Come what may.

In Goals, School on April 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I love living in Japan, but visas do expire, you know. I’ll still plan to be here for quite a while longer if things don’t deteriorate, but I have to start thinking about applying to graduate school.

So tonight I’m reading the admissions sites to some programs. Let’s take a look:

“This past year we received almost 600 applications. In recent years, anywhere from 2% to 6% of the applicants have been admitted into the program.”

“The department typically receives around 700 applications per year for about 18 places in our sequential program.”

“We are able to make about 8-9 offers with funding from an applicant pool of 350+.”

Granted, these quotes are all from amazing programs, but this type of language seems to be pretty standard. I’m going into a field where my employment chances are very, very dire. And, that’s if I survive the admissions process, get into a good program, and make it through.

It’s all a little disheartening. Part of the reason that I didn’t apply straight out of undergrad is because I wanted some time to make an honest assessment of myself. But, this is what I want to do with my life. Sometimes you just have to do your best, say a prayer, and see where you end up. Wish me luck.

Misguided attempts at cultural awareness.

In Japan, People on April 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I tried out the koto yesterday just to see what it was like. My boss arranged it for me on a lark. I barely mentioned, “Koto sounds fun,” and next thing you know she’s pulling out her address book and making calls. Two weeks later, she’s going along to show me the place and to make introductions and to serve as translator. (Talk about employee benefits.) Neither of us knew what we were in for.

Before I explain all the craziness, I should pause for an educational note for those who aren’t aware of what a koto is. I wasn’t really either until just before I made the offhand comment to my boss. It’s a giant stringed instrument played with bone finger picks. Kind of like a zither. Or maybe it is a zither, since I don’t know the actual definition. I have absolutely no musical training, which is probably starting to show. Wikipedia, bless them, will kindly provide us with a picture:

Pretty, eh?

Anyhow, we went to my new koto sensei’s house. The woman talks fast, really fast, and does not pause for air or us. The first thing out of her mouth was “Are you allergic to cats?” This was before we even hit her front stoop. There is a preserved beehive on a table inside her front door. She does not own cats.

This simple fact became a mystery I spent the entire two hours trying to unravel.

Needless to say, I couldn’t concentrate at all. I kept missing the notes. I couldn’t remember the names of the numbers in Japanese. (My language skills are terrible, but they aren’t that bad.) The leather bands on the picks were too tight. They kept popping of my fingers. My version of “Sakura, Sakura” sounded deranged. My boss, who had planned on leaving early, waited it all out, either looking slightly amused or looking slightly pained.

In all my fluster I only caught fragments of the conversations happening between my boss and my teacher. One was about whether learning koto would make me more marriageable. (Apparently, no.) Another was about whether I would be able to find sensei’s house next week. Most of this centered on the fear that I wouldn’t be able to read the public transport time tables. (I’ve been here nearly two years. Illiteracy hasn’t stopped me yet.) Finally, there was the negotiation over where to find me a practice koto for at home. My boss was given the task of calling every single music teacher in the city. This is not hyperbole. Every one of their names was listed in full. Repeatedly. My boss had to take notes. The aim is to track down a errant koto that sensei had lent to someone, at some point, maybe. Three thoughts: It’d be hilarious to listen in on those those phone calls. Where will I put a six-foot-long koto? My poor boss.

Driving home, when we finally figured out the mystery of the cats, we laughed the entire way.

Beijing story.

In Travel on April 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I’ve finally got my pictures together, so sorry this post is a little delayed. I went to Beijing just over a week after the earthquake. I wasn’t a radiation refugee or anything like that. It was a vacation scheduled well in advance. (Thank goodness, because airline tickets shot up like a rocket after March 11.)

I travelled to China alone, and was there under a week. So, I can’t say I went anywhere that was terribly off the beaten path, but it was a nice break regardless. Here’s some pictures.

Guarding the Forbidden City.

There were tourists everywhere in the Forbidden City. Getting a picture without some random Chinese man’s head or arm in the shot necessitated a lot of patience and some odd camera angles. I only wish I were better at photography so all that work left me with something better to show than a random gilt thing-a-ma-jig.

There were giant brass pots everywhere. I suppose I should have taken a guided tour so I’d know why.

This is the section of the Great Wall known as Mutianyu. It’s rebuilt. There is a ski lift and souvenir hawkers selling overpriced Snickers while dressed as Red Army soldiers. So, I don’t think it scores any points for authenticity. But, it was really quiet the day I went and really pretty.

I walked all over the city. Beijing was surprisingly easy to navigate. One the way to the Drum and Bell Towers I ran into a store with some pretty odd decor. The giant-ukulele-carrying Christmas bunnies pretty much set the tone of the place.

This was shot in Tiananmen Square. Those people made up one segment of the line to see Mao’s Tomb. One thing I learned is China is really good at lines. Needless to say, I did not have the time to pay my respects to the Chairman.

I actually went to the Temple of Heaven twice. The first time was late in the evening for my nightly walk. The temple is in a giant park and there were people flying kites, doing tai chi, jogging and lounging around everywhere.  The second time was during the day with a woman I met at the hotel.

I realize, writing this, that wandering around big cities may make for interesting trips but maybe not for super enlightening posts. I suppose I should have researched the provenance and ceremonial use of the random gilt thing-a-ma-jig. Or mentioned how this is the year of the rabbit, so the store decor serves as an example of how China is at a cultural crossroads. Or some such. I really just wanted to post some tacky tourist photos. Sorry. I didn’t have time for the Summer Palace. If I ever go back to finish seeing the sights, I promise I’ll do better by you all then.