One Thing I Learned Today
Scratching and Potting
Last night I learned that American pool rules are different to European ones, and everything you do in the game has a different name.

Scratching is committing a foul. "Making" a ball is potting a ball. In American pool, when you scratch, you give away only one free shot, rather than two in European. You also have to call every ball you try to make and which pocket you're trying to make it into. And that's not all; if you make the ball into the correct pocket but not in the way you said (for example if you're trying to hit the ball straight into the pocket, but in actual fact you get a deflection) protocol dictates you accept you've committed a foul.

When you rack the balls (you know, set them up in the triangle) you place the front-most ball on the spot, rather than the 8 ball. If you rack according to European rules then the balls end up so far up the table that when your opponents break they make four balls immediately. You also find yourself playing against strangers, losing and buying their drinks, and being offered jobs by people you've just met.
Allah is very best
Hello fellow expatriates and/or future expatriates of various nations! Today I learned that I should go to a place called Favorit for 3 AM sandwiches and banana smoothies. Yesterday I learned that if you squeeze a bunch or oranges and smear the orange goo on raw chicken, it will taste nice the following day when you remember having done it, and you cook it. Also it means that you get to drink orange juice. Oooh, ooh, another one, this is a good one, yesterday my Chinese housemate taught me how to make tea eggs, which sound really fancy, but really you just boil cracked eggs in some tea for six years until they turn all shit coloured.

I'm noticing that all my learning experiences are about food. Here's one not about food: I learned two or three weeks ago that my Pakistani landlady says "very better" and if she is in a really good mood, she will say "very best", as in "if you pay me rent it will be very best". I hate her.

Today I also learned that I was rejected from another job because they "are not currently interested in lobbying for visas to obtain employees from foreign nations". I'm not foreign, goddammit, I'm American.

Time to cook more eggs.
Japanese coffins are not barrels
I watched Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo again the other night, and again I was perplexed by the way all the coffins in the film appear to be barrels. The first time I watched the film it was a good DVD transfer from Japan. The picture was perfect, but the translation was awful. I got the impression that Japanese coffins are in fact barrel shaped and that Japanese people are buried in a sitting position. You never know, it could be true.

However, the rented video of Yojimbo I watched the other night was a terrible transfer (pan & scanned) with a very good translation. The only slip-up I noticed (or so I thought) was that everybody called the coffin maker "cooper". Today, surfing around the net trying to find an answer I have found a number of photos of Japanese coffins which look just like European or American coffins, albeit with better decor. I also found a "make your own coffin" book. Nice. I might try that one day. When it's finished we'll have a little rehearsal of my funeral so I can check the eulogies for bad grammar.

Having established that Japanese coffins are not normally barrel shaped, it's time for me to re-think my reading of Yojimbo. The small town Toshiro Mifune drifts into has a sake brewery, but gangsters have taken over so the whole town is hiding indoors and little sake is being sold. Fights between the gangsters have raised the death toll. The enterprising cooper has turned his hand to making caskets for the dead, except of course he knows only how to make sake barrels and so that's what the gangsters are buried in. This seems fittingly undignified. Now everything makes sense.

During my research I've learned why it's such bad manners to use your chopsticks to reach for the same piece of food as someone else. Apparently after a body is cremated the family goes to the crematorium to retrieve the ashes. The family transfer the bones to the urn with chopsticks; two people to each piece of bone. It is obviously not desirable to be reminded of an important part of a funeral ritual when you're sitting round the family dining table tucking into sushi. A full description of Japanese funeral rites is here. So Japan retains its quirky allure, but not for the reasons I first expected.
My hero is acting like an idiot
Today I learned about the media tumult Howard Dean is causing with the maniacal "screaming speech" he gave on Martin Luther King Day. I have been behind Dean for President almost since the start of the primaries, but come ON man! Don't be stupid! Sure, you might pick up a few votes from the "Dude, Where's my Car" crowd, but you're gonna lose a ton more from everyone over the age of 25! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, listen to this. Apparently every kid with a media editor is putting his speech to music and it's all over the net. I honestly believe that, in terms of policy, Dean is the best candidate to put this country back where it needs to be. And I personally couldn't care less how he yells in his speeches, as long as he's saying good things. But I'm hard to alienate. The rest of this country isn't. I guess New Hampshire will tell us if his gamble paid off...
Kung Hei Fat Choi!
My Chinese birth year anniversary, that of the ram, has now been eclipsed by that of the monkey. Personally I am not a big fan of monkeys. Everyone in the year below us at high school was a monkey (some in my own year) and I found them to be sneaky and mischievous folk, but they are also widely regarded as agile, creative, of good memory and very sociable. You might be a monkey or know someone who is if they were born in 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, or 1944 (or of course, this year) and you’re in good company: Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Byron and Dickens are also monkeys. So far I’ve read that this year is supposed to usher in a renewed time of prosperity but you have to be shrewd and canny to get ahead – not a year for the slow-witted. Not my year then...
Jews Are Funny Things
"Bat Mitzvah" means "Daughter of the Commandments." The related "Bar Mitzvah" means "Son of the Commandments". It marks the time (age 13 for boys, 12 for girls) when a Jewish child is obligated to live according to the Commandments. Before then, children are not obligated to, but are encouraged to.
I thought I should find some of this stuff out, since I'm going to a Bat Mitzvah this weekend.
Don't Eat Yellow Snow
If my description was confusing, this diagram is sure to be more so.OK, so I knew about yellow snow already (and I hope everyone else did too), but today I did learn the best method of sledging (or sledding or tobogganing) down a bumpy hill without falling off your sledge (or sled or toboggan). You will find yourself spending less time scooping snow out of your trousers, shoes and the hood of your coat if you jump on the sledge face down. Lift your body off the seat of the sledge as if you're halfway through a press-up and then you'll find that your arms start acting a bit like shock absorbers. You'll sail down the piste (or hill) cresting moguls with the ease and grace of a baggy-trousered stoned snowboarder.

This might seem absolutely bloody self-evident, but the last time I saw enough snow to go sledging I was twelve.
One Thing You've Learned Today...
...is the existence of this weblog, and its address, too. Use it to share useless or useful information.