Learn Japanese, My 100th Kanji

The fact that people can communicate in multiple languages has always left me with a sense of awe.  But once I started traveling internationally, I felt quite lazy when I realized how many other people had taken on the huge challenge or learning English as a second language, while I was just sat around butchering it; much less learning any other language. 

To top it off where I’m from (southern US), our culture resists language learning of any kind, and immigrants are expected to “learn the language before they come here.”  Often times these comments go so far as to imply that someone who doesn’t speak perfect English must be unintelligent.  Needless to say I was never a part of this camp, but now that I’ve learned some Japanese I realize just how bright and dedicated a person has to be in order to convey any thought, no matter how small or broken, in another language.

Unfortunately for myself however, I choose the language that interested me most, but was also ranked 5th hardest language to learn for native English speakers.  I would be venturing into a realm where neither letters nor spaces between words existed.  A place where I would have to learn not just another alphabet, but two plus a pictorial one with thousands of unique characters and conjugations. 

And that third one is pretty scary.  Take for instance the word for “today”, “kyou” pronounce “key-yo” and looks like 今日.  You can write this word correctly in 2 different ways, one with kanji as shown, and one with hiragana as such きょう.  In kanji form however, the word is the summation of two separate characters that when used separately sound neither like “key” or “yo” but instead are “ima” 今 and “nichi” 日 (“nichi” can also be pronouced “hee”).  To illustrate, imagine if the word “homeland” when split apart was pronounced “origin place” but was still spelled as “home land.” Yeah, this goal is going to be a hard one, but arn’t they all?

But I’m making progress.  I started getting pretty serious with Rosetta Stone in January of last year, while I prepared for my trip to Tokyo.  I studied using RS and made friends online to practice language exchange as well.  This got my through Tokyo with ease (but wasn’t actually needed to be honest), and after just three months, and armed with a dictonary app on my phone, I was conversing over dinner with a friends cousin who didn’t speak English short of a few words.  Upon returning home however, I promptly abandoned my studies.

Then several months later, I decided to finally tackle what I had been avoiding: kanji, the pictorial alphabet that has thousands of symbols and at least two different ways to read/say each one.  So I bought a book on November 11th, 2013 entitled “Reading Japanese,” and published by Yale back in the 70’s.  Since then every day I’ve been making slow progress through the book, and now, over 3 months later I hit a big milestone.  I can not only fluently read and write both syllabic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) but also 100 kanji! 

As of 3/13/14 I've copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book!

As of 3/13/14 I’ve copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book! Also, if you notice, there’s another goal lurking in the background 😀

Yes, this is only a small, miniscule step in the process.  I have a very long way to go (1900 more to be specific).  But with 100 kanji under my belt, I’m immensely excited, and have a huge boost in confidence that I can actually achieve this goal.  My newly formed routine is practically set in stone at this point.  Every morning I arrive at work an hour early and copy new kanji, example sentences and reading drills.  I haven’t missed a day where I don’t write something or read something in Japanese and as such, I look very forward to it each morning.  I doubt I’d ever be successful if I didn’t.

In the next few weeks I’ll start posting entries of my individual study sessions, realizations, and milestones!  Any motivation or words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated :D.

Bike to work, the 7 mile mark!

Psshh, the source for this said this is a girls only poster! Well too bad :P

I want to be able to bike to work.  But as a consultant, it’s rare that I’m ever actually in my home office (5 miles from home), and instead find myself at a client site much further away.  But that won’t stop me this time.  However, the distance may slow me down just a bit… It’s 16 miles each way!

So I’ve broken this seemingly impossible goal (to go from 0 miles a year to 32 miles a day via bicycle) down into stages.  I’ll ride each day, and little by little increase the distance until I hit the numbers I’m aiming for.  And this week I hit a great mile stone, 7 miles in 40 minutes!  At this rate I’ll be at work in an hour and about 2 hrs… Still, it’s progress. 

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

At 26, I’ve never walked, ran, or biked a distance of 7 miles in my life.  In fact, since owning it I’ve riden 4 times.  I’m slowly trying to gauge where max distance is over time, hopefully minimizing the chance for injury by easing into it as well as learning the bike itself.  So far each ride has left me pretty tired, and my legs feeling like half set jello, but there has yet to be any intense soreness the day after.  I am however aware of the strain I’m putting on my body, and have no intention of jumping up several miles each run.  Which leads me to my first biking tip ever: creating a distance menu!

The Menu

First I started with a chart with 2 columns, one labeled ‘Miles’ and the other ‘Route’.  I then added rows from 1 to 16 with half mile increments starting after 9 miles (since I’m guessing I’ll have to slow my progression about that distance).  Each route starts and ends at my home, and the chart was emailed to my phone for quick reference.  When I’m walking out the door, I can decide how I feel that day and have a quick route planned out to match.  So if the Sun is going down and I only want a brief ride in I can follow the route for 2 miles and be all set!  In a few days I’ll try my 8 mile route when I think I’m ready.

Building Your Routes

Using routebuilder.org  I was able to easily click my way across a google map and get a great estimate on the distance.  It took me about an hour or two to map everything out (I have over 16 routes mapped after all), but now that I have them all mapped out it’s a peice of cake.  Each route starts and ends at my house, and some share the same first few starting streets to speed up the route mapping process as well as give me  some options should I change my mind early on.  The site offers a saving feature, but if you don’t start over each time it will overwrite the last one, so I just gave up and built a simple route reference system.

Route Shorthand

I used the following format for jotting down my routes so that I could easily read it on my iPhone:

(L)COBB-(R)PEACHTREE SE-(R)XMPLSTRT…

Since all my routes start at home, I skip the first road most times to save space.  In this example I turn left onto Cobb Parkway, then right onto Peachtree St SE, and finally right on to Example Street.  The first time you try a longer route, you may need to check half way through, but after a while you’ll easily remember the path you plan to follow with a quick glance.  I usually try to leave out vowels or use nicknames for really popular streets with long names. Like PTREE for Peachtree.

Mix it up!

I decided to try and get each route to take me somewhere new.  If I want to do 3 miles, I’m not planning on riding the 1 mile route 3 times, which would be far too boring.  Instead, I want to ride the 3 mile route, and if I’m in the mood can ride the 1 mile route to top it off at the end.

Let’s Ride!

After that it’s back to peddlin’.  For now I’m focusing on slowly working my way up to that magic 16 number.  But first on my list is mile 11, because that’s the distance to the closest train station from my house.  Thus allowing me to bike there, and ride the last few miles on the train, which should be a great sub goal!  Wish me luck!

How I Got Out of the Puddle

Monday

It just wouldn’t be a proper Monday morning if your first sip of office coffee didn’t come from the last pot made on Friday.  Happy Monday everyone.

Recently, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of my emotions, and more specifically, my attitude.  I didn’t notice it for a long time, but a few weeks ago I suddenly realized that I had become very short tempered.  My attitude would take a stark turn anytime I was interrupted, despite what I may have been doing at the time. Whatever the task, no matter how menial, I would get surprisingly frustrated when my attention was required elsewhere.

But why?  Why would this suddenly be the case?  A few months ago, I don’t recall it being a problem.  So what changed?  My current hypothesis: nothing changed.  Nothing changed for a long time.  And as my life settled, and became very stagnant, my attitude was getting worse and worse.

My life had become a puddle. And as it settled, I became much more sensitive to the individual ripples that disturbed it.  Each one causing intense frustration.  And after enough time, it became the perfect environment for parasites; feelings like that suck the life out of you such as loneliness, lethargy, and worse of all, anger.  As fewer things changed, the less I wanted them to.  This started to evolve into excuses to avoid gathers, reasons to skip grocery shopping, and the importance of silly television shows.  It was a horrible, but boring cycle.

To clarify, I don’t mean to say I was depressed.  Depression is such a serious illness that one doesn’t just bounce back from it as simply as I describe below.  I think a good word for what I was going through would be “rut.”  What I hadn’t realized however, despite having been in multiple ruts in the past, was just how negatively it affected my attitude.  It’s not as if I had locked myself in a dark room for days at a time.  I was going to work, studying, and going to dinners with my wife every day.  But I was doing those things over, and over again.  Without deviation.  And come the weekend, I would be so “tired”, that I would just lie in bed until noon or later watching TV, playing on reddit, and overall ignoring life until Monday, when I would start over.

So how did I bounce back?  I wish I could say I just woke up one day and was granted a sudden natural spike in dopamine that fixed everything.  But the truth is, had I continued to wait for that gift, it would have never come.  Instead, I had to take every bit of will power I had left, and consciously change course.  Nothing drastic, simply purposeful.  The first act?  I was walking towards the train station, which I usually ride 3 stops up to my wife’s office where we carpool home together, and I realized I had a choice.  I could continue down the escalator, wait for my train, and do what I always do, or I could walk measly 1.7 miles.  I stared at the train station entrance for a long time.  Then I chose to walk. 

This simple act led to a lot of other simple acts.  And this past weekend I watched as the snowball got even bigger.  I woke up wondering what kind of exercise I would do each day (to prepare for my a 2 5k’s I have coming up) and ended up biking 5.6 miles for the first time ever, took a friend all over town to some new great Asian spots,  and took my 10th cold shower.  As my wife and I went shopping Sunday, and I realized that I was very happy, but for no apparent reason.  It’s not as if I was overly busy, so much so that I didn’t have time for my rut.  Instead I was very relaxed, knowing that I had full control over my life.  I could essentially choose to be in a rut or not, simply by choosing how much change I allowed in my life.

And it turns out that the more I embrace and foster change in my life, the more that things like accidentally sipping weekend old coffee on Monday morning don’t bother me as much.  That’s because a pebble can cause a lot more trouble for a puddle, than a stream.

A Different Kind of Motivational Music

SunnyMountainDesktop

I love motivation-porn.  Give me 100 pictures of something epic (mountain peak, ocean, etc) with a bolded font overlaid on each one and I’ll consume them faster than I normally read anything.  And it’s probably because of this rapid consumption that none of them truly stick with me.  Sure I’ll get that surge of inspiration, but like any other junkie, I immediately just start looking for my next fix.  The next one liner that will make me feel invincible!

But there are a few ‘one liners’ that do stick with me, and they didn’t come wrapped up in a thick black border or on top of an Instagram photo.  No, these come from some new-to-me songs that have become cherished favorites, songs that on first listen don’t sound like your typical source of motivation, and defintily not the kind for prepping to run in a 5K.  So I thought I’d share them with you, sans the Instagram photos.  Warning, you won’t find anything below that will get you pumped for your fastest run, but hopefully these will help you get up and decide a run today is worth it!

“I guess you are afraid of what everyone is made of”
      –St. Vincent, The Apocalypse Song

It should be noted that this song is actually not motivational at all.  In fact, it’s pretty widely understood that this song is about sex.  But hey, what’s wrong with distorting a little bit of art to get what you want out of it?  This line resonates with me because I’ve recently become much more aware of the fear that shadows so many peoples’ actions, including my own

Until recently I hadn’t noticed just how ubiquitous these fears are: the fear of failure, the fear of what awaits outside the comfort zone, and the fear that something will change.  No one admits to these fears at first.  But they’re there, that’s why they decided to change their major again, or to buy new shoes instead of the passport they’ve been meaning to get, or that their’s no point in networking with people.  But the fear of change, that’s the hardest one to overcome.  It’s the one that fuels the excuse generator and churns out disgusting muck such as “what’s the point?” or “definitly someday!”  These are the excuses that bubble up just before success, just as it peaks over the horizon and the only action needed is one of initiation, but then convince you to back down. On the surface, you turn away because you’ve rationalized its futility, ironically telling yourself that “‘nothing will change either way,” but in reality, you’re backing down because you fear that this little bit of success will change something.  And it will; it will show you what you’re made of.

“Damn you always treat me like a mountain, stranger.
Though I have never seen your shadows or fading lights.
I’m just a rock that you’ll be picking up through all your ages,
Always believing there’s a canyon for every blind…”
      -The Tallest Man on Earth, Bright Lanterns

Much like all of his songs, Bright Lanterns requires several plays to get everything out of it.  This song paints its own epic picture of the cycle that is mountain becoming a mole hill.  The protagonist essentially wakes up, having forgotten that his previous challenge/mountain has led him the current one.  He is unaware that this mountain, like the others, will also be climbed, becoming nothing more than another rock below his feet.  “A vision of a mountain you say? So where did it go?” illustrates that the last challenge is effectively non-existent, especially compared to this one.  It’s much more complex than that, and told beautifully, but my motivation comes from the mountain in this song.

Having taken it a bit literally, I always picture a never ending mountain with a series of plateaus looking like a stairway for a giant.  The next plateau being so high up, that it appears to be its own separate mountain peak, but once you summit, you find yourself faced with yet another.  What truly motivates me about this are the camps that I imagine at each plateau.  A large field filled with tents, and houses, where others have settled in.  This is where people build their comfort zones, staking their claim in a splendid meadow with a glorious view to remind them of how far they’ve climbed.  From here, they too can see the top of the next mountain, and convince themselves there is nothing beyond it, so “what’s the point,” of climbing further.  When I hear this song, I imagine myself standing at the base of the next ‘mountain,’ bags packed and ready to go.  I’ve left a lot of friends in their respective plateaus, but I’m really excited about the fiends I’ll make further up.

What songs/movies/art gets you going?  Are you tired of the meadow you’ve chosen?  Of find yourself turning a blind eye to what you could be?