. The whole time I was in Canada, people were asking me, "So how's your Japanese? You must be pretty fluent by now, right?" I never know how to answer this question. First of all, as a language teacher, the very word "fluent" conjures up a concept which is very slippery and hard to define. In fact, I have been reading academic papers about the very topic of measuring fluency, and it is by no means agreed-upon or easy to do. But even in general terms, I never know how to respond. Can I order food in a restaurant? Usually, yes. Can I discuss politics or philosophy like an adult? Not a chance. So does that mean I'm fluent? I usually say no. This answer is supported by the results of my test. I failed pretty dismally (69 points out of 180) ... although it is the highest-level JLP Test going, and the one that, if you pass it, you are eligible to study at Japanese Universities. So, if/when I ever pass that test, I will say, "Yes, I'm fluent." Until then, I don't think so ...

A Week in Ontario

I went back to Ontario on August 31st. Because my holidays are slightly shorter this year than they were last year, I only had a week in Ontario. Although I was fortunate enough to see some friends...

I didn't get to see some people. I only have myself to blame because of my poor organizational skills. Sorry about that.

It was also the first time I've been back since my father died, so we had a burial and memorial service in Bond Head where my grandparents are also buried. The service was simple but very touching and it went as well as could be hoped, I thought. I got to see my cousin Garnet for the first time in I don't know how long. 15 years, maybe.

Dad wasn't a big drinker but he did enjoy a shot of rye whiskey from time to time. We had a drink by the grave and reminisced together.

One week in Ontario went by all too quickly. My sincere thanks to everyone who was able to take time out of their schedules to visit with me and/or put me up at their place and/or chauffeur me around the province. It was appreciated.

I'm hoping to update this blog a little more often ... but I've said that before! I'll do my best to keep up to date and to stay in touch. Feel free to drop me a line or give me a call on Skype or something! Talk to you soon.

Tokyo Bay Cruise, and Home to Canada

After finishing work for the summer, I went with a bunch of coworkers on a Tokyo Bay Cruise. This is great fun and I wonder why I haven't done it before now. You go down to the harbour and buy a ticket for the 2-hour cruise, which is all-you-can-drink. (Wheeeee!) The cruise attracts mostly college-students and people in their 20's, and many Japanese people tend to dress up in their yukata (colourful summer-weight robes) and sandals. It makes for a very fun atmosphere.

There were about 10 of us, and of that number, 5 or 6 of us wore Japanese-style clothes. (I didn't, because when I dug out my jimbei - a kind of casual, summery shirt with short pants - it was hopelessly wrinkled and needed to be washed.) We made a funny group because a number of us are really tall. I'm about 6'4" but my coworkers Rob and Matt are even taller than me! And then there are a couple guys around 6'. So when we were all standing together, we made quite a group, and attracted a lot of stares (and friendly smiles).

The cruise just sort of goes out into Tokyo Bay, floats around for a while, and then turns around and comes back. Tokyo is very pretty at night, although my photos (taken with my crappy iPhone camera) don't really convey that very well.

That orange thing-y is actually Tokyo Tower.

A bit after the Tokyo Bay Cruise, (or perhaps it was before, I don't recall) I went for a picnic beside a river outside of Tokyo with my friend Tyler and some of his Japanese friends. It was quite enjoyable to splash around a bit in the river. I didn't actually dive in, but some people did! Here I am goofing around with Tyler ...

Before long, it was time to go back to Canada. This time, I flew into Toronto and then directly on to Moncton. My flight to Toronto was delayed, and I was worried I would miss the last flight to Moncton, but it all worked out in the end.

It was great to be back, although to be honest, I do feel a bit out-of-sorts when I am home. It is hard to explain why, exactly, except to say that after 6 years away, everything is rather unfamiliar. And at the same time, there is something weird about one's sense of time. Although I have been away for a year, it feels like it has only been a few months. Japan and Canada seem like different worlds, and time flows at different speeds in each of them, somehow ...

Anyway, going back to New Brunswick is my summer ritual, and is something I have done almost every summer since I was a little kid. It was great to be back to the cottage and to see everyone enjoying themselves. David and his kids love oysters, although I don't partake.

Although it's very small, the cottage is always full of friends and family. It is amazing to see the kids getting bigger every year.

We celebrated cousin Kate's, and her daughter Lily's, birthdays...

Rob had us over to his cottage for a lobstravaganza...

Before I got to NB, I heard that the weather was lousy, but it seemed to clear up around the time I got there. Coincidence? I think not.

Rob had some flippers, snorkels, and masks, and I learned how to dive for quahaugs. You have to look for 2 little breathing holes, and then dig down quickly before they have a chance to dig themselves in deeper. I was quite successful, I think!

What am I supposed to do with these things now?

All too soon, it was the end of August and time to go back to Ontario.