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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Japanese lesson, and cake

Been a funny day today. In some ways a little frustrating, as I spent about 4 hours trying to do the simplest bit of coding in MS Office Access, but failing. I’m hoping I have an early morning breakthrough tomorrow as I have every time I’ve run into a difficult problem with it so far.

Despite the frustration, I didn't really feel all that frustrated. Which I was happy about. Those books work wonders :-p

The view from the office balcony: looking between the neighbours

between buildings_0419

Last night's sloppy blog post did cause me a bit of disappointment, disappointment with myself. However, I’ve decided to take it as one of those precious lessons, and thus something to be grateful for, not regretful of.

Work at the office is starting to pick up now, with my telephone-conversation ‘classes’ (5 minute phone calls on topics such as personal info / directions / social issues in Japan) now taking up about four hours a day. [My job is firstly: taking 5 min conversation calls and marking written essays from my 300 students. Secondly: recruiting teachers for in-company classes throughout Japan]. The lower level calls are pretty easy, allowing me a little brain rest as I go through the routine. I find the higher level students really stimulating though, especially those who have lived abroad or are non-Japanese - being exposed to other cultures makes a huge difference in terms of attitude towards life.

As the departure of my British colleague approaches so I'm being slowly trained in what will be my new job. My core role will be recruiting new teachers, which necessitates a lot of good ole' human interaction, not just with potential employees, but also with many of my Japanese colleagues. This is something I positively look forward to - I really want to improve my Japanese, and this will provide me many opportunities for doing so.

workflow_0518

It will also give me the opportunity to develop a new teacher-recruitment workflow. Whilst the existing system works, it is pretty laborious, requiring far too many tedious stages that could either be automated or scrapped. I've started thinking how I might work this. Ideally, I'd like to be able to use my Mac to get it all sorted as Japanese Windows XP is pretty pants when it comes to automation (and more importantly it lacks the sex appeal of Leopard), but there may be some issues with data security, i.e. carrying a laptop to and from work each day. One way around that could be to keep everything on the shared server, and just use my mac as a portal. Well, we'll see.

Tonight I had my first tandem learning session with my new (qualified) Japanese teacher, who also taught my classmate Phil and whose brother taught another classmate of mine (all 'coincidentally'). Bloomin' marvellous.

As mentioned in previous posts, whilst I do use Japanese at home with *Twinkle* at times, on the whole we're using English so that she doesn't forget what she already knows ...the idea being that I use Japanese everywhere else. Which I do, but not very well. I'm too inclined to fall back on familiar grammar patterns, or simply Japonize English words. At work I tend to give up when I hit unknowns, like today when trying to explain the problem I was having with my database. Everyone speaks at least a little English, so it's only too easy to do.

My new teacher, Nami, gives me the opportunity to take the time I need to recall the vocab I've already learnt (but is buried at the back of my head). She corrects my persistent errors, and explains terms that I hear often but don't quite understand. She teaches me new vocab. Reminds me of kanji meanings. Prompts me to use polite Japanese.

Polite Japanese is possibly my weakest point. Yes, I can use it if I think about it, but I have a bad habit of slipping into casual speech. With Nami, I deliberately stick to polite / formal japanese in order to help develop that habit within me, as I'll need it if I'm going to do business in Japan.

She also took the time to explain to me the 'all new' Japanese Language Proficiency test, being introduced in 2010. I won't go into details here - my ex-classmate from Bristol has done a good job of outlining the changes a here if you'd like to know more - but basically, after 2009 it's going to get a lot harder as previous exam papers will no longer be published.

She'll not only be helping me learn the actual language, but will also be teaching me specific exam techniques that help one to pass JLPT.

I'm inspired by Nami (she also happens to be the first Japanese person I've met whose been as happy as I am to see Obama elected), and thus will be taking JLPT level 1 next July (as of next year the top two levels, 1 and 2 will be biannual). This excites me. She reminded me how much I love the Japanese language, and how much I love getting better at it. It's vital I have a goal to work towards - this is perfect. It would be only too easy to just get by with what Japanese I've got. There's nothing wrong with that as such, but it's not what I want for me.

How stiff are your whites?

eggwhites_0440

Living with *Twinkle* continues to be absolutely bloomin fantastic. We're both getting home pretty late most weekday nights, me with teaching and *Twinkle* with our Amway business. But we get to cuddle up together under a tonne of the warmest wooly blankets at night, and that's nice. The honeymoon period is far from over.

Green Tea and Strawberry Cake

cake making_0483

I've started taking a more active role with our Amway business lately, and am finding it very rewarding. More than anything, it gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded (mostly young) people, all looking for an alternative to the usual diet of graduate jobs (not that there's anything wrong with them if that's what you want to do). It also tends to involve eating a lot of good food, or, as was the case last night, cake. We had a professional cake chef (there must be a proper name for them) come up from Wakayama and teach us how to make various kinds of real simple and quick cakes. Reminded me of home - mum's home-made cakes are one thing I miss.

cakes up close_0449

cakes up close_0459

cakes up close_0502


Anyway anyway, I'd best tidy up and put the hottlebots on. It's getting chilly, and this house has an amazing ability to amplify the outside temperature, Need to be up early too for the second jog of the week :-)

xxx

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

My magnetic sweet tooth



Try as I might, I can't give up unhealthy food. Since I decided to not eat Japanese processed foods, especially those containing a lot of sugar, I have been bombarded with presents in the form of some of the most delicious unhealthy foods one could hope for. We're talking delicious caramelised biscuits, chocolate-cream packed buns, apple strudels, chocolates, sweet pastry pies. They come from all directions: visitors to our home, students, colleagues returning from trips away.

Oh, and from the convenience store at lunchtime. Yes, I've become addicted to trotting across the road at 1.30pm and buying a pack of 105 yen chocolate-coated peanuts. ...which they didn't have any of today, which is why I bought this box of white-chocolate almonds instead. Eaten in about 5 minutes.

I use the excuse that I'm jogging three times a week and need the energy / deserve it. What a load of rubbish.

As of tomorrow I won't do it anymore. I managed to give up buying alcohol. I can do the same with chocolate. Given the rate at which it flows into my life by itself anyway there's really no need for it.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Name that Root Veg

Ok then, here's a little research project for you: what are these?

They are labelled "Kogashira" in Japanese, and I have no idea what they are.

Answers on a postcard, or in the comments section. :-)

- EDIT -

Thank you for the feedback, both to Bibi and to mum no.2 and her extended network. I now have compete cooking instructions which I'll be giving a spin in the next couple of days. Will let you know how it goes!



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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Organic vegetables, Nelson Mandela, and your own thought processes

Ha. It's another of those nights. Those nights when I go to bed, but feel so excited about everything and nothing that I have to get up again.

Part of it's the music, I know. I'm listening to Everything But the Girl - Walking Wounded. One of the few CDs I ever owned. Bought it in Switzerland I think, Interlaken. That was before I knew any Japanese. I remember that as the CD case has a bit of Japanese on it, and it was only a few years after I'd bought it that I realised what it said (Eee bee tee jee = EBTG). It's truly wonderful how music can take you back in time to a place, to a feeling, to a state of mind. Listening to this and looking at my swiss photos sees me up that Alp in 1997. Caw, that part of the world is staggeringly beautiful. I do hope that *Twinkle* and I end up back there one day (by that I mean that I hope that that remains one of our goals).

My weekly Organic Vegee box from Beanies

Doesn't that fruit and veg look delicious?! I love organic vegees so much, more than any form of processed food - including Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. The taste of a fresh organic salad is, according to the interaction between my taste buds and mind, the most delicious taste there is. The taste of this pile of fruit and veg could only be surpassed by an identical box of produce that I'd grown myself. It will happen.

I had a difficult day yesterday. I was feeling troubled by Nelson Mandela's treatment having finished his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. What an incredible story. Certainly puts things into perspective. I think of his 27 years of incarceration, and of the appalling hardships endured by black South Africans under Apartheid, and then I think of complaints that I or my friends might have about noisy neighbours, our language course, or what so-and-so said... and I am reminded how spoilt we are. We have so much to be grateful for. Every single day.

Thank
.

You
.

When I reached the part of the book where he described his release I paused and paid a visit to You Tube, where I observed the same scene from outside of his body. Having just gained an insight into what had led to that moment I found it to be incredibly moving. I wiped the tears away, and bang! I was back there. Not South Africa, but our lounge, in front of the TV. It was the 11th of February 1990; I was 12 years old. ...I can vividly recall watching that live news report on the BBC. I'd heard of Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, and I remember being excited, and so happy, running around the dining room and the lounge.

It was cold outside.

Sun shines down beyond the Arts Tower

I went to give blood today. Unfortunately due to my history of epilepsy, I'm unable to be a donor until 2011, and was actually advised to never give blood. It's not that my blood poses a risk to others, it's that giving blood poses a risk to me in that it could trigger a seizure.

The nurses were very good about it - they could see I was upset. In fact, they treated me even more nicely after that, insisting that I go and sit down and have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

So, I'll just have to make do with saving people when I die instead :-) ...and keep on buying cakes all week from the Bone Marrow Society. (Bloomin' good cakes too).

I was pretty surprised by how many people were there. It was like discovering a whole hidden culture of Good Samaritans. How come I had never tried to donate blood before?



Been missing *Twinkle* a lot this week. In a way I wish I could bottle this experience, and keep it as a reminder for future years when we are 'always' together, to ensure that I don't get complacent, to ensure that I stay concious of how fortunate we are (will be) to be able to share our lives with one another.



I feel I've become more aware of our differences this year. Having so much space enables one to step back and think about how differently one sees some things. That's not a bad thing at all. I see her as my teacher, thus the more differing perspectives, the more we can both learn (I would add that I don't think that the differences would be so welcome if there was not an underlying meeting of spirit!).

I'm grateful that over the past year I have been encouraged to explore the idea that there is no right and wrong - there is only differing perceptions of 'reality'. This proves to be especially helpful in situations where social norms would normally dictate that conflict was the appropriate response. With there being no 'right' and no 'wrong' there is no impulse to convince the other that one is 'right'. One can have a completely different opinion from someone else, and yet accept that they are just as 'right' as you. After all, the 'thing', whatever it is, just is. It has no implicit meaning, it only has the meaning that we assign to it.

This way of thinking has really helped me to back down and accept *Twinkle*'s way of thinking without my pride getting in the way. I've not quite got it down to a fine art yet though - far from it! But, being aware is the first important step, and I'm glad to have taken that.

Changing the subject, this past week I've been marvelling at the brain's ability to assign meaning to things I see. I've been playing a little game whereby I look at something, and then observe my thought process as meaning is assigned. Of course normally it happens to fast that we barely notice (you look at a traffic light, and before the you know it, you know it's a traffic light!), but you can slow it down. One method is to turn the lights off so the room is pretty dim, then look around until you make out a shape. You can actually see you brain sorting through an amazingly comprehensive database of images, experiences, feelings, meanings! Absolutely amazing (and we think Google is clever...!). Another way to set yourself up for this experiment is to reduce the exposure on a bunch of photos, so the subjects are barely visible. Or, next time you meet someone whom you know you recognise but can't actually place or name, watch your brain sift through your memory bank in a bid to come up with a match of sorts.

Ahh, the pleasure of introspection!

Well, I'd best be off to bed. Up early tomorrow, and my list of things to do is almost as long as my nose :-)

Mush love xxx

p.s. I want this girl's voice.

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