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Sunday, 14 October 2018

The Three Things I Learned In School

I recently read an article where some psychologist pondered why kids are increasingly bored, irritable and distracted in school.

The fact that there is a person alive who needs to ask that question led me to write this to try and expunge the horror and disgust from my body and soul.

I spent the requisite number of years slowly ageing in school, the sole manifestation of my completion being the time that had passed.  People have claimed to my face that I clearly learned something in those years, given that I am not entirely illiterate or innumerate.  This of course ignores the fact that while I was well above average in literacy when I completed school, that speaks only for the average state of literacy and nothing of my own.

What I did learn in school took the form of either accidentally noticing what the teacher was saying because I had nothing better to do, or noticing someone knew something I didn't that may be useful and so learning it myself.  I learned to read not when it was taught in school, but when I found out that some books had stuff about stars and planets in them - and that other kids could apparently read them - so I needed to learn to read if I wanted to know about those things, because of course teachers never knew anything worth learning.

Yet the title of this post is "The Things Things I Learned In School", so on to the topic at hand.

My first lesson was on my very first day.  At least I can't accuse school of being slow in imparting the first basic truth!

I was at least partially looking forward to school.  I had been told there was a person there, a "teacher" who knew a lot of things and I'd be able to ask them questions and learn about all the things I wanted to know!  What an exciting notion!

I arrive on my first day and we go through the expected orientation, are seated at our tables and handed pieces of paper with outlined fish on them, along with piles of coloured pencils.  "Colour in the fish to match the colours" the teacher said.

Now looking back I understand that the purpose of this was for the teacher to evaluate what level each kid was, who could read and identify the different colours, who could hold a pencil properly and so on.

But when I was 6, all I knew is that this was a stupid waste of time, because I wasn't retarded so obviously I already knew how to do this and so it clearly wasn't going to teach me anything new.  I asked the teacher why we are doing it and she said "Because that's the task for the class this morning."

This confused 6 year old me, because I was told school is a place where you learn, and I didn't realise that not only had I been lied to, but that even teachers themselves were deluded enough to not know how worthless school actually is...

I asked again and as you'd expect the teacher just got annoyed with me and said "All the other kids are doing it without a problem, so you should too."  I looked around and surely enough all the other kids were either happily colouring in, or looking confused and watching the kid next to them to work out what to do.

My heart sank.  I realised that not only were my entire class retarded sheep, but that school was a place to enslave retarded sheep into doing menial tasks.

Lesson 1:
"School is a place to enslave retarded sheep into doing menial tasks."

It only took about a year to get onto the second lesson, which is pretty good by schooling standards!

In first grade we were assigned a task to write a story.  It could be about anything we wanted, a real story or made up.  So we all wrote our little stories and the teacher had us read them out to the class.

One by one we all get up telling our predictably poor 7 year old kid stories.  The teacher then telling each kid what was good and what needed improving about their story.  I don't remember what she said about most stories, but I could probably safely assume everything she said was wrong given what I've seen about teaching writing since then.

Regardless, up comes one girl, I believe her name was Emily, and reads out her story, which at least to my young mind was quite fascinating.  It was the only story in the class that actually qualified as a story, rather than just random statements about nonsense strung together.  It was certainly better than my own, and the only one that was.  I was curious what the teacher had to say about that!

"You started too many sentences with 'and' instead of using proper punctuation, you need to use full stops more."  And that's it, not one positive comment, unlike every other student.

So I'd already learned that school was for enslaving morons, now that was re-enforced by learning that it was also intended to degrade able people to reduce their ability over many years.

I went from just resenting school and being bored at that point to despising it and wanting desperately to escape.

Lesson 2:
"School is a place to degrade able people to force them down to the average standard, and in turn force the average standard as low as possible."

It took a while for me to learn my third and final lesson at school, all the way until grade 4.  I was a good student up until then, simply because being a good student took about ten minutes a day and shut everyone up so I could mess around the rest of the time.

But in 4th grade, I learnt the lesson that I took with me all the way through the rest of school.

After lunch one day, our teacher assigned us a bunch of seemingly random work to do for the rest of the afternoon.  It was painfully boring, starting with copying nonsense off the board, then doing a bunch of simple math problems.

Finishing after about half an hour (and so with several hours to go), I handed in my work, only to be handed more work.  So I finished that and handed it in, and was handed even more work.

Now I'll admit I was very slow and stupid for taking until this occurred to learn this lesson.  But I sat at my desk with this latest pile of work, realising that if I just didn't do it, I wouldn't have to do any more work.

Then I realised that if I'd never done any of the work I'd ever been given and never did any work ever again, it would make absolutely no difference to anything, ever.  I didn't need to learn anything, because anything I wanted to learn I could learn on my own in 1/100th the time they waste teaching in school, so if I ever found something worth learning I'd just do it myself.  And the assignments of course did nothing for anyone, they were just arbitrary menial tasks for us slaves.

Lesson 3:
"Never doing anything is as productive as doing everything, because all work serves no actual purpose."

And then for the rest of school I basically did nothing and learnt nothing new, and was all the better for it.

Of course the first two lessons were correct, but not good things to be correct.  The third lesson was entirely false in real life, but that's what kids are taught to believe throughout their schooling, so that by the time they are in the "real world" they are typical adults who are happy to work in menial, middle class jobs that achieve nothing of worth, because that's what they are used to.

So when someone has the audacity to complain or question about kids being bored, irritable and distracted at school, I find that rather galling.  If a kid isn't bored, irritated and distracted at school, they have probably already died inside (or weren't alive in the first place).

As a side note, it is well known that in high living standard nations, along with broken families, low literacy and illiteracy are the main factors behind illegal drug use.  And given that schooling seems to do its very best to prevent literacy from being achieved, then it would be fair to argue that school is basically the reason most kids in well of countries end up on illegal drugs.  There's no other way to escape the torment after all, and no one to talk to about it, because it's considered perfectly normal to go to school.

One day I'd like to see schooling reformed so that it actually achieves the vital goal of proper education.  I don't know that it will be done in my lifetime, but it would be so easy with only a handful of changes to turn schools into useful places of learning.  Instead we just throw lots of money at them, pretending that will make a difference.

Maybe one day...

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Eternal Empire

I've had a bunch of stories I've wanted to write for a while, but procrastinated.  So I've finally forced myself to make at least a start to each one, and will continue them depending on which one I find interests me most (and gets the best reaction from readers).

My latest first chapter is for The Eternal Empire and it is going to differ from my other works firstly in that it will be largely a pure sci-fi, with no real fantasy elements, and secondly it will focus a lot more on positive things, rather than my usual darker themes.

I'll probably have to modify the first chapter a bit as I flesh out the full plot, but it will be more minor details, not the overall chapter.

And just to link them all in one place, my other stories are:

A Step Too Far:
The first book of this series is complete and for sale at Amazon.com, but is also available on Wattpad for now at least.  It's the darkest of my stories, but was my favourite to write so far, as I enjoyed writing both main characters and the themes I will be exploring more in part two interest me.

The Edge of the Battle:
For now this is just a completed short story that I wrote for fun.  I do have a plot outline for a complete story with that as the first chapter, though I'm not currently working on it.

Downfall:
This is the big one I'm working on, but I have no idea how long it will take to finish.  First three chapters are up, but the story is a lot bigger than anything I've done before, so even the plot outline is a significant task.

If you enjoy any of the stuff I've done so far, remember to Like and Share, or if on Wattpad, vote and comment, so more people can read them!

Friday, 5 October 2018

The Edge of the Battle

Standing at the edge of the cliff, the icy wind blew harshly against his exposed face.  Gredharm noticed the cold for the first time in three days, and with it, his own exhaustion.

Hundreds of meters above the main battlefield, there was no doubt the battle was over.  The number of bodies were uncountable.  They somehow seemed more than the numbers of the armies in the first place.  Jaina’s lifeless body lay on the ground near the base of the cliff, a few meters separating it from the rest of the carnage.  Some people had already pulled her aside and lay branches in lieu of flowers around her body as a sign of respect for her heroism.

In any other time, on any other world or place he would have loved Jaina, and her him.  But there was no possibility of that in the world that has been until now.  Love took time, and brought with it weaknesses that could be exploited.  Instead they could simply admire each others’ strength, intelligence and courage.  Now all that is over, perhaps they could have been together.  But they always knew there was no chance they’d both make it out alive.

Almost a kilometre away, Doran’s body still stood, but frozen in place.  His sword still in hand, piercing right through the skull of an enemy general.  It would have made for a beautiful statue, were it not the real man, frozen by some power or other that still lingered, and likely would for days without interference.  Doran was a great man, and a good friend.  An unparallelled general, with unwavering personal integrity and, although he covered it well, a deeply caring heart.  He would have done well raising a family after the war’s end.  He’d only once dared say aloud to Gredharm that’s what he really hoped for, it’s not something that was worthwhile, or safe to discuss otherwise.

A dull pain seemed to echo from place to place around his body. An arrow, obviously enchanted by some powerful enemy, managed to pierce his armour on both sides of his left shoulder and got stuck there.  Looking down he saw the deep gashes in his belly on the right and blood oozing from his side on the left.  He didn’t realise how tattered his once unnaturally white clothing and armour had become.  Strips of cloth were torn from the sleeves and legs, nothing could stain the material of the clothing when intact, but the frayed edges were all red with blood.  He didn’t even remember, or notice getting many of the wounds.

He wasn’t meant to survive this final battle.  The truth he denied even to himself, was that he fully expected this was the end and that loss was inevitable.  He fought on, because everyone relied on him to give them hope and courage, and so he did his duty as best he could.  And somehow, that was enough, he’d won.  They’d all won.

Jaina and Doran.  They’d won too.  He looked back down at Jaina and saw several soldiers kneeling, crying and praying around her body.  People loved her as much as they respected her.

He didn’t realise how much energy he was using just to keep his body alive with all those injuries, but there was no point in exerting himself any more, so he let go and the blood suddenly flowed more quickly from his wounds and he fell to his knees in the deep snow.

He realised it was really his choice at this point.  He could call for assistance and some healer or another would rush over and restore him.  In a week or so he’d be good as new.

And what then?  He was no great leader to the common man.  He was the best killer that had ever lived.  He was the best at training others to be the best killers.  He was the best at leading killers to kill.  These weren’t talents that rebuilt a nation, let alone a dozen nations.  He was supposed to have died here today, win or lose, it was supposed to have been over.

He did his part for the world, he did everything he’d committed to doing, and succeeded where it should have been impossible.  The world can now rebuilt itself, by itself.

The excuses and justifications sounded empty, even in his own thoughts.  In the back of his mind he saw Jaina give a faint smile to him, like she would to a child acting foolish.

Were Jaina alive, she could have led the entire world to a glorious new golden age, but she wasn’t.  Were Doran alive, he could have brought men together and formed a stable and just system of government for all.  He listed through 10 other people in his mind - all dead.

In 700 years he went from a broken child to the strongest warrior ever to have lived.  Perhaps he had it in him to also become a wise and compassionate leader?

Steeling his mind, he slowed the flow of blood again and forced himself to stand.  The slight sense of renewed purpose gave him fresh strength and he turned and waved over to his men in the distance, calling for assistance.

It was only moments before a dozen people surrounded him, they were all waiting in the distance, hesitant to disturb him, but waiting for anything he needed.  They looked at him with a reverence he didn’t really expect, or desire.  Reverence can quickly turn to disappointment and hatred with the slightest change in the winds.

They immediately began tending to his wounds, as a ball of solid flame shot from hundreds of meters away straight at them.  Some suicidal remaining enemy throwing their life away because they really did lose everything.  Gredharm waved his hand and the flame fizzled to nothing before it reached them.  Normally it would have been effortless, but in his current state it made him slightly dizzy.  Others had already shown up to dispatch the straggler, so it didn’t matter.

“GREDHARM!” The booming, enraged voice came from a different direction.  “YOU DIE WITH ME!”  The first shot was a distraction, the second ball of flame from this direction was vastly greater, and faster.  Gredharm and the others went to deflect it, but before they could, it exploded brightly causing them all to flinch… but did no damage.

No one noticed the shimmering behind Gredharm as the gateway opened, they only saw the man flying straight for him and by then a full 20 of the elite soldiers had arrived.  They threw everything they had at the man as he crashed into Gredharm and pushed him into the portal.  Balls of fire, streams of ice, bursts of pure energy disintegrated the man and pummelled the gateway as they went through.

Gredharm fell through the sky, though it was clearly a different sky.  A warm, clear, moonlit night.  The man who rammed him was burnt to cinders, but as Gredharm continued to fall he realised that even without a fight, or without the fall, even if the intention was just to send him some distance away and not directly into a furnace or some-such, that was probably enough to kill him, as without aid he couldn’t keep going much longer.

He used what energy he could to slow his fall and look for the ground - he’d been falling several seconds already, and the slowing was just in time as he crashed into the soft, wet sand of a beach.  The impact jarred the arrow and for the first time Gredharm let out a yell of pain.

Looking up into the night sky, his body felt dead to him, numb.  The sand was warm next to the snow of the battlefield and it conformed nicely to his body.  Even the stars of this place weren’t familiar, and the moon, so large in the sky.  The gateway must have been struck heavily.  He could be just about anywhere.

He felt something in his right hand that wasn’t there before.  Holding it up to get a better look, it was a note that simply read “At least you will die alone and in pain. - Azrel”

Gredharm chuckled slightly, but the pain and blood coming out of his mouth stopped him.  The thought the fool went to the effort of writing a note just to taunt him as his last action was a little pitiful.

It didn’t matter if he died today, or in a thousand years.  He would have died alone anyway, without Jaina.

This wasn’t such a bad way to go.  It meant he didn’t have to worry about all the inevitable politics, the infighting, the responsibility of rebuilding entire civilisations and not making the same mistakes again.  He felt a sense of calm relief.  With him gone, others better suited to such roles would come up and take his place.  The world didn’t need killers, it needed builders.  He was the last of the great killers alive, and now he would die alone, safely, some unknowable distance away.

A tear flowed down his cheek as he felt himself begin to fade away, the first one since he was 7 years old.  He wasn’t afraid of dying.  Just sad that he’d never had the chance to live.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

First Short Story Completed!

I finally finished my short story "A Step Too Far", the one with Dave and Annie for those who were reading it early on!

Click to read the whole thing free on Wattpad.

If you like it, make sure to "Star" it, or share it so it can get some views!

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, I really don't know how to describe it well without giving away spoilers.  It's about a crazy guy, and an awesome girl, and stuff happens...

UPDATE:
I wasn't getting any new views on Wattpad, so I've decided to unpublish it and just leave the first bunch of sample chapters on here.  That allows me to work on promoting it on Amazon and seeing how that goes.

Visit Amazon.com to buy it for roughly $3 (depending on where you are in the world).

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Saint Petersburg and off to Budapest

The only thing more boring than sitting in transit at an airport is having your body transformed into a solid object, such as a wall.  Then simply existing in the form of that wall for millions and millions of years, undecaying, just being there, not even able to perceive, but just existing.  There really is no gradient scale between those two points.

I am currently at Helsinki airport on the way to Budapest, Hungary.  Getting out of Russia actually took longer than entering.  It wasn't particularly exciting, but passports get checked about five times, names compared to boarding passes each time just to make sure.  Then in Finland, another round of security screening and passport checks just to transfer!  Also AU$5.5 for a bottle of water here!

Enough whinging though and onto my time in Saint Petersburg.  One thing I've noticed about both Moscow and Saint Petersburg is that as impressive as the cities themselves are, going from the airport to the city centre, you pretty much jump from endless grey apartment buildings and little else, to vibrant, modern cities quite suddenly.  Maybe it's just the route we took, but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of suburbs around either city, you either live in the city centre, or basically in a large, grey apartment building.  This article expands on that a bit.

Traffic is also terrible in both cities, though the public transport in Moscow in particular outdoes most cities of the world.

Once arriving, the first thing I noticed about Saint Petersburg, me being me, is they seem to have a thing for fancy bathrooms...


Someone clearly needs to combine Japanese toilet technology with Russian bathroom interior decoration to make the ultimate throne room!

And the RT (Russia Today) advertising definitely permeates the tourist areas, from the airport to tourist buses.

Saint Petersburg though is a very different city to Moscow.  It is quite true that it is even more impressive, with amazing buildings around every corner, and a bustling nightlife, but it is also a lot more tourist oriented and some of the dodgy things I'd expected in Moscow proved to be true in Saint Petersburg.  Taxi scam attempt right out the terminal, gypsy kids trying to pick pockets on the streets and a guy who came up to me on the street, pulled a sharp dagger out of his jacket and offered it to me saying "Good price."

Was an interesting way to go about things for him, as it's totally weird to take out a dagger standing a foot away from someone on the street, but I get the impression if I paid he actually may have given it to me.  It probably works on some tourists, but he didn't seem like he actually wanted trouble so I just told him no indifferently and after trying to convince me briefly he started offering me other trinkets for sale and eventually just shook my hand and left.

So I managed to get a pervy experience on a Japanese train and a knifey experience outside a laundromat in Russia.  I feel those count as key achievements for a trip to those respective countries!

Despite the need for a bit more care when going around in Saint Petersburg, it certainly is quite a place!  Nightlife is lively and entertaining, and streets that look like dead alleys during the day, fill with thousands of people and busy restaurants (closed and hidden away during the day) at night.


During the day there is still plenty to see, including the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games.  Complete with working games and old school soda machines to try out!





The games were quite fun, many just what you'd expect from old school arcade machines, but some interesting memory games and submarine games.  Also that green soda from that disturbing looking machine tasted, well... green - like in Star Trek.

It was of course also vital to experience the local cuisine.  Another thing I noticed about Russia is that while it does have traditional food, it isn't really "the norm" from what I could see.  Even asking around where's a good place with actual Russian food, many people seemed surprised at themselves not really knowing where to get any.  So where in Japan, Japanese food is everywhere, in Russia you're more likely to find typical European or American food than local cuisine.

That being said, the food was still awesome!


And they know how steak is meant to be cooked...,
There is still some great traditional food, like the minced goose meat thingy above.

Oddly I also had the best baklava I've had in my life in the same place as the meat above, so apparently Turks living in Russia make the best Greek desserts, who knew?

Finally, I should probably at some stage mention the actual whole point of Saint Petersburg, which is the history and cultural aspects.

One thing I didn't realise is that Saint Petersburg is actually home of the largest museum in the entire world, after the Louvre in Paris - the Hermitage Museum!  With over 3 million works of art on display, it isn't the kind of place where someone can drop a pair of glasses and have people mistake them for art...

Because in Soviet Russia, museum curates YOU!  Sorry, I set up a part of my mind purely dedicated to making those Soviet Russia lines in response to every situation I encountered, at least 7000 times per day.  I'll have to turn it off now.

Instead they have actual art, and even I, who really doesn't care much about art, could easily spend hours exploring some really impressive and interesting pieces.  I really couldn't choose which photos to upload, so here's heaps!  Every room was basically a work of art in itself, filled with works of art...




A ceiling in one room.



People have super creepy faces in a lot of the artwork for some reason...


A random image of my office computer chair that got mixed up in the rest for some reason.


Seriously creepy faces!!!









There was also a Rembrandt exhibition going on at the time, but frankly his works are far less interesting than a lot of what I saw around the museum.

There were heaps of other impressive places to see and take photos of, but I've overloaded on them already.  But because I had to climb 262 steps to get this one, I thought I better put it in...


So with my trip to Russia at an end, and with me now actually finishing this off from Budapest, what I still consider my real home city, time to reflect.

When I travel I do like to consider whether the places I visit would be viable places to live should I ever decide to leave Australia.  While Australia does have a lot going for it, I figure we only have another 5 or 10 years before we end up a left wing police state, so I may have to leave before that happens, and while it's still legal to leave the country.  I'd also like to think some day I will get married and have kids, and I certainly won't be sending my kids to a "Safe Schools" socialist, "progressive" reeducation camp.  As the famous documentary "Kindergarten Cop" once stated, "Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina."

Obviously visiting a place for a week isn't enough to learn all about it, but it is enough to be able to see if it's so bad you'd never want to live there at least.  UK, Macedonia, Greece and Italy for example, I can definitely say no to from my visits in the past.

That's one reason I wanted to try visiting Russia and Japan, as both countries seem far less infected by a lot of modern Western suicidal tendencies that most European countries (and places like New Zealand, the UK, USA and Canada) have been taking on hungrily.

I could definitely see myself living in Japan, no problems.  So how about Russia?

I'd say the biggest problem with living in Russia is the desire of much of the rest of the world to do everything possible to destroy the country.  Having the entire Western world bent on murdering every man, woman and child in your country does have some downsides.

Putin has done a good job of turning Russia from people starving on the streets, to a thriving, modern nation, despite the best efforts of the rest of the world to prevent it.  But there are limits to what can be achieved under such circumstances.

I don't think Russia would top my list of places to live, simply because of the political instability more than anything else.  If Putin is suddenly killed and some American stooge or Russian oligarch takes over, the place could be a hellhole in a matter of weeks.

That being said, as it is currently, I could definitely enjoy living there.  I think Australia is for now a better place to raise a family, assuming you home school or carefully select a good private school.  But the tipping point where Russia comes on top could be just a year or two away.

Japan on the other hand, I'd seriously consider moving to now if I had the money to safely do so and a way to readily get an income when over there.

I'll be in Hungary for about 2.5 weeks now, starting in Budapest.  I've been here many times before and know the place quite well.  Currently Budapest is still number one on my list on places to move to in the future.  It's a beautiful city with amazing food.  Hungary is a relatively poor country, with the cost of living being about half that of Australia, and the average income even lower, but the plus side is that means if you come in with some money it will go a lot further!

Hungry has distanced itself a bit from the insanity of the Euro nations, despite still being a member.  But because it's such a small country, it hasn't had the kind of attacks against it that Russia has had (though it is still very unpopular with the EU socialist dictators).

It will be interesting to see how things develop here over the coming years.  Hungary has been slowly but steadily getting better off since throwing out the communists in 1989, and they have avoided foreign debt and influence quite well, so there is a chance they will be a last bastion of sanity, while the rest of the world tries to fight with Russia, maybe Hungary will just sit aside and not suck for a decade or two longer.

Of course all this is a moot point if the entire world collapses in war or a police planet in the next 10 to 30 years.  But I'd like to think that can be avoided.  It's just a matter of where to live in the decade or two when things are at their worst.

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.

Kyoto:
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.

Overall:
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...