Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pre-Japanter, and the Road to Hellespont.

Yesterday I received my ticket confirming that, at slightly earlier than 19:35 on 1st September 2011, MR GRAHAM ANDERSON (Yes, that old chestnut) will be boarding Korean Air flight KE908 to Seoul, and thence onwards to Fukuoka, Japan, where this whole shebang will, as they say, kick off.

At this point, that’s all the information I have. Nothing on how we’re getting from the airport to our digs at the less than inspirationally named “Cambridge House”, or what we do when we get there. This information drought aside, I have continued faith that all shall fall into place nicely. And if not, they have beer vending machines everywhere, I’m told.

Many people have asked me, upon learning that I’ve decided to put my life in Europe on hold for eleven months, “why?” There is no answer. The wonderful thing about this adventure, as I stand on the precipice, tiptoeing to the edge, trying to peer into the soy-sauce coloured abyss beyond, is that it really serves no purpose. For at least the last 8 years, every stage in my life has been, to an extent, predetermined and had a defined goal. Pass your GCSEs, AS levels, A levels, Cambridge degree, Paris degree. But now it’s different. Someone asked me if I wanted to have a (more or less) all expenses paid year in Japan. Of course I said yes. It has nothing to do with my future career (though perhaps being one of what must be a small number of London lawyers who speaks good Japanese will be of advantage to me in the years to come) or anything more concrete than a fascination about a country that has for years been an economic and cultural titan, and yet about which so few know so little. It might be wonderful, it might go completely tits up; but at least I’ll be able to say I’ve been and done it.  

It was put to me last night that I didn’t seem very excited about the prospect of Japan. Nothing could be further from the truth: as I write I’m perched on a harassed Hellenic hotelier’s balcony, eyes captivated by the ancient Ionian sea, nose by salt, skin by sun, but all that plays on my mind is the thought that “God, this is going to be so much banter. So much fucked-up banter. And there but for the grace of the aforementioned go I”. No, in recent years it has become quite clear to me that all of the interesting and, heck, wonderful things I’ve been able to do have come about because I have said “yes!” or have poked my nose in, been interested and gotten something out of it. Let us hope, for my sake, that this philosophy plays well on the other side of Eurasia, where social mores are, it is safe to say, not-the-same.

My preparation for the trip has been far from devoted. Instead of the preparatory language work I should have been doing, I have been teaching English to the unfortunate people of Essex, gallivanting with Italian teenagers, and missing people who, until two moons ago, were extremely present presences in my life. If I have any hesitation in going, it is echoed in the twinge of regret expressed by Ulysses in Tennyson’s eponymous poem. Quoth the hero: “I cannot rest from travel…”. The north east of England is beloved to me, and yet I have spent no real time there since I was 18. University in term time, the corners of the world in the holidays. Some of you will know that I have what looks like a fully-funded place on the bar course at Northumbria University, which I have had to delay in aid of the Japanter. I’m very much looking forward to doing it, not least so that I could finally settle in the city I love.
But as the famous saying goes: The Northumbrianter must wait!

The status quo is that I can just about handle one of the three Japanese writing systems (hiragana (ひらがな[1], the lovely curly alphabet that is indeed an alphabet and not idiographic, used for grammar and spelling obscure kanji[2] (the complex Chinese characters used for nouns, verbs and adjectives). I still need to put my hand (pen…?) to katakana (カタカナ) the Japanese use to spell foreign (notably English words) .  

I’ve read a couple of books about Japan, including the wonderfully colonial sounding “The Japanese Mind” by Davies and Ikeno; an interesting read for anyone interesting enough to be interested in interesting ol’ Japan.
If you go to Japan on holiday or something, you don’t need a visa, but as we’re studying, we do. I had hoped, vainly, that I would receive the paperwork while I was still in Paris (visa talk having begun back in March), such that I might pop along to see Monsieur l’Ambassadeur du Japon and get it all done and dusted. Sadly, the stuff did not arrive until about a week before I went to Greece, meaning a hasty trip on a windy-day to the Consulate in Edinburgh on Festival-Eve. Always a pleasure to see Harriett, of course, but never a pleasure to worry whether you’re going to miss your first family holiday in five years because the Royal Mail doesn’t post your passport back promptly. Still, they did and here I am.

My second run-in with the Royal Mail was when I realised that my aeroplane weight allowance would not be sufficient for the stuff I probably needed to take (fine wines, fur coats, jousting equipment) and so down I went to the post office. And herein commences a tale of woe:
Fuck up n° 1: Though the internet had promised me 75 GBP for the package I wanted to post, the slightly overawed lady at the counter said she couldn’t see less than 115 GBP.
Fuck up n° 2: “And in any case strange man who seems to be moving to the other side of the world, it won’t do to just send it like that, in a perfectly taped up box. Oh no, it must be wrapped. Them’s the rules”.
Fuck up n° 3 (the reader should be aware that Fuck up n° 3 takes place 24 hours after FUs ns° 1 and 2, after a session of wrestling with bin bags, and heaving the parcel through the South Shields rain): “Oh if I were you love, I would play it safe and pay 10 quid extra so that the parcel arrives in four days and you get insurance”. This despite the fact that I was heading to Greece and there would, as such, be no one to receive the parcel in four days’ time in Japan. Well, the lady was insistently concerned about the welfare of my package (ooh-err), and so agreed that it could be stored in her safe (I’m so sorry). Actually, it was the post office manager who said it could be stored in the safe until I come back to post it during what I’m going to call the Hellespont: the bridge between Greece and Asia (now Istanbul!).

I shall leave it there, and get back in the sun. As if a ginge like me will ever go brown, sigh…

[1] It took hours of fannying about to work out how to type this, so I hope you’re bloody grateful.
[2] I have no idea how to type these. 

1 comment:

  1. Grahame, the japanter is already sublime! Keep it coming mate!