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April 28th - July 11th, 2005
- Preface -
"Shibuya Walk"
"Trains & Music"  by KCM & LHS
"Doraemon - R.I.P."
"Trains & Moving"  by HHE & LHS
"More, or Less Japanese?"
"Flying Back for a Month"  by PBU
"1994 Wedding"
"London, Used Books, India, Etc."  by RER & LHS
"Bicycle Saga - June 1st 2005"
"Manga in English"  by KCM & LHS
"Fire-Breathing Monster - Good Riddance!"
"Gaijin Disease"  by APR & LHS
"Celebrations in Jersey"  by PBU
"The Ordinary East"
"Roomier Cube"  by KCM
"Farewell Beloved 1984 Prelude..."
"Double Exposures, Etc."  by RER & LHS
"The Cost of Hardware & Software"
"Losing a Friend"  by MSY
"One Semi-Free Washing Machine"
"Wine Tasting"  by KCM
"Busy Train Stations"  by RER & LHS
"Immigration"  by KCM
"Palacio de Cristal"  by RER
"Learning to Read"  by KCM & LHS

- Preface -      [Top of page]

2005/07/11 - The big news for LL-333 for me personally is that I finally got my old and beloved 1984 Honda Prelude out of the Y11,000 a month parking lot.  When the winds are down, tossing things overboard to lighten the weight is one way of gaining altitude and/or speed, thus I'm glad for the loss of that monthly expense....
     A few of the articles tie in with photos posted in the Photo Gallery at my site, which in most cases are linked, so it's easy to have a look at relevant photos.  Speaking of the site, I'm working on an index for it so it'll be possible to find things.  I'm beginning with the Photo Gallery and hopefully I'll also get something together for the LL-Letters. - Lyle

"Shibuya Walk"     [Top of page]

(April 28th)  Starting out at Ikejiri-ohashi, I decided to try walking over to Shibuya and see if it might be an interesting walk.  One of the good things about Tokyo is that you can start walking in just about any one part of the city and generally you'll run into something interesting in one form or another in one place or another.  And so it was today.  First I found an old shrine up on a hill (as shrines often are) with a construction project on one side.  I was torn between thinking what a shame that the green of the steep hill leading up to the shrine was so small - hemmed in by buildings on both sides and a main road in front - and thinking what a great thing is was that the green was there at all.

I climbed up to the top expecting to wash my hands, and - finding the stone water basin empty, but next to an outdoor faucet, I pushed in the plug in the bottom of the basin a little tighter and turned on the faucet - directing the water from its short hose into the stone basin.  As it was filling up, I contemplated how fun it has always been to play with water, and nervously half-expected someone to come up and say "Hey!  What are you doing?!  You're not supposed to do that!"  This feeling was nearly constant due to the wind blowing a row of red flags, making motion and noise that kept seeming to my peripheral vision as though someone were walking up to me.  When it was three-quarters full, two middle-aged women walked by, but they didn't even look at me, so that was okay... and then another woman walked by, giving me a curious "What...?" look.  Soon after that, it filled up, so I washed my hands, made sure the front of the basin was wet and then I got some pictures of it.

I wandered around the grounds for a while and - as I took pictures of the fluttering flags - a man in his twenties came up, washed his hands in the basin, and went to the shrine to pray.  I thought "See... that should have water in it.  What's the deal with it being empty?", and it *is* strange I think.  It's a custom to pour water over your hands in a quick wash before going to the shrine to pray, so how can that be empty?  Well, anyway, I filled it up, and I guess it's no big deal as long as someone does!

There were a few upturned logs for seats near the trees, on the hill that leads to and from the busy road below (all lower than the towering overhead expressway).  Upon first reaching the top after climbing the stairs, I noticed a couple of women sitting on two of the three, and then after they left, an older man sat on one for a while - seeming to contemplate the mini-forest in front of him (see the fourth picture in the first block of pictures of "Shibuya Bound").  After he left, I tried sitting there to do a little contemplating of my own, but - for some reason - that little forest was more mysterious either from a distance or within it, but not from the log.

Finally, I pulled away from the trees and headed back to the asphalt and concrete of the main path towards Shibuya....

"Trains & Music"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Apr 2005

Yesterday was my birthday, which proceeded fairly nicely.  My boss gave me white roses, a coworker gave me a CD, and another coworker took me out to lunch.  I am getting spoiled by my department!  My own friends and family haven't treated me that well.  :P  I'm just kidding.

This weekend my dad will be cooking whatever I request.  It's always nice to have that happen.

Yesterday I also got stuck at the Fruitvale BART station, because our train had a malfunction or something.  That wasn't fun, and I had to wait for my sister to come pick me up.

Other than that, not much has been happening.  I have been very tired, though I couldn't tell you why.


The trains themselves here generally don't malfunction, but when something throws them off-schedule, then I occasionally miss one of my connections if I'm headed somewhere late at night.  When that happens though, often the railway will pass out taxi passes to people in groups of four (grouping people from the same general area together).  Not guaranteed, but I've gotten home that way a couple of times when one railway's late train caused me to miss the last train on another line.  (All of the train lines, in this city of 30,000,000 people, are shut down each and every night - except December 31st - between about 11:45 p.m. and 1:10 a.m.)

Subject: Amazon free mp3s
From: KCM  [US]
Date: Apr 2005

I think you could use a break, so have a look at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/browse/-/468646/104-6094069-9415131

Amazon has this section where you can download free mp3s of some songs to promote various CDs - no DRM or stupid software to break your computer.  I thought you might enjoy it.


I went there once, but have been too lazy for the most part to do anything other than play my (same) old set of CD's.     [Top of page]

"Doraemon - R.I.P."     [Top of page]

(2005/04/30)  I watched the second of the new Doraemon cartoons (on broadcast TV on Fridays at 19:00), and wasn't overly pleased.  It shouldn't matter, but since I read all of the old Doraemon comic books when I was studying Japanese, Doraemon seems like an old friend, so I feel driven to comment on the new version, with (unfortunately) all new voices.

It's not that I can't deal with a change in direction for the manga - after all, the original author is gone now, but I do think that if they're going to change it, they should go out on a limb and actually come up with something new.  What I've seen so far is they've taken older stories that were done well before, and modified them with extra bits that destroy the integrity of the story line.  I feel quite certain that the author, if he were alive today, would definitely not approve of what they're doing to his creation.

The voices... they're mostly tolerable - except the one for the main character - Doraemon, which sounds so bad to my ears, that I hope to never have to hear it again!  Hopefully they'll continue to sell the old original versions, as they are vastly superior to the new damaged and computerized versions.

"Trains & Moving"     [Top of page]

Subject: Japanese Train Crash
From: HHE  [US]
Date: Tue, 26 Apr 2005

I have not been corresponding because of my wife's poor health, i.e., compression fractures of the spine, breathing problems, etc. We recently moved to be near our oldest daughter and family, as she is a Physician Ass't and helps quite a bit.  My time is now taken up with visits to doctors (most for my wife), grocery shopping, some cooking, routine maintenance around the house and a few major things like fence building.  The last task I really enjoy, as it involves planning the bill of materials, procuring them and then the building of the fence - or any other project.  The move was in February and involved over 50 years of "stuff" which is mostly unpacked, but not all even now in late April.  The reluctance to discard items no longer viable is, I believe, a habit learned from the Great Depression.  That descriptive adjective is incorrect as it surely wasn't Great.  My younger brother reminded me of something that happened back then in the Dark Ages.  When we had to have a new roof, there were a lot of nails that came off the old roof.  Our dad made us straighten and store those old nails.  When he died of asbestos lung cancer in 1974, we found all those old, straightened nails in cans in the garage.  My younger brother was really disgusted, but my older brother and I had a good laugh.

The e-mail system has been neglected and probably will continue to be, but I read today, in detail, about the terrible train wreck in Japan and thought of you since you ride them quite a bit.  I do hope you weren't involved with the train driver's mistake and are in good health.


I wasn't on that train, fortunately, but it did make me stop and think a little... but apparently nearly all the trains in Tokyo (the crash happened in the Osaka area) have automated systems that would have slowed the train down automatically irrespective of what the engineer was doing, so in that sense at least, Tokyo seems to be safer than some of the other areas of Japan.  But now that there has been an accident, I'm sure they'll go into high gear on installing the latest safety systems on train lines throughout the country.

I'm not entirely certain, but I think the old JNR (Japan National Railways) system was one where the highly profitable (and very crowded!) main commuter lines in Tokyo were paying for the branch lines out in the countryside.  Since JR was divided into regions though, I think each region is forced to fend for itself.  This is a good thing for Tokyo, but maybe a bad thing for the national rail system as a whole.

Moving - I still haven't properly sorted through some of the accumulation of 16 years that I dragged will me the last time I moved.     [Top of page]

"More, or Less Japanese?"     [Top of page]

(2005/05/12)  A friend from Canada blew through Tokyo on his way back from China, so we met up and I spent the better part of Sunday and Monday showing him places in Tokyo and Yokohama.  It turned out to be far more of an educational experience for me than I had expected!

The main issue was the amount of English in Japan, or more specifically - from my friend's perspective - the lack of it.  This came as a surprise to me, because I've seen what I perceived to be more English use in public places over the past twenty years, and certainly the Yamanote Line is vastly easier for non-Japanese speakers now, with it's dual language displays in the train and the overly nice female voice announcement of each upcoming station and which side to get off from (a normally speaking woman or man would be so much nicer, thinks Lyle), but seeing things from my friend's perspective, I realized that there are quite a few things in the public transportation system that are only in Japanese, including many of the ticket machines and route maps for the train and bus systems.  I got him past that with two purchases though - an "IO" ("In-Out"), card for JR (recently more commonly known as a "Suika" card) and a "Pass-net" card for all other trains in the greater Tokyo area (including all the subways and surface private lines).  With just those two cards, as long as the prepaid amount on them doesn't run out, you can go anywhere in Tokyo by train without stopping to buy tickets.

More than the written word though, people speaking to my friend in Japanese underlined how few tourists there are in Japan these days.  Back in 1984 and 1985, I always had trouble getting people to use Japanese, so when my friend complained to one woman in Chinatown (who was giving him a sales pitch in Japanese) that she would have to speak in English if she wanted him to understand her, I told him, "I've spent twenty years trying to get people to use Japanese...".  Afterwards, it occurred to me that there are probably more long-term Japanese speaking foreigners here now than short-term tourists dropping out of the sky, so no wonder people have gotten used to using Japanese even with foreign faces.

"Flying Back for a Month"     [Top of page]

From: PBU  (Pakistan / UK)
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005  +0100

I was in London for a week, and just came back last night.  I think I can imagine what a busy place Tokyo must be - always dynamic and challenging - and hard to relax in.

I've taken leave for a month, so I can visit my parents in Pakistan.  The flights are booked for all four of us and we're just waiting for the time to come.  This occasion comes every year and we're always eager to visit home.  At the same time, my brother, who lives in Canada, will also travel to Pakistan, along with his wife and kids.

My parents are glad to have both sons visiting at the same time, but for me, it's a matter of pleasure as well as caution - "family politics" are involved here.  My wife and my brother's wife don't get along very well and there have been arguments in the past.  I hope this visit remains peaceful.  We'll try our best to avoid any confrontation... of course, I'll have to support my First Lady, if conflict does arise!


"1994 Wedding"     [Top of page]

The story behind the "1994 Wedding" pictures in the Photo Gallery....  A friend of mine from California got married in 1994, and he and his wife asked if I would photograph it for them.  I said, "Sure, but have other people taking pictures too, as my freestyle photography isn't really geared towards weddings".  They were not only amenable to that, but had already asked someone else to take pictures... which was fine with me, and everything should have been okay, but it began and ended on very bad notes!

First, on the day of the wedding, I was running a little late and, trying to make up time by taking a taxi from the nearest station instead of walking, was unlucky enough to get one of those taxi drivers, who, like some of his fellow drivers in nearly all (all?) parts of the world, does not like driving directly to the destination requested by the paying passenger.  Worse, mine not only pretended to get lost, but when I pulled out a map and began giving him directions(!), at one point he ignored my direct request to turn left (said in the local language) and turned right!  Stupid me, when I (eventually) got out of the car, I smiled and commented on how easy it is to get lost on Tokyo's streets.  But it stayed in mind and the more I thought about it, the more I had to question an honest motive to the driver's actions.  I hasten to say here that I have always had very bad luck with taxi drivers - in the US, in Australia, in Hong Kong, and in Tokyo.  So much so, that I've become somewhat allergic to them and prefer to walk for a couple of hours rather than subject myself to the Russian roulette of taking a taxi.

So - I got to the wedding late, and right away my friend's local friends suggested that my tale of the taxi getting lost was a fabrication; they gave me an apron, saying I had to help with serving the guests; and were generally as nasty and unpleasant as they could jokingly be.  Beginning to feel uncomfortable, I nevertheless smiled back and began to take pictures as I eyed the food and drink that I couldn't touch due to being busy with my camera recording the event.

Just the above would still have been alright, but then for every posed group picture, they would have one of those unpleasant guys (competition the root of their nastiness?) take it and then call me over as though they were calling a dog to dinner, and ask me to take the same thing, just in case.  I did, but this is the one thing I deeply regret from that stormy day.  I should have refused.  I was prepared - both equipment-wise and psychologically - for available light non-posed photography, and since the other guy was already taking flash pictures of the group (I hate, really-really hate that kind of photography!), there was no need for me to waste time and film on that.

Come to think of it... it was a strange day all the way around.  One of my friend's other Tokyo friends got on the nerves of my friend's brother (who had flown in from LA) by stupidly making "Mexican" jokes (my friend is Hispanic) and the brother got revenge by coming on to the Tokyo guy's wife and then pointedly reminding the irritated jokester that he used to be a gang.  The jokester turned into a puppy and smilingly/fearfully tried to placate the obviously stronger man by going belly-up.  Actually, I thought my friend's brother was quite right to be irritated with the idiotic and uncalled for ethnic jokes, but the way he got revenge was a little chilling....

Anyway, after the event, I walked away feeling used, abused, and insulted (by my friend's wife and her two camera-toting friends, not his brother, who I didn't have any problem with myself) and wondering why I had paid Y20,000 for so much unpleasantness!  As a guest, I wouldn't have minded paying - not much anyway - the money is for the food and a gift that everyone is given at the end of the reception, but I wasn't able to eat the food, the gift was cheap, and I spent a bit of money on film and developing on top of the cash at the door.

Like many traumatic experiences, this one has had a lasting aftermath.  In addition to this being the last straw for me regarding taxi drivers (I'll never give them the benefit of the doubt again), I became allergic to attending weddings.  Since then, when acquaintances invite me to a wedding, I pull out my schedule book, ask when the event is, and then, as I look intently at the blank page for that open day (holding the book so only I can see it of course!), I say that I'm sorry, but due to a previous engagement that day, I cannot attend.  (Naturally, I would make an exception to the "no weddings" rule for a close friend, but otherwise, I've had enough.  Anyway, I can't afford to go - they're too expensive, generally costing either Y20,000 or Y30,000.)

The final insult was that my friend and his wife didn't appreciate my photographs... but I like the two of the reception that are in the Photo Gallery.  The woman providing the silhouette in the foreground of both images, by the way, was (still is I presume) the wife of the guitarist/vocalist with the striped shirt.

Speaking of that guitarist... it's not necessarily relevant here, but while I found him to be a generally pleasant human being, once when we were at a drinking place (as part of a group of eight or so), the topic turned to computers (I had just gotten into computers that year and was curious about other people's experiences), and we had the following exchange:

Me: "How much memory does your computer have?"

Guitar Man: "More than yours!"

Me: ... Momentarily speechless with amazement at the sudden illogical proclamation and underlying hostility (I hadn't said how much memory my computer had, and he had no way of knowing).  Semi-recovering speech, I asked, "How...? What...?"

Guitar Man: "I don't know how much I have, but people have told me I have a lot...."

Me: ... Speechless again at the combination of ignorance of the facts and the bravado with which that ignorance was proclaimed....

Actually... this is what I mean by "gaijin disease"... not many visitors to foreign shores are immune and the disease damages their even-keel-logic it seems (see "Gaijin Disease" further down for more on this topic).     [Top of page]

"London, Used Books, India, Etc."     [Top of page]

Subject: (lack of) sleep....
From: RER  (Portugal)
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2005 +0100

I know very well about lack of sleep... This week has been h***.  Lots of work and an extra assignment for a business magazine (which is great actually!).  Yesterday I arrived at work two hours late because I overslept.  I thought my boss was going to kill me!!

Re: "I worked hard at learning as much about photography as I could back when I was a student (and for some years afterwards), and I had this dream that I would take such great pictures that they would magically sell themselves.  Now I see how foolish I was and am much more open to pushing into any opportunity for publishing and networking."

I used to feel the same way when I was a student at art university, but as soon as I started working, I exited the fairy tale and entered the cruel world!  I felt like I worked hard to learn how to draw, paint, and use a computer for illustration - but it was only the first stage.  I used to feel angry when I saw bad illustrations published, thinking, "My work is so much better than this!".  Later I understood you also need to convince people - great pictures don't magically sell themselves, you have to sell them yourself any way you can.  Besides, when we are young, we always think we are the best in the world  :)

Aabbb and I are off to London Saturday morning, but unfortunately it's raining there.  Anyway, it's always great to get out - even for a few days - away from work and daily troubles.


Subject: Re: Color Printing
From: RER  [Portugal]
Date: Sun, 01 May 2005  +0100

The London trip was great.  Aabbb and I went with some friends and also my brother.  Aabbb's brother, who is studying in Paris, met us there so we were a big group of eleven people.  Aabbb and me had already been in London, so we were mostly doing a "tourist tour" to show the city to the others.  The weather was OK, London is a rainy city, so we were lucky.  There were some stressful times for our friends though, because someone was always getting lost from the group.  I'm a very calm person, so it didn't really bother me.  I kept saying "No stress, everyone knows where the hotel is..." but no use!  I guess they are not used to traveling.  I told them: "The worst thing that could happen is getting killed, but thieves only want your wallet, not your life"... they didn't laugh at all  :)

Anyway, this only happened a couple of times, the rest of the trip was wonderful.  It's always nice to get out even for a few days.  On the second day we went from Notting Hill to Big Ben and up to Trafalgar Square and then to Soho.  It was an 11km walk!  I got very tired but it was lots of fun.

The best part was when we got to a used bookstore I already knew about in Portobello Road.  The books were so cheap; I brought two huge bags full of big hardcover books about cartoonists, oriental cooking (for Aabbb), design and even a travel book about Japan (very useful for our upcoming trip!).  I had lots of trouble carrying the books around, and my feet hurt a lot, but they were worth it.  Nowadays, I hardly buy stuff I don't really need, but I can't resist buying books if they are good and not too expensive.  To give you an example - I bought a book on illustration with almost 1000 pages (it's a kind of British illustration portfolio) for 70 cents.  If I had bought it new in Portugal, it would have cost around $35!

When we got back, we took a night flight, so I went to work Tuesday without having slept - so it's been a hard week.  I have to get some rest this weekend!


Subject: Spring
From: RER  [Portugal]
Date: Sun, 01 May 2005 +0100

[Regarding "Spring", in the Photo Gallery.]  The spring pictures are lovely.  Especially the macro one with the white flowers.  The colors are very nice.

In London we went for a picnic in Hyde Park.  The park is huge and it felt really great to see so many trees and animals, like squirrels, crows, ducks and other birds.  I started to feed small birds that were near us, hopping to get some of the food that fell on the ground.  In a few minutes, I was surrounded by them and soon they started to stand on my hands to eat!  Remembering it, I think it was the moment I most enjoyed on the trip....


Subject: Re: Quick note from Sunday Afternoon
From: RER  [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 02 May 2005 +0100

When I travel with Aabbb, I tend to worry only about her safety.  Maybe because I grew up in a hard part of the town near drug dealers, junkies, thieves, etc., I don't get nervous in hard situations.  I think if you keep calm in "bad" situations, you will understand that the situation is never as bad as it seems.

In India, we took a taxi to go to a hotel after arriving by plane.  The taxi driver had a scheme and took us to another hotel (part of the scheme) saying the hotel we asked for was full.  When we got there, the guy at the hotel said that we shouldn't leave because a tourist got his hand chopped off by a thief.  I was really getting scared, but when he said this I thought "This guy is trying to scare us on purpose - there won't be any problem if we leave...".  So we left anyway and there was no trouble at all.  These schemes work the same way everywhere in the world.

The thing I feared the most in that situation was losing my temper.  I was thinking, "This guy must think I'm a stupid tourist" and I was very close to starting to insult him or punching him in the face!  :)

I guess fear is actually the worst thing to have on a trip, because then you won't enjoy it.  The thing is to keep aware of problems that can happen and keep calm when you have to deal with them.  Aabbb and I laugh now about what happened.

RER     [Top of page]

"Bicycle Saga - June 1st 2005"     [Top of page]

(2005/06/01)  As I mentioned in LL-330, in "Folding Bicycle":

(2005/01/18 - After a couple of months, I ended up fixing the flat on the regular bike, so I've been using it again (with the folding bike on the balcony standing by).  I've since come to the conclusion that someone periodically damages bikes at random - I've no idea why....  As of a few days ago, mine (getting increasingly banged up) was still road-worthy.

(2005/06/01) - I spoke too soon!  Not long after the getting the last flat fixed, I noticed that the rim of the front tire was getting black from the brake pads rubbing off on the sides.  I looked at it and wondered why that should happen, and just figured that dust on the rim was acting as an abrasive and wearing down the pads sooner than usual due to that.  That explanation didn't really make sense to me, but I couldn't think of any other reason for it, and since the bike was working fine, I put the question of the blackened rim puzzle with other non-essential unsolved questions on the back burner.

But then back burner status changed to front burner priority the day I discovered the crack in the rim!  The rim is made of an aluminum alloy, and it had a crack running from both edges with just a very narrow uncracked section in the center (where the spokes attach).  Suddenly the reason for the blackened rim was very clear - the rim was very nearly busted in two!  As the brake pads slid over the edge while braking, that edge was catching the rubber and filing it down.

Grrrr....  "That %$%# repairman!" thought I.  I can't remember if I've written about the guy who worked on the bike after the flat I got when I was coming back from Kichijoji... but he was quite rough with the bike, didn't listen to what I told him in the beginning, damaged a part due to that, and then replaced the damaged part for free.  "All's well that ends well" thought I, in spite of the additional irritant of his having gotten grease on the seat and handlebar grips, so I then (stupidly) took the bike back to get the next (front) flat repaired not long after buying the folding bike.  I didn't actually see the man do the work that second time, but he must have been rough with the rim and cracked it, as it was fine before that.

So, for a few weeks after discovering the soon-to-be-broken rim, I rode the bike and nervously watched the center uncracked part of the rim grow thinner still, and I grimaced every time the front wheel hit a bump.  Finally, today, after carrying some fairly heavy groceries back to the apartment (which were in the front basket of the standard-issue J-market bike), I noticed with alarm that the crack was running all the way across!  I don't suppose it's broken completely through, or the two ends of the broken rim wouldn't line up any more, would they?  Even if they would, it's a disaster waiting to happen.  I like to ride a bicycle at speed when I can, and I was beginning to have visions of the rim suddenly breaking in two and sending me flying....

I contemplated the not-inexpensive replacement of the rim, wondering if it was worth pouring more money into that bike.  Not really wanting to, I was nevertheless leaning in that direction, but then I saw a store with some three-speed bikes selling for just Y10,000, so - after asking about a rim at the place where I bought the folding bicycle, and hearing that they don't sell rims, I rode back to the store with the cheap new ones and bought one.  (Maybe a stupid purchase, as now I'm not sure I have enough train fare to actually get to work for the rest of the month).

I rode the new one back with one hand while holding the old bike with my other hand, an exercise not particularly recommended.  If you do it sometime, be careful not to let the handlebars catch on each other - I nearly crashed them that way.  I'm not sure what the adults I passed thought, but I heard a few "Sugoi!" ("Wow!") comments from kids I passed - come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I've seen someone doing that before - somewhere - but I can't remember where or when.

The new bike is not bad, but I was disappointed to discover that, although it's ostensibly the same size as the old one (27-inch), the frame is smaller, so I guess the 27-inch size is simply the wheel size.  The old bike is still useable, so I've got it parked in that oh-so-dangerous bicycle parking lot as a backup in case (hopefully not!) something happens to the new one.  Also, when I have some spare cash, it would be worth fixing for the simple fact that it has a better frame than the one I bought today.     [Top of page]

"Manga in English"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Wed, 04 May 2005

Manga is actually becoming so popular here that it has its own section in Borders, like one would for Science Fiction or Horror.  Not too long ago, they were shrink-wrapped, but now you can flip through them like a paperback.  They also keep the right-to-left pictures.  I flipped through a few of them, but didn't like the translations very much; I don't know, I found the American slang and casual manner jarring and somehow inappropriate, even though I know that the translators have their hands tied.  I've been rereading a couple of the manga I have in Chinese translation, and I find it works much better for me, and doesn't distract me as much.


I know exactly what KCM means - I've not yet seen any translations of Japanese manga into English that I'm comfortable with.  For some English classes I taught several years ago, I used to use pages from Doraemon comic books in classes, assigning one square to each student and asking them to try translating it into English.  In the beginning, people would often protest "But this is a kid's comic!", to which I would reply "It may look easy, but see if you can do it!  Try square #3!  How do you say 'Yappari ne'?" and they would quickly discover that the most commonly used expressions in conversation (of which manga consists of almost entirely) are also some of the most difficult to get into English.  And vice-versa!  The building blocks, philosophy, and basic thinking of English and Japanese are radically different, so translations are no easy matter!  But since much of the Japanese language is based on Chinese - as English is based on Latin - I'm not surprised to hear that Chinese translations of Japanese are smoother reading than English translations.  I was proud of some of the translations I worked out, but still, they never quite "felt" the same as the original Japanese....     [Top of page]

"Fire-Breathing Monster - Good Riddance!"     [Top of page]

(2005/06/11 23:28)  I'm finally going through the process of having my beloved 1984 Honda Prelude turned to scrap.  I paid $440 in parking rent (two late months plus two months in advance), and am about to pay out another $400 or so to have the poor car turned into scrap.  Not happy about all that money flying away towards nothing constructive, but once it's taken care off, I'll finally be free of having to pay for the dirt parking space the car sits on - Yah!!!  The way I feel now, I will never again buy a fire-breathing monster....

"Gaijin Disease"     [Top of page]

Subject: RE: LL-331 & Expo 2005
From: APR  [Portugal]
Date: Tue, 26 Apr 2005 +0100

In LL-331, you said "Tokyo belongs to people from one to thirty-eight, but not to forty-five-year-old Lyle."  Correct me if I am wrong, but according to statistics, aren't most people living in Tokyo over forty?  If so, you just have to look elsewhere!  I mean, Tokyoers of your age and older surely have a life too!  Tell me, have you ever read books foreigners have written about Tokyo and Japan?  What do you think about them?  I wonder if the sensation you have of feeling yourself a guest in Tokyo means you still feel kind of a culture shock when you think about Japanese society.



(2005/06/19 08:18)  It's a good question that APR asks, and I've been thinking about it for the past couple of months now.  I don't have any exact figures for the number of people in Tokyo who are in their forties, but certainly there are a lot.  But they aren't out in the jungle of Tokyo's streets going to movies and wining and dining with other singles.  Certainly there are some single people in their forties, but most of them are married, and so after work, they either go to a restaurant or drinking place with workmates, or go straight home.  The point is, they have places that they go to - in an orderly way - and so are not out in the rough and tumble of the "I wonder how tonight will go?" world of Shibuya.  When I was part of that world, I didn't think much of it, but I do miss the mystery, excitement, and energy of my (now forevermore gone) twenties.

On Thursday, I stepped into an empty pocket of space in a passageway right next to the busiest part of the plaza just outside of Shibuya Station in order to take some pictures (three of which are at the bottom of the "Ome Kaido & The Washing Machine" page).  After taking a few, I noticed a grim-faced middle-aged man heading through the mayhem towards the subway entrance... no, I'm quite certain I'm not the only one who feels this way!

This also touches on one of the things I was surprised to discover about Japan - the issue of respect (or the lack of it) for older people.  The stereotypical imagine many people have had in the West is that older people are respected in Japan.  No.  It's not true!  Just as a man who goes out of his way to hold a door open for a woman may have no genuine respect for women in general, young people who use polite language to older people are not doing so because they respect them - they are just using polite language because that's the custom.  It's a matter of manners, not respect!

Re: "Tell me, have you ever read books foreigners have written about Tokyo and Japan?  What do you think about them?"

Have I "ever"?  Dozens!  Probably more than a hundred!  In the two years leading up to actually coming over here and for several years after that, I used to read every book about Japan that I could get my hands on.  I stopped when the last couple of such books contained nearly nothing that I didn't already know, and what was worse, contained things that I considered to be wrong.  When you've been in a country for five years, what's the point of reading a book about that country written by someone who spent just a couple of years there and - based on that paltry amount of time - suddenly proclaims themselves to be an "expert" on the country?  Naturally, if you've never been to the country, two years of experience seems like a lot, but at this point for me, I've been here about 7,600 days, so - from my perspective - 730 days doesn't seem like much.

This brings up another issue - what I call "gaijin disease" (foreigner sickness).  The whole issue of foreign travel is supposed to be mysterious and exciting, and when someone visits a land that their friends have never been to, they are eager to hear whatever the returned traveler has to say about the place.  Their nonexistent knowledge of the foreign country their friend visited enables them to suspend disbelief and let their friend be the "master" of the subject at hand.  Traveled people having tasted the pleasure of being a "master", try to hang on to their status, regardless of the actual truth of the situation!  So you will regularly (as a rule, not an exception) come across a person who has spent a month or two in a foreign country acting as though they know more about the country than any other biped from their home country - regardless of how much more knowledgeable any one person may be and regardless of how many thousands of extra days that person may have spent in the foreign land.

Re: "I wonder if the sensation you have of feeling yourself a guest in Tokyo means you still feel kind of a culture shock when you think about Japanese society."

No.  I'm quite used to and comfortable with the culture now.  Being in a visually different package, I'll never completely fit in, but that's an issue of whether society is used to me (and my appearance); as for me, I'm used to Japanese society.  In fact, I'm so used to it, that I think I would find it stranger to live in the US now than I do here.     [Top of page]

"Celebrations in Jersey"     [Top of page]

Subject: Celebrations in Jersey
From: PBU  [Pakistan / UK]
Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 +0100

Jersey was occupied by Germany for 100 years, and then liberated to join Great Britain, so today we celebrate 60 years of freedom.  Queen Elizabeth was here today and nearly everyone gathered to welcome her - the citizens of Jersey sitting down and listening to her speech, and this evening we saw plenty of fireworks on the beach, which is just a ten-minute walk from my place.  I'm glad it's my day off! (^_^)

It's a small place, Jersey - 11 x 5 miles, with a population of 85,000, only 15 miles away from France and 100 miles from England, and yet it still remains a part of Great Britain!  During my four-year stay in Jersey, I have witnessed one occasion of flooding during a heavy rainy season, and also witnessed a small earthquake - other than that, it's a peaceful place.  Many people call it boring, but I like it that way.  I'm not into pubs, clubs, discos and noise - I like peace and quiet.


"The Ordinary East"     [Top of page]

I got into a short exchange with someone at an on-line blog/discussion whatever it's supposed to be called and it touched on the aftermath of my meeting a first-time visitor to Japan, who opened my eyes to just how localized I've become.  The last part of the exchange is as follows:

("Perspective" - Mon May 30th, 2005)

There was a point around my 17th year here when I was thinking "This feels almost totally normal... have I gotten that used to everything?" - and then I stopped thinking about it.  Then - at year 20, the experience of spending some time with a two-day-stay friend made me realize that I have, without even realizing it, gotten so used to things here, that it's difficult to imagine how they can seem anything but ordinary.

All of that said, the key to not insulting people here (and/or making them laugh!) is to know the language.  The Japanese and English languages don't translate back and forth very well.  I have an Australian friend here who speaks hardly any Japanese, and he's always running into one kind of wall or another that I'm fairly certain wouldn't be issues at all if he understood and was able to use the local language.

Hmmmm..... so Tokyo and Japan are still exotic after all... and if I don't know that, then I've become exotic too?  Naw... I've just become a freak - neither of the East or the West.

"Roomier Cube"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005

I am currently working on my new article and happily, for this subject, I am talking to fewer PR people.  It's concerning the designer toy culture, and it's really rewarding, in that the people I am talking to are genuinely passionate about their product; it's a subject I've been interested in, and there's a lot of respect for the artists who produce the toys.  So yay on that, but they are not very good about replying in a timely manner.

I have been moved into a roomier, windowed cube.  I cannot tell you how happy I am about the window.  I only wish that the stadium wasn't blocking my view of the ocean!  Oh well, you can't have everything, I guess.  I am trying to make plans for a lot of things; my friend Back will be visiting next week, and she requested a trip to Napa, I am going to try and plan a trip with Aabbb to New Orleans for a couple of days, and my sisters are still deciding on the China thing.  My dad really wants to go to Shanghai, but that city is limited on the tours, so we might not get to see it.  Supposedly it's the most cosmopolitan city - more European, whatever they mean by that.  Aabbb is not doing research for housing - we went to a couple of open houses, but quickly got depressed.  They were selling homes that had to be completely remodeled for close to $1 million dollars.  *sigh*

I haven't been reading as much, which sucks for me, but I want to get some projects started.  I want to do more art, even if no one else is going to see it but me.  Will I succeed?  Who knows?


"Farewell Beloved 1984 Prelude..."     [Top of page]

July 1st, 2005  In "Fire-Breathing Monster - Good Riddance!" I was just focused on freeing myself from the burden of paying Y11,000 a month for a parking spot, but now that I've gone through the legal issues and Y30,000 cost of having the car taken off my hands (a little less than I had expected), I'm feeling not so good about the thought of my old beloved car being ripped to pieces in a gigantic shredding machine, which is its likely fate (I'll probably never know for certain).  It would be great if someone saw the car and decided to get it back on the road - saving it from destruction, but it's not likely....

The day the final paperwork was completed and I cancelled the contract for the outdoor dirt parking space, I was elated at the thought that I'll have an extra Y11,000 per month to spend now, but as the days pass, I remember what a great car it was to drive - picture myself driving down the road in it with the windows and sunroof open - and I don't like the idea of it being shredded at all!  It's such a waste, but this is the land of "nearly no old cars", so... that's just the way it is... I guess.... sob....

"Double Exposures, Etc."     [Top of page]

Subject: Showa Kinen Park
From: RER  [Portugal]
Date: Tue, 17 May 2005

I just saw your new pictures from Showa Kinen Park.  The park looks wonderful.  Where is it situated?  I'd really like to visit it when I come to Japan.

I was amazed when I read someone would have to pay to get through the gates; it would never happen in Portugal or anywhere in Europe.  But after a while, I started thinking that if some parks here did have a pay-to-enter system (even a small fee) they would be much better treated than they are.  I guess people don't appreciate what is public use and have the tendency to trash it.  It really bothers me... cities could be great places if people wouldn't act like animals :)


Showa Kinen Park is on the western side of Tokyo, so it would be easy to visit.  Just take the Chuo Line out to Nishi-Tachikawa and it's right in front of Nishi-Tachikawa Station.  (Be sure to use an Ome-bound train though as the line splits at Tachikawa.)

I also didn't really like paying to enter at first, but when I see how some of the free parks are suffering from misuse, I'm quite happy to pay for the pleasure of being in a very clean and protected park.  The entrance fee also provides money for more people to maintain the park and the fact that it's a walled and gated park and everyone must leave by about 5:00 prevents anyone from using it like a campground.  By way of contrast, Ueno Park has many homeless people living in it.  I feel sorry for their situation, but they do largely ruin the park with trash, smell, blankets draped over the bushes, etc.

[A question from another letter]: "Your new (old) pictures are great! I love the effect of the train picture. Did you use the film twice double exposing it to get the effect?"

I'm glad you like those!  Yes, those are double exposures - created within the camera.  The way I did it was to use a Nikon FM2, which has a small lever by the film advance lever - when you hold the small lever as you're rewinding the shutter (which usually also advances the film), the film stays exactly where it is and only the shutter is rewound.  In this way, you can take as many exposures as you like on the same frame of the negative.  Another way is to load in the film and then when you finish, be careful not to fully rewind it, so with a little bit of film sticking out of the can, you can then reload the film and take more pictures.  The disadvantage of doing it this way is that you have to not only remember what you took for the first 36 pictures, but also there's the danger of the film not being loaded in at exactly the same place, so the frames end up not matching each other.  Nevertheless, if your camera doesn't allow double-exposures the way the Nikon FM2 does, it is a way to get the same effect.  (Remember to halve the exposure time since it's going to be exposed twice!  The easiest way being to set the ISO rating for a film with half as much sensitivity.)     [Top of page]

"The Cost of Hardware & Software"     [Top of page]

(2005/07/06)  A few years ago, I helped a friend of a friend get set up with a used Hitachi computer-within-the-monitor type of machine that is a pretty nice design space-wise, as the flat screen monitor isn't made too much thicker by having the computer built-in behind it.  From what I've been able to find out, this model was only sold directly to companies and was not available to the general public.  (This is one advantage to buying used computers actually - you can get machines for cheap that were designed to be a little more rugged than some of the junk they market to general consumers.)

Anyway, I've forgotten how much that first Hitachi cost, but the woman I set it up for used it for the past three years with W-98 in it.  Then she got broadband and - naturally - the W-98 system ended up getting totally mucked up via friendly Internet hackers.  So... she decided that she wanted to upgrade the machine to either W-2K or W-XP.  Since the machine only had a 300MHz CPU, we decided that W-2K was the more realistic option of the two.

So, I went to the used shops and started looking around.  One shop was selling W2K (new version, sold legitimately) for Y12,900 and - lo-and-behold - they also had a newer version of one of those cool Hitachi computers... for Y12,800 with the original Product Recovery CD for W-98SE.  The machine had a 900MHz CPU and a 20GB HDD, so I figured that it made more sense to get the hardware than the overpriced software.

All well and good, but W-98 was an accident waiting to happen, so my friend (friend's friend actually, but allow me to just call her my friend) decided to buy an upgrade version of W-XP, which she was able to for about Y15,000.  So now - with the overpriced software (insanely costing more than the difficult and expensive to manufacture hardware!), the total price of the machine was up to Y27,800, which is still tolerable, if highly irritating (why Y15,000 for the cheap "Home" edition of an "Upgrade" version of W-XP?), but when the price of MS-Office was factored in, it was beyond what my friend was able to pay.  (This goes beyond principles when someone is struggling to pay their bills - it's not that she didn't *want* to buy it, but that she *couldn't*.)

So - OpenOffice to the rescue!  She was doubtful due to the absence of cost (it is strange that the most expensive item in the combination of costs for her to be on the Internet is the component of the lowest quality!), but after I installed the most recent Pre-2.0 J-version (1.9.109), typed out a few lines and printed it out, she began to be a believer.  ("Can you choose the fonts?" she asked.  Aai-ya-yai... the amount of the total picture she sees is so small!)

OpenOffice not only saved her from being robbed of yet more money by a certain robber-baron company, but in fact made the difference between her being able to use the computer for her business in a timely fashion or having to wait a month for some more cash to come in.  Thank you Sun Microsystems!  Thank you OpenOffice developers!

To sum up?  It's my contention that when hardware manufactures are having a hard time turning a profit on sales of their machines, but a certain robber baron software monster is raking in money hand over fist... something is very wrong!

Push on OpenOffice Team!  May we somehow safely navigate the minefield of "software patents" that the robber barons are laying!     [Top of page]

"Losing a Friend"     [Top of page]

From: MSY  [Malaysia]
Date: Tue, 17 May 2005

Glad to know that you were not on that train and neither were any of your friends!  A friend of mine died recently - just about a month after finding out that she had a brain tumor.  What saddens me the most is that there were absolutely no signs or symptoms at all.  Two years ago we started hanging out and clubbing on weekends just for a change.  We don't normally do that, but we thought "What the heck - life is short and we might as well start living life as it should be lived!".  We found it fun to get all dressed up on weekends, go bar hopping, meeting friends (those who do go out a lot were very surprised to see us doing it suddenly), late dinners, etc....

Anyway, she went in for a checkup and they found she had a tumor in her brain.  What I don't understand, is that she felt nothing, there were no signs and apparently it has been there for quite some time.  Needless to say, all our outings were stopped and she became depressed.  She decided to go for an operation which the doctor here said was not really necessary... for now that is!  Determined to get rid of the tumour, she went to the city and had the operation there.  She was fine for about two weeks and then she suddenly collapsed.  They found that she couldn't use her legs anymore, she went blind in one eye and eventually went into a coma and never woke up after that.

We were told that if she did not go for the operation, her chances of living would have extended for maybe a few more months or possibly years.  Going for the operation made everything worse.  In fact, the doctor here (one of the best in the country) who found the tumour in her, was very upset.  He had said that her chances of living a long life were very slim due to the tumour being quite large, but since she didn't have any symptoms or pain, she should have left it alone.  She decided to get a second opinion, and the second doctor who checked her, told her that she would live longer with an operation to get rid of the tumour.  Unfortunately, the choice of wanting to live longer won and she did the operation.  The doctor must have done something wrong, because she couldn't walk and was blind in one eye and she died in less in a month.

I asked around and the first thing most doctors or interns asked me was whether she had an operation to take the tumour out.  When I told them she did - all they said was, "Sorry, no hope then."  I am wondering if everyone already knows that having an operation is going to make things worse - then why do some doctors still do it?  For money?  Her family spent a lot of it.  When she collapsed, they took her to a private hospital (the one where they had found the tumour).  They told the family that all they could do was wait for her to come out of the coma.  Since it was a very expensive hospital; they didn't know how long she would have to be there, and funds were getting low, they finally took her to a public hospital, which provides free care and low-cost medicine.

The public hospital told the family that nothing could be done for her, as it was too late (at least they were honest) and told them exactly how long she had left, unlike the private hospital.  The public hospital was right in their prediction of there being only two days left.  If the family had not taken her out of the private hospital, they would have incurred more expenses from all the unnecessary checking and consultations.  They could have told the family members what the public hospital did.  During her last stay at the public hospital, they told the family that they could take her home, because there was nothing that could be done, except wait for the time to come, and they could do that at home.

Oh well, this is one of the reasons why I hate the human race sometimes.  Why, why can't everybody be honest, sincere and just be nice.  Why must there be greedy, cruel and selfish people around?

MSY     [Top of page]

"One Semi-Free Washing Machine"     [Top of page]

It all started with an e-mail from a member of a computer user group I belong to - he stated that he was moving and had some old computer parts he would be happy to give to someone, as well as a washer and dryer to sell for cheap.  When I expressed interest in the washing machine (in addition to some of the computer parts), he asked me how I would move it.  "I would have to rent a truck" I replied.  This man is organized and quick, and he offered to give me the machine for free if I would help him out a little with moving a few of the larger things from his old apartment to the new one with the truck, before I hauled the washing machine over to my apartment.

And that's exactly what happened.  I rented a pickup truck early in the morning on a Friday, and then promptly got lost - driving down a main street in the far left lane trying to look at the map.  I decided I should turn left... and just after that noticed "Buses Only - 7:00 - 9:00 a.m." painted in the lane I was in....  Oops... but the lane next to  me (on the right) was full and I wanted to turn left anyway....  The next street looked too narrow to turn down... and so did the next... and then I came upon a team of about ten policemen waving at me to stop.  Oops....  I explained the situation to some doubtful looks, but - perhaps because the facts matched my story - my driver's license indicated I lived in a different part of town, I was driving a rent-a-truck, and I had a nearby address in my shirt pocket that I was looking for - I was obviously not trying to cheat by speeding around other cars, etc.  So, I got off with a verbal warning.  (Thank you officers!  I greatly appreciate your understanding my predicament!)  After several apologies for my lapse, I was on my way, and after making a few more wrong turns, finally I arrived at the man's apartment.

We moved a few of the biggest things, including his refrigerator and sofa (surprisingly the sofa was far more difficult to move than the refrigerator) and took a break over at the new apartment, which is nicer than his old one (both his former and new apartments are much nicer than my current one - at correspondingly higher prices).  While we looked out at the new scenery soon to become the daily view for him, we talked of technology and whatnot, with him doing most of the talking.  I would have said more, but his level of technical knowledge regarding programming and whatnot, is quite a bit higher than mine.  Hardware is something I would have been talking more about, but programming I don't have much to say about!

After making a few trips back and forth and moving the largest things, we drove over to a local restaurant with a parking lot (not far from Nakano Station) and had a leisurely lunch, with me looking nervously at the clock in my cell phone towards the end, as I still had to drive across town with the washing machine, unload it, get the truck back to the rent-a-car place, and get to work by 7:30 p.m.  But after driving him back to his apartment(s), things worked out well.

In contrast with the way I got lost in the morning, I actually didn't make any mistakes when driving across town and back.  I turned at the right places, bought gasoline at a convenient place along the way, and got back to the rent-a-car place in time to stop down the street and take some photos of the truck, including how the back sides fold down to create a flatbed truck (see photos halfway down the page, here).

How is the new washing machine?  Good.  There's quite a difference between a ten-year-old machine and a three-year-old one.  The new one has a stainless steel tub, larger capacity, and better electronics.  As for the "free" cost.  If I had money to spend, I think I might have been better off just buying a squeaky-new one, but when you don't have money to spend, spending time and effort to get something is the only other option.  What makes the machine less cheap (the man paid for most of the rental fee for the truck BTW) are the disposal costs involved in getting rid of the old one.  It's not easy to throw things away these days!     [Top of page]

"Wine Tasting"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Wed, 25 May 2005

We had a good weekend.  My friend Bbccc came to visit and we drove up to Sonoma for some wine tasting.  Wine, to me, is a mystery.  I do not understand why it's considered more sophisticated than say, beer, or why people get so pretentious about it, talking about how x wine has "a fruity flavor with a hint of herbs and you can taste a whole garden in here".  I truly do not get it.  But I do like some wines; it's just really hard to describe the flavor I like.

It was a gorgeous day.  We drove along the Golden Gate Bridge, and up through Marin.  It's beautiful this time of year - we've had a lot of rain, so the hills were bright green, and flowers popped up everywhere.  We had lunch at a restaurant recommended by Rachael Ray.  Rachael Ray is the host of a couple of cooking shows on cable, and she has a travel show where she spends $40 a day on food in various locations.  So basically, she's getting paid to eat and travel.  How good a job is that?  On this episode, she recommended a place that served gnocchi, which is one of my favorite Italian dishes.  I ordered it, and it was very, very good.

We stopped at the Sebastiani winery, where we were helped by a Vegas-y older woman.  Our group was the youngest at any spot we stopped.  I guess wine tasting is usually for a much older crowd.  The Sebastiani winery was kind of dark inside.  We didn't really try any wines that stood out.

Afterwards we stopped by the Nicholson winery.  It was nicer than the Sebastiani one, I thought, because it was flooded with light.  There were lots of windows and we could see what we were drinking.  It had a very welcoming atmosphere, and we liked one of the wines there.  Aabbb bought an Estate Chardonnay that was kind of sweet and fruity.  We were served by this handsome older man who kept sort of flirting with me and Bbccc, which I found kind of off-putting.  I mean, I know it's supposed to be complimentary when a guy says things like, "I'm always biased towards pretty girls", but generally it creeps me out.  I don't know; maybe I'm oversensitive and I don't know how to properly flirt back.  I'd really rather people talk to me like a normal person.


"Busy Train Stations"     [Top of page]

Subject: train photos
From: RER  [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005 +0100

I saw your new pictures. The ones of the train stations are really great, especially the top ones with the reflected motion.  I have to confess I got a little scared imagining Aabbb and me in those stations in rush hour when we visit later this year.  The stations are huge and I imagine they are really crowded when rush hour comes.  About standing on the right on the escalators, it's the same in London.  On the other hand, I've never seen it in Portugal or France, so I guess it has to do with mentalities.  British people and probably Japanese take these kinds of things more seriously....


The train stations can be a bit scary in a way when you first get here.  One of my older students (an aikido master), who has lived in Tokyo his whole life and is completely used to it, laughed as he told me about a news story he'd seen.  There was an Indian couple who were visiting Japan with their child, and apparently the husband got separated from them in Shinjuku Station, wandered around for a couple of hours looking for them, and finally went to the police station (within Shinjuku Station) in tears.  The wife and child were found safe and sound, so it had a happy ending, but the aikido master thought it was really funny how the station was so disorienting to the group that the man got lost and ended up crying in despair!  I never had anything that dramatic happen to me, but Shinjuku Station has (or so I've read a few times) the largest number of people passing through it every day of any station in the country!  Wait a minute - let's get some numbers here... [Internet search]... Here we are!  According to a site I just accessed:

"Handling more than two million passengers each day, Shinjuku Station is Japan's busiest railway station, served by six railway companies and about a dozen railway and subway lines, including the JR Yamanote Line."

Two million a day!  It is a lot!  But don't worry!  Just be sure to always have a map, always have a phone number or two, and have the place you want to go to written down - people here often have stronger reading skills than speaking.  Incidentally, are you going to try renting a cell phone while here?  It's not essential, but it could make things easier.

"Immigration"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Tue, 31 May 2005

Even though a lot of things have been settled and worked out, there are some kinks to my aunts and uncles staying here.  All of them are here legally, after years of wrangling with the government on my mom's part, lots of money exchanged, some legitimately, some not.  I'm tempted to describe what my relatives are going through as a kind of culture shock, but they seem to be unnerving my parents more than they are unnerved.  My sisters and I are suffering a bit of culture shock as well, as we find out exactly how sexist Chinese social norms are.

The legal things: We needed sponsors in order to bring our relatives over.  At first my parents intended to use our sisters as sponsors, but they objected because the responsibility was so huge, and also, they didn't know these relatives.  We never saw them, never spoke with them on the phone, and my mother was the one who took care to send pictures and letters back to China, but wasn't very good about updating us.  My sisters didn't want the financial burdens.  You're essentially tied to this person and his/her family for five years legally and financially, longer if s/he doesn't obtain citizenship within those first five years.

There were two ways.  One is the morally icky marriage-for-citizenship way, which I've seen a couple of people do.  It can work if you set up the addresses the right way, and reach an agreement on money.  It's faster than waiting for a sponsor and is less hassle.  The person without citizenship status has to be married for at least three years before she (usually it's the wife) can apply for citizenship.  Meanwhile, the married couple may be subject to INS investigations in which embarrassing, invasive questions are asked, such as "What sexual position do you prefer?" or "How many times do you do it?" or "Exactly how big are the rooms in your house?"  This aspect kind of reminds me of the Angel Island days, when Chinese people were delayed entry into the U.S. for months, sometimes years by being kept at Angel Island.  In order to leave, immigration investigators would ask questions to test the truthfulness of the would-be immigrant - "How many steps does your house in China have?"  "Who is your father?"  Many Chinese would bring false papers and memorize those.

A few of my aunts and uncles did not get legally married in China.  When one immigrated here and obtained his green card, then he would go on a trip back to China, and marry his common-law wife.  (I'm talking real marriages here, not sham ones.)  Thus, once he went back to the US, he could help his wife and any children immigrate here in a shorter amount of time than he would have if they had been married already before they came.  This method strikes me as better than the marriage-for-convenience, because it really takes years off the process, and it guarantees that the family will be kept together.

The other method is what my mom did, which is paying people to sponsor my aunts and uncles.  I don't know how much the sponsors get paid, but they must have a steady income, and be willing to take responsibility if the immigrants gets sick, gets in trouble with the law, becomes a financial burden, etc.  It's not something to be taken lightly, at all.  But sometimes it seems as if the immigrants don't realize exactly how much of a burden they're being.  Several have been here for years, but have made no attempt to gain citizenship, and don't seem to realize that they're NOT going back to China.  They've made enough efforts to gain their drivers' licenses, though, and this is often a source of contention between my sisters and my parents.

Once the relatives arrive, than we either have to enroll them in school, if they're young enough, or find them jobs.  My mom once said, "There is no such thing as no jobs.  It's only what you're willing to do."  Consequently, my parents found jobs for everyone within two weeks.  This is great, because now they have their own spending money, and they can get out of people's hair for at least part of the week.  What my parents (and I) didn't count on were all their weird personality quirks.  My dad complained about one of my uncles calling China and talking to people until 1 or 2 at night, every single day.  One of my aunts cannot keep from staring at me and my sisters and admonishing us about how much our mom loves us.  She has nothing to say otherwise.  She also stared at me and Aabbb while we were trying to say goodbye to each other once.  God, that was really uncomfortable.  We wanted to give each other a quick kiss, but that proved impossible as she didn't stop watching us from the front door until he left.

We also didn't count on the blatant sexism.  Or laziness of the uncles.  My mom remarked once that she didn't know why Grandma's sons turned out so lazy.  My grandmother indulges the whims of all her sons.  One of them, when asked to pick up his daughter from elementary school, called around asking one of the other aunts to do it for him, even though they only lived two minutes' walk from the school.  The young male cousin, Ccddd, does not know how to deal with headstrong women, so he ignores us.  My sisters offer to take all the cousins places, to the park, to the mall, to visit some landmarks, etc, but usually Ccddd refuses if my most outspoken sister is going.  The female cousin, Ddeee, is constantly berated by my grandmother, and has to cook and clean while Ccddd watches TV all day.  I felt really sorry for her, since she didn't get to go to high school.  She worked instead so her mother wouldn't worry so much.

It's interesting contrasting the uncles with my dad.  My dad picked us up from school on all his days off; he was the one who took me to doctor's appointments, encouraged us in our schooling, cooked for us, and drove us to different places if we needed it.  I can't really see my uncles doing any of that stuff.  My sister tells me that when my oldest sister was born, he was so proud that he took her out into the fields to show her off.  This was back in war-torn China, when most girls were considered only as an extra mouth to feed and another dowry to pay.  I feel pretty lucky in having the kind of father I do; compared with other Chinese fathers, he made a concerted effort to be a part of our lives.

It's difficult for me to write this letter without acknowledging that immigration, as a whole, is a very complex issue, and that these experiences aren't universal.  Aabbb comes from a first-generation immigrant family, too, but he says that his family's experiences seemed to be a lot smoother and less drama-filled than my family's were.  I bet that within the next week I will think up a whole lot of things I didn't address and smack myself for forgetting.  But I hope this may shed some light on what is a long, drawn-out, and confusing process for both sides.

KCM     [Top of page]

"Palacio de Cristal"     [Top of page]

From: RER  [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005 +0100

I was surprised to find (some time ago but forgot to tell you) some pictures of Porto on the LL website! The picture with the river (last one) was taken in a place called "Palacio de Cristal" (Crystal Palace).  It's a lovely park with a big pavilion where they do several activities (at the moment there's a "book fair" there).  They also have concerts and theater in the park, and they recently built a new library there.  It really is a very enjoyable place to spend the day, even if it is just to walk in the park and enjoy the view of the river and the town.


The page with those photos was my first (and only to date) attempt to have a sort of LL-Photos version of the LL-Letters.  If people are interested in that idea and send me a few photos, I'll try putting them together and onto a page at the site. - Lyle

"Learning to Read"     [Top of page]

From: KCM  [US]
Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005

In other news, my trip to China has been cancelled.  My sister is being scheduled for jaw surgery, and she'll probably have to do it this year.  I'm hoping that maybe I can just travel myself somewhere else.

Do you have any advice for me trying to teach my 8-year-old cousin English?  I am trying to get her to improve.  She currently reads at the first grade level, and I want to work with her this summer.  She's a good kid, but the biggest problem I have with her is the fact that she doesn't try.  I'll ask her to pronounce a word, and she'll look at it and say, "I don't know", "I give up" and I have to goad her into reading.  I don't know how to work around it.


I'm sorry to hear about the cancelled China trip.  I was looking forward to hearing what you had to say about that trip!

Teaching an eight-year-old English (or any other second language)... there's no simple and sure way to do it, but exposure is the key really.  One thing that might be good is to get an old junky PC with a clean install of W-98 (and never-never-ever-ever-ever use the machine on the Internet!!) which you may well be able to get for free, and then install the old original versions of the "Living Books" on it via "Virtual-CD" software (so the programs don't have to run off of the CD).  Those old ones are really cool and make it fun to read and to learn to read.  The original company seems to be have been bought out by another company, and the new ones are either damaged or of very poor quality... or at least that's been my experience!

Well, that's it for 333!  I won't even say that I hope to get the next one out sooner.  I'll get it out when I can, but I have no idea exactly how long that will take!  Until then,

Sore dewa!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
July 11th, 2005
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