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Lifelong Learning

January 10, 2013

Life is a journey of learning.  And I genuinely understand this only after I finished my first Bachelor degree and going on to the Honours degree.  After that it’s years and years of very intense learning, longer than the years I have spent for my first degree.

Of all the learning I have, the one that took me the longest (and I’m still taking time to learn bits of it every now and then) is Japanese.  I remember my first  Japanese song was from Hideki Saijo.  My brother introduced me to his songs. I cannot remember exactly when but I was probably between 5 and 8 year-old,  The melody and rhythm caught on so quickly, without knowing the meanings of most words, I was (what the Chinese say) “rolling gourd, rotten ripe”-滚瓜.  That stage of being reminds me of my daughter now.  She sang Italian operas, she memorized many Chinese songs, Hokien songs, Indonesian (batak, sundanese etc) and Japanese songs, none of those she understand the words.

I went back to Youtube searching for Hideki songs, but I could not find any song like those I have sung before.  Sigh!  Until I was a teenager, I only learnt the name of Hideki Saijo in English (or Romanji).  I didn’t know his Chinese name (or Kanji) until someone in Secondary school referred to him as XiChen SiuShu — 西城 秀樹 .  Those Chinese characters got me really interested in the language.  Hey, if they have characters I can read, this must be a language I can easily master, much like some of the other Chinese dialects I picked up.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong!

Fast forward a decade or so, this time I was a graduate student in America.  I picked up a “conversational Japanese” book in the library and memorized ridiculous sentences like

“Kom bang Ohima desk ka?”  (Are you free tonite?)

“Nihon go wakarimasen, yo!  Zen, zen wakaranai!”  ( Yo!  I don’t understand any Japanese!)

I never quite get to use them until I demonstrated it in front of my ODE student who was a native Japanese.  That student politely corrected my pronunciation and gave other variations of saying those sentences which I quickly forgot.  But I began my journey on Japanese grammar.

Within a year or two, two Hong Kong friends of mine convinced me to take Japanese 102.

“Just one class outside your major, it won’t matter!”

“Skip Jap101, you can learn 101 by yourself, come and join us in 102!”

With my limited knowledge, I struggled with Japanese class 102 while learning Japanese 101 by myself.  Every weekend, I would join the HKers and watch Japanese anime “Maison Ikkoku”.   Our goal was to be able to understand without the subtitle!  My two HK friends went on the take other more advanced japanese classes and worked very hard on the language.  They managed to speak the language and reach a level of reading proficiency.  I stopped after that 102 because i only managed a B.  In between, I tried picking up words from other Japaense friends, but the learning is not intense enough and progress was slow if not stagnant.  Plus, the spoken form and the polite form I learnt, differ so much, it was hard to tell what words they were using (even though I already learnt them).  Without a level of fluency, unlike my Mandarin or my Cantonese, my level of proficiency kept sliding back till I was back to square ONE.

fish or sakana

sa ka na

My thesis advisor was in Tokyo Tenki University while I was writing my thesis.  It must be like over a span of two years, because I remember seeing him only 30% of the time while I was doing my graduate school work.  All the other 70% of discussion were using email and fax.  My advisor is British and he eventually moved over to become a professor in Japan.  He already spoke Mexican Spanish fluently, now he has to learn another visual Asian language.  By this time, while I am writing this blog, he must have been there for 15 years!

I am not giving up, like some of the very old students who come to Algebra/Calculus class in a crane.  I continue to listen to podcast, learn using library language tapes and all means I have that does not cost very much, I wanted to learn this third language.

The closest I came to was to be able to order 2 bowls of Ramen noodles at Narita airport completely in Japanese and I remember I had no doubt understanding the cashier and how much the change!  One other time I used the language was in AOYAMA restaurant in our city.  I asked for more tea, was totally ignored and was later told that in that huge Japanese restaurant, no one spoke that language.  Most waitresses were Chinese and hibachi chefs were Malaysian or Indonesian or Laotian.


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