Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hyper Japan and the Sushi Awards 2012


It's time for
Hyper Japan 2012 - the UK's biggest celebration of J-Culture from Friday till Sunday at Earl's Court, London.

Kakkoii is the Japanese word for "cool", and it's fair to say that the line-up of food, events, entertainment, books and other goods on sale veers towards the kakkoii, and also the more familiar kawaii (meaning "cute").

Cute Goods

The traditional side of Japan isn't neglected though, with stands of pottery, calligraphy, artwork and origami taking part.

Exhibitors I'll be taking a look at include Nintendo (who'll have exclusive 3DS downloadable content), Manga Entertainment, CyberCandy, Namco, Artbox and my beloved Doki Tableware.

Japanese Classical Dance Nihon  BuyoCalligraphy

Bandai Games

Food and groceries will be available from the likes of the Japan Centre, Natural Natural, Minamato Kitchoan, So restaurant and Bento Ramen.

The 2012
Sake Awards and Sushi Awards will also be taking place at Hyper Japan.

On Cafe

For those Harajuku wannabes amongst you, there'll be showcases of the latest in Japanese street fashion - but there'll also be the chance to try on and buy traditional kimonos.

And to immerse yourself properly, there'll even be live music, film showings, autograph signings by J-Pop stars, and cosplay parades and contests.

Joji HirotaKanon Wakeshima Tea Party (2)

Tour and travel companies will be on hand to help you plan a trip to the land of the Rising Sun itself.

I'll be going along on Sunday to support the restaurant Tsuru who are competing in the 2012 Sushi Awards. I may be dressed Goth Lolita style.


Tickets for all three days are available at http://www.hyperjapan.co.uk/tickets

Hyper Japan 2012
Friday 24, Saturday 25, Sunday 26 February
Brompton Hall
Earls Court

All photos except the Tsuru logo from Eat Japan/Cross Media

Friday, 3 February 2012

Lonely Planet

Me in Lonely Planet
Click the photo to embiggen

I just found out that I am mentioned in the latest edition of Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma).

How exciting is that? I'm a national treasure, me.

And rather appropriately, tonight I am off to visit family in Burma - see you in a while ...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Laser Eye Surgery Review (LASEK) - Moorfields Private


[This follows on from

Just before Christmas, my dad, the ophthalmologist, says to me,

"I think it's time you had laser surgery".

I do a double-take (actually, it feels like a blood vessel explodes in my head), but I get over my shock quickly and I bounce to a phone to book a consultation.

He's recommended a particular surgeon, and a fortnight later, I find myself waiting to speak to the man in question.

A cheerful girl takes me to a room and she does a full eye test to check if my vision is stable. I don't have much of a bridge on my nose, so the clunky trial frames keep sliding down, and I end up having to prop them up with a finger.

I hand her a list of all my prescriptions since time began, and she looks scared ("Oh god, a looney") till I explain that my dad compiled them out of professional interest.

She then scans me with a machine to measure the thickness of my corneas - the laser will be slicing into them, so the thicker the better. I'm expecting to have my eyes dilated - I've brought sunglasses for afterwards as advised - but she sends me to talk to the surgeon.

He smiles at me kindly and has a face I can trust, but to be honest, I'm so set on having this done that he could have looked like Norman Bates. He examines my eyes with a microscope of some sort, puts anaesthetic drops in them and prods them, and he says that they're healthy, but for various reasons I'm only suitable for LASEK.

He warns me it's a big decision - it will hurt much more and take much longer to recover than LASIK, the usual procedure. I hesitate for a second and then pooh-pooh this and ask where to sign, but he gives me a leaflet and asks me to think about it and see him again before I decide to go ahead.

I nod my head and then run off gung-ho to the receptionist, and I book myself in for the next available operation. My enthusiasm is dampened when I find that it won't be till January, but I guess this gives me time to reflect.


A month later, I'm back in the waiting room, ostensibly to see the surgeon again as requested but really for my pre-op.

A different cheerful lady takes me into a room to anaesthetise my eyes and then produces what looks like an electronic ear thermometer and nudges my eyeballs with it.

"This is to measure the actual thickness and strength of your corneas", she says. "Yours are nice and strong". I give myself a silent cheer.

She does another scan to measure the actual state of my eyesight. It turns out I'm minus 10 - the upper limit for surgery. I give myself another silent cheer.

Next she dilates my pupils and makes me stare wide at some bright spirals while she photos the topography of my eyes.

I'm sent to wait for the surgeon till the blurriness dissipates. Another patient is talking at the receptionist - "What if I blink? What if the surgeon wobbles? What if the laser messes up? What if there's a power cut?".

He voices all our fears, irrational and otherwise, and I really want him to shut up and die. Thankfully he's called away to see the surgeon.

I'm the next in, and the surgeon is kindly, as before. He asks if I'm still set, after reading the literature, and whether I have any questions. I mention the guy who saw him just before me, and he says,

"I'll tell you what I told him - the whole of London could practically fall to pieces, but the hospitals would still keep going. Think about intensive care units, think about life-saving operations.

And each machine has its own separate back up, and the hospitals themselves have emergency generators."

"What about blinking?"

"You can't."

"Is it like A Clockwork Orange?"

(laughing) "It used to be. Now we just place a rubber ring around each eye. Of course, if you really squeeze, you probably could close your lids. But you won't".

More or less comforted, I leave the room, and I pay at reception.


Saturday early morning, the husband and I turn up at the laser suite at the top of Moorfields Eye Hospital. My surgeon walks past the waiting room door, pops his head in and says a cheery hello. I think, "He seems very alert. This is good. This is very good".

A nurse comes in and takes me away to explain the after-care. He says he can't express enough how important it is to follow the instructions, that they do what they can, but then it's up to me to ensure that I get the best results.

I nod and try to concentrate as he shows me each bottle and minim, and explains what they're for and how I should use them, but I'm a skittish mix of numb and excited.

He also gives me some goggles with a roll of micropore, and he says I need to tape them to my face when I sleep in case I try to stab my eyes out.

Now I'm sitting outside the operating theatre - a different nurse comes out and puts a surgical cap on my head and what seems like the same over my shoes ("to keep the theatre as clean as possible"). She goes back through the door and I stick out my greenish clown feet and wiggle them and squint at them and feel silly.

Suddenly she's back and leads me into the theatre. Between two big machines that look like Johnny Five and behind a cushioned table sits my surgeon, gowned, capped, gloved and masked up.

"Shit just got real", I think, and then I have to suppress the urge to giggle.

The nurse asks me to remove my glasses and interrogates me gently (allergies, asthma?), and she ticks away on a clipboard.

She then writes something on a sticker and slaps it on my chest and I wonder if it says, "Do Not Resuscitate" and then quash another (hysterical) giggle.

"Lie back now", says the surgeon and I do, and I place my head in a cradle cushion. There's a red spotlight above me with a halo of green.

"This won't take long; just relax and I'll talk you through the whole process".

And he does and it's soothing.

He covers my left eye loosely, but asks me to try to keep both open. Then he tapes the lashes of my right eye out of the way with micropore, to my cheek and lid.

Next comes the rubber ring - a soft clamp of some sort. This pinches and I wince, but then he administers anaesthetic drops and I stop feeling anything.

He douses my eye repeatedly to keep it moist and then I see what looks like a giant cotton bud looming towards me. More dousing. And now time for the laser.

"This will take a minute - look straight at the red light and try to relax".

A buzzing begins. And then, something I'd been told to expect but I still wasn't prepared for - a fragrance, a smell, it's meat, it's beef.

Beef cooking, barbecuing, it's me. My stomach rumbles with hunger. Auto-sarcophagy. Not something I'd ever considered before.

More dousing, and then he fits a bandage contact lens to protect the raw surface and we're done. Now the left eye, same procedure as before.

This is easy. Everyone should do it. Everyone.

Wobbly, I get up from the table, and the surgeon says it went well and that the first nurse will do my first lot of eye-drops, and to come see him in five days' time to get the bandage lenses removed.

"Oh and please do not rub your eyes".

I pick up my now-useless glasses and go next door, where the nurse indeed does my first drops. Then I grab my aftercare kit, and go see my husband who's been waiting anxiously.

"How was it?"

"It was a breeze. Didn't hurt a bit. Let's go home".

I'm not allowed to take public transport (a blessing as I have to wear sunglasses and I'd feel like a tit), so my parents have come to pick us up. I walk to their car and realise I can see without visual aid for the first time in many years.

The novelty is short-lived though as the sun is blazing brightly despite a chill in the air, and I keep my eyes firmly closed all the way home.


There are six different types of eyedrop I have to use - an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic, a tear supplement, a dilating drop, a painkiller and an anaesthetic. The painkiller is based on aspirin, which I can't take, so I'm told to take oral paracetamol instead. And I'm warned to use the anaesthetic sparingly, since its use will retard healing.

So there are four different types of eyedrop I end up using. The first day I need to administer them hourly - I make an attempt and nearly jab myself in the eye, so my husband kindly takes over. He's working at home all week, as he suspected I'd need looking after.

The first few hours are an absolute doddle. And then the anaesthetic from the surgery begins to wear off. My eyes begin to prickle and smart, and then they feel like they're on fire. I swallow some paracetamol and grit my teeth as my eyes start to stream with tears.

I can't rub or dab them away and I'm terrified the crying will wash away the lenses. The protective lenses, which now feel like slabs of grit scraping my inflamed eyes.

And despite the tears, my eyes are sealed tight - keeping them open is too tiring and painful.

Everything is too tiring and painful. And I'm scared.

My husband sets an alarm to go off every hour on the hour - "Come on, you know we have to do this". Each time, it takes longer for me to prise my eyes open and longer for him to administer as I whimper and flinch and weep between each type of drop. I can tell he hates having to torture me, but it needs to be done, and I'm grateful inside.

And all this crying is dehydrating me till my voice is a croaky whisper, so I keep downing glasses of water and then having to pee - and my husband has to guide me as I'm functionally blind.

Two steps down, one step up, to the left, to the right, the quirks of our landing of which I was so fond are suddenly a nightmare to navigate (in fact, it's like Knightmare but much less fun).

Soon, my husband is as tired as I am. Between trips to the loo, we sit on the end of the bed in exhaustion, my head on his shoulder, as the alarm goes off again, and again.

I go to bed at 9 that day, the earliest I have done for 20 years. I can't take any more and I need this day to end.

My husband places the goggles on me and tapes them carefully to my face. He also brings me mittens in case I mash my face in my sleep, and he lays out the spare mattress at the foot of the bed where he sleeps in case he knocks my goggles off himself.

I drift into a weary sleep, thinking I'd quite like to be dead. I've never felt like that before.


Day 2. The drops are two-hourly now. My eyes still burn with agony though, and my lids are still clamped shut.

I'm not allowed to shower or wash my face, and the constant tears and drops have gunked in my spidery lashes - I wish to God I'd trimmed them beforehand.

By mid-afternoon, I'm starting to panic that I still can't open my eyes. I make my husband ring the surgeon and leave a message - he rings back shortly afterwards to reassure me that it's perfectly normal and that I ought to use the anaesthetic much more often than I have been.

I yell at my husband to douse me up and, bliss, suddenly I can't feel my eyes. Suddenly I don't want to gouge them out.

Soothed, I listen to Lord of the Rings, and my irritation at Aragorn's voice ("it's not Viggo! He doesn't sound like a king!") keeps me diverted. And so another day passes till it's time for me to be taped into my goggles.

I manage to stay up till 10 this time.


Day 3, and the searing pain is gone. I experiment with opening my eyes and my lids stay apart this time.

The crying has stopped too, which is wonderful at first, but then my eyes begin to dry out and the lenses start to itch and ache. I'd like nothing better than to flick them out, but somehow manage to stay my hand.

And I still can't see.


Day 4. If this was a film, there'd be a montage of me keeping my eyes open for a little more each time, and seeing a little more each day, the music swelling with triumph.

But the fact is, my sight is still awful and doesn't seem to be improving. I'd been warned that it would be pretty bad till I had the bandages lenses removed, but I'm frustrated and beginning to go slightly mad.

I listen to Lord of the Rings some more, and drift into fractured hobbity dreams.


Day 5, and my dad comes to check over my eyes. He's been visiting every day and said encouraging things, but I've been unable to see his expression and tell if he really means it.

Today he's delighted to see how I'm doing - his relief is visible as he says he's been praying for me every night.

He says he's been praying for himself as well, because my mum said she'd kill him if anything went wrong. I laugh for the first time in ages.


Day 6, and my husband and I are on a train back into town. I'm wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes, but I still feel horribly vulnerable.

We get to the clinic and I'm called in to see another cheerful girl who gives me a quick eye-test - I can see three lines down the chart which seems hopeless to me.

Then she anaesthetises my eyes and pops out the lenses like she's shelling peas. Blessed release - my eyes start to water.

The surgeon then calls me in, and he examines my eyes with the microscope thing. He seems pleased at his handiwork and I feel a bit like a sculpture. He says my vision is better than expected and that there's no scarring at all.

I ask him if I still have to wear the goggles at night, and he laughs and says,

"No, that was just to stop you from dislodging the lenses - you can even rub your eyes now. You're just like any one else who doesn't need glasses. You're just like everyone else.

Come back and see me in a month's time so we can check your progress, but in the meantime, my door is always open".

So I thank him and leave and go out to my husband and I say, "Apparently I'm normal", and I pluck up the courage to go outside without wearing the sunglasses.

And I feel the wind against my bare eyes and it's strange. I haven't felt that for 20 years. But I decide that I like it, and I open my eyes wider.

And when I get home, I look in the mirror, and for the first time in a long time I see me.

Then I go and ruin the moment by trying to push up my phantom specs and poke myself in the nose.

I guess this will take some getting used to.