Thursday, August 30, 2007

Happy Friday

It seemed like most of this week was an uphill battle but now that my major commitment for the day is finished and I'm back in the quiet office, everything is downhill from here. I am planning a quiet night of unwinding with a run, some supper and sleep. Saturday doesn't get too much more interesting except that I'm getting ready for the Shikaoi Badminton tournament on Sunday. I have been making friends as my skills steadily improve. Next weekend, instead of running or playing badminton, I'm going on a hike in the mountians with my new badminton friends. They don't really know what to do with me but having a common love is a strong connection. Another cultural crossroads is how loud I am on the court compared to the polite Japanese. To me, this stems from how big Canada is; there is always room to shout and carry on. Where as in Japan, such behavior is discouraged because it could be disruptive to many people. In Canada, there is always room to move along if one doesn't like it. This option is not available on an island as small as Japan. That is about all the insight I can muster for a Friday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Red Moon

As reported extensively around the world, there was a lunar eclipse last night. Unlike in Canada where it occurred in the ungodly early hours of the Wednesday morning, it happened in Japan at a leisurely 7 o'clock PM. I made the effort to see the lunar eclipse - which really wasn't that great of a hardship - because I liked the idea that someone in Canada could be staring back at the exact same red moon at the exact same moment as me. I haven't heard any reports that this was the case, but it's romantic and inspiring nonetheless. Another inspiring thought that enters one's mind when staring up at the heavens - and also a humbling thought - is just how vast the solar system, galaxy and universe are. Rarely, except during celestial events, does the thought that we are on a rock hurtling through a vacuum cross our minds.

I was especially relieved I could get a picture before taking off to badminton. I was a bit late in getting a spot in the country side and thus readers can vaguely see the moon slipping out of the earth's shadow in the upper left.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More of the same heat

I don't have too much spare time today. My week is a little crazy as it's not the routine I am use to. Plus the heat. Day after day of sunshine. Everyday 30. I'm glad I don't feel the humidy like when I first lived in Japan. Yesterday it was windy and it felt cooler. Today is also windy but just as hot. What's going on. The forcast looks the same all week. I think tomorrow I will have more time and will the save energy to post by limiting movement and not bathing or shaving or tying my shoes. Oh, and happy monday to everyone out there is cyber land.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Time to think

Normally I look forward to posting at the end of the week because I love Fridays. However, with the best intentions of posting, Friday flew past me without offering an opportunity. I have time to post this afternoon because I truncated my long run. I had wanted to get out the door early and beat the scorching day I knew was coming. However, like many people in the world find themselves, I couldn't find the motivation to rush my Saturday morning. I leisurely ate breakfast, read the news sites and did the dishes, by then the temperature was around 30C and the sun was high in the sky. I wasn't having fun after 30min so I just went home.

I had a notable experience reading a book to my mixed grade 1 and 2 class yesterday. What seems like harmless fun on paper has a way of surprising teachers. The teacher I work with had just received a new English book entitled No Biting that she wanted to use in the class. I had no reservations because I'm either very naive or very stupid. The book consists of several pages about, say, no biting your friends, and then you flip the flap and it says you can bite an apple. No pushing mommy, but it's okay to push a swing. Kicking, hitting and so forth were all covered the same manner. Naturally, the kids only saw a picture of kicking and immediately started to kick each other; not waiting for the rest of the text. This put the other teachers and I in a state of shock. That a picture book introducing morality had the exact opposite effect was unexpected. Had the author never read it to a group of kids? Eventually, I stopped reading the text and we all just yelled, "No Kicking!" "No pinching!" in advance (not that it helped). Then I turn the page to something like "No spitting on the sidewalk" and I made the executive decision to not even show it to the kids. The ending too is just horrible. The author just wrote on the last page "Is it okay?" What does that even mean? So, yeah, that's my story about good books that go bad unpredictably.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My clean yard

I just thought I would throw up an image in leu of anything else interesting going on. This is about as clean and carefored my poor yard gets. It's kind of a whole production anytime I want to mow my yard because I actually end up having to rent a weed whacker. Yup, that's right, the whole yard is weed whacked! Barely a mower in sight in Japan. Hopefully that will be the last weed whacking of the season. The picture was taken early the next morning because that's how I want my yard immortalized on the internet.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hot Summer weather

Everyone in Shikaoi seems to have lost their motivation to do anything as we have seen day after day of 30C. Even in the evenings it only gets down to 24-25C if we are lucky. Compounding this is that we are stuck in some weird twilight zone type weather pattern where is rains (a bit!) every couple of hours. This had lead the humidity to skyrocket. The weather has sapped the energy to post anything interesting right out of me. Teachers can barely get a squeak out of the students and they have all but stopped fidgeting.

I did one thing worth mentioning this afternoon. In a continuation of last month's teacher badminton tournament I can happily report the first grade teachers - with me as their ringer - won. We were given an interesting - and as explained to me, culturally significant - first prize gift of kleenex. It left me sratching my head but people promised it would be usefull. This in a land where I have seen whole glasses of milk wiped up with tissue. It might be worth taking a picture of but that would take energy.

Between work, running, badminton and hot weather far into next week, posting will be sparse until the weekend.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anatomy of a Buck 65 Concert

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There was a lot of excitement surrounding Buck 65's Edmonton Folk Music Festival appearance. He was slotted on stage two for the last workshop on the last day of the festival. My family and friends have been doing this for a long time, so using special ninja skills honed over many folk fests, we guaranteed ourselves good seats. The workshop was exceptional because of skill represented by this original and gifted Canadian artist. The excitement and expectation was almost palatable. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Buck 65. Stage two is an average size stage, normally the really big workshops are held at the other end of the site at stage six. It was by far the biggest workshop I have ever seen held at stage two (as the image below attests) illustrating Buck 65's star power.

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People kept coming and coming. Far far up the hill. Everyone - even those to the sides of the stage - was watching the performace with enraptured focus (including me). There was only one really techy song with lots of buzzing and beeping that didn't agree with me other than that I thought all the other tracks were genius. He is such a great wordsmith one has to listen carefully as the references zoom by. And seeing him live made me appreciate his charisma. I especially liked one of his new songs which sampled a nasty guitar rif taken from an old skool Nova Scotia wrestling program. A real rocker which takes some creativity to then rhyme over. In reference to the picture of Buck at the top of this post, it was never fully explained why he needed the neck brace. Perhaps his dangerous head-nodding beats? He will probably be questioned by Homeland Security if that's the case. Even Spearhead front man Michael Franti made an appearance at the side of the stage, barely noticable in his longer than previously dreadlocks, to see some prime Canadian hip-hop talent. The last interesting this of note was that Buck 65's vinyl scratching skills were not as great as I had been led to believe but others (for lots of boring technical reasons). Not that I could of done what he did, but there are other Canadian DJs that stand several rungs above him skill wise. But not to worry, I still loved his set and the hour was over far too quickly. The folk fest doesn't use setting 11 for on speaker system often enough!

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Alpha and Omega

I begin this series of updates with descriptions of the beginning and end of my trip. In the week prior to visiting Canada my mind starting to stumble upon all the wonderful things I could eat and drink again; Tim Hortons coffee being one of them. This sometimes polarizing Canadian delicacy had skipped my mind for two years. Vancouver International Airport was more than accomidating listing five locations on its website. The big problem, however, was that I had no Canadian funds. [insert sad face] In comes Sarah, a great friend living in Vancouver that not only offered to meet me during my layover but also promised keep me company in a state I can only discribe as shell-shocked after leaving the orient for the first time in what seemed like forever. *And* she paid for a large double double. I'm forwarding her name to the Vatican! Included for anti-climatic effect, a picture off the Vancouver airport's Tim Hortons.

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The was lots to celebrate during my last supper: I was satisfied with the oppurtinity to eat my own plate of food but my parents upped the ante by delaring it their anniversary party. If travellling 9000km for great Italian food isn't enough (thanks Allegro), we welcomed into the Birdsell family my younger brother Sean's fiancee Laura. She doesn't like mushrooms but, if I may be so bold, five at the table instead of four already seemed more natural. (click to enlarge)

The flight home was pretty nasty. I couldn't sleep at all due to my legs feeling squished and being unable to get comfortable. I bet I slept 40 mins on the entire international flight despite feeling totally exhasted. Showing how tired I was, having scored a seat from Nartia to Sapporo with tonnes of leg room and two seats to myself, I fell asleep as soon as we were in the air and didn't wake until the plane's landing shook me into reality again. As mentioned previously, I was unable to sleep on the night train as well.

Still to come: Folk Fest!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

News In Japan While I Was Away

Because I like news and don't cover it nearly enough on my blog, I thought I would take this opportunity to update my readers on what happened in Japan while I was away. With great sadness I must report that much of the news while I was away was pretty grim, with domestic violence taking the lead in a land where random acts of violence are practically unknown. Politically, the honorable Prime Minister Abe flounder through yet another month with low approval ratings, looking weak through continuing petty scandals. The Japanese foriegn minister visited Israel and while I don't know much about the meeting, it still sounds like the basis for a great sitcom. There was surprising little earthquake news except from Peru, but that happen after I got back. Environmentally, the heat wave grabbed the most headlines while I was away. While the death tolled stayed low, suit-clad newscasters had a field day interviewing irate, sweaty shoppers and emphatically reporting record temperatures and humidity index information. And how could I not forget the human interest stories ending the evening news this week showing Japanese flocking to Graceland to commemorate the King's death.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Summer time in Tokyo

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Continuing the summer theme, I just couldn't pass on this story. Clicking the picture leads to an english blog entry about the most amazingly packed wave pool ever. The embedded youtube video is also worth a watch. (Thx boing boing!)

The fun way home!

I finally got through the door last night at 3AM and was welcomed by a really hot stuffy house. I reflexively opened all my windows. During my absence the whole of Japan had been under a heat wave of sorts. In most parts of the world sunny weather is welcomed but here in summer it turns everything into a humid mess. I experienced the worst of it landing in Tokyo where it was 35C and had humidity so bad it was practically foggy. Even the airport air conditioning couldn't keep up. The humidity abated slightly the further north I came. A second new experience yesterday was taking the night train home for the first time. Normally from the airport to the station it takes a quick and direct hour and a half, but catching the last midnight train yesterday on the exact same route took a plodding two hours and 40 minutes. It's something I had never tired before, dreading a route that stops at every little station. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the 3/4 empty train and dimmed lights. (Sometimes daytime trains can be over booked and a little crazy.) The darkened cars helped most to sleep but my body, thinking it was the afternoon, was wide awake. I had a pleasant chat with the bored conductor about how much I liked trains as a way to practice my Japanese that I was sure I had forgotten. After finally crawling into bed at 4:30AM after a shower, I was in the office at 8AM to welcome Shikaoi's new English teacher Austin. Welcome to Shikaoi Austin!

I guess the last thing to add was how much I enjoyed being able to read every sign in Canada. My kanji is pretty good at extracting meaning from the characters but it is a chore and takes effort (unlike reading signs in my native language). Sadly, as looked around Tokyo and Sapporo expecting to easily read signs, I was disappointed to be reminded that I would have to awkwardly struggle to read everything again.

Sorry! No pictures yet!


It's very late but I have made it home. Tomorrow the blog will get back into the swing of things. Expect a flurry of updates.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

In less then an hour I will be heading the Edmonton International Airport to start my long journey home. It was a great trip but I am looking forward to getting back into my routine. What can I say? I'm a creature of habit. I haven't read the blog stats in a couple of weeks but I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday's pictures. I'll see you on the other side...

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Folk Fest is now over

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival ended late last night and tomorrow I go home. The good weather held through the weekend and I never had to dig out my rain gear. I sat - and sometimes laid - in the sun and listened to lots of good music. Sorry the pictures don't expand; I'm not using my own computer.

In what seems like a long time ago, last Monday we were at our long time friends, the Grants, for dinner. While I have other good shots of the barbecue none signal the great weather we had while sitting on their deck watching the sunset.

This is an image showing a fraction of the total folk fest site with stage two in the foreground and an empty mainstage in the midground with the green river valley and Edmontn skyline stretching arcoss the width of the photo.

Some of the group that was with me for the weekend, going left to right; Laura, Sean, Jessica, Kevin, my mom and me.

Please look forward to a pictorial and literary review of a single Buck 65 workshop that I consider representive of the festival as a whole when I get a chance after I get settled.

Friday, August 10, 2007

No pictures as evidence

I have been waiting to post in the hope of including pictures, you know, to prove I'm really here, however, I have not been able to get my stuff together satisfactorily. In any case, it has been a busy week. Going to Calgary for two nights to see my grandparents and young nieces and nephews was great. I have everything on my shopping list covered and so extra time has been spent with old friends. Last night continuing into this weekend is the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. It was just plain cold yesterday but the weather is improving into the weekend. I will definitely post some pictures of the folk fest as it is one of the most impressive events in the world when the weather cooperates.

A couple of things I have noticed being home: It has been nice to be back in a world where I can read all the signs. Kanji is pretty decent but is no match for the shear number and speed of Japanese signs that pass me daily in Japan. Also, and more strangely, I have enjoyed eating a'la carte and not sharing a whole meal served in multiple dishes. Just having one plate is pure joy. Lastly, the english TV universe has been an eye opener. It sort of skipped my mind that somewhere in the world people watch TV in english. My TV in Shikaoi barely goes on once a month. The experience here is made easier because of our new toys of sattilte and PVRs; this means the convience of no commericals. Ahhh, what a revelation that is.

Less than a week left here. Things never really got unpacked but pretty soon everything will have to start going back in the suitcase.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Jet Lag?

I think I am living a myth that states jet lag is worst going West-to-East than East-to-West. I barely slept on the plane being unable to get my long legs into any sort of comfortable position. Sleeping on planes was so much easier when I was younger. I fought to stay up until 10PM last night and though I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow last night I was fully awake at 4AM again which was evening in Japan. Stupid body. I have some fairly routine things to do today that I am looking forward to for the simple reason that I will be able to read everything freely and converse without stopping to think if this is what I really mean.