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Day 4 in Japan: American Power

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Today lectures started for real, so we didn’t go anywhere for sightseeing. I didn’t get annoyed too, but there were a few interesting incidents I ought to share.

I must say, I’m really really direct these days in person, so sometimes I say things which I later regret. An incident to illustrate this:

A new guy joined the team, he looked really buff and a bit on the older side. The rest were really curious but didn’t dare to ask so I did. He said he was 28 and was in Columbia 2nd year. I asked why was he doing uni at 28, he said he volunteered for the US army so they would pay for his school tuition after his tours were over. He revealed that he spent a year as a paratrooper in Iraq, which is like "WOAH first time evarrrr" for me in terms of meeting American soldiers with real war experience. I really wanted to ask him for his experiences, but I failed to phrase my question properly and it came out something like "Did you have to kill anyone?"

I was like "SHIT WTF" when I realised I said that, and the guy, let’s call him GI Joe, looked really sad and said yes. He said after his service he went on a year old cycling trip around the US to forget about all the shit that happened in Iraq. Poor guy.

I’m terribly ashamed of my poor manners, fuck Singaporeans.

Anyway, we had 6 hours of lectures today. That would be fine if not for the fact that it was 3 hours each. Prof James Engell, from Harvard’s department of English and Comparative Literature, did a video conference lecture with the group of us. He was supposed to come personally but broke his leg or something. He spoke like REALLLY SLOOOOOOOWLY because he probably thought most of us didn’t really understand English or something. Due to time differences, we had the lecture at 9 am and it was like really late for him so he was probably at home, though the background showed a Harvard logo printed on an A4 sheet of paper stuck to a white wall, which was LOL as well. The funniest and most cringeworthy part was when his wife, who he said lived in Japan for a while, insisted on taking over the camera and mic to say a few words. She went on in bad Japanese, talking about the weather, and her forgetting her Japanese skills and all that for like 5 minutes. She never did realise she was speaking to a room full of non-Japanese, except for 3, in Tokyo. Btw, Prof Engell, who is the co-editor of the "Environment: An interdisciplinary anthropology" book that I recommended on Facebook, spoke about stuff on how literature and the other humanities can play a role in environmentalism. He did talk about a lot more but I can’t seem to remember. Well, if all arts majors were as knowledgeable in the sciences as he is, I’m sure the world would be a better place where scientists would be able to get their points across to the masses a lot easier. But as the world is right now, our scientists pretty much suck at expressing themselves and the artsy people spin lies all day long.

After that, it was a 2 hour long orientation of "course navi" which is the Waseda equivalent of NUS’s IVLE. I bet you’re going like "HUH WTF" so I’ll explain. It’s basically the academic portal that all universities have. That’s it. BUT! One major difference is that when you get a Waseda email address like I have, you’re given a list of subdomains that you have to pick one of, and these are basically the traditional Japanese colours such as Akane, Ruri, Fuji, Moegi and many others. Look up Wiki on this. I chose Ruri, since Nadesico’s Hoshino Ruri is really popular and all. For your information, my email is tjhan@ruri.waseda.jp so you can spam me or something I don’t care. Another notable tale to share was how this student researcher, basically told/tricked us into all signing up for this Quon.net thing, which is a Waseda-developed facebook clone. When are people going to realise that you can’t make people move from an existing social network service to another, when the latter has only like 100 members and has a stupid user interface?

Then we had another 3 hours of lectures. This time, it was a real pity because the lecturer was the director of the Institute of Environment and Economy of Peking University, Professor Zhang Shiqiu, and she looked really experienced and knowledgeable, except her English isn’t very good, and that’s a real understatement. While I applaud her efforts on finishing a 3 hour lecture on a difficult topic ( case study of Aswan Dam, the famous Egyptian dam on the Nile River that creates the largest manmade lake in the world), I barely understood anything. I imagine the Americans, who sometimes even fail to understand my supposedly proper English, would not be able to comprehend much. As such, it was a really tiring 3 hours of staring at the professor, and pretending to be listening without sleeping.

The discussion session straight after was the eye-opening one. It was basically a free for all. In Singaporean, or even most Asian schools, people just do not speak up that much. It’s very much more apparent in the hard sciences schools, where to even get a response you have to dangle grades and points as carrots, and even then only a few bother. Now the Americans are real talkative. In fact, it’s normally really awkward and difficult to get the first speaker going in Singapore, but here everyone rushes to talk. The best part is they don’t let each other finish, and just butt in everytime someone takes a breath of air (you know, to obtain oxygen).

I’ll give you an example, say Kumar was talking about GDP and blah blah, so he goes like "And thus, I belive that GDP should not increase as… *breathes in*.." and suddenly some random person will cut in with "BUT YEAH, like that’s not the point because technology blah blah blah". I didn’t say anything even though there were points at which I felt I had good things to say, but I missed the timing because I thought it was good to wait till people actually finish. However, by that point, another person would’ve gone on to make some completely tangential point.

That’s the whole idea, the whole discussion was basically people going around in circles being pedantic or just tangential, without even dealing with the main topic at hand - the Aswan dam. I’m also not sure why people ask professors who specialise in economics, questions on chemistry and biology and expect them to know anything much. Nevertheless, it was a pretty interesting session, I think I would’ve liked going for college in an American university.

Now here comes the most wtf event of the day - an official reception with the President of Waseda, vice president and other big wigs at the campus hotel, which is really posh and possibly 5 stars or something. The day before, we asked if we needed to be in formal attire. The official response was, "No, the dress code is casual." To that, I say, "CASUAL MY ASS." Everyone but the students were there in a full suit. Well it’s Japan, I should’ve known they’ll wear suits to even the McDonalds. Anyway I was in my Gintama shirt and jeans, but at least I had my legs covered. Most of the other guys wore bermudas and tshirts with slippers! The girls mostly wore shorts and tees as well. Imagine a really posh dinner party with gourmet food (I didn’t photograph it though, would’ve looked like a really huge country bumpkin had I done so) with a bunch of old men in suits, with supremely under-dressed students running around.

The offical order was to "mingle" and that was a real pain in the ass. I just basically pretended to mingle and just stood in people’s blindspots and ate my gourmet food. I found it really weird to talk to strangers in suits while I was underdressed. Most of the others felt the same except Harvard Hayden girl who has uber small talk techniques, which revolve around her asking questions just to make the other party talk about themselves.

Near the end of the party, they required all 27 of us to go up, stand alone and make a short speech and introduction to everyone in the room yet again. Hayden@Harvard went first, with a memorised Japanese script that I made for her, and delivered it flawlessly to wild applause from the Japanese old men. I went next and spoke really fluently with big words, no thanks to yet another memorised script, the self-introduction one which I always use to good effect. I didn’t get much applause though, probably because I wore a Gintama shirt and spoke Japanese, which made me look real otaku possibly. Also, I don’t look like a cheerleader from Heroes who wants to save the world. The rest did good, except for one Singaporean girl, the HEHEH HAHA one mentioned yesterday, who did ok until the point when she started going on about how the "Japs" were hot and all that. I guess people don’t really care about the word "Japs" anymore, which used to be offensive.

I think us English-speakers of non-posh British stock, such as Singaporeans, Americans and various others, can’t speak formal English to save our lifes. Everyone, including Talkieman, used casual words and slang like "guys", "cool" and others, which is a far cry from the polite language of the Japanese students. I must imagine that they were pretty horrible to hear us speaking like that to their revered university president. Speaking of which, here is your daily WTF moment.

After the reception, everyone, spurred on by the Singaporean girls, went on mass phototaking rampage. This was ok other than the fact that to get everyone in the picture, the girls went and asked the VICE-PRESIDENT of the university and various other professors, to hold the cameras and take the pictures for us. The look at "WTF"ness and terror on the face of the Japanese students was rather hilarious, but man were we real rude. I don’t think they took offence though purely because we are fucking gaijin and all gaijin are crude barbarians.

I talked to Koreans more today, and now I think Koreans aren’t as bad as I thought. My previous impression had the males being either a) permanently paralyzed or suffering from disease, b) weak bullied pussies or c) taekwando masters who beat shit up, and the females being either a) slitty eyed plain janes, b) sassy plastic girls or c) heroines of tragic circumstances. I’m such a racist.

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15 Responses to “Day 4 in Japan: American Power”  

  1. 1 GlenGrim 7 comments

    Cheers to that.

    If people tell you to go ‘casual’ then you should A: wear the most formal stuff you can come up with without going in costume or B: go in costume anyway.

    Stating it’s ‘casual’ means that they considered the possibility it was otherwise…
    If they really expect you to dress casual they wouldn’t say a damn thing about the dress-code.

    Reading all of this, I’m getting quite dissapointed with the people in my age bracket. I’m eagerly awaiting the time that I’m 60 and am entitled to chasing off teens from ‘my lawn’ using a pointy cane.

  2. 2 Soshi 32 comments

    I should take a look at that book you recommended. Scarily enough, I’ve heard of him? Still, he has a really good point about how literature can and should contribute more to environmentalism. Nerd!Soshi wants to go for his lectures…

    Sigh. What’s with girls and taking photos of themselves…

  3. 3 TP 15 comments

    Try watching BBC’s HARDtalk, tj_han. Everyone and anyone do not deserve a breather: you must be a master at talking-like-a-machine-gun-without-stopping-for-air-for-5-minutes if you want your message be put across.

    Hmm, Aswan Dam:

    1. It has created an enormous economic benefit for the Arab Republic: brought about a stabilizing effect in the Nile River’s seasonal floods, provide an endless abundance of electricity to power the grid, and provide a sizable freshwater source for a country that holds mercy at weather patterns (brought on for much worse due to global warming, shukran jazilan, ya ahlul-shaitan Ameerika). The Aswan Dam has, in short, provide a miracle for Egypt to sustain their country… and probably for good reasons.

    a. Authoritarian regime

    Egyptians are as fractured as Iraq: 10% are Christians, a sizable minority of the Egyptian population are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and there are increasing number of Palestinian refugees living in Egypt. The very last thing the country needs is anarchy. The need for an authoritarian regime – regardless of how much democratic propaganda the Western civilization espouses – ensures that unity is assured. The most beneficial compromise is to provide economic opportunities for the citizens of Egypt, and Aswan Dam provides.

    b. Maintenance of economic sustenance to provide security and defence

    Egypt requires money to power their security and defence components of the country. Their proximity to Israel – and the signing of the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s – means continuous monitoring and interjection of both their former enemy and its own citizenry. Being an inheritor to UNESCO World Heritage sites, they need fiscal power to protect tourism and foreign relations.

    2. However, the environmental and ecological impacts (as with all hydroelectric dams) remain to this day:

    a. The loss of naturally-occurring silt to lower-river farmers

    This creates a paradox for the Egyptians: while the Aswan Dam is credited for bringing in economic potential to the country, farmers are unable to gain access to the silt, and must now rely on artificial fertilizers for farming. This decreases the overall income of farmers, who have to spend more for the fertilizers, and probably more for water purification, which is unattainable to many lower-scale farmers.

    b. Soil erosion of the Nile River Delta

    The Nile River Delta requires a constant feed of silt in order to beef up its soil structure against the soil erosion of the Mediterranean Sea. Besides loss of fertility, it threatens the very foundations of the delta, with not the effects of global warming now more apparent.

    c. Loss of fishery income off Egyptian waters

    Because the Nile River feeds nutrients to the Mediterranean Sea with silt and microscopic organisms in which marine life can exist, the block made by the Aswan High Dam caused a marked decrease in fish productivity off the Egyptian River Delta coast. This results in loss of income for fishermen.

    d. Rise in Schistosomiasis

    The stagnant waters of Lake Nasser contributed to a rise in freshwater snails infected with Bilharzia. This disease is the second-most afflicted disease for Sub-Saharan, Equatorial and Eastern African nations.

    Probably more I can conjure up with, but here are some relevant resources I dig up:

    1. El-Sayed, Sayed and van Dijken, Gert L. Effects of the Aswan High Dam, El Sayed and van Dijken, Quarterdeck 3.1, July 24, 1995. Oceanography, Texas A&M University. 28 July 2009.
    2. Aswan Dam - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 3 March 2003. Wikipedia. 28 July 2009
    3. Egypt - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 31 October 2001. Wikipedia 28 July 2009.

  4. 4 omo 137 comments

    I can imagine you having a good time in America (or Europe, too) for college.

  5. 5 tik 67 comments

    “Most of the others felt the same except Harvard Hayden girl who has uber small talk techniques, which revolve around her asking questions just to make the other party talk about themselves.”

    haha this is damn smart, I should start learning that too…

  6. 6 tj_han 1439 comments

    Tik: Yeah, it’s actually one of the textbook techniques you see in small talk guide books but it’s just a bit hard to implement in real life. Though I did use it on the first day at the church.

    Omo: I actually think Japan would be the most suitable country for my current linguistic ability, since the Japanese think I’m godly with English (they don’t associate Asians with the ability to speak fluent English) and the non-Japanese envy my Japanese and Chinese. If I were to go to Europe, I’ll be just like any other American tourist who doesn’t know shit outside of the Da Vinci Code. Maybe not so bad, but still, I probably only know the UK well. Nevertheless, yeah I’ll probably like both the US and Europe, pity I won’t get a chance outside of grad school now.

    Soshi: I think it’s good for you, the only problem is whether you have the motivation to read a book that is pretty segmented without a story in the usual sense.

    Glen: They didn’t say anything bout dress code, we asked them and they were like “casual”.

    TP: Yeah that’s the gist of it but do remember that Egypt paid 1 billion US dollars for the construction of the highdam, money which made them terribly in debt with Russia, which could’ve been used for other development. There’s also the issue of evaporation (shallow Lake Nasser has huge surface area, and the temperature is hot), biodiversity loss and destruction of brackish water fisheries due to the loss of silt. There’s the resulting salinization of soil and leeching of artificial fertilisers into the water increasing pollution. Finally the increase in arable land down the dam is actually offset by loss of arable land where Lake Nasser now stands, as well as the forced moving of 90 000 people.

  7. 7 0ne 135 comments

    I can imagine the cringe worthy moments…and I guess it’s fortunate that it’s not just the Singapore contingent that’s under dressed. I suppose foreign students are usually excused for their faux pas

  8. 8 Soshi 32 comments

    Here’s a funny story for you! The last time I attended a JapanesexSingapore student dinner thing, the dress code was semi-formal, because we were all expecting to eat at some kaiseki restaurant. Turns out that it was a normal nabe restaurant (VERY GOOD, NEVERTHELESS OMG THE CRAB…) and the Singaporean students — including me — were superbly overdressed (one of my friends wore a gown D: ). And our fellow Japanese students were all smart-casual. Sigh.

    I think my only requirement is that his (or anyone else’s) writing isn’t heavy and full of technical jargon. If his writing remotely resembles Gombrich’s, then I’d be a happy camper. I’m pretty interested in how environmentalism comes into play when it comes to constructing stories — I’ve been noticing that sci-fi or writing that would have been considered sci-fi, has been seeping into mainstream compilations and I’m pretty pleased? By the fact that they’re being judged across the board, and not simply lumped into another sci-fi book.

    rantrantrantrant

  9. 9 Akatsuki 3 comments

    When you speak your English I assume its heavily accented? As in fob?

  10. 10 tj_han 1439 comments

    Heavily accented? That doesn’t make sense because everyone has an accent, whether it’s the various British or American or Asian ones. Mine is pretty much normal.

    Soshi: Nabe in a gown? I bet your friend ordered the crab hotpot loudly! “KANI NABE!”

  11. 11 Tenshi_MKII 36 comments

    Soshi: Nabe in a gown? I bet your friend ordered the crab hotpot loudly! “KANI NABE!”

    OMG IT’S THE SINGAPOREAN SPIRIT!!!

  12. 12 Akatsuki 3 comments

    bleagh. It appears I was misunderstood - heavily accented as when you speak, it’s difficult for others to make out what you’re saying. And yes I mean if you have an Asian accent.

  13. 13 The Sojourner 112 comments

    Yeah. People are really talkative in America. It is a good thing, in my opinion, since creativity and an inquisitive spirit promotes learning. But usually it comes along with the lulzful side effect of witnessing people embarrass themselves (without knowing) through pretentious attempts to sound smart.

    Sounds like you are enjoying the observations you have made so far!

  14. 14 tj_han 1439 comments

    Oh no I don’t. I sound pretty much comprehensible. I’m probably tier 2 on the Singapore English level, where tier 1 are people who sound like foreigners. In other words, I have grammatically correct English with a slight Singaporean accent.

  15. 15 spacey 1 comment

    Nice coverage, tj_han. So vivid I could feel the “wtfness” over there. This reminds me of one event, during which a group of Japanese students came to visit my high school (located in the suburb of Shanghai) on a culture exchange program. Back then, my English was crappy and the Japanese students’ were even crappier. We had to write down characters and resort to gesticulations. And shortly after the conversation was started, the Nanking Massacre was mentioned… I still cannot remember how we continued and ended that conversation. (And I feel lucky I cannot.)

    I’ve been enjoying your witty and insightful blogs for a long time and hope you’ll continue sharing comments and opinions on newly aired anime works.

Do not use any < and > for your own sake. It will end the comment there and then. Also, there is an automatic IQ filter which weeds out comments made by those who accidentally got transported from the stone age.

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