Frozen (Sweden)

Sweden – Karesuando ~ 2013

“Live a little” – what does that phrase conjure up in your mind? For me it used to be something I would attribute to getting out, and doing things, experiencing, you know…living. I thought it was usually coupled with things that are a little reckless, or less than mature – for example; perhaps you may think it is a bad idea to have another ten drinks when you have work the next day, “live a little!” your moronic friend will cry…and you do it. Or maybe someone suggests you go on holiday with them, but you really think it is best for you to make the rent payments you owe – “live a little!” says the friend with no money-worries, and therefore no understanding of what you are going through. AND YOU STILL DO IT.

Well sometimes you do, it feels good to throw caution to the wind sometimes – just to do something, even though you know it is stupid…perhaps it is the fact you are going against societal expectations? You are acting out of character for a split second – so for a moment you feel free, as if you are in complete control of your choices…then the next morning happens. Shit. All that responsibility starts flooding back…hello, old friend. 

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Anyway, this is a story of one of those times – those silly moments where you go against your better judgement, and just act irrationally for a change…it feels good! Then it feels terrible! Then…well, just have a read, then you’ll understand:

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The Land of Confusion (Japan)

Japan ~ Osaka – 2015

What do you think of when you hear Japan? Probably a lot of things flash by in an instant…from the deep rooted cultural elements, to the checkered history, the strange and bizarre…all the way to Pokémon and Dragonball Z (as well as so much more) – it’s safe to say that Japan has always painted a colorful tapestry for themselves, one unlike any other place on earth.

Like most western folks I confess I have a rather bare knowledge regarding the so-called land of the rising sun…but that’s alright – as it’s always more exciting and rewarding to go into a place totally unprepared! Every sense is more receptive – your eyes wide like a newborn baby…not wanting to blink so as not to miss anything as you stare up and around at all the newness in front of you. Like being unplugged from The Matrix – all of the preconceptions and travel guides can go out of the window, as you are witnessing it all first hand…you are truly living it in real time. And if you are lucky, nothing will be like it seemed from your armchair back home.

Exhilarating right? RIGHT! So how would all of these aesthetic commodities manage to impossibly mesh together then ? I didn’t have the foggiest idea – but of course I was still beyond curious! I mean…what would I find behind Japan’s veil of mystery?

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Well my friends I will say this…Japan is weird and wonderful – no actually, wait – let me rephrase that…Japan is weirdly wonderful. You see many things in Japan are weird; very very weird – but the weirdness often makes them wonderful…and the things that are wonderful, wellllll they still often cling to a certain sense of weirdness. Sorry…I know I’m sounding like some sort of deranged Willy Wonka right now…but this is the best way I can think to sum it up! 

You see there’s battles on every single street corner! And by “battles” I don’t mean Pokémon battles (to my great disappointment), but battles between juxtaposing cultural elements…it’s bizarre, it’s crazy…but they manage to meld together in the strangest of ways…it shouldn’t work…they shouldn’t be able to coexistbut somehow they do in a way only Japan can manage. 

Think the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that form together in perfect unison…well yeah it’s like that except rather than good/evil, or light/dark it’s Buddhist temples and pornographic manga characters…to give just one of many examples…

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There’s also a perfect fusion between the old and the new which I found rather fascinating. On the one hand you are ordering your food through a machine in a restaurant rather than dealing with humans…very Bladerunner-ish…but then on the other side of things you are paying in coins to get a paper ticket stub to ride a rather dated subway!  I like this idea though…not everything has to be updated, smooth, and futuristic – then again I’m biased as I still dream of living in a castle with a moat in the next ten years, so perhaps you shouldn’t pay attention to silly old me!

Mind one thing I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the confusing nature of the transport system…it actually seemed intentionally difficult. The lines criss-cross in the most nonsensical ways imaginable – I would assume because they were just built one after another, and so the map took shape without forward-planning…either that or the architect dropped a bowl of noodles and thought “mehhhh, good enough!”

Anyway, what that means for the user is that they are sure to pull their hair out attempting to understand that which cannot be understood! I’m not even talking about the fact that it is all strictly in Japanese; which sure is frustrating but as I was in Japan I felt was fair enough! I’m really just raving at the layout of the tracks, and routes…my advice is this; attempt to be constantly partially intoxicated on Japan’s surprisingly good, and cheap selection of beers – that way you won’t mind as much, and will just go with the flow!

“Oh, we went the wrong way by 20 minutes? Never mind…these things happen! Let’s go!” as opposed to: “FUCCCCK! WHY DOES THAT LINE GO THAT WAY?! WHY DOES IT HAVE THE EXACT SAME STATION NAME MINUS ONE NUMBER! WHY AM I NOT DRINKING BEER RIGHT NOW?!” – it’s really your decision, but I feel comfortable with my choice.

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I came to the end of my trip seriously wanting more…which has to be a positive? Sure there had been some lows – losing on Tekken to a young Japanese kid which basically destroyed my entire belief that I was a master of that game…continually relying on body language rather than spoken words, so much so that I now feel like a professional body-popper…and finding out there are so few vegetables in the Japanese diet that I may have scurvy, BUT – despite all of this it has piqued my interest massively as both a country, and as a culture – due to that I want to return very soon…next time Tokyo I reckon, so I can experience a change of pace – mind, I’ll still be going in as a rather clueless and ignorant tourist; and you know what?

That suits me just fine. 

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Happiness – What Could Have Been…

I am fascinated with life, and the idea of each and every person having their own pathway on which they follow… 

It’s not that I believe in fate, or that I think we have any kind of predetermined outcome by some fella upstairs…instead I think of us as paving our own way – desperately struggling to lay the yellow bricks in front of us as we attempt to navigate through our lives. Sometimes we stumble across good eggs like Scarecrow, Tim Woodman, and Cowardly Lion – and then occasionally there are sadistic witches and flying killer monkeys who rip off all of your limbs…

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Swings, and roundabouts I suppose…

 I mean granted not everything can be cheese, back rubs, and new posts from Storytime with John, right? There are shitty moments too – it’s just all about finding those happy moments, and treasuring them, whilst also trying to derive some purpose from our small window of life (wherever, and however that may be!); after all we all want to be happy!

But you know what? I have some rather backward advice (which just so happens to work!) when it comes to being happier with your present situation…it’s not particularly to look at the things that you are lucky enough to possess; a loving family? A great set of friends? A job you actually enjoy? A really comfortable pair of socks? Whatever! No. 

Although naturally…good for you – especially the socks thing.

But I do find that spending some time considering what could have been (for the worst), really helps pump you up, and give a greater perspective on your life as a whole. It’s basically like you are looking backwards down the yellow brick road, and viewing the different paths that you see were no available…but you didn’t take. And as you are older, and hopefully a smidge wiser you now see they would have led to doom and gloom. I find this gives confidence in going forward…PUMP UP DAT CHEST, BRUH! 

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For me I look back at past relationships that would have anchored me to one spot…limited me…and kept me in a closed community, with a minimal amount of opportunity – so I look back at that, and then examine the present day…and I feel more positive about meekly edging forward. Or perhaps I peer pack down the yellow brick road again, and see friendship circles centered solely around drinking, drugs, and a lack of ambition…then again I look at the now…and feel a stronger person for being where I am today.

If I had made certain other choices, my reality would be totally different. 

I could of course ramble more about this for a lot longer, but it wouldn’t make much sense to you…after all life isn’t always a cohesive narrative, it is actually a very personal story which is only ever reported as a polished epilogue – one with which we can perhaps relate, but never truly experience – each of us walk in our own shoes, on our own path. 

But just try it, look back and see where your life could have taken you…not for the better, but for the worse…it should bring a wry smile to your face – and hopefully more faith in yourself, and your future…

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You’ve got this my friend!

(This post is dedicated to my very good friend over at Pixelated Lifestyle – keep going, just keep going…oh and watch out for the flying monkeys.)

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Batman Returns

You may not expect it, but as a kindergarten teacher – you have to be VERY aware of what you wear, on a daily basis. If you just slap on clothes, without a second thought…you are asking for trouble!

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Case in point, today I haphazardly threw on a Batman t-shirt, under an open shirt – without really thinking! I just thought it would be an ordinary day…how wrong I was! You see what ensued was an uncontrolled brazen assault by just about every child that spotted me – I had a target on my back! Well, you know…chest…but you get what I mean. They would come up, and attempt to beat me down with their chubby little fists – or attempt sneak attacks from the rear…which were very unwelcome, let me tell you that straight away. No one needs that kind of surprise, especially so early in the morning…the phantom fingers of death as you try to wash your hands…

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WOWWWEEEE! PLEASE DON’T!

Usually I dress differently, not for any real reason other than I wear what I like to wear – which just so happens to be shirts, ties, and blazers. I’m sure I look quite odd, a little out of place for a kindergarten teacher…who should probably be wearing a rainbow sweater, with like HAPPY UNICORN CHOCOLATE WISHES! Or something like that, written all over it! But no, it’s not really me.

Mind I totally understand where Batman is coming from now, especially the Christian Bale incarnation…not that I am saying I am like him or anything…although we do have the same chest, abs, and biceps…kinda...if you are in the right light…on the right day…HEY IT WAS JUST CHRISTMAS, NO FAIR! But yeah I can relate, I totally get why he was so pissed off all the time, and why his voice was so croaky…it was probably from all the Korean kindergarten kids jumping on him whenever they saw him, prodding him in every orifice – all the while he is screaming in failing desperation “NO, NO, NOOOO!”, but it’s no use! And he has now yelled so much that his voice starts to become crackly after time. He tries drinking honey, and lemon water…but it’s no use.

It would get to you after a while I’m sure. Short version of all this; I’m Batman, basically…but yeah, don’t tell the kids!

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The Forking Path

As this year draws to a close, I find myself musing on all that has happened up till now – and pondering on what may come my way in the future…the funny thing is, things never turn out the way you expect – which is what makes life so interesting! Or scary depending on how you look at things…

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I could have taken a lot of different pathways already, and by not following certain ones it has in turn led me on to other things – for better, or for worse! 

Like when I was seventeen, or eighteen…or something, I found myself on the pathway to becoming an accountant. Yeah, exactly…ME…an accountant?! It was complete madness, as I have never been any good at maths; actually even now I find myself counting on my fingers out of force of habit! I recall in school I was often lucky to even get a C grade…that was probably because it didn’t engage, or excite me as a subject – instead I did a lot of looking out of the window, and day-dreaming, which for some reason didn’t pay dividends when it came to my exams. In English it did…which may be unsurprising, but more on that later…

But you see I wasn’t on the accountancy pathway by chance. I had purposefully plonked myself there, albeit with a somewhat faulty compass. I had my (first) girlfriend, who I loved a horrendous amount…you know, the horrible first love where you would tear your eyes out, and fry them for dinner should it ever be requested. It’s manic, and a total roller-coaster – it has ups, and downs,  makes you physically sick, and  leaves you full of regret afterwards. That’s why I only like the bumper cars at theme parks. Wait that sounds like a weird metaphor…

Anyway, as I was in love, like true Disney style love – and clearly this young lady was the one with which I would spend the rest of my days, and nights with – it would be necessary that I provide for my to-be wife, and our inevitable swarm of children. It sounds farcical, and ridiculous now – but at the time I was very serious about all of this. So I found an accountancy training programme with Proctor & Gamble, in which they would pay for me to do a finance degree (OH MY GOD CAN YOU IMAGINE MAN?!), whilst also earning a good salary. Sure, I would hate my working life from start to finish, and would probably eagerly await death to put an end to the constant Matrix style stream of numbers, as every day I would return from my toil to my resentful wife, and the children who hate me because I am never there – because I am at a job I don’t even like, to get things I don’t even want…but still, at least I would have money. Which is all that is really important, right? …wait, RIGHT?!

So I told my plan to one of my best friends…who in turn told me I was a fool, and reminded me in no uncertain terms that this was a silly choice to make. I tried in vain to create circumstances in which my life in accountancy would be one of excitement, and thrill…

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But he came back in amazing style, bombarding me with text, after text, after text, of cruel accountancy jokes – of which most centered on the premise of how boring that career path would potentially be for me, a person with no interest in mathematics whatsoever. I wasn’t convinced, or at least I told myself I wasn’t. That is until my girlfriend broke up with me out of the blue, (leaving me utterly destroyed may I add) and I came to a new clearing in which another pathway emerged…after the soul-blackening anguish that was getting over her, of course. But after that I saw the pathways more clearly – filled with real dreams, and hopes – not made up ones that were only fueled by money, and things.

So sure I headed on with my heart as my guide, rather than my head – but I am glad I did. Even if my Mother does often hark back to those times whenever I am hard up; whether it be facing rejections, unemployment, or general urghhhhhnessss frustrations – all things that will come to writers/English graduates. She likes to reminisce, and remind me that I could be driving a “flash sports car”, and living in a “classy apartment” now, like the guys in American Psycho. Well, nerr. It’s not me.

Instead here I am, suddenly at a spaghetti junction of pathways, which stretch out, and wind in all different directions. And despite all the madness…I am happy, and I am hopeful. 2015. I am pretty much blind to what you may have to offer along the road, but I am walking with you all the same. 

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The Truth about Dog Cafés…

Unbelievably I have already been in South Korea for eleven months, and I have only just experienced their fabled “dog cafés” this weekend! The reason for the wait you wonder? A mixture of inadvertent racism and unintentional ignorance I’m afraid! You see…when I was in China, a couple of years ago, I found that the dog café scene was distinctly different – namely that man’s best friend was served to you in a stew, in the middle of the table, with rice, and a beer. To answer your question, yes I do still have nightmares.

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But, more about that another time…

Anyway, so when it was suggested to me in Korea, I was dead set against it! Well, as it turns out, the Korean counterpart is somewhat different…it’s just a café with dogs, that you can pet as you drink your hot chocolate! (Oh, and yeah – the dogs are alive, which is a fantastic feature!) So yes, I was pleased – as it certainly posed less of a moral dilemma this time around…it was “hmmm, coffee or tea?” rather than “hmmm…eat some dog stew or go hungry tonight?”

I must say the whole thing was an interesting novelty; sitting with an americano while a couple of dogs lie lovingly in your lap! However, I wouldn’t suggest it for a first date…I can only imagine that a dog taking a shit on your table might turn the romance levels down to approximately -10, or that a dog pissing on your jeans might kill off any of your chances of a second meeting. Unless you’re into that kind of thing. Erm…

Naturally I feel like a bit of lunatic  now, as I recall screaming at some friends who asked me to accompany them to the same place a few months ago, “NO! I HAVE BEEN ONCE BEFORE IN CHINA AND THAT WAS QUITE ENOUGH – I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD GO?! WHO ARE YOU? YOU MAKE ME SIIIIIICK!” And all they were doing was going to drink a cup of tea and pet some animals. The word “cringe” doesn’t quite cover it.

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At any rate, I will be returning as it was definitely a lot of fun; I just hope next time around the sausage dog doesn’t use my thigh in lieu of a girlfriend. That’s all I ask…

I’m off to take four showers, as I still feel dirty.

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