Saturday, July 15, 2006

look to the right of the page where the links are and you can see 'my workout journal' this is where i've been posting lately since it's more relevant there. i'm doing my first triathlon (sprint distance) this weekend. my bike has decided to fall apart on me....ok, that's a slight exaggeration, but it's giving me trouble for the first time and i feel like freaking out.


have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What I'm missing at home

My Aunt and Uncle have purchased an island on the eastern arm of the Great Slave Lake and invited everyone to come up for a fishing trip. So last weekend my parents and some other family members took a trip up to Northern Canada. Looks like everyone had a great time.

My parents drove up to Fort Resolution and then took a plane to my Uncle Sandy's island. It took two days and two nights to get there.

They spent the next 4 days fishing off the dock and out in boats on the water. Here are some photos from my Uncle Wes. Looks like I missed out on a fabulous trip!

My Dad, Uncle, cousins and Grandpa.

My Uncle, Dad, cousin and Mom

My Grandpa and his big catch!!

Noah and my Mom. It's a family tradition to whittle swords and knives and stuff out of wood when we go on camping trips. It was always the best souvenir we took home. Looks like my Mom is teaching the new generation!

Mom and Noah.

Farewell to the Nyuzen High School Teachers

It's over and done with. The official farewell from the teachers and to the teachers is now but a fond memory. The dinner started at 6:00. The principal got up and made an opening speech in which I was to follow with my own departing words. Thing is, I wasn't drunk yet, and neither were any of my teachers. I just didn't have the courage to get up and stumble through my speech quite yet. So I asked if I could say it later in the evening. Of course they complied with my request and so without further ado, the drinking began! -oh and the eating too....

The custom in Japan is to never pour your own drink and to never let someone else's glass become empty. At these kinds of parties, we sit at low tables (no chairs), and food is served on big plates (help yoursef-style). Sake (Japanese alcohol) and large bottles of beer are placed on the table and quickly emptied -usually people of lower status or rank pour for their sempais (seniors) but of course, guests of honor are always treated by everyone. I didn't move from my spot all night. Teachers were contstantly coming to me, beer in hand, to pour me a drink. Usually you take a drink from your glass first, allow them to fill it, and then take another drink. You have to be careful in this process not to take in too much each time. I've learned to take small sips but you can't fool everyone, and sometimes I'm forced to finish what's in my glass before it's filled again. Needless to say, after a day in the sun, the beer started working it's magic and I was totally ready to say my speech!!

But before I got up to talk I was presented with a thank you gift from my school.

I was handed a money envelope AND a wrapped shikishi (the square cardboard, gold rimmed plaque for messages). I knew right away what it was. I could feel the envy oozing from the other teachers in the room.

Here's the background:

One of the P.E. teachers here, who was at one time a national wrestling champ and the coach of the national team, is also a master calligrapher. He's pretty famous for both disciplines and all the teachers rave about how much his work is worth. They all say they could never afford anything that he has created (usually this calligraphy is done on sheets of paper and then mounted somehow, i.e. on a banner to hang on a wall. He's invited me to a few shodo (calligraphy) sessions in the past but he pretty much gave up on me as soon as he saw me hold the brush with my left hand. BUT, we share the PE teacher bond thing and I've always enjoyed listening to his stories about training camps in the States.

At one of our shodo sessions last year he put his hanko (official stamp that's used instead of a signature) on one of my measly attempts and the other teachers made sure to tell me how valuable that was. But secretly I was hoping that he'd give me something he'd created...

Lucky me!!

I was later told that I am the only ALT at Nyuzen High School that they know of who has recieved something from him.

This teacher had written a message in old kanji -the oldest style, as he explained. I don't have it with me right now and can't remember the exact reading something like 福如雲 and it basically means: Luck is in the clouds, luck comes from the clouds, luck is born in the clouds (these are all interpretations from different teachers). He said that most people can't read the kanji, but the image that it creates in people's minds is what is more important anyway.

Very very cool.

And then it was time for me to make my speech. I got up and apologized for my lack of ability first and then dove right in! I got a great response, I'd say something and get 'oh's and 'ah's, or 'subarashi' (wonderful). Each little reaction from the teachers gave me more confidence. I was thanking all of them for being so supportive, kind and generous to me and they were shouting 'you're welcome' in English! It was great.

I'll have to do this (make a speech) one more time for my students next week. Only I won't have any beer to get me through it!!! I told that to one of my senior teachers and he just laughed and said 'Gambatte' (do your best).

After the first party inevitablly comes the second party. Usually at a small local bar, usually a place with karaoke, and with my teachers, usually a place with hostesses...these are women who come and sit at the table with the men and pour them drinks, get them cigarettes, generally entertain. It's probably not that weird when it's only men... Sometimes I think they forget I'm a girl. Oh well. We had fun anyway. Me and 7 male teachers (the female teachers bailed on me -probably because they knew where we were going) took a big taxi bus to this place and took over the joint. We sang karaoke all night-in English and Japanese -all dedicated to me of course! Haha.

The last train home was at 11:30, so we had to finally pack it in. We stood outside in the rain, bowing to each over and over before I reminded them all that they were going to miss their train. They looked at me, with my bag and a 40 pound bouquet of flowers and panicked about how I was going to get home. I told them my bike was at the school and I was going to ride home. HA, that went over well. I then had to convince them that that was the BEST way. They reluctently let me go and I headed back to the school in the rain, sans umbrella (about a 10 minute walk). I got on my bike, balanced my flowers on the handlbars, and slooooooowly headed for home. My headlight on my bike is useless so I was using the force to guide me down Nyuzen's narrow, unlit roads. I managed to avoid the ditches and arrived safely at my apartment soaked to the bone, but slightly more sober than when I started. Over all it was a great, great evening.

Just think, I'll be doing it all over again in a few weeks at my WELCOME party!!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sports Day

Today was sports day at my school. Not the big one, the little post finals sports day where each class competes against each other in various activities. On today's line up was beach volleyball, volleyball, mini-soccer and soft-ball. It was hot and humid today both inside and out so I chose to be out. I watched softball all day and now I'm sun burned. Fun.

We also had a mini pep rally for the baseball team who will be competing in the prefecutural tounament this weekend. My kids are great, but they definitely lack cohesive school pride. They tried practicing a cheer and I could hardly hear them. I can yell louder than all my students put together!!

The day's almost over and I've got one more thing to do farewell party. It's not really my farewell party...there's always a party after events like sports day, it just falls conveniently within the time that I'm leaving so now it has become my farewell party. Oh well. I would be looking forward to it a lot more except that I have to say a speech - in Japanese. I am still quite ashamed at my inability to pick up this language. I get better and better at understanding it, listening to it but to respond. To actually produce coherent sentences is still beyond my ability. I've written the speech out in English and have asked one of the English teachers to translate it for me. It's now 4:00, the party starts at 5:30. I don' t have the speach back yet...sigh. I'm going to have to drink a lot of beer tonight to get through this.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Busy Busy July

Thursday afternoon I had to attend a farewell party in Toyama city for all leaving JETs. You may think that's strange, but it's because I'm leaving the prefectural board of education as a High School ALT and switching to a new employer -the Kurobe Board of Education. So offically I am leaving my post. It was short and sweet, but still an afternoon's travel to Toyama. I tried to make the most of it by meeting up for lunch with some of the actual leavers -thanks Jake, Andy and Brian for joining me! After the meeting some of us went for a quick bite/drink -OK, I only stayed for a quick drink. There were other's with grander ideas...
The three in the first photo finished the bottle that I'm holding in the second photo - ANIMALS!!

On Friday I went all the way to Fushiki (it's on the other side of the prefecture -takes about 2 hours for me to get there) for an international day at a fellow third year ALT's High School. I just talked about Canada for 50 minutes. I tried using power point (for the first time) and it ended up being just a slide show. BORING. Oh well, I love talking about West Edmonton Mall. Although, it really is one of those places you have to see for yourself.

Like I posted in my workout journal, I signed up for a triathlon this weekend. The only thing is that I really haven't trained for it and there's so much going on this month -this week in particular- that I'm a bit concerned I'm going to fall apart before I finish. I managed to rush home after the international day and hop in the pool before heading to Colare for the annual farewell dinner for the leaving JETs. REALLY, there are goodbye parties all month, I'm not kidding!! Jenn, Amber, Kate, Amy and Gillian were all there to say their goodbyes. A lot of students came as well as the regular Colare crowd. It's always fun and a little bizarre and I think that's why I keep attending these events. You just never know what kind of conversation you're going to have.

Saturday was the annual JET farewell party, put on by the ALTs in Toyama Prefecture -see I told you -party party party. It's held in a small town called Toga which is tucked way up inside the Japan alps. There's an international campsite where we rent cabins and have a big BBQ. I wasn't going to go this year, it's usually just a big drinking binge, but K and Johnny and I decided we could make a day of it if we left early in the morning and found a mountain to climb before the party. I love my neighbors!!

K and I did a quick internet search before bed on Friday and found a mountain that seemed like it was close enough to where we were going to be. So we packed up the Beetle and were on the expressway at 9:00. We got into Toga Village around 10:30, nice and early, with lots of time to explore. We saw sign for a Meditation Centre -Kirsten had heard about it before and so we decided to check it out. It was the best decision of the day!! It was awesome. We got there just in time to see some Nepalese dancers, we explored the two buildings that housed some Buddhist Mandalas and sculptures, and most excitingly...we had Nepalese food for lunch!! It was great! We were served by the same people who were doing the dancing earlier. One of the men spoke great English and we had a nice conversation. They were visiting for 5 and a half months on a sister city program. This is the tenth time their villages had had this kind of exchange.

After reluctanly leaving the Meditation Centre we drove to the campsite to see if anyone was there and to find out any information on nearby mountains to climb. A finger was waved to a point down the road and off we went. K's instinct told us to follow a gravel road and after one false start wading through a river, we were headed up a mountain trail by 2:00.

2 hours and 5km later we were at the top! The view was pretty much zero as the clouds were low. Supposedly you can see the whole Tateyama mountain range from this peak. We could see the bushes in front of us...

We stopped long enough for a quick snack and then headed back down the mountain...after all, we had a party to attend. The heat and humidity, combined with the mud and muck left us no choice but to visit an onsen before making an appearance at the campsite. We went for a quick bath at a local onsen to get the salt and mud off and then put our squeeky clean bodies back in the car and headed to the campsite.

The drinking had already started and we had had such an amazing day already that the party was kind of anti-climactic. We did enjoy ourselves though -cooked our own dinner of SPICEY Thai noodles and other savoury snacks, stayed for the awards (popularity contest, which, surprise surprise, none of the Nyuzen JETs won...haha, zannen desu yo ne!!!!) and then we packed up the Beetle again, took on an extra passenger and hit the road for home. Stories of hand grenades and handfulls of Poppycock kept me awake for the twisty ride home.

I was asleep before my head hit the pillow and before I knew it it was 6:30 and I was prepping for my SUNDAY adventure into the mountains!!!! VW ROAD TRIP TO TAKAYAMA. I've written enough for today. I'll just leave pics.