05 September 2006

How YOU doin'?

Hey! Where's everybody been? Just kidding. Since I set up this blog, told everyone about it, and then preceded to abandon it for almost 5 months, I thought I'd better write something lest this page get sucked into never never land of the internet.
So, where I've been is at work. Yes, I got through my first semester at my new uni job. All in all it's pretty good; great boss, OK students, nice colleagues, and way cool subsidised apartment.

I can see the mountains from my front window, something I always find comforting. Unfortunately, I've come to realise that you can't really get to them without a day's cycle which leaves you too knackered to climb round in them. But I'm working on that. It takes time to find out all your options when you move to a new place and I'm patient.

Being able to cycle to work, the shops, and the local watering hole is a great plus round here. It's made me a bit lazy though. Back in Osaka, my commute consisted of long, fast-paced walks to the trains, and loads of stair climbing in the stations every morning and evening. Now I can see that the lack of exercise has caught up with me when I wasn't looking. I was so busy and stressed with work, that must've been sitting all day and shovelling the cakes in and not even realising.

This called for drastic action. I put myself on my own vegetarian version of phase one of the South Beach Diet. Since I've been in Japan, I've been making an effort to try and eat a little fish, so I'm eating that too. I even got desperate enough with the monotony of fish, vegetable, fish, vegetable... to make an attempt at eating chicken. I WON'T be trying that again. It was totally traumatic and has sent me into a rage of being my former self. I've been delving into websites, blogs, and cookbooks, basically anything I can read about healthy vegetarian eating. It's all starting to come back and is as blinding as if it had just hit me in my face. I guess I was so caught up in work that I didn't notice what was happening to my clothes (i.e getting tighter and tighter), and then in my desperation stopped at nothing to rectify the situation quickly. Basically, I forgot who I was!

I'm working on reorganising my kitchen so that I am encouraged to cook healthy, delicious meals again rather than just see the difficulty of a small kitchen and run for the crappy Japanese takeaway joints. And, contrary to popular belief, in Japan they DO eat a lot of crap food. Mostly processed, fried stuff, with lots of 'hidden' sugar and salt just like the rest of us in the modern world. There are a few healthier things on offer in restaurants, but in general, healthy food has to be cooked in the home. And, also like the rest of us, some people are good at this, and others just get the convenient stuff. Super markets often have two full isles of two-minutes noodle packets (instant ramen)and I see poeple buying them by the trolley-full! And vegetables are eaten as a small portion to go with whatever meat you are eating. I full plate of luscious steamed veggies is pretty much unheard of.

I've also started exercising regularly. I walk/jog and or do yoga everyday now, and have been able to see the difference by keeping an exercise diary.When I look back at a couple of months ago, I can't believe how sedentary I was!

Current project is making my own tahini. I've only got a motar and pestle so it takes me a couple of days worth of grinding the sesame seeds. But, I did it once before and the resulting babaganouj was awesome! Ahhhhh, getting back to slow food.

25 April 2006

Teaching about travel

In about forty minutes I will teach my first "Travel and Study Abroad" class. The students are mostly in their second, third or fourth year of uni so I'm hoping for a bit of conversation and discussion. It's been fun getting together the materials for my first class. I've got a world map for them to locate the places they want to travel to, some 'getting to know you' activities so they can meet each other and feel comfortable in discussions (This can be very important in Japan as the students tend to be quite shy), some relaxing background music, and some of my old journals to show them. I'm hoping to get them on the journalwriting bandwagon by showing them what a rewarding experience it has been for me. And, no, I'm not going to let them read the details! I'll just show them that sometimes I write, and sometimes I sketch or stick in photos or tickets and other mish-mash I've picked up. It's been really cool for me to look back at them, too.
Well, I've got to start lugging all this stuff to the classroom now.

20 April 2006

An onigiri for every occasion

Onigiri time has become as much a part of my day as tea time. I love these little filled balls of rice! Usually I eat them to tide me over in between meal times but sometimes I use them as a filler when my lunch is too small.
Up here in Niigata, I noticed that the convenience store people always ask me if I want my onigiri heated up. Must be a 'cold place' thing. It doesn't sound good to me as I've only ever had them cold. But, I recently went to a local restaurant where they brought us fresh shiso (a Japanese herb) and umeboshi (pickled plums) onigiri that were warm...delish!
This link goes to a BBC food site. It's been about 8 years since I left Britain now and there was very little if any Japanese food there then. So it is kind of interesting to me to see onigiri discussed in detail.

09 April 2006

Final profile photo

Got bored trying to post last photo on my profile so here's the new one. Shame you can't see it well on my profile page. At least I figured out how to shrink the file thanks to Cheeseboy.

Off and running in Niigata Prefecture

The move has finally been made to Niigata. Despite being April, it was snowing for the first three days after arriving. Pi Dog is pooing himself that every flat has got a snow shovel outside and we can't get warm at night with a duvet AND down sleeping bag when it should be plum blossom season (That's Japanese for 'beginning of spring'.).

But things are really cool so far. The flat is amazing for someone who hasn't lived many places that were very cosy since vacating the parental abode about a thousand years ago. It's got three rooms, a kitchen, bathroom, toilet and entryway. So it's a veritable mansion compared to our last place that was only one room. We have been swinging numerous cats just for the hell of it.

The other two teachers are OK in my book since we'd got down to some serious wine drinking by about day three. We've even been round the bosses house already for food and wine. I think I like this place!

Pi Dog (Hereafter refered to as 'Cheeseboy' due to various antics that ensued on that first fateful wine night.)is still looking for work in this small town, poor sod. The good thing is that everyone, I mean EVERYONE, has been looking around for him. He's had a few good leads so far and we're hoping that something will happen this week... for both our sanity.

We're back on the ol' free-internet-bandwagon temporarily. But so far, it seems to be pretty reliable here. I'll try and blog more when I've got a bit of a routine going. I don't start teaching until Wednesday so I've been just swanning round like a lady of leisure recently.

Only two shaking episodes so far!


13 March 2006

Paneer photos

Posted my photos twice but they didn't show up so here they are...

Making Paneer

The question of the day is...
Why have I never done this before?

Last weekend I finally decided to make my own paneer. It was awesome and I'm going to do this frequently now, I hope.

First I boiled up a litre of milk. You have to be ready because the milk starts to rise quickly in foam form as soon as it's ready. I was forewarned (therefore forearmed!) about this and chose a pot that was way bigger than I needed since I didn't trust myself to turn off the heat in time.

When the milk started to make a break for the top of the pot, I turned off the heat and started squeezing in fresh lemonjuice. I tried to be careful, but the end product had a few elusive lemon pips that popped out when I was slicing. Thought it gave a real 'homemade' effect.

I stirred slowly as I was squeezing in the juice and, lo and behold, it started to curdle (Soooooo cool!). It was totally curdled by about two or three minutes.

At this point most people would pour it into some muslin cloth, but being in Japan, it was easier to find these blue net things that they sell in the "supa" to line your sink drain with and catch stuff before it goes down. Sounds bad, but of course thay were new, and so, clean. So, in it went with a bowl underneath to catch the whey. The whey is meant to be a healthy drink but neither I nor Pi Dog was keen.

So, next I used a Laken metal water bottle filled with water as a weight and my ramen bowl as a receptacle and in effect rigged up a cool press. I left in the press for a few hours (enjoying the pictured Flake Noir from an import shop in the mean time)then wrapped it up and put it in the fridge.

A couple of days later I sliced and fried it and threw it into a pan with some peas to make an awesome muttar paneer.

It was sooooooo worth the effort in this land of no cheese OR curry. Chomp!


11 March 2006

Old people and drinking/Music in China

The way I see it, there are two ways to look at a hangover when your most recent birthday introduced you to your 36th year on this planet.Ok, so technically 37th on the planet as Pi Dog so RUDELY pointed out!

1) I can't believe I'm 36 and I still do this to myself!

2) Hey, at least I'm still out enjoying life at 36!

At the moment I'm still feeling more in tune with number 1, but I'm hoping that later on today number 2 will kick in. Another thing that has changed is the fact that it's 9.30 on a Saturday and I'm already up and about...ish, well, on the net anyway. Gone are the beloved days when you had so much free time that you could just sleep all day and be none the wiser that you had a hangover. At best, you might get up on time to see what Richard and Judy were talking about and be thankful that you didn't have Richard's haircut and dress"sense". But that was only because you heard someone put the kettle on and you were hoping they might offer you a brew if you show your pastey face. But in these days of precious little free time away from work, one has to make the effort to get up and take advantage of the weekend even if it does make you feel queasy like my mate Pi Dog here with the green face.

By the way, why is it that you never have milk on hangover days? This morning I had to use some small, dodgy Japanese pots of creamer that I'd bought to take to work for emergencies (They never use milk in tea here?!). Fittingly, they are called 'Creap'. Cause it's creapy that you'd even consider letting that crap near your tea. But, I digress.

I make it a rule never to drink and e-mail/ blog. Unfortunately, the drink makes me forget that this is my rule and the poor recipient, more often than not, is our friend the 'King of Ireland'. We lived next to the K.O.I. for about four months in Tokyo when we all worked at the same university on a short contract. I don't know who was the bad influence on who, but basically it was four months of taking the piss. However, this is Japan, and so we wore suits and nobody was any the wiser.

The King of Ireland became ordained as such when he went off to see Ireland play Japan in Rugby. He thought it would be a good idea to cover himself in orange, green and white, wrap an Irish flag around his shoulders and don a stupidly large hat in the same, aforementioned colours. Lucky for him (and us) the only record I have of this is a photo I took on my keitai (cellphone) which is of too low a quality to upload. But rest assured, he got all sorts of attention and ended up sitting with a load of Japanese guys who call themselves the Irish Supporters Club and also dress like the K.O.I.. Photos were taken and he ended up in domestic as well as Irish newspapers and, later of course, pissed. Pi dog was with him, I went to a museum. See, I'm waaaaay more grown up than them!

I have to also mention that the K.O.I ended up falling asleep on the train so that he missed his stop and ended up in Takao, at the end of the line. He then woke up and changed trains only to fall asleep in the other direction, miss his stop yet again, and end up at the other end of the line. I hasten to add that this is no short journey. The Chuo line spans the width of Tokyo which is a monster big city. Further, he did this on more than one occasion, but who's counting? God only knows what happens to him in Korea where he now resides. That's your 15 minutes of fame, K.O.I.. At least you're not naked THIS time on the net. Oh, and sorry we always e-mail you when we're pissed. To be fair, you haven't exactly set us a good example (only joking).

So, I've got to get on with my hangover now. We've also got to get down to the launderette to have our weekly meeting with the freaks in there. But that's another blog.

Oh yeah, and I just wanted to mention that there is a link on the title of this blog that goes to an article about Rolling Stone magazine now having a China Edition. Thought that was interesting...but then, anything on the bright, flashing screen is interesting right now as it makes me forget my pounding headache.


10 March 2006

Japanese Foot Gloves

Just thought you should know about these. At first I actually thought it was a stupid idea for someone like me who gets cold fingers from wearing gloves (poor circulation, I guess), but then someone convinced me to try these socks and they're really warm and comfy! Incidentally, they aren't a novelty item here in Japan. They are really common. I imagine the idea grew out of the more traditional 'tabi' socks that are better known. You know, the white ones that allow for the wearing of jandals (flip flops)when donning your best kimono.(see random link for tabi pictures)

14 February 2006

Says it all

Just came across these quotes on the net...

"There's a race of men who don't fit in
A race that can't stand still,
So they break the heart of kith and kin
And roam the world at will."
--Robert Service

"There are three kinds of men who die poor: those who divorce, those who incur debts and those who travel."
--Senegalese proverb

(I'm sure the same goes for women)

04 February 2006

Curry Crisis (again)

Just read yesterday that Tarja Halonen did win the election. Taking back the world, one woman at a time!
So, today I'm thinking about curry...for a change. I'm wondering, what's the most difficult situation anyone has been in ingredient-wise when needing to make a curry? I'd say, living in Japan has been my biggest challenge yet. I'm not complaining as I can get pretty creative when I need a curry, but lately, everything is tasting the same. As I've begun this thought process a bit to late and have just been given the 5 minute warning at the netcafe, I'll have to leave you with this one. Perhaps I'll be enlightened by the time I'm back online next and can enlighten you!

29 January 2006

Reality TV and women in government

A few weeks ago Thai Prime minister Thaksin began his new 'reality TV show', Backstage Show: The Prime Minister in a bid to gain voter support. The man has a lot of doubters at the moment so time will tel whether this kind of stunt helps or not. But funny, none the less...

So much to catch up on since I haven't been near a computer in two weeks... at one point there seemed to be quite a few more women poping up on the world's political scene which is always nice. Congratulations to Chile's centre-left winner of the election, Michelle Bachelet. Her victory over the conservative candidate is also a victory for women in South American politics in general as there have not been many female leaders in that region.
Tarja Halonen (social dem) was also in the run for Finnish president, but what's happening??? The run off is due to take place tomorrow. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4614100.stm
Meanwhile, back in Osaka... Shanti and Pi Dog went on the lash to celebrate Pi's 33rd. Special Kirin brews ensued as did a bit of a splash out on some nachos at the Hard Rock Cafe. Loudest, most overpriced nachos we ever ate...but ooooooooooooooohhhhhhh so good. God I miss mexican stuff. Think I'll roll some tortillas tonight.

17 January 2006

Books I've read recently

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary
by Xiaolu Guo
At first I didn't like this book because reading the low level English was a bit too much like my job, but it gets better. I also couldn't stand the creepy boyfriend, the type of which I've met many in Asia preying on my stuents. But, eventually I fell in love with this book. Keep focussing on the main character. She's very honest and innocent to the point where you almost start to worry about her. I can't say more without giving the game away, but I'd highly recommend this book.

The Anti 9-5 Guide by Michelle Goodman
Somewhat inspiring by she annoyingly loves to use cliches and it gets a bit old after the first 500. Also, the book would be more relevant to those in their 20s and who also live in the U.S.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
by Susan Jane Gilman
Read my review here

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Easily one of the best books I've ever read! It took me a long time to read as I not only moved house twice in the duration, but one of the moves was between Japan and NZ. I was also doing an intensive course, job hunting, starting a new job, and all the other things in life that distract you from your purpose on Earth of being a reader. I really don't know how to review this book as I was so blown away by it. I can only say that I would and I do recommend it to everyone I meet, so please read it!

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuscia Dunlop
I really loved this book and I'm having a hard time taking it back to the library. Major attachment issues! Fuscia went to China as a student and quickly became bored with learning random useless words in her Chinese classes. So, she ended up spending more time in local cafes talking to the chefs and asking about what they were cooking. In short, her Chinese improved in leaps and bounds, and she ended up an expert in Sichuan cookery. The best part is how she slowly went from a person who couldn't look at a thousand year egg, to someone who'd eat just about anything. I'd recommend this to anyone who's lived abroad and also has a deep love of cooking and food (such as I do!).

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Three Cups of Tea by Mortensen and Relin
I highly recommend it:-)

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
I like Amy Tan yet I've only read two books by her previously and one was autobiographical. Unfortunately, this book was not as good. It was interesting, but the plot was extremely dragged out and I kept thinking I might give up. But, no! Never give up! The best may be yet to come... well, the ending was quite "nice", but I really don't think it was her best work.

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
This book is seventeen years old and was made into a TV movie when I was at Uni. I never saw it, and indeed, never got round to reading the book until this year. Now I know why it was so popular...it's brilliant! It follows the "growing up" up a young Brit of Indian descent in London and contains great references to class, racism, sexuality, pop culture, the arts, and day to day life in Britain fromt the 50's to the 80's. It's also a commentary on the general process of finding your place in the world and really highlights that it is a process and not just a "do it and then achieve it" scenario. Some of it is hilarious in it's transparent portrayal of everyday life in Britain for those on the 'edges' of society.

16 January 2006

Monkey Magic

Just tried to update my profile a bit and in the booklist I wanted to add this blurb.

At the moment I"m reading "Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud" by Sun Shuyun. Explains a lot about how Buddhism nearly disappeared from India altogether if it weren't for various things that happened including a particular Chinese monk's (Xuanzang) records. She attempts to follow his path from his home in China to the birthplace of the Buddha and back. The biggest impression the book has made on me is from the information about how widespread Buddhism was in Afghanistan. Facinating read if you are into this sort of thing (as I obviously am!).

Incidentally, The story of Xuanzang's epic journey is actually the one that the 1970/80's TV show 'Monkey Magic' was based on. http://www.ewtoo.org/~matt/monkey/ Yes, the monk and journey were real. No, there was no monkey as the bloke was a pretty staunch kinda guy who survived the unsurvivable without the help of anyone else, simian or otherwise.

Now here in Japan a brand new series has just begun...the legend continues...

15 January 2006

Teething Problems

OK, so somehow I'd managed to delete half of my template so that nothing could be seen except a black screen. I think I've sorted it now however, my sidebar stuff has shifted to the bottom of the page due to a long link I put in in my last post. C'est lavie! I think it will sort itself out as new posts are added. In future I'll check how long any links are before posting. Sorry! Can you tell I don't know what the hell I'm doing??
I've got to say you meet some wierdos in netcafes. Everyone has either a twitch, snort, hacking (get it?) cough, or a penchant for talking to their head-voices. It begs the question, What am I doing that I am not aware of?
Gotta go back to work tomorrow so possible nothing else until Friday. Now that I'm getting into this I'll miss my little trips to the internet cafe but, work's not too bad as I pretty much just have to teach a few classes each week and have hours and hours to plan. It's a bit of a dream job in the hard-knock world of ESL teaching but it's only for 2 months.
One quick link before I sign off:
Just a little article I came across relating to the Indian community in Japan. I'm facinated by 'communities' within communities and Japan is one place where I find it difficult to spot foreign communities. I wasn't sure if there just aren't many immigrants of each particular nation here, or if it's due to the pressure to fit in once you are here. Anyway, this may be of interest to some.
Have a great week!

14 January 2006

Talking with non-travellers, etc.

I just saw this on the Lonely Planet website http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bluelist/index.cfm?fa=main.viewList&list_id=232 and the comments hit a bit too close to home for comfort. I think I've heard them all or variations on the themes. It's wierd how people think it either A) takes a lot of money to travel a lot, or B) you're such a slacker not having a regular job all these years (or maybe you're just a giant mooch). I also don't get people's comments that it's some great difficult thing to go someplace where you can't speak the language. There are so many people whose first language isn't the same as mine in Auckland (uh, that being English) that it's not that different to go to another country. While some people complain about his kind of thing, eg. "immigrants taking jobs", "can't even speak OUR language" or other of this variety of misinformed banter, I actually love the fact that I can walk down the high street and be confronted with so many ways of doing things. I guess thats one reason why I like to travel; to see more of the same. I don't really see other places as scarily different. There's fun in the challenge of uncovering the ways we are the same while appreciating the differences we have. Is that what makes a "non-traveller" then? Someone who is so blinded by the differences people in different countries have that they can't see the similarities? It doesn't help that our media teaches us this fear by always making sure that there are a few stories about how terrible life is in other places and blowing things out of proportion so that a local incident becomes the representation of an entire country.
Anyway, let's talk about something waaaaay more serious...brewing. My brother is a brewer who has taken it far enough to decide to give up his day job and do a brewing course. He studied in the States and Germany and is now a "Masterbrewer". As I am a "Master enjoyer of fine ales" I can say that his earlier brews were excellent so, I can imagine what sort of stuff he churns out now. At the moment he is working for someone else's brewery to get experience with future plans to open his own place. The only problem is that he has gone from earning a decent amount of money to having to take a huge paycut to enter the trade. Seems a shame that our historic arts and skills such as brewing are so unappreciated that the participants can not earn a decent living. Well, I can appreciate the time and effort that you can taste in a good pint of ale as here in Japan, there are mostly giant corporate breweries. That's not to say this is only a Japanese problem, nor that there aren't other things here that are excellent such a sake. My partner, Pi Dog, and I are soon to move to a major sake producing region in Japan. It'll be interesting to find out what kind of lifestyle the sake brewers have. Plus I can't wait to taste the sake as I love the stuff. One of the few 'slowfoods' left in Japan along with tsukemono (pickles) and hopefully others I can't think of just now. A bit of brewing banter can be seen here (Link now deleted.). I love to see this kind of thing where borders don't come into play and everyone is translating madly so they can help each other out with the thing they love.
Just about out of time at the ol' netcafe. It's Saturday night so me and Pi dog are heading out in search of some tasty brews, speak of the devil. Hope everyone's having a great weekend wherever you are!

13 January 2006

My first post

As this is my first post, I welcome myself to the world of blogging. And, for anyone who cares to read it, welcome to my blog. I've been tortured by an onslaught of ideas I wanted to write about recently but could not get an internet connection to be able to start this up. I still don't have a regular connection but hope to in the near future so postings may be thin until then. As you can gather from my title, I want to talk about the things that I love. I've made a life of travelling to new places if only to the detriment of my bank balance (thus the lack of an ISPcontract) and neglect of other issues in my life. I live in a vaguely middle-class world without the middle-class material things to show for it; no TV, central heating, mortgage, car, massive sound system, pair of golden retrievers in the back of a suburban vehicle. It's not that I think I'm too cool to have these things or have an aversion to any of them moralistically; it's just that I have prioritised other things over this kind of life. Mainly this is travel, buying good ingredients for cooking, investing in tramping gear (which is bloody expensive even if it is good quality stuff), moving to other countries to work, and sitting in cafes reflecting in my journal or now, on my computer. I think there are lots of people like me who aren't really living life like their friends imagine they are, but haven't really suffered much and, as a result of a bit of hard yakka to go against the grain, have had pretty interesting lives so far. So that's why I'm starting this blog. I feel like I've learnt a lot from my 35 years so far and, hopefully, will learn a lot more. The biggest thing is that a moment spent playing with a street kid in Calcutta with a bottle cap as a toy can be as enjoyable as gaining recognition at work, or relating to a character in your favourite film. Everyone I've met in the world is just trying to make a good life for themselves and their loved ones. We are all looking for contentment and freedom from worry. I think that's reflected in our daily activities...the things we fill our time with. We can't change everything we don't like in this world but, maybe we can find peace through normal things. There you have it, my plan for this space. To share ideas and interests is a stronger way to build bonds of peaceful living than any other I can think of. Om shanti