Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ice Golf

This is just a quick story from yesterday. I have been rushing around with odd jobs all day and have only just found now time to sit down and write. Please excuse its brevity, but it's pretty funny. In a classroom, all it takes sometimes is one student to go off track and the rest will follow like sheep. Case in point; yesterday teaching my grade twos, I was trying to gesture "Ice Hockey." The skates, the ice; that was no problem, but when it came to the stick, R-kun, smart bugger that he is in the front row, offered "Ice Golf?" I can see the connection but I reacted with a loud laugh at the image he suggested which the rest of the kids mistook as comformation the answer was correct. Next thing the kids are all saying "Ice Golf" "Ice Golf," some quizzly, others happy finally to have set on the answer. Now we are all off topic and readers will have to imagine me in class waving my arms wildly like I'm trying to herd monkeys, trying to get the class back on track.

2007 NaNoWriMo Complete!

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It's official! I won the 2007 NaNoWriMo competition. I entered my document into their website before the end of November and their army of robots counted and certified my novel as being over 50,000 words. In reality, all I won was a stupid internet badge, but I post it here proudly. It's a soul crushing experience to push out 50,000 words in a month, especially for me who managed to reach it by November 15th. In 2005 I calculated the stats for the month but this year, because my novel has a more serious tone (in contrast to 2005's effort which was just absurd), I will now attempt to humorously summarize my novel in less words than it took to write.

Imagine you live in the future. Everything is perfect. It's truly a utopia on Earth. Now imagine it's because everything is run by a super-intelligent computer called the Singularity that has wrestled control of earth from humans by predicting, controlling, and harnessing human behaviour and bending the laws of physics itself. Now imagine that instead of the author taking the opportunity to create original characters or develop any sort of plot, nor attempt to penatrate the enigmatic philosophical properties of such a system or the implications of such a omnipotent, benevolent controller, he uses the book as a platform to describe the structure the Singularity is housed in. Nearly 40,000 words dedicated to describing a fictional building. Then, the author, upon realizing he is going to run out of things to write about before reaching the goal, changes course and decides to put a second Singularity in space. What a stroke of genius on the part of the author, Luanching a second Singularity into space easily allows another 10,000 words in the course of describing the ship--christened the Hamlet. The transition is handled flawlessly with stock characters called by such inventive names as Dr. Matthew and Dr. Morgan and a ninja attack at the 41,000 word mark. The spaceship Hamlet is launched just as an earthquake strikes the original Singularity, collapsing what had been previously described as a very strong building, returning the population of earth to a pre-historic way of life. Ultimately, the book argues a real utopia is impossible and life tragic; another paradise lost. Reviewers suggest alternatively that perhaps the author came up with this idea when he was having a bad Monday; perhaps having stubbed his toe getting out of bed or upon realizing he forgot to buy orange juice for breakfast. Publishers are quick to comment that in several places the author outright stole plot devices from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and Bridget Jones's Dairy and that the manuscript is only fit to be burned. By way of closing, the author wishes to delare his intent to keep writing the little known genre of sci-fi architectural fiction.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's okay it's Monday

What a wild morning! We had visitors at Shikaoi Elementary School from the Ministry of Education who watched my grade one English class. Besides the implications that even the federal government is interested in Shikaoi's English program, the way people were treating the situation like an approaching rock star was comical and it kept me relaxed. Also keeping me relaxed was the fact that I was kept in the dark about most of the days details, except for my class, which a small core of people had been planning since last week. It went as well as can be expected with a class of forty-five grade ones. It's like training a goldfish; doable, but not always predictable. Ten teachers, which was not special for the class, also helped. I honestly had fun.

Also making me smile today was picking up a package at the post office. From the notes left behind, I knew I had already missed the package twice, such is the penalty when one lives in a country that still has Saturday and Sunday delivery. But I digress; I went to the post office at first opportunity Monday and discovered my package was unfortunately out for delivery again for the third time. The guy that is helping me got on his cellphone to contact the driver who is out on delivery. I know this because soon there after, waiting and watching out the window, I see the poor driver return on his motorcycle, appear, disappear around the corner, come in the back door and, in his outdoor coat, walk straight over and hand me the package. I felt horrible for them to go through all the trouble of calling the diver back. I'm really not worth effort. I would have insisted they deliver it to the Board of Education had I known he was planning on calling the driver back; he left out off earshot when he got on the phone. The package turned out to be a wonderful box of Canadian chocolates from my Grandma M. I try to eat sweets only in the morning on the 18th century notion that it will burn the calories off throughout the day. In reality, I probably just like the sugar rush in the morning. I must admit at the first sight it was chocolate I ripped into the first package. I will save the second for the office to spread some Christmas cheer tomorrow.

It was so beautiful when I got up this morning, walking to work the wind was warm not unlike the Chinooks we get in Calgary. However, things have changed nasty in the last hour of work. Not it is raining. I'm not confident it will stay as rain as the temperature drops over night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Razor sharp or Polished smooth ice surfaces

It has, for the recording, started snowing here. It snowed for most of the day yesterday while managing to stay above zero, so as one can imagine it left quite a mess. Things aren't so bad today as everything froze in the exact state it was left in yesterday, even if it be razor sharp or polished smooth. I think the snow dump was big enough that it won't be going away until spring. I'm a bit depressed that all I can look forward to is for things to get colder and darker before they get warmer. I am not impressed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Always Something of Interest in Chomin Hall

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I work in a large spread out public building called Chomin Hall of which the Board of Education takes up only a small fraction. To readers of my blog that have visited Shikaoi, this will all make perfect sense. I love working here because out the door there is always something of interest going on in the public spaces of the building. Today is a perfect example; the building is crawling with children because those entering grade one next year are required to have a health check. (From the din I can hear at my desk I can tell everyone's lungs are healthy.) Last week the news I couldn't share was the death of a previous Shikaoi mayor. I didn't recognize the name but I wanted to give the news a chance to travel to Stony Plain ahead of my post.

This offers the perfect opportunity to talk about some Japanese customs surrounding death. In Japanese funerals only two things are held as universal; the funeral is always Buddhist and two, the body is always cremated, which makes sense in a country as populated as Japan. I appreciate how the Japanese are not so uptight about sacredness and spirituality. Ringing cell phones still cross the line, but taking pictures, walking around, or making a grocery list is not considered high treason, and no one will be reincarnated as an ant as nothing is infringed upon or disrespected.

The first thing I learned about Japanese funerals was at the dinner table. There are few behaviours in Japan that will stop conversation, one being if you pass an item chopstick to chopstick. Never ever do this. People's jaws will drop, some might push back from the table in horror, a sign or silent scream is not out of the question. The reason is to be found in the cremation process; afterward pieces of bone left intact are collected by the use of chopsticks and only during this process is it permissible to pass something chopstick to chopstick.

New Years, which is coming up, is normally very festive, with many visitors and special New Years' postcards, however, if a close relative passes in the preceding year, the family is considered in mourning and must be left alone, they don't even go to the temple on New Years.

The Japanese wake and funeral are very similar. Both times, a Sutra is read by a Buddhist monk, the only difference being that at the funeral the deceased is given a new Buddhist name. This is so the deceased will not return when their name is called. At some point the attendees walk to the front and light incense. Beyond this, the traditions surrounding Buddhist funerals are numerous, varied and arcane, following an individual's wishes, which is sometimes dictated by family tradition. The photograph shows the setup for a very large public wake previous to the monks being seated. The funeral took place in the same space the day after. It was a romantic scene leaving work later, Buddhist chanting could be heard throughout the building and the scent of incense still hung in the air the following day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dear Goodness! That was close!

I had already given away four oranges when I was about to give another four to our friendly neighbourhood Pure Land Buddhist priest. (Trust me, as he would say himself, he needs else in his diet besides beer and yaki niku, especially since he's trying to stop smoking.) But then I caught myself and remembered than in Japan four is an auspicious number and that gifts should be given in groups of three or five, never four. Austin might well let the first four slide but Sensei would definately noticed and thought I was trying to dis him or kill him or curse his family.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What would you do with a Sunday in Japan?

I worked like a dog yesterday; got up early and did the dishes and vacuumed all before I had breakfast, I was out the door for a run by 9AM. Did my weekly shopping in Otofuke (I wanted to make pasta tonight) and brought four wakayama oranges to some friends. My kindness was repaid with a lunch of trout sashimi and miso soup. With all my chores finished yesterday, I'm looking to doing nothing Sunday. The whole day is open. I normally wake up early so there is even more to fill of nothing. I will probably bundle up and go for a walk before the weather turns bad tonight. With naked trees, grey ground and threatening skies, it makes for a gloomy walk by the river. At least I can say it's warmer than Stony Plain is today. I also have two longish ideas for posts next week that I want to start. Happily, sandwiches for lunch today but what I am most looking forward to is burrowing into my long neglected Complete Works of Shakespeare and finishing Hamlet.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In addition, I can happily announce, it's Friday.

I guess there's really is no excuse not to post with NoNaWriMo out of the way, if you exclude that I'm tired and sore and my fingers are just bleeding stubs. It's Friday here and the office has been very busy all week with something I can't comment on until next week. Added on top of an already busy week, the Shikaoi Board of Education had yet another fire to fight: there was suppose to be a teachers' strike begin today at 5 PM. It was called off. Instead, teachers are holdings meetings tonight. Only in Japan would the proper response be to hold meetings on a Friday night. The principals and vice-principals looked jumpy and twichy and add to that guilty all week. The kids were gleefully oblivious. I'm completely on the sidelines for this since I'm contracted with the town. I feel within me the return to decent sized posts next week instead of these small fry.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My NaNoWriMo goal is complete

And The Heavens Opened! While my story is not quite finished, my pace won't be quite as prolific from here on in. I autheticed my story just a couple of minutes ago and it totaled 50,150 words; not bad for 15 days work. ....sigh....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My oranges came and I have a headache

I normally don't complain about such things but there are worst sufferers so I decided I would mention it here just this once; I have a splitting headache. At Shikaoi Elementery School they are re-doing the roof this week - with jack hammers. I guess November seemed like a better time to be on a roof in Japan than August, but it means people will be attempting to learn under a construction site. It sounded the whole time like they were about to come down on us. Even on the first floor the din can be heard. But the ones I feel most sorry for are the five and sixes that have classrooms directly under that area. The students are starting to look nervous and twitchy and the teachers are walking around like they have constant migraines. I was only there for the morning and I had to get out. I don't know how they expect kids and staff to go a whole week.

In other news, my oranges came. Before hand I had research proper orange storage on the great library known as theinternet. A cool or warm tempature doesn't matter so much as good circulation, which would take some creativity. Now they are spread all over my house, the best pictures coming from my stuffed fridge. I have another project in mind for the oranges but that will have to wait until I have more time this weekend.

Word Count: 44625

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It's Monday; cold and raining.

Well, this is kind of a cute story for Monday. As I have said numerous times previously on my blog I'm fairly impressed with Japanese produce. The fruit and vegetables are always perfect and tasty; opposite of how I remember fruit from Safeway. I have been introduced during my stay to Wakayama mikan, we know them in Canada as Japanese Christmas oranges, expect that here, starting in November, we can get them for a five month period. I have eaten them before and fell in love with their sweet flavor and blemish-free appearence. The whole eating seasonally thing that continues in Japan also entertains me. Actually, the oranges almost unnaturally good flavor and perfect appearence makes me doubt their earlthly orgin. At the end of the day, I loved them enough to track down an internet shop on to procure my own stash and last week I ordered 5kg of oranges direct from the orchard in southern Japan (60~65 oranges). They have serveral size catagories to choose from, from extra-small to large and also a desicion has to be made in regard to the grade; household consumption grade and gift grade. Knowing the dedication of Japanese farmers I can't imagine the difference in grade is that great. I went with medium size on my coworker's opinion that it's the most popular, revered for its balance of taste and texture. The prices over the internet were very cheap but there was a slight delay in shipping my box: I got a cute note direct from the orchard informing me they only pick fruit on days corresponding to maximumal ripness; they don't mess around, and never ship under-ripened fruit. It will be picked and then overnighted to me. I should be reciving my oranges anyday now and I am happy to wait if it means fresh fruit. I appricate the farm's dedication to quality because it means my oranges will be at the height of flavor and nuitents. Too often in Alberta we settle for long distance fruit that is picked way too early and assumed to mature en route. I expect to give a fair portion of my box of oranges away.

Word Count: 40171

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Friday comes again

My guilt is from not updating my blog as much as I wish I could because of my marathon writing goal this month. After pushing out 3000 words on days that are already too full, I can't sit through any more extracurricular non-essential writing. I hope to side step this dilemma today because it's Friday and I'm already way ahead of the norm and can afford to slack off this one day. This way I won't burn out.

My days are so full this week because of badminton. Tuesday was my normal badminton club, but Wednesday, Thursday, and finally tonight, my badminton club is holding a special Badminton clinic. It's a bit farcical because it's the same group of nine that come to the club twice weekly, but this time the five best teach the other advanced players and, I should add, think of really devious drills. For the clinic we do a whole bunch of formal Japanese greetings that we don't do on normal club nights. It looks absurd to me because every other time we are so casual with eachother and there are so few of us; more teachers that students. Badmintion is not exactly taking Shikaoi by storm, though we treat it like it is. Supposely these clinics were pretty popular in years past. I'm more than happy to play along, for $5 I get more of the same dedicated one-on-one coaching I'm already use to receiving at the weekly badminton club. My friends are happy to have a student that is loyal and dedicated, tries hard and never complains. It's nine hours of badminton over three days which is a bit scary but I'm in good shape and no muscle soreness, espeically in my arms, has yet materialized. I also want to repeat how horrible I am at the Japanese verison of stretching. We sort of do this counting thing as a group where we do a predefined set of stretches. "1-2-3-4, 4-5-6-7 swtich." Everyone else has been doing this since elementary school but I'm as lost as plastic famingo in a forest. I have no idea what the stretches are nor can I keep pace with the count. No one laughs at me for trying, but they can't help but crack up when I consistently fail to keep up and get that look on my face like I'm lost and confused.

Word Count: 30772

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We Just keep rolling here

Halloween just kept going when celebrated again by carving pumpkins yesterday. I'm actually a bit sick of the holiday at this point but the kids were happy with any change away from a usual english class. In addition to the pumpkin I carved, I also made zillions of roasted pumpkin seeds. You can see one of my students unable to pull himself away from the task of carefully arranging seeds to dry. The roasted seeds turned out great. (Thanks recipe wiki!) The golden brown colour and satisfying crunch was impressive. A student noted that I had used the perfect amount of salt. I thought this was a rather odd compliment coming from first grader. They will be roasting seeds all week at that school because five large pumpkins produce a lot of seeds.

Word Count: 23788

Monday, November 05, 2007

Type for you life.

In the period since I last updated, we had a night of hard rain and it knocked all the leaves off the trees. This left Shikaoi looking very different from the pictures I posted last week. Now it's just grey and brown and barren. It's so nice to be writing something other than that bloody novel at the moment, though I really should be adding words there if I want to make my deadline. I admit it's been a while since I last posted, but I have not been idle, my fingers have been turned into stubs from typing, my eyes bloodshot; over 17,000 words have passed from my brain, into my hands, and onto the screen. That's a lot. To try to give my readers some idea of what a challenge NaNoWriMo is, I wanted to share some excerpts from a thread entitled "Dirty ways to reach 50k" on the NaNoWriMo forums. It won't turn the manuscript into something publishable, but many writers can identify with these tempting methods to make their total:

  • Dreams. Lots and lots of dreams.

  • Description. LOTS of description.

  • Flashbacks. Often inserted in awkward places.

  • Step 1: Grab cat around middle.
    Step 2: With a vertical stroking motion, maneuver the cat's front paws across the keyboard, producing a barrage of characters.
    Step 3: Take notes.
    Step 4: After NaNoWriMo, write a book detailing your experiences. Title it Why Cats Type. Include artistic photos.

  • Introduce a hearing challenged character... and have lots of dialogue.
    "The train will be here in five minutes."
    "I said the train will be here in five minutes."
    "It isn't raining." etc.

  • Interject character's thoughts as stream of consciousness every ten words or so.

  • Chapters Titles, The longer and the more ridiculous, the better.

  • Have a character try to tell a joke to a person. Except every few seconds someone comes in and wants to hear it from the start. At first the character can get annoyed, but then have them think of better and more dramatic ways of telling it and they get really enthusiastic.

  • Never use contractions or acronyms.

  • Famous quotes can jazz up a book. Consider starting each chapter with a relevant Shakespearean play.

  • Wikipedia is your friend. "Warden, you want me to rat on my buddy? Not for all the tea in China! Which, by the way, was made from tea bricks prior to the Ming Dynasty when Emperor Hung-wu decreed that tributes of tea to the court were to be changed from brick to loose-leaf form. So fry me, cuz I ain't talkin'!"

  • Public record government documents can add odd bits of randomness to your plot. Say, for example, bill H. Con. Res. 13, 'Recognizing the importance of blues music, and for other purposes,' introduced in this year's Congress, which provides a fast 425 words and an increased appreciation for what politicians do all day.

  • Make sure all of your characters have at least four middle names.

  • Title a chapter "One more time, only this time, with Pirates!" Then re-write the chapter, adding pirates.

  • Anyone using a gadget in your book should be sure to read the instructions first, including the French and German translations. It's just good sense. Also, foods are much more interesting if your descriptions include ingredients and nutritional values

  • Give a detailed life and history and character profile of everyone of your characters even if they only appear in one sentence.

  • Making and eating food offer a great oppurtunity to describe a meal in detail, make sure to include the full recipe and nutritional value.

  • Don't delete anything. Ever. If you end up with large chunks of plot that no longer make sense, leave 'em in and make them fever dreams and traumatic acid-trip flashbacks.