Monday, April 20, 2009

Construction workers and brooms

Amazing right, how on earth could one imagine that constructions workers in one country could so remarkably resemble constructions workers in another. I swear I walk past construction workers every day, and half of them really aren't doing anything. Just watching. But what is most amazing to me is not that there are people watching, but what in fact they are watching. Among the myriad of high tech machinery that is being employed in all construction jobs from jackhammers to 200 foot tall cranes, somehow advances in brooms in the last 400 years has been overlooked. You may not quite realize what it is I am actually saying so I will explain it a bit more. Yes, I did say brooms. You know, those things you use to keep your floors dirt free. Typically some ungodly color that doesn't really match anything, and I have seen some 'fugly' colored kitchens. Even through the fashion 'fopaux' that most brooms seem to make, they still work rather well and have advanced through the years along with other such technologies like the sponge and mop. Here is where I am sure you are lost and I hope to clarify further the details of the broom non-evolution.

About 5 years ago I traveled, amid other places, Cambodia. At which time I visited the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. Upon this visit I spied a lady who appeared to work/live in one of the temples. This seemed slightly concerting, but whether she actually lived there or just woke really early in the morning to give the appearance to the multitude of tourists that she did live there i don't know. The point of this, which I'm sure feels like a sidebar, is to say that she had a broom. This broom looked like something she made herself, and I'm not altogether positive she didn't. It consisted of a stick for a handle, and many small twigs or branches tied around the stick to act as bristles. Now if you are picturing a 17th century looking broom depicted in movies from that era, you basically have what I am describing. And, in this place of poverty, squalor, and hardship it makes sense to see a broom of this standard.

Now I come to the question I have been pondering for quite some time now. Does the Japanese government for its constructions workers buy their brooms from this lady, in which case she is really busy, or do they just not believe in the monumental advances in broom technology that have happened in the last, oh lets say 300 years. I mean really, how well can twigs clean the sidewalk of a construction zone. I'll tell you how well, not well at all. It is a dirty piece of shit when I walk by I'll have you know. So what gives? I know it's not that plastic is harmful to the environment. There is plenty of other plastic out there let me tell you. Why are these relics of brooms still being used today? Is it truly to preserve some sense of traditionalism in construction? Why? What is the point of traditionalism in a broom? It's not as if these brooms work well, after they sweep there is just as much dirt there as before. Which kind of brings me back to one of my original points in that governmental construction workers are the some world wide apparently. I mean, yeah this guy has a broom in his hand and he thinks he is pushing some sand and rocks around, but he isn't really working. I wouldn't pay this guy for what he is doing. I can't imagine a company in the free market of capitalism that would pay this guy to do what he is doing. Only a governmental agency could possibly think this was a good idea. Not to mention again how well this doesn't work. I mean, I wouldn't ride my skateboard through there or anything. I spent too much money on my bearings to go through that kind of sand and rocks unfortunately will stop a skateboard dead in its tracks, not so much a human. Kinetic energy and all, humans tend to find there way to the ground. A much bigger rock which does stop them, all the while leaving a bloody mess.

Anyway, back to the topic which was brooms. I can only pray for the insights of human kind in this area to soon be utilized by my friendly hosts. For such a wonderfully clean country it is amazing how that happens, not through sweeping I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Locks on toliet paper dispensers

Something I noticed recently kind of caught my attention. Toliet paper dispensers in public restrooms don't have locks on them. Now at first, I thought why would they. But then I started thinking about it, every single toliet paper dispenser that I have ever seen in the States has had a lock on it. I know why they have locks on them in the States, so kids don't steal it. That seems like a completely valid reason to me, kids are sort of dumb, like to steal things for no reason, and "tping" houses is quite popular, but sometimes the paper is hard to come by. Hence all the locks on public restroom dispensers. But why none in Japan?

It makes me wonder whether children in Japan t.p. houses or not. Whether they have that inner desire to break the law in small ways. As a kid in the States I think most flirt with the law in small ways for a couple of reasons. They don't know any better is the first one. The rush of doing something wrong is extremely tempting. Peer pressure can be a bitch. Maybe the law is standing in the way of something they really want to do. And kids in the states are the only ones who flirt with the law, adults to what they think they can get away with all the time. Although, when we get older it is called taking calculated risks. It's no longer about not knowing any better, but knowing enough to know what is okay. So do the Japanese not have this desire? Or are we just over protective of our toliet papaer in the states?

I don't think the Japanese are above breaking the law. But there is a more natural aversion to it. For example, there will be no cars coming but the walking light is red on a small alley like street and some people wont cross until it turns green. In fact, J-walking in general is not something most Japanese do. Also, cigarettes are sold in vending machines, but most children under the legal age of 20 don't take advantage of this. A lot will smoke after they turn 20, and some try it before reaching legal status, but not enough to take the vending machines of the streets. So maybe the Japanese are less enticed to break the law. After polling my students none of them admitted to having been stopped by a police officer for any reason what-so-ever. It carries quite the negative connotation here. That and we may just be a little over protective of our toliet paper in the States.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Drinking, for anyone who knows me has been a long term, passion, shall we say. From the first night I drank alcohol and threw up in my parents kitchen, to tonight where I have had five "casual" beers, alcohol consumption has taken on a part of my life. It is normal. I don't drink because I want to "fit in" or because I desire to "repress" certian memories, I just drink. I don't drink much soda, or tea, or basically anything besides water that isn't alcohol related. Mainly because I enjoy the taste of most alcoholic drinks, whether it is a glass of chardonay on a hot summer day or two fingers of Glenlivet scotch on a cold winter's night, it all goes down like the finest french cheese on a lover's palet; I drink alcohol for the taste.... most of the time.

Now with that disclaimer laid out, I will confess that I do binge drink with the best of them. I take pride in the amount I can drink and still keep my intelect and understanding about me; which by all accounts is really a foolish thing to take pride but here I stand. I have seen countless nights where I couldn't see... straight that is. And I have discussed everything from religion to anarchy, alchemy to philosophy and everything in between upon drinking a few tasty beverages, so do not take stalk nor insult in what I write from hence forth. It is for my own pleasure and for the few who may come across this with an open mind looking for nothing more than a drunk persons ramlings.

Funny for me, a self confessed alcoholic (without a problem in need of rehad, maybe just a couple days of sobriety) to land in a society slightly obsessed with drinking. Having a high tolerance, or being a strong drinker as it is said here, is something to be coveted and respected in the place I find myself. As such, my prior conditioning has served me well so far. Although being a "strong drinker" is something respected and slightly awed in college aged persons of America, among adults and families it is almost seen as taboo. Certainly nothing to boast or brag about, but almost not even something to mention. I can't remember a conversation I have had where some above the age of 21 asked me if I had a high tolerance, or was a strong drinker. What a interesting difference.

Not long ago, I was at a "pub" (for lack of a better word I will use pub, but that doesn't quite describe it) and was asked if I was a strong drinker by a woman who must be in her 60's bare minimum. I don't say her age to insult, I only wish to illuminate my point. Which is that I have become a member of a culture who embraces drinking not only as insolent children wishing to break free of their parents reign of control, but also as grandmothers who still find it a strength to be able to "put back" their fare share of alcohol while holding on to their sanity. I won't say whether more drinking happens here, or where I am from... but the attitude is slightly different. Similarly, so is the approach.

Drinking until one is beyond drunk seems to be completely accepted, which I can illistrate. Upon leaving a bar I frequent I found a couple of men probably my age passed out on the sidewalk, and slightly in the planters of the street I was walking on. I was walking by myself but by no means was the only person on the street. My first thought was do they need help. My second, I wonder if they will be arrested. Should I try to wake them up so as to help them avoid such trouble, however nobody else around seem to be taking any such notice, nore any care. So I walked on by. I have seen a girl being litteraly carried out of the bar, hopefully by friends and hopefully home, by four guys. I have seen, only two nights ago, a girl so drunk almost seeming to be convusing on the steps of a closed retail shop, supported by friends, basically showing the world her underwear for lack of conciousness. Most disturbing, on my way home one Saturday night, a man most likely in his sixties sat on the steps of a closed restuarant with his head in his hands and puke in between his feet.

It is quite a different situation than what I am used to, and from what I can tell, it is actually getting to be less of a drinking society. Although I don't think there are any laws that correspond to out drunk in public laws, it supposedly is getting less common for older people to binge drink. Hmmmmmmm.... is all I can really say.

As I began, I shall finish. I am a drinker, and by no means has this made me think twice about drinking. In fact, I am presently leaving for my neighborhood bar. However, I have thought the difference in attitude somewhat astounding for quite some time and felt a small need to write about it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The 5 haiku to a better life

5. Be happy with life. Be happier than your ex. Be happy with less.
4. Enjoy living life. Love the smaller things in life. Enjoy what you do.
3. Do not hate the world. In fact, do not hate anything. Quit hating your ex.
2. Laugh out loud a lot. Use smiles as much as you can. Laugh with and not at.
1. God invented beer. God wants us to be happy. Beer makes me happy.

Why I may be an alien... the 30 hour day.

I began thinking about this some time ago, the concept that I may not be from this planet that is. My theory is this: My body seems to want to work off a 30 hour day, not a 24 hour day. I realize this may sound slightly preposterous but just listen to the facts, and see if I don't change your mind. I can stay awake for a very long period of time and in fact enjoy doing so. I also enjoy sleeping for a long time, and anyone who knows me can attest to that. I personally need roughly 10 hours of sleep to feel good, but if I get that much sleep I can be awake for 20 hours very easily. Both my day and my night need to be elongated, and if you notice, my relative theory of time still holds true the the old maxim 1/3 sleep (8 hours) and 2/3 awake (16 hours) during a normal Earth day.

For the skeptics who ask why I can't remember this other planet I am from I say this; if I was from Earth, after 25 years of life why wouldn't my body and mind have adjusted to the cycle of the planet like humans. Why do I crave a longer awake period and longer sleeping period. It is not that I want to get more out of my day than a 24 hours day allows, nor more sleep than it allows, it is that my body speaks to me and tells me to stay awake, do more or go back to bed your not ready to wake up yet. So as you can see, it is not my mind that has created a simple delusion, it is my soul that tells me this is all true. Luckily my mind can rationalise what my soul is trying to tell me, that I need a 30 hour day because the planet I am from has one.

For eons and eons my race, shall we call me an ICUHURRT, have lived on a planet that has a 30 hour day. This of course is as innate in me as a 24 hour day is in all of you. What else could be the explanation of an instinct so primal, so real, so cognitive except that I belong to another race not of this 24 hour world, but that in fact I come from somewhere different, somewhere that a 30 hour day is what is real.

I do not make these claims to suggest by any means that a 30 hour day is better, or I for having been from a 30 hour day planet am better than any human. As I said before, the point of my 30 hour day is not to get more out of my day and not to say that I think humans would be better off with a 30 hour day. In fact it is almost the opposite, you would have more time to do the same amount. And for those of you who know me, hence my tendency towards laziness and procrastination, my whole body is telling me I have more time to complete everything I need to do in the day. I only present this valid information as a testimony to the reality of my life. Anyone in my position would do the same.

Now the only problem I have run into with this theory is testing it. To accomplish a valid test, I would need a large warehouse with no windows. Obviously the sun shining through during what should be my night would throw a wrench into the experiment. Also, I wouldn't be able to go to work or do normal human activities in the outside world because my 30 hour day world would be running a 6 hour difference the second earth day, 12 the third, 18 the fourth, the fifth day I would be 6 hours ahead, but it would end the same and start over again on the 6 day. With that kind of schedule I wouldn't be able to complete Earth activities. A long vacation period would be needed, which is difficult when even though I am not from this planet, I still need to live on this planet, earn money and have an Earth life. The other experimental difficulty that arises out of this is that work is an essential part of life, how long should the work day be? Would I work during the test? What other parameters would have to be considered? It is difficult to say since I am not sure what ICUHURRT people do?

Is this a theory that can be tested, maybe... maybe not. But does one really need a laboratory test after the logic and facts I have presented? I think not. The conclusion is obvious, I must not be from Earth. Or maybe I am just a night person and hate the mornings, but either way thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Yamakasa Festival

The picture in the last post actually is a float that is used in the Yamakasa Festival and so rightly belongs in this post but.... whatever. Yamakasa is a festival that is somewhat religious, but not really. I looked it up and found that it "may" have its roots in a ritual that took place in 1241 to stop a bad plague in Hakata, a district of Fukuoka city. Some floats are made for public viewing that can be seen for the two weeks preceeding the festival, but the floats they use on festival day are made seperately. Men dressed in traditional Shimekomi (think "what a sumo wrestler wears" here) carry the floats around a path through Hakata. The floats weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Usually it is around 100 men carrying each. The kicker of the whole thing is that this happens at 5 a.m. They kick off at first light and race, about 14 floats in total. So where will I be this Tuesday morning... wish me luck. In preperation for this there have been a couple of different events taking place near my work during the day. Everyday, there are carnival type stands selling food and carnival type wares to passerbys, and one of the days they a mock float race in which small school boys maybe 5 years old or less were wearing the traditional Shimekomi running around in the streets helping to push the float around. It was quite the spectacle to see 50 5 year old boys in less than diapers running down the street with people throwing water all over them (oh yeah, forgot about that part, everyone watching throws water on the people carrying the streets making it extra slippery. For my Thailand friends, think Sankron.). Anyway, figured I should add that post with the picture.

Take care.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I arrived in Japan about three weeks ago and have been totally floored since then. Life has been an extremely busy combination of working and getting to know Japanese customs, language and the city I live in.

Japan is an amazingly different place and one can tell this as soon as they step off the plane and into the airport bathroom. The toilets have what look to be a keyboard of controls on the side of them. When you sit down you realize this is not just a normal toilet, the seats are heated. Undoubtebly one of the controls which you can't read determines just how warm the seat is. I arrived at the beginning of the hot season, and needed no seat warming, but during the winter.... it would be rather nice. Not knowing how to turn it down or even off for that matter, you just make do. The next thing you notice it the picture of a butt with water being sprayed at it, assumably supposed to be your butt, with a button next to it. Well, not just one button, but four. Two for pressure, and two for type of spray. For those of you new to a toilet with a bedet let me suggest a low pressure and the spray that looks like a steady stream, that is, if you are brave enough to try it.

The next thing you will probably notice about Japan, is everyone is Japanese. This sounds a little funny to say, but coming from the States where diversity is a thing of life, we hardly notice it anymore. It is a different story in Japan. Everyone is Japanese. I am in a diverse city and besides my American co-workers I probably see two non-Japanese people a day. It is tough to make this point without the reader actually experiencing it, because I am sure you are saying to yourself, "well, duh." To truely understand what this feels like, you must come visit. The Japanese for the most part fit the stereotype of being shorter than the average American, but not being that tall myself, I don't really notice this too much. Also, it seems to me that there is a little more conformity to an average height, right around 5'8" or so. The women on the other hand are much more varied from under 5' up to 5'8" and more, but you always have to check the size of their heels, because they will fit that size 5 foot into a 4 inch heel.

Food. Get ready for a taste explosion. Nothing tastes the same, and by no means does that mean it tastes bad. I have been on a strict Japanese food diet since I've been here (for three whole weeks I know) and that includes an egg, ham, cucumber, and some secret sauce sandwhich I got from a Lawson's (24 hour convenience store like 7/11) up to a fancy "Japanese/Itailian" fusion cusuine. It is all good and interesting and as long as you keep an open mind to it all, very enjoyable. I had a conversation with one of my students about a trip he took to the States. He made a comment about our menu's not having pictures. This was actually something I have been thinking about since I have been here. I won't go into a place that doesn't have its menu outside and the menu has pictures on it, because I can't speak Japanese nor can I read it and I would be lost to try and order something. I would probably walk into a vegetarian restuarant and order a steak. That being said, restuarant owners are some of the nicest people you will meet in Japan. Always big smiles and helpful on which sauces to use and generally make you feel comfortable and welcome. The smaller the place and the less foriegners they see, the more true this typically is.

The Japanese are very interested in foriegners. This actually makes things much easier. Even when you go into a new place, where they don't speak English and don't have English menus you can still get by and have a great time. Tonight I went into a bar/restuarant that had an English name thinking it would owned/run by someone who spoke decent English. Oh was I wrong. But it didn't matter, everyone was very interested in talking with me, even in the limited communication we could get through that it made for a comfortable atmosphere the entire time I was there. I had a couple beers, some stir fried chicken in the most amazing sauce, a "tsuna sando" that was absolutely amazing, and a Japanese apricot that was soaked (maybe for weeks, who knows) in schotu... a Japanese liquer. It was interesting to say the least, kinda like a vodka watermelon if you have ever made one, but worse. Anyway, I spent two hours there, and never felt alone even through the language barrier. They are also interested in the way that they tend to stare. This seems a little weird at first, but if you lived in a country that was 99.99% one race it would be a little weird to you as well so see someone different. I like to make a game out of trying to see who will actually make eye contact with me. Problem is, when it happens, I am a little dumb founded on what to do and what to say... interesting situation to say the least.

Something I heard while I have been here is that Japan is the most convenient country in the world and it really is something I have come to agree with. "Convenience" stores dominate the Japanese city landscape. They come in many different names but all basically offer the same service, cheap and easy food for the single person or worker on the go. It is very common to pick up a bento (a type of TV dinner that is made fresh and kept cold but not frozen) at a Lawson's, 7/11, or Family Mart for about $4 and make that your dinner. This is especially nice for the traveler who is a little affraid of trying to order food in a restuarant and would rather take their time perusing the selection at their local conveny. This food being much better fare than you would find at your own local 7/11. Of course you can also find whatever else your heart desires in the form of necessities like toilet paper, razors, batteries, umbrellas (which I own three of), etc. Basically, because these are the norm, what we would think of as a normal grocery store are less common. They exist and the Japanese use them, but to make a point, Japan is the size of California and throughout Japan there are over 12,000 7/11's alone, this number doesn't include any of the other convenience stores. In the entire U.S. there are around 6,200 7/11's.

Ingenuity. The Japanese will not be out done on this one. They may not create a whole lot, but they are good at making things better. They have great ideas and a culture that allows follow through. The idea that American backpackers use of pack in pack out is how the entire country views trash. I have yet to see a proper trash can on the street. The idea, and it works, is that you take your own trash home with you. A rather good idea I thinks. We have trash cans everywhere, and still people can't seem to use them. Another idea I am facinated with, and maybe those who live in wetter climates are used to this but me being a California boy I have never seen it before, is the use of plastic bags that are the perfect size for your umbrella. Every store has these in the entrance during the rainy season. A rather wonderful idea. And, on your way out, a trash can to put the bag in. Helps quite a bit with wet floors, but again, only an idea that works if the entire culture beleaves in it.

Sayonara for now. (Bye Bye as they actually say.)