Archive for September, 2011

Happy wedding, Edwin and Miyoko

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Today we went to the wedding of our good friends Edwin and Miyoko, who we have known for ages and who happen to live in the condo development next to ours. I took the day off work and Zen left school early and we went there at 11:30. There was a solemnization ceremony and then we had some food.

The day started off poorly, with a massive cloudburst at 7:30 AM and heavy rains lasting throughout the first part of the morning. But Naoko made a teru-teru bozu to ward off the bad weather, and around 11:00 the rain did stop. Yay. It was a beautiful ceremony and we met a few interesting people. Here are some pictures from the occasion:

Teru-teru bozu says "rain rain go away"... and it did

Teru-teru bozu says "rain rain go away"... and it did

Do you, Edwin Siew...

Do you, Edwin Siew...

Do you, Miyoko Watanabe...

Do you, Miyoko Watanabe...

I now pronounce you man and wife

I now pronounce you man and wife

Flowers for the happy couple

Flowers for the happy couple

Awwww... cute...

Awwww... cute...

Naoko and Miyoko

Naoko and Miyoko

We all dressed up for the occasion

We all dressed up for the occasion

It was even covered in the Malaysian newspaper!!

It was even covered in the Malaysian newspaper!!

Canada trip 2011

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Great great great – after months of hard work, I finally got to go on a really great junket… to my home town of Toronto! It’s always very hard for me to get there, considering that it’s on the other side of the world from where I live (Singapore), it’s expensive to fly there and I only have limited time off, with which I need to take into account also days lost traveling (two either way) and jet lag. It’s no picnic. So this time I was flying for a reason and flying for free and could get a few days with family at either end of my business commitment. I also took Zen along so that he could see Canada with fresh eyes (he had been nine months old the last time he was in Canada), learn about that part of his heritage (he is half-Canadian, after all), and to celebrate my dad’s birthday (we always celebrate mum’s when they visit us in Singapore every year). To see Zen’s report of the trip, click here.

Here are some then-and-now pictures:

July 31st, 2002

Zen and Opa, July 31st, 2002

Zen and Opa, July 31st, 2002

September 14th, 2011

Welcome to Canada/Bienvenue au Canada

Welcome to Canada/Bienvenue au Canada

Wednesday, April 14th I’d set my alarm for 4:00 AM, but I was woken up anyway at 3:40 AM when Oma and Opa called to wish Naoko a happy birthday – they miscalculated the time difference and thought that they were calling at 4:40 AM. Hang up, try again. The alarm went off at 4:00 AM, we all got up and Zen and I got ready for the flight, and Oma and Opa called back and wished Naoko a happy birthday with all three of us awake. Zen and I also wished Naoko many happy returns on her birthday;too bad we wouldn’t be there for the rest of it, but we’d had a lovely dinner the night before, with cake and everything. We got in a taxi at 5:15 AM so that we could be at the airport plenty early for our 7:05 flight to Tokyo, and its connecting flight to Toronto (both cities that start with “T” and end with “O”, ha ha…). When we were near the airport it began to rain in buckets, then huge lightning flashes filled the sky and thunder rolled. Zoo-wee mama!!!

The airport was deserted, but the check-in woman assured us that the flights probably wouldn’t be cancelled due to the weather. Check-in went well, we hung out in the airport, and then got on our flight. As we were taking off, we looked out of the window and we saw the full moon, then next to it we also saw a rainbow. It was so beautiful. The United Airlines flight was okay, Zen liked it a lot because he said that the breakfast he was served was exceptional. I watched two movies – “Midnight In Paris” and “The Hangover”, two films that have almost nothing in common except that each film has a guy in a doomed relationship with a bitchy girl he finally realises is bad for him and breaks up with at the end. I also listened to Stone Roses and Ozzy Osbourne, while reading that boring Leven Thumps book. Zen watched “Kung Fu Panda 2″. When we got near to Tokyo we looked out the window into the Pacific Ocean and we saw a large shadow on the water, we wondered what it was. A whale? A submarine? Then we approached land and the shadow followed us, and we realised that it was the shadow of our plane. D’oh!!

In Tokyo, we called Jii-chan and Baa-chan for a quick chat, then we hunted for food. I ate some pizza while Zen ate spaghetti and meatballs, while he wrote his journal. We wandered around some, we spotted a Singapore Airlines A380, then got on our long 12-hour flight. I don’t remember what I did on this long flight, but I don’t think I saw a movie. Maybe I read, maybe I listened to music, maybe I tried to sleep.

When we got to Toronto, I took a picture of Zen walking through the “Welcome to Canada” gate, and then we hit customs. I got some strange looks and some questions from the customs officials about why Zen was traveling without his mother, but it didn’t turn into a problem. We went out and met Oma and Opa, took some pictures in front of a big dinosaur display from the Royal Ontario Museum that they had in the museum, then we went outside to the car. Opa drove us away to Midland, driving along Zenway Boulevard and ZZEN Corporation and then up some country roads, past Barrie, and into Midland. Zen fell asleep midway, and we saw a beautiful sunset along the long, straight and slightly hilly road. When we got to Midland, Zen woke up and he got a tour of the house, including the basement. Then we had some food and went to sleep. Unfortunately, we only slept a few hours – I woke up at 3:00 AM, and Zen woke up at 4:00 AM. We hung out downstairs for a while until Opa woke up at 6:00, then we had breakfast around 7:30. Zen and I went out for a walk in the cold morning air, it was only around 7 degrees Celsius. Brrrr!!! That was Thursday, and after we ate breakfast, Zen went off with Oma to do some shopping at West Marine, Home Depot and Walmart, while I did some work to prepare for my conference. In the afternoon, Zen and I got a tour of Midland, from the boat in the marina all the way up the main drag and back to Walmart. We also went to another mall where Zen and I got our hair cut! Zen looked at Lego Star Wars toys and books, but didn’t buy any (in the end he did buy one Lego Star Wars toy, one Lego Star Wars book, and one Diary of a Wimpy Kid-related book).

Friday, Zen and I woke up at 4:00 and 5:00 respectively, we went for a stroll outside before sunrise, then we had breakfast and went to play catchball in a nearby park. It was Opa’s birthday, so we wished him a happy birthday. On the way home, we passed by the nearby school and had a quick chat with the principal and asked him if we could have a quick tour of the school at some point, as Zen was visiting Canada and would like to do a report of his visit, and to see how Canadian schools are different from Singapore schools. The principal asked us to come back at 2:30 for the tour, so we went home and Zen did some more homework. After a while we had our lunch, then went off to do the tour. It was very interesting. The school is called Bayview Public School. Apparently there had earlier been a Bayview Public School in Midland in another location, but in 1968 the school had been built at that spot. It was completely renovated in 2008. We first saw the library, which was quite big and open and had several computers in it (but not really very many books). Then we walked around the school, which was built in a kind of big square, with a small courtyard in the middle.  The school has 270 pupils in 13 different classes. They have nine school years (kindergarten to grade 8), and they had two special needs rooms – one for children with disabilities, and one for children with higher abilities. They also had a gym. That day the school was holding a Terry Fox run, and I was able to tell Zen a little bit about who Terry Fox was and what he did. After that we went the the library to take out some books (I took out Artemis Fowl for Zen, and Persepolis for me), then we went home and prepared for a lovely dinner with Oma and Opa for Opa’s birthday.  Happy birthday, Opa!

Saturday we woke up and went down to the boat and had a look there, then we finally went fishing. Zen was very excited, he really hoped that he could catch a fish, but he never did. After that, we went to the bowling alley to see if we could bowl – there were league games, though, and no lanes would be free that day. Zen was disappointed, but we noticed that there was a baseball game on TV, so we knew that we could see that later when we went home. We walked up and down the main street in Midland and saw a music shop, a toy shop, some pizza shops, and some other interesting shops as well. It’s a very nice little Northern Ontario town. After that we went home, Zen watched some baseball and took a nap. In the evening we were invited to dinner at the friends of my parents, which was very nice. They have a great big house with a nice garden that looks out onto the water. Zen went down to watch the baseball game before dinner, but fell asleep and missed all of the food. At the end of the evening we carried him to the car and brought him home.  Poor kid.

Sunday we headed in to Toronto, I packed up my bags and put them in the trunk and off we went to the big city, driving through the nice little towns, then the nice highways, past Barrie, along Zenway Boulevard and ZZEN Corporation. Once in Toronto, we stopped briefly at my friend John’s house on Dundas Street West, dropped off my suitcase at his place since I’d be staying there while in Toronto, and then off we went to see the city. We went to harbourfront and looked for a parking spot. There was one for $20 right next to the ferry terminal, then around the corner we found another that was only $5, so we took that and walked an extra five minutes to get to the ferry terminal than we would have if we’d parked in the $20 place – good thinking Opa! We found the foot of Yonge Street, which is the longest street in the world – it is more than 1,800 kilometers long. Wow!  The hotel down there was a Sibos hotel, so I got my badge, and then we went to the ferry terminal, got tickets, and headed out to Toronto Island. It was a beautiful day, great sun, a bit of wind, and there were boats in the harbour, airplanes flying overhead, seagulls gliding around, and lots of people young and old heading out to Toronto Island with their kids, with bicycles and strollers and all sorts of gear. We got there and headed to Olympic Island where we knew there would be picnic tables and a nice view of the Toronto skyline, and we were right. It was beautiful. Zen and I played catchball for a while and had a nice time, then off we went Centreville. First Zen and I rode on the Haunted Barrel Works and we screamed our heads off at anything. Then we rode down the Log Flume ride, which was scary. We tried out the Antique Car Ride, and finally the Swan Ride. Zen loved them all. We were out of tickets, but we’d had a great time. Then Zen saw the bumper cars!! He was fascinated, so we bought a few more tickets and off he went. It was great, I had spent a lot of time on these rides too when I had been a child. Great. We went through the Far Enough Farm, looked at the turkeys and goats, then headed up to the big Y-shaped Lake Ontario pier to enjoy the sun. It was a beautiful day, and the sun was shining brilliantly off Lake Ontario. Opa looked up in the sky and said “oh, an east wind – it’s going to rain tomorrow.”

But it was time to head back, so we went to the ferry and zoomed on back to Toronto. Mom and Dad and Zen and I got in the car, they dropped me off near the Royal York Hotel (now called the Fairmont Royal York) and I had a look around the lobby, quickly spotting people I knew from one bank who were having a reception there, then for a look at the convention centre itself, and off I went to look at Roy Thomson Hall, where I saw people I knew from another bank who were having a reception there. What a sense of nostalgia – I used to work at both the Royal York and Roy Thomson Hall! Then I headed off to the reception that I was really going to. Hung out with the people from that company, then I had a great time hanging out with my friend John, who joined me there. (Meanwhile, back in Midland, Zen was playing Monopoly with his grandparents.) After that party, we went off to the Horseshoe Tavern for more beers. There was a band playing there that were pretty good, they had a weird Black Sabbath feel to them in parts. I was telling John about my band, and how we’re inspired by Black Sabbath, then Black Sabbath came on the PA! What a coincidence.  Went back to John’s place, I did some more preparation, went to sleep at midnight… but woke up at 2:00 AM, unable to get back to sleep!  Sheesh… Might have been the power line work that was going on right outside the window, which faced Dundas West. Occasional sound of the cherry picker going up, a truck beeping as it backed up, flashing lights coming in through the window – sleep…

Monday was the first day of the event, I looked out the window and saw a beautiful Toronto sunrise with the CN Tower in the distance. It sure didn’t look like rain. I got my gear and stuff and took the TTC over to St Andrew subway station, walked into the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and started four days of conference madness. It was good fun, and I had a wonderful lunch. I noticed that it was raining outside – Opa was right! I went to an afternoon session in one of the big stuffy halls and passed out, when I woke up I realised that I had missed an important appointment.  Oops!  That evening I was off to two parties, and I met John for both of them.  The first one was in a grand ballroom in the Royal York Hotel called the Library Bar, they had a wonderful old swing jazz band playing, providing wonderful music. There were free beers for invitees, of course, and curious canapes. After that, John and I headed off to another party in a wooden pub somewhere else in the Royal York hotel, and later off to the Hockey Hall of Fame, just next door, observing on the way over there a CN Tower swaddled in clouds. John and I had a great time there too, drinking lots of beer and checking out the hockey memorabilia, and meeting drunk bankers at the hockey shot zone. John knows way more about hockey than I do, so he taught me a thing or two about the greats, whose jerseys were protected behind thick, bulletproof glass.  We met several cool Finnish and Norwegian bankers at the Wayne Gretzky pavilion who helped us take shots with those little bits that had once been part of The Great One on display, probably the closest either of us will ever get to Number 99. I got a picture of Frank Mahovlich’s sweater (but I just took the “hovlich”, since it looks like “Hoflich”),  and then one of me with Maurice Richard’s sweater, in honour of Roch Carrier’s short story “The Hockey Sweater“. Went back to John’s place, had a few more beers, did a bit of computer stuff, then went to sleep… for about three hours.

Tuesday I went a bit earlier because I had to go to a bank breakfast – I couldn’t believe how packed the TTC was so early in the morning! It was intense. The bank breakfast was also intense, and it was soooo amazing… unfortunately I couldn’t take in anything because there was so much information in the presentation that my jet-lagged brain could hardly digest it all (the food was okay too, pretty basic)! I went off to an interview, then I helped my boss record an interview with the CEO of Canada’s largest bank. Later, at noon, I helped him record an interview with the CEO of the largest ICSD, which was riveting. I did a bunch of interviews, and headed of at 6:00 for my first party, in a nearby service apartment on the penthouse floor. The party was hosted by an Indian IT company, so my super-friendly host showed me around, it was so great. He showed me the bedroom where supposedly Madonna had slept, then we checked out the balcony. Some people really know how to live. Met a bunch of cool people, had some nice food, then headed off to meet my friend Danella and her two friends Rikk and Robb, we had a ball talking all evening about stuff in their favourite Queen Street West pub and bistro, called The Beaver. I thought that we were going to a place with a jukebox, but unfortunately this was not one of them.  That’s okay, though. We talked about bands, movies (Bridesmaids!), and the Rolling Stones. And then, suddenly, the people working there realised that there was no music playing so they put on… The Rolling Stones! (They must have overheard us, or maybe Danella texted someone there to put on the Stones – could it have been a coincidence? Whatever it was, it was the second time it had happened to me in Toronto.) Took a taxi home after that, hung out with John, did some work, and then went to sleep for… about five hours.

Wednesday was a normal start, so I left a bit later… and found the TTC fairly empty.  Why would it be so packed at 8:00, like it had been on Tuesday, but be near empty around 9:00?  Makes no sense at all.  Later on I was invited to a great lunch on the 65th floor of one of the bank towers, with a great view of the hotel I used to work at, the CN Tower, the Skydome (now called the Rogers Centres, or something) where the Toronto Blue Jays play, and Toronto Island. I had some interviews, and in the evening I was invited to another party, so I went to this trendy bar for a while (big, gushing rain as I made my way over), drank some beer there, then left to check out the nearby Steve’s Music Store (closed), then went off to meet my friend John, as well as my friend Patty – both of them from my old high school, although they didn’t know each other while there, oddly enough – at a pub on Bloor. After getting lost, and then not finding Patty, who was late, and then being unable to find a seat in any of the places that we’d arranged to meet at, we eventually headed off to so me place near where John lives (and Patty happens to live out that way too, ha ha). That place had a juke box and a bunch of working stiffs hanging around, I ordered perogies and we had a bunch of beers and listened to music from the juke box.  I put in two bucks and got a bunch of Rush, Rolling Stones, and I forget what else – Journey? Got home late and slept.

Thursday was the last day of the event, and definitely the busiest. That was the day the conference had asked me to appear on their internal TV show, for which they had set up a little TV studio in the middle of the convention hall.  I did my interview, then went to watch my boss interviewing the CEO of the biggest bank in Southeast Asia onstage as one of the conference sessions, then headed out of the convention centre with my my cameras and tripod in hand, rushing off to film an interview with the CEO of the third-largest bank in Canada. Spent an hour there, then went off to interview the former mayor of Toronto. Most of the day was gone by that point, so I went off to do a few more interviews, drink a few of the beers that they were offering in the bank exhibition booths, grabbed some gourmet delicacies (oysters, scallops, shrimp, cheese, olives, pickled peppers, etc), and then off for a wander around town. (Meanwhile, Zen and Oma and Opa went cycling around Midland.) I went to Steve’s Music for a look at their left-handed guitars, but they hardly had any, and certainly not the type that I wanted. I wandered the streets, ran into a conference friend of mine who invited me for beers with his friends, then I headed off to the big conference party looking for laughs. Sadly, I hardly met anyone I knew. There were big long queues for food, so I did more drinking than eating. They had mini-buffets set up all around the hall, which was pumped with fresh disco, and they had four big stages behind the four big drink bars, each of which had some sort of crazy choreographed fashion show, meaning models dressed up as hockey players, RCMP, eskimos, etc. It was pretty weird. There was also some sort of Canadian tableau vivant, brrrrrr… Not sure what the point of that was. Left very late, took the subway home, fell asleep, had to double back, but got home eventually.

Friday I woke up around 8:00, had a quick chat with John before he went off to work, then got ready for my day. First off, I went to see John’s place of work, a rare book library in Toronto, and he gave me a tour of the place. I got to see the stacks of the library, where only staff can normally go (it’s a rare book library, so people need to request the books, which are then brought down to be read in the reading room only, upon which they need to be returned to the shelves). It’s a great place, and there are large collections of books (17th century medical books, 18th century maps, all sorts of crazy stuff). Some collectors have donated whole selections of books, and John showed me one donated collection of gay pulp fiction (oddly, there was a non-fiction book about the Rolling Stones there as well). John also showed me the manuscript works of one of Canada’s most famous authors, which included all these cool illustrations by her among all of the unpublished poems and short stories, as well as a similar collection of stuff donated by Canada’s most famous poet. Wow! We laughed our heads off as I read out loud a letter another famous (and filthy-mouthed) Canadian poet had written to him. It was nearly too much to take in, really fantastic stuff. I had so much fun there (yes, it was a library!!!). After that, I went off to Long & McQuade, Toronto’s best music store, to check out the left-handed Gibson SGs that I learned form an online search that they stock there, since I knew that I wanted one. I found a nice cherry-red left-handed Gibson SG, but I preferred a black one, which they had in their other shop; so I paid for it, and they promised that they could deliver it later that day – no matter, I could pick it up on Saturday. Then I went off to meet Danella and her fiance Scott, who were at The Beaver. I got my directions wrong, though, so instead of going in a straight line from Long & McQuade to The Beaver (i.e. going down Ossington from Bloor + Ossington, where the guitar shop is, to Queen + Ossington, where the bistro is), I instead headed in a long detour. Yes, 20/20 hindsight is usually much better than it is on the spot, ha ha ha. It took me ages to finally get there, but get there I did, and I dug into a nice burrito there too!!! I headed down Queen after that to do a bit of shopping, and another beer at the Horseshoe Tavern, then I went right back out to Queen + Ossington to meet my friends Paul and Mike for the evening. I’d grown up with Mike and Paul, and was really looking forward to seeing them, and we’d agreed to go to Stones Place, a Rolling Stones-themed night club. But no one knew when it opened up, as it didn’t say outside the pub, it also didn’t say on the website. We wanted to meet at 7:00, so that’s what we did. A waitress arrived at the place to set up, she said that they open at 9:00 (nice to finally find that out), so that meant we needed to find another place to go for a while. Fine – we went across the street to the Cadillac Lounge, getting in at 7:00 for beers before they started charging a cover. We had a bunch of drinks there, catching up and nearly pissing ourselves laughing from some of the stories that we told, and then headed over to Stones Place. We got there, paid the admission, then got the last table available in the place, a little perch with barstools that we three could just fit at; every other table in the place had been booked out weeks in advance.  Ooooohhhh!!!! The place was great, decked out in oriental rugs, big ornate sofas, and pictures of the Rolling Stones on the walls.  Wow!  Unfortunately… the music was terrible, and the young crowd was a bit immature for us (young crowd, old music – I don’t get it!?!?). We got out of the place and were super hungry, so we walked… and walked… and walked… until we were finally at Spadina!  That was a long walk!! But the sausages that we got were great. We met some German tourists there, and then we all went our separate ways. See ya next time, Paul and Mike, we have to do it again!

Saturday morning I got a call from my parents, “oh, we’re leaving Midland now to come pick you up, we’ll be there in two hours,” as planned. So John and I went out for breakfast, something I rarely get a chance to do, so off we went to eat a nice gigantic North American breakfast. Yum! After that, Oma and Opa and Zen came to meet me, we parked the car near John’s, and took the TTC in to the Royal Ontario Museum, paid our admission to the place, and checked out the new pavilion in front. We wandered through the zones, checking out a Mongol tomb, then also saw a suit of armour, then climbed up a huge staircase that had a massive West Coast totem pole in as we headed up to see the dinosaur bones! That was the whole reason we wanted to go there in the first place. We also saw some extinct ice age creatures, like the giant sloth. After that, we found a kids exploration area where Zen tried on a suit of armour, and then got to try out the whole “dusting for dinosaur bones” thing. We wandered off into the Greek and Roman pavilion, as well as the Egyptian pavilion, and Zen was reeling off the names of the gods and demi-gods portrayed there. It was pretty cool. After that we all went off and took the TTC back to John’s place, I collected my belongings, and we went off to Long & McQuade music shop, where I collected my brand new Gibson SG! Love that “new guitar smell” emanating from it. We climbed in the car and headed back to Midland, passing along Zenway Boulevard, past ZZEN Corporation, through Barrie, up the country roads, past Midland International Airport, past the Midland ski hill, and off to Oma and Opa’s home for some nice sleep.

Sunday was the day for our big sail, so we went off to the cruising club in the morning, loaded up the boat, jumped in, and off we went. Yee-haw! There wasn’t much wind, so we sailed for a while, used the motor for a while, and then sailed for another while. Zen became the captain of the boat, taking the wheel for most of the cruise over. That was so cool! We got to Beausoleil Island, where we dropped anchor, then got into the motorised dinghy and went for a little spin around the place. Dad wanted to show us a YMCA Camp, but there wasn’t anything to see, just shoreline and a sunken canoe. We saw lots of Canada geese, some cormorant, and fish in the water. The dinghy was leaking, so we got out at one point not far where there was a beach with people on it and tipped it up so that it could drain. After that, Zen and I rolled up our pant cuffs and walked along the beach for a while. It was so beautiful and peaceful. We saw a whole bunch of Inuksuk stone figures that people had built up on the beach. I taught Zen about the Canadian shield, which is the Earth’s greatest exposed area of Archaen rock (eight million square kilometers of it) and is the first part of North America to stand above the water, and we were standing at the southern edge of it, where solid rock had been scraped nearly flat by icebergs, which deposited gigantic boulders on top of the solid rock that is over 1.2 billion years old. We wandered along the beach to near where Oma and Opa’s boat was, then Opa came out and fetched us in the dinghy, and we sailed back to Midland, also motoring part of the way. It was a long day, but exhausting too. When we go to port, we helped dad with a bunch of chores, even hoisting him up the mast so that he could do some work up there.

Monday was our last day in Midland, I ran around town doing a bunch of errands in the morning, and in the afternoon the four of us went for a lovely bicycle ride on a bicycle trail that follows an abandoned train track; they’ve removed the rail and the railway ties and there we were. We didn’t see too much wild life, but we saw some birds. The weather was wonderful! We also saw the Martyrs’ Shrine from a distance, and found an old railway trolley. After that, we had a last supper, packed and went to bed. I had a bit of trouble packing my guitar, but it worked out. I was also feeling lousy because I seemed to be coming down with a cold. Oh no!

Tuesday was a short day, but not was short as Wednesday, which was the shortest day of the trip – literally! We got on a plane at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, flew for 12 hours, and when we landed it was 4:00 PM the next day! The ride to the airport was okay – we drove past country homes, Barrie, then along Zenway Boulevard, past ZZEN Corporation, and then to Pearson International Airport. We said our sad goodbyes to Oma and Opa, and then off we went to Japan and Singapore. The flight was okay – I watched 3.5 films (X-Men: First Class, Bridesmaids, The King’s Speech, and half of The Social Network). Then we spent a bit of time in Tokyo hanging out, calling Baa-chan and spotting another Singapore Airlines A380, and later we caught our flight to Singapore. Yay! We saw Naoko at the airport and took a cab back to our home again. Happy!

Thursday we slept in. I was supposed to go to work, but I was coughing and not feeling well, so off to the doctor’s I went and I got two days’ leave. Thank heaven for small comforts. What an odyssey!

Zen doing homework in Narita airport, en route to Toronto.

Zen doing homework in Narita airport, en route to Toronto.

Oma, Zen, dinosaur skeleton

Oma, Zen, dinosaur skeleton

Ontario highway sunset

Ontario highway sunset

Midland Martyrs' Shrine

Midland Martyrs' Shrine

The skull of Jean Brebeuf at Midland Martyrs' Shrine

The skull of Jean Brebeuf at Midland Martyrs' Shrine

Stained glass of Kateri Tekakwitha at Midland's Martyrs' Shrine

Stained glass of Kateri Tekakwitha at Midland's Martyrs' Shrine

Midland lookout behind the Martyrs' Shrine

Midland lookout behind the Martyrs' Shrine

Zen and Oma with Opa on his 78th birthday

Zen and Oma with Opa on his 78th birthday

Zen gives fishing a try

Zen gives fishing a try

Oma, Opa and Zen in front of a downtown Midland mural

Oma, Opa and Zen in front of a downtown Midland mural

Zen at the foot of Yonge Street, the longest street in the world

Zen at the foot of Yonge Street, the longest street in the world

Playing baseball on Toronto Island, with skyline in the background

Playing baseball on Toronto Island, with skyline in the background

Zooming down the Centreville Log Flume ride on Toronto Island

Zooming down the Centreville Log Flume ride on Toronto Island

At the bottom of the Centreville Log Flume ride on Toronto Island, with Oma and Opa at left.

At the bottom of the Centreville Log Flume ride on Toronto Island, with Oma and Opa at left.

Zen driving an antique car on a ride on Toronto Island.

Zen driving an antique car on a ride on Toronto Island.

Zen having fun on the bumper car ride at Centreville on Toronto Island.

Zen having fun on the bumper car ride at Centreville on Toronto Island.

On Toronto Island's Lake Ontario pier with Zen and Oma and Opa.

On Toronto Island's Lake Ontario pier with Zen and Oma and Opa.

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where I was attending a conference.

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where I was attending a conference.

Toronto sunrise through warped glass on Dundas West.

Toronto sunrise through warped glass on Dundas West.

1930s band playing at the Royal York Hotel

1930s band playing at the Royal York Hotel

1930s party at the Royal York Hotel

1930s party at the Royal York Hotel

It's the sweater of Maurice Richard!!

It's the sweater of Maurice Richard!!

The great ones in front of The Great One

The great ones in front of The Great One

With my friend Danella

With my friend Danella

CN Tower and Toronto Island seen from the 45th floor of the TD Bank Tower, Canoe restaurant

CN Tower and Toronto Island seen from the 45th floor of the TD Bank Tower, Canoe restaurant

CN Tower reflection on Front Street CBC Centre

CN Tower reflection on Front Street CBC Centre

With my friends Patty and John

With my friends Patty and John

Queen Street views

Queen Street views

Dance floor party!

Dance floor party!

The rare book library's collection of gay pulp fiction!

The rare book library's collection of gay pulp fiction!

Margaret Atwood's drawings from the rare book library

Margaret Atwood's drawings from the rare book library

With unpublished poems of Leonard Cohen

With unpublished poems of Leonard Cohen

Unpublished poetry by Leonard Cohen

Unpublished poetry by Leonard Cohen

Toronto burrito!

Toronto burrito!

Danella and Scott

Danella and Scott

Stones Place, 1255 Queen Street West, our Friday night hang-out

Stones Place, 1255 Queen Street West, our Friday night hang-out

Mike and Paul, my friends from way back

Mike and Paul, my friends from way back

Stones Place - lookin' cool

Stones Place - lookin' cool

Look, up in the sky...

Look, up in the sky...

Zen and the Red Rocket

Zen and the Red Rocket

Giant sloth skeleton

Giant sloth skeleton

Zen in chain mail

Zen in chain mail

With Zen and my new guitar at Long & McQuade

With Zen and my new guitar at Long & McQuade

Streaming sunscape

Streaming sunscape

OBASSS here, I'm afraid we'll have to confiscate your burritos, ma'am - they're sub-standard.

OBASSS here, I'm afraid we'll have to confiscate your burritos, ma'am - they're sub-standard.

Captain Zen with his first mate Bruno

Captain Zen with his first mate Bruno

Peter and Oma

Peter and Oma

Captain Zen

Captain Zen

Peter and Zen on deck

Peter and Zen on deck

Zen and Opa going on a dinghy ride

Zen and Opa going on a dinghy ride

On the Canadian Shield with a group of Inuksuk

On the Canadian Shield with a group of Inuksuk

Zen posing as Inuksuk

Zen posing as Inuksuit

Zen the cyclist

Zen the cyclist

Zen, Oma and Peter - the bike patrol

Zen, Oma and Peter - the bike patrol

On the train trolley with Zen

On the train trolley with Zen

ZZEN Corporation, on Zenway Boulevard

ZZEN Corporation, on Zenway Boulevard

Canada geese...

Canada geese...

...and the little gifts they leave behind.

...and the little gifts they leave behind.

Books, movies and CDs

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Saw a bunch of movies on the flights to and from Canada, I also read a bunch of books and saw a few DVDs recently. Let’s check them out:

TH

TH

The Hangover – A well-put together but absurd comedy about a wacky Wolf Pack, out for fun at a best friend’s bachelor party. A great cameo by Michael Tyson is welcome, but the film is not as side-splittingly funny as it is awkward and uncomfortable; for truly side-splittingly funny (as well as some good scene stealing, and even some real character development), you need to look no further than the female version of The Hangover, which is called Bridesmaids. Of course, us guys can’t admit that to other guys (“Huh? You thought a film called ‘Bridesmaids’ was funnier than ‘The Hangover’, which all of us have lived in our lives and can totally relate to? I haven’t even heard of that film, much less seen it”), but it’s actually true. The “oh-I-get-it-now” moment at the end is pure Scooby Doo, and the “henpecked boyfriend finally figures out that his girlfriend is a bitch” cliche resolution at the end is a bit superfluous. But don’t get me wrong – the “Wolf Pack” speech alone is worth the price of admission, both for its surrealness as well as its twee naivete, as are the early scenes when Zach Galifianakis is introduced as the goofy brother-in-law. Good one, guys.

MIP

MIP

Midnight in Paris – A film based on surrealistic absurdities of the type that seemed to be fairly common in the early part of Woody Allen’s career (Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Play It Again Sam, to name only a few) allow an idealistic screenwriter to travel back in time to hang out with the Lost Generation in Paris. And while it’s fun to hang out with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein (Kathy Bates does a great Gertrude Stein, and Carey Stoll is outstanding in his capture of the cliched Hemingway delivery) as well as the surrealists Dali, Ray and Brunuel, it does get a bit tiring once again hearing that standard Woody Allen ironic and intellectual New York humour coming from the mouth of a young artist from Marseilles. This also makes the second “henpecked boyfriend finally figures out that his girlfriend is a bitch” type of film I’ve seen in a row, the other being The Hangover. Oh well.  At least Carla Bruni, the singer/songwriter supermodel and first lady of France, gets a nice cameo as a tour guide. Magnifique!

XMFC

XMFC

X-Men: First Class – Not a bad little film that once again re-invents the complex relationship between Professor X and Magneto. The story digs up heroes and villains that I’m not familiar with, such as the one-dimensional baddie Azazel from a hyper dimension, but does its best to push the metaphor of the treatment of those who are “different” by mainstream society. James McAvoy is good as a young non-bald Professor X who is not yet wheelchair-bound, finding his way in the world, as is Michael Fassbender as Magneto, tormented by Nazi horrors. The plot is interesting – the Hellfire Club seeking to antagonise the US and the USSR into taking up war positions against each other orchestrates what would become the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some unexpected twists and turns, and some heroic speeches later, the world is safe from nuclear war… but are mutants safe from non-mutants and vice versa? Tune in next week for… X-Men: Second Class!

BM

BM

Bridesmaids – Bridesmaids is sort of a female version of the Hangover. There’s the person who’s about to get married (with the fiance largely absent), a goofy sibling comes into the picture, with one of the main characters of the film in a lousy relationship. But Bridesmaids stretches the story over a longer period of time and includes more characters (and it packs in way more character development). It’s also funnier, even if it is a bit more formulaic and relies somewhat too much on caricatures (like, as gut-bustingly hilarious as they are, main character Annie’s screwball roommates, a disgusting brother-sister pair). As interesting as it is to watch Annie’s goofy ups and downs, and her fine acting, she does come off as a younger Meg Ryan in the way that, as attractive and likable as she is, she just can’t seem to get her life together. Better than all that is the dialogue, which is pretty sassy, especially when it comes to the over-the-top sister of the groom, Meghan, played by Melissa McCarthy, who is a swarthy and raunchy butch chick (her suggestion for a bachelorette party is to do a ladies Fight Club for the young bride). Jill Clayburgh is awesome as Annie’s wacky mother; sadly, it was her last film as she died of leukemia in November 2010 (ironically, her first film credit was for The Wedding Party in 1969). As for the plot, it’s pretty predictable… but what a ride! Like all comedies, this one also devolves into a few pivotal “key life lesson scenes” that are as serious as they are unnecessary (do we really care how and when the bride came to her senses and realised who her true friend really were?), but they are short-ish, and we quickly get back to the hilarity with a dose of… Wilson Phillips?

TKS

TKS

The King’s Speech – I’ve always liked Colin Firth, ever since I saw him in Apartment Zero, but did get a bit impatient with him for making so many weird rom-coms. Now he’s in fine form in the King’s Speech where he plays stuttering regent Bertie, who eventually became George VI, which allows him to flex those acting chops and deliver an emotional role that covers events of great historical importance. The matter of speaking in a steady voice, taken for granted by so many of us, is given the full treatment here, as is his various family agonies, and the tumult of the times leading up to World War II. Of interest as well is that the film, despite being set in the 1930s, includes figures who are still a part of our modern lives, such as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (also known as the Queen Mother, and played without her characteristic goofiness by a pleasantly restrained Helena Bonham Carter), and his daughter Elizabeth (also known as Queen Elizabeth II). Geoffrey Rush is, of course, Geoffrey Rush, and brilliant as Lionel Logue, an eccentric Australian speech therapist whose methods (nor even his very existence) are not at all trusted by the snooty upper crust that surround George VI; but he’s a trooper and he carries on regardless, showing them their place as much as he possible can. The story of watching a stutterer overcome his handicap and give a speech that is important for the cause of freedom ultimately does make you want to jump up and cheer; the story of social inequality and intense family drama, along with national intrigue, is also there as a bonus if you want it.

TSN

TSN

The Social Network – I only saw half of this film, but I was very happy to take it in for its portrayal of the very strange Mark Zuckerberg, the weird moral dilemmas that the development of Facebook created for a court of law, and of a handful of slimy Ivy League snobs. All of this makes it totally appropriate that it’s a film by dark director David Fincher, with a soundtrack by the equally-sinister Trent Reznor. When I first heard that Fincher, known for making violent films like Alien 3, Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and Zodiac (okay, maybe Benjamin Buttons doesn’t fit that bill entirely), I thought it was pretty strange departure from his oeuvre, and that his adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo would be a return to form; now I wonder if The Social Network is actually the film that returned him to form.

CDs:

NHOTD

NHOTD

Nazareth, “Hair of the Dog” – Opening track “Hair of the Dog” is the well-known “now you’re messing with a son of a bitch” rocker, with its wicked riffs and gorgeous vocorder solo. Crafty! The madness continues with “Miss Misery” that is all rough guitar and abrasive, scratchy rock vocals, not to mention a groovy chorus. This song is as good as “Hair of the Dog”! The next track, “Love Hurts”, has probably been heard by everyone, either in the original Everly Brothers version, if not the Gram Parsons version. Somehow this isn’t the Nazareth I know, being a sweet ballad, but it’s nice enough (too bad that, for so many, this is the only Nazareth song that they know). “Changin’ Times” is a hooky rocker that alternates voice with guitar the same way “Razamanaz” does. It could be louder, but it’s got guts. Nice take-out too. “Beggars Day” is also a gorgeous rocker with cool riffs and awesome Brian Johnson-like howling – is this a 1975 proto-AC/DC? “Rose in the Heather” is a short, mellow-ish instrumental that has some cool low-ebb guitar at the start to make you feel groovy. “Whiskey Drinking Woman” is a mid-tempo blues boogie, while “Please Don’t Judas Me” is a long, bluesy glommer with psychedelic tinges, zooming on and on and on…

NR

NR

Nazareth, “Razamanaz” – I bought Razamanaz on the premise that any release containing a powerful rocker as the self-titled opening track would surely yield plenty of other great nuggets. Well, I didn’t find it to be that exactly, but there are still plenty of other great tracks on the album. “Azatraz” is a bluesy rocker that sounds kind of Aerosmith-y, while “Vigilante Man” is nearly all blues throughout. “Woke Up This Morning” is all slide guitar boogie honky tonk, while “Night Woman” centres around a wicked wah sound and a sudsy rockin’ stomp, with a nice bit of slide solo. “Bad Bad Boy” is real ’70s rock stomp, albeit with an irritating slide jingle that squeals a bit too persistently. “Sold My Soul” is a bit darker, with stark simple riffs, while “Too Bad Too Sad” reminds a bit too much of ZZ Top’s “Party on the Patio”, although its crunchy solo is very nice. Album closer “Broken Down Angel”, is a bit of a pop song.

The “Loud and proud and remastered” version of the disc that I have includes bonus tracks, such as two B-sides and four songs from a BBC session. The first B-side, “Hard Living”, really rocks with hard, deep riffs and wicked guitar wails, and the other, “Spinning Top”, rocks pretty hard, especially at the end with its dueling guitars. The BBC session of “Razamanaz” is sounds a bit thinner than the album version, largely in the rhythm guitar that crunches out the main riff, but it still has the same energy. “Night Woman” is close to the studio version, with a cool and spooky guitar solo. “Broken Down Angel” is the same poppy stomp, while “Vigilante Man” is also pretty close to the original, and just as soulful.

Books:

KAHB

KAHB

Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger – Kenneth Anger’s films are legendary pieces of art and occult, and they’ve often featured famous Hollywood types and crazy celebrities such as Anaïs Nin, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page. Anger’s book is a gossip tale that he put together when he badly needed money. Anger decries the hypocrisy of Hollywood, which builds up the stars and at a whim takes them down, harkening back to a time when the world was young and he was a child actor, seemingly appearing in the 1935 adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. He sings high praise for fallen stars’ best work, as they give everything that they have in projects that might bring back their careers – and when they fail in their comebacks and are crushed by cruel Hollywood, anyway, it’s nothing – life moves on.

There were many, many stars I’d never heard of before, such as Lupe Velez, Clara Bow, and Marie Prevost. The tale of Marion Davies, media magnate William Randolph Hearst and the murder at sea is sad, especially since Davies was Hearst’s unrepentant mistress… and not even a great actress! Charlie Chaplin comes into the book on many occasions, more than anyone else (just have a look at the index). There’s heroin chic, there’s gay murders, there’s studio crashes and the birth of television. There’s Charles Manson (who Anger had some indirect connection to – an actor he had a falling out became a brainwashed murderer after joining Manson’s family). The book carries an inscription from Aleister Crowley, “Every man and every woman is a star”, a concept that both Hollywood and Anger live by, and nearly every page carries some sort of golden era black and white film, either of a star looking either resplendent or fallen. The opening chapter covers DW Griffith’s “Babylon” (fitting, sets the scene), and filmic excess, the shysters who made films with stolen equipment in the early days of Hollywood, and the sophisticates who used drugs before the naive, innocent rest of America could figure out what was going on. There were early sex symbols, such as Theda Bara, and then maybe there were also hordes of lesbian lovers somewhere in the rafters as well! Hollywood’s first scandal in the Paris suicide of Olive Thomas, the wife of Jack Pickford, brother of Mary… and a bad junkie. Olive was trying to score for her man, but when she couldn’t she committed suicide – at age twenty, and with the world in the palm of her hand. What a mess. Minor actresses that slept with the whole studio, giving everyone crabs; redheads who took on an entire football team (including a young John Wayne). Then there’s the whole, ludicrous, disgusting Fatty Arbuckle rape story, where a young girl is killed, and the freaky aftermath, the three court trials (acquitted each time – oh, the book is full of trials) and the long slow spiral downwards for the former star. The unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor, deranged sex addict, or the arrival in Hollywood of a Washington-brokered morality master Will Hays, sent by President Harding to be the west coast’s first film tzar. No more kisses, no more carnality. Poop! This led to Wallace Reid’s fall from grace – once the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, a junk habit put him out of commission professionally, then snuffed his flame permanently, sending his widow to the talking circuit to talk about the dangers of morphine. Alma Rubens’ heroin addiction and death is chronicled, but so is the splendor of Gloria Swansen and the ravenous new stars of the 1920s, when Hollywood and its stars were awash in cash. One of Charlie Chaplin’s chapters starts off with a wonderful picture of him with Gloria Swanson and Marion Davies at his arms. The book tells his of his sordid marriage to the 16-year-old Mildred Harris (they met when she was 14), and then eventually gold-digger Lillita McMurray and her hillbilly family (and then, later, a third chapter on the Joan Barry scandal). The rise and fall of Rudolph Valentino is described, along with the strange coterie of stars and hanger-ons (not to mention the two lesbians that he had at various times been married to). Crazy tales of the lavish productions of Erich von Stroheim (and his fights with his unsympathetic studio bosses), of strange gossip queens who wielded unnatural power in tinseltown, and the voluptuous and sexually insatiable Clara Bow. Then… the Depression. Anger tells the tale of John Gilbert, once Hollywood’s highest-paid actor, earning $10,000 a week, dying an alcoholic only a few years after he went into free fall, his career overtaken by his wife’s (and despite making the vastly under-rated – according to Anger - Downstairs, which he had written himself); but Gilbert had been a silent film star who didn’t take well to talkies (which, apparently, the studio sabotaged by mixing his voice too squeaky – I guess, if this was true, he had just become too expensive). The fall of Marie Prevast is even more disgusting. A long chapter on suicides, including Peg Entwistle’s – she jumped off of the 13th letter of the HOLLYWOODLAND sign (the book also has several pictures of her topless). A chapter on Marlene Dietrich, a chapter on Mae West, and a wonderful chapter on the chest-beating confessions of Mary Astor, who kept nothing from the pages of her diary (nor, as it happens, from the prying eyes of her jealous husband, an avid reader of said diary). Yikes!! The unsolved murder of Thelma Todd, and Erroll Flynn’s rape and statutory rape scandals – which he survived. One of the best chapters in the book is the one on Frances Farmer, a horrid tale if ever there was one of the system destroying a human being. The sadness is flanked with pictures of her looking resplendent, and others of her after she had gone around the bend (or been driven there). Similarly, the tale of Lupe Velez, a stunning Mexican star and the lover of Gary Cooper and Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller, who could not live with the fact that she would not be a star forever. Her decline and fizz-out is horrendous to read – but she still did everything on her own terms. The loves of Bugsy Siegel are recounted, his seduction of a flotilla of Hollywood mistresses and his weird gangster methods burning a path through Hollywood all the way to Vegas, where he set up casino city before the vicious crook was himself assassinated. Anger dedicates a short chapter to the victims of the Red Terror and Hollywood’s fight against an anti-Communist witch hunt (as well as the villains who collaborated), then he jumps right back into suicide, marijuana and… Robert Mitchum? Another chapter recounts the evil done by gossip sheets, that bought stories from hookers and faded starlets – although not every expose was legit, and they were eventually sued out of existence. But the damage had been done – America lost interest in the Hollywood film industry and began watching TV instead. There’s the well-known tale of Johnny Stompanado, lover of Lana Turner, murdered by her daughter after one too many beating, and a final chapter recounting more gruesome deaths (Jayne Mansfield) and murders (Sharon Tate), before calling it day.

The book is good for telling tales of a day gone by, in a seedy, sensational manner, with plenty of moralizing, pontificating, and generally tacky wordplay (and more than just a few incongruities). It’s educational, full of pictures and tidbits, but more importantly it gives great zeitgeist. You almost feel like you were there.

This page originally contained a review of Life by Keith Richards and How To Be Wild Like Keith Richards by Jack Wilson. Those reviews have been moved to My big bad Rolling Stones page”.

UFCMIII

UFCMIII

Ultra Fuckers, by Carlton Mellick III – I became intrigued by this book as I am a major fan of the Japanese Band Ultra Fuckers, so I ordered this from Amazon. When I got it, I found out that it was not a novel but a novella, and slim one at that: it’s 95 pages long, printed in large font, generously spaced and with plenty of white area (including 2-3 pages between each of the book’s eight chapters), the tale probably has only about 20,000 words; I’d call it a short story in book format.

Author Carlton Mellick III is ambitious, trying to create a new literary genre called “bizarro”, although there’s nothing too bizarre about this book, which seems to be largely modeled on the Guitar Wolf movie, “Wild Zero”. In the tale, our heroes Tony and Tammy drive into an Arizona gated community where every home looks the same, quickly becoming lost to the world. The gated community becomes a maze, the homes and their inhabitants inhuman and sterile, a one-eyed girl with a goldfish mohawk (that’s the “bizarre” of bizarro talking there) enters the picture, as eventually also do the Ultra Fuckers themselves, Kawai Kazui, Tom Nagata and Izumi Headache. The Ultra Fuckers leave destruction wherever they go, spouting nonsense phrases “Ultra jet lifestyle! Ultra fuck them dead”, making it clear that Mellick has never really observed the actual Ultra Fuckers themselves, which have plenty of nonsense phrases of their own, like “Do you like punk? We are psychedelic warrior” and so many others. The story ends with a revelation of sorts and another orgy of destruction. Mmmm…

YGHW

YGHW

You Gotta Have Wa, by Robert Whiting – I’d already read Whiting’s Tokyo Underground, his book about a Mafia-connected ex-soldier setting up a business empire in Tokyo, and was excited to read his book about the development of Japanese baseball and the ex-Major League “foreign talent” that eventually tried to become part of it. The biggest problem with You Gotta Have Wa is that it was published in 1989, six years before the phenomena of Japanese baseball players in the US Major League kicked off by Hideo Nomo, that now includes Suzuki Ichiro, Matsui Hideki and ten other active players, as well as 33 former players (Whiting’s book fails to mention Murakami Masanori, the only Japanese baseball player to go to the Major Leagues that would that he would have been aware of, who played for the San Francisco Giants from 1964-1965), nearly all of whom went over as pitchers.

While the book is set up with 12 chapters, I’d probably divide it into conceptually into three parts: the development of baseball in Japan (background, which appears at the beginning of the book), anecdotes about Japanese baseball players (running throughout the book), and anecdotes about US players in Japan (which forms the majority of the later three quarters of the book). This makes it an easy book to review, since not much needs to be said except that the first part is well-written and informative, while the later two parts are well-researched, interesting and amusing. Nearly all of the anecdotes demonstrate the incompatibility of the two sports cultures (not to mention the two national cultures), with accusations of betrayal being hurled from both sides. Clearly, the US is both the originator of the sport and the producer of the stronger players (or else why would aging, “burned out” and mid-ranked US players be tempted by the big titles and relatively larger packages dangled in front of them by a then-economically strong Japan?). The zeitgeist of the book is of a Japan ascending economically, with the bubble economy growing in full force and an immensely proud people indulging in the revelry of its favorite sport. Perfect.

I’ve dog-eared dozens of pages in the book for revisit, probably more than any other book I’ve read recently. Describing debate over the integration of the sport into Japanese society, Whiting writes of Nitobe Inazo, a one-time ambassador to the League of Nations, writing early in the 20th century, that baseball is a “pickpocket’s sport” of base-stealers more suited to Americans than Japanese (ouch). “It is impossible for the Americans to play a brave game like rugby, the national sport of the British, in which the players hang on to the ball even though their nose is being crushed and their skull dented. Those who like baseball are those who think that prostitution is good.”  The book also has reportage about Babe Ruth visiting Japan with a US team to play a series of games there. He was, of course, treated like a hero, and had some words about the Japanese in his autobiography:

Despite the treacherous attack that Japan made on us seven years later, I cannot help but feel that the reception which millions of Japanese gave us was genuine.
They lined the streets of the Ginza, the Broadway of Tokyo, for miles and greeted us as if we were real heroes. Everywhere we went, they feted us and tried to make our stay pleasant. No doubt there were plenty of stinkers among them, but looking back at that visit, I feel it is another example of how a crackpot government can lead a friendly people into war.
They couldn’t hit a lick, but I was surprised at their high class fielding, and the ability of some of their pitchers.

Because of his status and exposure to Japan, Ruth was called in to be a peace negotiator in 1945, although the plan to use these appeals were eventually abandoned in favour of the one that was used in the end. There’s also an interesting note that one of the photographers on the US team on that trip had actually been hired by the US government to sneak up to the rooftops to take reconnaissance photos that were later used in the war to bomb Tokyo. There’s an interesting anecdote about how one year the Japanese team wrote the player numbers in kanji to confuse their opponents.

In 1935, a Japanese team visited the US, and an 18-year-old pitcher Sawamura Eiji was nearly recruited by the Major Leagues, but with an underhanded contract full of harmful small print. Sawamura gave the following recount:

My problems is I hate America and I can not make myself like Americans. I’m not good at the language, I can’t eat as much rice as I wish when I’m there, and the women are too haughty. In America, you can not even tie your shoestrings if there is a woman around. People like myself can not possibly survive in an environment where such uncomfortable customs exist.

Sawamura lost his life when his ship was torpedoed in the East China Sea. The book also contains sad anecdotes about baseball players who lost their lives, one of them as a samurai pilot. Described at length the last game of catch one played before climbing into the cockpit for his fateful last flight.

Whiting writes of the integration of Japanese spirit (wa) and baseball, noting quotes such as “A player’s glove is his most important possession. He should treat it with respect as a samurai would his sword.” But there’s little of that, and the bulk of the book’s content is made up by relating many many more anecdotes. In terms of coaching, repetition was strong and innovation and the development of a unique style was discouraged as teams finely-tuned their group dynamics. Throw in a successful US ball player, one who either has his own style or is used to the US Major League way of coaching, and there’s sure to be trouble. One American player, a Buddhist, was so enthusiastic about his team that he ordered dozens in various colours and wore them in his off-time (he must have been a lunatic – that would have led to misunderstandings in any country, not just Japan). He also brought his wife to practice in hot pants and let her jog with him on the field (ditto). Whiting even tells anecdotes of translators who would become diplomats, translating the phrase “if you have a pitcher throw at my head again, I’ll fucking kill you” that Tony Solaita hurled at the Lotte Orions’ coach as “Mr Solaita asks that you please not throw at his head any more, it makes his wife and children worry.” But it worked, and World War III was averted.

Shenanigans were legion. Clyde Wright once broke a reporter’s camera and urinated in his hat; he also, with the help of two other Americans, took on the entire East German hockey team in a Tokyo disco called Byblos. In the book there’s a long anecdote by Wright describing how the guys on the locker room would regularly look for opportunities to tug his penis in the shower. Then there’s the wild tales of Brad “the Animal” Lester, who once pushed off the cliff a car that was blocking his. Further anecdotes about US players, Japanese players, translators, coaches, team owners, journalists and politicians are as numerous as they are delightful. Whiting’s perseverance in meeting these players and having their interviews translated must have been a task of herculean proportions.

Sadly, the book is lacking an index, which it needs badly. Whiting updated the book in 2009 with a new chapter, and he also in 2004 wrote a book called The Meaning of Ichiro. Most of Whiting’s books are about baseball. I’m going to keep an eye out for those too.

LTGTF

LTGTF

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, by Obert Skye – A children’s fantasy book that is very, very, very strange. It intersects our reality with an alternate reality called Foo where creatures are tasked with designing and acting out the dreams of humans (i.e. we need them so that we can dream, while no one is sure why they need us). Inhabitants of the book are branded as offings, nits and sycophants. Huh? The author describes the birth and early lives of two kids, Leven Thumps and Winter Frore, and their vile and sadistic foster parents, who Skye caricatures as individuals with not a single redeeming human quality. Okay. Along the way, we meet a king who has been turned into a seed, which grows into a tree, that is then chopped down and made into toothpicks. So we get a toothpick-king as one of the main characters, and for many pages we follow the drama of the toothpick as it drops to the floor, gets stuck to a shoe, gets washed away in a rain storm, etc etc, until it finally re-emerges in the story with the other protagonists as a walking, talking toothpick. Wow, pretty weird. The story of the battle of good versus evil is eventually resolved, but by that time who still cares?