November 2002 Archives

Let's eat less...or not

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Semi-related to my recent discussion about taking too many (prescription) drugs as we get older, I read this on Reuters today:

"Studies in yeast, rodents and other organisms have found that drastically cutting calories extends life span, and researchers are striving to find out how that happens. The hope is that human drugs may be developed to mimic that effect, without having to eat less."

As a Tod laughed "In other news, scientists are busy researching how to spend even more money after you've used up all the money you had before."

Sure I am not the only one who thinks this is insane...

Tuning into something


Yesterday, MJ & I were discussing earthquake preparedness and our lack thereof; neither of us has quite the recommended supplies on hand. Today Jon Watts, who I know from the FCCJ, has an article in the Guardian about that exact topic.

Two days ago, Tod & I were discussing the medication that seems to pile on as you age. I, for one, would like to avoid that. One thing I absolutely won't take are post-menopausal hormones. What turns up today? An article on CNN citing a new study about hormone replacement therapy.

This evening, when asked what I'd like for dessert, I answered cheesecake sadly certain that there isn't much cheesecake in our neghborhood. But a trip to the conbini turned up slices of "New York Cheesecake" in the fridge case, and also cheesecake flavored Collon!

So I must be tuned into the cosmic something or other. My mind is catching the waves of the newswriters and marketing copywriters around me.; somehow I sense what's about to be published or become a trand. If that's the case, I'm looking forward to root beer and to pierogies real soon.

Night Walk with MJ

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MJ mailed me these snapshots as she took them with her cell phone.



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Holy cow, it's Thanksgiving in the US. I forgot until a friend e-mailed me a happy thanksgiving message this morning.

Today at the gym, MJ was noting that there are no food-based holidays in Japan. Some of the holidays have special foods, but there are no gorge-yourself family banquets. Even the most elaborate holiday food in Japan--New Year's osechi--is pretty minimal and even healthy!

Tonight we're having take-away bento for dinner. Tod's on a deadline and I'm not inclined to cook.

Three discouraging comments


"At least you know you're cranky," my mother-in-law said to me this morning. This came up because I'd said that my family was full of long-lived and cranky women as I related the news of my grandmother, 88, who is just now having to abandon independent living for a more assisted situation. She fell down last week in her apartment and couldn't get back up. She was mostly uninjured, but spent an uncomfortable and frightening night on the floor.

Why is being cranky discouraging? Because my mother-in-law only seems to remember my state of mind 10 or 12 years ago when I was constantly cranky. She doesn't know me now that I'm usually pretty happy, if a bit curmudgeonly. I suspect that as far as she's concerned, I'll never shake that 20-something angst.

"It's a universal law that wives are sickly," was Tod's first discouraging comment of the day. That was in regard to my migraines, which made me succumb to a nap yesterday and to sleep until noon today. Blech. A colleague of his had to leave work early to drive his wife home from the hospital yesterday, so I guess all us wives are a poorly bunch.

That's discouraging because I do my best to not let it get in the way, but it does and I'm classified as 'sickly.' I try not to complain too much. Probably nobody but me knows that I've had a migraine of varying intensity for the past ten days.

Tod weighed in with the third discouraging comment of the day, "Don't take this personally, but journalists never get things right." That was in regard to an article I had drafted for the Perot newsletter about a project he's working on. I'd interviewed him over dinner last night and instead of taking notes, I was eating a salad as we talked. I didn't get the name of one component quite right and I failed to grasp exactly how his XML DTDs fit into the project.

It calls into question all the other articles I've written lately and that's discouraging. What did I get wrong that I couldn't fact check? Ah, well, it's OK; I got even with him by including his photo in the newsletter.

Bad things come in threes, right? Maybe today's three discouraging comments mean that tomorrow will be discouragement free. I can only hope.

Cold night, warm nabe


Last night was one of those chilly, wet November nights that required chill-chasing, warm foods.

We had ours in the form of kimchee nabe and zousui. Nabe (nah-bay) is Japanese for cooking pot. But it also means a soup or stew cooked tableside. Not only is the food delicious, but the heat of the portable gas burner is cozy, too.

Our kimchee nabe had spicy Korean kimchee, slices of pork, carrot & onion plus shiitake and enoki mushrooms and plenty of hakusai (Chinese cabbage). When the hakusai turns translucent, it's ready to eat. We spooned the broth and bits into our little serving bowls, using our chopsticks to eat the meat and veg and slurping the broth directly from the bowl. taking more as we ate.

After we'd finished all of the morsels, we made zousui (zoe-swee), a rice porridge, with the remainder of the broth, plus some bean sprouts, greens and rice. It cooked for about 7 minutes until the rice had absorbed most of the broth, then we turned off the heat and added whisked egg to firm up the porridge. The rice is hot enough to cook the egg and even though I don't like eggs, I have to admit zousui's not the same without them.

By the time we finished our meal, we were toasty and content. Made it hard to do work after dinner and I didn't even attempt to fold the laundry. I really ought to go do that now.

Japanese Mark Twain

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I had a bunch of things to write about here today, but then Tod pointed me at this essay on quitting smoking by Kenji Tsuchiya, a member of the philosophy faculty at Ochanomizu University. It's so funny!

I don't smoke; Tod does. We were both in hysterics reading this. It's in English, translated from the Japanese. There are a couple of grammatical errors, but not enough to be distracting. Kenji is a funny guy. If you like this, I can recommend his other essays, including Did You Know the Origin of Christmas Pudding?.

Here's an excerpt from the Christmas Pudding essay that Tod & I absolutely related to and laughed over:

"Imagine someone is talking to you at the University. Even in a light chat, it is important, in order to promote friendship between Britain and Japan, to carry on the conversation without it being discovered that you don't understand what he says. Suppose you pick up just the words, "How long ?". Success is almost yours, with this small clue. You can easily infer by the direction of his eyes that he is not asking how long the corridor is. You can also infer that he is not asking how long one million miles divided by thirty nine thousand feet is, or how long the Onin-War in ancient Japan continued, using common sense that one usually does not ask such questions in the first part of coversation. By the process of elimination, you reach the conclusion that he is asking either how long you have been in Cambridge or how long you are going to stay in Cambridge. The rest is easy. You can give an answer which fits both of these questions, such as "I came here last September and shall be staying until next June"."

If you bellylaugh while reading this, you've probably lived in a country where you didn't speak the language very well.

Budget constraints

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After discussing the prospect with Tod and sketching some designs, I went to Akihabara yesterday evening to look for parts. Two of the main components I need are 24,000 yen and 12,000 yen each--and I need them x 5. I could probably order one of the components online for considerably less than I found in in Akiba, but the other seems to be about 24,000 yen ($200) no matter where I look.

So not including the structural elements, wiring infrastructure, power supplies or tools to put this all together, I'm looking at a project that's going to run upwards of 180,000 yen. Add in the rest and it's going to be well over 200,000 yen (about $1600). For a project that is art, with no commercial potential, I'm not ready to invest 200,000 yen. That's almost half of a new dual-processor G4.

Maybe I'll have an unexpected windfall. Or I could try writing a grant to pay for this. I'll put "investigate grant options" right after "finish novel" on the old To Do list.

Too many projects

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As year's end approaches, I am to getting a bit antsy (or is that ANSI?) because my "partially completed" project list is looking almost more impressive than my "completed" list.

In progress: 25,000 words of a novel, the video project, a few sections of, a couple of collaborative projects and all the usual ongoing things that actually earn me money. The money-making projects will very soon reach the completed list.

As for the rest...they weigh on my mind. What to do first? Capture those remaining video clips and start editings? Pick up the novel again? Get cracking on the holiday cards?

Nah, I think I'll start another project. An idea that came out of my novel, actually, for some wearable technology. If I can get this done in the next couple of weeks, I will debut it at the round of holiday parties this year. :-)

Shopping guides


Argh, I really hate online tools that claim to help you shop for gifts. "Pick the perfect present!" "Take the worry out of gift giving." Buy bullshit gifts for people you don't know well enough to shop for.

If you don't know what to get someone, it's probably because they are not in the category of friend, family or social circle that needs a gift. You'd be better off not buying them anything at all.

If you want to amuse yourself, go see what these tools suggest for you. Plug in your own age/status/style, and see what they suggest. I've noted their ridiculous suggestions for me after each.

CNN Holiday Shopping (fluffy slippers or diamond earrings)
Amazon Gift Wizard (martini shaker set)
Yahoo Gift Center (Zagat Restaurant expansion card for Palm Pilot)
Epicurious (martini gift set)
MySimon (Glamourous by Ralph Lauren)
Home Shopping Network Holiday Gift Guide (10 silverplate picture frames) Holiday Gift Guide (suspended fireplace)
Sharper Image Guift Guides (corkscrew/foil cutter set)
Neiman Marcus (Burberry novacheck serape)

Cause and effect


Yesterday, I posted a peevish, anti-US policy rant on a webboard I belong to. It was part of a longer thread on the Homeland Security Act and I was one of the dissenting voices. I'm sure very few people there read it; certainly noone replied.

It was one of the first times I've dissed the US government in a public forum, though if you see me face-to-face you probably already know how I feel about the current administration, the apathy of US citizens to the erosion of their privacy and freedoms, the cringing horror I feel when I think about someday returning, etc.

But in terms of what I can do to change things, I'd say "not too much." Run for office? Write letters to the editor? Be the editor? Spread dissent though my weblog? Ha. I wish I had the cunning.

Why is it just a tiny bit unnerving, then, that 15 hours after I posted my little rant, a good friend in the States was approached by an FBI agent? They went to lunch together. The agent said she was actually hoping to have lunch with one of my friend's colleagues who wasn't in. And she assured him that she's not investigating him yet (said with a grin and a wink).

But in the words of another friend, "Dude, the 'not yet' ploy is literally right out of the handbook, as is the 'I was looking for so-and-so, but...' gambit."

Food for conspiracy theory thoughts, I guess.

Wall to where?


This is a wall with a boarded up entrance to something.

The mysterious wall is about 20 meters away and at an angle to the support wall of the Korakuen (Marunouchi line) train station off the image to the left. It seems to be a retaining wall for the park above, but what's inside the arch? There are stairs leading down the hillside from the park to the now-weedy area that was once a garden, judging from the plants running wild down there.

My best guess about this is that before Tokyo Dome was built in 1988, back when this area had a different stadium dating from 1952, this was part of that complex. Maybe it was the entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame, or a pedestrian walkway from somewhere... but the Marunouchi line opened in 1959 and the train station would have been in the way then, too, woudn't it?

Mouse music

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I had drifted off while reading, taking a nap because I'm feeling not 100% today, when I realised I was hearing music. Had I left the stereo on? No. Was the neighbor playing their good jazz music (their living room is one thin wall away from our bedroom)? No...

This was the Mickey Mouse Club theme song, tinkled out in loud, electronic tones. As I identified it, it morphed into the "yaki imo" truck's traditional Japanese wail. The sweet potato truck drove slowly through the neighborhood and I didn't hear any more mouse music.

I know our potato vendor doesn't deviate from his usual tape loop. Where was the other music coming from?

Ho Ho Ho

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I'm a secret santa!

Annotated office



Following the chain from Arsenic, I'm giving a tour of my office this morning.

1. The equipment rack. Topped by an unused PowerMac 7300, the docking station for Tod's laptop, speakers and some CD blanks. I'd rather have some plants here...

2. The partially broken fax machine and the working printer. Below you can see a hint of our server and my G4 tower.

3. My desk, complete with the ever-present green coffee cup. My LCD monitor sits on a cardboard box to prevent me from slouching too much. My chair sports a fleece throw to keep my legs warm.

4. The video camera. It's sitting there because I still haven't finished capturing the video I shot in September. I've got about 2 hours of tape to go.

5. The veranda. I have the blinds closed in an attempt to make the photo less glare-y. I love the veranda; it's an extension of the office. That's my treasured Royal Fan palm in the left hand corner.

6. The tea station. In the afternoons, when I've finished the coffee, I make pots of tea with this hot water pot. My office is so narrow that it's within arm's reach. Very convenient but I have to be careful when I water the philodendron as it has a tendency to leak all over the tea station.

7. Art supplies. Neatly packed in tin and aluminum boxes, I have paper, paints, brushes and printing supplies. I hardly ever use them anymore, though the small red and black canvas on top of this rack is my summer painting project. I think I will paint over it for winter.

8. The Zous. They are sitting on my credenza where they like to kibitz while I work. They have not yet solved the IE 6 alignment problem, but maybe I'll set them to work on it today. Sama says he'd rather go to the zoo...

Ika meshi

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"Whole squids are kinda squicky," says Tod after we attended a fish cooking class at A Taste of Culture.

We started with very fresh whole squid, cleaned them, stuffed them with their own legs and some rice, then simmered them for an hour. They turned a lovely red color and softened into the most delicious, chewy treat.

But cleaning squid is not for the squeamish. Today's class wasn't too much of a problem for me, as I had ample practice when I worked in an Italian restaurant ten years ago. As lowest prep cook on the totem pole, I got to clean at least five jillion partially frozen, still defrosting squid for calamari.

But poor Tod got stuck with a rather large squid that was quite attached to its innards. The ink sac broke, the guts refused to drop out, the legs were recalcitrant--but he somehow managed to pull the cartilege quill out before the rest came free.

Elizabeth sent us home after class with our completed "ika meshi" squids plus a spare, uncooked squid, so tomorrow I'll make a spicy Indonesian squid sautee for dinner. Mmmmm.

Jumping Spider


jumpingspider.jpgThis little guy is my officemate. I call him Jumping Spider. Every morning he makes his way across the wall above my desk. He usually pauses around my monitor and I give him a cheery "good morning" then he's on his way again. I'm not sure what variety of spider he is, but he's fairly small and not very threatening. I like his little white legs.

brownspider.jpgBut this morning, we both noticed an interloper on our wall. Ms. Big Brown Spider . She's maybe not that much larger than Jumping Spider, but she's bulkier. Jumping Spider ran in her direction and she retreated, but after JS turned away, Ms. Big took a second look. For a moment, I thought there might be a fight, but eventually they headed off in opposite directions.

I think these are both Hasarius adansoni (Adanson's House Jumper Spider) of opposite sexes. These "house jumpers" eat mosquitos so I hope they stick around a while.

Japan has some amazing spiders. These little guys aren't too impressive, but check out Common Spiders in Japan to see a gallery of spiders with good photos.

Fresh slippers


silverlining.jpgI have a distinct fondness for slippers with weird sayings on them so when I saw this pair at the "My Chamy" convenience store down the street, I had to have them.

Please don't think I'm the Imelda of slippers, really my collection is pretty small and they all are all replacements for old, worn out slippers. So far I've had:

Planet Well-known
The Tree-lined Avenue
Every cloud has a silver lining

Wonder what I'll find next season?

Mystery house


mysteryhouse.jpgWe found this arial view of our neighborhood on a flyer promoting an apartment building currently under construction.

That's our building, the orangish one in the lower right hand corner. 5 floors with 4 or 5 apartments per floor. Not a huge place, but not small, either.

The building marked with a big yellow question mark, surrounded by its own forested park, is a mystery. It seems way too big to be a private house but there is no sign outside except for a family name on a single mail drop in the wall.

Although there's a big entrance gate, we never see any traffic going in or out. Once in a while there is a car parked on the horseshoe drive. Maybe someday when I'm feeling extra brave, I'll stride up and knock on the door to find out what's up there.

Afternoon midnight

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Sun set at 4:36 this afternoon. By the time we reach December, the sun will disappear at 4:28. We may as well live at the North Pole.

Every year at about this time, I'm suddenly surprised by the short days. I know it's nearly winter and I should expect it, but come on--4:28? There's still too much to do for the day to be over. Maybe it's because I'm a morning person, but after the sun sets my activities slow to a relaxed halt.

Still, we have it better than Chicago, where things got dark at 4:33 today, or London, where people were turning on lights after 4:16.

If you want to see what time the sun sets today, go to Time And and type your city's name in the Search box. They also have a nifty countdown that tell you how long until a date. It's 1234 days until my 40th birthday!

New look (again)


After MJ & I discovered how to make SSI work, I had incentive to update design of again. Now the most recent work and other blogs are listed on the index page and all of the subsections are more clearly tied into the site.

I like it but websites are never finished and no doubt there will be more improvements in the not-so-far future. Right after I get some of my paying work done!

Winter chill-chasers

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The past week has been an early blast of winter--chilly wind, even a hint of snow in the air, though none's actually fallen. Everyone is predicting a cold one this year.

On the streets, the fashionable are wearing velvet blazers or light jackets and have wrapped incongruously thick and bulky scarves around their necks. I see this every winter and I wonder if there is a Japanese superstition about keeping your neck well bundled.

I don't have a scarf, but today I dug out my fuzzy slippers and tossed my lap blanket over my legs as I sat in the office. My fingers are chilly, but I'm not willing to turn on the heat so early in the season. After all, it's still 14 degrees (57F), hardly icy by anyone's standards.

The sun is setting now. Tonight I'll warm myself with some oden or maybe just lots of nice, steamy tea.

Holiday horrors

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mj-godzilla.jpgWhy does MJ look so horrified? Is it the giant glowing Godzilla towering over her in Shinjuku?

Or is it because it's only early November and stores around Tokyo are already putting up lavish, illuminated decorations for a holiday that isn't even recognised here?

Oh, wait. That's what horrifies me. MJ's probably just scared of Godzilla.

I hate commercial holidays. They aren't fun to participate in whether they are Western or Japanese. Bah, humbug.

Japan's economic bubble may have broken a decade ago, but holiday frenzy seems to have expanded as shops try to get people to spend their money. More holiday decorations put up earlier, more hype in the press, more promotional campaigns around Western holidays. Christmas Eve is date night when women hope for expensive showpiece jewelry from their partners. For Valentine's Day, women give chocolates; on March 14th, White Day, men distribute gifts to women. Mother's Day is all about pink carnations.

Japan has its own gift-giving traditions that are not linked to holidays. At the end of the year, you send gifts to people who did you a good turn--clients, friends, relatives. They may respond in kind with a gift of equal value. This is echoed with summer gifts, as well. For weddings, guests give money in specific denominations and the couple buys gifts for all their guests. For funerals, mourners receive a gift--often bath towels--in regard for their donations to the deceased's family.

Japan's official national holidays are so low key most people don't seem remember why we have the day off. Monday was Culture Day. There are no Culture Day decorations or presents. Later this month we celebrate Labor Thanksgiving Day. No big meals, no Labor Thanksgiving Day carols (that I know about, anyway), no rush to buy gifts.

I like making my own traditions as I please, so these holidays suit me just fine.

A wallet

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When the season changes, I fall into confusion about where to put my coins and bills. In the summer, they go into the zippered inner pocket of my purse. In the winter, I shove them into my coat pocket. But when the weather is variable, I don't have a consistent place to put things. So I cram my money in wherever and I end up losing it or fumbling around at cash registers.

So today I bought a wallet. I haven't owned a wallet in years and years. This one is a lovely dark red, vegetable tanned Italian leather with a nifty metal snap. It has space for bills, a zippered coin bit and lots of slots for the myriad point cards, train passes and ID I carry around with me. Pretty much everything you need in a wallet.

When I dug my money out of the three pockets it was in, I ended up with a huge handful of coins--2105 yen in 30 coins--plus the 8,000 yen I discoverd this morning in the pocket of my winter coat. I also unearthed from the same coat pocket the 20 pound note I *knew* I had but couldn't find before we went to Ireland via London last month. Well, now I have it for next time.

A cosy blanket

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This afternoon Mizuno-sensei noticed I was chilly while he was shiatsu-ing me so he pulled out a spare blanket and covered me up. What a gentle, cosy feeling I get when someone covers me with a blanket. Maybe Mom used to do that when I was a kid...

Do Sports!


I've never been one for machine-mediated fitness, but I joined a gym today and I'm actually excited about it. Do Sports Plaza is an impressive sports center--110 machines in the training gym, a swimming pool, three squash courts, plenty of fitness classes (hula and hip hop dance, tai chi, aerobics, etc) plus lots of free amenities like towels and shampoo. All for under 6,000 yen a month.

Best of all, my partner in crime (MJ, not Tod) is in this with me. We've vowed to go three times a week and because our training coach is so cute, I'm sure we will. After today's first workout, I already feel better. My body *wants* to be fit if I'll give it a chance.

So watch out. We'll be looking good in hot little skirts and tall boots before winter's over. And we'll be fleet of foot and harder to catch. ;-)

Weird products

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November must be a time to launch strange products. Here are two products that hit the market on Friday.

meniwan2.gifCorrective eyewear for pets. Menicon introduced contact lenses for dogs & cats. What I want to know is how do you get the cat to sit still while you put them in?

A cigarette called Peace Acoustic. The Peace brand debuted in 1920 to celebrate the end of WWI. The latest addition to the family has 20 mg less tar than the original and a vanilla aftertaste. But why is it called Acoustic? Maybe it makes an interesting noise when you draw on it.

Movie fest

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Trying to stay away from teh computer is a challenge for us. We spent our weekend trying to stay out of the office. Except for a three hour stint playing Bookworm (Tod kibbitzed and I did the typing), we did pretty well.

One way we passed the time was by watching endless movies: Monsters, Inc.; Rated X (called King of Porno in Japanese); Girl, Interrupted; Rear Window; A.I.

I really liked Rated X. Emilio Estevez directed this film about the Mitchell brothers, two entrepreneurial pornographic filmmakers. There was plenty of nudity & sex (always a plus) but the story focused on the relationship between the brothers. I loved the way the film incorporated porno cuts (bad edits), weird continuity and the canted and rotating camerawork that you sometimes see in porn films. Rated X is set over 30 years from the early 60s to the early 90s and the period sets and costumes were impressively acurate in detail.

The worst film of the bunch was A.I. Man, it was bizarre. Spielberg and Kubrick collaborated on this project for decades and it looks like they kept making concessions to one another. "OK, Stanley, you can keep your signature toilet scene but I have to have a cute, animated talking toy." The acting was choppy and sometimes unmotivated and the film would have been better off ending about 20 minutes before it did.

So the movies kept us off the computer most of the time, but we ended up checking IMDB after every one. I love reading the goofs and trivia...

Culture Day

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I'm not sure what people are supposed to do on Culture Day. Go to museums, maybe.

We went to a seaside park, had a chilly picnic lunch and wandered around the embankment enjoying the breeze and the sunset. After dark, we abandoned our plan to ride the ferris wheel (an hour is entirely too long to wait for an amusement ride) and went to the arcade instead.

busgame.jpgTod tried his hand (but not both) at driving a city bus. He managed to pick up a few passengers before his time ran out but he wouldn't cut it as a Toei Bus driver. I tried the game, but kept crashing and driving in the wrong lane. Just like real life...

I did much better when I played a "walk the dog" simulation. I walked on a treadmill and held a leash while watching the antics of a video dog. The dog loved it when I ran with him. So did the people who were watching me. I was tired by the time we got to the "pet store."

So our culture day celebrated pop culture. As Tod jokes, let's get some petri dishes...

Dangerous game


It's fun and addicting. Bookworm is a solitaire word game using Scrabble tiles--like Boggle but not as noisy. :-)

It's very hard to stop playing. Good thing this is a long weekend.



handinjury.jpgTod & I have just returned from a trip to our local ER. He gashed his hand while washing (and breaking) a glass before coming to bed. The cut wasn't horrible, but it was deep and bloody enough to require more than our home first aid kit to handle.

So I got dressed, we bundled into a taxi, explained our predicament and ended up at a nearby hospital which was quite challenging to enter. l'm glad this wasn't a serious emergency. All the gates were closed and when we followed the ambulance route, the entrance doors were closed there, too! A side door with a buzzer brought a guard who led us into a hall with a bank-teller window where a nurse and an orderly summoned the doctor on call.

It was the quietest emergency room I've ever seen. Everyone who needed to deal with us, from the doctor to the clerk who took our money, had to be summoned specially. The pharmacist got a wake-up call to get us antibiotics.

Now it's time for us to go to bed!

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