A year in Nagasaki

A desription of my final preparations during august and the fun time in Amsterdam during that time up to my year at the university of Nagasaki from the 1st october 2005 thru august 2006. Together with 9 other students from the University of Leiden, Holland, we are on an extra-curricular year to improve our conversational skills. Will it work ??

Sunday, August 20

Final Entry

In hindsight, this last year just seems to have gone by so quickly that I need to look at all the entries to realize what has happened since September last year. Has it been a good year; has it been a fruitful year or has it just been an absolute waste of time? Since I am not a philosophical kinda guy I think I just need to compare the expectations I had with the results and see what the outcome is.

Expectations: a) better grasp of spoken and written Japanese. b) getting to know Japanese people and making friends and c) see places and witness events that I could not possibly do anywhere else but in Japan.

I did improve on my language proficiency skills but, unfortunately, not as much as I would have liked mainly due to the fact that 10 Dutch students were housed together and even though I’m a rather gregarious and extravert person, I did not manage to meet and develop friendships with enough Japanese people to have good conversations with. To connect with the younger Japanese crowd was easy but never a lasting thing (the age gap is just way too big) and I didn’t manage to meet interesting folk my age (too conformist and too petty bourgeois) in Nagasaki. Even to make gay friends there didn’t work out. The only thing that I managed to do was to travel and see quite a lot of the country itself. The times spend on planes, trains and buses have been extensive and gruellingly expensive too.

Has it been a waste of time? I can honestly say no it has not. Although the general lustre regarding Japan has disappeared, I think I have come to value the things one normally takes for granted at least for now and I think that I have matured (if that’s at all possible) in more ways than one. The thing I have really come to realize is that I will not go and live without Paul somewhere again for such an extended period of time so I need to consider if continuing doing a MA (Master of Arts) in Leiden afterwards (which includes an other obligatory year in Japan) is a viable option at all.

Went to Leiden University last Monday to register for certain lectures (still not possible to do this online…..) and it felt like nothing had changed. Lectures will start on the 11th and only two more years, deo volente, to get my Bachelors.

頑張って… Gambatte……

Sunday, August 6

Silver ( Montreal III )

Like in any other sports event one encounters nice and friendly people and some really unsavoury horrid folk. Our cutie from Montreal is called Louis and apart from being cute he’s also a super nice guy. The worst was called Roland, we found out afterwards, who doesn’t even introduce himself and the moment the board’s up he walks away. Absolutely no breeding there……
After three days of playing bridge I had sort of reached the end of my tether. We did remarkably well on Wednesday morning but in the afternoon I caved in much to the dismay of my partner Pim. So no medals for us!!
The Dutch do very well where medals are concerned so the gold medal for Ellen and Jolanda (tennis doubles) is not a big surprise. Swimming and cycling is another discipline we do well.
Needless to say that I’m very proud of my husband Paul, however, for getting the silver medal for the cross country run.

The general atmosphere here in Montreal is wonderful and walking through the “Gay Ghetto” on Sainte Catharine in the evening gives you quite a buzz.

Last night we went to “Outsplash”, a closing performance by several swimming clubs. Two Dutch ones…: Ketelbinkie from Rotterdam (2nd place) and Upstream from Amsterdam (3rd place). Winner was the group from Melbourne, Australia.
Apart from partaking in a sport you can also go and watch a lot of other ones. Anne, Paul and I went to the diving on Thursday morning and the body building extravaganza in the afternoon. They call body building “Physique” in US English and “Culturisme” in Quebecois French. It’s amazing what these men (didn’t see the women) can do with their muscles. Country and Western and ballroom dancing are also very popular here.

Today is the big day for Paul, Nick and Anne as they’re doing the half-marathon. The weather is good, breezy and not hot. We were all there cheering them on as the passed by.
This afternoon at 4 pm. is the closing ceremony with Liza Minelli as the main attraction (hope she can still sing with all those drugs keeping her standing upright). Should be fun anyway.

And this is almost it. Flying back home via Munich to good old Amsterdam tomorrow and that basically concludes my year in Nagasaki. It won’t be my last entry since I still have to evaluate the pros and the cons of this year.
One of the cons is the absolute nasty attitude of the teachers at Nagasaki University. I got an email from Bart saying that only 5 students will receive their certificate. Apparently you must have 7 credits in the 1st semester and 7 in the 2nd but did they ever tell us that….no. So for those who got only 5 or 4 credits in the 1st semester and subsequently worked their asses off to make the total of 14 credits will not receive the certificate. Well I’m sure you know what I think they can do with their precious certificate……#$%&*%$#

Need more Zen ... maybe .. In with anger out with love......

Wednesday, August 2

Bridge ( Montreal II )

On Sunday we met Kathy White from Toronto for lunch and walked around the old part of Montreal down at the Saint Laurent River. A lot of development going on there; lots of new condos plus renovated lofts and all dirt cheap. Montreal has a nice feel….French charm, American efficiency and everybody is just so friendly……
They also have a big Gay Pride Parade here but unlike Europe, The US and even Toronto it is just very political and certainly not a party. Hardly any music or weird and wonderful people to watch...just banners in French demanding this or the other. Gave up after 2 hours and had "Tonkinoise"....the local chinese type of food. Yammie.

Pim and I started the Bridge competition on Monday morning at 9 o’clock and despite the fact that I hadn’t played for more than a year the result at the end of the day wasn’t bad…: 5th place. In other words you can only go down. We’re with 10 players from Amsterdam (the same ones that also went to Sydney) and we’re having a lot of fun. But it’s difficult to focus for two times three hours per day.

Time for a bit of relaxation was called for and so in order to celebrate Pim’s birthday (40 once again) he had invited a whole group of friends for dinner in the old part of Montreal. Since Hans and I had just come in from Honolulu we did a Hula greeting and gave all the guests a Lei. I have just never been so embarrassed in my whole life. But it’s amazing how quick you adjust and I just wanted to go on dressed up or rather down through the whole town.
Next time I will not hesitate to shed my clothes “en plein publique” and go around looking like a sad old queen.

Outgames 2006 ( Montreal I )

Most of the participants in this humongous GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) sporting event called the Outgames 2006 arrived last Friday the 28th in Montreal, Quebec. Apparently there are more then 14.000 participants from well over a 112 countries. Got a message from Pim that due to heavy storms in Chicago about 400 flights were cancelled last Thursday and he would be stuck there till Saturday due to heavily oversold flights to Montreal.

We’re in a rather seedy part of town with loads of beggars and tramps plus an overabundance of sex shops but the apartments are really spacious and pleasant.
We registered for our specific sports (Bridge in my case) and bought tickets fro the grand finale of the swimming tournament Out Splash (a.k.a. Pink Flamingos in Sydney).
Had dinner in the evening in “The Gay Village”, full of drag queens and the like.

Saturday was spent exploring Plateau Mount Royal, the elevated district of Montreal, nice parks, small streets with tons of restaurants and street side café’s.
The main drag down is called Rue Saint-Denis with boutique stores, bars etc. The weather is great not too hot and a nice breeze.

After gathering at the Holland Garden, the place where the Dutch participants can congregate and be entertained by Dolly Bellefleur, a drag queen from Amsterdam, we all went to the Olympic Stadium where the opening of the Outgames took place. The Dutch by wearing the colour orange made a big impact upon entering the stadium, singing and waiving orange flags. We saw K.D. Lang, up close performing various country songs and Martha Wash doing her “It’s raining men” routine. Apart from several other artists we could also see Cirque de Soleil give a great show (they originated here). It was an absolute blast.
After one last drink in Rue Sainte Catherine it was definitely time to hit the hay.

Friday, July 28

Mahalo nui loa

Some things you can get addicted to and the one thing that I really love in Japan is miso, the fermented soy bean paste that is used in soups.
I had to stop in to a ramen shop to get a bowl of miso ramen plus several toppings and to make it a little more spicy I added karashi miso (Also fermented soy paste but with chillies) Loved it.
Today is our last day in Honolulu and we’re flying out at 4.15 pm. on the friendly skies of United to Chicago and from there on to Montreal for the Outgames 2006.
Had to say goodbye to Hula’s and all the pretty and not so pretty boys.
Just as to show how it is situated I took this picture of Hula’s from the park across.
Mahalo and see ya’ll in Montreal

Monday, July 24


Arriving at an airport way before your flight can be good or it can be bad, depending on how you look at it of course.
Kansai, Osaka’s international airport at 3.30 pm., ready to check in with United for my flight to Honolulu (HNL) at 7 pm. Due to oversold flight to HNL the following offer:
Go to San Francisco (SFO) now and from there to HNL arrive there two and a half hours later than scheduled but in First Class all the way plus some USD on top of that to be redeemed for a future flight. You have to decide now as the flight is about to depart.
“I’m glad I can be of assistance” I mutter and luggage retagged, I run to the gate with my money check and new boarding cards.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, United is sorry to inform you of a delay for flight 886 to SFO due to air traffic control. As soon as we will get clearance we will start boarding”. Two hours later we do indeed board the aircraft. Fabulous flight of course with flat beds, great food, champagne plus all the attention one could need. To cut the story short I finally arrive 8 hours later in HNL and basically missed out on a day at the beach but in time for Happy Hour at Hula’s.

I passed the date line and so even though I left Japan on Saturday the 22nd at 5.30 pm. I arrive in SFO on Saturday the 22nd at 10.45 am.

We have this great two bed roomed apartment, sundeck, huge kitchen, fancy TV and CD player ………. but no wardrobes and drawers. Who ever designed the lay-out of this place wasn’t thinking. So a week of living out of our suitcases will be our fate.
The weather is super; the surf great and floating on our water beds in the ocean is a delight.

Do we really have to leave next Thursday………….???

Saturday, July 22

Sayonara II

Even simple things can in Japan turn out to be extremely difficult and in the end can end up being very annoying like cancelling a cell phone subscription. It is not an easy task and in my case an impossible one.

I went with Alexandra to the AU KDDI store where I got my cell phone in order to cancel the subscription. “Can I pay cash for the total sum please” I said. Yes, no problem the sales person said. She subsequently disconnected my phone from the system, printed some forms (one of which was a 3.150 Yen fee for cancelling abruptly which I knew) and then proceeded to phone all kinds of people. After half an hour it turned out I couldn’t pay cash and I couldn’t pay through the bank. They put somebody on the phone to tell me in English but the person could only stammer “wakaranai” meaning I don’t understand. I left to go to bank to close my account and when I returned Alex was still there, having to explain that she was not Paul and what her relationship with me was????
There seemed to be no solution to the problem so one hour and a quarter later we left the store still not understanding why we could not pay……….??
So either I’m 10.000 Yen richer or I will be stopped leaving the country or worse I will never be allowed to re-enter this country.

Mai and Akitaka took me for dinner to this beautiful place called Ume no Hana where a traditional Japanese food is served. We had a tofu menu and by Jove the thing one can do with tofu. Different tastes, different structures and different colours all are accompanied by several cold or hot dipping sauces, dashi broth and condiments. Simply loved it.

I really do hope to see them again in Amsterdam or where ever in the world. Even Akitaka seems to have acquired an ambition to venture outside of Japan and have a better more relaxed way of life.

My Taxi is waiting ... got to go.
Bye, Bye Japan

Friday, July 21

Sayonara I

This is my one but last entry here in Japan. I noticed how my entries have changed from observing the unusual, the fascinating and the odd to just the trivial. That probably means it really is time to go. The novelty wears off and all that remains are the banal day to day occurrences.
So for the record.:
Had my last dinner with Diana on wednesday at our favourite Yakitori place (her treat). She has decided to stay on in Nagasaki for another 6 months but concentrate on writing articles for Canadian newspapers and trying to find a job as a journalist either in Vancouver or Toronto after her time her is up.

The caretaker of the building (the witch) came to check up on my room to see if all the precious furniture and fixtures were still there. She managed to screw up the air-conditioning at the same time. There’s definitely a jinx on her…..

I attended the last lecture of our head teacher Takano Yasukuni (wonder why his parents give him the same name as that infamous shrine) who was surprised to hear that I was leaving on Saturday. “Had I filled in the proper forms”, “Had I notified the authorities”, “Had the Emperor himself been informed of my leave” .. It’s funny how people’s concerns here are with formalities. Are they too afraid to interact on a direct emotional level I or was he just chuffed for not having been informed immediately.
I did manage to have a nice chat with my favourite teacher here called Nagai. In my view she a little borderline which makes her seem probably a total wacko to regular Japanese. She has lived in Colombia for a long time and misses that “how to enjoy life attitude” that Latinos have. She’s not too keen on Japan (by the way she’s from Osaka, the most informal and straight forward kind of people in Japan) and their weird working ethics. She still has a year to go and wants to return to Colombia a.s.a.p. I invited her to come on over to Amsterdam when ever she feels like and she told me she will.

Together with Bart, Kim, Rob, Colin and Alex I had my last dinner on Thursday night at Tenguto a.k.a. butakimchi because that’s what we eat there most of the time.
Today I will withdraw all my fortune from the Shinwa bank 親和銀行 , discontinue my cell phone subscription, buy a book on Japanese noodles, have lunch with Alex and will have my absolutely last dinner with Mai and Akitaka to whom I have bequeathed in my utmost generosity my Epson state-of-the-art printer and copier.

Saul will see me off at the station on Saturday morning and then I’m off to Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand. Every time is MaiTai time…………..

My friend Christoph has just arrived in Tokyo for business but I won’t be able to see him unfortunately and Aty is worrying that I will start partying the moment I set foot on Oahu all the way through Montreal till I get back to Amsterdam. I also have to take care of my health so she says.
She knows me well.