Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Vernal Equinox Tuesday

Fukuoka sat under heavy grey cloud, like a sprawling fat, neon frog in a muddy pond, as me and Fumiko disembarked from the carriage we had been sleeping in on the hour long trip from Kashima. Fumiko had been called in to cover a sick workmate, and I had arranged to have my computer repaired. My machine lumbered along at the end of my arm in its two brown boxes, packed tight inside between layers of thick Styrofoam and pink anti static bags, the kind that are unfortunately the same color as condoms.

It’s unusual for a public holiday to begin with such an early morning train ride, but then again everything has been feeling unusual of late. It’s currently party season, the end of the business year. Low workloads for teaching assistants and farewell enkai backed up in the appointment book, a time when one seriously needs to manage ones health to avoid falling under the weather. It is this that I have been trying to do like a dive bomber pilot desperately yanking on the control column, and after a weekend when I actually said to someone ‘as your attorney I advise that you immediately drive to my house, stopping to purchase a six of beer, a quart of Jack Daniels and two, two point five liter bottles of cola’ I am coming slowly out of the dive, on this, Vernal Equinox Tuesday. We are in spring. Fukuoka is wet, like a grumpy cat left out in the rain.

But at the moment, the downpour is holding back its extremities, obviously trying to save them up for the very moment that I decide to move a piece of expensive electronics. We march a block from the eki, it’s hustle, the push and shove of the crowded Japanese urban transport system, and disappear down a back alley behind a large, opulent hotel.

The interior of the computer store bespeaks the fact that the management are not just running a business, but are actually computer enthusiasts to an extent themselves. Instead of the mess, marketing and loose packaging that is associated with some computer departments in larger stores, the shop we enter is a calm sea of products behind clean glass cases, a well stocked technical desk and staff that know what they’re doing. The shop smells like new electronic components. It inspires confidence in the abilities it purports to convey.

By stroke of luck on this grey, dripping, vernal equinox of a Tuesday, the store has in stock one singular 80 gigabyte sized hard disk that will match my machine. This means that if the technical diagnostic I had presented them, ‘the hard drives well poked and needs replacing’, was correct then I could have my machine back this evening in full working order. I agree to let them service the entire computer and check all the other components, to ensure my diagnosis is correct, and they agree to re install my O.S. and give the machine a thorough clean.

MOS burger is a Japanese chain of burger restaurants. MOS stands for Mountain, Ocean, Sea. They have two types of restaurant, the first has red signage, the other has green. The difference is that green branded restaurants use organic vegetables and are a bit more expensive. It’s the kind of restaurant where you place your order from a menu at the counter, take your ticket number and wait at your table to be served. There’s no racks of stale burgers waiting to be unloaded onto which ever poor customer wants to play Russian roulette with a dose of E. Coli. It’s all cooked fresh. Brunch is a spicy cheese burger. Tasty.

I drop Fumiko off in the staff area of the mega mall she will stand in and sell Visa cards for the next six hours. I am now at my own disposal, with several hundred dollars, in a large Japanese metropolitan area. I of course, head straight for the robot store.

Seriously, the robot store. Five foot high nurse robots, with arms and hands straight from an 80’s sci-fi movie sit on glittering display. I play with the latest AIBO dog’s that connect to the web and can write their own blog using the pictures they take with their eyes. I talk in Japanese with a robot that’s only purporse is to talk with children, some bizarre kind of foster parent robot. It’s actually quite expressive and displays a range of emotions that are scarily subtle. I interact with a life size baby harp seal robot, designed for use in therapy with special needs children and the elderly. It is currently sucking on an oversize pacifier that is connected to a wall outlet. It’s how it recharges its batteries. It looks up at me, bats it big black, shiny, soulless eyes, wiggles its paws, its body and coos whenever I touch it. Maybe if you had limited cognitive abilities it would be a novel thing to interact with for hours on end. It is cute to say the least, which however, considering this is Japan, is like saying in New Zealand that a sheep has wool, or a movie has landscape shots.

In the next part of the shop, kids are gathered around miniature soccer arena. They are working through the playoffs of a robotic soccer tournament, which I watch for as long as it is possible to watch at an event where you don’t know the participants and want to see what’s going on. It’s interesting to see how the different teams have written different algorithms for their robots. One team writes programs that send the two robots around in concentric, complimentary circles, another writes ones that involve the machines moving the ball to the wall and using the wall as a guide to the goal. The ball is a large shiny flashing device, with a transponder that the robots are able to ‘see’. The youngest of the children participating is about seven or eight.

I walk up and continued on the way down to Canal City, a major retail complex that incorporates a multiplex cinema. The sky descends down another few hundred meters and it begins to lightly precipitate. Wandering through I uneventfully check out a pet shop. No sugar gliders today. I manage to find the cinema and after spending nearly an hour twatting about all over town, find the one film I wanted to watch starts in fifteen minutes. This is a good thing. I purchase a ticket and kill some time watching Charlize Theron lark about in skin tight lyrca and vinyl, dispatching enemies with some very flashy editing techniques and generally attempting to overthrow a corrupt regime. This is Aeon Flux and that’s all I’ll say for now.

I emerge from the cinema. It rains. I buy a small present for Fumiko. We have lunch. She loves the present. The computer store calls me, my computer is ready to be picked up. I take the subway across town again and receive my technically functioning machine from the store for the fairly reasonable price of 15,782 yen. I warily cross back to the central station, as in what seems to be a third wave of luck, the rain lets up for just long enough for me to cross the street and get back into shelter with my laptop in tow. I deposit it in a coin locker, secure the key deep inside the recesses of my backpack and browse through Yodobashi camera, looking at toys and games to kill the time. I sample the fair on offer from Microsoft by trying my hand at a game on their new 360 console. The game involves you controlling a character with a huge sword and equally huge mammaries from a third person point of view as she is pitted against whole armies, the size and detail of which is very, very impressive. The game play is frantic button pressing madness as you leap into massed formations of some kind of demon werewolf creature and the game has a good array of anime style combat special effects. You know the stuff, flashing white sword trails, lighting, glowing balls of energy, spinning dismembered corpses, bright lights and big bangs jazz. The game clocks up a superb body count and I quickly amass over 1000 kills in a one-on-many close quarter combat game. I’ve had my walkman on this whole time and have been too engrossed in the game to notice the five or six Japanese kids who have been standing behind me and watching as I dish out pixilated doom with the style and flair that only an experienced player of games can summon. I turn to leave, noticing I have to be across town again to meet Fumiko. They bow, I bow, hand out high fives and find my way out of the rabbit warren of techno-goodies.

Meet Fumiko, meet some of her friends and go to dinner at Zou, a huge restaurant of elaborate size. You sit, for the most part, in huge oversize fishing barges, large Asian style ones with elaborately sloped prows, maybe twenty five meters long and five across each, that are placed on top of a large, deep pool of live fish of all different varieties, swimming around in very clean, well filtered water. You can order from the menu, or, yes, you guessed it, you can pick up a rod and a net and try and catch your own supper, which is a little bit harder than you’d imagine, the pool is quite deep, you get no bait and the fish have more chance than you’d expect. Except for the crayfish, who are in large pens. Because of the range of wild life swimming around below you, it’s like eating at an aquarium. A man catches what looks like a small snapper. He nets it, takes it to a kitchen window overlooking the whole affair, hands it over, talks price and style, there is some loud song and dance which draws the attention of the entire establishment, and the fish is taken away to its inevitable doom. I took some video and will post it soon.

We can’t stay for long as we have to get a train back. We leave, eat again at MOS Burger, and find seats on a very crowded train taking people away from rainy vernal equinox Fukuoka. Arrive home. The computer, when taken out of its box, looks brand new. My assessment was correct, the hard drive was fragged, and all it’s other components have been tested and are in good working order. The machine the been totally cleaned and even smells new.

Hopefully when I turn it on and rebuild this afternoon, it will be just fine.


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