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Pet post 4 – turtles!!

Today I’m introducing my crazy turtles! You thought I’d finished my list of pets? Haha, not even close. Turtle power!

Turtles are quite a responsibility. Too many people get these little cuties when they can sit in your palm without thinking about them getting bigger. Well, they will get bigger, much bigger, and owners need to be prepared to accommodate them when they do! That said, here are my three silly scuttlers, Coin, Pebble and Rock.

Coin was the first little turtle we got, and for a long while he was all on his lonesome. He’s a bit of a timid one, always ready to run away from the slightest thing, but he likes having friends now and loves stretching out his lil’ legs under the basking lamp.

Pebble, like coin, is a midori-game, which just means ‘green turtle’. Its English name is the common slider, or pond slider. They’re a very cute breed of turtle, especially when they’re little. Pebble is braver than Coin, and they’re easy to tell apart from their markings, but this picture may be deceptive. He doesn’t have a gangsta attitude – he was just sleepy.

 

Rock is a zeni-game, or Chinese Pond Turtle. He’s much more laid-back and easy-going than the other two, but maybe a little slow on the uptake, too. One of his favourite habits is climbing on top of the others.

New turtles! These ones are opposites in personality. Sanderson is a grump who doesn't like anything as much as staying underwater near the heater, while Onpu is a cute inquisitive little thing who won't stay still.

Pet post 3 – Meeko the Sugar Glider!

My newest pet, and my first-ever mammal, is this little beauty – Meeko the sugar glider.

I aimed to buy a Japanese momonga, and that’s what I thought she was at first, but she’s actually an Australian sugar glider. That still makes her a momonga – the Japanese call all flying squirrels ‘momonga’, as well as these marsupials – but she’s a fukuro-momonga rather than a Japanese momonga. ‘Fukuro’ means ‘bag’ or ‘pouch’, which is appropriate because they’re carried in pouches as young and enjoy spending the daytime in carry pouches like this one.

Meeko was much cheaper than most other sugar gliders because she’s already over a year old. It’s much easier to bond with baby sugar gliders. But she was one of the cutest I saw and I’m happy to put in extra time and effort to build a bond. At the moment she’s still on the nervous side, but she rarely ‘crabs’ at me and seems to enjoy being stroked – progress!

Sugar gliders are social creatures and once I feel I have a strong bond with Meeko I’ll be getting her a friend. At least one more, but we’ll see. I bought her a huge cage, but unfortunately the bars are too wide and she can escape – so for now she’s in a smaller one…but she seems to love it in there. For playtime, though, we take her to the smallest room and have the lights dim. Her favourite place is the top of the curtains – where she strikes explorer poses!

Pet Post 2: Axolotls!

In this second pet post, we have my two beloved axolotls. Axolotls, for some reason called Oopa-Loopa over here, are a fairly common pet in Japan. They're extremely cute and it's not hard to make an aquarium for them. On the other hand, they can be quite tricky to care for, with water quality and temperature parameters that can be quite a lot of effort. If you want to get an axolotl please do some research to give them the best quality of life possible!

This is Wilfred, whose full title is Sir Wilfred of the House of Facelegs – because when they’re babies, axies are little more than a face with legs! He’s a lovely plump leucistic axy who’s about half-grown. He’s a happy little fellow who loves to be the centre of attention. I’ve had him for about 8 months, now.

He lives in a Pokémon-themed wonderland with a set-up I’m quite pleased with. It has lights, fans and sits in a good spot in my living room. He used to have a much smaller tank so he seems very happy with all his space.

Unfortunately his gills had problems during the difficult time I had keeping his water quality high while moving house (a process that took weeks thanks to various bureaucratic problems), but they’re growing back well. I’ll update with a new pic if his ‘hairstyle’ grows back fully. Meanwhile, here he is being a bit slow on the uptake regarding his food!

This is Sir Wilfred’s baby photo. He was a cutey! On the right is Sir Siegfried Wormgobbler, a companion I got for Sir Wilfred who sadly didn’t live long despite my best efforts.

When Sir Siegfried passed, I got another similar wildtype axolotl, who has grown into a feisty, playful juvenile with a nice hairstyle he shows off at every opportunity. His name is Cupcake!

Cupcake’s setup is a bit cooler, with more of a shipwreck theme. He’s smaller than Wilf, so gets a smaller house, but he’s more active and goes crazy when he thinks food is near.

The two of them have to be kept separately at this age, and wildtypes tend to be a bit bitey. When they’re adults I may put them into a tank together, but it would really be for my convenience – they don’t need or like companionship.

Finally, Cupcake’s baby photo, from back in February. He was so, so tiny when we got him, little bigger than a fingernail. It’s amazing how much he’s grown – but how little his personality has changed!

New Axies! A few months ago, now, I got some babies from a local shop where they weren't being kept very well. This one is called Casper.

Here's Casper's sister Luka.

They've grown up quite a lot now,. Soon I might put Cupcake in with them too.

   

Pet post! Introducing Pacman Frogs

This is the first in a series introducing all my pets! Let's meet my cute, silly little frogs, Wubston and Wubber!

They're South American Horned Frogs, or Ceratophrys, but I prefer the term Pacman Frogs - because they're all mouth and silly round body.

 

This is Wubston Chubston, a silly name I'm totally unashamed of using. He's a little grumpy, loves his frog pellets and enjoys hot weather. He digs himself into substrate more than Wubber. I've had him almost a year now.

 

This is Wubber, or Lil' Wub. I know 'wubby' makes some people cringe but they're so plump and wobbly there's really no better word. Wubber is a new frog for me. I've had her about a month. She's much smaller than Wubston and of course they're kept separately. She is much more of a fussy eater but seems far more relaxed about life.

 

Taiwan trip 2017 – in pictures!

One place I can say I travel often is Taiwan - after all, my uncle, aunt, cousins and grandmother all live there!

This year, we had a gathering with all my mum's siblings. Since they all live in different countries, it's a rare treat to have them all together in one place.

Let's have a look at some of the things we saw this year in Kaohsiung!

The new great Buddha at Fo Guan Shang - last year we entirely missed the new part. It's less like a monastery than the rest, more like a theme park, but that Buddha is undeniably impressive.

More from Fo Guan Shang, always eccentric!

 

If it's Taiwan, it's got to be Din Tai Fung!

And dim sum. Got to have dim sum.

I have strong memories of this place form when I was a child

Fancy decor - but rude service!

The view from my hotel room

The room itself was fancy. When I arrived, I had remarkably tasty belly pork instant noodles and watched Adventure Time in Chinese, haha

 

Buying a Property in Japan

In a few days, it will be my two-year Japanniversary. Two years since I arrived in Japan and moved into my apartment in Shinjuku. I’ve had good times in the little place in the centre of town, but there are some big drawbacks to living in such a convenient place. First, my apartment is expensive but small – I only have a mini-fridge and a single hob, with no food preparation area. Second, Shinjuku gets a little too busy for comfort, especially on weekends. And lastly, the most important thing – in Tokyo, there’s an annoying system where if you stay in an apartment for 2 years, you get charged a ‘renewal fee’, or double rent for one month. No thank you!

Last year, my grandmother passed away. She was a real character and I miss her presence in my life, especially when Christmas comes. She had enough savings squirreled away that when it was distributed between family members, it became a possibility that I could buy a cheap house in Japan. I’ve been working in Japan since I arrived, with several sidelines like proofreading and random TV work, plus made some well-timed investments into Cryptocurrency, so for the first time in my life, I’m ready to get onto the property ladder. Thank you, Grandma!

Buying in Japan is in some ways surprisingly simple, and in others surprisingly difficult. Firstly, there are no legal restrictions on foreigners buying property, which makes sense when you consider that the Japanese economy will benefit from foreign investment, especially from China. On the other hand, someone like me who has been here for just two years on a working visa, unmarried and with an uneven income, has no chance of getting a mortgage. So while it was possible to buy a place, I couldn’t look at anything very luxurious that I would ordinarily fund with a mortgage.

On the other hand, I feel that if possible, buying outright is a much better investment choice. The debates between buying or renting largely revolve around whether mortgage interest repayments are effectively the same as renting anyway, with various inconveniences. Buying outright has very few disadvantages in investment terms.

So I began the property search. Helpfully, there are various agents in Japan that are eager to help foreign-language buyers, especially in English or Chinese. My Japanese is getting…passable by this stage, but I didn’t feel prepared to deal with the complexities of contract negotiation without someone to interpret! I found various agencies who were helpful, but ultimately a relatively new company called Beyond Borders was most helpful, bilingual agent Mori-san having been very helpful and accommodating throughout the process.

I started out by looking at apartments near where I was living, but didn’t fall in love with any of them. Everything changed when I viewed a house a little further out from the city, in Koenji. It was a great little property by the side of a river – and it reminded me that buying land is far better than an apartment in Japan, where property depreciates but land holds its value.

I made a bid on the house. In fact, I was the highest bidder. Sadly, the seller thought that dealing with a foreigner was too scary and turned down my bid. In other countries, this might be illegal on grounds of discrimination, but there’s no protection against this kind of decision in Japan. Whether renting or buying, watching out for ‘no dogs, no gaijin’-style messages is a necessity. I was angry at the time, but it’s the current social reality here.

That experience totally changed what I wanted in my property search, though. I had been putting price first, then location, with size last. I realised I would be happier commuting for a longer time every day if I could get a much bigger place. That’s why I decided on Edogawa, where land prices are cheap but the trainlines are well-connected. Plus there’s a famous fireworks festival there every summer, and it’s halfway to the airport. I made sure to look for places on relatively high ground because Edogawa is at risk of flooding, and eventually found a house that was big, sturdy, but because the road approaching it is too narrow, cannot be completely rebuilt – something that in Japan sends the property price tumbling. I can reinforce it against earthquakes, even entirely rebuild the structure within the same blueprint, but can’t tear it down and build something new. If a natural disaster completely destroys it, I’ll be in trouble, but that’s a risk I decided to take.

The actual process of buying has not been straightforward. Japan has a lot of odd traditions connected to buying property. For example, the 10% deposit at the beginning of negotiations has to be made in cash. For my house that was a fair wad of banknotes, but I imagine luxury apartments in the city centre must involve briefcases full of them. It’s lucky Japan has such low crime rates, because that’s a very risky system!

I also had to have a jitsu-in, an officially-registered wooden seal, made in my name. This was surprisingly fast and inexpensive, and it’s probable that it would be waived in most sales to foreigners, especially those who don’t even enter the country for negotiations, but it was something of an oddity.

Now, I’m waiting to move in. Unfortunately, the seller can’t hand the property over in good faith until the land has been surveyed, and it’s taken a very long time to schedule that survey. But it’s finally around the corner, my belongings are all packed, and all that remains is the final settlement – which will be slightly surreal. The seller, her agent, my agent and me will all gather in a bank, where I will make a transfer to the seller and a transfer to my agent under the watchful eyes of everyone involved. Then comes registration, connecting utilities, getting insurance and all the other necessities.

It hasn’t been a simple process, and there have been some big bumps along the road, but I’m about to move in and get decorating. Frankly, I can’t wait!

A Trip to England – in foods I’ve missed!

Supermarket meal deals!

Marmite on toast!

Greasy takeaway pizza shared with friends

Crispy aromatic duck (bonus - char siu bao!)

Takeaway curry served in foil containers

Mum's pasta with 'Bolognese' sauce

Apple crumble and custard!

Proper seaside fish and chips

Mum's amazing Christmas cooking

Bangers and mash

Duck curry from the local Thai restaurant

Birthday meal 2016 – Galvin la Chapelle

Each year, my parents treat me to a special meal for my birthday. This year, I chose Galvin la Chapelle in Spitalfields, a restaurant we’d been to before, but which I remembered as having a beautiful setting and great food. Thus, when I found Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road booked up as usual, I decided on la Chapelle.

The decor - It’s certainly one of the most memorable of London’s fine-dining restaurants, with its beautiful ceiling and floating mezzanine level, and the food was excellent, too. We opted for the Menu Gourmand, a seven-course tasting menu, and every dish was an excellent complement to the last.

     

Lasagne of Dorset crab, beurre Nantais and pea shoots - The first dish was a ‘lasagne’ of crab, which was a neat start to proceedings but probably the weakest moment of the meal. The crab meat was superb but the dish as a whole was a little on the tasteless side.

Ballotine of Landes fois gras, confit quince and brioche - Next came a very rich and well-balanced foie gras pate course, with soft but crispy brioche and the right amount of cutting sweetness from the confit. Very well-done, and I would have liked to have had more.

Risotto of Burgundy black truffle, Jerusalem artichoke and wood sorrel - The third course was risotto with black truffles, combining to make a very strong, almost garlicky flavour – it was a small dish but probably the best risotto I’ve ever eaten. I enjoy very strong flavours, and this hit the spot.

Wild sea bass, marinière of cockles, sea beets and Jersey oyster - The fish course was excellent. Sea bass is my favourite cooked fish in any case, but what really made this dish fantastic was the crispy skin. Everything combined into a very appealing centrepiece to this meal.

Denham Estate venison, lemon thyme white polenta and forest mushrooms - The climactic meat dish was venison – a better option than the pigeon that was on the website sample menu, I think! The flavours were strong and rich but somehow the balance seemed off here. There was too much in the sauce that was battling with the taste of the meat. So while still delicious, this was one I felt could have been better. I didn’t get a picture, but next came cheese – truffled brie de Meaux with confit William pear and truffle honey. A strong cheese and a nice balance, I was very pleased to have decent cheese for the first time in a while!

Apple tarte Tatin with Normandy crème fraîche - To finish the meal, we enjoyed a well-made tarte tatin, a favourite of mine. The crème fraîche was well-made and nothing was overpowering, but the dessert was not a stand-out – it didn’t seem markedly better than any tarte tatin from a local bakery. But that’s not to say it wasn’t very pleasant. The standard of every course here was high and the risotto really stood out as a cut above any other I’ve tried. A very fine meal, in a beautiful setting!

Memorial Symposium in Tokyo University

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At Tokyo University

Though many good things happened in my professional life, the past year has been a sad one for my family. My aunt died much too young in November, 2015 and then last month her mother, my grandmother, also passed away. By unfortunate coincidence, both were while I was in Japan, and at times I was unable to return to England to attend their funerals, so I haven’t honestly been able to feel I’ve had a chance to pay my respects or fully reflect on their lives. Next month, I’ll be returning to England, and will be able to visit their graves, but fortunately there was also a memorial event for my aunt yesterday in Tokyo University.

My aunt was a prominent scholar of French literature and had attended a number of academic conferences here in Japan, as well as hosting many Japanese scholars who were interested in visiting the Samuel Beckett archives at Reading University. So her kind friends and colleagues over here in Tokyo arranged a memorial day, in conjunction with a memorial symposium a year after her death over in England. Since I’m living in Tokyo, it made sense for me to attend and deliver a message from my uncle, giving me a chance to pay my respects.

My hosts set up a lovely event. This was my first time in the University of Tokyo, and the Komaba campus is small and pretty. After finding the correct building, I was led to a room full of scholars, some young but most older, with the somewhat languid air of lifelong academics. Most were Japanese, though there was one other Westerner, another Brit named David whose life, it seems, was intertwined with my aunt’s right from their undergraduate days.20161122-02

I was greeted very warmly, and though the event was in a typical academic meeting room, there was a smiling photograph of my aunt, a display of her books and pretty floral displays.

The opening memorial service was touching. Friends of my aunt from her academic circle ran through her biography, and then gave their personal reminiscences, often with photographs - both of her visits to Japan and their visits to England. They found a particular significance and comfort in her last words being, ‘It’s exciting.’ I was invited to read my uncle’s message, which was received with appreciation, and later had a chance to give my own account, centred on memories of the family gathering at Christmastime. Even though I was in a room of strangers, we were all connected through my aunt, so I wa20161122-03s grateful to have such a chance to pay my respects.

20161122-05This was followed by an academic symposium responding to my aunt’s legacy. Admittedly, while I could follow the personal reminiscences, which other than my own had all been in Japanese, when it came to academic vocabulary and analysis I was mostly lost, really only able to follow one lecture on Samuel Beckett and Music. Nonetheless, I was pleased to be part of the event.20161122-04

Next, we went to nearby Shibuya to enjoy a meal in my aunt’s honour. As is traditional after a symposium, we went to an izakaya, a Japanese restaurant where the emphasis is on drinking, and my hosts had selected Gonpachi. Gonpachi is a famous chain in Japan with very traditional décor, a different branch made particularly famous recently as a location in Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill. We had a private room where we enjoyed an extended ‘Nabe course’, which culminated in a hot pot but mostly delighted me with the smaller dishes that came first – delicious sashimi, large korroke and a kind of Chinese-style dish slightly reminiscent of hairy prawns. It was a superb meal, accompanied by plenty of beer with which to toast my aunt.

20161122-06I didn’t speak much Japanese that evening, as I sat with David and listened to his stories about my aunt and his own interesting career. Like me, he studied at Cambridge, plays in a band and has a keen interest in progressive rock. I learned a

The flowers I was given from the event

The flowers I was given from the event

lot about Samuel Beckett, particularly regarding his interest in sport, and felt quite emboldened to be able to talk about my thesis for the first time since finishing it, as well as my book. I am grateful I had a chance to meet such an interesting group of people, and this was really my first time interacting with academia in Tokyo, so I feel quite grateful to have had the opportunity.

I’m not sure if I will ever return to the university, or see any of the other campuses, but who knows? Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to return.

Album video review

An interesting, fair review of my band's album from Notes: It's something of a curate's egg review, but I think his criticisms are very valid. We've staked a place in the prog scene, and going forward from here it's going to be very important to offer something new and unique. Plus he says very nice things about my drums, which is always welcome! Check out the album trailer here: And if you're tempted to check us out, head to paradigmshiftuk.bandcamp.com!