Friday, 1 August 2014

Week 2 (in working progress)

After experiencing real rural life in Japan with Maki`s family the rest of the trip had a lot to live up to. On Sunday we headed to Osaka to sample something very different... Osaka proved to be weirder, wilder and more chaotic than even Tokyo. Osaka station was like a futuristic mall with many very international shops, from the Italian gelateria chain Grom to an English scone cafe, there really is something for everyone. A little disorientated from the sudden change in environment, we still managed to find our way to Shinsaibashi where our capsule hotel was located.

The setup of the capsule hotel was a little strange; take off your shoes at the door, put in locker, pay for capsule in gender separated area, part from anyone of the opposite sex who is with you and feel lonely. After a very good Indian meal and a walk around the chaotic and lit up central area and river we took advantage of our capsule hotel facilities in a very lonely manner. I went to the naked onsen and sauna alone, browsed the common manga reading room, walked past sleeping business men in massage chairs and a row of sad vending machines (mainly selling drinks but there was also a cup noodle vending machine and one which provided ice cream), then tucked myself into the tube bed.

We awoke early the next morning to take the Koya line from Shin Imaya to Kudoyama to walk the Choishi Michi pilgrim trail to Koyasan. We bought the Wakayama world heritage pass at the station which covers transport to and from Koyasan for 2 consecutive days., which cost around 2000 yen. The train journey took about an hour to Kudoyama. We arrived at the station with plenty of water and snacks, not knowing when the next vending machine/cafe would be. A little bewildered at the lack of signs, we asked a Japanese lady for directions. We were walking down the hill when 5 minutes later she appeared in her car and offered us a lift to the start point, the Jison-in temple. We saw buddhists performing their morning rituals before climbing the steep steps to the first stone marker. The pilgrimage started in a sun-exposed plum orchard and was very steep and tiring. Both of us ended up walking topless, which was okay due to the lack of people stupid enough to do this trail in this 35 degrees celcius heat. Finally the trail became more shaded thanks to bamboo, which turned into a more coniferous forest with the ascent. There are about 220 stone markers which indicate how far you are. We had a 23km hike in front of us, and little to indicate how close we were. Our aim was to reach the Daimon gate, but you quickly lose sense of time and geographical location when inside the endless labyrinth of trees. There were only brief breaks in the trees where we could get a good look at the forested mountains surrounding us. After 17km we reached a tea shop at the foot of mt. Koya and got some drinks from the vending machines. The last steep ascent was tiring and, for me at least, a little thrilling given the threat of bear attack. We didn't see any but there were plenty of warning signs, and Japanese walkers carried bells to scare them away. Upon arriving at the Daimon gate we were really too tired to appreciate it. After a quick photo we sluggishly walked through town to find our lodgings for the evening.

Most people who visit Koyasan (ourselves included) want to experience a temple stay. This is an incredibly overpriced experience,  but interesting nonetheless. After much deliberation I had booked the Shojoshin-in, the second largest temple in Koyasan and one of the oldest. It was indeed very beautiful, made of wood and set within a peaceful zen garden. Our room was Japanese style, similar to that which we had already slept in but with a table for tea, a balcony overlooking the garden and a mini shrine. There was a very good Japanese communal bath and yukata were provided in the room. Highlights of the temple stay experience for most people are the morning buddhist ritual and the vegan buddhist food. We ate in a personal dining room downstairs with a view of the pond (complete with koi). Food was served on the floor and in many little bowls, the presentation was excellent. In addition to the cold offerings a waiter came through and gave us a big bowl of rice and a pot of green tea. Though some of what I ate was interesting, I regrettably must admit that some of these tastes and textures probably don't match the western palate too much. The tofu for example was far more gelatinous than I like and rather plain. The fried tofu that was served in the morning on the other hand was very good. Starting the day with rice and green tea is also always quite nice. The morning ritual was also admittedly quite tiring as we were woken up at 6.20 to go downstairs for 6.30. It was interesting and we both felt quite a bit of admiration for the buddhist monks, but after breakfast we also went back to bed for a couple of hours... After visiting the head temple and graveyard we took the bus and cable car back down to Gokurakubashi station, from which we took the Koya line back to Osaka. From Osaka we took the shinkansen to Hiroshima.

Arriving in Hiroshima was more emotionally shocking than I had expected it to be. Walking to the hostel it was crazy thinking that just over half a century ago this city had experienced so much pain and suffering. Ks hostel was very friendly and clean. That evening we took the tram over to the Atomic bomb dome and got a glimpse of the destruction that the little boy bomb caused. After a walk through the peace park we ate some tiny portions of Mexican food at Otis, just beyond the Hiroshima peace memorial museum.

The following day we did something entirely different with the knowledge that we would be returning to this more somber attraction the next morning. After one hour in the train (with one change) we took a ferry to Okunoshima, otherwise known as bunny island. It is a little bit of a mystery as to whether or not the ancestors of these rabbits were used to test the effectiveness of the chemical weapons at the poison gas factory during world war II. Whatever the reason might be, for some reason the island is now overrun with semi-wild bunnies which follow you and sometimes "attack" for food in stampedes. Upon arriving on the island we were approached by a girl who asked us for a little of our time. Before we knew it we ended up in a documentary about foreigners coming to the island and posed some awkward on-the-spot questions, like what we knew about the history of the island and how it coincided with the presence of the bunnies. Whilst walking around the surprisingly pretty and jungle-like island we were often followed by hungry bunnies who we happily fed. Every so often we came across some world war II ruin, such as the power plant and chemical weapons factory. Around midday we headed back to Hiroshima, from which we took another ferry to Miyajima island to see itsukushima shrine and the "floating" tori gate with dusk light. Along the beach there were friendly deer like the ones we saw in Nara, one of which ate our map. The island was very pretty but our feet hurt, so rather than a hike to its various temples we sat down and enjoyed the scenery.

Our last morning in Hiroshima was spent at the peace memorial museum. This visit was informative, moving and at the same time disturbing. It gave an outline of the history of Hiroshima before the atomic bomb, during and after, then made a seriously good argument to promote a peaceful future before hitting us with shocking images, artifacts and stories which provided a little insight into the horrors that radiation can do to the human body. The whole exhibit was surprisingly very neutral and the two hours spent in the museum were very emotional. I left Hiroshima impressed at the people`s determination to move on and push for a peaceful world, and relieved to leave a place with such a recent trauma. In the afternoon we took a shinkansen and local limited express train to Takayama. The entire journey took about six and a half hours. As we passed Gifu and Gero the countryside became very green, beautiful and wild. We immediately noticed the rustic nature of Takayama upon arriving at the station and seeing the wooden turn stalls.

I am currently writing from Takayama. Our hotel, the Sakura guest house, is at the foot of a mountain leading up to the Hida folk village, which I visited today. This morning we cycled a little (with hired bikes from the hotel) through the old town, along the river and through rice paddy fields, before getting too hot, eating at a cosy western-style burger joint and then retreating to the hotel. I returned from the folk village with a sun burn. Tomorrow morning we are going out early for a half day tour to Shirakawa-go, a pretty little village with thatched roofed houses in the mountains.

We have less than one week left in Japan and then we will be heading to Vietnam. I have been impressed with what I have seen, but surprised by the considerable familiarity I feel towards Japanese culture.

Pictures to come soon!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

First week in Japan-in working progress

London was cool, beautiful, as I remember it, full of possibilities and it was good to catch up with some good old friends. Though I am still considering a masters down there, my gut feeling tells me to keep treating London as an occasional treat. If I were to live there I worry that the novelty of having the world at my feet would fade and I would be left feeling a little oppressed by the endless urban landscape.

One week on and I am here in Kyoto, escaping from the midday sun and high temperatures (currently 35 degrees celcius). My boyfriend and I stayed in Tokyo for a few days, we were hosted by a good friend who studied with me in Edinburgh and who now works in Tokyo. She lives in Sendagi near Ueno park. During our stay there we experienced one of those quintessentially Japanese temples of Kawaii, a cat cafe. We stayed for a very short period due to how expensive 15 minutes was, but got to cuddle and play with various cats. Quite a strange concept, but not really unsurprising considering the amount of cuteness in the streets of Tokyo. We had two vegetarian lunches (onigiri with miso soup and pickles, vegetable curry), ate and drank in a sake bar and tried out a Japanese karaoke booth. Site-wise we saw the Sensoji temple and the surrounding gardens, the sky tree tower, the Yoyogi park,  the super-cool Harajuku district and the mystical Meiji shrine. The climbing of Mount Fuji was cancelled due to a night of heavy monsoon rain, but we may go back towards the end. Suffering from jet lag and with little time to think and adapt always, in my experience, leads to a mini crises at the beginning of a journey in a far flung destination. Again, in my experience, these mini crises always resolve themselves and after a week or so being a nomad gets easier.

We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto on Sunday. It only took 2.5 hours to reach our destination, apparently about 7 hours less than by road. The views were mainly urban though there were some pretty mountain towns. Any flat land in Japan is quickly exploited for building and agriculture, due to the lack of space on this island. Upon arriving in Kyoto we were both pretty exhausted, though had to wait for the last of the monsoon rain to fall before we walked to our hostel.

After a couple of days of being in Kyoto I relaxed somewhat and started to feel more confident here in Japan... Finding animal-free food is a problem, but only due to the linguistic barrier. It is actually very common and vegan cafes and buddhist restaurants can be found in most places. In Kyoto I ate very well-from a delicious roast soya meat to a chewy tofu teriyaki burger with fries. My hostel (Khaosan Kyoto) was pretty cool; there was free internet, a great big kitchen and social lounge, the dorm beds felt very private thanks to the curtains, the bathrooms were clean and the location was very central. It was also probably the cheapest place in Kyoto. By the end of my stay in Kyoto I felt pretty fond of the place; there are so many green spaces, temples and shrines. We visited the huge temple and shrine complex in the deer park in Nara (where you can feed wild deer), Nijojo castle, the gion district and the impressive Tori gates at Fushima Inari. Walking through the Gion district at night we were lucky enough to see a curtain open on an elegant room full of sitting geishas. Later we saw one walking along the street accompanied by two business men. We were also there just in time for the Gion Matsuri festival, I managed to see the morning procession on Thursday morning. On Friday we went to Arashiyama to see the bamboo forest path, another greener part of Tokyo, and then later we headed to the Kiyomizu temple, a beautiful old wooden temple with a great view of Kyoto and the surrounding hills.

Late in the evening (after 11pm) we met up with my Japanese friend Maki again who accompanied us by train to her hometown in the Shiga prefecture.  Her house was typically Japanese and of course we were expected to remove our shoes upon entering and put on slippers. The first evening in Shiga we spent at her house with pretty much all of her family, all of whom seemed eager to have us there. We gave her parents the tea from Harrods and the German beer, which were both really well received, so much so that we were asked to pose for a photo with the gifts and with the hosts. Our bedroom was huge, a large Japanese style room with tatami mats and split into compartments: the largest space for sleeping, the Shinto shrine (to honour the ancestors) and the small annexed eating area which opens to the garden. Naturally, we slept on futons. In the morning we had a traditional Japanese breakfast (steamed rice, salad, tofu and miso soup, mine was dashi free, accompanied by green tea). Shortly after breakfast we headed into the countryside where we browsed a family porcelain shop and had some hot matcha with Japanese sweets. After we continued our drive into rural Shiga and arrived at Maki`s grandma`s house, which was quintessentially Japanese; a wooden house set amongst rice fields with rice paper sliding doors, tatami mats and decorated with origami. We ate cold soba noodles with cucumber and mint and a soy-lemon dipping sauce, followed by an orange sweet bread. After a sleep, a short walk and an origami lesson we indulged in homegrown rice, tempura made with vegetables from the garden and okonomiyaki. Each meal was accompanied by a cold rice tea. This was the first time that we felt full since being in Japan. That evening Maki`s mother and grandma dressed me up in a traditional yukata and we went to the Shiraraki summer festival. There was a procession of people with flaming torches who walked from one shrine up a mountain to another shrine. As the bulk of them reached the top taiko drummers began to play and a long and impressive firework display commenced. In the evening we went home for fresh watermelon from the garden and some grapes, as always accompanied by ice cold cha.

The following day we had a similarly generous breakfast and then headed back to Maki`s house to pack our bags. On route we stopped off at one of the best preserved ninja houses in Japan and discovered that pancakes, or "hot cakes" are very popular in Japan in a trendy cafe where we also drank chocolate soya milk. Maki`s family was extremely generous with us, giving us fans, taking us to see interesting places and letting us try some delicious and authentic meals and snacks. After packing an overnight bag Maki`s family arranged for our bags to be sent on to Koyasan where we would be going the next day after a long hike, and we took a train to Osaka to experience a capsule hotel.

More info and Photos to come soon!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

homeward bound?

In the last two weeks I have lazed around in the glen studying Japanese, walking, pampering the pussy cats and watching movies. I spent a couple of days in Edinburgh, found a flat, had a nice visitor, tardily packed my backpack for Japan and Vietnam and headed south on a long full day road trip, not knowing whether I would ever return to my home in the glen. Setting off at 3am on the 7th July my dad and I took a whirlwind tour of Britain, from the highlands to St Ives in Cornwall via Edinburgh airport, the Scottish borders, Newcastle, Lindisfarne, the angel of the north, Sherwood forest, Cambridge, Stonehenge, Exeter and Glastonbury tor. En route we also saw a surreal apocalyptic scene, fireballs coming out from the clouds in Cambridgeshire and smoking as they came closer to the earth. We arrived at our final destination at about 7pm, making this a tiring 17 hour drive.. Unfortunately on this trip I will have no time to visit my birth place, Bath, though this is potentially something I will do at the end of August.

Months ago upon arriving in Milan I quoted Nelson Mandela. This wasn't because I wanted to be pretentious, but rather it rather fitted the moment...

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."

Never has this quote been more applicable than now. The last time I was here (in St Ives) was in March 2010 when I received a conditional offer from Edinburgh University. I have not been in England for over four years, aside from my brief time spent waiting at Gatwick airport back in January, earlier this year. I made a similar trip from South to North.

St.Ives, Cornwall

cat asleep in food bowl

There are two main factors influencing my relatively unique and slightly more objective fresh perspective. Firstly, despite having lived in Devon, Dorset and Somerset for most of my life I no longer see the west country as a place in which I am stuck. Secondly, having been out of the country for so long I have forgiven some of the country's faults and can compare it with other countries in which I have lived, so have been able to find more of the country's qualities.

Immediate observable differences between Scotland and England: down south it is definitely warmer, the accent is different and the stone used for building is much nicer. Arriving in Cambridgeshire I was reminded how attractive English houses can be; the cottages are far more colourful and the prevalence of thatched roofs makes a welcome change to the grey slates and pebble dash used in far too many Scottish towns. Moving south the accents changed dramatically, though admittedly I am far more familiar still with southern variants. The west country has always been recognised for its mild climate thanks to the gulf stream of Mexico; this is evidenced by the fact that palm trees are common place, shoals of dolphins grace this coastline and in winter there is hardly ever any snow. As a child this was something that greatly irritated me, though Scotland has readdressed the balance by offering snowy winters and summers which feel more like autumn.

After living in France and Italy for a bit and travelling a lot I must also emphasise that I do not agree with the European stereotype that the English are always cold and snooty; only in the UK will you see passengers thanking bus drivers. Our etiquette may appear fussy but I think that it is generally very useful in protecting people from non-constructive criticism and uncomfortable situations. I also appreciate more than ever the great variety of international cuisines which are available both in terms of dining out and ethnic food aisles in supermarkets. Here it is easy to sample Japanese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, American, Mexican, French, Italian, Polish, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Moroccan, Spanish cuisines. The British could do with a bit of European moderation and exercise though, testament in the most recent statistics regarding British obesity... It would also be nice to see a change in attitude towards Europe amongst the many Euro-skeptics in this country. Nowhere is perfect, clearly, but one can pull out the qualities and flaws of a society more easily after living there and then stepping back and experiencing something else.

So I stayed in a static caravan for the last few days in Hayle, a coastal town around the corner from St Ives. This is really a quintessentially English holiday destination. In the “resort” there is a fish and chip shop, a swimming pool (which I made use of), a cringe-worthy club, and there is the possibility to hire a surf or body board. We were minutes from a great big white and sandy beach and a pub with a beer garden (another thing I missed in Scotland). These beer gardens are very common in south England and are usually very family friendly. We visited St Ives, walked from St Ives to Zenner along the National Trust coastal path, saw wild seals and dolphins, drank cider, tea and ate a Cornish pasty. In a way it was a bit of a shock to find myself in this part of the country again; the smells, sights, accents and tastes were familiar but at the same time now a little exotic. I can see the appeal in the rolling green hills and thorny hedgerows which once symbolized conservationism and oppression in my mind.

Campsite in Hayle

Walk from St.Ives to Zennor

Cornish pasty (wholemeal with mixed veg)

Yesterday I had lunch in Exeter before spending the evening with family and friends in Lyme Regis, the town where I spent most of my time growing up. It was prettier and less hostile than I remembered it, the weather was fantastic (sunny, warm and wind-free). Being in these places again was pretty strange... Even though I can't see myself living in such a rural and touristic area again for a prolonged period, I see the allure of the Celtic mythology and idyllic country landscape. The west country is without a doubt one of the prettiest and culturally rich parts of the United Kingdom.

I am curious about what London will stir inside of me. London is still a place where I can imagine living one day, be it for postgraduate studies or work. Even though I often felt slightly caged in Lyme Regis, I always saw London as a gateway to the world, a cultural melting pot in which you can travel the globe in tastes, languages, museums and architecture.

I have come to realize that I don't feel a great degree of affinity towards Britain or the UK as a whole.. Home for me is a familiar place characterized by memories and warm feelings. A nation really is just an attempt to find commonalities between many tribes and create a super imagined tribe, a political tool of some sort. I do however feel my roots strongly in certain places which have shaped me, and see similarities and familiarity in nearby places, a gradient which fades with geographical distance. A common language also helps break down these arbitrary frontiers. One can indeed notice a great European common identity when in a culturally and geographically very distant place such as India or China, and people with relatively similar cultures unite when in an apparently alien environment. Home for me is where you lay down some great memories and meet some great people.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Eastward bound

I am back in the glen, and there's something taking up a lot of my time...

Not this, but relating to this.. (first attempt at painting a bamboo traditional Japanese scroll-style)

Increasingly I am finding myself looking East. Indology would have probably been the best none-language course I would have ever studied, had I been allowed to continue it when in Milan...  If I had to study a "dead" language it would probably be Sanskrit, though modern languages do excite me more offering a key to another culture. Many of my teenage years were spent reading and watching anime and manga, letting go of reality with studio Ghibli, watching some really weird movies like the Happiness of the Katakuris (advertised as a cross between the Sound of Music and Dawn of the Dead) playing pokemon games, Japanese art (from Hokusai to stories from Japanese mythology such as Kitsune) and experimenting with (the cooking and consumption of) Japanese cuisine. I wasn't an Otaku, far from it, but I was curious. Though I have spent a bit of time studying Chinese in the last year, the first (and only) other Asian language I tried was Japanese. I did an introductory evening course at Edinburgh University, which covered greetings, demonstrative pronouns,  the counting systems, a bit of basic vocabulary and provided an introduction to the writing systems. Though I love the European languages I study (Italian and French), and do want to eventually master German too, were I to do a masters I would probably move to Asian studies. The problem resides more in the question: "which language?"

After a trip to China two years ago I became interested in teaching English in China. There are many opportunities in Asia for English teachers, especially in China, South Korea and Taiwan. To prepare I did a 120 hour TEFL course and started familiarising myself with the Chinese language. I was pretty intrigued when learning about the tonal system in Mandarin, the clues to the culture in the language (e.g. 吃醋-chī cù, which literally means "to eat vinegar" but has come to mean to be jealous in love, one of many expressions using food in the Chinese language).

Despite the ease of learning new vocabulary (rarely word-length exceeded 2 syllables) and the relatively easy grammar (hardly any inflection, SVO word order like in English), I have found myself quite overwhelmed by the daunting task of endlessly learning new kanji. It has been estimated that there are over 50,000 characters used in Chinese, though to read *only* about 3000 are needed.  Though I find these characters beautiful, as I am not prepared at this point of my life to put in the necessary time and effort into this neverending learning process, I concentrated more on pinyin, the latinised Mandarin "alphabet" (which is also used by Chinese people when they type; there is no way all of those characters could fit on a keyboard). My targets for learning Chinese were more travel-orientated, I wanted to reach conversational level fast and concentrate on being literate later. This was going pretty well until I started a formal language learning course at l'Université Stendhal in Grenoble, France. Learning about the origins of the characters was really interesting, and I did enjoy learning to recognise and write some basic characters. It did however distract me from my prime goal which had been going well during the summer. With characters there are never any short term goals, apparently just long term goals. Concentrating on characters when I knew that wasn't my real goal kind of killed off the fun for me, so I put Chinese language learning on hold. I still want to go back and complete this goal, though when I have more motivation (a second trip to China would be enough). My passion was slightly reignited by being around my Chinese flatmate in Milan with whom I spoke a little Mandarin, complimented me on my pronunciation, and who showed me China town and allowed me to relive the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

characters are beautiful, if not a little tricky to learn...

For some time I have wanted to visit Japan, both to see the country and to meet up with a good friend who is from Shiga but lives in Tokyo. This year I got a multi-ticket allowing me to get a taster of Japan and Vietnam, another country high on my priority list. When I bought the ticket my immediate instinct was to read the wikipedia page for the Japanese language. I remembered how easy Japanese pronunciation is (there is a simple syllabic structure and no tones), making it easy to get by as a tourist with a phrase book. The presence of two alphabets (hiragana usually for native words, katakana for foreign words) and the kanji borrowed from Chinese does indeed seem overwhelming, but knowing that there are two fixed alphabets certainly does allow you to set some short term goals and be able to read a lot more. There is also of course the possibility of using Romaji, the Japanese word for pinyin, though with Japanese this is less necessary as a learning tool given the ease of learning hiragana. Some aspects of the grammar present more of a challenge to me than Chinese, such as the lack of real defined pronouns; instead a subset of nouns (daimeishi) take this role. Personal pronouns are not always necessary though, as Japanese is a pro-drop language, which is quite weird considering the lack of information provided by the verb. Verbs appear to be pretty easy to conjugate in Japanese as you add a suffix to the verb stem to indicate a different tense (e.g. for the verb "to go": iki-masu (present tense), iki-mashita (past tense). The SOV word order is a little confusing at first but easy enough to get to grips with.

A few days ago my copy of Japanese for busy people  turned up in the post. There is a romaji version, but I opted for the kana one deciding that learning at least hiragana, and perhaps also familiarising myself with katakana, is a very manageable aim. It may at the very least help me in decoding menus and metro maps in Japan next month. There is also a CD to go alongside the exercises.  I think the main issues I am experiencing right now are to do with the particles (Japan's answer to prepositions, always a bugger) and the many rules to consider when expressing formality/politeness (the need to add -san after other people's names, the distinction between the simple and advanced polite forms, the various suffixes such as -masu and difficult-to-translate words like desu which just indicate politeness). Though the kana does present a little bit more of a challenge, I am finding it very doable and enjoy the decoding process. It is amazing when those little pretty squiggles start making sense. To help memorise hiragana I am using a combination of realkana and this handy drag-and-drop game. The biggest obstacle I am finding is the variation in written styles, e.g. sometimes "ko" こ is written like this, other times the two lines are joined together to create a z-like character. 

taken from here

I am going to focus on learning as much as I can in the 3 weeks without sacrificing leisure time and  jeopardising my final year of university (I have a long reading list which I have already started for 4th year). I downloaded the Japanese keyboard on my computer. Here is a taster of my hiragana learning process:

1. こんにち
Konnichiwa! * わ is actually the character which stands for "wa", but when you hear wa used as a grammatical particle (to indicate the subject) it is actually written as "ha" は. I have highlighted this usage in all of the sentences below to make it stick in my mind).  

2. おげんきですか? げんきです, ありが*!

*"u" () not pronounced but written in order to make the "o" of "to" longer.

Ogenki desu ka? Genki desu, arigato (long "o" as indicated by the "u" in the kana)!

3. わたし りす です。
Watashi wa Risu Desu
(my Japanese name, りす which also means squirrel).

4. わたしは22さい*です。
*sai indicates age

Watashi wa ni-ju ni desu.

5. わたし  かめら が ほしい です。

Watashi wa kamera ga* hoshii desu.

 *here the particle ga (が) is used to indicate the object.

6. わたし  にほんご お べんきょう したい*。

Watashi wa nihongo o benkyō shitai
*to express a desire the suffix "-tai" can be added to many verbs to express desire.

7. おねがいします! 


8. ラーメン を* ひとつ 〉ださい!

ramen wo hitotsu/futatsu kudasai!
*wo is used as a grammatical particle to indicate a direct object,
**ramen is written with katakana as it is a foreign word coming from Chinese

9. ねこ   かわいい と おもいます!

neko wa kawaii desu to omoimasu

10. わたしたち  あした ときょう に いきます。

Watatashitachi wa ashita tokyo ni ikimasu (ikimasen negative)

*ni, indirect object, destination. Word order: Subject (if any) + particle + time reference + destination + particle + verb.

11. かれ  どいつ * いきます

Kare wa doitsu ni ikimasu.
*ni is used to express movement.

12. わたし  らいしゅう 日本 に いきます

watashi wa raishuu nihon ni ikimasu

13. *すーさん さん  せんしゅう とうきょう に いきました。

Susan-san wa senshuu Tokyo (written in hiragana as Toukyou) ni ikimashita. 
*here I purposefully ommited the pronoun. Definitely not necessary after already saying it once.            

Sorry for boring anyone who isn't interested in the slightest. I am kind of using this moment as an opportunity to see which language I am most interested in and most comfortable with. Working in Asia (at least for a year) is still a possibility and I don't want to be completely incapable of communication next month in Japan! Sharing language goals publically also sometimes makes me a little bit more motivated, as if I fail I fail publically...                                                                                                                                           

Saturday, 14 June 2014

La fine

It is over. No more university until mid-September and I have done my last English lesson. I said my last goodbyes in the last few days. I just got caught in a crazy summer downpour on the way back from my final goodbye here. This always happens when I leave a place.  I am going home early tomorrow morning, albeit only for a few weeks. This home will however soon cease to be my home, so I guess I can rightfully call myself a bit of a nomad.  Here are a few highlights from the last three weeks.

My last visitors from Grenoble...

cheesy Italian pop at the RadioItalia concert
extravagent tombs at the monumental cemetary

Discovering Moscova

Free yoga in Parco sempione

Coping with 35 degrees celcius again

Eating a lot of Milanese food...

Brazil! Corso Buenes Aires
Ciao for now
I have been coming to this part of the world for the last five years, established friend groups and found myself integrated into Italian society. The Italian language has certainly allowed me to explore parts of myself which I didn't know existed. This departure is bittersweet, but it's definitely time to go. I look forward to my next language adventure/journey, but now it's time to spend a bit of time with the kitties, cool down and catch up on hummus consumption.

Next stop: Edinburgh, the highlands, Cornwall, Cambridge, London, Japan, Vietnam

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Maiwoche in Osnabrück

Three months later and I found myself in Germany again. This time I flew to Bremen rather than Berlin or Frankfurt. 12 degrees celcius outside versus the 27 degrees over in Milan. The first day was quite chilly, though it was refreshing driving from Bremen airport to Osnabrück; the concrete structures, roadworks and high rise buildings of Milan were replaced with rolling green hills and doll house-like buildings, each one unique. I cheekily removed my own cast during this trip as it was damp and really itchy, but I will still be taking it easy for a few weeks...

We visited Münster, the so-called "nicer city" when comparing it to Osnabrück. I found the architecture very similar (think of the most stereotypical European toy town), though the cathedral was very different to others I have seen in Europe. Medieval features were either retained, as in the case of the astrological clock, an impressive feat of engineering, and a few baroque features, or replaced with creative contemporary interpretations. The stained glass windows were very different, depicting cartoon like feline friends rather than the normal evangelists, etcetera. We had a late lunch at Krawummel after walking around the centre. This vegan restaurant has great reviews and I has definitely earned them. On offer were several falafel dishes, three burgers, a soup and dish of the day (which sounded great) and many cakes and hot beverages. We both couldn't resist the veggie steak burger and ordered a side dish of potato wedgies and some grapefruit lemonade. The burger was a massive triple layer and came filled with onion rings, barbeque marinated "steak" pieces, sweet chilli and a little bit of salad for good measure. We got vegan sour cream and ketchup for dipping. Seriously yummy place, I would return. In the evening we went to a variety perfomance show. Unexpectedly there were tables and you could order food and drinks from the menu whilst you watched the show. It was a combination of acrobatics, dance and comedy. I didn't understand most of the comedy, though I was told some of it was on the verge between being funny and being unacceptable humour.


Old meets new

Triple veggie burger and wedgies at Krawummel

The next day came as a bit of a surprise to me, as my boyfriend proposed we take a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam... Why not? I hadn't been since I was 11, that time I arrived late with my parents and we ended up staying in a brothel for the first night, much to the amusement of the tourist information the next day. I knew it would be interesting coming back 11 years later. It took just two hours to get there from Osnabrück, on the way we spotted a windmill, and we went into the centre using the park and ride. It struck me how consistently beautiful the city was. The architecture in the city centre reminded me of some parts of Manhatten, particularly East village and lower East side. The buildings were old but again, all unique. The city has retained much of its old charm. The canals are all lined with trees, and bicycles are everywhere. We walked around a few main sites and I wondered how much I would remember, walking under the flat where Anne Frank was hiding from the Nazis, around the red light district and the station I got a few flashbacks, though just images rather than real spacial recognition. At least some part of me hasn't changed in the last 11 years, I still felt extremely sad looking at the prostitutes commodifying themselves in the shop windows. Red lights, pink cushions, bikinis and formulaic flirting techniques which had men drooling, most of these women seemed to be immigrants, likely too poor to have a real say in the matter, even if working out of their own free will. For most prostitutes this job is just a means of earning money. Stag night parties, old men and a great array of sad and lonely individuals seemed to be the main clientel, people who would probably not be there if they could experience the real deal. It seemed as simple as going clothes shopping. I completely agree in the liberalisation of prostitution, in that hopefully there would be less human trafficking, higher taxes on prostitution and more laws to protect worker's safety, but as an industry it really is pretty sad.

The so-called coffee shops are also everywhere, the smell usually comes before the sign and many seem to have neighbouring shops which sell food for those who have the munchies, such as American cakes and fast food. Good business strategy. 

Of course, this kind of scene was common place...

One *very* chilled out kitty

The flat where Anne Frank's family hid

cute little house

We spent a large part of the afternoon chilling in a park by a canal under the sun, after having walked all around the centre. We sought out a cat shelter on a barge, but it was closed by the time we arrived. We had lunch in a cute little burger place near the canals where we got a bagal tapas sharing dish, featuring hummus and vegetarian tuna salad from the vegetarian butcher, which was really weird. Later we munched on vegan sweets bought at candy freaks and dined at Maoz's vegetarian falafel. On the way home we saw a crazy dream-like red moon hovering in the sky. We were not able to capture it on camera. I would love to go back to Amsterdam for more time one day. It's a really beautiful and vibrant city.

juice and veggie bagel tapas

gelatine-free fizzy cola bottles at Candy Freaks

Raw white chocolate-not sure where!

The sun followed us from Amsterdam to Osnabrück the following day, and the 12 degrees celcius went up to 27. We had a mainly veggie barbeque in the garden, with salad, lupin burgers, fresh bread, various dips and soya sausages. In the evening we headed to the centre to take part in the Maiwoche festival, where there were numerous stalls selling food and drink, many drunk people and in the very centre there was a familiar May pole. I tried a strawberry wine drink, erdbeerbowle, which is apparently traditional during this season, an alternative to the beer drank by the masses.We ate fried cauliflower too...

After a tasty and inexpensive breakfast buffet in town on Sunday we went up the many stairs to reach the Marienkirche, from the top I realized how hilly and green Osnabrück really is. As you can see in the photo, urban areas are all separated by parks, gardens and trees. Green spaces are abundent. From the turret we watched a Dutch marching band emerge from a side street into the main square, where they played uplifting music in a very casual manner. I bought some delicious hot sugar nuts from one of the festival street vendors before we cycled home. I guess I won't be able to eat them again until Christmas time, which is a terrible thought. That afternoon we headed to the botanical garden, a place we had already visited in January. An old quarry was converted into a seemingly natural gorge, which is now full of life and an oasis from town life. There was a children's theatre event going on in the garden with very well-done theatre productions aimed at children, but interesting also for us. It felt very familiar to me, despite being in a different country. Again we ate in the garden, eating lentil lasagne and basking in this unexpected sun.

View from the Marienkirche

children's theatre at the botanic garden

On Monday I got a little taster as to what it is like to study cognitive science at university. It was surprising to hear that my soon-to-be final year professor of French literature at Edinburgh university Peter Dayan will be coming to Osnabrück as a guest speaker on neuroscience. I guess he is multi-talented. We ate at the university canteen, which is surprisingly incredible for vegetarians and vegans. Everything is labelled and the menu changes everyday, though there always seem to be chips and a salad bar. I had mushroom and tofu udon noodles with sesame roasted sweet potatoes and cucumber salad, accompanied with a bottle of Mate Charitea. I wish my university had such choice! I used this afternoon to start stocking up on veggie products to take back to Milan, as Germany is brimming with organic shops, including the great bio chain Denn's Biomarkt which sells plenty of interesting meat replacements, herbal teas, dairy free chocolate and fruit bars.

some veggie findings

Tuesday was my last full day, and we used it wisely: a cycle ride through a beautiful green forest to a lake which was surprisingly man-made, where we took a stroll. No photos unfortunately as I forgot... More and more so, I am starting to think that this may be la dolce vita after all. The emphasis on the importance of green spaces, good swimming pools and leisure facilities, organic shops, well-sourced fresh ingredients, colourful buildings and clean streets seems far more widespread here in Germany than in Italy, France or the United Kingdom. There is a definite inclination to keep the citizens of this country happy and healthy. After we headed back to the university canteen and then on to Schlecks, an institution in the town, where you can get ben and jerry's style chunky ice cream made there and then on the spot for you. In the evening we sat down with some friends to watch some inspirational climbing videos on an overscreen projector.

Yummy icecream at Schlecks

Today we went for a light breakfast at a cute and hip coffee shop called barista before walking around yet another pretty and seemingly natural park, catching the flowers whilst in full bloom and inhaling the smell of flower nectar. We then got lunch at a German Italian chain Va piano. From some respects I feel that the quality of Italian food abroad is often better than that found in Italy, in that this place offered really super fresh ingredients which were made on the premises. I left the pitiful little airport at Bremen this evening and eventually arrived home at around 10pm.

I really needed to stay in some cute little colourful town full of green spaces and tasty food and nice people for a bit. The universe seems to have resumed the right course and life is rather lovely. Flying over the now familiar but still majestic alps I was reminded of the fact that I will be seeing them again in 3 weeks when I head back to Scotland.