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8th-Aug-2014 11:49 pm - Genbu Kaiden
So I'm still slowly reading my way through the Fushigi Yuugi 'Genbu Kaiden' series. I'm going slowly because a) it's all in Japanese, and b) sometimes the story lulls or gets a bit chore and I stop for a while.

So, thoughts so far…. (Spoilers for books 1-5)

I definitely understand most of it without a dictionary but there are places where I'm not sure I'm getting the meaning completely correct, especially where the language gets blokey. Half the time Rimado talks and I get the idea 'he's yelling about __' or 'he thinks she shouldn't have done __' but I don't know exactly what he's saying.

The main tricky bits are where the villains are talking; I don't know if there's more to their motivations than I've understood (that Rimado's father wants to kill him because of a prophecy, that Kutou is just an enemy of their country and so doesn't want their miko to appear, etc).

My favourite character so far is Tomite. He's got a bit of a sense of humour and mischief about him; the most 'fun' character. Of course he's had a couple of bouts of angst about his past and weakness etc, but he's getting stronger with his powers and that's cool. He seemed to be a bit jealous of Rimado for being Takiko's favourite, but now he's less of a tagalong since he's got a best bro in Hikitsu and a possible girlfriend in Aira (whom I assumed was about 10 years old when I first saw her, but hopefully she's a bit older than that!).

Takiko has been a bit of a disappointment. I mean, she's fine as a character and I like her, but in the opening chapters of volume 1, she was set up as such a cool character - spunky and strong and capable of handling herself in a fight. She's still spunky but she hasn't fought once since acquiring her seishi, even though she's constantly lugging around her massive weapon. She became more of your typical damsel in distress, always being saved. She has, though, shown miko powers of her own more than Miaka did. Interesting to see her use her powers to free herself when she was trapped in ice. It's similar to the test her seishi set for Miaka hundreds of years later.

As a seishi, Namame was a bit left field. I didn't know this world had non-human creatures, nor that one could be a seishi. He can't show any emotion or speak; it's a bit like having a dog tagging along. To be honest, in some ways this works better than being forced to develop seven whole characters and have them all interacting - like in the original Fushigi Yuugi, Mitsukake and Chiriko got sidelined a bit because you just can't give seven characters (PLUS the main heroine, PLUS several villains, plus side characters) equal 'screen time'.

Rimado's a character I can't really get my head around. He's a bit like Ranma - both in his powers and in his personality. Half the time he's yelling and being all macho - when he was first introduced I thought he was a bit of a thug - or being a shrieking, busty woman who looks more like a dude and really is not very feminine (not really 'shoujo romantic lead' material, anyway!). The other half the time he's being all tender and 'I'll always stay by your side', and the two sides don't seem to really fit with each other. I've had a lot of trouble thinking of him as a possible romantic lead, but it was soon clear that the story would head that way (not least because he was the first male Takiko met in this world, and we all know that = love). Anyway, he's growing on me. I just hope he doesn't become one of those characters who have no personality beyond protecting and being with their woman.

I quite like Hatsui and Hikitsu; not much to say as yet. This group of seishi are developing a good set of 'elemental' powers. Wind, water, ice, earth… Hatsui could possibly be plants/wood, sort of. We just need fire, if that's not stepping on Tasuki's toes...

The one thing that's sometimes gotten me bored with the series is the villains and the nature of the clashes between good and evil - a bit repetitive. I know we need villains, but I don't like these villains.

Firstly, the fact that they are such a threat at all strikes me as a bit incredible. Our heroes all have super powers, and the villains (supposedly) don't. How could the villains stand a chance? (My theory: Haagas *does* have powers. No way he's a normal human. There seem to be a lot of supernatural powers in this world, more than in the other series.) Yet these villains seem to always be a real threat.

Secondly, the individual villains aren't really interesting. Shigi is annoying. I hate villains who smile benignly all the time, even when they're massacring innocent people. Like Soujiro in Kenshin. His partner (Houen??) is alright, if a bit of a stereotype. And Haagas is improbably strong. Not to mention every time I read his name, I think of 'haggis'.

Mostly, what I didn't like about the villains was the way they kept popping up, over and over again. No matter what obscure location our heroes go to, the villains always find them almost immediately. (Rimado was pretty impressive himself early in the story. He'd leave the group to re-join the villain's camp, and the moment he felt Takiko was in danger, within SECONDS he'd be back with the group, as if magically teleported there!) The villains would get defeated or evaded, and then they'd be right there again in the next scene, like the Genbu equivalent of Team Rocket.

My favourite parts of the story have been where the villains have not been anywhere around (for example, finding Hikitsu, going to Konan, etc).

I still find it hard to believe, sometimes, what goes into manga 'for kids'. Right now the characters are all undercover in a brothel. Rimado has been forcibly stripped to be dressed up, and the main character has just been delivered to a 'client' and is screaming her head off. Most of it's played for laughs, but even so...

Anyway, at least we have a section that's just *funny*; I like them the best.

What I like most about this manga is that I don't know what's going to happen in it. I don't know how the story resolves itself, what the new seishi will be like, etc. So I'm enjoying finding out and getting to know the new characters, whom I mostly like. Apart from my nitpicks about the villains (and really, they are much less odious than Nakago and Yui in the original Fushigi Yuugi), I'm still enjoying it. I've just ordered all the rest of the series online.
3rd-Jul-2014 11:24 pm - Dogs
The horrible, hysterical barking dog next door has reduced me to such a state of seething hate that I've found myself moving, over the last few months, from 'I quite like most dogs' to 'I'm not really a dog person' to 'I have to really force myself not to sneer when other people talk fondly about their dogs'.

It's not just next door's dog. My house seems surrounded by barking dogs. Not just barking once or twice a day. Barking CONSTANTLY. Waking me before the sun is even up, CONSTANTLY. I hate them all. They deter guests from staying over and prevent me leaving the windows open on nice days. Their owners go jaunting off, staying out for the entire day and night, while their dogs are left running around going absolutely nuts. While the owners are off somewhere, I, who own no dogs, am the one who has to hear them all.
11th-Jun-2014 11:04 pm - Dream house
You know when you're a kid and you design your own 'dream house' - 'and here's the slide, and in this room is a zoo, and this room has a hundred video games in it'?

Last night's dream was just like that. I was invited into a house as a guest. At the beginning we - a handful of lucky guests - were invited to go through and try to find the most valuable item in the house. People were running around with Faberge eggs and diamond necklaces.

As I went hunting through the rooms I saw that every room was full of things to delight me. Music that particularly resonated with me. Merchandise that reminded me of my childhood. Language books; huge, enviable box sets of them. As I explored the house more I found the house had its own private fast food restaurant, its own private bookstore… I felt that the owners of the house had filled their rooms with me in mind, knowing I would be coming and wanting to tailor them just to please me.

In my Father's house are many rooms… ha ha ha.
7th-Jun-2014 11:02 pm - Yonda manga
Today I felt proud because I spent the afternoon reading a manga. So, big deal? Well, because I started it, and finished it, today, and all in Japanese. Normally if I read anything in Japanese it's been quite a long-term project - I've had some manga that I read in bits over several weeks, for instance.

The other good thing was that it was a story I'd never read before, and didn't know, and I could follow it, with some dictionary help. Many of the things I read in Japanese are things I have some prior knowledge of - manga based on anime I saw years ago, translations of children's books books I've read in English, books of 'general knowledge' facts I partly knew already, etc.

You've got to celebrate these small milestones!

For the record, the 'new' manga was the 'Genbu' series of 'Fushigi Yuugi'. The original Fushigi Yuugi was an anime I saw; I've been reading a few of the manga of it and quite enjoying it so I thought I'd attempt the author's newer series. It's interesting that it's set in the same world and has the same basic underlying premise (Japanese girl gets sucked into the world of a book ala 'Neverending Story', has to locate her seven protectors to summon a god and save the land) but a lot of aspects are different.

For example, the main character in the original series was a kind of cheery ditz, always blundering into trouble and needing saving, thinking of her stomach, etc. This new girl (Takiko) is a bit more mature - and a little older - with recent sorrows in her life. She's also much more of a fighter and shows spunk and strength right from the beginning. I like that. Another difference is that one of the protectors Takiko will need to recruit is pretty morally grey and currently in cahoots with the enemy - so her mission of finding the seven is complicated from the beginning.

(One thing I don't really care for is the author's tendency - in fact, most manga artists have this tendency, no matter how young the audience of their books - to get her female characters naked for various dramatic, comedic or ?artistic purposes. Already, twice in this first book. Is it really necessary??)

Back to reading Japanese… I had been plugging along at the study until I felt like I just could not *bear* another BORING practice JLPT N2 text. They are such heavy work; they feel like a slog through one sentence after another with the dictionary. I decided, stuff it, while I will need to do *some* 'serious' reading practice, what I should be doing at this time is actually *enjoying* Japanese and the fact that I've now reached the point where I can *read* some things (though I have to choose my texts carefully; there are plenty that are far too hard).

So, away with those textbooks. After all, I spent hours of slogging through them, reviewing them, re-reading them, etc, all through last year, and did not improve my reading score by even ONE point. So how much did I really improve from them anyway?

It's interesting, though, to read in Japanese. In English, I read masses of books, and as a result, I'm very fast at reading, to the point where I can't *help* reading fast and often unconsciously skim over descriptive passages to get to the 'meat' of the story. My sister thinks this means I'm not fully absorbing and appreciating the books, and she may be right, but I can't seem to force myself to slow down.

In Japanese, however, it's more like I'm a child still learning to read well. I don't effortlessly skim over sentences and paragraphs - I wouldn't know if I was skipping something important or not. I go, word by word, carefully. I make my way through one sentence, and then onto the next. The interesting thing is that I find myself feeling very deeply absorbed as I do so. Assuming I fully understand what I'm reading, I really 'feel' each passage as it sinks into my brain.

So there you go, sister, I have learned how to read something slowly again and to appreciate it!
2nd-Feb-2014 12:23 pm - Students
I sometimes get students adding me on Facebook. My rule of thumb is not to add any students as 'friends' until their course is finished and I'm no longer their teacher. Still, having a variety of ex-students as Facebook friends makes me a bit more careful about laughing at student mistakes in Facebook posts, ha ha… maybe I should put them here instead.

Anyway, today's was a student writing a reflection; she felt she had really improved her 'English writhing'.
30th-Jan-2014 09:15 pm - Technology
There was an ad on TV for some new gadget and, like a lot of this sort of ad, had a kind of theme of 'the future is now! let's make the future happen now, get connected, blah blah'.

'Why do we always have to be chasing after the future?' I remarked to my housemate, 'why can't we try to recapture the past instead? Surely we're connected enough already.'

She said that if she had the choice to turn back the clock and go back to an age before the Internet and mobile phones, she probably would.

There's an interesting question to ponder… whether life would be better and whether individuals would opt for such a notion (probably not). There's no doubt the Internet has been convenient in a myriad of ways. But life went on for thousands of years before the Internet ever existed; we could get used to living without it once again.

I think… despite how much I use the Internet and how much enjoyment I've had from it, and despite how useful it is to me personally… that I'm just a little inclined to agree with her. I think at some point we crossed a threshold where technology became *too* much a part of our lives, and that was probably with the popularity of mobile Internet, carrying the Internet about with us everywhere we go.

I'm probably influenced by having just read Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in the 50s and the kind of innocent, gentle paced, carefree days of his childhood. Or perhaps it's that we humans are just naturally inclined to feel nostalgia toward and idealise whatever was around when we were younger.
30th-Jan-2014 08:03 pm - JLPT
Japanese proficiency test results out today.

Score required for a pass: 90 points.
Score I got: 89.


Compared with last time, here's how my individual results changed.
Vocab/grammar: 23 -> 25 / 60
Reading: 23 -> 22 / 60 (!)
Listening: 31 -> 42 / 60

Don't you like that? I did not actively 'study' listening at *all* in the whole year. Instead, I spent hours and hours learning lots of new kanji and vocabulary, poring over boring text after boring text, reviewing and reviewing the same grammar, trying to get it to stick… and doesn't it show!

25th-Jan-2014 09:00 pm - Tennis final
Gahh, I was really enjoying the women's tennis final. It's rare to have a match where a) I am really rooting for one of the players in particular, and b) that player has at least some chance of winning the match. In this case, I really wanted to see Li Na take it.

So, after the first set, I had to go home, so I drove quickly (but legally ^_^) thinking, I'll at least see the last part of the second set. Nup. In the short time it took to drive home, the entire second set was wrapped up. 6-0!! How often does that happen? That's just not fair. :(

Ha ha ha… anyway, despite missing the end of this match, I am very happy with the result. And very happy to see all the shriekers fall short in the end. Hurrah for women's tennis!
3rd-Dec-2013 10:22 pm - JLPT

I took the JLPT level N2 again last weekend. I didn't do well. If it's possible, I think I could have done even worse than last time. The vocab/kanji section was the worst, I think. I think I was unlucky there, because I do know quite a lot of kanji... It's kind of like if you know 70% of the content for a test and you go in and the entire test is composed of the 30% you don't know.

It didn't help that I was sick with a minor head cold. I'm not saying that if I was healthy I would have suddenly known what all the kanji meant, but it's a fact that reading lots of Japanese texts requires concentration and a quick mind, not mentally swimming in pea soup.

I felt really disappointed afterwards, actually. After all, I've been studying intermediate/upper-int Japanese for over two years now. That's a long time to work at something and not noticeably improve. People I know well, who know how long I've studied, sometimes say 'wow, you must be totally fluent by now!' I failed this level last year and I've been studying quite hard for the last six months. I'd started to feel like I was really getting the hang of the N2 language and actually *remembering* the vocab and grammar, so I'd felt quite confident going into this particular test.

Now, just because I did badly in the test doesn't negate all this - I still have improved, and after all, that is the main thing... deshou?

Oh well... third time lucky? Haha...
11th-Oct-2013 04:44 pm - Teacher, teach thyself...
Me, teaching: "Now, when you write an essay, take some time first to plan it. It's really important to plan before you start. Make an outline of your essay's paragraphs and what you're going to say in each one."

Me, actually writing an essay for my own study: "Hmm... I'm almost 2000 words over the word limit and haven't even finished covering all the main points or reworded anything to include all my references. Guess I'd better spend the next four hours going through it trying to decide what to keep..."

I should have made a plan.
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