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The Whippet #73: Mega Memory Workbook (1995)

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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aka The Italian Greyhound, I have more subscribers now so I'm re-using this joke.

I'm on holiday in Japan so this will be a quick/random one.

Onsens and social norms

In Japan they have onsens, which are public baths / hotsprings. I love them - like a huge, shallow, hot, mineral-rich swimming pool that's unchlorinated because it's running water. So so nice.

Anyway, you don't wear swimmers or anything in an onsen, you should be totally naked (you wash first).

The first time I went in one, I was *incredibly* nervous. But I wasn't nervous about being seen naked by strangers, or seeing strangers naked. I've been in gym change rooms, it's fine. I was nervous that I had somehow misread the rules and guidebooks, and that I would be walking naked into a room where you're not supposed to be naked.

And I think that is really illustrative of most people's social awkwardness. We mostly don't mind what the rules are, we just want to be really sure we have them right.

I had an argument with a former housemate (who reads The Whippet, sorry, I'm not meaning to rehash it, it's just a good example!) - we are generally a shoes-off household, and so when a guest would come over, they'd see the pile of shoes inside the door and say "oh should I take my shoes off?"

Housemate FakeName would say: "whatever you prefer" because he wants guests to be comfortable.

I would say: "Yes please, shoes off" because a) look I would prefer it but also b) because I think the best way to make a guest comfortable is to give them clear social guidelines.

Can you imagine the stress of an onsen if, instead of compulsory nakedness, it was "naked optional"? How would you ever decide? Each option could be interpreted so many fraught ways. I don't care, please just tell me what's socially appropriate and I'll do it.

(Obviously Housemate FakeName was not going out on a wild limb by saying "let the guest decide what is most comfortable for the guest", you can see where he's coming from, even though it would stress me out as a guest.)

Similarly, if you meet someone new, and they say "do you prefer Dave or David?", and you really don't mind, for the love of God, just throw one out there. Don't make them them decide. You can say "Dave but I don't care" but please, please don't just say "whichever", you're putting people in agony.

(And since people email about this sort of thing: I don't insist people take their shoes off if they don't want to, I just express a preference, I understand some people have reasons for keeping them on, for example they're wearing knee-high doc martens which take forever to unlace.)

That should all really have been in the Unsolicited Advice section, sorry. I usually try to sort of cordon off the preachiness a bit. Everything here is just my opinion! You are all welcome to hold different opinions, it's extremely subjective and anecdotal.

I wore my wedding ring in the onsen and the silver turned an awesome colour

My ring is half-gold (left), half-silver (right). Bad photo sorry. Anyway, you're not supposed to bring silver into an onsen because the minerals cause a chemical reaction that changes the colour. The term for this is "tarnishing".

But it's not really bad, it's just different. First it turned copper. Then it turned this steely carbon-y colour. Now some of that's rubbed off and it has bright silver texturing. It used to be quite hard to tell the silver part from the gold, and now it stands out more and I love it.

Wedding rings are a symbol, so I hope you'll forgive me for getting symbol-y about this. But 'tarnished' is a value judgement that change is bad. I think it's kind of... a really good thing, that when my symbol of marriage changed, my reaction was "coolllll I can't wait to see what happens next".

okay schmaltzy metaphor over

Wholly speculative onsen theory

So a lot of onsens have signs saying you can't go in if you have tattoos. I have tattoos and no one has ever cared (I ask staff first) but that's because the rule isn't really about me, it's about yakuza, who are covered in tatts. Like how some bars in the US have "no gang colours" signs on them. And some pubs in Australia have similar signs re: bikie gangs.

That bit's not speculative. The speculative bit is on why make such an effort to keep yakuza out of onsens, and not, I don't know, the rest of the hotel.* I reckon it's because everyone's naked. So, it's really easy to make sure no one's wearing a wire. And electronics probably would break down with all the moisture and steam anyway. It's the perfect place to plan a crime and be sure you aren't being recorded.

On that note, here's a story from last month about a naked Swedish policeman arresting a naked Swedish underworld figure he recognised in a sauna.

* Actually the hotel I'm in right now has some guidelines that say they can kick me out if they find out I'm in a an organised crime syndicate, or if I'm working for a corporation and the director of that corporation belongs to an organised crime syndicate. So they are trying.

How to remember a new PIN / digit-based password

Like say you get a travel credit card, or your Air BnB room has a lock code.

There's a set of digit mnemonics (created, as far as I know, by a Kevin Trudeau for some cassette-based memory-training course in 1995). You take the four digits of the PIN and create a story,

0. donut (it's a circle)
1. tree trunk (shaped like a one)
2. light switch (two positions: up and down, on and off)
3. bar stool (three legs)
4. car (four wheels, four doors, Ford Motor Corp.)
5. glove (as in five fingers)
6. gun (as in six shooter)
7. dice (as in lucky number seven, also the two opposing faces of a dice always add up to 7, 5+2, 3+4, 1+6)
8. spider (eight legs, eight eyes)
9. cat (nine lives, cat o' nine tails whip)

So if your new PIN is 4895 you might imagine: you're driving your car (4), you see a spider (8) on the seat next to you, you freak out and turn off the road, a cat (9) runs out of the way. Then you put on a glove (5) so you can safely remove the spider. Sorry that's a horrible story, but it's relatively easy to remember if you repeat it a couple of times and visualise the cat running out of the way, putting on a heavy leather glove, etc.

(PS Note I've actually made a couple of changes to the original line-up. It didn't have a zero, and 8 was rollerskate (because rollerskates have 8 wheels) but that seemed kind of... not obvious, compared with spiders).

via Zdzisław Palaszczuk‏ on twitter.

I look up a lot of cool animals for The Whippet, generally because I've read one cool fact about them (it becomes spiky by thrusting its own ribs through its skin as a defence mechanism! Aah!) and every dang time you find out there's a million more cool things going on with it and you have to write a tonne more. They're a menace.

Something I never knew about geisha

So if you're Western, you probably think of geisha as highly stylised, highly traditional, ritualistic performers and hosts.

But in fact they're relatively recent (1800s +) and were a response to Oiran. Oiran were courtesans (both performers and sex workers) but they were highly, highly ritualised, you could only speak to them using complex, formal language, with referrals, knowing the right court etiquette, etc. You would have needed to be an aristocrat to meet one. They wore extremely complicated, fancy clothing, and sci-fi empress hairstyles that got more and more over the top.

Geisha (who are not sex workers) wore simpler clothing, were more approachable, you didn't need to know a totally different grammar to speak to them, and so on. And simple became cool. The West went through a similar fashion change in the same era, going from elaborate Victorian dresses with bustles and corsets, to simple, Grecian, Jane Austen-style dresses. Which now look very formal to our era. Repeat for the 1920s.

Anyway, that's why you need historical context! Geisha, who seem so formal and ritualised to a contemporary eye, were originally seen as being more simple, relaxed and natural.


You're driving your car, you see a spider on the seat next to you, you freak out and turn off the road, a cat runs out of the way. Then you put on a glove so you can safely remove the spider.

Can you remember the PIN without checking? And that's without even having tried to memorise it at all.

That's all for this issue, bless you my dears!

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