1. GUMF


20061128

Bang Bang Kissinger Kissinger

Henry Kissinger: worth reading to the end. A male pill, but will men take it?

20061126

4987

I see the counter at the bottom of this web page is ticking over nicely, and would like to reward regular readers with a special competition. Being the, ahem, generous fellow that I am (cough), I'm willing to offer a special mystery prize to the 4,987th person to click onto this website. That's right a mystery prize, so mysterious even I don't know what it is yet. All you need to do is send a screen shot of the page showing the counter at the bottom of this site on 4,987 to elliottsamuels[at]hotmail.com (this is my spam email account; spammers feel free to contact me here as often as you like) as well as your name and postal address, and I'll gladly send you something small from Japan. It could be a silly toy, it could be a grey hair from some salaryman on the Yamanote Line - you simply don't know. Neither do I. But whatever the prize might entail, you can bet it's going to knock your socks off... This offer is not extended to anyone currently living in Vinh, Rangiora or Roppongi. Sorry, thems the rules!

Lunar Landscapes

Tokyo Icon

Every Japanese person I have ever met has waxed lyrical about the childhood memories of Tokyo Tower. After living in the capital for a couple of years, I think I can safely say that this heart-felt love of a steel object -- the highest man-made construction in Japan -- boils down to its role as the backdrop to various climatic scenes in film and TV. It is painted in white and international orange according to air safety regulations.

20061125

Book End

Quickeze (links of interest)
Notable Books.

20061124

Say For Today

Quickeze (links of interest)

From News of the Weird: In October, The Washington Post reported the growing movement among psychiatrists to call compulsive buying a separate, identifiable disorder and recounted this 62-year-old "shopaholic's" therapeutic conversation with herself: "I would say (to the jewelry she felt compelled to buy), 'You are so beautiful, I can't live without you, I love the way you sparkle.' The jewelry would say back, 'You need me. You look pretty when you wear me.' I would say, 'I do need you. I can't possibly think of being without you. But something has to change. I need to stop this. I can't afford a penny more.'" The patient said she eventually came to believe that her compulsion stemmed from her relationship with her mother. [Washington Post, 10-13-06] Welcome to Japan, land of the rising shopping complexes (a.k.a. malls).

20061123

The Bull Must Die

Quickeze (links of interest)
Physics Myths.

NOT BULL: A Bluffer's Guide to Tokyo Trains. Useful for advice for anyone who isn't familiar with the metropolitan metro system. Be familiar with this and you can't go wrong -- until you get confused by split-level gates for different lines at the same station! In this case remember the following easy rule: ticket machines will always be nearest the line they service. Also, never exit a ticket gate at a station until you know which exit you should be at (ie. follow the signs). Even though you may be changing train lines (from JR to Oedo, for example), you might not even need to leave the station. When in doubt, use the friendly fare adjustment machine (also located near the gates), or ask a nasal-throated rail official at a desk near the gates.

Personally, I think the metro system in Tokyo is pretty straight forward when all said and done. I have only ever run into a problem on the train when I've fallen asleep and completely missed my stop. Last piece of advice: Never sit down if you think for a second you will slip into the land of Nod. If you do, at least set the alarm clock on your mobile! It might piss your fellow passengers off but it's better than waking up 10 kilometers past your station and having to fork out loads of cash for a taxi back because you were on the last train. It's happened to me three times -- and you think I would have learnt my lesson by now!

Simon, care to add anything? A Pixie Caramel?

Editor's Note: Bulls are colour blind and, thus, the common belief that bulls hate the color red is untrue.

20061122

Crazy Busy (A Japanese Greeting)

Quickeze (links of interest)
How to eat sushi (thanks Thomasina). Sprout Bashing (thanks Giles). Persistant Sexual Arousal Syndrome (thanks Judit). Bad Boys Stick Together... Never!

ALSO: Random links associated with my present state of existence: Flat out; Up to my Eyeballs; Busy as a bee; Time and tide waits for no man; Crazy busy.

20061119

The Day After

Quickeze (links of interest)
Book Smells. Mother of Invention (thru 1+1=3). Reverse Dictionary (thru Blizzard Boy). Something Dot Com. Colour Schemes. Tight Schedule? The Modern Excuse for Avoiding the Question. How to Regain Control of a Spooked Camel (thru Incoming Signals).

20061115

Winging It

Quickeze (links of interest)
Modern Lovers.

20061114

Autumn Was Made For Bikes

Meguro, Tokyo

20061112

Sunday Japon

Quickeze (links of interest)
Blinky Townsend. Young Authoritarians. Corkscrew Landings. Dog Technologies.

20061109

A Headline Writer's Wet Dream

Quickeze (links of interest)
Well 'aint that a turn-up for the books: Cliche Day.

20061107

To Die Another Day (or Tomorrow)

Quickeze (links of interest)
Playing Dead. Death Note.

Editor's Note: Actually, I watched the first Death Note movie quite by accident the other day and was quite taken by the script. Much of the acting was terribly over dramatic and there were several gaping holes in the plot that could have been plugged with a little more attention to detail, but it was in general an enjoyable watch and I was a tad disappointed when the ending was left up in the air (or at least until the second film hits theaters in Japan this month). If nothing else, it certainly made me want to track down the original manga on which it is based. Watch this page.

20061106

Yokohama (Dusk View)


Skyline
Originally uploaded by upstairsforthinking.
Minato Mirai, Yokohama, Japan

Minato Mirai (Light View)


Night Horizon
Originally uploaded by upstairsforthinking.
Yokohama, Japan

20061104

Lee Scratch Perry & Adrian Sherwood

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Adrian Sherwood playing together live in Japan for the first time. Hard to believe these roots masters - and by this I mean Scratch - are still playing gigs at their age but I certainly don't begrudge them anything. U-Roy, Jah Shaka, Lee Scratch et al - they still got it in spades. Their eardrums must be shot to pieces though...

Lee Scratch Perry Live

Liquidroom, Ebisu, Tokyo

Adrian Sherwood Live


Adrian Sherwood Live
Originally uploaded by upstairsforthinking.
He is, really. He was just moving an awful lot.

Liquidroom, Ebisu, Tokyo

The Nerve Center of Sound

Liquidroom, Ebisu, Tokyo

Hormone Hotpot


Hormone Hotpot
Originally uploaded by upstairsforthinking.
Shin-okubo (Korean Town), Tokyo

Web Above The World


Web Above The World
Originally uploaded by upstairsforthinking.
An eight-legged groove machine?

Shiroganedai, Tokyo

Before Asobi

Quickeze (links of interest)
Supply Column 21. Bedtime Stories.

20061101

The Case of the Nap with Cholera

Quickeze (links of interest)
A mid-nineteenth-century English newspaper report described victims who were “one minute warm, palpitating, human organisms—the next a sort of galvanized corpse, with icy breath, stopped pulse, and blood congealed—blue, shrivelled up, convulsed.” Through it all, and until the very last stages, is the added horror of full consciousness. You are aware of what’s happening: “the mind within remains untouched and clear—shining strangely through the glazed eyes . . . a spirit, looking out in terror from a corpse.” – Cholera. ALSO: “In an anti-sleep culture, taking a nap lets you feel that you've stolen a little piece of the day just for yourself.”

2. HOT OFF THE PRESS


Boxed Into A Corner

Tokyo, Japan– More than two-dozen cardboard boxes were taken into police custody this morning as investigators from the National Fraud Squad scrambled to trace the present whereabouts of investment funds worth ¥7 billion that went missing from the Social Security Centre’s weekly bingo kitty last week.

Investigators suspect that one of the cardboard boxes now in custody concealed the funds during a regular stationary inventory before walking out of the building through the front door after passing through a handful of security checks undetected.

A spokesperson from the Fraud Squad would not divulge any information regarding the expected duration of the boxes’ stay.

“There are many issues we need to address before we simply let them go,” said Detective Sugimoto. “ The first question we want answered is: Where is the money?”

No cardboard boxes were believed to have been drenched with water during their ordeal.

3. ARCHIVES


The Significantly Grumpy Italian Waitress

(Fish & Chip Jokes for Beginners)

Sometimes you encounter a person with a real chip on their shoulder, sometimes they seem to have an entire scoop.

“Do you have any pineapple rings?” I asked the broody waitress as she made a note of my drink order – beer – but as this was an Italian-style pizza establishment I doubted whether she understood the joke.

“Sorry but we only have pizza,” she replied with a snarl, “With cheese or without?”

It was a limited menu but one that made cents – in both senses of the word. There were four of us, so we decided to really chance our arm and order one of each.

As we waited, the waitress muttered something that sounded like “Last drinks!” but we decided to decline her kind offer, as we were a little embarrassed to take further advantage of her generous hospitality.

Ironically, the Cheese Pizza arrived before its cheese-less counterpart and we were just debating how to attack the steaming rings of dough when the waitress came over and told us very matter-of-factly that it tastes better if eaten when piping hot.

“But–,” started my companion, as he sought to draw attention to what was missing from the table.

“No buts,” the waitress snapped. “Eat them while they’ve still got some fire left in their belly.”

“But,” continued my companion, ignoring her specific request, “it would help us to have a knife or something to cut the pizza into smaller pieces. There are four of us after all.”

The waitress was tall to begin with but she drew herself up to be her full height and towered above the table like Roppongi Hills at dusk. She stood as all matriarchal woman stand when they want to make sure their statement is clearly understood, which seemed surprisingly natural from a person who looked to be pushing thirty-two. She wiped her hands on a grubby apron before placing both on her hips.

“All you had to do was ask,” she finally blurted out, and with that she turned on her heels and disappeared in a trail of table dust. A few loud thumps could be heard resounding from the kitchen and by the time she returned, the pizzas were looking decidedly cold and forlorn.

“Remember to pay at the counter on your way out,” she said as she placed the knife on the table, looking at the four of us as if she knew we were planning to sneak out the bathroom window between our dessert and digestive. She might have been unfriendly to the point of being rude but her intuition was pre-programmed to foil such plots long before they occurred.

“Have you got any vinegar?” I gulped, unable to restrain myself from a last subtle dig. My companions looked at me with a mixture of horror and disbelief.

“We close in twenty minutes,” she said bluntly. “If I were you, I’d get a move on.”

And believe you me, we did.

Mental Note to Self: Fish & Chips always taste better by the sea; save Italian for Italy.

copyright elliott samuels [08/01/07]

The Piece of Paper

It was a day like none other, a Hanoi day. I was standing in a grubby police station near my house. The man I suspected I needed to talk to was fast asleep under his desk. He was using a plastic shoe as a pillow. A copy of the latest Newsweek rested on his nose.

I had come down to the station to report the loss of a piece of paper. Not just any piece of paper, but the immigration form I filled out when I arrived at Noi Bai international airport. Alongside your passport, this yellow piece of paper is one of the single most important pieces of paper you will ever receive in Vietnam. I mean, you will get other fairly meaningless pieces of paper – tickets, bills, love letters and so forth – but your immigration form is of utmost importance. Lose this and you will not be allowed to leave the country – even if you are deported.

So important is this piece of paper that should you lose it you are expected to head down to your local police station and report it missing. The boys in peach are expected to file a written statement on the matter. And that’s just what I had gone to do.

But I had made the fatal mistake of going a little bit too early. It’s common in Vietnam for people to take a nap after lunch. Something to do with assisting the digestion process, I believe. Try to do anything during this period of the day and you will only be met with a solid wall of open mouths (a little bit like that revolving head game at the fairground, minus the clowns). Even if you do manage to stir someone from their slumber, they will generally only be able to point outside and mumble something that sounds like, “what does it look like I’m doing?”

Anyway, in my case (actually case number CSGT/197608327-11-03) I was fortunate because the policeman woke as I stood there, uncertain of my next move.

“What do you want nephew?” the rotund man asked. He had definitely had one too many banh baos, the local version of a meat pie.

“I lost my customs form,” I replied, taking a step towards the desk that, just moments ago, was used as an incubator.

“Lost it, huh?” the man asked. “What were you doing?”

I thought briefly about telling him the full story, that my immigration form had actually been lost by my embassy, which perhaps should have known better in such circumstances. But I merely shrugged my shoulders and pursed my lips together in mock confusion.

“Nothing.”

“You should be more careful,” the policeman retorted.

I had been anticipating a comment such as this. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my time in this godforsaken country it’s never ask an older person for help and expect to avoid a lecture.

“I understand,” I said. “Want do I need to do?”

“You must fill out these,” he said, and threw three forms in front of me.

“So you’re telling me that I have to fill out three pieces of paper to say that I’ve lost one piece of paper?”

“Yes.”

“And…”

“And pay money.”

“Of course. How much?”

“How much do you think?”

“I don’t know. Aren’t you a policeman?”

“Yes. I must work hard, you know… filling out paper work all the time.”

At this last remark I choose to bite my tongue, swallow my pride and leave it there. I didn’t think it was such a good idea to point out that I was the one who was actually going to fill out the paper work.

I answered the questions in the spaces provided, which were generally insufficient for the screeds of information requested. But as with all forms in Vietnam, it’s not the information you give that is important, it’s the fact that the piece of paper exists in the first place.

Existence, as Albert Camus once said, is everything.

copyright elliott samuels 2003

Conversation with a Pharmacist

Author's Note

This story is based on actual events that occurred on August 17, 2003. However, please note that certain liberties have been taken in the English translation of the conversation that may or may not have been intended by the participants. As a result, the author may have distorted some of the phrases used in the course of this encounter in a bid to capture the essence of a typical conversation that takes place in numerous small retail outlets in Hanoi on a daily basis. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Vietnam will know what I’m talking about; anyone else will make of it what you will…

But first, let’s introduce the conversation’s participants…


Pharmacist

Name: Nguyen Oanh

Age: 51-ish

Occupation: Pharmacist

Nationality: Vietnam

Marital Status: Married

Eyesight: Failing

Hair Colour: Black-black

Hairstyle: Parted perm

Make-up: Heavy


Customer

Name: James Sycamore

Age: 29

Occupation: International Man of Mystery

Nationality: New Zealand

Marital Status: Single

Eyesight: 20/20

Hair Colour: Black-brown

Hairstyle: Short back & wide

Make-up: Light


Scenario

James Sycamore strolls confidently into a chemist that sits prominently on the corner of a major intersection in Hanoi. The street outside bustles with myriad motor vehicles and little can be heard above the cacophony of horns. He is greeted by a ruddy-cheeked, middle-aged woman standing behind the counter wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a spotlessly white tunic. The name-tag pinned onto her uniform introduces her as Nguyen Oanh.

Nguyen Oanh: [Hears footsteps, looks up] Oh nephew! Aunt help nephew how?

James Sycamore: Hello Aunt. [Steps towards the counter, accidentally startling the middle-aged woman by moving “too quickly” ] Aunt has health, no?

NO: Have. Nephew buy what?

JS: [Remembers the time] Aunt eat rice yet?

NO: Not yet, [states the obvious] I am working. [Puts down her clipboard] Nephew buy what?

JS: Umm… Nephew wants to buy, er… [Looks around and sees no-one – at least, not yet] …er, nephew no know what call that thing in Vietnamese.

NO: Medicine? [Reaches for vitamin C tablets]

JS: No… er, [Glances over left shoulder, then right] …er, OK?

NO: OK?

JS: Yes… OK. How much? [Reaches into pocket and unfolds a big wad of cash, which has been arranged before arriving in order to make the purchase snappy]

NO: OK… mmm [Looks him up and down] Friend a boy or a girl?

JS: [Deepens voice] A boy.

NO: Is nephew sure? Nephew looks pretty like a girl.

JS: Thank you. [Bows, curses]

NO: Nephew, this year how much old?

JS: Er... [Looks her straight in the eye] Thirty. But aunt also looks young, pretty even.

NO: True, no?

JS: True. [Shuffles feet politely]

NO: Nephew person country which?

JS: New Zealand, and aunt?


NO: [Chortles] Vietnam.

JS: Yes, er… [Begins fidgeting, tries to change tack] Sky beautiful. [Nods assuredly, as if to convince himself. It is, in fact, grey and overcast]

NO: Beautiful. [Begins to think aloud] Nephew like woman Vietnam, no?

JS: [Expecting this] Of course. Woman Vietnam very beautiful, beautiful very [Pauses slightly for effect, a well-rehearsed line] …a little bit beautiful.

NO: A little bit beautiful. [Beams] Nephew take wife Vietnam, no?

JS: No. [Squirms]

NO: Why nephew no take wife Vietnam [Looks personally insulted]

JS: No have money.

NO: Oh… [Understands & slowly nods head] Oh… so nephew buy what?

At that moment, another woman dressed in a white tunic enters. Her name is Yen Anh, but she has the same hair, same make-up, same uniform and same all-knowing eyes. Sycamore’s ruse has been rumbled.

JS: Uh… er…

YA: Nephew capital city which come?

JS: Sorry? Nephew no hear Aunt clearly?

YA: Person country which?

NO: New Zealand, near America. [Pauses slightly] Nephew wants to take wife Vietnam.

YA: Really? But wife Vietnam ugly very.

NO: That’s why nephew wants to buy OK.

YA: OK? [Looks startled, places hand over mouth]

NO: But nephew no have money.

YA: Really? But person country foreign has much money [Looks accusingly at him, daring him to deny it]

JS: Er… well… sometimes person country foreign has money, sometimes person country foreign has no money.

YA & NO: Oh... [Both nod in understanding]

JS: [Becoming flustered, blushes] OK, how much?

NO: OK? Oh, wait a moment… One thousand Vietnam dong a thing. Three thousand Vietnam dong a box. [Reaches into a box that is already open].

JS: One box [Looks over left shoulder and catches sight of a man selling baby rabbits on the footpath outside the pharmacy] Sorry… fifteen boxes.

NO: Fifteen? [Looks surprised but grabs a plastic bag]

JS: Hey Aunt! Nephew no need bag at all.

NO: No need bag eh? [Looks him straight in the eye] Nephew no want have problem yeah.”

JS: No, nephew no.

Sycamore crams the boxes into his shoulder bag, pays the pharmacist a twenty thousand dong note, turns on his heels and heads for the door.

NO: Hey nephew! Five thousand Vietnam dong price back again!

Sycamore chooses to ignore her, but in his haste a box falls out of his bag and skids across the floor. By chance it falls at the feet of a traffic officer who has just stepped into the pharmacy for a quick rest in the shade while on duty. The traffic officer bends over and picks the box up.

TO: OK of young brother?

JS: Yes.

TO: [Looks amused] Young brother… person country which?

JS: [Limply holds out his hand] New Zealand.

TO: [Placing box in his outstretched hand] Young brother go play yeah.

JS: Yes, young brother go play.


A little background...

OK is a popular brand of condoms sold by chemists in Vietnam. Chemists are almost always staffed by middle-aged Vietnamese women with perms.


copyright elliott samuels [2003]