Friday, November 14, 2003

Why I love to come to Japan

I am presently in an internet cafe in a Virgin Megastore in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Shinjuku isn't my favourite part of Tokyo (although there is nothing wrong with it - it's an entertainment and retail district, but not as much fun - and not quite as surreal - as the younger districts of Shibuya and Harajuku).

William Gibson talks about Tokyo as the place where the future happens first. People have asked him whether this is still so after the Japanese economy's disasters of the last decade, and he says that yes, it is, and yes, it is in the small details. (He outlines the position in this three year old article from the Observer, amongst other places).

But, an example. I drink a lot of Diet Coke - probably a couple of cans a day. And I stress cans. Drinks in cans stay properly cold and keep their fizz. Drinks in plastic bottles do not. (Drinks in glass bottles are fine, but these are nowadays fairly uncommon). If I buy a drink from a shop or petrol station or vending machine for immediate consumption, I want it in a can. Plastic bottles are not good enough. However, in recent years more and more shops have started selling drinks in plastic bottles instead of cans. I don't know why they do this. Perhaps they think that bottles look nicer in the refrigerator, or perhaps they are cheaper, or something. Whatever the situation, I think it is one of those situations where the people in charge do not understand the situation because they are not big fizzy drinks consumers themselves. I have certainly had peculiar conversations once or twice when I have asked for a can of Coke, have been told that there are only plastic bottles, and have then asked for something else, or nothing. It is not been understood that a plastic bottle is not to me an equivalent product. It is widely understood by consumers, however. I have certainly heard other Coke drinkers complain. (Oddly, this same state of affairs has not occurred with beer. It is widely appreciated by people both buying and selling beer that beer is ruined by bein consumed from a plastic bottle, and they are not generally sold).

Interestingly enough, I yesterday morning for some reason had a conversation about why I didn't like drinking Coke from plastic bottles, and she agreed with me. I then got on a plane, flew to Tokyo, got off the plane, and bought a Coke from a vending machine. To my initial annoyance, I discovered that it was in a bottle.

Then I picked it up from the bottom of the machine. The bottle was made of aluminium. But it is definitely a bottle, with a screw top, a neck, and a wider base below. (Photo will be provided when I have returned to London). When in Australia and England, the industry that serves me drinks seems unaware that there is a problem in this small detail of life, in Japan the problem has been recognised. And the problem has been solved. This is cool. I suppose I should prepare to see these things in the rest of the world soon.

On the other hand, in some other ways Japan is frustrating. One of the most annoying things is that their ATMs still do not generally take foreign cards. (No, I don't know why), I know from past experience (and also from the airport yesterday) that those operated by Citibank do work with foreign cards, although the one at the airport took Mastercard but not Visa. (This type of thing happens from time to time when you travel, which is why I carry a Mastercard as well as Visa and Amex). I am sure that there will be one in Shinjuku somewhere. (If not, I remember the location of one near Roppongi from my last visit). I think I will Google for the location. If I had been sensible, I would have simply got more money at the airport.
Actually, I think the Onion was rather slow to get to this, but their response is as funny as usual

Unlike this (not actually real) guy, I told my Mum about this blog from the first. In actual fact, I think it has given her a slightly more accurate picture of who I really am. In a way, I think she might almost have been relieved if she found a diary of my sexual exploits or similar. As it is, it has just confirmed her (I suspect already extant) suspicions that I am really fascinated by urban design and cheese.

Update: Blogger now has an official policy on what to do if your Mum finds out about your blog.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A great tragedy

My fortnight in Australia is just about over. Tomorrow I fly to Tokyo. I am arriving back in London Monday evening.

Today, I went to the Tyrrell's winery in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney. This winery makes wonderful pinot noir, and I tasted a recent vintage of their best pinot, which was indeed wonderful. As it happened, I had a bottle of the 1984 of the same wine that I had purchased when I was a stokbroker. The man at the winery said it was still probably nice. Therefore, when I got home I got out the bottle, and I looked carefully and noticed it was just a little sticky around the top. I immediately opened the bottle, and sadly the cork had failed completely. The wine was completely ruined. Therefore, I poured a 20 year old bottle of a wonderful wine down the sink. This was a horrible thing to have to do.

Still though, the earlier parts of the day were pretty good. Visiting vineyards is a fine thing to do.

And of course there is the tasting itself.

The latter two pictures were taken at Pepper Tree Wines in the Hunter Valley, another company whose wines I thoroughly recommend. Their cellar door operation is excellent and friendly, too. (They also were kind enough to pull a couple of "not for regular tasting" wines out from under the counter when they realised I knew my wine, too. This actually happens quite often when I go tasting wines at the cellar door, but it is always nice when it does).

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Cultural Differences

In Australia we have a television station called SBS, which stands for "Special Broadcasting Service". This station has a charter of being a "multicultural broadcaster", meaning that its programming is supposed to appeal to ethnic minorities. (SBS is owned by the government, and is funded by a mixture of taxpayers money and advertising). Sometimes this is quirky - we get subtitled Argentinian soap operas, giving us an insight into an enormous pop cultural world that people in the English speaking world generally do not see. Sometimes it is things that British people might find ït curious that the "multicultural" word applies to. SBS shows enormous numbers of soccer matches. People of English ancestry in Australia tend not to play soccer, but people who belong from ethnic minorities often do. Certain things about its programing are simply good - SBS has far more international news than any other Australian television channel. And SBS also shows a better selection of foreign language movies than any other television station I have ever seen.

But these too can be quirky. For instance, I just turned on the television. SBS was the first channel that came on. As it happened, I got a Japanese movie starring Takeshi Kitano. He said something in Japanese. The subtitle (rather intriguingly) translated this as "That was my best blowfish". I didn't get the context. Was the blowfish a pet? Were they eating fugu? What exactly makes a particular blowfish the best?

I suppose I should watch the whole movie some time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Remote controls

Brian Micklethwait comments on the number of remote controls he now has. Most of his commentary is entirely unnecessary, as the photograph of all the remote controls gets the message across instantly because we are all entirely familiar with the situation. Brian also makes an interesting comment that this is an indication of a particular time in history, and that a better solution will likely be found within a few years, and also makes some comments discussing how the number of remote controls alters the relationships between members of familes.

The issue is bigger of course and I could talk about it for hours (This is perhaps a symptom in the break down of a certain type of centralised authority that applies in much wider contexts) but I have no time. However, in my fortnight in Australia one of my jobs has been to rewire, reprogram, set up, plug in, and do goodness knows what to a whole range of electronic devices belonging to various members of my family. (Plus of course I was asked to advise on purchases). I have been asked to do this because I am good at that kind of stuff. Some would say it is because I think in the way that remote controls do (or at least in the way that the people who design remote controls do) rather than the way other people do. I fear that there may be some truth in this. Does this create a new position of authority for me? Not especially. Does it mean that lots of people buy me lunch? Yes.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Entirely gratuitous photograph of me in Sydney so that I can say I posted something today

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Important redirection

I have some photos from yesterday's Sydney blogger get together over at Samizdata.
A strange thought

I have made an appointment to see a dentist on Tuesday. I have only just realised that I will be seeing the dentist at 11am on November 11. I really hope that he does not stop in the middle of the dental work for a minute's silence.

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