Why Dutch?

Why learn Dutch?
This is the first question that springs to everyone’s lips (whether Dutch or not) when I describe my latest venture.

Currently I’m mid-point through a two-week introductory course in Amsterdam, with four hours of class a day.
Two weeks is short, I know.
At the end of this (plus two weeks here not taking classes), I still won’t be able to understand or say so much.
My class is small (total 5 students) which is nice. Everyone gets a chance to talk and ask questions.
My four classmates all have Dutch partners, and just moved here one or two months ago. This is a good reason to try to learn any language.
At language schools I attended in France, I can only recall one student in my class (out of a dozen) who was learning French for this reason.
Do Dutch men make better lovers than the French? That’s for me to know…

One reason I wanted to study the Dutch is because I have a good Dutch friend I have here. I try to visit him whenever I am in Europe. A crazy soul-mate. He has a social life on overload, so I am often in all Dutch gatherings. This is great fun.
As anyone who has been to the Netherlands knows, everyone here speaks good English, and most are very willing to. (This lulls people into thinking there is no benefit in spending time to learn Dutch.
Yes, at social gatherings people happily speak to me in English, but I miss most of the content of the group discussions. I plan on coming back again in future. I don’t want to wear out my welcome. Long-term expats who haven’t made an attempt to learn the local language (in any country) irk me. And I don’t want to be like that myself.
When traveling, I always try to study a bit of the local language (listened to podcasts before visiting Cambodia, carried a text book in Indonesia and went to language school in Thailand). I have only retained a smattering of phrases from these ventures, but it enriched my experiences in those countries, and I still encounter words from these languages occasionally. (Earlier this year I worked at the Cambodian Embassy in Tokyo for a few hours, and was able to use the few words I remembered.)

The second reason for my learning Dutch is a linguistic interest in it. After telling myself for 3 years that English is just poorly pronounced French. Now I’ve come to wonder if it is actually drunk Dutch.
At times in the Netherlands, someone was speaks to you and for a moment you tune-in, thinking they are speaking in English.
There is much familiar vocabulary: “dik” and “dun” are examples which come to mind (thick & thin). Can you imagine a native English speaker living far from London pronouncing “thin” in a way which might sound like “dun”? I’m encountering words like IMG_20151114_142521this constantly, and now that the writing system makes more sense, I notice signs around town and can often guess the meaning of words.
One dilemma this week was the numbering system which, like German says “six and forty” for 46. Yet the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Six Pence’ came to mind: with the line “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.” It occurred to me that English perhaps once had such a system (and it turns out that it did). Finding these connections has been fascinating.

Studying other languages always broadens my horizons. It also gives me insights into my own language, when I encounter different nuances and systems for classifying and describing our surroundings and experiences. I am reminded of how limited and subjective my world perspective can be.

Death in mid-Suma: B-Grade Sight-seeing in Kansai

Osaka B-grade sightseeing

Tsutenkaku通天閣 in Osaka near the zoo is great for a taste of retro Osaka, if that’s of interest. Very lively area but also very…dated. People who like their sight-seeing squeaky clean and brand-spanking new will get a shock.

700 yen to climb the tower for views of Osaka including views of the high rise centre – without being in said high rise centre…
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If okonomiyaki お好み焼き is your thing, Osaka also has negi ネギ焼き which is similar but made with spring onions instead of cabbage. The best place is Yamamoto Negiyaki (http://www.negiyaki-yamamoto.com) and the main branch is at Juso十三 one stop from Umeda/Osaka梅田・大阪. This is often a queue, and they don’t allow photos in the restaurant, but it’s hardcore—deep Osaka

Kobe Backstreets:

You can travel from central Osaka to central Kobe in roughly 20 minutes on either JR, Hankyu 阪急 or Hanshin阪神 to Sannomiya (written 三宮 or 三ノ宮for JR). They arrive at the same point, take roughly same time and the fares are similar.

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In terms of sight-seeing, I hesitate to suggest. Kobe for me is a “lifestyle city”—great to live here, but not sure where to take people who visit. It’s a bit like Yokohama 横浜  in many ways–there’s Chinatown (Nanking-machi 南京町) near Motomachi 元町 and there’s some old Western-style houses 異人館 up the hill from Sannomiya 三宮 at Kitano北野.

Sannomiya 三宮 is the heart of Kobe. Kobe Station (JR) 神戸駅 is not the centre (it’s the pre-WWII centre) but it IS close to the Harborland development, a more modern shopping mall, by the harbour.

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Arima Onsen 有馬温泉hot springs is only 30 minutes from Sannomiya, I cannot tell you anything about Arima. Must be nice – up in the hills, which are alive with the sound of onsen

My personal interest in Kobe (as with many cities) is the grungy/retro side. The city is dying back (as is much of Japan) and the decay just outside the city centre has a quaint Showa-era feel, with funky shops and eateries. The low-life highlights for me include the shopping arcade below the JR train tracks between Sannomiya, Motomachi and Kobe stations 高架下 (locals call this series of 7 arcades Motokohモトコー), and Shinkaichi 新開地.
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Another place I love is Higashiyama-dori markets東山通市場 near Minatogawa station 湊川 for old “wet markets”—grocery shopping the old-fashioned way.
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For hot springs, I can recommend Tarumi Taihei-no-yu垂水温泉太平のゆ in Tarumi垂水 which is adjacent to the Outlet Park (identical to every other outlet park in Japan) Views from here over Awaji Straits淡路海峡 and of the bridge to Awaji Island淡路島

The nearby Suma 須磨 beach area is also cool and groovy. For something completely different, the port town and seafood markets of Akashi 明石 are also not far from Kobe and the tamago-yaki 玉子焼き which is the takoyaki たこ焼き (octopus balls) of Akashi is extraordinary there. It is served with a dipping broth, and is known as “Akashi-yaki” everywhere except in Akashi.

A Dream within a Dream

I met this foreigner in Shinjuku 2-chome once.
Quiet night, so we got talking.
Good-looking, but really arrogant.
I envied his confidence.
He was travelling, had been in Japan 36 hours. but it wasn’t his first visit.
Knew his way around.
We sat at Advocates Bar, and I bemoaned the lack of action in Tokyo.
Guys are too reticent, nothing really hot ever happens.
As I poured out my woes over whiskey, he told about the previous night.
I never got his contact details, and can’t even remember his name now.
That’s me — hopelessly shy.
Let’s call him Markus, cos it’s a suitably studly name.

This is Markus’s story:

I set my Gaydar location to Tokyo a week ago, and was contacted by a guy almost immediately.
Japanese, just out of uni, sounded really keen.
Sent me pics of himself butt-naked on a beach abroad.
No doubt, he was willing.
At 16:00, we met by the JR station. He was in a suit, fresh from an interview.
We had coffee, conversation was awkward, he was fidgeting, horny as.
He suggested we go to his uni campus nearby.
I saw security and wondered if we’d get in, but no worries.
He led me to some out-of-the-way toilets, where I gave him what he needed.
I excused myself, and we parted ways.
I’d planned to hang out with a friend that night in 2-chome.
It was still early, so I headed to an uri-sen bar.
I’m not interested in paying for it, when guys are giving it away for
free, but it was fun to have some company, drinks and eye-candy.
But I was wasting money, and the clock was ticking.
At the appointed hour, I met my mate, crazy Belgian guy here studying, and we went for
a few drinks and a boogie.
The club was tiny, packed. Amber was playing. Camp and corny, but
familiar and fun.
Another trip to the toilets, where he took me from behind.
It was rough, weird. We were mates, but we’d secretly been keen on
each other since we first met  years before.
I was too drunk to dance anymore, but too horny to think straight.
Had to excuse myself, and I headed directly to the sauna a few blocks away.
It was pumping. Men everywhere.
I was feeling confident, I knew I could have anyone I wanted.
There he was — perfection. Japanese Adonis.
Similar height, muscular, well-hung, uncut, tattooed, pierced and
gagging for it.
Instant chemistry. We fell into a shower cubicle, and were over each
other. I could tell he was buzzing too.
Then, suddenly, he pulled back “I can’t do it alone, let’s find my
boyfriend”, he said.
We quickly hooked up — they’d hired a private room — well-prepared.
There on the futon, they double-P’d me. The climax, so to speak.
After chilling for a while, I headed back out into the night, drained
but glowing.
My mate had had enough, so we lay on the ground outside Shinjuku
Gyoen, laughing at crows.
Then we walked. Two hours, to Hibiya Park, and lay on the ground, cold
and exhausted, but grinning like madmen.
Amber’s song was ringing in my ears, “One more night, give me all I
want and some more.”

=====

Personally, I doubt the authenticity of his story, but sometimes when I’m in 2-chome, I’ll walk by a guy who looks just like the Adonis he described.

Footloser in Tokyo

When I first came to Japan, in 1990, every foreigner and her tanuki carried a copy of “Foot-Loose in Tokyo” by Jean Pearce.
Subtly subtitled, “The Curious Traveler’s Guide to the 29 Stages of the Yamanote Line”, I was sure this book was my key to unlocking a time-slip to old Edo.
I was determined to find the last vestiges of Yoshiwara, mostly.
But unfortunately, I was banished to Machida, living madly far from the crowd.
On the rare opportunities I went to “town”, I was with my host sister, or scurrying to church.
There was little chance to explore.
The first time I was on my own (when my “guide” vanished suddenly to a “rabu”), I tried to follow Jean’s footsteps in one chapter.
I soon realised this was just a guidebook for armchair adventurers, and all the “sights” existed in the mind’s eye.
The history had been bombed and burned, then buried under concrete and glass.
So I turned to my Lonely Planet for salvation.
This offered the curious “hack” of doing the Yamanote Line on a geta-thong — buying a ticket just to the next station, but riding the circle in the opposite direction.
This is possibly the naughtiest thing I ever did in Japan.
I spent one hour staring out the window at the ass-side of the concrete and glass, feigning invisibility, praying that ticket inspectors wouldn’t find me.
Trust me, it was worth the 100 yen ticket.

We’ll have a gay old time

Out in Tokyo

In putting finger to smart phone screen, I’m reminded of a routine from Monty Pythons Flying Circus:
“So, you’ve… you know… you’ve done it.”
“Done what?”
“You’ve… slept… with a lady.”

Which is nonsense.
Of course I haven’t.
But I was interviewed recently about being gay in Japan.
How to answer…? I’ve had ramen, tsukemen, tan-tan men — in effect, developing a whole new range of taste in men.

Seriously, though, life in rural Japan has been closeted for me, which I resent somewhat. Back home in Oz, I was as out as they get.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Tokyo, many know of ‘the gay area’ Shinjuku 2-chome. Not worth visiting if you’re not a ‘member’ of the team. People like their privacy. It’s not a zoo. There are about 300 bars there and I’ve been to about 7 (Kinsmen and Tac’s Knot were great). Most are tiny, some are host bars.

There are no great dance clubs. Some good dance parties held in bigger venues every few months.

The area is young, and I don’t feel so welcome there at 45.

Recently a mate told me about the scenes at Shinbashi and Ueno. These are apparently for a more mature crowd.

In terms of finding love (?), or trade, I think less happens in cruising clubs than online these days. Gaydar seems old school, Grindr more effective in central Tokyo. Japanese guys use Jack’d and 9monsters apps, and play just as many games as gay guys online around the world.

I deplore the lack of awareness of STIs here. Government policy doesn’t help matters.

On a positive note, I attended one of the rainbow pride marches last year at Yoyogi. Was lovely weather and a friendly, festive atmosphere.

Get Out of Tokyo

Living out of Tokyo (80 kms, in Odawara), around the corner from the hot springs (onsen) of Hakone, every day seems like the weekend (exaggerated grimace emoji).
City friends drool “I love Hakone, I planned to go last year, but couldn’t find time”.
TBH, going to Tokyo on a non-work day feels the same to me.
Most weekends I head to onsen in Hakone or even further afield.

Here are my onsen secrets, not far from Tokyo, on “my side of the mountain”.

Odakyu (Odawara) line from Shinjuku:
Atsugi: 七沢 (Nanasawa). One hour from Shinjuku, then a bus. Feels like real countryside.
Hadano area (easy to visit 大山 (Oyama) from Isehara for sight-seeing to make a day trip):
Tsurumaki-onsen: For a one-day visit (日帰り) Kobo-no-sato-yu (弘法の里湯) is most convenient.
Tokaidaigaku-mae station: Sazanka-no-yu is a short walk uphill from the station

Hakone: So many options, but my hot tip in the area is 姥子温泉 秀明館 (Uba-ko-onsen Shumeikan). It’s a world away. Stay all day, but bring a lunch-box.
天山 (Tenzan) is the only onsen I know that is OK with tattoos. The restaurants and sleeping room (over looking a river) are great, and many seasonal “events” (fireflies, etc.)
A nifty trip is to catch Daiyuzan line from Odawara 21 minutes to the last station, bus up to Saijo-ji temple (Daiyuzan) then hike across the mountain Myojo-ga-dake to 宮城野 (Miyagino) (near Hakone). After the hike, you’ll appreciate the hot springs here either the town onsen (町営) (cheap & cheery) or 勘太郎の湯 (Kantaro-no-yu).

Down the Izu peninsula, Yugawara is great. It was a getaway for samurai from Edo.
There are a few onsen, but my favourite is 嵯峨沢の湯 (Sagasawa-no-yu). It’s a hike up hill, or get the bus.
An incredible onsen is just south of Atami at 平鶴 (Hira-tsuru) Hotel, on the coast. The outdoor bath is virtually on the sea.

Up in the mountains, easier with a car, is 紅富士の湯 (Benifuji-no-yu) at Yamanaka-ko. Good view of Mt Fuji from the bath.
Another hot-spot (insanely inexpensive) is あしがら温泉 (Ashigara-onsen) which is operated by the town of 小山町 (Oyama-cho). This has one of the best views of Mt Fuji from a bath. It’s not far from Gotemba.

What’s your secret weekend getaway?

Get Smarter: JLPT: My 2 sen’s worth

If you’d like to know if you should sit the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, then do it.
It would provide a somewhat focussed study plan and give you a SMART goal.
It is the only qualification recognised by companies in Japan, to my knowledge.

Sorry, did you ask what I think of the test?
It’s as good as any examination system in Japan…

It’s formulaic, so it operates on patterns, based on previous exams.
If you want the knowledge, learn the hard way and pat yourself on the back for your progress regardless of your exam result.
If you want a certificate, learn by the book. Find the best ‘JLPT for Dummies’ you can find, and swot section A & some of B. Test and test to prepare.

On the day, answer every question.
If you have no idea, ignore the longest and shortest answers, eliminate the next most complex answer, and the remaining answer will be the correct one, the majority of the time.
But TBH, is JLPT-1 as good as a foreigner can get in Japanese? Now that I have level-1, should I just smile and crack funny puns?

Most Japanese have never taken the exam, so it’s like those funny English exams would seem to a native English speaker.
If you want to impress Japanese people, do the exam they know: Kanji Kentei.
If you can pass pre-2, you’ll get a nod, pass level 2 and you’re revered, though it’s only the standard kanji (Joyo Kanji)
The legendary Bu-sensei (Brett) got pre-1, then level 1. He is your Kanji God.

Whatever DO you choose, it’s what you learn in the process that will abide with you.

The Fatal Sure–Mything the Point

At school, I was taught that Australia was colonised by Britain along these lines:

“The reasons that led the British to invade Australia were simple. The prisons in Britain
had become unbearably overcrowded, a situation worsened by the refusal of America to
take any more convicts after the American War of Independence in 1783.”
(“The British Invasion of Australia. Convicts: Exile and Dislocation’ Sue Ballyn (2011) in

‘Lives in Migration: Rupture and Continuity’)

An online search shows this idea is still widely circulated.

 

I no longer believe this line of reasoning.moonings
It is somewhat akin to suggesting that we send scientists to Antarctica because we have too many scientists.
Governments throughout history have used prisoners as convenient cheap or free labour to perform public works, and continue to do so today.
I suspect (and I hope that some more eminent historians have already written) that the main motive for the colonisation was that British sought to claim the vast continent of Australia for potential economic and strategic advantage, ahead of their Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French counterparts. The 1500s saw the start of European colonisation in the Americas; colonisation in Asia was in full-swing from the 1600s. Having lost America, it only made sense for the British to seek fresh fields.
Later, additional colonies were established in distant reaches of the Australian continent–far from the first settlement in Sydney (Tasmania, Western Australia, Queensland). This makes more sense strategically than practically. Furthermore, maintaining the status of colonies as penal settlements for as long as possible allowed Britain to maintain tighter control.
“How will we convince our people to move to Australia?” politicians may have asked.
“Encourage them to do it for the glory of Britain, to hedge off our French rivals!” might not convince many potential settlers.
The modern day equivalent is moving to Mars. Brave people might volunteer, but in contrast, convict labour is cheap, plentiful and compliant.
I’ll leave my supposition here, as it is personal conjecture, and I have not been able to find sources to back up my argument.
So Aussie children continue to learn that “Britain needed to send prisoners somewhere, so they chose to colonise Australia”, as a form of justification. Replacing the word “colonise” with “invade”, if the real motives remain obscured, perpetuates a dangerous myth.

Arabic Time Again

I’ve started dabbling in Arabic.
This is early daze, and I’m not holding high hopes.
My motivation has been the nonsense going on in the world, in particular the racist nonsense in Oz with the anti-halal movement that apparently is unaware of where their petroleum comes from.
I’ve decided I can’t fight the ignorance without, but I can try and stop its infiltration into my psyche.
So I’ve made a conscious effort to follow folks on Twitter who can enlighten me a little on the issues and we’ve had some wonderful interaction.
Similarly I’ve been able to connect with some indigenous Australians, where living in Oz we seemed to live in different worlds.
A gay Japanese friend of mine once told me one reason he liked being gay was that he mixed with a cross section of society he didn’t think would be the case as a str8 guy. Different age groups, professions and the like.
Twitter has been that way for me.
Back to Arabic.
I’m trying to learn the alphabet, and take it from there.
Visits to France have brought me closer to Arabic speakers than living in Japan. And a number of my friends in France share my interest in learning Arabic due to similar reasons. The best way they see to resist the xenophobia promoted by Front National is to reach out, connect, understand and embrace diversity.
And the Arabic alphabet ain’t that difficult. Looks like squiggles, yet millions of people can read and communicate with it.
See how we go.

Why the Long Face?

Okay, so I went off the Twitter rails in 2015.
But no regrets. It’s my policy.
Somehow I got (‘got’ is a word. Your HS English teacher lied. Goofle it.) bogged down in heavy tweets.
The world was too much with me, or some such.
Just so many issues and so much misery.
I escaped into a world of panda GIFs, punny tweets, semi #NSFW nekked hot guys and the like.
Lost lots. Saved some sanity in the process.
I’m thinking deep stuff all the time, but you know, when you see the same RT come around for the 10th time, subterfuge springs to mind. Thanks autosuggest.
I have my limits. We all do.
In the mean time, I started meeting tweeps, and this also meant that RTing funny stuff was more personal for me.
But I still strive for some kind of transparency.
The sexy stuff, the punny stuff, the Japanese stuff and the #fromageporn are all facets of me.
I’m always willing to engage seriously. But my views on the Pacific War are not easily condensed into 140 characters. So I’m happy to tweet slightly off-centre stuff that hopefully in some way can offer a whiff of other approaches.
If you have fresh and frisky alternatives, bring it on.