Wednesday, 30 April 2014

And now for something completely different... Haiku.

If you expected my normal brand of snarky self-depreciative musings today, then you're in for a shock. Instead, I went and got creative. I was having fun with my Japanese revision, so... I decided to write some haiku!

You know what a haiku is, right? Or, at least, you know a vague approximation of what counts as a haiku. See, upon deciding to write some haiku in Japanese, I realised there was a load of practices and concepts I didn't actually know about. This only took a cursory Wikipedia search to pull up, and yet we all consider haiku to be a cool, hip poetry form while knowing nothing of its origins and original rules. There are a few main things I found out...

1. In Japanese poetry, haiku are counted in on - which are not quite the same as syllables. So, while the 5-7-5 pattern is how they operate, a Japanese 7-on line may not be a 7-syllable line. For instance:

sore ga kawaii desu 
(That is cute.)

In English, you'd say that "so-ray ga ka-wa-i des", so it appears to fit as a middle line of haiku.
But in Japanese - even though you'd say it the same way - it contains 9 on. Conveniently, on seem to correspond pretty well to hiragana characters.

2. Traditionally, Japanese haiku have a kigo - a seasonal reference. There are long lists of motifs which are shorthand for various seasons in ways which may not immediately make sense to Westerners. Frogs mean spring, the moon means autumn, and these aren't used nearly as often in modern works apparently. Still, it's interesting to think about.

3. Kiru, or "cutting". This is the essence of haiku, often brought about through use of a kireji (cutting word). It sort of relies on juxtaposition with a word in between them to act as a verbal punctuation mark and indicate some sort of relation. I'll admit, I didn't manage to use many kireji in my compositions as I'm still too concerned with getting Japanese grammar passably correct, but maybe if I write more I'll work on it.

TL;DR: There are seasonal references, a cutting word, and 14 on in a 5-7-5 configuration. Here's some stuff I wrote, complete with syllable-accurate translations (that took a few liberties with my original Japanese). Knock yourself out.


多い 人
世界 です

Ooi hito
no sekai desu ya
kimi ni atta.

There are so many
People in the world - and yet
I (somehow) met you.


この 言葉
見る かしら

kono kotoba
o kakimasu, kedo
miru kashira.

I write these words now
But I still wonder whether
You ever see them.



hanabira o
ochiru. anata mo
ushinau ka?

The cherry blossoms
All fall to the ground. Do I
Have to lose you too?



kocchi to issho
ni tsuki ni tabun
tobimasu ka?

Will you come and fly away
To the moon with me?

Sunday, 27 April 2014

"If things were different..."

If things were different, then...

Well. I don't know. Lots of things would have to be different - but then again, I can't be sure that the differences I imagine would result in the scenario I presume.

If things were different, maybe I would be in Japan. I would have ignored my flight home, burnt through the money on my card and be in my overdraft. I would be skipping lectures and seminars and staying in a cheap hostel in Tokyo, drinking and laughing and ignoring my degree. All semblance of caring would have disappeared. Maybe I would be thinking about coming home now, an extra two weeks after I intended. It's one way things might be different.

If things were different, and I had got on a train ten minutes earlier, I'd have been out drinking in Shinjuku with the rest of the people in the hostel.

If things were different - if I were different - then I'd be dating the person I love, and we wouldn't be ambiguously flirtatious best friends.

But things aren't different, and wishing they were otherwise is to sell my own life short. I care about my studies, even though it can be hard to motivate myself sometimes; with a degree I can get a better job, save up money and see the world, not just wish I could. I am not drinking in a park in Japan; I am in bed in England, recovering from a night of drinking in someone's house.

I didn't get the earlier train, and I missed having a wild night on my last day in Japan.

And I have accepted that I can't be with my best friend, because I would hurt him too much. I philander, I flirt, I lack empathy; I would be a terrible girlfriend, so I am saving him from heartbreak. I would get bored of dating him. I get bored of most things, sooner or later.

Things aren't different, so I have to deal with them as they are. The ramifications of any of these changes might have created an entirely different world. I can't change the past, no matter how hard I wish. The future is malleable, and I entirely support railing against injustice to change the things that suck. Though mostly, I feel like we should accept things as they are. Make the most of it. Make the most of now.

If things were different, I wouldn't be writing this blog post. Meta.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

How to not be a dick in hostels.

I'll start with a disclaimer: I am by no means an expert.
But in the last 9 months, I've spent 11 weeks in 9 countries staying in hostels, so I have at least some idea.

I've had my share of grotty experiences, from shacks in Ayuthaya with only a fan to serve as "air conditioning" in the 37-degree heat and witnessing drug deals on an adjacent bunkbed in Vienna, to Tokyo dorms that more closely resembled pigeon-holes in post rooms and a Hong Kong digs with no shower.

But I've also had the best of times. That place in Tokyo is where I've made my best travelling friends. There's been a 6-person room to myself in Seoul, a free in-house onsen in Beppu, traditional tatami-matt rooms in Nagasaki and a guest-house built by the owner's own hands in Nara.

So here's my guide on how to not be a dick in hostels.

DO: take off your shoes. Especially in Asian countries, this is a big thing. But in general, unless the floor is made of lava, taking off your shoes at the door - at at least within your dorm - stops mud getting tracked everywhere you're living.

DO: be neat and tidy. Everyone is crammed in the same living quarters. Be on your best behaviour. Play nice.

DO: pay your dues. If you borrow someone's shampoo, lend them your razor or something. Mooching is not okay. And if you're in a position to help someone, do - which is why I am now apparently the "saint" of Nishi-Kawaguchi, after patching up someone's bleeding forehead with my handy first-aid kit.

DO: talk to people. Everyone. You might not get along with everyone, and that's okay. But you'll be amazed at who you meet - students, teachers, barmen, engineers, corporate drones; everyone in a hostel is there for a reason, and it's probably insatiable wanderlust.

DO: pick up other people's slang. I came back from a six-week trip with "aye" ingrained in my daily vernacular, and I am currently touting "Oh, I wouldn't say possibly, I'd definitely say for sure," on an irritatingly regular basis.

DO: realise that "where are you from?" is likely to replace "what's your name?" as an opening line. I've hung out for hours with people only to realise I have no way to identify them other than "the really tall Swedish guy" or "that Mexican guy's girlfriend".

DO: take chances. We get taught that there is danger around every corner, but travelling teaches you strangers are mostly kind. Have a drink or two, or three or four. Make friends. Go to karaoke and play football in the park. Appease the police. Kiss strangers. Laugh as much as you can.

DON'T: be noisy. So shut up in dorms. No calling friends at noon, because people WILL still be sleeping. No laughing drunkenly on the porch, and no sex. Okay, none of these are going to hold - but you should at least try and be quiet about them.

DON'T: do anything illegal.

DON'T: expect everyone to be your new best friend. Some people are just dicks. Accept it and move on.

DON'T: spend two hours in the shower. Especially if there's a very limited number. Get in, get clean, wash your hair, bugger off.

DON'T: feel guilty about engaging in behaviour that you would otherwise frown upon. A few cigarettes and make outs won't kill you, and it turns out that sharing someone's last smoke is a surprisingly good bonding experience.

DON'T: expect it to last forever. And at the same time - don't forget about it either.

Memories are all we have, really, as humans. Don't ruin someone else's. And let other people in - they're the ones who will make your memories really precious.

Go now, and hostel like a nice human being. And not a dick.