Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Shock 'o san checking in.

A busy day, unsurprisingly filled with surprises!

This morning I wandered towards the university in the damp but fresh breeze, feeling reasonably awake for having had such a long day the day before. I was hoping that somehow breakfast and my path would intersect before arriving at the department. I found myself in a little cafe sipping fine coffee and eating thick sliced bread oozing butter as Coltrane and Davis battled it out over the speakers. A few Japanese were talking quietly and smoking cigarretes as the bar tender washed the glasses. This could have been Paris or New York (give or take the smoking) and it felt like I wasn't going for the real-Japanese-deal breakfast-wise but this seems to be the way a lot of the locals start their day...no complaints from me.

So, the University...My Japanese friend Daisuke was right in his assumptions about it. I find myself in one of the two all female universities in the country! Even with the warning I hadn't really expected it but it is indeed the case. Ochanomizu was founded around 130 years ago and has always had an all female intake upto and including PhD level. Postdocs and professorial positions are filled by both men and women and the guy I'm collaborating with here is, well, a guy.

It's not the most elegent of universities but there are enough trees and plants to give it a pleasent atmosphere. From what I've seen, people are also really happy here though the laughter is kept to a considerate volume (apologies for sounded like a grouch, this is just another Beijing qualm). Everyone seems to work really hard but they've got a great balance of chat and work, something I'm much more used to and something that I think is conducive to good thought (I don't think that having your head stuck in a book all day is).

After a seminar this afternoon on this fun paper, which I've studied in the past luckily as the seminar was in Japanese, I chatted with the professor about his possible projects...we'll see what comes out of it over the next week. Some fun projects, almost all related to flavour physics in the AdS/CFT correspondence, my one area of expertise.

Following a chat of multiferous tangents, cakes were produced for two birthdays, one wedding, one leaving and one arrival (me!) and consumed with haste.

and then...and then...and then we went for the blindingly best sushi I've ever tasted. I figured that sushi might be a bit better here but it was far beyond anything I've ever had before, however close to the sea I may have been. This may be a curse in disguise as I may be a full on sushi snob and never want to eat it anywhere again, I hope not.

The ladies in the department were too full of cake to come for a meal so soon after the celebrations, but I'd held back knowing that cake vs. sushi wasn't a contest. I went with Dr Kaneko, one of the postdocs to a local restaurant, an unobtrusive little eatery with the traditional sushi bench in the front. Seemingly frequented by businessmen taking an easy evening over some fine food we started with some clam miso and a couple of local beers.
My father is highly highly alergic to shellfish and it may be that I've inherited this condition. I've always steered clear of clams and mussels (though I know that prawns etc. are fine), except when I was violently ill on oysters (though it either did or didn't have an 'r' in the month, whichever is wrong). I figured that if I'm going to cark it on seafood, there's got to be no better place to do so than Tokyo so this may be my last post.

A couple of photos of the meal to whet the appetite. The dark yellow one is uni which I've wanted to eat for a long time. It's sea urchin roe and I'd been warned that it's ghastly. Unlike 'stinky tofu' which is ghastly (though I like wikipedia's comparison saying that it's mild, like blue cheese!), this is absolutely heavenly. It's got virtually no texture, just a subtle nutty flavour that melts in the mouth. Along with the squid, the prawn, various other unknowns and lashings of wasabi on every piece (not me being over the top, that's how it's served), were three pieces of tuna from different parts of the beast. The far right piece being the most fatty and therefore delicate was as tender as marshmallow and as fresh as...well, fresh fish to me is about as fresh as fresh gets.

An absolutely awesome meal finished off by a half hour stroll home feeling pretty content for now as I feel I know more about what is in store for me this week (my first talk is next Monday).

So now, sitting in the hotel room:

wearing my ridiculously small slippers provided, as guests are not to wear outdoor shoes indoors (that's not me playfully dangling them off my toes, that's just as far as they go!)

and staring out of the window at the Tokyo sky-line

thinking about work tomorrow and planning an excursion for the weekend.


In some physics news:

Those who read The Reference Frame will know this already. A theory which has been around for some time called doubly special relativity (no joke), turns out to be a bit of a joke. It was supposed to give new physics at large length scales concerning gravity. Unfortunately, it has been shown to be simply special relativity with a change of variables and therefore contains absolutely no new information whatsoever. I'm mildly pleased at this having started Joao Magueijo's book (who popularised the theory claiming that it could be an alternative to inflation) and stopped because he was such an arrogant egoist (tautological perhaps but it needs to be stressed). Anyway, it's interesting to see a theory which has raised much interest over the past few years collapse with such a complete whimper. It's rare to see such well studied theories debunked like this.

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