Sunday, February 28, 2010

I hate Mondays.

I don't even remember waking up and coming to work today. A late night of Skyping will do that, I guess. I didn't do much of anything this weekend, the weather was nasty and wet so I didn't want to go outside.

awww, kitty! xkcd rules apply through skype.

In my near-infinite wisdom, I keep a supply of Red Bull in my chemical fridge in my lab, for exactly this kind of debilitating tiredness. Theres always a shelf of what LOOKS like energy/caffeine shot drinks in the convenience stores that I want to try, but I can't read any of the fancy artistic Japanese on the bottles, and I don't want to learn the hard way that its actually a train-rape drug shelf, or something.

In other news, I'm sure everyone has heard of the 8.8 quake that the Chileans took like champs the other day. Kind of makes a certain Creole nation, hit recently by a 7.5 quake sound like a bunch of cry babies. Two words, Haiti: Log scale. Eat it. (To soon?*)
*I'm not serious at all, and if you find these comments in bad taste, go suck a lemon.

Japan went all "oh noes, theres a tsunami coming this way". They've got some new fancy deep-sea detection apparatus that said there was a 35cm swell coming this way at the speed of sound (which is apparently a big deal... 35cm swell in fathoms-deep ocean is nothing to scoff at). The coastal trains all shut down for a while and everyone was told to grab something and hold on. Soon afterwards waves of over 1 meter (omg, guys) hit north of Tokyo. I'm sure the overblown news coverage of kids' sand castles being destroyed is forthcoming.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Today is a happy day

So I woke up this morning, hoping for a very lazy day, as this week has been pretty exhausting at work. I was completely out of food, so around noonish I decided to go grocery shopping and grab some breakfast. I went downstairs to my shoebox (where we have to keep our shoes... no shoes in the dormitory proper) and found a package! Voila:

so. many. stamps.

A certain super-awesome-fantastical best friend of mine had sent me a care-package from Canada. Please observe the highlighted short note under "Itemized List of Items". Go ahead, I'll wait.

Yah, just reading that completely made my day, so forgetting all about groceries, I rushed upstairs and opened it. Well, first I gawked at the frankly absurd number of stamps on the box (seriously, wtf. who is that crazy black guy on that one stamp?), and THEN I opened it. Behold the contents:

They were wrapped in that bubble wrap in the back there, and remained intact.

Yes, those are three boxes of Oreos. Two of which are DOUBLE STUFFED. And for those very observant few of you (I'm pretty much thinking of Cameron here), you may notice by the freshness-sealing-pull-tab system that these are none other but American Oreos. Those of you in the states take note, American Oreos are completely different than Canadian ones. The inside actually tastes like cream, as opposed to white sweet nothingness in Canadian ones. Go out and buy some.

So needless to say, I was in Oreos-eating-bliss for a while, until I got such a terrible stomach ache from sugar overload that I had to stop.

Since yesterday was payday, and I'm rolling in the Soosekis (dude on 1000 yen bill), I decided to treat myself to a fancy American dinner. So I found the closest American pizza chain restaurant. Turns out it was a Dominos, and they delivered, but I could not figure out the internet ordering system (my kanji is not nearly that good, and it was all images, making Google Translate useless). So I headed over there to grab it by hand. It was only a ~20 minute walk each way, so very doable whenever I'm craving the fuckin' 'za.

So awesome and greasy.

The pizza was 30 bucks, and was just pepperoni and cheese (And onions I think, I can taste them, I don't know why they're there). So pretty obscenely expensive, but completely worth it for the greasy, greasy goodness. I stopped myself from eating the whole thing, and I'm saving some for tomorrow. mmm

I'm a very happy guy right now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It was an empty threat all along.

Buzz increases my readership, so I'll stick with it. The hell with the rest of you, the "boos" have it, retracted votes and all.

So at work, once a month, we have safety meetings. During these meetings we first have a seminar outlining... something about safety. Then we have smaller groups which talk about... something about safety. Then we each have to say something about safety. Forgive my vagueness, as last month my Japanese wasn't quite up to snuff to following along. Maybe tomorrow it'll be different.

One thing I do understand is the Hiyari Hatto, It means "close call" or "risk incident". But its not Japanese. Its spelled out in katakana, which means it must be a western term, but I've never heard of it. Anyway, we need to outline things that happened (or we need to exercise our imaginations) that might have been dangerous. And draw pictures. Without further ado, this month's Hiyari Hattos, by Blake Farrow:

I especially like my lines of constant magnetic flux.
NB: My hands are to scale.
mmmmmm. wet nanoparticles.

These are going to get more and more outrageous, as I have to do at least 2 per month. And I don't think anyone is reading them, and definitely no one is understanding them. HAND CANCER!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hear ye, hear ye.

It has been brought to my attention that through a combination of Google Buzz's inadequacy and lack of popularity and Coffee Nanoparticles' awesomeness and all-pervasiveness, some people's Gmail Buzz feeds are just Coffee Nanoparticles all the time. In Google's infinite wisdom, my (Google) Blogger account was auto-magically linked to my (Google) Buzz account, and thus all my blog posts get sent to everyone's Buzz page on their Gmail.

Obviously to most people this is a most blessed turn of events, but some of you out there are heartless, jealous and loathsome creatures who would prefer not to have my posts invade your Gmail page all the time. I tend to identify with the loathsome group in this case, and I think I'll endeavor to un-link my Blog posts from Buzz, or atleast make them non-public... or some such anti-Web 2.0 thing.

You may now go back to your business.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Same old same old.

Well it was another weekend in Japan. This one was a bit busier than average I’d say, and I really didn’t get too much time to sulk in my dorm room. Saita-san (my boss) is an avid bowler (of course he is). He organizes the annual Mitsubishi Chemical Research Center bowling night, which he encouraged (nay, forced) me to attend. As awesome as he is, he isn’t so different from the average Japanaperson, so he enjoys a good gaijin-show. Of course his friends do too, so he parades me around at social functions and such as his gaijin assistant, showering me with ill-deserved praise and encouraging me to speak to others in Japanese (in other words, make a complete fool of myself). I’m sure he thinks hes doing me a service, so I tolerate it, and of course I agreed to go to the bowling night on Friday and subsequent izakaya (Drinking/eating party).

I failed miserably at bowling. I’ve only done the whole 10-pin thing without bumpers a couple times before, so it wasn’t a big surprise. At the bowling night, all the girls automatically got a +40 handicap, while previous winners and finalists got -25, -15 handicaps and such. I had a couple girls on my team, both were pretty terrible, and one guy who got second place last year. He consistently bowled low-200s (pretty good, I think), while the girls scurried/shuffled/giggled around in a typical Japanese girl fashion and ended up with like 50 or so (miserably failure of a score). But of course they get their +40 handicap, so most got pretty close or even above 100 score. I wasn’t much better than the girls, and I didn’t get no stinking sexist positive handicap, so ended up with the lowest score, at 76.

I suggested to all that they introduce a gaijin handicap of at least +20 at the next bowling night. They laughed nervously at this idea.

I wasn’t really into drinking all night with Japanese people that had single-digit operant English vocabularies, so I left the drinking party early, and headed to Aikoishida to chill/karaoke with my NTT buddies. Going there always makes me a little bit unhappy with my lot in Japan, especially when I stroll into one girl’s apartment and its got like 15 foreigners in it, happily talking in English. After a long Japanese work-week, I’m jonesing for some good English conversation. Which I ended up getting, in spades. And so it was; 13 gaijins invaded the local nomihodai karaoke bar (which I’ve mentioned in the past). We had representatives from Canada, France, Spain, Britain, Korea and maybe Germany.

We karaoke-ed until about 5am, when we were promptly kicked out by an exhausted proprietors who were tired of serving drinks and dangerous amounts of ice cream to our group. Some highlights were not one but two Rick-Rollings complete with some great Rick-esque dancing, a great rendition of Numa Numa, a crazy-good Korean singer specializing in Rain K-pop and of course Disney’s “Under the Sea”.

I was mostly asleep by 6am, but of course the next morning I had made plans to go around Yokohama, Minato Mirai and Chukagai/Motomachi with a fellow Canada-Japan Co-oper from Waterloo. She had not attended the early morning karaoke session, and was well rested. Luckily, in one of my more lucid moments after karaoke, I had the bright idea to get some Red Bull and save it for the morning as well as nearly drown myself while drinking a liter of water, so I was able to make it to Yokohama with minimal exhaustion and only a touch of hangover. Once there I had a fantastic “Dutch Burger” from a burger joint in Landmark tower for breakfast, and I was ready for another day.

We underwent a very long (but successful) tour of the area, and I tracked down some awesome shopping places to hit for random little gifts before I go back to Canada, found a cheap and good quality source of coffee beans, and decided that I needed to up my classy-ness and get a pocket watch.

More adventures followed in Tokyo after randomly running into another foreigner friend of mine who was taking a break from being an otaku shut-in, which was a nice change. I eventually made it home in the wee hours and finished the day with a marathon Skyping session.

I didn’t leave my dorm room on Sunday.

Which brings us to today, and lets just say that Monday mornings don’t bring warm feelings to my heart.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tam WAS there, and it WAS a party.

Yesterday I went to Tokyo Big Sight (see photo attached to a previous entry) on Odaiba island to check out the Nanotech Expo 2010.

My boss wanted to go to some cancer diagnostics seminar at 9am entirely in Japanese, so I slept in (a lot) and aimed to be there around noon. The previous night I was at an event put on by NanoQuebec at the Canadian embassy (this night was a whole other story, full of intrigue, suspense, and me failing miserably at French), and I was invited to come to a Canadian Embassy luncheon at Big Sight. So around noon I went to the “Canadian Pavilion” at the exhibition hall. This pavilion was pretty much the smallest booth in the place (Saxony had a bigger booth right beside Canada… where the hell is Saxony?), with about enough room for a WIN poster, a NINT poster, and a big Canadian flag. There was some Japanese woman there that spoke passable French (but no English, how useless is that), and she didn’t know anything about any luncheon, and didn’t seem to appreciate my lighthearted joking about her being excluded from the party.

I ended up wandering around the exhibition hall for a couple hours, had a bunch of people try to sell me everything from a nano-imprint lithography system to 99% purified metallic SWCNTs (I took a free sample of these, never know when they’ll come in handy). I checked up on the Canadian booth every once in a while, but no familiar faces showed up, just the lone Japanese woman who wasn’t exactly up to snuff on nanotech. The Canadian booth was almost as quiet as the massive Nano Iran pavilion, but not nearly as awkward. I went out to grab some curry (Japan has great curry, they love it here and its always the cheapest thing around), came back, and there were my buds from NanoQuebec. They gave me directions to the (nearly finished) luncheon, so I headed over.

The door was locked, so I had to be sneaky and wait for some bald guy to leave, then I jumped in, grabbed a plate of Sushi from the buffet, and walked up behind Professor Tam, while Shirley Tang gave me a strange look.

“Hey”, said I. Tam turned around and I very much enjoyed the look on his face when he realized who I was. “How did you possibly get here?” he asked. “Just snuck in,” I responded, “into the room, not the country”.

So there was a whole retinue there from UW. Tang, Tam, Yeow (Systems dude), Frank Gu (Nanobio mastermind), and the NanoRobotics Group’s faculty advisor (I teased him mercifully little about the NRG). Alain Francq (who at one time had Donkers’ job, now an executive at WIN) and Arthur Carty were there too. We ate sushi and chilled around the Canadian booth for a while, discussing lofty nanotechnology related subjects.

Tam to his credit spent much of the time trying to convince Alain and Carty to invite me out to dinner with them. Eventually I had advocates in the form of all the Professors, and WIN caved into the pressure.

Before we could go to dinner, it was decided that everyone would go to Tokyo station to buy Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets for the next morning, to avoid the rush. I served as the native guide, leading the group through the maze-like Tokyo train/subway system. Of course its rush hour, and we’re trying to get into and through the biggest station in Japan. It didn’t help that apparently Shinkansen tickets for a later date can’t be purchased in the Station, and you have to go to some ticket office outside to get them for the nest day (my Japanese saved the day at this point, good thing I’ve learned all the vocabulary for directions!). We lost Frank Gu for a while in the middle of Tokyo station, but he was eventually recovered with minor injuries.

We eventually made it to the restaurant, just over an hour late. And of course it was a Nomihodai/Tabehodai (that is, all you can drink and all you can eat) place with a 2.5 hour time limit. All the tables were full, and my inclusion had tipped the number of people over the number of pillows (no chairs here, this was a real Japanese restaurant). So I squashed into a table with my NanoQuebec friends from the previous night. They were already fairly intoxicated, and speaking in nothing but French. There was a Scottish guy at the table to for some reason, but as luck would have it he spoke near-fluent French too. I tried to keep up, and eventually the table’s conversation switch to half-French half-English, a combination I’m pretty confortable with.

So I spent the night drinking and eating to excess watching a bunch of scurrilous French nanoscientists discuss the finer points of bukkake.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Consider it an experiment in xenolinguistics

So today I began speaking entirely in a (bad) Scottish accent while speaking English at work.

No one has noticed yet, and it really makes my day more enjoyable. I may sound a bit more incomprehensible to my already severely-English challenged coworkers, but I believe its worth it. I'm relying more and more on broken Japanese to get points across anyway.

BTdub: I'm well aware thats not strictly a correct usage of the prefix "xeno", but they make me get an Alien registration card. Two can play at that game.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nice Wired, I can dig it.

Wired finally decided to put the How-to they absolutely HAD to have me write in the middle of final exams in December into their magazine and website.
They put together this sweet graphic to go with the article though. I approve.

They really truncated what I sent them, and didn't include any of the follow up questions they asked me after I wrote the how-to. One fun one:

Wired: How many doughnuts would you need to make a cell that produces enough energy to, say, heat your bath?
Blake: Interesting question, these are all pretty rough numbers, so bear with me. It takes about 23MJ of energy to heat up a bath tub, and to do this in a reasonable amount of time you'll need around 68 meters squared of doughnut solar cells - translating into about 100 000 doughnuts worth. You can heat up 10 bath tubs at once with only one tractor trailer load of doughnuts.

A more reasonable task is lighting up a light bulb. Lets assume its pretty efficient, fluorescent or LED. It takes about 0.45 square meters to light one up, which translates into about a trash bag full of doughnuts. Lets just say this isnt the best source for purifying TiO2, and tea isn't the best sensitizing agent.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Veni, Vidi, Victus.

I came, I saw, I was conquered by Ja La La Neko Cafe.

Photo Evidence

More from my adventures in Akihabara (the Electronics Mecca of Japan) coming soon. I'm too exhausted to post more than this gem.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Japanese barbers man, they're crazy.

Today I decided to get a haircut. It was getting all unruly, and I wanted to look spic and span for my adventures at the Canadian embassy and Nanotech 2010 expo next week. I have heard from certain sources I hold in very high esteem that Japan is the best place in the world to get a haircut, though it costs you either an arm or a leg or 40 bucks. I asked my French dorm buddy what the deal was. He said he found a place for 3000 yen (36 bucks or so) by the nearest train station.

I went to the station and walked around. There must have been like 6 hair salons/barbers within a block of the station. Three had stained glass windows and/or fancy brushed stainless steel signs, one was on the second floor, and one was called "Hair Vert." Luckily my kanji has advanced to the point that I can read "University Student Discount" on the window of the last one, so I went in there.

I was pretty proud of myself for the first few minutes in the place. Successfully said I wanted a haircut, successfully answered how long it had been since my last haircut. Successfully warned the barber: "amari mijikaku kiranaide kudasai", or "Don't cut it too short, dude". Even successfully understood and answered the first few smalltalk questions the guy asked me: "So, where are you from?", "Your Japanese is pretty good, how long have you been here?", and even "The olympics are in Canada, aren't they?".

Then I hit a brick wall. I don't know any comparatives! I can't say shorter, I can't say less short. I can't even say front or back. So I descend into an awkward sign language to try to get my message across and stop this guy from giving me a mullet.

Low and behold, it all works out. About 8 towels, 3 capes, 2 shampoos, and one massage later, I'm lookin good. And only 950 yen. Bargain. I said no to the shave though. I don't trust a Japanaman so close to my jugular.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not my ideal coffee.

Silky Black: Stylish, intelligent, luxurious. Keeps you relaxed. Wait.. what?

Not exactly what I want in the morning.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As luck would have it...

the biggest nanotechnology conference/expo in the world (at least according to the organizers) is happening in Tokyo Big-Sight next week. This Big-Sight place is a mother of a exhibition center, precariously perched on 4 inverted pyramids. Check it out:
I wonder what the inside looks like?

The venue is located on Odaiba, which is an artificial island off the coast of Tokyo, but now is pretty much a metropolis in its own right.

Anyway, so my boss told me about this and asked if I wanted to go, so of course I said yes. I enjoy a good nanotechnology conference as much as the next bloke, and this whole getting-paid-to-go-on-business-related-fun-travel-experiences is new to me, and its a development I really quite enjoy. WIN (Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology) is going to be there (I heard this from the horse's mouth, more on that in a bit), so I'll get to see some friendly Waterloo faces as an added bonus. Tons of graduate schools, big powers in industry, and national nanotechnology institutes will be in attendance, so I intend to use the many hours on the schedule devoted to "networking" to their full advantage.

So one day off work next week, awesome. Then my boss tells me that he got an email about a day of nanotechnology seminars being put on by the Canadian embassy in Tokyo, the day before we had planned on going to this Nanotech 2010 expo. I really don't know where Saita-san gets all his information, but they're remarkably informed, or hes just on a number of very broad mailing lists. I check out the seminar roster, hoping that there will be someone from Waterloo, but unfortunately they're most all from NanoQuebec, and a couple from Concordia U. Saita-san says "We already got one day to go to the expo next week, so I'll ask Sugoi-san (aka. Dr. Amazing) if we can go to this, but he might have a problem".

Well Dr. Amazing lived up to his name, and now we had two days off work next week. In an amusing anecdote, Saita-san called up the Embassy asking them if it was okay for me to come to the seminar day. He gets off the phone and walks up to me:

"Excuse me?" (hes always ruthlessly polite), "They are very happy!" He says.

"Whos very happy?" I reply.

"The.... あの.... The Canadian government, the Canadian government is very happy to have you come!" he stammers, "No, thats not right..."

I proceeded to laugh nearly uncontrollably.

Also, I emailed a certain director of a certain Waterloo Nanotechnology Institute asking if he was coming to Tokyo to hang out. I was expecting a professor-like one word response, but instead he was a champ and emailed me his itinerary, and invited me to come to an event with NIMS (Japanese National Institute for Materials Science) and chill with him and the Canadian Ambassador to Japan. How awesome is that? Turns out Francq is coming too, along with 8 Waterloo nano researchers.

I'm betting on Tam being there. Its goina be a party.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Future Port 21

So I spent pretty much all day on Saturday on my computer, Skyping and such. I ate a lot of PB&J sandwiches (which are great on Japanese white bread, makes me feel like a kid again). I figured I'd have to go exploring today (Sunday), even though my compatriots weren't doing anything special this weekend. Exploring alone is pretty great, except when you're facing a bunch of rabid cosplayers with a bad attitude. More on that in a bit.

Some of my vocal readers (read: Dan) asked for more photos, so I'll have some visual aids along with this post.

So I went to Minato Mirai. Its the big port in Yokohama, put together in the last 20 years or so to be the new "Future Port" District of the Kanto (Yokohama, Tokyo, Chiba, the big trinity of Japanese cities) area. Everything is pretty much brand new and shiny. The site has some history though, this is where Commodore Matthew Perry arrived with a small garrison of American soldiers in 1853, demanding that the (then) shogonate Japan open its borders to the world (more specifically, to the USA) and end the period of isolation that had been going on for the last few centuries. Japan acquiesced to Perry and his big coal powered ships (the black smoke lent their names to the so called "Black Ships") and allowed the age of samurai and the shogonate to quickly and regretfully draw to a close.

Minato Mirai from the Pier

So you emerge from the subway station into a massive atrium called "Queen's Square", full of trendy shops and restaurants, including the local favourite Snoopy Shop. This is worthy of note, as a good friend of mine at my dorm has snoopy slippers, a snoopy cell phone charm, the works. But she has no idea who Snoopy is, she has never heard of Woodstock, or Charlie Brown, or Charles Schultz for that matter. To the Japanese, Snoopy is just a convenient cartoon character, with no back story to speak of. Much like Pandapple is to me, I suppose.

The escalator up from the subway station, complete with the giant inflatable Snoopy.

So first things first, right? Check out the tallest building in Japan. I went in expecting a Burj Dubai with attitude, but I got this monolithic muther:

Landmark Tower - 340-some meters of lame

Its not to impressive. It doesn't look so tall at all, maybe because there are a bunch of buildings only a bit shorter all over the place. The metal piece of art near the base is straddled by the (surely) two highest paying tenants in the building. They got the place of honour thats reminiscent of the center of the posh Milan shopping district I went to in Italy.

In this corner...
McDonalds. Its closed, thats why it looks so deserted.

I don't go to McDonalds anymore. They've been bringing out these new burgers every month or so since I've got here, and the advertise the hell out of them (TV, posters, subway-screen-commercials). Beginning of January was the Big Texas Burger (it sold out in 3 days), beginning of February was the New York Burger (it sold out in 1 day). I wanted both, but I'm not up for fighting the crowds for a fucking burger. I do dig the Mega-muffin though (think about the best McMuffin you can think of, its that... but with ketchup).

Anyway, in the other corner:
Krispy Kreme. The shortest I ever saw the line. The donuts are $3 each. (or a dozen for $25, omg)

Japanese people go crazy for Krispy Kreme. Theres always been a line wrapped around the building at every one I've seen. Except for this one, I swooped in after taking this picture to get a good spot in the line. Then I saw the price, and left to get a cheap coffee and donut at Starbucks.

So then I went walking around, and found my way to a park. It was a nice sunny day, so I figured a place to sit around and relax would be in order. Its called Kouwan park, if you're ever in the area. I entered and immediately knew something was amiss.

Uhh, some Anime character. Maybe Final Fantasy? Naruto? Whatever, its a cosplayer.

I was surrounded by cosplayers! And they weren't just chilling and being immensely nerdy. They were all taking pictures of each other, in poses appropriate for their characters. Some girls were being photoed skipping away, hand in hand, some guys were holding seriously large and heavy looking swords, most were just looking very serious and thoughtful and emo.

Is this Grey's Anatomy?

These girls were skipping away from the camera, and being films by daddy/creepy uncle/fanatic.

Well this park is a gold mine for hilariously Japanese photos to put on my blog, right? I took a bunch of the funniest photos I've ever seen, complete with gravity defying hair, tails, kitty-human hybrids and french maids. I was a happy gaijin.

And then this guy in a faux-snakeskin suit, pointy elf shoes and a very large and in-charge emo bang jogged up to me and said "What are you doing?" (in Japanese). "I do photos", I say, already stressing my FOB level of Japanese.

The guy then procedes to grab my camera, pass it to his Misty-lookalike assistant (thats Pokemon's Misty), and set me with a glare. He begins to rattle on in Japanese really quickly, angrily, and homosexually (the lisp-accent is universal). After maybe 5 minutes of him yelling and pointing at me, I'm tiring of switching between "I'm so sorry", "I understand", "Is everything okay now?" - (all in Japanese) - and "Jesus Christ dude, gimme a break" - (In English). He says "You should go now", I grab my camera, and high-tail it out of there. Misty deleted all my hilarious cosplayer photos. Bitch. (The ones above were taken later, secretly).

This is the cosplayer park. Everyone you see (except for the copper) is in full on anime nerd-garb.

On my way back to the main attractions, I check out a massive ferris wheel, which doubles as the world's largest clock. It apparently has hands that show the time, but I never noticed them. Theres an amusement park on an artificial island around this place, but Tiltawhirls don't do it for me anymore, so I skipped it.
Does having a digital clock in the middle of a ferris wheel make it the world's biggest clock?

I headed over to the posh shopping district of Minato Mirai, called Motomachi. The only store I recognized was the Gap, which isn't very posh by my standards, but whatever yings the collective Japanese yang.
Fancy shopping district is fancy.

Fancy shopping district has STREET CHANDELIERS! I can dig it.

Oooo elevator parking in the Motomachi district. This parking lot was really sketchy looking, and went up like 6 stories. I wouldnt trust its structural integrity.

Nanotek cigarettes, I need some of these to fit in better.

Next came Chukagai (or China Town), to grab some cheap good food.

The people inside China Town look about the same as those outside. They're SECRET GAIJINS.

Not much to say about China Town. It was full of very narrow streets, and reminded me more of Venice than China, which often had quite wide streets outside of the markets. I got extremely and irredeemably lost in this Chinese maze. I now know that my mistake was that I remembered taking a right turn at the very large wooden Tiger, but it was a three-way intersection, and this was my undoing.

While lost, I found myself in a tight alley with little restaurants on each side, very Chinese looking, except for the plastic-meal replicas that the Japanese love so much.
Oh, wrong picture. Though I like this one too. So I'm going to include it.

Ok, this isn't the sketchy little alley either. This is where I bought my bubble tea.

Well I found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and had some cheap and awesome squid fried noodles, and finally got to writing a post card for Dan'Au (Now I just have to figure out how to get international stamps). I found some bubble tea (which is an alien concept to Japanese people, no one else has every heard of it). And then 20 minutes later finally stumbled out of China Town, completely intact. It was dark.

Pretty Nippon-maru with Minato Mirai in the background.

Minato Mirai from some artificial island I found myself on.

NB: Don't look at the tallest building in Japan, think "Hey, that looks pretty close, I can walk it", and then start walking in a straight line in its direction. There was a BAY in the way. Luckily it had lily pads/artificial islands that could get me where I needed to go.

American guy with serious juggling skills. He juggled chainsaws on that unicycle. Its much taller than it looks. I crapped myself when the other guy tossed the chainsaws to him, since he couldn't carry them up onto the unicycle himself. Now hes just being a showman with a latex glove.

This guy was impressive as well. But no chainsaws.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Second ようこそ パーティー or, Sashimi is not a Good Drinking Base

I had a welcome party my first day here. Right after work, in a private party room near the cafeteria. I don’t know whether I ever mentioned it here, probably due to a combination of exhaustion related memory loss, and a lack of internets. It was pretty good I guess, had a bit of food, a couple beers. I was more dead than alive at this time, and I don’t really remember much.

That welcome party was organized by my boss’s boss, a man short even by Japanese standards, but blessed with the name Sugoi-san, which roughly translates to Mr. Amazing, or Mr. Tremendous. Considering hes got his PhD, I’ve considered calling him Dr. Amazing, but that might threaten his secret identity.

Anyway, my boss Saita-dizzle wanted to have another welcome party for me, with all of his friends. I’m pretty sure he enjoys parading me around like some kind of pet gaijin, as he sometimes makes me come meet his friends who speak no English, just so I can say Hi, and let them take a picture with me. Well this welcome party was yesterday night, in an izakaya (Japanese traditional bar/restaurant) near work. Saita-san is apparently big with the ladies, as a party with “all of his friends” ended up being me and him along with 6 Japanese girls.

We started off with a round of beers, which we all drank quite slowly, while we inhaled a massive amount of sashimi. I was starving by this point as lunch had consisted of a topless and bottomless hamburger, so I ate quite a bit. I got to try new sashimi that I hadn’t had before, including manta ray, anglerfish (the deep sea guys with the lamps) and some fish that I don’t have an English translation for. After the sashimi, the drinking began. There hadn’t been any rice served, which was mind blasting to me (probably my first meal in a month that hadn’t had rice in it), and also spelled doom for the possibility of absorbing alcohol before it got to my brain.

As the guest of honour, everyone had to buy drinks for me. They seem completely unopposed to mixing drinks, as over the night I was gifted with: a bunch of beers, different kinds of saki, soju (a distilled spirit from Korea), whiskey (with water, these guys are cultured), Bordeaux wine (they went crazy when I read the French on the bottle), and some drink that I can’t recall the name of, but was made from sweet potatoes (and as could be expected, was mostly indistinguishable from vodka). The order of imbibing all this was less than optimized for preserving the comfort of my stomach (and braincase the next morning ie. Now).

I’m pretty sure the worst thing to do on a hangover is STMing. I don’t know if it’s the annoying as hell refresh rate, or just the utter disappointment I constantly have because all the settings are labeled in Japanese and I constantly fail at getting a clear image. Its trying, my friends, trying.

Also, wtf, can the Japanese not grasp the concept that Wednesday is a school night? Why do they insist on having drinking parties during the week? My boss was in much worse shape than I was last night, and he is a colossal wreck today. Just a masochist I suppose.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Walking in a winter wonderland.

Thats right, we had our first snowfall of the year last night. Looking outside the window this morning was great, there was maybe 3 inches of snow on the ground, the sky was clear, and I had already had an extremely pleasant cup of coffee.

Then I walked outside. I'm not really sure how the snow managed to accumulate so much -- we must have quite the difference in temperature from night to day. At 9am, when I was walking to work, it was 10 degrees outside and really sunny. The pretty looking snow was actually 95% water, with a pretty layer of clean virgin slush on top. After a couple steps, my pantlegs already soaked through, I scowled at the Japanese weather gods, marvelled at the apparent structural integrity of this liquid-y ground cover, and headed to work.

Oh the Japanese, they never disappoint in surprising me. I'd have thought they might pull a Vancouver/Seattle and freak out over the meager snowfall. No wai. A thousand little Japanese worker-bees were on the street, SHOVELLING. No snowplows (not that they were really needed), but all the same the minor roads near my dorm were already mostly cleared by the beginning of my commute. It makes me wonder whether Japan has a volunteer snow-removal service. Or maybe something mandatory - it really seems like a Japanese thing to do - to require that every family clear the road infront of their house in the morning.

Another surprise on my way to work - the bus companies pulled out all the stops in order to prevent any loss of traction on any of their buses. It appeared that the entire bus fleet had put chains on the drive tires. For a couple inches of watery slush. Overkill? You decide.

By halfway through the day, you'd never suspect that it was anything less than a normal midwinter day in Tokyo. 12 degrees and sunny. No snow to be seen. If a slushy day at the beginning of February is all this place has to offer in terms of Winter, I'm a happy man.

In other news, I've rediscovered the use of torrents. After a few years of hardcore Rapidshare use, I've come crawling back to Demonoid (me being far too cheap to pay for my own Rapidshare account for 8 months). Its still quite great. Nowhere near as fast as saturating cable downloads at megabytes per second, but more than enough for downloading books. For movies, I'm back to leaving my computer downloading overnight, since after 1am or so, the fiber line going to my building becomes a lot less full, and speeds skyrocket.