Saturday, July 29, 2006

Just to lighten the mood

Hello all,

just in case the previous post was just a wee bit too depressingly painful, here's what I got up to last weekend in a mad pub called Rock Rock, situated in Amera Mura district of Shinsaibashi. It was a night of fun, frolics, and bisexual women...nice. Anyway, we decided to go Shinsai (my favourtie quote of a Saturday) to have a bite to eat and show the Gavster the place as he had not yet been. Good fun was had by Johnson and company, while Gav's twisted ankle from falling down the subway station steps at 5am tells us that he had a good night also. Here are a few photos of my behaviour...if there are children watching, they may need adult supervision. As you can see to your left, I do sweat a bit. By the way, I may have had a couple of pints....oh, if only the Bale was here

Pee Wee, Deb...this is dedicated to you

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating humble pie

Carmo's Birds: it's too hot and humid, even for them

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: the couple last week, well....

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Condi's in La La Land

The last couple of weeks has seen some of the most brutal attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon by an army backed, funded and encouraged by the US government. When Bush first publicly talked about Israel's over the top reaction to 2 of their soldiers being kidnapped, all he had to say was to keep the civilian deaths to a minimum. Keep civilian deaths to a minimum. Jesus. What in the hell does that mean?

The kidnapping of the soldiers was wrong. Don't get me wrong. But the retaliation was abominable. It took the Israeli army 3 days...3 days to target the Hezbollah headquarters. In the meantime they bombed bridges, power stations and fuel depots in order to stop the Hezbollah. What they were doing were fuelling recruitment to the Hezbollah. Just like the Brits did in Northern Ireland in the 70's by killing Catholics...the perfect recruitment drive to join the resistance. But that's another story. I have been trying to keep a breast of the happenings, reading outside the main news feeds and also the mainstream news. While they were bombing the main bridges, many civilians were killed and just like the sonic booms that the Israeli Air Force are tormenting the Palastinians with, the targets are surely not military. If so, where are the military casualties?? The first 3 days was were predominantly killing civilians.

Here's an exerpt from Robert Fisk writing in the Independent yesterday:
"The Shia Muslim refugees of southern Lebanon, driven from their homes by the Israelis, are arriving in Sidon by the thousand, cared for by Sunni Muslims and then sent north to join the 600,000 displaced Lebanese in Beirut. More than 34,000 have passed through here in the past four days alone, a tide of misery and anger. It will take years to heal their wounds, and billions of dollars to repair their damaged property. And who can blame them for their flight? For the second time in eight days, the Israelis committed a war crime yesterday. They ordered the villagers of Taire, near the border, to leave their homes and then - as their convoy of cars and minibuses obediently trailed northwards - the Israeli air force fired a missile into the rear minibus, killing three refugees and seriously wounding 13 other civilians. The rocket that killed them is believed to have been a Hellfire missile made by Lockheed Martin in Florida. Nine days ago, the Israeli army ordered the inhabitants of a neighboring village, Marwaheen, to leave their homes and then fired rockets into one of their evacuation trucks, blasting the women and children inside to their deaths. And this is the same Israeli air force which was praised last week by one of Israel's greatest defenders - Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz - because it 'takes extraordinary steps to minimize civilian casualties'." So, where are the Hezbollah fighters in that lot?? At the moment, the death toll ratio is 11 Lebanese to every 1 Israeli. 600,000 Lebanese are fleeing and heading to Beirut where the people are taking them in with open arms...humanity amongst the destruction.

Anyway, I am sorry for going off-line about me here, but the appalling scenes and shocking situation in Lebanon is just too horrific to ignore. Now Condi Rice is over there, unplanned, unannounced, in order to bring a "lasting peace" to the Middle East...christ, which speech writer got lazy and just lifted that horseshite off the standard quotes they use. If they actually stopped backing Israel financially, militarily (Israel are the largest arms customer the US has) and in the UN, then maybe it will be possible. Israel are still an occupying army in a country that is not theirs. UN Security Council Resolution 242 should be upheld and not quashed by the US...then may be, just may be, peace could begin to be established.

On that note, the rant herein ends...

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Trip to see Paradise

On Saturday morning, early, almost too early some would say, I went off to Okamoto. It is a small town about 20 minutes west of Osaka on the limited express Hankyu rail-line. I thought it was about an hour or so from Osaka, so the 5am start could have been put back to at least 7am, which would have meant a bit of sleep. However, it was a great morning, a good laugh and great exercise. The heat and humidity were killers and we duly sweated our entire body weights that morning. My t-shirt was a nice shade of light brown when I put it on that morning but by the time we finished the hike up the hill, it was dark with sweat. Rather pleasant don't you think. I was accompanied by Paul, Gavin (see left), Dave and Michaela for the morning jaunt. A good time was had by all I think. My objective was to see and photograph the pair of Paradise Flycatchers that had nested there. Also, as we walked up the hill, we were met by a family of wild boar on the path. Although fabulous creatures, I was expecting the more atypical image of wild boar, hairy, big tusks and mean in appearance. However, our pigs were just nothing like and the young boars were quite funny, squealing and making more noise than was necessary.

When we entered the shrine at one point on the hill, the target area, I met 2 birders/photographers. I asked them about the flycatcher and the Brown Hawk Owl but they said that they had both gone. I expressed my dismay and when I mentioned that my friend Kazu had told me that the young had flown the nest, the woman, Wako-san, just said "Ah, you are Mark-san!!", such is my fame here, and promptly showed me where a female Paradise Flycatcher was building a nest!! Right overhead of where I was standing!! The bird had been there while I was talking to them. I found that funny but good I guess. The flycatcher is a scarce breeder and the locals are very protective of their Paradise Flycatchers. I can understand why, such beautiful birds. Unfortunately, I did not see the male who has long tail-streamers, but the female was stunning, with a blue beak, a big blue eye-ring, and fabulous brown wings. She also started singing which was very beautiful indeed. A search for the owl turned up a blank but it didn't matter. With Varied Tits, Japanese White-eyes and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers joining in on the show, it was a cool morning's birding. I may go back again to better explore the area, as it has really old mature Japanese woodland there. The woodland around shrines are in pristine condition as the trees are not touched for hundreds of years if not more, so the birds prefer them. Hence, a lot of birders visit shrines when birding.

While I was taking photos of the flycatcher and talking to the locals, the lads had gone off exploring, heading a couple of kilometres further up the hills. They said it was quite thick with vegetation and some of the trails had massive spider webs across them. They returned an hour or so later and I showed them the bird and then we headed off back down the hill and to civilization once again. Okamoto is a beautiful place, and I really liked the feel and atmosphere to the place. There were many beautiful houses and I think it is quite a wealthy suburb of Osaka, or rather a neighboring town of Osaka. It is so hard to work out which as Osaka seems to spread out for miles and miles. We sat in cafe having an iced coffee afterwards and it was cool to sit in a local cafe and watch the world go by. I would not mind living there. It was the first time I have felt part of anywhere since I arrived in Japan. It's not too far out of Osaka, and maybe 45 minutes or so to work. HHmmmmmmm.....

Being a long weekend, we went out for pints and food on Saturday night, as one of the girls from work is leaving after completing her three year tour. Sunday was spent resting in the morning, cleaning the apartment, reading about the Israeli over-the-top attacks on Lebanon and Bush's response of "try not kill so many civilians"(!!) (a post of which I will write during the week), going for lunch with the boys, watching Scrubs in the afternoon and then heading to a 280yen bar for some more food and beer. That was a good laugh and we got home late last night. We then wanted to go for another beer and stumbled into a hostess bar where it cost 4000yen to sit down and 1000yen for a beer so we legged it out of there. Funny really as we were all quite pissed. Now, I have spent the morning resting, snoozing, reading and writing this. I was going to go out to the Phoenix to see Oriental Pratincole (a lifer for me) but it has been pissing rain all morning, with thunder and lightening thrown in for good measure. It is just too nasty to go out in. Hopefully the birds will stay around until the weekend. Having had the pleasure of watching a Paradise Flycatcher build a nest on Saturday, I can't really complain can I...

So my friends and casual readers, I shall return to my book, and to Mr. John Kenny on The Mystery Train...

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating soba and seaweed

Carmo's Birds: Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and the supporting cast of Japanese Bush Warbler, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese White-eye, Varied Tit...

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Uma Thurman

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ZiZou flipped and I blame the heat...

Last weekend I went birding near Nara, along a small river which had a nice pond half down, about a 45 mintue walk. Although it was 6am on Saturday morning, there were many locals out walking, bringing their dogs for a run or just going for a run themselves. Now while this is not a strange activity for Japanese people at that godawful hour of a Saturday morning, what got me most was that the heat and humidity was unbearble. As they were laughing, chatting, walking at speed, there was I, a ball of sweat and general fatigue, feeling as if I was walking across a desert without water and not oasis in sight. It was crippling. Despite the glorious song of the Oriental Reed Warblers (see left), a family of Kingfishers, and the tac-tac of fan-tailed warblers, I just couldn`t take it anymore and headed back to the train station at about 9.30am. It felt as if I had been walking through a sauna. Welcome to summer in Osaka.

It was with this in mind that I looked on in shock-and-awe (how often we use that phrase these days) at one of my football heroes planting a rather fine head-butt to the chest of Mattarazzi(?) and being duly shown the red card. Some rumours were abound that they called in the infamous Carmoniator out of retirement to add a bit of guile, skill and hard-man tackling to take care of Gattuso in the middle of the park. Looking at that head-butt, one could say that that rumour was true. Alas, although I too would have knocked seven shades of sh*te out of him if he called me a terrorist, to see ZiZou go like that in his last pro game was devastating to me. I just hope that he will be remembered as the man who brought grace back to the playing pitch, in the style of Platini and Cryuff, but much much better. I think if Mattarazzi was educated in the histroy of Algeria, calling ZiZou a terrorist was not the smart thing to do. It would have made the Pope react like that. Furthermore, as can be seen on the photo above, how could I, a changed man who now thinks that it`s all about taking part that counts, who visits pretty castles with my fellow work colleagues such as Maeda-san, head-butt a guy like that....yeah right!

Look, there is another picture of a placid man, enjoying the cultural platitudes of Japanese history....

Anyway, I also had the pleaseure of watching the All Blacks beat Australia. Although it was a scrappy game, the All Blacks look good, even when they don`t play well. A few beers later and I was game for anything, but being up since 4am had taken it`s toll so I toddled off home and to a good night`s rest. This weekend is a long one for us, so it`s Monday off and festivals galore. I plan to go hiking on Saturday morning near Kobe with the hope of seeing and photographing some Japanese specialities. I am sure you are all shaking with the anticipation of seeing those photos!! Just to keep the excitement brimming, here is a photo of a Little Egret, a bird one can see regularly in Cork City centre, Cobh, and all along the south and east coast of Ireland. AAHhhhh....

Until next time...

Carmo`s Diet: this week I have mostly been eating power smoothies

Carmo`s Birds: just the usual summer breeders...

Carmo`s Birds for Byrdy: Monica Bellucci as she appears in Matrix:Revolutions...just perfect (I watched it the other night)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An Ultimate Weekend

After a pretty uneventful week at work regarding my personal life (it's been like that for quite some time now), I left work early (7.30pm) to meet up with Rob, his wife and his daughter (see left) to head up to the northern part of Hyogo prefecture for an Ultimate Frisbee competition. Hyogo is the prefecture immediately west of Osaka and it is a beautiful area. Tajima was the destination and it is well known for it's skiing slopes, onsen and soba. Indeed, the scenic location for the comp was very beautiful, and the smell of the trees, vegetation and rain was such an exhilarating feeling compared to the dirt and smelly air of Osaka. I was in heaven and felt totally relaxed for the first time in ages. We stayed in a friend of Rob's, Takeshi-san, who was a fantastic host and he had an amazing house, particularly for Japan. It was huge. We stayed in one part of the house while he lived in another part...and his parents lived yet another part!! It was a beautiful house. We arrived in time to watch the Argie/Kraut game, and in our folly stayed up for the entire game.

The following morning we got out of bed at 8am and got ready for the comp. This was the third year the competition had been held and it was by far the biggest, with sponsors such as Coca-Cola, a car manufacturer and Hero Disc. Rob's friend Gatson arrived in the middle of the night and was sharing the room I was staying in. I slept so soundly I didn't hear him come into the room. In fact, the two nights we stayed in Takeshi-san's house were the best night's sleep I have had in Japan. The mattress was just perfect. No back pain in the middle of the night, and no back pain in the morning when I wake...heaven. Anyway, we got to the comp site and me up with Lorelei, the organizer of the tournament (see below with Gatson) and the rest of our players. The only person who had played before was Gatson who had played and coached people back in Oregon Uni in the States. As it turned out, we came 14/20 teams, winning one game and losing 4. However, it was all about taking part and i loved every bit of it. The only problem is that one needs to be extremely fit as it is all about sprinting, sprinting and more sprinting. However, if you are as good as Gatson is, you can just be the player who distributes the disk. The teams are mixed with a minimum of 3 female team members from a total of 7 on the pitch at one time, substitutions allowed whenever you want, and for as many times as you wish...which is nice.
Saturday night saw us taking part in the bbq and free drink fest so Sunday morning was hard but a quick rain shower soon taking away the tiredness and hangover. We only played 2 games on Sunday but it was great. The old knees were torn to shreds and required first aid to get the grit that was embedded in the flesh. Same old story really. Although I was not the best at the game, it is something I would love to continue doing and have made steps to connect with a couple of Osaka teams that train locally on Sundays. It would be great for the summer. Anyway, the level of skill of some of the players were phenomenal and I was blown away by the fitness level of the winning team. The team that won, Osaka Nato, are off to play in the World Champs in Australia in a couple of weeks. They were immense. One of the girls, who is no more than 5'2", was able to outjump a guy who is 6'4"!!! I kid you not!! They were awesome!!! The guys jumped better than Michael Jordan (see below). They beat a team from Tokyo who were also fantastic and were the defending champions. I'm hooked. We each received a free disc from Hero Disc, especially commissioned for the participants. Nice. Maybe I'll turn professional....

So as not to be sore for the next day, Gatson, Rob, Takeshi and I headed off to an onsen after each of the days competition to soak our weary limbs and enjoy the feeling of the natural hot springs. It has to be one of the most relaxing things one can do. It is just fabulous. And so as not to be starved of birding, while watching the final game (see Rob above relaxing), a Pacific Swift and a Green Pigeon flew by, and the song of the Japanese Bush Warbler and Japanese Skylarks was pleasant background noise. As I had called Rob a couple of weeks back about the Swinhoe's Egret, he figured he owed me a lifer. Not to let me down, he brought me to see an Oriental White Stork which has been in the area for a couple of years. A fantastic bird with the palest eyes I have ever seen in a bird. To top it all off, the bird started displaying, showing off it's red throat and clacking it's beak loudly from the top of a dead tree...magic.

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating dirt

Carmo's Birds: ORIENTAL WHITE STORK*; Pacific Swift; Green Pigeon; Merlin/ that got away

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: the chick from Black-Eyed Peas