On Gaien Higashi Dori
Tuesday, November 18
On Gaien Higashi Dori has moved to www.raglanroad.org
Monday, November 17
What's Going On?
I got sunburnt yesterday. On November 16. It wasn't like that when I was a kid.
Friday, November 14
I haven't looked forward to a weekend so much in a long time.
The reasons are simple enough: (1) Australia vs New Zealand and France vs England in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals; (2) the challenge of moving my weblog to my newly bought web-domain and hosting, by installing Movable Type to the server; and (3) a round of golf in the early hours of Sunday morning.
We don't change much in life. When I was 10 or 11, my weekend in Dublin would have been: (1) a football match on Saturday morning; (2) watching the English football on Saturday afternoon; (3) pitch-and-putt on Sunday afternoon; and (4) hours and hours spent messing around on my Commodore 64.
Sport and closet-geekdom: the only real difference now is alcohol, a wife, and a dodgy knee. Oh, and thousands of miles.
Wednesday, November 12
We're in the middle of a long, slow quake and it's not stopping....Help!
Tuesday, November 11
Who's Food's: New Advances in Karaoke
Although we still haven't seen those Karaoke taxis they mention in all the guidebooks, we have managed a new karaoke discovery this year: Who's Food's.
For those of you who expect signifiers to actually correspond in some meaningful way to signifieds (i.e. those of you who haven't witnessed the randomly cosmetic use of English in Japan), Who's Food's is a new (to me) karaoke and restaurant chain, with branches in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno and elsewhere.
Walking into the Shibuya branch, you would be forgiven for thinking you have just walked into an airport. This, you see, is Who's Food's "twist": the lobby and reception is a departure lounge, and the elevator takes you on flights to different countries, depending on the floor of your flight number.
After booking your flight with the lovely ground hostess, you are directed to the waiting lounge. A major flaw with standard Karaoke joints in Japan is that there is nothing for people to do when waiting for a room to come free. And you often have to wait for up to an hour. In Who's Food's you have many options: drink beer, play games like Othello (what a complex game!), or look at the turtles (!) in their open-top fish tanks, the kind the next Pope will use if he is a turtle. I can't imagine those turtles surviving long if Who's Food's decided to open a branch in Dublin. All-you-can-drink and turtles on demand would be a recipe for some very cruel but no doubt hilarious Irish comedy.
Just as you finish a heated discussion with your wife over the rules of Othello, which clearly neither of you know, the flight announcer calls your number, summoning you to proceed to the information desk. Flight No. 621 to Bali is now ready to depart from the elevator, you are told.
All rooms on the sixth floor are decorated Bali-style. Bali, it seems, does not allow you to wear shoes indoors either. So the shoes go off. You order your beer (for no gaijin karaoke is ever done without beer) using the TV remote control. This can be tricky if you had a few beverages to warm your vocal chords before your flight, which is almost always the case. You never meet anybody to "go to karaoke"; it is always the option that becomes acceptable (or obvious) after a few scoops.
Your beers are served by a smiling, happy staff member as you scan through the whole book (!) of foreign songs. Seeing this much expanded selection, you now have the option of being conservative or radical. Conservative means you sing the same old songs you have been singing for 7 years, the ones you know inside-out, backwards and forwards, at 33 or 45 (Like a Rolling Stone). Radical means you try something new, but it might flop (Old Man River), or be really difficult (Anything by Elvis Costello), or you might only really know the chorus after all (All the Young Dudes). Then again, though, it could be absolutely piping hot, top man, the business (Pixies, "Where is my Mind," a song made for karaoke). Usually, unlike life, you start off conservative and end up becoming more radical than a socialist worker (and with similar abilities in terms of singing mainstream 80s pop).
A few more scoops on, something starts to smile at you, urging you to touch and hold it. Yes, it's the Who's Food's tambourine. Desire to play tambourine is directly proportional to volume of alcohol consumed. Ability to realize how badly you play tambourine, unfortunately for the others, is inversely so. A few more scoops, and the "Gimme the fucking mic" and "Don't you fucking touch my tambourine" instincts emerge as scheduled. Karaoke manners are the ability to keep these savage natural instincts controlled within the age-old etiquette and refinery of the civil karaoke society.
When you land sonorously on your arse on the other side of the beer curve, when your last train time arrives, when someone passes out or wakes up, or when no one present has sound coming from their obliterated larynxes despite keen efforts to that effect, it is time to pack up your--and only your--belongings, pay the bill and take your ringing ears home.
The next day, you remember a song (Yellow) and the friendliness of the staff. You check your room for turtles, and smile contentedly in the memories of another cracking night at Who's Food's. And if karaoke means "empty orchestra", is that because all the instruments have been stolen by drunks?
Monday, November 10
The Bali Bombing
Is Bali still a dangerous spot after last year's bombing? Probably not. Or at least as not any more dangerous than anywhere else has now become as a result of the thuggery of Bush, Blair and Sharon. We had decided to go there for a few days this Christmas and had provisionally booked flights with Garuda, but now we're having second thoughts. Not because of a fear of being blown up though. (Having said that, I wouldn't recommend unnecessary trips to Jakarta or the southern part of the Philippines for the time being.)
Bali is known for its "in-your-face" vendors, violently selling anything from DVDs to sarongs. Business in Bali has plummeted since the bombing. Result: the vendors' profits are down. Impact on tourists who do go: even greater in-your-faceness.
So we're going to Hong Kong instead, and the main thing I'm looking forward to is landing on that famous runway they have over there. Or is that now gone?
Sunday, November 9
Our apartment is a vortex. People get sucked in on Friday evenings and don't leave until Monday mornings. It has always been like that. This weekend is the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup, and all the expats have a team to cheer. Meanwhile, in the background, Japan is having a general election today. As we sit here watching rugby, Japan is probably re-affirming the status quo and electing the LDP again. The manifestos have proved almost completely meaningless, and nothing is going to change. Voter turnout will probably be at an all-time low. At a recent by-election for Saitama Prefecture that was seen as a harbinger for today's election, only 27% of the electorate turned out to vote. Pretty bad that. Much more attention seems focused on the Women's Volleyball World Cup currently taking place in Tokyo. So, we the expats sit grouped in small apartments watching rugby, they the Japanese check out the volleyball, and dodgy old men get elected once again. Who cares though? The game starts at 4.15 and we're going to beat the French.