The Stages of Learning Japanese

I am sitting here at my table (as always), staring at the sandwich I just made wondering if the bread has really gone stale or not. The date of expiration states 11th and I will be eating it for lunch tomorrow – Feb 14th- when I go skiing again for the second time; it started snowing again and I need to make the most of this cold weather. This is ironically, the sunny side of winter.. winter sports that is. Anyway the point of today’s post is Japanese. I have been in Japan for exactly 4 and a half months, and have been studying Japanese for exactly that long. Next week, I have final exams before heading on a month’s break, spring break as it were. I currently have no plans beyond a vague idea of seeing the cities Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe but ideas are welcome.

I don’t need to learn Japanese beyond the basics actually, my research will be entirely in English. But I want to pick up a fourth language, almost everyone in Kenya speaks at least 3 languages so of course I want to be unique; and when I get time I will hopefully pick up a 5th one, French for when I have to order wine at an expensive restaurant (red/white/sweet/dry, who uses those anymore?! ;-)) I think 5 will be my limit though!

While the normal stages of learning things of interest for me have been 1)excitement 2) some understanding 3)comprehension/plateau and 4)competence,  with Japanese the stages have been 1) Frustration 2) Excitement 3) Frustration 4)Some Understanding 5) Excitement 6) More Understanding 7)Some Depression… in short, it is an up and down graph. After learning and understanding something, I get excited then I quickly realize how much more I don’t understand and the frustration/depression has me plummeting again.

Learning Japanese

Learning Japanese

 1. Let’s start with Frustration

My first lesson in Japanese was actually in Japan. The first lesson in class was introducing ourselves. Which was easy to speak, but I couldn’t write or read; I could not read hiragana or katakana. I finally mastered hiragana after about two weeks (sure it might seem slow but we had to learn on our own as the pace of the classes assumed hiragana/katakana competence). So naturally I now entered the second stage, excitement!

2. Reading kana led to Excitement

Suddenly I could read the words in the textbook . We used Dekiru Nihongo which has no Romaji or English explanations. I could finally tell people which country I come from, which are my hobbies, when is my birthday, ask how much something is etc, and I could write these in kana! The textbook has hiragana readings above very Kanji character but of course in everyday interaction hardly any Kanjis are going to be having hiragana readings on top.

3. Leading to Frustration Again

Sure, we could now tell you what time, day, month and year it is, we could say what we do on weekends, what will did and what we will do. Now that the introduction was out of the way, it was time to learn Kanji and when we started a once a week separate Kanji class, you start to realize that one character can be read in several different ways, depending on whether it is a word on its own or it is being combined with another character to form a new word. It can also be a component of a bigger Kanji. Then you realize there are more than 10,000 Kanji (my Chinese friend told me that is why all Chinese people wear glasses, the strain they go through as kids trying to master all the Kanji.. and now that I think about it all the Chinese people I have encountered here in Japan do wear glasses hmmm..). However, we started simple, and we learned that in Japan the newspapers use about 3,000 Kanjis and the weekly characters we learned corresponded with our grammar & vocabulary classes, making it easier to remember them.

4. Thus we Finally Had Some Understanding of Japanese

By the third month, we could speak simple sentences about every day things. We could write down our schedule, waking up, walking to school, studying Japanese, doing homework in the library, having dinner at a restaurant, ordering, past tense, present continuous etc.. We could even read some Kanjis!

5. Excitement: I can Read Kanji

It was then the third month into the course, and we could even read and write some Kanji. It finally stopped being incomprehensible sticks that don’t make sense; it was still sticks but we could make out shapes and get a sense of what they were trying to communicate. In a paragraph, it was possible to find one or two words that we could read and understand the meaning! Such as 日本語(Japanese), 日本(Japan), 酒(alcohol, yes I know my priorities ;)) and days of the week 日、月、火、水、木、金、土「曜日」

6. More Understanding

The lessons started to get more interesting. We learned more ways to say something, when to use one way and not another. When to say something must be done, something should be done, it is not necessary to do something, and other nuances; learned to offer opinion, how to ask for help (even when you don’t exactly understand any answer you would be given in the real world), how to pick out important information in a poster for an event using the few Kanjis we knew (when, where, what time), learned to give directions, explain symptoms to a doctor, parts of the body, etc.

Four months in and we could speak, read, write and hear basic Japanese. However in the real world, language is so much more than the basic need to pass information about where you are coming from, what you are going to eat, what your plans for the weekend are, and what part of your body hurts. Language is also about bonding, creating bonds of friendship by revealing your thoughts and opinions to your friends.

After understanding this, you start to realize just how little Japanese you know hence..

7. Just a little depression

Sure you can read maybe 300/3,000 Kanjis (I may be exaggerating to make myself feel better) and can speak many more Japanese words; you cannot get lost in Japan and can even have a decent conversation with someone you just met for the first or second time. But the third time you meet that person you need more than that. You can ask someone something, but you can’t quite understand their response. You know just how much you don’t know! Which is about 20%. You need a break, spring break! Then come back for the 80% which will be definitely much easier to learn since now you know what to expect. Or more difficult to learn since the level of complexity is increasing. Either way, challenge accepted!

 

Book Review: Broken by Karin Slaughter

Sitting at the table in my room and eating fairly tasteless food I made, I have come to the realization that I cannot cook. Sure, I can put ingredients in a pot and stir them over a fire, but 90% of the time they come out tasting like what I am eating now, and I don’t like it. I don’t know where the magic went after I cooked my first meal in Japan.  Even Googling recipes and improvising didn’t work, I think cooking requires a level of patience that I am not capable of. Therefore I am now adding ‘good cook’ to the rather short list of qualities I am looking for in the future Mr. Savvy (it is not an actual list but if you must know it includes things such as kind, smart, financially stable – I know it is 2015 and I can make money for our family but er… – taller than me (I am only 5ft1inch), slim to average build, reads even if only sometimes, and a good cook.)

Broken by Karin Slaughter

Broken by Karin Slaughter

The above is not entirely related to the book I am about to review, but I borrowed this book from someone who is also a good cook (I have already said too much *cough *cough). Anyway I generally like to read books with haunting characters, books that leave the characters’ impression on your mind for days, even months after reading it. Books that let you reminisce about the characters, evoking nostalgia as if you were a part of the story. This is the reason why I mostly read fiction, and when I am not reading fiction I can only push myself as far as biographies (watch out for Maya Angelou’s book review soon). Although Broken isn’t one of these books, I enjoyed reading it very much.

Broken is about crime, and solving it. A young college girl of 21, Allison Spooner, is murdered, but who is the killer? The police swoop in and arrest a prime suspect, an almost retarded kid who later commits suicide in the cells. The detective in this case is Lena Adams, who is working with Frank Wallace the Chief of Police in the county, and they are in a hurry to close the case. However when Tommy the chief suspect commits suicide in police custody, the former coroner Dr. Sarah Linton is called in for the autopsy and gets involved in the case. She does not trust the police and calls the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation for reinforcement; she needs someone she can trust to work on the case. Enter Agent Will Trent, who then begins working with Sarah to unravel the case. Agent Will Trent is the typical smart, dark, handsome etc.. agent.

Sarah was a bit too weepy for my like, I didn’t like her character very much; Lena Adams was not quite defined, you like her one moment you hate her the next… I feel like the characters were not fully developed but while Googling the image used above I came across a review that stated this is the 7th book in a series of crime books. This explains it, the characters have been developed in earlier books. Nevertheless, there was the question of the two dead characters, what is the connection between them? Who killed them and why.. there is a third character who winds up dead, there is betrayal, there is even a hint of romance, a hint of mystery (there is so much we don’t know about Lena) and there is the story of how Sarah’s husband died, which we never quite learn in the book.

It was a good book to read in between tackling Kusadikika and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

P.S. Reading is not as important cooking in the case of Mr. Savvy 😉

Recommended Apps: MyLingala and MyRcpt for Mpesa Receipting

My Lingala

We grew up listening to lingala songs, and we sang them word for word sometimes even when we did not know what we were singing. That wasn’t important though, gyrating our waists to the rhythm of the beats was where we put most effort, but I don’t know about you. Once we grow older, we listen to the same songs with nostalgia and scour youtube for videos with lyrics but they are scanty.

Enter myLingala Android App, which I have reviewed before. The app not only has the lyrics in lingala, but also their English translations. This is an improved version which incorporates audio-streaming so you can listen to the song as you scroll down the lyrics. In addition, you can also request a song, which will come with the next update.

Some of the songs in the lingala App

Some of the songs in the lingala App

A song with lyrics translated

A song with lyrics translated

You can get this app from the Safaricom app store, and pay only Kshs. 199 using your airtime. A lot effort went into this app and should be appreciated.

MyRcpt App for M-Pesa Receipting

A second app I would recommend for business people who are struggling to keep records of M-Pesa transactions, and giving receipts to customers or presenting receipts when needed, is MyRcpt. It is also an Android app that is available on, appropriately, the Safaricom App Store for also Ksh. 199 which you can pay with your airtime. Businesses need the paper work filed so this app will be quite useful to business people.

According to the brief description on the store: “MyRcpt is an application that converts your M-pesa paybill and lipa na mpesa texts into pdf receipts that you can export to your email account or pdf reader and print for filing purposes. It can also serve as proof of payment and legitimizes your text receipt into a real physical receipt that people can recognize and accept. With MyRcpt you can now rest easy and file all your bulk payments, rent,utility bill e.t.c for accountability purposes.”

I tried it out, and once I ran it, all my Paybill transactions showed up. The app is easy to use and I like the minimalist design.

Recent Paybill Transactions are showed, don’t ask why I was paying Ksh. 100 to KPLC!

All Paybill transactions are displayed

All Paybill transactions are displayed

When you choose a specific transaction, this is the screen you see.

You can then select a specific transaction and get the receipt for it

You can then select a specific transaction and get the receipt for it

You can choose to save the receipt as pdf or send it it through email.

You can choose to view the receipt as a pdf, that is the form it will be saved in. You can also send it on email.

You can choose to view the receipt as a pdf, that is the form it will be saved in. You can also send it on email.

If you want to try out this app, here is the link to the store. I am sure there is potential for many more uses so I would watch out for this app if I were you.

Finding My Mother

Scene 1: German Cofffee Shop, This Sunday Morning

I am seated at the Germany Coffee Shop near Korinbo 109 in downtown Kanazawa, having a cup of coffee, a hamburger and another piece of bread whose name I know not (it is Sunday brunch). I am not taking pictures of my food for Instagram, instead I am reading an incredible story on Facebook, a story that I am somehow involved in, but only at the very edge. I am fighting hard to stop the tears from flowing. The central character to this story is one Rodel Mc Felpe Aliwalas, who will narrate his story shortly. Seated next to me is Harumi Manabe, who is part of our Sunday-after-church-coffee routine. Yes, these days I attend church but that is a story for another day. One my other side is Kei-chan, also a part of the crew. Seated opposite us are Matilda, another Kenyan doing research here and Natsuko-san, a Japanese lady who is also involved in the story.

Still keeping up so far? The five of us are listening to the background of the story in a mixture of English and Japanese over coffee and bread. My part starts with the previous week on Sunday, when Harumi gave me a name and told me to look for a certain man named Rodel Mc Felpe Aliwalas. Being bad with names and instead of writing it down, I chose the easier way of taking a picture. They had tried to find him earlier but the only profile they found was a sketchy one on linkedIn. His mother, Edona, was a friend of theirs and had asked them to find him 6 months ago but they had had little success so far. She had come to Japan from Philippines many years earlier and was then married to a Japanese man.

Modifying the search parameters a little, I was able to find a profile on an Arabic job website that looked recently active. LinkedIn had not worked, they wanted me to upgrade my account before I could send a message (can you believe it?). The profile I found matched whom I was looking for: a mid-30s guy from Philippines who now appeared to be working in Qatar. I had one credit to send one free message to a member after signing up, but it was all I needed. I now had to compose my message, something that he would actually read. Spam messages from strangers are often titled: Urgent, Please Read, Hello Dear and such like. I finally settled on “Looking For You”; since the email was coming from a jobs website, maybe it would imply that the sender was looking for him in a professional way and would incite enough curiosity to be read. I hopped that it would at least be delivered to their actual email and so I included my email address in the message, crossed my fingers and waited.

In a few minutes, I got a reply from him! Unbelievable, I hadn’t thought it would be that easy and was prepared to track the company he said he indicated for in Qatar to get his contact. I immediately chatted with Harumi on Facebook, telling her he had replied. He asked me questions trying to establish authenticity on part; I would then ask Harumi on Facebook and back and forth it went. It was midnight here, and we continued the exchange until around 1am. He wanted so many answers but I had never met his mother so I could not answer him, and he had to wait for the following day when he would call Harumi and get some answers.

The initial email exchange

The initial email exchange

That was last week. Exactly one week later, we are back at the coffee shop and I am reading Rodel’s story, how he finally found his mother, and wondering if I should share it on the blog, with his permission of course. I get back to my room after coffee, and I find an email and I find an email requesting me to share the story my blog! Below, read it for yourself.

I found you and you are gone

It was summer of 2002 and I was a young 24 years old when my mom called me and she told me that she have a stage 4 breast cancer.  She was in Japan at the time living with my Japanese stepfather and my 11 years old half-brother Sadato.  After that phone conversation, my mom didn’t call me again, no letters, whatsoever.  I’m trying to call her on their land line and no one’s answering.  I tried to write a letter and sent it to her address but there was no reply.  Days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years and there’s no news about my mother.  I tried to ask for help in our Philippine embassy and Japanese consulate but there were no results.  I asked my friends who happen to have Japanese friends but there’s no luck.  I can’t find my mom.  I cannot think of any reason why she suddenly disappeared and so I thought that she’s already dead.  Having a stage 4 cancer is something serious and cannot be taken lightly so I made up my mind, my mom is dead and I need to go on with my life.  4 years later I married the second woman I love, first woman was my mother.  How I wished I had my mom with me to accompany me to the altar while I’m waiting for my future wife walking through the aisle.  A year later, my wife gave birth to a lovely princess. I don’t know what’s with this thing loving a woman, now I was given another one, a pretty little one.  Again I remembered my mom, I was imagining her reaction if she saw my princess Adaiah, her first granddaughter.  I’m sure she will be happy to have a baby girl.  Besides, she already has two boys in me and my brother.  I built my own family since I don’t have one to begin with.  My wife’s mother, brother and two sisters are all living with us in one house.  I treat them as my own, I took care of them and given them all they need.  How I wish my mom would see this, of how I became.

Years passed by, I went abroad, December of 2009, I went to Doha Qatar to work.  I promised to myself, I will not do to my wife and daughter what my mom did to me which is to leave me alone in the Philippines while she went abroad and live with her husband and my half-brother.  Now I’m doing the exact same thing, I went abroad and left my wife and my baby girl in the Philippines.  It was very hard for me.  I’m trying to convince myself every day that what I’m doing now is for them, though it is really for them, still it’s a burden for me.  My life went through, there are challenges here and there but I guess the biggest challenge for me is yet to come.  There’s nothing that came to me that I wasn’t able to conquer.  I was a strong and abled man.  I was able to give a better life to my wife and daughter.  I gave my wife a car, a house (not yet finished but almost done), I sent my daughter to an exclusive school, and I was able to provide them more than enough.  All in all, I can’t complain with my accomplishments in life.  Then again, I remember my mom, how proud she would be if she saw me doing well in my life in spite what happened to us.  Wherever she was, I know she’s happy.  Besides she’s with our Lord God almighty now watching me from above and guiding me all the way.  It was thirteen years to date since the last time she disappeared and all those thirteen years, all I did are things that my mom would be proud of.

Then the biggest challenge in my life came to me, January 26, 2015, a Kenyan girl sent me an email.  The Kenyan girl’s name is Harriet.  She’s a student and a blogger who’s currently living in Japan for a scholarship.  She’s really good at computers as she found my profile in one of the public job sites in the Middle East and sent me this email.  While staying in Japan, she met a Japanese woman named Harumi Magane and this woman is looking for me.  Harumi asked Harriet for help to find me as Harumi wanted to speak to me about my mother.  It was a surprise of my life, I felt numb, and I was crying while driving my way home and cannot wait to speak to Harumi.  I took Harumi’s number from Harriet and waited until January 27, 2015 at 7 am Japan time to speak to her.  I was so nervous and don’t know exactly what to expect.  And so I spoke to her and she has a warm voice, she sounded sad and she asked me if I knew about my mom, she said my mother died 6 months ago!  I was in total shocked, I couldn’t speak, I can’t believe what I’m hearing, and where was my mother all those 13 years?  Then she went on with her story.  We spoke for a good one hour. I asked Harumi why all these years my mom didn’t communicate with me? Harumi said my mom was ashamed for the kind of life she had given me, she’s ashamed of me because she left me in the Philippines alone, she’s ashamed and she thought that maybe I was angry at her and blaming her for all the bad things that happen to my life.  She couldn’t forgive herself and so she chose a life without me instead of having me in it.  My tears ran down, I can’t bear to hear all these things from Harumi.  She continued, she said that my mother was so proud of what I had become, she said my mother knew that I’m already married, she knew that I already had a daughter, she knew that now I’m working in the Middle East, she knew that I’m doing great in my life.  She knew all of these because of my wife’s facebook.  She’s checking it every time, watching me from the pictures and following me every step of the way.

She knew all these things and yet she chose to hide and never show up.  I have lots of questions but all those will not have an answer, she’s already gone and she is for real with our God Almighty.  I wanted to blame myself, that I gave up easily and stopped searching for her.  But Harumi told me that it’s my mother’s choice, it’s my mother’s choice not to interfere with the life she wishes to have for me, I already achieved the things she wanted me to achieve and so she chose to just let it go by sacrificing her own happiness and letting me live my new life with my new family.  I cannot question her decision, I’m not in the position to question what’s good and what’s not good, after all, mothers always think for their children’s well being.  By not having my mother on my side, I strive, I became mature, I became afraid of failure and so I made sure that failure is not an option.  I made my mother an inspiration as I always put in my mind that her sacrifice should not go to waste, what I’m having right now are all because of her.

Wherever she is, I want to thank her with all my heart, I wanted to tell her that I don’t hate her for what she did, I don’t blame her for how my life had become, I wanted to tell her that all the things that I have now is because of her, because I want to make her proud.  Yes I was so sad, for the past few days. I cannot help sometimes, I look up and ask, why I didn’t have the chance to tell my mother all these? But then again, I answer my own question. God has his reasons, this is what God wishes for me. God always has a plan, everything happens for a reason and it’s not by chance, it’s by Gods will.

Harumi said my mother’s ashes were still in my stepfather’s house.  I made Harumi a promise that I will fetch my mother, I will go to Japan to meet my brother (whose now 23 years old) and take my mother’s ashes and bring her back to Philippines.  I want to give my mother a Christian burial and that is what I will do.  I cannot promise when but it will be very soon.  Wherever my mom is right now, I know she’s looking at me with a smile in her face. Thank you mama for giving me this wonderful life.  I LOVE YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL. Rest well and let me take it from here.  You’re hard life will not be wasted; it will be treasured and loved as long as I live.

(The photo captions are my own words)

Edona left, with Harumi on the right. Edona loved singing.

I heard she was a good singer. They often went to Karaoke with Harumi and co.

She was beautiful, wasn’t she?

 Edona with Natsuko (whom I earlier mentioned was with at the coffee house today. She was her best friend I believe)
Thank you Rodel for letting me share your story.