Blooming Trees

April showers may bring May flowers in Canada, but here in Japan we get to see blossoms bloom in March. When I last saw the trees around the apartment there were plenty of buds but nothing was ready. A week of warmer temperatures has changed all of that.

Blooming Trees

Tomorrow Nozomi and I will head down to the river if it's not raining too much to see if the cherry trees at our favourite park have started to open.

Back Home

After one of the most productive weeks in recent memory, I've survived yet another flight across the Pacific and returned to the land I've called "home" for more than a decade. All in all, the trip to New Jersey was certainly worth the investment as the sheer number of positive things to come from the plethora of meetings has been nothing short of astounding. Career-wise, so long as the ego remains bottled up, I'm in for some very interesting projects and very demanding roles within the organisation.

I can hardly wait to get started.

One Last Look Back

Historically my trips to the US have been pretty rough, as they involved upset stomachs, catching a flu, buying a burned out motherboard, or — as was the case the last time — an unexpected overnight stay1. This time was completely different, with the only negative thing I can recall being the lack of energy from wait staff at the hotel bar who would often make people wait fifteen minutes for their first drink, then expect a 20% tip at the end. The hotel itself was spacious and comfortable. The atmosphere was relaxed. The air was crisp. Heck, there were even deer in the forests surrounding the place. When I wasn't working, it was incredibly easy to relax.

The lack of a rigid schedule certainly helped with the weeklong series of meetings, presentations, and seminars. I had planned to deliver three presentations, a product demo, a seminar on SQL Server, and maybe participate in a meeting or two. As fate would have it, the entire Monday to Friday stretch turned out to be a single discussion that contained all of the presentations, demos, and seminars in an interactive and interesting way. There was a good amount of team building going on, as well, which will go a long way to building the crucial relationships between teams separated by thousands of kilometres. Wins all around!

Coming home, however, was the icing on the cake. Nozomi was incredibly happy to see me, and the boy — after a few minutes of nervousness — was laughing and bouncing in my arms. Reiko and her parents really went all out to look after both of these small family members while I was away. Hopefully the next trip will be somewhere inside Japan so that we can all go together. It's not often that Reiko can get away from it all, and she deserves a break more than anyone I know. Perhaps a little persuasion can result in the next big corporate get-together taking place somewhere in Kyushu. Nagasaki was lovely the last time and, so long as it's not summertime, both work and pleasure could happen without the uncomfortable humidity that is typical between May and October.

This might be a bit much to hope for, though.

Either way, now that I'm back in the land of melon bread and adequately-priced food2, I can enjoy downtime with the people and puppies that matter most to me.

  1. This is a horrible, horrible post with poor word choices and repetitive grammar. To make matters worse, the people who did help out never got a single mention....
  2. When did food and drinks get so expensive in the US? $2 for a bottle of soda from a vending machine? That's 8x more than the price of gas in that country!

Good Night, Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking passed away earlier today at the age of 76, leaving behind a legacy that few scientists — or anyone in general — could ever dream of matching. Not only was he a brilliant physicist who brought us closer to understanding the universe we inhabit, but he had a gift for triggering ferocious debate and critical thinking.

Stephen Hawking

Many years ago, while a naive boy in my 20s, I would read a great deal about the concept of existentialism. A number of the great minds of the time were openly non-religious and would talk about how there was no afterlife, no supreme deity guiding our lives, and no ultimate purpose for our existence or the universe's in general. Vociferous debates would be had in newspapers, magazines, and coffee shops on the subject. I read or participated in as many as I could. In 2010 the topic once again became a matter of debate when Hawking's book The Grand Design argued that there was no requirement for God to exist to set the universe in motion.

People argued for months over this idea.

Irrespective of correctness, the concept of existentialism and my understanding of its consequences are very much rooted in the arguments put forward by well-regarded thinkers like Stephen Hawking and the debates that came after each resurfacing of the topic. In 2011 he said during an interview that the brain is "a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." Perhaps he is right. Perhaps he is wrong. I don't have the answer and won't pretend to have reached any conclusions myself. If his consciousness continues to exist, then he knows the truth. If it does not, then he is correct. Either way, it's beyond our ability to answer for the time being.

The world has lost one of its most unique minds, but there will always be more who will come along to question everything from the structure of the universe to the existence of the supernatural to the purpose of life. So while Stephen Hawking may no longer be with us to trigger debates on highly cerebral topics, his passion and curiosity will not be forgotten.

They Really Pile Up Your Plate

Too Much Food

I really have no idea how I used to eat this much food in one sitting and still feel hungry later in the day. A decade in Asia has really changed my perceptions of "enough" when it comes to fuelling the body.

Feeling Small

On my first trip to Japan in 2006 I was struck by the scale of everything. While the trains for public transit and shopping areas were generally the same size as I'd seen in Canada, everything else was smaller. Occasionally this resulted in comical comparisons, like when I ordered a "regular coffee" and received what appeared to be a dixie cup-sized beverage. But, more often than not, everything was simply narrower and lower to the ground than I'd seen elsewhere. As a result, I felt taller and wider. Later, when I moved to the country and lost 30+ kilograms, these differences started to feel normal and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. These adjusted set of expectations for the size of objects is being called into question during this trip to the US, where everything seems larger to such an extent that — to my mind — I've shrunk in size since landing at Newark.

Doors are wide enough for two of me to comfortably walk through shoulder-to-shoulder. Regular-sized coffees are borderline too large to drink. The 12-foot ceilings in my low-cost hotel room are ... excessive. Was this the scale I had grown up perceiving as "normal", or have objects on this side of North America been adjusted to accommodate generally larger people?

In a week's time, when I return to Japan, it will be interesting to see whether I consider portion sizes and the general size of everything to be bizarrely small or "practically sized".

The Sun Rose Twice Today

Today I made the trek from central Japan to the east coast of the United States. As one would expect when travelling from the far east to the west via the Pacific Ocean, the timezones jumped in such a way that a plane could depart from Tokyo at 5:55pm and land on the other side of the world an hour and a half before it left that very same day. So, in addition to the sunrise I witnessed in Japan, there was this gem taken from 10km above Alaska:

Sunrise Over Alaska

With views like this to witness, the lack of sleep during the flight was almost worth it.

Here There Be Walls

March 3rd in Japan is usually celebrated with the 雛祭り1 but, for the family and I, it will likely be remembered as the day we signed the last bit of the financial paperwork for our first home mortgage. Back in October of last year, I outlined 19 steps that we would need to follow in order to buy and move into a house of our own. Our experience over the last four months shows that there are many, many more than 19 and that no two mortgage professionals will answer the same question the same way. This has resulted in a lot of confusion and unnecessary double-work but, fortunately, we've passed nearly every major hurdle that has stood between us and a nice, custom-built home in the suburbs of an otherwise unremarkable city in central Japan. Reiko has done the vast majority of the legwork to ensure every 'i' is dotted and every 't' crossed. The last thing we want to discover is that we can't move in because some form was incomplete, resulting in an invalid mortgage.

Fortunately, this last bit of paperwork was completed in roughly 30 minutes, leaving us free to continue our examination of curtains and, more importantly, the house itself.

The House from Outside

While it may not be easy to see, the siding is being installed. As the house will have a custom shade of paint, the siding has a greyish primer base coat. Once everything is in place, they'll apply the proper paint and give it a clear finish. This will hopefully turn out to be the exact colour that Reiko has been after.

Inside the Home

Inside the house we are starting to see more of what the place will look like when finished. Interior walls have gone up, and insulation has been laid into the exterior walls as well. Wires and cabling are running to their respective outlets, and the walk-in shower room has been installed as well. Over the next ten days, the rest of the walls will be completed, smoothed out, then painted and wallpapered. From there we might just start to see the flooring go down before I leave for a week-long business trip to the US.

A Collage of Images

For all the trials and tribulations that have come this way over the last decade or so, it's really nice to see the fruits of our efforts take shape right before our eyes. So much of what Reiko and I thought was impossible has been accomplished in the last 30 months, and it's been absolutely amazing to witness. None of these efforts have been easy, but then anything worth doing is without challenge. I do hope that this is the start of a smoother, less stressful lifestyle, though.

  1. ひなまつり — hinamatsuri. Otherwise known as "Girls Day"

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