Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Something to offer

This is just a quick story, in lue of a more detailed update, from today's open class with the grade twos. I was surprised how subversive a group of 7 year olds can be. The focus was on foods but whenever we came to the word "Bread" they said "Blair," (which sounds very smiler if you are saying it with a lazy Japanese accent). Needless to say, I was biting my tongue because it really was quite funny. The kids knew exactly what there were doing. And the homeroom teacher, also trying to hold back his laughter, fought a losing battle in front of the kid's parents. "Say it properly please." The other English teachers were getting teary-eye'd watching the struggle. Other than that, the kids should be proud of what they presented at the end of class; I know I was impressed.

Busy Week Turning into a Wreck

Things are a bit strange this week with my being out of the office for business for the first time. For two days straight to boot. Wednesday is an open class for grade two where the parents will watch. I think it's a normal class but kids can act unpredictably when their parents are watching; sometimes in a better-behaved, under-heavy-sedatives kind-of-way. But whereas we use a game that has had a great reaction all year, all of a sudden the same game is like asking them to play with bits of string and knit-knacks.

Thursday, I am in Sapporo to visit Immigration Japan to finish what is needed to get my work visa transfered over to my new passport. Also, I received my new passport on Monday. It came without any problems and probably wasn't worth the worry. And on Friday I am going on to a nearby town, near the ocean actually, to observe elementary classes. Thus, there are lots and lots of little things that need to get done before I leave, including filing paperwork in Japanese and endless emails to sort out details.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A dollar short

I am getting a bit behind in updates. This is the last thing I do before I go to bed. Why I am I so sleepy for a Sunday night? To continue, these images are from yesterday's smallish snow festival at Kamihoronai Elementary School put on by the PTA in honor of JICA visitors from overseas. It was great fun last year but I think more people came this year. JICA is a Japanese organization that hosts people from developing countries in an effort to share agricultural techniques. The funniest thing for me during the day is seeing all of these people freak out at winter. While it was cold at the beginning because of the wind, once it stopped, I thought it was very pleasant out. Still it was shockingly cold for some (especially if you got snow in your boots). They are all well educated but that there are places on earth that necessitated the invention of the snowmobile is mind boggling to some. This year I didn't get to take as many picture because the planned activities revolved around team games that needed my full concentration; obstacle course, snow tunneling etc.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

神さま's gift of Sandwiches

I made a delicious sandwich Friday night before badminton. I had saved up several special ingredients to ease out of the long work week. Sandwiches are easily my favorite food; simple, healthy and delicious. I can’t really remember a day going by where I didn’t eat a sandwich. Sure Italian food and pizza are good, but sandwiches are something I could happily survive on. In the reality TV show Big Brother the losing team has to eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches for a week; where do I sign up? My dad instilled in me a strong habit of enjoying peanut butter and banana sandwiches on weekends. Coldcut sandwiches for lunch are energizing and even tomato and cheese sandwiches for an evening snack are a great comfort food. I’m not in to the different salad sandwiches or modern restaurants’ take on sandwiches that stuff food between bread that is better left on the plate and eaten with a fork. I prefer to make my own sandwiches.

I saved a dab of pesto from last weeks pesto pasta to use. The shredded cheese is all local from Tokachi. The tomato was a perfect $4 hot house tomato. This is important because most of the normal tomatoes I use are of the tasteless Japanese variety (an Italians nightmare). The mini-tomatoes do have more taste but it looks absurd to slice up 10 small mini-tomatoes for a sandwich (this is from experience). Normally I go without meat in them because there are really no quality coldcuts to speak of—just unknown Japanese processed meat—and using bacon all the time is unhealthy. However, I just happen to be in A-Coop the other day and there was great sliced coldcut ham just sitting on the shelf, just like you find in Safeway and I ate all through high school. I bought some on the spot. All of this is grilled to perfection in a normal frying pan.

I have an alternative motivation to sharing this picture because I’m using the image in a small presentation next week of my favorite things. Also included in the list: Badminton, Kendama, and the Shinkensen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Telephone game

We played a fun activity with the grade 5/6 class today. We can do such high-concept/high-prep games when there are only four students in the class and two teachers. We spent previous weeks' classes building up vocabulary and practicing sentence structures and today we used them in a telephone skit. It was fun because the teacher built a string and tin can system throughout the classroom. The kids were thrilled and it was a good illustration at how high a level the kids are at. There's lots of trouble to get into when such a novelty is strung around the classroom. I have no idea why, but something was funny enough to one of the grade fives for him to fall off his chair. I call the activity a qualified success.

Also, in the pass thirty minutes a small storm cloud passed over and blunted the otherwise fine day. For a while, it was a strange mixture of the biggest snowflakes I have every seen, really like small loose-packed snowballs when they hit you, and rain. Not a good combination either. Luckily it's staying above zero as I will have to spend the afternoon outside tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sunny Day #5

Every afternoon it has been really sunny lately, possibly surpassing 0C by 9 AM. Sometimes in the evenings it gets windy and miserable again but I have enjoyed the spring-like weather recently. The lack of any large dumps of snow has allowed the town crews to focus on removing huge patches of ice that kept on melting during the day and freezing at night. Now the streets are Shikaoi are perfectly dry. But what a racket to remove the ice that close to the road surface. I was told by a badminton friend that from now on the snow will be very heavy when it falls. That is something I am not looking forward too. I went to bed very early last night and don't feel like I am dragging at all today. A very sharp move on my part. Tonight, left over pesto pasta and then badminton.


Well, it ended up I did go for a run. Whenever I make rice in the rice cooker it takes at least 45 min so I always feel obliged to go for a run because the timing is so prefect. Really nothing to report except that I quit a bit early on the account that I was so tired. 45 min. Now it is time for a nice early bedtime.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Shikaoi Sho Snow Festival

I'm so tired as I write this. I was outside for two hours this morning supervising. All the grades were outside participating in games. The weather was really nice, thankfully with a warm sun high in the sky. Still, after two hours, sometimes in deep snow, the body expends a lot of energy to keep warm. I tried to wake up by eating something when I got back to the office but I don't think it helped. I might just stay home tonight instead of going for a run, especially if the weather keeps deteriorating; several hours ago it was sunny, but now it's snowing with these big flakes. I played badminton on Saturday and ran uber-long Sunday, so maybe it's time for a rest today. Theres so much cleaning I could do instead, plus read. I feel like I could good to bed at 9 PM tonight. I'll call it how I see it when I get home.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Two new products are born

Readers will be interested to learn that Hokkaido has long been known domestically as an area to test new products. Supposedly, we are more accepting of new products. There is a constant stream of new products that pass by the shelves of 7-11. If you do like something new, you should stock up, because one day a month later it will often be gone, as happened a couple of months ago with a good green iced tea I discovered. (Following up yesterday however, I discovered the tea was mysteriously back on the shelves.) Normally I don't try anything new, even things that have been in Japan forever, but in this post I will take one for the team and introduce the readers to two new products that may, or may not, be there next time I go to the store.

I bought Van Houten Cocoa on a whim because I had been outside for awhile and was going home; I felt like something chocolately. I'm sure it says to shake before drinking somewhere in Japanese on the package because I made a rookie error. I had drank half of it before I thought to shake it. Thus, the first half was pretty weak tasting and the last half too strong. I would describe the taste as sort of melted chocolate ice cream; which kind of made me nestolgic. It was okay.

This product from Suntory really surprised me. I was in buying a drink after running and saw this "Canadian Hops Quality" beer. Of course all sorts of things went through my head about why the Japanese linked Canada with beer but who really knows. That seal of approve was good enough for me and I bought a can. It gave the cashier pause because it was still morning when I bought it. Suntory is the fourth largest beer producer after Sapporo, Asahi, and Kirin and no one really enjoys their beer. I guess this tastes a bit more hopsy than usual but really it's just normal beer. (That bear is pretty cool.)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Shopping for Vegetables

I spent Saturday morning like I normally do. Sleeping in a bit; having a breakfast that is something other than peanut butter and jam toast to ration my Canadian peanut butter supply; started the laundry and cleaned the house. After listening to the CBC 6 o'clock news while cleaning the kitchen, which is really just a wall, I went to the supermarket to stock up on groceries for the weekend.

I was presently surprised today that many vegetables are finally going down in price. Since December, the saddest looking spinach was being sold for about $4 a bunch. Today that was down to 128 YEN and the quality was much better. I gritted my teeth last week and spent 450 YEN on 5 stocks of asparagus because I really wanted to use some in the pasta I was planning to make. Sure the asparagus was pristine but that's expensive. Today asparagus was down to 350 Yen for 5 stocks. I guess I will take this as a sign that spring is coming.

I did end up buying two bunches of spinach. I like spinach cooked nearly anyway and it's a super-healthy vegetable but temperamental in storage and preparation. What does the internet tell us about spinach? For one, all the important nutrients in spinach are quickly lost during storage, I try to by spinach only if it just arrived on the shelf. Days matter in buying spinach if you want to keep the valuable nutrients. Freezing is the only sure way to keep the nutrients from degrading and thus, if I want to eat it throughout the week, I lightly blanch it in boiling water, dry it off, and freeze it in small potions. Vegans will tell you not to cook anything because you destroy the nutrients while science is often less black and white (plus I rather eat cardboard with ketchup than become a vegan). While cooking spinach quickly does destroy a small amount of some types of nutrients, it has the effect of stopping certain enzyme reactions that lead to over all nutrient reduction.

The prices quoted are from Shikaoi's local Fukuhara supermarket. Normally, if I have time on the weekend, I go to Otofuke to a great supermarket called Hapio. It's kind of a trendy place to shop, playing classical music in the background, having fancy uniforms, and what not, but because they have the best quality fish and produce I perfer going there. There is only one place I go for baked goods, which is the panya-san just up the road from me run by a man-and-wife team. I hold Japanese bakeries in high regard and there are several good ones in Obihiro if I am there as well. Including one that makes excellent fresh tray buns, prefect for sandwiches.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bad Blair

I have been neglecting several emails so I will have to fore go a lengthy post. It is, however, really nice outside today. Spring-like is the only way to discribe it. My spirits are bouyed but my co-workers are sure it will snow again; deep, heavy, water-logged spring snow. Tomorrow is rather quiet, but there is a snow festival by my house on Sunday that I will go to. Maybe I will be able to ride a ballon! Pictures and a long post to come, I promise.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Students the same world over; soft tank internet anime

Today we spent class with the grade sixes in the computer lab doing internet research for a special english project. Nearing the end of class, we unhitched them to roam the (filtered) internet themselves. Immediately they headed to the Japanese version of youtube.com, mostly to watch "internet anime". This is a segment of Japanese culture that had previously escaped me but I wasn't too surprised to see that anime had evolved again. Most of the kids ran to one particular anime; a series of cartoons based on a cute tank, of course, that is, in reality, a type of chinese dumpling available at most convenience stores in Japan: Yawaraka. If that sounds bizarre to you, it is! Consider this post its North American debut because I really didn't get. (Should run fine on all browsers. The episodes are the small rounded rectangles toward the middle. Play with sound up! It's cute! ) I was intrigued by the same response exhibited by Japanese students under the same conditions. The same is true in Canada; you can't hold any grade six back from quirky internet video. I found it hard to chastise students laughing so hard they could barely breath. One of my many weakness. Nothing to do but enjoy the adventures of the "soft tank".


Got very dirty today. If you think I portray a feeling of casual indifference in this post, you are correct! Class was changed today (without telling me, as per usual), and instead we made cheesecake all morning. Fun, for sure; it was held to promote milk drinking I guess. I'm not sure. The cheese we used was homemade cream cheese from Tokachi cows. It was a weird texture but almost too tasty to use in a kids' cake - earthy and creamy. Does anyone know what gets egg out of pants? One of my students had a headache and was feeling particularly needy for attention. I was supervising, making sure someone didn't take an eye out with a spatula or something, and he hugged me. Cute! Except that his hands were covered in raw egg. Hmm. In a sign of true bachelor laziness, I still haven't talking off the pants as I type this, which turned out to be okay because upon making dinner I spilled something very gross on me. I don't even remember how tofu comes in Canada, but here it comes packaged with tofu water. Clearly it's a good skill to develop to open the package without squeezing it just so and creating a gush of tofu water. Normally I am careful but I mustn't have been paying attention, clearly not the state of mind to be in when using a knife. But, keeping the role of optimist, I had to consider my good luck in stopped the tofu water spray with my body from getting all over the kitchen. And... I was already dirty, the Gods were truly smiling on me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Badminton Results

Basically, the badminton tournament yesterday was set up with four big teams. Thus, lower ranked teams played lower ranked teams and everyone was assigned matches at their skill level. I thought it was a good idea to maximize fun for everyone. I was placed on the Board of Education team with seven other teachers. To my surprise, the teachers decided I should be placed on our top-tier team. My partner and I battled hard to win 2 of 3 matches but in the end the teachers lost. I think our team could have won the third match but all of our opponents quickly learned that sending the birdie my way was a mistake and thus I really didn't see as much action as I had hoped. My partner was run ragged by the end too, poor guy. I was moving around the court better then I have been recently (but not to my satisfaction) and my serving was sharp. My smash could have been a bit faster but it was well controlled (meaning I didn't send many into the net as has been a problem lately). After, we were all hungry and had a big lunch with most of the players showing up and sitting at a long table. After a smaller select group really needed an onsen. Japanese onsens are magical for punished bodies and everything felt better after. But more on Japanese onsens some other time. I'm still a bit stiff today and only planned a long walk (to keep loose) in what turned out to be great spring-like weather.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

My badminton Mojo

No juicy post today; I decided this afternoon to read rather than update. Went for a short, easy run today. 55 min. I'm trying to stay loose for tomorrows big badminton tourney which I will lose valiantly at. I'm just in the process of making a vegetarian pesto pasta now. Weather: snowing lightly.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Prefect Sandwich

Looking at my blog stats; I just had my first ever visitor from Iceland! It's still too soon to celebrate - read on: They were brought to my site through google looking for "the perfect figure skaiting body." Ah! So close! I don't think they will be staying long enough to see how my adventure ends.

Driving By Posting

I felt as if I was in a bit of a architectural mood today. Nothing earth shattering. This is just a picture of a house in Urimaku; its design is well fortified against the strong winds formed across fields in Tokachi. Sunday, I have the Shikaoi Doubles Badminton Taikai. Should be a lot of fun - I have been put on the teachers team - but don't expect to win. However, I have been training hard and I don't think I will embarrass myself either. You'd think that badminton would be the highlight of the day, but there is also an onsen and Genjisu-kan in there.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


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FACT: Sapporo receives the most snow for any large northern metropolitan center.

This fact was clearly illustrated for me yesterday. I was only in Sapporo for a couple of hours to fix a passport problem (that has thankfully been put to rest) but in that span of time the heavens opened and dropped a ton of snow; sometimes white and fluffy, other times wet and heavy, maybe 20 cm in all. Problems arise because there is simply no where to put the stuff in the middle of the day. Thus everything becomes a mess. During the night, big earth movers come and take it to the ocean. But in the mean time, pedestrians and cars alike take their lives in there hands to get around.

The Gods were also smiling on me because my passport problem coincided perfectly with the Sapporo Snow Festival, furthermore, the office was only a block off Odori Park, which is where the festival is held. I had every excuse to walk through the park to get to my appointment.

The biggest attraction this year was a huge ski/snowboard jump they built in the middle of the park. Sadly there was nothing going on when I walked by after dinner. Also interesting is the ice sculpture pictured above below. It has a long and interesting description that is not easily deduced from the image. The ice sculpture is not Egyptian, like I first thought, but represents a Persian antiquity. It's connection to anything winter or Japan related is unclear. Furthermore, seen on the right side of the image, is the famous Yamaha electric organ put inside a polyhedron (<--- first appearance of this word in my blog!). Again, it's connection to Persian history remains unclear. Lastly, at this stage, a Japanese version of "The Phantom of the Opera" was being piped in. It's connection to Persian antiquities, a snow festival, or mathematics is unclear.

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Back from Sapporo

Just got back from my quick business trip to Sapporo. The theme: Snow. I was only there a matter of hours and it was coming down hard the whole time. It snowed a foot if it snowed an inch! I'm tired now but pictures to follow.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

When Soy Sauce is Not Soy Sauce

Growing up with something called "Soy Sauce" in a yellow bottle, I never used the stuff again after returning from Japan the first time in 2000. "Shoyu" is what it's called here and Kikkomon makes the best stuff. One is able to find Kikkoman now in almost any store in the world. It's surprising to learn that such a large company can continually keep the quality high, with just plain regular soy sauce far outselling any other of the 30 different types of soy sauce they make. It's products can be found in many of Japan's finest restaurants. The same company was making renown soy sauce in Japan as far back as 400 years ago. While made of soy, soy sauce also contains wheat, and by ratio changes the nature of the sauce. It is also fermented, but that shouldn't be surprising since really the history of cooking is the story of controlled fermentation. Soy sauce is an interesting product in another way: Like fine wine or cheese, it can represent many different flavors at once. It's one of the most complex tastes known to man; containing (as counted by professionals, I suppose) over 230 different flavors. Vanilla, smoke, etc. I would just say it's salty and tastes good. Please if you are not already using Kikkoman (or some other real type of soy sauce), go out and treat yourself. Some notes on care: Soy sauce doesn't last forever, a month after opening the sauce starts to lose flavor. Store opened bottles in the fridge but I would recommend for connivence keeping a bit outside the fridge in a small container. (Here, they come in many different styles all made not to drip.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007


By popular demand - images from Saturday night's Pure Malt Party slash Vivians Birthday.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

From the Blowing Snow Dept.

I really wanted to read this morning but I think I will update first; despite - it should be noted - having nearly no visitors on my blog today! Yesterday, I had people from all over the place: Australia, Austria, Japan, Canada, Maylasia. But today, it seems, everyone feels like me; lazy, lethargic, etc. Last night the Pure Malt Center hosted a "Live" (as they are called here) an event that this time included turntables, speakers, and very cheap drinks. Young people from all over came out of the wood work (a place to keep people out of trouble on a Saturday night I guess) but to make it extra special we partied into the early morning which happened to be my teaching partner in Shikaoi Vivian's birthday. Also invited were some other local foreign English teachers so there were lots and lots of people to mingle with.

It also started to snow last night, a very nice fluffy snow, but today the wind is roaring, changing the view from my living room window from sunny day to white-out blizzard every couple of minutes. It's always a bit disturbing when the house shakes from the wind and I did notice some wind damage outside on the street (not the first time) in the form of a busted, hanging, awkwardly swinging traffic signal. I'm sure it will be fixed promptly, however, and will be the talk of the town on Monday.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

From the Bottle of Ice Tea Dept.

If there was one thing I wanted to do today, if I found the time, it was to update. The sun is shinning and I only wish it was less windy. I think I forgot in December how windy it gets here. The weekend looks very good at this point. there's lots of snow now, but not an epic amount, probably more that Stony Plain however. The interesting thing is that most of it is only from two big dumps.

I really woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. I'm pretty sure it was because I have felt so exhausted since Wednesday. Just really dragging. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have gone for a run last night, but I thought it would do me good. Though I received some uncomfortable news when I got to school this morning (it wasn't directed at me) I stayed focus and didn't snap at anyone. (Oh, why must I always be the last to know?) I did my role and after talking with my students soon felt much better. They have problems too; abet small problems, but they must seem big to them. It's nice that from a big person's perspective, they are manageable, and easily fixable. Then you can leave feeling like you helped someone. Walking in the kindergarten was also a high point of the day. Playing tag for half-an-hour after school was also uplifting, but there were some causalities to take care of.

From the Quick Update Dept.

The weather hasn't decided to stop snowing yet. I guess every last flake will have to come down before it stops. It was very warm today and the roads.... pretty much everything... was very slushy. This would have been a longer post but I was called away several hours ago and now will be away from the computer for any useful length of time until tomorrow. The weekend looks very sunny. It may not be common knowledge yet but on top of a busy week a large problem with my passport dropped on to my lap which is one more thing that needs to be sorted out.