Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Clean Up

The Sun is just trying to break though the thin grey clouds. The snow has stopped after about 20 hours. I doubt there was anything left to fall. It stopped around 10 PM last night. The clean-up didn't being until early this morning and continues even now. I decided to abandon the car this morning and just walk to work to get a look at everything. Where on Wednesday there was dry pavement and brown grass sits today huge drifts of snow, some taller than the machines that made them. Today on the roads there is a mixture of people walking, snow removal vehicles and cautious drivers. You need tractors to remove the snow because it's wet and heavy and then there's just the shear amount of it. Any space of decent size needs to be mechanically cleared and this is slowly happening.

For a while yesterday afternoon it was hard to see any road infront of my house. I tried to get a picture but the strange effect couldn't be captured. You'll have to imagine: snow up to the top of your tires, coming over the hood in places, a road with barely a couple of tracks in it, no sides to the street at all, and the snow and the sky mixed together in an overcast grey colour with little contrast. I think everyone got stuck, including me; I needed to be pushed out twice. I also helped push two vehicles out. Got to keep the karma going.The only vehicles that had a fighting chance were the really big 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser-types. The light super-compact Japanese cars were no match for the wet sticky snow. What fun!

Above are pictures I took yesterday and below is a picture of my house I took this morning.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Snow Update

Wow. This is a lot of snow for the end of March. I'm at home now; heater on, tea in hand. I left work a little early because nothing was going on. Lots of people missing, and everyone that was there was just looking out the window in something much akin to awe. It has snowed over a metre in less than 24 hours. It should stop sometime overnight. It's hard to imagine where there are snow drifts now there was the beginning of green grass yesterday. The roads are indeed a mess. You can't see the curbs and people are getting stuck everywhere. I was going to go for a run but I have already shoveled the driveway twice and will probably do it twice more before this is done. I would wave the white flag of surrender but no one would see it. Images to come.

And the Heavens opened... When I departed work yesterday my eyes were drawn to the ominous grey clouds to the West. Sure enough, within the hour, it started to rain. Then when it got colder it turned to snow. It has been snowing ever since. Big fluffy flakes, small icy flakes, and everything in between. It is still very warm today and so the snow gets very heavy, very quickly. I didn't take any pictures because it snows so much here, but if it keeps snowing into tomorrow, like the forcast says, it may be worth the effort. I really don't mind the snow, though you get soaked walking through it, so long as it stays above zero. The roads are - predictably - a mess, but are empty as the smart drivers have stayed tucked in to bed. The trees look amazing! Execpt that I if you walk under them you will get dumped on by falling snow. Did you know; every year some poor Japanese person dies from snow - a lot of snow - falling from roofs. This morning, I awakened to a loud rumble as snow avalanched off the roof above my bedroom. There is a big drift beside my house - building all season - that I'm sure will still be there in a month when the Sakura bloom. There was talk of just ordering in pizza and hibernating in the office for lunch but there is no pizza delivery in Shikaoi.

Monday, March 27, 2006


This time of year in Shikaoi brings many changes in the workplace. This period is when all staff (having been around for three or more years) rotate to another position within the town. Yesterday's big commitment was the Board of Education "farewell" banquet attend by about forty people from the library, kindergarten, seniors program (all run under the Board of Education in Shikaoi). The biggest change is that our superintendent is leaving.

The main meal was held at Bikuri Sushi, which means "Surprise Sushi," which I guess can sound like a bit of a turn off, but really its always good to eat there. Sadly, I was far away from the Sukiyaki and didn't get much to eat. On of the advantages of living in a small town is the ability to drop in unannouced. So I was still able to get fed after the party at Tori Sei. The party started slow, but it was very nice to mingle later with many people I don't get to see very often. And though I spoke lots of Japanese, I am always very surprised with the number of people who can speak English in Shikaoi. Not much else to report. There are many kids in the building right now because there are spring vacation workshops going on. I also plan to study Kanji in a little while.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


To continue from a previous post: Kevin and I just happed to find some of my students playing an anime card game (robot insects trying to save a mythical forect) in Chomin Hall. These brothers are always bundles of energy and joy. As soon as the camera came out, both brothers jumped into the shot with me, as if I had any control over it. In the image above I asked them to pose Japanese style, which means no smilling. A fraction of a second is about the maximum children can keep a straight face and you can see the older brother (on the left) struggling. An instance later he is laughing again. Digital cameras are great because they offer instant feedback. Yuu-kun (on my back) was really interested in the camera and asked to try. Kevin was there to keep a hand under the camera. Yuu-kun seemed like a natural, instinctively knowing where the shutter release was and how to operate it. I have posted the image with no post-processing execpt setting the white balance and a resize for the web.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


The strongest cultural experience I have experienced recently were two of my school's grade six graduations, Shikaoi Sho Gakko and Kamihoronai Sho Gakko. They were both a stark contrast to North America's more upbeat view of graduation. Talking to Kevin about Japanese graduations in general, I know what I saw was the rule, not the exception. Again, the grades five spearheaded the event with teacher oversight. The surprise for me was how formal and how sad the whole thing was. It is both Kevin and I's conjecture that the event (at all our schools) is specifically fashioned to elicit this reaction.

It would perhaps be helpful at this point to comment on my own grade six graduation and North American elementary school graduations in general. When I graduated from grade six, I think my parents took Sean and I out for pizza or fish and chips or something. From what I can remember, the general feeling was that while the milestone was small, it was still a happy occaion: I had survived grade six, now I would be going on to grade seven, anything was possible. Anything having to do with school was small scale or non-existent. Then, after twelve years of schooling, missed graduations, and brainwashing, all released in as a torrent in grade twelve. I personally feel that my grade twelve graduation was well worth the wait.

Japanese graduations seem to hinge on the fact that it's all over. A final goodbye. I have mixed feelings about the whole process. Toward the end of the ceremony, after the speeches and what not, the grade sixes, sitting in front, turn to face the rest of the student population. (I have included images above to illustrate.) Normally, each group sings each other a song (sometimes of original composition). Also at this point in the ceremony, students yell out messages to each other. The grade sixes asking all to "Do their best!" with the younger students replying "We won't forget you! Please don't forget us" This leads to crying is because the messages are deileved so personally. The event stresses the dire finality of the moment. It was hard for all present, teachers and parents, not to be touched by the students' moving words and show of raw emotion. Yes, crying; balling. I wouldn't call it out of control because it was expected, but I don't envy the task of having to get the students back under control later. At Shikaoi Sho Gakko, even after thirty minutes had pasted, one could walk past the grade one classroom and still hear sobbing. Even those whom I consider the most genki of students succumbed.

I don't understand the reasons for creating the event to unfold as described. I suppose maybe it's some kind of physiological exercise to prepare students for real-life but I don't agree with it. I want to see my kids happy; all the time. I needn't think long to know where I stand on this issue. I don't agree you should sugar coat everything. Never say 'no' to your child or some such nonsense. You have to be honest - sometimes brutally so - when real-life dictates. Conversely, you don't need to make an event so overwhelming that it breaks the kids. Their just kids. Doesn't real-life present children all over the world enough hardship and challenges? Does one really need to engineer a heart-wrenching drama? I highly doubt it. The student's at Kamihoronai bounced back much quicker, mostly because the four girls that were graduating have strong characters and set a powerful example for younger students. They will grow up to become healthy and smart and have all possibilities open to them (if I have anything to say about it).

Now we enter the period of Spring Vacation; and if I worked for a school instead of the Board of Education I would have I would have a vacation now. Sigh... As it stands I will still be coming into work and maybe go to some kindergartens.


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Why is this guy laughing? Find out soon...

Short Update

I expect to put up a large post tomorrow about two elementary graduations (with images). If you see little boxes in the post below (get a Mac) it is because it's written in Japanese for the benefit of my Japanese readers. It just has to do with the stone lantern in our backyard in Stony Plain. It should be noted that because there is no word for "backyard" in Japanese, it is hence forth called our "garden", just like if we were English. Take care.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006



End of Class

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I think the kids called it quits sometime last week but I had my last English class for the year today. I only had two classes - far apart on the schedule - so I had to busy myself. I helped with some preparation for tomorrow's ceremony doing some last minute painting. I also watched some of the rehearsal. The grade fives are mostly running the show themselves, with help and oversight from the teachers. Most of the teachers look pretty frazzled themselves, especially the grade five homeroom teacher, because most of the planning and problems fall to her. I am on the other end of the spectrum, just trying to stay out of the way.

I have painted many things in my various part-time jobs in Stony Plain and found this morning's painting activity very relaxing. (Especially since I was left to myself because everyone else was busy with more pressing business.) I became very nostalgic. It seems in past times like these I would have been listening to The Bear (out of Edmonton on the radio) or that new station Sean introduced me to (out of Nisku) before I left. However in recent years, including here in Shikaoi, I have enjoyed listening to CBC Radio One. This is a good station to fall back on when I am not with a group and no consensus needs to be reached.

Class went especially well. The grade ones were a bit noisy and it was a mistake to try and teach them a new game but I didn't make that choice. The grade threes would not stopping laughing long enough to finish anything; most famously at the end of the Hokey-Pokey when all the kids piled onto each other in laugher. I wouldn't really call this flexing my comedy muscle - people at home will confirm this - and we were reviewing have/don't have, and I asked a student if he had a monkey, and everyone started laughing. I was smiling, but I really had no idea what they found so hilarious, part of that class' charm I guess. I would love to understand what was so funny to cause kids to fall over each other laughing, then I could harness that power and sell it or be super-funny or get a T.V. deal or something. It took forever to get them under control again to explain the next activity but it was worth it. You risk being smite'd if you silence children's laughter.

Today for dinner I am going to cook anything left in my fridge. I know for a fact I have potatoes in there and some spinach. We shall see.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Everyone is going to be in a good mood tomorrow because Japan won the World Baseball Classic. They beat Cuba 10-4 I think; and Cuba is no push over team. I didn't see the game but it was a much talked about around the dinner table. People were especially impressed with the Cuban pitching, which was generally thought to be the best of the tourny. But Japan really wanted it after beating Korea on the third try. Something drastic would have taken place if that had lost again. If only the Canadian Men's Ice Hockey team could take note of Japan's - the sport's announcer said - "determination." I really think someone might have committed harikari if Japan had lost to Korea for a third time. I did watch sumo a bit before dinner. The wind - has not completely stopped.

Monday, March 20, 2006

We're coming up to the 24 hour point of absolutely crazy Shikaoi wind. If you poke your head outside you can actually hear it roar; something I have never experienced before. Just wanted to put it out there into cyber land that at this very moment I am sitting in my warm cozy house.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Wrath of the Monday Gods

Last Monday was perfect, and so I was not prepared for a whole bunch of Monday's coming at me at once today. It started yesterday when I realized my tank was out of kerosene for the heater. It has been very nice lately, but - not consequentially - late yesterday the temperature started to drop and the wind started going up and up. Today we are all surprised at the wind. There are amazingly long sustained gusts that rattle things inside like doors and windows. These two things coupled together can really make Monday miserable. It was miserable waking up to a house that was 8C. I didn't even eat breakfast, I just woke up, drank some warm tea, got dressed, and came to the office because it was warm. First thing this morning I got the ball rolling to get my gas refilled. Previously I had been under the impression that once a month a someone from the gas company came around to check the level. Evidently this is not the case. I was able to sneak out during a morning school rehearsal (that otherwise I just would have been in the way for) and go find an rice ball to eat. It's a shame that it is early Spring when the gas ran out. I have asked for it to be filled only half way. Good news last: Tomorrow is a holiday. (Its the Spring equinox.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006


I am presently in the final nine hours of the weekend. Yesterday I worked very hard to get lots of chores done - dishes washed, vacuuming done, car washed, groceries - so today was pretty slow. Yesterday morning I went for a run too but today it was overcast and drizzling so I decided I rather go for a walk and get some fresh air. I think it was a very good choice. I didn't see much, just lots of puddles and dirty snow. It was very quiet, no one seemed to be out; only a couple of cars passed me. I listened to Radiohead's OK Computer on my iPod. Now there is a album that never seems to get old. It was good match for the weather.

Last night we went to the Pure Malt "Sound Festival." It was very fun but over far too early. Strange how early things end here. Anyways, we went out to the Pub and was surprised to find Shikaoi Sho Gakko's grade two teachers and parents out celebrating - I guess - their kid's graduation. I couldn't figure out who was watching the kids but it seemed like as good a reason to celebrate. I think the students would be startled how relieved the parents are that the kids passed grade two. All the parent's say I'm famous. It's an interesting system in Japan because normally the teacher's will have the same class for all six years, thus close bonds form.

Tonite I'm going out for dinner again, but then Monday I think I will make stew, the last stew of winter.

Next week I only have Shikaoi Sho Gakko grade one, two and three's. I am planning a short "Blair Quiz" to see if they remember what I told them. Basically, it's set up like a giant multiple choice quiz where the kids have to run to A, B or C. Example questions might be: "What Noodles do you like?" a) Soba b) Ramen or c) Udon. "What Drink do you like?" a) Milk b) Water or c) Orange juice. I think it will be crazy fun!

Now to read, maybe have a nap.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

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I don't want to jinxes myself, but it really feels like Spring here today. On Monday it was very cold. Kevin and I debated as to whether Winter might stay around for a bit longer. But as the week went on it gradually got warmer and warmer. Last night it didn't evening go below zero. Today you can walk outside in just a sweater. It felt great. The winter felt much longer here in Shikaoi than Canada; I point I really haven't come to digest yet. But now the only thing to deal with is big puddles of melting snow.

As I mentioned, on Wednesday night I was out for dinner, but so too last night. The English teachers met in town for a good-bye party because with the end of the school year comes a large change in staff at every school. Kevin and I are very isolated from all the changes and just try to keep out of the way of all the busy people in our office. On Saturday I think I am going to do to the "sound festival". I have mixed feelings as to if I really want to go, but seeing as it is being held just across the street at the Pure Malt Center there is really no reason not to go. The same people put on a party in December that was very fun. On Sunday night I think I am going out with the Shikaoi Fire Fighters, Yuki introduced me, and they are a very funny bunch of guys; crazy Yuki says.

Most of my schools are done English class for the year and next week Shikaoi Sho will be winding down too. I think I will be going to their graduation ceremony on Thursday morning. My other four schools all have there graduation ceremonies on Friday which means I have to pick one to go too. I don't really have to worry about Urimaku Sho Gakko because I will be seeing the grade sixes at Urimaku Chu Gakko in April.

Baseball Update

Japan Lost! Now we are sad. :(

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Feed the Blog

Did you know that yesterday I taught 107 grade two, three, four students? Hence no update yesterday. Nothing really got done after I got back to the office, nor in the evening for that matter. When I got my sore body back to the Board of Education the only thing left to do was finish up for some prep work for Urimaku Junior High School. In the evening, because I was obviously too tired to cook myself, it was off to Shinkiitten with Yuki and Natsue. I always love that place's crab gyoza and yesterday's special was barbecue beef ribs. Needless to say, despite the extreme expense, we broke down and ordered a plate and it was worth every penny. The ribs were very tasty, if a little smaller than Albertan beef ribs (called dinosaur bones in our house); he had been marinating them in soy sauce all day, so they had a very Asian taste and were very tender, and by looking at the ribs one knew they were from a very fat cow. I don't feel guilty about not going for a run because I feel that teaching that many kids must equal out in the scheme of things.

Despite the recent week's busy office environment, the T.V. is on at the moment and everyone's attention glue on the very close live Japan-Korea internatioal baseball game. Go Japan!

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Week Has Started

And what a way to start the week. Great classes today. The grade fives were working on their skits. It was hard to tell if they were practicing or not through all the giggling. I don't have the heart to tell children to stop laughing and mostly stood back and watched the antics. I did step in and do authoritative work when it looked like were going to start doing something either stupid or dangerous or both. My goodness, the din that thirty-seven grade fives can make: Wow. The grade sixes presented a what is called a formal introduction. Some of the student's took it very serious and did very well presentations. Two particular girls that want to be interpreters did very well; now if they can just get over their crippling shyness...

Tomorrow it's out to Tsumei Sho Gakko where the whole school will be attending one long English class. It will only be eleven students so it's not as bad as it may sound. We're are studying Easter. I joked, because it is still a month off, that perhaps we should cover Lent, but the joke fell to a low response with the other English teachers. Anyways, tomorrow we are making Easter eggs and then doing an Easter Egg hunt. Should be fun!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Back to Work Tomorrow

This post is about Friday. Sorry for the delay. I was writing other stuff yesterday but only got a little bit done. Friday was the last chance to go to Kamahoronai Sho Gakko this year. I wanted to say congratulations to my four grade six girls at that school who will be off to Shikaoi Chu Gakko next year. They found it very hard to comprehend that we call the first grade in middle school grade seven in Canada. They were as bubbly and genki as ever. In my opinion having no boys in a class made all the difference; in this case meaning particularly strange children (but funny and kind too).

All the kids at the school seemed to be exploding with energy. I think it has to do with the approaching end of the school year. But I feel bad for the teachers and students because the actual end is still two weeks away. Ganbare! My six grade three and fours would not sit still. Noriko-sensei had picked a good activity for the class (an arts and craft project) but it was still a battle to try and make the kids focus. I didn't really mind, I love that sort of atmosphere; fighting it too much can only make the whole situation worst. I often wondering, when simply watching my students play with each other, if I was that funny when I was in elementary school. The stuff they come up with it too funny. I can't keep myself composed in class sometimes; it's impossible to detach myself from their contagious joy.

I haven't gotten much feed back about my Ralph Klein Third Way Healthcare post except to say that I had spelt his name wrong. Doh! The curse of being a poor speller strikes again. So I had to get that all sorted out. I have noticed several hits from blog search engines but those will decline because time is such a factor. On Saturday Grandma M. surprised me with a phone call in the morning (dinner her time) and I also got a chance to talk to my coz Ryan who finally realized the center of the universe is no place for us good prairie folk. Again the weather forecast has been way off; they were predicting an ugly weekend, and though while yesterday the sky looked like rain, it never did, and today it's sunny.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Is Ralph Klein Throwing a Book at a Page Some Sort of Sign?

Recently I have been working on an essay dealing with the ongoing healthcare “reforms” in my home province of Alberta. Upon initially hearing about Ralph Klein’s little spat in the Legislature (March 1, 2006) I immediately connected it to what I had been previously writing. Back in January I had written that some of Ralph Klein’s motivations, and he is by no means alone, was purely ideological. Not ideological in a negative way, not in an absolute way, but in such a way that helps me understand the reality of what is going on back home. My conclusions have seemingly been confirmed in the pages of the news.

I should be clear that I don’t feel it’s necessary to dwell on the actual incident. I like the guy and I think he simply made a mistake. It would be too easy to connect this incident to other forms of ideological extremism seen in our modern world. He has sincerely apologized, and I tend to believe him, because I’m not perfect either, and I feel we can accept it. The reaction of some of the opposition members was a little strange, calling him “out of control”; to this I just rolled my eyes. I, for one, am not going to hold this incident against him. (Though I will probably think twice about delivering him bad news in person. I jest! I jest!)

I was not initially going to blog about the incident but then I reflected back on my whole employment history. I’m a pretty average Albertan and I have worked with a wide spectrum of people. Most I have liked, some were annoying, and yes, some were even very frustrating; but I never threw anything at them. Perhaps my life experiences are too narrow, perhaps I am giving too much weight to antidotal evidence, but I thought there must be something here worth learning.

I am sure between him and I, we can agree that what he did was immature and juvenile. I am confidante it was just a mistake and I feel it is possible to leave these two issues aside. There is, however, the issue of irrationality to consider. The government opposition, which represents a sizable portion of the population, was doing nothing but presenting him with well thought-out empirical analyses and rational arguments. I would, therefore, characterize his response as irrational. From this I imply that his reaction was to some degree ideological. For those readers who believe I am making too much of a personal character flaw - and throwing a book at someone is, indeed, a character flaw - I think it goes beyond that; I argue that it was his ideological viewpoint that was the basis for the reaction (the character flaw merely making it apparent for all to see).

I want my government, when dealing with public issues, to approach it with rational, open, and scientific debate. Reasoned arguments put together by a sizable portion of the population should not be reacted to this way by their own government. Am I asking too much of our government officials to offer factual counter-arguments? I simply don’t feel sorry for the fact that Ralph Klein seems so shocked that Albertans’ would react this way when his toys with their health. I take it as a given one will come down where they will on this kind of data. But that Ralph Klein reacted in such a way strongly supports my initial impression that his “reform” agenda is being lead by his ideology. (Consider it a sort of “market religion” if you will.)

In the interest of being honest and open, I would like to clearly state that I really have no problem with what he has been suggesting. But this doesn’t change the fact that this is not the way I wish to see my government operate. The logic of the “reforms” is that if you offer a means for people to pay that can pay for private treatment, it opens up a spot in the public system (within certain limits discussed elsewhere) for someone else; thus shortening the wait times for all. This logic, in my opinion, is hard to counter. What the government has been extremely poor at doing is reassuring the public that we are not entering onto a slippery slope, leading inextricably to a two-tier healthcare system.

This point is worth expanding (because it could greatly help his plight): Ralph Klein likes to talk about his “third-way”, but he acts like we all inherently know exactly what he means. Which we don’t. We in Alberta have bearing down on us this huge example down South of what we do not want in a healthcare system to be. I haven’t even seen him offer opinion polls on the matter. Ralph: Make us feel that a path exists - and that we are on it - which leads to a healthier Alberta.

I agree that there is a healthcare dilemma, and I would even go so far as to suggest its solution probably lies in some type of “third-way”. I certainly believe that a public debate about healthcare is worth having, and I would even be so bold as to suggest issues of general health should also be addressed as well. (I have recently heard that Ralph Klein has turned down a televised debate. I had seen this as a great opportunity for educating the public on the details and implications of his reforms. He has stated that he thinks debate should be limited to the legislature; which leads me to a whole other set of issues.) If I was leading the debate on healthcare I wouldn’t worry; I think in actuality there is consensus over the issues and a lot of room for comprise. I feel that my remarks have been very brief so I will continue to write quietly about the broader issues. I start my essay by examining the Supreme Court decision that opened the whole debate. This healthcare issue is - with the appearance of stories like these - moving so quickly I sometimes feel that anything I write will be of little consequence by the time I return home. One reason to blog is to fight the feeling of powerlessness I have while living overseas.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I am having trouble knowing where to start. Last night the gang and I headed back to the Pure Malt Center for another night of good eats. We had cake, salad, nachos, fresh French bread, and the main course was a casserole made by me. It was a classic recipe that my family and I have eaten forever. The beef and corn casserole had Kevin and I's mouths watering for a taste of home. For one night every once in a while, it is nice to sit down and have (what I now consider) a very North American type meal. I guess the general distinction is that there was no rice or fish and we needed an oven. I had been very worried - with so many variables between home and here - but at the end of the day I'd say I was bang on. I had been so fixated and worried on how it was going to turn out that I forgot to take pictures. It was very good; sadly there were no leftovers.

I know this it has already become old news, but tomorrow I will post a short update on how I think Ralph Klein's measured, mature, and rational debate on Alberta's healthcare is going.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Story from the End of the School Year

I spent the morning at Sasagawa Sho Gakko and that normally includes spending time at the near-by kindergarten as well. This would be the last time I saw everyone until the new school year starts in April. I just thought I would pass on a story that reflects this time of year in Shikaoi schools.

The last thing I did before I left the kindergarten was to identify next year's grade ones. There are five boys (all aged five) that will be starting at Sasagawa Sho Gakko in Apirl. All the boys are buckets and buckets of fun and I cannot stress enough how excited they are to start grade one and have me as their English teacher. (The cultural signicance of this may not completely translate, but little Ui-kun kept on bowing, politely asking for me to be his teacher and promising to do his best.) Sadly, one of the younger boys, just aged four, really wanted to start school with his older friends. He didn't take the news particularly well that he would have to stay at the Yochen for kindergarten next year. (I'm sure the news was not knew to him, nor is it worth lementing that you must go to kindergarten. Who wouldn't want to do kindergarten again?). He was well aware that I would be coming back in April for more fun and games but he still insisited on a small sit-down protest. The whole thing made me very comflicted as I will explain; he started to sit down to block my exit, and then he started to cry. Very touching. But what made it so comical was that four other smaller students sat down unexpectedly too (although it should be made clear they probably didn't know why). It must have been quite a sight of me trying to console one student, while trying not to step on the other three year olds splayed out on the floor. I should probably also add that while this is going on everything other student is trying to hug me and say "thank-you". Eventually the teachers and I were able untangle everyone and I got on my way.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Thanks to the amazing party after a day of workshops put on by the Tokachi English teachers I have manage to really mess up my sleeping pattern. I slept in until ten and then, that night, could not fall asleep for the life of me. I made sure I didn't eat anything after eight. I read, I listened to my tunes, I tossed and turned, I read something I considered boring... Finally I got up and played a couple of hands of Gin Rummy on Yahoo games, just to pass the time. Anyways, I feel like a mess today, but my kids don't care.

There is nothing that makes one like Mondays more than knowing your students will be happy - thrilled - to see you. I had the perfect set of classes to wake me up; the grade one and twos. We are starting our year end reviews. The students swear they don't like Mondays. Things they do like: Dogs, Cats, Ducks, Soba, Horses, and Mushi King. (It's sort of beetle attack card game that some of the older students play, and for the record, completely beyond me.)

The organizers of the event took Kevin's advice and dinner was held at Daisougen, or "The Little House of the Prairie." It is known for it's all-you-can-eat-buffet. It consists of a good blend of Japanese food, and what would describe as Western food as interpreted by Japanese. It was all really good and I would like to go back again because I didn't get to try everything I wanted.

I had a slightly sad feeling all through supper because the place reminded me of my parents. I had never been there before but my parents had eaten there the previous summer. The same room even. It just made my thoughts constantly return to my family's particular connection to Shikaoi.

I was also surprised to get up this morning to snow. It's mostly gone now because the sun has come out. Both of which were not forecasted. Once you start paying attention to the weather forecasting here you realize how lousy it is. They barely hit 50-50. I don't know if it's because it just Hokkaido and no one lives here or if it's because of the mountains. In any case, spring is coming, and that is unlikely to be diminished by poor forecasting.

Tomorrow morning my grade sixes from Shikaoi Sho Gakko are graduating but unfortunately I will be unable to attend as I will be out at Sasagawa Sho Gakko. I would have loved to attend but it didn't work out that way.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I actually wasn't planning to post today but I realized I would probably not get another chance until Sunday. This weekend I will be attending a small English Teacher conference in Shikaoi of Tokachi teachers. Thus the news of my day will be slightly abbreviated (and there is a lot of it too).

A good day. I was out at Urimaku Sho Gakko. I think the eighteen students in the three/four split are the funniest kids ever. I think I have mentioned it before but it is worth repeating: These kids love to dance. I am also jealous of Kevin because some of my awesome grade sixes will be moving to Shikaoi Junior High School come April (and thereafter be under his supervision).

March third is Girls Day in Japan, also called Hina Matsuri. I'm not sure of the origins, nor its exact goals. Such is the nature of my busy week that the details just blew by me. I do know there is a corresponding Boys Day on the fifth of May.

Today I had the good luck to be over at the Urimaku kindergarten while they were celebrating the festival. While I was there we sang and ate bento. I'm sorry I only managed to get one photo of the morning. A lot was going on and the teachers were happy to have an extra set of hands. There is not much time to think about photography with these genki kids. One illustrative example of Girl's day,since I really have nothing else to go on, is that while setting up for the meal, the Girls didn't have to do anything, they were allowed to sit. It was up to the boys to setup the chairs and tables. During the meal, the girls sat at one long table at the front of the class. I would also like to point out, since my mom never had any girls, they were all wearing their best dresses. I would also like to note that I have also made great strides in my relationships with the two year olds at the kindergarten. While the older kids (three, four, fives) are very friendly, the two years olds normally want nothing to do with me. I don't know what has changed, but today they were more than happy to play with me (again freeing up the teachers for a couple of precious minutes).

I want to apologize for my horrendous editing on the last post. I would not fault you for thinking I didn't proof read it. I was very tired when I wrote it, and while I did proof read it, it looks like a lot of errors went through. I cleaned a lot of it up yesterday and it should be smooth reading today. Nice and sunny here. The snow is melting. Blair out.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What is a Grade One English Class Like?

I realize that many times I tend to gloss over the details of my classes. I am at this five days a week, which adds up to a lot of classes to cover; furthermore, I think all my students and every class is special and therefore deserving of the full Blair blog treatment. However, I feel it may be beneficial to detail one of today's classes because it was a big day for all concerned.

Japanese schools often have days set aside for parents, teachers, or administrators to come and watch class. This is because they feel it is important to see what the atmosphere inside the classroom is like. I don't want to get off topic about my opinions on this practice, but I will state the obvious; that once you stick twenty or thirty strangers inside a classroom with the students you no longer have a natural atmosphere, but rather a lot of nervous energy. To continue, today was one of those days: In the afternoon about thirty parents watched their children's' English class at Shikaoi Elementary School.

The topic of today's class was "like" and "don't like". Part of the class, near the beginning, was set aside to introduce some of my likes. Nothing too deep; I like reading Canadian non-fiction, I like traveling with my family in Asia. Just the basic stuff. I have been keeping aside an ace-in-the-hole activity for just such an occasion. It's very simple. Just take a large bag or box with a question mark on the side and randomly (and dramatically) pull stuff out; the children will be enthralled. And indeed it all went off without a hitch.

Beforehand I had gone around my house collecting some odds and ends for this activity. Things I like: my sunglasses, my books, my water bottle (everyone sees me with it), my scarf, my music (represented by my headphones), and cooking (represented by a very special spatula). I am apprehensive about the level of detail so I will error, this time, on too much. This particular grade one class has an interesting quirk of raising their hands to answer questions even though no question has been posed. I have no idea what is going through their heads, but once it starts they all do it. (Normally bringinf a smile to my face.) Needless to say, these kids are crazy about questions, so I held up the box with the question mark and asked, in English, what's inside? Today, monkey was a popular answer; one of the older, more mature, boys, with thought this was ridiculous and suggested a smallish monkey.

Okay, time to start holding the stuff up. One by one I slowly took out the objects in the box, commenting on it by saying "I like..." Children love this; all of them wound tight, ready to spring at the next surprise. Every single instance illiciting a very big "ooooooOOOOOOoooooo" from the students. Putting on the sunglasses inside was too much for some, causing one student to jump to his feet and shriek in disbelief, "He's wearing sunglasses inside!" No really - everyone was in stitches for this activity.

We sometimes like to include the observers in the class because it can be good practice. It's nice to switch things up so the kids can ask others, beside ourselves, for conversational practice. So the kids got an interview sheet (with pictures) and they had to ask the various mothers and observers present if they like such-and-such. Now, I know I have previously said that my students are friendly, but under certain conditions this can change. The first question was easiest because most students ran and asked their parent. But the second time you'd think they were dropped off at a different school. So one must gently encourage them to ask again. Different techniques are required for this. Many ask if they can just ask you for the answers to fill in the sheet, but you have to explain that it has to be the moms and sort of push them in that direction. I had a couple of kids just go limp, like a noodle, in my arms while directing them back to the side of the room with the observers. It's a completely unfounded reaction simply because in a small community like Shikaoi, all the different mothers know the kids; but alas, this puts me in one of the trickiest situations you can have while teaching. (You may think I mean discipline, but my life here is far too sunny and happy, and my kids too great, for a need of that). Basically, with a limp kid in your arms any quick movement on your part and the child - and soon thereafter children - will think you are playing a game with them (like tag, only for more nonsensically) and just start running around, leaving a carefully planned activity in ruins.

All my students were immensely proud of their work - as they should be - and are constantly running back to me to present their next small achievement (of one more question answered) for my approval. I react with (honest, though dramatic) amazement. Perhaps there is something to the whole notion of positive re-enforcement or perhaps because I have yet to fully realize the power I hold over my students, but they like nothing more than to ask who they should do next. I reply that I want them to find someone that likes ice cream, horses, dogs, or tomatoes, etc., and off they run. Soon they are back, proudly showing me the evidence (this is how I nearly lost an eye today) and I send them off again. This is not the quickest nor the most efficient way to do it, but soon enough all the students forget their initial shyness (because everyone is doing it) and soon they are all returning with completed sheets.

This is only a short snap shot of what I do on a daily basis. Sorry for the lack images. If you think it sounds fun, you bet. Funny too? Heck yeah. Satisfying? Certainly. Want my job? Never! Exhausting? Absolutely, this is why I go to bed at 9 o'clock on Fridays.