Friday, November 24, 2006

Crepes et Fondue

As my blog is turning more and more into a journal, I start recollecting some fun events that are worthy of recognition. To start: I joined a cooking club. I mean what is living in an international community without a proper cooking club? We have met three times already, and at my turned to be the chef I made cheese fondue and sweet crepes. I really like all types of fondues (cheese, hot pot, chocolate, etc.) and thus I have a nice fondue pot, but I am not using it nearly as much as I’d like. As for the crepes, the student life made me become an expert :) I can flip them, I can flambĂ© them, anything you want.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Another ski season

This year the snow came early in this part of the world. Both Whistler and Cypress opened ahead of schedule. We inaugurated the season at cypress (reduced ticket price :)

I went up with Katie, Margit and Tom. Petri ditched us at the last minute. Was a pretty nice day, cloudy in the morning, but bright with a very little touch of sun in the afternoon. At least we had no rain (or practically no rain).On the down-side most of the good runs were closed. Bossy took us up (2 snowboards, 2 pairs of skies and 4 people) very impressive for a normal size sedan without an auxiliary ski rack :) I wished Paula was here – hopefully she will make it in time for a good ski season.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Body Worlds

Time to get back to my blog … otherwise I will miss a lot of interesting things that happens.

Today I went to see the famous Gunther von Hagens very famous “Body Worlds” exhibition at the Science World in Vancouver.

(image placeholder)

Gunther von Hagens, a political dissident in east Germany (he was imprisoned and released after a $20,000 payment by the West German government) discovered in the early ‘80s Plastination: a technique that “makes it possible to preserve individual tissues and organs that have been removed from the body” (

This allows him to use real bodies as educational tools to showcase and to intuitively understand the complex mechanism that is our bodies. The result is breathtaking. The exhibition has hundreds of items from real bodies showcasing various muscle groups or nervous system to plasticized organs. There is a wide range of messages being delivered to the view. The first one is purely educational. He uses the technique as a very powerful visual tool of the most hidden places in our body. The meticulosity of the models is amazing. There is also a strong message of self-awareness. On the one hand it is intimidating to see the immense complexity of our bodies; it makes you want to take better care of this very nice piece of machinery. On the other hand, it provides very graphic images of; let’s say a lung of a smoker or a liver of a drinker which will make even the most avid smoker and drinker to think twice before the next cigarette or bottle of beer. It also shows visually effects of fat and diet, although not nearly enough, especially for a north American audience.

Last but not least, this is indirectly the ultimate artistic expression of God’s creation. The color, the texture, the poses, the millions of pieces of tissue, bone and muscles that come together to make us what we are, is beautiful and very powerful on many levels.

To wrap up, I give very enthusiastic thumbs up. I spent 2.5 hours and I will probably go to see it again until it leaves Vancouver in January.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

plane, trains and automobiles

The end is near - I am at the Narita Airport in a little corner trying to wrap up my final impressions while still fresh while people are boarding the plane. Yes, people are already boarding, I arrived late, trying to squize every second left in viewing something new. That is why I planned my schedule with zero margin for error. If any of the several means of transportation will be late I will miss my plane. But we are in japan: everything will be on-time. I was not nervous for a second, I felt for the first time in my life like Phileas Phogg: cool watching my new watch and plan everything by the second. I knew that the subway will come exactly as I walk on the platform, that I will be arriving at the station at the exact right time , grabbing my last Japanese snack, that the train to the airport will be on time and will not have any delays, the shuttle to the terminal , everything will work perfectly - noone makes any mistakes or else this entire universe that we are so unaware of will colapse and like a black hole will suck the entire world in it.

The funny thing is that there was a screw up, but not a japanese one: Air Canada changed terminals, it now operates from a different terminal at Narita and obviously, noone cared to share this insignificant piece of information with me so I found myself shortly before the plane was supposed to leave in the wrong terminal. But the japanese efficiency was once again up to the challenge.

I literally found a new world - a certain point of reference for my future trips and an unforgatable one at that. I was very excited to go, and now as I am back and memories are starting to blur, I still get up sometimes in the morning thinking: "Oh My God, I was in Japan..."

contemporary art museums in Tokyo

Hmmm, I really want to get done with my Japan posts so I can move on and maintain the blog as it should... with frequent and time sensitive posts. Before concluding the Japanese experience, I have to make a summary of my "artsy" experience in Japan.

I have seen a number of ineresting exhibitions, unfortunately, only one with Japanese thematic.

The first one I saw was the Watari museum, or Watarium (fig 1). The exhibition, entitled "Bye Bye, Nam June Paik" is , as you can imagine, an homage due to the recent passing of the artist.
I am not an expert of [contemporary] art so I will not embarass myself trying to give smart comments on the exhibition - I am sure that if you google the title you will find better references.

The second exhibition that I've seen, and in fact enjoy the most, was the Metropolitan Musem of Photography in Tokyo. I have seen two exhibitions: Michael Kenna's "In Japan - Conversation with the land" and the latest "World Press Photo". I enjoyed the former quite a lot, although it became repetitive after a while, perhaps because the Japanese landscape in some sense does not vary very much. But the exclusive beauty of Japanese landscape is in its trees and Michael Kenna does a very good job of simplifying the scenery to focus on the geometrical patterns of his trees.

While Michael Kenna's exhibition can be considered dull by some, the "world press photo" is in contrast quite shocking. You see everything from dead children, to cancer operated breasts with crystal visual quality and it is very traumatic, but in the same time very educational for the common person to become aware of the life outside his/her little infinetesimal sphere. Although one can see this exhibition anywhere in the world (I am guessing that from Tokyo will travel to oter cities, in fact I think it will even come to Toronto at some point), the unique relationship between Tokyo and its citizens is harmonic to the relationship between the viewer and the exhibition: the same huge contrasts, the same feeling of dominance of the city towards it people.

The last major exhibition I've seen was entitled "Africa Remix" in the Ropongy tower, the center of American culture in Tokyo. While I liked many of the pieces shown and while I liked the political statement and criticism of many western colonists, most artists no longer live in Africa - in fact most of them live in one of these 3 cities: New York, London, Paris. Kind of poor representation of African Art.

All these venues only host temporary exhibitions so in fact if you go, you will not see the same thing. But, these are,to the best of my knowledge, some of the main venues for contemporary art and browsing through their programs it seems they generally host very nice exhibitions so if you find yourself in Tokyo, give them a visit.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

casual Tokyo

An entire chapter of my trip was dedicated to the study of the Tokyo youths: what do they do, what do they like, how are they managing to keep themselves sane in a world that spins faster than anywhere else on the planet (fig 1, 2)

Wether they are street artists (fig 3,4), sipping an asahi beer (fig 5) or watching in tears how Japan lost a big game at the world cup (fig 6) on the large screens of the electronic stores they are part of a cultural lattice that reflects little of their past.

The last two pictures shows a Japanese kid looking at his very rich inheritance. Will he be able to play his hand as well as his parents did ? Will he be dragged in the pop-american-culture-clone that dominates Japan at the moment ?

That is why I like that picture very much... the child and his father they were walking around the 53th floor of the Mori tower and he was glued to every single window, fascinated by the outside world.

the physics of air flow and a pot of cold noodles

This is the problem with the off-line blogs, I lost my trail of thoughts, but I will get back to it with a little story and once again a pictureless post.

With one exceptions, my days in Tokyo were pretty long. I would hit the road around 9am and come back around 10-11pm or even later. In the morning I would visit mueseums, galleries or showrooms that would otherwise close by 5-6 usually and in the evening I would hang out where most Tokyo youth would hang out: everywhere. So it is understandable that I would be rather tired at the end of the day.

My hotel was located in Asakusa, a pretty honorable middle-class Tokyo neighborhood, equipped with its share of temples and rather quiet compared with the rest of the city and also quite affordable in terms of hotels.

As I was coming home one evening, I was tempted to have a late supper at one of the local restaurants who looked exactly like what I always imagined an opium den from the Sherlock Holmes stories would look like: hidden behind several curtains there were several small rooms filled with smoke and odors from the shoes gathered at the entrance after a full day of work. Naturally I gathered all my confidence and walked in.

Since I was alone I was directed to the bar - where another Japanese just arrived as well.
Like any respectable local place, the menu was only in Japanese and contained no pictures or explicit graphics. But, lucky me, I pointed suggestively to my neighbor and since Japanese are very quick fellows the order was taken without further incidents. While we waited for the food to arrive, the waiter brought some beer and after a few sips I had to admit that my fellow dinner buddy had good taste in beer so I was hopeful that his taste in food was as good.

Finally the food arrived, it turns out that I had ordered a cold noddle dish which looked very casual, but nevertheless tasted quite good. You dip the noodles in the hot soup that accompanied the noddles and all in all it makes quite a good combination.

So far so good, I was rather happy and ready to enjoy my surprise dinner when it happened.
My neighbor started to eat. To start, his jaws never fully closed while eating resulting in the most noisy chewing that I had ever experienced, more powerful than a sledge-hammer working at full speed and more annoying than the squeak of a door that opens and close 20 times per second. As if this was not enough, his technique of eating the noodles was based entirely on the high-speed airflow from outside of his mouth to the inside resulting also in a symphony that could be easily heard by the emperor in his sound prrof room from his palace 10 miles away;

After only a few seconds I feel the urge to run away and for the first (and last) time in Japan I would have eaten at McDonald's if only to get rid of the sound that unfortunately remained imprinted somewhere in my brain as in stormy nights I can still hear it.

Well, I had to find a compromising solution and one presented itself - bathroom. I went there and flushed the toilet (which almost covered the sounds) until my dinner buddy finished his dinner which fortunately I must say it happened pretty quickly.

He payed and left in a rush and I came back and finish my noddles in silence. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

universal design

The concept, which apperently was introduced by americans is outlined in the first two pictures.
A further simplification of the problems is to say "how can we make a one size fits all thing in every dimension from economics to ergonomics.".

The irony, if you can see it, comes from the fact that the universal design motto seems to be: "universal design values each and every individual" when in fact it boldly tries to create a common denominator for everybody, smoothing to the extreme any individual traits that each of us has. Perhaps is a subtle point... I will not tread on this issue anymore.

Anyways, it was there that I found out that I am quite a bit taller than the average Japanese (see fig) and this may explain why I bumped my head several times of various things, most likely from the pre-universal-design era.

The universal design wall (fig) shows many items, but the foldable piano was my favourite.


To a different Toyota site, a much larger place in the Tokyo bay area, they found a neat way to show the evolution of technology once again in the context of cars; and not just any cars, but Toyota cars.

Not showd here in pictures, they had a gallery where they show chronologically different car cockpits and they explained the incremental modifications and design and ergonomic decisions that converged to the modern cockpit.

Speaking of which, the state of the art in terms of displays and controls are shown in the top pictures - from the latest Toyota hybrid mini-van: Toyota Estima.
The cockpit contains the truly ubiquitous GPS, which in Japan, due to their completely incoherent street numbering system, is a necessity rather than a luxury.

in which Leonardo do Caprio and a crash test dummy are trying to explain the world that Toyota has answers for all world's biggest questions

I must admit that as far as sites go, I enjoyed a lot the hi-tech related ones, and in Tokyo there are plenty. They are divided into the museums type experience (to be addressed in a later post), and browsing around in huge showrooms - museums in their own rights, with the only diference that, to some extent, they show only one side of the coin.

I started to Toyoto amlux building, a Toyota museum/showcase gallery.

It became apparent that the reason why Lonardo di Caprio did not do any movies recently must be that he is driving his hybrid vehicle up and down Holywood blvd trying to explain his new best friend (see pic) why hybrid technology is the answer to all world's problems.

Moving along, there is a testimony from a test dummy (see fig) that, despite having crash multiple times is pretty much still intact, at east physically. You can also experience what it had been through in the simulator (see fig) and understand why the new inovative driving system control from Toyota saves you from all sorts of car trouble.

Although the general tone of his post is a little sarcastic due to the one-sideness that I was talking about earlier, I found the explanations and simulator pretty cool and the feeling pretty real. You go on a road with a "regular" system and you have a small accident, which I must say it feels pretty bad.And the second time on the same course you see how the system helps maintain the control of the car. And you do that a few times on varying road conditions.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A first glimpse at Tokyo

Osaka was a nice transition between the old Japan (Kyoto) and the real modern Japan Tokyo.
The fact that words cannot describe Tokyo is somewhat understandable, but the problem that even pictures does not make it justice: you have to live it.

It is like social and cultural electrocution, combined to motion sickness from the millions of people rushing through the city every-day. Some of the main train stations are visited on average by as many as 700,000 people daily.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

no-my-car day

As I started my day in Osaka, I decided that a subway pass should facilitate things a bit and as I was fighting with the machine to dispense a subway day-pass I kept getting the message: "We do not recommend this pass". Well, since they did not recommend it I was not going to rush to buy it. After spending some time playing wit theoptions and frustrating the comuters in a busy week-day morning, I found this screen. What happened was that in certain day they have discounted passes caled "no-my-car day" pass which are abou half the price of a regular price. In addition to the funny translation, it was nice of them to let you know before rushing into buyng the day pass although I could not figure out why they did not want to just give you the day pass at the lower price directly...

the web spa

As I was walking along the streets of Osaka, somewhat tired, I found a very interesting establishment: the "Respa". As the name suggests, it is a spa with all the usual refinements: massage (although mechanical), bath, etc. In addition to the standard stuff, it is geek oriented and you can also use the computers to work or play vudeo games or watch TV while enjoying the wonderful services, a favourite being the "rose petal" bath (in the picture). You can also eat and drink there; in brief, a typical geek can spend his life there without feeling deprived of anything.

every-day Osaka

In other aspect, Osaka is a typical modern japanese city, small streets and nice gardens.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Who would have thought that the big Super Mario Bro. success had its roots in Kyoto.
They started out manufacturing playing cards apparently

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Osaka - the city of the Kitsch

Kitsch seems to be ubiquitous in contemporary Japanese culture and IMO it comes from their passion for western culture resulting in many forms without substance. Or is it ? The key observation is that Japanese managed to do something extraordinary: they changed the status quo, raising the kitsch from its a priori inferior rating to nothing short of hypnotic.