Archive for September, 2010

Heads of Twitter, Mixi, Gree, Tweetdeck & Joi Ito now in discussion on social media #ncc2010

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Twitter co-founder Biz Stone now on stage at New Context Conference 2010

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My wife and niece …in motion

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Autumn

Finally, the intense heat and humidity of summer has passed, being replaced by the coolness of Autumn. Autumn in Japan really lovely. Perfect temperatures to enjoy the outdoors, clear skies, beautiful birdsong in the morning (as opposed to the raucous cries of that bird, the name of which I forget, whose squawks are extremely noisy in the spring), still plenty of foliage (leaves fall later than in the UK), no need for any aircon or heater. The latest form of life to join the party on our balcony is these broccoli sprouts – just one week old. Right, time to relax and enjoy this sun!

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手作りクランベリーパン Homemade cranberry bread

I love making bread. Find it very therapeutic. Today’s first two loaves contain cranberry. The next two loaves will be savoury – they’re still baking in our giant wok!

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Tokyo Water

And they tell you you should drink this stuff?!!

Always satisfying to see how much crap the water filter’s caught when it comes to the annual change.

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Saturday Morning

Really nice to have a Saturday morning lie-in; it’s unusual for us both to not be busy early in the morning. Just discussing whether to make bread, or pancakes, or both. The sudden drop in the temperature outside is welcome. Had enough of sweating 3 litres every night! Might be time to bring the pineapple and avocado in though – they’ll have to squeeze in next to the others at the end of the futon!

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Japanese spouse visa extension

So, as I mentioned on Facebook a couple of times over the past few weeks, I’ve been waiting on immigration to notify me that my visa extension application has been processed and I can go back to their Shinagawa office to get the stamp in my passport.

My visa expired at the beginning of this month, although immigration law states that I can stay for up to 2 months after expiry provided I’ve submitted an application for a new visa / extension. I’m now 6 weeks into that 2 months period.

Reading the notice stapled into my passport (above), I was assured that they would process my application by Sep 22nd – two days ago. Unfortunately I failed to read to the end of the paragraph in which it states that you’re just supposed to go to the office within that period to get your stamp – you don’t have to wait for the notification postcard (as has been the case until now, and as I have been doing).

I guess I’ll be heading down to immigration tomorrow, and hope that they don’t mind that I’m two days late!

Thanks to W00kie for pointing out my mistake.

[EDIT]

When I arrived at immigration I was told that, as I had missed the deadline, I would need to report to the Inspection Counter. I did this, and within a few minutes was issued with a 3 year spouse visa – something I’ve wanted for the past two years!

Looks like I’ll be staying here a little longer then.

In the Tokyo MX TV studio shooting Culture:Japan

Seconds after this was taken a ninja somersaulted into the studio and almost killed the co-host

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The Road to Recovery

It’s now almost two weeks since I first came down with this virus. The full-blown fever lasted for about 5 days – that’s been followed by an extended period of complete exhaustion and confusion, and continued weight loss (5kg now). It’s felt a bit like being permanently stoned, needing copious sleep, and having bizarre hallucinations.

One dream kept on coming around. It was a mild nightmare, and would see me waking up talking what must have seemed like rubbish, feeling trapped, stuck in a loop.

The dream was centered on a blurred text document on my mac, much like the one above. I can’t recall the exact wording, but the implied meaning was that my attempts to fix the current problem (that is, having a fever) were resulting in an error because there was an underlying problem that needed sorting out first. (This meaning wasn’t all that clear at first, thus it was only on the third day that I was able to discover this).

This really disturbed me, waking me fully and leaving me feel trapped.

But it made sense. I mean, this illness didn’t come out of nowhere, and had I been in a good space to begin with I’m sure my body would have dealt with it no problem. To become so ill and take so long to recover suggests that I was already pretty weak – something that doesn’t surprise me.

Thinking about it, the move from full-time work to managing my own time to meet the needs of my clients has been tremendously stressful. I took on too much work, made too many promises, and as a result found myself working crazy hours. I became more stressed than when I worked for a very difficult boss! It wasn’t all that good for my relationship with *Twinkle* either.

This illness then has given me the opportunity to reassess the way I’m doing things. For one thing, I need adequate sleep. Thus, I now have a curfew: At 10:30pm, no matter what I’m working on, I stop. Secondly, I need less screen-time. Last week it was made abundantly clear that I’d been looking at screens too much: just looking at my mac for a few minutes brought on a blinding headache. My eyes needed a rest. So I’m having more off-screen time.

I also need to be more realistic in terms of what I can achieve in the time I have available, and not make promises that are impossible to fulfill (and thus result in a great deal of stress).

Stress management in general is something I need to work on, by being more conscious of when I’m feeling it, and taking regular breaks to relax my body by stretching etc.

So where are we now then? Well, certainly not back up to 100%. I remain 5kg underweight, and very tired. Thankfully the skin on the inside of my mouth (which has been missing since I burnt it off with unripe kiwi fruit acid!) is really healing now, so I’ve started eating a lot more. This will hopefully help speed up the recovery process so I can be back on top form before the end of the month.

I’m also generally feeling less stressed.

So, we’re heading in the right direction, and ultimately my body will benefit from the experience of the past two weeks as I start to look after myself better.

🙂

BBC Radio 4

It was soon clear that watching movies was something I wouldn’t be able to indulge in during my prolonged break. In a revolt against my usual habit of staring at screens for far too many hours each day, my eyes would maliciously trigger a headache if I tried to look at anything more dynamic than the plant next to my futon.

Instead, I chose to listen to a few BBC Radio 4 Podcasts that I had on my iPhone. After about 10 hours I was done with them, and so switched to streaming new programs directly from the BBC website. (This is one of the great things about their podcast website – they provide mp3 download links which, when opened on an iPod or iPhone simply play the audio as a stream in the QuickTime player, skirting around the usual Flash / iPlayer locale restrictions).

I listened to What to Do If You’re Not Like Everybody Else (lots of swearing, totally outrageous). This made me laugh.

I listened to From Our Own Correspondent – one of the best programmes on Radio. Puts your own life in perspective. In one of the episodes a reporter in Pakistan talked about the horrendous flooding in Pakistan and its impact upon the people in affected areas. A woman sitting in the shade of a tree by the side of a busy road. She’s in shock. She’s just had a baby. Alone, by the side of the road. The baby has a fever; there’s nothing but wet rags to wrap it in.

I am so fortunate. I may well have a fever, but I have a nice comfortable futon to lie on, and a supply of clean dry linen. And I’m not alone with my newborn baby.

Seconds later we’re in Sierra Leone, where men have as many children as possible (up to 14 per woman that he controls) in order to tend the fields. Recently introduced tractors have suddenly started to turn accepted social practice on its head.

I listened to a whole week’s worth of Farming Today, and learnt about Bluetongue eradication the challenges the UK dairy industry is facing. I actually found this really interesting.

I listened to Costing the Earth in which they explored the environmental costs of various fuel extraction methods now used. In particular I learnt about Shale oil extraction, which has just been given a new lease of life through the development of technology that allows for horizontal oil wells to be drilled thousands of feet down. Needless to say, the impact upon the surrounding environment can be horrendous, with huge natural aquifers being polluted, and oil companies denying responsibility.

In Woman’s Hour I heard a wonderful extended interview with the 90-year-old  Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, responsible for many of the great changes seen at Chatsworth House. She talked about the time she had tea with Hitler, about growing old, about making changes at Chatsworth despite her being a Woman.

In Profile I learnt about Pope Benedict XVI – I’d known absolutely nothing about him before this week. Sounds like completely the wrong person for the job.

Naturally, I thoroughly enjoyed iPM – an interactive news program featuring listener’s news. There were more stories dating back to the war in that. It really got me thinking about the horrors that previous generations have faced, and how fortunate I am to not have been faced with anything like that.

A Week of You and Yours reminded me of everyday issues with utility companies in the UK – seems never a day goes by without some utility company cutting services to some vulnerable group of people at a critical moment. It was reassuring to know that some things never change.

On Coast and Country they explored the pros and cons of Conservation Grazing – the debate centred on a Cornish moor where a vocal minority are opposed to the introduction of cows to area. In another episode, the closure of a 60-mile stretch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal was covered . That was another one I loved.

Material World meanwhile had me enthralled by the life of the European Eel. A creature I didn’t even know existed.

Crossing Continents was another though-provoking programme, of the same ilk as From Our Own Correspondent. In this episode Rupa Jha was investigating the impact of the huge rebuilding programme being carried out in the Indian capital of Delhi, as it prepares for the Commonwealth Games. This was a real shocker. Stories of families having their homes where they’ve lived for decades bulldozed to make way for new sporting facilities – and given no compensation whatsoever. A family of 12 living in a room the size of our bedroom – a room with no windows and a wet concrete floor.

Listening to all of these programs really helped put things in perspective for me. In the grand scheme of things, my illness was nothing. My life wasn’t in danger. There were many doctors in the neighborhood I could see should I want to (although such was my sense of security in my standard of living and general health that I chose not to, trusting that my body could deal with it by itself).

My family were safe, I had filtered water to drink, mains sewerage. Plenty of shops to buy all manner of foods from, and money in the bank with which to buy them. In other words, an incredibly privileged life.

It got me thinking again about what I *should* be doing. That is, am I right to stay here and enjoy this lifestyle whilst so many others suffer elsewhere with my doing nothing to help (other than make a regular donation to Oxfam and one-off donations in response to crises)? Shouldn’t I rather be going out there to some of these countries and helping alleviate the situation, as so many of the people I heard about on the various BBC Radio 4 Programs were doing?

My conclusion was that for the time being, I’m doing the right thing. I do have an idea that when I’m in my late 40s I will be doing something like that – but there’s a few things I need to take care of before that.

All in all, my enforced rest proved to be quite an educational experience. It once again reminded me that the majority  of us in developed countries have the ability to make big decisions regarding what we do with our lives, and act on them, without anyone stopping us. If there’s something  we’re passionate about, it’s just a case of getting on and doing it.

I was also reminded of just how much I love radio. I feel it’s a lot more powerful than TV in a way as it encourages you to actively create images in your mind, images which are then associated with the sound. That combination results in memories that are tough to shift. The runs I did last year  in Tokyo whilst listening to audio books remain vivid in my mind. The place I was, the scene in the story, the sound of the characters’ voices – all tied together in a kind of GPS-tagged virtual multemedia bundle.

I think I’ll do more experimentation with running and radio / audiobooks this autumn – see to what extent  I can populate my virtual map with rich memories.

And on that note I’ll leave you for now. Do check out BBC Radio 4, its a truly remarkable station.

FACT: Sunrises on Mt.Fuji are so rich they often exceed 50GB

Children crossing: iPhone HDR can’t keep up

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Halloween in Japan

Halloween is big business in Japan, so it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see pumpkins appear in shop windows. Last year I estimated that 145% of shops had some kind of Halloween-related merchandising instore. This year that figure is predicted to be doubled as downturn-hit owners do all they can to try and convince consumers that anything with a pumpkin on, or painted orange, is ‘kawaii’ (cute). This edible fella is almost 1 metre in width, and sits in the window of the famous cake shop ‘Matterhorn’ in Gakugeidaigaku. Not sure I’d want to eat him come oct 31st though…

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The great illness of September 2010

I know people generally don’t like reading posts by others about being ill (which is what this one is about). However, one thing I’ve learnt through having epilepsy is that it’s a good idea to document any significant illnesses, as there’s sometimes a need to refer back them later on (when applying for licenses, or dealing with subsequent illness etc). There’s a second reason for my writing about my illness – it’s been a pretty powerful experience, making me look at again at the way I’ve been operating on a daily basis.

I’ll talk more about that in another post – so you might want to just give this one a miss.

Last Thursday afternoon whilst attending a meeting, I could feel myself weakening. I was cold, tired, and my tonsils were making those tell-take creaking sounds.

Thinking it would pass if I just relaxed and had an early night I stopped off at a local massage place on the way home, and had a 15 minute treatment. As usual, it was pretty strong, with him really laying-into my knotted-up back and shoulders. Once home I check my temperature – it was a little above normal, but with rest I’d soon recover – or so I thought!

What I certainly didn’t expect was a full-blown five-day fever that would completely floor me. Boiling hot and freezing cold at the same time. Sweat pouring off me 24 hours a day. Strong feeling of wooziness that prevented me from taking in anything that was going on.

I’m not often ill, and can’t recall the last time I’ve been sick for more than a day or two. To be totally incapacitated for so long is a whole new experience – or at least an experience I’ve not had since I was a teenager.

The Massage Aftershock

Unfortunately it wasn’t just the fever either. Having been in a weakened state when I went for the massage, for the rest of the weekend I had excruciating back pain – what my body has in the past absorbed had bruised me. I also had the extreme pain I’ve had on-and-off for the past couple of years at night when sleeping which is so intense I’m almost paralyzed. It feels like something is pressing on my spinal chord. I get this pain if I’ve arched my back backwards that day – and when I had the massage the guy had planted his knee in the middle of my back and pulled on the top and bottom! No wonder.

So, this made any movement (like reaching for water) a painful process, and something to be avoided if possible.

I was absolutely staggered by just how much effort it was to do anything at all. My body was like a big lump of dead meat, with no internal power supply. I spent a good deal of time in stunned awe at how much energy I must be producing when healthy to make it to all the things I do. Just lifting my head was exhausting – yet this was something I would usually be doing all the time, without thinking about it.

Acid Burns to Mouth

On day two I unfortunately made another critical mistake: I ate an unripe kiwi fruit and a grapefruit.

Now I often do this – I like the tang, and sometimes consume a number of both in rapid succession. Unfortunately I’d forgotten that my body was defenseless at this point, and the application of the natural acids to the inside of my mouth resulted in my losing a huge patch of skin from the roof of my mouth and a number of other smaller patches here and there  – looking with a torch I could see that I was now bleeding from these places where the skin was gone.

Needless to say, it’s been bloody painful, and that’s despite not eating anything (which wasn’t really an issue as my digestive tract shut down for 5 days, although is now moving again – slowly). Instead I’ve been on water, multivitamins and minerals, jelly pouches and some soluble powders to replace what I’ve lost through sweating.

Ninja’s Attack Tongue

Skin loss was joined by what appears to be oral herpes, and, two days ago, the springing up of a very painful stinging rash across my tongue. It looks like it’s been attacked by an army of little ninjas making tiny little cuts along the edges.

The whole mouth thing seems to be taking forever to improve – it’s going to be a while before it’s fully operational again. In the meantime I’m avoiding talking.

Niagra Pores

The sweating has been very impressive. The night before last was pretty typical – four changes of all clothes and bedding in 6 hours …and that despite the fact that my temperature had finally gone down a few hours earlier. To be honest, I don’t get it. The room temperature wasn’t all that high. My temperature was back in the 36/37 degree range, yet still I sweated like a hippo.

Confusion

I’m glad that my digestive system has now restarted (jelly and yogurt is about as exotic as it gets for now), that my temperature has returned to normal, that my back has recovered, and that I’ve managed (for the most part) to learn to ignore the pain in my mouth. The three warts that suddenly sprang up on the paim of my hand seem to be receding, as is the huge spot on my chin. But a couple of things remain: one is extreme tiredness (I’m not surprised given how disturbed nights have been this past week), the other is confusion.

It’s the confusion of the fever. It’s like having a big sock placed over your head. It’s like being on marijuana, constantly, without the laughter. I feel like I’m always a few seconds behind the world. I move my head, and it’s only after a noticeable pause that my senses adapt to the new perspective. There’s the noise of cotton wool pulsing in my ears. I feel that I’m being willed to not do anything.

Indeed, until tonight, trying to do anything which required any thought left me with a banging headache – even a short phone call with *Twinkle* was totally overwhelming (and thus I’ve kept my phone off). I have tried to deal with a few urgent emails, but they really took it out of me.

I’ve tried many times to write these past few days (both with a laptop and pencil and paper) but just contemplating doing so has led to my having a hot flush – the writing has been left undone.

Twitter is about as much as I’ve been able to manage using my brain, as it requires very little thought!

So, there we have it. My illness in all it’s glorious manifold hurtinesses.

Even Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice cream brought me nothing but pain!

Delicious Rain

It’s currently absolutely bucketing it down here in Tokyo. I love the sound of rain. Perhaps because as a child we always had a veggie garden that could do with a good soaking. And it’s no different now – our pineapple, heather and aloe vera have put on huge growth spurts this past month, and I’m sure enjoy the opportunity to get ridiculously wet. Joseph.

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This is my new Love

I found him at Daiei department store. He was a sacrificial offering by the staff to the sun god “We can’t sell anything in this heat… But we have to sell something, so we’re selling him at 80% off'”

Well, with a price tag like that how could it *not* be love at first sight? I carried him home on my bicycle, and brought him in to my bedroom. He will keep my pineapple company during winter. Sent from my iPad Nano

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Fruit

Affordable fruit is one thing I miss about my hometown of Herefordshire. Back there we have fruit trees in the garden, orchards down the road, English Cox’s (an apple variety) in the shops that cost a fraction of these apples pictured.

Bananas are cheap but lack taste, it having been bred out of them.

To be fair japan has rich fruit-growing areas too. When I worked in Shikoku we were surrounded by mikans, whilst travels in Aomori saw me stuffed with pears and apples.

And actually, when I’d gone about 10km from home during my run yesterday I suddenly found myself in an orchard. It was on a steep slope, the side of one of those little hills that’s somehow managed to survive urbanisation.

It took me a few moments to register. When it did, I stopped in my tracks. A huge smile spread across my face, and a great feeling of happiness came over me. I soaked up the green. I could have been anywhere! Shikoku, Greece …but certainly not halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama!

I look forward to retiring in Herefordshire, eating English apples and drinking Weston’s cider!

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Running Again

I’m on the train heading back home after running 12.21km south towards Yokohama. I think it’s the furthest I’ve run since the Marathon in February, and the first time I’ve done over 10km since May.

It’s extraordinary how out of shape I am. I used to have a really big barrier at 20km – that seems to have slipped back to 8km!

Having said that, I was running in 34 degree heat, which made it pretty tough. Sweated buckets.

Running empowers me. It satisfies me. It makes me feel alive (It also helps me deal with my belly…).

With the Autumn approaching I think this is a great time to pick it back up – and not just because I hope to run a marathon in February. The weather is usually perfect running weather, and well, there’s that ‘start of a new year’ feel what with kids going back to school.

I also feel that the older I get the more responsibility I have to actively look after my health.

Anyway, time to get off this train and step back into the heat. A cold shower awaits!

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Never a Dull Day

It’s certainly been an interesting one today, with a meeting in Starbucks, another at the Foreign Correspondents Club, another in a pizza restaurant and another by a bench outside a supermarket near home.

There were revelations, probing questions as well as frustration, outrage, big decisions, action steps …and a dead rat.

I got a phone call this morning from an acquaintance who asked me if I had time for a coffee. It wasn’t about business, I wouldn’t need to take anything. It was just going to be about *me*. I was intrigued.

And it was. I was asked what I wanted to do with my life. I laughed. “I ask myself the same question every day!”.

It’s not that I have *no idea*. It’s more that there’s an abundance of opportunity, I’m diluting my efforts, and perhaps ultimately setting myself up for prolonged frustration.

I took an important step at the end of July by leaving my full time job and going freelance.

Since then I’ve been offered more work than I can take on – and that’s been without asking.

I’m thinking it’s time I took another big step.

Everything happens for a reason – and meetings like today’s are pretty rare,

I’m reminded of that quote: “What would you do if you *knew* you couldn’t fail”.

Night.

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