Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Three Towers

| 2 persons flung their shoes
When the Black Ship arrived at the south of Yokohama more than one and a half centuries ago, the history of Japan made a radical change. Commmodore Matthew Perry demanded the Edo shogunate to open up its ports to foreign ships, and thus ended Edo's seclusion from the outside world.

Eventually, on 2 June 1859, Yokohama port was opened to foreign traders. This year, the city celebrates the 150th anniversary of the port's opening.

Yokohama is a heaven for photographers. Forget about Minato Mirai, I have had enough of that area. This time, I headed further towards the south-east to the Kannai (関内) area, where the foreigners once occupied. The name literally translates to "inside the barrier" - for it was once surrounded by a moat. Many of the historical buildings were destroyed during the great Kanto earthquake, and some, in the air raids during the world war. But a number of them were restored and remain till today.

Yokohama: King's Tower
Firstly, there is the Yokohama Prefectural Office (横浜県庁舎).

Located just in front of Nihon Dori station is the prefectural office. While most of the departments have their offices here, a few are housed in other buildings around the area, including one opposite this main building.

The old building was destroyed in the great Kanto earthquake, then rebuilt and completed in 1928. Since then, it has also been known as King's Tower.

Yokohama: Queen's Tower
Now, it there is a King's Tower, of course there is a Queen's Tower. This is the Yokohama Customs House (横浜税関), which is located near the pier. The green dome is the symbol of the famous landmark.

Yokohama: Jack's Tower
And guess what? This is Jack's Tower. The tower was built in 1917 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama port. During the great Kanto earthquake in 1923, only the clock tower and part of the building survived. It was then restored and later renamed by the allied force, the Memorial Hall. It now serves as the Yokohama Kaikou Memorial Museum ( 横浜開港記念館).

Together, these three towers are commonly known as the Three Yokohama Towers. Sounds Lord-of-the-Rings-ish, eh?

Friday, 23 January 2009


He has been distracted lately. The gnawing feeling has been urging him to do something about it. But until now, he has shrugged it off merely as an impulsive desire, just like the one that resulted in driving him into buying a Playstation 2 which he would barely touch a month later. But he has ignored it once too often and now he starts considering it for real.

He has been unwilling to act because he wants to spare himself from the unnecessary disappointments for jumping into things prematurely. At the same time, he is also aware that the only way to become a winner is to get into the game. Eventually, he decided to give himself a month to calm himself down before reconsidering things.

In Japanese, the word "heart" can be translated to either 心臓 or 心. The former refers to the organ that's in charge of pumping blood, while the latter deals with the emotions. When he said he wished he could remove his heart and keep it in a jar, he meant the latter one. And he knows which jar would serve the purpose well - the one he's currently using as a piggy bank.

Of course, he hopes there were other ways, say, flicking the switch off to turn off the longing thoughts. Switch, what switch? He couldn't find any.

So these days, he ends up assessing his odds when he ought to be reading the books; considering the worst case scenario when the impending exams demand to be given more attention. Then he discovered that with enough time and effort, he could convince himself into believing almost anything. That he may stand a chance after all; that conveying his thoughts matters more than seeking after a reciprocal answer. He has even gone as far as mentally rehearsing the confession.

Hell no. Just not yet. Keeping his own promise is the least he can do. He would decide only later, hopefully with a clearer head.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

My Imaginary Shark

| 2 persons flung their shoes
All kids deserve to have a carefree childhood. But unfortunately, mine was spoiled by the gloom possibility of my hometown being swallowed by the rising sea level.

You see, we have all heard about global warming - how the green house effect would one day force humans to burrow underground; how the melting polar ice caps would eventually flood all land lower than the Alps.

I grew up on a small island whose highest elevation is a 735 meter. That being said, it is more than likely that my hometown will one day share the same fate as Alexandria. Now, that was a good motivation for me to take swimming lessons. Should the great flood happen, I would take the north-western course and swim towards the Alps.

Unfortunately, I never trained well enough to join the trans-Atlantic swimming marathon. Believe it or not, until now, my freestyle is still worse than my breast stroke. When I timed myself at the pool this afternoon, I took half a minute to finish the 25m course with freestyle. Hell, that was as slow as breast stroke.

I told myself I needed more practice. Being in Japan doesn't offer me much solace. Even Mt Fuji, the highest elevation in Japan is merely 3776 meter high.

Okay, for the sake of argument, let's presume the prophesied great flood would never happen. But even so, being able to swim well could be life-saving. Haven't you heard of the killer sharks in Australia? I'd like to visit the Great Barrier Reef one day, provided that I could make sure that I wouldn't end up in a hungry shark's tummy.

I tried image training, just like the Olympic athletes do. I imagined being chased by a man-eating shark. But unfortunately, that didn't work well. I still swam like an amoeba. Soon, my imaginary shark caught up with me and chomped off my right leg. Believe me, it's never easy to swim with only one leg. I had to call off the summoned shark to spare myself from my gory fate.

Hmm, I guess I have to come up with something scarier. The Loch Ness monster, perhaps?

Oh, I know! I ought to build an ark instead...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Testimonial for Myself

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Inspired by Yap's biodata on Blogger, I'm writing a testimonial for myself, to vouch for, well, myself during job interviews. Here goes:

This is an ordinary guy who refuses to stay ordinary. He believes the cosmos has grander plans for him. But whatever his calling is, it has not yet been revealed to him. Sometimes, he looks into the night sky and feels being part of it. We were, after all, born from the stars, weren't we?

He is pretty much a paranoid conspiracist. He suspects there is some unscrupulous individual collecting DNA from his used disposable chopsticks to build a clone army for world domination. He also firmly believes there is the necessity to maintain anonymous. On the internet, he goes by his secret codename. It makes him feel secured, and more than that, enigmatic.

When he is free, he blogs. When he is not free, he blogs too. He does it whenever he is in the mood. Sometimes, he propagates his biased views. But with just a handful of readers, he doubts he could possibly change the world. So other times, he talks about himself instead. He hopes one day someone would make a film about the brief wondrous highlights of his life.

Occasionally, women come beating at his door. However, as much as he wishes they were hot babes looking for his autograph, they are but old ladies wanting to tell him about Jesus. Well, at least they care about the wellbeing of his soul though.

If there is such a thing as a fundamentalist atheist, he is halfway there. He finds it frustrating to be unable to grasp the concept of god and he sees no reason to spell it with a big "G". Often, he does not restrain himself from making offensive remarks about the big guy. If there were such a place as "hell", he would doubtlessly be going to spend his afterlife there.

He reads an average of two books a month. They are mostly fiction. He prefers particular authors to others. He attempted reading the bible a couple of times but could not as much as finish the first chapter of Genesis. He will continue again, one day.

He loves his camera as much as he loves his books. He calls her Casey. They spend most of their weekends together, going places, seeing things, doing stuff. He loves his bike too, and enjoys riding her.

He is single but unavailable. His previous relationship was so brief that it left not much for him to grieve. In spite of that, he found it hard to pick up the pieces. But eventually, he convinced himself that remaining non-committed is probably in his best interest. He may get back into the game soon, although he still holds certain reservations.

He would like to rear a dog because dogs are perfect babe magnets. If only he could afford feeding two mouths. And if only dogs were like cacti, which only need to be watered once every few years.

He keeps a mental list of people he dislikes. There is even a demerit system for those who piss him off. Worry not, though. He has no plans of hiring a hitman to go after them. During the rare occasions when he feels forgiving, you could literally pour hot coffee on his genitals and yet get nothing more than a shrug.

Ever since he was struck in his head by a stray meteorite, he has become a little loose in his wirings. He keeps a soldering iron in his pocket just in case a wire should come off. But the that is just one of those convenient tools that he carries with him. For he has a screwdriver as well. You will never know when you come across assholes who could use some screwing up.

Despite his corkiness, he is open to criticism. You can always forward your death threats to his email address. Just make sure you don't leave tracks which could be traced back to you, though. But more than anything, he prefers fan mail.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Thorny Prophecy (Part I) - The Secret Sect

| 2 persons flung their shoes
This is the first part of the sequel to The Secret Agent.
»Thorny Prophecy (Part I) - The Secret Sect

Sabrook checked his beard stubbles in front of the mirror. Boy, the rush of adrenaline sure made the beard grow. He preferred it short, like thorns sticking out of a cactus. He considered it a befitting image for a man named after the plant.

He didn't like what he saw in the mirror. The doctor told him to take a day off. "Plenty of omizu. Don't get dehydrated," he was advised. Dehydrated? Hah! What nonsense? A cactus never gets dehydrated, not even in the scorching desert! Sabrook sneered. But he was careful not to say that aloud.

It was supposed to be a brief meeting with a client, but things had not gone too well for him this evening. Five minutes after downing the wasabi milk shake, he ended up with a terrible diarrhea. His stomach felt like an abused punch bag. As soon as he plonked his buttocks on the toilet seat, everything started to drain out from the intestines like water from an unplugged bathtub.

Suddenly, the American appeared, barging into the cubicle, waving a sharpened bamboo chopstick as if it was a wand.

Sabrook thought it was all over. He thought his cover was blown. But then, it didn't make sense. The Teacher warned him against the evil schemes of the unscrupulous agency. He was careful enough not to have an account on Facebook or Myspace. They were but a new form of surveillance strategy - the agency has a division of computer nerds who could easily track you down with a couple of mouse clicks. Despite all the precautions, they got him nevertheless.

Ignoring the involuntary spasms, he concentrated hard on formulating a plan. But luckily, it was not even close to what he had imagined. Instead, the American appeared to be some over-suspicious lover who thought his girlfriend was having an affair with him. Sabrook was very much shaken, but the American left him unscathed after he explained about the cactus. In fact, he felt sorry for the American who ran away, wailing like the Sirens.

Pathetic Americans. They were the princes of materialism but were helpless when it comes to faith and trust. Why would they concern themselves with cheating partners when the world was facing graver issues, like the shrinking gonads in the general male population?

Sabrook could never understand. Let the puny mortals indulge themselves in the trivial matters. He believed that the cosmos had bigger plans in store for him. That was what the Teacher told him. He believed him, because the Teacher was a learned man. Likewise, he believed as much in the holy scriptures, because those were the words of God.

If only the world would take one advice from him, he would tell them "not to incur the wrath of God". The White-bearded Old Man Who Lived Above the Clouds had the privilege of pissing upon any mortal who was foolhardy enough to piss Him off. Or depending on the severity of the defiance, He might even throw him into a shit hole to marinate in fermented wasabi milk shake.

Man should learn from their mistakes. The Book of Dust told of the Great Drought, where man got arrogant and went against God's teachings. They drowned themselves in wine, they fornicated day and night, they ran naked in the streets. Wherever God looked, He saw whores and gays. Feeling sorry for what He had created, He cast a dry spell that lasted 150 days.

Of course, God did not have the heart to wipe everything off the earth - it would be too troublesome to redo things from scratch. The last time He created the world, it took Him seven days. So, He told Noah about His scheme and commanded Noah to embark on a search for the Sacred Cactus. Noah managed to find it in the Elbonian desert. It was of the same scale as the Babel Tower and could snugly accommodate a pair of clean animals for each kind.

No one knew what happened next because the remaining of the scripture was burned by the Church. (Presumably, Noah and the animals were spared from God's wrath, the scholars surmised, because otherwise, we would not be here.)

Then in the middle ages, the remaining followers of the sect were brutally slaughtered by the Knights Tempest during a crackdown sanctioned by the papacy. The holy land of Elbonia and its chosen people were effectively erased from the surface of the earth. Those who survived the crusade went underground, and never did the world hear from them ever since.

Unfortunately, the Secret Sect of the Sacred Cactus could no longer afford to keep quiet. Not when the world was at the knife edge.

Sabrook had got to do what he had got to do. Save the world.

He checked the details on his iPhone. Copthorn Hotel, conference hall. He had to take a good rest before his mission.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Sucker, the Vacuum Cleaner

| 3 persons flung their shoes
I think the vacuum cleaner is one of the greatest household appliances ever invented. It has revolutionized the traditional way of household cleaning. The days of the brooms are numbered. They have long past their prime since the times when people flew on broomsticks.

My dad is a fervent supporter of the vacuum cleaner. My mom, on the other hand stubbornly sticks to the traditional way. Not that she can fly a broomstick. Her argument is simple: the vacuum cleaner sucks. Not in the literal sense, alas.

True, our vacuum cleaner sucked. You see, back at home, we had a cumbersome model which weighed like a hundred gold bars. However, it somehow didn't cross my dad's mind to keep it somewhere more easily accessible than in the cupboard. During the rare occasions when he felt like cleaning the house, he'd have to carry it down. Things would be much easier if we had a forklift in our house. But perhaps that was my dad's very intention - it saved him trips to the gym.

After laboriously bringing down the vacuum cleaner, he'd assemble the hoses and pipes - pretty much like the Ghostbusters way. Then, before plugging in the power cord, he'd usher us to seek shelter in our rooms. I'd stuff my pillow into my right ear and my bolster into the left, because all hell would break loose when dad brought the vacuum cleaner to life with a touch of the switch. The beast would howl like a hundred Katrinas. No doubt if Dorothy lived next door, she'd embrace herself for another trip to the Land of Oz.

The fact that I did not grow resentful of the vacuum cleaner despite my childhood experiences is a mystery. In fact, one of the household appliances I first bought before moving out from the dorm was none other than a vacuum cleaner. As much as I would like to, I couldn't afford the latest model which allegedly sucked like a black hole. So, I went for the cheapest model instead, which sucks nevertheless. This time, in the literal sense.

It comes in handy especially in resolving my longstanding feud with the dust bunnies. You see, I'm a territorial animal. I'll never share my room with anyone, not with the boogeyman, and certainly not with the dust bunnies. Unfortunately, these creatures are called dust "bunnies" not without a reason - they reproduce at a greater rate than growing beard. And when you think you've got them all, they just magically reappear out of nowhere the next day. There's no way of wiping all of them; you can never afford showing these ninnies mercy.

Sometimes, I turn a blind eye to the situation but more often than not, some of the more stubborn dust bunnies would venture beyond their borders - namely the unreachable and therefore well-ignored corner under my bed. That's when Sucker (the uncreative name eventually stuck) is summoned to mediate the conflict. However, Sucker always succumbs to his voracious appetite, much to my indifference nevertheless.

Just like my electric flask that doubles as an egg boiler, Sucker doubles as a roach exterminator. On a rescue mission for the laptop's escape key which wasn't spared by the rapacious Sucker, I found myself rummaging through half-digested roaches with missing limbs. I counted six. And sure enough though, the dust bunnies suffered a greater number of casualties.

"Death to all invaders" - Sucker fights on with the spirit of the most valiant freedom fighter. I guess Sucker earns a medal of honour for his service in defending the sovereignty of our land.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Constipation of Ideas

| 2 persons flung their shoes
Until three weeks ago, my head was clogged with loads of crap. Then I came across a curious story about a poodle. Somehow, wax paper from the neighbour's trash can ended up in its stomach, resulting in bloating. He was sent to an emergency vet when his it swelled to double the normal size.

You bet, I started worrying about swelling head.

I had to flush out the crap from my head just to be safe than sorry. However, I needed an outlet; it would be socially wrong if I disposed of my crap improperly. I needed something... like a blog! Of course, I already had one to abuse. But at that time, I was also contemplating on a major renewal. So, hastily putting up a new template, this is what you got, a new blog and a four-part short story, The Secret Agent, which I hope will win a Pulitzer Prize.

I have no idea how I got the inspirations. Part of them were simply random crap, part of them came up during a discussion with a friend. It was sort of a "diarrhea of ideas".

Look up on that expression in A Contemporary Dicksionary of Newly-Coined Terms, under the entry "diarrhea":
2. diarrhea of ideas, a state where one gets an uncontrollable gush of inspiration.
Rest assured, it had nothing to do with cactus dildo, even though KOJA keeps pestering me about it.

But that was three weeks ago. Right now, my fount of inspiration is running dry. The Secret Agent will probably be my magnum opus, and my future works will forever live in its shadows. Because I'm now suffering from a "constipation of ideas". Nothing is coming out. If this persists, I might have to pay a visit to the pharmacy to get a prescription for laxative.

Or maybe it's simply because I ran out of crap after the recent diarrhea. But I do hope that's not the case - I still have many Pulitzer Prizes to win.

What's Your Colour?

| 4 persons flung their shoes
[Artwork] What's Your Colour?
What's your colour?

Currently, I am feeling green. It's totally different from "seeing green". When one says he's "feeling blue", it means he's feeling down, dejected. "Feeling green", meanwhile, is an expression I coined to relate to my current mental state.

While green symbolizes life and renewal in the nature, "feeling green" carries a contrary meaning. According to A Contemporary Dicksionary of Newly-Coined Terms, "green" can mean:
14. low in spirits; unmotivated; lifeless; lethargic: Many people feel green during the holidays.
Yes. And I'm one of the "many people".

Winter vacation is almost over but I haven't managed to finish anything. First, there're reports sitting on my desk, five or six, I can faintly recall. Only one is half done. Second, 26 pages of documents to be translated. It's a freelance thingy I'm doing but only six pages have been done.

Uh, how long do I have till classes resume?

Including today, two.

Worse still, there's work today and tomorrow, where three more reports await.


What on earth have I been doing these past two weeks? It's like someone sped up the clock - I bet only one week has passed since winter vacation started. This is so unfair! One day should be as long as 48 hours.

Okay, I do recall the excursions during the Christmas and New Year week, where I spent half of my monthly budget on. Then there was a few days of work, more outings, a party and uh, well that's all.

The rest of the time, I beguiled with blogging. Two weeks after moving to this new blog and this is my fifteenth post - that's an average of one post a day. Okay, now that took away another chunk of my holiday.

Then there's all this time wasted when I just sit in front of the desk, zoning out. To a bystander, I would have looked not much animated than a pot of cactus.

But that's holiday, isn't it? You lose motivation, get lethargic and unproductive. Then when it comes to an end, you lament over your indolence.

Hell I hate holidays.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Haroh, New York

| 0 persons flung their shoes
This was my third excursion to Odaiba. The first one was when Dan and his family came over to Japan. We somehow managed to stumble our way to the Yurikamome Line at Shimbashi. The second time, I walked all the way to the island from Tsukiji, crossing the famous Rainbow Bridge. But that was one of the things you would want to do only once in a lifetime.

So, this time, I decided to try the Rinkai Line instead, partly because I thought it would be more fun than sticking to the same route, and primarily because it was cheaper. The station where I headed to: Tokyo Teleport station.

You bet it got its name for a reason, for I ended up in New York!

Lady Liberty
Hello New York! Uh, I mean, haroh New York! It wasn't the busy crossing at New York Times Square. But evidently, it was New York, because Lady Liberty was there looming over me!

Okay. Enough nonsense. This photo was shot at - where else, if not Odaiba? To those who are not well-informed, Lady Liberty has got a bunch of sisters around the world. One of them, can be found in Odaiba. Naturally, it is a famous photo spot for tourists. But just to clear things up, the replica is located at quite some distance from Tokyo Teleport station, near a place called Palette Town.

Speaking of Palette Town, you've got this gigantic ferris wheel.

What's Your Colour?
Cosmo Clock 21 at Yokohama, Big-O at Tokyo Dome City... It sounds as if the Japanese are a bunch of ferris wheel maniacs, doesn't it? Oh, should I also add that they're obsessive with rankings too? This one was voted as the ferris wheel with the best night view in Japan. (Number two comes Cosmo Clock 21.) In addition, it's supposedly the biggest ferris wheel in the world.

I love those colourful carriages. Doesn't the ferris wheel resemble a gigantic rotating colour palette? What could be a more befitting landmark for Palette Town, eh?

Alright, next stop, Venice.

You see, travelling is so much easier when you can bend space and time. All you need is to concentrate hard, and blink.

The Hearbeat of Venus
Buongiorno, signori, e benvenuti a Venezia!

Alright, this is Fort Venus, a shopping mall with a Venetian touch. It has a ceiling that gradually changes from a clear blue sky in the day to an orangy one at dusk and to a starry sky at night. Couple that with the European frescoes - voila, you've got a romantic dating spot. In fact, it was chosen as a "Lovers' Sanctuary" in the year 2007. Yeah, true enough, it is the best shopping mall I've been to in Japan. Prior to this, I thought they were all crampy.

And while I was checking up the official site of Fort Venus just now, I discovered this. Look at the photo again. See the inverted pyramid right on top of the fountain? Supposedly, there's a "heart shining in pink". You can't see it because it is hidden. But there's one spot from where it is visible. Those who can spot the heart will be blessed by Venus. "Blessed", exactly in what way, I don't know. But oh, what did they call her? The goddess of love?

Dang, that's motivation enough for me to pay the place a second visit. Who knows I might get a heavenly-sent angel by 14 February!

Now, concentrate... Concentrate... And, blink!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Poem for My Wedding

| 2 persons flung their shoes
I left the TV on when I was working on the computer last night. The new year's eve program that was on air was so boring that it started to get on my nerves. But it didn't really matter because I wasn't paying attention to it anyway. I just needed the ambient noise to help me focus.

Then, a commercial caught my attention. I can't remember the last time I felt moved watching a commercial. Remember the Petronas commercials they air every year in conjunction of Malaysia's National Day? And how they were lauded as rare, meaningful commercials? This one, however far pales those. It is perhaps due to the simplicity that it succeeds in moving just about anyone.

It was a short commercial from SEIKO, the watch company. But just to be fair, the credits ought to go to Koizumi Yoshihiro (小泉吉宏), the man who wrote the poem in the commercial.

The poem was first written for SEIKO as a radio commercial in 1984. It was broadcast once a week, until 1985, when it was made into a TV commercial and aired on new year's day. That was when it moved so many hearts and became popular. People then started using the poem in wedding speeches.

On 10 June 2008, it was remade again, this time as a high vision TV commercial. Here's the poem, translation follows. But do bear in mind that translating a poem requires a delicate balance between preserving the context and the feel of the poem. Admittedly, I'm not very good at this so priority is given towards the latter should there be a need to compromise.

That being said, a translation can never beat the original. So, you may want to take a look at the commercial first on YouTube. Links open in a new window.

YouTube: 一秒の言葉(1985 version)
YouTube: 一秒の言葉(2008 version)
SEIKO HP: 一秒の言葉(2008 version)

「はじめまして 」

「ありがとう 」

「がんばって 」

「おめでとう 」

「ごめんなさい 」

「さようなら 」



[English Translation]
One-second Phrases
Poem: Koizumi Yoshihiro

"Nice to meet you"
This one-second phrase may make one's heart flutter for the rest of his life.

"Thank you"
This one-second phrase may show us one's kindness

"Go for it"
This one-second phrase may bring out the courage within one.

This one-second phrase may fill one with joy.

This one-second phrase may be an eternal farewell.

One second of happiness, one second of sadness.

Striving every second.
Fantastic. Now I've got a poem for my wedding speech.