Monday, October 31, 2005

Shikaoi Kindergarten Today

My schedule has been a bit unusual lately. I'm not doing much work at the elementary schools because they are busy getting ready for the fall school cultural festivals. For whatever reason, English class is the first thing to go. Ultimately, I don't mind, because it gives me an opportunity to visit various kindergartens. Today, it was Shikaoi's largest kindergarten with 66 students. It was a lot of fun teaching three, four and five year olds, but now I'm drained. Some people have been liking the images of children and so I offer below some from today. The last two are worth noting. Just before I left we lined up all the kids to say thank-you and good-bye. It was very kind, if a bit noisy. It's a shame that the image can not get across how loud the kids were when the shot was taken. They broke ranks and followed me right out the door. The last image gives a fair impression of how riotous my farewell was. (Indeed, it is indicitive of almost everyone exit I do from a school in Shikaoi.) You can see the kids stretch quite far back into the hall. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Posting during NaNoWriMo

I am unsure exactly how posting will be affected during the next month while I participate in NaNoWriMo 2005. I have spoken about the event below, but you can also click the icon above and be directed to the web page. It technically starts tonight at midnight, but I won't be able to get started until tomorrow evening after I get home from work or tomorrow morning before work if I'm feeling particularly industrious. I doubt posting will be affected since I will continue work as before too. I will periodically be posting excerpts of the novel I think worthy of the light of day on my other blog, Dregs of Society, whose link you can be found to the right. Be warned it's more an exercise in word count than writing The Next Great Canadian Novel and the quality will reflect this (being a rough draft). It's a quite day at the office. The next two weeks are quite slow with no elementary classes, just keeping my usual Junior High School work. I have arranged to visit several kindergarten during this slow period, either because I love what I do or have a death wish. I am excited. Tonight, Kevin and myself are going out for dinner since I don't think I will be going out much during the next month. (Except for a trip to Sapporo again next weekend with the High School principal.)

My Birthday Weekend In Sapporo Post

Directly upon arriving in Sapporo and meeting Mrs. Suginome at the same spot - in front of Mister Doughnut - that we met at six years ago, we were off to great dinner at Mr. Suginome's new Jeingus Kan restaurant in Sasakino for my Birthday. (Jeinguns Kan is a style of cooking developed by Genghis Khan's troops that is famous in Hokkaido.) I had dearly wanted to come to Sapporo and meet our old family friends, the Suginome's, for my birthday. While birthdays in the Birdsell house are not particularly large, they are normally spent with family. My desire to travel to Sapporo was easily planned with typical Japanese efficiency (with thanks to Yuki and Mrs. Suginome).

The image to the left is me standing in front of Mr. Suginome's restaurant. It is in the Susukino district of Sapporo, the night life area, and leads to a funny story that is very insightful of the humble character of the Suginome's. They had both mentioned their desire for me tell my friends about the restaurant because it was very new. However, having now visited the establishment, this statement has me scratching my head. The restaurant is narrow and small; tastefully decorated in old think wood beams that the Japanese are so fond of. The restaurant servers very traditional barbecue. The restaurant was very busy the entire time I was there, signifying its popularity. Furthermore, and the funny thing, people in Shikaoi had already heard of this restaurant because the operator, a very young gentleman, had already appeared on national television in some sort of capacity representation the restaurant (like on Oprah or Letterman or something). It hardly needs any advertising, I can only see myself doing more harm than good. Needless to say, the dinner was excellent, and I have no doubts the restaurant will become a complete success because of its excellent food. Every scrap put before anyone was quickly eaten, leaving no leftovers (representing the quality of cuisine). The location is perfect, in a very high traffic area; though out of the way, in a style that is hard to explain if one has not visited to Japan. We were actually served by the guy that had been on T.V.! He wished me a happy birthday. 11/10. The extra point is awarded because of the excellent atmosphere just off the busy thoroughfare of Sasakino. At home later, after a walk with Mrs. Suginome, the three of us sat around eating birthday cake and while I showed off pictures of my students (a good activity that breaks the language barrier every time). I didn't get to bed until midnight.

I had never heard of the Susukino night district because the last time I had been in Sapporo - six years ago - I had been too young to enjoy the community's more worldly pleasures (of eating, drinking, merrymaking and general chaos). Many people in Shikaoi, prior to my departure, had suggested a trip to Susukino. I had assured them I would probably not be going there; Susukino is hardly a place that the Suginome's would be visiting. I had to eat my words. It was hard for me to avoid Sasakino this trip because three of Mr. Suginome's restaurants are all within 100 meters of each other there.

My first evening putzing around Sapporo was a bit overwhelming. Sapporo station is larger that all of Shikaoi proper (with 100 times the people). I love big cities and feel more comfortable than most in the high-density hustle and bustle of cities, so much so that I really don't count Calgary's downtown as nearly busy enough. But upon arriving that warm Friday evening and seeing the multitudes of people going here and there that could careless about some foreigner... well... it kind of made my heart skip a beat. I won't leave this detail until the end though; I can't wait to go back.

I had meant to do a lot of shopping. However, upon arriving back downtown in the morning I kind of lost my exuberance. There was too much choice. I just kind of thought; "I want it, but I don't need it". I won't detail all the places I went because it would probably bore you. I did go to the large bookstore by Sapporo Station that had an English section as large as some bookstores in Calgary (it had lots of text books for some reason). I picked up some Japanese language study guides. A trip to the ubiquitous gigantic Japanese electronic store was in order as well. Near the station the electronic stores are kind of on steroids and people suspects to migraines, seizures or general lethargy should be well prepared to pick yourselves off the floor. Myself, being a child of the post-modern, hyper-stimulus generation, felt quite at home and I'm sure my brother would too. It is here I picked up an extra Mac Powerbook power supply. It was a fun day; there sure is a lot of things going on in that area on weekends. Sunday is supposedly busier so go on Mondays.

Since this blog has the work 'Architecture' in the title I should probably touch on that subject from time to time; but today, only as a segue into a funny story: I had noticed near the Suginome home in the Fushimi district a beautiful gigantic modern-style home. On Sunday morning Mrs. Suginome, her friend, and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, I brought my camera to snap some pictures like the dutiful tourist. We stopped in front of the house, which, it should be noted, must have an absolutely amazing view of all of downtown Sapporo. As I was taking pictures, I bumped into the owner, a one Mr. Odenara, just going inside from doing something. I said, in Japanese, "I think you have a beautiful house. Thank you." He said thank-you and Mrs. Suginome decided to put in a word about what I was doing. He was looking a bit apprehensive at the whole situation until Mrs. Suginome politely introduced herself as "Suginome desu". It was quickly obvious the Doctor was familiar with the fine establishments known by this name. The light came on. He came down and introduced himself; it turns out that he spent four years in Philadelphia going to medical school, and spoke fluent English (if your going to medical school in America one needs more than conversational English). He was interested that I took architectural history in university and thanked us for saying hi. Mrs. Suginome later thanked me for being so brazen as to say hi because now she had a new neighborhood friend. That's me: making the world smaller!

Such a fun weekend, filled with good food and new friends. However, rain this morning kept a planned trip to a park to see the fall leaves from fruition. Instead, Mr. Suginome and I, went to the old Hokkaido government building (oddly built in 1880 in an American-Neo-Baroque style). Mr. Suginome surprised Mrs. Suginome and I by proudly stating that he had an official Sapporo tour guide's license. Something to fall back on if the whole restaurant thing falls through I'm sure.

I have also include an image (above) taken from Thursday night's birthday activities. On the right side are three English teachers I work with from Shikaoi Elementary school. The rest are Fukiko's (front left) extended family. A shout out to Miki who hopefully will soon be reading this blog from Tokyo!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Good Pizza

If you want good pizza in Japan, or even pizza just brought to you without corn on it, your best bet is to make it yourself from scratch. This is exactly what Kevin, Yuki, Natsue and I did last night. Kevin had the foresight to learn how to make great pizza dough before he left the States. I am much indebted and in awe of his skills. We all choose what toppings we wanted and made various pizzas to share. I think the Ham and Pineapple Pizza turned out the best but all the pizza was eaten, a testimony to how good the pizza was. We reserved the kitchen at the Pure Malt Center for two reasons; it's free and its the only place in Shikaoi with an oven. There is no charge for the use of the facility if you clean up after yourselves and leave it the same way you found it. I very good deal. I think we are going to try to make lasagna next time, but all of us are so busy it may be while before a day can be found that we are all free.

I visited Urimaku kindergarten this morning. I taught my students the alphabet, 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', and 'Ring Around the Roses'. They loved the last game, being more that content to repeat the same four lines again and again and falling down (to great laughter). They are practicing now for a small festival, roughly called a "school cultural festival," but the true Japanese word doesn't translate well and we have no equivalent in Albertan Schools. It's to be held late in November. It may seem a bit early to start practicing for the festival but teaching kindergarteners anything is like trying to bottle lightning (and training it to jump through a hoop), so it's best to start early. It is very nice out today; sunny with a warm breeze. I'm lementing spending the day mostly inside the office, but I am planning a breakout. Send Help!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Second Post of the Day

So I got up very early, before work, to take some pictures of autumn here, believing that morning light is some how better, more real and more alive. The picture above is rather special. It was a very fleeting shot; only there for a minute to be captured on that cloudy morning. At that moment from the spot I took the shot from, it was overcast; but in the distance I could see a patch of sun working its way through the clouds.

The day before I had mentally noted how many leaves had fallen and were now lying on ground, creating a carpet of leaves. It made walking noisily inevitable, and silently impossible. The next morning it became clear that sometime in the night the fallen leaves had been swept up, although the job had not been done well. But then I remembered that it had been very windy over night (so windy that I had mistaken the rustling trees for rain). And so the paths had, in fact, been cleared by the wind, now the leaves laid in large drifts waiting to be raked up.

Below are some pictures of my students. Their great kids and willing subjects for pictures. The trick to getting a good shot is easy, so I will share it; just make them laugh. Everyone loves to laugh. So with children, all you need to do is do something goofy (which explains why it comes so easy to me) and they will smile. The last picture is actually quite interesting. The student in red, looking right at the camera, is in first grade and is one of the smallest kids in the class. He constantly gets picked on, which endures him to me, and he's very sweet. The picture was taken from very far away, which is why they have such natural poses. There were many kids in front of me at the time, trying to get their pictures taken. But I was, of course, taller then them and spotted the shot I wanted. The shot was fully zoomed (hence the slight fuzziness) and has also been cropped. Normally I prefer to let the images speak for themselves but some may be wondering about my process. Insight can in many instances enhance the meaning of an image.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Today's English class at Tsumei Sho Gakko was gross, loud and fun. We carved pumpkins. The kids absolutely loved it. It was everyone's first time, including the English teacher's, which means I had to give her a well-needed (and well-heeded) heads-up on how messy an operation children's pumpkin carving can be. My demonstration pumpkin (pictured) was met with many calls of "Kakkoi!" when lit, which means 'cool'.

Keeping very busy. On my only night with no commitments I am getting a haircut before me weekend in Sapporo (or "Civilization" as some have come to call it out here, not that we'd trade it for anything). Quite cold today, the wind is biting. I've always found inside colder than outside here because the homes aren't heated the same way as in Alberta. Thus, I don't find it too cold outside now, but many are commenting on the weather. I was asking the kids today what the weather was outside, a small test of their English, and they all answered back 'snowing'. I said, "No, no, no, it's not snowing." But much to the kid's chagrin, when they got me to turn around and look at the window, it was snowing. Only slightly, the kind that melts as soon as it hits the ground, but it was flurries nonetheless. I spotted some very beautiful, but I think very cold, horses on my way back to the office, right by the side of the road.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Quiet Day for a change

It was a quiet day today. I very stealthly scheduled a day that I could catch up on the many things that needed to be done around the house and still have time to get some writing done this afternoon. The dishes and cleaning were finished by 9:00 AM and I was out of the house by 9:30 AM to write at the Pure Malt Center. A very productive day. Went running this afternoon, a good 7 km at a quick pace. I'm a bit disappointed, I have only been able to run on the weekends, which I have at least been doing religiously. It gets dark too early here (which makes the uneven sidewalks deadly) and this time of year the mornings are already quite cold and I have not bought any four season running gear. In the end, I'm too tired during the week to go running nor do I have the time. I don't feel guilty though because I chase around kids all day. I haven't seen any research but I'm sure it has to be equivalent to at least a couple of kilometres a day. So I have no guilt.

I need to be well rested this week because my evenings are packed, all the way to next Monday. Tomorrow, dinner with the high school teachers that came back from Stony Plain. Wednesday night, beer and pizza with Kevin, Yuki and Natsue. Were making the pizza ourselves because every time you order pizza it always come with corn on top. Should be a blast, we're borrowing the ovens at the Pure Malt Center because houses here don't have big ovens. Normally I don't drink beer with pizza, but do love living a cliche. Thursday night, a small small Birthday dinner with the Usui's, Sakaguchi's and Sazuki's. Friday, off to Sapporo. I have also heard that I will probably be going to Sapporo again the week after with the principal of Shikaoi High School. He stayed at our house last year and his family lives in Sapporo. I'll have to be on my best behaviour for that trip; at my most amusing, entertaining, charming, helpful, and thankful.

I had wanted to be in bed early tonite but my parents are going try to phone, so I will stay up.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Friday Afternoon

I'm back in the office for the afternoon. The slow music waifing through the CD player fits the mood of the office nicely. Nothing seems particularly pressing (expect getting ready for the weekend). I was studding Japanese but my eyes were about to cave in so I'm taking a break to post. I'm expecting an early night tonight. You may say, "But it's Friday?" But I've been out the last two nights and expect to be going out again on Saturday, Monday and next Thursday, all before I go to Sapporo on Friday night. No rest for the wary. I did have offers to go out but I politely declined, on top of feeling quite tired I also feel like eating only a small meal instead of the feasts I've been treated to the last two nights. I'm tired because of the late nights and long days - while, they are not impossibly long - but they are very physically draining. Why must kids love me so!? I was doing well all morning until I went to Urimaku kindergarten and did something stupid. No one was injured but me. As I was leaving, a small child wanted to be lifted up and hugged. "That's so sweet," I thought. Then she wanted to kind of run up my legs, while I held her hands, and do a back flip. Well... Okay... I turn around, and the next thing I see is a forest of little raised hands - everyone wants a turn. I think my arms are longer now. And they'd kick my in the groin and chin. Ouch; I am worst for wear today. In the office, Kon-san sys she's more tired because she's hungover from a late Kareoke session. Well, I'm not insane enough nor courageous enough to tackle teaching kids on six hours of sleep - my goodness - I need my wits about me! Alas, it was sunny and warm all week, so, as per Murphy's law, its going to get cold, cloudy and, perhaps - rainy - tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Arrived Back!

Sorry I've been so busy lately. Today is quite different in character; everyone in the office is complaining - perhaps only half-hearteningly - that there's nothing to do. But the big news is that as I was walking into the office this afternoon from the Junior High School, I noticed that there were buses in front of the building - buses belonging to the group of students whom had traveled to Stony Plain. They had arrived home. All were in one piece, which is not completely surprising considering it took nearly three days to get back. They spent one night each in Vancouver and Sapporo. Some teachers commented that they were not tired because of the leisurely course perused. Be this as it may, all teachers and grade 10 students will not need to come to school until Monday. I should also mention that last night was a bit of a gong show. A note to the wary about going anywhere to eat with Kevin, Yuki and Yuki's good friend Natsue. What was suppose to be a quick dinner ended, a lot later, in a Kareoke bar. I only sang one song, a duet with Kevin, it was a fine attempt - although ultimately doomed - effort, since the song was in Japanese. After they reasoned the biggest thing I could do to improve my kareoke would be to stop laughing whenever a kanji I didn't know flashed up (about every line). I was laughing so hard at the end of Sukiyaki I couldn't breath. It was lucky I went out to kareoke since I found tonites dinner there. I bumped into Yoko there (who had just visited Stony Plain in September) and was invited out with her and some other english teachers. So, rest assured, I have found my dinner for tonite! I had offered to bring tofu miso soup (about the easiest ever thing to make) but was politely decline. I have a feeling they do not yet trust my cooking, or more preciously in regards to miso shiru, my ability to cut soft tofu, stir in a spoon full of miso, and boil water.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Man, am I tired today. Two classes of grade twos and one class of grade ones. I'll leave it to your imagination what I look like after teaching 70 kids because I just don't feel I can type a long post about anything. I loved it though, those kids are great and ultimately I'm no worse for wear. We did Halloween projects. I'm also starting to cook more. I made some grilled miso rice balls. Yum. But ingredients is still a large issue in cooking.

I've been wanting to put this up for a couple of days now. In November I will be taking part of NaNoWriMo 2005: National Novel Writing Month. The website, however, makes clear it could in reality be called "International Novella Writing Month", but that's not as catchy. It's a global Internet event of of creative sacrifice. Basiclly, in the month of November I will be attempting to write a 50,000 word novel. I have from 12:01 AM November 1st until 11:59 PM November 31st to finish. Shout out to Pat who introduced me to the event and will also be taking part (read: blame him). The event started several years ago as an exercice to get over writers block. Just write and write for word count rather than "high art". As the years passed it has grown and refocused on global literiacy, a sure cause to support. Click the logo for more information. If you are wondering how long 50,000 words are: it's about 170 8"1/2 by 11" pages double spaced in Times New Roman. Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby are all about 50,000 words long.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday Pictures

I promised the people in the office that I would post this image of Yuki. I think it's a good shot; but what really cemented the posting was her harrassing me about my idiosyncrasies on Friday! (Of which I have many, which makes it too easy, I know.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005


When I left my house for a short walk today, all was quiet. However, upon returning there was a line-up at the door to see me. It's all a rather random, but good, coincidence - maybe someone in cyberland can put it all together for me - but when I got back there were two nice ladies from Jehovah witnesses waiting to talk to me (needless to say they were surprised to find I was Canadian). But I couldn't wait to talk to them because the delivery man was also there, bringing my BB Yahoo high-speed ASDL modem. Yeah! I just plugged it in and voila! Internet!

Also of interest to many or few was how my Friday went; so while it was stressful, surprising, and tiring, it also brought a smile to my face because it was so very typical of my life in Japan. Last Friday while at Kamihoronai, Sato-sensei had noted that next week when I came to teach that some teachers were going to observer. No problem. I had just assumed that, like Alberta, sometimes two or three teachers may observer a class. However, something was missed in the translation or perhaps he didn't want me to panic, but when I arrived yesterday, it was a bloody English curriculum conference. Hundreds of well-dressed people showed up; teachers from all over Hokkaido, teachers from the Shikaoi School district whom I knew, principals, Mrs. Usui, the local town council [!?!?] and local press. Ah... and me with nothing but a dashing smile and a pair jeans. Well, I didn't panic because I really hadn't known this was going on and it was so beyond my control all I could do was laugh (and apologize to the principal of Kamihoronai again and again that if I had known this was going on I would not have worn jeans). My kids completely closed up and wouldn't talk; it was depressing because I had them yelling - at the top of their lungs - the very same words last week. Their English is pretty good, I think. A shame. One consolation to me was that I didn't have to stay for the conference/ceremony [!?!?] that followed, instead I was allowed to go back to the office. One English teacher when later questioned about how the conference/ceremony was remarked, "I'm drowsy."

I have also added some images of an event that has being going on in Stony Plain Hall (the building where the Shikaoi Board of Education is located) for the past week, and consequently ends on Sunday Night, that I was really impressed by and have enjoyed immensely. It consists of mainly watercolours (and various other media) from school children all over Japan (Grades 1-12) portraying the main theme of the late artist Kanda Nissho who was a local artist: horses. Actually, he was from Tokyo by settled in the area. He is very well known in Japan; often you can catch one of his painting on the cover a book. I was impressed mostly by how modern, mature and accomplished many of the students' paintings were. And the theme of horse worked to unify - in a way I found quite powerful - the whole exposition. The stuff that goes on in this building is so exciting. Also, last week, I helped move a 6 foot Bosendorfer (kind of like moving a one tonne Mona Lisa for those that don't know their pianos).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Christmas in the Air

Its not cold, nor has it started to snow here in Shikaoi. Instead, today, we all woke up to sort of a fog/smoke. Most definitely not smog, but you couldn't see very far at all, as the pictures attest. During the harvest season many farmers excess crop (something that I don't believe is done in Alberta). It smells very smoky - like brunt cedar - outside. I have posted some pictures of this morning to satisfy curiosity. It's mostly fog that has obscured the image, not the smoke; as of now, the fog has lifted but the hazy, smoky smell still sits on the town. The days are certainly getting cooler here. They are not sharply cold, but just refreshingly cool. It's a nice reprieve to be out of the hot, humid weather of summer and into fall - my favorite season. The leaves are just... just starting to change. The season of autumn takes much longer here in Japan, encompassing two or three months. This means the tree's process for entering hibernation is greatly extended compared to Alberta. The result is that while Albertan trees follow the process of green to brown to naked - all in a month. (Thereafter all one can do is stare at the tree's skeletal remains); in Hakkaido, one can see the most vibrant colours for months on end, encompassing infinite shades of yellow and orange and red. While I will try to get pictures to post, Nature seems intent on keeping this event an honour for real eyes alone. Also in included is a picture of my class this morning, those energetic kindergarteners of Urimaku Hoikusho.