Tuesday, 28 May 2013

High Kill Shelters and Post-Modern Art in Taiwan

53317 dogs were killed at Japanese shelters in 2010 (image source)
 I just got back from a large interdisciplinary academic conference in Osaka and my mind is full on a million new ideas and projects. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the event I got to hear academics speaking about topics I never new existed, or topics I was familiar with but using an entirely different set of methodological tools. A highlight for me was a talk I ended up in completely by accident given by Tsung-huei Huang of the National Taiwan University titled Imagining the Alien Other: The Representation of Animals in Postmodern/Posthuman Art (click the title to read her abstract).

She spoke about two art exhibitions that drew attention to the huge numbers of animals killed in government shelters on the island and the issue of animal abandonment. The first exhibition she discussed was Lishan Chang's Ashen Atrocities on a Desolate Island. It features a huge mound of ashes and bone fragments of animals killed in these shelters, piled in the center of a darkened room. Chopsticks* and envelopes are provided and visitors are encouraged to write messages on the envelopes and pick out bones to place inside. The envelopes are then piled in a separate mound. As the exhibition progresses the pile to bones dwindles and the pile of envelopes grows. At the close of the exhibition the envelopes are sent to the relevant government bureaus.  Click here to see some photos. I can't share images here for copyright reasons, but take a look at the link. Even in pictures it is a powerful exhibition, I can't imagine what it must have been like in person.

The second exhibition discussed was Yu-xian Chen's Departed Ever-being. I can't find any images or even information to share with you unfortunately. When dogs are found or brought to shelters in Taiwan they are photographed and documented, with descriptions of their personality and so on, before being killed after a short holding period. Departed Ever-being was comprised of two elements. On the walls were hundreds of these "reports" with photographs and descriptions of dogs now dead. Then in the center of the space on the floor was a vast pile of empty dog collars, drawing the viewer's attention to the fact that these dogs were once part of families; they came to this fate as a result of human actions. 

What is really interesting about these two exhibitions is the different reactions. Yu-xian Chen was asked to close  Departed Ever-being early because of a large number of complaints from visitors who found the exhibition upsetting and complained to the museum. How typically human to complain to the museum for reminding them about the dead dogs, but to not complain to the government about killing them... Anyway,  Professor Huang pointed out that the difference is in the invitation for action included in Ashen Atrocities; after being made aware of the slaughter visitors are given a vehicle for their emotions and an immediate action to perform that is both symbolic yet also effective. In Departed Ever-being there is no external way to direct the negative feelings the exhibition provokes.

It was interesting to hear about these exhibitions relatively soon after seeing a Japanese film about dogs being gassed in government shelters that included online and off-line campaigns to raise awareness about shelter dog deaths. In Taiwan 97% of dogs who come into shelters are killed when their twelve days have passed. I don't know what the percentage in Japan is, but the shelter featured in the movie has a seven-day time limit. I was curious to see that Himawari to Koinu was supported by the shelter featured in the movie: the shelter and its director were not portrayed particularly sympathetically. Likewise I was curious about how the two artists obtained the ashes and capture reports used in the exhibitions discussed.

*I have no knowledge about Taiwanese culture but in Japan the family of a deceased person uses chopsticks to pick out bones from their loved one's ashes to place in an urn which is then interred in the graveyard. I am making an assumption that the use of chopsticks here is similarly intended to show respect and care towards the dead animals.
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Being Not-Japanese in a Japanese School

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Image from the 土佐女子高校 website

“She’s Chinese” the home room teacher said, pointing to a seven year old girl, a look of frustration (disgust?) on her face. “She doesn’t understand a word of Japanese.” “That’s ok” I said. “I’m teaching English.” At the start of the class I gestured some feelings (yawning for sleepy, smiling for happy) then asked the children their feelings. When I asked the girl, the teacher leaped in between us. “She’s Chinese, from CHINA” she said. “Yes,” I said, “I know. She can gesture just as well as everyone else.” The girl looked at me uncertainly and smiled. “Hap-py?” I gave her a thumbs up, and the teacher backed off. I taught them some animals (happily no cocks in this class), then distributed some bingo sheets. I said the first animal, and the girl looked at her sheet uncertainly, then looked at the kids beside her to see what they were doing. The teacher bustled over. “This is bingo” she said loudly, wringing her hands together violently. “BINGO. BI N GO. BINGO.” She turned to me, threw her hands in the air as if to say “this is impossible” and stomped back over to the corner of the room. And sat down next to the girl and repeated the name of the animal. She pointed to the correct square. I circled it. Then I pointed to three squares in a row vertically and gave her a thumbs up, then horizontally, then diagonally. “OK?” I asked. She squirmed excitedly, catching on quickly, and nodded vigorously. Not being the most gracious person, I shot a look at the teacher with my eyebrows up. It’s not that hard to communicate. It really isn’t.
If you live… I was going to say a multicultural country, but really, pretty much anywhere in the world except Japan, you will at some point have spoken with someone who was not fluent in your own language. For many Japanese people, nothing fills them with more dread than the thought of trying to communicate with a non-Japanese person. The stated aims of English lessons (literally “foreign language activities”) in elementary school are to encourage students to think openly about communication, using both verbal and non-verbal ways to communicate. The lessons are based on communicating things that matter (do you like soccer? Can you swim? How do I get to the library?) rather than the “this is a pen” type fare we teach in JHS. The communication aspect of the curriculum is, predictably, the section most often ignored by the Japanese teachers, who instead agonise over the correct intonation for “tomato”. As little kids, communication comes naturally. When the six year olds talk to me, if I can’t understand what they say they will gesture, point, draw a picture or think of a synonym. By the time they are in JHS, if they say something I don’t understand they say “it’s impossible” and give up. There’s nothing innate about this behaviour, it is learned. Or rather, the openness of the young children is knocked out of them as they get older. I appreciate the stated aims of the elementary lessons, but I wish we could put all the teachers through a crash course in communication too.
Of course, it isn’t just communication. At another school, three young children from Spain with no Japanese ability began attending classes. The teachers used google translate to communicate with them fairly effectively, but they treated the children in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable. One little boy, aged seven, was having a particularly hard time settling in. The girl who sat next to him was very kind and helped him a lot. One day he threw his arms around her neck, proclaimed that she was his very best friend, and kissed her cheek. The teacher dragged him into the staffroom so violently that he fell and was literally dragged across the floor for the last few meters. She flung him to the ground and shouted at him in Japanese for a while, until he started crying (having no idea, I imagine, what he had done wrong). The principal came and used google translate to tell the boy that he had done something terrible and that he had scared and hurt the little girl. They told him that he was never to touch another student and that he was going to be moved to a new seat so that his victim didn’t have to be traumatised by sitting next to him. In the middle of this the girl herself came into the staff room and said that she had been a bit surprised, but she wasn’t at all upset and that she understood that he had only wanted to thank her. The teachers said she didn’t know what she was talking about and to go away. After raining a heap more abuse on the little boy they sent him off to the counselling room. After he was gone the teachers discussed the shocking situation. “Foreigners” they said, oblivious to my presence, “are just like animals.”
At no point did anyone venture a thought that there may be cultural contexts in which kids kiss and hug each other. At no point did anyone wonder why the little boy was so confused about the trouble he was in. I wrote before about my frustration with the way intercultural differences are treated as cosmetic with no deeper consideration or discussion. When that is how your education system treats other cultures, situations like the one I described above are inevitable. And if you can’t imagine that other people think in different ways and about different topics, you can’t communicate with them effectively (let alone negotiate) even if you share a language. Eryk has a thought-provoking post about this very problem here: On Having no Comment in Japan.
I’m not suggesting that all non-Japanese kids have a hard time or are treated badly in Japanese schools. In fact, Beppu City in Oita Prefecture provides simultaneous interpreters to attend classes with students who don’t speak Japanese until they get settled in, as well as a comprehensive range of other supports for international families. But the thought processes that lead to unpleasant situations like the ones I have described are depressingly common.

Related reading:
"Japanese Customers Only" signs on businesses
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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Being White and Japanese in a Japanese School


In this excerpt from the 1996 Shunji Iwai film Swallowtail Butterfly (スワロウテイル), a Caucasian character talks about being born and raised in Japan, speaking only Japanese, but never being accepted as Japanese by the people around him. It isn't enough to be ethnically Japanese, in order to be Japanese you must be racially Japanese as well. Interestingly, it goes the other way~ those of undiluted Japanese ancestry  raised else where are also rejected as being truly Japanese. The character from Swallowtail Butterfly is not as hypothetical as you may assume. In this video, David Ury (who plays the youtube character Ken Tanaka, a white American adopted by Japanese parents back when white babies were fashionable) is excited to encounter another "white Japanese":

When I wrote about being not Japanese in a Japanese school, I mentioned some European children whose parents had moved to Japan for work. That is not what I am talking about in this post. When I say "white Japanese", I mean Caucasian children who are ethnically Japanese; raised entirely in Japan, speaking Japanese as a first language. It is not as uncommon as you might think, but again, my personal experiences are limited and I do not intend for this post to be read as an objective assessment or generalisation. I'm writing only about my experiences observing how my co-workers dealt with these students.

For children raised in Japan, the constant reminder of their foreignness must be difficult to cope with. Being referred to as "my gaijin friend" by someone born in the same clinic as you and who attended the same pre-school and elementary school as you must be frustrating. Likewise being constantly asked when you are "going home" and people addressing you in English. My students' background is from a non-English speaking country and they speak English about as well as their classmates (hint: not at all), but because they are blonde and pale-eyed strangers constantly attempt to engage them in English. My most recently graduated student has a bi-lingual first name spelled in Kanji; it wasn't exotic enough for one teacher who instead called her "Elizabeth" for three years. While marking one of her essays a Japanese teacher commented that "when I read her homework or talk to her mother on the phone, I forget that they are foreign!" This caused great laughter in the staffroom. Just imagine, forgetting about race?! Hilarious. Anyway. One would assume having been raised and educated entirely in Japan that the kids' Japanese would be native level, but this seemed to be a source of constant surprise for their teachers. Despite having graduated from Japanese kindergarten, elementary school and junior high school, and having sat and passed the same entrance exams as everyone else, the high school of one of my graduated students still telephoned the JHS to ask if there had been any "communication difficulties" with him. While I haven't observed any particularly negative stereotyping or exclusionary behaviour towards these students, the constant reminder that they were somehow 'outsiders', no matter what, can't be easy for them.

Edit A:
Another video on the topic of experiences of Caucasian kids growing up in Japan

Edit B: On the topic of being treated as an outsider in your own country, I recently read a couple of American stories about similar experiences that provide an interesting (if depressing) reminder that Japan isn't the only country that has these issues:

Walmart calls police on bi-racial family (suspects father of "kidnapping" his children because they "don't match")

Asian-American woman being asked, not for the first time, if she needs help reading an English menu
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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Being Black and Japanese in a Japanese School

Safarii. Vocalist Sophia is half Japanese, half Ethiopian. Image from their website via this this blog.
Allow me to clarify, since the title is misleading. I am writing my observations from one school district in Japan. I am neither Black nor Japanese. I have done no comprehensive survey or research. I’m not claiming that these vignettes represent a universal experience or even a representative one.

A group of thirteen year old girls are standing in a circle, chatting between classes. Another girl walks over and tries to join them, hovering awkwardly over their shoulders when no one moves aside to include her in the circle. “Hey” she says, lightly touching the arm of the girl in front of her. “Ewww, gross!” The girl who has been touched recoils as though burned. The other girls cover their mouths and giggle in a mixture of shock and hilarity. They disperse back to their desks but continue talking to one another, still excluding the Other girl.
Words like disgusting, smelly and dirty are standard bullying weapons between girls here in Japan. This incident felt slightly different though. The excluded girl has a Japanese mother and a Kenyan father. The name on her uniform is written in the Roman alphabet rather than any of the Japanese scripts. She speaks Japanese and Swahili at home. Her figure, facial features, hairstyle, family name and Christianity are the target of considerable negative interest. Let’s call her B. I also taught her older brother, A, who graduated last year, and I have taught their younger sister C since she was in kindergarten. A is handsome, gregarious, outgoing and good at sports. He had a large group of friends and I never observed any nastiness directed at him. When racially loaded comments were made he usually turned them into a joke. He spent an inordinate amount of time in 2009 saying “Yes We Can!” This is not to say that his way is the “right” way to deal with that kind of situation, just to observe the difference that personality (and I think probably gender) can make. B is quiet and shy. She likes art and music. She does not fit Japan’s narrow ideal of female beauty. When she is bullied she becomes visibly distressed, and her loneliness is palpable. I think, given the wolf-pack mentality of the kids at her school, that she would have been bullied irrespective of her race. Those kids see weakness and attack. Even so, the history of seeing black skin as unclean gives her bullies a ready-stocked arsenal. Women in particular go to extreme lengths to protect their skin from the sun so that they don't "become black".

The message is implicit in children’s stories and TV variety shows. This article talks about a Black Japanese child crying in the bath as he tries to scrub his skin “clean” after being bullied at kindergarten. One day when C was in kindergarten the kids were doing a pre-literacy exercise and she made a mistake that many of the other kids also made. The teacher singled her out though, repeatedly asking her “Did your father tell you that? Is that something you learned at home? He’s Black; don’t listen to his Japanese because it’ll definitely be wrong.” From time to time Junior High English textbook feature Black characters (who, as the kids notice, never gets to say anything important). Whenever they see such a character B’s classmates will yell “Look, B is in the text book!” and laugh hysterically. There isn’t much I can do for B, but her situation has made me very aware of the lack of visual representations of Black women (some more detailed discussion can be found here). Advertisements feature Japanese or Korean models, occasionally Chinese, often white and almost never middle-eastern, South Indian, south-Asian or Black models. Sometimes sports magazines or music posters feature Black men, but I don’t recall ever seeing a Black woman prominently depicted anywhere. This is a subjective observation, but judging by the students’ reactions I guess their experiences are similar. So although it isn’t much, every flashcard I make from now until my contract ends is going to feature non-white, non-East Asian faces. They’ll have to get bored of laughing eventually.

*I wonder if the capitalisation is appropriate for non-American people with African heritage? If anyone can advise, please do.
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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Japanese Kindergartens

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Excuse the poor quality photos, I only had my phone camera handy

A couple of times a year I get to teach at kindergartens. It’s chaotic, scary and absolutely amazing in every way. Kindergarten is an invaluable gateway between the comfortable, pampered world of home, which is the only life most children have ever experienced, and the structured, self-reliant atmosphere of elementary school. Children learn to be separated from their mothers, to work in groups and to deal with conflicts with other children. The emphasis is on physical development and social behaviour, with very little attention to academics in the public kindergartens I have experienced.

Stilts, hula-hoops, balance walk and mattress to jump onto. What more could a five year old want?
One principal told me that she tries to teach the hiragana syllabry to the children before they go to school, but every other principal I have talked to seemed to think that this was inappropriate. Large picture books are always available and pre-literacy skills are taught, but any specific of reading and writing seem uncommon, as is numeral recognition. Instead the day consists of free play, structured play, crafts, singing and dancing, story time, music lessons and lunch. When it comes time for lunch, the kids are expected to set up tables and chairs. The tables are often the kind with legs that fold down flat. They are too heavy for five year olds to set up alone and the metal clips for the legs are too rigid for their little hands to release. They have to work together as a group in order to erect the table (preferably without catching their fingers in the workings). This is done largely unsupervised because the adults prepare tea or additional snacks during the set up time. The kids have to organise themselves and cooperate, and they do.
The teachers have buried objects in the sand box for the little archaeologists to excavate

Bare-foot play is not a problem
Whenever possible the kids are encouraged to play outside. This inner city kindergarten has various activity stations the children move between at will.

Restaurant corner. The knives have rounded tips but are serrated and cut nicely. 
A kindergarten on the fringes of a remote suburb interrupted free play to put the kids through a sort of obstacle course challenge designed to improve strength and coordination and including monkey bars and pogo-sticks. That kindergarten also had free-range chickens. Every morning the kids would run around looking for eggs and if they found any they got a mid-morning snack. A rural kindergarten I visited once included a stroll in the forest to collect pine cones and acorns to use in craft activities. Many kindergartens have rabbits or hamsters so that children can experience taking care of animals and learn to be gentle. I like pretty much everything about the kindergartens I have worked at (the exception being the expectation that the kids wear t-shirts and shorts all year round).
This is harder to balance on than it looks...
I saw a segment on "super preschools"* on TV the other day. Each of the featured pre-schools had a special focus, whether English lessons, kanji or athletics. Skip to around 3:00 in this video to see the very small children tackling an impressive hill.

My personal favourite was the "playing in the dirt" pre-school http://www.doronko.biz/index.html (have a look, there are some gorgeous photos).

The children are encouraged to test their physical limits playing freely outside: climbing tall trees, splashing in mud, and caring for goats and chickens. Between energetic play the children are taught 座禅、seated zen meditation. The idea is that they learn to self-regulate their emotional arousal, a vital skill for elementary school. Being excited during exciting activities is important, but so is the ability to quickly change focus to an activity that requires calm concentration. The panellists on the TV show talked at length about the tree climbing. Many parents are afraid of their child getting hurt these days, they said, so children aren't being allowed to fully explore their physical capacities. An Olympic medallist observed that children can't come to properly control their bodies if parents and teachers are always controlling it for them, imposing restrictions from the outside (I think that's what he was saying, my Japanese isn't great). They then showed statistics about a massive increase over the past thirty years in elementary school kids injuring themselves and others. I think they were saying that childhood has been getting less physical, and as a result children don't understand natural consequences or their own limits. I find this fascinating. 

I love the way children in my area are free to engage in unsupervised "dangerous play". They learn to assess risks, understand their own boundaries through experience, and if they do hurt themselves adults expect them to take responsibility for whatever stupid thing they did that they should have known better than to try. Yet, while I like it in theory, I know with absolute certainty that I couldn't control my own fear enough to sit back and watch my five year old climb an 8 foot tree. After decades of removing anything that could cause a boo-boo from playgrounds in Australia and the US, it seems that the pendulum is swinging back and the advantages of letting children take risks are being promoted again:
After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.
“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”
Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.
In Japan this is just common sense; but in Japan, too, there seems to be a tenancy for contemporary parents to be more risk-averse in their parenting style than previous generations were.
When we asked Director Kumagai if she thought that families and children have changed in the past twenty years, she responded: 'Yes. Everyone is running scared. Parents overprotect children and themselves. They fear the world. They fear forming relationships with others, fear that a relationship they might get into will become strained, so they don't form relationships, and as a result are isolated. They fear germs, so they keep their children away from others. They fear dirt, so they keep their kids away from dirt, sand, and nature. They are afraid of encountering problems in life. But if there were no problems, that would be the real problem. Life is full of problems. Our job as early educators isn't to protect children from problems, but instead to put them in situations where they can experience problems and struggle to find solutions.'
Preschool in Three Cultures Revisited: China, Japan, and the United States, Joseph Tobin, Yeh Hsueh, and Mayumi Karasawa, 2011.

*There is a distinction between day-care/preschools and kindergartens, but the lines is very hazy, with many pre-schools offering a kindergarten year for the older kids and some kindergartens offering day-care services for younger kids. Consequently I'm not bothering to make a distinction, although I am aware it will annoy some people.

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. That means if you click it then buy the book I get a small commission. It does not mean that I am being paid to promote a particular product or opinion. I will only include affiliate links that are directly related to the subject of a post. If you want to know why I have begun including affiliate links you can read about it here.
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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Love from Myriad Places


I had a pretty rough week last week. I'm sure I'll write an emo post about how terrible the world is shortly. But then, I was surprised by a lovely comment from an internet hero of mine, BrittneyBrittney blogs at http://pagesonadoption.wordpress.com about life with four children adopted "older" and from foster care. She doesn't shy away from writing about the hard times, and I love her for her honesty and her great humour and generosity of spirit. So obviously I was delighted to see that she has "passed on" a Liebster Award to me. The Liebster is kind of like a chain letter, designed for small blogs to connect to one another. It's a really sweet idea, and I am insanely happy that Brittney thought of me.

Now, the thing about the award is that you pass it on... and I read a really eclectic mix of blogs on widely divergent topics. My list is going to be a little random, but I hope you all enjoy linking up as much as I have. With no further ado and in no particular order, here are the bloggers I'm passing the "Liebster baton" to. Let's send the love to myriad corners of the world, and embrace it as it returns.


Here are the Liebster Rules:
1. List 11 facts about yourself.
2. Answer the 11 questions given to you.
3. Create 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominate for the award.
4. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or less followers to nominate <-- I have no idea how many followers you all have, so I just went with blogs with lower numbers of comments. I hope no one if offended ;)
 5. Go to each bloggers page and let them know about the award.
6. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.

11 Questions from Brittany
  1. How many drafts do you have waiting to be edited, finished, or posted? 13 on my computer, a few more in notebooks >.<
  2. Would you rather ride the subway with Mahatma Gandhi or pull weeds with Kristin Wiig? Gandhi all the way. I'm fascinated by contradictory people. He did so much for equality and justice, yet espoused such harmful beliefs about women and sexuality. It would be an interesting conversation. Also, I don't like weeding.
  3. What is your ideal birthday? Camping, preferably near a beach or good swimming river.
  4. What do you do wish you would stop talking about and start doing? That's a long list... probably eating more nutritiously is the most urgent thing.
  5. What children’s book describes the meaning of life best in your eyes? The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
  6. What’s your stance on gun control? Haha. Just kidding. Is your house decorated the way you want it? No, it really really isn't. When we first moved here we couldn't really afford curtains. I just bought the least offensive ones I could find in the discount bin, so none of them match. We have three different designs in one room! But now that we have curtains, it seems frivolous to buy more curtains just so that they match...
  7. Clear the air about misconceptions you think people have about you. People think that I am a bossy perfectionist who spends a lot of time being angry about how stupid much of humanity is. In fact, I am a bossy perfectionist who spends a lot of time being angry about how stupid much of humanity is AND I really like long walks.
  8. Will you link this to a video of you singing happy birthday to my daughter? Her birthday is in one month. Bonus points for doing a birthday jig. I don't think the world deserves to have my singing inflicted on it... but give me a bit of time and I will try to film a jig for her ;)
  9. If a hawk landed on your house, would you look up the symbolism of hawks? No, I would double-check the whereabouts of my smaller dog. She looks a lot like a piglet. I'm pretty sure hawks think she looks delicious.
  10. Who is your favorite fictional character? Why? Can I have fifty? No? Two? OK then, but I am limiting it to books because otherwise I couldn't choose ;) Hermione Granger, because. Ender from Ender's Game, because [SPOILERS] he is the only human who can destroy the aliens we are at war with, but also the only human who sees the aliens as beings with value.
  11. Do you think blogging is important? Yes, I do.

11 New Questions for the Newbies
  1. What is the most important thing you read online this week? Links please!
  2. Which country that you have never visited do you most want to go to?
  3. What is the worst movie you have ever seen?
  4. What song do you listen to when you are most in need of a pick-me-up? 
  5. What children’s book describes the meaning of life best in your eyes? Ahh, you noticed that wasn't a new question, huh? Glad that you are paying attention. I still want to ask it anyway, because I think it is a fantastic question!
  6. Can you name a movie adaptation that was better than the book?
  7. What obscure piece of trivia are you most impressed with yourself for knowing?
  8. What if your favourite vegetarian recipe? Again, links or post in full please ;)
  9. What was your very first pet's name?
  10. What is your "guilty pleasure" TV show?
  11. Tell me about a book that changed how you see the world.
 11 Facts about Me:
I left this for last because I'm not really terribly interesting, but hey.
  1. When I was a child I lived in an ex-ambulance with my dad and my little sister for around a year. We drove all around Australia so dad could interview home educating families for his PhD. I never let my sister ride in the front seat. Ever.   
  2. Despite this horrible treatment, my little sister got me the autograph of Eric from Subway to Sally.
  3. I wrote a thesis on Gundam, and was awarded first class honours for it.
  4. If it were up to me, I would have a minimum of six children.
  5. When I was younger and thought the I would be giving birth to my children, I planned to have a daughter named Ælfwynn. I know, I know, she is from a royal line famous for repelling the Vikings and my heritage is more Norse than Saxon. Whatever. It's a pretty name.
  6. I am 99% sure that our children are actually going to turn out to come to us named Tiger and Cocoa (those are the readings, not the meanings: They are actually spelled 大翔 and 心愛 respectively).
  7. I first met my husband when I was 12, and we got married when I was 24, so I had known him for exactly half my life. 
  8. I hand made a Battlestar Galactica uniform for my husband to wear for our wedding.
  9. My favourite poems (click the titles to read) are Dylan Thomas' And Death Shall Have No Dominion and Kate Clanchy's Poem for a Man with No Sense of Smell.
  10.  The first novel I ever read, aged around five, was The Queen of the Pharisees' Children by Barbara Willard. It's about the forced removal and separation of a group of siblings from their 'gypsy' (Ramani) parents after they are arrested for vagrancy. It affected me profoundly.  
  11. I often put my foot in my mouth. Literally.

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