Thursday, February 28, 2008

Birthdays

Another hot day in Auckland. The heat here is nothing like the heat in Japan, where shade doesn't seem to make much difference to anything. When the sun goes behind a cloud here, suddendly it's COLD, but then the sun comes out and oh, how lovely, you think, and two minutes later what an attractive red nose you have, my dear!

Or red neck, which is the bit I neglected to protect yesterday. Last night I lay in bed feeling unaccountably warm and thinking ugly thoughts until I figured out what was wrong. I had turned into a redneck.

Today I braved the Auckland bus system again. Yesterday was fairly painless, aside from one initial hitch. This hitch occured when I interpreted 'the A street bus stop' as being 'the bus stop on A street,' instead of 'the bus stop on B street which is nearest to A street.' I had found this information on the Internet, and later called the number to tell them of their mistake, only to find out that the mistake was apparently mine. I then told them that if they wanted to call the bus stop on B street the A street bus stop, then they should call it the 'A street bus stop on B street,' to avoid confusion, since there is a bus stop on A street as well. (And what is that called, I wonder?) They agreed with me, but in retrospect I wonder whether I made things worse.

Anyway, today I took a different bus, and all went swimmingly until I got the bus started off and I realized I had left my folder with my passport AND BANK CARD in it back at the house. The bank card was the most important thing, because I had intended to have a bit of a shopping spree. I had only a little cash with me, and it was too time-consuming to get off the bus and wait for a bus back and then a bus there again, so I carried on, resolving to buy only the most important thing on my list: a birthday present for a nephew, who is having a birthday on Saturday.

Fortunately I had enough for what I got him - a book called Children's Encyclopedia of Earth. He is only eight, but it seemed to me that this is the kind of book he will grow into. He can enjoy the pictures now, and later he will enjoy the words.

At least it has dinosaurs in it. You can't go wrong with eight-year-olds and dinosaurs.

I have discovered that in a couple of weeks the eight-year-old's little brother will ALSO have a birthday. How inconvenient! I will have to go shopping again (this time with my bank card) and get ANOTHER book. There was one I saw today that might interest a six-year-old: a pop-up book of the jungle, with sound effects. I particularly liked the sound effects. At the very least they will drive his parents up the wall.

Giving noisy presents to children is a perogative of bad auntliness. The kids think you're wonderful, and you don't have to deal with the results. Who cares if the parents never want to see you again?

So I will be going out to my brother's tomorrow and staying overnight. He does not have a computer so you will not hear from me for a couple of days. I will be attending a birthday party.

I do not expect it to be a relaxing occasion. Please forgive any crankiness that ensues. I'm not used to this kind of thing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Surprise

My brother took me into the office where they issue driving licences again today. Yesterday there was a wee hitch, perhaps because my case was SLIGHTLY unusual. I had a licence that was, according to what the government had written on it, totally valid, but those lifetime licences were changed to 10-year licences in . . . some Kiwi please tell me . . . 1990? It might have been earlier. But anyway, at the time nobody told me. Eventually somebody did, but not until it was already at least 10-year-old news, and after that I kept meaning to try to get it switched over if it was still possible, and every time I visited NZ I couldn't be bothered or had left my licence in Japan.

But this time I thought I'd try. I was almost certain that I would have to do the test again, in which case I wouldn't bother since I never drive anyway these days (and would probably fail the test), but if I could get it, well, a driver's licence is always a good thing to have, just in case. So I went in yesterday.

The woman who dealt with my case was amazed by the licence I showed her. It was so old she had never seen one like that before. But she was fantastically helpful (and funny), and called Wellington, asked what the story was in a case like this, and gave them the details of the licence. They said they'd have to search their archives for myrecords (how to make me feel old) and since archives that old are on microfiche (how to make me feel even older) it would take a little time. I was told to come back today.

I went back today fully expecting to be told I would have to reapply. Instead, I was given a new licence. They GAVE ME A NEW LICENCE! Are they mad? I haven't driven for years! I even passed the eyesight test, which I did not expect - I had planned to get new contact lenses before leaving Japan because the ones I have are at least six years old and I'm sure my eyesight has changed since I got them, but I even passed that. What a shock.

Most of the staff were Indian. (The woman dealing with my case was Chinese, but she was the only non-Indian there.) The woman serving at the next counter got a surprise when a tiny, elderly Chinese couple came to her counter with a request. It was the wife who had a question, and her English was awful. After a while she said, hesitantly,

"Can I speak Hindi?"

"Pardon?" said the Indian woman, looking baffled. "English? Yes, you can speak English."

"No no no, Hindi," said the Chinese woman, louder this time.

"Hindi?" said the Indian woman. "You want to speak Hindi?"

"Yes," said the Chinese woman.

"But . . . Hindi? Aren't you Chinese?"

The Chinese woman said something in Hindi, and they chatted rapidly for a while. The Indian woman's face was a picture, she was SO shocked. After a while she said, in English,

"But your Hindi is PERFECT!"

The husband said something in Hindi, which made the Indian woman look even more shocked.

"You BOTH speak perfect Hindi!" she gasped. "I mean, it's PERFECT! WHY? You . . . you CAN'T be Indian! I mean, LOOK at you!"

It was true the Chinese couple were almost the perfect stereotype of an elderly Chinese couple. There was absolutely nothing Indian about them.

The other customers (us, actually) were laughing so much that the husband finally explained to all of us,

"My parents were born in China but they moved to India, and I was born in India. My wife, too. So we speak Hindi." He shrugged and laughed.

If the Indian woman had been grinning more broadly her face would have split in half. She held her hand to her heart and proclaimed dramatically,

"YOU ALMOST GAVE ME A HEART ATTACK! THAT WAS SURPRISING TOO MUCH!"

A little later she handed back the paperwork she was doing for them, explained something in Hindi, and as they were leaving called after them, in English,

"You guys MADE MY DAY."



Multiculturalism. You've got to love it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Abunai!

This morning after waking up (but barely) I asked my kind host which way we'd gone to that nice cafe on my first day here. I thought I might try to walk there. Everybody uses a car here, but I'm on foot, and wasn't ready to accept the bus challenge yet. I remembered that getting to the cafe was either turn left or turn right upon exiting the driveway, and then straight until you got to it, but couldn't remember if it was left or right. Nor could I remember how far it was.

"Which way was it to get to the cafe?" I asked.

"Left," said my kind host.

Later, after he'd gone to work and I had had a cup of tea and begun to wake up properly, I decided it was time to venture out the door, braving the frightening alarm system. (I set it off yesterday accidentally when my brother came to pick me up, and my ears are still ringing.) I set the alarm, locked the door hurriedly as it screamed briefly and terrifyingly at me (it's supposed to do that), and, nerves jangling, walked to the end of the driveway.

There I stopped and tried to remember which way my kind host had told me to go. Was it left? Or right? Apparently my brain had blanked out his answer. I went the way that looked right to me, based on the shaky memory of the sleep-deprived person I was two days ago. I turned, excitingly, right.

Actually I'm still not sure about this. Maybe he DID say right, and it was just a lot further to the cafe than I thought it was. I did not find the cafe. I did, however, find a bank, and a few shops where I could get things I'd forgotten to pack (sun screen!) and I stopped at an Indian takeaway and had a mango lassi. While I was drinking that my brother called and offered to pick me up to take me to get my licence renewed. He said he'd be an hour or so, so I walked back to my temperory home. It took about forty minutes.

Pedestrians are so rare that everybody stares at you. It just isn't done to walk in the suburbs, apparently. This is not surprising really, given that it took so long to get to somewhere that was hardly worth getting to, but still! I expected that things might have become a little more pedestrian-friendly, given the high level of environmental consciousness (at least compared to Japan). But apparently people are very, very attached to their cars. You see an awful lot of large cars on the road with one person in them, and it all looks so very WASTEFUL.

Tomorrow I will bravely attempt to decipher the bus system. I have to go back to the licence place, and although my brother has offered to drive me there again I intend to try it in the morning via bus. (I will probably call him to be rescued in the afternoon, from whichever suburb I have ended up in.)

I am missing my bicycle!

Oh, and there is one more thing I forgot to tell you about yesterday, which I have decided to hide down the bottom of this post because I'm a little ashamed of myself. Anyone with enough patience to read this far has my permission to slap my wrist over this one. You have earned the right.

My nephews wanted to know about the Japanese language as we were walking down to the beach yesterday. I taught them how to say 'yes.'

"Hai!" I said, and they repeated it after me.

"That's easy!" said the starting-to-be-six year old. "Teach us something difficult."

I thought for a moment.

"All right," I said. "Here's a bit more difficult word: ABUNAI!"

"ABUNAI!" shouted my nephews. "What does it mean?"

"'Dangerous'! or 'Watch out'!" I said. "Whenever you see a Japanese person you should suddenly shout ABUNAI! and point behind them. It will give them a nice big fright."

They thought that was a brilliant idea.

I'm a little embarrassed about this episode now. I don't know what came over me.

With a bit of luck they'll have forgotten by now anyway, but just in case they haven't, I hereby apologize to any Japanese person who has been or will be unpleasantly surprised by my nephews. Please do not blame them. It was not their fault.

They were just following instructions.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fish stories

I spent today with my brother and his family. My two nephews weren't quite sure who I was at first, but by the end of the day had decided that if they had to have another aunt they supposed I would do. One nephew is eight and the other is starting-to-be-six (according to himself) and I spent a lot of time today playing full-contact Snap and listening to fish stories.

"Daddy once caught a really big shark," the eight-year-old informed me during a walk (sans parents) down to the little beach. "And when he cut the shark open with his big knife, in its stomach there was a a Pepsi bottle, a wire spring, a tree THAT BIG, and, and . . . " he frowned in throught, "A man's body!"

I asked him if they'd taken a picture.

"No," he said. "It was just too disgusting."

Oh.

"Are you sure there isn't a little fib in there somewhere?" I asked. A wire spring and a Pepsi bottle had been lying under the little wooden bench halfway down the hill, and I suspected could have provided some creative inspiration.

"NO THERE ISN'T," both boys chorused so indignantly I was quite taken aback.

"Your dad is pretty clever," I said, meekly, and they nodded seriously.

"Yes, he is."

The five-year-old added, "He is REALLY clever."

They showed me the boat ramp down on the little beach. "He made that, too!"

That part of the story was, I knew, not a fib, so later I asked my brother about the shark story. He called over to the kids.

"I hear you've been telling auntie about a shark," he said. "I don't remember the bit about the body. Or the tree."

"No, Dad, you were looking the other way," said the eight-year-old, giving me an aggrieved look. Apparently it's against the rules to call someone on their fish stories.

I also learned that recently the grandmother of one of his friends at school died because a sea horse stabbed her in the leg with its nose. Pulling it out killed her, apparently.

"Don't know where that one came from," said his mother. "Funny how their minds work, eh?"

Funny indeed, but just in case I mentally filed sea horse noses away under 'things to avoid.'

In the evening I went out into my brother's back yard and lay on the grass and gazed at the stars. What a sky!

In Japan I never see that many stars unless I stand up too quickly.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Homesick

I do not normally write about my feelings here. My feelings are of interest to nobody except myself, and even then I have my doubts. Certainly when I write about feelings, and then read what I wrote, my usual response is to yawn so hugely I am in danger of dislocating my jaw.

Which reminds me . . . speaking of dislocating jaws (which is FAR more interesting than my feelings) I once had an elderly student confide in me and the rest of her class – a small one – something she told us she had never told anybody else before. She told us that when she was on her honeymoon, many, many years ago, she and her husband went on some sort of tour of Japan. Early the second morning, while they were waiting for a train out in the countryside somewhere, she yawned so hugely she dislocated her jaw.

It was by far the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to her, she said. She did not know her new husband very well yet, and stood with her hand over her mouth wondering what to do. Her mouth would not close, and she soon discovered it was not possible to discreetly pop a dislocated jaw back into place. She finally asked him for help. (I imagine it sounded something like, "I can't close 'y 'outh! Hel'!")

They rushed off to find a doctor, who not only fixed her jaw but also instructed her husband on how to fix it, just in case it happened again.

After she had finished telling her story (and everybody had stopped laughing) there was a short silence. Then I asked her if it ever did happen again, and she said it didn't.

"Must have been a good honeymoon!" I said.

She blushed. Then one of the other ladies suggested,

"Or a very boring one?"

She blushed even more, and everybody hooted knowingly. But she refused to tell us which interpretation was correct.

(Was that the longest digression you have ever read, or what?)

ANYWAY.

What I started off to say was that although I very rarely write about my feelings here (because they are boring, even to me) I want to write about my feelings today. My feelings today are totally irrational, but at the same time entirely normal, at least for me. You see, today is the day before I travel, and on the day before I travel I get unbearably homesick.

This is, of course, stupid. I have not gone anywhere yet. How can I feel homesick when I am at home? But I do. I feel dreadful. I want to stay home. I can't imagine why I thought it was a good idea to leave, even temporarily. Leave The Man? How silly! Why would I do that? Why would I want to go anywhere? Right here is perfectly all right. Here is home. I don't want to leave it. WHOSE STUPID IDEA WAS THIS, ANYWAY?

I made the mistake of telling The Man this about this earlier today.

"Whose idea was this, anyway?" I demanded, and he looked a little surprised.

"Wasn't it yours?" he asked.

I almost hit him.

But I know that once I start moving I'll be perfectly fine. This happens every time I go away. The feeling evaporates as soon as I'm on my way to the airport, but that doesn't stop it from being horrible while it lasts. I know the holiday will turn back into something fun and interesting and worth doing. It's just the day before that gets to me.

I WANT TO STAY HOOOOOME!

Panic

I have lost a glove! One of the only good pair of gloves I have ever owned, which were given to me by a dear friend and I know were very expensive. They are (or, rather, it is, now) soft, buttery leather, lined with cashmere, and wonderfully warm. I LOVE THOSE GLOVES.

I am going nuts looking for it, but I suspect I must have dropped it on a train yesterday. Or at the flea market. Or in a coffee shop when we were coming home. I didn't need to wear them yesterday because it was unexpectedly warm.

I can't go back and look for them because I am leaving soon. I will not need gloves in New Zealand. It is summer there now. But I WANT TO FIND MY GLOVE.

(This blog post was brought to you by an attack of classic displacement activity. I have not finished packing.)

Flea market

It was flea market day today, at Shi-Tennoji in Osaka. The weather was gorgeous, and the turtles seemed to be enjoying the sun.


I thought this warrior was rather graceful, despite his lack of hands.


These two have been placed in a beer crate, probably for misbehaving.


Somebody had spun the prayer wheel at the gate, but I didn't see who. It just kept spinning. I suppose it must be a very well-oiled prayer wheel. (Or maybe it has batteries?)


I haven't finished going through my photos yet but it's past bedtime, so that's all for now.

Candy cane flower

Any minute now I'll remember what it's actually called.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trilogy minus one

The Man asked me today what you call two movies or books that go together. If there are three, it is a trilogy. So what do you call it when there's two?

I answered,

"Oh, two is a – "

And then my brain went completely blank. The Man waited for me to answer, and when I didn't he laughed at me.

"You're supposed to be an English teacher!" he said. "If there's a word for three movies there must be a word for two!"

"Pair!" I said, desperately. "Duo! Couple! Duet! Twin!"

That was a bit annoying, so when I got home I looked it up.

Two connected works of art = duology or dilogy
Three connected works of art = trilogy
Four connected works of art = tetralogy

And so on. (The list is here.)

Now I feel a little better about not knowing. Have you ever heard anybody call two connected movies a duology, or dilogy? Even if they did, you'd suspect them of making it up, wouldn't you?

I would, anyway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Socks

Today when The Man were out on our bicycles we stopped at a little temporary shop selling socks. There I found the perfect presents. Socks! I bought about ten pairs, which will be sprinkled liberally amongst nieces, nephews, and friends' kids.

"Made in Japan!" the man told us, but I'd already spotted that. I have never seen anybody's name spelt Jhon anywhere else. My students do this all the time. They know there is a meaningless 'h' in John somewhere, and there are two places it could go. Naturally, they always choose the wrong place.

The word on the pair on the left, however, is spelt perfectly (if you are American). I'm not quite sure which lucky child is going to get those ones. Should I give those to the child who annoys me the most, or to the one who annoys me the least?

It's a tricky one, that.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snow monkeys

I had the snow monkey web cam up on my computer today, and I notice the snow monkeys are getting a lot of snow this year. In the mornings it must be particularly cold, because more of them seem to congregate in their hot pool before noon than after.

I love that web cam. I posted about it a few years ago but I think they've changed the camera since then – I remember the picture being a lot smaller and not such good quality. It refreshes every three minutes.

It's not refreshing now (too dark) but you can click on the times underneath (left side is today, right side is yesterday) and see what they've been up to. Sometimes there are so many people crowded around you can hardly see the monkeys, but the monkeys don't seem to mind. They're probably too warm to mind. After all, they're the ones in the lovely warm water, and the humans are the ones standing in the cold fiddling with their cameras with frozen fingers.

This picture was downloaded from the webcam, from 8am Feb 18th.



(If you want to read about the monkeys, there are some pages in English. It may not be perfect English, but it is understandable.)

Questions

Today The Man had some questions for me. He has been translating a book by a person who does not have a way with words (to put it mildly), and there were some bits he did not understand. He wanted me, as a native speaker, to explain them to him.

I am fairly sure that the last time he translated a book and had questions for me I was able to answer most of them. This time, however, he has become cleverer. He only asks me about bits that I can't understand either. The whole experience has left me feeling a little irate. Why is it that New Age-y writers are so bad at writing? I know they are frequently sloppy thinkers, but do they have to be sloppy writers as well? Why can't they at least write clearly?

How, for example, can ordinary reality be both superseded AND infused by some kind of non-ordinary reality? I was unable to explain that one. I wondered at first whether non-ordinary reality could be like a tea bag. You infuse the tea bag, and then put it aside to be superseded by the cup of tea. But no, I realized – 'infused and superseded by' means that the water is infused by the tea bag and then superseded by the tea bag, so you'd have to throw out the cup of tea and keep the tea bag, and that couldn't be right. (Just as well, too. It would be terrible to waste a good cup of tea like that.)

Also, and this was another one, what happens when you reach a crack in the universe and 'return from the place from whence you came'? I simply could not get my head around that sentence (possibly because it was still spinning after the tea bag thing). Does that mean that the crack in the universe is the place from whence you came? No, that doesn't work, because you just got TO there, not FROM there. So let's see, you get to the crack, then go to somewhere else (unspecified) that you originally came from and then ... return from it? Why would you return to a crack in the universe? That doesn't sound right. And anyway, what is a crack in the universe? I couldn't even explain that much.

AND. . . did you know that a medicine man 'causes rain by doodling with a bug'? The Man wanted to know how you doodle with a bug, and I'm afraid I was no help at all, even after I stopped laughing. I have only ever doodled with a pen or pencil. Doodling with a bug sounds, somehow, rude, or at least impolite. (Especially if you're a bug.)

Those were the three things that baffled me the most.

I learned something, though. I learned that if you see an extraterrestrial it will be surprised. They are not used to being seen, apparently, although I am not quite sure how you can tell they are surprised. (Perhaps their antennae stand on end.) This has led me to suspect that The Man is actually possessed by an extraterrestrial because quite frequently I surprise him exactly like that. I look at him and say something, and he responds by jumping and screaming loudly. This never fails to disconcert. He always tells me (after we have both stopped screaming) that he thought I wasn't in the room and he didn't hear me sneaking in, but I find this explanation unconvincing. I do not sneak. Sneaking is not my style. It's that stupid surprised extraterrestrial that must have taken up residence right next to his startle reflex. Perhaps we should hold an exorcism. Does exorcising work on extraterrestrials, do you think?

(Actually, considering the kind of sentences The Man has been trying to understand for the past few months, I am not surprised that he has been concentrating so hard he does not hear me entering a room. The world could have blown up while I was trying to understand those tea bags, and I would not have noticed a thing.)

Anyway, if anybody has any clues about any of the unanswered questions above (the supersede/infuse thing, the doodlebug thing, and the return from the place from whence you came thing), please enlighten me. While for most of his other questions I was able to tell The Man what I was fairly sure the author was trying to say, for those three my answer was either, "Leave that sentence out," or "Make something up," which was not particularly satisfactory.

If nobody else understands them either, though, I won't feel quite so unprofessional.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

One more . . .

Omikuji.

More Nara pictures

Persimmon trees are amazingly gnarly.


This very neglected tree was still producing persimmons.


This particular tree is not one I would like to walk past in the dark. It was scary enough in the daylight.


When you walk alongside bamboo like this, and it's windy, the bamboo clanks. It feels like a bunch of invisible people are walking alongside you, playing castanets.


This helpful sign shows children the correct way to leap into the water.


We did not break any rules. We left our certain hunting equipment at home.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nara

Today The Man and I went to Nara, where we had various adventures. I used my new camera a lot, and made a lot of mistakes. The biggest mistake I made was to not use the 'auto' function at least some of the time. I learned a lot, though, mostly about what I do not know. For example, I do not understand light very well, which is why most of my pictures are rather glarey.

In this one, however, while the light is not great, it's not too bad either. I took this photo because as we were walking past, the dog watched us very, very carefully, as though he couldn't quite make up his mind whether we were shady characters or not. But I am posting it because while I was looking at the photo I suddenly noticed the cord going into the dog's kennel.

What can it be for, do you think? Does he have a chandelier in there? A burglar alarm? A call button for if he suddenly feels ill? An electric blanket?


(Of course it could just be a leash and not an electric cord at all, but that would be boring.)

This is a map of a temple we did not visit because it does not exist anymore. I like the details on this map.


I particularly like the wee people.


There were a lot of chickens at the shrine we visited. This hen liked The Man very much, and followed him around for a while. When we left she watched sadly.


"Why are you taking him away?" she asked. "I like him. He's a nice man."

And it's true. He is.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crunch

Today as I was cycling to the supermarket I had to stop because a local idiot driving a SUV was trying to park in the typically tiny parking space in front of his house. The road is very narrow, and to park he had to use up the entire road while he was maneuvering.

I waited patiently, and was rewarded for my patience by the sound of a very loud CRUNCH! as he carefully backed straight into the low concrete wall alongside his house. This action had left enough room for me to go around his ridiculously large and inappropriate vehicle, and as I cycled off he inched forward to extricate himself, stopped, then backed and did it again.

Made my day, that did.

Gradually I feel sleepy

Today I was going through old teaching notebooks prior to throwing them out, and came across something I copied from a student's homework. In this homework, if I remember correctly (it is a several-years-old notebook), they were supposed to answer some questions and add a few details.

This particular student had been excruciatingly honest about the question he was answering, which was:

Have you ever fallen asleep in class?
His answer was wonderfully evocative despite the jumbled tenses, and almost made me fall asleep just reading it:
I have ever fallen asleep in class a bunch of times.

When class started, I am listening to teacher's voice. Gradually I feel sleepy. My eyes are closing.

I'm in my dream.

When I found myself, the class has finished. I always fall asleep like this.
I know why I copied this. It answered a question for me. The question is about why students' Pavlovian response to sitting down in a classroom is to fall asleep. It is because in most lectures their professors do not care whether their audience is asleep or awake, and drone on so soporifically it is almost impossible to stay awake.

It also explains why students frequently comment that my classes are tiring. I do not drone enough, so they can't catch up on the sleep they seem to be chronically deprived of. I keep expecting them to do stuff.

How inconsiderate of me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The dream

At some point in our conversation this evening my friend and I were talking about houses we've lived in, and discovered that we have, at various times, shared a similar dream.

In the dream, you are in a house (or apartment), and it is too crowded and/or small, and you suddenly remember or find a door that leads to another part of the house, usually upstairs, that you had forgotten was there. You cannot understand how you could possibly have forgotten/not known. You go through the door and what you find there amazes and delights you. It is beautiful, and spacious – the perfect room(s) – except usually there is some flaw, large or small. (In my friend's case the flaw was a huge, really mucky fish tank with scary things in it; and in mine, a woman working obsessively on an enormous pile of ironing and insisting that nobody had used the room for so long it was now hers by right.)

This is the outline of the dream. I have had it several times (although not recently), set in several different houses, some of which I've lived in and some I haven't. It is always so real to me that I wake up all excited at remembering the room I'd forgotten was there, and how wonderful! Let's open it up and USE it! Then I wake up properly and the dream collapses, but it leaves me with a feeling of potential surprise and delight. I am disappointed that the dream was not real, but something equally wonderful MIGHT happen.

It was a bit strange to discover that someone else had had my dream, and made me wonder whether this is one of those universal dreams, that everybody has.

Have you ever had this dream?

Health update, mystery bird, and kites

My operation was a resounding anticlimax. On Saturday I went back to the doctor to get the dressing changed, which I had anticipated being a gruesome affair involving pus and blood and so on. But it turned out to mean taking off the big taped bandage thingy that made me look importantly operated-upon and replacing it with something quite a lot smaller than a Band Aid. Apparently nothing exciting had happened under there, so the bandage thing wasn't necessary any more.

Actually that was the first time I'd seen the result of the operation, and contrary to my expectations (and I suppose proving that I chose the right doctor for the job) it looks nothing like an operation. Instead it looks like I've been unwisely picking at a pimple.

This makes me feel a bit pathetic about all the fuss I've made, but really, the procedure took half an hour, so I expected there to be something more to show for it. (Especially since when he said he'd 'whip it off' I'd expected it to take a couple of minutes.) I suppose the half hour was the doctor carefully covering up the evidence. Most of that time was spent putting in seven or eight tiny stitches, only one of which is now visible. Sometimes the thread went 'ping' as he was doing this stitching operation, which made me wonder if he was inserting a tiny violin, of a size suitable for the kind of angel that dances on the head of a pin.

I suppose I should not be disappointed that it looks so undramatic. I guess the doctor assumed that I did not want to frighten my students. And after all, it is my face.

So I'm not really ungrateful. I'm just disappointed at the lack of evidence of my fortitude. I'll be meeting a friend tomorrow and had been hoping to impress her. Having to point it out first will be a little deflating.

--------

Today I went to the big river to play with my new camera. I did not have much luck, as I left it too late and was on the wrong side of the river, facing the sun, which was going down already. Also, there were too many people (today was a public holiday) so the birds were keeping well away from the riverbanks. However, I did get some very bad shots of a mystery bird (some kind of small heron?) which flew overhead, stopped briefly, and then wisely flew away again. If it had stayed around it would have risked getting tangled in some fishing line.

I get annoyed when people fish where the birds congregate, and especially where cormorants are diving. It worries me. There was one cormorant diving today right where a guy was fishing. Often he was throwing his line right where the bird had just gone down, and I found it incredibly stressful to watch. He was on the other side of the river, otherwise I might have said something.

I'd been playing with the camera settings when the mystery bird appeared and disappeared suddenly, and was not quick enough to get ready. These are the best shots I got. The first one is particularly unfocused, but at least it shows the markings on the wings.




Also on the other side of the river, a couple of people were flying kites. (I kept hoping the kite strings would snag the fisherman.) Kites are hard to photograph, I discovered. When these were lower they were right in front of the sun, and when they were high they were VERY high. So these aren't great pictures, either.

Maybe I'll do better next time.



Sunday, February 10, 2008

Aftermath

This morning I was woken by the sound of dripping water. Drip, drip, drip. I thought it might be raining, but the sound was coming only from the little roof above the window of our bedroom. Apparently it was raining only on one place, which was odd.

I got up and went outside to investigate. There I discovered that it was a sunny day and the entire neighbourhood was dripping with melting snow. In fact, when I stepped outside the first thing to happen was that I got dripped on.

I guess that means the snow excitement is over. By afternoon it was pretty much all gone.

But not quite. While I was out on my bicycle I noticed a snowdog, grimly hanging on to existence in a shadowed spot.


I also spotted a few other snow creatures, a little difficult to identify.


One of these guys is doing a dive into the concrete. I think he has given up.



Poor little creatures. I don't expect any of them will last long.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Snow

Usually I like to complain about the weather, but recently I've been restraining myself. That's because the weather has been unusually boring. It has been cold and grey with occasional drizzle.

"How come we never get snow anymore?" I moan fretfully. "If it's going to be cold, at least it could be pretty as well!"

Today I got my wish. Here is what Yahoo weather told us to expect today, and what they are still telling us: sleet until midday, rain until six, and cloudy thereafter:


And here are some pictures I took at a little park near here, which I took on my way back from the doctor this afternoon. My pictures are all cliches. That is what happens when you are trying to take pictures of snow while it is still snowing, and you don't really know what you're doing.




It has been snowing heavily since morning, and is still snowing, great big fluffy flakes. I have never seen it snow so much around here in all the years I have been here. When it snows, which is rarely, usually it snows overnight and melts away by midmorning, but today it has been snowing ALL DAY.

The Man is complaining. He hates cold weather. He is refusing to even go out, the boring old fart. "The road's all mushy!" he grizzles. "My feet will get wet!"

But I think it's lovely. Who cares about wet feet? In any case, on a bicycle your feet don't get wet. Not very wet, anyway.

I'm going out again soon, by myself. I think it's lovely out there.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Don't make me laugh

Well, the operation is over, and apparently I have turned into a ridiculously grown-up and mature person, because even though there were TWO needles involved I did not pass out, throw up, or make a fuss.

Actually, when someone is holding a laser and various sharp pointy things near your face, you do not make a fuss. And it is hard to pass out when you are already lying down. Also, when there is a cover over your face so you can't see anyway, it is hard to get upset, particularly when you can't feel anything happening.

The Man had told the doctor about my ladylike squeamishness (he may have used the word 'wimp' in there somewhere), so the doctor was well prepared. He started off by hooking me up to a drip, just in case he'd need to administer something. Or perhaps it was in case he made a terrible mistake and would need to quickly euthanize me. I'm not entirely sure, and didn't like to ask. Then the face cover went on, and the injection to numb the area was administered, and I closed my eyes and thought about my new camera, WHICH I BOUGHT YESTERDAY.

At one point, apparently I twitched. The doctor asked,

"Itai, desu ka?" (Did that hurt?)

"Itakunai," (no) I answered, bravely. I didn't know he'd started. Actually, I found out later, he had already half finished.

The mole is being sent off for a biopsy. The doctor thinks it was quite likely fine, but wants to check. I'm just glad to have it gone. It used to itch sometimes, and worry me. It was not a prominent mole, however. When I told my friends I was having it removed, the universal response was, "What mole? Oh. I hadn't noticed that before."

I now have a bandage between my eyebrows and look like someone who has banged her head on the desk a few times too often. Also, I am finding out that when I talk I wiggle my eyebrows a lot and it pulls at the dressing, and when I laugh it pulls at the dressing, and when I am surprised it pulls at the dressing, and when I frown, and so on. I had no idea the bit between my eyebrows was such an busy part of my face.

I have resolved that for the next few days I will be serene and calm, and not use the space between my eyebrows at all. This means that you are not allowed to say or write anything funny, worrying, interesting, or surprising anywhere that I might encounter it.

Until next Wednesday, when the stitches come out, this is a boring zone.

Hair

This morning I had to suddenly wash my hair, even though it is not really dirty. I would have been perfectly happy to go another day or two. But I remembered that the doctor had said that after my wee operation I would not be able to wash my hair for a week. While a week is no problem for me in winter, when I only wash my hair twice a week anyway, I'm not so sure about ten days. The operation is today.

I should have washed my hair last night. I hate showering in the morning. One of my colleagues told me that showering at night is a workers' thing. Showering in the morning is something the idle rich started, because they didn't have to work and thus get all dirty during the day.

I guess my preference for evening showers betrays my peasant origins. (My colleague, naturally, showers in the morning.)

But I prefer to wash off the day and go to bed clean. I don't want to transfer the day's sweat and grime into my bed (and therefore have to wash the sheets more often – let's not forget that bit). And I don't see the point of showering in the morning when you're just going to go out in the dirty old world and get grubby again right away. Having a shower (or a bath) is a relaxing thing for me.

In summer it's different. In summer I will shower in the morning AND in the evening, and if I'm in some really hot place, in the middle of the day as well.

Almost time to go to the doctor. I'm starting to feel a little nervous about the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Email prevents ulcers

Today I read this story about Internet cables in the Mediterranean Sea being cut, and the trouble this has caused in various places. Also today, I have been reading The Egyptologist, by Arthur Phillips. Large parts of the novel are in the form of letters, and some of these letters were written in the 1920s.

One of the things that I started thinking about, as I was reading these letters, was the long time lag between their writing and reading. A man and woman exchange letters. She is in the U.S.A.; he is in Egypt. There are several weeks between dispatch and receipt. (Telegrams got through quickly, of course, but were saved for important, brief, news flashes.)

But if you go back a few decades before that then there would have been no telegraph either, and I tried to imagine how it would have felt for a fiancĂ©e (or fiancĂ©, or spouse, or relative) writing long, detailed letters to someone who – who knows? – might not exist any more. Imagine the people who emigrated from the U.K. to the U.S., or New Zealand, or Australia. Imagine writing a letter to your son or daughter across the world, and knowing that whatever you write will be totally outdated by the time it arrives. Imagine writing across the distance of space and time and culture like that. It must have felt very different from the way it feels now.

Imagine how carefully you would write.

We have come a long way in a century, from being grateful for mail that arrives six weeks after it is sent across the world, to expecting our LOLs to arrive instantaneously.

A long time ago, after I split up with a boyfriend, we used to write to each other. I had moved to another town. Neither of us had much money, so we used mail rather than telephone to keep in touch.

One day he phoned me. He sounded really worried, and asked me how I was.

"I'm fine," I said, somewhat puzzled.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "I'm really worried about you."

"Yes, I'm fine!" I said, a little irritated at his concern. I was not a child, but he was behaving like an anxious parent. "Why were you worried?"

"Your letter!" he said. "I thought you were going to commit suicide!"

I had completely forgotten writing that letter. I'd had a bad few days and told him all about it in a long letter, which I then sealed and posted right away. Then I felt much better, probably because I'd written the whole thing (whatever it was) out of my system.

Then I forgot I'd even sent it, until he called to make sure I was still alive.

It's just as well I live in the age of instantaneous communication. Imagine if that letter had taken six weeks to get there, and the reply had taken six weeks to get back, and my apologetic reply had taken another six weeks to reassure.

The way I write, everybody I communicated with who actually cared about me would have ended up with ulcers.

Protective colouring


Monday, February 04, 2008

White chocolate

Has anybody ever pointed out that white chocolate is an unnatural abomination?

Just in case they haven't, I'm pointing it out now.

I grow cysts

Recently I discovered I have a ganglion cyst on my wrist. I don't know how long it has been there because it isn't very big, doesn't hurt, and is only visible if I bend my wrist. It could have been there for months, but I just noticed it.

According to Wikipedia, this is also known as a bible bump, because a common method of treatment used to be to thump it with a bible. Like most things associated with bible bashing, however, this could make matters worse, so is not recommended.

That's a relief. I have been thumped with a bible quite enough for one lifetime.

Wikipedia also says that these cysts are thought to be caused by overuse of the joint, but that doesn't make sense, because it is my left wrist, not my right one, and I am right-handed. I wonder if they can also be caused by underuse?

Apparently my doctor was right when I went to him with a lump in my boob. He told me, sounding somewhat exasperated,

"It probably just a cyst. You're just like my wife! Cysts everywhere!"

He turned out to be right about it being just a cyst (several, actually) and now it turns out that he was also right about my being an expert at growing cysts, just like his wife. It looks like I have finally found something I am good at.

(Anybody want one? I have a few to spare and they're all harmless, I promise.)

It occurs to me that if this carries on I could, one day, turn into one of those people you avert your eyes from when you see them coming because they are so grotesquely deformed by weird growths. So far none of my cysts are particularly visible (except the wrist one, when I hold my wrist at a certain angle) but you never know. I could end up with a new career in a circus sideshow as a two-headed woman.

Not much of a career change, really. I already quite frequently feel like a sideshow freak in the classroom.

It might even be more restful.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Brussels sprouts

Yesterday while I was in the supermarket, I noticed they had brussels sprouts in the frozen foods section. The frozen foods section is very small in Japanese supermarkets, compared to in New Zealand, and I'd never seen brussels sprouts there before. I don't see brussels sprouts anywhere very often anyway, but sometimes they turn up in the vege section, and usually quite expensive.

Seeing those made me want some brussels sprouts, but there weren't any in the fresh vege section. But I didn't want frozen, so I decided to check out another supermarket.

I crossed to the other side of the railway line where there is another big supermarket and also a small new one. I was going to check the big supermarket, but first I decided to go into the small one to get some shiitake. They always have wonderful big shiitake there.

While I was in there Auld Lang Syne started to play over the speaker system. This signals closing time, so I grabbed my mushrooms and hurried to the counter to pay. But then – a miracle! – I spotted some brussels sprouts.

I wasn't expecting to see them there, but that wasn't the biggest surprise. The biggest surprise was the size of the bag. There was only one bag left, and it looked like I had a choice of a lot of brussels or none at all. I picked up the bag and asked one of the workers if there was a smaller bag, because that was too many for me.

He said there wasn't, and went back to bringing in the outdoor displays. It was clear that if I didn't make up my mind quickly I would lose my chance to have brussels sprouts for dinner. So I bought them.

The problem now is that The Man doesn't like brussels sprouts, I don't know how long brussels sprouts keep, and I have about thirty of the damned things. Our freezer isn't big enough to freeze them (we have a very small freezer at the bottom of our fridge), so now if I am not to waste these, I will be eating brussels sprouts every day for a while. I had six last night and have satisfied my immediate brussels sprouts craving, but I don't want to waste them.

Does anybody know any interesting things you can do with brussels sprouts?

News update

On Friday I will be having a major operation. Well, all right, a minor operation. Actually I'm not even sure if I am allowed to call this an operation.

But anyway! I am having a mole removed. It is not a very large mole, or very visible, (even though it is on my face) but it is an annoyingly itchy mole. I had it checked in summer, and the doctor thought it was probably harmless but might not be, and if it was dangerous it wasn't VERY dangerous, and rather than doing a biopsy why not just whip it off? Easy, he said. But wait until autumn or winter. It's not good to do it now.

I tried to imagine why I wouldn't want to do it now if it was that easy, and he said I wouldn't be able to wash my hair for a week. That made sense. Not washing my hair for a week in summer would turn me into a smelly person.

So I'm doing it on Friday.

Also, at the end of the month I will be going to New Zealand for three weeks. This is not an exciting trip. It is a duty trip, to visit family and so on. But there will be some excitement towards the end, when I will catch a bit of the NZ International Arts Festival. That will be my reward for being good about the family stuff. And seeing friends (and SOME of family) will be fun.

I'm thinking of buying a new camera before the trip, a digital SLR. I've been arguing with The Man about it for weeks. When I say 'arguing,' I mean that I tell him all the reasons I should buy it, he listens and smiles, and then I tell him all the reasons I shouldn't waste my money, and he listens and smiles. It's very irritating of him, because he doesn't give anything away, but I think I might have talked myself into it. We will see how I feel when I actually have time to go shopping. I might suddenly decide I am being too extravagant. I had talked myself out of it entirely because of the NZ/yen exchange rate being so horrible, which would make my trip so much more expensive than it used to be, but then remembered that I have some money in my bank in NZ that I can use for the trip and suddenly the trip budget became cheaper.

This, of course, is something I could talk myself out of quite easily again, especially if I think about the last SLR I owned. It was a film camera, and I had it for about two months. I was learning how to use it, and took it with me on holiday, but about a week into my holiday I fell into a canal in China. The camera was around my neck at the time, and that was the end of my SLR experience.

If I keep away from Chinese canals it should be all right, shouldn't it? Somebody please tell me this is a good idea.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Osaka

Today I went into Osaka to meet some friends for dinner. This is not one of my friends. This is a mannequin I noticed outside a shop somewhere in Shinsaibashi.

I took my little old camera, because sometimes I want to carry a camera that will fit in my pocket. It does not take great pictures, but then my newer camera isn't really all that much better. Sometimes it doesn't really matter, as long as the subject matter is interesting. I am not a photographer. I take snapshots.

One day I would like a good camera, though. Before meeting my friends I popped into this shop, and played with a camera I would buy if I could convince myself that it would not be wasted on me.

I took this picture without using a flash, on my way back, by resting my little camera on the rail of an overhead pedestrian crossing. The crossing bounced up and down as pedestrians walked along it. I had never stopped long enough to notice that before, and it wasn't a very nice feeling.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Grammafication

Today I learned a new word, or at least a new use for an old word. I was reading some photography sites, and discovered that everybody was talking about bokeh. Boke, in Japanese, is often used as an insult (at least around here it is). It means 'senile.' I was fairly sure the photographers were not talking about senile photographs, though, and wondered what it meant in English.

After reading for a while, I discovered I was not understanding what it meant, even when there were examples shown and people were getting very excited about it. I could not work it out from context. So I looked it up, and discovered to my amazement that it comes from the Japanese word, and while the most common meaning is 'senile,' another meaning, which photographers use and which I had been unfamiliar with, is 'blur,' and it refers to the out-of-focus parts of a photo.

(It's kind of the same, when you think about it.)

I asked The Man about it, and he gave me a little vocabulary lesson. He also told me about how the photographic meaning of boke changed when it became a verb rather than a noun.

"Boke is the noun. But when you say it verbly . . . "

"I don't think 'verb' a word you can adverbify," I interrupted him.

It occurs to me that my talent for being easily distracted means that I will never be a professional photographer, or a fluent Japanese speaker. Every time I start to learn anything I go off on a tangent.

(I never did get the whole verbly thing. Things became adjectivish, and my vocabulary lesson ended.)