Friday, December 22, 2006
The students don't know, so it came as a big shock to them. It was a shock to me as well, but it explained why I had heard snippets of conversation about France. Curse my lack of eavesdropping skills in Japanese! Curse my general lack of skills in Japanese!
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
but the very next day
you threw it away
this year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special
Why is it that out of all the popular Christmas/holiday songs out there, *this* is the one that everyone in Japan wants to hear? And why in every English class I go to?
Funniest Wham! Christmas moment?
Practicing pronounciation (read: repeat after me) with a bad-ass class of Grade 12 boys. Imagine the horrors of having students reading after you in chorus the words "once bitten and twice shy".
Weirdest Wham! Christmas moment?
Santa showing up at the Rotary Club Cristmas party and handing out presents to kids under 6 to the strains of George Michael et al.
Most standard Wham! Christmas moment?
A tie between requests to sing Last Christmas at karaoke, and showing up to classes where the listening exercise du jour is this song.
Fill in the blanks: A _ _ _ _ on a lover with a fire in his heart.
And no, the Grade 12 boys didn't want to sing along in class. But deep down, I'm sure they wanted to show off their mad English skillz at the karaoke box. Where they assure me they only drink juice.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
The Christmas party is a special event for my Rotary Club dudes. Every month, they invite me to their regular meetings where they get together to eat great food, drink far too much, and talk about things that the ALT shouldn't hear (politics). The Christmas party is a chance for these old dudes to bring their children and grandchildren to the party to show them off. It's actually one of the few events that I've been to here where people admit to having a family. I think this is one of the most jarring cultural differences I have run across in my time here. In Japan, your home life is so separate from work and everything else that there are still -- after a year and a half living in this town of 4500 -- people that I don't know if they have families or not. I'm hoping that a lot of this has to do with my lack of Japanese, but I don't think it does. Family is just not something that people talk about outside of their homes.
I had a really great time meeting the families (or putting families together) of people I know at this party. I was seated with my friend Mr. Watanabe and his family -- his wife, their two daughters and four grandchildren. All of the grandchildren were made to introduce themselves to me, bringing a whole new meaning to the embarrassment that is having to talk to your grandparents friends. And I had always thought is was embarrassing enough as a child to have to meet all those boring old people. Imagine doing it in a second language!
It was a fun evening -- not quite as much sake as usual for Rotary events, but I had a good time. It made me really miss family get-togethers back home. For real. It was very なつかしい (natsukashii = nostalgic) for me to see kids running around tables playing with their toys while the grown-ups were being boring and talking to each other. Just one week to go...
Of course, being a Japanese event, there were many many speeches and introductions, bingo, janken, and team games for kids and grown-ups. And presents for everyone -- not just for the little kids. Although Santa made an appearance as well. He only gave presents to the youngest kids though. Everyone else had to earn their おみやげ (omiyage = souvenirs). I guess I earned mine by being asked to lead an improptu sing-a-long. It being a Christmas party, I led everyone in singing a round of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". Since my singing debut it's been hard to convince people that I don't really feel the urge to sing in public at every event I attend. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "sing for your supper".
There was plenty of food to be had, just like at any other Christmas party you might attend. A special mention goes to a traditional Japanese New Year's dish (I assume): boiled red beans with mochi dumplings. The Japanese name escapes me. It tasted exactly like kutyah though, I swear.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
For today's conversational English class, I decided I needed to get my Christmas on. So I brought good old lappy to class and had my students watch "The Grinch who Stole Christmas". I was pretty sure the English would be too weird for them, but maybe it would give them an idea of what Christmas means outside of Japan.
Inside of Japan, Christmas traditions mean two very important things:
1) Eating Christmas cake on Christmas Eve.
2) Eating Christmas chicken on Christmas Eve.
Cristmas cake comes from the covenience store. Seven-Eleven starts giving away samples sometime in October or November. I'm a fan of the vanilla.
Christmas chicken comes from the Colonel. As in Kentuky Fried. Laugh and disbelieve all you want. It's true. People book in advance to go and get chicken from KFC. If I make it into the city, I'll try getting a picture of the Colonel dressed in full santa gear. It's creepy I tell you!
Another thing about Christmas in Japan: it's all about couples. Yup, it's a date holiday. I was at the movies last week, and there was an advertisement hawking jewlery or something. I forget. But the ad copy was "sweet love xmas for couples".
So, for my eikaiwa class, I started out by asking what the students thought of Christmas. The answers ranged from "the birthday of Christ" to "so-so". I think it was mostly an eye-opener for me. I hear all the Christmas carols (and my new favorite -- the Seicomart Christmas song) blasting here and it triggers memories for me of Christmases spent at my grandparents' house in Mudare, eating way too much, staying up way too late, trying not to fall asleep in church (or at least trying to get away with it), and a whole slew of other warm fuzzy memories. It's weird for me to think that people here get the same input and have no emotional response to it. And now I get what it means to say that Japan is a post-modern society... All the trappings with none of the meaning.
So we watched the Grinch be grinchy, the Who's singing despite his stealing all of their Christmas toys (I want a bamboozler!), and the Grinch's heart growing so big it breaks the heart viewer thingy.
The students enjoyed it, and could follow along even if most of the English was incomprehensible.
And I got to re-live childhood memories.
I went to san-nensei class today (Grade 9). They're learning about relative clauses, and using relative prepositions -- today we focused on "who". We started with a quiz.
This is the man who is the Prime Minister of Japan.
Once they figured out what a Prime Minister was, they were fine. (Shinzo Abe, if you don't know.)
This is the man who is the President of the United States of America.
They knew "Bush" and one of them know "George". Nobody knew the "W" part.
This is the man who is the Prime Minister of Canada.
Nobody knew. I was wholly unsurprised. I doubt if any of my teachers could tell me the answer either.
I gave them the initials.
My favorite responses from that?
Someone eventually guessed Stephen (actually Steve, but close enough, right?), and I did some drawing to get the Harper part in. But I really thing he should think about changing his name to Sparkling Heat. Might bring in a whole new demographic...
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Originally uploaded by ...and....
Last weekend it was off to the big city for a german Christmas fest, an ugly Japanese proficiency exam, and two days of conferencing. Really -- the most fun was eating sausages with chopsticks.
Aside from sausage eating, it was good to get out of town for a few days. My job might not be particularily stressful, but living in a foreign language definitely takes a toll. And getting out of town to see some movies, drink some coffee at Starbucks, and interact with other native speakers is good for you.
Lets break it down.
"Studying" at nearly every Starbucks in Sapporo. Which basically just made my head want to explode. Lunch at the festival. Dinner and commiseration with other test takers at my favorite Mexican restaurant in Sapporo. An early night. Except for watching free soft core on the hotel TV. 3D, virtual reality aliens! It was too funny not to watch.
The test. Unlike any other big test I've taken, this one didn't start until ten-ish, and was really slow moving. For instance: we actually waited the full 20 minutes before the test started just in case some of those people who weren't going to show changed their minds. A three hour test took the whole day to write. No wonder I was tired afterwards. Some parts were good, some parts were bad. We'll see when I get my results in February. Dinner and commiserartion with other test takers at my second favorite Mexican restaurant in Sapporo.
Slept in, read in coffee shops all day. It was fabulous. Took myself out to see "Children of Men", or as it's called in Japan "Tomorrow World". Not the best movie ever, but it was in English, and I like Clive Owen.
Tried to do some shopping, but was disasterously unsuccessful. Have decided I don't really like shopping. So maybe this year nobody will ge a Christmas present. Met up with other ALTs for James Bond viewing. Definitely worth seeing. I can't remember the last Bond movie I saw in a theater and actually liked. And that new Bond -- me-ow! Finished the night with karaoke at Thriller and dancing by myself (and three other ALTs).
First day of the conference. My hangover was happy things didn't start until 10:30, and further happy to find that the morning was all speeches that I didn't really need to listen to.
This year's conference was geared more to discussion and attempted to actually be something useful for ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) and JTLs (Japanese Teachers of Language). We were put into discussion groups and talked about a variety of issues. It was much more interesting than having someone drone on and on with no actual knowledge of what our jobs entail.
The evening was a dinner and date auction. For the children. I spent 5000 yen on the worst date ever -- he didn't even come and introduce himself to me! To be fair, he did apologize the next day. Think that I should have really gone up for auction -- I'm sure I could have made much more money... Nijikai was fun too, but ran out of money. Ouch.
Last day of the conference: workshops and idea sharing. Lots of great ideas, but as always, it may be difficult to put them into practice. My JTE prefers the "uncreative use of the textbook" to creative use of the textbook.
After the conference, I went to a highly recommended (all my gajin friends go there) hairdresser in Sapporo and got a much needed haircut. Pictures to follow. Or you can just wait two weeks to see it for yourself.
Then it was back home. I tried catching the early train, but there was an accident along the line. So all the trains were delayed heading back my way. Ugh. I ended up on the last train home, the one that doesn't get in until 11pm. Discovered it had NOT stopped snowing since I left home. And everyone had moved their cars around. So again, mine was stuck way out in the parking lot, all by it's lonesome. Except for all the snow. It wasn't too TOO bad though. I was able to 4WD it out of there. Mwah hah hah. 10 points for freaking out the neighbors.
One day of school to round out the week. I got to help teach in one class (yay!) and grade recitation tests in another (boo!). I still hate recitation tests. It doesn't teach anything about communication. But that's a whole other rant posting.
The evening was my office bonnenkai. I was exhausted, but ganbatted until the end. Snuck out at the end of the nijikai to say hi to my friends at my favorite bar, and ended up being joined by the rest of my office. It was fun times as usual. Made a deal to take one of my co-workers to the gaijin bar in Asahikawa. While trying to convince him that he could learn English if he actually tried speaking in once in a while. So now we have a bargain. He only speaks English, I only speak Japanese. And we will actually correct one another's mistakes. We'll see how it goes.
Snow shovelling. One hour. Onna no matsuri = Women's Festival. Basically a party with all the women I know in town. Eating, drinking, gossiping. All the good stuff. We made takoyaki and ordered in pizza. Stayed at the bar for forever. More fun times.
Snow shovelling. One hour. Finished. The car is freed from it's snowy bonds. I am dismayed to find my downstairs neighbor has shovelled the snow from his walkway onto mine. Really hoping that was a one time thing. Rounding the day off with playing with paper for HAJET. Which is really what I do best. And watching TV on the internet. Thanks to the sister.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Two more weeks!!! Eeeee!!!
Friday, December 01, 2006
It also makes for fun demonstrations of things like "block heater". You try explaining that to someone in Japanese. Fun times, ne?
If you're interested, the weather here isn't nearly that cold. However, it has been snowing continuously since the night before last. That's a lot of snow. My friends down near Sapporo don't have anything that is sticking around. I may have problems finding my house tonight.
And with that thought in mind I'm taking off to Sapporo for the week. Sunday is test day, Wednesday and Thursday is the annual mid-year conference, and Monday and Tuesday I'd much rather take off than come to work. Just as well -- turns out I don't have classes either day.
Please enjoying a good week.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Long story short, that hasn't really worked. So here I find myself with mere days before the test date, and I'm cramming away. I wanted to challenge myself, so I signed up for Level 3. Which covers basic Japanese grammar, and about 300 kanji. The kanji aren't really the problem. There's a whole lot of grammar out there.
I started out with lofty aspirations. After coming here with practically no Japanese, I had made big strides, and was able to understand people at work and generally make myself undestood. Let's be realistic here though -- I am nowhere near to actually speaking Japanese, but I've come a long way from stepping of the plane and not understanding anything around me. The wonders of immersion. I figured if I kept up what I was doing, I could write this exam, and feel really good about reaching this level after a year and a half of Japanese study.
I wasn't planning for it to be something that I ended up cramming for. That makes it feel like Japanese High School and University Entrance Exams. The reason that high school students at hundreds of schools in Japan weren't taught required subjects, and now face not being able to finish high school. The things that Japanese students commit suicide over if they aren't being bullied, and the generally accepted reason (at least in the ALT community) for the lack of communicative English in Japanese schools. Students are too busy studying for these exams to have time to practice speaking English. It would detract from studying English!
So, now I feel like I've stepped into that world. Instead of learning the language, I'm cramming away. I know that in the long run, this test doesn't really mean anything, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in myself for treating it like an entrance exam.
Back to cramming.
Friday, November 24, 2006
My future dream of becoming a rock star is a future dream no more. Yesterday I performed in a "live" here in town, as a member of the Blue Mountain Big Band. The joke being that the "big band" only has two members.
On vocals: yours truly.
On guitar: "Boss" Kagomi.
We started practicing about a month ago and got together maybe 5 times to rehearse. Boss is an incredible guitarist, and has been playing for 30 years. My skills? Well, I speak English.
At our first meeting, we chose a name and a batch of songs to sing. We whittled those down to five songs that we would perform in our 15 minute set.
I Will/ I've Just Seen a Face -- The Beatles
Complicated -- Avril Levigne
Sunshine of your Love -- Cream
Born to Love You -- Queen
It was tough figuring out what to play. Not just because of language barriers, but becuase of the challenges of picking songs that we both liked and that the audience would enjoy. For the most part, mainstream Japanese audiences like terrible music. The number one request from people that I get at karaoke is to sing something by the Carpenters. A request that is generally vetoed. I think I gave in one time in the interests of team building with a new JTE. Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices. Which explains the Avril. Sorry 妹. Sometimes you just have to play to the crowd. However, both Boss and I are into the classic rock, so we got to play Cream. I was told that I could build my lounge singer act around that one.
The show itself?
Well, Thursday morning I hauled myself out of bed and went to sound check/ rehearsal. Conveniently, it was a day off work. I would have liked to sleep in, but I also got to listen to some of the other bands play. I was amazingly nervous. Singing at sound check was really not so much fun. All of my friends from town were there, making me even more nervous. I went home for some lunch, and to get all rock starred-up (aka put on makeup).
The concert started really early. By 3:00 people were starting to arrive, and the show started proptly at 3:30. I wasn't on until after the break, so I went out and watched the show with the ALT from a nearby town who came to see the show. I was much less nervous watching everybody else, but I also had some help from my good friend J. Daniels. Hey -- I was getting into the rockstar mood.
Boss and I had a quick run-through in the dressing room during intermission. All the other bands were standing around listening, tuning up, chilling out, doing whatever. It was the best relaxer ever. The other bands were really cool, and it was a good warm up too.
On stage, I was still nervous, but once I started going it was fine. I only forgot a few of the words... And how to speak Japanese. I was supposed to talk between songs for our band, but I completely forgot any Japanese I knew.
The rest of the show was really good. Lots of pop acts, a group of High School students, some heavy metal, a solo acoustic guitar, and a last minute replacement that consisted of three of the local kindergarten teachers. One of the other bands backed out at the last minute, so they stepped up and sang a few songs. There are a lot of very talented musicians around here. The worst act of the show was sadly the last act -- some woman from Sapporo who runs the charity that the concert was for. She played the longest, and probably the worst set of the evening. The highlight? Well, other than her butchering of Billy Joel, it was probably when the guy behind us started snoring. I was sitting with my friend Aiko, and we were both shaking with laughter, trying desprately not to embarrass ourselves further by actually laughing out loud.
After the show, there was of course an enkai. Somewhere in the vicinity of 50 people packed into one of the restaurants in town to celebrate a good concert. I was complimented on my skill with English pronounciation, and everyone had a good time. Unfortunately, maybe because I had brought another foreigner along with me, I was seated at the "important people" table, where I had to be nice to the woman who's set I had tried not to laugh through. Thankfully, she left early. I met up with my friends from the "fun table" later in the evening, where we continued singing late into the night. Too bad I had to be at work the next morning...
Next year? Boss promises that there will be more bands, and that maybe the concert will be held over the summer. If I'm still here, I'd love to do it over again.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
And with the weather turning to winter, it seemed today that everyone wanted to feed me. One of the teachers (and my sweetheart of a neighbor) got a delivery of "bo ru shi chu" -- a big box of some kind of prepared food item. What can I say, he's a single guy. I don't think he does any of his own cooking. As I was trying to figure out what the hell it was, he gave me a package. Totally unecessary, but nice of him. As it turns out, "bo ru shi chu" is actually borscht. I was planning to have it for dinner.
At least until I got back to the office.
There was some kind of all-Hokkaido soba making meeting in session. Who knew there was such a thing? So, the building was full of old soba making dudes. They had extra soba, so they invited the office to come and try out some of the food. Man, was it good. Freshly handmade soba. I will cry when I go back to Canada and there are no soba shops to be had.
I stuck around to help clean up and was rewarded for my efforts with some of my own to take home. Yummy-yum-yum!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
After their trip to Canada, they were keen to continue having eikaiwa classes. Our eikaiwa classes were fun for me, and beneficial for the students, so I agreed. Besides, I don't get to participate in communication and conversation based classes anywhere else (oops, bitterness towards current JTE showing through).
I asked them to see if they could find any more people who were interested in coming to class -- as much as I like a small class, the largest my high school eikaiwa classes have ever been was three or four students. In a school of 200. Not bad, but the JTEs at the school weren't terribly interested in promoting the class to students who might be interested.
I dragged myself out to the high school, reminding myself that this class could be the most rewarding teaching I do here. Aya and Misaki (the two students who went to Canada) met me at the door.
"Shall we go study English?"
"Sounds great! Let's go!"
"Today... class... lots of friends..."
"Oh, that's great! How many?"
"Eto... maybe...ah... let's go."
We entered the classroom, where I was absolutely blown away to find a whole dozen students! Okay, okay, so two of them were teachers. We'll see how many of them continue to come, but it really made my day to have so many people show up. And they are a fun group of kids. I had them start with self-introductions so that I can try to drum some names into my head. It's mostly a futile effort. I'm bad at names in general, but something about Japanese names makes them impossible for me to remember. And there are 9 different English classes at this small school that I go to once a week, so it's even harder for me to get a handle on student's names.
The time in class flew by, and I got to know a few students a little better. I hope they'll come back next week. Maybe I'll even have a lesson planned.
Friday, November 10, 2006
This year, the Hokkaido Players will be performing "Peter Pan: The Musical". I've never heard it or seen it. And no, it isn't the same as the stage play or the Disney version. It's British. Which makes it talk funny and enjoy bland cuisine.
Sadly, there will be no flying above the stage, removing one of the most fun aspects of the show. But, it's understandable. Last year we had problems getting venues because of the dangers of letting foreigners take to the stage. Imagine the trouble there would be if we let foreigners use harnesses and rigging to take flight off the stage! Ah, insurance. She is a harsh mistress. She doesn't even let me drive during work hours.
So far, I haven't seen any further snowfall, so I'm hoping for a nice drive down south. I'm also hoping for a fun group of people. Last year's cast was incredibly fun so this year's group will have some big shoes to fill...
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Friday morning -- it was a holiday here --we set out north. We were lucky to have beautiful weather the whole way up. We stopped at a few interesting places along the way -- places I never would have stopped at if not for my lovely travelling companions. Note to self: travelling with someone who not only speaks, but reads Japanese is really frikking awesome. I miss literacy.
One of the places we stopped was where the name "Hokkaido" was first set down. Hokkaido was only recently settled by the Japanese. This guy -- Matsuura Takeshiro, came up to the island to chart it. Sadly, my grasp of Japanese history is pretty shaky. So read this paragraph from Wikipedia:
"Hokkaidō was known as Ezochi until the Meiji Restoration. Shortly after the Boshin War in 1868, a group of Tokugawa loyalists led by Enomoto Takeaki proclaimed the island's independence as the Republic of Ezo, but the rebellion was crushed in May 1869. Ezochi was subsequently put under control of the Colonization Office. When establishing the Colonization Office, the Meiji Government decided to change the name of Ezochi. Matsuura Takeshirō submitted 6 ideas, including names such as Kaihokudo (海北道) and Hokkaidō (北加伊道) to the government. The government eventually decided to use the name Hokkaidō, but decided to write it as 北海道, as a compromise between 海北道 and because of the similarity with names such as Tōkaidō (東海道). According to Matsuura, the name was thought up because the Ainu called the region "Kai." Historically, many peoples who had interactions with the ancestors of the Ainu called them and their islands Kuyi, Kuye, Qoy, or some similar name, which may have some connection to the early modern form Kai. The Kai element also strongly resembles the Sino-Japanese reading of the characters 蝦夷 (Sino-Japanese /ka-i/, Japanese kun /emisi/), which have been used for over a thousand years in China and Japan as the standard orthographic form to be used when referring to Ainu and related peoples; it is possible that Matsuura's Kai was actually an alteration, influenced by the Sino-Japanese reading of 蝦夷 Ka-i, of the Nivkh exonym for the Ainu, namely Qoy. In 1882, the Colonization Office was abolished, and Hokkaidō was separated into three prefectures, Hakodate, Sapporo, and Nemuro. In 1886, the three prefectures were abolished, and Hokkaidō was put under the Hokkaidō Agency. Hokkaidō became equal with other prefectures in 1947, when the revised Local Autonomy Law became effective."
Yup -- I'm too lazy to paraphrase all that. And it's about what the marker at the site said too.
Note: I'm working on this post at school, and it has aroused quite a bit of interest around the office. Just like everywhere else in the world, people don't usually know a lot about things "in their own backyard" and nobody had any idea this spot existed. However, this interest has also produced a stack of history books on my desk in Japanese that will take me days to figure out.
I still miss literacy. Grade 2 just isn't cutting it.
After somewhere in the vicinity of 5 hours in the car, we arrived in Wakkanai. The northernmost city in Japan. Our first stop was lunch/dinner. There's a little Italian diner near the station that serves massive cheeseburgers. Maybe because the last time I had a cheeseburger that wasn't McDonalds was a really long time ago, it was amazingly good. Mmmmm.... cheeseburgers...
We also stopped at the northernmost train station in Japan. The guys at the gate were nice enough to let us go out on the platform to take some pictures.
We were all pretty wiped out from driving all day, so the evening was pretty quiet. We crashed with a friend living up there -- hooray for tatami surfing!
The next day it was out to Soya Misaki (Cape Soya), the northernmost point of Hokkaido. We had incredibly clear weather, and we could even see Russia! It was pretty cool. The weather isn't usually clear enough to be able to see it.
With our goals accomplished (see Russia), we started making our way back. But not before stopping at the Northernmost Post office in Japan to send postcards.
That night I took my Muroran friends out to experience some Ramen town action. We hit up my favorite ramen shop, and of course my favorite bar. A nice way to end a trip up north, but I have to say I'm a little disappointed I didn't get to eat any of the seafood, particularly uni/sea urchin that the area is famous for.
Well, you never know. I may be back up in the way up north. There's still a couple of islands up there that are supposed to be amazing, and I'd really like to check them out.
Until then, from Wakkanai with love.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
The band has turned out to be just me and my friend "Boss", who plays a kick-ass guitar. We do covers, because I am not a real singer, and I'm really just in the band for my excellent English pronounciation. And the children -- won't someone please think of the children? My lounge singer act is going to kick ass when I get back.
Lots of Beatles, some Cream and even Queen. Hey -- I make a better Freddie Mercury than
Paul Rogers. Full disclosure; I haven't actually heard him fronting for Queen, but come on! There is no replacement for Freddie Mercury! Unless it's me.
And I was able to get out of singing any Carpenters. Please -- there's no way I'm singing "Top of the World" unless my life depends on it.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I've got a brand new manuscript and another one on the way. Actually, if I play my cards right (or something) I could have a third new manuscript ready to go by April. Oh wait, I mean a fourth -- I forgot I had a previous manuscript produced during my unholy reign of bookbinding. Or bibliopegy (which sounds a lot cooler than plain old book binding).
From A Word A Day,
bibliopegy (bib-lee-OP-uh-jee) noun
The art and craft of binding books.
[From Greek biblio- (book) + pegnynai (to fasten).]
-Anu Garg (garg wordsmith.org)
A unexpectedly appropriate word that appeared in my inbox recenty. I'm a subscriber to the daily word from this site. Not only is it entertaining and educational, it's also free! Yay fun!
Monday, October 23, 2006
It was a good weekend.
Friday night I sampled the specialty of Obihiro -- butadon. It's basically a bowl of rice topped with pork, but damn, was there some good butadon to be had. I ended up at a hole in the wall place that is apparently famous, and supposed to have a constant line-up. Well, there was no line-up, but I can see why their butadon is famous. Oishikatta!
The rest of the evening was actually spent collating. It seems I can't escape it, even when I go away for the weekend. I got the very special task of putting together the HAJET Directory.
After that, I hit the theater and saw Black Dahlia. It wasn't as good as L.A. Confidential, but I enjoyed it. Then again, the last movie I saw in theatres was Superman. Which I also thought was entertaining. And before that was MI:3, which sucked, but was in English and they blew stuff up. I think. It was a few months ago. The longer I spend in Japan, the less snobby I am about movies. I'd love to hear what other people thought of the Black Dahlia. Hint: That means you should be posting comments or sending me an email. Subtle, ne?
The remainder of the evening was at a host bar called Harry's Rod. A really nice, upscale kind of joint with lots of cute waiters. Because is was a host bar. Where the waiters are supposed to come and flirt with the female clientele. And it was all girls in the place except for our group. We played cribbage and pick the cutest waiter late into the night, until it was decided that we should head back so we would be functional for the PC Board meeting in the morning.
Meetings were held, things were discussed, and stuff was voted on. Wheee!
In the afternoon I hopped a bus down to the bowling alley where I wowed everyone with my complete lack of bowling skills. I won a very special prize: not only the prize of shame for being beaten by a four-year-old, but also for having the lowest score out of everyone there. I choose to believe it is due to my much greater skills at 5 pin bowling, the great Canadian sport, which nobody else has ever heard of. Yes, I was playing with a bunch of Americans. You know how it is. A lot of ins, a lot of outs, and dude -- the kid and his lane-mates had the bumpers on! I should have been playing with them! Maybe a White Russian would have helped...
Ah well, it was fun anyways.
The evening was the great Halloween costume enkai. I recycled my birthday party costume, because how often will I get to dress up as a pink power ranger with extra penis powers? Well I guess I could dress like that every day, but it would cause me to seriously question my sanity. Even more than usual. I got a few votes, but I didn't win. Maybe people were afraid of the penis? Or they just thought I was a standard issue power ranger...
Best Overall Costume: Luke as a full on geisha. Looked good because you couldn't see his legs ;)
Most Original Costume: Jaime as Strawberry Shortcake. Is this an original costume? Discuss.
Most Half-Assed: Shane as a Black Eyed Pea. I liked Chuck Norris better. Mostly because he was a blond dude who was dressed vaguely Chuck Norris (a la Walker: Texas Ranger). How much more half assed can you get?
I guess I should have voted...
Sunday morning, after the party (always the best time for a singing try-out) auditions for the musical were held. Next, next weekend is the first rehersal. All the way in Toya-ko. Like Muroran, somewhere I thought I wouldn't be going again this year... Yay! Musical!
After some omiyage buying, it was back home through the mountains. Where there was the unexpected bonus of snow. Good thing I've already (or still) got my winter tires on as there was enough that it was actually staying on the road. Gross. Within a week or two it will have made it's way down the mountains to where I'll be huddled next to my kerosene heater.
Only 8 months of winter to go!
Monday, October 16, 2006
- stayed late at work to bind books (one hundred more copies to go on this title! Only three more titles of 200-250 copies each to go!)
- made lovely dinner: rice, spinach with garlic and lemon and onions, and grilled hoke -- some kind of fish that is best served cut in half and grilled.
- found a lovely new blog site here, because I really don't want to touch the pile of dishes making dinner has created.
- thought about taking some self portraits after finding a super-cool group on
- fielded phone calls from fellow HAJET editors (and soon to be musical directors -- musical auditions are this weekend! Yay!)
- written this post.
And since I'm not finished procrastinating yet, and maybe neither are you -- here's some other links to keep you busy...
I'm trying to figure out the fastest route to the HAJET Fall Meeting this weekend, and so far my usually favorite Hokkaido Road Navigation Website is letting me down. Just because I don't live on a completed expressway (or because my town has less than 5000 people), doesn't mean I don't deserve love too! Lots of fun stuff, including live webcams to Hokkaido roads, and a map of accident-prone locations in Sapporo!
Also good for travelling here in Hokkaido, the amazingly thorough Yahoo Japan Weather Forecast (yes, this site is in Japanese). And you know what? It's usually unbelievably accurate. My theory as to the excessiveness of Japanese weather forecasts? In a society where asking questions about one's personal life are usually considered rude, talking about the weather is often one of the few safe topics.
And something just for fun (okay, maybe just fun for me), this page: the guy that brought us dancing lessons now has a video blog! Right. I like it, and you are bound to be able to find something fun to occupy your time here.
Okay. I have procrastinated for long enough. For now...
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Ah, the smell of kerosene.
I hate the smell of kerosene.
Oh summer, how you will be missed.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Not that I don't have plenty I could be doing -- studying for the JLPT 3 (won't someone please tell me why I signed up for that?), finishing up the new HAJET Elementary Teaching Guide so I can start printing it, improving my teaching methods, yadda, yadda, yadda... But it's cold, I've been doing very little aside from drinking coffee since I got to school this morning, and I haven't updated the old blog-ness in almost two weeks! What's up with that?
I'm sure it's all part and parcel with acclimatization to living in middle-of-nowhere Japan, and the imminent onset of the snowy season. I've been here over a year, so every day no longer brings interesting surprises. It's all settled into routine -- even more exciting things like fighting with my post office about being able to send packages via COD is not such a big deal. It's still a challenge making myself understood, and frustrating being misunderstood. Or not understanding the way things work in the system.
Okay, okay, you caught me. A day in the staff room with nothing to do but shiver and drink more coffee has brought out the "grr, this job sucks" side of things in me. I'm sure when I go home I'll lament the loss of hours on end of free time, a job where I can do whatever I want at my desk including posting to my blog, heavily subsidised rent, the opportunity to get paid for doing next to nothing and the experience of living in another culture where I get to try things I wouldn't get a chance to try otherwise. Not to mention 20 paid days of holiday time every year. Speaking of which, plans for my trip home this Christmas are almost finalized. I arrive in Edmonton December 23rd, assuming I can get a flight from inaka to Tokyo to catch my international flight -- domestic flights in Japan don't open until two months ahead of the departure date. Why? I don't know. That's just the way things work in Japan. It's best not to ask too many questions. Your head could explode (and it would probably be a very rude thing to do).
This weekend, plans include studying for the above mentioned JLPT -- Japanese Language Proficiency Test, finishing editing that never-ending book, and treating myself to a weekend at home. Read: indulging in sleeping in and spending the day in my pajamas. Hooray for self-indulgence!
Sunday, October 01, 2006
That was Saturday night. The concert was fun, or as much fun as a Japanese audience made up of retirees and preschoolers can be. Lots of sitting still. Not so much my style. Ah well. The singing was good, the playing was excellent, and I knew most of the people on stage. 楽しかった、ね！
From there it was dinner at the conbini -- Seicomarto for those of you who are keeping score at home, and then a right bender at the local bar. I didn't stumble home until sometime in the vicinity of 4am... I had a ridiculous amount of fun -- especially singing requests for Mama-san, Ai-chan and Yoko at the end of the night.
This morning I was up early (because who needs more than four hours of sleep?) with plenty of time to continue the great weekend telephone challenge:
Call everyone you know and catch up within the limited amount of time presented in one weekend when timezones come into alignment. It was great to talk to everyone I got ahold of, and for anyone I missed, I'm sorry.
This afternoon I went out again with the Romance crew for more eating and drinking. Hey -- after a 10 hour drinking break, it's time to start again, right?
We headed for the hills to the local cattle farm for an all you can eat/all you can drink two hour set. Less than nutritious, but delicious nonetheless. Gorgeous weather, gorgeous setting, fabulous peoples.
I thought that was all, but then I remembered I was in Japan, and a ni-jikai was in effect. So we trundled off to town fireman's housing to continue the afternoon at my friend Keiji's house. Japanese single men seem to be much tidier than single guys back home, although there was still the moment of "wait a minute while I make sure the toilet is clean...". It's pretty rare to be invited into a Japanese person's home it seems (I can count on one hand the number of non-gaijin homes I've entered), but this is a super chill group. And they are doing their best to convince me to stay in Japan another year.
Towards the end of the evening, someone pulled out a foot pressure point board which told everyone that there were problem with their reproductive organs and their livers.
My liver was not surprised and continued to threaten abdicating. I told it to shut up, seeing as I've been on a break this month, and besides, enkai season doesn't start until nearer the end of the year. Right?
Friday, September 29, 2006
I still haven't had a class today. Soon... soon.
Instead, this morning was a special koto concert. I mentioned that yesterday I watched some of the rehearsal. Well, today was the real thing. It was a nice mid-morning break for myself, along with the local high school, junior high school, and the grade 6 students who will enter junior high next April. And of course, any townsfolk that could attend were also there.
It was an entertaining concert -- five ladies on five koto's. Two standard size, a soprano, an electric bass, and a double length 17 string bass. Yes, I was paying attention.
Good thing too -- I just got asked to put my impressions of the concert in the san-nen sei's weekly newsletter.
Next week it seems will be less busy. I teach Tuesdays and Fridays here at the Junior High, but next Tuesday there are apparently no classes, and next Friday is testing day. Good thing I'll be off to Muroran to help out with an English day at one of the high school's there. More fun than sitting at my desk here. And now I don't feel bad about taking another day off of school -- if the students are writing tests, there's no classes for me to go to ...
Thursday, September 28, 2006
So watch out for a couple of Japanese high school girls and their chaperone coming to a Canadian town near you! They're covering most of the coutry -- Vancouver, Banff, Calgary, Toronto and Niagara Falls and a three day homestay in out sister town. All that in only 10 days. Makes me think of my upcoming Christmas trip home...
Monday we had our last class together, and at the end of it they suprised me with thank you gifts. It was so sweet! The week before that they invited me to the cooking club with them for a sample of okonomiyaki -- a Japanese specialty. According to the Junior High textbook we use, it looks like a pizza but tastes different. Really, it's not like a pizza at all aside from the fact that there is flour and toppings involved. But it is tasty.
My day started out as less than good -- I was up late (as seems to be my hobby, no doubt because of my other hobby of not going to bed until late) and then was late for work. It was just an office day, but still. There was some teaching at the kindergarten -- pretty good. However, that does mean I miss morning coffee. Yes, morning coffee is an important part of my office day.
I was supposed to accomplish all sorts of things in the afternoon, but between being sleepy and cold and generally unmotivated, not a lot happened. And sometimes that's just the way it is... It did turn out to be a fun afternoon though. The kyouikuchou (superintendent) was apparently cold too, and treated everyone to pizza during afternoon coffee break. Sweet! Pizza *and* coffee. And a pizza delivery joint in my little town! There's a new coffee shop/cafe that I've been meaning to try -- when I have the time. Time: something I always need more of. Turns out they do pizza and deliver. Double sweet!
There is also some kind of cultural event going on at the Board of Education building tomorrow, so there was a rehearsal that I went and watched going on in the auditorium. There were about five koto players, including one woman on a bass koto. It was another nice say to break up an otherwise long day at the office. Or to avoid doing actual work. Same difference. Lovely instrument, and may explain the reason for nice Japanese hotels and restaurants playing music box-style music. It sounds a little like that, especially when you play something originally from a Disney movie.
Cue plinky-plinky style "When you wish upon a star"...
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
So break out the parrots, the peg-legs and the eye-patches.
Tis time fer drinkin yer best grog and talkin yer best pirate lingo. Yar.
If only every day were talk like a pirate day... yar....
So I took full advantage. I slept in everyday, I made breakfast, I watched movies, and generally did very little. I did make one excursion to a local-ish onsen in the mountains. It's still a bit early for the colours to have changed, but it was breath-taking nonetheless. I drove into the mountains before I got to my turnoff: a single lane dirt road. Yay! I only had to drive backwards at one point, when I met the shuttle-bus coming down the mountain.
I didn't leave myself a whole lot of time for hiking -- I was really just there for a good boil in the onsen. But I did have enough time to go look at the trailhead and kick myself for not having enough time to hike anywhere. Ah well.
I headed back down to the onsen for some soaking. It was a small place -- it really reminded me of the little ryokan/onsen in Aomori that I stayed at with Francis over Golden Week. It was busy for a place with only a small inside bath and three shower stations: lots of hikers coming down off the mountian and people coming up for the long weekend. I'm sure it will be busier in the coming weeks as the colours change. There were so many people using the showers that the flow of water to the bath inside (coming out of a wooden bear's head no less) was cut off.
Not outside though. The water was incredibly hot, and the view was pretty good. I think the other side had an even better view though. Maybe if the road is still open when I head down for the Fall Meeting I'll see it they've switched sides...
So that was pretty much all I did all weekend. It was extremely relaxing. I highly recommend a weekend off for everyone.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Well, today at least, that was a fair assessment. I had a massive coughing/sneezing fit while he was explaining today's recitation exam to the students. Part of me almost thinks that it was an allergic reaction to the recitation exam itself. My JTE believes that the rhythm and flow of the language is very important. Which it is, but not so much if all you can do is recite passages from the textbook. Which these students are very good at. They might as well be learning things like "This is a pen." though, for all the good it does them.
They were reciting a passage about daily schedules. "I get up at 6:45. On weekends, I get up at about 9:00. I eat breakfast at 7:00. I go to school at 7:30. I get home at 5:20." And so on. I'm sure I could do it too, after listening to the same thing 30 times. I would have liked to hear about what the students themselves do. And I'd like to think that it would be easier to remember if there was more application to their daily lives.
It's proving to be an interesting and trying year at the Junior High School this year. Maybe that's what it tiring me out, though I'm sure all of the other commitments I have taken on this year aren't helping. But really, I don't feel very helpful in classes where students are honing their rote memorization skills. That's up to the students. In classes like that, a tape recorder is a much more useful tool. And one, I might add, that I am frequently forced to listen to. Ah, the perils of team teaching.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
This week I experienced a joy that is unknown outside of the experiences of gaijin living in rural Japan. I came back from work on Wednesday to find that my garbage had been taken away. For those of you living in North America, you can't understand this joy. For you, garbage day is a run of the mill thing -- a standard chore that is boring and tedious, but at least you don't usually have to worry about the shame of having your garbage rejected.
Here, things are a bit different. And it's not even that difficult in my town. My town separates garbage into three major categories. Burnables (燃やせるゴミ, moyaseru gomi), non-burnables (燃やせないゴミ, moyasenai gomi), and recycling. There's a few other categories, like over-size garbage, dangerous garbage (light bulbs, car batteries and thermometers), and maybe some other random things. Like I said, I'm one of the lucky ones. I know of towns, where garbage must be sorted into 13 or 14 different categories. Hard plastic, aluminum, food garbage, etc. And don't try putting the wrong garbage in the bag -- it will be rejected, with a note detailing the problem and left until you re-sort it. I'm thankful every week that all of my garbage is burnable or non-burnable.
So, this week I put out a whole bag of non-burnables. And one box of broken glass, lovingly wrapped in paper and placed in a cardboard box marked 「刃物」 (hamono, sharps). And it all got taken away... absolute bliss.
Recycling -- now that's another matter. I can drop off glass bottles and containers anytime I want, but for everything else: paper, cardboard, cans, PET bottles (known as plastic bottles to the rest of you); I have to wait until the first Sunday of the month, between the hours of 7:30 and 9am to drop off my recycling.
So here I sit, on my ever growing pile of recycling, waiting for the weekend when I will actually be home to get rid of all of it.
But for the moment, I'd just like to bask in the glory of sucessfully getting rid of one bag of non-burnable garbage. It's a good feeling.
Monday, September 11, 2006
"That's right -- LEAVE. Don't make us come to your house to get you!"
"Wakarimashita! I understand! Don't worry, I won't be late!"
This was the exchange that took place on Friday afternoon, before I left the BoE for the day. As you may have guessed, I've slipped into my more typical habit of not getting to work on time -- a definite no-no in a Japanese office. It doesn't make a huge difference, seeing as I don't really have a defined role at the Board of Ed., but it does make me look like a bit of an ass. Here's hoping it's balanced out by all the days I stay late...
I was early to the bus on Saturday though, despite feeling like a giant snot-monster.
Note to self: don't get a cold for the weekend of your Board of Education trip.
Good thing we spent most of the day on the bus -- I did my share of sleeping while we drove and everybody else drank. No really. I wasn't joking when I said I'd be offered a beer the moment we left.
Our first stop was to pick up some of our co-workers who live in Asahikawa. Then it was on to a roadside toilet. I only mention this stop because I met a guy living in the smallest village in Hokkaido. His English was great (he told me he learned it naturally -- four years living with a Canadian girlfriend). Even more unusual, he approached me to talk, which is such a rarity it threw me for a loop. Unfortunately, most of what he talked about it was the recent arrest of an area ALT for marijuana possesion. Which is looked at in the same light as heroin trafficking. Well, now I know what the talk at Mid-Year Orientation will be about.
Further notes to self: Be aware that talking to strange boys in public will make your BOE assume you are now dating and will shortly be getting married.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, or at least I was able to sleep the rest of the way. For those who know me, you know I generally can't sleep in a moving vehicle. Yes, I was actually that tired.
We eventually made it to Otaru. Just in time for lunch. Not knowing much about Otaru other than they are famous for glass-making, canals and sushi, I was hoping for some good sushi. And I was lucky. One of the older guys in the office claimed to know the best sushi restaurant in Otaru, so we hopped in a cab and left the tourist district for a little hole in the wall sushi place. It was amazing! Expensive by Hokkaido standards -- my 11-piece set was around 3000 yen -- but worth every yenny. I was glad I had popped an illegal Sudafed tablet that morning so I could actually taste it. And then I was surprised to have lunch paid for by the gentleman who had brought us to the restaurant. It was amazing. He was also friends with the owners, so I think he was happy to show off his knowledge (and maybe show off his gaijin handling skills). Afterwards, seeing as it was my first time to Otaru, we walked down to the canals. Pretty, but they have better ones in Europe. I would have liked to stop at the Otaru beer factory, but of course on a bus tour, there was no time for that. Besides, I wasn't drinking becuase I was sick.
Our next stop was Sapporo. We had a few hours before the enkai, which I used for sleeping. The enkai itself was fun. The food was pretty good, and I like hanging out with my BoE people. They may not speak English, but they try. Nomunication is always a good thing.
At some point the superintendent bought a special dish for me in this latest round of "what will the foreigner eat?". I was presented with a live squid -- only it had just been sliced into sashimi! I have to say, it was some of the tastiest squid I have ever tasted -- moving tentacles, firing chromatophores and all. Even the gonads were tasty. Yes, I will admit it was a bit freaky to be eating something that was still moving. But I guess it doesn't get any fresher... I wonder if my BoE is dissappointed that I like Japanese food so much? I think it's funny that they continually forget that I love sashimi. I know part of it is a way to make conversation with limited conversation skills.
The nijikai was at the same place as last year -- some dancing/comedy show. This year, I could even understand some of the jokes, but I don't think it was as good as last year. I wasn't alone in my thinking either.
I headed back to the hotel after the nijikai, where we ate カレーまん (steamed dumplings filled with curry), and pizza. I was so tired afterwards!
The next day, it was back on the bus. We stopped at the omiyage-Emporium so people could buy gifts. I had ice cream -- the best soft cream (soft serve) in all of Hokkaido. Then it was all you can eat and drink at a Ginghis-Khan Restarant. Ginghis-Khan is marinated lamb that you grill on a mongolian-hat-shaped grill. It's another "Hokkaido-specialty". We all ate and drank (or were forced to eat and drink -- some of the guys had to finish all of the food -- it was pretty funny actually. They would get up to go to the bathroom or something and when they came back, someone had added an extra bowlful of rice to their plates) until we were stuffed.
Then it was back on the bus for the drive home. We got back pretty early (thankfully), so I spent the rest of the day doing nothing and concentrating on feeling better.
Today I'm still a snot-monster, but I feel vaguely human. Maybe one more good night of sleep and I'll be all better. One can only hope...
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Maybe a bus tour will make me better?
Have a healthy weekend everyone!
Monday, September 04, 2006
In my ever-enjoyable quest for Hokkaido domination (today Hokkaido, tomorrow the world!) I set out this past weekend for the HAJET sponsored Northern Regional Welcome Party. This year, the party was held in Shosanbetsu, a small village on the coast between Rumoi and Wakkanai.
After watching my town's Junior High schoolers show off their singing, speech-making and general craziness at their school festival, I headed off in my little tractor-mobile for the coast. I even managed to make it sound like I had to leave early for official business. Well, I did manage to sell a few books so I guess it was business. Yeah, that's the ticket!
Me and Dierdre drove north through crow-town and -41.8C town. I love that Hokkaido towns are all famous for something, even if it's for being really cold and having a lot of crows. Shosanbetsu is the town of stars -- they must have an observatory, but I didn't see it. Although it was pretty well in the middle of nowhere, so I'm sure the star-gazing is great.
I didn't get in until after dark and the party was already well under way. I tucked into what was left of the yakiniku and yakisoba and cracked a bottle of wine. It was really good to spend a night next to the ocean and meet up with old friends and meet some of the new people. I've been down in the dumps for a bit here feeling isolated and sorry for myself, but it seems that getting out, seeing people and dipping my toes in the ocean was what I needed.
At some point there was an ocean swim, complete with bioluminecense (yay!) and jellyfish stings (boo!). Aw shucks, it was just like Bamfield. Well, as much as a concrete beach in Japan can be like Bamfield. Which isn't really a lot at all.
The next day we piled our cars with people and garbage and said our goodbyes. I enjoyed being in the sun and burnt the crap out of my back. Yes, I put on the sunblock, just not in the middle of my back where I needed it. I drove back with a couple of girls from my area and showed them the joys of Asahikawa's foreign foods store and our very own American-style shopping mall. Not my favorite place to hang out, but a necessity for things like cheese and pickles.
I eventually made it back home where I watched "Tonari no totoro"/"My neighbor Totoro" and passed out by 9:30. Getting up this morning for high school was a challenge, even with all that sleep.
There are three more welcome parties scheduled, and I will be trying to make it to most of them. This weekend I have a Board of Education trip though, so instead of drinking in the middle of nowhere with JETs, I'll be drinking on a bus with my co-workers. You think I'm joking, but I'm sure the minute we leave town at 9:00 on Saturday, there will be beer and snacks being passed around. And that's why Japanese people like to go on bus tours.
Unfotunately, that means I'll be missing the super fun Eastern party at Lake Kusharo. But there will be fun at Toya-ko the week after and Shikotsu-ko the week after that. One of those is even a long weekend. Much fun will probably be had, and many more kilometers put on my car.
Oh, my poor liver is all I can say...
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Well, everyone likes desserts, so I decided on Nanaimo Bars. Yum! I trekked into the city to find the necessary ingredients -- strange foods like "icing sugar" and "graham crackers". One cup of icing sugar costs 280 yen, for those who are keeping track. Conveniently, some previous resident of my house left behind a load of coconut. I planned a lesson where the students would learn some cooking vocabulary: ingredients, verbiage, utensils and such; and then they would follow the recipe in English and make Nanaimo Bars. Sounds great, right?
Well, you forget my new JTE is quite possibly the laziest man on earth. (Not really, he just suffers by comparison to the JTE he replaced).
This morning I was at school, printing off some things for the lesson. My other JTE approached me. She was worried about the lesson. Apparently, there was no actual structure to this lesson aside from "let's have a fun day of cooking"! Her concern was that the students hadn't prepared anything (other than the food), and that we would run out of time. She asked me to help keep the students on task so we could finish on time. I told her I would do what I could, thinking to myself -- wait, won't there be three teachers?
So we had a cooking class. The students made a lot of different desserts and had a really fun time. What they did not do was learn anything. I was under the impression that the goal was to a) speak some English, b) have some fun and c) maybe internationalize a little (because that's the word around here -- internationalize). I ended up scrapping my lesson and making Nanaimo bars by myself because there was no time for me to do any of that crazy "teaching" stuff.
It was a really frustrating day. Yes, I realize my JTEs are busy, but isn't their job mainly, well, teaching? And isn't an elective class WITH three teachers and nine students an ideal teaching environment? The other JTE was also feeling frustrated, which makes me feel better, but really doesn't do anything for the lesson. What a waste of two classes.
I mentioned my troubles with my JTE to someone at Sapporo Orientation last week, and the advice I got was to present more of my ideas to him -- pre-empt his laziness. I don't know though. It feels to me like it wouldn't do much good. There never seems to be enough time... case in point: I haven't been to an elective class in months (despite the fact that the schedule drawn up at the beginning of the year was basically to accomodate things a native speaker would talk about -- like Canada).
(Incedentally, the Nanaimo Bars were excellent. I had enough to share with the students in the class and all of the teachers as well -- not bad for an 8" x 8" pan.)
It was an exciting journey to the post office today. No, I wasn't shipping boxes of books anywhere -- I was taking care of my own finances. People don't pay for things by credit card or cheque here. It's all about post office banking.
Note to self:
- parking tickets are stupidly expensive in Japan: the one I got a few weeks ago ended up costing 15,000 yen (somewhere in the vicininty of $150 CDN).
- Strange that I had to go back to the issuing office to get my parking ticket, but I could pay it at any post office in Japan.
- that 5500 yen to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) seems like an awful lot of money to put yourself through some pain and anguish. Why are you challenging Level 3 again??? Yay! for self punishment.
Apparently my office never sees me in anything dressy. I was wearing a nice skirt and a relatively nice top and heels today (the shoes are new, I got them in Sapporo a couple of weeks ago. They give me blisters).
One of my office ladies remarked that I looked like a grown-up. Well, I guess when I'm at the office I'm generally headed to an Elementary school or a kindergarten. Or on "school holidays". No wonder they were surprised to see me "dressed-up".
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Yeah, I was in Sapporo since Saturday (well, Saturday I was much closer to Sapporo anyways). Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was orientating/indoctrinating newcomers. Well, mostly I just sat at the back and made snarky comments, which is really what I'm good at.
I sold a lot of books (I gave the treasurer 70.000 yen out of my cashbox -- not all from this week though), had a lot of fun, didn't sleep for five days and managed to pick up a cold. And so now it's time for bed. After I do that "recovery" thing tonight, I'll fill you in on any important details. Please don't hold your breath!
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
After figuring out what to do with the thing, I made my way back to the original office that issued the ticket. The one in Sapporo (Atsubetsu to be precise). Armed with triple gaijin power (aka: three blonde western women, one from Texas) I went in to face Japanese bureacracy, hoping that feigning a complete lack of Japanese would help me out of a hefty fine.
At the reception desk, once it was established who the offender was, I was led to the back office of the station. Funny, it looked just like the inside of every other Japanese office I have ever been to. Only with more people in police uniforms. Nobody in helmets though. I guess the helmets are only for driving in. No, I did not make that last comment up just to be funny.
I was seated at a desk, across from a very cute, young officer and a very nice older officer. They proceeded to examine the ticket, and then explained to me why I had recieved the ticket. They drew a helpful diagram and everything. Just so you know -- don't park on the sidewalk. That is where the people go! Cars should stay on the street. Sidewalk = X, road = O. I wish I could have kept the diagram. It was awesome. If it wasn't a police office I would have laughed out loud.
During this time, more officers gathered around to examine my ticket. And make me nervous.
With the reason for the ticket established, the next step was getting all of my details and explaining the procedure for the ticket.
The first thing they wanted to know was where I got the ticket.
"Well, I was dropping my friends off at their house -- I was only there for thirty minutes."
"Friends? Mr. Benjamin?"
"Ummmm... yeees.... Ben."
"Your friend? Mr. Benjamin?"
The older police officer pulled out a map. He knew my friends too. At first, all I could think was, great. Now they want to drag them into it! In fact, they were trying to see if they knew anybody who spoke English who could explain things to me. Apparently they even went out to the lobby to check the Japanese of my friends (spoken, not so hot; listening? Excellent). Did "Mr. Benjamin" speak Japanese? No, and his wife only speaks a little.
Eventually, the eight police officers surrounding me decided that they should call someone who apparently spoke English. Good thing I'm gaining proficiency in ESL.
I was handed a telephone. One of the eight officers "helping" write up this ticket knew an English teacher who could help.
She explained in choppy English what I had just understood in Japanese -- yes, you are getting a ticket. You have to pay it at a post office within a week. I was also given a postal payment slip with an amount and a big red date on it -- generally good clues that there is money due at some point.
There was further discussion among the officers in Japanese.
I was given a sheet written in legalese (I don't speak that one) about how my ticket would be handled if I failed to pay. And of course, handed the phone to have it "explained" to me in English.
They all seemed terribly sorry to have to issue me a real ticket, and extremely willing to help with everything. I even tried the old "It's my first ticket" thing, but that didn't work. There was paper to be filled out, and this large Sapporo-area police station had nothing better to do than to help the gaijin living in the sticks figure out her parking ticket.
I got a big "ki o tsukette; take care of yourself!" on my way out. They were very nice about the infraction. It would have been nicer if they had ignored the infraction.
It was an interesting and unintentionally comic experience in Japanese law, to say the least.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
It was supposed to get finished up a few weeks ago, but I just haven't had the inclination to do it until now. (Sorry Jess! They'll be in the mail next week!)
And since I have no school this week I figure I'd better get some inventory back up to where it should be. So this evening I have a trip planned to Homac to buy another load of paper so I can print more books. This time I'm planning to get the rest of the PC board to help me do the collating -- I don't like getting my office to do it, and most of us will be in Sapporo this week for orientation.
So that's been my summer vacation. Frantic book making, relaxing, studying, printing, driving. What joy...
Monday, August 14, 2006
Last week while I was in Sapporo I managed to get a parking ticket -- a big, bright yellow, kanji drenched parking ticket. Ugh. And the bastards ticketed me at 3am. Who does that? One of the neighbors must have called.
The only English on the whole thing says:
" Illegal Parking. This vehicle was identified as "hochi-sharyo" (an "abandoned vehicle" or a "vehicle left unattended"). The user of this vehicle may be subjected to the order by the Hokkaido Public Safety Commission to pay "hochi-ihankin" (infraction money). "
Not terribly helpful.
I had one of my kanji reading friends take a look at it, and the Japanese is just as vague.
So I took it over to one of my Japanese friends. Like most of my friends who live out in the inaka, she had never seen one so wasn't sure what to do with it either. So, being the inaka, we took it to the local police box.
You know you live in the inaka when the police officer (who lives behind the station) has never seen a parking ticket. So he called the Sapporo office. After much discussion it was decided that I couldn't pay for the parking ticket there, but will have to return to the office that issued the ticket.
Good thing I'll be back in Sapporo next week for Sapporo Orientation to deal with it.
Bad thing Japanese parking tickets are very expensive (maybe 一万円, or about $100 CDN) and will cost me one demerit on my new license.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
In other news, I bought a T-shirt that says "Give money in exchange for cheese". This and my astroturf iPod case are making me happy at the moment. And my fan.
Things that are making me not happy?
Excessive heat in my house, saying goodbyes, itchy bug bites, missing people, blisters and did I mention it was very hot?
Stay cool people!
Saturday, August 05, 2006
It's been a busy busy few weeks here -- when isn't it?
The last little bit has been mostly taken up by the production of the Annual Newcomers Manual -- a (hopefully) helpful guide to life in Hokkaido that HAJET distributes to all new JETs. As the HAJET Publisher, I got to edit and solicit contributions (and ended up making a few myself) to the guide. Last year they were handed out to new JETs as they arrived. Literally -- off the plane, pick up your stuff, go to meet your new supervisor and get assaulted by HAJET members looking to give you more crap to add to the pile. And hopefully make you feel like joining HAJET... It's very Jehovah's Witness. Last year's manual wasn't very good so I decided to do a real overhaul. I think it turned out pretty well, although a lot of articles could still use an update. I did what I could (and learned that getting other people to help you can be a real pain in the ass).
Sunday I was *supposed* to be finishing the Manual so I could print it on Monday, but my computer was hijacked by Ms. Jeshi and her translator so they could finish writing the new Elementary teaching Manual that HAJET will be publishing. A worthy cause.
Monday night I pulled an all-nighter to finish the Newcomers Manual, put the finishing touches on it Tuesday morning; then printed, collated, folded and stapled 150 copies to hand out to the newcomers on Wednesday. Now my office REALLY thinks I'm nuts.
This week I've only been the the airport twice (the international airport is near Sapporo, roughly a three hour drive by expressway), and next week I will make another two visits. Last week was only one visit (picking up Canadian exchange students -- more on that next post). I think I will be sick of the airport for a while.
It's been both exciting and sad -- saying goodbye to good friends here has been tough, but I think it was harder at the summer meeting. There I said goodbye to a lot of people I will probably loose touch with. Everyone knows it, but nobody admits it. Saying goodbye to my close friends here is sad, but I know I will see them again, maybe just not as regularly as before. But when you consider that most of my non-Japanese friends here I see on maybe a monthly basis, it isn't that bad.
Seeing the newest crop of Hokkaido JETs get picked up by their offices was surprisingly fun -- and not just because I got a day off of "work" at the Board of Education office. Most of them looked like they were feeling a combination of JET overload (they throw a lot of information at you during orientations), jetlag, hangover and terror. But there were some people who were really genki from the get-go. It brought back a lot of memories for me and the other people who were there as HAJET greeters.
A few weeks from now we'll see what the new JETs are really made of. Because I am on the HAJET PC, I have conviced my office (with the help of a fabulous letter from our VP, and the fact that my office knows I do actual work for HAJET) that I need to go to Sapporo to help with Orientation. Yay! Three days in Sapporo!
I'll have another few days in Sapporo this week as well. I'm seeing a friend off on Tuesday, and Wednesday I'll be greeting new JETs, so I decided to take Monday off as well. Yay for summer vacation. and I think my office is under the impression that it is ALL for HAJET business, so I don't have to take real vacation days.
Hopefully I'll be able to catch up on the blog in the next few weeks, as things should be a bit less hectic. No big deadlines looming...
Until then, enjoy the summer weather. I hear it's already autumn in Wakkanai...
Friday, July 21, 2006
So I go and start getting ready for class, and the vice-principal calls me over.
"eto -- Maryna-sensei, can you come here please?"
"Sure thing. What can I do for you?"
"Well, you see, I think there was a mix-up. I know last week we decided to change the day of the class, but then we didn't really change it. So class was yesterday."
"Yes, but you see, yesterday, none of the parents could come."
"So desu ka? Okay... well that's okay. I guess it's better that nobody came when I wasn't there to teach the class anyways... "
"We should have told you this morning, or this afternoon."
"Oh well, zannen. Nothing we can do about it. Don't worry about it."
"Maybe you and Aihara-sensei should go out for ramen?"
"That's okay, I'm sure she's busy too -- I'll just head home."
"Take some coffee!"
"Ummm... okay, I don't really need any. Really, this isn't that big of a deal..."
So, yeah. My class was changed, then unchanged. Conveniently, nobody came though. I don't know if that means people were actually too busy to go (there was a festival the same night -- I couldn't attend), or if they just didn't think the class was worthwhile. I may have made them do too much speaking*.
Ah well. To be honest, I really wasn't too upset. I really didn't want to teach a class this evening -- a terrible thing to admit, but true. So now I can work on HAJET business. Hmmm... not much better.
Tonight and this weekend I have to finish putting together this year's Newcomers Manual, along with a bunch of sales stuff for Tokyo and beyond. We're trying to expand our sales to other prefectures across Japan. I think I'll have to start getting our books printed professionally... if we start doing a lot more sales, whatever poor schlub takes over this job is going to have a HELL of a time!
I think it might be time for a real break though. I just found a typo -- in the Japanese no less! -- on the BACK COVER of the new book. The one I just finished printing and binding and am about to start selling. Sheesh! I proofed that stupid cover so many times!!!
Have a fabulous weekend all -- if you're lucky I'll be phoning you.
*I'm dead serious on that one. It seems English education in Japan a lot of times shouldn't be "too difficult". Like, include speaking. My friend's theory is that English education exists in Japan simply as a decorative component -- basically so people can understand their t-shirts. And some days that might even be true...
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
What does making a book for HAJET take? I'm glad you asked. I was just about to tell you.
Get a manuscript. The book I've been making for the last month or so was a brand new book. It was time to update the old one, somebody came to us with a manuscript, we said great. Next time I'll make sure there's a page limit. The manuscript was 359 pages, plus frontspieces.
Get supplies. I went to a discount store and bought paper for a fraction of what it costs my BOE to buy paper from the town printing office. Which was good, because I bought 75 packages of paper (500 sheets per package).
Photocopy as required. The most recent book I have been making is a new one, so I printed 200 copies of a 359 page book. Other books printed to date have been shorter and only 50 copies at a time.
Yes, I have spent a lot of time with a photocopier.
Collate. Some of the stuff I've copied I had a friend with a collating machine do the job (Miss Jeshie in the next town over - thanks Pippu BOE!). Some of this book was supposed to be collated by another board member, but it didn't happen in time. So for this latest book, I did it all in-house. Me and my wonderful office. I will have to marry all of them, I love them so much. What does that mean exactly? Well, you put all your piles of paper in a line and pick them up one by one to put them in order. This morning we finished the last of it -- 200 copies of 34 pages. That was the easy part of the day. There were 8-10 people helping me.
Sorry, I was busy collating and didn't take a picture of it. But let me tell you, a Japanese collating team in action is a thing of beauty.
See photocoping Step 3.
Bind books. My office has a binding machine so I can do it all in house. This is good, becuase I can get things done faster, but then again, I and my office have to do all of the labour. It does keep costs down though.
Have the ragged edges cut by the town printing office. This will take about a week it seems.
Ship and sell books. Yeah!
Start printing the next set of books. I think it will be a long summer.
As HAJET Publisher, to date I have:
- photocopied over 90 thousand pages
- collated over 45 thousand pieces of paper (okay, I had help for this)
- printed over 300 covers
- bound nearly 300 books
And there's so much more to come...
Monday, July 17, 2006
This weekend was a long one here.
Apparently to celebrate the ocean. I marked the occasion by heading to the coast by way of the Shiretoko peninsula, sometimes called the end of the earth. This area has recently been named a world heritage site, and is a large natural preserve. It was incredibly beautiful, but somewhat disappointing at the same time. Due to it's new status as a UNESCO site, much acess has been restricted within the park. This is great, but as a result one of the things I really wanted to see there -- a series of pools fed by a hot waterfall -- is no longer acessible by car, and I wasn't prepared for a 12km hike. [note: I have since discovered that the road is closed due to construction, presumably to allow for increased car traffic. I felt better when I thought it was closed to protect it from tourists...oh well, maybe I'll have to go to Shiretoko again] Compounded by the fact that there were plenty of other tourists with the same idea for the long weekend, and the presence of bears shutting down another popular hike it was a bit of a let-down.
Don't get me wrong -- it was still incredible.
I stopped at a small (and I mean small!) hot spring on the beach where the water was hot enough to effectively boil in. It was great to sit in a boiling pool of water, loose all the feeling in my limbs and look out at the sky. Unfortunately the big pile of tripods along the shore blocked the view of the ocean.
Today I got to go and poke some sea creatures at the coast near Abashiri -- one of the few places I have seen undisturbed coastline in Japan. I had great fun turning over rocks and looking for critters.
Tomorrow it's back to school. The term is almost over, and not a moment too soon. It's been ridiculously hot in class. Add to this my sleep deprivation of late, and you have me yawning through even my elementary school classes. Well, this weekend I have had a good chance to chill out and relax. And visit the end of the world...
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Well, someday, I promise to catch all three of my loyal followers up on what I've been doing lately. Mostly, I live in a photocopy room with the odd excursion to school.
Okay, not all the time. Sometimes I try to get rid of all the garbage that has taken over my office. Literally. I can only dump my recycling once a month, and I'm never home that weekend. So I have over a year's worth of recycling in my office.
Last weekend was the HAJET summer meeting, so I trekked out to Lake Toya (sorry, you'll have to google it yourself - suffice it to say it's a very beautiful place very far from where I live) to talk about what I've been doing with HAJET pubs, visit active volcanoes, socialize around a campfire and say goodbye to people I won't get a chance to see again. It was a strange weekend, and although I had a fun time, it was coloured by the fact that there are a lot of great people I will probably never see again. And that sucks. On the plus side, I did hear that there will be someone new coming to live near me. I just hope they're cool...
I also made a stop in Noboribetsu (a famous -- at least in Japan -- onsen town, filled with oni = demons! Yes, it was as tacky as it sounds like it could have been), did some onsening, and went to the tackiest place in Hokkaido (maybe, it's a tight race) -- an Edo Period theme park. We missed the ninja show, but got to participate in the Geisha show. Yes, I have a ridiculous number of pictures which I will post as soon as they make it off of my camera.
Tomorrow I have my first "Homestay Eikaiwa (English Conversation) class" for the parents of the kids who are hosting Canadian students this year. There are going to be loads of Junior High School students from Canada descending on my town and I have been roped into helping to herd them. I'd much rather be going to ECC camp (or Fuji Rock, but that's it's own sad sad story). But before they get here, I'll be giving the homestay parents some idea of what to say to these kids. It should be interesting, but I think I'm supposed to be making snacks too...
This weekend -- well, I don't know about this weekend. I want to take some of my friends that are leaving out for dinner, go and enjoy summer in Hokkaido before it's winter again, I have to get my Newcomers Manual finished, print some more books... all I really want to do is sleep.
I was a bad monkey and skipped work yesterday morning. There were no classes at school, the BOE was expecting me to be at the school but the school wasn't. So I pretended that neither of them existed. I felt bad, but my enjoyment of a morning to myself was disproportionately greater than my guilt about skipping work. So that makes it okay.
I have loads of pictures on my camera, so when I get a spare moment (and an available internet connection) I will treat you to a photo essay on what I've been doing outside of the copy room for the last month. Hopefully things will slow down a little in August. But I doubt it.
Until then, I may not be online much. Feel free to call, write, or email.