Last Friday night, the 31st of March, I went to Melbourne University to see Adam Liaw speak. Adam was the second winner of Masterchef Australia, in 2010. He was born in Malaysia, his mum is Singaporean-English and his dad is Hainese Chinese. Formerly a lawyer for Disney in Tokyo, Adam started learning Japanese in order to be able to read cook books.
This year marks the centenary of teaching Japanese language at Melbourne Uni and Adam spoke about language, culture and food. It was an excellent talk, with many interesting, and funny stories about Adam’s experiences in Japan and growing up. He talked about how learning a language is dependent on having a connection with the culture of the language you are learning. I think this is so relevant. Learning a language as a skill is not ever going to get you where you want to go. Without a cultural context, it becomes like learning mathematics.
Adam’s words rang so true to my experience. My first time in Japan was so wonderful, but towards the end of my month there, I realised that I had enjoyed the culture, but felt very much that I had merely skimmed the surface of the experience. I started learning the week I returned. I wanted to be able to look around and read the signs, understand the nuance, digest the etiquette and comprehend the history, as well as connect with the people on a deeper level.
The next time I went, I understood more, and it definitely enhanced my experience, and highlighted how much more I had to learn. I am looking forward to returning again, with another couple of years learning under my belt, and hopefully, a greater level of skill. The understanding of culture is my motivator in learning the language.
So, Adam is one of 24 Japanese Cuisine Ambassadors, world wide. In his words, he thinks all the other ambassadors have been Iron Chef judges. He recounted a Japanese cooking maxim. SA さ SHI し SU す SE せ SO そ …. SA for sato-sugar, SHI for shio-salt, SU for su-vinegar, SE for seuyu-soy sauce and SO for miso-miso. It was so great to see so many other people enjoying Adam’s obvious love of Japanese culture, food and language. It was also a privilege to witness the relationship with the members of staff from Melbourne University and the delegation from the Japanese Consulate. Always an excellent acknowledgement and reminder of our mutual respect and commitment to peace and friendship.