Arriving in Istanbul Wed April 18

I dreamt that I went into a supermarket to buy peanut butter and jam for a PB & J-sandwich – named after my English flatmate in Taiwan’s two boyfriends PB & J. But instead of

I dreamt that I went into a supermarket to buy peanut butter and jam for a PB & J-sandwich – named after my English flatmate in Taiwan’s two boyfriends PB & J. But instead of buying peanut butter I looked at the kilo price of chocolate and then I tried three different kinds of candy including the red and black Ferrari cars. Then I dreamt that the truck driver woke me up and I woke up and realised that it was just a dream; he was still sleeping. Then I fell asleep again but dreamt that he woke me up, but he was still asleep. The third time I dreamt that he woke me up I stayed awake till he woke up. He went out to visit the toilet and I packed my stuff and brushed my teeth and when he came back I went and then he said “kollega, eat” and we went into the restaurant and had big chunks of bread and a white soup for breakfast.

We drank tea with a group of drivers who all knew each other and would go together to Istanbul. One of them could speak quite some English and with his translation Ahmed got the opportunity to know more about me. We had some more tea and then we were off for Turkey.

The “highway” through Bulgaria was a narrow concrete lane that dwindled through villages. Navigating between the plentiful potholes, Ahmed was seldom able to drive faster than 50 km/h; now I understood why it would take us a whole day to get to the next border.

I wasn’t sleepy and we couldn’t talk so much and the ride was too bumpy to allow writing so I spent the time compiling statistics for my game. As I think I’ve written already, I don’t like games with so much detail that someone who played it 10 times before has an advantage not just because he has understood the strategy, but because he has gathered all the information in the game. In games with “action cards” for example, an old player knows that there are 6 “plus 1 move”-cards and 2 “super sword” cards etc etc and can take that into account when making her moves. That’s unfair to the new player who might lose not just because she’s new to strategy (which is reasonable), but because she doesn’t have the time or the will to study the components for one hour and do the mathematics before playing (which no one does).

A game with action cards – or similar information issues – might be a good game, but it is in my eyes not a beautiful game. The problem is that SEIGO has this problem. The technology in the game consists of 100 kanji cards, each requiring one or more kana to be invented. If you can keep all the kanji in your head and what kana are required for each kanji, then you know what kana to keep at home in your invention stock and what kana you can send to the frontier without diverting resources from your technological progress.

Now, this isn’t an urgent problem. Firstly, no one in the world but me has played this game enough to have an idea about what kana are good to keep at home. Secondly, this problem goes away once you acquire more kanji cards. Japanese uses 2000 kanji, and all can be played with Seigo. When playing with 2000 kanji, not even Rain Man could have a clue as what kana to keep at home.

Nevertheless, there are players who like winning and for whom a game session is fun only if they feel they played at the best of their ability. This kind of player gets frustrated when there exists a lot of information that affects the winning conditions but that is out of his control. And I feel the same, when I am presented with a game that includes pages of tables and heaps of random action cards then I feel that the game doesn’t give me a chance so why should I give it a chance.

So in the next edition of SEIGO the kana will be presented with their “Invention Power”. There is no obvious formula for calculating this Invention Power, but I made a simple one and don’t expect more sophisticated formulas to give radically different results. This kept me busy the whole morning. “Arbeit” I said to my puzzled friend.

We had lunch at a Bulgarian restaurant for a change. The whole gang gathered there and the English-speaker explained that I was their guest and shouldn’t be afraid of ordering soda with my meal. They recommended a salad of cucumber, tomato and goat cheese that they said was a Bulgarian specialty.

The whole afternoon I kept on working on the statistics. Here comes the figures:

Invention Power(Hiragana/Katakana)
A = (3/3) I = (3/8) U = (2/7) E = (1/2) O = (4/5)
KA = (3/7) KI = (3/6) KU = (1/3) KE = (0/2) KO = (3/6)
SA = (1/3) SHI = (2/10) SU = (2/2) SE = (0/2) SO = (0/0)
TA = (6/6) CHI = (1/2) TSU = (3/5) TE = (1/2) TO = (3/4)
NA = (3/3) NI = (1/2) NU = (0/0) NE = (1/1) NO = (2/2)
HA = (1/2) HI = (2/2) FU = (1/2) HE = (0/0) HO = (0/1)
MA = (3/3) MI = (4/4) MU = (0/0) ME = (2/2) MO = (2/3)
YA = (2/4) YU = (1/3) YO = (1/3)
RA = (1/1) RI = (1/1) RU = (1/1) RE = (0/0) RO = (1/1)
WA = (1/1) N = (0/7) WO = (0/0)
Average: 2,2 Hiragana = 1,6 Katakana = 2,9

I know this table is gibberish to most of you. But to summarize; make sure you get: O (Can be produced in Okinawa, Fukuoka, Oita, Okayama, Osaka, Shizuoka and Aomori), TA (Can be produced in Oita, Saitama, Niigata, Yamagata and Akita) and MI (Can be produced in Miyazaki, Mie, Miyagi)and keep them out of battle.

Then there is the issue of combinations, some kana like to appear together and if you know popular combinations then you can try to keep these on the game board. The most popular combinations are: NA+KA, YA+SU, TO+MO and A+MA. After shifting to Katakana, SHI goes well with U, YA, YU, YO and N.

The figures above do not take into account what Kanji are the most valuable. For example, a Move is more desirable than an Air Defence, so Kana inventing the former should get higher Invention Power than Kana inventing the latter. But this is not the kind of calculations one undertakes in a shaky truck on a Bulgarian mountain road, so I suffice with saying that the most efficient Kana for getting the precious Move Kanji are I, TA and KI.

To summarize and close this chapter: Do not attack your enemy with O, TA, I, MI or KI

We arrived at the border. Hundreds of trucks were waiting for hours to cross. As long as it was bright enough I did SEIGO calculations, now trying to divide Japan into 6 “Invention Power-equal areas”. Ahmed and his friends were watching Shrek on a laptop. At some point we all got to go to a little house and show our passports. A poster inside said “Bribery is bad for everyone” and Ahmed told me to go back to the truck when it was his time to pay a 5 € bribe. Imagine getting 5 € from every truck that crosses the border between Turkey and the rest of Europe.

We had to run around the whole gigantic border area to find someone to stamp my passport – as a “civilian” in a truck I didn’t fit into the routines. But it was just a matter of time and time was something we had, hours of it. As darkness fell I just relaxed and listened vaguely to the sound of Shrek while looking at all the million trucks. After a while Shrek started to make very weird sounds and when I glanced on their computer he had changed into naked people exercising and the truckers looked very happy.

The night was old when we passed the last control and entered the European part of Turkey. We stopped at a restaurant where I was served a white soup with big white pieces of what looked and tasted like nothing but fat. I found it very disgusting to eat pure animal fat, but I had some kind of principle to be perfectly assimilated so I forced myself to eat it. It wasn’t so bad after I came up with the idea to put all fat pieces on my bread and spread them out like butter. After drinking tea we ran back to the truck; Ahmed had decided to not sleep here but drive straight to the company and was in a hurry. He asked for the number to my friend in Istanbul and then he called him. It turned out that by the time I would arrive in Istanbul there would be no public transport whatsoever and I would have to take a taxi from the transport company to Alp´s place. He said the taxi would be 40 € or the like. I would prefer to stay outside for free than staying at Alp’s for 40 € but I had a strong feeling that none of my friends would accept that. It was like Ahmed had done his part, Alp would do his part and this taxi ride was my contribution to our common project of taking responsibility for my life.

“Kamera!” he said and I got it out and took a ton of pictures on the bridge between Europe and Asia as we passed it. After driving through the Asian side of Istanbul and arriving in the transport company, Ahmed flew out of the truck and started arranging things in an extreme frenzy. The taxi was already standing there, honking its horn. We had spent 41 hours together and I wanted to shake his hand for 5 minutes and take his address and send him an audio book on CD. I want to send all truckers audio books; they spend most of their days just watching the road, listening to music at best. If they would listen to audio books then they could go through the whole world literature within a year. The Swedish Transport Labor Union has established 8 truckers’ libraries along the country’s highways where their members can borrow audio books for free and these libraries have become very popular. But in the world outside Sweden, “truck driving” and “literature” are still not synonymous, so I’d like to send him a Turkish audio book but it was impossible to get his attention as he was rushing around cleaning the truck and throwing out stuff; I had to struggle even to shake his hand for one second and say “teshekur teshekur teshekur”.

I should have understood that it wasn’t in his interest to be associated with a hitchhiker. But I thought it was cool since he had brought me all the way to the company; usually they drop you off at a safe distance since they are not supposed to jeopardize their cargo by accommodating random bums. But it wasn’t cool, Alp later told me that he had said: “I’ll just have to take the risk, there is no other place where the taxi driver could find him.”

The taxi driver was as stressed as Ahmed, honking his horn and looking like he was wondering what hell he was doing in an industrial area in Istanbul at 1 am so I felt I had better throw my stuff in his cab and get out of there.

It took some time for us to find Alp’s place. The driver got out of the car and went into shops and asked, called Alp repeatedly and drove around at random. Finally I saw a man on the street who looked like he was looking for taxis and it was him. I love people like Alp; he had got to know me from an internet forum where I had made a most half-hearted profile without even a photo, and now he was running out of his home at 2 am on a Wednesday night to lend me 20 Euros for my juicy taxi bill.

It was freezing cold outside, worse than ever in Romania. Alp said it was because the air was so humid from us standing between two oceans. Alp lived on the highest floor in a big apartment that he shared only with innumerous fantasy figures and games. He treated me to a sandwich in the kitchen and as we talked it came up that we both loved Go and Civilization. I was revealed; it would have been kind of weird if it would have turned out we had nothing in common. You might think that you share interests with everyone on, but “board game” is a wide category. Show up at a board game meeting and suggest a game of Monopoly and a Puerto Rico-player will hold your arms while a Tigris&Euphrates-player punches you in the stomach and a Settlers-fan stuffs your throat with a sock to prevent your screaming (his own lucky-sock, worn through 12 board game conventions without being washed). You think I am exaggerating, but the scary thing is that I’m not.

But of course I had done some investigations; I would never risk getting trapped in the den of a sordid Carcassone-player and be tortured by his empty eyes and limited vocabulary all night. I knew Alp was a man of culture. But what I didn’t knew was that he had received an award from the Japanese embassy for privately teaching 500 Turkish people how to play Go. 500 people! That’s a soldier I want in my army. I was impressed. And I think Alp was impressed when I told him that my father and I once played Go 11 times in a row, for 18 hours straight with no breaks but short toilet breaks.

Then he showed me to the guestroom. Wow, they call it couchsurfing but so far it’s been guestroomsurfing.

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