Would Have

So, I thought there’d be no more “would have” about my summer holiday, but now there is. Originally I would have gone to Europe this summer, but that was cancelled quite a while ago. Then I booked two weeks in my beloved Okinawa… I would have flown to Naha today, but… on the 31st of July the governor of Okinawa declared a prefecture wide state of emergency, asking people to stay at home as much as possible. And that for at least the period of August 1st to August 15. My plan was to go to Okinawa (main island this time) from August 2nd to August 15th. Aaaaahhhhh!!!! Okinawa has currently 300 active cases (adding 200 in the last four days…) with 1.4 Mio inhabitants, while the prefecture where I live, Kanagawa, has 400 active cases with 9 Mio inhabitants, and that despite being right next to Tokyo with its now 3200 active cases.
It’s not forbidden to fly to Okinawa, but I’d just feel so awkward to be frolicking about during a state of emergency and the request to stay home. So yesterday I spent the morning with cancelling everything and luckily my hotel was super nice and let me cancel for free and it also looks like I’ll get most of the money back for the flight.
So what to do with my precious two weeks off in this very volatile atmosphere? I’ve booked an apartment now for 4 days in Kanazawa on the Japanese sea side where I’ve never been to before and will probably, hopefully go there tomorrow. Let’s see what happens! Stay safe everyone! And wear masks please!

Temple Mania

The number of tourists to Japan reached a new record in 2019. I found on some website that it’s been 32 million visitors. By comparison, in 2020 only 8.6 million came to Japan and in 2003 it was only 5.2 million. Not all of those millions are tourists of course, there are plenty of business trip people who have no time for sightseeing, but every single one of the millions of tourists goes to Kamakura!
There is a whole historic period named after the area, from 1185 to 1333 – the time of the Kamakura Shogunate. You can read all about it on Wikipedia etc. Fact is the place breathes history and has myriads of temples and shrines of offer, of which some 25 make it onto tourist maps. I have been to Kamakura (of course) during my very first visit to Japan in (OMG) 1993, when there were probably only 2 million or so visitors coming into the country and then again some time around 2005 with my sister (on a rainy day and we saw nothing much more than the great buddha statue). Ever since I have not been to Kamakura again, scared off by the horrendous number of tourists walking through the small town.
Now it happens that my current apartment is only 50 train minutes from Kamakura and I thought, hey! It’s the chance of a lifetime to explore Kamakura in detail, while there is an entry ban to Japan for 129 countries during the corona crisis.
So far I have been to Kamakura four times and I intend to go another two times or so, since on one trip I manage only 5 to 6 temples and shrines due to heat and rain 😉
There is also a reason for why the place is so full of tourists, because, yes, it is bloody great 🙂 If you like history, temples and shrines, Kamakura is the place to go.
It’s all quite stretched out and you are walking a lot, but you can also take some buses which run frequently through the town.

On my first visit I did the “main” route with a side kick to the great buddha statue, which is at Kohtoku-in temple. Then on to the grand Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, on to Kencho-ji temple, Meigetsu-in temple and Engkaku-ji temple.
On my second trip I walked through the so called Kanazawa Kaido area with the Eragaten shrine, the Kamakura shrine, the fantastic Zuisen-ji temple, the Sugimoto temple, the Jomyo-ji temple and the other gem of the Hokoku-ji temple.

Trip three brought me to two temples of the Kita-Kamakura area that I missed on the first trip, the Tokei-ji and the Jochi-ji, then down towards the coast to the famous Hasedera and the much less visited Kosoku-ji. The fourth trip brought me to the Jufuk-ji and the Eisho-ji and another highlight, the Kaizo-ji, then to the two big shrines of Zeniarai Benzaiten and my favorite shrine, the Sasuke Inari.

What’s left to explore will be the shrines and temples of the Zaimokuza area, which I will target in August or September.
During the four trips in June and July some temples were virtually deserted, some had a few Japanese visitors and also the occasional foreigner who lives here, but no comparison to the busloads of tourists that usually flock the place. While it is hard for the local businesses to do without those busloads, I can firmly say that I’m greatly enjoying the place without them 😉

Discover Your Neighborhood

I’m a bit at a loss at the moment as to what to write for the blog. World events are crazy… Japan, at the moment, seems like a happy island of calm with only some 18,000 coronavirus infections and a thousand deaths. Even if there is a gray zone and there actually might be more cases, this is nothing in comparison to many other countries.
What’s happening in Trumpfuckistan is beyond any words, that country is so sick on so many levels and yes, black lives do matter and the biggest virus of the country, agent orange, or as I like to call the creature: the orange fart face, just please please please has to go at the end of the year. Crazy many cases in Brazil, despite a hefty lockdown so many cases in India, the UK the worst affected country in Europe… but alas, their idiot government made them leave Europe…
And then the arctic is on fire and climate change rambles on. We are expecting a record summer in Japan too with “temperatures above normal” for the three months of July, August, September.
I had wanted to fly to Europe in August as usual and me idiot booked and payed for a flight in February, now I’m trying to cancel and maybe get some money back… all events (festivals) are cancelled and oh, yes, crazy Japan would not let me permanent resident back in anymore at the moment if I left the country, because I don’t have a Japanese passport… thanks for taking my taxes and all but granting no re-entry.
Money… there are salary cuts and we have shut down days at the company, usually Fridays. We are all doing the work of five days in four and get less money for it, but hey, at least I still have a paying job for now.
Which brings me to the good part and the title of this blog entry. I now have three day weekends and ever since our lockdown ended, I’ve been making use of those and done day trips around the Kanto region, so far mostly Kanagawa, where I live. It’s awesome. I’ve come to love my three day weekends and those day trips to places close by that I haven’t visited in years or not at all.
I’m posting pics on twitter and Facebook with a two week delay to make sure I didn’t catch anything at place x or y and that it has been safe to go there. But this is probably just over-caution, since our virus cases are pretty damn low and everyone is taking care. Everyone wears masks, always and there is hand sanitizer at every shop or museum or restaurant or whatever it is.
I’ve been to Enoshima = at the beach the first weekend after the state of emergency ended. Then for the first time ever I went to Mt. Takao and I loved it there, why the heck have I never gone there before?? 😉 I’ll definitely go there again in autumn/winter, when there is less humidity in the air and the view will be better. I’ve been to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise for the first time in some 15 years or so. It’s great to discover the beauty close by. I hope I can travel far away too again in the future, but for the moment, I am enjoying the little gems next door and there will be more to write about soon 😉
Take care everyone, stay safe, wear masks and let’s try to make the best out of it!

Bamboo Magic

Due to all the staying home and home-office as well, I had the opportunity to study the growth of bamboo this spring. lol. This is mostly a photo protocol rather than a blog entry. Bamboo grows so fast it’s incredible. You can virtually stand next to it and watch it grow. You can read all about bamboo in wikipedia, so I won’t repeat that here, but did you know that bamboo is not a tree but a grass? 😉 And a bamboo “tree” can live up to 120 years, but does all its growing in the first 60 days it said elsewhere.
Since the stuff is not growing where I grew up in Germany, to walk through a bamboo forrest always and still has a certain “wow” effect on me. The thing is though, you have to maintain a bamboo forrest in order to be able to walk through it. If you don’t then there is no walking possible 😉

In the park where all the following photos have been taken, a caretaker sees to it that things are not getting out of hand. A few meters down from the bamboo grove are some other trees and a bamboo shoot peaked out between them, but the caretaker ripped it out soon, otherwise, I suppose the bamboo would have taken over that tree grove. One way or the other, bamboo is a very “cool” plant from the European perspective and thanks to the enforced home-office and my walks to the park during lunch break, I documented bamboo growth for the first time in my 20 years in Japan 😉

April 10

April 17
May28 – that’s the top of that particular bamboo tree, it’ll grow leaves soon!

Adventures in Cooking

Let me say this right up front – I cannot cook at all and I don’t really like cooking either, although I unfortunately like eating, 😉 I do like baking once in a while with that home bakery thing I happen to own, but cooking? Uh… So a tiny bit of positive stuff has come out of the stay-at-home because of that bloody virus, since I have expanded the number of menus that I am (kinda) cooking and I’m a tiny bit proud of myself 😉
Until now cooking meant: frozen pizza on weekdays after work, or just some toast or bagels with cheese or ham or smoked salmon and an instant soup, if always with raw salad, and fruits for desert (I LOVE fruits).
On weekends cooking meant whatever form of spaghetti, gnocchi, potatoes, or pre-cooked rice packs that you throw into the microwave and whatever sauce or curry packages that you equally throw into the microwave. Occasionally I made pancakes but that was the utmost of effort.
I’ve been a vegetarian as a student (but I always ate fish) and even though I do eat meat these days, I never cook/fry meat at home. Maybe I eat a slice of ham or salami next to the spaghetti sauce, but slabs of meat I neither buy, nor cook, nor want to. Due to all the staying at home, I grew tired of my choice of meals and browsed about in the Internet for meals that you can make in 15 minutes, since I know myself and more time investment will not (yet) be on my radar. I also bought again a (tiny, cute) rice cooker. I had one in the past, but stopped using the thing after the discovery of pre-cooked rice packs you chuck into the microwave and threw my old, clunky, huge rice cooker away when I moved last time (3.5 years ago).
So, here are some new meals I “discovered”. Variate the noodles and chuck ramen noodles into a frying pan where you cook them and add a slice of cheese to them in the end. Those cheesy ramen give a bit of a new taste and variation from the Italian noodles.

A new spaghetti variation cooked in the microwave with eggplant chucked into it and some bacon. I never, I kid you not, cooked eggplant before in my life, lol.

I do like kitsune udon and made it for the first time myself, for the first time ever buying “hontsuyu” (the soup base) and atsuage (the fried tofu) to chuck it into the soup.

And the highlight, for the first time in my life, I kid you not, I threw a piece of salmon into the frying pan, which was very tasty, lol.

I am also enjoying rice made in the rice cooker again, it does taste better and more “real”, if that’s the word, than the microwave packages after all.
So, let’s see where else my cooking adventures will take me and what else I might try. For now I am quite happy with the additions to my menu, lol, and bon appetit!

To Close or not to Close

I find it interesting how my local shopping mall struggles with the best method to close or not to close which kind of shops during these lockdown times.
There is of course the directive and the necessity to keep food shops open, especially those with fresh produce. In the rear of the LaLaport Yokohama is the Ito Yokado department store with three floors, ground floor is a huge supermarket, and floors 2 and 3 are for clothing, stationary, kitchen items, etc. I go to this supermarket usually on Saturdays to refill my stocks for a week. Other than the Ito Yokado, there are about 50 to 100 other shops in the mall.
For two weekends before our official state of emergency was announced, the shopping center closed down on weekends on a voluntary basis in order to reduce large gatherings of people. The three floors of the Ito Yokado stayed open and awkwardly some restaurants were open, but not the ice cream shop for example. Next to the Ito Yokado is also a food court with a MacD and other fast food stuff, which also remained open.
Then came the official state of emergency and the mall closed down apart from Ito Yokado, a drug store and two other specialty food shops (which were closed during the voluntary shut down). On the first weekend after the state of emergency was declared, also floors 2 and 3 of Ito Yokado were roped off. They closed the food court as well, put all chairs and tables to the side, and put socks and underwear into the middle of the food court while at it’s far end only MacD remained open for take out.
Yet another weekend later all the socks and underwear had been moved to their original floors again and Ito Yokado had open in its entirety. Chairs were back in the food court, if roped off and MacD was still open for take out. Yet another week later, the food court was empty of chairs and just remained an open space. Yesterday they had an “event space” there with pottery items. What a hustle for the poor Ito Yokado staff having to re-arrange everything every week!
There is also no logic as to which specialty food shops are allowed to open and which not. Why is Kaldi (coffee and import food shop) allowed to open, but Tomiz (baking goods) and the Okinawa and Hokkaido food shops must close? All three have some perishable produce to offer but are shut down. I especially missed Tomiz, since I have rediscovered baking (as so many other people these days).
I wonder how we will get out of the closure of all these shops. Once they are reopened, there’ll be a run on them! Well, let’s see what happens. My only hope is that they all can reopen and have not gone broke in the weeks and months without customers. If I can’t to go Okinawa, then at least I wanna be able to get my Shikuwasa juice and the Chinsuko cookies… The first “round” of the state of emergency ended on May 6 but was extended to May 31. Despite that there were two additional shops open yesterday, the ice cream parlor and Tomiz! So, luckily I could get some of those wanted baking items 😉
Let’s see what will be open next weekend as the chaos continues… 😉

Golden Week at Home

Japan has a collection of national holidays end of April/beginning of May, which are known by the name of Golden Week (GW). It also happens that the company I work for closes off for the entire week around those holidays (using other national holidays on which we have to work).
Golden Week is thus the perfect time for a little travel and it’s easy to extend the GW a bit by adding one or the other day of paid leave.
I have made use of GW extensively and the last time I spent GW at home was 2010……… Alas… 2020 will be spent at home as well! I had booked a trip to my beloved Okinawa, but now cancelled it all, following the #stayhome directive.
I am of the kind who of course remembers having been on a trip to country X or island Y, but I do forget which year I went where. As a remedy I am in the habit of writing a journal and now it came in handy. I checked my journals and made a list of where I went every year during GW since the last time I spent it at home in 2010. The list is lovely and I shall bicycle around the neighborhood lost in memories of happy travels and island visits!

2011 – that was right after the big earthquake in Japan and I ventured out on my pre-booked travels to the Netherlands and the UK for sightseeing and heavy metal concerts in Amsterdam and London.
2012 – one of my most adventurous remote island trips so far. I went to the Ogasawara islands, 1000 km straight south of Tokyo in the middle of the Pacific. These islands have no airport and can only be reached by ship. One way takes 25 hours. The islands are insanely beautiful and I saw whales and dolphins during boat tours and in the harbor of Hahajima I saw sharks and mantas frolicking about.
2013 – I went to the island of Izu Oshima, not so far away from Tokyo and hiked around its central volcano, Mt. Mihara, which was great, but alas, my hotel was super crappy and infested with cockroaches, giant spiders and centipedes and I fled it one night earlier than planned.
2014 – No tiny Japanese island this time but a bigger one – I went to Taiwan finally after postponing a trip there for many times. I had a great time in Taipei and Kaohsiung walking around temples, skyscrapers and having good food.
2015 – Miyakojima. I rode around there with a rental car, sweating my guts out because of my fear of driving. But it is a wonderful island and I grew especially fond of the neighboring islands of Irabu and Shimoji where there is a fantastic beach studded with black rocks. Every day after the driving session was done, I went to an ice cream shop and rewarded myself after the driving stress.
2016 – Ishigaki. That time I tried with a scooter instead of a car, but found that to be equally scary and ended up not seeing much of Ishigaki island at all but hopping on boats every day to go to the surrounding islands which I explored on foot, with busses or rental bicycles. There was Kuroshima with 2000 cows and 200 people, Hateruma with a dream beach, and my favorite, Iriomote island with mangrove boat tours and hiking to waterfalls through the jungle.

2017 – something completely different! I flew to Moscow and St. Petersburg for sightseeing and heavy metal 😉 It had always been a dream of mine to stand on the Red Square in Moscow and visit the Basilica and the Kremlin. I enjoyed every minute of the trip to Russia. So much history and great people, even if they don’t speak English 😉

2018 – island time again, but not a Japanese one. I made another long held dream come true and flew to New Caledonia. Before coming to Japan, I didn’t even know about this place. I stumbled upon a flight coming from Noumea, had to google where that is and ever since I wanted to go there. Noumea is a wonderful city. I flew with a small plane to the Isle of Pines where is one of the most fantastic places ever called Piscine Naturelle, a closed off beach, where tropical fish swim around your feet in shallow waters.

2019 – Kumejima. Another lonely Okinawa island to explore. I had given up on car driving meanwhile and went around the island by bicycle up and down steep hills. The island has great beaches and stunning cliffs, but unfortunately the weather was not so good and lots of rain hampered the enjoyment, but that’s of course not the fault of the island.

So… what a nice list. I made great use of my Golden Weeks the past decade. I hope I can make equally good use of GW in the coming decade after spending the GW of 2020 in bicycle radius around my apartment! #stayhome #staysafe #stayhealthy

Bacteria – Part 4

Today I had an appointment (which was fixed a month ago) at the big university hospital I stayed at six weeks earlier, for the decision whether to do sinus surgery in May or not.
Over the weekend I debated with myself whether to go, considering the coronavirus situation, but eventually decided to get it over with.
The hospital it was spookingly empty. Next to every door of the ENT section hung a small poster saying politer than me but not less decisive (in Japanese of course): “You ain’t getting no PCR test here. If you think you have coronavirus, call the call centers and follow their guidance. Do not come here if you have more than four days of fever, cough, breathing difficulties etc. Call the centers!”
Of course it’s kinda too late to post that inside the hospital, but what else are they supposed to do. Since it was very empty, just two other people in the large waiting area, I got to see my doc after a five minute wait. After talks about my situation were done, I bluntly asked him if he is seeing any coronavirus patients and his answer was no. He said that coronavirus is handled in Japan by “internal” medicine and not ENT. He added that “internal” has a hard time, but he is actually far less busy than usual right now! Most of the operations he is in charge of have been rescheduled or outright cancelled… very interesting.
I was in and out of the hospital under half an hour, phew!
As for my personal situation: At the moment no operation is needed. Another big phew! There might be one in the future some time, since my sinuses are not the greatest, but not now. My nose is as clear as it hasn’t been in a long while 🙂 To be clear, the cancellation of my sinus operation is not due to a capacity problem, but because the sinuses are much better! 🙂
The not so good news is that the teeth trouble is far from over. Still treatment needed for numbers 4 and 5 after number 7 was pulled last month and no guarantee yet that 4 and 5 can be saved. But the nose is much better and that’s great 🙂
At last month’s check up, they also took another blood sample to make an allergy test. I was very interested to get those results, since my last proper allergy test was done a longish while ago when I was a student in Munich. On a severity scale from 0 to 6 my highest score is 2, which translates into a clear if mild allergy against cats (sniff… well, I knew that already). The same score of 2 also showed on various grass related plants. A score of 1, meaning possibility of an allergic reaction, I got for house dust, mites and some cedar trees.
Funny thing is that the grass related stuff blooms in June and July, but I never had trouble with these months yet. I always have some trouble with April and May, so those trees are worse even if I only scored 1. Thankfully all the allergies are only mild. If my sneezing and eye-itching is what you get at level 1 or 2, I don’t wanna know how bad people are off at level 6!
As far as the hospital is concerned, I am not off the hook yet. I have an appointment now for July where doc wants to do another CT scan to see how things developed and I’m supposed to finish my teeth stuff until then. So that’s the goal and I reported promptly to my dentist a few hours later when I had my appointment there. We will continue the teeth gauntlet weekly, still trying to save number 4 and 5…
But, for the first time since August last year I am not taking any nose meds anymore from tomorrow onwards, yeah!
So let me hope that the nose stays quiet, that the teeth will get repaired somehow, and that I can dodge any corona bullets! Cheers!

Japanese Hospital Life

Let’s say this right up front, I found the Showa University hospital (Yokohama branch) where I stayed for five nights because of my sinus/jaw infection to be very good.
The sixth floor was for ENT plus “general” if that’s the word, including cases of very old people who are heavy nursing cases. How do I know that? Because all doors to the sick rooms are open 24/7. The building is laid out like a triangle. On the long side are five-bed rooms, on the angle sides are four-bed rooms. At either end the angle sides overshoot the long side and there are a few private rooms, which cost 25,000 yen per night instead of 5000 yen per night, and they are the only rooms whose doors are closed. In both cases, add another ten percent VAT to the price. All beds in all rooms are surrounded by curtains. The four-bed rooms on the triangle’s flanks have a very nice star layout which gives each bed a window. In the five-bed rooms only two people are lucky enough to have a window. I heard the five-bed rooms are cheaper than 5000 Yen per day but I don’t know how much cheaper.
In German hospitals no curtains. In hindsight I find the curtains great, because they give you a bit of privacy and you don’t have to be conscious of other people seeing you all the time. If you’re really sick you wanna be left alone anyway (on my first day for example). Once you are better, you can wander around and go to the so called day-room for visitors and for using the phone or getting a soft drink from the vending machine. The day room is at the tip of the triangle. In the center of the triangle are the two nurse stations for the wards 6a and 6b.
The heavy-care rooms are facing the nurse station, and some guys had their curtains open, therefore I know what was going on there. Except for the heavy-nursing cases, everyone else was still able to walk around. Average age maybe 60 and I was the only non-Japanese I saw the whole time.
What I found remarkable is that all nurses were under 35 or even under 30. My guess is the more experienced nurses are in other floors where the patients are sicker. A few male nurses were around too, but not so many. All ENT doctors I saw were also very young, all of them under forty. Only on my first day, three doctors came by to say hello who were older and who looked like the head doctors of the ENT department. All nurses were exceptionally friendly and careful. The young doctors were eager and ready to help, only one woman among them, but better than no woman at all. The nurses make their tours with their rolling wagons crowned with their almighty computers and scan the wrist band you got before every load of medicine. You are allowed to go downstairs to the convenient store and coffee shop even with your infusion stand, but you are not allowed to go outside.
Since all sick room doors are open, you hear a lot of what’s going on. One night one of the heavy-nursing cases was screaming a bit, the guy in the next room had a bad cough. There was one sad/funny scene in the corridor. An elderly male patient sat in a wheelchair, his visiting wife by his side and a nurse. He wanted to get up. The nurse told him he can’t, he’ll break his legs if he tries to get up. Grandpa still wanted to get up until his unnerved wife told him to do the bloody hell what the nurse was saying and grandpa gave in with a grumble.
I found this mixture of exposure to what’s happening around you and the curtain shield quite interesting.
When I was admitted there were two ladies in my four-bed room, one looked like a thyroid case, the other I don’t know. Except for greetings I did not communicate with them. After two nights one lady was released from the hospital and the other with the thyroid operation was moved to a cheaper five-bed room apparently upon her request. For a few hours I was alone, but then they brought in another lady and from the next day onward we actually started chatting to each other. I didn’t catch for 100 percent what was wrong with her, some heavy case of tonsillitis where her throat swelled shut? She was very eager to get out of hospital. She had no husband around but a 15-year-old daughter who was now alone at home, and she also had to work, (as a home nursing helper) saying she had no money to stay in hospital for long… I’m sure she is insured, since everyone here is, but it costs a couple hundred USD to stay for a few days after all and that’s tough especially when you are a single parent… life is hard, being sick is even harder! I wish my room mate lady all the best and that we don’t have to return to hospital any time soon because of a certain virus for example!

Bacteria – Part 3

Thursday 27th February
I arrived at the hospital around 11:00 in the morning and before seeing a doctor you need to get your shinsatsuken first, your registration card. It does make sense though, since everything about you connects to the magic bar code on your card. I handed over my recommendation letter and waited for my card. Then they sent me to the ENT section and I waited to see a doc. My doc was rather young, in his thirties and he surprised me by showing compassion, lol. He said several times, oh my that must hurt so bad, well yes, it did. He immediately decided I have to be hospitalized and sent me to get blood drawn and to be prepared for infusion. Next came an X-ray of the chest, my lungs looked very black = clean on the X-ray. I saw my doc again and he was going, why is there no CT scan yet? Maybe we have to emergency operate! He said that to the nurses, not me. Uh? Emergency operate? That didn’t sound so good but I was too phased out to ask.

They sent me to CT scan where you have to fill out a declaration that you are okay with the scan, since the iodine whatever they are pumping into you can actually kill you in rare cases. Then I sat there and waited and my doc came along again, concerned, angry even, “still waiting?” Me, um yes. I remembered the word emergency operation and asked what’s that about. He said if the bacteria have reached the optic nerve I could go blind and we’d have to emergency operate to try to prevent that. He turned away from me and ordered the staff to speed up my scan. He stayed with me and got me into the CT room. He joined the radiologist staff in the computer room while I was being scanned. He came out and looked much more relaxed. Eye is not yet affected, we don’t have to operate, you’ll be processed now into the hospital bed and be hooked up to antibiotics infusions as fast as possible. Funnily I was not in panic mode anymore at all. Probably just too phased out. The staff made me wait a little bit for more formalities, but it didn’t take too long and finally there was a hospital bed. Temperature 38.3, pulse 106, blood pressure 165 to something, I forgot, I wasn’t doing too well…

They gave me pain meds, which also push down fever and hooked me to the infusion rack. Finally pain meds that worked! Heaven! I thought I could rest, but nope, ENT called me down once more and tears around at the nose, jabs stuff into it and I heard myself saying fxxk once, which I think doc didn’t take so well, but c’mon, this was bad. He also told me my sinus is so crappy and so clogged shut it needs to be operated. Let’s fix a date, how about 8th of May? It didn’t sound like I had much of a choice. And by the way, the teeth need to get fixed before that too… then I’m finally allowed to rest and in the evening get the second antibiotics infusion and pain meds.
What I realized when taking these meds was, there is a reason for why you can only apply them in the controlled environment of a hospital. Every time I took the pain meds, I got very hot for a minute or so a little while after taking them. At the second round of meds I suddenly broke out into cold sweat from all pores and when a nurse checked the temperature some time that evening, my body temperature was 35.8 Celsius. Wow. Chemical hammer, thou art appreciated. During the first night I had another sweat attack, and once the shivers, but by morning my body had calmed down.

Friday 28th of February
Yeah! I could open my eye again! The swelling was still awful but it was very relaxing to be able to see with both eyes. They do keep you busy in Japanese hospitals. Three times a day I had to do some inhaler stuff, which goes by the fancy name of “nebulizer”, lol. After breakfast an ENT doc sees you, not “my” doc but whoever was on duty. I was in the ENT plus whatever general ward for the not severe cases. I saw several people who looked like they had thyroid surgery. But there was an ENT room with the respective equipment on my floor so that’s where they sent you, rather than the doc coming around to see you. I got to see an ENT doc every day, also Saturday and Sunday. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So after the ENT visit on the 28th, I got my next infusion, then they sent me to the eye doc to check once more if everything is okay about my eye. They asked me all the time whether I see things double, which seems to be a sign of meningitis, meaning bacteria having sneaked to the brain.
Fever was down meanwhile, pain was bearable, they also gave me ice packs.

Saturday 29th of February
On Saturday morning a highly welcomed decision happened during the ENT morning visit. The ENT sent me to the hospital’s oral surgeon. Meanwhile the swelling was much better. I dreaded the dentist chair and there was pain again, but the dentist guy did something badly needed, he took out whatever my regular dentist had plugged into tooth number 5 and then drilled a bit and poof! I bled quite badly and spit out blood into the basin. He had popped open the abscess at the top of number five. I could feel a fat swelling with my tongue there and later how it was retreating within hours. He released the pressure by popping it open and a lot of infected goo came out too. Phew. He then showed me parts of my CT scan for the first time, the right jaw and sinus being a goo filled mess, bacteria have done their work there for more than half a year. His recommendation seemed to be to pull number 7 and 5, maybe number 4 can be saved with root canal cleaning. So that was my homework… he promised to will write a letter to my dentist with his recommendations.

Sunday 1st of March
After the popping of the abscess, things turned better quickly and by Sunday morning the swelling had very much retreated.
Also the doc in the morning was pleased and said I’d get to do a blood test Monday morning and that would decide if I could be discharged on Tuesday, meaning, if my blood test was satisfactory, I could go home.

Monday 2nd of March
On Monday morning came the promised blood taking, then, at 09:00 they ordered me to the ground floor and for the first time since admission, I saw the doc again who was in charge of me. He jabbed around my nose again painfully. There was a rest of bacteria left around the teeth, but the sinus had cleared up a lot. He said a dentist appointment on Friday would be too late, I’ll be discharged Tuesday and am supposed to go to the dentist on Wednesday, I’m supposed to call him immediately. He said that if I’m lucky and the teeth stuff clears things up, I might not need that operation in May. So let’s see what happens on the teeth front.
In next week’s blog, I’ll report a bit about life in a Japanese hospital.

Bacteria – Part 2

I thought a bit about whether to put my medical troubles onto the blog or not, but decided to do so. First of all as a chronicle of what happened for myself, second as kind of a case study, which might one day help someone with similar problems.
It’s also a “study” of actually wanting to get into a hospital and finding it difficult to be admitted. I kind of wanted to be admitted around 36 to 48 hours before I eventually got hospitalized.

My just recently reported bacteria story took an unexpected turn for the much worse.
Mid of February the front pillar of that old tooth bridge (see previous blog entry from 23feb20) was starting to act up, hurt when eating and felt generally weird and appeared even a bit loose. I asked the dentist, he wriggled around at the tooth and said hm, let’s see for another week how it behaves. Fine by me, since he was working on the other pillar of the former bridge. In dentist terms he was doing the root canal cleaning on tooth 7. Number six got pulled maybe 25 years ago. So what was starting to trouble me now was number 5.

24th February:
Number 5 started to hurt massively and the tissue around it swelled a bit. Chewing on the right side became nearly impossible.

25th February:
I called the dentist in the morning, he agreed to see me more or less during his lunch time. He took an X-ray. Same story as with number 7. At the top of the root is a pocket with bacteria, bad news, also at tip of tooth 4. Number 4 is an old crown with former root canal action, but number 5 is/was the only molar tooth on the upper right side left with a living nerve. He drilled it open and pulled the nerve, having to give me five (!) dosages of anesthetics because it hurt like hell. He stuffed medicine into the root canal and closed the tooth and sent me home.
The tooth hurt more and more during the afternoon and the face started to swell. In the evening my boss said I look cute with the fattened cheek (friendly meant joke, I laughed at it). Back home it got worse and worse and even touching the area with the tongue hurt, any form of pressure was excruciating. I took the regular one pill a day antibiotics prescribed by the ENT doc and some pain meds from the dentist which helped zero. I couldn’t sleep from the pain and it swelled more and more. At 3 in the morning I freaked out and called the medial emergency hotline. That’s a pretty cool hotline, where someone listens to your story and gives you advise and judges whether to call an ambulance or not. I told my story and the advisor guy recommended to send over an ambulance and connected me to them. For the first time in my life I had thus called an ambulance. They came ten minutes later and looked at my swollen face, checked temperature, blood pressure, listened to the story. The emergency doctor said, that at this hour the next dentist is about an hour drive away and I probably have to wait there too and that dentist will probably only give me stronger meds and that’s it. They can take me there all right, but if I can stand it somehow I should wait till the morning and go to my regular dentist. The prospect of an hour in a car and all that let me decide to hold out until morning. I asked the guy what it cost that they came to my place. Oh, the ambulance doesn’t cost anything. I was starting to get back some of the health insurance I’m paying. I dozed off at about 5:30 in the morning for maybe an hour, that was it.

26th February:
I went to my dentist without an appointment and stood at his door when he opened, my face looked interesting by now. Dentist said he cannot drill around anywhere if it’s that swollen and slabbed stronger pain meds and antibiotics into my hand. Hm… I went back home and did some home office, several phone calls with Germany, while feeling worse and worse. The new pain meds helped for about an hour but that was it and I was only allowed to take three pills a day. At 17:00 I called the dentist again, asking what to do, whether he can’t submit me to a hospital, he says he can’t, I should check with my ENT. I called the ENT and he ordered me to his practice, so I’m on the train for the second time that day despite feeling terrible. He said, okay, forget the dentist’s antibiotics, take yet other stuff that’s stronger. Not being able to sleep is no surprise, I have to be patient. It’s already 18:30 in the evening, if the yet new antibiotics work, fine, if not I should prepare to be hospitalized on Thursday. During the night fever started, I dozed on an off but got up hourly to change ice packs, the only thing that kept me from freaking out. By morning my eye had swollen shut. ENT warned that this could happen, so I was prepared and didn’t freak out over it. Fever was at 38 Celsius.

27th February:
First thing in the morning was to call the ENT and he said to come over and he’ll decide whether to send me to hospital or not, which is likely and I shall prepare and bring stuff. I rode on the train hiding behind mask and sunglasses. ENT took one look into my face and said, he’ll write a recommendation letter and sent me with it to the Showa University hospital Yokohama branch, which is luckily in walking distance from the ENT. I staggered to hospital seeing only from one eye. Luckily I didn’t have to do initial explaining anywhere, I just removed the mask and showed them my face and everyone went OMG…

Bacteria Bacteria

I am writing this in the middle of the covid19 crisis and nobody knows yet where the journey will go with that virus. While people freak out about it I personally have another nasty problem not with a virus but with bacteria. I have sinusitis now for 6 months straight going into month 7. I’ve had problems with sinusitis my entire life, which seems to be in the genes since my mother and sister also had/have the same sinusitis story their whole lives. In the past I got sinusitis two times, sometimes only one time, sometimes three times per year. I cannot remember a single year where I had zero sinusitis. Depending on the severity, it was gone after 2 to 6 weeks.
Last year in August, while on that cruise in Norway I caught another sinusitis. It went along normally and seemed to get better. Then I returned to Japan and after a week or two it got worse again and suddenly for the first time in my life it was stinking inside my nose (very yucky, I don’t recommend it). So I went to the otolaryngologist – since that’s a mouth full, let me use the German word for it, which is HNO derived from Hals = throat, Nase = nose and Ohren = ears doctor. I had seen this HNO before for my “normal” sinusitis” and he gave me the usual antibiotics and slime loosening stuff. It didn’t get better, fever went down but all the rest stayed. He changed the antibiotics. It didn’t get better. I asked him what to do, he shrugged and said I was getting “the strongest” antibiotics already.
Frustrated, I turned to the Internet and started reading stuff about sinusitis (bad idea) and got scared reading articles about fungi in the nose and what not. I went to a new HNO, that was now in October, told him my story and he did an x-ray of my head. Funnily left side was okay (looks dark on the x-ray = air) right side was “white” = stuffed with stuff. New doc ranted about former doc who didn’t even take an x-ray. New doc told me considering that whiteness it’ll take three months or so until I get better. He gave me a different set of antibiotics.
Then started two months of taking some antibiotics, stopping, no improvement, again antibiotics, stopping, no improvement… although at least the stinky stuff stopped.
HNO always gave me the same meds and did basically nothing else. In December I decided to stop going and wanted to test whether the shock of warm weather in Cambodia would help. It didn’t, so in January I went to the third HNO and told him my story. Now this guy had interesting things to say. First of all it’s unusual that I have sinusitis only on the right side. There are two popular reasons for this, it comes from a bad tooth = teeth bacteria leak into the sinuses, or “cancer”. YIKES. Of course I do not like the latter word. But, when the doc said teeth, I almost screamed. In July I suddenly had bad toothache upper right under a 20 year old crown/bridge. I went to my dentist just before leaving for Wacken/Norway. He did not break down the bridge, since I’d be flying the next day or so and gave me antibiotics (only 4 days) and pain killers. The tooth became quiet, was not ideal, but not actively hurting and I let it be.
Because what third HNO said matches with right upper side tooth trouble, I got convinced that it’s that tooth indeed. HNO said, go to the dentist first of all and treat that tooth, then we see what comes next. So this is the stage where I am now, the bridge is broken down and I had four root canal cleaning sessions already. The second was really bad and painful = indicating an infection = bacteria. The third and fourth root canal sessions were less painful = infection is dying down as it seems. HNO is curbing the enthusiasm though saying it will still take two months or so to heal the sinusitis.
He gave me new meds for “widening” the stuck canals in my nose and also, guess what antibiotics. The thing is though that the doses is not so high and I’m supposed to take them regularly for the entire 2 months, not stop and go like from HNO 2. If the tooth action does not improve the nose situation, we have to look at other options, CT scan, exclude the scary cancer option, and maybe an operation to open a “window” in the sinus to drain the goo. HNO 3 seems competent (though I thought that of HNO 2 also in the beginning) but at least he has now a plan with various options that seem valid and there was/is an inflammation at the root of that cursed tooth after all as evidenced by the dentist. I am pissed though that HNO 1 and 2 did not even come upon the idea. While we have of course majorly advanced in terms of medicine to let’s say a hundred years ago, to me the field of medicine is still one great game of guesswork. If it ain’t obvious like a broken bone we basically have not much of a clue.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that HNO3 found the reason = the tooth and that I will be rid of this darn, nasty, bothersome sinusitis by spring! There have been two, three nights already where the right sinus didn’t swell shut completely, I see light at the end of the tunnel, hopefully!

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!