Japan

First the bad news. My objective for going to Japan was a failure. It’s not that I failed the GRE, it’s that I failed to match or exceed my expectations. I scored 30 meager points higher than the last time I took the exam in August. I was hoping for, at worst, a 100-point improvement. I would have been happy to gain another 125-150. But I didn’t. So in that regard, the effort was a waste of time and money.

I studied my ass off this time, hours a day, every single day. I set aside other things in my life during a very busy time, and even strained a couple friendships in the process. I used exam guides, complete with diagnostic reports charting my progress. By the time I’d finished all the practice exams, I was projecting a score close to 1200, a score that would have been at least satisfying and would validate the effort. I did not get near that score. And it’s the kind of score you need to get into a good communications program.

So, once again I say fuck you GRE. I concede that you win, you’re too much for me. In retrospect, it was stupid of me to think that I could regain all the complex algebra and geometry skills I may (or may not) have had when I was in high school two decades ago. So I will never take it again. It’s an exam for young people. Old men like me are not meant to take it. So, then, are old men like me not meant for doctoral study? It would seem to be the case. Universities, which use the GRE to determine eligibility, apparently only want young people. Incidentally, yesterday I saw a Facebook update from a friend of mine who signed up for GRE prep classes in Korea (she’s Korean) and was denied admittance to the class. The reason? She was told she is too old to take the class. No joke.

Now the good news: Japan is amazing, simply amazing. It was the perfect place to make me forget about my disastrous test score. So after the exam, I dug into Japan for four full days and nights. Nights in Osaka, day trips to Kyoto and Nara, a jam session in Kobe. I had a blast.

An interesting thing about Japan… I’ve never heard anyone mention a bad experience traveling there. I’ve heard good and bad things about China, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, etc, etc. But people seem to have nothing but universally good things to say about Japan. I now understand why.

First, there are the genuinely kind and polite people you come across. Then there is the utterly fascinating history of warriors and clans and honor, all those knightly aspects that rival and even exceed Camelot. But the thing I found particularly amazing about Japan is how there is an aesthetic quality pervading everything. Urban planning, architecture, parks, walkways, historical sites, food, interior spaces, cleanliness, even in some cases the presentation of environmental sounds — everything has an artistic intent behind it. But it’s not simply about making things pleasant. In many cases, there is a boldness to the construction of all this lifestyle and environment. The train station in Kyoto looks insane when you first see it, but then it starts to make sense. All the aggressive lines and the sheer audacity of it kind of warms to you after you spend some time there.

Now, I don’t presume to “know” the Japanese way of doing things, but I noticed something else that may be a contributing factor to this. I was surprised by how much individuality and freedom of expression there is to Japanese people. I’m talking mostly about young people. The fashion is insane, and everyone seems to present him or herself differently. In Osaka, I saw arctic snow goddesses, punks, space-age bee-hive hairdos, forest elves, men with capes, girls with face paint. It seemed as though everything was not only permissible, but encouraged.

This is strange to my Korea-dwelling eyes. I hate to make comparisons, but Korean men have dreadful fashion sense. The women are much better, and go to great lengths dolling themselves up and looking pretty. But there’s a sameness in style. I remember one summer black and white stripes were the latest thing. Everyone was wearing black and white stripes; everyone was wearing the same thing.

Again, not to overgeneralize, but this is likely an extension of cultural differences. Individuality is not encouraged in Korea, and therefore creativity and boldness is not evident. It’s a detriment to Korean society. But Korea is lives under a very different set of circumstances. This country is a resounding success in the way its built itself from utter impecuniousness to tech-savvy and economically robust in little more than a generation. Give Korea some time to allow Koreans to find their creative voice. They’re due, and it’s coming. I can feel it.

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2 Responses to “Japan”

  1. I give you credit for the ability to adjust. Your evidence for the test being geared to young people is astounding. And, as someone who knows you personally, I am stunned to hear you call yourself “old!”
    Japan sounds wonderful. Let’s go there. Elorac

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your test result… I don’t know much about the GRE test but I have never heard about those test required for the University in Japan…hmm.. but I’m glad to hear that you had a great time in Japan.

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