Japan in photos (part ii)

iv. Matsumoto

Every attraction we entered required us to take off our shoes, and the same went for Matsumoto Castle. I always thought wood would be good insulating floor material, but in the wintry air, they were dead icy to the feet. I wondered if the samurai running through the castle wore their shoes.

 

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The mustaches they attached to their samurai mannequins made them look rather like dogs.

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(This makes me think of the Undertale dog guards.)

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v. Hakone

It was only on the second day, when the clouds blocked our view of Mount Fuji, that we realised how lucky we were on the first. When the clouds moved away the next day, I snapped a picture of Mount Fuji every other second, as if it might disappear any time.

 

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Pola Museum: I never thought glass and concrete could create a warm feeling, but something about this place made me feel absolutely serene. The proportions and lines came together so cleanly. I have never felt this way about a modern building.

 

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Since it was the new year, we decided to go along with the Japanese tradition of making a wish at the Hakone shrine. All the visual novels I played that were set in Japan (cough Hatoful Boyfriend) came to mind.

 

 

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Spot our wish!

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Bonus pic of Hatoful Boyfriend

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vi. Tokyo

We became yoshis for about two hours and did not trip over any banana peels.

 

 

 

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Now for the classic: the Meiji shrine, during New Year itself! We severely underestimated the number of people. We also did not know that we were queueing for an hour to throw some coins at a huge upside down tent xD

Before we saw the sheer human mass:

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Well we queued up for an hour so we might as well

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Happy new year folks!

(Part i here: https://melodily.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/japan-a-photoessay-part-i/ )

Japan: A Photoessay (part i)

i. Nozawa Onsen:

We arrived on Christmas Eve in the dark; watched snow fall lightly outside our bus. By the time we alighted, it had all melted onto the streets.

 

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We asked the hostel staff for places that are still open for dinner at 10pm. As we were about to leave, another staff member rushed out to offer one last suggestion: “Not many people know about it, keep it a secret!”

 

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We woke up the next morning to find snow-dusted streets.

 

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ii. Obuse:

The artist Hokusai resided in this town in the last period of his life. After browsing through the Hokusai museum, we embarked on a half an hour walk to the temple, which ceiling he had adorned with a phoenix. Paying 300 yen to enter, we stayed for only 10 minutes.

 

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iii. Jigokudani Monkey Park:

It was a forty-minute trek on a path halfway up a hill. A slip on the exposed side would plunge us down a good twenty metres. “Pose for a picture!” I urged lcy, but he trudged resolutely ahead and did not say a word until we reached the plateau.

 

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iii. Karuizawa

We had originally planned to visit Matsumoto Castle, but it was pouring in the morning, so we changed our plans and headed to Karuizawa instead.

 

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Bee-man’s shop was boarded up. For such a terrifying picture, one hopes that Bee-man is doing fine, despite his failed shop.

 

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The icy slopes you see on the mountain are ski slopes. How does one go about building a ski resort anyway? Are there special ways of paving the slopes so that they are colder than the rest of the mountain? Or is that man-made snow?

 

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Continued here: https://melodily.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/japan-in-photos-part-ii/

How about we give the tests for wannabe citizens to potential president candidates for a start?

After the election I’ve seen quite a few articles trying to rationalise what just happened, and a common trope was that reflecting some sort of liberal guilt — that we’ve somehow failed to reach out to the other half of America, to hold them within our arms of tolerance as we claim to hold people from minority groups. I say “we” because it is clear that my world view leans very much liberal, even as I am not an American.

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yeah, even those who want to grab me by the pussy

I feel that this stems from a misunderstanding of tolerance. Tolerance is not an attitude extended blindly out to everyone, especially people who insist on hating certain groups of people because of their identities. Clearly, there is no room for both attitudes to co-exist; tolerating prejudiced attitudes sends a signal of condonance, implicitly expressing approval for these expressions of hate that very much decrease the quality of life of people these expressions are targetted at.

Hate is very much an active, invasive action; it seeks to expand the space of the group who expresses it, and reduce the space of the other.

As such, there is a similarity between the concepts of tolerance and free speech — while free speech, on the surface, means that everyone should be free to say anything they want, speech that aims to silence someone else contradicts that principle, and hence should not be included in the protections the law affords. It’s a violation of the social contract, where we strive to gain collective security by surrendering some of our freedoms. Simply put, hate speech should be outlawed, in a society that promotes free speech.

Another issue that this election has exposed is the appalling absence of checks for candidates running for political office in the USA. If we give citizenship tests to immigrants who want to become citizens of the country, how can we not have any sort of vetting criteria for the most powerful office in the most powerful nation of the world? Democracy is the best system of legitimacy we have, alright, but surely it is flawed democracy if there are no safeguards to prevent such an ignominious man and probably criminal from being considered in the first place, much less be elected. Perhaps it is a difficult, even impossible, job to get voters to care about the truth of rumours, but tests to ensure a BASIC knowledge of the political process and the economy’s mechanisms for everyone who wishes to run for president are surely easy enough to implement. SURELY. Not to mention, candidates who do not have a criminal record, and have no pending trials for crimes they might be found guilty of. Heaven knows, every other job vets potential employees thoroughly for criminal backgrounds; and yet the highest office in America doesn’t? What kind of joke is this? Now that attaining the office of president means that this man is above the law for crimes an ordinary person could go to jail for, it really makes a joke of judicial law.

To elect a man who acts on IMPULSE, who lacks so much knowledge in what he is going to have power over, as president, that is the very definition of DANGER.

And of course I can tell myself, well, I’m not in America, I don’t have to care so much — not about the minorities, women, and immigrants who will now have to fear for their future. Sure, except because America enjoys so much power, many countries’ futures are arguably at stake, not to mention the freaking environment which affects the not so distant future of our planet. As a couple of world wars have shown, it only takes a few crazy, power-hungry men to fuck over the world.

Time Traveler’s Wife

This was two weeks ago.

Two weeks before that, LCY went to Poland to play in some bridge tournament. He had sent me his itinerary; I was to go to the airport on Saturday in the afternoon to receive him, following which we would return to his house.

Calls had been intermittent for the past two weeks, depending on the schedule of his matches, my knock-off time, and whether he had deposited his phone at the counter, since he could not bring his phone into the venue. In fact, the first time I received a call from him, I had just sat down with my Yoshinoya dinner, and had answered with a “What happened?”, a testament to how unexpected his call was. Usually, if there were calls, it would be at my dinner time, which would be during his lunch break.

This night, Thursday night, which was also Mid-Autumn Festival, I was on the MRT on the way home when he called.

“I was bored last night, so I downloaded Time Traveler’s Wife and watched it,” he said.

Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my absolute favourite books, so that got me quite excited, even as I had forgotten most of the details.

“I found it quite pedophilic…” he commented.

“No, he met her as an adult in his timeline. But I guess that’s true for her timeline.”

“Yeah it’s like sexual grooming isn’t it?”

“Welllll I guess that’s kinda true. Although she was the one who wanted to have sex first, and he wouldn’t do it until she turned… was it 18?”

“Oh is it?”

“Yeah… they had so much sex in the book.”

“That’s why you liked it right?”

“Hahaha well partly. They had so much sex she complained it hurt down there.”

I had reached the interchange, and one of the buses I could take was right there, so I boarded it.

“How did it end in the book?”

“I don’t quite remember…”

“In the movie he got shot by his father-in-law.”

“Oh, that sounds familiar. Damn, that was sad.”

“Did it end there?”

“Hmm… oh, I remember this. He wrote a letter to Claire, saying that he time travelled to the future once and saw her old self… That would be the last time she sees him. Oh man, I cried so hard. In fact right now I am feeling that teary sensation in my nose.”

“Awwww. Wouldn’t it be cool if the me from two weeks later time-travelled back now?”

(After coming home on Saturday, he would fly off on Sunday night to Australia for a work trip.)

“Hahaha sure. Like while you are outfield in the desert right?”

“I might disappear suddenly into a pile of clothes, and then you will see the present me, on Saturday.”

“Sureee.”

“Did I guess correctly just now, that you would get on bus 105?”

“Nah, I got on 183.” I alighted, eyes peeled on my phone as usual, reading everything on my Facebook feed.

Suddenly, I felt my hand being grabbed. I turned, knowing the only person who would do that was him, but not even fathoming how it was possible. It was him.

“What? How??”

“I’m the me from Australia!”

“YAH RIGHT, WHAT? HOW???”

That was basically the only thing I managed to say for the next five minutes. Turns out, after not getting a position in the top half, he decided to change his flight to return earlier instead of playing the consolation matches. He successfully kept it from me for those few days, reached Singapore a couple of hours before, and was waiting at the bus stop for me as I was idly updating him about my journey’s progress, that sneaky bastard.

I can’t even imagine how he managed to pull it off. If it were me I would have discussed with him the pros and cons of changing a flight, or actually more likely I wouldn’t even think of changing flights because I’m just so inflexible when it comes to pre-arranged stuff. It was glorious. It was amazing.

It was the best Mid-Autumn Festival I’ve had.

Anatomy of a home

Before you begin adapting the structure of a house to your personal needs, you need to know what those needs are.

Sure, you’ve lived 2 or 3 decades, and in that time period you would have cultivated habits and preferences. You would have strong inclinations towards certain areas in your house design, based on that experience. That experience is the sum of all your living spaces, be they temporary (hotels and holidays) or long term, as well as your encounters with other living spaces in brief visits, say to a friend’s house.

If you have the financial ability to restructure a home according to your wants, what would you do? Given some constraints — the biggest of which is that you own public housing, which comes with one long list of don’ts, in the interest of living harmoniously with the hundred or so houses in the same building. And then of course, that financial ability has some limits.

The difficulty lies also in the hypothetical nature of the design process — unlike software, there are high costs involved in iteration. (That’s why I like programming so much.) As the end users of the product, it’s hard to pinpoint what will fit perfectly until we’ve tried it.

And then there is that issue when your preferences do not cover every aspect of design, as they inevitably will. Pros: it means you have leeway to settle for a less expensive option. Cons: when deciding between this kind of hob and that, you have absolutely no idea how that anyhow choice you made will haunt you in the future.

Let’s go to implementation. The foremost difficulty I’ve faced is the word-of-mouth nature of the contractor industry; it seems there is no centralized online place to find contacts and see their reviews. Of course I try my best, googling forums and such for recommendations and complaints, but for the most part the laymen seem to be operating from what their friends tell them, while the contractors form a few select partnerships with sub-contractors and just settle for them to do their work. Which is fine, since it’s teamwork and you want to work with people you’re comfortable with. It does mean that to an outsider everything seems so murky, requiring trust without a pre-given record… Also kinda how cronyism works, eh.

Second, my inexperience with the process means that I don’t think of many considerations that people knee-deep in the work know about. When asked about how I would like to lay pipes and such, I take some time to understand what the problems are (especially given my inadequate grasp of mandarin, which seems to be the de-facto language of operation with the subcons I’ve met with — I’m sorry people of other races), and then hesitantly settle on one of the proposed solutions, without knowing what all my options are. One of my greatest weaknesses is being unable to visualize enough details and foresee pitfalls, and even though I can’t expect to be prepared when I don’t know what the process is like, I feel as though I’m messing things up for some stage in the future with every choice I agree to.

Anyway, after all that vague musing, I guess I owe you guys some pictures so it isn’t totally “I READ THIS WHOLE WAY AND STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT COCK SHE SAYING”, so here they are:

Before: Our master bedroom. Zhi Xin here to scale.

Before: Our master bedroom. Zhi Xin here to scale.

Before: Our living room

Before: Our living room, which looks the same size as other rooms. Bonus LCY with a pineapple.

Before: Our tiny kitchen, soon to become tinier.

Before: Our tiny kitchen, soon to become tinier.

After: We hacked the wall between our master bedroom and the other room, so now it feels much better

After: We hacked the wall between our master bedroom and the other room, so now it feels much better

After: After the kitchen got hacked, our living room looks normal-sized now (at the cost of our poor kitchen)

After: Our living room looks normal-sized now, at the cost of our poor kitchen, which got hacked too

I let the air con guy put a pipe there now I'm like OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE

I let the air con guy put a pipe there now I’m like OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE

Leave the children to the state

It used to be that children were a form of economic security, whether in terms of adding manpower to the family business (farming counted), or acting as retirement insurance. As our economic model evolved, however, children became less of a necessity and more of a passion project, and, as with anything driven by love, only a niche part of the population is really into it. Which isn’t to say that the niche can’t be big; in many cases, though, the niche is clearly too small for societies to be happy with.

Including, and especially, ours. In 2015, our fertility rate was 1.24 births per woman. That falls even lower than Japan’s (about 1.4), which we’ve known to be an ageing society since social studies started as a subject.

Hence, I propose a model for the state to consider. A model which slaughters the sacred cow of the nuclear family, and which falls more in line with the direction that the economy has been moving towards all this while, namely, outsourcing in the name of comparative advantage.

The Model

…is simple. The state needs to replenish its population, but individuals do not have the incentive to produce the requisite babies. Hence, babies should now be considered a public good.

I propose a shift in thinking: babies do not belong to their parents, for those who do not desire to bring them up. Those who do may go ahead and rear them the good old-fashioned way. For those who don’t, these babies can be given to the state.

The state will run childcare centres that will bring these children up. In a sense, these are orphanages, but with official adequate funding, and without the accompanying stigma, because we are dismantling the definition of a family. Meaning, it will be perfectly normal for children to call the state their parents. Because children are considered a public good, the money required to run these childcare centres will come from taxes. The benefits of replenishing the population and fueling the economy with its much needed human resources will justify the investment.

There will be no penalty for giving a baby to the state. The state will consider it a neutral act, or even an act worthy of reward, which would already manifest itself in the form of maternity benefits. The state can also pay for whatever requisite operations and checkups in the process of pregnancy. In order to prevent people from gaming the system, there will probably be a need for a maximum number of babies the state can receive from one individual. Beyond that, should the individual bear another child, the state will still accept the baby, but will consider the individual to be taking no-pay leave, and no longer bear any cost associated with the process.

Every state-run centre will assign every certain number of children to a group of caregivers, who will be responsible for taking care of the children’s miscellaneous needs, and making sure that the children are not being mistreated, much as parents would. When these children reach school age, they can be sent to other centres, such as kindergardens, which will take care of their educational needs. Children will have allowances and money for other necessary expenses, and at a certain age (21?) they will be independent. In short, they will have the lives that children have now, with the only difference being that they are under the state’s care.

I believe is this is already most children’s experience, since many households are dual-income: parents send children to childcare centres, and only see them in the morning or at night when they are home from work. Most of childcare is already outsourced. We can outsource the entire process altogether, instead of this half-hearted compromise that results in an inadequate replenishing of the population.

An additional benefit is a truer meritocracy: the large number of children brought up by the state will start on more or less equal footing, with similar opportunities offered to all.

Of course, this is currently too simplistic a model to be implemented, and probably sounds too uncomfortably similar to a socialist model. More thought needs to be given to issues like, how does the state bear the greater cost of a mentally or physically disabled child? What do “similar opportunities” mean? If a child desires to go overseas to pursue a more expensive education, how can the child do it (perhaps only with a scholarship?)? Does the state have too much power over these children, since, unlike actual parents, children can’t run away from the state if they are unhappy?

But I believe the essence of the model, which is separating the idea of child-rearing from individuals, should be seriously considered.