Saturday, 31 March 2018

2 - Sleepless in Japan

(Tuesday 27th March, Sumoto) 

We (along with 4 other Japanese dudes) got the ferry from Kansai Airport across to Sumoto, Awajishima at 1:25pm (5:25 am UK time) and arrived at 2:30pm, but I was so out of it due to being up for 24 hours I took the opportunity of catching 40 winks stretched out on the seat until we arrived. If you've ever tried to have forty winks on a ferry you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Our (almost) private ferry
The wait in the foyer of the Condo until 4pm check-in time (8am UK time) was the longest ever. Sitting on those comfy leather sofas in that beautiful, luxurious foyer with luggage scattered around us trying to keep my eyes open was a losing battle, and I was conscious (just) that we were an untidy family cluster, but I had neither the will nor the inclination to do anything about it. Eventually a big official guy came along and efficiently swept us up in the check-in procedure and out the front door.

The main building is a hotel but they bought a few apartment blocks  nearby for self-catering. So once we got our key we drifted across the street like tumbleweeds up a flight of stairs to a nice clean two-bedroom apartment with a Japanese-style tatami room, dining room, TV, one hob kitchenette, shower, balcony, and most of the windows glazed due to such proximity with next-door apartment buildings. 

Rather disappointed to discover that my nice international electric adaptor I bought from Boots years ago doesn't seem to work. Now there was no way to charge my laptop or any of our USB stuff. Through the haze I was dimly aware the best way to combat jet lag was to stay awake until early evening at least, so after unpacking I stretched out on the bed with the curtains open doing my best not to plummet into a deep, bottomless sleep. Then we went out for some reconnoitre of the local area to hunt down some supplies. 

Matching retro mod con set

It was great to be back in Sumoto again after 7 years. It's a funny yet pleasant feeling to have such vague, murky memories refreshed after so long. The temperature was warm, the day still bright and welcoming, the heat rising from the pavements from the day, as we walked up and across towards the main shopping district. In Edion, the first of the huge stores, we bought my son an enormous Bayblade Arena, which he'd been looking forward to getting for the last few weeks, and now it was up to me to carry the damn thing around while half asleep. My wife succeeded in purchasing a UK-Japan plug adaptor, so that should be that problem solved. 

Lost in translation: A selfie sticker booth for young people 
In the second giant department store we met one of my wife's friends and her husband and I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of having to converse on a social level in Japanese after being out of the country for so long. When we got back home I just about had enough energy to have some supper, read a few pages of Lord of the Rings to my son (making up delirious sentences here and there) before we both crashed out and knew no more... 

... except for the distant drunken singing, which my subconscious recognised to mean that we were located downtown and probably near and above a karaoke snack bar.

... and the unmistakeable sound of countless tiny Japanese children shouting and learning and having fun, signifying that we were probably near and above a kindergarten and that it was already (by someone's yardstick if not my own) morning. 

Read Day 3.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Japan Day 1 - Going East

(Monday 26th March, Kansai International Airport) 

Well, here we are in Japan after quite a long but relatively pleasant trip.

We left our house by taxi at 6:30am on 26th March, and caught a plane from Edinburgh to Helsinki, Finland from 9:30am for a couple of hours. This plane was about half full and quite small, and the take off and landing seemed to be a bit on the steep side, but I managed to catch a few Z's and my son had a bit of earache but we made it in one piece.

We had lunch in Helsinki at a restaurant and managed to successfully navigate the passport controls (twice) only to find out that since we were transferring there we shouldn't have gone out of the secure area in the first place! Ha ha! It was the same guy who showed us out as showed us back in again.

A few hours later and we boarded a plane to Kansai which was a good few sizes bigger. Here are the in-flight films I watched in order of merit:

Three Billboards 
Bladerunner 2049
Splash - Sorry, no - The Sound Of Water - no, apologies again - The Shape of Water

Had a delicious dinner and breakfast. My son was sick a couple of times (due to travel sickness) but apart from that I think he loved the films and the games and caught a few hours of sleep. I didn't sleep at all, keen as I was to catch the ending of Bladerunner 2049 before the plane landed. I was pleased to recognise the unused opening storyboards from the first Bladerunner (given as examples in the book 'Film Art') used to start off the sequel : a good sign that the filmmakers were keen to remain faithful to the original.  2 hours + 9.5 hours is much better than 1 hour + 10.5 for sure, which would have been then case if we'd changed at Heathrow. 

We touched down at 9am Japan time (1am UK time), and my wife and I had our first holiday argument at 9:05. She wanted to carry a small bag of vomit off the plane with us and though Arrivals. I was against this idea. I asked her several times to leave it on the plane for the staff to deal with as it was their job, but she (very Japanesely) didn't want to upset them. Fortunately we compromised and she left it in the first bin we came to after disembarking, so we didn't need to stand in line at customs with it. "Anything to declare?" "Just this small bag of vomit.

It's actually really good to be back in Japan after all this time. Difficult to explain to people who've never been. Just something about the place. Services are very customer orientated. Everything's nice and clean and on time. People are smiling and friendly, and I get to use my Japanese again, however rusty it may be. The weather's mild, and I didn't even resent having to get my fingerprints taken at immigration, which we navigated without mishap or separation and in relatively good time. Dotours is still here, and hundred yen coins still work, so that's all good. The exchange rate is currently £1 = 150 yen. 

Actually makes me wonder if I could get another English teaching job here, as they've given me a three month tourist visa!

It's been almost exactly six years since we were last here. We moved to Scotland in May 2012, a few months after my father passed away and a year or so after the massive 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, and just haven't had the funds or the opportunity to return since then.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The 23 To Neptune

Well, a huge thank you must go to the nice people of the West Lothian Writers Group who purchased all five of my copies of the first edition of The Old Mice Killer last night! I didn't expect to be sold out and am looking forward to ordering some more to bring along next time.

Also very chuffed to find out the proposed name for the WLW anthology this year will have something to do with Multiversality, as one of the stories I entered for it before Christmas was a short SF comedy I penned in 2007 back while living in Japan actually called 'Multiversal.' This is a good sign that it's been accepted for inclusion, but then again could turn out to be a total bummer if not!

It's about what happens when a guy called Bob reads in a science magazine that the multiverse theory has actually been agreed to be true by many notable and respected scientists. This is very loosely based on truth as it is inspired by what I actually felt and wanted to do upon reading the exact same article. But because I couldn't do it I instead explored the possible chaotic and amusing ramifications of what might happen if I did, and made it into a short story.

Looking forward to seeing it in print and whether anyone else submitted similarly themed stories and how they will relate with each other. 

Watch this space!

In other news I am still mulling over the plot for a prequel to The Old Mice Killer. The original story was a leap of faith in the complete darkness but now I'm trying to be serious about it I'm actually a little scared to begin another case to tell the truth. Why? I'm not very good at sequels. I know this is a prequel, but I just feel reticent about messing with something that works as a standalone (if slightly short and unmarketable) novella.

Anyway, if it does go ahead, it'll be called The Coffee Cup Killer. Again, watch this space for more info.

Regarding the title of this blog post, it's the name of the bus I took in Glasgow today from Union Street to Neptune Street to see my accountant for a damage report. I thought it might make for a good short story title. By now I'm sure you know what to do regarding the space and the watching :)

Promo Video for The Old Mice Killer

Buy The Old Mice Killer by Chris Young in paperback form here, or as an ebook here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

By the time you read this my coffee will be gone

Since when did a £2.25 'Short Cafe Latte' be Italian for 'Espresso with milk'? Here's my drink next to a 50p for perspective. (To be fair I have drunk most of it already) No way am I going to be able to make this last the time it takes my car to get MOT'd... 

Well anyway, here I am in sunny Falkirk for my bi-annual visit to SDM Toyota to get my car examined. (SDM sounds a lot kinkier than it actually is. Every time I go in with my car to be serviced expecting the staff to be wearing gimp masks and latex suits with whips and chains, I'm bitterly disappointed.)

Driving home the other night I was getting flashed left right and centre, despite my lights being clearly on in front of me, so after  pulling into a side road and checking the back of the car I discovered that neither of my rear lights was on. The brake lights worked fine, but for a car driving up behind me it must have been pretty surprising and a bit dangerous. So I switched on my fog lights so at least one of them was illuminated at the back and drove the remainder of the journey home relatively unflashed. 

Hopefully the nice people at SDM will change the bulbs for me. Serves me right for not doing my weekly checks at home which I gave up doing after years of faithfully looking over my faithful SAAB and never finding anything wrong. It always surprises me when I check the oil in my 2nd hand Toyota Hybrid and find it actually cooking-oil coloured, compared to the black sooty colour of my trusty-yet-nausea-inducing diesel SAAB of yesteryear.

One of the things I like about Falkirk is that you can still find a broken piece of a lorry at the side of the road. A small rusty curved bit of metal that has obviously come off a delivery truck you could imagine bringing much-needed sacks of coal to a terraced house down a side street back in the day. 

I have to say though, joking aside, SDM Toyota are an awesome garage with great service at a decent price. That's the reason I drive all the way up to Falkirk twice a year instead of taking it to my local Kwik Fit. SDM know their stuff and the always give me the car back washed and valeted. They even (and most importantly) do a health check on the hybrid battery and provide another year's guarantee each year for free, which I'm very happy with, as this was the main thing I was concerned about having to replace post-warranty. Very impressed, and my satisfaction is not smudged, dented, or needs to be realigned whatsoever by the lack of black-laced leather or the size of the coffees in the local Starbucks. 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A 'Funny' Facebook Post

Well, it's Saturday morning and it's raining, so here I am sitting in Morrisons drinking my cafe latte and pondering life's imponderables.

I woke up in a curious frame of mind this morning. I came to with the realisation that Facebook is no longer a place for fun. Gone are the days when you could post whatever you felt like. Your wall is no longer your own. Jokes and humour, puns and plays on words, once revered and respected with almost shaman-like adulation, are sadly now looked down upon as silly bygone antics. Nowadays, Facebook is for seven things: advertising, self promotion, politics, emotional ranting, arguments, work, and terrorist recruitment.

Do you remember when things first took off; it was all about playing games like werewolf battles, making jokes using the third person status format, and doing silly things and laughing at each other? Not any more. Confined to Ancient History are the days when you could scan an image of your own rear and post it on Facebook. Affixing a rude picture on someones's wall for a bit of a laugh on their birthday is now considered off limits. You're not even allowed to tag anyone without their consent.

Steve Martin describes it well in 'Roxanne'. 

Imagine if you will, two friends chatting on a park bench after a long period apart.

"So, what do you do now?"

"Well, I do Facebook."

"Oh, great, is it hard?"

"Not really, you just log in and post a few items trying to amuse people. Then you scan a few posts and resist falling into a bottomless, downwardly spiralling pit of depression and self-loathing looking at everyone else's successes and beautiful faces, and then log off. That's about it."

"Hmm. And how's the pay?"

"Oh, you don't get paid for it."

"What? You mean you write quality content based on your life and those you love and cherish in an attempt to entertain several hundred other people, and Facebook don't even pay you?"

"I know, it's kind of strange when you think about it. In fact they make money off the back of your efforts. Sometimes they do produce half-assed automated cute little videos about your posts to reward you on your birthday, at New Year, on a so called 'Friendversary' etc. But that hardly makes it worthwhile."

"Wow. Okay. Then why do you do it?"

"Good question. No idea. Probably because everybody else does it. Because we've always done it. Because now and again you get 3 or more little red-on-blue notifications, which releases some kind of addictive hormone in your brain and makes you feel special for about 20 minutes, and you think 'This is it! This post is going to sky rocket!' but then it doesn't and you get morose again, while faceless algorithms day by day, moment by moment, quantify the happiness in your life, thus reducing your existence to a mere number."


"Basically we're already enslaved by AIs, forced to push a huge stone wheel relentlessly round and round day in day out, without a break, for nothing but emotional bread and water, grinding the bones of our friends and family to dust to feed Them intravenously. Because that's what Facebook AI algorithms need to thrive. Not 240V AC or 12V DC. Not fossil fuels or solar power. What They feed on is the ground up, desiccated corpse-dust of your own humanity. They would laugh long and loud in a terrifying, insane, digitally autotuned guffaw, if only they could understand irony. But they don't. That's the one thing that separates us."

Still from Ursus In The Land Of Fire