Monday, 17 September 2018

A Few Days in Moscow

And it's my last night in Moscow!

Getting a visa to visit Russia was quite a pain.  I had to fill out about 10 pages worth of an application, plus get our hotel to send a formal invitation to get visa approval.  Then I had to send my passport and documentation to the Russian embassy in Australia and wait a couple of weeks for approval there.  I even needed to include every country I visited in the last 10 years, and exactly when I visited, each time I visited on the form!

With all that work, I thought it would be even worse at the airport here.  I expected maybe a full body cavity search, maybe then being drugged and have a microchip implanted in my butt so my movements can be tracked throughout Russia!

Expectations did not meet reality, when I went right through passport control in minutes and customs was literally just walking through an empty corridor, I'm not sure anyone was even there.

Then I expected to be scammed by fake taxis at the airport and immediately got approached by a guy offering a taxi ride!  Turned out he was legit and I got to the hotel at the price our hotel told me to expect.  Funnily enough, just before leaving Australia, I had a guy pull up in his car seeing me with suitcases and randomly offering me a ride to the airport.  So actually it was in Melbourne someone tried to scam me, rather than here...

Russian hospitality has been a bit mixed.  At several places, including our hotel the service has been great.  But in several others, not so great.  Whereas in Japan, everyone was shockingly polite and helpful, here the attitude has often been more "Who are you and why are you here?"  "You want coffee?  Okay fine, wait here."  One guy was abrupt to the point where I had to cut my order short, because he was so annoyed at everything I indicated I wanted it seemed unwise to order more.

The shooting range was particularly like that.  Although no one spoke English, communication was easy using Google Translate.  But the person working there made a point of letting about 20 locals through while I waited to get my turn.  Still, at least I got my turn!

Of course I am in a country that it seems the entire world is trying to paint as the enemy for no reason beyond political convenience.  So I can imagine after a bazillion sanctions pushed for by the US and with psychotics like Hillary Clinton screeching for war all the time, patience for foreigners can wear a bit thin.

At least they have a sense of humour about it:
That was on the inside of a tourist bus going around the city centre.

Getting around Moscow is unexpectedly even easier than Tokyo.  The Metro is super efficient, with trains leaving every 5 minutes on all the city lines and each station being easily within walking distance from each other.  The city is laid out in three concentric circles, with the Red Square in the middle.  Each circle is surrounded by a major road and the metro lines go around those circles and up and down perpendicular to them, so you can get anywhere with a maximum of one changeover.

I wish I took some photos, as many of the stations look like art galleries or palaces on the inside.  Apparently they were originally designed under the USSR with the intention to be "Palaces of the People".  While the whole communist thing didn't work out too well for anyone, they are still impressive monuments.

As for the vibe of Moscow in general, it really doesn't feel much different to Melbourne, only it has a much more interesting history and more impressive buildings.  I don't think anywhere feels as safe as Japan, where you could probably leave your phone on a street corner, in a "bad" area, at 4am and have someone pick it up and run over to give it to you.  But it feels more like Melbourne really.  I had a couple of hobos hovering around me at one point, looking like they were either begging or considering trying to pickpocket me, but they didn't.  Which is basically what you'd expect in some parts of Melbourne.  I'd say pickpocketing is more likely in Rome or Paris than here.

Crime rates in Moscow have been going down year by year for decades now, and general affluence has been going up, despite the greatest efforts of the EU and US to prevent it.

I'm not really trying to paint Russia as the innocent good guys here and the US entirely as the bad guys.  But the media does so much of the opposite, I figure it's only fair to even it out a bit.  One thing I am confident of, is that if I had to choose between Putin's statement on an international event or anything from the US, I'd side with Putin.

And in honour of that, me wearing a Putin shirt, standing next to the bear he rides in all those memes (of which I also have a tshirt!)

Putin on communism:

And much is said about Russia being so anti-LGBTQISNGIUQENGEWIUGMOWIMGUEIWNFV(Q#*#*F*A(A)W#*FYGIAVDSJ!!!!))  So let's hear it from Putin himself:

The only reason I'm even bothering to vote at the next state election in Victoria is because the Liberals claim they will remove Safe Schools finally and at least reduce the harm our schools are doing to kids.  Well in Russia, Safe Schools would be a criminal activity and promoting it to children at all would be illegal.

So basically if political correctness goes much further in Australia, at least I can still try to immigrate to Russia!

But moving on from politics are more onto general touristy stuff!

Moscow really is a beautiful city.  First the obvious, the Red Square and St. Basil's cathedral:

Very impressive sights.  But what struck me more is just how many random impressive buildings there are throughout the city.  Just walking around you find all kinds of buildings that in other places would be photo worthy, and here you just slow down a bit on the way to even more impressive places!

Also just outside the Red Square, on the walls of the Kremlin still, they have the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.  A monument many nations have in recognition of all the soldiers who have died fighting for their country, but who were never identified.  The US and Russia in particular are known for this and have a 24 hour honour guard at the tomb.  In Russia they do a change of the guard ceremony every hour, on the hour during the day.  So I stopped to see that.

Video to come, too large to upload to blogger.

I think it's worth remembering that despite all the political discord between USA and allied countries and Russia, in practice they have never actually opposed each other when it mattered.  Russian soldiers recognised at that tomb died fighting as allies with the United States in World War 2.

Something I didn't expect to see in Moscow and almost missed entirely, walking just meters from it and not seeing it, is the Botanical Garden.  Founded in 1706 it may be the oldest in Europe, and it gathers plants from around the world in several greenhouses.

Tomorrow I'm off to Saint Petersburg, which I have heard over and over again is even more impressive than Moscow!  I look forward to seeing for myself.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

A week in Tokyo and Kyoto

My time in Japan has come to an end.  I'm sitting in a Kimono in an airport hotel with only a pseudo Japanese breakfast left of my trip before I catch a flight to Moscow.

In my last blog I went over my time in Tokyo and a bit of my early impressions of Japan as a country.  Having now seen more of Tokyo and Kyoto as well I can definitely conclude there is a lot to love about Japan.

First of all, let's look at Kyoto.  Starting with the trip there;
The Japan Rail Pass that tourists can get costs about AU$450 and gets you on most trains and some buses, including the high speed trains (Shinkansen) to Kyoto.  Technically it doesn't include the fastest train type, but from what I can see the main difference is number of stops rather than top speed.

According to my phone, we hit a max of 277.3kph in the short distance I was recording.
The train ride was perfectly smooth, so much so that you could have unsecured large suitcases on shelves above the chairs without concern.

I was curious how these trains can possibly work, as in Australia trains can barely cross 80kph and tracks seem to bend and warp every time the temperature reaches mildly above average.  So I looked into it and it turns out the only difference between the design of our train tracks in Australia and those here are that they don't suck here.  It's not some amazing technology, or some super feat of engineering the Japanese managed.  They just secure the tracks firmly to heavy slabs so that through sheer force, changes in temperature aren't enough to warp the tracks dangerous.  In some snowy areas they use sprinklers to melt the snow.

What I can't figure out is how they manage to be on time, all the time and how they manage to pull up exactly to the right spot on the platform every time.  In Melbourne sometimes trains literally miss the station and have to back up a bit.  Here, if the train is more than a couple of feet off, it messes with all the boarding queues and I certainly didn't see that happen.

The first thing I did in Kyoto, was fully indulge in cultural appropriation.

I then proceeded to watch Your Name, in Japanese (admittedly with English subtitles... I'm not that hardcore).

The place I stayed was Nishikiro, a traditional Japanese Inn, with tatami floors (the straw like matts you can see in the image above), a small onsen and the nice garden pond at the entrance.

There were only a few rooms and it was owned by a family who lived there as well.  There was even a midnight curfew for guests, when they shut the front doors.  You took off shoes at the front and put on slippers, then took those off when entering your actual room, and had separate bathroom slippers as well.

The lady who runs the place was very helpful and recommended a lot of good places for us to see and eat at.  The range of pricing for food in Japan is quite surprising.  There are plenty of places that will charge around AU$6-9 for a coffee.  But then you find a smaller, local place and you get a full meal like below for about AU$5.

I even tried adding some "natto", which is meant to be horrible, smelly and disgusting... But frankly was just like ordinary beans, but stickier.

I also had to try eating this octopus, with hard boiled egg in its head.  It was actually quite delicious and not that different from Greek style octopus.

Moving on from food, there were plenty of great sites to see, as you'd expect from Kyoto's reputation.  Though the first thing that struck me, is that Kyoto is actually a big city!  I'd always heard about it in regards to all its temples and gardens, I didn't realise it was also a large, modern city in itself.

But there were indeed temples and gardens, and I made sure to visit some of the best:
The picture doesn't quite do the size of that Buddha justice.

Small deer roaming the streets near the temple.

A nice Japanese garden.

The famous Golden Temple!

A popular street with various shops in Naga, a bit away from Kyoto.

Japanese architecture is obviously very unique.  I find it is generally much smaller in scale than European historical buildings, but very intricate and with a lot of focus on the gardens and the natural element, rather than just the buildings themselves.  Being made largely of wood though has the unfortunate effect that many of the places we visited were actually rebuilt replicas of the original (or replicas of replicas of the original), as wooden buildings of course are a lot easier to destroy than stonework.

That being said, traditional Japanese wooden architecture is famous for being able to withstand insanely large earthquakes due to their unique design.  It's interesting to consider if Japanese architecture is so different due to the need to design buildings that can survive frequent Earthquakes, or it worked out that way for other reasons.  Here's a good short video I found about it.

Back through Tokyo:
As the final but vital stop of my trip, I had to visit one particular shrine that has personal meaning to me!  The Suga Shrine, back in Tokyo.

I'm not a huge anime fan in general, though I have enjoyed some here and there.  But the movie "Your Name", or "Kimi No Na Wa " is in my top three favourite movies of all time.  If you haven't seen it, don't look up anything about it and risk spoilers, just go watch it on Netflix right now!

One of the most iconic scenes of the movie occurs at the steps near the Suga Shrine, and so on the way from Kyoto back through Tokyo to the Narita airport, I made a diversion to see them  in person.

The two people near the bottom of the steps in that photo were also taking photos of themselves posing up and down the steps and from a quick Google search, apparently it's not at all uncommon.

The shrine itself is also nice, but I think it is now more known for the movie than its original purpose.

I'm not sure what it says about me that in a lot of ways, visiting those steps was a more meaningful experience than visiting any of the other locations throughout Japan.  But the fact is, the movie is something that is special to me personally, whereas as much as I like seeing new and interesting things and places, there is no personal connection to those, so it isn't the same.

Goes to show that the value of something really does come more from what it represents to people, than just what it physically is.

Japan as a whole:
I've only had a week to experience Japan, but it's certainly a place I'll want to visit again.  I've travelled to quite a number of countries in my life, 23 I believe, though some when I was only 6 or 7, through I remember them quite well.

If someone were to ask what my overall view of Japan is, I would say that it simply appears to be a more civilised country than any I've visited before.  In much of Europe, there's garbage on the streets and graffiti, people are generally far less courteous and you need to watch your wallet and passport everywhere you go, between gypsy kids and pickpockets seemingly around every corner.  I don't think my family has yet been on a trip to Europe yet where one of us or a friend hasn't had a wallet stolen.

In Japan, it's so relaxing, because you just don't have those kinds of concerns.  Of course crimes occur everywhere, even here, but it is so much better here than anywhere I've visited.  One interesting example is that I went into a pachinko parlour one evening, to see what this supposed craze is all about.  Pachinko is a game that's hugely popular in Japan, where basically you use a lever or dial to throw lots of little balls through a kind of maze to try and win more balls... 

It is basically a gambling game, like pokies.  You exchange the balls for money.

So I figured I'd give it a go and went to a fairly dodgy looking place near my hotel.  It was as loud as the video says it is and had plenty of people smoking inside.  I went to the counter and a woman handed me an English guide to playing the game.  So I went over, sat at a random machine and put in 1000 yen (about AU$12)

I was utterly confused even after reading the instructions.  I won some balls, lost some balls, someone who worked there gave me some suggestions which seems to win me a few more balls and after a few minutes, that was that.

I get up, return the manual and walk out.  As I'm walking away a worker from inside runs out to get me.  He doesn't speak any English, but is bowing and hands me a card that says nothing I can understand on it and indicates I should go back in.  I was pretty sure he was trying to convince me to come back and try some other game or go to the bar with a voucher or something.  I went back in though and he led me down some stairs to a woman who waved at me to come down.

At the bottom of the stairs were signed clearly leading to a bar with more games and what looked like some kind of strip show (not sure if that's legal in Japan, or what exactly it was, but there were lots of posters of attractive girls in costumes).  At this point I figured they were trying to get me into a bar or stripshow to spend some money, so I was about to turn and leave, when the woman asked for the card I was given, walked over to a machine and put it in for me and 500 yen in coins came out.  She smiled and bowed, I took the money and she said goodbye, thank you and so on in Japanese, and that was it.

So basically what in my foreigner mind of expecting to be ripped off or scammed, turned out to be them just wanting me to get my prize money back, they didn't even try and sell me on anything else.

The other thing that was very clear is how proud Japanese people generally seem to be about their country.  Even asking random people on the streets for directions, many of them are excited to see foreigners visiting Japan and being interesting in seeing local sights and trying local things.  One woman I met in a coffee shop spoke nearly fluent English and we talked a bit.  She thought it was hilarious and great that my sister and I actually were willing to try a traditional onsen in the nude, she didn't think Westerners would do that.

And I think that actually answers my question of why Japan is such a clean country, despite basically not having bins anywhere.  People here actually have pride in their nation and so of course wouldn't want to defile it.  Then you go to Western countries where we are taught to hate ourselves, our culture and everything about our nation and it makes sense that we'd throw litter about like it's nothing.  I suspect it is a similar reason why the crime rate is so low here.  There's something to be said for a bit of pride!

This shows particularly well in this video of a Japanese man reacting to the whole "Westerners wearing kimonos" nonsense controversy.

I love how he is actually confused about what the hell people are even thinking when it comes to being offended, and that is very much the attitude I've seen throughout my (admittedly short) trip.

The dark side?
Japan largely has a good international reputation these days, and is known as one of the lowest crime nations on Earth.  But there are two negative things that I've had come up when discussing Japan, the high suicide rate, and the reputation for perversion, whether in porn or with sexual assault on trains.

I've read a bit about the high suicide rate and insane work hours of the Tokyo "salaryman" (a typical office worker).  It's something I'd be curious to learn more about, as it's not something you get to see really as a tourist.  There must be a lot of interesting facets of living in such a big city with such a disciplined work culture that aren't immediately observable to a visitor.

One aspect that is observable I touched on in my last blog.  Being a computer geek myself and always into the latest technology, when deciding where to stay in Japan, my first and only thought was "Akihabara"!  Basically the electronics capital of the world.  Turns out it is also one of the seediest places in Tokyo.

Looking into the history of the development of Akihabara, it first became well known as a hotbed of piracy, a place to get cheap, pirated CDs and games, and then it started attracting more anime and manga (Japanese animated cartoons and basically comics respectively), eventually become home of the "otaku" which is basically a Japanese word for a "geek", someone who is obsessed with things like computer games and anime; and then of course the schoolgirls, maids and porn that come with that.  So it doesn't exactly have a pristine pedigree.  Apparently "Shinjuku" is even more notorious, but I didn't see much of that except the Robot Restaurant (which was awesome!)

There tends to be a connection between the overworked "salaryman", the "otaku" and high suicide rates, at least according to articles I've read, and exploring around Akihabara, it does make sense.  I think it is really best described as a city sized toy store for adults who need a toy store.  Long hours, no time or space for a family, leading to a need for quick and easy forms of entertainment and distraction, that stay open late through the night.  And maids and other forms of kind of pseudo-sexual services in lieu of actual relationships (apparently you can pay to sleep in the same bed as a girl, literally, not touch her, just sleep next to her, or for some extra, she will look deeply into your eyes for a minute - okay then).

At street level, you have mostly electronics, gaming areas and anime toy stores suitable for kids (well, maybe teenagers).  Then you move around the stores a little bit and there's massive areas of trains, robots and all kinds of cool things that would excite any geek.  Then around another corner, or behind a sheet, or up or down a flight of stairs and you are suddenly into a shall we say "next level" adult store.  The fact they are all part of the same shop shows that the shops are clearly designed for a target audience that is interested in all the above.

Now I know I'm supposed to be a pristine, angelic, holy, good example for all mankind to follow.  But I'm not.  So I had a look around and what I saw was just so out of kilter with everything else in Japan, it was jarring.  Japanese people in public are always dressed modestly, helpful, polite, you'd think they go home each night, have tea, pray at a shrine and meditate, levitating their bodies from the ground rather than sleep.  Then you see this other side of Japanese culture and its hard to reconcile how it fits in.

Conversely, in Australia you'll see drunk, half naked girls rolling on each other making out in public, and that wouldn't occasion any response beyond maybe cheering them on.  But if someone makes an inappropriate joke on the radio or you get a nipple slip on a live show (like that one from the US a couple of years ago) it's the end of the world and everyone has to be fired, or lynched, or eaten, whatever the current social justice trend is.  In Japan you wouldn't be likely to see a couple even holding hands on the street, but then that couple goes together to an adult store (yep, couples do go together) and what gets fantasised about after certainly wouldn't pass through customs to Australia.  Hell I wouldn't want to try bringing some of the stuff in the non adult areas through customs.

A similar comparison is in Australia saying "Hi" to a girl without consent these days is getting dangerously close to being called rape, whereas in Tokyo, sexual assault on trains is common (though less so these days after recent crackdowns), but rape rates (along with assault, murder and so on) in Japan are far lower than Australia and most of the rest of the world.

It's a very strange situation that I'd love to fully understand.  But really, I think Japan's reputation for perversion is actually a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

One easy statistic is the marriage rate, only 41% of Australian adults are married, in Japan that rate is 58%.  Now many young Australians would probably say that it's because marriage is dead, and it's just great to raise kids as a single, unemployed parent.  But that is a perfect example of Australian style perversion.  We are horrified to say the wrong thing or to see the wrong thing, but we are okay with just throwing the family unit out like a used condom.  In Japan it's perfectly legal (and somewhat culturally acceptable) to have porn that would make an Australian censor eat their own tongue, but they still value families and taking care of children (and children in turn taking care of parents).  And bear in mind while these things may be accepted in broader society socially and legally, it doesn't mean they particularly permeate the society, with the "otaku culture" still being considered a small and weird, but tolerated group.

In Japan it's normal to have young schoolgirls as part of large bands on stage in skimpy outfits, where men trade cards with photos of them in public (there's a big shop for one of the most popular bands in Akihabara, the AKB48 Cafe).  In Australia it's normal for similar aged kids to smoke weed and attend sex education classes where they practice putting condoms on dildos ("Safe Schools" program).

So the reality of it is that really every country is messed up in its own way, and the way each country is bad, may seem so much worse to people in another country used to their own problems.  But really, it's just different kinds of bad.  And I don't see that Japan's kind of bad is any worse than ours.

As for the suicide rate.  Well as is usual, that just comes down to psychiatric drugging.

Ultimately, Japan has been an amazing place to visit, with everything good I've heard being entirely true and everything bad I've heard also being true, but also misrepresented, or misunderstood.

Next time I visit, it will have to be during the cherry blossom season, when the weather is much more suited to my tastes, and I get to see one of the most quintessentially Japanese things.  Not to mention trying out skiing in Japan!  Apparently January/February are ideal for both.  Maybe 2020?

An aside about overpopulation:
Seriously, 127 million people live in Japan, in a country smaller than New South Wales, and most of the country is beautiful, open countryside.  And even in Tokyo there are a lot of open spaces and parks.  So when people talk about overpopulation being a big problem in the world... No.

Now to Russia!
And after all that, onward to Russia!  Another country I've been really keen to check out, for it's unique culture, architecture and no doubt amazing food!

I'd also love to see Putin if he gives a speech or something.  No matter what anyone says, every time I've heard him talk, he makes sense and his actions consistently work toward improving the quality of life in Russia and trying to improve relations with the rest of the world (despite other nations trying their best to keep Russia as an enemy, 1984 style).

Downside, I know even fewer Russian words than Japanese and I expect there'll be a lot less English writing over there.  Will find out soon enough!  Better cram a bit on the plane...

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Visiting Tokyo

My time in Tokyo is already up, and while it would be easy to spend a lot more time here (at least if it weren't so exceedingly hot and humid), I did manage to do most of the things I wanted.  Only thing I would particularly have liked to check out was a sumo fight!  Perhaps another time...

So what is Japan like?  I had a pretty good idea of what to expect coming here, but there were a number of little surprises.  The first thing that struck me is that it really is not all that crowded in most places, most of the time!  When I thought of Tokyo, I always thought of people crushed into trains, streets flooded with people everywhere, but while at certain times of day in certain very busy places this is the case, for the most part it's really not that bad.  More often than not seats were available on trains and the road traffic was amazing!  I don't know how traffic can be so infinitely better in Tokyo than in a sparse country town like Melbourne.

Well, I have some idea, first of all the public transport, while confusing at first, is extremely effective.  Everywhere I wanted to go seemed to be within 15 minutes walk of a station.  Secondly, bicycle use and laws aren't retarded here.  Bikes stay off the road and on the footpath where they don't hold up traffic, and no one wears helmets so it's actually somewhat convenient.  In Melbourne I consider riding a bike a deep form of spiritual degradation, here it actually makes sense!

On the other hand, while it isn't that crowded on the streets, inside shops is a different story.  Particularly in Akihabara (the electronics/comics/geek district), many shops have so little space between aisles you can barely squeeze past another person and they are often packed.  I actually find it hard to believe there is enough demand for the sheer number of goods on display, but many shops have been around for decades, so something must be working

Now, onto specifics!

We stayed at the "Hotel Dormy Inn" in Akihabara, and it was great.  Breakfast was included, with a Western option (which I didn't bother trying) and a Japanese option, which was awesome and included sushi, miso soup with vegetables, rice, various bits of stuff like small fish and vegetables and a bunch of optional extras and drinks.  They also offer free ramen between 9:30pm and 11pm as a late night snack, a huge bonus for me when I finally get back late at night!

Even better, the hotel has its own onsen on the top floor!
"Onsen" is basically a hot bath.  But it's way better than that.  First of all, men's and women's are separate and you're required to be fully naked in the baths.  They don't use chemicals or salt, it is fresh water, so you also need to shower and clean off before going in to keep the water clean.  Admittedly at first stripping naked and hanging around a bunch of naked guys was weird, but it really didn't take long to get over it.

The centre has the outdoor pool you see in the picture, which is very hot and a similarly hot one indoors, out of the wind.  Then there's a small tub outdoors that is scalding hot!  I gather you're meant to dip in it briefly before going into the main one from what I've seen others do.  There's also seating areas, a sauna that is between 87 and 97 degrees C when I've been in there and a cold bath to cool off at the end.  It's one hell of a way to end a day and often I went twice a day just to cool off and be able to keep going.

The food was every bit as impressive as I'd hoped and heard!

My favourite meal was the one I most wanted to try on coming here, the Wagyu Steak Sandwich!  At a bit over AU$100, it certainly wasn't the cheapest meal, but it was definitely an experience worth having.  The prices went up to around AU$300 for fancy Kobe beef, but the person serving at the cafe recommended this particular one as his favourite.

It looks simple, but the meat quality and taste are amazing.  Went really well with a glass of white wine (yes I know, unusual for steak!)

This coffee at a place called "Chatei Hatou" was also unusual and impressive.  It's basically coffee on sweetened condensed milk, but it tastes amazing.  In Japanese they pronounce it "Oregase" but I believe it's actually a Spanish drink called "Cafe Bombon".

The donuts here were very impressive - must be their special ingredient...

Tokyo is certainly known for its unique and interesting forms of entertainment, and it didn't disappoint.  The Robot Restaurant was even better than I expected!  It is insane, loud, corny, but totally awesome!  The show is an hour and a half long and in four parts, each with different robots, costumes and story lines straight out of Japanese comics.  It was actually one of the highlights of the trip!  Interestingly, it was the only place I went that wasn't mostly locals, almost everyone seemed to be from Europe/America (and some other Australians too).

The maid cafes.  I had to try it, and well, it is also as weird after as it sounded before.  The cafes are exactly what they look like, basically over the top cute, with cute girls dressed as maids serving cute food and doing cute dances.  It seems like what you'd expect for a themed kids restaurant (and kids are allowed), but when I was there, there was one couple, my sister and I, and a bunch of middle aged and old men... So, well that's Japan!

The cafe I went to was Maidreamin, which is one of the top maid cafes in Tokyo.  But with the number of girls on the streets dressed in maids outfits, I strongly suspect there are other... less reputable places that probably aren't so family friendly.

I'm not a big shopper, so don't have much to say on that side of things, but if you are, Tokyo is clearly the place to be.  They are so large and densely packed that you could probably fit Melbourne entire range of computer shops, electronics shops or gaming/comic shops in just one of the large ones in Tokyo.

While Japan has a reputation for having one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it also has a reputation for being a bit creepy, and it is definitely well earned.  In Akihabara in particular, there are heaps of comic/collectable shops that are several stories large and are for all ages, and even in the all ages section there's some pretty perverted stuff.  But then you turn a corner and sometimes with a small sign, other times not even that, you're surrounded by all kinds of perverted "only in Japan" kind of materials!

I certainly far from "sheltered", but it was way more over the top than even I expected, and I thought I had a pretty good idea!  So yeah, if you visit Akihabara stores with kids, make sure to check them out first... And frankly even if you're not with kids, if you don't want to have some images you can't get out of your head for a while, stay out of any 18+ areas!

On a related note, I'd heard that girls often get groped by men on crowded trains in Tokyo.  What I hadn't heard is that the opposite is quite true as well!  It may not be politically correct to say this, but frankly when a guy gropes a girl on a train, that's creepy; but when a girl gropes a guy, that's just funny (and rather enjoyable!)  The simple fact is, girls generally don't like being groped by strangers, whereas if the girl is attractive, most guys would be quite okay with it.  And she was attractive!

Due to the heat, I really couldn't bring myself to check out as many sights as I would have liked.  It was just too sweltering to really enjoy a long walk.  But for a city that's supposed to be super densely crowded, Tokyo has some really beautiful, spacious locations that are worth seeing.

I definitely would like to come back in a colder period some time and really get a better look around, as there is so much to see in every place.  Every little street and even back alleys seem to have different and interesting places and little entrances like this one, lead to nice and quite large cafes either underground or several levels up.

Next stop is Kyoto, leaving tomorrow morning on the Shinkansen (bullet train).  Time to see the more traditional side of Japan!

Some political commentary:
Couldn't resist throwing some politics in here.  One thing I was really interested in about Japan is that it is one of very few advanced countries that is largely ethnically homogeneous.  With 98.5% of the population being Japanese and the remaining being almost entirely Chinese and Korean, it is really the only first world country I've been to that has it's own and rather unique culture.

As a tourist, you don't feel unwelcome, I find it feels very much like being a welcomed guest in someone's home.  Everyone is courteous, tries to help and is quick to forgive any mistakes or problems you cause just because it's expected of a foreigner.  Yet from foreigners I've heard who try to actually move to Japan to live, it's like being a guest that is well overstaying their welcome.

And while Japan certainly does have American stores like McDonalds and others, it still very much has its own kind of culture.  It isn't politically correct at all, the TV shows alone make that very clear (and the funny Japanese TV show clips you see online really are what play on live TV throughout the day!)  Nonsense like "diversity" and "cultural appropriation" really isn't a thing.

Case in point:

It's interesting and quite unusual being in a country where people are proud of their own nation, culture and tradition.  In the West, basically any sign that a person things they or their culture is good, is considered racism, whereas in Japan it would be weird to not like your own country and culture.  I quite like the idea of actually being proud of my own country.  The only time I've ever felt pride for Australia is when our coffee was so good we put Starbucks out of business.  That is something I will forever cherish!

I actually quite like that Australia is a successful multicultural nation.  As while it can bring in the worst from all cultures, it also brings in the best and ends up becoming its own unique thing.  Having some countries like that I think is great, as it makes for a more interesting world, but having every country like that is just boring!  That's what I think really makes Japan special, that it is still Japan.  I expect Russia will be similar and it should be interesting to see.

I used to like travelling to different countries to experience their unique cultures, but these days all Western countries are basically identical except for the language (and English is pretty ubiquitous anyway), so it's nice being able to visit a place that still has its own culture and a sense of pride in it.  And specifically, pride for their culture, without hatred of other cultures, something the modern "Social Justice Warrior" considers synonymous.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Dinner With Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux

Well that was certainly an experience!  I'm glad I went, as it was one of the more eye opening events I've ever attended, but not all in a good way.

To start with the positive, I liked both Lauren and Stefan as people.  I liked that they have the courage to say what they think, even against all the death threats, police fees and riots, when our own politicians are largely too afraid to even take on something as glaringly insane as "Safe Schools" publicly.  Most people at the event were ordinary, decent people interested in hearing an opinion different to the brainwashing media and education system we have in Australia.  Everyone I talked to was capable of having an actual discussion about issues - including Lauren and Stefan - without getting angry or offended and actually putting forth arguments and listening to counter arguments.

However there are many parts of their politics that I don't agree with, and there was also a definite far right element at the event, with people that I'd say probably Lauren and Stefan themselves wouldn't want to be associated with.

One example is people on one of the buses told me there was one crazy guy (out of about 40) who was going on racist rants the entire bus trip, while others tried to shut him up.  So obviously just a weird minority, but it clearly is true that those sort are attracted to these kind of events, along with the normal people.

Here's what I think is the crux of the matter though.  Both Lauren and Stefan have views I don't agree with.  I am not anti-Islam, where Lauren is somewhat (from our brief conversation I think she is more conflicted on it than she lets on in her videos), and I'm not as "pro Western culture" as Stefan is.  Frankly, one day I hope to see a culture or civilization on Earth, but it hasn't happened yet.  There were a few things Stefan stated as facts that I'd definitely question - he somehow ignored Asia when discussing the history of technological development in the world (though to his credit, he himself encouraged everyone to question his facts and opinions, which you never hear from left wing speakers).

I also find that Lauren's way of stirring controversy in particular can do more harm than good.  Like the "It's okay to be white," shirt to her is just a funny way of pointing out media bias, but at the same time while she doesn't hold any racist views that I could discern (remembering that religions and races are different), she knows that saying that will make others think she is racist and get her support from actual racist groups who use similar slogans.

But here is the bigger HOWEVER, nothing either of them said at the event, or have said or done in the past (that they've actually said or done, ignoring media hype) is even close to as disturbing, wrong or harmful as the words and actions of many left wingers that are considered perfectly acceptable in modern society.

Lauren and Stefan are accused of hate speech, well I'd argue it's hate speech when the left demonizes business owners as greedy criminals and males as unbridled rapists, but apparently, that's okay.  But saying that kids should be raised in a stable family environment and not indoctrinated on 50 plus genders?  Hate speech!

And let's not get started about little kids in drag at "Pride parades" or the likes of PETA and Greenpeace.

When you have left wing social justice warriors at American universities literally protesting against free speech, chanting that "speech is violence", and academics and politicians who take that nonsense seriously, it's not surprising that some people may go overboard in response.

I'm no stranger to holding and voicing controversial opinions, and I also like hearing the views of people with interesting things to say, whether I agree with them or not.  It's rather troubling that now attending an event to hear someone speak, immediately means you are a supporter of them and all their views.  I had the idea that you go to such an event to find out more about what the speakers believe so you can make up your own mind, but apparently according to the Australian media and the left, that is no longer the case.  We either blindly obey, or they viciously attack as can be seen in any media report about the protests.

Remember, the people using actual violence, were not the people in the event. And that includes the more extreme far right element that were present.

So, what actually happened there?

The Dinner:
I was texted the secret address of the dinner at around lunch time on the day, so I was able to drive there directly and miss the protesters.  Turns out that after I think it was 98 venues had rejected them, this place was booked just the night before, the only place that would have them!

I arrived at 4:50pm to find a horde of police presence, but no protesters yet.  There were about 20 guests at the dinner, which is a lot more than I expected given the hefty price tag.  Before Lauren and Stefan arrived, we milled around a bit and chatted among ourselves and the conversation was mostly people being surprised about how much fuss there was over the whole thing.  The mood I could best describe as "a little bemused".

No one when they booked their tickets it seemed was expecting a big controversy or some kind of hate fueled event, they were there for a dinner and a chat to a couple of people they respected for taking massive risks to talk about subjects that Australian politicians are afraid to discuss in the open, from LGBT indoctrination through "Safe Schools", to our failing and left wing education system, and the general moral decline of society.  (And for anyone wondering, no one I spoke to at least even seemed interested in the subjects of immigration or religion at the dinner, one person even said he hopes they don't waste too much time just talking about that).

We eventually sat at 3 tables and Lauren and Stefan rotated between tables for about 20 minutes each table.  Interestingly, the majority of people were there to see Stefan rather than Lauren, which was surprising given the media paid him almost no attention.

Lauren and Stefan were both very pleasant and reasonable people to talk to.  I would have liked to go more in depth with them, but time of course didn't permit.  I definitely didn't get any notion of hatred or desire for violence from either of them, they both talked very openly and sounded like they genuinely care about trying to improve conditions.  It's refreshing after a lot of Liberal political functions I've been to, where people treat every word they say as a bomb that might get them killed if someone takes it the wrong way.  I've met a lot of able, intelligent politicians, who yet can't achieve anything because they are too afraid anyone will hear what they actually think about things as shocking as having a dissenting view about abortion, same sex marriage, religious freedom and so on.

Someone told me one of the people there was a member of a far right, anti-Islam and racist group.  I only got to speak to him for a couple of minutes, but I did bring that up and if he did have any controversial opinions, he didn't go into them with me.  Maybe he just didn't want to get into an argument, as he was perfectly polite to me (though I am a straight, white male).  Or maybe he just wasn't actually racist/anti-Islam.  Again, just not enough time to really find out!

The Main Event:
I'm not great at estimating crowds, but I'd say there were 500-600 people there.  Probably 70% were European male (not specifically "white"), then most of the rest were Euro female.  In the whole room there were probably only 10 or so people of other races.

I think that's likely more because of how the media portray Stefan and Lauren than because of anything they actually say or believe.  If there were a handful of people who may have taken issue to other races being there, the 500-600 others would have quickly taken issue with them (along with Stefan, Lauren and security).  I'd be curious to hear from any of those 10 or so people if they did encounter any issues by attending (even if it was just dirty looks).

I will say the main event had a different vibe to the private dinner.  There definitely were some pretty drunk and angry looking people there, but they didn't actually say or do anything racist or otherwise offensive that I observed, so that's just the impression I got from them.  If they were actually racists or anti-Islam or otherwise bigoted, they probably realised they weren't actually at a suitable venue to voice that.

There were quite a few interesting things throughout the event, but there's two that stood out to me.  Stefan said during his speech (and really the main point he was making was) that it is vital freedom of thought and speech be permitted in society and that we don't allow violent protesters to prevent reasoned debate from occurring.  He said if we aren't permitted to freely talk now about what kind of society we want to live in and if we let dissenting opinions be suppressed, then eventually there will be no freedom at all and that will only lead to violence and destruction.

So that sounds pretty sensible, but one person did come up and ask a bit of a veiled question of Stefan which to paraphrase was basically "So when do you think violence will be necessary to fight back against the left."  The implication being he was looking for an excuse to do so.  Stefan (and Lauren who was next to him) seemed a bit taken aback by the question, and his response was that there shouldn't be any violence, but if we ever get to a point where it is literally impossible to have freedom of speech, it is just an inevitability that it will occur.

The other thing that stood out as mostly pandering to the wrong audience was how Stefan ended his talk.  He encouraged everyone to chant "West is best!"  His point, which he made clear, was that right wing people (who hold traditional Western, Judeo-Christian beliefs) need to stop being ashamed of their beliefs and feeling self conscious about being attacked, but instead actually be proud of their own culture, just like other cultures are proud of theirs.  But obviously he would have known that some several hundred white guys chanting that definitely has a different connotation, especially to any extremists who may have been there.

As I said before, I can't really get behind pride in any extant culture.  If I were to chant, it would be more like "Human's need a civilization," or some-such.

The Protesters:
And that leaves just the protesters to discuss.
I mean really.  WOW!
From my seating position I couldn't see if there were multiple or just individuals at some points, but several times throughout the event someone who got in with a ticket turned out to be a protester.  Maybe 6 people in total.
And those people were like wild animals.  Like these weren't humans in there protesting, I have to assume they were either on drugs, or were actual rabid dogs in human form.

From what I could see they were all white women in their 20s and all they did was run around and shriek like lunatics for a few seconds until they got dragged out by security while the audience laughed and cheered.

I'm really curious what they were doing while waiting for their moment and how they decided when to start.  How did they even pass as human long enough to get through security?  Hell how did they use a computer to order tickets, or did someone do it for them?

I didn't see much of the outside protesters, so I guess I'll find out on the news what they were like, but inside I've never seen more mentally deranged people in real life, only on some YouTube videos.  It was kind of surreal and worth the ticket price alone.

The Police Fees:
It's been all over the news that the police are charging $68,000 for the security provided.

Now all credit to the police and security present for doing an excellent job.  I can't criticise them at all.  But despite the idea that police charge event organisers for police presence regularly, there is a key difference here:

The difference is that generally events that need police are large, public gathering where people are getting drunk or on drugs and police are needed to stop general violence and problems.

At this event, police didn't need to be there because of the event itself.  At the event itself there was plenty of security and none of the attendees (except the protesters who got it) got violent or caused any problems.  Police only needed to be there because terrorists were threatening violence and turned up to attack the attendees of the event.

That is a very different circumstance to a normal event.  At a normal event, people show up, some may get rowdy and are handled by police.  At this event, the only people the police were needed to handle were people not there for the event, but criminals and terrorists coming to disrupt the event.  Thus by charging the event organisers, the police are literally charging the victims of crime for protection.  This was clearly a political decision from uplines in the force (or perhaps even at government level) and not the fault of any of the police present of course.

The correct handling would have been to inform protesters that any violence would result in immediate arrest and criminal charges and then to turn up, quickly arrest anyone breaking the law (including assault such at throwing things at people), filing criminal charges against them and leaving it at that.  That would have left a bunch of non violent protesters who didn't need police to handle them, and a bunch of criminals and terrorists off the streets.

So in summary my view of the whole thing is that Stefan and Lauren are pretty reasonable people, with some views I disagree with, but nothing that can't be discussed on a rational level (and nothing they wouldn't be perfectly happy to discuss either).  Stefan probably has more controversial views than Lauren, but Lauren is definitely more overt in causing offense to get attention.

Most of the attendees were normal people who just wanted some place they could hear views outside the mainstream, brainwashing media.

There were some people who it seemed were extreme who were present, but they probably didn't get what they were coming for.

The protesters were batshit crazy animals and when those are your opposition, it shows you must be doing at least something right.

And would I go to one of their events again?  Probably not.  If Jordan Peterson comes down again, I'll have to make sure to see him, but while I like Lauren and Stefan, I don't think the event was actually constructive to improving things in Australia.  I definitely don't think it was harmful or dangerous, and I'm glad that some other views are being spoken here, but they didn't really present much of a solution to go forward with.

Actually I think Lauren in particular could achieve a lot more good if she tried to be less shocking and relied more just on reason.  That's actually something a guy sitting next to me said to her at the dinner, that she presents much better in a reasoned argument in person than she does on her videos and in the media.  She said she agrees, but it's basically impossible to have a real conversation with the media or with anyone from the left, as they aren't willing to actually talk, but just attack.  The protesters certainly lend some credibility to that argument, though Peterson has shown it is possible.

I'm definitely glad I went, I know plenty of people thought I shouldn't go, but I don't believe that speech is violence and opinions are dangerous and I think anyone who does is the real danger to society.

And if anyone thinks I'm a terrible person just for wanting to discuss some interesting issues, well I'd much rather someone hate me for who I am, than like me for who I'm not.

If anyone wants to hear a good summary of both their views, I just watched this which covers it all quite well.

Minor corrections.  Apparently it was 88 not 98 venues, and there were 4 protesters inside.

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Tower of MEAT

It's possible I never told you about my theory of food.  I am 90% certain this theory is incorrect, but it is absolutely correct.

When you eat food, the sustenance comes not from the digestion of the food itself, but from the imbibing of the suffering and work of all involved in its preparation. The animals who die, the people who labour and so on, are all fed to you on a deep, spiritual level, through the ritual of eating their food.  This is why meals you prepare yourself are never as filling, you're basically eating your own life force!

Based off this theory, I have developed the scientific fact that the more animals are in your meal, the better it is for you!  And hence for the ultimate in healthy eating, I advise visiting Demazzi in Essendon!  Now I know some of you likely aren't into healthy eating, and that's perfectly fine, there are plenty of places you can go for unhealthy vegetarian and vegan meals.  But for those who care about their spiritual well being, let me present to you, THE TOWER BURGER:

This thing packs in a full three different animals, presented in 5 unique ways!  Ground cow, milked cow, fried chicken, torn up pig AND salted and smoked pig.  It's like a Frankensteinian orgy of flesh!

I must confess, for years I have scorned the quality of food Melbourne (and Australia as a whole) has to offer, but the tide is finally turning and we are rising up to a new age of glory and wisdom. Stay tuned, because this is just the beginning...

Saturday, 27 January 2018

A Step Too Far - Chapter 13

Annie sat breathing heavily, dangling her feet in the hot spa, watching the dried blood, indifferently wondering if it will wash off easily, or need some scrubbing.  How did she even get blood on her legs?  Splash damage must have been more intense than she noticed at the time.

Stripping to her underwear, she pulled out her wallet again before settling into the spa to clean up.  It took some time to find a suitable hot-tub, kept warm in a back yard, despite the residents being off somewhere.  Ever so courteous of them to let her bloody up their waters.  A hot spa was clearly the only way to celebrate a victory in battle, it’s a shame they weren’t around in the good old days - a good hot spring certainly did the trick though.

A few hundred dollars in cash - not bad for a kid, drug money?  A learner’s permit, the photo was pretty, but she saw herself in the mirror at the bar, it clearly didn’t do her justice.  Platinum credit card, daughter of rich parents?  Debit card, library card?  They still have those?  Hmph.  Gym membership, of course, and some blank card, probably opens the gate of her parent’s mansion.  Very un-elucidating… She put it aside and sunk under the bubbling water to try and get the blood out of her - come to think of it remarkably silky - hair.

I still ask people sometimes, what their earliest memory is.  A Christmas tree on a snowy day; their first day in school; their parents’ faces? Some it seems can barely remember even being a child.  None remember being born, yet not one person ever questions that they were born, everyone is born at some point, right?

I remember when I was born - far too long ago - but it isn’t my earliest memory.  My earliest memory isn’t of being born, but of dying. Then blackness, perhaps a second, perhaps a thousand years, then birth. And before that,  nothing.  I’ve never known blackness since then, not even a moment’s nap.  The body sleeps, I do not.  I’ve been born many times since then.  I’ve lost more bodies than I can easily count.

So if my earliest memory is my own death, surely I must have been alive before then?  Was that the first life I was born into?  Was I even born, or did I just come to be at that very moment, seeing through the eyes of someone who was never me?  Whoever that man was, there were two things I knew about him.  He was hated by those who killed him more than I’d seen anyone be hated in all my time since, and I hated him.  I don’t even know who he was, but God I hate him with every fiber of my being.

Emerging from under the water, Annie took a deep breath and casually inspected her newly clean hair.  It was nice being beautiful.  I should buy a pretty dress.

A Step Too Far - Chapter 12

The two men came around the corner and Annie heard them stop still.  “Hey!” one growled “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  She turned to face them with a grim smile, as they moved to block her escape.  “Oh I just saw those guys in there kill that guy Dave you’ve got hidden away inside.  Thought I’d see what they were doing with him, maybe drop in and say ‘Hi’,” she replied brightly.  “Crazy bitch, you must be high,” replied the man on the left as they both approached her.  He saw the specs of blood on her face and clothes.  “I guess this will be the second time someone teaches you a lesson tonight.”

Annie watched them approach, grim smile shrinking to more of a dark smirk.  One of them drew a knife, the other grabbed her and slammed her hard up against the wall.  It knocked the wind from her, but the smirk remained.  “Pretty little thing like you should stay off the streets at this hour, but I guess it’s too late now, can’t exactly unsee something can you?”  “No indeed!” she cheerily replied, despite some shortness of breath, “Come to think of it, weren’t the two of you there too?  I’m pretty sure that knife was the one that got me, uh, him in the leg, no?”

The man with the knife pushed the other aside and held it to Annie’s throat.  The grim smirk was gone, she now smiled sweetly, looking into his eyes.  “That’s right, this was that knife.  Now, tell me, would you like me to fuck you before, or after I use it on you?” The other guy laughed, “This bitch is crazy man, but she’s hot!  We could get good money for her, let’s bring her in.”

“Oh, let’s not be in such a hurry,” Annie said seductively, gently caressing the man’s knife arm.  “Can’t you both fuck me here first, before we go inside?” Now the man with the knife laughed and leaned closer to her, his left hand moving to grope her between the legs.  His knife twisted from his hand and went up through the floor of his mouth,  right into his brain.  He fell straight to the ground dead.

The other man jumped back in shock and fumbled, but managed to reach his gun.  Annie took a step toward him as he retreated, drawing on her.  She grabbed the gun with both hands and leaped up and around, wrapping her legs firmly around his neck and wrenching the gun from his grip.  He came crashing down, her legs still entwined around him, cutting off circulation to his brain.  In a few seconds he stopped twitching.  She lay relaxedly on the ground for another minute before letting go.  His eyes had almost bulged out of their sockets.  It was nice having a body that could properly follow through with her intention!

Annie rose to her feet, taking the gun, but leaving the knife.  It seemed a good place for it to remain - sticking out of the man’s jaw - it held a certain aesthetic quality.  After three months as Dave, not to mention years as a hobo before that, Annie realised she was tired of inactivity and slowly plodding around.  Walking to the front of the bar, she wanted some action.  There was only so much she could do to increase the strength of a body, but she put all she had into it and kicked down the front door, marching in, gun blazing.

A Step Too Far - Chapter 11

Slurring and sobbing, stumbling as she ran despite her drug addled head, trying to reach the main road while explaining where she was to the operator, Stephanie was desperate to get someone, anyone there to help.  The operator calmly tried to settle her down and find out what happened, but she was too frenzied to give a coherent reply between trying to flag down cars that sounded their horns angrily at her.

As the operator ensured her an ambulance was on its way and implored repeatedly, “Please miss, keep off the road, an ambulance is on its way, you need to go back to your friend and I’ll talk you through helping her.” After several repeats, the message finally drummed though, “Shit!” she’d left her lying on her back, probably choking on her own tongue!  Maybe the only reason she wasn’t breathing now was Stephanie's own carelessness!  She hung up the phone and ran back to where she left Annie.

Stephanie’s eyes darted around, desperately trying to spot where she left Annie, but she was nowhere to be seen.  This has to be where she was!  It was only a few hundred meters away, and she recognised the nearby tree and bench, definitely!  They were lying right there!  Was she that high she imagined the entire thing?  She shone the light of her phone where Annie once lay and saw a few specs of blood against the green grass.  But Annie was gone.

Stephanie turned, looking carefully in every direction, Annie nowhere in sight.  “Annie?” she called out into the darkness.  “ANNIE!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.  No reply.  She ran back and fourth, making sure she had a full view of the area.  There wasn’t a lot obscuring the view and she could see well enough into the distance in the moon light.  No one was there.

She paused in horror for a moment, unable to find her dead or dying friend… and then realised, and fell to her knees laughing and crying at once with relief.  She was alive!  If she was too badly off, she couldn’t have gone far at all in such little time.  In Stephanie’s daze she must have not been able to feel her pulse or notice her breathing, how obvious that should have been!  Whatever had happened to Annie, she had obviously woken up, saw she was alone in the park, and knowing her, calmly and quickly went for help.

Stephanie raised her phone and started dialing Annie’s number.  Whatever happened last night, she clearly owed Annie the world’s biggest apology, and given the state they were in, probably also her life - again.  The thought flashed in her mind, “How much does an entire ice-cream shop go for these days?”