Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Internet? What Internet?

As I mentioned in my previous post, accessing the Internet in Japan was problematic. On board the cruise ship, WiFi was free, but that only provided access to on board facilities. Internet access was expensive. I made the decision to purchase 10 hours of access which set me back US$200. I shouldn’t have bothered. Communication by smoke signals would have been faster and more reliable. Frequently the network went down, and while down it was impossible to log off, meaning the clock kept on counting down the time I had left.

On board, the transfer rate was very slow. Who remembers dial-up internet of the early 1990s? That was fast compared to what I could get, even when the ship was in port. I found it better to go onshore and seek out a WiFi hot spot. But even then I frequently ran into problems.

WiFi hot spots are to be found everywhere in Japan, but most seem to require a subscription with a service provider to use for anything other than a very short trial period. Often the amount of personal information that had to be divulged even to use the trial period was too much for my comfort, and I’d abandon the sign up process. Those that really were free often had very little bandwidth, and weren’t much better than on the ship. I noticed too, that many of the hot spot providers required the use of a smart phone that had been purchased in Japan. Foreign purchased phones simply would not work.

The best connections I found were in restaurants, shopping centres and railway stations. Hotels and inns were a mixed lot. It seemed that the bigger the place was, the less reliable the Internet connection. There were two factors here. In large establishments the WiFI signal strength could be patchy, and while it might be strong in the lobby or dining rooms, it frequently was very weak in our room. The other issue was bandwidth.

I swear that the larger the establishment, the smaller the capability of the router. We stayed at a number of small inns with as few as five guest rooms. Here I could get speeds approaching the ADSL speeds at home. But in larger places, data transfer slowed to a snail’s pace, especially in the evenings. Even achieving 1KB/sec in some places was an achievement. Talk about being frustrated! I abandoned all hope of blogging, and managing my part time online business became a nightmare.

I use Google Photos to automatically sync pictures and videos taken on my phone to the cloud and my other devices. By the time we left Japan, less than 5GB of the 32GB I’d taken had been uploaded. A similar amount uploaded while we waited for a connecting flight at Auckland Airport. The rest uploaded by the time we woke the next morning.

We don’t have a fast connection at home: 10MB download and 1MB upload, but it still seems fast compared to what I experienced in Japan. I don’t know how unique my experience with the Internet in Japan is, but both my daughter and her husband had similar experiences. Perhaps we were just unlucky.

Speaking of Internet speeds, I really must hurry up and choose a high speed fibre provider. After all, there’s been fibre running right past out gate for more than a year now. Most providers charge no more, and frequently less than I’m paying for my copper ADSL service. The only problem I’m having is choosing which provider to go with. Soooo many of them, and every one of them has numerous plans. Contract or no contract? With or without phone line? 100MB or 1GB? With or without Netflix? Metered or unmetered? According to one comparison website, I have 1,960 different plans to choose from. Help!!

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Where’ve you been?

I have recently returned to Aotearoa New Zealand after an absence of seven weeks. During that time, I made a startling discovery. I miss the blogosphere when I can’t reach it!

Before leaving these shores, I had convinced myself that Internet access would not be a problem. I would be able to manage my part time business/hobby, and keep up with the numerous blogs I follow while I frittered away my children’s inheritance on a luxury holiday. But it was not to be.

So where have I been?

Japan – home for the first 24 years in the life of my wife. The trip was divided into three legs:

  1. A 17 day cruise around Japan with excursions to Korsakov in  Russia, and Busan in South Korea plus a few days in the Tokyo area either side of the cruise.
  2. A short stay at Sendai, my wife’s home town.
  3. An exhausting 14 onsen (Japanese inns with volcanic hot springs) in 15 days.

The cruise

The great thing about cruises is that it’s like booking into a hotel but finding yourself in a different location each day. No hassle with packing bags, or booking and catching public transport, or finding somewhere decent to eat. The bad thing about cruises is that you find yourself in a different location every day, and after a while, the food, even though it’s of an extremely high quality, becomes a little too predictable and monotonous. (I can’t say anything bad about not having to pack bags every day).

We had brief visits to many parts of Japan that my wife had never been to, some of which will become destinations in future visits to Japan when/if they eventuate. We would have liked to have spent longer at some locations, but time, tide and cruise ships wait for no man.

We were accompanied on the first two legs of our holiday by our daughter, her husband, and their three children. Some excursions we did as an extended family, others we did by ourselves, and on occasions when a migraine got in the way, my daughter or grandchildren would take my place.

What in the world possessed North Americans to call the main course of a meal an entrée? To avoid confusion among passengers, the cruise English language menu referred to the courses at dinner as Starters, Mains, and Desserts. Each day there was a different choice of 5 or 6 starters, 5 or 6 mains and 5 or 6 desserts. There was another 15 or so dishes that were available every day. The menu started to repeat itself after the tenth day.

What I like about cruise dining is that one is not limited to just one starter, main and dessert each meal, but one can eat as many dishes as one wants. I typically had 2 or 3 starters, occasionally 2 mains and often finished with 2 desserts. My son-in-law, not to be out done, at one meal consumed every starter, including one starter twice, 3 mains and at least 2 desserts! I had visions of being able to roll him off the ship at the end of the cruise, but of course he was unable to maintain such an appetite for long.

Highlights of the cruise? There were many memorable occasions, but not always of the pleasant kind. In particular, the visit to Korsakov was rather sobering. One had the feeling that life was kind of hopeless. Everything was run down and people had that kind of resigned look in their eyes which said life was grim and not likely to get any better. Our Russian guide more or less confirmed this by stating than many Russians have moved to Sakhalin Island due to the low cost of living only to discover the low cost of living comes with even lower wages (around US$2000 per year) and find it impossible to earn enough to leave.

On the other hand I can claim another Kiwi victory over the Aussies!  On an excursion to the Kushiro Marshlands in Hokkaido, we found ourselves in a bus with 4 Australian couples, and another 8 passengers of assorted nationalities. At the visitor centre, we were fitted out with lifejackets and wet weather gear for a canoe ride through the marshlands. As each canoe held a maximum of eight people plus a guide, we seemed to naturally divide ourselves into three groups: Our extended family of 7; the eight Australians; and the rest.

We spent spent a wonderful time exploring. Nature there was very different to what we experience in Aotearoa New Zealand. I think everyone in all three canoes were enthralled by the experience. However it all changed on the last leg of the return journey shortly after we entered a large lake. We had just finished watching a flock of ravens harassing an eagle, and were slowly starting to paddle towards the visitor centre in the distance, when we heard the the sound of a canoe approaching from behind at full throttle, eight paddles dipping in and out of the water in unison. Then we noticed that they were paddling to the chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”.

They were fully aware that we were Kiwis and that their action would be like a red flag to a bull. Naturally we responded. They had caught us by surprise, and they were a good boat length ahead by the time we got up to speed. I’m sure they were confident they could beat us to shore 800 metres away as they had the benefit of surprise and had a crew of eight adult paddlers ranging from their mid twenties to their mid fifties. Our canoe consisted of six paddlers as my wife was unable to paddle due to back problems: three children (5, 8 and 11 years old), Two adults in their forties and myself in his late sixties.

The guides were clearly perplexed by what was a mad race for the shore. We had an advantage here as both my wife and daughter speak Japanese. As we made ground on the other canoe, my wife and daughter explained to our guide the nature of the rivalry between Kiwis and Australians. It wasn’t long before were were paddling neck and neck and over the sound splashing of paddles and gasping breath as we each jockeyed for the lead, we could hear our guide explaining the insanity of antipodeans to the other and it was very evident by their laughter that they both though were were all quite mad.

Slowly we drew ahead, pain in arms and back almost reaching breaking point, and when we were some 200 metres from shore we had about a two boat length lead. At this point the Australians realised that that there was no possibility of beating us and abandoned the race. We on the other hand were out to prove a point and continued on at the same pace until there was no more water under the keel much to the consternation of our guide.

I’ll cover other aspects of the trip in future posts. In many respects, it was a journey of discovery. Those discoveries being mostly about myself, some quite surprising. If I can make sense of some of them I might share them on this blog. That is if I can find the courage to do so.

All in all, the seven weeks away from home went too quickly, but I was really pleased to get back home. There’s something about the comfort of familiarity that eventually overtakes the excitement of adventure. At least it’s that way for me.