Thursday, 8 January 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Davis and Carroll: Handicap Match!

Well, here I am again. Back in Japan, in my own little bedroom, eating my own delicious food, thinking about maybe having a little sleepy later on. It's altogether not too dreadful, I suppose.

Hello, friends.

I'm so glad you could join me. Do come in, you must be freezing. Let me take your coat. Would you care for a cup of hot peppermint tea?

*Ahem* Sorry, I've been in a peculiar mood today. I think it might be because I've been listening to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew whilst trying to read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Japanese. The combination of Davis' free, experimental electronic jazz explorations and Carroll's darkly twisted anti-fairy tale received through the filter of a language I barely understand has a uniquely unsettling and disorienting effect on the brain.

Still, I'm sure it's all mind-expanding and wholly beneficial to my mental agility.

So, I've unpacked my stuff, done the washing-up, passed an exam (haven't had the results yet but... it's a pass), cooked myself a delicious pot of 18 different grains and pulses (it's January; I'm on my healthy thing) and watered the tiny cactus that's attached to my phone. I really ought to be writing one or both of the reports I have due in next week, but I felt I owed you a conclusion my last post. I can't go around promising you prompt follow-ups and not delivering them: that's one sure-fire way to lose a readership!

Anyway, as I said, I'm on my healthy thing. I managed to put on 2 kilos (that's about 5 or 6 pounds in English) over the Christmas break, which is a bit shit considering that's more than I lost over all of last semester, so I'm on my healthy thing. So healthy I went for a 'run' yesterday. Running is horrible. Not only is it the most unpleasant way to pass the time that I can possibly imagine, it's downright dangerous. My brief 20 minute 'run' yesterday has left me with some kind of knee injury and barely able to climb stairs.

Okay, so it's not that bad - more of a slight twinge when I bend my knee - but certainly enough to prevent me from going to the gym today.

I'm also trying to healthy myself up a bit in terms of diet and nutrition. I'm already feeling the benefits of an improved dietary fibre intake (to quote Grandpa Simpson, I'm "moving like Ginger Rogers!"), not to mention improved concentration and mental acuity (from Omega 3 fish oil supplements) and improved eyesight (from Lutein). And of course superhuman strength (tinned spinach), hair regeneration (snake oil) and a new-found love for Placebo (sugar pills).

Yes indeed, by the time I get back to the UK this summer I am going to be a veritable powerhouse of timely bowel movements and supple joints. Why, I'll feel like I'm only 38 again!

My "healthy thing" also includes getting on the proverbial wagon: yes, I'm off the booze. For how long, who knows. I've mentioned to some of my friends that I'm trying not to drink for a bit and they have all agreed to make it their specific goal to lure me into getting drunk at every possible opportunity, because (and I quote) "it's funny", and "it's makes their life more interesting". Admittedly, the threat of constantly having beers bought for me is not actually that threatening, but I'll allow them to continue to think that that would be a cruel and hilarious joke.

So far, 3 days without a drink. Ish - it's a bit confusing with the time difference and all.

Anyhoo - the only thing more tedious than trying to lose weight is listening to someone else talking about how they're trying to lose weight, so I'll move on.

I was going to tell you all about my wonderful Christmas holiday that most of you were a part of. Well, it goes a little something like this:

Christmas Eve - wake up at 5am Japan time with a stinking hangover having spent the previous night sitting in the bath drinking frozen sake while watching Mad Max and The Warriors. Gather my thoughts/possessions, empty my bins and leave the house around 6.30 to begin my epic journey. After 2 hours spread across 3 trains I arrive at Narita and go through the usual boring airport rigamarole without incident, except that I got upgraded to Economy Plus, which actually makes quite a bit of a difference. A 12 hour flight follows, for the first 4 hours of which there is no in flight entertainment. I do not sleep (never do), and just spend the 12 hours sittingly glaring angrily at nothing, wishing I could sleep.

It's one of those weird flights where I leave a 2pm, fly for 12 hours and then arrive at 4pm the same day. In theory it's been noon throughout the flight, but because we flew over the North Pole and it's winter, it was actually dark for the entire flight, so my body clock is very confused at this point. I am greeted at the airport by lovely parents who have packed a little lunchbox for me full of cheese, fruit and crackers. I merrily devour all the cheese and fruit but, so as not to appear greedy, I leave the crackers.

Christmas Eve and Day progress very merrily with mince pies, devils on horseback, champagne, presents, Christmas dinner and so on. Unfortunately, when I was doing my Christmas shopping a peculiar short circuit in my brain caused me to completely lose the ability to distinguish "a bit crap, but probably amusing/interesting" from "just crap. utter utter crap". This made it a little awkward when all my family gave me really nice presents and I just gave them enormous piles of entirely crappy crap in return. In my defense, they did get several presents each, and i somehow managed to spend a fortune on all that useless crap, but I still felt a bit bad about it. I'll do better next year, I promise!

I went out on Boxing Day night for the traditional "lets go out on Boxing Day night" night out on Boxing day night, and due to the fact that my ability to drink beer had been seriously eroded by months in Japan, I ended up completely ga-ga, was refused entry to the bar we were going to so me and Jethro went off somewhere else to get more blottoed before stumbling back to my house. At my house we proceeded to devour both legs off the turkey (a cardinal sin in my household, where the turkey legs are to be saved for a special post-Boxing Day meal). I then went upstairs to fetch Jethro his Christmas present, but by the time I got to my bedroom I had clearly forgotten what I had come for or even the fact that Jethro was in my house at all, so I just went to bed. After a while, Jethro came up to see what had happened to me and demand his presents from me (wait a minute, this is all starting to sound a bit gay... it's not, honest. well, I'd best get on with it). At this moment I honestly didn't know why Jethro was in my house or how he had got in, but I grumpily directed him to the pornography and squid I had brought him from Japan and returned to my alcohol induced coma.

Fortunately, I keep a permanent marker by my bed for just such occasions, and before he left Jethro was kind enough to draw an amusing moustache on my face. What a nice friend he is.

There was also a Rob's birthday shindig, which was fun - we seemed to spend rather a long time wandering around trying to find somewhere that was serving food so soon after Christmas, but eventually we did and it was tasty. We proceeded to a pub, I presume, and jollity was shared. Having learned from my previous evening's excessive drunkeness I actually managed to maintain a pretty respectable level of inebriation throughout, even having a brief coffee interlude when I felt I was getting a bit too drunk a bit too quickly. I mean, it was a Bailey's coffee, but still, that practically a soft drink, right?

Shortly after this, I went up to lovely Sheffield to see all my lovely Sheffield friends in Sheffield, where my lovely friends live.

Me and Ronnie had our traditional screaming contest in the car up to Sheffield. Ronnie nearly had nervous breakdown in Waitrose when we stopped to buy a sandwich and have a wee - we spent half an hour trying to find sandwiches, then Ronnie couldn't decide what he wanted to eat so in the end he just bought what I bought (salmon and cucumber sandwich), which turned out to be the only thing he really didn't want to eat because he hates cucumbers. Then when we got back to the car he realised that his car was literally full to the rafters with tons of food his mum had bought for him, so our entire journey round Waitrose was entirely pointless. He had even forgotten to have a wee.

We then screamed our way up to Birmingham, and then screamed ourselves all the way onto the M6 Toll, which wasn't where we wanted to go so we had to pay 4 quid just to turn around and go the other way. Following this expensive and frustrating setback, we passed the rest of the journey in silence.

Sheffield was really good fun. We arrived the day before New Year's Eve and spent a little while in the kitchen, drinking gin and shrieking at one another until the new Shooting Stars special was on. We watched Shooting Stars together happily eating cheese and drinking cheap French lager until Shooting Stars had finished and there was no cheap French lager left.

For New Year's Eve, someone had the genius idea of just doing a really small house party. This is one of the best New Year's Eve suggestions I've heard in years, because going out into town on NYE is universally disastrous. Everything is unbelievably expensive, crowded and shit, and everyone just ends up having a really bad time for about £60, so the idea of just bringing your won booze to a house full of your friends where you get to choose what music gets played is infinitely more appealing to me.

I actually had an awesome time. I danced a lot. Possibly I danced a little too vigorously. Probably I danced a little too vigorously and on camera. There may well be some strange videos of my vigorous dancing appearing on facebook/youtube in the future, if Heg is as cruel as I think he probably is. I've already decided that I'm not going to look at them. As far as I'm concerned, as long as I never see these videos, they don't exist, and I haven't embarassed myself. Laura kindly catered a load of party foos for us, I drank my own bodyweight in gin, and Katie man was a fantastic mess of a state having apparently consumed an entire bottle of rum in the space of about an hour. Bear in mind the fact that Katie man is only fourteen inches tall and weighs about the same as a chinchilla, and you will begin to understand why she was quite so drunk. She spent the night charging around trying to find out who drank all her rum (you drank it, my dear, sorry) and asking people to make her cocktails. Fortunately she has a lot of very responsible friends, so all her 'cocktails' for the night were basically coke and water. Fun times though, and merriment was shared by all parties.

Later on that night, after most people had gone home. I *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* and then, *CENSORED* *CENSORED* in the garden pond. *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* a highly trained team of Peruvian midget acrobats *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* with a melon. *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* one small aubergine, and *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* "Help! Margery is dead!" she wept, *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* Oh, how we laughed! *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* and I thought, Me? In the nearby Catholic girl's school? With half a bottle of madeira and a pair of knickers on my head? With my reputation? *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* *CENSORED* but unfortunately, I was very, very drunk.

I rose the next morn at the very respectable hour of 10am, got dressed, and tried to find my way home.

Later that day we went down to the newly refurbished Notty House in search of their famous pies. Sadly, no pies were forthcoming, so in the end we went into town to go to Nando's for some exciting chickeny goodness. This proved to be a very wise move, and I spent the next half hour off my head on spicy whilst 'The Movie Game' was invented around me. The Movie Game is a bit like charades for lazy people: you just describe film, preferably in a confusing and oblique kind of way. e.g.
"Mad nanny" - Mary Poppins (or, equally, Mrs Doubtfire)
"A team of midgets wandering through the countryside, trying to deliver jewellery to a fire" - Lord of the Rings
"Bloke snogs his sister and then discovers that the main antagonist is his dad" - Star Wars

You get the idea.

We then went off to the Cobden View to talk loudly and at great length about dildos over a pint or two of cider before heading back to Heg's for Jonathan Creek. For those of you who didn't see the astonishing tour-de-force that was Jonathan Creek's spectacular comeback, let me assure you, it was phenomenal. It was utterly, utterly ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious in so many ways. I feel slightly sorry for those people who were watching with me and actually trying to follow the 'plot', because most of us were having far more fun loudly criticising how stupid it was, and trying to guess what the solution was. Some were better at picking up clues than others...
Wilko: Felix Dies? Isn't that Latin for 'happy day' or something?
Me: Felix Dies! That's totally Latin for 'cat god'! It was the cat all along I tells ya!

*ahem* I always wanted to study Latin. At times like that I really wish I had.

So that was Jonathan Creek. We then proceeded to Nisa (a 24 shop which is no longer called Nisa, but I can't remember what it's changed its name to) to pick up more booze and head back to Sellick and the girls' house to drink it. This is where Laura went a bit wrong and, after having spent half an hour showing us her massive minge (not really, but she was rolling around on the sofa flashing the massive hole between her legs... in her jeans) she invented the official cocktail of 2009 - rum and wine with a Special K bar in it. It was all a bit weird, but dead funny, and I've got some horrific photos of Barto looking awful which mean that it's still funny now.

The next day we watched The Mighty Ducks: D2, and considered how much the Mighty Ducks had changed between D2 and D12 (ho ho, just my little joke there...) We went and had some good old fashioned pub nosh at the Tav, and then I came home.

I spent a few more days at home having a lovely time at home with my home. My little brother was in Mixmag, which is exciting (check out his My Space, apparently he's the 4th most influential Aquacrunk producer in Glasgow). I went to the pub. Twice. [You may be able to tell I'm running out of stamina for this post] It was good. Then i packed up some cheese and left for Tokyo. Which is also good.

Now I am here. Which I think is good.

Well, I might come back to this post at some point and add some photos to it or at least give it a proper ending, but right now I am feeling uncommonly sleepy and really struggling to maintain focus on the task at hand, so I'll sign off.

Good bye

Here's some deliciously topical Italo Disco from 1985 to amuse you all

Lovely love,

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Genghis Kong vs. 2008

Merry Christmas all, and Happy New Year!

*lots to catch up on: long post alert!*

I hope the start of 2009 finds all you lovely people healthy, happy and optimistic for the year ahead. As for myself, this year promises to be one of many challenges and opportunities, to put it as optimistically as I can. I will be going back to Japan in two days time and from then on, I will not see England's green and pleasant land until August: 7 solid months of hardcore Japtasticness. I have exams starting on the 9th of January, but once I finish my exams and hand in my final projects for the year on the 15th I'll have no more classes until some time in March/April time. During the intervening Spring Break I have a little skiing holiday planned, followed by extended visits from both my older brother and my parents. With a bit of luck I might injure myself horrifically during the skiing, so that when my family come to visit they will have to spend their entire time nursing a cripple.

I am back in lovely, lovely England - that most wonderful of countries where everything is bloody amazing and I am deliriously happy every single day. Nothing makes you appreciate home like spending 3 months in a different country. Well, spending 7 months in a different country will probably have the same effect, but 3 months was quite enough. It's the little things that you come to miss: pubs where people don't look at you strangely if you just want a pint with no food; saying "thank you" to the man in the shop when you buy a paper (in Japan this is considered very strange behaviour); holding the door open for someone (also considered somewhat deviant in Japan); reasonably priced beer, taxis and pub grub; Wi-Fi. All these simple, everyday things which we take for granted in England are either incredibly rare or considered strange and freakish in Japan. Returning to England every little thing is a new and exciting treat for me.

Of course, you also miss your home, family and friends when you are spending a long time abroad, probably more than you miss wireless internet, but that's to be expected really.

Oh, and cheese.

So, what do I miss about Japan when I'm in England? Well, I'm not sure if I really 'miss' much, but I suppose there are things in Japan which I will be glad of when I have them again. For example, my daily Fibe Mini - a fibre supplement drink that looks and tastes a bit like Irn Bru, without which, and thanks to the sudden dietary shift from brown rice and vegetables to meat and cheese, my daily motions have become increasingly traumatic. There's also the gym - the gym at my Uni in Japan is actually remarkably crap, low-tech and badly equipped, but it is on-campus and, most importantly, completely free so I actually manage to go pretty regularly. This will hopefully be a great help with my New Year's resolutions.

Speaking of which, it would probably be appropriate for me to put forth some New Year's resolutions. Usually they just float around my head vaguely and I can conveniently forget/ignore them as I fail them one by one, so I'll put them in writing this year. This way everyone will know exactly how I fail to live up to my own expectations.

This year's resolution, I suppose, is probably going to be the same one which I have failed at each year for the past 5 years: sort my life out. When I told this to Jethro, he told me that, as far as he could tell, my life seems pretty well in order and doesn't need too much sorting out. Upon further consideration I had to concede that this was probably true, and I do in fact worry too much about the state of my life. Nonetheless, there are a few key points about which I have long wanted to make some changes, so I suppose 'sort my life out' can be divided into the following sub-resolutions:
  1. Study more, work harder, be less lazy
  2. Drink less booze, less often and be less drunk all the time
  3. Exercise more, eat properly, lose loads of weight
*Parents and family members: look away now*

4. Have more sex (perhaps a slightly strange New Year's resolution and not directly linked to 'sorting my life out', but hey, there it is)

So those are my New Year's resolutions, and they have been my New Year's resolutions pretty much every year for the last three or four years. Every year I make these promises to myself and, virtually without exception, fail at them all to varying degrees. This is probably because none of them are particularly easy, they are all very vague, and they pretty much require sweeping changes to all aspects of my lifestyle, so perhaps I ought to go for a single, simpler, more attainable and measurable resolution, for example:

5. Read a Japanese newspaper every day (while I'm in Japan)

Which is something I can actually conceivably achieve to some reasonable degree. So, actually, while I have certainly considered lots of New year's resolutions I don't actually seem to have settled on a single one to actually stick to. Oh well, I guess I'll just do my best. Or at least がんばります, which is almost the same as doing my best, but it actually just means 'persevere' with no implication that I will do well; just that I will continue struggling along even with no hope of success.

Right, now I'm going to try to tell you about all the stuff I've done since my last post, but my last post was 3 and a half weeks ago so this is going to take a long time. Also, as I can scarcely remember what happened 3 weeks ago, it might be a little hazy.

3 weeks ago I was still in Japan. Apart from a History exam for which I didn't study properly, but still expect to get at least 80%, the only events of note, as far as I can remember, were a couple of Birthday parties and a Christmas party. The first birthday party went along the usual formula - we went for a meal with 2 hours all-you-can-eat-and-drink followed by going to Hub, the English Pub (as usual). This party was pretty fun, but only really notable because of the fact that I actually succeeded at catching the last train home and finding my way successfully to my own bed without mishap.

The Christmas party was good fun too. There was a formal dress code at the restaurant (all-you-can-eat-and-drink for 2 hours) so I got to get all nicely dressed up in my smarts.

Here is a nice(ish) picture of me and my friend Kaleb

We both own pink phones and we work out together a lot. If I didn't know I wasn't gay, I would probably think we were gay together, but I know I'm not gay, so I guess we're probably not gay together after all. All the Japs think he's gay, and he gets very pissed off at them. His catchphrase is "I hate this frickin' country", so we have a lot in common. (Not gay).

My catchphrase, incidentally, is "God, what a dreadful country populated by awful, awful people."

The following day it was Byeolyi's birthday (one of the cool Koreans at my school). We went for Thai food (2 hours all-you-can-eat again, although this time only one drink was included), and I actually abstained from drinking altogether. Aren't I just the very model of temperance and moderation?

The next day was my last day of school. I had my history final in the afternoon, after which Kaleb and I went to the Centre for International Studies to check for the fourth time that we definitely didn't need to get a re-entry permit before we left the country for Christmas. We had each independently come to the office to inform them that we were going home for Christmas and ask them about re-entry permits on more than one occasion, and we had both been assured that no, we didn't need to do anything else or get a permit, it was fine, just come and let them know when we got back to the country. However on this occasion, the day before Kaleb was flying home and 2 days before I was to, they suddenly realised that, oh shit, actually we do need to get a re-entry permit before we leave the country, otherwise we invalidate our visas and won't be allowed back in.

Actually they weren't even as helpful as that. They just looked panicky and confused and said "Yes you definitely do need re-entry permit. Very important. What? You fly tomorrow? Oh, maybe you don't need one. Hmmm... It's okay, you don't need one. Should be okay. You be okay." Which was actually entirely not true. We very much did need re-entry permits, but the Japanese compulsion not to be confrontational or tell someone they have done something wrong obliged them to simply lie to us and say that we'd be fine. An entirely unhelpful way to deal with problems.

So, stressed and anxious about our re-entry permits, Kaleb and I proceeded to Hub, the English Pub for some conciliatory Gs&Ts (happy hour G&T still a pretty good price, despite the exchange rate). The more astute among you may be noticing a certain theme of Hub, the English Pub developing in this blog. I don't actually like the place all that much, and their beer is unfeasibly expensive (actually about normal by Tokyo standards, but extortionate by UK prices), but somehow we end up going there almost every time someone wants a drink, largely because their happy hour last for 3 hours and offers £1.50 cocktails.

At the Hub we rendezvoused with Haneul (Korean girl), Alex (American gay) and Alex's brother and friend of brother (American young people) and decided, after happy hour, to go do PuriKura which is basically fancy photo booths which take 'amusing' pictures of you and your friends. I might go into more detail on the subject at a later date but for now I'll just show you the finished product:

Believe it or not, only one person in this picture is gay. (It's not me).

Anyway after purikura we shook off the Alex and his harem, acquired an Australian girl, Tessa, and spent an amazingly pointless hour or two wandering around trying to find somewhere to drink, by which time Kaleb had sobered up enough to realise that he couldn't afford to drink any more, so we ended up just going to Wendy's for a burger. For some reason I felt compelled to order the Super Mega Wendy's Monster Burger or whatever it was called (basically a triple bacon cheeseburger type thing) which, to make it even worse, comes with a free upgrade to large-size fries and soda. I quickly realised that I did not want to eat this much burger and chips, but a misplaced sense of pride/honour/frugality/greed forced me to consume the entire meal, leaving me feeling extremely unwell.

*parents and family members: skip the next part*

It was at this point Tessa, who incidentally is the girl I asked out a couple months ago and was rejected by, asked me if I wanted to go round to her room to watch Love Actually, share a bottle of white wine and, quite possibly, spend the night. Presumably she had some kind of amorous advances in mind (or just thinks I'm gay), but I had literally eaten so much that I couldn't face it. I had somehow eaten my way out of pulling.

This is just another example of my extraordinary talent for not having sex. There have been a surprisingly large number of occasions when a woman I fancy has been trying to get me into their bed and I have somehow ended up accidentally talking my way out of it. It's like some kind of strange affliction. I think I might be under some kind of malignant curse, although I can't specifically remember pissing off any evil witches recently.

So I went home clutching my stomach and sat around thinking about how I could have got laid.

2 days later it was Christmas Eve and I was on my way home.

I realise that I haven't even got as far as me leaving Japan yet, and I've at least another two week's festive frivolities to fill you all in on, but I feel as though this post has been going on for an awfully long time, and as my tale seems to have reached a natural break, I felt I might just take a little break as well - It's hard work this blogging malarkey, you know. I started writing this at half five and it's now about ten o'clock, so I think I deserve a little bit of a rest, don't you?

I'll try to do another one tomorrow or, failing that, soon after getting back to Japan, to let you know what I did over Christmas (even though most of you, being my friends and family, will already know what I did over Christmas, as you were probably there. Still, it might be amusing for you to read about things you personally witnessed or even participated in from someone else's point of view).

But before I go, I shall deal with a question which a few people have asked me regarding the Japanese children's television program Pitagora Suicchi.

Hopefully some of you will remember the video I posted a while ago of various opening sequences for Pitagora Suicchi with the amazing marble rolling aparatus. Here's a brief reminder for those of you who missed it (sorry for the horrible sound quality):

Well, a couple of my friends asked me what the actual content of the TV show was: was it just half an hour of improbable marble rolling? Well, no. The show is made up of various short sequences which are very diverse and as far as I can tell the only thing they have in common is that they are all works of utter genius. Here is one of my favourites: The Algorithm March. I watch this almost every morning before school and I think it is the sole thing which enables me to cope with life in Japan.

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.

Farewell all, and I'll hopefully be updating this again very soon.

Season's greetings and much love,
Genghis Claus