Friday, September 28, 2007

As I type this

Last weekend's trip to Sapporo feels like it puts a lot of pressure on the weekend coming up. There are a couple extraneous chores that need to be done that normally get done every Saturday, but I would also like to [i]not[/i] spend money like I have a hole in my pocket. Last weekend I was feeling top of the world, just getting paid right before I left. This weekend, knowing how much money I left in Sapporo last weekend, will leave me looking for cover. I also really want to read this weekend. Something so simple that still didn't seem to get done this week. Maybe I will even read tonight if I can bring myself to stay up past 9PM. Badminton continues to go well even though I lose all the time. My badminton friends and I keep getting closer despite the fact we have nothing in common but badminton. I was invited to a badminton clinic in November - wasn't that a fun concept to get across. It will be hosted by some of the same people I play with week in and week out but this time I will have the pleasure of paying 500 Yen for the honour of losing and the straining to glean meaning from their lessons. What great fun!

Weather today was a challenge. It changed depending on when one looked out the window. The challenge comes when I ask students what the weather is. Their limited vocabularies can't keep up with the changing conditions. I have also decided to change direction in how I teacher kindergarden english. Somethings are already taken as fact, such as a great stratification of English skills and ability between 2 year olds and 5 year olds in the same class. Recently the composition of one class has changed, making the class bottom heavy. I only have 4 five year olds and a couple of four year olds, that leaves a lot of three year olds and two year olds compared to even five months ago. I have been treating them as a regular kindergarden classes with lots of 4 and 5 year olds, but it has become apparent this is not the case anymore. Trust me, the 3 year olds were still have tonnes of fun - we're talking about an age group that amuses itself with string - but 5 year olds' games are vastly different than what a 3 year old is capable off and it has lead to a real comedy of errors lately keeping us teachers on our toes. I think were are planning a fall walk next time but after that I will have to brainstorm some hand games that don't require anything more but to copy me.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My connection to the moon

I'm so tired today and I don't feel like myself. I needed a chemical boost in the form of an apple-pie like sweet from my local bakery to get me through my open grade one class today. I guess it worked because I found the class fun but now that I'm back in the office I'm crashing. This is what happens when one starts to go weeks on end without tasting sugar - sweet sweet sugar. I also think it could have been the full moon on Monday. That said, my headphone rig was sounding particularly good this week as I listened to my newly bought Blood on the Tracks Bob Dylan SACD on Monday. Maybe tides are connected to electrical currents? For those that haven't discovered the upper echelon of Bob Dylan's record catolgue, Blood on the Tracks sits near the top. The lush orchestration Dylan is capable of is captured perfectly on this DSD remaster. Blood on the Tracks] is probably one of the best break-up albums ever, representing in musical form the meltdown of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez's relationship and its aftermath. From the ashes eh. Salvaged for dinner tonight is coldcut quality sliced ham, a rarity in Japan, and some great bread, again from the local bakery, to make sandwiches. That will probably get me to badminton tonight no problem.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lay down your burdens

Sunday afternoon I lay down in Odori Koen in downtown Sapporo and knew immediately I was going to have trouble getting up again. It was a beautiful fall day and all around one could hear the same cheerful murmur as everyone enjoyed the afternoon. For a moment both the heat of the summer and cold of winter were equally banished. The air didn't seem to belong to a big city. Larger outside problems vanished and there became just a park inhabitied by merrymakers. The following series of picture captures surprisingly well my thoughts of fairly well.

Readers will have to pardon me about including yet another picture of someone eating. Something I swore agasint. This time it's Jenna from Naroyo eating her favorite food.

Here is a picture of fellow Shikaoi english teacher Austin smiling genuinely for my camera.

Me of course, getting comfortable.

Looking down toward the Sapporo TV Tower. The tower isn't really leaning like that in real life; it's just my picture taking ability.

Looking directly up. A picture that screams, "Could one ask for a better day?!?"

I would be remissed if I didn't publicly thank the Suginome's for keeping a roof over my head this weekend, not to mention full all hours of the day.

Monday, September 24, 2007

First images From Sapporo

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Where's Blair?

The little disruption in my blog over the weekend was due to my absence from Shikaoi. A hastily planned trip to Sapporo kept me from blogging. I couldn't have asked for better weather for walking around green and gorgeous Sapporo. No one was too hot or too cold. I have some good pictures I plan to share but I am rather busy tomorrow with classes and meetings but will try to get something up. Please be patient.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Happy Friday World!

The planets alined today in several major ways: It's Friday. It's a beautiful day. I'm having Yakiniku for dinner. It's the start of a three day weekend. It's paid day! What could possibly put a damper on this day? Well, I guess it is fall - as evidenced by the long shadows - followed by winter, but really it's all downhill from here.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Casting about for things to talk about today I will outline my day at school. Getting to school the first thing I had were both grade six classes (of about twenty students each) back to back. Both classes are very different but once everyone is broken up into smaller groups - a result of having six teachers per class - the students showed they were very capable with the material and didn't seem to mind being tricked into practicing English by playing snakes and ladders.

After recess, or "Asobi Jikan" (play time) as it more often called here, we had the grade fives. That class went extremely well but they are still at that age where they are impressed by teachers. That becomes more of a problem in later grades as teachers become distinctly less cool and more of an obstacle to slacking off (internationally speaking). We also had a fair amount of creativity built into the lesson as we were practicing "what I want to be when I grow up..." and the kids could pick anything they wanted. Teachers are sneaky eh.

Lastly, it was a combined class of forty-five grade ones. Normally this class is split - making everything more manageable - but with the time of year we are trying to make up classes. As a result, the casual observer would only see chaos. I actually looked forward to this class - especially as it was my last class of the day - because I didn't need to reserve any energy for the next class. Even with such fortitude I still felt exhausted by the end. I led the class in English chanting and then we sang a food vocabulary song. Asking the students to jump when we hit their favorite word, the teachers faced revolt over the fact that most kids had several favorites. A compromise was reached in that each could jump multiple times, whenever their favorite foods were called. The main activity was also interesting: Building on the preceeding food vocabulary, we played a chopstick relay where each student was asked to pick up certian foods without using their hands. The searching and scrambling for the right card was cute enough to even melt The Grinch's heart. A couple of times my grade ones would look over at me with a helpless look and it took great courage to send them back over to the pile to try again. This being Japan, the only using chopsticks to pick up paper was relatively easy. A truely diabolical teacher would make them use their left hands.

Leaving that class finished, a grade one asked me where I eat lunch, I told her I'm eating in the staff room today. She proceeded to beg me to eat with grade ones but I knew that was impossible. As I gently explained to her the reasons this isn't done, the homeroom teacher, overhearing this, invited me to eat lunch with them. Now was not the time to show exhaustion as conversation over school lunch ranged from bugs to wanting to eat curry rice everyday. Grade ones still don't have much of a recollection of the world at large. They listened enthralled - many pairs of bright eyes turned to me - as I explained that while I might live in Shikaoi, my parents live far far away, and yes, and my grandmas too. One of the smallest grade ones came close, a sort of perturbed look on his face, and tilting his head in a caring and thoughful way remarked that that must be lonely.

Don't die on me now blogspot

I have been having a bit of a problem logging into the Blogspot dashboard but that seems to have worked itself out. Since what is passed is done I will change subjects and focus on today, which came with its own set of challenges. For the most part, my day centered on judging an English speech composition for Junior High School. The speeches were excerpts taken from stories because the creation of individual compositions would have taken forever at a junior high level. The speeches focused on pronunciation, delivery and fluency. There is not exactly a huge pool of talent wanting to try this so some of the speeches were a bit rough, a bit stiff. It made me squirm in my seat and feel bad for the student when they forgot their lines. Also on my mind currently, my father is living his dream and golfing in Ireland this week. He said he has taken all the rain gear he could get his hands on.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rain Rain Go Away

While - the rain is away for the moment. It rained for nearly 30 hours straight until 7 this morning. It was an exception the last week's hurricane, which shifted between a drizzle and a deluge, and represented a pretty consistant down pour for hours on end. (It was maddening to constantly hear the loud pitter-patter of rain on the roof.) After doing the dishes I felt the need for some fresh air and walked down to the river. I wanted to see the condition of the waters. It was muddy and turbulent as I thought but the water didn't come up as high as the spring run off. Friday night Austin and I stopped in to see the harvest festival held down the street from me. It was on again last night but I can't imagine it was much fun with the open skies pouring forth all it had. I'm in the middle of a three day weekend. I did most of my household chores yesterday and feel like putting off the rest for tomorrow. I was also procrastinating about posting on the blog so I apologize for that. Since I didn't go out last night - too cold and wet - I will try to find some trouble to get into tonight, maybe with the firefighters. I also ran inside yesterday but the prospects look good for running outside this afternoon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fun With Vegtables!

The story for today's blog actually occured last Tuesday, but in the wake of the upheaval caused yesterday's resignation I decided to postponed it. Seeing as Japan woke up as usual this morning, I will continue on as well. As is often the case I make visits to local kindergartens in addition to my regular rounds at Shikaoi's elementary schools. After finally being faced with a sunny day after many days of rain, I thought I would hold my English playtime outside. (The puddles by that time had dired up nicely.) Immediately the kids were exicted to show me their small vegtable garden and as can be seen from the pictures I was a recipient of their generosity. In the picture above I may look inatentive to the camera, but what readers can not see below the frame is one of my younger students more enthralled in rolling his green pepper around on the ground than getting his picture taken. In a stroke of creatively I used the ingredents for a pizza-inspired dinner. With some great bread from the local bakery, Hokkaido cheese, Tokachi tomatoes (which are just coming into season despite being grown indoors), and the children's green peppers I made a simple but delicious dinner well deserved after my Wednesday run. Not pictured are the finished cooked carrots which I ate on the side.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Abe-sama Resigns

I was planning to post something else but as of ten minutes ago Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has resigned. As you can imagine this has cause quite a stir. This is big news in Japan as it was forecasted but at the same time unexpected. I wondered aloud to Austin why the Prime Minster resigned and he replied more concisely and poetically than I could, "Are you kidding me? He has an approval rating of 15%, he massively lost the last election and he has had 25 scandals in the past year." While all the above is true, why today of all days? Prime Minister Abe himself said it was because he had failed to reach an agreement on a troop extension in Afghanistan. I have always hang my hat on the theory that no modern Japanese leader could ever compete with Abe-sama's predecessor, former Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi's beautiful head of hair. The white loin's mane of hair made Koizumi-sama look youthful, resolute, and invincible. (One can only wish Canada could have such leadership.) Abe-sama's boring salaryman pretenses didn't exactly breed trust or create excitement. The next couple of months will see Japan set adrift, rudderless without a leader. For the current time being, however, it means endless political talking heads picking apart every aspect of the resignation on TV until only atoms. Keep me in your thoughts, dear readers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Strange Weather

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I took the opportunity of seeing weird weather to get some fresh air this morning before school. Because of all the rain we've had the last week or so, as soon as it gets hot it gets humid. I don't know the exact stats but looking at any glass of cold liquid will tell you the air is filled with water. I noticed that by 8AM it was nearly 26C and foggy contributing to a mysterious atmosphere and I raced out the door to get a couple of shots for the blog. I rushed to the top of a nearby hill and was able to witness for the first time the fog burning off as I stood there. The air being fresh from a breeze on the hill, I didn't really feel like being pulled away from the scene but responsibilities will do that. If I was ever late for work I'm sure the cavalry or a rescue party would arrive within mere minutes. My house is on the other side of the hill that the fog is clinging onto.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Precious little weekend

Not too much to report execpt that all is well. Friday night into Saturday morning part of Typhoon Fitow did land in Hokkaido. I was asleep for most of it as it had been raining for days and I probably would not have noticed the difference. Now that the sun is out again the difference is clear: It's so humid. I put clothes out to dry but I'm beginning to think that was a mistake; they might be ready for next week.

In other good news from Japan, comedian Yosuke Ochi won the World Air Guitar Championship (this year held in Finland) for the second consecutive year (to The Offsprings "Keep Them Separated" no less). Below are some images of Shikaoi from this time of year taken early in the morning. More in this series to follow when I have the time to post-process them.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

And back again at Friday

I woke up this morning knowing that it was going to be a good day - not a lucky day, just that I was going to be happier than normal. Hopefully it would be infectious. Nothing could sink my high spirits. Not even the weather, which has been uncooperative of late. It started to rain Wednesday night and hasn't let up since then. A typhoon is heading toward Tokyo and this had the effect of stalling a twin low pressure system above Hokkaido. It rained all day Thursday and Friday somewhere between a complete downpour and a drizzle so light one had to go outside to feel it. The lack of sun is the only constant factor, whose light I'm beginning to think I will never see again. The forecast is the same for Saturday which is a bad thing because after days of rain the summer's heat has been diminished and there is a fall chill in the air. My kindergarden students discovered a weird game today on their own that had the teachers scratching their heads. It consisted of blowing on their own and each other's arms and, well, giggling like school children. I tolerated it for as long as I could but really am looking forward to a good shower tonight (on top of my normally vigilant hand-washing routine).

edit: I forgot to mention, the wristband came off today with the help of third grader Naru-chan.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Folk Fest Wristband Fun!

I made the decision last month to keep my Folk Fest wristband in hand to show all my students. It was a choice that has led me to the very brink of insanity. I can see now why everyone cut the darn thing off as soon as they got home Sunday night. Wearing a cheap plastic wristband for a month is no fun. I have decided to include some photographic proof that it's still on. The top picture is of the wristband at the Michael Franti and Spearhead set and the latter is from this week. My kids have all enjoyed seeing it and their eyes light up once it clicks that this object on my wrist is from Canada. I plan to cut it off tomorrow because by then all my students will have seen the folk fest wristband.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Austin-sensei's offical welcoming party.

I'm a bit pressed for time today so there will be no introspective investigative review of Austin's welcoming party held last night at Cho-min Hall. It was the normal stiff affair followed by a looser English teacher party to follow. I would have liked to have gone to the afterparty but I only learned of it 30 minutes beforehand, and it was not enough time to make other arrangements as I had made commitments for the night last week. I think this is Austin's first appearance on my blog; it shows him making his official remards in Japanese. I promise something really interesting tomorrow that stretches all the way back to the folk fest.

edit: Austin is Shikaoi's new English teacher from Calgary.

Monday, September 03, 2007

600th post

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For the record, the 600th post happened on a Tuesday. A rather normal day in the scheme of things. Today's pictures are more interesting. They were taken in pitch black with my dSLR. A shot I have always wanted to attempt. There was also a thunder storm here after 11PM last night. (I think it woke up everyone in town at 11:31PM with an absolutely defining crack.) A thunderstorm in Japan is a rare occurance on anyday, let alone for a 600th post! It was the first time I can recall it thundering at night. Normally the storms roll in early morning as the day heats up.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Monday Update

All around me are Monday haters. I, on-the-other-hand, am having a great day. Something about sleeping really good the night before and waking up to a perfect gloomy Monday. A heavy rain can be heard through the open windows as I type. Nothing much to report except that it looks like I will have to scrap my run because of my left leg now; it has been stiff all day making the "Stand Up - Sit Down - Jump" song with the grade ones awkward. I would normally feel guilty about missing my run - bordering on risking it all anyway - but with the rain, I take it as a sign that God doesn't want me out there today and take refuge inside. (I should also note I would go to the Sport Center to run inside but it is closed today. I will drink tea, read a book and listenn to some tunes instead.) I received no comments about the meals I posted yesterday, contray to what I had expected, but they still stand as representative of what I eat daily.


This is the absolute last thing I need to do before bed. I have my tunes on and will post today's badminton results: The actual badminton tournament was much smaller than I thought it was going to be. I was stunned because I had been to much a bigger badminton tournament in the same building last year. It was kind of like a inter-club tournament. At least I got to play lots of badminton! Twelve 21-point games in 3 hours (plus lots of practice). Because of the low numbers I was recruited to play doubles as well. Though I lost, I did not, in the process, embarrass myself (if my sweating heaving opponent was any indication). While I feel everything was fair - all the games were close - interestingly, none of the matches made it to the third game, usually a sure sign of unbalanced teams. Besides remembering hitting the frame of my racket a lot I also remember lots of laughing.

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The third picture in the above series - while looking impressive - shows a bad habit that a non-badminton fanatic might not pickup. I should have lead with my racket-foot, instead of my left foot. I blame either running - which has me running to the shuttle instead of stretching for it or that I have been favoring my right thigh lately due to an injury in that muscle. In any case, I will have to stop it if I want to improve my reach. I also included a nice picture of my completely unconventional serve. One thing that I can be thank for; I was at least serving well today. The picture at the very top of this post shows the tape of which I'm well acquainted with seeing as it has robbed me of many good net shots and smashes.

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Directly above is my dinner of champions; what I had the night before. Somehow the veggies got left out but potatoes aren't that interesting anyway. That Heineken was a gift from a coworker. I figured I would need the energy of the next day. Besides playing badminton until after lunch today, I also managed two slow-paced low-distance runs this weekend. I made an amazing sandwish with was my local baker calls rustic french bread - and is absolutely delicious - but I was so hungry it was gone before I thought to take a picture. Below was my well deserved dinner; I was sooo hungry. Steamed cabbage with soy sauce. Pumpkin simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Lightly steamed carrots with Ajipon (a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar). Cabbage salad with fresh lemon and olive oil sprinkled on top with salt and pepper to taste. And my special treat: a $9 Hokkaido steak (just pink in the middle). This represents a typical dinner for me, with all the small dishes and such. But substitute the steak for tofu (topped with dried seaweed, fish flakes and miso). For some reason I have been craving protein this week. Why deny it? I worked hard today. Now i am soooo tired.