Insecure and Dysfunctional. Well, who isn't?


Why are we so insecure? I do apologise if you're baffled by this presumptuous assumption, but we do seem to be beset with insecurities of all sorts (I'm keeping the royal 'we' to show solidarity with my fellow wimps of the world).

Am ugly. Am so stupid. Am such a fraud. Why is my career still non-existent? How could I possibly support myself and live to be happily-or-otherwise retired in my old age like normal people do? No one can possibly love me, and if they say they do, they don't really know me, they're only projecting what they want - the imagined me (all wonderful) - on this person - the real me (not wonderful), etc.

It's a wonder we can function as socially-responsible adults at all, when we're so tormented inside.

But that's just it. We do keep on living day by day, doing daily chores, pretending everything is chipper when all we want to do is just crawl up in bed and pretend that the world doesn't exist.

Isn't that amazing in itself? Aren't we tough as boots, though our confidence level might hit the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

Some psychologists tell you that unconditional approval from parents (esp. mothers) in childhood is essential in nurturing healthy self-confidence, and without that, we could be one hell of a nervous wreck of psychologically dysfunctional junks. Or something like that.

But aren't we all desperate for that approval, no matter what sort of childhood/parents we've had?

Isn't life about finding that place, one tiny little corner for yourself in this wide world, where you can feel safe, accepted, and wanted?

And I think we carve out that spot for ourselves by finding someone we could spend our life with, for one thing, and establishing ourselves in society by somehow building up this cantankerous thing called career, for another.

Seal of approval for our existence isn't some magical treasure that we missed in our childhood.

We're all lost, all so lonely and insecure, desperately longing to be accepted. And that's quite normal. Life's like that, because our life's journey is to find our way home.

So, chin up, us, we will get home one day.

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No Laughing Matter?

Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of the "double atomic bomb survivors" passed away on 4 January, 2010. His extraordinary experience was featured in a comedy quiz show by BBC, aired last December. This programme immediately caused a stir among Japanese viewers, which led BBC to issue apologies a few times. Here's the video-clip of the programme in question.

It may be "bad taste" and "ignorant" as some viewers thought, but it certainly isn't racist in any way, or trying to belittle the tragedy. You can see they are just being British. These men are bursting to say something funny on the topic, but they are not making light of Mr. Yamaguchi's experience or poking fun at atomic bombing itself. As far as I can see, the only offensive moment in the programme was when one of the panel said "his life wasn't curtailed" because he lived to be 93, rather carelessly and dismissively, and Stephen Fry hurriedly murmured "not exactly." If you think he had a jolly good old life, only kicking the bucket at 93, the old dog, then you should've done your homework. Just google "atomic bomb disease/ victims."

Apart from that, I do not find the programme itself particularly offensive (although it is not at all hard to imagine how his family must've felt, watching this programme). I do take issue with BBC's apology, however.

"QI[the comedy quiz show] never sets out to cause offence with any of the people or subjects it covers. However on this occasion, given the sensitivity of the subject matter for Japanese viewers, we understand why they did not feel it appropriate for inclusion in the programme."

This is fine, you may think. A good enough apology on a tricky matter. What seems to be missing in this official comment is the bit about QI frequently taking up European experiences during WWII too, this not being any preferential racist treatment for Japan. Interestingly, this part of the apology, which was reported by a reliable source of Japanese media (Nikkei), cannot be found anywhere else in the English coverage of this fiasco (so that was only my rough translation: the original text from the article was 『第2次大戦中の欧米人の悲惨な経験についてもお笑いクイズ番組で「しばしば取り上げてきた」とし、日本人だけを差別的に扱っているわけではないと釈明している』).

How charmingly condescending, as only Brits can be: "oh we shouldn't have done that. These Japanese, they're so touchy about atomic bombings. We, the mature Europeans, laugh at each other all the time, in fact, even at the Holocaust. That's the extent of our sophistication, it's part of our culture and history. But they'll never get that, will they, because they don't understand the first thing about humour (particularly the British kind)."

Oh, please don't go highbrow on us, BBC, especially with that sad excuse of a second-class comedy quiz show, with a bunch of middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts trying so hard to be funny, desperate not to be outdone by others. If you need to make some apologetic noises, then please let it be about failing to be funny or provocative.

Granted, laughter has transcending power. To laugh at something means, to some degree, to look at things differently. That is why we can laugh at tragic events; it does not mean we are inhuman monsters who find other people's tragedy funny. We are laughing at something else that humour lets us see in the otherwise unlaughable situation. Laughter offers us a different perspective.

In fact, laughter probably is the only way we can cope with the sheer human misery in some cases. Laughter offers us some escape, as it lets you switch out of your perspective. It allows you to look at your life from outside, which is already some form of relief in itself. While you're laughing, you are outside of your own predicaments; you're no longer trapped in your life. If you can laugh, despite everything, you are OK.

This works on onlookers too; those happy people, who lead comfortable enough life, may be jostled out of their comfort zone when they laugh at something they are not supposed to find funny. It makes them feel uneasy. Laughter can have some disturbing effect, precisely because it sticks the harsh, raw reality of this world in our faces for a split second. Because of this, laughter is, by nature, subversive. In the hands of someone like Dario Fo, it can be made into explosive expressions of anger. But we don't go into that here, to keep it simple.

So, laughter is probably the greatest gift we have (some even claim that it is a specifically human ability to laugh, though I'd argue that that is a particularly human-centric idea and even smacks of imperialism somewhat. How many times have we seen similar scenes in films where the supposedly incomprehensible "natives" make some awkward attempts at jokes to the dumbfounded-and-then-delighted white people, by which we are supposed to understand that they have managed to build some connection because those who have been hardly perceptibly human so far are now shown to be "human"? But I digress).

We can laugh at ourselves, and embark afresh on this thing called life. Or, we can laugh with those afflicted, in our utmost compassion for the fundamental misery of our existence. There should be no taboo for laughter, as long as it is offered in understanding of our fellow beings. Sometimes, all we can do is laugh or cry.

Here's my complaint, BBC; you can laugh at anything you like, but please have the decency to make it funny. (And tread carefully when you apologise.)

I heard a rumour before that James Cameron was planning to make a film about the late Mr. Yamaguchi. While we cannot expect this film to be as irresistibly witty as BBC, we can at least be sure that it will be thoroughly informative, disturbing and deeply moving. I'd very much like to see this film. In 3D, of course.

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Girls just wanna have fun, wine, and all things nice

One night, on the way home from work ("work" proved to be a rather short-lived experience for me but that's another story), I heard some professor talking about happiness on podcast. It was rather an unlikely topic for a business school professor. He briefly explained what he calls "if then" model: happiness is a state of emotional well-being, so our happiness should not be dependent on external factors like money and success. It is a totally wrong way of going about life to say, "If I get promoted, then I'll be happy," "If I can get that lovely wallet, then I'll be happy," he said.

(For more info on his philosophy, his name is Dr. Srikumar S. Rao, Columbia Business School professor, author of "Are You Ready to Succeed?")

Yes, yes. Happiness is knowing that you're happy. You want to get on in life and stuff, but once you realise you've actually all you need to be happy, the idea of struggling to make something of yourself seems even more of a wild-goose chase. Surely things like making a living and establishing your career cannot be so consequential as they are cracked up to be, when you're surrounded by a loving family that happens to include two dogs and a cat, and two lovely nieces even.

I found that idea very congenial. Let's just be happy. Mother says I'm a good girl. No need to think yourself somehow unqualified just because you don't earn a regular income to support yourself or because you don't have a boyfriend even though most of your friends are married with kids and homes and mortgages. Happiness is all there if you care to look.

These ideas, however, somehow left me uncomfortable and confused. Am I making myself dissatisfied with life because I fail to accept myself and my life? Am I being acquisitive, misled in pursuing objectives such as career, independence and love? Is self-realisation a bogus dream of an overly ambitious, material person overindulged by a modern affluent society?

My "career struggles" may well be complaints of the fortunate when I don't have to toil to keep food on the table. It may well be greediness to want more when I am blessed in so many ways in life. After all, I have my family, health, (comparative) youth, and a roof over my head.

Still, it does take some fortitude not to be affected by the bleak prospects of getting nowhere with career and of life-long loneliness. What makes it even more trying is that trials don't come all at once; it takes iron will not to feel defeated by life's little disappointments. You think you've made a small headway with your career, then you find you're still solidly at the bottom of the ladder. You think you've met that special someone that you hear so much about, but it all comes to nothing.

It's not all that easy to be a thirty-something single woman, though our tribulations may seem so trivial to impartial onlookers. You see it everywhere in those books and films, "Bridget Jones," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Confessions of a Shopaholic" to name a few (though the heroines in the latter two may be twenty-something - hence the relative lack of poignancy in their romantic struggles). They're all true, probably minus the obligatory happy-ending. We may appear comical, at best, always going on about our same old woes (men that never reply and career-breakthroughs that never happen), but underneath it all, there is our genuine, heartfelt desire for happiness.

We want to become happy, and somehow, it seems to hinge on these extraneous things like men and career, probably undeservedly and disproportionately. It's our serious cry for happiness. It is true that we are fortunate; after all, we're not living on the street, and our countries are not in war. So accept it, be content with your lot in life, find your inner peace?

Well, no thank you. I need to be able to make a living, to make something of my career, if only to have even a shred of self-respect. I need to be in a happy, loving relationship. I need these things to be happy.

So, with due respect to Dr. Rao, I beg to differ. Happiness may be a state of being, but I choose to go obstinately after my will-o'-the-wisp.

And, just to be clear,  I won't let further adversities life may deign to place in my path foil my plan of happiness. Even if I end up a single forty-something who's still nowhere near being a "respectable citizen," I'll be at least a happy, laughing underdog. I'll amuse myself any way I can, having night-outs with friends, going to concerts or theater or whatever quality entertainment our society has to offer, buying whatever treats - bags, clothes, shoes, all these pretty things - when on sale.

In short, I'm determined to be as flippantly happy as possible, if denied of more profound happiness. That's the answer to the conundrum, I've found. Happiness is neither about being at peace with your life nor about achieving self-realisation; it's about doggedly refusing to be beaten down. It's the stubborn will to be happy, no matter what.

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Brands' Value

As with other normal girls in this country, I have a healthy obsession with brands.

There is a particular wallet that I've been coveting for some time now, of a famous brand with the well-known brown and dark brown patterns, though the brand's name escapes me at the moment. I'm pretty sure it's not Yves Saint Laurent. Too mossy. Definitely not Chanel.

It's not their signature pattern, it's their new colours, cream and grey (for some reason called "azure"... fashionable people must perceive colours in a different way from ordinary people).

If there's something that captures my imagination, I usually buy it without a care about consequences, like a good consumer that I am (what are credit cards for, after all, if not for that sort of emergency). Yet, somehow with this one, I'm uncharacteristically hesitant, like a teenage boy forever circling and eying a girl from an awkward distance.

The thing is, I know I'm not worthy of it. If I bought this beautiful wallet now, and carried it around with me like a trophy, I'd feel caught out. It would never be truly mine, just as a trophy society wife would refuse to be possessed by a nouveau riche. Which is an ugly metaphor, but you know what I'm trying to get at. You'd need more than a credit card to possess this wallet; you'd need the earning power to support it.

By some mischief of fate, a friend of mine has this dream wallet of mine.

She runs a company, and brought up two children on her own. I don't know what her age is (we didn't follow the rules and asked each other the age when we first met... maybe she told me since then, but I cannot remember), but she's one of those lucky people who look indeterminately young but mature at the same time.

She wouldn't call herself an entrepreneur - she'd say she only started up a company out of necessity - but she has the charisma of one; quiet self-confidence and charm. When she takes out that wallet, I'm sure it has more than just a bunch of credit cards in it. She's worth every penny in that beautiful wallet.

Now, that's where I want to be when I'm her age, whatever that may be (though there's a good chance I only have a shockingly short time till then).

This line of products would be long out of fashion by then, but I will get this wallet one day, when I know I can truly afford it. Not just to buy it but to keep it filled with some cash and some love (because I will love this wallet dearly when I finally have one). They might not produce it anymore, even, but I'd hunt it down on e-Bay if necessary. I'd pay that much extra for this one.

When you see me brandish this wallet, you'll know I'll have got there.

On a second thought, though, I wouldn't "brandish" it because I'll be this tasteful, quietly confident successful woman.

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Powdering My Nose


In this refined, civilised society, we do our very best to pretend we have no bodily functions. Ladies do not sweat, we perspire. We only use the facilities to powder our noses. People pass away to a better world. Only animals copulate; we make love and storks bring us babies. God forbid anyone should point out some funny smell accompanied by the characteristic noise.

In short, we do not fart, burp, pee nor poo. That’s for the lowly beasts; we live on inspirational conversations, interesting thoughts and transcending beauty alone. Such being the case, it is a wonder how we choose to socialise over meals. Surely eating should be a big taboo, along with the obvious accompanying embarrassments of all sorts: namely, mastication, digestion, eructation caused by indigestion, flatulence, and elimination.

Eating is fraught with such menace that I wonder we insist on having meals together on social occasions at all. Especially on dates. How could we eat and drink daintily, without chewing, champing, biting, scuffing, gulping, and swallowing, without ever exposing our raw desire and animal nature? I’m sure even the most liberated of women would have at least one youthful memory of a disastrous dinner date where she could hardly taste what she was eating. We court danger thus, confident that we’ve come so far removed from our furry ancestors that social decorum would be maintained even in the face of such base desire as appetite.

Take clothing, then. You could see that the history of human race is one straight line of putting on more layers. Presumably, we started out with nothing but a conveniently shaped leaf; from there, we progressed to a single big cloth, finally to a set of undergarments, inner clothes, and outer clothes, up to the nineteenth century. The utmost refinement of our society showed in just how perfectly our bodies were covered by various pieces of clothing; which is understandable after all, if refinement means hiding sexual organs and body parts so that our beastly nature would not be excited.

Yet towards the end of the previous century, this phenomenon seems to have started to reverse. We started shedding off clothes, to the point where undergarments of yore are now worn as top layers. In fact, it is not surprising if we see top models walk down the catwalk entirely naked soon. What is happening here? Have we found the roots, are we going back to nature, finally having done with this nonsense of human society?

Not so. Close attention should be paid to the fact that while we are getting closer and closer to the naked state of our sturdy ancestors, we are also increasingly obsessed with shedding off our fur. I do not know about other countries, but at least in Japan, laser hair removal is not just for women. We may expose more of our bodies now, but those exposed bits are a far cry from the hairy beasts that we were. (I imagine the top models will have perfectly manicured pubic hair, as artificial as possible, when they do flaunt their nudity in public.)

So we are still playing that game, pretending that we have no beastly instincts while trying our refinement on risqué situations. What’s a taboo after all, but willingly imposed restrictions to spice up our insipid society?


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Devious Intentions


There is a little shrine box thing called butsudan in our living room, where our ancestors’ spirits are said to reside. We would sit down in front of it, burn some incense and pray. I was told not to ask favours of our ancestors; they would guide us in times of trouble, no doubt, yet it is not in their power to grant us our gratuitous wishes as they arise. (That particular duty lies in someone else’s realm, who is ever so generous.) So I keep to reports of my progress in this life when I sit down in front of butsudan.

I recently found that my little niece of two is quite a devout little thing. She told me to sit down in front of butsudan and pray, and when I willingly complied, enchanted by the request, she told me to shift, barely giving me enough time to say “Hello, grandfather and grandmother.” She sat down in perfect little seiza, her little back straight, with her little hands held together in a pious prayer. Lord knows what went through that pretty little head of hers, but what a pious little picture she made.

I wondered if my brother overdid that revere-the-ancestors business by taking her to Aomori to pay my other (living) grandmother respect. Maybe she got it into her head that this little shrine was another object that some homage was due, as I taught her this was where her great grand-parents were living. Strike while the iron is hot and impressionable and all that. Now she’s a perfect little Buddhist.

Or, it could also be because of her Christian leaning; the nursery school she goes to is a wonderful, caring place and also very Christian in that the school song has a bit about thanking our Father in Heaven and such, as I found out on her first Sports Day. (Apparently they have Prayer Time too.) Nowadays she sings this song now and again, particularly that bit about thanking our Lord, in that little child’s breathless manner, which is really sweet I have to say.

As these thoughts were coursing through my head, my little niece lowered her pious little hands and said, “Kaki chodai (gimme the persimmon), ” holding them out towards the butsudan with a big shiny orange persimmon placed in front of it as an offering to the resident spirits.


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The essay I wrote for July seminar. Undeniably patronising...though not intentional (does this make it even worse?)

Hunger is something that is unheard of in Japan nowadays, unless it is the self-inflicted kind. We only hear about people who were driven to eat dogs and bugs in times of extreme need, in stories passed down from grandparents' generation. (Insects may well be deemed delicacies in some rural areas, however. I have seen a man argue that bug cuisine is a veritable culture of Nagano and lament its gradual demise on TV once.)

It was an eye-opening experience for me, therefore, to visit Cambodia and meet its “hungry” people. “Hungry,” transcribed into katakana, means “aggressively acquisitive, driven, or determined to succeed.” The Cambodians I met during my short stay were hungry in both senses.

Cambodia has achieved an incredible recovery in a short period of time, although many parts of the country still lie in devastation the civil war left the country in. We flew into a magnificent modern airport, then I saw people still living in what appeared to be traditional hovels made of wood and straw, on the way into town from the airport. There may be a great chasm between those in power and the indigent in this country, but what I saw of the people subsequently on the trip was enough to make me believe that they would not stay there for long, what with their diligence and their indomitable aspirations.

Landmine victims play beautiful traditional music on the grounds of temples and shrines, with a sign that says that they do not want charity but we can leave something there if we appreciate their music. Young boys and girls dance at hotels at night, to tourists who enjoy traditional Cambodian food and “traditional” Cambodian dance. It was quite obvious that the boys were new to this dance, but I’m sure they’ll be quite professional in a year or so. At a breakfast table, one of the waiters came up to us and smiled broadly, and started talking to us. This friendly waiter stayed there after taking our orders, practising his English with us, while I became increasingly worried if we’d be served in time for the ferry. And our English guide told us that he was hoping to take classes in Japanese one day, so that he’d earn a lot more as a Japanese guide. Better English, or a “better language” directly translates to a lot more money in this country; a lot more money means a much better life, or at least no more hunger.

It was our good fortune to meet this guide, Mr. Pang, an intelligent young man, as casual chats with him gave us some insight into what life must have been like for him, growing up in Cambodia's troubled past. I had noticed that there was hardly any dog or cat meandering on the streets, so I became rather excited when I finally spotted a dog and I foolishly called out “Dog!” so there would be no mistake it was a dog. Mr. Pang instantly offered he knew a good restaurant if I liked dogs. In the following awkward moment, we both realised our mistakes. Another time, I mistook a statue for a live monkey, and that led him to tell us how they used to catch monkeys and eat them, but their hands. Their hands looked too human.

Cambodian people I came across on this short trip were both hungry and ハングリー. I thought I saw the reason behind the progress (if it indeed were progress) from the hovels to the airport at the end of the stay. I hope that one day, Mr. Pang will earn as big an income as any guide could, taking Japanese tourists around the country. And I’m sure he will not feel empty when his hunger is sated. That’ll be left to the next generation.


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The Japanese language is supposedly one of the more complex languages, with its three different sets of scripts, which makes it hard to learn for people who had not the good fortune or otherwise to be born into it. Contrary to the popular and somewhat nationalistic perception that it is impossibly hard to learn for foreign people, I have known many who are as fluent in Japanese as they are adroit in using chopsticks, another inconceivable accomplishment. (Incidentally, those types tend to have the audacity to actually savour the hitherto sacred national food, natto.)

Roughly speaking, there are two types among these miraculous linguists: anime fans and martial art enthusiasts, and hapless JETs who found too much time on their hands alone at home during cold winter. Three. Three types. Of the three types, martial art enthusiasts tend to be the most devoted Japanophiles, presumably because of their intense nature, which thrives on adverse circumstances and self-torture.

When I first started college in Dublin, I joined the Aikido Club, no doubt temporarily overcame by homesickness. Much to my surprise, our instructor, a huge Irish man, turned out to be more radically Japanese than most Japanese men. He maintained strict order in his dojo; when it was near the time for lessons, without anyone uttering a command, we would sit down in a neat line in silence, from left to right in the order of our grades, awaiting the instructor’s arrival. No idle chatter during classes, as we took fall after fall in a graceful dance of ki.

Which means, in reality, a gentle grabbing of your opponent’s wrist, who would then gently urge you to take a careful roll on the tatami mats. I always thought of Aikido as a martial art for the softies; none of our club members was a stoically aggressive, martial artist type. That is to say, they did not strike me as macho men/women, not necessarily in physique, though that too, but in mentality. I cannot imagine any of us shouting “I’ll bust your face” in a brawl.

In my final year, our club was led by a girl who was so gentle and slim that you would not expect her to inflict any more violence on others than …well, with her sharp wit. Much to my alarm, however, this delicate flower has turned into a dangerously devout Aikido practitioner lately. She even “fondly” remembers our training weekend, when our instructor made us practice taking rolls endlessly. She bemoans the lack of vigorous treatment by the male population of the dojo.

If I’m honest, however, I do sympathise with her sentiments to some extent. I had toyed with the idea of going back to Aikido myself since I came back to Japan, and the one time I went to a local dojo, the abominable lack of order and discipline entirely disgusted me. Order and discipline. This has to be my inner ultra-right speaking.

What is it about martial arts that turns the laziest of us ever so slightly aggressive to yearn for vigorous training? Is it because of our savage past that we never had? Or is it because martial arts work on our instinct to submerge ourselves in something larger than our individual beings? Can it be that it is akin to religion in that sense? Maybe it is not coincidence that martial art practitioners come across as “devout” about their art. Religious people have their faith; North Koreans have their songs to march along to. Hippies have their marijuana and each other. Japan may not have the backbone of religion or nationalism; but we have martial arts. For hardcore maniacs, and for dyed-in-the-wool softies.

*Disclaimer: I do adore martial arts; just that I cannot personally muster enough ardour to devote myself to them. Also, I firmly believe natto is for everybody, not just for Japanese people.


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Girl Talk

Another essay I wrote for the seminar I go to. Supposed to be funny but ended up being just tedious.

“Girl Talk”

The term, “girl talk,” has a certain mystique and glamour about it. It is the quintessential girliness, the exclusive world of (presumably) young and attractive women.1 The term evokes sugar and spice and all things nice. That’s what girls are made of. When we say we are having girl talk, it means that we perceive ourselves as this epitome of all things nice. That we are girls.

It is safe to say, then, that “just having girl talk” does not imply that we have been talking about the recent change in petrol’s price or the most effective way to remove wine stain. The most common topic of girl talk, though it is highly arguable, may be said to be about men.

I do strongly question that “girl talk” should be effectually “men talk”; yet the alternatives are rather grim. Career, or the absence thereof, is a topic that we are also preoccupied with. This, however, tends to end in simple affirmation of our faith in each other, in response to either’s whining. Whining, of course, is a worthy and mutually enjoyable pastime, yet it requires caution in case its overdose should lead to exasperation and sheer misery. Success in one’s career is hardly talked about, either from humility or from lack of it. Furthermore, when it does occur, it does not offer much in the way of topic of conversation, as congratulations, no matter how sincerely uttered, unfortunately only take a few sentences. Career talk, then, is simply not as enjoyable as dissecting and discussing each other’s perceived crises and advances in romance.

This presents a problem when two women, who consider themselves as “girls,” gather for a good old chat, since it unearths the question that they may not, in actuality, qualify as girls any longer.2 For instance, the last time I saw my old friend, our “girl talk” degenerated into “which of us has more grey hair” competition. The middle-aged man at the next table must have been rather disturbed to see us showing the grey to each other, over a dinner table too, in a strange fit of passion to prove that one, indeed, had more grey than the other.3 While this was oddly engrossing, it cannot be denied that some other superior form of entertainment is desirable. It may well be that the ability to conduct girl talk is what distinguishes girls from non-girls, whose ingredients clearly include grey hair.

1 Currently or recently pregnant women are not included here. This is because talks about pregnancy, labour, and child-bearing should be more conveniently named “mummy talk” and discussed separately.
2 It should be noted here that there are various theories as to what constitutes the criterion of girls. Age is an obvious answer, yet I would argue that it is too simplistic for something as complicated and subjective as the girl question.
3 Incidentally, this has nearly happened with my brother too, who was very eager to see my grey; no doubt to prove that he has more. Grey hair seems to stir up competitive nature in us.

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Male Prerogative


This is one of the essays I wrote for the translation seminar I go to. We're given a theme each month, taken from a random sentence in the book we use. Thought I would put more efforts in it if I thought I'd put it up somewhere.

"Male prerogative"

The Japanese society has undergone some changes. Gone are the days when you could rely on men to do men stuff and wear men clothes. On top of that, we cannot trust women to do women stuff and wear women clothes either nowadays. Instead, we have girls playing in professional baseball leagues, and groomed, well-pruned effeminate hairless men prancing about in their skinny trousers with Gucci clutch bags.

It still came as a bit of surprise when I came across a programme on children’s television about “nail art” one night; in it, a young man of the above mentioned sort was teaching a girl and a goose the art of, well, “nail art”. It was actually quite informative and useful. For example, it’s the universal law that after you spend 20 minutes doing your nails, they get scratches that just ruin the whole work. He taught us how to repair the damages those pesky scratches do to nails (cover the scratches up by glittery nail polish in lovely gradation). He kept saying, “Nail Art starts in mistakes.” If I can bear having long finger nails for more than a few days, I would definitely give it a try. “Now that’s lovely,” he’d say, looking fondly at his pupil’s work. Japan has come a long way indeed since the days of samurai and hara-kiri.

All of which is a welcome change. After all, God has been long dead (and so has Nietzsche, come to that) and even postmodernism is looking stale now. This is the twenty-first century, for the late goodness’s sake. We are supposed to be living in a modern, postmodern, possibly post-postmodern society. It’s high time we broke free from this misconception that gender is the inherent order of things. Silly, really, if you think about it, when women go to war and men’s job is to stay at home and look pretty for a certain African tribe.

This is, however, not to say that I’m violently opposed to gender roles. In fact, you could even say it can be quite productive for a society to have gender roles…in a society where men come rushing to you as you walk towards the bathroom with gloved hands and a big brush, shouting, “Wait, I’ll do that! Don’t take THAT away from us!”


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