Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The new blog has landed!

Time for a new blog?

Is it time to blog again? I stopped Emsk in the East somewhat abruptly rather than officially closing it down. But judging by the stats folk do still look, plus a couple of people I know have actually confessed to finding it. So perhaps for 2011 I will think about Emsk in the West, although it doesn't have the same ring to it.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Atarashii website - that's new website to you and me!

A flyer for my first exhibition - in Japan!

I recently discovered a bunch in London who run an art group for European and Japanese artists. It looked like a good thing, so I joined. Consequently, I have a new website and there's a Japanese translation:

There's going to be an exhibition in London soon organised by this group which I'll be taking part in, which is very exciting. I'm also having a small show at a local cafe where I hope to seel a few bits and bobs, plus there's a other possibility in London as well as another artist group to enquire about joining.

It's all go and trying to live by your art like means a lot of go. I've got quite a bit of time coming up with no work - the recession is biting into the Business English market. This is a pain money-wise, but a great opportunity to sit down and get my business into shape.

Meanwhile here's another website that I set up recently. It was easy peasy Japanesy to set up as it was a ready made template, especially for artists - all I had to do was upload.

I'd recommend these folk out as they run a very professional service, plus there's tons additional information for artists on the site itself such as competitions and job opportunities, as well as business advice. I've already persuaded my friend to have a website hosted there. Which was great, because last week some critter tried to scam a lot of artists by sending out an email saying he was looking for paintings for his new apartment and asking about the possibility of sending a banker's draft (which would've bounced!) to pay for work! Luckily the site owners are wise to that kind of thing and emailed us. Check them out if you're looking for a decent website:

Any business advice appreciated! (And thank you in advance if you're a billionaire hotelier looking for some colourful new paintings for your premises.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Other places I've been, part two

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Paxos is an island in the Ionian Sea, just south of Corfu and within easy viewing of the Greek mainland. If you look at the map you'll see a long island snaking alongside the Greek coast. That's Corfu. To the south are the much smaller islands of Paxos and Antipaxos. I'm trying to include a link for you to view Paxos in relation to Italy, but each time I link it seems to cancel the other photo out. Perhaps when I publish it the link will allow you to pan out a bit.

It was apparently a port of call in the Oddysey and the plentiful olive trees once supplied oil for the lamps of Venice. Paxos is a small island with no airport and it's where my friend Fiona has been living with her husband and their daughter for almost ten years and where they run their businesses. Like myself Fiona is an artist, and she's lucky to run a shop/gallery where she can showcase her work. Hubbie Bartolo, meanwhile, runs Caffe Italiano, the best cafe in the world (with the exception of the one I'm going to start in Japan one day!).

Above and below are some scenes of my friends' places of work. Fiona's shop Pythia is an ode to colour as you can see. This is Pythia a few years back. Each year they redecorate in time for the new season since the Mediterranean winter plays havoc with the paintwork. Pythia is a wonderful place to spent time, always colourful and smelling of incense. It's especially pleasant on a balmy Med evening when tourists are flip-flopping around town. Town is perhaps too generous a term - Gaios is the 'capital' of Paxos, but it's a tiny village, of course.

Caffe Italiano, meanwhile, is the natural port of call for all the Italian visitors to get great coffee, plus where young Tallies, who turn up on an overnight ferry from Italy without having booked anywhere to stay during the Ferragosto*, come grizzling when they find out everywhere's booked. Luckily Uncle Bart often knows someone who can help.

Boh, that's the wrong Caffe Italiano!

Ah, ecco lo, with a few Scots littering the place. (I'd bar that one with the tattoo, mind.)

But I'll let Bart tell you himself:

Paxos seems to attact older Brits and all types of Italian visitors as well as Greek tourists. Unlike many Greek islands it's not for a nightclubbing crowd. While it's sparsely populated during the winter, like most Mediterranean islands, the population explodes during summer. The island could sink under the weight of Italian during the Ferragosto and there are always huge yachts to be spotted in the harbour. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I've spent some of the best times of my life here, the combination of the beautiful scenery plus friends and new friends.

This scenic view was taken from a hilltop next to the small town of Loggos. Impossible to see properly - just to the right of the white yacht - but Spiro's bar is a regular watering hole. It's a romantic spot after dark as you sit outside loking at the stars and harbour curling round like a croissant.

I love islands and being cut-off from the mainland, whether it's mainland Europe, Greece or Japan. Of course, being somewhere like Paxos or Miyajima is a different story from being on marooned on an island nation. There's something about getting on a boat to reach a destination that appeals to the imagination. And of course, it can make for a feeling of isloation too.

Too much time has passed since I set foot on Paxos. Maybe this year I'll go back.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I can at least thank the wankers who woke me up at 2 in the morning...

... for being the means by which I saw this.

Next time perhaps you could be a little quieter when doing (the) business outside my flat on a Bank Holiday weekend!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Spit it out!

Coming from a culture which values ambiguity and politeness in language, it's noticeable and when another islander doesn't play by the rules. A few years ago I presented a friend who'd set up a website for me (no longer functioning) with a stained glass panel I'd made based on a photo of her from our punk days as a thank you. "Hmmm, it's alright," she said, totally oblivious to the amount of work I'd put into it, "but look! That bit hasn't come out very well," she added, pointing out a bit where the paint was fainter. When I mentioned that I'd be happy to give it to her, she brusquely said that she didn't want such a gift as she'd have no use for it. Although I would find such a comment rude whoever made it, I would tend to be a little more forgiving if it had been, say, an Italian friend rather than another Brit. It would've been far more socially acceptable if she'd refused it by saying I should try and sell it, seeing as art was my livelihood. The meta-message would have been received loud and clear - maybe she wasn't too keen on having a stained glass picture of herself or couldn't think of anywhere to put it, but she didn't want to be rude.

This person has a history of pissing off friends which has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with rudeness and not bloody thinking. True to say, much communication in the U.K. relies on not telling it how it is and expecting the other person to 'get it', and most of the time it tends to work. When I was in Japan I began to see a number of similarities between Us and Them, and this ambiguity in language and negative politeness was touched on this week while I was out some students on a social event. A Swiss German gentleman was laughing because earlier he'd learnt the phrase I was wondering if you'd mind...? "But why would I be wondering?" he asked. Meanwhile, the German guy complained quite vehemently when his beer arrived, saying that it wasn't in the right type of glass, while the red-faced Turkish and Japanese students kept quiet.

Another German's experience shows different communication styles. While on his way to his English course in London from Frankfurt, he heard his name called over the tannoy while he was browsing in a bookshop. "Herr Muller, please go to gate 67 immediately! You are holding up the plane!" It's a bit too direct for the British palate, not least because everyone will be looking and pointing at Herr Muller when he finally boards. I can imagine an airline worker saying, Would Mr. Muller please go to gate 67 immediately as your plane is getting ready to board, leaving Mr. Miller in no doubt that he's putting the captain and crew out.

British English owes a large debt to the German language and plenty of people here can claim Saxon heritage. Having grown up speaking with a Scottish accent, I always found German pronunciation quite easy. But that little bit of water cutting off us from mainland Europe has a lot to answer for when it comes to plain speaking!

Here's a story that involves my mum, two younger sisters and a friend of my mum's. This friend worked in merchandising and counted members of the British rock firmament as nodding acquaintances, though he probably embellished this a touch. Andy did however occasionally manage to get my sisters and I onto various gig guest lists. One such 'gig' was an eclipse party held at the country pile of a member of a huge rock British band. The members of this band are all very bright, university-educated men who would've had no trouble finding useful employment if their band hadn't struck oil in the mid-seventies. Indeed, this was the second time my mum had rubbed shoulders with the owner of the country pile, as he and the band's late singer used to run a stall at the now-defunkt Kensington Market in London (not to be confused with the Australian one) where she also worked, and she remembers a couple of pleasant young men who would always smile and say hello when they saw her.

This particular eclipse was visible from Devon and Cornwall, Cornwall being the big toe of England. Rock Star had not only invited all of his friends to stay, but allowed them to bring their friends too, who were invited to camp in his garden. Sadly the English weather had its way. The day before was glorious, but on the morning itself the clouds rolled in from the Atlantic and the eclipse was shrouded in green light. I viewed it from a hill top in Cornwall and it was nonetheless fantastic. Meanwhile my mum and co also had a great few days. There was a party, plus a talk on the eclipse phenomenom given by another member of this rock band, who'd majored in astrophysics at uni.

Rock Star had asked everyone camping in the grounds to leave by 3pm the day after the eclipse and was there to see them off. And he was as polite as ever. "Thank you for coming," he smiled. "Do come again." A few miles down the road, my little sister speculated how uncomfortable this man would feel if the four of them were to show up some three weeks later, laden with overnight bags. "Hi! We were just passing, and we remembered you said pop in."

My students, having learnt a fair amount of social English on their courses, realised that Rock Star had really meant to say I'm really glad you had a good time and it was no trouble having you camp here for a few days while all my real friends were here, but I don't expect we'll meet each other under the same circumstances again. And although indirectness can make for better social relations it can be a killer in business, which is why we teach foreign business people what they might hear when doing business with the Brits. By far the biggest complaint I hear on this subject is from Germans, who are constantly frustrated when they attempt business in the Far East. Japanese students, meanwhile, have reported feeling bulldozed when meeting Germans.

A question I asked Japanese and German students highlighted their feelings about direct versus indirect communication. I asked the Japanese ones to imagine seeing their best friend on the way to a big first date with someone they'd liked for a long time. What would they do if that friend was wearing an outfit that did nothing for them at all, or worse. Predictably they said they'd say nothing, some of them adding that it would be cruel to ruin their friend's evening by pointing out how awful they looked, although if they'd met with him or her beforehand they might guide them into picking the most flattering outfit. On the other hand the German student was amazed that anyone let their friend go on a date if he or she looked ridiculous. She would stop her friend, tell her she thought the outfit did absolutely nothing for her and get her to call the date and ask them to wait in a cafe for an extra twenty minutes while she took her friend shopping. To her, not being direct with her friend was being a bad friend. I can value the German woman's approach. Here directness went hand-in-hand with wanting the best for her friend, even if she was seeing the situation through her own yes, i.e., what she thought constituted a flattering outfit. But doing it is another matter.

The trouble is when you use ambiguity in language you set a precedent for others not to know where you're coming from and for insult to be taken when none was implied. I really should've told my friend that I wanted to give her the stained glass panel as a thank you for the work she'd done for me, but would understand if she'd prefer me to make her something else, leaving her to tell me what she'd like. It would've saved some hurt pride and allowed me to 'hear' the answer that I wanted and deal appropriately with any perceived negativity.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Black ships

Judging by many people's comments, in blogs or in person, many Japanese are still unsure how to interract with 'foreigners'. Some friends and blog-friends report being followed round supermarkets, cornered for English lessons - in my case I was once cornered for a boyfriend - or laughed and pointed at. While the last two on the list are unpleasant, I'm happy to say if it ever did happen to me, I didn't notice.

Far more common was being viewed as a silly foreigner, verbally stumbling from pillar to post with my crap Japanese. Although in actual fact, I was usually praised for my crap Japanese. When I asked a lady in the lift to press the button for the 9th floor in a department store, she went into raptures. Ohhh, nihongo wa jozu desu - your Japanese is good! Or an occasional performing seal, part of my job anyway. But the vast majority of times people I spoke to were simply interested in meeting me and were perfectly pleasant, if sometimes awkward about it.

You'd think in that case, Japanese people who ask questions beyond the how-old-are-yous and do-you-have-a-boyfriends would be applauded. Someone, say, like an old lady sitting next to you on the bus who starts a natural conversation with you. But it appears such a person needs to be reined-in to a greater extent than the offending gaijin, and by none other than a kitten-heeled Tokyoite young enough to be her grand-daughter.

Part of our job at The Company was to go to local universities and hand out flyers. The foreign teachers, i.e., the Ferret and I, though thankfully not together, would be accompanied by the assistant manager who would set up a tressel table for the FT to sit behind while she handed out leaflets and beseeched students to come and talk to the 'foreign teacher'. I would sit there bored while students sailed by, too scared to chat to the performing gaijin seal, although I did have a nice chat with a handsome young man who was an AC/DC fan one time (who else?). The idea was that young people would sign up to come to our eikawa, meaning more money for the school, of course, and we'd have a list of questions that it was kosher to ask prospective students as well as leaflets to give their parents extolling the benefit of regular English lessons. After an hour we'd pack up the tables with prospective sign-ups under our belts and return to the school.

The journey to the college or univesity was either by monorail or bus. And it was on such a trip that I had one of the few by-chance conversations with a Japanese person; that is, someone who was clearly aware that I was a foreigner, but didn't treat me like a freak. New boy Jay, my replacement - who quit after two months because the atmosphere at work sucked - was accompanying me as was the new assistant manager, a mousy type who, despite being excellent at English, has rarely left Japan. I was sitting in front of the two of them and was showing Jay some photos, which included some children from my family. As they were handed back to me an old lady sitting beside me leant over, and this is where our conversation started. In Japanese, of course:

OL Are those your children? They're sweet!
Me No, that's my sister's little boy and those are my dad's children.
OL looks surprised when I mentioned my dad's children.
Me My dad has a young wife.
OL Oh, I see. Interesting.

By now I'd handed her the photos as she was clearly interested in the kids.

OL Do they live in Japan?
Me Oh no, they live in London.
OL And are you from London?
Me Yes, but I've been in Japan for 18 months.
OL Do you live here?
Me Yes, but I'm going home next week. Sorry, I don't speak Japanese very well.
OL No, you speak very well.
Me Thank you very much.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning round I saw AM, bright red, grimacing and nearly in tears. What are you doing? she demanded. Well, chatting to this lady, I replied. But you're showing her your photos! Why are you doing that? Did you just start talking to her? AM went ito a spasm, apologising to the poor old lady who simply fancied a chat. Explaining to the annoying and controlling young woman that she was making a fool out of all three of us fell on deaf, but still very embarrassed, ears.

Why did she do that? And is this normal behaviour? I wonder how much of the national psyche is still bound up with sakoku and sees foreigners as evil black ships. For those who don't know, Japan closed itself to the outside world for three hundred years from the sixteenth century until the 1850's. This period was known as sakoku. This period, though isolating, was long enough to allow Japan to develop a completely unique culture and, admirably, it managed to hold off foreign invasion, physical and spiritual. In 1854 when the Americans sailed into Tokyo Bay in four black ships, the kuro fune, and demanded that the country open up as a stepping stone to China, it must've been a scary day. Of course, the great majority of Japanese people think this was a great thing in retrospect and are keen to travel abroad and meet foreigners. Though I can't help but think that some of the attitudes prevalent during sakoku are still lurking, if not the methods of punishment meted out to unexpected foreigners who strayed onto their shore, taught the Japanese language or fraternised with foreigners (death!). This old lady and I certainly felt the crack of the whip for striking up an acquaintance.

While I wasn't happy about the way AM treated me in this instance, I was far angrier with the way that she dealt with this sweet old lady who may never have met a foreigner before, and was patronised by someone who should've been showing her respect.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

For those about to rock... salute us!

Six summers ago, word got out that AC/DC would be doing a small gig at London's Heavy Metal Temple, Hammersmith Odeon, as a thank you to four thousand lucky fans. They'd already played a few dates supporting the Stones in Germany and at the SARS Benefit in Toronto. I can't help but wonder if Jagger etc stopped to consider the wisdom of this support act in a land that spawned the Scorpions, but then he probably thinks he knows best. I like to think that it took some effort for him to do the good sport act at the after-show party - Catrina, my former co-worker in Japan, tells me that after the last cannon popped its cork on For Those About To Rock, there was a small exodus from the park at the SARS show.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of tickets for the Hammy Odeon and it all turned into a two-day event. First of all a friend and I went to the see if we could blag into the soundcheck, only to find out that fifty others, mainly large German men, had had the same idea. Our group blag was successful and the road cew let us in on the understanding that we didn't bother them for autographs, etc. Next day I took new friend Smiler along as my guest. We had to queue to pay for our tickets that we'd reserved along with four thousand folk who looked like they'd booked the morning off work, or simply not turned up. There were two people drinking a bottle of Cava in the queue, and they answered to the names of Smiler and Emsk. At the show itself we gradually worked our way to the front of the balcony, where we had a great view. And after that we followed the large Germans, with whom we'd now struck up a friendship, who lead us Pied Piper style over the rope into the after-show party. In actual fact the party was simply after-hours drinking in the Hammy Odeon bar and the band were already back at the hotel in their pyjamas supping hot chocolate, but who cares?

A selection of large Germans - accessoried down to the last Acca Dacca belt buckle.

AC/DC at Hammersmith Odeon, October 2003

Sadly, times like these are once-in-a-lifetime. Acca Dacca are huge and have been more rock aeons, so Hammy Odeon gigs are a thing of the 80s. Nonetheless, coming to see them tonight at the O2 Dome in London's Docklands is still a thrill. I like the fact that they're predictable. There's no concept album or prog-rock extravaganza waiting in the wings. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke...

As usual, women are vastly outnumbered. Our little group is 3:1 male. I'm quite happy with that, partly 'cos it's the first time in gig history that the queue for the gents snakes all the way to the bar while the ladies is empty. There's also a large contingent of balding men with small boys which goes to show that the rock baton is being handed on. And hopefully some mums and dads have brought daughters as well.

Plenty of reviewers will tell you that AC/DC have ignored musical genres that have, apparently, been far more influential, i.e., important, like punk. Others will mention that they're a lads' band. ButI can't help but think that the guys you meet at their shows are a much nicer bunch of blokes than the pretentious wankers I used to meet at punk gigs. I'd also favour a pint with Brian and Angus (well, mine's a dry white wine actually) than the gruesome suburban - but so trying not to be - Siouxsie Sioux, a so-called pivotal Woman in Rock, but whose recent appearance in the BBC's Queens of British Rock made me cringe. Or the mega-talented Courtney Love, who I rate highly but find a little scary.

A review appeared in The Guardian, the U.K.'s equivalent of the New York Times, in which the reviewer, God bless him, sounds peeved that Acca Dacca missed their chance to make some kind of social comment against war on their track War Machine. But I thought the accompanying cartoon, played out on enormous screens depicting a cartoon bomber dropping a whole lotta red SG guitars, parachuting rock women plus a tank driven by the band themselves, was comment enough. Dearie me - who did you think you were seeing, The Clash? Then there was another article that appeared in the same paper, which is worth a read and is pretty funny though.

I dunno, all this analysis. Hell's Bells!

Here we are...

And here they are...