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August 24th, 2014

moof's guide to japan: "do"s, "don't"s, and "things to be aware of", part I @ 11:38 pm

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So you want to go to Japan. Cool! Here's some stuff to be aware of.

Language

  • Japanese vowels are very similar to Italian. They're produced way back in the throat, and they don't change based on position in the word or surrounding consonants. tonkotsu and tonkatsu refer to very different things; resist the tendency to slur vowels into a schwa. And vowel length can matter: "meshi" means 'food', "mēshi" (with an extended e) means 'business card'.

  • Japanese people are not used to people speaking bad Japanese. Bad pronunciation and bad grammar will often confuse the hell out of them.

  • Did you take high school Spanish? Do you remember much of it? Do you know what "piso mojado" means? How's your accent? Yeah, well, it's like that for Japanese folks and English, except they were even less likely to have native speakers teaching them. And an awful lot of people would be too embarrassed with their language ability to admit to knowing any English at all.

  • If you write something down, it's often much more likely to be understood than if you speak it aloud. Phrasebooks can be helpful for this, so you can point at the phrase you're speaking.

  • The single most useful thing to learn before your trip is not Japanese per se, but the katakana syllabary. There's a whole lot of English words that have been imported for everyday use and they show up on a lot of signs. Take a look at https://www.narita-airport.jp/jp/inquiry/ ; the first two boxes have 'フライト' ("furaito") and 'セキュリティチェック’ ("sekyuritichekku"). If you know that the "r" and "l" sounds are interchangeable, it shouldn't be too hard to recognize those two as "flight" and "security check".

Getting around

  • If you're going to be spending a fair amount of time in cities, get a Suica stored-value card or the local equivalent. It's a supreme pain in the ass to figure out what the train or bus fares are going to be, which magic turnstiles you have to use to transfer between lines more cheaply, and so forth. By getting one, you can just slap $10 or $20 on there, and just tap it at the turnstyles, and all the calculation and deduction and transfer stuff will be done for you, pretty much.

  • With the exception of Kyoto, the trains (subway or aboveground) in big cities are usually going to be cheaper and more convenient than buses. They're on-time, they're cheap, they're reliable; if the train schedule says they're going to leave at 09:45, by golly, it's going to leave at 9:45. This goes for local trains, the shinkansen, pretty much everything.

  • Most cities will have more than one transit vendor, and it'll be far cheaper (if sometimes much slower) to use only one vendor's transit line than to switch back and forth between them on any given trip.

  • Almost all businesses will have little maps showing where they are, along with their address. The address is good for computer navigation or looking something up in a map book, but almost useless for actually navigating somewhere on foot. If you're at "1-23-4" and trying to get to "1-24-4", it doesn't mean you're necessarily anywhere near, and even local residents are unlikely to know where a given address is. See the fine Wikipedia article for more details. If your hotel has a map on its webpage, print it out along with the address.

  • In a lot of major cities, the trains shut down midnight-ish and the cabs go into super usury mode. If you're going to go out late, be prepared to hoof it back, wait until 5 when the trains start running again, or shell out $50 for a cab.

Money

  • Most ATMs have hours, because why would you ever need to withdraw money past 7pm? Your foreign ATM cards are most likely to work in either a Japanese Post Office ATM, or a 7-Eleven ATM. (Supposedly Citibank, too, but I've seen all of two Citibank ATMs over there, I think.)

  • Be prepared to use cash. A lot. Some places will accept credit cards for over a certain amount, but it's often a minimum of $50-$100. Many places don't accept credit cards at all.

  • If you've got a Suica, some vending machines will let you use it to pay.

  • It's way too easy to end up with $20 of change at the end of the day if you're not paying attention, since the 500円 coin is the largest denomination, and that's $5.

Culture

  • The single most useful word: "sumimasen". It's roughly equivalent to "excuse me" and all the connotations associated therein; you can use it to get somebody's attention, to apologize, etc.

  • Second most useful word: "arigatō", 'thank you'.

  • Use the above two a lot. Looking abashed and apologizing will smoothe over an incredible amount of social awkwardness and/or impropriety.

  • Don't be loud. Watch where you're going. Be on time.

 

August 17th, 2014

Japan 2014, part 1 @ 01:34 pm

The flight from SFO to NRT was long and boring. The seat next to me was open, so I could have theoretically lied down... except that this was a 747 with the armrests that stick way the hell out so you can't lie down easily. Boo. Got to Narita without issue, found my sister at the baggage claim (who had only been there for five-ten minutes), and we made it through customs without delay. We took the Narita Express to Ikebukuro; the express part was only for the Narita - Ueno-ish leg, as it was slow going on tracks parallel to the Yamanote line for the rest of it. Maybe 90 minutes total from the airport to Ikebukuro station? We couldn't find the exit we were supposed to take the first time out; however, since my parents had previously stayed at the hotel we were going to, I kinda-sorta knew where it was. I also found that T-Mobile's claims of having free data in Japan were mostly true, so GPS kinda-sorta worked. (More on that later.)

We had to get up early the next morning to meet me ex-gf Yumiko, who had kindly gotten us tickets for the Ghibli Museum, so we talked about going out, but ended up falling asleep around 8pm local time. I think we woke up at 6, which was just as well. We met my ex right on time, and chatted briefly before she had to head to work. My sister and I had discussed going to Tsukiji since it was still early, but instead we decided to just go back to the hotel and laze around for a while, as our tickets didn't allow entry until 2pm. Katy got her first real exposure to Japanese convenience store food and TV, and lazing was had. Around noon, we went to Kichijoji, and started to amble our way through Inokashira Park towards the museum. It's a much nicer route to go through the park than to go to Mitaka station, like the official guides recommend; that walk is really pretty dull, with not much to be said for it other than the charming "Ghibli Museum, 1200m" signs.

I've been to the Ghibli Museum at least three or four times now, and each time has been a pleasure. It's not that large, but the grounds are immaculate, there's stained glass depicting Ghibli movie scenes everywhere, and the entire experience is just charming. The only kink is that tickets are limited; JTB will sell you tickets in advance, but they'll often run out and be super slow to inform you of this fact (or to bother updating their website.) If you're lucky, already in Japan, and have a flexible schedule, you can go to a Lawson convenience store and use the Loppi machine to purchase tickets; they usually do have tickets available a week or two in advance, and they're half as expensive that way.

Anyhow, my sister was completely enchanted by the Ghibli Museum, so yay. Took the Ghibli-liveried bus back to Mitaka station and went back to the hotel. Don't remember what we ate that night; we were still rather jet-lagged and out of it. That it was Tokyo in late July - i.e. around 80% humidity and in the low 30s Centigrade/high 80s-to-low-90s Fahrenheit - did not help our exuberance; my sister is like mom in that she doesn't handle that sort of weather well. That's what scheduling allowed for, though.

 

August 13th, 2014

(no subject) @ 12:57 am

I'll post about the Japan trip after I get back; my feelings are complex, and roiling them up by writing about them ain't exactly conducive to sleeping well before checking out of the hotel in nine hours.

Off to take a bath; no shortage of water here, unlike California.

 

August 7th, 2014

Tokyo vacation, day 15 @ 05:10 pm

What I have done today: absolutely fuck-all. Slept in, watched TV, attempted to stretch my increasingly-pissed-off piriformis muscles (now angry on both sides), deleted a bunch of work email, browsed the interwebs, meditated on my sister's directive to not split my tongue because "it would be icky and mom wouldn't like it", and generally tried to convalesce from muscle injury, social overexposure, and a cold. Gotta get dressed and meet ex-coworkers in about an hour, though.

In lieu of actual content, I will merely link to some sloth pictures instead.

 

July 24th, 2014

japan 2014, day 1 @ 10:45 am

Flew to Narita! Met up with sister! Got through Immigration and Customs without issue! Eventually made it to hotel! After talking about whether we were hungry or not, ended up just falling asleep around 8pm local time. Exciting!

 

July 20th, 2014

(no subject) @ 04:00 am

A gentle reminder: I do post friends-locked entries on occasion, like as of about five minutes ago.

 

July 12th, 2014

(no subject) @ 06:53 pm

I haven't been posting here because I haven't had much to say that was new or fully thought-out; I suppose that even a once-a-month fluff might be better than the whole lot of nothing that I currently have. (OTOH, my sister told me that she'd stopped reading my LJ because it was too depressing - but that was probably around ten years ago.)

Speaking of my sister - I'm taking her to Japan for vacation in a little over a week. It'll have been almost five years since I'd moved away from there - and honestly, I'm a little nervous at the prospect. Living there was probably the happiest I'd been for quite a long time (until I got laid off and depression reared its ugly head again), and I hope I won't be emotionally overwhelmed by being there. It should be a lot of fun, though.

 

January 20th, 2014

prehistory of the moof, part III: deaaaaaath @ 01:32 pm

When I was 3-ish, we trundled up to Wisconsin to see my great-aunt in the hospital; it was her 88th birthday. She seemed nice enough, I guess? I don't remember having met her before, and my dad seemingly had a zillion relatives who he knew pretty well, so she blended in with the crowd. We came back to see her the next day, and I guess sometime during the visit she died. I knew you were supposed to get upset at people dying, so I cried for a bit, and my grandpa took me for a walk to console me - not that I actually needed consoling, but probably did actually need to get out of the room where the adults were gathered.

My next funerals were when I was 16 (and thus solidly in protomoof territory); my paternal grandparents and maternal grandma all died within six or seven months of each other. The first to go was my dad's father; he'd had Parkinson's for years, and had been in really bad shape. The last time I'd seen him was when he was restrained in a wheelchair (to keep from falling out), and he knew his mind was fading quickly; it was heartbreaking to see. I wanted to be one of the pallbearers, but grandma had already decided everything in advance, and it was usually best not to go up against her.

Next was my maternal grandmother; she'd had Alzheimer's for at least four-five years, and she'd turned into a husk of her former self. Occasionally you would see flashes of her prior intellect and personality, but there really wasn't anybody home. Unlike grandpa, she wasn't aware of her own descent, but it was extremely painful for mom. The funeral there was kind of a shock: when I saw her body, she had her hair done, and was dressed nicely; she looked almost regal. Powerfully evocative of the woman she hadn't been for quite some time. I guess the best word, strange as it may sound, to describe the funeral was "pleasant" - it was a release, a relief to everyone involved, and a time for people to get together and eat hotdish and reconnect.

Finally, my paternal grandmother. She frightened me and my siblings when we were younger; she had a sharp wit and a sharper tongue. (In later years, it was somewhat of a relief to hear my mom express the same sentiments.) She had the bad luck to be an intelligent, ambitious woman in then-rural Wisconsin born near the turn of the century, and was bitter about her lack of opportunities to the end of her days. I suspect she's the source of the Aspie tendencies of my father and me, too; she could be casually, unthinkingly, harsh without realizing or thinking about what she'd done. She'd had ovarian cancer before grandpa died, and had mostly recovered from it - but after he died, she went into remission, and died within the year. Pretty much, she lost the will to live without him.

What's probably the biggest influence on my life happened much earlier, though. When I was 12 or so, I found an embroidered pillow with the names and birthdates of me, my siblings, and my maternal cousins - and then one more name, a few years earlier than the rest of us, that I didn't recognize. A few days after asking my parents "Who's Christine?" my parents sat me and the sibs down: four years before I was born, my parents were driving their firstborn child home from the hospital, when a drunk driver plowed into them. Christine died in the accident. Mom lost her front teeth, too. As they put it, they almost broke up, and couldn't find enjoyment in anything for years; they still recall the exact moment when the laughed about something again. (Mom had accidentally her paycheck in the trash, and dad had to go digging around for it in the dumpster.) I'd wondered if they were a little bit overprotective; yeah, not a surprise, in retrospect.

To this day I wonder if it's a coincidence my middle name is "Kristian"; while my Mom swears up and down that it's some great-uncle of hers or something and has nothing to do with Christine, I have my doubts.

 

December 15th, 2013

prehistory of the moof, part II @ 09:42 am

I'm not intentionally being parsimonious with these postings, so much as trying to figure out "What's notably different from my childhood from most other people's?" Its corollary, "How do I and my perceptions and reactions differ from most other people's?" is in many ways the fundamental issue I've been grappling with for most of my adult life - but I'll save that sort of thing for "history of the protomoof" and later.

From a structural point of view, my childhood seemed and was pretty normal. I had (and have) two parents, a little brother (2.5 years younger), a little sister (8 years younger). I grew up in a pretty well-to-do Chicago suburb, although my parents weren't all that well-to-do; Mom didn't work until I was in high school, and Dad's ChemEng job was never especially lucrative. The schools, however, were pretty well equipped: my elementary school had an Apple II circa 1979, and a librarian who was very much keeping abreast of technology, noticed that I was rather keen on it, and guided me with resources and support. (I remember around 3rd or 4th grade thinking that I needed to learn 6502 assembly language, and when I asked the librarian she helped me get the books I needed.) So, from that point of view, things were pretty good.

Academically, however, things started to gang agly around late 3rd-early 4th grade. Homework started to be assigned, and I really wasn't very good at doing it. (Formerly, I'd only had issues with creative writing and things of that ilk: I wanted to spout fully-formed stories with plot and structure, but my efforts were what I deemed crap and nowhere good enough and not-quite-literally banged my head against the desk in frustration.) It was somewhere in that era that the school district gave me a battery of tests - Rorschach, what was probably the Thematic Apperception Test, an IQ test. I don't remember much about the tests themselves other than the presumed-TAT involved telling stories about the images on the cards and one of them was about abandonment, the Rorschach test had roman numerals written in pencil on the other side of the card, and that I spent way too long on the math portion of the IQ test trying to puzzle out what the correct answer to "if a=2, and ab=6, what is b" (I'd remembered half-watching some educational programs on algebra on PBS, and eventually decided that since I'd seen the expression "a+b" and "a+2b", the most likely explanation for needing at least that amount of symbols would be that ab must mean a×b. This was a far more interesting problem than most of the rest of the questions on the test, and I failed to answer a bunch of the easy stuff that was later on.)

So, yeah, the results indicated I was a child genius. Whoopee. They decided that I could skip fifth grade and go directly to sixth. In retrospect, while from a purely intellectual and didactic PoV this was fine and dandy... fifth grade was when they started to introduce homework "for real", and my reaction and adjustment to it was not graceful at all. My grades went from As across the board to Cs and Ds and Fs. While I recognize now that ADD (much less Asperger's) was not in the consciousness of many in the 70s, I'm still pissed that they, the school professionals, didn't notice anything amiss and just sort of threw up their hands when I started bombing abysmally. They certainly didn't sit me down and ask what kinds of issues I thought I had or why. The general attitude seemed to be "Eh, he's smart and will figure it out eventually."

Next time on prehistory of the moof: either high school or deaaaaaaaaath; haven't decided which one yet.

 

November 29th, 2013

prehistory of the moof, part I @ 03:41 am

I've been meaning to write this for months or years at this point, but never seem to get around to doing so.

I don't remember not having to wear glasses or not being able to read. I learned sometime between the age of 2 and 3; Mom has said that reading the ingredients list of cereal boxes was a common activity for me. As far as I can remember, I've always had lots of books and read voraciously. In a vaguely related vein, I've usually been more comfortable around adults than I was (other) children. Probably because they were easier to understand and could answer all the questions I had.

I can remember flashes of memory from when I was young, instants in time, but not so much in the way of episodes. Probably the earliest was when I was lying in my bed, chewing on a binky, and gnawed right through it; I got up and asked my mom to fix it (as I had been under the impression that she had fixed it before) - but (this time?) she said that now it was broken and there was nothing she could do about it. The particulars of the memory are fuzzy at best; I remember fairly clearly the bed I had, and mom's response, but everything else is inferred from later life's memories (the layout of the house, what the room was like, the tone of mom's voice, etc.) I couldn't have been more than 2.5 at most; I wasn't wearing glasses.

The next memory, though, is quite clear. I was at Mimi's Merry Mornings, a preschool in my hometown. I think I was 4, but I'm not sure about the date. It was a lovely spring/summer day, nice blue sky, fluffy clouds, and we were having Show and Tell outside. I'd decided to show them my copy of Sesame Street magazine. I showed them the various pages of the magazine, and pointed out how in some of the features therein there were instructions for the children (in big letters) and instructions for the parents (in much smaller print, with more complex words) and how interesting it was that for some of the activities it wasn't actually possible to figure out everything required to complete it without having read both sets of instructions. While I don't remember the faces, I remember the overwhelming feelings of blank incomprehension from the rest of the kids there, completely not getting what I was talking about at all. I think I sat down pretty quickly after that, with my mom arriving and driving me and one of the other kids back home soon afterwards. I remember feeling, while riding back, the most profound sense of alienation and dismay. Probably my very first depressive episode, too, but I don't remember anything after the car ride.

 

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