Moore Than This

"Here we are living in paradise, living in luxury..."

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day"

"...I think we are entering the arena of the unwell."

I've had a cold for a couple of days now. I'd put it down to a combination of bad food, bad booze, bad sleeping hours, bad working hours and bad eating hours, which all come together to make up what one philosopher once referred to as "the good life." Hopefully my stockpile of Lemsips that I brought from the UK will last me through it, as decent over-the-counter medicine is hard to get in Japan (unless of course you're planning to poison a family member ... 'nuff said).

I've started almost all my classes by now. Japanese Level 4 seems to be alright, obviously needs a little more commitment than Level 3, but nothing that I can't handle. I'll post more about my classes as they go on, as I've only had the introductory lessons so far.

I'll leave you with this story about Japan's homeless, who are being forcibly evicted from a park in Osaka that "will be the site of the World Rose Convention 2006 from May 11 to 17." Sounds a little like a non-lethal form of the "social cleansing" practiced by police and paramilitaries in Latin America. Trying to keep the problem out of sight, but drawing more attention to it as a result.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Leaders of the Free World

With the standoff over Iran's nuclear development still dragging on, an article in the Asahi Shimbun highlights a truly horrifying consequence of the situation:

Iran's publicly stated intention to advance its nuclear technology threatens a key element of Japan's energy strategy--development of the Azadegan oil field ... If Tehran does not alter its position, Japan could lose its rights to the field.
Am I the only person thinking that nuclear weapons in the hands of a religious maniac who has publicly stated that "Israel must be wiped off the map" is a slightly bigger danger than a first-world nation losing out on some choice oil fields? As I recall, that was what got us into that whole mess over Iraq.

It's true that Japan has long been a net energy importer, and most of this takes the form of oil from the Middle East (its cultural history means it has no stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and can therefore do business in the region easily). Still, you'd have thought that with another putative nuclear rogue state living practically next door, the Japanese would be a little less sanguine about this sort of thing.

(4:30 pm)

UPDATE: Mutant Frog have posted regarding this in response to a comment I left there and cleared up a few things. I recommend you read for the full story.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Blatant plugging

A few of my friends back in Cambridge make short films under the moniker of Illimms Productions. I've been privilieged to star in a few of these. Their website has recently been relaunched, with all the films available to watch for free. So get on over there and see mathematical comedies, mockumentaries about German goalkeepers, free-jazz buddy movies, foul-mouthed historical cartoons, and much much more!

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kill smoking - before it kills you!

A random blog post on the perils of smoking reminded me of similar signs I'd seen in front of Lawson convenience stores out here. So, here is the latest anti-smoking campaign, Japan-style. If I convince one person to give up by posting these, I'll have done my bit.

Considering the size of the thing, if your smoke did hit someone an apology would certainly be in order.

(6:27 pm)


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More China links

A report from the Guardian on China's growing consumption of resources, and what can be done to maintain growth and improve the lot of people in the developing world without devastating the planet. It's inspiring stuff, and worth a read. For our part, Britain is ranked fifth best in the world at tackling domestic and global environmental problems, in the first global league table of its kind.

Less positively, Google has agreed to accept Chinese government restrictions in order to set up a Chinese version of its search engine. I was privileged to hear a talk on China's internet censorship at Kansai Gaidai last semester, and learned that the regime has developed an ingenious system for suppressing dissent, based in part on offering companies access to China's enormous (and profitable) market, on condition that they help censor the Internet. Google's latest move is another nail in the coffin of the theory that the Internet will help spread democracy and transparency througout the world. George Monbiot has written brilliantly on the flaws in this argument.

(5:07 pm)

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Interaction: it's over-rated

I've been living in dorms for three days now, and I'm bored. The flat structure of Seminar House 3 means that you only really see those people you share a kitchen with (which is a laugh in itself - you're not allowed to cook anything for the first week, so eating out or living on instant ramen are the options), and out of those my roommate is the only person I talk to regualarly. There is a miniature colony of Dutch people (by which I mean about 2 or 3) who do nothing but watch films on their latops in the communal area (very loudly) when other people are trying to sleep. There's also a guy who is always in the communal area tapping away on his laptop. Out of all of them, he seems the least objecttionable. I talk to him on occasion because I myself have little to do apart from sit around reading. Still, I wonder what on earth the impetus (or lack of such) is to make him stay in the same spot all day?

In other news, the Arctic Monkeys' album release looks like becoming the fastest-selling debut ever. Good for them, but I'm generally suspicious of bands with too much hype surrounding them, as it sets them up for the inevitable abandonment by the media, who move on to the 'next big thing' around second-album time. I managed to pick up my copy at a Tower Records in Kyoto a couple of days before the UK release date (heheheh), and can say that the hype doesn't mean a thing and would count against the band if it wasn't for the one thing the album has in spades: solid-gold tuneage.

A BBC report on Chinese migrant workers heading back home for lunar New Year and not returning. A Chinese academic quotes a survey of 800,000 migrant workers in Shanghai:
"Most migrant workers, when they first arrive in Shanghai, work in factories," he says.

"When they have made enough money, they will either take that money home to build a house, get married and return to farming or they will set up their own small businesses here in the city because it pays better.

"If the factories want to keep this second group of people they will have to offer them more money."
The article ends with the line "Many are beginning to realise that China's legendary low cost labour is not as low cost as it appears." That ending misses the point of the above quote. Surely less penniless migrant workers relying on the largesse of their bosses and more prosperous farmers and small businessmen is a good thing, and part and parcel of a developing economy? Then again, on the other side of the picture, this growth can't be maintained if urban-rural inequality increases along with it.

(1:00 pm)

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Oh, the places you'll go

Two posts in one day is a lot for me, I know, but that last one was kind of an update on getting to Japan and my stay in Kyoto. I would have posted about it earlier, but I am too cheap to pay for internet access and so waited until I could use the facilities in my dorms. I'm based in Seminar House 3 for orientation week, after which I'll move into Sem 4, which I know from last semester's orientation week (It's a classy prospect, believe me). Sem 3 is constructed slightly differently to the other dorms, as it's organised around flat-type areas where 8 people share a kitchen and showers. For some reason, the university demands you pay more if you stay here, although as you're allocated to dorms randomly, it seems a bit of a rip. Flats are only worth paying more for if you have some control over who you're living with, and at Kansai Gaidai, whether you're in dorms or homestay, it's all out of your hands, chum. Witness the people in my flat. Granted, quite a few haven't arrived yet, but those that have aren't really the kind of people I'd want to rub up against for a whole semester. Just as well I'm moving out, really.

The other thing is, all the seminar houses have an impersonal modern design. Each floor looks very much like another. As long as you can remember which number your room is, you'll be alright. I was wandering back from a trip to another floor, and breezed into the flat. My roommate was at the table, tapping away at his laptop, next to a group of girls who I hadn't seen before. They all looked up and said hello, and I believe I said something cool, as befits a globe-trotting man of mystery such as myself (hem hem), as I carried on into my room.

It took a few seconds of looking at the shelf where I was going to put the umbrella I was carrying before I realised that my personal possessions were missing from the shelf. And the surrounding shelves. And the desk below it. It was then I remembered that walking through the room, I hadn't noticed anything of mine or my flatmate's. I walked back out and announced that I was in the wrong flat to the girls, who promptly burst out laughing.

(Acknowledgements to the Fake Doctor for both the post title and a somewhat related story. Visit his blog, right after you bask in the warm glow of my humiliation.)

(9:55pm Japan time)

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The Past and Pending

And just like that, I've swapped countries again, with only the minor inconvenience of the long flight back. For the main leg (Paris to Osaka) I was sitting in a front row of seats, where there was an emergency exit in front of me, the overhead luggage bins were all full up, and the sweet Japanese lady sitting behind me had commandeered the space under my seat for her tiny handbag. Thus, I spent the entire flight with my rucksack and laptop under my legs, hugging them close to me. This wasn't helped by having to load up my hand luggage with hefty books as my suitcase was a couple of kilos over the weight limit. That aside, getting to Hirakata was easy. I dumped my bags in a friend's room and went down to Kyoto to stay in a hostel for a couple of days, as dorms didn't become available until Saturday.

I met a few Brit travellers making their way round the world, as well as the obligatory couple of Australians. With only a few days in the country, they chose to visit Kyoto for its beautiful old temples. As one of the few cities in Japan to escape saturation bombing in the Second World War, it also has more traditional wooden houses tucked away off the main roads. I was wandering through some back streets to get to the station when I saw one of these houses, in the process of being demolished. A crane with a giant claw on the end was tearing out the main wooden beams one by one, giving me a view into the structure of the house. I looked up and down the street. Every other house was covered either in concrete or concrete-look plastic cladding. They looked shiny and pristine; dolls' houses, against which the old half-destroyed wooden dwelling of Japan's past looked out of place. Two women were standing in the doorway of one of the newer houses chatting happily. As another bit of the city's past collapsed into a heap of ruins, I turned away, wondering if I was the only person in the street who cared.

(11:25am Japan time)

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006


During one of the briefing meetings before our year abroad began, Dr Weste, our year abroad director (known for his caustic sense of humour), warned us about Japanese dentistry. The warning was basically: steer clear of it. If you have any wisdom teeth that are coming through and giving you trouble with your existing teeth, have them taken out before you leave. At that time I could feel the slightest of bumps towards the back of one of my gums, so asked my dentist over the summer if anything needed to be done. He said it was fine. The bump became a set of bumps, and then two sets. I've always been a fidgety person, and at odd times I'd probe the emerging tooth with my tongue. It was a vaguely nagging feeling, like something that isn't unpleasant, but you feel you ought to leave alone.

And that vague feeling is how I feel now, getting ready to head back to Japan. It's not quite fear and it's not quite excitement. It's knowing how far I've come, and how long there is to go. It's knowing the effort needed, and wondering if you're capable of it. It's the memory of your past mistakes, and the intention to avoid them from now. Feeling like that can prompt anything, from self-denial to outbreaks of pretentious metaphors, but knowing that the semester ahead is not going to be all beer and skittles is a refreshing sign of maturity. Being a second-year among people who were usually at least a year older than me (some were in their mid-twenties) made me think a lot about how mature I am. I've always been seen as older than I really am, but conversely think I should grow up more. Which is kind of an odd sentiment when you don't even know what you want to grow into.

I went into this year abroad not really expecting anything to happen to me. But that doesn't mean I don't want it to. Maturity means different things to different people, and I don't expect to instantly notice when I become more mature. But I hope if there's one thing I put into action more from now on, it's looking at the future with a clear eye, knowing what has to be done and not being afraid to do it. That I would call wisdom, of a sort.

(As a fidgety person, I also bite my nails, but that doesn't make as good an image.)


Saturday, January 14, 2006

(Almost) everything is brilliant in Leeds

This week I took a trip up to Leeds to see my old flatmates. I'm glad I actually thought of it, as I've missed the place since I left this summer. It hadn't changed that much, and neither have the people. They now live in a big old house up near Hyde Park, and for the most part seemed pleased to see me. I was led off on a tour of the surrounding area, then on a trip to buy booze at an off-license located just opposite the local mosque. Then we sat around in the front room drinking and watching the finale of Lost. What a great show. My enjoyment was slightly marred when a female I lived with last year stated screaming and crying over the unfortunate fate of an attractive male character. To detract from the annoying sound of her voice, I started drunkenly rambling about how every character from Lost was working in a different pub in Leeds, and the change they gave me for my drinks formed the enigmatic sequence of numbers that hold so much significance in the series ... looking back, it was kind of odd.

The following evening, we went out to a stand-up comedy night at a nearby pub. It was good fun, but with the slight wrinkle that the headline act was someone who I'd seen opening the last comedy night I'd gone to. Back then, he had got so few laughs he was reduced to snapping, "There's jokes in there if you look" at the audience. He was as unfunny as ever, but people laughed more this time. The rise of mediocrity continues apace.

I'd come up on the coach, and thought that I had time to catch the 1 o'clock from Leeds the day after. It still struck me as a great plan when we carried on drinking after the gig and finally left the pub at about 2am, leaving me to stay up until 4 in the morning playing on the house PS2. As it was, I dashed out of the house and speed-walked down to the bus stop, just making my coach. The ride was six-and-a-half-hours long, and made me wonder why I didn't pack the anti-DVT socks I'd taken on my flight to Japan. Still, National Express at least cultivates an interesting clientele. A guy sitting a couple of seats behind me was setting up a drug deal on his mobile. Why this doesn't happen on the train I don't know, but for its failings, rail travel just seems more wholesome.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

TV go home

There was an article in the Guardian the other day about the TV series 24, which was about my favourite TV show until Lost came along (a little more on that later). The 24 piece, written by Slavoj Zizek, excited me because for a long time I've thought that the show was worthy of serious discussion, and also because of the splendid headline that kicked off the article:
The depraved heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood
Fairly unambiguous statement. The author is basically right that 24 has gone from being an action-thriller show about terrorism to an apologia for the Bush administration's torture policies. The fourth series (where practically every episode characters get shot, beaten up, zapped with tazers and have their fingers broken - by the good guys - all in the name of extracting information) hit a low point for me when a civil rights group called "Amnesty Global" (no intentional resemblance at all, natch) block CTU from torturing a terrorist, dispatching a shifty-looking lawyer to argue his case. It was at that point that I realised it wasn't the kind of show I could watch for fun anymore.

Lost, on the other hand, started out brilliantly and just got better and better over the course of the first series, which has just finished on British terrestrial TV. Its main point of appeal for me (apart from the great acting, plotlines, sets, music and photography) is that unlike other shows with a mystery, that get less interesting the more is revealed, Lost's creators simply pile on more mysteries, enigmas and downright wigged-out stuff, making it more interesting as you get deeper. Things like spotting the characters crossing each others' paths before they get on the plane, working out whether they're telling the truth, and of course the ever-present sequence of numbers, make the series an absolute joy and something that gives you more entertainment for time invested than anything else on TV at the moment.

A piece in the Guardian by Lucy Mangan on the series' many unanswered questions was pretty entertaining, but I was brought up short when Korean character Sun was described as "the pampered daughter of a Korean gangster living in Australia". In fact, anyone who watched the episodes exploring Sun and Jin's pasts (in particular the masterful Episode 17 "In Translation") will know that they live in Korea, and Jin was in Australia to deliver watches to his father-in-law's "associates". Tut tut, Ms. Mangan. That's a rookie error. Hate to see it.

This is how I can tell that I'm a litte too into Lost.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Tokyo memories

Yasukuni-dori, Shinjuku
Originally uploaded by moorethanthis.
As I said in my last post, it seems like I've been back a lot longer than I have, and now I'm getting ready to head back again. Just a small matter of booking my return ticket, and sorting out where to stay for the few days before Seminar House re-opens, and I'll be gone. The contrast between where I've been and where I am now is just so large that even now I can't really get my head around it. This street scene from Shinjuku, for example, is unlikely to be found replicated in the centre of Cambridge.

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