Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Today is fine and sunny. The storm has headed up north, and we're baking in hot sunshine with a little breeze to keep the air clean. The humidity is still high, unfortunately (we hoped it would get blown away as it sometimes does after a typhoon passes near) and another typhoon is heading this way along on a very similar path to the last one. But for now, at least, we can relax.

It seems that all of Japan except this area was inundated with rain yesterday. This has happened before - we get heavy rain warnings, and everywhere else is drowning in water, but here stays dry. We got some rain but not enough to cause any sort of mess.

There are large bits of tree all over the garden, which has also been invaded by little tree frogs. There are normally one or two hopping around when I water the garden, but this morning when I went out they were all over the place. I don't know where they came from.

Aside from the bit of fence that vanished early last night there doesn't seem to be any real damage, but I haven't been out to look around the neighbourhood yet. Our block has mostly new houses (except ours and the disaster zone next door) so they were pretty safe anyway. It's the older houses that get the most damage, usually. By 'older' I mean 30 - 50-year-old houses. Anything older than that is likely to be built quite well if it's the traditional style, but newer old houses tend to be very shoddy. Houses here are built to last about thirty years. Ours is an exception. Lucky us.

I have learned the difference between earthquakes and typhoons. Some of these differences are obvious, and other less so.

In earthquakes the major damage occurs very quickly. I think the Hanshin quake lasted about 25 seconds. In that time over 100,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.

In the earthquake, around 6000 people died. In this typhoon, five, the last I heard. (I also heard that there was a huge typhoon several decades ago in this area that killed 5000 people, but I've never been able to find concrete information about it.)

In a typhoon, the major damage occurs over several hours. It seems to go on and on. You hang in there and hope there aren't any major wind gusts that will blow the tiles off your roof, and the 'hanging in there' gets tiring. In an earthquake there is no time to hang in there. It's over before you have time to think anything coherent, and you just go straight into shock.

However, earthquakes also go on and on, but in ways you don't expect because people don't talk about it so much. There are the aftershocks, for one thing. These were occurring every five minutes or so the first couple of days after the Hanshin quake, and the effect was that you stayed terrified. The first big quake is so overwhelming that your nerves are shot anyway, and after that you are kept on edge by the approaching rumbles of aftershocks and the way the ground keeps slipping around under you. Your world has become unstable and untrustworthy. You most basic assumption - that the ground under your feet is solid - is shattered. Even when the aftershocks become less frequent you are still preternaturally alert to sudden movements or sounds. You live for a long time in a state of heightened awareness. This lasts weeks and weeks, because aftershocks are still happening, with decreasing frequency, for weeks and weeks.

The mess after an earthquake is indescribable, both inside and outside. In the case of this typhoon, here at least, the mess is confined to outside. (The mess inside is entirely self-inflicted.) I understand that we were not hit hard and that this is not necessarily true for places that got hit harder, particularly for those people who got water damage.

When a typhoon is over, it's over. It's gone somewhere else. You know you are safe, at least until the next one. After an earthquake the first rumours to start circulating are the ones about how that was just the beginning, this quake was the trigger that will set off a whole series. Earthquakes spawn rumours you would not believe. But you do half believe them. Your world has been turned upside down and suddenly anything is believable. Earthquakes also spawn housework you would not believe, and it's very, very hard to put the furniture upright and put things back on shelves when you are convinced that any minute now it's all going to get thrown around again. The rumours are demoralising.

At least in Japan most of the damage from typhoons seems to be caused by water, judging by the news reports. We were lucky. We didn't get the rain, and since we'd already moved most of the moveable things inside from the garden we didn't get much damage. The bicycles were thrown around a bit, but they weren't damaged. (Well, there is a dent in my front basket, but it's good match for the old dent on the other side of the basket.) In typhoons you have time to prepare. You are warned. You know it will be dangerous outside with all the flying bits of tree and things that weren't tied down, so you stay inside. Inside is safe, unless you are the man whose roof blew off.

Earthquakes give no warning. They crash you out of a deep sleep, don't tell you what they are, and you think the world is ending. If you can think at all, you think, "This is it. It's all over. Goodbye."

Both earthquakes and typhoons are incredibly noisy. But after a typhoon everything returns to normal, more or less.

After an earthquake there is a dreadful silence. When you run outside and call out to your neighbours, "Are you all right? Do you need help?" your voices sound thin and faraway even when you are face to face. You feel that you are crying into the night across a great abyss. The air itself is dead and flat, with an alien, metallic smell, and everything is broken and unfamiliar.

When the sun came up after the Hanshin quake there was no reassurance in it. It revealed a world that had changed in terrible ways. And still that dreadful silence that lingered for weeks, broken only by sirens and helicopters.

This morning the air is fresh and alive and birds are quarrelling in the storm-damaged tree.

Next weekend (probably): Typhoon Songda

Songda projected path


Where's my seatbelt? Shouldn't I be buckled in?

I just stuck my head out the only window that doesn't have shutters, and freaked out. That great big tree next door was bending so far it was almost touching the ground.

(Addendum, 3.40 am: The wind seems to have died down except for the occasional big gust, the house is no longer shaking, and the rain was never much to start with in this area. It's finally quiet enough to go to bed. Good night!)

Monday, August 30, 2004

Dinner with sound effects

Well, it's here. All the shutters are up. We're not stupid.

I just had dinner. The kitchen in at the back of the house, and while I was eating a section the fence between our place and the place behind blew away. It had been making a terrific noise, and then suddenly it was gone. Exciting, eh? Having the window open was probably not a good idea. We got lucky and the fence blew the other way. It could have come straight through the screen window. Yes, that's right - I'd had the windows open. It was too hot otherwise.

We hadn't bothered with the kitchen shutters, but after that we closed them, too. The wind is stronger around the side of the house where I am now, but it's bad enough now that the other side is getting dangerous. It would be silly to get damage from the wind when there's no need for it.

The kitchen became stifling after closing the shutters. No air conditioning down there. I'm sweating buckets but won't have a shower until the wind dies down. Bits of plaster from the house next door keep hitting the bathroom window, and the noise is too freaky. I'm very glad the madwoman isn't there. We'd feel obliged to invite her over here if she was in that house. It's not safe there, now. I wouldn't be surprised if that house fell down tonight.

Up here the howling of the wind is straight out of a horror movie. The rain is hitting the shutters and sounds like pebbles being thrown with great force. Now and again the house shakes. I didn't feel that downstairs, only up here. The tree hits the house like a large ghost trying to get in.

I don't know why I'm not frightened. Perhaps it's because of what our builder neighbour told us all those years ago, with great amazement: this house is strong, it's built well, it will survive another earthquake as big as the Hanshin one, no problem, I guarantee. Well, this isn't nearly as bad. It's pretty damned bad, but not that bad.

But there's NO WAY I'm going out in that. Never mind my umbrella being snatched away by the wind, I'd be more worried about ME being snatched away by the wind. If the wind can make the house rock, what do you think it would do to me?

Don't you envy me my exotic and fascinating life?

Typhoon TV

TV is fascinating during typhoons. The different channels handle it differently. The staid and serious NHK (public broadcasting) has more staid and serious reports, and always have the latest updates on deaths and injuries. It is the more sobering channel, although they also seem unable to resist the inside out umbrella thing, and the windswept reporters. They just do it more seriously. (In other words, they still overdramatize like mad, but they do it seriously.)

Just now, however, I watched a rather dramatic bit of footage on one of the other channels. I was channel surfing and can't remember which channel it was, but they were showing seaside hotels being bombarded with huge waves, and roads that were completely under water. This report was in English as well, and we had it on English mode. This can add a certain extra something to the reports, as the translators are working hard to keep up with the translating and don't have time to inject the appropriate expression into their voices. So you get dire news reported flatly, or an upbeat tone when a downbeat tone would have been more suitable, or a surprised voice when they clearly didn't know what was coming, and so on. They're translating on the fly, and it must be hard.

They showed a section of road that was completely underwater, and the reporter announced that people had been warned not to drive there but some people were trying anyway. They showed one car turning into the flooded road, and we got the translator saying, "The water is getting deeper, but the car still going forward. The water is halfway up the wheels, and getting higher, and... now he seems to be doing a u-turn."

That was clearly not interesting enough, so they switched the camera to a van turning into the same road. "There it goes," said the reporter, in the flat tone that tells you he's translating on the go. "The water is up to the hubcaps. Now the water is... er... higher. And the driver is... still going. It seems like he intends to... (long pause) ...keep going. And... er... now ... er... he seems to be... er... (much loooonger pause) ... (very surprised tone) ...drifting away!"

The van drifted away. It was a startling bit of video, to put it mildly.

While our mouths were still hanging open the camera then suddenly changed to a completely different picture, of a bit of road that had collapsed on the side of a hill. A police car and a truck had fallen off. The police officer was able to get out quickly but the truck was half buried and it took four hours to rescue the driver.

Meanwhile The Man and I were still mentally back there with the van.We wondered whether the TV crew had done anything to help. Had they just carried on filming as the hapless idiot drifted away? Or did they pay him to do that? What other reason could there be to drive your nice shiny new van into what looks like a river?

Around here it's not much worse than it was at 5.30. The wind is gusty, but not too bad. We've had a little rain but not much. Looking at the reports, the typhoon has lost power and the storm zone around the eye has shrunk a bit, and we're right on the edge of the projected path of that zone. This might be as bad as it gets. It might miss us altogether.

And it might not. There's a few hours to go before it passes us. We're on the east side, which is always the worst.

Just went down to watch the news again (I become an obsessive TV watcher when typhoons are heading for us), and NHK has gone inside-out-umbrella mad. I just watched about 15 umbrellas turn inside out, one after another. They interviewed one woman who was huddled on the ground with her friends, buffeted by wind and hanging onto each other. They were all laughing their heads off. She said she'd been knocked over the by the wind and her umbrella had been blown away.

My question: why do people bother with umbrellas at all, in this weather? I mean, really, it's insane. Umbrellas offer no protection in horizontal rain. And if you live in Japan, by the time you're ten you've probably seen several million umbrellas turn inside out in typhoons on TV, so it's not like you haven't been warned.

I have two theories about this. One is that people carry umbrellas in typhoons just in case a TV crew comes along, so that they can have five seconds of fame on national television. The other is that the TV crew carry the umbrellas with them, and hand them out to people so they can get some 'dramatic' footage of people getting their umbrellas blown inside out.

The problem with the 'dramatic' thing is that they've long since crossed the line from drama to comedy, and apparently haven't noticed yet.

In another report, the roof was blown off one man's house. He was interviewed, and said that he heard a terrible noise and knew immediately what had happened. I imagine he would have if his roof had suddenly disappeared. He added, somewhat indignantly, that this had never happened to him before.

More seriously, the toll is now five dead and four missing.

Tick... tick... tick...

Various updates

(Duplicated at my other blog.)

The typhoon seems to veering north a little, which bodes well for us. Maybe. On TV what they've shown us of Kyushu and Shikoku is a mess. Four people dead, two missing, flooding, wind damage, and so on. The warnings are still in force for our area, but it seems that the rain is going to be more of a problem than the wind. Still, if it gets much worse the shutters are going up. This is a slow moving typhoon, although it has gained some speed since making landfall. The bad news is that there is another typhoon forming, and it looks like it's on a nearly identical path to this one. So we could be going through all this again quite soon.

There was a message from the WCPLA in the letterbox, saying that our neighbour has been located. She is in a hospital in Nishinomiya, and the WCPLA will be visiting and doing what she can. I'm impressed at her fast detective work.

Coming back from the supermarket I spotted two very naughty t-shirts. One said "For Unlimited Carnal Knowledge". The words were listed in a row going down, with the first letter of each word larger and in a different colour. The other one said, "It's hard to be good all the time, and vice versa." Both t-shirts were worn by middle-aged women. The perfect English and wordplay makes me wonder where they bought them. Is this evidence of some t-shirt salesperson having a joke at their expense when they travelled abroad somewhere? If so, tsk tsk. That was mean.

Last night we had a beautiful sunset, but as the sky darkened it went an ominous dark bruise-purple.

5.30 pm.

Tick... tick... tick...

Inside-out umbrellas

(Duplicated at my other blog.)

It's 3pm. On TV they are showing reporters in various parts of Japan dressed up in wet weather gear yelling into mikes dramatically and having their words blown away. You don't need to understand Japanese to know what they're saying. "It's very windy! The wind is very strong! It's raining a lot!" more or less covers it, and we can see that already.

They have also shown several people having their umbrellas blown inside out. I think they have an archive of material like this that they bring out every time there is a typhoon. The inside out umbrella thing is particularly ubiquitous. Every time you switch on the TV you see yet another hapless person struggling with an inside out umbrella. Or perhaps it's the same one.

Here the wind is getting up and the branches of the too-big tree outside the house are being blown about and brushing against the wall. No rain yet, but that is not expected until around 6, along with a lot more wind. I'm tossing up whether or not to pay a visit to the supermarket. If I toss up for too much longer, I might be the one being tossed up when I do finally make up my mind. Perhaps I'd better go now. No backward flying birds yet, but they're struggling.

My climbing rose has decided to unseasonably produce one, perfect rose. I don't suppose it will remain perfect for long.

We've been told to expect 400 mm of rain. That's a lot of rain.

I'd better get going.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Neighbourhood drama (Part II)

(Also posted at my other blog.)

The police came, with the woman in charge of people living alone, and they got into the house next door via a side door that was not locked.

She's not there. There is no sign of her, and nobody knows where she is. The house is incredibly messy, they said, and the toilet and bathroom look unusable, but it's not too smelly. They said there is a place for sleeping upstairs but no sign that anybody has been there for a while.

I'm very pleased to know that she didn't die in there, but would like to know where she is. The woman in charge of people living alone (that's very clumsy. I'll call her the WCPLA) is going to call all the hospitals in the area and see if she can locate her. The police will be looking for her, too.

So one worry has been removed, but the mystery remains. The WCPLA will keep us informed.

There is a festival happening around the corner. I'm going to check it out.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Message to Sophia Poole

This is a message for Sophia Poole.

I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but couldn't. I don't know if this is a problem at my end or at yours. Whatever, I have some questions for you. Some of these might be too personal for you to want to answer, but feel free to pick and choose.

Here goes.

You say you are in your second year. What do you teach? How long do you intend to stay? Is this a 'time out' or a career? How are your working conditions? What kind of institution do you work for? How are the living conditions? What about your visa? How long do you get, and can you renew easily if you want to? What sort of cultural problems do you encounter? Are you treated as a real teacher/person or as a foreign oddity? Both? How are your students? Are you free to teach the way you want to? Is daily life comfortable? What about access to decent medical care, is that available? Can you save money? How is the housing? Are you learning the language, or is it not necessary/too difficult? Can you get around without a car? Is the food good? Do you get enough holidays? Is navigating the local bureaucracy not too difficult?

I have more questions, but that will do for a start. I wish I could leave these questions on your blog, but since I can't, I'll just have to hope you come back here at some point. As a NZer living in Japan the experiences of ex-pats anywhere interest me, very much. I know you've just started your blog but I'm itching to read more. Please don't stop now.

(I hope you are using something like Statcounter to track your hits, so you will know that I've visited several dozen times to leave lots of hits on your record and provoke you to return the visit and see this.)

(Also, if anyone else reading this can leave comments on Sophia's blog (why can't I, dammit?), could you please point her back here?)

Weather update


Neighbourhood drama (Part I)

Our water almost got cut off this week. The water bill arrives every two months, not monthly like the other bills, and we didn't notice we hadn't paid it for a while. They sent us two reminders, as well as the original bill, and one final notice threatening to cut us off.

The problem was we didn't get any of these bills. We have a new postie, and as I've mentioned before Japanese addresses aren't very helpful, and to make matters worse the name on our water bill is our landlord's. Well, actually his father's (who has died), and since the landlord's mad sister lives next door and has the same family name they decided to ignore the numbers and deliver the bills to her.

Fortunately for us the water company sent someone round yesterday, and we were able to sort out the problem.

Just now the postie turned up with the bills. He told us that he had fished them out of the landlord's mad sister's letter box, which, he said, was full.

Now we have something new to worry about.

This woman is a sad case. She is borderline. Obviously she is able to live alone, since she has done for years. She fiercely resisted attempts to get her rehoused after the earthquake when her house was deemed unsafe for habitation, and there is no law to stop her from living in it. It jumped off its foundations and has been leaning a few millimetres more every year, so that now her roof and ours touch. This is why we have a greatly reduced rent. A builder friend told us that if her house fell (actually he said 'when' but I try not to think about it too much) it would fall in, not over, probably causing some damage to our bathroom and kitchen, but it wasn't very dangerous for us. Our living rooms are on the other side of the house. It adds a thrill to bathtime, though, especially when it's windy. Bits of plaster occasionally fall off the wall and make a huge clattering noise, and the next thing you know you're standing naked and dripping out in the hallway, wondering how you got there. It's that exaggerated startle reflex thing again. You never know when it's going to kick in. (Incidentally, our house was the only one in the block that did not need to be rebuilt after the earthquake. For some reason our landlord's father, when he had it built, spent a fortune on it and it was built to last. We were lucky.)

Our neighbour has always lived with the shutters up and everything locked up tight as a drum. We rarely see her, although every few months she will come over and ask to use our bath. Apparently she has not had hot water since the earthquake, and anyway I suspect her bathroom is full of collapsed tiles and junk. She never puts out anything on rubbish collection days. She didn't even put anything out after the earthquake, when we all had house-sized piles of broken stuff outside on the road. Her front door is still upright, but the door frame itself is leaning sideways so that there are huge gaps, which she has taped over. I don't want to think about what it looks - or smells - like inside. The Man has been in a couple of times, and tells me it's worse than anything I could imagine. (The entire neighbourhood offered to help clean up after the quake, and were refused with screaming and angry insults.)

When the city government offered her new, low-rent housing to live in after the quake, she was furious and accused them of trying to take over her life. This was after she had told a reporter that her house had collapsed around her and the city government didn't care and wasn't doing anything to help her. Our policy has been, always, to be polite and friendly with her and to help her when we can, but not to interfere.

We often don't see her for months, but she has never stopped picking up her mail before. I'd been thinking recently she would probably come over to use the bath again soon, since it had been a few months, and it crossed my mind that she might be ill or have moved away. But she is quite young. I didn't think she might be dead.

Now I'm wondering.

I don't feel guilty about not checking earlier. This is the same woman who used to scream at her mother that she was going to kill her with an axe. Her mother was, if anything, madder, and died shortly after the earthquake (in a hospital, in case you were wondering). She gets very angry at anything that hints at interference, and when she comes to use the bath she is clearly embarrassed, and makes her request using a mixture of servile begging and threats to have her brother kick us out. She doesn't threaten us every time - sometimes she seems almost normal - but that's what she did last time. In fact her brother hates her, and has said so to us. (He is an odd bird himself, to put it mildly, but functions pretty well.)

The Man has gone off to find the neighbourhood ... leader. (I don't know what to call this person - someone who is in charge of the neighbourhood and keeps an eye on things.) He will leave it up to her to decide what to do. No doubt we will have the police around soon, breaking in and... I don't want to think about what they might find.

I'm not looking forward to this. Well, I am, in the sense that this is dramatic and while I don't like myself for it I do love a spectacle, and when the police get involved here you generally get a spectacle. But I also feel terribly sad that nobody noticed that something was wrong for so long. We are the nearest thing to friends that she has, her only family hates her (it's mutual, but still), and she doesn't get much mail. It must have taken at least a couple of months for her mailbox to fill up like that.

Of course, she might have just gone away somewhere. Or she may be there but have decided not to collect her mail from the letter box.

But it doesn't look good.

(Will update as events unfold.)

Moody and short-tempered

(This is an old story. Some of you may have seen it before.)

Amazing story out of Australia:

A man attacked by a shark swam 300 metres, walked to his car and drove to a local surf club with the shark still attached to his leg.

The wobbegong attacked Luke Tresoglavic, 22, yesterday as he was snorkelling on a reef off Caves Beach, south of Newcastle.

When the 60-centimetre shark attacked, "(I) instantly grabbed hold of it with both hands as hard as I could to stop it shaking", Mr Tresoglavic told ABC radio.

A doctor was quickly located. When he asked what the problem was, the shark snapped, "Are you blind? I've got something stuck in my teeth, you fool."

Wobbegongs can grow up to three metres, have razor-like teeth and are said to be moody and short-tempered.

Read the rest here.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Eat dirt

SatoriSam wants to know, in his comment to my Chocolate
post, what is for dinner.

Well, I was thinking, considering the kind of day I've had, that I might just eat dirt. He's welcome to join me.

Eating dirt is an old habit of mine.

One for the birds

As you may have noticed, I do not use this blog (or my other blog, currently having hiccups again, hence this reposting) to express my innermost feelings. I don't write about my emotions and talk about how misunderstood I am, nor am I writing about my quest for spiritual and personal growth. I tried writing like that once. I even joined a 'journaling workshop' briefly, many years ago. (When did 'journal' become a verb, anyway?)

What a load of codswallop I produced during that time! Even I couldn't read it. It bored me to tears. Somehow I'd managed to reduce the dramatic and monumental load of crap that was being dumped on me to a self-pitying, irritating whine. There was absolutely nothing I could do about this stuff anyway. It was out of my hands. I had not done anything to cause it. There was nothing I could do to stop it happening. I knew it would keep happening, probably for the rest of my life, and how was I dealing with it? By whiiiiiining.

Bugger that.

I decided I just didn't have the patience for self-exploration, and besides it's one thing to bore other people but it's quite another to bore yourself. Being a congenitally cheerful person (shallow, if you prefer) it was difficult to sustain the misery anyway. There can be all sorts of emotions skittering around on the surface, and a sadness lurking underneath that (but everybody has that sadness; that's just life), and then a kitten leaps vertically into the air in fright at the sight of its own tail, farting loudly - and suddenly all is fine and funny with the world. (This actually happened to me in the middle of a very distressing and emotional telephone conversation with a family member, and it was very hard to justify why I started laughing. "This kitten seems to be jet-propelled" probably wasn't a very good explanation.)

So, I decided, I might be feeling sad, and life might be tragic and unfair, but there was no need to make myself miserable about it.

That being said, I am now going to break my own rules and indulge in a little whine.

This morning I woke up in a massively black mood. It was too damned hot and I was drenched in sweat and misery. The Man was snoring peacefully beside me and I regarded him balefully. It was all his fault. He had set the air conditioner before he came to bed, at a temperature perfect for lizards. He was perfectly comfortable, and I was suffering. "It's all very well for you," I muttered, and he smiled in his sleep. I almost hit him.

I could have got up and lowered the temperature, but the towel I was sleeping on was soaked through anyway, as was the pillow, and if I did he'd just wake up and complain about how cold it was. So I got up and had a shower instead, feeling grumpy and out-of-sorts. Then I went outside to get the newspaper, and the moment I stepped outside a bird crapped on my head.

And that's it, really. I woke up feeling like I'd been crapped on from a great height, and then I was. Oh, very funny.

I have no explanation for why it made me feel better.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


I can eat chocolate again!

I had a craving for chocolate, had some handy - and ate it!

I realize you don't understand why this is making me so excited, but I haven't been able to eat chocolate for a while. In February this year I got a stomach virus. The timing was awful. I had eaten pizza that evening, and then four small squares of chocolate. I went home and later in the evening felt a little sick, so went to bed early thinking it was probably the pizza and I'd feel all right in the morning. Around 2am I woke up feeling sicker, and after lying there for a while wondering if I could get to sleep again decided that if I threw up I'd probably feel better. So I got out of bed.

The Man was still at work in the next room, sitting at his computer. It was cold, so I pulled on a sweatshirt. I also grabbed my sweatpants, and was bending down to put them on when my stomach heaved dangerously. I flung the doors open between the rooms and made a run for it.

The Man's face as he spun around to see what the sudden commotion was about was priceless. What he saw first was my sweatpants flying into the room (I don't know why I threw them like that), followed by me, bent over with my hands cupped to my face and something nasty trickling through my fingers as I ran at full speed through the room. The shock and horror on his face would have made me laugh if I'd been capable of it.

"Glub blub," I said as I flew past.

All night I threw up chocolate. I could not believe how much chocolate I threw up, or how utterly appalling it could taste. I had only eaten four small squares but it tainted everything. I threw up four kilos of the bloody stuff. That's how much weight I lost in the horrible twenty four hours the virus lasted, and it all tasted strongly of chocolate. I threw up chocolate violently and painfully every two hours, on the dot.

The two hour thing made it possible for me to cycle down to see the doctor. At 10 a.m. I threw up, then went to see him knowing I had a couple of hours before the next bout. I had to work that afternoon. Normally I would have cancelled classes, but I couldn't. It was the second-to-last class of semester, I was giving a test, and I knew some students couldn't make it to the last class. I couldn't grade them without the test, and there was nobody else to do it.

So I went to see him hoping he could give me something to stop the throwing up.

When the doctor heard my symptoms he was thrilled with me. Usually I go to him with problems that don't fit the season. ("NO! YOU CAN'T HAVE A SORE THROAT! THIS IS THE DIARRHEA SEASON! HOW ARE YOUR BOWELS?") This time I'd managed to get something that he'd already seen more than a hundred times that month. He showed me his official infectious diseases report.

"See?" he said, gleefully. "You have the stomach virus that's going around. Everybody is getting it. It will be gone in 24 hours, I guarantee."

He gave me some medicine to stop the nausea, and some more for diarrhea (which hadn't actually been much of a problem yet, although I could tell it was coming), and told me to go to bed. I thanked him for his good advice, took the medicine right there, and cycled to work. I had a hideous afternoon, but at least I only threw up between classes. (My bowels, on the other hand, stopped working for a week. I knew I shouldn't have taken that pill.)

Since that episode I have not been able to eat chocolate. The smell alone has been enough to make my stomach turn over. I tried a few times, then gave up. I hadn't even thought about it for at least two months.

Today I suddenly got the urge to eat chocolate, and a friend had given me some a few months back which I'd put away in my desk drawer, hoping that I'd be able to eat it again soon. (I still liked the idea of chocolate, even if I couldn't abide the smell.) Today I took it out. It had gone a bit shapeless in the heat - yes I know, it should have been in the fridge, but I'd forgotten it was there - but it still looked all right. I smelt it. My stomach didn't seem to mind.

I ate some.


I have now eaten two small squares of chocolate. It was wonderful. I hope this is not the throwing up season.

Monday, August 23, 2004

A Wild and Lawless Place

I think I understand now how two large ships can sink every week without us ever hearing anything about it. I found these book reviews, and if you scroll down to the second one you'll find this:

the watery seven tenths of the globe are littered with some 143,000 ships: most sail under "flags of convenience," registered in such countries as the island state of Tuvalu in the Pacific; many are dangerous rustbuckets, nearly all are undermanned, with crews on third-world wages. The owners of these vessels, hidden behind multiple fronts and shell companies, are hard—and sometimes impossible—to trace. Though there now exists an International Law of the Sea (still not ratified by the US) and its enforcing body, the International Maritime Organization, the best efforts to police the sea have so far proved alarmingly ineffective.

The thing is, if nobody knows who owns a ship, and the ship sinks in international waters, who is going to write about it? And who is going to care?

The rest of the article is nightmare-inducing stuff about the potential for ship-delivered terrorism.

What a mess.

I'm very glad my brother is no longer a commercial diver. And I'm glad he's not a loquacious person. (I inherited all the loquaciousness in our family. He was left with a few grunts to communicate with.) The little he's told me about his work is frightening enough without adding what I've learned from this book review. He says he wants to go back to it later, but I think his kids will keep him safely at home. He loves them too much to miss out on any of their growing up. By the time he's ready to go away for the months at a time required, he'll be either too old or too long out of the game.

I hope.


I've just finished watching the Olympic women's marathon. I meant to pop down and watch it for a few minutes at a time throughout the race, but it was too dramatic to leave once it had started.

Marathons always fascinate me. I did cross-country running at school for a short time, and loved it, but the sheer determination it took to stay at a level where it remained enjoyable was beyond me. Plus of course there were all sorts of restrictions on my time (caused by the silly sect I grew up in) which made it impossible anyway. But I remember getting that runner's high, just once, where suddenly all the pain and strain disappears, and you feel as though you could run forever, weightless, effortless. I won a school race on my one runner's high, floating effortlessly ahead of everybody with my teacher cruising alongside in a car and urging me on. I talked with him as I was running. I told him how I felt, and he told me what it was called. It was a revelation to me.

These days I can barely run around the block, but I love watching the marathoners. I went out with a guy who ran marathons for a while when I was in my early 20s, and I could understand why he did it. I could also understand why, even though he wasn't built to be a runner and knew he would never win a race, he still wanted to run. Just finishing a marathon was enough for him.

I feel like that when I watch the marathon. After the winner comes in, I want to be there, cheering on the others as well. They finished that run. They deserve to be cheered on. The ones that drop out deserve a cuddle, too, for all the effort they put in.

Today's race was exciting for Japan because there were three Japanese runners in the race, and all three stayed in the top ten all the way. They came in at first, fifth and seventh, out of a field of 82, although perhaps this is less extraordinary when you consider how big marathon running is in Japan. It's a national obsession. Every Sunday morning, it seems, there is some marathon being shown on TV.

Noguchi, the winner, is 150 cm tall and weighs 40 kg. For you Americans out there that is 4 foot nine, and 88 pounds. Her BMI is 17.8, which makes her underweight. I guess that must be good for running marathons. You don't want to carry any extra weight for all that distance.

She did carry a little extra weight, though. She had a talisman stuck to the side of her shorts, probably especially blessed for her by a Shinto priest. Maybe the extra weight held her back a little, but maybe the blessing carried her forward. Who knows.

Today's race was also remarkable because of the number of runners who threw up on camera. I've never seen that before. Two woman threw up during the race, after drinking. One of these had just drunk some luridly coloured special sports drink. Her technicolor yawn made me think for a moment that she had some exotic disease.

The winner threw up, too, after passing the finish line, and was hurried away by a doctor. It was very sudden. She looked radiant, then threw up. I hope she is all right.

I regret the Japanese-centric coverage of this race. Although I can understand why they focused on Noguchi, especially after she pulled ahead, I wish they'd shown the American runner who came in third. I didn't get to see her at all except at the end, and she must have had an amazing race. She was never in the top group when they were showing it, and the next group was a long way back so she must have made an astonishing breakaway run at some point. I'd love to have seen that. I would have been cheering her on like mad. SatoriSam thinks I never cheer on Americans, but he's wrong.

Sometimes I do.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Natural brunette

This is me, in case you were wondering what I looked like.

Hit Below the Knee

SatoriSam, somewhere in the multitude of comments to his blog entry Heads Up!, responded to something I said by saying, "You win."

I told him I didn't know it was a competition.

This reminded me of the time a bunch of colleagues were discussing childhood games, and I tried to explain the game my brothers and I liked the most on rainy days. This was a game we made up ourselves, called Hit Below the Knee.

The rules of this game were simple, I told my colleagues. You collected all the balls you could find in the house. This could include everything from ping-pong balls to basketballs, plus a few ball-shaped things - pom-poms off woolly hats, for example. We could usually collect 15 or so. (Coming from a large family has its advantages.)

The four of us (the other three had left home already) would then shoo the adults out of the living room, remove all breakables (of which there weren't many - my mother knew better), push the furniture back, pile the balls in the middle, and then someone would shout "GO!" We'd all dive for the balls and throw them at each other. You aimed for below the knee. Everybody would throw at once, and there would be balls flying and children leaping frantically and yelling and laughing and screaming, and this would carry on until we all collapsed into giggling puddles, at which point the game ended. (Do you know how silly your little brother can look when he is leaping to avoid an incoming ball while at the same time throwing one and trying to grab another one?) It was a very fast game. We all ended up with red shins, and laughed so much our stomachs hurt.

At this point my colleagues wanted to know how you won the game. How did we keep score?

Keep score?

I thought about it. The nearest thing to 'winning' I could remember was one time at the end of a game my older brother reached out an arm weak from laughing too much and dropped a ping-pong ball on my shin. We were all lying on the floor, exhausted and giggling. He announced, "I won!" I didn't think that counted.

"Keep score of what?" I asked. "The game was an excuse to hit each other and laugh a lot. Everybody won."

My colleagues thought it was a pointless sort of game, and of course it was. But it was insanely funny, and I'd play it again if I had the energy.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

A slow goodbye to tBlog

I've had it up to here ^ with tBlog. I will continue using them, because people know I'm there, but I will be pointing them here and posting everything in duplicate. This will take a bit of extra time, I know, but it will be worth it. I'm sick of the slow loading, the problems (there's always something) and the lack of support.

Now I have to learn how to work Blogger properly. I haven't figured out how to post pictures yet, but will.

Hmm... maybe I can try to post a picture now, as a test.

Here's a picture of me:

If that worked, all is well in blogland.