Archive for February, 2014

February 23, 2004 – Classic games on a crap computer

When I moved to Japan, I brought along my sisters old laptop. For those reading this in 2014, you probably think of a laptop as a wafer thin, feather light device that easily pops into a bag and travels everywhere. This may be true now, but it was not true at all about a laptop from 1999.

My sister’s laptop was an IBM Thinkpad that featured a Pentium processor running about 133mhz. It weighed just over 3kg (6.6lbs) and would no longer run on battery power for more than 30 seconds. The hard drive was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1-2GB. It had a CD drive built in (not a DVD drive), and an external floppy drive. There were no USB ports.

The advantage of bringing along this dinosaur of computing was that it easily fit into carry-on luggage, as opposed to my more powerful desktop tower that stayed in Canada. Also, the power connector worked on a range of voltages, presenting no problem plugging in to Japanese outlets. The disadvantages are fairly obvious from the description above.

Since I didn’t have any internet connection, I needed to go to the internet cafe to update my blog. I could, however, prepare the pictures and text entries for upload at home, then copy them onto 3.5″ floppy disks to take to the internet cafe. Since each disk could only hold 1.44mb of data, I would always need to resize my pictures for transport.

One of the fun things I could do on my computer was play classic video games, which kept me at home instead of out spending money. In mid February I was spending a lot of time on the classic Transport Tycoon Deluxe. It is one of those addictive simulator games that is easy to learn and difficult to get really good at. The basic idea is that you are a transportation company, and to make money you need to connect resources and people to their destinations. There is a free open source version called OpenTTD that can be found at

This was a complete rewrite from the original post, because I am sure that many people don’t remember how horrible laptops were in the early 2000s.

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February 22, 2004 – Lord of the Rings finally

I FINALLY got to see Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King! Movies are usually released in Japan about 1-2 months after the North American release. It was a great movie, but I still like Fellowship of the Ring the best.

For reasons unknown I only had to pay 1200 yen instead of the usual 1800 yen admission fee. However, you won’t hear me complaining. Once again I love the fact that the major movie theater chains have reserved seating. This is something that theatres back home should copy. You can buy your ticket and not have to wait in line to rush into the theatre and get a good seat.

Due to being incredibly lazy, I ate Wendy’s twice today. Being homesick = more burgers than usual.

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February 21, 2004 – Pixies in Winnipeg? Are you kidding me?

Original Post

I had to teach a 4 year old girl today. She ran screaming and crying from the small Nova fishbowl sized classroom, even when her mother was in there. So I ended up teaching her in one of the empty kids classrooms. Once she got into the bigger, friendlier looking room she was really fun to teach.

Just before I started writing this post I got an email from The Ex letting me know that the Pixies are reuniting and going on a tour. Holy sh*t!! Unbelievably, the first date of their tour is WINNIPEG, while I am stuck here in Japan. To keep this blog mostly appropriate for all ages, I would like you to think of the worst, most vulgar curse words you know. Now imagine me screaming those words over and over until I lose my voice. That’s how I feel about the situation. Hopefully they will manage to keep it together until they make it to an as yet unannounced Japanese date. I mean, seriously, that`s just cruel. The only thing that could be more heartbreaking for me would be Kurt Cobain revealing he is really still alive, and Nirvana starting a reunion tour from Winnipeg. F@*k.

2014 Update

It took until April 2011 for me to finally see the Pixies in concert. The show was on the Doolittle 20th anniversary tour and it sold out in less than 5 minutes. I bought tickets from StubHub, a ticket reselling (scalping) website for twice the price. Not long after I made my non-refundable purchase, the Pixies announced a second show in Winnipeg that I could have easily got tickets for. Meanwhile, it took me weeks of getting the wrong tickets, sending them back, getting the wrong tickets again and then hours on the phone to finally get my overpriced concert tickets.

Do go see the Pixies if you have a chance. Don’t buy from StubHub. Ever.

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February 20, 2004 – Parklife

A walk through Ikuta park

A walk through Ikuta park

Thanks to a shift swap, I spent the day hanging out with The Penpal in the Noborito area instead of working. We spent some time at Hello House, and then walked to Ikuta Park, which is located near Mukogaoka-yuen station. Unlike many “parks” in the greater Tokyo area which consist of a tree and a bench, Ikuta park is actually a real park. The scenery is a start contrast to the surrounding area. When you enter, the city simply stops and you are surrounded by nature. I will have to come back in the spring!

(2014 update) As you can see from the date stamp on the picture, I did go back in the spring.

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February 19, 2004 – Learning English hurts your head

Today in my 5 lessons at work I had 3 good lessons, one lesson where I totally forgot what I was doing half way through, and one lesson where a student hit her head on the table when helping me pick up some flashcards that I dropped on the floor.

Learning English really does hurt your head.

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February 18, 2004 – Haircut in a foreign language

What a productive day! I slept late, picked up my dry cleaning, got pictures developed, got my hair cut, watched an hour of Simpsons, cleaned my room and washed my dishes immediately after using them (for a change).

(2014 update)

Upon preparing this entry for publishing 10 years later, I notice that I have not yet explained the terrifying experience of getting your hair cut in a foreign language. It is something definitely worth more than the few words that I used in my original post.

My hair is very annoying. It doesn’t grow long like most people, it just gets thick and poofy. While growing up I have had several people suggest that I grow and epic white guy fro, but that’s not going to happen. In order to prevent the fro, I usually need to get my hair cut every 4-6 weeks, with 8 weeks being the absolute maximum. I got my hair cut ridiculously short before leaving Canada, but a few months after arriving I was badly in need of a haircut.

I asked some of the guys in Hello House if they had any recommendations for a good place to get a haircut. Most people suggested a barber shop near Mukogaoka-yuen station, and I also got a few suggestions to buy my own clippers and just cut my own hair. Since I didn’t trust my ability to cut my own hair without turning my tatami mat into a hair carpet, I decided to test my Japanese skills at the barber shop.

At the barber shop there was exactly one person who spoke English – me. I got into the chair and was asked a question which I assume was “what kind of haircut would you like”. I had some instructions prepared, but forgot them all in the moment and managed to say “zenbu mijikai” (everything short) while making a confusing gesture around my head. The barber responded in Japanese by confirming that I wanted a really short haircut (probably). I agreed and proceeded to get a military quality buzz cut.

Having someone cut your hair when you can’t fully communicate is a scary experience. Having someone cut your hair when they have never before worked with hair the same colour or texture as yours is even scarier. As scary as this was for me, it was worse for women who can’t speak Japanese. Many of my female coworkers would go very long times between haircuts, and then would only get their hair done in a very expensive salon where someone could speak English.

I did get better at communicating with barbers over my time in Japan, but always got really short haircuts because it was the easiest thing to do. If you are planning on spending an extended time in Japan, plan ahead for your hair cutting needs.

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February 16, 2004 – Interesting train people

Wow was I tired today. I slept through several alarms, and managed to wake up around 2:00pm. On the train to get to the internet cafe, a random Japanese man started talking to me in Japanese. I managed to hold up my part of the conversation reasonably well. He was also talking to himself quite a bit, and started singing a song about NOVA.

You really do get to meet some interesting people on the train!

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February 15, 2004 – Train Simulator

Mt. Fuji from Izu Mito Sea Paradise

Mt. Fuji from Izu Mito Sea Paradise

Today I went to Numazu and hung out with The Penpal and Williams. I really love the change in scenery when leaving the greater Tokyo area and getting into Shizuoka. Mt. Fuji was snow covered and looked spectacular.

The first stop of the day was Izu Mito Sea Paradise, a marine park just south of Numazu along the coast. Sea Paradise has tanks with a great selection of fish and other underwater life. They also have a dolphin show, which is much like a dolphin show just about anywhere else in the world.

After Sea Paradise, we went to a beach along the coastline where people were practicing various water sports. For the first time ever I saw someone kiteboarding. Imagine someone on a small surfboard holding on to two handles connected to a large parachute like kite. Unfortunately for the man, he wiped out and his kite started blowing away. None of the onlookers at the beach stopped to help.

Following the beach, we went 10 pin bowling and then spent some time in a game center. I specifically mention that the bowling was 10 pin because bowling in Canada is typically 5 pin. I prefer 10 pin, except for the time it takes to find a ball the right weight with proper holes.

In the game centre I played a Dance Dance Revolution clone (badly) and tried a very strange train simulator game. You can’t drive off the tracks, but you lose points for being late to the next station or for giving the passengers a rough ride. I was very fast but I actually had a passenger fall out when I opened the doors at top speed.

It’s always good to get away from the Greater Tokyo area for a while, and I had a fun day with The Penpal and Williams. Fortunately the train driver on the way home was much better than I had been on the train simulator.

(partial rewrite of original post for detail)

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February 14, 2004 – Japanese Valentine’s Day

Click on the picture for the original source


Valentine’s Day in Japan is just about the greatest day ever (if you are a guy).

Growing up in Canada, Valentine’s Day was not a very good day. If you are a guy in a relationship, you are expected to get gifts, flowers, candy, cards, etc. for your significant other and usually take them out for dinner. Lack of planning is punished, as the price of flowers will double or triple as you get closer to the day. I was actually laughed at one year while calling for a restaurant reservation a few days before February 14.

Being single on Valentine’s day is also no fun. Everywhere you look you will see with images of happy couples enjoying life together, reminding you that you are single and will probably die alone surrounded by cats. I don’t even like cats!!

Japan, for all of its quirks regarding holidays, gets Valentine’s Day right (if you are a guy). On Valentine’s Day, men are not expected to do anything. Women, on the other hand, have to give chocolate to men. Chocolate gifts can usually be divided into two categories: honmei-choko, which is given to people you actually like, and giri-choko (obligation chocolate), which is given to male co-workers, your boss, and other people that you are obligated to give chocolate to.

There is a holiday one month after Valentine’s Day called White Day. White Day was first celebrated in 1978 as a way for men to provide gifts to the women that they received chocolate from on Valentine’s Day. It has caught on, but is not quite as obligatory as Valentine’s Day.

If you are a foreign man in a relationship with a Japanese woman, I highly recommend getting some kind of gift for your significant other on Valentine’s Day. It is not expected or required, but will make you seem like a super boyfriend / husband. It will also cost you a lot less than what Valentine’s Day would have in your home country.

(The above post contains several sweeping generalizations and information from my own experiences. Your Valentine’s experiences may vary)

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February 13, 2014 – Recovery

I woke up in the morning feeling terrible after the previous night. Most of the day was spent re hydrating, trying not to get sick, and trying to get the train track grease off my jacket. After about an hour of scrubbing with soap and water, I managed to get most of the stain off. Not a very fun day.

Don’t be a dumbass – drink responsibly (or not at all).


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