Giving, Receiving and Power Adaptors

Until recently I had an adaptor which took many different countries’ power plugs in and converted it to fit into the Japanese sockets. The person I lent it to, however, neglected to give it back before returning to Germany which in turn ticked me off for a little while. I have, however, come to the point where all the electrical devices I use have Japanese plugs, so the loss of the adaptor is not so much a pain as an annoyance since I paid good money for it.

As a side note, prior to that I also owned a big, green, round universal adaptor, the kind that accepts any country’s plug and can convert it into any other country’s plug. In that case though I forgot it and left it in Okinawa at the farm I was WWOOFing at. I hope that future international visitors there get good use out of it.

I bring all this up because my friend, Sand Dreamer, asked me if I would sell my single remaining adaptor, a simple one that would take an Australian or New Zealand plug (two sloping prongs) and convert it to fit in the Japanese sockets (two vertical prongs). As I mentioned I don’t currently need any adaptors but I did want to hold onto it just in case something came up and I needed it, I wouldn’t have to go out and find another one. I asked Sand Dreamer to let me think a bit about it, also saying that I couldn’t remember the cost. I think it was either 200 or 300 yen which is about $4.

I gave it some thought and realised that I was holding onto it for a potential but improbable event need arose but otherwise it would just reside in my backpack unused. My friend needed it because his own chunky universal adaptor (the same type I left in Okinawa) was falling apart and he used it to power his laptop. His need was certainly greater than mine. Certainly he could have gone out and found something in Akihabara (this is Tokyo!) but that is besides the point I think. I had something which he could really use and it would even mean less useless crap being lugged around in my luggage, negligible though it may be.

The only decision left was what price to sell it at. I really can’t remember if the cost was closer to two or to three hundred yen but then I realised that the difference was a mere 100 yen and agonising over it was a waste of brain energy. More than that though, the entire cost was small; why not just give it to him for free?

It comes to me that the easiest and cleanest way to not worry about the price of something is to give it away for free. I can’t go giving everything away for free but this was definitely a good opportunity to do so.

I don’t know what value Sand Dreamer will put on this whole affair but it’s worth something to me to make a gift of it. There is something that just leaves you feeling better when you give something away rather than sell it. It’s not about how much something costs. It can’t be measured in dollar terms. It is simply a gift or it is not.

It reminds me of a lesson another friend, Ricardo, an American/Mexican, taught me when I was travelling in central Europe around Serbia & Montenegro. He noticed that when it game to giving and receiving I had a tendency to get hung up on keeping things even. At the time a chance-met backpacker was selling his hiking boots which were in mint condition. He’d just bought them but it turned out they were too small for him.  They were a pretty sturdy pair of boots and the weather was turning cold and wet. Unfortunately, even though they were better than my boots, I too had just recently bought mine and I didn’t want to spend any more money. I decided not to buy them.

As that backpacker was leaving the hostel dorm for the last time I awoke from my bunk and he said that I could just have the boots for free. He certainly didn’t want to carry the useless boots around in his backpack. Did I accept his gift? No. Rather than that, I offered him the little money I had on me at the time. I think I got the boots for around ten euros, an absolute steal, but that’s still a lot of money for a backpacker like me.

Later Ricardo commented to me that my view of gift giving and receiving was different from his. When I gave a gift, maybe bought a friend a coffee, in the back of my mind I was making an entry into a log book, keeping track of who bought what and how much was spent, who owed who. I was giving with the expectation to receive. Not only that, I was receiving with the burden of reciprocating in kind. I think it has to do with how I was raised, it may be a bit of a Chinese cultural thing. Everything is kept balanced on the books. Favours. Gifts. Everything.

Ricardo’s view was the complete opposite. When he gave he gave, he told me, he did so without the expectation of receiving something in return. He was backpacking like me and so was also tight with his money so he added that he didn’t just give anything away but that when he could afford to part with something he didn’t need then he would give freely. The corollary to this was that when he received he also received without burdening himself with some obligation to pay the person pack. When he was offered something he felt no need whatsoever to pay that person back. He received freely.

In the case of the boots, Ricardo thought I should have taken them for free and not felt some vague sense of guilt about it. Later in my trip around Europe I realised that if I had taken those boots for free, then I would not have felt obliged to sell my original pair of boots and recoup some of the money I had paid for them. If I had received the boots for free I would have felt much more easily about giving my original boots away for free. Instead, I lugged them across the breadth of Europe looking for someone with the same boot size to sell it to. In the end I just left them in a hostel for free, without even a recipient in mind. It might be that the hostel staff just threw them out with the trash.

I’m not sure how long it took for me to really understand this new concept but now it’s a concept I try to embrace fully whenever I can. The acts of giving and receiving haven’t changed but my way of thinking about them has. It’s liberating to not have to constantly keep some book of accounts in the back of my mind, to both give and receive without attaching any unnecessary mental and emotional baggage to those acts. It’s kind of like karma. Hopefully my giving away of gifts will have a ripple effect and flow on to the next person and the next and so on so forth. That’s a good enough reward for me.


On A Roll

The past few days I’ve been able to write a consistent amount each day, usually for a couple of hours. The venue has been changing, earlier in the week at a temple on the open terrace, more recently in one park or another, on top of a hill. It’s something that I want to keep up while I have momentum.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about but I had a few things in mind. I wrote them all down in a rough list on the page. In the end I’m not sure why I picked the one I picked but it probably didn’t really matter. The main thing was just to start writing.

I only had a little idea of what I wanted to write about with the two characters but once I’d started writing about them it started to flow. Even when I came to a bit of a roadblock, not knowing where they should go next, something I’d written would guide me to where the story would go. It’s almost as if the story was writing itself, as cliché as that is.

And as I wrote it seemed that ideas would bubble to the surface, connections to other ideas I had floating around in my head. It seemed that my subconscious had been busy plotting while I wasn’t looking. Things that had been bouncing around my head for quite some time were finding their places and I am finally getting them down in prose.

Just a happy little discovery on the journey to become a writer.

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.

Slaying the Hydra

There was a point in my writing career before which I had only one plan and that was to pen a mighty epic. This was my sole focus and to this end any and every idea that occurred to me was squeezed into a corner of the world I was building. Pirates, cowboys, angels; my main character would encounter them all.

I am very pleased to say that I am past this point. Mostly.

I think it was sometime during the last year when I realised that I had legitimate ideas beginning to flow from me. By legitimate I mean that they were substantial enough to be the seed for their own world. I was actually generating ideas worth writing their own stories about. I’m not sure if this was unlocked by my beginning to just write (this was the main lesson I took from the creative writing course that got me going: Just write) or maybe my reading certain stories caused me to change the way I viewed the world and how I could use it in my own writing.

Perhaps it was something else entirely or some combination of the above. In any case, with the realisation that I had more than one story in my head and that I was going to be writing more than my one epic, I no longer had the need to include every good idea in that one story. Trying to blend such a hodgepodge of ideas together would no doubt have resulted in a story with multiple personality disorder; the monstrous many-headed hydra of mythology brought to life. And just like in the Greek myth it would no doubt be in need of a good slaying.

Ideas should not be rushed. A good idea will still be good later and is best served by allowing it its own space to grow in good time. Patience is a virtue.

I once gave a summary of my epic to Big Risa and at the time she said to me that there were two stories there and that I should separate them. While I kind of agree with her even now I’m loathe to strip it out. I may have found an alternative to that particular problem though; not an original solution but it may still be the right one.

So now, rather than that singular focus, when I get a new idea I look to the many little baby hydras to see which of those I can graft the idea onto. Still, I suppose that is better than the one super hydra.

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.

On The Ranch

Well, I came to Japan for an experience and I definitely think I’ve struck gold. It took a while but some ideas finally started flowing. In fact I think I’ve got too many ideas to write about at once; a great problem for a writer to have I guess. I spent about six weeks in Osaka and by the end of that time I was finally getting back into the writing groove. I’d found a cafe with decent espresso to write in and life was finally slowing down enough for me write again.

Unfortunately for the writing but otherwise fortunately, I’ve now up and moved to Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu. I didn’t ever imagine I’d be working on a horse ranch but I am and I’m quite loving it here. Everything is new to me, the people are great, I’m learning Japanese. There’s something satisfying about getting in and doing some physical labour too.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that I’m learning about caring for and riding horses.There are horses in fantasy and what better way to learn to write about horses than from experience, right? That’s my motto anyway. My first duty I learned was to sweep up the horse shit in the stables. At times I find myself leaning on my broom in the stables, phrases coming to me, some better than others. Thick as horse piss. Inured to manure. Okay, that one probably won’t make the cut but I’ve got others.

Maybe a fantasy based on horses will be the next big thing. Or maybe not. The Horse Whisperer has been done. Still there are possibilities and I’m excited. For me, the life and people on this ranch, as well as the surrounding countryside and city (not to mention the volcano) are constant sources of inspiration. There’s nothing quite like putting yourself in new situations for gaining new perspectives and generating new thoughts.

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.

Writer’s Abyss

Many years ago I read a rant by Robin Hobb, bashing blogging by writers. The post has since been removed from her website but you know the internet. I’m sure a resourceful surfer could track down a copy of the post floating around the aether.

The gist of it was that blogging, while a good way to interact with the fans, is a blackhole for writers, a monster that devours all their time and energy that could have been spent on, you know, actually writing.

At the time I read it I could appreciate the points she made. Now I know them to be true.

Blogging, surfing, facebooking. It’s true that since I’ve only recently relocated to Japan that I’m still in a touristy mode, travelling around and seeing the sights. All good grist for the mill. I expect to not be writing while I’m so busy gathering.

But I take too many damned photos. Three thousand five hundred so far. Sorting, editing, uploading and captioning. Thank goodness there’s not too many faces to tag. This is my abyss. Time is spiralling into it like a silvery ribbon, sucked away into oblivion, never to be seen again. And like all good abysses they are endless.

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?

The Third Dragon

Kellen scrambled over the stony lip, sending a shower of pebbles tumbling back down the mountain. Having regained the safety of the path, he allowed himself a well-earned break. On hands and knees he tried in vain to get his breath back, panting in the rarefied atmosphere. The air was clean and crisp, but really too thin Kellen thought to himself. Climbing mountains was not something he made a habit of. Continue reading