Tuesday, February 27, 2007

complain, complain, complain

Thank god February is just about over. I'm sick of it. It may be the shortest month, but it certainly does take it's time about moving on. Maybe it's just because I've had a crappy month: I was sick, my car died, my shower stopped working, nobody will take over my job as the publisher, my classes keep getting cancelled, and it rained.

I'm thinking about forming a complaints choir in time for the annual HAJET talent show. Hey -- they have them in

Birmingham (the first complaints choir)

Helsinki (far funnier and a bigger choir)

the children of Poikkilaakso Elementary School

and there's even a CBC radio version (hooray CANCON!)

Overpaid, underworked English teachers need a complaints choir too. If you aren't familiar with the concept the complaints choir website explains:

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression "Valituskuoro". It means "Complaints Choir" and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously. Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!"

What a great idea. Now all I need is a choir.

It's not fair!

Monday, February 26, 2007

best. office. day. EVER.

I didn't have classes today. That usually means that I go to the Board of Education office and sit at my desk, trying very hard not to stab my eyes out with a pen.
But not today. Last week I was at the Junior High later than usual, and it came up that the whole school would be going to a local ski hill. On a day when I had no school to go to. So I was invited to tag along with the school for a ski day.
I rode along with my supervisor, Takahata, and another guy who works in the school affairs section, Dojo, in the ski transport truck. We bumped along behind the buses full of students with all of their skis.
Once at the hill we were presented with Ski Instructor badges for the lifts and left to our own devices. We only had about four hours on the hill, but it was good times. And definitely better than sitting on my butt at the office.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

onomatopoeia and me

Teaching at the elementary school today, I was reminded of how onomatopoeia can be applied to everything in Japan.

I had just wrapped up class with the second graders – a rowdy group to be sure. There are a couple of kids in that class who are a little excessively grabby for my liking, but they’re generally harmless. Anyways, after class a few of the girls come up to me to see what else I have in my teaching goodie bag. There are always a few things left over, as I like to try and have extra stuff on hand in case the planned activities run short or don’t work or whatever. Once they were satisfied that all I had was more boring alphabet cards, they turned their attentions to me.

Byong byong!

Just guess what that is the sound for in Japanese…

Wan wan is the sound a dog makes.
Tsuru tsuru is the sound for something slippery.
Giri giri is the sound for cutting it close.
Betsu betsu is the sound for separate.
Bara bara is the sound for scattered.

Apparently byong byong is the sound that happens when second graders feel you up.

It must be the new bras…

Monday, February 19, 2007

RIP Dierdre

Well, I said I was planning on driving my little car into the ground.

Too bad I did it a little ahead of schedule.

This morning on the way to work, my Mitsubishi Minica died on me. As in, made horrible squealing noises and stopped running. I got it to the side of the road, and couldn't get it started again. So I called my supervisor (reason #8032802 why being a town JET rocks: any problems you run into can be handled by your supervisor) who came out with a BoE-mobile to give my car a boost. I was pretty sure the battery was fine. This sounded engine related to me.

After a while (during which time I realized my supervisor isn't so car savvy as I might have hoped) and a number of helpful suggestions from passerby, we called a mechanic. He came and took a look, and decided it must be the timing belt. That sounded expensive, but feasible. I went off to school and was too busy to give it much thought for the rest of the day. Until I finished my classes and remembered I would have to walk back to the office (not such a big trial -- my town is pretty small).

At my office, I found a note from my boss*.

"The engine of your car.
Crank shaft is broiling (sic).
Can't be repaired engine.
Can't be used engine.

1) second hand engine exchange
2) can be looked for a used car.

1), 2) Both a large amount of money.

What do you do?"

First, I muttered a lot of curses under my breath. Nobody in my office speaks English, but everyone knows all the most useful swears. Then I figured out how much longer I will be in Japan, and guesstimated what it would cost to buy a new car. Five months and not cheap.

My current thinking is that I will just suck it up and go without car for the rest of my stay here. I'm guessing I will already have to pay a large sum of money to get rid of the car, and buying a car that I will only use for 5 months just doesn't seem worth it. Especially when I'm not guaranteed to be able to sell it to whoever replaces me. It just doesn't seem worth the expense. However, I also enjoy the freedom that having a car affords me. Without a car, I won't be able to take off for the nearby onsen/ski hill/ foreign food store/ friend's house whenever I want. But people do it. I'm sure I can too. I just won't be very happy about it, that's all.

And it certainly will put a damper on the rest of the ski season.

Mutter, mutter, mutter.

* I get a lot of notes from my supervisor. He doesn't speak a lot of English, and he's embarrased to speak what English he has. So we spend a lot of time writing each other notes. It's been great for my Japanese, not so great for his English. Sorry about that, future successor! That being said, his notes are usually very entertaining. And at least he's writing them without resorting to a computer translation.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Well, here I am at home and in bed, trying my best to get over the disease that I started getting last week. That's right. I've been sick for the better part of the week. I'm sure I didn't help the recovery process by going to Abashiri for the long weekend, but in my defence it was a long weekend. How could I have spent a whole three days in bed when I had an offer to go to Abashiri, see sea ice, ride a boat, go to three different ice-related festivals, stay at an onsen hotel, and go snowshoeing -- and these were just the advertised highlights!

It seems the whole town is sick. I'm convinced I picked this up from my elementary school kids. Highly likely, considering the school has been closed for the last two days because a third of the students are home sick with "i n fu ru e n za". Better known as the flu.

That has made it very easy to take the last day and a half off to sleep and recover. We'll see how I'm feeling tomorrow. I should be going to work, and then driving to Setana (really really really far away) for musical rehearsal. Which I'm sure will be very restful...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Abashiri: Home of Sea Ice

Another long weekend, another excursion.

This weekend, instead of following the crowd out to Sapporo for the annual Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) I joined a smaller group headed up to Abashiri for numerous snow and ice festivals on the sea of Ohotsk.

The goal of the weekend was to see the famous drift ice that is supposed to dominate the coast during the coldest months of the year. This year and last, however, it hasn't been much to see. It's just been too warm for good sea ice conditions. Undaunted by naysayers who were convinced there would be no ice worth viewing, our party of three set out early Saturday morning for the coast. We were lucky with the weather (always a concern) and had gorgeous clear skies to see us over the seihoku pass between my place and Kitami.

I wasn't feeling so well, but it was a long weekend. Staying home is just not an option. Besides -- I wouldn't be driving. We started the weekend at the Abashiri-ko Matsuri. They had all sorts of fun things to do. Ice slides, hot air balloon rides, snowmobiles, rubber rafts attached to the back of snowmobiles, snow and ice sculptures just to name a few. We let loose our inner elementary schoolers and took on the ice slides, freaking out more than a few small children. Then it was time for snowmobiles. We took a ride on a raft being pulled behind a snowmobile, and then decided we needed to drive our own. I discovered I am a complete scaredy-cat when it comes to snowmobiles. I was worried I would flip the thing if I went too fast. In spite of this, it was really a lot of fun. But I won't be buying a snowmobile anytime soon.

We stopped in town for some lunch (well, Jude and John von Muroran had lunch. I drank tea and ignored my chills) before our next stop. We ended up too far down the coast from where we wanted to be, so Jude pulled into a random parking lot to turn around. We pulled in and found a helicopter, ready and waiting to go. So Jude and I ponied up the 4800yen (about 50CDN) required, and took a 4 minute ride over the sea ice. It was seriously cool. If I had enough cash on me, I probably would have taken the 15minute ride option for 20,000 yen (roughly 200CDN) to go see Cape Notoro. It's probably a good thing I didn't have the cash.

We had a dinner reservation at five, so we drove the long way back into town and enjoyed some Abashiri sunset. Dinner was at an onsen hotel with the rest of our group. We were early, so there was time for a quick onsen before dinner. And I was finally able to get warm.

Dinner was amazing, and it was a shame I had no appetite. I did my best, but I just had no urge to eat food. Halfway through dinner, I had such a terrible coughing fit, that I lost my voice. You have no idea how difficult it is for me not to be able to talk. Especially when there were so many interesting people to talk to at dinner! Everyone else seemed to get a kick out of it though -- unsympathetic bastards!

That evening we made our way back to the festival on the shore of Lake Abashiri where we had spent the afternoon. They had some night illumination set up and there were supposed to be fireworks. I was more than ready for bed -- I couldn't talk, I was having fever and chills and ached everywhere. But the house we were staying at and the festival were in opposite directions. I went back to the festival and ganbatted through my sickness to watch the fireworks (which where undrwhelming to say the least) until we got back, whereupon I immediately passed out.

The next morning we were up bright and early to catch a boat to go see the sea ice. Unfortunately it was too warm, and the ice had all moved away from the shore. So we opted not to pay for the boat ride. Jude and I gloated that we had seen the ice the day before, from a helicopter no less.

That afternoon, our amazing host James had a snowshoeing excursion planned for us. I spent the afternoon curled up in front of a fire instead of braving the elements, which was what I needed. We then convoyed out to our hotel, with a stop at the most amazing rotenburo (outdoor bath). It was next to a lake populated with wild swans, so you could look out from the bath and see the swans doing what swans do in the lake. The water was hot, the snow was falling, the swans were swimming and the rotenburo was all ours. It was the best part of the weekend. As the sun was setting we returned to our hotel for more onsen action before dinner. I had more of an appetite that night, which was good because we were eating steak. Tender, juicy steak. Mmmmm.

There was time for one more quick dip in the onsen before it was off to the Diamond Dust party in town. Kawayu town hosts an annual Diamond Dust party. They hoist balloons full of dry ice into the air which turns the water vapour coming off the warm waters of the lake (川湯 or Kawayu means "hot water lake") into ice crystals. It was a little too warm and a little too snowy for the effect to work properly, but it was still beautiful. Or maybe it was more beautiful because my brain was a little cooked by one too many dips in the onsen...

The next morning, after (of course) one last soak in the onsen, it was time to head for home. The weather wasn't nearly as pleasant on the way back, and it snowed for much of the way. But was conveniently clear through the pass. So I was safely delivered to my door after a great weekend. Probably not the best way to spend the weekend if you're sick, but fun nonetheless.

And I even got to see the sea ice!

Friday, February 09, 2007

fifth period sekuhara!

Today I woke up feeling awful. But for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to drag myself to school to attend my one class. Mostly out of solidarity with my JTE, who was left to teach the 9th grade class alone. These kids are great fun, but they can be a bit of a handful. The other JTE that usually teaches half of the class is chaperoning a couple of other students who are in Nagano-ken competing in a national ski jump championship. Which sounds like it would be great – you should have heard the JTE bellyaching about having to go. He whines about how he will have to go to Canada this summer too. Tough life…

Anyways. No classes today until last period of the day. I focused on not passing out, and worked on a translation for the big report on the Canadian exchange program. (I just can’t believe I offered to help.)

Class was fun – we played an easy review game and then the students got worksheets to practice various grammar points. Thankfully it wasn’t too taxing. Thinking up easy English questions damn near killed me. During the worksheet portion of the class, I was wandering around checking answers when a student called me over, telling me she had a present for me.

And what a present…

She gave me a pair of what looked like cufflinks, made of paper and tape.

“These are for you. For nipp…”, she said, gesturing (in)appropriately towards her chest.

" ... "

"You should wear them now!"

" ... "

"Put them here!"

That's right. One of my female, Grade 9 students gave me a set of fake nipples. Made out of paper. I actually thought it was hilarious, but you just can't tell a 15 year old that the fake nipples she's made for you are the funniest thing you've ever seen. All I could think to say was "セクハラ!" "sekuhara!". Which just made it funnier.

Futher reasons Japan is a very different place from home.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I just got my notice from the big bad Japanese exam I wrote last December. Apparently I passed! Wheeee!

I have apparently mastered grammar to a limited level, know around 300 kanji, 1500 words, and have the ability to take part in everyday conversation not to mention reading and writing simple sentences.

Take that, JLPT!

Monday, February 05, 2007

uses for snow: #208

Build a scale replica of a building that has been designated a "national treasure". Preferably have the "army" do the work.

Friday, February 02, 2007

it's the little things

When I left work this evening, not only was there still a hint of sunlight, but I found that someone had taken care of shoveling my driveway. Which was covered in quite a bit of snow.
Tonight I have a chance to take it easy to build up to what looks to be a busy weekend -- cross-country skiing Saturday morning, then to Sapporo in the afternoon for dinner with friends and a peek at the snow festival.

How lovely.

It's official.

Well, the deed has been done.
I have officially handed in my notice that I will NOT be staying here in Hokkaido another year.

It was a really tough decision for me. There has been a lot of pressure for me to stay on another year from many corners -- my kyoto-sensei sent me a new year's card with a hand written note hoping that I would stay another year, my office made it very clear that they really wanted me to stay, my friends in town want me to stay, and even my ALT friends (at least the ones who are staying on another year) keep asking me to stay.

But in the end, the decision is mine to make. And I think that staying on another year isn't going to bring me any new insights to living in Japan or to myself. I've had some incredible times here, and I will miss it terribly. I know I will. But it's time to move on and do something a little more related to the real world. It's time to get out of the bubble.

My contract finishes in six months, and so I'm starting the long goodbye to the life I have known here in Japan. Last chance to see the snow festival in Sapporo (this weekend), last chance to see the sea ice up north (next weekend). Last chance to see... lots of things.

Everything seems more immediate now that I know I'll be leaving. I have thoughts like -- I should be doing something exciting tonight/this weekend because I don't have an infinite number of evenings and weekends left in Japan to use. Which I guess is how one should approach life anyways. None of us has an infinite number of evenings, so we'd better make the most of what we've got.

Reading this over again, it seems a little sad. Well, I'm sad that I'm leaving. I'll admit it. And it's tough, because I'm not really sure what I'll be doing after this. But in the end, I really do think it's time to leave here and end my illustrious career as a human tape recorder. A job I've done okay with, but I need to go back to using my brain before it turns completely to mush.