Seems that Midtown has a new guest this month.
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On Saturday evening, as part of Obon, we walked down the river to see the release of about 2,500 floating candle-lit lanterns.
Japan Times described the event as:
A hauntingly beautiful sight, the peaceful custom is a gesture of respect for those who have passed away and gives participants a moment to think about their ancestors, loved ones or even past pets.
It is easy to imagine that thousands of floating lanterns would be a peaceful sight, but the event wasn’t really like that. When we arrived there were thousands of people in Asakusa. I had expected things to be more sombre but the atmosphere was much more relaxed with a party feel. If you planned to release a lantern you had to queue for quite a while as they were released one at a time down what looked like a mini aqueduct.
We never got to see large number of lanterns on the river but it was still beautiful and I found the event fascinating and would certainly go to see it again.
The best viewing point for the event is on the Azuma-bashi Bridge and after watching the release of the lanterns we considered joining the crowds there. Once we got closer we released that people were only watching the lanterns approach the bridge and that the other side of the bridge was mostly empty. We went to the empty side as we assumed that we could watch the lanterns continue on down the river towards the sea. But no, there were very few lanterns there. In hindsight it made sense that these lanterns would be considered rubbish that would pollute the river but it was a little shocking to see groups of people in speedboats catching the lanterns in nets and putting them out.. . .
People often ask me questions about my life in Japan with the sound of excitement in their voices. “Oh it must be fantastic to live there”, “your life must be so interesting”… When really my life is full of normal things that become difficult because of culture and language. Today I tried to go to the gym. It really should not have been difficult but I only know of one way in and it’s via an elevator which was not working. After pushing buttons a number of times like an idiot I finally worked out that the recorded voice was telling me that the elevator was not going to the 3rd or 4th floor. Once I got outside the lift I saw a printed sign with instructions on how to get to the gym if the elevator was not working. I was too embarrassed to spend 5 minutes reading this so I took a picture and wandered off to somewhere less public to read it.
After working out the meaning of the instructions I did eventually find my way into the gym only to discover it was closed for Obon. I’m aware that the festival takes place at some point in the middle of August but it’s not a national holiday and it never occurred to me that lots of businesses would close for the week. So 30 minutes after I left the apartment building I went back to use the small gym there. But first I had to rest because I was so hot and sticky from the humidity outside. The gym in my building is not great. It contains 3 treadmills, 3 bikes, and an area for stretching with gym balls, mats, and stretch rollers. I spent an hour on the treadmill and 20 minutes on a bike. It was not easy in the heat and I sweated most of my life force away in order to burn around 500 calories.
I had wanted to go to the gym to lift weights but I still had to do something when that failed. I’m really making an effort with exercise as my thyroid function is continuing to decline and my medication has been increased again. I was told at the hospital yesterday that it’s going to be incredibly hard for me to lose weight with my current hormone levels but I’m going to keep trying. It will take at least 6 weeks for the change in medication to have any effect but I really don’t want to gain any more weight.. . .
I met Marty for coffee this afternoon and was surprised to discover that Roppongi Hills has been invaded by 66 Doraemon.
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I am back in Tokyo and the heat has turned me into a slug – or at least some sort of slow moving sticky creature. The heat index yesterday claimed it felt like 40 C (104 F) in the city. I just know that it’s horribly hot. I dislike the humidity that helps it be hot morning, noon, and night. We do have air conditioners but they are not reacting well with my chest cold. I can’t decide if I’d rather dissolve in the heat or be cooler and coughing. The other nasty thing about the heat is that blog posts end up being whiny like this one as I can’t think of anything much beyond being uncomfortable and hot!. . .
YAPC::EU is taking place near the end of August in Sofia. I keep finding myself looking at flights so obviously there is a part that would like to attend the conference. I missed last year’s YAPC::EU because it was awkward and expensive to get to and it looks like the same is true this year. I am aware that since I live in Japan I’m not the target attendee for this conference but I will keep hoping that it moves to a European hub at some point in the future. It also ends four days before YAPC::Asia, so the timing is not great for me.
I miss the European Perl Mongers. Mind you at the minute there are only 52 committed attendees for the conference and the Perl Mongers group with the most committed users is Houston.pm. I imagine that the number of attendees will double once the speakers are announced at the start of August, but it will be interesting if the country with the highest representation at the conference turns out to be America and not one in Europe.. . .
When I’m travelling I’m often asked about life in Japan and one of things that surprises people most is the cost of fruit. Not all fruit in Japan is incredibly expensive but fruit given as a gift or fruit that’s just come into season is. I had told people in Orlando that I expected pears to arrive in the stores soon and that they would probably be around $5 each but the first pears of the season are just over $7 each this year.
My local department store also had a gift fruit section that contains mangoes that cost around $40 each. As you can imagine I won’t be buying pears or mangoes any time soon.
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Yesterday afternoon I got to experience one of the more annoying things about Japan – rules. I have sat many exams but I have never sat exams with as many rules as the ones run by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services. The three papers lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes in total and another hour was spent listening to rules. No-one could have that many new rules – this was much worse. It was the same 15 minutes of rules read out 4 times during the afternoon. The rules were exciting things like - do not speak during the exam, if your phone rings you will be given a red card, if an alarm goes off on your watch you will be given a red card, if you do not put your pencil down when instructed you will be given a yellow card, you can place an eraser on your desk but it must be taken out of its box, if you blah blah blah… A yellow card was a warning, two yellows equaled a red, and being given a red card meant you had to leave the test centre immediately and that your paper would not be marked. I had to stop myself from laughing at the way they held up the card and paused each time they read out a rule that invoked the use of one.
The most confusing rule involved an envelope that was on each desk. You had to place your mobile phone inside the envelope. I thought this meant that they were going to collect them but they just wanted it placed in an envelope and put on the empty desk beside the one you were sitting at. At first I think many people were just going to ignore the rule and leave their phones in their bag but if you were caught doing this you would be given a red card and would have to leave the test centre immediately.
We only had one rule breaker. There was no clock in the room so I think that people were surprised by the “pencils down” command when it was given at the end of the first paper. One student continued to write, but he was given a yellow card for doing this. I was pleased that the rules were upheld. I would have been so annoyed if we were allowed to break them after having to listen to them so often.
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We’ve just spent a long weekend in Chicago. We stayed on the Magnificent Mile, which is a rather grand name for a shopping street, but it does mean that we were central and could easily explore on foot. We did more shopping than I expected but I also got to walk round the parks. We had a small kitchen in our apartment, but we did eat out quite a bit. I do enjoy the food in America but we are still trying to adjust to American sized food portions. For breakfast we ate at Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe. Making the most of our jetlag we were there to queue for it opening at 6:30am. I managed to eat around half of what I was given, which was probably still too much food. I have asked why food portions are so big but I get answers like “we pride ourselves in the size of our portions” which doesn’t make much sense to me. Why not put quality over quantity?
On Saturday night we went to see Eddie Izzard! It was such an unexpected treat. We walked by the Chicago Theatre on the way back to our hotel on Saturday afternoon and saw the adverts for the show. We weren’t expecting to be able to get tickets but there were a few left and we ended up with good seats just a few rows back from the stage. I was a little worried when giants turned up to sit in front of us but we could still see clearly. The theatre was huge and wonderfully old fashioned but the seats were small and crushed together. This didn’t cause me a problem but the people around me were all super-sized. They must put something in the water here to make them grow. The men in the row in front of me were all more than a foot taller than me.
Eddie Izzard was amazing on stage. He looked fanstastic. His suit was beautiful and I loved the red nail polish he was wearing. He was tired after flying in from the D-Day 70th anniversary celebrations in France, but he owned the stage. He has such presence and his rambling speaking style was incredibly amusing and had Marty wiping tears of laughter from his face many times during the two hour performance.
We’ve had a fantastic time I do like the city but I can’t imagine living here. During the weekend there were 4 people killed in shootings and another 27 people injured. The streets of the city were also filled with homeless people. I find the contrasts in how different sections of the community live hard to reconcile.. . .
YAPC::NA, the largest American Perl conference, is taking place in Orlando from June 23rd to the 25th. I’m going to be speaking on Working with Volunteers, and since the YAPC::NA schedule is now up I am thrilled to discover that I’ll be speaking on the first day. The schedule is not complete yet. I’ve been looking at it regularly, waiting for the addition of the keynote that is going to be given by Charlie Stross, which I’m really looking forward to hearing. It’s not listed yet but I have seen both the conference organizers and @cstross tweet about it, so I’m fairly sure it’s going ahead.
I’m pleased to see that there will be a VIP Reception on the Monday evening. This event was created to welcome first and second time attendees to the conference and create a way for them to be introduced to other people. After recently being at a conference where I didn’t really know anyone I know how difficult it can be to meet and speak to other attendees. And I’m not the only one. Ricardo, the Perl 5 Pumpking, wrote the following in a recent post about attending a conference where he knew only one person:
The most difficult part of the conference, for me, was socializing. Out of the hundred-odd attendees, I knew one — Mark — who was only there on the second day. I found it difficult to strike up conversations with a bunch of complete strangers, although I did try. In fact, I had a number of nice conversations, but it was difficult and uncomfortable to get started. I’m not sure whether there’s anything to be done about that, but it didn’t help that it seemed like half of the conference attendees knew each other already.
This experience really made me think again about YAPC and other conferences that I attend where I already know half the attendees and, even if I don’t, am in a privileged position by virtue of my position within the community. Remember, fellow conference veterans: go talk to the new people and make them feel welcome. It’s important.
I’m leaving for America soon and I need to decide what I’m taking with me. I’m tempted to bring a board game, for the YAPC::NA Game Night, but I’m not sure that I have room in my suitcase. I also need to finish my talk as I really should take that with me. I’ve been working on it today, but haven’t quite gotten to where I feel comfortable with it. I still have time, and thankfully, unlike the last conference I attended, I’m not expected to hand in my slides in advance.
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