土曜日, 12月 19, 2009

Two Weeks and Star Trek

So in my last entry it was Day One of Translation/Interpretation camp. I had every intention of writing something each night while I was there, but that was two weeks ago. Here's what happened:

The next morning when I woke up, I tried checking my email, and the internet no longer loaded. I checked every night and every morning after that, and there was no change. Some of the faculty had warned that directly after class, or after our 11pm curfew, it would be slow, but no matter when I checked, or how long I waited, nothing loaded.
Now this was not such a big deal. Tuesday evening after classes I had an early dinner, took a nap, and went down to the gym to play basketball. Other nights after finishing preparing for the next day, we would grab some beers from the convenient store and sit around the lounge area of our dorm floor. By "we" I mean the other participants, a few of which I knew previously, but many were new to me, and VERY INTERESTING!
One of the first characters I met was a Korean whose last name is Baek, pronounced the same as my last name! If that wasn't enough, the Chinese character for "Baek" was white, which I joked made us both "white Becks". And endless puns did ensue.
One man from Italy confirmed that, although I have no Italian ancestry whatsoever, I looked like I could have come from his hometown, Naples, so all those Japanese strangers who ask if I'm Italian: you're all off the hook. Another guy, Manny, who was as funny as he was tall, spoke very frankly and explained a lot of interesting things about real Mexican culture, which only makes me feel more embarrassed for never having been. Next Summer. Definitely.
I also talked to many more people from various countries on numerous topics which was all very international of me, but I balanced this out by returning to my laptop each night and watching episodes of Star Trek Enterprise. I've always love Star Trek, and Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap, but I somehow never saw this series, so I'm catching up now at a furious pace. In the last two and half weeks I've seen almost three whole seasons, but if you think I've been avoiding the real world, you'd be wrong.
On top of Star Trek, meeting people, translation camp and work, snowboard season has started! Last Sunday I got up at 5:00am with some friends, three people from three different countries, and we drove up to Mizuho Highland where we slid the day away on tons of fresh powder! It was so awesome that this Wednesday, the Emperor's Birthday, we're goin' again! Woooo!
Another thing keeping me busy are Japanese year-end parties called bounenkai (forget-the-year party). Because I travel in so many circles, I am obligated to participate in 4 this month. The ken-cho's was on December 4th and the restaurant we went to specialized in Suppon (snapping turtle). We ate its meat boiled in a soup, tried its eggs, raw in soy sauce, liver (also raw and surprisingly refreshing), and even the blood mixed with sake! Then there was the touch rugby bounenkai, and tonight is my English Lunch Club bounenkai, which I planned. Also last Saturday was an Exchange Party at the International Center. This wasn't a bounenkai, but since it was work, I had to stay late and MC the whole thing! Finally, this Saturday will be the Center's bounenkai, also planned by me. This one has 17 people, includes bowling, Chinese food, prizes and presents! Also since it's more formal than my English Club, I had to make seating charts, a budget, do all the preparation and receive approval for every step! Woo!
Luckily, Christmas will be just me and my girl. I got her a great present and she's planning the day for us, so i can relax about that one thing at least.
Next Sunday will be my last day of work this year, but I will pop into work Monday to pick up my much needed paycheck!
Hope your lives are as fun and filled as mine! Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

火曜日, 12月 08, 2009

On the First Night of 研修...

Today was my first of five days of translation and interpreting research. We checked in before lunch, I ate with many new faces, and attended 4 hours of interesting lectures based on the meaning, atmosphere, and note-taking for interpreters.

Our guest speaker was an old man named Mr. Komatsu, who struggled to speak through the pain from pulling his back the day before, but in true samurai spirit, came to lecture us anyhow. He talked of many things I won't bore you with, but at the peak of his first lecture before all 115 students, he gave a hearty speech of how diligence and care-planning allowed him to translate, only one month ago, for none other than the Dalhi Lama, despite conditions where it was difficult to hear the man speak. He closed his speech with a heart-warming resolution in which "His holiness" gave him a scarf with Tibetan written, although it was made by Chinese people who, according to the Lama had no idea what it said, and stuck his tongue out in irony.

To any American this may seem like a harmless tale of someone who scraped through a tough time at work, but to the Chinese students this sounded like an endorsement of the Lama by Mr. Komatsu. In fact, Mr. Kotasu, whose speech was entirely in Japanese, only said that the Dalhi Lama was an interesting character and quite friendly, but when he asked for questions, two students felt the need to defend China. The first did not so much ask a question as clarify that the Dalhi Lama represented many anti-Chinese political views. Mr. Komatsu then carefully explained that while his Lamaness does hold those views, the speech which he translated for him concerned only religious and non-political views. Then there was the second Chinese student, who asked, rather pointedly, that Mr. Komatsu (who after speaking for over an hour and a half had demnostrated considerable knowledge of current world affairs) understood that Tibet was part of China, and the Dalhi Lama's comment regarding China and Tibet as being linked by that scarf, ignored the fact that Tibet was linked to China as a part of their country.

Most of us unrelated folk cringed at the awkwardness, but Mr. Komatsu calmly explained that his account had nothing to do with his own political beliefs (in which he had previously even gone as far as to subtly encouraged more foreign, including Chinese, immigration to Japan), and that what the Dalhi Lama said only struck him as friendly and well-meaning.

I take no side in the matter, but it was indeed a fiercely interesting experience for this CIR (Co-ordinator of International Relations).

After that I met a Korean first-year CIR named Baek (written with the kanji for "white" of all things :p) and for the reception dinner we shared drinks with my English friend Nick and talked about many things from our respective countries. All in all the day was more international than....well, the movie "The International".

火曜日, 12月 01, 2009

This month will fly.

What am I doing this month? A LOT!
In addition to my daily work load: I go to two elementary schools this week to give talks about American culture. I will take a group of foreign people who live here in Hiroshima to a small town to learn about the Japanese traditions of making soba, mochi, and shimenawa (pronounced "she-may-gnaw-wa"). I also have to MC an "Exchange Party" for the Hiroshima International Center, which is basically a poorly disguised Christmas party for local people from many different countries. Also, I get to spend all of next week in Shiga Prefecture studying translation and interpreting on the coast of Lake Biwa.

More than all that, I have bounenkai, which are "forget the year" parties. Most people have one or two this month, but I have four. Two are for work - one for my International Affairs office and one for the international center, one is for touch rugby this Saturday (after playing the Saijo team in Kure), and the last one is for my English Lunch group! Of these four, I am actually in charge of planning and hosting two of them, and each one costs about 40 bucks per person! :[

Then there is the matter of what little free time I have left. I wish I could say "One word: Snowboarding." but the truth is, I have other things like Christmas shopping and boyfriend/girlfriend obligations as well.

All this adds up to no time or money, and when I wake up January 1st, 2010, this month will probably be remembered as a blur, but most likely a very fun blur.

水曜日, 11月 25, 2009

The Tame Article (written for January)

My Hiroshima Winters
By Greg Beck

This marks my fourth winter living in Hiroshima, and being an American raised in the hot, dry, desert, what an evolution I’ve experienced! I’ll never forget when I bought my first sweater. Probably because that happened only four years ago! Tucson, Arizona, where I have spent most of my life, is located in the Sonoran Desert, near the Mexican border. In the winter, after the sun sets, the temperature drops quickly and there is often frost on the windshields and lawns of dead grass. But if you own one jacket and drive everywhere in a car with a heater, you will never notice this nocturnal-only season.
I moved to Ondo, Hiroshima in August 2006, and it was hot, muggy, and beautiful. Fall flew by with amazing island views of deciduous trees, mixed with green pines and grey skies on deep-blue ocean, and jutting, mountainous backdrops. Then, all of the sudden, I was freezing. Not just at night either, the mornings, evenings, even most of the mid-days, I was cold, miserable, and wrapped in the same four or five layers of what warm clothes I bought that month. It wasn’t until late January when my friend came over and showed me my air conditioner had a heater mode that I started thinking positively. Before that, I worried and wondered every day how people can live in these conditions! It was also in January on a chance visit to Uniqlo that I discovered Japanese long-johns. These thin, warm pants and shirts provided me a desperately needed extra layer of warmth that helped me go outside, and stay out later, be more active and social, and all around start loving life again. Of course there were other factors; my friend Brian would drive me with him to Kiyomori Taiko practice, and I bought an electric heater and a kotatsu. I also took a trip to Hokkaido where I learned to snowboard, but that played more of a factor the next year.
My second winter started out completely different. I lived in Kure City. I knew exactly when it would start to get cold and I had my finger ready on the danbou heater button. I also bought clothes and a board for snowboarding so I was actually looking forward to the coming of winter! I was also jogging every night, by then, so the cooler air of fall was a welcome prelude to cold winter nights. Also, if you’ve followed my previous articles, this winter came just after the formation of Kure City’s touch rugby team. With all these things keeping me moving and enjoying my free time, winter quickly went from my worst, to my favorite season! I still needed to wrap myself in a hundred layers before going outside usually, but I happily put those layers on just to peel them off as I exercised.
Last winter was my third, and my first living in Hiroshima City. Surprisingly, it was both better, and worse, in many different ways. My new job here at the International Center meant I was warmer at work, but working weekends meant missing out on half the snowboarding trips I took my second year. We have a lot of fun events in the winter like our upcoming snow-experience in Kita-Hiroshima, as well as the exchange party every December. On the down side, my new neighborhood doesn’t have a track nearby like on Kure, so I stopped jogging, although that is probably just an excuse for being lazy. Lastly, I went home to the desert for Christmas. It was great to go outside again wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but when I came back to Hiroshima for New Years, I got the flu for the first time in my life!
This year, I feel like a winter warrior. I have adjusted my schedule and stayed in Hiroshima. No running away from the cold this year! I have sweaters, jackets, coats, and thermal clothes. I am taking multi-vitamins, working out at home, snowboarding every weekend, and next month my friends and I travel to Nagano for a snowboarding trip! I can’t stress enough how much Japan has helped me learn to love winter. But more importantly, Hiroshima has given me something more, the ability to see the bright side of something I misunderstood for so long.

火曜日, 11月 24, 2009

Life as a Gaijin

Here is an article I just wrote for the Hiroshima International Center's newsletter. In the end, I think I will write a new article that has more to do with Hiroshima, on a less sensitive subject. But I would like to get my opinion out there...

Life as a Gaijin
by Greg Beck

I am a gaijin. I accept it. I am not trying to create any debate or start a social revolution in Japan, but here is a brief description of my life in Japan, and my thoughts on the concept of the word, “gaijin”.

First and foremost, are you aware there is a huge debate over the word gaijin? There are two main sides to this argument. Many people feel offended by the word. They believe there is no linguistic relation to the word “gaikokujin”, meaning “a person from a foreign country”. They argue that because the origin of the word means “outsider”, that calling a person gaijin is divisive, condescending, and even hostile! With this group, using the word “gaijin” can cause problems quickly for both parties. The other side of the debate centers on the Japanese shortening of words. Gaijin, to them, is short for gaikokujin. By this definition, if you are from a foreign country, there is nothing wrong with being a gaijin.

I have always tried to stay above the fray. I believe both parties can be right. Your intent matters more than the words you use. However, some people interpret what they hear differently, so someone can still take offense regardless of the speaker’s intentions. But I believe how a word “should” be used and how people actually use it often differ. A third group deserves mentioning; there are people from foreign countries who have become Japanese citizens. These people spent incredible amounts of time and effort to become Japanese citizens and feel both “gaijin” and “gaikokujin” no longer apply to them. But in Japan’s traditionally homogenous society someone who does not look Japanese is automatically assumed to be a gaijin.

I do not fit into any of these groups. Everyone has the right to say and think what they want. When I first came here in 2004 to study at Konan University, I was oblivious to this issue. As my Japanese improved, I started hearing the word gaijin more and more. I learned it meant “foreigner” and to this day sometimes use the word in that context myself. Since those first months here some of my friends complained of hearing “Gaijin” immediately followed by utterance “Abunai” (dangerous). Also, on many occasions, a few of my foreign friends and I will go to a restaurant and a Japanese couple will enter and comment on there being “many gaijin” there, as if there is some deeper meaning to their observation. In addition to this I noticed people on trains and buses hesitate or avoid sitting next to me. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it continues to happen, even after living here for years. On a rational level, I don’t care if someone does not want to sit next to me. There are many reasons why they might decide not to. Still though, when I notice it, I can’t help imagining a voice saying, “Gaijin. Abunai.” and feeling a little insulted.

Being asked by total strangers where I’m from and how long I’ve been in Japan is another part of being a gaijin. I understand they are expressing their curiosity and an interest in me, which is nice. Also, because my physical appearance is different, I’m sure I stand out, but sometimes I do not want to act as ambassador of my home country, I just want to be another member of the community I live in. Also, these questions sound cold. When they come without a greeting like “Hello, how are you?” or even, “Nice weather we’re having”, it seems like I am being interrogated.

Let’s assume gaijin means “foreigner”, nothing good or bad, just a basic adjective. Calling me “gaijin” would be, technically, correct. But having grown up in America, with white, black, Asian, and Hispanic friends – all “American” with unique ancestry, I cannot remember one time in my life I’ve ever referred to another person in English as “foreign”. To me, even saying someone is American, or Japanese, does not say anything about whether they are short, tall, friendly, mean, greedy, or generous. So to describe a person as “foreign” seems so vague it is pointless.

As I learned more Japanese and traveled the world, I noticed “gaijin” really does not mean “foreign”. “Foreign” is a relative term. For example, if a Japanese person went to Guam, they would become the “foreign” person. But that same Japanese person could still refer to everyone in Guam as “gaijin”. So gaijin’s meaning is probably better expressed as “not Japanese”, and I do not appreciate being referred to by what I am “not”. I know I am not Japanese, and that suits me just fine. My nationality seems as relevant and important as the color of my shirt. A tourist here for the weekend, or someone fluent in Japanese, and living in Hiroshima for 30 years, being reduced to the same, simple term “gaijin” seems dismissive. It also fails to describe what they are.

I am often asked if I would like to live in Japan for ever. I love Japan, and I feel lucky for day I spend here. But if I lived here until I was old and gray, people would still probably call me “gaijin” and ask what country I am from. I don’t know if this problem exists in other countries. I don’t know if Japan will change, or if it does, how quickly. But it would not be easy to call this “my home” when people from the same town call me “gaijin”.

水曜日, 11月 18, 2009

Heading toward Decemburr

So, winter is most definitely here in Hiroshima.
The most awesome aspect of this is the mikan (mandarin orange). Mikan are proof that value is derived from scarcity. Since mikan are the very definition of abundance this time of year, they are completely worthless and handed out as gifts by everyone, to everyone. I have lived in an apartment since the day I moved here, so clearly I have no trees, yet even I have given people mikan, because I received so many! Delicious? Yes. Healthy? Yes! And yet, no one gets excited when you bring home a huge bag of them (for free) because it becomes a challenge to eat them all before they start going bad! Still, it is a very nice problem considering the alternate end of the spectrum: scurvy.

I just got over a cold too by the way. Where were you a week ago mikan?!? But remarkably, it was the first time I've been ill since January, when i caught the flu for the first time in my life. Good streak yeah? I have to attribute it to multi-vitamins, since that's the only thing I've changed since last year.

Next week is Thanksgiving and the DSK SNOW PARTY pre-season Kick-Off party! Woooo! Soon I will be slapping on my snowboard and shredding the snowy mountains of Mizuho!

Last but not least I just read a great article about the origin of modern Japanese people.
check it out!

金曜日, 11月 13, 2009

Hiroshima News

In case you were interested, the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture (my boss) is retiring this month after 16 years. His successor, independent Hidehiko Yuzaki, was elected by a landslide of 200,000 votes more than the runner up in the 5 way election last week. He is 44 years old, and an energy consultant. I'll let you know more when I meet him.

土曜日, 11月 07, 2009

A (not-so?) quick catch up

Okay, so I've decided to give this "blogspot" a try, mostly because i can use my google log-in for it. Very disappointed "Yogafire" was taken for a a URL. I will leave a comment on their blog afterwards.
I'm guessing you are all on different pages in the book of Greg, so this should be your cliff notes so you can skip ahead:

I'm 25, living in Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture (not the same) and working as a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme (British spelling, sorry). This means I work for the Prefectural Government (think "State House") in the International Affairs Division, helping with many tasks, bust mostly translating Japanese documents into English, and trying to talk them into sending me on international business trips. So far, no luck. Also, as part of my job i spend afternoons and the occasional weekend, working at the Hiroshima International Center, where I do much of the same work as well as plan, and host events, and guide people on the occasional field trip. Several times a year (including yesterday) I get to go to an elementary school and talk to the children (in Japanese) about American culture. Because I taught at Japanese elementary schools for 2 years in Kure, Hiroshima, this is an awesome perk. I love Japanese children. My normal schedule is Tuesday through Saturday, but sometimes I work Sunday or Monday meaning I get a three day weekend of my choosing that month.

I live in a small one bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of my building. My landlord Mr. Nakaura and his family live above me and he is a friendly old dude. Next to my apartment is Honkawa park, a small park with no grass, but some playground equipment and open space. During the day it is often used by the school next to that, in the afternoon old people hang out there, and at night drunk people smoke cigarettes while high school students practice their dance routines to a boom box; no joke! Running alongside the park is the river, Honkawa (lit. "Main River") and on the other side is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. As in "where we dropped the bomb, UNESCO World Heritage Site - The Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Museum, dozens of smaller memorials, tons of tourists from Japan and all over the world, hordes of park benches, Cherry trees, and old men playing Shogi, Igo, and Majong"...all 30 seconds walk across the bridge from my apartment! And no, the level of radiation in the area is no different than Tucson, Arizona. I have a bicycle and the nearby street car lines taking care of all of my transportation needs. I love my neighborhood.

My girlfriend Sachie and I have been together almost two years now, and everything's great there. She lives in Kure, but has been working/studying/staying in Hiroshima City for the past 6 months, so I still get to see her almost everyday. Last night they turned on the "Dreamination" lights on Peace Boulevard, I think as a test run, but it was a cool, beautiful evening out so we took a stroll down and back together which was lovely. Dreamination, by the way, is thousands of Christmas light displays strung all over both sides of the street which is actually a 100-meter-wide road including parallel side streets separated from the main road by park paths with towering trees, sculptures, and dry, decorative streams.

Winter is upon us, and the artificial snow will hit Mizuho Highlands at the end of the month, where my friends and I snowboard every season. My left knee STILL kinda hurts from when I came down Mt. Fuji last September, but I had it x-rayed, my bones are good, and I'm taking it easy until I hit the snow.

My Japanese language skillz are still slowly progressing as well. I study kanji, though not as seriously as I should, but I can read more and more everyday. lately my team-leader at the Prefectural Building, Mr. Yahata, has been helping me read though an editorial article once a week during our lunch break, which hopefully will improve my overall reading comprehension too. Most days I learn at least one new word, and just while writing this I learned tsutsuga-mushi, which is Japanese for chigger (the bug).

Oh, and "Prefectural Building" is super annoying to write because in Japanese it's just "kencho", so please remember that for my sake.
love peace and chicken grease!