SEAS Graduates

“The bound-up brains of the St. Bernhard dog are held in equilibriam in the middle of the boulevard”

Who’d have thought that repeating phrases such as that above would help you learn the Kanji… 950 down, 1092 to go.

I heard yesterday that from my entire department (the School of East Asian Studies, encompassing Japanese, Chinese and Korean Studies), only 2 graduating students received Firsts this year. Is this abnormal?

I also realised that there’s going to be a maximum of 18 of us going to Japan for our third year, out of the 47 of us that started the course.

Congrats to my good friend Lars on winning the Margaret Daniels Award, in recognition of his degree which was the best in the entire department. What a clever chap!

The pain of wasp stings and visa applications

I was out in the garden by 7am again today. With Europe in the grips of a heat wave it’s the only way to survive long hours toiling away with a mattock and some huge great lumps of stone, part of the latest set of steps I have been commisioned to create on the Welsh Garden Project Site.

Although I was out in the glorious morning sunshine at 7am, it wasn’t until 8.15am that I really woke up fully: I accidentally stuck my hands into a wasps nest. The first I knew of it was a slight sting on my upper arm. “That’s odd”, I thought, “nettles don’t usually get me through this fleece top”. I looked down, and saw a wasp thrusting it’s spiked arse through my sweater and deep into my skin, injecting its sweet poison. That was swiftly followed by a further two piercings of my delicate flesh by the angry mob.

I RAN. And said “Fuck” quite a lot, then “shit” as I remembered that the lady of the house was tending her potatoes just the other side of the hedge.

But you know what? The swines followed me! They were very pissed off at being disturbed so early on a Monday morning (no doubt had a heavy night boozing and playing chess with flea-corpses); crawling all over my fleece and gloves, I squished them hard one by one, causing the venom that had been destined for my bloodstream to squirt out in the manner of a pregnant pubescent spot squeezed by a pair of tweezers.

That’s the point when I decided to stop clearing the brambles from by the woodshed, and instead to a) have breakfast and then b) construct the long-awaited stairway to heaven behind the orchid house (which incidentally houses old videos of Taggart, and no orchids).

Japan update: so it’s all go. Confirmation received for flights, visa (almost) aquired. Last Friday saw my epic voyage into the heart of the Capital to attempt to apply for the vital document that will enable me to study and work in Japan for a year come September. Needless to say, things did not go smoothly.

We (Twinkle and I) arrived at the embasssy at about 11.30am, giving me two hours to submit my application before they shut for lunch. Passing under the huge Japanese flag and into the cool of the building, I was greeted by two security guys, and an xray machine thingy, as seen at airports. In front of us was a pregnant Japanese woman. The following conversation then ensued:

Pregenant Japanese Woman: I’m pregnant. Do I have to go through the gate?
Security Guard: No madam, just put your bag on the conveyor, then you can go around.
PJW: What about my can of coke?
SG: It’s OK, just go around.
PJW: What? Are you saying I have to go through? I’m pregnant!
SG: No madam, it’s ok, you don’t have to go through the gate, please just go around.
PJW: (raised voice) What? Are you arguing with me?
SG: (somewhat surprised) No madam, please, it’s OK.
PJW: I can’t believe this! (Stomps around the gate to the other side as instructed. Goes to pick up back from other end of conveyor). I can’t believe this! You starting a fight with me! All I want is to go around! I’m pregnant!
SG: (looks bemused) OK madam…

When it came to my turn I emptied my pockets out, dumped my bag on the conveyor and walked through the gate. It beeped.

“Please, take your belt off”

said the security guard. I obliged, whilst holding my trousers up. All clear.

Once inside the embassy proper I took my ticket and waited. Soon, my number came up and I approached the window behind which stood the grumpy little jobsworth whom I feel I know personally having had numerous souless conversations with him over the past few months (he answers like a politician, always avoiding any direct response to your questions, and then speaks like God when it comes to telling you what to do) (except a bit less boomy, and without the clouds parting).

I submitted all my carefully prepared paperwork, safe in the knowledge that I had done exactly what the embassy’s visa guidelines instructed.

“Where’s your photocopy?” he asked.
Sorry? Which photocopy’s that?
The photocopy of this he said, holding up my precious Certificate of Eligibility.
Oh, sorry, it didn’t say I needed one on the website

His lips dissapeared into a thin line, reminding me of the backbone of a millipede. In his mind, the following words formed, sending a rush of adrenalin throughout his straight-laced body.

Ha! I’ve got him! This pathetic little gaijin thinks he can waltz in here and get his visa just like that. Pah! I’ll show him! No photocopy eh? Hmm, I may well be in a room full of the machines, but no, I shall not copy it for him, I shall send him on a quest across the capital in this boiling heat in search of such a contraption! And then I shall make him take another ticket and WAIT!!

I could see all this running through his head.

I stood there as King Arthur stood before the Knights who say Ni waiting to hear what I had to do to please his grace. With a wicked grin on his face, he presented me with a map of central London. It had “Photocopy Shop” written on it.

Out into the baking heat, through the crowds, in search of said establishment. Eventually, I found it, grabbed my copy, and headed back to the embassy. In through the front door and oh damn, off with my belt again! Trousers nearly fell down as I dashed up the stairs and took my ticket.

Back in front of Jobsworth, I awaited my next challenge. Sure enough, he spotted another flaw in my application, once again a minor point that was entirely overlooked on the embassy website, but that meant that I now had to find a bloomin’ post office and buy a 500g Pre-paid Special Delivery envelope.

Another map was produced. Again, his face flushed with satisfaction as he had successfully delayed my application. Knowing that I’d be coming in again I didn’t bother put my belt on, but instead held onto my jeans to stop them falling to my ankles as I ducked and dived through streets and alleyways, dodging taxis, getting annoyed at people who hadn’t a clue where anything was in the area even though they worked there, and in the end getting totally lost.

Boy oh boy was I sweaty by the time I made it back to the embassy. By this time I felt I had an intimate bond with the security guards, but decided against dropping my trousers in front of them. Another ticket, another wait …until it was time for the final showdown.

It seemed that Jobsworth was now satisfied with my performance: I was worthy of a visa. He took my money, gave me a reciept, and said goodbye.

So, as you can see, my experience of the Japanese authorities in the UK shows a remarkable resemblence to that of my experience of the Japanese Immigration Office in Tokyo. No wonder they have a problem with illigal immigrants – even if you do have all the correct paperwork they make the process so traumatic that one is reluctant to go through with it. Even I was attempted to get our little rubber dinghy out and start to row.

Still, job done. My passport, complete with visa, should be here by the end of the week.

Post application: *Twinkle* and I head off to the South Bank (where incidentally, one can barely walk for human statues. Personally I think they should all be cemented to the spot to teach them a lesson, that being to not be 10 years too late…

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Such a damn hypocrite

The Independent, 22 July 2006

America’s domestic policy vs America’s foreign policy

This week, George Bush used his presidential veto to block a bill on stem cell research, saying he couldn’t support the ‘taking of innocent human life’. In Iraq, six civilians are killed by a US air strike, while casualties in Lebanon and Israel mount. George Bush (and Tony Blair) oppose UN calls for an immediate ceasefire…
(story continues here)

Human Traffic

Upon arrival in Japan these days, you may well be the recipient of a litle slip of paper stating, in several asian and south-american languages, “If you are a victim of human traficking please show this piece of paper to any Japanese person”. Then, in Japanese, it reads,

“HELP! I am a victim of Human Trafficking! Please take me to the nearest Police Station!”

It seems that in Ledbury, a wee little rural town one stop down the line from my home town of Hereford, well-known for strawberry production, the immigration authorities are not so proactive in stopping this dreadful trade.

Thus, an enterprising worker, probably one of the 3,000 who have arrived in the area from eastern Europe in the last couple of years, has resorted to taking extreme action to bring attention to his plight, at the mercy of an evil employer who only pays him 1 pound an hour and keeps him locked in the chicken shed at night.

He has, as you can see, planted the crops so that they have grown to spell out in huge wheaty letters, H E L P !

Shame I was on the train, otherwise I would have gone to investigate further.

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A walk in the peaks

Caw blimey gov it’s so bloomin hot. I’m staying in *Twinkle’s* student flat, coincidentally the same place I lived in year before last. I’d forgotten just how hot the place gets. The window faces sort-of-south, and the curtains are lined with black felty stuff. Great for keeping the light out, but also great for absorbing heat. Last night was so impossibly hot that we had to get the ice-packs out of the freezer and use them as cold-water bottles.

Even having the window open post-sunset doesn’t help much. Although it does help one to overhear all the conversations that the prostitute outside has with clients. Last night business was brisk. Four indian lads in a car took it in turns, appearing and dissapearing in their white vauxhall every 30 minutes to pick one of their number up and drop another off for his bout. I’d get really pissed off with that nightly rountine if I lived here, although no-one can complain really as none of the houses in the area are owned by the occupants – it’s either student accomodation or council flats. What a life. It’s quite depressing really.

As you probably gathered from previous posts, *Twinkle* and I made it out into the Peak District a couple of days ago, the national park situated just to the west of Sheffield. It really was lovely.

Having taken the train to Hope, we set out on foot for the nearby village of Castleton. It was a really nice route, except for one anomaly – a huge great Blue Circle cement works rising from the meadows. Bizarre. A local later told me that it was accepted by local planners due to the employment it would bring to the region, although since its arrival it has brought nothing but lots of big lorrries, and a boom in sales of Photoshop as people seek to remove the renegade from their otherwise beautiful shots of the English countryside.

Castleton, surprisingly enough, was host to a castle, where *Twinkle* strapped me to the roof of the keep and whipped me with birch bark, just for the fun of it.

That done, we sat upon ye fair olde meadow in front of said keep, and gazed across to the ridge that ran the length of the other side of the valley, planning our route to the next pub. Now planning routes, as we all know, requires the use of a map. However, me being Clever Joseph and all that, I’d left my explorer map of the realm in Herefordshire. What to do…? I mean, it just wouldn’t have been a proper hiking trip without a map to see exactly where we took the wrong path 3 fields back – and so the day before our trip I decided to fork out another 15 quid (yes, 15 QUID!) on another map, identical to the one I’d left at home and never used. But clever Joseph was not to be outdone by his rather bad logistical skills, oh no. Having used the bloomin expensive laminated beauty for the day, I then took it back to the book shop where I’d bought it 48 hours previously and told them I’d purchased it by accident. I got a full refund. Now THAT’S the way to do it.

After a pub lunch we scaled the heights of the ridge on the opposite side, a ridge that provided us with a pretty impressive view across the park. Oh, and of the cement works. Following a bit of shadow puppetry on the triangualtion point thingy, it was then roley poley down the other side, towards the railway station. Having left our timing to the wind, we were delighted to find ourselves halfway down the hill when our train went by, like a little Hornby Locomotive, but slower.

Caw blimey gov, it was bloomin boiling that afternoon. We drank litres and litres of water and juice, yet not a single pee passed from our bladders.

All in all, a jolly nice day, and by the looks of things one of the last ‘days out’ we’ll have in the UK. *Twinkle* has a lot to do for her dissertation, and I am also very busy with my kanji and all.

Having actually paid for my flight it’s all starting to look a bit real. agggh so much to do in so little time.

Anyway, I shall stop my ramble here. Must return the DVD we watched last night – The Island – starring Ewen McGregor and Sexy babe whose name I forget. Loved the story.