Noilly Prattle: February 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

Good (Cyber) Samaritans… or

Whoever said masturbation was “wasting your seed”?

This has got to be the ultimate in virtual reality -- getting pregnant through the Internet.
Saw a fascinating program on NHK (Japan’s national broadcasting company), or, rather, my wife saw the program and told me about it. The program interviewed men who freely donate their sperm to women who are interested in having a baby without the fuss and bother of going through the usual channels. The men claim they do it because they want to help women. The women are motivated by the desire for a child but are facing their ticking biological clock and don’t want to get involved with a man, at least not on a ‘til-death-do-us-part basis.

            The procedure here in Japan, according to the NHK program, is for the men to advertise their “wares” on a website. They can list their desirable qualities such as age, health, physical appearance, work, education, etc. If they’ve been in the game for a while, they may have a chart of their “accomplishments”—how many women have accepted their donation and how many have resulted in pregnancies. Some even have a pretty impressive list of their “children”.

            Here is an example of an offer of sperm donation by a young man in the Tampa, Florida area.  I should qualify this link, though. This guy offers only N.I. (natural insemination), so he may just be looking for an easy one night stand

            Once a woman is sufficiently impressed with his resume she will contact him through his website and arrange a meeting, usually in a coffee shop for a little face time to appraise his qualities and decide if she wants to accept his sperm. Incidentally, the only money involved in this transaction is that the woman pays for the coffee. If, after a little casual conversation and shrewd visual appraisal, she decides to accept, he goes off to a nearby toilet and deposits his sperm into a suitable receptacle, returns to the coffee shop (or, if he uses the coffee shop toilet, back to the table) and hands over the precious container to the woman. They shake hands (?), say goodbye, and she goes home and gets out the syringe and deposits the sperm into the appropriate place. If all goes well, out pops a little Hiroshi or Naomi nine months later. If the pair had such an agreement, she may contact him online and report the success of the mission and he can add another notch to his belt.

The program and a discussion between my wife and me (not without a lot of ribald joking) got me curious as to why men would freely donate their sperm. I speculated they must get some kind of personal male stud satisfaction in having bred a lot of children. It’s almost a perfect situation for a man; he can brag about his amazing potency and escape any of the responsibility for actually raising children. As for the women, my wife speculated that they are approaching the limits of their biological clock, are probably successful career women, want the experience of having and raising a child and don’t want to bother living with a man. One child is enough I suppose.

But why take the risks on unprotected meetings with strangers in coffee shops and sperm not certified safe by medical professionals, etc.? Well, in Japan the restrictions on who can access a legitimate sperm bank are highly restrictive. Unmarried women can’t use them. Sperm banks in, say the US, are not perhaps so restrictive, but enormously expensive--$42,000 a pop—and no guarantees.

One anonymous sperm donor I found on the web talked about his motivation:

D says when he hit age 45 after one marriage and a handful of failed relationships, he realized he had no prospects of having children with anyone soon. So he decided to become a sperm donor.
"People would say, 'You are out of your mind, forget about it. Get married. Have your own life and have your own children.' Well, I have been looking for a wife for the last 12 years and have been unsuccessful.
So this is a different type of way for me to produce some children," he says.

            Hmmm. Maybe I should go to into the business, too…and be a Good Samaritan.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Madama Butterfly in Concert


Little Girl playing the Koto and Singing

Little Boy playing the Koto and Singing

Traditional Koto and Shakuhachi Composition

Traditional and Modern Instrument Combo

Chanting (story telling)

     Back in 2011 I posted a blog about a koto concert I had to pleasure to see and hear. In Japan many people have what are known as shumi ( 趣味), a word that can be loosely translated as a hobby. But when I think of hobby, I think of something like making model airplanes or building birdhouses. One's shumi can be one of those things, but more likely to be an interest in one of the many traditional arts such as ikebana, tea ceremony, calligraphy, traditional sports and music.

Butterfly and me
     A former English student of mine for many years (who I affectionately call Madama Butterfly) is an accomplished musician and sensei [先生] (teacher) in the koto and shamisen, once the purview of the tea houses and their geisha. In modern times this musical instrument genre is a typical shumi of traditional music carried on and financed by local associations (clubs). These performing arts clubs usually put on a presentation at least once a year. I received an invitation and tickets in the mail recently and decided to attend.

     The show ranged from very young children's solos, to groups of traditional instruments including the bamboo flute known as shakuhachi (尺八) and even some experimental mixing of traditional and modern instruments like piano, cello and drums and story telling through dance.

     I've included a few videos and some photos to give an ideal of what this traditional art looks and sounds like. 

the sensei and her two youngest students

young girl in traditional
colorful unmarried woman's kimono
called a furisode - note the long sleeves -
playing the shamisen

koto, shakuhachi and shamisen 

story telling in dance

traditional and modern instrument combo

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It all hangs on a screwdriver

         Note: Although there is a wealth of online information about complications with hip 
replacement surgery, I have found it difficult to get information about problems arising from femur fracture surgery. My experience may help others with a similar problem.

       In an older post I talked about having surgery to repair a broken femur incurred as a result of a fall while doing a yoga exercise. The ORIF (Open Reduction Internal Fixation) surgery was done last February [2013] at a hospital in Prague where we were staying when the accident occurred. In my case (x-ray on right) a pin was inserted into the femur and secured with screws.

        At the time the orthopedic surgeon assured me that I would be able to walk normally again with exercise and rehabilitation. I was given some leg exercises to do and discharged from the hospital after 12 days with a pair of crutches. A check up in March indicated that all was going well and we returned to Japan at the end of the month.

        I checked in with a local orthopedics doctor who was impressed with the Prague surgeon's work. He told me to continue exercising and walking with one crutch for a while and then start walking without them. He said there was no need to return unless I experienced a problem. Little by little my leg improved and got stronger until I felt comfortable enough to road test it with a trip to Europe in September. We spent a month traveling in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland and I experienced no problems with my leg. I was even able to climb a hilly trail to a castle in the Middle Rhine River area.

        After returning to Japan in October I began to develop some discomfort in my hip in the form of occasional “jolts” of pain in the area where the pin was inserted into the top of my femur. A visit to the local doctor indicated that friction between the pin and muscle tissue was causing inflammation and he advised me to refrain from certain types of exercises, such as squats and the breast stroke in swimming that might be aggravating the friction.

        The condition, however, persisted and I began to seek second and third opinions and began to entertain the possibility of another surgery to remove the offending metal. My most recent (fourth) consultation with an actual orthopedic surgeon (the second one) resulted in my making a decision to undergo surgery to remove the pin. He indicated that removing the pin would almost certainly remove the source of the pain, but that there was a 1 to 5% risk of re-breaking the bone while the hollows from the original surgery filled in.

        There is, however, a little problem. The Japanese surgeon said he had never seen this type of pin before and would have to contact the hospital in Prague to find out what screwdriver to use to remove the screws. So, now I'm waiting to see if the Prague hospital will be forthcoming with the information.

        But, I'm something of a fatalist/realist in this case. Communication with the hospital in Prague has been difficult in the past in relation to medical insurance matters. I'm a bit skeptical that the screwdriver information can be obtained by the local hospital. That being the case I have pretty much accepted an either/or outcome. If we can figure out the right screwdriver, I'll do the surgery, if not, I'll live with the pin and learn to manage it.

walked as far as the red arrow

         In anticipation of possibly having to learn to live with my metal parts, I've been experimenting and pushing the limits of walking. The other day I ventured into the mountainous area near our home and negotiated stairs and steeper slopes using a crutch and using ordinary walking on the less demanding paths. I took a few photos with a timer to give an idea of the terrain. I am happy to report that I didn't experience any significant aggravation of the inflammation area and am thinking that if I have to live as a cyborg, well, there could be worse experiences....

our home from beginning of mountain trail

going up long steps with one crutch

up steep slope with a crutch
normal walking on fairly level trail
in red arrow area (previous photo)
on the mountain ridge

down steps without crutch

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Coming Home

Setting Sun, Baie des Citrons, Noumea, New Caledonia, August 2010

     Road buddy and I decided to escape the hot and humid Japanese summer and headed for the Southern Hemisphere in 2010. After considering various locations we decided on the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia some 2000 miles east of Australia. We rented a beautifully located 1-bedroom condo for a very reasonable price. The building was situated between two bays--Anse Vata and Baie des Citrons--with views of one or the other from the apartments. 

       We chose one facing the Baie des Citrons in order to catch the sunsets. It turned out to be an auspicious choice, not only for the breathtaking sunsets but for shelter from the prevailing easterly winds in the area. As our apartment was in the lee on the western side of the building and the temperature was in the very comfortable mid 70s Fahrenheit, we were able to keep our veranda doors open all the time. Some friends came down to Noumea for a week while we were staying there and rented an apartment on the eastern side of the same building facing Anse Vata, but they had to keep their veranda doors closed all the time because the wind was both strong and chilly. 

       The above photo was taken from the veranda of our apartment and was just one of many wonderful sunsets. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Looking Back: 17 – a little light brothel hopping

     When the excitement of the shark episode during the “swim call” had died down, the Kassy got underway heading for a liberty call at Funchal, Madeira. This period, although unknown and unimaginable to the crew, was the calm before the storm of the Cuban Missile Crisis that began just a few short days after the flight of the Sigma 7 orbital craft. But, calms are to be enjoyed and storms are to be survived and Funchal was squarely in the calm of beautiful October weather and an exotic, to us at least, port of call.

Funchal, Madeira

       Madeira is an island in the Atlantic Ocean about 500 miles west of Casablanca, Morocco and 400 miles north of the Canary Islands. It is an autonomous region of Portugal, famous for its wines; the language is Portuguese. It is said to be named for the wild fennel that grew there when first inhabited by settlers from the mainland.

       These, however, are not the kinds of information that interest sailors bound for a day or two of liberty, better known or thought of as carousing. Consequently, the main thing I remember about Funchal was doing “shore patrol” duty, which means that I, along with a few others, was a kind of designated cop on the beat. In pairs, we had to patrol the places where the other crew members tended to congregate for rest and recreation to see to it that things didn't get out of hand.

the waterfront area of Funchal
       Truth be told, we didn't really take our shore patrol duty very seriously, although we, of course, were supposed to. If you have been a sailor or, for that matter, any other type of military person, you will know that liberty, for the most part, doesn't entail going to church or seeing the local monuments and points of historical interest, especially if your only in town for a day or two before steaming off again. Nope. The sailors nose is unerring in finding the local watering holes, inexpensive eateries and working girls. Such an environment is an invitation to trouble, excessive drinking and fights. Thus, the need for a shore patrol whenever a ship pulls into a port of call for liberty.

typical back streets with bars and brothels
       Funchal proved to be such an easy-going town with a typically Latinesque mañana (amanhã in Portuguese) atmosphere that shore patrol duty proved to be rather easy. In fact, my partner and I were so relaxed, that we would go from bar to bar and brothel to brothel (usually both combined into one establishment), make sure that all was under control and no tempers were flaring, and then spend some time hanging around, surreptitiously sipping a little Madeira wine here and there with the ladies sitting on our laps and running their fingers through our hair, etc., and then move on to the next and do the same, thus passing a very pleasant evening in spite of being on abhorred “shore patrol duty”.

       All good and lovely things eventually come to an end and after a much too brief liberty call at Funchal, Madeira (the wine is excellent, by the way) we set sail once again bound west across the Atlantic to return to Jacksonville and a very heavy sense of crisis and tension in the October air of 1962.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 6 - 17 Views of Mount Fuji

       Mount Fuji (富士山) is the quintessential icon of Japan. Not only is it a near-perfect conical-shaped volcano, but its location, somewhat isolated from other mountains and visible from the sea, leaves it in solitary splendor.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa
        The Edo Period ukiyo-e painter Hokusai (died in 1849) made Mt. Fuji famous with a series of woodblock prints called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景). The pictures were designed as posters to attract the then flourishing tourist trade to the hot spring inns in the Izu Peninsula and the Fuji Lakes region where the best views of the volcano can be seen. The most famous of Hokusai's 36 Views is The Great Wave off Kanagawa

        With this idealized image of the Mount Fuji region in mind we decided to take a short getaway trip to stay at hot spring inns in Izu and the Fuji Lakes region. Going east, Mount Fuji becomes visible from the bullet train after the city of Shizuoka. You can see it in the distance, sometimes in a fairly pristine condition (top photo), but more often with houses or factories and other businesses in front of it. The gateway to the area is the city of Mishima from which you can take local trains or buses to go south into the Izu Peninsula or north to Lake Kawaguchi in the Fuji Lakes region.

Lake Kawaguchi

1st view of Mt. Fuji from hotel room
        Our son joined us from Tokyo in Mishima and we took a local train to a lovely old hot spring inn near Shuzenji Temple on the Izu Peninsula. The following morning we returned to Mishima to take a bus to Lake Kawaguchi (above) where we had a hot spring hotel reservation. The bus circles around the eastern slope of Mount Fuji which is mostly characterized by urban blight in that you can see the volcano through a thick haze of industrialization: factories, smokestacks, power pylons and lines, and shops and restaurants. The view from the bus window was a heavy dose of modern reality, but the icing on the cake was the view of Mount Fuji from our hotel room. A picture (above) is worth 1000 words in this case.

        With Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji in mind, the idea occurred to me of doing a more up-to-date series: Seventeen Modern Views of Mount Fuji.

From the Bullet Train

From the local train and bus

From the hotel

nostalgic Fuji

Mt. Fuji's hat
there's got to be a morning after...