Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I don't blog enough

I think I started this blog in 2009...
My girlfriend just interrupted with "Did the yoghurt not yog?"
"No, but it's been taking longer." I reply after a pause. The weather is getting colder, it is half-way through April after all. Today was warm and sunny but I could wear long pants and long t-shirt comfortably all day outside. We were working on my parents yard again.
My brother and father took rubbish to the dump, moved heavy things and we pruned a tree. The past three days have been very industrious; the place is looking less 'cosy' and more 'well-kempt' if you know what I mean...
Anyway, about the yoghurt. My sister got this live yoghurt culture from some of her yachtee friends. According to the information I have about it, it originated in Turkey some hundred years ago or so, and can be kept alive as yoghurt by transferring a teaspoon full to a sterile jar with water and powdered milk, then it 'yogs'. A new verb meaning to turn into yoghurt! Woo new verb!
So our yoghurt was doing really well. I was eating it fresh every day on muesli with fruit and chia seeds, feeling the health, and then it went hyperactive. This was bad, hyperactive yoghurt culture means separated and gassy yoghurt. The good news: we put it through a sieve and made a thick sauce with curry powder, garlic and salt. The bad: no fresh yoghurt for a week! It's only just recovering now.
Further yoghurt tragedy struck thismorning as I dolefully made up a new batch, one I knew would separate and not yog properly. I was almost at the end of the process, stirring in the powdered milk, when suddenly a small piece of glass erupted from the bottom of the jar and lumpy milk-water with yoghurt culture in it started pissing out all over the kitchen bench and then the floor.
It was a milky flood.
A disaster of epic proportions.
Even Kiki, the hungry cat couldn't lick it all up.
I spat the dummy and refused to clean it all up.

So, hopefully tomorrow I'll wake up to a fresh batch of yoghurt but right now my brother is making peppermint tea, putting 3 teabags into the pot. That's just how he rolls.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cooking Sonnet

When I'm in the kitchen I like to be the master
Everything must be on time, faster, work faster.
Bubbling pot upon the stove, watch it, don't stray
An unwatched pot boils sooner, more like, they should say.

Add the spices matched for taste:
With this, I think, something sour.
With this, fresh ginger cooked with haste
for briskly cooked spices I like to devour.

Baskets of fruit beckon to me
from the kitchen table
perhaps a persimmon and apple dessert recipe
I shall make, if I am able.

To make a treat, so good to eat,
Is to me a most worthy feat.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cycling in Tochigi.

Faces red, breath coming in long ragged gasps and leg muscles screaming with fatigue we struggle up to the crest. At the top we are treated to a stunning view of the river far below: white rocks and deep blue water. Then we sail down the other side, whooping and laughing with glee, no brakes and feet off the pedals as the lush mountain greenery whips past on either side.

Over the past few hours my friend and I had climbed many such foot-hills along the Naka River in North-West Tochigi. We had set out the previous day from our flat in Utsunomiya, the capital city of Tochigi prefecture. Our sturdy touring bicycles fully loaded with pannier bags stuffed with food, clothes and camping gear we cycled North to boldly go further than we had ever gone before.

'Silver Week', Japan's latest national holiday, gave us a chance to cycle for several days instead of our usual day trips and Japan has a lot to offer cyclists! Rivers are a great place to start for the casual cyclist. Most rivers have 'cycling roads' alongside them and, while these roads are often winding and less direct than normal roads, they are much more pleasant to ride on. Beautiful scenery, cool breezes off the river and most of all no traffic, exhaust fumes or juggernaut-like trucks and buses trying to kill you. Well, not literally, but take it from me, a bus thundering past you as you cycle along the roadside is a very scary experience indeed!

It was from one of these cycling roads at the confluence of Ara and Naka Rivers that we spied a weir for catching Ayu, the delicious river fish so many fishermen pursue every weekend in Japan. Until then I'd only heard of this style of catching fish, the river is diverted into a sloping bamboo ramp of sorts, the fish are trapped at the base of the ramp and you simply walk down it and pick up as many fish as you like. On the river bank, next to the weir there was a lovely open-plan restaurant selling, of course, fresh Ayu from the weir. Having cycled since 7 o'clock that morning, stopping only once to take a delicious onsen bath, we decided to stop for a well-earned lunch break. We ordered lunch set A: two salt-baked fish, two soy-baked fish, miso soup and rice. With a beer to wash it all down we were about to tuck in when an middle-aged lady at the next table asked us, "Have you eaten this fish before?"
"Yes, I replied, but not like this!" The fish was served skewered lengthways on a stick.
"I've been eating this fish since I was a little girl" she replied, "my grandmother showed me how to eat it, let me show you."
She came over to our table, and picked up one of the fish, first she broke off the tail, then pulled the skewer out, next she took some chopsticks and pressed the fish on all sides. Finally, she grasped the head between thumb and forefinger twisted and pulled. The whole spine, attached bones and internal organs came out!
"Now you try" she said. To my pleasure the whole procedure was easily done! We thanked our "Sakana sensei" profusely and then enjoyed some of the freshest and tastiest fish I've ever eaten. A weir on Arakawa. Photo: J. Mitchell

Sadly we soon ran out of cylcing road as the Naka river flowed into the mountainous countryside of Motegi. We abandoned the wide, gently sloping route 294 in favour of less trafficked rural roads. Soon we became happily lost amidst harvest scenery: rice-fields with sheaves stacked neatly, gorgeous red flowers sprouting from the field-banks and everywhere a pervading sweet scent on the air. We never did figure out it's origin though.

Cycling with a destination in mind is a good way to focus on a goal, when you're climbing a steep hill on a fully loaded bike it is good to have a goal in mind, be it the crest of the hill you're on or the day's final destination. I think this the mindset most people approach any venture with, be it climbing a mountain or cleaning a very messy apartment! Something I learned on this trip though is that to be overly goal-oriented can cause you to stop enjoying what you are doing in present.

On our first day out, my friend and I had a clear destination in mind; we wanted to get from Utsunomiya to the Onsen-rich town of Tsujimachi in North-East Tochigi. It was a fairly long distance and by mid-afternoon we had made it most of the way along the Kinu river cycling path. When the Kinu started to turn West we struck out across land, into the hills on Route 293. At first the going was good, the hills weren't so steep and there was a broad cycling lane. "We're definitely going to make it!" was the thought on both our minds. Then, half-way up the steepest hill yet the cycling lane suddenly disappeared and we were at the mercy of Japanese national holiday traffic. Tired and stressed out from riding all day the killer trucks and cars were all a bit too much for me that late in the day. Suddenly I spied sign up ahead "Nasu Shiobara Camp Site" it said. I called a stop and my friend and I debated stopping for the day. We ended up staying after a long deliberation and, while camping is always loads of fun, we had to try hard to keep our spirits up; we hadn't made it to where we wanted to go, had we failed?

The anwer: definately not. I learned through this trip that it's moving I enjoy, not arriving. If I stop enjoying travelling then I should stop and rest. I shouldn't race up the hill, seeking the crest, but change to a lower gear and make my way slowly, giving myself time to see, smell and hear this beautiful country. Once I released myself from focusing on goals and berating myself if I didn't achieve those goals I experienced a feeling of true freedom. And I think it's that feeling I'm pursuing in all the travelling I do.
Cycling Path by Gogyo River. Photo: J.Mitchell

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Flowers and Fishy Haircuts

Well, I missed blogging for the entire month of March. So much for my new-found wells of creativity, they dried up but now with the arrival of Spring I feel fresh and ready to go! At least that's the premise.. how far I'll actually get with this blog is yet to be seen, that's the beauty of a jerrymander you see, it can terminate in a fit of alzheimers at any second.

The last week and a half in Japan have been brilliant! For anyone who doesn't know what Hanami is allow me to give you a brief description. Hanami is the time of year when the many hundreds and thousands of millions of cherry blossom trees, sakura, which the Japanese are bonkers over, bloom. Suddenly you are catapulted out of horribly cold winter into balmy Spring days where people frolic, well, mostly just eat and drink really, under a canopy of pinky-white blossoms. A gentle breeze or a bird alighting after flight sends a rain of petals down on the inebriated masses below. I love Hanami. It's the time when all my bitterness at having to live in a place that actually has winter (I'm from Queensland!!), all of my culture-shock and all of dissatisfaction with my job is left behind in the constant party atmosphere.

Sakura blooms in a wave from South to North all the way up Japan. I live in a pretty Northern part, about 2 hours away from Tokyo by train, so Tokyo's Sakura blooms about a week before my local trees. I usually head down to the big city so I can get some Hanami-ing in early. This year I hung out with a good friend and on a Sunday when the blossoms were at 100% (according to the sakura report on TV) we managed to wedge our way into a crowded picnic area. Here I had the pleasure of witnessing THE WORST (or possibly best, depending on which way you look at it) MULLET IN JAPAN. One of the groups near us seemed to be the local bikie gang, there was a lot of leather, big strappy boots and scary-looking girlfriends involved but the stand out for me was a guy wearing a khaki jumpsuit with a leather utility belt that had large chains hanging from it. As if the outfit wasn't enough his hair looked like it been involved in a fight with some bleach about 6 months ago and then hacked off except for a long section starting at the base of his neck, yes, a mullet! This photo doesn't really show the full glory of it, I was a bit scared of pissing him off by obviously taking a photo of him since he was surrounded by his bikie mates, but I hope you can get the general idea.

Now, sadly, the cherry blossoms have all fallen and fresh green foliage is taking their place. I'm going to travel up north in May so hopefully there'll be some around then so I can enjoy some more Hanami time. If not, I'll have to wait until next year. If anyone has ever considered travelling to Japan I seriously recommend coming at the start of Spring so you can enjoy this lovely time. Photos really don't do it justice because the atmosphere is what is so nice. Everyone is enjoying themselves, feeling fresh lovely and free. There's that and the heavy public drinking, Kanpai!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Sonnet

Diluted yellow light seeps from the curtains
A truck sporting loadspeakers advertises bargains
To hold onto dreams I am at pains
The vehicle moves on and peace once more reigns

My first concious thought comes with blissful slowness
I want no devices which mark the sun's progress
Indulge in time spent being absolutely aimless
Journey gently from the night's unconciousness

Loosen limbs and stretch with pleasure
It is time to end this sleepy leisure
Sunday morning is a fleeting treasure
But I must succumb to Awareness's pressure

For if by midday I do not awake
To enjoy Sunday afternoon it will be too late

Saturday, February 7, 2009

25 Random Things

Recently on Facebook there's been this thing going around. You're supposed to write 25 things about yourself and tag your friends so they can learn more about you. It's a nice idea and I wanted to do it too but number one on my list is:

I don't like to follow the flock.

So I'm not going to do 25 and I'm going to do it here on my blog instead. Besides, since I opened my facebook account the number of random people I've collected as 'friends' is a little bit crazy; I once got a friend request from a girl who used to cover my lunch breaks at a job I absolutely hated. I couldn't remember her at all! "Is she really my 'friend'?" I asked myself as the cursor hovered over the 'ignore' button. Seriously though, how many times have you had a friend request from some random you hardly know? Is adding friends addictive, like collecting pokemon cards? You need to get the whole set! Everyone you've ever met. I don't know if I want all of those kind of people knowing 25 things about me. Which brings me to number two:

I'm quite a private person but am rubbish at keeping secrets.

I should come with a warning stamped on my head or something. The second I hear some juicy piece to gossip I just itch with the need to pass it on. Students have told me intimate details of their lives in confidence and I spill it to my boss and colleagues as soon as they have left the building. I know, I know; I'm a bad person but I just can't help it! Secrets burn inside me and even if I'm successful at keeping them for a while, the next time I have a few drinks the alcohol literally loosens my tongue. I'll go from respectable and witty to blurting gossip queen in the space it takes to mix another fuzzy navel. Most of the things I let escape are about me though so usually I'm the only one who gets hurt. All I can say is: you've been warned.

I've lost my accent.

I feel like one of those people who go overseas and come back with a shite fake accent. How I used to mock them.

I admire people who follow through on crazy plans.

How many times have you had a conversation with someone about doing some kind of adventure and it never happens. You could easily make it happen if you pushed for it but well, who could be bothered? I have a few regrets, some silly and serious but is it possible to have nostalgic regrets too? In the middle of Shanghai there is an area called People's Square. It's a large area right in the center of downtown and includes a museum, traditional and modern art galleries, an opera house, a very nice nightclub and an amusement park. One day a friend and I were strolling by the amusement park after taking in an exhibition at the modern art museum and we found a pirate boat. It was like finding treasure. Later that evening we related our find to some friends and together (with the help of some rum-based cocktails) we hatched a plan to dress like pirates, ride the subway and either scare or entertain the mostly Chinese passengers, and finally make our rowdy way to the pirate boat and claim it as our own! I regret never doing that to this day.

I nearly always find a way to let people know what I really think of them.

I like to think of myself as an essentially honest person, maybe that's why I'm rubbish at keeping secrets. I sometimes need to remind myself that social niceties revolve around secrets. Secrets about ourselves we keep from others and secret opinions we have of others. I really think if there was more honesty between people there would be far fewer social niceties. And anyway, often what I think about people is nice.

I have little to no time for crazy people.

A long time ago I thought that being depressed was cool, Goth was the look and Nine Inch Nails was it. During that time, I would also periodically fall into a depressive state and do all sorts of dumb things. Hurting and isolating myself and others. In the end I managed to snap myself out of it using common sense and the desire to be happy not medication. Now I can't stand crazy people because deep down I know they can stop being crazy if they really really want to. There's that and I was involved with a string of damaged young men: a self-harming guilty catholic boy, the drug addled son of a vietnam-vet, a lying alcoholic, and one who said this world was too small for him before leaving it via the roof of a high rise building. Sorry to be a bit black and white about "crazy people" but in my case I consider it a result of experience.

I'm lazy.

It's amazing I've managed to keep writing for this long! I'm someone whose effeciency is motivated by how much free time I can get. Due to laziness, I also haven't exercised enough in my life, have given up playing 3 musical instruments and gave up studying languages at school. I regret it all. I used to (and still do a little bit) think that being hedonistic is glamorous and provocative, what's changed? I'm getting old!

I'm turning Japanese!

Not really, but recently I've been afflicted with a terrible affliction. I sometimes can't pronounce L and R. Like a Japanese person. You say glamorous, I say gramorous. Oh dear. I hope it goes away soon, I really do. Also I now say "See you" instead of "See ya." What is this place doing to me? On top of loosing my accent I don't want to return to an English speaking country with a Japanese accent. Imagine all the unintentional racist slurs I would make!

The End.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

In Moscow subway stations are underground palaces. Amidst the grandeur passengers rush in an orderly fashion from platform to platform on marbled floors. Grand archways, tangled iron bridges and chandeliers mark their progress. Commuters march back and forth under the pressure of roads and buildings above. Elderly trains rumble and crash along worn iron tracks. Security guards and attendants sit quietly behind glass. While I, I stop and admire the stained glass. Guess it's because I'm the only one with time to spare; being a tourist.

Millions of lives traffic through buried palaces every day in that grand old city. I visited Moscow for a week last summer and, while I learned very little during my stay, I saw enough to be dazzled. The scale of things was most surprising: everything was just so big! Walking between the Moscow River and one of the many concentric multi-lane highways which ripple out from the city center I saw a car advertisement which spanned over 200 meters. A life-sized model of the road below was positioned perpendicular to it. Real car shells hung from it, suspended above our heads as we walked the shore, in the distance one of the huge state buildings glittered over the water, its many towers and pillars adorned with stars and heroic statues.

That week in 2008 was an eventful one. Two major events were occurring which interested and concerned me. Firstly, Beijing was hosting the 29th Olympiad. Having lived in China four years ago I was keen to see that country open its doors to the world, which they did in a magnificent, proud and very Chinese way (lots and lots of fireworks). I was happy for China to see everything go well, during my stopover in the Shanghai airport (I place I have spent many a long hour waiting in) everyone ignored the first boarding call for our flight because we were too busy cheering on the women's archery team. I figured it was safer to cheer for China than their English opponents, given the country I was in. I just want to add here that Shanghai Airport has the most ridiculous transfer system I have ever encountered. Instead of keeping us securely inside the airport and just ushering us from arrivals to departures, we were given temporary visa's only to walk out and catch an escalator upstairs, walk past check in and back through customs. It struck me as quite, quite mad, however, I took the opportunity to walk outside and take photographic proof that I was in China during the Olympics. Note my cheesy "I'm in China" grin.

The second world event to occur that week was Russia, my fun-filled holiday destination, attacked Georgia over a its mistreatment of an ethnic minority. I didn't really understand the whole situation because the news media I viewed on the topic were completely conflicting. On the one hand I saw Western coverage saying that Russia was using peacekeeping to take back some soviet land, or it was about natural resources and pipe lines. On the other, the Russian news channels were accusing Georgians of genocide and showed their peacekeeping efforts in nothing but a good light. It was all quite a to-do at the time but now, not even a year later, I have no idea how the whole situation panned out. I guess I better do a web-search and get informed.