Blog March 2007 - AndyPryke.com
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Saturday 30th March 2007

Kate Goes... To Wonderland

The latest theme for Kate Goes... was Alice in Wonderland. In logo order, Bird was the Caterpillar, Beth played the Seven of Spades, Joe the Mad Hatter, Kate herself was the Cheshire Cat, and Susie the Dormouse. Another excellent gig for Kate Goes..., they just keep getting better and better!

If you haven't heard them before, check out Heartbeat on the Kate Goes... Myspace . There's also a video of the Alice in Wonderland gig!

  • Joe as Mad Hatter:
    Joe as Mad Hatter

  • Beth, Bird and Kate as Seven of Spades, Caterpillar and Cheshire Cat:
    Beth, Bird and Kate as Seven of Spades, Caterpillar and Cheshire Cat

  • Kate and Susie as Cheshire Cat and Dormouse:
    Kate and Susie as Cheshire Cat and Dormouse

The Event

The Event is a two week arts festival running in Birmingham until the 15th of April.

Today I visited The Springhill Institute to see some excellent videos of work from their visiting artists over the past few years. These included the Birmingham Complaints Choir, an investigation of local UFO stories and beliefs, the Bergman Horror Show and a dual screen piece in which zoo animals seemed to copy the facial expressions of an actor.

Next, The Kiosk, commissioned by Capital Arts Project, where members of the public were invited to draw two artists. The Kiosk will feature a number of different performances over the festival. Today it was in Chamberline Square but check out the website for future locations and events . The "Bureau of Investigations" at the Bullring Markets next Friday sounds very interesting!

I managed to bump into the The Plastique Fantastique crowd down by the Bullring and followed their bizarre medieval procession to the Iron Man. They attracted a lot of bemused looks from shopper and the attention of various street urchins who tried to pull their masks or steal their props. They also gained a number of passers by who processed down to Curzon St Station where the launch party was held.

Thursday 29th March 2007

Wolverhampton Art Openings

I've always liked Wolverhampton, the city centre hasn't been converted into the kind of chain-store clone town which you get in Brum. Now there's more reasons to visit: Wolverhampton Art Gallery has a new wing containing a very nice selection of pop art; Passage showed a lot of work from contemporary local artists, including a balloon launch and a procession to the Sheila Cooke Foundation rolling car types and racing remote control cars - a strange sight indeed!

Tuesday 27th March 2007

Misty's Big Adventure and Poppy and the Jezebeles

This was the first time I've seen Poppy and the Jezebeles though I'd heard a lot about them and even seen them on the front of a magazine in WHSmiths - fame indeed! They came on to a great, and quite funny, build-up voiceover, one of the points being "straight from the largest girl's school in Europe", which gives you an ideas of the band's age group!

The first few songs I wasn't too keen on, I found them a little slow, and the sound balance wasn't good. However, the songs Jezebell and an almost acoustic one called Girelle???? or something similar was great. There was a lot of instrument changes and they've obviously got a lot of talent.

I have seen Misty's several times. In fact, more than several times, but this was a particularly excellent gig. Good sound, extremely tight musicianship and lots of space to dance. The set list had been selected from fans writing in and I noticed again that despite their upbeat sound, many of the lyrics deal with slightly darker things, such as war or relationship breakup. Any of course, to complement this darker side, Erotic Volvo wore his black suit for Serious Thing.

Oh! There's also a Sing-A-Long-A-Misty's Karaoke albumn, Karaeoke Time with Misty's Big Adventure, which features seven songs to tickle your tonsils! smile

Friday 23rd March 2007

Coriolanus at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

I don't think I've seen Coriolanus before, but it's by a guy called William Shakespeare. Maybe I was a bit tired, but I found the first hour really dragged, the speeches were overlong, and could have been shorter without losing any content. Also the lead actor, playing Coriolanus, seemed to be putting on a funny voice for quite large parts smile All very well to express the characteristics of the (erm) character, but you still need to be understandable. Despite these problems, the second half has much greater pace, and all in all it worked out well.

Tuesday 13th March 2007

Exploring Kyoto...

The full entry for today entry is here.

Monday 12th March 2007

From Tokyo to Kyoto via Mt Fugi...

The full entry for today entry is here.

Sunday 11th March 2007

Yoyogi Park, Monorails and German Beer

A relatively lazy day today, walking in the park, visiting the famous "Yoyogi-Koen bridge" where the weirdo's (allegedly) hang out, travelling on a monorail across the sea, and viewing Tokyo from a giant big wheel.

The full entry for today entry is here.

Saturday 10th March 2007

Ameyayokocho Market

The full entry for today entry is here and features the wonders of Ameyayokocho market, the bizarre photo booths known as Purikura and octopus balls. Oh, and a dog in a dress smile

  • Giant ducks:
    Giant ducks

  • Dog in a Dress:
    Dog in a Dress

Friday 9th March 2007

Ryokan Breakfast

The breakfast at the Ryokan didn't disappoint, with more yuba and also a bowl of tiny little white fish.

  • Ryokan Breakfast:
    Ryokan Breakfast

  • Little White Fish:
    Little White Fish

Nikko Temple Complex and Arriving in Tokyo

This page is getting so big that I've started to do subpages for the individual days.

The full entry for today entry is at BlogMarch9th2007, and features temples, high-tech toilets and representations of elephants!

Thursday 8th March 2007

Conference Presentation and Lunch

Today I gave my presentation on "Heatmap Visualisation of Multi-Objective Population Based Algorithms". It's basically a way for people in the field to see much more information about the computer systems they use. If you're interested, you can download the paper here.

  • Heatmap Visualisation of Multi Objective Population Based Algorithms:
    Heatmap Visualisation of Multi Objective Population Based Algorithms

For lunch we had a bento box smile :
Bento Box :-)

Staying in a Ryokan

After the conference I set off for Nikko, to stay in a traditional Japanese hotel known as a "Ryokan". From the train there's a beautiful sunset, and also quite a few Cartoon Signs. I leave my shoes in entrance hall to tatami matted room with paper walls (and some real walls too smile ). Here I change into a Yukata, a kind of light dressing gown. In this, rather cold, weather, it comes with a little jacket which you wear over the top.

Nikko is famous for its Buddhist temples and, presumably due to a vegetarian influence and being inland, the food features a lot of Yuba - the tofu skin formed on boiling soya milk. The meal you see below features it in four guises; all wrapped round itself in the little bowl at the front; in a kind of kebab; gently folded against itself with a light sauce in the blue flower dish; and most excitingly (!) in DIY form in the boiling tray of soya milk on the left. As it boils, a skin forms which you lift off and dip in soy sauce. Once fire goes out you add a clear liquid which curdles it (enzyme?) to make a quite liquidy tofu (though it didn't seem so good to me).

  • Nice Sunset!:
    Nice Sunset!

  • Meal at Ryokan - lots of Yuba:
    Meal at Ryokan - lots of Yuba

  • Beautifully presented food:
    Beautifully presented food

  • DIY Yuba:
    DIY Yuba

Japanese Baths

After eating I check out the Japanese bath. This is communal, naked, and single sex. The bathhouse is a seperate building, and I need to walk for a small distance across covered bridge to reach it. At the entrance I leave my sandels, and inside there are some sinks, hair dryers etc plus baskets to leave your Yukata in. You are required to wash/shower very thoroughly before entering, and the next room has the washing facilities. First you sit on (or hover above) a tiny stool, pouring water over yourself with a small bucket. Next you soap up, and rinse off using a shower head, scrubbing yourself with a thin white towel. I think it's good form to do this a couple of times to prove how clean you are. After this, you can enter the baths.

  • The Bathing Code:
    The Bathing Code

Luckily, as this was my first time, there was no-one else around to witness any violations of bathing etiquette, and I was able to bath in peace with a view over the trees and garden. The Ryokan also had an outdoor bath, which I also tried. It's very relaxing!

Wednesday 7th March 2007

Lunch

I'm really starting to like Japanese food. Today's lunch was no exception. We ate at a restaurant next to the big temple in Matsushima, sat on tatami mats, but with a great concession - a pit under the table let me eat in comfort, without having to sit cross-legged.

The meal had miso soup (of course), seaweed, the local fish cakes, rice, soba noodles and then the more out of the ordinary stuff. Squid in squid liver sauce - hmmm, chewy and quite bitter tasting, not one of my favourites. Some eel in a sweetish sauce is hiding in the "wooden" boxes. There was also shell fish: whelks (I think), scallops, prawn and just what is that very chewy white stuff? I've had it before as sushi, and I'm not so keen... It's either squid or octopus.

  • A modest meal:
    A modest meal

After a guided tour around Matsushima's biggest temple (which we visited on Sunday), we go for a trip on a dragon prowed boat around the Bay. Incidently, the literal translation of Matsushima is Pine Island(s), and it's they that are the key feature in it's legendary views.

  • The many handed godess of mercy (of is it a Buddha?) - Photo courtesy Josh Knowles:
    The many handed godess of mercy (Photo courtesy Josh Knowles)

  • Dragon Boat:
    Dragon Boat

  • The boat served Matsushima Brewery dunkel beer:
    Dunkel Beer

  • Matsushima = Pine Island:
    Matsushima = Pine Island

  • Seagull in Flight:
    Seagull in Flight

Back on dry land again, we visited one of the islands linked to the mainland by footbridge.

  • Temple on Island:
    Temple on Island

Then in the evening it was the conference dinner, with more good quality sashimi and sushi than I've seen before!

  • Sashimi :-):
    Sashimi :-)

  • Lots of Nigiri Sushi!:
    Lots of Nigiri Sushi!

Finally, I noticed this strange sign near the cigarette machine in the hotel.

  • Smokers Education:
    Smokers Education

Tuesday 6th March 2007

Bento Box!

The conference is in full swing, so fairly much confined to the hotel. However, we did get this very tasty bento box for lunch. Bottom right is tofu and prawns, top right some unidentified meat, middle is pickles I think, and top left is five different bits and pieces + salad, including a fried crab claw.

  • Tasty Lunchbox:
    Tasty Lunchbox

Monday 5th March 2007

Japanese Style Breakfast

The conference hotel has a buffet style breakfast with both western and Japanese food. Today I went for seaweed, tofu and minced beef, Japanese mushrooms, boiled soya beans, salted salmon, giant radish, pickles and the local speciality of fishcake. Makes a change from cornflakes.

Japanese Style Breakfast

Ice Cream with a Twist

Can you have a "Twist" of beans? Either way, Haagen Dazs cater to their regional markets by producing an azuki bean ice cream, handily available from a machine in the hotel at a bargain price of around 1 pound 20p.

  • Azuki Bean Ice Cream:
    Azuki Bean Ice Cream

Another popular ice cream flavour you get in Japan but not the UK is green tea. Check out this site if you really want to see the variety of ice creams sold in Japan

Sunday 4th March 2007

Exploring Matsushima

The conference doesn't start until tomorrow, so after registration I explore Matsushima a little more. First stop is for drinks and ice cream from the ubiquitous machines:

Drinks Machine

Ice Cream Machine

I wander round the bay and explore an island with small shrines and rock carvings of buddhas. The island is joined to the mainland by a very traditional looking red bridge.

  • Red Bridge:
    Red Bridge

  • Buddha Niche:
    Buddha Niche

  • View of Pine Tree Islands:
    View of Pine Tree Islands

  • Tree Roots:
    Tree Roots

  • Breaking Wave Rock:
    Breaking Wave Rock

After this, I look round the town a little. For lunch I buy my first �rice triangle� with seaweed sheets, known as onigiri, at "familymart" a small supermarket. For less than a pound I�m introduced to this delicious Japanese equivalent of the sandwich. In the centre of the rice is a little surprise � some salmon, or seaweed or pickled plum (ume). Very moreish!

Next I find myself at a religious site, with statues of what seem to be Buddha's in Bibs
Buddha's in Bibs

Stop in gift shop café for coffee and macha style green tea (powdered tea whisked up into a lather) with a sesame seed bun. A coffee costs around 500 yen which is relatively expensive for Japan, but cheaper than a UK Starbucks. I take some photos of the menu to help in my decoding of Katakana.

Saturday 3rd March 2007

Arrive in Japan

I arrived at Narita airport, near(ish) to Tokyo today.

My first impression of Japan is "it's dry". The vegetation I see from the plane is brown, not green and it looks initially like a hot dry summer rather than the cold late winter it really is.

  • Mountains from Plane:
    Mountains from Plane

  • Japan looks dry:
    Japan looks dry

The train to Tokyo from Narita airport takes about an hour. I get my first Japanese food in the station, some soba noodles with egg and tempura , chosen by pointing at the plastic display model outside the café. The egg turns out to be raw, but it's all very tasty and good value.

  • Plastic Noodles with (raw!) egg:
    Plastic Noodles with (raw!) egg

After getting to Tokyo, I realise that a JR-East (Japan Rail East) rail pass costing 20,000 Yen will save me quite a bit of money on my journey. Unfortunately I didn't get it together to purchase a JR pass which works for the whole country, and costs the same amount, but can only be pre-purchased outside Japan. This means I'll need to pay for the train to Kyoto later - about 27,000 Yen return or approx 120 pounds.

The train is clean and efficient. I book my place about 15 mins before boarding, the train arrives exactly on time, with the positions where each carriage will stop marked in the platform floor. There are also blue marks laying out a place to queue and yellow textured tiles which led a path to the exits. People here tend to walk on the left, like in the uk, as Japan is a left hand side driving country too. This is worth knowing as some of the platforms are quite narrow at points.

In Sendai, I take the local train to Matsushima, and spot some nice Cartoon Signs. In the one below, the woman with pigs trotters for feet has fallen off the platform because she was wearing inappropriate footware. Men, sensibly, should presses the emergency button, while women should scream.

  • The Pigfooted Woman Falls...:
    The Pigfooted Woman Falls...

  • Ow! My finger!:
    Ow! My finger!

There are some nice views of the sea from the train, and it doesn't take too long. There's a bus, synchronised with the train timetable, which drops off at the hotel for only 100 yen (40p ish) and I'm soon exploring my hotel room.

I have the "forest view" (i.e. No view of Matsushima bay), and looking at the fire map on th door, it seems like I've the smallest room on the floor. Never mind, it's a good room, obviously not brand new but clean, well kept and equipped with several things you don't find in a typical Western hotel.

For a start, there's a very high tech toilet which will squirt water at you given half a chance. Luckily, the page of instructions on the wall include both diagrams and English.

sign_hotel_toilet.jpg

A tea pot and green tea is provided, and there's also some snacks, replenished each morning. These are "spiders" (as one of my companions names them), actually a mixture of small dried fish and nuts in a caramel sauce - a bit like popcorn I guess, and thin sheets of seaweed with a wasabi coating - very tasty!

Sometimes these are supplemented by something special such as a black pearl bun, made with black sesame seeds, or a sweet made from rice flour and red bean paste.

In the evening I wander down to Matsushima, seeing a little of the coast and eating in a Japanese restaurant where we sit on tatami matting with low tables and eat grilled fish, rice, pickles and miso soup for 1400yen (just over 6 pounds). The English menu also features "cow phlegm" which I hope is a mistranslation. Still, I'm grateful for the English menu. You won't find many Japanese menus in British seaside towns.

  • Cow Phlegm Grilling:
    Cow Phlegm Grilling

Afterwards, I walk back to the hotel, and take pictures of the nicely lit rocks and bizarre signs:

  • Mary Poppins Area:
    Mary Poppins Area

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