26 May 2008

Talking trash

We're officially on our way out of Japan. The last few days have been completely chaotic. I've had to do the sorting of what to keep (everything), what to discard (ultra heavy winter wear, things I haven't used in over a year, size... er.. X-4... jeans), what's sentimental (Aditi's school craftwork), what's not (greeting cards and other senti stuff)... and also answer questions like "why are my toys in that big bag over there instead of in my toy cupboard? Don't my toys have a visa to go to India?"

The sorting is still the easy part I say. It's discarding that's painful. First thing I did was to donate clothes that are in good shape to charity. Whlie we're at that, let me tel you, finding a charity here is next to impossible. I asked around if anyone was collecting stuff for earthquake or cyclone relief for China or Burma. Answer was 'Cash only, please." The Red Cross asked who would pay to ship the stuff to these places. But thankfully, one friend here asked if I could give stuff to an orphanage. I was more than happy to.

Then we got to discarding. And it's a PAIN in the wrong end. Please do read this article to understand how trash disposal works in Japan.

So there we were, wondering where what went. Does a stone vase count as 'un-recyclable trash', or does it qualify under 'other miscellaneous household goods'? What about that plastic container? Is that PET, recyclable or non-recyclable plactic? Do gumboots qualify under burnable trash or plastic? Why are there so many categories for disposal of footwear? Why didn't I run away and join a real circus instead of being in this one?

So we bagged all our stuff into different categories and got rid of it over a week (each day, we're supposed to take out only a particular kind of trash). Last night, we took out ALL the trashbags and put them in the designated receptacle.

The movers got here this morning. And as they were nearly done, someone rang the bell. He had a bill in his hand, and asked if it was ours. It certainly was, and hadn't we just discarded that with the trash last night? He turned out be someone from the waste removal company who wanted to know why we'd thrown out that much trash? Why had we thrown out the wrong trash for Monday? Hadn't we received the trash calendar from City Hall?

We explained that we were moving... "look, these nice men are taking away all our things," we said. He very reluctantly agreed to let our trash stay in the dustbin. I still can't believe someone rooted through the rubbish to figure out who all that ... er... trash.. belonged to.

Ah well, trash, disposal and recycling is going to be a whole new story once we get to India.

22 May 2008

Netaji's memorial

I remembered reading somewhere, a long time ago, that Netaji's ashes were kept at some temple in Tokyo. Arun and I wanted to visit that place to pay our respects.

Tokyo isn't exactly down the road from this neck of the woods. Last week, once we decided that we couldn't leave Japan without seeing some Sumo (that's another story), we made up our minds that we should see Netaji's memorial too in the same trip.

"Find out where it is," Arun said, "and we'll go there this time."

I tried to do this the easiest way possible. I called the Indian Embassy.

The reply I got there has to be preserved for all posterity. On asking where in Tokyo Netaji's ashes were, I was given this answer:
"You can ask the Japan Tourist office."

That was such an undeniably intelligent answer. I mean, I should have thought of it myself. Think about it, Pt. Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Atal Behari Vajpayee... I'm sure they all decided not to trouble the Embassy and asked the local tourist bureau for directions to get there.

I realised then that I only knew that the ashes were in some temple. And I started Googling for answers. I was lucky enough to get the name of the Renkoji temple on first try.

Next step, I started calling friends who lived in Tokyo. "Hi, where's Renkoji temple? How do I get there?" was always followed by a long pause, and the answer was always "What's that?"

It was back to Google again. This time, Google Maps came to my rescue.

Once we got to Tokyo, we took the Marunouchi Line to the Higashikoenji station, and once there started asking for directions to Renkoji. No one seemed to know where it was. With my Google Map for directions, we got to the general area where it said the temple was, and asked passers by if we were anywhere near the temple. Always to be met with blank looks and apologetic bows. Finally one passerby told us that there was a temple nearby, maybe they could help us find this place.

We walked a few yeards ahead, and saw this really small temple.

The temple itself was closed, and our shouts of "sumimasen" (excuse me please) went unanswered. We ventured into the temple, and there we saw.......
Mission accomplished.

Why are Netaji's ashes consigned to rest in an obscure temple somewhere in the back of beyond of Tokyo? Since the findings of various commissions have been tabled in parliament, and the theory that Netaji did not die in the plane crash in Taiwan has been rejected, and considering the fact that various leaders have over the years paid their respects at this shrine, doesn't this imply that the government believes that Netaji's ashes rest in Renkoji? I'm really curious why these ashes haven't been brought back to India . Don't the ashes of this great son of India deserve to be brought back to the land of his birth? Doesn't this great son deserve a prominent monument in the land of his birth?

In this forgotten little corner of Tokyo, lies this impeccably tended memorial to a great man.

Anyone who's interested may visit the Renkoji temple. The temple's at
Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Wada 3 Chome 30-20
Take the Marunouchi line towards Ogikubo. Get off at Higashikoenji station. Take the exit marked Wada 1-3 Chome. There's the entrance to a little park to the right of the exit. Walk into the park. Continue down the path till you reach a little road. Turn left at the road. Walk about 150 meters, and Renkoji temple is to the right.

Don't bother asking the embassy for directions.

14 May 2008

The Samurai's tale

The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, fought between the forces of Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen is considered a tactically interesting battle. So intersting, that in the little town of Yonezawa, they reenact that famous battle every spring. That annual battle seems to get Yonezawa its fifteen minutes in the spotlight. Yonezawa was the stronghold of the Uesugi clan during the Sengoku period of Japanese history.

Last month I got an email from one of the local newsgroups asking for volunteers to participate in this year's enactment of the battle. There was this small unit of about 15 that welcomed 'foreigners' to participate. That sounded very interesting. Why not, I thought, and promptly volunteered all four of us. But the organisers were not allowed to recruit samurai of under high-school age. The kids could not be samurai, and one of us had to drop out too. Guess who lost that toss??

On the big day, we started off early in the morning, and drove to Yonezawa. If I thought I lived in a small town, Yonezawa was... well.... way smaller. Since we'd had a really long drive to get there, we were among the last to arrive, and Arun was rushed into the changing room to get into costume.
And that perplexed the little one totally.
"Amma, why is Appa wearing a silly dress?"
"That's not a dress, baby. Appa is wearing a costume."
"Why is Appa wearing a costume?"
"Because today your Appa is a samurai."

And having satisfied her curiosity to that point we marched off to the battlefield.

And there she saw the armies swear fealty to their respective daimyo, in this case, to Takeda Shingen.
And they're ready to fight. For honour, for glory and all that jazz.
"Amma, why is Appa dressed like Spiderman?"
"No, baby. Appa is dressed like a Samurai."

And then the Uesugi forces start to get into formation.
"Amma, is Appa going to fight with those people."
The questions don't stop, do they.
"Amma, now I know what's happening. Appa is the good Spiderman, those people are bad Spiderman. Now all the good Spiderman uncles are going to scold the bad Spiderman uncles."

Talk about impeccable logic.

And they charge and are engaged in battle.

The forward troops light signal flares, and the troops start to get in formation.

The reserves on the other side of the river see the signal. They ford the river and hit the Uesugi armies from the back.

And battle heats up again.

Much as I hate to say it, I totally missed the climax of the battle. One little kid demanded to be taken to the restroom immediately, and refused to wait till the war was over.

And by the time I got back, the battle was all over, the battlefield littered with the (pretending to be) dead.

Well, when you got to go, you got to go.

I have to admit it was a great day. The battle was beautifully choreographed, and Arun had loads of fun.

But there were some really funny scenes out there. The bulk of the troops were high-school kids. The distribution of the sexes was equal. And it lead to interesting skirmishes. The armies charge. Four school girls meet in the middle of the field. They looked at each other and giggled.
I swear I'm NOT making this up!

After the battle, an old lady came up to Arun and asked to pose for a picture with him. She was so excited and she said, "Last Samurai?? Tom Cruise?" Err... lady.... Hmmm.. never mind. Say cheese.

As the troops went back to change into 21st century clothes, one bunch of Samurai charged a bunch of schoolgirls who were chatting by hte roadside. They squealed (loudly) and then wanted to take pictures.

Here, we see little girls start Samurai training... jut in case some weirdo charges her..

This shot was taken before the battle. It was so totally incongruous.

Did the average samurai warrior have to deal with little girls insisting that they had to be picked up right now? Or have to count how many hugs each kid got?
This one did. So what if he was wearing a Spiderman 'dress'.

20 April 2008

Darth Krishnan

Long time ago in a galaxy far far away (as far away as Japan, for starters), there was this academician.

That's not a very gripping story, is it? Anyway, one day, something went wrong, and instead of fighting the dark side of the force, he embraced it.

To make a long story really short, he turned to the dark side of the force. He was seduced by... (gasp) Industry. He ceased to be a Jedi (academic).

Yes, he's now a part of the Evil Empire, and will soon move with bag, baggage and family to Coruscant... well, Bangalore really, in service of the Emperor.

All Hail Darth V... er.. Arun.

May the force be with you.

(play the Imperial March too)

10 April 2008

The numbers racket

"Amma, how many years am I?" pipes the elder one. "4 years!!!!" she shouts out before I can reply.

For some reason, the elder one is obsessed with age. She has to know "how many years" any given person is. And it need not necessarily be a person.

"Amma, how many years is the baby?"
"Amma, how many years is appa?"
"Amma, how many years is Thatha?"
"Amma, how many years is Paati?"
"Amma, how many years Gowri chitti?"

...and so on and so forth, and wants to know how old every single family member is.

I was on skype with an old friend yesterday, and after I'm done goes... "How many years is Akshay uncle??"

I tell her.... she ponders for a bit and asks..."When I am that many years old can I have a beard too?"

Hmmmm... it had been too easy,... way too easy... "Er... girls don't have beards."

"The beast has a beard in Beauty and the Beast. Is the beast a boy?"

"Yup, the beast is a boy."

"Are all boys beasts??"

I don't want to go there.... so I put on her favourite (of the moment) movie Tonari no Totoro.

After a bit,"Amma, how many years is Totoro?"

"Er... I don't know," and I shut up before I start to try to explain the concept of an ageless forest spirit.

"Is Totoro 53 years?" she asks.

I heave a mental sigh of relief, but too soon. Way too soon.

"Amma, why is Totoro 53 years?"

I have no answer there. I look at that cute curious face, and start to think, no mean feat in these circumstances, let me tell you. "Totoro is Japanese," she tells me. "Do you think my sensei knows how many years Totoro is?"

Saved! I guess sensei really earns her pay. I tell her that she should ask her sensei that question. And as she reasons, sensei and Totoro share the same nationality.

After we're done for the day, she wants her usual bedtime stories. She has to listen to a Kannan kadhai, stories of Sri Krishna as a child. Half way into a story about one of his childhood pranks,

"Amma, how many years is Krishna?"

I think to myself that since she enjoys these childhood pranks series of stories so much, maybe I'll put Him at the same age as Aditi. "He's 4 years old, just like you," I say.

And she starts to wail, "But Appa said he was 6 years."
"Well, he is 6 years, I said 4 by mistake.. how silly of me," say I and try to get her to stop crying.

"But why does Appa think 6 years old?"

That's it. I've had my share of the questions for the day. I get up, go to the other half, and say, "Your daughter has some questions for you..."

And I breathe a sigh of relief.. until she thinks of the next set of questions

02 April 2008

Google greets April

I like to think that I'm too old to pull an April Fool joke on anyone. But I still enjoy a good joke. One can always depend on Google to liven up the day.

They were in good form last year with their Google Paper announcement.

I trawled my usual repertoire of Google's services yesterday, and only caught these two.

Where one usually finds the Orkut logo, there was a logo that read 'Yogurt written in the same style.

There was this gem on Blogger.

Did I miss any other funnies?

A joint venture with the Virgin Group, Virgle, to pioneer Open source Planetary exploration of Mars.
Custom time from Gmail.

Yet Another Update:
Why did I even bother when Wikipedia seems to have listed it all?
Ah well....

01 April 2008

Who on earth...

The other half asks..
Do you know who Mohammad Hamid Ansari is??

The name does ring a bell... very vaguely...

Something to do with the 'D' company? The new PM of Pakistan?

Then he tells me....

Ohh... ok...

After having Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at the helm, the current non-entity and her sidekick are a total letdown.

Is it just me or is anyone else annoyed by this asinine announcement?

29 March 2008

Little lessons from little-r people

"Baby, finish everything on your plate, or else I'm calling the Oni..."

That is the sum total of our current dinner-table conversations.

(What's an Oni?? Hmmm... read about it here, if you please.)

Much as I hate to resort to the bogeyman, some days, my patience is torn to shreds way before the sun even contemplates moving to the other hemisphere.

I see a little face that's really sad, and about to burst into tears. But holds the tears back, as she tries to be brave.

Now I feel like pond scum. Lower than pond scum. Maybe like the life forms that pond scum hold in contempt and disdain. I try to set things right.

ME: Tell you what, let's just eat three spoons of this. And then we're off the hook.
Little one (LO): OK Amma... Will that make me a good girl again??

Now I demote myself to what the stuff that pond scum hold in contempt hold in utter disdain.

ME: Shall I count??

Me: 1... 2....
Me: 2 and a quarter, 2 and a half, 2.75

By this time, the little one is totally perplexed. But the deal was that she eats and I count.

Me: 2.75.. 2.8.. 2.85.. 2.9..
LO: Amma, what are you doing??
Me: Counting, baby... 2.91.. 2.92.. 2.93..
LO: But are those numbers?
Me: Don't talk with food in your mouth. It's rude. 2.96... 2.97
LO: But Amma, what happened to 3?
Me: Did I lose count??
LO: I think so.
Me: Ok.. Lets, start again..
Me: 1.. 2.. 3.. And done. You can go play for a while.
LO: So I don't have to eat more??
Me: Goodness, look at your plate.... it's empty!!! You ate it all in three mouthfuls!!

The little one thinks about it.

LO: Amma, can I show you something?

And plays her favourite video and I sit down to watch it with her, as I promised I would.

When it's over, she turns to me and asks....
"Amma, now can you count to 10 properly?? Shall we do some numbers now? I'll give you a hug if you get it right."

Little people sure know it all.....

18 March 2008

Isn't it weird?

I wonder how people start to develop opinions about other people. Especially someone they don't know.

I'm not talking about whether Britney Spears was a perpetrator or a victim. It's closer to home. It's about me.

Why are people confused about my gender? Why do they think I want to enhance parts I don't have? Why do they think I want to know who err..... made whooppee with... how many people? Why does anyone feel I would want Viagra? Contrary to what certain folks think, I do NOT want meet available women in my neighbourhood, or city or whatever.

I do not want to buy cheap drugs. Or fake handbags. Or fake watches. Or genuine looking.... er... anything elses. I don't really care if some celebrity is wearing underclothes or not.

I already have a University degree, thank you. I don't think I am in the market for one.
I don't own a home yet, so hold back on that mortgage.

But wait....
you are an heir of the late dictator of some country I can't find on a map, and want to give me few millions?? On second thoughts, thanks, but no thanks.

10 March 2008

A Monster Outing

There they stood, like the hordes of Sauron. Like the countless armies of boundless Mallorea....


My fantasy series' are getting somewhat mixed up, what??

Let me start again. Think of the innumerable hordes of Sauron (for the uninitiated, refer to The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), picture them as they ready to march off to battle. Now open said image in GIMP (or Photoshop, if you will), remove Orodruin (Mount Doom) from the picture, transfer the horde, as is, to the Ice age and freeze the hordes till they start to resemble Popsicles.

Isn't this what you'd come up with??

Would they look like this?

The summit is totally covered with snow monsters (Juhyou).

Where did these monsters come from??

The Aomori fir trees that cover the peak of the mountain are constantly layered with hoarfrost until they lose any semblance of trees and turn into something straight out of a fantasy (or horror) movie.

On a clear day like this, the snow monsters are a truly amazing sight.

I should mention here, that this was our second trip to Zao in three weeks. The last time we were there, we met up with this blizzard who had descended from Siberia, and who simply wouldn't go away. Visibility was about 8 -10 feet.

Pretty sad, isn't it?

And I badgered and badgered the other half, till he gave in, and we drove down again, and took our chances with the weather. "What if visibility is bad, or if the snow has melted?" asked the OH. But I was determined to go to Zao, and off we went. And took a chance on the weather!

This time around, it was a gloriously clear day. And (at 5°C) warm to boot! When we got to the top, the long drive o'er hill and dale was so worth it.

I could see shutterbugs right at the summit. Of course, they probably didn't get there with two kids in tow.

There were these huge, white, bizzare forms all around us.

As we took the cable-car down to the foot of the mountain, I caught glimpses of skiers and snowboarders weaving among these giant, mysterious, creatures.

All I could think of was an army of fantasy monsters, marching inexorably towards civilizaiton, gobbling up ski enthusiasts as they went by.

18 February 2008

Who's turn is it anyway?

It's been snowing. Hard. Incessantly. Just the way it's been doing for the last 46 days. In all fairness I should mention that we did have 2 days of sunshine, and another couple of days when it didn't snow, but we didn't see the sky.

The last bout of snow has been bad. The other half and I have been having conversations that are reminiscent of an Abbot-Costello routine.

Me: It's your turn to shovel the snow off the stairs.
OH: Not too.
Me: I've done it the last couple of times. It's definitely our turn.
OH: There's a cricket match on.
Me: I can't carry the little one down the stairs. It's iced over, and slippery as heck.
OH: After the match.

After the match....
Me: Is the match over?
OH: Yeah, I'm hungry.

After lunch...
Me: Err.. the steps??
OH: Lunch was awesome. I overate. I need a nap.

After a nap...
Me: What'd you want to do now?
OH: Play with the kids..

After playtime...
Me: The steps??
OH: Don't bug me on a Sunday.

I look at the stairs leading up the apartment. At least a third of them are frozen solid. Iced over with a vengeance.

It's probably my turn.

The doorbell rings. And there stands the OH, breathing hard, and the steps are clear of all slippery substances.

It's probably my turn.... next time.

13 February 2008

No weather please..

One thing I do not want to do this thoroughly freezing blustering day is to discuss weather.

Don't think I'm cribbing about extreme weather. I love scenic snowscapes. I can aimlessly walk around the place taking pictures by the dozen. I even have the patience to dress in what seems like half the contents of my closet before I step out. I love the way my breath is all steamy. I love the way the trees are delicately or generously) dusted in a layer of white. I love making shoe-tracks on pristine, uncleared snow. I really enjoy making snowmen, so what if they look like something Calvin makes, or like abstract art?

Then why am I complaining? Well, this has not been the easiest of days.

It's freezing today. The mercury reads lower than Dubya's IQ.. er.. shoe size.. ah well, they're the same thing actually, aren't they?

Lulled by the bright sunshine yesterday, I washed loads of laundry and hung it outside to dry. And totally forgot to bring one lot inside. This morning my laundry was frozen stiff, with a layer of snow and ice on them.

Later in the morning, the school bus was late. And my nose was totally frozen before I got inside again.

An hour ago I went to get the older one from the bus. The wind was so bad that our covered carpark was totally blanketed with snow. Then came a gust of wind with so much force that I was blown a couple of feet away. And there was this inconvenient patch of ice where I stepped, and skidded, and landed on my gluteus maximus.

And next time anyone back home, or in Singy wants to talk about temperatures in the upper 20s or 30s... you can go.... er.. hmmm.. is my mom reading this???

26 January 2008

What was that name again?

This morning the older one had to be taken to the doctor for some tests. And this being the weekend, dear husband volunteered to take her to the doctor. We've finally found a pediatrician who doesn't speak much English, but writes down in English what he wants to communicate to us. I think this is wonderful. But we're still not used to the staff at that place.

Father and daughter walked into the clinic, handed over all relevant insurance cards, registration cards etc. One lady asked them what they were there for. Arun tried to explain, and finally took a piece of paper and wrote 'urine test' on it.

A few minutes later, another receptionist came up to him. She looked very confused. She handed him Aditi's registration card, handed him the slip of paper, bowed in apology and utter confusion and asked, "I'm sorry, but the registration card says 'Aditi Krishnan' and on this paper you've written 'urine test'. Now which is your daughter's correct name?"

Whe me?

25 January 2008


Where on earth have I been?? Good question... To those of you who missed my words of (questionable) wisdom, I was on a really long holiday. I was in India for close to a month and a half.

And now I'm back home in rural Japan. And I'm torn between two worlds. On one hand I love the snow, and I hate dressing in layers of clothing that make me look twice as chubby as I really am. I love the soundless tranquility of a snow scape, and miss the incessant chatter that's always present back home in India. I'm petrified driving in a foot of snow, but I sure do NOT miss the traffic chaos in India.

My first day back home, I called my dear friend S and told her to get her backside over and that we had to go eat pani-puri at our favourite roadside stall. S, of course, came over in her new car, and off we went for some chaat, taking the most scenic route through Mysore catching up on two years worth of news. Our conversation went something like this...
S: ... so and so got married. Lives in ..
Me: watch out. That guy had right of way.
S: ... Bangalore. Might move to Delhi next year. Did you hear about..
Me: You didn't stop at the intersection
S: What's wrong with you?? Why would I stop there? There's no traffic light or cop there.
S: What's right of way???

And I, who have driven in theoretically perfect driving conditions for 2 years, gave up and refused to get behind the wheel for the rest of my trip.

The significant other, though, seemed to have no trouble slipping into bad driving habits. One fine day we decided to go on an early morning drive. As the s.o. tried to get the car to reverse, the gears made some weird grinding noises and wouldn't go properly. My dad was watching from the verandah. He knew something was wrong, and didn't have the heart to tell his dear s-i-l what the problem was. I watched my dear husband try over and over again to get the reverse gear in place. I could see his frustration. He was just a little away from losing his temper. I couldn't stand it any longer. As gently as I could, I asked him if it would help if he were to use the clutch.

He gave me a long steady look, used the clutch, got the car in reverse, and told me, "It's all your fault. You're making me drive a girl car!"

So now it's my fault we drive a car with automatic transmission??? Sigh... why me??