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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Competition Winners!

I don't have classes on Wednesdays. It's useful to have a weekday free, as it gives one a chance to do all those non-academic things that can't be done at weekends. Like, visit the dentist for the last time here in the UK.

This particular dentist has dealt with my cavities for about 4 years now. He's a nice guy, friendly, and quick. As I stood up and put my coat on to leave, I felt it important that I thank him for looking after my teeth. But what does one say to a dentist when seeing them for the last time? I was at a loss for words, and ended up blurting out, "It's been good, thank you".

"It's been good"? What was I saying? I'd only seen him about 6 times in 3 years, and every time I had seen him he'd stuck a drill or polisher in my mouth, causing me discomfort. As I walked down the corridor back to the reception, I couldn't help but think I'd given him the impression that I felt as if I was having to regretfully leave a lover. Not say goodbye to my dentist.

Walking back to uni I passed by Starbucks. I've always associated Starbucks with Japan, having never seen one until I went to live there. As far as I was concerned it was a Japanese brand with a Western name, and I liked sitting and watching people in that one in Shinjuku South, next to the train tracks. It was a safe haven for me back then, when I didn't know the place and looked for comfort in familiarity wherever I could find it.

These days, I try not to support the company, as I feel they are like a Tesco of the cafe-industry, causing the loss of privately owned businesses with character, driving up unemployment and destroying diversity. But sometimes, like today, my desire to back in Japan drives me through the door and up to the counter next to the 4 trays of coloured plastic coffee beans.

I took my Flapalatterino (?!) back out into the Spring sunshine, crossed the road and sat in Weston Park, a fairly large public garden that's now nearing the end of its grand makeover. I watched the boys playing football as they nearly got run over by a dumper truck, a young mother with a child in the pushchair having a tantrum ...and then decided to focus upon the cherry trees instead.

Back in the IC (library), I was delighted to read an email from my tutor telling me that she'd just received a phone call from the head of CILASS to let her know that she'd won £2000 worth of 'stuff' in a university-run competition, a prize that will help further develop our language course over the next year. This was great news!

Myself and a few classmates had nominated her for the category of "Most effective use of technology for Inquiry Based Learning", in recognition of the incredible amount of work and effort she'd put in to developing a new approach to teaching Japanese to final year students. It involved videoing interviews with Japanese people in Japan last summer (I remember her talking about it when we met in Tokyo, and wondering what this 'IBL thing' was all about), creating a "Virtual Language Laboratory" and devising lesson plans integrating the materials. In a way we have been the guinea pigs, but I don't see that as any bad thing. It's good to be out there, beating a path (did it for years at the Steiner School!).

It's turning out to be a good week for awards!

Anyway, best get on learning my lines for our Japanese drama highlighting the issues involved in euthanasia. It's been difficult to reach any conclusions as to whether it should or should not be legalised, as there seems to be a valid counter-argument for particular point. However, in line with the stance I'm adopting for the in-class debate and drama, I'm beginning to feel that fundamentally, it should not be legalised. Leave things as they are, that's what I say.

(I won't go into the debate here. It would go on forever...)

tarra xxx


Blogger Shari said...

You may want to investigate Starbucks before judging them so harshly as a company. Yes, big chains can put little operators out of business, but that doesn't make them bad entities. Starbucks is one of the few places that gives employees decent wages and health care benefits in their particular industry. The little Mom and Pop places have character and arguably may make better coffee, but they often don't pay as well or provide health benefits to employees.

Costco and Starbucks are two of the most humane megacorporations and are worthy of support over the alternatives. At one point, there was even some sort of special stock buy in option for Starbucks workers. Both of these businesses employ people who would be categorized as "unskilled" but offer them many benefits given to only skilled workers.

Starbucks also carries and uses fair trade beans.

24/4/08 09:36  
Blogger Joseph said...

Perhaps I have been unduly influenced by student pressure groups and Oxfam! The Ethiopian coffee scandal left a bad taste in my mouth, although checking on the status of this case for the first time in a year I note that Oxfam issued a press release last spring stating that:

"Our collective efforts raised the profile of this important issue, contributing to securing a landmark deal between Starbucks and the Ethiopian government. This will enable farmers to get a fairer price for their coffee beans and give them more to spend on food, health care and education.
This success paves the way for Ethiopian coffee farmers to work with other coffee companies, who will now be under pressure to follow Starbucks’ lead."

So there goes that argument.

There was also the loss of a totally unprofitable coffee shop by the tracks in Nakano. It was more like someone's front room than a cafe, and quite how it stayed in business for more than a week I don't know. It would be unfair to say that Starbucks alone caused its demise!

However, I do object to the spread of their branches to so many towns in the UK. It's not just Starbucks of course, every chain store is the same. It's led to a 'sameness' wherever you go. It doesn't matter whether you're in Leeds, Derby, Bristol or Sheffield, the shops are the same, there's little local variety, and I mourn that loss. But I guess this is just a result of market forces, consumer demand, not a plan devised and carried out by evil empire-builders.

Another objection I have I have is their mis-use of planning laws in the UK, which has enabled them to secure locations under false pretences of being 'retail outlets'. That issue is still to be resolved it seems.

Ultimately I suspect it is my own financial interests that are promoting my anti-starbucks feelings - the smallest size Frappowotsit cost me £3.05 (625 yen) yesterday. It's in my best interests to believe that they are not a company I should support. I should stick with the 70p vending machine in the library!

24/4/08 17:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Fairtrade vending machine has the most wonderful expresso hot chocolate! I find it hard to support the University-made food in the Information Commons however as the sandwiches they sell are ridiculously expensive due to the high quality bread and ingredients they make them with. Better off grabbing a tuna-mayo from the Union or making my own.

I definitely agree that Starbucks can have a deleterious effect on any student budget. I tend to stick to Caffe Nero near the Millenium Gardens as its cheaper, has a loyalty scheme and is not too bad to study in either come to think of it!

24/4/08 18:58  
Blogger Shari said...

Clearly, making your own coffee beverages is the way to go from a financial perspective.

*I* don't patronize Starbucks very often for financial reasons as well, though T. and I buy their beans through Costco as they are more economical and better quality than some Japanese beans. Doing everything yourself is always cheaper, but, every once in awhile, it's nice to sit down in a café and be served and soak in some atmosphere.

I just don't object to Starbucks on any sort of ethical basis, but I do agree that it's too expensive. Of course, one of the reasons that it's expensive are the very reasons I feel they deserve support - they pay decently and provide health care.

24/4/08 22:59  

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