Liou's quiet little life...or is it?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Some art lesson

Yesterday I went to the Tokyo National Museum, which has an incredible collection of japanese traditional art. I remember I really liked this museum last time I visited it, which was probably about 4,5 years ago. But this time it made an even bigger impression on me; japanese art is very much an expression of excellent craftmanship. This can be found in its sophisticated, detailed and perfectionist quality. What I like about it, is that it expresses a minimal, but very touching beauty. It is difficult to distinguish between craftmanship and art here, but I think the signature of the artist makes the difference, be it in sometimes a very subte way.

  • Lavish Noh costume. Noh is one of the traditional forms of theatre)
  • Wonderful maki-e teacaddy. Maki-e is traditional lacquerware where gold and silver are used with different colours of lacquer to create patterns and illustrations and wood. The teacaddy's main use to store green tea powder (macha) used in the famous tea ceremony.

Seeing such beautiful art reminded of the great Russian painters I have seen, mainly at the Russian State Museum in St.Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. The most incredible thing is that they are known or taught at all in the Western world, which is really a shame. Here are some links to some wonderful pictures, although the quality of the photograph is not always on par with the actual painting.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Cool & freaky virtual creatures

Hugo, one of my friends, sent me a link to a cool short film. This one is about virtual, evolving creatures that tend to look either very freaky or realistic. Actually I remember seeing these animations on a documentary on the Dutch TV. And this was one of the main reasons why I chose to study Artificial Intelligence. Of course, afterwards the study was really disappointing in comparison to my expectations and this movie! And that's how I got into multimedia and human-computer interaction...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Domo arigato!

Now that I am more or less at the same spot, my inspiration for this weblog has suddenly decreased :) The Transsiberian has been a pretty wild trip of course, so Japan seems very quiet and fairylike compared to it.

I spent my last days with my grandparents going through photobooks and found some really cool pictures of my granddad when he was still studying and when he was a soldier during the 2nd World War. Of course, those times seem far away, but the japanese version is even more typical and exotic. The pictures you see are all portraits of my grandfather, except for the blurred one, which was one of his friends. Before I left, they made sure I would come back, very sweet people indeed.

I have been staying at my uncle's and aunt's house so far. And they have optical internet, fantastic! Well, that's when I realize I am pretty well much internet-addicted :) Trying to catch up on the email with everybody person by person...

Two days ago I met Heather, Alex, Lisa, Ayako and her husband John in Shibuya, Tokyo. Ayako and husband left early for Nagano, but I spent the rest of the evening and night with the others. They were staying in Ikebukuro, a pretty lively district with a lot of entertainment. We had some drinks in an Irish pub ran by an Iranian guy (!), and after this some pool. And inevitably some karaoke :D This turned out to be pretty cheap actually: about 12 euro each for one hour with free drinks. Great fun anyway singing classics such as "Mr.Wendal", "Smells like teen spirit" or "Hotel California" :) I missed the last train and eventually stayed in the ryokan with Alex and Heather (ryokan= japanese style hotel, where you sleep on the ground on tatami and futon).

Next day accompanied Heather and Alex to the train station bound for Narita airport, near Ueno. Took the opportunity to walk around the park, which was completely packed as yesterday was a national holiday. I wanted to go to the National Japanese Art museum, which contains an excellent collection of kimono, weapons, makie (=lacquerware) and other traditional japanese crafts. But due to the amount of people I decided to head to Akihabara, Electric Town, after seeing a nice quiet temple.

Pretty strange decision, since that place probably much more crowded and certainly more noisy than Akihabara. Anyway, videogames still attract me, even if I don't play them at home. They have a lot of games on trial, for the geeks in the audience: biohazard 4 and soulcalibur 3 for example. And then they have the arcade halls, with some really weird / innovative machines. This time, the hype is all about controlling some games with real cards instead of a joystick. They had war and soccer games where you can control your players or soldier by buying corresponding plastic cards and moving them around on your table. Japanese gamemakers don't fail to surprise me...

A bit more than a week before I start to work, looking forward to it....

Friday, November 18, 2005

Finally arrived in Japan

Hi there!

Well, I am finally in Japan after arriving 2 days ago. Left Irkutsk on the 10th and arrived at Vladivistok the 13th. This train was just a tiny bit more shabby, but I had a lot more of of fun. The atmosphere was much more convivial than last time, with people walking around in their pyjamas and going from one compartment to another in the same wagon to talk to different people. I made quite some portraits with my Nikon film-camera, I will put them on the internet as soon as I can develop and scan them! Well not much to say, as it was the same relaxed journey consisting of reading, eating, talking, checking out the food on the platforms. I must note that on the first station after Irkutsk (!) I almost missed the train!!!! I was buying some typical Siberian nuts (from the cedar) when the vending lady started shouting at me and grabbed my arm to turn me around. I was quite shocked when I saw the train starting to move!!! Apparently as the train was a bit late, the driver decided to leave earlier than the usual stop says. Even the provodokna (train conductor) was surprised by this. You can imagine the stress as I runned on my socks and slippers through the thick snow to jump aboard again. Well, let me say I stayed in jumping distance from the train after this little adventure :) As my fellow American traveller quoted from Coppola's movie 'Apocalypse Now', "Never get off the boat"!!!!

The rest of the journey went pretty smooth and we arrived in Vladivostok dead on time! As it was Sunday it was quite hard to find somewhere to have breakfast, so we ended up in this R&B cafe with fashion catwalks on several plasma tv's and waitresses with short skirts. We first thought this was quite a shady brothel-like of place, but this wasn't so. Alex had met a Russian girl (Olga) through a hospitality website, and she was willing to host us and show us around the town. This was very, very cool indeed! Instead of going to the typical tourist spots we got to:
- picknick on a rock above the sea with a beautiful view.
- go out in the local club playing good alternative rock music (franz ferdinand, futureheads, the cure, joy division, etc.
- meet interesting art students.
- see Vladivostok by night from the top of a appartment building.

It was quite hard to say goodbye from Olga, even if we only spent about 32 hours together!

The boat trip was quite interesting, as there were only 10 foreigners out of approximately 150 russians! The women seemed to hide (both passengers and personnel) and they had every reason to! Most of the men were drunk by the evening, and some already started drinking around 10 am!!! So during the night we had to protect Heather (american) and Lisa (australian) as they would get harassed, even if not in an aggressive way. The rest of the trip was okay, you had a lot more walking space than in the train of course.

Again we met some very interesting people. I shared my cabin with a Japanese 60-year old hippie, Tadahiro, who had taken the transsiberian 8 times, as he didn't like taking planes to Europe! Last time was 30 years ago, and he said nothing had changed in the mentality and attitude of the Russian people. Quite a shock there, as the fall of Communism apparently has had little effect on life! A good example of this were the lunch and dinners: we were assigned to the 'foreigner' table and had to be there in time and were asked to leave after 30 minutes in a friendly but certain way! Another interesting guy was Yunden, from Buryat. This is an autonomous republic in Siberia, north of Mongolia. Apparently, as Tadahiro told me, these people have the most similar DNA to the Japanese compared to any other people. And indeed Yunden seemed Japanese except for two things: his larger size and his incredible capacity for wodka :) He is running a business in buying digging machines from Japan and reselling them to golddiggers in Siberia!

The arrival at Japan, Fushiki took quite a while. We arrived around 9.30 am local time, but only got out around 13.30!!! The immigration and customs check went on board (in the nightclub) and a huge queue followed. As non-russians we were told to wait until the end, absolutely no idea why. I was quite nervous there, since I have a double nationality, which the Japanese do not allow. My custom officer said something about not being able to find something about the Netherlands, but his colleague said it was alright and that he should let me pass, pfewww!

And then I finally set foot on Japan!!! This was absolutely surreal!!! After 4 weeks of travelling, my mind could not comprehend it. It was like walking in a dream or in a Japanese theme park. Everything is so Japanese, cute, safe, friendly, etc. It is only after two days that I am getting used to the idea! This is also because Vladivostok has nothing asian at all. According to my feeling it could be 50 km from Moscow. After some initial problems with getting cash, I got on the train and was at my grandparents house within 1,5 hour!!! They were very happy to see me, although the signals are much more subtle than in another culture. They have also grown much older since the last time I visited them, 3 years ago. My grandpa has more trouble walking, and they get tired quickly. But still, he is approaching 90 years and they still live on their own without any assistance, which is something I can't say about a lot of elderly people back in Europe!!

Only now I am getting back to (Japanese) reality. After 60 hours on the ferry, by body repeated the rolling movement of the boat until now, which was a really strange sensation. I ate some delicious sukiyaki two days ago, and some excellent and fresh sushi yesterday, so I am slowly recuperating. Yesterday morning getting up was like getting out of coma! But everything is fine now. Sunday I will head to my uncle near Tokyo and stay there until the 5th of December, when I will actually start to work, another surreal thought :) I am at a very nice internet cafe now, with small boots with leather lounge seats, slippers and reading light, very Japanese indeed. At my uncle's house there should be internet, so I will finally be able to answer you all personally!

Some pictures:


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Transsiberian - Irkutsk


First of all, thanx for all the emails and sms for my birthday!!!! I would like to write you on a personal note, but quite difficult with the limited time I have. But I greatly appreciated that!

Finally gmail is working in Irkutsk, so i can write you a quick note. Finished my visit to Moscow about a week ago, and went to Suzdal. This is a really beautiful, small city, 4 hours from Moscow, with a lot of well preserved churches and monasteries. Very fairylike, and no foreign tourists at all, except for the compulsory bus full of japanese :) Anyway, this was a great change after the stress and dynamism of Moscow! The day I got back from Suzdal (3rd nov), got my things at the hostel in Moscow, bought way too much food for the train
(3 days and 3 nights journey to Irkutsk), and got in to the train.

I spent the first night and day with a couple of taxi drivers going back to their home town. Ended up with one Russian, Maxim, working as a fireman in Perm, a 2-day journey. After him came Nina, a 50-year old woman working in the oil industry in the north of Russia. Managed to speak with both with gestures and my english/russian dictionary. I thought to be the only foreigner on the train, but on the last day before arriving met two americans, Alex and Heather, who had worked 2 years as volunteers in Macedonian. The funny thing is that they speak
macedonian to the people here, and get along in the language pretty fine! After finding some partygoers, decided to celebrate my birthday after midnight (didn't bother to calculate the exact hour). No champagne in the restaurant (russian champagne is said to be quite good), so bought some wodka from the security attendant who apparently had a stash in his compartment!

After couple of hours of sleep, had to wake up, not completely sober yet, and waited in vain for the youth hostel manager at Irkutsk station. After calling we got the directions to get there, even though the door was locked! But the manager's girlfriend came about 20 minutes later, and we were sleeping in a very cosy appartment.

Yesterday and today we were in Listvyanka, a touristic resort at the Baikal lake, which is absolutely stunning!!! It's like having Swiss on sea, you don't get the feeling it's a lake except for the fact that it is surrounded by a range of mountains with snow in the distance. By the way the temperature was -12 when we arrived in Irkutsk and -15 at the lake yesterday! Glad I bought those thermal long underwear!!! Even though the feet are still getting cold, even with 3 pairs of angara socks!

Went have the local omul-fish in a very good, and cheap, restaurant. Met two english persons, Scott & Heather (anotherone) and had quite a few drinks after getting home through the extremely cold night :(

We woke up quite late in the homestay we had found, with a very nice and sweet old lady (babushka), with only one disadvantage, being quite deaf. She would shout at us from 10 cm distance, imagine this with a bit of a hang-over!!!

Today took it easy, and packed our stuff for the train tomorrow morning at 8.00. Am quite eager on coming back here actually, when it's warm and you can do some nice hiking or kayaking. I saw only a small portion of the lake and it was absolutely beautiful!

The train trip was quite nice actually, doesn't seem so long as you would think. You just read a bit, try to communicate with your fellow passengers, check each station out and the food people are offering. This varies a lot, I noticed that the bigger stations have less or no vendors, while the smaller ones do. Most of the time you can buy stuff like noodles, bread but sometimes also whole meals such as salads and cooked chicken and potato. A very tasteful change from the usual bread and sausage!

Well, that's it so far. I am really keen on going to Japan actually now and see my family after three years. Have experencied quite a lot of things in only 3 weeks, and I can recommend it to anybody!!!


By the way some pictures: