Sunday, 30 July 2017

Love and Death on the Peninsula

For my birthday last week, I decided to treat myself by taking the afternoon off and going to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park. Last year a species of bee was spotted in the park for the first time in Britain, and I've wanted to go there ever since.

I could not definitely identify the viper's bugloss mason bee even if I saw one – there are nearly 250 species of solitary bees in the UK and I can recognise only a few common ones – but I did see some other cool insects. What's more, I was able to identify most of them using the field guides in the park library.

Exhibit A: the common red soldier beetle. This insect is often seen copulating on hogweed, hence its amusing nickname, the hogweed bonking beetle. Here is a nonconformist pair, mating not on hogweed but on hemp agrimony.

Exhibit B: common blue damselflies. Before mating, the male (blue) uses claspers at the tip of his abdomen to grasp the female behind her head to prevent other males from dislodging him. My friend Lalanti taught me how to tell apart damselflies and dragonflies: when resting, damselflies hold their wings parallel to their abdomen, while dragonflies hold them at right angles.

Exhibit C: a thick jawed orb weaver spider which has ensnared a solitary bee slightly larger than itself.

Friday, 7 July 2017


Last night I was reading a graphic novel – Just So Happens by Fumio Obata – which brought back a lot of memories about Japan.

In 2011, I spent six months working at a law firm in Tokyo. Almost from the first week, I felt an inexplicably strong affinity for the country and its people – the trains, the beaches, the language, the street maps, even their obsession with ranking. At the end of my stint, on my flight back to London, I was thinking back on the last few days – the staff at the café where I had breakfast every morning pooling together to buy me a hamper of Japanese souvenirs, one of the older secretaries in our office saying「また来てね。みなさん待っています。」("Please come back again. We're all waiting.") – and I realised I was trying (not very successfully) to hold back tears. I had not been this sad even when I left my hometown, Calcutta, to work in London – perhaps because I knew I could go back during holidays, and when I did, it would be (almost) like I'd never left. Whereas if I went back to Japan, it would almost certainly be as a tourist, which is not the same thing at all.

Anyway, back to the book. Just So Happens has a panel showing the protagonist coming home (a faithful reproduction of Narita airport).

When I first arrived in Japan in 2011, I couldn't read Japanese at all. By the end of my stay, I could read basic Japanese, and when I went back there on holiday two years ago, I noticed something interesting. While the English text simply says "Welcome to Japan", the Japanese text has a slightly different – and for me, rather heartwarming – message: okaerinasai or "Welcome home".