Monday, April 19, 2010

I think I'm alone now

This post isn't going to have much by way of a point. It's really just a dump of what's going on in my brain right now. Hope that's ok.

It's monday morning, and I'm on my own as all the other members of my sub-section of the board of education are curiously absent. They were here for the morning meeting, dressed in casual clothes, then they mysteriously left, joking that I was in charge of answering the phone. Before leaving, the beautiful (alas, married) secretary who sits opposite me - already unusually easy on the eye thanks to her street clothes and functional ponytail - literally donned a nurse's uniform. I was quite excited. It turns out she's helping out with students' health checks today.

I had quite a lazy weekend. I got an import copy of Fallout 3 last week, so I spent an inordinate amount of time playing that. It's awesome! I love all the anal stat-tweaking of a good RPG (role playing game, for my over-40 readers), but the goblins-and-orcs fantasy nonsense that usually accompanies it leaves me cold. But the ruins of Washington DC following a nuclear apocalypse? That's something I can get behind!

I didn't play all that many video games during my Edinburgh years, and particularly not during the PhD, as I reasoned that while stuggling to motivate myself, buying something that would provide me with endless hours of unproductive distraction would be somewhat self-defeating. So, I think I'm still judging games by the standards of the late-90s to some extent, and clearly, they've come on a bit. Thus, I'm not really the most discerning games reviewer. I have a similar thing with books. I don't read fiction all that often, so whenever I actually sit down and read a novel, I'll generally like it.

I don't see this as a bad thing. This is something I've been thinking about a bit lately: people seem to think that there is something admirable about learning to dislike things. People here laugh at me for eating at the down-market Kappa Sushi, just as people at home mocked me for being happy drinking instant coffee, eating doner kebabs when sober, liking Girls Aloud, and making no attempt whatsoever to decorate my home. I don't see why everyone is in such a hurry to become too jaded and world-weary to enjoy simple pleasures. Pursuing 'quality' seems to me like a recipe for unhappiness. Maybe I'm becoming Zen.

I find that when I spend a whole weekend playing English-language games, listening to English-language music and podcasts, and talking to my friends and family on Skype, I experience a strange miniature culture shock when I step outside the door and find that signs are still illegible. It's a curious, disorienting feeling; you'd think after eight-plus months it would have sunk in that I live in Japan. In other ways, though, I think I am slowly assimilating. In the supermaret yesterday, I found myself thinking that my fellow shoppers didn't look very Japanese. They did, of course, it's just that my concept of a generic person has shifted.

Tonight I have been invited to the Nanyo Rotary Club's hanami party. After a quick look on the internet I am satisfied that they are not, in fact, a shady Masonic-style secret society. The venue is a sushi restaurant, and I imagine nomu-nication will be the order of the day, so it should be fun. I'm just debating whether this would be a good time to wear the kilt.

Afternoon addendum: Ok, I've messed around for two weeks now; it's time to pull my finger out. I just realised that I was studying Japanese more conscientiously whilst struggling to finish a PhD than I am now that I have nothing to do. I supposed this can be explained by the fact that I was motivated by fear of the unknown, along with a desire to do anything to take my mind off fruit flies. Now that I know I can survive in Japan, I don't have such a pressing reason to learn the language.

Nevertheless, it's time to up my game. I don't particularly like the official JET textbooks, because they are in romaji, which just feels clumsy to me now. Neither do I like the textbook that I got for my evening class, mainly because it's all in Japanese (so that people of different native languages can be taught together). I have to consult a separate translation book for any English, which is irritating. So, as of tomorrow, I shall dust off my Japanese for Busy People (volume 2!) that I haven't opened in about six months.

Talking of my PhD work ethic, I just took a nostalgic look over the 'Thesis progress' spreadsheet I kept during my write-up. It details my word count every day, along with little one-line comments about what was going on. You can see it all: the bold start in October '08, the three-month flat-line from January when everything went wrong and I seriously considered just throwing in the towel, then the final push in May, including the legendary day I produced 2380 words.

I experienced a strange mix of emotions looking at it. Those times were hellish, and though I can feel my selective memory attempting to revise my personal history into a rosier light, I feel strongly that I must strive to remember just how awful it was, lest I am ever tempted to try something like that again. But, I also felt a certain sense of pride. I constantly worry that I am a lazy and/or incompetent person, so it's nice to see documentary evidence of me working strenuously and effectively. On top of that, I felt deep relief bordering on elation that it all worked out in the end, because I know how much I doubted that it ever would during the dark times. And finally, I feel a kind of longing for the excitement that I felt then about going to Japan. I'm not complaining about my current situation; it is just the nature of things that the anticipation of anything is more exhilarating than the reality of attaining it.

It's all gone a bit philosophical today. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll go back to blogging about Lady Gaga, maid cafes and suppositories soon.


  1. Aww Finlay, I do feel like throwing in the towel, stop with this postdoc nonsense and never have to deal with fruit flies again as well... I don't know why one small experiment that didn't work can affect me so much. It's not like it has never happened before (experiments not working)...

  2. I have been studying Japanese for so many years. It seems everytime I start to get serious about it something happens: I get ill, have no more money for class or something really dramatic like breaking up with my boyfriend happens.
    But right now, I am so ready (I am a short-list JET right now) to really dive in. I am super excited about going to Japan since I have been studying the culture as my major (undergrad and MA) for sometime now.

    Sometimes there is just a "time" for things, you know? I really hope you see this one through though it seems from your history you will.

    Last thing - I hate Japanese for Busy people and prefer Genki

  3. Andrea: I feel your pain. It sucks having your mental wellbeing affected by something as unpredictable as experimental results. Doing scientific research is like rolling a dice every monday morning to decide how happy you will be for the week, with anything less than a 4 involving considerable amounts of panic and self-doubt.

    Nessie: I've been wondering who my regular Canadian visitor was for a while now. Thank you for delurking and solving the mystery!

  4. Wait, the enigmatic Canadian hits are from Ontario, not Quebec. Mystery reinstated!

  5. Ahh... I must have been rolling 1s all the time then! I think deep down I just want to be a rich tai-tai... :-(

  6. Finlay, that's sad that you are tracking the location of everyone who visits your blog.

    I used to do that with the bridge website.