The Smells of the World

God being angry at Johannesburg

God being angry at Johannesburg

Watching the black clouds gather over Johannesburg for another God’s-wrath-esque storm of doom – a daily occurrance in summer here – I noticed the ‘smell’ of Johannesburg more vividly than usual. I expect the sharp wind that kicks up just before the storms has something to do with it. More importantly, I noticed how different the smell was to Onishibetsu, Durban, Bangkok and even Johannesburg in winter. It would seem that each place I’ve been to in the world has a unique scent to it, and often characterises the area itself.

For example, Johannesburg smells of dry veld, faint hints of smoke and some miscellaneous city smells, coupled with a whole plethora of other things I can’t really describe. Onishibetsu smells of grass, cows and occasionally of salty sea breeze ( not to be confused with Hama-Onishibetsu, which smells of fish in non-winter months.) In winter it’s crisp, bracing and definitely very sharp. In Johannesburg’s winter, the dryness seems to encompass every aspect of life, smell included (there’s virtually no rainfall during winter here.)

Put simply, Joburg smells of harsh, dry natural things intertwined with urban concrete. I wonder if crime has a smell, in which case it’s probably there as well! Likewise Bangkok stinks of an over-populated Asian city, with the added disadvantage of having China’s smog waft over. It’s exhaust fumes, pollution, fish, river water, dirty sewerage and so on. It’s rather interesting how these smells can so affect my impression on a place as well. Coming back to Onishibetsu after a weekend away would always relax me; something to do with the pastoral existance I would assume. Touring Bangkok was crazy, hectic and always frenetic, with barely a minute to relax. Johannesburg implies an honest kind of tone, in the sense that the ever-crushing pressure of city life is there, but the city allows one time to sit and reflect on this.

In each location the smells offers very different sensory experiences, which always seem to lead to various non-sensory formations of conclusions. I would not particularly like to go back to Bangkok, for example, though I am glad for seeing it, while I voluntarily eschewed another year in the overly-relaxing rural Hokkaido/Onishibetsu to live in Johannesburg. Each one represents the content of the location’s character. I suppose there’d be an argument for it representing the people as well, but I’m not nearly well-trained in sociology and moonbat philosophy to be able to make that case! Nevertheless, the smells of the world remain unique, unparalleled in complexity, and always fascinating.

As a child I used to always try and identify the smells of different people (no, not those smells), and try and understand how or why one person has a very distinct smell from another. Growing into adulthood however, one finds that these are often masked by excessively strong perfume or deodrant, thus hiding the uniqueness. For those who happen to smell like Bangkok, I suppose this is a good thing, but there are some people who I know and knew in my life who I wished I could sort of smell uninhibited, so as best to understand just what it all entails. This because I suspect that people, just like places in the world, are characterised by their smell. Some places or people I can barely recall in terms of acquaintance, but I can remember their smell, and thus recall their personality and what made them unique.

That being said, if Johannesburg started to smell like a rotten fish dumpster, I think I’d be far less inclined to remember it, much less live in it.

Music for the month: Deftones – Natalie Portman (or as I like to call it: “The Crush Song”)

Written by admin in: Africa,Things Japanese |

Class Species: The Resident Communist Fanboy

Having just started my courses, I have decide to, over the course of my MA, strive to identify, understand, and consequently mock with all my ability. Starting the shebang this week: the Communist Fanboy.

Anyone who has ever done an undergrad humanities course would have encountered such a person. Every time discussion begins, or the floor opens for questions, the Communist Fanboy will proudly stand up and spout some typically nonsensical rubbish about how Marxism can fix said problem, or how the capitalists are corrupting the souls of our children, forcing them work hard for material gain, instead of being afforded all the luxurious trinkets of mass-welfare a la Sweden. They are the ones who seem to ignore whatever readings, lectures or speakers who might smell even faintly bourgeois. For them, university is nothing more than an uncomfortable training ground whereby they might hone their ridiculous dogma to a keen edge, so that they might enter the ranks of their given union/youth organisation/anarchist club with all the tools needed to ignore reason an logic for the rest of their unnatural lives.

And then, in my recent experience, there are those glorious comrades who pursue a masters education with this innocuous mindset that they are there to learn. Just as long as they’re not learning from a capitalist. Everything which might penetrate their dense proletariat filters is then quickly digested into something which fits their narrow ideology. Truly I weep for the future generation of political thought.

Some quick tips at identifying your potential Communist Fanboy:

  • Narrow, beady eyes
  • non-comprehending complexion when in class/lectures
  • An unending eagerness to bring up the Marxist/Socialist solution to anything. Seriously. It could be a discussion on the effectiveness of Rommel’s African campaign. Anuthing.
  • amnesia with regards to any discourse or information which might be contrary to their own thinly-substantiated rhetoric.

It’s important that this species be distinguished from that of the Religious Crusader; who shares many common traits, but holds no allegiance to the aforementioned buffoonery.

As a final note, the Resident Communist Fanboy will often emulate his or her heroes, which might include physical copy-cat tendencies such as shaggy hair, open-toed sandals and distincly ripe body odour, to habitual practices such as chronic failure to maintain punctuality, aloof and judging gazes, or the corollary: the blank and distant glazed look.

Finally, as a recommend prevention, I recommend the employment of Weber, Smith and related texts. As a last resort, a truncheon to the face is always effective.

Written by admin in: Things Japanese |

Japan Redux: Part Deux – I’m different, but I’m not special

To be frank, I had been battling like crazy to figure out just how I would put into words the effects of Japan upon me, now that I’m in SA and carrying on with a very definite plan of mine (refined and revised, of course!) I find it’s incredibly difficult to talk about Japan with objectivity, whether it’s with biting pessimism or with gloving love-drunk puppy eyes.

And that’s because I suspect that Japan was very much that kind of bipolar experience for me. I had the very best of experiences and the utmost disappointing. Professionally-speaking, the job was boring as hell, the prospects of furtherance absolutely non-existant, and it is ultimately a giant time-sink for one’s youth. Put simply, if you’re going to Japan just to experience Japan, good. Otherwise, there’s no reason to be there. Unless, of course, you want to find a wife, learn Japanese or prostrate yourself to the gods of Otaku culture. In my year, throughout Hokkaido, I met and shared experiences with all three groups of people, and it was great. But I would never wish to repeat it.

The trouble is, so much which I have learned about myself and have galvanised within has remained largely internal. This is because the only two people with whom I’d really experienced most of these ground-breaking, primal highs, both emotionally and intellectually, either live back in the USA or is still in Hokkaido. It’s hard to explain, and it’s even harder to justify in polite company in SA. That’s because I’ve now started to understand the mutual frustration of listening to people natter on ad infinitum about their experiences in X country. ” In <country>, <x> is so much better/worse/different.” Everybody knows someone like this, and I’ve evidently become one of them. The trouble with this is that I tended to come off as opinionated even before leaving for Japan, but with the self-confidence and indifference borne of experience which I have gathered, my natural aloofness has been elevated tenfold. I’ve learned that with precious few exceptions, I really don’t give a fat shit about someone else’s opinion or judgment on me. I’ve learned that, as much as everyone likes to pretend, we’re all just as clueless as the next person, so why give a continental about what the next peasant thinks about you? It never really affected me a helluva lot before, but my indifference has been polished to a keen edge. And why? Because I know what my abilities are. I know where my strengths lie, and I’m no longer pretending anything otherwise. Japan taught me to take pride in my abilities, my ‘uniqueness’. I might be as clueless as the next person, but Japan has taught me to acknowledge this and take pride in it. I’m different, but I’m not special.

So I’ve stopped trying to splurge about my experiences in Japan, negative or positive. I’ve stopped because it no longer makes a difference to me, and nobody else really cares overly much. What truly matters is what I’ve absorbed internally, and how that will shape me in the future. Going to Hokkaido, teaching English, traveling, saving some money, coming back to Johannesburg, getting registered for University and sorting out the scholarship is the first time I’ve formed a rough plan for my life and have it actually pan the fuck out! JET was the last resort in a long list of plans, and it turned out to be the best of the lot. I’m so terribly glad for the experiences, the people I met, and the lessons I learned while there that I can’t now imagine ever doing anything else. I know that spending a second year would have been a mistake, much less a third or fourth year. Looking at the folks I know who have been there for several years, who really have no designs in teaching as a career, I see them losing so much for the sake of financial security and the ability to speak Japanese. Japan can crystalise your dreams, and serve as a the focal point in their implementation, but it’s so very very easy to have your dreams erode over time for the sake of delaying the real world for a few years. Because Japan, in all its beauty, is a country that is only really a life for the Japanese. For foreigners it offers a stunningly fantastic experience, but it’s temporal, and it always will be. There will always be, for every ALT, even the tiny few who become Prefectural Advisors, the absolute knowledge that this will come to an end, and it will come to and end after it has taken from you a very heavy toll if you’re not careful. In Hokkaido I experienced some of the most amazing sights, sounds, people and events which will stay with me for the rest of my life, but staying longer would have turned me into a miserable curmudgeon. Well, more of a miserable curmudgeon then. I would have had a great few months snowboarding, seeing some more bands in Tokyo, perhaps even memorise Hiragana properly. But I’d get dumber, I’d get increasingly frustrated with the bureaucratic idiocy that is Japanese education policy for ESL, and the sheen of Japan’s outward friendliness would finally erode away, leaving me bereft of the very positive things I’d gained. Or I’d get arrested in Wakkanai because I looked Russian (and thus, criminal :p)

Even though teaching was ridiculously simplified, the kids were always special. Looking at some of the pictures my successor posts every now and then, I see the same kids I knew and wish them nothing but the best. They’re awesome, every single one of them, whether they end up as presidents or scallop-shellers. I made one or two really good friends while there, I saw and experienced the madness that is Tokyo, and I ate more sushi than you can shake a stick at. Japan was the epitome of a polar experience. I suspended any long-term ambitions I might have for a very immediate and – in hindsight rather necessary – visceral experience in the single-most rural area in Japan (barring the little island ALT’s, bless their souls.) It’s redefined John as John knows him, and he quite frankly doesn’t give two hoots if anyone cares or not. I would never do it for another year, because I feel there’s very little beyond personal gratification that I’d gain from it at the expense of so many more important things I have in mind, but it’s set me up perfectly for what could well be my final academic year, in which I finish up the theory and start thinking very seriously about the implementation thereof. Africa be warned! I’m gonna sort you out!

Music of the month (I say ‘month’ because I write so sparingly these days): The Boss – Vietnam (audio only. Sorry!)

Written by admin in: Africa,Things Japanese |

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