sirisa clark

the things I do and the words I choose

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No inductions or tours or classes or enrolling or anything today, so I’ve been chilling at home, paying my fees online (and not throwing up at the thought of being four grand poorer, yay!) and checking out my reading for Monday’s first class.

Okay, I downloaded the reading, and then decided I felt like doing some baking instead. It was talking about Turkish Vowel Harmony, I freaked out!

So, a couple of hours and some pear cider later, I have two batches of peanut butter and banana cupcakes with chocolate butter icing, thanks to this recipe from Baking Bites

They’ve turned out really nicely – I decided to skip the marshmallow icing as I was only working from what I had in the house, and made it chocolate instead because I love the chocolate/ peanut butter combo. And apparently so do a few other people! I also found the awesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Gallery in my search, which may be my new home page.

In other news, definitely going to go join the uni gym tomorrow (ahem), and it’s back to the Roundhouse for rehearsals wth the Choir, then poetry once more on Saturday.

Turns out my timetable features not one, not two but THREE 9am starts. Apparently you’ve got to get up early in the morning to be a good linguist. No classes on Fridays though, so I guess it evens out somewhat.


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beans on toast

I am a student once more.

Went down to studentland today to check out my new university and get all enrolled and the like. Only got part-way through the process as

a) enrollment was rammed and they asked me to come back an hour later

b) an hour, a grilled cheese sandwich and a strawberry tart later, I went back and queued up for 30 minutes, only to discover that I didn’t yet have a student number as I hadn’t returned a form (I tried to explain I’d been out of the country for most of the month, but for some reason exciting 3 week holidays in Japan don’t engender much sympathy).

So, I join a queue for the woe-begotten who cannot enrol the easy way, and spend another hour in this one, listening to two Biomed engineering students talking about departmental intrigues at their last uni. I could have it much worse – the girl beside me is being told her grade average for her first degree does not meet the UCL entry requirements and therefore won’t get a place.

Officially enrolled, I go off in search of a student ID card with the obligatory horrendous photo. The  light tan I’ve picked up in Japan seems to inspire quite a few inquiries about my nationality this week, so I’ll have to do my best to play the mysterious and exotic card. Although trying to appear exotic at “London’s Global University” may be a bit of a challenge. I’ll have to go for mysterious and just not talk to anyone.

In a strange way going back to university is much more intimidating than making my way around Japan alone, even though I’m in the middle of London on my home turf. It seems to combine all the social anxiety of starting at a new school, with the personal anxiety of wondering whether I’ve chosen the right subject, or even whether I’m cut out for a masters at all.

Those of you who know me are aware that I’m pretty lousy at first impressions. Descriptions of my demeanor range between “measured”, “reserved”, “aloof” and “stand-offish”, which is apparently how you come across when you’re quite shy but trying very hard not to appear that way. At least in Japan I was automatically a weird outsider by virtue of not being Japanese, and was unlikely to see any of the people I came across ever again anyway. UCL is full of young, bright things who will be my peers and companions for at least another year.

Still, tomorrow is another day, in which I will meet my coursemates and hopefully get some kind of clue as to what’s going on at my departmental welcome. I’m also going to lay down 4,000 spondoolicks and buy myself a year’s supply of lectures and exams, which will hopefully be incentive enough to work hard and try and get a return on my investment!

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sayonara nihon

I’m home! It was a pretty taxing 21 hour journey from waking up at Yen and Ken’s in Tokyo, to meeting Ben at the bus stop in Walthamstow – the last bus journey being the most painful part by far.

I had such a brilliant time in Japan, but it’s really good to be home again. I’ve spent the day hanging out with my family and giving them presents. It’s pretty difficult to dredge up any stories that they hadn’t already read in the blog, but I did my best.

I’d like to thank everyone who read and followed the blog whilst I was away, and especially those who left comments or votes. I’ve got a little blog stats tool that tells me how many people view the site each day, and it makes me very happy to see the little chart shooting up to about 30 views on good days (although I sometimes suspect it’s just Ben visiting the site repeatedly).

BUT – just because my time in Japan is over, doesn’t mean that’s the end of my adventures! Tomorrow I’m off to enrol at UCL for my Masters in Linguistics and organising my first driving lesson;  then there’s Crunch next month and a whole bunch of performance dates coming up for the Roundhouse Experimental Choir, and hopefully some more poetry performances too.

So stay tuned, keep the comments coming, and I will try to keep my tales of syntax and singing amusing!

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siri sidesteps down the mountain

In many ways Thursday turned out better than I expected when I woke up covered in bites, and in other ways it was pretty disturbing.

I spent a rather mortifying half hour with a plaster stuck lengthways beside my mouth, in which time practically everybody in the youth hostel decided to talk to me and stare at my Quasimodo face. Finally, after struggling to open my mouth wide enough to eat breakfast, I decided to take the plaster off and just be really careful with the bite. My terrible fears of my face swelling up like a balloon came to nothing thankfully, although I spent the day unable to look top-left due to my puffed up eye.

My plans to spend the morning on Miyajima and the afternoon in Hiroshima were sent awry by one of the youth hostel staff telling me there’s a swimming beach on Miyajima. All thoughts of history and culture were pushed out of my head by the thought of swimming in the sea. Plus you know, salt water is really good for bites… I grabbed my swimming things and hopped on the ferry (the youth hostel is practically on top of the ferry terminal). On Miyajima, I made a beeline for the ropeway, and ascended to the top of Mount Misen. This ropeway ride was rather more impressive than the one in Hakone, I think in part due to the improved weather conditions. My cable car swung in mid-air and I looked out over the forest to the bay and the mainland beyond. I made a transfer and took another cable car which glided past an incredible view of the Inland Sea, with various other islands dotted in the mist, and a beach far below us that I was itching to get to.

At the top of Mount Misen I took photos of the monkeys, trying not to make eye contact (apparently this makes them go berserk), and ate my lunch before attempting the hike down the mountain. I’m not going to claim that I’d really thought this hike through – it was about 30C and I was wearing slip on sandals – but all things considered it went pretty well. It was much cooler beneath the trees, cool enough for the mosquitoes to come out and bite me all over my arms. I suspect that some of the Japanese female psyche has rubbed off on me in the past three weeks, and made me believe that hiking in sandals was manageable (seriously, I’ve seen girls here hiking in 3-inch gold heels). My sandals held up okay, but weren’t too keen on the downhill action, so I spent the hour-long downward hike side-stepping gingerly, and did quite well, only falling over once.

And then I saw the snake. The sound I made was something along the lines of: “Aiiie-chi-cha-chi-cha!!!” I know, it’s not really the sound I expected me to make either…  It was only a small thing, and slithered away as soon as I saw it, but I’m pretty shit scared of snakes, and I spent a good minute standing on the track trying to calm my hyperventilation. After that I hurried a little faster down the track.

Once back in Momijidani park I sought out the Tsutsumigaura nature walk that would lead me to the beach. You have to understand that by ‘nature walk’, I understood something reasonably sedate and pleasant, something designed for the gold high heel girls who couldn’t hack the hiking trails. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t label it more appropriately, maybe “Impossible Mountain Trail of Doom and Terror” didn’t pass muster with the Tourism board? Who can say. Regardless, I started scrambling up a fairly steep incline that I assumed would at some point level out and widen into a nice stroll. Up and up I went, and as I went the path narrowed, until I had to start pushing through scratchy ferns that were doing their best to knit together across the path. My only company was the buzz of insects, and the rustling in the undergrowth that I told myself were lizards. I reached a kind of plateau and found a sign entirely in Japanese, with two arrows at the bottom, indicating the number 30 in either direction. Concluding that this meant 30 minutes and that I had reached the halfway point, I decided I was best off pushing on and hoping the path ahead would start descending. Reader, it did not.

Instead it continued to climb, and the undergrowth continued to grow denser. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the sign had been some sort of warning and whether I should call Yen and ask her to send a search party after me, another snake shot across my path. I decided the sign had said something along the lines of

“Watch out! The path ahead is riddled with deadly poisonous vipers with extremely aggressive and confrontational natures. They can smell fear and they have a particular hatred for foreigners. And they’ve got frickin’ lasers mounted on their heads!! Good luck, Gaijin*!

With this comforting notion pressed close to my chest, I discovered the spiders. Or rather, my forehead discovered their webs, several times. Now, I’m not too fussed by spiders. The little ones don’t bother me, and having encountered a few huntsman spiders in Australia, I don’t mind the big ones either. I’m just suspicious of the brightly coloured ones, the ones that are basically saying “don’t come near me, I can cause you a lot of pain and possibly make your arm fall off”. And these spiders looked like little deadly rainbows.

At this point, about an hour and a half into the “60 minute nature walk” and with no end in sight, I’m not ashamed to say that I stood on that path and bawled my eyes out. All alone halfway up a mountain, I wailed and sobbed and prayed for Ben to call me and find some magical way to get me out of there. Which is precisely when another tourist came pushing through the ferns in front of me. I asked him how much of this hell there was left, and he said about 15 minutes, mostly downhill, but with a lot of spiders still. I calculated this to be another half hour in slow, terrified, sandal-wearing Siri time, and steeled myself to push on.

And that is how I escaped the Impossible Mountain Trail of Doom and Terror and lived to tell the tale. By the time I reached the beach the sun was low in the sky and the beach practically deserted. I didn’t want to take a chance and discover it was a strictly no-swimming beach with waters full of manta-rays and jellyfish, so I continued walking to the ferry terminal and sailed back to the mainland. Exhausted and dehydrated, I decided I’d had about enough adventure for one trip, and spent the rest of my evening watching films on my laptop.

* Gaijin = foreigner

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crunch is coming!

A non-Japan related post for a change – just to give you all a little advanced warning that Crunch is landing once more, a month today at the Dogstar in Brixton.

It should be another awesome night, we’ve got some brilliant guest DJs lined up, and I think possibly some live acts too. More details to follow, once I’m home and have conferred with the others.

But, definitely put the date in your diaries now folks!

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Okay, how many of you know by now that I’m pretty much allergic to mosquito bites? A little bit of context for those who don’t – last week I got bitten on my finger and it swelled up like a sausage, I couldn’t straighten it or bend it properly. Most times when I get bitten the inflammation has the radius of a tennis ball or a mug, and the whole time I’ve been in Japan I’ve been taking antihistamines daily to keep the reactions under control, along with judicious use of plasters to cover the bite.

With all that in mind, where do you think would be a pretty terrible place to get bitten? How about the corner of your mouth? I woke up several times in the night to the sound of a mosquito buzzing around my head, a sound nobody wants to hear. I kept pulling the sheet up over my head, but I woke up at 6am with my head exposed and rubbed my face, only to discover an itchy lump next to my mouth. Doing the only thing I could think to do, I slapped a plaster over it.

Now I can barely open my mouth, and you can imagine how foolish I look. Actually I just pulled out my mirror to check and realised I must have been bitten on my eyelid as well, as one eye is huge and puffy and red. I feel a bit like the elephant man all of a sudden.

Today is my ante-penultimate day in Japan, and clearly it’s going to be a swell one. I arrived in Hiroshima yesterday, after a five hour journey from Shirahama. Having been up since 7am, all I wanted to do was get to the youth hostel and get a bed to have a lie down, but I was told they don’t open check in until 4pm, and asked to come back in two hours.

Not fancying the trip back into Hiroshima, I hopped on the ferry across to the island of Miyajima, which is truly as beautiful as everything I’d read and heard had suggested. I took a guide map and walked through the main shopping street to the five-storied pagoda, and on to Momijidani park.

Tame deer wander the streets pretty much all over the island, and are extremely curious about anything tourists might have to eat. One came up and licked my top, and another snuck up whilst I was having a sit down and got my guide map in its mouth. We had an all out tug of war from which we both walked away fairly happy – he had a tasty snack, and I had the useful part of my map, the deer having eaten most of the bay and the ferry terminal.

I toyed with taking the ropeway up to the top of Mt Misen, but realised I was just too tired, and killed time in the park instead. Back at the youth hostel I was given a fairly long list of rules and regulation to abide by, and shown to a massive dorm split into compartments. Two French girls later joined me in my area of the dorm, and the hostel manager invited us to join them in a movie night downstairs.

I headed out for some dinner and found an okonomiyaki place on the hostel manager’s recommendation. I ordered the standard and waited 10 minutes for it to arrive. It only occurred to me as I was tucking in that I’d neglected to ask what was in the standard, or to explain that I didn’t eat meat. My suspicions were confirmed a few minutes later, when I found a huge slice of what I think was bacon. Frankly though, I was so delighted to be eating something other than udon or tempura, I pushed the meat to one side and carried on.

Back at the hostel the movie was Dragonball Z, another truly terrible film (although not as awful as Replicant) that I watched with an aussie girl and two guys from Wales. Sometimes I think these films must be made specifically for the ‘bunch of strangers hanging out together in a youth hostel’ demographic, as they make perfect fodder for a bit of banter and camaraderie.

So, last two proper days in Japan. Today, a bit more Miyajima and maybe some ropeway, then Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Tomorrow, Himeji castle on the way back to Tokyo, and dinner with Yen and Ken. And Saturday I fly home!


shirahama: part two

Day two in Shirahama dawned bright and early with a phone call from Ben, and the realisation that I’m increasingly keen to get home – I’m still having fun, but I’m also looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, seeing my family and friends, being able to read and understand when people talk, eating something other than Japanese cuisine (I love it, but I could murder a good vegetable lasagne or fajita right now).

Still, I was determined to realise the vision that had brought me to Shirahama in the first place, namely of spending a day alternating between soaking in an open air onsen (hot spring bath), swimming in the sea and lying in the sun on a beach of pure white sand. Well the sun wasn’t showing its face and it was markedly cooler than when I’d been schlepping around Kyoto and Tokyo sightseeing (sod’s law). Not seeing an onsen immediately apparent on the beach, I figured there was more beach around the coast a bit, where my onsen would be waiting for me.

I followed the tourist map out of town and tried my best to stick to the shoreline, but it was increasingly dominated by private property. I found myself outside an onsen, but it wasn’t on the beach like the one I was looking for. After 40 minutes of walking along a road that was not friendly to pedestrians, I found myself at Senjo-jiki, or Thousand Tatami Mats, an outcrop of stratified rocks that are said to resemble a pile of tatami mats. I realised that there was no more beach to be had in this direction, and reached the conclusion that my walk had been in vain, that my onsen was waiting back at the beach I had just left and hiding somehow. Leaving the car park i saw a Nissan Figaro, which cheered me up as it always does.

Back on the beach I scanned every shack and shelter to see if I’d missed the onsen bath somehow, but nothing jumped out at me, so instead I turned my attentions to the last remaining shred of my vision: mother of us all, the sea. It looked pretty inviting, and there were people in the water so I wasn’t going to look like one of those nuts who jump in the sea in January. Still, there was a distinct lack of women in bikinis on the beach, and I felt very self-conscious in mine (I know, you’d think I’d be ready for a nudist beach by now, but no). I took the plunge, and it was bracing without being freezing, so I had a bit of a swim before realising that swimming in the sea if pretty boring on your own.

Disheartened, I headed back to my minshuku and promptly fell asleep. On waking two hours later, I flipped through my guide book and realised two important things: the minshuku had its own little onsen, and one of the guide’s recommended restaurants was on my tourist map. After a hot shower and a short soak in the very small hot tub, I headed out into the evening to find my restaurant.

I knew I was onto a winner when I arrived and there was a queue of about 10 Japanese people outside. Yes it meant waiting half an hour, but it was a balmy evening and I was quite content. Once inside I explained what I wanted with great difficulty to the waitress, and received a big bowl of excellent noodles, topped with prawn and vegetable tempura. I returned to the minshuku and readied myself for Hiroshima.