Monday, November 26, 2007

Autumn Leaves

The last few weeks have been pretty hard. I have been working all the time and I can feel a deepening sense of isolation. The weather has finally begun to get cold, although it is still quite nice by Canadian standards.

Last weekend, myself and a few friends decided to go to Kyoto to see the autumn leaves. This is a traditional thing to do in the autumn and there's a special term for it in Japanese (kooyoo-mi, 紅葉見, something like 'viewing the crimson leaves').

The leaves were indeed beautiful, but despite the impression of these pictures the place was mobbed with people and it was actually pretty annoying at times.

There was one incident as we were passing through this bamboo grove that to my mind was particularly odd. There was a train crossing about halfway along the path through this grove and, because of the number of people, we had to wait for multiple trains to go by before we could get through the crossing.

Somehow, the passing of these trains was source of great amusement - people lined up along the railway to take pictures, everyone around me was talking about the trains. And this in a country that's virtually plagued with trains. These people ride trains every single day of their lives, everywhere they look they see train tracks and stations, but on that day, in that place, for reasons that I could not understand, it was like they were seeing trains for the very first time.

That evening we wandered around the old neighborhoods of Kyoto, which are really quite pretty, especially at night. While we were walking, we happened to see a geisha, or maiko, being delivered by her driver to an appointment. This was regarded as an extremely propitious event by my Japanese friends, because of the rarity of sighting a geisha at work.

Apparently, a geisha sighting is not only fortunate in and of itself but also bestows luck on those who have made the sighting for some unspecified period of time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nagasawa's Frame

Nagasawa promised me that when he emailed about the status of the frame he would use as little Kanji as possible. Nevertheless, when the mail came, it was written in standard Japanese and, hence, full of Kanji. I got basic message, which was, "I'm finishing the frame tonight, come by and pick it up on Sat or Sun, but let me know before you come." But there was some stuff in the middle that I didn't understand, even though it included Kanji that I had just learned. It said something like, "If you want a rearrangement, bring the bike, there's no charge for the rearrangement." I talked to some Japanese friends about it and they didn't really get it either. Finally, I realized that since I told him I already had the other parts, he must have assumed I had them on another bike and he was saying that he would swap them all over for free.

I wrote him back, saying that there was no need for an exchange, that I was coming out alone and reminding him that my Japanese sucked. I didn't hear back from him, but when I shot him an email en route he responded that he would be there when I arrived.

When I got there the frame was wrapped in protective cardboard sleeves that he took off in pieces to show me various things, such as the fact that he had put my name on the top tube. The frame was sweet and I could see immediately that the color was gonna be sick with my hubs. I actually never unwrapped it entirely and I'm gonna wait until the bike is all built up.

Nagasawa, his daughter and I chatted as much as was possible given my Japanese, and the fact that they only know individual works of English. His daughter asked me about what I do for a living, despite the fact that she had already talked to Ken and Jon about this. When I told her that I did research on the history of mathematics, she exclaimed with great excitement, "The history of mathematics?!?! Cool!!!" Which sounds as absurd in Japanese as it does in English (suugaku-shi?!? kakkoii!!! 数学史!?かっこいい!!).

Since I didn't need any labor for the parts, Nagasawa asked me if I needed anything else while his daughter filled out the forms. He ended up finding me some chain tensioners, a pair of MKS Unique Custom pedals, clips, and Fujita straps. He gave them to me tada, as he said -- which is the expression young people use for free. (Actually, in distinction from most people his age, he uses a fair amount of young people's lingo and words borrowed from European languages.)

The receipt they gave me is so cool I had to scan a copy of it. It's printed on some kind of anti-counterfeit paper that looks like a bond note. It has a special 200円 stamp on it that also appears on one of the forms for one of my bank accounts. (I'll have to ask someone about this.) It is then stamped twice. There is the small circular stamp with a name in Kanji that all Japanese people carry with them, and then the abstracted square one that was engraved on a large piece of stone. The stamping of the receipt was and serious affair and since there was excess ink, it had to be hung up to dry.

Like most Japanese people, they preferred my middle name, and as you can see they made the receipt out to Camillo. (I smugged out my last name in the image.) Somehow, however, Nagasawa determined that my first name would me more appropriate for the frame itself.

Here's a picture of the frame, still in wraps, surrounded by some of the parts that will be on the finished bike.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wheel building

This week was really busy. I received the referee reports for the last paper Len and I wrote and was told I had about three weeks to get all the corrections done. Since the paper is over 100 pages and the corrections mostly involve suggested changes to the edited text, everything has to be double checked against the manuscripts. Also, there are a number of suggested changes that need to be done globally and with care that every instance has been changed. Moreover, since I will do all the changes and then send the text to Len for a final once over, I really only have a couple weeks.

In order to take some breaks throughout the day from these kinds of academic details, I started to build the wheels that will go on the frame Nagasawa is making. This will be the fifth or sixth pair of wheels that I've built but the first with such well made parts.

Tonight, I finished truing the front wheel. It's has radial lacing and spins forever. I think that purple will really look sweet with the light blue frame.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Jon and I went out to Nagasawa's shop to officially put in an order for a frame. He was as cheerful as the first time I met him, and despite initially pretending like he had no memory of ever having met me, made references to the last time I was there and remembered a number of trivial details about me.

After looking over all the measurements, making numerous suggestions and reminding me that I was crazy to ride a pista on the rode, he asked me if I wanted a brand new frame or a refurbished one that was my size. He pulled out a damaged frame that he had made in the beginning of the 80s from Columbus steel and said that for 85,000 he would replace the damaged tubes, repaint it and put in a new headset and bottom bracket. Since his lugs were beautiful in the 70s and 80s and you can't get a new frame made from Columbus steel, I decided to go for it. He got out his old files and looked over all the original specs on this bike. There were a number of details he wanted to go over with me, such as the fact that the stay ends are spaced at 123mm to allow for a 1.5mm chain tensioner on each side. He wanted to make sure he doesn't see me riding this frame around without tensioners.

After we had covered the technical details of the order, we went upstairs and had some tea while he put my contact info into his keitai. This took him a good 15 minutes while Jon and I watched, sure that he forgotten about us. Finally, he sent me his contact info from his phone and told me that the frame would be ready in about a week. He required no deposit but assured me that he would make it well and from good parts. After a round of thank yous and bows, his daughter drove us to the JR station in the pouring rain.

When we finally got back to Osaka, we had some duck udon in Shinsekai (New world, 新世界), one of the poor neighborhoods in southern Osaka and the home of Biliken, the god of things-as-ought-to-be.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Commies in Osaka

My friend Jon works as a translator and does a lot of freelance interpretation for people doing various political projects in Japan. Today he invited me to a meeting where he was going to be doing the interpreting. It was a strange deal.

The presentation was by two old school communists from Europe whose organization had helped in the recent strikes in France against the CPE - an anti-labor bill meant to undermine job security and facilitate labor outsourcing. I went because I wanted to hear more about the anti-CPE strikes. In fact, the Europeans were mostly interested in having a discussion about Marx's view that capitalism as inevitably doomed, and the Japanese weren't really interested in discussing anything. The presenters were fairly theoretical and didn't really have much in the way of practical suggestions. It was a small meeting, but I got to learn more about the history of the left in Japan. Actually, I've been hearing a fair bit about this, because Ken's father - who was quite traditional and only ever owned one or two western things - after becoming disillusioned with the socialists, consistently voted for the communist party.

In other news, now that I can understand a bit more Japanese, I realized that if the postman brings me a special delivery, he will actually take it right to the door of my apartment. A guy came to my 10th floor apartment on a Sunday evening at 8:30.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More Canals

Here are two more shots of some of the many canals in Osaka. The first is taken in one of the poor southern neighborhoods, which now has a large Korean population.

Back in the day, before the introduction of trains, when Osaka was Japan's most important mercantile city, canals were used to ship goods to all the major markets in the city.

The second shot is of one of the two canals that run to the north and south of the major government buildings in the northern part of town.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hearing aids

My Japanese class begins everyday by listening to a dialogue over and over again until we can all repeat it. Because of my hearing loss, this is almost impossible for me to do. In desperation, two days ago, I finally started wearing my hearing aids, but it's still quite difficult. I think my brain is just not used to processing sounds in this way. I constantly get syllables mixed up and mispronounce things in ways that produce entirely different meanings than what I intend. The weirdest part of this phenomena is that my mouth often makes different sounds than the ones my brain and my ears think it's making, as I find out when I am constantly corrected.