I guess it’s about time I started punctuatin’. If I’m going to take this blogging game (and myself) seriously, I guess I should. WordPress, for better or worse, still lacks any kind of mass-editing functionality (you will notice that this new theme made the text in my last post bigger than all the others) and there’s no way I’m going back to edit my older posts. But I can live with that shame. Always there to remind me of the shadow of a man I once was. What’s more, I guess I have certain standards to maintain from here on. But more about that later.

My trip to China did wonders for the old inspiration/imagination combo. Being idle in any one place – even somewhere as fantastic as Melbourne – is unhealthy, at least for someone like me who struggles with ideas about consuming versus creating. The architecture alone was enough to make me flip out, from the intricate designs adorning temples, to huge monuments and statues, to hyper-modern spaces like the People’s Square in Chengdu. Meanwhile, the Chinese themselves are fantastic. Fantastically interesting, anyway. I would be lying if I said I didn’t encounter any selfish or inconsiderate behaviour while was there, but as someone who enjoys simply observing people going about their daily business, it was fascinating. It’s definitely a place that really drives home the idea that we Westerners don’t have it all going for us; in fact, as far as the richness or authenticity of our culture, we are severely lacking in many respects. Unlike other areas that have been overrun by tourists, China (with the sole exception of Shanghai) still feels mostly real – while you may feel like you are accepted, as a white person I doubt you could ever feel like you truly understand the culture from the inside out.

So, the experience of being something of an outsider exposed to such a rich and intricate culture was properly eye-opening for me. Before I left, and countless times during my trip, whenever I told anybody I was travelling in China alone, I was usually met with incredulous looks, signifying either utter incomprehension as to why I would want to go there (when I could go to Bali instead, bro!) or disbelief as to how I could ever hope to do it on my own. The Chinese recognise the significance of their nation’s achievements and status, but are usually quite modest about its appeal to Westerners. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much; the fact that it’s not simply a party destination or retreat for spoilt white kids does make it more demanding, but infinitely more rewarding to see a country that’s still getting used to the idea of people like me just wanting to visit.

Basically, I would recommend a trip to China to anybody. Any age, any race, anybody. There is so much to do and see there that is mostly hidden from Western eyes and it is impossible not to fall in love with the food, the generosity of the people, the simplicity with which they go about their daily lives, the exuberance of the cities, the landmarks and historical sites, the art, everything. My only regret is that I couldn’t spend a far longer amount of time there; as I have said elsewhere, one would need a number of years to see it all.

Getting back to my original point, though, was that it did wonders for my sense of creativity. As a Westerner in China, you really need to make it happen for yourself. It’s not a one-way ride of consuming, using and abusing the country’s resources; there are countless sacrifices and trade-offs that you need to make every single day – in your pride, your reliance upon English to communicate, your privacy, and so on. And you will be inspired to take as much of it on board as is humanly possible. I felt more energised every day in China, no matter how utterly exhausted I happened to be, than I have in at least the last few years here in Australia, due to an endless enthusiasm to see and do as much as I could. Despite my much-publicised love for Melbourne, I have on many occasions felt bored here since I got home. It lacks the cohesion of a place like China (maybe this has something to do with their communist government?) and I have to say I did not miss seeing drab, dreary, depressed, middle-aged white collar business types shuffling onto the peak hour bus home every night, listening to James Blunt on their collective iPod Nanos. But the end result is that I came home with a renewed enthusiasm for, well, just about everything. And I’m not sure whether too many other places could give me that feeling, to be honest.

Time now, then, to turn eyes towards the future. After months of preparation, stress, and (let’s face it) waiting around, I finally got the call that I’ve been anticipating since November. I didn’t go about telling every single person that I had applied for the JET Programme for a few reasons. Firstly, because the turnaround is so slow. Secondly, because the chances of anybody getting in are realistically quite small (from what I can ascertain, I think only about one in seven applicants get selected, but definitely don’t quote me on that). Mostly, however, I lacked the confidence to think I would ever actually be one of those that made the cut. Well, I guess I did, and the Japanese government is paying for me to go over there and teach English in government schools for a whole year. Maybe even more, if I like it, and if they like me. Let’s be straight with each other, here: this is an infinitely better deal than working for an eikawa (private English-teaching companies – I daren’t call them schools), for a billion reasons, but I won’t get into them here. Anyway, that’s the reason for my new-found ‘professionalism’ when it comes to capitalising my blog posts and the likes – for someone who prides themselves on their proper (dare I say competent?) use of the English language, I have been unforgivably lazy, and if I’m gonna be heading overseas to try and make sure these kids get off on the right foot, I had better tidy up my own act first.

I guess it’s no secret that I’ve had a fascination with Japan for some time. Let the records show that this does in fact extend beyond cute schoolgirls and anime, although there is a time and place for everything (ironically, Japanese high schools). Of all the options I considered, the JET Programme was by far the most attractive and elusive, and I still can’t really believe that I’m going with them. I had more or less resigned myself to a few months of restless anticipation of what would inevitably end up being a rejection letter – imagine, if you will, my surprise when I got a personal phone call in the early hours of the morning last week (OK, it was more like 9am, but that is ungodly). I guess now I have a matter of weeks to ready myself for a complete overhaul of my sheltered and comfortable life in Melbourne, which will hopefully include a snappy new wardrobe with any luck. I already bought the laptop, the digital camera, the Nintendo DS in anticipation of someday knowing for sure that I will be going to Japan and putting them to good use, but honestly I never expected it would be upon me so soon. Admittedly, the whole process to this point has taken close to seven months, but it did give me the opportunity to reassess certain things and have other experiences such as the China trip in the meantime.

So there are quite a few things I definitely want to accomplish before I leave, but alas a blog is hardly the right place to broadcast them. I’ve got some time up my sleeve to tie up some loose ends and to get started on some new things, and for the first time in ages I feel more than confident that I’ll get it all done with plenty of time left over to enjoy the time I have left with the people and places I love.