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In a couple of months I will have lived in Edinburgh for a decade. Four years as a student, and six as an… adult? One of the good things about living in such a great city is that you can effectively take your own city break without having to travel anywhere. In the past I’ve taken time off work to attend the festival. The problem with doing that, though, is finding people with the time and money to join you. It can actually be quite a lonely experience.

This year, rather than another year of attending stuff, or of not attending stuff and joining in as a grumbling local at all these people invading the city and shoving flyers at you while you just want to get to where you are going, I decided to actually get involved with the festival itself as a staff member.

It was a bit of a spontaneous decision. I was attending the Edinburgh University Careers Fair as an exhibitor on behalf of my employer, and while I was having a look at the other exhibits ended up having a chat with the organisers of the Just Festival, or the Festival of Spirituality and Peace as it was still being called at that time. I’m not a religious person, but the organisers seemed amicable and the portfolio of events they had planned covered a range of interesting humanitarian topics. So I handed over my details to go onto their list of potential volunteers.

A while later, August comes around, emails have been sent back and forth, time off work has been booked, and I’m officially a volunteer in the Edinburgh festival.

First Half: Week One

The first day was a bit hectic. I was out of town during the official orientation day so was scheduled to jump in with the incoming international volunteers the following day. However by then I had already found everything out the hard way, by getting lost, trying to get through locked doors, introducing myself to lots of people, and asking lots of questions. I was glad I’d already arranged to pick up my festival t-shirt and name-badge beforehand otherwise nobody would have had any idea who I was!

The Just Festival is held in St. Johns Church on the west end of Princes Street. Performances, talks, conversations and other events take place in various rooms throughout the day from noon until late evening. The volunteer schedule runs on a shift pattern, with shifts running in 5 hour blocks from 10:00 to 22:00. All volunteer activity is centred around the Volunteer Headquarters, based in a common room/kitchen in the church basement.

group of people sitting around the table in the common room

In reality the majority of most shifts involve sitting in the common room chatting and making good use of all the free food provided. This is generally surrounded on either side by short bursts of activity in which stages, sets, lighting and sound equipment need to be set up or taken down to meet the requirements of each event. Some shifts just involve standing in front of a door informing visitors of what’s going on (and/or stopping them from entering / collecting their tickets), others involve dragging around large bits of set, and one shift involves cooking dinner for around 30 volunteers and performers(!), which for my part largely consisted of chopping lots of tomatoes. But it’s OK because the tomatoes were accompanied by an expertly concocted salsa produced by my accomplice, and recycled the following day into a side dish by the subsequent dinner team. In general the idea seems to be to make yourself available to help the festival organisers get their jobs done. That can sometimes mean improvising or jumping into a different role than the one you have been allocated for the day - a flexible attitude definitely helps.

picture of cooked food

One of the highlights of the whole process has been meeting the other volunteers that have also given their time. There is a group of volunteers that have come as part of the International Voluntary Service scheme, but the locally-sourced volunteers also have a good mix of ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Altogether the volunteers and festival staff are a friendly bunch, and make it a great way to spend some time in Edinburgh during August.

Another boon that comes with being a Just Festival volunteer is that you get to see all the events that are part of it for free. For me this was great, as a week before I’d even started volunteering, I got to catch the Shamisen player, which ties in nicely with my Japanese interests. The South African Africa Entcha acapella group are amazing. There is another South African group called Soweto Melodic Voices who I also have to get around to seeing (although I’m a bit scared of the bit at the end where they get an audience member up dancing solo in front of everyone…).

The venue, St. Johns Church, is itself is quite a sight. Many people stop by just to have a look inside, or to rest in a (mostly) peaceful place in an otherwise busy and noisy area of the city. It’s a privilege to be able to work in that environment every day. It’s also quite satisfying navigating the rabbit warren underground, popping out of various passageways into the different sections of the church. Maybe I have burrowing genes..?

interior of St. Johns Church

Anyway that’s enough for week one, let’s hope the second and final week proves just as enjoyable. I’ll leave you with this video of us hard at work in the headquarters, playing the rhythm to the infamous cup song.

How have you been going about learning kanji? I'm just starting looking for advice cuz it's intimidating lol
amillerchip amillerchip Said:

If I had to start it all again, I’d start here:


And I’d link each Anki card to the relevant page on http://kanji.koohii.com/ for the stories.

Good luck :-)

I’m off to Japan to (try to) learn a bit more Japanese for three weeks this weekend. :-) This is the master post where I’ll organise links to any other posts about the trip I make.

I’ll also tag everything with Japan Trip 2013, and this post is linked in the menu bar on the right.

Update 2013-08-18

Yeah this obviously didn’t work out. Turned out I just didn’t have enough spare time in Japan to blog. I did keep a diary however, so I’ve made vague ambitions to convert it into a blog post / series of posts eventually.

I’m going to Japan for a language course in a week. Last weekend I took the placement test to judge my level, and did miserably (by my own judgement…). Part of the test was to verbally introduce yourself and your family in Japanese - and I couldn’t put a sentence together.

As a result this week I’ve been struggling to stay motivated, questioning the worth and effectiveness of my previous efforts, and struggling to focus on new material. This may also be because I’ve shifted focus a little bit onto a bit more grammar in an attempt to actually be able to use some Japanese when I’m in Japan. I’ve started to get quite frustrated by my lack of ability to construct a sentence, to the point of questioning whether this method is well-suited to people with only a few hours of free time a day.

But I’m trying to keep the goal in mind. It doesn’t matter whether the past has been useful or not, just that I’m still working towards the goal.

With only a week to go, hopefully I’ll find my motivation in time for some last minute preparation. I want to be in a positive frame of mind for this trip (as I have been up until this week) to make the most of it, not setting off with an air of lingering frustration and doubt. And maybe just a creeping sense of apprehension… ;-)

I made the decision a while back to focus on doing, rather than thinking and blogging about doing, hence the relative quietness here. :-)

Anyway, I thought I’d post a quick status update.

I finally finished my kanji target for the 2nd time, on 19 December 2012. Since then I’ve mostly been reviewing, and sentence mining. I did add a few more kanji than my initial target: I added all the characters from the RTK 1 supplement that also appear in RTK 3, plus a few more. But the reviews started to pile up a bit too much so I decided to stop collecting kanji for now, and to focus on sentence mining.

As of last week, I also managed to finish volume 1 of Japanese With Ease. Now, it took me 2 years to do RTK1. I started Japanese With Ease on 25 February 2012, so it’s also taken me roughly a year to do that, even though I was intending to it in 7 weeks. I’m detecting a pattern here…

Three years on from my starting point and I’m still firmly a beginner, not being able to put a single sentence together. That’s a far cry from the promises of many of the methodologies that I’ve followed. But you know what? It’s OK. I have a full-time job, not oodles of free time. I’m not in a rush (although I do want to see progress). I’m still persuaded that the methodologies are useful - although perhaps given how long the kanji took, I should have been a bit less dogmatic and just dived in with some Japanese. All of the kanji in Japanese With Ease is furigana’d, for example, so it’s wasn’t really a blocker. But I have stuff to show for my efforts. I do know a bunch of kanji and have SRSed a bunch of vocabulary from the first 49 lessons of Japanese with Ease.

So what am I up to now? In no particular order:

  • Panicking that I’m going to Japan for 3 weeks in a month and can’t say anything.
  • I’ve started Shadowing Book I. It’s actually really fun. I decided not to SRS the dialog, because I’m doing that with Japanese with Ease and I want to keep this strictly fun. The audio is great, the voice actors speak naturally and at full speed so it’s excellent practice (and very refreshing after the artificial slowness of Japanese with Ease). I’ve done the first two sections, and am going to take their advice and do 10 minutes of shadowing a day.
  • Panicking that I’m going to Japan in a month.
  • I’ve ordered Genki I. Yes, this does seem symptomatic of sticking with the beginner book too long. But I’m hoping it’ll give me some pre-canned common sentences I can actually use in Japan during my language course.
  • Did I mention I’m going to be staying in a dorm in Japan, and that I don’t speak Japanese yet?
  • I’ve signed up to https://www.lingq.com (free version for now), as it looks like an efficient way to assimilate online material. I still need to set it up but will see how I go.
  • Japan in a month?!?!?!?!?
  • I’ll continue on with Japanese with Ease, Volume II. This is the active phase (where you start forming Japanese sentences yourself), so hopefully in combination with Shadowing, and some basic phrases from Genki I, I’ll actually start using this language. I also have some Japanese friends so hopefully I’ll be able to start dropping the odd Japanese phrase here and there.

I also combined my Kanji and Sentence decks in Anki (which was actually very trivial in Anki 2 - just add them both to a parent deck, and review the parent deck). It’s nice because I don’t have to focus on ‘kanji’ or ‘sentences’ - I can just review. If I do want to focus on a specific one, I still can. It’s also highlighted just how much of my reviewing time is still spent on kanji compared to sentences. At least now the odd sentence pops up, whereas before I might not have got around to reviewing the sentences.

So, the journey continues. Let’s see how much progress I can make in a month, now that the pressure’s on.

Great hand-miming.


I am so going to learn the entire script in Japanese. xD

This kanjidamage page provided me with much amusement. :-)

The Japanese course I am booked on for March just blogged that they have added swordfighting and dancing to the curriculum.

Awesome. :-)

Poor, poor ZoneEdit. For years they provided a nice, simple, easy to use interface and reliable service. They made managing the DNS records for my domain a pleasure. Then somebody bought them, forced everyone to change their username, wrote a new yucky, clunky, javascript-driven web interface, and had at least two periods of downtime within a year, with the only acknowledgement that anything was wrong being some unfortunate person in charge of their twitter account.

After this second period of downtime, which took down all my websites and caused anybody sending me email to get “delivery delayed” messages for a few hours, I finally decided to switch providers. Enter afraid.org’s Free DNS service. I’ve only signed up a few hours ago, but so far I’m pretty excited. I think it’s even better than ZoneEdit in its glory days. It has a very simple, informative interface, and is rich in features. It also has a pretty cool community thing, where domains can be pooled, and people can borrow a subdomain for their own purposes. Seems fair enough to me - if you want to use a free DNS provider, doesn’t hurt to give back a little bit too. I hope their server performance matches these good initial impressions. :-)

Decided to create a need for Japanese in my life. Like needing it in order to be able to maintain my computer. oO

Decided to create a need for Japanese in my life. Like needing it in order to be able to maintain my computer. oO

I’ve been reading parts of this article the past few days, and it’s very interesting. The whole “free running” sleep concept with no alarm clock seems like a great idea, if completely against any kind of accepted convention.

The problem is, it seems almost impossible with any sort of social obligation like a job, a social life, or out-of-work studies, all of which I have. :/ If I have to be at work at 10AM, I have to be up a couple of hours before, simple. If I want to go to the Japanese society, I have to be available between 8PM and 10PM on Wednesday evenings. I am always not going to get enough sleep on Wednesday night, and will have to use an alarm clock - to the detriment of my sleep - to fulfil my contractual obligation with my employer.

Ideally I would like to be able to get up at around 6AM, get a couple of hours studying done while my mind is fresh, head to work, and still have time for another couple of hours studying after work before any other activities. That requires going to bed around 10PM - but according to this article only if you are feeling sufficiently tired. It’s currently 22:17 and I’m not really feeling very sleepy - which is going to ruin my plans for tomorrow - unless I break the rules and use an alarm clock.

I’ve been vaguely aware of the need to improve my sleep pattern, and have been going in cycles of enough sleep and not enough sleep for about the last year. I’m going to try applying some of these principles to see if I can adjust my habits better. I might even try the free running thing in the Christmas holidays (if my family allow me).

This time last year I was celebrating having covered 1000 kanji by the Heisig method.

Today, I’m currently sitting at 1550 in my Kanji deck having “completed” them in December last year, forgetting them all, and restarting in February at whatever pace I need to actually get them memorised. The pace has been faster this time around, mostly because I’d covered them before, but it has slowed down about now because I’ve got to the ones that I crammed in too fast at the end of last year. I’m adding approximately 10 a day comfortably at the moment, so should definitely have them finished this year. :-)

Plus, sentences are going well too. Actually the last couple of weeks have been slow, but that’s mostly because I was exploring my options in Edinburgh to up my Japanese exposure, so that’s a price worth paying!

For the last day in Copenhagen, I went out to a bar in the evening and didn’t get around to writing it up until now, a day later… Oops.

My friends had introduced me to the city bikes they have in Copenhagen, which is a really cool idea. They have bikes stationed around the entire town centre, and you use them like supermarket trolleys: they take a 20kr deposit, which you get back when you chain it up to a designated point. Since central Copenhagen is quite big and my legs were already protesting quite a lot, I picked up one from near my hotel and headed off to The Lakes, which had been recommended as a nice place to go and visit.

A random fruit stand in a shop near one of the lakes.

The lakes are a set of a few rectangular lakes just at the edge of the city centre. Actually it looks more like a river than a set of lakes, but whatever. They also happen to be nearby the botanical garden, so I decided to make another, successful this time, attempt at getting into the greenhouse (I have no idea why Tumblr insists on rotating this photo :-( close-bracket.

Woo, jungle.

While the city bikes are useful, I did spend about half my morning looking for either the places to pick them up, or the places where they should be left, and even when I found them a lot of the coin mechanisms didn’t work properly. I suppose you can’t complain when it’s free though… I thought I’d found a good one when I managed to grab a bike that was particularly tricky to unlock, which meant it was guaranteed to be there when I went back for it. However it got to the inevitable point that eventually I couldn’t lock it up – but I was rescued by somebody else wanting to take it off my hands.

One of the canals.

In the afternoon I met up with one of the Danish friends again for a trip to Christiana, or Freetown, which is a semi-autonomous commune within the city. I won’t manage to describe it without getting it all wrong, so you’re best checking the Wikipedia link. It was interesting to walk around and see the mix of hippy-esque environment on the one hand, and more orderly side on the other. I got the impression a lot of the people there were visitors, but I can’t be sure. They don’t permit photos inside, however taking a picture of the entrance is fine, so here’s me showing off a city bike:

Me on a city-bike outside Christiana

After that we met up with the other TangoDane and went on a canal tour of the city. At the end of four days, and with the help of my local guides, I’d actually already been to most of the places the tour pointed out. The one site I didn’t make it to was to the famous mermaid statue. I’m not sure what the story is or why there is such a fuss, but at least I’ve now seen the back of it from a boat.

The mermaid statue

In the evening, met up with the Tango/Danish friends again plus a few more people for a trip to a bar, which coincidentally was in the same place by The Lakes that I’d visited earlier. Anyway it was nice. We didn’t stay long because I had to be up early for the flight back, and everyone else also had plans for the next day.

So that’s it. Overall impressions of Copenhagen are that it’s a really chilled out, relaxed city, but still modern. Everyone cycles everywhere. I could probably live there without much of a problem. It’s quite expensive. Everybody speaks English. I didn’t see many non-tourist foreigners, besides the phone-shop guy that ripped me off on day one, and a Scot I met at the swimming pool that had lived there for 26 years!

Here’s a final shot I took coming in to land back in Edinburgh. View of the Forth Bridges one the way in to Edinburgh Airport