Tokyo Part 1

In December 2013 I spent about a week in Tokyo, Japan before heading for a wedding in Seoul, South Korea.  We took thousands of pictures, so sorting through them will take a while.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be dividing my trip into the following blog posts for both countries:

Part 1 – Surviving or aka how to survive with language barriers

Part 2 – Food & Lodging on my trip

Part 3 – Sights, cultural stuff we saw on the trip

Part 4 – Shopping, retail and what to expect

 

Post release dates:

Japan posts
Jan 6, 2014 – Tokyo Part 1
Jan 13, 2014 – Tokyo Part 2
Jan 20, 2014 – Tokyo Part 3
Jan 27, 2014 – Tokyo Part 4

Korea posts
Feb 3, 2014 – Seoul Part 1
Feb 10, 2014 – Seoul Part 2
Feb 17, 2014 – Seoul Part 3
Feb 24, 2014 – Seoul Part 4

Now let’s start with a post about Tokyo, an amazing city!

 

Tokyo Part 1 – Surviving!

As with any Asian trip, there is always some culture shock upon arrival because…well, everyone looks Asian!  Also, for some reason, people think I am Japanese or Korean although I’m Chinese.  My Viking husband was amused that people always seem shock when I open my mouth and then I start getting the “she must have a mental issue” looks.

I knew some basic Japanese since I studied the language 10 years ago, but it really wasn’t enough to get by with any conversations.  I could ask a question, but would pick up only 10% of what people responded with.

Anyhow, there were a few things that made our trip a pretty good one even though we didn’t have much language sills and below are a few tips I compiled that would help anyone with no understanding of the Japanese language.  We relied on the Lonely Planet guide book which was pretty good and they have a website with lots of basic info: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/tokyo/

Pictures at end of blog post (scroll down).

1)      Wi Fi hotspot & Google Maps

Prior to leaving Canada, my Viking had made arrangements for a Wi Fi hotspot device to be delivered to the hotel upon our arrival.  It’s basically a portable internet wi-fi spot which we used for our phones.  This was a life saver as all the street signs are in Japanese, so we relied heavily on Google Maps to tell us where we were going.

Sometimes we didn’t know how much a fare was on the subway system, but Google Maps would tell us the amount and list all the stops before we were suppose to get off as well.  Also, just on the street, with Google telling us, turn left, right, etc., it was enough for us to avoid getting totally lost.  Amazing technology!

Cost of Wif Fi hotspot – about $5/day

2)      Cash

While many places use credit cards, the basic denomination taken by all vendors is still cash.  So carry some around and look for international bank ATMs to get more cash if required.  We found such ATMs in post offices around Tokyo.

3)      Plugs

I travelled with my laptop which has 3 prongs.  In Tokyo, things only have 2 prongs, but the hotel was nice enough to lend me an adaptor.

4)      Google Translator

On our 14 hour flight, my husband offered to buy me diamonds as he realized he had forgotten our Studio Ghibli tickets at home.  Like any good anime fan, I said I didn’t want diamonds but wanted to see Totoro and the Cat Bus.  Since the Japanese travel agency took our names down, I decided to write a short message with google translator to see if we could talk our way into the museum.  It turns out we had to buy another set of tickets, but having a translated message made things a lot less confusing.

It cost money to print out the message as we didn’t have a printer, so I just emailed it to myself and used the wifi hotspot we were carrying to let people see the email that was already translated into Japanese.

5)      Buy a subway card

There are 5 lines in the subway system owned by different companies.  The first day we were schooled when we kept buying wrong tickets as it was confusing which machine we were supposed to buy for.  The “THIS MACHINE IS IN ENGLISH” announcement was super loud every time we used a machine in English and it was a bit embarrassing because people would look at us oddly.

Anyhow, to save a lot of grief, please buy a subway card as you just load it up with money and all the lines will take the card.  There are a few kinds such as PASMO or JF IO card which are interchangeable on the lines.  We bought the PASMO and beeped our way through instead of trying to figure out how much we needed to pay for a ticket per every trip as the price depends on distance.

The subway maps are all in Japanese although when you get on the train, the stops are sometimes announced in English.  There is also a little tv above the doors which has the stop names in English and katakana as well.

6)      Hotels are big enough for big people

Prior to visiting Japan, I had lamented on Facebook about the size of my husband and how I worried if he would fit into the tiny hotel rooms in Japan.  Someone recommended The Prince Park Tokyo Tower hotel to me and I booked it.  The rooms are huge!  Bigger than some NYC rooms we had stayed in.  OK, fine, my husband’s feet sticks out a bit on the double bed, but 98% of the length of him fits on the bed, so it’s good enough!

Before going, do take a look at travel review websites to see pictures of the room and to make sure they are big enough for your use.  My husband is 6’4” and he was fine with the size of the hotel room.

7)      Basic Manners

My Viking husband likes order in general, so he was pleased that people followed the rules in the city:

  • Walk on the left – If you want to avoid being run over by bicycles on the sidewalk, pedestrians should walk on the left.  My husband watched in amusement as I was like a deer in the headlights, uncertain which way to dive to dodge the bikers.
  • No garbage cans – After attacks from over a decade ago by terrorists, there are no garbage cans on the streets or in the subway.  People are expected to carry their garbage until they reach a bathroom.
  • No eating or talking in subways – the subways are super quiet and clean.  People don’t talk and are usually on their cell phones texting.
  • Follow arrows on subway stairs and platforms – yes, there are lots of arrows for up/down in the stairwells and arrows to let you know where the doors will open to board the train.
  • No tipping – restaurants & taxis do not require tipping.  They will run after you if you tip and give back your money!
  • Bow a lot – it’s a sign of politeness to nod your head and bow when you greet someone or thank someone.  They will be bowing back at you too.

8)      What else to expect:

  • Super service – we had never experienced such fantastic customer service before!  People will go out of their way to help you and thank you, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Use Google Translator to ask for more complicated things and they will do their best to solve your problem.  Although had to re-buy my Studio Ghibli tickets, the guide at the museum called the Lawson (convenience store) ahead of time to make sure there were tickets available and gave me dates to chose from before directing me across the street to make the purchase.
  • Amazing retail – Just Skytree (tallest tower in Tokyo) alone has 33 floors with most of them retail.  There are convenient stores everywhere open 24/7 and you can buy anything you want with a hundred styles to choose from.  Even my Viking husband who hates shopping, was tempted to buy stuff.  The several food floors alone in Skytree amazed him as he had never seen so much food in his life and they all looked so good!
  • English brochures – at our hotel there were stacks of brochures in English. If you are not staying at a hotel, you can visit one as local brochures often includes coupons and other tips to help save money.

[soliloquy id=”1397″]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun medals for Hobbit fans

A few days ago I saw the second Hobbit movie and made it through the whole thing without peeing. As a small person with a tiny bladder, this was a huge deal for me! My husband with his iron bladder said in amusement in the end that I deserved a medal.

So what the heck, I’m still jet lagged anyways and don’t feel like unpacking; why not make medals to share with everyone who survived the movies without peeing?!

Medals can be downloaded for fun here: https://jfgarrard.com/medals/

Feel free to share this ridiculous joy and take pride in the fact that you are a champion!

Q & A with Simon Horrocks, Third Contact Director

Happy New Year everyone!

The year 2014 is the year of the horse which means that many people will be working hard and creating new projects this year.  No exception to this is Simon Horrocks, who is not only a director; he is also a cameraman, composer, cinematographer, editor and screenwriter.  He may also be a makeup artist and gourmet chef, but I didn’t see that in the imbd credits of his new film.

We met on twitter on December 31, 2013, as he was busy spreading word his Indiegogo campaign to bring his film, “Third Contact” to CanadaThird Contact received its World Premiere at the Internationale Hofer Filmtage on 25 October, 2012 in Hof and was a successful Kickstarter campaign with 435 backers for a London BFI IMAX event.

3C screenshot 1

Hi Simon, thanks for taking the time to do this quick Q & A with me.  I watched the trailer for your Indiegogo campaign and was quite intrigued as I used to work in a mental hospital and love dark films.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to create this movie after years as a professional composer?  You did some work on short films; did they serve as a catalyst for you to start working on your own film project?

I was a professional composer, writing music for TV shows such as Oprah and NBC sport, BBC daytime shows, plus the occasional Playstation game. My main passion was filmmaking. I’d wanted to be a director since before I knew what it meant. So I’d also been writing a lot, selling and optioning a few screenplays, but none of them made it into production.

I’d also been involved in a few shorts. When I fell on hard times as a composer, I had to get a ‘day job’ for the first time in 20 years, working in a cinema. But this gave me the opportunity to decide I was ready to write and direct my first feature film.

Often bad things that happen to us can be used as an opportunity to change ourselves. I took that opportunity.

In regards to your Third Contact, can you tell us a bit about the plot and themes?  

The film is about a psychotherapist who has lost faith in the world, but when disaster strikes, he uses it as an opportunity to rejuvenate himself and embarks on an obsessive investigation into the mysterious deaths of two patients.

Although the film is part scifi, exploring philosophical implications of ideas in quantum physics, its also a love story and a story about madness, depression, obsession, regret, loss. So I believe we can all connect with these themes.

The interesting things is, although it might be considered an ‘arthouse’ film, I’ve found people who don’t normally watch those kind of films get something from Third Contact that they weren’t expecting.

How was this story inspired?  Did it take long to write?

It was inspired from what one critic described as a ‘goldmine of ideas’. I had already worked on a script back in 2006-7 using the idea of quantum suicide. So I approached the subject again, but in a different way. I wrote the first draft in about a month or so, then had my filmmaker friend, Verity (who I met working at the cinema), read the script and give me notes.

I wanted Verity to help because she is a very unique and talented filmmaker, who I knew would be sympathetic to the work. I knew she wouldn’t impose any screenwriting rules, she would just assess it as a story. So after about 3 drafts and 6-7 month, I was ready to make the film.

When did you first learn about the idea of quantum suicide and why is this so intriguing?

I read an article about it around 2005, while I was looking into various quantum mechanics ideas. It had such a striking name, I had to find out more. The idea of subjective-immortality was very interesting, and I thought about this idea for a long time. It certainly changed the way I saw the universe and life in general.

I think a lot of current ‘scifi’ stories are basically future tech stories, which are old stories dressed up in fancy new clothes. Star wars and the current Star Trek films, for example, are basic action films with laser guns and spaceships.

I like my stories, and particularly scifi, to be thought-provoking. And subjective-immortality is certainly that. I could probably make films for the rest of my life on that one subject and never fully explore it.

How many people or countries have seen this film and are you happy with their reaction? 

While we were running the kickstarter, we realised we were now selling the film to the entire planet, as this was the way crowdfundng via the internet works. So we realised we couldn’t just focus on a UK premiere as the main attraction, it had to be a global premiere.

We decided to broadcast the film live over the internet, simultaneously with the film showing in the BFI IMAX, and hold the Q&A taking questions from the audience in the theatre and the online audience via a twitter feed we projected up onto the big screen.

The premiere was seen in 22 different countries by almost 1000 people, including the 300 or so in the theatre.

The reaction was amazing. Better than we ever dreamed of. So many people not only expressed their love for the film but returned days later to say the film had stayed with them.

Filmmaking is very expensive, how did you fund this movie and did you ever think about making it commercial via film festivals or selling the script?  Is script querying similar to novel querying, taking many years to find an agent?

Filmmaking doesn’t have to be expensive. The budget for Third Contact was £4000, which included the cost of buying the camera and the mic. Anyone can pick up a camera and make a feature film. But it will require a huge amount of effort, dedication and people putting their time in for the love of the project.

Someone came up to me after the IMAX premiere and told me I should make the film more commercial, if I wanted a career. I said – we just hired the biggest, most prestigious cinema in the UK and made a profit, outselling all the other shows on the night combined (we are talking films made for $100m +) – the film is commercial. He had to agree.

You have to remember, nobody knows anything. How many publishers turned down Harry Potter? Presumably, because they thought it wasn’t commercial. The idea that Harry Potter isn’t commercial is an absurdity to us now, but for how long did Rowling have to listen to that?

I don’t know anything about getting a novel published, but I did have a screenwriting agent in LA for about a year. From that experience, I realised I didn’t want to be anybody’s writer. I wanted to develop my own vision, and that could only happen outside the industry. The industry are too scared to take risks on anything. If they’re too scared to take a risk on Harry Potter, you know they are really incredibly conservative.

Either that, or its an elitist club, where everyone is doing each other favours. Which means that if you don’t have the right friends, or are not very good at making the right friends, you have no career.

Film festivals work exactly the same way; the major ones do, anyway. Its all about who you know and if you send your film in blindly with the submission fee, you are essentially paying for your own rejection letter. How many of the films which are programmed do you think paid the submission fee?

So, if you don’t have the right friends, be prepared to fight to get noticed. Give it everything, if you really believe in what you are doing. Ignore the naysayers.

What are the steps from script to actually finishing a film?  Did it take a long time?

It took roughly 3 years from writing the first word to finishing the final edit. The steps are long, partly because I was teaching myself how to do things as I went. I’d never shot a film before, so I had to learn how to use a camera. I’d never edited a film before, so I had to learn. Which means re-doing things again and again, to get it right.

We re-wrote the music score 3 or 4 times to get it right. This is very time-consuming.

Do you have any advice for budding film makers?  Would you recommend they try crowd funding?

You don’t need money to make a film. You do need money to promote a film and get it seen. Having said that, crowdfunding is there, and if you show you are committed, people will back you. Filmmaking is about your audience.

If you don’t have an audience, there’s no point making a film. Crowdfunding is a way to engage your audience and involve them in what you are doing. Its a fantastic opportunity to develop your filmmaking voice with your fans, who will be cheering on your risk-taking rather than throwing a wet towel over it, like the industry will.

Will your next film project be a dark story or something lighter? 

I don’t set out to make something dark. I write stories I’m inspired by and passionate about. I personally don’t enjoy ‘happy ending’ films, or films which try to force a positive message on you, because I think it’s a lie. Nothing ends neatly and ‘happily ever after’. Life is messy, complex, bittersweet.

The ‘heroes journey’ template which Hollywood, and supposedly ‘commercial’ cinema, follows slavishly is incredibly patronising to it’s audience. Its saying you are too stupid to deal with any complex reflection of reality, so its going to be simplified for you.

I personally believe its possible to reflect reality and entertain people without patronising them. Why do Shakespeare’s plays still hold up 400 years later? Why do Dickens’ stories still draw big audiences? Because they are gripping stories which reflect the complexity of life.

Back to Third Contact, can you give us a final pitch on how awesome it would be for the audience if they contribute to your campaign?  What are the goodies they receive?

We find ourselves in a position with Third Contact where audiences love the film, but the industry are refusing to take a risk with it. So we have developed a new way of showing this film in cinemas.

We are using our own ‘cinema on demand’ method, using the IndieGoGo.com platform. If you would like to see this film in one of the cinemas listed, you need to make it happen. If we don’t get enough seat reservations, by the events deadline, the show will not go ahead.

For the shows in Canada, you can pledge for a seat for $10. There are other options as well, such as a signed poster of a CD of the original score, or the official Third Contact t-shirt. You can add these for a little extra contribution, which will help us reach the target, so we can then go ahead and hire the cinemas.

If we don’t reach the target, IndieGoGo will refund you. But we hope it won’t come to that. By reserving your seat, you are helping independent cinema to develop its own voice, away from the risk-free industry.

If this works for us, other indie filmmakers will be able to follow us, so you will be reinvigorating cinema and encouraging filmmakers to come up with fresh ideas, by getting involved and supporting us.

Have a great New Year and may 2014 be the best year yet for Third Contact!  Please have a look at his link to his Indigogo campaigns happening all over the place for this film and hopefully it will be showing in a local theatre new you.  The links below are for his campaigns if you want to see something thought provoking!

January 30 – Cube Cinema, Bristol

February 12 – The Cinema Museum, London

February 18 – Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford

February 22 – Central Kino in Berlin

February 24 – Rio Theatre, Vancouver, Canada

February 26 – Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa, Canada

February 28 – Carlton Cinema, Toronto, Canada

March 6 – Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle

March 7 – Late Show at The Sheffield Showroom

March 12 – The Forum, Norwich

Third Contact Poster (small)

Everything I've done Wrong This Past Weekend

I’m proud of my friend Chris, as he has proven to be superb deliverer of guest services. We met again this past weekend at Fan Expo as it turned out we were both doing liaison guest work. He put me to shame as after a long conversation with him last night I realized all the things I had been doing wrong all weekend.

In general, I have a lot to learn from Chris in regards to how to service delivery while having fun at the same time!  So in summary, I’d like to hypothesize what he would do in the same situations I encountered or “What Would Chris Do?”

1) Slow down…Relax…Keep Things Simple

My guest Shawn is an adult, but I felt like I had to be very attentive and almost maternal as once he turns “on” for the fans, I have to be “on” too; in order to make sure he meets his schedule, eats, go to the bathroom, sign all the autographs people line up for, take all the pictures people line up for, etc. My maternal instinct was on overdrive and I was like a rabid chipmunk mother. So I felt really stressed all the time as I was worried about meeting timing of events and keeping things moving along. I would over think how to efficiently do things by running multiple scenarios through my head, then things would change and I would freak out underneath (although I can’t show my stress on my face to my guest).

What Would Chris Do (WWCD) – Although he was doing transportation of all the guests, he kept a calm head and just did things without overcthinking. In the past at Anime North we would bump heads as I would worry about how inefficient he was being but in the end, the result is the same. So just think about the route from A to B and then just dive into it. Often, reality does not reflect the scenarios you think about as there are too many changing factors, such as people blocking the path or an elevator not working etc…Keeping calm at all times instead of freaking out is the best as you don’t waste energy on unnecessary emotional turmoil! Chris took the time to have fun under stressful situations and even calmed down other people!

2) Talk to Strangers and Smile!

This is a hard one for me to do, as I have been raised all my life as a female to not talk to strangers or smile as you worry you are inviting a disaster of some sort. There were many awkward situations of me standing there with strangers as Shawn would run off to talk to one guest and their assistants would be there, often unsmiling. There was one man who kept looking at me and I was worried he wanted something I couldn’t give. It turns out he was an agent and could have been scoping me out. Argh! Missed my chance for stardom!! In general there was lots of odd silences which could have been avoided if I reached out, but was worried about reactions of people and if they had the time to even talk back since everyone is on a busy schedule. Also, I don’t speak very loudly so sometimes when I tried, people didn’t hear me.

WWCD – Chris is a very cheerful guy and when you first meet him, he loudly says hi, then shakes your hand. He is very genuine and sincere with people.  He didn’t worry about potential walls of unsmiling people or what people might be doing next. This is a hard thing for me to do as a germaphobe since I worry about hand germs a lot. Sigh. But I know I have to learn to speak loudly and shake hands as it is a “North American/European” gesture of friendliness. I found myself bowing a lot all weekend perhaps due to my Asian background. So I think I have to do both, bow to the fans when they meet my guest as a hospitality gesture and shake hands more with strangers. It’s so hard to break out of your shell when most of your spare time is spent hiding and typing…

3) Don’t Over Focus on Your Guest

This is an anti-Japanese/American idea, as the usual ideal for customer service is to only focus on the guest. There were a few times where I could get pictures with other guests, so I would leave Shawn on his own and run over for a snapshot. Thinking back, I don’t remember if I thanked them for taking the time to do that with me as I was so worried about getting back to Shawn. It was like he was my baby and I couldn’t just leave him on the street on his own. But he is an adult and he will survive a few more minutes without me as I take the time to talk to other guests properly. He complained that I would leave him for “other men” but he was laughing, so I knew that I didn’t offend him.

WWCD – Chris handled multiple guests, but he told me stories about taking the time to drink with one, then have a cigarette with another. He had a great time and divided his attention equally. I know I was assigned to only one guest, but when I meet the others, I need to learn to focus my attention on them right away, even if it’s for a few minutes. Again, I have a hard time talking to strangers and my default position is one of shyness/introvert. But Chris had such a great time and got to know all of them, so I think he did a much better job than me at creating an impression. Memory wise, the guests would remember a cool guy they hung out with and then there was that crazy Asian girl that ran around like crazy, not thanking or talking to people properly.

Really messed up with Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy, Star Trek) on this one as I didn’t get a chance to read his bio, so I asked if he was British which made me seem silly as he is from New Zealand.  Need to read more bios next time!

4) Have fun!

As you can imagine from the scenarios above, I was not exactly a great person to hang out with as I was like a mother worried about her child most of the time. My guest had a great time, Chris had a great time and I think I could have had a better time if I learn how to do things more like him.

It was a privilege to have done some guest work at this convention and hopefully next year I’ll have more fun if I get to work with Chris!

“Do your time, to pay the price
For every thing you’ve done wrong, baby
In your life, you get so high
There’s nowhere left to go but down
Don’t believe that no one cares
‘Cause we’re here waiting for you, baby
Do your time
and then come home for good”
-Sloan, Everything You’ve Done Wrong – an awesome song, popped into my head when I was thinking about writing all this!

 

Some neat stuff at Fan Expo!

There were a lot of big name guests at Fan Expo in Toronto this year, ranging from George Takei to Zachary Quinto. I wanted to see if I was taller than George Takei, but apparently he is still taller than me. He told me he was 5’7″ and thought it was amusing I was on my tip toes to even talk to him as I couldn’t reach the table! Meeting him and Shaun Yuen (in Walking Dead with super flawless skin) really made the Expo for me as I was excited to meet Asian celebrities! Shaun commented that I should think positive and not negative in general; I wonder if being cynical is a Toronto/NY thing as the people from LA are all super cheery!  Must be the sun…

Overall, the convention took up two buildings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North and South. The distance between them involved a short walk and about 5 escalators! I ended up only going to the dealer’s room twice, both on business, but I had a chance to visit a friend who had a booth at artist alley. Things in artist alley all looked great and professional. The dealer’s room had a huge lego display of hobbit houses, which was super neat! There was also a giant Yoda, Superman and Ninja Turtles Mural. In the North building someone brought in the Bat Mobile from the Tim Burton movie (apparently I’m the only person who can’t tell the difference). There were some cute costumes of course and lots of Dr. Who cosplay!

It sounds odd, but I usually like doing volunteer work at conventions instead of being a regular attendee. I like contributing and doing some work as I am a person who can’t relax! And it’s also a chance to see some behind the scenes stuff too! Every year I forget where I put my pictures, so I will post some here instead of losing them!

People wise, I got the chance to interact with a few and I have to say I am now a huge fan of the Ashmore brothers (Shawn & Aaron). They are super nice and will no doubt do very well in the future. Shawn is in the Following and will be Ice Man in the new X-men movie coming out July 2014. Aaron is in Warehouse 13, a show I have to start watching. Nichelle Nichols (Uhura, Star Trek) is a super classy lady; Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy, Star Trek) is super tall and sexy; Dean Cain (Superman, Smallville) likes to hug people and unfortunately I only got a blurry snap of Zachary Quinto, but I heard that he is a super nice guy.

Pics below for your enjoyment!

zach ss

dr who girls ss

hobbit house s

Ninja Turtles ss

Yoda ss

Batmobile ss

Finally Completed My Minion Set…But I Feel Sad

A few weeks ago, people were making fun of me for collecting Minion toys from Happy Meals. Then a couple of days later, the obsessions from the same people started furious trading negotiations as they frantically tried to complete their set before the promotion was over and the next set of Smurf toys emerge.

This morning I confessed to my husband that although I collected the entire set of minion toys from McD, I wasn’t feeling that happy as people were missing a few. I guess it was my Catholic guilt was influencing my potential to feel happiness once again.

“How altruistic of you and Orwellian,” he sniffed.

minions bigger

The altruistic part I understand, after all, I work in healthcare. This is a field where things are very complicated and the pay isn’t that great compared to other industries. But many people I know in this field all have the goal of wanting to make the healthcare system function properly to benefit society.

Orwellian refers to George Orwell’s 1984 book set in a Big Brother dystopian future where people are under survelliance and the population must give into all government orders. My snobby hubby is generally saying that me and the masses were having nonsensical thoughts by focusing on collecting these silly toys and not thinking about real world issues.

Quite frankly I disagree with this and told him that it was more accurate of him to say that I was being more Marxist than Orwellian because I wanted equity for everyone. But then again, these toys wouldn’t come out of a Marxist society as it is a waste of resources to make such things in the first place. So I conclude now that me and my minion collecting friends just being good Capitalist supporters. In the end, McD reaps profit, we feel momentarily happy over a stack of plastic, so everyone wins! Except for the planet as I’m sure these toys will be around for eternity..Damn, being happy is just not in my nature!

Starvings Brains on Our Planet! Alas, Poor Post-Docs!

Dining with former colleagues who work in Neuroscience research tonight made me think about my past dream of becoming a mad scientist and holding the world hostage for wealth.  When I was a child, I had seen too many Nintendo cartoons (Super Mario or Captain N: The Game Master?  Can’t remember…) with “Mother Brain” among other villains and thought that it would be great to become a mad scientist.  After all, they always had the goal of trying to take over the world and had great hair along with super duper technology (except for Mother Brain).

CaptN-motherbrain

 I did give research a shot, working in labs that studied the plant arabidopsis thaliana (the model plant) and different types of cancers which grew in children.  The work was very interesting, but long and tedious.  The cycle was obvious – you have to do experiments, write the paper, beg for grants for money for more experiments and the circle is infinite.  All my bosses were females that were married w/o children or divorced.  They were tremendously dedicated to their work and experts in specific subjects.  There were no plots to take over the world or become billionaires.  Doing the work to expand mankind’s knowledge was their goal and a very altruistic one.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects about 1-2% of the population.  During my time in the labs, I found myself sleeping on the floor of the lab and becoming very upset when experiments didn’t work out.  As my OCD got worse, I decided to not go into research, but to try clinical work instead – which is how I ended up in Nuclear Medicine.  Here’s a video and quiz on OCD to see if you have it too!

Years later, speaking with friends who made it through the PhD programs alive and found post-doc jobs; I was shocked to find out what their salaries were.  They all accepted that low salaries were a way of life and those that wanted more stable income, left research for administration roles.  Speaking to one hospital administrator, she said that the highest paid post doc there made $65,000/year.  As my Viking husband dislikes anecdotal stories, here is some data to prove my point.

In the US, NIH Minimum Funding FY14 & FY13 for people with 7 or more years of research experience maxed out at $54,180 USD.  This was already an increase from 2012’s $39,264 USD.  Typically what happens is that the principal investigator (PI or the boss), applies for grants and a certain amount goes towards salaries for post docs.  If they are nice and smart, they would also get some money from the institute’s foundation or split some other grants to increase a post doc’s salary.  In Canada, the funding agency NSERC grants $40,000 CDN per year for two years for post docs.

Two blogs out there: 27 and a PhD  and Ever On and On are two blogs written by people living their dream in the science community.  They speak frankly about their choices and the reality of doing research in the US/Canada.  Why does this problem exist you ask?  Well, there are so many faculty positions available at the end of the day and many PhDs competing for them.

Not all hope is lost – they are forming union groups and organizations to increase their quality of life and wages.  But if you are a post doc, I suspect you are already looking at this list of the best places to work in the world as listed in a 2013 Scientist article.  When I told my about friend this list, he said that I should help him look for a list of where to get easy faculty positions!  Did a quick search, didn’t find anything to help him…

top10_crop

To add to the madness, you can only be a post doc (with no benefits) for so many years…then you are suppose to get a real job.  Alas, poor post docs!

Jackie Chan…And Why Dubs Are A Necessary Evil…

Had a first world problem today.  The Viking, TIFF goddess and I were suppose to watch Drunken Master tonight; one of the first Jackie Chan movies which gained him recognition as a slapstick comedy, kung fu superstar.  Made in 1978, Jackie Chan plays a young and wild Wong Fei-Hung who painfully learns the technique of the Eight Drunken Gods and then has to protect his perpetually disapproving father from a hired assassin named Thunderleg.  Jackie Chan was booked to introduce the movie and would be doing a Q & A afterwards.

Ten minutes before I order my sandwich to go (to eat in theater due to lack of time between work and movie), TIFF goddess calls me to say that TIFF just emailed her, telling her that the movie will be the English dub version!  Argh!  Wrong reel had been sent – seriously, the man is in town and the audience can’t even listen to his voice on the movie.  Alas, both of us are film snobs, so we made the decision to not see the dubbed film and to just sneak in at the end to see Jackie Chan’s Q & A only (it turned out he wasn’t doing the intro).  The Viking was left out of the decision making process, but he was busy and not answering his phone.

When I was younger, I didn’t realize that the Japanese animation I was watching was dubbed into Cantonese.  Later on, as I watched more Japanese animation in Japanese, I started noticing the differences in the voice acting.  For animation, Japanese voices were always the best, as the actors had proper schooling and everything sounded genuine.  The Cantonese voices were ok, not too horrible.  The English voices were not that great as the voices never sounded like they were taking things seriously.  Over the course of the years, since spending time with English voice actors from Canada and US, the dubbing industry has changed and the bar is being set higher.  I have seen girls rip out their shirts for breast autographs, so there are super voice actor fans out there…However, in the end, I still prefer the original voices the best as there are some things that can’t be translated and they maintain artistic qualities best.

I do recognize that dubbing opens many markets to a different types of media and it is a a necessity for internationalization and globalization of the entertainment industry.  As audiences grow more sophisticated, the need for quality dubbing will continue to rise with higher production costs. The whole dubbing of foreign media started in the 1930s, so this has been around for a long time!  Dubs have no doubt exposed people to many stories and creations outside of their home countries.

Anyhow, after many beers, rabbit pasta and pizza; our party headed upstairs for the Jackie Chan Q & A.  We ended up watching the last 2 minutes of the dubbed film and the voices were awful!  It sounded very cheesy and the theater full of audience were laughing, so I think they were enjoying it.  The Viking told me it sounded torturous and was glad we skipped 109 minutes of it.  The credits didn’t start rolling surprisingly enough and with the snap of a switch, the lights came on and Jackie Chan entered the room.  Many people stood up while clapping and cheering.  He was wearing a white kung fu master outfit with white shoes, which the TIFF goddess pointed out was a very 70s style thing to do.  He spoke intelligently, as he explained how he was always thinking about how to keep his career afloat with different projects and changing all the time in order to learn new things.  A very physical person, he kept demonstrating graceful martial arts moves as he spoke.  Even though I sat far away, I could feel still his charisma and energy.  He made an interesting point on how people elevate others to a higher status through exaggerated stories.  He gave the example that perhaps in one hundred years time, Bruce Lee will have a shrine and will be a god, as more and more people believe in the super human stories of Bruce.  As masses believe in the idea, anyone opposing this god idea would face consequences.  Someone asked about his past promise about making e a movie about Cambodian land mines.  He said that although he was the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), when he was visiting Cambodia, the government tourism board suggested that he defer the project as they were afraid such a film would scare away visitors.  He said he would make it someday, but things take time.  Apparently when he writes a script, it may take 6-8 years.

Overall, it was inspiring to see a successful Asian person whom I’ve always admired live in and speaking impressively.  Also, the fact that he was always learning makes me think that maybe I’m not too crazy either for wanting to do different things all the time as well!

20130612_jackie small

 

Life is depressing…and my husband doesn't have enough dwarfs!

After work today, I went to see a film with the TIFF goddess (she is a major Toronto International Film Festival sponsor/hobby film historian).  Entering the TIFF theatre, I was impressed that there were six people in the room.  For some reason, I tend to frequent really odd films which usually have few people in the audience.  Anyhow, just before the movie started, someone walked in and announced that “Lore” (a film about children of Nazi soldiers who have to travel across the country with a Jewish companion) was showing in another theatre.  So 2 people walk out.  Great!  We have a total of four people in the room with me and TIFF goddess making up half of the audience.

The movie we watched was Pietà, a Korean film which made its world premiere in the competition line-up of the 69th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion. It also won at three major international film festivals — Venice, Cannes and Berlin.  I had read reviews in the newspaper where snobby critics said that “The Master” should have won instead of this film in Venice, which made me wonder as I really didn’t like The Master that much.  I am happy to report that this movie was much better that The Master and was very moving, although there was a lot of violence and torture.

Its title refers to the Italian Pietà (piety/pity), referring to depictions of the Virgin Mary cradling the corpse of Jesus.  The main character Kang-do, is a thug who cripples people to collect insurance money in lieu of the payments they owe his loan shark boss.  One night, after a day of crippling people, a strange woman shows up at his doorstep and claims to be the mother who abandoned him 30 years ago.  To test if this is true, he tortures her in various ways and eventually believes that she is his mother.  He becomes attached to her and of course, at this point, you figure that she probably is back for revenge after she says:

“Money is the beginning and end of all things. Love, honour, violence, fury… hatred, jealousy… revenge… death…”

Pieta_poster

Without giving too much away, at the end of this movie, everyone suffers or dies.  The film was quite touching though as it depicted how much a mother is willing to go through for her children, whether it be physical torture or self-sacrifice.  Korean movies always have the most beautiful crying scenes, everyone looks so pretty!  It was sad as well to see all the unfortunate lives who thought that borrowing from a loan shark would give them the ability to make a better life, but in the end there were dire consequences.  The main character is a cold, uncaring person who does a good job at inflicting pain due to his abandonment – however, after developing strong feelings for the new manipulative mother in his life, he does change.  So there was a message of hope for a few seconds.  Alas, did I mention this is a depressing movie?  It is also a moral tale to not borrow from strange loan sharks who charge 10x the loan after a month or to care too much about money as it leads to bad things.

df title

After seeing this, I came home slightly sad over this film and wanted my husband to give me some hugs.  After a few minutes, he started to complain that he had to pay attention to his dwarfs, as he had accidentally drowned one in a well and the other dwarfs were drinking water from it.  Also, the dead dwarf had returned as a ghost to haunt the others.   He is one of many addicted to a game called “Dwarf Fortress“, in which the point is to keep the dwarfs in the game happy with beer (they don’t drink water) while building mines and expanding their territory.  They also like cats and if their cats are killed by various enemies (dragons, goblins, etc), the dwarfs will become depressed, commit suicide or go on murderous insane rampages.  I was feeling grumpy, so I threatened to erase his game.  He gave me the puppy dog look along with, “there are dwarf children, elderly dwarfs and baby dwarfs…”  He then excitedly showed me the new “Dwarf Therapist” program which lists all the dwarfs and the skills they can be assigned as it is difficult to manage his current 91 – which is a small number, as he started to complain that he was being limited by manpower in whatever he was trying to build next.  I told him I was excited for his new therapist program and was now I was going to write about it.  He called me a meanie and that was that!  Great conversations we have in this household!

 

Where are the headless people?

Today I spent some time at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and was forced to climb up long flights of stairs by my husband to the contemporary exhibit (yes, I am a lazy person).  Anyhow, it was worth the effort, as there was a strange new media exhibit called Lost in the Memory Palace: Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, on the top floor in which I discovered some interesting things.  There were several rooms in which visitors can enter and experience something visually or acoustically.  One room felt like you were in someone’s apartment in the middle of a storm in which lots of water poured down from the windows and there was thunder/rain noises.

Another featured a killing machine with robots drilling/interacting with an empty chair with leather straps (you pretend someone is in it I suppose), spooky violin music and a disco ball which create lights all over the room.  The lights looked like a nuclear medicine scan of the heart and the music at that point was a heart beating, then stopping (with lights going out = person is dead I presume).  Not sure if the artist knew that; if they did, I would be super impressed.

myocardial_perfusion_scan2

There was one room which looked like some strange genius occupied it, as there were stacks of books, cups with fake bugs in it, plates of fake food, plastic heads and odd machinery parts.  If you sat between two large gramophone tubes, voices start asking who you are and there is a pre-recorded dialogue with conversation between two strangers.  It appears the random music and voices start talking once you approach a particular area, leading me to believe there are some motion detectors in the room.  Out of all the items in the room, there was one book with maps which caught my eye featuring maps by Italian sailor and cartographer named Andrea Bianco of the 15th century.  It was fascinating as the map featured Russia, England, Jerusalem, etc and had locations of the “Garden of Eden” along with the “Headless People.”  Doing searches on google, I can not locate this map.  However, I learned at the time that many biblical places were put onto maps as it seemed like a popular thing to do back them.  Will have to go back to the gallery before August 18 and see what the title of the book is.  I want to find out more about the headless people and their mythology if any!

For those interested in world maps throughout the centuries, here is a great site with scans of maps from different periods – ancient (6200 BC to 600 AD), early medieval (600AD-1300), late medieval (1300-1500) and renaissance 1492-1800.

bianco world map