Closing thoughts

(Written on the 13th, scheduled with time delay.)

Right after I gave my bike to Kuroneko for airport delivery I was in shock. After one busy event after another, I had some free time to think. I sat down at a random ‘park’ (that is, a free bit of concrete) and after a while finally calmed down. I had anticipated this moment, because I thought that moment would clearly show how I felt about the impulsive decisions I had been making recently. Instead, what came was only a mild rationalization with no clear sway towards thinking it was a good or bad decision to go back early. My mind was still full of worry about the day’s hotel and if I would be able to cancel all the next hotels without financial damage. The rest moment wasn’t quite there yet.

I know very well that what I’m doing is a pretty weird thing, even for my doing. Impulsive booking a cycling trip, and then impulsively cancelling it and returning early for no tangible/external reason, not many people would do that. Of the small group of people that does touring cycling, an even smaller group does touring cycling alone, and even smaller group would plan (and unplan) a trip the same way I do. This does not bother me in one bit, but I can see that other people may have trouble understanding my motivations. Hell, I have trouble understanding my motivations. That’s why I write blogposts like these.

Yesterday I awoke from the love hotel quite early. I never managed to turn the lights off and I left the outside door ajar just to cool the damn place down. It’s an utterly terrible place to sleep. I’d even prefer a capsule hotel over a love hotel, but that’s only because capsule hotels tend to be way cheaper. Anyway, I went for a short stroll through early morning Kochi (yes, I can say where I am now!) and walked towards the station. Not many people were awake yet on this Sunday morning. I considered taking a train back to Tokushima, which is where I came from when I took the ferry with my bike. But the connection between train stations and ferry ports seemed tedious so I got a train ticket instead. The Limited Express from Kochi to Okayama went along much of the same route that I had cycled the day before. It felt like rewinding the trip. Somehow, in retrospect, I still hadn’t quite found my rest moment yet at this time.

Then I hopped on the Shinkansen to Osaka and did some shopping. Yodobashi is fantastic as always. I wanted new noise cancelling earphones since I lost some bits of my old ones on the flight in. Yodobashi provides. When it came to lunch I was deeply appalled though. Osaka station area is shockingly, disgustingly busy on a Sunday. Every restaurant had a queue of people waiting in front of it. I absolutely hate this. Queueing for food is just not my thing. I’m definitely not a city person. I also thought about finding a quiet cafe after lunch but that was clearly impossible as well. Yet somehow on my way back towards the station I found one place inside the station building that wasn’t very busy, and I managed to have quite a decent curry there.

My final hotel is near the airport, and only a short train ride away from Osaka. And a bit of a walk, it turns out. Unfortunately my Google Pixel GPS chose exactly this moment to stop working, so I had to navigate the old-fashioned way. It wasn’t much of an issue though. But at the end of the day (again, in retrospect), still no ‘closure’ moment about the trip.

The closure moment finally came today. I have a day free to do whatever I want since my flight is not until tomorrow, so I took a local train to Wakayama. I went on the train, put my new earphones in, put some music on and just sat back and enjoyed the scenery. That’s when I realized: this moment is all I really wanted from this trip. One quiet, peaceful moment, to experience Japan the way I remember it, without any stress, or worries, or hurries. All I needed was one day.

That’s when I knew I was comfortable with my decision. I knew what the way forward was. The way forward for me is not Japan, because I have been there before. You can never go back. There is only forward. You can never derive the same enjoyment from the same thing twice. It diminishes every time. That is why you must do new things. It may seem like common sense, or a thing you can make yourself realize just by thinking about it, but you can’t. You really can’t. You need to confront yourself with this reality somehow, otherwise it just doesn’t hit home. For me, making an impulsive decision was the way to make me truly realize this. A lesson I learn in this way is a lesson I will never forget.

As an interlude and totally secondary reason, one very practical reason for feeling great about my decision is this: it’s raining. It’s a gray and miserable day today, and the area I’d be cycling in is even worse according to the weather report. Wind and rain are pointless hardships. At least when you’re climbing a mountain you’re suffering for a payoff, but there is no payoff for cycling in the wind and the rain for the whole day. All it does is make you feel more miserable.

That’s the lesson of this for me: you can never go back, and repeating past experiences diminishes the value over time. You can compare it a bit to playing games: after you’ve leveled up sufficiently, you don’t go back to the first level to hang around and repeat the same quests over and over again, right? There’s always a next level, but the levels you’ve completed, they’re done. They’re fun to revisit after you’ve done them, but you’ll never again feel the same challenge that you felt the first time you did it.

I imagine people will read the previous paragraph and think of it as something negative. I don’t see it that way though. I’m quite stoically inclined, with a (healthy?) pince of nihilism added to the mix. It’s just an unchangeable part of reality for me. I have tested my words on myself and by experimentation have confirmed that they are true, in so far as a statement about a state of mind can be true. So, not ‘True’ truth, but ‘true for me’. I’m very happy about this, because I know it is something I can rely on. It helps me define meaning, so I no longer have to seek for it, or at least not as much as I used to when I first started doing cycling trips.

Tomorrow morning I fly back to the UK. I hope my bike will be at the airport, but now that I’ve rationalized my trip and my feelings about cycling I know I won’t consider this trip a failure even if the bike doesn’t make it or is damaged. It would be a minor setback compared to the mental clarity I found. That said, fingers crossed though. The trip’s not over yet. But I’m on my way home.

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Impulsiveness

(Written on the morning of the 12th, set to autopublish on the 15th)

The truth is, after the cold but refreshing downhill from the last post, either before or after I went to the temple, I forget, I got a strange idea in my head and I couldn’t let it go. It just kept sitting there and wouldn’t move, and forced me to think about it. In my mind I imagined the steps I would need to take and the consequences it would have if it went either right or wrong. In the end, I figured it was worth doing a little investigating in real life to see if it was possible. After all, I still had plenty of time left in the day.

I decided to see if I could change my flight and go home early.

Why? Mainly because I wasn’t really enjoying myself any more. I’ve got the “cycling in Japan” theme nailed. I can look at a map now and know exactly what kind of road I’ll encounter. When I enter a new town I’ll know exactly where the station is, where the hotels are, where the conbinis are, without even looking at a map. Everything is just hugely predictable, and, finally, unchallenging. I just am no longer getting out of these cycling trips what I was getting all those years ago when I first started.

Besides that main reason, two additional reasons that caused me to feel this way are that 1. this trip was pre-planned, and 2. it is genuinely cold and unpleasant outside if you’re sweating like mad, which makes the random wandering-around kind of a non-thing for me. If your clothes are wet with sweat and there’s a cold wind chilling you down then you don’t feel like casually cycling around to see what’s out there, you just want to get to a warm place as soon as possible. The pre-planned bit meant that I already knew exactly where I was going, and I knew that yesterday was both the most difficult and the most beautiful route of the trip, so the challenge kind of disappeared after that.

So, at Sukiya I put the first part of my plan into action: check if I can actually change the date on my return flight. I managed to check on my mobile phone on the wifi from the conbini next door. I could indeed change my flight! I didn’t change it just yet, though.

I am 200 kilometers away from the airport. I needed to check how I would get back there if I’m not cycling back. The train would take me back there in a day, but as I expected and confirmed after checking, it would take quite a few transfers, and either a very long time or a little trip on the Shinkansen. I’ve learned from experience that the last thing I want to do is haul an ultra-heavy bike bag around from train to train, walking from platform to platform, going up and down stairs, passing through heavily populated stations.. That is something that would make for a very miserable day for me, so I preferred to avoid that option.

My preferred option, which I’ve used once before on a previous trip, is to bag the bike and send it via the Yamato Kuroneko delivery service straight to the airport. Kuroneko, for me at least, is not a sure bet. I do not have absolute confidence that they’ll accept my bike as bagged, that they’ll deliver it to the airport on time, and that they’ll deliver it at a reasonable price. Everything changes when it comes to bikes. No one knows how to deal with it. To be fair, I’ve never had negative experiences with Kuroneko, but if I mess this up I’ll lose my bicycle, so I needed to be absolutely sure that it was possible.

So I held off on changing my flight and first cycled onwards to Kochi, where I found a Kuroneko facility. A clueless guy tried to help me but gave up almost immediately and passed me on to a very helpful lady, who provided me with all the details I needed. It was indeed possible, could be delivered within 3 days if I gave the bike bag to them today, and although she didn’t say directly I inferred that she wouldn’t charge me an insane amount of money.

This was around 16:00/16:30, and I still hadn’t changed my flight. So I excused myself from the Kuroneko and immediately went to the nearby conbini to get wifi so I could change my flight. I had to present my bike them before closing time at 18:30 so I was suddenly very rushed. But of all the luck in the world, in a giant city, this conbini did not have wifi! So I cycled onwards towards the station and the center in the hopes of finding a conbini, warcycling to find wifi. Not too far away I managed to find a Joyfull family restaurant which had an open wifi, so I hopped onto my phone to change the reservation. I could still make it.

But then the website broke! The Cathay Pacific site was very mobile-friendly, very easy to use and walked me right to the final step of changing the dates on my return flight, but then it errored saying I didn’t put dates for my departure flight. Well, no shit, I already took that flight, can’t change it now. I hoped it was perhaps a mobile site issue, so I grabbed my laptop and, in the parking lot of a family restaurant, tried to change my booking on my laptop. Again, no luck.

This was a good point to give up. I could simply cycle back to my hotel, never see Kuroneko again and continue on with the rest of the trip. But I felt annoyed that the Cathay site wouldn’t let me change my booking even though it clearly allowed it, so I called them up. Still from the family restaurant parking lot. With my laptop resting on my bike. I connected immediately and the guy I spoke to helped me in record time to change my booking with no issues whatsoever. Excellent customer service. I’m flying back on the 14th.

Then I cycled, quite hurriedly, back to the Kuroneko building, where I started to take my bicycle apart. I’m getting better at this every time, but the rushed-ness of the situation caused me to dirty myself quite a lot. I sprayed a *lot* of chainspray on that chain in the morning, and it was making marks everywhere. I didn’t do nearly as good of a job bagging it as on the way in, but hey, whatever. I’m going home. The friendly lady was still there and accepted my bike without issue, and only charged me 4400 yen. I’m pretty sure that the last time I used them the price was at least double. She also didn’t check the weight. Perhaps they changed their policy, or I was overcharged last time, or it’s just that the distance is less this time. In any case, I’m not complaining.

The sense of relief I got when my bike was finally accepted was amazing. I had a very good walk along various canals on the way back to my hotel, finally realizing what I had done. This trip started out as an impulsive thought made reality in only a day, and now I had undone the entire trip, also on an impulsive thought, also in only a day. That’s probably not a good thing. Then again, the best way to learn is by making mistakes. At least, that’s how I rationalized it as I was walking the many kilometers to the incredibly sleazy love hotel I wrote about last time.

I wasn’t done yet though. I still had to cancel all my reservations and book a hotel for the next two nights. I managed to change my existing booking for the airport hotel and even ended up a little bit cheaper. All other hotels had free cancellation except one, and that one was kind enough to waive the fee. I’ve mentioned before how booking.com is fantastic, but it really is worth saying again. Everything can be done through the website and I was done with the whole process in only a few minutes. Way better than calling up hotel after hotel to get it done.

As of the moment of writing I am still in the love hotel. The door made a noise at midnight which scared the crap out of me because I thought it was going to unlock the room and let some random couple come in, but everything was quiet throughout the night. I never did manage to find out how to turn the lights off, though. What an inconvenient place.

I’m about to check out and head over to the station, where I’ll take all those trains back to the airport. My plan is to stop over at Osaka on the way and buy some new noise-cancelling earphones, because I lost the rubbery bit on one of the earphones on my old ones, and I think it’s time for something better anyway. No plans for tomorrow yet, but I think I’ll go on walkabout somewhere and take some random photos.

I think I’m done with cycling trips for a while. At least until I find adequate motivation to do another one.

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Year-end-cap

Observations:

  • I got married!
  • I question whether this blog adds value to my real life any more.
  • Compared to 2015 I am cycling more and am fitter.
  • Being fitter has helped me keep my peace of mind during stressful situations at work.
  • Schelling points and fences are fascinating.
  • Next year I wish to speak my mind more freely among my friends.
  • I increasingly want to be part of a community again.
  • I actually typed a really long post for the end-of-year event but decided not to post it.

Prep work is done. Time to make a move.

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Going home

Changing the country you live in has introduced a very particular anxiety inside me; an anxiety that I feel I’ve finally overcome. I’ve moved countries twice now, and both times I’ve had a strong sense of loss associated with the country I was leaving. I was afraid that everything I knew in there would disappear, and that it would no longer be ‘mine’. Every time I’d go back to those countries I’d revisit all the places I had my best memories at, trying to document as much as I could of how I wanted to remember everything.

Years pass, and hardly a year goes by where I don’t at least make a quick visit to either Japan or the Netherlands. The first going-back trips were only mildly memorable, with the memory of how I used to live in that country still fresh in my mind, and my mind uncertain about where I would be staying. But as I started to accept that, first, I wouldn’t be returning to the Netherlands to live, and then, that I wouldn’t be coming back to Japan any time soon, those trips became more nostalgic. Melancholic, even. Not overtly. Not obviously. But the feeling was always there at the back of my mind.

I’ve finally out-nostalgia’d myself. I’ve gone back to the Netherlands and to Japan so many times now that the going-back trip has become a steady, recurring, theme that I can rely on to keep occurring. No mad catastrophic event will suddenly wipe either country off the planet. Life moves on in all places. Nostalgia has been a warm and cozy side effect whenever I went back, but lately I am focusing more and more on the new things, on the way forward. Rather than seeing my experiences as a past that is over, I am starting to see it as a stable foundation that I can build something new on. It expands my options. The more I think about it this way, the more I am able to come to terms with my nostalgia. And finally, after ten years, I think I am at peace with having lived in multiple countries.

The past is dealt with. The future is being built.

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The right moment

There is a right moment to get out of the shower. There is a right moment for returning home after a nice walk. There is a right moment for everything. Your brain will tell you. If you overstay, you’ll know. If you’re early, you’ll know.

This is the right moment to finish this blogpost.

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Be direct

People are too polite. Politeness causes misunderstanding, especially across cultures or across nationalities, but even within the same culture it can be a problem. British people are sometimes ridiculously polite and indirect to the point where it serves no logical purpose and only slows down social progression.

Example: two people are getting to know each other and want to be better friends, but neither is sure about the other whether they want to improve their relationship or not. They are not sure because, at the end of their meeting, they repeat set phrases such as “That was fun, let’s do it again some time”. Then, when setting up the next meetup, quite often the tone of the next message is something like “Hey, last time was kind of fun. Do you maybe kind of perhaps in the future want to do something similar again? Only if you have time though. I wouldn’t want to impose on you or anything..” – Totally British tsundere.

Don’t fucking do this. There is absolutely no need to make communication this complicated. Just say “Last time was fun. I want to do X with you again. Do you have time Monday?” It really is that simple. There is no need to beat around the bush. Just say what you think. No one will think worse of you, or if they do, you are not a good match and there’s no point in hanging out anyway. Be direct.

I see this kind of behaviour a lot more when interacting with native English speakers, or in a group that is largely composed of people that are very adept at speaking English even if it isn’t their first language. The more adept you get, the more subtle the language becomes. This is not a good thing. At least not in this context. When it comes to social situations it is very important to be completely unambiguous. I’ve noticed this in Japan a lot while hanging out with people from various countries at the same time: eventually people realize nobody gets the cultural subtleties that they put in their speech, or they just don’t translate well to English, so after a while people tend to become more direct with each other. This is a great thing because it saves time for everyone.

Playing with language subtleties is fun when you’re having pub banter or lifelong friends or just two native speakers with an interest in language, but as soon as you’re not 100% sure that the other party will interpret your signals correctly, be direct. Use more easily understandable phrasing. Don’t leave things to be misinterpreted.

That’s for the sending end. As for the receiving end, I’m very comfortable with taking people at face value and not spending ages trying to analyze what they’re trying to say. I do find myself occasionally encountering people who throw linguistic subtleties at me. I take “That was fun, let’s meet up again” to mean “That was fun, let’s meet up again”. Even if I usually get that there is (or might be) a deeper meaning behind something, I am very comfortable pretending not to understand it. As a result people have become more direct with me and life is simpler for both me and the person I’m interacting with. It saves me a lot of mental processing power to spend instead on things that I enjoy. Miscommunication is not a thing that I enjoy.

Keep it simple. Baka.

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The Friend Situation

(after writing this post I realized it is somewhat of a followup to The Intern Effect.)

It’s been a long time since I started blogging. I’m no longer a green 20-year-old. Life has happened and is continuing to happen, but rather than levelling up all of my skills, some of them have begun to atrophy from lack of use. One such skill is that of being social. My life at this point is so comfortable that I can usually get away with only talking to the people I need to, eg. the colleagues in my team and my significant other and on occasion an old friend or two. Over the course of last week I’ve had the opportunity to engage in social interaction with a much larger group of people, who are all unknown yet amazingly interesting to talk to. It was an event that I won’t soon forget. Let’s call it the “going on a trip with people you think can be your friends but you don’t know them that well yet and then you end up being pleasantly surprised by everyone” kind of feeling. It’s the AK feeling all over again! How fitting that the company I would go to after AK ended up being part of something called AKQA. Life gets better if you just keep adding letters.

But hey, this blog wouldn’t be this blog if I couldn’t find something to bitch about, so here goes. There’s one thing in my current life that I am not very happy with, and the effect of which kind of got hammered home during last week’s events: I don’t have any super best friends. I mean, I’ve got close friends, and I’ve got one or two people who may take offence at my saying this, but I don’t really have any one or multiple people that I know I can and will be able to hang out with at any time now or in the future, and that’s entirely my own fault. Life has happened, and all my old friends (and myself!) now have their own situation that takes precedence over ‘hanging out with friends’. I don’t blame them of course; none of us live near each other any more so it’s not like we can see each other every week. As a result everyone spends more time with their significant other which leads to babies, which leads to even less time spent with close friends. That’s life. But that’s also choices.

That’s where I left it at in 2009 in The Intern Effect. What I feel I am lacking is something that, at the time, I attributed to Japan being Japan and interns being knowingly temporary, but it was really much simpler: I was younger. Greener. I still seek the same thing, but I am seeking it at a level further than I even thought about back then. Close personal connections. Connections that are hampered by those pesky little personal lives that everyone has. A perfect example of this: one of my friends changed cities recently and I promised to visit him, yet I still haven’t done so, even after I had read a blogpost from him complaining about the exact same feeling of friend disconnection. We’re all seeking a more fulfilling form of friendship, yet we’re all somehow not doing the things we need to to get it.

I dare not answer yet what could be the reason for this, or how to ‘solve’ it. Perhaps that’ll just automatically make sense when I’m older. But I think I’m old enough to see the problem clearly now, and to have some ideas of where to look for a solution.

Learning a new skill is easy in that you can quickly get up to a reasonable level, and then need an extra-ordinate amount of time after that to become an expert. It’s no different with friendships. True friendships require a lot of time and commitment, with no guarantee of payoff. Just like when learning chess or playing a game or training your body, you might plateau and be unable to get any better. I think that’s a little bit what is happening to me: I’ve built up the social skills and experience needed to easily make friends and quickly get up to a quite-satisfying level of friendship, but then I plateau. I need to improve (or recover) my social skills as well as just spend more time with people in general. I haven’t made it easy for myself by moving away from a lot of people who I could be closer to, but that’s something I can fix. Not easily, though. Getting better at something takes time, and I need to finally make a proper decision on what (or who) to spend that time on. Like I said in 2009, I want to make the world a better place. I am becoming more aware of my own personal limitations within that context. Perhaps many people taking many small steps is as effective as one person taking a giant leap. Just don’t jump off a cliff.

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Why I hate Interstellar

I love sci-fi. I’ve been a long-time fan of all things Star Trek, I loved the Martian, I’ve read loads of sci-fi books like The Culture series, The Forever War, The Foundation series, and so on. I’m quite fond of hard sci-fi, so when I first heard that Christopher Nolan was working on a large scale science fiction movie that would try to stick to science I was very excited. In fact, Interstellar is one of the few movies I went to see in a theater. Sadly, my expectations were betrayed.

Perhaps it was because of the hype of it being a scientifically accurate movie, but I could not contain my disappointment. When I first saw it people in the theater were ooh-ing and ah-ing whenever something happened, and all I could think of, and came close to expressing vocally, was: “fucking bullshit”. Interstellar shits on science. Interstellar pretends to be interested in science, courts it, dates it, then realizes it’s not what it was after and brutally murders science and shits on its grave. That is how much I dislike this movie.

I think the problem for me is the initial premise. The movie goes out of its way in the beginning of the movie to show us humans: humans not at all different from us, because the events in the movie are supposed to have taken place shortly after present-day earth. The movie needs us to believe that these people are equivalent to modern-day humans. Then it proceeds to rub it in by giving Matthew McConaughey some clunky exposition dialogue to Murph about the scientific method, and how as a scientist you need to come up with a hypothesis, write down your findings and prove it. The movie clearly portrays the setting as ‘In this universe science is true, yo. You better believe it.’, and then goes on to violate exactly that premise. Sure, they got the little science-y details right, but that doesn’t do shit if your overarching plotline is inherently anti-science (and full of plot holes).

It’s been a while since the movie came out and I still hear people going on about how great it was. The movie still has a great rating on imdb too, so I was willing to concede that I might have been wrong about it. Today I watched it again. Nothing changed. Well, one thing. In the theater I didn’t want to be that guy who loudly shouts ‘BULLSHIT’ during the movie. At home I had no such misgivings.

The whole point of science and the scientific method is observing, coming up with a theory that fits the evidence. The movie uses this as a plot device, for science’s sake. If you’re going *that* far to insist on science then you can’t just do a heel-face turn at the end and be like ‘five dimensions and a predestination paradox make all of this okay’. Because it fucking doesn’t. That’s making a mockery of science. The danger of using ‘legit science’ as your movie backdrop is that you can’t make dumb plothole mistakes, like landing on a planet with massive waves without realising it had massive waves. There must be at least a minimum of dozens of scientists at NASA. Don’t tell me none of those people would’ve thought that a giant black hole would affect the tides. Or, even simpler, a pilot landing on the planet with waves of that close an interval would absolutely have noticed something on his approach. So, yay for scientific accuracy, nay for basic common sense. I guess you can’t have both in a movie because that would make things too boring for the viewers. But then I’d prefer leaving the science out rather than the common sense.

Now let me be clear: I have no problem with movies that make a mockery of science, or anything else, or with movies that don’t take science that seriously. I still enjoy Star Wars, I love Game of Thrones and I’m fine with whatever unrealistic laws of physics and reality are thrust upon me in whatever anime of the month I am watching. But the movie can’t violate its own rules. Interstellar establishes ‘science just as in real life’ as its own rules, and then in the end is like ‘Oh, by the way, this movie’s rules were actually science just as in real life plus five dimensions plus time travel plus the power of love. Fooled ya’. That is just not cool. It’s as if I was making a movie that portrays Christianity as true and then in the end was like ‘oh by the way, Christianity is only true because of science and God doesn’t exist. Fooled ya!’. Certainly anyone should be allowed to make a movie like that, but that doesn’t make it anything less of a dick move.

So there you go. I could not suspend my disbelief during this movie, and the reason for that is, ironically, because the movie tried to stick as close to reality as possible, and then failed miserably at that. I would’ve been much happier if they’d tried less hard at representing real-life science and focused more on the plot holes and fixing the common sense issues instead. I’ve experienced this a lot in Nolan movies. He likes to dazzle you and blind you with his pretty imagery and fantastic plotlines (don’t even get me started on Inception, although I liked Inception a lot better than Interstellar) so that sometimes you don’t even realise that you were fooled. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Interstellar was a classic Nolan bait-and-switch that I did not enjoy.

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