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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Epic B&W Tokyo Sunset


I've decided to re-post the black and white shot of yesterday's sunset over Tokyo, and also upload a much bigger version should people want to try and find their houses :-)

View / download the Big Picture here.

I particularly like the way the new skyscraper in Naka Meguro stands out, with its two little ears (which are actually cranes).

Thanks to Orchid64 and CherrySherbet for the kind comments that prompted me to do this!

n.b the 'Epic' in the title refers to the sunset and not the photo... :-)

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Sunset over Tokyo

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Note Mount Fuji rising above the Kanto horizon

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These were taken from the roof of the 53-storey Mori Tower, Roppongi Hills.

The skydeck reminded me of a ship. Big sky, and a huge sea of buildings. Admittedly you don't tend to get many buildings in the sea, but nonetheless...

You can just see Mount Fuji poking up above the horizon in this one.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaijin Bubble - Being a good husband - Taking action

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Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of 'being a foreigner' is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I've been out and about, and completely forgotten that I'm a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I'd regressed to those times when I didn't understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I'm becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly 'Japan', they're just 'home'.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I'm somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don't like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don't see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I'm the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube - I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this - it's called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone...

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I'm finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it's awareness that's the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this 'fact', the film became even more translucent.

It's all my perception.

I know this. I've always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.



Recently I've been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I'm not sure what brought it on, but it's likely to have been my experience at the office, as that's where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn't have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases - the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I'm not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That's pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn't have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I'm currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I'm finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I've Mumbled about it before, and I'll say again what I said then: there's nothing in this book that you haven't read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins' books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It's this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or 'lack of Japanese language skills'.




This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it'll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography :-) But still, I found other people's reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme's, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they'd changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).


This got me thinking about how I've grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn't necessarily want to know. I'm fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered 'ok' by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I've not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I'm also glad I had a few 'serious' relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren't quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn't have to put up with all that kind of crap (it's not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It's taken New Year to make me act on this one. It's only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to 'be nice' when one really doesn't want to be nice isn't actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer's work - he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention - I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I'm also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don't see last year as having been the real milestone - that's this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I'm far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I'm only making the situation worse. It's time for an end to 'recognising' things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let's make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I'm greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I've not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven't got time.

That's a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I've just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I've taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I've also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that's a distinct possibility.

I'm going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I'd best be off to bed, I'm doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I'll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Japanese dogs: the most fashionable in the whole world

Dog fashions have come on a fair bit in the last few years. Here's some of photos taken in Yoyogi park of the coolest bow wows on the block.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A walk to work

The other day I decided to get off the subway one stop early and walk the last bit to the office. I took a few photos along the way as I circumnavigated the north-west corner of the grounds of the Imperial Palace.

Clever map thing courtesy of the iPhone & Everytrail (click to open walk in new window)


Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Geotagging

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Think I'll take the next one

(part two)

What amazes me is how most of the time everyone does actually fit in when the doors close. Having said that this morning there was a whole leg sticking out of the next, which made the carriage look like some kind of hybrid centipede...

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Monday, October 20, 2008

People in the park

A few more recent shots from Kitanomura park, Kudanshita.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Laser eyes, the work, the friends and the MCs

You find me sitting in the waiting room at the Shinagawa Laser Eye Clinic in central Tokyo. ...feeling queasy. *Twinkle* has just been taken up to the 15th floor to have her eyes done, leaving me in the big waiting room on the floor below, stuck in front of a TV showing an instructional video on what's going to be done to her. I find it positively terrifying, but try and reassure myself by thinking of all the people we know who have had it done lately, and how they could 'see' immediately after the op, and made full recoveries within a day or two of being fried. It's pretty affordable too (about £700 paid interest-free over two years) - well worth it considering the difference it will make to her daily life.

Anyhow, I need to try and take my mind off it, so let's talk about something else.

Mr. Joseph the Teacher

I've had a fair bit of part-time work since I got back to Japan. The vast majority of it has been through the English school in Shibuya, where most classes are taught one-on-one. Many students are there to learn English for a particular purpose (usually a business trip to the US/ Australia etc); this makes lesson planning and execution a lot easier (especially with the additional ideas and support I've received from my friend Shari). I also have a couple of private students I meet in quiet cafes. Also, today I had a successful interview for a long-term part time contract teaching weekly group lessons at an American firm's Tokyo office.

My full-time job starts Monday; looking forward to that.

Joseph the househusband

Outside of paid work I've been pretty busy with housework and 'admin'. With our marriage came the need to change *Twinkle*s details on accounts of all kinds, then there was the house move, changes in insurance policies, a new Internet contract, misplaced tax bills, lost bank books, forgotten online banking passwords and so forth. When I finally received my gaijin card (foreigner's ID card) I had to update all my accounts with the new address. There's not much left to do ...just need to get my Japanese driver's license I think.

I find sorting these kind of things out really satisfying. Perhaps it's the control freak in me, wanting order in my life. I like to have a clear picture in my head of what policies we have where and what's due when - it enables me to get on and concentrate on the important stuff.

The house is also starting to feel comfortable. Latest additions include a plant, and 2 x 780yen plastic stationary sets of drawers. They have CHANGED MY LIFE. I now have a whole drawer dedicated to pens, and another to scrap paper, with the other four also having their own unique role. With the arrival of the drawers, so we see the departure of the living out of boxes (except for the other cupboard.

I've also cleared out all the salad crops from the tubs on the balcony, except for the aubergine plants which are still producing. Bought ten tulip bulbs and look forward to planting them and watching them shoot. I'd like to plant some winter crops too - any ideas dad?

I'm getting better at making bread in the wok, although still need to experiment a bit more to get it good and crusty (by applying water and flour to the surface) without deflating it post-rise. I'm also enjoying making simple things like fruit salad (little known in Japan) and potato salad. Nothing too ambitious, but very healthy, tasty, nutritious and rewarding nonetheless.

We're pretty much completely vegetarian at home now. We might get a bit of chicken in when guests come to visit, but other than that we feel really good without any meat. I'm really grateful to *Twinkle* for being so accommodating (although it hadn't been a request of mine).

Joseph's foreign friends

I've really enjoyed having quite a lot of contact with my friend Tom (who lives pretty near us in Meguro-ku) - I can see the weekly Sunday morning jogs around the Imperial Palace becoming a long-term part of my routine. They're almost therapeutic. It's good being in phone contact with Stu as well - our schedules at the moment mean that I've seen a lot less of him than I'd like to have done. Hopefully we can work something out so we can ensure that life doesn't get in the way of communication.

That's something I missed in the UK - male (and to a certain extent female) friends whom I could talk to about pretty much anything. I think perhaps it's being in Japan that has enabled me to develop these friendships which otherwise might not have come to much, as I'm usually much more inclined to hang out with and talk to women. Here, we have shared challenges / experiences, and I think it's these that served as a foundation upon which the friendships have been built.

I've found that marrying *Twinkle* has led to a stronger sense of kinship on my part towards both Tom and Stu, both of whom have Japanese wives. Whilst our relationships are all very different, we all have our challenges at times, and it helps to be able to share these things.

It's only in writing this now that I appreciate just how much it means to me to have foreign friends in Tokyo. Last week, *Twinkle* and I visited two young 'old colleagues' of mine from the place of work I'll be returning to next week after six years away. I've not seen them in years, although I must say that due to the communication we've had via our blogs it didn't seem like a case of 'long time no see' at all. Alongside pizza we were treated to Shari's delicious homemade hummus. I tell you, it was fantastic, the genuine article, certainly didn't expect to find myself indulging in that here in Japan.

Anyhow, food aside, it was lovely to spend time with them and chat about this and that. They are the kind of people in whose presence it is hard not to feel relaxed (something which no doubt plays a part in their popularity as teachers); it felt good sharing 'stuff' with them, and I wondered to what extent our all being foreign played a part in creating such an atmosphere.

Ogura san, our homeless friend

I'm continuing to work on extending my social circle, which is currently distinctly square shaped. I've joined the Vegan Runners Club and Toastmasters, so should be giving them both a shot later this month. *Twinkle* and I meanwhile have been trying to open up our house a little more, now it's relatively organised (only one cupboard left to go). We've had a few visitors, including our homeless friend who sells the Big Issue in Shibuya, who came to supper the other night accompanied by another member of his support group of which we are members. As I mentioned in a previous post, he's a really interesting guy - now in his 50s, he owned his own company until someone else's business for which he had acted as a guarantor went belly up, resulting in him losing everything overnight.

Business, income, house, wife and child, all gone, just like that.

He often says that he can hardly believe that he's now homeless. He never even dreamt of the possibility. It's unfortunate that in Japan homeless people have the odds stacked against them: in addition to the discrimination they face, with no fixed abode they are not entitled to government assistance. Without government assistance it can be hard to find work that will generate an income sufficient to maintain a small home - it's a vicious circle.

He's now working to set up an NPO to support people like himself. It's hard though. Whilst Big Issue sales might generate enough for him to afford to stay in an Internet cafe overnight, it's not enough to lift him out of the hole he's in, thus his ability to move forward is hampered by a need to provide for today.

Despite all this, he's incredibly positive, with a similar outlook upon life as myself. We're working to try and promote the work he's doing and hope to have him speak at an event that we're organising for next month.

Ogura san can be found most days on the East side of Shibuya station.

MCs *Twinkle* and Tame

Speaking of events (and as mentioned before) *Twinkle* and are scheduled to MC at a meeting for 500 business-minded people in their twenties on Saturday. The aim is to encourage them to pursue their dreams (whatever they may be), and not just follow the crowd into jobs in which they have little interest, but feel they 'ought' to take. We have a few fairly high-profile speakers lined up whose names I forget. There's a nice article on one of them in this month's 'Free and Easy' Magazine featuring him camping in the Japanese outback, Ray Mears stylee.

I'm a bit nervous about that, as it's all going to be in Japanese, and I don't really know what I'm supposed to say or do.

Whether we will end up MCing or not I'm not quite sure. Since beginning this blog 5 hours ago we've returned to *Twinkle*s family home, and her eyes are now causing her an awful lot of pain follow the surgery. Thankfully she seems to be sleeping now; hopefully she'll be feeling better by tomorrow morning.

iPhone Update

The iPhone remains my darling. The new Facebook app is absolutely fantastic, taking advantage of the iPhone's distinct characteristics and putting on a pretty slick show, a great example of what a mobile app can be. I look forward to the other apps I have also being updated to more reflect rhe iPhone style rather than just feeling like ported versions of apps for other platforms.

It's also proving its worth whilst we have no broadband. For example, without the iPhone I wouldn't have got the job that I got today. That'll more than pay for the monthly contract.

However, I do find the iPhone's lack of an audio / vibration alert for new emails to be a bit of a pain, especially when *Twinkle* and I are carrying out a text conversation. Thus, I've bought a second mobile which does make a noise, and which also happens to give me free calls and sms to not only *Twinkle* but to all of my in-laws, and vice-versa.

When will Japanese carriers allow SMS to be sent cross-network me wonders?

My new phone basically uses the same OS as my old mobile, so hasn't required any brain power to make it work. I'm very impressed by the new predictive text function though, just amazing. Shame the iPhone can't match it when it comes to Japanese.

Anyhows, that about sums it up for now. As you can see, we're pretty busy, but things are good, very good.

oyasumi xxx

[EDIT] Happy to report that the patient has just woken up and CAN SEE! They were right when they said it would just be painful for a few hours - what an amazing thing the human body is!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pace picking up

I'm starting to get pretty busy now, with increasing numbers of private students contacting me through www.findateacher.net and www.nativesensei.com. In addition to that, the Shibuya school is throwing a lot more work my way - I have another full day of 1-on-1 tomorrow (thanks to Shari I'll be better prepared this time!)

Today I was reminded of another benefit of teaching abroad - you're able to learn a lot about the culture your in from your students. I've been fortunate this weekend to be able to teach an advanced-level student for about four hours. In that time I've learnt quite a bit about Japanese financial institutes, which to my surprise I found completely fascinating.

Had a great jog around the Imperial Palace with Tom this morning (about 5K) - we plan to make this a regular Sunday morning thing, which I'm very happy about. My knees didn't play up at all, although my left hip did go into granny mode towards the end.

Other exciting happenings today: received a big box of vegees from *Twinkle*s mum via Pelican Express - it's quite a tradition in Japan for parents to send food parcels to their children in the cities, a tradition I'm very grateful of. Not quite sure what all the vegetables are mind you, there's some kind of rooty things that I've never seen before. Will have to ask *Twinkle* when she gets home.

Feeling very grateful to already know my way around Tokyo, and not having to learn where everything is from scratch. I've been wondering, how did I managed to feel settled back in 2002 when there were so many unknowns?

I'm also enjoying living in an area I've not lived in before. I've never felt terribly comfortable with Shibuya in the past - it's always been that place 'down there' full of people and blahhhhh. But now it's becoming my hub: I work there, our office is there, I pass through it when going elsewhere. It's not all that bad really. I'm starting to feel quite fond of it.

I set about preparing for December's Japanese language proficiency test this afternoon. Bought a text book, went to the website to register ...only to find that I'd missed the deadline for this year! Silly me. Oh well, I'll still continue to study anyhow. I really want to improve my Japanese, I feel it's very important for me personally that I do continue to develop those skills, it makes such a difference.

iPhone continues to be incredibly useful, starting to get to the stage of "what did I do without it?". 3G is very fast. The keyboard with its automatic error correction is fantastic - you can get about half of the letters wrong and it still knows what you mean!

Right, best get on with lesson prep. TTFN

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Do you recognise this man?

I can't be the only one who is being stalked by this man - I've seen him several times since I got back, and I remember him from 2006/ 2007 too.

Does anyone know anything about him? Is he a local celebrity like Hello Kitty Scooter Gran in Niseko?

(Apologies for poor photo - iPhone will only take non-blurry pictures if it is embedded in a 23 tonne lump of concrete).

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Streets where we live

Here's the stables I was twittering about yesterday, just along the road from our house. Am amazed by Google's coverage of Tokyo.


View Larger Map

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Himonya Matsuri

Seems that the mini-procession yesterday was just a warm-up for today's festival.

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The chap with his back to us is hitting two sticks together to keep the team in time

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I like the contrast in this one

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Check out the little kiddies hitting the big drum

More photos on Flickr

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hello from Tokyo

hello hello, brief update from amongst the piles of *stuff*.

It's so good to be back with *Twinkle*. Things are better than ever. Interesting how marriage has changed the relationship (in a good way).

We moved into our new apartment. It's small, and suffers from damp, although that should improve once the heat passes. Good location (very close to city centre), next to a big park so we have a nice green view.

We'll move as soon as we can afford it though, as we're told it's absolutely freezing in winter.

I've applied for my gaijin card and health insurance, bought my iPhone. It is as lovely as I thought it might be. Strokey strokey.

Have a job interview Monday which I'm looking forward to. Need to get down IKEA too and get some bookshelves, I'm not too good at living in such a messy environment.

Been feeling a bit shocked at being here, keep on having to remind myself that it's not just for one year this time. Really looking forward to feeling settled.

xx

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Beware the Jubjub bird


Seven pretty strong earthquakes 100 miles from Tokyo today. I tend to worry when that happens. makes me wonder if *twinkle* is OK, as her parents' house is pretty old. If she's OK, it's likely my other friends are too (and she's fine, texted me news updates as they struck!) (although of course if it was a really big one, not like the '4' it was in Tokyo today, then I'd make sure I contacted all of my friends too [don't want them feeling unloved]).


I took a trip back in time tonight, by participating in the university's Mature Student's Open Evening. Sitting there listening to the finance chap explaining about FundaFinder, student support talking about the mature student's committee - wow, it was like 2004 all over again.

And the questions, exactly the same questions I'd asked 4 years ago. Except this time I was one of the people at the front of the lecture theatre helping to reassure everyone.

I find it interesting trying to read audiences. Initially, I was a bit concerned that they weren't having fun. I'd tried beforehand to amuse them when giving a tour of the IC, but they hadn't really responded. I think a lot of them were quite nervous: as one lady said to me afterwards, she felt like an impostor, that she shouldn't really be in a uni full of students. That reminded me of how I'd felt. For a moment I was able to forget that everything was familiar to me and see it as that big scary university that 'students' went to. After only 4 years I feel like a part of the brickwork.

Anyhow, back in the auditorium it was my turn to introduce myself.

What is it about public speaking that excites me? I don't know. I just love it. It's like a drug. I told them a couple of stories of some rather stupid things I did when I started uni - that got them laughing (at me, not with me).

It's a shame I don't have anything interesting to say that I could turn into some kind of show :-p

I got paid for tonight's efforts too, money that will go towards the wedding fund. Not only that, but I was able to bring two huge left-over platters of dips, wraps and desserts home from the new and improved uni catering service. Should stop me buying chocolate for a while.

Oh, and this morning I got paid for writing a short article about my uni experiences for a newsletter, perhaps the first time I've ever been paid to write anything (outside of CILASS). It felt good.



I had a consultation with a CV expert this mornin', armed with a document that hasn't been updated in 12 years. Sure, it's had stuff added to it, but no change in format. I was surprised by how much CV standards have changed - it seems these days it's ok to do away with a work timeline, and instead use wig wiggy stylee web two point woah woah wigness to portray your experiences. I shall endeavour to make it as exciting as possible. I was also thinking, perhaps I could record a mini-self intro and post it to YouTube - that might make an impression upon employers ("bloody hell, he really is as much of an idiot as suggested by his personal statement"). I'd just have to be careful that I didn't show my profile, or I would instantly be cast aside for having an oversize nose.



Tomorrow then is Thursday. This means two classes, the first of which is a newspaper class, hosted by Hugo (he who has a Facebook group devoted to him, titled "I have a crush on Hugo Dobson". Incidentally, I'm not a member, although as it will probably be him marking my dissertation I might have to start a new group called "Buy this book or this book or this book or this book or this book or this book or this book coz they're great".

Ok, enough jabberwocky. Best get on with dealing with this frumious Bandersnatch.

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