blarg?

July 4, 2008

Peeps In The ‘Peg.

Filed under: food,travel — mhoye @ 1:03 pm

Anyone in Winnipeg wanna have lunch on Sunday?

June 4, 2008

Caution

Filed under: flickr,travel — mhoye @ 11:10 pm

A one-off from Hong Kong, as I sort through the rest.

It’s impressive, to see a building wrapped entirely in heavy tarp and lashed bamboo for repairs (bamboo and ties being all that they use, as far as I can tell, for scaffolding of any kind) but the signage is not always what it could be.

Shaver, this one is for you.

Caution

June 2, 2008

The Temple Of Eternal Perfection

Filed under: flickr,interfaces,travel — mhoye @ 10:29 pm

Again, taken from our visit to the aforementioned Temple of Eternal Perfection.

The Temple And The Summit

Lots Of Koi

A Small Koi

Temple, City, Etc.

Temple Roof

Temple, City, Etc

The Heart Of The Temple Of Eternal Perfection

Temple Sprawl

401 Represent

Filed under: flickr,travel — mhoye @ 10:24 pm

Right Turn

Motion Blur

Zoom!

June 1, 2008

Landing in Hong Kong

Filed under: awesome,travel — mhoye @ 12:45 am

So, I fibbed a little, but only because this picture is just on the verge of being (as far as my memories of Japan go, anyway) iconic.

On Time, Every Time

Pro travelling-in-Japan tip: if your train ticket says 4:00, at 4:02 that train will be literally miles away. Those guys don’t dawdle, no sir. A JapanRail pass will let you get away with that but other, lesser arrangements might not, and that’s why JR passes are a must-have, no question.

The plane ride into Hong Kong isn’t as exciting as it used to be, now that their airport sits entirely out in the ocean on reclaimed land, and isn’t smack in the middle of an everything-is-thirty-stories-tall downtown. I never got a chance to fly in to the old airport which makes me a little bit sad but not, in truth, all that sad.

You may not be aware that air travel doesn’t necessarily need to feel like you’re being held hostage in a third-world movie theatre, but if all you’ve ever travelled is United, you can be forgiven for having that impression. Rest assured, there isn’t some cosmic law saying that air travel requires that you squeeze yourself into dingy little seats so that rude stewardesses can walk by once to feed you slop, should they do even that. The service of Cathay Pacific was outstanding, the most pleasant flight I can remember; better than the short-haul stuff I’ve done with Porter here out of Toronto, and Porter is a totally civilized, pleasant way of getting around.

Customs in Hong Kong is… unusual? On the way out of the secure area, you are presented with two doors: one says “if you have anything to declare, go this way”, and the other says “if you have nothing to declare, go this way.” The second door just opens out onto the concourse, and you’re free to go. We might have had something to declare, you know? But not a single person went through the “something to declare” door that we could see, they all just walked out through the unguarded nothing-to-see-here-move-along door. My wife and I looked at each other, and we both silently decided that whoever was on the other side of the “why yes, we would like to call your official attention to our tourist selves” door would be surprised and excited to have guests, that surprised, excitable customs officials were not the right start to our stay, so we should just smile and walk through the other door. Which we did, unmolested, and off we went.

Every airport should work like that. Do you want the cavity-search line, or the no-cavity-search line. No, officer, I would prefer the no-cavity-search option. Very good, have a nice day.

Hong Kong Sprawl

A friend of mine refers to Hong Kong as Bizzaro Tokyo, explaining that it’s another vast, sprawling city, except it it’s polluted, dirty, haphazard and people everyone’s rude to you. I didn’t get much of that last bit, but the first three, totally. We were there for a humid couple of days, and on bad days the air in Hong Kong is like swimming in diesel muffler soup. I had a bit of a cough going in, and by the end of it I was on an inhaler. Hardly the end of the world but one more reason that having been in Tokyo days before, it was hard to see Hong Kong on its own merits and not as some weird compare-and-contrast homework assignment writ absurdly large. Worn narrow streets wind up and down the hillsides built to the standards I recognize from my time in the Caribbean, the wide gutters and patchwork roads that say “it only rains two months of the year here, but those two months are the Great Flood.”

Hong Kong Building

More Hong Kong Buildings

As a result the city looks like a sprawling shrine to the idea that there’s nothing as permanent as something temporary that works. There’s nowhere to build in Hong Kong that isn’t straight up, and the cost of doing so is so expensive that only the megacorporate downtown can afford to do it more than once. So all the buildings that were built without central climate control forty years ago aren’t going anywhere, looking like they cost too much to maintain and way, way too much to rebuild.

Hong Kong At Night

They do look pretty in the evening, though, so more on the subject later.

The Temple Of Eternal Perfection

Fairly early in the trip, we visited the “Temple of Eternal Perfection”. It’s about as well maintained as you’d expect a place named the Temple of Eternal Perfection to be, pretty but very nearly plastic in it’s immaculateness. Colorful and pretty, but somehow static? Unlike the temples in Kyoto, you got the sense that this temple was meant to be looked at but not touched. That it wasn’t so much a place of worship as a thing to be worshipped, and that preferably from afar, as though they invited the vinegar tasters to decide how this should all be organized but Lao Tzu never showed up.

The Temple Of Eternal Perfection, Again

It turns out that the rest of Hong Kong feels very differently about that, though, and the Temple of Eternal Perfection is being steadily encroached by the relentless march of the city’s slow giants. I like these shots for their dramatic angle, and because they facilitate my using melodramatic imagery like the previous sentence, but I couldn’t shake the feeling while I was there that this must have been a miraculous place when it was hidden at the end of a long day’s travel, but now that there’s a subway station and a mall a kilometer away and towering old apartment buildings on all sides, the lustre has worn off a bit.

Thankfully, it was not the most interesting part of the trip, not by a wide margin. Don’t touch that dial.

May 26, 2008

The Last Of Japan

Filed under: beauty,flickr,life,travel — mhoye @ 1:09 pm

These are the last few pictures of Japan that I thought were show-to-other-people good, mostly from Nara.

The Rail Line To Nara

The huge temple at Nara

It’s difficult to believe that not only is this building entirely handmade, but it’s all interlocking, no-nails and all-manual-labor construction. This thing houses the huge buddha I put up earlier, which it itself about three stories tall. The whole building is six or so? Craziness.

Insert Your Coins, Human

The deer at Nara have pretty much got everything except about this source of food worked out except for the opposable thumbs and fine-motor skills, which they delegate effectively by looking at you with big deer eyes.

Hiding

I saw this girl hopping from one side of a rain gutter to another on a long path bordered by these mossy stone monuments and that white outfit just jumped out of that background at me, so I went looking for the line the shot wanted. And I found it, I think.

Traditional Attire

This is the best shot of a set taken over the course of about forty seconds; I really choked on that set, too, which makes me really sad.

While we were at Nara, one of the things I saw a fair bit of was traditional garb, presumably because we were there during Golden Week. A not-small number of women were meticulously wrapped in some very beatiful kimonos, carefully made up and walking tourist’s paths with the small, elegant steps that are all a kimono allows. I absolutely love the combination of domesticated deer, the traditional outfits and digital cameras in these shots. The only other picture that came close to being usable was shot between these two ladies towards the deer, but it was a little out of focus and had a truck in the background – you can see it slowly rolling into screwing-up-my-shot range on the right, there. It pains me, because the shot I really wanted was about four feet to my right at the exact moment took this one.

Yes, These Are Japanese Schoolgirls

That this was entirely involuntary is the story I plan to stick to – one of them asked me to take their picture, possibly because of my chiselled visage and suave demeanor, but more likely because I was standing nearby with a camera. I said yes, being nothing if not accomodating, and then the other five immediately asked if I could possibly find it in me to take more pictures with the rest of their cameras, too, and they were nice enough to play along and let me take one for me while I was at it.

Thanks to the magic of tags, this picture has been seen approximately fifty times more than anything else in my photostream. Way to stay in character, internets.

In the background, as always, patient wife is patient.

Near The Enormous Steel Ball

Finally, taken just outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, this picture is more interesting than anything I saw in the actual museum.

May 18, 2008

Wandering Around Tokyo

Filed under: flickr,food,travel — mhoye @ 8:38 am

It was pretty grey on our last few days there, but you don’t get to pick the weather. You only get to pick what you wear, and I, frankly, look good.

The Tokyo Subway Map

Getting around Japan is surprisingly easy for a tourist, or an english-speaking tourist at least; there are enough translated-to-english maps around and even the untranslated signage is decipherable enough that with a level head and a pocket full of yens everywhere we tried to go was walking distance away. This struck me about Hong Kong, too: get a modern public transit system, cities! It does great things for every single part of city life I could see, and it makes the TTC look kind of… embarassing? Why does Toronto have this filthy, poorly maintained and vaguely Stalinist toy model of a public transit system when other places get these sprawling, clean, fast systems? It’s pretty depressing.

The Tokyo Light Rail System

We spent some time near Ueno Station, looking around the very Hong-Kong-like and very awesome Ameyoko market, visiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and just generally wandering about in the park, and as usual the people-watching was a lot more interesting than the thing-seeing. There was a modern art exhibit in the Metropolitan Art Museum which was, in tourist terms I think, a mistake? It reminded me of my visit to MOMA in New York – “modern art” apparently means “doesn’t connect to anything else, including the audience” – and sadly didn’t particularly speak to me of anything particularly Japanese. I lack the appropriate context of modernity, maybe? Maybe that’s the gag, that not getting it means you’re somehow out of touch, so everyone plays along. Anyway: some of it was neat but we could have spent that time better, I think.

Outside The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art

As always, though, there are intricate little shrines all over the place, intact and well-maintained over centuries, and the constant juxtaposition of the intensely-modern (in the more conventional “built recently” sense) and the durably traditional was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Inscriptions

We spent some time doing a little window shopping around Ginza, too, a sprawling shopping district for the recklessly affluent. Stepping out of the subway puts you within five minute’s walk of four entirely different acre-sized Tiffany’s, just to give you an idea of the grade of affluence we’re talking about here. Not how I roll, exactly, but cool to see, regardless. We even visited the Sony flagship store, was fully of shiny things that you couldn’t use with anything that wasn’t also sold by Sony. Also neat, but also not how I roll, so there you go. Again, it was pretty, but I’ve seen big stores before, you know?

You Are Here Now

But, as I’m starting to realize is typical, it’s the unexpected street-level interactions with a place that really bring you the awesome, not the destinations. Getting there is most of the weird.

Japan Rail

We had lunch at what appeared to be a restaurant-backed vending machine, which was pretty cool. You might have seen these ads before, which look really disheartening, but these places were exactly that sort of job, but done exactly right. The vending machine was basically an automated cashier, and I selected a picture of food and brought the ticket it gave me to the back of the eight-foot-wide restaurant where a woman in an apron looked at it and shouted what might have been my order.

Then, and this seemed like a remarkable thing, two guys behind her splashed some liquids into bowls and clanked some pans in this tiny little kitchen, maybe six by ten feet of floor space. And she turned around, picked up a tray that now had two full bowls and some chopsticks on it, and handed it to me, and that was my order. It’s all about the prep work, of course, but that’s literally how long it took; she took the ticket, yelled the number, clank pour clank pour, here’s your food. Time gets weird when you’re swimming in awesome, I know, but to my estimation this took about nine seconds. I wasn’t sure how to react; this can’t possibly be my order, am I expected to hand this to somebody else? Who? This is mine? What? (And hesitating was bad, because what I clearly was expected to do was get the hell out of the way, so they could do the same trick for the next person in line.)

But for a meal assembled in less than ten seconds, it wasn’t bad at all. Apparently this is a common thing in Japan, too, but I definitely need one of these near my office.

May 14, 2008

The Road Back To Tokyo

Filed under: awesome,flickr,life,travel,weird — mhoye @ 4:19 am

The Shinkansen

We took the Shinkansen from Kyoto back to Tokyo and it’s fast, it’s OMG fast. The line going the opposite direction passes you on rails six feet away and so quickly, just a rush of air, one heartbeat and gone, a quarter-mile of train snapping away like a rubber band. It’s basically impossible to take a picture of it, but if you like I can show you my white blur collection.

I’m used to traveling on ViaRail in Canada, and the Tokyo/Kyoto Shinkansen trip was a bit of a long slow shock. Both cities are huge, Tokyo in particular is vast and high-density and the rail line runs mostly parallel to the coast, so instead of spending your time looking out the window at hours of forests and farmland there’s only about twenty minutes on the three hour trip that don’t feel like you’re rocketing through the middle of a city, scattered around in two-minute chunks. On the trip out from Tokyo, I just kept staring out the window at the passing buildings thinking, Jeebus, does this place ever end?

I’ve never seen a city like Tokyo before, and it’s hard to believe that it can exist at all as it is. 12 million people or so and it’s clean enough that you could eat off the roads, none of which are in straight lines and many of which don’t even have names or even unique identifiers. But every morning it seemed like a brand new metropolis had been cut out of its shrinkwrap and carefully placed around us, pristine and barely used; I felt like I’d have to be a powerful man with powerful enemies and a shadowy past just to be able to find somebody willing to put gum on a sidewalk.

Tokyo Signage

The thing that kept reinforcing this impression was that a lot of the time Tokyo is quiet, eerily quiet. Step off a main road into any of the narrow, labyrinthine little streets that make up much of the city and you might as well have stepped onto the moon; the background hum you can hear in every city I’ve ever known is gone, baffled right down by the tall buildings and enthusiastically non-Roman road plan. So, is this when the ninjas jump out, I kept thinking? I can’t hear my theme music, so if they jump me now, I might not win.

Street Level Flora

Sadly I didn’t see any ninjas, but I suppose if I had they’d be sad ninjas indeed. Akihabara was enough of a letdown, I didn’t need to get randomly jumped by a bunch of second-rate martial artists. Next time, I’ll have to pack one of these, which I wouldn’t have thought would ever work, but now it’s hard to believe that it wouldn’t. I don’t think that I was more than twenty meters from a vending machine the entire trip.

Temple Gate Plus Vending Machine

But when we did find ourselves on a major road, near a train station or somewhere like Ginza or Harajuku, we’d find ourselves in the middle of a huge, noisy, frothing, enthusiastic mess of people, and walking through it felt like I was crowd surfing in the world’s most polite riot.

Harajuku was particularly awesome, some of the finest people-watching in the world. It’s a young person’s ‘hood, for sure, and the kids were dressed up and out to see and be seen, but the cosplayers were the real gold. There were weekend Elvises (one of whom had procured an enormous pink ’57 Cadillac from somewhere, a monster about six times the size of a typical Japanese car), crunchy-looking Goth girls, elaborately coiffed Harajuku Maids, cosplayers and vending machines that served iced coffee and beer. For a few moments, I wondered why I should ever be anywhere else.

Harajuku

There was even what looked like an impromptu battle-of-the-bands going on, though whoever won that, it was a pyrrhic victory for sure. From what I could make out, there was some boy-band signing session going on nearby, so the cosplayers were out in force, hundreds where there would “normally” only be dozens. It hit me there that all fashion is a strict subset of cosplay, and that the people who embrace that will be able to push at boundaries the rest of us can’t even see, and make the world a lot more colorful, interesting and fun for all of us.

And it also occurred to me, as I was crossing a bridge beer in hand and patient wife in tow to take some pictures of a horde of girls in goth-lolita outfits that life had somehow brought me to a point that I was in Japan with a beer in my hand and my wife humoring me as I went to take some pictures of a horde of girls in goth-lolita outfits, and I just started laughing, because it’s good to be me.

May 13, 2008

Home

Filed under: flickr,life,travel — mhoye @ 6:16 pm

We’re home. No disrespect to our gracious hosts but two weeks away is slightly more than plenty, it turns out.

I’m well behind on my blogging, of course, and have to sort through several thousand pictures to figure out which ones are worthwhile, but the last few days in Japan and a week in Hong Kong are on the way.

Some Local Flora

May 11, 2008

Akihabara: Fail

Filed under: analog,awesome,beauty,digital,flickr,future,hate,life,losers,travel,vendetta — mhoye @ 4:41 pm

Context, because it is all about context.

First, a bit of short reading: The Grim Meathook Future, a phrase coined by Joshua Ellis.

The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.

Like they say, read the whole thing.

Second, a well-worn observation, that a common failing of science fiction is to assume that the future looks pretty much like the present, only more so; the first time I remember noticing that was in Larry Niven’s mid-seventies Gil Hamilton series, set centuries in the future, where a planet of thirty billion people is described as largely peaceful and well-regulated, but computers still output their information on paper tape and a few hours of “time on the computer”, singular, is described as an absurdly exorbitant expense.

Those stories don’t age well, as you might imagine; nothing is as hard on science fiction as the future,

Bear with me, here.

Akihabara, or “Akihabara Electric Town”, is Tokyo’s discount-tech district and something of a nerd Mecca. It’s home to a ridiculous number of computer and anime stores, and many shiny technologies are found there; the widgets of the future are reportedly sold there long before finding their way to the Americas, I made my pilgrimage, hoping to get a glimpse what the future would look like.

And I was deeply disappointed. Whatever you might think about what’s coming, it’s crystal clear that the future we go with had better not look like the one I found at Akihabara.

Yesterday's Technology Today

The Japanese do not, I think, have a long cultural tradition of making new stuff. They do have a long tradition of taking ideas and items from elsewhere and making or doing them about as well as they can be made or done, and in Akihabara that particular cultural bent has been focused on nominally inexpensive technology. And everything you could ask for in that was there – racked-up rows of tiny devices, bigger stores holding smaller, more luminous widgets than I’d seen anywhere, lightweight laptops, tiny media players, wildly functional cellphones, you name it. Collector’s boutiques for all things anime, comprehensively stocked to obsessive completion, second-hand electronics stores stocked to the ceiling with retro cool.

Tiny LCDs reflecting off brushed aluminum casings and grim portent as far as the eye can see.

If I were a younger man I might have seen it differently but what I saw, all I could see, was the science fiction of the-present-only-more-so, a huge amount of obsessive effort put to the service of a future destined to age very poorly. Mountains of plastic crap, robot figurines, big-eyed-cartoon-schoolgirl porn and thousands of people expending enormous amounts of time, money, talent and effort in a thousand desperate bids to be not bored. And I don’t think it’s going to age well at all. I sure hope it doesn’t.

Akihabara: Fail

And to nobody’s surprise but mine I’m sure, when presented with the nonrational customer, the rational merchant’s prices don’t toddle downward, no sir. For an ostensibly-discount tech district Akihabara is goddamned expensive, and only got more expensive the more gimmicky stuff became. I’m sorry, you want a hundred and thirty bucks for a one-gig flash drive shaped like a piece of sushi? I’m thinking no. Specifically, I’m thinking no and fuck off. Which brings us to the compare-and-contrast part of today’s entry: Tsukiji

We didn’t get to Tsukiji in time for the morning tuna auctions, so when we got there it the day’s catch was being piled into trucks and sent wherever it goes. The public accessway to watch this process looked terrifyingly-enough like an industrial service entrance that we mistakenly thought it couldn’t possibly be the regular public entrance, so instead we went around the corner to what turned out to be the actual service entrance to try our “luck” there.

I don’t know if that was a mistake per se, but since we were walking around with a four-year-old girl and a nine-month old boy, it certainly was exciting. I wouldn’t really describe the place as child safe, even though they made it out OK, and their mother earned my respect one more time for not flipping out even a little when she clearly (and entirely justifiably, I might add) felt that flipping out was exactly what the situation called for.

Because Tsukiji is, by an order of magnitude or three, the largest fish market and distribution facility in the world. In addition to the several hundred tons of boring old produce that moves around Tsukiji every day, they shift more than two thousand tons of fish in and out of a single building every day in a convulsive spasm of unhinged expiry-date carno-mercantilism, with all the slippery floors, sharp edges and fast-moving machinery it implies.

It Turns Out Tuna Are Huge

And it’s beautiful. The seafood is all vivid colours and shimmering rich texture, alien shapes and odd appendages packed in ice next to huge marbled slabs of tuna. The machinery is corroded and worn, heavy chains greased thick, the air is full of the thump and clank of shifting metal, two stroke engines, the smooth whine of bandsaws and aging brakes.

Tsukiji's Delivery Entrance

Try and imagine that the people from Finding Nemo and Blade Runner decided one sunny morning to collaborate on an elaborate, big-budget snuff film. God, it was beautiful. Oh voice-in-my-head, I love you so; don’t ever change, you embittered, psychotic junkie fuck.

Unlike what I saw at Akihabara, everything I saw at Tsukiji was motion-to-purpose, the blade put to meat meant to feed somebody, not some shiny thing meant to distract. If you only saw pictures of the place you might think the opposite, could easily believe that that Akihabara is the way to go. But you need to see them in person to really feel it, I think; you need to feel the fishmarket rattle and froth around you, to soak in Akihabara’s curious sterility. Nobody at Tsukiji had that terrified otaku inability to look you in the eye or time to wander around slowly deciding what model to buy. The three-foot gaff and four-foot gutting blade in the fishmonger’s stall will never sit idly in a display case, and I saw way more glassy eyes in the store aisles in Electric City than I did packed in ice in the fish market.

While there’s no jihadis or redneck motherfuckers there to throw that occasional horror into the works, at least there’s also not the profound sense that you’re looking at an evolutionary dead end, some cut off island where the animals grow more and more elaborate plumage in response to the lack of real competition. And whatever the future looks like, if all we can muster in response to prospect of the grim meathook future is an exaggerated version of the present, with all that effort put to novelty and trivia, then that will be an enormous failure.

There might be some way to beat that, if we can figure out how to put all that effort towards something meaningful, whatever that turns out to be. But in the meantime, I guess I’d better go learn how to gut a fish.

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