Friday, March 21, 2008

Of Books

I haven't had a whole lot of time to read in the past few months, but I recently managed to finish a few books that have been neglected on my shelf.

First was started a LONG time ago. It's a book that nearly all JETs have heard of, or have read a passage from at the very least. Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson, took me forever to finish. It's not a difficult read at all. It's easy to swallow, suited well to chunk reading (some would say "toilet reading") as he hops from city to city, driver to driver. I suppose the book is a bit dated now, since it was published 10 years ago. Things have changed in both the JET programme and Japan. It was entertaining, but often struck me as a tinge racist. Nothing flagrant, but you could sense a deeper vibe of the author being disenchanted with Japan as a whole, that just increased as you went on. Some of his interactions were rather embarassing, and really frustrated me, as a foreigner living in Japan. It's the same reaction I have when I see a foreigner behaving in a particularly obnoxious manner. In North America, or Europe there is more of a blend of races to meld into and the average caucasian isn't particularly noticeable. In Japan, however, the group is judged based on the actions of the few. It's an issue of culture and perspective, but I like to see travelers take consideration of how their actions effect their nationality (or assumed nationality, since the author routinely passed himself off as American) as a whole.

All in all, meh... Some of the authors descriptions of Japan were poetic, and it was interesting to hear about the Japan of recent past. In the end, I really didn't gain anything from the book. I was not as enthralled as I had anticipated being. Zannen.

In more enjoyable book news, I also finished The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. I have heard whinging about de Botton's snobbish attitude coming across in his books, looking down on the intellectually inferior and dumbing down the teachings of famous philosophers into pithy platitudes (the alliteration was completely unintentional). I didn't feel any of that in this book, though. Perhaps I am just not intelligent enough to have been offended by his philosophic handholding. I will be the first to admit I need it! There is no shame in reading a book with your dictionary at hand. I want to understand, I am trying to understand, and if someone out there is willing to lend assistance, then who am I to complain?

Some of the ideas mentioned about traveling and appreciating detail through drawing were really interesting, and helped nudge me a bit into focus again. I have been looking for creative outlets lately. My schedule is fairly brutal, but I need some way to get the crazy out of my head and on paper or at least in some form of media.

In irrelevant news. We have a load of homestay students coming this afternoon, and it seems I have lost a pivotal battle. Tomorrow, we are supposed to hold a cooking class with them, and introducing a Japanese recipe. So what are we making? Curry rice. Sigh... seems the lengthy discussion I had with a co-worker about the origin of curry and the international adoration of sushi did nothing.

Sometimes I really wonder...

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