Saturday, 12 July 2014

End of week one

I've now got through my first full week at the school and have settled in a bit more. It's taking me a while to adjust to being in a classroom again, having daily homework, and deciding how to spend the free morning/afternoon when I'm not in lessons.

The first few days I brought in sandwiches for simplicity's sake, although saying that obtaining bread was by no means simple. Japanese "bread" sometimes superficially resembles bread, but as far as I can tell it's more like brioche than anything. Many kinds are sweet, the others are flavoured with things I haven't yet learned to identify, some contain cream or custard, and all are squidgy. Yes, even the crusty-looking ones!

HK Happy Valley Shing Woo Road Cheung Sing Cafe Sunday Breads 1

Eventually I unearthed a pain du campagne in a dusty corner of a supermarket and used that, although the lack of a breadknife made for some uneven sandwiches. I've bought so much essential stuff for this apartment already that I refuse to buy a breadknife unless I really, really need to.

Anyway, having eaten said bread I've followed the general practice and bought bento lunches the last couple of days.

Shop-made bento box

Mine were a lot simpler than these, although sizeable and filling. Basically the rice and one heap of mixed veg. They come in at around, oh, £3, which isn't bad.

I'll probably try to make my own (I have a lunchbox) some of the time, not least because I really resent the wastefulness of throwing away boxes every day. They don't seem to be recyclable. Also, once you're making rice and frying vegetables it doesn't really matter how many portions you make. Anything I make will be much simpler and less Japanese, of course - no sauces, fewer ingredients in general - so I'd like to keep getting lunches some of the time. Next week I'll also look into cafes.

Classes seem to be going reasonably well, although I have to fend off certain feelings of inadequacy. Having switched to a new textbook here and jumped in at chapter 17 (corresponding roughly to the grammar I've already studied) there is inevitably a ton of specific vocabulary that the textbook uses but I'm not familiar with. This makes for poor performance on the tests we have every couple of days. I'm also just not used to writing quickly in Japanese, since my previous classes were entirely based on conversation with writing left for homework, so I find tests and some other exercises tricky in that respect. I'll get better.

I deliberately didn't do any extras this week as I was trying to get over my jetlag, get used to my routines and generally settle in without getting overwhelmed. Also, while there are a fair number of interesting extra activities to do, I'll be here for ages; almost certainly I'll be able to try any of them multiple times if I want over that period, and I certainly don't want to burn through everything too early, nor to spend all my hard-earned cash up front and then run short later on. I feel like this was a good plan, because for example the amount of homework seems to vary quite a bit. Next week I'll look at signing up for one of the conversation exchange schemes; I thought I did that when I registered, since there was a little box to tick, but nothing seems to have resulted from it.

Despite the climate I have managed a couple of runs to different parks - largely because the first one turns out to be (as far as I can tell) a botanic gardens that shuts about 5pm. I'm definitely feeling the pain of being in a proper city (and downtown at that) because there just aren't the large public spaces I've got used to. I can trot around confusing backstreets with no pavements, or run in marked laps in designated places in a park during its opening hours (largely outside the times when it's cool enough for weedy foreigners to run), but stepping out of my door at 11pm and running for miles down peaceful towpaths or round farms is no longer an option.


  1. I am a little behind schedule. This was such a joy to read...
    Regarding your comments on Japanese bread, did you not discover similar problems in China. People from the East somehow prefers to add milk, sugar in bread and take it as a sort of dessert?:(
    Do Japanese bakery do brown bread at all? in China (well, at least during the time I stayed), brown bread was considered peasants’ food and was not at all popular among Chinese. What about in Japan?
    Bento box looks nice and the price is really reasonable. however, a long term plan would be to prepare lunches yourself to cut down the costs and to have healthier options.
    Glad you managed some running already. It does seem to be tough without big patches of green in the city :(
    Classes seemed to be okay, but I do not like to read how often you have to take exams, so intensive, especially for someone who just arrived a week ago. Having said that, I truly believe you will manage it quite well. Again a good post to read :)

    1. I didn't, actually, but then I ate either at the university canteen (汤刀削面 most days as I remember!) or there was a cook who did meals for our whole apartment of up to 20 people. So I wasn't ever really looking for bread, only occasional snacks. I haven't found any brown bread other than the bags of three slices - I assume you can get it, but probably only in specialist shops, like trying to buy speciality breads in the UK.

      From what I've read, in Japan brown rice is historically peasant food and everyone thought white rice was both prettier and tastier, which means nowadays it's relatively hard to find brown rice although it's slowly getting less obscure (I found some). I suspect the same idea applies to bread - refined seeds are delicated and tasty, unrefined seeds are rough and heavy and tasteless, or some such thing. Quite the reverse, I assure you.

      You will see some pictures of my home-made bento later on. They are... unexciting, but delicious. I'm actually not sure if I'm even saving money, because the simple bento I buy are very cheap, but I'm sure it's healthier.


    2. Arigato, Shimmin Kun. when I was teaching in China, I also mainly went to Canteen for food and my regular order was su chao bing (veggie sir-fried pancake strips, I think that 's a close translation).

      I can live happily anywhere as long as there is decent home-made brown bread!

      Oooo, I saw the post and will comment on it suggestion is to add more greens to the bento box to make it more appetising.