Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The video is horrid (it really isn't a video, just a hashed-together powerpoint) but the song is beautiful.

actually a joni mitchell classic but i really have never heard k.d. lang sounding this good.

christmas comes a little too early, but then again, we dont need snow to listen to good music.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Latvian and Haruki Murakami

In one short morning, my long-awaited Friday was sullied by no less than one Latvian, a trumpet-tooting Chinese and half a year's worth of lessons I'm no longer sure I want to continue with.

so the latvian translates murakami into latvian for a living. and she does so by referring to the english and russian translations. my already tightly wound spring was twisted several notches further when she started complaining about the shoddy work done by the translators. i have read almost every book by murakami, both in english and japanese, and i happen to think that peter gabriel does a beautiful job of conveying the nuances of murakami's prose into english.

it took five lifetimes worth of self-control for me not to beat her down right there in the classroom, but when i mentioned peter gabriel she shook her head and said she had no idea who he was.

i cannot imagine what sort of english translations the girl has been reading if she has never heard of peter gabriel. murakami's books have only been translated into english by jay rubin and peter gabriel, and both these men happen to be exemplary academics in their field with long careers translating and researching traditional and contemporary japanese literature. to be accused of mediocrity by some unknown know-it-all is possibly the worst kind of insult ever.

if the latvian has ever done her homework, she will know that passages in original works are sometimes deleted from the translated texts NOT because the contents are "too difficult" to be translated, but because the passages in question imply the knowledge of certain cultural contexts that foreign readers might not otherwise possess.

in other words, translation is not simply a case of coverting the entire text lock stock and barrel, because it requires the delicate consideration of what to include and what not to so that foreign readers will be able to enjoy the novel as much as people reading the same book in the original language would, with or without prior understanding of specific cultural and literary concepts.

so perhaps the problem lies not with the translations but the latvian's stubborn egocentricism and a severe underestimation of the skills necessary to ensure good translation work.

two hours later i found myself listening to a chinese man telling me how difficult his work as an interpreter was. it was meant to be a talk by former foreign students about their experiences working in okinawa, and normally i would have swallowed the speech whole like a bad dose of medicine, but somehow, the chinese man became hugely unpalatable after the lavian fiasco. he was merely blowing his own horn, and it was all jarring noise to my ears.

what will it take for me to find employment as a foreigner in japan? the country's not hyped up about "foreign talent" like singapore is, and foreigners are not encouraged to play up their non-japanese traits because the issue invariably degenerates into a debate about "fitting in".

i was told that i might have to play down my assertiveness because a woman in her 20s with a habit of displaying her initiative might not go down well with a room full of middle-aged men looking to fill a position in their company.

just when i thought i knew japan and okinawa well enough not to be unpleasantly surprised any more, i get stopped in my tracks with situations like this.

too much for a friday, and too much thinking for me to arrive at a decision by this time next year.

Stuck in My Head

Santa, if you give me hips that move like hers, I swear I will never wish for anything else in the next ten years.
don't ask me why, but this tune keeps playing in my head. must be those devil hips.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You Don't Need To Get Married To Have A Wedding

People who know me will know that I love surfing wedding sites to look at those beautiful beautiful confections also known as bridal gowns. like eating fried chicken when i am upset, googling for pretty white dresses is a lovely distraction from dulling powerpoint work.

these are some of my favourites from (which is, by the way, a FANTASTIC place to be. they should really make this a World Heritage Site. a hah.) this season.

who says you need a groom to walk down the aisle or wear a gown? i would really love to have my own wedding picture taken one day, with or without the man.

carolina herrera
giambattista valli

judd waddell

monique lhuillier

oscar de la renta

reem acra

st. pucchi

A Conversation - Yamanokuchi Baku

In the coffee shop where I used to hang out, one of the regular customers showed up one day after a long absence, his face deeply tanned. He announced in a loud voice to the woman who ran the shop and her daughter that he had been on a business trip to Okinawa. I’d been talking to some other people at the time, but, being from Okinawa, I was slightly irritated to hear him mention it. Most Okinawans of my generation feel uncomfortable at such times. Still, I could not suppress a certain interest in this man’s impressions of Okinawa. But hearing him talk about how he was invited to the home of a “chieftain”, how he drank awamori from a soup bowl, and how “the natives” do this and that, I felt as though he was conjuring up visions of a place I’d never seen. Although aware that this was simply a tourist’s amusement, I was saddened, not only because I am Okinawan, but also because the manager’s daughter was listening wide-eyed to this man’s every word. I had been planning to graduate from my lumpen lifestyle, and my relationship with this girl had progressed to the point where I was intending to ask her to marry me. I couldn’t help wondering what she would think if she knew I was Okinawan. Sitting in a booth of that coffee shop, I concentrated all my energy on writing this poem.

“Where are you from,” she asked.
I thought about where I was from and lit a cigarette.
That place colored by associations with tattoos, the jabisen
and ways as strange as ornamental designs.
“Very far away,” I answered.
“In what direction,” she asked.
That place of gloomy customs near the southern tip of the
archipelago where women carry piglets on their heads and
people walk
barefoot. Was this where I was from?
“South,” I answered.
“Where in the south,” she asked.
In the south, that zone of indigo seas where it’s always
summer and dragon
orchids, sultan umbrellas, octopus pines, and papayas all
nestle together
under the bright sunlight. That place shrouded in miscon-
where, it is said, the people aren’t Japanese and can’t under-
stand the Japanese language.
“The subtropics,” I answered.
“Oh, the subtropics!” she said.
Yes, my dear, can’t you see “the subtropics” right here before
your eyes?
Like me, the people there are Japanese, speak Japanese, and
were born
in the subtropics. But, viewed through popular stereotypes,
that place I am from
has become a synonym for chieftains, natives, karate and
“Somewhere near the equator,” I said.


In the sub-tropics, winter is surprisingly short and easy to bear. The winds might bring a chill, but every now and then everything is bathed in warm sunshine and life suddenly seems a little better.

The end of winter in the sub-tropics is marked with the burst of vivid pink sakura across the island. This year, I feel particularly sympathetic for these blooms because it seems so difficult for people to love them in their own right. Didn’t Shakespeare say that a rose by any name would still smell as sweet? Didn’t Smap sing that each and every flower is equally unique?

When compared to their (seemingly superior) cousins from the sacred mainland, the sakura in Okinawa are simply too pink for their own good. Oh, and they don’t flutter in the early spring breeze like blushing rain like “those on the mainland do”.

I never knew that there were yardsticks for flowers, and that they had expectations to live up to.
For once and for all, a flower is a flower is a flower.

(I have even heard of foreign students who are unwilling to study in Okinawa because they fear that they won’t be taught standard Japanese. – sorry, this is really a story for next time)

If the place isn’t “Japanese” enough for you, perhaps you would like to move on to Kyoto instead?

Okinawa has probably come a long way from being snubbed as a cultural backwater, but some things don’t ever really change. Today the island ekes out a living from selling images of blue seas, azure skies, white sandy beaches and S.L.O.W. life.

Apparently the people here eat luncheon meat with everything and everyone knows how to play the sanshin and do the kacha-shi. The women are sprightly and the men lazy. No one is ever on time and hey, strangers are practically like brothers to the Okinawans because ichariba-cho-de-!!

Which begs the question. Are we supposed to love Okinawa because it’s so “different”, or are we supposed to dismiss the place because it seems nothing like Japan?

Sometimes when I hear the locals sing the praises of their own island, I wonder if they actually mean what they say. Surely there’s more to Okinawa than shi-sa and goya champuru right? But then again, no one mentions the unemployment rate (double the national average), the GDP (lowest in Japan), the divorce rates (highest in the country) or the terrible noise generated by U.S. fighter jets flying low over local residences.

What will it take for Okinawa to be seen in the flesh? The longer we live with the stereotypes and images, the harder it will be for Okinawa to be appreciated and understood the way it should be.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Devilish and the Divine

Bought myself a cookbook on chocolate-making because it's THAT time of the year in Japan where men expect handmade sweet treats from their women.

this year i am sticking to the simple recipes because the fudge chocolate i made for ken's birthday last year was met with a less than cordial reception (darn those coffee granules).

the menu for this year is cocoa-coated almonds and strawberries dipped with milk chocolate.

in the meantime, since i am supposed to be swearing off chocolate, i shall have to contend with feasting my eyes on valrhona.

which reminds me.
i know a place that serves heavenly cocoa melted down from 100% valrhona chocolate that's hidden somewhere in pasir panjang. those who are keen will have to remind me to bring them there when i return home in june.