水曜日, 12月 29, 2004

Travel Journal, Taiwan

    Over 60,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami this holiday season. I'm very sorry about this tragedy. My family seemed to think it was kind of a close call for me since I was in Thailand at this time last year. However, I went to Northern Thailand, which wasn't affected. And bad things can happen anywhere, even if you never leave home. Natural disasters are not a good argument against traveling.
    With that out of the way, the rest of this post will be upbeat.
    I don't have my pictures from Taiwan uploaded yet, but they're on the way. We had an exciting and wonderful time.

A Day-By-Day Account of Our Adventures

Dec 21 - We arrived in Taipei. The Lin family met us at the airport and we spent the night at their house. We had a lot of trouble communicating with them. They don't speak Mandarin at home but Taiwanese, and their Mandarin was difficult to understand. The grandmother couldn't write Chinese characters. When we ran into a communication hurdle, she asked her son or husband to write the characters for us.

Dec 22 - A young woman who is a friend of a friend of pretty-sunshine, and speaks Japanese, agreed to take us sightseeing in Taipei. We went to the National Palace Museum and the night market.

Dec 23 - Pretty-sunshine gave me a birthday present: a manga called ダーリンは外国人. It gently pokes fun at a certain kind of male foreigner in Japan. It's funny.
   We took the train to Hualien, a city on the east coast that is near to Tarokko Gorge, and spent the night there. In the evening, we had dinner at a vegetarian buffet--I was selfish in wanting to go there instead of the wonton place, which I regret now, since wonton soup is a local specialty of Hualien--and went shopping for clothes.

Dec 24 - The owner of the guesthouse, an older Japanese man, took us and a Taiwanese couple on a sightseeing trip to the gorge. It was very beautiful, especially the waterfalls and pools with aquamarine or slate-colored water. We had lunch at an open-air restaurant at a Buddhist temple on the mountain. We were served by vegan Buddhist nuns. I was very impressed with them, partly because in Thailand and Japan I've only met Buddhist priests, and they act a little weird about talking to women. The nuns had short hair (but not completely shaved) and they were always smiling. They spoke some English, better than my Chinese. There were no animal products consumed on the temple grounds, and the temple gift shop sold bags of vegetarian beef jerky along with nutritional yeast supplement, which you can't get in Japan. I bought a bag of it from the smiling nun.

    It was at least a 3-hour train ride back to Taipei. We had a couple of stressful episodes. First of all, we couldn't get seats together on the train. Our seats were on adjoining cars. At first, pretty-sunshine sat near me, but then someone came and kicked her out of the seat. I went to sit by her for awhile, but the same thing happened. Eventually she just sat by me on a step thing that isn't really a seat--because I'm in the first row of a car, there is some extra room. Across from us were four young soldiers in the Taiwanese army, three men and a woman. We talked to them, and learned about the draft in Taiwan: all young men have compulsory military service. Women don't have to join, but can volunteer if they want. One of the men had been studying English, so our conversation went mostly through him. There was something sad and weary about him, probably because he didn't want to be in the army. Neither Japan nor the U.S. has compulsory military service, so the whole thing seemed very foreign to us.
    At the end of the voyage, I was preoccupied with thoughts of the people we just met, and I stupidly left one of my bags on the train. I realized it when we went to the bathroom at the station. I told pretty-sunshine, and with her quick thinking, we took immediate action. We asked one of the station attendants what to do, and he said to go to the information desk (fu wu tai). At the information desk, we had to explain in Chinese what happened, and the woman there, to my great relief, put in a call to the train. Unlikely enough, I was able to remember the number of the seat I was sitting in, and she was able to tell what train we were on by the fact that we'd just arrived from Hualien. My bag was located and saved for us at a station a few stops away. Then I made another mistake: I wanted to buy two tickets to the station where my bag was, but I accidentally bought round-trip tickets instead. Pretty-sunshine went through the ticket gate, but it beeped and stopped me. We were pressed for time because we were supposed to meet her friend I.L. later, so pretty-sunshine said to just give her both tickets and I could wait until she went back. She understood how to get to that station, and I didn't. She gave me I.L.'s phone number so that I could explain the situation to her.
    I waited for her for about an hour. It was nerve-wracking. On the edges of my stress was the awareness that it was Christmas Eve; what an unlikely way to spend it. I couldn't get through to I.L. right away, and I was afraid of missing pretty-sunshine while I was using the public phone. Finally I reached her on the phone. I was worried that she would have a bad first impression of me, since she didn't know me and I'd inconvenienced everyone with my stupid mistake. However, I soon learned that it's not in her character to be mad about things like that. She speaks fluent Japanese, and she's an incredibly sweet person, so talking with her reassured me that things would be all right after all. She told me to meet her mother in front of the Mitsukoshi outside Taipei station. Mitsukoshi is a Japanese bank; I wondered how to ask for directions to it in Chinese. San-yue? It was a bit confusing. I would later learn that there are many Japanese department stores thriving in Taipei, such as Sogo and Takashimaya, and that the everyone recognizes their Japanese names.
    I managed to catch pretty-sunshine again just as she was paging me from the Information desk. I was thrilled to see her. She had retrieved my bag with no problems, but she told me that they offered her tea and snacks there, wanting to chat with her about where she was from and so on, so that's why it took so long. I told her about waiting in front of Mitsukoshi, and we found it and met I.L.'s mother there.
    Later that night, we went to a shabu-shabu restaurant with I.L. It was much better than Japanese shabu-shabu, which is kind of tasteless. Also, it had an extensive vegetarian menu. We were invited to stay at I.L.'s family's beautiful house. The family we'd been staying with before was middle-class, but I.L.'s family is very rich. Japan is a prosperous country, but it doesn't have many filthy-rich families. Taiwan does. I was impressed with the opulence of the house and the surroundings.
    After our late dinner, I.L. took us out to a fashionable dance club called Mos, which she said comes from England. Japan has nothing on the scale of this place. One floor had laser lights and a DJ wearing a santa suit; the other floor had an MTV screen and live dancers. It was so packed it was difficult to dance.

Dec 25 For Christmas night, I.L. and her friends had rented a private room at another dance club called Plush. We spent most of the day shopping and beautifying ourselves. A new department store had opened in the neighborhood, and it was wall-to-wall packed with fashionably dressed shoppers.
    I wound up buying a lot of clothes in Taiwan: three cute skirts, a Chinese Betty Boop sweatsuit, and three sweaters. I wouldn't necessarily say that Taiwan is the best place to shop for clothes. As in the rest of Asia, the sizes run small, and good things aren't ridiculously cheap like they might be in poorer countries. However, you can buy things that would be fashionable even in Japan for a slightly lower price, and they will usually lower the price further if you ask them nicely. Pretty-sunshine was impressed that even the most exclusive brand names have sales in Taiwan. That never happens in Japan. Japanese fashion tends to be a bit too modest, plain and subdued for me, too 地味、and it's often not flattering to my shape or coloring. The best thing for me to do would be to go shopping in my own country, but I don't have plans to go back until next summer. So I was happy that the Taiwanese fashion mentality isn't quite so afraid of showing off the body as in Japan. You can buy more brightly-colored, loosely flowing and sexy garments there.
    Although popular culture is similar on the surface to Japan, with the same kind of pop idols, purikura and karaoke dominating the youth culture scene, people's behavior is different in at least two major ways. One is that Taiwanese people are more comfortable touching each other. Our friends often took us by the arm or the hand to guide us somewhere; it's not unusual to see same-sex friends holding hands. They pat the back of someone who is drunk to make them throw up; they hug more tightly in the purikura booth. I found all this friendly touching very nice and soothing after Japan, where people rarely touch each other. It makes a person feel good.
    The second major difference is the sleep cycle. Japan is a 9-to-5 kind of a country. Everyone goes to work in the morning on packed subways and comes home in the evening on trains that are just as crowded. Banks and post offices have inconvenient hours, and stores close early. Taiwan, on the other hand, is a night-owl paradise. It's 2 a.m., want to go shopping or get something to eat? It's no problem in Taipei. Most places seem to be open till 3 a.m.- not just the night market, but regular stores, restaurants, and even onsens. Although there is only a 1-hour time difference between Taiwan and Japan, the night-owl life made me feel jet-lagged upon my return.
    Our hosts were so enthusiastic about entertaining us they often took us out to eat several times in a row--we would go to one restaurant, then go directly to another restaurant, then go to a food stall for dessert or a snack. I don't recommend going there if you're on a diet.
    To get back to my story, we went to Plush for the night. In Japan, a night out usually ends at midnight with the last train. In Taiwan, the night out got a late start and lasted almost all night. They rented a red velvet (plush!) room with couches and cushions where we could drink champagne and wine, have snacks and talk when we were tired from dancing. I've never seen rooms like this in Japan or the U.S., but they are popular in mainland China too. We met a lot more of I.L.'s friends there, as well as her brother and sister. They are cool people. A few of them just sat on the couch and went to sleep. I thought their behavior was odd and unsociable, but no one else seemed to mind. A while later, I started to get tired and one of the guys suggested I take a nap. I felt safe and comfortable there with all of I.L.'s friends around, talking in a language I mostly couldn't understand, so I dozed off for awhile. It was the first time I've ever taken a nap at a disco.
    When I danced, the music was good and it was fun in its way, but it was so crowded I didn't have much freedom of movement. Looking around, I saw nothing but Taiwanese people, and I felt almost like I had the only non-Asian face in the world. It was an extension of the disjointedness I sometimes feel in Japan when I realize I'm not Asian and no matter how much time I spend in Asia I never will be.

Dec 26 In the daytime, we were invited to karaoke by two of I.L.'s male friends. The four of us went together, and were led at first to a huge room that could seat 20 people, with its own bathroom and an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet right outside the door. The entire karaoke place was as big as a large hotel. We decided something a bit smaller would be more appropriate, since there were only four of us! So we moved to a smaller room. It also had its own private restroom. To select the songs, you use a computer with a menu organized in several different ways. You can look up songs using the alphabet, Chinese characters, or bupumufu (the Taiwanese phonetic alphabet). Their selection of English-language songs was disappointing. I can't sing, and do not wish to sing, cheesy love songs in any language. Pretty sunshine had been practicing a Chinese song, which she sang to much applause. I made half-hearted attempts to sing a couple songs, including Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana, but singing is not one of my strengths so I mostly just listen when I go to karaoke, and watch the videos. The karaoke videos in Taiwan are real MTV videos the artists made themselves, with flashy effects, not the sentimental and completely irrelevant videos you see in Japan. It was explained that this is because Japan doesn't have their own version of MTV, but China (or Taiwan?) does. Some of the videos were labeled "Taiwan Only!" in large letters.
    The music I liked best was by a Taiwanese rapper named Stanley Huang (黃立行) and his brother Jeff Huang, who is a member of the rap group Machi (麻吉). Later, I bought their CDs and some others fairly cheaply. Also, I didn't know this before, but most music DVDs don't have region codes; the music DVD I bought in Taiwan worked on my DVD player in Japan.
    We stayed out late again. One of the guys took us for a scenic drive in his car. We could see a view of the night lights of Taipei, including the 101 building (the Yi-ling-yi building), which everyone was talking about because it recently opened. We even went to an onsen in the middle of the night. Good times.

Dec 27 Our last day; we did last-minute shopping. For days I had been trying to get to an Internet cafe to update my blog and spend a little down time away from the whirl of shopping and being entertained. I was (justly) accused of being an Internet addict. I did eventually get to go, but everyone went with me and I wound up feeling selfish for taking up everyone's time. I really just wanted to be dropped off there for awhile during the day while they did something else--I didn't mean to impose my will on everyone. But we found during our stay that if we mentioned we wanted to do something, our hosts would be bound and determined to take us there and not leave us alone for a minute. It was completely contrary to their idea of hospitality to leave us to do our own thing. I can see the practicality of this in a way, because Taipei is big and confusing and if we got lost, they have no way to call us. We could call them, but we don't know the area or the language well. As a cultural contrast, I think homestay families in Western countries often expect more independence from visitors, and instead of taking them sightseeing it's more common to expect them to find their way by themselves. This seems cold to Japanese exchange students. I think homestay families should be aware of this difference.
   We ate a lot of amazing foods I'll talk about later. Then we took about a gazillion purikura. Pretty-sunshine remarked that it was the first time she'd seen someone bargain for a better price at purikura. There wasn't time to sleep, so we stayed up all night. We parted warmly as good friends with promises to write and visit. They treated us like we were family not (in my case) some stranger arriving on their doorstep, and I really admire that. They urged us to stay for New Year's. I'm sure New Years with them would have been a blast, but we had things to do back home. We went to the airport early to buy a few last-minute omiyage.

Dec 28 - The flight home. We were back in Japan before noon. Our airport chatter, which had been entirely in Japanese on the way there, was now Japanese sprinkled with some easy Chinese expressions we'd become used to using on our trip. I knew pretty-sunshine was tired and coming down with a cold, and I felt remorse for acting selfishly at times on our trip. I probably should have tried to be perfectly selfless and happy with whatever happened, without trying to go to an internet cafe when other people didn't want to, for instance. Still pretty-sunshine said she had a great time, and so did I. It was a good learning experience for me. I learned that I could enjoy a trip without having time on my own, being totally dependent on people to show me around. It's contrary to my usual way of being--I'm very independent and individualistic most of the time--but it's more in keeping with Asian ideas of hospitality, and therefore more of a natural way to experience an Asian culture first-hand. I'm happy and grateful for the time I spent with I.L., her family and friends.

木曜日, 12月 23, 2004


    We arrived in Taipei after a mere 3-hour flight from Japan on the evening of the 21st. Misa had arranged for us to stay with the family of her Taiwanese friend. Although the friend herself was not around, the family has been taking very good care of us. They even came to pick us up at the airport. Since we'd never met them before, this was a bit tricky. Misa sent them our pictures, and we knew their names, so eventually we managed to connect at the airport. They took us to their spacious 2-story house in Taipei, where we get to stay in comfort as long as we're there.
    The grandmother of the family tries the hardest to communicate with us. Unfortunately, the language gap is rather substantial. Although both Misa and I are studying Chinese, they speak Taiwanese at home, which is a completely different language. The father speaks understandable Mandarin and some English, but when the grandmother speaks Mandarin it's still nearly impossible for us to understand her because we're not used to her accent. Some words sound the same to me when she says them, especially basic verbs like "eat" "to be" and "go". In Mandarin, eat is "chi" (prounounced "chur"), "to be" is "shi" (pronounced like the English word "sure,") and to go is "qu," (pronounced like the English word "choo" as in "choo-choo" - without the tones, of course). But in Taiwanese, the way she spoke, all three words sounded like "sz" to me. "Sz, sz, sz," she says, and I don't know whether to eat, or go, or what.
    Misa is better at understanding her than I am. The grandmother is always urgently trying to impart some information to us or ask us questions. Occasionally we triumph over the language barrier and understand each other, but its a hard-won victory. When she talks to me she often rubs my hands together with hers, saying my skin is pretty.
    My vegetarianism was no problem from the beginning. Misa told them before we came that I was a vegetarian, and it was almost a non-issue. Each morning before we wake up, the grandmother goes to a food stall across the street and gets us two veggie burgers for breakfast. It is essentially a vegetarian hamburger, but with lots of sprouts and even bits of fruit (I think) in it. Very delicious. She is also always feeding us fruit. Fruit is abundant in Taiwan, and there are many varieties we've never seen or tasted before. Even though it's the middle of winter, we had fresh orange juice the grandmother squeezed herself, red fruits something like apples but with more water content and different-looking inside, kumquats, bananas, melon. There is always lots of fruit on the table and the grandmother is always urging us to eat more of it.
    Also, when we go out I see a lot of signs for vegetarian restaurants--su shi in Chinese. We ate at a vegetarian buffet for dinner tonight and although I wouldn't say it was all that great--huge pieces of konbu and imitation fish were featured--it was filling.
    Overall, I have a favorable impression of food in Taiwan. There are a lot of delicious things. The grandmother's sister made us some sweet bean soup that I rather liked. It was a pitch black liquid in big styrofoam cups when she gave it to us, and we had no clue what it was--it reminded me in appearance somewhat of motor oil. They said it was a kind of tea. It was hot, and so black you couldn't see the bottom of the cup. Then Misa told me to look at what was in the bottom, and sure enough when I used a spoon to scoop at the bottom, there were a lot of beans and mochi-looking things in it. They sprinkled peanuts on top and we ate it. The taste was sweet.
    Then there was a kind of dark-brown vegetable with a lot of pointy ends. They had been talking about corn, for what reason we didn't know, but when we broke open the hard brown vegetable and scooped out the inside with a toothpick the way they taught us, sure enough it tasted like hot buttered corn! We were very surprised.
    Taiwan is also the birthplace of bubble tea, my favorite kind of drink stand. There are plenty of coffeeshops too.
    I'm having a satisfying time in Taiwan. We went to the National Palace Museum and the night market on the first day. Today we took the train to Hualien, which took about 3 hours. From here we can go to the scenic Tarokko Gorge, Taiwan's #1 tourist attraction, by bus tomorrow. We're staying the night in Hualien, at a guesthouse run by a Japanese man and his Taiwanese wife called Hi no de (Japanese for sunrise).
    In other news, I turned 30 today. I haven't had much time to dwell on it though, which is good. I turned 10 in my own country, 20 in Japan, 30 in Taiwan. Where will I be when I turn 40? I hope it is somewhere good.

月曜日, 12月 20, 2004


    I passed the Chinese test I took in November (3級中国語検定試験).
    Of the two sections, listening and the written exam, I got 95% on the listening, and 73% on the writing, which doesn't surprise me at all since the written section seemed so much harder to me. A further breakdown of the written test is 6/20 on the "identifying the tones" section (wow, I still suck at that, even though that's one of the things I studied the most!) 18/20 on fill-in-the-blank grammar questions, 16/20 on the rearrange-the-words-to-make-a-grammatical-sentence section, 20/20 on the reading comprehension section, and 13/20 on the translate-Japanese-into-Chinese section. Out of 5557 people who took the same test as me, only 1951 people passed.
    I leave for Taiwan tomorrow. Today will be really busy. I teach four classes, and after work I have to change some money, maybe get some travelers checks, GoLloyds some money for my student loan, and then go home and PACK. My friend U. has agreed to go to my apartment every other day to feed my hamster while I'm gone.
    It was a good weekend, but busy. On Saturday, pretty sunshine colored my hair. The teachers have not remarked on it so far but I bet the students will notice. It's not *that* different from before, but more bright gold. On Sunday, we had a board game meeting/Christmas party in Higashi-Kakogawa. I was there until late. Pretty-sunshine and I also bought some omiyage for her friend's family in Taiwan--a box of 10 containers of Kobe pudding, and a Hokusai ukiyoe calendar.

土曜日, 12月 18, 2004

And the kanji kentei saga continues...

    Maybe I should write about Luminarie or something else for a change. But I find I get more comments when I talk about Japanese study. So here we go.
    First of all, I went ahead and registered for the 3kyuu kanji kentei on January 30. I did it at the Lawson's by my house, and it cost 2000 yen. When I asked the salesclerk to help me, he directed me to a little machine I've never noticed before (it looks like a cash machine) in one corner of the store, where you can choose various things to subject yourself to, the kanji kentei being but one of them. You have to enter your name, address, and the level you want to take, and in return you get a little receipt. You take this to the register and pay. The guy said that they would send me something in the mail later, which I'll have to fill out and send back.
    I only have 6 weeks to study, which seems rather short for this difficult a test. So I plan to study every day. I bought two more of the ubiquitous yellow study books: the one of last year's test, and the one dadsweb recommended (Thank you dadsweb!) 漢検分野別問題集. This one looks really helpful, because it breaks down the test by sections and gives you strategies. That way you can target your weak points (basically everything for me at this point). The list of 四字熟語 at the back looks very helpful. I have a 四字熟語辞典 already, by the way, but still, there are probably hundreds of them in there, and I wouldn't know where to start. So the list of the ones that will probably appear on the test is really good.
    Finally, there was one more thing I needed. A new dictionary. My regular kokugo dictionary--which I like for reading because it explains things very clearly and simply, for middle school students--is not enough for the kinds of things I find myself looking up now. Not only does it not have some of the kanji compounds listed in my kentei study books, it's also lacking in any sort of etymological explanation. I find myself wondering where certain kanji come from and why they are that way. If I only understood that, it would be so much easier to study them. So I bought a dictionary called Kangorin, a big kanji dictionary in Japanese with lots of etymological stuff. A hidden benefit of this is that it will help me remember the radicals and radical names, since I'll have to use them all the time.
    Out of all the people I've shown my kanji kentei study books to so far, the only ones who think they look easy are the two JTEs I teach with. One of them has passed kanji kentei level 2 already. The other has never attempted any kanji kentei, but upon seeing my books decided she would also take the same level as me in January. Copycat. She wrote down the title of my book so she could get one too. Now she's Japanese, and she's about twenty years older than me, so isn't this just a little bit unfair? But after she said that, I decided I couldn't back out now, so that's when I decided to go ahead and register for the January test.

金曜日, 12月 17, 2004


    Another mini quiz from the book 漢字学習ステップ:

Here are your choices. Change these into kanji and choose the appropriate one to complete each 4-character expression.


1) 一挙 (  )
2) 空前 (  )
3) 責任 (  )
4) 無為 (  )
5) 白砂 (  )
6)(  )無尽
7)(  )楼閣
8)(  )環視
9)(  )異夢
10)(  )流行

Answers, and my English translation for each 4-character expression, are in the next post.

Further into the book 西の魔女が死んだ: The main character, Mai, is a young girl. Her mother is half-Japanese, and her grandmother is British (!) Her grandmother is the "West Witch" of the title. The book is very easy to read. Recommended if you like reading books about little girls and their grandmothers. When asked "Why did you decide to come to Japan, Grandma?" the Witch of the West says that her grandfather came to Japan during the Meiji period, and he returned praising Japanese people for their good manners and other positive qualites, so she always thought she wanted to go there when she grew up. She later became an English teacher in Japan, met a Japanese man who was also a teacher, and fell in love. Aw.
    I realized just now that "Witch of the West," which I thought was a reference to the "Wicked Witch of the West" in "The Wizard of Oz", also must mean witch from a Western country.

四字熟語 Quiz Answers

1) 両得  "With one action, receive two benefits." 一挙両得
The meaning is similar to 一石二鳥, "Hit two birds with one stone." Pronounced いっきょりょうとく.

2) 絶後 "Never before and never again." 空前絶後
It means something that is extremely rare. 空前 means without precedent, and 絶後 means that it will never happen in the future either. Pronounced くうぜんぜつご.

3) 転嫁 "Blame it on your second wife." 責任転嫁
To shift the blame from yourself. 責任 is responsibility, 転嫁 is your second wife. Pronounced せきにんてんか.

4) 徒食 "Eating without working." 無為徒食
Living aimlessly, not doing anything. Get a job, you slacker! Pronounced むいとしょく.

5) 青松 "White sand, blue pines." 白砂青松
Beautiful beach scenery. You see this on travel brochures. Pronounced はくさせいしょう.

6) 縦横 "Down and across, without limit." 縦横無尽
You have complete freedom of motion, like in the new Dragon Quest game for PlayStation. Pronounced じゅうおうむじん.

7) 空中 "Castle in the sky." 空中楼閣
A pipe-dream. I think English also has the similar expression, "castle in the sand." Pronounced くうちゅうろうかく.

8) 衆人 "Being observed from all sides." 衆人環視
衆人 means many people. 環視 means being observed from the outside. Therefore, you are being observed by many people who surround you. As a teacher you may have this feeling a lot. Pronounced しゅうじんかんし.

9) 同床 "Same bed, different dreams." 同床異夢
Similar to the English expression "strange bedfellows." Describes people who are on the same side, but for different reasons. Pronounced どうしょういむ.

10) 不易 "The eternal and the changing" 不易流行
This phrase is associated with poet Matsuo Basho. It is too deep for me to fully understand. 不易 is "unchanging," and 流行 refers to those fads and fashions of the day that do change. But how do you use it in a sentence? Pronounced ふえきりゅうこう.

After all of that mental effort, how about a candy cane martini?

水曜日, 12月 15, 2004

Two more completely unrelated books

    In the mood to read about other people's problems, I recently read Marya Hornbacher's memoir of bulemia and anorexia, Wasted. Let me assure you that I don't have an eating disorder myself--in fact, I think the whole idea of dieting is really stupid. I never talk about my weight or weigh myself, except maybe once a year at the gym. However, I find reading about problems like this to be interesting from a psychology/women's studies standpoint, and in the past I've enjoyed reading anorexia classics such as Starving For Attention, The Best Little Girl in the World, and Joan Brumberg's excellent history Fasting Girls : The History of Anorexia Nervosa. I learned that once people start starving themselves, starvation becomes a physical addiction. This was certainly the case with Marya Hornbacher. In times past, this phenomenon occurred when people fasted for religious reasons, and now the reasons for deciding to fast are more secular, but it's not truly a "brand-new" disease.
    Anorexia and bulemia are just a couple of the horribly destructive things this woman did to her body from a young age. She was also picking up strangers at the mall to have sex and shoot heroin with at the age of 13, but clearly what she thinks is important to talk about is her eating disorders. There are some shocking episodes here too, for example one weekend when her parents were away and she did nothing but stuff herself with food and purge for three days straight. Later, she stopped eating almost completely, 100 calories or less a day, until you could see her teeth through the skin of her face and her doctors gave her a week to live. Even in a state of starvation, she did things like eating a box of laxatives every day or drinking a whole bottle of ipecac on an empty stomach (Why?! It hurt to read it). What impressed me was that she still remained so intellectual until the very end of her careening course to self-destruction. Because of the importance the brain-body connection, I was expecting her to lose her mental abilities far quicker than she did. After months of neither eating or sleeping more than tiny amounts, and looking like a skeleton, she could still "write a very good paper on Dostoyevsky". I have no respect for what she did to herself, but it made me realize that I tend to be perhaps a little paranoid about the slightest little discomfort of my body affecting my mental condition. If I inhale secondhand smoke in the elevator today, or get 6 hours of sleep instead of 8, or drink alcohol, or don't exercise, or don't eat 3 square meals a day, I'm afraid I won't remember my kanji as well the next day. I tend to take care of my body because I want to be an intellectual, and I want my brain to have every advantage to memory and concentration. Therefore, it was sickly fascinating to me that Marya continued her rather intellectual pursuits while still cruelly abusing her body. The anorexics I read about before weren't intellectuals. Marya was a poet, journalist and voracious reader and her writing style is fairly erudite, despite the fact that at the very worst part of her disease, she could no longer read words on a page. It's interesting how well she regained her mental abilities after her brush with death. Of course, she paid other prices for her recklessness - a shortened lifespan, a heart condition, and an appearance that looks much older than her chronological age.
    Reading the comments on this book on amazon today, I saw a new one from a reader who bought it in order to get tips on how to starve herself. Yuck. Don't do it, people.
    Marya had two things in common with me, in purely superficial ways: we were born in the same year, and we both took a trip to Japan in high school. The fact that she was my same age in each year made it interesting to read how differently she spent her life.
    Incidentally, I've seen a bulemic in Japan. I mean, I didn't actually see her throw up. But what she was doing was pretty weird. My friends and I were at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Umeda, Osaka. The woman ahead of me in line (a Japanese woman about my same age, neither fat nor thin but just medium) was intent on piling as much food as possible on her plate. She made a mountain of food and pressed down on it to pack it together, all around the edges of the plate. She did the same thing with the other plate on her tray. She was alone. She ate the food expressionlessly, then went back for more. The other women in line were kind of staring and gesturing at her behind her back. I rejoined my friends and mentioned her, and my friend said, "Yes, I always see her here. She does that every day."
    I know nothing about the prevalence of eating disorders in Japan, but I think she must go somewhere to throw up after her lunch--no other explanation makes sense.
    I think it's a good idea to alternate reading English books with Japanese books. If I read too many Japanese books, my work performance suffers, and I can no longer express myself well in English, but if I read too many English books, as I've done lately, I can't express myself well in Japanese. So alternating my reading material seems like a good compromise. Anyway, I started one that looks promising because it is EASY TO READ:

西の魔女が死んだ (The Witch of the West is Dead)  by 梨木香歩 (Nashiki Kaho)

    I'll tell you more when I finish it. I bought it because it came 1st in a "reader's favorites" poll by the publishing company 新潮文庫. こころ was number 5.

Kanji Kentei Study, Day 1

Thought I'd share with you some of the obscure facts I picked up during my first day of seriously studying my Kanji Kentei Step book. Try this quiz to see if you can evade the traps I fell into. The answers will be posted in the comments section.

1) 五月 is commonly read ごがつ、but in the expression 五月晴れ, it has an irregular reading. What is it?

2) What is the irregular reading for 霧雨 ?

    The next several questions require you to identify the radical of a given kanji. Hint: it's not what you think. (I only scored 1 out of 10 on this section!)

3) 恥

4) 勝

5) 黙

6) 載

7) 垂

8) 率

The following two questions require you to pick from five possible relationships between kanji in two-character compounds. Here are your choices:

ア Two kanji with the same meaning redundantly put together
イ Two kanji with opposite or contrasting meanings
ウ The first kanji modifies the second one
エ The second one is the object of the first one
オ The first one is the subject, the second one is the predicate

(I think knowing some Chinese helps me with this kind of problem. Still, I made some mistakes...)

9) The word 鎖国 was translated as "Country in Chains" by my Japanese history professor in college. Pronounced sakoku, it refers to the time when Japan was closed off from the outside world. What kind of relationship exists between the two kanji? Choose one (ア~オ).

10) 授受 Pronouced juju, it means receive. What is the relationship?

11) 瞬間 Pronounced shunkan, it means moment. What is the relationship?

Write the kanji for the katakana in the following sentences.

12) ルイジの商品がたくさんある。

13) 人事イドウが発表された。

The following pairs sound the same and have similar meanings, but different kanji.

14) 問い合わせにカイトウする。  / 試験問題のカイトウを掲示する。

15) 夕方には目的地にく。    /  学校の卒業して職にく。

16) 荷物を小包でオクる。    /  恋人に婚約指輪をオクる。

The above questions are from the book


Tricky, huh? I've studied most or all of the kanji in this book before, but for the kanji kentei, just being able to read them is not enough.

火曜日, 12月 14, 2004

Slightly creepy

    A (married) teacher at my school has told me that he is burning me a CD of his favorite '80s music and giving me some chocolate (he asked if milk or dark chocolate is better). Creepy or not?
    Is it normal for ALTs to get such personal presents from teachers (he is not in the English department, and I don't work with him directly)? It's a bit weird. He's much older than me, not my type at all, but after the enkai-before-last he creeped me out a little by walking me to the subway station entrance and asking "Will you teach me English?"

"Where do you get the word 'Hankyu' out of that?"

    I asked a group of noisy boys in my class this question as they were giggling and saying the word "Hankyu," the name of a private railroad company, while doing my worksheet on winter holidays around the world.
    "Hankyu," said one boy, pointing at "Hanukkah".
    Women's Christmas, Twelfth Night, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice were among the other holidays I put on my worksheet for them to identify.
    I'm tired, paying the price today in tiredness for my enjoyment of "Howl's Moving Castle" and a late dinner last night. I went to see it in Akashi with Takashi, not noticing the rhyme until later. First, though, I had some time to browse in the Junkudo bookstore at Akashi station. I didn't know there was a Junkudo there! It's almost as big as the ones in Sannomiya. I've been thinking about taking one of the kanji kentei tests, so last night I bought my first book to study for it. I decided to take level 3. The kanji kentei differs from language tests I've taken before in that it's designed for native speakers of Japanese. Therefore, I expect it to be both trickier and more thorough than the tests designed for learners of Japanese as a second language. Here are the sections included in Level 3:

Providing the readings for kanji used in sentences
Identifying and naming the radical of a particular kanji
Constructing kanji compounds
Okurigana - accompanying hiragana to use with kanji
Selecting synonyms and antonyms
3-character compounds and 4-character compounds
Identifying kanji mistakes
Writing the kanji, when given the hiragana

If I succeed at this level, I plan to try the next two levels - 準2級 (pre-2nd level) and 2級 (second level). The bar for passing is fairly high, though - 70%. Is anyone interested in taking on this challenge with me? C'mon, it will be fun...
    And did you know that if the whole family passes the kanji kentei (3-6 members), you get a special certificate from the Ministry of Education? It's true!
   This test was created because Japanese people themselves are forgetting kanji. They can read them, they can choose them from menus on the mobile phone or word processing program, but the ability to write kanji is diminishing each year. Today's students know fewer kanji than their parents did at that age, who knew fewer than their parents, who knew fewer than their parents. It's a crisis. In promoting the kanji kentei test, the Ministry of Education tells us that "kanji get more interesting the more you study them," and the website has testimonials by students and adults who discovered a lifetime love affair with kanji while preparing for the test.
    Is it true? Will I fall in love with kanji by studying for this test? I'll find out. I mean, I already like kanji. But I'm not a kanji fanatic or anything. Really, I'm not. They are more of a means to an end. I'm always looking for the magic bullet that will help me read Japanese novels more easily.
    I'm trying to think of something to say about "Howl's Moving Castle" that hasn't already been said, trying to sweep the non-sequiters from my mind like cobwebs. Yes, it's wonderful, it satisfies your need for Miyazaki's cute weird excesses of fancy. There's an antiwar theme, but the overall tone is rather upbeat. I liked the characters a lot.

月曜日, 12月 13, 2004

Quiz Online

    My first funtrivia quiz is online. If you have read T.C. Boyle's "Drop City," please follow this link to take the quiz. More people need to take it before it can be given a difficulty rating.
    I met my Japanese tutor last night at Modernark Cafe. Both our umbrellas were stolen. We put them in the umbrella rack before we went inside, and when we came out they were gone.
    She is correcting my writing, introducing me to some good poetry, and helping me read こころ. I decided to attempt to read こころ in Japanese because it's the only really famous Natsume Soseki novel I haven't read at least part of in English. The poems I like so far are Nakahara Chuuya's (中原中也, 1907-1937) "Circus" and Hagiwara Sakutarou's (萩原 朔太郎, 1886-1942) "Bamboo".

金曜日, 12月 10, 2004

A Story

    The Akashi edition of the Kobe Shinbun ran a short article that touches on the remarkable fact that Mr. M., a 47-year old teacher at my school, still keeps in touch with his 83-year old California host father from an exchange program 32 years ago. The host father, whose first name is Elmer, and lives in Akashi's American sister city which I don't know the spelling of but the katakana is バレホ, sent Mr. M. a check for $200 with a note saying he heard about the typhoon and he hoped it would be of some use. Mr. M. donated the money to a fund for the victims of typhoon #23, and the newspaper took a picture of him holding the letter. The story explained the strange path that the $200 had taken to Japan.
    I think the moral of this is that you should keep in touch with your former host families, because maybe someday they will donate money for a random disaster that didn't affect you, and it will be really touching.

木曜日, 12月 09, 2004

Should I recontract?

    It's getting closer to that time when I should decide for sure one way or the other. Staying in Japan but not on JET is an option that is attractive to me, since my job is good but unchallenging and somewhat unsuited to my particular strengths and weaknesses. Unless you consider wasting a lot of time on the Internet a "strength," which I don't. So if you have any strong opinions either way, now is the time to make your case.
    In terms of Internet time-wasting, still an important job skill for me since this week is exams and I have no classes and nothing to do but be here, I've gotten bored with KoL after seeing all the areas. Lately I've become interested in creating quizzes for funtrivia.com, and when I saw there were no literature quizzes for T.C. Boyle, I thought I'd do one after reading each of his novels, starting with Drop City. As that site has gained in popularity, however, they've decided to be more strict with their quiz creating criteria, so now you have to take 100 quizzes on their site and be a member for a month before you can create quizzes. I finally passed that hurdle and wrote my quiz on Drop City. I submitted it to the editor, and now it's pending approval. If any of you have any requests for a Japan/Japanese language quiz theme you want me to create, please let me know. There are already many interesting quizzes on the site on the following topics (clicking on the link will take you to a page where you can select from a list of quizzes)
Japanese language
Chinese language
Japanese foods
Chinese food
Asian Cultures
Japan (general)

So why not give it a try? And if you notice a mistake in any of these quizzes (I noticed small mistakes a couple of times) you can send the author a message and they'll fix it for you.

水曜日, 12月 01, 2004

Recent Reading

    This week, I read two books in English that were each, in very different ways, impossible to put down. The first was Iris Chang's nonfiction bestseller, The Rape of Nanking. The second was Drop City, my first exposure to American novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle.
    The subject matter of The Rape of Nanking is shocking enough, and I think everyone should read it--but more shocking by far is the denial that the massacre ever happened, which persists in right-wing rhetoric to this day. Note, for instance, that The Rape of Nanking has NOT been published in Japanese translation, but a rebuttal of it has--titled ザ・レイプ・オブ・南京』の研究―中国における「情報戦」の手口と戦略, (Researching "The Rape of Nanking" --Strategies in the Information War of China.) When I saw that on Amazon.co.jp, and all the reader comments denouncing The Rape of Nanking as Japan-bashing Chinese propaganda, my blood turned to ice. Maybe there is an error or two in the book, but the massacre happened--no doubt about that--and it was more horrible, cruel and and unnecessary than the one or two lines Japanese Ministry of Education textbooks give the topic now that they have been pressured into mentioning it at all.
   It is illegal in Germany to say that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz, but it's not illegal in Japan to make similar claims regarding the Nanking Massacre. According to Chang, "even the Nazis were shocked" by the cruelty of the massacre, and one Nazi in Nanking, John Rabe, emerges as an unlikely hero in her tale, one of a handful of foreigners who stayed in Nanjing saving the lives of thousands of Chinese in the International Safety Zone. But you can see people denying the existence of the massacre just by going on Amazon Japan, which I never previously considered to be a bastion of right-wing nutcases.
   Even manga are affected by the politics of history. See this article in the Japan Times about the manga "Kuni ga Moeru," which was cancelled for portraying the Nanking Massacre "as if it really happened." To me it doesn't matter so much exactly how many people died--a number hotly contested by Japanese sources--but rather, the cruel manner in which they died. I don't blame present-day Japanese people for the atrocity--it's not their fault, any more than I'm personally responsible for killing Native Americans and taking their land--but I would have serious misgivings about anyone who rushed to defend the actions of the soliders.
    I went to the Japanese Wikipedia, and found that the "Nanking Massacre" page is being "protected" from further editing due to a re-editing battle. The English-language Wikipedia shows no signs of such a battle. This is an indication of the information gap that still exists between English and Japanese.
   A sad postcript on this already horrible story is that the author Iris Chang committed suicide this month. This story just gets worse and worse the more you learn about it, but I do know that not all Japanese are denying the massacre; many of them go so far as to personally apologize when they go abroad to other parts of Asia. The problem is simply that this issue has become politically charged and the record hasn't been set straight yet. Every time Koizumi goes to Yasukuni Shrine, where the war criminals are enshrined, there is a new outcry from the victims' families.

    OK, that was interesting but bad, so now on to my next book, which I finished reading this morning although I never wanted it to end. Drop City is the sweeping epic of a California hippie commune, circa 1970, that, for reasons that will only make sense if you read it, relocates to the remote interior of Alaska. My expectations were low when I picked this book out from a bin for 300 yen in a used bookstore. I expected choppy writing, sensationalism, infighting, violence, but what I got instead was a delicious treat of good writing that made me feel calm and comfortably blissed out every time I picked it up. I still don't know why the book made me feel that good. I don't have much in common with any of the 5 main characters. None of them are remarkable or heroic people. If you knew them in real life, you wouldn't notice anything special about them. You probably wouldn't even like them. But somehow, even when they're being bad, the characters' perceptions are familiar, comfortable, irresistably human, portrayed in a sympathetically golden, mellow light. I couldn't get enough of it.
    My one complaint was that the book wound up endorsing monogamy over free love. The prosaic, conventional values won out, in some ways, against the crazy tapestry of the collective community. However, this reflects history. I loved the collision of cultures between the hippies and the trappers in Alaska, more subtle and human than you would think, each population influencing the other.

Learning Some

    Last Saturday, I went to Rokko Island High School to learn some (or somemono), a traditional technique for dyeing pictures on silk. Think of stained glass on cloth, and you know the general look of it, art that is all bright colors and nothing else. The medium seems to lend itself especially well to the portrayal of cuteness, flowers and hearts, unicorns and rainbows, the whole cute pantheon from my 4th-grade sticker collection reproduced here as a modern handicraft. Seeing the students' art projects displayed on the second floor of the high school inspired me when I visited the school for a speech contest recently. Nice people that they are, they invited me back, which is how I wound up there at 9 a.m. last Saturday with a sketchbook in my hand for the first time in years.
    Since I hadn't brought a sketch with me, I spent my first hour and a half just trying to draw plausible chrysathemeum petals. The teacher, who is in charge of the fashion design department at the high school, had me choose a picture to copy from an illustrated encyclopedia. Although I eventually want to try to dye animals and insects, perhaps a blue butterfly to photograph and put on my blog and a turtle emblem to use as an avatar for the KoL forum, these are long-range plans. I thought starting with a flower would be easier. After all, I haven't tried to draw anything difficult for years, but anyone can draw a cute flower.
    I chose a hanawagiku from the encyclopedia, an unusually colored chrysanthemum with a ring of yellow and a ring of red tipped by white. White is the one color you can't use, since the cloth is white to start with and it will look stupid without any dye. Later I wound up using purple for white, thereby creating a monstrous flower unknown to man or beast. Anyway, my first sketch was dismally bad, and the teacher, though very encouraging and without a hint of blame, showed me how to fix it by making the petal outlines more complete and sharply defined. The design needs to be traced, after all, so a plain, clear outline is best.
    Me: "I'm done!"
    High School Art Teacher: "OK! Now, how many more do you want to do?"
    Me: "???"
    High School Art Teacher: "How about 3 or 4? Because one flower will be lonely!"
    He took me to the hallway where a framed student somemono of lotus blossoms was displayed. "See, these are all the same flower, only she changed each one to make it slightly different. Some bigger, some smaller. See this?"
    Me: "OK...I'll do 3 more."
    I was slightly more successful with my second, third, and fourth flower, outlining all the petals completely the way he told me too. A word of advice: small chrysanthemums are easier to draw than huge chrysanthemums. Next, we cut them out and he asked me to put them together in the way that I wanted. I made a rather symmetrical display, to which he said "That's boring" and tilted it off-center a bit. Then we taped them together and carried them to the other room.
    In the next room were many students working on pottery and dyeing projects. One girl came in wearing a shirt she had made herself. It was cute, with kind of a necktie in the same fabric as the cloth and red flowers dyed all over it. There was a really good atmosphere in there. The teacher asked one of his students, I'll call her Ms. I., a third year fashion student who was nonetheless in the unoriginal attire of a school uniform, to teach me the basics. She put my flower drawings on the table and sprayed them with glue from a can. Then, she unrolled some white cloth over them, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles with both hands. I asked about the cloth. She told me that some should ideally be done with silk, but because silk is expensive the school uses this synthetic fabric instead, and it takes the dye just fine.
    With the cloth sticking to the paper, the outline of the flowers faintly visible, the next step was tracing the outline with nori--the glue, not the seaweed!--from a squeeze bottle. This was the hardest part for me--it was so hard to squeeze from the small bottle, it made my hand ache in no time. Slowly, petal by petal, taking turns when my hand got too tired, we outlined the first flower in glue.
    "Shall we just dye this one first, to see how it looks?" suggested Ms. I.
    "Sure," I said. (By then it was almost noon and I was only supposed to be there until 1:00. I was frightened by a brief daymere of having to stay there without food and drink until it was completed, squeezing glue around the clock until Monday.)
    Ms. I. taught me how to use the dyes and the usumezai, which will lighten the color. (It's dye-thinner, I guess.) She is quite good at delicately tinting each part of an outline in a second color. This is the most fun part of the process for me, watching the color spread quickly over the cloth, and if you dab the dye on just right, you can create stunning effects in seconds.
    With her help, and making my share of mistakes, I managed to complete the first flower. We were happy. The teacher came in and admired our work. Some of the dye escaped the lines of glue that had sought to confine it, dabs of wine color from the center leaking out into the petals, but the overall effect, even with that, wasn't half bad, and the first thing I wanted to do was take a picture with my mobile phone. Next, we agreed on a time I could go back to finish the job. It was too much work for one day. They let me leave the whole thing there to finish some other time. Going home on the Rokko Liner, I had a delicious afterglow from the experience. Ideas for future some projects, ambitious and improbable, flooded my mind. Best of all was the kindness the teacher and students at Rokko Island High School showed me. It's not even my school, and they were wonderful to me.

First Glance at the New Dragon Quest VIII

    It's beautiful.
   I don't know when I'll have time to play it, but I impulsively bought the RPG titan of the year last night at Toys R Us. The 3D graphics are gorgeous. I was a little surprised not to hear voice acting, but all the better for our Japanese reading practice, hm? I can't wait to play more.