Friday, August 11, 2006

Blogger is ruining my thought processes

How do I explain this...

It seems that when something is happening to me and/or I'm trying to figure out a way to deal with a specific moment in time, my thoughts immediately turn to "how would I post this as a blog entry". So instead of actually focussing on what's going on, or even just having an experience, regardless of how minor, I'm formulating a catchy title I'm going to use to post it on my blog.

I need to go back no further than this morning to find multiples examples:

First, cleaning my apartment -I'm in the process of what I hope will be a major overhaul, but in the mean time there's a lot of simple things to be done like VACUUMING (which I loathe). So I pulled out my brand-spanking new vacuum which compared to my old one is like putting a Porsche beside a Lada.

As I turned it on and started sucking up the bunny sized dust bunnies, I was thinking, "wow, this thing really sucks hard" and before I knew it I was thinking how how that would make a good pun on my blog -"my new vacuum really sucks", haha, nudge nudge, wink, wink, get it?? Sigh, yeah.

Finally lunchtime rolled around and started thinking about what I had to eat in my apartment (nothing I was in the mood for), so I decided I should go to the little sushi shop near Nyuzen High School and immediately I began to formulate another blog entry about the couple that run the shop and how friendly they are and how they love chatting me up and giving me freebees all the time. The deserve a blog entry too...

And one of the reasons I chose the sushi shop for lunch is because it's near the post office, and I had parcels to send home. I was 100% unsuccessful there today, I had two boxes, one was recycled from a parcel sent from Canada and one from here with Japanese writing on the side. They refused to take either. Seems that Canada Post is extremely picky about what's on the side of the boxes that enter the country. So I had to be shown what was aceptable and what wasn't, and they gave me new boxes and told me I could transfer everything into these boxes and it would cost this much to send that box if I send it sea mail vs surface mail and blah blah as I stood there, smiling and nodding and understanding about 75% of what they were saying, the other 25% of my thoughts were on to how I would bitch about this on my blog when I got home and how absolutely ridiculous Canada Post has gotten about recieving parcels from overseas. It never used to be this way. I finally gave the post office staff a polite bow and told them I'd come back again later with the proper boxes. Sigh, it took me 3 months to finally transfer the boxes from my apartment to my car, maybe they'll be sent in time for Christmas now...

After hitting that wall, I was in no mood to start up on cleaning again. Besides it's insanely hot here at the moment and I was starting to feel guilty about being inside under the air conditioner all day. So I convinced myself that I should get my swim in early today, but I ws thinking I should also take advantage of the sun while I could, so a quick trip to the beach would be in order first. Bike or drive? Bike or drive? I had enough time to bike, but it was a really quite hot and maybe a little dangerous to be biking in the middle of the afternoon. I decided to risk it and transfered all the necessary gear into a backpack and hopped on my bike.

I got no further than a kilometer down the road when all of a sudden I heard a 'pfssst' and then a clunk clunk clunk. ARGH, my first flat! This in itself was already going on my workout blog before I had even gotten off my bike, but began to deserve real blog status for the sheer comedy factor that I provided for the guys who saw me.

I was cruising down Rt3 when it happened. I could see 2 guys standing on the sidewalk ahead of me and I knew I had to slow down to get by them. It was the EXACT moment that I was riding by them that I heard the aforementioned 'pfssst'. I stopped directly in front of them. Got off my bike, took one look at the tire, took one look at them, said 'punk-u, zannen desu ne' (flat tire, that sucks eh?), picked up my bike and started walking back in the direction I'd come from. They were busting a gut as I walked away. All the while, I'm thinking, great I can post this on my blog too!

I think I need to be unplugged for a while.

Let's enjoying summer fireworks!!!

I went to the Namerikawa Fireworks Festival last Friday, managed to get a few photos.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Summer Reading

For those who know me well, you know that I'm a bit of a book freak. And summer time has always been a particularly prolific reading time for me.

When I was young, the public library used to host reading contests for kids -for you Grande Prairians, that would be where the Toy and Hobby store is on downtown mainstreet (or has it changed again?). I can't remember the full details, but I think you got stamps or stickers for each book you read, and once you read a certain amount you got a prize or something, like 5 was a little prize, then at 10 you got someting bigger...We were pretty regular visitors (thanks Mom) and the kids section, which was in the basement if I remember correctly, was always a great little escape from the summer heat.

Comic books didn't count for these contests, so I tried to limit Tin Tin and Asterix as much as I could, but always ended up taking at least one of each home every time… I went through the typical phases; the Little House on the Prairie series, the Choose your own Adventure series, lots of mystery series...I used to read them every night in bed, sometimes under the covers with a flashlight - not only because I wasn't supposed to be reading so late at night, but also because it was just more fun that way!

Although I don't always have to have my nose in a book, I do like a good afternoon in a bookshop and I rarely come away empty handed. Here in Japan, the 7th floor of Tower Records in Shibuya, Tokyo is my most favorite place in the whole country. I've spent hours and hours and lots and lots of yen there, totally guilt free! When my friend Kathleen (a kindred spirit when it comes to books) came to visit, I knew I'd have no problem convincing her to indulge me in a trip to Tower Records. After about 3 hours we both decided we should actually go out and see some other things that the city has to offer, but I know we still both left reluctanly.

While non-fiction and is usually reserved for the cold, dark winter months, summer for me is spent escaping. I've got one non-fiction book on the go right now, but it's slow going. At the same time, I'm plowing through paper backs and short stories like a fireman’s going to knock on my door at any moment. I still prefer a good historical fiction book to most others, but recently I’ve taken a liking to Roald Dahl and have stumbled upon a trilogy by a Japanese writer (Koji Suzuki) that has me hooked. Extremely well translated, fast paced and just far enough from the edge to make me squirm a little. I like that.

Although hectic in many ways, this summer has given me time to read a somewhat eclectic list of books. From the beginning of last month I’ve read the following:.

Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (non-fiction)
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (fiction, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker)
The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa (fiction, translated by Adrianna Hunter)
Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl (fiction, short stories)
Ring by Koji Suzuki (fiction, as in the movie, translated by Robert B. Rohmer & Glynne Walley )
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant (fiction, based during the Medici era)
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (fiction, I think…)

Currently reading Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (non-fiction) and the sequel to Ring, it’s called Spiral –opened it yesterday and I’m already half way through…hopefully I’ll have my hands on the 3rd in the series by the end of the month.

**If you’d like my opinion about any of the above books, please don’t hesitate to ask, I’m just not in the mood at the moment to formulate concise reviews for this blog post.

I’ve been thinking of writing about this for a while, but it wasn’t until I read Ms. World’s blog that I felt truly inspired. There are lots of beach days ahead, I'm sure my list will grow by the time school starts again. There won't be any stickers for me at the end, but I'll be just as satisfied, nonetheless.

Tatemon Festival

click here to see what i was up to last night

Sista K has written a great discription of the night, feel free to click on her blog and check it out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I have a new job!

I haven't talked too much about the big change, but it's happened. I'm now an elementary school teacher for the city of Kurobe.

Although I'm still an employee of the JET Programme, I have a new Board of Education which is based at the municipal level rather than through the prefecture. The contract is very similar, but of course I will be teaching elementary school children, not teenagers. My workload will more than double this year. Last year I taught 10 classes a week, but this year I'll be teaching 24 -at 3 different schools.

Today I went to eac of my schools for the first time to meet the principals and some of the staff -it's summer break for students so there weren't a lot of teachers around, but at least I got to see where my desk will be at each school and check out the size and layout for each as well.

Here is a preliminary description of each:

Chuo is the biggest elementary school in Kurobe City. It also has the highest level of English according to what I've been told. There are 474 students at this school.

Mikkaichi has 352 students and is brand-spankin' new! A beautiful school with a principal who speaks English! Horray.

Maezawa is one of the smallest schools in Kurobe. Only 98 students. It's so cute!

And the most important thing about all of them is that they EACH HAVE A POOL!!! Outdoor of course, but rest assured I'll be making the most of it!

Hokkaido Day 3 and 4

Despite sitting around the campfire until late on the night we arrived we were out of bed early the next morning for some action on the rivers of Hokkaido. In the morning we put on wetsuits and canyoned in a...well, canyon of course. Basically it's like rafting, but without the raft. The river was pretty narrow and shallow for the most part, but there were some short cliffs to jump from and a few rapids that we were allowed to float through. There were 3 of us and 4 guides -not a bad ratio.

We went back to the hostel for lunch and then in the afternoon we went rafting on the Mukawa. There were two other small groups that day and there were enought guides available that we could each have our own raft. It was a pretty good afternoon, I've done bigger rapids in Jasper, but our guide made sure to make the most of what we had to work with. We definitely got wet! At the end, the guide trusted us enough to go it alone for the last bit as he went up to get the bus. It's a bit different than steering a canoe, but we managed just fine.

Thanks for the pic K!

The only injury sustained that day was Amy's finger when she got it stuck in her helmet...

We were a bit tired after the day and instead of pushing on to the next destination that night like we had planned, we opted to stay one more night at the hostel. We had a great Thai Pad dinner thanks to Kirsten and had an early night. Our goal was to make it all the way to Wakkanai the next day -the northern most city of Japan.

Our room at the hostel.

We packed up the Beetle, said goodbye to HOA (Hokkaido Outdoor Adventures) and were on the road as bright and early as Amy would allow...first stop: Furano and the lavendar fields. We took a gondola to the top of a little hill that overlooked the valley. I'd say the view was pretty good.

Another stop in Biei for some strolling and lunch and we were on the road again. We opted for expressways and bypasses when we could find them so we could at least do 80km/h. Otherwise the speed limit it 50, which makes for slooooow going.

Thanks for the pic K

Much to our surprise, we were in Wakkanai before the sun set! We found the port which we would need for the next day's trip to Rishiri Island. Then we made our way to a campsite on top of a hill which gave us a great view of the sea! We set up camp, hit the onsen and then came back to camp for instant potatoes, red adn green curry and red wine. A pleasantly surprising combination!

Unloading my Baby at the campsite in Wakkanai

The camp site

Then it was off to bed -our first night in the tent.

Here's a few more pics from K.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A little bit of Okinawa right here in Toyama

My friend Shigako plays Shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument. Something like a 3 stringed banjo -lots of twang. Through this hobby of her's she's come to meet lots of interesting people who also play shamisen. Some just for fun, others as a career. Shamisen is used to play music from Okinawa. Okinawan music has a very distinct sound -I love it!

So this weekend Shigako invited me to come to a beach near Toyama City (about an hour away). She said that her friends who play Shamisen (and Okinawan music) would be there and they were having a bit of a get together. Who could say no to that!?

I packed up my car and headed out the door at 8:30 this morning. When I got there, the meat was already on the grill, the beer was flowing and the water was beckoning me.

It didn't take long for the two of us to jump in and cool off. It was sweltering even before noon today. And it took even less time once we were dry for Shigako to pull out her Shamisen and get everyone singing and dancing. Once it started in never stopped.

Shigako Playing Shamisen (click here for video)

Shigako's Shamisen sensei (teacher) was also there today, and he was by far the craziest of the bunch -and by that I also me the friendliest and one of the most sincere people I've met in a while.

There was also a drummer who was more than willing to put on a show for everyone.

Drummer Boy (click for video)

We were waaay at the end of the beach but people kept wandering over to check out the music. One family even brought us a whole bag of freshly caught oysters as a show of appreciation!

I befriended a little girl while swimming - I taught her how to blow bubbles while here grandmother watched and praised us both!! The little girl came over later to our picnic area to inform us that she practices Taiko (Japanese drumming) at her kindergarten and she asked if she could show us what she had learned. Everyone loved her! She was a great entertainer.

Drummer Girl (click for video)

I and others had brought watermelon to the party -can't have a summer bbq without it! A popular summer game is to blindfold people, spin them 'round and then try to get them to find the watermelon then split it open with a stick. I think it took 5 or 6 of us before we had a direct it. It was pretty tastey on a day like today. The guys had tied it to a stick and stuck it in the sea to cool for the day before smashing and eating it. Nice idea!!

As the afternoon turned into evening people started packing up to go. Shigako and I were enjoying the company of those who were left when out of the blue this man came over and invited himself to the party. He didn't speak Japanese but he did speak English, although it wasn't his native tongue for sure. He told everyone he was from Sydney Australia, but he definitely didn't have an Australian accent, more like Pakistani, which is also how he looked. He sat down right in front of me after shaking hands with everyone and before I knew it he had his hand on my knee!! Oh, I forgot to mention that he was old enough to be my father...well his hand was off my knee faster than he had put it there and that, my friends, was the end of my efforts to be polite to this guy. He basically ignored everyone around him, told me I should go for a walk with him -alone. He kept telling my how beautiful I was and that he loved Canadians (I'm sure he couldn't find it on a map...) and he wouldn't leave even when I was telling him TO HIS FACE that he was being rude. He ignored what I was saying and continued to spew random garbage about the business he runs (used cars, surprise, surprise), where he's been, where he lives... then he had the nerve to ask someone to get him a beer...needless to say, he almost ruined the end of a perfect day. I felt bad for everyone else because although they couldn't understand exactly what he was saying, it was pretty obvious that he was being extremely inappropriate (they all saw him put his hand on my knee and they all saw me swiftly take it off) and being Japan, nobody could really say or do anything to make him go away. And even though I was telling him flat out that I wasn't interested in talking to him because he was being so rude, I didn't feel it was my place to tell him to leave our area. He had been welcomed by others (before they know what kind of person he really was), so what was I to do?

This was my first instinct:

Finally I couldn't take it anymore and Shigako suggested we go for a walk, and hopefully he'd leave. But he didn't. So it was time for us to go instead. We packed up our things amid his yells (yes, he was yelling at me) to stay because I should like him and want to be with him, and he came over specifically for me, and blah blah blah, it was awful. We said our goodbyes and thankyous to everyone and unfortunately, the day came to an end.

I've had some great days in Japan, and despite the way it ended, this one ranks right up there. Sitting in the sun all day, listening to music with good people and good food... I could very well have been in Okinawa today!

more shamisen (click for video)