Saturday, 26 February 2011

The week that was

I haven't blogged for a while. I've had a few things going on, and the last week was pretty stressful.

There was a temporary job going at the Japanese Consulate here in Edinburgh, filling in while someone takes maternity leave. I really wanted the job. I sent in a CV (resume, for Americanos) that was crafted so perfectly to the position as advertised, and was delighted by an email inviting me for an interview on Wednesday. Other things going on this week, to put things in context, were driving lessons on Monday, Wednesay and Thursday, teaching on Tuesday and Wednesday and writing 40 lines of poetry for my creative writing course, due in on Thursday. Also, my friend Terrina, a fellow Tokushima JET alumnus, was visiting. She actually helped me buy a suit on Tuesday after I realised I'd lost a pair of black trousers and didn't have a matching suit set.

Anyway, I spent most of the week as a mess of nerves, partly from being really invested in the idea of getting this job, and partly also from driving lessons, which had gone badly the previous weeks. My test is booked for the 10th of March at the moment so there's a bit of pressure there. I prepared answers to a good number of common interview questions and headed off to the consulate on Wednesday afternoon. The person who was seen before me was one of the other two JET returners who came back at the same as me, who I met at the reception at the consul general's house, and had been working as a CIR (and therefore fluent in Japanese) so I knew competition would be tough. I was kind of pissed off about this fact. I was hoping all the former JET people who were potentially better qualified than me would already have jobs by now.

The interview involved being asked questions by two of the consuls, while the Scottish lady who would be taking maternity, and the consul general himself, watched and 'moderated'. I thought the interview went okay - it was hard to tell because it was only about ten minutes long and didn't feel very in-depth. The only odd point was after I'd given a perhaps slightly vague answer to a "Why are you interested in Japan?" type question from the first interviewer, and then when the second interviewer took over later, he more or less said, "I'm not sure exactly from what you've said what exactly your interest in Japan is" in a kind of accusatory manner. It was like he was saying, "What's REALLY going on here?" Maybe he had a point. I'm not even sure why I'm interested in Japan. I used to be super interested in Japanese anime and dramas, but after moving there I just loved it as a place. The country itself, and the language were my interests. I tried to explain that. I hope that wasn't what cost me the job (as I found I wasn't successful on Friday) - that would be unfortunate. But it's no use beating myself up about things I can't ever know. Anyway, I was told to expect to hear the result in the next couple of days since they wanted to sort it out quickly.

Thursday was devoted to polishing poetry. Well, perhaps not so much polishing as removing some of the grubbier stains. A poem is never finished, merely abandoned. Here's my favourite of the two I submitted, which I post here because it was inspired by Steve, the occasional fox visitor to our back garden:

Urban fox

There is a sometime visitor,
a midnight stalker, sleepwalker,
with eyes like candle flames that see me looking.
Not like his woodland brothers at all – rich red, well-fed,
no - a shadow of a pastoral past
that dined on chickens and made farmers mad.
Is he a parallel for our ruin,
This city slicker, this Freegan with a scrawny shell,
his coat an indifferent, mucky brown with scars of war – snout cut
by rims of baked bean tins from toppled bins,
A walking wreck?

If I could speak his tongue, or else
give meaning to a look, the way dogs do, I’d ask
What made him choose this life of ours,
This dusty, dirty orange glow
of takeaways and ready meals.
Was it the social memory
Of horns, of horses and of hounds,
and men in red in hot pursuit? “You fool,” I’d say,
“The hunt’s long-gone,
The countryside is safe, it’s us
that’s doomed, and chased and overwhelmed
by so much nonsense.”

And yet with this lone wolf, this pioneer
I feel a sense of camaraderie,
As one who also walks
A path of some resistance, a
Late-night escapader, fridge-raider
Insomniac and ponderer
Of the urban fox.

Anyway, I told my Canadian friend Terrina that I'd spend the day with her on Friday, since I'd been busy for much of the rest of the week. She decided we'd do a Highland tour, going up through the Trossachs, past Glencoe to Loch Ness. As a 1-day tour, heading all the way to Loch Ness involves a lot of driving. We were never really off the bus for much longer than an hour at a time. The weather was typically Scottish, fluctuating between bright sunshine and torrential rain, as if the heavens are suffering from ADHD. Terrina has an indomitable spirit that is infectious, however, so we had a good time. We fed highland cows, ate bad pasta, did a boat tour on Loch Ness and tasted whisky on the way home. I was aware all day that my fate RE: the job would probably have been decided. I had my phone on me, though the correspondence previously had all been done through email so I wasn't sure if I should expect a phone call. By the time we got back to Edinburgh I'd convinced myself I hadn't got the job, because I was sure they would have had to confirm it with me over the phone since it was a Friday and they would be closed over the weekend. I think that helped, really. Having the long bus journey to start consoling myself, so that by the time I got home, five and a half hours after leaving Loch Ness, I was almost ready to read the bad news. It was still a pretty crushing disappointment. In my head I'd already started living an exciting inner-city life, having moved out of my parents' house and started writing seriously on evenings and weekends. DREAMS ftw.

It's odd, because it took me a while before I decided whether I really wanted this job or not. I supposed after finally deciding I did, I invested more and more of my hopes into it until it was like I was applying to be the next ambassador to Japan, rather than a low-level functionary. The job might have been a load of arse. I will never no. I will try to get over it.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Irrationally missing Japan

There's this tv show that started last week. Justin Lee Collins 'goes native' in Japan, ostensibly to find the 'real Japan', the one beyond his stereotypical notion. I've seen a fair few shows of this type, where the presenter goes around experiencing various aspects of the culture, getting access to the local world that a regular tourist never enjoys. In this case, things are a little different, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

The usual stuff has come up - host clubs, weird-flavoured food products, karaoke, theme bars, a sex dolls. What I find weird about it is these little pieces to camera that Collins does after encountering some of the stranger aspects. Now, Justin Lee Collins is best known as a kind of hyperactive presenter-comedian who doesn't take things seriously. But in these pieces to camera - and they're not even to camera - the camera looks at him while he talks to someone diagonally behind the camera, as if it's filming a secret conversation - he suddenly puts on his judgemental hat and talks about how disturbing and awful whatever he's just seen is, in a very serious tone.

I don't know what to make of it. His reactions seem genuine, but it annoys me that he thinks that that's all Japan is. His researchers and producers have no doubt gone to every effort to ensure he sees the most messed up aspects of the country. What he probably doesn't realise is that if you showed the average non-city dwelling Japanese person most of this stuff, they'd have a similar reaction. You'd probably surprise a few Tokyoites as well. It would be fine if he'd said he was deliberately trying to find the craziest aspects of Japanese culture, but instead he's claimed to have gone in search of reality, and stands in judgement of what he's found. Shame on you, JLC.

I almost always avoid watching TV shows about Japan, because they make me want to be back there. Most of the stuff on TV is a Japan I never went to, or at least never lived in. It's not all bright lights, hi-tech gadgetry and maid cafes. But still, seeing all that stuff reminds me of my visits to the cities, which were always some of the most fun times in my overall more sedate time in the country. I don't want to lose my connections through the people I knew and the language I learned. I'll go back some day.