Tuesday, May 30, 2006

By Christ I'm pissed

I rarely if ever let my emotions out on this blog but today, I have no other choice. I am one angry young man. What's the point in bursting one's balls and then get no recognition for it whatsoever??!!! Exactly. I'm lost for words. All's well here...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I atop a castle and Munster on top of Europe

It was a gruelling week, putting down 72 hours and being constantly run off my feet. Two of the bio team staff were gone to Hawaii to compete in a Triathlon (congrats girls, great times too) so it was left to muggins here to hold the fort. As the team leader and vice-team leaders were gone, I was Lord of the Bio-team for the week and I had to answer every call, request, and demand. Ordinarily, having a full complete of team members would have made the job easier, but having two gone was certainly a big loss. However, it was a good experience and I learned an awful lot in the process. After all, that is the point of working here, to learn and gain the experience.

Saturday morning was glorious so I set off to Himeji where I was supposed to attend a Matsuri festival, and meet one of the guys from work who's from there. The city is about 80 minutes from Osaka on a special rapid regional train. I was about 10 minutes outside Kobe when Maeda-san called me to say the event was cancelled due to threat of thunder storms. I was pissed off but decided to go anyway and see the castle and japanese gardens there. I met Maeda-san, a professor from Osaka uni, now working as a translator at the firm. A nice man in his early 60's, very knowledgable and capable of having a laugh. I spent the next 4 hours or so walking around the castle and gardens. It was pretty cool and the castle is the best I've seen so far in Japan. It is a World Heritage Site and I must say it was very beautiful. I think it featured in one of the modern day Bond films, possibly one of the Brosnan films. The reason the castle is still standing and survived WWII was that the Americans used it as a landmark to make a turn and head west to Hiroshima and Nagaskai. Grim really.

However, despite the fact that when I arrived in Himeji the sky was threatening, it turned out to be a glorious day with beautiful sunshine and a clear skies. The humidity is begining to start and it was uncomfortable at times. The five floor climb to the top of the castle tough and everyone who was at the top floor was sweating and giving out about the heat. The Japanese are like the Irish in that respect. When it's too cold, they'll complain. When it's too hot, they'll complain. When it's just perfect (in my book) they'll complain that's not warm enough. Wonderful consistency.

The highlight of my week had to have been the boys in red, finally getting their hands on the European Cup. Alas I couldn't watch the game as i couldn't locate a bar that was showing it. However, I read the match reports with glee and followed the score the net last night. It only dawned on me then this morning that I could have been listening to it live on Radio 1...what a twat. Anyhow, if anyone would like to burn a dvd of the game for me, I'd be most delighted and forever indebted to you!!!! Man-of-the-match performance to the smallest man on the pitch and a brilliant individual try to that man, Peter Stringer. A legend and a player coming into his own now. He doesn't appear to be as slow and predictable as he used to be. A good omen for the Irish team too. Hopefully they can do the job in NZ and Oz this summer.

Not much else to report fans. A bit of a bbq on Saturday night with the lads and a new team bio member who starts work tomorrow. No birding for me this weekend. A bit of a rest was needed this morning. I need a holiday....

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating nato and broiled eel

Carmo's Birds: Narcissus Flycatcher, that's about it.

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: that chick from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Macaques, finally...

A horrible week at work was memorably washed from my memory as I spent an hour today watching the Japanese Macaques in Arasiyama, near Kyoto. I went birding this morning with Neil and an Auzzie called James, who has come out with us on a couple of previous occasions but is heading back to Australia for a holiday before going to Thailand for 2 months and to a job in Turkey teaching English either in a language school or a Uni in Istanbul. Nice.

Anyway, we birded the hills surrounding Arashiyama which were beatiful, lush and very green after the recent heavy rains. Bird song was evident but the birds themselves were not. However, a fly-by and perched thereafter Green Pigeon (or sometimes known as White bellied Green Pigeon) was a lifer for me which made the 4am rise well worth it. Apart from that and a Long-billed Plover, it was very quiet. Everthing is breeding, feeding young or just about getting down to it. So, birding is very much like hard work.

At 1pm we decided to call it a day as the heat was getting too much so I said my goodbyes to the boys at Arashiyama, while they continued on to Kyoto. My mission, to find the Macaques. I knew I was going to find them as the feeding station in Arashiyama has about 150 monkeys there at this time of year. A wee entrance fee and a 15 minute walk up the steep mountain side brings one to the feeding area. Tourists are warned not to stare the monkeys in the eye as this will be a sign that you are interested in a gloves off and no-holds barred confrontation. It was quite strange being put inside a cage to feed these wild, yet "tame" macaques. A bag of nuts of fruit for 100yen and the the Macaques just stick their hand in through the cage mesh to recieve the food. It's amazing watching their hands move and ever so gently remove the peanuts or fruit from one's hand/fingers. Quite remarkable really how alike we are.

I then wandered about outside, taking photos, and just sitting down observing them. Most of the time they were lying around, preening each other. At one point, a young Macaque came along and sat down beside me. I wanted to look at him but for fear of recieving a right hook from a southpaw, I just sat there and admired the view of Kyoto, which was quite spectacular. He/she just sat there for a bit, scratched it's head, squeaked and walked off, non-plussed. Brilliant. The troupe is a very well studied group, with each of the members having a name and their date of births known. There were many age groups there, from the old boys to the wanna-be gang, to the teenagers and newly born. They were quite aggressive towards each other when being fed by the humans, but generally, when not taking hand outs, were just sitting in the trees, grooming each other or just walking around strutting their stuff. One of the monkeys had only one eye, as you can see from the photo below. I really enjoyed just hanging around there. I'll have to go back again.

I then headed home and did the usual Sunday drivel. I also managed to catch up with V for Vendetta on Saturday. I really liked the movie, but then again I'm a sucker for those kind of movies. I thought Natalie was stunning and Hugo Weaving superb as V. Stephen Rea was excellent as the cop. I think it is well worth going to see. But that's just me...

Carmo's Birds: GREEN PIGEON; Long-billed Plover

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating vegtables and salmon

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Kiera Knightley

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mishima Island...heaven

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you fans, it's just been nice to relax and chill out before heading back into the stresspit that is the Firm. I got back from Mishima on Sunday night but it was Tuesday night I left for Hiroshima, and 5 days away from Osaka. I love Golden Week. The 8.50pm Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka was delayed by 15 minutes (scandalous) but once away, it was smooth sailing all the way. I hadn't realized it before, but when the train goes around a corner, one can feel the sides of the train buckle and bend under the stresses and torques (great word) due to the speed of the train. I got a fright first but then realized how cool the Shinkansen is. Can you imagine a train getting you to Dublin from Cork in under an hour?? Now that would be cool.

When I got to Hiroshima, Sean and Noriko were there to meet and greet me so we headed back to their place for a beer, in the company of their friend Dylan, whom I met previously when I was visiting Sean in Hiroshima. A few hours of chat and the headline news being the delayed Shinkansen (I kid you not; 'twas due to an earthquake up near Tokyo), we headed to bed and the excitement of the birding ahead. I won't go into the birding here, I'll keep that for a separate post, just to keep the pattern going.

Mishima is situated west of Osaka, off the coast of Yamaguchi prefecture, on the Japan Sea. Approximately 80 minutes on the ferry from Hagi (a fabulous old Samurai town where the civil war started that ended the reign of the Emperors) and Mishima beckoned. Although no photographs were taken on the way out, the smell of the sea and the sight of a tree-covered island was immediately relaxing. I couldn't wait to get off the boat and start breathing fresh air, looking at stars at night, feeling the sea-breeze, and the need NOT to avoid bumping into people when walking down the street. In fact, it turned out better than that in the end.

We had beautiful weather, albeit for an amazing storm on Saturday afternoon, so the heat was hard and the going tough. We were fortunate to have the use of a car for the 4 days so it was great being able to drive again. The island is proably 2/3 the size as my home, Great Island, in Cork so a car was necessary to cover all the areas. All I'll say is that the birding was some of the best I have ever experienced...just mindblowing, with...no, I'll keep the suspense going until the weekend. So for the four days, we just birded, watching the local farmers plant this seasons rice crop, the fishermen out on the water and for the first time since I've been in Japan, looking at cows grazing in a field.

At one point, while standing on the cliffs, trying to bird during the storm on Saturday, with the rain "falling" horizontally, I glanced across at one of the headlands and I had to look twice and clear the rainwater from my eyes. It was pretty much identical to Blanan on Cape Clear off the south west of Cork. I felt like I was back home for just a few seconds and I felt weird. I felt homesick for the first time in ages. I miss west Cork. Those of you who know Blanan and Cape Clear, will know what I'm talking about when you look at the picture. Also, down below from where i was standing, was situated a temple on the cliff edge. What a place to wake up in the morning. I was well impressed.

The Minshiku we stayed at was excellent, with classical tatami rooms everywhere. The food was excellent, and the beer good. The people of Mishima were very friendly and, like Cape Clear, know that it's a massive place for rare birds in Japan so they know all the previous years rarities that have turned up. For a country that doesn't really give a shite about its environment, it was refreshing to see that the locals knew important wildlife is for the survival of their community (about 1000 people), and the respect they showed for it. The stepped paddyfields were brilliant, and to see the old people in a doubled over position planting the rice plants was class. It gave the place an atmosphere of not being touched in centuries (although the massive dam did spoil that a bit).

So, it was with a heavy heart and weary body (4am wake up calls every morning were not pleasant), we left the body on Sunday. Rather than get a bus back to Hiroshima (it took 5 hours on Wednesday morning instead of 3!!), I got a bus from Hagi to Shin-Yamaguchi (70 minutes) and the shinkansen from there to Osaka (2.25 hours). The train was jammed, paying 80yoyos to stand for that journey was not what I call value for money but what could I do? It was the final day of Golden Week after all. A girl fainted near me and I felt like shouting "look to the lady!!", like they did in the old days, but seeing as I was the only gaijin in view, I figured it would probably not be a good idea to do that. Some of them think we're all crazy anyway. Instead, I just gave her my water as I'm that kind of guy :)

Being back at work has been difficult, trying to concentrate after the short break. I haven't had a 2 week holiday in over 2 years now and I think I need one big time. So I figure that holiday will be spent back home on the ol' sod but not sure when that'll be. Hopefully it will be soon(ish), within the next 6 months anyway...

So sin e really. I would just like to wish me Ma a happy b'day for Tuesday. I also ask all those who may see a wee man with massive sideburns and a good tan, wandering aimlessly and talking to himself down Pana, to give him a hug and tell him that it's ok to be home again. Pee, I hope you're holding up to the shock fella.

Carmo's Diet: this week I have mostly been eating sashimi, weird shellfish, seaweed, tofu, mushrooms, and rice

Carmo's Birds: oh, I'll keep that for later

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Vanessa Paradis