Monthly Archives: May 2007

GIVE IT TO ME

Quick word from Singapore: I’m here, happy and far less stressed. I managed to get through immigration and go outside to have a look at the greenery and cars, and to feel the comparatively crushing heat (around 29 degrees C). I decided I didn’t have time to go into town, much as I would’ve liked to, so I came back inside and had Indonesian for dinner (not bad); now I’m writing this.

This emigration lark’s a cinch. Next post will be from JAPAN. At last.

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STATIC CODES ON THE HOTEL RADIOS

Last Post from Christchurch. Barring any flight delays, forgotten passports or a sudden and massive panic attack, I’ll be on the plane tomorrow morning.

I have found myself involuntarily reflecting on my life so far these past few days. And I know I was talking the other day about points of definition, clear dividing lines in your life, that sort of thing, it isn’t the reason for my introspection. Like, I didn’t say to myself ‘okay, I’m leaving, so I have to think about what I’ve achieved up to now and how I’ve arrived at this point’ or anything like that. It just seems to have happened.

I do this often, what with my (progressively less angsty, I hope) diary scribbling, but this time it’s a bit different. Plenty is being looked at and recalled: traumatic events in childhood, times of extreme embarrassment, and of course missed opportunities, of which there are always too many. The view back on these events is more curiosity-based than anything, sort of a ‘why did I think that way?’ or ‘how come I remember that and not something far more exceptional?’

What’s really notable, I think, is that I’m barely looking forward at all. Of course I’m really excited to be going to Japan and all that, but the future has never been something I think about easily. I mean, what is there to pick over? It hasn’t happened yet, so apart from imagining a couple of material things you might want to do, I don’t see the use in it. Unlike the past, which is full of fascinating detail, including what those times really felt like. Plus if you think too much about the future, you develop expectations which just can’t all come to fruition.

I’m not saying don’t plan for whatever’s next. Those who do are invariably more successful than those, like myself, who don’t. I’m just saying I don’t find it all that interesting, because as someone who always wants for deeper understanding, things that have already happened hold so much treasure. However, I imagine my mind will go kind of blank once I get on the plane tomorrow – actually being in that next portion of life will facilitate my putting the previous one away, for now.

Hopefully I’m being sincere with this, and not just throwing more drivel out into the blogspot. Regardless, thanks for listening, and I’ll see you soon.

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ONE KIND WORD MEANT MORE TO ME

Less than a week left now, and almost everything is in place. I know I will be living in Chigasaki, a city of about 220 000 people on the coast south of Yokohama. I know I will be training for the first two weeks in Shinjuku, and heading into the busiest train station in the world each of those days. I have a work visa and Certificate of Eligibility respectively stickered and stapled into my passport, ready to get me into the country without any problems (hopefully).

What I didn’t anticipate is that the last couple of weeks would be so difficult. In a good way, mind. Somewhere in amongst the haze of ongoing dinners, lunches, parties and drinking sessions I suddenly got a sense of what I’m doing, what I’m leaving behind. Warning: the following may not make sense, and reads more like a drunken leaning-on-the-shoulder , ‘I fuckin’ love you, man’ speech.

There’s my life here, with all its material comforts, which I’m cutting off to restart somewhere else. It’s another clear break in my life, like going to boarding school, or moving to Christchurch: a point of definition at which one section of my life ends and another begins. As such, it is very easy to wrap my head around. This will stop, and that will start. Simple. Short paragraph.

The same cannot be said of the many relationships I have built up with people. There’s everyone in my immediate family (who I am lucky enough to have all seen in recent weeks), then there are colleagues at my job of more than 2 years, then there are good friends – some from school, some from uni, and one from hometown. With each of these people, I have a unique relationship that has grown over the years, with particular idiosyncracies and patterns of conversation that don’t exist with anyone else. As a result, I struggle to even begin comprehending all the change that is happening on that front. In my brain, in their brains, in our lives.

I mean, there’s always email, and telephones, and webcam exchanges, but none of those afford the intimacy of actually talking to someone in the same room as you. I’m not trying to make myself seem more important than I am (despite the fact that I am the centre of the universe), but to me, it’s a bigger deal than anything else involved with this move. I wonder why I have these people around me – why not way shittier people, y’know? They’ve (you’ve) all taken the time to hang out with me and say goodbye and say other very nice things, and I just feel extremely fortunate… and sad to be going.

Enough of that. I need to go and watch Kubrick and Altman movies on a loop to purge all this sentimentality out of my system…

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Tracks I never tire of: ‘Are We Here?’

Are We Here?’ by Orbital, from the album Snivilisation (1994)

Given my deep, almost obsessive love for Orbital’s entire oeuvre, it seems unfair to pick just one track to discuss out of the many they’ve released. The Hartnoll brothers have provided more of the soundtrack to my life than any other musicians – there’s no doubt I’ve listened to some of their tracks hundreds of times – and were at the forefront of electronic music for an entire decade. Nevertheless, if there’s one single track which I come back to more than any other, it’s ‘Are We Here?’, so… here we are.

The album it comes from, Snivilisation, was their third and marked something of a change in direction: less club-friendly, more experimental, and certainly more ambitious than their previous work. For a long time it was my least favourite of theirs purely because it was so different from everything else they’ve done, but as I listened to it more, I slowly realized it was their best. This seems to have been the opinion of many Orbital fans. You have that knee-jerk “Play your old shit! Your good shit!” reaction, then you actually give it a chance and see how good it is.

Now, if you listen to ‘Are We Here?’ by itself, it’s magnificent – 15 minutes plus of typically emotional and heartfelt loops cut together to almost feel like it’s telling a story. As the penultimate track of Snivilisation, listened to within that context, it becomes something like the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. If the album is, as I occasionally suspect, a concept birth-to-death thing, then ‘Are We Here?’ is its centrepiece – the last days of a being’s consciousness before slipping away into the dreamworld of ‘Attached’. That sounds awesomely pretentious, and maybe it is, but for me, it’s a religious experience when listened to in sequence.

The old criticism of ‘too repetitive’ would be an easy way to dismiss ‘Are We Here?’, and I imagine I probably did exactly that upon first listen. Now when it comes on, I can’t help but marvel at its complexity, how every element is perfectly timed to come in at just the right moment. It makes me feel very small and insignificant, but it also makes me totally okay with that.

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POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME

I haven’t been asked by many people why I’m going to move to Japan. The vast majority have been interested in the how/when/what, without any trace of incredulousness, which is a good thing – in general, people’s reactions have been the opposite of “Why the fuck would you want to move there?”, i.e. supportive and interested. But I’ll tell you anyway.

My best friend through high school was a Japanese guy, and we remain very good friends. I never thought of him as being notably Japanese, like he was a representative of his culture or something, but the fact that he is Japanese and that I have gotten along well with him could only have positively affected my impression of the people. Here I’ll also briefly point out that for a year I was obsessed with Lost In Translation, which no doubt spurred on some Japanophilia. (It remains one of my favourites.)

After working as a gaspumper for BP for a couple of summers, I found a job working for a souvenir chain. When I applied for the job, the image I had in my head was of a small, sole-charge booth hocking cheap pens and magnets and flags and such, and the idea of it being Japanese-centred didn’t even occur to me. Not so. It was like a department store, with clearly defined sections from expensive jewellery to exclusive knitwear. Most importantly, the staff and clientele were about 60% Japanese. Somehow I got the job, and found myself working in an approximation of Japanese society – somewhat distorted, perhaps, but close enough to give me a better idea of the culture. And everyone seemed to respond well to me, and I to them, so that was all fine. In fact, I still work for this company, and will do for the remainder of my three weeks in New Zealand.

In the middle of all this, in about the middle of 2005, I decided I wanted to move over there. I was studying psychology (and am now a proud holder of a B.A. diploma in the subject), and the thing about psychology is that you can’t really get a decent job in the field without completing a Masters at least. Psychology really wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be, and where once I figured I’d do a Masters, I now was repulsed by the idea. What’s the point of spending another two or three years studying something you don’t believe in?

Still, I would finish my degree, then I would have to put it to use in some way. I didn’t want to have spent all that money only to get a job I could’ve got without the magic piece of paper. Fortunately, there are a great many companies in Japan that will hire you if you meet two requirements: 1) be a native English speaker; 2) hold a university degree. It made sense to go for it. Several experiences in my life seemed to me leading me down that path, so it was an easy decision to make. And lo, once I completed the university bollocks, I pursued opportunities to teach English in Japan until I found a company that would have me.

The final push, and the reason for the post title, came in about July of last year. Nic showed me a few of Ayaka’s Surprise English Lessons, and pretty soon I was hooked. Before you stop reading and write me off as another wota, the obsession isn’t really that strong. Honest, it isn’t. But I am fascinated by the way Japanese music and TV culture works, so I’ve studied it for rather more time than I should have. From the Surprise English Lessons I moved on to Morning Musume‘s TV appearances, such as the field trip special on Mechaike (tagline “What A Cool We Are!”) and various appearances on Hey!Hey!Hey!, the music show of comedy duo Downtown.

Finally, as if to push the interest from spirited to unhealthy, I started listening to Morning Musume’s music. It is the purest form of ridiculously sweet, catchy, overproduced pop music that I would probably hate if it was by an English-speaking group. The whole project is lorded over by a machine of a man known as Tsunku, who writes and produces a good 50 to 100 songs a year and collects massive amounts of cash as his stable of pretty young girls churns out the hits. Truly, you cannot beat the Japanese for taking a concept and pushing it to the absolute brink of its potential. (Japanese comedy shows (such as those mentioned above) are similar in the way they ruthlessly refine themselves until everything is pure hilarity.) Part of me is appalled by such an artificial, even cynical industry, but as much as anything I admire him for finding the gap in the market and filling it.

And, as chance would have it, I am (in some small measure) a part of that market. It doesn’t make any sense that Morning Musume should rub shoulders with The Alan Parsons Project, Peeping Tom and The Crystal Method in my music collection, yet there it is. I say again, this was not a crucial factor in my decision to move… but it certainly didn’t hurt.

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