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Nissan Qashqai review

Babies change everything. Consider me well out of my comfort zone. So for this holiday I decided to rent a safe, reliable Corolla for a trip to Byron Bay. Much to my surprise we were upgraded to a brand new Qashqai. Maybe with a baby this car will make sense. Or is it still a fat girl’s cankle with some bling?

OK so the obvious joke first: it’s a Nissan Qashqai ST. They left the HI out between the S and the T to save money. There’s plenty of other places they’ve saved money too. Like the choppy suspension and body roll. Sure it has 8 gears and a colour screen, but these are not the things that make a great car. They make a car age prematurely when the new model comes in next year.

For a car so high off of the ground, I have maybe an inch or two of head room (I’m 5’11” ish and the local basketball team aren’t returning my calls). It’s not roomy with a flat down baby seat either. My wife only has a few inches lead room. So there’s no real advantage here.

Is there anything positive about it? Is it practical? Well the boot is quite big. So it’s great for accommodating prams. It’s the perfect height for changing nappies etc.  Fit and finish in the cabin is good quality and there’s nothing that you can’t wipe baby accidents off of (with a car that is so choppy over bumps, this is VERY necessary). With the back seats, it’s really easy to get bubba in and out of his safety throne. Much easier than in my hatch back with such a slopey C pillar.

Is it a great family car though? Maybe but it’s average car in any class. Just because you can get things in and out of it easy doesn’t justify such a poor ride – and believe me the North Coast’s roads are bad. What’s the point of all that ground clearance if it can’t soak up the bumps? It brought to mind the worst handling car I’ve ever driven: the Mercedes A Class. Thankfully it doesn’t steer quite as vomit-inducingly directly as the A Class. Moreover the ergonomics aren’t so flash, because I couldn’t find anything close to hand. There’s an ‘Eco’ button I’m convinced does nothing. It’s so far away from the steering wheel you almost crash trying to find it.

It’s all irrelevant though. Truthfully it’s not really meant to accommodate young families. It’s designed to make Beryl the receptionist, who’s barely 5 foot tall feel like a boss. That would explain those blingy day time running lights and the pearlescent white paint. But I don’t feel like a boss, I feel disappointed.

To make matters worse, we drove to Coolongatta and a Great Wall SUV went down the street. Frankly I’m not sure who’s imitating who. The design like the whole compact SUV concept is very same-ish and derivative. So no the baby has not changed my view on these Beryl-mobiles. I’d be much happier in a hatch back or wagon. At least I won’t feel car sick careening down the north coast. Sorry Beryl.

Mr Nice book review

There is an irreverence the Welsh that can be wily and charming. Well at least Howard Marks’ or Mr Nice’s case. He’d definitely give Catch Me If You Can Frank Abagnale a run for his money.

Howard Marks

Keith Richards swagger with Steven Hawking mind. Marks could be the slyest Welsh dragon of them all.

Marks claim is to be one of the biggest hash dealers and money launders of the 60′s and 70′s. His biography sees him churn through fake identities like smokers do fag packets to stay one step ahead of the authorities. Which is how he ended up with the name Mr Nice. He bought a passport off of a convicted murderer (a Mr Nice as in niece). What’s more saying that customs didn’t care much that he was a convicted murderer, because they tend to be a low risk when travelling.

Not to say that Marks is a great author. He may be a physicist and craftier than a shit house rat, but a lot of the characters in the book were just ribald cliche. Many of the characters are just so stereotypical and lack depth. What it lacked in imagination though it certainly didn’t lack in audacity. Marks talks of smuggling dope to IRA contacts, working with bent US government officials, dodgy Pakistanis and laundering very large sums of money in a launderers paradise: Hong Kong. At one point he’s literally carrying a suit case with $1M through the streets of Hong Kong during a riot. Somehow still persona non grata. This is a book with plenty of crazy moments like that.

It certainly doesn’t lack any complexity either. The fake businesses and setups Marks employed to look legit are at times baffling but always fairly interesting. Even if you gloss over the details.

Ultimately a decades long vendetta with a DEA agent landed him in a Florida jail. His disdain for the guy is palpable, as he treads a fine line between caddish, charming dodgy bloke with innocent family and mastermind drug dealer.  You would have to decide which he is himself. What is certainly isn’t is a Pablo Escobar. He’s just a very smart bloke that would be too bored doing a straight job. It’s a celebration of the intellectual, globalist, nice guy drug dealer of old.

By the way, don’t see the movie. It’s bloody awful. Don’t ask it just is. But the book is well worth a read. It could be great, however like morning after pizza it’s still quite all right!

Tokyo Vice book review

tokyo viceFirstly let’s not mess about. This is the most compelling and interesting book I’ve read in a long time. Anyone that’s been to Japan will know the culture is a perfect symbiosis of beauty and brutality.  Tokyo Vice is all about this, showing the side that no foreigner would ever see.

Author Jake Adelstein was a English teacher of undetermined ambition looking for a better paying gig. He decides to sit the exam to become a cadet journalist at one of the country’s biggest newspapers.  Arguably he’s the first and only gaijin (foreigner) to do so.  Not only does the newspaper grant him the cadetship (a job for life in Japan), but he wastes no time starting work with various crime squads in the Tokyo PD.

He quickly finds himself in a world of chain smoking, heavy drinking cops and gangsters. Often the only difference between the cops and the crooks is the quality of their suits or their uniform. For the cops, it’s the hat and badge. For the Yakuza it’s their tattoos.  Adelstein finds himself doing favors for either side and finding out all kinds of dirty secrets.

Adelstein finds that to get a scoop, he has to become literally like family to senior cops. He becomes very close to a cop Sekiuchi who was his real mentor and father figure, far beyond any editor.  While he goes Gonzo journalist with other seedier cops to find the seedy and very bizarre world of strip clubs of Kabukicho that foreigners never see.  In doing so he becomes not just a journalist but a Japanese, learning the necessary quid pro quo necessary to survive. He gives, he exploits and is exploited. The only distinction, he doesn’t threaten and for the most part neither do the Yakuza. They just act.

If you’re a Japanophile, this book will confirm your fears. Adelstein goes through the motions first hand: working ungodly hours; getting absolutely shit faced with their work mates and even hit other, yet not a word is spoken of it the next day. All while the wife just gets on with it and raises the kids more or less a single parent. It’s a culture where there’s literally a manual for everything and gangsters don’t just dress the part they have legitimate offices with signage. This is a lonely and brutalistic society. Yes it parties hard but it has consequences and unscrupulous players. He uncovers psychopaths, money launderers, murderers and people smuggling, dedicating a large chunk of his life to exposing the later.

Adelstein touches a raw nerve in this book that goes straight into the psyche of Japanese life. Of relationships that sour and people confined to the choices they’ve made. It’s an utterly compelling and fascinating read. One that won’t sour your love of Japan, but make you want to know even more.

This book is non fiction but clearly but it’s 20-30 years ago and a few names are changed to protect the innocent. Adelstein is still a foreign correspondent, reporting on Yakuza and Japanese issues.



Why is vinyl so cool?

As a vinyl tragic, I thought I’d put something together about why I love vinyl.

I don’t get it. What’s the point?

Good. Don’t! It’s not for everybody. End of story. I don’t get plenty of things from why people think they can’t like the music they liked as a teenager to those stupid pastel coloured polo shirts with the collar up and little polo horses on them. I also don’t get protein shakes and cup cakes and my life is all the better for it.

It’s totally inconvenient.

Yes it is but that’s entirely the point. You can listen to Spotify in jail basically, over your phone, iPad at work or whatever. Possibly even in a sewer in Rangoon. But how often can you sit down and put on an album, listen to it linearly from one side to the other. The point is, it’s a total luxury to sit down and listen to music the way (and the order) it was INTENDED to be heard. No skipping of tracks or random play. You can really get the discourse of an album when you just sit and listen to it.

Go places you’d never normally go

Vinyl hunting has sent me to some of the craziest places in the world. Op shops (thrift or charity stores in other parts of the world) in country towns, the Thieves’ Market in Lisbon, the most decadent parts of Shanghai, you name it. You can log onto iTunes anywhere. Or buy a CD from a service station. But as Lemmy once said, the chase is better than the catch. Besides there’s nothing cooler than boarding your flight home with 20 kilos of vinyl in your hands as cabin baggage, trying to make it look light. Some people like postcards, my grandma bought souvenir spoons. I bring home hoards of vinyl and remember the freaky places I’ve been and the people I’ve met every time I play them.

Would you believe not everything made it to CD or MP3?

Not only can you find a good $2 cheapy that could be your favourite record. But you can’t find it on any other format. That my friend is pay dirt when you find that gem that you can’t get for love nor money on any other format for less than the cost of a pot of beer.

It just looks cool

Every vinyl collector has a record that just has a cool cover. There’s something about that 12” x 12” format and a bit of dust. Let’s be honest. Andy Warhol would’ve never done the Sticky Fingers cover for the Stones if they were on that tiny CD format. Let alone with a real zipper. Oh yeah but what about digi-packs and mini LPs? They’re still tiny and well just kind of sterile. There’s nothing like holding the vinyl cover in your hand. Vinyl captured a zenith in music where the cover art was just as important and timeless as the music itself.


People used to write their names on the label

Vinyl used to be something you’d take to a party.  These days you put on Pandora or Spotify and rock out to someone else’s playlist. Worse still 5 arseholes competing to have their phone playing 20,000 tracks of horseshit to rock the party. But back in the day it was different. You’d write your name on the vinyl label and take your records to parties.


Australia in the seventies was a different scene. All-night clubs were hard to come by so it seems. It was very hard to get take away booze after say 9pm. So house parties were all the rage. Seems as long as you bought some wine or a few stubbies and some records, it was pretty easy to get into a house party. I’m still amazed every time I buy a second hand record and it has ‘Bob Smith’ written on the label.  It makes me think how much more special music was and how much simpler life must’ve been.


It sounds better

There’s plenty of extremely valid reasons why it doesn’t. There’s also plenty of reasons why it does. If a record was mastered for vinyl, nothing but nothing sounds better. Albeit I agree a record mastered for MP3/CD sounds rubbish on vinyl, when it’s right it’s right.


Finding that other cultures love your music too

Could anything be crazier than finding a Rose Tattoo record in Portugal; the Angels in Quebec; or a Hoodoo Gurus record in Hawaii? The Living End doing a Christmas duet with Kylie Minogue in Osaka? Quirky and rare rules, end of story. Nothing starts a life long friendship like finding that the French dude you thought you’d have nothing in common with worships AC/DC the same way you did as a kid.

Neil Young Special Deluxe review

Here is what I knew about Neil Young previously. He’s Canadian, old, cantankerous and a bit of a hippy. I care little for these attributes. But when I saw this book claiming to be a ‘life time in cars’ it piqued my interest. So Canada’s given us Allanis Morrisette, Justin Bieber, Tiffany and Nickelback. Oh and he played with 90s bands like Pearl Jam that never floated my boat. What could possibly go wrong?

After reading Brian Johnston’s Rockers and Rollers, I’m a fan of this genre. That book is massively funny. It’s my go to book when I’m bed ridden, sick and need cheering up. Even if this is only about the second book in it I’m aware of. I bought it on face value alone. So here goes…

Turns out Neil Young grew up in an interesting time to be a rev head. His life was about with woody surf vans, Jeeps, big finned Cadillacs, sporty British convertibles and a smathering of big Buicks. Lots of big sexy Buicks. Even the odd hearse or two to carry all his gear around in. Some were dumped reluctantly by the side of the road. Others painstakingly restored but never reassembled. Some were bought just because they looked so sexy just rusting there in the barn.

What makes this book unique is that I haven’t finished reading it yet but I had to write something about it. It’s clearly pretty readable. To date I’ve not been much of a fan of Young. That could very well change. He’s illustrated the book himself and it’s punctuated with his favourite lyrics, both those that inspired him and his own creations. It also gives you an awareness for how prolific he’s been. Sometimes with two or three bands on the go. Man that’s a lot of joints and cocaine.

Yes he’s a cantankerous Canadian, but one that now almost makes up for the others’ foibles. As far as I’m concerned Neil, you don’t keep fuckin’ up. Great book you’ve got there champ. Oh and I can’t get ‘Vampire Blues’ out of my head now.

Predicting classic cars in 2030

Reading Unique Cars December issue, they made the point very clear that predicting this stuff is very difficult. Armed with an 1990′s book, probably found in a garage sale somewhere, some poor author’s predictions were resolutely shot down in flames with an arsenal of smart arsery and hindsight.  So naturally I thought I’d have a crack and share in the future embarassment.

The challenge is they’re much harder to pick now than ever. You don’t see cars on the race track now. So HSVs and FPVs miss the mark and well and truly the point. They’re not classics because a V8 Supercar barely resembles the road car. As the costs appreciated, many of these guys will be AMGs and BMW M series by now. But what about the special editions, such as the Ford Cobra? Well there’s more investors than owners that just fang them and that’s never good news. If you haven’t seen one in a wreckers yard or up a telephone poll then it ain’t gonna be collectible. They will never appreciate just because baby boomer has moth balled one in a car cocoon in case their super fund goes bunk. Frankly you’d be better off investing in getting Charlie Sheen to mind your cocaine stash.

One could argue classics ended with plastic bumpers. To a large extent you’d be right. Cool was stamped in metal and not moulded in plastic. But logic isn’t part of the equation. But what makes a classic car? In my opinion, it’s something that was cheap and plentiful, cool and relatively affordable. They’re the cars that made little kids stop and swoon or ask ‘what is that daddy?’ as it goes past. So anyway here’s my crack at cars in Australia I think will be classics – and more importantly why.

First generation Subaru Impreza WRX

This was the car that introduced words like ‘smash and grab’ and ‘car jacking’ to Australians. Before then they were things that happened in South Africa or LA. But within a year Subaru went from keeping pensioners mobile to getting every red blooded boy racer (and a few criminals) champing at the bit to drive one. If you believe the stories, some test drives were indeed deadly. Or my favourite rumor that there was so much grip, you could bend the chassis at speed.  But enough hype, this car was unique. It was the first accessible turbo, all wheel drive car that sold in volumes in Australia. It had grip 10 ways into Tuesday and plenty of grunt. Sure there were Mitsubishi Evos available on grey import, but this was a car your dad could have as a company car (pretty cool dad though).

The first generation had the tiniest turbo of any of the Rexs but the most poke of the first 3 generations. It looked a lot better than its successors too. A lot better. Even when it was half way out the window of a local shop being ram-sacked. Many of these Rexs are now hanging on their last legs. Having suffered several P Platers, hoons and even the odd bank job, good ones are hard to find. Ones that aren’t hanging together by gaffer tape are dead set collectible vehicles straight up. They will start to appreciate in value.

Nissan Silva S13/Nissan 180sx

These cars are both a drift icon and a laughing stock. While the Subaru was gripping, Silvias were sideways everywhere. Sure we (well I) used to call them derogatory things like the Sri Lankin Lambo or Pakistani Ferrari (I’d even heard Nissan Saliva). Yes some owners were dreaming beyond their means, but they were a toey, easily modifiable car that was great fun to drive. Silvias came in three models the J, Q, K (Jack, Queen, King). The Ks are the turbos and very, very few Js came to Australia. The Qs were so cheap and cheerful, it made you wonder how the Js could be any more basic. There really wasn’t much to scrape off the bone.

But that’s entirely the point. These were cars made for the youth market when Japan’s economy was booming. Every twenty-something salary man wanted something cheap, stylish and fast they could modify in their own way. Very much Akin to the Ford Mustang of the sixties, and look at those now.  There I said it, the Silvia is the Japanese Mustang. There’s so much in common it’s not funny. Both were cheap, light, powerful and easily modifiable. You’re just as likely to see one on a race track as you are on Chapel St. Probably tied together with cable ties and the obligatory gaffer tape after some dodgy drift antics.

There are very few straight ones left here and very few left in Japan in one piece. Some of those Sri Lankans will be millionaires soon and want to regale their youth. These will be classic cars.

Ford Falcon BA XR6 Turbo

The Falcon XR6 Turbo. Fond memories make classics

While this car goes against the grain and that’s why it’s a classic. It’s relatively boring to look at. Hell virtually every company car in Australia was a Commodore or Falcon XR6 at the time; it wasn’t a V8 and it was a big, oversized lug compared to imports. So it’s a crap shoot right? No definitely not. It was lighter than a V8 so it handles better (incredibly well for such a big car) and has plenty of usable torque. At the time any more torque and it would’ve said ‘Kenworth’ on the bonnet. It’s very easy to get sideways without being dangerous or twitchy at the limit. I owned one and it was both more fun than a nanny on speed but had the manners of a Rhodes Schollar. Plus if you take the turbo badges off and it was the ultimate sleeper too. Remember every sales rep or car rentee in Australia had one. Oh and did I mention how tuneable it was? It wasn’t long before mechanics started realising that bulletproof Falcon Aussie 6 power plant could take turbo boost by the shed load.  Highway Patrol coppers love them too. Especially on the big long stretches of the Nullarbor Highway.

It might have been different but by god it worked. As the first of the breed, I think these will be the classics.

Toyota Hilux/Landcruiser ‘mine spec’ utes

Any handy bloke worth a pinch of salt has had a crack at mining. Mining is dirty and hands on and that means utes. Big dirty utes. Plus miners makes tonnes of cash. So cashed up fly in, fly out miners drive Landcruisers all week, then fly home. Then what? They put their toys in the Hilux and go camping. This generation of cashed up bogans are going to have fond memories of these work horses. Who knows what the future of Aussie mining is, let alone the V8. But that alone is enough to make a ute the new sandman. These utes will be a big part of peoples’ lives and will be remembered.

Honda Integra

No before you say so, not only the Type R one either. But yes that is awesome. Strangely, these seemed to have disappeared from the roads but were fabulous fun to drive.  Honda founder Sochiro(?) Honda was a motorbike rider at heart and it shows. Because every Honda when given the berries thinks it’s a motorbike. They rev like stink and just want to rev higher and harder. VTEC is like liquorice or something. Once you have a taste for it, there’s no going back. Nor is front wheel drive the bane of a racer’s existence. With the right driver, they will give the Subaru and the rear drive cars a run for their money. Case in point it’s unique, increasingly scarce, revs like a sewing machine on meth and goes like stink. Classic all the way to the bank.

Holden VT Commodore SS

The big lug has it in spades. This one was the last of the all Aussie Holden V8s. After that the venerable Chevy Gen 3 350 donk has been used ever since. It was designed by Michael Simcoe who drew up the Monaro. It was the first in the line of VT-VZ Commodores that saw a huge Holden renaissance. There was the Monaro, stretch utes, even a 4WD wagon. And it all started with this strapping young VT. Plus for the clanger, it had one of the best colour combos they had too (Ravens Blue?) that really suited the Commodore. A colour that was sorely missed on later models. The VT was a proud Aussie blood nut that would’ve bought a tear its daddy (The Holden HQ Kingswood’s eye). Most have been written off by hoons now or are on bricks. Not fast enough to compete with the newer commodores and not special enough to collect. But they have collectors credibility written all over them. These cars are crackers.

So there you have it…

Yes there’s no real obvious HSVs or FPVs in there. Nothing even that remarkable. You may have even owned one (I have). The point is you would want to own one again. Sometime when you’re fat and sixty wanting to relive your hey day. Maybe you could never afford one and now you want to rub everyone’s nose in it?  Or will you just be a Porsche Boxster like everyone else? Either way that’s my view. Watch me fail on this one!

Divi WordPress template review

I put together a web site for a local business the other day South Melbourne Health. Being an avid WordPress nut it was a no brainer which CMS to use. But what template to use? Responsive templates are a must these days (e.g. one template that adapts to tablets, phones and desktop screens automatically). This is a realm where you have to pay for a template as they’re quite involved. I chose the Divi theme from Elegant Themes.

It cost roughly $50 Australian but I’m pretty happy with it for bang for buck. You don’t have to do any CSS because it gives you a really simple to use page builder template. Half the value in the template is right there. It also lets you add a lot of features people expect from a web site these days automatically. For example full page window sliders, Google Maps (albeit the map out of the box is pretty basic and won’t let you provide directions) and loads of icons you can use for headings. I haven’t played under the bonnet with WordPress for a while, so there was a bit of a learning curve. But nothing too serious. Nothing you can’t pick up and be fluent with in 5-10 days.

Yup, WordPress and Divi is a pretty good combination. If you’re hesitating to actually but templates don’t. It’s well worth it.

a few amazing places to eat in Tokyo

Here are three ‘Tokyo’s best….’ experiences I’ve found. NONE of which you’ll find in the Lonely Planet. There are many far more fabulous bloggers than I who have amazing detail. So please visit the links for more info.

Also check my Google Map of Yokohama and Tokyo for locations.

Mutekiya in Ikebukuro was described as Tokyo’s best ramen. No arguments here. It was fabulous and cheap.  Considering the quality for about $12 Australian I felt like I was robbing the place. Frankly I didn’t like it as much as Yokohama’s best ramen (their pork was way more smokey and BBQey), but it was amazing.

Even with typhoon heavy rain, there was still a 20 minute queue to get in this little place. It seats about 16-20 people also. So don’t expect to waltz straight in or enjoy a few quiet beers. There were a few repeat visitors in the queue too, always a reassuring sign.

It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the Ikebukuro subway on the JR line, so is it accessible?  Hell yeah. See the link above for full details. My advice, get there for about 11am and have a big bowl or ramen to keep you full all day.

Maisen Tonkatsu is the opposite of the ramen rush. I’m told it is a chain store, but you’d never guess. It’s in the very posh Aoyama district area near Harajuku, so this ain’t no sloppy Burger King. It’s the kind of place posh mums take their daughters out to for a long, leisurely lunch. It’s down these tiny back streets full or markets and boutiquey stuff which is very entertaining walk in itself.

You can either sit at the bar – an experience in itself – or wait for a table in the main room. If you’re not fussed you can probably sit at the bar without queuing. But to get a table you’ll have to wait 10-20 mins. They serve great set meals with different variations of delicately fried pork cutlet (ton katsu) in the crunchy panko crumbs. Something you can get overseas but you haven’t really tried it until you’ve had it in Japan. It’s just soooo much better.

There’s plenty of set meal options, most of them well under $20 Australian and all very, very tasty. Unlike the ramen stores you can kick back and have a few beers here, maybe even desert. There’s no hurry. So Maisen Tonkatsu is a must to remember that you’re on holiday when Tokyo starts wearing you down. Being down the back streets it’s a little harder to find but it’s entertaining. Simply use the Google Map above and your phone (here’s another handy tip about phones in Japan) and you can’t go wrong.

Finally and arguably the best it’s okonomiyaki (o-ko-no-mi-ya-ki) time. Buchiumaya in Shinjuku serves Hiroshima style pancakes (there’s two schools of thought: Kyoto and Hiroshima style. Apparently okonomiyaki is huge in Hiroshima). Not soft, sweet fluffy western pancakes. These babies are a whole meal in themselves. In fact I suggest starving yourself a bit so you can finish the thing. Don’t know if it’s the best in Tokyo but it was the best food of my trip.

Buchiumaya is a tiny place that seats about 15 people. It’s in the back alleys of Shinjuku and is full of Japanese rustalgia from the 1950s, e.g. old porcelain signs for soda pop and various other kitschy advertising. For me that really added to the irresistible charm of the place.  They cook the pancakes on a massive hot plate and it’s a very cruisey atmosphere. The cooks are in front of you and talk shit all night with the locals. It’s a great laid back place.

Oh yeah and they serve Hoppy beer and shochu in a big beer mug. Strangely no other places I found will mix beer with Shochu in the one glass, but it works and it’s a great drink for the barmy Tokyo nights. But let’s not forget the pancakes, they’re absolutely brilliant. You can get them with cheese, pork, prawns and loads of spring onion. Enough spring onion to sink a ship – twice.

Of all three places, Buchiumaya is the hardest to find. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. There are other bars across the road you could go to while you wait I guess. One is called Mr Canso that has beer and canned food, just plain Japanese weirdom.  Probably best to do it on a quiet night light a Tuesday or Wednesday. As Japanese businessman endlessly while away the hours sinking beers, cigarettes and pancakes into the night. I strongly suggest getting a cab there as it’s hard to find. You can easily walk to Shinjuku station on your way home. It’s about 15 minutes.

The Art of War and Breaking Bad

The Art of War is of course the book your MBA lecturer tells you that you should read but never do. It never seems to be a mandatory part of the curriculum, but it needs to be. Because if you can interpret it and apply what you have learnt, there’s no stopping you. Anyone can teach you a literal practical skill. But being able to interpret a classic text and apply it to your daily life is a massive skill. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding. So I decided to have a little fun with it and contrast hit show Breaking Bad with the Art of War.

It’s clearly obvious to me that Vince Gilligan has read the book. Walter’s brother in law Hank the Detective is the biggest catalyst for it.

To know your enemy, become your enemy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Around series one, Hank Schrader gets promoted to a bigger Narcotics bureau. The squad is full of Mexican detectives with statues of Latino gods on their desks. Hank gawks at them worshipping the same gods as the drug dealers. He quickly realises that these Mexican cops are a better cop than him because they fully understand their enemies. This was the first real Breaking Art of War moment of the series.

Later in the series, Hank is in rehabilitation and starts to get is Art of War on. He takes up an interest in geology. Not because he’s interested in rocks, but because he wants to understand his enemy Walter White.

The 36 Stratagems – build your enemy a temple

Walter White’s business partner Gustavo Fring had demonstrated one of the 36 Stratagems of the Art of War. with his Los Pollos Hermanos chicken store. That stratagem is to build your enemy a temple. After Hank was wounded and in hospital, the hospital was teeming with cops supporting their fallen comrade. Gustav acts as a good guy and provides the cops with bucket loads of free chicken. All the time the cops not even suspecting him or his cartel as complicit in meth dealing.

Intelligence attacks with fire 

If you haven’t seen the ending, then stop reading. But when Walter White poisons Lydia Roddart-Quayle, he planned it diligently. He observed her drinking habits. Lydia always adds artificial sweetener to her tea and thus Walter poisoned it. To me this is a reference to [i'm paraphrasing] average soldiers attack with water, but the intelligent attack with fire.

Furthermore Walter deceived his former business partners (remember ‘the Art of War is deception‘) into thinking he was desperate. But he actually knew everything about his enemy and they were powerless to stop him.

You’re nothing without spies

“It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.”

Walter was spying relentlessly by keeping dibs on his brother in law Hank throughout the series. Whether it was small talk over a family BBQ or wiretapping his desk. But let’s not forget Saul the lawyer. He was the biggest spy of all and assured the Jess and Walter of greatness.

To be without form

“If I determine the enemy’s disposition of forces while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented. The pinnacle of military deployment approaches the formless: if it is formless, then even the deepest spy cannot discern it nor the wise make plans against it.”

Formlessness was the secret to Walter White’s success. While producing a distinct form of meth, virtually everything about their operation changed so their enemy could not bust them. How many places did they make meth? From the RV, to home basements to Gustav’s meth lab under the laundromat business. They constantly changed their form and even the recipe to ward off enemies.

Avoid war in the first place

The whole point Sun Tzu makes is that it’s not the Art of War, it’s the Art of Getting Your Way with as Little Bloodshed as Possible. It could be the Art of Wuss, because if you understand the book it’s about avoiding conflict wherever possible. But that may be a bit disrespectful. I guess the Art of War was just catchier. Whenever Jesse and Walter needed chemicals, they very rarely resorted to violence. They always had sophisticated ways of stealing what they needed. Whether it be the train heist, the magnet truck to erase a hard disc in the police lock up or several other scams.

There are probably a billion more references out there. I’m afraid that will have to do for now. A timeless book and an amazingly accomplished piece of television. They deserve each other.

two big tips for visiting Japan

A few things have changed for the better since my last trip to Japan.

Train travel

First things first, get yourself a PASMO card. The card requires a 500 Yen deposit then you can top it up as you go. Just look for the pink ticket machines at the subway stations. Why is this card so good? Tokyo has so many train networks, some government some private. On my last trip in 2012, you had to buy different tickets for all of them. The PASMO card now works on well every train network. On this trip  we went right to the outskirts of Tokyo, so I can vouch for that. You can even buy food at some supermarkets and pay for taxi fares with it.

So whatever money you put on it, you will use. As we traveled a fair bit, I probably spent about 1000 yen a day topping up my PASMO. Topping up can be done at any station. The machines work in English.

Note: DON’T personalise your PASMO. Because I did and I couldn’t return my card and get a refund. My wife with her normal one got the 500 Yen deposit back plus all credit on the card too.

Mobile phones

Your non-Japanese phone will only work for data in Japan. Apparently their mobile network works on a different technology. But the good news is that you can still buy a data SIM and use Viber to text and call your travel buddies. My wife and I bought pre-paid SIMs from SO-NET at Narita Airport. It cost us roughly $50 Australian dollars for a 4G data SIM and about 500 meg of data.

The 500 meg lasted me about 7 days. You can recharge via mobile with your credit card anywhere from 100 meg to 1 gig. When you run out of credit, you can simply recharge via web browser with your credit card. It doesn’t automatically tick over or anything.

If you do need a voice service, you can rent a Japanese phone and SIM for about 1300 Yen a day (roughly $15 Aussie dollars). Unsurprisingly Japan has gone iPhone crazy since my last visit. But you can only rent those old fashioned looking Japanese flip phones.