Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sky Building and Umeda

A pretty easy weekend with no birding (the collective sighs can even be heard over here folks!!) and plenty of sleeping. I hooked up with a few of the lads on Saturday evening for a drink or two and wee bite to eat which was good. I slept well beyond my planned waking time this morning and that was goooddddddd!!!! I needed it. I then met up with a guy who used to work in the firm (he got fired on Thursday) for coffee. Before meeting PK (no, not you PK, another PK) I walked down to the Sky building in Umeda which is a weird building but quite impressive. As I got there I could smell the wonderful aroma of cinammon, mulled wine and pizza. I did not know what to think and so when I rounded the corner I could see the sign informing me that it was a German Christmas visiting Japan...very surreal. What I find amusing is that for a country that does not recognize Christmas, it's celebrated, on a commercial basis anyway, more so than home and PK commented even more so than the US! Crazy people they certainly are, interesting and craze obsessed. So that is it. I'm not in the writing frame of mind so this will be brief. I just leave you with some photos of Umeda and the Sky Building...I hope you enjoy them.

Bye for now

El Carmo

Carmo's diet: today, I've mostly been eating raw horse meat (not bad actually...)

ps: this is what 7 months working in Japan and 2 months without a haircut can do to a person!! I'm using my remote control for the camera to take the shot, it's what's in my right hand, just in case you're curious....

Saturday, November 26, 2005

George Best...genius

George Best (1946-2005)

A great player, a great of my boyhood heroes...

a sad way to go, he won't be the first, nor will he be the last...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Heutson, we had a problem...

There are certain things which I would like to talk about and there are certain things I would not like to talk about tonight.

Topics that will not be discussed:
1) Missing Stellar's Sea Eagle yesterday because of a STUPID commitment
2) Missing Stellar's Sea Eagle yesterday because of a TWAT
3) Missing Stellar's Sea Eagle yesterday because....
4) My internet was out for THREE DAYS!!

Topics that will be discussed:
1) A perfect moment...words I first read in JP Sartre's novel "Nausea", and a moment I experienced recently. In fact it was on Monday morning. I was standing on the platform waiting for the train at 8am. It was a stunning morning, clear skies, a cold wind and a clarity about the air. Herons were flying over, kids were going to school, it was a busy morning. I was listening to Radiohead, a song called The Gloaming from their last album, Hail to the Thief. For whatever reason, I immediately thought of another glorious morning not too long ago when I was driving the ol' Festy on some road in West Cork, Ciaran beside me in the passenger seat and we had the road to ourselves. We were off birding somewhere and we were in great spirits despite the ungodly hour of the morning. I could smell the cowshit, see the hedges, the fields and feel the power of the sea not too far away. It is on mornings like that back home that makes me feel so alive...a perfect moment.

2) Smells; I was getting in the lift at work on Tuesday and a girl got into the lift and stood in front of me while the lift was ascending. I don't know if you have ever noticed this but, when a person comes in from the cold they have an aroma about them that is clean, crisp, healthy and alive. She was just was marvellous. It reminded me of someone I know but who shall remain nameless. A nice moment...

3) Roy Keane quit/got sacked. A legend of a man. I played against him you know and I appear in a photograph in his autobiography...the autograph signing session shall be arranged in due time. All will be notified. Anyway, I wonder what he'll do now.

Sin e, it's late, I'm tired and I just wanted to say something.


Carmo's Diet: today I have mostly been eating roasted chicken, toms, lettuce, black olives, green peppers on wheat from Subway (only 6g of fat folks!!)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Homeless people and surprises

A long week, as per usual, burn out starting to rear it's ugly head with some impact. A few pints of guinness on Friday night (and they were GOOD, even at 6yoyos a pint) was a well deserved break from the tedium of the week. A somewhat enjoyable guinness hangover on Saturday morning saw my sorry ass falling out of bed at 9am as the sun was just too strong creeping between the curtains. I was not a happy camper to say the least.

Off for a stroll in Osaka-jo and the sound of excited kids rehearsing for what appeared to be a brass band exhibition. You can imagine what my brain was thinking when this registered...indeed, walk rather carefully in the opposite direction, my headache could not handle this. While sitting in that fine establishment Starbucks in Umeda, getting my caffeine fix and reading a book (From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map by Edward W. Said), I got a call from AK. I met up with him and then a few others, had a bite to eat and went to Shinsaibashi to play pool. Fun was had by all. I then hooked up with DS and a few of his Japanese friends for a pint. It was good fun and his friends were really nice. I would have liked to have had more time with them, get to know some more Japanese people. I feel that I am lacking in contact with Japanese people as I really don't have any contact outside work. It's during social interaction where one learns most about a country. A remedy for this is needed...

This morning required an early start again as I was meeting ND for a spot of birding. We just walked a loop of about 10-12 miles in the environs of Osaka city itself...a very strange experience. On our travels, we were approached by a homeless man on the river bank. What one is not told about Japan is that the homeless situation is quite a big issue. There are homeless people everywhere, with their temporary dwellings dotting the landscape with regularity. This very friendly man had the best English I have heard from anybody I've spoken to in Japan since I've been here. There was a strong American influence in the accent so he may have spent some time there. He told us he was 78 but he didn't look a day over 65. He has never been in hospital, doesn't drink, eats healthily and smokes 40-a-day!! He's afraid of dying though which struck me as being very sad. I think I will go back to him again and sit down and talk to him some more. He showed me his bank book (I don't know why) and each month he gets about 1800yoyos as his pension. Now what struck me about this is that a) it was tax free, b) why so much and c) how does he get one if he has no address?? His dwelling was acutally probably one of the best I've seen. It was made of wood and it was well put together. Painted and a nice garden. He has been living on the river bank, under a railway bridge for the last 5 years. Every year the local government men come and ask him to leave. He says he will only move if the government buys him a house. So they turn around and leave him be. He gets power for cooking, light etc from car-type batteries. They all use these as they are very cheap, about 10yoyos. A very interesting man, with a very interesting past. He must be very well educated as his English was superb. I think I will go back that away and see if he's still there....

Now, the evenings are drawing in tighter, the wind is getting colder and they have started playing Christmas songs in the shops. The Christmas decor is up, trees adorned by lights, Christmas trees set up around the place, it's mad...I mean, it's too early for that stuff, no? It's not a bah, humbug mood at all, I just think we, in we, I mean society, put too much mass into this kind of blatant commercialism of this time of year. Personally, I don't buy it. But that's just me.

The long day has taken it's toll on my brain, so I will sign off. I'm presently listening to the Ireland/All Blacks match on radio 1 for some masichistic reasons I am not aware of. I am disgusted we lost to Australia does not bode well for the World Cup. Speaking of which, Roy the Boy quitting/leaving/kicked out of United is for another day...

Carmo's Diet: this week I've mostly been eating miso soup

Carmo's birds: Osprey, Black Kite, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Lesser Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Kestral, EASTERN MARSH HARRIER, PURPLE HERON (mega rarity in japan), Vega Gull, Pochard (1000), Great Crested Grebe

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Friendly Natives, Hooded Cranes and Big Lenses

My adoring fans, I apologise for the lack of posting of late but it's been a bit busy and the energy levels are low. Work is fine, busy as always but getting more interesting all the time. Last week was just about the work and the gym. A few pints after work on Friday night was really really good. I was tempted to go hell for leather but I wanted to find some Cranes on Saturday morning so I curtailed that and got the last train home instead.

So, up reasonably early, 7.30am, and met TM at Kyobashi station where we caught the Loop line to Tennoji and then a regional rapid express to Kumeda, about 40 minutes from Tennoji and so a total travel time of about an hour. Not bad. It was a nice day, a bit of sunshine made for a pleasant autumnal day. This could turn into a birding post, so I'll spare you all the enthusiastic and exciting atmosphere of the day that was and tell you a bit about the folk I met while waiting for the Hooded Cranes to come into to roost for the night.

The typical "birder" in Japan, from my experience, are all retirees or near-retirees who have a lot of money and hence, buy the best there is, in whatever hobby they decide to take up. For example, two fellas we got chatting to yesterday were 65 and 70 years old. They both didn't look a day over 60 and they were very friendly. Although the day was spent carefully playing out charades and miming in order to communicate, we had good fun and they had a great sense of humour. Anyway, the 70 year old had about 12,000US dollars worth of camera gear and he was only doing this for the last couple of years. He basically thought it would be a nice hobby to take photographs of birds so the best of equipment was bought and any updated products replaced the previous models. The lens he had was an awesome Nikon 600mm beast and with the teleconvertor on, it was amazing. As good as my telescope as regards zoom and I was amazed....I want one!!! I took my, paltry in comparison, baby 70-300mm zoom out and was doing my best to take some good photos of the goings on of the day. When he showed me some of the shots he took, I just felt deflated but he was so encouraging and giving me tips that all that delfatedness was soon washed away.

The old guys whom I have met in situations like this have always been friendly, forthcoming and excited to share their stories with you. It's a lovely way to spend an afternoon, basking in the autumnal sun, listening to stories about Japan and their travels. There are truly amazingly friendly people in Osaka. It's not at all what I had expected. So, when the multitudes arrived (about 100 people) to see 5 Hooded Cranes come into land, all pandemonium broke loose with the sound of cameras clicking, whirring and shutters closing and opening. It was a beatufiul sight to see these magnificant, elegant Hooded Cranes come into land from the direction of the slowly setting sun, gliding in on their large wings, arcing in before dangling their legs and breaking in mid-air, landing gracefully on the water's edge. Some people even clapped....what an end to the day.

To make it even more amazing, the two old boys offered TM and I a lift back into Osaka. They were from Amagasaki (where the train crash was in April/May this year) which is very near to where I live (about 30 minutes by train) and on the same train line. We had a great laugh with them in the car and they showed me their printed photographs of many birds, some globally threatened. They gave us their phone numbers and we said our goodbyes. I'd like to meet up with them again.

So, then, after getting dropped off, another 45 minutes on the train to a party in Abiko to a house of one of the new guys from work. It was really strange walking into a house, seeing stairs, more than one room...a couch, seats, a fridge (that can hold more than a bottle of water and a pint of milk), and was palatial!! Bit of a laugh at that and then home...home to bed and to a well earned sleep.

Not much doing today, work late, missed going to the horse racing but I really needed a rest and a sleep until the warmth of the sun in the room woke me. A good weekend, nice people, good food, Hooded Cranes and big lenses...

Carmo's Diet: this week I have mostly been eating chicken gizzards and cartilage

Carmo's birds: Long-billed Dowitcher, BAIKAL TEAL, HOODED CRANE, Buff-bellied pipit, osprey, black kite, peregrine, dunlin, widgeon, teal, mallard, gadwall, common gull, black-headed gull, japanese wagtail.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Retreating with work...the Yoshino experience

Hello all,

last week's entertainment was provided in the guise of a work retreat to Yoshino, a world heritage site about 90 minutes NE of Osaka and very near Nara. On a public holiday when we were supposed to have had a day off, we were given the choice of attending a work retreat..obviously attendance was compulsory as the Big Man was paying for everything. The Roykan is a very priviledged one in that the Emperor stayed there and so it has a royal seal. The name of the inn/Roykan is called Chikurin-in Gumpoen. It was very basic, tatami rooms etc but the setting was spectacular! The leaves are turning here now so the hills and mountains are breathtaking. The colours range from deep red, bright yellow to rusty red. Amazing. It reminds me of seeing the countryside of New England during the Fall over 10 years ago when I was there on my J1 summer excursion. A very peaceful and soothing location with no noise or pollution, the air was clean and the stars were visible which makes for a pleasant change.

What really got to me was not the fact I was spending my day off with my work colleagues or boss, in fact it was actually a good laugh, it was the precision planning that was staggering. Everything was planned out to a tee such that we were told when and where we could use the onsen and basically when we could pee. In saying that though, we were segragated from the Japanese staff during the afternoon discourse session which some had a problem with but to be honest, why would we want to sit there and not understand a word?? Instead, we had a meeting of our own, with a beer, which was informative, relaxed, a bit of a laugh and I learned some more about Patent Law.

Before dinner started, the Big Man made a speech and then we ate. The food was pretty bland to be honest, but it was a traditional meal and there was LOTS of food. The beer flowed and the conversation was good. As the meal progresses we have to stand up and give a wee speech. The purpose of which is to thank the Big Man for his generosity and tell a wee story from our time in Japan or a story from home. I compared the generosity of the Japanese and Irish people and I think the boss was happy with that...well, he just had a smile on his face and he kept nodding. Nobody listens except when the Gaijin's speak so it's a bit daunting. All part of being a novelty item in the country.

Once the speeches were finished and the food devoured (it was cold in the inn, not much heating and thin walls) bingo was played much to the delight of the Japanese staff. They really get a kick out of anything that involves shouting, screaming, and being generally loud. The bingo was grand, I didn't win but no-one's a loser at work so we all got a consolation prize to choose from at the end of the night. Oh yeah, I was also asked to be one of the three "official" photographers at the event so I spent alot of my time during these activites taking photos...I don't think I'll make it as an events photographer, I end up chatting and drinking too much beer to keep focused...not the camera but me, the camera is automatic focus!!!

And so the night's reveleries continued and into the early hours of the morning. Talk time with the Big Man was from 10pm to 3am! I kid you not, he was up until after 3am talking to everybody and everybody stayed up with him. What killed me the next morning, or rather a couple of hours later, was that breakfast was at 7am and a group photo at 8.45am (board the bus at 8.50am and depart at 9am, get to work at 11am). Dear lord but the head was not present at all until I had a shower and went outside and then I was blinded by the morning sun and frozen by the chilled air. All good though.

From there, we went back to work and for the first time in nearly 7 months, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and it felt ggggoooooddddddddd!!!!!! Stayed at work until 9.45pm and went for a couple of beers with the lads and home to bed. The remainder of the weekend was trying to catch up on lost sleep but then again I've been trying to do that since I got here. Not much doing this weekend, a bit of this and that. Birded on Sunday with Gabor and got drenched so that was not comfortable. Some nice birds folks, I'm sure you're all delighted, and Buff-bellied Pipit was new for me. What's even better is that there are not going to be any photos of birds today (I can hear the crowd go wild from here) eventhough I have some nice shots of an Arctic Warbler from Osaka-jo the morning we were going on the retreat....

Apart from that trip, the week was normal and non-eventful but a plan is being formulated so it's all good. I hope all is good with everyone and on that note, I fare thee well....

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating tofu with ginger and soy sauce