Saturday, 31 March 2007

Try This at Home.

Leaving your home for an extended period is an experience that produces many demands; the amount of paperwork required to obtain permission to live and work outside your country is often dauntingly large, I burnt out 2 pens filling out forms in triplicate for AEON and working my way through the visa application process. Packing is another mini-nightmare as you try to condense your life to fit airline baggage-limits, 27kg seems a little restrictive considering the amount of 'mandatory' gear (like suits) that's dictated by the company. Thank god I live in an age when so much can be condensed into digital files, not that an mp3 library can really compare with a CD collection, and reading text off a screen doesn't have the visceral charms of holding a book, but at least I'm not flying into a complete void.

One of the not so harsh parts of leaving is the opportunity/obligation of seeing everyone to say goodbye, preferably with as much 'party' attached to the experience as possible. The last few days of my life have been devoted to getting as much 'party' time in as possible. The stories are many, a select sampling:

- Meeting Kombei, one of the supervising teachers for the class of Japanese exchange students who are currently visiting my old high-school. We traded many notes on beer and he taught me a lot about Japanese drinking culture and etiquette. He also said that teaching English is 'really easy', which makes the terror subside ever so slightly.

- Pete using his and Matt's awesome home theatre setup to play ancient games using a NES emulator on his computer. '1943' and 'Guerilla Warfare' are only improved by making their giant pixellated visages many meters across. Truely the ultimate fusion of state of the art and retro.

- Jamie managing to obtain for me a genuine shopping trolley, something I have coveted for a significant period of time. I only regret that I won't have time to use it as a chariot with which to commute to pubs. Still, I'm sure that Pete and Matt will give it a good home, and now they have somewhere to store their ridiculously enormous cache of empty glassware. Many thanks again!

- Walking into unibar to be confronted with a sea of engineers all dressed in green with headbands as part of their 'Binja Turtles' pubcrawl; another one of those things that's a little tough to visulize; so here's a photo:

Aren't they precious?

- Dancing with Kristy to New York, New York (if you can call our vague twirling and swaying 'dancing') it's amazing what you can do after 15 jugs or so of the foamy stuff!

- Hanging out with the workcover crew and having all my questions about GST, birthday cakes and fiscal management answered. They make a great pizza too! Watching Pete throw up out of the taxi door wasn't so fantastic (although we had a great taxi driver, he just pulled over and said 'it's ok'. I even got to meet Leo (Pete's turtle) the next morning; he's major cute!

I pretty much have everything I need all ready, now it's just a matter of packing it all; I had a lot of fun trawling through those 'Australiania' shops looking for gifts to take over, check out my fantastic future office-mascot:

He/She doesn't have a name yet... suggestions gratefully received!

I went to my doctor for a checkup before I left, I got proded, listened and peered into and was pronounced fit to travel. Then I got a very serious lecture about the dangers of binge-drinking and using alcohol as a 'way to fit into a new environment'. Heh, at least I can be confident that my university did it's best to prepare me for that hazard. I promised to only buy vending-machine beer for the novelty value and not to actually drink any.

Tonight I'm off to see my old high school's production of Beauty and the Beast then I'm heartily looking forward to a complete 8 hours (minimum) sleep in my own bed, preferably without any alcohol to 'help' with the process.

Party on world. Just make sure to switch to coffee every once in a while.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Novocaine, Bowling and Changing Clocks.

Happy end of daylight saving everyone! (or at least those of you who are S.A. residents) I'm not sure that an 'extra' hour in bed really makes up for the hassle of changing all the clocks and smoke alarm batteries in the house, but hey; at least it gives us a chance to reset all our timepieces to the correct time and make sure that our smoke alarms are actually working right? After all, we all know that the rules of irony dictate that a house with a working smoke alarm will likely never catch fire.

Speaking of preparedness, my trip to the dentist was routinely scary; everything was fine until there was a spontaneous decision to update my x-rays (just in case my skeletonised jawbone washes up on a shoreline and needs to be identified presumably), at which point it was declared that I needed a filling replaced. Cue injectons, scraping, drilling and a whole bunch of strange Geiger-esque equipment jammed in my mouth; an experience much like this.

Afterwards I went into town to see Emma (who has her own far more substantive blog here, check it out!), drink coffee and get more travel stuff planned; that all went well despite my Novocaine-induced Bells-palsy look (actually it was a help with the coffee, having a numb tongue means you can drink scalding hot water without the pain). While it turns out that exchanging paper money isn't half the hassle I'd be led to believe, unfortunately QANTAS only lets you haul 20kg of luggage when you fly to Japan, so I've got some serious boxing and shipping to organise, unless of course I wear 8 layers of clothes on the flight itself (which might make me immune to snake-bite at least).

Yesterday my jaw still hurt somewhat so I made the decision to have a 'quiet' day, I finished unpacking some shirts, fiddled around with the laptop a bit and finished watching Texhnolyze (frankly, I still don't get it, but it was fun to watch and very 'relaxing'). In the evening I went out bowling down at Ingle Farm; I found out that years of non-practice hasn't improved my bowling technique, but there was much fun anyway, even if Rebecca did blow us all out of the water (the girl has bowling in the genes obviously). Peter managed to get the jukebox to play every Mandy Moore song it had in sequence, then followed it up later with Vanilla Ice which was pretty sodding hilarious. Great night!

Today I'm resolving to tidy up somewhat around here, 'cause I'm getting just slightly sick of living amongst giant, constantly tottering piles of paper, (I had this seriously weird dream last night about pushing a filing cabinet through one of those aquariums that have the giant glass tunnels so you can see all the sharks up close and personal; I think it's a sign). That and I'll get back to learning some Japanese because my progress has lagged just a little lately; more hours in my day might help, but hey, I'd probably end up sleeping them away too. *sigh*

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Bring the Noise!

The fantasticness continues to amount; the Freaks and Geeks marathon continues, and now I'm down to the last three episodes- Yike! Hopefully the end of the series will purge the insane desire to listen to 70's music from my brain; it's kinda affecting my self-image.

I went down to town for some nosh and movie action, Peter and Juanita joined me in viewing Hot Fuzz which I'm glad to report is totally rockin' and most funny. It didn't quite beat out Shaun of the Dead in my opinion (not that I'm biased or anything), but the Spaced boys are still on the top of the Brit-com game. We also got to see the awesome trailer for Die Hard 4.0 (which apparently involves the still follicle-challenged Bruce Willis saving the world from computer viruses or the Y2K bug or somethin') and the not-so-awesome looking trailer for Transformers (ack! Can't the memory of those gimmicky toys just die in peace?)

In not so awesome news I booked in at the dentist for this Friday, which is probably a smart thing to do pre-travel, but also makes me tremble slightly and produces a metallic taste at the back of my mouth when I think of visiting. I need to get myself in for a haircut sometime soon too, not that I don't like my proto-'fro, but it's pretty high maintenance, and I'd rather not have to worry about seeking out commercial quantities of anti-frizz shampoo in another country. Anyway, I can still take suggestions in terms of colours, in another stroke of irony AEON allows employees to sport electric-blue hair- just as long as it's neat, clean and not accompanied by a daffy-duck tie.

Ok... bedtime, something I probably should have done a while ago, but guzzling movie-sized quantities of diet-cola seems about equivalent to putting a thermos of coffee into your system. One day I'll quit caffeine for good: probably about the same time as someone finishes reading a touching eulogy over my Nescafe-sponsored tombstone.

Monday, 19 March 2007

My Media Circus.

It's been kinda crazy for a few days now; last week seemed like this non-stop party, which was cool but has kinda left me a little drained; there's only so many late-nights, caffeine-powered days and alcohol-soaked nights you can take in a row before you start feeling like a proverbial overused dishcloth. Added to the fact that organising international travel is something of a stress-test in itself and I think I can be forgiven for being a little quieter with limper eyebrows than usual.

In good news, my visa actually came through, which means than despite all the bureaucratic craziness the Japanese government is actually willing to let me act as a tiny cog in their highly regimented and quite possibly dangerous economic machine. Anyway, that's the last hurdle made out of paperwork... so I guess I really am going to do this. Dear. God.

At least I'll be well prepared; I went shopping with my dad the other day down at Officeworks, and picked up a few shopping bags full of tech-gear (seriously, it feels like I've got enough stuff to build my own version of Land Warrior here). That means I can take, store and send all sorts of cool media all around the world! It's pretty cool... check this out:

Buffy is fighting Cthulhu on the island of Ry'leth! (here represented by the wasteland of my floor). I hope all my photos are just as awesome. Plus the webcam came through, so now I can show the world my shoebox/apartment in glorious real-time hi-def! All this and the nice people at the store finally signed us up to that 'Flybuys' thing that the people in the supermarket keep hassling us about, which means my parents can get a free airfare to visit me! (Providing they spend $2,000,000 at Coles in the next 12 months).

I've been going crazy with the DVD's lately too in this mad-rush to finish all the shows I have on my somewhat ridiculously long 'to-watch' list. I finished off Witch Hunter Robin the other night but I've still got to work through Texhnolyze in the next week. Compounding the situation my friend Juanita lent me her Freaks and Geeks boxset the other day, and unfortunately it's as cool as all the rumors suggest, meaning it's taken over my life to a disturbing extent... so many quotes to memorise, so little time... I like to think of it as 'cramming' before I find myself unable to comprehend what's happening on my TV set.

Ok, time to go... hardware drivers don't get installed and DVD's don't get watched all by themselves y'know...

Monday, 12 March 2007

Adelaide Cup: Public Holiday or Den of Inequity?

Long-live long weekends!

It's Adelaide cup day today. Seeing as by a serendipitous twist of fate I happen to be residing in Adelaide that means that everyone who's not involved in some sort of socially invaluable occupation (like doctors, firefighters, the police, bookies and liquor-store proprietors) gets a day off. Ostensibly this allows them to watch/gamble upon the horse race for which the day is named, in reality it's more commonly an opportunity for barbeque's, catching up on home-maintenance or just extending the usual weekend alcho-bender by an extra day.

For me of course the holiday is fairly meaningless; I'm not really much for horse-racing, and aside from the fact that retail stores all take a brief hiatus there's not really much to praise or denigrate. I stopped in on Pete, Matt and Nina to see how they were all goin' (answer: pretty good) which was cool, 'cause it kinda made the day feel more like a holiday.

Time continues to tick while I look towards Japan on the horizon; these days it doesn't seem like there's much to do besides prepare to go over there; My dad picked up a refurbished laptop from my old high school the other day, so I've been busy loading all the necessary software (read: games and music). With luck I'll get a web-cam up and running, so you might be able to continue to see my smiling face in all it's 2D glory! Yay! (?)

I got yet another 'reminder' e-mail from AEON today too, reiterating several of their more important policies- the main points are:
Yup; you can't wear jeans and a singlet to work. In fact you can't even wear a tie with a cartoon character on it. This may be a problem as years of a wearing a formal school uniform have left me with a near pathological aversion to formal wear. Hopefully my plan to watch many seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and zero in on Giles as an 'icon of style' will help my sense of self-esteem regarding the wardrobe.

Japan is a very 'ordered' society; this means you don't get paid until you work for a whole month. Unfortunately Japanese landlords expect to get paid on 'rent-day' (none of this 'the cheque is the mail' crap). This means that lack of ready cash may result in becoming destitute, which in turn leads to deportation. Is there no problem that can't be solved with a large wad of yen?

Because frankly the country has more in common with Iran than Holland when it comes to narcotics control laws; seriously, the list of products classed as 'restricted stimulants' includes Vicks Inhalers and Sudafed (along with anything else that contains a sniff of Codeine) and getting caught with a joint carries the same 20-year prison term as hauling a key of cocaine. A bunch of NOVA teachers found this out the hard way last month.

Right: plain tie, bunch of cash, lack of (illicit) drug habit. Rising Sun here I come!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Birthdays and the Sin of Gluttony.

It was Nick's birthday today, accordingly we trotted down to Pizza Hut for an all-you-can-eat pizza-themed bonanza, something that I haven't personally done since... oh, grade 5?

So anyway, eating about 12 slices of veggie supreme, a bowl of pasta, half a loaf of garlic bread and three bowls of mousse and washing it down with a few litres of sunkist seemed like an awesome idea a few hours ago... now the dull pain in my abdomen informs me that it was indeed probably a bloody stupid thing to do. The party was good though.

Still, Happy birthday Nick! Think of my pain as an 'extra present' :P

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

90% Inspiration, 10% Inovation, 26.2% Fluffy Bunnies

If you try hitting that 'next blog; button at the top of this page, chances are you'll rapidly be amazed, flummoxed, annoyed or incredulous; there's a dizzying array of purposes and personalities out there.

Of course, I'm hardly the first (or probably even the thousandth) person to start a blog about going to a foreign land. The novelty of the concept itself has assuredly vanished, and if you read enough of them even the content seems to repeat itself; rants about language barriers, jokes about vending machines, photos of bizarrely translated (or just plain bizarre) English signage.

All the same, some of the musings of these people manages to provide an engaging reading/viewing experience; I've collected some links to what I think are the most engaging such sites out there; Think of them as my 'esteemed contemporaries':

An Englishman in Osaka : He's English, he's a man and he's in Osaka. He also happens to have a great website devoted to his quirky (and very English) perception of Japan's second largest city. His photographic finds in particular are priceless.

Gaijin Smash! : You've possibly heard of this one before, seeing as it's something of a minor 'internet legend'; and possibly the 'original' (or at least most well known) 'American guy in Japan' blog. It probably helps that it's also really well written and consistently interesting.

Sushi and Maple Syrup : This one has a particular resonance with me, since Mr. LaFleur also served time as an AEON employee, in his two years he made a bunch of friends, skied a lot and got married. Yikes! :P Obviously that kind of adventure makes for some great stories. His photos are also excellent.

Tokyo Times : Ok, this one is technically cheating since it's not a 'blog' per-se, still it's far too hilarious to not mention. Few websites as adroitly highlight the 'uniqueness' of Japan as well, and I'd wager that none offer the same laugh/jaw-drop to wordcount ratio that the Tokyo Times does... check out their youtube links if you feel like taking a real head-trip.

As for me, time continues to tick by... the Japanese consulate in Melbourne still has my passport held hostage while they (presumably) verify that I've never been convicted of anything that wasn't a parking offense and/or laugh at my not-exactly-awesome passport photo. The facial holograms built into the new passports are probably a great anti-counterfeiting measure, but they aren't exactly flattering, in fact staring at my own blurry visage makes me feel slightly nauseous. I wonder if that's how I look to people who are inebriated? If so it certainly explains why they would choose my shoes to vomit on.

I went out with my parents to see Miss Potter tonight, and surprise, surprise it actually turned out to be rather good! Not that I have anything against Beatrix Potter (like generations of children in the U.K. her stories formed a cornerstone of my bedtime story material), but period-pieces aren't generally my thing. Ewan McGregor again demonstrated his amazing ability to make just about role interesting, and just about any film watchable (to me, he will forever be remembered as the man who saved Star Wars by steering episodes 1-3 into a controlled crash instead of letting them crater completely). Anyway, the point is, if you like cute bunny drawings, the English countryside, pinafores and Renee Zellweger then check it out, you won't waste your 90 minutes, and if you're one of those people still obsessing over Moulin Rouge then you also get to hear Mr. McGregor sing for a few more seconds... yay! (?)

Right, I'm off to bed, 'cause I have this thrilling plan to start a new book tonight; I'm tossing up between Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and White Teeth by Zadie Smith... choices, choices...

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Pimp My Blog!

I finally finished getting this site in some kind of order (if only the rest of my life was so easy to customise and keep tidy!) Despite my grasp of HTML being roughly comparable to my mastery of Japanese I've managed to replace the admittedly lovely 'lighthouse and rocks' design with some custom content. Hopefully the result is something that feels more like 'Shaun's web-space' and less like 'another one of those generic blogspot sites'.

While I can take full credit for messing around with the colours and photoshopping everything to fit together in a (hopefully) aesthetically pleasing fashion, there is exactly *nothing* (blue heading bar excepted) that I can take credit for actually creating. Accordingly, thanks and references are in order:

- Both maps are courtesy of the Sasebo tourism board, who are kind enough to make a large array of such navigational aids readily available.

- The ship in the lower right corner is the USS Kermit Roosevelt (pictured while moored in Sasebo harbor during the Korean war) courtesy of Robert Simpson and his excellent site dedicated to that vessel.

- The coding for the clock is from clocklink, the weather report (which is actually based in Nagasaki, but still close enough to be accurate) is from the weather network. Fine coding all round!

- Chiyo (the small girl in the upper-right with her stereo) is my small tribute to the work of Kiyohiko Azuma, the creative force behind the Azumanga Daioh manga and anime series, both of which have brightened many a dull or dark moment and deserve excessive praise. Go read/watch and then you'll know what I'm talking about when I start quoting! The image is from Mr. Azuma's own blog (which may be even cooler than mine, it's hard to tell since I can't read much of it)

- The text in the centre is hiragana (not kanji, ironic huh?) and reads 'arigato gozaimasu': 'thank you very much'. That's a sentiment I extend to everyone who visits here, because after all you're taking time out of your own life to sit down and read about mine!

Anyway, I hope you like the new look. It's been fun to put together!

Friday, 2 March 2007

Suits, Students and Kissing.

Another shopoholic-type day today; I've spent the past two days immersed in the capitalist dream; buying vast quantities of clothing so that I can look like a salaryman and earn, well... a salary. Actually it hasn't been that stressful, and despite the need to have most of my pants tailored I'm pretty happy with the resultant look. Now I just need to figure out how I'm going to get this vast quantity of clothing across the ocean without busting through the insanely frugal QANTAS baggage limits. At least that's about it now, I just need to find a few suitably 'subdued' ties and I'm set.

Things haven't been all totally crazy travel preparations though- I blew off some steam with Nick, Frank and Juanita last night and shed a tear that unlike them, I'm not attending a tertiary-education institution (or any other kind of institution!) this semester. At least I have a bunch of friends I can rely on to keep me vicariously involved in that world; it's strange to look at my expired student card and walk through the university at this time of year without thinking about procuring readers and finding lecture rooms, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss it on some level. Have a great time out there for me guys and gals!

I watched The Last Kiss (y'know that movie with Zach Braff and Rachel Bilson) a few nights back, not as good as Garden State in my opinion, but still solid and very watchable. Maybe it just hit the right chord with me since it had a theme about taking chances, breaking out of the monotony of life, making mistakes and not giving up on yourself or others (I love it when movies tell me I'm ok!) But I was pretty hooked. I encourage everyone to check out the thoroughly awesome soundtrack too, I think Zach might have missed his calling as a music producer.

Right, I'm signing out... there's coffee to be drunk, books to be read and itinerary's to be written!