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

Thursday, June 24

Andong no sonata

This is me and Yoonsung in what was supposed to be a romantic picture. It was taken on a newly constructed pedestrian bridge in Andong that goes out to a gazebo in the middle of a small lake. People actually drive out here on cool summer nights to take a stroll to the gazebo...and back...and to the gazebo again. Shows you what a happening place Andong is. "Hey, let's drive out to the bridge and walk to the gazebo!" I think it was even made by the city with taxpayers' money. They sure seemed to be getting their money's worth: back and forth, back and forth...

I hope I don't sound too cynical. I'm quite the gazebo aficionado, actually.

The other popular hangout is Andong dam. Attractions include bad food, a vaguely socialist-looking statue of happy workers, and the dam itself. Actually, I can't remember the statue. It might have been a giant hammer or sickle or something. Looked like it was lifted straight from the streets of Pyongyang.

I hope I don't sound too cynical. I love dams.

Tuesday, June 15

Kamegawa view

This is how I want to remember Kamegawa, the area I live in now. Never again will my morning commute be this pretty.

Monday, June 14

For the love of Podunk and grit

I saw two films in the past couple years that really moved me (that's how insecure guys say "made me cry like a baby"). They are:

1. Boys Don't Cry
True story of a girl who was raped and murdered because she tried to live her life as a guy. Ebert calls it a "'Romeo and Juliet' set in a Nebraska trailer park." I think the reason I liked has something to do with my fascination with Podunk, low-income, trailer trash culture. I feel a weird affinity for Po White Trash, perhaps because I spent my very early youth in Oklahoma hanging out with PWTs. (Or maybe I was one.) Once a PWT, always a PWT?

I'm not a big fan of tragedies that try too hard to make you cry, either by excessively focusing on the tragic fate of the protaganist or by leading you by the hand with a tear-jerker violin soundtrack. A good example of the former is Dancer in the Dark. Great songs by Bjork, great acting - by Bjork - and great Dogma film sensibilities. I really love all that stuff, and I really liked the flick, and I really like Bjork, but what's up with the last scene? It's like the director is saying to the audience, "Cry NOW! CRY, DAMMIT, CRY! You're not leaving this theater until you cry!"

*Btw, check out Gling Glo, which has Bjork on vocals before she was a superstar. Viking jazz! "Since it's release in 1990, Gling-Gló has attracted many dedicated fans world-wide. This despite the fact that almost all of its songs were recorded in Icelandic, an undeniably beautiful but largely unknown language. These Icelandic renditions of jazz classics combined Björk's unique vocals with the cool elegance of the Gudmundur Ingólfsson Trio (Gudmundur Ingólfsson on piano, Gudmundur Steingrímsson on drums, and Thórdur Högnason on bass)."

2. Promises
Good luck getting your hands on this one. Presently, it's only being sold to educational institutions. I was lucky enough to see it at the university where I work. Here is a short blurb about this painful but wonderful documentary.

And speaking of PWTs, one of the strangest movies I saw was Gummo, directed by the guy who caused such a stir by writing the screenplay for Kids. You can't get much more PWT than this movie. Most critics panned it. I liked it and am dying to see Julien Donkey-Boy.

Another one in the same gritty vein is What About Me, a no-budget black-and-white cult film about a woman who becomes homeless in New York. Good luck finding this one. I have no idea what it was doing on the shelves of Buster Video in Ebino, Japan. (Ebino is about as Podunk as it gets in Japan.) Surprisingly, the DVD is available on Amazon.

Friday, June 11

Gmail = Big Brother?

The other day, I got an invitation from my father to sign up for Gmail. I made my account, and it looks awesome. The 1-gig storage and nested conversations are totally wicked, the ads are small and unobtrusive.

The privacy issues don't bother me one bit, but I can see how some people might be freaked out. Read this for example.

"After 180 days in the U.S., email messages lose their status as a protected communication under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and become just another database record. This means that a subpoena instead of a warrant is all that's needed to force Google to produce a copy. Other countries may even lack this basic protection, and Google's databases are distributed all over the world. Since the Patriot Act was passed, it's unclear whether this ECPA protection is worth much anymore in the U.S., or whether it even applies to email that originates from non-citizens in other countries. Google's relationships with government officials in all of the dozens of countries where they operate are a mystery, because Google never makes any statements about this."

Hmmmm. Sounds like trouble waiting to happen. What is this "Google's databases are distributed all over the world" business? Something isn't right here. Does this mean, for example, that the Burmese government can force "Google Myanmar" to produce the email correspondence of a suspected seditionist and imprison or execute him based on the found evidence? I got the impression that all the emails are stored in a central Gmail headquarters, deep beneath the Nevada desert and protected by kung-fu guards.

Thursday, June 10

Tasmanian wombat boy

Here's me and "Death Racer" Andrew (right) after running the grueling 16.5km 大入島 (Onyujima) marathon. Click here for a view of the entire island.

Don't let Andrew's appearance deceive you. He's an adrenalin-addicted Tasmanian wombat-boy who thinks nothing of cycling 150km in one day - without any water; who will sprint 12km up a mountain, stoically ignoring the complete loss of feeling in his limbs; and who will run a 50km marathon - his first marathon ever - while enduring the pain of a stress fracture in his foot. And before long, he will be a Canadian Death Racer. Yes, he is truly a god among wombats. Either that or he's completely out of his friggin mind.

Easy skankin' in Beppu

Big up mon! I did some interpreting for APU's sole Jamaican student today. Afterward, he told me a little bit about how Jamaicans view American universities. He obviously takes some pride in the Jamaican heducation system. He said that although the Jamaican system is marked by a British stuffiness and rigidity, it tends to produce students who are better heducated than Americans. In fact, he pointed out that Jamaican students who go the US for uni often wind up at the top of their class because the curriculum is so easy.

I wonder if it's true, or if he just has a very high opinion of himself? At any rate, it certainly is different from how Japanese and Koreans - and probably most of the world - view higher education in the US.

Would you believe there's an Oita-Jamaica Association? I imagine it's nothing more than a bunch of old farts sitting in a kominkan drinking shochu and listening to Bob Marley on a tinny boombox.

But me nuh kya about any of dat! Jesum Piece, me radda hear im speak in Patois! Unfortunately, there are only a handful of Jamaicans in Oita, so I'll probably never get the chance.

Check it bredda, unnu can henter dis ah sey one website fe read about Jamaican English grammar.

Jah guide.

Wednesday, June 9

Appeal Time

My job requires that I translate poorly written or really stupid Japanese into English. Naturally, really stupid Japanese translates into really stupid English--unless you pour in a bit of your own special sauce, that is. I can't go overboard, of course, but I sometimes wonder if anyone would even notice if I did. Which brings me to....

English translations I was this close to doing. (Vol. 1)


The event then reached a fever pitch, as a drawing for breathtaking prizes and a highly suggestive "Appeal-Time" whipped the participants into a bacchanalian frenzy.

This makes the Alumni Association's welcome reception sound much more exciting than it really was, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 8

Honolulu vs. LA, San Fran, Sacramento...and Herndon

Here are some interesting statistics taken from City-data.com.

Races in Honolulu:
Japanese (23.3%)
White Non-Hispanic (18.7%)
Two or more races (14.9%)
Filipino (11.6%)
Chinese (10.7%)
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (6.8%)
Hispanic (4.4%)
Other Asian (4.3%)
Korean (4.2%)
Black (1.6%)
Vietnamese (1.6%)
American Indian (1.4%)
Other race (0.9%)
(Total can be greater than 100% because Hispanics could be counted in other races)
Ancestries: German (4.6%), English (3.8%), Irish (3.4%), Portuguese (2.2%), Italian (1.5%), French (1.3%).

Compare with Los Angeles:
Hispanic (46.5%)
White Non-Hispanic (29.7%)
Other race (25.7%)
Black (11.2%)
Two or more races (5.2%)
Filipino (2.7%)
Korean (2.5%)
Chinese (1.7%)
American Indian (1.4%)
Japanese (1.0%)
Other Asian (0.9%)
Asian Indian (0.7%)
Vietnamese (0.5%)
Ancestries: German (4.5%), Irish (3.8%), English (3.5%), Italian (2.6%), United States (2.6%), Russian (2.4%).

San Francisco:
White Non-Hispanic (43.6%)
Chinese (19.6%)
Hispanic (14.1%)
Black (7.8%)
Other race (6.5%)
Filipino (5.2%)
Two or more races (4.3%)
Other Asian (1.5%)
Japanese (1.5%)
Vietnamese (1.4%)
American Indian (1.2%)
Korean (1.0%)
Asian Indian (0.7%)
Ancestries: Irish (8.9%), German (7.7%), English (6.1%), Italian (5.0%), Russian (2.8%), French (2.3%).

And Sacramento, which, according to this article in TIME magazine, is "America's most diverse city":
White Non-Hispanic (40.5%)
Hispanic (21.6%)
Black (15.5%)
Other race (11.0%)
Two or more races (6.4%)
Other Asian (5.2%)
Chinese (4.8%)
American Indian (2.8%)
Filipino (2.1%)
Japanese (1.6%)
Vietnamese (1.5%)
Asian Indian (1.2%)
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (0.9%)
Ancestries: German (8.4%), Irish (6.8%), English (6.3%), Italian (3.8%), United States (3.1%), French (2.1%).

Look closely at the percentages for Asians. The differences are striking.

And just in case you're interested, here are the statistics for my "hometown" of Herndon, VA:
White Non-Hispanic (47.0%)
Hispanic (26.0%)
Other race (13.0%)
Black (9.5%)
Two or more races (5.3%)
Asian Indian (5.2%)
Other Asian (3.5%)
Vietnamese (1.8%)
Chinese (1.3%)
Filipino (1.2%)
American Indian (1.0%)
Korean (0.7%)

Surprisingly multi-ethnic, I thought, for a town of 21,000.

When considering these statistics, however, one should keep in mind the total population of these cities. What I mean is, a 4.2% Korean population in Honolulu, a city of 371,657 people, comes to 15,609 people. A 2.5% Korean population in Los Angeles, a city of 3,694,820, comes to 92,370 people. That's a lot more Koreans.

Percentages alone can be deceiving. For example, the city I live in now, Beppu, Japan, has a population of just 126,854 people. Yet, thanks to its high number of foreign university students, it boasts the second highest percentage of foreigners in Japan. (First place goes to Tokyo, of course.)

But then there's also the city's land area to consider: 85.7 sq. km. for Honolulu vs. 469 sq. km. for LA. And perhaps more importantly, population density: 1,674.4/km² (Honolulu) vs. 3,041/km² (LA).

Compare with Hong Kong, which has a population density of 6,700/km². Okay, okay, now I'm obsessed with population density.

From Wikipedia: "Despite the population density, Hong Kong was reported to be one of the greenest cities in Asia. The majority of people live in flats in high-rise buildings. The rest of the open spaces are often covered with parks, woods and shrubs. The vertical placement of the population explains why densely populated, green city is not an oxymoronic phrase."

I think this is how people should live. Screw big houses with big yards to mow. Wanna play frisbee? Go to the nice park down the street that's maintained by your tax money. Wanna take a trip? Take advantage of the efficient and affordable public transportation system that exists thanks to the high population density.

But with all those high buildings around, I wonder if you'd be playing frisbee in the shade?

Why doesn't Honolulu have a rail system? Because the population is not high enough or dense enough to support one. A light rail system running from Ewa to Downtown has been on the drawing board for years, but no matter how they juggle the numbers, the fact is that it would be a monumental financial disaster. Even the oft-showcased BART system in San Francisco has apparently done little to reduce traffic congestion in the city.

In contrast to the crowded streets of even the most rural areas of Japan, the traffic in Singapore was always moving at a good clip. It could have just been the time of day, but I got the distinct impression that the road system there was very well planned out.

Monday, June 7

Creoles and glass eyes

Creole languages are not as exotic as you might think. Look at how foreigners speak to each other here in Japan. Even after just a few months, people start giddily peppering their conversations with Japanese words. I’m not exactly sure why this happens. For example, almost every single foreigner I have met in Japan refers to their cellular phone as a keitai. Why? Don't cell phones exist back home? My foreign coworkers call staff meetings kaigi. Why? Are meetings a uniquely Japanese phenomenon? Just this morning, a foreign coworker said to me, "It's just so mendokusai." Why didn't he say, "It's just a pain in the ass"?

I'll admit that I do it too, although I'm making a conscious effort to stop. It's obvious that being immersed in a foreign language makes your native tongue vulnerable to degradation, but why the selective lexical perforation? Why call a convenience store a conbini?

I think there are a few reasons why this happens. Some things are simply much more pervasive in Japan; conbini and jihanki (vending machines) are found on practically every street corner. Hell, there’s even a vending machine on top of Mt. Fuji!

Another reason might be that the object being spoken about is in fact uniquely Japanese with no English equivalent. Saying "uniquely Japanese" makes me cringe, but wouldn't you agree that it's nicer to say onigiri than "seaweed wrapped rice balls"?

And finally, there's the Cool Gaijin Factor. People use the Japanese word just to show how immersed they are in Japanese culture. Some people take this way too far:

"TSUKARETA! Today's kaigi was like, totally nagasugiru. Kacho told me to tsuyaku this one part and I was like, yo, wakaranai, okay? So are we goin' to an izakaya tonight? I'm ready for some yakiniku, dude. Remind me to swing by a conbini to pay my seikyushos before we go. I'll pick you up at, say, rokuji-han? I'll be driving an orange kei, you can't miss it."

But really, as weird as this may look, it's not a creole, or even a pidgin, since both parties are usually native English speakers. However, there are instances when two non-native speakers of Japanese are having a conversation in a weird hybrid language (me and my fiancée, for example). Exchange by two foreigners overheard on a train:

Gaijin A: 「ああ、それは目が落ちますよね。」
Gaijin B: 「ええ、そうですよね。」

I thought these guys were serious students of Japanese and that me ga ochiru (an eye falls) was an obscure Japanese idiom that I had never heard before. I looked it up in dictionaries and found nothing. I asked Japanese people. Nothing.

It's not an idiom. It doesn't mean anything, aside from the literal meaning of "an eyeball drops out of your eye socket", but to these two people, it obviously meant something. Perhaps it's an idiom that just happened to exist in the native tongues of both. I felt as if I'd witnessed the birth of a new creole.

Or maybe he really had a glass eye that kept popping out of his head.

Friday, June 4

Rap Reiplinger, Jake Shimabukuro and cigar box guitars

Just some things to fuel my obsession with Hawaii:

Rap Reiplinger is an influential Hawaiian comedian.

From the Rap DVD description:
"Ask every comedian in Hawai'i today to name the one person who inspired them, and Rap Reiplinger's name will come up time and time again! Rap was quite simply the most successful comedy genius ever from Hawai'i. His unique character-driven style of humor reminds us of our childhood and the local ways in which we grew up. His "bits" appeal to everyone, and there is not a person today that doesn't incorporate his phrases into their everyday conversation."


Jake Shimabukuro is a ukulele musician. Heard of him before? Until I heard Jake, I never knew that such a tiny, four-stringed instrument could be so versatile. Kind of like how I felt about the bass guitar after discovering Jaco Pastorius.

Jake is touring with banjo god Bela Fleck, which is pretty impressive. Maybe not if you've never heard of Bela Fleck. There are a lot more people who know about Fleck now thanks to the success of the Cohen Brother's film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, which helped revive interest in bluegrass music.

Here's an article about Bela Fleck's 2002 performance in Hawaii.

There's something intrinsically beautiful about music produced by "primitive" instruments, I think. Something about making music with an instrument that has severe limitations, whether it be in terms of pitch accuracy, octave range, volume, or chordal capability.

One of the most expressive instruments in the world is the Chinese erhu, and that only has two strings!

Even cigar box guitars, despite their simplicity, can produce music with real, gut-wrenching soul. A buch of free MP3s of Shane Speal's cigar box guitar music can be found here.

Hey, it was good enough for Hendrix, right?

"'Eight year old James Marshall Hendrix wanted so much to play the guitar to set his poems to music that he used a broom to strum out the rhythms in his head until he crafted a cigar box into his own guitar.' (from Pittsburgh Post Gazette) Jimi's cigar box guitar had rubber bands wrapped around the box, serving as strings."

And guess what Hendrix's second guitar was? A ukulele! No joke!

That is all.

Thursday, June 3

Glocal Engrish

Have you heard the word "glocal"? No, it wasn't coined by Dubya. Although it doesn't show up on any of the One Look dictionaries, it is, apparently, a real word.

People thought I had mistyped "global" when they saw the word pop up in a translation I did the other day. The word is a bit suss, I agree. It's a combination of the words "global" and "local", and often seems to be accompanied by the phrase "think globally, act locally". (Or was it the other way around?)

There's even an international glocal forum. After living in Japan for five years, one immediately assumes that any funny sounding English word is just some more Japanglish that one gets accustomed to seeing here. Better be careful. Absurd sounding words might actually be English legit.

Surprisingly, the word does show up on ALC, The Greatest Colloquial English-Japanese Dictionary Ever Made.

【形】 地域性も考慮してグローバルな視野に立った◆【語源】global + local

A coworker coined the word "grappy", a combination of "great" and "happy" (not "great" and "crappy").

Go here if you want to see a large collection of authentic Japanese Engrish. This stuff used to really crack me up, but nowadays, I almost see it as poetry. Check out this Japanglish poem (nearly a haiku!) that is printed on the windows of the university gym:

When the strong wind
Close and lock the window
To prevent from falling

Wow, that is like, totally deep, dude!

Have a grappy day.

Wednesday, June 2

Super Size Me

Is this guy Michael Moore's alter ego?

Read also what Ebert had to say about Super Size Me.

Hayasaki Osamu

On Monday, I got to talking with a photographer who had come up to take photos for the next issue of the university magazine. Said he was born in 1947, which would make him...57 or so. He owns his own studio in Oita now, but he told me he'd like to quit the commercial stuff in a few years so that he could concentrate on artistic photography.

He told me a story about what inspired him to take up photography. When he was in high school, he had an opportunity to meet Hayasaki Osamu, a young photographer who was at the time winning plaudits from around the world for his photograph of sprinter Bob Hayes in the Tokyo Olympics. (I think that must be Hayes on the famous poster.) His eyes really lit up when he started talking about Hayasaki's work. I think it was a defining moment in his life.

The site I linked to says of Hayasaki:
"Untimely death due to a fall during a photo shoot on a lighthouse in Niigata Pref. His camera was pointed toward the Sea of Japan, probably for ocean sunset shots." What a classy way for a photographer to go. If only we could all go out doing what we love. I guess I'd like to go out blogging. Just kidding. You hope.

Funny though, the photographer I spoke with said that Hayasaki fell of a cliff while taking photos of birds. Close enough, I guess. For people like this, maybe the myth is more important than the reality. Maybe I'm just saying that because I recently saw Big Fish.

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Warning: only for those truly obsessed with Hawaii. Click here for an awesome Landsat 7 satellite photo + topographic map composite image of Oahu. (From the National Air and Space Museum's website.) That's Pearl Harbor you see there. See the little mouth of the harbor? Bridging it would be really helpful for commuters but the Navy won't allow it. Okinawa has a similar situation, where the military won't allow tunnels to be built underneath their sprawling bases (for good reason). To get from one side to the other, you have to drive all the way around. Really screws up traffic.

I really have a thing for aerial photos and maps. Could be a god fetish.

Tuesday, June 1

Blogging: worse than heroin

I think I should quit this blogging thing before it gets out of hand. Read this article from the NY Times. My god, it's destroying lives! The fact that I'm posting this very message on my blog is making me feel depraved.

Like I said before about my Hawaii obsession, I have this sinking feeling that I'm doing nothing more than following the popular trends of the day. This NY Times article was published on May 27. That's just six days ago, man! Geez, why don't I just go out and buy the latest Britney Spears album while I'm at it.

I'll probably turn on the TV tomorrow and hear: "20-somethings interest in S. Korea at an all time high! More Americans are marrying Koreans then ever before! Recent study shows that 68% of half-Japanese males are obsessed with Hawaii and flamenco!"

Laconic like the Spartans

"The study of the classics allows one to understand the history of the term laconic, which comes to us via Latin from Greek Laknikos. The English word is first recorded in 1583 with the sense "of or relating to Laconia or its inhabitants." Laknikos is derived from Lakn, "a Laconian, a person from Lacedaemon," the name for the region of Greece of which Sparta was the capital. The Spartans, noted for being warlike and disciplined, were also known for the brevity of their speech, and it is this quality that English writers still denote by the use of the adjective laconic, which is first found in this sense in 1589."

City of love and lava

Saw a show the other night about the soaring crime rate in Japan. The show started off talking about security cameras installed on the streets of the UK. Those bloody Brits have been installing cameras like mad for the past decade or so in a full-on effort to discourage street crimes. There are now some 4,000,000 security cameras installed in public areas across the UK, and in a typical day, a Londoner can expect to be photographed around 300 times by just walking around outside. (Kinda like in Minority Report, huh?) The cameras have proven reasonably successful as a deterrent, with some areas experiencing a 14% decline in crime over the past six years. However, the show pointed out that a certain London district lacking such cameras - which is incidentally right next to an area that experienced a 14% decline - saw a 7% rise in crime. The bad guys just moved down a couple streets, and the ones who didn't want to go through the trouble just put on face-concealing hoods and went back to work.

They also talked about some other stuff, like the work of the LAPD, but the main focus of the show was crime in Japan. As you may know, Japan's crime rate has soared over the past decade. In fact, since 1985, crime has risen in every single prefecture and city district - except for one: Kagoshima. Check this out, dude: over the past 20 years, the crime rate has dropped an astounding 18% in Kagoshima City. The show went on to say that this decline can be attributed to the introduction of a citizen police force - guys that walk around the streets at night to keep kids in line - and the establishment of community centers (kominkan) near each public school.

Anyway, I guess the point of the program was that crime issues won't be solved by cops and cameras; you need to have community involvement to address problems at their source.

When the World Cup came to Oita in 2002, the local government was so paranoid about hooliganism that they called in cops from all over the prefecture, and maybe even from Miyazaki, to patrol the streets. With the high concentration of cops in Oita City, I imagine it would have been an opportune time to steal a new plasma-screen TV set from anywhere else in the prefecture. (I really want one of those.) When the games actually happened, however, the streets were pretty much deserted. I remember driving through Oita and seeing both sides of the street lined with cops, kind of like that scene in Matrix 3 with all the Agent Smiths lining the street during the big showdown. The cops peered into my windows to make sure I wasn't a hooligan, and then went back to picking the lint off their uniforms. My quatra-lingual friend John was working the emergency hotline for foreigners throughout the event. I don't think he received more than five calls, and none of those were true emergencies. He said that one guy rang to ask how to make a long distance call to Mexico. Another was a case of dangerous loitering by scary foreigners with facial hair. They cops asked them to move along. They did.

So crime isn't that bad in Japan. Not yet. Anyway, most of the crimes committed here are like breaking and entering, bag snatching, car theft and that kind of thing. You can call me crazy if you want, but I'd much rather get my wallet stolen than get shot by an assault rifle. (That's American crime for ya. Yeeehaw!!) But maybe that's just me.

But then again, Kagoshima has that smoldering volcano, Sakurajima... (Which friggin erupted when I was riding my bicycle across it, by the way.) Maybe the fear of the volcano god keeps the youth in line. Heck, maybe that's what keeps the entire nation in line! With so many earthquakes and volcanoes that could demolish a city in seconds, the Japanese don't need crime to spice up their lives. They're too busy praying to the gods, or repairing the damage caused by the gods. Look at the Kobe earthquake of 1995. It killed 5,500 in one fell swoop. Who needs violent crime when you've got nature to contend with.