Monday, July 31, 2006

Hokkaido Highway Blues...NOT

Ahhh, I had an awesome week. Little did I know that embarking on an 6 day road trip (plus 2 days on a boat) to the north of Japan would do me so good. From pulling away from the port of Nagoya to touching down in Chubu Airport, going to Hokkaido was the best thing I've done in a little while. While the weather was perfect, absolutely perfect, the sights were amazing, the sense of freedom was palpable, and camping Japanese style was phenomenal, by far, the best thing about this trip was bonding in close quarters with some of the best people in Japan.

The adventure started out last Saturday, July 22 when Ed, Shiloh and I met up on top of Nagoya Station. Having been truly knackered from our karaoke adventure the night before, our excitement at taking the 36 hour ferry from Nagoya Port to Tomakomai was beaten into a frenzy upon viewing the cruise ship that was our ferry. With an onsen, a movie theatre, a restaurant, comfortable berths and straight up cleanliness, the trip started out right. We had plenty of things to occupy ourselves and time passed by quickly.

Before we knew it, we had arrived in Hokkaido, picked up our rental car and headed out to Sapporo. The cold and wet conditions improved dramatically as we drove on and it was absolutely stunning by the time we reached the prefectural capital. We checked out the usual sights (the clocktower, the TV tower, Odori Park) and spent hours just strolling happily along, being over the moon about sitting on really grass (really, such a luxury in Gifu) and attending out first beer matsuri (festival). After night fell, we headed down and over to Kuriyama to hook up with the oh so fine, Montreal Stephanie. Let me tell you about this girl - she is personality cubed. She's funny, she's hyper-intelligent, she's cultured, she's a hometown/around-the-way girl and she's beautiful, inside and out. We've only had the pleasure of each other's company a precious few times, but kept up with each other through blogs, MSN and emails (thank the lord for technology), but hooking up again after a year was exquisite. Yeah, I heart her hard.

After waking up Tuesday morning at Steph's place, we got our little show on the road and headed to Biei, famous for it's nature and lavendar fields, to set up our tent. Yes, Ms. K. was going to camp. And let me tell you - it was so easy. Camping in Japan is the shit. Everything was so clean and the close proximity to onsens ensured that we wouldn't stink to high heaven after a couple of days. Even the bugs weren't so bad! And our campsite was monstrously huge! We spent two nights there and it was a complete pleasure, even though we were four inside the tent. It was ridiculously cozy, but in a good way.

On Wednesday, we decided to attack one of the Daisetsuzan mountains. I don't know which one we conquered, but we hiked for 5 hours. We felt pretty battered and bruised, but after going to the onsen and having a nice meal, everything was just gravy.

On Thursday, we set out for Toya-ko, which was clear across the prefecture from where we were. I think we drove for about 6 or 7 hours, stopping a few times. We stopped at Furano for a while to take about a hundred photos of the famous lavendar fields. When we finally reached our destination, the sun was setting, which made the campsite so beautiful. We even saw a couple of swans which added to the overwhelming beauty. We cleaned ourselves up at the onsen and headed to the city for a meal. We also indulged in some wine drinking (again) and had a pleasant evening.

On Friday, our last full day in Hokkaido, we enjoyed the beautiful weather by wading in the lake. Ed and I stayed behind because of his cast and my hair do while Steph and Shi swam. Afterwards, we lazed about on the beach and had the sun and the fresh air make love to our bodies. That was probably my favorite time during the whole trip. We capped things off by heading to Sapporo to meet some of Steph's friends, drink in the park with what seemed like the whole population of the city and indulge in some less than mature antics. But don't worry - I kept my clothes on.

I got back a couple of days ago, and while I was just wrecked because I stayed up all night on our final night, I feel sooo good about that trip. I especially feel wonderment about the friends I have here. Ed and Shi, my Gifu compatriots, further solidifed their places in my heart. My dear Stephanie has left this fair country, but hanging out with her over the past week brought back some Montreal into my life, which was sorely being missed, though unbeknowest to me. I raise my glass to thee.

Since I didn't have my digi cam, I will be getting my film developed in the next couple of days. Watch this space for updates. In the meantime, you can check out Steph's pics here:

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lazy, school daze...

I was recently informed that I have to give a presentation to some Japanese Teachers of English in a few weeks, and since I'm bored out of my skull right now, I'm starting early. As much as I like working under the gun of a deadline, finding out cool things to say about Canada while I whittle away my long non-teaching workdays proves to be much more fun.

Anyway, I did a google search on facts of Montreal, and this is what I found: I like these sort of lists, written by cocky people who feel they can write about a whole demographic. Sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes they are oh so right. These are a few of my faves:

You might be from Montreal if:

6. You refer to 6 inches of snow as a "dusting."
8. You don't think you have an attitude.
10. Everything in town - at least everything you care about - is a seven dollar cab ride away.
11. When out of town, you think the locals from the area are all hopelessly provincial. Including when you go to another big city.
15. You don't realize that you drive twice as fast as everyone else.
16. You're self-indulgent, extravagant, jaded and pessimistic.
17. You think if someone is nice to you, they must be looking for a vote. Or spare change.
22. You haven't been carded since age 14, anywhere.
23. You only eat stimés during a Habs game 'haldress'.
24. You think that if someone never goes out after work they must be hopelessly square, or ill.

How we'll know you weren't born here:
You cross at a crosswalk.

You ask directions to "Club Supersexe" or "Shay Paree".

Getting around:

St. doesn't mean street. It means Saint.
If Boul Réné-Levesque has mysteriously turned into Dorchester, you're in Westmount. You can speak English now.

Things you should know:

The underground train is not a subway. It's the metro. The subway is in Toronto, and it sucks compared to here


Last Sunday, I, along with a group of ALTs from Aichi and Gifu prefectures, made it out to Nagoya to watch sumo. I think I've proclaimed my love for sumo on this blog a few times, but I'm going to do it again: I really, really, really love sumo. My favorite wrestler is Asashoryu, this bad boy:

He's Mongolian, powerful and cocky as a MF. He's also the Yokozuna, the top wrestler. It was love at first sight. After sitting in super close seats and enjoying watching matches of the junior sumo wrestlers for 2 hours, the rightful seat owners claimed their seats and we were relegated to our nosebleed position in section J. Though I didn't get to see my man up close and personal, I was happy he won his bout. Next year, I'm going to pay to play and get really good seats. When Ed and I were close, we were able to see the elephant-like nutsack of a particularly huge man. Oh yeah, that's the good stuff...

In other news, some of my kids think that me and my JTE are D-A-T-I-N-G for the simple fact that we went to see MI-III together. I don't really care, just as long he doesn't think we are...

Anyway, this is the last post for a while as I will be going to Hokkaido with Ed and Shi tomorrow. I will try to update pics soon but since I will be taking pics with my film camera (my digicam is at Dave's and he's in Scotland), it might be a little while. A bientot!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I felt somewhat ashamed...

When I read this article on the BBC web site: I am a Canadian with a rich, proud Ghanian heritage. The Ghanian culture is full of beauty and tradition, and the society is peaceful and generous. But I'm ashamed to say that polygamy and man-sharing, particularly in the north of the country, is an aspect that I'm unbelievably pissed off about. Growing up in a household with two Ghanian parents and scores of relatives afforded me up close and personal contact with the drama that unfolds when men, yes men, are greedy and selfish. It drives me wild with impotent fury and makes me both pity and scorn the women who stand for it.

Here are some bits taken from the linked article that I must comment on:

When he leaves me to sleep with another wife, it's painful and I feel very jealous, but I just have to accept it. Umm, no, no you don't. You don't have to accept such behaviour from the man you married. You don't have to put up with physical risk in the form of the ever so popular HIV/AIDS. You're married, but doll, not many folks sign up for this horseshit. Take advantage of the lax cultural values towards marriage, call up a divorce lawyer, and stop the insanity!

Polygamy causes stress. Gee, that's a fucking understatement. Your hubby is getting it on with two other women THAT YOU KNOW OF, you don't work because you choose not to or can't, you have kids to support and your self-esteem is in the toilet. But, I have a funny feeling that by cutting out the cancer that is your marriage, things just might get better.

Taken from another woman: As Muslims, we accept polygamy. If a man wants to marry another wife and she refuses, she refuses God. Umm, yeah, I'm not a Muslim, but I'm a woman, and as a woman, I'm pretty sure that God wants EVERYBODY to be happy. Not just the man and the man's penis, but EVERYBODY. (I don't know enough about Islam to comment about the misogynistic and hateful treatment of women, but I feel comfortable saying that religion, this and others, do not put the interests of women in the same universe with those of the man.)

Polygamy is a sensible arrangement.
Yes, perhaps for animals in the wild kingdom...But then again, animals sometimes eat their young, so maybe this isn't the best group to be looking at.

Competition makes you want to cook the best meal for your husband and raise the best children. Again, I might be wrong here, but I thought love was what made one want to cook the best meal for their mates and raise the best children. If I'm wrong, I've obviously been misled for my whole effing life.

I swear people, I was going to come on here and talk about sumo and how it's going around school that my JTE and I are dating, but this article has gotten me too fired up. I promise though, I'll post before
I leave for Hokkaido. GRRRRR!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Love, friendship and banana bread...

All three have been weighing heavily on my mind lately. I've been thinking about love and it's various definitions and what the word has meant to me in the past, and what it means now. I think about how powerful it is and how it sustains me. I think about what I love and who I love and I sometimes drive myself crazy thinking about all the things I want and need at the moments when I can't have them at all. Then I think about suffering, and while I know I have so much more than many others in this world (and I am thankful for that everyday of my life), my own emotions blind me to everything that surrounds me.

Friendship has also shared space in my mind and thoughts over the past while. Being far away from those who know you best forces you to alter/modify your perspectives on what friends mean during different periods in your life. As one who is adverse to radical shifts in personal paradigms, this topic has been particularly troublesome for me. Those that I need close to me are so far, and those that are close to me are far as well. Difficult to explain, even more difficult to reconcile in my own brain.

And finally, there is banana bread. I've been waiting literally months to make this, but due to the absence of any decent sized baking tins, I've been waiting and searching. Lo and behold, last month at the re-contracting conference, a speaker gave an excellent presentation on living well in Japan, complete with drool-inducing recipes. I finally had some time off to experiment with the one for banana bread in the rice cooker but I needed one more ingredient: baking powder. Now, I knew looking for it at the grocery store might be a bit of challenge, but I sorely underestimated my mission. I really wanted to do it on my own, but I broke after about 15 minutes of reading katakanized English (brutal when you're not in that headspace) and asked for help. That, coupled with the nudge-and-stare-at-the-dark-skinned-gaijin gawks, I was done. I practically flew home in my car and all would have been lost had it not been for the banana bread turning out absolutely perfect. Seriously, probably the best banana bread I've made in ages. The rice cooker made it moist and flavourful - the perfect banana bread. And while it gave me some sun during this our rainy season, it's potency was short lived...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Today, I ate to mollify my pain...

I would never call myself an emotional eater because I deal with my issues without such crutches as food, drink or drugs. I usually talk it out, go for a walk, listen to music or do any number of a variety of healthy activities. But sometimes, just sometimes, when I feel down and out, I need a taste of the familiar. You know, comfort foods. Those foods that can calm us down, with just a whiff of its scent before consuming it. Pillsbury cookies or cinnamon rolls. Homemade banana bread or apple pie. Hot chocolate with half and half. Oh joy. But since I had none of these at my disposable today, I ate one of my other comfort foods - french fries. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

It was a rough day at school today. I had a class of 7 (usually there are 10 but 3 were away) that nearly overwhelmed me with their constant chatter and raucous behaviour (thank you, S-sensei, for controlling yet ANOTHER brillant class [sarcasm, sarcasm, sarcasm]), I got hit in the head AND the stomach with a ball, and a huge world map fell on my head. I won't even get into the fact that a bear was spotted near the school this morning. But there were smiles, jokes and tickles in there too, so it was survivable. Ahhh, so is the life of an ALT in Japan. But more personal matters weighed on my head. The biggest one was being absolutely annoyed by the seemingly popular opinion that I am intimidating.

Since coming to Japan, I've heard this opinion expressed time and time again by males who think I'm so exotic, so attractive, but EEEEK! Too intimidating. Intimidating is synonymous with scary, unapproachable, daunting... And I'm not like that, the majority of the time. I know how to assert myself when the situation calls for it, but being people usually come to Japan alone, you have to be open, inviting, and welcoming, the antithesis of intimidating, if you want to make friends. If you want to survive.

I can say without doubt that I am strong, confident, opinionted, able to stand up in what I believe in, and not willing to take any shit. How is this wrong? I couldn't possibly be the person I am, survived the shit I have, if I wasn't raised this way. This public diary is no place to share everything, but I can assure you, things could have gone down a VERY wrong road for me. So I like who I am. I'm proud of who I am. I don't think there is too much more to improve. So why does it feel like punishment when people think that I'm a ferocious cannibal without feelings, ready to maul anyone who missteps (well, that's only when I'm PMSing, but that's 1 day out of the month, even if it happens. Besides that, I'm a very reasonable human being. But I'm digressing)?

I think that it's almost humourous when people say "you look like you don't take any shit," without me saying anything. But is isn't that suppposed to be a good thing, an attractive quality in a person? One friend said that he wanted someone to take his shit. I had to laugh. At least he was being honest.

That's all to say that I felt hurt today which led to being lonely, more lonely than I've felt in a long time. I literally ached for the familiar, for some comfort. I thought about the weekly free dinners at a Ste. Catherine eatery (whose name has escaped me) with strong girlfriends, eating good food, and sharing stories from our fabulous lives. I thought about seeing my friends stand up for themselves and not let anyone take advantage of them. I thought a lot about my former life and I had to smile at the good memories. So with the help of the self-cut, self-fried french fries, I got a little piece of the familiar and felt myself regenerate. It felt good to quench my pain with the fat from the oily fries and the memories in my mind. No matter where I go and where I end up, I'll always be fine, even if I have to bust a few heads a long the way.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Countdown to summer vacation...

Yes, there are 10 more teaching days left, and while I love my students, I'm ready for a break from the unhelpful homeroom teachers, the lesson preparation (often last minute) and the repitition of English teaching. I'm looking forward to the 6 week holiday during which I will be travelling, preparing for next year's lessons and hopefully swimming in the morning in the pools at my schools. Teaching is so labour intensive. I swear, my respect for teachers just keeps on growing and growing.

Anyway, not much new going on here. Dave and I went to Osaka about a week and a half ago. I may have mentioned this already, but Osaka is the only place close to me, that I know of, that has an esthetician that does hair removal by wax. Ladies in Japan, if you need to take care of your bizness, go see Raddi:

She is fast, her prices are reasonable and she's nice. I've been talking about her before I actually went to her and now I'm absolutely raving. Girls, if you are in Osaka, and need a wax, go see her.

Aside from that, Dave and I unfortunately didn't do too much in Osaka. It was a hurried, irritable day and we walked a lot, but I was able to snap a couple of fun pics:

I think these "boys" are prettier than me...

For some reason, I find this sign humourous, especially since I've heard Japanese people say "pimp, pimp." I don't know what it is...the accent?

The one at the top is a boat constructed into a building, which was pretty cool.

And that's about it. I've been pretty horrible about snapping photos lately. Since it's almost been a year since touching down on Nippon soil, I've gotten used to a lot of things and most things just seem normal to me these days. But I'm trying to capture things that make me laugh, take my breath away, or just make me go WTF and post them for your viewing pleasure. Like this t-shirt that a 5th grader was wearing the other day:
Yeah, I know I'm supposed to be a grown woman, but I just kept giggling at this and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the La coupled with a word very close to horny.

And here are a few of the 5th grade boys, mugging for the camera. The one on the right is going to be a lady killer. I almost guarantee it. These pictures don't do him justice, but he's too cute. I hope and pray he doesn't turn into one of those fanny boys like in the picture I posted...

On a more serious note, it's been 25 years since HIV was first discovered and it has been 25 years that this killer has been growing. Since it's inception and the announcement of it being a "gay -related immunodeficiency disease", HIV/AIDS has morphed into a colour- and gender-blind human catastrophe where no country has been untouched. It boggles the mind to think that this disease was borne from a single animal-human contact and has been devastating cities and villages, particularly those in Africa. While much has been researched on the phenomenom on the dark continent, and the reasons for it's spread does make sense at the basic level (poverty, lack of education, misinformation), it's just crazy that HIV/AIDS is still spreading, and quickly, in the USA, particularly in the African-American community. Canada/U.S. have the information, the wealth and the means to prevent the rate of infection from rising, yet it's still here, it's getting stronger and it's killing more people. I thought that it was incredible when I read that "African-Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for an astounding 51 percent of new HIV diagnoses." HOLY SHIT. Please read the article in Newsweek and inform yourselves:

I'm out.