I'll be in London this Sunday-Wednesday for ECTS. I'm looking forward to it - haven't been to the American motherland since I was a wee lad. I'm searching for a place to stay. Funky, lively location, cheap. Got any idears?29 August
Helsinki Bound28 August
My editor at The Feature.com Justin lives in Helsinki. He's 24, a few years younger than me, and an expatriate from Washington state. When he heard I was coming to this part of the world, he extended an invitation for sushi and a sauna in Finland. I was scheduled to leave too late to make this date, but I was severely tantalized.
All the United folks on the phone said it would cost me $1800-$3200 to change my ticket at this late date. So I went to the airport, and I was able to fly upstairs in the plane for $150 change fee and 20,000 miles. I was excited to be in business class, because I could plug in my laptop and work during the flight, instead of sleeping so I would be more prepared when I arrived. But in this case, I didn't do neither - I ended up sitting next to Matthew, a New York native man who has been living in Tokyo for 18 years, working as a teacher of colonial literature. He was travelling from his apartment in Hong Kong to give a paper on Kipling in England. And here I thought most academia was a life of deprivation!
We spoke mostly in English, about Japan: the culture, the country, the literature. He recommended I visit the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan; I'll bet there's some lively characters there.
In Heathrow airport in London, they have a giant smoking lounge, with no door. And to get from the ticket counters to the gates in Terminal one, you have to walk past the opening, in a narrow corridor. It's torturous - running a dense smoke gamut. You can see the purple-grey fog hanging in the sky throughout.
Just outside of this smoking concentration, I saw an older white man stooped a bit pushing his cart around in circles. He found two young Japanese ladies who were there to guide Nihonjin towards their gates; he went up to one, grabbed her by the elbow and told her that if he were younger, he would be chasing her around right now.
While my Japanese language training didn't serve me so much with Matthew, I saw two young Japanese folks when I arrived in Finland. They were changing money, waiting with customs, just as I was. I leaned over and told them "Ganbatteh," as they were waiting in a queue (it means something along the lines of "keep struggling!") and they were surprised. We ended up riding the bus together; they read my "sakubun," an essay in Japanese from my Japanese class and we talked about their life as students and residents of London. Dang it, I forgot their names, but we did stop to take a few rounds of photos with our three cameras near the Helsinki bus terminal.
Salted Big Bone Bear Sushi
In the Helsinki rain, in the company of The Feature staff my age or younger, I met with Justin at Helsinki's seaside "Old Market." The sushi restaurant was was cozy with specialty meat and produce stores. I saw my first tin of bear meat, plenty of reindeer, much salmon and some big bones.
Fort Worth Sauna
The rainy wet outside of the market so you can recognize it when you see it. Fancy some bear meat? This meat has been seasoned and canned, ready for transcontintental transport! These large beef (?) bones sit just above the tongues. What are they good for? Mr. Finnish butcher says you can make stew with them, or feed them to a dog! Better have a big pot, or ask the butcher to saw them up for you. To this American, these giant bones continue to whisper "prank" for hours after seeing them. Bigger than my arm. Many Finnish chantarelle mushrooms. Delicious with butter, creme and salt, I'm told. Sounds subtle. Fish pastries. A rainbow of tea flavours! Reindeer Kebab! Seasoned salmon. Smoked fish. Traditional Finnish lollypops in a triangle cylinder sort of shape. Flavours include pine, chocolate and licorice. A Christmas looking seasoned fish on toast.
This is cold country. Sauna is quite popular in this part of the world; the Finnish are the world's most dedicated sauna-goers. Many Nordic companies have saunas in their buildings; Nokia was no different. On the top floor of the second building in Nokia House, the corporate headquarters outside in Espoo, outside of Helsinki, the "Fort Worth" executive boardroom has a large table, a large sitting area with white furniture, a view over a lake, and two saunas. Justin booked us time in here; he and I with his girlfriend Hana were able to spend the later part of the afternoon relaxing here. Whew.
Justin and Hana share a moment on the couch. Hana was probably explaining some aspect of traditional Finnish culture, and Justin was interjecting American Pacific Northwest slang. Smooth, man. Outside the sauna, feeling the love. Justin snapped this photo - hello Nokia! Nice Sauna, thank you.
Thanks for the date Justin.
Finally, the truth comes out about my last trip to Tokyo. Read my insider's report: Sakubun. (ごめんなさい、英語の人々、この作文日本語ばっかりです。)
United e-savers, San Francisco to Tokyo, early September, $550.
Next throbbing Links.net update:
A Bloody Motorcycle Accident and The Tango Queen of Finland
Coming soon, after I figure out how to send outgoing Outlook email again from this hotel. $15 a day for high speed wireless, and no SMTP. The free SMTP I've found looks like a spammers paradise and doesn't work. FYI - I seem to be connecting from 126.96.36.1999 - can't get a host lookup for that. Suggestions welcome, if they work you'll get a hearty email thanks reply! (Fixed - Thank you Jubal!)
Freelance: HaikuHaiku:25 August
Mobile Art Exchange. Grassroots location-based publishing for the people.
After conversation with Lisa, I dig up a link on A Seamless Garment, a group against abortion, and the death penalty, and war, and poverty. Against all forms of human suffering. I may count myself as pro-choice but I appreciate symmetrical thought. I heard about this group from my brother six or more years ago. Strange how these things stay in your head without any corroborating conversation.22 August
One last night alone in my media cave, I'm using the small five speaker/subwoofer system surrounding my workspace to play a three way mix of Akira in Japanese, Philip Glass and a folder full of random Bjork songs and remixes. It's electric eclectic, a comforting media blanket.
The first person to email me for an interview is up and running:
I worked over the first interview, had fun doing details, sidebars, exploration. At this rate, I'll be able to do about one a month. Is it better to do a sustained good job on one piece, crafting, or publish more regular bursts tending towards text? My study of the web leads me to believe that making things visually appealing can increase participation. Unfortunately, I want to serve the other stories to be told. Give me money so I can afford to interview random people full time! Hee haw!
Christine Lee "...asian american studies was part of my major in college, I'm married to someone Jewish and Israeli, I'm converting to Judaism, I'm tri-cultural, so i'm very comfortable discussing culture..."
The other day my brother asked me: who have I met in the last year that I feel will be my friend for years to come? Chris Hecker. We're similarly spastic, and so we can handle the ups and downs of distant and constant communication both. And he lives in Oakland. And he's food-curious. And he's smart, and literate, and he plays games.
He's been making fun of me for being monocular; "You're not going to hang out with Jen and I because we can't contribute to your study of Japan." Even 9 year old Eli asked me if I'm really into Japanese stuff (after he saw my laptop). I remember some older white man in my life referring to someone "Going Asiatic," like you lose track of your original culture to take up the strange trappings of the far east. Once you wear a sarong, you can never go back, they say. Something like that.
There's been times in my life when I wore a sarong and had dreadlocks. I've taken my dreadlocks and my sarong to hang with merchant marines in Mobile Alabama, and Harley riders in Daytona Florida. I shaved my head, listened to punk ska, and went body surfing. I've worn three piece suits and eaten with cultural theorists at the Yale club in New York city. I've dressed up as a schoolgirl and marched down Market street in San Francisco next to an eight food vagina. Last night I was the only white person standing around the richly black Southern Cafe waiting for my fried chicken and lamenting their lack of collard greens. There are many cultures to choose from around the world, and participating in many of them fully is the richness of life. So pardon all the Asian influences around here these days if you think it's too much focus.
Literate nocturnal themes, eminently danceable
Much of it is neatly propulsive.
A PC role-playing game, set in a victorian time boasting both magic and technology (opposed to each other! Look out!). Arcanum is created by the same folks who made "Fallout," a post-nuclear adventure game. Both games feature a wry sense of humanity and more mature themes. Last night, adventuring through Arcanum, I came across a bordello. I couldn't really afford to sleep with any of the ladies, but they did have a sheep available for cheap. I first saw this game at GenCon, and I knew I wanted it then. And since I have so much work to do to prepare for my Japan departure and freelance writing, it seemed a perfect time to get a new involving computer game. (I downloaded the demo first to be sure it would work on my laptop). I'll be writing a review for Firing Squad so it seems productive to play it.
Through Peter I met Jane. She's a gameplayer, speaks some Japanese, and she's given serious thought and study to Japanese history, gender and culture. Stimulating conversation - good thing I travel too much to have friends in person.
Lots of new advertisers. Whee!
Why take the time to write meaningful things about your life and times when you can post lists of annotated links?15 August
Japanese Links from the Underground, new today. snort.
Also, please sign up to be interviewed.
Saw my dad last night.
An Observed Increase of Speed and Aging7 August
I have an international visitor here, Sanae, leaving tomorrow. It's been rocky, fun, and enlightening to have her here. For one thing, we've been working to build her a web site. And she has drawn me out of my writing, Japanese class shell, as my hosting instincts sputter, choke and come to life haltingly, I escort her around different neighborhoods of San Francisco, and on foot with this stranger I discover why this city seduced me in the first place.
But still this is a woman in my home. Beautiful, aware, and strange. Why did she come land here for two weeks? What are her motives? What are my predilictions? I've begun to keep a separate document for all the rancid wonderings of my mind. Not something to publish on a kinder gentler web site, perhaps, more fictional indulging of my own imaginations, to see the wicked motives and sordid scenes behind ordinary human interaction.
We'd been wrestling with her faily broad ambition - to travel, to get a stimulating job. Those are all nice things; I believe they stem from a root passion for a particular activity, aside from money or fame. She did take up web work a bit, perhaps an unavoidable fallout of being near me for two weeks. But she shared the fact that she'd never painted with mushy tangible paints (like oil and acrylic) so her last night in America, she sat outside in Oakland making paitings.
Afterwards, I found myself telling her that she should find an apartment where she can paint the walls and have personal work in progress everywhere. Strange understanding I've come to have of understimulated young women, thank you Amy.
I think to myself, I would drop everything around me for any soul that could keep me from remembering my life. And then I remember that the right lassie would lead me back to my worldly responsibilities as I've construed them, eager to see me persuing my work and persuing her own in the same time. So I have this moment here with anyone to enjoy and rather than wait for a girl stuck between a computer game and a fairy tale, I must see the beauty and joy in any possible personal contact created for me on this green earth in this rare moment. How did I come to be alive now, as this?
I would like to see everyone as a beautifully wraught person seeking the best possible perceived good in a troubling world. Still I should have learned better how to enjoy the bright eyed foreign flesh of an ambitious woman with a live-in boyfriend who meets new men daily. Caught up in my own hunger and the mirror she shines up on my own potential to attract, I lose sight of myself as a person and come to see everyone around me only as a vessel for some distasteful human need. In her case, I came to feel deeply wrangled when Sanae ventured off with a porter she met at San Francisco Airport and worked perhaps to pit him against me as he entertained her during the day and purchased for her manicures. I was attending Japanese class and watching my writing time diminish. I can't share a house with a lover for long; my computer is too much a draw and my brain works to augment massive gilded guilt as the digital wonderland of my life leads to burned dinners and postponed plans. What kind of relationship am I prepared for? Meeting a series of deep fascinating women in different places and coming to know them intensely, briefly. I guess some day you get tired and stop, or else someone grabs you hard enough to pull you out of your moving shoes.
All around me reminders of aging. Authors unable to write. A gradually decaying house. And I realize that as I take up a series of educational experiences, Gamers.com, Japan, terminable serial relationships, I will emerge as the aged learned impotent dead. So I have loosed my tie somewhat, dressing only formally to greater affect, consuming more intoxicants, and unfortunately taking up less sleep.
It was this cocktail of indulgence, sleeplessness, disrepair and disrespect that lead me to the greatest moment of malaise and negative perspective in recent memory. How could I see all beings around me as such sorry beasts? And myself the ugly aging fool neither empowered or manipulated well; always hanging between knowledge and pure foolery. Anyhow, soon I will have no more skin here in this home between my own and I will sleep more regular for it. Expect productivity from this bachelor - my GHB is done, gone and I've just rediscovered my old media copy of Los Angeles / Wild Gift.
low lighting, provocative glances
Web sites and magazines have begun to contact me with article assignments. It's a dream - being requested, handed an assignment. Sure beats the hustle - "hey, here's a cool idea, A REALLY COOL IDEA. pay me to write about it." And I've now been working long enough with some editors that they take my ideas on the first pass, without having to write and rewrite some pitches. And I've been around enough that I've learned to combine personal information management (business cards get typed into contact manager software and followup emails sent within a week of contact) with occasional social forays, so I now have relationships with a pretty wide range of editors. By and large, they're a friendly lot it seems, willing to suggest other editors who might be more appropriate for a given idea. For example, there's one Japanese sex technology article I've been trying to write for Nerve, then for Wired; after two gentle rejections it seems it might be best for Larry Flynt Publications.
As Ben's guest, I was browsing the Univesity of California Berkeley Daily Californian Newspaper archives, discover this 1967 page with an article by the young founder of Rolling Stone next to an advertisement for a "Psychedlic Celebration entitled "The Death of the Mind" by Timothy Leary.
"Steve [Miller], like the other great Bay Area lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, is a beautiful cat. Steve has a humility and grace which, it seems to me, is an important part of the blues."
from: "Rock and Roll Stuff: Blues with a Feeling," Jann Wenner, Thursday 12 January 1967, Daily California (500k blowup)
In my life I've worked hard at building out a wide web site. I love it! Now I have to focus my interests into market niches, publications that suit any particular idea. And each of the ideas has to be nailed to a person, company or story. It's different from academia or personal web writing, you just start right in and tease our your personal fascinations. In the professional writing game, you gotta find some spin. It's embittering, perhaps - I can see down a long road of technology ideas and media products, interpreted to be attractive and instructive; after a few years of paying my bills and bumping around the world, what will I have to show? Good experiences, a few articles, foreign offspring perhaps.
Did I even decide I wanted to be a freelance writer? It's a natural profession for me - travel, meet people, write about them.
Someone I met in Finland invited me to travel back there, expenses paid, to meet different Finnish technology companies on the government's dime. Very nice invitation, and I've already expressed some enthusiasm a company from that country (E3 Wireless coverage). I was planning to attend Burning Man again, for the first time in some years. Drive up in my Honda, wearing some robes, going from camp to camp begging with a canteen and a bowl. Maybe trade stories or day labor for survival. Sleeping where I could, wrapped in my clothes. A bedouin approach to temporary autonomous life in the desert - I was looking forward to stumbling into friends and having some unplugged time to feel the dirt and sun against my skin.
So instead I will be caught on planes, hotels and looking over shoulders at electronic entertainment, ever deepening my relationship with my laptop. My laptop has been so good to me, I've rewarded it by paying for some of my shareware licenses, and making a custom login screen.
Japanese Ear Pick Nose Hair
How much is 40 square meters? she asks me. 120 feet. Jesus, that's not a lot of space for an American. She's looking at apartments. That's $1000 a month to be near the Kamata train station, only 20 minutes from the beating nightlife heart of Tokyo.5 August
Japanese Headline of the day: "Mad Wing" cyber girl gang arrested; Japan Today
Police on Tuesday arrested five teenage girls who are members of a virtual motorcycle gang formed via the Internet, on suspicion of assaulting a member in June who tried to leave the group.Social change takes strange forms.
The group called "Mad Wing Angels" was established in January by 30 girls across Japan who got acquainted with each other through the "i-mode" mobile phone Internet access service of NTT DoCoMo Inc., according to the police.
Members include girls who do not have a motorcycle and the group has never held a gathering of all its members.
I have a beautiful intelligent curious courteous visitor from Japan staying with me. Sort of dropped in my lap - she said, "Justin I'm coming to California." And I said "Do you need a place to stay?" And now I'm staring down between the hairs of two weeks of intense cross-cultural companionship. I have been given a new set of eyes on America, on my life, and someone to debate the state of modern Japan with.
Most all of the sensitive active brain-laden young ladies I know hail from the left end of the political spectrum. We don't debate foreign policy much, but I don't consort with many women my age who supported George Bush. Between San Francisco, Internet craftswomen, art openings, I just don't run into them.
But Sanae seems to hail firmly from a more right perspective, at least in terms of Japan and the rest of the world. She was very excited to take me to Yasukuni Jinjya, for example.
tokyo nightclub execution
A religious monument decorated with cannons and kamikaze submarines; this may well be the most controversial war memorial in the world.
My last night in Japan I headed out with a group of Japanese ladies Sanae indirectly introduced me to. Yuki, the woman on the far right, she imports handbags; I tried to convince her how cool it would be to get some Monica Lewinsky handbags into Japan. She didn't think that was cool at all - "Monica Lewinsky is not cool." Huh? There's some delicious irony imagining Japanese folks mingling their fine leathers of Gucci and Louis Vuitton with Monica's faux leopard prints.
They took me to a non-descript joint for some boozin' and dancin'. I made the mistake of listening to James Brown's Licking Stick earlier that day, which made the crescendo-less loose funk the DJ dug up out of a euro-funk record rejection bin seem depraved. In a perfect twist of pure disk jockey antagonism, the songs switched with the grace and timing of an execution - a hanging, not a lethal injection.
Every once in a while the DJ would crave some love and a recognizable Stevie Wonder or Jackson 5 riff would sound out, the crowd would squirm and flock, and some genuine dancing would commence. if one champion song was played next to another, people would even begin to extinguish their cigarettes, replacing default chemical stimulation with electric physical pleasure.
but this moment of selflessness when the crowd begins to form a single body, this seemed to inspire the DJ to make the music his again, with another alarming transition or some deeply monochromatic b-side. it made me want to be a DJ - these people needed to be saved.
nightscape from Shibuya hotel room
Try dancing at all athletically in a sub-sub-basement club without windows in the company of six dozen chain-smoking horny repressed singles. Sweating, wheezing, panting, I made my way for the out of doors to breathe. "No reentry" they pointed to the sign. Shaking my head I gladly crawled out alone. I didn't remember the name of thej oint, but if you find yourself walking two floors down into a double sub-basement club in Aoyama, turn back before you choke.
Fortunately GK had relentlessly urged me to see Kermit Ruffins when he appeared in the Bay Area. On four hours of sleep, off a pacific ocean plane ride I grabbed my date and we danced some in the company of participatory jazz. It was deep musical therapy, thank you GK, thank you New Orleans.