Monthly Archives: December 2005

At Home He’s A Tourist

It has been remarkably easy to slot back in to life in Histon. The village and the people in it haven’t changed, the fens in winter look beautiful as ever, and I have spent a lot of my time either eating food I can’t get back in Japan, or sitting in pubs having a few drinks with my friends. To be honest, I don’t think this holiday could have turned out any better.

My Christmas haul was smaller than previous years, but all the more well-considered for that. Along with a new stereo system with DAB radio (to replace the one which broke dring my first year at Leeds), I got two guide books to China, a couple of books on Japan, Citizen Kane special edition DVD, some clothes and other bits and bobs. One of the best presents was Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons, a damning report on the flaws of modern Japan, their causes and consequences. I read every page with a sense of uncomfortable recognition, feeling that at last I wasn’t the one person to look at the semi-urban skyline of Japan as it speeds past the train window and think of it as an ugly, inconvenient and altogether unpleasant place to live. Kerr unflinchingly outlines what has gone wrong with Japan’s progression to industrial modernity, from the perspective of someone who cares about the country and its people. It’s an urgently needed book, and should be read by anyone with an interest in Japan.

Aside from that, I’ve been going out with friends quite a lot. The jaunt out to the King Bill (our local from days past) ended in oddly time-honoured fashion – we met up with some random friends of friends, wandered off with them, and fetched up in a garden shed, drinking beer and talking about stupid stuff. It was a curious reminder that no matter how far you go from your hometown, once you come back you will assuredly revert to type.

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And so it goes

I got back from Tokyo yesterday night, and I’m now preparing to leave tomorrow. It’s been remarkably pain-free. All the stuff I want to take back seems to fit into my suitcase remarkably well, and the stuff that doesn’t I placed in storage. Although it does seem to chop this year aborad in half somewhat, I really am looking forward to getting home and seeing family and friends. My weekend in Tokyo was absolutely fantastic and a great way to finish off this semester. There will be photos and a fuller account when I get back. For now, I’ll just say that this first semester has been amazing, and all I want to do now is pick up the pace when I get back.

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"Uh-huhuhehuh … he said extend"

I looked in my mailbox (have learned not to call it “pigeonhole” as for some reason the American students find this hilarious … grrr bloody Yanks, grrr our language in the first place, grrr) today to find an official-looking letter from Kansai Gaidai saying that my application to extend my stay into the spring semester has been accepted. So this is now a real year abroad. Aside from the short homecoming over Christmas, that is. My folks are going off to a skiing holiday in Andorra between Boxing Day and the New Year, so I get the house to myself for a large part of the three weeks I plan to spend there. I’m not especially bothered; skiing doesn’t really strike me as my thing, and I will be able to finish off the turkey on my own. After six months in Japan, eating a piece of meat bigger than one of my fingers fills me with a strange and uncontrollable fascination. It will be mine. All mine, I say.

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Waiting for the end

Today I finished my last exam and handed in my last paper. My first semester at Kansai Gaidai is now officially finished. Tomorrow is the last day of the semester, and from then on we’re free to do our own thing. I’ve decided that actually, I do want to see my family and friends this Christmas, and so I’m flying home after a full week in which to visit some places I never had the chance to go to. Right now I don’t feel exhilarated or anything. There’s just that familiar sense of anti-climax you get after a set of exams has finished, and you’re left wondering what to do next. At least that’s one thing that stays the same whichever country you’re in.

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Recalled from oblivion, thankfully

I was reminded of this by the final link in the post below, and since it reminded me of a few things I’ve written about the purpose of this year abroad, I declare it blogworthy.

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Scott organised a talk by a friend of his from Pakistan. Sarwar Bari was a longtime political dissident who lived in exile in London, before returning to Pakistan after a change in regime. He now works at an organisation called Pattan (meaning “raft”), which works in flood and disaster relief, as well as building civil society and democracy. It was truly inspiring to see a native of Pakistan stand up and talk about the religious fundamentalists, tribal leaders and military figures that have made such a mess of his country, without every seeking to “understand” or make compromises with them. Before thet talk, all the information I got about Pakistan was from Western journalists and commentators, and they painted an unremittingly pessimistic picture of the place. Religious extremism was on the rise, the standoff with India over Kashmir was nearing outright war, and of course, the risk that a religious takeover would leave Islamists in control of the country’s nuclear weapons. It’s cheery stuff, you must admit.

So it was good to hear some positive news from the region. To hear about concrete steps taken over Kashmir, about the struggle to take the political process away from local strongmen and give it back to the people, to empower female elected representatives. I think the world of NGOs and charities contains (like any other field of employment) people and organisations of very mixed quality, but working for an outfit like Pattan that helps people to use their own potential to take control of their lives is a noble goal, in every sense of the word. Although it has the most tangential connection possible with my degree, I may have an idea as to what I want to do with my life.

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Link to some links

I came across this story on Arts & Letters Daily a while ago, but didn’t bother to check up on it until now. The author makes a lot of points about China and India’s seeming rise that are both relevant and abvious to an interested observer, but which most other commentators seem to have missed.

Seymour Hersh writes on George Bush’s future plans for US forces in Iraq. Of particular (and chilling) import is this quote:

“He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said.

Moving on to an arts story, but still with a political tone (sorry), here’s an account from the Guardian of a music festival in Pakistan that helps to combat the religious extremism present in the country.

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