Monthly Archives: July 2008

Bigotry Leads to a Cool New Story Site

In other SFF news, some time ago William Sanders, editor of the SFF webzine Helix, wrote a rejection letter in which he ranted about “sheet heads”. People rightly pointed out that Sanders was being a racist dick, and he responded with grace and class: when Yoon Ha Lee asked him to remove her story from the Helix archives, he did so, telling Yoon that her story didn’t make sense anyway, he’d only bought it to fill some quota in his head, and the story’s grapes were probably sour anyway. (Here’s the full text of his response) He also pulled other authors’ stories at their request, replacing them with a page that said “STORY DELETED AT AUTHOR’S PANTIWADULOUS REQUEST”. Oh, and then he explained that further story removals would cost the author $40, before finally fully rescinding that offer.

Fortunately, sometimes good things come out of bad events. A group of writers published by Helix created Transcriptase, which now hosts those stories pulled from Helix. So why not spend your lunch break reading some good short fiction?

Japan Tales: Hiroshima & Miyajima

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Tuesday was the hardest day. I knew intellectually what had happened at Hiroshima. But there was no way to know until I stood there. I would have thought that I’d be telling you how sad the city of Hiroshima is. How there is this cloud that hangs over it, darkening the mood. But there isn’t. It feels like an upbeat place with school children and young people everywhere.

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This was the most revered spot we stood on during all the time we were in Japan. Where we were there, multiple Japanese came and bowed and prayed. And I felt as an American, I had no right to be there. It was humbling. Thinking about what I saw brings tears to my eyes now. Going through the museum made that feeling both better and worse.

I’m not really sure how to describe the museum. If I spend a lot of time talking about it, it becomes a point-by-point walking tour, which can be supremely uninteresting. I’m much more interested in giving my impressions and the feelings I had. I was fascinated by Japan’s timeline of events for the war. Having only ever read the American descriptions of World War II, seeing it from another nation’s view point was interesting. Seeing articles pulled from the rubble was amazing: glass bottles melted together, shards of glass embedded in concrete, melted and warped steel beams. The human mementos were harder to deal with: blood-stained clothing, a child’s school books with no remains of the child, a pile of skin and fingernails a mother saved from her dying son. At the end of the museum I felt emotionally rung out, dazed and empty.

Despite it all there is hope here. A Japanese legend says 1,000 folded paper cranes make a wish come true. It that were true, millions of wishes would have already been granted to Hiroshima.
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After lunch, we continued on to Miyajima.
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I told Fahmida that this was the Japan I was looking for. Temples, shrines and pagodas. They are the mystery and beauty of the culture I’d been reading about and seeing all of my life.
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It would have been perfect, except for the 1,000% humidity. We didn’t walk around Miyajima so much as swim. But hey, we got to see some truly amazing things that day so I’m not complaining.
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Click on any of the pictures to see all of the photos from Hiroshima & Miyajima.

The Krebs Family: from Japan

Eli loves a set of nesting dolls that Stephen’s mom has. So when I saw a set of Dharma Dolls in Japan, I knew it was the right gift to bring home for Eli.

As Eli was playing with them one day, he began telling me of his adventures in Arkansas. While he was staying with my mom, she took him to my college roommate’s house for a visit. So he named his dharma dolls after the Krebs family.

Red=Mr. Brett
Brett, he so wanted the red one to be Missy and the pink one to be you! I changed his mind… You’re welcome.
Pink=Miss Missy
Orange=Grace
Yellow=Morgan
Green=Lydia

He calls them his Grace, Morgan, and Lydia dolls and carries them everywhere. Missy and I joked after he was born that maybe we should go ahead an arrange a marriage between him and one of the girls early. If the amount of time he spends talking about them is any indication, I don’t think he’s going to have a problem with that.

Cream Cheese-Banana-Nut Bread

This is the banana bread recipe I use these days. I like it because the cream cheese makes it moist and the topping of cinnamon makes it breakfast or dessert. I didn’t realize until I looked it up in the Southern Living recipe database just now that it was sent in by an Alabamian. So thanks Willie Monroe for the fabulous bread!

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (1 1/4 pounds unpeeled bananas, about 4 medium)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

I alter it to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups all-purpose. I think it tastes better and it sneaks a bit of whole grain into Eli’s diet while he isn’t looking.

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanilla. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8- x 4-inch loafpans.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil last 15 minutes to prevent browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool 30 minutes on wire racks before slicing.

Cinnamon Crisp-Topped Cream Cheese-Banana-Nut Bread: Prepare bread batter as directed, and spoon into desired pans. Stir together 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar; 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans; 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour; 1 tablespoon melted butter; and 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Sprinkle mixture evenly over batter. Bake and cool as directed.

Random Thoughts As We Enter Japan

The train from Narita airport to Tokyo leapt out of the tunnel and raced across the countryside. I stared out the window, my brain floating in a soup of fatigue poisons, and all I could think was how the kudzu-covered hills looked just like those back home in Alabama.

Then we zipped past a small family shrine.

In general, travel makes me quieter and more self-contained, something I’m sure my friends would love to see. In part that’s a reaction to experiencing a foreign country. The first time I traveled out of the US, I realized that I was seeing both England and myself reflected in the country. I take what I experience and drape it across the framework of familiar experiences.

That’s harder to do in Japan, where I am functionally illiterate. I’m a compulsive reader. Sit me down at breakfast next to a box of cereal and I’ll skim the ingredients list. Now I’m surrounded by signs I can’t read, and worse, I can’t even do rudimentary pattern matching. I can memorize words written in the Latin alphabet, allowing me to recognize signs that I can’t truly read. The kanji, hiragana and katakana slide right out of my brain as fast as I pour them in. It’s disorienting in a way far more disturbing to me than not being able to understand what people are saying.

The small differences are even more jarring. When we boarded the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka that first night, we were in a smoking car. People smoked on the sidewalk and in restaurants, their numbers far greater than I’m used to now.

Whenever I travel, I spend the first part of the trip being uncomfortable with my tourist status. Years ago an Australian asked me, “Is America really like it looks like on Cagney & Lacey?” Now I’m in a country I know mainly via Gamera movies, Akira, Lost in Translation, and reviews of Yo-Yo Girl Cop.

To make matters worse, I’m the American counterpart of the nice Japanese couple I once saw excitedly taking pictures of my hometown Wal-Mart. I’m not even sticking with stores — I’m taking pictures of stair railings and adverts.

Even as I am exhausted and overwhelmed by the differences, I’m comforted by glimpses of familiar things. I blink at the Disney ads in the airport and the Coke bottles next to Pocari Sweat in the ubiquitous vending machines. We may have imported kudzu and watched in surprise at it engulfed trees and houses and slow-moving cows, but we’ve exported our pop culture and watched it spread across Japan.

Japan Tales: Kyoto

Kyoto holds the largest chunk of history of the parts of Japan we saw. The temples and gardens are close enough together that we kept running into the same pack of tourists.

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Click on any of the pictures to see all of the photos from Kyoto.

The Zen garden at Ryoan-Ji was possibly my favorite spot on the whole trip. There were scads of other people there but it didn’t interrupt the few moments of contemplation I took. I thought of all the other people who had sat there before me and looked at those perfect rocks. It filled up a space inside of me that I am still thinking about and don’t really understand.
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The Gion Matsuri parade was another chance to contemplate Japan’s history. The festival began in 869 to aid in ridding the country of bad spirits that the emperor thought was causing an epidemic. We got to see Kyoto street life and a parade. The huge floats were pulled by about 50 attendants and they were both amusing and petrifying to watch.
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To turn each one involved engineering and levers and chants and an elaborate fan dance. The men riding didn’t even flinch as it wobbled and scooted its way around corners.

I’m still blown away that, out of 365 days we could have been in Kyoto, we were there for Gion Matsuri parade day.

Our trip to Gion was a tangle of walking down narrow alleys lined with old-fashioned wooden sliding doors.
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At irregular intervals there would be a family shrine celebrating a family spirit. Often there were flowers for the spirit to enjoy or water for them to drink. Sometimes the idol would be covered to ward off the chill. Almost all bore the backward swastika that is the Buddhist symbol for the cycle of life.
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We succumbed to a tourist trap to see a geisha. We had dinner at a beer garden so we could talk with an apprentice geisha and see her perform a traditional dance. The food was so westernized we almost didn’t recognize it after so many days in Osaka and the more traditional fare we had there. The maiko was a sweet child who loved to dance. She started when she was 15 and is now just 18. She’d learned to play four musical instruments, but her true love was the traditional geisha dancing.
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We wondered how she felt at having to entertain two dozen Westerners who knew nothing of her traditions and heritage, sipping beer while missing the subtleties of her beautiful dance. As we were discussing her kimono, hair and make-up I mentioned something about the intricacies of how her make-up was applied. John commented that absolutely nothing about her was accidental. I’ve been thinking about his comment off and on ever since.

That fairly well sums up all of Japan for me. Noting there seems accidental. Everything, everybody is polished to a very high shine but it all seems absolutely effortless.