Thursday, June 30, 2005


How to teach English

shukudai o shinakereba, okasan no resutoran ni ikanai.
(If you don't do your homework, I won't go to your Mother's restaurant.)

We are, of course, forbidden to use Japanese in the classroom. Furthermore, I'm far from convinced that the above is a perfect translation of what I intended to say. The kid in question understood though, and he did the work.

For the first time in ages I feel like I'm winning the war.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Some good advice, or: here's how my evening went

Don't cry yourself dry
wipe a tear from your eye
'cos when people get to you
hey, that's just what people do.

(Singers burst into hysterical laughter and leave via the back of the stage.)

Friday, June 24, 2005


European Gothic

A man carrying a large metal crucifix at a funeral procession near Ljubljana on Wednesday was killed when lighting struck the cross.

The funeral procession was taking place just as a severe summer storm moved across the area around Ljubljana on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Slovenian police, a 62-year-old man died in hospital from the injuries he sustained from the lighting strike to the cross he was carrying.

Another man was slightly injured and a number of people attending the funeral procession at Brezovica, some 10km south of Ljubljana, were thrown to the ground by the lighting, the report said.

Man Carrying Cross at Funeral Killed by Lightning
Slovene Press Agency, Friday, June 24, 2005

That's dark.

It reminds me partly of one of the highlights of my post-graduation European tour: Transylvania.

James and I, having been to Bucharest and had a fantastic view of the 1999 solar eclipse which passed across Europe, returned to our digs in the Transylvanian town of Brasov to find ourselves locked out along with the dog. (If this doesn't make sense to you, I should explain that we were staying in a downstairs apartment owned by a very sweet old lady for the princely sum of $5 each per night.)

A little put out by this, we made our way down to the Medieval-looking town square and enjoyed some pizza, while hordes of grubby-looking children hovered nearby, hopeful of a bite to eat. We told them to bugger off. Afterwards, we tracked down a pub and got into conversation with a couple of locals. I was talking to a guy who'd perfected his English in Dublin and kept saying "for crying out loud," at the end of every sentence. James spoke to the guy's girlfriend and, with a flourish of diplomacy that made even me blush, announced that he didn't like Hungarians. The girl, inevitably, was half Hungarian.

Having bade farewell to our new-found friends, we returned to the house to find we were still locked out along with the dog. With a thunderstorm now in full swing outside, we bedded down stoically in the hallway. The dog, not being too big or brave, crawled onto my chest and lay there shivering with fear. James started snoring.

A short while later, the dog suddenly sat bolt upright on my chest and started growling at the door. A dramatic flash of lightning outlined the silhouette of a figure coming into the hall towards the two recumbent travellers. I did an instant bit of schoolboy arithmetic (Transylvania + thunderstorm + shadowy figure emerging from the night = VAMPIRE) freaked out and THREW THE DOG.

I just had time enough to figure out that the shadowy figure had to be our weirdo guide Dorian before his surprised yell told me that my improvised canine projectile had hit him in the legs. He helped James and I break into the apartment, then we went to bed and pushed the chest of drawers in front of the door. We didn't really trust Dorian not to murder us in our sleep; he was that kind of guy.

It's one of those experiences I wouldn't exchange for anything.


Thursday, June 23, 2005


Insight and hindsight

So, as I was riding down rain-swept Midosuji last night, I gave Andrew a bell and asked if I could swing by his pad. He has a new place and it's pimp: nice and spacious and the balcony overlooks a car park. If this doesn't seem like such a bonus, you have only to imagine Andrew and I sitting on the balcony late at night, knocking back spirits and watching a couple getting fresh by the ticket machine through Andrew's Sumo binoculars.

Last night, however, the conditions were not conducive to casual voyeurism; I just wanted to get out of the rain for half an hour or so and maybe check my e-mails. Andrew, being a hospitable guy, said it was AOK. I promised to pick up some fried chicken from the convenience store by way of thanks.

And here's the crux of the story: with one piece of supaishii chikin left, I proposed that we janken for it, winner take all. Andrew pointed out that we could just split it.

My jaw fell open.

Why didn't I think of that? I thought. So simple, so humane.

We split the chicken, although I couldn't help feeling that I'd lost somehow, thanks to my blinkered one-shall-stand-one-shall-fall ethos. Andrew had shown himself to be a far more evolved human being than myself with his philosophy of sharing.

Then again, when I woke up this morning, the following occurred to me:

What a puny weakling; I should crush him and take everything he has for my own.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


A few cans shy of a six-pack

It's a funny thing about the convenience stores in Japan: you can treat them like a library. This is the polar opposite of what you can do in English newsagents, but in Japan it's no problem at all, apparently. You can just stand there and read a magazine from cover to cover and nobody gives you any grief.

Today, there were a bunch of people doing this in the Furukawa Familymart and one of them was, quite bluntly, mental. I don't know the current politically correct term for this and, even if I did, it probably wouldn't sound any better.

Anyway, there were continual "mngh mngh" noises coming from this guy at the back of the store as I scouted around for some lunchtime chow. When I got what I wanted finally, I went up to the counter to pay. At this point, mental bloke decided it was time to leave; he stuck his magazine back in the rack and headed for the front of the store. However, it seems he couldn't leave without first saying goodbye to the Familymart employees.

What all of the above amounts to is that I was standing at the counter with the guy by the door, waving insistently and making urgent "mngh mngh" noises. Meanwhile, the girl behind the counter was doing her best to pretend that nothing existed in the entire universe apart from me and the goods I was paying for.

If she'd only turn and wave back to him, I thought, the deadlock would be broken. He could go about his business and she would be a decent human being in my eyes.

She didn't.

Giving up on Familymart employees as a species, I turned and gave a friendly wave and bow to the guy (the chickenhead behind the counter was apparently too absorbed in my purchase to take note of this.) He responded in kind, then lurched out of the door, scaring a bunch of schoolgirls in the process. Another employee suddenly materialised beside the first and they both tittered schoolgirlishly about their recently-departed customer.

Yes, he's not quite right in the head, I thought.

But you guys are both twats.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


How to make droll retorts

This started with my football team, although now it's plaguing other people in my life.

The formula is this:

RETORT = "You're an x," where x is an inoccuous-seeming word from your victim's previous remark.


Wee Bob: Everyone, get back in position!

Dan: You're a position.

As well as destroying my team's morale with these churlish and infantile slurs, I'm not above employing them on my students, as 12-year-old returnee Takaaki found out:

Dan: I don't like that drink- it hurts my teeth.

Taka: That's cavities!

Dan: You're a cavity.

Taka: No I'm not.

(Note for those living outside Japan: a returnee is a student who has lived abroad. Like this little smartarse.)

Monday, June 13, 2005


Back to the old skool

Murphy's, Osaka's fairly bog-standard (ahem) Irish bar pulled a bit of a coup today. After the Japan vs Ireland rugby match at the Nagai stadium, the whole Irish team went there.

Let it be said, when it comes to football, I'm English; when it comes to rugby, I'm Irish. The Irish rugby team have been disappointing me all my life with their near misses and whoops-no-grand-slams.

I've never been more disappointed than today though: when I decided it was time to leave the bar and went to retrieve my football kit bag, I realised that they'd stolen my ball.

Having your football stolen at secondary school by the fifth-years who smoke is traumatic enough. Having it stolen by an international rugby team is even worse. Particularly when they're indulging in such witty egg-chasing humour as whacking each other with bar stools.

So it was with some trepidation that I held up my bag and asked which funny fucker had nicked my ball (those exact words.)

I got my ball back (a tad on the grubby side, but whatever) and I'm alive to tell the tale.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Last Samurai be damned

And here is my hastily-conceived and non-exhaustive list of:

The greatest Japanese film characters of all time!


Defining moment: evil goons are about to dispose of George and Stanley when they hear a noise from a cupboard marked "supplies." Upon opening said cupboard, they discover Kuni and his karate cohorts, who yell "SUPLISE!" in unison, before unleashing some karate beatdown.

Gedde Watanabe probably put Japan back ten years with this role.

The running man

"And now out first stalker of the evening, a CADRE trophy champion with
over thirty life-time kills. Let's welcome the incredible ice-man who
slices his opponents limb from limb into quivering, bloody sushi,
professor Subzero!"

The entire Tokyo team

Anyone that's ever seen this film will remember the brutal slow-motion sequence where three of these guys ambush Moonpie during the game and bash his head in. Dark, dark stuff.

More to follow, as and when I get round to watching some more old-school classics.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Guilty snigger

A house fire that occurred on Jan. 16 in Nagata Ward, Kobe, was caused by cats urinating on a fax machine, the city's fire department said Thursday.

According to the department, the thermal printer head of the machine was extensively burned, and members of the household told the department their nine cats often urinated on the machine.

In an experiment using the same model machine, the department dripped a sample of 0.5 milliliters of urine on the printer head's nine elements, which were spaced 0.5 millimeters apart. The first droplet conducted the electrical current, and by the 15th, the machine produced a spark.

An official of the National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster said, "Cat urine contains salt, and salt water conducts electricity well. This probably caused the fire."

Cats caused house fire by urinating on fax
The Yomiuri Shimbun, 10th June, 2005

The deadly symmetry: nine cats, nine elements; the signs were all there...

Even if this were my own house, I think I'd still be laughing. Those pesky cats, you have to love them.



Guilty conscious

Last night's dose of stalker e-mail mayhem:

I fell from stairs, and suffered serious injuries. Very painful and Blood doesn't stop.. Help me

There's one born every minute; I mailed her back and suggested (as tactfully as I could) that maybe it would be better for her to call an ambulance. I don't think I'm an unkind person, but I know bugger all about first aid and I was already in my pyjamas.

Lo and behold, she was in my school today and she looked as fit as a fiddle.

Go figure.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Deeper understanding II

Japanese scientists are to explore the centre of the Earth. Using a giant drill ship launched next month, the researchers aim to be the first to punch a hole through the rocky crust that covers our planet and to reach the mantle below.
Journey to the centre of Earth
The Guardian, Saturday June 4, 2005

At first, I thought this had to be a belated April fool, but I guess it figures. If there's some godless tinkering with nature to be done, the Japanese are definitely the right guys for the job.

Take this for example.

And now I'm off to see my Ethiopian lentil dealer; it could only happen in Japan.


Friday, June 03, 2005


Automobile achievements and survival Japanese

Singer Brian Harvey is in a critical condition in an east London hospital after he fell under the wheels of his own car, police have said.
Singer Harvey 'crushed under car'
BBC,Tuesday, 31 May, 2005

I've witnessed some heinous boy-band stupidity (think: Mark Owen's solo career), but managing to reverse a Mercedes over oneself is quite an impressive feat by anyone's standards. I hope he makes a full recovery and is a little more careful in future.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe...

An elderly Australian couple evaded police on a 1,400 mile journey by car and bus after setting off in protest when the wife was denied an extension of her driving license because of old age.
Elderly couple leads police on merry hunt
Reuters, Thu Jun 2, 2005

Heart-warming stuff, although I raised my eyebrows when I read that the octogenarian fugitives both suffered from "varying degrees of dementia." Probably time to hang up those car keys, Peter Pan.

On a completely unrelated note, I picked up a cheap-ass English phrasebook yesterday. If this seems like a bizarre thing for me to do, it's because I can read just about enough Japanese writing to make some sense of the phrases that are being translated. And I noticed this particularly rivetting exchange as one of the modelled conversations:

A: What are you doing here?
B: Shut up. Don't move!
A: What do you want?
B: Give me all the money you have.

So, if you want some useful Japanese phrases for the streets of Neyagawa, here they are, rendered into my best romaji:

Urusai: shut up.
Ugoku na: don't move.
Ari-gane zenbu yokose: give me all your money.

The most important thing with communication in an unfamiliar language is don't be afraid of making mistakes. Besides, if you're brandishing a katana or a pointed stick or similar, I daresay your victim will get the idea.

Use it wisely, folks!

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