Wednesday, April 27, 2005

168. A Visit to the Aichi Expo

I counted 400 coaches already in the parking lot when we arrived yesterday morning at 9.30, with new coaches arriving at a rate of about half a dozen every ten minutes. Each coach holds an average of about 40-50 people so that will give you some idea of the various groups (mostly students) that are coming in on a daily, hourly basis.

In addition to this there are packed trains running into the Expo station from Nagoya every 5-6 minutes, not to mention people who arrive by private transport. Numbers in Japan have to be seen to be believed.

The organisation of all these hordes of people is typically efficient, which is what one comes to expect in Japan. Nothing is left to chance and new arrivals are streamed and sorted by a benevolent version of Bergen-Belsen in which scores of uniformed staff arrange parking of buses and the progression of milling crowds towards the entrance gates.

In spite of the huge numbers, our school group of about 600 encountered very little delay.

Once inside, the sprawling size of the exposition grounds strikes you immediately. There are a minimum of three transportation systems in operation (possibly five) apart from the option of simply hoofing it.

Many nations of the world are represented in separate or shared pavilions (Oceania, the Caucasus, West Africa, the Baltic States, parts of South America, several others: Chad hasn't shown up yet so the other Africans use their booth as a coffee break area; the Ecuadorians are late, too, having recently thrown out their president). The pavilions are grouped in geographic clusters -- Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas -- and so on. Some of these national pavilions are thoughtfully designed and informative whereas others, frankly, are a waste of time and money.

The Irish pavilion was pretty cool -- literally so, since they had provided black curtains at the entrance and the air-conditioned interior had reduced light and a rather relaxing greeny-blue ambience. Considering the brazen blazing sun of late April in Japan this was a definite plus. The chief exhibit was a display of truly enormous high crosses arranged in a central circular chamber with a separate surrounding corridor wrapped around it. The walk-around corridor had brilliant graphics with Japanese (no English) explanations and some pretty chancy scaled-down versions of the Cross of Cong and the Ardagh Chalice, plus the Book of Kells. Any Irish person would know straight away they were fake ( a bit small, hmmm?) so I don't understand why we couldn't have made actual-size better fakes.

One brilliant idea was to set up a bank of reclining seats in a semi-circular alcove along one of the outer walls of the corridor. The wide video screen was up on the inclined ceiling. That was a stroke of genius. Everybody wanted to see what was going on, but there were only 20 seats. People waited for those seats. You could almost hear the sigh of relief as people sank into these comfortable seats and took a little break from the pandemonium and the heat outside. Whatever showed up on the video they were certainly well-disposed to watch it. And it was a good video, a lot of shots of Ireland from the air, with some great music which was ruined because you couldn't really hear it.

Overall, the most popular sites are the technical ones run by the major Japanese corporations. Why does this come as no surprise? These exhibits and multi-media shows were designed to impress and they certainly do. Japan, after all, is the host and 90% of the visitors are Japanese -- and possible future customers!! The queues were long and the projected waiting time, from 90 minutes to two hours, prevented me from visiting any of these places. I am sure they are fantastic and impressive -- and a great advertisement for the companies involved!

I took the overhead cable car from one side of the exposition grounds to the other. That was fun. It was a floating five-minute ride over the whole shebang with thousands of people below. It cost Y600 -- 4 Euros, $5.60 -- and this is one of the problems I have with the Expo. Why is it so expensive? The prices for everything, from simple transport to food, is extortionate. There are even rules prohibiting the introduction of certain kinds of food and drink which can be bought more cheaply outside.

Overall I was impressed, largely by the intelligent layout of the grounds and by the efficient (but rather overpowering) nature of the organising principles behind the way people were moved in and shunted about. At the same time, I was glad I didn't have to pay for travel and entrance fees (it was a school excursion) in addition to the money I spent on food, a couple of drinks, and transport within the site. It could be a very expensive day for an average family.

Without wishing to appear overly critical, my general impression was that the Aichi Expo was designed for a mass public with access to a huge amount of disposable cash -- a public that enjoyed a bit of spectacle but, basically, didn't want to have to think very much about what it was seeing.This is the winning combination in Japan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

167. The Times That Be In It

Things are not going well. That's the first thing to realise.

The new school year has begun and it is utter pandemonium. The students are naturally confused ( the new intake, anyway) and the teachers are running around like headless chickens "organising" things. Stay well away from me!

In the meantime, inbetween time, all my computers are showing pernickety signs of rebellion. In ordinary times I might even be sympathetic, but not now, not now ....

The iMac at home (this one, in fact) has a major system fault and starts up with all the Extensions off nine times out of ten. Which means you can't access the Internet, email, print, or do anything except look at a dumb unresponsive screen. Tonight, temporarily, I am in luck. Sooner or later the keyboard will stick and produce only capital letters.

The computer at school (Windows XP) refuses to burn CDs any more -- chances are, I have worn out the laser by wanton overuse nearly every single day for the last year. But it still doesn't work any more. Major problem, with all the iTunes downloads I have been collecting!

Plus it won't upload photos to this or any other blog using Picasa and Hello. I think our local security nazi has been fiddling with the firewalls so now we've gone non-pictorial.

Talk about bad timing!!

In addition, the new laptop brought into our happy home by Darling (the better half) depends on a wireless hookup to this iMac. It can't access Hello - Picasa is OK - because of the connection and it won't be able to access the internet either once the iMac gets carted into the repair bin.

As if I had time for all this crap.

April, said Eliot, is the cruellest month. For all he knew, the dandy, fastidious, sharp-faced, American East Coast arse-licking gobshite little shyster who threw his wife into a loony bin. Apeneck Sweeney, indeed; inside sniggerings about the Sheenies. Good poet, but a disgusting human being.

Sheenies and Sweeneys better stock than he ever came from. Suibhne of the Birds.

One mustn't grumble. I can never understand why people say that. Half the pleasure of life is grumbling about things that go wrong.

But when things go wrong, they tend to go wrong all over the place. When things break down, they tend to break down in pairs, and threes, and fives. It's a bloody hassle to get things repaired, get things back to normal. Then you go on for a bit. Next thing you know, it starts up all over again.

We're planning to go to New York in June. That's a plus, I guess. I like New York. Weird, not always safe, but stimulating. I had to get a new passport -- here we go, back to the grumbles!! -- even though the present one had seven years to run. I had to pay full whack for a new 10-year passport ($110) so it would be machine-readable. Otherwise you have to go to the local US Embassy and stand in line for 5-6 hours to get a visa. Bollix entirely to that load of noise. Plus you have to do an interview. No way. I'm not going to actually TALK to these checklist robots, give us all a break. I just want to pop in and out for my daughter's graduation, a week at the most. You'll never see me, I'll be quiet as a mouse. I won't praise the Lord God Bush but I won't talk agin him -- much. And I'll never come back again. Of that I can be fairly sure.

Come October, even the machine-readable passports will be out of date. Then we will need digital photos and even newer technology. The Irish Embassy tell me they have no plans to comply. What makes the US government think they can design passports for the rest of the world?

What if the Rest of the World replied in kind -- photographing and fingerprinting American tourists? Demanding new-style passports? Brazil had a go at this and some American airline pilots tried to beat up the local immigration officers. Gives you an idea of how Americans might feel if placed under the same restrictions. The reason we don't apply the same humiliating conditions on American tourists is because a) we are rational people; b) we welcome tourists and business people to our countries; c) what's the point? and d) perhaps we are more intelligent.

In other news, I have just finished "Flashman on the March" the 12th and latest appearance of the Flashman papers, a record of the most highly decorated heroic poltroon and lecher of Victorian England. Brilliant. Warms the cockles of your ever-doubting heart. This time he is in Abyssinia with Napier in 1868.

There is much else to say but this will have to do. I must come up with some way to get photographs back on the Blog. Right so ...

Slan anois

Thursday, April 07, 2005

166. The Professional

I had a certain talent
for the job; I suppose
I sort of drifted in
that direction, once the war
was over: I really had

no idea of the demand
for these skills, and was
happy enough to take on
a few jobs; money was
scarce: the business went

well and soon I was able
to increase my fees, get in
some top-of-the range
equipment, even hire
an accountant: he didn't

work out so well, very
sorry to say; I had to take
a little direct action on his
account, but sent nice flowers
to the funeral: I learned

about computers, practically
designed for my work; no need
to meet clients, no more
telephones: encryption codes
worked fine: I decided to

buy a house somewhere foreign,
some sunny place, thought of starting
a family with a couple of kids,
why not? I was tired
of one-night-stands: I began

trawling for wife-type girls
and found a lot, I had no
idea so many of them were
out there, all with a fondness
for millionaires: I made

a short-list and flew them in
for interviews; in the end I
selected Sandy with her enormous
eyes, so trusting, complaisant
and adoring: we set about

making a baby and it was pretty
quick for me, longer for her,
and every now and then I had to
go on a job. She asked no questions
and I told her no lies: we were

happy together until Arnaldo
came along, white-toothed cousin
to the large local family of
landowners. I summoned my
subcontractors, perfected

an excellent alibi, sent a wreath
this time; poor tear-stricken Sandy
I escorted away, then strangled
and buried in Germany. The child
was fostered: I had had it

with the myth of happy families
forever, and went back to work
with new dedication and skill.
I was in great demand, all the big
ones came down to me: I retired to

Florida, Coral Gables, in time
not to vote, sprawled naked around
my marble swimming pool, hired
two Cuban houseboys, hung around
with big-time gangsters: I began

reading books instead of the usual
crappy magazines; discovered some
dead Greek guy called Sophocles
and knew, straight away, he was
writing about me: I laughed

and threw the book down, called out
to Juan, asked him who was there?
"Una Senorita, Boss", his eyebrows
dancing (these Latinos!): Goddamit,
show her in: I never expected

to see my abandoned daughter.
I knew who she was straight away.
I could never remember her name.
I watch the little smile on her pretty face.
Why can I not remember her name?

"Hello, darling".
"Hello, Daddy".

Then she pulls out the pistol and fires.