Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Gaijin Tales! Couch Wars


Insufferable Dumbass: (encountering me coincidentally at post office, very excited) Rude Boy, what the fuck are you doing here?!
Rude Boy: ...Calisthenics class.
Insufferable Dumbass: Really?

*

Rude Boy: (stares at legs of passing girl for several seconds, then checks out her face)
Girl: (not impressed)
Rude Boy: (no sense trying to hide it now, goes back to staring at legs)

*

Jugs: why are there fingers
Jugs: in mouths?
Rude Boy: because europeans apparently think that that is acceptable
Jugs: ...
Jugs: in what context?
Jugs: like
Jugs: just
Jugs: here let me suck on my fingers?
Rude Boy: just kickin' it in the common room
Rude Boy: no. here let me pick shit out of my teeth for the next seven hours straight
Jugs: hmm.
Rude Boy: oh i spilled a little food on one of my fingers, transferring it into my mouth requires swallowing my entire hand
Jugs: hahaha
Rude Boy: its soooo gross ;_;

*

Rude Boy: Can you break 500 yen?
German guy: (looking at the hard metal coin) Um...probably, if I had the tools?

*

Going for a stroll downtown, a young woman standing with a rollybag on the sidewalk at Shijou and Teramachi stopped me to ask for directions. The way she talked, she seemed to (correctly) assume I was a local, which made me wonder, did I just seem especially comfortable in my surroundings? Was I walking with purpose and confidence, as though I knew where I was going? Or perhaps I merely lacked a wide-eyed tourist gape? Occam's Razor says I was simply white, but I was by no means the only white person around, and she chose to grab me. Anyway, I was happy to help.

Not long after, I was walking alongside an old man who caught sight of me out the corner of his eye, did a startled double-take, and proceeded to openly stare for a solid five or six seconds. Um. This is Kyouto. There's not exactly a shortage of us. “Where are you from?” he asked in English, and I told him, at which point he seemed to realise he had exhausted his vocabulary. Luckily he reached his destination at almost exactly that moment, and excused himself with a smile.

Sitting on the local train home, waiting for the semi-express to go around us, I spied a girl waiting at another track who was a dead ringer for one of my ex-girlfriends. It's like I was looking right at her. Bizarre.

It wasn't a particularly eventful or exciting day, but somehow these three things made it feel like a good one.

*

A motorcycle, a van, two more motorcycles driving in convoy at 2 am.

Yeah that's not suspicious at all.

*

Anarchy in the UK: I'm trying to teach Taiwan about banter...and how it's different from just being abusive.

*

Anarchy in the UK: (enters room)
Rude Boy: Hey Anarchy in the UK, I dreamed you and I took a bath together.
Anarhcy in the UK: That's...the weirdest greeting I've ever gotten.

*

Rude Boy: Are we in Daylight Savings yet?
J-friend: That's in the summer, and we don't have it here.
Her boyfriend (only half-joking): Typical Canadian! The five countries that think they're the centre of the universe? Canada, America, the UK, France, and China.
J-friend: And Korea.
Her boyfriend: Oh yeah, and Korea. Ok fine, maybe not Canada.

*

Anarchy in the UK: Those girls are properly staring at us.
Rude Boy: (distracted) Yeah, let me count how many fucks I give. I'm done.

*

Insufferable Dumbass: No offence, but I'm pretty sure I have better rights than you.
German girl: Like the right to higher education? Or medical care?

*

Hot girl's T-shirt: Snort cocaine, fuck a lot, get pregnant, break bones. Red Loght District.

*

Cologne: (comes in and sits down)
Insufferable Dumbass: (laughs his customary deranged squawk, yells something incoherent into Skype)
Rude Boy: Yeah, it's been this way all morning.
Cologne: Maybe I should go back to bed.

*

Cologne: Insufferable Dumbass wants so badly to be a ladies' man...but he's closer to being a ladyboy.

*

Girls' bar guy: Excuse me, gentlemen, looking for a girls' bar? Good evening, feel like touching some boobs tonight? Hello there Mr. Foreigner, come on in, practise your Japanese!

*

Rude Boy: insufferable dumbass from america just recently discovered the phrase "sou nan?" except he says "sou na?" because his choukai sucks cocks
Rude Boy: and he also recently discovered the word "yabai" as well as the fact that you can use it at basically any time for no particular reason
Rude Boy: so he uses it, sometimes, just over and over again, like 5 or six times per minute. sometimes per second.
Rude Boy: resulting in sentences like, "yabai, yabai. kore ha yabai. ah, yabai. yabai, yabai. yabai." exact quote
Soymilk: Honestly
Soymilk: I think that's pretty natural
Soymilk: If anything
Soymilk: He's lacking yabais
Soymilk: A lot of stupid Japanese people talk like that.

*

Australzealand: He ate my horse! You son of a bitch.

*

I used to leave my cell phone in the common room whenever I took a nap.

Mother Russia: hellooooo lonely keitai!
Mother Russia: aww :( need a hug?

I don't anymore.

*

Anarchy in the UK: And another thing, Insufferable Dumbass thinks it's absolutely amazing that the Italians can understand each other when they speak Italian quickly...I'm like, you idiot, that would be like if I spoke in really fast English to you.

*

One of my blood sisters: Hey Rude Boy! I'm in town again for another couple of weeks. Are you finished exams yet? Do you have time to meet?
Rude Boy: That would be great, except I've been living in Japan for the last seven months and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Rude Boy: I finish my exams in late July or early August.

*

Insufferable Dumbass: No, you have to do it like this...
Mother Russia: I'll do it however I want.
Insufferable Dumbass: Rude Boy, do something!
Rude Boy: If you think that I can control her, you've severely misunderstood how this works.

*

Australzealand: All I know is, black centre, two petals.
Anarchy in the UK: Uh, three petals?
Rude Boy: Four petals?
Australzealand: ...Wow. The Commonwealth really needs to get its shit together.

*

Tiny Korean Girl learning to ride a bike.

I almost died from cuteness overload.

*

In past posts I have mentioned “my” couch, which is mine in the sense that I have staked such a firm Lockean claim to it that no else dares use it. Eventually, every piece of furniture in all common rooms was replaced. Where before twin couches had sat, we now had a couch and two chairs. Disastrously, the two chairs were placed in my spot, throwing off my entire life. Cough Medicine and Big Finn observed this development with amusement, wondering what I would do.

After a dissatisfying experiment in angling the two chairs into a makeshift couch, I simply swapped things around, but Cologne tipped me off that somebody had it in for me. They were planning to switch them back again, just to fuck with me, but he wouldn't say who, because he wanted to watch the war. (Mother Russia thinks it was him all along.) To prevent their machinations, I gathered as much random shit from about the common room as I possibly could and spread it across my new couch, to make moving it more effort than it was worth. My plan succeeded, and I thought it was over. But then! Days later, they made good on their threat!

There was only one thing to do. I waited until 4 am one lonely weeknight, that I would be the only waking person in the entire dorm. Then I stole to the little-used second-floor common room and ganked their couch. Though bulky and awkward, it was actually mostly hollow inside, and I had no problems carrying it up the stairs by myself; turning on its side made short work of the hairpin hallways leading to the common room. In exchange, I gave our chairs to the second floor. Your move, pranksters!

They went with turning both couches and their attendant table 90 degrees. That was just stupid and not even funny anymore, so I simply turned them both back and there have been no developments since.

Australzealand: How did we get two couches?
Rude Boy: Yeah, that's so weird, I have no idea how that happened.
Australzealand: Suuuuuure. ;)

I like to picture several second-floor residents standing around their four chairs and frowning in confusion.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Shoujou


There are a few “stock Japan blog posts,” that is, subjects you can't really away without at least touching on, like Christmas or hanami. Today I will carve another Japan blog notch in my belt, as I have finally had my first encounter with the Japanese health care system. Most people who arrive here have at least a halfway interesting story to go with it, like “horseback riding accident” or “got into a knife fight,” but sadly I can report nothing more dramatic than a persistent cough.

Japanese culture would have me head straight for the hospital anytime I sneezed too hard, or sneezed too many times in a row, or went too long without sneezing. Of course, outpatient care works a little differently here, but personally I go to the doctor maybe once every three years, not counting visa procedures. For one thing, I've got a nigh invincible immune system, and furthermore, I loathe the idea of filling my body with anymore chemicals than necessary. I get enough in my food, thank you very much. You don't need to start popping pills just because your eye twitched and now you're worried you've got TB in your toes.


But when everyone around you says you should see a doctor, because it's been going on nine days, and it's costing you sleep, I think that constitutes having held out long enough to call it a draw. I made plans to visit the on-campus clinic – so there's my unique and personal spin on this common blog topic – but didn't get around to it until lunching with a few English Clubbers and gazing deeply into their warbling eyes, ensemicircled by brows knit with worry. Shiga insisted on going with me, which I was grateful for, because I knew I would be lacking on some of the technical terminology, and would likely have problems filling out the attendant paperwork, as well.

While we waited for the clinic's lunch break to end, Shiga suggested that we buy a little food, even though I had no appetite and hadn't even eaten anything at lunch, because he (correctly) anticipated that any medicine they might give me would need to be taken with a meal. He also forced me to buy a mask, and it was with great reluctance that I attached it to my face. As “Japanese” as I attempt to live, this is one aspect of Japanese culture that I don't think I'll be adopting. They're utterly useless for one thing; if air can get in, germs can certainly get out. Even so, I'd be willing to acquiesce on grounds of fitting in, but wearing it made be feel incredibly awkward and out of place. There's no reason it should, given that 10% of the people around you at any given time are likely to be wearing one, but come on, I think we can all agree that this is just generally a terrible look for absolutely everybody. In addition to being unhelpful and ugly, I would not be surprised if they actually exacerbated their users' conditions, as within minutes I found that the surface of my face could have mistaken for the surface of Betelgeuse. On the other hand, should you ever find yourself hyperventilating, a mask will certainly cure you of your ills.

Also, masks sometimes cover girls' faces, and I am not ok with that.

How interesting can it be to work at a university clinic? Surely it has its moments, but I doubt that's the job people are dreaming of when they're going through medical school. My nurse was a jukujo who asked me some straightforward questions, confirmed that I did not have a fever, and made me think extremely inappropriate thoughts. Then she passed me onto a grandmotherly sort of doctor who examined my throat before sending me to wait once more. It turned out to be a great surprise Japanese lesson, as I quickly picked up words like 症状 shoujou symptom, 眠気 nemuke drowsiness, and べんぴ benpi constipation, which I'd heard before but never committed to memory for some reason. They left me with both instructions to get lots of rest and a mild regimen of pills to take twice a day with my meals. Which was good luck, since I can't swallow pills, and always end up having to crunch them up anyway, trying to force the shards down my gullet as quickly as possible and then swilling food around my palette, all in the vain hope that I will somehow be able to avoid sampling their horrific bitterness.

As a Canadian, it was totally bizarre to receive some drugs and then realise that I would now be expected to pay for them. A six-day course cost me 1000 yen. I'm told that this is quite inexpensive, but I have no basis for comparison, because I've never paid money for medicine before. I would love to say that my health insurance ended up being a great purchase after all, except that my 16,000 yen investment has so far reaped 2000 in dividends.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Gaijin Wave


It was lunch hour on campus, and I'd spent most of it in pursuit of a Korean textbook. The bookstore had directed me to a temporary sales stall run out of a big storage room, which required me to know the book's exact title and call number. I tried looking it up on my phone, but for some reason searching gmail crashes it, and thus ensued entirely too much time and effort expended on trying to locate a free computer. Unsurprisingly, the library and other public access terminals were all full to bursting, but in a flash I remembered that two of my academic classes were held in an out-of-the-way building full of nothing but computer labs.

I headed there posthaste, swiped my student card to get through the door, and headed for the first classroom I saw. The hallway was empty but for a lone middle-aged white guy standing near the door, snacking – a good sign, as it boded well for the interior. I peeked through the window on the door. Sure enough, there were only a couple of people inside, and I moved to enter.

“Well, hello to you too.”

The white guy. I'd barely even registered him.

“...what?”

Not the most elegant possible opener, I admit. But the tone of his voice had put my guard up. I'm sorry, should I remember you from somewhere?

His voice held the tone of someone explaining some excruciatingly obvious truth, his sentences rolled off each other without pause.

“Well it seems natural that when you see another foreigner you'd at least acknowledge them, I don't know, maybe you think that's weird, but to me it's just common sense.”

Weird isn't the word for it. More like stupid.

I know there are two different schools of thought on it, and the first one holds that if you meet someone with whom you share the clear camaraderie of being in a foreign country, it's just plain good manners to share a private, verbal high five. There is also, I think, a quite “we gotta stick together!” mentality, because Abroad can be a lonely place, no doubt about that. Besides which, there can be no doubt that we have some shared experiences – our reactions to the culture/food/porn, our struggles toward the perpetually receding horizon that is fluency in the language, our treatment by Japanese, etc. We don't automatically have to be besties, but it at least merits a nod, or a wave, or an interpretive dance.

Personally, I am of the opinion that there is absolutely no need for this, mainly because that is the only thing we have in common. We're both visible minorities, sure, but there's nothing to say that we share a country or even a language. We almost certainly have very different interests. We obviously frequent different circles, because otherwise we'd know each other.

90% of the time I'm not interested in your friendship, or your conversation, or much of anything else you have to offer, so why not go our separate ways? Look here, this is not me being a prick. This is me treating foreigners like anyone else I see in the street, on campus, or anywhere else. Whether or not I approach them is motivated by exactly the same factors: Do I know this person? Do I need them for something? Are they a hot girl?

In a way, I'm treating them exactly like the Japanese that surround us. Their merely being foreign is not enough reason to make any kind of distinction. They are part of the background, mere additions to the sound mosaic, human obstacles to sidestep when they stop dead in the middle of the fucking sidewalk because they don't know where the hell they are or what they are doing. If I don't have some specific reason to strike up a conversation or whatever I'm generally not going to just for the hell of it. To be frank, in the long run I think this is actually better for we non-natives. Our associates draw attention to our foreignness roughly 125,823,738 times per microsecond, so we really need no further reminder from each other. How can we ever expect to successfully integrate into Japanese society if we keep yanking each other out of it?

Actually, I lied a little bit just now. I am absolutely terrible for checking my phone when I see other foreigners. It's partly out of a desire to avoid boring conversations and partly because I want to make it clear that I'm not a daytripper. When I go sightseeing, I always know what time it is.

By the way, as far as I can tell people of the “say hi” persuasion can't stand we of the “What? Where? I didn't even notice” way of thinking. As far as I can tell, they believe us to be full of attitude, arrogant of our Japanese abilities, somehow thinking ourselves better than the petty riff-raff surrounding us. They're welcome to think that, I guess. Personally I don't really care what they think of me, which really is why I don't go out of my way to greet them in the first place, isn't it.

I imagined what his stupid American face must have thought of me, though. Probably that I was some arrogant young punk, believing myself better than he and his cohorts and far more involved in Japan than I really was, that a few chopstick compliments and easy conquests had gone to my head, that without the aid of him and people like him I would die alone and friendless in this exotically inscrutable hellhole. Wrong on all counts, fuckwit, and those are some pretty heavy judgments to be making on the basis of one conversation. Then I realised that I was doing exactly the same thing to him, and maybe he was a perfectly content and happy guy who was just having a rough day or was offended by my youthful haircut or something.

Really though, even if I had committed some unforgivable transgression, how fucking attention-deprived do you have to be to view this as a good use of time? Cause I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that this guy probably wasn't trying to let me in on the secrets of gaijin etiquette so much as file a grievance. I certainly hope he feels better about himself and his life now.

I wanted to say some of this, but I bit my tongue.

“Ok.”

Not the best thing to lower his hackles, which is what I'd like to have done, because you never can tell just whose opinion of you is going to end up affecting your life. That secretary you were short with has the power to put your zoning application in one of two piles at her personal discretion; the guy you slap-fought at the bar three years ago ends up on your grand jury. But it's the best I could manage while feeling like I was being abruptly attacked for no reason, and also kind of not giving a shit. Unfortunately, now I'm probably just pissing him off.

“At least that's what all the guy I know think.”

I'm sure that's wonderful for them. Can I leave yet?

“Sure, I suppose that's an all right rule of thumb.”

Beat.

“I'm going in now.”

I tried the door. Locked.

“Damn!”
“It works better if you push it.”
Derp.
“Ah. Thanks for the tip.” Asshole.

I bowed reflexively as I went in.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Across the Universe


Unlike all other classes at my university, which are conducted only once a week, Enjoyably Study Korean and its sisters are split into two partially overlapping sessions in a five-day cycle. You are free to pick whichever of the multiple offerings you like, as long as you take both the A and B courses. The other, it would seem, is more about ancillary aspects of studying the Korean language, while today's is a slightly more straightlaced rendition that aims to have us actually sitting down, scratching out unfamiliar shapes, and getting to grips with grammatical nuts and bolts. It's a principle I can get behind; I'll be the first to say that consistent patterns are the key to successful language-learning.

Then I studied another Asian language, Japanese this time. For the final of my four required academics, I was once more with the same group of Chinese people. I'm really getting to like them; maybe because they're all foreigners themselves and know that we all have a secretly desperate desire for friends, they seem not to be shy about just walking right up and introducing themselves. Anyway this class was all about Reading Comprehension, vital for both the JLPT (whenever I decide to take it) and also every aspect of my entire life. It's also a subject that has a lot of potential for excruciating boredom, but this class at least put out a little effort by having us conduct a series of quizzes. By making it an active process and turning the focus towards our own selves, it became ten times as engaging than it would have been had we been made to just, say, struggle through a passage.

In the late afternoon, Mother Russia and I went to check out the Astronomy Club's regular Friday activities. After a brief reminder of upcoming events, there was a half-hour break while we waited for dusk to fall. I can only imagine that this is going to cut more and more into their actual activity time as summer approaches and the days grow longer. In the meantime, we popped into English Club, because I felt bad for abandoning them on a day I'd regularly have joined in, and Mother Russia was a big hit with the guys. No surprise there. Her Japanese is better than average and, personal taste notwithstanding, nobody would argue that she isn't a striking young woman. Shiga is smitten. I had to laugh at that. She would eat Shiga for breakfast.

Finally it was dark enough to see the stars, but...! The sky was far too cloudy to see anything. Which was awfully bad luck, considering that at this time of year they're trying to lure in new students by showing them all the fun things they do. Luckily, they have a regular backup prepared for just this time at lunch, and inflated a big black tent-like thing in one of the music rooms, then usshered us inside. In the middle they'd placed some kind of pill-shaped machine that projected the basic pattern of the major constellations onto the surface of the nylon bag in which we sat, creating a celestial sphere around us. One of the older students then walked us through locating Ursa Major, the story behind Cassiopoiea, and other such things. Every once in a while the tent would lose some air and begin to sag in places, and the older students would expertly move to right it. It was a pretty fun time, although I did wonder whether the novelty would wear off if you weren't super into stars, and also where a student club gets the money for that kind of setup.

They also set up a small telescope outside and aimed it at Jupiter and Castor, which reminded me of the vastness of interstellar distances and heavenly bodies, the incomprehensible age of the universe, and the insignificance of both my own life and, really, all of humanity in comparison. That started to depress me, so it was fortunate that at that moment Mother Russia decided it was time to go home.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Youroppa Shisoushi


Hope nobody's finding these daily Dear Diary's dull yet. Kind of a new thing I'm trying. This one's brief.

In much the same vein as History of Japanese Thought on Tuesday, I had History of European Thought today, taught by the same teacher. As I've mentioned before, he majored in Philosophy, studied abroad to Germany, and speaks German fluently, so this is a subject that I imagine has a special meaning for him. He opened the class with a kind of questionnaire, asking us who we are, why we came, and finally, the first thing we thought of when he said the word “Europe.” Mine was “German beer.” Must be Cologne's influence finally cracking my subconscious.

In case I've never mentioned this before, and I kind of feel like maybe I haven't, every Thursday lunch is set aside as Bonding Time with our “tutors.” Each of us is assigned one, but I have no idea what they're tutoring us in exactly. Presumably Japanese, since they're supposed to talk to us in Japanese and I guess help us out with any questions we may have, but really, the relationship for most of us does not extend beyond these somewhat condescending lunches. My tutor hasn't even shown up for the last two events at which he should have been present. I'm not exactly giddy, but I'm not super broke up about it either.

Only two classes today because I picked a really strange distribution for myself, with everything bunched up at the beginning of the week and petering off as it wears on. The second was Politics, which I took last term and greatly enjoyed, but I don't know that I much like the direction it's headed this time around. We've been basically railroaded into picking some kind of topic that we will be doing research on every single week, and organizing into some kind of paper at the end. This would be fine, except I don't like to have my scheduling done for me. I usually prefer to have multiple projects coming down the track, but focus on only one at a time, so that my progress is uneven. I don't understand organized people. Never have.

If I asked you which was likely to be harder, Japanese-taught or English-taught courses, you'd think Japanese, right? That seems only natural, since they're in my non-native language. You'd be wrong, though. Japanese courses in university ask practically nothing of their participants, except for in the final exam and occasionally in short bursts during the semester. Otherwise it's flat horizons. The only reason they'll be hard for me is the revision I'll require in order to keep up. The English-taught ones, on the other hand, are generally “American-style,” meaning more discussion-based and consistently work-intensive.

After hanging around with Mother Russia for a couple of hours, I capped off the day with a fairly uneventful session of English Club. Better enjoy it while I can, before I get too busy to make it a regular thing. I was quite looking forward to tonight because the three different sections are currently taking it in turns to invite the shinnyuusei into their lair and attempt to ensnare them. Disappointingly, the eight girls who showed up tonight all flatly refused to mix with the regular members when it came time for the activities, instead remaining in an amorphous mass off in one corner of the room on grounds of being shy and nervous. Conversation section's new vice president quickly stepped into the fray to explain the club and walk them through the activities. Not forcing them to mix when they weren't up for it was the right call and his fix was smooth and effective, but you gotta get over it sometime kids.

The regular members, of both sexes, conducted an informal poll after the shinnyuusei left and general consensus is that not one of them was cute.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Permarushing


There's one problem with arriving at a new school halfway through the year: You end up missing a lot of the welcome parties and mixers, where new students meet the friends they'll treasure for the next year and possibly their whole lives, and returning students seek out the loosest and most impressionable new students they can find. Basically my strategy this semester is to go to as many as these as I possibly can. I'm not even going to join the clubs or anything (although maybe I'll go sometimes if the members or the content seem cool); I'm just going to try to meet vast amounts of people.

Mother Russia, whom I've been spending a lot of time with lately – see, I goddamn told you guys I don't hate all foreigners – has been getting super into the Astronomy Club of all things. Not one I would likely have looked into myself, but today they had a hanami party and she invited me along. Hanami (花見、“flower-viewing”), if you aren't aware, is pretty much THE thing to do in spring in Japan, when the sakura, for a very brief window of a couple of weeks, are in beautiful bloom, before their petals scatter to the winds and they are once again bare for the entire rest of the year. Japan is hardly the only country to have sakura – I believe they are present in Korea and parts of China, at least – but they are by far the proudest of them. You'll do hanami with your friends or coworkers. It's a stock event in fiction. It was the whole motif that drove Hitching Rides with Buddha. And, perhaps most importantly, it's a fantastic excuse to get drunk in public, so you can understand the popularity.

We didn't drunk, because...well because that would have been kind of inappropriate, but I did get to sit and chat with quite a few awesome people for three or four hours. Which was pretty much my goal, so that's progress. I'll be checking out other Astronomy Club events, that's for sure. And they'll see me on campus and we'll stop to chat, and geez it looks like I'm FINALLY starting to get back to the days where I literally couldn't go more than five minutes without seeing somebody I knew. Hehehe.

I left early to go check out BRIDGE, some kind of international circle or something, held at Doushisha but open to students from all Kyouto universities. I really can't decide what I think of Doushisha. On the one hand, the campus is rad, the quality of the education is presumably very high, it has cachet in spades, and it was founded by a retired goddamn samurai. On the other hand, rich kids. I found the location with no difficulties, but nobody was there by the time I arrived. Of course I was two hours late, so I didn't expect much. I consoled myself by wiling away another couple of hours downtown, because that's my area.

But seriously, tourists. I'm just gonna put this one the line, get the fuck out of Kiyamachi. There is nothing for you here. Nobody wants you here. Take a look at Kawaramachi and head towards the light. Stay away from the shadows. They will not treat you well. You're going to end up robbed, either in the street or in the shops, and probably also get murdered, just for good measure. No but seriously though, stop taking up three times as much space as necessary and being really loud and obnoxious, ok? Please please please. And I'm actually being serious, stay out of Kiyamachi. Locals only. Plus you're all really annoying.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Korean in Japanese


I've wanted to visit Korea for years. There's a story that goes with that, but let's just say it involves a Korean girl and really it's not too hard to work out the rest. I've never been too interested in learning the language – it wasn't offered at my Canadian university, and all my self-study energy goes towards Japanese – but I was kind of forced to change my attitude when I thought I might be going to Busan, where I would naturally take classes as part of the package. Jumping ahead a bit, when I first moved into this dorm I kind of noticed that, oh hey, everybody here speaks English, and they speak their native language, and they're learning Japanese, and some of them speak other second languages as well. And that made me feel kind of embarrassed with my wimpy two languages, even if they're both comparatively advanced.

But still, I thought, I'd like to add another trick to my bag. Speaking Japanese is a pretty rare and impressive skill in Canada; in Japan, less so. I'd really like a little something to bust out when I feel like impressing Japanese people. I should take Korean here! So that's what I'm doing, and I think it's going to be hilarious, because Busan is basically the Oosaka of Korea, so I'll be trying to learn the Busan dialect on my own time. In other words, I'll be a white guy, speaking Korean, in the Busan dialect, with a Japanese accent. With any luck I'll confuse the shit out of people.

My first class was this morning, and I thought it would be fascinating to learn Korean in Japanese. It would be eye-opening; it would re-frame my language faculties; it would not only give me new insight into the process of learning Japanese, but language-learning in general. So far this hasn't happened, but it was only the first class, so maybe I'll strike an epiphany later in the semester. Today we just talked about the syntactical similarities between Japanese and Korean, and how words are constructed in hangul, some of which I already knew by osmosis from deeply trolling the K-blogosphere. I was, thankfully, able to keep up with the explanation without problems, perhaps in part because I've deliberately chosen the least serious class available, 「楽しく学ぶ韓国朝鮮語」、which manages to imply that the other Korean classes are not enjoyable while simultaneously sounding very stupid.

Next I had History of Japanese Thought, with the same teacher as last semester, except now it's the other half of the course. The first half, in fact. Whatever, you don't really have to take them in order. Even without Philosophy and Hikikomori Girl to lean on, I kept up with the lecture and was moved to contemplation at all the right moments. My reading has even improved in the last few months, so although it will be some time before I'm able to casually read through printouts of of hundred-year-old documents, I was able to follow along much more easily than I once was. Getting better!

In both classes, I got a comment from the teacher and a couple of double-takes, but otherwise went unacknowledged. Not like yesterday, when a couple of girls caught sight of me and almost had a heart attack. I like it. I see the other koukan ryuugakusei moving about the campus in groups, while I cut a lone path, because I've got my own stuff to deal with, of which they have no part. I wondered if that made me an arrogant prick, and then I decided that I don't care. It makes me feel more strongly a part of the society in which I live. It makes me feel like I've arrived in a whole new way.

My third academic class of the semester was choukai, which, as far as I'm concerned, is kind of a joke. It's just sort of a lame concept for a class, and the fact that last semester I put by far the least effort into choukai but got an A in that and a B in everything else should tell you what a waste of time it is. I guess maybe it'll help me understand my real classes more effectively, though, which would be pretty damn exciting, I must admit. I can also justify it to myself by saying that the latest reports put choukai as the most critical part of the modern JLPT, which I'm hoping to take in the summer. Although the real reason is that I have to take at least four Japanese language classes and nothing else fit with my schedule.

Finally, Literature again. Same as before, contemporary short stories, taught in English, with class time focussing on discussion. I seem to remember this being an awfully work-intensive course, and having it does not help my degree in any way whatsoever. But it was fun, the teacher was interesting, and besides, I really wanna up my knowledge of Japanese literature, just cause it seems like that's the sort of thing I should have.

Monday, 8 April 2013

First day back


After such a long break, I am good and ready to get back in school. To continue down the road of self-improvement. To throw myself at as big a workload as possible. I always feel like this on the first day of classes, and I always stop after a week or so.

I opened with a bit of a heart-palpitater. Having graduated from the “General” Japanese classes intended for reciprocal exchange students, I've now advanced to those built around the needs of actual Japanese majors. We are no longer mere hobbyists, but language students! Well, actually, this first class contained only six of us, none of us Japanese majors, but that doesn't change the difficulty level. The only girl remaining from my previous adventures is a tiny Chinese girl; I felt like we'd classed up, receiving a huge stat boost, more detailed clothes, and possibly the ability to use a second type of weapon. Self-doubt gnawed at me even so, but I reminded myself that I questioned my abilities at the beginning of last semester too, and that turned out ok.

In fact, relative to the progress we have made this should actually be easier, as the spring classes are naturally a fair measure easier than the same classes in fall. This one is called “Speaking and Listening,” which, if I'm not mistaken, is actually what we've been doing in every single class up to this point, but I guess this time we're going to be learning to do it in a more formal, organized manner. Specifically we'll pretty much be learning how co-workers of roughly equal seniority would hold a business meeting, the usefulness of which should be obvious. Unfortunately we will not be practising workplace presentations, but eh.

Next I had my first “real” class of the semester, 哲学の世界、undoubtedly the stupidest name that has ever been given to any philosophy class ever. Scanning the course outline, I was quite pleased. One to two classes devoted to subjects like epistemology, morality, ontology, and humanity. Pretty standard, introductory stuff, and, in all likelihood, basically a repeat of my first year of university, except now in not my native language. This teacher, a decrepit old guy with a passion for philosophy but fundamental confusion over most other aspects of the world around him, even delivered the same explanation of philo sophia that I got in my first university lecture ever. And it was at this point that I realised a large portion of this course was likely to focus on the Greeks, which is terrible, because the Greeks are the most boring goddamn part of all of philosophy.

But then he started moving into an explanation of how philosophy also has deep roots in India and China, and apparently we'll be getting into that in future classes. Which is good for me, since I've never actually had the opportunity to study Eastern Philosophy, I guess because Western academia considers the entire branch to be a crock of foreign mysticism (what, like Socrates fucking isn't?). Since the whole point of taking this class, besides trying to tidy up my degree, is to help prepare myself for the language and thinking that Japanese people use when they talk about philosophy, it should be especially useful to get a more solid grounding in the deeper roots of Japanese Philosophy in particular.

Then kind of a funny thing happened. Do you remember back when you were first learning to ride a bike? At first, you must have had somebody with their hands on the back, teaching you how to balance. Then eventually one time they let go, and run beside you for a bit, and then stop, and yell after you, and then holy shit I am riding a bike. At this point you either take it and run with it, so to speak, or you suddenly become overly conscious of what you're doing and fall. Basically this is what happened to me. I was sitting there, listening to the lecture, duly taking notes, everything was Jake. But then I realised that holy shit I've been following this for over an hour. And then I became overly conscious of my listening comprehension, suddenly trying to hang onto every word, and just like that the ordered flow of the teacher's voice melted into one continuous slur of complex syntax and vocabulary I haven't learned. I've had this happen before; luckily I knew that I just had to relax my grip a bit. Like falling asleep.

When I located my final class of the day, I thought I must have got the wrong room. Mainly because it was filled with Chinese people. Oh, and one Viet Namese girl. Who spoke Chinese. And already seemed to know everybody. Nope, I was in the right place – I was just in with the gakubu students. The ones who stay here for four years...studying nothing but Japanese language, all day, every day. So these, I thought, are the hardcore kids. I've never understood majoring in a language, like how is that even a thing? I can think of no rational reason why it shouldn't be, but still. I half-expected those assembled to start pointing and whispering towards the stranger in their midst. Instead, a mere handful of them simply glanced up, and then kept on Chineseing, which was somehow worse.

I sat in awkward silence, slightly away from the main cluster of tables, as if to draw further attention to the fact that I was the only white person in the room. You'd think that wouldn't be so jarring for me at this point. The truth is, although I'm in my element among the Japanese – I ought to be, after basically spending half my life among them, to various degrees – as soon as I was hit with a crowd of 20 Chinese, I felt a gap. Not an intentional one on their part; just one I didn't quite know how to bridge the way I do with Japanese people, and it had nothing to do with language.

But, as it turns out, the group mostly arrived together and have been working and growing together, and as a result they've developed into a casual, friendly group. Everybody was relaxed and funny. Except for one guy who tried to speak to me in English, presumably because white people don't speak Japanese even though he'd already heard me do it, but fuck that guy. And what's better? When we had a class discussion, everybody seemed to know what the fuck they were talking about. I've never had that happen. Hardcore, it turns out, is knowing your shit. Well. Except for Kansai-ben, which they all evidently think is this hilarious pidgin Japanese that fictional people speak, and I guarantee you none of them can speak it. Anyway I'll bust it out on them eventually and then they'll see.

Oh yeah, incidentally, the class is about writing papers. Academic language and what is appropriate for written communication versus spoken communication. Should prove very useful in grad school, to say the least, as well as, really, my entire future.

Oh, and also there is some lone white guy stalking around campus. I must've passed him on the footpath two or three times now. He doesn't live at the dorm, but he's simply too young to be a teacher. No one knows who he is, and no one else claims to have seen him. I fear that he is actually a ghost, the tortured remnant of some ryuugakusei from decades ago who died on campus, and the fact that he has appeared to me means that my time grows short, for one dark night when I'm walking home alone he will pounce upon me and drag me down into the abyss with him. I'm going with this theory because the alternative would be a European who is as good as or better at Japanese than I am, a far more terrifying possibility.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Overdue preparations


Today I made two critical but long, long overdue purchases: A cell phone and health insurance. One could potentially save my life; the other is health insurance. Since the newbies issued from the dorm en masse in pursuit of said items, I fell in with them, or rather, fell in with the Japanese assistants and spent most of the day translating and coordinating, which is where I feel most comfortable anyway, while also incidentally checking a few boxes myself.

Honestly, I have absolutely absurd amounts of insurance. I have MSP, a policy under my mother as a government employee, traveller's insurance, and probably some form of liability insurance from both my universities. It's only the traveller's insurance that sticks in my craw, though, because I specifically explained to my parents that I didn't need it because with everything else put together, I am covered up if I need a hip replacement or cybernetic implants.

To which they said, we'll just look into it for you, by which they meant take out a policy in my name. My first instinct was to phone and cancel the living shit out of it as soon as I got the confirmation e-mail, but I decided to at least hear what happened first. Why am I getting nailed for $900 of insurance I never wanted or asked for? Because I don't have $900. Don't worry, they assured me, we've got you covered. Well, fine. If that's what you're willing to pay for your own peace of mind, rock on.

I only later found out that by “got me covered” they meant that I could just pay them back as soon as I got my loan money. The loan money that would just barely cover my first semester. In fact, I was now stretched so thin I didn't have enough money to buy the mandatory government insurance! What irony. Wait, you have to buy into the national plan? Yes, you guys. I explained this.

“Then why did you get all that traveller's insurance?”

But really, Rude Boy, is it possible to have too much insurance? Yes. Of course it is. More than $1 million is too much insurance. Having to make such a large payment that it momentarily looks like you might run out of money and have to leave Japan is too much insurance. Look, I get it, this is basically an investment that, at some point in my life, I will probably have to make use of, but I can't get over the idea that you are paying huge amounts of money for literally nothing.

I only made it this far through frugality and ingenuity, part of which included not actually ever buying into the national plan as I am technically required to. But I always planned to once I had the money. Not because I feel I need it – I don't, in case that needs clearing up – but because I don't want to get a little note in my file for being an anarchic lawbreaker, a roving rebel who stops jaywalking just long enough to put burnable garbage into the recycling. I doubt it would actually cause a problem on my next visa application, but for 15,000 yen – they charged me retroactively starting in September, which I guess is just the price you pay, literally – it's worth it for the piece of mind. Hey, see what I did there?

Following the snake oil store was Yodobashi Camera. As I will be doing prepaid, I had only one phone to choose from, available in either black or Softbank white. I went with the black, because aesthetics, and because dirt. It's a fine piece of machinery, representing the absolute pinnacle of cell phone technology circa 2006. After falling so deeply in love with the Samsung Galaxy line, I feel silly and awkward clunking away at physical buttons. Writing a single mail is as painful and time-consuming as childbirth. The graphics are simplistic and lifeless. I have to open it to check my alerts. Looking back over a conversation entails manually scrolling through and opening dozens of previous individual mails, sometimes interrupted by messages from other people entirely. It'll do the job, though, and my Canadian phone can handle anything more intensive via Wi-Fi.

As soon as I got it in my hands, my new phone presented a problem, namely where to store it. My back-right pocket is occupied entirely by my wallet, so that's out; the normally empty back-left would seem to be the logical choice, but I knew from experience that alighting on even the softest seat would cause it to jab painfully into my ass. I gave the front-left a shot, sliding it in alongside my Galaxy and steadily shrinking pocket dictionary. Can I get at the new phone? In and out, no problem. Galaxy? Likewise. Dictionary? Um, not without removing everything else first. I finally settled on the front-right, which has heretofore borne only my camera. I was hoping to avoid this because having a phone in each pocket seems a little too symmetrical and lame, and also because I'm worried that positioning two cell phones in that particular arrangement might create a sort of electromagnetic gravity well and irradiate my testicles, rendering me sterile. Which I guess would actually be fine.

My ability to survive without a cellular telephone of any kind made me seriously question my need for one, but really, to have anywhere near the kind of social life I aspire to it's probably a necessity. It'll also save me that fun game that nobody else in the entire world has played since the late 1990s, where you wonder if the other person is early, or you're late, or you got the location wrong, or you missed each other and they already went to the venue already and you should go check it out, and maybe you should go stand over there instead to make yourself more visible, and goddamn it you'll wait five more minutes and after that you're cutting your losses and finding something else to do.

One drawback to my new communicative capabilities is that I can no longer avoid people by using the excuse that I don't have my phone. “Oh, yeah, everybody would have loved for you to be there! That's really too bad! Next time!” I really was using that as an excuse for never socializing with anybody in the dorm, and disappearing for hours (days) at a time. I guess now I'll just have to get really bad at answering text messages, and maybe sometimes forget my phone at home.

As soon as I finally got it set up, I fired off a Facebook status announcing my new wired status and calling for people to send me a message with their own contact details. Predictably, I received a bunch of timely responses, but all from people I hate.  

Monday, 1 April 2013

New batch


I had an enjoyable, if mostly unexciting, spring vacation, but soon the new semester will be upon us, and the winds of change have brought the next generation of adventurers to our doorstep. With the memories of my own arrival still so fresh in my mind, it was funny sitting on the far side of the fence, watching everybody timidly venture into the common room and begin trying to carve out their niche. The five all-new Japanese students, who will be here for the next year, arrived a week in advance, so as to be acclimated themselves before being hit with the responsibility of helping out the others. The relief force of foreigners drifted in over a period of three days leading up to the weekend. And after all, when we have a perfectly good tatami room that's longing for love, what's a weekend with a slew of new housemates without a party?

The old guard had one for us when we first arrived, and this one was predictably similar. It began with a paralyzingly awkward battery of self-introductions, as entire civilizations rose and fell in the outside world, and then gradually progressed from everybody being too shy to talk or eat the food to crawling all over each other and dancing spontaneously. For reasons that he never made clear, Overly Lengthy and Dramatic Appellation from Spain spent about twenty minutes making everybody write down some phrase in their home language, which just turned into fifteen variations of “I have a parrot on my shoulder” after I started and everybody copied me.

On the whole, I'm very pleased with the new batch, because they're all friendly and good-natured, they all seem to have basically the right attitude towards Japan, and not one of them is fucking stupid. Well, Jason Biggs is a bit of a stereotypically oversexed handsome Italian dickweed, but he also knows better than to question anyone who's already been in this house for six months. There's been a change in the language dynamic that's a little strange, though; to the surprise of exactly no one, the Europeans have very limited Japanese skills, while the two Koreans and countless Chinese are much more advanced, except this group is much more outgoing than their forebears, resulting in a net increase of Japanese being spoken within these walls.

What's different this time is that while previously the spread was fairly even from bottom to top, now we're seeing a fairly even split in ability between “basically fluent in everyday situations” and “aware that Japanese is a thing.” The non-Asians in the last feed could at least order at a restaurant and talk about themselves; some of these guys have literally never studied it in their lives. I'm never quite sure what to think of that. On the one hand, I applaud the guts it must take to dive into a new environment you know nothing about. On the other hand, how the hell do you develop enough of an interest in a country to make the considerable financial and chronological investment of studying there for a year, without ever feeling some compulsion to maybe add “What time is it now” or “Where can you get good blow around here” to your repertoire? So my faint hopes of finally getting a halfway decent dorm for language-learning have flickered out, but things are still better than they were.

Oh, and I'm not the only Canadian anymore, either. What treachery is this?

After the better part of the group had retired to the upstairs and the atmosphere taken on a bit of a different tone, I sat down with Cough Medicine and both Finns for some serious talks of power brokering. As I've mentioned, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what obligations, if any, I hold in respect to my dorm kouhai. I've spoken with the two new (Japanese) student leaders who will be nominally in charge of day-to-day business, neither of whom is confident in their ability to run a bath, never mind a dorm, and assured them that I will share of my substantial experience and decision-making acumen should they desire to draw upon it. I've decided that if nothing else I'm going to start taking a more hands-on approach with affairs around here. No more “not my responsibility, doesn't affect me” business, even when it isn't, and it doesn't. Basically I'm trying to say that we're all going to be a lot happier if I'm calling the shots, and the only problem with that is that Anarchy in the UK is a power-hungry fiend just like myself.

Cough Medicine: Well I was thinking about that, and in my mind it was always either you or him who was going to take over. Except that you actually speak Japanese.
Big Finn: And you don't have your head up your asshole.
Cough Medicine: My advice is, Facebook politics. Look at what he did, he organized this entire party and he wasn't even here.

He's built a more robust powerbase than I have by virtue of actually trying to build one, but I've garnered support on an individual level. The Chinese are swing voters, so to speak, as are a couple of others on the fringe, but unless I managed to mess up that grab pretty badly there's no way he could pose a significant threat to my base. He has: the Taiwanese girls and a couple of his personal friends. I have: Basically everybody else. Just as importantly, I'm more experienced in these kinds of politics, I have access to crucially useful skills and knowledge that he doesn't, and he's playing on my turf. If I decide to play, I'll own this dorm, and I just have to decide whether or not it's worth the effort.

Numbers slowly dwindled until only Mother Russia and I remained, at which point we decided that a 7-11 run was of the utmost necessity. Just as we left the dormitory we discovered a small unattended box on top of the shoe lockers, which I investigated by ripping in two. It transpired to contain a couple small pieces of cake, which we ate half of before putting it back where we found it, good as new. On the way, we came across a shopping bag containing an ancient and battered industrial-strength surveyor's tape, which I promptly began unreeling. It slapped onto the ground behind us for a good sprint until the mechanism caught, wrenching it from my alcohol-addled fingers. We left it where it fell. Ultimately we passed out on my couch, setting the rumour mill ablaze the following morning.

Rude Boy: Have a whitw girl sleeping on my schulter rught nao, teying to decide on an appropriate reaction.
President: Lol ur drunk again

I have a good feeling about this semester.