Hi all! I’m really sorry this blog is late (as they always are), and I have no excuse other than the fact that the IB is just doing what the IB does best! Yesterday I finally did my English Individual Oral Commentary, which is something I’ve been dreading for a long time, but in an odd twist of fate, I’m finding that I can now really appreciate the poetry (TS Eliot anyone?). I also have a few orals coming up next week, (such as Mandarin and another English Oral… the joys) but life is good at the moment, and I’m enjoying my last few weeks of freedom before the hard core studying for finals starts. I also went to Shenzhen (across the border and in China) this weekend with my mandarin class to practice my Chinese, and had a blast, eating loads of Chinese food and interviewing chinese kids (not creepily I swear).
“星期四，我跟我的我的汉语课 去深圳。 我喜欢深圳，因为水果很好吃！ 我最喜欢水果是狮子，但是我不看了在深圳所以我不会买了。我们去了少年宫，和裁缝小孩大约爱好和学校。采风又有趣又何难，不是容易!”
There’s my Chinese practice for the day done- you can Google translate it! 😉
If you want the short version of my project week, watch this video made by the wonderful Viivi from Finland! ❤
One of the best parts of this term so far (even including the moment I uploaded and submitted my English coursework, EE and TOK) was project week. I was incredibly lucky this year to be able to go to rural Japan on project week, with a fantastic group of individuals I hadn’t really had the opportunity to get to know in general LPC life. We left campus on Saturday morning (28th Feb) and arrived in Tokyo around 9pm, after being stopped at the Japanese border due to a Lesotho passport requiring “extra validation”. We were all pretty knackered, but we needed to take the metro to Ryogoku, the Sumo district (no, I didn’t see any sumo, but I did see plenty of sumo inspired art!) where our hostel was. The Tokyo metro was an odd experience, and to me it was quite unsettling. It was completely silent, and everyone was just glued to their phones. Whether it was the TS Eliot in my handbag, or my extreme fatigue, I just found it very odd and unsettling. It was something that would shock me again when we returned to Tokyo. We eventually got there at around 11pm, and after being introduced to the Japanese culture of removing your shoes before you entered the house; I instantly regretted my decision to bring only two pairs of shoes- high top converses, and wellies. Oops. None of us had really eaten that day, we all went out in search of food. I think this was the point at which I realised it was going to be a fantastic trip- my first insight into actual Japanese food. I was in food heaven.
It was an early start the next day, with us needing to catch our bus at 8.30am, and the bus station being several stations away from us on the metro. We were up and out at 5am, despite having been awake until 2am, but it meant that we were in Yamanashi Prefecture by 11.30 and in Kazu’s farm by 12! We were going to be working on a traditional Japanese fruit farm, and staying in a traditional Japanese home, and it was completely different to anything I’d anticipated. Firstly, Japan was cold. And not ‘Hong Kong cold’ where 8 degrees requires a puffer jacket, but -2 degrees standing outside and washing my face cold. Luckily for me, I was really well prepared for the trip because I still had all of my cold weather gear from when I stayed with Johanna this winter.
The days followed a very consistent cycle during my time at the farm, and it was something that I feel I really needed as a break, after the chaos and constant confusion of LPC. There was also no wifi, which I was ecstatic at. I went without technology for 4 days, and I honestly didn’t miss it. I thoroughly enjoyed working every day, even if the task became mundane after the first few hours, because I was surrounded by a wonderful crowd of people and it was impossible to be bored with the constant puns of Emilia and Jasen. It was also nice to do something without really thinking about what you were doing, I mean really, how hard can painting a pole be? (Difficult to do tidily, as you can tell by the photos!)
Every day started at 8am with breakfast, which was made by Harajiri (I think that’s how you spell her name!), a student of Kazu’s, and then we biked from Kazu’s place to the greenhouses. The ride down was lovely, because it was ever so slightly downhill, meaning that you could freewheel the entire time. The way back was a killer though, because the bikes were all pretty old and you couldn’t change from the highest gear. Most people cycled/walked back, with only one person being able to cycle the only way back. Once we got to the greenhouses, we started work. We were in charge of painting the inside of the greenhouses with this thick silver paint to prevent the houses from rusting and collapsing. We worked until 10.30, at which point it was teatime, and everyone stopped for tea and usually fruit (oh my god the fruit was insane, but that deserves its own paragraph so read on…) and then we would work again until midday, when we would have lunch, which was usually eaten sitting on rusting paint cans, looking at Mount Fuji in the distance. Next, work until 3pm, then more tea, then work until around 5.15, at which point it would start getting bitterly cold and windy, and we would attempt to ride back to Kazu’s place. Dinner was at 6pm, and then we tended to sit and play cards or heads up in the tiny communal space in the guest house before everyone conked out at around 11pm. The entire day essentially revolved around food, but I was more than fine with that!
We were working on a fruit farm, but it was February, so we didn’t get to pick fruit off the trees and eat it, but Kazu did give us a big variety to Japanese fruit that he’d either picked in July or had gotten from one of the insulated greenhouses. I was introduced to my all time favourite fruit there, called persimmon. It was the first day, and he stopped us all for afternoon tea, and just plonked this big squishy orange fruit into my hand and instructed me to try it. At first I was pretty critical about putting this thing in my mouth because he’d mentioned that this had been in his fridge since December, but he explained to us that persimmon need to sit for months to get sweet and soft. It was absolutely divine- I think I ate about four of them my stay on the farm. He also introduced us to dried persimmon, which has the consistency of a dried apricot, except its much sweeter and tougher. I searched all over Japan (well, Tokyo) trying to find this amazing fruit, and it just wasn’t meant to be. I also looked for it throughout the Shenzhen trip, and I think a fair few of my friends are getting annoyed at my persistency and dedication to finding this fruit, but I swear I will find it before I leave!
My favourite part of the trip was the evenings. We were such a motely crowd of people, but we had such a laugh together, and we meshed really well despite being from different places, and with diverse interests. On the last evening of our stay at the farm, we visited a Japanese onsen, or hot spring, which was a very strange but nice experience- it meant you had to get totally naked in a room full of strangers before you could enter (each hot spring is segregated by sex) but after a week of hard work, we all needed it.
While our trip lacked the cosmopolitan glamour of some of the other trips, I think that spending a week working and having plenty of time to think about some complex decisions… like university! I received acceptances from all of my offers, but now I need to choose two… how I don’t know! I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the trip, but something that left me a little unsettled was our trip to Tokyo. Japan has a very unique, strong culture, and it was a culture I knew very little about before I went there. I was very surprised by the silence and isolationist atmosphere of Tokyo in particular, and it was challenging to stomach and quite upsetting The metro was silent, and everyone was just immersed in technology; no body spoke to each other and you were glared at if you did try to make conversation that wasn’t in a whisper. There were signs everywhere reminding us that the train might stop due to “accidents” (it implied suicides, because Tokyo has one of the highest suicide rates in the world), and it was really hard hitting that a society as technologically advanced couldn’t understand the importance of human contact. People everywhere just seemed to live on their phones and that was the same in downtown Tokyo. It made me think a lot about the value individuals and societies place on communication, and the way we communicate. This was an aspect of Japanese culture I wasn’t expecting to see, and it was in such a contrast to the community I felt in Yamanashi. There, everyone stopped to make conversation with us, even if we didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t speak English. Maybe I’m just being too idealistic, but this was something that hit me quite hard.
Other than that, Tokyo is a city, just like Hong Kong, yet it has retained so much of its own culture. Maybe this is due to the methods of modernisation employed by the Meiji restoration throughout he 20th century (sorry, I was studying Japanese history before writing this!). Regardless, I had a very thought-provoking time there, and once again, ate so much good food! I think I would definitely consider going back, because I barely saw any of it in the 8 hours I had to explore.
Okay, so super long blog post over, I hope I didn’t bore you to death! Back to studying for my IOP now…
P.S There were a tonne of great photos from the group, but they’ve been shared on a platform that I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m working on incorporating them at some point, but right now I’m just a bit stumped. So these are all my own photos, and they’re not that great, but soon there will be more!