pergamond: From ([xkcd] Carebear stare)


'Sophie's choice' is a story in which a Polish immigrant, Sophie, is taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp and forced to choose which of her two children would be sent to a labour camp and which would be instantly gassed. 

I was having the same dilemma.

Except with fish. 

Back in June, a friend who was leaving Japan asked me to take care of her pet fish. She promised me that they required minimal maintenance and would be happy for ever and ever and ever. 

When they started to make regular bids for freedom by trying to leap clear of the tank, I began to suspect that at least one of those 'for ever's was an exaggeration. 

The problem was perfectly clear. While back in June the fish had been comfortable in their little aquarium (top photo), now they were stuffed in between the glass walls like sardines in a can (bottom photo).

It was possibly this analogy that made the outside world a risk worth taking. That, or it was the photograph of the galaxy I had put next to their tank and the futility of their lives had finally sank in. 

… or that the pump was no longer up to the task of dealing with these two whales-in-the-making. 

Despite a fairly recent replacement of the unit and regular changes of the internal filter, the water emerging from the pump remained a cloudy mix. What was more, it wasn't able to run enough oxygen through the tank, giving a grain of logic to fish's `Little Mermaid' expeditions above the water's surface. When not in kamikaze flight, my scaly friends would swim vertically with their heads close to the pump's head. Occasionally they would drop down to look at me through the glass with huge open mouths. 

It was like a mini version of 'Jaws' right there in my living room. Definitely not feng shui relaxing. 

I took the hint and went to the local hardware store, bought a bigger pump and eyed up fish tanks.

The pump purchase turned out to be an entirely empty gesture since the box came with only the filter and not the actual pump or connecting hose. This is fairly typical of my purchasing experiences in the country where I can't read the box and left me --also typically-- wondering why you would ever sell these items separately to begin with. My perplexity only increased when the corresponding pump and hose were not in the "Customers who bought this item also bought…" section on Amazon. Was manually blowing down fish filters the favourite pastimes for Japan's Hikikomori[*]? 

Fortunately, my guesses for the right connecting devices turned out to be correct and a few days later I was able to fit a new pump. This process also initiated several suicide attempts by the tank residents but ultimately resulted in them chillaxing on the tank bottom.

Of course, given their size, the difference between the tank bottom and top was minimal which brought me to my second and third problem: how big a tank would I need and where could I put it in my rather compact apartment? 

The real issue was that I suspected my fish were not goldfish at all but koi. Trawling google produced no convincing evidence that miniature koi existed which led to one inevitable conclusion:

My fish were in a race to out grow my cat. THEN we'd see who'd be forced to live in a tank. 

Fearing I'd be forced to leave in an underwater apartment with cat eating fish, I contacted my pet sitter and outlined the problem. Were there koi ponds in Sapporo that might take a couple of additions? It turned out yes ... but with one small catch. 

Literally. They were koi fishing ponds. 

So my golden buddies had a choice: (1) life in a small tank (2) life in pond of awesome but with the risk of being eaten, Hansel & Gretel style. 

It was around this time a friend mentioned to me 'Sophie's Choice'. I've been traumatised ever since I read the synopsis on wikipedia. 

I confess, I was leaning towards the fish farm. Koi are very large and very long lived, which rather pointed to failure of any scheme I put together. I was mid-way through mentally constructing an anti-fishing hook training program for the tank troops when my pet sitter came up with another solution. She liked the fish --she explained-- and had room for a bigger tank if I was happy with her taking them. If they outgrew this second container, the gingerbread Koi farm of doom might have to be reconsidered. 

Delighted that I could entirely pass this mental burden of anguish onto someone else, I readily agreed. I donated money towards the necessarily replacement fish tank and hoped it wouldn't be later used for psychotherapy. 

The cat --meanwhile-- has been stalking the place where the tank used to sit. However, when she leaps up from behind a cushion, all she finds is one large stuffed cow. 


[*] Hikikomori: a person who doesn't leave the house. Ever.  


Jun. 16th, 2012 11:43 pm
pergamond: ([Shrek] Puss-in-boots // how can you res)

Meet Bonita and Manchas. 'Bonita' means 'pretty' in Spanish and 'manchas' means spots. Manchas is the fish with black… yes, you guessed it. 

How did I end up with two goldfish with Spanish names?

Well, I'd acquired them from a Chinese friend in my Japanese class. Obviously. 

Finding herself leaving Japan in the switch from postdoc to faculty, my friend had been unsure what to do with her fish. Taking a cat and dog on an aeroplane was one thing but…. had people even written import regulations for fish? Live ones?

Despite the obvious problem (pictured in the lower pane above), I had volunteered for adoption services. Regardless of my best efforts, I had failed to lure birds to my ninth floor apartment and thought that the fish might provide something in the way of feline entertainment. How long this would last depended partially on the strength of the tank lid.

My friend came over with the tank and water filter, I watched a youtube video on how to clean a fish tank and rested a book on European history on the lid. The lid promptly buckled. I swapped the book for one on American history. 

This was a few weeks ago and I still have two fish. This means that:

(a) my cat has not eaten them.

(b) I narrowly avoided killing them through the temptation to dump them in a tea pot of tap water while I cleaned the tank. It's a good job I tweet my important intentions. 

Tallis hangs out by the tank from time to time during the day. She's never attempted to remove the lid, either because the watery contents filled her with horror or because I placed a large stuffed cow on top of the history book. She does occasionally bat the tank with one paw when she feels there isn't enough action. The fish are unmoved. Often literally.

The fish themselves are surprisingly interactive. I never actually thought fish acknowledged (in a distinguishable manner) the world outside their tank. Once the glass was clean, I experimentally placed a photograph of the galaxy by one wall. It was an attempt at a Total Perspective Vortex but it apparently just confirmed was great fish they really were.

Each morning when I appear, the fish come to the front of the tank and glare at me. You wouldn't think fish were capable of demanding breakfast, but apparently there is no limit to what can bully in my household.

I am going to take my revenge by eating my seafood dinner on the sofa beside their tank. 

pergamond: ([PoT] Fuji // pretty & wiped)


Trouble with getting out of bed in the mornings is hardly an unusual complaint. The difference is that while most people don't want to leave the warmth of their covers, I physically couldn't. Carefully, I attempted to extract the leg that was bunched up by my chest. The knee emerged, but the shin was still trapped under my second leg. This limb was stretched out, but prevented from moving away from the wall by the stone-like object positioned perfectly centrally on the blankets.

My cat had found her revenge.

In the end, I tipped forward and fell ungraciously onto the floor. Tallis deigned to open one large yellow-green eye and yawned.

"Do you know how uncomfortable I am?" I demanded. "All my muscles are scrunched up!"

This didn't receive any form of verbal reply but somehow the image of the cat carrier was projected into my brain.

You would think one half-decent kick would shift Tallis along to a more acceptable position but somehow her body mass seems to increase by a factor of 100 when she goes into ball-mode. Remember the Pixar movie, 'The Incredibles' where their youngest son, Jack-Jack turns himself into a canon ball so the villain can't fly away with him? Yeah. Tallis recalls that too.

Perhaps to fully appreciate this problem, I should explain about my bed. When we lived in Canada, I had a Queen sized frame and mattress. To be honest, this was too large (or so I thought at the time) for what was normally just me and a cat. I had opted for that size to match the bedding I had bought while living in a furnished rental in New York. That apartment had a Queen bed, so when I came to buy my own furnishings, I matched the dimensions and reused the sheets. Despite the fact I loved the mattress, I knew a Queen bed was never going to fit in a Japanese apartment. I'm pretty sure that if you put such a mattress in my bedroom, you wouldn't be able to open the door. Actually, you would not be able to have a door at all, since my bedroom door opens inwards. It would have to be unhinged and propped up against the bathroom preventing me from ever using the toilet.

So, it was sell the bed or lose the kidneys. I went with the former.

Since my furniture took three months to ship from Canada, buying a new bed was actually a pretty good move. After some research, I discovered I had three main choices for bed design:

(1) The normal western-style bed with a frame and mattress. This is very common in Japan and almost all of my friends sleep on such a bed.

(2) The traditional Japanese-style futon, which consists of a thick foam pad on a tatami mat floor.

(3) A hybrid option, whereby you have a bed frame with a solid tatami mat top surface on which you then lay down a futon.

My apartment does not have any tatami mats, being pseudo-wood flooring throughout. However, I was reluctant to buy a normal western bed. For a start, I might not find a mattress I liked as much as my old one, which would cause me to SULK each time I went to bed. Secondly, I was IN JAPAN! It was exciting, new and I wanted to integrate by sleeping on a futon!

… Even if no one else was.

I therefore went for option (3) and, after some careful measuring, purchased a 'semi-double' tatami mat bed. A semi-double is in-between a single and double bed in size, with a width of 124 cm (49 inches). It is often the size newly wed Japanese couples buy, before they can afford a double bed. This brings me to one obvious conclusion:

Cats take up more space than husbands.

Or maybe they are just harder to kick.

A Japanese futon is somewhat different from the Western product of the same name. For a start, the term 'futon' refers to both to the foam pad underneath you (the 'shiki futon') and the blanket on top (the 'kakebuton'). The Brits would call a kakebuton a 'duvet' and the Americans… well, I'm going to go with 'comforter' and you'll have to live with the fact it just isn't the same kakebuton fluffy cloud of awesome. The shiki futon is thinner than a Western futon and can be easily folded into three sections for storage. Futons are often sold as a set containing both parts.

An advantage of opting for the tatami mat bed over a straight futon, was that I could have drawers underneath the bed for extra storage. When my bed was delivered, the men assembled the frame but not the drawer set. When I asked why, I received a monologue in Japanese until I decided I would just go and buy a screwdriver. As any Ikea fan will not be surprised to learn, I had to assemble the drawers twice; the first attempt having a key early panel placed backwards.

As a final touch, I purchased a Japanese style pillow which is filled with beans rather than feathers. It's a slightly odd sensation to lie on but it's not uncomfortable. I quite like rolling around on it as a DIY scalp massage. I confess though, that when my feathery pillows arrived from Canada, I did switch them over and leave beany pillow as the optional extra.

So there we had it; one perfectly Japanese bed. Tallis tells me it is exceedingly comfortable. Perhaps I should take the hint and move to the couch.

Cat tales

Aug. 12th, 2011 10:23 pm
pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)
"Look, it's your mommy!"

My cat was milling around the door to the apartment when I arrived to pick her up after my month in Japan. I held a hand down to her as I slid out of my shoes. She sniffed it, let me rub her ears and tickle her chin.

Then, she fled.

It took me fifteen minutes to locate her under one of the beds. I had to move several boxes and other items out of the way before I spotted the pair of yellow-green eyes staring back at me. Evidently, her time at the home of her feline foster family had been a success.

Saddened by the loss of a cat of their own, this family had decided not have another pet. Instead, they enthusiastically cared for other people's animals while their owners were away. I had been put in contact with the family's daughter through a friend and had explained that I was moving to Japan, but would ideally leave my cat in Canada for the first six months while I found an apartment, my possessions were shipped and things generally became sorted enough that we would have a place to recover from what would undoubtedly be a traumatic journey for the pair of us. It seemed like a rather high demand, but the response I received was extremely enthusiastic. So, we set up July as a trial run for both the family and Tallis.

Apparently, it had worked out well.

I sincerely hoped (as I pounced on my cat and carried her back downstairs) that Tallis' reluctance to stick around was due to her knowing that the next step involved the hated cat carrier and a car ride, rather than a declaration of her home of preference from this day forth. Since, upon arriving at home, she reverted to a furry ball of purriness, I've convinced myself this is true.

If it's not, well tough. I missed her even if the feeling of loss wasn't reciprocated.

This week I sold my bed. This move was apparently also not appreciated since Tallis refused to sleep on the sofa bed with me at all and spent all night on her seat by the window. There are times when I feel my home lacks support.
pergamond: (Default)

Spring has finally arrived in Ontario and the squirrel mating season has begun. But how does a young gray-tailed lady know that the black tree rodent posing for her attention on the front porch is worthy of being her mate? The answer apparently comes down to one rather unfortunate challenge:

Who can terrorize my cat the most?

This particular black squirrel has long been a major source of entertainment / annoying itch / enemy who will one day be vanquished (delete as appropriate) for Tallis. It was clear from an early stage that he didn't give a jot about the fact a carnivorous feline was pressed up against the window a mere foot from where he was hanging from my deck rail. Still, until this morning, the squirrel's main objective had been to raid the seeds in my bird feeder and the frenzy my cat blew into was no more than a passingly interesting side-effect.

Today was different. The bird feeder was completely ignored and instead the squirrel danced in front of the window while the newly arrived gray squirrel looked on from on top of the dustbin. Tallis watched, nonplussed, from where she was sitting on my desk. The gray squirrel looked equally unimpressed. Evidently, this was not demonstrating the required quantity of bravado.

Our black friend then leapt onto the wall and ran around the outside of the window frame. Tallis had now moved to her window seat, but couldn't see the squirrel when he was above her. Feeling that his presence needed to be fully marked, the squirrel scuttled down the side of the house and leapt across onto the bug screen attached to the outside of the window pane.

Yoo hoo!

A dance was then performed across the window, complete with a nut clamped in the squirrel's mouth. The addition of the food was quite blatantly to emphasize that while the squirrel had breakfast, my poor cat would be forever without the snack she desired. That didn't stop her trying to chew the squirrel straight through the glass.

In the end, however, the torment was too much. Tallis retreated to sulk in the middle of the room and the squirrel was left still clinging to the window. At length it dropped down and I've not seen it or Miss Gray since. Assuming this bold act of daring was accepted as a feat worthy of a father, this summer could be a tough one for Tallis. We may just have to draw the curtains.
pergamond: (Default)
There comes a time in everybody's life when it is desirable to make your cat radioactive.

For many, it is a feeling that a remake of the 'spiderman' movies could be a real hit with one obvious improvement. For others, it stems from a dream to get even with the neighbour's newspaper-chewing dog. For one of my friends, the source was his cat developing an over-active thyroid.

Ramses --known as 'Sir Ramses' by the people who cared for him over Christmas and 'pussy' by his family's newest addition-- had developed hyperthyrodism; a condition caused by tumours (not necessary malignant) on the thyroid gland which leads to an overproduction of hormone. To emphasise his displeasure at this condition, Ramses underlined the inconvenience by having an allergic reaction to every medication designed to treat the problem and ended up in the veterinary hospital. The suggested solution was a dose of radioactive iodine which is absorbed by the thyroid and kills off the excess cells. It only needs to be performed once for a permanent cure. 

There is no mention in the veterinary guidelines of a treated cat morphing into a immensely powerful super villain but, hey, I was optimistic. Especially since said cat was not living in my house. (Though if he appeared at the door, my Tallis could totally take him -- it's what she's been preparing for all these years.)

The 'make your own glow in the dark cat' procedure took place at a hospital 90 minutes drive away. Sick people went in the front, cats were wheeled on a trolley through the back. The nurse who appeared to collect Ramses eyed my car with disapproval.

"When you collect your cat, you shouldn't bring the baby," she informed us, nodding at my smallest passenger who had come along to say goodbye to 'pussy'. "He'll still have quite a high radiation count and that is a very confined space."

Woman, size isn't everything! I covered my car's wing mirrors so it could not hear such comments.

Iodine has a half-life of eight days. Since Ramses ended up staying at the hospital two weeks, he was down to roughly a quarter of his original radiation level by the time we collected him in a baby-free car. Had he been human, there would have been no further guidelines concerning his health. As a cat, however, there was a list of rules that included storing his kitty litter for a further week. Apparently, the radiation levels were still high enough to trigger the alarms at the rubbish dump.

It was after dropping the cat off at the hospital that we all visited the large cats at Killman Zoo. It's good to be prepared.
pergamond: (zombie (oh my))
MEOWOWOWOWOW It's so hot! I'm burning! BURNING! My fur is going to fry! MRRRRRRROOOOOWWWWW

Well, it wasn't as if I didn't agree with the sentiment. The temperature was in the 30s (centigrade, I've reverted back to metric and y'all are going to have to roll with that) and the car had become a bug-shaped greenhouse. Nevertheless, my flight was in four hours and the furry Houdini who had already escaped her carrier once to be chased around the basement was going to the cattery.

Five minutes later we were on the road and the carrier on the floor beside me had gone completely silent. This probably had a lot to do with the apartment only being marginally cooler than the car. Ahhhh air conditioning! By the time we reached our destination, however, the memory of the too hot apartment had entirely vanished and we were back onto the topic of the torture I was putting her through by this sadistic car journey from hell. 

Did I mention the cattery I put my cat in is called "Cat Castle"? And that I find this slightly embarrassing? Unfortunately, I am incapable of relaxing on my time away unless I know my cat is in the lap of luxury. Next time, I tell the still protesting kitty, you go to the conference. I'll stay here.

From the cattery, I was taking a cab to the airport. At least that was the master plan, somewhat scuppered by the fact the taxi company had forgotten my reservation. Half an hour later, a freshly dispatched cab appeared.

"What time is your flight?"

"7:30 pm. I was looking to get there around 5:30."

"Oh, that's not going to happen! Ha ha ha."

I didn't know whether to feel peeved or amused that he didn't even pretend to be apologetic. I regretted not accepting a juice box from the cattery. It would be good to chew on a straw round about now.

"... so we were up north, cleaning out a shed and making a huge bonfire of all the trash when this huge bear lumbered out of the woods...."

Well, the cab ride might have been longer than I was planning, but it had high entertainment value .

".... and he was like RAWWWRRRRR."

My phone slid to the floor and I had to dive for it. Regardless of the situation, it is a trace surprising when your cabbie emits a gut wrenching growl. Evidently though, this enthusiasm was exactly what was needed and we arrived at the airport around 5:40. It transpired the flat-rate on the website was out of date and I had to pay an extra $7 from what I was expecting. I didn't quibble; that story was totally worth it.

"See you kiddo!"

You know what? I'm not even going to go there.

Inside the terminal, I arrived at the desk to check in:

"The flight is delayed, it will now leave at 9:15 pm."

So much for running late. This now meant it was likely I was going to miss my train I'd booked a ticket on the other side of the pond. Ho hum. I sauntered through security.

"You're flying to Manchester? You've been selected for a secondary security inspection."

.... were those two things linked? Well, it wasn't like I didn't have time. I put my hands into my pockets and then allowed a swab to be run over the top of them. Inspecting the result, I could only hope that cat hair wouldn't clog up their machines. Allowed to continue on my way, I mooched through the airport shops and bought a juice box; the desire to bite a straw was still strong. Said straw turned out to be shorter than its juice box and disappeared into its interior never to be seen again.

I frowned and looked around; one of these shops sells aspirin, right?
pergamond: (Default)
Snow! Here in the UK, who would have guessed it? Naturally, no one (despite the fact that it usually occurs at some point during any twelve month period). Therefore, hundreds of people are stranded at airports, in their cars, department stores and, possibly most oddly, the channel tunnel which you would naively think would be unaffected by the weather.

Since living in NYC and now Canada, it's fairly hilarious watching the country dissolve in chaos from a few inches of frozen water. That said, it'd doubtless be rather less entertaining if I weren't safely at home with a hot mug of tea. The problem I guess comes from the rarity of such conditions making it impractical for the Government to purchase serious snow equipment for a single use a year, although the BBC have now printed an article on how to grit a road, in case anyone was up for a change of career. Given the STFC's science proposal for the next five years funding, it's not without appeal.

Meanwhile, I'm attempting to demonstrate the benefits of gluttony to our ailing family cat who, at twenty, has decided food is for "them young things". It's not quite as I would have it, but I suspect when I reach the equivalent age in human years, I won't give a damn either.


pergamond: (Default)

May 2013

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