Monthly Archives: August 2005

Beer (and skittles) is not an option!

It’s strange to think that I’ve been here less than a week. Having got accustomed to living in Seminar House 4, I’m about to move out. I meet with my host family in about two hours’ time, and get taken to my home for the rest of this semester. I’m kind of excited, as my family seem pretty cool. There are three children, ranging in age from early twenties to one year younger than me – just what I wanted, as I get on better with people my own age or older than young kids. One is even a Kansai Gaidai student, which is great.

Others haven’t been nearly so lucky. Janey found out that her host family were a 60-to-70-something couple who put as the reason for hosting her “We feel lonely without children”. They’re blatantly going to smother her, which could be either great, or not so great depending on her point of view. Taking the ‘supportive’ view, one of her friends took to constantly reminding her that, being old, they could die at any time. Another guy’s host ‘family’ consisted of one 70-year-old woman who listed her hobbies as “beer and skittles, playing mah-jong”. One of the things about being in a fluid environment, such as your first week at a new uni, is that people can cross your path any number of times, but you still have trouble remembering them. So, when people began a story about “this one guy” and his host family, I’d immediately shout “beer and skittles guy!” and I’d always be right. I’d think it was some kind of Kansai Gaidai urban legend, were it not for the suspicion that I first heard it from the guy himself.

I also found out the results of my Japanese placement test yesterday. I was placed in Level 3, 1 being beginner and 5 being near-bilingual. Out of the four other Leeds students, two were in 3 and two in 4, so there’s no shame in being placed there. In fact, last year’s students were placed in either 2 or 3. I was pleased with how I did, since I was convinced that I’d done terribly on the test. I know I’ve let myself slip over the summer (and possibly the whole of the first year) and I want to do better now I’ve been this given this awesome opportunity. I’ll try my absolute hardest to do well, and move up to level 4 if I can. And now it’s on the internet, I’m relying on you to hold me to that.

…Looking back on what I’ve just wrote, I hope Dr Weste (the director of the year abroad program) doesn’t google my name and read what I’ve written in parentheses in the last paragraph. Well, I’d better go prepare for meeting the Ogawas. I hope wherever (and whoever) he is, that guy is enjoying his beer and skittles.

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My crib


This be my spot, not your spot.


Seminar House 4 from the outside.

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The Typhoon Party and other True Adventures

Well, contrary to my expectations, the typhoon party was a raging success. As we had been warned about the possibility of a typhoon off the coast of Japan disrupting the last days of orientation, it seemed as good a name as any to give to our first proper party. During one meeting, the subject of alcohol was raised. With booze strictly forbidden in the dorms, “sleazy” bars off-limits, and drinking on the street frowned on by the Japanese, a student asked what options were open to us. The unflappable Japanese teacher suggested going to an open-air park. Taking him at his word, that was exactly what the American students (including Jesse, the guy who broke off from his diahrroea story to invite me) managed to organise.

We wandered off to a small park down the road from Seminare House 4, and drank and mingled. I made a good few friends that night, and probably forgot a few as well. Although Jesse and his mates were pretty close to the “jock” stereotype of innumerable American teen movies, they were also a bit deeper than that. They were very concerned about creating litter in the park, and stayed behind to pick up others’ beer cans and cigarette butts. I’ve always been able to get along with most people, and it’s nice to find that even the most stereotypical people have more dimensions than you see at first.

Of course, the pursuit of such youthful hijinks meant that I (and probably a few others) had to face the opening ceremony with a ferocious hangover. A can of iced coffee later (a great boon if you need a pick-me-up and cool-me-down at the same time), I sat through the ceremony completely unfazed. The highlight was the university president’s translator, who spoke English with a voice like one of those American stand-ups from the 50s who made jokes like “Take my wife. Please!” We then repaired to the cafeteria for the buffet, where I was cornerned by a student from the Leeds contingent called Mark. This individual then proceeded to subject me to a barrage of invective concerning the country currently sheltering and supporting us.

The violence of his expression and tone was quite breathtaking. Imagine, if you will, the monologue of a serial killer, recited at double time in a reedy, camp American accent with odd Irish inflections on some vowels. It wasn’t the theme of his rant (that the Japanese drink, fight, steal and consort with prostitutes at least as much as us, if not more. Wow, what a shocker) I disliked, but the high-handed, patronising tone he took with me and Ilkka, another Leeds student. I’ve met people like him before, who acquire knowledge not for its own sake but to browbeat others into submission. His innate air of superiority instantly marked him out as someone from whom I do not wish to learn anything, even if he had anything to value to impart. So sorry, Obi-Wan, but I’m not going to be your Padawan learner. Sad, I know, but life’s tough like that.

On a more positive note, I’ve fallen in with a great gang of people; the same lot I went out with on my second night here. They’re mostly Americans, and therefore love my accent. This probably isn’t helped by the fact that I tend to play it up when I’m being funny, or drunk, or both, until I sound like a character in a Richard Curtis film. But they’re brilliant. We have the same sense of humour (which meant we spent a couple of hours today talking about bizarre sexual practices), and one of them, Janey, is awesomely good at Japanese, which for once doesn’t make me jealous but inspires me to do better every second I’m around her. The only way is up.

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My second first year

This is only my second full day at Kansai Gaidai. Since I arrived the evening before last, I’ve been meeting new people, making friends, going out and exploring our new home – and I love it. It’s struck me that, in effect, this is my second chance at a first year, and I’m going to use that opportunity to its fullest.

After the flight, we were picked up at the airport by Kansai Gaidai and driven to our dorms. Another student from Leeds was on the same flight as me, so I had someone to keep me company on the journey. As soon as we stepped into Seminar House 4, an immaculate modern building which had been constructed just this year, we were met by students sitting around in the entry hall, where people’s shoes were left. Three girls asked me were I was from, and I asked them the same.
“South Africa.”
“Lithuania.”
“The United States…” And here she looked slightly apolgetic and added, “Sorry.”
It occured to me that in the first thirty seconds in my dorm, I’d met more different nationalities than I had in my entire first year at Leeds.

All the international students are living in dorms until the weekend, when those are doing homestay (such as yours truly) move in with their families. The rooms are spacious enough, even with 3-4 people sleeping there, and have tatami mat floors, the awesomeness of which I still can’t get over. Seminar House 4 is situated about ten minutes walk away from the campus. Coming out of the building, you turn right and get a view of the typical Japanese skyline of low-roofed traditional houses and blocky modern buildings crowded together, power lines strung between them. You can walk along this road to Kansai Gaidai, some shops further along, or a bus stop that will take you into the centre of Hirakata City. Some photos of the above to follow soon, hopefully.

The campus itself is also quite shiny and new. It seems quite small, but I realise that it must be average-size; it’s only small compared to Leeds. I’ve done the registration thing of many long meetings and even more bits of paper that have to be signed, stamped and filled in to the exact last detail before you can get rid of them. But to the victor, the spoils, and I was officially registered as a student this morning, as well as getting a bank account set up. It’s been a lot of activity for two days, and stuff seems to happen a lot quicker.

For example, I ran into a guy and a girl (who were boyfriend and girlfriend from the same university) while looking for info on a course I wanted to register for. Then, while chatting with them and their friends later, I got invited out for dinner. By the evening, I was sitting round a table with five Americans and a Canadian, laughing and joking like they were old friends, when most of us had met each other less than 24 hours ago. It’s this kind of thing that makes people want to travel and do things, and keeps anxiety and homesickness at bay. The socialising may well continue tonight, as I was invited by a guy I met in the corridor to a ‘typhoon party’ at a park near Seminar House 4. The fact that a) I’d never talked to this guy before, and b) he was telling a long and involved story about his diarrhoea when I passed him could temper my enthusiasm, but we shall see.

[NB. All times for my posts from Japan will be adjusted to local time. I don't want you thinking my sleep patterns are all over the place. Even though they are. Uh. Whatever.]

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Leaving

Subject is in the title, kids. I’m leaving tomorrow, on JAL’s 8pm flight from Heathrow. Am I excited? You bet. Am I scared? You bet some more. But I still wouldn’t be doing anything else. I feel like I’ve had quite a long summer (God knows what a break from late June to late September would do to me), and though I love Histon and Cambridge, I am a little too used to them. I can’t wait to spend time living and learning on the other side of the world.

This evening was spent at my friend Matt’s house, having dinner with his family. A little act of kindness that I’m immensely grateful for, as I can imagine how I’d feel rattling around in my empty house on my last night. As it is, I’m keeping my nervousness under control. Although that’s the thing about being nervous. It only happens until you’ve got something to keep you busy. I’ll be nervous on the bus, in the airport, and on the plane, and then when I land, there’ll be so many things to take care of that it will just fade away.

I’d better go and put the finishing touches to my hand luggage, and maybe (gosh!) tidy up the house a bit. An entirely new experience is just round the corner. I can’t wait.

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Strangers Amuse Me: An Occasional Series

Wandering through town today to retrieve my bike and go home, I saw a group of three girls about my age. One of them looked like someone I knew, so I walked closer, wondering when I’d have to introduce myself. Realising it wasn’t her, I quickly changed course so I was walking alongide them. They were about the same age as me, were pretty in a nondescript way, and had excitable cut-glass accents, meaning they were either students from Cambridge or students at Cambridge (there’s a difference, believe me). The girl I’d mistaken for a friend was talking to her friends about Christmas trees: “Both trees in their flat were stolen! That’s OK, students are meant to steal things…” At this point, the trio drew level with me as I was walking to the bike rack. “…But stealing from a charity shop?!”

I gritted my teeth as a big grin threatened to split my face. As they walked off into the distance, the girl added “And he thought it was OK, because they took it back after Christmas!” I threw back my head and guffawed. Oblivious to the effect they’d had on me, the three girls walked off into the distance.

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Free frisbees and generous goodbyes

Well, I won’t see my family again for five months or so.

We said goodbye at about 5 this morning (it could have been 5 but, to be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention), as they set off on holiday to France. In ten days I go to Japan. In between then I shall be packing my things, doing some last-minute brushing up on my Japanese, and wondering how to blow my inflated loan instalments (higher cost of living out there, don’cha know).

A rather more civilised parting from my mum, dad and my sister occured at 8 last night, before I set out to what has become a regular fixture in my social calendar: the pub quiz at The Boot every Thursday. Attended by a varying group of friends I know from secondary school, our fortunes in the quiz are equally flexible. The high point was getting second place a few weeks ago, and winning two bottles of terrible white wine for our troubles. I am in fact feeling the effect of the second bottle as I write … classy!

After the quiz (our team name, which tries to reflect events in the news, was Bakri’s Return Ticket) we went back to my friend Matt’s house and polished off the last bottle of our winnings. Although we didn’t win anything in the quiz, I won a frisbee in a Strongbow promotion, which led to the invention of what I like to call night-time Aussie rules street frisbee, with extra points for leaping garden fences to retrieve the thing. One of the better nights out you can have in my village.

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