Memories of Tōkyō

One of my most favourite moments of 2016 took place on September 7th. Why? What? Where?

This was in Tōkyō, the capital of the State of Japan. More precisely, it was in the Imperial district and by the entrance to the Imperial Palace. The sun was setting with its last rays still casting a faint light, bringing the park to life in an unique way. There were not many people present, the tourists had come and gone though it was not yet late (twenty to six) — but the Sun was setting and people move with it, so for that day, they had passed on.

The setting was beautiful in every mentionable way. It is still in my mind, the Sun’s quiet descent as daylight slowly receded, as it left the Imperial District, and as its last rays illuminated the former heart of the Shogunate.

Overall, I did not see much of Tōkyō as I had barely 24h there, but I am incredibly happy that one of the places I decided to go to was the Palace. Having the limited time to explore, I had started out without much of a plan and with a very limited grasp on which options were plausible. Chance ruled. The providential decisions which made me exit the underground in that station and walk down the street to arrive in the nick of time to see the day pass away are worth pondering about on their own. How much of what happens to us is chance, and chance alone? How much of this was indeterminable by anything I did?

But, with regards to this post, I mostly wanted to share this image:

Kōkyo

I can still remember the serenity. Can you sense it?

Longitude 180° E/W

It was my pleasure to be able to cross the 180° W to 180° E line last year (more or less this day), crossing the Pacific Ocean. The feeling of separation, of being thousands of miles from the closest bit of land, was spectacular on its own.

I am not entirely certain what more I can say. For me, this memory is so real I don’t need to use any more words. For anyone reading, these words are mere lines on a screen.

Thinking about it, I can describe a few more things.

One of these would be the sunshine Central Pacific experienced. I never thought it would be like that. I never thought it could be so warm, so calm, so tranquil. But, possibly the name of the ocean is not that wrong even though it can experience horrendous storms. Fernão de Magalhães may have been wrong in the entirety when he named the ocean, but he definitely grasped the occasion of the quiet sea.

The other thing to describe would be the sensation by which the aloneness feels. Sure, I wasn’t actually alone. There were probably about ten to fifteen other people on the vessel I was travelling, but, in general and in the modern world, that is secluded. The closest islands of Alaska and Hawaii were both more than two thousand kilometres away and even so, uninhabited. The closest inhabited place may have been a small town in Alaska.

Added to this distance across the globe I would add the distance above and below. The space above us is forever unlimited, and the space below is normally of no concern to us. Central Pacific in where we were was probably between three and four kilometres deep, and its inhabitants we can only imagine — the last frontier open to us on this globe is the depth of the oceans.

Only water, boundless water, in every direction. What an experience.

The Motivation for Writing

Why does anyone write?

What do they want to express? Who do they want to be? What is it worth writing about publicly?

I’ve had the wish to continue writing actively for a long time — ever since I stopped in 2014 (Goodreads’ reviews don’t count), but I never found the time as it’s so easy to make excuses. And, I think in the time I could have been writing, I was reading. So, perhaps I’ll write better now? Who knows…

But, earlier on this year someone (no disclosure, you know who you are) said that they enjoyed reading what I wrote and asked me whether I was still going at it. The answer, to be accurate, would have been a “no”, but I phrased it as a “maybe” — and it definitely kicked me into motion faster than otherwise. Still, it has taken me two months and 19 days to get this far, but I am here. Which is a start.

What has changed? My (probably) favourite answer to this comes from the film ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ where Salah ad-Din so graciously says “Nothing. Everything” to a different question.

The one thing I have enjoyed writing about in all the time I haven’t made actual blog posts has been books, and my reviews for things on Goodreads have at least kept that alive. I also think it’s quite interesting to see how various people review books, but that’s a topic for another time. I feel that what is worth writing about is the cultures we experience and what the thoughts they bring up in us are. Hence it might entirely be I’ll take a step back over the last three years and look back at some places which come up again and again in my mind.

But, to end where I began, I will answer the question I began this by: I write for myself, but there’s more of a reason to “write out loud” when someone else is also interested in those selfsame thoughts. At least that is how I feel right now. Times change. And yet, the more they change the more they stay the same.

I wish to write more…

And I don’t. I even have posts that I manage to plan out in my mind whilst out and about. There is just the small and slightly relevant problem that I almost never manage to write them out once I get back home.

I have tried to think of ideas to make me more consistent in my writing, but I will have to see how that works out.

Right now, while watching ‘A Few Good Men’ once again, I thought that I would at least try putting some sort of a note down here that I can try writing more. A friend of mine recently started blogging, and I was hoping that her consistency would make me fall in line as well. Alas, that particular engine seemed to slow down so now I am wondering what would work best for me.

Until I work that one out, I will point out that I have had in mind to write a few words on British imperialism in the modern day, or at least my impressions on something that might be called as such. [And now that I have written it out, I will have to try doing it in least time possible. And maybe comment on ‘A Few Good Men’ as well. I do like that movie.]

Collecting Data

Data are the basis of life. We need more data and we need ways to use these data. Data as information are power.

I have thus far recorded only some data: mostly my expenditures and incomes on a daily basis. Some time ago I decided that this, by far, is not enough to be aware of myself so I decided to find a way to record more things and in greater detail. Since my previous record was daily, I summarized it monthly — this meant I had to wait until the first of the next month which is today to bring my new datasheet into action. I worked that sheet out a few days ago although it is still a work in progress since I’m trying to figure out more things I should record.

Thus far I’ve added in greater detail the same expenditures/incomes options as before although with a subcategory and a subsubcategory while I previously used just a single subcategory. I’ve also added options for keeping track of the distance I travel (since I think it to be quite an interesting thing to know), and I will be shortly adding an option to keep track of how many words I’ve written that day as well.

In other words, as a work in progress I’ll be using this datasheet for June but I expect it will really come into its own next month or the month after when I know more. But, I also expect that everything I record from now on will be quite interesting to look at when I have more than a few months’ data gathered.

Am I a cynic?

I had a very interesting discussion on Saturday with people who kept on insisting that doing things for other people just so they would feel better is a reasonable way of spending time. I, quite naturally, disagreed. I’ll get to the specific examples in a moment, but right now I’ll establish the label that was given to me based on what I said.

Namely, I am supposedly a “cynic”.

To help us with the question of whether I am one, it might make sense to define “cynic” just to be sure we know what we’re discussing. Here goes the Wikipedia version that has probably got quite a bit of it right:

Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realistic criticism or skepticism. The term originally derives from the ancient Greek philosophers called the Cynics who rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and unmaterialistic way of life.

By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.

That is what Wikipedia says. It is a bit of a mouthful and could probably be expressed in an easier way, but it will suffice for now.

The two specific examples we questioned yesterday were as follows: a) our graduation ceremony is a worthy event, and we should go there; b) marriage reception is an integral part of the ceremony.

My views on those two can be best expressed as follows: a) graduation is a ceremony that does not establish anything of value nor does it grant us anything we would otherwise miss out on, therefore there is no harm in missing said event assuming there is something better that could be done with the time; b) marriage reception is worth it not because of it being an integral part of the ceremony, since marriage is best taken as an institution for an economic and social purpose, but the reception is worth it assuming that people have gone through the trouble of marrying in the first place.

These views were enough to have me labelled as a “cynic”. I disagree, for there is nothing inherently distrustful or hopeless about my attitude — it is rather an expression of a cost-benefit system that evaluates whether an action is worth it or not. If something is worth it, then it should be carried out — which is also incidentally why a reception would nearly always be worth it: as mentioned above, the trouble of organizing things into a marriage would almost definitely ask for a release as a party. The same cost-benefit analysis says that if the time spent on a ceremony as useless as a graduation could be spent on something else that would create value for the people in question then that should be done instead.

So, thus far, nothing cynical — only the best application of one’s time and effort to maximize any outcome from life. I am not sure that every person who reads this will agree with that assessment, but that at least is how I would reason it. For, after all, it is not that I am saying that no one should go to their own graduation — if people find that they can spend their time and effort on something that doesn’t give them anything they cannot find otherwise, then they can obviously go for it. What I am saying is that it is highly unlikely anyone will find me from my own graduation (unless it is by some lucky chance a day off from work) — simply because I will have better things to do with the time.

I will add that in general I follow the good words of Mr Arthur C Clarke — and by that I mean I am not a pessimist about our future. I don’t have the greatest of hopes for humankind but I am of a mind that we will end up somewhere better in time. For the words I speak of are as follows:

“I am an optimist. Anyone interested in the future has to be otherwise he would simply shoot himself.”
— sir Arthur C. Clarke

Which is very true. I think there’s a glimpse of hope for us, and I am sure we’ll get there in the end. It just might be that the road will be long and hard.

Another relevant question might be if I have Cynic tendencies, referring to the old Greek school. Now, that might be true although I am not familiar enough with them to actually answer this in detail. Based on a short look into them giving up most of the desires of people, I would have to say no. My philosophical outlook rather tends to welcome and accept desire, so again I seem to have thwarted being labelled a “cynic” in some way or form.

Although I guess that labels don’t really matter as long as there is a coherent thought process working its way in one’s mind…

On Where People Live

For I had a discussion yesterday… and that discussion centered itself around the question of what would the place have to be so that I would want to live there. It is in itself an interesting question, and not quite how we posed it in our conversation, but that is probably how I tried to answer it.

Now, there were two points: my friend said that the sea, or the ocean, whichever one we specify, is important. It has to be there. There is no other way. I said that a river would do. There is no need for my mind to witness the torrents of the sea while it could be the small turbulences of a river that could give me all the comforts that my mind could want.

The argument here was that the other person thought that the wilderness of the sea was something that was important in itself. That this was the important part to her, and that she longed for it where she presently lived. I can see that, and yet I cannot. The sea is everywhere, and if it is in your soul, it will be there a thousand miles from the coast. And I think that might be the worst part about it — it is there and it can be sensed, but not touched. Not smelt. Nor felt.

But me? Why did I say what I did? I think it is that I would much prefer to have a small garden by a quietly flowing river. It would give so much more opportunity to think. It is not that I don’t want the sea, but I can live with the sea being further away. It is there. It won’t go anywhere. What I want from where I live is a water that doesn’t move as fast, a water that would allow itself to be shaped into a garden of peace and tranquility. And if that is not possible, then a gently sloping river through my lands will do just fine.

But probably, in my mind’s eye, I see something much like one of those gardens where the stones are arranged in a set order and water flows around them. And where one can sit down and close the eyes that otherwise need to see things. For in my garden, seeing would be a hindrance to experiencing beauty.

Which is probably why I would not want the sea to be in my garden but rather a short walk away. I can stand the walk if I want to see the sea and talk to the waves, but I don’t think I would kindly take to them talking to me when I would prefer to listen to quiet sounds of running water…

Swimming

I haven’t been able or willing or un-lazy enough to post much of late, and I am somewhat sorry about that. I have had a fair few thoughts that probably deserved their time here, but I am sure they’ll visit me again. Until they do, I’d like to say a few words on swimming.

I really like it. I can’t even tell why any more, I always have as far as I can remember and I do hope I always will. It’s not that I am willing to swim anywhere, quite the opposite. But whenever I do decide it is time to go for a swim, there is purpose behind it.

I was remembering the good days back ages ago when I used to go swimming with a friend of mine. That didn’t last very long, probably because we took it up far too late, and there just wasn’t any time left but it was good while it lasted. And I’ve been back to that pool once after, which was before a rather important event and it allowed me to relax and rest.

Because I think that is what swimming does. In a way it allows me to rest. I might go so far as to say that the rest I get is of a better type than the rest I get from sleeping. But maybe I’m trying to delude myself there.

In any case, I want to swim. And I think that at the present, that means I will swim when I see the opportunity to do so. And I might post something again then. But hopefully, also before that time.

Where to Go?

I lamented not a long time ago that the majority of what I wrote here was of something else, of qualities and ideas, and of thoughts. What I have avoided writing about for a long time is this world, and I am now here to rectify this.

Today, I will just post a short list of places I would like to go to, but since I like these places so very much I think it makes sense to mention them.

As a list, here are the six locations:

  • The Cape
  • Australia: New South Wales/Victoria
  • Japan: Chūbu/Kansai
  • Canada: Alberta/BC
  • Sri Lanka
  • Kenya/Tanzania

Now, to figure out the why (insofar as I ‘want’ to figure that out), I can say the following about the places above:

  • Scenery which should be amazing along with two oceans to explore. I love the seas, and I think the seas there will be different to the ones I am familiar with. And there is also a sense of history different to Europe’s: different to what I am used to.
  • I have always had a difficult explaining this particular one. The best I’ve usually done is said: “I really like the idea of it!” I think I might enjoy it because of what it looks like in my mind — which indeed is the worst way to visit any place at all (I mean, expecting something definite), but in a sense I do not have any expectations. What I do have is a thought that I’ll have a brilliant time there. Also, there is the Lord Howe Island which sounds like an amazing place simply for being named after the Lord Howe.
  • I would like to visit the majority of Japan, including Hokkaidō (though that I would like to see in the winter). These central regions though were the source of a lot of the historic events that Japan has seen in earlier history, and I would like to see what remains of those times. And I would like to see some of the natural monuments in the area (Fuji-san!), but that is maybe more for the sake of saying I’ve done that than for the actual wish to do so.
  • I know people there. I have an idea of what the nature is like. I know I could ski. What else would I need? I don’t think that the question of “Do I want to return?” would ever be a problem in a wintery BC… =)
  • With this wonderful island, my thoughts say: “You have to come here. There is no other way.” My mind responds with an agreement: “On a beach there, you can relax in the evening wind and solve whatever problems you want to solve. You can rest as you haven’t in a long time, and you can read under the setting sun.”
  • I think that what makes me want to see these lands is the same instinct that would take me to Western Russia and the steppes. But there are no steppes any more — we have a large farmland and that is all. Where is the hope to wander the lands and see no one but the birds on the rivers? The savannas are still there though. For now.

I do not know if this is very explanatory, but even in the best of cases I like to explain by way of riddles. At the very least, these places feel right to me. So I can continue thinking of the question: what comes first? Even the first is a good year-and-a-half away in the best of circumstances, but that just makes me want to think of those times even more. This in itself is probably a fault of being human — I cannot just concentrate on the day at hand.

It will remain to be seen if this problem makes for a loss… So, my mind will continue to smile at images from thousands of kilometers away until that time.