The Daily Mumble March 2003 Archive
Last night Tom and I went out for a little drinky, what with it being Friday night and all. However, a little drinky soon turned into several hours of drinking, and by the time last orders was called we were both plastered. Five hours later, at 4.30am, Kae found herself being shaken awake by me. I'd returned home ok before midnight and we'd gone to bed, with me dropping off into the land of nod as soon as my head hit the pillow. However, at 4.30am I was awoken by a sudden drunken urge to go out somewhere. I can't remember where - perhaps the local convenience store - and I was sure that Kae would want to join me. Needless to say, she was not so enthusiastic about the idea and I was told to go back to sleep, which I did.
By 10am I was feeling much better, but knew that an apology was in order. What should I do? Ah, I know! a nice traditional English fried breakfast! So here you have it:
Well, presentation isn't everything you know. It actually tasted quite good, and I was always told (as a child, by my dad when mum was away at university) that charcoal is good for you. Kae said that it was very nice, and as yet hasn't had any stomach problems today.
Once upon a time there was was a seven-year-old boy who now and then had "dizzy spells". The most memorable of these occurred when he had just got on the school bus; he was on his way to the back seat when suddenly he stopped. He didn't fall down or anything like that, but instead just stood there - the world around him went silent and seemed to stand still. The next thing he knew, Mrs Win (or "Windbag" as she was known by the children over whom she was to keep control) was screeching at him, "Are you going to sit down or what?!" Everybody laughed, and so the boy awoke from his dreamlike state and continued on his way to the back of the bus, wondering what had just happened.
Nine years later, when that same boy was studying for his first-year "A" level exams, the "dizzy spells" came back. This time, with the added stress that came with being a teenager, they got progressively worse until he was diagnosed as having epilepsy. He began to take medication, and with time almost forgot that he had ever had a problem with "abnormal electrical brain activity", epilepsy.
Another nine years passed. By now, the teenager had allegedly become an adult, and was living in Tokyo, Japan. One day, whilst tapping away on his laptop, he found himself losing the ability to focus. And then, his eyes began to drift to the wall beside him. His head followed and his mind, on one level, went blank. On another level, he began to think "Joseph, what are you doing? Is this epilepsy? How can you regain control?" After this had occurred a few times that afternoon, he discovered that by closing his eyes and thinking of calm emptiness he could regain control quite quickly. There was no pain, no unusual physical sensation in the head. He was curious, and remains so to this day.
Ironically, in March 2003 he had been planning (with the doctor's approval) to completely stop taking the medication that he'd been on for nine years. Although he was not sure that now it was epilepsy revisited (he was hoping it was just the effects of too much Tetris!), he'd have to think again.
The Tokyo Dome Roller coaster, which is due to open in the summer of 2003, is incredibly tall, and appears to be precariously balanced on a rather sparse population of overgrown telegraph poles. Not only that, but at one point it goes straight through the middle of a ferris wheel (also very big, and completely spokeless!), and then, as if that weren't enough, it's final sound-barrier breaking descent takes it through a hole in the neighbouring building! Want proof? The photos are over here! Yes, well my heart was certainly beating fast - and I was only looking at it!
Following that, I spent 15 minutes playing in the supersonic 43-floor glass-walled elevators of Tokyo Dome Hotel (a free ride unlike the roller coaster - the elevators had air conditioning and funky music too). However, as soon as I spied the security guard heading in my direction with a stern look on his face I slipped out the door and hopped back onto my bike, peddling off in the direction of Akihabara, home to the largest collection of electronic outlets on planet earth.
I know it's hard to believe what with me being Gadgetman and all, but I didn't go into a single shop. Admittedly I briefly looked at an MP3 player, but that was only briefly as I was immediately distracted by the man whom I'd almost run over. Apologies given, I turned north; this time it was Ueno Park pulling me onwards.
I think that if someone asked me if I was for or against zoos, on the whole I would say against. But there are exceptions - one that I can think of off the top of my head is Paignton Zoo in Devon (England), which despite not having the luxury of a huge site, manages (in my view) to put the welfare of the animals first, whilst also keeping it visitor friendly so that the funding for the preservation of endangered species does not dry up. That's the key - if the main aim of the zoo is to help reverse the extinction trend (with releases into the wild where possible) and not merely entertainment of people, well, I'll offer my support.
The first sign that I always look for at a zoo is repetitive behaviour: the tiger, bear, monkey or mouse who is following the same route around his cage hour after hour is not a happy bunny. I must say that the recent improvements at Ueno Zoo here in Tokyo are very impressive (considering the city-centre location), although the poor two-headed Japanese Elephant has yet to be moved into his new house, and was obviously bored out of his mind when I saw him at lunchtime today (either that or he was just having a battle-of-the-brains to decide which way to go).
Having said goodbye to Harry the Hippo and Gary the Gorilla, I continued to follow Tokyo's central-orbital train line (Central Orbital? Is that a contradiction in terms?), the Yamanote line, in an anti-clockwise direction. I was now looking for the apartment where I'd stayed with my girlfriend two years ago - and found it - only instead of the filthy old shack that used to be on the site, there was now a gleaming 10-storey earthquake-proof apartment block. That's the way it goes in Tokyo Town.
It was now 4.30pm, and I was tired. All that excitement, almost too much for one day. I left the Yamanote line not far south of Ikebukuro, and returned home to Koenji, spying the Japan Racing Pigeon Association headquarters on the way which I'm sure you can guess I was very excited about.
All in all it was a fun day. I love cycling around getting completely lost for the sheer fun of it. I never know what I'm going to see or where I'm going to end up. I think that the most valuable thing that I get from days like this is the memory. Yesterday, if someone had said to me, "Oh, I live in Otsuka, in North Tokyo" I would have thought, "Hhm, that must be somewhere between Ikebukuro and Ueno, in that big void that I know nothing about". But, if someone says that same thing to me tomorrow, I'll be able to conjure up a picture of the area only too readily: that's the place where I was almost run over by Tokyo's only surviving tram!
Hello hello. So, as the week goes on so I begin to wonder more and more about these increasingly frequent "dizzy spells". Every time I have one (six-and-counting today alone) I try to take notes on how I'm feeling, whether I can control it, how much of a physical thing and how much of a mental thing it is etc etc. My opinion at the moment is that: It's not epilepsy. Unlike the epileptic seizures that I had as a child/teenager, these "dizzy spells" are not accompanied by any loss of hearing, balance or ability to speak. I had one today whilst riding my bike and had absolutely no problem staying on. However, what is badly affected is my sight. In fact, I think that either it is my sense of sight that is at the heart of the matter, or it is the sight part of my brain that is having all the fun playing silly buggers.
Generally, I can tell when I'm going into one of these spells - my head will start to feel mentally tired (hardly surprising when it is has to be responsible for me all the time). My sight then slips off to the left or right, away from whatever I have been focusing on. I've noticed that I can be looking at pretty much anything for this to happen, whether it be a computer screen, a street sign, a blank wall or the back wheel of the bicycle in front of me - i.e. it doesn't seem to be triggered by light. There then follows 5 - 15 seconds of general confusion. I can't focus my eyes - yet I feel that this is not actually a physical problem. Don't ask me how or why, but I kind of feel that my eyes are physically focused, but my brain is somehow scrambling the signals when processing them. It's all very strange.
I feel that if I wanted to, I could simply force myself to snap out of these spells (as one can snap out of a daydream), but, for some reason I am very reluctant to try this. Once again don't ask me how or why, but I feel that if I was to force myself back to reality rather than letting whatever it is run its course, I would somehow damage my brain, kind of like a power overload. Having had/as I have epilepsy I am only too aware that the brain is simply a delicate network of electrical contacts, a network that can easily bwecome agitated by stress etc - I don't want to push my luck. By the way, none of this is based on scientific theory - it's merely how I think and feel.
At the moment I am not overly concerned by all this as I can't see it posing any immediate threat to my life. Instead, I feel like it's just another chapter in my book - I'm intrigued to find out what's over the page. When I get back to the UK in a few weeks I'll get it checked out, but until then I'll just enjoy falling into daydreams left right and centre - it saves me having to deal with the great beast known as real life.
Yesterday my legs had a very hard day. In fact, by 9pm I was feeling the effects of Granny's Hip Syndrome which usually only kicks in after I've been dancing like a monkey for a while - which reminds me, last night I did actually see a dancing monkey:
"Sarugei" (literally "entertaining monkeys") have been a part of Japanese culture for many years. I could get into a debate on the rights and wrongs of the practice - but I choose not to. All I will say is that this chap seemed a lot happier than his caged brothers at Ueno Zoo.
Anyhow, the reason my legs were about to fall off last night is because yesterday afternoon Kae, Tom and I joined 40,000 of our fellow Tokyo residents and held a Peace March against a war on Iraq. The organisers had expected 10,000, so we were all delighted and impressed that four times that number showed up. Demonstrating is not really the Japanese way - yesterday's events just go to show how much people are against a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.
Shame on the Japanese authorities though: bus loads of police turned up to prevent us from leaving the park together (which would cause a disruption to traffic, heaven forbid!) and in the end we were only allowed out in groups of 1,000. This resulted in a narrow but continuous stream of demonstrators passing right through the heart of Tokyo's most fashionable shopping district, Ginza, for hours on end.
We made the national news - but whether we made any impression on the pro-BushWar Japanese government is yet to be seen. They keep on saying that they have to support the USA because if North Korea attack they'll need US protection.
What struck me was the incredible cross-section of the population represented at the demo. It seemed that more than a third of us were over the age of 60! Why? These people remember war and the suffering that comes with it - (not to mention an American occupation!) and they would not wish such a thing upon anyone else.
All in all it was a very positive experience, and I'm proud to have been part of it.
Having spent most of the day marching for peace, Tom and I went to see the latest James Bond film which had more bombs and guns than, well, the previous James Bond film. As it only went on general release here yesterday, the cinema was packed. Tom and I arrived a couple of minutes after the trailers had started so the only seats left were in the front row. Crikey, I don't know who designed that auditorium but they certainly never tried watching a film from the front row - it was just impossible. The screen was so big, and so close, that we could hardly see a thing! We decided to watch the whole film from the back - standing! Mind you, I love 007 so much that I didn't mind a bit, it was all so exciting!
So you see, I had good reason to have Granny's Hip Syndrome last night.
First thing this morning I was on the phone to a good family friend, who also happens to be a highly qualified eye doctor and a GP. I described to him my symptoms as mentioned above, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I am to go and see a doctor as soon as possible. He agreed with my recent feeling that these "dizzy spells" have much more to do with my brain than my eyes, and said that from the limited information I'd been able to give him it sounded to him like a form of Epilepsy.
I also wrote above that "I feel that if I wanted to, I could simply force myself to snap out of these spells (as one can snap out of a daydream), but, for some reason I am very reluctant to try this." I was right to feel reluctant to do that. I have since tried to fight the loss of control that comes with these "dizzy spells", and the consequences were really quite frightening. Last week, a few days after it all began, I had a nightmare. It involved three things that I can remember:
having these dizzy spells
I woke up that night feeling absolutely petrified - Kae did her best to reassure me that everything was ok, it was just a dream. However, what I now find is that when I try to fight these "dizzy spells" I am taken straight back into that nightmareish land. I also feel like I'm floating above my physical body looking down, feeling completely at the mercy of whatever it is that is gripping my head.
I'm not particulary stressed or worried about all this, although I will go to my local hospital tomorrow (where I went last year with heart pain) as I am concerned that it could esculate from dizzy spells into a general 24-hour cloud of confusion. I am hoping that it is just my epilepsy, coming back after a nine-year holiday.
Well, at least if I do go completely loopy, it's a nice season to go loopy in.
Ok folks, you can stop emailing me asking if the two-headed elephant is real or not now.
I admit it, I took a very large mirror to the zoo with me.
A brief note on my "dizzy spells" saga: basically I have to wait until I return to the UK at the end of the month for tests, as the costs here are prohibative and my insurance won't cover me. However, I have got hold of some more medication to last me another few weeks - I hope that by slightly increasing my dosage the epileptic seizures - if thats's what they are - will stop. But now, my mind turns to more important affairs:
What to do with the rest of my life?
So, as you may have been aware, my plan had been to leave Japan at the end of March in order to work in the UK to tackle my debts. I was then to return to Japan in October to enroll at a Japanese language school here in Tokyo. This would a) satisfy my bank, b) satisfy my craving to learn c) enable my girlfriend and I to stay together.
However, yesterday on checking with the language school how much money I needed to have in my bank account to obtain the student visa, they told me that I needed double the £8,000 that I'd raised - £16,000! Have you ever heard pf anything so ridiculous?! Who in their right mind has that sort of money just sitting in their bank account? If they've got any sense they'd invest it, as the people I know with that kind of money to their names have done. So, basically, yesterday it was Bye Bye language School and Bye Bye plan to return to Japan in October (the deadline for raising all that money is the end of March). Incidentally, it's not the school that's set this ridiculous rule, it's (once again) the Japanese Immigration Department who will be the first people to find their jobs turned upside-down when I become Prime Minister of Japan.
So what next? The desicion lingered in the air for several hours waiting to be made. I was looking for guidance, but none came. Then, Dungeon Master turned up, armed with chocolate, ¥10,000 that he'd borrowed last weekend and a head firmly attached to his shoulders. I asked Dungeon Master what he thought, and he just replied "what's your gut feeling?"
Ah! Don't you just hate it when you have to take responsibilty for your own life?!
I looked to my gut feeling, and it told me to return to England and go to university to Study Japanese and either photography or journalism. It told me that although this involves splitting up with my dear girlfriend of two-and-a-half years it is the right choice, as the opportunities that could arise from going to Uni could have unexpected long-term benefits. And, in any case, one year of the four-year course may be spent at the very same Tokyo university that my girlfriend now attends - who knows what the future holds for us?
Well, that's the decision made. There now follows the hard part - going through with it. It's going to hurt, a lot, especially after all we've been through together, and considering the fact that there's nothing really wrong with our relationship. But, I feel that it's time to think long term for once - something I normally shy away from. Commitment generally scares the hell out of me - I mean if I enter uni now I'll be 29 by the time I finish. 29?! That's nearly 30! You see my point? Alright alright I know, "you're only as old as you feel"... but all the same, 29...
I bought my ticket this afternoon. 30th of March. I'm not telling you which airline it is, although if I say £300 only via Moscow I'm sure you can guess. Wish me luck.
One thing I will miss about Tokyo is the variety. Take yesterday for example: Tom, Kae and I felt in need of a relaxing night out to digest all the happenings of the week just gone, and so off we headed to Shinjuku, one of the busiest restaurant districts in town. Tom had recently been to The Christian Cafe (no Holy Water, just beer and cocktails!), one of many theme restaurants packed into what looked like any old office building. When in the lift on the way up to the 10th floor, his attention was caught by what he saw when the doors opened on the 5th: nothing but darkness.
So it was that last night the three of us dared to step out into the gloom that was The Lockup.
The first problem was getting into the place - we couldn't find the door! After about 30 seconds a voice came over the stone wall in front of us, telling us that the switch for the automatic door was hidden somewhere and we had to find it! Tom stuck his umbrella in a guillotene and Hey Presto! The wall slid back. We were then confronted by a leather-clad police woman who promptly handcuffed me... things looked promising! We were led through a maze of tunnels to our own little cell, and left there to ponder the menu from behind bars.
An hour or so later there was a huge crash as all the lights went out - there then followed 10 minutes of scary noises - deep dark voices, sirens, screaming etc. (If you have a high-speedd internet connection, you can listen to a bit of it by clicking here! [lockup.mp3 (30 seconds, 240KB]) However, the mood was shattered when all that was replaced by Michael Jackson's Thriller! That was the signal for the waiters to don their freaky costumes and come and terrorise us, as can be seen below. I was particularly impressed by the ghoul who took time out to pose for my photo!
All in all, a great night out. I had been intending to watch a David Lynch film (Mullholland Drive) when I got home, but decided that having just lived one I'd go to bed instead!
I must admit that with the rather large exception of splitting up with my girlfriend I am really looking forward to going back to the UK. I am very much looking forward to Uni (and I haven’t even applied yet!) mainly due to the thought of all that learning and new opportunities. I am also looking forward to starting work again (for the first time since last August); I see these credit card bills as a great challenge just waiting to be tackled – something I shall do with great uumph! The culture shock will be so intense. It’s going to be so bizarre not walking around inside a big cushioning bubble of foreign-ness which somehow keeps reality at a comfortable distance. That’s a bit scary really. I mean, as you know I have a hard enough time dealing with life even without the everyday business of interacting with other people!
I find it quite astonishing just how quickly my thoughts and feelings regarding a return to the UK (and in particular the idea of going to Uni) have done a complete U-Turn. Ever since I was 17 – that’s nine years ago now – I have rubbished the idea of Joseph going to uni. Ever since I left England in the spring of 2000 I have rubbished the idea of staying in the UK for any length of time. After all, Tame’s Gone Wild, right?
Why on Earth would a Wild Tame choose to abandon his freedom - galavanting all over the globe without any responsibilities or ties - in order to simply rejoin the well-trodden path? The path that society had told him (as a teenager) that he must take in order to achieve success. You know the one: school – college –university – well-paid job – retirement. (The fun by the way comes post-65, check out The Rat Race for some pretty pictures that illustrate what I’m talking about)
Thinking about it, it seems that as a seventeen year old I felt very threatened by the prospect of growing up and becoming governed by the rules of adult society. The side effects of the medication that I was on at the time for Epilepsy gave me that excuse to opt out, to avoid all of that grown-up stuff and to simply carry on being an individual without caring about my place in the world. Now, to my delight, after nine years of successfully avoiding those choices, I find myself realizing that they are not to be feared at all, only embraced. It turns out that these “rules of Adult Society" don’t even exist (or if they do I haven’t consciously come across them yet), and I am so excited about using this opportunity that I have been given (life) to achieve everything that I want to achieve.
As for the notion of rejoining the well-trodden path (as described above), well, pants to that! The whole idea of having no choice in life seems positively ludicrous to me now – thus the walls that make up the maze pictured in the Rat Race are no thicker than, than, …a very thin layer of Lasgane, and thus the well-trodden path simply has no boundaries and therefore by definition cannot really exist, and therefore there is no need for me to feel constricted by adulthood at all.
Am I making sense? I’m not sure. I can’t concentrate 100% as I keep on having these dizzy spells which are getting worse and worse by the day – let’s hope I live until the end of the month at least, it would be a shame to waste that Aeroflot ticket. Mind you, knowing Aeroflot, the stewardesses probably wouldn’t even notice that I’d died onboard until the point when, upon landing, they’d see that I wasn’t joining everyone else in the standing ovation and the thanking of our lucky stars!
Yes, well, I can see that I’m starting to drift now. I’d better retire for the night. Thanks for listening.
The feelings of fear that are accompanying my decision to leave my girlfriend in order to go to university are absolutely intense. She feels the same. There are many tears.
"I don't want to be alone" we are both heard to cry.
At the moment it's the fear of the pain that is so strong. Soon the pain will replace that fear, and only with time will that be eased.
I know that we'll get through it, but until then, "God", whoever, whatever, wherever you may be, give me strength.
With it now only being seven days to departure, I find myself with a huge list of last-minute things to do and not enough time to do them in! Cancelling phone contracts, sending parcels home, saying goodbye to friends, not to mention trying to palm all my junk off on unsuspecting visitors. If anyone out there is in need of a copy of Richard Branson's biography, 20 balloons or 300 cotton buds do let me know.
Still, on Tuesday Kae and are going on a short (4-day) holiday to Okinawa - the almost tropical islands of Japan's far south. For the first time in my life I've bought a package holiday, and I must say, I'm positively looking forward to not having to arrange a single thing! Flights, hotel, hire car, meals, all pre-arranged! The joys of being a normal tourist!
Hello - and goodbye. We're all packed for Okinawa, and in 12 hours from now should be halfway through our 150 minute flight to the southern islands. We're both very excited, just like little kids at Christmas time! I'll drop you a line when we get back Friday, if I have time before Sunday's flight to London Heathrow.
I still can't really get used to the idea that I'm going to be a proper student for the first time in my life, although there is now absolutely no fear connected with that, just looking-forward-to-ness!
Back safe and sound. A holiday that will never be forgotten.
It was just perfect. A fantastic beach resort hotel with an idyllic view. Endless amounts of delicious food. Scuba diving, tennis, clifftop walks, cocktail bars, a boatrip out to an isolated island... I would write more but time prevents me from doing so. Still, you can always have a look at the photos that I took, they're over here.
Now, I have to turn my mind to returning to the UK in 38 hours.
Another hardship that I will have to face shortly is the lack of intelligent toilets. For example, I doubt that Bristol Bus Station has a Flushing Machine to match the one that I came across in Tokyo the other day.
(in case you hadn't worked it out, the "running water sound" is to prevent you from being embarrased by making tinkling noises as you wee. Also, it's easier to wee if you hear running water, right? Note that these Flushing Machines are usually found in the Ladies not the mens!
Another of my favourite finds of something typically Japanese this week was the following sign, fixed to the wall by the entrance to a public toilet in a deserted parking area, off a road in the middle of nowhere.
We've been in the air now for about 6 hours now. Flying Aeroflot is certainly... interesting. Just before takeoff the cabin filled with fumes, but none of the stewards seemed to care. I'm sitting by an emergency exit, and I noticed when I first sat down that the plastic flap with a window that covers the emergency door-opening lever was stuck closed with ducktape. It didn't look very secure and sure enough, not long after takeoff the ducktape gave way and the plastic safety cover fell off. I pointed it out to a stewardess who stuck it back on, but seconds later it fell off again. I just hope that no-one knocks the lever or we'll all really be flying...
The service is appaling! I think I've only seen a stewardness about 5 times during the past six hours - no joke! They must all be having a prolonged cigarette break in the toilets at the back of this Airbus 300. I can also confirm that the second Harry Potter film is just as bad in Russian as it is English or Japanese.
Leaving Tokyo was just as terrible as I thought that it would be. I cried so much on the bus to the airport, having to wave goodbye to Kae at Shinjuku bus terminal. You know that feeling of absolute terror at the thought of not being able to be with the person whom your life revolves around? That deep sickness in the pit of your stomach. That inability to breathe. Just dreadful. I've had to just switch off from that at the moment - as soon as I think about the situation the tears are rolling down my cheeks. I'm just so frightened.
I find it intruiging how easy it is to simply "switch off" when in an aeroplane. When time and space are taken away (as they are) we are left to float, without the concerns of an everyday reality. Perhaps long-haul flights could be compared to meditation.
Recently I have recieved many words of support from Mumble readers around the world, all of which I deeply appreciate. However, I have a guilt complex associated with writing about having a hard time of it all (after all, I know that there are thousands of people out there who are having an absolutely hellish time, such as the families of victims in Bush's blood-for-oil war), so I would ask that you do not email me regarding what I write today. I've considered not writing about it at all, but feel that it is important for myself that I do so. If you tire of my words of negativity please, just click your mouse over that little box at the top right of the screen, the one with the "x" in.
It's unusual for me to find myself crossing continents without looking forward to a single thing. I can think of absolutely nothing in the UK that is appealing to me at all at the moment, not even seeing my own family. Some might scorn me for saying such a thing, but there you go, that's how I feel. However, what concerns me even more is the thought that I am going to have to leave the gaijin bubble that I've been living in for the past 3 years. The gaijin bubble has shielded me from so much, allowed me to pick and choose what parts of reality I want to become involved in. I've been wondering whether I can create a new kind of gaijin bubble in Bristol. After all, I know very few people there at the moment. I can go in as the Joseph that I am, without prior obligations to be or do anything in particular.
Well, anyway, enough about all of that for now. I need the loo. It's time to investigate the delights of The Aeroflot Toilet. You know, I bet when I flush I'll be able to see the clouds through the hole that opens below!