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