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Diving Back into Japanese (wait... wasn't there something in French I needed to do?)

JAPAN | Sunday, 17 January 2016 | Views [207]

Our Japanese lessons began at 9:00 AM Friday morning. Our teacher, Yamaguchi-sensei, besides having one of the easiest to write Japanese names ever, (Yama- mountain and Guchi-mouth are both in the first 20 kanji you probably learn, more or less concurrent with numbers) also had a clear and easy-to-understand voice. We went over syllabus and the semester project, and for the first time since CET had started, I felt on familiar and friendly ground. Especially whenever I remembered a vocabulary word the others didn’t. And when we got a ten minute break between hours one and two? Man, this was great!

These feelings of comfort vanished sometime between hour three and hour four. Probably right at the cusp between them when Suzuki-sensei (CET believes in team-teaching, which means that for most of the first two weeks, our classes will be taught by Suzuki-sensei. She’s a little harder to understand, and, on looking at the schedule, saw that we didn’t get a break between the third and fourth hour. Because the schedule said hour 3 was 11:20-12:20 and hour 4 was 12:20-13:20. I tried to point out that there was, in fact, an hour break that week (just as there will be for future weeks) but, because a lunch break was not explicitly written out (as it is for future weeks) she didn’t see it. So we just continued straight through, at which point my brain shut down and refused to work. We were gathered around a computer that was closer to Dan and Brian anyway, so this worked out. I think my contribution during the fourth hour was “that kanji is the kanji for milk,” followed by a failed attempt to explain what milk was. (I definitely should have gone with “cow juice,” but, because my mind was done, all it could come up with “cow liquid” followed by the realization I didn’t know what “liquid” is in Japanese.)

On a related note: why does it seem like my experience with immersion classes is always more immersive than other peoples’? If I was asked to define a word I’d just used, I would try and come up with a definition in Japanese (cow juice, not fun, etc.) whereas the other students would often go straight towards English. This also isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in a position of being more used to immersion than the other people in my classes. You’d think at some point it would stop, but it hasn’t yet.

Once our four overall hours and two straight hours of Japanese were over, we were free to go. I ended up going with Dan and Brian back to the same restaurant we’d had dinner the night before. I ordered Oyakodon, (literally, parent and child. Meaning chicken and egg. It’s a good dish for me to be familiar with, since it has no fish and the kanji are all characters I should recognize) which I found too hot to eat quickly (the others did not have this problem) but was otherwise really good. Not sure if it was better than the yakisoba or not, but certainly speed was an advantage.

Then I had about 45 minutes before my OPI (Oral proficiency interview) test to use as I wanted. And what I really, really wanted to do was get away from people. (I am not used to spending that much time around people.) So when Dan and Brian turned back to the building, I just kept walking straight. Eventually I turned, and followed the train tracks back to my main entrance of the university. It didn’t give me a whole lot of time, but it did give me a little bit to give my mind a break from Japanese and people.

The OPI test is more of a test of the program than of us, (they’ll redo it at the end of the semester) which didn’t really make the additional half hour of very active Japanese any more fun. It had two stages. In the first stage, she asked me questions, and in the second, we had to role play. The second shouldn’t have been terribly challenging, except that I’d forgotten so much grammar that would have been useful. Like how to make requests. I was looking at Young-sensei, and the only thing I could think of was “est-ce que tu pourrais….” and close variants. Which was not super-helpful.

Still probably went better than the answering questions portion, where for a decent chunk of the questions, I could not think of anything to say. I would have had the same problem answering in English.

“Where do you live?” “In an apartment.” “By yourself?” “No, I have a roommate.” “Do you cook a lot?” “Wait… are you asking about this semester?” “Yes.” Right, because since arriving in this country 48 hours ago I have *definitely* had a lot of time and energy to go grocery shopping and prepare my own meals. There have been three lunches (eaten at the airport, provided for by the program, and eaten in the hour break I had) and two dinners (the day I arrived, with the whole group, and last night when fine, I guess I could have bought food and cooked for myself after 8 hours of orientation.) (I’m not the kind of person to make myself an elaborate breakfast every morning. I’m not even the type of person who would want to eat it if other people made it for me). She went on to ask about my morning routine (well, in the two mornings I’ve had I’ve gotten into the habit of misjudging what time I need to wake up, scrambling in the morning, misjudging what time I need to leave, and waiting around the academic building for at least 20 minutes. So.. that.) and what my roommate and I do together. Give me another few weeks and I might have a real answer, but right now? No.

Then she asked me about my hobbies. Reading, knitting, and travelling. Besides Japan, what kind of places had I travelled? What kind of books did I like to read? How would I compare Sweden and France? Summarize the last book I’d read. The first two questions were easy. The next two… weren’t.

How would I compare Sweden and France? Let’s see, I’d spent two weeks in Sweden a year ago, and a semester in France that I’d left three days ago. I’d been in France’s capital and most populous city, and Sweden’s second most populous. In Gothenburg, I’d lived in a hostel and had only been able to leave as part of a group. In Paris, I’d lived in an apartment and my time had been exclusively my own. I hadn’t gotten more than a superficial look at Gothenburg. I’d lived Paris’s history. How would I compare the two? I wouldn’t. They’re on fully different scales.

And the last book I read.Tamora Pierce’s Page. For simplicity’s sake, I decided to reframe the question as being about Protector of the Small, the series that it belonged in. And, for lack of vocabulary, the best summary I could come up with was “It’s about a girl who wants to be a hero. But most heroes are boys. She succeeds.” Which is not only doing a great injustice to Alanna and Daine (characters from series in the same universe that predate Protector of the Small) that seem summary could just as easily apply to them, to any other main character in the Tortall verse, and to a significant number of fantasy books in general. But it’s accurate, if simplified past the point of usefulness.

After the OPI testing, I returned to my apartment and had to come to terms with the fact that it was 15 January, the deadline for my France pro-seminar paper. And yes, I get a slight time zone boost, but given Brown in France is based in, you know, France, it’s only an 8 hour boost, which isn’t enough for me to be able to finish writing it the next day. (It should be 8-10 pages long. At this point, I had six and a half pages, so at least I hadn’t procrastinated completely.) So, between OPI testing and dinner, I stared blankly at a document for a while and wrote about half a page in French.

Then it was time to head over to the academic building as a small group so we could meet up with everyone as a large group and head to dinner. Dinner was a multicourse affair at Isoshin, one train stop away. The first course was salad, served concurrently with sashimi. Then someone came around to light the small candle at the base of our next course. After stirring a little and waiting for a while, we had course two of thin slices of chicken, noodles, and a delicious broth. Which definitely felt like enough food, but no, they brought out soup. And then, after a decent pause, green tea ice cream.

We had a room to ourselves in the restaurant, but this still meant there were over forty people gathered together. At the end of the meal, most people went on together, but Aimee, Natsuo, Mayuka, and I headed back. Mayuka made sure we recognized where we were, then went back to her hometown for the night and most of the next day. So, when we got back, I had my floor of the apartment to myself. And, at last, I could be alone and finalize my semester in Paris.

Tags: food, japanese, language, proseminar

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