‘Straya

Well, it has now been three months since I left the shores of Australia (once again) to return to the United Kingdom. My nomadic ways continue and after three years back in the country where I was born, it is time for the next adventure to start…with my new husband. Yes, that’s right…things have changed since I last wrote two years ago (appalling I know), but that’s a post for another day.

14 weeks have passed since I left the sunshine, bugs and sweltering humidity of a Queensland summer to launch myself into the grey, cold clutches of wintery Yorkshire. Don’t get me wrong…I love the UK and my freckle spattered skin prefers the climate here too. But with every siting of a double decker bus or snowflake, comes the reminder of how different this place is to Australia. Which got me thinking…what is it that makes ‘Straya so unique?

‘Straya is a place where we love to leave couches on our footpath, even when Kerbside Collection isn’t coming around for another year…

‘Straya is a place where people fall into one of two camps…those that get Southern Cross Tattoos…and those that hate them…

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‘Straya is a place full of people with a keen and sophisticated sense of humour…

‘Straya is where we abbreviate everything

And you have to listen hard to catch what we actually mean…

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‘Straya is a place where we try to put a ‘z’ in every name possible…from Dazza (Darren) to Lozza (Lauren) and Kezza (Kerryn).

‘Straya, where shoes are optional…

Here in ‘Straya, we tell it how it is…

Everything can kill you in ‘Straya…

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In ‘Straya, we like…err…

This could be your neighbour in ‘Straya…

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We’ll try Vegemite with anything in ‘Straya…

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You can judge a person by their number plate in ‘Straya…

In ‘Straya, our bins are bird proof, not bomb proof…

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‘Straya is full of excellent drivers…

In ‘Straya, comfortable clothing is encouraged…

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And lastly…you can take the girl out of Australia, but you can’t take ‘Straya out of the girl…

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Picture This…

Yes, I know…long time no post. I’ve been home in Australia for three and a half months now and paperdoll has taken a backseat to the adventures of resettling back into life here. I admit it…and I apologise. What can I say? I love being home and every time I sit down to write paperdoll I get distracted by…well…everything.

Having said that, lately the first signs I may be missing Japan have crept in (natsukashi)…it started with a craving for ramen…then there was an emotional reaction to a letter from one of my past students…and let’s not forget that living with my parents again has me pining for my 42m² Japanese apartment. Every. Single. Day.

Yes, I have begun to miss Japan and all of it’s crazy, quirky ways. But much like A Picture Says a Thousand Kanji, when I am missing Japan and need a fix, I can just picture this

Sleeping in Japan

Japanese student letter

English signage in Japan

Japanese dessert

Stretching

Dashboard

Takeout menu

Japanese antenna

Japanese fashion

Japanese Kit KatsEnglish sign in Japan

Japanese laundry

English in Japan

Japanese Hello Kitty Mask

Japanese shredder

Japanese Aquarium sign

Japanese glitter suits

Japanese Pepsi flavour

Japaese toilet paper

Japanese Clothing Engrish

Japanese fashion

Funny English in Japan

Japanese Architecture Osaka

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese giant vegetables

Japanese sign

Train etiquette in Japan

Japanese gift explanation

Japanese fashion

Japanese trinkets

Japanese fashion

English textbook Japan

Japanese ice cream

Japanese toilet slippers

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese signage

Japanese cars

English in Japan

English in Japan

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese beauty products

Japanese toilets

Who Cares if They’re Naughty or Nice?

Three weeks before Christmas, I initiated an ‘English Christmas Challenge’ for my students. The concept was simple…if they wrote me a Christmas story or letter in English, I would write them a reply and give them a small present in return. The only rules were that they had to write a minimum of three sentences and they could only receive two presents…any letters after that were purely for the joy of corresponding with me in English (ha).

Two days and 20 letters into the challenge, the teachers started calling me ‘Santa’ as I wandered the halls giving out presents from my Christmas stocking (it’s all about the theatrics…not the hundred yen gifts). With a total of 434 students, I started to wonder…had I bitten off more than I could chew? Come the end of semester, was I going to end up with carpal tunnel from hours of writing replies? Would I be rocking myself in the fetal position having nightmares about the 2nd year boys trying to pillage my stocking?!

I came to realise that children can be bought (quite cheaply apparently) and by the end of the challenge I had received 164 letters in total. I had been Santa to these kids and received letters from all kinds of students. From the ones who can write English in their sleep to the ones who still can’t spell their own names after three years of study. From the kid who never opens his English textbook in class, to the cute little 1st year girl who writes to me every week. The letters and the students who wrote them were many and varied, but in the end I realised… who cares if they’re naughty or nice? As long as they use English…

There were the cute letters with declarations of adoration and love…

There were the comments/pictures regarding my appearance…

There were letters about music (good and bad)…

There were the students channeling Yoda into their writing…

There were the sweet talkers (who were clearly only in it for one thing)…

Then there were the unexpected presents. Some cute…

And some not so cute (a picture of Arashi and a scrunchie)…

And some just weird…like ear buds these pellets that expanded in water?!

There were the letters to make me laugh…

There were the letters containing Engrish…

Oh and then there were the letters from the Gods…

And lastly, there were the hand made Christmas cards from my special needs students…

The experience was possibly more entertaining for me than the students but nonetheless, it got them reading, writing, listening and speaking English more than they would on a usual day.

While I am secretly glad I don’t have 20+ students writing to me every day, I was happy to receive these cards in the mail over winter break and know that at least some of the kids will continue writing for the joy of an English exchange with me…even now that the presents have dried up and Santa has retired…

A Pain in the Proverbial…

It’s no secret that Japan is littered with examples of misappropriated English…or Engrish, as we foreigners like to call it. The bane of an English teacher’s life in Japan, Engrish is everywhere…on clothing, in restaurant menus, on stationery…and most frequently…on toilet signage.

In all of those instances I can grit my teeth, take a photo and present it on facebook or Paperdoll (remember A Picture is Worth a Thousand Kanji?!) for the amusement of people all over the world. But when the mistakes appear repeatedly and right under my nose at school, it becomes a real pain in the proverbial

It seems that the teachers and students forget that they have a native English speaker at their disposal to consult in matters like these, before ‘going to press’. But this is Japan and the stubborn mistakes will persist…and besides, sometimes they get it right…in more ways than one…

Tried and Tested

I, the defendant, Carla Bianchi, plead guilty to the crime of taking the N3 (upper intermediate) Japanese Language Proficiency Test without adequate preparation. On Sunday, July 1st, I did knowingly enter into the N3 JLPT to be tried and tested on my Japanese language skills without the necessary ability to ensure a pass verdict.

The general public might have expected me to plead not guilty to the charges laid against me. Having recently had a string of bad dating experiences with Japanese men (the last was married with children…I’m officially cured of Asian Fever), it stands to reason that my lack of preparation for the exam could be attributed to a disinterest in engaging such perpetrators.

That defense will not hold up in court however, and I must own the guilty plea and stand trial for my alleged crime. All that stands between me and a pass or fail verdict now is the evidence and the jury…

Evidence for the defense

Exhibit A shows that I already have an N4 JLPT pass verdict in my criminal file. This prior conviction was obtained in December 2010, a whole 18 months prior to this trial.  So it stands to reason that my Japanese knowledge and general language acquisition abilities should have naturally improved in this period of time, regardless of the lack of premeditated study…giving me a greater chance of obtaining a pass verdict.

Exhibit A

In addition to my defense, N3 is the newest level to be added to the JLPT system (only having been introduced in 2010) and as such, very little study material or past papers are on hand to help as study weapons. While vague lists of kanji, vocabulary and grammar exist, N3 is a largely deemed the ‘wild card’ test. Even after cramming my brain with 600 kanji and almost double that in vocabulary since my N4 exam, there was no way to be sure I had covered all the material that might be required for my trial. Extenuating circumstances warranting a pass verdict no doubt?

The most compelling argument for my defense is that Japanese is an undeniably difficult language to learn. Google ‘Top 5 most difficult languages to learn’ and Japanese will appear in nine out of ten lists as a perpetrator…often featuring as one of the top three most notorious criminals, along with Arabic and Chinese. The person who made the tenth list (where Japanese doesn’t feature), clearly hasn’t been a victim of its difficulty. Add to this evidence that language acquisition does not come naturally to me, and the jury should look on me with a sympathetic eye.

Closing argument for the defense would like to point out the less than ideal conditions at the scene on the day of the alleged crime. Test applicants were told it was admissible to wear a watch into the exam…but not necessary. Having had my watch battery abandon me a week before the test, I faced trial without a timing device…only to find there was no clock in the test room.

There were no facilities to purchase food in or around the scene of the alleged crime either. Try taking the JLPT when your hands are shaking from low blood sugar levels and see if you can secure a pass verdict. Add to this the mitigating evidence that an assailant in my test room read all the test questions out loud and another tapped their pen on the desk for the duration of the test. The jury should see the additional stress I was subjected to on the day of the alleged crime and perhaps issue a pass verdict on the grounds of temporary insanity.

Evidence for the prosecution

Japanese as a language is difficult, but kanji does come naturally to me. The pictographic representation of words appeals to my sense of logic and ability to problem solve. For example: 消 (extinguish) + 火 (fire) + 器 (utensil) = 消火器 (fire extinguisher). Not only that, there are just some kanji (Exhibit B) that you couldn’t forget if you tried…

Exhibit B

But despite this natural ability with kanji, the majority of the vocabulary needed for the N3 JLPT centred predominantly around politics and business. I have very little interest in these two topics in English, let alone Japanese, making the task of studying even more challenging. With the inability to retain such vocabulary, the jury could see fit to issue a fail verdict.

The most compelling evidence for the prosecution to ensure a fail verdict is that my prior N4 conviction was achieved within a mere nine months of arriving in Japan. A 60% overall result was required to pass, and I attained 73%. This 73% score was secured through endless hours of study, enthusiasm and conviction to the task. Despite having double the amount of time to prepare for the N3 JLPT, the prosecution could easily convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt that far less vigor was given to the task this time around.

In closing, in December 2011, 49,235 people sat trial for the N3 JLPT. Of these examinees, only 39.9% received a pass verdict. The prosecution rests its case.

Verdict

The jury is still out and a verdict won’t be in until September. Pass or fail, who knows? It’s a hung jury right now. I am already considering my options and council strongly advises I launch an appeal and retake the exam in December if the verdict comes back fail…if I’m willing to be tried and tested again…

You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long When…

…your body suffers withdrawal symptoms after a day without rice.

…you accidentally write ‘r’ instead of ‘l’.

…you’ve become obsessed with ridding your home of ninja insects.

…you own more chopsticks than cutlery.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you have permanent RSI from filling out forms.

…you choose green tea over black.

…you get excited about curry rice for school lunch.

…you deem a trip to Starbucks or McDonald’s a ‘Western fix’.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you’ve taught three kids…from the same family.

…you know the names of any Arashi members.

…you fold your rubbish.

…you’ve collected so many key rings you prefer to use your spare key instead.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…’Oh, Japan’ has become common vernacular.

…you forget that aprons should not be worn in public.

…you’ve begun to curse Ibaraki drivers.

…your list of hobbies include purikura, origami and misanga.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…sleeping on a bed has become a novelty.

…studying for the next JLPT is a way of life.

…you have in your possession an umbrella (or many) of unknown origin.

…you contemplate climbing Mt.Fuji for a second time. Or worse, a third time.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…eating Chinese food feels like a variation in diet.

…you’ve tried at least some of the buttons on the NASA toilets.

…your Japanese speaking ability begins to surpass your English one.

…you feel the compulsion to produce bunny ears in every photo.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

natto and/or umeboshi become palatable.

…you can read katakana easily.

…you’ve contemplated buying (or have bought) a matching Adidas tracksuit.

…you lock your bike, but leave your wallet/phone/valuables in the basket.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when most of your conversations end in ‘I need off this island’.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Kanji

I love words, I always have (unsurprising to those that know me, I’m sure). I believe communication to be the fundamental basis of every human interaction and necessary every day life. I speak openly and frequently to anyone who will listen to my ramblings (that includes you, clearly) and I derive more pleasure from a good catch up session with a friend, than almost anything else in this world.

But entering into my third year in Japan, I can’t help but notice how often words fail me in day to day life here…and not just the Japanese ones. So many times, I am unable to conjure words in response to a situation. At these times (usually Only in Japan moments), the only word I can seem to articulate is ‘wow’…as my students well know.  Sometimes Japan leaves me speechless (difficult to imagine, I know) and a moment just cannot be captured with words. At these times, a picture is worth a thousand kanji

Confessions of an Instaholic

My name is Carla Bianchi, and I am an Instaholic.

Admission is supposedly the first step to managing an addiction, so here I am admitting I have a problem, in the hope that I can overcome this debilitating infliction and regain some semblance of a normal existence here in Japan.

I always thought I was immune to addiction…with the exception of chocolate (we all have our vices), I have never needed any particular substance or stimulation. Alcohol…take it or leave it. I only started drinking coffee last year as a study aid (when I realised languages are not on my ‘natural abilities’ list) and video games tend to lose their appeal after a few days or weeks at most. I’ve never had an interest in drugs, and at the risk of being labeled a Goody two-shoes, I admit that I have never even tried a cigarette in my 30 years on this planet.

Despite all this, it turns out that I am human after all. While it hasn’t been genetically handed to me on a silver platter (though the chocolate habit I will blame on my father), I do in fact have an addiction. I am addicted to the iPhone application ‘Instagram‘. How do I know it’s an addiction? Because the internet tells me that I am showing all the typical signs…

Questioning.

Those that don’t have an addiction, don’t question a particular behaviour. I first began to question my addiction to Instagram around a month ago. I have actually been using the app for over a year, but it’s only recently the addiction has taken hold. I blame the discovery of ‘tagging’ as the start of the downhill slide into photographic oblivion.

There I was, just happily taking innocuous shots of every day life in Japan, when I noticed one of my friends had ‘tagged’ one of their pictures. You tag a picture, so when someone searches for a tag, they can find your picture and hello!, someone will click a magic little button that tells you they ‘like’ that picture. Then before you know it, someone is clicking that other little button…the ‘follow’ one…telling you they like all of your pictures and that they are looking forward to seeing more in the future…and well…you can see how it’s a slippery slope…

Now it’s to a point where Instagram is the first app I check when I wake up of a morning and the last before I go to bed at night (not to mention the 20 required checks I make during the day too). Nothing else gives me that little kick of glee like seeing that beautiful orange balloon appear at the bottom of my iPhone screen, telling me I’ve received some Instalove.

Defensiveness.

Around the time I first started to question my addiction to Instagram, my friends started picking up on it too. Comments (that I told myself were compliments at the time) started rolling in…’I notice you take a lot of pictures on Instagram’, ‘Your pictures always come up in my feed’, ‘I don’t think you have enough tags’, ‘Are you taking a shot for Instagram?!’.

I tried to play it down, using the usual defense…that it’s just a hobby…I’m a naturally creative person and this is just another way of expressing myself. I would jokingly say that I needed an ‘Instavention’, secretly thinking that maybe I really did have a problem.

Physical Deterioration.

Coinciding with epiphany that I might have a problem has been the appearance of physical symptoms. In the last few weeks I have been getting some pretty serious headaches, neck and shoulder pain, I haven’t been sleeping well and the quality of my eyesight has become somewhat questionable.

For a while I have been telling myself that these problems are caused by stress, all that extra kanji study I’ve been doing and time spent reading my students’ creative writing. The truth is that all these physical problems could be, and most likely are caused by my recent addiction to Instagram.

Time and Effort.

In addition to the physical repercussions of my addiction there are other horrifying side effects too. Instagram has been slowly sucking me onto it’s vortex and taking more and more of my time and attention. Skype visits have become infrequent, friends and family are having to wait days and weeks for me to respond to emails, other iPhone apps like Words With Friends have fallen by the wayside and regular followers of Paperdoll will notice that it has been a month since my last post.

If all of that isn’t disturbing enough, I have started to see the world as potential 4cm x 4cm snapshot fragments. As an interior designer, I am used to analyzing the space around me and taking a critical eye to the built environment, but this is just ridiculous. What sane person walks around in life framing up every rusty doorknob and morsel of peeling paint, wondering how many ‘likes’ it will earn?!

Secrets and Lies.

To this end, I have been lying to everyone (including myself) about my addiction. Apologising for the lack of correspondence and blaming it on my impossibly busy Japanese life (ha). ‘Sorry, I haven’t been on Skype because I’m studying’ (when I’m really tagging photos on Instagram with a movie on in the background). ‘I’ve been meaning to email, I’ve just been out enjoying this weather so much!’ (when I’m actually taking walks in countryside Japan…scouring for Instagram material).

The low point came today when I met a friend to study Japanese for the day. I heard myself moaning to him about all the physical ailments that have been plaguing me of late…and I heard myself lying to him about my belief of what caused all the problems. I was bald-faced lying to a friend to cover up my addiction to an iPhone application. I believe ladies and gentlemen, that is what is called ‘rock bottom’.

Guilt and Shame.

Hitting rock bottom was what made me decide I needed to come clean about this addiction and make efforts to overcome it. The guilt and shame have become too much. What the hell am I doing?! It’s an iPhone app.

I should be studying (with exactly 42 days left until my impending N3 JLPT exam). I should be out making the most of my last year in Japan. I should be staying in touch with my family and friends all over the globe. I should be dedicating time to creating my business…my future.

I am so ashamed that as a grown woman, I managed to get hooked on such a ridiculous pastime. How did I get to a point where I need a stranger to click on a ‘like’ button to feel satisfaction and personal worth?

Intervention.

I’ve been living life through the lens of my iPhone for the last month. Trapped in this sad little world, detached from my real surroundings. I’m done. I’m seizing my life back and initiating an Instavention.

I’m going to  stop taking an inordinate amount of photos a day. I’m going to stop checking Instagram 20 times a day to waste time looking at pretty pictures. I’m going to stop uploading my Instagram photos to facebook. I’m going to put a stop to all these physical problems I’ve been suffering.  I’m going to stop being an Instaholic.

I’m going to start dedicating my time to all the worthwhile, real endeavours in my life. I’m going to start…tomorrow…