Thursday, August 28, 2008


OK, I think it's about time to end the blogging break...

The summer didn't really leave a mark in any way, and now it seems to be gone. A new academic year is just around the corner and an unimpressive summer weather seems to have turned to autumn, at least judging by the amounts of rain.

But enough of the weather, greetings from Sapporo, where I'm on a one week conference trip. It's been great, the standard of the talks and posters is very high. There have been very few disappointments in terms of the content, and in a true Japanese style, the organisation has left nothing to be desired.

Of course the flight over here plus the jetlag that ensued were taking their toll for the first three days or so, but somehow the social and scientific buzz have helped to get through the days. It's always great to meet friends and colleagues, meet new people and hear about their research.

And since we are in Japan, food is of course great. I'm a fan of sushi, to use the generic term, and like other Japanese food as well. And of course, the food not only tastes divine, but looks good as well, is often served in nice surroundings. The way the food is served one mouthful at a time slows down your pace of eating, which is also a good thing.

However, in a conference with 400 guests, dinners are also always a bit of a hassle. You decide to have dinner with someone, and so they ask if person 3 can come as well, as they've already agreed. Ok. So, person 3 then brings their colleagues 4, 5 and 6, as they happened to be there. Once you try to decide where to go and when, 7 comes by and says he knows a place, and that he's going with "someone" and they wouldn't mind us tagging along. Then it turns out, that "someone" was actually diners 8-16.

There are other issues with eating out, though. I only speak about three words of Japanese, or four if you count "thank you" and "thank you very much" as two different words. And since I can't read their writing either, I'm feeling more lost than in a long time. Dictionary doesn't help, as it is impossible to find the word that you don't know. A phrase book is handy, because then you can actually ask the right questions. Not understanding the answer is of course another problem. Also, my phrase book is a pocket version and doesn't come with useful questions such as "although there are 16 of us, we can of course sit in three or four separate tables" or "what is the difference between the 1000 yen and 1500 yen drinks packs that you can include in the menu", or even "excuse me, can you help me find the correct box where I've left my shoes".

But, with sign language, pointing to pictures in menus, making various animal sounds, and with a generous helping of patience from behalf of the waiters we've managed to have great food almost every evening.

But at some point it gets tiring. The conference runs from 8.30 in the morning to 7 in the evening, and after that three hours of light dinner is quite a lot. So, today I decided to switch to antisocial mode. When the program ended (a bit early today, so that people could go and visit sake factories and tearooms and go shopping) I went for a long run. After coming back to the hotel (hoteru in pseudo-Japanese, my 4.5th word), I decided to have a Japanese evening in my room.

That consisted of getting a burger from the Mos Burger next door (they say in the sign that they are Japanese burgers), a Sapporo beer and Häagen Dasz green tea ice cream from the convenience store and watching Japanese major league baseball on TV. Thoroughly Japanese experience, then. Very relaxing, setting me up well for the remaining two days of intensive networking and then the three flights home on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One month to go

I just realised that the half marathon is now exactly one month away. Or, in a month's time, I'll be recovering and healing sore feet, hopefully after completing the first running race I take part since the third grade.

Training is going OK. There have been weeks when I haven't been able to do the 4-5 runs I've planned, but as I don't really have any other goals than to finish, that's not too bad.

Well, in a week I'll take off to the training camp in Japan (otherwise known as a conference), while our professors are conspiring to wreck the penultimate training week by planning a trip to Belgium for me.

What this month-or-so of training has shown, running with a specific goal in mind makes it more interesting and increases motivation. Having a training program with different kinds of training sessions (intervals, speed endurance, fartlek, basic endurance) provides the required variability that will keep monotony at bay.

One month to go, so far so good. The route was published today, one and a half laps around the lake, using the new and still partly in-progress scenic route for pedestrians and bikes. The route is very popular, and every evening there's a good number of runners, walkers, nordic walkers, inline skaters, skikkers, cyclists and dog walkers, enjoying the lake and the exercise.