Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007 edition

With little notice I have started writing again for this year's NaNoWriMo. I completed it in 2005 and am again attempting it. For those of you not in the know, National Novel Writing Month is a global event where particpants try to finish a 50,000 word novel in one month. (You might want to give that website a little time. It's getting slammed at the moment coinciding the global start of the event. I expect it could go down completely at any moment.) It's much harder than it sounds. That's about the length of The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick. The event has also been described as a caffine and alcohol fueled exercise in futility, or conversely, a globally shared dip into insanity. What ever it is, I am well equiped this year with a better story, new CDs, a a new headphone amp, good tea, red wine, a slow month, and a reason to stay inside - a cold. Past expeience tells me proabably the most important thing will be a story that will nearly writes itself. My only worry at this point is that I don't have a title yet. It has left me directionless and restless. I will report the title to my readers as soon as I have decided on a title. People wanting to watch my run at 50,000 words in more detail can visit my profile page on the NaNoWriMo site. Anyways, I'm back to writing; I shan't waste my word count here!

Pictures Part 2

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Extra Pictures

I'm going to be using extra pictures for the next couple of posts. It's been such a beautiful fall I wanted to share them. Starting with the one directly below, it was taken somewhere between the house and the car at a time I had my big camera with me. Several things came together for the image; such as the sun breaking through dark rain clouds. I never have to travel far from my house to see the seasons change dramatically. I mean, just look at that red tree, it's like it's on fire.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fun Fun Fun Fun

Reporting on one's own birthday party objectively is a journalistic minefield. Not only because there was a huge, well attened party that I got to DJ at, but because I must admit I had such a good time! I had a handful of excited foreigners that turned a room full of "too cool" Japanese into a dancing machine. The music was a lively party mix with a focus on Canadain hip hop in the first half. I think the tracks that went off best were; Sean Paul's "Get Busy", a subwoofer-stressing Rockafella Shank remix, an 8min house burner by DJ Q and the last song before the band went on, "Hey Girl Hey Boy" by The Chemical Brothers, which I had quietly been sampling in thoughout the set in build up for the last number. Personaly, I liked Canadian MC Belly's "Pressure" and 1995's "I Wish" by Skee Lo which I recalled out of thin air from Junior High School dances. I hope that gives some of my readers that are curious but couldn't make it an idea of what I played. I was also happy to have Gwendolyn there to share her own brand of cultural exchange on happless Japanese men. (I promised not to reveal who the friend in the picture is because he has a job in a sensitive area.)

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After my set and after the live band I set about smoozing with all the people I haven't seen forever; deep in conversation I missed by own birthday being announced over the PA, and nearly ignored the person I was talking to to look over there. Taken completely off guard - I had kept my birthday a tighly held secret - I stammered a couple of sincere thank you's in front of the audience before digging into my cake. In the above picture taken by my friend Chris, I can barely contain my happiness, just like my own students. I feel torn because my actual birthday the next day included a much quieter dinner with two Shikaoi teachers (and their lovely families) that had recently stayed at my house in Stony Plain. However, I won't deny how much fun it is to play your favorite music loudy for a over hundred of people at your own birthday party. (In an effort for turth, the event just happen to concide with my birthday; it was well-planned before anyone knew it was my birthday.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are you ready for me Weekend?!?!

Other than a couple of cold snaps it has been a very fine Fall. Slowly easing into Autumn has allowed the full glory of turning leaves been seen. There are bright orange, yellow, and red trees where ever I look with many yet to turn. It has been very clear the last couple of days and the details of the mountains, maybe not best shown in my shots, are easily visible, including, I noticed, snow on the mountains peaks today. Winter is indeed coming. There is also this one tree I pass on my way to work everyday that cracks me up; it has created a bright carpet of leaves around itself. I have also included a view from my office window that shows how nice it's been lately. It shows the wing of the building where the traditional rooms are. Lasty is a shot of some coffee milk someone gave my yesterday. I try to stay away from most sweets but it was a gift so happily drank it guilt-free and I must admit it it really hit the spot yesterday afternoon. This is my birthday weekend come up and I don't think I will be posting anything until Monday.

DJ Gig

This is something interesting to post about (even though I have known about it for awhile); Seeing as I was such a big success last time, I have been invited back to DJ in Shikaoi this Saturday Oct 27th at the Pure Malt Clubhouse - coincidentally, located across the street from me. Perhaps more of a coincidence - especially for my parents - is that the party neatly coincides with my birthday, at least if I want to carry on after midnight. This flyer has been hanging around town. It says it's for Sound Festival '07. I attended the previous two at the Pure Malt and they were great. This year I will be contributing. It happens I took this shot in front of the 7-11. (My name in the flyer maybe hard to spot: ブレア.) This means most people I deal with on a daily basis know about the gig, leading to a variety of questions, normally the funniest come from my students, who are shocked to learn I have a life outside school. I don't just go home and get into a coffin at 5:30 you know. I will be playing lots of funky beats hoping to raise the dead before Halloween and represent quality Canadian Hip hop. Details to follow!

Monday, October 22, 2007

A list of good news

With my birthday less than a week away, this arrived at the office for me. A custom-made Japanese tube-based headphone amplifier. I don't have time to detail its sound or how it has radically changed my life at the moment, let alone start to explain why I need an amp can only be used for headphones, but I do promise to write more about it in the future. In person, it's a real thing of beauty; a great example of Japanese engineering too.

At long last another live-saving, breakfast-giving shipment of kraft extra smooth peanut better. Compliments, as written, from my mother, and also my poor Japanese friends that travelled back from Stony Plain with it this month. I'm starting to forget a period existed where peanut butter grew on trees; where one didn't need to carefully ration peanut butter; where one could just go into a store and buy it. This present shipment should happily leave me set until after christmas.

My last bit of good news is also a wish: I'm not sick (at present)! My schools have been turned into fields of zombies with sick kids and teachers everywhere. Lets hope I stay that way. Strong wind today.

Halloween Events

Being an English teacher throughout the different seasons I get kind of bored talking about the same Western holidays over and over again to all my different classes. However, yesterday's special event consumed so much time and energy over the weekend it's worth mention here. As part of a PTA sponsored day, 100 elementary students visited the high school where older students had organized activities. I'm grasping for words here because we really don't have any such events in Canada. I find it akin to a large all day baby-sitting service but from the Japanese perspective it is an opportunity to have children from different classes and schools get to know each other and have older students learn leadership and organizational skills in a well supervised environment. With that as background, the English teachers were invited to be part of the day to run a Halloween theme room (complete with terrified small children). Here we had costumes and face painting, pumpkin carving and games. We also did the activity where you blindly put your hand into boxes labeled "Zombie brains" and "Eyeballs" etc. as the mind plays tricks on you with completely normal grocery textures. Some of the best facial expressions and quotes come from that station. Luckily we were horribly over staffed (11 teachers) for only 10 kids at a time. It made the hours and hours of volunteering fun. Lots and lots of good news today: normally I try to leave such posts toward the end of the week but I will share it with my readers tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Grey Skies

Friday night - because I'm such a bundle of fun - I went to bed early because I was tired. My bed was calling me. Consequently, I was up too early this morning (much refreshed mind you). It was a blessing in disguise because the world had changed overnight into the Scottish Isles; complete with grey skies and chilly rain. I lay in bed, hoping to fall back asleep, too much on my mind, listening to the downpour. Including the picture above, I had also washed the dishes and cleaned the bathroom by 8AM. Running by 9AM and an afternoon of preparation in preparation for tomorrow. Not to worry; pictures to follow.

Ah Thursday: The only thing better than pesto pasta is leftover pesto pasta.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Out of the deep freeze

Nothing to much to report from this side of the world. My students remain healthy and happy. Since before the bird incident temperatures have been falling; autumn returning with a blast of cold weather. Earlier in the week I had been cold wherever I was; outside and especially inside. I couldn't warm up. No amount of sweaters at work or at home could abate the coldness I felt throughout the day. Rain for most of Wednesday did nothing to help execpt freeze me to the bone. Even my students started to complain their hands were cold. Gratification today as my office finally turned on the heat. It's quiet a process in Hokkaido since old fashion boilers or space heaters are still used, not forced air systems, and so the system has to be slowly turned on. This week's cold snap also added to my worries about an animal in my gas heater since I would be needing it this week, espeically in the mornings, or else I would never have the will to get out of bed.

Seen in 7-11 today, three new flavors of Pringles potato chips: Tandori chicken, ethnic spice and potato gratin. Who is eating these things? Pringles aren't my favorite potato chip to begin with but thoughts of the chemical magic that was wrought to create those flavors will keep me away.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Never a dull Tuesday afternoon in Japan

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I feel like I became a real home owner today. I went home after school to quickly change pants because my kids had got something sticky on them - coming from Arts and Crafts to English and all - however, I never even got to that point. From the next room I heard the unmistakable sounds of something alive in my gas heater. Movement. Rustling. I didn't have enough information at that point to know exactly what it was but I knew a dirty job lie ahead.

I quickly ran back to my office and asked if there was any protocol I was supposed to be following. It’s the town’s house and there is a big sticker on the heater not to open it without proper training. The office was mostly empty with some big meeting going on upstairs and I was given an apathetic go head. This was a change from last time when my door lock was broken in which the cavalry was called in. However, this story ends well: No one is having roast bird tonight. Being the well-organized forward-looking person I am, I collected the materials I would need to effectively open the gas heater; vacuum, towels, tools, flashlight. After checking a couple of easy areas first I came to the chimney vent itself. After detaching the pipe from the heater, I cautiously peered in; not immediately recognizing anything in its sooty depths. Zoom! Whoosh! Out comes a small terrified bird. Yeah! Short of options, I stood there for a second, sighed, and lifted my eyes toward heaven; now have a disoriented, sooty, injured bird loose in my house. A distinctly bird-shaped black outline was left on my kitchen cabinets after collision. Excited but not panicked, I slowly cornered the bird behind the couch and caught it softly in a towel. Released out the front door, it showed great strength and resilience quickly flying toward the nearest tree. The bird being so black makes definite identification impossible but I would have say it was something like a sparrow or a chickadee. And here I was worried I would have nothing to blog about today! Ha!

Writing about Japanese Paper

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Paper has a long history in Japan, or rather, more precisely, fine paper products have a long history in Japan. I've seen great examples of this oft overlooked art. Japanese view paper as almost an element in its own right. The character of paper intersects deeply at the heart of Japanese culture; something about paper's ability to be both light and flexible or strong in any given situation. Japan's native Shinto religion uses plain white paper to mark sacred sites. Distinctly folded lightening bolt looking strips are seen universally across the country. Paper plays a role in Buddhism too; used both decoratively and in religious rituals. In everyday life, one is normally only an arm's length away from a great example, whether it be for covering doors and windows or writing. One of the areas where paper is not often seen is burning; my guessing is that because so much of Japan has been built of wood and paper that a strong aversion to fire exists. However, this hasn't stopped certain Japanese festivals from harnessing fire to dramatic and symbolic effect.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rainy Night In Shikaoi But the Air Is Fresh.

Japanese Bread and Bakeries.

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I wish it was an option to share the bread in these images. How can bread offer insight into Japanese culture? It strengthens my view that whatever the Japanese put their minds to, they do to the nth degree. My local bakery – Hana Neko Panya-san (Flower Cat Bread Company) – makes some of the best bread imaginable; all this from an unpretentious looking store run by a husband and wife team. The sweets are delicious; the deli-style breads with cheese and meat keep me coming back, (especially since we don’t really have stuff like that in Canada). The owners constantly amaze me by creatively introducing new products as the seasons change. However, it’s the simple breads that impress me most. I go to her twice a week for sliced bread, and freeze it, to use for toast. It’s definitely something worth waking up for in the morning. Her French bread is probably the best outside France or Vietnam. Perfect for sandwiches on the weekend. There is a surprising lack of buns or 100% whole wheat products in Japan, I have my own theory: I can only guess it probably has something to do with the more recent introduction of bread into Japan, compared to rice, and it’s position as a special treat. The pictures inclucded in this post show the shop’s crown jewel. A simple bread that doesn’t visually standout on the shelves. She describes it as a type of rustic country French bread, using local Hokkaido grain. The actual name for the bread doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue so we call it “inaka pan,” which doesn’t really have a meaning. Initially the crust is very tough, denoting its rustic country origins, however, heating the bread slightly - not quite toasting it thoroughly – reveals a transformation within the bread itself, creating a dream-like texture that everyone enjoys. And pretty soon you’ve found yourself to have eaten the whole loaf, crumbs and all.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fall colours

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I swear the people of Shikaoi can make anything grow. Here are some bright flowers, defying the season, I pass on my way to work everyday. I have actually been appreciating them for the last couple of Autumns. I love their firery colours and "never-die-even-if-winter's-coming" attitude.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New Radiohead is up

I have enjoyed fall until today. It was the coldest day I can remember with the thoughts of winter so far behind us. I froze all day and returning inside all I could do was mutter. Sadly, inside was not that much better. I have never gotten use to the lack of central heating even after years of living here. I have tea now and the heater is on. I'm resolved not to go outside until I leave for work tomorrow, cosily listening to the new Radiohead album. There's lots to say about the new album musically, but frankly I've been more impressed with what it signals for the music industry. For those that don't read The Drudge Report or live under the one rock with no high-speed internet access. Radiohead finished the album around the 20th of September, announced it a couple of days later, made it free, and released it digitally on October 10th. Pretty revolutionary stuff. This topic probably deserves further comment but I'm still considering different conclusions myself. I still want it in CD format however. In a true sign I'm turning at least partly Japanese, besides the dreaming in Japanese, I completely slept through a rather large earthquake that struck around 2AM this morning. 5.8: which is almost a 6, and that's when things start to get iffy. I can't believe I slept through it. I bring it up now because the odd thing was that I was planning to comment on the recent lull in earthquake activity for the area when I noticed something on the news this morning.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Visitors to my site have dramatically trailed off over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Here is something for when the masses return today. I got an interesting reaction introducing my younger brother Sean to a grade 3/4 class today. The kids wanted details; specifically, how tall he was. I happened to have a picture with me, it's not the most recent, but it shows him with rather big hair. Much to my students' chagrin, I said that we are both around the same height but Sean's hair makes him taller. heheh. I hope he reads that this morning while drinking coffee.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Open class

It's a good feeling to get everything that needs to get done for the day finished. Conversely, it's not such a good feeling to be offered some type of Japanese sweet which can not be identify. It looks minced squid that's been deep-fried and then dried and they have managed to somehow work chocolate into it. I won't have any part in it. My office promises it's famous. It deserves a picture. Tomorrow is one of those days that I am super busy from sun up to sun down. Shikaoi High School also leaves for Stony Plain tomorrow but I won't be able to see them off because of prep for my open class. Trust me; the open class far less spectacular than it sounds. I would have no chance of surviving if tomorrow weren't Friday which makes the day worth getting through - and a long weekend no less! Please don't expect any updates tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Middle of the week I think

I wish sometimes I could get into the heads' of my students. Today I made a small presentation to the grade fours and sixes about my elementary school; comparing the times school started, ended, recesses, etc. The kids were absolutely entralled with the information and it spawned many good questions. Beforehand the other teachers and I had worried that the information would not be stimulating enough. Perhaps the information was presented well - planned by your truely - but that doesn't seem to answer the full question. I guess I will live with the mystery.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Spare Minutes to Spare

School lunch today was especially good - chicken curry and rice. Something that really sticks to the ribs after a morning teaching class and fortifies one for the afternoon meetings to come. In hindsight, I should have gotten a picture of it but it escaped my mind. Having sit down to blog, the other things I wanted to post have also skipped my mind. At school there is a teacher who is on sick leave now. Nothing to serious thankfully; just something that can happen in the course of life. He will take a couple of weeks off to fully recover. However, the Japanese, never wanting to share bad news, have no idea what's going on. I guess I seem a safe repository for the information because - since I am the last to know everything - its unlikely anyone would ask me his condition, which at this point kind of seems like good news.

Lazy Sunday

I was the poster boy of procrastion Sunday but will good cause; I finished all my chores Saturday. With no pressing chores I could read, listen to music, nap, watch anime at ease. Somehow blogging never crossed my mind. Sleeping, though, was on my mind, with two nearly mythological length naps Friday and Sunday night of 9 and a half hours each. What a revolation; this nearly cleared up every sore muscle that had been plaguing me recently. I did go out for a bit Saturday night just to say I went out. Laughed a lot and had an interesting conversation about Shakesphere performed in Japanese. The weekend was beautiful and I regret not harrassing a certian friend more strongly to go hiking. I sort of made up for it with great two runs. Sunday's is worth particular mention: 2 in the afternoon, the sun just starting to get lower in the sky, running in what can only be desribed as gold lighting, blue sky above. I just ran and ran. Listened to a complete CBC podcast and when that was finished switched to Radiohead's [i]OK Computer[/i], not an album I normally associate with running. There is a very interesting effect on the plateau above Shikaoi where I run. This time of year most of the grain crops are in with the veggtable crops being harvested now. Some of the fields have a very fine green covering them of next years crops already growing which has the weird visual effect of looking like someone's well manicured yard streatching to the horizon. Because I'm not training for anything, I did stop a couple of times just to enjoy the quietness, the fresh air, and the view. There are of course no cars to contend with on these back country roads, just a stiff wind that is back after a still summer. Because of the two long runs this weekend (and a shorter one on Friday), tonight I'm looking forward to having the night off.