Springtime

Spring is almost here; the sakura are not yet in full bloom, but it can only take one or two days more. I will post pictures as soon as it happens, I want to visit the Botanical Gardens for hanami this year.

Last weekend, I have done my spring cleaning; and I have moved my laptop back to my office and my futon back to my bedroom. It was nice to consolidate the apartment at the beginning of winter, but it is equally nice to spread out again. So far, it is still too cool to keep the windows open for a longer period of time, but in two or three weeks, the temperature will rise again.

Today, after my final meeting I had to go to Kyoto station because my external keyboard broke in the morning. There are not that many Ns in English language, but it is nice to have a full alphabet… Anyway, I did not know that there was a museum on the seventh floor in the big Isetan department store at the station. A friend of mine said I absolutely have to go and see the exhibition of Yoshitoshi, a very popular woodblock artist from the Edo and Meiji periods. Yes, it was worth it! The amount of detail in the prints is fascinating, and the colors are still stunning! If you are in Kyoto right now, the exhibition is until 23rd of April. Yoshitoshi woodblock print

Appeal

Just before the end of last year, I did my tax return for the time I spent in Germany. I have five years to do them, so I was just in time. In 2012, I had spent about 5.000 EUR on my grandmother’s move to a nursing home, and I expected a hefty return because of that.

I received the tax return a few weeks ago and, what do you think, how much did I get back? Nothing. Nothing at all; in fact, I even owe the German government 4,32 EUR on taxes for 2012. The reasoning for this was twofold: First, that my grandmother’s move was “not extraordinary” (sure, since she’s 90, she’s moving every 3 months, her final hobby…); and second, that the government kind of expects people to take care of their immediate family, another way of saying: Your private problem, honey.

I am furious. Because let’s assume that I spend 50 EUR on somebody to unclog my toilet. Or 500 EUR on membership fees for a church. Both I would classify as private problems as well, but in Germany both are perfectly deductible. Heck, the church taxes would probably be deducted automatically without any further input of mine.

stack of papersSo, I waited until I was not fuming quite so hard anymore, and after having a not-so-good day already last Monday, I made a phonecall to the tax office. Of course people were unfriendly – it’s part of the job description of a German government employee – but after some 10 minutes of back-and-forth we might have found a way of recouping at least some of my money. Maybe.

I have already filed an appeal, thanks to them accepting emails (one good thing of German government), and now it means: waiting. For at least half a year. Who knows what’s taking them so long, but I hope for the best. Nothing else I can do anyway.

Runner Up

In the last few days I have been amusing myself with watching YouTube videos. Well, that’s nothing extraordinary, obviously, so let me be a bit more specific.

Just in case you missed it, the United States of America have a new president. And his motto in the election campaign was “America First”, and now that he’s actually in charge, this is what he is planning to do. So far so good, but you see, if America is first, the question is: Who is second?

Thank goodness the world has come quite far, so there will be no war about this, but rather an advertisement campaign targeting Donald Trump using short YouTube videos. The first video was made by the Dutch, then the idea was taken up by Germany, and since then, many European states have followed suit, as well as some from Africa and the Middle East. You can find all the videos that have been made so far on this website:
http://everysecondcounts.eu/index.html

Of course, the whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek, with the video producers both making fun of Donald Trump (“You know Slovenia, the country where you bought your wife from…”) as well as their own politicians (“Our president Ahmadinejad, the inventor of the alternative fact…”). The Australians get the fastest laugh by starting their video with “This is a message from the government of Australia. Please don’t hang up.”

I would love to see more of these videos, some of them are really funny. The Brits are suspiciously absent so far, maybe their comedians have too much to do with the Brexit, that’s probably a full-time job. I would be very much surprised if the Japanese made a video though, it seems to me that their humour is not of the satirical kind, somehow. Anyway, here’s the video made by Austria, have fun!

 

Presidential

Flags of Austria and JapanFinally, after literally months of election woes and live discussions and back-and-forth of unpleasantries, the new president of Austria has been inaugurated today. He will be in office for the next six years and I am confident that he will do a good job, after all, I did vote for him…

Now the country can go back to what is hopefully a more united politics and government, and with some luck, the next governmental elections will be in 2018 as planned, and not earlier. I am not sure I can get through another nasty election so soon after this one…

 

Christmas!

This was a very, very busy week for me. From Tuesday on, I had two meetings every single day, effectively meaning that I was out all day, only returning after dark. I usually try to avoid this, one appointment per day is plenty, but in December, there are so many things to be done, so many people to meet one last time in the old year… I took care that I’ll have the next two weeks off, meaning without appointments at least, although I’ll still have to get some work done.

However, I will lay low for the next two weeks, including taking a break from posting here until the end of the year at least. So, even though it’s a day early, I’m shutting down for Christmas in my usual style:

Happy Holidays to everyone!
I hope you’ll have a nice time, regardless of your plans.Christmas Card 2016


Advent Calender

As today is the first of December, advent has begun, and it is time for an advent calender. I do the same thing as last year – I draw something to indulge myself every day – so that’s nothing new there.

Sebastian's advent calenderHowever, one of my students from Germany is visiting Japan right now. Apparently, he makes an online “Advent Calender of Curiosities” each year, and this year it’s all about those curious things he found en route in Japan. The doors open daily at midnight (European time) and he already started off with something … oh well, do have a look yourselves!

Unfortunately, the calender entries are in German, but there are pictures to go with the description and if all else fails, there’s always google translate. Enjoy!

(And big thanks to Sebastian for allowing me to link to the calender!)

US Elections

I prefer not to write about politics in general, but it’s very hard to ignore the outcome of the latest presidential elections in the USA. No matter what Trump will do, it will affect lots of people worldwide.

I’m more of a liberal myself, European liberal that is, I have no idea why this word is so vilified across the big pond. Live and let live is one of my mottos. My view on the outcome can be explained with a high school image: The Americans wanted the school bully to be the validictorian because they didn’t like the girl who had worked hard for that honour.

However, I should not indulge too much in Schadenfreude. First, because this will affect lots of people everywhere, as I said above. And second, because it is not impossible that we’ll have a similar bully as our own president in Austria within a few weeks…

*sigh*

Does anybody know whether this Mars mission is still looking for astronauts?

Gone

In 2013, I left academia to pursue my dream of living in Japan. I haven’t looked back since; I have never been nostalgic and I do not regret my decision at all. Sporadically, I talk to an ex-colleague, so I do hear about things going on in my old scientific community, albeit with much delay sometimes.

For example, only last weekend I heard “news” about a certain professor. I knew that he had died back in 2014, but I didn’t think much of it then – after all, sometimes people just die. However, now I know that he had killed himself, and I am truly shocked.

He was one of the big names in the community, in his early 60s, hence, close to retirement. Although he appeared a bit shy, he always had a smile on his face, and he was warm and welcoming towards everybody who approached him, whether another big name or a brand new PhD student.

I will always remember his encouragement right before my very first talk at my very first conference – and we had just met that moment. To me, he was one of the kindest souls in the community. Unfortunately, they always seem the most tormented ones as well…

Return

I’m back! I had wonderful two weeks of travelling in Europe. I went to see friends in Germany (and delivered the yukata – my friend liked my choice very much, thank goodness) and I spent a weekend in Berlin. It was my first time sightseeing there and it is an amazing city indeed. I also visited a number of old friends in Austria, and I have to say that while I had a great time altogether, I am also quite exhausted. I would be best to take a few days off now, thankfully yesterday was a holiday.

Of course, I also stocked up on Austrian goodies, mostly sweets, chocolate, and alcohol. My friends will get Mozartkugeln (of course) and special Austrian liqueur produced in my hometown. I hope they like it – Japanese alcohol is much weaker than the stuff we make in Austria.

Unfortunately, my shopping spree led to some unpleasantries on my way back. For the first time ever I travelled with two checked suitcases instead of one – and the smaller suitcase was promptly lost at Beijing airport, where I had to change planes… Thankfully, things were solved quickly and I received it this morning already. Interestingly, customs did not check the other suitcase as all – I should have bought cheese and sausages after all…