Archive for the 'Japan' Category

things i’ve been working on

While I’ve been jobless, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the things I like doing with my free time. I found out that I really like writing, translating, keeping up with fashion, politics and tech trends, singing, and using computers to make stuff. I also know a lot more about making websites with JavaScript now after having taken a brain-frying Java programming class at Stanford, so I’m going back into hand-coding my own sites. And I found out that I’m a movement–> sound synesthete, which is why I’ve revived my childhood interest in animated GIFs.

So when I’m not looking at job postings, I’m probably doing one of the following:

Reading the news (and a couple of productivity blogs if I’m really procrastinating)
– Eating ice cream (my family at one point had five kinds in the freezer… in February)
– Hanging out in the Mission
– Walking or playing with my dog
Translating the Japanese Prime Minister’s blog
– Making epilepsy-inducing animated GIFs
– Looking at other people’s art
– Writing and tweeting for my sister’s blog
– Singing for a trance producer

I’m thinking of translating articles from L’Officiel so that I can brush up on my French as well as my Japanese, but I now have a part-time internship at a TV station to work on, so I don’t know if I can take on much more stuff. But I’ll probably just translate a couple of articles for the hell of it– they have all their editions online anyway, and I’ve got a friend who’d be interested in the one about Alber Elbaz of Lanvin…


oh, those japanese… they just love killing themselves

Forgive me for being fantastically un-PC, but this Japan Times article on how suicides in Japan topped 30,000 for the tenth straight year (about 32,000 this year) made me do a double-take.

Do the math: The U.S. has roughly the same annual number of suicides, but has a population of about 304 million. Japan has a population of about 127 million. Japan’s suicide rate per 100,000 people is 25% (America’s is about 10.5%). What the hell is going on?

Fortunately, people have already examined this question for me. In Kayoko Ueno’s 2005 article Suicide as Japan’s major export? A note on Japanese Suicide Culture, a J@pan Inc article from last year, and a recent Economist article called Death Be Not Proud, a couple of things are pointed out about Japanese society that probably make a big difference:

  1. Suicide has been historically used as the samurai’s way to avoid dishonor. Hence the Japanese businessmen and politicians who’d rather die than go bankrupt or go to jail. (Note that I said “men”: the male rate is more than two times higher than the female rate [40% versus 15%].).
  2. Suicide was also glorified in the recent past. Remember World War II? Kamikaze pilots were the original suicide bombers.
  3. Suicide is neither accepted nor rejected in Buddhism and Shintoism. It’s a sin in Christianity, so families in the West probably suffer more from the stigma of a family member who committed suicide than families in the East.
  4. However, in Japan there are tons more things with social stigmas attached to them. For example, failure, colorblindness (or any kind of physical disability for that matter), or mental illness of one family member can put a big, indelible black mark on the entire family. And the shame makes it hard for people to seek help because they don’t know what’s wrong with them and they don’t want anyone to find out about it.
  5. Japanese kids have some serious shit to deal with. For one, there’s BULLYING. American kids can sue; Japanese kids are just told to suck it up and deal with it, because “it’s a part of life“. My own bullying experience in Gunma was uncommon in that I had teachers who had been educated in the United States, so I was able to complain and get a homeroom change. This doesn’t happen too often, especially with the natives.
    For further reading, a manga called Vitamin (the scanslation is by Storm in Heaven) recounts a girl’s history of severe bullying when she’s caught doing the nasty with her guy. It’s got a happy ending, but a lot of these real-life stories do not.
  6. And, of course, some people kill themselves for the insurance money. But I feel like that happens in a lot of places.

And you thought Americans had problems.

The Japanese government is finally giving suicide prevention programs more funding because they no longer want to be known as “The Country Where Killing Yourself Is Totally Okay”. But as many an article has pointed out, that’s too late in the game to be intervening. Japanese society needs to undergo an overhaul so people stop considering suicide in the first place.

describing a bit of the past and present (and ruminating on the future)

Happy New Year, everyone; I hope it’s been going well. After being slammed with an enrollment hold due to academic probation, an enrollment hold because I forgot to pay my tuition, a lack of housing and a breakup, I’m well-rested and healthy (well, I *was* healthy, but I think I just caught the flu from my dad), and am currently at the Halloween Town world in Kingdom Hearts.

I’m a little miffed that my sister went to Siem Reep and Kuala Lumpur without me. Damn, why couldn’t I just have taken winter quarter off, too? (Answer: Because after six months of being out of school, I would have to start repaying my college loans.) Now I know what it feels like to be on the vicarious end of an adventure.

Stanford is just as I remember it– cold as all hell during the winter, albeit gorgeous whenever the sun’s out. I haven’t seen everyone yet, but the friends I’ve run into look and act the same, only nine months older. The frosh look and act really young to me now, though. It reminds me of when I came back from Japan and returned to high school as a senior and noticed how small the freshmen were.

Speaking of Japan, I’ve found a lot of my old AFS Tokyo friends on Facebook in the past year. It’s fun to see what they’ve been doing and how much we’ve changed, even though we look more or less the same. And it’s awesome to meet up with them because it’s like a blast from the past, a past of which I’ve forgotten so much. 

Last year in SF I met up with Sin Yee, my best friend from Japan (she’s from KL), and showed her and her friends around while we reminisced about karaoke-ing, purikura, a boy named Masa – whom I’ve also found on Facebook – and the day he “married” us in a pagoda in Tokyo. I’m still really sad that all my pictures from that day got deleted when I dropped my camera. They included, among other things, pictures of us and a Ghirardelli Earthquake. ;_;

In Paris, I got to chill with Pascal. (I remember him as the first guy who ever proved to me that guys think about sex 24/7. Ah, les Francais. XD) Turns out he goes to ESCP-EAP – meaning he’s absolutely brill! – but he’s as nuts as I remember: He sat down and immediately started trading Jewish mom stories with my friend Alex (a half-Indian, half-Slovenian Parisian Jew :). It turned into a contest of Jewish mom jokes, but with the French, you can never tell if they’re trying to one-up each other or if they’re just having fun…

I can’t believe it’s been four years since I left Japan. I also can’t believe that I still haven’t contacted my host family. I’d really love to go back and live in Tokyo, but I’d want to talk to my host family and liaison before doing that, and I know it wouldn’t be the same without everyone there. (Well, Diogo’s still there, but he’s like totally fluent now.) Plus, I have a couple more places I’d like hit up before going back. 

Maybe there’s a limit to the number of languages that I can learn and the number of places I can live in. Should I just give up on working in South America and Africa so I can start making a name for myself in the Japanese rock scene already? The prime of my life has been ticking away. I’ve got to start prioritizing.

Wait, what the hell kind of priority is Japanese rock stardom?

international student cards and long-awaited letters

I bought an International Student Identity Card the other day. I’m not sure if it’ll get me any better discounts than I get with my regular student ID card, but it’s worth a shot. (And $22.)

I also wrote a letter to my host family in Japan.

For those of you who don’t know me, you may not understand the importance of this letter. I returned from my year in Japan three years ago and haven’t talked with my host family since. I’ve been trying to write this letter for a very long time and somehow it’s been put off until now, and it’s been stressing me out in small amounts daily (which adds up!).

To summarize: I procrastinate a lot. (In fact, I wrote the letter to them because I was procrastinating on doing a problem set.)

My host family was actually pretty cool. I’m just really bad at this stuff. It’s like the movie Devdas, when the main character (Devdas) goes to study in London for ten years and only writes back twice before returning. That’s how I roll– I assume people won’t miss me so much that they want to hear from me regularly, and I assume that when I return, life will go on as usual.

For example: Last summer, I went back to the East Coast to hang out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and we hung out in Manhattan almost as if I’d never left. That’s the kind of relationship I like having with people. I disappear so often that I enjoy being able to pick up a friendship right where it left off (or at least close to that point).

I still haven’t mailed the letter because I’m mailing some Stanford swag and a photo CD along with it, but at least the most difficult part’s over.

P.S. I’m beginning to get some responses to the replies I’ve made to ads from my craigslist query a few days ago (did you know that you can make an RSS feed from craigslist queries by clicking on the RSS link at the very bottom of the first results page? Here’s the lifehacker visual tutorial).

In the interest of replying ASAP, my reply’s been very formulaic, but now I can get around to asking for photos, securing dates, and getting more info on whether or not these people are legit. Waiting for replies is frustrating (especially if you don’t know whether they’ll reply at *all*), but if you forget about ’em for a while, patience pays off.

how the hell do i get the money to do this, anyway?

As the title says.

For Japan, I got an AFS scholarship that happened to only be for New Jersey high school students, so it wasn’t particularly well-publicized or competitive. That was almost completely sheer luck. I also happened to like Japanese pop and animé so much that I went to Manhattan once a week for Japanese classes. Also luck. My parents are also the kind of people that wouldn’t let me pass up an opportunity like that, even if it meant their teenage daughter’d be on the other side of the globe for a year. That was a TON of luck. At the time, a lot of my friends’ parents were comparatively pretty strict.

France is another problem. I’ll be going to Paris through the Stanford-in-Paris program next quarter (Spring quarter), so that will be covered by my regular tuition fees. But for the fall and winter quarters, I would really like to enroll independently in the Sorbonne. I can take classes at the Sorbonne through the Stanford-in-Paris program, but that means I’d have to pay Stanford tuition (pretty hefty, especially since I’m taking out tons of loans already).

Taking two quarters off and enrolling independently directly in the Sorbonne would

1. Save me tons of money (their tuition is $500!!!)
2. Make me eligible for French national health insurance (Stanford’s Cardinal Care is like $700 a quarter!!!) because I’d be a full-time French student with a temporary residence permit.
3. Keep me away from Stanford students and anglophones, which leads me to
4. Immerse me pretty much completely in French.

But, the drawbacks!

1. Even if I take the same classes at the Sorbonne that I could take through Stanford-in-Paris, I won’t get credit for them if I’m not an enrolled Stanford student.
2. I’d have to find and pay for my own apartment.
3. Stanford can’t help me at all. That means I need to find my own internship if I plan to do one in France, and I can’t take Stanford classes or get assistance or guidance from them.
4. I’d have to deal with the French bureaucratic system on my own. This is actually my biggest worry.

Anyway, as for financing myself just to live there, I have to figure out a way to work from France. My parents probably wouldn’t leave me stranded in Europe until I beg for change, but I need to show them that I’m capable of not having to rely on them for money all the time. I have a job here, but that ends when I leave in three weeks. With a temporary residence permit I can’t work in France, but I think I can have some kind of income if I work online. You know, like PayPal.

So, I’m thinking e-commerce. My dad should get a kick out of it; he’s been in the VoIP and WiFi business for years. Plus I’m a Stanford student, and having your own business or startup seems like a rite of passage. Now to think of a niche and a good business model.

But before that, I’d like to bitch about passports and visas.

once upon a time (or, why all the traveling?)

I love traveling. The thing is, I hate being a tourist. I’d much rather move somewhere and live there for a while than visit a whole bunch of tourist traps for only a few days each. Actually getting to know a new place well is more important for me than racking up frequent flier miles or the bragging rights to visiting a hundred world clock cities.

That’s why I went to Japan for a year as a junior in high school. That’s also why I’ve found myself now, at the cusp of my college career, with a one-way ticket to Paris.

Okay, so there are other reasons I keep bailing on school for a foreign country for months at a time. It probably stems from my childhood: between kindergarten and eighth grade I switched schools five times, and before then I’d spent my early years between Manila and New York City. By the time I entered high school I was used to being the new kid and making good first impressions on people. (The second to tenth impressions, though, I still kinda had to work on.)

But there are also a few good reasons to do it even without that background. I went to Japan to get more independent from my family and get a life outside of academics. I’m going to France for similar and different reasons:

– I’d still like to learn how to live on my own, but also
– I need a change of pace (I’d hate to break my tradition of never staying in one school for more than three years straight),
– I want more time to figure out what I want to do with my life, and
– I want to become more focused on my academic work without getting burned out.

I’ve discovered that I do very badly in huge lecture classes with professors and TAs who don’t know I exist, and dorm life really distracts me from papers and problem sets. That results in all-nighters and other things that have been screwing with my already maxed-out health. I need to slow down, and having to do classes in a different language gives me some leeway if I have to explain my ailing academic record to grad schools. However, my main reason is simple:

I love taking the plunge.

Yeah, there are costs to being perpetually in transit:

For one, I don’t have many childhood friends, or very close friends to hang out with in general. The good friends I *do* have are hard to hang out with because they’re scattered around the country (and the globe).

For another, I’ve missed a lot of important things in school– somehow I managed to avoid learning how to diagram a sentence in grade school, and Japan came at the expense of some classes I really should’ve taken with the rest of my friends, like AP Calculus and AP Chem.

And when I leave for France in three weeks, I will be leaving behind my friends and my boyfriend of a bit under two years, and I’ll have to start from scratch again. I’ll be dealing with the French bureaucratic system. When I come back next spring, almost all of my closest friends will be graduating. They might not even be my closest friends anymore. Everything will be different.

It’s gonna suck.

But hey, you know what? It’s one hell of a ride.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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