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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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