Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Did Christmas happen this year??

This is a question I have asked myself after the last three days of mind-numbing work. I guess I'll tell you about my Japanese Christmas...there you go. Not much. Nothing in fact. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't miss Christmas solely due to the fact that there is absolutely no atmosphere. The only time I felt anyways festive was when I went for a pint in Murphy's Bar in Shinsaibashi on Christmas eve. I had a fabulous couple of pints of Guinness before I had to go to a house warming party. I must say it was good to hear an Irish accent behind the bar, even if it was a Dub accent...I guess it's better than nothing!! The craic was had and I could have stayed there, it was good fun. It's not a typical Irish bar (of which I dislike and avoid at all costs) but a dingy, dirty, dark place which smells like a bar should, smoky (although i still find that disconcerting, much better back home now) and full of character. The manager, Mike, is a gas man, full of shite (as most Dubs are, hehehe) and well capable of pulling the piss so we had great banter. What is great about his bar is that Mike's ol' fella is one of the original RTE men and is in charge of production of sport programmes so all the Irish games (be it rugby, soccer, hurling, football) are sent out to him the next day and are shown in the bar!! If I had known that during the autumn I could have watched Cork win the All-Ireland and the 'pool with the European Cup!! Damn it all to hell!!

The house party was a good laugh also though on Christmas Eve, with a gathering of folk from work, both gaijin and Japanese and the drink was drunk. The last train home was taken and all was good in the hood. Previously that afternoon, about 12 of us went for dinner in a French restaurant in Shinsaibashi to try and conjure up a bit of festive cheer but there just wasn't a festive atmosphere anywhere. Not even the trotters could muster up a feeling of home, walking through the English Market, with the smell of raw meat, sawdust and posh olives and cheese in the Olive Stall. Ahhh, now that would be nice....

Christmas day was spent washing my shirts, jocks and socks, getting my head shaved in a good old fashioned barbers (got a fancy haircut in a fancy salon (I know) and it was crap...they can't cut hair here...WEHRE ARE YOU KEN HARTE!!), buying my groceries for the week and generally resting. Watched some more 24, TM called over and we watched Chasing the Lions with Hector which was hilarious. That was my Christmas Day. I also spoke to my folks and a few of the lads back home so that was good. I guess the fact my day was over and everyone's back home was only just begining didn't make me feel like I was missing anything. Of course, I would have loved to have been home but at least here Christmas didn't happen for me to miss it.

To be honest, Christmas came and went like a fart in a hurricaine. An example of this was on Monday morning when I returned to work (yes, Japan just keeps going and going, 24-7). Upon entering the building foyer, the Christmas tree was being taken down and when I went down to the basement floor to get my morning constitution of fruit juice (if the editors of Mens Health could see this they'd kill me...processed juice is full of bad sugar folks), the little Christmas-themed display was GONE!! Amazing.

The big festivities, if one wants to call it that, happen over the new year. So, we are "allowed to finish work tomorrow at 3pm" can decipher that little gem as one wishes. Anyway, we are off on Friday, Monday-Wednesday next week!!! Yaahhhooooooo!!!!! I can not wait to be able to rest, relax and take it easy, give my brain a rest and recuperate. I am totally burnt out, both physically and mentally. I can't even lift my baby finger in the gym these days (on the rare occasions I can get there) and I can't add 1+1 ( I think the answer is 100). Apparently everything shuts down on the 1st-3rd as everyone goes to their home towns, villages and cities. The entire popluation visit shrines and temples over that period so planned visits to the like of Nara, Kyoto and the major shrines will be madness. However, I may visit Fushimi-inari which is supposed to be thronged then, with estimates of over a million people congregating there over the couple of days. Would make for some interesting photos, especially in the snow.

I just heard on Morning Ireland that Chomsky says that Bertie is George Dubba's puppet and is "polishing his shoes" for letting the American military machine stopping over in Shannon...personally, I think Chomsky is a legend, up there with Fisk as being a loud honest voice in today's plight in the Middle East.

Another little piece of useless observations that I have made recently. Everytime I descend the 16 floors to the basement at work, I go through a metal door (it's a shortcut) and get an electric shock everytime. Now, I am starting to become afraid to touch the damn door for fear of getting another shock...isn't it amazing how quickly the mind learns and adapts to situations. Just like the buzzer at school to signal the end of class, everyone just packs the bags and leaves...conditioning, ain't it marvellous.

Oh yeah, I bloody well slept through an earthquake on Christmas Eve morning!! I was disgusted! I entered the restaraunt and the lads started talking about the earthquake. I was clueless (I know, sometimes I can be, but it's a rare thing) and was informed that it happened at about 10.30 that morning but I was dead to the world. Anyone who knows me will know that sometimes it's impossible to wake me...even punches in the face, groin or an oncoming car won't budge me. Damn it all to hell!!! Next time....

Carmo's Diet: this week I have mostly been eating Tayto's Salt and Vinegar...ah, what heaven (thank you Mr. and Mrs. Barton!!).

Carmo's Birds: they don't exist as far as I'm birding either

Saturday, December 24, 2005

10 things I'd like for Christmas...

Happy Christmas everyone!!! If anyone feels like it, these are the 10 things (not in any particular order) that would be nice this Christmas

1. A bed
2. A couch
3. A pair of Merrell Chameleon II Stretch Goretex XCR
  • Merrells baby yeah
  • size US11 (can't find shoes in my size here!!!)
    4. Spiced Beef
    5. Normal working hours
    6. A Selection box
    7. A pair of gloves (I know, but it's so freakin cold here)
    8. Lots of birding trips
    9. A woman
    10. A decent pint

    I have just had a fantastic day out near Kobe with Rob, my American friend that came to Hergura with us back in October, his stunning wife, fabulous daughter and friends of his. A brilliant day eating, drinking beer, playing with Aya (I'm her new best friend) who's 2 and was leading me around by the hand all day...she's great. Even at that age they want to control you! Just got back on the last train (took an hour to get home) so off to bed to read Robert Fisk's new book (Sorry Mum and Dad but I couldn't resist), so far it's absorbing and it can only get better.

    I hope this finds everyone in good festive cheer and spirits. It was snowing very heavily here yesterday which is very rare in Osaka so that was nice. Busy day again tomorrow, eating, drinking and being merry.

    Happy Christmas!!

    Carmo's diet: this week I've mostly been eating naba

    Sunday, December 18, 2005


    The week that was saw a few of the lads head off to Hokkaido on Thursday evening for some skiing and snowboarding this weekend. That meant a depleted team on Friday and a busy day all told. The same shall be seen tomorrow. Oh the joys. It's baltic at the minute but the snow forecast today did not materialise. Thankfully. After arising at 6am yesterday to go birding and find it raining like it was going out of fashion, it was nice to being welcomed by glorious sunshine this morning. Although it was freezing, with ice on the ground, a hard frost and frozen puddles, it was certainly refreshing. A pretty uneventful morning's birding but some nice birds in nice light were seen. Although I was wearing 2 wooly hats, ding-dong here forget to get gloves on Saturday...oh was that a big mistake. Brutal photos again due to the cold and wind. I'll have to get a monopod maybe...the Bull-headed shrike in the dawn light and the female Sparrowhawk were birds of the day for me.

    Last night I went for dinner with a few of the lads from work and the US associate who's visiting us at the moment. It was a good laugh, and a few drinks in a bar afterwards was fun. Chatting to the locals and the barstaff made it more enjoyable. I have spent the afternoon today sleeping and watching 24 (season 1)...I'm hooked on that show. It certainly keeps one enthralled. Amazing really what silly tv can do for one's pleasure centres.

    Anyway, I'm not really in the most awe inspiring of moods, am I ever some would say, so I shall sign off. Next weeks is Christmas week, hard to believe really, there really isn't any spirit floating around here. Presents from my folks arrived during the week so I'll have something to look forward to on Sunday morning.

    Carmo's Birds: Eastern Marsh harrier, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Scaup, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Bull-headed Shrike, Fan-tailed Warbler.

    Carmo's Diet: this week I've mostly been lacking sleep..

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    To Hell and back...Carmo's tale (there we go JW!!)

    After a horrible week's graft and with festive cheer non-existent, I took it upon myself to go for a few pints with the lads after work on Friday night. All was going well until I woke up on Saturday afternoon with the hangover from hell and a session praying to the almighty on that glorious porcelain telephone. I felt like I was really living the Japanese dream now, but thankfully I managed to keep my troubled stomach in check until the privacy of my own gaff. No public vomitorium for me!! We ended up going out in Shinsaibashi, one of the main club/pub districts of Osaka. Generally I'll shy away from all that as it's a tad depressing. Desparate folk trying to grasp something that would not ordinarily get back home. I hate looking upon it so I avoid it. Plus the fact that the clubs are brutal and not worth paying 25yoyos(!) to get in. However, a couple of white russians down the gob and I was up for anything. After the drinking came the club, at about 4am mind. Went in, looked around, had some water and caught the first train home at 5am with a couple of the Japanese lads from work. These two boys are a good laugh and over 6 feet tall so I feel like normal being next to them! The rest of the day was spent sleeping, upchucking and writing. I was supposed to go out again last night but I could barely keep water down let alone anything else so I cried off. Oh, to have had a bit of greenage to take away the pain...

    All's bright and beautiful today, up since 8am and getting stuff done. I was going to go birding but I need to get the article finished in the next couple of days so it's just been me writing all morning. All good.

    Sorry I've been slack on emails, will remedy this once the article is done. All's well here other than that. The weather is cool, but nice. Work is busy and a few days off are just around the corner, which will be nice. No birding this weekend (again, the collective sigh springs a hurricaine over this way) but will remedy that next weekend, hahahaaaaa!!!

    until then...fare thee well, anon

    ps: this week I've mostly been eating weetabix...nice

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Brass Monkeys and Dipping like a dipper

    Ok..this is a post concerning my trip yesterday so it's going to be mainly about bird stuff but there will be a bit of other stuff also. Sure, you may aswell read on seeing as you logged in here anyway!!

    A frightfully cold early morning alarm call got me out of bed and straight into the hot shower yesterday morning. Man, it was cold. Left the gaff at 5am and met up with Neil in Kyoto at 6.45am, along with a visiting German postdoc named Rod who was in Kyoto/Tokyo for a couple of weeks before heading back to Paris. Once we met up, it was off to Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko) to twitch Stellar's Sea Eagle! I was excited at the prospect of seeing, for me, one of the world's most amazing birds.

    Let me just tell you first that Biwa-ko is Japan's largest lake, 50 km long and maybe 20 or more km in width. Sometimes I thought we were looking out at the sea because you can't see the other shore at most points on the route!! We got to one of the nature centres on the western side, the place where the Eagle was last seen...or so we thought. The surrounding moutains were snow-covered and my gonadage had shrunk to shriveled conkers, it was so cold. So much so that, without a pair gloves between us, my hands just wouldn't stop shaking and so most, if not all my photos were just hilariously terrible!! Hence, there are few of them. Anyway, I digress, like I always do. We birded the area and couldn't see the eagle. However, there were incredible numbers of ducks and Black Kites, with fly-by Hawfinch, Dusky Thrush and Japanese Wagtail. We went into the centre at 9am, the time which it opened and the kind gentleman there told us it was scared off by jet-skiers (BASTARDS!!!) during the week and was on the other side of the lake. Disaster. So, back into the car for the "30 minutes drive". 90 minutes later (!) after driving around to the eastern shore, traversing the windy mountainous road with snow on the verges, we arrived at the centre. With bated breath we legged it in, paying the 200yen cover charge, and being the only gaijins there it was obvious we were here to see Mr. Stellar's eagle. Oh it had been there that morning, coming down to feed on the duck, scaring everything in the process, and departing again for the hills to have breakfast. Alas, it was not seen since and during the 4 hours we stayed there, it never did reappear...we were gutted.

    However, all was not lost. One of the young Japanese birders picked up a White-tailed Sea Eagle!! A lifer for me and a stunning bird. Majestic in it's size and an awesome sight. Although it wasn't a Stellar's, it constituted my first ever eagle speices and I was blown away. Fantastic, I was made up. We then heard that there had been a Whiskered tern about 30km down the road which was a Japanese tick for Neil and a SAUNDER'S gull!! My god, my heart nearly exploded. One of the world's rarest gulls, globally threatened and a stunning gull too at that. We pegged it back to the car (much to Rod's disappointment) and headed south. We picked up the immature Spoonbill on the way, a rare bird in Japan and a tick for Neil, Russet Sparrow, Baikal and Falcated Teal. An incredible 16 species of duck on the day, including american wigeon, smew, goldeneye and goosander.

    Meanwhile, back on the ranch, we got to the destination and quickly saw the tern fly over the car...panic. We couldn't relocate it so I suggested we go down by the river, have a look at the immature Hooded Crane that was there and wait for the tern to complete it's route and it would be back again in no time. Sure enough, bouncing along, here came the tern, flying past the crane...very surreal. The photos of this guy were hilarous, I was so cold at this stage that I could hardly depress the shutter button!! Madness.

    However, despite our best efforts, the gull was nowhere to be seen. The area was just to vast to cover and light was fading fast. Our last bird of the day, and a surprise at that, a male American wigeon swimming close to shore but I was too frozen too take the camera out of my bag.

    A grand total of 60 species is an excellent day tally in Japan, the most I've seen so far and we missed some common passerines too. A fabulous day, I'm a bit tired writing this so excuse me if I haven't portrayed it the way I should. I will not aplogise to those birder-bashing heathens out there for writing know who you are! It could be worse, I could be writing about flower arranging that would not be exciting (apologies to all those flower arrangers out there who read this).

    I got home at 8pm, shattered, cold, hungry but elated at the day's sightings or not-sightings. The amazing thing about birding in this country is that one never knows what will turn makes the birding exciting. For me, that's what counts.

    Highlights: Eurasian Spoonbill*, Bean Goose (c120)*, Bewick's Swan (100+)*, Baikal Teal (5), FALCATED TEAL, American Wigeon (1)*, Goldeneye*, Smew*, Goosander*, Osprey, WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE, Black Kite, Eurasian Sparrow Hawk, Northern Goshawk (2-3), Common Buzzard, E Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Hooded Crane, Vega Gull, Whiskered Tern*, RUSSET SPARROW, Black-faced Bunting

    ps: I've just finished reading "From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map" by Edward W. Said. It's a must read for those who have sympathies with the opened my already-opened eyes even more

    Saturday, December 03, 2005

    Kyoto in search of Christmas Presents...

    It's that time of year again when all hell breaks loose, the panic begins and the ideas required to choose presents for your nearest and dearest becomes the most prominent thought of every waking minute. Well, not to ture to form, this year I have avoided the usual "ah shite, it's Christmas Eve and I've no presents bought yet!" and got them all TODAY!!! Well, I got Dad's last night when I went to Umeda but I got the remainder of the presents today in Kyoto. So, the chances are, I'll have them wrapped (there's a first) on time for Christmas morning. The plan was to go to Arashiyama to take in the autumn colours but the weather was not the best and so I decided to go straight to Kyoto instead. Of course, when I got to Kyoto the weather was good, which was nice. The hills still had remanants of the autumn colours but I didn't feel like hiking up there today, still though they looked nice from a distance. I really like Kyoto, it's much more pleasant than Osaka and I think it's more vibrant. But that's me. I got there too early for most of the shops (they open after 10am) and so I went to visit one of the many temples there. If any of you have seen Lost in Translation and remember the scene when that fine thing Scarlett was hopping across these rather large stepping stones on a small pond, and then she was walking across the courtyard of a temple...well that was the one I was at today. As I was entering the gate to the temple, a chick came up to me (what's new in that I hear you say, I know) and offered to show me around the temple and tell me about the history of the place. She was from Kyoto University of Foreign Studies and she was in her freshman year. She was pretty cool and well sound, biy, so we walked around for about half an hour chatting. It's good to talk.

    Speaking of talking, I was skype-to-skype with Stevo in London during the week, the line was perfect. Fantastic!! Everyone should get skype (free download folks) and then the whole world will talk for free...yes, folks, skype-to-skype is free. As I'm off topic, I just want to put a big shout out to C, who put his back out while at sea and is now on his way back home for some R&R...i'll be talking to you later fella, hope you're good biy (I've just been listening to Radio J on todayfm...class).

    Anyway, after that I wandered around Kyoto for about 3-4 hours, taking in the sights and buying the pressies. It was damn cold though, the first time I have really felt that winter has hit in. It is due to snow tomorrow in the region but not in Osaka. It certainly feels cold enough for it. The shopping area of Gion in Kyoto is pretty vast and the people are beautiful, striking and dress in their own individual way. As my hands were full and laden down with a cornicopia of japanese delights, I didn't take any photos of the folks. Not to worry, I'm sure they'll be there when I go back again, which will be soon I would think.

    On the way back to the Keihan line train station, the heavens opened up so I legged it into that fine establishment, Starbucks. They are literally everywhere in Japan, probably 1 for every 100 people!! They are more numerous than McDonalds in my opinion. This Starbucks is siutated overlooking the river in Kyoto so I was quite content to sit there, sipping on my tall soy latte (I'm after getting fierce posh since I came here, like), I saw, what ended up being 45(!), Black Kites just tumble out of the dark sky and gather just below me. I got my camera out of the bag but it was so wet I couldn't go outside. In typical fashion, when the rain stopped they all fecked off again and flew in different directions...such is life.

    Now I'm back in the catbox and about to watch the tv programme 24. I watched an episode or 10 of it last week and I'm hooked. I've never seen it before. It's good tv. I happened to have about 10 episodes of the show on one of the dvd disks one of the lads gave me. So, the plan is to watch a couple of hours of this and then to bed. I'm up at 4am to go birding with Neil so I want to get to bed early. We're off to Biwa-ko, Japan's largest lake, in search of a very impressive eagle..fingers crossed it puts on a show for us. The weather forecast is not good for the Biwa-ko area so we'll just have to wait and see.

    I'll write some more tomorrow, so stay tuned.

    ps: by the way, the week just gone consisted of work, work, boring.

    pps: Carmo's diet: This week I've mostly been eating patents