Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - the year of cutting loose.

Well, I'm sitting here in a hostel in Malaysia, after having a lovely Afternoon Tea at Harrods, and contemplating this assignment that I really need to get finished.

What better time to reflect on the year? After all, there's only a little over six hours left in it.

For me, 2011 has been the year of cutting loose.

One year ago, I quit my job, upon the realisation that it wasn't something that I wanted to tie myself to for the foreseeable future. Not necessarily because I felt entitled to something "better", but rather that I hadn't given myself enough options.

I spent the year floating about a couple of jobs, still building my experience through a few projects, but not committing to anything permanent.

And, of course, I've gotten a few more stamps in my passport, from Samoa, Malaysia, Japan, and Singapore.

I also took a break from writing, which feels like a mistake in hindsight, but at the same time, I never felt the compulsion like I used to. But that's okay. There's nothing like forcing a habit to create an anathema.

Living in Japan has also been an experience. It's been a challenge, absolutely, but a good one. It's taught me a lot about personal limitations, in a similar-but-different way to my time living in Darwin. It's made me realise how valuable certain things are in my life. Things like friendships, language, stories, and being part of a creative community. These are the things that I find beautiful and invigorating, and I need to seek them out where I can.

And everything else? I've realised that every moment isn't necessarily as critical as I once thought. You never really burn bridges, and whilst I'm taking time out doing other things, I'm going to come back to an industry/world one year later, where people are still basically doing the same thing that they were doing when I left. That kind of thing isn't for me. Then again, neither is coasting through life on a whim of wanderlust.

So, what does 2012 hold? Something very different. I already have very specific ideas of what I want to do next year, but I'm afraid to immortalise them in blog-form, lest I jinx myself. But unlike 2011, there will be no more throwing caution to the wind. 2012 will be about making plans, making commitments, and getting real again.

See you next year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We're in Singapore! We've been enjoying the festive season in the balmy tropics of the Straights Settlements, and it's been wonderful. Videos to follow soon.

In the meantime, here's some footage of winter illumination around Japan. The first is from last week's trip to the Arashiyama Hanatouro - a winter illumination festival in Kyoto. The second is of the illumination on the shores of Lake Hiraike near my house.





Happy holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2011

100 days in Japan

So, this week marked 100 days in Japan. It's been something of a tumultuous week, with some disappointing news on a number of fronts, of which I won't go into.

The hardest part about living here has been the uncertainty about the future. A part of me still clings to my past professional life, unwilling to let go, and be happy with living in a place where I don't have the obligation to function in society on a professional level - or even to a capacity where I am valued as somebody with professional skills. My only unique talent here is my ability to speak English, and without fluency in Japanese, my capacity to utilise that talent is severely impaired.

And yet, I feel compelled to at least try to be satisfied with what I have in front of me. Just chill the hell out, and simply be. Stop trying to analyse the problems of the world. Stop feeling futile in the face of them.

My life's prospects aren't going to go down the tube, simply because I didn't work for a year. I need to stop acting like they will, and I need to get over myself.

(But it's hard. It feels like giving up.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kobe Luminarie

This evening I visited Kobe for the Kobe Luminarie - a light festival that is held every December for about 2 weeks, to commemorate the great earthquake of 1995. The lights were donated by the Italian government, and are turned on for a couple of hours every evening during the festival.



It was absolutely enormous. They close down city blocks to accommodate the crowds - at least tens of thousands, and that was just in the one evening! Once the lights go on, the crowd slowly moves down the street, under ornate illuminated arches, leading to the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park, where there are other illuminated structures.

Along with my Koyasan visit, this has been the most stunning event I have been to in Japan so far.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Movember 2011

So, November came and went, and with it came the opportunity to grow questionable facial hair, whilst remaining suitable for social outings. Here is a progressive video of my mo for the month.


The big question - do I keep it? Do I grow it more? Or do I purge my face of its follicle growth?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kansai Culture Day weekend

So, last weekend, Kansai celebrated Culture Day by having a weekend of free museums. Here is one of them:


Taking up the whole eighth floor of the building was a entire recreated village of the Edo Period. Impressive, yes? And then, on the floor below, were many displays of intricate models recreating scenes of Osaka in the early 20th century.

After that, we finally took a trip on the HEP 5 Ferris Wheel. The view was spectacular, and it also had an iPod dock to play your own music in the capsule. It's little things like that that make the experience a little more special. :)


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fear of Dancing

Preamble: I've noticed that this blog has thus far been dominated by my travel videos. I've also been reading a number of swing dancing blogs, so I thought that I'd try my hand at a dancing-related blog-post...

When I was in high school, I had a morbid fear of dancing. I still remember being at the MLC formal in 1996, girls attempting to coax me onto the dance floor, and I'd sit on the sidelines shaking my head furiously. Even when everybody was moshing to the Smashing Pumpkins, and pelvic-thrusting to the Grease Megamix.

Fear is the best way of describing it. Performance anxiety is another. I didn't know the rules. What if I didn't do it right, and looked like an idiot? I wouldn't know where to start.

In hindsight, I wish somebody had explained to me that nobody on the dance floor cared about any of that, and that I should get over myself. I eventually realised this, about the same time that I started going to goth nightclubs, and started dancing like I was practicing martial arts to the soundtrack of The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Prodigy. The dance floor at Abyss nightclub was my dojo.

Flashforward ten years - to 18 months ago. I start dating a swing dancer. Every few weeks, she was off to an exchange, and I figured that, it being something that she was keen on, that I would learn to swing dance. In secret. I figured that, in a month or two, I'd learn enough to be able to sweep her off her feet, Frankie Manning aerial style.

Firstly, the "learning in secret" thing didn't exactly work - I seriously underestimated the incestuous nature of the swing dancing scene, and after a few near-misses (i.e. "No, I've never met her before. Especially not at a dancing class"), I 'fessed up.

Secondly, whilst I was nailing the moves in class, with the teachers calling out the moves, social dancing was a completely different story. I remember my first social dance. I walked into the room, with my repertoire of six-beat tuck-turns and pass-bys, and it was the MLC formal all over again. With me sitting on the sidelines, shaking my head whenever somebody asked for a dance. Occasionally, I'd be brave enough, and those three-and-a-half minutes would last forever, perpetually worried that this girl would hate me for my bad dancing.

The thing is this - when you're a lead, you need to dance for two people. Not only did I have to look good, but I also had to make my follow look good by leading her well. It was just "too scary" - what if I screwed up? The crazy thing is that I wasn't scared of performing. Here's a video of me at the performance ball in October last year. (In the front right)


I wasn't social dancing then.

It took me a good six months until I became brave enough to social dance "properly". Learning 8-beat helped a lot.

However, the fear has still been there for the year that has transpired since then. The Fear of Dancing has mutated into a subset - Fear of Dancing with People who are Really Good. (I also have a Fear of Blues Dancing, but I'll blog about that another time.)

And the most terrifying of all - being asked to dance by a teacher.

Moving to Japan has helped me face my fears somewhat. It helps that I really don't know what level a lot of dancers are at. It helps that I'm now dancing in a social dancing scene that isn't dominated by a skill-based hierarchy (which was the case in Melbourne) with teachers at the top, then the various troupes, then "mid-stream" students, then beginners.

However, being a traveller, I feel like I'm finally free from the fear. I can just get on with enjoying the dance, without worrying about whether my follow will be underwhelmed by my leading.

At least, so I thought, until this week, with a visit to Osaka by amazing guest teachers Patrick and Natasha. I loved the friendliness and enthusiasm with which they embraced the scene, and danced with everybody... that is, until it was my turn again!

And the fear struck, once again! Of course, I accepted the dance, but I was too preoccupied with rising panic to really enjoy it. Will I ever be free?

Finally, a similar concern is how I'll feel if/when I return to the Melbourne scene. All my peeps that I started out with will have blossomed into troupe members, whilst my skills will have atrophied through months of travel, devoid of dancing. They will have evolved into the dreaded subset of my dance-a-phobia.

I may never dance again.

Then again, maybe I'm over-thinking the whole thing. After all, it's just dancing, right?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Koyasan: take two!

For our second trip, we took two days, and stayed the night in a buddhist temple, complete with meditation session and mommy vegetarian food.
We also went to the cemetery at night time, but it seems that my camera doesn't work too well in the dark. S has also written about the trip with more photos. Definitely worth returning, and I want to go back in December once it's started snowing. Then again in Spring when the cherry blossoms have bloomed. It's certainly the most stunning place I've been to so far.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Koya-san!

So, last weekend was our first trip to Koya-san. We're visiting again next weekend, and this time we'll be staying overnight. I expect it'll be colder and there'll be more red leaves to look at. Meanwhile, here are our first impressions...

Friday, November 4, 2011

2 months in Japan

So, it's now 2 months since I arrived in Japan.

I'm still not sure how to describe how I feel about being here. I don't feel settled, because I don't have a local job, or any long-term security. However, I'm not exactly on holiday either, because more than half my time here is spent in some semblance of domestic routine. I get up, I do cleaning, wash clothes, go for walks runs, cook meals. I'm becoming a regular housewife. It keeps me going - for now.

I'm also meeting new people every week. I've established a few local connections. I've been doing a couple of hours of private teaching each week, plus helping out some other local English enthusiasts who have been very hospitable in return.

And I've been able to travel a bit too. I've visited Osaka half a dozen times, Nara twice, and Kobe and Kyoto once. We've made plans to go to Malaysia / Singapore / Hong Kong in December / January.

I'm also studying - I've gotten one subject down closer to completing my masters. The plan is to have that done by next August.

Being November, I'm also engaged in NaNoWriMo. I've been a bit slow off the mark, but I plan to catch up quickly next week. Oh yes. I'm not planning to have the great Australian novel written, but hopefully it'll unclog my creative flow.

So, my life definitely feels like it's in transition. The wheels are in motion. I'm not sure where they'll take me, but it'll be somewhere. It's still scary not knowing what will happen next, but I can't say it's been too boring.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

I need a haircut...

It's been over 2 months since my last haircut, and the situation is becoming dire. Fortunately, the town of Kishigawa has no shortage of hairdressers...



Which one shall I go to?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vegies and pastries in Kyoto...

Over the long weekend, we also visited Kyoto for half a day. There was a vegetarian food festival in a temple, and we also participated in a pastry-making class at the Royal Hotel, followed by afternoon tea...


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another trip to Osaka

We've just had yet another 3-day weekend, so we headed in to Osaka for the Osaka Lindy Exchange. We also had quite a bit of spare time, so we hired some bikes and did some sight-seeing about town...


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Civic duty...

So, last Friday I was visited by my neighbour from downstairs, holding a bucket. The conversation was somewhat awkward as I speak very little Japanese, and he spoke even less English. However, the gist of it was that I had to take the bucket, and do some cleaning the following Friday at 10am. Further investigations indicated that the task involved some cleaning of the garbage collection point, just down the road from my house. Here's what ensued this morning...


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My birthday...

I have to catch up with my videos... so here goes!

It was my birthday a little over two weeks ago. We headed into Kishiwada, which in the south-eastern outskirts of Osaka, and witness the craziness of the Danjiri Matsuri. In the past, people have died in horrible accidents, but we felt safe in the knowledge that it had been almost ten years since the last fatality, and that kind of thing couldn't happen in this day and age...


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One month abroad...

So, it's been one month since I left Australia. I spent five days in Malaysia, and then arrived in Japan, where I now live.

Impressions so far...

1. Everybody speaks Japanese, and pretty much only Japanese. This shouldn't really be such a surprise to me, and I certainly don't expect them to speak English, just for my benefit. However, compared with countries like Australia and Malaysia which are far more multicultural, Japan is very much a monocultural society. The thing that confuses me in this respect is that there are many street signs, and shop signs, for that matter, that are also in English, creating something of a bilingual facade to a mere visitor such as myself.

2. It is hot. And humid. Give me a miserably bitter winter any day.

3. Country life is beautiful. It's refreshing, living across the road from rice paddies and down the road from a small lake. The air is fresh, and you see all of nature's beauty around, from ducks and cranes to turtles crossing the footpath. And then there are the spiders. I do not care much for spiders. At least I haven't encountered any giant centipedes or killer bees. Yet.

4. Japan is expensive to travel in. Yes, I'd heard this, but I figured that it couldn't be much worse than living in Melbourne. Unfortunately, it costs around 35 AUD to travel return to Osaka, which is the nearest big city. Until I get a job, this kind of trip is a luxury that I can't really afford. The other nearby city is Wakayama, but it's very spread out - not really a "walking about" kind of city, and I'm better off driving there if I want to go anywhere. And as for driving - well, to get to most places involve tolls, which make the cost of public transport seem like peanuts.

5. The food is fantastic. Some of it is cheap, some of it is expensive.

6. Country life is quiet. There really isn't anything to do here, other than going for walks, which I do quite frequently. Osaka seems to be the place to be, except see point 3 above. Also, if I want to take in the night life, I need to book a hostel for the night, because there's no way I'd catch the last train home if I want to stay past 9pm. I plan to look into internet cafes as a cheap alternative...

7. Finally, there is a lot of cool stuff to go out and see, so long as I have the money to do it. We went to the Kishiwada Danjiri matsuri the weekend before last, which was loud and crazy fun. We also visited Nara, and I definitely want to go back there and explore a little more. I think that, if you like visiting temples and cultural festivities, then Japan certainly has a lot of it

Of course, I've had to deal with my share of culture shock. For me, it's been a combination of an absence of English-language-based stimulation, the expense of simply getting around, and living in a place devoid of things to do. I've started getting involved in the local community, volunteering with English classes, but it's either school-aged students, or middle-aged-to-elderly parents. I haven't really gotten a sense of there being a local scene of 20-to-30-somethings, and that's going to be hard for me.

Then again, isolation can also be a good thing. I have my shelf of books to read, and isolation can bring its own inspiration of creativity and provide the kind of solace that I need to focus on personal projects without the distractions of living in a thriving metropolis like Melbourne. And whilst it can be a lonesome endeavour, if I make the most of this opportunity, it can be a productive one.



Monday, September 12, 2011

One week in Japan

So, I've been in Japan for a whole week now! It's starting to sink in. Some aspects have definitely been challenging (such as not knowing any language!), and I guess I've been used to a more multi-cultural setting, such as the council that I work for in Australia, where multilingual resources are available to non-native speakers. However, there's nothing of that kind here! That said, maybe that's the kind of work I could do here - developing English language resources for visitors and expats living in the area.

Anyway, on Saturday, we travelled the 2-hour journey into Osaka and stayed the night. Here's some highlights...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Day in Malacca

I decided to take a day trip, down to the historic city of Malacca. It was worth the 2+ hours of travel each way.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Monkeys and Frog Porridge

This one's a longer one, because it was a pretty long day. And it ends with Frog Porridge.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Last week in Melbourne

So, Wednesday was a beautiful spring day. Even though spring wasn't due for another week. However, since I'd be out of the country by then, it was my last chance to enjoy it. So I did.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Melbourne and Food

So, in my last post, one of my list of things to do was "Eat at my favourite places that make food that I won't be able to eat in Japan." And I did just that.
Warning: this video is basically just me going to places and eating food. Do not watch if you don't want to get hungry.


Om nom nom indeed!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My to-do list...

Time's a-running out! Here's my list of things to do over the next week-and-six-days!

1. See the doctor, and get a new script for meds.
2. Organise my International Driver Permit.
3. Officially change my address to my parents' place.
4. Send a box of stuff ahead of me to Japan.
5. Work as many hours as possible so that I have some money to tide me over until I find work in Japan.
6. Pack.
7. Attend swing dancing classes.
8. Organise my superannuation from various employers into the one single fund.
9. Eat at my favourite places that make food that I won't be able to eat in Japan.
10. Attend a 90s indie rock concert at the Palace.
11. Make a guest appearance at a cabaret show at the Butterfly Club.
12. Re-pack, taking out any unnecessarily weighty items.
13. Try and find time to do uni work.
14. Donate all extra clothes and stuff to charity.
15. Put what few sentimental accumulations I own into storage.
16. Chase up my tax return if it hasn't arrived by next week.
17. Hand out free graphic novels at Box Hill Station first thing in the morning.
18. Compete in a swing-dancing competition in front of a hundred-ish people.
19. Attend the Melbourne Writers Festival and meet Maggie Stiefvater.
20. Leave my old life behind.

The rest of the weekend in Canberra.

So, on Saturday, we headed into Civic for some public dancing in the mall, followed by a trip down to Lake George Winery, then the Mobster's Ball at Parliament House (!), and finally the after-party at the Polish Club.



Then, on Sunday, my video recording prowess was waning, but I still managed to catch the occasional moment during the day...



And now, I'm back at work. But only for 10 more days.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two weeks to go!

I'll be leaving the country two weeks from tomorrow!

I've been using the time to enjoy the things that I won't be able to enjoy as regularly once I get to Japan. One of those regular pastimes in Melbourne is swing dancing, and I headed over to Canberra for a four-day weekend of social dancing. Here's how I spent my Friday...


More tomorrow...

Friday, August 5, 2011

WTFAID and other FAQs...

One month from now, I'll be living in Japan. As my imminent departure looms, I keep asking myself "What the fuck am I doing?" (or WTFAID?) Unlike S, I don't have anybody to chaperone me on my flight, organise my official documents, brief me on what to expect once I get to Japan, and, most significantly, I don't have any predetermined livelihood set out for me. No job, no support group, essentially - no purpose for my presence there.

And I ask myself again - WTFAID?

But, there is a far worse question I could be asking myself. Like "Why the fuck am I still here?" (or WTFAISH?)

The way I see it, there are three possible situations:

1. We're doing the things what we want to be doing with our life.
2. We're not doing the things that we want to be doing with our life.
3. We're not quite sure what we're doing with our life.

1 is the ideal situation. 2 is the soul-destroying situation. 3 is... well... confusing.

It's confusing, because when you know what you want to do with your life, then trying new and uncharted territory seems like the worst possible idea. Especially when we live in a society where we're encouraged to work hard in situation 2, keep our head down, do the hard yards, and one day all that hard work will pay off and we'll end up in situation 3.

But maybe we won't. Maybe we'll be just as frustrated in twenty years time.

Situation 3, on the other hand, offers no guarantees, but at the same time there will always be surprises. And some of them well be pleasurable, life-affirming surprises.

And so, I've resolved to embrace my fate, moving away from the library world. I need to let go of all the career-planning advice I've been given over the last five years because, as great as they've been in theory, they've just taught me that being determined and driven only leads to frustration.

Instead, I'm resolving to follow where the adventure takes me. I need to focus more on my experience, and do the things I want to do, rather than focus on the industry and try to bend it to meet my job satisfaction needs. Take advantages to be creative in new and innovative ways, and see where that leads me.

After all, I can't expect the world to change for my sake. I can only hope to change for the world's sake, and contribute where I can doing what I do best.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Leaving Ascot Vale

One of my least favourite parts of travel / relocating one's life is the act of moving house. This is what took up a heap of my time last week...

I'm glad that's over!

Selamat Berpuasa!

So, for muslims around the world, the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins today, and ends on the 30th of August, with the celebration of Hari Raya Puasa - literally "celebration day" where they break their fast and eat lots of good food for two days of festivities.

By a stroke of lucky timing, I'll be touching down in Kuala Lumpur on... you guessed it, the 30th of August. I'm looking forward to a couple of days of southeast asian noms...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Last day in Melbourne...

I'll be leaving in just over five weeks, but last Friday was Susanne's last full day in Melbourne, so I organised one special last chance to say farewell to this beautiful city...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Adventuration

So, one of the awesome things about living in Japan will be its proximity to many places that I've never visited. In fact, I've never been to the Northern Hemisphere. So, because this trip isn't just about going to Japan, here's a list of places that I'll be definitely, hopefully, and quite-possibly (if I'm lucky) visiting.

1. Malaysia. I bought the cheapest tickets that I could find, and my itinerary goes via Kuala Lumpur (henceforth referred to as KL). And so, I figured, if my plane is touching down in KL, why not spend a few days there?
Batu Caves

Things I plan to do there are:
(a) Eat. I love malaysian food. I am going to overdose on hawker food and hope that I don't get too sick.

(b) Go swing dancing. It's my last chance before I get to Japan, and they have a bit of a scene there.

(c) Visit the Batu Caves, climb all 272 steps and try to not have anything stolen by monkeys.

(d) Maybe visit the Kualah Ganda Elephant Sanctuary if funds allow.

2. Korea. Japan's closest neighbour. I have to admit that I don't know much about Korea. However, I do know that:
(a) I haven't been there, so it's another opportunity for a new stamp in my passport, and
(b) They have an annual Swing Dancing Camp in Seoul, which usually attracts international teachers, so it'll be a good chance to keep my skills up to scratch.

3. China. Japan's other close neighbour. Specifically, Shanghai. Mostly, I just want to eat Shanghai Dumplings in Shanghai. There's actually a ferry that runs from Osaka to Shanghai - a 2-day voyage across the East China Sea, which could be quite an adventure in itself...

4. Vietnam. Okay, so this is quite a bit further from Japan - almost halfway back to Australia, actually. But I have friends living there at the moment, which is reason enough to visit, plus I love Vietnamese food, and want to visit Angkor Wat [edit: except Angkot Wat is in Cambodia... I guess the food will have to suffice :) ]

5. Russia. Japan's other close neighbour. It's definitely one of my lifelong goals to travel the trans-Siberian railway. From Japan, it's a flight or ferry to Vladivostok, and then the train ride begins. Or, alternately, I could visit Shanghai, then travel on up to Beijing and catch the trans-Mongolian railway all the way across to Moscow and St Petersburg... and from there, well, where <b>don't</b> I want to visit?

So... which of these trips should I take? What else should I put on my itinerary?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Plan B

Two months from today, I'll be leaving the country. The fear is starting to set in. I still have no work lined up. I have no idea if I'll make any friends in the isolated town that I'll be living in. It scares me.

At the same time, I wonder - what am I losing by opting for this "Plan B" in my life.

I used to be super-keen about my career. I was so passionate about libraries, about the human capacity for learning and organising information, and about innovative ways by which we can use technology to share and enjoy our experiences, stories, and life lessons. When I became an information professional, I was determined to go out there and change the world.

But that's all changed. I know it's partially me - I don't have the age and wisdom to embody the kind of grace that I imagine is necessary to successfully manage change in a fraught industry. I used to think that all I needed was the willingness, enthusiasm, and knowhow to make things better, and the world would be right behind me. I was naive, and know now that it's a little more complicated than that.

However, I spent the evening with a group of young librarians, and whilst everybody is generally positive in their attitudes to their careers, I do keep hearing the same kinds of stories, the same experiences that I've been through in the past. And I don't envy any of them their jobs.

So, in lieu of attaining anything vaguely resembling a "dream job", it's time for Plan B. Life's too short to be frustrated at the same thing - I may as well risk a different variety of frustration. Hopefully, it'll at least vary the nature of my disillusionment with life, and who knows - perhaps I'll discover some new alternative career path that I never considered before.

One thing is for sure. When I step on that plane, it'll be goodbye to Plan A.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Similar but different.

It's interesting how much has changed, and how much is still the same, when I compare my life now to how it was six months ago.

In December 2011, I:

1. Submitted my application to the JET programme. I'd known people who'd done it, secured excellent references, and highlighted my experience working in multicultural partnerships, literacy programmes in schools and libraries, and a far-above-average outgoing personality and ability in public presentation to diverse audiences. I was pretty confident.

2. Put in my notice at my high school, where I worked as the head of library services, that I would not be renewing my 1-year contract. I felt that it would be unprofessional to take up a new contract, only to leave six months in. Plus, the school principal was the provider of one of my references.

3. Agreed with my partner S that this was something that we'd do together, keeping our fingers crossed that the JET programme does all it can to send couples together in their placements.

4. Panicked a little about my impending unemployment for the following six months, but trusted that I'd be able to pick up work easily, as I have done in similar situations in the past.

5. Dreaded the Melbourne Summer.

Now, six months later, I:

1. Am going to Japan in August. My application was rejected without so much as an explanation or even an interview. I reserve the right to toe the line between arrogant indignation and graceful tenseness when it comes to this issue. However, I am going anyway. The plane tickets have been bought, now that we know our destination, and the die is cast.

2. I have just given my housemates six weeks notice that I'll be moving out. I've already done some preliminary packing, and slowing weeding out my books and clothes that I can pass on to the salvos. It's suddenly starting to feel very real.

3. S has been officially given her destination (which we had already known for weeks) and we'll be living together in the inaka. This is a serious adventure together, and it's awesome to have such a wonderful person to make this trip with.

4. I've managed to work steadily for the past six months, juggling casual work back at my school, and at a public library service. All the perks of permanent work, but without the mandatory 8am starts every day, or paid leave. However, I am somewhat apprehensive about my employment once we get to Japan. I've already contacted numerous agencies, but I suspect the fact that I already have a designated place that I'll be residing at is working against me. I'm also concerned about the lack of Japanese language. Although no Japanese language is required to be a JET ALT, most other work seems to require basic Japanese. Of which I do not possess.

5. It's bitterly cold in Melbourne. Which I don't mind. I am more apprehensive about Japanese humidity. Humidity is one of the things I hate most in the world, along with spiders and social injustice (not in that order).

I wonder how different my life will be another six months from now.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Books

Because I am unoriginal, I am copying Susanne's blog for today's post.

1. The book I am currently reading.

There is no dog by Meg Rosoff. I was fortunate enough to see Meg recently talk about her new book at <href="http://www.wheelercentre.com">The Wheeler Centre</a>, and even more fortunate to work with somebody who had an ARC. So far, I'm loving it - well written and darkly humourous - just how I like it.


2. The last book I finished.

Thyla by Kate Gordon


A fairly common paranormal plot, but with an inventive Tasmanian twist that makes it an entertaining read.

3. The next book I want to read.

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood.


I've been meaning to read this book for ages, and it's on the top of my bedside pile.

4. The last book I bought.

Daywards by Anthony Eaton.


I just realise that my entire list thus far has been YA. Am I being too predictable? :-/

5. The last book I was given.

The Shattering by Karen Healey.


This was a freebie at the Reading Matters conference, and I'm thrilled to have an advance copy. I think I'll read it very soon.

What are you guys reading at the moment?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Picture perfect...

One thing I want to get better at is photography, and I figure that Japan is certainly going to create opportunities for this. I found myself out in Studley Park yesterday, with a camera, so I thought I'd get back into practice.

Kew Asylum

Grimes Cairn

Yarra Falls Chimney

This is one of my favourite areas in Melbourne - natural beauty meets historic Melbourne.

More photos here

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On sluts, shame, and cultural sensitivity...

Okay, three big concepts - probably way too much to tackle in one blog post. Let's divide it up.

Part one: The Melbourne Slutwalk.
So, back in January, a Toronto policeman was giving a talk to young women about sexual assault, advising them that women can avoid being victimised by not dressing like sluts. Word spread, and just over two months later, people took to the streets of Toronto with the first SlutWalk. Their message was simple - the woman should not be blamed for sexual assault. The implication that a victim would do something to provoke such an attack is grossly offensive.

This spurred on numerous other SlutWalks around the world, and one of the first in the Southern Hemisphere occurred here in Melbourne a little over a week ago, where over two thousand women - and men - marched in protest of slut-shaming and victim-blaming in society.

This evening felt like something of a SlutWalk debrief, as I attended this month's Cherchez la Femme for a packed-out session that explored the issue further through a panel discussion. I could blog on that alone, but I want to get to my main point.

Part Two: Sexual Harassment in Japan
Okay, read this article. I'm sure I don't need to comment on it - you get the idea. I also had a look at the 2010 JET Programme Manual, and it reads (amongst other things): "Be aware that inviting someone to your home, flirting, and the way you dress, move or sit can be misunderstood and seen as an invitation to take liberties."

An invitation to take liberties - sound familiar?

Part Three: You can see where I'm heading with this.
Yes, I understand that we're going to another country.
Yes, I understand that we need to be culturally sensitive.

I'm not going to go over there and wear shoes indoors, or boycott places that serve whale-meat, or loudly proclaim "ching-chong ling-long ting-tong" in the library.

However, there's a difference between being culturally insensitive, and fighting social injustices. And it's campaigns like the SlutWalk which make me realise that there are some issues that transcend what it means to be culturally sensitive.

Because we live in a world when men have privilege over women. It's not a matter of cultural sensitivity - it's a matter of respect, understanding, and empathy.

No woman should be labelled a "slut" and judged accordingly - regardless of what she wears, or if she is a blonde independent woman a Japanese society - and, certainly, no woman should be fearful of their life, or feel that their behaviour or appearance might invite sexual attacks.

With a SlutWalk scheduled for New Delhi in a few weeks, it seems that this message is starting to permeate more conservative Asian cultures. Hopefully, it won't be long before we see a SlutWalk in Osaka or Tokyo - in which case, I'll be there.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Talking the talk...

I've been feeling a little anxious of late. I've been spending much of the last week at literary events - really awesome literary events - and the realisation is hitting me that I won't be able to enjoy these kinds of events for a year.

In fact, I won't be able to enjoy simple communication.

That's right - I'll be moving from a place where I work amongst shelves full of knowledge and literature, bringing information to people, and having a background in information management and English literature, and spend far too much (yet not enough) of my spare time engaged in literary activity...

...to becoming functionally illiterate.

When S and I first applied for the JET Programme, we read that no knowledge of the Japanese language was necessary. Which was fortunate, because neither of us spoke Japanese, and my Japanese vocabulary consists of about five words - most of which amount to "hello", depending on the time of day.

And now, we're going to be living in the "inaka", where pretty much nobody speaks English.

Worse still, I've been told that, since I have a non-specific variant of Asian in my appearance, people will assume that I can speak Japanese, and will treat me like I have some kind of mental illness if I have no language comprehension skills. (Whereas, S - who is white and blonde - will undoubtedly have endless praise heaped upon her for the results of two month's Japanese language tuition from the CAE)

Kinda serves me right, coming from a Western country that has a long-standing tradition of treating its non-English-speaking residents as second-class citizens.

(Of course, I'm being somewhat facetious, and assuming the worst - it helps lower expectations, and hopefully everything will be pleasantly accommodating and wonderful when I get there.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Creative inspiration..

Today was spent attending the Reading Matters; conference, and I'd quite forgotten how amazing it is. It's events like these that remind me how awesome it is to be working in the children's / young adults literature industry, and how awesome it is to live in Melbourne.

I also spent some of the evening attending the Artists Party at the Emerging Writers' Festival. Again - awesome to be living in Melbourne.

It's certainly these things that I'll be missing most when I move to Japan. However, I'm also feeling a healthy injection of inspiration to get myself in gear where it comes to my own creative work. Part of the reason I quit my last job was because it was such a drain on my creative energy, and I need to get back into the zone. The isolation of Japan will be good for this, and the experience of being in a new place will also be an impetus for creating new landscapes in my writing.

I'm also becoming ridiculously aware of my age, and seeing so many bright young things who are already past the "emerging" status of their art makes me feel, frankly, embarrassed that I haven't achieved enough with my life so far.

So, I promise myself this: I will use my time in Japan productively. If I can't find fulfilling work that will stimulate my career, then I will use my time to write all the stories, all the songs, and all the rhymes that are currently waiting to be committed to paper. I will return to Australia with a catalogue that is long through every passion ranging - of ballads, songs and snatches, and weepy lullabies.

My year in Japan will be the much-needed sabbatical that I've been promising myself for the last two years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There's a whisper down the line at 11:39...

Yes, it's official. Well, by official, I mean unofficial. We're going to Kishigawa in the Wakayama Prefecture.

S was contacted via Facebook (of all places!) by her predecessor last Thursday, and we're now very excited. We're also pretty lucky, as it seems that nobody else has been contacted yet, and until it's confirmed with the consulate, it's still unofficial.

So, I did a brief search on Kishigawa. On the negative side, it's rural, and has a small population, which could make things difficult for me to find other English-speaking people, let alone find paid work!

But on the plus side, it's only 2 hours away from Osaka by train, and fairly close to Kansai Airport. There's regular swing dancing in Osaka, which will keep me in practice. As it's rural, living costs will be lower. It's in a farming district, and they have a produce market - which means fresh vegetables (apparently that can be a luxury in some parts of Japan).

And, best of all? The local railway station has a very special stationmaster...


Just as well I'm a cat person... :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Notified!

Two days ago, we found out where we're going to be sent. However, I'm currently at the Sydney Writer's Festival, and too busy to blog at length. Will blog about it at length when I get back to Melbourne on Sunday...

Until then, Google "Kishigawa, Wakayama"

Thursday, May 5, 2011

...but enough navel-gazing!

"YES!" I hear you cry, "GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY."

Okay, fair point. You'll hear no more emo blathering for the moment; there's work to be done!

Ten things I need to do in the next four months.

10. Work. A lot. Save money. It will very likely come in handy.

9. Cease and desist from acquiring any further possessions. This means clothes, accessories, and especially books.

8. Start learning the Japanese language. I've already started using Mango Languages via a local public library's website, and it's quite good.

7. Start throwing things out that I absolutely don't need. That means magazines, posters, clothes with holes in them, and other various random crap that I have all over my room.

6. Read as many of my books as I can. They weigh too much to have all of them sent over.

5. Practise packing. This will give me a sense of how much I can fit into my bags, and how much stuff I'm going to have left over to sell / throw out / donate to charity.

4. Take the time to enjoy the things I love most about Melbourne and Australia. Go to the Melbourne Film Festival in August. Visit a few dance exchanges (there's one in Hobart and in Canberra in July and August). Attend some literary events.

3. Sell all my worldly possessions that I'm not taking to Japan. Of course, there'll be various books ephemera of personal value, which I'll put into storage, but it'll be minimal.

2. Donate everything I can't sell to charity. (Unless they don't want it, but considering that pretty much all my furniture is just over two years old, that's unlikely).

1. Send one box of stuff to Japan just before I leave. Everything that I will probably need, but won't fit in my luggage.

Sounds like a plan! What did I miss?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Amusement Park Emotions

Well, as you may have guessed, last week was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. But then again, if I'd been completely cool about it, I'd probably have been somewhat deluded.

The thing about roller-coasters, though, is that as terrifying as they are, once you let yourself remember that you'll be fine in the end, then you can focus more on enjoying the thrill of the ride. And the same applies to this trip to Japan. Yes, it's true that I'll be taking some risks, but it's not going to kill me.

Well, not unless we have to live next to a failing nuclear power plant situated on an active fault line.

This evening I attended an author talk with Meg Rosoff, who is visiting Melbourne at the moment, and one thing she said in particular struck me:

"If you have a safety net, you tend to jump into it."

And when I look back in my life so far, the times I've thrived most is when I've moved out of my comfort zone. There was no real "safety net". I needed to keep myself active and switched on, otherwise I was going to crash and burn. Which I certainly did, emotionally, a number of times, and most notably when I finally decided to move back to Melbourne.

And so, almost exactly five years since I first left Melbourne to live in Darwin, I'll be flying out to Japan. I've bought my one-way ticket today, and it's non-refundable.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

One week on...

I'm already getting the jitters about going to Japan, and it's only been a week since we found out that we were going. S will be there three months from now, and I'll be there a month later.

I'm already anxious. It feels like it'll be a huge disaster, and a big mistake for me - my personal life, my career, and everything I care about in my life, will be turned upside down.

Right now, I just want to walk away from it all.

That is all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The beginning...

Late November 2010: My partner S and I went to the Japanese Consulate in Melbourne for an information session regarding the JET Programme. We both have a desire to travel, but as I'm 32 years old, I'm not eligible for a Working Holiday Visa. We figured that JET would be an excellent way for both of us to work overseas and be paid well for it, and experience living in another culture.

December 2010: We submitted our applications for the JET Programme. It was a bit of a stretch getting an (excellent) reference from my school principal on time, whilst at the same time hinting to him that I might not be coming back to my job in 2011!

January 2011: We got the letter on the same day. S was selected for an interview. I was not. Whilst there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we'd already decided that, in the case where one of us was selected and the other was not, we'd still go together. In fact, if both of us were selected, there would be a strong chance that we'd be located in different areas, which would make maintaining a relationship somewhat problematic. And besides, there was no point in getting ahead of ourselves - an interview did not necessarily mean acceptance into the programme (though, quietly, I felt that once she'd gotten to this stage, she'd be a shoe-in!).

February 17. 2011: S had her interview. From all reports, it was friendly and straightforward.

March 11, 2011: Massive earthquake in Japan, resulting in tsunami devastation, widespread death and homelessness, nuclear power plant damage, and radiation containment problems.

April: Anxious waiting, for many reasons. Notification of shortlisting is (understandably) delayed.

April 21, 2011: S is informed that she has been shortlisted for placement in the JET programme. For the uninitiated, this means that she has basically been accepted into the programme, and will be allocated to a  contracting organisation to be an Assistant Language Teacher in a Japanese school.

And so, our adventure is about to begin! We will be flying to Tokyo on the 24th of July, which gives us three months to settle our affairs here in Melbourne.

There are still many questions at this stage, like:

- Where will we be living? We've specifically expressed a preference for a city placement, but ultimately it's seemingly random where JETs are placed.
- Will I be able to find work? (The JET salary is designed to support a family, so basic needs like accommodation and food will be fine, but it'd be nice to have *some* financial independence, and I'd rather not drain *all* of my savings!)
- What will I do with all of my stuff?
- What will I do with my time if I don't find work? It's definitely an opportunity to "get back into the studio", so to speak. The cultural isolation will definitely help my creativity along.
- Who else will I be able to network with in the area, both professionally and socially?
- How do I feel about potentially being a full-time home-maker who is financially dependent on my partner for a year? I mean, I do love cooking, and don't mind doing the household chores, but what ramifications will this have for my career, my relationship, and, I guess, the way I'm using my time when I'm definitely feeling like I'm not getting any younger!

This blog will chronicle my time as a non-JET in a JET world, living in Japan for (at least) a year.

What are your predictions of the outcome?