Asia: bigger than Japan, would you believe?

I started learning Korean yesterday. Chae, the guy who organised the trip to Tsuruhashi, is giving lessons after class hours on Fridays. It was good to recapture a little of that awesome feeling you get when you’ve just started learning a new language, when you’re still getting to grips with the real basics, and you’re just pleased that people can understand what you’re saying. This being my first proper lesson, I wrote out the basic phrases in romanised English – a stopgap measure until I get the alphabet down. That will be a challenge, but at least there are no kanji.

The preceding week was the first time I’d been to Chae’s lessons, and we watched a Korean romantic comedy with the English title “My Sassy Girl”. It was a fun film, slapsticky at first, and then unashamedly sappy and sentimental – in a good way. Korean romances seem to have a tendency to end happily, unlike films from Japan (bittersweet) and China (relentlessly depressing endings). I always feel like I should watch more Korean films, given their growing international reputation and immense popularity in Japan. I guess I could just rent a couple and take my chances with the Japanese subtitles. Then again, if like “My Sassy Girl” they star the very beautiful Jun Ji-hyun (right), the dialogue probably won’t seem so important to me.

One of the bigger changes that have come over me during this year abroad, almost without me noticing it, is my growing interest in other parts of Asia. I was always interested in modern Japan’s international relations, but since I came here I’ve started looking at China and Korea not just in relation to Japan, but in their own right. Course, interest in China is a given these days considering its influence on the international stage, but Korea now fascinates me as well. In both cases it was meeting people from those countries, talking to them and learning about their views that created the desire for knowledge on my part. And at the risk of seeming tiresome, the Internet and blogs in particular have been good for information and context that I wouldn’t get otherwise. Sure, a fair few people out there have an axe to grind (usually in comments on other blogs), so they’re best used sparingly. But I can recognise well-written, well-thought-out stuff when I see it, and it’s always good to get views from other places.

Rather belatedly, I’ve also decided to do a bit more learning for myself outside of lessons and homework – hence hacking through the Japanese music mag, and Korean classes. I was even considering learning Japanese Sign Language (手話), inspired by two girls in my dorms who are enthusiastically taking it up (They use it to secretly mock me when we’re out together – I’ve been called “stupid and [Japanese foodstuff]” more times than I care to remember). But in the end, it came down to the age-old question: Which will enable me to get more girls? It’s the method by which I make most of my decisions in life. Needless to say, comparing the odds on hot Japanese deaf girls versus hot Korean girls is not the most exacting correlation, so Hangul it is.

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