Google+ Sandra's Stories: 2013

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!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Time flies when you've got writer's block

Staring at a blank computer screen, mind frozen, and spirits plummeting… when I’ve got writer’s block the hours fly past in this state, and I can’t write a word. After a while, I’ll start imagining all the things I’d rather be doing. Going to the dentist or getting my thighs waxed seem like attractive options.

Everyone has different methods for dealing with writer’s block. For me, I find the best thing to do is try to keep two things in mind. The first is ‘A true writer is one who writes every day.’ I tell myself I’m a real writer, because I’m sitting here having writer’s block. This makes me feel like what I’m doing is dramatic and not a waste of time. As soon as I capture this exciting feeling that made me want to write in the first place, the words start to flow more easily.

The second thing I remember is something my Mum used to say when I complained about my English homework. She’d say, ‘Squash the critic and write’. It’s hard to get anything onto the page if I’m judging and criticizing every word. Once I ignore the critical voice in my head, and let myself off the hook about writing well, it’s much easier to get the words out.

After all of that, if the dentist’s chair is still looking attractive, I’ll give up and eat some chocolate. Sometimes you’ve just got to give yourself a break.

When all else fails, it’s time for some chocolate.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy book launch hits the papers!

News of The Ghostly Grammar Boy book launch in Tokyo hit the newspapers in Australia last month! Sydney based local newspaper, The North Shore Times, reported on the event, which occurred on the night of a big typhoon. Thank you to everyone who turned up to make the event such a success and to my Sydney-based readers for spotting the article!


Newspaper article printed in the North Shore Times

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Book lovers brave a typhoon to launch The Ghostly Grammar Boy

As Tokyo shut down for a once-in-a-decade sized typhoon, the Japan book launch of The Ghostly Grammar Boy was just warming up. Book lovers braved terrible rain and winds on Tuesday night to attend the launch in Tokyo, and their stoicism and party spirit sent the book off to a flying start. The audience came from all over the world: Australia, Japan, Russia, and South Africa, with two things in common – the fact that they were very wet, and an interest in reading the new teen thriller.

Thank you so much to everyone who came along, especially during the typhoon. You made it a very special night and I really appreciate your support. For those of you who missed the night, check out the video and speech transcript below!

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is available on Amazon and Smashwords. Check out the reviews on Goodreads.



Book launch speech and reading transcript


When I was in high school, a phone was smart if it could send a text message; and Facebook didn’t exist, so we stalked our boys by foot. Yet even in those dark ages, high school was still both the most exciting, and the worst experience of my life.

I remember how much fun it was when we poured water all over our school uniforms, and then walked into the classroom pretending nothing was wrong. I remember how upset I was when mum refused to buy me new clothes because “Sandra, it doesn’t matter what you wear, people will just be looking at your face.”

High school is a time where your friends are everything to you, and your parents are monsters who get in the way. I wanted to try to capture the intensity of these feelings in my book but also raise the stakes a bit. What if you had to deal with all these things while also hiding a terrible secret?

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is about Fiona, a fifteen year old school girl. Her greatest dream is just to survive year ten and seem like a normal person. There’s just one problem. She can see and touch ghosts, thanks to her pesky twin sister, Ella, who happens to be dead. Fiona’s plans are ruined when Ella, her ghost twin sister, begs her to investigate the death of a boy from the local grammar school.

As Fiona bumbles along trying to solve the mystery of the ghostly grammar boy, she finds herself entangled in a web of lies, deceit and high school bullies. But mean friends are the least of Fiona’s problems. Because sticking your nose in places where it doesn’t belong can be dangerous.

(Reading) My mood changed instantly when we arrived at the beach. I could almost forget I had a murder to solve, that my friends knew too much about my love life, and that I had a huge pile of homework waiting for me at home. Surf Beach was particularly beautiful today. The sun glistened on the blue-green water, and the waves broke neatly in foaming parallel lines across the beach. The expanse of water was framed on either side by two small, bushy headlands.

The waves lapped at my feet invitingly…

….like a foot massage from the abominable snowman!

It was freezing!

At that moment, a wind direct from Antarctica plastered my board shorts to my skin, and caused every goose-bump on my body to respond in overdrive. A second later, the glistening ocean darkened as the sun went behind a cloud. The temperature seemed to drop ten degrees and my desire to swim disappeared instantly.

But I knew I would regret it if I went back to land-locked Canberra without getting wet. Steeling myself for the cold, I ran through the shallows into the deep water and dived. It was even worse than I’d imagined. The icy water tightened around my chest. I tried to glide back up to the surface for a breath, but… I couldn’t move.

I started to panic. What was happening? I really needed to breathe.

My chest muscles tightened further. The weight in my chest was getting heavier. I was really struggling now.

I pushed my feet firmly into the sand and tried to propel myself upwards. But still I couldn’t move! The pain in my lungs was becoming unbearable. I clutched my ribs, only to get the shock of a lifetime.

There were hands, squeezing me around the chest. One of my friends was holding me down. This wasn’t funny. My chest was going to explode.

Frantically, I grabbed at the hands gripping me and tried to pry them loose. I managed to get one free, but the person quickly replaced his grip with a bear hug. I couldn’t take it much more. My chest was heaving, willing me to take a breath. I squirmed desperately while fighting the temptation to suck water into my lungs.

I couldn’t continue to fight much longer. In a few seconds, I would be joining Ella on the other side.

All of a sudden, the pressure released and I was propelled to the surface.

I gulped air the instant my face broke free of the water. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet.

Suddenly, two wet, matted, female heads surfaced near me. The two girls were screaming at each other, and clawing at each other’s hair. They flailed around, locked in each other’s scratching embrace.

Despite their vicious movements, the water remained still and calm around them.

That could mean only one thing. They were ghosts. And they were angry.


(End of reading)

High school’s hard enough without having to sort out your dead sister’s love life as well. Writing this book really made me appreciate the experience I had at school. I’m glad I didn’t have a supernatural secret and a sister with a dead, troubled boyfriend.

Well I don’t want to give too much away so please read the book and find out how it all turns out for Fiona and the ghostly grammar boy. The print books are on sale tonight, and you can also order the ebook version online at Amazon and Smashwords.

Thank you so much to everyone for your support. I really appreciate you coming out tonight in the typhoon and hearing about my new book. I would love it if you could read my book and leave a review somewhere – whether it’s on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, or my blog, I would really appreciate it. Reviews will help other readers discover my book so if there’s one message I want to get across tonight, it’s please leave me a review.

So thank you very much and please enjoy the rest of the night. It’s all-you-can-drink so let’s get our money’s worth!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Sometimes small talk is big talk

The other day, I tried to ask for no bag in Japanese (kekkoudesu), but instead, proposed marriage (kekkondesu). I realised I’d made a mistake when the check-out assistant froze and slowly backed away from me. The last time I tried to go to the optometrist in Japan I almost blinded myself (see What happens when you get cocky). So when my Japanese teacher wrote the word yukaueshinsui (inundation above floor level) on my vocab list this week, I felt it was a little beyond me. Before I memorise seven-syllable words about flood-levels, I should probably master some basic life skills in Japanese. But I memorised it anyway … because my teacher always seems to know what people in Japan will be talking about.

For example, in March, my teacher asked me to memorise the word sakurazensen (cherry blossom front), which is like a cold front, but made of cherry blossoms. She also asked me to memorise mankaisengen (declaration of full bloom). I knew people like cherry blossoms in Japan, but I couldn’t believe they got into such technical details. But after several conversations turned into detailed discussions of cherry blossom bloom-levels and locations, I realised I was wrong. These technical details were hot topics during cherry blossom season, and if I didn’t know these words, I wouldn’t be able to understand small talk. It’s typhoon season right now, so I guess my teacher is expecting some floods and ‘inundation about floor level’. I eagerly await putting my new vocab to use while my house goes underwater.

Cherry blossoms: get your jargon right before you try to talk about them

This has made me wonder what sort of things English teachers in Australia teach foreign students, which might seem surprising everyday topics to anyone from overseas.

Spring: The firies* were backburning this morning and now my washing smells like smoke.
Summer: Don’t you hate it when weetbix dries like cement on your bowl and you can’t get it off?
Autumn: It was cloudy and cold yesterday but I still got sunburnt. Thanks ozone hole!
Winter: It’s getting cold. I hope the huntsmans (spiders) don’t come inside to have babies in my bedroom again.

*Firies = firefighters

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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy print book is now available!

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is now available as a print book on Createspace! Check it out and leave a review!

Monday, 30 September 2013

The obedience test

When I was in high school, my school uniform had a removable, pre-tied, tie. It buttoned under our collars, hanging down like a sign saying ‘dork’. At the start of each year, the principal would advise parents to sew the ties onto our uniforms so we couldn’t take them off. Of course, my mum was the only one who did this, so I was the only buffoon in school with a tie.


The mark of my shame

Mum tried the same trick when my sister started high school, so my sister unpicked the tie. It was such an obvious solution, but because I was such a goody-goody, it never crossed my mind. The school tie was an obedience test and I had failed to think outside the box and followed my mum’s instructions blindly. I don’t know if Mum was pleased or disappointed in me, but I do know I get my obedient goody-goody ways from her.

You see, when I have visitors to Tokyo, I always give them some instructions about the trains. I tell them it’s going to look too crowded to get onboard, but you’ve just got to get on anyway—there’s always space for more people. I tell them what they should do is face backwards so they don’t have to make eye contact, and use their bottoms to shove onto the train. Despite the pep talk, my visitors are usually still pretty hesitant about pushing backwards onto a train. They end up waiting for people on the train to make space for them. On a crowded day, if this takes too long, they might get a shove from behind.

When Mum visited me in Tokyo, I gave her the usual speech, but when the train pulled up, it wasn’t very crowded, so I stepped leisurely onto it facing forwards. Suddenly, I felt a shove from behind, from something round and soft, and I was sent sprawling into the people in front of me. I figured there must have been a crowd surge on the platform behind me. But when I turned around, I saw it was just my mum—and there was no one behind her. She was such an obedient goody-goody, she’d taken my instructions at face value and followed them exactly. Now I know where I get it from.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is now available on Amazon!

The Ghostly Grammar Boy ebook is now available in the Amazon Kindle store! It's also still available for free on Smashwords until the end of September using the coupon code: TU58E. The print book is coming soon!


The advantages of being a common Thompson

I spend a lot of time on the internet stalking myself. But even if I cheat and look for information I already know exists, I can never get onto Google’s first page of search results. There are just too many Sandra Thompsons. At first my internet obscurity seemed like a good thing. It didn’t matter what I did in life, I never rated a mention on the web. It was a get-out-of-jail-free card. But since I started writing this blog, I’ve begun to doubt whether anonymity is such a good thing. What’s the point of having a blog if no one can find it? Well, last week I discovered something that convinced me beyond a doubt having a common name is a good thing—and it’s got nothing to do with personalised key rings.

You see, I was making a profile on Goodreads to claim The Ghostly Grammar Boy as my book. As soon as I indicated I was an author, my profile became linked up to all the other books written by Sandra Thompson’s around the world. Without lifting a finger, I suddenly had 13 books, 71 ratings for my novels, and a 3.4 star author average!

I was so pleased! All my life, I’ve been slogging away, working for my own name and reputation. Little did I know, out there in the world are millions of Sandra Thompson’s whose work and reputation I could claim for myself.

My future minions




I was just starting to plot the rest of my Sandra Thompson takeover, when I noticed something had changed on my book page. Someone had rated The Ghostly Grammar Boy 4 stars.

I was so excited. I looked at my overall score to see if it had changed too but it was still 3.4. There were so many books and reviews linked to my name now, my one true rating hadn’t made a difference. The other Sandra Thompsons were dragging me down, stifling my first rating. I didn’t need to steal from them, I needed to cut them loose. I asked Goodreads to remove the books from my profile. I might disappear into the sea of Sandra Thompson’s again but at least I’ll get my own ratings.

If you've read The Ghostly Grammar Boy, please leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or Smashwords! Reviews will help other readers find my book.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is now available on Smashwords!

I’ve finally done it! My first book The Ghostly Grammar Boy is now published. Get it for free on Smashwords for the next two weeks using the coupon code: TU58E. The print book is also coming soon to Amazon, and will be available at my book launch in Tokyo on 15th October (details coming soon). I’d love to get your reviews! Thank you so much to everyone for your support! I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Read on to hear about my greatest fears during the writing process...

Free on Smashwords until 30th September using coupon code: TU58E



My secret fears

During the early years of writing The Ghostly Grammar Boy I had two big fears. The first was that someone might steal my ideas, robbing me of my world best-selling novel. The second was that people might think badly of me when they read my book. I used to lock up my drafts in password protected files, and had copyright marks scrawled on every page. I would rarely tell people I was writing a book, and when I did, I was evasive about the storyline. When people asked to read it, I would always refuse. I did not want to risk losing my work, and at the same time I was petrified they might not like it.

An early version of my book
Finally, one day, after much begging by a friend, I decided it was time to get over my fears. After making my friend promise he wouldn’t copy my book, I gave it to him to read. I spent a sleepless week, tossing and turning, imagining all the horrible things he might think about it, and at the same time, picturing him sending it off to publishers under his name. When I saw him again, I was barely holding myself together as I asked him what he thought. I knew there was no turning back. I could never un-hear his words if he hated it, and I’d never get the book back if he wanted to take it. I needn’t have worried… because he hadn’t even started it. That was five years ago, and until this day, he’s never read a word.

After this happened to me several times, I began to realise I’d been suffering from serious delusions of grandeur. It didn’t matter what people thought of my book, if I could get them to open it up and read the first page, it was a great compliment. If they read the whole thing, it was the greatest gift of all. As for plagiarism, if someone managed to get my work published from the hordes of novels sent to publishers ever year, I applaud them. I would hire them to help me with my next book.

It’s thanks to writing The Ghostly Grammar Boy I’ve learnt you shouldn’t worry too much about what people think of you, you should just be flattered they thought of you at all. Thank you so much to everyone who reads this blog. I really appreciate your support and would love it if you read my book and left a review!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Book Review: Caves, Cannons and Crinolines by Beverly Stowe McClure

I'm giving it 5-stars!

Caves, Cannons and Crinolines by Beverly Stowe McClure is the story of fourteen year old Lizzie and her family in Vicksburg during the American Civil War. It's not just a fight for survival for Lizze and her family, with cannons dropping on their house, food shortages, and wandering vagabonds. Lizzie must also grow up and find her place in the world, as a woman, a sister, and maybe one day, a partner.

As soon as I started reading this book, I knew I was in good hands. From page one, the book launches into an action packed adventure, combined with just enough emotion to let me share in Lizzie's fears, sorrows, and joys. The author expertly weaves the story of Lizzie's personal growth into the adventure and makes the characters and the atmosphere feel very real. I was left thinking about the book for a long time after I finished reading.

In an added bonus, the book is also quite educational. Without meaning to, I learned a lot about the American Civil War, while still feeling like the book was light-hearted and easy to read. I finished the book in one day.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes meaningful stories with strong characters and action. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Class Apart by Stephen Henning

4-stars for this book!
A Class Apart by Stephen Henning is about British twins, James and Samantha, whose lives change forever after a terrorist attack on their school bus. Sam and James wake up in hospital and gradually discover they have extraordinary abilities. Meanwhile, strange events being unfolding at the hospital and the twins need to quickly come to grips with their new powers, to save themselves and everyone around them.

This book was exciting and stimulating. I really enjoyed the beginning scenes on the school bus, where we learn about the mouth breathers, the bullies, and the high school social hierarchy. Then, just when I was bonding with the school kids and settling in for a book full of teenage angst and relationships, a bomb exploded and it was a whirlwind ride from there.

If you enjoy fast-paced action books, with a supernatural element and a mystery, then this is a book for you. I was enthralled as I tried to figure everything out and follow the characters development into super-beings. Despite their amazing powers, the characters seem like real people, with solid back stories, and real life problems.

The book also felt very original to me. I liked that it was unpredictable and the characters discovered things long before I worked them out for myself. At one point I got a bit restless with most of the story being set in the hospital, and I lost track of all of the police officers and what they were doing. But it didn’t hamper my ability to enjoy the story and the pages kept turning themselves. I felt very satisfied when the loose ends were all tied up thoroughly at the end of the book (except for those leading to the sequel of course).

I also liked the multimedia aspect of the book. The Class Apart website has links to book trailers and news reports from the 24/7 Interactive News service which is featured in the book.

In summary, A Class Apart is a fun, enjoyable read, suitable for teenagers and adults alike.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

About Sandra

Sandra grew up in Sydney, Australia as a black-haired girl with two blonde sisters. She was not adopted, despite what they told her.

Sandra first discovered her passion for writing in primary school when she was forced to write a short story for a school assignment. She was surprised to discover she really enjoyed it and began to read and write avidly.

After graduating from university in Sydney, Sandra began working as a full-time statistician. Her days were filled with number crunching, while her evenings were filled with Fiona’s exciting supernatural adventures as she wrote the first book of the Dusk Duo series, The Ghostly Grammar Boy. The book is now available for free on iBooks, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

In 2011, Sandra moved to Tokyo, Japan, where she lived for three years and learned a lot about Japanese culture by making many mistakes. She wrote about her adventures in Japan on this blog.

Sandra now lives in Sydney, Australia where she continues to work as a daytime statistician and a nighttime author. She is currently working on book two of the Dusk Duo series, The Deadly School Camp. Have a sneak peak at Fiona’s next caper at the The Deadly School Camp page. She is also writing a romantic suspense novel set in Tokyo called The Sakura Vacancy.

Sandra loves to hear feedback from her readers and really appreciates the support of her blog followers.

Books

The Dusk Duo Series

Book One: The Ghostly Grammar Boy


For a dead guy with unfinished business, he was pretty cute.

Fiona is a completely ordinary fifteen year old from Canberra… at least that’s what she’d like you to think. She doesn’t want anyone to know her secret. She can see and touch ghosts and it’s all thanks to her pesky twin-sister Ella - who happens to be dead.

Following the mysterious death of a boy from the local grammar school, Fiona navigates the perilous high school social hierarchy to investigate. With the help of Ella, Fiona uncovers a dangerous web of family secrets and betrayal, and learns more about the perplexing world of ghosts and boys. High school is hard enough without having to sort out your dead sister’s love life as well…

Purchase The Ghostly Grammar Boy ebook
Read the first three chapters here for free!
Reader Reviews for The Ghostly Grammar Boy

The Ghostly Grammar Boy was awarded a five-star rating from the professional reviewers at Readers Favorite Website.



Book Two: The Deadly School Camp


Hannah was a bully when she was alive… she’s even worse now that she’s a ghost.

Fiona is back. She’s got a hot new boyfriend and the grudging respect of the popular group. She even has a confidante who knows her supernatural secret.

But when school bully Hannah is murdered at year ten camp, Fiona’s life is thrown into turmoil. Fiona has to work with the recently departed Hannah (who still manages to be annoying in the afterlife) to catch the murderer. The problem is, none of the adults will believe her and now the murderer wants her dead as well…

The Sakura Vacancy

This is a romantic suspense novel still in progress, due for completion July 2015. The book is about Hailey, a ditzy Californian girl, who leaves her disastrous love-life behind for a high-flying job in Tokyo. Hailey struggles to settle in, but the trouble really begins when she meets a handsome foreigner with a secret agenda. Keep checking back here for more information and sneak previews.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Things I didn't expect to be corrected on

It’s no surprise I made a lot of mistakes when writing my first book The Ghostly Grammar Boy. During the revision process, I was lucky enough to receive detailed feedback from many family members and friends. I also hired an editor to review the final draft. Between all of us, we found hundreds of plot holes, logical inconsistencies, scientifically implausible events, awkwardly worded sections, spelling, and grammar problems. All of these were fixed for the published version. But there were some pieces of feedback that surprised me more than others. These are three things I didn’t expect.

1. I'm an Aussie but I write like an American


The Ghostly Grammar Boy is about a fifteen year old school girl called Fiona who can see and talk to ghosts. I used to watch a lot of shows like Gossip Girl so my natural instinct was to make the main character an edgy, American teenage girl, at a ritzy US high school. Then I remembered I’m an Aussie! For my book to have an honest voice, I should draw from my own experiences of growing up in Australia. So I made the main character a teenage girl at a public school in Canberra.

Having decided to make the book true blue*, the last thing I expected to hear from my editor was that my book sounded American. There were so many Americanisms my editor even offered to Americanise the whole book for consistency. Apart from all the US spelling I’d accidentally used, I’d also used a lot of American words, for example Fiona had ‘bangs’ instead of a ‘fringe’, fell on her ‘butt’ instead of her ‘bum’, and goes to the ‘bathroom’ instead of the 'loo’ or ‘toilet’. One of the ghosts even materialised carrying a baseball bat - unlikely in cricket-obsessed Australia.

2. Too raunchy but also too innocent


During the book, Fiona experiences her first kiss. I wanted to make the book interesting for teenagers and not too censored so I made the kiss scene steamy and detailed. Embarrassingly, I was told by several people that it was too much – it was too graphic and not appropriate for my intended audience. I removed the details and toned down the scene. On the other hand, I also received feedback that Fiona’s high school friends were unrealistically innocent. I’d written that none of them had ever had a boyfriend, been kissed, or been to a party with alcohol. After hearing this comment, I quickly made Fiona’s friends lose some of their innocence.

3. Old, old, old


When I first started writing The Ghostly Grammar Boy, Facebook was mostly unknown in Australia, smartphones and iPads weren’t invented, and The O.C. was the most popular TV show. By the time I finished, my book was littered with references to previously popular things, long since forgotten. An example is when I referred to a good swimmer as a ‘Thorpedo’. The last medal Ian Thorpe won for Australia was eight years ago.

*True blue means honestly Australian

The Ghostly Grammar Boy ebook will be published on Amazon and Smashwords on 15th September 2013. The book will be available for free for a limited time to the readers of this blog. Check back here again next week for the coupon code and link!







Sunday, 1 September 2013

Hats off to the kiddies, fatties, and oldies

Everyone in Japan has climbed Mt. Fuji, except me. School groups, unfit tourists, and baby boomers in colour co-ordinated hiking outfits – they’ve all done it. During climbing season, Mt. Fuji is so crowded the path becomes one long pedestrian traffic jam. So I figured, if everyone’s doing it, surely it can’t be that hard. This year I’m going to conquer Mt. Fuji too.

As a token amount of preparation, I decided to practice on Mt. Mitake last weekend. And by token, I really mean token: Mt. Mitake’s altitude is 929m, and the hike takes five hours, compared to Mt. Fuji’s 3700m altitude, twelve hour course. My cousin Mark (who has a hilarious blog about his student life in Spain) was stopping over in Japan that weekend and joined me.

The hike started with a series of staircases that went vertically up the mountain… and it didn’t ease off from there. Hours of relentless staircases and torturous slopes later, we finished and I was exhausted. My legs were shaking, I could hardly breathe, and I didn’t think I could even step on the train to get home. Meanwhile Mark looked like he’d been for a casual stroll around the park. I started to have serious doubts about my plans.

The next day, I limped in to my Japanese lesson, and told my teacher about my Mt. Fuji goal. She almost hit the roof. ‘Mt. Fuji isn’t easy! It’s incredibly dangerous and difficult, especially outside of climbing season!’ she said. (I’d purposefully planned my trip to be a few days after the official hiking season ended so the crowds wouldn’t slow me down.) She explained that outside of hiking season, the mountain huts shut, the rescue services stop, and the weather on Mt. Fuji becomes dangerous and unpredictable. Since it was outside of the season and I was clearly not fit enough to complete the course, she strongly advised me to cancel my plans.

After two years with my Japanese teacher, I’ve come realise she is usually right about all things Japan-related. So I cancelled my trip to Mt. Fuji. I’d like to blame the off-season timing, but the truth is, it’s a serious hike and I need more training. To the kiddies, fatties, and oldies who have conquered Mt. Fuji, you have my total respect. If I can ever walk again, one day I’d like to join your ranks. But not this year.
My new walking sticks won’t have the honour of poking Mt. Fuji this year

Friday, 9 August 2013

The phones must be crazy

Yesterday the silence of my office was shattered when a hundred smart phone alarms went wild. The early earthquake warning system had triggered. My Japanese colleagues called out “Shindo nana!” in shock, meaning an earthquake of the most catastrophic level was about to hit.

The early warning system is supposed to give us a few seconds notice to get to safety. But instead of diving under our desks like we’d been trained to do, we all just stood there giggling and waiting for our doom. Secretly, I wanted to get under my desk but I didn’t want to look like a coward. I felt like it was 2011 again, in the seconds after the earthquake alarms had gone off, and just before the big earthquake hit. Back then I hadn’t learnt about the dangers of losing face, and had immediately dived under my desk.

While we waited to die, we teased the people whose phone alarms had triggered later than everyone else’s. For once I wasn’t the one with the most outdated technology. After a while the giggling died down, and it seemed like nothing was going to happen and we’d have to get back to work. I mostly felt relieved but a small part of me felt disappointed there was nothing more to break up a dull Thursday afternoon.

Later I found out on the news that the alarm had been triggered by a loud noise near one of the earthquake sensors. Maybe some deviant popped a bag behind the head of the Japanese meteorological agency and gave him a shock!

My earthquake emergency kit was lonely when I didn't join it under the desk.

There's no escaping Tokyo

 Sometimes I really feel the need to get away from the crowds of Tokyo and escape to the peaceful Japanese countryside. Last weekend I went to the rural apple-growing prefecture of Aomori (715km north of Tokyo) to watch the Nebuta festival with some friends.

Aomori is on the coast, so the first thing we did when we arrived was to look for local sushi. We wanted to eat the best, freshest fish - straight from the sea, and into our mouths. We found a great sushi bar where the fish were as delicious and fresh as anything we’d eaten in Tokyo, and a bargain at country prices!

Surprise! A crab was hiding in the miso soup. 

When we arrived at the festival that evening, there were hundreds of performers dressed in traditional costumes getting ready for the Nebuta parade. We were excited to see them and stopped a few Aomori locals to get a picture with them before the show. But as it turned out they weren’t from Aomori at all. Like us they’d travelled from far away to spend the weekend in the country.

Aomori imposters with other Aomori imposters

Finally we went to get a seat at the parade. I thought we wouldn’t have too much trouble with crowds because it was a small town but it was packed out like Shinjuku station at peak hour. Tokyo had found me after all. The event had drawn the masses from the capital. Luckily I’ve learnt a few things about walking through crowds, so I had no problem and the crowds added to the excitement.

Tokyo relocates to Aomori

The parade was amazing - huge floats made of Japanese paper and carried by man-power, surrounded by dancers and musicians in traditional costumes. We discovered that if we cheered loud enough the floats would walk over to us and bow.

Even the floats bow in Japan

I highly recommend the festival in Aomori as a great thing to see. But book early because the rest of Tokyo will be there with you!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

What happens when you get cocky

You would think after my disastrous Japanese interview in April I should have no doubts about my terrible Japanese skills. But recently I still made the mistake of thinking I could communicate like a normal person.

I wanted a new contact lens prescription but instead of trying to find an English speaking optometrist, I decided to go to a local and wing it. On the surface, that doesn’t sound difficult. But don’t forget I have the reading skills of a five year old, and the speaking skills of a baby. I had to decipher websites and maps, make an appointment, and then once I’d finally arrived, fill out the pre-appointment health sheet – all in Japanese.

Somehow I managed it. (I won’t mention how long it took and how many mistakes I made.) As I sat in the waiting room for my appointment I felt so pleased with myself. I fantasised about how I was going to email everyone I knew and boast about my cleverness.

Then the eye exam began... The optometrist made me put my head in a contraption and stare at a computer screen. She said, “Blah blah blah blah?”

At least that’s what it sounded like. I could see a white C shape but it wasn’t perfectly clear around the edges so I replied, “Can’t see.” The optometrist nodded and made the C shape bigger, then said, “Blah blah blah blah?”

I repeated “Can’t see.”

The C got bigger and bigger and bigger. She repeated her question again and again and again. I answered “Can’t see,” “Can’t see,” “Can’t see.”

Finally the C was so big that it didn’t fit on the computer screen anymore. There was no way anyone could miss it. The optometrist seemed frustrated by now. She opened a cupboard and pulled out a giant poster of a C. She held the poster close to my face and said “Blah blah blah blah?” I replied, “Can’t see.” The optometrist’s nostrils flared. I started to suspect that I’d misunderstood the question.

We moved on to other tests. I tried on glasses, put my head in different machines, and looked at charts on the wall. This time she changed her question. She kept saying “Blah blah blah… Is that okay?” I didn’t want to cause any more trouble so I answered “Is okay, is okay, is okay,” and she kept looking more and more angry.

By the end of the appointment, my spirits had plummeted. I’d wasted everyone’s time and my money. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten so cocky as to think I could take an eye exam in Japanese. Then I got my prescription… it was exactly the same as my old one!

My new contact lenses - not even the optometrist knows if they're right for me.

I don’t know if my eyesight really hasn’t changed, or if the optometrist just gave up on me and copied out my old prescription. But I have new contact lenses now and they seem to be okay. So I’m choosing to believe that I got what I wanted. I’m back to being cocky.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Making an ebook cover is like a reality TV show

My first novel, The Ghostly Grammar Boy, will be published in September so recently I've been working on getting an ebook cover made. I used the graphic design website 99 Designs and the process felt like a reality TV show. This is how I did it.

 

1. Make the design brief a competition


The Ghostly Grammar Boy is a teen thriller about Fiona, a fifteen year old Canberra school girl who can see and talk to ghosts, including her dead twin sister. Fiona just wants to survive year ten without revealing herself to be a ghost-whispering, boyfriend-less weirdo. Her plans are ruined when she meets the ghost of a handsome boy from the Grammar School who claims he was murdered.

My design brief was to create a cover that had a teenage girl with dark brown hair in the forefront, the title in large font, and my name in capital letters. In the background I wanted a ghost version of the girl (the twin), and the ghost of a handsome teenage boy. I asked for some sparkles or swirls to indicate supernatural themes, for the main colour scheme to be dark purple and black, and for the design to be attractive to teenage girls.

I advertised the brief on 99 Designs and turned it into a competition. Graphic designers were able to compete to win a cash prize.

 

2. The contestants fight amongst themselves


Within hours of my design brief going up on the website, I already had several great entries... and the fighting had begun. One contestant put up a cover with a picture of a teenage girl taken from a stock photo website. Another contestant entered a similar design using exactly the same picture. The original contestant then complained "There are plenty of pictures on stock sites and you choose to use the same I did!"

 

3. The contestants fight with the judge


Within a few days I had more than 60 great covers from different designers. I'd originally envisioned a cartoonish cover but most of the designers chose to go with photographs. It was great to be able to see all the different possibilities and interpretations of my brief.

Using the website I could rate each of the covers and give feedback. The designers were responsive to my comments and within a short time submitted new designs including my suggestions. I gave the designers a link to the first three chapters of the book so they could get a sense of the tone of the novel.

One of the designers didn't take my feedback very well and wrote critical comments about how I was confused about the concept of manga, and how I shouldn't have released information late in the competition (for example, during the finals I told the designers "the book is humorous and the girl is spunky - think Buffy not Twilight"). I felt like the mean judge in a reality TV show. The competition was getting fierce.

 

4. The general public votes


Four days after advertising my design brief I had to narrow down the 23 contestants to six finalists. Using the website I made a poll of my favourite covers and advertised the poll on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. I received many votes from friends, family, and the general public. Thank you to everyone who voted! The comments were very interesting, from "stalkerish," "the girl is too cool," to "looks like a movie starring Sandra Thompson, [2 stars]."

From the polls, a clear favourite emerged, confirming my own feelings about the designs.

 

5. Pick a winner


Seven days later my competition closed and I had to pick a winner who would claim the prize money. I chose the cover below by Kassandra_P because not only was it the most popular in the polls, but it reflected the tone of the book so well.

The winning designer and I signed a copyright agreement, giving me rights to use the design. The designer was also kind enough to provide me with several different file sizes suitable for thumbnails, printed, and ebook versions.

The winning design


I'm so excited to see my cover come to life and really enjoyed the process. Thank you very much to all the designers who entered my competition, and to the people who kindly voted and gave me feedback on the covers.


Monday, 10 June 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy has a cover!

I'm excited to annonuce that The Ghostly Grammar Boy now has a cover! Thank you everyone who voted on their favourite cover and gave me suggestions. The book is now one step closer to publication in September 2013. Keep checking back here for more details!

The Ghostly Grammar Boy - to be published September 2013

Monday, 20 May 2013

Politeness manuals

When I was in high school, I worked as a checkout assistant at the local supermarket. During the induction program, the trainers spent most of the time trying to convince us we shouldn’t steal. When I finally started working at the checkout, I didn’t have a clue what to say to customers. My greetings would vary wildly between a sullen glare and a bright “Thank you, have a nice day”, depending on how I was feeling. All I knew was I shouldn’t steal anything.

Supermarkets in Japan take a more thorough approach to customer service. The checkout assistants receive a politeness manual telling them exactly what they should say to customers. And it’s not just the checkout chicks who follow them. The professional pushers at train stations follow politeness manuals too. I didn’t know there could be a polite way to push someone’s body parts into a crowded train, but it seems that there is.

Last week I think I discovered a sort of politeness manual for the general public. I was at the movies and before the movie started they played an ad telling us a list of rules. It was the usual things like “Turn off your mobile phone” and “Don’t talk during the movie”, but then they added “No kicking.” I started laughing but stopped when I realised no one else thought it was funny. It seems that the people in the movie theatre that day took obvious etiquette advice better than Aussies generally do. An example of this was last year when Queensland Rail tried to run an etiquette campaign - their posters became internet memes and were mocked all over the world.

The original Queensland Rail ettiquette poster

One of the many subsequent memes.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that my supermarket didn’t have a politeness manual.

My short story The Busybody of Lindfield was inspired by my time working at the supermarket.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Help me choose a cover for The Ghostly Grammar Boy

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is in the final stages of preparation for it's release in August! Help me choose a cover design from the finalists by voting here.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Top three places you don't expect to see Japanese

Even though I’m in Japan, there are some places I never expected to hear or see Japanese. These are my top three most surprising places.

(1) Graffiti
Trying to memorise the 2000 kanji characters required to read basic Japanese is a major headache for me. So when I see kanji casually scrawled as graffiti I am always surprised. I'm also a little jealous.


Beautiful kanji strokes - get this graffiti artist to a calligraphy competition!

(2) Dogs

So apparently, unlike me, dogs in Japan can understand Japanese. I even met a dog last week who was trilingual. He could understand Japanese, English, and Afrikaans… although the word for “sit” in Afrikaans is “sit”.

Tank the dog should sit my Japanese exams for me.

(3) Winnie the Pooh (aka Poo-san)

I expected at least the names of cartoon characters would remain the same. But in Japan even cartoon characters need to be shown an appropriate amount of respect when using their names. For example, Winnie the Pooh is known by his honourable title “Poo-san” i.e. Mr. Poo.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Reader Reviews: The Ghostly Grammar Boy

"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." Cheryl Schopen, Reviewer, Readers' Favorite

"The Ghostly Grammar Boy is a great story with a lot of suspense. I was kept guessing throughout the story. Four out of five stars." Tabetha Collier, Reviewer, Readers' Favorite

"An exciting, intriguing book that kept me on the edge of my seat. I carried my kindle around with me, desperate for any free moment to escape into Fiona's world of ghosts, high school & adventure. Loved this book!"
Rachel Ward

"Fast paced, interesting, supernatural. Ghosts at school, ghosts in love and ghosts attempting murder!"
Jennifer Tarr

"I just started reading the book and can't put it down! A hilarious and exciting read."
Nanako Terayama

For more reviews, check out the Goodreads book page.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Camping in the tsunami zone

Last week I went camping on Niijima Island for Golden Week. I felt a bit nervous when I saw signs like this all around the island. These are the first emergency signs I've ever seen which actually tell you to RUN, rather than proceed calmly to safely.

Sign on Niijima Island.

Monday, 29 April 2013

The laziest machine in Japan

Japan is famous for its futuristic technology. The bath tubs sing as they fill up, meals at restaurants can be ordered by digital menus, and robotic vacuum cleaners whizz around apartments during the day.

But with all the hard work being done by robots in Japan, there is one type of machine that isn’t pulling its weight: the ATMs. While most of the people in Japan bust their guts working overtime, many of the ATMs* close down at 6pm. They refuse to work on public holidays and weekends, and if they do choose to operate at these times, they often charge extra fees for the privilege.


Lazy ATM: Closed Saturday afternoons, Sundays and public holidays

At first, I couldn’t understand this. There should be no reason why an ATM can’t work weekends or at night. It’s a machine. It doesn’t need the time to go home and make shabu-shabu for its family or to trim its miniature bonsai garden. Why do they only work during business hours?

Well I think one of my friends has discovered the reason. She was visiting Japan from overseas and tried to use an ATM to withdraw money but unfortunately it ate her card. She started to panic, assuming that she’d been caught in some sort of scam. Then suddenly a phone which was hidden next to the ATM began to ring.

Friend: Hello? Is someone there? The machine ate my card.
Phone: Rapid Japanese.
Friend: I can’t understand you. Do you speak English? The machine ate my card.
Phone: Long silence. Your card… no good. Cannot use. Card return now. Please wait.

Sure enough, next thing, her card popped out of the machine and the phone line went dead. Someone behind the scenes had been supervising the ATM, seen that her card had been eaten, investigated the situation, and decided to return her card. 

So I guess that’s how you keep everyone employed in a high tech society where robots can do any job - employ someone to secretly watch the robots. Behind every robot in Japan, there could be a human watching. I just hope there’s no one supervising my singing bath tub.

*ATMs at 7-Eleven are usually open 24 hours a day and charge no fees for most Japanese bank cards.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Time to harden up

After two years of receiving unfailing politeness in Japan, I’ve dropped my guard. I no longer steel myself against attitude before approaching shop assistants, or apologetically catch the eye of waiters when I want to make an order. I’ve come to expect the highest level of respect from the service industry, and this has made me weak. 

For example, the other day I went to a restaurant in Tokyo. When I arrived the waiter pointed to our table without saying a word. No ‘Welcome honourable customer’, ‘my sincerest humble apologies for keeping you waiting’, or ‘wow honourable customer, you are so tall and your Japanese is so skillful’. Just silence. I was floored. I convinced myself that the waiter must have assumed that I couldn’t understand Japanese and that’s why he didn’t speak to me. The alternative - that he was giving me attitude - was too shocking to consider. 

When I got to the table I ordered a glass of hot water from another waitress. However it didn’t arrive within three minutes, so I asked about it. Instead of apologising profusely, bowing and rushing off to get it, the waitress dismissively told me to wait longer. I felt glad that it was an open kitchen so that she couldn’t spit in my food. She obviously wanted to.


I'm used to being the whale at restaurants.
Note: Image by gwaar. Some license restrictions apply for reuse. Please see Creative Commons License for details.

My sister was visiting me at the time and she was surprised that I was frustrated by the incidents. No one had actually said anything rude to me. These events would never have enraged me in Australia. In fact, if I’d had to order hot water in Australia, I'd have been the one grovelling because hot water wasn’t even on the menu.  

I’m planning to visit home at Christmas time so I need to harden up. What if I need to call my telecoms company or get my driver’s license renewed? I’ll never survive if I can’t put my shields back up.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The art of conversation

I used to always assume that people were in control of what they said. Even if someone was obviously telling a lie or saying something weird, I assumed it was because they wanted to. However, since I started learning Japanese, I’ve discovered that what comes out of my mouth often has no relation to what I actually want to say. I only know a limited number of words and sentences, so my conversation is a random selection of the nearest match to what I actually want to say. Whatever I’ve written in my homework that week is the most likely answer to any given question.

For example, last week, I was interviewed to assess my Japanese speaking ability. This is how our conversation went:

Interviewer: Where do you come from?
Me: Sydney, Australia.
Interviewer: Have you lived in Sydney your whole life?
Me: Different. When I was two to four, because of Dad’s job, I lived in Yokohama.
Interviewer: Really? Where in Yokohama?
Me: In the ocean.
Interviewer: Really? And where did you live after that?
Me: In the desert.
Interviewer: Really? What sort of place was that?
Me: Hot, quiet.
Interviewer: Where was it near?
Me: Near Perth.
Interviewer: Where’s that? Is that near Brisbane?
Me: Yes.
Interviewer: And what do you think of Japan?
Me: I am excited.
Interviewer: Excited? Isn’t Sydney exciting too?
Me: Sydney is countryside. No restaurants or shops.
Interviewer: And what are some other differences between Sydney and Tokyo?
Me: In Tokyo, many funny things.
Interviewer: Really? Such as?
Me: Last week I catch ladies-only carriage but I discover man enter. That man told no good by station people.
Interviewer: Is that so? That’s funny, isn’t it.
Me: Yes.
Interviewer: And what are your hobbies?
Me: I study Japanese.
Interviewer: Really??? And what other hobbies do you have?
Me: I climb mountain.
Interviewer: Is that so? Which mountains have you climbed?
Me: Last year I walk from Tateyama (a mountain in the Japanese Alps) to Kamiyacho (a train station in Tokyo, 425 km from Tateyama).
Interviewer: Really? And how many kilometres was that? How long did it take you?
Me: By walk, it take four days, 12 km.
Interviewer: OK, thank you, I think I have enough to assess your level now.


In Japanese, I would say this is a dog. (I don't know the word for panda yet.)


Faced with the choice of silence, or making something up, I’ve found myself always choosing to make something up. I get to practice more words that way. But as a result I’ve become extremely suspicious of what people say, especially if they seem to be struggling to find the right words. After learning Japanese, I don’t think I’ll ever look at conversation the same way again.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Intruders on the ladies carriage


My train line (Tokyu-Toyoko) is a medium-risk groper line. It’s so crowded that commuters are pressed hard into each other, allowing easy access for wandering hands. However, it’s not one of the notorious groper lines (*cough cough* *Saikyo line*). To help women have a grope-free journey, there is a special ladies-only carriage during peak hour. While the rest of the train is so crowded that station staff in white gloves have to push commuters inside, the ladies-only carriage is a haven of tranquility. It smells like flowers and sometimes there’s even enough room that you don’t have to body slam anyone when you enter.

Apart from the smell and space, the best thing about the ladies-only carriage is the entertainment of watching when men come on board. It happens at least once every trip. The man will be on auto-pilot and as soon as he steps on, he will shut his eyes, and try to get some sleep. After a minute or so, however, he will frown…

(thinking) That’s strange, no one is pushing me. How am I supposed to sleep without other bodies to prop me up? Come to think of it, the people I’m leaning against feel strangely short and soft. And they smell so good… Oh no, I’m on the ladies carriage! I have shamed myself and my family.

The man’s eyes will shoot open. He will then immediately start shuffling towards the train doors with his head bowed, muttering apologies, and swiftly alight at the next stop. The women will smother their smirks.

Occasionally when a man enters the carriage, it’s obvious that he’s done it on purpose. He will have a really stubborn look on his face and refuse to make eye contact. All the women in the carriage will glare self-righteously at him. His trip doesn’t last for long though. If the man doesn’t get off at the next stop, then at the following stop, a train guard will enter the carriage and march the man out, shaming him in front of all the women.

It’s so much fun that I wish I could catch the ladies-only carriage every day. Unfortunately the platform is usually so crowded that I can’t get to it. But when the crowd parts in a fortuitous way, I know I have a great journey of people watching ahead.


The Tokyu-Toyoko platform at Shibuya Station.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Avoiding the obvious

A few months ago at a party, I met a lady who was a vegetarian. Even though I knew it was probably an annoying question, I couldn’t help but ask her why she didn’t eat meat. I then followed up by giving her a detailed list of all the vegetarians that I know, their reasons for being vegetarian, and what they can and can’t eat. The lady’s eyes glazed over with boredom. As soon as I’d finished my long-winded story, she made an excuse to leave and talk to someone else.

I didn’t mean to be such a boring conversationalist. The problem was that as soon as I heard the lady was vegetarian, I became fixated on avoiding a conversation that she’d had thousands of times before. It became all that I could think about, so in the end, I couldn’t talk about anything else.

It’s the same when I meet a vet for the first time. I can’t help but ask them if they like animals; when I meet a plastic surgeon, I can’t help but ask them who they think needs work; and when I meet other foreigners in Japan I can’t help but ask them where they are from.

If George Vanilla-Gorilla could talk, I'd ask him why he sleeps so much

Until I came to Japan, I’d never had the problem of being on the receiving end of these sorts of obvious questions. I work as a statistician, so this information is usually greeted by a swift change of topic. No one wants to encourage me to talk any further about statistics.

These days I get asked on a daily basis where I’m from and how long I’ve been in Japan. However, I’ve discovered that I actually like these questions. Having something so obvious to discuss means that it’s really easy to talk to new people. These questions also give me an excuse to shamelessly talk about myself.

The problem with these questions is that my poor friends and colleagues have heard me answer them thousands of times. While I get the chance to blab on about myself, my friends and colleagues have to wait in bored silence.

Since I’ve discovered I enjoy receiving obvious questions, I no longer feel ashamed to ask them. However, in order to be fair to everyone, I try to distribute my obvious questions equally. That way everyone gets a fair chance to repeat themselves. So watch out vegetarians, vets, plastic surgeons, and foreigners… Captain Obvious is coming!

Monday, 18 March 2013

My lost calling

If I were a secret spy, Japan would be my location of choice. Unfortunately, foreigners in Japan tend to stick out like a hamburger on a platter of sushi. In a crowd of faceless pedestrians, they can be spotted from a mile away. However it is this very distinctness which would allow me to blend in unnoticed.

A few weeks ago I was waiting for a friend outside Shibuya station at a well-known meeting spot. It’s extremely crowded there, almost like being on the train. Another foreigner also happened to be waiting nearby. As time passed, the foreigner was joined by more and more foreign friends. The group began to grow, and noticing that I was a foreigner in a sea of Japanese people, they assumed that I was one of them.

I tried to edge away but it was difficult as the area was so crowded. To demonstrate that I wasn’t part of their group, I began to read my kindle. However, indifferent to my coldness, the group members kept shuffling aside so that I could join the conversation. Eventually the group engulfed me.

Finally the foreigners left. As they walked away, a few of them glanced back at me in concern, thinking that I had been left behind. I look so different in Japan that it seemed like I belonged.

Shibuya crossing - a haven for blending by looking different

Having experienced this, I should have been on my guard for other foreigners trying to falsely blend in. However last weekend I was fooled. I was at a private party with some other foreigners and started talking to an American guy. After a while, I began to realise that a lot of things he said didn’t make sense. I kept quizzing him for details until finally he confessed: he was a tourist on holidays in Japan and had seen a private party full of foreigners and walked right in. Even though we’d had someone at the door, he’d managed to slip in unnoticed. He looked as different as the rest of us, so no one had suspected that he was a gatecrasher.

Now I’m wondering if the same trick will work when movie stars come to Japan. Maybe I could drop into one of their parties unobserved?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Chapter three of the Deadly School Camp is out now

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Chapter Three of the Deadly School Camp is out now on The Deadly School Camp page. Get a sneak peak of the first three chapters of the book before its publication next year!

Monday, 11 March 2013

A guaranteed way to choke on your sushi

My ideal lunch break is to get out of the office and enjoy some fresh air and exercise. It sounds simple enough, until you consider the social rules involved…

The first problem I encountered in chasing my dream was when to eat. I wanted to stroll outside during my lunch break, then eat at my desk afterwards whilst working. Unfortunately eating at the desks is not allowed during working hours. Even though these days I’m a rule breaking deviant, I didn't want to advertise this fact to my colleagues. So I decided that I’d better eat during my lunch break, or starve.

This meant that if I wanted to fit in both walking and eating then I would have to do them at the same time. I've never actually been very good at this – it takes me hours to chew my food and I tend to choke unless I’m sitting down. However I was determined that with practice I could learn. Walking whilst eating is considered to be very bad manners in Japan, however I decided it was a lesser crime than eating at my desk, so I would do it anyway.

My lunch hour is strictly from 12pm to 1pm, and unfortunately this is also the lunch hour assigned to every other office worker in Tokyo. Some companies even ring a bell. Between those times the footpaths explode with salarymen and there is no privacy for someone trying to take a sneaky bite of sushi. The first time I tried to eat and walk during my lunch hour, I felt too embarrassed to do it in front of such a big crowd so I tried to get away into a quieter street before I started eating.

In tall office towers it can take up to 15 minutes to get outside because the lifts are so crowded at 12pm.

After walking for a while, finally I stopped at a pedestrian crossing on a quiet street. While I waited for the lights to change, I began to eat. There were no pedestrians around but I could see the people in the cars closest to me were staring and looking shocked at my terrible manners. I turned away so that I wouldn't have to look at the cars and tried not to feel embarrassed.

Then suddenly I heard a lot of beeping. I turned back to see what was happening. The traffic lights had changed but the cars at the front of the queue weren't moving. My eating whilst standing had enthralled the nearby cars so much that they hadn't noticed the change of lights and were blocking up the traffic. As the cars in the line finally moved forward into the intersection, the driver of each car turned their head to see what the hold up was – and saw me choking on my sushi. That was the last time I ate whilst walking in Japan.

What do you think about eating whilst walking? Have you ever stopped traffic? Do you do something special during lunch time? Feel free to leave your comments!

Monday, 4 March 2013

When the signs point your way

No matter where you are in Japan, there are signs everywhere. They are plastered all over train stations, behind toilet doors, on the streets, and in the shops. Coming from Australia, I found the volume of signs a bit overwhelming at first, especially when I went into electronics stores.

An electronics store in Australia compared to...

An electronics store in Japan. Signs everywhere!

Since I couldn’t actually read the volumes of signs, I felt like I was missing out on important information, and quite often I was. I would often find out the meaning of the sign after it was already too late. For example, the sign below which was in the bicycle garage of my apartment block. It turns out it says ‘Please register your bicycle with building management or it will be removed.’ I found this out after my bicycle disappeared.

'Please register your bicycle with building management or it will be removed.' It would have been good to have known this information before my bicycle went missing.

However, I’ve recently realised that it’s actually a good thing if I can’t read the signs. It’s when the signs are in English that I should be worried. One of my friends works in a building where he is the only foreigner. He works in a normal workplace, which means that there are signs in Japanese everywhere, which naturally, he ignores. One day, after he had been working there for two years without seeing any signs in English, a sign appeared outside the ladies toilet. It said (in English) 'I warn a suspicious person' - suggesting, I think, that men shouldn't go into the ladies toilets and do suspicious things.

My friend could only assume that since this sign was in English, and he was the only foreigner in the building, that it was written especially for him. My friend tried to squash his suspicion that someone thought he was a peeping Tom, however, a few weeks later the following sign appeared in the men’s toilets:



My friend realised that he was wrong. Someone didn’t think he was a peeper, they thought he was a peeper who liked to block up toilets. To make matters worse, all of his colleagues who saw the sign in English would also realise that it was directed at him, and start to suspect that he was a degenerate who liked to block up toilets.

After hearing this story I realised that I shouldn’t be upset when I can’t read the signs. Now whenever I see signs in Japanese I feel grateful. It’s a compliment because it means I’m flying under the radar and no one suspects me of being a rule-breaking deviant.