Archive for the 'Life at school' Category

A trip to the Doctor’s

February 22, 2007

While getting dressed one morning I noticed two moles, quite close to each other, on the upper left of my abdomen, that I hadn’t noticed previously.  Having been alerted to the worrying stats on skin cancer in Australia, and also to how quickly moles can turn malignant, I decided to have them checked by the nurse here at GRIPS.

First, I visited my friend Teruyo in the student office, to find out where the school’s surgery was, and what time it was open each day.  After giving me the facts, Teruyo leaned across the desk and said:

‘Be careful.  Other students have said that the nurse is a bit odd.  She may be mentally ill.’

This isn’t what I wanted to hear.  It confirmed something that Susanna, who had studied here two years ago, had told me about her experiences with the nurse.  I instructed Teruyo to send out a search party if I wasn’t spotted the next day – just in case I happened to be in the room when nursey went round the bend.

My own diagnosis, though, is that the nurse is probably quite sane, but that her conditions of employment aren’t helping her mental stability.  (People who have worked in Treasury’s Issues Management Unit will know what I mean – yes guys??).  The surgery is located in a quiet service corridor, away from all of the activity of the school, and behind a solid windowless white door.  So the poor thing probably doesn’t get much human contact.  And when another living being does turn up, it is usually a snivelling, coughing or otherwise distracted foreign student with little Japanese and only passable English.   

So nursey appeared quite happy to see me walk through the door.  I told her my concerns and showed her the offending moles.  She got out her magnifying glass to have a close look at them, and pronounced that, although they looked quite normal, she would send me to the doctors’ surgery in nearby Roppongi Hills, just in case.  She also kept me there a little while with some conversation, and invited me to drop in anytime so that she could practice her English conversation skills.

Which all adds weight to my hypothesis of reasonable sanity placed under unreasonably stressful loneliness.

The next day I went visited the surgery in the Roppongi Hills complex, which is a large office tower, surrounded by extravagant landscaping including a sculpture of a large spider, a bit like the one that I wish had eaten the annoying actor who played Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.  The surgery was a large affair.  On walking through the door, you are greeted by a pleasant young Japanese woman asking (in Japanese) for your health insurance card and your letter of referral.  Once your details are punched in, she points you in the direction of a set of lounges and asks you to wait for a little while. 

There were about three or four other patients waiting at the lounge.  No ‘Time’ or other magazines were on the coffee table, but that was OK because quickly after I was led to another part of the surgery, to wait on another couch outside what turned out to be the dermatologist’s office.  After about 5 minutes of watching young nurses in pink nurses’ uniforms rushing about with files, one of them asked me to come into the doctor’s surgery.

Inside the doctor (whom the school nursey had told me to call ‘sensei’ (a la The Karate Kid) was sat in front of her desk and wearing a surgical mask.  The pink nurse came into the room after me and shut the door – so I had to reveal my embarrassingly un-Brad-Pitt-like, hirsute abdomen to two strange foreign women.  The doctor examined the moles and then made a short speech in Japanese.

‘Sumimasen, demo … wakarimasen’, I whispered (‘Excuse me, but … I don’t understand‘ – I’ve been saying this a lot over the last five months).

She then repeated what she had said, this time in halting but passable English.  I don’t know why the Japanese do this.  A lot of them speak quite good English, and I am clearly a clueless foreigner – but they’ll still talk to you in reams of Japanese at the drop of a hat.

Anyway, she explained that the moles weren’t malignant, but that each time I go out I should wear sunblock, especially in Australia, which is known for its harsh sun.

I thanked her for her time, and was shown out by the pink nurse, who directed me to the payments counter, near the entrace and the waiting lounge.  There, another young woman took my file and asked me to wait on the lounge.  After a few minutes, she directed me to where three other young women were sitting at cash registers, waiting for customers to come along and pay.  The service culture in this country is remarkable – they devote considerable resources to ensuring that there is someone to deal with customers.  Despite this, the woman working on her own at my local surgery in O’Connor was able to process my payments faster than all four of the Japanese admin assistants combined. 

So, with no worries, I stepped out of the Roppongi Hills complex, past the useless spider and out into Tokyo’s warm winter sunshine, to walk back to school.  On the way, I saw in a sidestreet a homeless Japanese man sitting with his back to a wall, cradling in his arms a large and very contented white-brown cat, who had found a convenient (if a bit whiffy) place to soak up the sun. 


Some pictures of the school

November 13, 2006

Here are some pictures of our campus in Roppongi. The building is only about a year old, and has a quite modern, ‘German’ type feel about it.


Above is a picture of the front of the building. The main entrace is under the ‘archway’ at the extreme right of the picture (there’s no ‘arch’, I know, but you walk under a block of concrete and into the main foyer). The shape of the roof reminds me of factory buildings, which probably isn’t the most obvious model for a university!

Below is a picture of a part of the interior, taken on the first floor, just in front of the eastern secondary exit and next to the cafeteria (which is to the right of your viewpoint as you look up the stairs):

Campus first floor
Here is a view of the building, from outside the eastern exit. The lecture rooms, study rooms, library, cafeteria and admin areas are all in the shorter, silver ‘factory’ building, while the academics have their offices in the tall brick-coloured building:

Campus east view

Comparative Politics: controversy in the seminar room

November 7, 2006

Today’s Comparative Politics seminar covered the empirically-proven association between economic development and the emergence of democratic regimes.  One of the topics discussed was why countries like Taiwan and Korea had only decided to liberalise their political regimes well after they had become economically developed. 

After the seminar, about six of us were still left in the room, discussing the marks we had received for our summaries of the readings and how we would approach the next week’s readings.  Ma was there, and said to all of us:  ‘I really should have said something in that discussion.’

‘Why?’, we asked.  ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Taiwan is not a country,’ he said.  ‘It is Chinese province!’ 

‘Ahhhh’, we all said in unison.

Best to leave that one well alone.

A short conversation

October 19, 2006

Scatterbrained Jeremy lost his Shiodome-Roppongi train pass last week. So I had to go to the Student Assistance area at school to get another form, for the elderly lady at Shiodome station to stamp.

Most of the time we are assisted by three young Japanese women, all of whom speak good English. I asked one of them, Horie-san, for help. After I’d received the form, she asked me:

‘You are from Canberra, right?’

‘Yes, I’m originally from Sydney, but I work in Canberra.’

‘I lived in Canberra, about seven years ago. I studied South-East Asian Society at the Australian National University’.

‘Oh, really?’ I said. ‘What did you think?’

‘I couldn’t believe it. It was supposed to be the capital city. I was expecting something like Tokyo.’

We then had a chuckle about Canberra’s littleness. I told her that, im my first year there, I drove back to Sydney almost every weekend, and that Odaiba, the region on Tokyo Bay where I’m living, has more shopping centres than Canberra.

She said that , after adjusting to the city’s small scale (and next to Tokyo, everything is small) and making some good friends, she enjoyed herself there.

I should have asked her if she remembered the Bento boxes they serve in Canberra, and if there was anything like it in Tokyo. Maybe next time I lose a rail pass I’ll ask her.

My subconscience is starting to form its own patterns …

October 17, 2006

Yesterday I had my first class with Prof. Hashimoto in ‘Politics of Security’. The obscurity of the title helped keep the class down to a workable seven people – Chiquo the Philippino policeman, an Uzbek, a Burmese central banker, a Cambodian diplomat, an Indonesian, a very ‘modern’ Pakistani woman wearing purple make-up and a Nike t-shirt, and me.

It didn’t start off too well, with Prof. H. saying that his interest was in Okinawa and its place in international security arrangements, and telling us that the readings would be taken from his latest book, on – you guessed it – Okinawa. Yet another academic suffering monomania, I thought.


His style was engaging, and he told us that we have too much homework from other classes already, so all he wants us to do is to turn up, give our own opinions about security arrangements, especially for our own countries, in the class discussions, and write an essay at the end of the term. ‘Study hard and enjoy yourselves’. Before long I had become quite enthusiastic about the class.

Plus, members of this class get priority when the school is selecting people to visit – yes, you guessed right again – Okinawa.

Sounds good to me.

More seriously, the Prof. is actually quite a big wheel in US-Japan relations, sitting on committees that plot strategy for the alliance, of which Okinawa is one issue. From his first lecture, it seems that his US counterparts are mostly Democrats, and that they are waiting around for 2008, when they expect (with some confidence) the Republicans to be clearing out their White House desks to make way for them.

From what I gather, GRIPS has a very high reputation in the Japanese government and official circles, meaning that I’ll be lucky enough to meet more people like this.

Also, knowing how to get on the right side of a group of people from South-East Asia, he said that he thought that the bodies of the war criminals should be removed from Yasakuni shrine, and that Japan should accept responsibility for starting the war in the East, regardless of the pressures that caused it to do so.

The Prof. handed out his bio, part of which reads:

‘He is also developing a new paradigm for the 21st century world based on Buddhist philosophy’.

For the Aikido boys: I told the Prof. about our practicing Aikido. He asked me whether we did any meditation. I mentioned the ‘positive thinking’ meditation that Murray has us do at the end of some of our sessions, but that for westerners our easily-cramped leg muscles make long sessions impossible. He then said that the most important thing was to get the breathing right.

I think I’m in for an interesting term.


Maybe it’s being around so many Asian people, but my subconscience is starting to make its own patterns of recognition from people’s faces.

Tony, you’ll be pleased to learn that Prof. Hashimoto is your long-lost Japanese twin brother, only with shorter hair. And the woman who takes the class after his, Prof. Amoroso, is the (American) twin sister of Maria the Canberra Piano Teacher – again, with shorter hair.


My ABC-BBC radio drought is almost at an end. The admin people here told me today that I can’t stream live audio into my room from the computer, the firewall won’t allow it. The best that I can do is download the programmes when I am at school (I have access to audio and video there) save them to the hard disk, and listen to or watch them when I get home.