If a guy somewhere in Asia makes a blog and no one reads it, does it really exist?

Monday, May 31

Incompetent ninjas

A video of a couple of incompetent ninjas. Made me laugh. A little. Not sure how long this link will work...

City state in the sun

Sorry to keep rambling on about Hawaii. Like I said, I'm obsessed.

From an essay about Honolulu entitled "Paradox in the Sun" by travel writer Jan Morris:

"It is as though a Lisbon were to exist on the Cape Verde Islands, or a Bombay in the Maldives. Honolulu is 2,400 miles from the nearest continental shore, and, except for a few neighboring Islands, nothing but open sea lies between O'ahu and California, Japan, Alaska, or South America. History could not have chosen a more improbable spot for the creation of a metropolis."

I really like how that sounds. She goes on to say:

"Honolulu already sees its destiny as a prime point of contact for all the countries of the Pacific Rim - the Geneva, as one visionary lately put it, of the Pacific. It is almost happening already. This hardly feels like an American city nowadays, even of the most exotic kind. It is multinational to a degree unknown even in the most teeming immigrant cities of Mainland USA, and it looks to its Pacific neighbors, Japan, California, Australia, British Columbia, far more naturally than it looks to the distant authority of Washington D.C."

Just look at how the University of Hawaii makes special provisions for students from the Pacific islands, much in the same way that some Mainland universities may give assistance to black or Hispanic students. And look at the composition of American students enrolled at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan (where I work). Not that there are very many American students to begin with - fewer then 20, I think - but most of them hail from Hawaii.

Morris also describes Honolulu and Oahu as being like a city-state. I like that too. It conjures up images of ziggurats and adds to the city's mythical image. Are there any other cities in the world that are considered city-states? Singapore is one. I never realized how small Singapore was until I went there and found that one can drive cross the entire island in an about an hour! I see a disproportionately large number of Singaporeans here simply because they can afford to travel. The nation's wealth makes it seem larger than it really is in the collective consciousness of the world (or maybe it's just me).

I wonder if Sealand could be classified as a city-state?

Sunday, May 30

Chinese propaganda art

Here's a great site dedicated to Chinese propaganda posters. Check it out.

Korean names and kumamoto

I've been thinking about baby names. Not that my fiancée and I are planning on having kids any time soon, but when we do, I'd like to give my child(ren) names that sound okay in both Korean and English. This is more difficult than you may think. Just take a look at how many Korean names sound or look ridiculous in English: Chin, Du, Gook, Ho, Doh, Suk, Bong, Hee, Goo, U, Dong, So, Shin, Woong... There seem to be precious few names that sound good in English. I suppose this holds true for many non-Western names. I'll even admit that my own first name, Hiroyuki, sounds pretty silly in English. (It sounds okay in Japanese though. Trust me.) There are a few Japanese names, like Ken and Naomi, that sound good in English. So far, I've found only one name that sounds okay in English, Japanese and Korean: Hana. Here's another nice name that exists in both Korean and English: Lia.

If I have a boy I guess I'll just have to call him Bong. Have some good name suggestions? Please drop me a line.

Here's an interesting site that allows you to search baby names by country/ethnicity of origin.

I heard from Jeff, a Kenyan guy here in Oita, that "kumamoto" means "a loose woman" in Swahili. It's also a city in western Kyushu, Japan. Kinda gives a whole new meaning to Kumamoto University, huh? Even stranger: in the language spoken in Jeff's village, the word oshiri means butt, which is exactly what oshiri (お尻)means in Japanese! This is it! Definitive proof for the Out of Africa theory for the Japanese language!

Here's something else that I found interesting: There's a Korean word 힘들다(himdulda) that means "exhausted". Now, check this out. In the Japanese dialect spoken in Miyazaki, a city in southeastern Kyushu, Japan, hindareta means the same thing! I think this is pure coincidence though, since the "da" at the end of the Korean word is simply the infinitive ending for verbs that corresponds to "ru" in Japanese. So actually, we should be comparing himdulda and hindareru. I guess they're not so similar after all. I was all excited when I first heard it though.

As I write this, I'm listening to an interview with the director of The Day After Tomorrow on NPR. He sounds like a complete woong if you ask me.

It's amazing how nasal American English sounds to me now. I never noticed that before.

Saturday, May 29

Japanese TV rulz!

Ask any gaijin what they like the most about Japan and they will usually say stuff like: the people, culture, food, temples, hot spring baths...that kind of thing. I like all that stuff too - except for the hot spring baths, which I quit going to a couple months ago - but what I love the most is the glowing box in the corner of my little tatami room.

I really like Japanese TV. No, I don't think you understand. I REALLY REALLY like Japanese TV. In fact, as pathetic as it may sound, I will miss the TV programs here more than anything else when I leave this country.

For example, there's the trivia show that features useless but fascinating facts. Did you know that the little projections on the upper half of temple bells are called 乳(chi chi)? That means "breast" or "nipple". Did you know that the pictures of Natsume Soseki on the 1,000 yen note and Inazo Nitobe on the 5,000 yen note were taken at a wedding? On today's show, they investigated a question that has surely been on everyone's minds for years: The word "stupid" is written 馬鹿 in Japanese, where the first character means "horse" and the second "deer". (There must be an interesting etymological story behind that.) So which animal is actually the dumber of the two? The horse or the deer? After a series of sketchy IQ tests, it was determined that the horse is the dumber animal.

After each bit, the panel members hit a button in front of them a number of times relative to how interesting they found the trivia. Each hit counts as one へぇ (he), which might be translated as "Hmmm" in English. Then at the end of the show, they tabulate the total number of he's for each piece of trivia to determine the winner. The person who submitted the winning trivia receives a golden brain trophy which opens up to hold a loaf of "melon bread".

Do American TV programs have such tongue-in-cheek humor? Not as much, I think. In fact, Japanese humor sometimes reminds me of British humor: good natured, sometimes deadpan, lots of slapstick, and always self depreciating. I love it.

There are so many interesting programs like this on TV. My all time favorite, however, is 世界うるるん滞在記 (Sekai Ururun Taizaiki), a show that sends one celebrity or TV personality (usually an actor or musician) to live in a foreign country for one week. Sometimes they are sent to developed countries, and other times they are sent to live with forest-dwelling tribes that walk around naked and wipe their asses with leaves. The program does a great job of showing that all the peoples of the world are fundamentally the same; we all value family, children, friends; we all enjoy eating; and we must all cope with sickness and death. And we all wipe our asses in one way or another.

I always wondered why the US doesn't have a similar show. Could it be because many - or most - countries of the world would not be so welcoming of an American guest? Japan has done a pretty good job of spreading good will around the world after WWII. I suppose if you are an island nation with few natural resources surrounded by countries that are still deeply upset about their wartime abuses, you'd better spread good will like there's no tomorrow. Are there any Western countries that feel animosity toward Japan? None that I can think of, especially after Japan's bubble burst. I guess that's why they are much more free to roam around the globe without fear of encountering enmity. I mean, imagine a show where an American goes to live with a French family for a week. When you think about it though, it's less that the French would be unwelcoming and more that Americans simply wouldn't give a damn about someone learning how to make croissants in Paris.

Have you noticed how many of the Japan Self Defense Force boys in Iraq have mustaches? Apart from construction foremen, I rarely see mustached men in Japan. It seems to me that the troops are doing their best to respect the local culture. It may sound inconsequential, but these little gestures can make a huge impression on people's minds.

I envision that in the near future, we will be able to watch any TV station in the world for a reasonable fee. Some things are available on-line, and a few stations, like NHK, broadcast via satellite TV services, but there's still a ways to go before we get Meta Cable. Thousands of stations at your fingertips! That's gonna be awesome.

Friday, May 28

The McGurk effect

This is pretty interesting. (You'll need speakers.)

Hawaii obsession

I've been a bit obsessed with Hawaii for the past year or so. My obsession has nothing to do with nice beaches or aloha shirts, mai tais or ukuleles. No, I'm fascinated with Hawaii's diverse ethnic mix and unique cultural milieu. Really, I am, I didn't just want to say "milieu." Though I will admit that Hawaii's warm weather is a definite plus. Cold weather sux.

Check it out: Hawaii is the only US state with no ethnic majority, but if you divide the population in to Asians and whites, the Asians win hands down. They say that Hawaii residents have a 50% chance of marrying someone of a different ethnic background, but I imagine that 20% of the residents, who are mixed, must be really confused as to how they came up with that 50% figure. If a half-Chinese half-Hawaiian guy marries a half-Chinese half-white girl, does that count as marrying "within your race?" Who knows.

Hawaii is the only state that doesn't classify racially motivated crimes because it would be too damn difficult. "The suspect was 1/8 Irish, 1/8 Chinese, 1/8 Japanese..." It just wouldn't work.

Sometimes I feel like my obsessions are simply following popular trends. If Hollywood movies serve as a barometer for American interests, I'm right on track; The Rock (you know the Scorpion King?) is now gearing up to play Kamehameha in a movie about the legendary Hawaiian king. I think a cop show set in Honolulu is in production now as well. It's sobering to think that every time I think I've made some amazing discovery, I'm only retreading well-trod trails. Not that I should be dissuaded.

I'm reading a book now called Blu's Hanging by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. The author is perhaps Hawaii's best known literary writer and a fervent proponent of legitimizing Pidgin, the Hawaiian creole. It's not a great book - a bit lacking in depth - but I really like how she uses Pidgin throughout. I really dig English-based creoles.

Speaking of creoles, when I went to Singapore, I couldn't understand Singlish one bit! "You drive so fast, mm chai si hah?" Stuff like that. I felt like I was on a really clean version of the Blade Runner set. Hawaiian Pidgin would probably easer to understand, at least for me, since a lot of words come from Japanese. Words like shoyu, otemba and chimpo show up in Yamanaka's book.

I read James Michener's Hawaii a while ago. A lot of people dismiss it as a potboiler, but I really liked it. I know, reading Michener can sometimes feel like eating a pack of saltines without having anything to drink, but I've so far read Mexico, Caravans, and Hawaii - and thoroughly enjoyed all three. Funny thing is, I can't seem to find a Japanese translation of Hawaii that's in print. Here's one book you'd think would have been translated long ago, considering the prominent role played by the Japanese in 20th century Hawaiian history, but so far I've only been able to find a 1997 translation that is already out of print. Apparently, the translator was an amateur who didn't do such a great job. Still, I'd like to find a used copy somewhere. I've scoured the Web, but have come across nothing.

Thursday, May 27

Cosmetic eye surgery in Korea

So, about epicanthic folds. I heard it said on a TV show this morning that 52 percent of Korean university girls have had an operation to remove their epicanthi, which results in rounder, more Western looking eyes. Over 80 percent of female Korean students want to have the operation sometime in the future. The Japanese call this kind of routine cosmetic surgery プチ整形 (petit cosmetic surgery), which is pronounced "poochi seikei". An English equivalent might be something like "a simple nip and tuck".

A lot of Japanese people have very negative reactions to this wanton poochi seikei-ing of the Koreans, but is it really that different from any other form of socially acceptable physical modification? It's all cultural, man, so get hip with the cultural relativism yo. (It's not all good, tho.) People get turned off by the Korean deepicanthusing for a couple main reasons: 1. It's recent, so it's not a cultural practice backed by years of tradition. The Indians have their nose piercings, the Kayapo Indians of Brazil have their lip plates (which are pretty stupid looking, no matter how hard I try to be culturally unbiased) and the Japanese have their ganguro. Okay, bad examples, but you get my point. 2. It is altering the eyes, the most expressive part of one's body, the windows to the soul. Get a tattoo, pierce your septum, get a sex change, but don't mess with your eyes! People think that altering your eyes will somehow fundamentally and irreversibly alter who you are.

Funny thing is, the surgery is for the most part not frowned upon by the older generation of Koreans. (Most people don't like ganguro chicks...except for other ganguro chicks.) In fact, Mr. Kims across Korea are buying their little Kims eye surgeries as high school graduation gifts! The surgery has become, within a very short period of time, an acceptable part of modern-day Korean culture. Is that totally MENTAL or what?

My fiancée, who just so happens to be Korean, was having eye pains several months ago for unknown reasons. She saw a doctor to see what could be done, and guess what he recommended? To have her epicanthi removed! Fortunately the second doctor she saw thought that was rubbish advice, so she is, thankfully, still an Intact Mongoloid.

Her sister, however, shelled out the money for the snip snip, and is now living quite happily with round eyes. So why do they do it? Are they enamored with Western ideals of beauty? Do they just think that it looks more beautiful? Or has it already reached the point where they have no idea why they do it, aside from the reason that everyone else is doing it (which tells you when something has really become ingrained in a culture).

Whatever the motives, cosmetic surgery is only going to become more widespread and affordable in the years to come, so we'd better learn to live with it. And once the majority of the world's people have bought their perfect bodies, the standards of beauty will become reversed, and fat, acne-ridden people Coke bottle glasses and buck teeth will grace the cover of GQ and Elle, sex symbols for the new era.

But we'd better hold off on the more major alterations until medical technology has improved a bit. Remember what happened to Wacko Jacko.

Pills pills pills

I've had a really bad cough since last Thursday. At first, I thought it was just a cold, then I thought it was seasonal allergies, then I started freaking out and thought it might be SARS. So I went to the hospital yesterday and got 5 different kinds of pills. Not sure what they do, but I feel better after taking them.

Wednesday, May 26

Expat havens

According to a 2002 survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Melbourne and Vancouver are the best cities in the world for expatriates to live in. It rated cites based on 12 factors, including housing, education, recreational activities and climate.

Here's the list:
1. Melbourne, Australia
2. Vancouver, Canada
3. Perth, Australia
4. Vienna, Austria
5. Toronto, Canada
6. Geneva, Switzerland
7. Zurich, Switzerland
8. Adelaide, Australia
9. Brisbane, Australia
10. Sydney, Australia
11. Copenhagen, Denmark
12. Düsseldorf, Germany
13. Frankfurt, Germany
14. Oslo, Norway
15. Montreal, Canada
16. Calgary, Canada
17. Helsinki, Finland
18. Stockholm, Sweden
19. Berlin, Germany
20. Amsterdam, Netherlands
21. Tokyo, Japan
22. Osaka, Japan
23. Honolulu, Hawaii
24. Hamburg, Germany
25. Munich, Germany
26. Auckland, New Zealand
27. Wellington, New Zealand
28. Brussels, Belgium
29. Reykjavik, Iceland
30. Luxembourg, Luxembourg
31. Boston, Massachusetts
32. Lyon, France
33. Paris, France
34. Barcelona, Spain
35. Atlanta, Georgia
36. Chicago, Illinois
37. Lexington, Kentucky
38. Miami, Florida
39. Cleveland, Ohio
40. Houston, Texas
41. Los Angeles, California
42. Minneapolis, Minnesota
43. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
44. Hong Kong, China
45. Lisbon, Portugal
46. Madrid, Spain
47. London, England
48. San Francisco, California
49 Seattle, Washington
50. Singapore
51. Manchester, England
52. Dublin, Ireland
53. New York, New York
54. Milan, Italy
55. Detroit, Michigan
56. Budapest, Hungary
57. Prague, Czech Republic
58. Rome, Italy
59. Washington, D.C.
60. Taipei, Taiwan
61. Seoul, South Korea
62. San Juan, Puerto Rico
63. San Jose, Costa Rica
64. Athens, Greece
65. Montevideo, Uruguay
66. Santiago, Chile
67. Buenos Aires, Argentina
68. Dubai, UAE
69. Tel Aviv, Israel
70. Warsaw, Poland
71. Zagreb, Croatia
72. Abu Dhabi, UAE
73. Guangzhou, China
74. Shanghai, China
75. Panama City, Panama
76. Amman, Jordan
77. Bahrain, Bahrain
78. Beijing, China
79. Shenzhen, China
80. Moscow, Russia
81. Pretoria, South Africa
82. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
83. St. Petersburg, Russia
84. Tianjin, China
85. Sao Paulo, Brazil
86. Kiev, Ukraine
87. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
88. Lima, Peru
89. Istanbul, Turkey
90. Kuwait, Kuwait
91. Tashkent, Uzbekistan
92. Tunis, Tunisia
93. Quito, Ecuador
94. Johannesburg, South Africa
95. Bucharest, Romania
96. Asuncion, Paraguay
97. Casablanca, Morocco
98. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
99. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
100. Baku, Azerbaijan
101. Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia
102. Bangkok, Thailand
103. Caracas, Venezuela
104. Tripoli, Libya
105. Guatemala, Guatemala
106. Mexico City, Mexico
107. Manila, Philippines
108. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
109. Belgrade, Yugoslavia
110. Harare, Zimbabwe
111. Cairo, Egypt
112. Libreville, Gabon
113. Colombo, Sri Lanka
114. Douala, Cameroon
115. Hanoi, Vietnam
116. Bogota, Columbia
117. Nairobi, Kenya
118. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
119. Jakarta, Indonesia
120. Tehran, Iran
121. New Delhi, India
122. Dakar, Senegal
123. Abidjan, Ivory Coast
124. Mumbai, India
125. Algiers, Algeria
126. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
127. Dhaka, Bangladesh
128. Lagos, Nigeria
129. Karachi, Pakistan
130. Port Moresby, PNG

I can't believe the US of A was beat by a socialistic bunghole nation like Japan! Don't they know that the US is heaven on earth? Well they should! I say we find the people who made this dumbass survey and make them pay! Nuke their whole damn country! And Japan while we're at it!

And that's probably why we ranked so low. Intolerance. It's no wonder America's top ranked city is Honolulu, the only place in the US that lacks an ethnic majority. I'm sure Honolulu's high cost of living didn't help either.

Australian cities appear five times in the top 10. Five! The only thing that prevented Melbourne from getting a perfect score, apparently, was its weather, which is "notorious for providing four seasons in a single day."

Another survey, this one conducted in 2004 by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, rated quality of life in general for all the cities' inhabitants, not just for expats. Honolulu and San Francisco tied for 24th place in this study. The cost of living in both of these cities, unfortunately, is very high. I'm still waiting for someone to give me a good reason why I shouldn't relinquish my American citizenship, become an Aussie and live in Melbourne.

Oh well, at least we're better off than Port Moresby. What a dump that place must be.

Tuesday, May 25

So that's how it happens

Pious German couple goes to fertility clinic to find out why they are still childless.

Bowling for truth

Check out this website, bowling for truth. It challenges many of the assertions made in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine.

And some more about Moore (read this one first).

I really like Michael Moore cuz I think it's about time the liberals had an outspoken representative that regular folks can relate to. But the things written on these sites, if true, totally discredit his documentary. Especially the way he slices and dices statements made by the people he's trying to expose. Man... now I have to go and rent the video again.

It's good to be skeptical, I think, but I'm a bit skeptical of that.

Titanium tape: a fraud?

Ever heard of titanium tape? Little adhesive strips containing titanium that you stick onto your skin to relieve muscle pain. It's all the rage in Japan, and even some professional athletes swear by them. There are also titanium bracelets, necklaces, gels, even shirts and hats that have titanium woven into them. Is it a fraud? I almost paid $15 for a bracelet the other day, just to prove to myself that it is a fraud, but I couldn't get myself to do it.

According to Phiten, the manufacturer, titanium "improves blood circulation by regulating the body's electrical current." It also says, "The unique "Phild Processing" process produces a carbonized Titanium powder, which is used in Phiten products. By emitting a uniform wave, the powder helps to seriously control electrical disturbances in the body. The elimination of pain and discomfort is almost immediate and some people feel pain-free for the first time in their lives. Phild Processing has been found to be effective for the temporary relief of pain from bursitis, sciatica, tendonitis, headaches, certain types of arthritis, and premenstrual syndrome."

Titanium emits a uniform wave? For real?

Once, there was a fast-talking salesman at a Phiten display panel who performed a demonstration for me. He had a bag full of heavy water bottles on the ground. "Pick it up with your index finger," he said. It was a bit heavy. Then he slapped a little "titanium disk" onto my bicep. "Now try it again," he said with a smug smile. It felt the same, really, but I felt so bad for the guy that I told him it felt just a little bit lighter.

A couple years ago, tourmaline bracelets were all the rage. I think these were supposed to improve blood circulation as well. Products that use simple magnets to improve blood circulation (because blood contains iron??) have been around for years now. Once, a friend spotted an old guy at an onsen bath - naked of course - who had a giant tourmaline rope tied around his waist. People seriously believe in this stuff! Frauds, frauds, the whole lot, but if the placebo effect works, then why complain. Maybe if you can get an entire nation to believe something is true, then it really is true as long as you're there. And there's no better nation in the world for this than Japan.

Monday, May 24

K-1 is a sick sport

"Karate, Kickboxing, Tae kwon do and Kung fu are among the martial arts upon which K-1 is founded," says the K-1 official website. What it looks like in the ring is two very large men trying to beat each other to a pulp.

A couple nights ago, I watched the Saitama Romanex championships on the tube, just to make sure I'm not missing something subtle about K-1. It is, after all, based on such venerable traditions of self defense. Perhaps when that scary looking bald man is grimacing and squirming on the ground as he is kicked in the head by his opponent, there is some delicate artistry that escapes the untrained Western eye. After closely watching the whole brutal affair, I concluded that K-1 is probably the sickest sport to ever be shown on prime-time television.

Pai Mei would not be amused.

Want to know how to win a match? I'll tell you how. 1. Tackle your opponent and wrestle him to the ground. 2. Straddle his chest and beat his head silly until he nearly loses consciousness. That seems to be the gist of K-1. These guys must train for hours every day to perfect the five-point palm exploding heart technique and other secrets of the Shaolin passed down through hundreds of generations, but when it comes to the actual fight, they just hafta hammer their opponent's head into the floor.

Clearly defined rules are what make a sport a sport, right? In any other civilized gentleman's sport - like boxing or cockfighting - the artistry involved is pretty easy to see.

But lookie, K-1 apparently does have some rules.

(a) The following are defined as fouls:
Using the head to deliver a blow.
Using the elbow.
Attacking the opponent in the groin (attacks to the groin with knee kicks or hand techniques shall be considered as low-blows and will be ruled as fouls).
Using techniques from wrestling or judo such as throwing or submission techniques.
Thumbing, choking or biting on the opponent.
Attacking the opponent while he is down or in the process of getting up.
Attacking the opponent while the referee is intervening to separate the fighters.
Holding the ropes to attack the opponent, or to avoid the attack from the opponent. However, this is not applicable in the situation in case the referee determines that it is inevitable to hold the ropes.
Using offensive or insulting language.
Attacking the back of the head with a punch (the side of the head and the area around the ears are not considered as the back of the head and are valid target areas).
Attempting to cause the opponent to fall out of the ring.
Voluntarily exiting the ring during the course of a match.

Okay, but here's what I don't understand. I saw one guy win by chocking his opponent with his elbow (two fouls?) and I saw the K-1 has-been Bob Sapp get kicked repeatedly on the top of his head as he lay writhing on his back. The refs didn't seem to mind one bit. Are these not fouls?

Really, what a sick excuse for a sport. Any sport where the referees have to wear rubber gloves to protect their hands from the blood is just barbaric.

I can't wait 'till the next tournament, dude.

Sunday, May 23

Death Racer

Went to Oita today with Andrew to pick up his Death Racer shoes from Sports Depot. I can't believe that guy has lost 7kg in one month. He is planning to lose 16 more kilos in 4 months, I think he said, and all so that he can perform well in the Canadian Death Race in 2006.

"Consider running for 125km over rough, mountain trails, through pristine forests shared with resident wildlife, over ragged, rocky, and sometimes wet or snow-covered, seemingly endless terrain. Sounds pretty tough? Well, add the fact that you are journeying over three different mountain summits and are gaining over 17,000 feet in elevation, crossing over a major river by raft, (At our spectacular Hell's Gates canyon at the confluence of the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers.) plus running part of this race in the dark and there you have it - the makings of our larger-than-life world-class event, the Canadian Death Race!"

Sounds pleasant. Look, there's a skull on the top page. A skull.

Andrew the future Death Racer ordered a pair of shoes that are specially designed for his feet and his feet only. They set him back something like 16,000 yen, but the spiffy Death Racer logo on the tongue made it all worth the money I'm sure.

Saturday, May 22

On the bandwagon

Well, seems like blogging is the hip thing to do now. Might as well join in the fun.