Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo Starts Tomorrow~

Even though I'm very bad with dates (how many days are there in the month of ____?), I'm very sure that tomorrow is November 1st, otherwise known as the start of NaNoWriMo. I know this because I have a very important presentation outline due tomorrow.

I am doomed.

Apart from NaNo, I have a huge presentation on the 15th, and a kendo competition on December 1st. I'm not sure where I'll find time to study but still, I will try.

To all my NaNo friends, all the best! I hear that NaNo turns you into a grumpy zombie bear (or something like that, with the mixture of no sleep and caffeine), so here's to mood swings! And to those who are really dedicating their time to this, I really hope you win this year. You have no idea how much I respect you who can carve out such a huge block of time to write.

Let the writing begin~

Monday, 29 October 2012

University Presentations (大学説明会)

Last week, we had what was arguably one of the most important events this year - the 大学説明会 (daigakusetsumeikai - University Presentations). The reason why your teachers tell you not to stress about your universities (and one of the reasons why I applied for this scholarship) is that this year is when you choose your university. So what this event does is that it invites universities from all across Japan to give presentations and consultations to the students.

The event went like this - Listen to a bunch of presentations, Consult/Talk to the professors from many different universities, Continue mingling at the "party" (for us, "dinner"). Quite simple, but very tiring.

And um, while there wasn't a dress code, I (and my fellow Singaporeans), take the blame for a good number (I think more than half) the Arts Stream students coming is semi-formal/business casual clothing (one girl was rocking a suit!). You see, I made Rena wear a blazer with me (and a nice dress). And when we met Nicholas, he was wearing a fairly nice jacket, not a blazer, but definitely not casual (we do a mind-read of each other's brains unconsciously . Because of that, two other students felt the need to change, and bumped into Simone on the way back. And somehow, she thought that the dress code was semi-formal and started telling everyone she saw. So when the other students started arriving, we were all surprised to see them in blazers and such. Well, the 'mystery' was cleared up once Simone came.

From this fair, I got, a lot of information. I talked to around seven universities (we were supposed to talk to at least five. Most universities will give information about their dorm (how long you can stay, if there is one, cost) and their different courses.

Top Left: Some of the files/information booklets I got. Top Right:
Ryuku University (Okinawa!), Bottom Left: University of Tokushima
(very enthusiastic people), Bottom Right: Hitotsubashi University
(Very strong in Economics)
So as your senpai, I have a few pieces of advice you may or may not hear when you come:

Very very importantly, please be nice to the visiting professors/staff! We were told that one year, a professor was very angry because no one came to his table (um, it happened this year for the TUFS table, but in all fairness, we didn't have people who were taking Japanese Language, I think). But do remember that these people have come from all over Japan, taking trains and such. So if you have time (and you will have time), just take a chance at the not-so-popular tables. You may find out that it's a good fit for your after all. Plus, if you're waiting for one university and the table next to it is empty, you might as well use the time to talk to another university. It won't hurt you.

Before you even start, think about the questions you want to ask. While we did have the period before to prepare, it's quite hard to come up with questions one hour ahead. But generally, you should at least ask if your course is available, what the university specialises in and the dorm conditions.

Of course, you should definitely pay attention to the presentations. A lot of the professors are very funny, and if you're unprepared, you can use the information they give as a base for forming questions. Plus, it will introduce you to other good universities that you may not have heard off.

This leads to the next point, which is keep an open mind. One unexpected contender was Shiga University, which, apart from having a persuasive and funny teacher come to present, seems to have an excellent economics/business program (especially if you're interested in the real life applications, because you will get to do internships and go on field trips to factories). I remember that a lot of us business/economics students went "suddenly, I feel like going to Shiga University" after the presentation.

In the same vein, if you're asked to write what you learnt about five universities, it's a good idea to write in pencil (especially if you choose the universities in advance like me). Trust me, there's a very high probability that your choice of universities that you want to 'visit' will change after the presentations. That is, if you stay awake through them.

Finally, do some research after. If rankings matter to you (or your family), it's not a bad idea to search for what rank the universities you're interested in are, and to ask around (Linked In has a group called Business in Japan that is really helpful). Remember, everyone is really nice, but they're also trying to get you to choose their university.

Don't forget, you aren't limited to the universities that came. You can choose from any public university in Japan, so no worries!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Billingual Book Review: 窓ぎわのトットちゃん (Totto Chan)

I can't believe that even though more than half a term passed, I haven't blogged much. A lot has changed, and I have a lot to share, but I'm getting busier and busier. But in the meantime, here's my first bilingual book review (I read the book in Japanese). It's not a direct translation, but rather, my comments in Japanese, and another set in English (if you need me to translate though, just tell me and I will).

始める前、「日本語はまだ下手だから、いろいろなミッスを許してくれてください」って言いたい。

夏休みに、北海道へ行った。そして、北海道にいる時、たまたま、「窓がわのトットちゃん」を見た。もちろん、買った。何となく、東京のBookOffで、全然見なかった。

初めてトットちゃんを読む時は中学校である。あの時、英語の通訳を読んだ。実は私が、トモエのような学校へ行きたかった。(でも、これは日本にするのわけではない!)

私の日本語はまだ下手だが、トットちゃんを読める。文法はあまり難しくないし、難しい漢字で、振り仮名(?)もある。だから、とても読みやすい。もし、あなたは日本語を勉強中、ぜひ、トットちゃんを読んで下さい。

これはとても面白い本である。トットちゃんはとても可愛い!と弟似ていると思ってる。私は本に感心された。泰明ちゃんのなくなっちゃったことで

ぜひ、この本を読んで!

Basically, I took the whole summer vacation, and then some to read the book. Even though I've read it in English, it was still really fun to read it in Japanese. And because this book had furigana (hiragana for the kanji), and fairly simple grammar, it's suitable for the beginning intermediate student. And if you haven't read it before, please give it a try (even in English).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Can I say Ewwww?

So recently, we've (the Singaporean students here) have been hearing about Alvin Tan and his infamous sex blog. Can we just say EWWWWW?

If you're unaware, Alvin Tan and his girlfriend Vivien Lee (both Malaysians) have made waves in Singapore by posting explicit videos and pictures of them on a blog. Apparently, they wanted "recognition" for their work and facebook kept taking down their photos (although really, you should only want recognition for positive things. This is the first time where I see people so eager to be porn stars). And the reason why there are waves is because Alvin Tan is a ASEAN Scholar at NUS (Faculty of Law).

Before I forget, I would like to say that despite what The Star said today, all the young people I know here are disgusted by this blog and we do find it morally unacceptable.

And really, must he make all scholars look bad? I'm thinking that he has some problem where he cannot internalise moral standards, which leads to a lack of regret or self-consciousness, because he seems completely unconcerned about the disapproval by general society. He talks about things like people being overly sensitive and him not holding the same moral codes as others. Clearly, despite supposedly being smart, he hasn't heard of theories that say all humans hold an innate moral code, where we have the same standards. Either that, or he hasn't realised the self-defeating and untenable position of claiming relativism.

I remember, even before I came to Japan, I had to sign a form stating that I would behave in a responsible manner or facet the consequences.

This is the copy of the Pledge I took. 


I really hope that that ASEAN scholarship people made him sign a similar  form, and the consequences involve him paying back all the money he's received. Let's see, he claims to save $56 000 a year, and since he's a third years student, he should have to pay back $168 000 dollars. And I suppose to be fair, you should add in either a bank interest rate or the inflation rate.

But you know, perhaps I should look on the bright side of this. I'm planning to do a presentation on a societal problem in Singapore and I'm going to present on the topic of immigrants. I suspect this scandal will re-flame the xenophobic tendencies in society, and I'll have another example to cite. But I would really rather have no examples to cite.

(If you haven't heard of this, you can read a short article about Channel News Asia, where I'm glad to see he has to face an NUS disciplinary hearing)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

It's about half a month to NaNoWriMo, so here's the last book review before I start!

Apparently, when you google books on writing, Stephen King's On Writing is highly recommended. So, I figured I should go and look for the book and give it a read.

The book is divided into two main sections - a short autobiography, and the "how-to-write" section.

For the autobiography section, I skipped about half of it. I wasn't very interested, and the frequency of the curse words (in particular, the f word) made me uncomfortable. In the later half, he mentions that he believes in writing naturally, and apparently, naturally includes lots of cursing. But the last section of his autobiography is quite inspiring, particularly, the last paragraph:

"It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

The On Writing section really is useful. He talks about the importance of the basics (grammar and vocab), the common mistakes to avoid and such. But what I found most interesting (and my biggest takeaway), was the relation between theme and story. Like Tolkien and Lewis, Stephen King doesn't believe that you should start with the theme and then think of the story. He puts it better in

"Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story."

I think sometimes, when you think of a really cool idea you want to share, you'll suddenly think of ways to plunk it in at every single turn. And if you're a Literature student like me, then you'll probably get absorbed wondering about the different ways you can write symbolism into whatever you're writing. So this is a good reminder, and extremely good reminder, to me, that I should focus on telling the story, and then (only in the second draft), do I look for a theme to tie everything together.

Another piece of good advice was to wait a long time (he recommends six weeks) before taking a second look at your manuscript for objectivity. After NaNoWriMo, I have a feeling I'll be glad for the break.

But for now, I'm just getting to know my characters better. Come November, it'll be their time to take the center stage.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

I finished my mid-term exams yesterday. By all accounts, I should be on a bus right now, in the two-day school trip in/to Nagano. Yet, I'm writing this blog post in Singapore.

You see, I somehow fell sick last week. During the papers, I was rushing in-and-out because I was forever puking. I actually had to stop my Politics and Economics paper halfway because the teacher insisted I see a doctor (I managed to finish the make-up test though). And even though I saw two doctors twice in 4 days, the medicine didn't seem to work (but it gave me diahrea) and I spent a lot of time facing the toilet bowl.

So, my parents asked me to ask the school if I could come back to see the doctor. I'm really really grateful that despite my last minute request (I asked the day before I flew). So, as soon as I finished my last paper, I went back to pack and left Narita at 8:50pm yesterday, arriving in Changi airport at about 3am today.

And the result of all this rushing is - Salmonella poisoning (again). At least, that's tentative diagnosis. I did a blood test today (two full vials of blood is now missing from my body ._.) and I have a few more tests to do tomorrow, but that's what the doctor thinks it is.

Because of this, I can't eat most of the food I've been dreaming about this past six months. I'm more-or-less stuck eating bland food (at least I have tau huey). It's really one of the lemons life hands you.

But, you know the second half of the saying. Through this horrible experience, I've actually gotten a lot of positives.

First (and maybe the biggest point), I saw how much everyone cared for me. Friends that I don't have much classes in common would come to see how I was and if I could help. Rena gave up studying time to bring me to the doctors. Simone helped me "break into" my room to take pictures of the medicine I left behind so I could show the doctor. And Kaneko sensei came to my room at 9pm to give me food to eat. I'm honestly very touched by the out-pouring of love and concern shown towards me. Of course, I can't forget the JLC staff, who helped me with my last minute flight to Singapore. Especially since this is the exam period, and face it, I would understand if everyone was more worried about their results (and hence university entrance) than me. In fact, me being sick means one less rival.

Two bags of food is a lot. 
Second, I got to go back to Singapore. I've been missing this place for so long that a flying visit (with a limited diet) is better than nothing.

So yeah, these two categories make up for all the puking/loss of marks this week. Because Intangibles > Tangibles.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! 中秋节快乐!

Despite the fact that Japan is an Asian country and only six hours away from Singapore, there are foods that I can't find here in Japan. Leaving aside Singaporean fare like Oh Jian (Oyster Pancake), Chinese soups (so far, all the Chinese restaurents I see serve Miso), kaya and such. There's still quite a lot of food missing. Like Egg Tofu (the round kind that we call Japanese tofu in Singapore. There's egg tofu here, but you're not supposed to fry it. And they don't have Tau Huey, the tofu desert!).

Or you know, Moon cake.



I mean, there is a sort of moon cake in Japan (called 月餅geppei), but it's baked and always filled with anko paste. With the Mid-Autumn Festival just over, I've been craving mooncakes. The traditional ones with Lotus Paste, the Durian flavoured ones, the ones with a Chocolate-and-Rum cream center, and probably most of all, the Snow Skin Mooncakes (which is really 90% of the mooncakes I eat in Singapore).

So thanks to my awesome mom (and family, but I asked my mom first~), I had a package of mooncakes sent over. Considering that the postage cost more than the ingredients and mooncake mold, I can say with confidence that you've touched the three Singaporeans here. Rena, Nicholas and I were so happy to be able to eat Snow Skin Mooncakes on Mid-Autumn

Of course, we're ignoring the fact that we couldn't (赏月shang yue, literally appreciate the moon. In Japanese, it's called 月見tsukimi - Looking at the Moon) because of a Typhoon, and we had no lanterns, but still, the important fact remains - We Had Mooncakes.

And mooncake flavoured ice-cream
And that, along with the company of friends, is all you need to celebrate this holiday,

(P.s. Mid-terms start this Friday, so this is my last post for the week!)