Tuesday, July 31, 2007

24 hours later

I am finally writing to you from Stony Plain; which has already welcomed me with a thunder storm, a beautiful sunset and hamburgers. I will try and give a more detailed update tomorrow, after sleeping.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Everything is packed. The weather is good. My next post will be coming to you from Canada!

New smoke detector

I just had a very strange occurrence: At least my floor was clean when a crew from the electricity company came to install a new smoke alarm in my bedroom this afternoon. Today of all days! It was a surprise to me since this was all suppost to happen last month but instead happened today with half an hour's notice. Everything went smoothly and efficiently, as expected in Japan, and the smoke alarm was quickly installed. They even had cute little slippers for the four legs of their ladder. The only odd moment came when - get this - they took out a camera and asked me to pose with it. "Okay?" I thought, and grinned. I probably look very confused in the photo - still trying to grasp why they need a picture of me with the fire alarm - so its better that image never see the light of day. I had considered asking for a pic with my camera, since they thought it so worthy, but that might cross some sort of professional boundary, besides, my small camera had already been packed.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where I stand

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I took two pictures of my place this morning before exiting to work. This is where things stand at the moment. It's a bit depressing because I worked so hard this weekend cleaning my house because I didn't want to return to a messy place. However, now it looks choatic again. There is never enough room to put everything in Japanese homes! In a stark moment of honesty I must admit the kitchen table has looked like that for sometime as it was the obvious collection point for things needing to go to Canada. I think this is going to be a long day at work. I leave tomorrow for the train station at 9:45 AM.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Note the Green and Gold!

Humorously, as I sat at my desk in the office yesterday, as every visitor entered, they noted, after the customary greeting, how hot it was outside. Most of the visitors had either come by car or braved crossing the road from the neighboring Town office. It had rained earlier in the morning and as the sun came out it turned to humidity. Hell is hot, but it's a dry heat; the air in the Board of Education was unmoveable, leaving my skinpores gasping for air. Friday's work seemed to crawl to a standstill and sounds became muffled. In the afternoon, someone came in and offered us something. I knew he wasn't a farmer because he didn't give me vegetables. The nice man from town council had thoughfully brought everyone ice cream! Lately, I have sworn off ice cream but I have to admit, yesterday - that cholocate fudgesicle really hit the spot. It tasted wonderful. Work competely stopped at this point because, in this heat, a quickly melting popcicle is no match for multi-tasking. Everyone, focused, raced to eat their icy treat. Here is a picture of me, looking decidedly serious, though internally ecstatic by the miraculous appearence of ice cream in my hands.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Day After 5:30PM in Pictures.

For something a little different: my day after 5:30 PM in pictures. (Click to enlarge.)

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So I'm just about out the door after work and I can hear sirens, lots and lots of sirens, the ones on high poles in case of a nuclear accident or dam failure. I learned later from my firefighter friends that a farmer to the east was burning grass and it got away from him. I would have gotten a better picture, it looked nice with the sun set and all, but I was in a hurry to the image below.

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Next was Vivian's stuffy, formal good-bye party. (Not her idea.)

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The town decked out the entire main street with candles in honour of Vivian. I jest! In actuality it was an event called Night Walk. It turned out to be the perfect night for it because I doubt anyone could sleep with this heat.

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Secondly I was off to the English teacher party!

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This is a picture of all-around great guy "Masta", the owner of my favorite bar in Shikaoi, Nizen. He loves foreigners. This is a very rare image, so treasure it, because normally he is always smiling!

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Thirdly, with no classes today, about half the teachers still wanted to party last night. Here we are crossing the road after the Night Walk event ended.

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A rare look inside a real Japanese Karaoke bar. Yes, we always look that intense when doing Karaoke.

It wouldn't be fair to show pictures of everyone else without including myself. Cheers! Happy Friday!

I hate it!

It's so friggn' humid today. Where did this coming from? I don't feel like thinking. My only relief is to stand next to my bosses wearing suits. Today we are getting ready for Vivian-sensei's big goodbye bash but in reality she has been very busy with parties all week. I will update tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Summer Heat

Things are getting so hot here that I barely feel like going outside while it's light out. Getting into my car is quite a trial. Luckily today there is a breeze, but it only really helps if you are standing or sitting very still (since all the big windows in the office are open). I have tried to capture the feeling of oppressive heat in today's pictures. Doesn't that shade look refreshing? Doesn't that street look so wide? I draw the reader's attention to the picture of the restaurant; that is where I will be going for dinner, a big party for all the Board of Education staff. The name of the restaurant is "Bikuri Sushi" which translates as "Surprise Sushi". I don't know how that place has stayed in business with a name like that.
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Monday, July 23, 2007

Sneek Badminton

I was invited to be a last minute ringer for a teacher badminton game held yesterday at Shikaoi elementary school. The grade one teachers needed someone to RepReZenT and I snuck onto the team last minute. The second part of the tournament to decide the winner will be held next month. I am confident the grade one teachers will lead. The grade six teachers looked slow and stiff and unprepared but the other grades were looking sharp and out for blood.

I wasn't nearly at top form. For some reason I was so stiff after my long run on Sunday and felt embarrased listing the large number of joints pains I had when pointing them out to my teammates. Parts of me I never new existed hurt. In the back of my mind I was thinking; Should I play? Am I falling apart? I'm being a bit dramatic. I actually feel pretty good overall, especially once I start playing, everything loosens up. My belief is that if one isn't a little sore after a workout you probably aren't exercising hard enough. One contrast that I was especially aware of was, becuase I run, of how good of shape I'm actually in. My partner, who I thought played very well, was exhausted after three of what I consider easy games. Yeah for me, I thought, I'm going for a run after work!

Because I was so sore, even my bloody elbow joints, I treated myself to an onsen last night. The nearest nice one is a twenty minute drive away but if you go after dinner on a weeknight you can have the place nearly to yourself. Without all the weekenders and it becomes a very tranquil and rejuvenating experience. Technically speaking, I have been told that for joint pain and muscle soreness coldness is actually the way to go. But after soaking in that nutrient-rich volcanically-heated water the muscles can't help but relax (to the point of jellification). I feel so good today. Is there anything a dip in an onsen can't cure?

Back to real badminton tonight. But then two days off badminton and running because of summer parties. They aren't too bad because I am out of the schools until next month but I really want to run.

Just a tad..

My life is a tad bit busy this week as I try to squeeze in many many things that need to be done before I head home for two weeks. Some of the mayhem is caused by formal good-bye parties for Vivian, the other foreign english teacher. It's nice to be busy but I hate missing out on my runs. I promise a longer post tomorrow about, you know, Japanese culture and stuff, because the kids broke for their summer holidays today and I finished my classes. What a super long day with me teaching nearly every grade in Shikaoi elementary school. I am nearly crazy to plan a run tonight.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Summer Dancing

Some readers may not be aware that the Province of Alberta has seen fit to produce against me a bylaw stating that I shall NOT dance within the province's boundaries - I am that bad a dancer (perhaps due to my big feet OR the fact I have the rhythm of a dead cat). My first and second graders are more open minded than the province and less prone to following geo-political treads. A group of 5 grade ones and 1 grade two, thirsty for fresh creative input, invited me to dance with them to what they consider the "best children's song in the universe." Unbeknown to me, my students had been diligently working throughout many successive recesses inventing an infinite number of different dance routines to their favorite song. The song itself is simple enough; a catchy melody over a beat for them to wiggle and jiggle to. I left my personal dignity at the door and happily shed Alberta's social taboos. Finally a group recognized my choreography genius! They were more than happy to follow me around the room looking like fools. By the end, all our cheeks were red with laugher; the kids' eyes bright and the worries of a dark world pushed impossibly far away.

I went for a great run today. Yesterday too but today I took a new path. The road had always been sitting there but today I took it. Less travelled the road was rough in comparison but empty and the weather perfect. To my left was the steep shear hillsides so common in Japan shrouded in the low clouds that have become ubiquitous in Shikaoi lately. To my right the gurgling of the Sasagawa River, overgrown and deeply green colour, it was impossible to make out the river I could only hear. Exactly 1 and a half hour at a quick pace, this I know because I heard by chance the chimes of the town's announcement system.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My last supper

I am looking forward to finishing my left over pesto pasta I made last Sunday before heading to badminton. Pasta really is so much better the next day! It might seem like a strange meal choice when I have easy access to specialized Japanese ingredients but, in light of forgetting to add the dried tomatoes I bought last time, the desire to make pasta was strong in me. Rest assured last night's meal was more traditional: salad, tofu and rice balls. The lettuce was from a friend's garden and the mere smell of it caused me to regret ever needing to buy the stuff. The tofu was good because I have discovered Katsuo (sometimes referred to as Benito in the West) as a great topping. Add some nori flakes (dried sea weed) on top, put a little soy sauce over the whole thing and it's a great protein source. If I don't feel like adding all those toppings I will just slice up my tofu as usual and add Ajipon. Ajipon is the perfect healthy flavoring. It offers in perfect proportions soy sauce and rice vinegar, probably passed down from the Buddha. It's taste balances the deep savory salty flavor of soy sauce and the tart sour taste of rice vinegar. The best part is not its zero-calorie count, but the fact it can be put on anything. I have no idea if you can buy it at T&T market. I hope so because it's a great thing to have in the kitchen. Sometimes I am tempted to use it as my salad dressing and put it on my tofu but that seems like over kill.

As for me increasing my low tofu intake, this is mainly a factor of understanding how to add flavor to tofu better and knowing what brands are the best. With running so much my body craves meat and tufu offers a healthy way to do that. I only eat it twice a week because the draw for normal meat is too strong, but I don't roll my eyes at buying it anymore. It would actually be kind of hard to eat in Japan if one turned their noses up at tofu because it can really sneak up on you and be found in any dish. I doubt I will continue to eat tofu once I get back into Canada. I remember eating it a couple of times and the texture, due to freshness or quality I don't know, was not the same as what can be had here locally.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sunny Day #1

We're seeing the sun today for the first time in a couple of weeks. It wasn't raining that whole time but it was overcast day after day and eventually started to get cold. With the Stony Plain guests leaving yesterday, now Tokachi decided to return to its former state of sun capital of Japan.

Departing Shikaoi

Befitting the farewell of the Stony Plain delegation, those lucky enough to be awakened by the earthquake last night were able to have one last memorable typically Japanese experience. It was the talk of breakfast. This morning after a series of short speeches the group was ushered on to the bus that would take them to the airport. I didn't get to know everyone in the group as well as I would have liked but was greatly impressed by those I did. I could go on into more detail but instead will shift focus onto getting ready for my trip home in August.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Earthquake Update

Just in time for our Stony Plain guests to experience a real earthquake, I was woken up last night after 11PM by a second earthquake. I laid in bed hoping it would not turn into an earthquake as large as the one reported yesterday. Upon waking up and researching the details, indeed it was big, but for someone else. This earthquake was clear across Japan from us in Hokkaido, illustrating just how powerful these events are.

Shikaoi Summer Fireworks

Sorry for the delay. I had a very full weekend. I am writing to you now from my day off. I had the option of watching yesterday's fireworks from my front door, but the advantage of going down to the site near my house is that that was where the action was. I had the good fortune to be invited to share the Mogami's blankets. I had started my day by playing park golf (my third time in two years) and visiting the High School festival. I also went for a transcendental run in the afternoon, but as this is probably of little interest to anyone else I will skip the details. The fireworks were great again this year and the weather just as depressing. The fireworks are far bigger than one would expect from a town the size of Shikaoi. It was fun to constantly bump into people I knew every time I turned around, I barely had time to eat, but which had to be done, because of all the great food at the preceding festival. My favorite fireworks are predictably the big ones that are sent high into the air and can be felt in the chest. The fireworks dwarfed the hill they were launched from in scale. In regards to the recent earthquake in Honshu today that might be making news today in Canada; all's fine here. It was notable for a fire at a nuclear power plant, but everything shut down automatically as expected. It was big but still leaves other areas waiting for The Big One.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Waiting for the Weekend

I'm just sitting here blogging as a three day weekend edges closer. I have lots to do with the Stony Plain delegation still around and am trying not to dwell on the poor weather forcasted. It's been raining or overcast since the weekend and now it's just getting plain cold here, dropping to around 12C at night. I can handle a soggy long weekend but I was really hopping it would be nice for the fireworks on Sunday. Let's hope. At the top of the post you can see Mutsumi-sensei working away on something on Wednesday and then below is some type of project made by the kindergarten. Today at one of my smaller schools the kids were tired because they came back from an over night camping trip yesterday. It was fine as long as one didn't ask them to do anything too fast, such as stand up or raise one's hand. Yeah for Friday!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Indoor Feast

What was suppose to be a garden party by one of Shikaoi's renown green-thumbs, Mrs. Mogami (far right), was held indoors because of rainy and notable cold weather. The weather was unfortunate because it was something I was looking forward to. Humble, un-pretenious, and extremely giving, anyone that meets Mrs. Mogami is happy to know her. I'm lucky I live here and, unlike the Stony Plain delegation, I can have her, and her hospitality, to myself year round. Anyways, above is the obigatory picture of me entertaining the ladies with my Japanese.

Here Diane trying to make a point, something she is able to do with admirable frequency despite having limited knowledge of Japanese.

A group picture capped the night minus me and Yuki manning the cameras. This morning I met the Stony Plain delegation as they left for an overnight trip to Sapporo, but it was the last time I would see Diane or Mrs. Cowan because they would be seperating from the group to continue on by themselves.

Monday, July 09, 2007

School Pictures

Today while the adult Stony Plain delegation was frolicking on the park golf course, I had the good fortune of hosting two Stony Plain high school students, Colby and Justin, at Shikaoi Elementary School. With our guests, we ran the grade sixes through their (English) paces and I'm not sure who was the more tired at the end. The first photo deserves some explaination; it was taken by one of my grade fives students during recess. While everyone had a good time, we had an especially good laugh at lunch at the expense of Justin because he hasn't quite mastered eating rice with chopsticks yet (completely understandable) and thus was the very last to finsh. To be sure, it's not a life or death issue, but I can only describe being chastized by a grade six a humbling expereince. Normally, my Japanese is at the but end of such critizisms, so I was appreciative of the change, and luckily, Justin has a good perspective about such things.

Timing in Shikaoi

No sign of the Stony Plain delegation yet today. While I was teaching they all packed off to tour Obihiro. I wonder if they are going to the cake factory? It was a hit two years ago. The town is looking really good with all the grass nicely trimmed and every flowered full; timing is everything. Tomorrow the Stony Plain high school students will split away and visit the elementary schools. So we have a little something special planned at Shikaoi elementary for our two. Nothing too much else to report. Things roll along here. I did get two runs in on the weekend though Sunday's was far better than Saturday's when I ran in stifling morning heat. Even though I came in around the same hour and a half I normally do, I cut the last 4km on Saturday meaning I ran a miserably slow pace. Oh well. There's nothing to be done when you can't see your shadow because the sun is directly above and the air doesn't seem to be moving.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Little Late

I was a bit over booked yesterday with both Shikaoi's famous White Snake festival happening the same night as a foreign English teacher party. I really wanted to see the others because this is the time of the year when teachers normally return home (I promise the fact that someone went through all the trouble of tracking down real beef patties, hamburger buns and all the fixings had nothing to do with it). Conveniently, and luckily for me, the location chosen for the party was at the same lake as the festival.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Shikaoi's Mayor's dinner

Just got home a little while ago from the Mayor's dinner with the Stony Plain adult delegation. We had a great dinner at Country Papa and I had a good visit with the other members from Stony Plain. I think the following picture of both Mayor Yoshida and Mayor Cowan under an umbrella (Shikaoi's gift to Stony Plain this year) turned out very good.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Picture from the Welcome Dinner

I have just gotten back from the official welcoming party where the Stony Plain delegation was re-introduced to their host families. The theme of the trip seems to be shaping up to be the White Snake Festival where the delegation was given a private sneak peak of the dance tonight. Saturday night's real deal will be many times more impressive being located on Lake Shikaribitsu and all. I thought is was a nice touch to let our visitors get close to the puppet snake and take pictures without the commotion of the actual event. (Click to enlarge)

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Welcome to Shikaoi. Where it gets dark at 8.

It's a bit late here at the moment, not only for those that have school tomorrow but especially for someone that has spent upward of 20 hours in transit. All the delegation has arrived in once piece and I think will awake refreshed tomorrow. Below are pictures from the arrival remembering that tomorrow night will be the official Welcoming party. All the Japanese host families seem really great.

Waiting Games

For those readers keeping track, the Stony Plain delegation has been in the air for several hours and may even be in Japan as we speak. However, they are still far from Shikaoi and will be arriving here later tonight. Surprisingly the office is busy with other things today, but I am sure everything behind-the-scenes is ready. That's really all I have to say in the sparse time I have available to blog. I'm really excited. I leave you with some pictures from last weekend. It's only Monday so it's not too late is it? This blog needs more greenery.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Black hole of Tuesday

I really feel like running today but I know I don't have the time. Needless to say, if I don't have time to running, I can barely find the time to blog. I was at school far longer than planned and still have another meeting in a couple of minutes, but thankfully this time it will be in English and I will be able to contribute. It's between the elementary school teachers and junior high school teachers and was a pain to schedule plus there was a desire to get it out of the way before the Stony Plain delegation arrives, and I really can't argue with that kind of rational. Yesterday, my section had dinner at Tori-sei in honour for our departing and newly arriving co-workers. I had a really great time eat and drinking and was more than happy to skip the after party and be home by 9 o'clock. I really do need to eat at Tori-sei more often; a week is too long not to eat their excellent carcoal-fired yakitori chicken. I'm also in an odd situation of feeling like I have no time for dinner tonight. I had a big breakfast and the normal healthy school lunch but I would be sad if I missed a meal and it's just to hot out to eat a big meal late in the evening. I guess a snack somewhere along the way is in order.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Monday this week

I woke up knowing it was going to be a good Monday. The sunshine was bursting through my curtains before I even open them. Grade ones was the first class and it went very smoothly all the way to grade five, whose class positively flew by. A bit busy today. I will try to post again later but we have an office party tonight (were sending off some co-workers) so I don't know.

Bah... Already Sunday...

I slept incredibly well last night. It seemed dead quiet despite everyone having their windows open. I slept exactly 8 hours and woke up refreshed. Now I am tired after putting in an uber-good run before dinner. One and half hours at an amazing pace. One reason I pushed so hard is that I don't think I will be able to run until Friday. Might as well make a good effort because now I will get a couple of days off. It makes me a little sad because I haven't taken three days off in a row of badminton or running since May which. But it's for a good reason because the Stony Plain delegation is coming this week. I'll post a longer email tomorrow.