Category Archives: asia

Funk the Peanuts!

I bought these CDs for their covers, so posting the covers should let me get rid of the CDs just like I got rid of the Bojenmi tea slip.  Here they are – they are 8cm singles in a 16×8 case, scanned side by side.  The Funk the Peanuts member on the right is a well-known singer in her own right, the voice of Dreams Come True; the other seems to have made a career as a background singer for J-Pop bands.  Speed is, according to Wikipedia, the best-selling Asian girl group to date.  Success doesn’t always look pretty.

If you want to know what it sounds like to funk a peanut or go go heaven, let me know.  Soon, before the trash gets taken out.

Supernova and Milky Way

I’m in Japan again, and it’s another short trip, where the total travel time isn’t much less than the time spent in the country.  I neither slept much on the planes (Zürich-Bangkok-Tokyo) nor last night in the hotel, but I was surprisingly awake this morning when I got up for church.  I went to Tokyo Union Church this time, instead of out to Chiba, because I hoped to meet Mindy and her fabulous engagement ring – I mean, her fabulous Ryotaro. 

I got there with some time to spare, even though a film crew stopped pedestrian traffic for a while just in front of the toy store, where I encountered the Rubix 360°, which is like a cross between the Rubix cube and those annoying put-the-ball-in-the-hole coordination games.  From the film crew I learned that (a) the crowded street scenes are shot with a telephoto lens, with the crowds removed where the actors are, and using the background crowds down the street for the crowd effect, and that (b) one need not be a good actor to make it on TV. 

After church I stayed on for the young adults group, where I wasn’t the only newcomer.  I don’t know how I would have dealt with a newcomers group for a small group study – I found it somewhat awkward to answer personal questions in front of total strangers – but it seemed to work alright for most participants.  At least one person wasn’t a Christian, which surprised me a little.  Maybe Asians are more likely to actively explore another faith than Westerners. 

I went shopping afterwards.  Harajuku was crowded, and a store opening with the attendant lines at the entrance didn’t help.  Although my Harajuku source was out of black toe socks, the girl there pointed me to their Ikebukuro branch, which I found without too much difficulty.  They had the right socks, and that’s where the galactic references begin.  I suppose it’s appropriate that in the Sunshine city complex I came across the band ChoShinSung (Supernova) greeting fans, and snuck in a photo before some frantic guy came to tell me it wasn’t allowed. 

From there I went across the street to a supermarket to purchase a number of Japanese food items.  I’d been asked to buy green tea, which brought me to the second floor, where to my surprise I found a couple cans of Ginga Kogen beer, which translates into Milky Way Plateau beer.  It’s the only Japanese wheat beer I can think of and probably my favorite Japanese beer.  I support good quality, so I bought a few.  (I drink responsibly, so I don’t expect to see stars…) 

In closing, a few pictures of Tokyo, and one from the Munich airport from my last Asian trip. 

ADHD airplane
Here’s hoping the pilot isn’t what the plane ID says. 

Mydentity Converse Ad
I thought the ad was clever – and subtly frightening. 

10 Fashion rules, contradicted
Note how the rules (where they make quantifiable sense) are contravened by the mannequin’s garb. 

Fashion Rules in Harajuku
Standing in line to shop for clothes. 

No Smorking
Harajuku cracks down on crime – and smorking. 

ChoShinSung greet their fans
The girl in red got in line about five times, to the amusement of the bystanders. 

Krispy Kreme Tokyo
Oh, look, another person who must have stood in line today. 

The view from the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa
I don’t know of many other places with as clear a view of the Tokyo tower.  I can also see a part of the Rainbow Bridge (not on the picture). 


Seoul Summary

Coffee Temptation
I did not know coffee was that dangerous.  However, standard Korean coffee is like standard US coffee with plenty of milk and sugar and thus bearable, unlike Japan, where it’s black and bitter.  We didn’t eat at this bar, but at a blowfish restaurant, two days in a row.  The second day it was (a) to discuss with a customer in a friendly atmosphere and (b) for those who stayed for rounds two and three the previous night to have a soup.  Note also the wicked cool iPhone I have that has Koreans drooling – apparently, iPhones are not yet available there.  Apple is said to be negotiating some deal, but from what I was told there are two cell phone internet providers that all other cell phones need to use and the iPhone is somehow able to circumvent their monopoly, so it could take a while.  The people can’t wait…

My passport arrives!
Here, for your education, the box in which my passport arrived.  I have to correct my previous information: receiving it cost 7350 won, because the hotel charged a commission fee of 350 won, of which the clerk informed me with so many excuses I began to be embarrassed. 

Sunset View of Seoul
This is the view from my hotel room after a day with torrential rain and light hail.  I can also see the Seoul tower, but it’s not on this picture and the iPhone has no zoom I know of, so it only shows up as a little lit stick anyway. 

Pearl Shop in Seoul, Jongno 3ga
Work finished a little early on Wednesday, so I headed here, where I’d already might or might not have been a year ago on August 30.  Most the other jewelry shops had already closed, so I was quite happy to find this one with the lights still on, though later I found out I’d walked up a few minutes past closing time.  The first thing the father said was he remembered me.  A few minutes later and after some conversation that didn’t betray the fact the son suddenly asked, “You’re from Switzerland, right?”  I showed them a photo of Janet wearing last year’s purchase – I keep a few wedding photos on my iPhone – but either they didn’t make the connection or they’re used to their pearls being used for important occasions.  I won’t say what I got this time, but I will make the next photo link to a map of their location.  It’s the best little pearl shop in Seoul as far as I’m concerned. 

Great little pearl shop in Seoul Jongno
Ah, yes, much better with the glasses pushed up. 

And, for closers, a few Engrish shots. 

Yum yum!
Who can resist?  Incidentally, the Japanese “Horumon” doesn’t mean “hormone,” as I long thought, but is a corruption of “horu-mono,” literally “throwaway things.” 

Drama and Wonder Girls! 
It’s too bad you can’t see what you get if you pass the Wonder Girls, but you can always translate 드라마 in Babelfish

Empty Gangster
A few words of wisdom from a Seoul Metro traveller…

Sink Instructions
…and some instructions from a public washroom. 

That’s it – time for bed!

Korea’s Atomic Bombs

You’d think I’d know how to travel, having logged over 100’000 flight miles in the last two years each, but after this last flight I feel like I need to go back to basic training.  It started out ok, with me checking one suitcase (containing 7 kilograms of laptop and 4 kilograms of clothing) and getting the baggage slip on the 29 kilograms of microscope, which I took to the customs official to get the Carnet ATA stamped before checking.  But as I walked through the security check (without a beep) and overheard something about “couteau Suisse” I knew I’d forgotten to transfer my toolkit out of my computer backpack and into a suitcase.  I ended up having to transfer my laptop and other necessities into my garment bag and checking my backpack with the toolkit.  (I could have tossed the Swiss army knife, but I wasn’t going to toss the tweezers, which apparently are also dangerous weapons.)  Oh well, worse could happen, I figured – at least now I wasn’t carrying as much. 

Well, worse did happen.  I came to Korea and declared my Carnet ATA suitcase as such; I should have realized that the response of “Oh, Carnet” was to mean a longer wait as the official meticulously went through the forms and tried to figure out what “gemäss Vollmacht” meant.  It was 6:00 am when I arrived and after 6:15 when he was done.  I was happy he at least didn’t ask to open the suitcase and just trusted me on that one. 

I pushed my cart out into the public area, got cash from an ATM, and purchased a ticket for a limousine bus to my hotel.  One of the bus company employees told me where to stand in line.  The next one came, looked at my ticket, and told me to go inside and get a drink because the next bus wouldn’t come until 6:55; I’d just missed the 6:20 bus by four minutes.  A half-hour wait was the last thing I wanted, so I returned the bus ticket and got a cab, which cost seven times as much but at least left immediately. 

At the hotel I opened my bags and took out my travel documents.  My passport was missing, and I realized immediately that it had stayed at customs.  I’d nearly left it there at Japanese customs before, because both they and the Koreans take the passport, put it on their desk with the Carnet papers, and then get so absorbed by the Carnet that they forget to return the passport.  The clerk called the airport for me and gave them my cell phone number, then checked me in with the information I had.  I know my passport number by heart, so I could fill it in the registration form. 

About half an hour later, I got a call on my cell phone.  “Hello,” I said.  “Hello,” said she.  “Hello,” I said.  “Hello, this is Incheon Aipott Lostandpound,” said she.  “Yes,” I said.  “Hello,” said she.  “Yes,” I said – and the iteration continued until she decided to give up.  Why she couldn’t hear me, I did not ever figure out, because after a second try with the same results she called from a different number and it worked.  They’d found my passport and I could pick it up the following day.  I asked if they couldn’t mail it, and they said they could, but I would have to pay for it to the tune of 7’000 Won.  While that sounds exorbitant, it’s only about 6 Swiss francs, so considering that picking it up would mean an hour’s drive each way at the cost of at least four times that I had them send it.  We’ll see if it arrives… 

At 9:00 my partner picked me up.  I’m in Korea to train our partner in the use of our microscopes before they exhibit at the Nano Korea conference next week, which I can’t attend myself.  Teaching the use of microscopes on only a few hours of restless sleep went reasonably well.  Celebrating their recent first sale Korean style – that’s where the “atomic bombs” come in, shots of soju dropped into half-full beer glasses.  Not drinking is impolite in Korea, and after a first one-shot “oltugeja” we ran through most of the individual permutations of drinking to our business and family members.  Someone had the brilliant idea of ordering kaoliang as well, but fortunately I could do my duty with just one shot of the 50%-brew.  Still, by the end of the meal I was full not just from a barrage of “atomic bombs” but also all the food and jasmine tea I downed in an effort to try to minimize the effects of that barrage.  I was driven to the nearby hotel by someone who’d only had a glass or two and immediately conked out. 

Ten hours later, I’m up, and we’ll see what the day brings.  Thirst, for one…

Three weeks of separation


Only Brisbane this time.  Arrival at about 11pm.  The taxi driver who took me to my hotel said his business was down about 30% due to people travelling less.  One thing’s for sure: the economic crisis provides a universal topic of conversation.  The Grand Chancellor is overrated and overpriced.  Never have I written as many critical comments on the comment card.  Good thing I only stayed there two nights and then moved to Mark’s house.

I spent two days with our distributors getting to know new people, showing them our system, and visiting customers with it.  They had organized two presentations at the main universities in Brisbane – a good start and an efficient use of time.

The weekend at Mark’s consisted of a fabulous outing to the Noosa headlands, a church service at the Sherwood Uniting Church where his mother preached, and noontime in the city and South Bank with Mark’s sister.  Brisbane was hot, but not as hot as I had feared, and I feel like with a little more time there would have been plenty more to do.

Flat Stanley in Noosa
Flat Stanley digs Noosa.

New Zealand:

We flew into Auckland on Sunday evening and spent the night near the airport.  Monday we drove down to Rotorua and set up our booth.  The drive and its vistas made me want to see more of the country, but a visit every other year is about as much as is reasonable given the market size.  If only we could sell microscopes to sheep!  One of the little towns we passed, Tirau, seemed to be the corrugated sheet capital of the country, with most signs and several domestic fixtures made of corrugated iron.

Rotorua announces itself by gentle wafts of sulphurous (IUPAC: sulfurous) odors.  Your eggs could go off in this town and you’d put it down to the local air.  The upside is a plethora of spas and baths, of which I tried the Polynesian Spa, a bit expensive indeed but ever so enjoyable late at night after a day at the booth and a big dinner.  Of course, it’s not Japanese style, so now my bathing suit reeks of sulfur.

The conference once again distinguished itself by its aura of familiarity.  This is indeed a small, tight, and friendly microscopy community, a group of people excited about microscopy and happy to hang out with fellow microscopists, wherever they may be from.  As usual, I have a photo of dancing microscopists.

Dancing Microscopists
Dancing Microscopists in Rotorua.

On Thursday we had the afternoon off and headed down to Wai-o-tapu, where the local geological instabilities reminded me of just how fragile our earthly existence is and what a mercy it is to be sustained day by day.

Mud splat
The mud pots.

The Champagne Pool
The Champagne Pool.

Rock brain
Wai-o-tapu has a mind of its own.

Champagne Pool Wai-o-tapu
More from the Champagne Pool.

The next day it was up early and off to the Rotorua airport.  This is an airport where the planes taxi up the runway, u-turn at the end, and then take off along the same runway.  My plane was a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D, and I was seated in the second row and therefore got to watch the pilots all the way.  Here’s a picture of us landing.

Landing at Auckland Airport
Landing at Auckland Airport with a Beech 1900D.

See how the plane’s longitudinal axis is not at all parallel to the runway?

I haven’t yet transferred many pictures from Japan to my computer – most are still on my camera – but here’s one that also is the quiz of this post: What is in the below bag?

Mystery Accessory - Please Use
Mystery Accessory.

More later – going home now.  It’s about time.

Japan solo

I’m on my way again, and the gate call for Tokyo has just appeared on the monitors.  Janet’s left behind with a mountain of clean-up and moving-in work – as if catching up a week off school wasn’t enough.  At least Japan’s supposed to be warmer than Basel.


Tangerine Dream

If you were a tangerine,
You’d want to be on Jeju,
Hanging in a lovely scene,
Where gentle breezes swayed you
‘Neath the country’s highest peak,
Protected by UNESCO,
Till the lovebirds, cheek by cheek,
Start munching you al fresco. 


Earthquake all-clear

It’s my experience that it’s best to inform before information comes from other sources and generates worry.  Therefore, yes, I was in Sendai at the time of this 5.0 earthquake, and it woke me up, but, as the saying goes, I was shaken, not stirred.

In case the information on the USGS site expires, here’s the skinny:


2008 October 29 15:48:40 UTC

Earthquake Details

Magnitude 5.0
Location 38.100°N, 141.618°E
Depth 88 km (54.7 miles) set by location program
Distances 65 km (40 miles) ESE of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
110 km (70 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan
130 km (80 miles) NNE of Iwaki, Honshu, Japan
315 km (195 miles) NNE of TOKYO, Japan
Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 5 km (3.1 miles); depth fixed by location program
Parameters NST=143, Nph=143, Dmin=348.6 km, Rmss=0.78 sec, Gp= 94°,
M-type=body magnitude (Mb), Version=Q
Event ID us2008ytb8
  • This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.


Send in the Cleans

Today I took the Shinkansen
Up north to Yamagata.
Was early on the platform, then
Stood waiting, drinking water. 

I saw another train pull in.
It was the final station, 
And all alit amid the din
Of public address nation. 

Before the passengers embark,
The train crew boards the wagon –
For five minutes a holy ark,
A fire-breathing dragon. 

But lo! two women try to board
Before the cleaning’s o’er!  
Lo! they are swiftly spit, my Lord,
Right out the other door! 

So hey! McCain! and yo! Barack! 
You’ve got no need to worry. 
Send all these train crews to Iraq:
They’ll clean up in a hurry.