March 27, 2009

60 minutes of darkness

It is that time of the year again. As last year I am asking you all to turn it off! Maybe you want to have a romantic candle light dinner. Or try that new windup flashlight you got from auntie at christmas. Or maybe you just want to make a statement about how much less energy we could all be using. Let us all put out money were our mouths are!

March 26, 2009


Usually it is my rule not to post any pictures and stories of my home or physical/psychological underwear etc. Some of you might ask, what is the point? And rightfully so. I am already posting pictures of my naked behind in front of certain Austrian castles. It's a prostitute that doesn't kiss sort of rule. Rather pointless, although who am I to judge the oldest job in the world. So forget it, here is the newest addition to my home.

Yukio San can attest to how difficult it is to get a Zaisu in the States. They are really common in Japan. I have been looking for one for a while now and found an online store that sold them completely overpriced. But since it is the only one, they set the price. And your desire decides if you pay it or not.

So they sent me the wrong size. And the wrong pattern, and I told them I would like a different one, and they said that they don't do returns (who does that?!?!?!), and I should check their policy (who does that?!?!?!), so I called my bank to reverse the card payment (oh, I SO do that!!!), Bank said that I need to send the item back first and have a receipt, which is of course ridiculous because what if they don't take it, or throw it away and say they never received, but I send it back, because the little one is truly to silly little, and of course the hard core superfriendly JP girl there rejects the Zaisu, but does call me because she realizes that I will go all the way, and offers me the larger one without any cover, which is why it looks nice like this, because their covers are just tacky, but in the meantime the little Zaisu comes back to me, because once you reject UPS they never go back, so I send it again, and now she takes it, and she sends the big one back, and now you know why it is worth my time to write this excrement of a post, and your duty to suffer through it with me - Sumimasen.

Soso, I give you the Zaisu (hontoni):

And this is when you look really comfortable siting on the floor in your Zaisu that you are really happy with because it was such a female dog to get it in the first place:

But did someone really do this thing on the bottom left? No wonder they don't do returns. "Young Master on Zaisu not practice balancing if Young Master the force wants to bend to his will."

Now the only thing left to do, is get rid of half of my stuff because I realize that I look like a crazy Japanophile. My excuse is that all of these things accumulated incrementally. My place looks like a version of Michael Dell's pad on negative steroids. Luckily enough I have increased my skill at reduction of meaningless material attachments over the course of my travels. Unluckily enough I really like the things (very few) that I have now.

But here comes Gröni with "Enough is too little - Genug ist zuwenig" (which is not the title of this song but a line in it. The title is "Everything remains different - Bleibt alles anders") - leave it to ze Germans to find a philosophical none-conclusion to my dilemma.

March 25, 2009

Deutschland Deutschland über alles

München, Hochsommer, 38°C.

Auf gut bayrisch: es is sauhoaß! Mitten in der Isar steht ein Mann in Badehose und füllt einen Maßkrug mit Flußwasser. Als er daraus trinken will, brüllt ihn ein Münchner an:
"Hä, du, wos machst'n du do? Spinnst du vielleicht?
Du konnst doch ned des dreckerte Isarwasser saufa!
Da werst doch krank, kriagst an sakrischen Durchfoi und speib'n muaßt g'wiß aa drauf.
D'Hund und Katz'n scheiß'n eini, des is durch und durch mit Bakterien verseicht.
Konnst froh sei, wennst net draufgehst dabei!"

Der Mann in der Isar hält inne und ruft dem Bayern am Ufer zu:
"Wat ham se jesacht, Mann? Sprechen Se keen Deutsch, wa?"

Drauf plärrt der Bayer in perfektem Hochdeutsch noch lauter zurück:
"Gaaanz laaaangsam triiiiinken, daaaas Waaaaasser iiiiist seeeeehr kaaaalt!"

euro ma(i)le man vacation

My Brother has for ages and a day been that reliable soul that delivers all the little important and not so important posted items to the people of the Landstraße District of Vienna. You can all imagine that being a male man is not hugely lucrative. But its steady and satisfying work. All those happy faces when that summons from court knocks you in the back of the head, or that long sought lover finally tells you to bugger off. And let us not forget all that junky mail from people that are so friendly that they send it to you without even knowing you. But if it is riches that you are after choose a different route.

Now riddle me this. I know a bunch of people like my brother in Austria. Not making a ton of money but paying a ton of taxes. In exchange they get crappy weather and long vacations on balconia. Hold on, did I say long vacations on balconia? Well, shiver me timbers, but my brother and his dear wife are embarking on another Mediteranean Cruise soon. Here is the map of the tour:

So maybe not all of them go on these cruises. But then again this special ed teacher (no they are not any better paid than the ones in the States) I know goes on four week trips to India and Machu Pichu. All these low-paid, socialist, health-insurance-enjoying, life-expectancy-increasing, boorish, constantly topless running around Europeans can afford what none of the citizens of the home of the brave and the free get to do. Enjoy life.

Or when is the last time you heard of anyone going on a four week vacation to anywhere? We get four weeks in two years. And most of us, if our firm would let us go on vacation for more than two weeks at a time, would not be able to afford anything but, you guessed it, going to balconia.

March 21, 2009

Lolita and The Reader

Recently I watched The Reader. Even though I was told by my chick friends that this is a chick flick (I never cease to be amazed at women's propensity to call themselves chicks. I guess it is the same as with the N-Word. They can say it, but I can't. Somehow my first amendment vocabulary access right is slowly but surely tending to zero. Some of you may think that a good think(g) -cough, you didn't see that- considering the quality of my writing. Maybe I should call them the C-Word, but that could be entirely and obscenely misunderstood).

I had read the book a few years back, and thought it to be one of the more powerful pieces of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. And without pride I will call myself an expert on that, which is, as most/some/little of me, to be credited to my familial environment. I was raised on a steady diet of books, exhibitions and thought patterns of anti fascist/burning babies/holocaust/war/Hiroshima/vietnam/global warming (in the 80s, when it was still called Greenhouse Effect). So naturally I was interested in the movie, and thought that since this does not require any special effects or grand mythological spectacles the movie might actually do the book justice. As a side note: The German title: Der Vorleser much better signifies the main story line of the book than the English The Reader. Jungchen (Kid) does not merely read, he reads to her. Impossible to translate, I know, poor nuance-less language.

It also didn't require that stupid coming and going German accent that Frau Oscar Winner displays. Do Americans really think that this is what Germans sound like when they speak German? But in the end it is much more a movie about illiteracy and it's possible consequences. If your (K)id doesn't want to learn how to read after this you have thoroughly unmotivated offspring. But let us forget about the Oscars going to another Holocaust movie, let us forget the accent, let us forget even all the truths contained in this work. Instead, let us focus on one thing:

A 30-something having sex with a 15 year old. And they don't just have sex. Even in this hollywood movie, where sex is a sort of disembodied, none-physical, guilty experience, they get it on wherever it is possible to get it on in post war Germany without getting arrested. Yes, I know its a turn-on.

But so is Jeremy Irons, who is a pretty good actor. Has done some pretty good and riské work. Should be getting an Oscar as soon as he sees himself through to making a Holocaust movie. But when he gets it on with a young girl in Lolita: huge outcry. Tagline: A forbidden love. An unthinkable attraction. The ultimate price.

Compare this to plot line for The Reader: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as...

So as a purely sociological question, without any ideological undertone about the double standards in our societies we should ask ourselves why we react a certain way. Why are you outraged at Lolita and comfortable with The Reader. Why do I think it's nice to be taught the ins and outs, as it were, by an experienced woman (and this is emphasized in the movie when Jungchen seems so much more adult compared to his peers after being with Frau Schmitz)? Why do women the world over, the ones who know about sex, think dirtily to themselves "Hm, I betcha Kid knows what he is doing, now that he's all growed up"? But when I think of an experienced man teaching a young girl certain things the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I want to rush out with a large tree trunk to obliterate the dirty bastard and rescue the sweet damsel (to return to her raving mad father of course. Out of the gutter with your mind).

Also, Fiennes absolutely kills Winslet in about a tenth of the screen time.

open letter to The Economist

Dear Sirs,

I always enjoy reading your magazine. Since I fall into a rather "green" or Naderish political category I like having my paradigms shifted by your unabashed promotion of capitalism. However, in your recent article "Machines that can see", dated march 7th, 2009 your lack of analysis goes to far.

My disagreement with your biased view on this could easily be measured by the frown on my face. And you wouldn't need Omron Corporation's device to proof my disgust. Do you really only see monetary value in controlling us (the toiling masses, if you need it to be spelled out) better with the help of around-the-clock surveillance? How about the pursuit of liberty? Are we all just automata to be controlled for the benefit of greater rationalization?

The only good thing about this article and indeed about this topic is the unanimous voice in the comments in your online edition. Not a single person there shares your enthusiasm for these developments. And I urge all of them to send letters to their democratic representatives. Do it before Google sells your disagreement, expressed in an email such as this, to the highest bidder. This needs to be regulated more so than the financial world. It is no coincidence that the same people who are the cause of the current economic malaise would most likely jump at the chance to implement some of these Dr Evil technologies that you seem to love so much.

When the governments of the world increased surveillance and red-herringed us with library subscription surveillance I was worried about my privacy. Now that business is jumping on this bandwagon, it is time to really be scared. I must start thinking of going off the grid - and I am a rather stable, none-conspiracy-theory kind of person. I do not look forward to having an eye replacement surgery á la Minority Report in order to escape the all seeing eye of Big Brother.


March 16, 2009

travel report 28: dead airports and fat ducklings

I wish I had had more room on my memory cards. I would have loved to show you the Mandalay Airport. It is a rather foolish looking contraption. It was built in the 90s when the Burmese Junta thought it would do them good to invest in modern large scale tourist infrastructure. This was foolish because the large scale tourists (I am referring to numbers here, not girth. Americans do not travel in Burma.) never showed up. And since Cyclone Nagris, the Junta's ridicolous response to it, which was marginally worse than Bush's response to Katrina, and the subsequent demonstrations that Buddhist Monks started nobody visits the country at all. In fact one only meets foreigners that either are on some sort of humanitarian business in the country, or that don't feel bound by international sanctions (read: Chinese).

So this airport is built pretty large, and rather badly, and like most things Junta in Burma it is in shoddy condition. Volker and I sat in this huge lobby with nobody but us in it. Couple of local functionary's kids hanging around a "Cafe" which did not deserve that title. They are supposed to work there, but if no customers are buying none of the none-existing wares that are not on display it is best described as hanging around instead of working. Imagine your run of the mill Communist Russia store, with one piece of bread in the window. You get the picture, if not any sustenance. I Should not have been surprised at the spider in the window of the airplane I was about to board.

It is such a strange thing, to be in a country in which normal every day occurances are, well, normal everyday occurances. Markets are loud, streets are packed, chaotic typical representations of South East Asian cities, men drink green tea in copious amounts, women are gracious and girls ride three deep on scooters. Then you enter anything government, an airport, the palace in Mandalay, the embassy in Phnom Phen and it seems as if you are stepping into a Mausoleum. It is dead. The buildings seem dead. The eyes of the people seem dead. There is no life. Yet the Junta, and by extension its tentacles reaching into this society, maintains that status. It is as if an invisible fist is directing the country. One does not see who it benefits. The Generals do not bask in false adoration as Gaddafi used to. They hide in their bunkers and, I don't know, take baths in rubies and gold. It is the ultimate Scrooge McDuck existence. Apart from the occasional silly leather jacket and sillier government proclamation of serving the country one does not easily witness the perversities of the country.

One time I was on Shwedagon and saw a few burmese women walk around the pagoda. They were fat, waddling, ungainly things that also wanted to partake in the blessings of their religion. Only after seeing their fattness did I notice the human walky-talkied security cordon around them. I guess they were worried that the average - in this context meaning malnutrioned - Burmese person would try to ask them where they could also get calory rich diets. That fat needs to be protected from the unruly skinny masses. They might want to carve out a piece for themselves.

The eternal smile of the Burmese can apparently not even be wiped of their faces by the Junta's repression. But instead, I will suppose freely here, the Junta themselves are perhaps the unhappiest people in the country. At least those fat ducklings at Shwedagon seemed unduly stressed out. Whether the cause is the weight on their hips or on their soul I will never know.

March 5, 2009

travel report 27: Shan Plateau

On the way back from the train ride we stop at a local food joint. Food is such a pleasure in Myanmar. It comes in many small shared portions in these little dishes. A little bit of lamb, a little bit of chicken curry, some pork in a dark bean sauce. Vegetables in every shape you can imagine. Properly this is eaten with your fingers. Although serving out of the community dish is done with a spoon, which you use with your none-eating hand, as that will be sticky with food and mouth juices.

This particular local food joint is a Burma/Indian combination, which is known for excellent Chapatis, which they are. A Burmese family sits at a table with an incongruous white boy next to the young woman. Quietly they munch, while my mind races to figure out their story. The woman wears last season's Nike sneackers. They are well used, they are not a present that has just been hand delivered to the Shan Plateau. Seems as if she lives in the west somewhere and came back to visit with her man. Maybe to introduce him to her family. These meetings hold special fascination for me. My friend Zeljko to this day doesn't halt happily harassing me about the time when I timidly knocked on Mr Leong's (Hong Kong Australian father of my then girlfriend Donna) door in Rockhampton, Queensland one evening a long time ago. Only to have said Mr Leong open the door, somewhat disgustedly call out "Ahhh Peta" and proceed to slam the door right in my face. He knew I was visiting, is all I am going to say. I guess it was a Freudian Slip of the hand. So, compared to the meeting of the parents situation, the more romantic notion, to me at least, would be that the white boy came back to Burma to elope (with) her. For eloping one needs sturdy shoes, everybody knows that. And no permission from Daddy, everybody knows that too. Maybe instead of boarding the plane to Bangkok they will walk the border to Laos in the North. Or to China. They would have to make their way through the Golden Triangle. They would have to cross Wa territory. For as long as people can remember are the Wa wanton warriors. That route is fraught with hazards. The couple will probably never return from it. So futile their quest, so romantic.

It begs the question what these lives are, that our nation states create for us? Where one's family is subjected to contradictions of existence dictated by location. Your daughter enjoying every freedom modern society affords. Her sisters and brothers looking at a bleak future of no options or freedom at all. One Burman I met seemed insulted at my offer, on behalf of others, of contributing to his Pagoda. His daughters now lived in the west and send him hard currency frequently. No requirement for alms any longer. One daughter in New Zealand, one in Holland, only the son left to take care of the elders. I did not want to ask if he misses his daughters. People here are glad when other's make it. Out of the country. Is where you can make it in Burma. Or go to a Government Elite School, where you will be brainwashed and loose your sense of consequence in a system of none-responsibility.

In my last post I mentioned staying in luxury hotels on the way up to Pyin Oo Lwin. How I thought it rather despicable to do such a thing when there is always the choice to stay in a perfectly decent hotel that is not owned by the government and doesn't line the Junta's pocket. Well, just this once it seemed as if we did not have a choice. The whole excursion to Pyin Oo Lwin was sort of spur of the moment (I can not say enough about how U Volker is rather the flexible seasoned traveler), and so we called our travel guy in Yangon to book us into a hotel up here. Turns out that the hotel was in a former British country home named Candacraig.

This is government owned. We realized that as soon as we walked in and the girl at the reception was a sullen man in a leather jacket. All the secret police guys wear these dumb leather jackets. It's like the CIA running around with CIA t-shirts. We spent one appropriately miserable night in the place, cursing our travel guy, although resolving not ever to breath a word to him about our displeasure at being tricked into being the pawns for his schemes with the Junta. Except for me doing it here of course, but if he reads this far, he deserves to know. The next morning we moved to lovely Park View Hotel, without crummy receptionists or crumbling walls that surely host one or the other ghost.

We then proceeded to enjoy a leisurely day in the environs of the city.
Look at his Pants!

This must be the funniest bird in the world. His beak is so large and long, he can not see the food in front of him. So every time wants to take another bite, he has to turn his head completely sideways in order to see where he is going to stick his beak next.

Now where did that juicy morsel go?
I thought I just saw it? Darn you Darwin?

This one is a weird one too. Can you imagine seeing this in the Stadtpark?

And look at these lovely Orchids! I was even offered a job there. They were looking for workers.

If you can figure out why ones on the left are
half pink and half purple I'll give you a cookie.

I was tempted, but I told them I had to move on. They were sad. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. And being an Orchid Farmer in Upper Burma is just not manly enough for this man. At this point. Should have asked me 5 years ago.

So we moved on and saw the witch's tower. Or maybe its the general's son's plaything.

Orchid's, witch tower, lake with golden ducks
brought to you by Kandawgyi Gardens.
U Volker and Mr M brought to you by kind karma.

This same day we made our way down to Mandalay, said a sad good bye to dear Mr M abd boarded a plane to Pagan.

Note to traveler of any stripe, not just the seasoned kind. When seeing live spider stuck between airplane window panes ask for a refund. Of your life insurance. Because as you by now know the best skill on the narrow road of life more traveled is ignorance in the face of obvious life threatening danger.

But when this calls, how can one not go?