Saturday, December 31, 2005

year of the dog

It's been a little over twelve months since this little project ballooned from a lark to a small obsession, and my own little patch of the web has seen around eight thousand visitors. I suppose if I include daily updates on the health of my dog and lists of weird shit I saw in the supermarket I suppose it would be more, but you and I would rather enjoy essays with big chunks of style stolen from Alan Booth and David Sedaris, then sprinkled with a thin veneer of artiness.

I spent the last week holed up in a small room with eight other expats in Kusatsu, one of Japan's most well known and eggiest smelling hot spring resorts. Most of us were long termers, with at least three or four years here and a grasp of the language. Which made us feel at home enough to pelt each other with snowballs while we froliced naked in the outdoor baths. On Christmas eve I grabbed a friend and we cobbled together a Christmas tree and ornaments from pine branches and free flyers left in the lobby of our hotel.

Happy New Year of the Dog.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


There is a film somewhere in my morning commute. Three days a week I have been shivering out at eight in the morning with a few million other souls to pump through the arteries and viens of Tokyo's railways.

My movie starts with our hero’s morning routine: toast, shave, tea, shots cutting to the face of a clock, polished black shoes slipped on in the doorway. Hunchy shoulder walk trying to step ahead of the seconds, winter morning sunshine, figures in black coats flowing through the streets, breath clouding faces. Dozens of bodies flowing through a row of ticket gate, each body flicks off a double beep as it slides through, the beeps sprinkling like heavy rainfall. Feet tapping and shivering at the platform, people staring blankly in neatly marked rows, every one muffling out the riot of jingles and broadcasts that hurtle from the speakers. Train pulls into platform, great dark piley lumps through the heavily fogged windows. Shot from straight overhead, doors groan open, steaming air and black coat bodies pour like coffee from a pot, funneling through the two lines of shivering cloaks waiting to board. Keyboard jingles, lines slithering into car, a series of sharply angled shots of the doors: the recording of the girl tells us the doors are closing, station master’s crackly voice repeats it, passengers suck in their breath and doors shut with a slow hiss.

A shot down length of the car interior: uniform and unisexed bodies packed tight and comfy, dead silence but for the wheels on the tracks. Shots of faces interspersed with advertisements: fifty year old man, twiney gray hair combed straight swaying on a subway strap, eyes looking inside to his day, suited commuter hanging from subway strap packed with faceless gray bodies, clutching his stomach “Stop Diarrhea Fast!”, young woman in front desk dress and overcoat, eyes flicking over novel, cover discretely tucked behind the store’s complimentary paper cover, small brown bottle, “Highest Caffeine Levels on the Market!, Vitamins to improve brain bloodflow!, Stay Awake and Alert for Overtime, Business Meetings, All Night Studying!”, acne, glasses, overwashed hair stripped to brittle mop, shirt, tie, jacket, seated, head drooping over school logo bookbag on lap, face of old woman and young man in suit occasionally sway into the frame, “Live in a Hot Spring Resort! Seventy Minute Train Ride to Tokyo Station, Eighty Minutes to Shinjuku!” white houses fuzzy and glowing among trees, “Work in Tokyo, Live Close to Nature, Now Receiving Buyers! Free Info Session...”, young man in suit with sharp face, eyes blinking at the “Does Koizumi have the Guts to Stand up to North Korea?!” “Exclusive! Border Breaking Haruki Murakami as Interviewed in the New York Times! (Junichi Uegusa trans.)”

Cut away as train lurches to a stop, hero shuffles out, bodies flow among platforms, camera twirls 360 to sound montage of train broadcasts and whistles. Slow motion shot of crowds tramping up stairs, backs of heads bobbing, feet tramping in a slow roar. Cut to cramming into new train, shinier and brighter than last, feet negotiating small inches of space. More jump cuts of train interior, televisions screens blink ski holidays, weather forecasts and station info. Hero’s face blank, we watch him gazing intently at something, cut to thumbs tapping on mobile phone, cut to doors pulling to platform, tromping out, blurry figures fly past bus size poster of a young girl in jeans and sweatshirt newspaper spread over knees, “Read It! (It’ll be on the Test!)”, long tracking shot follows hero down stairs through ticket gates (beeps patter like rain), across street, he gets lost in streams of coats and faces.

Camera floats away, up into buildings, up, up, then turns down on streams of black sweeping through streets, trickling into cracks and doorways.

Friday, December 09, 2005

just when you thought the world couldn't get any weirder

I'm currently reading this Philip K. Dick novel "The Penultimate Truth" where most of humanity has retreated underground in the aftermath of a planetwide war, fleeing nuclear fallout and chemical weapons. They continue to produce robot soldiers to fight the wars that rage above, and are urged to stay the course by their crusty and charismatic leader: Talbot Yancy, the President of the United States. The reality is that Talbot Yancy is computer image programmed by the upper class living on the surface, which has been clean and healthy for decades. They live in massive estates waited on by robot servants and function like a massive ad agency producing lies for the workers below.

This was all very nice, until I found a cover story on the top page of the New York Times website that confirms my belief that human beings have no limits on weirdness. There is now a booming business in China where nerds are paid around 50 to 75 cents an hour to play video games by proxy for first world gamers.

Let me repeat this, there is an entire economy revolving around people buying and selling player identities in a fictional online universe. These guys get paid to "slay orcs". 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Just read the article and marvel at the modern world.