Monday, June 30, 2008

Web Whores

(A brief aside: If I used Google AdSense ads, I shudder to think what sort of advertisements would be scrolling along my blog with this post title.)

I don't consider myself an Internet addict. I feel that is important before I say that I am a registered member at Digg. I peruse the first page or two of stories and read any of interest about 3-5 times a week depending on how much free time I have and how often I'm shackled to my computer doing phone work. However, I don't make it a point to check it all the time nor do I vote on most articles. Occasionally, I'll make a comment and read other comments on articles of interest. I feel the need to clarify my habits in this regard because, if you know Digg's community, you know that it is full of people who appear to spend every waking moment glued to the screen writing comments and digging or burying every listed article. What I'm saying is, I'm not one of these people.

As is the case with most people, I have areas of interest and my attention gravitates more often to those than other articles. Fortunately, Digg allows you to filter by topic so I can avoid the approximately 50,000 pro-Obama articles that get "Dugg" every day and anything about sports. It's not that I have anything against Obama, but the articles are all the same and the bias of the commenters is transparent. Nothing is added to the conversation in that area.

I do take an interest in some of the Japan articles. In particular, the PR pieces which are churned out by legitimate news sources pique my interest and often incite me to comment. It's shocking how often NPR or the Washington Post will regurgitate some bit of drivel which paints an aspect of Japanese life as utopia incarnate. One would hope and expect such news sources to provide a balanced view or at the very least investigate to make sure the story included all the details of the situation. Unfortunately, the stories appear to be direct from the Japan tourist board or political offices and tend to be quite one-sided.

While I don't want to Japan bash, I also get irritated when one of these articles gets 500 comments from people who don't know any better saying they want to live in Japan and that Japan is so much more enlightened than the U.S. A month or so ago, one of these sorts of pieces was about the health care system and how it was so cheap under the socialized medical system that physicians couldn't make enough money on certain procedures like stitching up a wound. The article made it appear as though you could skip into any doctor's office and drop a few coins on the desk and receive expert health care for the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. There's no mention of the fact that you wait in a cattle call room for hours or that the doctor doesn't pay any attention to you and spends 2-5 minutes with each patient nor that they prescribe a cavalcade of medications arbitrarily to get more of your money as they own part of the pharmacy you're likely to get your script filled at.

When I encounter these fantasy articles, I read through the comments to see if anyone else has already spun the article's misleading statements into something resembling reality. Often times, it seems I find someone who says something to the effect of 'I've been blogging about Japan for x years and I talk about topics like this all the time,' and then they link to their blogs. This is what I call "web whoring". These people are so desperate for an audience that they troll high traffic sites looking for ways to insert links to their blogs. And, to be clear about this, it isn't only those who do Japan-based blogs. A lot of people do this sort of transparent self-advertising in all areas.

While it's annoying to encounter thinly-veiled spam (or attention-seeking), what irritates me more is that some web sites will not post any comment with a link in it (even a very appropriate one) due to this behavior. I once posted a link to a specific recipe for a sugar-free dessert in a comment I made on someone else's web site about sugar-free cooking and my comment was rejected, no doubt because so many people use comments as advertisements. I wasn't even trying to draw traffic to my (former) site as I didn't have a cooking blog anyway and the audience wasn't the sort that would have stuck with me.

To me, the best way to draw traffic to your site is to make really good comments on other people's blogs that embed a link to your site via your name. It's unobtrusive and people who are intrigued by your viewpoint can choose to click on your name and see what you've got to say back at your own site. It's subtle, but I know from experience at my former site that it works as it drew a lot of readers over from other sites. So, if you're willing to be sincere, authentic, and show your interest in other people's blogs, you can get the same result without looking like a pathetic web whore.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Diablo 3?

(Updated below)

I'm 43 years old. There are few things in life that I wait for with great anticipation anymore. Most of the kind of excitement one can feel waiting for something great to happen has been lost to me due to maturity and experience. My edges have been filed off, thank you very much.

Still, I'm heartened by the fact that I can still feel tension and excitement at the prospect of some silly little things. Right now, I'm hammering the refresh button every few minutes on a site covering Blizzard's 2008 Worldwide Invitational to see if they are going to announce Diablo 3 or some other game. I'm dying for it to be Diablo 3, but it could just as easily be an expansion to World of Warcraft, a follow-up to Starcraft, or the stand-alone Warcraft game.

The image that is making us insane.

Blizzard knows how to drive us mad. They've been posting an image which they've been progressively adding detail to each day. This is to give us something to analyze and speculate about.

Anyway, I'd love to be able to change the title of this post to Diablo 3! instead of Diablo 3? Time will soon tell.

(Updated: 7:58 PM)

I'm happy to say, it is "Diablo 3!" :-)

Studies in Human Nature (Amazon Vine)

Though I have abandoned adding new content to my former blog, I haven't shut down the ability to add comments so occasionally I'll get a notification from Blogger that a new comment has been posted on an old entry. Lately, I seem to be getting more traffic on a post about Amazon Vine (a program where Amazon shoppers are offered occasional free items in exchange for their reviews of products).

The original post about the Vine seems to be the only one that people find and it was made around mid-September of 2007. Despite the fact that the date of the post is at the top and easy to see, people don't bother to look and see if there was an update, nor do they consider that my opinion may have changed since that post was made shortly after the program's rocky start. I felt compelled this morning to add a notation to the top of the post clarifying that there was a follow-up for those who are too myopic to figure things out.

The interesting thing about the newest comments to that antique post is that the new ones coincide with some changes in the Vine program. Some of the old members are being booted out and new members are being asked to join. Before I get any further, let me say that I wasn't one of the old members who got kicked out (at least not yet) so I'm speaking dispassionately here. Invariably, newcomers to the program are hostile toward my initial negative impression of the Vine (which was later modified in a later post where I gave Amazon credit for fixing what was wrong). They're very defensive as they are pleased to be offered things for free.

When I made the initial post, I got a lot of nasty responses from people who accused me of all sorts of imaginary (and fraudulent) acts. It wasn't just territorial protective behavior of the hand that was feeding them free stuff that motivated those responses. They wanted to ostracize me from the Amazon Vine community in the hopes that I'd get fed up enough to simply opt out. The idea is that the fewer people who stand in line for the pie, the bigger the piece of pie for those who remain. You see, the Vine has only a limited number of freebies to give away, particularly of the choicer and more expensive items and it's a real free-for-all during the first minute (literally, the first seconds) the items are posted to get at the small handful of big ticket items.

This competition and petty behavior is not simply something I see in the comments I'm still getting on my former blog. It's also indicated in the way in which Vine members are voting whether reviews of other Vine members are helpful or not. Though I have no idea if it is true or not, it is believed among Vine reviewers that Amazon evaluates the current crop of Vine members by their ratios of "helpful" to "unhelpful" votes. In order to make other Vine members look bad and increase the chances that they may get the boot, some people are suspected of going through and clicking "no" next to any Vine review other than their own in order to ruin the ratios of other reviewers.

Now that some of the people who were asked to join at the program's inception are being let go, another side of those who praised Amazon and the Vine program is emerging. Those who once were kissing the toes of Amazon and castigating the likes of me for not counting my blessings are mad. There is talk about never buying from Amazon again and feeling betrayed now that the supply of freebies has stopped.

This situation has displayed a variety of things which interest me about human nature.
  • Some people will behave unethically if they believe it will result in their getting more and others less (the consistent and arbitrary "no" votes).
  • Some people will attack others without a basis in logic or reason for a small and hypothetical chance at more (commenters to my old post).
  • It may be worse to give someone something for free temporarily than to never give them anything at all as a sense of entitlement develops and they will turn on their benefactor (the members who got kicked saying they are not going to patronize Amazon anymore).
  • The most materially rich of people can sometimes display the most greed for things they don't need and may not even desire (the fact that all Amazon Vine members are regular buyers who have written reviews in the past so they clearly have money and goods).
Being a part of the Vine program has really afforded me an interesting perspective on behavior and it's probably something I'll remember long after I've forgotten whatever free stuff I've gotten.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Encouraging Luddites

Over the last two months, I've been doing a monumental amount of freelance work. In fact, I'll have made the equivalent of a full-time salary in June and about 2/3 of one in May. A big part of this work has been telephone work for my former full-time employer. It just so happens that two huge jobs, one of which required testing by phone of about 90 people and the other of which required a sequence of 6 telephone lessons and essay correction for about 80 people came at the same time. To put this in perspective for you, I will have done somewhere in the ballpark of 600 telephone calls lasting from 5-10 minutes each over the past two months.

You can only imagine how this makes me feel about phone calls. In fact, one has to wonder if one of the reasons I continue to reject cell phones is that I did these sorts of phone lessons for over a decade day-in and day-out as part of my former job. The main difference then was that I had a maximum of 32 calls a day scheduled. From home, there have been days when I've had as many as 50 calls scheduled in a day.

When I took these calls in the office, it wasn't a huge problem if people called at times other than when they were scheduled since I was being paid for being there. One of the down sides to working freelance from home is I'm usually paid "by the piece". That is, none of the time I spend aside from completed calls is paid. Well, that's not exactly true. I get paid a whopping ¥100 (a bit less than a buck) when people are scheduled and don't call. This is essentially "nuisance" pay.

This morning, I woke up just before 8:30 which gave me a comfortable buffer of 90 minutes before the first calls started at 10:00 am. I sat groggily in front of my computer and tried to focus. Within a minute or so after reaching something approaching consciousness, the telephone rang. One of my students who was supposed to call yesterday decided he'd just ring me up early in the morning. While I will grant that he doesn't know if I'm in an office or at home, calling at 8:30 am is simply wrong in either case. Most offices don't start doing business until 9:00 am. Also, missing your appointment and calling whenever you feel like it is rude. This is tantamount to one of my private students being absent without notice then just showing up the next day at a time of her choosing and saying, 'I forgot my lesson so I'm here now and expect a lesson.'

Common courtesy should dictate that people do not call others early in the morning or late at night except in case of an emergency, but telephone technology and the way in which cell phones in particular have made people feel that they are entitled to access anyone any time have erased notions of time-based boundaries. In fact, I have had similar problems with people who are a part of my social life who don't seem to recognize that there are such boundaries. It took quite a few attempts with one troublesome family member in particular (you might guess which one) to get him to not call after 10:00 pm. As it was, once we got him to not call any later than that, he would always call just before 10:00 pm so that the duration of the call caused things to run late. He is a night owl and we couldn't get him to respect the fact that we started preparing for bed much earlier than he. He'd call at times which suited him best rather than keep our situation in mind.

Unfortunately, the only way I can prevent people from accessing outside of the bounds that civility would dictate is simply to unplug the technology that allows them to reach me. If things continue as they have been where people do whatever they want whenever they want based on their whims and convenience rather than with the needs of the party they are contacting in mind, rudeness is going to encourage me to become a bit of a Luddite and unplug the phone and the doorbell.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Smile Oven - Tamago Pan

One of our local markets has been carrying a line of cheap baked goods under the brand name "Smile Oven". One of the items they offer is "tamago pan". "Tamago" means "egg" in Japanese and "pan" is a Portuguese loan word which means "bread". You can buy tamago pan in most markets that carry pre-packaged baked goods of some sort and at some convenience stores. A package of 5 of these cost a little over a dollar. Though it looks like a cookie, it's aptly named as "bread" since it's not particularly sweet.

Eating tamago pan is more about texture rather than taste. The ingredients are egg, sugar, flour, oil, and baking soda so none of the ingredients carry much flavor. The interior is tender, but dry. The part that you can savor is the outside shell which is satisfyingly crispy without being crumbly. I can't think of any sort of food which is similar in Western cuisine since "crisp" usually refers to a shell which is a lot harder than that on tamago pan.

Since I'm the sort of person who is more attracted to texture than taste, I find these very appealing. They are reminiscent of "melon pan" which also has a slightly crispy shell and soft interior. The main difference is that these are far less "bready" inside and a bit drier. These are excellent with tea or a sweet drink since they are a little bland on their own. Though these are cheap, they are by far the best tamago pan I've had in Japan.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Magpies and Peepers

With the transition to what passes for spring in Japan, I find myself leaving the windows open nearly around the clock. Considering how close my apartment building is to my nearest neighbor, I get an earful of anything that is said or done. From hearing morning expectorations as if they were living in the same house as I to mail being snapped out of front door slots, no sound fails to come through with crystal clarity.

Some of my neighbors are about a thousand years old and have nothing better to do with their time than hang out in front of their house and be noisy so I'm treated to this sort of behavior on every day that it does not rain. Rain seems to keep the old folk frightened and they tend to remain indoors. However, if it's about a hundred degrees, they're all out puttering around the front of the house in great abundance.

Usually, I pay as little heed as possible to my neighbors comings and goings, though I can't help but be privy to the cacophony that comes along with all the banging they do for whatever reason at the front of their home. Lately though, I've noted that the women who live in the two houses next to mine are almost certainly gossiping like mad. I suspect this because usually they bombastically speak at maximum volume all the time, but there are times when their voices drop exceptionally low.

Today, I noticed that these magpies were on a virtual volume roller coaster. Magpie 1 approached Magpie 2's home and rather than ring the doorbell or knock, she boomed out "obaa-chan!" Magpie 2 came out and they yammered for awhile then dropped to a hush. A third woman came within range and they roared back up again. When the third woman left, the whispering returned. I wonder if poor old woman 3 was the topic of the Magpies' gossip since her departure initiated a dial-down.

Click this smaller picture to see a larger image of this picture.

Later on, after the Magpies had gone inside for what I'm sure was much needed rest from their morning of bantering and banging, I was sitting at a table working and enjoying the soothing hush when I heard someone creep up to the door of my neighbor on the other side. My kitchen window is right by his door and someone walked up to the window and stood on tiptoes and peered into my kitchen. This person was too short to see well over the bottom window sill, but I could see from him or her from the nose up rather clearly. In fact, had this person looked away from whatever it was that he or she was fixated on, I'd have made eye contact and probably freaked out the peeper.

In retrospect, I wish I had gotten up and walked over to the window and no doubt scared the living daylights out of that person, but I was too immersed in my huge pile of work. Ah well, there's always the next time someone invades my privacy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Separated at Birth

Yes, we watch Roseanne. What's it to you?

The first DVD player my husband and I ever purchased was a Pioneer. We bought it from the U.S. through some sort of grey market distributor and had to manually reset the region code through a "secret" sequence of buttons every time we wanted to swap between Region 1 (U.S.) and Region 2 (Japan) discs. The player cost somewhere in the ballpark of $400 and lasted about 5 years, though it sputtered long and hard through the last one. It frequently spat discs back out at us as if it were coughing and wheezing its dying breaths.

By the time that player went belly up, things in the DVD player market had changed. Players were cheaper and makers didn't have to go to such great lengths to hide their multi-region functionality. My husband and I didn't want to trek to Akihabara ("Tokyo's Electric Town") to track down a new player, especially since we'd heard some needed little tweaks to become "all region" players. The idea of removing the back from a new player and messing about (as well as violating the warranty) wasn't appealing, nor was having to ask clerks if they carried grey market machines. The truth is that the clerks in Akihabara shops seem to come in two flavors and you can't trust what you are told anyway. There are people who know everything and can tell you anything and people who are clueless and make a big show of investigating your question. However, they really just trot off to a boss who also is clueless and tell you "no" because it's too much hassle to find out the truth. They have all the appearance of being helpful and competent but actually are just putting on a well-meaning act to fulfill their role as a dutiful worker. Since neither flavor of clerk is clearly marked for your convenience, it was just easier to buy a cheap Chinese-made machine from the FBC (Foreign Buyer's Club).

This player was only ¥8,000 and guaranteed to just play any damn disc from anywhere in the world out of the box and it was much smaller than our Pioneer player. However, that player went belly up recently after just two and a half years of use. For the price though, it was equivalent value for money to the Pioneer player...and it didn't take nearly as long to die, so it was less frustrating at the end. Though I'm not happy with the product life cycle issues (waste), I do hope to recycle the player by handing it off to the trucks that patrol the neighborhood asking for dead electronics items. They strip them or fix them so the components aren't completely wasted.

Siblings of the same parents who changed their names between births.

Last week we found that a similar player was still available from the FBC (at a slightly lower price, no less) but this one was the "Felicis" brand instead of "Fuze". However, it is clearly the same player as it has almost the same design, the documentation was very similar, and the circular display is absolutely identical in how if functions. Also, the box now has a Region 2 code symbol on it and says in Japanese that it is meant to play that region's discs. I'm guessing that the company name and packaging were modified to play down the fact that this player is designed to circumvent all of the (ridiculous) coding meant to stop people from buying discs at a much lower price from other countries.

However, the player is the same as before. You pop in whatever disc and it just works. I've heard recently that there's a move to stop region-free players. I can imagine this is motivated mainly by corporate pressure to keep markets under the thumb of particular companies and to allow them to sell their massively overpriced discs in countries like Japan. I have to wonder if players like the one we're buying will slip in under the radar as it can be claimed that they are meant to play only one region (and are labeled as such), but just so happen to play other discs as well. One can only hope it stays this way.

A Butter Footnote

Yesterday my husband came home from work with a gift from a student. He told me I was going to be amused when I opened the bag and I was. It contained two blocks (that's 4 sticks back home) of butter. Fortunately, it doesn't expire until November so we can save it for awhile.

You know that it's scarce when you're given butter as a gift.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


One of my students went to an onsen for 5 days and brought back a little gift-wrapped box containing a pair of Japanese wooden dolls called Kokeshi. The dolls are hand-painted and very shiny. They're the sort of classic souvenir that people who travel around Japan buy and take home for relatives or to display as a classic slice of Japanese culture. They're cute, but looking at them makes me ask the question, "which one is the evil twin?" ;-)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Discretion and Valor

There's an old saying about discretion being the better part of valor. This is a saying which appears to have little relevance in current American culture as being "brave" enough to say whatever you think whenever you think it is seen as proof of ego integrity. I have seen ample evidence of this throughout my real and virtual lives.

When I was still posting on Usenet, I tried to always be polite and civil in my discourse with others and one of the brasher sorts accused me of being hopelessly neurotic and needing approval for not rudely and openly contradicting and disagreeing with people. It seems not to occur to some people that holding your tongue has more to do with trying to consider the feelings of others than seeking their approval.

This is a lesson that I've only gained through maturity and not one that came easily for me as I am straightforward (and opinionated) by nature. When I was younger, I was hopelessly blunt with everyone and I'm sure I hurt a lot of people. Sometimes, I remember some of my more strident attempts to bully people into seeing things my way and cringe. The worst by far occurred during my first job as a counselor at a halfway house for the mentally ill. One of my "charges" was a 19-year-old young woman who had been in a mental health facility off and on and, while staying in the halfway house, had gotten pregnant. She had no income, support, or mental capacity to care for a child in a proper fashion. She wasn't stupid, though she was painfully immature and had mood problems. The future of any child she produced was going to be bleak if she raised it and I tried to coerce her into not having it.

The results of my efforts were that she went to the program director (my boss) and complained so severely that he called me in for a little talk about my role as a program worker and he transferred her to another counselor. He didn't push me to accept what he said, but he did ask me if it really was my place to "enlighten" people about what was "right" or "best" for them. At that time, I was too immature to get the message and asserted that I believed it very much was my role if I wanted to "help" people.

These days, I hope that I've learned that there are many times when it's better not to say anything than to say something, even when my intention is well-meaning and not based in the arrogance that I know everything (which is what I possessed in abundance just out of college). Recently I had a frustrating experience with a student who I'm helping write college essays. Invariably, she wasn't adding all of my corrections and I thought she'd been overriding my choices with her own views of what was grammatically correct. Since I was making a final (supposedly cursory) proofread of these papers on my own time, it was starting to annoy me that she wasn't being more careful. I thought long and hard about what to say and how to say it because I didn't want to upset her, but I also didn't want to have to make the same corrections three and four times.

In the end, I decided to ask her to be more careful in the softest possible fashion. She still got upset and thought I was angry with her. However, she finally revealed to me after over a year of working with her that she sometimes entered corrections wrong because she couldn't read my cursive writing very well. She should have told me this of her own volition, of course, but she was trying to spare my feelings just as I was trying to spare hers. In the end, when she admitted she couldn't read my writing all the time, she said she was sorry for saying such a "rude" thing.

Sometimes holding your tongue in the interest of peace or other people's feelings can cause communication bottlenecks or problems. As some of you know, I had problems with my in-laws which lead to my stopping my other blog. I've had problems for years with my brother-in-law and have always held my tongue while he ran off and complained to his parents and sister at every perceived slight. While I don't think it was the wrong choice to not involve others in the conflicts my CH and I had with his brother, I do wonder in retrospect if a little less discretion might have added some balance to the views they hold of us. It's one of those things which I'll never know for sure.

I've reached the conclusion that there is a sacrifice to be made no matter how you choose to communicate. If you say nothing, you can spare feelings and keep the peace, but relationships may not progress and important problems may never be worked through. The trick is to figure out when it's best to hold your tongue and when you're better served by loosening it.

Friday, June 20, 2008


My valuable stash of rare collectibles

Yesterday something happened to me that had not happened for quite some time. No, not that. You people have dirty minds.

I was at the market and there was butter on the shelf and I didn't actually buy any. If that sounds strange to you, then you haven't been on the receiving end of my whining about the butter shortage in Japan or been reading international news. For the past several months, Japan has not had enough butter to go around and we were all forced to suffer the indignity of margarine consumption. While this is hardly an epic issue, it was an early indication of food shortages and how they are reflected in life in Japan. The main consequence was that cooks (and bakers) had to to make some different choices.

As someone who enjoys cooking and who is married to someone who likes both his bread and popcorn well-buttered (and I'm betting dirty minds are activating again), I've had to stockpile butter when it made a rare appearance on shelves. I'm not sure if more butter is being made available or if our consumption has reduced enough that we aren't using it up as quickly as it's being resupplied, but we currently have more than we need so I was able to pass on paying almost $4 for the equivalent of two sticks of butter the other day.

There are different takes on what is causing the shortage, but the consensus among the people I've spoken with is that milk consumption in Japan has been going down over the past several years and dairy farmers were finding it unprofitable to keep so many cows. When the world demand for dairy products rose, Japan found itself short.

Both my husband and I have been asking our students about this and a lot of them didn't even notice that there was a shortage. A few of mine noticed when they started taking cooking classes or needed to make a dish that was not a part of their usual repertoire. For me, the main issue has been baking. I've had to turn to Canola oil as a substitute in many cases. I can't say that it's been a big problem and actually will end up saving me money in the long run since I can buy a liter of Canola oil for the price of a cup of butter.

It strikes me that I'm really fortunate that this is the most notable problem related to worldwide food shortages at this point. Well, there's that and increasing prices, but at least we can afford to pay them without hardship. Sometimes not having something makes you feel more blessed than having limitless options.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


A screen cap from South Park's episode "Good Times with Weapons."

One of the things newcomers who end up as teachers in Japan love to do is teach profanity to their students. They justify it by claiming its "real" language which students need to know. This is 98% bull cookies. The 2% which is valid applies to people who are interested mainly in consuming entertainment from other cultures which happens to include profanity and those who are going to live in an environment where they will certainly be exposed to "curse words".

The latter is a far smaller portion of the English language studying Japanese population than immature teachers who focus on the profane and scatological would care to recognize. The vast majority of people who interact with foreign culture have no need for such words as they tend to move about in a limited (vacations), official (business), formal (ceremonies), or sheltered (home stay) capacity while abroad. For this reason, I have rarely taught or mentioned such words in my lessons. I think most people teach swearing because it's far more interesting for the teacher to talk about "bad words" than to teach how to use articles or verb tenses. It's also a lot easier for the untrained teacher to prattle on about the "eff word" and it's gang of lesser pals than to learn to teach textbook content.

For the first time, I think I've got a student who actually needs to have knowledge of baser English vocabulary. This student is headed for a university in northern middle America and I'm concerned that she won't be able to relate to college-level pop culture. Her interests lie more with Disney sitcoms that are targeted at pre-teens than in college humor.

Since I'm 43 years old and college was 22 years back for me, I am not sure what college kids are into in this day and age. I asked my much younger friend and partner in pop culture inanity, "the wombat stuffer", as he not only graduated about 2 years ago and is more in touch with what college kids may talk about, but is vastly less mature than me in the best way possible. Anyway, he told me that Comedy Central fare is still valid including South Park, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Since my student can't possibly grasp social and political commentary because the context is too broad, I directed her more toward South Park as a means of dipping her toes in the icy water of adult-oriented pop culture.

The main problem with South Park is that it is rife with the kind of language you don't want to teach a Japanese person for fear that they'll use it wrong and look really stupid. Worse yet, they may use it correctly and end up offending someone because they don't grasp appropriate context even when they use proper grammatical usage. This is something I've heard and read on more than one occasion. English colloquial expressions do not flow trippingly out of Japanese mouths. My students are often writing "oh my Got!" I've also read and heard "fack" on multiple occasions. I've have never experienced a student who could use obscenities in a way that didn't make me want to laugh in his face.

The best I can do for my student is send her to the Comedy Central site and recommend she watch a few episodes. Fortunately, I'm also able to direct her to a script site so she can read the English as she can't understand it because it's delivered at lightning speed. Even this is complicated by the fact that dictionaries often do not include the zestier definitions of words. In trying to explain that she'd likely see Kenny (in South Park) die again and again and hear the same lines repeatedly and one of those lines included "bastard", I discovered that the Japanese translation that came up was "unnecessary".

So, if she's hearing, "oh my God, they killed Kenny!" followed by "you bastards!", she's hearing 'oh my Got, they killed unnecessary'! That's not quite the impact the line is supposed to have.

While my intention is to help my student find some cultural touchstones with the college juniors and seniors she'll be associating with, I can't help but feel like I'm corrupting a minor. She's so innocent and clean-minded. I'm rather torn between the feeling that it's "wrong" to expose her to such "impure" influences and the idea that it'd be far worse to send her off to the U.S. in a month with no understanding of the sort of rough talk that she'll no doubt be exposed to. When it comes down to a choice between sullying her with the sort of talk in English that she doesn't use in Japanese or allowing her to end up possibly looking and feeling like a clueless dork, I guess it's better to choose the corruption.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Fukutoshin Line

The Fukutoshin line opened up on June 14, 2008. My husband took pictures and explored the line on June 17, 2008.

Tokyo is notorious for overcrowded trains. By now, anyone who isn't familiar with the fact that part of the job of a rush hour train conductor is to cram people into cars like sardines has not been paying attention. In fact, the way in which people allow themselves to be crammed in would be considered cruelty to animals if it were done with any animal other than a human.

Every station has a cheesy stained glass window design. This one appears to be abstract rabbits.

The Fukutoshin line is a new subway meant to relieve some of the congestion of one of the major lines, the Yamanote line. It starts in Saitama, which can be considered a suburb of Tokyo in terms of being a cheaper place to live which isn't so far away from the central areas that a commute is still possible. It leads into some the most heavily-trafficked shopping and work districts in Tokyo.

The line has both "local" (stopping at all stations) and "express" (stopping at only the most popular stops and bypassing others) trains. This is nothing new, but the uncommon thing is that the express trains are 10 cars long and the local ones only 8 cars in length. I'm guessing that the express trains stops are the only stations with platforms long enough to accommodate the longer trains. There are signs specifically explaining the car length issue and messages flashing at regular intervals on the displays in the stations.

Clear plastic chairs with flower designs in one of the stations.

New stations like these are always a fascinating contrast to the older ones. They are pristine, clean, and their designs appear fresh and cutting edge. This week's shiny new station is next year's dingy, dirty, and dated look.

There are two aspects to every train line in Tokyo. One is how you go and the other is where you go. My husband bought a day pass for about $7 (¥740) and took the camera and investigated the lines, stations, and the areas that the stops lead to. Sometimes, they opened into vast shopping areas. At others, they opened into a whole lot of nothing. He took nearly 200 pictures and you can view them in a Picasa album here. Be forewarned though that the pictures are not picked over and some may not be all that interesting or recognizable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moss and Me

Former home of a dearly-departed spider plant and cushion moss.

For awhile now I've been wanting to enliven the atmosphere in my apartment with a bit of greenery. A normal person would just go out and buy a plant and learn how to care for it. However, normal people have the advantage of not living in near cave-like darkness because they are on the bottom floor and in the center unit of an apartment building surrounded by taller buildings.

I've been researching greenery on-line for some time now trying to find a plant which will both endure the dimness of the cave-like environs of my domicile and the ineptitude of my care. You see, I don't have the best track record when it comes to caring for plants. Some time ago, a friend of mine gave me a black coffee mug with a spider plant growing in it. I warned her that I thought I'd end up killing it and she indignantly informed me that spider plants required very little care and were quite hardy. The only thing I can say about that is that I still have the mug.

During one of my recent runs for milk at a local 99 yen store, I noticed one of the plants they had outside the shop was "cushion moss". Moss is often viewed as a weed in the U.S., but is common in Japanese gardens. I looked up moss and found that it thrives in the shade and needs lots of water. Since I'm not looking for tall plants so much as just something green which won't die on me, I bought one of the tiny moss planters and am going to use it as a test run for my green thumb. If it survives, I'll consider investing in a planter of some sort and expanding the planting.

I do believe that, if a plant could think like we do and conceptualize the world as humans, they would see my purchase of one of them as the equivalent of a knife-wielding maniac descending on some poor helpless puppy and beg me to pick some other specimen and spare its life.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Fought the Jar

My vanquished enemy.

My CH (Cute Husband(TM)) and I usually have something quick for breakfast due to a desire to remain in bed as long as possible. We don't want food preparation to steal away precious snooze time so making English muffins with jam this morning was quite the production.

The experience was complicated by the fact that the very large jar of strawberry jam my husband had purchased roundly refused to surrender its sticky contents. After making the usual entreaties (tapping the lid, opening with a rubber lid gripper thingy, enlisting the aid of my stronger CH), war had to be declared as the jar's armor could not be penetrated using conventional methods.

I prepared my weapon (a butter knife) and set about battering its fortifications. It took three severe attacks, each followed by intense applications of torque, before it finally gave up and I could apply its goo to the now cold muffins. I won the battle, but it won the war as the jam within was rather sub-par and unfitting spoils for such a glorious victory. It was a very stiff rubbery plug at the top. Nonetheless, a stab to the heart and a vigorous stirring the likes of which I'm sure that jar will never forget pummeled it into a spreadable state. Victory is mine.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ug Ug (Hello, hello)

Besides having two heads and casting blood lust, the Orc ogres left spiffy-looking decaying corpses.

Back when I was playing Warcraft II, I loved to play the ugly green Orcs and disliked playing the sissy humans. The Orcs had 2-headed ogres that cast blood lust on each other while the pansy knights healed everything. The humans had effeminate Legolas-style archers and the Orcs recruited axe-hucking beserkers with Mohawks. Transportation by air for the Orcs consisted of flying on a dragon whereas lowly humans rode over-sized chicken hawks. And, finally, and certainly not the least of the Orcish appeal, the Orc language consisted of a great many cool sounds ("dabu", "zugzug") whereas humans just spoke English.

I so loved Warcraft II and the Orcs that when it came time to adopt a nom de plume for anonymous posting on Usenet, I chose "Orchid". Of course, being female in a largely male forum and my twisted logic and love of ugly brutes escaping most sane people, everyone thought I was naming myself after a flower. The truth is that, at that time, I didn't even know what an Orchid looked like, let alone want to be associated with something so girly.

I never quite convinced anyone that I wasn't a flower despite many attempts to convince them that I was allying my identity with ogres and trolls and death knights (oh my). However, I did eventually get one of my best gaming buddies (now a good buddy all around, henceforth to be referred to as "the wombat stuffer") to stop referring to me as a "talking flower".

This is the third public blog that I've created and I've gone back to my anonymous roots for this one and named it for my original virtual pen name. The first one was immensely popular, but I made the mistake of letting it be known to certain family members and things I said caused trouble. As for this one, I'm not advertising, and I'm guessing it won't easily be stumbled upon, but that's just fine with me.

It's hard to believe this is what so wasted my time and inspired me.