New Blog!

Hey there! I've decided to continue blogging at a different blog. The MEXT archives and some of my travel posts will remain here, but I'll be moving some stuff over. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 28 April 2014

My New Bicycle

Note: For those of you who are here because of my previous blog post A Sister's Reaction to My Brother's Bullying Case and you're looking for an update, well, I am working on one. But since the post turned out to have a bigger impact that anyone expected, my parents are asking me to hold off on posting an update until more-or-less everything has been settled. So, we will now return to the regular light-hearted content. 

Have you heard of the expression "just like riding a bike"? It means that you won't forget what you've learnt, just like riding a bicycle. Well, I had to put this phrase to the test, literally, when I got on a bicycle after about seven years (well, at least five years, my intelligent guess is seven years).

On a random side note, in Japanese "bike" refers to a motorcycle, while bicycle is called 自転車 (jitensha) or チャリ (chari), which meant that there were a lot of people who initially thought that I could ride a motorcycle ._.

Aaaanyway, back to topic. I bought my bicycle at Don Quixote, near the Hakozaki campus. After being torn between a few options, I decided to forgo bicycle gears since the terrain between school and the driving range (where I'll be riding my bicycle to) is supposed to be flat and got this stainless steel one. Thankfully, it's for my height too.

The bicycles at Don Quixote are actually outside the store. There's a button to press, but no one came and I had to go in to flag down an employee.

Now, the moment you've all been waiting for, my bicycle!

And I'm happy to report that my return to bicycling was injury free. Well, there were a few incidents, but no injuries!

You see, after I bought my bike at Don Quixote, I rode it all the way to the driving range, which was 15 minutes away and cut across a highway.

On the way there, the bicycle fell, but I managed to jump of it before I hit the ground. And thankfully, there were no cars there to run over my new bicycle or my school bag.

On the way back, I almost ran into another cyclist. Twice I think. And then almost fell. I would make this into an amusing story, but it seems like my mind decided to block the memories.

There was an excellent sunset on the way back. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get any photos, since I had my phone in the zipped compartment of my bag, and even if it was in easy access, there is no way that I'm taking my hands off the bike.

So if you are in the Hakozaki area that day and see a girl on a bicycle with a terrified look on her face (This will probably continue for a few more rides), that's probably me. I'll tell you to say hi, but that might make me fall.

Friday, 18 April 2014

A Sister's Reaction to My Brother's Bullying Case

In 2012, I moved to Japan for further studies. At that time, I left behind my family, including my little brother, who was turning 8 at that time. That same year, I received a message from my mother, telling me not to worry, but that the teachers had caught my brother attempting to jump from the fourth storey at school.

Apparently, my brother's classmates had told him that if he jumped they would be his friend. He believed them.

About a year later, my brother was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). To put it simply, my brother has poor social skills. He does not know how to act appropriately in different social contexts in terms of saying the right things, making friends and so on. To put it simply, he does not know how to interact with others. My brother loves and wants to make friends, in fact, he wished he could be popular with his peers but he does not know how to go about doing it.

Every day, my brother goes to school and tries to make friends. And every day, he has to learn to shrug off the bullying and teasing that goes on. His coping mechanism is to erase negative experiences from his memory and that is how he kept himself happy and still look forward to going to school every day.

As a sister, my heart breaks to know that my brother has to go through these. Pretty much ever since he started Primary school, he has been a victim of bullying. He was hit with brooms, spat on the face, scratched, had his stationary taken and placed all over the classroom, and so on. For example, one of his bullies is a boy named T____. When my brother rode the school bus, T____ would bully him. Now that we've taken my brother off the school bus, he still seeks out my brother to roughhouse him, chase him, spin him around a play equipment in the school playground until he's dizzy and wants to vomit, use his knuckles to pressed on his head and so on.

My brother fears to offend people and put up with these, thinking he can gain their friendship in return. But it is not to be.

The latest incident, and the trigger for this post, involves my brother and self-harm. A classmate named E_____ suggested to him to make a Youtube video beating himself up to get subscribers. And of course, he did so as he wants to stop E from annoying him since E would check with my brother every other day if it had been done. Yet, after my brother asked him how was the video, E told him it was terrible. By then, E has told several other friends to watch it but now claimed that he himself was traumatized by the video and my brother had asked the other boys to watch it. Of course, my brother was absolutely sure he told no one except E. At first, we didn't know what happened because my brother deleted the video on his iPad immediately after he posted it to Youtube. We only found out what happened after the school called. And at the suggestion of the teacher, my mother deleted the video from Youtube.

(*Note: This incident is still disputed because in my brother's first version, E threatened him and asked him to make a Youtube video beating himself up. I'm not sure if his story changed due to question from the teachers [considering that long-term memories are malleable], but the 'official' explanation is the one above)

At first, E apologised to my brother. But after the weekend, a teacher came to his class to speak to both of them. According to my brother, he had to apologise for involving E, E's name should not even have been mentioned. He has to keep far away from E, if he ever goes near E, he would be in trouble. But what I've found out, is that my brother was made to apologise because E____'s parents were angry that a "stupid suggestion" by their son was followed, the fault does not lie with their son but by the boy who is stupid enough to act on his suggestion and that they do not want their son to be associated with my brother.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

The victim was made to apologise to the bully and made to keep away as though he was the one doing the bullying.

From where I stand, the school's response was, not the best, to put it nicely. When the video first surfaced and my parents were notified, the teacher also called attention to a few videos posted by my sister which does not help my brother nor put him in good light. To be honest, they were just videos of my sister teasing my brother by getting him to sing and dance (which he likes to do). Personally, I think this is a red herring. This is not about my brother's ASD, it is about the bullying and my brother's need for acceptance that drove him to make a self-harm video and uploaded it on Youtube. In it, he clearly stated at the beginning of the video, "My friend E, from my school, ACS Junior asked me to make this video. So here it goes.... (He starts beating himself). At the end, he went near the screen & called out, "Subscribe...".

I'm really upset at the way the school handled this. From what I've heard about the second (and to date, final) meeting with the school about what happened, E____ felt guilty for what he said. Instead of turning this into a teachable moment about how careless words can hurt others (literally and figuratively), his parents chose to teach him that it's not his fault. And the school backed them up.

So in other words, if I'm being called names, told to go and die or to cut myself, and get so emotionally disturbed that I actually harm myself, the one at fault is me. I have traumatized others but I, myself, is not traumatized by the experience since I have ASD?

The school does not feel this is bullying but on the other hand, they are worried that my brother may seriously harm himself in future as he badly wants to be accepted by his friends. So they recommend that he leave ACS(Junior) for Pathlight where social skills is part of the curriculum. They foresee that the bullying will get worse for my brother when he attends secondary school.

There is such a thing as friendly teasing and then there's bullying. Personally, I think that this bullying, but according to the school, this is not a bullying case. This is my brother not knowing how to respond to situations appropriately.

And that is why, my brother has been throwing up, having tummy aches and claiming to be ill to be fetched from school during school hours. He even cried to his OT (Occupational Therapist) when his OT talked about the incident with him and said that since E____ knew he has told, he may get beaten up. Of course if this is not bullying, and my brother isn't traumatised. He's just acting out. You know, like how little boys with autism do.

I call bullshit.

In defence of the school, they have raised some good suggestions, such as seeing a neuro-therapist. I agree that my brother needs to learn how to get along with others. But I also think that it takes two hands to clap, and that it's never too early to teach children how to get along with others. In other words, both my brother and his classmates need to learn how to accept one another. This is what an inclusive classroom is all about.

And really, the suggestion that my brother goes to Pathlight brings out conflicting emotions in me. I do want him to be happy, but if my brother goes to Pathlight, he can never go back to a mainstream school (or so I'm told). And I don't know if it'll help him learn to get along with others, or give him a space to hide and escape the need to learn.

To me, there is only one solution: teach the boys not to bully (and teach my brother how to behave). The rest are, at best, stop-gap measures.

I'm writing this post because I've had to watch my brother being bullied from afar for too long. I'm told that ACS(Junior) has a good support system for special needs children. If that's the case, why is my brother the victim of persistent bullying?

Is it because it's an all boys school and "boys will be boys"? I believe that no matter what your gender, bullying is never ok. And the school should be proactive in nurturing a supportive environment for all the students.

By the way, I belong to the AC family as well (I was in a different AC school). My cousins belong to the AC family. Many of my friends belong to the AC family. I believe that on the whole, the ACS schools are good schools. I don't want to bash the school in any way. But I do want the school to realise what's going on. This is an area that can and should be improved upon. No matter what your age, no matter your gender, no matter if you have autism or if you're neuro-typical, bullying is never alright.

AC, you are better than this. As a school, you can stop bullying. There are measures you can take. I do believe in you. I believe that the AC family is a family.

Right now, I'm hoping for three things. The first is that my brother's bullying issues will be solved soon. The second is that my brother's case is atypical, meaning that bullying is not a frequent occurrence at ACS. There has been a rise in autism diagnosis, and I think that even if my brother is transferred to Pathlight, it doesn't mean that the problem is solved. It just means the problem is swept under the rug until the next autistic boy, or perhaps a normal boy who doesn't fit in, comes along.

The third thing I'm hoping for is an older sister's selfish prayer. I hope that my brother will be safe, healthy and happy when I return to Singapore. Not just when I return this year, but when I return next year, the year after that and forever after.

[Names have been redacted to protect the privacy of those bullies.]
Note: I wrote this post because, well, because I'm in Japan and this feels like the only thing I can do. If anyone who reads this post decides to stop bullying the next time they see it, or decide to befriend a bullied person, then I consider this a success. And if you're being bullied and feel like you have no one to talk to, leave me a message/Google+ private share/etc. I'm here if you need a listening ear. 

Note (2): Hi guys. If you read the blogpost when you first came out, you may notice it was more emotional. My mom advised me to change some parts just in case this affects my brother negatively at school, so it's now more objective and calmer. If you want the original post for comparison, do drop me a mail. 

UPDATE: You can find the follow-up post here

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

EUIJ - Kyushu: A Taste of Europe

On Sunday, my class had a welcome party for the new students. At the same time, I was eating Dutch food from a Michelin star restaurant (my first time!). I didn't know that it would clash when I signed up, so please don't think I was intentionally running away (although I am not fond of nomikai).

But that did mean that I had every intention of joining them after the dinner, since both events were at Tenjin.

So first, why was I even at an event like this? Well, it was hosted by the EUIJ (European Union In Japan), and I'm technically signed up for the EUIJ-Kyushu Diploma Program (more about that in a later post). I haven't actually been to an event before this, since they're most symposiums, but this looked interesting. And it involved eating.

I was put at a table with.... my first semester English teacher. That was a surprise. I was actually seated next to one of the office workers from the EUIJ-Kyushu Hakozaki Campus office and a French exchange student. So interesting conversations all around.

This is me trying to be sneaky and take a photo of the pretty flower arrangements. 
This event was held to celebrate the one year anniversary of direct Fukuoka - Amsterdam flight by KLM. So they flew in Ingrid from De Karpendonkse Hoeve (also known as Ingrid's place), which holds one Michelin star.

Apart from a lanyard from KLM, we also got the recipes for all the food we ate

And lots of other flyers. 
So, what was on the menu? 

The first dish was Jambon persillee with White Asparagus. Or as the Japanese translation puts it ham jelly with white apsaragus. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it. It was good, although the dominant taste was salty, which I think was due to the ham. 

The second dish was Asparagus Gratin:

Apparently, the Netherlands are really proud of asparagus (is this true?). But Ingrid doesn't like Asparagus, and her husband doesn't like cheese, so this dish seems unlikely to appear in their home. I liked it though.

The third course was Lame in Brioche, Simmered Lam, Green Pea Cream, Rosemary Sauce.
 The lamb was really delicious. The simmered lamb was really soft, and the Lamb in Brioche, while hard to cut (wrong knives), was tender.

Dessert was Panna Cotta of Ginger Biscuit, Ginger Bread Crumble, Orange Compote.

Apparently, Panna Cotta is Italian and means "cooked cream". But it was so good and really filling.

Dinner ended with Demi-tasse de cafe, which apparently means half a cup of coffee. But they gave everyone a full cup. I got tea, since I don't drink coffee.

Was this dinner worth it? Well, I'm going to go with yes. The food was good, and I enjoyed listening to Ingrid talk about the dishes. I'd like to try the dishes in the Netherlands though, since these dishes were prepared by Japanese chefs (so there might be some difference).

I realised that I really should attend more EUIJ events. This was fun, and I dare say that others will be too.

For those of you wondering, no, I didn't make it to my class party in the end. I wore heels (after so long), and my feet hurt so much that I decided to go home. Plus, I had school on Monday.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sakura 2014: Muromi

Here's my last sakura post for this year! And just in time for the new school year too! My last spot would be Muromi, aka, the place where I stay.

I decided to walk around my neighbourhood one day, and I was really surprised to see how many sakura trees there were.

Look, you can even see Fukuoka Tower from here! 
Since the sakura flower only once a year, there were trees that surprised me. For example, I didn't know the two trees outside the convenience store near my house were sakura trees.

And I was definitely not the only one taking pictures of the sakura.

In fact, about five to ten minutes from my place, there's a place called Atago jinja (Atago Shrine). From a distance, all I saw was a line of pink, but when I got closer, I realised this was a sakura tunnel.

The entrance :D 
 I actually struck up a conversation with an old man carrying a camera. I'm definitely not the only one that went there to take photos of the sakura.

Although we both grumbled about the cable lines getting in the way.

But it's still a really great view! I wanted to take a 360 panorama, but there were the same problems I had with the previous one (all those ghosting) that I got a headache and gave up after a while.

a lot of blurry parts ><
So that wraps up my sakura posts for this year! The next few posts will be probably be school related, since I'm starting the new school year tomorrow!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Sakura 2014: Fukuoka Castle (Night)

You know, I just realised that I'll be in Singapore for the entire sakura season next year. Oh well, labeling the post with the year makes things easier for me.

So after I made one trip to Fukuoka Castle to see the sakura, I decided that I should make a second trip to see the Sakura light up. And since I happened to have a 5pm to 6pm tuition session at Akasaka (not the closest station to the castle, but definitely walkable).

And guess what? Using a different entrance means that you can different things. Like this sunset:

There were a lot of people having a hanami party there too:

I would like to attend a hanami at least once, but the SSAJ only holds them in Tokyo :/ 

But yes, wandering around Fukuoka Castle ruins shows that there are a lot of sakura trees. A lot more than I imagined actually. 

In order to see all the sakura from high, I went to this platform-like place (whose name I've embarrassingly forgotten) and paid 300yen to be let in. Well, it was worth seeing the sunset from there. 

Random sunset photo
I even saw this cute little doggie! (two and a half years old, according to her owners)

I actually had plenty of time while waiting for the sun to set. 

Why yes, this is the photo I took with my iPad and shared on Google plus. 
Here's a panorama, since I like them so much: 

You know all those "wish you were here" postcards? Well, this time, I sincerely wished someone was here. It's a pity that my sisters came (and left) a week too early, but the Singapore school system is not to be trifled with. 

And once the sun is set, I took another panorama! 

This is the main lightup, but I did see another row of sakura that were brilliantly lit up. This one was full of people taking photos. 

This is one of them. 
The next picture would be of the row of sakura trees that were lighted up.
Look at the little kids posing!  
If you walk down this row, you'll come to a second paid area, which I didn't go into. Instead, I decided to go home. 

And ended up getting lost. I left by a completely different exit (how many exits and entrances does this place have anyway?) and had no idea where the station was. Luckily, I spotted a family and managed to get directions to them, walking all the way to Ohorikoen station. 

Just before I entered the station, I passed by the front of the castle again and managed to snap this picture. 

I hope you enjoyed these photos! I have one more sakura post to make, so watch out for it! 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Sakura 2014: Fukuoka Castle (Daytime)

Fukuoka Castle is so pretty that I need to break it up into two posts: daytime and nighttime. On Sunday, Yuka and I went to Fukuoka castle (a first for the both of us) to take Sakura photos.

It's a really pretty place. The castle is basically a ruin, but there are still walls and certain sections standing. So wandering in there was an experience.

The front of the castle
Apparently, this next picture of a well is what you use to wash your hands, like when you enter a shrine. 

I actually like it because there are sakura petals floating on it.

And since it was the Sakura festival (桜まつり)they had stalls set up, leading to a carnival-like atmosphere

I really like the fact that they set up the stalls underneath the sakura trees.

Oh yes, and the big project I mentioned. If you follow me on Google+, then you'd know that I gave the game away when I asked for help with my photosphere. After trial-and-error (this was before Hugin replied and confirmed my worst fears), I realised that I had too many images (40 images, to be exact), resulting in very blurry pictures. I've already tried to cut them down, but the middle section still has the most overlap, which means that it's the blurriest. But here you go, this is my best effort:

Aaaand the photo sphere itself (click on the photo in the post to dive in):

Next up, Fukuoka Castle at night!