#coronavirus: uncomfortable reflections

#coronavirus interrupted our lives, destroyed business, killed people (still does), and fills our days with uncertainty and fear. And yet, somehow, we are the lucky ones, the ones that are surviving a global pandemic. A global pandemic, so tragic that we have to look back to the past, a hundred years ago to create a parallel to understand our current situation. The Spanish flu (whose origins are in Kansas, USA. If you don’t believe me, you are free to google it) killed about 50 million people worldwide.

Did the world learn something from that tragedy? Did we become a better society? Well, no, because a while after recovering from such a disaster, we had another war, the famous and disgraceful WWII.

People fascinate me. And one of the reasons people fascinate me is because I find our behavior self-destructive. We need to stick together to survive, We know we need each other, and yet we seem determined to finish the other.

We start by creating division.

Our excuses are lame. Our reasons are something like these:

  • The people from the country next to us are not as sophisticated as we are.
  • We don’t like them because they are different from us.
  • We don’t like them because they are black.
  • We don’t like them because they are brown.
  • We don’t like them because they are not from here.
  • We don’t like them because their language is different from ours.
  • We don’t like them because their religion is different from ours.
  • We don’t like them because they are transgender.
  • We don’t like them because they are not like us.

What is wrong with being different? When being different became a crime?

Our time on this earth is limited, why do we keep strengthening the divisions?

  • What do you win by insulting the immigrants next door?
  • What do you win by hurting transgenders?
  • What do you win by supportive conservative governments?
  • What do you win by putting racist misogynist people in power?

Do you think hurting the vulnerable is going to put you in a better position in society? Attacking immigrant children is going to make you great?

We didn’t learn anything from 1918 flu, but let’s be sure to take a lesson from this #coronavirus 2020. And we certainly didn’t hold the USA Government accountable for the outbreak of AIDS, and swine flu. Why are attacking China so badly? Why do we look down on them? I, personally, won’t allow any hatred toward China to spread either. Do not believe the people who divide us, do not pay attention to them. Think, read, and research for information on your own.

We need change. But if after this ordeal, you choose to be the same, that’s on you and that’s your prerogative (I guess), but please do not stand in our way. Do not stand on the way of those who want change. Change is happening whether you like it or not. Change is happening, no matter how hard it is for you to understand it. Change is happening because we want a better society, where people are respected.

If we have survived the #coronavirus then it is our duty to make it worth it, it is our duty to live a life that inspires and triggers change. This is our duty as the survivors of this era.

Drawing by Yoneko Shiraishi

Emotions

Hope you enjoy it :)

Emotions and thoughts gather at night to remind me of my mistakes, my flaws, and the unworthiness of my existence. So many emotions, so many thoughts, I don’t fight them anymore, I can’t fight them anymore. 


I let them crawl over me like dark spiders; dark spiders whose eyes shine in the obscurity of the night. They knit their web around my hands, they tie my hands and my fingers until they bleed. 

Fear and anxiety blur my thoughts, my vision and I can only see walls, impossible goals, and heartache. 

I can’t write. 


The sunrise scares them away, and their spell disappears momentarily, long enough for me to write these lines. 

They are gone long enough for me to believe they might not come back. But they do, they always come back. They don’t forget me. They can’t. For I am their mother, their creator, and master.

Drawings, doodles, and self-portraits

I am living busy days, some even would say life-changing days, but nothing is set on stone. Not just yet. We might as well keep dreaming and let time pass.
The uncertainty takes my mind into a spiral of mixed emotions. My mind resembles a puddle of standing water that looks calm on the outside but festers below the surface. My thoughts do not flow freely, and even worse, they always go back to the same dark place.
But my drawings, my characters, and little muses come to my rescue. They guide my hand to the pencil, and slowly what was dark becomes colourful, peaceful and even cheerful.

And sometimes, I draw self-portraits just to have fun

Happy 2020

The bell rings and with every strike 2019 fades away. This moment is a little bit sad, because the challenges we overcame, the lessons we learnt and the love we gave seem gone. The memories travel further and further with every strike, because we know this time will never come back.

But as nostalgic this time might be for some, this is also a time of rebirth and revival, where our dreams and lives are given a second chance.

To be given another chance at life with the people we love and treasure is a gift, a treasure we must hold tight.

And as I am saying good bye to 2019, I would like to thank you ALL for such a wonderful year together, I have learnt and discover many things in 2019, a year of growth, change and personal acceptance for me. And it is thanks to you, who read these lines that I have been able to continue this journey.

Thank you VERY much, and Happy 2020 ❤️

Clouds on the sky

Some days life gets to you, some days are harder than others, some days seem worthless and dry. On those days, you feel like you should just stop searching for that sparkle that makes you feel alive. And then without any warning, you come across the most beautiful of skies.


And then you realize that there’s more in life than just you, and your problems. There is also beauty, hope, and thousand of blessings crossing your path. Every breath, every beat of your heart is a sign that you are fine and that whatever is bothering and upsetting you now will pass.
The journey is hard at times, but there are also good times. It all depends on us. Are the clouds bringing rain? Or are they here to bring us joy?

We decide.

Rain

Tonight, it started raining suddenly. And in the blink of an eye, the sky broke into thousands drops that showered us all, making us shiver and looked for refuge in the busy streets of this metropolis. I ran trying to scape it. But it was in vain, my clothes resembled the wet streets, and my shoes got heavier than the asphalt with every step. Unbelievably, there were couples taking pictures of themselves in the middle of the chaos. 
At times, it seems like love is not only blind but creates a fortress that shields us from adversity. 

Drawing by @consultculture
Yoneko Shiraishi


But tonight, although, I’m not alone, I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. Why? Well, sometimes that how life goes. But then a drop of rain on my cheeks reminds me that the rain has always been a good omen for me. It announces changes. Good changes. And against all the odds, the rain is bringing me hope in this cold night. The rain is telling me that trying days are ahead, but it all works out in the end. I just have to be patient and not to succumb to past ghosts. And I hope the rain brings you peace, comfort and renewed faith in your future.

Found the lost

Kuro, the hero

I look at the screen in utter horror. 
The draft of my newest novella “The nun and the prostitute” is gone.
My brain is screaming thousand swearing words unknown to me, “How do I know so many bad words,” I ask to myself.My shaking hands type again, and error comes out like the unavoidable curse that has fallen on me and my computer. 
“It’s got to be somewhere,” I tell to myself trying to remain calm. I log into various accounts, clouds, and alternative boxes and nothing “How did this happen?,” I scream at the computer. And again error.  Tears come to my eyes but I refuse to give up, and go old school and take a look at abandoned USBs. The first USB only brings more disappointment. The story repeats itself with the second, and the third USB I check. And the last one, the one I named “Kuro” (black in Japanese) brings almost no hope because this USB comes with me everywhere, to my classes, to my lectures, to my business trips. I know what’s in there, and what it isn’t. 

Drawing by Yoneko Shiraishi

But I decided to check it anyway. And to my surprise, there is an old copy, only 22 pages, almost a fifth of the final version. “Better than nothing,” I console myself. 
I decide to keep checking just in case, I click in an old folder and there, shining like, an oasis in the desert, is a PDF version with all 98 pages of it. 
The whole novella!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
The characters and I cried of happiness. We’re together again. I found what was lost. Or better say, the characters found me again. I’m home. And kuro, the hero, takes a well-deserved rest.

Bye Bye: Yoneko sensei

Seven years ago, on this day, I worked my last shift as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Yes, I used to teach in elementary schools as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) I used to create games, some of them planned well in advance because my motto is ” be prepared for everything and anything.” However, some of the games were created in the spur of the moment, when the ocean of little faces told me my games weren’t up to their standards.

They wouldn’t say it with words, but their little eyes did the talking for them. And those little shiny eyes were very VERY convincing.
And I obliged not because I wanted them to like me (which they did ❤️) but because I wanted them to learn, and to remember that learning something new needn’t be scary. And I have to say; I think I did a good job because from time to time, those little ones, who are now not so little anymore contact me and tell me that they STILL remember my lessons. My dear friends, can I tell you a secret? When my students contact me, it moves my heart because in every lesson I created for them, I put something of me in them. So, for me, when they remember my lessons, I feel like they remember me. That somehow the games, and my teaching methods as unorthodox as they were (still are), I was able to share my knowledge with them. But most importantly, it means that in those lessons while singing, sharing laughs and studying together for an ephemeral moment we were family. And once you’re family, you are always family.

Katakana is not English

Japan is my home, and its beautiful language, the Japanese language, brings back warm childhood memories as if its beautiful sounds could melt time at will; But as beautiful as melodious as it is, we somehow misunderstand katakana changing its meaning, and confusing katakana with English.

And it was during this last summer that my nemesis, katakana, and I engaged in frenzy battles.

At work, I entered the room full of expectant faces; they all looked at me with anxiety. I could sense their nervousness without “reading the air” (空気を読むkūki o yomu), I smiled at them trying to break the ice and I following my motto “when in Rome, do as Romans do” I decided to sacrifice precious lessons minutes of class to introduce myself, my likes and dislikes; telling my students about the random things I love doing.

“My name is Yoneko, I love sewing, and I love cooking,” I started.

Excuse me, Shiraishi-san, what does that word mean,? someone asked

“Which word,? I asked “Sewing?, perhaps?,” I tried replying

“No, the word you said before that,” he said

“Oh, you mean love,” I answered only to be welcome by ghostly silence.

I tried saying “love” again with more emphasis. But again their blank expressions told me I was getting nowhere. So I tried again this time but with the katakanize version of love = rabu (ラブ)Then I saw understanding blossoming in their eyes like sakura flowers in warm days.

I spent the summer traveling and lecturing in various places in the island, facing the same conundrum, as soon as I said the word love; using its English phonetics love「lʌv」I was received with clueless stares, but as soon as I used the katakanized version of love 「rabu」(ラブ in katakana) people understood what I was saying. In the summer of 2018, I traveled around the country lecturing 150 people from which 140 people didn’t understand the proper pronunciation of the world love favouring its katakanize version instead. 

This made me understand that we not only misuse katakata when it comes to borrowing words from other languages but what’s worst, we think our katakanize pronunciation of English words are actually English pronuntiation.

As I mentioned in one of my posts on consult-culture.com, misunderstanding katakana “as most Japanese speakers will keep using the katakana pronunciation when speaking English because, as aforementioned, Katana is the alphabet that helps us understand sounds we are not familiar with, we rely on it. Therefore, some people, as it is logical, trust that the sound katana is providing us, it is the sound in the original language, which is, unfortunately, not always true” Indeed, not always true, if we keep relying on katakana as if holding onto a crutch to avoid a false move, we would never actually reach port, furthermore, I would like to assure you that making mistakes are an important, if not vital, part of learning. Do not feel afraid to make mistakes, because those students who make mistakes are the bravest of all. 

But I do understand the apprehension to speak English and not to make mistakes, after all, the Japanese language has a very specific set of rules that must be followed in order to make the message clear to the listener, but remember those rules do not apply to English.

Moreover, the hesitation of Japanese people when learning a language can be traced to their cultural characteristics.

https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/

In the graph above we can see six cultures dimensions (hofstede-insights.com) in which the hesitation of making mistakes can be understood in the dimension of uncertainty avoidance according to Professor hofstedes means “The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity”. Thanks to Professor Hofstedes we can understand in depth the hesitation of Japanese people, when exposed to the unknown and new, and this also allows us to create teaching methods suitable for our students.

Bibliography

・Hofstede-insights 2019 

・James Stanlaw Hong Kong University Press 2004 

・Tina Wells “Easy katakana” Passport books 1989

 ・そのまま通じないカタカナ英語のミス James H.M Webb 1988 

・Yoneko Shiraishi “Misunderstanding katakana” @consult-culture 2017 

Taiwan 4: The Englishman

The airplane took off leaving Tokyo; taking me with it, and my expectations about Taiwan. I had done my research. I always do, I mean since I am an obsessive-compulsive reader, it’s not a surprise that I read everything I could possibly read about Taiwan. But what I hadn’t done were hotel reservations, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, this traveler doesn’t like making hotel reservations. Before you condemn me, hear me out, because I have valid, if not, strong reasons to not make hotel reservations

1.- I want to go to the places, where tourist doesn’t usually go; and don’t want the travelers’ websites to tell me where to go. I want to discover my journey on my own. 
 2.- I want to search and look for the city treasures as soon as I land. 
 3.- I want to get to know the locals and talk to them; not as a customer/tourist but as one of them. And nothing better than getting utterly lost to do this 🙂 
4.- I love the adventure.

I know this might sound illogical for some people, but one of the reasons why I learned some much other cultures is that I always tried experiencing the country as one of them, not as an outsider but as a local. And arriving at a hotel makes it difficult for me to achieve this.

I know, I know this might sound strange for some (ok maybe for most of you), but it works for me. However, I have to admit that I regretted my decision when it started to rain; and the heavy drops began pouring on the English man, who bravely accompanied me in this adventure and me. He needed refuge and candidly asked me “Where did you say we were staying,?” he asked hopefully.

And it broke my heart to answer “I haven’t made any reservations, remember?,” I said awkwardly.

The disappointment darkened his blue eyes making them as gray as the sky above us. I could literally see his hopes shattering with every drop of rain that fell on him. And the sting of guiltiness pierced my heart.

Yes, I felt guilty.

But as always lucky was on our side, we found a warm, dry shelter for our tired souls and hungry bodies. We found a hotel within walking distance that promised us the experience of our lives at a reasonable price. Once the English man recovered, we started exploring the city, getting lost together in the tropical night of Taiwan.

The English man smiles, and I felt the universe in my heart.