Wednesday, June 23, 2004


My, my, my, quite behind.

I spent Friday night moving my new (used) fridge into my apartment with the help of my friend Yoshika (and her parents' car). Saturday I was moving stuff around in the apartment, doing my laundry and some shopping. Saturday evening I went out for Thai food at a nice little place near Mejiro with my roommate, another Malaysian coworker, a third Malaysian guy, and a Japanese woman. The food was good, especially the tapioca dessert. Actually the rest was fairly average, but quite authentic, I felt.

On Sunday I spent the whole day hiking on Okutama Mountain, elevation 1456m. It was terrific. The hike itself was fairly strenuous and part of our merry band of 12 turned back. We climbed through the typical Japanese monoculture of cedars on switchbacks, then passed into a mixed forest of more natural type before coming out on a firebreak that ran along a ridge. This eventually led us to a sort of summit where we ate lunch and played frisbee. Then we descended through a small gully and back into cedars before returning to the picturesque small town at the base of the mountain. We paused briefly to cool our feet in the stream before heading home. We also played a little frisbee there and managed to totally submerge one of our party in the stream as he went to fetch the disc. I feel like I'm writing travel literature but it was really wonderful! I hope to be back there soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Know Your Train Stations
Train service stopped. Reason: accident

   I'm hopefully done moving things on the subway. I was going to make a list of all the second hand stuff I have bought in Japan -- basically everything I've furnished my bedroom and kitchen with. Instead I'm going to briefly discuss the importance of knowing all the train stations near your house. Coming back from another free-stuff gather, I was carrying a large plastic box filled with plates and other kitchen stuff. After making several transfers, I was finally on my home train line-- only to find it was delayed and the conductors weren't sure when it would be rolling again. After about 10 minutes of this, I made a few more transfers to a line that would get me to Akabane, one station from my home station of Kawaguchi. During this ride, I noticed that it wasn't just the Keihin-Tohoku line that was delayed, but the Tokaido, Takasaki, Utsunomiya, and one other line were also stopped, due to earthquake damage. Actually the English version flashing on the monitors in the trains just gave "Accident" as the reason, but the conductors gave more details.
   After an hour or so, the trains on my line resumed, and since the platform was now jammed with people, there was no way I was getting on the first train, especially with my big box 'o stuff. This was a full-on train packing, the kind where people stand in the doorway and push on the doorframe to force their bodies back into the train car. I waited for the next train which was almost as bad, requiring me to hold the box in my hands for the one station I had to travel. There was definitely no room to put it down. As I left the train I was pushed about so much I smacked some poor innocent bystander with my box. This is all typical behavior from Tokyoites on a crowded train.
   More to the point, when I got home, my roommate pointed out another nearby station on the Namboku subway line I could have taken instead if I had known about it. Therefore the moral: know your stations.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

How to Carry a Table on the Subway

Today started off nice and normal, moving computers around in the office, installing various software packages, eating mediocre, cheapish pork and cabbage. Recommendation: avoid "family" restaurants when dining out in Japan. They have given me nothing but disappointment after bland disappointment. I don't mean small, "mom & pop" stores, but rather those sprawling "chain-ten" that cater to families with soft drink refills? The mom & pop shops certainly vary in quality, but at least they always have interesting atmospheres.
   After lunch I went to Shinagawa with my boss, to work at a former site, and everything started to go wrong. Not exactly everything, fine, but I did spend the next several hours attempting to comment out debug code in C++ I hadn't written. This got worse the more I worked at it, but fortunately I had an excuse, and I escaped to pick up a table and chair near Waseda station. It's always fun to carry large objects on trains packed with commuters returning home, and I've done this rather a lot recently, while decorating my room. At least now I will no longer have to type while sitting on my floor. Tatami is quite nice as a seat, but it ain't good for my posture.

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Ruby Room

A quiet Monday. Working on web page development at HQ. It was busier than it had been on Friday as several other coworkers arrived to work on-site. Three of us went out to eat at a tonkatsu place nearby HQ. Pretty tasty but a little expensive. I'm just beginning to learn about the local shops.
   After work I went home to eat dinner. I made a salad with tomato, bell pepper and avocado. I also fried up some potato slices with eggplant and Thai chili sauce (imported by hand!). After that I trucked (trained?) into Shibuya to see some of my friends from my former gaijin-house. Met two new inhabitants, one of whom, a San Franciscan, is also an ultimate player! Our group wandered off to our usual Monday night hang-out, a small club/bar called The Ruby Room. No cover charge, live music (sometimes), and Sam Adams (only $7 a bottle). It was a good way to end the weekend, even if I had to go back with the last train if I was going to get any work done the next morning.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Smell of Cut Grass

[Westerners] paint their ceilings and walls in pale colors to drive out as many of the shadows as they can. We fill our gardens with dense plantings, they spread out a flat expanse of grass.

-Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows
This is from a book I'd recommend to any fans of traditional Japanese culture. Written in 1933, it's a short essay about the changing times the author was experiencing, as well as many other topics. It feels almost profane to recommend it over the internet.
   I was thinking about it as I walked into Yoyogi park for my weekly ultimate frisbee. There was a slight wiff of cut grass in the air there, which is rare for this country. It reminded me of home. Running around, chasing a frisbee in the sun was a perfect way to spend my afternoon. I also got invited to join the team going to Japan Sectionals! We're going to have to recruit more people- 8 is all we have so far. The idea is, if we win enough games in Sectionals, we'll continue to Regionals, and from there to Nationals. Seems unlikely we'll get beyond Sectionals though.
   Ah yes, I almost forgot to mention the guy I saw biking around in a sort of skin-tight navy blue jumpsuit (with hood) trimmed in flourescent green. It covered all of his skin, and he had matching gloves and a pair of dark googles over his eyes. Sometimes I'm still amazed by Japan.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Croque Monsieur

Recovering from eating so well the night before, I didn't eat until 2pm on Saturday. I had just enough time to run my dirty clothes to the laundromat and back, then hang them up to "dry" in the muggy weather before hopping on a train (actually two trains and a subway). I got off in Omotesando, smack in the heart of Tokyo's fashionable Western side. There I had my one, weekly private English lesson at a cafe called Nid that serves delicious croque monsieurs. Possibly the first I ever had. After that I hit the cheap imported foods shop in Shibuya (e.g. Y100 for 500g of pasta) and headed home for a quiet evening. My roommate was off to an international party but I needed some rest.

First post!

   Greetings gentle reader! I hope I can use this blog to keep my friends far away in touch with my daily life here. To bring you close to the smells of fish wafting from the houses, the people riding on their bicycles while carrying umbrellas, and my adventures around town.
   Today was my first day working at KSE Systems Headquarters, right here in Kawaguchi, barely 20 minute's walk from where I live. The office is small but comfortable. My first task was to upgrade the 2.4.20 Linux kernel on a old AMD K6 450mhz Redhat 9.0 machine to a 4.6.xx kernel. While I was building the new kernel, maxing out the cpu, my machine suddenly froze, then turned itself off. There was a distinct burning smell in the air. My boss advised me not to bother with that task anymore.
   After work I felt a sudden craving to drink some port. Maybe it's the cool rainy weather we've been having. After two small local liquor stores didn't have any, I headed to the big department store, which had three kinds, two of which were Sandeman's. I avoided the white port, which sounded questionable, and enjoyed a small glass of ruby port (Y2,940 for the bottle) with my after work snack.
   Then I traveled into Tokyo to meet Daniel, one of my best friends in Japan, a German architecture student, and several of his coworkers at Fujimama's, in Harajuku. Delicious! Especially the lamb with mint. Lately I've been craving non-Japanese food. The bill was quite reasonable as well at Y2,500 each, for a gourmet meal, two drinks, and dessert. Beautiful old timber frame building too. The only snag was that someone had stolen the umbrellas of Emiko (a coworker of Daniel's) and mine. Mine was not that expensive, but I bought it in Seoul for W5,000 (approximately US$5) because I liked the day-glow orange, as it stood out nicely. There is no way someone mistook my unique umbrella for theirs.
   Ah well, I have to remind myself, they're just physical possessions. At least the restaurant was nice enough to give us both spare umbrellas other customers had left behind another day so at least we didn't get wet on the way home.