Cambodia Visit – Silk Farm

On my second day in Phnom Penh I got the same trusted tuktuk driver but he seemed a bit angry at me! Only when we arrived back in the hotel did I find out why. His English is not that good so it took a while to understand. I had said ten o’clock for today and he went “okay okay”. He seems to have been under the impression that I don’t ask at the hotel desk for the tour but him directly. I didn’t pick up on that the day before. So the second morning I asked the hotel reception again and paid them instead of him. No clue how much margin the hotel takes for giving him the job. But thus I got it that I was supposed to pay him directly and not the hotel.

As for the contents, the tuktuk ride led me to the shores of the mighty Mekong river. The plan was to get onto the Silk Island, its real name is Koh Dach, which is an island inside the Mekong river. The Mekong is a stunning 4350 km long and parts a little for this island, so what you see on the pics is only roughly half of the river.

There are no bridges to Koh Dach and you have to go by ferry, a very old and rickety affair. LOL. The pictures don’t express the age of these vessels or the noise of their sputtering Diesel engines.

Once on the island my driver brought me to a silk farm where a nice guy explained to me (and a group of Italians) about how silk is made. Of course I knew about the worms but not about the entirety of the process. The worms, or rather caterpillars are eating only mulberry leaves for about 30 days, then they turn from white to yellow and cocoon, once they become moths they mate, lay eggs and die. They live for around 45 days in total.

Now, if you want to get silk you have to balance your stock of worms to let some become moths to continue the process and the rest you throw into boiling water and cook them. The traditional process is then to take an eggplant leave and dip it into the hot water picking up threads. About twenty of them you twirl and then spin them into a thread. One cocoon yields up to 500 meters of thread. The outer layer of the cocoon is a bit rougher and used for e.g. rugs. The inner part of the cocoon is softer and spun into a thread for clothes. Then you dye the yellow threads into the desired colors and start weaving. A four meter sarong with a two colored pattern such as this peacock design takes a month to finish, two meter scarves with less of a pattern or none take ten days, they said.

Despite that they sold the scarves for 20 USD and I didn’t even haggle (I don’t like haggling). I’m pretty sure I’d pay double or triple or even more for that in Japan. The guy explaining things to us said he was a “volunteer” and was supporting his university studies with explaining things to tourists and was also improving his (already pretty good) English. The weaving ladies were all widows, he said, who are working at this place as a part of a support program for them. True or not, they make beautiful stuff and it was very interesting to see the process of silk being made the “old” way. I just wonder how the hell our ancestors came upon the idea to boil those cocoons and make threads out of them for cloth. That was quite some invention / discovery.
On the way back to town, I asked my driver to drop me off once more at the national museum, I really like that building and it’s garden and the day before stayed only thirty minutes during the busy day.

That day I stayed for an hour and also borrowed an audio guide and listened to some of the explanations for the artifacts on display. During that audio description, they also said that the museum, which came into existence around 1920 was closed during the four years of the Khmer Rouge rule, I’m surprised they just closed it and didn’t burn it to the ground. Luckily they refrained from doing stuff like that…

Cambodia Visit – Phnom Penh

Cambodia, or rather Angkor Wat has been on my travel bucket list for a while already and I finally decided to go. The Southeast Asian country I’ve been to most often is Thailand (3 times so far). Phnom Penh, my first destination, reminded me a lot of Bangkok in 1999 when I visited there for the first time. There is no public transport system in Phnom Penh except for busses and downtown there are always traffic jams. Last time I was in Bangkok was 2012 and they had an elevated train and had much evolved. In Ho Chi Minh city they were building a subway when I was there in 2016, which should be finished by now? Not sure. In Phnom Penh though it’s all busses, cars, mostly fat pickups, tuktuks and scooters, although less scooters than in Saigon. There is endless chaos in Phnom Penh, though the worst chaos I’ve seen remains the traffic in India.
On my arrival day I took a walk around the block of my hotel and was a bit spooked. There was no real space for walking and no people on bicycles either. So how do I get around town without being able to walk? To hire a tuktuk seemed like a scary prospect, not so much concerning traffic safety but concerning personal safety, what happens if the tuktuk driver takes me somewhere strange and demands more money to take me back and so on and so forth. The possibilities are plenty. I wrecked my brain about those during the night.
The next morning I asked at the reception of the hotel how to get around and the lady immediately suggested, oh we have a tour for 30 USD and you can visit all the major places in one day. Okay, fine, nice, let’s do that. I paid and was then brought to a guess what, a tuktuk. Lol. It turned out to be no problem though, my driver brought me to all the places, nicely waited and brought me back to the hotel 😉


Money… there is Cambodian money, called the Riel, but the preferred, harder currency is simply USD. If you look like you are not from Cambodia, they kinda expect you to be paying in USD.
Money… Cambodia is pretty poor, the hunt for money = better living conditions is present everywhere. As a foreigner you are seen as a source of money and they expect you to not be sitting on it. But that’s okay, since from a European, Japanese perspective stuff is cheap.
So, there I sat in my tuktuk with a driver who spoke only rudimentary English and the first thing he does is taking me to the Killing Fields.


Cambodia’s recent history is a tough cookie. Politically unstable it was drawn into the Vietnam war and extensively bombed, then the Khmer Rouge came along and “liberated” the country in 1975 proclaiming a communist utopia. They drove people out of the cities into the countryside forcing them to be farmers. They started treating everyone with “soft hands”, or glasses, as a traitor and within the four years of their rule, they killed a fourth of their own countrymen. Out of eight million people, around three million have died. There is not one family that was left unscathed I suppose. There are many killing fields all over the country, the closest to Phnom Penh is only a thirty minute ride by tuktuk away. Some 20,000 people were killed at this place. They built a stupa for remembrance and filled it with some of the skulls that were exhumed at the site. There is a tree where the guards smashed babies against whose parents had been executed. It is hard to comprehend how people can do such things.
The harsh part of the day-tour continued with the prison camp in downtown Phnom Penh, a former high-school, where prisoners were interrogated under torture confessing to “crimes” they didn’t commit and accusing others falsely in the hope it would ease their suffering only to be then transported to the Killing Fields and hacked to death anyway. Bullets were too expensive, most people were killed with axes, hammers and so forth.
After three hours of such harshness the rest of the day and tour felt like balm. The first thing after the prison in town to visit was befittingly a beautiful Buddhist temple and it was great to see something nice and peaceful.


Next up were the national museum and the royal palace. Both of them magnificent buildings of intricate beauty in their designs. What a day of the human spectrum. From the blackest possible depths to highest achievements in beauty.

Yogini?

End of 2018 I made a New Year resolution to do something for my fitness. On the 15th of January 2019, I started courses at a yoga studio and behold! I am still at it a year later! That, for me, is an incredible achievement, lol, because I really really am not a sports person. I never saw the appeal of moving your body without need, lol. Because sports is supposed to be good for you and because sports are a major interest of my Dad, I was forced to do sports as a kid. I tried a lot of things. I started with gymnastics, played basketball, went ice skating and I did fencing for a while. So fancy! My poor dad paid for all the fencing equipment/outfit, but alas… I left home, childhood and fencing behind me and at the university I tried another variety of things from horseback riding, over Kendo and Aikido until finally I simply stopped to do anything. None of the stuff could hold my interest. The only thing I did after giving up on sports for quite a number of years was ride my bicycle, but only for a few kilometers each day back forth from the station or to go shopping over the weekend, never for the purpose of “sports bicycling”. For me the bicycle is simply a form of transport that I like with the nice side effect to get me moving and sweating at least a little bit.

But alas, around ten years ago I got a lumbago and from that point on there was a steady decline. Nowadays my lower back is a mess and the upper back isn’t much better thanks to years and years of computer / office work.
So last year I thought, if I don’t do something about the increasing stiffness and pain of my bones and muscles, I’ll end up in ever worse shape and pain in another ten years. But what to do? Yoga is very popular in Japan at the moment and somehow I thought of giving it a try. There is a quite big yoga studio just two minutes next to the office where I work at.
Oh miracle, a year later I am still at it and highly motivated to continue! Progress is very slow, after all it’s only once a week (plus around 15 min almost daily at home before I go to bed, a mix of yoga moves and lower back pain moves prescribed by doctors), to more I could not persuade myself so far, but it’s better than nothing.

There are many forms of yoga. What I’m doing is “hatha yoga”, which is “basic” yoga where you strive to achieve several “ideal” poses/forms/postures = asanas and you stretch and bend and work towards being able to do and hold these postures. It’s relatively sporty and not very spiritual, even if we chant an invocation at the beginning of the class. Also after a year I am still the worst in my class, but there is some progress! I can stretch a bit farther, there is a bit of less pain in the back, there are some shadows of muscles under the fat of the thighs!
I had hoped for a bit of weight loss, but the amount of exercise and the amount of chocolate intake have only balanced out, and I weigh as much as a year ago, but hey, at least it’s not more.

I think I am very lucky, because I found a great teacher. Hana sensei (sensei is the Japanese word for teacher) is very experienced and exerts just the right amount of motivating us and challenging us. I think a good teacher/trainer is a big big factor in any sports. If you don’t like your teacher, the motivation sinks very soon. So thanks to Hana sensei, the miracle has happened that ever since I have been fencing as a teenager, I did any kind of exercise/sports for longer than half a year!
I don’t deserve the title yogini yet, since I am not managing a single one of the ideal postures, but one day, one far day I’ll get there! Thus the New Year resolution for next year and the whole new decade is to continue with the yoga classes and to let my muscles boldly go to where they have never stretched before! And a big thanks to Hana sensei! 🙂

You Have Been Assimilated

Last week, I had an eye-opening experience about to just what extent I have been assimilated into the high-context society of Japan 😉
The situation: I was attending a global telecon with people from Malaysia, Germany, France and Hungary and one of the presenters was presenting something that did not agree with me at all. I found this person’s (German) approach completely naïve and insensitive of other non-European cultures.
During the telecon I said nothing but emailed the organizer (another German) after the meeting with a hearty complaint about the stuff we had heard. The German organizer then wrote back to me angrily, why the hell I didn’t say so during the telecon and why I am bothering her now “offline” with my complaints. Oops… The thing is, I did things the Japanese way.

My intention: I did not want to destroy the harmony of the telecon, I did not want the presenter of nonsense to feel hurt. I did not want the presenter of nonsense to lose face in front of the other participants. So I chose the (in Japan totally legitimate and correct) way of contacting the organizer offline and expressing my concerns about what had been presented to us. This is how things work here! Lol. You deliberately talk offline to people behind the scenes – that’s called “nemawashi”. You keep the peace in front of everyone, you see to it that nobody gets hurt, loses face and that the harmony of the group is not destroyed. That’s the high-context approach. In the ideal case then, the meeting organizer gives a message to the presenter of nonsense, he/she corrects it and all’s well, everyone’s happy and nobody lost face.

Not so with the German presenters and organizers – they want the direct approach, they want the confrontation in the telecon, they want discussion in front of everyone. It does not even occur to them that there are other ways of communicating, because they don’t know about them. They are now pissed about my offline approach and think of me as an intrigue spinning, back-door using bitch who’s crossing people. LOL

OMG… this is how wars happen, ladies and gentlemen! This is how cultures clash! And I, after 20 years in a high-context country have been assimilated and act the Japanese way. The big thing is that only people like me get aware of this completely different way of handling things. The Germans who have never left Germany are not aware of the “nemawashi” style. In turn, the Japanese who have never left Japan are shocked to death by the direct way of low-context culture confrontation.
It’s the job of people like me, who were raised in one culture and are now living in another, to explain to either side what’s going on! Not easy, but I’ll continue to do my best 😉 
 

Average 97 Decibels – Part 2

Some words about the bands for those not so familiar with this world. Stam1na is a melodic death metal band from Finland, singing in Finnish. Mentioned Black Dahlia Murder is an extreme metal band from Detroit, USA. Insomnium is an English singing melodic death metal band from Finland as well. Silver Dust is a gothic, steampunk metal band from Switzerland, singing in English, Rotting Christ is black/dark metal from Greece, singing in many languages, mostly Greek and English, but also French or Farsi for example. Moonspell is a dark, gothic metal band from Portugal, singing in English and Portuguese. While most of the six bands are t-Shirt bands, Moonspell does a little bit with props and costumes, and Silver Dust does a lot. It was actually refreshing to see some effort put into clothing and makeup and putting on a „show“ with a video screen also, showing clips and bits fitting to the songs.


The audiences were all the same tribe, no matter in which country: metalheads! Moshing wise the French were most active and squeezed the first two, three rows pretty well, on all other gigs, I was safe in my beloved first row. The first row is just the best place to be. Despite creating a meter or two of space between the bands and the audience, I actually prefer a railing, since you can put your coat there, lean on it and use it as head banging support, lol. The unobstructed view to the stage is of course the best part of things. The sound in the first row is actually not the best, but that can’t be helped. Only after the Rotting Christ gig in Budapest, I gave up on the first row, because of the low stage, no place to hold onto and back pain and retreated to the back of the hall for Moonspell to have a wall for support. I didn’t see a thing anymore, but the sound was excellent.


Some people may shake their heads at crazy trips for heavy metal, but I’m proud of my passions, lol. It’s the adventures you make, the people you meet and the things you experience that define you. I met French metalhead friends in Lyon, I made a new metalhead friend from Brazil, I chatted with Austrian fans in Vienna, I talked to a lady from the Netherlands in a bus somewhere, a super friendly Hungarian grandpa helped me in broken English to find the airport bus, I met my sister in Dresden, where neither of us had ever been before. I managed to explore Lyon, Dresden and Vienna for a bit, I’ve been to Budapest again after nine years. I saw excellent concerts of bands whose music touches my heart and soul. All that would not happen without the passion. I hope it never dies and that the next trip will be around the corner soon! Cheers!

Average 97 Decibels – Part 1

Ahhhh, a sweet week is over, three bands four times (Stam1na, The Black Dahlia Murder, Insomnium) and another three bands two times (Silver Dust, Rotting Christ, Moonspell). It was a blast! Any time again please!
In the very good venue of the Pratteln Konzertfabrik Z7 (in Switzerland) was something I have never seen before in the plenty of concert venues big and small that I so far had the privilege to visit: a decibels counter. Insomnium and the other bands averaged out at 97 decibels. There was one spike cracking the 100 decibels mark, but most of the stuff was between 95 and 99 decibels. So that’s the magic number: 97 decibels 😉 In some venues things might be louder, but judging from the comfort level of my (earplugged) ears, the around 100 decibels seems to be the norm 😉


There is no debating about taste, but frankly I didn’t care for The Black Dahlia Murder at all. As stated by the vocalist, they are an extreme metal band and in my humble opinion did not fit to Stam1na and Insomnium, which work very well together. I have nothing against extreme metal, Meshuggha is an awesome band for example, but the Dahlia guys just didn’t do it for me, which made the hour of their set quite a drag.


I thought the three other bands of Silver Dust, Rotting Christ and Moonspell made a much better combination. Steampunk, ghost themed Silver Dust, then the black, dark metal of Rotting Christ and the dark, gothic metal of Moonspell, now that went down smoothly. I enjoyed those two evenings immensely.
The traveling within Europe went flawlessly, even the most challenging part of getting from Budapest to Dresden went well thanks to on time airplanes and trains. But, to a limited extend, I have come to understand the challenge of touring. These bands hop around from city to city in their tour busses, apparently also sleeping in them, taking showers at the venues. While I traveled about for fun, they have to give their best every night for new audiences. Well new audiences??? Lol there were people I saw three times, traveling around with the bands like myself, lol. But the majority of the audience is of course not doing the city hopping.


The best Insomnium gig was in Pratteln, Switzerland I suppose, thanks to an excellent venue and great sound. The best Rotting Christ gig was in Budapest, due to first row, no barrier, my hand on the monitor of the guitarist. The stage was very low, since the venue was on a fixed boat on the Danube river that resulted in a low ceiling. That gig was very close up and personal and earned me the pic that Sakis Tolis, the front man of Rotting Christ, played with 😉

Norway Fjord Cruise – Part 3

The morning after the storm everything was fine, the seas flat again and I felt okay, even if I didn’t have any appetite yet. The Okinawa trip where the bad weather lasted for about 16 hours and when I couldn’t walk straight anymore for a while upon arrival, remains the peak of seasickness so far, but now I have a clear number two: that night on the MS Lofoten 😉
The last full day at sea was the least interesting with plenty of fjords, yes, but not really amazing sceneries, apart from the town of Molde, which has quite a view at mountains across the shore.

The day also provided another stretch of open sea before Molde, which was quite shaky again and I lay down for a while on a sofa in the salon. I found that lying down does help a little with the seasickness feeling. I didn’t get sick this time, but was happy when it stopped swaying.
On the last day towards Bergen seas were quiet, luckily.


The average age of the cruise passengers on board was maybe 60. There were a few younger people though, notably an Australian lady in her 30ties who I talked to a lot and a British girl in her twenties. There was also a weird young guy not yet 30 who walked around in a suit for the entire journey. Lol. One notable passenger was a 87 year old lady from Norway who spent much of her life in Canada though. She didn’t even get sea sick, she was only complaining that she cannot walk through the ship when it shakes so badly! She was everyone’s grandma and so funny and alert. I wanna be like that and still go on cruises and be interested in the people around me if I get to become 87!
The tour guide announced everything in Norwegian, then English, finally German. Half of the cruise guests were Germans and they did make me cringe. The kind of Germans who want to take Germany with them wherever they go and complain about anything they find un-German and not up to their “standards”. There were no younger Germans on board, I might have been the youngest. I felt kinda embarrassed and wanted to apologize to the crew for those arrogant German retired couples. There was an astonishing amount of Australians on board and equally interesting there were no Chinese or Japanese around, some signs along the route were in Chinese, indicating Chinese passengers, but not on my trip.
All in all the journey was living up to my expectations and that one glorious day with the Trollfjord and sea eagles and the view of the Lofoten at sunset will remain a highlight among the travel experiences I have made so far.


I’m not in the habit of doing the same thing twice apart from Wacken and other heavy metal related things, so I won’t do a Norway cruise again 😉 Let’s see what will happen after Wacken next year. The Wacken ticket just arrived! 🙂

Norway Fjord Cruise – Part 2

Day three of the Norway cruise was the most glorious and perfect day. Sunshine, quiet seas in the fjords, astonishingly warm for 70 degrees north. The best and most spectacular fjord was the Trollfjord, followed by the main town of the Lofoten islands, Svolvaer. Wow, those were picture book fjords in fantastic weather. It also offered the only excursion I had booked, a sea eagle photo safari. It involved spectacular action like the small boat for the sea eagle safari matching speed with the MS Lofoten and the people who booked the excursion “jumping ship”.

Seagulls entertained us with the tour boat people throwing bread and fish at them and before and after entering Trollfjord looking out for eagles and luring them to the boat with free fish. We had six or seven eagles in total, two of them catching fish from the air close to the boat and the others catching the fish that the crew threw into the water, noteably after injecting the fish corpses with air to make them float to make it easier for the eagles to catch them out of the water. The nosy seagulls kept their distance from the eagles when they approached by the way.


I would have loved to go ashore at Trollfjord and spend some more minutes there, but it was just in and out of the fjord and it’s for the cruise ship the only detour without calling to a port and only weather permitting. One of the cruise staff said we were hella lucky that the weather was so fantastic, many times you don’t see the tops of the mountains due to clouds, fog, whatever.

From Svolvaer to the next port we had to cross a stretch of open sea, but the day was fine, the sea was quiet and the view of the receding Lofoten islands in the sunset was completely stunning.


On day four we crossed the arctic circle in the morning and were entertained by cool looking, low hanging cloud and fog banks.

After passing a row of mountains called the seven sisters in the afternoon we entered an area of bad weather with rain and not seeing further than fifty meters. Then came the nightmare. We had to cross another section of open sea and the rain developed into a little storm and sent the ship swaying up and down and from side to side and by 23:00 I felt like I’d die!

I’ve only been really seasick once before, as far back as 1995 when I once went from Fukuoka to Okinawa by ship during my scholarship student times at the University of Kyushu. On the way to Okinawa everything was fine, on the way back we got into the outskirts of a typhoon and I thought the ship would sink and I got violently sick. Now for the second time on board the MS Lofoten. It’s amazing how miserable seasickness makes you feel, you really feel deathly sick and as if it’s the end of you, lol. I threw up two times, then fell into bed in my clothes. Luckily we left the stormy waters after around three hours and at two in the morning I was able to get up and get ready for bed in a proper fashion.

Keeping it Together

The best way to know what people are made of is to see how they behave in a crisis. The current Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, showed us what he was made of during a press conference the morning after the wonderful Shuri Castle of Naha, Okinawa burned down for yet unknown reasons. You could see the shock, anguish, sorrow and distress on his face, but he kept it together, chose the right words, gave the facts that were known and the conviction to do whatever possible to rebuild this icon of his prefecture. There was a lot of dignity, integrity and decency that could be felt even through the TV. I knew about him, but never really “bothered” before. But his speech left a very strong and positive impression on me.
His name is Yasuhiro (Denny) Tamaki and there is a lot special about him. First of all, he is a “ha-fu” = a “half”, the Japanese expression for a mixed race person. He was born in 1959 on Okinawa Main Island. During that time Okinawa was under US rule. The US only gave back Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
According to Wikipedia he never met his US marine dad who left Okinawa before Mr. Tamaki was born. His Japanese mom raised him as a single mom. As an adult, he apparently tried to locate his father, but was not successful.

I can guarantee you that he was bullied, especially as a child, being teased for having an American dad, who left his mom after an adventure, affair, or whatever they had. I guarantee you that also as an adult he has faced scorn and discrimination. But now he is the Governor of his home island. That is quite a remarkable career to make.
In our mad times of clowns, madmen, narcissist and assholes as politicians, it is very refreshing to see that there seem to be some decent guys around still somewhere. Tamaki-san is, needless to say, the first and so far only “half” who is a prefectural governor in Japan. I hope he remains the great guy he seems to be and that he does good by his home island. And I hope that the Shuri Castle can be rebuild quickly and I’ll surely visit it again.

Shuri Castle, Naha, Okinawa in Dec. 2018

Country of Choice

I have a Japanese heavy metal fan friend who has fallen in love with Finland. She took a break from her job and has just been there for two months living off her savings. She posted about her last day in her apartment in Helsinki and that she doesn’t want to come back to Japan but to stay in Finland.
I understand her soooooo well. I fell in love with Japan quite a while ago. At first I traveled for two months around Japan during university summer break, then managed to get a stipend for a year. When it was time to return to Germany after that stipend, I cried and wailed at the airport not wanting to go back.
I lived in Germany for another five years paying loads of money for flights back to Japan. Then in the year 2000 came the opportunity for a job in Tokyo. I moved here and never came back. Next year it’ll be twenty years that I’m living in Japan, twenty-one in total, counting in that one year with the stipend.

It’s not possible to describe what it means to fall in love with a country. There are a hundred reasons and none, just like with love for a person, it just happens. It’s of course not always been easy and no place on earth is perfect. But reading about my friend’s wish to stay in Finland, reminded me very strongly of how privileged I am to be able to live in my country of choice. It also doesn’t matter if there are earthquakes and typhoons, or in Finland’s case if it’s bloody cold and dark in winter ;-). When you love the place, you are in for the whole deal and accept it.
It’s easy to forget what you have when it’s around you every day and it’s good to be reminded once in a while of that and to cherish it. Here’s to the next twenty years, Japan! And I hope my friend can realize her dream of living in Finland. 🙂 They surely have excellent heavy metal music there 😉

Typhoon 19 2019

We have lived to see another day after the worst typhoon in 60 years to hit the greater Tokyo area and after that the north of Japan.
Typhoon 19 was quite the monster. The worst about it was the rain. We had “ridiculous” amounts of rain with a meter of water coming down in Hakone within 48 hours. Japan is 70 percent mountains and a quite wet country. We have thousands of rivers coming down those mountains. Most of them are small and short, after all no place in Japan is further than 150km from the ocean. The bigger of those rivers have extensive “flood areas”, sports fields and parks, because we already know they flood in spring when the snow melts in the mountains and in autumn when the typhoons come. They talked plenty about the previous worst typhoon record holder for Tokyo from 1958, where over a thousand people died. We have come a long way since that. Warning systems are much better, many rivers are better fortified and so on and so forth. The death toll is currently at 74 I think and might still rise, but it will not go into the thousands.
There are plenty of warning levels for rivers, the worst one is level 5 – overflow = it’s too late. I have lost overview over how many rivers flowed over, getting into inhabited areas. In Tokyo the notorious Tama river did that as well as the Ara river to the north. The Tama river is the boundary between Tokyo and Kawasaki, which is wedged between Tokyo and Yokohama. The Tama river has a huge flood zone, and swaps into it all the time, but that it really overflowed and entered residential areas is a while ago I think.
I live next door to the Tsurumi river, but on a hill and am save from flooding. Actually the Tsurumi river also overflowed, but that’s not even counted, because it did not do damage to residential areas. It flooded the sports park next to the Nissan Stadium, where the rugby match Japan vs. Scotland happened as scheduled less than 24 hours after the storm was over.


The sports park is about one and a half kilometers from where I live. In this picture the main point is not the stadium in the back but note the (deliberate) different height of the dam. Beyond the higher part of the dam the river swapped over into the pond and sports park behind it.

I wonder how long it will take for the sports park to drain and become usable again. A week later it was not flooded anymore, but still closed.

In this picture – do you see the brown line at the wall? That’s how high the water rose for this little river that feeds into the Tsurumi river.


I’m actually amazed that the water level had gone down already that much some 16 hours after the storm. It was a blessing that the Tsurumi could escape into the sports park, that took a lot of pressure off the river and prevented it from doing worse things the remaining 14 km until it reaches the ocean.
As for myself, neither my apartment nor me suffered any damage, knock on wood. The typhoon season is not over yet, it usually stops end of October for Japan, but next year the whole show will start again. This one got so fierce and big because of lingering heat over the Pacific with greetings from global warming. As mentioned before it will happen again and more often in the future and I would like to put climate change deniers right into the path of the next typhoon, without shelter of course…

Norway Fjord Cruise – Day 1

Hurtigruten has a wide range of ships of all ages and luxury classes and due to my travel times and dates I traveled with the MS Lofoten, currently the oldest vessel in service, I believe. The boat is from 1964, wow, quite an old lady for a boat 😉 You could of course feel and see that in the simplicity of the design and the often painted over old steel, but the ship did have a rustic charm. I had chosen my cabin a bit unwisely though, since I was very close to the old sputtering, noisy engine of the ship, however, the constant sound and vibration also lulled me to sleep at times.


From Kirkenes we sailed further north with not much fjords yet but the open Barents Sea to our right and the coastline to our left. The ship calls to port every two, three hours on average. Climbing up north along the coast was quite unpleasant. Due to the constant sideways swell of the Barents Sea, the ship, which had of course no stabilizers being old and rather small, the ship rolled quite heftily from side to side. I didn’t get seasick, but I didn’t feel like eating more than half of my dinner that first night. From the second day onwards we entered the jungle of fjords big and small and the sea was much calmer. The north is rough but beautiful and at times I wanted to take pictures of every single mountain we passed.

There was also a sense of desolation and isolation though and I could not shake the thought of just how bleak and cold and miserable it has to be there in winter. One place particularly threw me and I checked about it in the Internet. An island called Loppa. It was halfway between the maybe five hundred inhabitants towns of Oksfjord and Skjervoy, which are served by Hurtigruten. It looked like there are ten or twenty houses on Loppa, even a church. Internet says there are “few” permanent residents left, but there ARE permanent residents left. Holy crap.

You need one and a half hours to Oksfjord with a whip going 14 knots like the MS Lofoten, longer of course with a slower ship. Main industry is presumably fishing, it didn’t look like there is anything else. What must it be like to live there? Why would anyone choose to live there? In summer, okay, I might still get it, it’s lonely, remote and beautiful, but in winter??? Where it never gets really bright at 70 degrees north and where it’s minus thirty or whatever degrees Celsius? I can relate to living in a place like this if it were subtropical but not if it’s subarctic. Wow.

Of White, Black, Gray and Brown Companies

I have another typhoon aftermath story. It ran also in the Japanese news, but I’m not sure if it was translated somewhere or otherwise broadcast. After the typhoon 15, which happened on a Sunday night / Monday morning, there was huge train chaos in the greater Tokyo area due to tracks having to be checked for damage, cleared of debris and so on and so forth. More or less all trains of the greater Tokyo area were delayed a bit or a lot. Trains are the main form of commuting to work here, luckily! Other countries can only dream of the incredible train network that we have.

So Monday morning, millions of people were trying to get to work somehow in the post-typhoon chaos and someone tweeted the following, which was then retweeted more than 20,000 times it seems. “White company: You can take off”. “Black company: Get to work!”. “Gray company: No instructions.” “Shit company: Decide by yourself”.
It should be noted here that the “white” company that says you can take off, of course means “you can take one of your precious few annual leave days today.” It does of course NOT mean, that you get a day off “for free”.

What struck me about this message though, and I have discussed and confirmed this with several Japanese colleagues, is that let’s say 15 years ago, there have been only two kinds of companies. Black = get your ass to work! Or gray = no instructions (which also means, get your ass to work).

Society is changing! Yeah! There is now more than black and gray, there is also white and shit! lol. The white needs to be given a hug though and a pat on the back, despite the worker having to take a day of his/her annual leave, because it does mean a slight shift towards taking off becoming more acceptable. Some companies (like the one I work for) are even so white that they have a home office system. My boss actually emailed everyone of his team on Sunday night, that we can take off or work from home. Trouble with that is you need a computer, and me idiot left it in the company on Friday night (I did this before, I’m not learning from lessons learned! Well, it’s because the computer is still quite heavy and I’m not dragging it around with me if I can avoid it).

The “shit company”, means that they are shifting responsibility from management to staff and many don’t like that. I suppose the person who tweeted that little story works for what he/she perceives as a “shit” company, which leaves the decision to him/herself and loads of people are quite allergic against responsibility as I have experienced in my working life on countless occasions.
Nevertheless, I want to see this positively. First of all I am lucky enough to work in a white company and second, hallelujah, there are now white and “shit” companies in Japan! We can to be proud of that emerging bit of work-life balance and the existence of white companies! 🙂

Typhoon 15 Hazards

There are usually between 20 and 30 typhoons in the Pacific each year and the Japanese don’t bother with naming them, but just give them numbers. Many typhoons don’t hit the greater Tokyo area but of course some do. During the night of the 8th to 9th of September typhoon 15 made a direct hit and shook the 20 to 30 million people in its path. The dude hit during the night and the 30 million didn’t get too much sleep, myself included. Wind and rain were magnificent and something kept banging outside my bedroom, but you don’t have much choice but to ignore it, since those were winds you don’t want to go into in your pajamas. We had winds in Yokohama of up to 150 km/h and in Chiba prefecture of up to 200 km/h. After dozing on and off and finally getting up, it turned out that the banging close to me was an old (and empty) plastic drawer box that I use as a bag stand when locking my front door.


It had been literally shredded by the wind, all three drawers were torn out, one was gone completely and the other two were in shreds. I found the missing third drawer at the front of the house later. It had flown from west to east around the north side of the building. Wow.
During the night my apartment’s front door got sucked in and out due to wind force and I feared it would be torn out of its hinges. Exactly that is what happened to one half of the massive wooden entrance door of the apartment building. It lay toppled on the ground the next morning.


They always make a fuss about typhoons but sometimes it is justified. It surely was in case of typhoon 15 of 2019. I can only imagine what hurricane Dorian must have been like in the Bahamas. That was loads more powerful than our typhoon 15. You are utterly helpless while the storm is going on and can do nothing but hope your roof stays over your head, which it didn’t do in the Bahamas… Only two people died due to typhoon 15 and there were some 50 injuries. How much worse is the yet unknown death toll and damage in the Bahamas.
While Yokohama was fine, two overland electricity masts and countless smaller ones were torn to the ground in Chiba causing power outages which are still not repaired for some 130,000 people a week later.


Then the trains on Monday morning – one big mess. The JR lines had estimated to be running again starting from around 8:00 (they usually start around 5:00), but my homeline finally resumed service at around 11:15. I did go a bit later to the train station and only waited for about half an hour in the brooding after-typhoon heat until a cafe opened, which usually opens at 7:00 but managed to open at 10:00 on that day. So I had a good time at the cafe with breakfast and tea, but plenty of people were stuck outside in the heat, lining up for trains and being squeezed half to death in completely over-crowded running ones. Apart from Chiba, the train situation calmed down during the day, but millions of people had a quite shitty Monday morning. I have no doubt that the typhoon situation in the Pacific and the hurricane situation in the Atlantic will worsen in the coming years thanks to global warming. Also in Japanese TV they said in the evening, our typhoon 15 was so severe, because of “higher than normal” ocean temperatures which fuel the winds. While Japan is a rich place and can take it (for the moment), the Bahamas or other countries are not so well off or prepared. There will be “fun” ahead, no doubt.

Kirkenes and Hurtigruten

After the Oslo visit, I flew to Kirkenes, a mere seven kilometers from the Russian border and located at 69 degrees north. Kirkenes is a frontier town and has officially 3500 inhabitants compared to the 600.000 of Oslo. Much of the place exists because of the Norwegian fjord cruise ships that anchor there and load and unload passengers. There is some cruise ship there every day, I believe, even during the winter months for aurora watching. For only 3500 people living there, it has a lot of shopping malls. I went to two and a map spoke of yet another one. Apart from those though, there is nothing going on in that cold little town.

Despite it being 9th of August, it was about seven Celsius during the endless day. While staying there I learned about civil, nautical and astronomical twilight. Thing is, in winter, there is no official daylight from November 28 to January 15. I cannot imagine how bleak, dark, cold and miserable the place has to be in winter when I found it already pretty bleak, cold and miserable in summer! The pic below is from my hotel room at around midnight or so.


But then it was finally time to get on board the cruise ship.
A few words about the company with the for German ears funny sounding name Hurtigruten. Hurtig is also a now rather unused, old-fashioned German word, and it means quick, fast. Ruten is route. So it literally means express route. The company is over 120 years old and they started as post, cargo and of course passenger ships along the Norwegian coast to reach all those remote villages. The stops are fixed still to unload and offload people and goods. You can also board the ship from town A to B like a train without paying for cabins or food or anything. You can even sleep in the salons on board if you stay for a few stops overnight.

If a cabin were to be free you could also book a cabin for a night, I suppose, but I guess most cabins are occupied by cruise passengers who have full meal packages too. So apart from the cruise passengers there was a coming and going of backpackers and locals and all sorts of people from all walks of life. The full cruise is eleven nights from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. I did only the half cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen. Since you are at the ports at different times of day, you kinda need to go both ways to get the full experience, but for me personally five nights on board were enough 😉 with greetings from sea sickness! 😉