September 2013 Archives

Mandala Belly

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Heather invited me to paint a mandala on her pregnant belly. She's a mandala artist and I'm not, so it was a little bit stressful. I hoped I'd do OK. It turned out to be very fun and pretty thanks to the gorgeous array of body paints that Tracey gave me for my birthday. The baby was very kicky while I was trying to draw smooth lines, so I think he enjoyed it, too.

Heather and "Tobi" and the mandala I painted on them.

I sat a cereal bowl over Heather's bump and outlined it with black to create the circle, then did everything else freehand. It is very rustic.

There is all sorts of symbolism here, some of which I intended and other things that happened as I went along. Some I didn't notice until I was finished and looking at the photos. Together we decided on 12 divisions like a clock. Pregnancy is definitely about time and in a few weeks, a new person's timeline will begin. There are a dozen purple petals surrounding the belly button and twelve stupa pointing inward from the main circle. I made the center piece with seven radials for protection and the shape turned out to look like a starfish, which symbolises safe journeys and divine love. There are 45 golden coins as an offering of wealth and abundance. There are nine gold dots for strength and harmony and nine blue dots for meditation and calm. The paisley bits on the outside symbolise lifecycles from planting to harvest. I arranged them in a vaguely symmetrical form of an eye for foresight and vision.

Us all being silly later on in the day.

20 Challenges of Offline Life

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Recently I've been frustrated with myself for spending too much time online, in front of screens, and otherwise engaged in virtual realities. I've given Facebook a little rest but it's not enough. I still spend too much time online.

When I am offline I am so super productive. It's sort of scary how much I can do if I am not attached to the computer. Between increased productivity as a positive motivator and escaping all the digital spying as a negative one, I had to wonder what my life would be like if I stopped being online.

So in my usual way, I thought about it and took some notes. Then I talked the idea over with a couple of people and took their observations on board. Dropping off the Internet certainly would make life more challenging. Here are my Top Twenty Things That Would Change In My Internet Free Life:

  1. Encyclopaedic knowledge This is the obvious one. Without Google and Wikipedia, how will I know anything? Solution: go to the library, ask friends, build a reference library at home, and/or live without the answer to every single little question.
  2. Creative sharing Wow. This feels almost cruel. No Internet sharing means no posts here on Mediatinker, no photos on Flickr, no videos on YouTube or Vimeo. Solution: publish books, create a zine, have gallery shows, cut an album, have screenings, perform live, mail photos to people.
  3. Social life 99% of the invitations I receive come via Facebook or e-mail. Without them, I will never see anyone. Solution: host my own social events, ask friends what is going on, attend ongoing activities, invite myself to dinner at my friends' houses.
  4. Daily communication Every day I use e-mail for random notes, sharing ideas, catching up, inquiring about plans. It is convenient and non-intrusive. Solution: SMS. Phone people instead. Or send letters, postcards and telegrams. 
  5. Calling Mom I use Skype to phone her landline. We have lovely long calls. Solution: regular phone call, but would want to find a reasonably priced international carrier that isn't IP-phone based.
  6. Weather forecasts I check every morning for the forecast and to see if I should hang out washing. This is also where i get my earthquake and typhoon info. Solution: learn to predict the weather  by looking at the current conditions or live more in the moment and forget forecasts. As for earthquakes, ride them out without data.
  7. News & other reading No news might be good news, but nonetheless I like to stay current. And I read over a dozen news sources regularly. Next to Facebook, reading blogs and other feeds takes up the most online time. How else will I see cute animal videos, clever animations or insightful updates on friends' lives. Solution: Subscribe to a newspaper or three. Buy magazines, read current event and subject matter books. Collect cute animal videos on DVD. Go to art events and screenings. Visit friends in person.
  8. Spin Matsuri events I use the Spin Matsuri website, Twitter and Facebook to get the word out about the workshops, retreats and other hoop events I host. Solution: flyers, phone calls, face-to-face promotion.
  9. Shopping I use Rakuten to get bulky items and stuff I can't find in my local stores. Online shopping form international sources allows me to have medicinal herbs, shoes that fit, fancy hula hoops, and as many e-books as I can read. Solution: Do without.  Buy local. Get things when travelling. Buy and share paper books.
  10. Quick translation I use machine translation and other online language tools to help me with Japanese.  Solution: stop relying on tools and get fluent. Back to school and hit the books. Hello, denshi-jisho.
  11. WHD Dance No way could I do this annual, global hoop project without being able to share the tutorials online or accept the footage from hoop troupes in the cloud somewhere. Solution: hand off the project to someone who is online or end the project.
  12. Getting around I use Jorudan Norikae almost every time I leave the house to confirm train times and routes. Google Maps is invaluable for navigating Tokyo and Street View is handy when you are trying to find a location in the concrete jungle. Solution: memorise the train system again; use maps; leave more time to get there; plan longer trips with the station staff. Go back to paper maps like Mapple and learn the lay of the land.
  13. Restaurant reviews/reservations. I use Gurunavi and Open Table at least once a week to help me find places to eat.  Solution: buy some of the specialty restaurant guides that come out quarterly and cover a geographic area or a certain type of food.
  14. Music and media Can one use iTunes without the Internet? Since I don't do TV, I've always struggled to keep up with conversations about entertainment. I am grateful for the Internet Meme Database and IMDB. Solution: buy CDs. Look confused when people talk about memes and TV shows. Shake head and mutter "Young people today..." 
  15. Household scheduling Tod & I keep track of one another's activities via an online calendar. How will he know when I'm going to be home for dinner or not? Solution: get a paper calendar, hang it in the hall and use it together.
  16. Banking & taxes I do a fair bit of online banking. I communicate with my accountant via e-mail and her web system. Solution: visit the bank in person to make transfers and payments, or bank by mail. Mail shoeboxes of receipts to the accountant.
  17. Work On the rare occasions that I get editing or other work, it tends to be last-minute, remitted and delivered online. Solution: get a real job. Hahahaha.
  18. Chat with far-away friends I've been using various forms of IM for over two decades. This would be hard. Solution: letters, postcards, and phone calls.
  19. Hoop community connections The hooping community is huge worldwide. I keep in touch almost exclusively online except when I travel. Solution: schedule trips to lots of hoop events and make stronger connections face-to-face.
  20. Travel planning I already use a travel agent for most of my air travel, but I research options before I send off an e-mail to her. Solution: Call Juri with an outline of what I need and make her do all the work for me.
There are myriad little other things, like package redelivery, ordering food in, sending holiday greetings, working with print houses, that didn't make the list, but they would be a series of daily pains and troubles.

Lifestyle changes of offline life would be profound. Surrendering to ignorance! Taking the long way around. All that extra productive time would be taken up in getting things done the old fashioned way. It would be a real shift of perspective but it could be done. Mostly. 

The thing that I could not accept right now is not sharing my creative work. I realise that is because the bar is very low online so anything is OK and there is no judgement. To write a blog post is easy; the urge to create and share a thought can satisfied with a bunch of typing and a few mouse clicks. Maybe someone reads it. Or not. To publish a book, on the other hand, is a major endeavor. Cutting an album? Performing live? Getting a gallery show? They all require a decision by others whether one's work is satisfactory. That is a scary show-stopper for me, right there. All of my art, my writing, my photos would stay in storage if I had to shop them around to someone. 

So I am not ready to go dark and escape the online world. But having written it all out like this, I think I can see some changes I might make without too much trauma. I'll let you know.

What's important?

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Tod asked me a difficult question last night as we discussed current events and the state of the world. "What's important to you?" The question carried an implied "And which of these things are important enough to act on?" which does limit the answers to more than theoretical concerns. I had three main areas of concern.

In Japan: nuclear disaster and sports
Things that are in my backyard have the greatest impact. So the situation at Fukushima Daiichi is right up there. Dangerous, ongoing and possibly unfixable. Frankly, the situation is depressing and currently getting worse not better. I can't act directly in this case. I do my best to stay on top of facts, understand what is going on as best I can, and fight back at sensationalist reporting. How many times will I point out that the bright red Pacific Ocean map is tsunami wave height, not radiation? As many as it takes until people stop freaking out about it. If you are interested in reading a reliable source of information, I recommend Fukushima Diary. The Tokyo government publishes radiation testing data in English.

The Olympics are an interesting new current event that I am sure I will act on in one way or another. I don't have any particular plan at this moment, but in seven years I am sure I will have some Olympic action.

In the world: spying and global collapses
Beyond my backyard, the thing that concerns me most is the US government spying programs. I sound paranoid, but...they are watching us.

I realise that for twenty years I have been voluntarily putting my life online, starting with Usenet posts in the early 90s, then over a decade of this blog, and now via modern social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I have always been aware that if someone cared to dig they could piece together my world. I made my peace with this and continued to use online services. I traded security for convenience because I was imagining bad guys in terms of stalkers, social engineers, and identity thieves - individual attackers. But with the NSA storing all kinds of communications and metadata in their excessively large database, I am much less comfortable. 

I did not sign up for this, I am not OK with it, and I won't make my peace with it. I am not a great dissident or a terrorist (unless you are a mosquito) but if I became interesting to the government for some reason, I am sure it wouldn't be difficutl to piece together decades of impolitic moments and connections to create a case against me. 

It is so easy to make compelling stories out of loose ends and fragments that don't really connect. I wouldn't be too shocked if I were two degrees of separation from some truly awful person. Maybe I travelled to the country where they were born and on top of that, my taxes were late that year. Also there was that e-mail inquiring about large quantities of metallic tape and irrigation tubing. OK, now put it all together and it spells "Kristen is a terrorist." Or it could, with the right spin.

Unfortunately, I don't have a clue what to do. Complain? Write nasty things about the NSA on my blog? Be brave and confront it?  Stop using the Internet, go dark and form my own personal witness protection program? I don't know. I have to think more about it, really understand as best I can, and then I'll write some more about it. Or I may suddenly disappear from the Internet. 

You might want to think about it, too. If you can read this, you are affected by this spying program, even if you are not American. Even if you are not a terrorist. You've been logged reading this. Welcome to the web. If you want information on the NSA spy stuff - it is confusing, complex and underreported so don't feel too bad if you aren't on top of it - The Guardian's The NSA Files is a good place to start. Read everything and then wonder who just saw you do that?

A few other world issues cause concern. Climate change is so far along that I can only think about what to do to survive it, like retreating to a remote northern location and farming. Possible world economic collapse and political upheaval fall into that same "too big for any puny personal action, so I plan to react to it" possibly by finding a stable shared community with some farms. GM crops are bad but don't bother me as much as no crops at all which a combination of climate, economic, and political collapse could create. Why does the answer always seem to come back to farms?

Other current events in the world, like Syria and similar uprisings, are heartbreaking and difficult to understand but not my problem. I think people should rise up if their governments fail them. (Hi, NSA. Yes, I did just say that but I mean places where oppressed people live, not America. Ha ha.) Sometimes the revolutions succeed, sometimes not. The world continues regardless.

Home: where the heart is
Finally, although it wasn't first to my lips while I was answering last night, my relationship with Tod and our future together is my tippy top priority. We both feel stuck here for different reasons, maybe foolishly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is hard to make a plan. Can we feel hopeful and start exciting new ventures? Pretend there is no need to change anything and continue on as we are? Do we plan for the worst possible outcome and take up agriculture? Whatever happens, we will be together and that is a happy thing.

Here come the Olympics

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Tokyo's Olympic bid for the 2020 summer games won out over Istanbul and Madrid yesterday.

I am sure the Games that run in seven years' time (July 24 - August 9, 2020) will be a success and give a boost to the local economy. Tourism will boom. Bilingual folks in Japan will have lots of work as interpreters, guides, and more. Journalists based here will get to file thousands of words and plenty of video. Anyone with rooms to rent will have a steady income leading up to the Games.

Yet I have mixed feelings about the whole enterprise. I live inside the "Heritage Zone" of the plan. What will we see in the next seven years? The 1964 Olympics changed the face of Tokyo. This one will, too, particularly with grand new venues on Tokyo's waterfront and revitalising some of the Olympic venues from the last Tokyo Games in 1964.

It's exciting and hopeful to imagine a renaissance in Tokyo, and scary at the same time. These Games will surely be fraught with all the problems other host cities have encountered - budget overruns, derelict buildings after the event, overly-strict police security, not to mention a crackdown on circles in marketing. Only time will tell what transpires but it seems the planning groups have done their best.

The Bid Plan Application files and Canditure files are interesting reading. The Application has a general overview and the three Canditure files give more specific details including the budget, marketing plans, competition schedule, venue details, transportation plans, and accommodation options. It's not too often that you get to learn things like all the election dates between now and the summer of 2020. Or how many advertising spaces there are on Tokyo buses (14,105). Or that here are 237 cars per 1000 Tokyoites.

The budget is huge (15 billion USD) and it is a mix of Tokyo metropolitan government, private sector, and federal money. Because of its failed 2016 Olympic bid, Tokyo has been planning for this day for a long time, buying up land for years in the pre-planning, so none of that land cost is in the official budget. To keep the budget low there is a some clever use of existing facilities. Tokyo Big Site, normally hosting corporate and industry conferences, will host fencing and wrestling. Tokyo International Forum will be used for weightlifting. The Budokan will host judo, which is what is already does (along with music concerts) and the main sumo stadium will be converted into a boxing ring. Even with that, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will own 9 new sports facilities and the entire 17,000 bed Olympic Village complex afterwards. A sailing marina seems like a good addition, but a sea kayaking course? Hmmm, our tax yen at work. 

Something dear to my heart is the situation at Yoyogi Park. It isn't fully clear what will happen there. The main stadium, newly built by 2019, will be located nearby in Jinju Gaien. The old Yoyogi National Stadium hosted basketball and swimming for the 1964 Olympics and will be used for handball this time. Within the park itself is a "live site" with video feeds from venues around the city to allow people without tickets to see what's going on. Some of the maps in the canditure files show a security perimiter that looks like a large blob in the middle of the park. There will also be "live sites" in Hibiya Park and Ueno Park, so I can't imagine these venues will be permanent or cause too much damage to the parks.

One of the points of concern in the bid was accommodation availability and price. Tokyo has more than 87,000 hotel rooms within 10km of the Olympic Village site and about 150,000 in the greater Tokyo area. Will this be enough for visitors? The organising committee has gotten contracts for over 40,000 rooms for officials, sponsors, and other key groups. For example, Tokyo Dome Hotel is guaranteeing 300 of its 1006 rooms for broadcasters and journalists. But how about all those people visiting as spectators? Here's a way citizen can help - homestays. This might be a good time to start renting out your extra rooms via Air BnB.

Tranportation in Tokyo is going to have a few changes, including expansion of Kachidoki station on the Oedo line (which will run around the clock during the Games), the completion of several ring roads, and special highway lanes for designated Olympic vehicles. Olympic tickets will be on IC chipped cards that also provide free rides on public transport on the day of the ticketed event. The increase in traffic on the public transport systems will be as high as 920,000 extra passengers (on top of a daily 25 million), so if you might want to think about working from home during the Games or taking your summer vacation abroad and skipping the fireworks festivals.

All of this means that Tokyo in 2020 is going to be a very different place than the one I landed in in 1998. I hope I can keep up!

P.S. Note to hooping friends - rhythmic gymnastics are scheduled from Aug 5-7. Get your tickets early. :-)

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