Thursday, January 31, 2008

Friday Funnies: A New Sport is Born

It's a special day when a previously unknown, unloved sport finds the light of day. This time it's the sport of handball. As the nightly news confirmed its existence, all Japanese were as surprised as I to see it on TV the other day. The glare of Japanese media itself thrusting this sport from obscurity into a riveting drama we see nightly on the TV. The impetus of handball's timely rise to fame is worth noting: an international scandal! You see, the Asian Handball League (it really exists!), is centered in the Middle East. South Korea and Japan have accused the body of biased officiating. The International Handball Federation (it really exists!) agreed, sanctioning a replay. International intrigue at its best! Does Japan bend to the Asian League's threat of disqualification if said rematch takes place or follow the International Federation's conflicting order? People in suits talk into mics. People bow. People run past banks of cameras. There are live reports from Saudi Arabia. As of the time of posting, there's no one place the reader can turn to follow the minute by minute developments of this continuing crisis, but as novelty Team Handball Japan products for the first time show up on store shelves, I have been sucked into the craziness and been sure to purchase my limited edition Team Japan Handball shirt, towel, spoon, back-scratcher and branded soy sauce. The story may finally have reached its apex this week when Team Japan unspectacularly lost its rematch. I think it will be awhile before Handball returns to the sports pages.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Move Toward Politics

The recent report delivered to Parliament from the Hon. John Manley again missed an important point. I don't really get to discuss the intricacies of Canadian foreign policy here and mostly that's a relief, but with Canadian soldiers putting their lives on the line it feels like my duty to face facts. Laid at the feet of the last Liberal government is the unanswered, never asked questions as to how we will bring our boys home. Continuing until now we've been presented with happy descriptions of a prosperous, stable, democratic Afghanistan. But what hasn't been discussed is the obvious - what underpins this admirable and ambitious plan - Afghanistan's economic reality. I'm baffled as to how this factor goes unsaid. It's important on so many levels as to what kind of Afghanistan we leave behind. Afghanistan's' economic situation should have been discussed from the start. Not as the only determining factor, but an element among many that shapes the rebuilding. How I, a man of average intelligence and without an elaborate foreign affairs apparatus, saw this and not our leaders, has always left me uneasy. Why was Canada never told about this? Instead we saw Idealism from the Liberals and the Conservative government until now has been happy to portray any dissenter as "Un-Canadian" (with a straight face too). The panel who was wisely non-partisan in their conclusions - but for the record stacked with conservatives - has began to shift the debate back to reality with facts.

In missing the economic reality of Afghanistan the best laid plans fail and debate turns to absurdity. Afghanistan has no resources (poppy-growing excluded). This is a historic reality and - ultimately - geographic bad luck. They have no gold, no coal, no oil, no trees, no fresh water, etc. Nothing from which can be used to build up an economy. Just reference Canada when one need witness what can be done when a society is blessed with natural recourses. So that leaves only a couple of other options. Tourism is one. It's a highly-desirable, non-polluting, high-profit, history-preserving industry. Clearly Afghanistan has a couple of strikes against it in this regard. I can't soon imagine seeing tourists flock to Afghanistan. Consider next developing Afghanistan's high tech sector. Again, it's a non-polluting, high-education, high-profit industry. Besides the decades Canada would need to be there to provide stability as Afghanistan first built universities and then started to turn out graduates (I'd said it would take one generation for the violence to subside and the positive affects of wide-spread higher-education on industry to be seen) an obvious contradiction exists that Canada, or any other Western country, does not wish to give away their own high tech industry. Manufacturing is also an option but fails at many of the same points high-tech industry does, in addition to Afghanistan's poor location to receive or distribute goods efficient (not to mention the state of its infrastructure). The issues I have outlined are only insurmountable if they are ignored. Afghanistan's economic situation should have been transparently addressed from the beginning. I can't imagine the most recent report being much use when it does not provide a true map as to the obstacles Canada faces before ever leaving.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunny Day #6

It's another beautiful day here in Tokachi. The sun is shining and the snow is melting. Too bad I'm stuck in the office with lots to do.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

There lays a good blog

In regards the increasing silence of my blog: It is not abandoned, I'm simply moving to write other things offline that hopefully everyone will have a chance to read once I am home. Today was really warm, not Calgary Chinook warm - I wish - but the sun's rays had a very uplifting effect. Same schedule today as last Monday, grades one and two, then a fight later in the office to stay awake.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A big wake up call

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For months now I've held in the back of my mind that there have been no major earthquakes recently. I think I've mentioned in on here before and it's come up lately with friends, normally accompanied with the baseless claim that most earthquakes happen in the morning. (This is of course crazy talk as earthquakes are notoriously random and the only reason they are felt more in the morning is because that's when people are laying still in a quiet house.) But I disgress, the months long trend was reversed at 4:34 AM this morning with a magnitude 4.9 earthqauke. Most of my co-workers reported waking up just seconds prior to the earthquake. I swear there was a slight shift or tilt 30 seconds before that woke me up. I had just enough time to lay there and wonder why I was awake at four in the morning. Then I felt the familar increasing vibration of an earthquake. I'm in the camp that earthquake's have a sound associated with them; like the biggest subwoofer you've ever heard. But this could be caused by a lot of things, such as the interaction of between the shifting ground and the house's structure. Today's was noteable for several reasons: It was on land. Located in the same mountain range that can be seen directly west of Shikaoi. And it was close. It's a humbling experience to think the earth routinely releases enough energy to dramtically shake a house 100km away. Even these smaller earthquake shake my house in such a ragdoll and god-like fashion I never want to be in the big one.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tuesday's Taste Test

This is kind of interesting; I hope to do the story justice. First some background, not the interesting part: I arrived at school to my co-workers' surprise. I no longer blog about cancelled classes without notice but have kept my sense of humour about it. Today offered a different sernerio: they still had English class but just didn't know I'd be coming. With some quick reorganizing of the lesson plans we were set. My English teacher companion had a novel idea that only works for small classes in regards to introducing flavors - sour, sweet, etc. For a reasonable amount of money he collected the six flavors we wanted to introduce. Normally, this kind of thing is impossible for 30 students. It's just choas to introduce and monitor this type of activity. However, with only three grade ones and three grade twos, plus me, the homeroom teacher and Kosuke-sensei, it was very doable. This lent the lesson the feeling of a small garden tea party (no doubt re-enforced by the fact there are no boys in that class.) This kind of interactive activity tends not to be the most efficient use of time; the reactions and subsequent sharing of opinions eat up time. However, witnessing the kids, no one could deny they weren't having fun. The teachers could just step back. They kept us three in stitches with their comments and did me proud using their newly learned vocab. They hated the ground up coffee beans but begged for more sour candies, far more sour than I could handle. Yummy - I guess not really a flavor - was handled by store bought soft chocolate chip cookies which I will have to scout out more of some time. Additional news from the school suprised me when I learned the gym was closed for the removel of asbestos. I remember hearing about the national removal program three years ago and I guess they're only getting to some schools now. Asbestos is pretty benign until it's disturbed.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Monday Starting Back at School

Today was my first full day back in front of students after the winter break (though I've seen other students on and off). Four classes of grade ones and twos nearly killed me. Actually, it was very fun, but I'm physically drained now; there's just enough fructose in my brain from my oranges to type this. Those are by far my favorite grades to teach but seeing them back to back to back to back is a challenge. A challenge I'm up for but one that doesn't come easy. The morning was pretty much a blur and no funny stories came out of it execpt to say I didn't miss a beat. I don't feel I have enough energy at the moment to wax poetic about education or offer useful analysis of current events. Maybe tomorrow something will spark my creativity.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Second Round of Wakayama Oranges

I arrived home the other day to find my Wakayama oranges had been delivered. This is my second order that I'm trying to fit in before the end of the mikan season in Japan. It again means my fridge is comically full of oranges.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shikarabitsu Snow Village

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I was given the rare opportunity of helping to build Shikaoi's famous winter attraction up at Lake Shikarabitsu yesterday. This is the final week of fevered building before opening to the public on Jan. 20th. Teams from the town office have been going up all week and this week I and Austin were up. This was my chance to volunteer behind the scenes and and I wasn't going to miss it for snow or cold. Being of an architectural nature myself I found the work fascinating. Walking around its maze of rooms, seemingly gravity-defying ceilings and strong thick walls made me giddy as a child. The main structure itself is amazing (I admit it was my first time of venturing up there in winter to see the festival) and they're still building! It's easy to spot a veteran ice worker and how they manhandle blocks of ice, compared to us neophytes chipping and dropping blocks. By the end of the day we were all maneuvering pieces like pros. It was especially kind of the town to pay for a lunch of curry and rice (that really hit the spot) and let us take a dip in the nearby onsen on the clock (prefect). Working inside was sheltered and warm, but the work was tedious and labour intensive, kind of reminiscent of building the Great Pyramids but of ice. (Yes, we really did have to carefully stack up all those blocks of clear ice. I was worried they were going to turn around and tell us to stack them on the other side of the room now.) Making the required 3000 blocks of snow for the festival was interesting - for the first hour - until the weather turned nasty. Then breaks turns more frequent. We managed to make 300 in the after. Everyone on the crew was lent boots and completely water proof gloves with textured palms especially designed for moving blocks of ice and snow and working with the wet snow used to bind them. It would be impossible work without them. I think the picture of our team building a terrance inside turned out especially good.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Overnight train in Japan

The route from Sapporo to Tokyo is well travelled and it's lucky for me out of the 16 or so stops one is Koriyama Station. The Hokutosei schedule has stayed at two trains a day for years but the route has been neglected and other lines get newer cars. Thus, the styling is a bit dated in addition to the expected Japanese efficiency and super-small size. The bathrooms are located at the ends of the cars - no luxury suite for me - and there is a lounge and restaurant car. I loved how I had to step up to my - I hesitate to call it a room - cabin? cubby? During the trip south, it was snowing heavily in northern Japan and, as I have mentioned before elsewhere on my blog, one of life's simple pleasures is staring out the window watching Japan pass by. On this occasion the snow gave way to a dream-like scene out the window. It was dark, but the lights of the apartments and houses we passed showed warmth. The mix of heavy snow and night created a moving black and white representation of Japan. A situation so direly beautiful it pains me. During some portion of the route as the train picked it's way along the coast, a silvery-grey sea was impressed on my brain. The movement of the train immediately made me sleepy. The slight swaying. It's like the motion a child in its mother's arms. No one could possibly resist that and indeed I slept well.

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Friday in the office

Luck comes pouring into my life today. I was at badminton last night and it was only then I learned it was a long weekend coming up. A friend nonchalantly mentioned there would be no badminton next Tuesday. I mean, I lost 6 to 1, but that was Thursday, to discover you're standing on the precipice of a long weekend you didn't even know existed? It's exhilarating! Also kind of annoying is that the doubles games were so close; all those 21-18, 21-19 losses would be dishearting execpt that the games themselves were so fun; the rallies intense. I have included a picture of me on Friday. It also serves the double purpose of displaying my new kick arse CBC shirt from my Brother. He also sent chocolate and a music mag (making me feel really out of touch. Who are these people?!?!) but it's the shirt I love most. It's so cool! I'll wear it here proudly. I pity the fool who asks me what it means.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pictures from Koriyama

These images are all taken from the same street west of the Tsuchiya's house in Koriyama. It really is a quant little road that goes on for some blocks before being terminated at both ends by larger roads. It's not straight nor is it flat and we having nothing like it in Alberta. Along the route at many points great views can be seen or smaller passages break off leading to even small paths. The photos come across as delapated and abandonded, but nothing could be further from the truth. It's a lively place. What makes the street great can't replicated by photography; it takes a walk, and here is where I walked every morning while in Koriyama.

The Infernal Illogical Machine

I love it. In news from the Drudge Report the rules of logic are bent and prehaps broken forever: Radiohead's new CD In Rainbows has hit #1 despite being given away for free on the internet. Finally, the lack of evidence for UFO's proves their existence and the Drug War is winnable!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Back In Shikaoi

I just got into Shikaoi, being met by a balmy 0 degree day helped me be happy to be home. Over the next couple of days readers can look forward to more pictures from Honshu and a detailed description of the over night train.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Oh the perogries I made for dinner!

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Things keep rolling here at the Tsuchiya’s where over the New Year’s holiday Japanese formalities were put aside for a taste of the exotic. Starting with deli sandwiches we made ourselves on New Year's day. With so many mouths to feed in the Tsuchiya’s busy house, I volunteered to organize lunch. I insisted on top quality tomatoes, cheese, cold cuts and bread and this was no small feat since over New Year’s many shops are closed but it went a long way to making the lunch a success. The 2nd was put aside for perogies. Perogies are a good meal to make in Japan because the ingredients are readily available at any store and it doesn’t require an oven, however, some creativity in the kitchen is still required since the available kitchen implements are different and space is limited (I used a sake bottle to roll the dough). This time there were even more months to feed so good organization was required on my part but I had lots of practice under my belt and everything was timed perfect and came off smoothly. Not a single scrap of perogy or topping was left. I didn’t get an exact count of how many I made but we had cottage cheese and potato and cheese fillings. Other than eating myself into a coma over the holidays, I feel very relaxed.