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It's late here and I'm just going to give
you a quick update on what's going on.
It was Karen's birthday yesterday. Our friends
Makis and Mhairi had a little party for her
and for their daughter Ioulia, who just happens
to share Karen's birthday and turned one
Unfortunately I only caught the tail end
of the party because I had four weddings
to conduct, but I heard that it was just
jam packed with babies and parents.
We all slept at Makis and Mhairi's last night
because they live so far away -- way on the
far side of Yokohama. They have a big place.
It felt strange to sleep in a friend's guest
room, we haven't really done it in such a
long time. It felt like being back in Canada.
Japanese homes are usually so small and private,
and filled with extended family members,
that it doesn't really seem appropriate to
spend the night unless you're willing to
be really intimate with the family.
I have to run and finish up my Japanese
before going to bed.
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Recently, my wife Karen has been signing
me up for medical experiments. I'm scheduled
to do a brain scan next week. I don't particularly
want to do these tests, but since I have
a flexible schedule and no full-time job,
Karen is insisting. I suppose that she's
Yesterday I participated in a mobile phone
quality test for Fujitsu -- I had to evaluate
the clarity of English sentences spoken through
various combinations of equipment. It was
four hours of mind-numbing drudgery, but
it paid well. It was conducted by a human
resources company that specializes in these
kinds of tests.
They ran the test in an old music-recording
studio near their main office in Shinjuku.
There were three other native English-speaking
guinea pigs there along with me, as well
as a Japanese girl who ran the machine.
The studio was like something you'd see in
an old musical documentary movie from the
70s, with Chet Baker or Miles Davis laying
down a few tracks, but it was old and grubby
and had walls that were yellowed from years
of cigarette smoke.
In one corner, arranged on a small platform,
was a full drum kit. A piano sat in a wood-lined
alcove, and various speakers and mics were
scattered around the room. Near the heavy,
carpet-padded door was a row of seven old-fashioned
standing ashtrays, the kind that have a pedestal
so that the tray is about three feet off
We sat at a flimsy office table in the middle
of the room and listened to the test sentences
through enormous padded earphones.
The sentences were all 'scientifically' constructed
so as to contain a certain range of consonants
and vowels. They would be things like, "Take
your problems to the wise chief," "Rice
is often served in round bowls," and
"The bark of the tree was shiny and
First we'd hear two sentences, with a lot
of background noise (they were recorded in
public places, trains, cars, etc.), then
we'd hear a beep and then the same two sentences
again. Using a survey sheet, we would have
to say if they sounded better, worse, or
the same. After the third hour listening
to the same few sentences over and over again
it started to feel like I was having an out
of body experience, as if my mind was floating
up into one of the musty, yellow corners
looking down on the flimsy office table and
the slack-faced people sitting around it
-- like it must feel to be brainwashed.
Strangely, I never learned any of the other
people's names, but we talked quite a bit
during our breaks. To my left sat a big Australian
guy with curly hair and a slovenly outfit,
maybe about 25 years old, he had that outgoing
roughness that so often characterizes people
from Australia. He smelled of cigarette smoke
and had just left his job teaching English
Across from me sat a young guy who I at first
took for a stylishly dressed Mormon missionary
-- a kind of a contradiction, I know. He
had on a well-fitting gray dress shirt and
a hip necktie, but carried himself like a
'man of God' and was well-groomed with a
Utah-esque goatee beard and long (but not
too long) hair. It turned out that he was
also from Australia (Adelaide) and was in
two different death metal bands here in Tokyo.
To his right, kitty corner to me, sat a plain-looking
Canadian girl originally from the province
of Newfoundland. In her mid to late thirties,
she was friendly and outgoing, but in a kind
of annoying way, like she was trying too
hard to 'love life'. She wore gray denim
pants and a blue jean jacket, and with her
frizzy hair and lack of makeup looked like
she had spent a few too many years in the
tree-planting camps of northern Ontario.
She talked the most out of any of us, and
although she was obviously bright, seemed
to be one of those people who confuse being
contentious with intellectualism -- i.e.,
her conversational style consisted mainly
of her soliciting your personal opinion on
some subject or other and then engaging you
in a debate about it.
At the head of the table was a young Japanese
girl from the company. She spoke very good
English but really had no role to play other
than turning the tape recorder on and off.
She must have been the most bored person
At the end of it all, she gave us our cash
in little brown envelopes, and the four of
us testers shambled out from the basement
studio into the gray afternoon street. After
saying a few of the usual parting platitudes
we each went our separate ways, once again
adrift in the anonymous sea of people that
Anyway, next week is my brain scan. Karen
assures me that it will be totally non-invasive
-- yeah, right, like I haven't heard that
before! It should make for a good story though.
I'll try to take my camera into the tube
with me, so you can see what it's like.
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Mother's Day, like our mothers, is something
that many of us take for granted. I've certainly
been apathetic about it in my time -- sorry
Seeing my wife Karen work so hard to nurture
and guide our son Jack makes me realize how
much hard work it must have been for my own
mother. Isn't that always the way it is...You
never realize these kind of things until
it's too late to make any real difference.
Thanks Mom. And thanks Karen from Jack.
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I've been in Tokyo for about five years now,
and in that time I have yet to see a full-blown
fist fight. However, I have seen two acts
of violence. The first was a rather inconsequential
shoving match between two drunken salarymen
in front of Gotanda station about three years
ago. The second confrontation, however, occured
recently, and it was a bit more interesting.
One morning I was walking to the train station
on my way to work. It was bright and cool,
and I took my usual route along the industrial
street that runs parallel to the train tracks.
It's a long stretch of road, and along the
sidewalk runs a white metal fence that hides
a construction site under the tracks from
view. As usual, there were a lot of people
on the sidewalk heading to work.
Near the station there is a break in the
white metal fence where a gate lets the trucks
in and out of the contruction site. Standing
ever-vigilant at the side of the gate is
a uniformed traffic guard who mans the gate
and directs the trucks in and out. It was
at this gate where it happened.
There were two guys. One, a thug, had the
other, a wimp, by the shirt collar and was
pinning him up against the gate.
They were both short, stocky, and in their
mid-twenties. The wimp was wearing a dark
gray suit, striped tie, and eye glasses.
He had a briefcase and sported a '3-7 style'
(short and parted on the side) haircut. The
tough guy kind of had this 'mean hippy' style
going on: maroon denim pants, tie-dyed t-shirt,
Birkenstock sandles, shoulder-length hair,
and a shapeless hemp cap.
The thug had his face right up close to the
wimp's and was spewing threats at him in
short bursts of guttural Japanese. The wimp
could only slouch and look at the thug with
wide, quivering eyes. It looked like the
wimp owed the thug money, or something like
that, because he offered no resistance at
all. He didn't even seem surprised by the
Suddenly, the thug drove his fist hard
the stomach of the wimp. The wimp doubled
over for a moment, but the thug quickly
him back erect, and started to shout
at him again.
A big cement truck came around the corner
near the station. The gate guard, who had
been watching this whole scene unfold from
only a few feet away, walked up to the two
guys and told the thug to move along with
the wimp because he had to open the gate
for the cement truck. The fact that someone
was getting beaten didn't seem to be an issue,
it was all about the cement truck.
The last thing that I saw as I made my way
up the steps to the station was the thug
hauling the wimp back up the street by the
arm. The wimp only offered half-hearted resistance.
I always wondered where they ended up and
what eventually happened to them.