a The Transit Lounge: May 2004

Back in the Day: I had a quarter life crisis, headed to Osaka, Japan for the unknown–only to discover that a passport plane ride are not necessarily a ticket to escape. Some Years Later: Settled back in Oz, the man of my dreams ended up in Tokyo for work–which is how a passport and plane ride showed me home is where the heart is. And Now: Well as luck would have it, we are about to embark on Japan Mark 3, with a baby in tow and another on the way...

Sunday, May 16

What's In A Name?

Upon trying to keep informed of news from the outside world today, I discovered that Gwyneth Paltrow gave birth to a healthy gorgeous apple. Sorry, girl. Named Apple. What I meant to write is that she and her hubby, Chris Martin, lead singer of the notoriously depressive Coldplay, are now the proud parents of a baby girl, whom they named Apple.

Interesting to note that the first thing that came to mind was how I would make fun of her in the school yard (what does that say about me?). 'Have Apple a day to keep the doctor away' was quickly followed by 'Are you Golden Delicious?' and similar taunts. Let's hope she doesn't live up to her namesake, NYC - The Big Apple.

Have Gwynnie and Chris gone nuts? Or fruity even? I sometimes wonder what makes celebrities think they have the right to burden their children with more 'unusual' names.

Let's look at a classic example set by the late Frank Zappa, guru of exactly what I am not too sure, but let's just say some experimental sounding music to be safe...... Which baby naming book was he browsing though when he chose to name his daughter Moon Unit and his son Dweezil? Or maybe the more appropriate question is 'What was he smoking?'

Posh Spice and David Beckham must have been plenty star-crossed (and perhaps brain-crossed, brain-washed, outright stupid) to name their second child Romeo. And I am almost certain a Gene Gallagher may be wishing in later years dad Liam had kept his jeans on, rather than going through life with such a...well...what else can I say but poofy sounding name? (Think Friends when Phoebe is looking to name her triplets, and she and Joey decide Chandler is more suited to Gene).

How did Michael Jackson's second son end up with the name Blanket? To be fair, this is just his nickname, (unless he stands in the pouring rain, then he becomes a wet Blanket - sorry, I had to throw it in). I guess when you decide to christen both your sons with the same name, Prince Michael for the record, you have to differentiate between them somehow.

However, this trait isn't limited to celebritiies only. My co-worker is a Commie Pommie, who is a devoted fan of all things Cuban, as well as Che Guevara. So it was really no surprise when his wife gave to birth to Fidel last weekend. Dad and baby were smoking celebratory cigars 5 minutes later. Today he admitted Fidel is running the household already, and mother and father's escape to a neighbouring apartment is becoming more imminent.

Say it is character building, say it's good for conversation, why even tell me it means they are set on the road to stardom. But don't try and tell me that their lives won't be torment free for having such names, that these kids will never think 'Why couldn't I have been a Luke or Sarah?'.

And please - whatever you do, don't ever say she'll be apples.


Thursday, May 13

Japan: The Land of Contradictions

I quite often find myself in a quandry, over the fact that I know I contradict myself over and over again. Whether it be through taking a stance or forming an opinion on a matter and then acting to the contrary, or knowing that I will say something to one person and completely mean it, yet say the opposite to someone else - but also somehow mean that 100% too. I find I am always at odds with myself over this, because it leaves me questioning myself more than what is probably healthy.

Although, I have reasoned that maybe this is why I have found a lifestyle I am content with, while living in Japan, because it didn't take me long to figure out that this country and I have a lot in common - both full of contradictions that somehow exist together in a seeminlgy effortless manner.

Ex-squeeze Me Please
Take for instance the obvious - such a large volume of people managing to peacefully co-exist, crammed into such a small area. Throw personal space out the window (just be careful, it might land in your neighbour's dinner) because these people live on top of each other, next to each other, underneath each other, on each other's welcome mats and doing all of this living in, what can only be described as, shoe boxes. No complaints. They don't know how to.

Public Hygiene - So What?
Then there are the cultural discrepencies. You can slurp your soup, sniff like a Hoover going for that out-of-reach-place behind the fridge, spit more than John Wayne in a Western, and (if you're a guy) relieve your self anywhere suitable - or unsuitable, whether it be on the tyre of neighbour's mama charlie, out the front of McDonalds while waiting for your order or on the subway platform. But blow you nose and the people next to you will run faster than if you told them you had leprosy. At least I have figured out a way to always get a seat on the train...

The Bagging Syndrome
Here at the local fastfood restaurant, it shouldn't be `Would you like fries with that?' Rather 'Can I re-bag that for you....and then some?'

Everywhere you go, you will see public rubbish bins that are separated into plastics, paper and the rest. The Japanese are very keen on recycling. The majority of apartment blocks demand that you separate your rubbish first, and then leave it out for communal collection.

Which is why I am baffled by all the extra packaging that comes with anything you buy, especially food. If you order a drink at KFC, for example, you will get it in a cup holder, which is then put into a paper bag, sealed with tape, and then placed in a plastic bag - for your extra protection I can only assume. Protection against what I am yet to figure out. Maybe so you don't drown in your cola whilst you thirstly sip away through the straw that you have just removed from its individual wrapping. You can't even buy chewing gum without it being hastily shoved into a tiny - TINY - plastic bag before you even have the chance to say 'Iranai, iranai' (I don' want, I don't want). Buying biscuits or cheese really makes me laugh - the outside packaging is usually cardboard. Once that is removed you have all the contents in some sort of plastic. Gnaw through this, and then you have each piece indivually (and probably hand) wrapped to perfection, and you are possibly so over it by now that you can't be bothered eating anymore.

I can only surmise that recycling is a must to meet packaging demands - not for any environmental purposes.

The Recession
Recession? Holy うんこ(unko) Batman! Don't smash that moneybox, lock away ALL your money, keep it safe - just please don't put in the bank and when you do feel the urge to shop, spend it on anything foreign. Louis Vuitton preferably. Also, carry enough cash in your LV wallet to sink the Titanic and when you feel the need to drown your sorrows over the state of the current economy, go to that illegal foreign hostess bar with your mates, and give away as much as possible in tips to the Russians, Polish, Israelis and the occasional Australian. And do it again the next night, and the night after that. Don't stop. Keep that fat cash moving, just not locally.

Isn't Sony Japanese?
However, I think what intrigues me most is that these masters of innovation and inventors of life-changing technology seem to have little use for these modern wonders in their own daily lives. Most of my private students do not own computers or even have an email address as work, although their kitchen will be completely coloured co-ordinated in pastels, from the toaster to the oven.

Where Does It End?
It doesn't. Take the fact that ALL Japanese learn English for at least 3 years during high school, yet the majority cannot speak it. Although, write it down for them and it is understood. Observe the way the younger generation are westernising themselves. Get a glimpse at Amerikamura (American Village) in Osaka! Plastic surgey also, to make eyes appear rounder and larger, is not uncommon for both male and females, of all ages, even for those in highschool. In spite of this, the population is still largely scared of what the western world holds, which is why this nation is unbelievably monocultural. Something like only .06% of the population is not Japanese.

Somehow though, it all works. Everything fits together and functions like a well oiled machine. Everything has a place, and if it doesn't, it soon will. You may shake your head and KNOW something doesn't make sense, but here the illogical becomes logical. Common sense does not always prevail and you come to understand this couldn't be pulled off anywhere else in the world. But this is Japan afterall - they wouldn't have it any other way.

And neither would I.

Wednesday, May 12

I Think I'm Turning Japanese

I remember during my first few weeks in Osaka, being absolutely mortified by both particular sites and people around me, which left me constantly wondering Cadbury-style 'Why is it so?' or more often than not, 'WTF?!

8 months on, I have long come to the party in realising what is normal around here and that what isn't normal, somehow is. Why, there now often times I catch myself doing something and think 'Oh God, I'm just as much a part of it now too.'

To give you more of an idea of what I am raving on about, I have made a list of things that are a standout in my mind - perhaps a sign I have been here too long??

1. Sarcasm

Sarcasm basically doesn't exist in the Japanese language, so if you are like me, and are quick with the sarcastic comments, it can be quite easy to have fun with your students, customers and local friends without them even knowing it, yeah ok at their expense (although trying to exlain the joke is more trouble than it's worth, so best not to ever let on you were kidding around to begin with). Just be careful who you try it on though. I am positive that a student I had earlier this week, who works for customs at Kansai International, thinks I am trying to import body organs to sell on the black market.

So you can imagine my absolute horror when chatting on MSN to my father and finding out the joke was on me. I didn't think a yarn about a jack russell killing a rotweiller was out of the ordinary at all, even after asking how and being told 'It got stuck in his throat.' To say I was shocked at being sucked in is an understatement.

2. Kawaii Ne? (Cute?) Sugoi!! (Amazing!) - I Think Not
The Japanese love the cute, love to be cute (or think they are) and love to make the un-cute cute too, which is the cause of excessive overuse of 'kawaii ne?' Whether it is Hello Kitty, Miffy, dogs wearing Louis Vuitton overcoats, kids on Gap leashes, dressing as what I have termed A Japanese Candy Pop Raver (think your average candy raver on steroids but walking around the streets in broad day light, without taking drugs - somehow so much worse), everything becomes kawaii ne! Or if not, then it is 'Sugoi ne!'

This is something I have thankfully managed to stop doing, since actually studying the Japanese language and learning some more vocab - you can generally tell how long a gaijin has been in this country by the number of times they use this language. Newcomers are the worst offenders, and are often subjected to much abuse for using the offending words.

3. Stupid National Days
For all you Aussie expats out there, what does November 11 represent?

If you said National Pocky Day, you guessed correctly! A day to honour those delicious chocolates sticks that come in a multitude of flavours, including tropical pine, orange mint and of course Men`s Flavour to cater for...er...the men of Japan!

Buying Poppies? Remembering the end of World War 1? What?? Pass me the Pocky packet please.

4. Does This Handbag Match My...?

Which word do you think best finishes this question?
(a) shoes
(b) phone
(c) camera
(d) headphones
(e) dog
(f) leg warmers
(g) snoopy tracksuit wearing Yakuza boyfriend's Carol Brady haircut
(h) washing machine
(i) all of the above

Get my drift? But I now find myself walking into Bic Camera or Den Den Town and eyeing off that powder blue Cannon Camera that fits into my pocket...only for confusion to set in when I see the baby doll pink and lemon coloured models too.

5. The Phone Strap

If your phone still outweighs the number of straps you have attached to your phone, then go out and buy some more. Or better yet, just simply go to Big Echo, sing your arse off and get some Hello Kitty phone straps for free.

I am proud to admit that currently I have a red (?!) pink panther, two pink Hello Kitty poses, a Lipton Tea mascot and two as-of-yet unidentified objects that are supposed to bring me luck, hanging off my phone. Oh and Miffy who lights up 30 seconds prior to my phone ringing to let me know a call is coming.

Who ever said being able to fit your phone into your handbag was important?

6. Japanese Habits
Not only do I take my shoes off before I enter every household, restaurant and temple like it's second nature, I get shirty when separate slippers to change into when walking into bathroom/toilet areas aren't supplied.

You think talking on a mobile phone, lighting a cigarette, holding an umbrella with a kid strapped to your back at the same time as balancing a tonne of shopping on the handle bars of you bike whilst dodging packs of people at break neck speeds sounds impossible? Don't worry, I used to as well.

7. Foreigners in Japan
They annoy me too.

Pocky anyone?

Tuesday, May 11

Drinking Through The Dimensions...

`I have stood here before in the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain`
- King of Pain, The Police

Well I've finally done it. And that is I have found myself in my parallel universe. You know all those theories about there being other dimensions we just haven't tapped into, the whole Sliding Doors thing, and even that Simpsons' episode when Homer finds himself in the 3rd dimension? Now I am living proof that it all does exist.

The rest of you just haven't drunk enough yet to open up the unused portion of your brain - or maybe that should be changed to read 'to kill off the whole working section of your brain'. You see, I drank myself into another world - and it isn't pretty, it isn't safe, there is no future. Lock those liquor cabinets and save yourselves for it is: The World of Pain.

Here I am three days into it, and those ruby slippers are not working. They won't even take me back to the bar and I fear I have lost Kansas and ol' Aunty Em forever. I can't even find Toto (did he come out with me to begin with??), although I did pick up a Winnie-The-Pooh (or Pooh-san as he is known In Japan) teddybear along the way. I think he knows the solution to this riddle, but he is still lying face down on my bedroom floor, and still showing no signs of life.

At least upon reviewing the contents of my purse, I didn't spend any money getting here, thanks to bar-owning, bar-tending and door biatch friends (which could be a contributing factor as to how I ended up in The World of Pain) but my phone is full of new numbers belonging to names I don't recognise as well as photos of people I am pretty sure must answer those numbers.

It started out as a typical Saturday night - ie feeling ratshit from my Friday night, thanks to an unexpected overseas visitor, and me imbibing alcohol for the first time since my Anzac Day mess (2 chu-his and a glass of beam and the form was back) - and a loose plan to meet a mate at 5am when he finished work. My original thinking was to do what I had to do (apparently it was related to bar work), come back home midnightish and sleep til 5, doing the responsible thing seeing as I did have to make a 1 1/2 hour appearance at work on Sunday afternoon.

But as John Lennon said 'Life is what happens when you are busy making plans....' Can't say I won't drink to that.

The evening was warm, although I can't be too sure. I am making a judgment call since I returned home jacketless, as well as shoeless (that part I do remember) but seeing as I cannot find my red leather jacket, I am beginning to suspect otherwise (and pretty annoyed about it too - I bought it in Florence!!).

I don't go looking for trouble but I believe it found me when I popped into a mate's bar, and he uttered those magic words 'Help yourself', nodding towards the bar. Suddenly my schedule was thrown out the window, as I made one cocktail after another
(one I invented in honour of my 25th birthday "The Lizzie Splice of Life"). I felt like a cat let out of a bag. You could say my mood turned celebratory when I arrived at the next bar, and was promptly offered a job (I'm their resident barfly anyway).

At this point in the evening, things degenerated into fuzzy flashes. I know I managed to meet my mate at 5am because I vaguely remember playing chicken with him - me on my bike and him running at me - across the Dotombori Bridge. Only he never swerved, so we collided and now I have no brakes on my beautiful mountain bike. All signs point to us having an All-you-can-drink karaoke sesh too, as I had no voice on Sunday night and found two more Big Echo Karaoke glasses in my handbag (we are trying to get a collection going). And I also know I made it to B-Trip for last drinks around midday because I had a message on my phone asking me if i made it work after I left there.....oh my God work!!  
That part I do somehow remember.

How did I manage that? I arrived with chu-hi (Japan's answer to the UDL and much better) in hand and fell asleep as soon as I sat down. Woke up upon hearing students enter the room and mustered the last ounce of brain energy I had left to ask them to interview each other and then told them I would be back in 10 minutes. I went to my office and prompty fell asleep again, this time head-on-the-desk style, and then next thing I knew, a student was shaking me, explaining that they were leaving and did I want a lift to the station with them? Work has never flown by so quickly before. In fact, a whole Sunday has never disappeared quite like that before.

So that is how I have found myself in The World of Pain.....damn this World of Pain, and damn it for being so much fun to get to.

Saturday, May 8

Lawn Bowls Mark II

Anyway, the previous post was not supposed to be so long - it was just really to introduce this next post, something I wrote about 18 months ago, again in an email to a buddy. You see, I kinda had this problem - when I was supposed to be working, I would be writing little stories to send as emails to my friends for a laugh (Thank god for ALT/TAB - flicking between screens on the computer has never been so easy). Nothing is ever just as it happens with me - I like to turn everything into an adventure.


November 8 2002 Email to LeighRoy

By the way, don't knock my bowls. It is a highly dangerous sport. Why, I even got injured last night...

There I was, standing, some might say precariously, on the brink of the green, with my thong clad feet pointing over the edge. I peered over the 2 foot drop and had a chuckle to myself as I realised I was the only one bold enough - or maybe that was young enough - to act so, I can now say in hindsight, foolhardy. At this stage of the night, I was quite happy with myself, in particular, with my bowling. My grass was pretty much spot on and my legs were on the improve with each bowl.

Little did I know that my sweet harmony was about to violently thrown off key. Balancing precariously on one leg, I peered over the drop and breathed in sharply as I noticed the ash of my cigarette floating gently to the ground below. It was during this observation that my phone rang, startling me.

I looked from the beer in my left hand to the cigarette in my right, and not wanting to put down either, put the cigarette in my mouth and began fumbling in my right pocket for my phone. Panick set in quickly.

I felt my stomach lurch as I realised I had jammed the zipper on my pocket

The ring started getting louder, and more persistant. My head started to pound as the ringtone, the Flinstones theme, kept eating away at my brain. C'mon, C'MON! I told myself to relax, to go slow. The cigarette was coming dangerously close to an end, and I could feel the heat of the cherry starting to burn my lips.

I gave the zipper another shake, and in doing so, the beer began sloshing over the edge of the glass, running down my arm. Finally, with one last yank, the zipper came free and my body relaxed as soon as my hand grasped the phone inmy poclet. I whipped it out of my pocket and to my ear.

In my excitable haste at having just got the damn call in time, with all of that sudden and frantic movement, I could feel my balance being compromised.

'Oh Gawd!'was all I could think. Before i even got to think about saying hello, my lips, red hot and about to be destroyed by fire, let the cigarette fall as my glass came tumbling out of my hand, and, along with my phone, crashed to the ground.

My knees hit the concrete hard and instinctively, I pulled my form into a ball, and rolled over the precipice, hitting the soft grass below.

Knees a bleeding, it was now my turn to bowl.

Anybody for Lawn Bowls?

While taking my (un)usual morning jog around the neighbourhood a few weeks ago, I came across a group of elderly Japanese people, dressed in whites, playing croquet in an un-used carpark. I stopped and watched them for a few minutes, absolutely thrilled about what I had stumbled upon. I was even tempted to try and find out if I could join in, or come back another day to do so - it would appear that this sight had stirred up some sentiment within me...I couldn't help but smile as I had one of those dream sequence flash backs, no not so far back to a time that involved big hair, bubble skirts and lycra, but rather to a time not so long ago, when I was playing lawn bowls...

It was almost 2 years ago that I developed a fondness for this gentle sport - and I don't have a problem admitting it. I was introduced to it the Sunday arvo that followed my 24th birthday celebrations, as a way to expend all the energy I had managed to accumulate and for some strange reason, couldn't rid myself of....I just wanted to dance.

Although I am a lot of things, I was 100% certain for the first 24 years of my life, a lawn bowls advocate would not be one of them. Blame Samuel Thomas and Claudia Karvan with their secret life at the St Kilda Bowls Club, blame Mick Molloy and his fantastic take on it all in Crackerjack, or just blame the fact that a Sunday sesh that involved expending as little energy as possible whilst still engaging in some friendly competition amongst mates after huge, riotous and non-stop weekends and enjoying RSL priced spirits and pots at the same time, was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I was an on-the-spot convert. I was born again.

To be honest, I had been sussing it out a few weeks before actually playing - well that is if you count heading down to St Kilda Bowls Club with a girlfriend for lattes and a chance to view the ever increasing eye candy that had started popping up on the greens, thanks to the new found publicity this sport was getting from the aforementioned. I was only waiting for the opportunity to give it a go, and of course someone that I could talk into doing it with me. In the end, that somebody found me.

A particular inner-Melbourne bowls club became my second home over the weekends, and me and a mate would often spend weekday evenings after work having a drink with Shirley, Alfie, and Frank while getting the benefit of Jim's expertise on how to improve the legs and grass of our bowling (Oh my, has it been that long? I am having problems remembering their names already!).

It became a perfect way to unwind whether it was after work or after Revolver, considering they sometimes had a DJ play for Sunday sesh's(!), although my folks had a hard time believing that I had taken this sport up to some extent, though only a social extent. In fact I am certain that even now, they think me saying I was down on the green was a metaphor for smoking some green, and that I have still never actually set foot inside a bowls club.

With a $5 joining fee for those who only wanted to play socially, it was only a matter of time before a real vibe started developing as the average age of members decreased dramatically over an amazingly short period of time. It got to the stage where you would be waiting for your chance on the green just like you wait for a lane in a bowling alley.

My mate even took it a step further and started donning the whites when they needed a fill in, but I was never quite that committed. It was really great to witness an older generation embracing a younger generation in this way, and vice versa. Sundays were simply a day to have a beer and bowl, regardless of age, with training tips and playing pointers going out for young and old by the young and the old.

The 'original' club members even shocked me from time to time, and they were always great to have a yarn with. One incident remains epsecially clear in my mind. Upon finding myself lost for something to do one Saturday afternoon I had decided to head to the club for a quiet drink and introduce a friend to the ways of lawn bowling. You see Saturdays was match day, and unless it was a home game, you were guaranteed some peace and quiet and the greens to yourself until about 6 or 7pm. It had completely slipped my mind that this particular day was the match for the Club Championships - As it turned out, they had won. We walked in to find the person responsible for the winning play of the day being passed around, as he was hoisted on shoulders, champagne corks popping, beer flowing, and the music absolutely pumping - yep they had organised the usual Sunday sesh DJ to come and get their party started Pink style, and they were in for the long haul.

When the Club closed for the Winter season least year, I was left with a void to fill. Having had my Sundays sorted for so long and with such ease, me and my mate were at a loss as to how to finish up our weekends.

But we soon discovered that closed greens didn't necessarily mean closed clubhouse - and it was great to learn that the conversation still flowed between the generations, with or without the bowling.

Thursday, May 6

Talk Back Japanese Style - And Some Really Bad Hair

About 3 weeks ago, I had the chance to appear on a Japanese Talk Back Style of Show.

It happened quite by accident, the way most things seem to occur in my life, yet at the same time it came as no surprise to me or to those that know me. You could say that it was merely a matter of time.

So the story goes....I was attempting to have a quiet night at home on Tuesday with Pete, Cal, Jordan, Shiori and some of the neighbours when I got a call from this guy, whose boss at the bar he manages is also a casting agent and he needed a gaijin chick for a Japanese Talk show who could speak basic Japanese the very next day. I was asked if I could do it, but I decided to initially pass because my Nihongo is so chotto dake - I explained that I speak Ja-Lang, not Nipponese - though I offered to find someone suitable.

So I phoned a friend Eddie-style, a wonderful chicky babe mate from Sydney, who djs at a local bar, and who also speaks a little less Ja-Lang and a whole lot more Japanese. She agreed to do it, and we set a time to meet the next morning. I was pretty excited at getting the chance to see some Japanese TV production action.

Meanwhile a situation had developed in my home - the reason for the collection of people in the first place was that Shiori, who I was told was a more than capable hairdresser, was coming to dye my hair blonde - we had had an indepth discussion the previous weekend on the difference between what I call Japanese Blonde (ie bright yellow and orange) and Western blonde hair, and I was assured over and over that she knew how to handle my hair *mental note - next time make sure such a conversation takes place at a reasonable time of day and not at 3am at the bar whilst waiting in line for another G&T, but probably more importantly, have the conversation in the same language, for Shiori does not speak English, and last time I tried, my Nihongo was not so sugoi*

Just a question, please tell me if I am over reacting, something I have been guilty of doing once or twice in my life - What kind of a hairdresser applies the bleach - or in this case paint stripper - , gladwraps it up and then takes off giving you instructions in another language AND no toner? Because I reckon exactly 30 minutes after she left I was taking photos of my hair, sending them to her from my phone and asking her to clarify for me whether my hair was a bright yellow or bright orange (the light in my house is bad, I wanted to be sure). Just to get an idea of how bad it was, I got the Q-tip, Casper, Whitey and Snowie jokes all night and then when another friend was trying to find her way over, pete yelled down the phone "We'll stick Lizzie out on the balcony and look for the beacon that is her glowing head."

HORRIFYING to say the least but I wasn't too perturbed at this stage, because I immediately planned to get up early, redye and then head to the taping with Ange. I found out rather rudely that the chemist near me doesnt open till 11am and since we had to leave by 9.30 the next morning, I had to make do with a whole lot of hairclips and a hat. All was stylin' as long as the hat was staying on.

The taping location was at this little bar, north of osaka. We walked in and Ange freaked, and skipped out within a 30 second time frame - that's all you can really say about that. A lot of the time when gaijin appear on Japanese TV, they are made fun of and it hadn't helped that the night before, a friend had been in her ear about that. Although, my friend had assured me this wouldn't be the case and he wouldn't lie to me about that.

I mecha apologised, grabbed my bag and made my way out but was stopped with an 'Ok so you do it.' I laughed and explained I would be up there in a heartbeat rocking the mic with everybody loving me if it werent for 2 major problems being my japanese level and my hair - MY HAIR! It was this moment I decided to reveal my shame - You know, I think I saved the lighting guys a lot of time by taking my hat off...

I felt so responsible and so bad that they had been left in the lurch but I was like 'Mate, I know how you're feeling, Nana Mouskouri did the same thing to me back in Oz desho? WE were left like headless chickens trying to fill her segment. I feel your pain but under no circumstances am I going to go on air with THIS hair!' My Japanese level was the least of my worries - it is easy to fake with a lot of 'ah so desu, ah so desho ne?'.

I was sat down, funnily enough in the make up chair - and a few tequila shots later I was ready for anything (hell we were in a bar at 10am, I think the crew realised it was going to take a lot more than sweet talking to get me on the right side of the camera with my hair in the shambles it was).

A Brazilian hippy chick translated the script as best she could for me, and the Production Assistant stood there in my eye line with the quesions written English - which was kinda ironic because I am blind as a bat without my glasses anyway, but nobody knew that (of course it was dame for me to wear my glasses during taping - I don't get the attitude towards chicks with glasses in this country since it seems 9 out of every 10 people here are wearing them or contacts!).

And I have to admit, the crew were lovely - which made a great change....no wardrobe chicks with bad attitudes (they loved my clothes, I guess I somehow knew I would end up on tv, because I had bought 3 wardrobe changes with me), no jaded camera operators, audio people who had microphones in every colour (I even got a pink mic when I changed into my pink top), and a crew that ran to time - not a minute over time, not even a second over time. But this is Japan remember. At the same time, everyone had fun, or at least through my tequila goggles it seemed they were.

Plus we got an awesome lunch at this great Japanese restaurant which would have cost a small fortune to feed us all, no dodgy catering here - and a bar full of what ever we wanted to drink. I was a bit of a novelty because the crew were all so keen to practice their English with me and the best bit about it all.

The weird thing was though, everyone kept calling the host of the show 'Sense' which means teacher. I was like what the...? So I just didnt call him anything, not even late for dinner. He had a lot of attitude towards me, quite possibly because I stole his thunder, seeing as I was pretty funny - when u have little as little Nihongonese as I do to work with, in come the charades. And I was hilarious. Seriously, I had to take as much attention away from my hair as possible.

And the topic? Well this show focussed on the attitudes that different nationalities have towards sex, because the Japanese, even in the age of the Love Hotel, tend to be very conservative when it comes to sex.

The questions I had to answer are another story - let me just stand by what I always say, that actions speak louder than words. At least no-one will recognise me, what with my hair being dyed to the colour I was originally hoping for the second taping was over.

Some people say I have a flair for the dramatic - I just call it my creative streak.

Wednesday, May 5

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

This is a little piece I wrote last year, about the trials and tribulations of interacting with the opposite sex in this day and age of ultra-advanced communication methods....and how such advances such as text messaging and emails only seem to leave more room for even more misintepretation by both sexes... (all names have been changed to protect myself from any embarrassment - I guess some background information is in order to fully understand the predicament I was in during the following tale, but that will come in time).

Feb 27 2003 - Email to DJV

I had an intersting day yesterday. Well not really but late in the arvo I get this text msg from "G" - "hows things chick?".

Just like that - hows things chick?

So i, in absolute raptures to be getting this communication, reply (a little too quickly as you are about to learn) "good-long time between drinks" and then hear absolutely nothing from him.

Seriouisly DJV, what....what the....WHAT IS WITH THAT?? - "hows things chick?" - Out of the blue, after so long, and then complete silence from the other end. I mean what does IT mean?

You are about to get a lesson - wanted ot unwanted - into how a girl's mind
works - some (the male population) might say overworks....I know for fact, after having countless identical conversations with my sistas, pouring over mobile phones in an effort to extract information from these obvously encrypted messages sent to us by you boys, that I am not alone in feeling utterly confused and mislead by the male text message format and content. It's a chick thing I guess.

So u get a msg from someone u like - let's pick one at random ...say let's use G and his prime example "hows things chick?"

It can't possibly just end there - there has to be some meaning behind it all but what it is, I still dont know. All bets are that you will probably try and tell me he simply is asking how things are. Nice try but you couldn't be further from the truth.

You see a comment so seemingly neutral like "hows things chick?" can be taken in so
many ways, and you can't just hurriedly answer back with an off hand "good" or "fine" or whatever it is your are actually feeling. The "chick" receiver has to think about what she wants to convey too - should I be taking it as an insult? Is he just being nice and really doesnt want to know, or is he trying to get at something more like "how are you coping without me?" or even "do you want to meet for sex sometime soon?"

First of all note punctuation, grammar etc....no capitals used, no apostrophies, nothing but a question mark. Anything unusual about this? Not in this case, as I am surprised he has managed to spell any of it correctly anyway.

Next factor to consider is language used. In this particular case, I have been provided with an interesting word selection (of course, this would not be obvious to anybody but the girl that has received the message) - chick. Okay fine if it was me writing to him because I use that sort of lingo all the time, whether I was talking to my sister in arms, getting jiggy on a drive by or shaking my boom boom like a hoochie mama (u get my drift?), I am noted for my sometimes unusual and (let's just admit it outright) humurous word usage. The boy in question, is not (unless you count fisting as his contribution to the english language and I don't).

Here we have a case where he is attempting to adopt my language style and turn it around on me. G has tried to do this in the past by using MY words, always incorrectly too, AND by calling me Dizzy, which shat me more than anything cause he just doesnt call me that. It's a name reserved for a special few. Anyway, G was one of the first in a long time to start calling me Lizzie again, and THAT was kewl - if you hadda met me 18 mths ago, I would have been just been Liz from the block.

Still his word choice could be an indication that he is thinking about me. Important stuff. He wouldnt and doesnt call anyone else just chick. However, he didn't use his nickname for me - G (for grumpy because I am the happiest person he knows), and that is unsettling. Is he demonstrating that the love just isn't there anymore? Is there somebody else on his scene?

Also bear in mind tone and accentuation - just think back to the infamous "These preztels are making me thirsty" and you should immediately see what I am getting at. Is it just a casual "hows things chick?" with a little "alright?" tacked on the end, and a pat on the bsck to complement it? Or is he seriosuly asking me with lowered voice and looking into my eyes, "hows things......chick?" This is how he asked me last time, in such a serious way, that i knew he wasn't looking for the light hearted "fine."

As you can now see, it took me a good couple of hours to come up with what I did - "good-long time between drinks" and I fear now I have sent the wrong message back to him - literally and figuratively. In hindsight, I should have slept on it, and done something with it this morning with the old "good and u?" but instead I had to take it one step further and imply in some small way that I would like to catch up with him, and worse, that I want to have sex with him. It wasn't until after sending the doomed message that I realised "long time between drinks" could be misconstrued as "long time between shags." In my innocence, I had wanted to somehow convey that I wanted to catch up (with out actually saying it in so many words - i dont want him to think i want to see him). Yet as a result of not carefully choosing my words, I have sent back a desperate, horny love cry for help.
Had I have included "and u?" chances are i would have got a blase "good" back, but if he didn't reply, then I know the first message to begin with "hows things chick?" was just him being polite and not really caring at all.

I have totally scared him off with my over zealous texting. I couldn't just stick to neautral "good and u?" could i? I hate neutral but god, it really is THE rule to follow.

Now I will never know. I am sentenced to wander this earth alone.

I guess a final last thing to contemplate is that the sender could really only mean what he has written. G may have just been asking me how I was. But I doubt it - since when have guys been that easy to figure out??

So what the HELL does it mean anyway? (i am trying to stop my excessive use of the f-bomb, nice girls shouldnt use it i guess and i am trying to be a nice girl). This irks me. If he thinks keeping up a friendship is an occasional (okay more like seldom) msg and the promise of a call that never comes then he has another thing coming. I am going to so kick anything to do with him to the curb. Just as I think I am getting along fine without him and he only occupies my thoughts now let's see 90% of my waking time, this message comes along and kickstarts my heart and that little glimmer of hope flashes its pearly whites at me again and my head goes crazy. Cause i know what this means and it kills me. In the next
couple of weeks he will either call or i will do one of my infamous accidental I-just-bumped-into-you deals and when that happens, he will tell me how much he misses me, how much he loves me, how this is killing him, and how we can't be together.

I think the only solution is to disconnect my mobile phone.


Sunday, May 2

しまうた (Shima Uta)

"Shima uta yo kaze ni nori tori to tomo ni umi wo watare
Shima uta yo kaze ni nori todokete okure watashi no namida"

(Island Song, ride the wind, with the birds, across the sea
Island song, ride the wind, carry my tears with you)

- Shima Uta, The Boom

You know when you first hear a song and feel an instant affinity with it? Well this is what happened when I first heard the tune Shima Uta - a title that has the fitting meaning of Island Song.

Transfixed by the unique melody so new to my ear, I was motivated to seek this song out and study the meaning of the lyrics. I was 100% sure that the words would be equally as mesmerising.

The entire song sounds different to any style of music I have ever listened to before - it is not just simply a Japanese song, but a song based on the musical sounds of Okinawa, an island to the south of mainland Japan.

Using the jamisen, an instrument best described as a type of guitar, that is made from snake skin, the instrumental workings of this song are so powerful that it is easy to get lost in the music and almost be transported to a tropical evening on a beach in Okinawa somewhere...

The song represents a mixture of emotions - from an uplifting hope and gentleness, that perhaps plays out the naivete of a new but magnificent love, to the underlying and harmonising minor chords used throughout that indicate a sadness at the acceptance that this love, whilst a true love still in the hearts of those involved, has left the Island forever.

I am not sure of the exact reasons why this song has become so special to me, but it seems to stir up a lot of sentiment within everytime it is played, and has now become intertwined forever with particular and spectacular memories, that will forever symbolize my time in Japan for me.