Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Japanese Collegiate Invasion

"Computer games don't affect kids; I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music."


... and Coreans and Burmese as well, but they don't look as good when they are all in the title that way. Now taking it from the top, Lai Yin made an announcement in class last Thursday (or last Tuesday, because I'm memory-impaired that way) about a group of students from a university in Nippon - on a Learning Across Borders program - would be visiting our campus during the weekend. Whatever it was that they hoped to learn from a campus such as ours is up for speculation and debate because I sure am not learning a lot here. Lai Yin, o' great mouthpiece of the Student Council, proclaimed that she needed 4 volunteers on the welcoming committee of the ambassadors - and lukewarm doesn't even begin to describe the reception. It's hard to fault my classmates though, seeing that the sessional exams would be upon us soon, blighting our next weeks and killing our puppies.

I, surprisingly, was the first to volunteer for this thing. Normally, when it comes to Student Council projects, I have to be persuaded, flattered, press-ganged, bribed or conned into participation - so you might be wondering why I am suddenly so helpful. Truth is, I only got myself involved because I wanted to tell Japanese people how much I think their animes and mangas suck, and tell Coreans that I hate their dramas and popstars (I don't care how much you want to have his babies, Phoebe, but any guy with a name like Rain is most definitely gay).

The guy who led the group of foreign students to our little middle-of-nowhere was Dwight,

This is Dwight.

According to Dwight, the reason they are even stopping at our campus is because of our Deputy Registrar, Mr. Sathuraman, who apparently did admin work over at USM in Penang some years ago. Dwight's crew used to stop at USM in the past years, but ever since Mr. Sathu gave up his position there and took up a seat in our college, they actually, in Dwight's own words, "followed Mr. Sathu here." Now, I have a real reason to like our Deputy Registrar!

And if they would put the program in reverse and send some of our people over to Nippon, I'd sign up for it in a heartbeat.

The night's program kicked off with a college-sponsored dinner (i.e. free!) where equal numbers of our college's student were mixed with Japanese, Corean or Burmese students on separate tables in an act of enforced and policed mingling. At my table was a shy Corean girl called Hyung Kyong who lived most of her life in Japan and finally taught me how Seoul is really pronounced, and a Japanese girl called Marina,

Marina and I
The one on the right is Marina, y'know, in case you have trouble telling us apart.

Marina's story is a pretty interesting one; she spent the first three years of her elementary school years in an international school in KL so this wasn't exactly her first time visiting this stretch of real estate located between Thailand and Singapore. Aside that, she also served little stints in Singapore and Jakarta due to the nature of her father's work before finally returning to Japan, joining a university in Tokyo, and applying for a place in the Learning Across Borders program to return to this region. Now, why isn't my life half as fascinating?

Suhaimi, our resident gym instructor, was responsible for the party games after dinner because no one on the Student Council had time to organise any (due to that puppy-killing sessional exams I mentioned earlier). I have to admit that this was the part I was most apprehensive about that night. He was the guy who came up with the um, sukanria our class had to play on what was our traditional Manipal-to-Malacca homecoming celebration organised by our senior batch, and I can swear that I played the same games back when I was seven during PE in primary school. Not that there's anything wrong with those games, no, excepting the snag that we are all in our early and mid-twenties, which evidently slipped clean off his mind.

I stand corrected now though. Suhaimi did an unexpectedly awesome job with the games yesterday night,

Balloon Tower
I don't want to explain this.

Newspaper Tower
Nor this.

Mayu Carried
But any game involving lots of this is a-okay by me.

At any rate, I think it'd be quite hard for the games to fall short because the infectious and childlike enthusiasm of our guesties automatically made everything fresh and fun. I know that sounded like my usual cynical sarcastic shtick but I assure you, I meant all that. I suppose that's what the interviews for these sort of programs are for; to screen for the nicest, friendliest applicants they can get.

I was quite surprised to find out that most of the Japanese students in that group speaks English almost flawlessly. Since the widest exposure I ever had of Japanese linguistic abilities is in animes (where their use gratuitous Engrish felt like daggers punching into my kidneys over and over again) and from some travellers I met while I was backpacking through the Indian North, I was quite resigned to spending an evening playing charades with the visitors. Goes to show why I should stop stereotyping people before I really get to know them.

Another thing I learnt about most Japanese people is that the stereotype that they compulsively put up the peace sign when posing for pictures is all well and still true,

Cho Ken
Cho Ken and, uh, a Japanese girl, peacing it up. I didn't get her name.

OMG, they got Sanjeev!!!

It went out of fashion in Malaysia like ten years ago. The only time I put up the peace sign these days is when I have my tongue between the fingers, making licking motions.

After the official event ended at about 10:00 pm, there were talks of bringing our new friends out to town. I pledged my car, of course, and we all drove to their Hotel to pick them up. It's a bit hard deciding where to take them though seeing that we were in Malacca - it was a toss between a club or a beachside cafe. I was in favour of the latter because frankly, Malaccan clubs are disgraceful (after what they presumably saw in KL and in their own country). There's so much smoke in them that you might as well light one up yourself and breathe through a filter.

Anyhow, beachside cafe won the vote but "some of us" got sidetracked en route. I noticed that the Jonker Street weekend bazaar were still open and suggested that we hit that instead - since it's closer to their hotel and some of them didn't want to stay out too late considering that they have an early bus to catch to Singapore in the day after. They just wanted a nice little place we can sit and chat,

Emi Marina Azusa
On the upper floor of Geographer's Cafe, arguably the best cafe Malacca has to offer. That's Azusa to the right of Sanjeev. The one with her eyes closed on Sanjeev's left is Emi.

Of all the foreign students I talked to, I found that I clicked most immediately with Emi who is into touch football and Our Lady Peace. She's born in the States - which explains her American accent - and she majors in politics management, which I still don't quite get even after she explained it to me. While the rest were talking about what sounded ostensibly like academic stuff, I was discussing about mangas and animes (okay, I admit I do like some), and about western music with her. Pop culture. 'Cause we know what really matters in life.

I found out that she likes Michelle Branch as well, and agreed with me that she sucked when she was in The Wreckers (she was surprised and gladdened to find out that Branch is having a new album out soon though). We laughed over Katy Perry's last word in her Ur So Gay song, and sang along together to some oldies the live band were playing downstairs. It's a strange feeling, meeting someone who came from somewhere faraway you always thought were mystical, weird and alien - and found that it's still possible to have something in common with her.

I think I want to go to Japan now, goddamn the cost. I have always loved their food and thought highly of their secular, creative and liberal society which possesses all the values I admire, none of which are prevalent in our own.

Call it a gut feeling but now, I just know that there is really a lot of nice people there as well.

P.S. Alright, I thought My Sassy Girl was kinda cute too - to be fair to the Coreans. I still can't forgive them for Rain though.

Not really a Japanophile though,
k0k s3n w4i


Betsy said...

I'm planning to go Japan with my friend through a homestay program after A levels, before I begin my grueling uni life. Hopefully mum permits T___T. Most probably not. Going Japan with only one friend and no parental guidance, the moment mum hears it, she's going to flip and be worried and say no...

I can't really stand Koreans - Rain and Dong Bang Shin Ki especially. Used to be quite pro-Japanese, now neutral I suppose. But their food is so yummy :D

ven said...

to be honest, most of them (and us as well if we are in their shoes) can't be bothered about what they learn from such trips, it's the trip that matters.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Betsy: sign up for it anyway. i can talk to her for you.

ven: sometimes, it isn't always evident what we learn :)