My brain on Japanese

Ok, here’s the thing. I’ve been learning Japanese for a few years, but I’m not a consistent learner so the outcome is not extraordinary. Coupled with the fact that I have never taken a formal class, I don’t even own a textbook (can you believe that?). Yes, I’m just lazy.

I do use online websites as learning tools, though. For example, I started this journey by signing up to the paid subscription of yesjapan.com. I found that it was very useful for beginners to learn the basics down pat and I finished the course within a year or so. Concurrently, I would watch a lot of Japanese TV, be it drama/movie or just plain ol’ TV programme. I also listen to podcasts in Japanese. Plainly speaking, I was just doing the whole immersion thing.

And my listening comprehension is pretty good.

But depending on your learning goals, learning a new language also requires you to be literate and being able to express yourself in that language.

On reading

There are a lot of methods to this. Hiragana and Katakana was not that hard, I picked it up quickly. Kanji on the other hand, is a different story. When I went to Japan, I couldn’t read a lot of things and it was frustrating. Currently, I’m using wanikani to learn and retain kanji.

On speaking

So I tried to make a few Japanese friends for this purpose. But the flip side to this is that unless you have a lot in common, it’s harder to maintain that friendship. That’s just my experience though. Almost a year ago, I found Masumi. And Masumi likes pretty much the same things I do, so I  should just practice with her, right? The thing is, Masumi’s English is better than my Japanese so it was easy for me to fall back to English.

I tried italki, a service that allows you to have language lessons online. I scheduled a lesson with a community tutor for some casual conversation practice. And I realised something…that my listening comprehension was not as good as I thought it was.

I think it was mainly due to the fact that when I’m having an actual conversation, I literally force myself to understand every single thing that my tutor is saying and at the same time, try to figure out a response to it. On the other hand, listening to podcasts or watching shows does not require me to understand everything and I don’t have to do any output.

I struggled a little bit but thank goodness the tutor understood what I was trying to say, and corrected my sentences when needed, which was something that Masumi wouldn’t do.

Language learning is a continuous process and while my progress is slow (because yes, laziness), as long as we keep at it, we’ll get better and better with time.

As the saying goes, 塵も積もれば、山となる: Even dust, when piled up will become a mountain.

 

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Fallen Words

What an interesting experience! I went to see a rakugo in English by Diane Kichijitsu at the JCKL Charity Bazaar. I didn’t expect that I would enjoy it as much as I did. I mean, I can barely understand rakugo in Japanese unless I listen to it more than once and at times I need to look up the summary to see if I understood correctly. Besides that, comedy in one language may not translate very well in another language.

But firstly, maybe I need to briefly explain what rakugo is. Rakugo is a form of traditional Japanese storytelling done in a sitting position by a single storyteller. The stories are often comical in nature and can be very engaging because the performer acts out the scenes using dialogue and props. As Diane said, it’s all about imagination. I quite like how she started by explaining about the props that they use; the small cloth and the paper fan. For example, she would use the fan as chopsticks or a pair of scissors.

My first introduction to rakugo.

The first time I’ve ever considered listening to rakugo was when I saw Takarazuka’s Yarazu no Ame (Snow Troupe 2006). It was a compilation of different rakugo stories in one play. From there I started to look into rakugo more and more. When I listened to Tetekawa Shinosuke’s Shinigami, I was just glued onto my seat, it was so engaging. But even now, my Japanese isn’t so great to fully appreciate rakugo as a whole.

The Zoo and stuff

Diane did the “Doubutsuen” or simply translated as “Zoo” story. It’s one of those stories that can easily be understood by even non-Japanese. I think you can find various version of it in English on youtube. Here’s an example, by another rakugo performer.

At the end, she stood up and gave tips on just how to laugh, the laughter yoga, as she calls it, which I suppose must be done indoors unless you want people to look at you like you’ve lost your marbles.

All in all, I was glad that I decided to go out and come all the way to see it. I wish I had the opportunity to greet her after the show though. By the way, I always go to these kind of things alone so if anyone is interested, hit me up.

Job Interview

So things at work have not been going so well, and it’s not just because of my boss. I find myself becoming very disinterested in what I’m doing, I dread waking up to go to work, I make silly mistakes that could very well be avoided if I was more engaged.

I did try to talk to my boss about it, but it doesn’t work. So after 8 months of reporting to her, seeing my work-life balance and even productivity deteriorating, I’ve decided to look for another job.

Within days, the new company called me for an interview. Initially, it was supposed to be held at their office but on the day itself, the formal interview turned into an interview at the coffee shop. Instead of being interviewed by a bunch of people, doing tests etc. I met with the person who would be my supervisor, I guess.

So we sat down and talked for over an hour. She was just trying to set things clear about her expectations and the expectations of the client because working in a consulting firm will be different from working for a corporation. The only thing that I found daunting about this was that I would be working alone. I think it went quite well, I talked about my experience, showed samples of my work and asked plenty of relevant questions.

Then she asked me, “Are you willing to take up this challenge?”. I said yes. And now I have a second interview coming up which would consist of me doing a case study, and presenting to the senior partners.

Wish me luck!

It’s awkward when…

It’s awkward when a friend asks me to lend them some money. I mean, I know, nobody would be borrowing money unless they really need it. At least in my circle of friends, I believe they do.

It’s awkward because they don’t beat around the bush, out of the blue, they just text you and say, “Hey TM, do you have some spare cash that you can lend to me?”. Then they tell you how much they need. And that they’ll pay you back at a certain date, usually by their next paycheck.

And what can I say? They are my friends, they need cash, and while I’m not rich, I can spare a couple of hundred for a friend in need. This particular friend was unemployed for sometime and was just getting a new job. So I just replied, “OK”. And I transferred the money there and then. Then they reply, “Thanks, I owe you one. I’ll pay back at the end of the month”.

“Sure, no problem. I’m sure you’d do the same for me”, is what I say.

And the conversation ends, just like that.

It doesn’t happen once, but a few times. It’s just awkward, I don’t know what else to say. But I have asked for my money back because it’s been 5 months since. It’s not so much that I NEED it back, it’s more of a matter of trust. If they can’t pay me back now, just tell me instead of keeping quiet about it.

I have yet to get it back. Ugh, so awkward.

Surviving Hari Raya

Hari Raya means Eid. I used to love and look forward to it when I was a kid. As an adult, not so much. Worry not, I have survived the initial stage i.e. the day before and the first few days after. This is when the preparation is most intense, the crowds that come to visit our house is never-ending and the heat is unbearable.

Our family typically celebrates Raya at my grandparents’ house (the kampong).

Ever since I could remember, my Raya has always been at this house. I spent my first Raya away from home in 2007, when I was studying in the UK. My grandmother passed away in 2009, my parents kept it a secret from me because I was sitting for my finals. When I finally returned in 2011, we still celebrate in the kampong but it wasn’t the same.

My grandfather stays with us, and nobody really takes care of the kampong house. We would go there once a year for Raya. Can you imagine the amount of work that is required to bring it back to habitable, or almost habitable condition? After that, we had to cook a lot of food for our family members who are spending Raya there as well as for the relatives who would come to visit on the subsequent days.

There used to be trees growing outside of the house – Durian, Rambutan, Sapodilla, Jackfruit, Coconut. These trees somehow made the house a bit cooler at the peak of the day. Rambutan season was my favourite because we would spend almost every afternoon picking Rambutan fruit and eating it there and then. Now, the trees are gone leaving the outside of the house very bare.

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Kampong from the front.

Here’s how Raya went this year:

Day T-2: We went back to kampong, arrived at midnight, grateful that one of the uncles came a bit earlier to clean some parts of the house so that we could at least sleep.

Day T-1: Cleaning continues. We went to the wet market to get ingredients to cook and then the supermarket for other things. Cooking. More extended family members arrived. Everyone was busy cooking, eating and socializing until 1am.

Day 1: Woke up at 6.30am, got ready to go for Eid prayers. After that, came back home and changed. Gave Raya money to my parents, and my younger cousins. Relatives start coming and the house was so full. Some of us stayed in the kitchen to make sure the food and beverage supply are sufficient. It was so hot, coupled with the amount of people in that small house at one time, we were roasting. We tried to take a family photo. Some of us went out to visit the neighbour’s  house. Soon after, we saw an ambulance. Our grandfather was taken to the hospital because his speech was slurred. After a few tests, it turned out that he had a panic attack and was allowed to go home.

Day 2: I woke up 3 times during the night to go to the bathroom. I found out that all the people who went to the neighbour’s house yesterday had diarrhea. More relatives came. We managed to visit our grandaunt’s house. Some of us had to go home straight after due to diarrhea. We watched a horror movie before bed, and I always fall asleep right before the movie ends. Sorry, guys.

Day 3: We’re okay now! No more diarrhea! Relatives started coming at 10am and only stopped at 3pm. We were exhausted but we had to go home today. We packed everything and left.

So that’s just the first part. Raya lasts a month so…

29 Februari

To be honest, I don’t usually watch Malaysian films. When Masumi asked me to recommend her any Malaysian films at the DVD store, I told her I don’t know what to recommend because as far as I could tell, contemporary Malaysian films are limited to sappy romance, silly comedy or horror. Some even combine the 3 genres into one story.

Today was different though. I had some time to kill and I thought, maybe I could watch a Malaysian film. After browsing on Iflix for a bit, I decided to settle on “29 Februari”.

29 Februari is a love story/musical directed by Edry Abdul Halim about a man who was born on the 29th of February, and only ages once every four years. It’s like the opposite of the movie Jack (1996), where Jack would age 4 times faster each year. 29 Februari was able to hold my attention for the whole 1 ½ hours. Okay, I took a nap in between because I was sick but that doesn’t count!

The story started in 1896, when Budi (played by Remy Ishak) was born. His father is working for the British in Kuala Lumpur. We view the world from Budi’s point of view, when even after 40 years, he looks like he’s 10 and was shunned by the other children for being “old”. In 1941, the Japanese invaded Malaya, the British forces were called to Singapore, Budi’s father was entrusted with the property left by the British.

What came next is perhaps the most devastating part of the movie, his father is captured and beheaded by the Nippon army.  Budi is then raised in an orphanage and sells woven baskets for a living. One fateful day, on 31 August 1957 (he’s 61 at this point), he meets the love of his life, a Chinese girl called Lily (played by Jojo Goh). In case you haven’t noticed, this date was also the Independence Day for Malaya.

Budi and Lily fall in love and dated over the next few years. Interracial marriage was uncommon at that time and with strong opposition from Lily’s family, they were separated. Iflix didn’t have subtitles so I couldn’t really understand the dialogue between Lilly and her family.

Not wanting to go through the arranged marriage to another man, Lily runs away from home. Budi spends the rest of his life looking for her and eventually finds her in 2012 (he’s 116).

One look at this and you could see that it has a high production value. The setting, the backdrop, the props and costumes was on point. Even the insertion of the actual colorized footage from the formal declaration of independence was brilliantly done. I have not seen a lot of local films that are under the “Fantasy” genre so this was like a breath of fresh air.

My pet peeves about Malaysian films is the dubbing quality. Sometimes I can’t tell whether the characters are actually talking or the voices that we hear are just internal monologues. Sometimes their mouths don’t move but they are actually talking to another character.

Next, this is supposed to be a musical. And a musical it is just because the main characters sang a few songs. Or was it the same number over and over, I’m not so sure. The numbers were nothing memorable but it wasn’t as cringy as I thought it would be.

I just wished that there is more storytelling, like how did Budi end up opening a flower shop, or did he have any other girlfriends after that, or how did his close friend die. I don’t know, it just felt like Budi was a bit one-dimensional. And just when I thought that this story is going to be different, they gave me a typical Malaysian film tragedy ending.

Or as my mom would say “Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga”.

I thought it was well-made but there are always room for improvement. So yes, I would recommend this to Masumi and watch her reaction to it.

You look like a panda

As I wrote in a previous post about my boss being a robot, I have now established that she does eat. But that doesn’t change the fact that she works everyone very hard.

I have to wear concealer to cover my eyebags, and there was once I didn’t put on enough, my colleague said, “Are you okay? You look like a panda”. Pandas are cute but I do not want to look like a panda. Ever since then, I will always wear as much as I can. Another colleague who has just been with us for a little over 2 months said she had to put on two layers of concealer to look human. So remember boys and girls, concealer is your friend.

Ever since reporting to this department in January, my work life balance has been crazy. Every staff is overworked, each of us is probably handling about 3 people workload. Our team members are falling sick one-by-one. Sometimes I feel so stressed that I just disconnect.

Transferring to a different function would be difficult because I know the big guys won’t approve. Happened to some of my ex-colleagues.

I’ve been looking out for a new job but the job market is not looking too good. And then, plot twist! Another company is going to acquire our company. It’s highly unlikely this new entity will be keeping ~20,000+ staff so yeah…

We’ll see how it goes.

Until then, let’s enjoy some panda video because they are adorable and I don’t know how to end this post.