28 November 2011

101 Films You Should Have Seen... Probably

Since Ian and I finished writing 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better, we've been working on a new project - 101 Films You Should Have Seen (Probably). This new list of 101 is a series of podcasts in which Ian and I recommend films to watch, as well as taking recommendations from listeners.

You can subscribe to the podcasts by clicking on this link: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/101-films-you-should-have/id473933904

And here's the link to the blog: http://101films.wordpress.com/


11 June 2008

09 February 2007

Check Out My New Blog!

Now you can see how I've been getting on in England - follow my post-Japan adventures at:


05 August 2006

What Next For The Englishman?

Well, that's pretty much it for An Englishman in Nyu-gun. Since I'm no longer actually in Japan there seems little point in continuing... If you're a new JET or teacher, or you're just thinking of coming to live in Japan, I hope you find this blog useful and interesting. If you're one of the guys and girls who've been reading from the very beginning, I hope you've enjoyed reading my rambling, awkward prose. It's been fun, ne? Of course, there's loads of things I never quite got round to writing about - like the fascinating love/hate relationship Japan seems to have with South Korea. Foreign relations between the two countries could currently be described as "frosty" to say the least, yet the Japanese public just can't get enough of Korean TV drama. This has led to a proliferation of magazines entirely dedicated to Korean celebrities with fantastic names like "Power of Korea", "Rabu Seoul (Love Seoul)" and my personal favourite: "It's Koreal". I never quite got round to writing about my girlfriend Flick's brilliant performance in the Sabae half-marathon either. Not only did she come a respectable 19th in the women's category, she also smashed her time target. I'd like to think her performance was aided by me cycling ahead her on a bicycle, shouting words of encouragement. Having said that, I was a little lacking towards the end - her iPod broke down and so she asked me to talk at her instead to give her something to focus on. All I could think of to talk about was the new series of Doctor Who, which didn't go down too well. She may even have sped up to get away from me. That's just the beginning - there are loads of other things I've been meaning to write about, but, unfortunately, I've simply run out of time. Besides, I've waffled on for long enough already - it's time to say goodbye. Thank you to everyone who's been following the adventures of An Englishman in Nyu-Gun - I never thought there'd be so many of you (over 40,000 hits last time I checked!). Thanks to everyone who's ever left a comment, even (perhaps especially) the weird ones, and huge thanks to everyone who's emailed me with their messages of support. Thank you. Very soon I'll be heading off on a 3-month round-the-world trip via South America, New Zealand, Australia and Bali, but once I'm back in the UK I'll be starting a new adventure - becoming a journalist. (By the way, if you happen to be the editor of a successful newspaper or magazine, feel free to send me an email if you like what you see. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, pleasegivemeajob.) Finally, once I get back from travelling in late November I'll begin my new blog: An Englishman At Large. See you there. Sayonara. For now.

04 August 2006

Back to the Motherland

First of all, sorry for not updating the blog sooner - the past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. If you're wondering what happened to me, I spent my last few days in Japan in Hiroshima, then got a nightmarish flight home from Osaka.

Word of advice: Never, EVER, fly with Air China. No matter how cheap it is.

Flick and I had a bad experience with Air China before on our trip to Thailand (the plane was delayed after smoke began pouring out of one of the engines before take off) but we decided to give them one more chance for our flight home. This was a big mistake.

The first leg of the journey went relatively smoothly. We landed safely in Beijing after a short flight from Osaka, but very quickly it all began to go a bit pear-shaped. The queue for transferring flights was insane - after queuing to obtain our boarding passes from the unforgiveably rude staff at the Air China desk, we had to queue again to go through immigration. Bear in mind that we weren't actually leaving the airport, yet we still had to have our passports checked, have our boarding passes stamped several times, fill in two entry and exit forms and then go through a security check. Despite having 2 hours between our flights, we only just managed to make our connecting flight on time because of all the bureaucracy we had to go through.

That was only the beginning though. Our 747 bound for London eventually took off after boarding delays, but about an hour into the flight a message came over the loudspeakers in Chinese which caused several passengers to wail in dismay. A strangled, almost inaudible English translation followed, which we managed to decipher as: "The plane has a mechanical fault and will be heading back to Beijing". Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear whilst flying over Siberia.

After the plane turned around, Flick spotted something coming out of the wing. At first we thought it was smoke, but then I realised it was fuel - the pilot was dumping fuel. Oh. My. God. Isn't that the kind of thing you do before performing an emergency landing or something? Images of us perishing in a giant plane-shaped fireball flashed through my mind for the next hour, as Flick and I continually exchanged nervous glances. Needless to say, I was just a little tense as the plane came in to land...

Luckily we touched down safely, and we never did find out what the mysterious "mechanical fault" was (although I think I'd actually rather not know). However, the next 12 hours became equally hellish as we were churned through the machinations of Beijing airport, starting with a shocking evening meal served in the dismal confines of Gate 1. It was awful - everyone was served a can of Coke which went out of date a month previously, and Flick discovered a maggot in her vegetables after eating half of them, yet when we complained the catering staff just laughed at us. Eventually, Flick did receive some compensation for the meal after finding a manager to complain to, but the damage had already been done.

After that the airline informed us that we would have to spend the night in a hotel about 40 minutes away from the airport, so everyone wearily piled onto buses for the next stage of our hellish trip (after passing through immigration AGAIN). Upon checking in at the hotel we discovered our flight was scheduled to leave at 5am the next morning, meaning we had a wake-up call at 2am, and a grand total of about 3 hours sleep. Joy. To cut a long story short, we eventually made it home (after one more trip through Chinese immigration) approximately 2 days after we left Japan. Never. Again.

Interestingly, although on an unrelated note, I found out about a year ago that the Chinese government actually blocks my blog, so I'd like to say a big hello to any Chinese censors who may happen to be monitoring this post right now. Hello Chinese censors!

Anyway, now that I've finished ranting about Air China, here's a pictorial guide to what happened during my last week in Japan, starting off with the final, final, final sayonara party in Bear's Bar...

The final, raucous night in Bear's Bar. I miss that place already...
The legendary Master-san - manager of Bear's Bar. Ah, the times we've had within the walls of that legendary ex-pat drinking establishment. Thank you Master-san.
A few famous Fukui faces: Karl, Beata, Chris, Christina, Mac and Jon enjoy a beer. Or two.
And, of course, there was lots of karaoke. Here you can see the girls wailing through some classic Madonna. (L to r: Laura, Flick, Tania, Caitlin (see you in Packwood Caitlin!) Celeste and Kate.)
Fukui city's most famous African and I enjoy a moment together - see you in South Africa Ruan.
I took this picture just as I was getting into the taxi to leave Bear's - a final, final goodbye. So long Fukui! I'm gonna miss you!

After saying our goodbyes to Fukui, Flick and I headed off for a short holiday in Hiroshima before getting our flight back home from Osaka. On first impressions Hiroshima looked pretty much like every other city I've seen in Japan, although it's obviously set apart by its tragic history - reflected in the many monuments to the victims of the nuclear bombing in the centre of the city.
This is the A-Bomb Dome - despite being situated right under the explosion of the nuclear bomb in 1945, most of the building (which used to be an exhibition hall) miraculously survived. The local government has vowed to preserve the structure forever as a reminder of that terrible day.
This mound contains the ashes of thousands of victims of the nuclear bombing - grim stuff. After wandering round the Peace Park and the accompanying museum - with its graphic photos of burns victims - I was certainly in need of a stiff drink. Looking at Hiroshima today, it's difficult to believe the utter horror of what happened in the past.
On our second day in Hiroshima we took a ferry over to the tiny, picturesque island of Miya-jima, which was definitely the holiday for me. Of course, no trip that me and Flick undertake is complete without a spot of mountain climbing - here's me at the summit of the island's tallest mountain, Mt. Misen.
After spending the best part of an hour sweating our way up the mountain, we wisely decided to take the cable car on the way back down. It was well worth the money for the views alone.
Believe it or not, despite travelling all over Nippon during the past 2 years, I've never seen a monkey in Japan. Until now that is - I finally spotted my first simian at the entrance to the cable car on Miya-jima. Get in! I'm so glad I don't have to leave Japan without a monkey sighting...
You've got to watch out for them monkeys though - one false move and you could be on the receiving end of a vicious monkey shakedown.
Here you can see probably the most famous landmark in Hiroshima, and one of the three "most noted views of Japan" - the torii (gate) of Itsukushima shrine. At high tide the gate looks like it's floating on the water, but at low tide intrepid tourists brave the estuary mud looking for photo opportunities. I find I'm usually disappointed by big tourists sites like this, but I actually thought it was really impressive.
However, my favourite part of Miya-jima had to be this - the world's largest rice paddle. My look of utter astonishment and awe says it all - I mean, it's not every day you see a 7.7 metre long rice paddle.
On our very, very last night in Japan Flick and I decided to take the plunge and sample one of Japan's most peculiar and famous inventions - the love hotel. After a bit of internet research we stumbled across one in Osaka called Hotel Pamplona which featured this absolute gem - the Hello Kitty Room (check the Kitty bedspread). Cute? Disturbing? You decide.
The room even had karaoke - awesome. Not quite sure why there was a microwave in there though - presumably some couples like to bring their own microwavable ready meals into the boudoir.
Possibly the most sinister part of the room was this sex-toy vending machine placed under the regal gaze of Kitty herself. It's like she's judging you with her eyes or something. Brrrr.
And here I am back in the UK! Bizarrely, a Japanese restaurant opened up a couple of months ago in the tiny village where I live, so when Flick came to visit a few days ago we thought it would be a great place for a family outing. It's great that I'll have a little taster of Japan right on my doorstep. It's pretty authentic too - they even covered my tofu in katsuoboshi, just like in Japan. Damn you katsuoboshi.
Finally, I took this photo in Russell Square a few days ago, on my way to visit a friend. Here's looking forward to a bright future in London...

20 July 2006

Goodbye Nyu High School!

So today was the big one. After weeks of goodbye party after goodbye party today it was time for possibly the most difficult goodbye of all - saying goodbye to my school. 

It's been a fun 2 years at Nyu. There's been ups and downs for sure, but I don't think I've ever had a job as rewarding as this one. It can be crushing when you have a day of bad classes, but the euphoria of creating and teaching a successful lesson is worth everything. It's the kids that really make it. Like the crazy bunch who accosted me for a photo this morning. 

Mad lot.

I know I've moaned about the job in the past, but I can safely say that it's the best job I've ever had. The teachers have been fantastic, the students have been fantastic... why am I going home again? Oh yeah, that's right, I want to be a journalist. Now why would I want to go and do a stupid thing like that?

So today was the official end of term at school - and I had to give a goodbye speech. In Japanese. I wasn't particularly worried about it actually, since I'd worked out the speech ages ago and gone through it thoroughly with my Japanese teacher, but when I walked into the school gym for the closing ceremony something went horribly wrong. Why were my hands trembling? Why was I biting my lip? Why couldn't I look anyone in the eye? Shit, I knew this was going to happen - I was about to break down in tears like a big girl's blouse.

I just about managed to hold it together as I walked up on the stage with the headmaster. He made a short little speech saying thank you and we shook hands and everything was fine. Then it all went pear-shaped. Midori from the tea ceremony club walked up on the stage and started reading a speech to me in English, saying thank you for my fun lessons and thank you for coming to tea ceremony club, and then she started sniffling and that got me sniffling too, and before too long she was struggling to get through the speech and I was wiping the tears away like a man who's just caught his crown jewels in the cash register.

By the time it came for me to give my own speech I was a wreck. I was blubbing more than Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. God knows what everyone was thinking - most embarrassing moment ever? Possibly, but at least I wasn't the only male ALT to have a decidedly unmanly moment on stage, having just read about Sam's waterworks on his blog. Man, giving that speech was hard. To top off all the unmanliness I was given the biggest bouquet of flowers I've ever seen - yes, I really did feel like Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. 

This is my desk. Bye desk!

Anyway, the last couple of weeks at school have been great. I was getting a bit stressed with all the things I had to organise before leaving (selling my car, cleaning out my house, etc etc), but I really enjoyed giving my last few goodbye lessons. The very last one in particular was really special. Flick and I arranged to do joint lessons at each other's schools: I went to her very last lesson at Takefu High School a couple of weeks ago, and she came to my last lesson at Nyu last week. It was a great lesson - we did a quiz and the students were really excited to finally meet my girlfriend! It was a really, really nice way to end my time teaching in Japan. I guess teaching's not so bad after all... 

So yeah, it's all getting a bit emotional at the moment. My house is looking pretty sad and empty right now - the other night I finally took down my Japan map. I put up the map about a year and a half ago when I was feeling pretty depressed about how little I seemed to have done in Japan after being here for six months. I decided to stick pins in all the places I'd visited and stick photos next to them, and suddenly I realised that I had done quite a bit after all. Since then the number of pins and photos has grown and grown, to the point where I was running out of wall space. Taking it all down really brought home to me that my time in Japan is actually coming to an end. 

Yep, I'm really going to miss Japan. One thing I won't miss though is my nemesis: katsuoboshi. These dried fish flakes (I think they're called bonito in English) seem to find their way into absolutely every food dish in Japan. Truly, they are the vegetarian's worst nightmare. Mostly because most waiters and waitresses don't seem to register that they're actually fish, even if I emphatically explain that I don't eat fish or meat. Hence, ordering a bowl of plain soba still results in a fish-sprinkle nightmare.

Katsuoboshi aside though, I can't begin to list the myriad things that I'm going to miss when I go back home to England in exactly a week's time (so soon!). I think the biggest thing I'm going to miss is the feeling that somehow every day is an adventure - you never know what bizarre thing will await you round the next corner.

For example, when I was driving round this morning I spotted a radio-controlled crop-dusting helicopter. Brilliant. Truly, everything in Japan is in miniature. Check out the operator's Tom Cruise-style silver Ray-Bans too - now there's a man who takes his job seriously. I wonder if he realised what he was getting into when he applied for a job advertised as "helicopter pilot"?

Bring on the Greasy Pudding

So last Saturday Jesse organised a big get together in a club called Gramme down in Tsuruga. Jesse is well known throughout the ken for being a pimpin purveyor of red-hot greasy funk soul pudding, so it promised to be a great night. He didn't disappoint. Along with his good friend "Nate-dog" from Ishikawa, Jesse threw down some of the filthiest, funkiest tunes Fukui has ever heard. Truly an epic night.

It was great to finally go to a club in Fukui that actually felt like a proper club. Granted, it was pretty small (like most of the clubs in Japan), but it had some really nice decor - it reminded me a lot of a bar in Soho. I think it might have been the rows and rows of spirits which made me think that - quite unusual for a club in Japan, at least round these parts anyway: In most places you just get a choice of whisky or vodka and that's about it.

Anyway, an absolutely brilliant night, and an excellent way to say goodbye to the people down south - Jesse, I'm gonna miss you man.


Nate and Jesse lay down some grease on the decks. Dirty.
See, it was like a proper club! Only smaller.

Don't mess with an ex-JETfuel editor.

"Bleuurrrrgh!!!!" John and Anna get drooly.

Sam, Steph, Flick and Angela - this lot were doing some serious dancing, I can tell ya. You should have seen it all go off when "Like a Prayer" by Madonna came on. Man, the screaming.

Tilly and I posing for all we're worth.

Mitch "look at my new beard" Malli hams it up for the camera. Awesome hat.

I swear, Tania could pout for Canada. Good work Gizmo, when can I come and visit you in the land of maple syrup and mounties?

It's Karl Bandcamp!!!

Celeste whips out her "Dr. Evil" impression.

Get a room!!!

The night ended with some top quality karaoke in the coveted "party room" in Cote d'Azur. The room was huge! It even had a stage! Awesome. Aw man, I'm going to miss karaoke...

This just in...

The latest news from Fukui in the style of ITV's News at Ten. Ah, how I miss Trevor McDonald.

BONG!.....Record rains hit Fukui prefecture, leading to fears of flooding similar to that experienced by residents 2 years ago. Flood warnings are issued in most areas as rivers inch towards the top of flood defences. Roving reporter Ruisu Pakkuwuddo took this dramatic photo of the rising waters after he raced to the scene last night. Although he actually forgot his camera and had to use his phone instead. So you can't see anything. But let us assure you, the rising waters were dramatic.
BONG!.....Department store Al Plaza introduces foot-shaped stickers at every staff entrance, indicating the point where staff members must bow to customers when walking on to the shop floor (this is true).

BONG!.....New magazine "Seed Sack Mama" is launched. Are you a seed sack mama? If so, call the studio now: we can put you in touch with people who can help. Modern surgical procedures can now safely remove seed sacks in 90% of cases.

BONG!.....Following a "famous people" classroom quiz game at Takefu high school, female students request to keep the pictures of heart throb celebrities Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt to stick on the classroom wall. Bizarrely, several girls also request the photo of British prime minister Tony Blair to stick alongside the Hollywood heavyweights. One witness, who refused to be identified, offered only this explanation: "He's cool".

BONG!....T-shirt woman invites passers-by to eat her. Allegations that "last night was bad" only serve to deepen the intrigue of the request.

BONG!.....Convenience stores begin selling ice lollies made from red beans. "It's the best bean-flavoured frozen product I've ever tasted", said one customer.

And finally... Authorities in Tsuruga have developed a low-tech robot designed to facilitate the evacuation of the city in the event of a nuclear emergency. The smiling brown robots, which stand on every street corner, are designed to give off a cheery, calming atmosphere, and will direct and encourage the fleeing populace with robotic cries of "Ganbare!" and "Fighto!". The robot also has the ability to transform into a medium-sized Family Mart in order to feed and provide toilet facilities for starving, radioactive refugees.