金曜日, 1月 28, 2011

The Quickening

It may not be THIS dramatic, but I am definitely much busier than prior years.
Although this is my LAST year on JET, month by month I've slowly expanded the range of responsibilities my bosses entrust me with, and with that comes the joy of being over-worked. It really is exhausting to run around helping some many different groups, but my feeling of achievement and overall sense that I am gaining valuable work experience makes it incredibly rewarding.

This week was no exception. My days off this week are Monday and Saturday, and by that I mean I worked last Saturday AND Sunday, translating, helping people, and standard mundane work at the Hiroshima International Center (by now I can just write HIC and you'll get it, right?!?). Monday being my first day off in eight days meant it was a quarter-past-laundry-time. I washed hung, and put away three loads, and consequently, have a fourth load that still needs putting away! I also cleaned my kitchen and bathroom sinks, washed dishes, vacuumed, and emptied two weeks worth of garbage! Whew! Not much of a day off? WRONG! I woke up at 11:30! That alone makes having a day off worth it to me. I hate waking up before nine, and I think I always will. I also went jogging and watched a couple movies, so it wasn't all chores! 
These are what I jog in! <3

Tuesday and Wednesday i was swamped with written translations at both offices, and I was even asked to compose, not translate, a cover letter from my boss to the secretary for a Former S.African President! Heavy! (for regular readers this would be the same former president I shared a cruise through Hiroshima Bay with!)

Vice-Governor Jono and the Anna University delegation
Yesterday i showed 8 University professors from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India around the Peace Park and Miyajima, and today I took notes on the conversation between Australian Osaka Consul General Rees and Hiroshima Governor Yuzaki! DOUBLE whew! But I am all done now and tomorrow being my day off I will... SNOWBOARD!
Much love!
Until next time.

土曜日, 1月 22, 2011

5 days in Shiga

This past week I spent four nights, five days at a training camp in Shiga Prefecture, on the shore of Japan's largest lake, Biwako in Karasaki. I took this photo (click to enlarge) on Monday, and as you can see it was snowing and below-freezing that day. The training camp, called JIAM is on the middle-left above the tree line, and for some reason the middle school directly across the street had "YES WE CAN!" written on it.

This was not my first time here though. In fact, 13 months prior I had a similar stay for a translation and interpretation camp as part of a six-month correspondence course I took. This time I am studying Japanese Linguistics and Pedagogy, but the format is the same.

Day one was the standard check-in, opening ceremony and lectures, followed by a welcome dinner, but unlike last year's camp of about 200 students, this course had only 60 students, so we shared out welcome dinner with a group of Japanese civil servants who, like us, arrived that day from all across Japan to attend a two-day course as part of their own English correspondence studies. It was fun and interesting to chat with people both, Japanese and foreign, from all parts of Japan.

The next three days we were divided into five classes of nine or ten students and each prepared and presented our own mock Japanese lessons to the other members. Our teacher, Nagasaki Sensei, was a very interesting woman who used to teach Japanese in Kenya, and gave us lots of sharp and insightful advice. I ended up going last in our group, and even though I had the benefit of the nine people who presented before me and saw their mistakes, part of me thought teaching Japanese would be no harder than when I taught English, but it was incredibly more difficult! I am very forgetful and much more improvisational, so trying to stick to a textbook and lesson plan proved to be awkward, but the experience was definitely interesting.

Oh, that's right. I rocked my Vibrams everyday!
But wait, there's more.
After we finished, we needed to create a presentation to give to other classes about what we learned from our experience, and what to remember when preparing a lesson. Two girls, Shannon and Halley, came up with an idea to do an Alice in Wonderland themed skit. I wanted to be the Cheshire Cat, but they made me the Caterpillar. Oh well. So we prepared for that until around 6pm and then I went to Kyoto City and had dinner with my buddy Sebastian (who btw, put my mom and me up for the night and made us Canadian breakfast when she came to Japan), which was great. The next morning our class met early and rehearsed some more (we had to go first!) but we nailed it and everyone seemed to like it. There were a lot of other good performances that day as well.

We had our closing ceremony after that and I took the train to Kyoto with Baek (my Korean brother-from-another-mother-country), and had lunch with Caleb (another kindred CIR) and after a couple rounds on the electric store massage chairs, grabbed a shinkansen home.
GOOD TIMES! I don't know if I will ever actually teach Japanese, but now I have a slight advantage over other people, not to mention it was great practice for my own Japanese and provided me with many useful resources if I do.

Now I am home in Hiroshima, but I have to work today and Sunday, so my one day off (Monday) I will be at home doing laundry all day!

Real quick, since I know my description was vague and weak on content:

Here's what I did well in my lesson:
I engaged the students directly and asked them to listen to my questions and answers all in Japanese (didn't use any English), and discussed topics the class would be interested in.
I got through review, and moved into explaining the new grammar points and lesson goals quickly, using colored markers to emphasize new words and structures.
I used to pair work and calling on students to drill and confirm they understood the new content.

Here's what I did poorly:
I made lots of small mistakes such as giving instructions using Japanese that was too difficult.
I was a little nervous and messed up the order, forgot to cover, or repeated unnecessarily certain portions of the content.
I gave two or three examples in class where my Japanese was just plain incorrect.
I didn't have enough time at the end of my lesson to let students be creative with the new grammar, which was the main point I was hoping to use so they would leave the lesson feeling satisfied.

金曜日, 1月 14, 2011

Humanity, Struggle, and the Fallacy of Peace?

When I started this blog seven months ago, I was already quietly starting to question whether "World Peace" is impossible, or even an unreasonable, ideal.

Back in my high school days I read this comic called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac:
This specific issue dealt with the concept of heaven, and in the authors imagination, heaven was a place without conflict, and free from want, which meant everyone sat around, completely still, and utterly content. At the time I did not think critically about society, but was getting deeply interested in religion and the content it espouses. If you were free from sadness, I thought, would joy even exist in its absence? Would you be moved from pure bliss to sing God's praises as so many paintings and stories of angels suggest, or would you, freed from all desire, just... sit there? I decided I do not wish to be free of desire. I want motivation to move, to act, to improve my situation and surroundings. After life ends, I may be faced with choosing between this world or contented perfection, but I doubt it, and I will put that aside for the rest of this conversation. But still, I think of this comic often, because now as I ponder the living world, I have to conclude that, my blog title still holding: If life were easy, it would be sooo boring!

I will not entertain the concept that you cannot improve your situation without putting someone else at a disadvantage. Most such modern philosophy quickly devolves into hyperbole-rich, hypothetical, meaningless pontification. What I do look to for the big-"T"-Truth, is the natural world, especially animals.

From the biological viewpoint, if humans had no new challenges, we would cease to evolve right? My logic for this comes from crocodiles. Basically the most successful dinosaur ever. It's a giant lizard, that swims, walks, and kills, and does it all with a smile. They have always lived in the same place, had plenty of food available to them, and reproduced unchallenged. So even after hundreds of millenniums passed, they stayed the same. I know that as a human, I will not do or see much  human evolution in my lifetime (indeed, sometimes it seems like I can see the opposite!), but the thought of humans staying the same in physical and mental limitations and ability for another million years is a depressing one.
It's not too late. To whip it. Whip it good.

I thought about this, on a very personal scale, for years. Challenge, goals, mile posts, and even set-backs can all be good things for learning and growing. Then about three years ago, I moved to just outside the Peace Park in Hiroshima City, formerly Ground Zero for the first atomic bombing on an actual target, and began my current job, including lots of reading and translating regarding that subject.

I want to make something crystal clear before continuing: I am absolutely, and unabashedly against the very existence of nuclear weapons, their proliferation, and the absurd thought that by having them, you are any safer. Living here, learning about every aspect of atomic weapons, from scientific creation and application, to resulting devastation and lasting turmoil; and above all meeting and working with actual atomic bomb survivors, has taught me beyond a shadow of a doubt that no space in humanity exists for ANY weapon with such lasting and wide spread repercussions.

One thing I never hear anyone say as a reason for why we should abolish nuclear weapons: human conflicts don't last long enough to justify their use. Every last soul in country A and country B could hate each others' guts, and feel it justified in their hatred, but 56 years later, where are the first two foreign countries this American visits, the first international friends I make, and the best time of my life experienced? Germany and Japan. The "Krauts" and "Nips" that Popeye cartoons stereotyped in prime, racist fashion during the war. Even in the '80s I remember watching these cartoons repeated on television, although I didn't understand fully what I was watching. Despite Hiroshima proving to be more resilient in its recovery than any scientists estimated, it is still not fair to your own offspring to inflict such lasting damage on a people, since decades later when you are dead and gone, the children who survived your atrocities are now having to cope with being around your children, who also had absolutely zero say in the matter, and just want to get along in peace.

But WMDs aside, is it natural to wage war? "Huh! Good god!" Is it really good for "absolutely nothin!"? Obviously not; human evolution, technological development, and history, have come from fighting a series of wars. The first tools, fire, and shelter, can be thought of as developments from war with our environment for to survive. Castles, jets, satellites, and and many advances in medicine came out of necessity from being at war with other countries. Even in the business world, we call competition that leads to lower prices, "Price Wars".

But back to nature. Plenty of examples of war exist in nature. Chimpanzees, and dolphins are thought to be some of the closest to humans in terms of intelligence. Perhaps that is why dolphins will play with and even save humans they find in the ocean, the same way we coddle and care for other species which we find cute. Yet that same pod of dolphins may willfully go scouting and attack other clans of dolphins. Recently, videos of Japanese bees and wasps waging war against each other have become viral videos on YouTube and you can see there and on National Geographic videos about ants, that even very low-intelligence, hive-minded insects wage war.

I am not condoning war, but my current working philosophy is that war is at least natural. Possibly at the core of the heavy losses and devastation to life, nature, and humanity that have accompanied wars over the last century, is our own foolish pride and attempts, through complicated treaties, embargoes, and alliances, to avoid small wars between specific groups. Instead we strain both sides and threaten their sovereignty for merely acting in the best interests of their people. We always refer to small waring regions as "unstable", but what if they are unstable before fighting breaks out, and war is their way of stabilizing?

A microcosm of our current predicament can be seen if we look at the history of North American Plains Indians. For centuries many had a tradition of counting coup. Despite constant tribal wars, casualties were low, because prestige, or making your enemy look like a fool, was prized higher than killing. The introduction of deadlier weapons from European settlers escalated the scale of tribal wars, and because of a gun's obvious advantage the Plains Indians began using them and conflict resolution went from making the enemy look bad, to outright kill-or-be-killed.

Some may argue that the progression of technology is to blame. Now that guns and nuclear weapons exist, there is "no going back". Again, I disagree. I don't see any need to go backwards technologically, but most of society has to change their unrealistic expectation that there is never a need for violence. Physical violence may be brutal and animal, but to deny ourselves that part of our evolution is denying we too are animals. If you look at the proportionate strength of wild animals to modern man, we are a pretty pathetic lot. This was probably not the case before, but physically, each new generation seems less able to perform manual labor, and mentally less able to express their problems, resolve them, and move on.

Ultimately, I believe the only way to fix society's problem with war and conflict in general, requires a mental shift, and that starts with how we ourselves think and what lessons we pass on to the next generation. Religious holy war-waging lunatics have the advantage, since their dogma also includes a doctrine to have as many children as possible, but if they are forced to interact with sounder, more well-rounded children in their schools and playgrounds, maybe the notion that "it's okay to fight through something" will return to society, along with something much closer to actual peace than what we have today.

Not a whole lot to speak of in my personal life, so I will rant next about Japan's English education and American political shortcomings next. It will hopefully be a little more stimulating than how that just sounded though :P

In the meantime, leave a comment and let me know what you think. Am I totally off my rocker, or does this make sense?
Love, Peace, and War!

土曜日, 1月 08, 2011

Nagano, etc. etc.

Happy New Year everybody. It's the year of the Rabbit and you know what that means? No, really, do you know? I don't. But I like rabbits.

I spent my winter holiday in Kobe and Nagano. The night before I left for Kobe, I had to use all my cash to cover a year end party I organized because they didn't take credit cards, but luckily for me, my buddy Tim was going with me and had the cash to cover my bus ticket, because it left before the ATMs "opened". That's right. 24-hour atms don't work for Japanese banks. Remember that.
Tim playing with his food. Yeah, the restaurant had cotton candy!

Anyway, we took the 4 hour bus to Kobe, which was actually fun with Tim there to chat with, and when we got to Kobe we met up with some friends and grabbed lunch.

Tim took this! Thank you, Tim. ...Thim.

In Kobe I met with like 5 old friends from my study abroad days, which is always amazing since there were 40 of us in total so that's practically a reunion!

My friend Masa who owns a Hawaiian restaurant in Kobe called Oluolu was SO NICE to invite me and Kui (visiting from Hawaii) to his home for a nabe (hotpot) party complete with fresh bought seafood from Okayama!
Me with my left-handed chopsticks
 Then I took off straight to Nagano. The trains from Nagoya to Hakuba (specifically Kamishiro, where I stayed) took FOREVER but the view was incredible the whole way.
 I met up with my buddy Micah, who also lives in Hiroshima and got settled in to our lodge Tabi-tabi (a play on words, cuz "tabi" means journey and "tabitabi" means repeatedly).

 The lodge itself was really awesome and run by a young Japanese guy and his Canadian wife, who were both avid snowboarders. When New Year's Eve came they busted out all these crazy costumes and we all played dress-up. Such innocent, random fun! (Jesus Freak and the dude on the bottom right are the couple that run the place, bottom-middle are a couple from Netherlands, top-middle are a couple, Yellow from England, and Blue from Australia, and Carrot-Bear-Santa is Micah)
You guys know you can click on these pics to see them bigger right?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The morning after I got there the wife, Jesus Freak (her name is Angela, but i LOVE that shirt) drove Micah and I to Happone, the 1998 Winter Olympic resort, for a full day of snowboarding in the craziest conditions of my life! Micah, whose been doing it more than twice as long as me, also remarked that he had never been in as much deep, heavy powder. It was very hard for me to adjust, but eventually I got to the point where I was able to move around and enjoy it properly. We also found this sweet spot with about a 5 foot drop which Micah attacked and I tried timidly, but twice.
By the end of the day I was exhausted and actually took the next day off to relax and recuperate for boarding another full day at Goryuu (five dragons) with Micah, Warren, Emiko and their friend from Gunma, Takki.
It was insanely cold that afternoon and a wind started blowing that made them shut down a couple lifts and slow down the rest to a crawl. We parted ways to have dinner and get changed, planning to meet back up for the New Year's Eve countdown and fireworks, but the fireworks were canceled due to the wind, Taki's car got stuck in the snow, and we ended up meeting at 12:10 1/1/11. But we took it back to their lodge and had a low key party of potato chips and local wine.
Coming home on the Shinkansen (bullet train), one of my co-workers sat down next to me on the train! How improbable is that! He sat down right next to me, and neither of us even noticed for about 5 minutes! Not only were we both on vacation outside Hiroshima, he wasn't even on his way back! He got off at the next stop to bring some New Year's decorations to his parents' house! You gotta love Japan for those kind of coincidences, which seem to happen much more frequently than in the states.

Anyway, I took the next two days very slowly. Cleaned my apartment, a week's worth of laundry (which already needs doing again), and watched some movies. (I highly recommend Summer Wars, which is coming out in America soon, if not already). Great family movie, like Spirited Away, but at the same time, completely different.

Also, just to warn you, my next post is going to be long, rambly, and have nothing to do with my life per-say, but I want to write out some philosophical stuff I've been mulling for the last few months! Feel free to leave comments! (I've written some other stuff in the past I'm very proud of too, so if you haven't yet and you're bored, take a look at my older posts).


My New Year's Resolutions:
-find a new home (country)
-find a new job
-visit at least 3 new countries
-start studying German again
-continue to work out/シェップアップ my 上半身 (in the words of Jack Black "rock-hard abs, washboard-style!")
-get my shoulder done (tattoo)
-break 200 at bowling
-be myself more often
-start a comic strip
-make a stand-up comedy routine
-stop laughing at my own jokes
-cut done on on saying え~と~ and laughing nervously after saying something in Japanese that isn't funny.
-try other less than legal/taboo things I can't write here
-eat more animals
-learn a new skill or 5

-stop telling other people what to do
-let other people be wrong/make their own mistakes