Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Updated...can you tell the difference?

create your own visited countries map


Since I'll be ringing in the New Year on the slopes this weekend I wanted to take this time to wish everyone a very happy new year.

It's hard to believe that last year at this time I was in Sicily...

Places I've visited in 2005

Italy: Sicily
The U.S. : California,Texas
Canada: B.C., Alberta
Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket
Japan: Aichi prefecture for the Expo

People who have visited:

Mom and Dad

New experiences/challenges in 2005:

Road trip in my Beetle
Expo in Aichi
Charity Show performance
Vancouver VW show
Me and my car in a VW magazine
Driving in Tokyo
Climbing Tsurugi Dake (mountain)
A Japanese Wedding
Running a relay marathon
Swim meet
Staff trip to Tokyo
Eating Natto
Scuba Diving
Christmas in Nyuzen

Other significant events:

Babies: Christine, Laurie, Dacia, Tomoko, Jennifer, Kristen
Weddings: Thip & Lambert, Dacia & Alex, Laurie & Glenn, Ross & Sheri, Dale & Yoko, Aiko and Miyano
My parents 35th wedding anniversary
Meeting Lisa
Grandpa Napier's 80th birthday
John's 30th birthday

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A different...slightly odd...but still very Merry Christmas

The merriment began on Friday when I headed in to the mountains to the town of Tateyama (Ta-tay-yam-ma) for a community childrens' Christmas party. I had been invited by a woman who teaches English out of her home on Sunday mornings. I have helped her teach seasonal lessons like Halloween and Easter this year and she needed help with the 80-100 children attending this Christmas party. We played some games in English and then sang some Christmas carols together. It was short but sweet. Before I left I handed out candy canes I had ordered online (they don't sell them here - hot candy like cinnamon and peppermint aren't very popular...)

Friday evening I had dinner with the 'swim ladies'. This is the group of women who swim for the masters club in Kurobe (coo-roe-bay) -I met them through my Japanese teacher who is part of the team. They have been trying to get me to join the club for 2 years now, but so far it hasn't happened. I think they think I'm going to swim in a swim meet in April with them, as they began to formulate relay teams over dinner...we'll see. There were eight of us and we managed to put away an impressive amount of food and cover a wide range of topics over the course of 5 hours.

10:00 came around and I had to say goodbye because I had yet one more 'engagement' Friday night. Kirsten (my neighbor, and partner in crime) and I met up with some friends at a local -and soon to be regular - hang out in Nyuzen (nyew-zen). What was only going to be a drink or two turned into a late, but very enjoyable night. We finally had to concede that it was time to go home when we realized that morning was going to come way to quickly and both of us had plans to meet our other neighbor, John, at 7:30 for a day of snowboarding.

Sure enough, 7:30 came way too early. I managed to crawl out from under my cozy blankets and into my snowboard gear - my only motivation being I would get to try out my new boots and newly rented snowboard!!

The day on the hill was amazing. Tons of fresh powder to plow through- or get stuck in... I came away a happy girl with only a few bumps and scrapes and a minor, self-inflicted concussion. We called it quits early in the afternoon so Kirsten and I could get back in time to 'get ready' for our next Christmas party...

But before I get into it, a bit of background first....

The Colare (co-lar-ray) people: a group of Japanese in Kurobe who work at Colare, an arts and general use community centre. Each month they organize in international dinner featuring dishes from a local foreigner's (can I say that??) home country. For example, when I volunteered, I cooked Greek food...ok, nevermind. USUALLY the foreigner cooks food from their home country -apple pie from America (even though I think it's actually Canadian...) or Chinese food from the Chinese who live in the area. We've had stew from Britain...ok, you get the picture.

Unazuki (oo-na-zoo-key) Beer Gardens: a mini brewery set up in the foothills between Kurobe and Unazuki town. They serve several of their own ales/lagers/beers as well as serve a 'viking' (all you can eat) lunch consisting of anything from sausage, to sushi, to salad, to soup. This is all done in a big dining hall reminscent of a Bavarian chalet or something.

Being invited to social events because you are a foreigner: way too common- yet I still find myself saying yes 99% of the time. In this instance we were invited by the Colare group who flat out told us that they'd be getting the tickets to this party for free if we (the foreigners) showed up.

Assuming, never having enough information, and never asking the right questions - 99% of the time.

Ok, so Kirsten and I agree to go to this 'party'. What we weren't told, and what we didn't ask was what kind of party this actually was going to be. So, we show up in jeans and sweaters, prepared for a night of beer, food and casual conversation (you know what they say about assuming...)

Why, why, why wouldn't you tell your invitees that the party you are taking them to is FORMAL, and that they will be SPOTLIGHTED because they are FOREIGNERS and that all the head honchos from all the businesses in Kurobe will be there, including the PRESIDENT of YKK?!?!?!?! Why?

And why, why, why didn't I ask???? You would think after 3 and a half years, I would have learned by now.

Needless to say, we had a good time anyway! We ate a lot of food, drank a lot of beer and wine, danced the men twice our age, try to dodge questions about our marital status, sang silent night with neon glow sticks and forgot all about our jeans.

And the night was not over yet...

After a brief stop at our apartments to 'freshen up' after Unazuki and to grab some games and other goodies, we headed back to Koshi, our new favorite place in Nyuzen. We played a rousing game of scrabble while sipping wine and other beverages and as the night progressed more friends, new and old, started to arrive. We even got a visit from Santa!!

Scrabble quickly progressed into dancing on the tables (as it so often does) and before we knew it, it was 4:30. We knew Santa wouldn't come if we weren't tucked into bed before dawn, so we said our goodbyes and made our way home.

This was probably the first Christmas morning that I have EVER slept in....I actually had to make myself get out of bed. The only reason I did get up was that I knew brunch was in sight! John and I trudged through the snow to Kirsten's apartment from our own, whipped up a hearty Christmas morning feast, opened presents and spent time comparing this Christmas to others we've had. It was the most Christmassy I've felt all season.

In the afternoon I went to Toyama city and watched a couple of my students play in their very first rock band. They had invited me a while ago, got me a ticket and even came to greet me when I showed up at the door. I was the only 'adult' there -the rest were high school students coming to watch their friends play (all the bands were kids from high school), but I felt honored that my students thought I was cool enough to attend!

So as you can see, I had a different...slightly odd...but still very merry Christmas!!!

Monday, December 26, 2005

A week in Thailand

It's nice to have friends who travel! Mike was on his way back from a year in Australia and invited me to meet up with him in Thailand for a little fun in the sun before he went back to the deep freeze of Alberta. Well, we had a lot of fun, but the sun eluded us for most of the trip. We spent one day, two nights in Bangkok getting our bearings and choosing our destination for the week. We both started out with high hopes of Vietnam, but realized very quickly that our time was limiting our choices and we decided to choose an island and plant ourselves for the remainder of the week. We chose Phuket, down in the southern part of Thailand -assuming it would be our best bet for sunshine. But it was not to be!!

The info desk at the airport on Phuket Island recommended a brand new hotel (only 20 days old) for about $30 a night. We took him up on it and arrived at The Sugar Palm Resort and Spa -a hotel so new that they were still putting on the finishing touches while we were there. The location was fantastic -100m from the beach and within walking distance of restaurants, shopping and hangout spots.

If I haven't mentioned it yet - we had a lot of rain! It was raining when we got off the plane and it continued to rain for the next 4 days. I don't even think we went down to check out the beach until the second or third day -what was the point!?!

We did find some cool restaurants to sit in and have a beer. Mike chatted up the guys trying to sell him handmade suits and we both made horrible attempts and 'haggling' with the merchants.
We decided half way through the week that I should learn to scuba dive! So I signed up for a couple of days worth of lessons and that was a great way to get my mind off of the weather. I managed to do a couple of beach dives and one boat dive before my time in Phuket was up. Here's a link to the company I went with: Diving Phuket Scuba Club.

Mike and I did a day tour while staying on the island of Phuket in Thailand. We took a boat to the 'James Bond Island' where part of "The Man with a Golden Gun" was filmed.

and we rode some elephants (no, not on the island)

Souvenir stand on James Bond Island

The boat.

The view.

The rock.

The beach on the island.

The Tuk-tuk

The walk up to our hotel.

Our hotel entrance

The restaurant near our hotel.

The beach, 100m from our hotel.

Mike on the beach (note the overcast sky and lack of PEOPLE!!!)

In our hotel room -comfy!!!

Contemplating the shrimp cocktail.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ame Onna

Well, after a week of wind and rain in the south of Thailand, I'm back the wind and SNOW.

Yes folks, it's blizzarding here. This is not too unusual for Toyama, but it is unusual for this time of year. The snow generally doesn't fall and stick until January. One of the first things my JTE (Japanese English Teacher) said to me when I walked into the staffroom was, "Toyama hasn't had weather like this in 28 years." Fun.

In Thailand it rained every day except the last two of what was supposed to be a ' fun in the sun' holiday.

Well, here's the deal....I'm what they call here an AME ONNA or in my case I could also take the title of YUKI ONNA. ONNA means 'woman' and AME=rain, YUKI=snow. Are you pickin' up what I'm puttin' down?

Let's consider some of the somewhat recent evidence shall we:

Mount Fuji - good grief, I conjured up a typhoon!
John and Wendi's wedding - a perfectly good summer weekend...until I showed up!
New Year's in Sicily - are there any photos of sunshine from that trip??
Texas in the spring- ok, no rain (it IS Texas afterall) but the temperatures were definitely below normal - and windy!! It did, however, rain in San Diego on that same trip.
Summer in Alberta 2005 - I must have been in the company of a few sunshine people during the first part of my trip - but by the time I hit the road on my own it rained from the south to the north of that blasted province.
Thailand - 7 day vacation, 5 days of rain. It's Thailand for pete's sake!

I try to keep this 'character flaw' under wraps as much as possible (it could deter people from travelling with me) but it's an undeniable (and undesirable) part of me that I'm learning to deal with (that is, learning to deal with the disapointment that goes along with it). It's especially fun when I get together with my friend Shigako - she is also an ame onna and although it only takes one, you should see what happens when we're together! Fortunately we have friends that try their best to counter balance our ability to bring rain to every occasion -their odds are definitely better in numbers.

So, where to next? And who's comin' with me???

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nyuzen City Hall Year End Craziness

Kirsten and John invited me to the Nyuzen City Hall Year End party this year. They are elementary and jr. high teachers and therefore work for the municipal gov't, not the prefectural board of Ed., like me. Kirsten had told me last years party was crazy, so I couldn't pass up the chance to join in the fun this year. The food and drink were the usual fair. Bento sushi, sashimi, yakisoba, cold pizza, mystery fish products and of course, beer and sake. Even though the food is never stellar at these events I still manage to stuff myself every time.

ANYWAY, on to the highlights...

Tradition, so I've been told, is that the new employees (young'ns) have to provide the entertainment for the night. They are to come up with something totally outrageous for the crowd of about 200- the more humiliating, the better. I'll leave it to the photos to tell the stories.

The big suprise of the night came when Kirsten won the top door prize!! A night for 2 at a fancy schmancy onsen resort hotel in the mountains. Looks like I've got some sucking up to do!!

It was a good idea at the time.....

High school, college, university, and now work -even in Japan, early December stress exists. This is the time of year when everything seems to come to a head for me. It used to be the stress of writing final papers and exams, now it's the stress of preparing and marking them. It's the end of the third semester in the Japanese school system. Final exams started last week and wrapped up yesterday. I teach 400 students every week, which means I have 400 students to test and grade. I spent yesterday marking the first year (grade 10) exams - 200 down, 200 to go.

I wish it was that simple...

You see, my JTE (Japanese teacher of English) and I came up with a brilliant plan for our second year (grade 11) students. Instead of a written exam we decided the students should do an oral exam - it's an OC (oral communication) class, so this made much more sense to us. It was nice to have a JTE share my belief (and training) that a test should be valid (test what one has learned). So we devised a job interview lesson. The students spent 3 classes preparing a resume - they could choose any job they wanted, they could choose their education, work experience, hobbies, awards, skills, etc. They also had to prepare a statement about why they wanted the job and provide to references from others in the class.

Now, once the students have their resume prepared they are to come to me for the job interview. I am the 'boss' of whatever job or company they are applying to. I ask questions based on their resume to test their comprehension of not only the questions, but what they have written. The one on one interaction/speaking with my students seems to be much more productive since most students are not comfortable speaking English in front of their peers


Like every other student who has gone before them (save for 2 or 3 exceptionally bright and motivated stars) my genki (energetic) 16 and 17 year old have ALL left their interviews until the LAST MINUTE -surprise surprise. Which means that today and tomorrow I'm going to have 197 students (because my 3 stars have already finished) coming to my desk to do their interview with me!!!

Let's make a quick calculation -and then you can all laugh at me.

197 students x 5 minutes/interview = 985 minutes <16.41>

Add 2 more minutes to each interview for evaluation purposes and you've got a total of 22.96 hours.

In a nutshell - I'm in trouble.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

International Thanksgiving at Tanayama Land-o

How'sTHIS for turkey!?!?

Come and get it!!!

Ohhhh, the pain

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Speaking of Lists....

It's been on my mind. What to do for my next tattoo?
A few questions that must be answered are:

WHY - Why do I want another one?
what - What do I want?
who - Who will design it, who will tattoo me?
when - While in Japan, when I'm home next?
where - twofold -where on my body and where to find a good tattoo artist?

Mara's tattoo - she got this after our road trip to Vancouver this summer...

Brad's tattoos - very cool.

Johnny's tattoo

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


That's probably what you're doing if you're reading this blog.

I just spent a good 30 minutes studying...that's about all I can muster in terms of an attention span these days.

Now I'm back at my computer -zipping through forums and checking my e-mail -the next 30 minutes will go by much faster than the last.

I'll finish off this litte bout of procrastination by posting some pics from the last week.
Kirsten -post swim meet smile!
Here's Kirsten and Amy enjoying the fall colors in Unazuki.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cool things that happen on the way to the gym.

I took this photo of the moon last night on the way to the gym (yes, it's that dark at 6:00 p.m. here!).


I think I get list making from my father...I'm not sure if he'd admit to it, but we always had lists in our house (disguised as charts for many years -with shiny stars to lick and stick beside our names when we finished washing the dishes or raking the yard -I can still taste the paste...)

Currently I have a fancy electronic hand-held device to input and categorize data for me. It can prioritize my to do lists, and even beep when something is due but y'know what? I never use it. I always fall back to pen and paper, there's something about physically striking a line through an objective that makes it feel completed.

I think lists keep me sane - I only say that because recently I've been feeling like I'm going a bit crazy, and I've also stopped making lists...Coincidence? I think not.

Here's a list of essential lists for me:

to do lists - for school, for my car, for cleaning, for family (b-days, e-mails, blogging etc) -OK, so now I have a list of 'to do' lists....

shopping lists - this one is usually made as I'm walking down the aisles as one item will indubitably remind me of something else I need to buy

packing lists - be it camping, a weekend trip to Tokyo or a month in Thailand (I wish). I should have a template for this one...I always forget the same things (tweezers come to mind - everyone needs tweezers)

Christmas card lists - arranged first by association: family, friends, co-workers etc., then by likelihood of it being delivered/mailed (i.e. if I have the correct address), and then by actual Christmas card: fancy and glittery for Mother and Godmother, witty and bizarre for the brothers....

mailing lists - e-mail and snail mail - if people would just stay in one spot, this one would be easy to manage!!

and last but not least:

THE list - you know what I mean, we all have one: Drive an F1 car, spend a year backpacking around the globe, sky dive in the Grand Canyon, get a Masters degree, marry a sugar daddy....this is the ultimate list that gets shorter or longer depending on my current state of mind, it changes, sometimes year to year, sometimes day to day. It's an unwritten list for me, but it exists nonetheless, and of course, it's my favorite list -especially when I get to cross something off of it!

What have you crossed off YOUR list lately?

Monday, November 14, 2005

More Congratulations

One of my dearest friends got married last month and this weekend was her wedding reception in our home town of Grande Prairie. I wish I could have been there to celebrate with her.
Laurie and I have known each other since about 28 years!
We attended the same schools from pre-school to high school and were almost always in the same home room.
We've shared a lot of memories over the years, and it only takes a word or name (i.e. Jeremy Kinsley) to send us reminiscing for hours. She's a wonderful friend, and a beautiful mother to Jocelyn (and hopefully more children in the future -hint hint)

Congratulations Laurie and Glenn!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Rememberance Day

I doesn't really matter where you are, I think it's important to pause and remember.

I dedicate this short blog entry to my Grandfather, and my Great Uncles.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tokyo Motor Show

It was a whirl wind 4 hours - when I could have spent a whole weekend there. Here's what I got, it's not much....

My Thip

Well, after being sworn to secrecy for the last 6 weeks,
I'm finally allowed to let it out....




Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Japan's Addiction

Ok, I can't stand it any longer. It's time to rant about my number one pet peeve, frustration...hazard in this country.


This will be a multi-entry blog topic as there is just too much to put down here.

Let's start with some statistics, shall we...

These were taken from the World Health Organization:

  • About a third of the male adult global population smokes.

  • Smoking related-diseases kill one in 10 adults globally, or cause four million deaths. By 2030, if current trends continue, smoking will kill one in six people.

  • Every eight seconds, someone dies from tobacco use.

  • Smoking is on the rise in the developing world but falling in developed nations. Among Americans, smoking rates shrunk by nearly half in three decades (from the mid-1960s to mid-1990s), falling to 23% of adults by 1997. In the developing world, tobacco consumption is rising by 3.4% per year.

  • About 15 billion cigarettes are sold daily - or 10 million every minute.

  • About 12 times more British people have died from smoking than from World War II.

  • Cigarettes cause more than one in five American deaths.

  • Among WHO Regions, the Western Pacific Region* - which covers East Asia and the Pacific - has the highest smoking rate, with nearly two-thirds of men smoking.

  • About one in three cigarettes are consumed in the Western Pacific Region.

  • The tobacco market is controlled by just a few corporations - namely American, British and Japanese multinational conglomerates.