A Memory To Look Forward To

It’s almost been 3 months since my last post and I have been to so many places, seen so many sights and done so many things. I’d like to say I’ve been so busy that I’ve not had time for blogging but that would be a lie. So what does it take to get me to stop watching One Piece and to log on to blog.

A MEMORY OF LIGHT

Living in Japan means I’m a bit removed from English books, libraries and bookstores so I’m a bit out of the loop but I received an email saying that the ultimate book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is finally out. It was released a few days ago and by the time I am typing this, no doubt many people have already finished reading the final book. I’m sure some of those people finished in one night in fact.

Still, as I said, I am currently in Japan, and not even in one of the larger cities where I can go to a Kinokuniya to pick up a copy of the book. Hakuba does not even have a Daiso. So I guess I’ll have to wait until the winter is over and I move back to the big smoke. Ooh but I liked the previous book. I’m sure looking forward to seeing how my favourite author, Brandon Sanderson wraps up this legendary series.

For now I’ll just have to be happy with One  Piece.

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Climbing Mountains

It’s been a long time between posts I know. The worse thing is that is been a similarly long time between writing sessions for me. The problems is that I’m busy haring around Japan, working abominably long hours, taking too many photos that need sorting and backing up and uploading (another thing I’ve been neglecting). Sleeping schedule has gone to pieces too lately as I went late night clubbing in Okinawa, followed a few days later by a 3am jaunt to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to see the tuna auctions. Tonight I’m climbing through the wee hours to reach the top of Mount Fuji for the sunrise. Life is so disorganised right now and all I want to do is spend a month relaxing and catching up. I hope the weather is good.

High on Faith and Trance

Faith is a difficult thing to quantify. How can one compare one’s own faith to that of another person? Perhaps you can tell who has more faith when there is a great disparity. ‘I have more faith than you’ sounds a bit arrogant doesn’t it. Can one have only a little faith? One either believes or one does not, right? And how does one describe the feeling of faith to another person? It’s a little difficult. Like love, one either has felt and knows it or one has not. But then that’s the job of a writer; to connect to the reader by relating to the things they have felt.

I was attending a Sunday service, everyone singing, when I saw the pastor raising a hand in praise as he sang. My first thought was that here is a person who is not afraid to express himself in public, a valuable trait in a pastor. Wow, what must he be feeling right now? Then it struck me that this is just what I do when I’m jumping around and singing my lungs out to a DJ that has just dropped one of my favourite songs at a rave.

Maybe it’s a bit presumptuous to compare electronic dance music to religion but if what he is feeling is love for the music, a feeling of praise that will not be contained; that is channeled up through the arms, opening the body, throwing the head back with eyes closed in rapture; being lost in moment, raising the palms as if to stand witness to greatness and reaching for the stars, then maybe I know a little of what he is feeling. And if that is only a fraction of the feeling coursing through the smallness of his being then he is a lucky man.

It’s Not About Races, Just Places, Faces

As an Australian living in Japan I want to fit in to this society. As an Asian I feel like I can blend in, that is, until I open my mouth. I have been told, however, that my face is that of a Chinese and one can tell I am not Japanese, even without looking at my current wardrobe, which is somewhat limited as a backpacker and quite Australian at that.

So I want to pass as a Japanese but would I change my face for it? Hell no. On the one hand I want to fit in. I want to be Japanese. On the other hand my pride as a Chinese perks up at this seeming betrayal. Cultural pride was not something that was strong in me when I was growing up, the only Chinese boy in my grade. Even my self image was that of a westerner. But it has been growing stronger as I’ve gotten older and been more surrounded by Asians and Asian culture. Perhaps it is clear to you that what I really want is not to be Japanese but to be accepted.

It’s funny, back in high school we used to study books in English class, books with themes such as racism and cultural identity, books such as Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird. Back then it all seemed so contrived, writing essays on what the author was trying to convey with this point of view or how that metaphor achieved something or other else. Boring. Now, however, it seems to me that those are the some of the really meaty, worthwhile issues to ponder and discourse. Of course, one doesn’t want to be too ham-handed when writing creative fiction and delivering a sermon dressed up as a story. I think you really need to start with a story of real interest and let any themes naturally flow through rather than the other way around. That’s the plan anyway!

So I think I must accept that I shan’t be taken for a Japanese person. Which is fine and as it should be. To the discerning eye I will remain a gaijin just like any blond-haired beach-going Aussie.

BTW, I think I should put Huck Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird on my list of books to read, or reread in this case.

Good Friday Fast

I suppose the first thing I should say is that the big office move was successful. I am now in Japan. Well, sort of successful. I’m definitely here, but it seems I’ve left my work ethic in Australia. More on Japan later.

I came home today and Red Scot told me he is fasting for Easter. In fact, he is fasting in sympathy for someone who is fasting for Easter. That made me think, I should do that. To see what it’s like. I don’t think I’ve ever done any 40 hour famine like they had back in schooldays. So I’m fasting for 24 hours. Unfortunately the last thing I ate was at 5pm and it was a chocoman. It’s a chocalate version of a steamed pork bun available from Chinatown (not the bbq pork variety). This was before I’d made the decision to fast. Not exactly the best ‘last meal’.

Easter is not a big deal here in Japan and the Christian presence is low. Fasting should be an interesting experience. It’s already got me thinking about how much I like food. The question is, what should the first thing I eat to break my fast be?

Adventuring New Zealand

Dear Lordy, you know what they say about needing a holiday from the holiday. I just got back home after two weeks adventuring in New Zealand and the list of tasks awaiting me is daunting. Over one hundred emails. One thousand plus photos to sort and then post to Facebook. Laundry. Also need to catch up on guitar, vegies and exercise. Most of that took a backseat to two Diana Wynne Jones books that I’ve been looking forward to reading; Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. It just goes to show that I can only focus on one thing at a time. Once I start a good book I can’t get anything else done.

All of this of course means that I’ve been neglecting my writing and my blog. It’s time to begin remedying that. I did get taken by the urge to write one night early in my holiday where I spent the evening scratching away in an empty Vietnamese restaurant in Auckland. But that was all.

Many of us would be familiar with the jaw-dropping scenery of New Zealand featured in the Lord of the Rings movies. While I determinedly avoided LOTR tours, I did indulge in all manner of other wallet-burning activities. Caving, white water rafting, black water rafting, skydiving. Also a Milford Sound cruise, a Maori culture and hangi night, a geothermal tour. New Zealand may be the adventure capital of the world but it doesn’t come cheap.

That's me at the bottom

Ironically, two of the best experiences I had cost nothing. The first was witnessing the giant Kauri trees on the northern island. I say ‘witness’ because they really are a phenomenon you have to see firsthand to fully appreciate. That first glimpse of a wall of whiteness through the thin dark trees and the moment of realization that it was a single specimen, a god among trees, dwarfing all others into insignificance. Ten more metres along the forest path and I was presented with an unimpeded view that swiftly filled my mind with awe.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest. Estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old, its existence may very well stretch back to the time of Christ. Mind blowing. To simply be in its sunlit presence filled me with peace and an awe of nature. It’s no wonder that man would deify these giants of the forest. They now put me in mind of George R.R. Martins weirwoods; god trees that witnessed and remember all the doings of the small creatures that lived and passed away before their long lived eyes.

The second freebie was our visit to the Hot and Cold River in Rotorua. This area is famed for its geothermal activity and this particular river gets its name from the mix of hot and cold water making a wonderful (and free) place for a relaxing dip. The place is something of a local ‘secret’ that not too many tourists know of. Big Risa and I adventured out to the site after dark not knowing quite what to expect, only that the place was located twenty minutes out of town under a bridge. Sounds dodgy right? Fortunately there were other people enjoying the amenities and they had set up some tea candles amongst the rocks to provide mood lighting. With a few directions on how to get down to the water safely in the dark we were able to join in the fun of a night time dip and a relaxing soak.

New Zealand is a gorgeous land, full of things to see and do. Perhaps it is missing the food to complete the holy triumvirate but I guess you can’t have it all. Hmmm that just got me thinking of a place that may just score the triple; my next holiday destination. But more on that later. New Zealand is a traveller’s paradise and the trip provided plenty of inspiration for me. Now to get to writing it!

RIP Diana Wynne Jones

I was just googling some books, trying to find the proper order in which to read a series by Diana Wynne Jones when I glimpsed that dreadful word tacked onto the end of the search results: Obituary.

Now many a book’s author has passed away by the time you may pick up their book for the first time, but most of the books I read are in fact by authors who are still producing work in this same era as I’m living in.

Diana Wynne Jones is one such author. I’d had the impression she came from the same writing era as the great Tolkien, but that she was also still writing away with the best of them. Indeed I’ve seen some books published as recent as 2008.

So it was a bit of a shock when I found out just now that she passed away recently, March last year. She is the author of Howl’s Moving Castle, which I latched onto after watching the anime version; I fall in love with it more each time I watch it. Simply enchanting, it leaves me feeling wistful every time. It is magic. It is my favourite anime and the book holds up its end of the bargain.

There are other works of hers that I was planning to read and it’s no more imperative now than before but now when I pick them up I will remember.

RIP Diana Wynne Jones.

Nudie Run

It’s been a long time coming but it seems that summer has finally arrived in Sydney. Watching the cricket on the telly, consecutive days of blue sky, sun and blessed summer heat. We’ve had uncharacteristically cool weather, more changeable than usual, more like Melbourne than Sydney weather really. Skies that have been clear in the morning have yielded to rain in the afternoon with the clouds sweeping in between one look and the next, only to clear off with the evening.

The days have been steadily getting longer though and the sky dawned bright and clear this morning. Perfect for a trip to the beach. And I had a specific beach in mind. Trying to beat the back-to-work traffic I jumped into the car, heading to Vaucluse for my morning run. Ten minutes into the drive it occurred to me that I’d left my runners at home and had to turn around. So much for an early start.

After the false start I eventually found myself navigating the winding roads that lead to the eastern suburbs. I don’t often head out this way and every time I drive New South Head Road I fondly remember Heartbreak Hill and the poor souls who toil up it each year on the City2Surf run. Such a joy to drive but hell to run.

I set myself no such gruelling challenges for my run, keeping a leisurely pace past some of Sydney’s most glamorous and expensive real estate with views of the city back over the waters of Port Jackson. Arriving at the top of the steps leading down to Lady Bay Beach I pause before descending. To the right, down the beach are two men: one in boardshorts; one in a blue body suit. To the left, lying on the boulders is another man. Wearing nothing.

This early in the morning there is no direct sunlight on the western facing beach; the only sun is on those big rocks. Nothing else for it, I started clambering over the rocks. This was my first time to a nude beach but I figured communal shower etiquette applied: Eyes above the waist. Since I had to jump from rock to rock my focus was on my feet which I think is also acceptable.

Making my way to an empty boulder I lay down my towel and again I pause. Well, when in Rome. Having participated in the No Pants Train Ride, the sensation of removing one’s shorts in public was not entirely new to me. If anything that was more daunting given the location and the audience. I immediately came to new appreciation, however, of the Scottish attraction to the kilt and its breezy construction.

A couple of boats fished just offshore, while on the path above, the occasional morning runner made their way past with a decent view of the beach goers. I was reminded of seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

I got a bit of a shock when I glimpsed the flicker of a shadow coming over my shoulder. Looking over I saw a new arrival on my rock. Casting my eye around to the other fellow he seemed content to mind his own business. It seemed etiquette did not include casual greetings even when coming into close proximity. It seems that nudists carry an invisible box around them. Personal space. No entry.

Ever mindful of Australia’s harsh sun I only wished to even out my tan a little while chalking up a new experience for the New Year. Lying on the rock I eventually realised the source of an itching sensation and managed to kill a few mozzies but in the end I was prompted to gather my things.

Picking my way back across the rocks I passed an amusing branch of wood carved in the image of a phallus. How very appropriate. I strolled down the beach and took a quick dip; after all it’s not a trip to the beach if you don’t right? After that I dried off and rejoined clothed society.

It’s still a beautiful summer day and getting hotter. I might start regretting that wish for a blazing summer but that will still be better than one where you can’t depend on a day of sun for a trip to the beach.

The Valencia Incident

Last night the police contacted my parents about an accident involving my brother’s car. Thankfully for us they had made a mistake in the number plates of the car involved and my brother is safe. Following this scare I am sharing this account of my own brush with death. I’ve wanted to pen it since reading Stephen King’s account of his own life-threatening incident where he was struck by a van and was severely injured. Thankfully he survived. I got lucky too.

My account may not be completely accurate. Memory is not so reliable and hell, I got hit by a car. Besides, I’m a writer. I’ve a creative license and I like to use it.

The Valencia Incident

Spain 2009. My friends and I are holidaying and that morning we had taken part in La Tomatina, the famed tomato fight that takes over the Spanish town of Bunol. After heading back to our hostel in Valencia and cleaning the tomato juice from our ears we headed out to a club for our final night on tour. The previous night was the Water and Wine Festival in Requena and I had imbibed copious amounts of the latter libation. It was a wild night and suffice to say I nursed a terrible hangover the next day which meant I was not touching alcohol this night out at the club.

A quick aside. If you want a hangover fix, try a tomato fight amongst thousands of people crammed into a single street. Maybe it doesn’t have to be tomato. Oranges perhaps? The adrenaline will brush aside any of the lingering symptoms of hangover. But wear expendable clothes.

I was tired and bored at the club, so me, Smack and his fiancée, Queen decided to take a taxi home. As we crossed the street outside the club a car came around the corner. It was a pedestrian crossing so I assumed we were safe. Assuming that others are following the same rules as you is a great way to get yourself in trouble. But of course that’s what society is so what can you do?

We saw that the car was not slowing down despite our incredulity so we hustled to get off the road. I remember reaching the safety of the curb (another silly assumption) and thinking to myself Alright. We made it.

How wrong I was. All I remember is the sensation of something pressing into the back of my leg. My foot seemed stuck to the ground and so I toppled forward.

The next thing I remember is the gurney being raised and then I was in the back of an ambulance. At some point someone tested my reflexes by running something along the base of my foot but that might have happened on the ground. At this point I was lucid enough to text message Smack, GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW. I was scared by the unknown and wanted the support of my best mate.

I’m told that the car was being driven by a drunk driver. It had mounted the kerb and struck me; I had hit my head on the ground and was lying in a pool of blood. I was unconscious and having a fit for a couple of minutes, my breathing slow and shallow. Smack thought I was going to die. Then I relaxed and my breathing strengthening.

One more metre per second, one more metre or maybe just a foot and maybe I wouldn’t be here right now to type this. It was a close thing. There is a world of difference between life and death but the line dividing them is a thin one indeed.

Queen had rushed back to the club to get help and my other friends had soon rushed out. My good friend BFG had stripped out of his new Zara shirt to wrap it around my head to staunch the bleeding. Thanks BFG!

I was taken to hospital where I remember my black CK jeans being removed, shorn right up the length of the legs. You know that old piece of advice from someone’s mother. Always put on clean underwear when you leave the house because you never know when you’re going to be struck by a bus. Well it turns out it is good advice. I distinctly remember being pleased to get compliments from the nurses on my blue satin boxer shorts with red love hearts all over them.

Only one of the nurses spoke English and in a mad world of the unfamiliar I grabbed on to her like a lifeline. She translated the doctor’s words for me. I remember her telling me that they were going to have to insert a not-so-thin probe into somewhere thin and not-so-used-to-entry-of-foreign-objects. They said that it was not going to be comfortable. Scared, I asked them if it was going to hurt. It did. But apparently whatever reflex they were testing for was still working and to this day I’m thankful for that.

I remember having my head shaved so that they could stitch my scalp together. I think I remember the eight staples going in.

During the night I complained to the nurses who didn’t speak English. Somehow I dredged up my limited Spanish. Frio. Frio. I tried to convey that I was cold or hot or that my head hurt. The compression bandage that was probably keeping my brain from swelling was uncomfortably tight. The nurses did their best and what felt like hours later I think I got some relief in the form of drugs.

I was told that a head specialist was going to come in and run some CT scans on me. I don’t remember much of the scans themselves; a shame, but I in high school I’d done work experience in a radiology clinic so nothing too new there. The wait for the scans and then the doctor’s opinion of them seemed interminable. In fact there’s not much worse than lying in bed not able to sleep when you yearn for nothing more than the oblivion of sleep. It’s the same whenever I have that afternoon coffee.

The news was all good and I was released the next day. Most of my friends had flown on to Ibiza but I went to stay with Smack and Queen. I gave my thanks and said my goodbyes. I even got a photo with my guardian angel though I’ve shamefully forgotten her name.

When I was released from the hospital I had only the clothes I’d come in with so I tried to pin my jeans back together. They didn’t hold together too well and I ended up walking in jeans with incredibly high slits in them, much like an incredibly risqué dress. The fashion hasn’t seemed to have taken hold in Valencia. My white shirt was blood stained and I must have looked to the locals like I’d been in a fight for my life. Well I do like to attract attention when I walk down the street. The blood stains washed out and I still have the white shirt I was wearing that night. Not so my love heart boxers unfortunately.

Ignoring common sense I was desperate to continue my holiday (don’t let getting hit by a car stop you). The next stop was a week of partying in Ibiza. I couldn’t fly for concern over blood clots in my head so I booked a ferry to rejoin my friends. Dancing in clubs with a bandage around the head makes for an interesting spectacle. Many took it to be part of my costume. I had a great time singing and dancing with friends in Ibiza and don’t regret making that decision, immature though it may seem. Even as I write this I’m listening to and watching Big Bang and 2NE1 video clips and I just want to get up and sing and dance. There’s an energy in it; it’s food for the soul and that’s something I hope never to lose as I get older.

To this day I’m not especially careful about crossing roads. I was right back on the horse so to speak. I am more aware that you need to look after No. 1 but it’s impossible to live without making some assumptions about society operating according to certain rules. Down that path lies paranoia. We walk the street taking for granted that we don’t have to be on the constant lookout for rogue cars. And for the most part it works. Truly there is no avoiding some of the things life throws our way. You just have to deal with it. Hopefully we are prepared.