Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Game of Highs and Lows ...

[Written on June 18]

For this post, I’ll hit the lows, then the highs, because I always like to end on a good note. (Again, the pictures were arranged in no particular order – I just like to scatter my photos because I think people are more likely to read what I wrote if there’s one nearby ;) )

Some shots of my room - the desk, chairs, bed, bureau, mirror, and everything else you can think of -- all handmade by Otou-san! It's also slightly bigger than my room at home, so score!

First, even though I’m STARVING everyday, I’m still gaining weight. My metabolism has slowed dramatically since all my meals are spread out between six plus hours, making me so ravenous by the time dinner comes around (the largest meal of the day) that I scarf down all my rice. (And a giant bowl of starchy white rice is not the most filling food in the world.) Even when I try to not eat so much, Okaa-san urges me to scrape off every grain of rice stuck to my bowl. (And as for an Asian-American who’s pretty much white on the inside, I SUCK at eating rice with chopsticks. Actually, I don’t think most Korean-Americans usually eat rice with chopsticks in the first place.) As much as I love Japanese cuisine, I really miss regular snacks like fruit throughout the day since I usually eat five or six smaller meals a day in America. I could buy snacks at the コンビニs nearby, but the $5 a day for lunch that the Light fellowship budgets for us doesn’t really go that far in Japan, even in a smaller city like Hakodate. At the cheapest supermarket, you can get a bento for around 300 yen, but drinks and snacks add on quite a few yen. (A single apple costs 128 yen!) Also, the few muscles that I built at Payne Whitney last year are slowly atrophying into blobs of fat because I’m not lifting weights regularly anymore. (I need to look up some good at-home strengthening exercises later). *Sigh* Nevertheless, Japan’s reputation for being a healthy country is certainly not false; in fried-chicken-loving Kentucky, I probably pass by two overweight people for every three people, but in Japan, maybe two out of … a hundred? (Very rarely, I mean.)

All the Japanese cars are so tiny!! This is the standard size of a VAN.

Second low: For only an eight-minute walk to HIF, I don’t get to sleep in that much more – actually, I get to wake up bright and early at 5:15 a.m. everyday because my host family eats breakfast at six. (I could sleep in until six, but I prefer running right before meals.) All the high schools in Hakodate start pretty early, so having a host sister, as much as I adore Riko for her Japanese schoolgirl “かわいい!”s and “すごい!”s, poses a bit of a challenge. I even have to get up at six tomorrow (Saturday) because Riko’s school still meets on every other Saturday. As such, I’ve not been getting much shuteye lately, but it’s about as much as I get at Yale, so I guess it’s nothing new to me. Plus it gets me up in the morning to review (*cough cough* learn) yesterday’s homework and kanji.

Ugh, the mention of kanji makes me scrunch my nose in pain. I used to think speaking was the hardest part of Japanese, but after spending almost a week with my host family, it’s not as bad as I thought. Kanji, however, is a different beast; I tried to memorize almost 40 kanji in one night for a test on ones we had supposedly learned before, only to find that my hand was still sore the next morning and that I would do horribly on the test anyway. I remember shopping both Chinese and Japanese last fall (which, by the way, I do NOT recommend), and thinking to myself, “Well, I really don’t feel like memorizing characters all day, so Japanese for me.” Ha, how naïve I had been. Traveling around in Japan, you realize how essential a solid knowledge of kanji is in everyday life. You can’t figure out where you with either the signs or a map, much less order a recognizable dish at a restaurant. Though according to Asoka-sensei (my sensei at HIF), you only need to memorize around 1000 kanji to be able to read 90% of the kanji that’s actually used. Yeah, ONLY 1000.

Photos of the Jomon archaeology site that HIF organized a trip to. One of the first groups of people in Japan, they lived in pits dug in the ground and eventually added roofs too. Not sure if it was worth the one-hour bus ride, but I got to practice Japanese with Hakodate University students on the way!

But since the massive kanji test, class is settling into more of a reasonable pace (now I only have to memorize 20 kanji a night...). I placed into Intermediate IB by some miracle; perhaps the oral interviewer was a fan of 꽃보다 남자 too :) ? I don’t know if HIF is as intense as PII (Princeton in Ishikawa), but in the end, I chose HIF over PII after getting accepted to both because, as cliché as it sounds, I realized that a lot of the learning would take place outside the classroom. After putting academics aside, I wanted to see a different side of Japan beside the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or even the cities that aren't as big. And when would I ever get to travel to Hokkaido, even if I visited Japan again in the future? I also talked to previous HIF students from Yale who said that I would be fine if I placed into L5 next fall (although I can only wait and see). Oh and yeah, the awesome running weather is also a plus. After enduring hot and humid Kentucky summers for eleven years, I deserve a break, eh?

Goryokaku at night. To me, Hakodate's not as small as everyone makes it out to be, although I guess I do come from a pretty podunk town in Kentucky.

But finally it’s the weekend! And since it was Pankova-san’s birthday, we went for karaoke and dinner in Goryokaku, a busier part of Hakodate that’s more inland. This was actually my first time in an actual karaoke place since there’s definitely not one near Radcliff, Kentucky, the town with a four-screen movie theater. とてもおもしろかったです!Although riding back home on the tram ride alone was a huge contrast to the one to Goryogaku – without the huge flock of HIF students, I realized just how much I could blend in as a Japanese person. On the same tram, there were two American tourists who were chatting pretty loudly (at least for a Japanese tram), which made a lot of heads toward their way (including me). “We’re so American,” they had chuckled to themselves. I remember thinking to myself, maybe I’m a little grateful for being able to blend in? But then, am I also starting to adopt a Japanese way of thinking, to strive to conformity and become lost in the sea of black heads and white-collared work uniforms? Of course, it could just be a universal tendency, but I think especially in Japan, conformity is widely accepted, whereas in America, individualism is at least a goal. Just a thought …

I'll end with some advice for future Light fellows -- most people have a problem with overpacking, but I seem to always regret UNDERPACKING. (Though I did pass the luggage allowance with flying colors.) Some things you should bring if you're studying at Hakodate for the summer:

1. School supplies - You're going to class, so it would make sense to bring pencils, erasers, paper, etc. I, unfortunately, have no common sense and spent over 600 yen on four pencils, a pencil sharpener, a pack of 70 Japanese-size (always mini-size) loose leaf paper, and the tiniest eraser I had ever seen.  
2. Some light jackets/sweaters - It's usually in the 60s and 70s during the day in Hakodate right now but at night, it gets a little chilly. For the time being, I'm reusing my SF49ers jacket that I fortunately decided to pack at the last minute (thank goodness Okaa-san also does laundry everyday).
3. A three to two-prong converter if you have a laptop plug that's three prongs - My struggles with this already described in a previous post. (Oh, and I did manage to find out that Yamada Denki sold them, but it took another round of mutually confused looks with the store attendants...)
4. A denshi-jisho (electronic Japanese-English dictionary) - SO CONVENIENT. (Or it would be, if I had bought one before I flew to Japan.) I have a paperback one as well as the ever helpful online Denshi Jisho, but when it comes to class time, I'm lost whenever Asaoka-sensei uses a word I haven't learned yet (which is something like every five seconds). It would be cool if I could find a good Japanese-Korean-English one so I could practice Korean too...

So I still have yet to talk about my search for a church here and religion in Japan, but expect a post about that soon. 

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jglc said...

really looking forward to the post about religion/church!

"I chose HIF over PII after getting accepted to both because, as cliché as it sounds, I realized that a lot of the learning would take place outside the classroom." I thoroughly co-sign this sentiment. My first summer in China, I chose the Duke program, as opposed to the flocks of Yale students that were attracted to the Harvard/Princeton programs. Without trying to defend or denigrate the latter, my experience at Duke was incredible precisely for the reasons that you list - I got to meet and hang out with a lot of local (non-University) Chinese friends that have since become really important in my life, friendships that have been sustained going on five years now. Hope the same will be true for you, Mir!

Kelly McLaughlin said...

Quite right about learning outside the classroom! Great post, great advice. Looking forward to more.

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