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May 31, 2003

Again

Just had another earthquake. It was real tiny, and if it wasn't 3 am I might think it was just the upstairs neighbor crushing bones again. They have been coming a lot more frequently. It's not fun anymore.

May 30, 2003

They just keep a-comin'

I've been too occupied with lots of good (or at least I think they are good) ideas for various things to feel sorry for myself about my job. It feels nice, but with on all the "next best thing" ideas I have had over the last few days, i am quickly running out of time again... and I haven't finished up the projects I have already started.

I really have to find a way to make money from my own interests and ideas. Just think what I could accomplish if I had an extra 40-45 hours per week to work on things that matter!

May 29, 2003

TLH3 Oosaki I

I went to the Hash again for the first time since December.

It was also the first time since I got my new camera, so I have over 100 photos to share. I'm glad I can finally update the Hash Flash. One of the biggest referrers to my site is the Tokyo Ladies Hash home page as many people are coming here looking for photos each week. Maybe all the photos I took this week can keep everyone satisfied for another couple months.

(Be forewarned, if you click on "Continue reading...", there are about 60 thumbnails waiting, so it may be slow to download.)

There are 66 more photos here too.

TLH3 Oosaki II

The remaining 66 photos from the Oosaki Hash.

Iinokashira

Disclaimer

I have to write a disclaimer post that I can link to every time I complain about work. Maybe it's because I, for the first time, told a client the link to my site, or maybe it's because every time I reread what I wrote I think "that doesn't sound like what I wanted to say!".

The disclaimer follows.

My job is good. I get to do cool things. I like a lot of the things I do.

The clients are good. They often complain if they don't get more for less. I realize this is business, and I understand why they want more for less.

The people I work with are good people. I like them fine on a personal level. They are doing as much as or more than they are paid for.

When I complain about work, it may sound like I am saying the company, or the clients, or the co-workers are bad. Often I blame these things. It's not really because of these things.

The more I think about it (and writing and complaining about it helps me to think about it) the more I believe that the main problem is simply that I am afraid of getting old and standing still. Even if I like it, and it is good, if it is not moving forward, it feels like crap. In a small company there is no ladder climbing. No matter how much I like some of the things I do, I have done them all too many times, and am terrified that the number of chances I have to try new things is growing smaller day by day. (and believe me, I make as many chances as I can and the clients can afford)

But wait! There are sometimes chances to do new things. The problem is that I don't have interest in some of the new things. I am faced with a choice of growing in a direction I don't care about, or not growing. It frustrates me and I lash out and blame everyone and everything...

Again, the company is good or I would have quit long ago. The co-workers are not the worst, and I have an inkling that wherever I go I would be a little dissatisfied with my co-workers (because their not me). Some of the work is great fun and has taught me a lot that I can utilize for purposes I am more interested in. This is good.


That's the disclaimers. I will edit this at will, and I will link to it every time I complain about work... because I'm not really complaining about work, I'm complaining about the fact that I am getting older but see no real change in my life.

May 28, 2003

When will they learn?

My dinner companions and I talked tonight about how we handle compliments... do we just say "Yeah, you bet." or, do we do follow Japanese custom and say "Oh No!!! That is not so! My eyelashes are not so long as you have said!" I basically try not to react. I don't want to sound pompous, and I feel like an idiot responding Japanese style. But one thing I do know is that I live for being noticed.

I was just telling Tomoe the other night how my probably the real reason I am not satisfied with work is that no one appreciates it. Most of the clients just complain even if I bust my balls to make them some great applications beyond what they could even imagine was possible.

I guess this is why I like making Mfop. I get so many emails saying "thank you" for working on it. I don't get paid, but it is worth soooo much more than the salary i get at work (I can say that because I still get the salary at work).

Earlier tonight I responded to a very patient soul who has been waiting for me to add a new feature for over month now. He was worried (rightly so considering my recent post related to web work) that I had lost motivation for Mfop I told him not to worry. Though I may have lost some motivation while on vacation, a few email exchanges with grateful users does wonders to refill the motivational juices.

A few minutes ago, I received an email from user in Italy alerting me to a post on his site about Mfop. It made me all tickly happy that he mentioned me and Mfop in such a nice way.

It amazes me that my clients have not yet figured out how temperamental I am. When they thank me, they get so much more for free.... when they complain, I charge for every minute I spend on their project... They should take a lesson from the Mfop users... I'm just glad people use it... but I'm really glad people appreciate it.

Thanks all...

As for the rest of Lulop's post, regarding the delusion of mobogging... I was listening to a radio show the other day that really put blogging into perspective... told me how small it really is. But more on that later.

May 27, 2003

Freelance Project Manager

I was at dinner tonight with a client and her friend. The Friend has had a long time dream to make greeting cards. She's a writer and loves cards. The client is a marketing / promotion / licensing guru. I bought a camera a month or so ago. The client introduced us after I showed her a few of my stellar photos with the new camera, so now we are in the process of making dreams come true. I'm gonna take pictures, and she's gonna write sappy cards, and the client is gonna help us license/promote them (right *****-san?).

I often have crazy ideas, but tonight I had a really crazy good one. The client, while working in the marketing / promotion department of a multinational, has come to see how much the little guy, the artist (her main interest is music) with no business sense, gets screwed when large agencies buy their work for pennies and make bundles off of it. She has the know how to help them to at least get more of what they deserve. I guess this is what a manager, or an agent is, but in her case I see a bigger role.

Tonight she introduced me, a guy who has an unclear idea of what he would like to do, to a woman who has been talking for years about how much she would like to make greeting cards. Take each of us alone, not much will happen. Put us together, still a good chance that not much will happen. With the help of an awesome project manager like the client (the best I've ever worked with), giving us guidance and pushing us when we need it, although it's far from a sure thing, the chances that something will happen are greatly increased.

The obvious dawned on me. Just as a good project manager can make cr#p happen in the office, a good project manager can help to make, not just cr$p, but people's dreams come true outside the office too. Everyone needs a hand, everyone needs support and a push. At work we have people (hopefully management), outside work, were lucky if we find someone that can share the passion or the has a stake in the success of a crazy idea. Most people we are closest to have the same reservations about encouraging us to "fulfill a dream" as we do ourselves. It's scary and they have a higher stake in us playing it safe. What if we fail and are poor. Is a significant other the most objective place to look for encouragement in this situation?

I suggested to her that she would be a great freelance project manager. The job would entail finding individuals with promise, and guiding them and pushing them to go ahead. It also calls for her to use her expertise in marketing, because whatever the dream is, we have to market ourselves. Her kick-arse project management skills would come in handy when we need a schedule and someone to make us stick to it.

When it comes to fitness, there are personal trainers for this very reason. Staying on a strict exercise regiment is hard for some people. A personal trainer is there to bust your balls. I have seen "life coaches" in movies, but don't know what they do... maybe it's the same thing as what I am talking about, but somehow it always comes across to me as just a paid confidant who give advice.

I am really intrigued about this concept. The idea of someone's job being to help other people follow their dreams.... A venture capitalist sounds similar, but that is a much bigger scale. This would be foe people who need more organization and encouragement rather than cash...

Hmmn...

Greeting Cards


The talk tonight was about greeting cards. I was happy because I thought the client wanted to introduce my "art" skills in illustation / painting to the friend who wants to make greeting cards. I don't know why, but it was a slight disapointment to find out that she was interested more in my photos.

As the night progressed, I raelized I didn't know the first thing about greeting cards. I hardly ever buy them, and when I do I certainly don7t "shop around". I made a Christmas card for my parents, but never sent it...


Speaking of greeting cards... This is a great time to once again post a link to the great online card I made for Tomoe when she was in England a few years back. I will take every chance from now until I die (or learn to make something coller in Flash) to post this link. I'm danged proud of it... probably because it was the first "web project" I ever did.

Here's the linke ONLINE GREETING CARD

Don't miss it!


Here are some other pictures that were on the memory stick with the photo of mom's Christmas card.

May 26, 2003

Quake

Had the biggest earthquake I have ever been in today. It wasn't really so violent, but it lasted long enough for everyone in the office to


  1. Stop and stare at each other for 10 seconds.

  2. Ask the obvious "Do you feel that?"

  3. Stare at each other longer.

  4. I ask "So what should we do?"

  5. Someone replies "We should go to the bathroom."

  6. I say "How about outside?"

  7. Everyone agrees it's a good idea.

  8. Stop to make sure the building is still shaking.

  9. Half the people slowly walk outside.

  10. I make it to the steps when I realize I have forgotten my camera in the office. (don't want to miss out on all the death and destruction)

  11. I run back inside to get the camera

  12. Stop to chat with some of the people who stayed inside.

  13. By now it was stopping or stopped. (one interesting thing I find is that after the earthquake, I still feel like the building is swaying for quite some time. -like when you get off a boat on to dry land. The only way to be sure is to look at objects hanging in the room to see if they are moving or not)

I wish I would have just gone outside. While inside we could feel some small swaying, those who made it outside reported that the telephone poles were causing quite a spectacle.

The first thing I did, once we were all out of danger, was to check mfop logs to see if there was a spike, indicating that the promise of faster than now reporting via mobile blogging devices was living up to it's promise. Nope. The first moblog came about an hour later. I have yet to see if it is related to the quake or not.

Destiny

Don't know if anyone has noticed, but I have made some major improvements to the site. Basically I just upgraded my MT software and finally fixed the templates. I am hanging tough in my bid to make a higher quality blog.

Tonight I will work on fixing up all the bad things about Mfop that cause people confusion.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with destiny. I'm going out with a client who has a writer friend who has always had a dream to start her own little greeting card business. I'm getting my portfoilo ready as we speak. Luckily it is still in "an idea worth exploring but no time to make a decisive move yet" phase for her, or she would probably be looking for a real illustrator.

May 24, 2003

Kimono


Lots more kimono photos

After constant nagging from Dave, and being asked several times today by other people when I was going to post the photos from Saori's wedding, I decided to put everything on hold until I get done working on some of the photos. I could have had them posted long ago, however, as happy as I was with the subject matter, most of the photos had an ugly yellow tinge to them. Granted, it's not hard to fix this with PhotoShop, but I have never really used photo shop for anything other than resizing images. It took a little experimenting to figure out how to get them looking a little nicer, and then of course I had to work on all 55 photos one at a time, do some cropping, etc... Now they are all real dark. Dang.

A better writer could make an interesting story out of the day, but I'm just going to give a little background.

I arrived by over-night bus to the Marugame City in Kagawa-ken together with Kazuyo (sister of the bride). We were whisked off to her mother's apartment (where I have been a pampered guest many times) just in time for Kazuyo and her mother to get made-up and dressed up in their kimonos by the local beautician, who is also trained in the art of Kimono.

The fifty-five photos hopefully tell you much more than I ever could, the only thing I have to add is that it took about two hours to get them both in their full dress. At the wedding there were a few others wearing Kimonos, which included the Groom's mother, the brides aunt, and a little girl (relation unknown).

Lots more kimono photos

May 22, 2003

The Perfectionist

I thought tonight I would feel like I can do whatever I want to. There is nothing pressing, but it's just too bad there are so many things I want to do. Then I read Kurt Easterwood's web site today, and it made me fell self-conscious about my own, so now I have to try to fix it up. It's nothing he says in particular, just the whole concept about paying attention to what you write. This site started as a replacement for personal email... and I never spell check or even re-read personal email. I never worry about making it look nice or formatting it. That is what happened to my site too.

At first I planned to make constant "improvements" as I went along. What actually happened though was that I made lots of changes, but more for fun than to improve it. It became tech sketchbook. I never took the time to make sure everything was perfect, because who the frick has time for that? I'm sure there are a ton of broken links, and some of the pages are even still in the old design. When you leave a comment, the little comment window refreshes into the regular web page design, which is obviously too big for the window. I could go on and on.

I'm a big believer in the quick prototype. Put it out as soon as possible, because if you wait for it to be perfect... well, my web site was in the production phase for a year and a half before I finally just said "Screw it!" and put it live while still imperfect. The problem with that, as I'm sure you all know, is that I never have the time budget to go back and fix things, because there is always something new coming along

Anyway, I just re-read my post from yesterday, and noticed all the bad grammar and spelling mistakes. There where about eight places where it probably only makes sense to me... if your a reader your screwed.

Should I dare to make a promise to myself that from now on I will re-read each post, edit spelling and grammar, and make sure it has a coherent thought before I post? It's a tough order to fill since I usually post late at night when such matters seem trivial compared to knocking off one more to-do before going to bed. I'm not going to promise, but from now on don't be surprised if you see better writing on the site.

What Should I Do With My Life (revisited)

Those of you who have read my site over the past year know that I am a little unsatisfied with my job, and where I'm at in life. Those of you who have spoken to me in person are sick of hearing about it.

Every time I go to home to America, I have two must visit destinations. A big bookstore, and a brew-pub. Thanks to tornados, a delayed flight, and an unexpected layover in Minneapolis, I made it to the brew-pub. It was good, but there are some things a cask conditioned IPA can't wash away. For these I visited the bookstore.

Before I left, I knew I was going to buy Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life. I had read (and wrote) about it a few months back. Excited that someone had written a book with all the answers I have been looking for, I wasted no time ordering it from Amazon.... it ever came. I bought the book on day two of the business trip, and it spoke to me so loudly I considered sneaking it into the meetings to read beneath the table like I used to do with pornos in Algebra class.

The book is great. It's not so much filled with the answers, in fact there are no answers. What it does have are stories of some regular (and a lot of Harvard-law-school-grad-not-so-regular) people who faced the same question I am facing. It doesn't hold them up as examples of the ideal, it simply tells how they are attempting to answer those questions, and what the results were.

Po draws on these people's stories to point out patterns that run through all of them. Some of these similarities are questions, and some are misconceptions. They all turn into fears that are incredibly difficult to overcome. Reading about other people who have faced the same fears, and overcome them, for better or worse, goes a long way to helping others to overcome them... I'm not alone!!! (It's this direction which I would really like to see blogs move... but that'S for another time)

Questions:


  1. Is it supposed to feel like destiny? If not, is (experienced-derived) self-created "meaning" legitimate?

  2. Should I accept my lot, make peace with my ambition, and stop stressing out?

  3. Why do I feel guilty for thinking about this?

  4. Should I make money first, to fund my dream?

  5. How do I tell the difference between curiosity and passion?

  6. How do I weigh making myself a better person against external achievements?

  7. When do I need to change my situation, and when is it me that needs to change?

  8. What should I tell my parents, who worry about me?

  9. If I have a child, will my frustration in work go away?

  10. What will it feel like when I get there? (How will I know I'm there?)

Misconceptions:


  1. The misconception that this question only matters to overeducated Americans suffering from ennui, when in fact anybody can find the question important to them.

  2. The fear that our passions will put us in the poorhouse.

  3. The fear of irreversibility, limiting future options.

  4. The fear of not being on a path with a known destination.

  5. The fear that what we need for ourselves might tear us away from our spouse, partner, or friends.

  6. The misconception that our life doesn't begin until we find an answer, when in fact our failed attempts often establish why we will find our future "answer" so meaningful, hat is, in contrast to our past.

Clear your schedule for the next hour or two, because I find that each of these points related directly to me, and I am going to address each and every one of them.

Is it supposed to feel like destiny? If not, is (experienced-derived) self-created "meaning" legitimate? About a year and a half ago, I started to grow dissatisfied with my life. Since my job takes up the majority of my time, it's naturally to blame. I began to look around at other people to see what kept them going. I didn't like what I found. Of the people I knew on a personal level, most seemed satisfied with their job. Maybe they didn't love it, but hay, it's a living none seemed to dread waking up as much as I did.

The other group of people I could compare myself to were the people interviewed on NPR talk shows. These people are all extra-ordinary go getters, who, for the most part have had a deep love for their craft since childhood. They still loved their job. I wanted to be them. The only problem is, no matter how hard I thought about it, no matter how many graphs and charts and destiny defining algorithms I made, I couldn't discover something that I was so passionate about that I could be satisfied to work as hard as these people obviously had.

I am a destiny orphan. I was born without a destiny. What's worse, I was born with too much desire to live for more than just daily life. If you read back about a year ago, you will find posts where I lamented the fact that I can't be satisfied just going to work, putting in time, and coming home as so many other people seem to be.

I never really thought about "self-creating" meaning. Though having read about it, I realize that I tried to. I have tried to be passionate about issues that I see are important, and that I am in a position to follow up on, but really have not special meaning to me. It worked for a couple weeks, maybe even a month or two, but all the while I knew I didn't really care. It fizzled out quickly.

Currently, I have come to no resolution on this issue. I think I am still waiting to find something that feels like destiny. My opportunity to be a child prodigy are gone, I just hope it's not too late to at least get started.

Should I accept my lot, make peace with my ambition, and stop stressing out? I tried this too. About a year ago I had created two plans, I was moving forward in both with the expectation that at least one of them would become a reality... and I didn't care which, so long as I was able to move on from where I was. Plan A was to quit and go free-lance with my web-work. I was confident that I would not starve, and the work would be much more satisfying. Plan B was to go back to School. I had the application filled out for University of Michigan School of Library Science (Information Architecture).

When it came time to actually make the move though, I chickened out. I wasn't afraid of failing. I was afraid of succeeding. When faced with that prospect, I finally began to ask myself not, "Do I want to change what I am doing?" but "What do I want to do?". I felt that if I tried to make a successful bid at free-lance, I would have to become more engrossed in web-related crap than I was now. It's fun and all, but I don't feel any passion for it. Frankly, I don't care. Of all the sites and programs I have made, the only one that I see as having value (besides being fun to build), that I would use myself, if this web site, and other peoples blogs. Ecommerce is a load of crap. The only thing I buy online are books from Amazon because it's cheaper than Kinokuniya.

I felt the same way about grad-school. Did I really want to spend so much time and money to get deeper into a field I don't care about? It's worse than selling my soul... it'd be like paying someone to take it.

It was also around this time that I went with a friend to her Friday night nudie-sketch session. I had always loved drawing when I was a kid, and I wanted to try something that was not computer related, lest I get sucked further down that path. I started painting, and drawing, and decided to make peace with the fact that I had to do a job I don't care about. I decided to use my day job to pay the bills and work on my hobbies at night. I left work at six (or as close to as possible) regardless of deadlines. I didn't set the deadline, and if it can't be met in working hours, it signaled bad management. Either hire someone to help, someone who can get it done on company time, or someone who doesn't mind giving away their life.

That felt OK for about a month and a half. Then I was back to sleepless nights, this time filled with anxiety from not doing the bang-up job that I used to when I averaged 10 more hours per week and worked on Saturdays. I still have to feel proud of my work. My plan to make work simply work, and disconnect it from my real life was supposed to relieve stress...

Why do I feel guilty for thinking about this? This is a big one. I feel somewhat guilty. People ask me what makes me think that I should have a job I love when so many other people don't. It's life, live with it, don't be greedy. Be thankful that I have a job.

Luckily, despite some guilt pangs every now and then, these peoples argument never made any logical sense to me. Basically they are saying, other people don't have the opportunity to try to change their life, so you should not exercise your own opportunity. It's crap.

Should I make money first, to fund my dream? Po points out that when people try to make the money first, they get caught and find it harder and harder to get out the more money they make. His point seems to be that your best off just living it and not worrying about where the money will come from until after you have begun. Again, it's interesting to note that most of the people in his book decided to live their dream after leaving such jobs as Lawyers and big time Bankers.

I suppose if I had a job that could conceivably pay for a dream if I was there long enough, I may be tempted to make the money first. Luckily, I'm not in that position. I used to make more as an English teacher doing side jobs with editing and translation.

How do I tell the difference between curiosity and passion? I think I have already answered this. Although I "enjoy" aspects of my job, and programming is fun and making a cool site is fun. When faced with dedicating more of my life to it, I realized that I don't care. It was curiosity, not passion.

When do I need to change my situation, and when is it me that needs to change? This is probably the number one thing that has held me back in the past. Is my unhappiness the fault of my job, my career path, Tokyo? Or, is the unhappiness coming from inside of me?

Many times when I came ever so close to quitting, I was just so terrified that no matter where I go, and what I do, I will feel the same. If this is true, the best thing to do would be to try my darndest to change whatever it is about myself that causes me to dislike my job. If I can change that, the problem is solved, and no matter where I go and what I do I will be happy.

I'm sure I will waver on this again in the future, and I still can't make up my mind now. For as many times as I think I am sure that a different environment could change things for me, I feel that I am unfairly laying blame. One thing that I have noticed however, and that helps me to see clearly, is that ther is something dreadfully wrong with the environment. When I went away for vacation and business last month, I had personal projects, and work projects. I felt no anxiety whatsoever asking people I hardly know, but can tell are trustworthy and skillful to handle my personal projects, yet I was scared to death leaving the work projects in the hands of my co-workers. I think a major reason is that in my personal life, I didn't have to leave anything to anyone who depends on me. Yet at work, everyone is completely de@endant on me. If they can't do it, they ask me... but who will they ask if I'm not there?

I didn't plan to complain about work... the point is, it ain't a good environment to motivate and satisfy me. I'm pretty sure the problem is not in me (at least less than 50% of the problem is in me).

What should I tell my parents, who worry about me? That's pretty easy. I'd tell them to be prepared to lend me some cash if I need it. Although my dad didn't seem to thrilled about my idea to come to Japan the first time in '95, hinting that studying Japanese had not real future, they never tried to stop me, and even encouraged me when I was this close to quitting and going freelance.

I do worry about what to tell Tomoe though. Not because she is worried about me, but she is a real go-getter, having spent her life at the best schools, and being signed with (and later dumping) the best companies before getting her ultra-competitive job now. She has pretty strong ideas about what constitutes "a looser". I am afraid of that.

If I have a child, will my frustration in work go away? What?

What will it feel like when I get there? (How will I know I'm there?) This is a trick question. I don't ever want to "be there". I do wonder how I will know if I find something that I am "passionate" about, or like enough to pursue it. As I said earlier, I always loved to draw when I was a kid, and would have most likely studied art in University had I never met the Swedish girl who sparked my interest in foreign languages, and made my single most important goal to live in a foreign country.

Just remembering that now, I realize that then I did feel passion about what I was doing. I loved to study languages. Everything I did, right up to working in the Sushi restaurant in Ann Arbor, and commuting four hours to school and back for a semester just so I could be in an environment which would help me learn, was all about my passion at that time.

Now, although I would like to improve, I don't care so much about it. Four years ago I was consumed by ideas about marketing, reading marketing and branding books, considering B-School, quitting my job to get a marketing job. That was my passion at that time.

Three years ago, I was stepping up to fill in for the tech guy who quit our Internet company. I devoured every book I could find about programming, Apache, MySql, Linux, etc... I drove our company in a direction that has made them more reliant on me than I would like... because web-development was my passion at that time.

I don't ever want to feel like I have arrived at my one true passion... it sounds boring, but I want to have a passion all the time. I did not realize until I started writing these last few paragraphs, that I have never been without a passion... until last year.

Wait, that's not true at all. I have a budding passion now... painting (I really love my new camera too). A passion that has been suppressed for over ten years now. Why am I so afraid to pursue it? Why did I suppress it in the first place?

This sounds like a good place to stop for tonight... next time I tackle the misconceptions and fears...

May 19, 2003

Random Photos

Pretty busy doing some research/planning that is consuming my life... but I don't want to write about just now. That leaves either nothing to say, or even if I have something to say, no time to say it. What I do have is a few random photos.

A painting I was working on Friday. (I wound up renting an X-Files video, which doesn't lend well to panting, so I decided to paint instead)


Tomoe often accuses me of dressing like a dork. Is she crazy?!?

Some other photos

May 17, 2003

Awii & friends

My roommate moved out yesterday. She as supposed to be here for another month or so, but decided to go stay with her cousing who just moved to Tokyo Thursday. She says it's because her cousin only lives a 10 minute walk from her work (as opposed to 45 minutes on train and bus from my apartment). I know better. Obviously she moved out because she couldn't take the stress of living with a compulsive clean freak like me. Anyway, she and her cousin stopped by tonight to pick up some things play with Awii.

May 16, 2003

Satisfaction At Last

Nudie night was great tonight. Usually I can't get no satisfaction no matter how great the nudie poses are, at the end of the night I'll walk away with one maybe two drawings that I am satisfied with. Tonight something amazing happened. I was on a roll and liked most of my drawings. Sure some are better than others, but that is the difference between a twenty minute drawing and a five minute sketch. I wont pretend to know why I did better tonight... maybe it's because I had a several week break. I would like to call it a sign, and attribute it to certain things that are going on lately (which I haven't been writing about and don't have time to go into detail now).

Whatever the reason, I feel like putting off working on Mfop tonight and just renting a movie and panting. I have a half finished painting laying here for a couple months now... I better finish it while I'm on a roll. Sorry to some people who are waiting for upgrades to Mfop.

May 15, 2003

Kyodai Dorm

Once again Nils has beat me to the post. This little photo session is from the day before yesterday's post where we found some great budget (free) accommodations in Kyoto. On May 1, we rode our bikes from Osaka to Kyoto (those photos will be up as soon as Nils makes a post on his site about it). Having spent a day earlier in the week walking through Kyoto, we weren't especially pressed to see any of the sites, and we had ridden our bikes for a couple hours longer than either of us were used to so our first goal upon arrival was to get a place to stay.

Tomoe had it in her crazy head to pay money to stay in the Youth Hostel. I did my best to resist, considering the fact that we had a tent (which I paid good money for a couple years ago) and public baths abound in Kyoto. After stalling just long enough to make it difficult to arrive at the youth hostel before they closed, I suggested we stay at the Kyoto University Dormitory. (Kyoto University is one of the most prestigious in Japan.. top quality students) We had been there the day before on our walking tour of Kyoto, and I loved it instantly. I think my attraction is due to the fact that it is the only place I have ever been where I can feel like a neat freak (comparatively speaking).

We pulled up to the office to ask the dorm director if it was OK, but instead met some students on their way to get boozed up. "Sure you can stay!" they say. "I think we can find an extra futon lying around somewhere under that pile of dirty toilet paper!". We decided to stay in the cafeteria in our own tent.

It was still early, so we decided to drop off the backpacks and ride into town for dinner. When we came back around 11 pm, we found "our room" occupied by an extremely bad rock and roll band, so grabbed our gear and set up camp out in the yard, just outside the cafeteria. The rock and roll band played until 2am, took a break, and resumed at 5 am.

The next day we took a tour of the building where the students actually live. I am not a real photographer, because I was too chicken to take a picture when I found someone with their door open. They have eight people per room here, with basically only enough room for eight futons, and most of their belongings went out in the hall.

In the backyard we found the skeletal remains of a large beast. In the hallway a missile.

The dorms are apparently a hotbed of controversy. The University wants to tear it down because it is a health hazard. The students claim that they want to tear it down to prevent politically active students from meeting and discussing how they can revolutionize society. I am not going to take sides, but what I saw when I was there was a collection of soiled toilet paper in a hole in the wall next to a urinal, and a student lying in a pile of empty sake bottles. I highly recommend stopping by cause it's free to wander around. If you want to stay just ask... I think the sake bottle bed is free most nights. If you a photographer, bring your camera... I could have spent all day there. I would love to see what someone with more experience and skill could come away with.

Cup Noodle Virgin

Tomoe has her first taste of cup noodles. Ever!

Section 911 Foreign Income Exclusion

A letter I sent to my senator (well... at least it's in an envelope, whether or not it makes it to the post office is yet to be seen)because I want to continue reaping the great rewards (tax break) of being a US citizen working abroad. If you are living in America (mom, dad), and want to make sure that those of us living abroad continue to get the tax break, you can edit it a little and send it.

Even if you don't care if I pay tax or not, it's an interesting read. (I'm not the original author)

CURRENT MAILING ADDRESS:
Mr.

Tokyo, JAPAN 13

US VOTING ADDRESS:
Mr.
Rd.
MI
May 14, 2003


The Honorable Carl Levin
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Levin:

I urge you to oppose the repeal of the foreign income exclusion for
individuals (Section 911, Internal Revenue Code) currently under
consideration as a tax cut `offset' in legislation before the
Senate.

As a voter in the Great State of Michigan who is currently living
and working overseas, I believe those proposing the repeal have not
considered the full impact of this action upon individual U.S.
citizens working abroad, upon U.S. corporations and smaller
enterprises promoting American business interests overseas, upon
U.S. residents who will suffer the economic consequences of
curtailed U.S. exports and services abroad, and upon the U.S.
economy as a whole.

My particular concern in writing to you is the equitable tax
treatment of individual Americans working overseas, whether for U.S.
or foreign employers. In proposing to repeal Section 911, I believe
U.S. lawmakers are ignoring a number of important facts:

・ The U.S. is the only major industrial nation that requires
its non-resident citizens to pay taxes on their foreign earnings.
This regressive practice puts American companies and American
workers at a serious competitive disadvantage in foreign markets.
The principal rationale for the exclusion-to make the tax treatment
of Americans working abroad more competitive with foreign nationals
and, thereby, to promote exports of US goods and services-is as
valid today as it was in 1926, when Section 911 was first
implemented to boost America's access to global markets.

・ Employment conditions and living requirements overseas are
not comparable to those in the U.S. Employers here in JAPAN and in
other cultural and financial centers throughout Asia, for instance,
recognize that the provision of housing allowances, educational
expenses, emergency home leave and medical insurance are the routine
costs of attracting and maintaining a competitive workforce. Few
Americans would be able to afford overseas employment without these
benefits, yet among foreign nationals competing for these jobs only
U.S. citizens are required to report these monies as "income."
This means that, without Section 911, Americans working abroad would
pay much higher taxes than U.S. workers with the same base pay. This
higher tax burden upon overseas Americans would not pass the "fair
and reasonable" test.

・ In proposing to repeal Section 911, U.S. lawmakers are not
considering that, even though large number overseas taxpayers are
middle-class workers who repatriate their savings, they are excluded
from tax and other benefits enjoyed by U.S. residents. None of the
income of Americans working abroad for non-U.S. employers counts
toward Social Security or Medicare, nor do these taxpayers have
access to tax-deferred or tax-exempt retirement plans. Any
contributions they make to pension plans where they work must, by
law, be reported to the IRS as income, along with the contributions
made by their employers. Again, the repeal of Section 911 means a
much higher tax bill for overseas Americans than for comparably
employed U.S. residents, without the benefits those taxes bring. No
amount of foreign tax credit will `off-set' this inequity.

・ Even overseas Americans working for U.S. corporations and
therefore still able to participate in 401Ks and contribute to
Social Security find their housing allowances, travel expenses, and
subsidies provided for their children's educational fees subject to
FICA withholding, on top of the U.S. and foreign taxes they pay.

・ Americans who work abroad often make significant
sacrifices, in terms of career development, social and cultural
adjustments, personal risk and feelings of isolation, salary/cost of
living differentials, and providing adequate schooling for their
children. The current $80,000-a-year exclusion helps to alleviate
these disadvantages and serves as an inducement for workers to
accept foreign-based appointments, with the resulting benefits to
American businesses and the American economy.

・ As for the impact upon our nation as a whole, Section 911
is based on the simple tenet that Americans working overseas promote
and sustain the export of U.S. goods and services to a global market
and thereby make a significant contribution to the health of the
U.S. economy. A 1995 study by Price Waterhouse LLP analysts
projected that a repeal of the foreign income exclusion would, at
minimum, result in a 2% reduction in US exports, which translates to
a loss of over 250,000 U.S.-based jobs. The inter-dependence of
American jobs and the success of U.S. enterprises overseas has only
increased since 1995, which means that the impact of a Section 911
repeal would be even more deeply felt today.

・ Remember, too, that Americans employed overseas free up
jobs for U.S. residents. What happens to the U.S. economy and
employment figures when hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens
decide than an unfair tax burden has made overseas employment
insupportable, leaving them no other recourse but to return `home'
to an already-strapped employment scene? More importantly, what
happens to America's place on the global financial stage when U.S.
businesses can no longer count on American expertise in
international trade and finance?

Obviously, American citizens working abroad to promote U.S. exports,
services, and interests cannot afford the repeal of Section 911. The
detrimental impact of such a repeal upon U.S. competitiveness in
global markets is equally obvious. What U.S. lawmakers proposing the
repeal need to recognize is that, especially in these difficult
times, the U.S. economy cannot afford the consequences of such an
ill-considered action.

I feel that the foreign income exclusion is too necessary a tax
corrective to be sacrificed for political expediency. Please let me
know that you will work against the repeal of Section 911.

Sincerely,

May 14, 2003

Biwako to Japan Sea

I finally got around to getting together some of the photos from my trip. They looked so nice in the tiny viewer on my camera... oh well, I'm still in the learning stages as far as using a camera goes. I should probably start with the begining of the trip, and make a nice writeup explaining where we were and what we did and my impressions and all that, but I don't know where I will find time to write 1 1/2 weeks journals anytime soon, so it's best just to get the pics up and get it over with. As for starting in the middle of the trip, I see that Nils at Alive In Kyoto has posted a photo from the west coast of Lake Biwa, which just happens to be where I was for two days (5/2,3) over the holiday. Since I don't know how long it would take me to get everything up in order, I skipped ahead so I could tie it in with a comment to his site.

These photos start from a little mountain pass between Kyoto and Otsu. I can't even find it on Yahoo Maps, but it's somewhere around here. Along the way we found a baby bamboo shoot (take-no-ko) which Japanese folk are pretty crazy about, and I like too, so we were pretty excited. We wound up throwing it away the next day because it had too much aku which gives it a terrible burning after-taste. apparently it's easy to get rid of by boiling, but being a cheapo, I didn't want to waste the gas in my camp stove.

On the opposite side of the mountain we found ourselves on the west coast of Lake Biwa. There was so many great things I wanted to get pictures of, but my photography time was limited to where and when we stopped to rest. Although, seeing as how we only made it up to Takashima Cho the first day, I'd say we stopped to rest a lot. As I commented on Nil's site,

there were some small villages that seemed pretty deserted, especially around the area where the bridge crossed the lake further north. I wondered if they were summer houses that were deserted when the economy went to crap, or if they were actually "disposable" villages built by Keihan to take advantage of a new bridge / tourist attraction. The amusement park at the base of the bridge looked as though it had been closed for a while... I wonder if they actually planned on that though, and made enough profit in the first couple years so that it paid off.

( I used to work for Keihan down in Shikoku at another tourist attraction below the Seto bridge. The year it opened it was booming, and cars were lined up all the way across the bridge to get in, but about 10 years later it was pretty much dead. That was in '95, when I went back to Shikoku for Golden Week, it was out of business.)

You can see a couple shots of where we camped that night, the hot bath we relaxed in, and our breakfast table in the morning.

No bike trip would be complete without a bit of danger, so I'm happy to report that we were almost killed several times when after having ridden our bikes twenty minutes to town for some food ( through the country roads where I got the great sunset shots), we realized that we had both left our bike lights back at camp. The ride home was pitch black on narrow roads with cliffs on either side. I was once again shocked and amazed at how fearless Tomoe is when riding a bike in dangerous situations... (not looking for traffic or slowing down when she can't see the road etc...) This is especially amazing considering the fact that she was pretty scared of homicidal maniacs when setting up tent in a park or graveyard.


The remainder of these show the next day's route, from Takashima Cho over the mountains the Tsuruga, on the Japan Sea. We woke up early expecting a hard ride over the mountains, but were ever so happy to find that the first 8 or so km are up, and the majority of the ride was then a leisurely downhill 17 km ride into town on the opposite side of the mountains.

We arrived hours earlier than expected, and were quite disappointed in Tsuruga. I was hoping for a small fishing village, but this place was brand new and one of the cleanest cities I have ever seen. A while later we found that there are nuclear power plants along the coast, which explains the money and quick expansion that seems to have taken place. I'm thinking that they spend a lot of money to make the city look clean in order to offset some of the stigma of big bad nuclear plants.

Anyway, as I said, we arrived early, and didn't see much point in camping there since we would catch the early train to Tomoe's parents' place in Nagoya the next morning, so bought a feast at the supermarket, and sat on the beach painting until the sun set, then packed up and headed to Nagoya in time for snacks and a nice hot bath. Just thinking about it makes me sleepy so I'm going to bed. Maybe some day, if I am bored, I will come back and elaborate on this leg of the journey, but don't count on it.

May 07, 2003

Teaser

Just a little teaser of photos I will be posting when I get the time. You'll see Kazuyo and her mom getting dressed up in their Kimono for Saori's wedding, people of Osaka, and Kyoto, Kansai country side, and Tomoe and I biking through the wilds of Japan.

More on the next page (click "MORE")

May 06, 2003

Dying faster

At 8:45 last night I could feel my life expectancy drop several years as the Shinkansen doors opened and I stepped out into Tokyo where prices are higher, and quality of life on a seemingly endless downward spiral. I must focus all energy on finding a way to escape this evil.

But for now I have to hop on a flight to US tomorrow, then when I get back I have to catch up on 2 weeks of work. I also have to go through the 600 or so photos I took this week and figure out which ones are worthy of the Bastishnet. Don't get your hopes up though, I have discovered that it is very difficult to take truly interesting photos while riding a bike. Especially while riding a bike with someone else and a (sort of) deadline. There were many places we passed by that I could have stopped and spent hours taking photos of, but with time constraints, and out of consideration to Tomoe, I wound up simply stopping the bike every once in a while to take a cliche photo of the landscape. Still, I am hoping there are some good ones in there.

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