No Kids, Single and Happy

I recently read an article about mothers who don’t like their job and how horrified people are when they get to know that some mothers are not thrilled about taking care of kids, cleaning and cooking, and being discriminated against in the workplace.
While I totally agree with that, there is another group of women “going against social norms” – women like me, who have no kids and are not married.

Whenever I meet someone new it’s only a matter of time until the question arises whether I have a Japanese husband, living in Japan for 17 years by now. The answer is “no”. What? You are not married? “No”. “Do you have kids?” (Implying maybe I’m divorced) “NO”. “What? No kids?” “NOOOO!”
People automatically presume that women over 40 are married and have kids and react like it’s a bloody miracle, awkward and odd, if you do not fit the norm.
I don’t give a shit about norms, but the odd looks and raised eyebrows are getting on my nerves.

I never wanted to have children, not for one minute in my life. Oh, how shocking. I didn’t want children when I was 15. I didn’t want children when I was 25. People used to say, “that will change”. I didn’t want children when I was 35 and now, beyond 40, I still don’t want children. What exactly is so weird or “unacceptable” about that? I am not married, because “the right one” never came along and I didn’t want to settle for anything below my standards just because society demands that you have a fucking husband.

I made my own way and I’m proud of it. I live in a country of my choosing, I work in a huge company as a manager (the lowest management rank, but nevertheless), being thus among the 10% of employees who are managers. Out of those 10% there are 5% female managers. I have an interesting and challenging job and I like it (most the time ;-))

I do what I wanna do. I don’t need a husband to tell me what to do and what not. While there are occasional moments of loneliness, they are occasional and not worth mentioning. When I look at some of the marriages around me I am damn happy to have none of that shit going on. In parallel I am also a writer and even though only maybe a hundred people have read my books I love writing. I have 8 novels and 3 novellas out there and more will follow.

While surely many women find fulfillment in being a mother and wife, it ain’t what I get off on. Period.
Fellow humans, accept that people are different. Not every woman desperately wants a dude and kids. It is not “strange” to not be married and to not have children. Cheers!

From Russia with Love – Part 5

Ballet and Heavy Metal
When you are in Moscow, in my humble opinion you have to go to see ballet. To me Russia is the capital for ballet. I hadn’t planned anything for it and was not expecting to be able to see ballet, but a short check in the internet revealed that the Bolshoi had tickets available for a never before heard of ballet called “The Bright Stream”. So what the heck, ballet is ballet and it’s at the Bolshoi, so I ordered tickets, which were not too expensive (by Japanese standards anyway), just about 8000 yen.
Unfortunately the thing happened not in the “real” Bolshoi theater, but next door to it in a smaller theater. The “real” Bolshoi was occupied with an opera, La Traviata.
The Bright Stream turned out to be a rather unknown ballet of some Russian composer from the 1930ties and is “comical”, telling the story of a woman in an agricultural commune who once learned ballet before she married an agricultural student. He doesn’t even know she was a ballet dancer once. When a ballerina friend of hers comes to town, her husband is flirting around with her but the ballerina and the wife plot to show him what a formidable wife he has and reveal that she is a ballet dancer in a grand finale. There is a nice side plot with the ballerinas husband, who pretends being a woman to fool some other member of the agricultural commune. This was the funniest elements with a big guy wearing women’s clothes and dancing like a ballerina.
IMG_1109
There was surely formidable dancing going on but the story and the costumes were a bit weird, evoking nostalgia for agricultural commune life, which surely wasn’t a walk in the park in the 1930ties. Well, it was interesting and I’ve been to the Bolshoi, seeing some real ballet.
IMG_1121IMG_1119

Then something that is more down my lane, heavy metal!
I had tried to get a ticket online for the Moscow Amorphis gig, but everything was in Russian and I had given up on that. So I simply went to the venue which apparently opened at 4 pm each day once I had arrived in Moscow. Amorphis is not a super big band and they usually play in venues of around 1000 people or less on their tours. The Moscow venue Volta is one like that. It’s at a subway station a bit away from the city center and turned out to be in an old factory. It was a bit spooky to walk around there, but I found the entrance all right and there was even someone there as internet promised and sold me a ticket 🙂
IMG_1348
Then came the day for the actual gig, on the last day of my stay in Russia.
Although everything was in Russian, I thought to have figured out the following. It said on the ticket start 19:00. I saw somewhere in the Internet something of 17:00 and interpreted that as doors open 17:00.
So I left the hotel at 17:00 and was there at 17:30 in front of closed doors. I was not the first one but only very few people were there. We waited and waited. I tried to ask the others waiting what’s going on, but no English. Sigh… it turned out we waited in the cold for a bloody 90 min until 19:00. Aaaaahhhhh… I was frozen solid by that time. 
Then they finally let us in through a cloak room and security, but I kept my coat, since I wanted to aim for the first row and was frozen solid… behind security another door to the venue, a closed door. They made us wait there for another thirty minutes, but at least it was warm. The people behind us were unfortunately quite pushy, squeezing us against the barricades, hmpf… I already thought maybe I give up on the first row under such circumstances. 
Then, finally door open and you had no choice but to run into the venue pushed from behind, thus, I made it into the first row, including an opportunity to hang the coat over the balustrade. 
Then more waiting. There was also a pre band and I got into a panic for a moment, when will this end and will there still be a subway running? I saw myself already stranded in the cold at night, speaking no Russian and not knowing how to get back to my hotel. So I tested again around me and hallelujah one guy spoke fairly good English and assured me the subway runs until 1 in the morning, we’ll be fine. 
Then we chatted a bit. Behind me was a big dude called Andrey who was pretty drunk and wanted to feed me whisky cola, lol. Then at 20:00 the gig started with an Italian pre band I never heard of before called Heretic’s Dream with a female vocal. They were nice but way too soft for my taste.
Then, finally at 21:00 it was Amorphis turn, uh. The crowd was quite normal, no surfing and only once there was a bit of a mosh pit behind us. Big Andrey kept squeezing me against the balustrade, but it was still okay. 
IMG_1365
I was happy I had kept my coat, since there was a monstrous queue at the end of the fabulous gig which I didn’t have to wait out and was thus back in the hotel at 23:30.
The gig was excellent and a great closure to a fascinating and challenging trip to huge Russia.

From Russia with Love – Part 4

World War II…
I am German, I live in Japan. Two nations which have (luckily) lost in the Second World War. The consequence of that though is that any kind of Victory Day celebrations have never been on my radar screen. There was a vague memory of the European part of the war ending some time in May buried in my mind, but since I’m in Japan for so long, the real end of the Second World War has become August for me when Japan capitulated after two atomic bombs. So when I planned this trip to Russia any V-day considerations were none existent. I grouped the trip around Japan’s Golden Week holidays and that Amorphis gig I wanted to catch. Also the first two days in St. Petersburg did not reveal any V-day indications. It was only when I stepped out of the Hermitage after an entire day there and tanks had appeared on the square before the Hermitage that V-day rolled massively into my line of thought.
IMG_0303
Next posters sprang up everywhere and the mysterious orange and black striped ribbon, which is coming from the ribbon of St. George, as you can read here.
IMG_0678
The state TV had then aplenty of Second World War themed stuff going on, and the news were full of it, too. V-day hampered my attempts to see the Red Square in Moscow. Military presence everywhere. Wow.
A smart man whom I had for a teacher in some process consultancy related seminars, told me the following (I don’t know his source for the information and of course it is a model that simplifies reality). Western European cultures and interestingly also the Chinese and Japanese cultures have the tendency to consider the past as not so super important, the present is soso important, but we are future oriented and the future is very important to us. In the Thai and Indian cultures the tendency is small past, small future, but big present. And in Russia it’s a big past, a soso present and a small future.
And yes, from my two weeks in Russia I can fully confirm that the past is an extremely important thing in Russia. Of course there are patriotic tendencies and politics to consider as well, but it does not all seem state induced, there seems to be a genuine interest in the topic.
There were tons of movies, new and old, on Russian TV where someone wore a Second World War or later a soviet uniform.
Nobody forces you to wear the orange black ribbon but many people do, well I’m not so sure about peer pressure here, of course. I seem to pass off as Russian when walking the street and a young man offered me a ribbon, which I kindly declined in English.
It was amazing to see the enormous presence of military in general and the Second World War in Russian life. Of course my impression is a bit deformed, since I arrived just in time for all the V-day stuff, but there are in general many more uniformed people in the cities than in any other country I’ve been to so far.
Here three pics from my “scared selfie” series that I took half for fun mostly in St. Petersburg where I “got close” to a lot of military equipment.
IMG_0324
IMG_0329
IMG_0542
In Moscow then, I had the ambition to see some of the actual parade, but the thankfully English speaking hotel staff said spontaneously upon my question, where is the best spot to see the parade: The TV.
She was right. On V-day, 9th of May, I switched on the TV in the morning and even from TV footage it was clear that no humble mortal would be getting anywhere near the parade. Only the dignitaries sat on the few seats of the makeshift stalls at the Red Square.
IMG_0921
I watched most of it on TV until I got bored and left to do some sightseeing. In the afternoon, after the parade was over, a second part of the festivities took place, common folk walked the streets in a procession down the main road to the Red Square and then dissipated. (the best thing in this pic is the pigeon ;-))
IMG_0982
Most of the people carried pictures of their ancestors who either fought in or lost their lives in the Second World War. I tried to join the procession but found myself thoroughly fenced off and I did not have the required papers (or bribes?) to be let through at some access points where people negotiated with guards for entrance. I am not sure if all of this was organized, I doubt it. It looked like most people participated in this procession because they wanted to. Stuff concluded with fireworks at the Kremlin. They happened at 22:00 and were short. I saw them on TV as well, since it was too bloody cold for my taste to venture out. Anyway, a day later the show was over, the Red Square was finally accessible and things returned to normal. It was interesting to see all this hustle about a day whose celebration I wasn’t even aware of.

From Russia with Love – Part 3

Part 3: History before World War II
There is aplenty.
Russia has a long and rich history and a lot of stuff is preserved in excellent condition. I have never seen such a flawless object as the church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. It is perfect. As simple as that. St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow is great too, but there you see repairs that have been done over time, whilst there is no sign of any such repair on the Savior church. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is bursting with beautiful old stuff, the State History Museum, the Armory of the Kremlin, the Pushkin museum in Moscow as well. The Kremlin and the Red Square are one amazing complex. The only thing comparable in size and grandeur I have seen so far is the Forbidden City of Beijing. Seeing all that glory leaves also a kind of a bad taste though, if the divide between rich and poor is so big today, then just how big has it been a few hundred years ago when the Tsars built their monsters of grandeur on the sweat, blood and tears of the common folk. That’s true everywhere of course, but it expressed itself very intensely to me in Russia. Kind of, no wonder the people revolted and killed of their nobility.
I was quite delighted that you can actually get into the Kremlin. After all it’s also a working institution in contrast to for example the Forbidden City. Of course there is security at every corner, but the armory is right next to the Kremlin grand palace where Mr. Putin might just be present. Many people prefer St. Petersburg over Moscow I heard, but I cannot say so. For me both cities were quite equal concerning the “wow” effect. Though admittedly, if there wasn’t the Kremlin and the Red Square, Moscow would loose to St. Petersburg.
Here my personal ankings of the major sites I saw in both cities.

St. Petersburg:
The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
IMG_0625IMG_0643
The Hermitage
IMG_0178IMG_0164IMG_0195
St. Isaacs
IMG_0057IMG_0063IMG_0083
Peter and Paul Fortress complex
IMG_0142IMG_0373IMG_0390
Menshikov palace
IMG_0565IMG_0572
Kazan cathedral
IMG_0615

Moscow:
Red Square
IMG_1331IMG_1328IMG_1332
The Kremlin (cathedral square)
IMG_0971IMG_0837IMG_0858
St. Basil’s cathedral
IMG_1338
The Kremlin armory
IMG_0796
State history museum
Cathedral of Christ the Savior
IMG_0753
GUM department store
IMG_1145 2IMG_1243
The Pushkin Museum of fine art
IMG_1295

From Russia with Love – Part 2

Part 2: Everyday life in Russia
No Russian? Basically you are screwed. I have hardly ever been in a country yet where they speak so little English. Amazingly you somehow get by also without speaking the language.
IMG_9941
One word in advance, I felt quite safe during my entire stay in Russia. There was not one hairy situation. Which, however might also be due to the horrendous amount of security everywhere. There must be millions of people employed in security jobs. Every department store, every subway station, every museum has metal detectors and security guards. You just gotta accept that and comply nicely with a smile and if you do you might even get a smile back and one guard at Kitay-Gorod subway station, my home base in Moscow, saying his only English words to me, “take care and good bye”. They are just people too and might look scary but if you are nice to them, they are mostly nice to you as well. There are also police men walking through town all the time. Blue uniforms, police, green = military. They are everywhere. The train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back was very important to put things into perspective. While downtown Moscow and St. Petersburg are shiny and pretty, offering one culture world heritage site after the next, the country side is so sad.
The ride takes four hours by bullet train and the almost completely flat landscape consists of four things, birch and fir trees, mud, villages, run down factories.
IMG_9964
Whatever the 143 million Russian eat, is it not growing between St. Petersburg and Moscow. I saw maybe ten potato fields and that’s it. I saw not a single cow, sheep, pig, not one animal during the whole 600 km between the two cities. The factories are all old and completely run down or in ruins.
IMG_0700
The houses in the muddy villages without asphalt streets, accessible only via mud roads, are more shacks than houses and most look old and cold. I wonder if they have decent plumbing and running water. They seem to have electricity. It is cold in this country for maybe eight or nine out of twelve months. While it was and exceptional 25 degrees on the day of my arrival, the weather was dismal temperature-wise during the remaining entire two weeks. It was never over ten degrees Celsius and it snowed twice in Moscow while I was there. I was super happy for having brought my winter coat. I really really needed it.
IMG_0713
I don’t know what the people living in these shacks between Moscow and St. Petersburg do for a living, it can’t be farming. In the big cities, outside of the old and shiny city centers are huge mostly old and ugly concrete blocks where the people live who work in the city and its factories. One thought lingered when I rode through the country side and that is, when I have to be poor I pray I’ll be poor in a country where it’s warm!
IMG_0706
Some praise though for the subway systems of St. Petersburg as well as Moscow. The trains are old but are frequent, I’ve seen no delays, they are safe and used by “normal” folk also at night. People are sleeping in the subway, which I always interpret as a good sign of safety, there are kids around. Even if everything is in Cyrillic, you can still somehow read it and figure out where to go. I didn’t get lost once in the subways. You can get to basically all the major attractions via the subway in both cities and I didn’t try out the buses.
IMG_9974
In supermarkets they have mostly European stuff that I am quite familiar with, they even have a lot of German branded products. Food is bread and potato based. I relied on food courts and fast food I must admit though, unable to order anything or read a menu in a restaurant, I needed food where I can point at.
To conclude, you get by without Russian, but it needs some patience and modesty on the traveler’s behalf and I don’t recommend Russia to inexperienced travelers. The supermarket staff is astonishingly friendly though and count the Rubels correctly out of your hand with a smile at the poor foreigner who has no clue. I wonder though what they will do next year with all the foreigners who will come for the soccer World Cup 😉

From Russia with Love – Part 1

To post a day by day report on my quite epic trip to Russia would fill too many “blog weeks” and would also be too much detail, therefore I’ll try a summary under the following headlines:

1) Why Russia? And how to get there
2) Everyday life in Russia
3) History before World War II
4) World War II …
5) Ballet and Heavy Metal

Part 1: Why Russia? And how to get there
Most the time I use Japan’s golden week for island explorations, but this year was different.
Why did I go to Russia? Two reasons. When I was a kid, the Soviet Union was a very scary thing and not for the life of me could I imagine to be traveling there one day. Then came Gorbachev and he is kind of a personal hero of mine, because it is my firm belief that if it was not for him, East and West Germany would not have been united. He initiated some kind of mild romanticism for Russia in me, and I even took some Russian courses at an adult education institute before I left my hometown to study in Munich. There was always that thought that one day, I want to stand on the Red Square in Moscow.
It took me a while to realize the promise, but now i did it.

I flew with Aeroflot from Tokyo direct to Moscow and my has it changed. Actually, I flew Aeroflot during my very first trip to Japan in 1993 (No, no, no, I’m not that old ;-)) via Moscow of course, because I was a poor student at the time and Aeroflot was the cheapest thing around.
It was a horror trip! LOL. I sat in an old Ilyushin machine, with half torn seats and nets above your head like in a bus instead of overhead compartments. The plane went from Munich to Moscow and then the same machine would go from Moscow to Tokyo. I got only one boarding pass for Munich to Moscow and when I wanted to re-board the plane to fly to Tokyo, the lady at the gate didn’t let me in. “You no boarding pass!” She sent me to some office at the other end of the airport and I ran there past scary army guys with kalashnikovs. At the service counter some fifty people were shouting at one lone unnerved lady wanting something from her. I managed to get through, in complete panic, since pressed for time, fearing the plane would leave without me, and begged her for a new boarding pass. She took my passport and the print out of the ticket and left the booth! I stone-cold panicked that moment, thinking I’d be stranded in Moscow without a passport. Heaven thank, the lady came back with some paper and my passport and told me that would allow me to get back onto the plane. I thanked her and ran back through the airport to my gate and hallelujah they let me on board just in time. The return journey through Moscow went smoother, but I was scared shitless on the flight back. Ever since I did not fly Aeroflot again.
Nowadays Aeroflot is a member of the Sky Team alliance for more than ten years already. They fly Airbus and Boeing and behave like any other airline.
When I checked in online the plane was packed. Hm, so many people are going to Moscow? So many people are bothering with the horrendous visa requirements?
A word on those later.

The miracle was solved when I got to Narita airport. The plane went to Paris via Moscow. It was packed due to start of golden week and tons of people going to Paris.
Arrived in Moscow, 80% of the travelers went to the international transfer lane and a few lone Russians and some Japanese and myself went to the “stay in Russia” lane 😉
The immigration officer lady was super friendly. I’ve never had such a friendly immigration officer anywhere. She thought I could speak Russian and when she found out I didn’t (I’ve forgotten everything from my half year Russian course as a teenager) she was going like, oh, but Regina is a Russian name. I told her it’s Latin and means queen and on the British coins it says Regina Elizabeth all the time. That was news to her ;-). Since everything was in order with my visa, she let me through, wishing me fun. What a difference to for example American immigration officers who treat you like a criminal. Next up was customs. Customs? Those were the least existing customs I’ve seen after an inter-continental flight. There were no customs, you just walks through and the customs officer is not even looking at you. There were four people in uniforms sitting in a corner chatting.
There was only one negative thing and that is that I’ve been screwed over big time at the money exchange. A bank lady in Japan told me that it’s better to bring USD to Russia rather than Yen. So I exchanged to USD at Narita and there was one single exchange booth before customs where I exchanged the dollar to Ruble for a horrible rate. After leaving customs, there were more booths with much better rates. Argh…

I suppose more research would have revealed that, but I’m not a big researcher when it comes to traveling. I book a flight, a hotel and see what happens. I researched more than usual for the Russia trip already anyway, for example how to get from Sheremetyevo airport to the city. Maybe more research would have revealed that you do not not not exchange money before customs, but after it. Anyway, lessons learned for if I should ever go back there. I am not in the habit of visiting a place twice without having a special reason, but I still have this fantasy of one day going by train to Vladivostok = doing the Trans Siberian railroad ride.
But at least I had researched that you do not use the “official” taxis if ever possible but better take the Aeroexpress train which goes to Bellorusia station. I even had bought a ticket online for that train and it’s well marked inside the airport and I could brush past all the “official” taxi guys.
But now a word about the visa. Even for a simple tourist visa you have to go through quite a painful process. The corner stones being your flight ticket, the longish and demanding visa application itself, for some countries, e.g. Germans, you have to have proof of a travel insurance and the worst thing is, you need to have an itinerary with your hotels on them on a special Russian format. If you go with a tour, I suppose they provide that for you, but I went on my own and what you do then is you email your hotel and ask them for the thing. My main hotel in Moscow directed me to a website with a link to the format and they let you list up to ten places and hotels. You then pay about 15 dollars for them to issue this paper. When you have all that you have to go in person to the Russian embassy and apply for the visa. In case of a tour you can let the travel agent do that for you, but if you go as a private person, you need to show up at the embassy twice, to apply and to get your passport back. When the story with the paper from the hotels came up, I was almost giving up on the adventure, but then pushed through with it.
So, and finally the second reason for why I wanted to go to Russia. I took the opportunity of my favorite metal band (Amorphis) playing in Moscow as an incentive to go 😉
I didn’t have a ticket yet though, since the homepage of the venue was all in Russian.
More about the gig and everything in between arrival and the gig (which was on the last day of my stay) in the next blog entries

Some More Movie Reviews

Manchester by the Sea
At first, I must admit that I was confused. I thought this would happen in England, but I was already wondering, because the British Manchester is not exactly by the sea. It took me a bit to realize that there is a town called Manchester-by-the-sea in the US and that’s where the story happens. It’s a drama about a guy who lost his three children to a fire accident because he was drunk and who cannot forgive himself, who is confronted having to take care of his brother’s son after the brother dies. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. The film also has no resolution, at least none that I found satisfactory. Though the main character grows a bit, his grief is not dealt with at the end and he stops taking care of his nephew unable to deal with the situation. Hm. Realistic perhaps, but what’s the point? The acting is fine, but the story left me unsatisfied.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Finally saw that one. Don’t get me wrong, I like Eddie Redmayne and I think he is one fine character actor and he was excellent portraying Stephen Hawking or in the Danish Girl, but for me he is not a lead character that can carry an “action movie” like this. There are some nice J.K. Rowling ideas about fantastic creatures, and the whole world in a suitcase was lovely, but all in all the piece left me quite unaffected and unmoved. I best liked the side kick Kowalski who was very nicely portrayed by Dan Fogler and I rooted more for him than for the main couple.

A Hologram for the King
That movie surely wasn’t a big box office hit, I never heard of it before it showed up on the plane’s choice of movies. I have very mixed feelings about it. It’s set in a supposed Saudi Arabia and mid-life-crisis American business man played by Tom Hanks travels there to close a business deal with the ruling family involving holographic projections.
Modern day Saudi Arabia is rarely featured in movies, but I strongly wonder how much of the movie depicted reality over there and how much of it was fiction. I think a movie like that does have a certain responsibility towards reality despite being fiction, since its sole reason for bearing any kind of fascination is the portrayal of that hidden world.
The love story with the female Saudi doctor was very cheesy and the portrayal of the hard-partying foreigners in the country also too black and white for my taste. Because the world portrayed is so far away from what we westerners know, it kept my interest, but I really wanted to know how much here was fiction and how much was supposed to be “documentary”, showing us the life in a country so hard to imagine for someone who has never been there.

Some Movie Reviews

Moonlight
Much acclaimed Moonlight was nice to watch, if a bit slow for my taste.
It’s an interesting decision to have the main character portrayed as a child, a teenager and a grown man and of course by different actors. The concept was good, but I fond it a bit difficult to thus identify with the main character, since as soon as you got used to him, another actor took over. What I did like though was that there were no white people around. A thoughtful piece with well “underplayed” emotions. Another interesting story decision was to have such an introverted character be in the lead.

Toni Erdmann
The German runner up for the best foreign language film at the Oscars this year was a marathon of nearly three hours. Very slow too and definitely too long but it still somehow managed to keep my attention, firstly because of the well portrayed and delicate grown daughter – elderly father relationship and secondly because of the business woman the daughter is, which reminded me a little bit of my own job, if mine is a lot better. I know plenty of colleagues though who forget to live and do only work. Another thing that made me grin was that Germans ask the big questions, sometimes, at least in this movie, and seriously speak about the meaning of life, which frankly, I haven’t heard talked of much in Japan. The naked party was a bit too strange though and if the fathers giant fur costume had any meaning then it was lost on me. Some of my colleagues should watch the movie though and be reminded that there is more to life than career and work, where alpha animals have regular pissing contests.

Passengers
A nice piece of science fiction with a very pretty ship and very pretty actors. The story is simple enough, 5000 people board a ship and go into cryosleep for the 120 years of the journey. Trouble is, the ship gets bombarded while flying through an asteroid field and malfunctions, waking one of the passengers 30 years into the journey. With 90 years ahead of him alone, the guy almost goes mad and almost commits suicide, but then decides to wake one of the other passengers, his dream woman. After a period of happiness, she finds out he woke her up and is understandably mightily pissed at him. But they find back to each other as more and more failures hit the ship caused by that asteroid field two years earlier. Even though they find a possibility to put one of them back to sleep, they decide not to, which is a bit Hollywood cheesy. They stop the story after the duo saved the ship and lived forever happily after. You could make a nice movie out of them hating each other after twenty years together??? Lol. All in all I’ve seen worse SciFi movies and Passengers is an entertaining piece.

Kimi no Na wa – Your Name
This anime movie is a big hit in Japan and has almost if not quite broken the more than ten year old viewer record of “Spirited Away” and rightly so, it’s a pretty damn good story. After a meteorite comes close to earth, a boy in Tokyo and a country girl in Gifu prefecture, both 17 years old, switch bodies for a while, causing all sorts of messy situations with their friends and family. They finally get what’s going on and leave each other messages on their smart phones or on good old pieces of paper or even their skins. At first they hate each other and how the other messes up their lives, but then they slowly start to like each other and the boy is shocked when the body switch suddenly stops. It keeps bugging him and he goes looking for the girl to find that the meteorite destroyed the girl’s town and everyone died three years ago. They do find each other again in the end, but I won’t reveal how. The animation is done with incredible detail and the story is quite unique and fresh and way better than half of what comes out of Hollywood. Very well worth watching, even if you are not an anime fan (like me). I highly recommend this piece.

Working in Germany? No, thanks.

I just flew to Germany for a business trip and after an intense week, there is one thing I’m sure of, no thanks, I don’t want to work in Germany again.
Our working conditions in Japan are not the best in the world and yet I prefer working in Japan ten times to working in Germany and here is why.

Germany is a very individualistic place, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Whilst Germans have more holidays, get on top of that paid leave if a doctor signs a magic paper declaring you are sick, “nobody” gives a damn about you.
The person who was supposed to help me setting up my trainings on Japanese business culture over here, was busy with some customer emergency and not available, and so I stood there alone, having to organize everything by myself in a work place I am not familiar with. People saw me dragging stuff around and did not offer help. When I asked if someone could help, I got blank faces, lame excuses or was outright ignored with the result that I had to do all the crap alone.

On the last training day, I held the training in an exposed place where many people pass and three colleagues from my office in Japan walked by, who were on business to Germany as well. They saw me, immediately came in and asked if they could help.
That is why it is okay to work in Japan despite less favorable working conditions. People look out for you, people help you, without even having to ask them. Of course that happens mostly or more easily if you are part of a group.
In Germany people think in boxes and if there is something out of ones own box you very quickly hear the term, “that is not my responsibility”. I’ve come to thoroughly dislike the phrase…

Having worked in Japan for quite some years now, I have gotten used to doing what is needed, rather than doing what is in the realm of my responsibility and my Japanese colleagues do the same. Only to a certain extent of course, but that extent is so much wider than in Germany. I left the German headquarters quite sobered and it is clear to me that I don’t want to work in such a cold and impersonal environment ever again, even if there are more holidays and paid sick leave.

Public Lunch

My new office does not have a canteen and thus the employees have to resort to supermarkets, restaurants or – public lunch.
I didn’t even know before I moved to the new office that the ward offices around have canteens where anybody can go to. In the ward office you get a decent Japanese “teishoku” (rice, miso soup, one side dish, one main dish (you have the choice between meat and fish)) for 530 yen = around 5 USD.

I don’t go there very often, but sometimes I do. The clientele consists of ward office workers, some company employees like me, but also a lot of elderly people and young mothers with babies. You sort of cannot cook at home for that price considering all the ingredients, not to speak of the time it takes to prepare a meal like that by yourself.
I think it is very important to have such public lunch places especially for the elderly. It gives them a reason to get out of the house and it also provides some company and much needed human interaction, not to speak of the lovely shock on their faces to find also foreigners in the canteen 😉
I am rather sure that we pay with our taxes for places like that, but that’s one good use of taxes. May the public canteens thrive and prosper!

The House Committee

Last year November, I moved into an apartment building (buying the unit, or rather having the bank buy it and paying back now for forever). The building has 65 apartments on 7 floors. There is a house committee whose reports I’ve been getting and suddenly, I get a paper with my name on it, being the vice whatever chairman of the committee and an invitation for the committee meeting, which happened on the 20th of March. I thought I better show up there when my name is on it and it’s good that I went.
Japanese community overdose 😉

I entered the community room of the house a bit late due to work and found some fifteen people gathered and an old man greeting me with the words. “Oh, gaijin da.” “Oops, a foreigner!”
I bulged into the room during a presentation of a guy from Panasonic who was introducing a new interphone system to us. That presentation was Japanese sales-men-of-the-old-sort style, he had a demonstration machine with him and reminded me strongly of movies from the seventies with vacuum cleaner flying sales men in it. Next up was his competitor. A not so well known company called Aiphone, in existence for sixty years, the sales dude said, and not to be confused with any iPhones.
The apartment owners are employing an administrative company who is sending a guard man there five days a week, usually old gentlemen who perform this not too tough after retirement job to get some money. There was a younger guy from the company there though, who functioned as the chairman of the meeting. He made us vote on the spot for either Aiphone or Panasonic, shushing the sales guys out. (Aiphone won, in the style of: Chairman: Aiphone is OK, isn’t it, right? Right? – Maybe he’s got a deal with the company ;-))
Next, administration chairman ran through the year-end-report of 2016 in magnificent speed, rattling down numbers and items that even the Japanese had trouble to follow.
Last but not least the agenda point came up of who will be on the house committee for 2017 and I finally got a word in, introducing myself and asking what this was about, citing that I’ll be too busy attending every meeting due to work and the occasional overseas business trip, which brought one of the housewives to say to her neighbor, “ehhh overseas business trips….” Seems that was something she has not been confronted with yet. The administration guy and the former committee boss reassured me that it’s not such a big job and if I’m not there I’m not there, but I should try to come to the committee meetings.

The committee membership is rotating through the building and it’s coincidence that my floor half’s turn is 2017. The next turn of half of the floor I’m on will be ten years down the road. They didn’t give me any sort of choice to bail out of the “job”.
That clarified they went through some other agenda points, one of them being that ours is a pets-are-not-allowed building but nevertheless several people do have small dogs (maybe cats too, I didn’t get that part). Then they started ganging up on one of the apartment owners in floor 5. The people in apartment 5xx ignore the rules! They don’t answer to inquiries (we had a “do you have a pet questionnaire” going around a few weeks earlier). They never show up to the committee meetings! His neighbor said he had “reached the limit of patience” with the unit and asked the administration guy to talk to them.
Woah, they need serious conflict management 😉 Now I’m interested in the people who live in unit 5xx 😉 non-conform Japanese, sticking out of the crowd! 😉

The whole meeting took a ridiculous three hours, well, one and a half of them were from the interphone sales guys. I will have some fun with that committee in the future. But all in all it didn’t look like they’d gang up on me, despite me being the only foreigner in the building 😉 But whew, time stands still here and we are still in the Showa era 😉 All in all it’s good that I went there. So far I was greeted on the corridor either not at all or apprehensively. Throughout the week I met one of the committee members and now I’m being greeted with a friendly, loud voice. Let’s hope that lasts 😉

Heavy Metal in Open Water

What’s happening on board of the 70,000 tons of metal? 3000 or so fans, 60 bands and their staff. Every band plays twice. The gigs start at 5 pm on the first day and the last gig ends at 5 in the morning. On day two, a full day at sea, there are gigs from 10 in the morning to 5 the next morning. Landfall in Labadee was at 8 in the morning of day 3. No gigs during landfall, all aboard again at 16:30 and off we go back. Gigs again from 17:30 to 5 in the morning. Another full day at sea with gigs from 10 to 2 in the morning, since arrival back in Fort Lauderdale was at 8 in the morning again = you are busy! Lol.
The boat has four stages, the two main stages being the Alhambra theater and the pool deck, the two minor stages being the ice rink and the so called Pyramid lounge, which is a large bar under normal circumstances. The pool stage is literally built over the largest (for the occasion drained) pool of the ship, and only the hot tubs around the pool are in operation. There is a small pool in operation towards the bow and another water park foot bath, waterfall and hot tubs area towards aft.
IMG_9487
The Pyramid lounge was kinda sucky, because of a too low ceiling. The stage could not be elevated and if you were not in the front row you literally saw nothing of the bands. You could only get from the Alhambra to the ice rink via the full fledged on-board casino and you were actually walking several miles a day to get from one stage to the other, lol. The elevators are not the fastest, so if you are fed up with waiting for one, up the stairs you go, not to speak of dancing and headbanging. Despite the good food, I don’t think anyone gained weight, since you find yourself jogging through the ship half the time, lol.
IMG_9488
The first full day at sea saw high winds and the pool stage was in trouble, especially Haggard with half an orchestra on stage had great sound trouble in the wind and all in all sound trouble was quite common, also in the Alhambra. Apart from that there was a great atmosphere all over the ship. It’s a five star festival with good food, decent beds, showers and clean toilets, no mud! And of course the band members are on the same ship as you are and can’t go anywhere 😉 you keep running into them, and they’re always up for a photo or so. During breakfast especially you can spot them in the Windjammer cafe but usually the fans leave them alone there and respect their privacy. There is no “stalking” going on and everybody is just enjoying the time on the boat in this special atmosphere. It’s simply awesome. More or less all bands do meet and greet signing sessions. You are allowed to take photos any time anywhere. There are official photographers running around taking pics and you can buy them as prints if you happen to find yourself among the hordes of photos. People are drunk, yes, but there was no brawl, smashing stuff or anything like it. I ran into completely drunk Olaf from Norway who kept babbling to me for a while, but somehow there is still restraint. A sexy girl next to me at one gig, half drunk too, was proudly announcing that she can’t believe nobody’s grabbing her ass! Lol.
IMG_9401
There are people from all over the world there, many Europeans, North- and South Americans, but there are also Australians, a few Asians, I met a guy from South Africa. The organizers say that people from 74 countries were on board. It’s one big happy community that treats each other with respect and that has fun together. I didn’t know that on the last day there is a costume thing going on, if I go again, I shall bring something, lol. We had unicorns and nuns and storm troopers on board and what not. Many bands play special sets for the occasion. There is a jamming thing going on which has developed over the years with some forty band members playing old metal hits. Not to forget the belly flop contest on Sunday noon where the least graceful and most water displacement belly flop is honored.
IMG_9669
With sixty bands you cannot see everything, but as usual I discovered some new bands, which I had not yet known before. It’s the special treat of festivals like that to discover new bands. Of the bands I had not yet known Pain, Devil Driver and Trollfest were my favorites. Then I finally finally saw Grave Digger, twice of course. Since I’m an Amorphis fan that was a first row must on my list for both gigs and I accomplished the mission. They were crowd surfing like hell during the first Amorphis gig on the pool deck and it’s quite something to have wet, mostly naked, hundred kilo guys who were in the hot tub doing crowd surfing! Lol.
As nice as it was, four days are kinda the limit, lol, everyone is hung over, lacks sleep and is quite finished after four days of festival 😉
If I can make it holiday wise and money wise, you bet I will be on board again. I’ve been to quite a number of festivals – 70,000 tons of metal is the best so far. Cheers!

Six Years Later

Today is the 11th of March and it happens to be a Saturday, which is the usual day for my blog post. It feels kinda weird to ignore the date and to post happy heavy metal memories from the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, so I shall post them next weekend instead.

The Great East Japan earthquake happened at 14:46 six years ago and I was just in the Lalaport Yokohama shopping mall today during that time and was pleased that the moment did not pass by unnoticed, but that Lalaport made an announcement and conducted a minute of silence. Most of the people in the busy mall observed the minute, myself included, and it was touching and spooky at the same time to have most the people around you stop walking and close their eyes.

Six years ago our lives here were shaken up and about 18,500 people, including those who are still listed as missing, have died, mostly from the tsunamis that followed, not the actual quake.
It’s quite unbelievable that it happened already six years ago. It was a Friday and I got stuck in the Tokyo office I worked at at the time until 1 in the morning, because also in Tokyo buildings shook massively and all train services stopped for a while.

The wounds of the earthquake and tsunami are bad enough, but what will remain with us for many decades to come is the crippled and melted-down Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant.
Six years on, they are trying to send robots into the melted down chambers to see what’s going on there and to maybe figure out a method how to remove the nuclear mess, but even the robots’ circuits get fried after two hours in radioactivity that would kill a human in two minutes. Nobody knows yet what will become of this stuff and how to deal with it and this story will continue beyond our lifetimes.

I am not categorically against nuclear power but the lessons learned must be: do not build nuclear power plants on the ring of fire next to the ocean……..
I hope that the remaining nuclear power plants in Japan will never get online again. In wikipedia it says that there were 11,450 aftershocks until March 2015… We still get the occasional aftershock in the region. In the meantime it rattled massively in Kyushu last year. On average there is a small quake in Tokyo that you can feel every month. I’m not even tweeting about small earthquakes anymore, it’s a part of life here.

I only hope the Fukushima region does not get hit by a big one in the next 50 years or so that would crumble those concrete chambers where the molten nuclear fuel sits… what a madness.
Still, my opinion from six years ago remains the same, the world cares/cared too much about Fukushima and not enough about the 18,500 who died and the hundred thousands of lives that got destroyed by deaths of loved ones and by displacement because of the nuclear disaster.
My thoughts go out to the victims and to those who were left behind alive but forever damaged.

A Tiny Bit of Haiti – Kinda

The destination of the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise was Haiti this year, a place called Labadee on the north cost of the Hispaniola island. Its western third is Haiti, the eastern two thirds are the Dominican Republic. Royal Caribbean has leased the land around the cruise port for at first 20 years when they developed it in the 1980ties, then they renewed the lease for 99 years and the lease runs now beyond 2050.
IMG_9607
I booked a “walking tour” on shore and while it wasn’t what I expected, it did turn out to be quite interesting. I was expecting to be led by a guide to the village or town of Labadee, but I should have known that they don’t let us off the premises of the leased land. On the leased bit there is no passport control, you only indicate to the ship’s computer by registering that you left the vessel with your chip cards.
IMG_9585
So the “walking” tour was rather a standing tour with a few metal heads listening to our tour guide and walking only a hundred meters from the ship to the so called Columbus Cove. Our guide was a Haitian and he has never left Haiti (mostly because of having no money to travel). Haiti is the poorest country in the region. I’m not sure to what degree our guide’s words were true, but he said a nurse earns the equivalent of 200 USD a month, a doctor 500 USD and the people who work at the Labadee cruise port earn 700 to 800 USD. The jobs with Royal Caribbean are thus very sought after and the company does a screening every half year with interviews, testing your English skills and whatever else. Wow.
IMG_9589
He also spoke of history, that Columbus landed tin Hispaniola thinking he had come to India, how the British and French came, the slaves, that Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery, that they don’t like their Dominican neighbors too much, etc. He thanked us for coming, since not so many tourists come to Haiti, he said. So unfortunately we didn’t see anything of the real village, but at least we heard some interesting stories from our guide.
IMG_9594
On the leased patch everything is pretty and well maintained, there are three parlors with again free food. I was at least expecting to have to pay on land, but no, also there the food was free, but of course not the booze 😉 there were tons of activities you could do like snorkeling, kayaking, riding on the worlds longest zip line, renting beach cabanas and what not.
It did all feel kinda decadent, the metal heads are a different folk of course but the usual posh cruises are rich people arriving there and live in luxury whilst a few kilometers over is the real Haiti, which is poor…

US Travels – Part 4: Cruise Ship

This was my first time ever on a real big cruise ship. I’ve been on plenty of boats of all sizes but before the “Independence of the Seas” the biggest thing I rode on might have been the ferry between Melbourne and Devonport in Tasmania or the Ogasawara Maru brining me from Tokyo to the Ogasawara islands. Well, the Independence of the Seas seems to be as big as it gets. It’s the biggest cruise ship class that there is and it’s a 154,000 tons ship, so it’s actually 70,000 tons of metal times two, but maybe if you subtract all the plastic, wood, glass etc. you end up with 70,000 tons of metal 😉
IMG_9585
The ship is 330 meters long and just huge. It has 14 decks and the central promenade on deck 5 is like a short street with shops left and right.
IMG_9377
The thing is damn impressive. My cabin, called stateroom, not cabin for whatever reason, was like a normal hotel room and I even had it to myself, since the lady that was supposed to share the cabin with me cancelled short term. When I checked in online some five days prior to departure, she had already checked in and I saw her name, so it must have been a real last minute cancellation. I feel very sorry for her that she didn’t make it to get onto the boat.
Before leaving port, there is an all aboard drill where you have to report to the station master and line up at your gathering station, the place you’re supposed to go to in case of emergency. Then, at 5 pm, we left the Port of the Everglades.
Since we had good weather the entire time apart from pretty high winds on the first full day at sea, there was not much swaying, but yes, of course you feel that you are on a boat and moving. We drove along with some 19.1 knots which is about 35 km per hour. Rather than swaying up and down there was a constant sideways rolling, which sometimes reminded me of earthquakes, gulp. You don’t feel it so much when you are up and about, but once you lie quietly in bed, you do.
IMG_9403
Our captain was Croatian and the crew as international as it gets, I saw people among the crew from all continents. The shop staff had not much to do since of the metalhead guests nobody was into buying Gucci bags or perfume 😉
They have an interesting payment system on board. You get a chip card called a sea pass that is connected to your credit card and also functions as your room key. You have zero cash on board but pay everything with your sea pass. I found that to be very nice and convenient.
The one bestseller on board was of course booze! Lol. I heard from 70,000 tons veterans that on a normal cruise there is a drink package and you pay 50 dollars a day for all you can drink. On the first cruise the ship was drunk dry after two days and we broke every record for alcohol consumption, lol. Even on the second cruise where the 50 dollar package per day was abandoned, they didn’t pack enough booze 😉
By now the cruise operator Royal Caribbean has learned and there is enough booze on board but alas, without drink packages. They earned a shitload of money from us for the alcohol. I don’t drink beer, lucky me, but heard that a can of beer cost 6 dollars, the occasional cocktail I sipped was 12 dollars each.
IMG_9649
What I was astonished about, hadn’t expected and highly appreciated was that most food and non-Soda soft drinks were for free. I thought my ticket paid only for the cabin and the bands on board, so I was delighted to find out it paid for the food as well. My favorite place was the Windjammer cafe on deck 11 with buffet style from early morning to midnight with the exception of two hours in the afternoon to clean up for dinner and after midnight they offered some snacks. There was a sandwich place and a pizza place on deck 5, the promenade, open 24 hours. Last but not least the posh dining room, where I went to only once during the last night to check it out, has free dinner a la carte. Since it’s a la carte you had to wait for the food in contrast to the buffet style and all other nights I was too busy with gigs to try out the dining room.
The only places costing extra money were an ice cream shop, a cake shop and a burger joint. The food was pretty damn good on board!
The waiters in the posh dining hall were a little freaked out by the loud and heavily drinking crowd, but they mostly grinned.
IMG_9698
I heard from a couple who went on another cruise on the same ship last year, a normal one, that the waiters were greeting them with our heavy metal greeting sign, because they still ran around in band t-shirts and not tuxedos 😉
All in all I find cruise shipping pretty damn nice, since I am also very much an ocean person rather than a mountain person. I went to the bow of the ship a couple of times and one morning was alone there for fifteen minutes, incredible. Just the vast open water and me and a huge ship behind me.
IMG_9645