No funny backstory here; just a photo that I wanted to share. It's a shot looking out over the back of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, with some statuary and the Thai flag in the frame.
While traveling down the Chao Phraya river by watertaxi to the Grand Palace, our boat stopped to pick up a gaggle1 of Buddhist monks. I desperately wanted to take a picture, but didn't want to be too obvious about it. I took a quick shot, then tried to look inconspicuous. Imagine my horror when I looked at the photos this morning and saw that one of the monks was staring right back at me.
I'm sure there's some sort of kharmic retribution for taking unauthorized photos of monks. If I come back as a mealworm, I guess I'll know why.
1 I'm pretty sure that Buddhist monks come in gaggles. Versus, say, priests, that come in murders.
I don't like flying and I got the feeling this guy doesn't either. But, swimming to Thailand for our vacation wasn't an option, so we found ourselves waiting at Narita for our flght. The look on his face captured the way I feel before getting on an airplane. It's boredom, expectation and a dash of grim determination.
Yukari, on the other hand, has a slightly more contemplative look about her.
Please note: The picture at the left, originally of Yukari looking pretty and thoughtful, has been replaced, at the request of the subject, by a bucket kitten. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.
If the Japanese haven't cornered the market on weird postcards, they certainly are market makers.
I picked this postcard up at Babbi, an ice cream store in our neighborhood, from one of those free postcard ad thingys.
It's an ad for a cellphone-based portal. The postcard pitches their "educational" content (Yes!!!!!! I'm Smart!!!! And I Love Punctuation!!!!!!!!), but they also offer different kinds of graphical clocks and multimedia countdowns to the release of movies.
I was walking down the back hill near our house last weekend when I suddenly heard a sing-song chant coming towards me from behind.
It was the kendo class from one of the local schools and I came very close to being trampled. Luckily for both me and you, I escaped with my life and this picture:
Visiting the atomic bomb museum in Nagasaki reminded me of how much of an accidental target Nagasaki was. As late as July 23rd, 1945, Nagasaki hadn't been put on the target list for atomic bombing.
Even on August 9th, the day the bomb was dropped, Kokura, not Nagasaki, was the primary target. Bock's Car, the B-29 carrying the Fat Man bomb, circled over Kokura, but couldn't find the aiming point, due to haze and smoke.
With little fuel left, they flew to Nagasaki to make a single bombing run. Ashworth, the weaponeer, authorized a radar bombing run, against protocol, since the cloud cover was so thick. Then, a break in the clouds gave the bombardier a view of the Mitsubishi stadium. The bomb was released and exploded at 11:02AM, 1650 feet over a tennis court in Mastuyama-machi. Nagasaki was profoundly unlucky.
Today, a thin, black obelisk, ringed by concentric stone circles, marks the hypocenter. Anyone standing at this point 60 years ago simply disappeared; instantly vaporized by the bomb's intense heat and light, then blown to the winds by the shockwave that followed. A more cruel fate awaited those further away from ground zero: painful burns, radiation sickness and, for those that survived, a lifetime of anxious waiting, wondering if a radiation-induced cancer would claim them.
The loss was greater than the simple sum of human and property damage, of course. Richard Rhodes quotes a haunting passage from Hannah Arendt in The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Arendt describes the destruction of what she calls the "Common World":
In the case of an atomic bombing...a community does not merely receive an impact; the community itself is destroyed. Within 2 kilometers of the atomic bomb's hypocenter all life and property were shattered, burned and buried under ashes. The visible forms of the city where people once carried on their daily lives vanished without a trace. The destruction was sudden and thorough; there was virtually no chance to escape... Citizens who had lost no family members in the holocaust were as rare as stars at sunrise...
The atomic bomb had blasted and burned hospitals, schools, city offices, police stations, and every other kind of human organization...Family, relatives, neighbors, and friends relied on a broad range of interdependant organizations for everything from birth, marriage and funerals to firefighting, productive work and daily living. These traditional communities were completely demolished in an instant.
I'm not smart enough to figure out the moral calculus of Nagasaki. How much worse is it to have dropped two atomic bombs, instead of just one? When you take real lives lost by bombing, atomic and otherwise, and divide them by hypothetical lives saved by shortening the war, do you come out ahead? These questions--ultimately questions of choice and culpability--weighed heavily on me.
My mood was lightened, though, by the phalanx of children from the local preschool that arrived right after we did. They ran around the park and its monuments, clad in light-blue cotton smocks to protect their clean clothes underneath. While I took pictures, one girl tried to play hide and seek with me, ducking behind the obelisk whenever I looked her way. For her, it was just another day in the park.
Actually, ikesu is Japanese for fish tank. But we ate at a great ikesu restaurant in Nagasaki last week.
The restaurant, whose name, loosely translated, is Jumbo Fishtank, is located inside of the otherwise thoroughly uninspiring Nagasaki View Hotel. The hotel is on one of the main thoroughfares and easily reachable via streetcar or taxi (directions in Japanese here).
When you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted by a huge, U-shaped counter that surrounds the three huge pools and a very large aquarium. Taken together, the pools are the size of a small swimming pool. When we were there, hamachi, flounder, and squid were swimming around in the main pools (the squid isolated in their own blue plastic box--we later found out this was because they are very sensitive and require more oxygen than the rest of the fish).
Between the pool and the large glass aquarium is a smallish tank, full of shellfish. I saw shrimp and abalone, but I'm sure there were others in there as well.
Finally, the large glass tank contains smaller fish: aji, kinki and various other delights.
The menu is entirely in Japanese, but pointing and grunting would get you pretty far, especially since almost everything on the menu is swimming around in front of you.
After you ordered, one of the chefs would grab a net, swoop up the fish you had asked for and would then "prepare" it. For most of the fish, this consisted of quickly fileting the fish, plating it and then having it sent to your table, sometimes still gasping. It's a little weird, since these days fishmongering happens well outside of the customer's view, but the results were delicious.
We had four or five different dishes -- I've got pics of each and will post a link here when I've uploaded them. Highlights were the aji (mackarel) and squid. We literally ate the whole fish. The squid, which we ordered as sashimi, was served on top of its own, still twitching, head and tentacles. Once we had finished the sashimi, the waitress returned to ask whether we would like the rest of the squid grilled or fried. We had it fried. It was deliciously tender.
In the same vein, the two aji we ate, also as sashimi, were served next to their heads and backbones -- the eyes still bright and clear. The bodies were then deep fried and we ate them like you might eat a potato chip. Delicious!
The restaurant was pretty busy. We were there during Golden Week, a series of unrelated Japanese holidays that happen to fall consecutively, when almost everyone in Japan is on vacation. The service ranged from excellent to passable, depending on which of the three or four servers was attending to us at any given time.
Ikesu dining isn't cheap -- the squid set us back almost $40. The whole meal, including beer, umeshu and a really cool horizontal sake tasting flight was about $80 a person. I can only imagine what a similar meal would cost in Tokyo. But I highly recommend it, both as an experience and for the taste.
An annotated cameraphone panorama follows -- read the captions, but then click here to see a larger version. It came out incredibly well. I stitched it together using autostitch, a great little program from a University of British Columbia grad student:
June 22 is Bowling Day in Nagasaki. It honors that fateful day, a little more than 100 years ago, when Japan's first "bowling parlour" opened its doors.