Thursday, June 30, 2005


If you say a word enough, you can abstract it from its meaning, to being just a sound, bestowing it with a solely onomatopoeic meaning. Say it with joy, and it becomes the joy.

Learning a language is weird just because you stuff your brain with sounds which have no connection with your mind, but which have a link into the very foundations of another cultures lingual landscape. But just looking at the word it is merely a sound. You can say the most tragic things, again and again, concentrating on the pronunciation, executing the grammar of a cruel put down with perfection. And all for the purposes of learning a language.

I never have understood suicide, so perhaps it must be one of the perspective things. I know some people will never understand stuff that I think either. Watching a play that toyed with suicide, I sometimes felt like it was speaking another language. Ritualistic existentialistic self-sacrifice.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

On Friday, I went to see this movie, slightly due to the fact that the movie I wanted to see (Down Fall) was not available, and I had originally planned to see it at a previous film festival but neglected to see any from that selection.

But this movie is powerful. The fact that it is a fact that this happened is probably the strongest element in its power. It enacts the crucial days before and after the Rwandan genocide where almost a million people died in bloody ethnic cleansing.

The acting was great, especially the lead, Don Cheadle, an American actor who was convincing as Paul Rusesabagina. He was the savior to a great many of those who would have been otherwise killed. An Oscar Schindler or John Rabe for the modern time.

For me it clarified the cause of the conflict, and what people mean when it is said, "The UN failed in Rwanda". So on an awareness basis, it was an important film to see. It also is a lesson in global responsibility, and in reflection, with the Darfur crisis just past us, was that a repeat? On the whole, this is a good movie and well worth the effort to see.

One interesting aside was that the small LibertariaNZ political party had this ad before the movie. It was actually very interesting to juxtapose it next to the movie.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Temporarily, my interest in the Chinese language has overcome me (which is good, because Japanese has successfully hogged my attention for so long). I have decided to read a whole Chinese book as quickly as I can. One particular book at the library caught my eye, Rang wo shou yi ju - liu xue Riben (Translation: Please let me say something - Studying abroad in Japan). It caught my eye because it is written by a culturally frustrated Mainland Chinese person in Japan. He is sometimes hateful, sometimes amazingly humble and other times quite confused by Japanese. Strangely, some of his criticism of Japanese drivers was akin to something another friend (from Hong Kong) says about Mainland Chinese drivers. Anyway, I have shot through to page 54 - an achievement for me who struggles to get to that page in English...

Strantely conciding with this burst, perhaps the first Chinese student in a long time, came stumbling into the school, and with many VISA and passport issues, so complicated the issues that she begged for a Chinese speaker... and I was the best they had (well, I am the ONLY person vaguely fitting the bill). So suddenly my skills were in use. Great! Great to hear Chinese English too.

But now, I have class tonight, and strangely I am coping even better with listening than I imagined. I hope it continues in class.

P.S. A nifty little Korean girl defeated the school champ at ping-pong. This I had to see, and instead played her first-hand. Fortunately for my pride, she doesn't cope well with people who love to spin the ping-pong ball, or can serve fast. So in other words, she was minced-meat against me. Purely a matter of style rather than skill though.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


... and not in the usual way. Again I had my Japanese class on the Wednesday and we had our first listening practice test. Oh dear. I have so much work to do to shore up my ability in this area. Almost every question drowned out all comprehension with rapid incomprehensible streams of Japanese. I got a dismal 7 / 16 for the easier part of the test - partially due to test strategy and probability. I will put in twice the effort before the next class because even her instructions were losing me. One bright light was the fact I more or less aced the reading (an area which I didn't do well on in the previous year). And easily dealt with the vocabulary section. So, in a way, I am lucky. I only have one area to really push myself to develop.

One good thing is that I found that my pay was being paid further in arrears than I first thought, so the last cheque included some of my previous full-time work, i.e. a good sum of money. So perhaps I shouldn't be so frugal. Even so, I am planning to restrict myself to one bus-ride a day, and take my dinner whenever I plan to not be home for dinner. I am also making my way through my extensive stocks of grains and legumes to save money. It is actually a good idea, as I usually by stuff and hardly use them till their expiry date, so at least there is a bit of clearing out going on.

I also woke to the news that I could have been relieving a Primary class today. My mum received the call early in the morning while I was still fast asleep. I was already required for work today at the language school but I could have called unavailable. I do have a degree of trepidation about going back to a primary classroom right now, just because I have been out of there for 8 months. I should really get my head together about how I would go about gaining order in such a class, and make the arrangements so I can seize the chance should it happen again.

Anywho, back to work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Mild relief

Well, I have had one full day of work today (i.e. effectively $60 of income) which was a pleasant surprise. Although it came at the expense of a co-worker who had fallen ill. He has recovered now, or is well enough to work tomorrow so I have time to prepare for my course tomorrow as well as do job applications.

I had a slight motivational "bust" over the weekend, where I did pretty much little of any substantial study or preparation for the week, but have refocussed myself now.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Packing for Wednesday

My long weekend has been full of learning, pleasurable learning. I have filled my brain with so much it is almost set to explode. But this is all in the name of good timing. My Japanese proficiency course starts on Wednesday and I need to be hitting well above my weight from the start (as I will be at a comparative disadvantage from all the other students who will have had received recent Japanese teaching or been to Japan).

So comes the art of packing one's brain. As with going abroad to study, it pays to really do intensive learning prior to starting to ensure as many of the hurdles one is going to encounter are minimised and the time spent in class (or abroad) is really worth every penny. Since this course will cost me a bundle, in these low-income days, I want value for money, and I want my efforts and this course to lead to a good level of Japanese and a pass in the second level of the test.

As with my current burst of Chinese study, my Japanese study is going far beyond what I could do previously and oddly it has been easy to do so. Probably one of the better results of this weekend is that I know I can pass the third level of the test already. I have already passed it in 1997 and was initially planning to take it again this year just to shore up my Japanese ability. But if I know I can already pass it, doing it again is rather a waste of time. I did the past test (from 1996) and passed in all sections, even the listening test which is the weakest link in my lingual suit of chainmail. Kanji and Vocabulary was 92%, Listening 77% and Reading and Grammar was 74%. The pass mark is 60% overall.

However, I rediscovered my test results from 1998 to see how badly I did. That was my first and only previous attempt at level two. 19% in listening is a hard thing to accept. It is multichoice with four choices for each answer, so my listening at level two was no better than random guessing. And another aspect I missed, was that even Reading and Grammar, back then, was 57.5% which as a section, does not help me to pass.

Anyway, I still expect a rough time on Wednesday. But have a small goal to use polite language with the teacher if I can. Something, my high school Japanese has not provided me with.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Another Hit

Language junkie, Daniel, has another shot of language amphetamines, this time it was K. Again it came flooding back but was not the tsunami of yesterday. A year of university Korean is not much to really overcome one, so my high was not the high tide that Japanese gave. But the usual people in the class seemed quite dismayed that some foreigner (I was the only "kiwi" there) could stumble in and seem to speak the language better than them.

And I played the villain. Every language teacher hates those horrible Europeans, always so eager to fill the silence when the teacher asks a question. And for a brief time, I was that person. Well, the teacher in question was hardly teaching anyway. More like lurching from topic to topic, and then putting unprepared, untaught students on the spot to answer questions with the whole class listening, without any preparation at all. i.e. setting them up for failure.

So my style was to take the heat off the first perplexed receiver of the obscure question, and then not answer any more (unless I was uncontrollably seized by the moment to blurt out an answer). Overall, I recalled a lot and learnt a little on the way. Even though it was a conversation class, there was little conversation. But some nice people there. I got to practice my Japanese and Chinese while there, which was a pleasant chance seized (love that word) with gusto.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Back to the Future

Ah, the wonders of the brain. Today represents the time when I recovered about 50% of my previous Japanese learning in a day.

Things are happening quite fast. My assault on the three main East Asian languages continues on all fronts unabated. So much so, it is hard to detail everything. Last night I went to a Korean class, but it was just beginners so I observed for free. Strangely, I bumped into a former student there. Inspired, I went to the library to study more Korean. Then I went home and listened to a Chinese listening. At this point, my Japanese was a minimal as ever. But things were about to change. The first sign of things to come was arranging my first language exchange, which was Japanese for Thursday morning.

This morning, I was listening to the Chinese radio, my mind now breathing Chinese while being immersed in English. Then I visited a Korean lecturer and found another conversational opportunity. But while I was exploring the floors of the Auckland Uni Asian Languages building (a building I am very familiar with), I saw a small ad. It said there was a course starting tonight for level 2 of the Japanese Proficiency Test. Originally I was only planning to do level 3 (level 1 being the hardest), because I had passed it before (in 1997) and had failed level 2, in 1998. But, suddenly in the grip of language fever, I decided to give the level 2 course my best shot (I still have plenty of time to decide what I am going to do at the actual test). I e-mailed them, and was told I had to sit a test tonight.

Oh, suddenly my mind switched into recovery mode as I swatted old textbooks, reading it brought back many words. Then I went to the test, and the Japanese people there blurted things that I just couldn't catch. Then I listened again. Suddenly it was like changing the channel. I could catch things. I looked at some words. I couldn't understand them at all. Then I stared at it. And the pronunciation came out of the deepest darkest corners of my mind.

The actual result of the test wasn't great but it was enough to give me confidence. And then the testers chatted with me and suddenly I was speaking it. Although I sometimes accidentally switched to Chinese (zenme shuo... oops... dou iu...), overall I suddenly found the meanings I wished to say were forming naturally in my mind. Then I went into the usual conversation groups and suddenly things were easy. I caught the meanings and I produced my own sentences with much ease.

This all being said, the mountain of knowledge contained in a single language, and even the language required for level 2 Japanese is unbelieveably huge. It is scary to think about it. But I will be preparing myself for the first lesson next Wednesday. I will be exploring newly accessed grounds of my inner mind in language exchange tomorrow and will intensify my language acquisition on the Japanese front.

I have also secured a Korean exchange partner, which will be prepared for before next Monday. On the whole, I think I have naturally and rationally adjusted to my semi-unemployment. I am getting around three quality language courses courtesy of myself, mostly for free. Well the Japanese course will cost a lot, but it is over seven years since I received any instruction in Japanese, it would be nice to have a teacher to take up some of the burden.

So in effect I have changed into a part-time student, but with the flexibility that my time exactly coincides with the time I have free. Excellente! (I am still applying for jobs too, so don't think this is just some elaborate Danielesque procrastination technique, although starting Spanish probably was one such thing)