Oct 8 2012

Pot, kettle, black c***

Terry, Cole and a Bunch of Twats

By Fred Varcoe


Should John Terry be fired by Chelsea, as demanded by The Guardian?
Is John Terry guilty? Is Ashley Cole a liar? It’s seems to be a popular thing to say. It seems to be a “right-on” thing to say. It seems to be the thing that writers in the U.K. want to say over and over again. U.K. journos love bandwagons; they make journos popular without the need to resort to actual thinking. Or, indeed, facts.
So what’s happened? An “independent” panel appointed by the F.A. has found Terry guilty of making a racist statement, while at the same time saying he’s not a racist.
The same panel has effectively called Ashley Cole a liar for “amending” (“evolving”?) his evidence.
An English court found Terry not guilty. The court requires evidence to prove the case. The F.A.’s inquiry does not require evidence that proves a case. The independent panel only has to think that Terry might have done what he was accused of to find him guilty of the offence. And that’s what they did.

Variations on a cunt

The F.A. say Terry called Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt … fucking knobhead,” while Terry maintains that he said something along the lines of “Did you accuse me of calling you a ‘fucking black cunt’ … fucking knobhead.”
Apparently Ferdinand had insulted Terry in relation to Terry’s shagging of Wayne Bridge’s wife. The F.A. hasn’t taken any action against Ferdinand on this. Apparently this kind of emotional provocation is OK with them.
And apparently it would have been OK if Terry had just said “fucking cunt” or “fucking human cunt” or just “cunt.” And it didn’t matter that Ferdinand didn’t hear the insult (apparently they were 19 meters apart at a very noisy ground).
The only thing that matters, apparently, is that three “independent” people think Terry used “black” as an insult. The ruling of the British court apparently doesn’t matter; the British justice system is obviously inferior to the F.A.’s and the F.A.’s panel can evaluate evidence better than an English court. And the F.A.’s panel doesn’t need to prove anything. Yes, that’s the kind of justice we journalists need. It makes a much better story.
Anton Ferdinand accusing Terry of shagging his teammate’s wife is not a story. Because the F.A. approve of that (OK, don’t disapprove of it). Terry reacting on the spur of the moment under provocation should result in his career being destroyed, according to the Guardian. One assumes that the Guardian thinks that everyone who reacts in an insulting verbal manner when provoked should be sacked, even if there is no evidence that proves the verbal insult was actually a verbal insult.

Racism but not a racist

Nobody seems to think that Terry is a racist, but in the heat of intense competition and under severe provocation he may have used a race-based slur against his provoker. If he was guilty, it was most likely an emotional outburst with racial overtones rather than a racial outburst (which would by logical extension be aimed at all black people, including Terry’s teammate and witness Ashley Cole). If this can be proved he should be punished on this basis, but who among us hasn’t said hurtful words in anger at someone they like/love/respect/admire?
Now Cole is being dragged across the, er, coals because he was offended by the F.A. panel insinuating he was a liar. He called the F.A. a “bunch of twats.” He’s been punished for that (even though it hasn’t been disproved and a three-man independent panel I convened believe it to be true). Specifically, he has been accused of enhancing his evidence to support Terry. Again, there’s no proof (yet).
So, Terry has been punished for something that may have occurred but hasn’t been proved. Cole has been punished for saying something that is true (and, let’s face it, has been proved a thousand times) and may be punished again for something that may or may not have cleared Terry but which hasn’t been proven.
For Terry, three judgments can be made here:

  1. Terry used the phrase because he’s a racist;
  2. Terry used the phrase on the spur of the moment because Ferdinand insulted him;
  3. Terry used the phrase as he claims, i.e., that he wanted to check what Ferdinand thought he said.

For the F.A.:
If it’s 1, then the F.A. should throw the book at him. But not even the F.A.’s Spanish Inquisition believe it’s 1.
If it’s 2, as captain of Chelsea and as a supposed “role model,” perhaps the punishment fits the crime (although when people cripple footballers with fouls, it’s the same punishment and that doesn’t fit the crime).
If it’s 3, it’s not really an issue.

 
For Terry:
If it’s 1, he would be better off taking the current punishment (a four-game ban) and getting on with his life and career and continuing to hide his racism;
If it’s 2, then Terry should man-up and say he used the phrase under extreme provocation and is sorry to all concerned and accept the punishment;
If it’s 3, he has to fight because then the F.A. is in the wrong. Perhaps Terry should have the right to ask that the F.A. panel be examined for bringing about a wrongful judgment and punishing him on unproven grounds, so bringing the game into disrepute.

 
There are two more disturbing aspects to this case.
First, the F.A. has a double-jeopardy clause in its statutes that basically says the F.A. should follow the rulings of the courts. Obviously they haven’t done that in this case. They have been very keen to find Terry guilty (apparently the conviction rate for the F.A. is the same as that of most police states), so they’ve ignored their own rules.
Secondly, Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, referred to Cole as a “choc ice,” i.e., black on the outside, white on the inside. Surely this is a far more serious case of racism than that of Terry’s. It would be like me calling the F.A. or Guardian readers “nigger lovers” for their actions. Yet Rio Ferdinand was only fined £45,000 and not banned.
Should this incident be as big as it’s been blown up to be? It merits attention in the media, but it also deserves some perspective. I hope Terry comes out with a statement that clarifies everything. NO ONE has come out of this looking good and perhaps all the parties should reflect on that.

“We’re whiter than white.”

****
Addendum

I found this on the web and I post it without comment:

10 fatal flaws in the FA disciplinary panel’s ruling on John Terry.

It runs to 63 pages, and is the FA’s justification of its findings. But the panel’s written ruling is a flawed document containing errors and inconsistencies.
1. It states as fact Terry and Ashley Cole met Anton Ferdinand “approximately one hour after the match ended.” Documentary evidence in court proved the team had left by then.
2. There is reference to “Mr Ferdinand’s wife.” He is unmarried.
3. There is no adequate explanation of why Terry was charged under FA rules while Ferdinand, who admitted having breached them, wasn’t.
4. The FA’s burden of proof required reference to the seriousness of the accusations. It is perverse a matter deemed by the criminal justice system to require a “beyond reasonable doubt” yardstick, be judged upon using anything but that.
5. In reasoning on the FA’s rule 6.18 (on the primacy of findings in previous tribunals), the panel goes on a meandering run across the face of the defence, attempting to pick-out the one thread-needle route by which they might reach their intended target. This is not only bad law, it is also an irrational conclusion setting a bizarre precedent.
6. The panel takes the view that because Ferdinand wasn’t cross-examined during the FA hearing, all evidence was accepted unchallenged, a position ignoring cross-examination of Ferdinand in court.
7. The panel emphasises Terry’s use of profanities to infer malice. These are the same words three professional footballers told the criminal court were a part of the general punctuation of speech within Premier League matches.
8. The panel’s belief an innocent Terry would confront Ferdinand at full time, rather than applaud his own fans, misapprehends the character he has displayed over the last 14 years.
9. A section headed “the Barcelona evidence” compares Terry’s initial reported denial of kneeing Alexis Sanchez in Camp Nou, with his latter admission. The panel takes certain inferences from this, despite having been unable to prove the existence of the initial denial. Indeed, having listened back to interviews from that night, I cannot find any evidence of an initial denial.
10. The panel sets stall by the “evolution” of Cole’s evidence. It is normal for witness statements in criminal proceedings to evolve in this way. Changes are to be expected given Cole’s evidence was based on notes of the FA’s investigating team, and not a tape recording.

Taken together these flaws demonstrate that the FA panel was both slapdash and irrational in its approach to this case.


Oct 6 2012

Dealing with Death

 

By Fred Varcoe

I went to my first funeral when I was 38. It was my father’s. I hadn’t had to deal with death up to that point – and I haven’t had to deal with it much since then.
I’ve paid my respects a couple of times in Japan and South Korea, but I wasn’t particularly close to the people involved, or even knew them at all in some cases. Death was distant; it was abstract. I never felt involved. My recent trip to South Korea to take part in my father-in-law’s funeral brought death back into my life.
There have been a few deaths sort of near me – all my grandparents. But they, too, were distant. I only met my grandparents once a year at best; I didn’t know them so well. I was 8 years old when my mother’s mother died (at 58) and vaguely remember going to say goodbye to her as she lay dying at home. Her husband died 10 years later, slightly out of his mind, while my father’s mother succumbed to cancer around the same time. I hadn’t seen either of them for ages. They lived far away, I was a teen at boarding school and nobody in my family really seemed to make an effort to meet up.
But at 23, with one grandparent left, I made a trek across London to see my remaining grandfather. He was 86, and we went down the pub for some gin and fags. He was good company, alert, funny and as down-to-earth as most Cockneys. He drank pink gin – strong pink gin – and we talked about trivial things. He died a few weeks later. I don’t know how; I don’t know what of. I like to think he had a pink gin in one hand and a Woodbine in the other. But having seen him so recently, I felt connected. I wish I had been more connected to all my grandparents. They were a diverse bunch and had so much to offer.
But it was too late.

The day the music died

Death continued to pass me by. Working in Saudi Arabia in the early ’80s, a couple of colleagues died young: one through an ill-judged experiment with nitrous-oxide, the other – a promiscuous homosexual –from a mysterious disease. Life went on.

One death while I was there did affect me. In December 1980, I bought the Arab News in downtown Taif and took it home. As I entered my bedroom, I glanced at the front page; John Lennon had been assassinated. I was stunned. Perhaps I was more shocked by the fact that I took it personally. It sounds trite, but it was like a part of me had died that day. But it was true. I had grown up with The Beatles. I had bought Please Please Me at the age of 7. I even went to see the movie Help! with my paternal grandmother, another down-to-earth Londoner. The Beatles wrote the soundtrack to so many young lives. We were all emotionally involved.
Fast-forward 22 years to another musician who helped write the soundtrack to my life. Warren was an acquaintance who became a great friend. Like his hero Ray Davies of The Kinks, Warren wrote stories into music – great English pop songs. I used to visit him in Holland when he lived there in the early ’80s. Holland buzzed, and we had a lot of fun. So much fun, it dominated our conversations for the next 20 years. Warren had two Top 10 hits in the U.K. with Bucks Fizz and five minor successes in Japan (I was his agent). He was always first on my list of people to see when I went to the U.K., but with limited time on visits home, I didn’t always see him. At 55, he went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up.

 

Warren on stage in Holland (with ex-Gruppo Sportivo bassist Eric Wehrmeyer)

 

It was like being robbed of my memories. Talking about our rock ‘n’ roll days in Holland kept those days alive, kept us young, kept us alive. Is this what happens? Your friends die and bits of your life just drop off with them? We hadn’t finished reminiscing; that part of our lives still felt so close. Is it now?

A week to the day after Warren’s death, I became a father. Suddenly, life had new meaning. My life. But now I realize the enormity of what I’ve done and nothing horrifies me more than to think that I might not be around to help my daughter grow up. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t expect to live to an old age.

 

Goodbye, Grandad

My Korean father-in-law didn’t have that problem. One of his daughters died young in a car accident, but he had six reserves plus a son. There was a lot of life in the Lee family. A week after his death, there still is.
But saying goodbye to this man – as dignified and well-grounded as my paternal grandfather, who died at exactly the same age, 86 – was a mixture of the grand and the grotesque. And for the first time since I attended my father’s funeral, I was a participant.
With my father’s death, the remoteness was still there. My father died while I was in Japan and I’d been living overseas for 14 years. It took me two days to get home. I didn’t have to deal with the everyday stuff of death. I got home and the funeral was arranged. I saw no dead body. I didn’t feel involved. My mother, brother and sister had to deal with everything; I just had to fly home. On the morning of the funeral, I played golf. Did I appear cynical? I hope not. Golf clears the head and my head needed clearing. I was hiding behind an emotional wall. It wasn’t going to get to me yet. To get to the crematorium, I drove my rental car. I didn’t want to be part of a procession. I was almost in denial as to all of this being real.
But then we were in the crematorium chapel with my father’s coffin on the rollers ready for his final journey to the incinerator. It all came home to me. This was my life. Death was suddenly real. The priest was talking about my father. After a short service, a curtain shielded the coffin as it rolled toward the burners. A door closed. Goodbye, Dad.
And then we were out in the sunshine, drying our tears, saying goodbye to the living, driving home. What do we do now?
Party, of course. Good food, a lot of Champagne and we were living life again. Perhaps it was too easy, too quick. The Koreans have to work a lot harder for their closure.

The long goodbye
My wife’s father died at around 4 a.m. on a Monday morning. I managed to get my wife on a plane to Busan at 2 p.m. on the same day and she was in Daegu by 6. By then, her family were several hours into the ceremonials. They had delayed dressing the body – in front of the family – until she arrived. I’m not sorry I missed it. Curiously, the first things her parents had shown me the first time I went to their house were the clothes they would be dressed in after they were dead. I was under the impression that I would have to help dress the body. This wasn’t the case, partly because I was traveling a day behind my wife, but mainly because the mortuary staff did that. The wife told me it was done very well and with great class. “My father looked very dignified,” she said.
Due to work obligations, I arrived 24 hours behind my wife. I figured that by the time I arrived in the early evening the whole family would soon out of mourning mode and into the food and alcohol.
Wrong!
I was hustled into the mourning area in the basement of a small hospital to pay my respects before the altar that had been set up. You could barely move for flowers.

 

 

I was soon on my knees.
“You have to do two and a half bows,” my brother-in-law informed me.
Well, what’s that? OK, two on my knees, head touching the floor; I get that. But a half bow? Do I get half up and get down again? Or do I get all the way up and bow halfway. I’ll opt for B, Bob. Eerrrck! Wrong! But no big deal.
I was handed a black suit to replace the black suit I was wearing (“It’ll get dirty,” I was told.) and given an oversized white shirt and black tie, identical to the suits and shirts and ties worn by the other five sons-in-law and my wife’s brother. I had to wear a strange tall yellow hat and armband made of linen, which had a single black line running around it. The brother’s had two black lines. South Korea is a Confucianist country; everyone has their rank. I felt like the corporal of death.

 

No, really, it suits you…

In the small altar area, there were seven cushions lined up on each side. Not quite seven brides for seven brothers; there were seven brides for the lone brother and six brothers-in-law. Position was determined by age. I was married to daughter No. 4, so I was fifth in line (the brother was first, of course). The women were lined up in similar order opposite their husbands.
The altar had a smallish picture of the deceased and lots of food and flowers. The primary floral tribute had been provided by the chairman of one of South Korea’s chaebols, an impressive tribute and one of significance. Big wheels are turning.
Mourners flooded in. Mourners were not only those who knew the deceased, but also those connected to the family, so colleagues of the son, sons-in-law and daughters. Some came in groups; others individually. As they entered the mourning area, the family lining each wall would chant “Igo, igo, igo” non-stop, a call to the spirit of the deceased. The chief mourner in the visiting group would make an offering of alcohol and light a stick of incense, followed by the requisite two and a half bows. Then, all the mourners in that group would turn to face the male relatives and both sides would fall to their knees again in a humble bow. Then, they would make to get up, but invariably fall to one knee to offer a message of condolence after being introduced by whoever they knew among the family. They would then put an envelope containing money in a box ($55,000 passed through that box over the three days!). Some would then leave; others would eat and drink at the restaurant adjoining the altar area. They were soon replaced by other mourners. In fact, this had been going on for well over 30 hours by the time I arrived. Nobody had gone home. On the day I arrived, the procession of mourners didn’t finish until after midnight. At 1 a.m., the family ate. Most grabbed two or three hours sleep on the floor. The marathon was not over yet.

 

Waiting for more mourners

The first ceremony of the final day came at 5:45 a.m. The ceremonies were now getting more heart-wrenching for the family. Another ceremony was held in front of the coffin before it was loaded into the massive black Cadillac hearse for a journey to the old man’s home. Another ceremony was held in the yard there with one of the elders from the village leading the prayers.

 

 

Up to this point, things had been moving and dignified; the old man was being sent off with love and affection.

Then we got to the crematorium.

 

At the crematorium

The coffin was unloaded into what appeared to be the tradesman’s entrance. The family was directed to a waiting room. People could watch TV. Soon, we were hustled into a glass-walled viewing room. Beyond the window was the coffin. Beyond the coffin was a line of a dozen doors to what looked like industrial furnaces. It was horribly stark.

 

A door opened and the body was shoved through. It was quick, sudden and shocking. Family members yelped in shock. The furnace door closed and everybody was hustled out to wait.
We waited for over an hour under a hot midday sun. We did lunch. We drank beer. We waited some more.
I went back to the waiting room as it was cooler there. I noticed a bank of TV monitors, each one placed above a photo of those being “processed.” You could watch the furnace doors open and the ashes being wheeled out on a trolley. The picture was fuzzy, thank God.
But then the monitor told us furnace No. 4 was ready and we were hustled back into the glass-walled viewing room. The door opened and a tray of bones was dragged out. The women screamed for their father. Everyone looked on in disbelief.
Originally, the family thought they would stick with tradition and bury the old man on a hill near their house. But South Korea is losing its cultural markers. Modern times require quick and easy solutions to life – and death. The dead don’t need to take up space on a hill.
One or two bones were still identifiable. Two crematorium staff swept everything into a box and brought it over to where the family were watching in a state of shock. I stood well back, holding my daughter for comfort. Everyone was distraught. This was no way to create a final memory of a man revered by his family. This was processing, not healing, not loving, not even remembering. Who’d want to remember this?
The bones were crammed into an urn and handed over. Thanks for your patronage; have a nice day. Er, recommend us to your friends…
The family drove back past the old man’s house and village and up into the hills to a Buddhist temple where his ashes would be enshrined and where the family could find spiritual salvation. Religions require belief and everyone wanted to believe that father was on a journey, and his journey would end peacefully in a sacred place. It was sunny and 33 C; no one had any energy left. A Buddhist priest gave the family the spiritual sustenance they sought. We said our last prayers for the old man’s final journey, bowed to the ground one more time to say goodbye and headed home.

Final resting place

 ****

Later that night, a magpie – a symbol of good luck in Korea – flew onto a wall of the house. He gave the impression he belonged there and looked paternally at the family members clustered behind an open window. He flew into the house and perched high up in the living room. Nobody said anything, but everyone thought the same thing. How could you think otherwise?
After refusing to leave, the fearless widow Lee grabbed the bird and ushered it out. It flew away into the night. She watched it go, saying a final, silent farewell.
Sorry, you don’t live here anymore.

 

 

****


Oct 6 2012

Can Kim Jong-Un play the symbols?

By Fred Varcoe

Nuclear war is imminent!
It’s true. Pak Kil-yon, North Korea’s vice-foreign minister said so at the United Nations.

 

Dye another day?

 

“Today, due to the continued U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK, the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tensions is an ongoing phenomenon on the Korean Peninsula, which has become the world’s most dangerous hot spot and where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war,” Pak told the General Assembly (according to The Daily Telegraph).

It’s OK; they let any nutter speak before the General Assembly. Last week, Japan “Prime Minister” Yoshihiko Noda muttered a few words there. Nobody listened.
And not many people are going to listen to Mr. Pak. The speech may have been at the United Nations, but it was most likely aimed at the United States. The Americans, after all, are the only ones dumb enough to listen to such crap.
Of course, Mr. Pak also felt obliged to hammer away at the lame-duck administration of President Lee Myung-Bak, but that’s definitely going to fall on deaf ears in South Korea.
“Since taking office, the current South Korean government has caused the worst situation in North-South relations by making all inter-Korean agreements null and void,” Pak declared dramatically.
Arf, arf. Pot, kettle, black, etc. North Korea is a world leader in ditching agreements when it feels like it. So why do they even bother speaking if they aren’t going to say anything that anyone will listen to (American government officials excepted, of course).

 

Ha! Ha! Ha! So you know nothing about the outside world either!!?! Ha!

 

Mr. Pak’s claim that the citizens of the North feel “shame” and “political terror” as a result of South Korean policies and actions will hopefully be supported by a Gallup poll, but until then, he can be safely ignored.
The performance at the U.N. is a sad repetition of the same old line that Pyongyang has been trying to sell for a couple of decades: We have nuclear weapons; the South is provoking us (yes, PSY does look a little like North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un); the Americans are provoking us (they look at us across the 38th parallel in a funny way); the Japanese are provoking us (why don’t they believe that Megumi Yokota is dead?). They want war; we want Mickey Mouse.
Yes, indeed. Mickey Mouse is now a player in the geo-political game. While Mr. Pak trots out the same old old-wave rubbish he’s been indoctrinated in, there have been signs that the North could be changing under young Jong-Un, the son of Jong-Il and grandson of Il-Sung.
The first sign in early July was a video showing Kim Jong-Un attending a performance that included Mickey and Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters. Observers around the world thought this was cute or ironic or daft, but in a country where symbolism is everything, you would think there was something deeper going on. The leader of a Stalinist state enjoying the most visible symbol of its archenemy? That doesn’t happen by accident.

 


The next sign was the firing of Army chief Ri Yong Ho in mid-July. Firings don’t come much bigger in North Korea and it was a massive show of power by North Korea’s young leader.
Ten days later, Kim Jong-Un is seen attending an important meeting with a young, attractive woman. The woman turns out to be his wife. Seen that before in North Korea? No, didn’t think so. Koreans on both sides of the peninsula don’t go around parading their wives. Korea is a patriarchal society. Men rule (OK, that’s changing in the South, where they might even have a woman president before the end of the year).

 

Oppa Pyongyangnam Style

Two weeks after that, Kim welcomed back Kenji Fujimoto, his father’s former chef who reportedly fled from North Korea more than a decade ago and has made a tidy living writing books (about North Korea), making speeches (about North Korea) and wearing disguises (to cunningly evade North Korean assassins at events where he is billed as Kim Jong-Il’s former chef).

 

Kenji Fujimoto tries to blend in with the rest of Japan

 

That’s four extraordinary events in a month, but they only received passing interest in the West. But to me, they signify:

1. I’m open to talks with the United States (and their leader Mickey Mouse);
2. I’m a modern, forward-thinking Korean (OK, North Korean);
3. I’m my own man and I’m in charge (so I’m the person to deal with, if my wife says so);
4. I’m also willing to talk to Japan (or, at least, eat their food).

If North Korea wants to say something at the United Nations, they really need to come up with something a bit more imaginative than Mr. Pak’s drivel. They would get more respect by admitting they want to change and asking for the help of the rest of the world. The South Korean people are more willing to help – and less afraid of – North Korea than the North Koreans seem to understand.
North Korea’s problems have nothing to do with the outside world. They have cut themselves off from the rest of the world for over 60 years. Now, they don’t know how to get back in touch with it.
Kim Jong-Un is one of the few North Koreans who have lived in the West. He, perhaps, has a chance of building a bridge to the West. But he can’t expect the West to roll over and throw down a red carpet. The truth is the West and South Korea can safely ignore North Korea. If the North has a nuclear bomb, they can’t use it. Everything the North has tried to provoke the outside world has failed miserably. Conciliation is the only thing they haven’t tried, at least, sincerely. (There’s a thought: Why don’t they try sincerity. It works.)
Here’s an idea for Kim Jong-Un: Go to Panmunjom, step into the Blue Hut that serves as a meeting place for North and South Korea and step over the line in the middle that divides the two countries (it’s easy; I’ve done it).
That’s a symbolic gesture even the U.S. State Department would understand.

 


Sep 27 2012

Letter from Japan

Vote for me!

 

(This was an experimental column offered to The Japan Times [can’t think why they didn’t take it] and based on the “Dear Bill” column from Private Eye. Originally written in 2001.)

****************************************************************************************

Dear Frank,

I start with a question: Is new Philippines President Gloria Arroyo the first head of state that you’d be willing to shag?

She’s awfully close. It might take a few beers, but give the Filipinos credit – they’ve got a good-looking girl in charge.

 

mmmmm….

 

Of course, it doesn’t really matter who’s in charge over there as the country is such a mess. Up until now, the old maxim “you
get the leader you deserve” appears to be true over there.

That’s why I can’t understand why they were so keen to get rid Of “Elvis” Estrada. Just because he was a fat, greasy-haired, philandering gambler with his hand in the till, it doesn’t mean to say he doesn’t deserve to be president of the Philippines. Seems to be the perfect sort of chap to me. I can’t understand why countries like the Philippines don’t have a law that makes embezzlement legal – perhaps up to a limit of $10 million. They’re going to do it anyway, so the government might as well facilitate it.

Anyway, the old maxim has never let Japan down. Look at what we’ve got now: Yasuhiro Mori.

If he was a fat, greasy-haired, philandering Elvis impersonator things might not be so bad.

All right, so he’s a bit on the bulky side, but he has none of the endearing attributes of the Filipino “Elvis.”

He is, basically, a complete twat.

Perhaps the maxim can be reversed (“The leader gets the people he deserves”), but I know not all the Japanese people are as mind-bogglingly moronic as their leaders.

Of course, most of the leaders are.

In the 14 years I’ve been here, Japan has been run by a string of gutless incompetents with the all moral rectitude of a paedophilic priest.

Most of the leaders have come from the Liberal-Democratic Party, which has maintained power for most of the post-War years. To be a Liberal-Democratic politician you have to be:
a) rich;
b) stupid.

Of course, politicians belonging to the Liberal Democratic Party (I thought the name was a joke until I remembered there is no irony in Japan) have a host of other attributes, including bribe taking, bribe giving, shagging geisha girls (and paying them a monthly retainer), lying, cronyism, bribery, lying, egotism, lying and lying.

Why, you ask, do the voters put up with this?

Up until now, it’s been because they think that the Socialists would upset the gravy train that Japan hoped to ride into the 21st Century.

Ah, I hear you say, but Japan’s economy is a complete mess, only a few steps away from that of the Philippines, but much, much deeper in debt.

That’s true, but the succession of LDP governments in the ’90s used the national piggy bank to create the impression that everything was OK.

More recently, they started borrowing – a lot – sending Japan spiralling into debt and almost certain financial ruin a few years down the road.

Mark my words, Japan is going to be hit by a massive financial collapse, followed by – or, perhaps, preceded by – social collapse.

No, forget the maxim; Japan does not deserve such a fate, but the voters have to start realizing that they’ve been conned by their politicians.

The government will only do something about it when it’s too late (and they’ll do too little then). At that time, the voters will turn against them, but that will be too late, too.

I wish Estrada would come over here and be prime minister; you know exactly where you stand with him. You can budget in a few million dollars for him to rent a few mistresses and gamble away, knowing that the rest will be untouched.

Unfortunately, like the Philippines, Japan has little left to gamble with.

Billy.

P.S. What about that Makiko Tanaka … she’s a spunky woman, don’t you think? Might be alright at 4 a.m., pissed out of your brains.


Sep 25 2012

Slash and Burn: Getting a ‘faceover’ in Korea

 

 

By Fred Varcoe

I’ve often wondered why so many South Korean actresses look the same. A South Korean friend once told me that 80 percent of the girls in her high-school class had had cosmetic surgery. And this wasn’t the middle of Seoul; this was smalltown Korea. Cosmetic surgery is huge business in Korea.

But I never expected to experience it myself. Probably because I’m not Korean. For many, having surgery is a routine thing to do. My wife’s had stuff done and her sister and even her mother. I didn’t notice.

At least, I didn’t notice until I checked old photos. My wife had quite significant bags under her eyes and my sister-in-law looked positively worn out. Surgery has taken at least 10 years off their faces; they look great. So they decided that it was my turn next.

I hadn’t thought about it, but they told me I had too many wrinkles around my eyes and my face was getting too lumpy. I got a new pair of glasses and could see they may have a point. And, to be honest, I had thought my face was turning to jello.

But not enough to splash $5,000 on a refit. So my sister-in-law blackmailed and bribed me. “Do it for your daughter,” she said. “She doesn’t want a daddy that looks like a granddaddy. And I’ll pay.” Convincing arguments – so I said yes.

The clinic was at the top of a fairly non-descript building with a vacant shop on the first floor. We were shown into a glass-panelled waiting room. A couple of women staff members looked at my face and talked to my sister-in-law (a lay expert). I got the go-ahead.

A very attractive young lady came in and put big dobs of cream on spots on my face. She was nice. I wish I’d had more spots, but she left.

Then I went to see a doctor. Nobody was speaking English. The doctor prodded my face, consulted with my sister-in-law and said OK. After further relaxation time in the waiting room, I was led to another room and told to take my shoes off and lie down on the surgical table. The doctor came in, told me to close my eyes and started to nuke my face with a laser. You could smell the flesh burning and feel the heat of the laser, which felt similar to the laser that nearly erased Sean Connery’s bollocks in Goldfinger. But after attacking my eight spots, I was led back to the waiting room again, bollocks safely intact.

Then it was time for the main show.

Cosmetic surgery, my arse! The results may be cosmetic, but the surgery is very real.

I’ve had lots of doctors cut me up on the operating table, but I was always asleep. Not this time. I was taken to an realistic-looking surgery, told to take off my shoes, given a pajama top that was too small for me and placed on the operating table. Two big lights shone down at me. First the nurse took my blood pressure. It was high (157/84). My unhealthy lifestyle, I thought. They wrapped the outside of my head and placed a cover over my upper torso that left a hole for my face. Then the nurse started washing my face with iodine.

All this time, my sister-in-law was present to act as interpreter – in Japanese, which didn’t help much as her Japanese is much better than mine. The doctor came in and I was told that they would thread a needle into my skin to allow the areas to be anaesthetized. It might be painful, he added, teaching me the Korean word for pain (paekum). As I was to be cut in four places (two sections of about 3 cm above each eye and two sections right beneath each eye, each about 6 cm), they did this four times. It felt like a big needle being threaded through my skin (mainly because that’s what it was) and it hurt like fuck.

Boom, boom, boom went the beat of my heart. Seriously. Was it my body or my mind reacting to this abuse?

Soon after, I felt the pressure of the scalpel, followed by the flow of blood as they opened up my face. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after that – and I still don’t know what happened. But it took a long time. I was told they cut out about a centimetre of face from under my eyes, but they were also putting stuff in. There was a machine that seemed to inject something (glue, cement, landfill, botox – I don’t really know, but I suspect botox) into the holes cut in my face. When they did it below the eye, it pressured the eyeball and was very uncomfortable.

I became anxious. My blood pressure rocketed again and my heart was pumping so hard it felt like it was only a matter of time before it burst through my chest. The doctor was so concerned, he recalled my sister-in-law from the waiting room to try and get me to calm down. Eventually, my heart stopped trying to burst through my ribs, but I really wanted the machine to stop injecting me with stuff, because it hurt every time it did.

Finally, I guessed that they were doing some sewing. It was a huge relief. I didn’t want to be skewered or cut or cemented or traumatised any more. And I wanted to make sure the doctor hadn’t glued or sewn my eyes shut.

Then it was all over. I could open my eyes. They didn’t feel happy. The doctor said everything had gone fine. The nurses smiled and took their time cleaning me up, which was the only nice part of the whole two-hour procedure. They gave me a mirror. I looked like Dr. Frankenstein’s first experiment and it seemed I had about 50 stitches in all.

 

 

Before

 

 

My sister-in-law came in. She was enthusiastic, but then spotted a problem. They hadn’t botoxed my forehead as she had requested (it was a bonus procedure). The doctor came back armed with a new syringe and jabbed it into my forehead about 10 times. Thankfully, that was the last procedure. I just wanted to go home and see my daughter.

But she was none too pleased seeing Daddy all bashed up. I told her Daddy had been to see a doctor and his face was painful. I saw a look of worry pass across her face. She wasn’t impressed with the results, but reassured by Mummy, she accepted Daddy’s latest disfigurement.

 

After

 

Daddy wasn’t too sure either, despite the enthusiasm of my wife and her sister. The stitched up scars looked ugly (they always do, of course) and the lasered spots were covered with skin-regeneration tape. I felt like I should be in a circus. But my wife and her sister had already decided we should go on a family trip to Daegu, Pohang and a temple or two. As I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol during my recovery, I was one of the designated drivers (the other designated driver drank anyway). So, everyone else in Korea would be allowed to view the taped-up foreign monster. My wife had provided me with a pair of sunglasses that covered most of the scars, but I still had a large dressing under each eye. It was hard to eat chewy stuff like meat, so I ended up eating less and drinking less. I was allowed to remove the dressing after a couple of days, but my face was jaundice yellow.

The stitches came out six days after the operation and were removed by a very pleasant nurse who was very deft with the scissors. When I’ve had stitches out before, I’ve almost passed out, so I wasn’t looking forward to it. It took around 20 minutes and I managed not to pass out, just. Everyone was pleased with the results, but for me, it was still too early to tell. Eleven days on, my face was nearly clear and the scars less red, but my face felt tight. One of my friends said it seems like I can’t smile any more. The wrinkles in my forehead have gone.

More likely, they’ve just been paralyzed. According to Wikipedia, “Botulinum toxin is a protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and is the most powerful neurotoxin ever discovered.” It doesn’t repair your body, it just stops it working. So your frown doesn’t disappear, your frown muscles are zapped so they don’t have any choice but to stop frowning. I had a fair amount of trouble opening my mouth properly when I tried to eat. Six months later, most of my face is working again, but no botox means no youthful veneer. So if I don’t want a forehead that looks like the ocean outside my front door during a typhoon, I gotta go back for more “jab-a-syringe-in-the-ageing-foreigner” torture.

Maybe I’d be better off just adopting a healthy lifestyle.

You’re right; too late.

“Nurse!”

See, it worked…


Jul 23 2011

Has N. Korea shot its load?

By Fred Varcoe

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently that without America’s presence in the region, “North Korea’s military provocations could be even more outrageous or worse” and China “might behave more assertively toward its neighbors.”
Well, thank God for the American bomb.
Except that America’s presence failed to stop North Korea sinking South Korean warship the Cheonan (as South Korea claim) or prevent North Korea from unleashing an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island close to the disputed sea border between the two countries. It didn’t stop North Korea bombing a South Korean airliner in 1987; it didn’t stop North Korea trying to blow up the South Korean cabinet in Myanmar in 1983; and it didn’t stop North Korea kidnapping Japanese and South Korean citizens for over half a century.
Ah, but surely it has stopped North Korea from invading the South.
Well, it didn’t stop them in 1950 when there was a massive American military presence right next door in Japan, where the U.S. had demonstrated their nuclear might just five years before (the U.S. had a minimal presence in South Korea at the time).
It has been argued that America’s military presence in the region is more of a provocation than a source of appeasement. Certainly on a local basis, American troops are despised both in Japan and South Korea. For some they are a permanent blot on the landscape.
But they are not immovable. America’s greatest ally in East Asia – former colony the Philippines – told the U.S. military to “get the hell out of Dodge” in 1992.
According to a New York Times report, “The American military presence was assailed as a vestige of colonialism and an affront to Philippine sovereignty.”
Which is not dissimilar to how the North Koreans – and quite a few South Koreans and Japanese – view America’s presence in the region today.
You have to ask yourself how a relatively small country like the Philippines can tell the United States to leave, but the world’s third-largest economy – Japan – can’t. In addition, the Philippines were charging the U.S. $203 million a year for the right to have bases on their territory. In contrast, Japan pays in the region of $2 billion to the U.S. as “rent-a-cop” fees.
To get back to Korea, the only country that has stopped North Korea invading South Korea is North Korea. Of course, it’s all about consequences and equations. In 1950, North Korea had the support of China and the Soviet Union, and only had to consider a conventional war against a weak South. And its attack nearly succeeded. The North captured around 90 percent of South Korean territory. The South clung on desperately to a small corner of the peninsula known as the Pusan Perimeter.
After three years of fighting, the prewar divisions and stalemate remained intact. They remain intact today.

Calculation or miscalculation?

The North has growled for nearly 60 years at the U.S.-backed South, killing the odd American or South Korean, blowing up the odd airliner, kidnapping people for no apparent reason.
(The kidnapping of Japanese citizens makes no sense at all considering the number of “North Koreans” born and raised in Japan since the end of World War II. If North Korea wants to teach its spies and terrorists how to speak proper Japanese, then its own “citizens” are more than capable of doing this.)
But how have South Korea, Japan and the West reacted to the North’s most recent provocations? Simple, they’ve done virtually nothing. Of course, diplomats have expressed “concern,” but not enough to interrupt their early evening cocktails.
But North Korea may have miscalculated with its latest attack.
While South Korea’s defense minister was fired for a weak response to the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the South still retaliated with a barrage of 40 missiles, which, according to an Asian Times report by Washington-based analyst Yong Kwon, had a terrifying effect on the North:
“Radio Free Asia reported that the shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island caused widespread panic throughout North Korea because of the belief that the United States would retaliate militarily.”
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has vowed to use significant force if the North repeats its missile attack. This is widely interpreted as meaning air strikes against the North.
The North’s reaction? Let’s have some more six-party talks.
Initially, the South opted not to play that game again. And why would they? The six-party talks are a joke. If the North is caving in after a mild missile response from the South and the mere threat of an air strike, what incentive is there for the South to carry on playing the North’s game?
The North is not willing to negotiate away any of its advantages, certainly not the one ace it’s got over the West: its perceived nuclear capability, which is still unproven and may be more bluff than reality. But if the North is not up for a minor fight over its border, is it up for any fight at all?
The North may well have played its last card. If it can’t intimidate militarily, it can’t intimidate, period.
What actually, can the North do?
It can resort to terrorism, which, as the Palestinians (of old) and Al Qaeda have shown, can be more effective than overt military action, but such action would only serve to isolate the country more and could lead to strong countermeasures by South Korea, Japan and America. And blowing up planes, kidnapping people and assassinating politicians hasn’t worked for the North, so far.
It can attack South Korea again, but this would initiate a serious response from the South (and possibly the U.S.) and the North would then be forced to back down or escalate the conflict.
Such escalation could lead to war, but the North knows that while it can win some significant battles and inflict serious damage on the South, it will never win a war. War is an end game with the North defeated.
Could it use nuclear weapons? Theoretically, yes; practically no. Again, this would be an end-game tactic that would destroy North Korea, and the only raison d’etre for North Korea is to sustain the current regime. Stalemate for them is victory.
An invasion of the South would ultimately destroy the North. And there are serious doubts that the North could sustain a war beyond a few weeks. A ground war requires food and supplies and fuel and it’s unlikely that North Korea possesses enough of these to wage a credible campaign. North Korea may have great numbers – 7 million is the scary figure Western media like to use – but, again, it’s quality vs. quantity. In the Korean War, many soldiers from the South defected to the North. That’s not going to happen again. The reverse is far more likely.
Also, a war – or even a significant escalation – would involve China, but not like 60 years ago when half a million Chinese “volunteers” spontaneously flooded into Korea to aid Kim Il Sung. While half the West’s economy now seems to be tied up in China, nearly all of China’s economy is tied to the West. Do you think the Chinese people/government are going to sacrifice their wealth and stability to assist North Korea?
Wikileaks seem to suggest that the Chinese have less influence and less interest in North Korea than people in the West have given them credit for. The North needs China – without it, it would probably die. China does not need the North and the argument that a buffer is required between capitalist China and major trading partner South Korea just doesn’t hold water any more. China can afford to drop North Korea; it can’t afford to cut its ties with the West.

 

The citizens of Shanghai probably wouldn't want a war on their doorstep.

 

And if the South is going to carry out air strikes on the North, a good place to start would be the bridges over the Yalu River that link the North to China. Such a move would finally force China to take a stand on the North and their message to Pyongyang would have to be: Start a war and this time you’ll have to start it and finish it without us. Added to which, northeast Asia without a North Korean problem would ease tension in the region and allow China and the West to intensify their capitalistic intercourse.

While North Korea is the only country that can initiate a war on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea is the only country that should be making the decisions on how to prevent one.
The United States is quite clearly out of its depth and its involvement in the affairs of other countries in recent decades has been nothing short of embarrassing. Iraq, Libya, Palestine, George Bush/Tony Blair, Japan even (the Futenma debacle). My associations with Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan have shown me how ridiculous America looks to the citizens of these countries. Politically. Of course, many admire the economic achievements of the U.S., but the Washington would be foolish to think that they have earned universal respect in these and other countries.
And the other “players” in the Six-Party equation?
Japan is arguably the weakest country in the world when it comes to political clout and diplomacy. The government changes yearly and is invariably headed by a weak-willed idiot. Many Japanese would love it to have political power to match its economic strength, but don’t hold your breath. Tony “The Poodle” Blair has nothing on the lap-dancing lap dogs of Nagatacho.
China. Oh yes, the country that has influence on North Korea. North Korea is far less of a puppet state of China than Japan or South Korea is of the United States. China does not dictate to Pyongyang. But China is friendly – very, very friendly. And for a reason.
Any major instability in North Korea would have refugees rushing over the Yalu River into China rather than over the heavily mined DMZ into South Korea. And who or what would replace the Kim dynasty should it be removed from power? The only alternative power in the North is the army and this, reportedly, is extremely factional. An internal power struggle could result in more of the same (i.e., a new North Korean Saddam Hussein or Moammar Gadaffi to deal with) or a pro-West faction (or at least, a pro-West rapprochement faction).

Resolving to resolve nothing

Communist China’s only option in this whole game is to maintain the status quo. It is horrified by the prospect of a pro-Western, pan-Korean government and it certainly doesn’t want any more Koreans clogging up its border cities.
So it reaffirms its faith in the Six-Party Talks, knowing that they will never, ever bring about a resolution – certainly not the kind of resolution that the West anticipates. The purpose of the Six-Party Talks is to get the North to give up its nuclear weapons. This won’t happen, especially as the North watches the West bombing the crap out of Libya. North Korea and China win by prolonging the Six-Party Talks. Just as war is an end game, talks are a no-end game.
In an article in the April/May edition of the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) Journal by respected East Asia watchers Scott Snyder and Byun See Won, the writers talk of “the Six Party Talks through which North Korea’s nuclear programme and other issues must be addressed.” From the diplomatic perspective, this seems logical. Talking is what diplomats do. But if it’s resolution that you want, this won’t fly.
To their credit, the writers mention “doubts about China’s credibility as a broker of the Six Party Talks” and even suggest that China may have given North Korea a “blank cheque to pursue provocations with apparent impunity.” But this is also a misreading of China’s position. China may not be dictating to Kim Jong Il and at times may appear not to have the ability to control Pyongyang, but its patience would wear out rapidly if tensions escalated to extensive military action. For China, stalemate is the only answer; it certainly doesn’t want a resolution.
And it certainly doesn’t want a war. Snyder and Byun point out: “According to U.S. officials, Chinese party leaders have reportedly expressed increasing anxieties about Pyongyang’s provocations,” although the Chinese military apparently are less concerned.
China’s military may be flexing its muscles in other areas, but North Korea knows that it won’t get backing for any large-scale military action against the South (although it was interesting to note that while China condemned U.S.-ROK military exercises in the Yellow Sea, it failed to condemn the North’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island).
The other player in the six-party talks is Russia, presumably invited as it, too, borders North Korea, but also because they’d get extremely pissed off if they weren’t dealt with on equal terms. Russian involvement is peripheral. Russia is only interested in scoring diplomatic points, mainly against the West.
Gates has said, “There must be concrete evidence that [the North’s leaders] are finally serious about negotiations.” Well, good luck with that one, Mr. Gates, ‘cos you’re not going to get it.

 


In an insightful Asia Times Online piece (“Misunderstandings May Prove Fatal”), Kwon puts it thus:
“The bewildered diplomatic and military overtures to Pyongyang and Beijing are signs that Washington has barely begun to take a serious interest in the country that it has been confronting for over 50 years. Currently, too many policies towards the DPRK are made using presumptions and analogies that are fundamentally inconsistent with what little we do know about the regime’s objectives and perceptions. … Washington has placed a profound amount of faith in China’s leverage on Pyongyang. … Ultimately, the current policy of treating the DPRK as a Chinese client or puppet state is inherently flawed.”
Kwon concludes: “The assumptions that drive American foreign policy towards the DPRK are too often historically uninformed, and over-exaggerate or misinterpret the threats posed by Pyongyang. The Obama administration should recognize this and treat North Korea as it should be treated, a uniquely North Korean problem.”
That’s the first step. The second step is for Seoul to distance itself from Washington. Don’t give in to American blackmail as the Japanese did over the Futenma Air Base in Okinawa.
Diplomatic sources have suggested that Seoul is keen to press a hard line against the North. Pressure not to do so comes from outside. The South Korean government must have the courage of its convictions. North Korea is now in a uniquely vulnerable position. Its supreme leader seems to know he will not live too long (although he looked healthy enough on his recent trip to China) and it now has serious doubts about its ability to scare the South. Economically, it’s as much a basket case as ever and food shortages are a constant threat. There have been isolated reports of unrest in North Korean cities. Depriving the North of assistance will strengthen the South’s hand, assuming it can rid itself of brotherly guilt by making its people suffer more. While many in the South don’t want instant reunification, they still regard Korea as one country separated by politics (and blame Japan, Russia and the United States for the division). The North currently believes that the South will respond with force if another Yeonpyeong occurs. For that to be effective, that’s exactly what the South should do.
Raising the stakes is a risky game, but the North has never had to call the South’s bluff before. The South must now play its cards right if it wants to win the game.

END


Apr 18 2011

Feeder Tsunami single

Feeder have released the song “Side by Side” as a single and will donate all profits to the Japanese Red Cross for tsunami disaster relief. Feeder’s singer Grant Nicholas (his dad used to be my dentist) has a Japanese wife and the band’s bassist is also Japanese.


Apr 1 2011

RUNNING SENSIBLE

Would you leave?

Surely that should be “Running Scared”? Well, it was originally until some wiseguy in Tokyo actually used the phrase to describe my flight from my home.
Why wouldn’t I be scared?
A 9.0 earthquake, perhaps?

The 9.0 quake and how it shook Japan (see scale at the bottom). The epicenter is marked by an X in the top right corner.

Make that a 9.0 earthquake 400 km away. Only a few things fell down in my house; it didn’t do any damage. Physically. Twenty-five minutes after that quake, another one hit. It felt slightly stronger, but wasn’t so different. The second one was 7.9 on the Richter scale – but only 120 km away. In earthquake terms, that’s local. Scary enough for you?

The 7.9 quake; much closer to home.

 

That’s two huge quakes, but listen up: It wasn’t “The Big One.”
Tokyo got hit hard, but stood up to the quake pretty well. The northeast of the country has been pole-axed. There’s disruption everywhere, but not largely due to the earthquake itself. The BIG quake.
But the BIG quake wasn’t “The Big One.”
Tokyo’s last “Big One” occurred in 1923. The magnitude: 7.9, the same as the one that hit up the coast from me. It was at a depth of 23 km – not ultra-shallow, but not deep (the one near me was 39 km under the sea). Mainstream media almost never report the depth of an earthquake (although CNN’s meteorologists has been trying hard to improve, perhaps to compensate for their crap news reporting), but depth is crucial to what happens on the surface. The nature of the plate and fault line are also important. Some areas move more than others. And there are different kinds of motion.
The 1923 quake did not hit under Tokyo; it was in Sagami Bay, about 50 km away. But it was a long quake (an amazing 4-10 minutes according to Wikipedia), near the surface and produced a lot of ground movement. But it was not under Tokyo.
But both Tokyo and my house are close to major fault lines. The fault line that prompted the 9.0 quake on March 11 runs down the entire east coast of Japan, roughly from the northeast. Another fault line then cuts in from that about 75 km south of my house and juts into the bay south of Yokohama and Tokyo and then breaks south from Mt. Fuji. This fault line caused the 1923 quake and another large quake in 1703 (the Genroku Earthquake) that resulted in a massive tsunami in the area where I live (the Boso Peninsula) and, apparently, prompted an eruption from Mt. Fuji (still listed as an active volcano).

The fault lines around central Japan.

 

But the next “Big One” in Japan is supposed to be a Tokai quake that will hit the Shizuoka area roughly 150 km southwest of Tokyo. Experts tell us it’s on the way, based on previous earthquake cycles. Of course, in the meantime, we’ve had a number of large and deadly quakes, including Kobe in 1995 (a mere 6.8 on the Richter scale, but at only 16 km depth – 6,500 dead; Niigata 2005 (6.9 on the Richter scale, also at 16 km depth – 39 dead); Niigata 2007 (6.6 at 10 km – 11 dead). The Tokai quake is expected to be 8-8.5 on the Richter scale in an area where the plate is near the surface. Estimate deaths: 10,000 (that will only be revised upward after the recent quake). A big Tokyo earthquake or a Tokai earthquake will cause more disruption and damage (at least from the quake) than the recent 9.0 quake. Judging by what’s happened in the last few weeks, it will be devastating to Japan’s economy. The human cost will also be horrendous.

Where the Tokai earthquake is expected to take place.

According to The Japan Times of March 20, 2003:

“A Tokai quake centered on central or western Shizuoka Prefecture or Suruga Bay would force the evacuation of some 2 million people and disrupt the water, electricity and other infrastructure of 5 million others, the panel said. … A massive Tokai quake could also trigger tsunami of up to 10 meters striking coastal regions stretching from the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture to Mie and Wakayama prefectures on the Kii Peninsula.”
Tokyo’s last big earthquake was in 1923, 88 years ago. Before that, came the Ansei-Edo quakes in 1854-55. That’s quakes. Not one, but three over a period of less than two years. There’s always more out there. Yes, I’m scared.

TSUNAMI

And then there are tsunamis. We live 100 meters from the sea at an elevation of roughly 5 meters. I have had unsettling dreams about tsunami since I moved here. I know the danger. I know we have to get out and away from the sea when a quake hits. I’d always had a plan in mind. Assuming that I could get out in my car and the roads weren’t blocked, I figured I could get to my friend Mike’s clifftop house in a couple of minutes. Plan B (if the roads are blocked, a likely scenario) is to walk up the little road in front of my neighbour’s house and climb the hill above it (the sea’s on the other side). I can’t quite figure out how high the mountain is. I’ve always based my escape plan on the basis that a 10-meter wave would be heading our way. This is very possible.
My next-door neighbour reminds me that the Tohoku quake and tsunami was a “once in a thousand years event.” Not quite true. The media have reported it that way, but the truth is that it was a “once in a thousand years event” in that location. There’s a lot of locations… I live at a different location; the clock is still ticking.
The urgency I have about evacuating is the result of knowing about another earthquake and tsunami that happened in Japan in 1993, and which, curiously, has been largely forgotten, even now. A 7.8 earthquake struck off Okushiri Island in northern Japan on July 12, 1993 (more information here: www.drgeorgepc.com/Tsunami1993JAPANOkushiri.html).

A tsunami wiped out Aionae village.

Waves of at least 10 meters (and up to 20 meters) hit the island within two minutes at its nearest point. Villages were wiped out. But not everyone was killed. Although 269 people lost their lives, another destructive earthquake 10 years earlier (no “once-in-a-thousand-years” event here) taught people that they had to run to higher ground very, very fast. I’m hoping the hill near my house is high enough for refuge, but I don’t know how high it is, or even if I can get to the top with a wife and 3-year-old child. It could be pitch black and in the summer there are poisonous snakes and other wildlife in the hills. And what if the waves were 40 meters high. Apparently, it’s happened before. Of course, if I thought it would happen to me, I wouldn’t have bought a house so close to the sea. You run a risk. There might not be another major quake in this area for 500-600 years. There might be one tomorrow.

FALLOUT

Three days after the March 11 quake, a friend called me. He had spoken to a couple of credible nuclear engineers. They advised him to get out of town. He advised me to escape immediately. Others were urging caution. A number of friends reminded me that no official spokespeople could be trusted, least of all the buffoons at TEPCO. The government couldn’t afford to have 30 million people in the Tokyo area panicking.
I had this vague belief that my toxic lifestyle over the years would grant me immunity from any poisons heading my way, but that wouldn’t apply to my daughter, who was a week away from her third birthday. Cancers start easily in children hit by radioactivity. But there were other reasons why getting away would be good.
For a start, aftershocks. I actually had some work to do when I got back to Japan on March 10. In fact, I had a lot of things to catch up on. There were around 150 recorded aftershocks on March 12; that’s around six an hour. They just kept coming. I would sit at my desk, the cabinet would rattle and I’d be out the door like a shot. And not just six times an hour. There were aftershocks that shook my house that didn’t make the earthquake list. Just little jolts. Little jolts that would wake me up and get my heartbeat racing. I couldn’t concentrate in such conditions.
We had only transferred our bedroom to an upstairs room a few months ago. The upstairs shakes easily and the bedroom was not designed for a quick exit. So, after returning home on March 12 (we slept at the local golf club on March 11), we slept downstairs near the front door with the entrance light on and the door unlocked, keys and passports at the ready. Sleep was fitful at best. And what was it doing to my daughter. If there was a significant aftershock, we’d bundle her up and head for the front door.
“Jishin? Jishin?” she would ask, practising her latest Japanese word. When she looked at the news on the TV, she would say the same. “Jishin? Jishin?” I was worried her nerves were as frazzled as mine and my wife’s.
Gas for cars was already being rationed, electricity cuts were on their way, you couldn’t buy milk and some foodstuffs and there were predictions of large aftershocks and serious pollution from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.
Geez, what would be the sensible thing to do in these circumstances? Ah! That’s it! Stay at home and take it like a man, and tell my wife and child to stop whining. Living in fear would toughen them up!
Or I could go to a place where there were no earthquakes, no power cuts, plenty of gas, milk, water, food, life.
On March 15, we headed to Shimizu in Shizuoka Prefecture to stay in a hotel for four nights. After that, a friend lent me his family’s mountain house near Umegashima hot-spring resort – very remote, very peaceful, fucking cold and famous for landslides. And right in the region where the Tokai Earthquake could occur, I foolishly reminded myself.
But lightning doesn’t strike twice, does it?
We celebrated our escape that evening in a Korean restaurant. The beer tasted good. We could relax. As I drank my cold beer, the ground started shaking and shaking as a 6+ earthquake (on the Japanese scale; 6.2 on the Richter scale) shook Mt. Fuji, 50 km away.

In Japan, you can run, but you sure can’t hide.


Mar 31 2011

The Quake: March 11, 2011

THE QUAKE

My 3-year-old daughter has learnt a new word: jishin. Earthquake to you and me. She learnt it in the garden of my house as we took refuge from the violent earthquake that hit Japan at 14:46 on March 11, 2011.

We were 400 km from the epicentre and experienced a 5+ on the Japanese scale. (It’s actually a 10-point scale, but as the previous scale was only a seven-point scale, they decided not to go beyond 7 when they revised it. I guess it would scare people if earthquakes were allowed to go into double figures. Five-plus is actually a 7 on a 10-point scale.)

As my wife and I stood in our garden, we were scared. It would be stupid to be anything else. Earthquakes are not something you can control or laugh off. The small ones rattle your nerves; the big ones kill you. One of the nice things about living in the country is that we can run into the garden to avoid having things fall on us. Of course, the garden could open up and swallow us, but it seems safer being outside.

As the ground rolled and my house wobbled, I tried to explain the phenomenon of earthquakes to my daughter, moving my hand from side to side and pointing out that our house was shaking, along with everything else in the neighbourhood.

We had only been back in Japan for 24 hours, having spent the previous two weeks on vacation. We hadn’t unpacked. I had been trying to catch up with a few things in my upstairs office. I wanted to get them out of the way and jump into the bath I had run earlier.

The upstairs of the house gives us our first warning of a quake. The windows in the old wooden cabinet where I keep my CDs rattle at the drop of a hat. When I hear the sound of shaking glass, I know it’s an earthquake. Usually, they don’t bother me that much, but I would rather be outside my house than in it if it’s going to be a big one.

So I dash out of my office and rush down the stairs – every time. Well, almost. Sometimes the quake stops before I get to the top of the stairs, where I’ll wait expecting more. This time, by the time I got to the top of the stairs, my wife had already rushed to my daughter’s play room. I bounded down the stairs and as I got to the front door, things started to move a lot. I shouted to my wife to get out quick.

We live 100 meters from the sea at an elevation of roughly 5 meters. I have had dreams about tsunami since I moved here. I know the danger. I know we have to get out and away from the sea when a quake hits. On March 11, I was trying to calm my daughter, absent from nursery school as we’d only just returned from Thailand. The tsunami fear hadn’t registered yet. I moved my hand from side to side, demonstrating a shaking motion to my daughter.

“Tsunami,” my wife cried. How had I forgotten? I handed her our daughter and rushed inside to get my car key. You don’t wait around. A powerful tsunami can arrive in two or three minutes.

I couldn’t find my car key. As we’d parked the car at Narita Airport, I had removed the key from my normal bunch of keys and after we arrived home, my wife had locked the car and put the key in a different place.

I checked the hook for the spare key.

Nothing.

I rushed outside to ask my wife where the spare keys were. She’d taken them off the hook and put them in a pretty little glass case, without telling me. I threw it open on the floor and searched for a Toyota mark. I got the Nissan mark on the key of my wife’s car. I thought about that for a moment before realizing that my car blocked its exit. I searched again and found my spare key, dashed outside and started driving.

We turned on the radio – we never turn on the radio – as the tsunami warning signal started blaring from the loudspeakers in our neighbourhood. For once, I was thankful for the neighbourhood PA system. I still don’t know why they play a wake-up jingle at 7 a.m. every morning, but I was paying attention now.

I’d always had a plan in mind. Assuming that I could get out in my car and the roads weren’t blocked, I figured I could get to my friend Mike’s clifftop house in a couple of minutes. Of course, the lost key had added a minute and other people had gotten in their cars by the time I reached the main road. It was getting busy.

A man in a small truck drove ahead of us. He was heading to the port, presumably to get on a boat and take it to safety out to sea. A small white car was ahead of him.

Traffic lights.

There is a set of traffic lights at the road going down to the port. The man in the white car stopped.

Are you nuts, I thought.  A 10-meter wave is heading toward us (that was the initial estimate) and you stop for the fucking lights. I was anxious but didn’t panic as I could see down the road to the sea and the road to Mike’s house was only 100 meters further up. And the lights had to change sometime.

Green. The man in the truck sped down to the port, the man in the white car drove straight ahead and I flew up the hill to Mike’s house, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.

We listened to the radio. They were predicting waves of 2-3 meters to arrive in 30 minutes. That shouldn’t be a problem for our house, but you never know. I decided to go home and get cameras and passports and coats. We’d left in a hurry.

There were more people up on the hill when I got back, and my wife was sitting on Mike’s deck (Mike was elsewhere). I pointed out that if another earthquake came along, to stay away from the deck as it’s only a couple of meters from the cliff edge.

Another earthquake came along. A big one. It was 3:15.

I shouted at my wife to get off the deck and further up the hill behind Mike’s house. The whole world was shaking again, and it went on and on and on. This quake has been largely ignored by the media. Perhaps not surprisingly as the main quake in northern Japan was 9.0 on the Richter scale. That was 400 km away. The second one registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and was only 120 km away. That’s a big fucking quake and in earthquake terms – especially at 7.9 – 120 km is almost on your doorstep. It was another 5+ on the Japanese scale – strong, but still some way off the top of the scale.

The Earth wasn’t going to stop shaking any time soon.

 

THE WAVES

The first tsunami had been due to arrive at 3:20. We stared at the sea. We checked Taito port and the jetties around it. Nothing seemed to be happening.

At around 3:30, the water started to rise. It was almost imperceptible, but the jetty seemed to get lower and lower. There was no wave, no warning, nothing spectacular at all. Just some swirling in the port.

Then the water dropped – and kept dropping. It dropped to around a meter below the level we had seen when we arrived at Mike’s place. Then it came back. Again, no drama, no wave.

But there was more of it.

Tsunamis are not necessarily about big waves crashing on the shore. A tsunami is about the ocean rising – and rising and rising. The whole ocean. If you look at some of the video footage of the large tsunami in the north, it’s like the sea is just overflowing.

As I watched the second influx of water, the sea level kept rising – up the base of the jetty and the sides of the harbour walls. Then it covered the jetty that juts out into the sea, behind which they have a swimming area in the summer. And the walls in the harbour were being inundated.

Then the water went out – and out. The jetty was totally exposed and the harbour entrance was dry. Then we saw a wave. It was a bit messy, breaking at different places and it seemed to have some subwaves behind it. The empty port filled up, the water rising perhaps 4-5 meters in a few minutes. That’s a lot of water. And then it rushed out to sea again.

The beautiful sunshine we had earlier in the day had disappeared. A nasty black cloud had blown in from the north and it was trying to rain. A shadow covered the ocean. I looked out to sea at the half-a-dozen or so boats that had managed to get out to safety. A black shadow stretching across the bay bore down on the smallest vessel, which was also closest to shore. Then the boat lurched upward and disappeared momentarily. Moments later the black line turned into a breaker and headed to shore. It was held up briefly by the wall protecting the harbour entrance, but then it rushed in.

A wall stood in its way. The wall was probably over a meter wide – more at its base – and about 6-7 meters high. The water slammed into it. The wall leaned over and collapsed underneath the wave. The water rose. It covered the jetty again and covered the harbor’s internal walls. Containers drifted free.

The water sucked back into the ocean, exposing a lot of beach again. All was calm.

Another big black line formed across the sea – right across it. As the ugly black sky came to meet it, the wave rolled in and broke. Taito is Surf City. This was the perfect wave and it stretched for miles across the bay. Luckily – ironically – there had been little surf that day, so there was no one in the water when the earthquake struck. This was a nice wave, but as destructive as the first. It rushed in and grabbed a boat that hadn’t made it out to sea. It turned the boat over and tried to drag it out as the water rushed out again. The boat got stuck upside down next to the harbour wall.

As the sky grew darker from the rain and the approach of nightfall, one more wave came in. One of the larger boats had two lights on. It turned into the wave. The black line drew closer to the boat and suddenly the vessel reared up, its lights shaking from the force. It rode the crest and disappeared.

One … two … three … four…

Four seconds – and then it came back. Safe.

Darkness was falling. It was going to be a long night for the fishermen riding out the waves about 1 km offshore.

The wave rushed into the harbour and grabbed two more boats, which it tried to take out to sea. Although the water covered the sea walls in the harbour – and even flooded the car park and the lower approach road – the level was not looking critical for oceanside residents such as myself. We’d been on top of the cliff for three hours or more. It was now cold and raining and dark. We made the decision to go home, at least for a short time.

I drove down by the sea to try and see how things were. It was dark and the weather was bad. I drove through the tunnel near my house toward the two little islands – one a big rock, the other a much bigger rock about 25 meters high. The big rock separates the beach so that the waves roll in on two sides and only meet on high tides.

I peered into the gloom. The sea was out. Too far out. I could just about make out a reef in front of me. I’d never seen a reef there before. I got in the car and drove down the road before turning around and heading back up the small hill toward the tunnel, where I stopped and got out again.

In that short space of time, the emptiness where the sea was meant to be had been filled in by swirling waters and waves that crashed against the concrete walkway and the sea wall. It was violent. Here the sea had nowhere to go, so it raged in response. I got in my car and headed home to pick up necessities and take a quick shower. We didn’t stay long. Nerves were still rattled.

We drove inland, figuring putting distance between us and the ocean was the best idea, although we were following the Isumi River, which was probably less of a good idea. We stopped at the small town of Kuniyoshi, about 10km inland. I wanted to buy shoes for my daughter as we’d forgotten to bring any (we carried her everywhere on that day). All I could find were socks. We bought some drinks and snacks at a supermarket, but then decided to eat at the local ramen (noodle) shop. It was nice to sit down, eat and watch the news. We stayed for a couple of hours. I was able to finally hook up my computer and Skype my family back in England. Japan’s mobile phone network was largely dead. The TV continuously flashed maximum tsunami warnings for our area, the same warnings as for those in northern Japan. Safety first.

I had figured the tsunami would start at the epicentre of the earthquake and ripple out, but that’s not the way it worked. The wave wasn’t created at a single point. A whole slab of the planet had moved – a rectangular chunk of the Earth perhaps 100 km wide and 400 km long. We were at the southern end of the rectangle. Luckily it didn’t move as much as the top end.

We managed to connect with friends who had sought refuge at the local golf club on high ground. We were welcome there. The lodge rooms were all taken, but they had seats, toilets, tables and a TV where we could watch as the horror show unfolded.

At 3 a.m., I hugged my daughter and we went to sleep on the floor of the golf club’s dining room. My stressful day had ended in sanctuary; for much of Japan, the nightmare was only just beginning.


Jan 19 2011

Out with the old

From www.photomichaelwolf.com

Text from Kyoto Journal 55

(A stunning little piece. It could equally apply to other places [I was thinking Korea]. Enjoy.)

“On one of my walks through Beijing, I discovered the chair shown on the previous page. It stood in front of a small shop where one could buy, amongst other things, delicious dumplings and soy milk. The shop owner, a young, rather fat man, was sitting on the chair as if it were a throne. And what a wonderful chair it was, propped up on one side by an old spingle and two bricks, and on the other its weak leg was splinted with a piece of wood and some plastic string.

“I set up my camera and tripod and proceeded to take some photographs. As so often when I work in China, a large crowd of people gathered behind me and bombarded me with questions. ‘Why are you taking photographs of that chair; it’s so ugly’ people asked me. `You are making fun of China,’ an older woman hissed as she held her hand in front of my lens. I turned to her and explained: ‘This is an old chair which has had a long and hard life. When I look at it, I do not see an ugly chair. I see a chair with a strong character, like a person who has lived for 80 years and has not given up the will to live even though life has been hard.’ The woman looked at me and shook her head: `I don’t believe you. You are a foreigner who is trying to show how backward the Chinese are. Why don’t you take a picture of a new chair?’

“I finished taking the portrait of the chair, packed up my equipment and walked on. Later that day, I walked by the shop again in order to have another look at the chair. It was gone. When I asked the owner where it was, he said: ‘After you left, the public security police came and smashed it into 100 pieces. They said it was shameful for China and that I should buy a new one.’

(Thanks to Michael Wolf for permission to run this.)