April 2008

Vegetables (20080404)

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A Japanese friend introduced me to another Japanese, who complained about me receiving too much money and seemingly doing nothing at all of value to make up for it. I guess some people just don't understand research. Unlike many who complain and then turn out to be students, i.e. paying almost no tax and thus have little to complain about, this person does indeed work, a lot. So in exchange I offered to pay for dinner at whatever restaurant was deemed good. She picked a restaurant that specializes in vegetables grown in extra healthy ways and brought along one more friend. They got drunk on champagne too, but offered to pay for their drinks themselves. So I got off with paying only 13,000 yen. They spent most of the dinner talking about how good looking the waiter was, and how large his arm muscles were, so the conversation was not perhaps on my favorite topic in the world, but I learned some new Japanese and ate some very healthy vegetables. The desserts were fruits, special tiny fruits like an apple the size of a strawberry and a kiwi the size of a blueberry. Evidently, this is considered super cute by Japanese women, and looking around in the restaurant there were 23 women, and two men who were there with their wives. And me.

Doggy bag (20080404)

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When leaving this restaurant you get a bag of fruits to go too. These are the more normal Japanese style, which is to say a mutant mega size apple, some weird stuff sloshing around in jelly etc.

Japanese food (20080404)

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Another restaurant, that kind of the opposite of the vegetable one. Here there were no vegetables, but instead you could order "beef diaphragm" or sausages stuffed with cheese, everything was super cheap, and super crowded. The toilet was also super narrow, but had a funny paper dispenser, though less fancy and clean looking than what the vegetable place had to offer.

Famous? (20080405)

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In Japan, you never know if the person being photographed is famous just because someone is using a camera larger than himself. He could just as well use it to take pictures of fallen leaves in the forest, like all the other people using the huge cameras seem to be doing. But I think this is a radio show, and that they are interviewing someone famous.

Penguin (20080405)

For reasons that are unclear, someone thought it was a good idea to put a penguin in the middle of Sapporo today. It was mainly standing outside a department store looking confused, while some people were handing out tissues.

The power of Jonas (20080405)

While shopping for playing cards, I noticed a sign saying "younashi taruto", which means cake with European pears in. It could also mean "Jonas cake", since European pear and my name are pronounced similarly in Japanese. My first Japanese teacher at Hokudai said that my name meant European pear in Japanese when I first introduced myself. So I figured I had to buy and try this at least once. Surprisingly, the cake was very good. Japanese cakes tend to not be. They have the Japanese style very unnoticable taste. Evidently, having a taste that you could almost not perceive is considered very refined here, but I like stuff where you can actually taste the taste. So once again, Jonas was proven to be good.

More cake (20080405)

In the evening I was eating at the counter in a bar. Someone who recognized me said hello, and some guy who was a friend of the first one wanted to see some magic. I did a cell phone magic trick, and he was so impressed that he gave me a piece of cake bought in Otaru (another town not that far from Sapporo). Which was surprisingly enough also good. A good day for cakes.

Japanese cookie (20080407)

This cookie shows Japan, and the big strange line in the middle is said to be where the time of the timezone of Japan is the exactly the correct time.

Cuban food (20080407)

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In November last year, a friend said that a colleague of hers wanted to practice English. I said fine, I am free all the time. And since my friend is not the fastest person on Earth when it comes to these things, today we got introduced. We ate Cuban (and Mexican) food in a restaurant where this colleague knows some of the staff. The food was good and the company was good too. They even called up a third person to come and watch the nutty foreigner telling strange and unbelievable stories of every day life in other countries and doing a stupid magic trick with his cell phone. I paid for the food, and they promised to bake me a cake in return.

Korean food (20080408)

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Today I finally managed to corner a friend who has claimed to be too busy after moving to a new apartment to even have time to eat. Today, there was time to eat. A lot. It was good.

Hospitals (20080409)

Warning: long text ahead! I went to a hospital today, which is always exciting it seems. First someone was asking me if I this was the first time I was there in April or something similar. I said I had been there before, though I don't think it was in April. So she gave me a queue number and sent me off to window number two. There they asked to check that my insurance was still OK, so I tried to give them both of my insurance things (since I have extra insurance that makes everything free for me). They said they did not accept my extra special good insurance, and I said they did last time. They just looked at me funny and gave it back anyway. I figured no problem, I would just show it when someone wanted me to pay for something. After confirming that my insurance was OK, they sent me off to use some self service computer to select what kind of treatment I would like today. It was full of medical terminology in Japanese that I had little idea what it meant, but nothing seemed to be even vaguely related to what I thought I needed.

So I went to the information desk and asked about this, and they said nothing shows up in the computer that I have not already had before, if it is the first time I need to say that at window number two. So back to window number two, where I try to explain this. They send me back to the information desk, to get a queue number. After repeating this and some similar things for awhile, I get a not and someone tells me to go straight to the third floor and to their reception desk. I asked if possibly they wanted to know my new address, since I have moved since last time I was at the hospital. It seemed that the answer was "yes" since everyone was kind of getting pale and probably fearing even more hard to resolve interaction with the foreigner... It turned out to be rather smooth, since the correct address is written on the insurance papers, and they just photocopied that and fixed the computer data later.

At the third floor reception desk the whole thing starts over with "Have you ever been here before?" etc. They handed me a large questionnaire in medical jargon Japanese to fill out. Most of it I had no idea what it meant, but I said I would fill out whatever I could and come back and ask about the rest later. Even when I understood the questions and knew the answer, finding the correct term for weird diseases in Japanese is not my strong point. Evidently the receptionist thought I was too slow, so she came out after awhile to see what I was doing. Then she took the form and I gestured and mimed most of the stuff I had no idea what it was in Japanese and she wrote them down for me. The she told me to sit there and wait. After awhile someone else came along and asked if I was the one with the obviously non-Japanese name. Which I was, so she told me to move 10 meters and sit there instead. After a while, a message in the speakers in the hall mentioned my name and to go somewhere. I could not catch exactly where, but I figured going into the open and welcoming door which the previous nurse had disappeared into seemed reasonable. It was of course completely wrong, but someone who had heard the announcement sent me off to the correct room.

There a doctor took one look at me and then started a long lecture on the specifics of this type of infection. It was interesting, but I am not sure that she really needed to lecture me that much. Now I know how to treat and recognize this etc. but I don't think I will start up my own practice anyway, so what was the point of that? Much of the explanation also contained words I don't know in Japanese, but since I guess I needed to become ready to treat other people with this type of infection, the doctor kindly explained these words in English too.

They sent me off back to first floor to pay and get some medicine. They said that if this ever happens again, they will cut up my throat with a knife, which sounds cool, but for this time they will give me pills instead. She also asked if I had anything planned for Wednesday next week, and since it is not every day a cute girls asks to see me again we booked a return visit for next week.

At the first floor, they wanted me to pay them some money, so I tried convincing them that I had insurance that covered that too. Like last time, they would have to speak to their boss, who had to speak to her boss, etc. After surprisingly few steps in this process, they decided that just like last time I actually do have insurance and it does cover everything, just like it actually says on the paper from the insurance company I always hand them. They also explained that I would have to get the medicine from a pharmacy somewhere else, since they no longer have an internal pharmacy at the hospital. I asked about how the insurance might work for that, and the whole process of speaking to bosses started all over. The answer came back that no one knew but also no one really cared since that was not their problem.

I found a pharmacy next door, and there were five staffers there looking bored since I was the only customer in sight. I boldly stepped up to the wrong window and was sent off to the reception. I asked the receptionist if she wanted to see my insurance papers but she said it would be enough with the prescription. I figured probably not, but the usual strategy of speaking to the person asking for money would probably work again. Of course, someone did actually ask for money and I did actually have to show my insurance papers. And they had to speak to their boss, who had to call the insurance company etc. And I got everything for free. Including a note pad with the ace of spades and the slogan "takepron". I am unsure if this actually means "take some porn" or if it means something else ("take" is common in Japanese, but "pron" is an non-existing letter combination in Japanese, so it looks like English).

Italian food (20080409)

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A colleague claimed that since I always pay for other peoples food, we should go and eat together and have some fancy Italian food for me to pay for. So we did.

Famous (20080410)

I was interviewed way back in February, and today the interview was in the paper. I was recognized by the lady in the register at the student cafeteria and by the owner of a pasta place where I had dinner. A total of two friends also noticed it in the paper, and one colleague said the administrative secretaries had said "Isn't this that other guy that comes with you sometimes and always have painfully annoying things for us to do?" when he was there to do some administrative stuff. The t-shirt actually says "Still Single", but the printing in the newspaper is a bit unclear so it looks like it says "Single again", which would be rather bad in Japan. Oh well, no one seems to have read it anyway.

Design (20080413)

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This store sells all kinds of stuff, for instance very very girly wallets with playing card designs. Too girly even for me, so I stuck to shoestrings, tape, and a towel.

Marshmallow parfait (20080413)

This is a completely normal combination of ice cream, whipped cream, marshmallows, and corn flakes. We discussed whether eating ice cream with corn flakes would be strange or normal in Sweden. No one remembers any more, but we were leaning towards "strange".

Not mine (20080413)

Someone left a key on my bicycle saddle. Not my key, though.

Ful design (20080413)

Here is a design shop (designing what, I don't know), called "Fula", which means "ugly" in Swedish.

Lucky me (20080414)

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I have now managed to win a small pack of juice once in the lunch cafeteria. You can select if you want "50 red vegetables" juice, "50 purple vegetables" juice, or "50 green vegetables". I took the red one.

Dirty foreigners (20080415)

The foreigners in our lab, so dirty when eating... typical of foreigners I am sure.

Pee pole? (20080415)

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I don't get much mail to my physical mail box at the university but the stuff I get is often interesting. For instance today, when I got a "pee pole". Which turns out to be a pole to pee on (not a pole you pee with, which is good since they expect you to hand it in in a few days).

Robot evolution (20080416)

I have managed to find (almost steal) a new and better speaker for one of my robots. Who celebrated the event by wearing a new bow tie.

Blood loss (20080416)

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I went back to the hospital today for a checkup. Since there was no improvement at all (some say since the medicine was probably in a dose appropriate for people half my size (i.e. Japanese)), they decided to cut me up with a knife instead. For this reason, they first needed to empty some blood out of me. They probably explained why, but I still have no idea what they said. First they took a pretty normal stab in the arm and stole some blood. Then they stabbed me in the ear and just sat there with a stop watch waiting for me to stop bleeding. There was the usual confusion when I did not want to give them money, but after engaging about four or five staffers, they found out that someone had in fact stapled a copy of my insurance thing on the front of my file (which they were doing something with), and then everything was OK.

Japanese names (20080416)

The things Japanese store owners feel are appropriate names never cease to amaze me. I apparently live quite near to "Atomic Cock Tattoo". If they do tattoos, I don't think I want to know how they do it.

First flowers (20080417)

These are the first blossoming cherry trees I have seen here this year. Which is surprisingly early.

Balloon emergency (20080419)

A friend was organizing a birthday party for her daughter today. Since she complained about how many people were going to show up (many more than expected) I took the hint and was going to stay away. Then I got a frantic e-mail stating "the guy who promised to be here at one to help out is not here yet! [three thirty] please please please come!" I had other things planned, but went there to blow up a lot of balloons anyway. When that was almost finished, the helper arrived. He had arrived in Sapporo at about one but decided on going shopping for a few hours instead... I made my leave when people started arriving for the party.

Caught by the police (20080419)

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When going back to my scheduled events, I was caught by the police. Someone was shouting "oniisan oniisan" ("hey mister!") but since people never speak to me I did not notice. I did notice a policeman running past me when I was bicycling along, and then waving to me to stop, though. A few minutes later a very exhausted older guy came jogging up to us too. They then pulled me off to the side, so as not to block the wave of shoppers in front of two of the biggest department stores in Sapporo and then stood there questioning me for 15 minutes or so. The thousands of people passing by all stared and seemed to think "As expected, a foreigner..." They took my alien registration card and jotted down all the information in their note book, and then had to do it over when I told them they wrote down my old address instead of the new one that is printed on the back of the card. They also radioed some other police guys and asked if a bicycle with the engraved number of my bicycle was reported as stolen. Later it turned out that it was not, so I was let go after explaining where I had bought my bicycle and why I was only wearing a t-shirt. They also gave me a sticker of a duck with a police hat to show that my bicycle had already been checked. Some of my Japanese friends claim that it is never surprising if I get caught by the police, they have been expecting that for forever, but it seems that the police are stopping most people on bicycles now. It is rumored to be a kind of training for the new people hired in April. I have almost been caught three more times, since. But now I nonchalantly turn into the traffic flow of cars when I see police staring at my rear tire to see if I lack the "this bicycle was not stolen" lock that they think should be there. I asked if I could take a photo for my blog, and only one guy said "no no no", so I tried to take one of the other guy when he was running away.

Tolkande trupp again (20080419)

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Despite being held up by the police I still had some time before my next scheduled meeting. Mainly because the time had been decided as "I will contact you again sometime between 6 and 7 and tell you when we should meet" (how Japan ever got the image of punctuality, who knows?). So I went window shopping. Here is where the strange Swedish army sign seems to have ended up now. I also bought some funny t-shirts. In one small store a girl showed me pretty much every shirt they had, showing them, folding them, showing more, folding again. So I pretty much had to buy something in the end. They had several funny shirts. The one I have says "Showtime" on the sleeve but "Showter" on the front. Apparently, it is an original design from someone in the store.

Place for dinner (20080419)

The somewhat loose with regards to time person showed up and we set off to eat. She has lived her whole life in Sapporo so she was supposed to pick a good restaurant, hopefully one I had never been to before. She managed to pick a good one, but I have been there. It also turned out to be packed with people so we would have to wait an hour or more. We decided to wander aimlessly and see if we could find something else instead. We passed another place I have been to but at that time I did not notice that their sign is actually a dove of peace (i.e. the same as my name!). Anyway, she pulled the old "Oh, I can eat anything, you decide" trick, that normally means "I will in fact not, but I felt like saying so anyway". I suggested several things, but "anything" turned out to be "anything, except spicy food, cold food, hot food, or sour food". I, on the other hand, do actually eat anything that anyone else decides to eat, so in the end (as usual) we ended up with the other person deciding anyway.

Penguins, not for eating (20080419)

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The restaurant we ended up with has two penguins. Why, I have no idea. Apparently you are not allowed to eat them. They also serve "wagyuu" ("Japanese beef"), a super expensive type of beef. 7000 yen for a small piece of meat (a full course goes for about 4000 yen in most places). We skipped that but ordered pasta with wagyuu sauce. The best pasta I have had so far in Japan. The salmon was OK, but nothing special, the vegetable pie was excellent, and the pickles were the funniest. Despite my company knew she could not eat sour food, she suggested we order pickles. I said I was not super interested, but if she wanted some, why not (I had no idea she in fact cannot eat sour food). She made some very very funny faces while trying to eat pickles. Unfortunately, she is very adept at hiding her face or getting her hand in front of the lens when a camera is nearby.

Lagom (20080420)

Lagom is a Swedish word that is somewhat hard to translate. It means roughly "just right", but not exactly the same in nuance. Why it is written in the middle of a clothing store is anyone's guess.

Moving pigeons (20080420)

Apart from taxis and Korean food, doves are also used for companies helping you move your stuff.

S:t Michael (20080420)

This is the church of S:t Michael (Mikaeru), which is the main landmark when searching for my friends house.

Dominican food (20080420)

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A Dominican friend had promised to cook Dominican food for me as thanks for proofreading her thesis. The food was excellent. There was spicy chicken, avocado salad, bean soup/sauce. She had also made brownies and exotic fruit smoothies, and her British friend showed up with a carrot cake too.

More cherry blossoms (20080420)

The trees don't look as great in the night, but still.

Cut with a knife by a cute girl (20080421)

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Today I was back at the hospital to get cut up. I was looking forward to pain, blood, and knives (all of which I miss from my fencing training back in Sweden). They pricked me a little a few times in the neck to shove in some anesthetics, and then I did not feel a thing. They also put a cloth over my head, so I could not see anything more interesting than a light blue cloth. The whole thing went fine. Then they prescribed some medicines, and asked if I wanted painkillers too. I said that since I am a man, why would I need painkillers. Half an hour later when the anesthesia wore off, I found out why. Today, the insurance worked perfectly both at the pharmacy and at the hospital. No one wanted to give me bandages though, but the doctor wanted me to change bandages every morning for a few days. I found some later in the evening, after having to walk around and ask the staff to show me what was in fact bandages in Japan.

More Japanese names (20080421)

I like the combination of "Gold Rash [sic!]" and then "Nuts cafe trip".

Snow and flowers, and a dog (20080421)

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The trees on the university grounds are blossoming, but there is still piles of unmelted snow let (looks a bit small in this photo though). And a dog in a basket.

Blood! (20080422)

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When changing my bandages, I finally got to see some of my own blood, but there were only small amounts to find. Seems to be healing fine though.

Tempura instead of Oreo (20080422)

My Oreo strap for my cell phone got lost somewhere between the hospital and the university, so I had to replace it with a tempura don.

Other people working (20080425)

Today was "Campus Clean Day", where everyone was supposed to go out and pick up garbage for an hour. Unfortunately for me, my doctor has forbidden me from physical exercise and lifting heavy stuff like garbage while I am recovering from surgery.

Shopping (20080425)

Instead of picking up garbage, I was sent off to post a book to Tokyo. I also found this excellent something that you wrap around yourself. It says "Looking for [actually Now Taking Applications] a nice girl". I am sure that if I wear this people will just fall over themselves to get to me. On the other hand, Japanese volunteer teachers of Japanese culture and language claim that "no, no one in their right mind would even speak to you if you wore that". But it was only 100 yen. As was the stuffed goldfish.

Shopping adventures (20080426)

I bought "batsu game cards" (a "batsu game" is similar to a dare, you end up having to do something unpleasant), some cockroaches, a duck (could not find a dove), and an eraser with the ace of spades.

Gout Commun (20080426)

Well, why not.

Food (20080427)

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A Swedish friend wanted to show a Portuguese friend "Japanese food". One would believe that that would be fairly easy in Japan, since pretty much every restaurant in the whole country serves Japanese food, but evidently it was too hard for the two of them to manage with the help of only a Japanese person, so I also had to go along. We ordered purple potatoes, potato ice cream, raw squid guts, and other Japanese things. I also got some delicious licorice from Sweden for tagging along.

Fire (20080428)

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Today when going to the hospital there was about 10 TV crews, a firetruck and some police in front of a place right next to where I live. Evidently the "exotic bath" (prostitution, I assume) "Edo-jo" (Edo castle, the whole place is built to resemble the castle in Tokyo) had burnt during the night. Three people, two of the young girls working there and a man on a business trip from Tokyo, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. It seems there was no working fire alarm despite repeated inspections finding the place to be in violation.

Pigeons (20080428)

The situation of the pigeons has improved slightly, since it is now warm enough to have melted almost all the snow in Sapporo.

Fish market (20080428)

Sapporo has a famous fish market, that I have never really visited. This is what it looks like.

No more stitches (20080428)

I had my 6 stitches removed from my neck today. They stuck some tape on me and said that it was OK if it fell off, but if it did not, let it stick there for three or for days. It fell of after 25 minutes...

Caught again (20080428)

Today I civilian clothed police man came running after me and tried to stop me. It seemed to be the same type of check as last time, so I pointed to my little sticker and said I had already been found to be innocent. Since most of the sticker has rained away, I was unsure of whether this would work, but it did speed up things quite a bit.

Disappearing coin (20080428)

I was shown a coin magic trick today, and when I tried to show one of mine I dropped the coin on the floor and it was never seen again. Not magic, but at least it disappeared. And it was not my coin either.

Free wasabi (20080428)

Someone sitting close to me in a restaurant had gotten a huge can of wasabi (mountain wasabi) and shared with everyone who wanted some. I had to eat some because I was a foreigner and everyone wanted to see if I could take it. It is not very good.

Street magic (20080428)

I saw a guy called Yoshi do magic in the street today. He was pretty good at what he did, but he only did very standard magic when I was watching. His flier says he is a regular in some TV show too.

Card heaven (20080429)

I found a shop selling over 1000 different designs of playing cards. There were even three Swedish designs, all very very old. For instance depicting the royal family of that age. There was only one Japanese design, which turned out to be the only one I bought. All others were quite expensive. The Japanese one is called "Panty Cards" and has photos of panties on all the cards. Very Japanese.

Cookie diet (20080429)

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From the makers of the 24h super diet now comes a new diet method. The cookie diet. Whenever you feel like eating a meal of food, you just have one delicious cookie instead. At least that is what the flier told me.

Old fashioned (20080430)

A friend from Tokyo was in Sapporo today, so we had lunch. And the tea. This is what Japanese people consider (or at least that is the name of this type) "old fashioned doughnuts". Green, tasting of green tea and chocolate.