Category Archives: Blog

Regular posts as you know them

Hellooo.. 27! Taking Stock

It is my 27th Birthday, if Facebook, Skype or some other app has not informed you already. I like the sound of 27, it is far enough from 30 for me to causally say I am in my 20s (I will still say this when I am 29.x years!). Although I worry about becoming old (70 and beyond really scares me), I realize I am still far away from that and I need to live in the moment. I am going to do one of those “taking stock posts” so bear with me!

27 years old
This is the dilemma I am dealing with!

Making: Research plans for the next 3 years, a PhD doesn’t come easy. In spite of how impressive that might sound, it is more like I am in a long, dark tunnel of research papers and there is still no end to the said tunnel, no light in the distance. It has been 3 weeks at JAIST, I love it here.

I am also making plans to bring J over by the time the October (autumn) semester starts. So far, the nearby pre-school has accepted the application :)

Cooking: random recipes I google from the internet. They require some spices and ingredients I am never sure where to buy from especially when everything is in Japanese. Sometimes it turns out great, sometimes it is hardly edible. I live to learn.
Drinking: Kenyan masala tea. Ahhh..
Reading: Research papers. Random articles on various topics saved on the Pocket app. A new novel I got from a friend.
Wanting: September to come quickly, I am ready to book my ticket home for a holiday and to come back with J! Also, the Samsung S6 could come in handy. A birthday present, anyone?
Looking: at the mountains behind my apartment every morning as the sun comes up, I live up in the mountains in the university student housing. The university itself is up in the mountains. In the evening, I see Kanazawa City twinkling below me from the front veranda. There couldn’t be  a more ideal location. Just type JAIST into Google maps and use street view to see a piece of my world :)
Playing: nothing. No physical, no computer games. I have become a boring person.
Wasting: time watching series online instead of carrying out a series of “projects” I had set out for myself this year.
Wishing: for the time-space continuum to be conquered so I can teleport instantly to my family in Nairobi.
Enjoying: driving around in a friend’s Mercedes Benz (friends let their friends drive their expensive cars)
Waiting: for this Saturday to arrive so I can go see the snow wall in Tateyama with my friends.

Snow Wall at Tateyama
Snow Wall at Tateyama

Liking: that the weather is getting warmer and warmer. On some days, the temperature rises up to 23deg and I can pretend I am in Nairobi. Nairobi just has the perfect weather.
Wondering: if life would be much simpler if the people we liked also liked us back with the exact same intensity, of course the reverse is also true
Loving: that I am getting used to life in Japan so much, and loving it here. Especially the JAIST environment, a high tech research center in the middle of nowhere. Like it could be in a sci-fi movie. Of course the disadvantage is that there is nothing around, transport is not so convenient and the only convenience store closes at 9 or is it 10pm!

JAIST in the mountains
JAIST in the mountains

Hoping: to get a car very soon, I am starting to feel as if I am taking advantage of my friends! A girl needs her own wheels especially if I will be bringing J here.

Marveling: at my son who is now speaking, and singing. His second birthday was just under a month ago.

Needing: a car very soon, oh I already said that. Okay, needing the Golden Week (a week long series of holidays here in Japan) to quickly arrive so I can take off to see Kobe with friends.
Smelling: Fresh mountain air, every morning, and practically every day I am outdoors at JAIST.
Wearing: shorts with more confidence :)

Spring in Kenrokuen Garden
Spring in Kenrokuen Garden

Following: my self-imposed schedule has proved impossible. I have 2 hours scheduled for exercise each day and I haven’t done any in the last two weeks.
Noticing: just how everything has become green .. Spring is truly a time of rejuvenation.
Knowing: and accepting my limits
Thinking: about my family and wishing my little brother all the best as he embarks on the road to becoming a certified doctor. He just started his internship year.
Feeling: happy. Sleeping well lately. In spite of the lack of exercise.
Bookmarking: How to dye your hair wiki page. I learned that to get the best results for vibrant colours, you first need to bleach black hair. That is why I am currently sporting a bleached blonde look. Purple coming soon. Wait, I could be going through some late quarter-life crisis or something. But as long as I am a career student, I still have some freedom to express myself :)
Opening: 10 to 15 tabs on my browser and watching as my laptop gets the blue screen of death after Chrome has “eaten” all the 4GB RAM.

Google Chrom Vs RAM
Google Chrom Vs RAM

Giggling: whenever I watch/read Cyanide and Happiness comics. I don’t get always get the dark humour but when I do.. some are downright hilarious.
Feeling: grateful to be alive, in a world full of suffering notwithstanding. Happy birthday to me!

 

Four Women, Four Books: The Book Review Post

It has been four books since I wrote the last book review on this blog. Coincidentally the four books I read were all by women: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Jazz by Toni Morrison, An Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid and The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa. By combining all four reviews into one, I am admitting my laziness; but by writing the reviews at all I hope I am doing justice to fellow book readers searching for their next read. It is quite random how I pick what I read, why do you read the books you do?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

When Maya Angelou died, everyone was re-posting her famous quotes on every social network site you have ever heard of, yet if you had asked anyone to name any one of her books you would have been met with a blank stare or a blinking cursor on a pure white background, as it were. I quickly added “read Maya Angelou” to my hastily put together 30 Things to do Before 30 List. In December last year, I was in Tokyo at a bookshop in near Shinjuku Station that probably has the largest collection of English books in Japan. I browsed through many titles in many genres before I found Maya Angelou’s books and picked up this particular one because another friend was also reading it at the same time and I couldn’t borrow his book then.

Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The book is Maya’s childhood biography, I have since learned that she has 6 other biographies! She was brought up by her deeply religious grandmother in the South, and through it you get a glimpse of what life was for many black people in America then. Circumstances radically change in her lifetime duration; consider for instance her reading a poem on the inauguration of the first ever black American president. There is not much I can tell you about her life that you don’t already know; the suffering, the overcoming, her writing and activism career. But to read her story in her own words is to be offered a glimpse into her mind, to be let into her heart. I love it when famous people are also writers and therefore write their own stories in their own words and style. Her storytelling is captivating, her imagery brilliantly clear. She may be more famous for her poetry, but her writing is worth searching for the remaining 6 biographies to add some volumes to my fairly empty bookshelf. This book covers the ages of 3 to 16, when she becomes a teenage mother. What happens after that? I want to know too. But if you ask my why the caged bird sings, I have to reread this book again.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jazz is a portrait of New York in 1926. Jazz is the story of one woman who falls through the cracks of time and space, stubborn, determined Violet. Her husband Joe Trace had an affair with a young woman; Joe later kills her because he is jealous  and at her funeral Violet tries to disfigure the corpse’s face. But the story is so much more than the small but significant funeral incident, the background story of all the characters is provided to show how they eventually all end up in New York. The music to their story is naturally, jazz. Harlem in 1926 embodied freedom for workers coming from the South. The book is not an easy read, I must warn you but it is worth it. Long after I finished reading this book, I still remember Violet and Joe Trace, Dorcas who stood with toes pointed inwards and a not-so-smooth face, Golden Gray a boy with golden curls who believed he was white but grows up to the realization of his black father. It is a book about race, history, life in Harlem in the 1920s, and the undertones of jazz, which I get sometimes.

Toni Morrison's Jazz
Toni Morrison’s Jazz

I got this book from a classmate in my former Japanese class; she said it is her favorite Toni Morrison book. I exchanged with her the Maya Angelou Book for this one and it was a worthy read, thank you Chrissi!

An Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

This book is also borrowed from a friend! My bookshelf now has about 5 novels, 3 of which are borrowed! I seem to have read Jamaica Kincaid before, but I can’t remember if I read a short story or a novel (whose title I cannot recall).

An autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid
An autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

There is a melancholic tone underlying this book, a longing for a mother who died on the day the author of the book was born. Xuela is a deeply troubled young woman, and as one of the reviewers on google books said, “this book is emotionally exhausting”. I don’t think she ever experiences any happiness in her entire book, but it offers a rich insight into life in the Dominican Island. Kincaid has a beautiful style of writing, it is poetry weaved into prose and yet simple and flowing. You can easily read the book in a day or two. Xuela spends her life self-sabotaging potential happy moments, her life is high sensual and she emerges herself in it, she feels little but she hurts deeply, she is a solitary character who never lets anyone know what she is thinking. Her character is haunting.

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

What can I say about this book? I got it from a local bookshop and Yoko is the first Japanese author I am reading. At first I thought it was a novel with the three stories introduced on the back cover (The Diving Pool, Pregnancy Diary and The Dormitory) intersecting at some point, but it turned out to be 3 short stories sold together as one book.

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

In the Diving Pool, a lonely teenager is secretly in love with her adopted brother, who is a diver. She is growing up in an orphanage that her parents run, but she feels ignored by her parents because she is treated just like the rest of the kids. In the Pregnancy Diary, a young woman living with her sister keeps a diary of her sister’s pregnancy. She may appear loving on the outside but her true nature is revealed in her diary, just like the underlying cruel streak of the teenager in the first story is revealed in her interactions with the younger orphans. In the Dormitory story, a woman helps her younger cousin settle into her former dormitory, but the place is haunted by a disappearance of a student who lived there, a crippled caretaker and an unexplained decay.

The stories don’t dwell in the “normal” world, they push at the boundary of realism and yet they are not unbelievable. My favorite was The Dormitory, it is beautifully written (or should I say beautifully translated), the story never quite ends but just like in real life there are many unsolved mysteries. The Pregnancy Diary is also a good read, but the Diving Pool is downright weird, perhaps it is a better read in the original language. I hope I can master enough Japanese to read the book in the next 3 years.

Well, there you have it. Four diverse reads from four different women.

Getting a Japanese Driving License

My friend Umer, who is Pakistani, was pessimistic.

“Why don’t you just wait until I get a car and then you can practice at night when there is no one on the roads? You are going to fail. Everybody fails, let me tell you. You cannot pass the driving test. The rules are so hard, I met some girls who had failed so many times at the driving test center. Inshallah God willing I will get  car next week and you can start practicing.  ”

Well I would still be waiting because Umer still hasn’t got the car! But he was quite supportive, if pessimistic. He already passed his test exam and got his Japanese driving license (for foreigners) – the 国際運転免許証。This coveted card will allow you to drive a car in Japan, your foreign license doesn’t count (at least the Kenyan one doesn’t).

Before you can get the driving license, there are a few prerequisites. Like having at least 3 months driving experience with your foreign license. And once you bring all the required documents, you can get to exchange your driving license for a Japanese one without doing any test if you are citizen of Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal,the Republic of Slovenia, the Principality of Monaco South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Taiwan and United Kingdom. As a citizen of the esteemed republic of Kenya, I had to undergo a 10-15 minutes driving test to qualify for the Japanese driving license.

Being in Ishikawa Prefecture, I researched and read up on all the requirements for converting my license to a Japanese one. There was a lot of useful information online, including a step by step guide. I read it diligently, I gathered all the required documents and went for my first appointment.

The first time I went to the Unten Menkyo Center,  I went with a Japanese friend to the second floor were they handle foreigners driving license matters. I presented my documents: passport, residence certificate, translation of driving license, actual driving license… The guy at the counter couldn’t believe we were still using passport-sized licenses with glued-on photographs. I did a separate post on it here. If @Ukenyatta is reading this, please tell him we need digital DLs. Update: I have heard the new DLs are indeed, digital-sized but I guess I was a few months too early to get mine?

The Kenyan Driving License vs a "normal DL"
The Kenyan Driving License vs a “normal DL”

When he was through turning the DL over and over, he then looked at the translation. According to my Kenyan DL, I am allowed to drive class B, C and E. Yes, I am allowed to drive a manual lorry, your average Mitsubishi Canter. Yes, I did my driving test on an an actual lorry whose controls (clutch, brakes, accelerator) I could hardly reach while still seeing out of the dashboard because the seat couldn’t be adjusted; it was an old lorry. How I passed is er.. a miracle but suffice to say my test involved starting, driving for about 2 minutes along a straight stretch, and stopping.

The Japanese guy at the counter was surprised I could drive a lorry haha, but I have not driven one before and since the test. Anyway, my documents were all in order and I was asked to set a date for the practical test. My Japanese friend would later get very busy and so could not take me (I suspect his girlfriend is keeping him busy 😉 ) so I set up an appointment  and decided to go there by bus.  There is a bus that goes there from Kanazawa Station only twice a day, once in the morning and once at noon. I called Umer and we went together.

I had read online on how to pass the test. When driving keep to the left of the lane about 30-50cm from the white line; when turning to check for pedestrians/other cars before changing lanes or turning you should exaggerate your motions; brake down hard when slowing down; be sure to indicate 30 meters before a turning; stop before the line; stop and count to 3 at any stop light; etc. I had read them all and I was confident. Umer’s doubts could not get to me. The online comments giving a pass rate of 30% did not faze me. After all, I had driven for about a year in Nairobi’s rough streets, and several times I had been downtown in some crowded streets with those awful Githurai buses where not many Nairobians dare drive (the East of Tom Mboya Street). I have reverse parked in tiny basements.

But I failed the first attempt.

It was after the test that I realized it is not about knowing how to drive, it is about following the very persnickety rules. When you do the test, there is a route that you have to follow and a new route is set out everyday. The route will make sure to test your control on the S-curve, the crank, how you do left/right turns, traffic lights, maneuvering around road constructions, broken-down cars in the middle of the lane etc.

The first time I was doing the test, I had not mastered the route. Umer and another Egyptian guy (his name is Amr and I don’t know how to pronounce it) I met at the center were quickly trying to give me tips to crack the course. I was panicking. If you have not mastered the course, the examiner who sits beside you on the passenger seat can give you directions (in Japanese!), but the driving track is a bit small so you might not get enough time to switch lanes before stop lights etc. I was driving in the middle of the lane, like any normal driver in the real world does, so that was my biggest failure. When doing the test, you drive so far to to the left that the driver’s position is almost at the center of the road. When coming out of the crank, one of the rear tires got off the road and at the sound of it, the examiner groaned out light; I had failed.

A typical driving test track in Japan
A typical driving test track in Japan

I booked a date for a repeat exam a week later and went home feeling dejected. Failure is not easy to deal with but I was determined to pass the next time I went. Umer advised me to take a class at the practice center just next to the test center and I booked for two hours on the morning of the test. Driving tests are usually in the afternoon. Umer was supportive as usual “Don’t worry even if you fail, you can come again and again, they can’t stop you from trying again”. But I was determined it would be the second and last time. I did two hours of the practice session, driving very very left, looking not just at the mirrors but over my neck, stopping long enough at a stop light, etc.

When my name was called on the public address system that afternoon, I had already mastered the course over lunch hour. It was a straightforward course that day. I was confident. I was ready. I checked under the car for any children or pets hiding there before and after the test. I craned my neck at turnings. I kept 30-50 centimeters from the left. I smoothly snaked the S-curve and the crank, I kept 1 meter away from the broken car when passing it. I could hear the sound of the examiner ticking away as I passed the test and oh what a sweet sound of success! When I finally parked the car at the end of the test, the examiner said, Kyoo, Ok! (Today was Ok!). I remembered to look under the car even as I walked away from it.

Later, I noticed that the exam card on which our photographs are stuck has about 20 slots! I passed at the second attempt. However, I know met who were failing their 4th attempts, and I have heard a record 33 attempts!

Ah, the sweet freedom that comes from having a license to drive and go anywhere you like. But wait, I still need a car. That is secondary though because after all, I am in Japan, the home of half maybe more of the world’s motor-vehicles.

My advice to anyone who wants to get their Japanese driving license, take the practice classes! A little expensive but worth it!

Image from http://www.blog.pps.com.pk/

Waiting for Sakura

For a short time in Japan during Spring, the cherry blossoms bloom and the streets are bathed in pink flowers. Sakura, it is called. Japan can be incredibly picturesque and now the trees are on the verge of flowering, so we are all eagerly waiting for the beautiful flowers and their fragrance to accompany us on the walks along the rivers, across the streets, and through the roads.

Sakura
Sakura

To be honest, this post will be a rumble of disorganized words and I am writing it more for me and less for the reader. March has been a long month for me in some ways. In April, I move to the university where I will spend the next 3 and a half years, up in the mountains. I spent my holiday trying to work on “projects”; progress has been slow and painful but nothing good comes easy, right? When I was not “working” (the definition of working has been very loose indeed), I was studying Kanji, going through marathons of watching series and movies, reading a few novels, taking very long walks, jogging till my ankle hurts, working on getting a 6-pack (so far we are 2 in, 4 more to go), discovering new bookshops, hanging out with obaasan-tachi from church, making a new Ethiopian friend, having lunch at a Korean restaurant, meeting a Japanese artist, having dinner with friends, planning on attending the Rugby 7s Series Tokyo edition etc ; oh wait, I have really been a busy body.

Korean food, it was delicious
Korean food, it was delicious

More pictures over at Instagram.

Anyway I am glad Spring has finally arrived, the sun is out, the temperature is getting warmer, and the cherry blossoms start blooming next week.

Here’s to a beautiful Spring.

Memoirs of a Geisha

Movie Reviews: The Interview and The Memoirs of a Geisha

For the last few weeks, I did not feel like writing and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t muster enough will to actually do it. Was it a writer’s block? I don’t know.. Writer’s blocks are for actual writers and I am your ordinary blogger. Whatever it was, the end result was an ignored blog and I have had to brush away the dust and sweep away the cobwebs on the walls (and this is not the only wall with cobwebs insert sly grin but I digress) before I could begin writing.

I will review two movies that I have had the pleasure of eyeballing in the last few weeks that I have been on holiday. A lot has happened, including a heartbreak (sob sob but they say better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all, no further details to be divulged though), new friendships, I finally got my Japanese driving license (I have to do a separate post for this!), an English test (sometimes I get a flare of anger because they made me prove my English proficiency, after receiving at least 18 years (8 primary-4 secondary-4 undergraduate-2 master’s) of education in the language, people should learn how the world works. Half of Africa speaks English, the other half speaks French with a few exceptions like Ethiopia, Angola etc (deep breath, namaste,deep breath namaste) Okay I have calmed down..  But let us get on with the movies, shall we? Enough segue, sexy as it was.

The Interview

The Interview
The Interview

I wouldn’t have watched this movie had it not caused such uproar among some people; who seriously threatened to blow up theaters if the movie was shown in the said theaters; and who were possibly so offended that they hacked into the Sony network revealing emails among executives, movie plans, costs and such other information. I must confess I don’t understand their outrage, unless they view Kim Jong Un as their god which they perhaps they do.

An American journalist finally gets an interview with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. (By the way Kim Jong Un if you are reading this, you can hack my blog but please stop firing test missiles into the Japan sea; I quite live near the said sea.) This could be the great interview that makes the journalist’s career, a break from interviewing celebrities like Eminem who confesses that he is gay which explains his homophobic lyrics. So off he goes to North Korea but of course the CIA uses this chance to give him poison with which to kill the dictator and save the people of North Korea. What follows is a tragic comedy of events, the interview finally happens.. but does he kill the dictator like planned? Things go wrong horribly but in a stupid and comical way, if you have 112 minutes to spare, please yourself. But if you don’t have time, you will not have missed anything if you never watch this movie. Trust me.

The Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha

I am living in Japan and had never watched this movie until 3 or so weeks ago. I have seen some women dressed in kimono and with powdered faces and guessed they were Geishas but I had no insight into the culture. According to Wikipedia, Geisha (芸者 ?), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. Everything entertainment except anything sexual.

Memoirs of a Geisha follows the pre-world war II story of a young girl in Japan whose family has “sold her off” together with her sister because the family is unable to take care of them. Sayuri is trained as a Geisha and joins this admired yet lonely profession; a Geisha is not permitted to marry. She falls in love with a man whom she cannot marry but carries on her life, becoming the most sought after Geisha in the city. This happy setting does not last, the war soon sets in and everything changes.

With American soldiers full in the city streets, and with the harshness of war, many women claim to be Geishas but sleep with the soldiers for favours, money.. in short prostitutes. The Geisha profession is no longer respected. Sayuri has to do manual labour during the war; until the man she’s in love with finally comes looking for her, he needs a favour from her. Would she take up the shamisen (traditional musical instrument) once more, wear the kimono and make up once again, and be a hostess to one of the Americans who could possibly finance his business that had collapsed in the war?

It is an engrossing story, watch it if you have the time.

The Stages of Learning Japanese

I am sitting here at my table (as always), staring at the sandwich I just made wondering if the bread has really gone stale or not. The date of expiration states 11th and I will be eating it for lunch tomorrow – Feb 14th- when I go skiing again for the second time; it started snowing again and I need to make the most of this cold weather. This is ironically, the sunny side of winter.. winter sports that is. Anyway the point of today’s post is Japanese. I have been in Japan for exactly 4 and a half months, and have been studying Japanese for exactly that long. Next week, I have final exams before heading on a month’s break, spring break as it were. I currently have no plans beyond a vague idea of seeing the cities Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe but ideas are welcome.

I don’t need to learn Japanese beyond the basics actually, my research will be entirely in English. But I want to pick up a fourth language, almost everyone in Kenya speaks at least 3 languages so of course I want to be unique; and when I get time I will hopefully pick up a 5th one, French for when I have to order wine at an expensive restaurant (red/white/sweet/dry, who uses those anymore?! ;-)) I think 5 will be my limit though!

While the normal stages of learning things of interest for me have been 1)excitement 2) some understanding 3)comprehension/plateau and 4)competence,  with Japanese the stages have been 1) Frustration 2) Excitement 3) Frustration 4)Some Understanding 5) Excitement 6) More Understanding 7)Some Depression… in short, it is an up and down graph. After learning and understanding something, I get excited then I quickly realize how much more I don’t understand and the frustration/depression has me plummeting again.

Learning Japanese
Learning Japanese

 1. Let’s start with Frustration

My first lesson in Japanese was actually in Japan. The first lesson in class was introducing ourselves. Which was easy to speak, but I couldn’t write or read; I could not read hiragana or katakana. I finally mastered hiragana after about two weeks (sure it might seem slow but we had to learn on our own as the pace of the classes assumed hiragana/katakana competence). So naturally I now entered the second stage, excitement!

2. Reading kana led to Excitement

Suddenly I could read the words in the textbook . We used Dekiru Nihongo which has no Romaji or English explanations. I could finally tell people which country I come from, which are my hobbies, when is my birthday, ask how much something is etc, and I could write these in kana! The textbook has hiragana readings above very Kanji character but of course in everyday interaction hardly any Kanjis are going to be having hiragana readings on top.

3. Leading to Frustration Again

Sure, we could now tell you what time, day, month and year it is, we could say what we do on weekends, what will did and what we will do. Now that the introduction was out of the way, it was time to learn Kanji and when we started a once a week separate Kanji class, you start to realize that one character can be read in several different ways, depending on whether it is a word on its own or it is being combined with another character to form a new word. It can also be a component of a bigger Kanji. Then you realize there are more than 10,000 Kanji (my Chinese friend told me that is why all Chinese people wear glasses, the strain they go through as kids trying to master all the Kanji.. and now that I think about it all the Chinese people I have encountered here in Japan do wear glasses hmmm..). However, we started simple, and we learned that in Japan the newspapers use about 3,000 Kanjis and the weekly characters we learned corresponded with our grammar & vocabulary classes, making it easier to remember them.

4. Thus we Finally Had Some Understanding of Japanese

By the third month, we could speak simple sentences about every day things. We could write down our schedule, waking up, walking to school, studying Japanese, doing homework in the library, having dinner at a restaurant, ordering, past tense, present continuous etc.. We could even read some Kanjis!

5. Excitement: I can Read Kanji

It was then the third month into the course, and we could even read and write some Kanji. It finally stopped being incomprehensible sticks that don’t make sense; it was still sticks but we could make out shapes and get a sense of what they were trying to communicate. In a paragraph, it was possible to find one or two words that we could read and understand the meaning! Such as 日本語(Japanese), 日本(Japan), 酒(alcohol, yes I know my priorities ;)) and days of the week 日、月、火、水、木、金、土「曜日」

6. More Understanding

The lessons started to get more interesting. We learned more ways to say something, when to use one way and not another. When to say something must be done, something should be done, it is not necessary to do something, and other nuances; learned to offer opinion, how to ask for help (even when you don’t exactly understand any answer you would be given in the real world), how to pick out important information in a poster for an event using the few Kanjis we knew (when, where, what time), learned to give directions, explain symptoms to a doctor, parts of the body, etc.

Four months in and we could speak, read, write and hear basic Japanese. However in the real world, language is so much more than the basic need to pass information about where you are coming from, what you are going to eat, what your plans for the weekend are, and what part of your body hurts. Language is also about bonding, creating bonds of friendship by revealing your thoughts and opinions to your friends.

After understanding this, you start to realize just how little Japanese you know hence..

7. Just a little depression

Sure you can read maybe 300/3,000 Kanjis (I may be exaggerating to make myself feel better) and can speak many more Japanese words; you cannot get lost in Japan and can even have a decent conversation with someone you just met for the first or second time. But the third time you meet that person you need more than that. You can ask someone something, but you can’t quite understand their response. You know just how much you don’t know! Which is about 20%. You need a break, spring break! Then come back for the 80% which will be definitely much easier to learn since now you know what to expect. Or more difficult to learn since the level of complexity is increasing. Either way, challenge accepted!

 

Book Review: Broken by Karin Slaughter

Sitting at the table in my room and eating fairly tasteless food I made, I have come to the realization that I cannot cook. Sure, I can put ingredients in a pot and stir them over a fire, but 90% of the time they come out tasting like what I am eating now, and I don’t like it. I don’t know where the magic went after I cooked my first meal in Japan.  Even Googling recipes and improvising didn’t work, I think cooking requires a level of patience that I am not capable of. Therefore I am now adding ‘good cook’ to the rather short list of qualities I am looking for in the future Mr. Savvy (it is not an actual list but if you must know it includes things such as kind, smart, financially stable – I know it is 2015 and I can make money for our family but er… – taller than me (I am only 5ft1inch), slim to average build, reads even if only sometimes, and a good cook.)

Broken by Karin Slaughter
Broken by Karin Slaughter

The above is not entirely related to the book I am about to review, but I borrowed this book from someone who is also a good cook (I have already said too much *cough *cough). Anyway I generally like to read books with haunting characters, books that leave the characters’ impression on your mind for days, even months after reading it. Books that let you reminisce about the characters, evoking nostalgia as if you were a part of the story. This is the reason why I mostly read fiction, and when I am not reading fiction I can only push myself as far as biographies (watch out for Maya Angelou’s book review soon). Although Broken isn’t one of these books, I enjoyed reading it very much.

Broken is about crime, and solving it. A young college girl of 21, Allison Spooner, is murdered, but who is the killer? The police swoop in and arrest a prime suspect, an almost retarded kid who later commits suicide in the cells. The detective in this case is Lena Adams, who is working with Frank Wallace the Chief of Police in the county, and they are in a hurry to close the case. However when Tommy the chief suspect commits suicide in police custody, the former coroner Dr. Sarah Linton is called in for the autopsy and gets involved in the case. She does not trust the police and calls the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation for reinforcement; she needs someone she can trust to work on the case. Enter Agent Will Trent, who then begins working with Sarah to unravel the case. Agent Will Trent is the typical smart, dark, handsome etc.. agent.

Sarah was a bit too weepy for my like, I didn’t like her character very much; Lena Adams was not quite defined, you like her one moment you hate her the next… I feel like the characters were not fully developed but while Googling the image used above I came across a review that stated this is the 7th book in a series of crime books. This explains it, the characters have been developed in earlier books. Nevertheless, there was the question of the two dead characters, what is the connection between them? Who killed them and why.. there is a third character who winds up dead, there is betrayal, there is even a hint of romance, a hint of mystery (there is so much we don’t know about Lena) and there is the story of how Sarah’s husband died, which we never quite learn in the book.

It was a good book to read in between tackling Kusadikika and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

P.S. Reading is not as important cooking in the case of Mr. Savvy 😉

Finding My Mother

Scene 1: German Cofffee Shop, This Sunday Morning

I am seated at the Germany Coffee Shop near Korinbo 109 in downtown Kanazawa, having a cup of coffee, a hamburger and another piece of bread whose name I know not (it is Sunday brunch). I am not taking pictures of my food for Instagram, instead I am reading an incredible story on Facebook, a story that I am somehow involved in, but only at the very edge. I am fighting hard to stop the tears from flowing. The central character to this story is one Rodel Mc Felpe Aliwalas, who will narrate his story shortly. Seated next to me is Harumi Manabe, who is part of our Sunday-after-church-coffee routine. Yes, these days I attend church but that is a story for another day. One my other side is Kei-chan, also a part of the crew. Seated opposite us are Matilda, another Kenyan doing research here and Natsuko-san, a Japanese lady who is also involved in the story.

Still keeping up so far? The five of us are listening to the background of the story in a mixture of English and Japanese over coffee and bread. My part starts with the previous week on Sunday, when Harumi gave me a name and told me to look for a certain man named Rodel Mc Felpe Aliwalas. Being bad with names and instead of writing it down, I chose the easier way of taking a picture. They had tried to find him earlier but the only profile they found was a sketchy one on linkedIn. His mother, Edona, was a friend of theirs and had asked them to find him 6 months ago but they had had little success so far. She had come to Japan from Philippines many years earlier and was then married to a Japanese man.

Modifying the search parameters a little, I was able to find a profile on an Arabic job website that looked recently active. LinkedIn had not worked, they wanted me to upgrade my account before I could send a message (can you believe it?). The profile I found matched whom I was looking for: a mid-30s guy from Philippines who now appeared to be working in Qatar. I had one credit to send one free message to a member after signing up, but it was all I needed. I now had to compose my message, something that he would actually read. Spam messages from strangers are often titled: Urgent, Please Read, Hello Dear and such like. I finally settled on “Looking For You”; since the email was coming from a jobs website, maybe it would imply that the sender was looking for him in a professional way and would incite enough curiosity to be read. I hopped that it would at least be delivered to their actual email and so I included my email address in the message, crossed my fingers and waited.

In a few minutes, I got a reply from him! Unbelievable, I hadn’t thought it would be that easy and was prepared to track the company he said he indicated for in Qatar to get his contact. I immediately chatted with Harumi on Facebook, telling her he had replied. He asked me questions trying to establish authenticity on part; I would then ask Harumi on Facebook and back and forth it went. It was midnight here, and we continued the exchange until around 1am. He wanted so many answers but I had never met his mother so I could not answer him, and he had to wait for the following day when he would call Harumi and get some answers.

The initial email exchange
The initial email exchange

That was last week. Exactly one week later, we are back at the coffee shop and I am reading Rodel’s story, how he finally found his mother, and wondering if I should share it on the blog, with his permission of course. I get back to my room after coffee, and I find an email and I find an email requesting me to share the story my blog! Below, read it for yourself.

I found you and you are gone

It was summer of 2002 and I was a young 24 years old when my mom called me and she told me that she have a stage 4 breast cancer.  She was in Japan at the time living with my Japanese stepfather and my 11 years old half-brother Sadato.  After that phone conversation, my mom didn’t call me again, no letters, whatsoever.  I’m trying to call her on their land line and no one’s answering.  I tried to write a letter and sent it to her address but there was no reply.  Days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years and there’s no news about my mother.  I tried to ask for help in our Philippine embassy and Japanese consulate but there were no results.  I asked my friends who happen to have Japanese friends but there’s no luck.  I can’t find my mom.  I cannot think of any reason why she suddenly disappeared and so I thought that she’s already dead.  Having a stage 4 cancer is something serious and cannot be taken lightly so I made up my mind, my mom is dead and I need to go on with my life.  4 years later I married the second woman I love, first woman was my mother.  How I wished I had my mom with me to accompany me to the altar while I’m waiting for my future wife walking through the aisle.  A year later, my wife gave birth to a lovely princess. I don’t know what’s with this thing loving a woman, now I was given another one, a pretty little one.  Again I remembered my mom, I was imagining her reaction if she saw my princess Adaiah, her first granddaughter.  I’m sure she will be happy to have a baby girl.  Besides, she already has two boys in me and my brother.  I built my own family since I don’t have one to begin with.  My wife’s mother, brother and two sisters are all living with us in one house.  I treat them as my own, I took care of them and given them all they need.  How I wish my mom would see this, of how I became.

Years passed by, I went abroad, December of 2009, I went to Doha Qatar to work.  I promised to myself, I will not do to my wife and daughter what my mom did to me which is to leave me alone in the Philippines while she went abroad and live with her husband and my half-brother.  Now I’m doing the exact same thing, I went abroad and left my wife and my baby girl in the Philippines.  It was very hard for me.  I’m trying to convince myself every day that what I’m doing now is for them, though it is really for them, still it’s a burden for me.  My life went through, there are challenges here and there but I guess the biggest challenge for me is yet to come.  There’s nothing that came to me that I wasn’t able to conquer.  I was a strong and abled man.  I was able to give a better life to my wife and daughter.  I gave my wife a car, a house (not yet finished but almost done), I sent my daughter to an exclusive school, and I was able to provide them more than enough.  All in all, I can’t complain with my accomplishments in life.  Then again, I remember my mom, how proud she would be if she saw me doing well in my life in spite what happened to us.  Wherever she was, I know she’s happy.  Besides she’s with our Lord God almighty now watching me from above and guiding me all the way.  It was thirteen years to date since the last time she disappeared and all those thirteen years, all I did are things that my mom would be proud of.

Then the biggest challenge in my life came to me, January 26, 2015, a Kenyan girl sent me an email.  The Kenyan girl’s name is Harriet.  She’s a student and a blogger who’s currently living in Japan for a scholarship.  She’s really good at computers as she found my profile in one of the public job sites in the Middle East and sent me this email.  While staying in Japan, she met a Japanese woman named Harumi Magane and this woman is looking for me.  Harumi asked Harriet for help to find me as Harumi wanted to speak to me about my mother.  It was a surprise of my life, I felt numb, and I was crying while driving my way home and cannot wait to speak to Harumi.  I took Harumi’s number from Harriet and waited until January 27, 2015 at 7 am Japan time to speak to her.  I was so nervous and don’t know exactly what to expect.  And so I spoke to her and she has a warm voice, she sounded sad and she asked me if I knew about my mom, she said my mother died 6 months ago!  I was in total shocked, I couldn’t speak, I can’t believe what I’m hearing, and where was my mother all those 13 years?  Then she went on with her story.  We spoke for a good one hour. I asked Harumi why all these years my mom didn’t communicate with me? Harumi said my mom was ashamed for the kind of life she had given me, she’s ashamed of me because she left me in the Philippines alone, she’s ashamed and she thought that maybe I was angry at her and blaming her for all the bad things that happen to my life.  She couldn’t forgive herself and so she chose a life without me instead of having me in it.  My tears ran down, I can’t bear to hear all these things from Harumi.  She continued, she said that my mother was so proud of what I had become, she said my mother knew that I’m already married, she knew that I already had a daughter, she knew that now I’m working in the Middle East, she knew that I’m doing great in my life.  She knew all of these because of my wife’s facebook.  She’s checking it every time, watching me from the pictures and following me every step of the way.

She knew all these things and yet she chose to hide and never show up.  I have lots of questions but all those will not have an answer, she’s already gone and she is for real with our God Almighty.  I wanted to blame myself, that I gave up easily and stopped searching for her.  But Harumi told me that it’s my mother’s choice, it’s my mother’s choice not to interfere with the life she wishes to have for me, I already achieved the things she wanted me to achieve and so she chose to just let it go by sacrificing her own happiness and letting me live my new life with my new family.  I cannot question her decision, I’m not in the position to question what’s good and what’s not good, after all, mothers always think for their children’s well being.  By not having my mother on my side, I strive, I became mature, I became afraid of failure and so I made sure that failure is not an option.  I made my mother an inspiration as I always put in my mind that her sacrifice should not go to waste, what I’m having right now are all because of her.

Wherever she is, I want to thank her with all my heart, I wanted to tell her that I don’t hate her for what she did, I don’t blame her for how my life had become, I wanted to tell her that all the things that I have now is because of her, because I want to make her proud.  Yes I was so sad, for the past few days. I cannot help sometimes, I look up and ask, why I didn’t have the chance to tell my mother all these? But then again, I answer my own question. God has his reasons, this is what God wishes for me. God always has a plan, everything happens for a reason and it’s not by chance, it’s by Gods will.

Harumi said my mother’s ashes were still in my stepfather’s house.  I made Harumi a promise that I will fetch my mother, I will go to Japan to meet my brother (whose now 23 years old) and take my mother’s ashes and bring her back to Philippines.  I want to give my mother a Christian burial and that is what I will do.  I cannot promise when but it will be very soon.  Wherever my mom is right now, I know she’s looking at me with a smile in her face. Thank you mama for giving me this wonderful life.  I LOVE YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL. Rest well and let me take it from here.  You’re hard life will not be wasted; it will be treasured and loved as long as I live.

(The photo captions are my own words)

Edona left, with Harumi on the right. Edona loved singing.

I heard she was a good singer. They often went to Karaoke with Harumi and co.

She was beautiful, wasn’t she?

 Edona with Natsuko (whom I earlier mentioned was with at the coffee house today. She was her best friend I believe)
Thank you Rodel for letting me share your story. 

Join the Total Eco Challenge

It is always one thing to be vaguely concerned about the environment, it is another to actively take part in environmental sustenance activities. One obvious way to do this is to plant (the right kind of) trees in your area. You don’t have to do this alone, you can be part of the Total Eco Challenge, and at the end of every year, they actually award individuals and organizations at annual gala dinner who have contributed significantly in increasing Kenya’s forest cover.

The TOTAL Ecochallenge program was started in 2002 with the aim of inspiring and helping all Kenyans to plant trees in every possible place. The target was 100 million trees per year, every year, for ever. Today, the program has more than 5,000 projects that have seen the planting of over 800 million trees since its inception.

Total Eco Challenge
Total Eco Challenge

On the Eco-Challenge Website, you can find information regarding what kind of trees to plant where, places where seedlings are available, and you can also join the Eco-Challenge as an individual or organization.

To ensure the success of the program, Total Kenya  has employed the services of an in house TOTAL EcoChallenge Advisor, commonly known as FORESTER, who is a trained expert in issues relating to plant species, habitat safety, ecological structure among others. The advisor is readily available for consultations reagarding tree agricutlure and can be contacted through the below contacts:

So go ahead and do your part in making this world a better place! If you have always wanted to plant trees, here is a starting place!

Bouncy Monkey and GoJimmyGo Android Games

Whenever I meet kids, one thing we can always bond over is the applications on my phone/tablet. Show them an interesting game and you have made instant friends. On the other hand if you have nothing going on in your phone, then what else will you talk about with kids who only speak Japanese? It is definitely easier to talk with adults than with kids when your grasp of a language is basic.

I came across these two apps developed by my former classmates during my master’s degree in Strathmore University.

Bouncy Monkey

I started by playing Bouncy Monkey. It is a nice enjoyable game with easy instructions, tap to jump and tap continuously to use the parachute*. It’s easy to play so it quickly becomes addictive, as you try to beat the high score. I managed to unlock about 4 levels the first time I played it. And of course when you clear a level, you get a screenfull of bananas! You are a bouncy monkey after all! Extra features include the ability to choose the colour scheme you want. There are in-app ads but well, since it is a free game you have to live with it! It’s easy to ignore them though.

Tap and hold to jump and start playing the game right away

Bouncy Monkey Screen1
Bouncy Monkey Screen 1

When you finish a level, there is celebration! It’s bananas!

Clearing a level in Bouncy Monkey
Clearing a level in Bouncy Monkey

I continued playing trying to increase my high score! This is how many levels I have now unlocked.

Unlocked levels in bouncy monkey
Unlocked levels in bouncy monkey

Suitable for all ages, get the app here! Let me know what you think.

GoJimmyGo!

In this game, a little boy called Jimmy is not only running from a dog, but he also has to navigate obstacles ahead. It is like Temple Run for kids, the concept is the same at the very least. I am still trying to unlock the first level though!

The dog just won't stop chasing Jimmy!
The dog just won’t stop chasing Jimmy!

Still stuck on level 1. I want to unlock the 9 levels and then see what lies beyond!

GoJimmyGo
GoJimmyGo Level 1 :(

Get the game from Play Store here.

At least I will be once again, a cool aunt to the kids I meet with these games :)