Thursday, July 29, 2010

My little Collectibles box

I've had a cold this week and been cooped up at home despite the nice warm weather, which is kind of frustrating. Ena had the day off yesterday but we couldn't do anything. Grr.

Anyway, as a result of my incapacity I've decided to do a blog post about stuff in my apartment. Today's subject: My little box of stuff I collect:
This is a small tin that used to have some cookies in it. I now use it to house my three little collections: stamps, baseball cards and coins. My little baseball card collection takes up most of the space.

Now that I've introduced my little collection box, I'm going to take this blog post on a big tangent about baseball cards. Please bear with me - the tangent will eventually come full circle and return to the subject of my little collection box. I promise.

I've been a baseball card collector on and off since I was a kid. My collecting days peaked in the late 80s/early 90s when my dad ran a small store selling sports collectibles (best part time job any 14 year old could ask for). By the time the store closed in 1993 (when we moved) I probably had close to 100,000 cards in my personal collection. The last time I was at my parent's place it was kindly requested of me that I go into their crawl space and get rid of as much of my old junk as possible. A large amount of that junk was stack upon stack of boxes filled with those very same baseball cards.

Now, pretty much all of my old cards have absolutely no value today and my dad and I ended up trucking literally 10s of thousands of the things to the salvation army to give away. I even felt bad about burdening them with the things, fearing they would just end up having to pay someone to take them to the dump - that is how worthless they are.

The reason they are worthless is that, roughly concurrent with my peak collecting days, the hobby was being transformed from a rather simple and enjoyable one into one giant pyramid-scheme that, for lack of a better way to phrase it, made everyone and everything involved in the hobby stupid.

I think the general narrative is pretty well known. Up until the early 80s there was basically only one set of cards made per year, so it made collecting pretty simple. If you liked the Montreal Expos there was probably one card of each player out there and for a couple of dollars you could probably collect them all. Not that the cards had any specific intrinsic value to them, but the act of collecting them was an inexpensive little ritual fans could partake of and maybe derive some amusement from.

Then throughout the 80s and 90s things got more complicated. Tons and tons of new sets of cards were being released every year for higher and higher prices. At the peak of the insanity, every player probably had about 100 different cards, most made of plastic rather than cardboard. An Expos fan would need to invest huge amounts of time and money to collect all the Expos cards produced in a given year. By one estimate approximately 81 billion trading cards of all sorts were being produced annually in the US in the early 1990s: that works out to about a dozen cards for every single person on the planet. Every year.

Eventually everyone kind of realized "What the hell are we doing? Why am I spending hundreds of dollars of my hard earned money on little pictures of over-paid, arrogant athletes? This isn't fun anymore. Its insane." And the pyramid scheme, starved of new money, collapsed back down to size, though not without leaving a mark of anal retentiveness and greed on the hobby that lasts to this day.

Anyway, this all relates to my little collection box (see - I told you I would bring the tangent full circle) because I think it allows me to experience some of the simplicity of collecting baseball cards that has been lost in North America. The baseball cards I collect are from a company called "Calbee" which has been making them since 1973. You can't buy just the cards themselves, they come as a bonus on the backs of bags of potato chips (2 cards per bag).

I think Calbee does it the right way. Its taken me two years to fill that little box with about 200 or so cards. That is because I can only stomach about one bag of chips per week. So there is a sort of built-in limit on a person's ability to accumulate the damned things that actually makes them more enjoyable to collect. If I could just go into some store and lay down some cash to buy a shrink-wrapped box filled with hundreds of cards, which is the way they are distributed in North America, I just wouldn't appreciate them as much.

The other thing I really like about them is that they keep the design simple and NEVER change it. I hated the way manufacturers started adding gold foil and all sorts of garbage to American cards in the 90s, it just made them look stupid. Simple is good. This is what the cards look like:
Perfect. Picture of the player, his name and his team - all the information you need, no useless shit added thank you very much. The above picture actually shows cards from three different years (2008, 2009 and 2010) - note that the design is more or less identical on all of them - they know enough not to go messing around with something that works perfectly (or they are just too cheap to hire someone to redesign them from year to year, but whatever - it works and I'll be pissed off if they ever try to "improve" them).

The other thing I like is that they are dirt cheap. A bag of Calbee chips costs about 80 cents - which is pretty much the same as what bags of chips without cards cost. Admittedly they ain't the best chips, but they'll do for a light snack.

To continue my rant (I've gone this far, so why not) there is another company that makes baseball cards in Japan: BBM. I hate BBM. Whereas Calbee keeps everything nice and simple, BBM screws everything up North American-style. They release huge numbers of useless sets, add all sorts of shiny shit to their cards, create stupid "tribute" subsets and other barf-inducing attempts at cashing in on false nostalgia and charge way too much money for them. Also they don't make chips or anything else, they just sell the cards. Screw you, BBM.

Anyway, there you go. I'm stuck indoors on a sunny day and wanted to spend an hour doing something other than writing a paper about class action lawsuits and this is what I did. The end!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Swimming with the sharks

Ena and I went swimming on Shikanoshima last week. It was our first time to go together this year. We road our bikes counter-clockwise around the island to get to the beach on the northern tip, passing some nice scenery on the way:
We had picked up some cheap inflatable beach toys earlier and were happy to finally be able to give them a field test:
The ball works perfectly:
The nozzle on the big green ring had an unfortunate habit of constantly opening, meaning my lungs had to constantly fill it back up again. Nonetheless for 300 yen it wasn't a bad purchase!

I've been a bit worried about swimming in these waters since there was a story on the news a couple weeks back about beaches in neighboring Nagasaki prefecture being closed due to the presence of hammerhead sharks. Further internet research turned up all sorts of stories of people in the waters around Kyushu getting attacked or even eaten whole by sharks, including great whites. But it was REALLY hot out and there were lots of other bathers so we just said "screw it".

Its kind of a long bike ride out there from our place, but on the way back we could enjoy the sun setting at our backs as we crossed the bridge from Uminonakamichi:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Fun

After a one-month blog drought: two posts in two two days!!

Yesterday was a sunny Sunday so Ena and I decided to have some fun. It was oppressively hot and humid so we didn't feel like going anywhere far or new. Instead we just went into town. We had lunch at one of the hundreds of really nice cafes in Tenjin and then headed over to Ohori Koen, where we decided to do some nautical recreation.

We had two options: Duck-shaped paddle boats or rowboats. The lake was covered in Duck-shaped paddle boats and not a single row boat. I assume that was because the duck-shaped boats have roofs to shade people from the sun. The last time I went sailing on Ohori Koen lake with Natsu and Simon they told me that the duck-shaped paddle boats were bad luck for couples though, so we decided to go for the rowboats. It also helped our decision along that we would have had to get in line to rent a paddle boat while there were a ton of rowboats ready to go.

So we piled in and off we went:
We basically followed the same course I had gone on with Natsu and Simon, except for about ten minutes when Ena joined me on the oars:
For those ten minutes we just went in circles due to (ahem) a slight imbalance in engine power on each side. Circles are fun though so it was great, Ena really got into it:
After that we headed over to Momochihama to get some ice cream on the beach. One interesting thing about Japanese beaches is that, at least these days, you will spot a disproportionately high number of men sporting the nation's unfortunate new fashion statement: the mullet. I'm not sure why but going swimming at the beach seems to be a decidedly working class (read "redneck") activity here and the mullet is becoming endemic.

Stepping onto that beach was a bit like stepping into an OHL hockey game circa 1989, at least in terms of male hairstyle. Except that every guy on the beach looked like he spent about half his salary on various treatments, gels and other hair-care products to maintain a style that the hockey playing youth of late 80s rural Ontario achieved by simply not cutting the hair on the back of their heads.

Anyway, I digress. The ice cream was great. We didn't do any swimming but went into the water up to our knees, which felt nice:
We also checked out the faux-Spanish colonial architecture fake-church-used-for-weddings that forms an interesting backdrop to the beach:
All in all a fun day was had by all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday fun in Shikanoshima

I haven't posted on this blog in over a month now. Part of the reason is that on July 11 I had a major presentation to make and I was busy in the month leading up to that with preparation, etc.

Another reason though is that one day in the middle of June it started raining. And then it didn't stop until about 3 days ago. Kyushu's rainy season lasts about a month and for its duration Ena and I were pretty much stuck at home on all the weekends.

Yesterday was a really brilliant Saturday. I like sunny Saturdays a lot. I do a lesson downtown in the morning and Ena works Saturdays, so we ride our bike in together. Its a really nice ride, we go through a bunch of parks and some of the more "colorful" areas of downtown on the way in.
I finished my lesson at about 11:30 and had a sunny day to play with for the first time in over a month. I didn't want to be entirely unproductive though, so what I decided to do was bring some papers that I need to read with me to the beach at Shikanoshima.

After stopping at home to get changed and pack a lunch, I hit the road. It takes about an hour by bike to get to Shikanoshima from our place. I stopped along the way at this one little spot:
This is on the penninsula leading up to Shikanoshima. Just a tiny clearing in the trees along the roadside which offers a perfect place to sit down for a snack while enjoying the view of the Bay.

After arriving on the island I decided to circumnavigate it in a clockwise direction, which would allow me to ride on the side of the road facing the sea (best views). Its a really nice ride on a clear day. I stopped at Kin-in park and enjoyed their map of East Asia in ancient times:
After a while I came across the entrance to a hiking trail. Parking my bike I head off on foot up the hillside overlooking the sea. It was insanely hot - about 33 and humid - and by the time I reached this nice viewing platform I thought I was about to pass out. It had some really great views though:
Climbing down the hill I reached my ultimate destination: the Beach!!
I had the foresight to pack my swimsuit and a towel. I jumped into the filthiest public bathroom I have ever come across to get changed and then made a beeline for the water. I was a little worried about jellyfish but the second I put my feet in the water it felt so nice and cool that I just jumped all the way in. It was great, I spent about half an hour floating around on my back, enjoying the view of the islands. It was a Saturday so there were a few other people there, but not too crowded.

The sun was quite bright and glistened off the water:After my swim I dried off and got dressed again and started hiking along the rugged rocky Shikanoshima coastline away from the beach in search of some solitude. After a bit of walking I climbed up the biggest rock I could find:
It had a nice view:
And I got down to some actual work. Read this article about class action lawsuits (and felt the need to photograph myself doing so to prove that I did in fact do something productive that day):
After finishing the article I clambered down and did a bit more walking, coming across some interesting rocky outcrops here and there:
At about 5PM some storm clouds started moving in and I decided it was time to call it a day. The suns rays fought through the newly arrived clouds and made for a pleasant scene:
The darkening clouds also gave the happy little beach a more foreboding, desolate appearance:
To get back to my bike I unfortunately had to climb back up the hill which I had come down. I paused to take a picture of a fishing boat passing in the distance from the top:
I got back to my bike and decided to return the way I had come rather than completing the circuit around the island. The clouds were starting to dominate the bay:
The above picture was taken about 2km or so from a village that sits at the entrance to Shikanoshima (where there is a bridge connecting it to the mainland). After taking the shot I rode those 2km to the village, where I saw something else I wanted to take a picture of. Only when I went to grab my camera, it wasn't there. I had dropped it somewhere along the roadway.

With the stormclouds and darkness moving in I desperately retraced my path, scouring the roadside while trying to avoid traffic at the same time (its a narrow road with no shoulder). I got back to the place where I took the shot without finding it. There was a mobile cafe (a mini van decked out like a restaurant) set up there and a few people on lawn chairs relaxing with some drinks. I went up to the group and asked if they had seen my camera. They were really nice, everybody put down their drinks and started looking around for it. A couple of 7 year girls were quite enthusiastic and made a point of scouring the beach for anything blue (the color of my camera case). I didn't have the heart to tell them I couldn't have dropped my camera there, they were having a lot of fun.

The search turned up nothing, so thanking them I headed back towards the town, carefully scanning the ground but without luck.

On arriving in town I noticed there was a police station and thought I'd give the officer on duty my name and number just in case someone dropped it off. I opened the door and the officer was on the phone. In front of him on his desk was my camera! Someone had found it and turned it in! I was so happy!

And I got to take the picture of that thing in town: this little guy: