Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I just spent half an hour practicing kanji but my eyes were getting heavy so I stopped to post. I was back in the office early today because my fifth period was cancelled right after fourth period without anyone telling me before hand. But in all honesty, my character is so use to it by now that I don't mind. I've just accepted I'm the last to know and I've moved on. It's real - Buddha - live in the moment - stuff.

Today I was out at Urimaku Junior High School. Teaching kids that are almost in high school is very different than teaching about 90% of my kids that are elementary and kindergarten age. As opposed to my younger students who are innocent, generally all think the same way about everything, and can be excited and joyful about anything, including cute puppies, tuffs of cloth or shiny objects. These teens are just starting to define themselves - their individually - in a myriad of ways; friends, music, hobbies, clothes... So it's an interesting time for anyone (this applies in Alberta too) to be involved in these young people's lives. I can understand how a Jr. High or High school teacher may find this a fulfilling career. The teens have to learn how to fit themselves into a much larger frame work that can be harsh and overwhelming. I get to watch the day to day progression - and help if I can; it's a fascinating thing to be apart of and it causes me to approach Urimaku Jr. High students differently.

The other factor that makes the kids at Urimaku different than the kids at Shikaoi Junior High School is that the size and remoteness of their school. With only 47 students, all students and teachers know each other and know what's going on (with the possible exception of me). While some kids would probably be much shyer in a larger school, or perhaps more troublesome; in a small school like Urimaku there's no where to hide or escape to, and thus, in this respect, incidents are relegated to ancient history (and are sometimes still talked about years later). The students, while dramatically moody at times, show a certain balance and trust that would perhaps be missing from another larger school. This is probably best exemplified by the lack of bullying at Urimaku compared to Shikaoi Jr. High. While some moderate level of bullying is almost accepted here in Japan (it's more complicated than that, don't rush to judgment, kids are also much more helpful to their fellow students here then in Alberta). At Urimaku you don't see it, they're too closely coupled, there's no where anyone could go, they're forced together to quite a high degree by the remoteness and size. And by this same token, I am at a loss to explain why the kids at this school are so shy in class - almost to the point of being petrified - because this would seem to run counter to what I have just detailed. Lots still to learn.

Yikes, and the wind today was vicious. Just howling across the country road to Urimaku, almost white out conditions (even though it may not even be snowing). Amazing. I don't know how to explain it so I will try to get a picture of it. But, as I have dedicated myself to seeing the brighter side of 70 km/h winds; when it is snowy and windy, no snow accumulates on the road because it's all blown off, as evidenced today. How novel! The ice in front of my house though - how to explain - has now been wind polished.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Two Things About My Day

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I'm trying to think warm thoughts as the wind is howling at my door. Shaking the house. I'm glad I decided not to go out. Tonight, the above image that represents the two main features of today.

I had a great greeting today at Sasagawa Kindergarten, before I started today's lessons at the elementary school, with all the kids yelling my name. I had been planning to do some songs we had been working on - which we still did a little of - but I wanted to changed gears and recognize the weather outside that was on everyone's mind. The kids loved making the paper snowflakes. Then it was off to the elementary school, which was a bit different today - no grade ones and twos. But I was still able to play soccer with them after lunch in the gym. Getting to Sasagawa today was a bit trying - it's just up the country road - but its alarming having snow scrap the bottom of your car. I'm going to look at the bright side and say; at least it didn't even drop below zero. Wait... That means it's impossibly heavy wet snow. I don't really know how much it snowed today in the space of six hours, but I'd guess around 30 cm. Some people say more, but, because its so heavy - and it rained, with thunder - it all got compacted down. It was like the sky just opened. I don't think it will snow again any time soon; there can't possibly be anything left to come down! I was going to go for a run, at the sports center, but after clearing my small driveway of its burden, I retreated to the house this evening. I did see signs that snow was starting to be cleared by front end loaders. We'll see what morning brings. I noticed no one (but me) has attempted to clear the sidewalks in town. I'm guessing now I won't be seeing them until the spring. I completely understand why you have to bow to the will of the snow Gods at some point; if you didn't your life would be reduced to clearing snow all winter. (Stores and essential sidewalks will get cleared, but for the rest, there's the road to walk on.) I just keep saying to myself; "I can handle this as long as it stays above -10C."

I was so touched that my kids like today's project. The messier the better, in my opinion (I should add, the kids are extremely good about cleaning up). I taught two, three, four and five year olds. We practiced "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (with actions) and did "Head and Shoulder, Knees and Toes" (everyone could benefit from doing this song once in a while). The kids at the kindergarten have a strange affinity for that song. They would happily do it over and over again if we let them. I think it's a good warm up song. Today, standing in front of the kids, singing Head and Shoulders offers me a perspective that not seen by many. I don't know how to capture the moment but I would like to share it. It's wonderful, and amazing to me, that I get to see it almost everyday. Each child beaming ear to ear. Eyes bright. Laughter on their lips. It makes me smile too; but inside my heart is heavy. So much joy - it doesn't seem fair somehow, in the grand scheme of things. By the sound of this, perhaps my life is getting much more simple, just the snow and the kids and the night. I don't think it is. I was going to work on some other writing tonight, but I'm glad I posted.

Hope everyone stays warm tonight.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Reflections on NaNoWriMo

So will I participating in NaNoWriMo next year? I'm not going to pretend that I believe writing 50,000 words in one month is a small achievement; it was huge. I thought it was a daunting task and it was. I think I managed to amaze myself the most. I'm so proud of my little winners' image at the top.

The title of the novel was A Biography of Utopia. The novel is 51,505 words long or about 166 double-spaced 8 1/2 by 11 pages (give or take). The story was set in utopia; the paradisiacal world Earth Mark II. As the story unfolded it showed even in a perfect world, humans will still face the tragedy and absurdism of life. I felt I really liked my story, even if things did completely unravel in the end. I think the idea was original, creatively executed, and could probaly be rewritten in some other form one day.

What have I learned about myself? Well... first thing... is that I hate writing dialogue with a passion. I thought mine always came off as corny and contrived. I think this is a manifestation of my preference for non-fiction writing. So, when my plot really started to become unhinged, I didn't give up, I started writing about architecture. About 25,000 words are just these really long, detailed and rambling descriptions of allsorts of interesting, and sometimes understated, buildings that come up in the story. So I guessed I learned that I really do like writing about architecture - but then - I kind of already new that (according to the name of my blog). I never really felt burdened to have to sit and write; though toward the second half of the month things started to get difficult, and sometimes the right words didn't flow so easily.

So will I be doing this craziness next year? Right now I'm leaning toward no - it's mentally draining and a massive time commitment - but there's no use rushing a decision that is far off. Shout out to Pat, Drew, and Sean.

Need proof? Search for wower.

My NaNoWriMo month by the numbers:

# of pots of tea consumed while writing: 34
# of beers: 19
# of weird looks from people I told I was writing a novel: everyone
# of things blown off: surprisingly few
# of days I didn't write: 4+finishing 3 days early
# of Canadian Chocolates consumed: all of them (that were in the house)
# of new grammatical structures invented: 12
# of new words invented: 3
# of people killed in the story: about 300+1
# of dysfunctional characters: exactly 8
# of quantum computers: 2
# of flashbacks: 2
# of crazy monkeys: 6
# of houses trashed by crazy monkeys: 1
# of pop cultural references: 9
# of outright copyright infringements: 1
# of plot twists (depending on how one counts): either none or one big one
# of goats wearing skirts: 0
# of talking animals: 0
# of incidents triggered by hot tubs at retirement complexes: 1
# of disconnects with reality: 2
# of my disconnects with reality: 0
Grand total of publishing offers thus far: 0

Itunes says that Chad Van Gaalen's Day-Ja-Voo X2, Van Morrison's Gloria, and Keziah Jones's All Along the Watch Tower were the most popular tracks for the month of November. Also, two internet live streams that kept me going were (Persian Traditional Music) and the excellent KEXP live feed out of Seattle.

P.S. And while I don't hate Pat; I strongly dislike him and his 63,350 words. I mean, he passed 50,000 words with demon like speed on Nov. 13th. That's unbelievable.

My Morning

Just wanted to post this picture of my morning before everyone went to bed over in Alberta. I'm so tired; this could make the quiet afternoon coming up at the office drag on and on. It's an absolutely beautiful day here in northern Japan. The air is fresh and warm and you can see the mountians rising up clearly in the distance. Shikaoi is surrounded by mountians on three sides and plains open up to the ocean on the fourth. That's about 100 km away. And while there is snow on the ground, it is very warm outside; I think it feels exactly like a Chinook in Calgary. I went far out of town to an outlying kindergarten, Kita Shikaoi. I was surprised by how many English words they were familar with. Jeff did a god job and the teachers there are very involved in teaching the kids English. We also did a very energizing verion of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes... all the way through... twice! What great fun!

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

And the Heavens Opened...

Just reached 50,000 words a couple of minutes ago. The fifty thousandth word was anticlimactically; "the". Summary post upcoming, but right now I want to do something I have been neglecting all month - Read! I have uploaded a selection of happy pictures to express how I feel.

Friday, November 25, 2005

House Keeping Update

I have made some more minor changes to the site. I have cut the number of posts on the main page to help decrease loads times. The archives work great if you wish to look back at the extensive pictures and posts of the last couple of months. I have also fiddled with the frames a bit to optimize the appearance of the site on the maximum amount of computer monitors. Lastly, over the coming days and weeks, you will see more and more titles in Japanese. This is a concession to my increasing Japanese audience, so that everyone can at least have some idea on what I'm posting about. I will let the images of my time here do the rest.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


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I have uploaded pictures of this morning's event. It was really fun. I loved seeing all my students in one place. The two matching pictures above mean alot to me. Even though they are not the best pictures, they show all my kids. The schools are; Kamihoro nai, Sasagawa, Tsumei Sho, Shikaoi Sho, and Shikaoi Yochien. The empty seats are Urimaku Sho's. They are backstage just about to start; I think a caught a good shot moments before the curtain went up (above). The multi-pictures of the same subject is a grade six student from Sasagawa Sho; he gave a very focused and intense solo performance for someone so young. Good Job! The kindergartener's gymnastic preformance was very popular and my appearance on stage was well recived. I'll let the pictures tell the rest. To change gears now - this will really blow your mind. I found out on Wednesday that eggs here are sold in batches of ten, not a dozen. I'll never be the same.

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Building Excitement! High Tension!

Lots to be excited about this week. Just thought I'd write about it here to spread it around. Having something to look forward to can make the days longer and hours move slowly. First off, I ordered my new digital SLR camera (Nikon D70s), and I will be picking it up on Saturday. Surprisingly - or perhaps not so - there is a digital camera store in Obihiro that specializes in - what else - everything digital camera. I found my camera there for over $100 cheaper than the place I was going to get it from and about $200 cheaper than I can get one in Canada. That made my day. Secondly, tomorrow there is a children's festival in Chomin Hall where I work. I have a small speaking role - but the big news is only partly about me. Every single one of the my students from all my different schools will be attending (and some will also be performing). This event takes performances from the various school cultural festivals and lumps the best into one big event for all the area's students. Should be a great morning. Alas, I won't have my new camera for the event, but I will post pictures after. Are you excited now?!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tuseday Night Becomes Friday Night

I remember asking on of the grade four teachers last month: how they did? how they taught such energnic kids day in and day out? He reply, with a smiling on his month, "we drink".

Every month the teachers make it a point to go out for dinner and then drinks in Shikaoi. In Japanese culture you are more likely to go out with your co-workers than your good friends. Your life, in many ways, revolves are work. An excuse is needed - the smaller the better - so this month it was the After Happyokia Party. Sixteen teachers came for dinner at Tori Sei, and quite a spread was put before us. A fun was of assigning seats was devised that bears mention; through rolling a special dice is was decided where everyone was seated. This was to make sure everyone mingled I guess, but there was no one I minded. Dinner was great, just laughted and laughted. There was also a second party that I was dragged too. Really!

I decided to write this post because during dinner I just had a Wow moment. I felt like should pitch myself. I couldn't believe I was in Japan doing what I was doing. Perhaps it was a strange thought to have during dinner. But I really felt so welcomed in that school; I was happy, then and there, with my choice to come to Shikaoi.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Long Road to Tsumei Sho

Got a taste of how the roads will be for most of Dec. Jan. and Feb. this morning on my long solo drive out to Tsumei Sho Gakko. I had noticed before I went to bed last night that it was snowing. It looks like it kept snowing all night. There was a lot of snow when I got up. The road in front of my house was an even layer of white. Another thing that really factors into road conditions here - once you get out on to the country roads - is the winter wind. It must really drift in the winter, but today, because of the lack of traffic on the back roads, it simply iced over. I left extra early and got to the school on time; but quite white knuckled and my life expendency drasticly shorter. Between the wind and the ice I wonder if its possible to be blown off an icy road? It is easy to see the difference of roads in Albertan that are sanded and salted. Anyway, the snow is not quite gone as I am back at the office writing this, but it is much warmer in the sun, and the wind doesn't blow so hard in town.

Today at Tsumei Sho, we pretty much had the whole morning for an extended English class. We also made Halloween cookies, even though I will admit the season has passed. I'm glad we did because the kids loved it. I always like standing back and watching them be totally engaged and engrossed by such simple things. The kids were very creative, making varieties Japanese cartoon characters, kind of like our Simpson's and Family Guy. We also had alphabet cookie cutters and made each of the kids names, I helped the two grade one'ers because they don't quite know all the romaji letters yet. It took forever to cook the things because of the oven we had. It's not like any sort of oven we have in Alberta, indeed, it's hard to call it an often at all (in my opinion); it's a kind of tiny table top convection oven/microwave that I really can't comprehend (or operate). I have included an image of the school nurse/secretary/lunch lady carefully watching the cookies like a hawk (the cookies were all radically different sizes, so they all cooked at very different speeds).

Tomorrow, it's off to Obihiro for shopping before the roads become impassable and I am forced into hibernation. Iced coffee is good.

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Update: Today, when I saw my two classes of grade fours outside, I was immediately pelted by snowballs. It seemed like hundreds, but that was probably only the first volley. Feel free to leave comments; should I consider this a sign of things to come? Even hiding behind the teacher offered no protection. Too bad I was wearing my inside clothes and had no mitts else I really would have given it to them.

Kids 1 Blair 0

Who am I kidding? They're great!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

NaNoWriMo - Update

I'm starting to view the whole motivation behind writing a novel in the space of one month as a slightly masochistic exercise. It's a lot of work. I just reached 35,189 words on Sunday night, which translates into 70.37% done. Being sick on Saturday with a cold, I was able to add just over 9000 words over the weekend. That's pretty good. With only nine days left I see no point in stopping now. My evenings are fairly free, my only commitment this week is an After Happyokai Party with the teachers from the elementary school. It's going to be a blast because the day after, a Wednesday, is a holiday. Oh, and this week is very odd because there's a holiday on Wednesday - just stuck there. I'm assume something will probably come up last minute on one of the other nights, but over all, I think things are very under control. If I can finish by next Sunday I will be very pleased. I feel I've been neglecting my books, my Japanese language studies, and my friends (or so they say), everything else was not impacted.


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I had a wonderful time watching Shikaoi Kindergarten's Happyokai. The ages of the kids were between three and five. It was a bit of a comedy of errors, as was to be expected, but I was surprised at the level of focus the kids showed. Some skits and song routines were very long but they were performed, for the most part, very smoothly. But it's the errors and foibles that make it so fun (and funny) to watch! But we had lots of those too. I have included, on the side, an image of such a crash. The kids started the dialogue fine, but slowly became confused, until finaly they stopped. The image shows them either looking blankly into the audience or off stage to the teachers for direction. So cute. Later in the same skit, two kids started to fight; someone was shoved, it escalated, hitting occurred on stage, leading the smaller one to run off stage crying. Don't fret though, she reappeared, much soothed, to finish the skit. There was also a fair amount of hats falling off, things dropped, kids tripping, loud off key singing, kids waving to their parents from the stage, kids waving to me from the stage, kids walking off the stage in the middle of the song.

One thing that separates a Christmas concert in Canada and this sort of event is that both the parent/teacher association (oddly called a PTA here too) and the teachers each did a song with "actions". I have included a picture of the teacher's effort below. The Mushi (bug) on the left is my friend Yumei (Fukiko Sakaguchi's son), who helped introduced me to the yochien. Sorry it's such a bad pic and you can't see his face, I think it shows a lot of good action though.

The length, time wise, was another point of difference between Canada and Japan. The whole thing was over three and a half hours, which is a bit long, for adults that is - if you ask me. Watching the kids is exhausting. The attitude here seems to be; why have one and a half hours when you can do three and a half hours? I should make clear that the kids seemed to have more than enough energy, although I predict they will sleep soundly and deeply tonight. I hope they get anything they want for dinner, they deserve it. My students did an excellent job and I was glad to see the fruits of their hard work and practice. They were cute enough to melt even Mr. Burn's heart (to the more mature crowd that reads my bog; he's from the Simpson's). Children's laughter is quickly becoming my favorite sound. It's always instilled and defined wholly by joy - completely filled with life. It makes me feel - I don't know - younger, or more alive, or more happy, or something... And while I abhor a cliche, their singing really does sound like angels'. There was one traditional Japanese song that was a perfect example of this. The kids knew it by heart and it was very simple; the kids sang it with great emotion and I found it very moving. A big grin was on my face all morning, as if my face didn't know whether to start laughing or start crying with joy. It nice to know that for a while, the whole World is not going to sin. This job - being around kids - is giving me many insights into what I thought I knew about the World, none of which I like feel like sharing today in detail. I also so many many student's from Shikaoi Elementery School.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I think a nap is in order.

Just a boring day at home. Usui-san, Kevin and Yuki all left town on various labours, which left me to my own devices. I don't lament it, I have spent most of the day writing. I should be somewhere over 30,000 words by the end of tonight. I did some running around at lunch time and also went for a walk. It's sunny today, but the wind is back. Another reason to stay at home inside. I'm still fighting the tail end of my cold and so I took advantage of a very silent house and took a nap. I'm sick and it's so quiet. I deserved it too. I realized I have not taken a nap since I got here. That's so long ago. I've been so busy. The bright - but low - sun streaming into my small living room. It was a very comfortable place to sleep. Everyone loves naps, I should not have waited this long. So I just slept an hour until five PM. Now I'm watching the November Sumo Tournament. More writing tonight after the Sumo coverage ends and I have something to eat.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Man, I love it here. It's great. When the Sun comes out it actually has a warming effect in winter. Why does this seem so new to me? Calgary had Chinooks. With no wind today, it managed to be a very nice fall day. Alas, the leaves are gone, but I will take it. I was at Urimaku elementary school today and the kids were giving me absolutely nothing back. I could have lit myself on fire and it would have been met with on a dull sigh. I think it's because last weekend they had their school festival and they are tired. Needless to say, as evidenced by the picture below, a conbination of me leaving and them being out class revealed their normal selves. But why couldn't they do this in class? I have also included a picture of my sick sorry arse. Pity Me! My mom is very very far away and I can't read soup can labels!

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Me and おひさま

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sunny Post

Nothing much happening today. After my classes at a kindergarten here in Shikaoi on Monday I seemed to have contracted a throat infection - the not so fun side of teaching kds. I feel perfectly well but aggravating it is not an option when my job talking over children's laughter and banter. I have the slightest of fevers, which raised calls for me to go home, but all it means is that my body is fighting an infection - so I'm at work today. They did cut my class from four to one, which is a blessing because if I don't rest my voice it will take forever to heal. Yesterday, my throat was hurting readlly bad and I had five classes at Shikaoi Elementary School; I'm surprised I didn't die... It was a silly thing to do. I'm lucky I didn't lose my voice completely. I think it's because I've been eating like 3 or 4 oranges a day lately. They're in season, so seet, filled with vitiamns and so sweet. I work very hard to stay healthy. Teaching 20 and 30 kids English when sick is daunting. I make it a point to always wash my hands after playing. I am very careful not to touch my month or eyes before I wash my hands. But sometimes the kids want to touch my hair and head and I let them; they are so amazed and I think it help builds trust.

Last night I went out with the Suziki's from Tori Sei (a chicken restaurant). This is the night their restaurant is closed so we ended up going for a dinner in Urimaku, which is a town in Shikaoi, about 8 minutes away by car. (If it isn't clear how this works, its only because I'm not sure either.) We went to what is referred to here as a family restaurant, run but a husband and wife. Mr. Suzuki wanted me to have steak - it was from Shikoai, he said proudly - honestly I would have preferred curried rice or something Japanese, but it was a delicate situation. He kept on asking and asking and pointing to the steak, it was 3000 YEN, I had refused beer because of my sore through, and he and Ken (his grown son) gave me a look like I had just kicked a puppy. Anyway, I had the steak, so did Ken and Mr. Suzuki. Mrs. Suzuki had pasta, which is something I avoid in Japan like the plague, and it kills me because I love pasta, but the cooks normally have never eaten Italian pasta, so it often ends up being rather bland. Which probably in many ways is preferable to the Japanese palette, but if I want to have something with a sutble taste I'd rather have sushi. A good dinner, also got to bed at a very decent time, which I was happy about.

The owners name is Kawai, which is very close to the word Kawaii, which means cute. This was a point of endless laugher last night.

Tomorrow I have a full Friday out at Urimaku Elementary School. Hopefully I'll be feeling well for that. And then on Sunday I have another school festival. This time it's for Shikaoi kindergarten.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

7.2 Earthquake

Many people maybe wondering about this aspect about living in Japan and this mornings earthquake provides a good lead in. I guess I will start with the most anti-climatic part; the Japanese treat this as very much routine. It doesn't even raise to the level of water cooler chat. The only places I heard about it were when the news stations were issuing tsunami warnings and when I brought it up with my colleagues and students. With +1400 earthquakes a year, the Japanese have really mastered the art of changing these types of events into the background noise of life. They say with a sigh, simply, "Again...." Now the difference here is by no means the Japanese, its me and my Albertan-ness. At 6:39 AM, 1/3 of the Japanese population woke up. Hokkaido, Sendai, Iwate, Fukishima. This morning at 6:39 AM, if you were not already awake, you suddenly were, and if you were awake, you were then fully awake. I found this morning's events intriguing; tickling the full extent of my curiosity. These sorts of things just don't happen in Alberta!

The earthquake happened just a bit south of Hokkaido, but far out in the ocean, about 350 km East, at a depth of 23 km. If you've lived in Japan for any legate of time you may agree with my thinking that earthquakes can have different characters. Some rumble slowly to life, others are just a single, violent push - a small readjustment of the Earth's crust. Today's was big enough for most people's thoughts to perhaps turn to the topic of maybe getting out of bed and finding shelter in a door frame or under a table. In the end that would not have been necessary, and it seems that because worst didn't become reality the Japanese psyche is much quicker to move on - than silly old me. I felt like I need a stiff drink. I had been lying in bed listening to the radio, but when the house just shook and shook, dishes rattling, doors shaking. And the shaking just seemed to go on and on, It seemed longer than a minute, but in reality where we were it was probably no longer than 40 seconds. I was fully awake so fast I could have been mistaken for a crazed over-caffeinated Starbucks customer. This can't be good for the heart. I'm starting to understand why the people in Skikaoi just ingore it.

There's also the mystery of why most earthquakes happen in the morning. This is a popular topic among foreigners who, antidotally at least, see a correlation. But the mathematics of an earthquake, which is a well-studied phenomenon in Japan, always concludes that these are about the most random events ever - impossible to predict. Just to end on a cheery note, I have also learned recently that Hokkaido is home to the most active volcanos in Japan. These sorts of things are endless source of speculation for my imagination. But to the residents of Shikaoi, its a plus - more excellent hot springs!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Normal Sunday

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I'm just winding down the day, having spent the evening plugging away at my novel. The morning I was surprised by a phone call from home, however it was not to be the biggest surprise of the day. With the last phone call from my parents, the trans-Atlantic line had been very echoey; today however, it was like talking to someone next door. The biggest shock however was right when I got up, it looked a bit bright outside behind my curtains. It was snowing! Although it is almost completely gone as I write this. I remember noting to myself last night how cold it was, with a sharp north wind. It was actually warmer when I was out today and it was snowing. I don't think it got below 0C.

The big thing on my agenda today, as I mentioned in my previous post, was the full day school cultural festival. Basically, I had wanted to watch all of my kids' skits and music performances at the school. It was very amusing and I was unprepared for the sheer scale of it. To begin with the setup, it's all very professional, speakers, video screens; everyone brought blankets from home to sit down on; it looked like a very comfortable way to pass the six hours of performances. All week the kids had been absolutely bouncing off the walls in preparation. I noticed that many of the teachers were looking more tired and haggard than usual too. Today, though, everyone was in high spirits, especially me, despite the weather. I am finding a lack of words to explain the differences between, say, a North American Christmas concert, and today's events. There are many similarities - perhaps the Japanese parents have more high-tech gear to record every minute detail. But the differences are more insightful if harder to describe. One difference that I did pick up on - and I see this elsewhere - is how independent the kids are. They are left to practice and produce just about everything for the show themselves. Teachers are really left in a support position. Now of course the teachers are there to help, but the kids plan everything in detail. If you left Stony Plain kids to their own devices they would get distracted and you would not see something of this scale. The kids here just problem solve themselves. Here, while the production was not a Kenneth Branagh Shakespearian production, it did go smoothly, was very creative and took a lot of work. The kids did everything; the grade sixes, for instance, scripted and performed a twenty minute drama, including a simple musical score for drums and piano to go along with the action; to painting huge backgrounds of Shikaoi for a songs. I have included one pictures of the grade fours singing one of my favorite Japanese songs, "Sukiyaki". The kids will get a kid out of seeing the images on the web. They did a very good job, singing and performing the song on instruments (in the same song!). Lastly, I posted pictures of Shikaoi elementary Taiko drummers for my mother's enjoyment. This type of drum is something that has to be seen live to be enjoyed.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Saturday at home writing

I would like to give a shout out today to my good friends Drew (who is unable to read this blog), Sean E, and Pat who are participating this year in NaNoWriMo. I only found out recently that Sean E. and Drew were participating - they signed up a bit late - but I wish them luck. It sounds like all of us, spread all over the world, are planning to stay home today and write. Aren't we a bundle of fun? For those wondering, as of today Nov. 12, my wordcount today is: 17,815. That's 35.36% completed of 50,000 words. My plot has gone completely off the rails, but this was never a mission to write the Great Canadian Novel, but rather an exercise in creativity. It has not turned out to be a blackhole of spare time I had thought is was going to be, 1667 words a day is very manageable. Writing a novel is about the best excuse for blowing things off and leaving functions early; number one, its the truth, secondly, its easy to just slip out while the person is mentally digesting what you just said. After I post this I will make some more Jasmine Dragon Tears tea (thanks James!) and write a bit. Just to detail exactly how this process is continuing; today I plan three writing sessions, one this morning, another this afternoon, and again after dinner. I will also squeeze in a lunch with a friend, out of course, as a reward. After I finish writing this morning I am going to attack the dishes in the sink and sweep the house; so although NaNoWriMo can be a great excuse to let all parts of your life go, I still feel the need to keep some semblance of order in my life. Sunday is busier, I have a function at Chomin Hall with Shikaoi Elementary School all day. I know it's on a Sunday, but I'm expected to attend and I want to go anyway, I'll do anything is my kids ask, including, but not limited to, jumping through flaming hoops for their enjoyment. I hope everyone liked the pictures of snow; its actually really nice today, it's going to get above 10C today.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Posting On Friday

The arch of a slow week is almost at its terminus. Only two classes this whole week. In my free time at the office I tend to write or study Japanese. I offer to help out but there seems to be less-than-enough to do most of the time. Each changing of the seasons in Japan draws out very different behaviors in the people. This week there was a flurry of activity as people got ready for winter. Our activities in Hokkaido even made the national news; getting winter tires on our vehicles, putting up snow poles, putting up the wind barricades. I will take a picture of the wind barricades because their hard to picture without having been to Hokkaido. Basically, the wind can get very bad on the open road so barricades are installed permanently that can be cranked up for winter, this makes it less dangerous, furthermore it stops snow drifts from developing. I took a picture of the snow poles near my house, they went up this week all around Shikaoi, their purpose is to mark all the curbs that will eventually be buried under a biblical amounts of snow. The snow tires, that I should be getting sometime today, are pretty self-explanatory. Also, about twelve shovels appeared in the side entrance of office. Winter is most definitely coming.

The first snow I saw was this week was on Wednesday. It was a bit disturbing because, though it was snowing relatively hard, it was very bright and sunny out. Is this a bad omen? The snow, however, did not stick around. Yesterday - Thursday - it snowed again, this time not in the town proper but further out at a town I teach out, Urimaku. This is where the picture of the tree was taken. Do not be mistaken and think the picture was taken in the evening. This was taken about 8:30 AM. Don't you think it's dark? This snow, also, did not stay. One great thing about living in japan is the ability to get sweet Christmas Oranges six months of the year, until early spring. They are from Shizokuka and are dirt cheap. I eat two or three a day. I will switch back to delicious Fuji apples in the summer, although regular and Christmas Oranges (called mikans here) as still available (but less sweet).

I got an interesting note from my good friend Drew in China in regards to Blogs, since he is denied access to reading my site. I thought his not was very insightful to the situation in China right now and is especially significant in regards to the upcoming Olympic games. I will not analyze it to absurdism, as I have been known to do on other topics, and will let the reader make their own deductions.

"One thing that surprisez me about China is it's Govenments ability to be almost completely invisible. Blogs are, however, one major exception to this rule. China's govenment has decided that BLOG websites might be harmful to their continuation, so unfortunately I can't go to your web blog site."

I will be posting again later today in regard to my progress in NaNoWriMo.