Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sign of Four


"The treshold of truth and lie"

Having handed in my research proposal, it's finally, finally vacation. So there is finally time to work on my reading/watching backlog.

A fine start was R. Austin Freeman's The Eye of Osiris, which was once recommended as a must-read for the reader of Japanese detectives. And verily, it was so. With the bones of a chopped up body popping up here and there and a dispute regarding an inheritance (is there any other?), this 1911 novel is not only a great early work in the Golden Age style, it is decidely very proto-Japanese-detective-ish. In a very dry, English way. This is strangely enough my first Freeman novel, but his reputation precedes him. He is indeed a very, very sober writer. It suits the investigative style of his detective dr Thorndyke. And while the solution was quite easy to see, I think that's more because countless of other works are based on the same pattern set in this book.

And while The Eye of Osiris wasn't translated in Japanese till in the '50's, I wouldn't be surprised if Edogawa or some other early Japanse detective writer hadn't read it. Edogawa had certainly read Freeman's The Singing Bone and was quite content with it, so The Eye of Osiris might well have been a inspiration of works like Mojuu ("The Blind Beast").

Somewhat the inverse of Freeman's style is Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake, a novel in his hardboiled Philip Marlowe series. While I'll admit The Long Goodbye was written wittier and more pleasant to read, there actually is a real puzzle plot in this novel. While it's not very surprising (especially not after reading The Eye of Osiris), it somehow feels good. Hardboiled and puzzle plots can work (see the Tantei Jinguuji game novels.) and this is a good example.

And I might be the stupidest reader ever, because not once, not once since I have known about this title, did I imagine that the story would in fact feature a lady. In a lake. Only when someone made a comment that the title was kinda scary while I was reading it in the International Student Center, did it hit me (at that time, no murder had occured yet). Somehow, when reading the words the lady in the lake, my head automatically connects it to Arthurian legend. Which is of course the lady of the lake, but I am no expert on Arthurian legends.

But yeah. Sometimes titles are just too obvious, so you suspect it means something else.

Most pleasant of the bunch was the American TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery, based on the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout. Having the slightly hardboiled (halfboiled?) Archie Goodwin work together with thinking machine / heavyweight food lover Nero Wolfe results in the-best-of-both-worlds concept, with puzzle plots spiced up with some hardboiled dialogue and scenes. Except for the milk drinking by Archie. While I have only read Some Buried Caesar, I quite like the '50-'51's radio drama The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe and having finished that, A Nero Wolfe Mystery piqued my interest.

And what a fine show it is! The music, the backgrounds, the acting is all a bit more gaudy than in real live and that really makes this show. Scenes of a slick Goodwin and an immensive Wolfe bouncing comments on each other are fantastically dynamic. Interesting for a TV production is how a small cast is used for this show. Like a theater troupe, the same cast members play the non-recurring roles for each episode, resulting in the actor playing the victim in one episode turning out to be playing the murderer in the next. While it adds a decisive flavor to the show, the fact I'm bad with names and faces does sometimes makes the show very confusing.

And today I finally watched the in Japan recently released Sherlock Holmes. Which was kinda like Arsene Lupin. In England. With explosions. And fights. And steampunk. And fights. And stuff. Arsene Lupin. Well, Arsene Lupin and Batman Begins. Especially the ending was quite Batman Begin-ish.

While I did like the effort to portray a Holmes never shown before, I think Downey Jr.'s Holmes was somewhat too Bohemian. And stuff. I fear that if I really delved into it, it would ultimately end on a negative note. I did like the Watson as a foil to Holmes though.

Wait. It suddenly hit me. The movie was kinda Detective Conan-ish. With explosions. And stuff.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Death TV

"It's one of those rumors you hear from a friend of a friend, but...", "Hayarigami"

Wednesday, we suddenly heard that the NHK would be filming at the International Student Center. Afterwards, I was even more suddenly asked whether I'd liked to be interviewed by the NHK. Well, actually, rather than actually being asked, I heard from Chin-san that the two of us would be interviewed by the NHK. I was only asked whether I'd want to do that, after a surprised me went to ask the what-where-how-why. Considering it concerned me in a not very insignificant way.

So today we were interviewed on our life as international students. And stuff. And it's all pretty much gone now, as I was in a state of nothingness while answering the questions. Having no time to prepare Despite having the luxary of a whole minute to think about answers to the questions they would ask me, I felt I botched up my Japanese horribly. Having a giant camera pointed at me does not, in any way, help my nervous nature.

Afterwards, they made some shots of one of our classes. When they said shots, everyone, including the teacher, expected shots from the back of the class. Instead, the crew went from table to table, zooming in on people as they were talking and just being immensely intrusive. Especially as it was Joukyuunihongo F, a course which really involves stating your opinions on quite personal stuff. I don't really care to broadcast what I think about myself on national television.

Well, actually, international television. I forgot to ask, but I heard later that they were filming for NHK BS, the satellite channel of the NHK. Which I can't receive here. Which is available at Leiden, I think. I hope they at least send the footage to us. I don't want to ever see it, but a memento would be nice. Which reminds me that there were pictures taken of me during the interview, so I'll have to locate those. Hm.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Too Many Cooks

"I beg you not to entrust these dishes to your cook unless he is an artist. Cook them yourself, and only for an occasion that is worthy of them. They are items for an epicure, but are neither finicky nor pretentious; you and your guests will find them as satisfying to the appetite as they are pleasing to the palate. None is beyond your abilities if you have the necessary respect for the art of fine cooking - and are willing to spend the time and care which an excellent dish deserves and must have. Good appetite!", "Too Many Cooks"

Although I had asked the question several times this week, I didn't get to hear to answer till after it was all over, but apparently it is custom to eat gyouza at Chinese New Years because they are similar to the gold ingots used in the past in China. So eating gyouza at New Year means receiving a lot of fortune this year. Or something. And therefore we were to eat gyouza on Sunday.

And apparently you should also make them yourselves. From fillings till skin. So under the guidance of several Chinese students we started up a gyouza factory practically in front of my room, which is not a bad thing because the reader might have noticed I like gyouza.

The preparation of gyouza takes some time though, and involves a lot of knives and chopping. And chopping. And some more chopping. When to stop chopping? When there is more water volume than vegetable left. Add in the meat, spices and the filling is ready. And around the same time the dough was finished, so we could begin wrapping.

As visible in the above, some people are a lot more skilled in wrapping gyouza than others. The ones that look a bit strange? Yeah, all made by non-Chinese, and me. Who always is a wild card when counting Asians. Anyway, most of us just tried to make things that at least beared a resemblance to gyouza. Somewhere.

And the result was delicious. Self-made gyouza are better. The Japanese gyouza have a thin skin and almost always the same not too strongly flavoured fillings (though I think most Japanese food is rather blandly flavoured and don't get me started on the overall gyouza level in Fukuoka), so the Chinese gyouza with thicker skins and strongly flavored fillings were fantastic. We kept the factory running for 6 hours with people popping in and out all the time, till everything we had was made into gyouza, resulting also in some freak kimchi gyouza. And dino-gyouza.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010



"The world isn't beautiful. And therefore, it is beautiful", Kino, Kino's Journey

Time wimey stuff.) I had another presentation at a junior high school (well, actually the same junior high), this time with 1st year students and it was a lot more fun compared to the last time. The fact I showed them fragments of the Dutch dubs of Pokemon, Crayon Shin-chan and Gake no Ue no Ponyo might have been a deciding factor. It certainly explained why 50% of the questions asked after the presentation where about whether anime series X or Y was known in the Netherlands. I can understand why the students gave me a big "Eeeeh?!" when I said this or that was being broadcast in the Netherlands, but the girl who almost swooned when I said I liked Gin Tama, was something I didn't expect. Afterwards, we received letters from the students and the swooning girl was so nice to draw me. Looking suspiciously a lot like Shinpachi.
Last Monday (or before.

(And the recommendation of Hakata Oushou by the students when I asked for a good restaurant, was perfect. Delicious for a good price! Tenshinhan might not be a real Chinese dish, but it's tasty, just like the gyouza!)

Friday was kinda busy, as I had a test for Ancient Greek and a farewell party. At the same time. The test wasn't that difficult, I think, but I have to admit I wrote as a madman to attend to the party, so I probably made quite some mistakes. And looking back, the fact I got a Japanese translation of the famous American book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture from the Ancient Greek teacher is kinda strange.

Anyway, after the test I hurried to the International Students office and arrived near the end of the farewell party. The farewell party was for a small group of Seoul University students, who had been on a special short program of a month following classes with us JLCC students, so sorta our kouhai. While they weren't here that long, it was a shame to see them go. Especially as I *still* hadn't memorized their names. I am horrible with names. So I am also quite ashamed to say I can't say who wrote what in the joint farewell letter.

The farewell party did make me realize we'll be sadly enough saying goodbye to two sempai-like JLCC members quite soon from now, who instead started last March (instead of September). Time goes by way too fast here. Relativity or something.

Saturday, Alex took us to the beach a bit north of the kaikan. Windy, but sunny weather and a great view. Kinda surprising such a nice place was so close to our home. Paragliders and birds were flying alike, we left something for the later generations and afterwards, we had another nabe-/game party here. House of the Dead 2 on easy, 5 lives, 9 continues is HARD. And SoulCalibur will never bore. Game classics that do not age.

Sadly enough, the rest of the week is mostly filled with homework and presentations. Another two weeks. Another two long weeks.