Tuesday, June 03, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Roku

Life should be more like a video game. Quest markers and signposts to tell you where to go and what to do. If you can't tackle a boss, just respec your skills and try again. And - best of all - achievement markers to tell the world when you've done something awesome.

Today's achievement: I managed to get to Waseda University completely unaided by the map handout they gave to us at the beginning of the programme. Nothing but reading Romanji train signs, counting stops, and practising my Japanese on unwitting railway guards. I would make a reference to Sleepless in Seattle here (Mapless in Shinjuku or something), but wrong demographic.

You'd think with so many boys they'd all be pushing each other onto the tracks or doing other practical jokes, but no: some societies have class.

Their class is in the afternoon.

Another achievement today: I finally found out what my two tickets are for. So when you make a transit at a station where you have to exit the turnstile and enter the other gantry (because different train lines are operated by different companies), you put in both tickets to signify that you're making a transfer. The machine will spit the ticket you need to continue back out, and you can go through the turnstile without harassing the conductor. Thank you, thank you, the one conductor who actually knows what he's doing and knows how to tell this poor lost Singaporean what to do in case of ticketing emergency.

I decided to try out the Waseda cafeteria today, as recommended by Prof Jacobowitz yesterday. After finding it (again, all by myself and without any maps - please, hold your applause), I was very excited to find that it's a build-your-own-meal system, where you can pick your appetizers and main courses and desserts, and the prices are all listed down and everything, and it's so simple but with so much variety. It's brilliant. I went to town and had a cold udon, adding a Japanese half-boiled egg (I don't know what to call it; three-quarters-boiled?), a ham katsu, and a Dr. Pepper. For like 600-yen! What a steal!

Disclaimer: I didn't really steal it.

And imagine my delight when I bite into the ham katsu and find out it has macaroni and cheese inside oh my god

I must bring this home and reverse engineer the technology for the betterment of my people.

I also saw this poster; too bad I don't drink:

What other cuisine in the world has an official drink attached to it?

The cafeteria was pretty empty when I was there; I arrived around noon, and I guess students were just getting out of their classes. I sat at a four-seater table, and realised that the trays - which were rectangles with two corners on one of the long edges lopped off to make a hexagonal shaped thing - were designed so that four of them fit nicely on a square table. I am always very impressed with their ingenious designs; it's like there are so many people constantly inventing and improving to make lives easier and better in so many small but interesting ways.

So the hall started to fill up over the course of the hour, and soon two Waseda students asked me if they could take the empty seats at my table. I was midway into reading my copy of Sanshiro, but I let them sit down, and decided that I should talk to them. I noticed they ordered some cabonara pasta, which looked really good, and thought that it would be a nice kind of icebreaker to comment that their dishes looked tasty. But they were conversing in Japanese and I felt bad interrupting their conversation, and I kept waiting for an opening, a gap in the flow of words that I could squeeze my innocuous remark in broken Japanese. This took about ten to fifteen minutes; needless to say, I was feeling very, very awkward. But eventually I managed to get a word in edgeways, and we had a really nice ten minute conversation. They were classmates studying Japanese International Relations, and their intense discussion they had while ignoring me was about the Japan/China conflict. They also had positive reception when I mentioned I watched Psycho-Pass! I had to rush off to class, but not before I managed to exchange Facebook contacts and email address. It was nice to take a leap of faith and talk to random strangers; I think I'll start doing it everyday at the university from now on.

Really cool to share a fragment of life with you, Shinji-san and Daichi-san.

Class today was pretty interesting; I'm growing very fond of Prof Jacobowitz. He's actually a pretty funny guy; he's got good material. The thing is he's got no style - it's like he's following a textbook or a guide on how to insert jokes into your lectures and he's following it religiously, but mechanically. I appreciate it though; many professors don't even try to hold your attention. He also has this thing which I noticed, which is that he'll take a sip of water from his bottle in the middle of a sentence, not at some point where there's a natural pause or a comma or anything like that, he'll stop in the middle of an independent -

"And you can do all sorts of designs; here's some I did earlier."

- clause, sip his water for three seconds, and get back to his presentation. It's not annoying or anything, but it's just something I noticed, and I guess his penchant for cliffhangers must manifest in many different ways.

I decided to get home early today, because I wanted to finish my readings for tomorrow and then maybe spend the night exploring the neighbourhood on foot. Unfortunately, Jun-kun asked me to play MarioKart 8 immediately when I got home. It was really fun though; I think I finally got the hang of drifting today, and I managed to not place last in some of the races (eleventh out of twelve is still not last).

Yuka-san made fried salmon in brown sauce, fried tofu, and also a plate of nikujaga, or beef stew. It was all delicious. I really respect Yuka-san; she comes home early from work just to make dinner for the family. I keep asking to help but she always refuses me, says it's fine. I guess playing with Jun-kun frees her up for a while.

She also asked a favour of me tonight: would I like to read an English book at Jun-kun's class next Thursday. Of course, I accepted. Apparently it's a special thing because they're hosting a foreign guest, and she's going to ask the teacher tomorrow. I hope I don't mess up; better start learning more Japanese to I can talk to the little kids.

After my reading tonight (which was very depressing), I took a walk around the neighbourhood. I walked out in the direction opposite to the one I took to get to the house, and just headed for the main road. There's like four convenience stores along that stretch of road, all within a hundred metres of the next one. There's also a ton of restaurants and cafes, and what seemed to be a Ghibli shop which I might want to check out in the daytime. It was nice just walking in the cool night, not needing to worry too much about anything or where to go (but of course, to remember where I came from).

In the city of blinding lights / The more you know / The less you feel

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