Sunday, February 15, 2009

Yes, I Broke My Blog; Yes, I'll Probably Take the Time to Fix It . . .

What happened is, I renamed all of my photo files to reflect the time and date of their creation and that broke all the html links. In the mean time, since in recent months (years?) this blog has become primarily a venue for posting our favourite photos from daily family life, I direct the reader to our web album links on the sidebar.

The primary purpose of this post is to re-evaluate the purpose for the existence of this blog, but since only very sophisticated and knowledgeable writers are qualified to operate photo-less blogs, I will stick a couple of photos in here. (After all, who would read the comics sections of the newspaper if there weren't any pictures? Likewise, what's the point of browsing through an amateur blog if there aren't any photos to look at?)

Image 1: This is a "Healthy Children at Play" scenario. Modest but clean living conditions; heavily used books scattered on the floor; napping station laid out with plenty of blankets . . . . Big sister is taking charge. She has Kuma-don strapped to her back with a primitive oburi-himo, she's getting ready to "nurse" Mo-chan, and pretty soon she will be putting her little sister to sleep for her morning nap. Once the little one is asleep, maybe the big one will do her a i u e o (Japanese alphabet) jigsaw puzzle . . . or maybe she will just go bug mommy--it depends on the day. If the latter, then mommy can read to her, have her help hang up the laundry, or maybe they will bake cookies together.

Image 2: This is your child (okay, I admit it, this is our child) on Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang. This is what happens when you bring Mr. TV in to "help" out. Big sister's brain is fried and little sister is left to eat Lego by herself. You see, my wife and I got ourselves committed to a rush translation job for some friends on a Friday afternoon so we needed some peace and quiet while we jabbed away at our laptops. After all, translation requires a great deal of focused mental energy. So we broke the glass cover, so to speak, pulled out an emergency DVD, plopped the girls down in front of the television set and told them to stay put. They were happy to do so, but it ruined their behaviour for the rest of the evening. It took at least half an hour of Mother Goose to get them back into any semblance of purposeful living. (Don't get me wrong, we love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but its important that we watch it and talk about it together as a family rather than just leave our daughters to wallow in the sights and sounds by themselves.)

Now, for the un-illustrated main body of this post. Before this blog became a sort of haphazzard photo-diary of our family life, it was a "JET blog." It was meant to give future JETs a window into the world they were getting themselves into. By personal experience I knew that JETs-in-waiting are just dying for information about what to expect. Unfortunately, things reached a point where I became integrated enough into the fabric of local life that anything interesting I had to say about it--and believe me, there is plenty of interesting and/or hilarious material--would constitute gossip. Dangerously political gossip. Every funny anecdote, every ironic observation, would be at the expense of somebody. And somebody might get mad.

Now, within the first few months of starting Gaijin for Life I realized that googling my village's name in romaji (Latin letters) would bring my blog up on the first page. Before my first year was up I found out that some people in the municipal office checked my blog (not just mine, mind you) everyday. They couldn't read it, but they enjoyed the pictures. Then I discovered that if a picture really interested them they would copy and paste the verbal portion of the post into an online translation engine. Now, for the benefit of monolingual readers who have never experienced computerized translation engines, I will try to demonstrate how this situation could have potentially led to social disaster. Take, for instance, this recklessly lighthearted description of the village's Superintendent of Education I wrote during my first month here:

It is perhaps impossible to convey here without the support of photographic evidence the unique environment in which I am spending my summer days. How can the uninitiated accurately imagine the figure the superintendent of the Board of Education cuts as he slouches in his enormous office in his sleeveless undershirt listlessly fanning himself. His style is that of benign neglect,

Now see how it reads after I use the Excite translation engine (click on the link to have some fun yourself) to translate that passage, first into Japanese, and then back into English:

Perhaps, it is impossible to tell here a unique environment on which I have spent the summer day without the support of the photographic evidence. Is inexperience imaginable accurately because it stoops in a huge office of the undershirt without his sleeve though fanned oneself dull and gloomy by him if it does very when figure is a supervisor of Board of the wound Education?His style is the one of the benign neglect.

Now, the original is bad enough. I was an arrogant, narcissist foreign pig from a big city, breezing into town and writing condescending descriptions of "the harmless local hicks" for the amusement (or so I fancied) of other people "like myself." However, anyone in my village who might have made the effort to try to figure out what I was writing about by using a translation engine would have been left with garbled gibberish putting the good name of one of their public officials in proximity with expressions like "dull," "gloomy," "inexperience" and "neglect." Now that I know so much more about what is actually going on around here (the gloom, the inexperience, the neglect etc.), it would be more dangerous than ever to touch on local issues of any substance--especially those things that amuse or disgust me. And due to privacy concerns, I no longer dare post too many photos of my students or talk too much about my schools.

So I guess what I am trying to say here is, this blog ceased to be a genuine "JET blog" a long time ago, and it would be unsafe for me to attempt to turn it back into one.

As this post has already become longer than reasonable for a blog entry, I will save further discussion of Gaijin for Life's identity crisis for another time.