sunnuntai 21. huhtikuuta 2013

Working in London.

Hi guise!

It has taken me so long to write this post. Probably because I have been utilizing my time to workout, paint and study french, which I was unable to do whilst living in London.
I'm back living in Finland and I have to say that I'm relieved to be back. London wasn't for me after all. It's a shame, because I used to love that city. Then I got to see the other, more real side of London and realized that I didn't like living in London anymore. I still like London, it's a great city to visit. And there might come a time when I have to live in London again, but in the mean time, I'm glad to be back in Finland <3

This post inclued brief information about my work experience in London.

Finding a job in London. 

This entirely depends on what your profession is. If it's in customer service, then no problem, you have lots to choose from. If you want to work for a business company, I'm quite positive you'll be able to get a proper position (depending on your education) in no time. I would imagine that even those who are Humanitarians or Artist, will be able to get some kind of work that matches their degree. 
I got a job interview even before I graduated from makeup school. I went through the interviews and style checks and got a job five days after I had graduated. I was a freelance makeup artist and a consultant for different makeup brands in department stores. So even as a makeup artist, I was able to find work in no time.

However here comes the unpleasant part, when you get that job from your chosen field, there is chance that you have to get a second job as well. You see London is a very expensive city, and unless you already have a lot of work experience and a fancy degree, chances are, you have to start from the bottom and work your way up over the years. Now I imagine that it's like this every where in the world. However unlike in Finland for example, where the odds of getting a job in the field you are educated-trained in is minimal, in London the chances of getting the job you really want are high. In Finland I'm unemployed because all the consultant positions have been filled and there are no new positions opening. Here the demand for eight consultants per makeup brands is zero. In Finnish department stores they only need maybe four consultants, and usually they only have two consultants working per day. One for the morning shift and one for the evening shift. I suppose it is a tradition in Finland that once you get a job, you hold on to it until you retire. Anyway, it's not like that in London at all. New positions open all the time. And many places offer internships. So no matter what field you are looking to get into, I'm quite positive it won't be way too difficult.

Rate of pay.

London just raised their minimum wage from £5 to £6-something/h. I can hear whole of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium laughing. It is a laughable rate and the UK really expects people to live on that rate. Sure the taxes are lower than in Germany, but the people in Germany get paid atleast £10/h, or so I hear. I tried my best to live on that £6-something pay, but as it turned out, I couldn't. In Finland my pay as a waitress was little over £11/h including evening-weekend-sunday allowance. In London my flatmate from Germany said that her parents wouldn't let her work for £6-something because it would be exploitation. It is exploitation, many people in London have to get by with minimum wage, work long hours in a cold, stressful enviroment and no such thing as after 6pm evening allowance exists. It was shocking for me to discover that there were no evening, or weekend allowances and you didn't get double pay on sunday (every sunday, not just bank holidays). Not to mention travelling in London is very expensive. Depending on where you live, you could end up spending 3h per day just travelling to work. And if you can't afford to take the tube, you'll spend even more time travelling to work because bus routes are long and they stop very often. And the fares....I was paid £46 per day and the tube zones 1-4 was £43 per WEEK. So there you have it.
I can't speak for all the sectors, but customer service and teaching pay you the minimum wage. Which means that teachers or waiters for example usually get a second job to do on the side. I have read about my friend's adventures in our uni town as a lecturer-groundskeeper-receptionist. I keep thinking that in Finland he wouldn't have to be a groundskeeper-receptionist because he would be able to get by as a lecturer no problem.
Having to do two jobs means that you don't have any freetime. You pretty much go home to sleep and eat. And this will probably go on for years and years until they promote you in your dream job or something. And I have to mention this, it says a lot about the country when you constantly see people, grown adults, living in shared houses. They simply can't afford to get a flat of their own so they have share a house with 2 people or more. I wonder if this has something to do with the rate of pay in the UK..?
It is pretty much up to you to decide whether the low pay and two jobs is worth the effort. I was wasting away in London so I decided to leave. For me there was no point in staying in London, selling makeups for minimal pay whilst in Finland I would be able to do the same thing and actually get paid for it (or so I thought, there are no open vacancies at the moment). So the day I left London was a happy day for me and I don't regret it. 

Basically to survive in London, you need to get an estimate of your rent, bills, council tax, food and travel expenses and see if you can survive with the pay you are getting. There is no way to sugarcoat things, especially if you are coming to London from an affluent society. Living in London is rough.

Finding a job in London is easy, I have heard many stories about people moving to London and getting a job at Boots or Sainsbury's without previous experience and are still living in London. I read many stories Finns had written on this forum about moving to London. It was not that surprising to read that all of them had had a nasty beginning in London. And it usually involved housing. Anyway, even I who had just graduated from makeup school got a job as a makeup artist- consultant like that. So it really depends on the career you are pursuing. Naturally artists will have it more rough because even in London, it is difficult to earn money as an artist or as a ballerina. A friend of mine was a business student, he was an intern for a year and now the company has send him to Shanghai to teach english to the employees there. 

I also have to mention that not all people who come to London come from affluent societies, many people who come to London had to leave their home country and so they have nothing when they come to London. One of the really positive aspects of London is that it's not afraid of foreigners and immigrants. All the staff I met in most of the Boots I worked at were immigrants and many of them were managers. I found that inspiring. It was wonderful to see that even people who come to London with little or no previous work experience can get a decent job and have the possibility to move up. The only thing that really bothers me is that as kind to foreigners as London is, it also shamelessly exploits them. But then again, fleeing one's home country and getting a shared flat and a job in London is the most wonderful thing ever happened to some people of London. It is and I am very happy that London accepted me with my quirky accent and made me feel like a Londonette. 
I can say without a doubt that the opportunities in London are indeed endless. And
even though I'm not in love with London anymore, I still find the experiences I got, priceless.

I tried to keep this post short like the living in London post. After all I can't say too much about working in London because I only had the makeup consultant job. I did some research and asked people about their experiences, but all these people work or worked in customer service. I don't know anybody who gets a high pay rate in London. But hopefully you got the idea of what working can be like in London.

As for me, I have my eye on a new job, that could pay off all my student loans and possibly get me my very own flat in Helsinki <3 If I get this job, I could also be able to paint and work as a makeup artist without having to worry about where the next paycheck comes from.
I have an interview next month in Amsterdam and I'm praying that I'll get to the final stage of that interview day. The interview process of this company is very demanding and long, and of course I wish that they hire me, but at the moment I'm concentrating on getting to that final stage of the interview day. I have a month left to prepare myself. Wish me luck!

Thank you for reading and enjoy that sunshine, it's spring!


sunnuntai 3. maaliskuuta 2013

Living in London (how to find a flat).

Hello peeps!

It seems that I haven't got time to do anything these days. I graduated from AOFM, had to move, went through three job interviews, got a job and now I'm working and trying to get by with really small salary.

It all began in Janurary during AOFM when I realized that I couldn't keep living in the shared flat in Acton anymore. I don't want to go into too much detail, but lets just say that the situation got ugly, the agency took care of it, but I didn't feel safe living in that flat anymore so I moved out.
I terminated my contract with the agency and was back at the same B&B where I stayed when I first moved to London. I'm still fighting to get my deposit back.

I had to find a new place, but I got invited to a job interview. I was running like a madman up and down Oxford st. trying to find the proper outfit and accessories the agency had requested. The interview was in 3 stages (mon,wed and fri) and after my last interview on friday, I was booked to work with NARS (and now I have worked with Chanel as well).
The interview was extremely hard, I had to buy a nice suit (jacket and skirt) and the sorts, plus I had to cut my hair because the guy there hated it. It was rather clear that the agency was very strict about appearance and poise. And all this time I was flat hunting.

Now I'll introduce some pointers to how to find the perfect flat for you in London. I must warn you that incase there are few things you look from a room and an area, finding the perfect place may turn into a nightmare.

Finding a flat in London.

Basically it all comes down to these key points:
1. Area.
2. The state of the house.
3. Connections to your workplace.
4. Your budget.

1. Firstly you need to decide where you want to live. If you are not into tough, run-down, immigrant populated areas I'd stay clear of East London all together. Canary Wharf is very trendy right now because of its booming economics and work opportunities, but that's pretty much it about East London. I took a bus across East London from Holborn for I was trying to get to the Finnish Church and E.L was definately not the place where I wanted to live. In Metro there is always news about shootings, and stabbings and murders, which mostly occur in East London. I'm not saying that the rest of London is any good, but incase you are coming to live in London for the first time, you might want to avoid areas that have high crime rate. Also if you are looking to live among Caucasians or Brits, East London is not the place for you. 
My first Flat (well room) was in West London, in Acton. A nice place to live, I felt safe there and tube and bus connections were rather good. I should probably point out now that if you are coming to London and want to live among Brits, you have to go way out of Central London. Most Brits live in the Home Counties of London, such as Surrey, Slough and the sorts. I live in Southgate and for the first time since I moved to London, I can hear proper British English in the stores.
In short, Central London is populated by immigrants of various backgrounds, and each area is a reflection of the most popular ethnic group living there. For me it was a bit of a shock to find out that there were no Brits living in Central London (atleast not in the areas that I could afford).
Before you come here I would suggest that you do a throughout check on each area you are interested in. I checked Acton, Vauxhall, Canary Wharf, Hammersmith, Turnpike Lane, Fulham, King's Cross and Shepherd's Bush before I settled in Acton and later in Southgate.

2. Area is really important, but equally important is to check the state of the house. You won't believe the rooms and houses I saw whilst looking for a flat. I came to realize that I had been living in a dream world in Helsinki where everything is nice and clean and safe. In London, things are the exact opposite of nice and clean. I was very fortunate to finally found this flat in Southgate. The angel of a landlady has been keeping her house nice and tidy. This place is literally a palace now that I have seen what else is out there (but seriously this is very very nice house). Couple of things you need to check before you sign a contract:
* Check if the room has bed bugs (look for black spots/stains on the bed frame and on the mattress)! Seriously people, I hear that the whole of Ealing is suffering from bed bugs. Infact, it is not unusual for 'hotels' in London to suffer from bed bug infestations and if you stay in place like that, there is a big chance that you bring the bugs back home with you. For even if you call pest control and they poison the room, there is 99% chance that the bugs have just moved to another room and will emerge after 3 weeks. We do not have bed bugs in Finland, I had never even seen a bed bug before nor could even imagine having them live with me. For me it was a great shock when I realized that in London bed bugs are almost part of the house hold. The house that I live in now reflects the state it is in, clean, strong, renovated every few years and the landlady makes sure that all the tenants keep their rooms in pristine condition. In short, check that the room is pristine clean.
* Ask about the other tenants and if you can, try to get information of their living habbits. You don't want to move in with someone who cooks extremely spicy food in the kitchen if you are allergic. Ask how everything works and if there has been any big renovations or repairs done recently, or if the landlady/landlord/agency is looking to renovate soon. How are the locks and has the house or the neighbourhood been subject to robbery. Then of course you need to find out about the bills and what is included in the rent. Check that the bathroom has everything you require and that there is enough hot water for everyday use. If the house has carpets (yuck!) ask if they are cleaned regularly. Basically when you see the outside of the house, you can pretty much predict what it's going to look like inside. You can judge a book by its covers. 
And don't rush! If the agency/landlady/landlord is asking you to pay a holding fee or another unsual fee (fee that is not a deposit) forget that place! What the agency or landlord should be asking, is a deposit and 1 month's rent in advance. I fell in to Red Move's 'holding fee' trap and now I'm fighting for my deposit. Agencies also ask you to pay extra to draw a contract for you plus when you leave the agency, you'll be asked to pay a check-out fee. After my Acton disaster, I never want to deal with a flat agency again! Personally I like private landlord's better because you have more room to negotiate.

3. In a way, location is everything in London. Distances are long and you may end up spending a lot of time just travelling to work/school. When I came here I wasn't sure which ticket to buy. If you buy bus-tram travel card you are only allowed to access those, but if you buy regular travel card you can travel on tube, bus, tram etc as much as you want, but within the zones you have selected. The bus travel card is much cheaper than the tube travel card, however it takes forever to travel by bus. I lived in Acton, and my school was in Soho. It took me 1h20min by bus to get to Piccadilly, by tube it took 20min. Busses make a lot of stops and are often stuck in traffic. Bus routes are also very long, so you end up going a long detour before reaching your destination. Zones 1-3 bus travel card is £19, tube travel card is £35, and both are PER WEEK. The public transportation in London is very expensive. I don't think I have come across more expensive transportation fees elsewhere. It is ridiculously expensive. Maybe this is another way for England to separate the poor from the rich because clearly only rich people can afford to take the tube (and me, well atleast for another 2 weeks). There is also Pay-and-Go option where you load money on your Oyster card and pay only when you travel. However if you need to use public transportation a lot, I suggest you get the weekly travel card. Now that I live in zone 4, I pay £43 per week for my travel card. The further you go from C.L, the more expensive travelling is. The tube is very handy, but I'm never looking forwards to rush hour on the tube. I rather work until 8pm just to avoid the 6pm rush hour xD

4. You can't get a fancy place in London that is cheap, tidy and in a good area. And that is a fact. The lower your budget, more chances are, you are going to wind up in a horrendous flat in horrendous neighbourhood. Or it's a nice place in good area, but it's so far from work/school that you end up spending a fortune and a lot of time getting there each day. My first flat cost £110 per week and it included all bills. The flat naturally reflected that price. It was a very small room in a attic-like flat on the top floor of the building. The staircase was narrow and getting into the flat was difficult. There was five of us sharing one kitchen, one fridge-freezer and one bathroom-toilet. There was no room to dry our laundry really and two people liked to smoke in the bathroom.
My current flat in Southgate costs £160 per week, but here I have a very large room for myself. I share a bathroom-toilet with two other people. We have a big kitchen and there is room for everyone in the fridge-freezer. We have a washing machine and a dryer and plenty of space to dry clothes in the living room too.
One of my peers in AOFM had a studio flat for herself in Notting Hill. She had a terrace and wooden floors, but she didn't have heating or warm water for two weeks (in January). And she paid close to £2000 per month. So even if you get a fancy studio or room for yourself, I have learned that in London there is bound to be a downside too. But not here =) I love this flat and my landlady is awesome! Well the only downside....I can't exercise in my room, the landlady forbids that, but she lets me exercise in the living room though.

If you are interested to learn more about living in London or are keen to ask me something don't be afraid to comment. I'll try to answer the best I can. I have lived here for 2 months now, so I'm not an expert, but I can give you a little insight on what it's like for a foreigner to live in London. I tried to keep the guidance part short for those who are looking for pointers and not stories.

I'll do a follow up on what it's like to work in London.

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!


sunnuntai 27. tammikuuta 2013


Hi guise!

So sorry it took me this long to write a new post. Moving to London was rough and then I went to school at AOFM (Academy of Freelance makeup). I still have 1 week left and then I'm a certified makeup artist ^_^

Dragon's year isn't over yet. I have about two weeks left to be productive and successful. Well apparently 2013 is going to be very successful for us Dragons so we'll see. To my friends 2012 was either so-so or not nice at all. To me, 2012 was very nice. I was working most of the time, but a lot of things happened and because so many things happened, I'm now living in London.

But about 2012, it began peacefully and I took a habbit of going to my parent's cabin in the country once a month, or once every other month. I spend a week there just painting and relaxing. I miss it already. It was exceptionally nice to be there in winter. I'd wake up around 8.15am to feed birds and watch the sunrise (around 9am). It was very excotic to be up and still find it pitch black outside. In the country we have a lot of different types of birds. I loved to bring them seeds and watch them eat whilst I had my breakfast inside. It was usually around -15'C outside. I'd paint the rest of the day and workout too. I managed to make 7 oil paintings in 2012, and they were supposed to be featured in my first solo show in Helsinki right after New Year's, but yeah I moved to London on the 2dn of January.  London is exciting, but still, I miss our cabin, the winter scenery and painting in tranquility.

Enough. (c) Heini Mika 2012.
In early spring 2012, I got infatuated with Kpop! I have been listening to Jpop for a decade now, but I never got into Kpop like my little sister did. She has been listening to Kpop for 6 years. I discovered Kpop through Simon and Martina of Eatyourkimchi. A schoolmate of mine was talking about “Bubble pop” on Fbible, and one of his friend put a link to eatyourkimchi review on his wall. I was like “I have heard about Bubble Pop, so lets see what it's about”. After that I started watching eatyourkimchi videos on daily basis xD I even introduced their “Shinee, Sherlock” video to my little sister. Simon and Martina are so much fun! And their videos are really well made. They don't just talk about Kpop, they talk about Korean food and Culture and what's it like to live in Korea (as a foreigner). At first I was just watching the videos, but when I watched their review on Big Bang's “Fantastic Baby” I was hooked. It started with Big Bang and U-Kiss, but now I love Super Junior and Junsu, and Shinee is good too and so is 2ne1 and Bilasaa! And of course, G-Dragon! I felt a bit like a cradle robber when I began to like him, but I checked wikipedia and he's 2 months OLDER than me xDDDD G-Dragon really is an expectional talent. Everyone get your crayon!

Big Bang (G-D, Seungri, Teayang, Daesung, T.O.P)

After 8 years I finally got to go to Paris again. I was a little girl when I went to Paris the first time. The second time I was a teenager and at first I didn't like Paris at all because it was so dirty and there were rubbish every where. But after the first day I started to like Paris. By April 2012 I had saved some fun-money and was planning to meet my BBF in London during his spring break. But then I reconsidered it. After all both of us had seen plenty of London already. I thought of Rome, but we had been there already in 2008. Now I have been to Rome 4 times. And then I had the idea to go to Paris. We met at Charles-De Gaulle on monday evening. Our hotel, H'otel Odeon, was on the other side of Seine, not on the Louvre, Pompidou side. H'otel Odeon was really nice, and reasonably priced too. We went to see the sights and he even agreed to go to Disney Land with me! Disney Land was so much fun xD But I was so upset that the Michael Jackson ride wasn't working. But I had a great time (he was mostly in a coma due to Disney overload). Paris was exceptionally beautiful in April. We even had a small heathwave on tuesday. After that the weather was mild. We walked a lot during that trip. And may I just say, avoid Champagne mojitos! XD they are deadly! I would have loved to spend another 5 days in Paris, but I had to get back to work. So we left on friday, but before that we went to have tea and cakes at "Laduree" near Concorde. They make such excellent macaroons, I brought a box of those to home with me. Also if you like tea/coffee/confectionaries go visit Fauchon! They have an excellent tea selection, “Un Aprés-midi á Paris” is one of my favurite Fauchon teas. My BFF went back to Aberdeen and I came back to Helsinki and later in September, I started studying french.

In summer my family and I went to visit my little sister in Dundee Scotland. None of us had never been to Scotland so it was going to be a treat for us. We left our cabin early in the morning to drive to Tampere. We took Ryanair to Edingburgh and a train to Dundee (1,5h). It was freezing in Scotland, in June. In Helsinki it had been +25'C all week so we had only prepared summer clothes. The whole week was freezing and I was really scared that I'd catch a cold because my art show was right after our trip + I had work too. It was a lovely trip never the less. We got to see my little sister and we met Mochi, her pet bunny for the first time. He is such a darling! Even though he likes to chew everything xD Mum and Dad were bunking in her boyfriend's room (he was working in Helsinki) and I slept in her room. Mum and Dad were excited to be back in the UK and to have the chance to explore Scotland. We went exploring and shopping and one day we went to St. Andrew's. Really beautiful place! That was a lovely trip even though I was freezing the whole time. Scotland is actually very different from England if you believe it. The architecture is totally different from example the architecture I saw in Manchester. On our last day together we went exploring in Edinburgh. It was raining, and I had my little adventure in the rain. I got lost whilst trying to find this famous vegetarian restaurant. I spend the rest of the day in bed, trying to avoid catching a cold. I'll always regard this trip with warmth and I hope we get to go to Dundee again someday.

St. Andrew's coast line
I had my first art show in Worcester in 2011. At Movement gallery. My second show was in Helsinki at Akvart gallery. I was so happy when they accepted my application. It was particularly hard to come up with a concept for this show. At first I wanted to do pretty landscapes and cityscapes from Paris, London, Kyoto etc, but I reasoned that you could buy those anywhere. In the end I came up with a fictional city called “Summer City” (the show was called “City Summer”). I'm actually rather pleased how the paintings turned out. There were 9 of us showing our works, and 5 of us sold a piece, including me =D A nice couple bought one of my paintings to give as a gift to their relatives. I was full of joy when I got the call from the gallery telling me that I had sold a piece. The show lasted for two weeks, and I was vigilating four times. It was so cool, my BFF came there to keep me company <3 I'd be happy to exhibit work at Akvart again.

Lady Gaga in Helsinki 2012
In August I went to see Lady Gaga for the first time. I had always liked her music, but I kept missing her shows. So when I heard that she was coming to Helsinki in 2012, I quickly bought my ticket. I was hoping to get in to the Monster Pit, but I didn't. I was walking around the arena, hoping that someone would spot me and let me in to the pit. But no luck. It was okay, I had a pretty good seat anyway. I really had to reel myself in at the merchandise booth. I wanted to buy all the t-shirts xD In the end I bought 1 t-shirt, the tour poster, “Married to Gaga” ring and a unicorn keychain for my little sister. I really love that ring, alhtough it's a bit too big for me, I love it. I wear it on my left thumb. The concert was rather good. I was so blown away when “Highway Unicorn” started followed by “Government Hooker” (← my personal favourite). I thought “this show is going to be a-may-zaahh!!”. However it kinda fell flat after that. It was a good show, but I was so dissapointed that Gaga used so much playback! So dissapointed. It seemed to me that Gaga is unable to sing and dance at the same time. It's difficult I know, but many other artists sing a song and then they have like a dance breakdown, like in MVs and then they sing again. Whilst Gaga was trying to do them both, but it just wasn't working. Another thing that I didn't appreciate either was that she only sang half of the songs. I mean really only half. She cut “Bad Kids” half! And “Love Game” and “Poker Face” and many other songs too. That was dissapointing. However I had no idea she had such a fabulous singing voice until she sat down on her motorcycle and sang “Hair”. She really has an amazing voice! Anyway I did enjoy the show and to me it seemed that Gaga was really enjoying herself as well, that the show wasn't just 'another day in the office'. When she thanked the audience for spending their hard earned money on her show, that really touched me. Never before have I heard an artist actually thank their fans for spending money on them. Thank You Gaga, thank you for noticing that!! Never the less, it was a good show and I wouldn't mind spending money to see Gaga again in the future.

After, maybe 7 months, I began to wonder what to do with my life. I was waitressing part-time and I knew that that wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. It was my mum again that asked me to concider makeup artistry. So I began to look for makeup schools in Europe. I found 3 really promising schools. One in Milan, one in Paris and one in London. The Milan seemed cool, but it was too expensive. The Paris one intrigued me the most, but my employment after the course seemed unlikely because I don't speak french (well I do now, but only a little!! Tourist vocabulary etc). So I went with AOFM. They were based in London so I knew that language wouldn't be a problem, plus the school had such marvelous after care programs. They have master classes for graduates, their after care programs includes personal guidance and every year they take graduates to assist at London Fashion week. I sent my application for January's “Total Pro” course and I got a call from AOFM in less than a week. I got in =D And now I have been studying there for 3 weeks. Next week it's Nails and Airbrushing. I'm slowly leaning towards fashion/editorial/advert makeup, but I'm also really interested in movie and theatre makeup as well. My plan is to find a job in retail and then test,test,test to build my portfolio =D I had my portfolio shoot a week ago (AOFM provides everything) and it went alright.

Kuroshitsuji II. Alois&Claude, Ciel&Sebastian

The anime of 2012 for me is Kuroshitsuji II. Last year it was Naruto (still nr. 1 in my heart), but this year I got obsessed with Kuroshitsuji. I watched the second season first, because Takahiro Sakurai is the voice of Claude. I really like Takahiro-san's voice! I thought he was a-may-zaah in “Princess Tutu” <3 So I was looking for anime featuring Takahiro-san and I found Kuroshitsuji II. However Alois Trancy stole the show. At first I was sure that Junko Takeuchi (she does Naruto) was Alois' voice, but nope, I was dead wrong. It's Mizuki Nana!! I was so surprised! I had only heard Mizuki-san do female voices, so I didn't know she could do boys as well. If you listen to her voice as Rue in “Princess Tutu” and then compare that to Alois in Kuroshitsuji, they sound nothing alike! An exceptionally talented voice actress I'd say.
It sucks that Kuroshitsuji II was so short --__-- I could watch Alois all day *_* The plot had some promise, but in the end it turned out rather stupid. The first Kuroshitsuji was a combination of short stories and running plotline. So personally I think that that would have been perfect for Kuroshitsuji II as well. It would have been really interesting to watch Alois plot how to catch Ciel, episode after episode. It would have been like those American tv-series from the 90's. There is a plotline, but the focus is mainly on the individual stories (per episode). The first season was much better in terms of plotline, which still isn't much as far as good plots go. So the shortness of Kuroshitsuji II was a let down. However, there is always Kuroshitsuji I for those who are completely infatuated with Sebastian Q_o I'm making it my duty to find a butler just like Sebastian! I wouldn't mind having a piece of that action ;)

Oh yeah and I had two of my wisdom teeth removed (in one go)  --___--- it's done. The procedure was a piece of cake, but the aftermath, oh boy. It took me a week until I was able to return to work. I pretty much ate just ice-cream, soup, soft tofu and yogurt for 3 days solid. So if by any chance it's not necessary for you to get your wisdom teeth removed, don't do it! It's not worth it, to go through all that suffering and healing after they are out. Seriously.

And I also got “promoted” at work. I was just a regular waitress, until I passed this alcohol custom/law test and got my licence. After that I was able to do manager shifts at work. It was rather fun being the manager for 2-7h per shift =) But again, I never intended waitressing to be my career career.

That's pretty much what happened to me in 2012. Well the highlights. It was a rather eventful year full of happiness with some major negative incidents as well. But it was a good year and I can't help, but feel a little proud that it was my year. I'm a Dragon after all. For 2013 I bought a tea pot from Chinatown that has a Dragon on it to remind myself that I am a Dragon, and Dragons are strong, passionate creatures who'll go through granite and grey stone to get what they want. 

A little bit about my future posts. Because I'm trying to build a life for myself in London I won't be able to write artist reviews for a while. I'll do my best to find a time to write, but right now I'm too busy with school, plus I need to find a job. So after I find a job and get a better sense of my schedules, I'll arrange time to write new posts ^_^

Take care everyone and thank you for reading!
Happy 2013!!


keskiviikko 12. joulukuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Henry Darger.

Hi guise!

Wow is it December already? I'm not feeling very festive yet. Even though we have so much snow and it looks reeeaally pretty and it's cold, I have yet to receive that christmas spirit =/ The year before last year I was getting giddy about christmas after Halloween. I was living in England....yeah...I miss England. That December in England was so beautiful (even though there was the whole trouble with Heathrow and such). Christmas commercialism is so over the top in England that no wonder I'm not feeling the christmas vibe. But to be fair, I haven't been to the city (Helsinki) in quite a while. I just go to work, and then I go home (I live in the suburbs). Bah, I'll get my game on in no time =D 

And The Hobbit, Omg The Hobbit came out today =D And my little sister and my future brother- in-law are coming home for christmas. They're bringing their baby bunny with them. It's Mochi's first trip to Finland. I can't wait to see all three of them. And I have managed to secure all my shifts at the restaurant so all I need to do now is, well do them. Then I'm off to London! Everything is coming up roses <3 


 December's artist is an American, Henry Darger. Darger was born in Chicago in April 1892 to Rosa Fullman and Henry Joseph Darger Senior. Henry Junior had a very unfortunate start, his mother died in labor four years after his birth and sister was adopted straight away so he never saw her. Henry Junior was left in his father's care, and in his journal he writes how his father was kind and reassuring father to him, and they lived happily together. Until 1900 when the crippled and poor Henry Senior became incapable of taking care of little Henry so he was placed in an orphanage when he was eight. His father died a few years later at St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home. At the orphanage Darger junior was diagnosed mentally ill and send to The Lincoln asylum for "feeble-minded children".

A very depressing beginning don't you think. At school Darger didn't get a long with the teachers or the fellow pupils. He often quarrelled with the teachers about history, particularly about the Civil War. Darger himself said that his 'problem' was being able to see through adult lies. He described himself as the smart-aleck, a person who is obnoxious to the point of being actually smart and cleaver. He seemed to take a very arrogant stand on everyone around him. He also went through a lengthy phase of 'feeling compelled' to make strange noises earning him the nickname 'Crazy'. Me, a retard! I knew more than the whole bunch of them”, he later wrote in his journal. It's possible that some of the punishments Darger went through at The Lincoln asylum seem to have worked their way into the Realms of the Unreal. Darger later said that there were also good times there, he found some of the work enjoyable, and he had friends as well as enemies. (that may be, but in reality our mind plays tricks with us, so sometimes we can't really remember just how bad our bad times were). 

Darger tried to run away several times, but it wasn't until he was 16 that he finally succeeded and returned to Chicago in 1908. According to his autobiography, on his way to Chicago, he witnessed a huge tornado that devastated the central Illinois. He described it as "a wind convulsion of nature tremendous beyond all man's conception". Subsequently weather became one of the key characters in Darger's paintings. The tornado demolished a little and nobody was hurt.
In Chicago, with the help of his godmother, young Darger found minor work in a Catholic hospital. Darger continued to support himself with odd jobs until his retirement in 1963. When the first World War came, Darger was glad to join the troops. How unfortunate for him, he was discharged and sent home a few months later. Evidently he was unfit for the duty both mentally and physically.

Back in Chicago Darger started attending mass daily and he became a very religious man. In 1930 he settled into a second-floor room where he wrote and painted his massive In the Realms of the Unreal. At this time he tried to adopt several times, but he was always turned down. I believe Darger longed for real companionship with someone, and perhaps one of the reasons he wanted to adopt was because he wanted to save a helpless child from the same life he had had so far. Evidently Darger was very found of children, but unfortunately he'd have to spend the rest of his life alone. Darger died on April 1973 in St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home, the same place his father had died in. A little later Darger's landlord Nathan Lerner went to empty Darger's room and found all his paintings and drawings and collages along with bunch of Crucifixes and small statues of the virgin Mary and knick-knacks. On the walls he saw newspaper clippings about awful incidents and events. Then Nathan pulled up a massive book bound by hand. It was too big to open inside the room. The book revealed art material and writing dating back to 40 years. Parchment and paper glued together, paintings, drawings, collages, watercolours. And then, there was the book of 15145 pages called "The Story of the Vivian Girls in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”. It's a 13 volume 'novel' and I'm a little confused whether it has never been published or if there are couple volumes available. Would be an interesting read I'm sure. Apart from his paintings and the first book, Darger also wrote a sequel of over 8000 pages. In the sequel, the Vivian Girls have come to Chicago. He also wrote an autobiography, of which the first 206 pages are dedicated to his childhood and the remaining 4878 pages describe a 'fantasy' tornado called “Sweety Pie” (probably the same tornado he saw). On top of all this, his journal. 

With his work Henry Darger created a new art movement which embodies naivism and outsider art: Dargerism. Personally I think it's such an honour for Darger to have a real art movement named after him. And it's such an honour to Outsider Artists as well. It's well deserved since Darger made such a grand contribution to the American art and to the art world.

Untitled 2.
On with the pictures! The picture in the beginning is just a section from a much larger painting. Usually I hate the use of Sinopia red, Ultramarine blue and Lemon yellow together because they remind me of those 6 colour cake palettes that children use in school. I had to paint with those 6 primarily colours for 5 years until on my 6th year, the school gave us a Hooker's green colour cake. I was ecstatic! So the colours in 'Untitled' remind me of elementary school where only those 6 colours excist. (Colouring pencils are a different story!). Anyway 'Untitled' illustrates the Realms of the Unreal, speaking of religion and society and how they come together in people's lives. In this piece Darger shows us his style. The children are most likely copied from magazines and from adverts because they look rather precise. Darger's speciality was to cut pictures of children from papers and magazines and then paste them onto his drawings/paintings. He'd then retouch the clippings, creating a collage. The 'Untitled' is not a collage though. His collages are interesting, but I'm far more interested in Darger's paintings/drawings. There is a lot of motion and energy going on in 'Untitled'. Darger left most of the children white which is good because it makes them stand out from the colourful background. He doesn't apply as much spontaneity to the technique he uses on the children, compared to the butterfly wings or the background. That's probably because Darger drew the children from images so every pencil stroke was well planned. The children needed to look like children, the whimsy and creativity would be expressed on the background and with the colours. The way Darger paints and uses colour, reminds me very much of children's paintings. However, there's also a certain flatness going on that only an adult is capable of producing. One needs to use specific tenchniques in order to achieve that kind of flatness in painting. If you look at the butterfly wings, or the bushes you may notice how flat they actually look. I don't mean this in a bad way because it totally works for the image. I say this image shows you Darger's whole repertoire in one go.

Vivian Girls Watching Approaching Storm in Rural Landscape.

Whilst 'Untitled' foreshadowed bad things, this Vivian Girls painting is a much happier painting. Even though they are expecting a storm, everything is still fine at the moment. This is such a beautiful and unique painting! It reminds me of really old hand-painted postcards, but this is like a haute version of them. I wouldn't mind putting this up on my wall  =D
I'd like to direct your attention to the Vivian Girls now. Notice how well Darger has drawn and then coloured the girls. His drawing is so simple and delicate. Drawing peple's faces can be a challenge because most of the time the result is more cartoonish than realistic, but Darger has doged that pit. It's probably the simplicity of his style that has helped him to avoid the cartoonish look. Of course the paintings look a little cartoonish, but in a good, fine art way. (I like cartoons too). In this piece we also get to see some of that playful side of Darger. Well maybe it's not supposed to be playful, but symbolic of children's Hermaphroditical tendencies.
It's otherwise unclear what Darger wants to say with these girls with penises. Couple reviewers say that Darger was unfamiliar with the female body, so that's why some of the Vivian Girls have penises. Whilst I think that this is a representation of sexless kids. After all, all kids are sexless until their parents (and the society) start to school them about their actual gender. Notice that in Darger's paintings there are also characters who lack gender all together. They look like children, but lack the standard features of either male or female character. Which brings us back to the Hermaphroditic option. However this young-children-naked thing that's crusial part of the series doesn't seem inappropriate or creepy at all. Maybe it's the bright colours and all the innocence that make the nakedness seem natural. I imagine that Darger wanted to express children's curiosity with the nakedness, it's not uncommon that children run around naked at one point in their lives because they don't have that sense of respect or shame yet. The happy colours intergrate with the scene and seem to highlight that innocent-naked-children theme even more. The colours make the whole scene more child-like and sweet. The place the Vivian Girls live in is made by children, for children. It's incredible how Darger managed to create such an original tale and art even after such a loveless childhood. To me it seems like the Realms of the Unreal was created by a very happy person who had a very happy childhood. (But then again I guess this is one of those psychological things that 'if you only see good things happening, you can't help, but become depressed' kind of things). But then, the Vivian Girls come across with the Glandelians...

At Battle of Drosabellanaximillian.
'Battle' tells of the war the Vivian Girls have to fight in order to save their homeland. It seems to me that with this war Darger is trying to say that adults will always be the bad guys. Children are the innocent and sweet force of the universe who get damaged by the adults. It's not growing up that damages children (us), it's adults who force children to grow up and accept their corrupted way of living. The price a child has to pay if he/she refuses to grow up is high. As we can see in the painting above. Of course anyone can see that this is just a display of Darger's knowledge of the American Civil War he was so found of. The flags, the uniforms, the big battle fields all say 'Civil War'. Well it's the Vivian Girl's Civil War. The Glandelians have proclaimed war on their catholic neighbours, the Vivian Girls. The 7 Princesses have to go up against the evil general John Manley who sends his troops to destroy the Vivian Girls. Henry Darger is the brave and valiant Captain who saves the girls from certain destruction. 
All this makes me wonder who does get to decide when it's our time to grow up? Does our enviroment really effect us so much that without us noticing, it literally forces us to grow up. And without noticing, we grow up. I'm just thinking about my adolescence and how I wanted to be a grown up already so that I could do all the fun things grown ups do. And now, in my mid-twenties I'm thinking about my decaying youth >_<
Personally I don't think it's really the adults who force their children to grow up quickly. It's people in general. People who work in marketing for example have done an amazing job marketing shit for everyone, even marketing dramas and cartoons about high school stuff to 10 year old girls and make them really want to live the high school life of a 17 year old. How twisted is that? Ahem, I digress. Darger raised good points about adults spoiling children's innocence. But since I have a little cynic living inside me, I can say that I have met some pretty shitty children too (no matter how hard their parents try, their children are still shitty). Again focus your attention on the detailing Darger shows here. It's marvelous the way Darger leaves the people and the ground white/yellowish to bring the viewer's attention to the character's clothes and flags. Supposedly the painting/scene from the story is not about the people who are fighting, but about the clashing ideologizes. Really truly beautiful and deep painting to behold.
Darger wrote two endings for the Vivian Girls. In the first one christianity and the Vivian Girls win. In the other one the girls are defeated and their world is thrown into godlessness. You tell me which one you prefer.

Untitled 3.
In the end, I think Darger's art is a representation of how he imagined the outside world. After his retirement, he locked himself in his room and worked on the Realms. To me it seems like Darger was imagining what was happening outside his little room. Perhaps that's why he didn't dare to leave his room, because in reality there was nothing out there for him. However if he stayed inside and imagined what was happaning outside, then he could be part of it too. I just have this idea that Darger must have imagined that the child slave rebellion was happening right outside his little room. Because all the critics have said that the story feels like Darger was really there, like the war really happened. Darger's paintings resembles religious/middle age art a lot, which usually describes events from the bible or the reality long-gone. So I can understand why people who have seen the paintings like to think that it could have been real. In the end, one needs to remember that for Henry this was not art. I'm guessing his art and his writings were his private thoughts ment just for himself. Perhaps this was a sort of a self discovery journey for him. Something he wanted to be reality, but it would only be his reality and not the real reality itself. 

Darger's 'Untitled' and other paintings can be seen in The Simpsons, season 20 episode 09 'Lisa the Drama Queen'. Lisa and her new friend go to a museum and you can see Darger's work on the wall. That was a nice surprise from The Simpsons. 

Below is a trailer of Jessica Yu's documentary of Henry Darger and the Realms of the Unreal. 
I didn't know about this documentary until I started researching for this review. It looks really interesting and I shall check it out soon.

And here's a link to the American Folk Art Museum which has the biggest Darger collection in the world.

That's it for this review. I'll see you again before New Years with my 2012 post. What has happened to me in 2012 =D 

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!! Thank you for reading!


perjantai 30. marraskuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Shimizu Yuko.

Konnichiwa guise!

November's artist is yet another Japanese. At first it looked like nobody was really interested in my Murakami Takashi post, but it has been climing up steadily.

I think I reviewed Shimizu Yuko twice in college. But the review from my first year is much better than the review from my second year. I read about her in an illustration book. Her work captured me immediately. I like that she can work both, modest themese and really sexed-up themes. And as some of you may have noticed by now, I really like sexed-up art (but yeah I can appreciate non-sexual art too).

Target and New York 2005.

Even without knowing that she was Japanese, I could have guessed it by the way she draws. The brush marks and the black ink makes it so obvious (even after all the computer editing). Like so many other Japanese artists, Shimizu combines fine art and comic art. It's up to you to decide whether it's totally tacky or not. Is it tacky to draw inspiration from the only excisting art form left in one's society? Well I'm a huge sucker for Japanese art/manga so of course I love Shimizu's work.

Shimizu's illustarations are something completely different from to the other illustrations (mostly commercial) one sees out there. The way she narrates news and hot topics in her work is rather remarkable. She addresses the topic from her point of view, rather than just illustrating the magizine's/writer's opinion.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing that Shimizu is drawing inspiration from Japanese drawing techniques. In 'Target and New York' we can see rather traditional Japanese calligraphy. Okay well maybe not exactly that traditional, but if you study the soles of the girl's shoes and the tyre of her bike you can see how very Japanese Shimizu's brush strokes are. She uses black ink like a manga-ka would, but in some way, her illustrations are more expressive than any manga I have ever read (gasp). I have read a lot of manga and yes I have seen some pretty extraordinary talents, but manga is still very restricted and there are a lot of rules about how one should draw and construct manga. Whilst Fine Art is more liberal. Even illustration leaves some room for the artist to be creative. I'm having a bit of a hard time trying to understand how Shimizu has managed to publish so many illustrations. I just don't see a big market for an illustration about a girl shaving her pubic hair and making a teddybear out of it, drawn in Japanese style (you wanna see that illustration). But then again maybe this style was popular back then. Never the less, Shimizu is a natural talent and that mirrors her work. The show stopper of 'Target and New York' is without a doubt, the angle. The angle is very dynamic, and don't you feel like you are lying on the ground and the biker girl is about to run you over? The angle is clearly made to address the viewer directly. 
The only colour in this piece is red, but it's very well thought over. The article is targeting New York, so Shimizu put a red target over New York. I imagine that that bridge leads to NY. That's all NY we need to see, the article will tells us the rest. Shimizu is just referencing to NY with the bridge and the city on the background. I prefer colourful art, so this is not one of my favourite pieces from Shimizu, but I like how the biker girl is sticking her legs out and how her hair is flying freely in the wind. Very dynamic piece, plus I hadn't seen an illustration like this before.

I'm just contemplating whether it's a good thing that Shimizu is making a commercial thing out of Japanese art or not. Murakami Takashi is doing exactly the same thing, but a little differently. Well anyway, illustrating is all about stories and commercialism. 'Target and New York' accommodates all the rules of good, commercial illustration: simple colouring, strong lines and an eye catching angle. And this piece works for both ways, it's an ad but it can also be Fine Art. In my opinion what could make this fine art, is the Japanese drawing technique. Shimizu clearly has drawn on both damp and dry surfaces to give the image some 'special effects'. Her lines are very clean and simple, it looks very Japanese to me. Personally I think that Japanese calligraphy and Indian ink, can make any art piece look fancy. Personally again, I think that most of Shimizu's pieces would work better as Fine Art pieces than simple illustrations. Most of her works are too detailed and decorated to be 'official' illustrations. Illustrations, especially for commercial purposes, need to be simple yet eye catching. Shimizu's pieces are way too fancy to be simple images ment to promote something. However perhaps it's a good thing that Shimizu is doing her fair share of showing what Fine Art can be like to the masses

Fujiyama Sakura-Fubuki 2006.
This next piece Shimizu made for a calendar to promote B&A boutique. Luckily Shimizu isn't all about calligraphy and manga-style, she can use colours as well. And she uses them rather well. She has downloaded her whole portfolio on her website and if you browse through it, you notice that Shimizu's pieces have become more colourful over the years. I'm especially fond of the pieces that don't have black lines anymore, now they are pink or blue for ex. They remind me a little of Disney Renaissance films. 
'Fujiyama' only has 4 primary colours, but add them to the dynamic image and you get a surprisingly vibrant piece. Grey and light pink go surprisingly well together. And those partly erased black ink lines just add to that Avant-garde idea this piece seems to be going for. I think it was rater cleaver to erase the outlines a little, especially the clothe's outlines. Makes them look more soft and vabric-ish. If Shimizu had kept the black lines really strong I fear they would have disturbed the look of the image because the rest of the colours are already so tender. The image itself is a lot of fun and in a way very cheeky. Here we have a sort of a Japanese Geisha-rock star who has come to spread her music throughout the Western lands. She is very proud of her heritage and country, but as a rock star she can also make fun of her culture and take advantage of it to make her look more exotic for the Westerns. I would definately wear this image on a shirt.

Blow-Up Nr. 1, The Bubble 2010.
 'The Bubble' is a good example of Shimizu's imagination. As I understand, this is her original idea, and not an illustration. Blow-Up was a show arranged by The Society of Illustrators. I got this quote where Shimizu explains how the Blow-Up pieces came to her:
"AD gave me a lot of freedom so I was able to play around and experiment with coloring, composition and imagery itself. Using this image as a starting point, I decided to create new pieces that play around with the definition of word ‘blow up’: bubble, storm blowing and explosion".
Overall, Shimizu's take on things is interesting. It seems to me that she would be able to take any subject, and create something of her liking from it. I'm not quite sure what the idea behind 'The Buddle' is, but the image looks great. I'm guessing someone is in a rush to orgasm and the others are holding them back. But this is just a wild guess, the image is rather suggestive though, in a modest yet obvious way. Shimizu must have spend hours, maybe even days drawing this image. Naturally the result is a-may-zaah. This piece is a superb illustration, but I could also see it blown-up and framed, like Fine Art. In 'The Bubble' we see some classic presention of Shimizu's detailing in the clouds and characters. It must have taken some training to get one's eyes to properly focus on the characters one is drawing. At least my eyes start to hurt when I stare at the thing I'm drawing/detailing  for too long. However I'm sure one gets used to it after one does it on daily basis. Anyway, this is not my favourite pieces from Shimizu, again, but I'm trying to direct your attention to the details and concentration Shimizu presents in this piece. It is a very powerful and detailed piece, and if I hadn't seen her portfolio, I'd say this must be her most detailed piece. However I have seen her portfolio, and I know that she is capable of doing even more detailed and fancier illustrations than this. 'The Bubble' is a great piece among the others, it's just the subject that baffles me. What the hell is going on in this piece!? Maybe that's why I like it so much, because it's so Avant-Garde and so, so Japan!

Playboy. Sex Story 2011.
I'm quickly showing you this. It's an illustration Shimizu did for Playboy in 2011. Again a piece that expresses Shimizu's attention for detail and it now has that colour outlining I was talking about previously. Really the girls are outlined with different shades of pink! Genious! It really reminds me of the 1990's Disney films (even though the concept of this illustration is so not Disney!). If you look at any Disney film from the 1990's, you'll notice that not once did the artist outline the characters with black! They always used colours, and the colours were always a shade darker than the character's skin tone, or the clothe's etc. Personally I'm really interested to try this one out, outline characters with colours. As for this illustration, it's very much for boys.

Butterfly Hunting 2012.
 And lastly, what Shimizu has been doing in 2012. Oui, this is not my favourite piece from 2012, but I like the etymology of this piece. It's very simple, girls are like butterflies, you want to catch them and preserve them so you can look at them for the rest of your life. Or is that it? If you look at the illustration closely you can see children playing on the background. So it's a play, the children are playing and trying to catch butterflies. It's a very sweet and actually rather nostalgic illustration. (Although I personally don't like the fact that the kids are trying to catch butterflies =/ I think all living creatures should be left in peace). But anyway, it is a nostalgic picture because who hasn't been chasing butterflies. The image's colours especially stress out the meaning of time and decay. Even the reds and the greens are all vashed out. Only the yellows are left vibrant.
Perhaps Shimizu wanted to direct the viewers eyes to the butterflies specifically. I just find it really charming how the person holding the net, caught the other kid too. Or perhaps they weren't aming for the butterflies at all, but for the kid. That's a funny idea, but in my opinion, kids would try to pull of something like that xD
In case you were wondering what technique she uses, Shimizu draws the image first with pencils and ink on watercolour paper. Then she does a little bit of shading and colouring until she scans it, and applyes the rest of the colours with photoshop. She does all the final touch-ups with photoshop too. This piece is just another example of Shimizu's photoshopping skills. It's beautiful, but I feel a little bit cheated that she didn't actually paint the piece herself, but resorted to multimedia. I like multimedia art, but personally I appreciate Fine Artists much more because they do everything by their hands and from scratch. Personally I think multimedia is cheating, you get all these wonderful effects and results with photoshop etc, but basically you didn't make the image yourself, a computer program made it for you.

If you go through her portfolio, you can see that Shimizu is not 'a one hit wonder'. Her themes are interesting and her palettes are interesting. The colours and the themes seem to be in perfect harmony in every piece of hers (and sometimes it seems like it's the colours that make the whole image look interesting. That the theme wouldn't look interesting without the innovative palette). Shimizu expresses a wonderful sense of fantasy and imagination in her works, but she also continues to drawn inspiration from reality. Her technique and style never changes, but there's a variation there, and that variation keeps the viewer/fan wondering what's yet to come.

I hope you enjoyed my review on Shimizu Yuko. Next I'm thinking about doing either Henry Darger, which would be really interesting, or Hergé O_o Although Hergé deserve a big review, like Tove Jansson, and I haven't done that much research on him yet. We'll see..

See you in Decembre! Thanks for reading!


tiistai 27. marraskuuta 2012

Autumn book club: The Salaryman's wife.

Hi guise!

So it's winter, hence this is my last book review. I may write book reviews again in the future, but for now, this is my last one. I like reading books, and it's such a shame that I don't have enough time to read new books anymore. Whilst I was in high school, I spend all my breaks reading books or drawing manga. One of the girls teased me by calling me 'Belle' because I always had my nose in a book ^_^ But I just don't have that kind of time anymore. This year I have read 'Let the right one in', 'The collector' (<- what a horrible book this was! Now I'm scarred for life!) and now I'm reading (reading very very slowly) 'Purge' by our pet author Sofi Oksanen.

Earlier this year, I reread 'The Salaryman's Wife'. However the first Rei book I read was the 4th book because the Finnish title 'The Deathly Manga' (english title The Floating Girl) had caught my eye. I was shopping in a discount book store and at that time I was really into anime and manga and I was studying Japanese. When I saw the manga character on the cover and read the index text, I had to buy it.  'The Deathly Manga' turned out to be really interesting, and the plot made sense, even though I had missed the first 3 books. What I really liked about the book though was Massey's insightful and vast depiction of Japanese culture. I had read books about Japan's language and culture on my own, yet I discovered bunch of stuff from Massey's books that I didn't already know about Japan. I learned something new about Japan from every Rei Shimura book =D My favourite Rei book is 'Girl in a Box' which is the 9th book in the series. I also like 'Zen Attitude' very very much, it's the 2dn book in the series. And of course I like 'The Salaryman's Wife' too.

There are 10 books in the series and 6 years ago Massey said that 'The Shimura Trouble' was the last. HOWEVER, earlier this year, she announced on her website that she is currently writing a new Rei Shimura book set in post-tsunami Tohoku. We'll just have to wait and see what comes out of that Rei book.
 I definately recommend The Rei Shimura Mysteries to everyone who's interested in Japan. 'The Salaryman's Wife' is the first book in the series.

Rei Shimura is a young Japanese-American woman in her late twenties. She was born in California and her mother is American and her father is Japanese. She has recently moved to her beloved Tokyo and works as an english teacher at Nichiyu (homeware company). However her real interest lies in Japanese antiques.

The book starts with Rei who's on her way to Shiroyama, a small village situated in the Japanese Alps. On the train she meets an American woman, Mrs. Chapman, who's also going to Shiroyama. Upon their arrival they meet the other guests and Mrs. Yogetsu, the rather unpleasant hostess/owner of the Minshuku (japanese B&B). When Rei goes to take a bath, she notices that the door is slightly jammed. Her bath is then interrupted by a gaijin (foreigner) man who misunderstood the women's bath for men's bath. Rei drives him off. She later meets him in the dining room. Hugh Glenning is a Scottish lawyer who lives in Tokyo. He's at Shiroyama to celebrate New Year's with his co-workers. His client Mr. Nakamura is there with his wife Setsuko, she is a very close friend of Hugh's. There's also a Japanese couple, Taro and Yuki, who befriend with Rei. Taro has come to Shiroyama to 'investigate' old crimes. 

Besically the opening is like straight from Agatha Christie's books, all the suspects have now gathered in the same place.
Later that evening Rei goes to fetch Mrs. Chapman for a moon light walk with the group. Hugh interrupts her search to apologize for disturbing her in the bath. They are interrupted by Setsuko who's on her way to the bath. 
The next morning Rei discovers that the door to the bath (The 'female' sign is on) is locked. When she finally yanks the door open, she discovers that a piece of paper has been keeping the door jammed. Inside she meets Yuki who says the door was locked all night last night and the bath area was left untidy. In the afternoon Rei meets Hugh and Mr. Nakamura who are searching for Setsuko. She has been missing since last night. Oddly Mr. Nakamura doesn't seem at all concerned that his wife has gone missing and so he goes skiing as planned. Rei wants to spend some time by herself, so she goes to take a walk around the garden only to discover Setsuko's body in the snow.
There's a police search and they ask Rei to be their translator for the time being. The police chief Okuhara is immediately convinced that it was a foreigner who killed Setsuko. Evidently someone had hit her in the head with a cover and thrown her out the window. Hence Hugh, Rei and Mrs. Chapman become 'primary suspects' (because a Japanese would never murdered anyone).

That was the opening. To me it didn't feel like the plot was going too slowly, because the murder occured in less than 40 pages. That's rather soon, and hey when you read a murder-detective novel, you're anxious to know who gets killed right? Meaning that the character/s will spend the rest of the book searching for the killer. That's pretty much the layout in this book, Setsuko was killed and so we'll try to figure out who killed her for the next 350 pages.

To get away from the depressing atmosphere at the minshuku, Rei goes shopping in the village and buys an antique mail box, later she finds Hugh in a bar. Long story short Hugh tells Rei that Setsuko wanted a divorce. The rest of that part Massey spends documenting her vast knowledge of Japan, nothing that's relevant to the plot though. 
Sometime at dawn Rei awakes to a terrible smell in her room. She realizes that the heater in her room is broken and it's leaking gas. Rei crawls across the room and tries to open the door, but it's jammed. Before she passes out, Hugh comes to her rescue. He carries her to his room and lets her sleep on his futon whilst he works. 

In the morning Rei and Hugh do a little investigation of their own. Rei is convinced that someone had tried to kill her, because she had told the police about the locked bathroom door and about the piece of paper she had found jammed between the door to the bath. They discover another piece of paper between Rei's door, which confirms that someone is trying to kill her. Hugh leaves for his meeting, but Rei follows him to the hotel and decides to wait for him at the bar. Later they share a taxi to the minshuku and this is where they share their first kiss. And later that night they have sex. Hugh leaves in the morning to go skiing with his collegues. Rei, still in his room finds the pearl necklace Setsuko was wearing the night she was killed. Rei decides to leave Shiroyama then and there.

That was 'the first act'. I'm now going to jump to the end because if I told you everything what happens in the book, I'd be writing this until next monday --_-- and you'd have stopped reading long since. In reality, nothing that relevant happens in the next 330 pages. Only pages 380-386 are important. We discover that Setsuko's husband had an affair with his secretary and Setsuko was secretly supporting her love child Mariko. Mariko (a bar-escort) thought Setsuko was her aunt. In the end, Setsuko was Mrs. Chapman's husband's girlfriend before he moved back to the States. Setsuko had Mariko and Mr. Chapman continued to support them from the States. Mrs. Chapman knew about this, but after her husband died, she discovered that he was spending the money reserved for their daughter, on Setsuko and Mariko. Setsuko contacted Mrs. Chapman to demand more money for Mariko so Mrs. Chapman came to Japan to talk to her in person. At the minshuku, she locked the door to the bath and accidentally killed Setsuko with the seat cover. Mrs. Chapman tells Rei everything and attempts to kill her. Hugh comes for her rescue again. TADAAH, that's how it ends. Mrs. Chapman killed Setsuko and Rei moves in with Hugh. Oh and that antique mail box Rei bought, it turnes out that it was a property of a Princess who lived on Shiroyama. Rei gains more publicity with the discovery and thus is able to begin her career in Japanese antiques.

Granted this book was way too long. The little bits in the middle, like when Rei went to the docks to find out about Mariko's father, was really dragging the story, not to mention all the bar scenes. Maybe it was necessary to make Rei invastigate all sorts of leads, to achieve that realistic feeling. The story is filled with these little bits that aren't necessary for the plot, although they make the story seem more real. Granted, she can't be like Hercule Poirot who just interviews people and lurks around and within 2 days knows who the killer is. In fact Rei wasn't suppose to do any detective stuff because she was an innocent bystander. However she sort of became one when Hugh sent her to Setsuko's wake. So I understand that Rei is primarily leading her own life, and on the side, tries to discover how Setsuko was linked to Mariko and who killed her. 

So perhaps it's Massey's writing style that slows down the plot. Scratch that, the plot keeps dragging because it's filled with unnecessary bits and pieces that really don't do anything for the story. Come to think of it, 'The Salaryman's Wife' seems more like a very long blog post, than an actual novel. Novel's should be sharp, and witty, and what can be left out, is left out. I regard the Rei series as lite entertainment and 'Japan lovers guide to Japan' than mind blowing literature. However that's what I really appreciate, Massey's bonafied knowledge of Japan. Whilst reading the books one will notice all the work and research Massey went through to get all the facts and customs of Japan right. I really appreciate that and like I said, from every Rei book I learned something new about Japan. Because the series is set in Japan, I'm able to enjoy it and disregard all the flaws the stories have. But it's not like I'm grinding my teeth when Massey is not talking about Japan. I like the plots and the characters and Rei...well she has some characteristic issues. She is made to look like she is really complex, whilst in reality she is very easy to figure out.

The only thing I find a little tacky about Rei, is the fact that she is almost literally, Massey herself. Massey used to live in Japan and she worked as an english teacher. She has dual nationality, just like Rei does, and Massey was (is?) really into antiques. Needless to say, Rei is a fantasy version of Massey. To me it is tacky when a writer has to lend their personality and quirks to their main character. It gives the impression that the writer couldn't come up with a better main character, so they put themselves in the book, so basically they are writing a fanfiction about themselves. I'm curious to know whether Rei really is a depiction of Massey herself, or is there a story of how Rei came to Massey? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's something wrong about Rei. I actually identified with her a little in book 2, when I was 15. In my opinion, she is very mature for her age, perhaps too mature, and she's rather cold too. I'm in my mid twenties and I'm still rather childish, but perhaps that's one of my quirks. Rei on the other hand, is very much a grown up, although I think she has some real issues with men. But you won't see that until you meet all her boyfriend candidates.

I imagine that reading Rei books would be rather boring if we just followed the plot plot religiously, hence I like to think that the books are just stories of one woman's  life in Japan. And you'll love these books if you enjoy reading novels about Japan =)  I have 7 Rei books on my bookshelf and I'll keep rereading them. I even have Massey's autograph in my 'Pearl Diver' book. If you don't take it too seriously, literature-wise, I'm sure you'll enjoy this series!

I hope you liked this review on 'The Salaryman's Wife'. It was probably very wishy-washy, but I have been ill. And I'm still to write Novembre's artist review ^_^' Oh boy, I'm running out of time again. 

See you in a few days!!