I got given some first assignments. Two pages on Chinese ethnic groups language policy, with an emphasis on the autonomous region of Mongolia in China and one page on the limitation/bias one’s language can induce in everyday life. The courses are European and Asian languages and cultures, hence the linguistic approach on the papers.
It does sound kind of scary because these will be the first pieces of assignments I’ll be writing in Japanese. I laid out the subjects I wanted to talk about in English, very briefly and I’ll try to directly write in Japanese to avoid the terrible ‘translated’ essay style. There are no sources required for those, so there is no pressure to find precise academic material. I just have to get out of my head smart ideas and phrase them in Japanese. A challenge I am kind of excited for, even though I have barely a week to write them and this week will be very busy because my mom is coming (hi mom, soon you’ll be on the other side of the blog, or the globe, either way works anyway!).
So tomorrow it will be… !
I was a little bit less lost this week, or rather I was lost in different subjects than last week. It was also a bit harder to keep the curiosity of the first weeks going on and it can be kind of soothing to close my eyes when a ramble of Japanese goes through my ears. But I need to be strong and do my best to stay awake and extract some meaning out of these words.
Even during a 20mn Chinese documentary with Japanese subtitles.
My, those were intense 20 minutes.
I think my eyebrows have never dance that much for a long time. I was constantly frowning/looking confused and there must have been a slight ounce of exhaustion through my eyes in the end. Ahah, I really tried.
But my interest for China is growing when looking through the glass of all the ethnic groups the country is made of, so that’s good. I’m happy with that! Great thing because I have seven days to come up with two pages on it.
Went and developed some pictures today. Took only one hour at a new place I tried, and I now regret sending my first roll to another shop. The other shop said it would take two weeks.
I picked up the pictures after class, and was able to look at them on my computer and damn, the quality of these Japanese scanners. The file is really small so not really detailed but the colours are so good. Even the cheapest of film looks magnificent and has deep black.
I don’t know if this modern society and my generation of self-centered people or just below-the-earth-self-esteem-level that makes me obsessed with pictures of myself but there is one that came up that I like a lot.
Looking at it, I don’t really like the expression I have and I’d say I look pretty dumb on it, but I love the atmosphere. The grain of the picture reminds me old photographs of the 80s or 90s.
So I’m happy I have something to hold on, into the form of pixels and I can safely tell myself « this is me, see, you don’t have to hate yourself everyday, you’re nice here. »
I feel guilty posting pictures of myself and selfies always take me through an inner battle where I ponder or not to make it public. Which I know is for the most part useless worry, but worry that is there nonetheless.
Since I understood that identity is partly shaped by outside perception and partly shaped by one’s intentions, I know I still have a hold onto who I am and I’m not just the passive recipient of what people perceive of me (or what I think they’re thinking)(hello low self-esteem, please continue making me feel miserable.)
So I’ll hold onto pictures of me, where I like a bit of myself. And I can pretend I come from some previous decades where I know little enough to dare think it was a bit more worry-free.
I think I may be fantasizing a careless youth.
I’m a loner and I know it. I’ve come to accept and appreciate it.
To me, it is a synonym of liberty and independence. I don’t depend on anyone to make choices and decisions, it is all up to me to do or not do something. No unpredictable element in the equation, I do the math as I go along.
I have never really thought of what it must seem like from the outside and today I got a taste of it. I didn’t think I seemed as unapproachable (more in like, ‘she doesn’t seem like she wants anyone to hang out with her’) as I was but I have to face it. I understand that this is what it seems like.
I’m coming onto this exchange with a suitcase of experience and a year of « do and don’t » firmly pressed onto my brain. I know my way around things and unfortunately, I did become this bitter person that does not get as excited as newcomers since I’ve « already seen it. » So I’ve built this nice image of this French loner that can speak Japanese and does things on her own, and y’a know, we better let her because she seems like she has no interests in hanging there.
Which I did not interpret like that. I was more eager to do things on the next level. I’m looking forward travelling in East Asia and do not put as much importance on Japan as I used to. I’ve seen most of the big cities (even though, there is much left to discover) and I kind of shrug maybe a bit heartlessly the idea of seeing other Japanese cities. It doesn’t coordinate well with the ideas of other exchange students and I guess I found it easier to distance myself rather than be that person « Tokyo? Yeah, not a big fan, not sure it’s worth going there » when it could be someone’s else dream.
I don’t know, I feel like I’d be the perfect party pooper because I cannot seem to get excited for what I used to get excited about 3 years ago.
I guess I need to let it go? But at the same time, I cannot put away the fact that I want to speak Japanese and use what I learned. After all, came all the way through here to be immersed in Japan, not in an international expat settings… I guess I came with a different set of expectations.
I was thinking about that lately. What do I like about Japan? There is a lot I criticize and university gives me a hard time to free my mind and let some positive things come through my mood filter.
I guess the atmosphere, in general, has something special. This way of living (even though a lot of what I loved in this ‘harmonious society’ hides ugly, ugly personal sacrifices) where everything seems to flow perfectly together, where service is smooth and smiles are thrown to customers.
Maybe what touches me the most is how people are ready to get out of their way for others. I was walking around and walked up some mountains to visit a temple. A working monk who was gathering some wood sticks stopped to take the time to show me around the temple, ensuring I would see the best view, understand the history of the place and so on. He went to pick up a picture that recently came out in the newspapers. An old picture found from WW2 of one of the statues of the temple before the bomb exploded in Nagasaki. He also gave me some of the nuts he gathered and put outside to dry. He told me to wait a few weeks for them to dry and then eat them.
He could have just said hello and go on with his work. But he stopped, took the courage to see if I was speaking Japanese and went totally out of his way to share his time.
Same thing happened to a further temple. A lady saw me, surprised to find someone in this remote area (in one of the valleys of the numerous hills of Nagasaki) and she brought me to a little cave where a shrine was erected. Water was coming out of the rock and she told me that the temple had completely burned down because of the atomic bomb, and the damage done to the rock made the water came out. Since there was water shortage after the bomb, the city was dying of thirst and many people walked up the mountain to look for water. Most of them died along the way or before reaching the remaining of the temple. The bones were gathered and the temple was rebuilt, with many more souls to remember.
Nagasaki is full of history, may it be from hundreds of years ago or decades. It never stops.
These people went out of their way for a stranger, sharing a smile and a few words to a totally different culture.
This is what I love and this is a concept that always surprises me. It is common to be treated as a rarity here, and be different just for not being Asian*. May it be through positive discrimination (where your Japanese is the most wonderful thing ever heard just by the sound of your skewed « konnichiha ») or negative one (if you thought people didn’t sit next to you in the train because they’re nice, think again)(or if they just stare and refuse to talk to you/acknowledge you can speak Japanese), it is sometimes rare to experience an interaction that feels genuine.
I think that now that I can speak Japanese better day by day, I am craving these kinds of experience even more. I want to talk to people about their stories, the surroundings, without mentioning my « non-Asianness » or where I’m from* or how well I’m holding chopsticks.
I want to get past that stage and have real interactions. Even though courses in Japanese are harsh, I am trying to soak up the vocabulary learned and it’s a giant satisfaction to remember the words and use them. (and sound very smart when you’re talking about the ‘policy of that government’ or even the ‘influence of national language on minor ethnic groups’)(not that I talk about it often but y’a know, in case of!)
So it does feel like I am here with different expectations and it is weighing me down in regards to the other exchange students. I’m not the fun French to hang out with and I look very distant.
You can’t satisfy everyone but I guess I could work a bit on my social side because having friends won’t hurt uh? And Japanese friends are great, but they won’t relate 100% to what it is to live in Japan as a foreigner, and some compassion might not hurt.
Now I just need to be a bit more open and maybe also more forgiving. I cannot hold people to expectations I myself do not fill, and I need to remember that people are people.
No one is perfect, and you gotta embrace what works and what doesn’t.
Without pushing away the world when it doesn’t work.
*how nice is it to have the tables turned uh? When we put people apart for not being white? When we blame it on people not ‘integrating’ in Western society and we hold them to expectations that they do not meet to easily point the finger?
the wave I was surfing on is slowly dying again and here I am with a bit of ingratitude and unsatisfaction.
I’m not really happy. University seems like a joke, and a bad one. The courses in Japanese are now getting serious and even though they are really interesting, they are hard to follow. It requires a focus of 1h30 without breaks and it’s a continuous flow of words and unknown vocabulary crashing into my mind.
When it’s about known subject, it is alright and I can kind of guess. Dutch Culture for now is focusing on European history, and I understand not too badly. European Languages is so far alright, the second class being about the French language (with a professor that was speaking French and was delighted to let some French words flow)(and who apparently ‘never seemed so happy’ and he even talked about the fact that he could speak French with a student in another class ahah). Let’s see how it’ll be later on, but I’m trying!
The hardest is about Asian Languages and Cultures. The teacher is amazing, but the subject totally unknown. Today was about Chinese ethnicities and all the language policies/concepts China has been going through. I have a vague idea of what is going on with Chinese ethnicities but it is really, only the big picture. I was confronted today with the fact that there were 55 ethnicities in China, representing 8% of the population (the major one being the Hans, making up the rest) and as many languages etc… The names of each ethnicities kind of change in Japanese and I spent a great deal of time trying to understand each of them. Some of the handouts given as well could have been straight up Chinese too because of the number of kanji.
It’s really hard to translate and to follow the course at the same time. But I knew it when I took the course so I’ll just suck it up.
The sad thing is that the courses in Japanese are way more interesting than the courses in Japanese, which are dumbed down with a robotic teacher that speaks for 90mn without any intonations and no one understands what they say. I am very unhappy with the fact that one of them seems to be very bothered that I asked the course to be as indicated, in English. As a result, he just stares at me during 90mn, repeating the same information (about doing survey research, amazing) in different ways and making us watch the same 90s video about survey research in England. None of the Japanese students understand a thing and I am just exasperated. I’m not hiding it and I think we are both getting angry at each other.
He needs to take on his responsibility. If he said his course was in English, it will be in damn English. Do what you say damnit.
In addition, I understand that the things making me unhappy can seem a bit futile and easily put aside, but I find it hard to push it away really. I understood the fact that I sound like the grumpy/overstressed student and I feel like it has pushed away many other exchange students. Or if it has not, I receive bitter comments about the subject of my worries, and it doesn’t make things better.
I want to let go but I am not here to not completely care either. I can’t be completely detached because I still need to pass these courses. The other exchange students can allow themselves to fail their 3 courses, but I need to pass 8 to validate this semester. And I can’t remove this out of my mind when I am told that I worry for nothing and am basically ruining everyone’s mind. What I do now is that I shut up and go on living my life on my own, but I’m just eating up the anxiety and I let it flourish inside of me. I just end up feeling sick, tired and not amused.
Putting things and ideas into words is good for the mind, so I’ll really try my best to keep my rants and my negative impressions onto this blog.
My, it is complicated. I receive sweet words and support but I can’t help brushing them away like if I didn’t deserve it.
It feels like I am consciously putting myself into a hole, telling people about it and eventually adding: « by the way, no one helps me please, let me die here while I complain and you watch. »
Which is not what I want to be doing, but it feels like I’m well into that process.
Can someone come and help my self-esteem please?
It’s been a while.
I’ve been away on Friday, joining the Rotary of Kyushu for some more awesome opportunities. I’ll make it short but it was basically a lot of Chinese/Nagasaki food on Friday, with a tour in the Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum (which I’ve finally done), a talk from a survivor (which hurt right in the gut) and a night festival with some awesome placements. We were given the first seats to see dances and all the events associated with the Kunchi matsuri. This is an autumn festival, happening yearly for 380 years, with a lot of performances. It’s hard to describe but it was sure impressive to see and I didn’t use any of my seat privileges since I was too busy sitting on the raw floor in front of the performers to get some nice pictures.
[you’ll get the pictures when i’ll be done going through 9xx pictures i took…]
We slept in a hotel, in a traditional Japanese room, offering us a beautiful view on Nagasaki. Being in the outside onsen while watching the city was definitely a magic experience. The sunrise and the light waking us up through the window was also largely appreciated.
The whole thing was a bit overshadowed by the fact that my DSLR once more gave up on me. This time for some intern electronic mishaps and the rest of the pictures of the day were taken by phone.
Not that much of a problem because at 9 we were gone to Huis Ten Bosch, a gigantic theme park in the middle of Kyushu.
A theme park about the Netherlands. A freaking park about the Netherlands. With replicas of churches from Utrecht, train stations from Amsterdam and canals everywhere.
The funny thing is that everything is larger than the actual thing in the Netherlands. The canals are wider, the houses bigger with more spaces and the streets seem luxurious when really, the whole thing is covered with bikes ready to drive over you.
To add some reality to the whole theme experience, it was raining that day. And not a little bit. The Rotary being really prepared, each of us got a raincoat and we were ready to walk along the streets. I was with a Rotex (studying in my university and living in my dorm!!) who went to the USA and another one who just came back from exchange from the USA as well. We kind of made it a mission to focus our 4 hours visit on food and we started by getting frozen yogurt. Later on, we tried every free food sample the park had to offer, and let me tell you, they had a lot.
We tried everything. At least I did. I even went overboard and when it was time to hop on the bus back, I felt sick as hell. The good thing is that my intern illness waited for me to arrive home to release the kraken and I suffered long 13 hours of food poisoning. I think I ate something I shouldn’t have and all the sugar/fat I added onto it didn’t help.
I woke up on Sunday, and I needed to get up at some point so I did. I ran some errands with my bike and inexorably ended up at the food stalls of the festival. It was the last day and I absolutely wanted to try some of the food they had. Stuff like taiyaki (fish-shaped red bean paste cakes) are only found there and this is some of the stuff I love the most.
So I buckled up my body disagreements (and avoided to tell my mom that no, I didn’t follow a coke and rice diet, but rather a « festival-food based-diet » 24 hours after my food poisoning) and ate some of the stuff I really wanted. No one died in the end and I survived the aftershock pretty well.
I went back to sleep for a dozen of hours and woke up fresh like a flower on Monday morning. Great timing, Monday is a holiday day and the weather finally started to get fresher.
It is only 25 degrees in the apartment now in the morning, far from the 33 degrees of last week. Sleeping at night with the window open even felt a bit frisky, which is an appreciated sensation after weeks of Indian summer.
Autumn is definitely around the corner.
I went for a walk and gifted myself to a lunch outside to a nearby coffee. I then walked some kilometers to the center to try another French cake shop (where I got so much free cake, because the lady was excited that I was French)(and they were all very kind)(and the cakes good) and finally, I joined some friends to the top of Inasayama. It’s a very popular spot in Nagasaki and it took me a good month to finally see it, and oh my, it was so worth it!
The view was amazing and the sunset to die for. These shades of oranges shifting to pink progressively, and the reflection of the sun on the sea and the nearby islands was just a treat for the eyes. The fainting light on the city and the port was also pretty sweet, and overall, it was a nice way to end the day.
As soon as classes started, I finished all of them today. 8 classes crammed in 3 days, schedule got approved by my university (now waiting for my home university to accept the unchangeable :D) and I am now free!
How to describe the classes? Most of the classes in English started by the teacher scanning the class and looking terribly disappointed when he eyed a non-Asian person. He then proceeds to let out of his mouth some bitter words: « Do you… speak Japanese? »
We shake our heads.
« Alright… I… I wanted to do the course in Japanese if… if there were only Japanese people… But… okay… I’ll do it in English… I guess… »
Yes. Let’s make a real course in English, and not just write it on paper for the government to be proud of ‘so many Japanese universities offering courses in English’!
The classes in Japanese were way more interesting, the subjects helping: « Gender and Human Rights », « Asian Languages and Cultures » and « European Languages and Cultures » (with in addition a « Dutch Culture », 3 hours per week all in Japanese). It does take quite a big effort to understand because there are a lot of unknown vocabularies and I spent a good deal of time writing it down. But damn, it was interesting. I’m sad the language barrier (may it be for Japanese teachers or Japanese students) is so strong that they have to dumb the content of courses in English. Unfortunately, I have to take the courses because I need the credits, so interesting or not, I’ll take them.
So far, the content of the classes seems alright. Let’s be honest, it’s done the Japanese way. Students show up in class and proceed to gently fall asleep for an hour and a half. No one takes notes, they just stare in front of them while the teacher ignores the rest of the room and talks mindlessly. Once the class is over, students stand up and leave. So does the teacher, and everyone goes to their next class, to do the same thing over. Repeat that 6 times a day, and you have a classical day at university.
Of course, all courses aren’t the same. Dutch Culture is taught by a naturalized Japanese (born Dutch) and he’s doing his classes the Western way. What does it mean? He knows people will lose their attention, and he tries to do something about it. He makes the class interactive, asks questions, makes jokes and he succeeded to hold a class for 3 hours without anyone falling asleep. And damn, it’s a challenge when the class is from 4 to 7 on a Wednesday.
The first course of Gender and Human Rights was taught by a Mongolese-born Chinese, living in Japan (with a flawless, flawless Japanese) and she’s just the most interesting person to listen to. Fair enough, there is a lot of things I don’t understand in detail but I get the main idea, and this makes me very happy. In general, I think I have a total of 8 hours of classes in Japanese. So even though I might not understand all of it, my ears are gonna hear real and (hopefully) interesting Japanese for 8 hours a week. The only challenge is to keep the motivation of catching and writing down the words I don’t know.
And write reports and pass exams. This is the most important part.
Since no one takes notes, I have no pressure taking actual notes during class. Everything is done with handouts. The biggest challenge will be to write something coherent in a limited amount of time. But you know, I don’t want to things in half, so I’ll do my best to keep things serious. After all, I need to deserve the 4-days weekend I built myself for the next 6 months.
School (almost) sorted out, I decided to take my life in my hands and go eat cake. Yes, again some could say. It’s true and the workouts I’ve done so far do not excuse them but I felt like celebrating life for a while there.
I heard about a cafe during the Dutch evening party and I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, it was closed but I found something else on the side, while the area was completely busy preparing for Kunchi, one of the biggest festival of Nagasaki. It lasts 3 days and it has food stalls everywhere.
Happiness in a bucket.
Angie joined me (German fellow) and we enjoyed some lovely view in front of a sea sunset. My, I want this to be life. Cool atmosphere near the sea with sweet treats and good company.
The terrace wasn’t really busy and we stayed there for a while, enjoying the surroundings. When the sun set, we walked around the port and I was able to get some cool shots.
I re-discovered the concept of ‘night’ and the amazing feeling it is to walk at night in a T-shirt and shorts, with a slight breeze and not even the slight worry of getting harassed. We were just stopping there and there to take pictures, me trying to get countless long posed shots. Running to get the cruise ferry taking out of the port for its next destination in Asia. I didn’t get a good picture but just to see this giant sea building passing the bridge of Nagasaki is a treat for the eyes and for the heart.
I came back to my dorms by bike and got lost once more in my musical life guided by some « She’s A Rainbow » as always and « Isn’t She Lovely ».
Damn, do I enjoy nights here in Japan. It is worry-free, liberating and it heals the soul a bit. It pushes the anxiety away for some hours and you get a taste of carefreeness.