Thursday, 29 March 2012

Farewell (Part 1)

My farewell(s) started on Sunday. I did not know that there were so many people to say goodbye too... The first group were the Psallo Chorus. Those awesome friends surprised me by singing Irish Blessing. It's a tradition to do that for those who are leaving (apparently. I'm a fairly new member). There's a video, but I don't have it yet. I'll definitely post it once I get it though, the lyrics are very meaningful.

The next group I say "bye" to were the CF girls. Unfortunately, even though I got a camera, I forgot to take a group photo so I only have random photos. But anyway, most of them are very camera shy so I shall just showcase their works:
 Yes, everything you see were the tags they made and gave to me. I'm really touched, even if this was done during Arts and Crafts time. Most of them put in thought and this was one of the few projects where I barely did anything(:
And on a related subject, I have made more than 65 bookmarks to give away during my farewell party. I say more than because I've already given some away before I finished and counted them.


I would like to say that I worked for three weeks straight knitting and cutting/pasting, but honestly, I didn't do it 24/7.
So the three/two weeks spend on this is the slacker's two/three weeks (one or two hours a day).
 For some reason, my sister's finger pose reminds me of Flubber from the movie Flubber. If you look closely, you'd notice that there are 3 shapes and 4 patterns. The reason why there are so little is because I want to finish it before I leave.
 Yes, my sister did get her own bookmark. Look how happy she is!

 6 Rows of 10 + 5 loner bookmarks

In case everyone forgets which bookworm gave it to them, I signed my name too~

After this, I still have my farewell party. More to come(:

Monday, 26 March 2012

Air Ticket~

I finally got my air ticket. And I must say, I didn't know that plane tickets were so expensive (O.O). We (all the scholars) were at the embassy on Friday to get our tickets and have one final briefing, and interestingly, our main/first question was "can you bring bak kwa?" But in our defence, this was because we're trying to figure out how to introduce Singapore, and the only thing we can think of is to use food.

My sister helped me take this photo. Left to right: plane ticket, SSAJ brochure.
Top: the envelope it came in, with notes from the briefing scribbled on it.
After the briefing, we all piled into a bus and went to Kumo (at Tanjong Pagar) to eat an incredible 2-hour kaiseki lunch. I know that everyone is going "you don't need it! You're going to Japan!" but really, I'm going to be a student. There's not much chance I can eat such expensive food(:

Now, I really need to finish packing. And find the SIA outfit as our national costume for the entrance ceremony :D

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Packing

My friend posted this on my facebook wall, which I thought was quite appropriate:

Well, maybe not the whole song, but the first line. I thought it was really adorable because she had just sent me a similar text. Thinking back, she was probably inspired by the song. I'm so lucky to have such good friends like her.

I wanted to do a long post on packing, but since I don't have my laptop (its in repair), I don't feel like blogging on other people's computers. And anyway, the post would have been quite boring (I think), since I'd be talking about the books I want to bring.

So, listen to this song and remember, even as we're all happily packing to leave for uni, there are still people who will miss us.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

JUGAS Pre-Departure Orientation

I think it's because the number of Singaporean students studying in Japan is very small, that a strong support network exists. Today, about 6 days before the Embassy Pre-Depature briefing, JUGAS (Japan University Graduates Association of Singapore) held a Pre-Departure Orientation, complete with a really nice bento lunch, to share the experience of past graduates.

And it was a very reassuring experience, especially for my parents. It was all very informal, as we talked over lunch, but from there, my parents got information about how to rent a handphone/SIM card, how to take a train from the airport to the city. I got to meet the other two people that I'm travelling with (we're all in TUFS) as well as the other scholars (including the post-graduate scholars). Everyone is really nice and friendly, and I'm so glad that there's going to be another girl going with me. Having gone to AC, I was half expecting to be the only girl in the group. Now, I'm going with two very smart students (both from Hwa Chong).

The people there are really frank and since some studied there 40 years ago, some 10, some in-between, you really get a feel of what it was like. And you can tell that they all really really like Japan as a country. Besides the words spoken, the fact that they organised, paid for (in both time and money) the whole thing (albeit, with some help from the Embassy of Japan), said volumes about how enthusiastic they are about encouraging students to study in Japan.

Plus, they also want you to join them as an associate member. (But really, the main point is to prepare you for the trip ahead).

This picture of kaya was taken from http://www.kaya.sg/
But now that I've talked to the two students going to TUFS with me, we've managed to plan our omiyage. The pre-arrival information booklet from TUFS mentioned that we have to bring something to introduce Singapore to people. So now, we can coordinate our efforts. If we are allowed to bring food in, I'll be bringing kaya (it's hugely popular apparently and I was going to bring some anyway, not I'll just increase the quantity.), Rena will be bringing Bak Kwa and Nicholas will think of something else to bring. From this, you can see that Singapore is bonded largely by food (and of course, postcards are too disposable. And you just google Singapore and get similar images).

What would you bring to showcase your country? If you want to give some suggestions, leave a comment please :D And please tell me if it's possible to bring foodstuff through immigration.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I am Scared and Excited (But There's a Book for This)

I got news of when I'm flying off yesterday, which made the whole trip much more real (that, and the fact that I've already started packing). But since the Embassy/MEXT handles everything (plane tickets and such), I've been in a holiday sort of mood (along with many JC students in Singapore) and I've not given much though to the fact that I will soon be moving overseas for 5 years.

But after getting news of when I'm leaving, and looking at my open luggage, the whole thing became very real to me. This isn't some holiday in which I can come home after a month or two, I'm not coming back for at least a year (it's quite pointless to keep coming back, especially when I want total immersion to learn the language better). I'm going to miss so many things: my little brother growing up (he'll be 13 when I'm back), my two sisters growing up (well, they're already in their teens but still), my friends graduating from Polytechnic, and all the other major events.

Still, I really want to go. It doesn't mean that I don't feel scared that I'm going. I made my decision a few years back, and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to take more education in Singapore, but fear is still one of the emotions I feel.

What if Japan turns out to be a terrible place to live?

I'm thinking positive (mostly) and I'm sure I'll have a great time, but the nay-sayers don't help (>.<). I'm the type of "jam yesterday, jam tomorrow but never jam today" person; which means that the past is awesome to me, the future looks awesome but the present... well, it does not have jam. Plus, I'm the sort that doesn't like change. But after re-reading Different Dragons by Jean Little, I know I can handle what comes.

My copy of Different Dragons resides in Malaysia and is an extremely old copy. Look at this picture:

 Old right? Take a close look at the right side:

Yes, this is so old that the library was using library cards then. And as far as I can remember, I don't ever recall seeing this in a library book. I've always seen the electronic terminal things. (ok fine, apparently the book was published 1999 so it can't be that old)

But despite its age, it's still a story about change. There's not much relevance to Japan, unless you count in the half-Japanese neighbour Hanako Uchida, but I think that people with the pre-trip jitters should read this. The book is meant for kids so the language is really simple, and so is the plot, but it's about a boy (Ben Tucker) who learns to overcome his fear of dogs. It happens when he realises that his pre-conceived notions of dogs are wrong, they're not vicious killers, they can be quite sweet. Similarly, I'm trying to get rid of all the pre-conceived notions of Japan I have that are baseless and scaring me.

Right now, I'm scared AND excited. But mostly excited.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Why I Love Kanji (Sorta)



Correct me if I'm wrong, but is learning kanji considered to be one of the most difficult parts of learning Japanese? I mean, hiragana and katakana are ok, since they're set characters, but kanji looks complicated and then there are so many ways of pronouncing it and....

But during these past few week, I've been having lessons with Aki-Sensei (intensive teaching to try and make sure I don't crash and burn when I get to Japan), and I realised, that I like kanji. I may even love learning it.

One thing I realised about reading hiragana all the time is that I get very confused over which syllables are particles and which are part of a word. Especially if (ha/wa) is used. In each lesson, there are multiple times when I pronounce it wrongly. Plus, whenever this happens, it interrupts the flow of the sentence; try saying each word in English in syllables. It'll sound weird, and it's like that in Japanese, you need to speak words, not just read syllables.

And this may be my Chinese background speaking (I've never been so grateful that Chinese is compulsory), but a lot of the time, as soon as Aki-Sensei writes the kanji, I'll understand what the word means. Examples include 資料;しりょう (shiryou) - information, 連絡;れんらく (renraku) - contact, 安心;あんしん (anshin) - no worries! and these are just what comes to mind (now that I think about it, things like bicycle, telephone are the same too).

Of course, this isn't a good system. For one thing, my Chinese is terrible, so this applies only to the easier words. And of course, I learn simplified Chinese, while kanji uses the traditional form. The only reason why I know how to read some of it was from watching Hong Kong dramas with traditional Chinese subtitles. And of course, there are the kanji that doesn't exist in Chinese. But for the basic level that I'm now on, knowing Chinese is a great help to knowing kanji.

And even if I didn't know how to read some. I think kanji is interesting. Think of one of the first few words that you probably learnt - baka (馬鹿). I wonder why the word is made of the two words that mean "horse"(馬) and "deer"(鹿)?

Besides all that, there's also the 'safety' of kanji. Just taking the two syllables the of the word above, each syllable can mean a lot of different words (I chose the top few that appeared when I typed it in):

ば:馬、場、葉
か:課、科、化、火

Knowing the kanji means that you know what it means. And while you can probably guess it from the context if only hiragana was used, I like to be more certain; which is why I love kanji.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Visa Application: Approved!

I must say, being a MEXT scholar has many advantages, such as when you're applying for your visa. I was reminded to apply for mine when the Embassy sent out a pre-departure briefing email + visa reminder. Good thing too, or I'd probably be panicking at the 11th hour. That's one very strange trait of mine. When I'm preparing for something, I can over-prepare and do all sorts of unecessary things, but I'm also very good at procrastinating.

But thankfully, the entire visa process only took three days to complete. Normally, you have to have things like a Certificate of Eligibility, aka COE (Which sounds suspiciously like the Certificate of Entitlement needed to own a car in Singapore) and other things. Well, it looks complicated. When I went on Monday to apply for the visa, there was this very nice chart showing the order in which you submit the documents (passport first followed by, um, application form I think, and a bunch of other stuff).

As for me, all I handed in was my passport and the visa application form. Of course, I was asked if I had any other documents I wanted to hand in, because I was looking a bit overwhelmed/confused. That was probably because it was pouring cats and dogs outside and I had to walk in from the bus stop (it's about a 5 minute walk) clutching my bag and trying not to get anything wet. But once I explained that I was a scholar, noises of recognition was made and a file was consulted, after which, my name was found and I was assured that everything was fine, handed a sheet of paper and asked to come back on Wednesday.

Thankfully, it didn't rain on Wednesday. I made it to the embassy half an hour after the visa collection time starts and very quickly got my visa. It's not for 5 years though, since from the embassy website, it appears that the longest stay is about 2 years, so I have a 27 month visa (that works out to 2 years and 3 months). But the guy in charge very nicely explained to me what I needed to do and how to extend my visa, along with other things like what happens if you want to exit Japan.

Plus, my visa came along with instructions about all that was explained to me and a short guide to living in Japan, including a list of things which should be done within a month of arrival. In short, within a month of arrival, you should have sorted out: Housing, Alien Registration, Medical Care/Insurance, Education (if applicable), Employment (not applicable for me), Community Life (greet the neighbours) and get ready for a Disaster. The three month time frame is short compared to this, since it only talks about learning the language and taxes.

Apart from the guide, there was also a brochure for the Singapore Student's Association (Japan), which is a specialised group for students to help you settle in and meet up. I've just signed up, and I think their site is worth a look. It has an unofficial guide to studying in Japan and a radiation FAQ, plus some personal experiences.

I'm glad I managed to settle the whole visa thing. Plus, my aunt lives in Orchard (you can walk from the embassy to her house) so I got to visit twice this week. What was your visa application experience like? Did it come with helpful information too?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Book Review: Japanese Politics Today (From Karaoke to Kabuki Democracy)

Don't you think the picture is quite nice?
It's a kabuki actor singing karaoke(:
I picked this book up at Jurong Regional Library (this is one of the places I'll miss). And despite foreboding title, I picked it up for two reasons: a. the cover. b. I'm weird this way. And I supposed the fact that it was published last year had a big influence, since I'd like to know what's happening now and not what happened 10/15/20 years ago.

Just to get things clear, in karaoke democracy, "bureaucrats provided political leaders with scripts on policy statements. Leaders generally rendered those statements as their own and tried to convince voters that they deserved to be returned to power on the basis of their ideas and policies that delivered successful outcomes". What happens is that the bureaucrats are the ones directing policy and despite changing leaders, policy doesn't get changed.

On the other hand, in kabuki democracy, "politics becomes more interesting and colorful because political leaders seek - and bring - change to the political agenda. they have their own distinctive style, and consciously express their human qualities -emotions, personal preferences, and vulnerabilities - to skillfully connect with the people.

But honestly, I still don't quite understand it (there's a very good reason why I don't take political science). But I don't think it matters that much, because other than the introduction, I didn't really see these terms anywhere. What the book covers are topics such as the Prime Minister, the system of the Bureaucrats, Party Politics, the Farm Lobby, Journalism, etc.

Each chapter is like the little bear's porridge and furniture, just right. Any longer and I'll probably ended up with this sort of face:

(@.@)

And any less and I won't understand anything (as opposed to understanding about half of it now).

Although this book is quite hard to understand, I think it's worth reading. Basically, the politics in Japan is quite hard for people like me to understand. At least after reading this book, when I read articles/commentaries about Japan (specifically, its politics), I'll be able to understand just what these experts are talking about better.