Diversity: 心の扉をひらきましょう!

diversity

Singapore does not equal Merlion. A stereotype I shall fight to death.

 

So on June 17th, I was given the honour of giving an hour-long speech to the students on the school’s library board. They told me I could make the speech in English or Japanese on pretty much any topic I wanted.

Given my experiences within the past few years and the chain of incidents that have been happening in recent times, I decided to speak about diversity and the importance of accepting and appreciating it.

Over a couple of months, I crafted this baby with the help of my amazing Japanese tutor, my super lovely teachers at my school and friends. They dedicated a lot of time and energy to help me and for that I’m so very grateful.

I was dead nervous and I still think it was far from perfect, but I truly learnt a lot through this challenging experience. Now, I have an hour-long Japanese speech/lecture under my belt! Yus!

One thing I feared was that I’d come across as an outsider criticizing Japan, which isn’t the aim of this speech at all. However, reading through the feedback slips the students wrote, that doesn’t seem be be a problem and they got the main message I was trying to communicate to them.

In fact, it seems I had quite the positive impact and several of them have said they would rethink their view of the world. Can’t express how happy this makes me, because I honestly expected some kind of angry response to my speech.

Here’s the script I crafted (with all the help). I used this structure to help me in case I got lost in my speech or forgot what I was talking about. Enjoy.

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Diversity: 

Hi Everyone! Today, before I start my lecture, there’s something I want you all to do. On the sheet of paper I’ve given you all, I’ve written down the name of some countries.

今日のレクチャーを始める前に、ちょっとやってもらいたいことがあります。 みなさんにくばってある紙にいろんな国の名前が書いてあります。

China

South Africa

France

America

Japan

India

Singapore

Brazil

Australia

I want you to write down the stereotypes you have of all of them. What comes to your mind when you see the names of these countries?

この国々のこと、皆さんが持っているステレオタイプ(こていかんねん)をかみに書いてほしいです。この国々の名前を見る時、パッと出てくるイメージはなんですか? それを、書いてください。

Ok thank you!! I’ll come back to this at the end of this lecture.

はい、ありがとうございます! このレクチャーの終わりごろまたこのステリオタイプを見ましょう。

So I’m sure all of you are wondering what today’s lecture is about.
The topic I shall touch on is “Tayousei”
Eh, what’s “Tayousei”?
“Tayousei” is Diversity.
Let me explain

ところで、皆さんは「今日のレクチャーは何についてか」と疑問に思っていると思います。
今日の話は、多様性です。
え、多様性って何?
多様性is Diversity.
説明します。

As humans, no two of us are the same. We’re all different. And by different, I don’t just mean our faces and our skin tones. We also differ in the way we think and talk. So, no two of us can be absolute carbon copies of each other. Not  even twins.

人間というのは、誰一人として同じではありません。みんなそれぞれ。つまり、顔や肌の色だけじゃなくて考え方や話し方でも、みんなことなります。誰1人全く同じ人はいません。たとえふた子でさえも。

That is “Diversity”.
So, if you really think about it, everyone is diverse.
Right?
However, people who stand out aren’t really liked.
As a result, things like bullying or suicides happen on an everyday basis.

That is Diversity.
だから、よく考えたら、everyone is diverse.
でしょう?
しかし、目立つ人はいやがられる。
それで、いじめや自殺などさまざまなことが毎日起こっています。

Whether it be a child who’s big sized,
Whether it be a child whose skin tone differs from the rest,
Whether it be that child with a slightly louder voice ,
Or the child whose way of thinking is different from the rest…

ちょっと太っている子とか、
肌色が変わった子とか、
声のでかい子とか、
考え方が他の人とちょっと違う子とか。。。

Aren’t they quickly labelled as the “weirdo”?
Therein lies the problem.
The line, “That person is weird!” is used so easily on a daily basis…
But I think those words posses a meaning that isn’t so light.
* The Japanese word “Kawatteiru” literally means “different from others” but in my translation, I’ve used “weird” as the casually used equivalent.

「あ、あの人は変わった人だ!」とぜったいに言われるでしょう?
それは問題です。
「あの人は変わっている」というセリフはみんなよく日常的に使うけど。。。
その言葉の持つ意味はかるくないと思います。

To explain why these words aren’t as light as we imagine them to be, I’ve got 3 videos for you to watch.

こういう言葉はなんでかるくないかと説明するために、
今から3つのビデオを流します。みてください。

(Play Astalift White CM)

So recently, I’ve been seeing this Astalift White CM on Youtube a lot.
What do you all think?
I’m pretty sure you’ve all seen commercials like this right?

最近、このCMをYoutubeでよく見ました。
皆さん、どう思いますか?
こういうCMを見たことがあると思うんですね。。。

(Show video of Trump talking)
All of you might probably know who this person is.
He’s the man running to be the president of the United States of America. Trump.

たぶん、皆さんもこの人は誰と知っていると思います。
今、アメリカのだいとうりょうになろうとしているトランプですね。

(Show video of Hitler talking)
And, this person too, you know him right?
It’s Hitler.

この人も、誰かわかりますね。。。
ヒトラですね。

I’m sure you’d all be a bit taken aback if I were to compare Trump and Hitler’s videos to the skin whitening commercial. Let me explain more.

トランプとヒトラーをこのCMと比べたら、みんなも「えー!!」と思うでしょう?
私はもっと詳しく説明します。

If you listen to Hitler and Trump’s speeches, you’ll realise that they’re doing the same thing. One talks about Jewish people stealing the jobs of German people. The other talks of Mexicans being murderers. In both cases, you have 2 individuals who’re rejecting groups of people who are different to them. This way of talking is extremely dangerous.

ヒトラーとトランプのスピーチをよく聞いたら、二人は同じことをやっているのです。ユダヤの人々はドイツ人の仕事を盗んでいるとかメキシコからくる人は人殺しとか。。。自分と違うグループの人はダメだと言っています。そういう話し方はとてもとても危ない。

This is why I don’t take too kindly to the Astalift commercial (skin whitening commercial).  Sunburns are never pleasant. They hurt and aren’t really good for your dermatological health.

だからこそ、そのAstaliftのCMはあまりよろしくないな、と思います。日焼けするのは誰でも好きじゃないと思います。痛いし、健康にもよくないんです。

However, the message that you get from commercials like Astalift is not one about skin health or anything of that sort. It basically says “You’re gonna turn black”. White skin is good. Black/Dark skin is bad. When darker skin is portrayed in a negative light in commercials like this, how do you think people like me or sporty high schooler feel?

でも、AstaliftみたいなCMに出てくるメッセージは健康とかじゃなくて、「あなたは黒くなる」というメッセージ。白い肌はいい。黒い肌はよくない。
黒色の肌にたいして悪いイメージがあるのではないですか? そういうメッセージをCMの中に入れる時、私やスポーツをよくやる高校生のような肌が白くない人がどう感じると思いますか?

How do you think the Jewish people in Germany felt about Hitler’s speeches?

ドイツにいたユダヤ人はヒトラーのスピーチ聞いてどう感じたと思いますか?

How do you think Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in America, feel about Trump’s speeches?

アメリカにいるメキシコ系の人はトランプのスピーチを聞いて、どう感じると思いますか?

Alriiiight, break time! Turn to the person beside you and discuss the opinions you have regarding white skin and darker skin tones.

はい!じゃーきゅうけいTIME! となりに座っている人と、白肌、黒い肌にたいして持っている意見を話してみてください。

====================================

So, what exactly does it mean to be a “Japanese person”?

ところで、日本人って、なんですか?

Diversity within Japan Even within Japan, there is a lot of diversity. The Ainu, the Ryuukyu, the Chinese and Koreans…but I always hear a lot of you say “Japanese culture this, or Japanese culture that.” What is this generalized “Japanese Culture”?

実は、日本にも多様性があります。 アイヌ、琉球、中国系、韓国系、ハーフの人。。。などが住んでいます。 しかし、日本に来てよく聞くのは「これはJapanese Culture, それはJapanese Culture」。このJapanese Cultureはいったい何ですか?

The truth is, even Toyama has it’s own culture. It’s so different compared to Tokyo or Kyoto and I love it.

富山県にはどくじの文化があります。富山べんがあります。東京や京都、沖縄と比べたら、富山の人や名物や話す表現や祭りはすごく違う!

So…
What defines a Japanese person?
What is Japanese culture?
What is Japan?

だから。。。
日本人らしさとはなんですか?
日本の文化は何ですか?
日本のイメージはなんですか?

On one hand, you have a Yamato Nadeshiko, good wife and mother, type of person. On the other hand, you have a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu type of person. You have men who look like they work at host clubs. And then, you have men who’re total geeks.

Of course you have your office workers.

They’re all Japanese people!

例えば、日本人の女性と言ったら、やまと・なでしこタイプなりょうさいけんぼを思い出します。。。いっぽう、キャリー・パミュ・パミュみたいな可愛いカルチャーの女の人も思い出します。
男性だったら、ホストクラブで働いている肉食男子もいます。いっぽう、完全なオタクもいます。

もちろん、ザー会社員もいます。

みんなも日本人。

Even if I were to talk about Japan, on one hand, you have high end, fast fashion Tokyo.
On the other you have gorgeously, traditional Kyoto.
And you still have Osaka, Okinawa …
If we went on about how each and every prefecture is different, this conversation wouldn’t end.

日本の話をしても、ファストファッションでハイテクな東京や、
すごいステキでんとうのある京都もあります。
で、大阪とか沖縄の話はまだやってないんです!
それぞれの県の違いの話を始めたら終わらないんです。

If all of Japan were the SAME, I don’t think I’d have travelled to all the places. But, wherever I went in Japan, I felt like I was in a different world. It’s immensely touching. Talking to different people, living in different prefecture, you get to see so many different Japanese faces. It’s AMAZING.

日本全国全く同じだったら、私は今までこんなにいっぱいトラベルしてないと思います。どこいっても、別世界みたい。すごくすごく感動するんですよ。いろんな場所に住んでいるいろんな人に話しかけたら、日本のいちめんを見ることができます。It’s AMAZING.

My question to all of you is, why not embrace it and celebrate these differences?

だから、今私が聞きたいのは、「なんでみんながこの違いを認めて、この違いに持たないんですか?」ということです

“I wanna live in Toyama all my life,
I don’t really want to go anywhere else.
I don’t want to get out of Toyama.
I’m scared of going overseas, it’s dangerous.”

I hear these lines SO many times.

『富山にずっと住みたい、
別にどこへも行きたくない。
富山から出たくない。
海外は怖い、危ない!』

このセリフをなん回も聞いたことがあります。

To tell you the truth, with that thinking, you can’t go anywhere. You can sit in your house and be a hikikomori…but even then, you can’t be 100% safe. I mean, Japan’s literally on the fault line …so IF something happened…there really is nothing much you could do.

そういう考えを持っていては、本当にどこでもいけないですよ。家の中に座っていて、ひきこもっても。。。 そうしても、100%安全と言えないでしょう? だって、日本全体は完全にプレートの上に乗っているでしょう? This is 地震国でしょう? だから、本当に何かあったら、どうしようもないでしょう?

====================================
It’s not just you.

これは、日本だけの問題ではないんです。

I really want you to understand that I’m not blaming you or telling you that you’re horrible people. In fact, this way of talking or thinking is not unique to Japan. I know many Singaporeans who think like that. They hate foreigners. We call this Xenophobia. A fear of foreigners.

わかってもらいたいのは、今私はみんなをこうげきして、あなたたちはひどい人と言っているわけではないんです。実は、これは日本だけに当てはまる話ではありません。私は外国人がきらいというシンガポール人を何人か知っています。こういう人のことを、Xenophobia と呼びます。外国人きょうふしょう

So a little bit about Singapore, we are TINY. We’re just 1/2 the size of Toyama prefecture. Imagine that! SO small.

ちょっと、シンガポールの説明をします。シンガポールはものすごく小さい東南アジアにある島国です。富山県の1/2の面積しかありません。小さいでしょう?

On this tiny island, we have about 6million people.

この小さな島国にろっぴゃく万人の人が住んでいます。

74.1% are Chinese.
13.4% are Malay.
9.2% are Indian.
3.3% are “Others”.
*I have issues with the use of “Others” in Singapore but in the Japanese translation, it translated pretty well into “People of other racial groups”.

74.1%は中国系
13.4%はマレー系
9.2%はインド系
3.3%はその他の民族.

So I don’t look like most other people in Singapore

だから、私は大部分の側にはぞくしていません。

I’m a minority.
To put it nicely, I’m a rare species.
*Wanted to say Unicorn, but whatever.

私はしょうすうはです.
優しくいえばレア物です。

There is so much inter-race unity and I have learnt SO much about other races and cultures and languages just by being Singaporean. Singapore is just so multi-cultural and multi-ethnic and multi-lingual that until very recently, I took this for granted. My friends are so different from each other. I eat different foods from across the world, and hear a multitude of languages on daily basis. Muslim Mosques and Indian Temples stand side by side.

This is the beauty of my country.

I couldn’t explain this to you in just one lecture.

シンガポール人でくらしていただけで、他の民族と文化と言語のことを学べました。
多民族、多言語、多文化。。。こういうのは当たり前と最近までは思いこんでいました
私の友達も多様な人たちたったんです。毎日、色んな民族の料理を考えずに食べたり、
色んな言語を聞きました。イスラーム教のモスクとヒンドゥー教のお寺がとなりどうしにあったりします。

これは、私の国の美しさ。

このレクチャーだけでは、すべてを説明できないんです。

Yet, there is ugliness too.

でも、その美しさの中に、みにくい所もあります。

From my Primary school days, I’ve faced racism. There have been cases when I’ve gotten into a taxi and the taxi driver asks “Oi, where are you from? Are you from India?” When I reply that I’m Singaporean, some people ask “You were born in Singapore or you just come here and get passport?” Then they say horrible things about India and Indian people to me.

小学校の時から私は人種差別を何回か受けたことがあります。 「おい、お前、どこから?インド?」とシンガポールのタクシー運転手さんに聞かれたことがあります。私はシンガポール人ですと答えても、「ここで生まれたシンガポール人か、ここに入ってきてパスポートをもらった人ですか?」と聞かれたことがあります。インド人の悪口を言います。

Let me tell you this.
My Mother is Indian.
My ancestors are Indian.
How am I to respond to harsh words like these?

一つ教えます。
私の母はインド人です。
私のご先祖さんもインド人だったんです。
こういうひどい言葉を聞くと、私はどう言えばいいですか?

Being asked where I’m from, in my own country is very sad for me.
Why must people ask me such a question?
If I am a good person, does it matter where I’m from?
Even if I’m a BAD person, does it matter where I come from?
One person does NOT equal an entire nation.

自分の生まれた国なのに、そんな質問されるなんて。。。言葉で言えないほど悲しいですよ。
なんでそういう質問を聞かなきゃいけないの?
私はいい人だったら、私はどこから来たかって関係がないでしょう?
もし私は悪い人としても。。。それにしても、私はどこから来たかって関係がないでしょう?
人イーコル国とは言えない。

Alriiiight, break time! Living in Japan, have you witnessed any discrimination? Have you faced discrimination? Have you discriminated? You don’t have to just talk about racial discrimination. It can be any form of discrimination. Talk with your partner!

はい!じゃ〜きゅうけい!日本にいて、差別を見たことかありますか?受けたことがありますか?やったことがありますか?人種差別だけじゃなくて、他の差別のことでも大丈夫。

====================================

One Person does NOT equal an entire nation.
Huh? What does that mean?
(Take a deep breath)
The issue I want to talk about from now…is a little difficult.
But, I’d like for all of you to keep an open mind/heart and listen.

人イーコル国とは言えない。
えーそれはどういう意味ですか?

(息吸って)

今から、私が話すことは難しいかもしれませんが、
心をオープンにして、ちょっと聞いてください。

(Show picture of Chinese tourists climbing Sakura tree)
For example, the Chinese tourists who travel to Japan are often highlighted for their bad manners and it’s a small problem here isn’t it? As a result, hasn’t it become a sort of bad image for them that Chinese tourists as a whole have bad manners? Not to worry, even in Singapore and pretty much all over the world, many people have such an image of Chinese tourists. So I’m not just talking about you.

例えば、中国からの観光客のマナーの悪さが日本でたびたび問題になっていますね? そのせいで、中国人はみんなマナーが悪いというイメージになっていませんか?心配しないでください、シンガポールや、世界中でも、同じようなイメージがあります。

The difficult part starts here. I want to say that these Chinese tourists don’t represent ALL Chinese people.

難しい部分はここから始まります。 この中国人の観光客イコール中国の国民みんなにはならないのです。

 

Let me explain. Firstly, the entire Chinese population is about 1.375 BILLION. Number 1 in the entire world. And what percentage of this 1.375 BILLION people, do you think are coming to Japan to travel? According to the Foreign Ministry, it gave about 3.78 million visas to Chinese tourists (coming to Japan) in 2015. It’s a REALLY small percent. About 0.274%!!!

なぜかと言うと、まず中国の人口は13おく7ひゃく5じゅうまん人ぐらいです。
世界第1位です。
その13億人から、観光客として、日本に来る人は、何パーセントだと思いますか?
日本のがいむしょうによると、去年は、3びゃく7じゅう8まん人の中国の観光客にVISAがあげられた。本当に少ないです。0.274%ぐらいしかない!!!

And even within that percentage you’re seeing only a certain group of people act that way. If you think about it, to go on holidays or trips you need money and time. Even if you aren’t filthy rich, you probably aren’t struggling to make ends meet if you are able to travel. I would go so far as to say that we are looking at all the bad habits of small, highly mediatized group of people who belong to a much huger community.

Please don’t stigmatize an entire population of a country based on the actions of a few.

その中のほんの一部の人だけです。
考えてみたら、外国旅行に行けるのは、お金と時間がある人でしょう?
すごいお金持ちではなくても、毎日の生活だけでせいいっぱいの人ではないでしょう?
もっと言えば、私たちが見ているのは、とくていの人たちのその中のほんの一部の人の悪いおこないがメディアに取り上げられているものです。Waw!

一部を見て、それが全部に当てはまると思わないでください。

Even as I say that, I want to point out that it’s not like I’m perfect. I’m not always so kind with my feelings and way of thinking. Last year when I went to the Tateyama snow walls, I encountered some Chinese tourists who spoke with loud voices and were quite a nuisance to the people around them.

と言っても、私もかんぺきじゃありません。いつもこんな優しく考えられるわけではありません。去年、雪の大谷を見に行った時、中国人がすごい大声で話してて、周りの人の迷惑になってて。。。

At that time, I got really irritated and annoyed and would even tut at them. I’d get angry, thinking “What the hell, annoying Chinese!” This has happened several times. But, when I cool down, I always feel like I can’t group them all into one lump. Because, if I were to start thinking like that, how then am I any different from Hitler or Trump? That thought is scarier than anything else.

その時、私はイライラして、腹がたって、したうちもしたりしました。
『なんじゃそりゃ、迷惑な中国人だ』とおこっていました。このようなことは、何回もありました。 でも、そのあと、れいせいになった時、いつも思うのは、その人たちイコール中国人と思ってはいけいけない。もし、そんな風に思ってしまったら、私とヒトラーや、トランプと同じになってしまうでしょう?前、私を差別した人と同じになってしまうでしょう?その考えは何よりも怖いです。

OKAAAAAY, break time again! I’d like for you to discuss with your partner, what do you think about Chinese people? What image do you have of them and why?

はい!またきゅうけい! 皆さんは、中国人のこと、どう思いますか?なんのイメージを持ていますか?なんで、そういうイメージを持っていますか?となりの人に話しかけてください!

====================================

The next thing I want to talk about is ROMNATICISM. It’s sort of the opposite of what we just talked about. Previously, we talked about the dangers of stereotyping an entire race of people based on the wrong doings of ONE. Next, I would like to talk about how even the “positive” stereotypes are bad.

次に話したいのは、ロマンチシズムです。
前の話と反対の話です。
さっきは、一部の人の悪いことを見て、みんなが悪いと思ってしまう話をしました。
今度は、一部の人のいいことを見て、みんなも同じといいイメージを持ちすぎてしまう話をします。

“Half-babies are SO cute!!”
“I want to marry a GAIJIN!”
“Foreign men are such gentlemen!”
“Foreign women are super pretty!!”
“Singapore is SUPER rich isn’t it? Yagnya, are you rich??”
Nope. I’m broke.

「ハーフの赤ちゃんって、かわいいね!」
「外人さんと結婚したい!」
「外人さんって、ジェントルマンでしょう?」
「海外の女の人は美人!」
「シンガポールはお金持ちランドですね、ヤグニャ?ヤグニャはお金持ち?」

違います。I am ビンボーです。

(Show photo of Angelina and Brad Pitt)
When you think of a foreigner, I know many people who think of someone like this! HOWEVER!
(Show my face)
A person like THIS is ALSO a foreigner.
Not every foreigner is a small faced, high-nosed, long legged white person.

外国人というと、こういう外国人しか思い出さない人は多い。
しかーし!
こういう人も外国人でしょう??
みんなが小顔で、鼻高い、足長い、白人ではない。

(Show picture of Arianna Miyamoto)

When you say the mixed-race children are cute, what SORT of mixed-race kids are you talking about? Even though Arianna Miyamoto became Miss Universe Japan last year, many people don’t accept her as a Japanese person. As a young girl too, she was never seen as a “Cute mixed-race kid.”

ハーフの子供は可愛いというけど、どのようなハーフの子をみんな思っていますか?アリアナ宮本は去年のMiss Universe Japanになったんだけど、彼女を日本人と認めてない人は多い。若い頃も「可愛いハーフの子」と呼ばれなかった。

Overseas, there are people who see Japan as the land for Geisha, Ninjas and Samurais. “Asians are obedient and quiet”
“Oriental people are so exotic!”
“I LOVE the Japanese Geisha costume! I’m gonna be a sexy Geisha for Halloween”
There really are sexy geisha costumes like this.

海外では、日本イコールGeisha, Ninja and Samurai と思う人もいます!
「アジアの女の人はおとなしくて、静か。」
「オリエンタルの人はエクゾチックでしょう!」
「あたし、ジャパニース・ゲイシャ・コスチュームは大好き!
今年のハロウィーンはセクシーゲイシャにしたいんです!」
こういうコスチューム本当にゲイシャコスチュームと呼ばれて売っているんですよ。

It’s really strange and weird right?
I mean, you guys aren’t Geishas and Samurais who walk around in Kimonos eating Sushi all day right?

変でしょう?おかしいでしょう?
みんなも、毎日着物を着て寿司を食べているサムライかゲイシャではないでしょう??

These are shallow statements that people sometimes make when they don’t understand the world deeply enough. And, inadvertently, what may seem like praise, may come across as an insult.

この世界はどれぐらいふかいかとよくわかっていないと、こんな風に話してしまうでしょう?だから、ほめ言葉にならずに、ぎゃくにぶれいなことになってしまわないんですか?

Alright! Discussion time! What kind of Romanticized images have you had of foreign countries?

OK, 話しましょう!今まで、海外のこと、どういうロマンチックなイメージを持っていたことがあるんですか?

====================================

So what CAN we do?
『あっちもダメって、こっちもダメって、ヤグニャは何言いたいの?』と思っているでしょう?いったいどうしたらいいですか?

I don’t look like you. This is a fact.

No matter how much I play the Koto, or dance Nihon Buyo or do Tea Ceremony, I’m not going to become a Japanese citizen unless I get a passport change. Even then, my experiences and culture will be different to yours.

私はあなたたちと似てない。

どれだけ箏とか日本舞踊とか茶道をやっても、私のパスポートが変わらないと、日本人にはなれないんです。もしパスポートが変わっても、私の経験や文化はあなたたちと同じくならないんです。

As humans, we all look different and behave different  I would never want these differences to be ignored.  Instead I wish to propose that we acknowledge and appreciate differences.

人間として、私たちはみんな違って見える、違うようにふるまう。その違いをむししてほしくないんです。その代わりに、私は、違いを認めて、楽しいんで、かちをみいだすことをていあんしたいんです。

Before we start deciding that overseas in “this” kind of place or “that” kind of place, I really suggest you step outside with an open mind and heart. And, when you DO step out, the great thing is you don’t just learn about the outside world. You start learning more and more about your own identity too!

海外はこういう場所ですとか、あーいう場所ですとか決める前に、心を開いて、外にちょっと出てください。外に出ることで、外の文化だけじゃなくて、自分の文化と自分のアイデンティティーもはっきりわかってくる。

When I talk to you about Vegetarianism, when I talk to you about my culture and my country, don’t say things like “I’m so happy I’m Japanese!” When you say this to me, I feel hurt.

私は肉と魚が食べられないというとき、私の文化の話をするとき、シンガポールの話をするとき、「日本人に生まれてよかった!」みたいなことを言わないでください。そんな話をすると、私は悲しくなります。

Just like all of you, I like my own country and I love my culture. I also like your country and your culture. However, when you say things like that, you make it sound like Japan is the best country in the world, and other countries are bad. Instead, why not open your hearts?

みんなと一緒で、私は自分の国と自分の文化も大好きです。もちろん、このすてきな日本と日本の文化も大好きです。じゃないと、たぶん2年間もここで住んでないと思うんです! でも、日本だけすごいみたいな話をすると。。。あー残念だな。。。と私が思う。 そうではなくて、みんなが、自分の心を開きませんか?

Ask questions. Ask me questions like “What kind of culture my country has or what fashion trends are like or what Japan-Singapore relations are like or what Singapore law is like.”

I’d be the happiest person to answer those questions.

いっぱい質問をしてください。
「シンガポールってどういう文化ですか?シンガポールでどういうファッションが流行っていますか?日本とシンガポールの間の関係はどうですか?シンガポールのほうりつはどうですか?”

このような質問をさせたら、私は大喜びで答えるんですよ。

Read as much as you can about the world!

もちろん、世界のこといっぱい読んでみてください。

Look at the paper I gave you at the start of this lecture. Look at the stereotypes that you’ve listed. I would like us all to think again about these stereotypes we have of the world around us. It’s just so easy to put things into labeled boxes.

Female. Male. Black person. White person. Asian. European. Gay. Teacher. Muslim.

But, a human being is so much more than a label.

このレクチャーの初めに皆さんにわたした紙をもう一回見てください。皆さんが書いてたステレオタイプをもう一回読んでみてください。もう一回、この世界のこと持っている全てのステレオタイプ(こていかんねん)のことを考えてみましょう。私たちの周りの世界をレッテルはった箱の中に入れるのは本当に簡単です。

女。男。黒人。白人。アジア系。ヨロッパ系。ゲイ。先生。イスラーム教。

しかし、人間はこの種類だけでひとくくりにすることはできません。

There’s a huge danger in putting people in boxes and labeling them. I was actually writing my speech when a horrible thing happened in Orlando, America on Saturday night. A man walked into a gay club and shot about 50 people dead. He said he was an ISIS supporter. People like Trump are saying this is the reason why Muslims should not enter America.

人を箱の中に入れてレッテルをはるのは非常に危険です。このスピーチを書くとき、土曜日の夜、アメリカのオーランドですごくひどいことがおこなわれました。ある男の人は、ゲイクラブの中に入って50人をうって殺したんです。自分がISISのサポーターと言いました。これを理由としてトランプみたいな人が、イスラーム教の人はアメリカに入ってはいけませんと言っています。

This is exactly what happens when you reject diversity.

多様性をこばむと。。。けっかはこんなもんです。

Many people, like the man who shot the people, cannot accept LGBT people.
They want to take away these people’s rights. People like Trump cannot accept religious diversity.
They don’t understand that Islam and religious extremists are two very different things. The world isn’t as simple as that.

その犯罪者みたいにLGBTとかゲイの人を認めない人は多い。
だから、LGBTの人のけんりを取りのぞいてもいいとその人たちが思っています。。
トランプみたいな人はしゅうきょうの多様性を認めずに生きています。
しゅうきょうかげきはのひとは全然違うとわかってない。 この世界はそんなに簡単じゃないんです。

Appreciate differences and diversity.

The world is so big and colourful, don’t you think you make your lives boring by rejecting differences?

だから、違いと多様性にかちを見い出しましょう。

だって、世界はとても広くて、カラフルで。。。違いをきょぜつすると、カラフルなその人生は、つまらないモノクロームになってしまいませんか?

Thank you. 🙂

ありがとうございました。:)

 

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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.

 

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

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.

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.

 

 

My Most Amazing Vegeteranian Post of All Time…with a heck ton of disclaimers

So here’s my long overdue veg post.
Disclaimer: I’m not here to argue about the pros and cons of vegging. I’m not here to tell people about the benefits of vegging. I’m not here to convert anyone into a plant eater. I’m not here to denounce my meat-loving friends. I’m not gonna give you any recipes cuz i improvise my food a lot on the spot. I’m just talking about my life as a plant grazing herbivore.

I should probably start out with some definitions…I trawled the web for some good explanations and here you go. This is a list of various diets and hopefully it’s helpful.

  • Jain Vegetarian:No meat. No fish. No seafood. No egg. No honey. No to anything that comes from harming an animal. No onion. No garlic. No alcohol.  Strict followers: No root vegetables. No dairy products.
  • Vegan: No meat. No fish. No seafood. No egg. No dairy products. No honey. No to anything that comes off/from an animal.
  •  Lacto vegetarian (my parents): No meat. No fish. No seafood. No eggs. No to anything that comes off/from a dead animal. Yes dairy products.
  • Ovo vegetarian: No meat. No fish. No seafood. No dairy products. No to anything that comes off/from a dead animal. Yes eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian (me): No meat. No fish. No seafood. No to anything that comes off/from a dead animal. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products. 
  • Pollotarian: No red meat. No fish. No seafood. Yes white meat. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products.
  • Pescatarian (Pescetarian): No meat. Yes fish. Yes seafood. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products.
  • Halal: No pork. No alcohol. No meat that is not prepared in proper Halal methods. (I’m not an expert in this but there’s a specific method of ensuring the animal does not feel any pain/panic as it is killed.) Yes fish. Yes seafood. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products.
  • Hindu: No Beef. No cow killing. Yes to the rest.


Ok…so I’m not an expert…and if I’ve made any mistake I’ll be grateful if someone corrects me on this…or if someone wants to add on.

Reasons
I can’t speak for everyone. Everyone has their own reasons for their own diets. For me, I was born into a Vegetarian Hindu family…and no…not ALL Hindus are Vegetarians. But the way I explain it here is that, my family used to be a “monk” family and just like some buddhist monks who eat “shoujin ryouri” or vegetarian Japanese food, a monk’s family in Hindu culture tends to be vegetarian.

….again, this is just MY explanation. I’m not advocating for any caste system…just stating what my family used to be.

Daily Life and Seikatsu-ing.
So after living here for the past 6 months…….here’s how things go most of the time.

(IN JAPANESE)
Yagu walks into restaurant
Yagu looks at menu….
Yagu looks for waiter/waitress
Yagu: Sorry…I’m vegetarian…so I can’t eat fish or meat or fish/meat extracts….do you have anything I can eat? Or is there anything you can MAKE vegetarian?

Waiter/Waitress sucks in breath.
Waiter/Waitress: aaah……give me a moment. let me check!
Waiter/Waitress talks to manager and comes out. 

The above scene usually happens ALL the time. Unless it’s a Veg friendly restaurant. Or it’s in the centre of a big city with many many gaijins who come by all the time.

After that convo I get several outcomes.

Outcome 1:
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san comes out looking super apologetic.
Waiter/Waitress/ Manager-san: Sorry, we use chicken stock in everything and the rest is Yakiniku. Why did you even walk in? 

That’s a bit of an exaggeration…but I actually had a restaurant in Tokyo tell me that they had chicken bunion in every. single. thing. Including the Italian dressing for their salad.

But…luckily, this usually NEVER happens.

Outcome 2:
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san comes out looking super panicked.
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san: em…we can make this…but it has cheese/egg/milk in it…and I think it has garlic…
Yagu: I’m perfectly ok with all that. Just no fish and meat. 😀
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san: OH! Then ok! How about we take out that bacon and make this for you? Is that ok?
Yagu: Yes please! Thank you!

So this is the most common outcome. The reason for the panic is because Vegging is not really a big thing here. So the only type of Vegging most Japanese know is the more traditional Shoujin Ryouri Vegging which means no egg/dairy/garlic (similar to Jain). As a result, they don’t know if I can eat anything at all.

Luckily, they’re super nice about it once I explain myself to them and they make fantastic stuff for me! 😀

Outcome 3:
Manager-san comes out looking a little nervous
Manager-san: emm, miss…we don’t really have it on the menu…but we can put something together…is that ok?
Yagu: I love you!!! Yes!

This isn’t so common…but this is my favourite reaction. It’s only happened a couple of times but I’ve gotten some amazing food out of them every time…and i feel super extra special for getting the non-menu food.

Iggy in the super market!!!
Jiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii O_O
yea that’s me having staring contests with food labels. I have never missed English more than when I shop for food at the super market.

But there’s the sensation of glorious victory when you realise that the bottle of salsa that you’ve been staring at for the past 5 mins is safe for consumption.

No really…i remember walking into the organic store this one time…and I was staring at stuff…and then i saw this thing called “soy-ham” or something. And I kid you not, this victorious song began playing in the background as I picked it up and realised i’d hit jackpot. The store is like 3 mins from my house and i don’t think i’ve ever been that happy to see mock anything.

Coping
It’s not easy…but it’s also not impossibly difficult. A simple search tells you how to communicate your dietary needs. It’s definitely isn’t like Singapore where most people understand what I can and cannot eat…but it’s not impossible.

I’ve also learnt how to make what I can’t buy. My cooking has gotten amazingly creative.

I use every chance I get to explain Vegetarianism…and I get a lot of “don’t you ever want to try _______ (insert non-veg thing here)?” and “isn’t that a pain in the ass?” or “you mean you can’t have Yakiniku???” aaaaand “but how do you get your ________ (insert nutrients)?” I suppose I could get offended…but what’s the point in that? I just take it as a chance to explain myself. And my choices are usually respected.

I say usually because I HAVE had some not so nice encounters…or uncalled for comments.
BUT this is not unique to Japan as I have faced the same response back home.
That’s just how people are.

But usually, people get that it’s not that I hate Japan or Japanese food…I was (literally) born this way.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Recipes to recommend?
Leave it in the comments below. 😀

Description of my life now: Waw…

There really is no other word for it…

Shishi Mai (Lion Dance) at Ikuji

Shishi Mai (Lion Dance) at Ikuji

Special Needs School, Gakuensai.

Special Needs School, Gakuensai.

Gokayama!

Gokayama!

Kanazawa Noh Museum

Kanazawa Noh Museum

Kamikochi, Nagano

Kamikochi, Nagano

Goodbye 24,620. It was nice knowing you. #UNIQLO

Goodbye 24,620. It was nice knowing you. #UNIQLO

After all those pictures…sometimes, I don’t quite know what or how to sum things up.
One one hand I work a regular 8:30-4:15 job. I teach students and I have my ups and downs.
Classes can be incredibly fun and at the same time, I have those classes that just don’t work out for me, and I learn from my mistakes.

Then, the weekends arrive…and it’s like a whirlwind of activity. Suddenly the world around me changes as a travel. This coming weekend I’ll be in Osaka/Kyoto for a show. It feels like I left Singapore a long long time ago. It seems crazy that I’ve done SO much in a span of 2 months….and yet here I am.

One day I go for photo shoots and nat geo worthy road trips…and the next day, I’m in class teaching. Waw.
Feels like being socked over the head with a ton of rainbow clouds…
Whatever hardships I face…I tend to forget it when see the nature surrounding me.
And of course, when I meet some of my amazing students.

I really try not to play favourites…and I don’t give out easy marks. But it’s hard not to smile (or burst out laughing) when you have some of these students in your class. I’ve got favourite-kun at my special needs school who’s got to be the most eager learner of English I’ve ever met. I’ve got some hilarious high school boys who seem to use English for the sole purpose of flirting (very badly). I’ve got my speech-contest-san who loves calorie mate. I’ve got papers to mark, where I get “application eigo” which looks like something right out of google translate. And I’ve got amazing JTEs and 2 amazing schools. And when I step out of the school, the wide wide sky greets me.

I’m tired. I’m exhausted. And by the time I get home, I want nothing more than a hot hot bath especially now that the temperature has started to drop. But I also feel extremely happy and satisfied. I get a sense of job satisfaction that I’ve not gotten in a long time. And again that makes me think, waw… It’s a job I enjoy.

Apart from exploring, I’ve also been shopping (FOUND UNIQLO!!!!!!!!!!!!) and found some really neat eateries. The change for me is that most things take time to accomplish over here. Just because, everything is extremely compact in Singapore. Here it takes me a good hour to catch a bus to a HUGE mall called Favore which really is in the middle of nowhere. But that’s somehow really slowed down my pace of life. If I miss something, I accept that I’ve missed it and I just wait for the next train or bus or tram to come along, because really, what else can I do?

Sometimes in a busy city like Singapore, you really do forget to stop and stare at the sky and take a deep breath. But with how wide the sky is here, I’m just always breathing better. Much less claustrophobia.

Here’s to more goodness. 😀

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