Finals and Nostalgia

Last night was the first night the Knight Library was open 24/7. In light of the fact that my XBox kept distracting me (damn you College Football 2003), a change in location was most certainly welcome.I brought my laptop with me because a) it has all my homework on it and b) I finally figured out how to keep the damn thing charged. My AIM program, despite me never using it, was running. At about 3:00 a.m., one of my friends from Japan logged on. She’s currently in Uzbekistan doing whatever it is she does when traveling to various under-traveled parts of the world, but she took the better part of 20 minutes to chat with me.

We talked about finals, how she was graduating and securing a job, and how we both just wanted to be carefree for the next few months of our lives. I remember last year at this time, her, I, and another friend were doing the same thing I did last night; staying up all night in the library busting our butts for our classes and distracting each other at the most inappropriate of times.

Despite the amount of stress I was under, I really miss those moments. I miss spending hours talking about the various political ideologies that went into developing certain positions, or about how Roger Federer really is the best tennis player in the world. I miss going to China Blue, or Sweet Basil, or wherever and talking about everything and nothing. I miss outside japanese lessons, skipping Japanese class because my friends were better teachers, throwing surprise parties for friends, spontaneous coctail parties, Wednesday night trips to Highlands… it’s all stuff associated with last year, and my friends from last night brought that flood of memories back to me.

But it’s all stuff from last year, and it’s stuff I’ll never get back. Looking back is something I cannot afford to do, because then I’ll miss all the great stuff that’s coming.

Removing the Crutch

I discovered this while studying Japanese, but I think it applies to all learning. The experts that troll this blog can comment and say otherwise if I’m wrong (I’m looking at you, Adelle).

After 1 term of studying Japanese, we had learned both Japanese phonetic alphabets. Each of us had the ability to pronounce any of the characters, but it took us a considerable amount of time. At the end of the first term, and for the rest of our time spent studying Japanese, our instructors posted all lessons in the Japanese phonetic alphabet.

The first time we had to read entire scripts in Japanese was humorous to say the least! Everyone read extremely slow. What’s more, we hated reading using Japanese characters. It was such a struggle because it felt like such a topical regression. In English, native speakers have become so accustomed to recognizing words that we don’t bother looking at spelling for pronunciation as much as we look at word recognition. In Japanese, we experience somewhat of the same phenomenon. Instead of being able to recognize entire words, we were forced to examine and consider every pronunciation. Word distinction at that stage was nigh impossible given that there are no word break markers in pure hiragana/katakana (phonetic reading) Japanese.

But as time went on, and as we learned additional Chinese symbols (they go a long way in helping with word recognition and word breaks), we all became much more proficient in reading comprehension and pronunciation. I can read a Japanese text MUCH quicker than I was able beforehand.

I’m grateful my instructors removed the roman letters crutch. I know for a fact that had I been studying by myself, I would have been much more reluctant to use only Japanese characters… or maybe I would have never done it. But by removing that crutch, we were forced to adapt, and that’s something I think we as a species are amazing at doing. The problem, of course, is us not wanting to step outside our comfort zone. But the more we do, the more we learn and grow, and the more that a particular subject/area we’re working with becomes a comfort zone.

Being quick to abandon what’s comfortable, always looking toward the unseen path… that’s a personality trait I hope to develop.

週末 (My Weekend)

Two things:

One: Had a good weekend. The ISA co-directors were invited to a formal dinner to commemorate the opening of the Mills International center. We were served a three-course meal and had the opportunity to interact with University of Oregon faculty and donors. I was fortunate enough to be seated with the provost of International Affairs and the director of the EMU (along with two other guests whose names escape me).  Also, the University of Oregon president was seated next to me (but at the opposite table; we didn’t have any opportunity to interact).

Hung out with Sean and Adelle that night and all of the next day. We went to the football game (in which Oregon proceeded to slaughter the Washington State Cougars 52-7) and then over to Sean’s house where we were treated to a variety of different foods. My contribution was the wine for the Sanagria (spelled correctly, Sean?). After that was an onslaught of Guitar Hero, Halo, and American Idol Karaoke.  Loads of fun.

Two: I received a message on my Mixi account (a japanese style facebook or myspace) from one of my friends in Japan, all of which was in Japanese. She wrote it  in Japanese, and I could tell she wrote it so that 90% of it utilized grammar and vocabulary I already knew and that 10% of it was new vocabulary and grammar, forcing me to do a little research on my own.

Even now, 3 months after most of those guys have gone back to Japan, I’m still amazed at how much they care about foreigners learning their language. All of my Japanese exchange student friends from last year (and there was a lot of them) always took five minutes out of their day to make sure I was speaking correctly and encouraging me to persist when studying the language became difficult. They always tried to make it interesting and relevant, going out of their way to introduce me to phrases that were appropriate for whatever situation I was in (especially the 飲んで,飲んで,飲んで song… what a horrible song!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that (1) I have never met any group of people who were enthusiastic about teaching something as they were about teaching me their language and (2) its remarkable that they were so eager to welcome me into their groups of friends and become a part of my group. I think without them, I would have failed out of Japanese Class.

Lightning tonight… wish I could get more sleep

Stayed on ’till 7:30, lots of lightning, our truck broke down, I have to be at work tomorrow at 8… and I am still awake messing around on my blog.

私は昨日は忙しかったが,今日はひま。 yeah, right. I wish.
It’s not so bad I guess. More money.

On another front, AC/DC pre-Brian Johnson was a great band; perhaps they were the very epitome of 70’s rock (It’s a long way to the top!).

Should be sleeping… need to go to bed… fire tomorrow, I guarantee.

Foreign Language Vocab

Just thought I’d post some vocab words I’m hoping to have memorized by Saturday:

えきーeki-station
べんり(な)ーbenri-convinient
ふべん(な)ーfuben-inconvinient
たくさんーtakusan-a lot
こうがいーkougai-suburbs
ところーtokoro-place
すくないーsukunai-few; little

Easy enough, right? (sorry for the lazy post!)

I miss..

Eh, this blog seems to be getting more popular. Kudos to all you randoms who have been reading. I appreciate it, seriously.

It is no secret that I feel my job leaves much to be desired. Sure, I can go around and tell people I’m a fireman, and they get impressed for the better part of five minutes, but the lifestyle firefighters (especially seasonal wildland firefighters like myself) lead during and outside of firefighting is not what I want. One of my crew members and I were discussing this and he had a hard time believing that firefighting was not my everlasting passion. I really didn’t know what to say to him at the time, but I think now I have it figured out.

We were sitting at the guard station watching a movie. I was, as I always do, thinking about school and how bad I can’t wait to get back. One of the forest officers who overheard my conversation with my crewmember asked me what it was I missed so bad about school. In short, my answer is I miss all the little things that come with studying away from home such as:

-Getting up at 5:30 to get the first cup of fresh coffee at Cafe` Roma
-Running from one side of campus to the other to make it to class on time
-The satisfaction that comes with handing in “A” work
-Hanging out with people all over the country AND all over the world who I would otherwise never have the chance to so much as meet
-Engaging in a community that has a vested interest in you learning their language (I owe any knowledge I have of the Japanese language to an amazing group of Japanese exchange students)
-Discussing Mill with a classmate I just met 15 minutes ago
-Preparing food with friends that involve trimmings from all over the world
-Going to the bar and having a pint with friends at the term’s end
-Walking home to my apartment late at night after spending 5 hours in the library

It’s the small things like these that make college life so worthwhile and desirable. I’ve never had this much drive, motivation, desire… whatever it is I’ve never felt anything like it before. When I’m in Eugene, it feels like the rest of the world is open to me and all I have to do is choose which direction I want to go and I can go there. Perhaps this encompasses the “grander scheme of things”, but it is my daily engagement in the smaller aspects of college life that cause it to transcend from bearable to desirable.

The Desirable Travel Experience (for me)

Japan and Germany are tied for the places I want to visit the most. Germany has its pull because it is the land of my ancestors, but Japan, I think, is more attractive to me. Here’s why:

I’ve been studying Japanese for about a year now, and I’ll admit, I’m not good at it. However, I’ve had friends with little or no prior foreign language experience become fairly fluent in Japanese. Their secret? They’ve traveled to Japan on foreign exchange programs, some with no prior knowledge of Japanese, and made serious efforts to engage in Japanese culture, which means copying native speakers and speaking as much as possible. I’ve heard some of them describe themselves as toddlers who are just learning how to speak.

Being thrust into a country whose language I have only an elementary understanding of… That’s what I want.. or at least, that’s what I think I want. I guess in this situation the old maxim of being careful about what one wishes for applies here most.



As a quick aside, it rained today. The rain re-moisturized fuels that had been drier than ever making it just that more unlikely that our district will get any sort of significant fire in the near future.

Watch me eat my words in a couple days…