December 2007

French lunch (20071201)

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I asked a friend if she was interested in eating together, since I was going to dinner anyway, yesterday. Four hours later, the reply "Oh, I did not see your mail" came. Which was very informative, it was not like I had already guessed as much. She was at some party, but was home when she sent me the mail. I said "I am still eating, just come over here", and got the reply "If you pay for French or Spanish food, I am interested". I said fine. But she was not really interested in eating again, it turned out, but promised to eat French the following evening instead. So today I walked over to the fancy French place near to my apartment and tried to book a table. They would not let me book a table without specifying what I wanted to eat for some reason, so I said I would have to confer some more before I knew. Since they were still open for lunch and I had not eaten, I said "I'll just have some lunch here and tell you afterwards". The lunch was good, and the place was full of women in expensive clothes. Unfortunately it turned out that these were borrowed dresses that they had worn for singing at a concert just before eating.

French dinner (20071201)

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Back again, now with company, I was ready for more food from the same restaurant. My friend asked what table I had been sitting at before, and as I indicated the one right next to ours the waiter came up. He laughed and said he was sorry about that. He had tried to find a table with a more different view, but they were fully booked by people for some company party. He thought I was weird for being there twice in the same day, though. Food was good, again.

Swedish impression (20071201)

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Later I stopped by a bar/club right next to where I live, looking for a Swedish guy who works there. I found him, and after talking a little to him, some random Japanese guy walks up to me and says "I can speak a little Swedish", in Swedish... And he claimed to have listened to a talk by me once. It seems that he still remembered my popular science presentation from the first time around when I was in Sapporo. He had lived many years in Germany, so he spoke German fluently. This had helped him learn some basic Swedish in just two weeks spent in Goteborg (Sweden's largest small town).

Chinese lunch (20071202)

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Today I had a Chinese lunch which was quite elaborate. And the ramen was very spicy. Dessert seems to have only one meaning when it comes to Chinese food in Japan. Annindoufu (white pretty much tasteless stuff).

Japanese Cameras (20071202)

Every once in awhile, people with huge cameras show up and do weird things. Like tape people walking in and out of a toy store.

A murder of crows? (20071202)

These are not crows, but all the little dots in the tree are birds. It was quite noisy. I like the word for referring to a group of crows though, "a murder of crows" sounds cool.

Not a reindeer (20071202)

To give the Sapporo Cowboy horse tour a Christmasy feeling, they have put fake horns on the poor horse.

Italian dinner (20071202)

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It turned out to be one of my friends' birthday today. I should perhaps have remembered this, since I had been informed the year before that this was the date. I had no idea, though. When told, I suggested I would just buy her dinner, and she had no other plans so off we went. She picked a restaurant from a book that she read out loud from in the store over the phone (getting strange looks from the staff). She also sucks at giving directions, so I was fearing a repeat experience of earlier adventures. And snow was falling. So I went to the general area and was about to give her a call and ask where to go, when I ran into her anyway. She was lost and had no idea where the restaurant was. It turned out that we were standing right in front of it. The restaurant was very nice, though there was perhaps too much food. She could not finish her dessert. I was also sadly enough almost out of cash (and there is pretty much no way to withdraw money in the evenings, since Japanese cash machines close at six or seven for some weird reason), and could only pay for the food. So she ended up having to pay for her wine herself. Perhaps not the most impressive birthday present, but since she got nothing else from anyone else, mine was still the best I guess.

Rappers (20071204)

The store where I live sells rappers.

We sell what? (20071204)

I got this in my mailbox. I am not planning on any purchases from them, but I found it to be funny.

Sushi (20071204)

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A friend who claims to be unusually not busy was kind enough to have dinner with me today. She wanted to eat sushi. I figured that going to a place where you grab whatever plate of food catches your fancy should be safe, since you can just not pick the disgusting stuff. She wanted to eat as many different types of sushi as possible, but did not want to eat very much, so she suggested we should split everything in half (there being generally two lumps of food on each plate). Since she is not Japanese I was hoping she would have normal taste and not a preference for anything that looks disgusting and still moves. So I said OK, which was of course a mistake. She has lived too long in Japan.

Pancakes (20071206)

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Same friend as above was free again, and we went to a place that she had found. Once before we noticed that they have a special set of no less than ten pancakes and lots of stuff to go with them. So I ordered that. Swedish pancakes are very different from Japanese ones, and eating ten Swedish pancakes should not be a problem. I managed to press down seven Japanese ones, but that was a huge struggle. I managed to push off two more on my friend, but we had to leave the last one. Only to have a small Japanese girl then say "I am sure I can eat 10 all by myself, no problem". I am not convinced, but will try to put her to the test.

Cake (20071207)

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A friend e-mailed me in the afternoon saying "I just had a huge craving for cake. Make me cake." I responded with "By a strange coincidence, I am actually eating cake right now", since I was eating the special winter sale cake of the student cafeteria. That did not seem to help, though. Since I had nothing to do anyway, I made a cake. This was more of a challenge than it sounds like, since I have nothing except a pair of cheap forks I practiced metal bending with to use. And a huge knife I got as a gift for visiting a wedding in Tokyo. I bought a tea ceremony plate (or whatever it might be) super cheap to have something to place the cake on and set to work. When I was finished my friend claimed to have already left her office, so it would be "very far" to go to my apartment. Too far just to have cake. So in the end, I delivered it to her place. Lesson learned: walking on the iced streets through downtown Sapporo with a tea ceremony plate with a cake on makes people laugh at you. She was by then cooking some food to eat, and gave me some. Then she got an incredible pain in her stomach and could not eat any cake, so all things considered, this was not a huge success. I would like to stress that any stomach pains set in BEFORE eating my cake, and I (eating the larger part of the cake) was completely fine.

More cake (20071208)

Having a lot of ingredients left over from the day before and no real interest in trying to plug in the electric cord of my refrigerator, I made one more cake today. Yesterday there was a small incident by e-mail with me stating "I am training to be a good house-husband today. I made a cake. I am now delivering it to a friend." In Japanese, you are supposed to leave out any stuff that can be assumed to be understood anyway, such as the subject of a sentence. So the above text becomes more like: "Training to be a good house-husband. Made cake. Delivering." I told this to another friend who had claimed to want to become a housewife. Of course, things that can be assumed to be understood were not, so she interpreted it as "I made you a cake. I am on my way over now." And she was not that happy when things were explained more clearly. So I offered to give her this cake today. She said that if people get incredible stomach pains from my cakes, she was not interested. Neither was anyone else.

Moss (20071211)

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Today I was given something which is named after an indigenous moss that exist only in a lake somewhere on Hokkaido. It is green, made from sweet beans, and wrapped in a balloon. "Just pierce the rubber with a toothpick, and it will wrap itself up and fall off and you have the dessert on a stick". This is the theory. It turned out to be rather more difficult in practice.

Koalas (20071212)

People coming back form Australia brought back Koalas to eat. Real ones were too expensive so we only got ones made from chocolate.

Smoke and mirrors (20071214)

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Today I had company for "okonomiyaki", which roughly translates as "grilling whatever you like". You have a table that heats up where you (or the staff) make food. This makes anything nearby smelly, so you stuff your clothes (whatever you are comfortable with taking off) into the bench you are sitting on. You top everything and anything they have on the menu with dried seaweed, which sticks to your teeth. So they give you a mirror to check your teeth with before leaving.

Rare event (20071214)

Heavy snowfall may have been involved. For some reason, the Hokkaido railway lines were completely dead for most of the evening. Not good for people trying to go home from work over the weekend.

Not Donut (20071214)

Strangely enough, the only place open later than ten in the Sapporo station area is Mr Donuts. Which is open until eleven.

Swedish Christmas (20071215)

Someone called my land line today, when I was sleeping. I tried to find my phone, but since I have never given out my number to anyone (I don't even know it myself) I have the phone stuffed into a drawer somewhere. I did not find it in time, so I went back to sleep, but was woken again by a friend sending repeated e-mails to my cellphone. That was totally unimportant, but the first phone call was the office downstairs trying to tell me I had a huge packet from Sweden to pick up. It was full of bread, cookies, chocolate, and licorice. Today was also the day of a Swedish Christmas party, but since I had been rude enough to point out that the English in the invitations was horribly bad, my invitation had been revoked. I was later told that the party was very nice and the food excellent, though.

Long time no see (20071215)

Instead of a Christmas party, I had dinner in a student cafeteria (in Japan, everyone expects people to work and study on Saturdays too). At least the company was highly entertaining. And she did not force me to wear women's clothing today.

Japanese snowmen (20071215)

In Japan, there seems to be no doubt that snowmen are men.

Japanese Christmas (20071215)

Though no one actually celebrates Christmas in Japan, there are decorations everywhere. For instance in our lobby.

Clubs (20071215)

On my way home I stopped by in a club where a Swedish guy works. I did not find him, but I got my hand stepped on by a Japanese woman, who then was kind enough to talk to me. She was rather drunk, so sometimes it was very difficult to catch what she was saying. Not that that works so well with sober people either...

Magic Festival (20071216)

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Today was the Magic Festival of the Hokkaido University Magician's club. It was excellent. I was the only foreigner in sight, but there being only a few hundred people watching it was perhaps to be expected.

Babies and food (20071216)

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After the magic festival I went to visit a friend and her baby. Another friend was also there, and after a few hours of talking we went out to find food. For some reason, this person keeps thinking I hate udon (a type of noodles), despite me correcting her every time this topic comes up. So she really wanted to eat udon, but said that since I hate it, we should just go somewhere else... We ate udon, and it was fine. The only time I have had udon that was disgusting was once when she cooked it, and I was not the only one thinking so at that time.

Mysterious shop (20071219)

I tried to find a store that sells nothing but magic goods. Perhaps they have the transparent cards I want to buy. It was very hard to find this store though. It was located in a normal apartment building, on the fourth floor, with no signs indicating that there were any stores at all in this house. They did have a sign on the door though. But no transparent cards. The next door store seemed rather mysterious too. "Wild romacne [sic]". Sounds like a brothel, but who knows with Japanese naming conventions. They may just as well sell high heeled boots for dogs or hand sculpted ear cleaners.

More Japanese stores (20071220)

Being back in grace with the organizer of the Swedish Christmas party, I was required to appear for lunch with her. Mainly, I was given the responsibility to hand over a key to someone to water her plants when she is vacationing. She was "too busy" to actually do that herself. I was then also dragged along as reference for what pink rings and necklaces to buy for young girls (around 7 years old). Why I would be considered a good reference for this remains a mystery. But at least I noticed that in Japan it seems normal to use pink heart shaped balloons to put panties on.

Thanksgiving (20071221)

Having proofread 95 pages of Ph.D. thesis I was given a post it sticker and some presents.

First Party (20071221)

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Today was the "drinking party" of our lab. The first party was in a place called "Potato circus", which for some reason has dart boards looking like the national flags of various countries. A lot of food and two hours of free drinks. They also had a karaoke machine in our room, so the crazy Polish people started singing old anime theme songs. One student kept asking me if I wasn't actually cold, "you are just putting up a brave face, right?". Despite it being surely at least 25 degrees and me wearing completely normal clothes.

Second party (20071221)

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The second party was in the same building and consisted of two more hours of free drinks, and a little food.

Fourth party (20071221)

The majority of the people dropped off after the second party, but we found two more to recruit at the third party and ended up with a few hours of free drinks and karaoke for a fourth party. I gave up then and came home at about four in the morning. Two guys were still aiming for a fifth party.

Excellent cooking (20071222)

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Once again I was invited to visit a friend of a friend who was cooking food herself. She is an excellent cook, and seems to be able to cook anything and everything.

Japanese goods and wishes (20071223)

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Japanese people do write the strangest things in the strangest places.

Anime (20071223)

The castle from the movie "Howl's moving castle" was on display in Asahikawa, since the designer of the castle was born in Asahikawa. I was in Asahikawa too, so I took a picture. I have not seen the movie, but have been told it is good. And that the drool from the many meters high model is impressive.

Food in Asahikawa (20071223)

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Famous food in Asahikawa is said to be salt based ramen. Which was very good. They also sold spam filled rice balls. Which seemed less interesting.

Cuter than animals (20071223)

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The biggest attraction of Asahikawa is the Asahiyama zoo. So I went there with three local guides. The first thing to catch the eye is a huge crowd of people taking pictures. Not of the Lesser pandas or the penguins, but of a weather presenter from morning TV. She is evidently about the cutest person on TV, and she was there taping a few minutes for tomorrows show.

The Zoo (20071223)

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We saw a lot of animals and even more tourists. It was a lot of fun. For instance, they have a penguin walk every day, where any penguins that feel like it are taken on a tour around the zoo and thousands of people watch them walk around. They also have a glass bulb inside the polar bear pen that you can climb into, so you can check out the bears real close up (huge line though, so we skipped that). A lot of fun, though some things to consider include "never try to reassure a girl worrying about the size of her bottom by pointing to a photo of the bottom of a polar bear and saying 'this is huge, you are much smaller than this'; evidently, they don't like that".

Toilets (20071223)

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The zoo has rather "interesting" toilets with strange English descriptions.

Egyptian food (20071223)

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In Asahikawa there is a restaurant that serves Egyptian (and Greek) food. Which was very good, everyone kept taking pictures of the food. After eating innumerable dishes and finish off some desserts, my company claimed to be able to eat more. So pizza was also ordered. And more desserts.

Puri Kura (20071223)

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Puri kura is what Japanese people consider an English word. It comes from "print club", and consists of having your picture taken with your friends, drawing on the results and then getting printouts of the results that are actually stickers for you to stick to whatever you like.

A place to stay (20071223)

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Since I was in Asahikawa to perform during a concert, I got to stay in the home of someone who knew the concert organizer. They had a huge house. The guest room was three times larger than my whole apartment, and included two beds, a sofa, music instruments, and much more. I also had my own shower, toilet, sauna, etc. They had lived three months in Sweden, so they had the typical Swedish goods. And a very very lively dog that kept running and running around the house. Until it got a whiff of the smell of apples. It was completely nuts about apples, evidently. A strange choice of favorite food for a dog. The food in the photo is for me, while the dog once again ate apples in the morning.

More toilets (20071224)

This toilet is rather normal, except the automatic service of pushing out seat covers from somewhere if you don't like to sit on plastic.

Christmas decorations (20071224)

The Asahikawa City Museum had noticed that it was Christmas. And it looks so tasteful too.

O-Rei (20071224)

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Since I performed at the conference, I was given a gift of thanks. Cash. Which more than covered my train fare. A kid also gave me some gum after I showed him a card trick.

Concert (20071224)

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There was a violin concert in the Taisetsu Crystal Hall, and I was there to read poetry. The strangest thing I have ever done on a Christmas so far. About 600 people got to hear me read poetry in Swedish, with vague connections to some of the songs played on the violin. I was also interviewed in Japanese about Swedish Christmas customs.

Flowers (20071224)

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I also got a huge bouquet of flowers. Which was rather bothersome to lug around on the train back home, on the subway, in the restaurant, and on the bicycle back home. And I don't have any vases to put them in. I gave them to a friend the next day.

Oily food (20071224)

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In what was said to be a Japanese Christmas spirit, I spent 90 minutes eating and drinking as much as I could. Food was mainly things put on a stick that you then deep fry by yourself at your table. Not a lot like a Swedish Christmas, but good.

Japanese Christmas (20071224)

This guy is working out in a gym at 2 A.M.

Sand (20071225)

Today was a normal week day in Japan but I had no classes so I took the day off. I found such interesting things to do as photograph bags of sand. You can take them and pour the sand on the ground if it is slippery. Does not seem to be used very much.

Romantic (20071225)

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I walked around for awhile among all the couples (Christmas is very couple oriented in Japan) looking at the illumination in the park and having their pictures taken in heart shaped constructions.

In exchange for flowers (20071225)

Today I had vague thoughts of going to the biggest station area and trying to give away my flowers from the concert to some random stranger. It would be interesting to see if people would run screaming in fear, accept them happily or just ignore me. Since I had promised to give a present to a friend of mine for Christmas, I ended up giving her the flowers too. She said "I have a better idea than giving the flowers to someone you don't know: give them to someone you do know". I questioned if this was actually better, but she was insistent. And she has a vase, unlike me, so she managed to keep the flowers alive for a long time. She did agree to keep me company over dinner, and even ended up paying for a piece of cake for me.

More Italian food (20071227)

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I met up with a girl who wanted to practice English with me but has been constantly busy since July, so we have not practiced since then. Today, our Taiwanese friend tagged along too, so there was no English spoken at all. But there was a lot of good food. And then she left for southern Japan the next day, so her total vacation time in Sapporo was about one day (she handed in her thesis yesterday). Japanese people do seem to keep busy.

End of the year party (20071229)

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Japanese New Year is normally the most boring time of the year. The foreigners you know go back home, most of the Japanese you know go to whatever little countryside place they grew up in, and the rest of the Japanese you know work 20 hours per day even during the holidays. After being horribly bored for a few days, I was invited to a party in the place I lived the first time around in Sapporo. They had performances and food, but one performer canceled, so I was allowed to be there despite not being a resident on the condition that I do a performance. I even managed to get someone to tag along for lunch, despite there being heavy winds and rainfall (my shoes were still wet three days later). Another problem with Japanese New Year is that almost all restaurants are closed. One that was open was a Chinese restaurant with photos of Sweden on the wall. They still remembered me there. The party was nice too, after I had run off to the 100 yen shop to buy new socks and slippers to get out of my very very wet ones. There was salsa dancing, belly dancing, singing, poetry recitals, showing of Iranian pop videos, and other things.

Magic tricks (20071229)

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I did a magic trick performance, and was scheduled as the last performer of all (the worst spot). Performing in front of many people (about 30) was a first for me (in this business), and I had to use huge cards so people could see, which was also a first. And difficult. Most things went OK but was not a huge success. One trick was very popular though. Having someone (which ended up to be a kid) pick a card, return it to the middle of the deck and then in a very Japanese way "karate chop" the deck. By hitting hard, his card would go to the bottom of the deck. He ended up hitting too hard, so the card went too far down and got stuck inside my trouser leg. So I said "All right, I guess I will just have to take my pants off", at which time about 30 digital cameras were whipped up and started recording movies. So I did, and we found a card, which was of course his selected card. It was hard to get people to come up and help me with the next trick though, despite saying "I guarantee that I will not take off any clothes this time". The poor image quality is caused by these pictures being screen grabs from a movie shot by a girl in the audience.

New Years food (20071231)

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After having one more horribly boring day, I got an invitation from one of the girls who showed me the zoo in Asahikawa. She said that if I was bored I could visit her family. After checking that she was not joking, I went off and had a rather traditional Japanese New Year. This means mostly doing nothing at home, combined with over eating of traditional food. Most of which is more weird than delicious, and some of it which is rather disgusting. Most food is also "pun based". So you eat fish eggs for success because the two words sound alike etc. The food in the pictures first shows "tachi", which looks very disgusting, and is slightly disgusting. It is raw something from a fish. People are unclear on what part it is, but it is some part that only the male fish has. Looks mostly like a sheep's brain. Here combined with oysters, raw egg, and soy sauce. Can also be eaten in other states than raw. It is very "creamy" and just melts in your mouth. This is supposed to be the main attraction, but just makes everything more disgusting. The next photo is of some eel and rice mix which was very good. The last is home made sherbet. The maker has this idea that when eating sherbet you generally get tired of it about half way down, so he hides other types of things inside to surprise you back into the eating spirit. Here, melon sherbet combined with rum raisin ice cream.

New Years traditions (20071231)

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For New Years everyone goes to the shrine, throws some money in a box and prays for something. Like a better job for the new year or a high score on the next exam. Then you pay for a horoscope, which tells you how and what kind of luck you will have. I met a colleague at the shrine in Asahikawa, and almost got lost on the way there. It was a snow storm around where I was staying, so no one wanted to come along and show me the way. I also had to shake hands with some random stranger and his family, since he wanted to say hello to a foreigner. There are not that many foreigners in Asahikawa.

Japanese pillows (20071231)

I got to sleep in a room with two other people, one constantly complaining about how much better my allocated bed seemed to be (hotter, softer, less risk of being kicked in the face by other sleeping people, etc.). The funniest thing in the room was this "thigh pillow", which even has lacy underwear and a mini skirt. Said to be aimed at lonely men who then can pretend to rest their head in the lap of some imaginary girlfriend. The owner of this one was a young girl, though.