Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Still not in the groove.

I'm still trying to get used to blogging again. I have found this winter to be particularly long and have spent a majority of it curled up under a blanket watching TV on the internet...or in the bath. It's a sad existence and I am going a bit stir crazy. Yes, I have managed to escape on the weekends for snowboarding, but the weekdays have been very unproductive.

This is the end of the school year for students in Japan. Graduation ceremonies for High School were a couple of weeks ago -and this year was the last year of students that I taught at Nyuzen High School. And even though I didn't teach them for the full 3 years, they were a very unique and memorable group of kids and it was great to see them again.

The junior high school graduation ceremonies are on Monday and the elementary school ceremonies are on Tuesday. Each and every school in the city celebrates on the same day with the same kind of ceremony, the same speeches, the same performances by the students...I try to explain that in Canada these two events (elementary and jr high 'graduation) are not generally held with the same pomp and circumstance as they are here. Here the celebrations start about a month in advance. All the other grades prepare some kind of performance for the graduating class(es). Either a song, a recital, a short play or a dance -or a combination of all 4 in some cases. They make posters and banners and write letters for each of the students who are leaving. They have a big procession and lots and lots of speeches. And this isn't even the graduation ceremony...

However, the graduating class has the most amount of work. Not only do they have to prepare to leave (i.e. write entrance exams), they also have to perform at their own celebration assembly, and prepare a 'thank you tea' for all the teachers and staff (at which they also perform music and poem recitals). And then when the actual graduation day finally comes they are mentally and physically exhausted -yet they have to sit through another agonizingly long ceremony filled with performances and speeches.

Today is entrance examination day for all junior high school students. Students in Japan can apply to whichever high school they choose within their own prefecture. For some students, the high schools in their own area don't focus on the subject and/or sport that they want to pursue, so they look at schools in other cities and if they are successful at gaining a spot, they will commute, sometimes as much as 90minutes one way in order to attend their school of choice. In order to gain a spot in their chosen school, students must pass the entrance examination for that school. Some students write 2 or 3 exams just in case they don't get into their first choice. Besides the academic/athletic stature of the school, I have also heard of students choosing a school based on the style of uniform the school has - which, quite frankly, is probably how I would decide my future.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snowboarding in Akakura

This past weekend I went boarding with two of my good friends, Ai-chan and Kazunori. I have been friends with both of them for almost 6 years now. Kazz was a student of mine at Nova and Ai was a co-worker there (in charge of the Japanese staff). The two of them hooked up a few years ago and got married in Dec. 2006. They love boarding just as much as I do and we always want to go together, but our schedules usually conflict. Last Dec we made a pact, vowing that we would to a weekend trip to the mountains together come what may. Last weekend was THE weekend.

Saturday morning we left for the Akakura ski area in Niigata prefecture, about 150km from Unazuki. The wind was blowing hard, but the sun was shining. However, as we got nearer to the area, the weather changed drastically. Clouds hovered on the top of the mountains and snow started to blow in. We dropped our bags off at the hotel Korakuso, put on our gear and headed for the lifts. The snow was already coming down so hard that we couldn't see the mountain from the gondola entrance. By the time we got to the top it was a complete white out. We tried a few runs and then gave up and went for an early lunch.

By one o'clock the forecast called for 11cm within the hour. We took our time eating and then headed out again. We lasted for two more runs before we had to call it quits agai, our goggles so fogged up, in addition to the white out meant we were boarding blind -and frankly, that's just not fun.

So more cocoa and ice cream in the chalet...finally, around 3:30 we decided to get our butts down the mountain and into the onsen (bath) waiting for us at the hotel. But we had to dig the car out of the parking lot before we could go anywhere. We were exhausted and we had hardly done any boarding!

Dinner was a set meal at the hotel, lots of food, lots of wine. We stuffed ourselves silly and then went straight to bed. I think we were all asleep by ten!

In the morning we took our time getting up. Took our time at the buffet breakfast, took our time getting ready...got to the hill by 10:30, but the conditions were the same, if not worse than Saturday's.

We headed up the lift (not the gondola, because it was closed due to the windy weather) and attempted to board some of the more protected runs. The powder was amazing and it was great to be able to go down the expert slopes and not worry about injuring myself if I wiped out. We got two or three runs in before we couldn't take the cold anymore and sought shelter in a little ramen shop on the hill.

Another long lunch, another forecast check, another day finished. We packed it up by two o'clock and were heading home by three.

Out of the snow and back to Toyama where apparently the wind was so strong they were getting deadly sized waves.

Despite the weather, the weekend was great. It's nice to 'get out' once in a while and I always enjoy spending time with Ai and Kazz. I will miss them when I go home, but it looks like they might be on the same continent as I for the next year or two. Kazz is being transferred to Washington D.C. in October for work. I guess that means I have one more location to add to my list of places I need to visit when I get back to North America!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A crazy week at work.

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind for me.
To start with, my Great Uncle Fred passes away last week. It's at these times that I wish I were closer to family.

On Wednesday I had a important demonstration lesson at one of my elementary schools on Wednesday. People came from as far away as Tokyo to watch me, the Japanese Assistant Teacher and the homeroom teacher teach a 6th grade class. We have been planning the class since October! I am so glad it's over and done with.

On Saturday I hosted a party for some friends who are all celebrating birthdays in February. I can't believe how many February birthdays there are! I know at least six people who were born on the 9th alone!

On Sunday I went snowboarding with friends. The weather was crazy, the clouds rolled in and you could hardly see the lift in front of you. Then they cleared up and it was a brilliant time in the powder, then the clouds rolled back in and it we were once again going down the hills blindly. Thank goodness for all the snow -it didn't hurt at all when we biffed it -but it took ages to dig ourselves out.

The school year is winding down so all the schools are preparing for graduation ceremonies -at all three levels: elementary, jr high and high school. It's hard to believe the first high school students I saw graduate will be 23 this year!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You gotta take the good with the bad.

I pulled a double this weekend on the hills. Sunday I went to Myoko Kogen with 3 friends. We loaded up the car early in the morning and drove 2 hours into the mountains in Niigata, just north-east of here. I hadn't expected to go to a big resort, but I wasn't driving so I couldn't really protest. The reason why I try to avoid big resorts in Japan is ALL THE PEOPLE!! It was a long weekend -and we were in the middle of it -so there were people everywhere. I don't like crowds at the best of times, and being on the side of a mountain trying to weave my way through them is not my idea of a good time. At one point a boarder came out of nowhere and crash-landed right in front of my friend Asako-chan and she went flying over top of him, landing on her head. argh. If that weren't enough, the lines for the lifts were 10 to 15 minutes long. By noon I was already fed up with navigating around people and the the real fun began. A heavy fog rolled in and we couldn't see more than 5 feet in front of us. It was scary, I couldn't tell where I was going and I was getting nauseous because I had no bearings and couldn't tell which direction I was going. Needless to say, I was glad when the whole thing was over.

On Monday I made up for it by going to Seaside, my favorite little hill in the world. I went with Lee, and Chika joined us as well. It was sunshine and lollipops all day! Hardly anyone was on the hill, we never had to wait in line and although there was no fresh powder, I was much happier being there than at some big hill fighting crowds. The sun shone all day and I have the goggle lines to prove it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Resurrection

It's time to finally start blogging again.  
I will start this off with a slightly belated Happy Birthday to both my mother and father, and promise to make an effort to post at least once a week.

Facebook has taken over my life - or at least changed the way I communcate with friends and family -  but I would like to keep this blog and my workout blog going at least until I finish my time here in Japan.

Thanks for your patience.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Finding Zen in Nyuzen

Last Sunday Chikako and I climbed one of the mountains in our back yard.

Chikako is not only my friend but also my tea ceremony sensei. Being oh-so-wise, she packed her portable tea set and we enjoyed a little zen on a beautiful, clear, crisp Autumn day.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Catch up time

The last 3 weeks have flown by. Work has been busy and so has my free time.

Two weeks ago I drove to Saitama prefecture for a VW event. I left on a Saturday afternoon took the local roads (to avoid expressway fees). It was just over 300km to Kawagoe City. It took me 9 hours to get there...

Around 10:00 p.m. I finally hopped on the expressway, a.) because I only knew how to get to the event from the expressway interchange, and b.) because the expressway has excellent rest stops with huge parking lots so I knew I could park for the night, get a hot meal, 24 hour restroom service and an undisturbed sleep. I found a spot as far away as possible from the lights and buildings, covered up my windows, pulled out my sleeping bag and went to sleep. It's been a long time since I've slept in a VW. I must say, the beetle is not as comfortable nor as roomy as the thing. But it is less drafty.

I got up around 8:00 a.m. and headed into the city. I pulled in to the parking lot and there were already quite a few other Dubs rolling in. I spotted my friend's car and parked near him and then headed in to the event -and into the rain. It poured all day!

I had a great time despite the cold wet weather. It was nice to hang out with VW people again!

At 2:30 I said my goodbyes and started out for home. Knowing that I had work the next day, I opted for the expressway and managed to cut the time down to just under 5 hours -stopping twice for cool downs and pee breaks. I think the total cost for the tolls was about $100.