தமிழ், என் தாய்மொழி.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and a HUGE BACKLOG of articles.
September-Jan tends to get particularly busy and between work, travel and falling sick (FOR A MONTH!) I couldn’t update much over here. : (  This article was supposed to go up in November…but things happened. So yea.

So around mid-November, I taught Tamil at a JTE/ALT teaching workshop called TSDS. This happens ever year and all ALTs 2nd year and above are expected to conduct workshops. Personally, I wanted to teach about using theatre in the classroom, cuz that’s my comfort zone. I studied it, I know it, I do it at work…safe, fun and clean.

BUUT, that didn’t go as planned and being the only Tamil ALT around here, I was tasked with teaching what I’d be calling my Mother Tongue all my life. I was told that it would be a great opportunity for people here to experience something new.

When I was told to teach Tamil , I was not too happy about it. In fact, I was petrified, sceptical, annoyed, nervous and all the negative emotions bundled in one. What was I supposed to say? What would they want to know? I had a very self defensive stance…and I was actually trying to shy away from teaching it. I was certain that I was going to become one of those rare showcase creatures.

Didn’t help that I haven’t been ACTIVELY using Tamil for a while.

There are very few brown people here in Toyama and even back home I’m a part of the tiny 9% Indian population…and an even tinier 3% (active)Tamil speaking poplulation. So I’m not a foreigner to some ignorant comments. Do you speak Hindu? How do you say that in Indian? I’ve heard them all. Ignorance has been such a huge part of my life, you could say I’ve started EXPECTING ignorance.

And…don’t even get me started on the number of times people giggle or gawk when I speak Tamil and tell me it must be super difficult and that it sounds impossible. It grates on me a little…Cuz I’m not asking you to speak Tamil right? A little respect, can? Also, there are people out there who speak this “INTAPUTERE” language (some people legit think this is a Tamil word. It is not.) just fine. :/

But then, about a month before the workshop, I got an idea.
One of those Jinius ideas I pride myself on….
I came out from behind my defensive fortress (read: pulled head out of ass) after some of my friends told me how much they were looking forward to the workshop.

I decided to confront the stereotypes head on, and give all my participants a full sensory experience.

So I split my workshop into 3 sections.

Part 1 would address my identity. Singaporean. Indian. Asian (Yes, I’m Asian too). Hindu Family. Tamil-speaker. Maybe a part of me was terrified especially when faced with so many identities to contend with. HOW to explain?

Part 2 would address the language and give people a super brief look into the Tamil language.

Part 3 would be a mini sensory exploration/exhibition. I brought Saris, Spices, Books, Sweets…etc.

And…I was blown away. First we explored stereotypes. Some legitimate…some not so. It was fun. Me giving people the permission to expose whatever stereotypes they had made it easier for me to confront them head on. My one week trip back home (more on that later) let me take a ton of photos and I felt like I was able to give people a tiny peek into my culture. Not the naan, curry, elephant, bollywood culture, but MINE.

Then came the language part. I was just waiting for a giggle to escape…but nothing. Everyone was seriously looking at me. I’d given out a worksheet with the Tamil letters and everyone was looking at it. So I began with a “looks tough right?” and as expected there was a nervous murmer. But, then the more I explained…”Did you know the Japanese pronounciation and the Tamil pronunciation…is actually very similar! As is the grammar!”…”P + A = PA!”…the more people got into it. Eventually, there was an entire class of ALTs and JTEs (people from so many cultures and backgrounds) trying to do their own self-introductions. I had people raising their hands asking if they had gotten their names right, people asking if they’d written the Tamil letter correctly.

I did as much language teaching as I could in about 20minutes.
Of course no one was a Tamil expert by the end of it…but I was satisfied.

Finally finally, came the sensory exhibition section. I gave everyone sweets and snacks by my mom (bless her soul and thank God for my Singapore trip). People crowded around my mini exhibit, smelling and chatting…and the most wonderful part were the questions.

One teacher had waited years to ask someone if Tamil and Japanese were indeed related. He showed me the Japanese word 学ぶ (Manabu, to learn) and the Tamil word மாணவர் (Maanavar, student), asking “Can you tell me if Tamil and Japanese are linked? I read this book so many years ago and have been waiting to ask someone this question!” Of course, both of us didn’t have the answer… I’d read about the similarites and have had similar wonderings…but never expected someone in Toyama to ask me that question.

Another gentleman wrote Hindi on the whiteboard and asked “This isn’t Tamil, but I saw this at the Indian restaurant and memorised it to show you. Can you read it?”

There were also questions about Rangoli and spices and so many more questions other than, “how do you say that in Indian?”

I came out of my own lecture, enlightened. Yes, there’s racism, yes, there’s ignorance. But, perhaps this just indicates the lack of frank head-on education. Education really does teach more than 1+1, afterall.

 

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Potato Farming and the Art of Being a Shut-In Old Man.

芋くさい。
Imo kusai or Potato stink is a word I recently learnt from a friend.
I’d been joking about become a potato farming old lady some day when she said I was gonna stink of the countryside…or Imo Kusai. I’ve taken quite a liking to this word so much so that it’s gone and inspired me to post this.

Not sure if I’ve ever said this enough…but I love the countryside (or Inaka as they call it here). Back home, I’d call it ulu pandan. I love being stuck in the middle of nowhere…with nothing but fields, fields and fields as far as the eye can see or deeeeep into the boonies where the houses get more spread out and the magestic mountains appear to be your neighbors. Coming to Toyama, I discovered that these places actually exist.

Perhaps it’s a case of the city mouse/country mouse story…or seeing greener grass on the other side…but, everytime I venture out, I fall in love with Inaka a little bit more. It’s awefully peaceful…and the people seem to get a lot friendlier…mind, I generally find Toyama to be a LOT frindlier compared to Tokyo and Singapore which are huge metropolitan cities (or Tokai as they call it here). Despite living pretty much in the centre of Toyama City, it’s nowhere near as Tokai as home.

Recently, I came across an amazing rice harvesting event in Uozu (another city in Toyama). I signed up without much thought and even roped in my 2 visiting Singaporean ALT buddies…cuz RICE. The event turned out to be SO much fun. I cannot even begin to express how much fun it was.

Yoga in the muddy paddy field. Competing in groups of 4 to hang the rice out to dry. Learning how to cut rice manually and tie them into bunches. Doing a rice harvest dance. Riding on the back of a mini truck driven by an obaa-chan with fellow participants (both Japanese and foreign). Getting an amazing home-cooked lunch with a surprising amount of veggie options that filled me up real good. Listening to Shamisen, World and Minyo music and singing along. WINNING first place of the competition….cuz obaa-chan judges are the BEST. Getting 2kgs of rice as a prize. Immersing myself in nice quaint onsen. Getting some figs before leaving for Toyama.

I can promise you that this won’t be an experience you can get back home in Singapore. My friends who saw photos of me at the event informed me that I looked incredibly happy and the friend who taught me the word Imo Kusai said I just might be cut out for the Imo Kusai life afterall.

Planting rice is not fun. Bent from morn till set of sun. Cannot stand. Cannot sit. Cannot rest a little bit.
But, with friends, it’s heartwarming. The squelching mud under my feet was the most theraputic thing ever.

So, while it’s obvious that a 1 day event does not equate to a lifetime’s labour on the fields…I certainly am considering the field life a lot more than before.

 

Thanks for this one Dom!

                  Thanks for this one Dom!

 

This brings me to my next point that I might actually be a a Shut-In Old Man (or Hikikomori Ojisan as they say here). I was talking to my 2 Singaporean ALT friends from far-away prefectures when I came to this conclusion. We were discussing my tendencies to make middle-aged/old people friends more than young 20-something year old friends. It was odd, we decided for a normal (well as normal as a Vegetarian theatre-girl turned ALT can get i guess) 24 year old to be able to make friends with the old station master and the Matcha shop aunties and yet have issue with attending halloween parties like a normal person without being accused of being a kidnapper (this is a true story).

Odder yet were my tendencies to make terribly lame, freezing-cold, dad jokes and enjoy the comfort of my kotatsu while watching anime and avoiding parties like the plague. I survived on reheating frozen food from months ago and love nothing more than my track pants and t-shirts. It all pointed to one thing. That I was a Hikikomori Ojisan.

Somehow, it all made sense and my world view became a lot clearer.
I could make peace with myself, knowing that somewhere in my 24 year old body, there was a Hikikomori Ojisan who enjoyed farming potatoes and chatting up old ladies. Makes SO much sense doesn’t it? 

Peace out.

Ps: Please take this article with a pinch of salt. I’m quite obviously not a Hikikomori Ojisan and am not planning to become a farmer any time soon. That was a joke.

Sado Island

As I mentioned in my previous post, Sado Island was a huge huge thing off my bucket list. My JET application was actually to Sado and Zeami (founder of Noh) was exiled to this island where he wrote the Kadensho (one of his most influential works). 1/3rd of Japan’s Noh stages are on Sado. This was also THE place to be exiled to back in the days and so a LOT of Japan’s old culture was brought to this island and still survives to this day. Yea… you can probably tell that I love a lot about this island.

It was one of those things that I had to do for myself and I’d fondly named it as My Pilgrimage. Boy, did the trip live up to it’s name. 2 nights at a youth hostel and 3 in a tent. No trains, only irregular (and horribly timed) busses. 80% of what I saw online was in Japanese and timings/schedules were hard to come by in English. All in all, it made for the perfect solo adventure.

AAAND, because I was gonna spartan it out…I mean, REALLY spartan…I even got down to buying a hiking backpack and rain pants and jacket because of this. I told all my loved ones (ok just mum, dad and bro) that I was gonna be MIA for like 90% of the trip. So, to put everyone at ease, I decided to document my days on Sado every night. They turned up pretty nice (if I might say so myself) so I decided to put them together:

 

Day 1: Alive and Safe. 3:30am Woke up 5:15am Train to Tomari station 6:24am Transfer to Echigo TOKImeki railway 7:35am Reach Naoetsu 7:40am Cab to Naoetsu Port 7:50am Reach Naoetsu Port 9:30am Ferry sets sail 11:10am Ferry reaches Ogi Port 11:21 am Catch Ogi Line Bus 12:37pm Alight at Aikawa (bus was early) 12:37pm Catch Hon Line Bus (in the nick of time) 1:00pm Reach Himezu Minami Bus Stop 1:06pm Reach Bellemer Youth Hostel, Alive.

Day 1: Alive and Safe.
3:30am Woke up
5:15am Train to Tomari station
6:24am Transfer to Echigo TOKImeki railway
7:35am Reach Naoetsu
7:40am Cab to Naoetsu Port
7:50am Reach Naoetsu Port
9:30am Ferry sets sail
11:10am Ferry reaches Ogi Port
11:21 am Catch Ogi Line Bus
12:37pm Alight at Aikawa (bus was early)
12:37pm Catch Hon Line Bus (in the nick of time)
1:00pm Reach Himezu Minami Bus Stop
1:06pm Reach Bellemer Youth Hostel, Alive.

 

Day 1 (Part 2): Still alive and safe. 4:00pm-6pm: Woke up around 4pm. Hostel owner offered to drop me off at a nearby mom and pop shop (think mama shop), so I could grab dinner. Grabbed some (overpriced) food, ate at hostel and then went out again to catch the sunset. 6:00pm-7:00pm: The bridge was actually closed off, but a local lady smiled cheekily at me and told me to just sneak through the side anyway. Got a brilliant panorama view of the coast and a very pretty, unobstructed sunset (although a bit cloudy). Line called mum and chitti to show off my awesome lyf. 7:00pm-8:00pm: Came back to the hostel feeling really relaxed. Had a skype interview with Vasantham (Sinagapore Tamil TV channel) about the Singapore Arts scene on my iphone while looking really shifty with terrible Tamil and an unwashed face. Thanks Elakeyaa for opportunity, really appreciate it and I just hope I did SOME justice to the interview! Shameless AD: Ethiroli, Sept 2nd, 9pm. Go watch. 8:00pm-9:00pm: Took a really nice warm shower and realized I didn't have to share my shower or my room with strangers (for ONCE) at this hostel. Omg, joy, money paid so worth it. Now:gonnacrashandsleepagain Wake-up time (plan) : 5am

Day 1 (Part 2): Still alive and safe.
4:00pm-6pm: Woke up around 4pm. Hostel owner offered to drop me off at a nearby mom and pop shop (think mama shop), so I could grab dinner. Grabbed some (overpriced) food, ate at hostel and then went out again to catch the sunset.
6:00pm-7:00pm: The bridge was actually closed off, but a local lady smiled cheekily at me and told me to just sneak through the side anyway.
Got a brilliant panorama view of the coast and a very pretty, unobstructed sunset (although a bit cloudy). Line called mum and chitti to show off my awesome lyf.
7:00pm-8:00pm: Came back to the hostel feeling really relaxed. Had a skype interview with Vasantham (Sinagapore Tamil TV channel) about the Singapore Arts scene on my iphone while looking really shifty with terrible Tamil and an unwashed face. Thanks Elakeyaa for opportunity, really appreciate it and I just hope I did SOME justice to the interview!
Shameless AD:
Ethiroli, Sept 2nd, 9pm. Go watch.
8:00pm-9:00pm: Took a really nice warm shower and realized I didn’t have to share my shower or my room with strangers (for ONCE) at this hostel. Omg, joy, money paid so worth it.
Now:gonnacrashandsleepagain
Wake-up time (plan) : 5am

 

Day 2: MANY buses and 1 taxi later. Happy, Safe and un-Kidnapped. Finally completed my somewhat pilgrimage aim. What a day... Took the 7:28am bus out of Himezu and went to Aikawa, transferred bus and went to this place called Imizu and started my day with a (somewhat wild goose chase) trip to Shohoji Temple. Wasn't able to see a famous Noh mask...BUT got to see a stone bench that Zeami Motokiyo apparently sat on! Then took a bus to Sawata and talked to the tourism info people to come up with a plan. (I accidentally got off thinking sawata wld have more to do) Then took a bus to Kin-zan (gold mountain) where they used to mine for gold in the days. The place was beautiful and surprisingly COLD. Seriously, Sado seems to get a lot colder than Toyama! Anw, went through tunnels and went to the top where you see the mountain cleaved in two. This point is called Doyu no Wareto. THEN, just to feel rich, I ate gold flaked ice-cream. Cuz in Japan, EVERYTHING is made into soft-serve ice-cream. After my gold journey, I hopped on another bus to visit this place called Kitazawa floatation and power plant. It's used to be the biggest gold ore concentrator in East Asia but was shut down after the war... And now it's over-run with weeds, grass and nature... Cuz circle of life. Loved that place. So many possibilities. I then strolled up a bit and saw the Bugyosho (some important building... But I didn't have much interest in it) and an old bell called Jishoro to pass time before I ran to catch my next bus. Ran to my next bus. I thought I'd have to go back to Aikawa but the bus driver informed me that if I wanted to go to the Noh performance that I'd mentioned, I should get off at an earlier stop and walk. And THEN, I bumped into the guy who'd composed the music for part of the performance and he brought me along to the performance area (another member of the team gave us a lift) and I reached about 3 hours early. =_= they were real nice tho and let me watch the rehearsal and let me have the best seat and gave a photo book. Finally watched bonfire Noh. Blown away. Wanted to cry. Taxied back to hostel.

Day 2:
MANY buses and 1 taxi later. Happy, Safe and un-Kidnapped.
Finally completed my somewhat pilgrimage aim. What a day…
Took the 7:28am bus out of Himezu and went to Aikawa, transferred bus and went to this place called Imizu and started my day with a (somewhat wild goose chase) trip to Shohoji Temple. Wasn’t able to see a famous Noh mask…BUT got to see a stone bench that Zeami Motokiyo apparently sat on!
Then took a bus to Sawata and talked to the tourism info people to come up with a plan. (I accidentally got off thinking sawata wld have more to do)
Then took a bus to Kin-zan (gold mountain) where they used to mine for gold in the days. The place was beautiful and surprisingly COLD. Seriously, Sado seems to get a lot colder than Toyama! Anw, went through tunnels and went to the top where you see the mountain cleaved in two. This point is called Doyu no Wareto.
THEN, just to feel rich, I ate gold flaked ice-cream. Cuz in Japan, EVERYTHING is made into soft-serve ice-cream.
After my gold journey, I hopped on another bus to visit this place called Kitazawa floatation and power plant. It’s used to be the biggest gold ore concentrator in East Asia but was shut down after the war… And now it’s over-run with weeds, grass and nature… Cuz circle of life. Loved that place. So many possibilities.
I then strolled up a bit and saw the Bugyosho (some important building… But I didn’t have much interest in it) and an old bell called Jishoro to pass time before I ran to catch my next bus.
Ran to my next bus. I thought I’d have to go back to Aikawa but the bus driver informed me that if I wanted to go to the Noh performance that I’d mentioned, I should get off at an earlier stop and walk.
And THEN, I bumped into the guy who’d composed the music for part of the performance and he brought me along to the performance area (another member of the team gave us a lift) and I reached about 3 hours early. =_= they were real nice tho and let me watch the rehearsal and let me have the best seat and gave a photo book.
Finally watched bonfire Noh. Blown away.
Wanted to cry.
Taxied back to hostel.

More reflection on the Takigi Noh (bonfire noh): the prime time to visit Sado for Takigi Noh is actually June. You have NUMEROUS performances by locals all over the island. Unfortunately, June is also a very busy academic period for me…so I’ll probably have to visit again.

The show I watched had 3 segments. A Kyogen, a Noh and a contemporary ballet/noh mix thing. I personally liked the Noh performance the most. It was a performance of Kakitsubata. I think, Noh can go 2 ways…really good or really really bad. Really really bad because it’s such a slow art form….if the tension isn’t held…it just gets really boring.

This performance however, was mesmerising. At moments, I thought I saw the mouth of the mask move.
The moment when the non-human character revealed herself, gave me goosebumps. Played at night, with the bonfire burning at the sides…it was so magical. I believed it.

For anyone who wants to know more about what I watched:
http://www.the-noh.com/en/plays/data/program_029.html

This was the reason I’d started to love Japan, and I was in the place where the man who developed it to what it is today was exiled. It all felt very right.

Day 3: Alive, Safe and DRENCHED. Temple Hopping and Kodō Concert. Woke up a little later... Left the youth hostel (still on the first bus out). It began to rain. Said rain lasted ALL day. FIRST temple: Daizenji. Old old Noh Stage. They're just EVERYWHERE, these Noh stages. One third of Japan's Noh stages are on Sado. #fact SECOND temple: Myosenji! 5 story pagoda temple devoted to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Took 30 years to build and was originally at a tots different site. THIRD temple: Komponji. One of the most important temples dedicated to Nichiren (this guy's pretty famous here, lots of temples for him). It's got a statue of him, a bell tower and a pagoda. FOURTH temple: Seisuiji. This one was preeetty far out. I shamelessly took a hitch hike ride while looking super lost from 2 very kind people on their pick-up trucks. This temple was interesting, it was actually a copy of Kyoto's famous Kiyomizudera and also shares the same Kanji! Unfortunately, can't say it shares the same glory... But it's got such a nice historical background! Note: all this was by bus. Cuz i posses the all you can ride ticket. THEN, I took 2 busses towards Ogi, and Oh Lordy the busses were packed with people like me with HUGE backpacks. Met SO many nice people and made friends grin emoticon I came down to Sobama Campground to settle my tent (staying here for 3 nights, yay) and went back to Ogi for the marketplace and Taiko performance. MET ELIZABETH!!!! and we both enjoyed a VERY rainy but AMAZING taiko performance by Kodō. Now: at campground. Met more people (i cannot begin to say how happy i am to meet young people given my luck with old people). Am finally back in my tent, aaaaand its raining outside. Reflection point: not quite sure abt my shower situation or my food situation. Also, not sure how im gonna get out of this place by 6:15 am (latest tmr). Life. Thank God for Calorie Mate.

Day 3:
Alive, Safe and DRENCHED.
Temple Hopping and Kodō Concert.
Woke up a little later… Left the youth hostel (still on the first bus out). It began to rain. Said rain lasted ALL day.
FIRST temple: Daizenji. Old old Noh Stage. They’re just EVERYWHERE, these Noh stages. One third of Japan’s Noh stages are on Sado. #fact
SECOND temple: Myosenji! 5 story pagoda temple devoted to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Took 30 years to build and was originally at a tots different site.
THIRD temple: Komponji. One of the most important temples dedicated to Nichiren (this guy’s pretty famous here, lots of temples for him). It’s got a statue of him, a bell tower and a pagoda.
FOURTH temple: Seisuiji. This one was preeetty far out. I shamelessly took a hitch hike ride while looking super lost from 2 very kind people on their pick-up trucks. This temple was interesting, it was actually a copy of Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizudera and also shares the same Kanji! Unfortunately, can’t say it shares the same glory… But it’s got such a nice historical background!
Note: all this was by bus. Cuz i posses the all you can ride ticket.
THEN, I took 2 busses towards Ogi, and Oh Lordy the busses were packed with people like me with HUGE backpacks. Met SO many nice people and made friends grin emoticon
I came down to Sobama Campground to settle my tent (staying here for 3 nights, yay) and went back to Ogi for the marketplace and Taiko performance.
MET ELIZABETH!!!! and we both enjoyed a VERY rainy but AMAZING taiko performance by Kodō.
Now: at campground. Met more people (i cannot begin to say how happy i am to meet young people given my luck with old people). Am finally back in my tent, aaaaand its raining outside.
Reflection point: not quite sure abt my shower situation or my food situation. Also, not sure how im gonna get out of this place by 6:15 am (latest tmr). Life. Thank God for Calorie Mate.

 

Day 4: Alive and Shameless. A day for hitch-hiking and new friends. Had a terrible sleep. Woke up almost every hour. Woke at 5am, it was POURING. Realized my tent floor was slightly wet. This was not fun. Contemplated staying in my tent all day... But eventually the rain let up and I decided to try my luck in getting a ride out of the camp. Walked out. Tried not to look too suspicious. Saw a lady with a backpack and asked if she was going to Ogi by any chance. Lady's name was Emma. She wasn't going where I needed to but was still driving up north so she told me to hop on. Sooo, hop on I did. She was headed to a guided tour of a cedar forest and asked if i wanted to join. I really wanted to go up north to visit a cave (more on this later) so she said she'd be willing to drive with me up north after the cedar tour. Mind, I literally just met her this morning. We drove to the cedars and stopped at an interesting temple along the way! Cedar forest tour (¥3,500) , turned out to be really worth it. Also met more people (japanese and non) on the tour! The trees were so so interesting, bent and twisted into the most interesting shapes and sizes. Some looked almost human... As if in the midst of a dance. We came back to where Emma's car was parked and, Emma asked another lady, Keiko, to join us! 3 newly met people on Sado embarked on this road trip. Emma freelanced and wrote travel articles (amongst many other things) and Keiko, from Osaka, had just finished working at a factory and was looking for a change. We passed by a lot of very interesting rock formations. The first was a huge rock at the site where a British Dakota military transport plane semi-crash landed in Sado. The second rock formation, Futatsu-game is said to look like two turtles and locals believe that the third, Ono-game, houses a deity. On the path between these two sites, a natural cave has formed and it's called Sai no Kawara which contains hundreds of Jizos protecting dead children on their journey to their afterlife. Went back to festival market, had my dinner, and retired for the night. Not on my iphone, but stars are STUNNING.

Day 4:
Alive and Shameless.
A day for hitch-hiking and new friends.
Had a terrible sleep. Woke up almost every hour. Woke at 5am, it was POURING. Realized my tent floor was slightly wet. This was not fun. Contemplated staying in my tent all day… But eventually the rain let up and I decided to try my luck in getting a ride out of the camp.
Walked out. Tried not to look too suspicious. Saw a lady with a backpack and asked if she was going to Ogi by any chance.
Lady’s name was Emma. She wasn’t going where I needed to but was still driving up north so she told me to hop on. Sooo, hop on I did.
She was headed to a guided tour of a cedar forest and asked if i wanted to join. I really wanted to go up north to visit a cave (more on this later) so she said she’d be willing to drive with me up north after the cedar tour.
Mind, I literally just met her this morning.
We drove to the cedars and stopped at an interesting temple along the way!
Cedar forest tour (¥3,500) , turned out to be really worth it. Also met more people (japanese and non) on the tour! The trees were so so interesting, bent and twisted into the most interesting shapes and sizes. Some looked almost human… As if in the midst of a dance.
We came back to where Emma’s car was parked and, Emma asked another lady, Keiko, to join us!
3 newly met people on Sado embarked on this road trip. Emma freelanced and wrote travel articles (amongst many other things) and Keiko, from Osaka, had just finished working at a factory and was looking for a change.
We passed by a lot of very interesting rock formations. The first was a huge rock at the site where a British Dakota military transport plane semi-crash landed in Sado.
The second rock formation, Futatsu-game is said to look like two turtles and locals believe that the third, Ono-game, houses a deity.
On the path between these two sites, a natural cave has formed and it’s called Sai no Kawara which contains hundreds of Jizos protecting dead children on their journey to their afterlife.
Went back to festival market, had my dinner, and retired for the night. Not on my iphone, but stars are STUNNING.

 

Day 5: Late update, but still alive! I was just so tired yesterday. So the day started out with me hitching a ride with the lovely Emma. We managed to pay Rengebuji a visit before heading for Ogi. It's a HUGE temple complex and is one of the three most important temples in esoteric Shingon Buddhism. Really pretty. After reaching Ogi, Emma and I parted ways. I grabbed some breakfast at the arts market and then went on to watch a Miyake Daiko fringe event at the Ogi Gymnasium for free. It was so amazingly spectacular, the movement work put into the drumming was just SO intense. THEN, after floundering around for an hour, I decided to take the 2:00pm bus to the Gold Park. BUT, I still had an hour-ish of nothing to do...so what better way to spend an hour than to get a GeoParks tour (in English!) by a retired gentleman. My guide, Mr. Sasaki, turned out to be a retired English Teacher/Principal who had an interest in Geography and was trying to learn Chinese. For 200yen, I walked around the Shiroyama Park area where he explained to me that many years ago a volcano had erupted underwater to form the island and that you could still see where the lava had covered the land before it rose above sea levels to form Sado! Ah-mazing. I got SO much information in less than an hour and still managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Sasaki (he wanted to forget his teacher life and actually didn't wanna speak English.) THEN! Sieved for gold! And got some! SUH rich. Oh, and forgot to mention, I decided to attend another kodo performance at the last minute after i saw someone trying to sell their ticket at ¥3,000 (usually ¥5,500). A cross-cultural concert between Balinese and Taiko music left me so touched on so many levels... So glad I attended. The Balinese music... Even without ANY chanting, I could HEAR the cak cak cak in the way they play and they looked so HAPPY onstage. To wrap it all off, I ended the day by stargazing in the carpark of my campsite with Elizabeth. Saw a shooting star. Made a wish. Life felt so at peace. Couldn't believe I'd have to return to mainland the next day.

Day 5: Late update, but still alive!
I was just so tired yesterday.
So the day started out with me hitching a ride with the lovely Emma.
We managed to pay Rengebuji a visit before heading for Ogi. It’s a HUGE temple complex and is one of the three most important temples in esoteric Shingon Buddhism. Really pretty.
After reaching Ogi, Emma and I parted ways. I grabbed some breakfast at the arts market and then went on to watch a Miyake Daiko fringe event at the Ogi Gymnasium for free. It was so amazingly spectacular, the movement work put into the drumming was just SO intense.
THEN, after floundering around for an hour, I decided to take the 2:00pm bus to the Gold Park. BUT, I still had an hour-ish of nothing to do…so what better way to spend an hour than to get a GeoParks tour (in English!) by a retired gentleman. My guide, Mr. Sasaki, turned out to be a retired English Teacher/Principal who had an interest in Geography and was trying to learn Chinese. For 200yen, I walked around the Shiroyama Park area where he explained to me that many years ago a volcano had erupted underwater to form the island and that you could still see where the lava had covered the land before it rose above sea levels to form Sado! Ah-mazing. I got SO much information in less than an hour and still managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Sasaki (he wanted to forget his teacher life and actually didn’t wanna speak English.)
THEN! Sieved for gold! And got some! SUH rich.
Oh, and forgot to mention, I decided to attend another kodo performance at the last minute after i saw someone trying to sell their ticket at ¥3,000 (usually ¥5,500). A cross-cultural concert between Balinese and Taiko music left me so touched on so many levels… So glad I attended. The Balinese music… Even without ANY chanting, I could HEAR the cak cak cak in the way they play and they looked so HAPPY onstage.
To wrap it all off, I ended the day by stargazing in the carpark of my campsite with Elizabeth. Saw a shooting star. Made a wish. Life felt so at peace.
Couldn’t believe I’d have to return to mainland the next day.

 

Day 6: Alive and Back (to reality). Final adventures on Hippie Island. Once again freeloaded off the very kind Emma and today we'd decided to explore Ogi which is at the tip of Sado. Got a lovely view from above Sobama beach and shortly after we found an old man painting the road in very cheerful colours although he didn't seem interested in talking to us much. We saw a couple of volcanic rock formations along the coast and then saw the most interesting sight of farmers harvesting rice. The whole process was so interesting and they were very happy to let us take pictures. Then we went to this amazing place called Shukunegi where ships used to be built. This neighborhood had some very uniquely designed homes (people still live in some of them). Very very lovely. Finally, we went for a ride in the local Tarai-bune (¥500) near Yajima and Kyoujima. Mr Sasaki from yesterday's GeoPark tour pointed these islands out to me from Shiroyama and told me some very interesting stories behind them. Tarai-Buneing was SO fun (well at least MY idea of fun). The lady steering even let me have a go at it. I'm surprised the big bucket boat didn't capsize. The traditional fishing boat is mainly found on Sado and you can see the clear clear water up close. After our ride we walked along the 2 islands for a bit before heading for the port. We parted ways and she went to look at some temples I'd already seen and I went omiyage shopping and phone charging. All too soon, I was on the Ferry and as a small group of people waved us off, we shouted back (some waving hankies) as a group that we'd all come back. The ferry docked into Naoetsu Port as the sun set. Emma (really, bless her soul) drove me up to Itoigawa (closer to Toyama) and we said our goodbyes. 6 days felt like a month and I really miss Sado, but as always, I'm glad to be back in #amazingtoyama #tadaima Now: Happy in Starbucks and civilization that has trains and actual convenience stores.

Day 6: Alive and Back (to reality).
Final adventures on Hippie Island.
Once again freeloaded off the very kind Emma and today we’d decided to explore Ogi which is at the tip of Sado.
Got a lovely view from above Sobama beach and shortly after we found an old man painting the road in very cheerful colours although he didn’t seem interested in talking to us much.
We saw a couple of volcanic rock formations along the coast and then saw the most interesting sight of farmers harvesting rice. The whole process was so interesting and they were very happy to let us take pictures.
Then we went to this amazing place called Shukunegi where ships used to be built. This neighborhood had some very uniquely designed homes (people still live in some of them). Very very lovely.
Finally, we went for a ride in the local Tarai-bune (¥500) near Yajima and Kyoujima. Mr Sasaki from yesterday’s GeoPark tour pointed these islands out to me from Shiroyama and told me some very interesting stories behind them. Tarai-Buneing was SO fun (well at least MY idea of fun). The lady steering even let me have a go at it. I’m surprised the big bucket boat didn’t capsize. The traditional fishing boat is mainly found on Sado and you can see the clear clear water up close.
After our ride we walked along the 2 islands for a bit before heading for the port. We parted ways and she went to look at some temples I’d already seen and I went omiyage shopping and phone charging.
All too soon, I was on the Ferry and as a small group of people waved us off, we shouted back (some waving hankies) as a group that we’d all come back.
The ferry docked into Naoetsu Port as the sun set. Emma (really, bless her soul) drove me up to Itoigawa (closer to Toyama) and we said our goodbyes.
6 days felt like a month and I really miss Sado, but as always, I’m glad to be back in #amazingtoyama #tadaima
Now: Happy in Starbucks and civilization that has trains and actual convenience stores.

 

 

So, back in Toyama, Sado feels like a dream. 6 days of adventures and seeing and doing things I’d never usually get the chance to. It’s NOTHING like Tokyo or Osaka or the big cities, and it’s downright inconvenient at times. I did a LOT of glancing at the bus time tables and had borderline breakdowns.  By the end of the trip, I had a whole stack of brochures and maps and schedules in my backpack. =_= Food was also a constant worry (I had NO idea what I was gonna vegetarian it out the next day) but I got by pretty well thanks to the Arts Market (they had AMAZING pastas, tortilla wraps and naans) , random convenience stores (there are only 7 or 8 on the island) and the mom and pop shop.

But I think I grew up a little, thanks to this experience. I took a lot of things into my own hands and because I went there alone, I just took a lot of responsibilities for the choices I made.

All this put together, made Sado the best trip of my life.
So glad I’m alive.

One Year On (and then some)

Somehow, I’ve survived an ENTIRE year of living alone without tripping over a stray wire and slamming my head into the corner of some random block of tofu lying around the kitchen and killing myself (this is an actual Japanese saying: go hit your head on the corner of a block of Tofu and die). I’m pretty proud. And to commemorate and celebrate the pride I have in myself, imma post about it! YEAH!!!

So here’s what I’m super happy to have done in this past year:

Taught at a high school and a special needs school.
I’d never done either prior to this. The experience has just been so rewarding and I’m infinately thankful to both my schools which have just been super supportive of me. I’ve never once felt like an idiot working here even though I’ve made numerous mistakes. Despite being the youngest in the English department in both schools, my suggestions and ideas are taken seriously and discussed. They don’t agree with me all the time and I don’t expect or want them to do so, but taking me seriously drives me to give more ideas and suggestions without the worry of failing/sounding like an idiot.

Also, my schools are super kind. When I embark on something outside the school, like the charity show I did, or when I go travelling…they always have something nice to say/ask about what I’m up to and I’m able to communicate how much I truly appreciate being in Japan. It’s super nice.

Met new people from all around the world who had done SO many different things.
Doing theatre in Singapore was great, and the people I met were also very very amazing people. However, I met very few people outside the theatre community and I rarely met people whose countries I couldn’t really place on a map. This sounds terrible, but what I mean to say is that while I DID meet a lot of foreigners, they were usually from very standard countries that I’d always heard/known about. People from other Asian countries, Australia, America, UK….a feeeew Europeans…and that was about it…

I relish meeting/seeing people that I don’t know much about. I enjoy this because, I find the size of the world I live in widening and getting bigger. I enjoy not knowing because this means there’s so much more to see and learn and ask.

Coming here, living in my “foreigner” apartment complex, I’ve learnt SO much and met SO many new people. It’s extremely humbling.

Travelled. This is such a huge thing for me.
1. Toyama:
Tateyama, Gokayama, Kamiichi, Takaoka, Ushidake, Toga Village, Etchuu-Yatsuo, Shogawa, Kureha, Kurobe, Amaharashi Beach, Ikuji, Iwakuraji, Tonami, Shin-Takaoka(AEON Mall), Nyuzen, Namerikawa, Uozu…still counting.

2. Nagano: Kamikochi

3. Ishikawa: Kanazawa

4. Kyoto: Kyoto city, Uji

5. Osaka: Ishinha show place, Osaka Aquarium, Dotonbori, Shitennouji, USJ

6. Tokyo: Ghibli…Akiba…Shibuya…Harajuku…Shinjuku…Shimokitazawa…Meiji Jingu…Asakusa…Nakano-Sakaue…Nerima-Kasugacho…Ikebukuro…Senkawa…Ueno…Ginza…Tokyo’s pretty difficult, cuz I’ve visited at least 5 times…So, I’ve seen quite a bit of it I guess?

7. Chiba: Fukuda Denshi Arena and Disney Land.

8. Nara: Unebigoryomae

9. Gifu: Hida-Takayama, Furukawa

10. Aichi: Nagoya City, Meiji Mura (Inuyama)

11. Mie: Ise City

12. Hokkaido:
Chitose, Sapporo, Furano Winery+Tomita Farm+Furano Cheese Factory (Furano), Biei, Akan (Kushiro City), Shiretoko, Shari, Lake Kussharo, Lake Mashu, Kami no Ko Pond

13. Niigata: Sado Island (this one’s a HUUUUUGE thing off my bucket list)

Along with visiting all these places, I’ve also taken care of booking my own lodging for the first time in my life. I’ve stayed in super cheap business hotels, hostels, spartan tents and even in a car. I’ve also had to arrange my own transportation at times, including busses, trains, flights and ferries. It’s super nerve-wrecking….like I keep panicking…WHAT IF I BOOK WRONGLY, IS THIS REALLY THE CHEAPEST DEAL, WILL MY LEAVE BE APPROVED, WHAT IF EVERYTHING’S BOOKED UP?!?!?!

Buuut, so far, I’ve been fine….in fact, I’ve learnt to go with the flow a lot! Flowing to the point of getting hitch hikes from old people and freinds I meet in carparks while feeling a little desperate to get somewhere.

Seen nature at it’s best and not so best.
Wanted to say worst, but that would definitely be a lie. Before coming here, I heard horror stories about the heavy snow and super hot summers. The winter IS cold…and the summer IS hot….but not unbearable.

Despite the difficulties, nature has shown me some beautiful beautiful sights that will be embedded in my memory. Never had I imagined the world to look so stunning…and every time, I can only think that all the money I spend on travelling is 100% worth it.

Gone for festivals
Many many matsuris and recently, I didn’t just watch one, I even participated in pulling a float at the Tatemon Matsuri.

Started taking photos
It’s not that I’ve never done this before…I was just never very conscious about taking a good one. Recently, after being around so many good photographers *coughKaicough*, it struck me that I wanted to understand framing better.

I’ve begun to experiment with trying to frame what my eyes see with my camera when something catches my eye. I’ve been trying to understand how light works and how the camera captures it…

Mind, I don’t do this professionally at all…It’s just a sort of hobby that I’ve picked up, hoping that it would improve my eye for things onstage.

Theatre.
I’m real glad that coming here wasn’t the end of my theatre work. I’ve managed to watch shows all over the place. I won’t say that I enjoyed EVERYTHING…but experience is always valuable. My year started with my trip to  Toga for the SCOT theatre festival and I’ll be heading there again today…and in between, I’ve directed a local charity show, watched a decent number of performances and attended a lot of festivals that have street performance as a huge element. Some of these street performances really inspire me. 

I’m still reflecting, and more things have started to click for me…So, for the year ahead, I aim to solidify my ideas and aesthetics based on what I’ve seen and learnt.

Improved my Japanese
The photocopying lady at school who I’m close to (and a couple of my students) said my Japanese had gotten a lot better. I cannot express how happy this comment made me.

It’s fairly common for people to tell me that my Japanese is good when they first meet me. While it’s nice to hear that, it’s a totally different thing to hear someone who’s known you for a while, tell you that your skills have improved.

It’s particularly nice to hear this from Photocopy-san who knows how serious Japanese learning is for me.

Hopefully, this is gonna help me in my N3 JLPT test in December. Ugh, the pressure. Stomach ache.

Finding myself and what I stand for.
Maybe living alone makes you stand up for what you believe in a lot more. You have less of a family to fall back to…and I guess my already thick skin grew a little thicker.

From my vegetarianism to my zero tolerance for racism to the way I handle a lot of bs that inevitably comes my way…I’ve learnt how to just be straight about it. I guess it won’t make me Miss Congeniality any time soon, but I get the immense satisfaction for standing my ground on these matters.

A part of me has also come to really really love home. I sometimes catch myself tearing up or outright crying when I think of home. Mind, I’m not a sentimental person who goes about missing laksa or prata on a daily basis…but sometimes, living away really makes me appreciate the small small things I always had at home and took for granted. Sometimes, I see Singapore from afar through a video and feel so proud of what it is and can be and how far it has come.

Simei to Toyama…it always wows me.

Living alone
Like I said at the start, I’m surprised I haven’t killed myself…considering how clumsy I am. I kid not…I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped my knife near my foot.

There’s also the fact that I’m paying for my own utilities and haven’t relied on mum’s driving services in over a year. I’ve also been cooking for myself…and cleaning (let’s use this word in it’s LOOSEST sense)…

Just 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have seen myself doing any of this. In the past, these felt like such ADULT responsibilities, but here I am.

I’v probably done a LOT more than this, but these are the big ones that stand out. Call it blowing my own horn or boasting or whatever. 😛 I just call it reflective documentation for future reference.

ja ne till next time.

Race against Racism

I began typing this article before Singapore officially turned 50 after I expericed some not so nice situations. I’ve glazed over most of my experiences as I don’t believe in naming and shaming and also because I don’t need the details to get my points across.

Disclaimer (because these are dead handy when I speak from personal experience): The article is going to touch on race, language, religion, skin colour and then some more. If you’re not up to it, by all means avoid reading this article because I think it IS a heavy topic. Also, because I speak from personal experciences, I will try not to sound like a know all and see all and will also try not to make sweeping statements. However, I ask for your forgiveness and understanding if I do.

Sometimes, being a brown person can be difficult. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been aware that being brown was not the best thing to be in the world. At some point in primary (elementary) school, a part of me wanted to be Chinese so much, I cut my eyelashes short. Obviously that didn’t work out well and thankfully my lashes also grew back.

I’m pretty sure most people don’t go about trying to be Chinese the way I did and people might ask me why I did that. At that age though, I’d already been the butt of more than one anti-Indian slur and I’d faced my fair share of bullying just because of what I was born as. Now, imagine having your presence ignored, being told you had worms in your brains, offering help but being kicked away, be in a group discussion and suddenly have the meeting conducted in a language you don’t know and have people whisper behind your back in another language from the age of 4. Pretty sure that’s not very fun.

By Junior College (high school) though, people seemed to have gotten better (at least in the sensitivity department) and I had a wonderful time and made some great friends who were some of the least judgemental people I’d met to that point. The topic of racism (we studied it in class) seemed like a distant concept of the past…or something only seen in history books when the Holocaust was mentioned.

Then of course, Arts College happened and I really had the best days of my life there. People were broad minded and accepting, I had a lot of freedom to question and debate on a whole ton of issues…the world felt like it had opened up and people who met me after that told me that I’d become a better person. Prejudices or judgemental views I never knew I had came to light and I had to deal with them. All in all, Arts College was the best thing that happened to my soul.

So you can imagine the shock I had when I came out.

To give a little context, Singapore had begun facing a spike in the number of new citizens, permenant residents and foreign talents. This included people from Europe, America, Australia and of course other Asian countries. Suddenly, I’d be riding the cab, and I’d be asked if I was really Singaporean. Even if I said yes, they’d ask WHEN I had come to Singapore. I’d have to put on an exaggerated Singlish accent and laugh it off to get some people off my back.

Somedays, it can be very painful. My maternal grandparents are Indians living in India. My paternal grandmother has been a Singaporean PR with an Indian citizenship since she got married to my paternal grandfather who came to Singapore from India and got his Singapore citizenship. My Dad is Singaporean (born in Singapore, did his NS) and my Mum’s a Singaporean PR with an Indian citizenship. My brother was born in Germany, but he’s a Singaporean (did his NS!). 4 years of my early childhood was spent in Germany where I learnt phonetics and phonics. So, I learnt Singlish a lot later in life and it still doesn’t come to me very naturally. SORRY!

Do people need to know all this?
Will people leave me alone if I told them all this?
Why am I expected to prove myself?
So WHAT if I were Indian?
What must I do to be Singaporean?
What IS Singaporean?
How are some of these Singaporeans better than my PR Mum who’s done so much for the country in her 26 years here?

Then to make matters worse, the Little India Riots happened.

I don’t even know where to begin with that one. I started to see statements like “All the AH NEH (anna in tamil means brother) go back home lah!!” appeared on the net. Suddenly, there was talk of keeping foreign workers in a ghetto like place. Suddenly, these workers were being used as volunteers for anti-rioting practice.

Then I started to see racism popping out more and more and not just against Indians.
Maybe it had increased, maybe it was always there and I had learnt not to see it…

In any case, it made me nauseous.
It was like Primary school all over again, except it was on a national level.
Still, the country uses it’s multi-racialism/culturalism as a selling point.
Sometimes, it looks like a bad joke…and I’m guilty of selling it too.

Then of course, I applied for my job on the JET programme and got in.
I don’t think I’ve had a clearer view of racism…

Racism in Japan definately exists. I’ve had people compare skin tones with me and comment on my darker skin tone while applying entire bottles of sunblock lotion. Many people assume I’m from India when they first meet me. People have asked if I can speak English. I have been told very bluntly that people of some countries are ALL smelly and disgusting.

Japan is an (almost) mono-ethnic society.
I also live in a relatively unexposed rural part of Japan.
I don’t think this should defend their actions/statements but it isn’t my home.

At the same time, I was hearing very similar racist comments being made by fellow Singaporens.
These were Singaporeans who were by no means uneducated or underexposed.
Neither were they from terrible underpriviledged backgrounds.

I find it extremely hard to wrap my mind around this.

Singapore is a very very dear place to me.
I believe it has so much potential.
When I was still in school, we used to recite the pledge before the Sigapore flag every morning:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language, or religion
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

Perhaps I’m an overly patriotic fool to some, but I truly believed every word I spoke and I still do.
So for SG50, amongst many many things that are being done, I wish people could take a look within.
You don’t need to walk on eggshells. You don’t have to go the extra mile.
Just treat people equally.
If something wrong is done by a person who isn’t a majority, don’t use race against them.

It’s really not that difficult. Is it?

Extra reading:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/08/02/issues/claiming-right-japanese/#.VcFkJrdO7IV

Charity Show: Red Shoes and Raichos

When I began blogging, I discribed mysef as a theatre girl amongst other things…never thought I’d actually address that aspect of myself in a blog post….yet here I am.

I probably shouldnt be saying this, but when I first hopped onboard this project, I didnt think it was going to happen for real. I thought it was a nice idea, but that there was no way we’d execute it with all the Japanese paperwork while holding on to our ALT jobs.

I just wondered: Who on earth is gonna commit to something like this???

Yet, amazingly, each step happened. It was undeniably PAINFUL, but it happened. Somewhere along the road, I took on the Japanese paperwork including communicating with the sponsors, venue and potential charity. It’s nerve wrecking work I tell you…

I cannot express how exhausted this project has made in the past couple of months. Of course, I took it on myself, and really, I have no regrets about doing this at all. But boy does it drain the life force out of you.

SOOO about the SHOW:
Red Shoes and Raichos (Wizard of Oz in Toyama) was a charity show in English. Loosely based on the Wizard of Oz we likened Toyama to Oz, a foreign land with many oddities and challenges. Just like Dorothy, we all feel the need to belong in this newly adopted home.

I particularly liked having to dramatise some everyday challenges that we ALTs face upon arriving in Toyama. Sometimes, something as small as sorting the garbage or having a communication can really get a person down in the dumps. You’d probably brush it off usually, but being alone in a foreign country (possibly for the first time in your life) can do things to you.

Just like the magic of OZ though, Toyama’s charm and nature seeps it’s way into our hearts eventually…which was done amazingly well with multimedia. I had huge huge reservations about multimedia use….but it turned out really really well.

At the end of it all, I was incredibly pleased with how many audience members turned up for the show. Considering the number of clashes this show faced, I was so so worried that we’d have an empty theatre…but that didn’t happen and as I ushered people to their seats (yea, i took that job too), I felt so much more optimistic than I had in weeks. And, the people who turned up weren’t just foreigners, we also had a good number of Japanese people in attendence. It was very very hearwarming.

As the show progressed, as the audience members laughed at the jokes….I felt so incredibly touched and relieved and just overall happy. It had worked out in the end.

So yea, we’re now waiting to decide on a charity…and I’m just glad that I’ve been able to give back to the society that’s been taking care of me for the past year. 🙂

Peace.

卒業Graduation and other happenings of March and April 2015: MAY UPDATE

 

CRAZY BACKLOG WARNING!!!
I had a really bad writer’s block for this one.


March is the time for teary farewells apparently….and unlike the farewells I remember from my JC days (which I can’t really), it seems like a bigger affair here. All the teachers wear formal black clothes and the women teachers add a little something (white flower brooches)…some male teachers, who I thought lived in their track suits, suddenly came in formal clothes…very surreal.

First there was the rehearsal. The students had to practice standing, sitting and bowing in unison without extra/unwanted fidgeting. Then, they rehearsed the National Anthem (Kimi Ga Yo), the School Song and the bye bye farewell song, which I’ve attached below (NOT the Vitamin C song).

My school’s graduation was held on March 3rd, which was also the day of Hinamatsuri (doll’s festival) which is the Girls’ festival here in Japan. I love this festival and I enjoy telling people about how similar it is to Navarathri Golu that South Indians keep.

I got this really pretty doll set at the tea shop I frequent...and if you don't put them back in at the end of the festival....you'll never get married and will have to be content with cats.

I got this really pretty set at the tea shop I frequent…and if you don’t put them back in at the end of the festival….you’ll never get married and will have to be content with cats.

Anw, back to the topic of Grad, it really was quite a touching ceremony…you could see some of the parents and students sniffling and after the main ceremony was over, the students had a goodbye thing with their homeroom teachers and then they went outside where they were sent off by the entire school. Complete with brass band. wao.

There was much hugging and flower giving and presents and selfies.

And even though I never really taught this bunch of students, I found myself missing them quite a bit as one of them yelled “Hey! Yagu! I WON’T remember you! Yea! hahahahahahah!”

TAT “I’ll miss you too kiddo!”

I also found out that the first (and only) kid that I coached for Eiken (a private English proficiency test like TOEFL) passed his Level 2.5 test!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!! I turned some heads when I screamed “yattaaaa!!!” in the staffroom. 😛 But really, I’m super proud of the boy.

At my special needs school too, we had the grad ceremony for the elementary, junior high and high school students. It was a very emotional event especially for a number of parents. I saw them crying as their children went up to reciece their certificates one by one (this was a difference from my base school where only one representitive got a cert). They also got a grand send off at the school hall. Going outside would have been waay too cold especially for some of the wheelchair bound students.

I found myself extremely happy and proud of these kids.

Also, end of March, staff changes were announced.
Teachers who were retiring…
Teachers who were moving schools…
Goodbye parties…

Amidst this, the founding PM of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew also passed away.
I have so much to say on this topic, but when I try to type it out…I realise there’s really nothing to say about this because SO MUCH has already been said and done. But I remember that late March day being particulary cold and it snowed unexpectedly as my Singaporean friend and I went out for a quiet dinner.

And, as if I wasn’t busy enough, I’d also planned my trip to Osaka, Uji (Kyoto) and Nara.

It was mad.

Don’t get me wrong, I had an AMAZING trip. I visited USJ, met friends, ticked things off my bucket list and had a ton of fun.  But, it was overwhelming.

And there really was no rest to things.

Just as suddenly, when I returned to Toyama, the new teachers arrived.
I found out who I’d be teaching with.
New students filed into the school.
I got a new schedule.
Sakuras burst into existance.
And not even a week later, my parents and cousin landed in Toyama.
We did Hanami at the castle park.
We visited Gokaya and Shirakawa-go.
Sakuras fluttered away giving way to fresh green leaves.
Dad and Cousin left Toyama
Mum and I visited Takayama and Furukawa (Gifu Prefecture) where we watched the Furukawa Matsuri.
We hosted my teachers and some of my friends at home…AMAZING indian veg food for all.
We went to to the Tonami Tulip Fair.
Then, Mum left (right after the Tulip Fair)
Golden Week happened and I went  to Nagoya, Inuyama (Aichi Prefecture) and Ise (Mie Prefecture).
……
Yesterday was Mothers’ Day…I visited SOL, a vegetarian restaurant, with some of my new friends…
Bought some plants for a balcony garden that I’m trying to start…Lavenders, Tomatos and Basil…
And I’m here now.

It’s hard to believe that just a little more 2 months have passed between now and then.
Now being May, then being March.
Which is why I guess this post was particularly hard to update on.
Everytime I came to it, something else happened.

But that’s what life is like here. Something always happens.
That’s also one reason why I’m so glad to be staying on for another year…
How could I possibly digest everything in a year?

So yea….I just take a deep breath and stare at the sky a lot.

Shinkansen in Toyama and perspectives I never had before.

The Hokuriku Shinkansen arrived in Toyama.
3.14.15
Pi Day.

The station exploded with action,  like I never thought was possible.
All the people wearing fancy clothes…So did not look like the Toyama I came to.

So with this high-speed arrival, a lot of other things followed.
Everything’s got a lot more Chic.
We got a foreign foods store called Jupiter which sells NUTELLA and MTR stuff ,
We got a Matsumoto Kiyoshi…
Most importantly, we got FRESH fruit juice (at an exorbitant price).

And I started thinking or realising about stuff I’d never really thought or cared about before.

Time.
Sunrise.
Sunset.
Sunlight.
Geography.
Transportation and travelling.
Diet and availability.
The sky.
Price of everyday goods.
Weather.
Temperature.
Flahwers.

Living with my parents, I never payed for a lot of things.
Living in Singapore meant many things were constant.
I never worried about calculating my travel costs or tried to cycle to shave a couple of dollers off.
The sun rose and set around the same time all year round.
The weather was mostly consistant.
It was sunny or rainy.
I never worried if it would snow on a spring day.
Singapore is so small, I never thought to think about it’s Geography.
Also, I hated flowers (don’t ask. just don’t. i don’t have any reason.)

I lived a very consistant life.
And to a certain degree, I’m growing to appreciate that life which Singapore offers.
I didn’t need to worry about the everyday.

But, I recently met a Japanese lady at the main station, who said she’d lived in Singapore for 5 years. And we were talking about how a person can only gain this type of awareness with living abroad.

Which made me wonder about myself and other Singaporeans.
Sometimes I read about people complaining about the MRT system…but on the day I met the lady, the train was delayed for almost an hour because of strong winds. The train would not move without the winds slowing down. And even after it arrived, it almost CRAWLED to the next stop. Also, I pay a good SGD$2 to reach a station 2 stops away. That’s like paying SGD$2 to go to Bedok from Simei. OAO no joke ok.

In Singapore, I would have cursed the government and all other entities….but after coming here, I’ve just come to see that some things can’t be helped. I reached work about 30 mins late and my fellow teachers congratulated me for braving the strong winds. So surreal.

Also, nobody complained. There’s a strong strong attitude of: it can’t be helped.
Of course, there are pros and cons to this attitude. The con is that it can lead to total APATHY. But sometimes, I think it’s good to balance this with the political awareness that Singaporeans are developing. Like really, it would be nice if I could stop seeing comments by people blaming the GAH-MEN for the lack of rain (really, there are people who do this. I kid not.)

Also Sakuras and flowers…
After living in a kind of grayscale world from December till now….there’s something magical about seeing bursts of colours here and there. I waited with bated breath for the Sakuras to bloom. I’d cycle by the Sakura trees, pause, gaze up and note the changes.

I’m surprised how much I love these flowers. No really, I quite litterally hated flowers when I was back home…with very few exceptions. They were too…colourful for my taste and I remember distinctly NEVER wanting to paint flowers.

But Sakuras….man…I don’t think I’ve ever been in so much awe. Sitting at the riverside, at night, with the Sakuras in full bloom, reflecting off the surface of the river. It’s enchanting. For a while, I could believe that there was another world if i jumped into the river (obviously, I didn’t do that though)

…boy…what a whole new world….

Yaguzilla and Late realizations

So, this is gonna be a bit of a 2 in 1 post.
It’s a mix of a request from my brother and something that hit a nerve in me recently.

PART 1

Back in 2014, I watched and participated in Zeitgeber, which was a performance about caregiving for people with severe disabilities.
I was asked to play a woman who could only move her eyes. Throughout the play, the actor playing the caregiver would move me around the “house”. In one scene, he had to “change” my clothes and I remember being rolled to my side. Of course, this was just mimed onstage.
At that time, I had a lot of thoughts about the play. The way this caregiver spoke to the person…telling this person what he was doing at every point. “Tanaka-san, I’m changing your clothes”. “Tanaka-san, I’m lifting your leg a little”.
I wondered, why. This person would never respond. Could only move her eyes. What was the point?
.
.
.
Fastforward to the present.
As mentioned several times now, I work at a special needs school every Tuesday.
I particularly like the Elementary divison. So, even though I don’t get many classes with them, I try to pay them a visit and help out every now and then. The students in this particualar class need help with everyday activities and need wheelchair assistance.

And, this Tuesday, when I went for my weekly visit, the teacher was in the middle of helping one of the boys change into his gym clothes. And the teacher was informing the boy of whatever she was doing and I was struck by the action. I really wonder if the students understand us. And does whatever we inform them…register?

I don’t say this in any mocking sense.
I don’t look down on or pity these lovely children.
I’m not even agaisnt the action.
If anything, I feel like informing the student of what you’re doing for them, is profoundly respectful.

But I genuinely wonder…How is this perceived in thier minds?
What’s happening in their world?
What do they hear?
What do they see?

And I thought back to the performance. And back to the students.
I still don’t have answers and am in fact left with more questions.

So, I’m leaving this up here as a kind of reflection of mine.
Life really does seem to run in spirals though…and sometimes, something echoing your past experiences seems to pop-up out of nowhere like a weird deja vu.


PART 2
FOR CHACHI BOI:

Yaguzilla is probably how most of my students view me sometimes….
Some fire-breathing  English monster out to force everyone to speak English….
Yaguzilla gives weird class assignments and comes up with embaressing penalty games.
Yaguzilla tries to bribe kids with chocolates and hankos.

Sometimes students wonder if Yaguzilla has a social life.
Does Yaguzilla have any friends?
Yaguzilla has a family??!
What does Yaguzilla do for food?
Yaguzilla cooks??
What?? Yaguzilla is VEGETARIAN??? NO meat or fish???

And Yaguzilla has never seen snow??
Yaguzilla wears UNIQLO???
Yaguzilla also has a weird whale shark hanging off her bag and obsesses over Macha.
This odd creature tries to talk to everyone randomly with apparently no shame whatsoever.

So of course, the natural reaction for most students, when they see Yaguzilla is to run the other way.

But then, gradually, Yaguzilla is accepted by the general school community…
And students stop trying to run away.
Every now and then, Yaguzilla gets “hallo!” or “good morning!” on the way to school.
And, if Yaguzilla is lucky, her students have a chat with her.
This makes Yaguzilla’s day.

In the staffroom, Yaguzilla reads works by her students and laughs out loud.
But Yaguzilla isn’t mocking them.
Yaguzilla just loves reading the creative things that her students give her.
Although, by doing this, Yaguzilla is convinced that her collegues think she might be slightly crazy.

Yaguzilla is happy.

The End.

 

 

Being a Gaijin…not a big deal.

Alrighty, so this one I’ve heard a LOT of opinions on this matter…
Being a foreigner in Japan.
There are many many youtube videos and blogs out there talking about this.

There are people who say they attract a lot of attention,
There are people who say they blend in completely.
I’m just gonna add on to the pile…

There’s not much I can touch on if I don’t talk about race…
So who or what am I?
First off, I’m an Asian woman.
I’m Indian by race.
Singaporean by nationality.
I have brown skin.
I have black hair.

So when I meet people for the first time, I often get asked if I’m from India or Bangladesh or Pakistan.
People are quite surprised when I say I’m Singaporean.
And then, they apologise.
I sort of understand WHY they do it….but personally, I’ve never felt offended…
That’s just how my physical image is.

And then I’m asked if I’m a student…and once I was asked if I worked at a restaurant…
But no…I’m a teacher…
And that gets me some apologies too…
I think this one is mostly an age thing though…people say I look young…so yay! compliment!

Generally, I don’t turn any heads. Since day one, people have never really stared at me…and I feel quite comfortable.
It’s all very normal. I’m obviously a foreigner…but I also don’t stand out very much.

The thing that shocks most people here is the fact that I speak Japanese.
Sometimes, I just introduce myself…and I’m told that my Japanese is REALLY good.
Which it isn’t.
I won’t be overtly modest. I can speak and hold decent conversations.
But I still have a LOOOONG way to go with Kanji.
And, since I have quite a bit of interest in translation and interpretation, I have a lot more work to do before I can say my Japanese is good.

But really, everyday life…it’s very normal. I don’t get rude stares. I don’t get unwanted attention. Actually, I don’t get any attention.

Obviously I’m not Japanese…but until I open my mouth and speak Japanese, I don’t attract any attention.

People recognise me very easily though (Cuz duh…there are no other people in the area that look like me as far as I know). The station masters, matcha shop ladies, starbucks people, Okonomiyaki shop people, students I’ve taught at summer camps….after seeing me once, they recogise me. And they’re super super friendly and I’ve had lovely conversations with them.

I also get a number of questions about Singapore…where is it..is it safe…how big is the country…food…places to visit…
A Singapore ALT friend of mine just recently said that she feels like she only talks about the stereotypical things in Singapore..and it’s true, the number of times I’ve talked about the merlion and MBS….i would NEVER even think TWICE about them back home. I’m actually starting to hate them a little. hahaha.

Thing is….what else can I say about Singapore? Does anyone want to hear about how I shop for groceries? Or how I go to work? Or how I lead my EVERYDAY “Singaporean” life? Not really. People want to know what’s attractive about my country…so I tell them. Touristy…but it works.

I talk about the mix of race lang and religion…the importance of English in Spore….food…sometimes Singlish…places to see…its very repetitive…but every once in a while i meet people who know more about Singapore, and we have great conversations.

….To conclude…
Yes, I’m a foreigner. It’s doesn’t take a genious to figure that out. But for most part, my life here is…very normal…and everyday…futsuu.

I’m sure this goes into the ESID box…as do most other things…but hey, it’s perspective.

 

 

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