Monday, October 30, 2006


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It's Halloween today and so we carved pumpkins at Sasagawa Sho. Nothing more heart-stopping than watching a grade one awkwardly plunge a knife into a pumpkin. But everyone had all their digits accounted for at the end of the day. It was an odd experience because I became the default jack-o-lantern expert; something I really have no claim to. I sometimes forget how foreign these activities are for both teachers and students. I was called upon to inspect every pumpkin and peppered with questions along the way. Students respond well to creative and tactile (and dangerous) experiences.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Monday's post

Readers will have to make do with a much scaled-down version of my birthday post. I had a large chunk of it typed out last night when decided to eat the post. I lost the connection to the server when trying to save and with it the post. It feels like too much to type out again plus there is now a whole Monday worth of activities between me and the weekend. Instead I curse the very name of blogspot and offer some nice pictures instead.

The weekend end went smoothly. I had lovely weather in Sapporo, great for walking or shopping; warm and sunny. To go along with all the birthday wishes I received, I bought myself a North Face winter coat (a Japanese original, the cute salesgirl added). My parents phoned me at the Suginome's Sunday morning which was still my birthday Saturday night their time, this was to make sure they were not having any fun without me.

My big surprise for the day - and taste - was a delicious homemade chocolate birthday cake brought into the office by Vivian-sensei. Myabe a bit too sweet for my Japanese co-workers, but she knew exactly what I wanted! Thanks!

As my schools get busier for their respective school festivals, I am less and less needed. This will probably continue until the middle of November when things get back to normal. I will keep readers updated on events here.

Another Day

Another day and more tech troubles from Blogspot. I did arrive safely home from Sapporo.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tomorrow's trip

I spent today - the day before my birthday - at Urimaku Elementary school. I had lunch with the grade one's. It was a very pleasant day that became a day of firsts, two of which are both illustrated in the image above. The grade two teacher made carrot jello, a combination that had until now escaped me. It can be seen above as the blurry orange thing. The second first in the image is the challenge of eating jello with chopsticks. I think the faces of the two girls on the left are priceless; they looked so shocked. Tomorrow I will be leaving early in the morning for Sapporo and will return Sunday.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Asking questions in Class

With today comes another round of outages; this time a complete crash of their networking system. Everything is sort of going to pot over there this week. Hopefully this will not cause this post to be unduly delayed.

There have been two recent experiences about how classes answer questions that I would like to share. In an elementary class, the mix of high energy and boundless creativity is volatile. When all students in a class know the answer – and everyone yelling - the result can be hard to ignore. A cacophony is a good way to describe it. This is the more common result. One class in particular, this year’s grade two’s, has the extremely odd habit of putting their hands up to answer even when no question has been posed. My face often scrunches up in a look of odd bewilderment; this is also accompanied by the impulse to smile. I would really like to understand what is going on in their heads.

Fitting in on the fly.

As I was calmly writing a post a co-worker hurriedly came in and asked me if I could help with something. I had a rough idea of what it was about because I knew some of my students were practicing Shikaoi's famous White Snake Dance in the hall. Tired from sitting at my desk and anxious to learn something new - even if it included dancing - I jumped up to help.

Now that it's evening I can reflect on the experience and I thought it would make a good post. Details about the White Snake Festival can be read here. Previously, I have had the opportunity to hold one of the supports and the snakes are far heavier then they appear. Running around again and again while holding them in a practice only served to reinforced this belief. In addition, I should also mention we were using a duplicated shorter pair made for the children's version. The practices really can't run if someone is missing which is why they needed someone. My height made the maneuvers awkward because I was so much taller than everyone else. There was a particular move toward the end, where the troop dips under the snake, where I got my head hit several times. I think this will exclude me from participating in any performances with the group in the future.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how normal things feel; how routine things have become. This practice was a good example of this. Sometimes, regardless of effort, foreigners just stick out in Japan. But today among my students and teachers I felt helpful and included. This is oddly illustrated with the fact it sometimes means my students ignore my presence (but in the end every child wants attention). Also, because I understood my students' temperaments involved, I could be of great service helping keep the kids focused and motivated (I was commented on this later). I was tired from the practice but the kids were exhausted (pleading not to have to run with the things anymore) and I don't blame. They worked very hard.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Day in the Life of Blair

Really sorry about the recent trouble. It seems to be all in the past now.

I was the recipient of a box of maple syrup cookies from one of the teachers that went to Stony Plain this month. I happily accepted the gift but in all honestly would have preferred something of my own choosing. Still, it was given in kindness and put to good use. At the moment - fresh from a returning group – my house is full of Canadian sweets. This makes me feel guilty. I decided I should share my cookies. Share is perhaps not the optimal word because one could also suggest bribe.

I try to attend English classes for kindergarteners very prepared. This includes sometimes bringing (positive) reinforcements with me, like stickers. I was a bit leery to bring maple syrup cookies into a kindergarten because they are very sweet and foreign looking. Comedically, I knew once I got all the kids hopped up on sugar, I could leave. I was worried the kids would reject the strange looking cookies on sight. However, my worries were unfounded. After practicing English introductions – which the did very well, all things considered – they deserved a small treat. Starting with the older kids (age 5) I handed them out. Everything got eaten because as the younger kids watched, they didn’t want to feel left out.

This leaves me to explain how I spent my afternoon: crashing. I far exceeded my normal daily sugar intake by eating three cookies this morning. I couldn’t help finishing the last two after I ate one as an example to show they were edible. It has left me speaking quickly with sore teeth. I should have remembered to bring my camera to capture some of the odd reactions. But in a sign of how normal everything feels, I didn’t think to bring it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Technical troubles

The updating side of has been extremely patchy over the weekend (North American time). I tried several times to update, but I couldn't even get through all the pages needed to post without lagging out, so, I gave up in fustration and didn't even touch the site yesterday. Everything seems to be running smoothly now and I will be putting up a full post later today.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weekend Update

I really wanted to get out today and take some photos to post but during the prime times (in early morning and at sun set) the lighting conditions were sub-optimal, offereing only poor flat light. This post is so sparce because I put a lot of effort this weekend in finishing some small writing projects I had on hand. Back to normal tomorrow. I should also add there have been problems with this weekend.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Are we discussing Baseball or the Justice System?

In an effort to report Prime Minister Stephen Harper's introduction of new legislation meant to "get tough on crime," the communist broadcasting entity known as CBC surprised me. Finally they produced something worthy of comment. As this relates to larger issues below, the story supported my position; that we need only hear the Prime Minister talk tough about crime to know that he is working toward a safer Canada. (I thank the Conservative Party has been so open about this point.)

Long ago I had given trying up to understand the root causes of crime; there were too many, probably each needing it's own approach. I had neither the time nor inclination. I knew looking beyond the absolute world of good and evil I inhabit lay a grey area. But "Liberals" also inhabit this grey area and they are crazy and wrong by definition, thus I knew to dwell in this area must also logically be wrong.

The Prime Minister's implementation of the same three-strike policy that has been a success in America means Canada can continue toward a society where the bad are punished and the grey area banished. Every rational person understands that what is needed in Canada is a top-down system that further removes common sense and reality from the judicial system in favor of simple logic: longer sentences reduce crime. It's hard to counter - and in a political checkmate - even harder to oppose.

What the "Left" doesn't understand (because they are too busy giving comfort to the enemy) is that one need not actually address crime to talk tough about it. Historical insight doesn't help one look strong or heroic in front of the country. And not only are those opposed advocating rewarding anti-social behavior, they also don't support economic development. Canada's struggling, unflatteringly named "prison industrial complex" is looking at a windfall of business as Canada's incarceration rates begin to edge up toward the highest levels in the world. The bottom line of creating jobs and supporting big business is continued without breaking the fundamental principles of the free market.

In a warning to conservatives I call for an organized defense against those trying to twist the historic precedence that locking up a sizable portion of population has had little effect on crime. When faced with tangential factors that arise when such a large portion of the population is incarcerated, I suggest name calling. When referred to, the fact that in America, under the same policy, soon one out of every 100 will be behind bars must strongly be challenged; that is not the picture of a broken system, but one of a policy working perfectly. Well true that no other culture on Earth or in history has ever reached such levels of incarceration, it was only because they were doing everything wrong. If they had been right, they would be us, wouldn't they? No, extremely high levels of incarceration is a sign of a smoothly functioning policy and I have no reason to doubt the success of such strong words by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My Special Day!

I asked around today to discover the grade sixes won 6-2 yesterday. They are very dedicated students and deserved the win. I only got up to bat twice and it was a scary experience staring down those (devilishly fast) pitches. I think I will stick with softball. I wanted to get a picture of the boys bench because they looked serious and at the same time delighted to be whooping the teachers, however, I was holding the team together in right field. I did manage to snap a picture of our rag-tag bench of ruffians having a good time on a nice fall day.

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Before I detail my special day, I must comment on something important I forgot to include yesterday. The grade 10's returned from Canada yesterday around lunch time. I didn't see anyone until today. My section chief quickly found me to say how great a time he had and told me to thank everyone in Stony Plain for their hospitality. He also added that he was very tired today.

He didn't get to talk to me long because we had a bit of a crisis at the office this afternoon. It started small enough. I didn't even notice the janitor working on the hot-water radiant heater in the corner beforehand. He was getting the system ready for winter. From my desk I heard a small "ting!" and then a hiss. I got up to investigate because I thought it sounded suspiciously like running water and I know better then to trust the stuff. My comments, "Ah... it's water," didn't elicit anyone to action. When I saw the janitor returned with pliers I considered everything back under control and sat down again. Crack! Upon hearing the loud new sound I knew exactly what had happened. I didn't even need to turn around as people ran to the sound of rushing water. As everyone started to pull chairs into the hall, put paper onto desks, and mop, I tried to make witty remarks to lighten the mood (like father like son). Nothing like a crisis to break up an otherwise monotonous week. Everyone in the office was finding the situation absurd. Wow, it was lot of water. There were a lot of kids in the building for some reason and they were immediately drawn to the commotion. The older students wanted to help but this being Japan, there were power cords everywhere and this posed a bit of a safety issue. Musashi returned after a short errand to the Yakuba, saw the mess, and said with a big grin, "Man, I leave this place for ten minutes." It gets better! People are starting to roll up their sleeves and put on boots at this point because the water is still gushing out, but... then... the water starts getting hot, really hot, because remember it's part of the boiler system. Now no one can even get near the thing. Finally someone makes it to the main valve - where ever it is - so that the water can be shut off from the main supply. Now clean up can begin. This was really insightful too because as visitors came by the office everyone felt obligated to pitch in (one delivery guy and several teachers). Soon we had a lot of helping hands - everyone was bonding - and everything was quickly put back to normal.

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Finally, I just wanted to let everyone know that I survived the special class this morning. I think the Usui's are miracle workers and I felt great. (I was thinking later how everything they suggested tasted like ginger.) The funniest moments were when we were trying to line up the kids. It was an exercise in futility. Like me trying to appreciate a-tonal post-modern classical music. They just wanted to look around and visit. It took forever, and by the time you got one line in order - looking over your shoulder - the other line was in chaos again.

I wanted to share an example of the amazing creativity of young children. Practicing Halloween gestures, I didn't think they should attempt Moon or Jack-o-lantern because I didn't think there were any obvious gestures (instead relying on witches, bats, and zombies etc.). However, when I said "Moon" or "Jack-o-lantern" there was absolutely no hesitation on their part. They just flopped to the ground like a pumpkin for example. Amazing. I was impressed because I would have skipped them all together; such is the unimaginative, dull brains of adults.

Tech note: There is a problem with blogspot's photo hosting system at the moment and so I have put up less pictures than I had planned.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bad Medicine

I really wanted this to be a long and thoughtful post - goodness knows I certainly have enough content today - but I am feeling a bit under the weather, just in time for my big class tomorrow, I know. My comments are summarized in point form:

  • The funniest part of my day was taping fake weather reports with the grade 5/6 class from Sasagawa Elementary School for their weather unit. The students really got into it. They had costumes from all over the world (for example: Kenya/China), decorated the set, planned great gestures and practiced very hard. It came off great (if a little amateurish). I think they should be proud of their work because they worked hard. Canada's gestures were modeled a "Coolness"-theme (hence why both student's wore fake dread-locks, handkerchiefs, and sunglasses). It would remind anyone from Vancouver of having their weather reported to them (of more rain) by pot-heads. Very amusing.

  • I also harvested pumpkins today at Sasagawa Sho.

  • At the moment, my voice is not feeling much better then my entire body.

  • For the record (and my Mom in particular), I have just returned from the Usui's pharmacy and plan to knock this cold back to the store age from whence it came.

  • As Mrs. Usui filled my arms with various potions I was sure to get detailed instructions on the use and effect of each one because otherwise I would be completely clueless.

  • The rest can't possibly be more bitter than the one I just took.

  • Finally got the game the between the teachers and grade six baseball team finished this afternoon. Nice day for the game but the wind was very cold. I don't remember who won, but I think we were slayed by their 12 year old pitcher. He was amazing. They were very serious, calling plays and whatnot. The teachers were a bit more laid back, like pirates without a captain. I'll see how the pictures turned out tomorrow.

  • Now I am going to do the dishes while listening to the internet radio (maybe try to learn something), make dinner (perogies!) and then it is off to bed.

  • The clips of Stephen Colbert on are hilarious.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A New Challenge!

I think I spoke too soon last week posting about being exhausted after visiting Shikaoi Kindergarten. I learned today there will be an open English class for all next year's grade ones plus this year's class; the total sum of which is 83 students (5, 6, 7 year olds). Initially, it was a shock. Could this possibly be a joke? In starting to plan the details today, everything has started to become a reality. The class will cover two periods and will not be structured like a normal class; the focus will be on activities that brings both groups together. And what I am sure will be a hilarious highlight of the day for the students, a very very large version of "The Hokey-Pokey" will be lead by yours truly. Just thinking about it makes me exhausted.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I had a very slow weekend and spent a lot of time reading and writing while sitting in my bright sun-lit living room. I did show my face at the local pub Saturday night but was home by 10:30 PM. I enjoy my sleep and waking up early to get all my chores done by 9:00 AM. Nizen is always fun because you will always meet people you know. I had an odd conversion about pub food that got me some complementary fried chicken from Masta. It's very different to how we imagine it in Canada and soooo good. It was also very nice all weekend and I went for both a long walk and run each day (I should have brought my camera). I feel well rested to tackle next week.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I took all the proper precautions including eating a big meal last night and getting lots of sleep beforehand, but I still feel like I want to rest this evening. Actually, I want to rest right now. I don't think returning from kindergarten exhausted is a sign of weakness; being the absolute center of attention by default is an exhausting job. I have an uneventful evening ahead where I can just sit around guilt-free and relax. I wonder if I have the strength to make dinner?

The teachers are aware that next year I will be seeing the kindergarten's five year olds at Shikaoi Sho and so that is where the focus is. However, in a special twist in regards to the 4 year olds, all their mothers came to participate in the class (in a telling cultural example; no fathers were present). To celebrate, we played a very large game of "Fruit basket" and "duck-duck-goose." The large scale duck-duck-goose game was very impressive, with children reaching amazing speeds. Playing in child/mother pairs, I must say, some mothers were very competitive.

Sorry for the small image below. I have no time or strength to do anything fancy. To me the image represents a normal instance at any kindergarten I go to. Kids hanging off me, pulling me in all directions. What all images fail to show is the unholy cacophony this group is making. Kids questioning me and at the same time others relating the small details of their busy lives.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Big day

Big day tomorrow. I will be going to Shikaoi Yochen and teaching about sixty 3, 4 and 5 year olds. I went for a 30 min run tonight plus I had a big last dinner of sandwiches (ham and cheese on really good fresh buns). There is only so much preparing you can for 3 year olds; I feel like I should be doing some stretches or something like that before hand. It is now thundering for the second time ever since I moving here, along with the predicted down pour of rain. Now to bed!

Random Stuff

I did not wake up this morning thinking later we would have thunderstorms. To make matters stranger still; the air was very smoky/hazy this morning. Making for a very odd sight. It is very hard to teach when you have to complete against thunder and lightening. Not recommended. The picture above illustrates the odd weather just before it started to pour. It continues to pour even now, but the thunder and lightening has stopped. Fall thunderstorms make me uneasy. To the left, I promised I would post a picture of Nobu-sama's very expensive sandals. There custom made in Sapporo using reflexological elements. I'm sure they are as uncomfortable as they look. But it wouldn't be good for you if it didn't hurt eh?

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Early for Halloween

We held a special Halloween class today at Tsumei Sho in the gym. All grades came together making for a total of fifteen students. It may not sound like many, but classes where all ages are grouped need special attention. They are challenging because of the wide variation in English ability. I come across it often when I go to small kindergarten that have kids ages 2 to 5. Unless 2 and 3 year olds are specifically in the mood, they could care less about what I say but still love dancing. Also contributing to the high energy level is the fact that every student in grade 4, 5 and 6 in Tsumei Sho is a boy. I have noticed that sometimes boys need the balancing influence of girls to tell them to stop being so stupid. Also note how early it is to be studying Halloween. Especially in light of the fact that I will be returning to Tsumei Sho on the 24th, right before Halloween. A grouped class does have advantages, it offers an opportunity to put extra effort into planning. I was surprised at the array of materials collected for the class. Many things were specially made, which takes a long time, and this normally can't be done week after week by any human teacher. Also included are some recent pictures.
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Monday, October 09, 2006

Will things calm down?

As people wake up this morning around the world they will want details about North Korea’s successful nuclear test. The 7:00 PM news here was stretched to a full hour but I would not call it enlightening. Since lunch when news first trickled in, only one national channel interrupted programming for extensive coverage. After a short announcement, other channels quickly returned to normal programming (consisting, for example, of a celebrity baseball game and a timely program about Korean cooking hosted by a popular Japanese physic). The extended coverage on BS1 was not much more helpful; they had a long string of talking heads – I mean analysts – that explained who had predicted what successfully and who had been wrong.

Tomorrow I know that all of Japan will be abuzz and only in part because we are in the direct line of fire. The issue within Asia had been growing for a long time, and this was a major escalation. As I watched the news - always clumsily translated into English – it became clear it was simply going to be a long litany of everyone making official statements. (And I mean everyone.) Other than outlining the history of the issue, there was very little analysis. But to be fair, there is very little to go on at the moment. The political ramifications in Japan are enormous.

The online reaction took an interesting turn early on; that of humor. Not the obvious reaction, I agree, but isn’t there always some sharp truth to the heckles of the jester? Hawks in Asia will attack the long policy of appeasement (which I agree should be closely examined), but with humor and satire the internet community quickly exposed a far more complex picture of today’s developments. I considered posting some of the more humorous comments but realized an intimate knowledge of Japanese current events and extensive background information is needed for it to be funny; but really, believe me, it was funny.

Below, I humbly offer what little insight I have into the issue. (I apologize for its lack of humor.)

What has always struck me about people that go on to get doctorates in geo-politics is the large gap that lays at the foundation of their discipline. They’ve glossed over it long enough that one day an enterprising professor will re-define the subject and what has always been a weakness will become someone else’s problem. While one goes across the scale of person-to-person relationships governed by laws, to international relationships, there is a great discontinuity. A primary factor in the leading so-called "realist" camp is the anarchical environment in which the international politik works. There are no laws; only the powerful (using various means) are obeyed, all other structures are superficial. But in the common sense world we inhabit – outside of text books - a country is not an entity one can shake hands with; a country is led by a group of individuals. And so while internally we are bound by laws; internationally it becomes something out of Nietzsche. Which is fine with me really, if that’s how it works. But the line has to be defined for their conclusions to valid, and they haven’t even remotely acknowledged the it. To dramatically over simplify it: Why can’t one person force their will on someone by holding a gun to their head domestically, but at the same time hold basically the same guiding philosophy internationally? It is morally ambiguous at best. This is not a comment on U.S. politics. This is simply what is taught at universities across the West. It can’t be helped if some find their way into various governments.

Very little of what geo-political researchers have ever predicted has come true. But I made a prediction years ago that has held true. Don’t plan a parade yet. I’ll be honest and admit it didn’t take an advance degree or much brainpower to work it out; it only took what little common sense I have (see the post about the most dangerous meal of the day). A pre-emptive doctrine, while sounding heroic, is not pragmatic, and leads to the opposite result; that of an arms race. Flashback: Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and must be taken out. Are you sleeping better now because Saddam is in jail? And more importantly: Did Iraq have weapons of mass destructions at all?

The second question is of key importance because Iraq didn’t. To a small country which views America as a predatory superpower, Iraq becomes a very clear example of what happens to countries that don’t possess weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent. They get taken over in a matter of days. This becomes a very powerful rational to develop weapons of mass destruction.

So how would I fix it? Well firstly, I want to be clear I didn’t get us into this situation. (So no time outs for me please.) I will proudly take what responsibility I have in correcting the issue seriously. The people that guided us to this point were the same group of people with fancy geo-political degrees from Harvard and Toronto. And in the near future, as encouraging as this may seem, they will be in charge of fixing it. What becomes a simple question of morals in domestic situations becomes immensely complex on the international stage. Reality has a nasty way of rearing its head into even the best planned policy.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

North Korea Nuke

I know it is very late in Canada but there was successful test of a nuke in North Korea. I will have to watch the 7:00 news today because all heck is going to break lose politically in Japan. Details can be found on The Drudge Report to which there is a link to on my sidebar.


Went to the Soba festival today. It stopped raining but was very cold. Needless to say, I choose hot soba. I'm doing writing this afternoon and will give a longer post tomorrow.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Good-Bye grade 10s, Hello Friday

It's Friday again - and while there's only a skeleton crew at work in the office - I still feel very rushed. I had a full past two days. For example, I was at Chomin Hall this morning at 7:30 AM to see the grade 10 class off. Both my bosses are going on the trip too, as representatives for Shikaoi; already the office is dressing more casual. Also, Hosono-sensei, principal of Shikaoi High School and all around great guy, will be staying at my house in Stony Plain. It's a big treat for my family because he also stayed at our house two years ago. (I have Vivian-sensei to thank for the pictures in this post.)

Also this weekend is Shikaoi's BIG soba festival. Many soba shops will be set up in Chomin Hall's parking lot attracting thousands of visitors over the weekend. It's suppose to rain tomorrow, so I am trying to rally a posse to go Sunday. I hope it will be nice weather because last year was a lot of fun. The history of the Soba festival is short but interesting: Basically the town stole the idea of a Soba festival from neighboring Shintoku about a decade ago. Now both towns herald themselves as "Soba Capital of Japan"'s.

In a big step today, I ran the grade one/two English class at Kamihoronai Sho by myself. The homeroom teacher was away on business and thus teaching the class fell upon me. The school is very small and lacked flexibility to cover the class and I was more than happy to help. The homeroom teacher left some instructions and materials for me. It was a big success not only from a technical stand point (full marks for finishing everything I needed to do exactly on time) but we all had a lot of fun do it. The class is only two girls, so don't get the impression that this was an epic record-breaking accomplishment. The girls are, understandably, best friends and make for an amusing pair to teach. The homeroom teacher and I often can't keep a straight when dealing with them. What really makes the pair such a joy to teach every week is that they are so quick to laugh - maybe too much so sometimes - I can never bare telling them to stop in a world I know is not perfect and will certainly give them opportunity enough to cry in the future.

Another reason to lift my mood today, as if being the weekend isn't enough; it's a long weekend!

Grade 10 Departure

I just saw the Grade 10s off to Stony Plain from Chomin Hall. I will give a full account later.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Busy Tomorrow

I have a very busy day tomorrow that includes my normal classes, some sort of store festival run by my elementary students, a speech contest, and a teachers vs. grade six baseball game. It only looks like because its all in one spot and happens to all occur before 5 PM. I probably won't find time time in front of a computer tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Chopstick relay

We developed a very good game for the grade six English class that included using chopsticks as a vocabulary builder. The point of the game was to go find an English word written on a piece of paper and run it back to your team holding it with the chopsticks. The class is wild about most anything and did very well. The relay had a very good pace that kept everyone excited and focused. The activity also included that all important factor of danger as 11 and 12 year olds sprinted around the room with pointy chopsticks. Very fun to watch.

Oh Canada Karaoke

Normally, my humorous posts reflect my job working with kids, but today I bring a story from the high school where the grade tens are preparing for their trip to Canada. I was invited to watch the dress rehearsal of the cultural showcase which the students are to present in Stony Plain. Everything was going smoothly until suddenly I was offered a mic and asked to please familiarise them with "Oh Canada." I declined the mic but that did not save me from the absurdity to follow. The first obstacle was the recording - which I hope in the name of all that is good is changed for the farewell dinner; the opening just started into the lyrics with no smooth lead in, this meant we always came in late. Furthermore, the graduations between loud and soft were extreme, meaning sometimes you could not hear the recording but by the next line it was clipping the speakers and all the time we are losing where we are in the song. The anthem seemed longer that I remember. Secondly, getting the students to actually move their mouths to sing was important. I could have juggled fire and still got less of a response so I fell back on my many elementary skills and just had them repeat after me. That seemed to be wanted the teacher wanted and after that I was able to retreat to the side of the gym with my dignity intact. And yes, I am completely tone deaf as you would except; my brother definately got those genes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Earthquake Drill at School

My Monday wasn't exactly shattered by the earthquake drill, nor was it particularly interesting, but, being from Alberta, such things stick out in my mind as foreign and thus make a good topic for comment. Many drills are carried out every year but because I move around between schools so much, normally miss them. I was only in the school second period, but not in class, for the drill today. A loud siren went off, signaling the quake and everyone got under their desks (to protect their head, which I immediately bumped anyway). When the siren stopped, it meant the end of the earthquake, and next everyone had to quickly exit the school to be counted. The evacuation outside is necessary because the condition of the school is never immediately known; there could be a gas leak or major structural damage. I had never made the connection before but all first floor classrooms (used by grade one and two) have doors leading directly outside (but rarely used), making evacuation in an emergency quick and efficient. After assembling outside, the principal gave a short speech on some of Japan's recent big earthquakes, including the 2003 8.0 earthquake centered on the North side of Hokkaido. He included a description of the condition of Shikaoi Elementary School after the quake. After unsettling the kids enough, he casually told them to remember today's drill.

What is known in the West as the Kobe Earthquake (Jan. 17 1995) is known here as the Great Hanshin Earthquake. This is because the actual epicenter was 20 km under the Hanshin peninsula, about 20 km away from Kobe. However, Kobe was by far the nearest high-density population center and, as result, had the most damage. (The earthquake itself was big enough to cause a dip in Japan's GDP.) As a consequence of the Kobe earthquake there have been two general changes to Japan's emergency preparedness. Firstly, the science. While the earthquake only measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, it was located directly under land; a situation scientists had previously thought impossible (believing instead that these quakes occurred off the coast). And secondly, the Kobe earthquake triggered a massive restructuring of Japan's response plan. Japan had been prepared before, but the Kobe earthquake was a large-scale testing of their system, and afterward thousands of refinements and improvements were made. Interestingly, across the country they revised upwards their worst case scenarios and started to stock more of everything. In terms of tweaks, they now make sure, on top of the normal emergency rations, there is a variety of specialized rations for people with dietary restrictions.

I find the relationship between architecture and earthquakes in Japan a fascinating topic deserving it's own book. I will try to continue the discussion in the future.