Top Heavy Metal Albums of the Last Decade

The new decade has already started seven weeks ago but it’s not too late to talk about the best heavy metal albums of the past decade.
Such lists popped up here and there on my social media feeds at the end of last year and I felt inspired to create my own personal list 🙂
 
2010 – Fear Factory – Mechanized
Fear Factory does not even belong to my favorite bands but that album just fascinates me. The mixture of industrial metal, pretty damn dark sounds and that intriguing voice gets under my skin. I am listening to this album when I am in a destructive and angry mood and after that I feel better 😉
2011 – Insomnium – One for Sorrow
For me this is the pinnacle of the Insomnium albums. The title song can drive me to tears when I’m in the right mood. The power and anger of The Blackest Bird is just bloody awesome and Unsung has fantastic lyrics, a fantastic melody and enormous energy. And and and. I could rave about every song of that album.
2012 – Sabaton – Carolus Rex
Sabaton has a great sound, a great vocalist and is a fantastic live band. My “problem” with them is the topic of war. I’m kinda tired of all that war in their songs, thus Carolus Rex, which focuses more on the Swedish king than on war stands out for me as the best Sabaton album. The beat of the title song is simple but awesome for headbaning!
2013 – Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods
Definitely my favorite Amon Amarth album. As Like Falls has the best riffs ever written. What a song. Also the Shape Shifter is one of my favorites. This is the album that got me into Amon Amarth. Old fans might find it too soft, but I love it.
2014 – Hm…
That year leaves me a little blank. There is Shadows of the Dying Sun from Insomnium of course, but I prefer One for Sorrow by a tiny bit. Another album that sticks out though it does not get my personal album of 2014 title is Titan by Septic Flesh.
2015 – Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
I’ve been an amorphis fan for quite a while and my favorite album of theirs is and remains Skyforger (from 2009), but concerning the past decade Under the Red Cloud is my top runner. Bad Blood, Sacrifice, Dark Path and especially Enemy at the Gates are knocking my socks off 😉
2016 – Be’lakor – Vessels
2016 was a very good year for the kind of metal that I love. The pinnacle of it all and currently my favorite album of all times is Vessels by Be’lakor, it’s a concept album masterpiece and I’ve never heard a song yet about a photon, or a plant, or insects 😉 If you don’t know Be’lakor yet, check them out! Fantastic prog/melodeath metal from Australia, very sophisticated. Give them a few listens, not only one, their mastery needs a while to reach home. Also their 2012 Of Breath and Blood is more than special. But another two albums are also very much deserving of the best album of the year title. Atoma by Dark Tranquility. In my opinion their best album. Forward Momentum or Force of Hand or Faithless by Default are incredibly powerful songs. And then there is another concept album around Winter’s Gate by Insomnium – this 40 minute one song opera was/is one hell of an achievement
2017 – Hm…
Another year where I find it difficult to name a winner so let me mention two Finnish albums from not so major bands. There is Nicumo and their Storms Arise album. Clear vocal for a change and very nice clear vocals. They are an up and coming band and 2020 will see their next album coming out. Then there is Embers of a Dying World by Mors Principum Est, very good and solid melodeath.
2018 – Wolfheart – Constellation of the Black Light
The Wolfheart frontman Tuomas Saukonen is one hell of an artist. He produces a lot with various bands, kinda one album per year somewhere. He is one of the most prolific heavy metal dudes that I know. Wolfheart is bordering on death metal, but there is still melodeath to be found.
2019 – Rotting Christ – The Heretics
What a band name, what a history. Rotting Christ = the Tolis brothers from Greece are around for 30 years and have produced a lot of albums. I personally like their recent sound of the past decade with the three major albums Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (2013), Rituals (2016 – another awesome 2016 album) and their latest The Heretics. They are labeled as black metal, but there are plenty of styles mixed into their music. Non Serviam!
 
Let’s see what 2020 will bring! I am expecting another Be’lakor masterpiece, Dark Tranquility is due to release something and Nicumo as well. It will be a good year for metal, I believe! 🙂

Cambodia Visit – Claimed Back by Nature

On the last main day of travels I hired a car with driver since I had no desire to ride the 57 km to the target temple with a tuktuk. A wise choice, since the drive went quite smoothly with the car. The target was the Beng Mealea temple, which is famous for its moss overgrowth during the rainy season. When I visited there were some remnants of moss left, but most of it had already been burned away by the sun. Nevertheless, the site is breathtaking. The temple is more or less entirely destroyed but how plants rank around it, claiming it back, make for a unique atmosphere which is mystic, bizarre and beautiful. It is well worth the ride from Siem Reap.

On the way back were another three temples to visit, all of them from the 9th century with Bakong temple being the most beautiful as well as best preserved one. The other two, Lolei and Preah Ko resemble the East Mebon and Pre Rup temples of the big circle tour, but Bakong is a gem of its own with its central lone tower. A very impressive site well worth the visit as well.

While all the temple glory makes you wonder who the Khmer were and how they lived and how they built all these sites, the Cambodian people of today have a hard life. Well, the people who actually toiled to built those temples on behest of their kings of course too. I chatted with the lady who brought me my dinner in the Siem Reap hotel every day. She has two sons, six and one year old. She works every single day. People in big companies have one day off per week, but people in small businesses usually work every day, because no work = no money. She has two jobs. She works at the hotel restaurant from 14:00 to 23:00 every day, then, twice a week, she also makes religious flower arrangements for people who go to the temple to pray. On those two days she has to get up at four in the morning.
I asked her about new year. Oh the Cambodian people don’t care. The fireworks and stuff on 31.12. are for the tourists. Khmer New Year is in June. That’s when people go to meet with their extended families to celebrate. The biggest deal is a festival in September though, which lasts two weeks. I understood it’s the Cambodian version of the all saints or Obon in Japan, when you think of your ancestors and honor the dead. There is a lot of fine clothes, fine food and dancing during those times and temple visits.
If you speak English, you can get jobs in the tourist industry, which is the best source of income around Siem Reap of course. Children go to school from 7:00 to 11:00 and then from 13:00 to 17:00. I suppose that’s why she starts to work at 14:00 to cook lunch for her kids. She comes from a small village further north and has never been anywhere else apart from her home town and Siem Reap, she has never been on a plane. Her mother and younger brother came to Siem Reap too. She didn’t speak of a father, maybe he passed away or left for whatever reason and then the family moved to Siem Reap. Her mother is the head chef in a nightclub and she works from 17:00 in the evening to 4:00 in the morning every day. Her mother wanted the son to “get a government job = official” because those are the best jobs, apparently, but he “was too lazy” and does internet commerce to the grievance of his mother. It’s a hard life under the tropical sun. In April it gets over 40 degrees… my hands were covered with heat rash, I got bitten by (only) three mosquitoes and luckily they didn’t carry any diseases. I sprayed an entire 200 ml bottle of insect repellent onto my skin and clothes and got bitten 3 times despite that.
But even though I am usually not in the habit of going to the same place twice, I might return to Siem Reap one day because there are still a lot of temples and sights that I couldn’t see and Angkor Wat and Bayon etc. are so beautiful it’s worthwhile to see them again 😉 let’s see!

Cambodia Visit – Sunrise at Angkor Wat

I am NOT a morning person, never have been, never will be, I suppose, but the first of January of a new decade was approaching and I decided to do the sunrise at Angkor Wat thing after all. Arrangements with the hotel resulted in a departure time of 5:00 in the morning. That meant getting up at 4:30. I tried to go to bed at 22:00 on New Year’s Eve, ignoring the countdown. But… across from my hotel was that already mentioned roof top bar. They blasted (louder than the other nights) live soft pop whining until midnight. I put earplugs in, didn’t help, I put my headphones over the earplugged ears, didn’t help. I played heavy metal. Finally the rest was blended out. At midnight there was a short official fireworks, which I watched a bit from my window. Then techno disco music thumping louder than heavy metal in Wacken let the house vibrate. I dozed on and off until three in the morning when the disco thumping finally stopped. I got maybe an hour of shut-eye until the alarm clock rang. Well it had been New Year’s Eve…
So, there I was at five in the morning riding with the tuktuk. It was pleasantly cool, almost cold, it’s dry season in Cambodia this time of year and that results in a whiff of continental climate with coolish nights of around 22 degrees and hot days with 34. I soon saw the next tuktuk with tourists and the next, all flocking towards Angkor Wat. There was a bit of a traffic jam even at the ticket control site. The stars were still out when I arrived and I headed straight for the lotus pond across from the temple. I was not the first one to arrive there, but not the last either and managed to get into the second row with someone short in front of me. There was already a hue of pink and blue to the east. The people in the first row in front of me were some people talking about finances and stock market exchange…. ahhhhhhh…. excuse me you capitalist fuxxs, don’t you have something else to talk about or can’t you just shut up? Luckily, they did shut up when it became lighter, but nevertheless they were tainting the enjoyment.
Angkor Wat faces west. On the spring equinox the sun rises exactly above the main tower in the middle, now it rose to the right of the complex. Strewn over the whole area surely several thousand people watched the first sunrise of the decade together with me. When the sun was up I ventured into the temple though not the uppermost gallery due to too many people and caught some sights in mild morning sunshine. It was very beautiful, all of it.


The rest of the plan involved the so called “big circle”, but I had requested another stop in Angkor Thom due to the confusion of the day before. I had not seen the terrace of the elephants and the Baphuon temple. At Baphuon I was suddenly more or less alone and enjoyed exploring that temple thoroughly.


On went the journey to the Preah Khan temple, which is huge and also has trees growing out of it. Since it was still before nine in the morning, there were very few people there and I enjoyed that temple immensely, also thanks to jungle birds singing for the new day which made the whole site even more amazing.


Next we went to a temple called Neak Poan or Pean, I found two spellings, which is in the middle of an artificial lake and in itself partially submerged, it’s very beautiful and mysterious site.

Next up was the Ta Som temple, which is small but very beautiful as well and it came along with two temple cats 😉


The East Mebon and Pre Rup sites are similar in style but completely different from e.g. Angkor Wat or the other temples in the area. They are more rectangular in nature and are dating earlier than the other sites, from around 950, while Angkor Wat is from the 12th century.


It was only noon when I returned to the hotel, but after seven hours on the road and not much sleep the night before I held a noon nap after a shower.
It’s been a magnificent first of January 2020!

Cambodia Visit – Angor Wat in Reverse

The ride to Siem Reap with an airline you’ve never heard of went smoothly. Lanmei airlines, apparently a Cambodian carrier, had the smallest distance between seat rows I have ever encountered on any airline anywhere. Interestingly the flight came in from Bangkok and unloaded passengers bound for Phnom Penh, but those bound for Siem Reap stayed on board, then they added those who boarded in Phnom Penh. Luckily, with those super uncomfortable seats, the airbus barely lifted off when it already landed again. At Siem Reap airport are no gangways, you walk over the concrete and some ground personnel tried to separate those who flew domestic from those who flew international to get the latter through customs and border control. Interesting system.
I had to wait a bit for my promised driver and was expecting a car, but then a tuktuk drove me and my suitcase to the hotel. I only walked down the road for a bit and it was the same traffic chaos as in Phnom Penh only with more westerner tourists dodging the traffic. At the hotel I sorted things out for the first day, the so called “small circle” with the three main sites of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm temple.

The goal of the journey was in reach! I boarded a tuktuk and off I went to the Angkor ticket center. The temple complex is about six kilometers north of Siem Reap. On the jungle road just behind ticket control my driver suddenly stopped and said Ta Prohm. Originally the first stop was supposed to be Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm was supposed to be the last, going clockwise. My driver’s English wasn’t the best and it was even harder to communicate with him than with my trusted driver in Phnom Penh. Ta Prohm, um… hm… well, I’m kinda at his mercy. I think he did the reverse tour because on the way to Ta Prohm he stopped at a road shop and had someone put more air into the rear tires. Well, okay, necessary I guess. At Ta Prohm the reverse was no problem, there is only one stop where many people unload from their whatever vehicles. Ta Prohm is amazing, those trees that rank around the temple are very impressive. It looks bizarre. Unfortunately the temple is quite narrow and the loads of people were worst at Ta Prohm.
The trees and their snake-like roots make for an atmosphere I have not yet seen. It’s spooky, beautiful and reminds of the fragility of human endeavor.


Then we went on to Angkor Thom, which is the old Khmer city. The outer wall is left, then jungle has basically taken over and in that jungle are whatever ruins, with the Bayon temple, the temple with the mysterious faces in the center. If we had gone the correct way we would have arrived at Bayon and done the rest later.

But now we arrived from the other side and the driver dumped me and pointed wildly into the jungle and said he will wait at Bayon. All right. I stumbled along and got pretty much lost in the jungle. It was insanely hot, just the peak of the noon heat. I had to ask other tourists for directions. I found Bayon, but of course approached it also from the wrong direction.
The central temple mount is so withered away it looks like a hill at times. The mysterious faces in the many turrets around the main mount are all a bit different and one is more beautiful and mystic than the other. Also Bayon is a rather small site and you are not alone. Looking at my pictures afterwards I am amazed how well I managed to blend out the people.


It was after 13:00 now and even hotter than at noon. I got out of the temple somewhere, having no clue where I was and there was no sign of my tuktuk. I waited in the shade, unwilling to go on walking in the heat and called my hotel, asking them to call him and go looking for me. That worked out in the end and at least I had a bit of a rest in the shade. Then we of course approached Angkor Wat also from the wrong direction. We should have been there at ten in the morning when it’s not so super hot yet, instead we were now at Angkor Wat at 14:00 or so when it was super hot.


Angkor Wat is fantastic. It’s in extremely good shape considering it’s age of over 800 years in the brutal tropical climate. I think everyone knows about the Pyramids in Egypt or Taj Mahal in India. Angkor Wat stands right next to them in size, grandeur and cultural significance, but is somehow still less famous (I think). I guess that’s because of the Vietnam war and the Khmer Rogue regime, which threw the country back into the Stone Age and tourism was only established during the past 20 years.
You can get into the upper half of the temple right under the five towers if you climb up rickety, steep wooden stairs, it’s every bit worth the climb though. It started as a Hindu temple but was partially transformed into a Buddhist temple and has several sites of active worship inside it now too. If Angkor Wat is not yet on your travel bucket list, add it. It’s worth the pain to get there.
The three sites of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom or rather the Bayon temple and Ta Prohm are so different and yet right next to each other. It makes you truly wonder what kind of people built those magnificent temples and in what kind of world they lived.
I’ve been to 36 countries by now but have never seen anything quite like the Angkor area. It’s just “wow”.

Cambodia Visit – Oudong and Zoo

On my third day in Phnom Penh, I escaped the reception desk and waited outside for my trusted tuktuk driver and it worked out. He was there at nine in the morning and I paid him directly and not the hotel. He was happy and promptly drove me north. The goal was the Oudong temple on top of the first hill far and wide outside of Phnom Penh. Later checking revealed it is around 34 km north of Phnom Penh. The road was a rather good highway for most of the way, which meant my driver pushed the tuktuk to its speed limit and dashed down that road with what felt like a 100 km per hour at times. It might have been 80 km, but in an open vehicle without seatbelts it felt horribly fast and I clung on for dear life. But as evidenced by me being able to write this, I survived the journey 😉
The goal of the journey was well worth the ride. Up some stairs were three stupas, one new, two old and you got a fantastic 360 degree view of the area. The wild monkeys on the stairs including a baby monkey were super cute but of course you are not supposed to touch them. They are far less cute if they bite you!


Of the two old stupas one was studded with ceramic ornaments and very beautiful. There were a few foreigners, meaning westerners, at the temple, but most of the people were locals or from neighboring countries.


On the way back my driver made a detour to the Phnom Penh “safari”, a zoo as I had come to understand the day before. All the more astonished I was as to where he brought me. We crossed the Mekong at some point and landed in a huge wasteland. It seems to be a new development zone as evidenced by two three buildings already around and a giant stadium under construction.

The stadium looked huge, surely holding 80,000 people or more. I seriously wonder though how those 80,000 are supposed to get there without public transport?? Next to the zoo was one lone hotel (perhaps) and an amusement park that looked also under construction. And then the zoo. It was finished, but pretty much devoid of visitors. It’s empty parking lot was laid out for hundreds of cars and looked spooky so empty.

The zoo was well constructed and organized and also designed interactively with the possibility to buy feeding material for e.g. birds, fish, deer and giraffes. I fed deer crunchy green leaves and bananas to the giraffes which they happily chomped down skin and all. There were so few visitors it seemed like some of the animals were even reacting to me, bears were getting up on their hind legs taking a look, deer were turning their heads when I walked past, and the highlight was an orangutan who came closer, sat down, looked at me and then seemed to smile at me.


I just hope they take good care of the animals there. And I also hope that the rest of the wasteland will be developed quickly so that more visitors will come to the zoo.
After the initial scare of asking myself how to get around I had a great tuktuk driver for three days, who brought me back safely every day despite the hair raising traffic of the city of Phnom Penh!

Cambodia Visit – Silk Farm

On my second day in Phnom Penh I got the same trusted tuktuk driver but he seemed a bit angry at me! Only when we arrived back in the hotel did I find out why. His English is not that good so it took a while to understand. I had said ten o’clock for today and he went “okay okay”. He seems to have been under the impression that I don’t ask at the hotel desk for the tour but him directly. I didn’t pick up on that the day before. So the second morning I asked the hotel reception again and paid them instead of him. No clue how much margin the hotel takes for giving him the job. But thus I got it that I was supposed to pay him directly and not the hotel.

As for the contents, the tuktuk ride led me to the shores of the mighty Mekong river. The plan was to get onto the Silk Island, its real name is Koh Dach, which is an island inside the Mekong river. The Mekong is a stunning 4350 km long and parts a little for this island, so what you see on the pics is only roughly half of the river.

There are no bridges to Koh Dach and you have to go by ferry, a very old and rickety affair. LOL. The pictures don’t express the age of these vessels or the noise of their sputtering Diesel engines.

Once on the island my driver brought me to a silk farm where a nice guy explained to me (and a group of Italians) about how silk is made. Of course I knew about the worms but not about the entirety of the process. The worms, or rather caterpillars are eating only mulberry leaves for about 30 days, then they turn from white to yellow and cocoon, once they become moths they mate, lay eggs and die. They live for around 45 days in total.

Now, if you want to get silk you have to balance your stock of worms to let some become moths to continue the process and the rest you throw into boiling water and cook them. The traditional process is then to take an eggplant leave and dip it into the hot water picking up threads. About twenty of them you twirl and then spin them into a thread. One cocoon yields up to 500 meters of thread. The outer layer of the cocoon is a bit rougher and used for e.g. rugs. The inner part of the cocoon is softer and spun into a thread for clothes. Then you dye the yellow threads into the desired colors and start weaving. A four meter sarong with a two colored pattern such as this peacock design takes a month to finish, two meter scarves with less of a pattern or none take ten days, they said.

Despite that they sold the scarves for 20 USD and I didn’t even haggle (I don’t like haggling). I’m pretty sure I’d pay double or triple or even more for that in Japan. The guy explaining things to us said he was a “volunteer” and was supporting his university studies with explaining things to tourists and was also improving his (already pretty good) English. The weaving ladies were all widows, he said, who are working at this place as a part of a support program for them. True or not, they make beautiful stuff and it was very interesting to see the process of silk being made the “old” way. I just wonder how the hell our ancestors came upon the idea to boil those cocoons and make threads out of them for cloth. That was quite some invention / discovery.
On the way back to town, I asked my driver to drop me off once more at the national museum, I really like that building and it’s garden and the day before stayed only thirty minutes during the busy day.

That day I stayed for an hour and also borrowed an audio guide and listened to some of the explanations for the artifacts on display. During that audio description, they also said that the museum, which came into existence around 1920 was closed during the four years of the Khmer Rouge rule, I’m surprised they just closed it and didn’t burn it to the ground. Luckily they refrained from doing stuff like that…

Cambodia Visit – Phnom Penh

Cambodia, or rather Angkor Wat has been on my travel bucket list for a while already and I finally decided to go. The Southeast Asian country I’ve been to most often is Thailand (3 times so far). Phnom Penh, my first destination, reminded me a lot of Bangkok in 1999 when I visited there for the first time. There is no public transport system in Phnom Penh except for busses and downtown there are always traffic jams. Last time I was in Bangkok was 2012 and they had an elevated train and had much evolved. In Ho Chi Minh city they were building a subway when I was there in 2016, which should be finished by now? Not sure. In Phnom Penh though it’s all busses, cars, mostly fat pickups, tuktuks and scooters, although less scooters than in Saigon. There is endless chaos in Phnom Penh, though the worst chaos I’ve seen remains the traffic in India.
On my arrival day I took a walk around the block of my hotel and was a bit spooked. There was no real space for walking and no people on bicycles either. So how do I get around town without being able to walk? To hire a tuktuk seemed like a scary prospect, not so much concerning traffic safety but concerning personal safety, what happens if the tuktuk driver takes me somewhere strange and demands more money to take me back and so on and so forth. The possibilities are plenty. I wrecked my brain about those during the night.
The next morning I asked at the reception of the hotel how to get around and the lady immediately suggested, oh we have a tour for 30 USD and you can visit all the major places in one day. Okay, fine, nice, let’s do that. I paid and was then brought to a guess what, a tuktuk. Lol. It turned out to be no problem though, my driver brought me to all the places, nicely waited and brought me back to the hotel 😉


Money… there is Cambodian money, called the Riel, but the preferred, harder currency is simply USD. If you look like you are not from Cambodia, they kinda expect you to be paying in USD.
Money… Cambodia is pretty poor, the hunt for money = better living conditions is present everywhere. As a foreigner you are seen as a source of money and they expect you to not be sitting on it. But that’s okay, since from a European, Japanese perspective stuff is cheap.
So, there I sat in my tuktuk with a driver who spoke only rudimentary English and the first thing he does is taking me to the Killing Fields.


Cambodia’s recent history is a tough cookie. Politically unstable it was drawn into the Vietnam war and extensively bombed, then the Khmer Rouge came along and “liberated” the country in 1975 proclaiming a communist utopia. They drove people out of the cities into the countryside forcing them to be farmers. They started treating everyone with “soft hands”, or glasses, as a traitor and within the four years of their rule, they killed a fourth of their own countrymen. Out of eight million people, around three million have died. There is not one family that was left unscathed I suppose. There are many killing fields all over the country, the closest to Phnom Penh is only a thirty minute ride by tuktuk away. Some 20,000 people were killed at this place. They built a stupa for remembrance and filled it with some of the skulls that were exhumed at the site. There is a tree where the guards smashed babies against whose parents had been executed. It is hard to comprehend how people can do such things.
The harsh part of the day-tour continued with the prison camp in downtown Phnom Penh, a former high-school, where prisoners were interrogated under torture confessing to “crimes” they didn’t commit and accusing others falsely in the hope it would ease their suffering only to be then transported to the Killing Fields and hacked to death anyway. Bullets were too expensive, most people were killed with axes, hammers and so forth.
After three hours of such harshness the rest of the day and tour felt like balm. The first thing after the prison in town to visit was befittingly a beautiful Buddhist temple and it was great to see something nice and peaceful.


Next up were the national museum and the royal palace. Both of them magnificent buildings of intricate beauty in their designs. What a day of the human spectrum. From the blackest possible depths to highest achievements in beauty.

Yogini?

End of 2018 I made a New Year resolution to do something for my fitness. On the 15th of January 2019, I started courses at a yoga studio and behold! I am still at it a year later! That, for me, is an incredible achievement, lol, because I really really am not a sports person. I never saw the appeal of moving your body without need, lol. Because sports is supposed to be good for you and because sports are a major interest of my Dad, I was forced to do sports as a kid. I tried a lot of things. I started with gymnastics, played basketball, went ice skating and I did fencing for a while. So fancy! My poor dad paid for all the fencing equipment/outfit, but alas… I left home, childhood and fencing behind me and at the university I tried another variety of things from horseback riding, over Kendo and Aikido until finally I simply stopped to do anything. None of the stuff could hold my interest. The only thing I did after giving up on sports for quite a number of years was ride my bicycle, but only for a few kilometers each day back forth from the station or to go shopping over the weekend, never for the purpose of “sports bicycling”. For me the bicycle is simply a form of transport that I like with the nice side effect to get me moving and sweating at least a little bit.

But alas, around ten years ago I got a lumbago and from that point on there was a steady decline. Nowadays my lower back is a mess and the upper back isn’t much better thanks to years and years of computer / office work.
So last year I thought, if I don’t do something about the increasing stiffness and pain of my bones and muscles, I’ll end up in ever worse shape and pain in another ten years. But what to do? Yoga is very popular in Japan at the moment and somehow I thought of giving it a try. There is a quite big yoga studio just two minutes next to the office where I work at.
Oh miracle, a year later I am still at it and highly motivated to continue! Progress is very slow, after all it’s only once a week (plus around 15 min almost daily at home before I go to bed, a mix of yoga moves and lower back pain moves prescribed by doctors), to more I could not persuade myself so far, but it’s better than nothing.

There are many forms of yoga. What I’m doing is “hatha yoga”, which is “basic” yoga where you strive to achieve several “ideal” poses/forms/postures = asanas and you stretch and bend and work towards being able to do and hold these postures. It’s relatively sporty and not very spiritual, even if we chant an invocation at the beginning of the class. Also after a year I am still the worst in my class, but there is some progress! I can stretch a bit farther, there is a bit of less pain in the back, there are some shadows of muscles under the fat of the thighs!
I had hoped for a bit of weight loss, but the amount of exercise and the amount of chocolate intake have only balanced out, and I weigh as much as a year ago, but hey, at least it’s not more.

I think I am very lucky, because I found a great teacher. Hana sensei (sensei is the Japanese word for teacher) is very experienced and exerts just the right amount of motivating us and challenging us. I think a good teacher/trainer is a big big factor in any sports. If you don’t like your teacher, the motivation sinks very soon. So thanks to Hana sensei, the miracle has happened that ever since I have been fencing as a teenager, I did any kind of exercise/sports for longer than half a year!
I don’t deserve the title yogini yet, since I am not managing a single one of the ideal postures, but one day, one far day I’ll get there! Thus the New Year resolution for next year and the whole new decade is to continue with the yoga classes and to let my muscles boldly go to where they have never stretched before! And a big thanks to Hana sensei! 🙂

You Have Been Assimilated

Last week, I had an eye-opening experience about to just what extent I have been assimilated into the high-context society of Japan 😉
The situation: I was attending a global telecon with people from Malaysia, Germany, France and Hungary and one of the presenters was presenting something that did not agree with me at all. I found this person’s (German) approach completely naïve and insensitive of other non-European cultures.
During the telecon I said nothing but emailed the organizer (another German) after the meeting with a hearty complaint about the stuff we had heard. The German organizer then wrote back to me angrily, why the hell I didn’t say so during the telecon and why I am bothering her now “offline” with my complaints. Oops… The thing is, I did things the Japanese way.

My intention: I did not want to destroy the harmony of the telecon, I did not want the presenter of nonsense to feel hurt. I did not want the presenter of nonsense to lose face in front of the other participants. So I chose the (in Japan totally legitimate and correct) way of contacting the organizer offline and expressing my concerns about what had been presented to us. This is how things work here! Lol. You deliberately talk offline to people behind the scenes – that’s called “nemawashi”. You keep the peace in front of everyone, you see to it that nobody gets hurt, loses face and that the harmony of the group is not destroyed. That’s the high-context approach. In the ideal case then, the meeting organizer gives a message to the presenter of nonsense, he/she corrects it and all’s well, everyone’s happy and nobody lost face.

Not so with the German presenters and organizers – they want the direct approach, they want the confrontation in the telecon, they want discussion in front of everyone. It does not even occur to them that there are other ways of communicating, because they don’t know about them. They are now pissed about my offline approach and think of me as an intrigue spinning, back-door using bitch who’s crossing people. LOL

OMG… this is how wars happen, ladies and gentlemen! This is how cultures clash! And I, after 20 years in a high-context country have been assimilated and act the Japanese way. The big thing is that only people like me get aware of this completely different way of handling things. The Germans who have never left Germany are not aware of the “nemawashi” style. In turn, the Japanese who have never left Japan are shocked to death by the direct way of low-context culture confrontation.
It’s the job of people like me, who were raised in one culture and are now living in another, to explain to either side what’s going on! Not easy, but I’ll continue to do my best 😉 
 

Average 97 Decibels – Part 2

Some words about the bands for those not so familiar with this world. Stam1na is a melodic death metal band from Finland, singing in Finnish. Mentioned Black Dahlia Murder is an extreme metal band from Detroit, USA. Insomnium is an English singing melodic death metal band from Finland as well. Silver Dust is a gothic, steampunk metal band from Switzerland, singing in English, Rotting Christ is black/dark metal from Greece, singing in many languages, mostly Greek and English, but also French or Farsi for example. Moonspell is a dark, gothic metal band from Portugal, singing in English and Portuguese. While most of the six bands are t-Shirt bands, Moonspell does a little bit with props and costumes, and Silver Dust does a lot. It was actually refreshing to see some effort put into clothing and makeup and putting on a „show“ with a video screen also, showing clips and bits fitting to the songs.


The audiences were all the same tribe, no matter in which country: metalheads! Moshing wise the French were most active and squeezed the first two, three rows pretty well, on all other gigs, I was safe in my beloved first row. The first row is just the best place to be. Despite creating a meter or two of space between the bands and the audience, I actually prefer a railing, since you can put your coat there, lean on it and use it as head banging support, lol. The unobstructed view to the stage is of course the best part of things. The sound in the first row is actually not the best, but that can’t be helped. Only after the Rotting Christ gig in Budapest, I gave up on the first row, because of the low stage, no place to hold onto and back pain and retreated to the back of the hall for Moonspell to have a wall for support. I didn’t see a thing anymore, but the sound was excellent.


Some people may shake their heads at crazy trips for heavy metal, but I’m proud of my passions, lol. It’s the adventures you make, the people you meet and the things you experience that define you. I met French metalhead friends in Lyon, I made a new metalhead friend from Brazil, I chatted with Austrian fans in Vienna, I talked to a lady from the Netherlands in a bus somewhere, a super friendly Hungarian grandpa helped me in broken English to find the airport bus, I met my sister in Dresden, where neither of us had ever been before. I managed to explore Lyon, Dresden and Vienna for a bit, I’ve been to Budapest again after nine years. I saw excellent concerts of bands whose music touches my heart and soul. All that would not happen without the passion. I hope it never dies and that the next trip will be around the corner soon! Cheers!

Average 97 Decibels – Part 1

Ahhhh, a sweet week is over, three bands four times (Stam1na, The Black Dahlia Murder, Insomnium) and another three bands two times (Silver Dust, Rotting Christ, Moonspell). It was a blast! Any time again please!
In the very good venue of the Pratteln Konzertfabrik Z7 (in Switzerland) was something I have never seen before in the plenty of concert venues big and small that I so far had the privilege to visit: a decibels counter. Insomnium and the other bands averaged out at 97 decibels. There was one spike cracking the 100 decibels mark, but most of the stuff was between 95 and 99 decibels. So that’s the magic number: 97 decibels 😉 In some venues things might be louder, but judging from the comfort level of my (earplugged) ears, the around 100 decibels seems to be the norm 😉


There is no debating about taste, but frankly I didn’t care for The Black Dahlia Murder at all. As stated by the vocalist, they are an extreme metal band and in my humble opinion did not fit to Stam1na and Insomnium, which work very well together. I have nothing against extreme metal, Meshuggha is an awesome band for example, but the Dahlia guys just didn’t do it for me, which made the hour of their set quite a drag.


I thought the three other bands of Silver Dust, Rotting Christ and Moonspell made a much better combination. Steampunk, ghost themed Silver Dust, then the black, dark metal of Rotting Christ and the dark, gothic metal of Moonspell, now that went down smoothly. I enjoyed those two evenings immensely.
The traveling within Europe went flawlessly, even the most challenging part of getting from Budapest to Dresden went well thanks to on time airplanes and trains. But, to a limited extend, I have come to understand the challenge of touring. These bands hop around from city to city in their tour busses, apparently also sleeping in them, taking showers at the venues. While I traveled about for fun, they have to give their best every night for new audiences. Well new audiences??? Lol there were people I saw three times, traveling around with the bands like myself, lol. But the majority of the audience is of course not doing the city hopping.


The best Insomnium gig was in Pratteln, Switzerland I suppose, thanks to an excellent venue and great sound. The best Rotting Christ gig was in Budapest, due to first row, no barrier, my hand on the monitor of the guitarist. The stage was very low, since the venue was on a fixed boat on the Danube river that resulted in a low ceiling. That gig was very close up and personal and earned me the pic that Sakis Tolis, the front man of Rotting Christ, played with 😉

Norway Fjord Cruise – Part 3

The morning after the storm everything was fine, the seas flat again and I felt okay, even if I didn’t have any appetite yet. The Okinawa trip where the bad weather lasted for about 16 hours and when I couldn’t walk straight anymore for a while upon arrival, remains the peak of seasickness so far, but now I have a clear number two: that night on the MS Lofoten 😉
The last full day at sea was the least interesting with plenty of fjords, yes, but not really amazing sceneries, apart from the town of Molde, which has quite a view at mountains across the shore.

The day also provided another stretch of open sea before Molde, which was quite shaky again and I lay down for a while on a sofa in the salon. I found that lying down does help a little with the seasickness feeling. I didn’t get sick this time, but was happy when it stopped swaying.
On the last day towards Bergen seas were quiet, luckily.


The average age of the cruise passengers on board was maybe 60. There were a few younger people though, notably an Australian lady in her 30ties who I talked to a lot and a British girl in her twenties. There was also a weird young guy not yet 30 who walked around in a suit for the entire journey. Lol. One notable passenger was a 87 year old lady from Norway who spent much of her life in Canada though. She didn’t even get sea sick, she was only complaining that she cannot walk through the ship when it shakes so badly! She was everyone’s grandma and so funny and alert. I wanna be like that and still go on cruises and be interested in the people around me if I get to become 87!
The tour guide announced everything in Norwegian, then English, finally German. Half of the cruise guests were Germans and they did make me cringe. The kind of Germans who want to take Germany with them wherever they go and complain about anything they find un-German and not up to their “standards”. There were no younger Germans on board, I might have been the youngest. I felt kinda embarrassed and wanted to apologize to the crew for those arrogant German retired couples. There was an astonishing amount of Australians on board and equally interesting there were no Chinese or Japanese around, some signs along the route were in Chinese, indicating Chinese passengers, but not on my trip.
All in all the journey was living up to my expectations and that one glorious day with the Trollfjord and sea eagles and the view of the Lofoten at sunset will remain a highlight among the travel experiences I have made so far.


I’m not in the habit of doing the same thing twice apart from Wacken and other heavy metal related things, so I won’t do a Norway cruise again 😉 Let’s see what will happen after Wacken next year. The Wacken ticket just arrived! 🙂

Norway Fjord Cruise – Part 2

Day three of the Norway cruise was the most glorious and perfect day. Sunshine, quiet seas in the fjords, astonishingly warm for 70 degrees north. The best and most spectacular fjord was the Trollfjord, followed by the main town of the Lofoten islands, Svolvaer. Wow, those were picture book fjords in fantastic weather. It also offered the only excursion I had booked, a sea eagle photo safari. It involved spectacular action like the small boat for the sea eagle safari matching speed with the MS Lofoten and the people who booked the excursion “jumping ship”.

Seagulls entertained us with the tour boat people throwing bread and fish at them and before and after entering Trollfjord looking out for eagles and luring them to the boat with free fish. We had six or seven eagles in total, two of them catching fish from the air close to the boat and the others catching the fish that the crew threw into the water, noteably after injecting the fish corpses with air to make them float to make it easier for the eagles to catch them out of the water. The nosy seagulls kept their distance from the eagles when they approached by the way.


I would have loved to go ashore at Trollfjord and spend some more minutes there, but it was just in and out of the fjord and it’s for the cruise ship the only detour without calling to a port and only weather permitting. One of the cruise staff said we were hella lucky that the weather was so fantastic, many times you don’t see the tops of the mountains due to clouds, fog, whatever.

From Svolvaer to the next port we had to cross a stretch of open sea, but the day was fine, the sea was quiet and the view of the receding Lofoten islands in the sunset was completely stunning.


On day four we crossed the arctic circle in the morning and were entertained by cool looking, low hanging cloud and fog banks.

After passing a row of mountains called the seven sisters in the afternoon we entered an area of bad weather with rain and not seeing further than fifty meters. Then came the nightmare. We had to cross another section of open sea and the rain developed into a little storm and sent the ship swaying up and down and from side to side and by 23:00 I felt like I’d die!

I’ve only been really seasick once before, as far back as 1995 when I once went from Fukuoka to Okinawa by ship during my scholarship student times at the University of Kyushu. On the way to Okinawa everything was fine, on the way back we got into the outskirts of a typhoon and I thought the ship would sink and I got violently sick. Now for the second time on board the MS Lofoten. It’s amazing how miserable seasickness makes you feel, you really feel deathly sick and as if it’s the end of you, lol. I threw up two times, then fell into bed in my clothes. Luckily we left the stormy waters after around three hours and at two in the morning I was able to get up and get ready for bed in a proper fashion.

Keeping it Together

The best way to know what people are made of is to see how they behave in a crisis. The current Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, showed us what he was made of during a press conference the morning after the wonderful Shuri Castle of Naha, Okinawa burned down for yet unknown reasons. You could see the shock, anguish, sorrow and distress on his face, but he kept it together, chose the right words, gave the facts that were known and the conviction to do whatever possible to rebuild this icon of his prefecture. There was a lot of dignity, integrity and decency that could be felt even through the TV. I knew about him, but never really “bothered” before. But his speech left a very strong and positive impression on me.
His name is Yasuhiro (Denny) Tamaki and there is a lot special about him. First of all, he is a “ha-fu” = a “half”, the Japanese expression for a mixed race person. He was born in 1959 on Okinawa Main Island. During that time Okinawa was under US rule. The US only gave back Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
According to Wikipedia he never met his US marine dad who left Okinawa before Mr. Tamaki was born. His Japanese mom raised him as a single mom. As an adult, he apparently tried to locate his father, but was not successful.

I can guarantee you that he was bullied, especially as a child, being teased for having an American dad, who left his mom after an adventure, affair, or whatever they had. I guarantee you that also as an adult he has faced scorn and discrimination. But now he is the Governor of his home island. That is quite a remarkable career to make.
In our mad times of clowns, madmen, narcissist and assholes as politicians, it is very refreshing to see that there seem to be some decent guys around still somewhere. Tamaki-san is, needless to say, the first and so far only “half” who is a prefectural governor in Japan. I hope he remains the great guy he seems to be and that he does good by his home island. And I hope that the Shuri Castle can be rebuild quickly and I’ll surely visit it again.

Shuri Castle, Naha, Okinawa in Dec. 2018

Country of Choice

I have a Japanese heavy metal fan friend who has fallen in love with Finland. She took a break from her job and has just been there for two months living off her savings. She posted about her last day in her apartment in Helsinki and that she doesn’t want to come back to Japan but to stay in Finland.
I understand her soooooo well. I fell in love with Japan quite a while ago. At first I traveled for two months around Japan during university summer break, then managed to get a stipend for a year. When it was time to return to Germany after that stipend, I cried and wailed at the airport not wanting to go back.
I lived in Germany for another five years paying loads of money for flights back to Japan. Then in the year 2000 came the opportunity for a job in Tokyo. I moved here and never came back. Next year it’ll be twenty years that I’m living in Japan, twenty-one in total, counting in that one year with the stipend.

It’s not possible to describe what it means to fall in love with a country. There are a hundred reasons and none, just like with love for a person, it just happens. It’s of course not always been easy and no place on earth is perfect. But reading about my friend’s wish to stay in Finland, reminded me very strongly of how privileged I am to be able to live in my country of choice. It also doesn’t matter if there are earthquakes and typhoons, or in Finland’s case if it’s bloody cold and dark in winter ;-). When you love the place, you are in for the whole deal and accept it.
It’s easy to forget what you have when it’s around you every day and it’s good to be reminded once in a while of that and to cherish it. Here’s to the next twenty years, Japan! And I hope my friend can realize her dream of living in Finland. 🙂 They surely have excellent heavy metal music there 😉