falling pianos

October 26, 2009

I’ve always been of the opinion that most people are far too hasty to distinguish between intellectual life and physical life. Why do we do this? People place an incongruent value on scholarship and other intellectual pursuits, while frowning upon drug use, promiscuous sex, etc. Even those that work out all the time seem to be sniggered at by academic types who invariably value mind over body. It is no coincidence, therefore, that these people are usually out of shape and without any tangible sense of style. Conversely, gym junkies like to scoff at intellectuals who spend more time with their faces in books than getting tans. This is most obviously manifest in the common ‘nerd’ stereotype.

I’m advocating a healthy balance between the two. I don’t see why we need to neglect our physical desires, or give inordinate amounts of attention to intellectual appetite. They are both equal parts of the same whole, and what’s more, they both exert the same monolithic influence over it, whether it’s for better or worse. Truly balanced and sensible people should look for pleasure not simply of the body but of the mind, and seek wisdom not only through quiet reflection but through actions.

I’ve been forced into this perspective recently through my own single-mindedness, and the realisation that to absorb oneself either in books or exercise alone is no remedy for restlessness, frustration or inadequacy. Well, the scales have levelled out pretty nicely, or at least they had, until I went ahead and put my foot right into one of the most uncomfortable and regrettable situations of my life in Japan so far on Saturday night. But heaven knows, and I’ve said this a hundred times before, that a public blog full of self-indulgent rants is hardly the place to go into juicy details.

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I don’t know why Japanese culture and language attracts such hardcore, militant foreigners. Similarly, I don’t understand the bullshit false modesty that accompanies so many of this country’s permanent foreign residents. Shyness is an inherent part of Japanese culture, sure. But it very unbecoming on foreigners, especially since it makes their endless lust to fit in over here all the more blatant. The irony is that is has the opposite effect: it just makes you look like a wanker, when I ask you if you can speak Japanese, and you say no, and then I find out that you are 1-kyuu level. Have you ever even known what it’s like to not be able to speak Japanese? When my friends and family back home ask me if I can speak the language, I give them the honest answer: I know enough to get around, day to day, enough to order food and ask for directions. Nothing more. But Japan seems to be the only country that gets this kind of cult following from the West, and while modesty might be endearing on the natives, it is pretty sickening on foreigners.

You can’t fire me, I quit.

Way too tired to write anything more in here at the moment. I’ve gone way too hard lately and I’m exhausted. Today was rainy, and my bike was stolen. Not the best conditions under which to decide to write a blog entry, but that’s life. I’m hoping I can straighten myself out over the next week or so and leave this trail of destruction behind.

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it’s a jungle out there

October 16, 2009

This blog is rapidly turning into a place where I can air my identity crises. The crucial difference between this blog and real life, though, is that around here I can’t be interrupted. In their past lives, my blogs were forums for confidence issues and (barely) veiled jabs at various girls who had gon’ up and don’ me wrong, but I guess these days my problems are more existential in nature, and are probably, in the long run, better off for it.

My desk is a hideous mess of Australiana (dig that rad kookaburra), lollies I use to bribe minors, Japanese textbooks that I have skimmed, not read, and a variety of teaching materials that, surprisingly, have been getting a pretty solid workout of late. While it is true that at times I may have been something of a lazy ALT, that trend has definitely been reversed as I’ve been able to identify the more bothersome areas of my job and work on improving those, rather than the aimless stressing of eras past. I’m steadily realising that bored, unmotivated students aren’t the problem; it’s disorganised co-workers. I am repeatedly inundated by inconsiderate and illogical requests for help with classes that aren’t mine, translations of things of a singularly personal nature, and so on. I believe the thought process resembles something like this: Darren is an ALT, and ALTs aren’t busy or just don’t work very hard. だから、Darren mustn’t be busy. It’s beautifully Socratic.

Anyway, in light of these revelations, job satisfaction is at an unusual high, as I have adopted an even more nihilistic approach to my job: I chat with students whenever I feel like it, and about whatever I please. I play DS with them and snap unflattering photos of them. I ask them about their boyfriends and girlfriends and point out cute girls in magazines. So when it comes to classes, most of them are comfortable enough with me by now to play along with whatever I come up with. However, I think the main thing that has improved my working life is that, as the months have rolled by of late, I have become increasingly willing to strike up a conversation in punctuated Japanese, and the kids have started to realise that I am actually a living organism of equal or greater intellectual capability, one who has thoughts and feelings of his own and the gift of self-expression. Who would have thought – a foreigner!

I’m definitely beyond repair. When I start visiting – and enjoying – websites such as this (a cute girl appears in the day!) there seems to be little chance of redemption. To make things even worse, this link was sent to me by a female Japanese friend of mine. There’s just something irresistible about homely girls posing for coy photos and bashfully describing their personal traits.

The longer I spend observing other cultures, the more convinced I become that the world we inhabit is governed primarily by sex and money. The sex industry in Japan is omnipresent and, as a young woman, there is no better way to make easy money than to become a hostess or waitress in a fancy bar. Middle-aged men pay through the nose to merely be in the company of these creatures, and while prostitution itself is outwardly frowned upon, its no secret that money can buy everything, the porn industry is rampant, and the vast majority of establishments fronting as pleasant, classy lady bars are little more than extortionately-priced brothels. On a more personal level, it seems that wherever I go in the world, the thing that impresses the majority of girls with the most boring regularity is a boy with money and the willingness to flaunt it, both on himself and on his girl. The extravagance that passes for class and style in Japan can be truly sickening, especially when a dude in parachute pants can be considered cool just because they cost hundreds of dollars. Oh, and on that note: fuck you, Ed Hardy. I hate you and everything you create.

I always misspell the word ‘opinion’ and it comes out looking something like ‘onion.’ Perhaps there’s something in that.

Dudes. I’ve been all over this new Paramore single for a week now. How is it better than anything they have done in the past? Let me count the ways: Hayley’s voice isn’t as pitch-perfectly auto-tuned as the last album, and, moreover, she sounds way more pissed off on this track. Whilst ‘Misery Business’ was definitely a catchy (dare I say good?) song, it always seemed a little trite and forced to me. On this one, she simply spits out the lyrics in a much more natural meter, and the whole song is better off for it. Next, this song plays with time signatures and syncopation in a way that would make even the most capable metal bands envious. Its structure consists of multiple layered elements and constantly blurs the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge distinction. The arpeggios in the pre-chorus and breakdown are simply insane. Paramore’s drummer is awesome and is clearly the most impressive thing about the band besides Hayley’s voice. Listen carefully next time!

This movie was rad. The first half of District 9, in particular, takes the now-familiar mockumentary style into pretty interesting and challenging territory, offering a charicature of bureaucracy that is comical, satirical and confrontingly honest. Its themes are superficially obvious, and its a kind of wonder that it has taken so long for sci-fi films to come up with this idea. But the allegory extends further that just ‘how should governments deal with illegal immigrants,’ into far more personal territory: how do we overcome language barriers with foreigners? Is there any way to deal with the issue whilst retaining personal sensitivities? Indeed, can there even be a non-violent resolution to these kinds of problems? It nods towards the pervasive racism issues with a handful of ingenious quips, the kinds of slips-of-tongue usually reserved for mid-level politicians that are likely to see their superiors caught up in some heated PR backpedalling:

“I mean, you can’t say they don’t look like that, that’s what they look like, right? They look like prawns.”

It is amazingly well-acted, particularly by Sharlto Copley, who carries the second half of the film single-handedly and prevents it from ultimately becoming little more than a gruesome FPS-inspired alien blastfest, although even Copley can’t save it from crashing and bashing its way to a somewhat underwhelming end. District 9 combines some of the cinematic elements of Independence Day, Children of Men, The Host and…well, Starship Troopers, but its South African orientation gives it a pretty unique feel overall. Definitely see this movie!

Well, there was going to be more, but now there isn’t. ‘Til next time!