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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dipping into Pandora's wedding box

On 22nd May 2014, my South African boyfriend Danie proposed and we got engaged. We planned to get married one year later. On 31st May, Danie left Australia and went back to South Africa. By close of business 1st June, I’d bought my wedding dress, chosen the bridesmaids’ dresses and the colour scheme. A week later, the rest of the wedding was booked and organised.

Danie was shocked. ‘I only left Australia yesterday, and you’ve already bought your dress? What are you going to do for the rest of the year?’ My dad thought I was crazy. ‘You’re probably going to change dress size before next year now that you’re back in Australia.’ My five bridesmaids were nervous. ‘What if one of the other bridesmaids gets pregnant before then?’ I explained to all that it wasn’t a problem. I’d chosen dresses with a corset back so we could lace them up as tightly or as loosely as we needed. And there were plenty of other non-wedding related things for me to do while I waited for the big day, such as relax and wait for my organisation to pay off.

In the following months, as Danie and I discussed the completely organised nuptials, the clasp on Pandora's wedding box gave a little pop. While we were living in Japan, we'd felt so culturally similar that it was as if we’d grown up on the same street. But now we were back in our own countries and planning a wedding, the differences in our backgrounds began to emerge. The people in our street had been going to different weddings.         

Danie asked me what the table at the front of the wedding ceremony was for and the lid on Pandora's wedding box creaked open. I told him the table was where we would sign the marriage documents. Danie was confused. ‘Why would we bore our guests with admin tasks during our wedding?’ He'd never been to a wedding in South Africa where this was done.

Once the lid was open, other differences began to pop out. In Danie's street, it is apparently traditional to heckle the groom during the speeches. In my street, heckling is a risky business and would almost certainly result in a death stare from the bride.

In Australia, the bridesmaids in their beautiful dresses and groomsmen with their lapel flowers sit on display at the bridal table. In South Africa, the parents of the couple sit up the front at the bridal table. If there is not enough room, the bridesmaids and groomsmen get bumped off the table and relegated to the crowd. How do you choose between the bridal party and the in-laws?

Then the lid of the box flew right open. I found out that in South Africa the guests get to choose their main course from a selection of several options. In Australia, we usually have alternate service. This means every second person gets a dried up piece of chicken, and every other person gets a juicy steak. The waiters serve the food then run for it before the room erupts in a flurry of food envy and plate swapping.
This is what an Aussie wedding guest looks like if they get the dried up chicken instead of the juicy steak.
Image by doc. License restrictions apply.
Now the box is open, I wonder what will come out next on our street.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Re-entry shock blues

Everyone warned me I’d have trouble settling back to life in Australia after three years in Tokyo. In those first few weeks back home, I gorged myself on cheap fruit and chocolate, drove everywhere, and spoke freely without having to translate in my head first. I thought how wrong everyone had been. Aside from my friends, I didn’t miss Japan. I was happy to be home. Life was so easy in Sydney.

Then after a few weeks, re-entry shock hit. I tried to catch the train to give me a break from driving, but it came half an hour late, full of people with their feet on the seats. I spoke easily and was perfectly understood, but I couldn’t cover up my blunders under the language barrier anymore. I tried to explore new places, but everything looked the same as before I’d left, even though I felt different. And worst of all, I couldn’t find a decent piece of raw fish or fermented soy beans anywhere. I missed Japan.

So I started trying to relive my life there. I joined the local branch of a running club I’d been a part of in Tokyo. But instead of being an exciting mix of internationals and locals, it turned out to be a seniors walking group. I organised a weekend ski trip to Thredbo but instead of a mountain of Japanese powder and relaxing in the hot-springs at night, it was a crowded ice-hill, with shower lines at the hostel. I went out for Asian food but I got Fanta and a fork with my bibimbap.

Things are different back in Australia. Where's the tinned corn on my pizza! 
After three months of wrong turns, I think I’ve now finally settled on a good balance between my life in Australia and what it was in Japan. To the relief of my friends, I now try to save all my Japan stories for Japanese class, where my classmates politely listen without dropping their heads backwards in a fake snore. I make the most of Sydney’s great weather and go on bushwalks and picnics with old friends without paying professional tour guides to organise it like I did in Japan. And I’ve started Skype Japanese lessons with my old Japanese teacher in Tokyo so I can still regularly capture the challenge of trying to express myself in another language, which was such a big part of my life over there.

After three months back home, I can now say I’m happy to be back but I will always miss my time in Japan.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Farewell Japan

After more than three years of adventures, it's time to say goodbye to Japan. I'm flying back to Australia tonight and will be settling in Sydney. I'll be stopping in Cairns on the way to talk to the students at St Mary's College about life in Japan, and The Ghostly Grammar Boy.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about finishing this chapter of my life. I'll miss my friends in Japan most of all. But I'll also miss the amazing food and culture. It's going to seem weird when everything is easy again and I don't feel like it's a huge achievement to buy the right groceries or make a phone call.

Thanks for the good times Japan!





Monday, 3 March 2014

Gullible's travels

When I was seven years old, I found a note under my pillow. It said:

Dear Sandra,

Please use this 20 cents to buy something nice for you and your beautiful sister Jennifer. Don’t tell anyone about this note.

Love,
God


I was so excited when I found the note and immediately ran to Jennifer and showed it to her. Jennifer said I’d better make sure I buy something nice for her, and don’t tell anyone about the note. But I couldn’t control myself… I told my little sister, Linda. But she didn’t believe me. Unsatisfied with her response, I told my little cousin Christian, but he also didn’t believe me. I started to feel really frustrated. No one would listen to me! So I told Mum.

As soon as Mum heard the story, she demanded to see the note. I showed it to her and she immediately recognised Jennifer’s handwriting. She asked Jennifer if she wrote the note. I looked at Jennifer expectantly, waiting for her to deny it but her face suddenly clouded over. She snatched the 20 cents out of my hand and said “San-DRA! I told you not to tell anyone!”

Ever since then I’ve vowed to never be taken for a fool again. That’s why the other day in Tokyo I was probably a bit too ready to disbelieve my friend Nana when she gave me something to eat, claiming it was fish sperm sack. I thought she was playing a trick on me and I was determined not to be gullible. So I threw it into my mouth and chomped it down. It didn’t taste fishy at all, it tasted like delicious creamy cottage cheese, so I knew I’d been right. I helped myself to seconds. But even after I finished eating, Nana still swore it was sperm sack. I asked other people and they confirmed it. I was lucky it was cooked—apparently it’s often served raw and has a much stronger flavour.

Beware: fish sperm sac, NOT cottage cheese

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Monday, 10 February 2014

When things don't make sense, it might not be your fault

I used to be a really light sleeper and had to wear ear plugs at night to block out noise. One holidays I was sharing a room with my sister Linda. We talked for a while, then I told Linda I was going to put my ear plugs in, so I wouldn’t be able to hear her if she spoke to me. Linda said good night and rolled over. A few minutes later I heard her muffled voice.

Linda: “Smandra… skljdfkqwejrklwnerflsdlkfaldkj.”
Me: “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU. I’VE GOT MY EAR PLUGS IN. SPEAK LOUDER.”
Linda: “Smandra… skljdfkqwejrklwnerflsdlkfaldkj.”
Me: “I STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU. SPEAK LOUDER.”
Linda: “Smandra… skljdfkqwejrklwnerflsdlkfaldkj.”
Me: (pulling my ear plugs out). “Argh! What did you say?”
Linda: “I said, Smandra… skljdfkqwejrklwnerflsdlkfaldkj.”

She’d made mumbling sounds to trick me into taking my earplugs out.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was having dinner with a group of Japanese friends. The conversation started out in English but after a few minutes it turned into Japanese. Mostly I can’t understand Japanese, but I can catch a few words and sometimes guess what the conversation is about. To me, Japanese sounds like a phone call that’s cutting in and out: “Please … because… like… thank you… do me the honour… have to…?”

I was busily trying to put the fragments of conversation together when I realised for once it didn’t sound like a phone call breaking up, but like a phone call that had completely cut out. None of the words made sense to me at all! I felt really disappointed. I needed to study harder. I’d been hanging out with too many English speakers and lost all the Japanese I’d learnt. Finally, I gave up trying to understand and asked my friends what they were talking about. They told me they were making baby talk in Japanese—the English equivalent of “goo-goo gaa-gaa, a-coochy-coochy-coo”. It was no wonder I couldn’t understand them. They weren’t using real words.

I've been wasting my time studying Japanese when I could have just made up words.

I think I might try the same thing when I’m talking to people in English. If someone looks like they’re not listening to me, I’ll say “a goobly gooky snoogly snook” and see how they react.

Friday, 3 January 2014

5-star review for The Ghostly Grammar Boy - a great start to the new year!

The new year leapt off to a great start for me with a five-star review of The Ghostly Grammar Boy from Cheryl Schopen of Readers' Favorite website. The Ghostly Grammar Boy ebook is available for free at all major online book retailers except Amazon.


Book review of The Ghostly Grammar by Sandra Thompson - reviewed by Cheryl Schopen for Readers' Favorite

 

"...There can only be one word to describe Sandra Thompson and The Ghostly Grammar Boy: AMAZING. Thompson’s first book in the Dusk Duo series was written incredibly well. The dialogue was realistic, the characters were completely believable, and the plot was entertaining yet surprisingly suspenseful. I literally could not put the book down. I stayed up for hours reading, determined to finish. And when I did, I was so frustrated that I would have to wait for the next book in the series. I rarely feel this way about a book, and since I am a huge bookworm, that says a lot.

This book has it all. There were times where I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, and then there were some touching moments that just made my heart flutter a little. Throughout the entire book, I was on the edge of my seat. It was so unpredictable with just the right amount of twists and unexpected turns. If you like suspense, mystery, humor, heart, a little bit of romance, and a character that will remind you of your high school self, then give this book a chance. You definitely won’t regret it; I sure don’t. I now have a favorite new author. I will be counting down the days until the next book in the series comes out."

For the complete review, check out Readers' Favorite.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

I can see clearly now

Regular readers of this blog may recall my disastrous experience at the optometrist a few months ago. I tried to get my eyes checked at a Japanese-speaking optometrist, but couldn’t understand a thing they said. Daily headaches and eye strain later, I can confirm… yes, thanks to my terrible Japanese, I’d been given the wrong prescription.

I was determined not to make the same mistake again. This time, when I went to get my eyes re-checked, I used an optometrist who, I knew from friends, could speak English. When I walked inside the shop, I greeted the optometrist in Japanese, assuming he’d reply in English as soon as he heard my terrible speaking. Instead, he complimented my Japanese, and said how it was so helpful for him, because he couldn’t speak a word of English. He then proceeded to conduct the eye examination completely in Japanese.

As soon as I realised what was happening, I panicked. I was in the same situation all over again! I opened my mouth to tell him I knew he could speak English and to please talk to me in English, but then it hit me…I’d actually understood everything he’d said so far. I’d been so busy concentrating, I hadn’t noticed he was speaking in extremely slow, short, simple, sentences with lots of hand gestures, and waiting for me to understand each sentence, before he said the next. He was being kind, and helping me practise my Japanese, without sacrificing my ability to understand him. So I closed my mouth and we continued. The examination took twice as long as usual because I was so slow at communicating, but this time we both understood each other. I got new stronger glasses, and I haven’t had another headache since!

My new glasses - the right prescription this time!