Friday, 29 August 2014
Friday, 22 August 2014
I can pinpoint exactly when it was that I decided to travel to India. The year was 2001 and I was in Japan. Sat at my desk in Ōsawano's town hall, I had just finished reading William Dalrymple's 'City of Djinns' which is subtitled 'A Year in Delhi' and is a record of just that. One chooses books, generally speaking, for two reasons; either the writer or the topic. This one was definitely because of the former. I'd read two of Dalrymple's earlier works, 'In Xanadu' and 'From the Holy Mountain' and they had blown me away. I wanted more of his writing and if the subject happened to be India, then so what? I'd never before considered the place, certainly it had never struck me as a country worth visiting. But after 343 pages of Mughal machinations, Ramayanan relics, scheming Sikhs, singing Sufis and eccentric Englishmen then I knew that, before I died, I had to see Delhi.
Saturday, 16 August 2014
Monday, 11 August 2014
This week’s post is a little late due to me spending all last week travelling around the Republic of Ireland. It was my fourth visit to the Republic, a country that I like more and more with each trip. Thanks to the hospitality of Lenin, (see ‘Across Asia With A Lowlander’), then I managed to have a drink in Dublin and see the awesome Neolithic sites at Bru na Boinne as well as the mystical Hill of Tara and the fascinating monastery of Clonmacnoise.
Then it was a train trip over to the west where I met up with Paul, (my companion from the Armenian expedition), camping on the spectacular Achill Island and then a tough climb up Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, (my calves can still feel it!). All done now and back to work and so hopefully, postings should start becoming a little more regular.
Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all the Japanese Musings:
Japanese Musings 2.2: Arrival: Inaka
Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation
The subject for this weeks musings regards the side of my job which they don't really tell you about before you hit the town. I thought that I was coming here as a teacher. This is of course partially true, but not entirely, for it seems that the town ALTs, (the city ALTs are a different matter entirely), also are expected to perform the role of some unofficial ambassador. Now of course where they are ambassador for is not precisely stated, and indeed there seems to be much confusion on this matter, though it seems to roughly translate to being anywhere that speaks English. This is ok and perhaps understandable, though I must confess that I am getting fed up of being mistaken for an American.
"So how is beer in America?" I am asked.
"I wouldn't know," one replies, "since I've never been there, nor do I have any inclination whatsoever to go. But, judging by the stuff they export, I should guess that its pretty crap."
This is met with puzzled looks. "But you speak English?!"
"Yes, indeed I do, that is because I am English, that is the language we speak, in fact that is where that fine tongue originated from. You see, I am a citizen of the European Union, 'Europa' in Japanese, and Europe is not, I'm afraid, America. Ask me about Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Athens or Barcelona, maybe I can help. Ask about sheep farming in the Lake District [we did that one in geography see] and I am your man, but on Thanksgiving celebrations, I am sorry but I must draw a blank. I would even go so far as to say that I know more about energy production in Japan [another geography gem] than the good old US of A."
On the whole though, it is not so bad and some townsfolk even know about England, though their perceptions seem rather coloured by their experiences of group travel.
"Please Matto-sensei, I make invitation that you can come my house at exactly three pm."
"Why, thank you."
"Because I make Afternoon Tea with scones and I know that every English person eat this at three."
"Right, and from where did you learn that little cultural titbit?"
"Ah yes, we make a vacation to England before three years, and everyday the coach is stop at tearoom and we have Afternoon Tea."
"I see, and did you perchance happen to stop in a place called Broadway, or perhaps Bourton-on-the-Water for the Afternoon Tea, en route to Stratford to see Shakespeare's house?"
"Yes, exactly this was the place. They say is typical English village."
But, I jest. On the whole I really do enjoy my new career as the Official Ambassador of Englishdom. For a start, I get to write a little piece in the town paper every month, talking about my experiences in Osawano. My predecessor warned me about this beforehand. "Don't criticise anything in Japan" were his sage words, "they won't print it!" It seems that one of his articles, discussing discipline within the school, (well to be more exact, the abject lack of discipline within the school), was refused. I read the piece and whilst it was mildly controversial, and indeed may have raised a few eyebrows back home, ("And what right has a bloody foreigner got to criticise our education system?" thunders the local Tory councillor in a strongly-worded letter to the 'Times and Echo'), it wasn't altogether that bad.
But I digress. So staying away from controversial subjects, I then decided to make my little pieces are incredibly cheesy as possible. One extolled the virtues of karaoke, another talked about how marvellous Royal Families are, (though should they ever be got rid of, I suggested Paul McCartney as a good candidate for British President and Katori Shingo (exceptionally cheesy singer) for Japan). I discuss red telephone boxes, the Beatles and of course Afternoon Tea. What's more they love it!! I have lost count of the number of times people have come up to me and complimented me on what are in my opinion, ( and a valid opinion since I wrote them), exceptionally bad articles. This month's topic is cooking and in particular Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings. I await the response.
But my Ambassador role does not stop there. Far from it. Two weeks ago I had to show a Malaysian girl around who was on an exchange from the Lions Club International. "You're the first person that I met here that speaks English" commented Ms. Choing Chang.
"Really!" I replied, "that does surprise me!"
The best part however is dealing with the Osawano International Circle.
The Osawano International Circle is run by a Mr Sugibaiashi who is retired. In fact all of it's members are retired, except one who is a housewife. It is in essence a group who likes to practice their English and talk to foreigners, and it is also one of the nicest groups of people whom one could expect to meet. I say practice their English, but that is not entirely true, since they don't have a lot of English to practice with, but they try hard, I try to speak some Japanese and together we communicate.
Earlier in the month they held a Cooking Class where two Russian girls and a Chinese lady cooked dishes from their home countries. I was the guest of honour, and we all had a real good laugh. "Thank you for inviting me" I told our hostess.
"No problem," replieth she with a twinkle in her eye, "because next time you is teacher. We make scones!"
"But I can't cook!" I protested.
"Of course you can," retorted she, "I know because I read Osawano Town Paper. You write 'I cook scones every day to eat with my Afternoon Tea'!"
Talk about digging your own grave! I'm off to the library now for a recipe book....
Friday, 1 August 2014
Today’s post combines two of my favourite activities: reading and travel. I read a lot as a child but then stopped at high school. I’ve always blamed GCSE and A-Level Literature for that; the books we read were inaccessible and totally unsuited to the world of the teenager. Thankfully, when I moved to Japan I began to read again, vociferously, and I am still doing it today. Not quite to the same degree perhaps – I don’t have the same amount of free time now as I did then – but still with passion and verve.
And over the years I’ve found that travel and reading are natural bedfellows. One can inform the other and vice versa. On this site I review some of the travel writing that I’ve read, but what I’m talking about goes beyond that. If you’re going to the Philippines, then read a Filipino novel, (I recommend the stuff by F. Sionil Jose), or if you are headed to Turkey, why not a brief history of the country or an aspect of it that you are particularly interested in (nothing better than John Julius Norwich’s ‘Byzantium’)? Indeed, both can be love affairs to last a lifetime, partners that can change as you do, (although a brief return fling with Enid Blyton is always fun). Reading a book on a long train journey as the scenery of an exotic place rolls by – what pleasure in life is finer?
Which brings me to the present because tomorrow I head off on my travels again, week’s trip to Ireland to see two friends of mine. And on that trip there’ll be two juicy train trips from the east coast to the west. What shall I pack to keep me entertained? ‘Around Ireland witha Fridge’ by Tony Hawks, an Emerald Isle classic by Joyce; ‘Under Milk Wood’ to help inspire me to write up my Welsh expeditions or something completely off the wall… ‘Anna Karenina’, ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’ or perhaps yet another re-read of ‘1984’. Choosing, that is always the hardest part…
Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all the Japanese Musings:
Japanese Musings 2.2: Arrival: Inaka
Japanese Musings VII: Time, time, time...
Today I am quite agitated. The thing that is bothering me is whether Prince Andrew will marry Natasha. I certainly hope that he does, since he is a nice bloke and she is a sweet girl. Of course I appreciate that the age difference could cause problems and all, but they do love each other so. Of course where that leaves Pierre is another matter. His marriage to Helene is nothing more than a sham, and whilst she may be beautiful she does strike me as a bit of a bitch at times. Yep, I feel sorry sorry for Pierre in a big way. Ok, so he's a bit strange and he took being in the Freemasons a wee bit too seriously, especially the mystical side of it all, but his heart is in the right place, isn't it?
I imagine that you probably haven't got the faintest idea what I'm going on about, and to be honest I'm not surprised. You see the thing that I'm talking about is the thing that has taken over my life completely for the last four or five days; the latest book that I'm reading. The book is called "War and Peace" and its bloody brilliant. To be fair, most people have heard of this text, but how many have actually read it? Not many I would imagine for the simple reason that it is ridiculously big. It is not big in the usual "hmm this is a big book" sense, but piss-takingly huge. I am reading it in a serious way, I have been doing such for four or five days, and I aren't near the half way mark yet. It is THAT big, way too large and long and thick. Too big really.
Mr Tolstoy, I imagine must have had a lot of time on his hands, and indeed the theme of this weeks mail is just that, people with rather too much time on their hands, in other words, ALTs or JETs, (whichever abbreviation rolls off your tongue most easily). Having conversed with many of my colleagues on the matter I have come to the conclusion that all ALTs spend large portions of their working day doing absolutely sod all. In fact all those that I spoke to have this problem, bar one and thus I conclude that she is either lying or should demand a transfer to somewhere easier immediately.
To be fair, we are only being like the Japanese themselves, who must spend on average about ten hours every weekday at the office, doing the same amount of work which Europeans do in seven. But it is ok for them, they can sit and chat to their mates or indeed they can drop off to sleep at the drop of a hat.
That is quite interesting really but it seems to me that most Japanese are trained from birth to be able to sleep anywhere and then wake up only five minutes later. As soon as they get on a train, and they all doze off, but did you ever see one sleep through his or her stop. Not bloody likely, nope, they wake up just in time and walk off looking as fresh as if they'd just stepped out of the shower.
It's the same at work, they doze off at their desk, yet always wake up ready for the next lesson. Some, I suspect fall asleep at the wheel, yet still drive the same, at a steady 50km per hour, just slow enough to annoy you and prevent you from getting anywhere on time.
But gaijin can't do that, or at least Matto-sensei can't. He dozes off, and stays asleep, and misses important things. Alternatively he doesn't doze off and gets bored. Thus he, like most of his gaijin comrades must find other diversions.
Perhaps the most popular of these is learning Japanese. This is educational and indeed incredibly useful. Unfortunately, it is also rather difficult and if, (like I), thou art a wee bit lazy, 'tis not a good road to travel upon. It takes a lot off effort and let's be honest, if I'd wanted to do things that require a lot of effort, I'd have set up my own business or gone to work for a bank or something. No, too much like hard work for me is that one. Other solutions include, writing pointless Japanese Musings, surfing the net, writing letters, etc, etc. There are however some more unorthodox ways of filling in time.
For starters, there's the humble cup of tea, (or coffee for those from less advanced civilisations. Interesting tea and coffee games can be thought of. Why not compare the different powdered milk brands in your tea. I find Marim to be the least creamy, whilst Creap (Creamy Powder), the creamiest. This is ok in coffee, but for tea, too much. I plumped, (after much deliberation), for Nestle Brite, the happy medium.
How about inventing your own kanji? Kanji are the 'picture' characters for words or concepts, (which fail to look remotely like what they represent despite what some people try and tell you). Why not invent kanji for concepts such as "bad hair day" or "Dutch courage"?
Another good option is of course e-mail. E-mail can waste a lot of valuable time as we all know, but what happens when we run out of people to correspond to? That is when people like my friend Lee come in.
Lee is my e-mail friend. I have never met him and don't know a lot about him, except that he lives in Osaka and is probably the only other Stoke fan east of Istanbul. However, this doesn't stop him sending me several e-mails per day with the magic prefix "Fwd" in their title. Waste good time by reading those sexist jokes and witty anti-French digs; laugh at the interactive jokes and then forward them on to your friends.
Lee is not my only e-mail friend however. I have another one called Lucy_Pike. Now Lucy_Pike is one of the JETs here, or at least that is what I thought. Therefore, I was happily sending all my forwards and musings to Lucy_Pike, and indeed I even got a short reply once, saying, "Thanks for the forward. Very funny." However, one day whilst out in Toyama, I spoke to Lucy Pike, an ALT in that fair city and also a friend of mine, who proceeded to chastise me for not sending her my musings or forwards. "But I do" one protested.
"Well, I'm not receiving any" retorted she.
It then transpired that we were both telling the gospel truth and that whilst Lucy_Pike had been enjoying my witticisms, Pike_Lucy (whom dwells in Toyama), was not. Oh well...
My number one time waster however is a good book. Unfortunately, we have so much spare time that you begin to read faster, and faster, and faster, until, wow, you start finishing a book in two days, on a regular basis. Reading becomes more expensive than drinking due to the books that you get through and the lack of public libraries. And thus, here Mr Tolstoy comes to help. I have a theory that perhaps in nineteenth century Russia there was a glut of RETs (Russian English Teachers), who had sod all to do all day. Old Tolstoy-san identified this "gap in the market", wrote books of a stupid length and thus he made his fortune. Aah, a clever man indeed.
Anyway, I must depart for Prince Andrew Bolkonski has a ball to attend at the Rostov household, and young Natasha Rostova will of course be there. Will he promise her his hand? We shall see...
Written 27th November, 2000, Osawano-machi, Japan
Copyright © 2000, Matthew E. Pointon