Saturday, December 15, 2007
I’ve come to the conclusion that Japan is and forever will be an irrevocable part of my life. I feel such an affinity for many things Japanese and I have such a tender spot for the country and its people. I read a NY Times article and I felt like I knew the subject, Ms. Matsuyama. When she was talking about preparing sukiyaki and oden for her kids, my memories nearly overwhelmed me. Mmmm, it’s totally sukiyaki and onsen season right now. I wish I could just go to the onsen, get nekkid and soak my worries away. Don’t get me wrong; I got my fill, but it never seems like enough. Dave and I have noticed a few Japanese people in Nottingham (I saw loads in Edinburgh) and we both agreed that there’s a certain sense of knowing and happiness when we’re in their vicinity. There is a trio of Japanese girls that attend the college where I work, and I always try to sit near them when I catch them on my lunch break. I catch snippets of their conversation (in Japanese) and I smile, fully understanding what they’re talking about.
I gave in my notice at work almost 2 weeks ago. I think I made a real impression here as they don’t want me to go. As much as I know that this isn’t the sort of thing I want to do with my life, I was good at it, fit in well with the team and learned a few things (another nice notch on my CV). Perhaps I will get a little moist in the eyes when I say goodbye next Wednesday when the College closes down for the holidays.
I got really excited after I read DBM’s blog (I feel you girl, keep writing!) and from a link to a link to a link, I found my way to http://www.servas.org/newsite It’s a UN affiliated organization that aims to foster peace and international organization through putting hosts and travellers together. The deal is for a small membership fee, travellers can board at the home of a host for 2 or more days FOR FREE. You know I signed up for that post-haste. This is so valuable for solo travellers, comme moi. The only trouble is deciding where to go first. I’m thinking I’ll take my first trip in January. Any suggestions???
I’ve pretty much decided to take a sun holiday in February with TravelEyes. Basically, sighted and blind travellers travel together to cool locales. Due to the fact I recently decided to take a sun holiday every year in either February or March (when SAD hits the hardest), what would be better than going to Fuerteventura of the Canary Islands? Maybe winning the lottery? Maybe, yes. I’m hoping to visit London as bookends to my trip. Just gotta check with my cousins.
On one of those links of a link I visited today, I read about someone who prayed for a friend, and literally 3 days later, got one. I’d definitely like to have a friend, someone who fit. I feel blessed that I can call or email anyone at home whenever I need to, and that I’m living with the one I love (and my ultimate best friend), but it would be great to have a great friend. As one gets older, it’s more difficult to make real friends and really connect. So, as I walking to the bank machine, I said a little prayer and asked for a friend, someone like me, who was funny, smart, well read, pretty (I don’t know why I threw that in – pretty on the inside? I hope I’m not that shallow), and very importantly, available. Let’s hope I get lucky sometime soon.
I've been SOO slack with taking pictures lately, especially of the stuff I've been eating lately. Also, it has just occurred to me that I don't have a Lonely Planet England yet. I haven't had time to be a tourist yet so I'm now looking forward to the two months I have off. I promise, I'll post on the proclivities and absurdities of people and things while I'm living in a country that is HRM (Her Royal Majesty's) everything. Should be good.
Monday, December 03, 2007
I've been back in a Western office for almost two months and I can't believe I've actually missed it. Well, actually, I know what I missed. It was the socialisation that goes on in the office. Chatting, laughing, exchanging ideas and generally making the day go faster. I lucked out in landing the placement I did. I'm back in a school, a college this time, and I'm working in human resources. I've been curious about HR for a long time and this job was an opportunity to get my feet wet in the field. It's interesting in a lot of ways because I'm learning about the finer points of recruitment, selection and the ins and outs of managing people. BUT, it's not something I want to do for the rest of my days. Interaction with people outside my colleagues is minimal and the paperwork is never ending. I'm more of a paper jockey than a people aide. Some days I can't be bothered searching for invisible files and calculating how many annual leave hours a part time worker has accrued. But, I get paid, I'm out of the house and I can scratch another job I'm curious about off my list.
But back to my earlier point; months ago I stated that I was looking forward to going back to the office. I was still in Japan at the time and the constant pressure of coming up with lessons for my Japanese students was wearing thin. What was really getting to me was the lack of communication throughout the day. My co-workers were great, but the communication barrier was THICK. I was always doing some independent, non-work related activity like Japanese study, reading or surfing the net. Sometimes I'd get so batty from not speaking in my own language all day that I'd say the daftest things when I'd be out with English speakers. I still shake my head when I think about that. It seems like a long time ago now. I miss quite a few things about Japan, and I recently teared up when I saw some pics of my former students on my successor's Facebook page. But that was then and this is now.
I've been noticing a few things that have made me go hmmm in the past few weeks. One of them is the abundance of BBMs – Bad British Mums. These are the young mums who yell, beat and swear at their young kids in public. I've seen examples of these BBMs at the supermarket, the bank, in the street and at my workplace. They have no patience with their kids and yell at them at the top of their lungs for infractions that do not warrant the punishment. I've heard BBMs telling their children to fuck off, to shut the fuck up, that they're going to get their fucking face smashed, and on and on. To make the matter worse, these shrieks are in gutter English accents which make my ears bleed from revulsion. These BBMs think of nothing of smacking their kids in the face, on the chest and on the bottom, further adding to their petty fury. It truly infuriates me. Of course these BBMs are not symptomatic of the whole British nation, but it's stunning to me that I've seen so many of them in the short weeks I've lived in this country. I've been thinking about children a lot and I know being a parent is probably the most difficult (and rewarding) job there is, but DAMN, I'm ready to give out condoms on street corners.
One last thing I'd like to remark on is the multiculturalism that seems to be alternatively celebrated and abhorred. Nottingham has a beautiful market square that sees vendors from across Europe peddling their wares and community groups putting on shows. Recently, I've browsed the stalls and have bought cheese from France, olives from Italy and smelled German baked goods. I've also been to Afro-Caribbean Day where I've eaten delicious jerk chicken while watching kids of different hues perform a "hip hop" dance.
There are so many biracial children and adults here and I've seen every hair texture and variance of skin tone. I love it. But turn on the telly and you'll hear how the influx of migrants is putting stress on the school and health systems and how Britain needs to stem the influx of immigrants as their numbers are "alarmingly" high. In a way, my bubble has been burst. I had no idea how much of a "problem" immigrants are to (white) British citizens.
I'm struggling a bit to end this post in a positive way. I'm happy. The sun was out for a bit yesterday and it's out today. I've finally made it to Season 5 of "The Sopranos". Life is good.
Monday, November 19, 2007
This has been, for lack of a better word, an interesting week. I found out the conditions of my visa (working holiday) have been changed and where I had choices a couple of months ago, I now have only one option in relation to working here. Rather than choosing between working full time over twelve months broken up over two years and working part time over 24 months, I can now only work for twelve months, full stop. These twelve months can be full time or part time, it doesn't matter. I just don't have the option of working continuously part time over my allotted two years. Which sucks. It takes away some part of the security I thought I had and feeling secure is my security blanket.
I don't know why things changed or when it happened exactly, but there is a climate of anti-immigration here that I underestimated. Nottingham and England is deliciously multicultural, but some people are just not happy about it. It's a constant feature on the political agenda and in the newspapers, and with the recent tightening of Britain's borders coupled with the terrorist attacks here, things are getting ugly. Or maybe they always have been. I don't know. I've only been here for a couple of months. At this time, I'm not able to critique what I see as an issue of all wealthy countries; the push and pull of "us" vs. "them". All I know is how it's affecting me. The rules have changed and I'm in the mix.
I've started to look at this whole thing differently. Rather than a pitfall, it can be an opportunity. An opportunity to actually travel, get as much experience working in different offices in the UK and to enjoy this "career break". I was pretty down about where I am in my life right now, but I have to look at things differently. I need to. So I will continue to taste the sugar with the salt and ride this thing like the kick ass cowgirl I can be.
Monday, October 15, 2007
It's been 4 weeks since Dave and I moved into our flat in Nottingham and we're getting nicely acquainted with our new town. Dave has started classes, pursuing a Master's degree in journalism at one of the two nearby universities, and I have started work as a human resources assistant (temporary) in a college. My finding work so quickly after moving in was a bit of a surprise, but I'm pleased to be working in a field that I'm genuinely interested in. I've set up a bank account, Dave and I have registered our names for all possible utilities, and I'm on my way to securing a National Insurance number (comparable to Canada's SIN) and a health insurance card. We're getting used to living together and negotiating through the sometimes sticky terrain of co-habitating, but we're learning and growing stronger as a unit, and as individuals, with each passing day. For a pair of transplanted souls, we're doing nae bad.
I sometimes find it strange that we're living in the middle of England and it's more than a little disconcerting living amongst folks who speak like Harry Potter and Oliver Twist. What's most frightful to me is hearing little kids speaking English in their weird babyspeak. It reminds me of a horror movie for some reason and literally sends shivers up my spine. Anyhoo, I think I've taken to Nottingham quite nicely. It's quite the beautiful, old town. It's got cobbled streets, a wonderful market square (seen here at night), big, old trees to go along with the big, old houses, a castle, a legend (that of Robin Hood ,which I found out is a gross bastardization of the truth. Robin Hood was a bastard. More on that another time.), and tons and tons of fantastic shops. We live quite close to the city centre (about a 10 minute walk) in a beautifully appointed neighbourhood aptly named "The Park" and by all accounts, this is ideal place to live.
There are a few x's behind the name of Nottingham. For one, it's got the highest rate of gun crime in the UK. IN THE UK!! For a small island of over 60 million people, my adopted home is known all over as the place where there is a clear and present danger of getting a cap in the ass. But, to defend Nottingham, or Shottingham as it's sometimes lovingly referred to, it's not as bad as it seems. According to the Wiki article, Nottingham reported a spectacular 51 kills in 2003. For a town with a population of about 600,000 in a country where not even the cops carry guns, I suppose this was a lot. But I think it was a lot of sensationalistic reporting, though I wasn't here at the time. But things have calmed down, with the number of shootings falling to just 13 last year. It's good to know that people have gone back to stabbing and "glassing" one another.
My next gripe isn't really specific to Nottingham, and maybe not even England. It's the phenomenon that occurs on Friday and Saturday nights - the assholing of perfectly reasonable people. The women, who I think have such a fashionable way of carrying themselves, go through a horrifying slutification where they lose their good sense, their minds and their knickers come the weekend. I've seen women walking around in mini-mini dresses, garter belts and panty hose in the name of hen (bachelorette) parties and cleavage like you wouldn't believe. To be fair, women here are definitely NOT shy about showcasing their bosom. I went to a recruitment agency to get registered and the woman who was serving me was wearing a blouse that was too tight and too see through. I had to really focus on keeping my eyes on her face. I don't know, is it just me? I've seen my share of cleavage in my native Montreal, but here it's so OBVIOUS. Maybe because English ladies seem to be particularly well-endowed...? Of course, this observation and slight discomfort is further exaggerated by living in Japan for the past two years and seeing nothing but cotton/silk/wool up to the neckline.
Another thing that I'm adapting to is the drinking culture. In Montreal, you drink for pleasure, in Japan you drink to socialize, and in the UK you drink to get stinking assed drunk. To quote David, "So you see, it's not just my problem, it's society's problem." With recent articles and studies reporting that British people have a high incidence of problems related to heavy drinking (illness, unprotected casual sex, pregnancy), it's a big deal. Friday and Saturday nights are prime time for drinking and you'd be hard pressed not to see signs of binge drinking all over the place. To add to this, it seems that British males get highly aggressive when drunk (must be a throwback from all that historic war mongering). Take for example what happened a couple of Saturdays ago: Dave and I were on our way home from a lovely (and expensive) dinner at an Indian restaurant and we were weaving our way through the crowds of under-dressed, over-intoxicated folk. We were focusing on a particular group of mutton dressed as lamb (grown assed women wearing outfits meant for children) when this guy, a bloke with big ears and a surly expression, was looking at Dave with cold dead eyes and said: "You lil' prick."! This was an unprovoked attack and the ferocity of his conviction caught me so off guard that I burst out laughing! I couldn't help it. I'm still laughing about it nearly two weeks later. What a twat.*
Well, that's it for now. I've been remarking about the food culture here lately so I'll be sure to post something about that soon. Til next time!
* "Twat" doesn't mean the same thing here as it does back home. It means stupid or idiot. It still tastes like acidic glass on my tongue when I attempt to say it though. Incidentally, I'm doing alright with "cunt" (which means bastard or asshole)though it still burns my ears from time to time.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
The two months I spent in Montreal seemed to pass by in a blur. From late nights out, eating all my favourite food with all my favourite people, to hours upon hours spent by myself trying to put together all the different pieces of me, I had an amazing, if not short, time in Montreal. I also had a chance to spend a week in Toronto and a couple of days in Ottawa. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, yours truly was a busy little beaver.
Alas, all the fun in games in my home city came to an end on September 15th when my little sister, mother and I drove to Ottawa for me to board my flight to Glasgow. The following morning, I arrived in ye olde country, into the arms and the home of the one I love, and officially began my tenure in the UK.
There were so many things to take in: seeing the Hot Scot again after 7 weeks apart, meeting his family for the first time, realizing that I'll be living in a new country and seeing as much of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas as possible. Needless to say, it was a busy week, but it went really, really well. You know when you're filled with anxiety about something, then you do it and it was successful and then you're all like, "ahhhhhh"? Yeah, it was like that. I was as happy as a pig in shit.
Scotland was beautiful and green and cloudy skies and intermittent rain and castles and people saying "y'awright?" I visited some authentic British pubs, perused the aisles of Top Shop, saw a hell of a lot of sheep, got to see where my beloved was from, was awed by a bagpiper busker, and lots of various things that I'm grateful I took pics of, or else would have forgotten. It took my leaving it to realize that I was actually in Scotland. I can't wait to go back at Christmas.
On September 22, Dave and I moved on to stage two and drove a rented van 7 hours from the south of Scotland to the middle of England. The country side was breathtaking. I will put up some pics on Facebook, but I saw the rolling hills that I've come to expect from such films as Braveheart and Trainspotting...okay, maybe not the latter though I did walk down the same street in Edinburgh that Ewan McGregor ran down at the beginning of the film. Yeah, as a total movie nerd, I was pretty excited.
And that's me. 10 weeks summarized in just a few paragraphs. I've seen a lot of things and have written many posts in my head regarding my first impressions of the rose country. I will be updating this blog with more frequent (and shorter) posts and pics of all the interesting things I see and do. I probably won't go on any trips until the new year, but I'm sure there's plenty to see and do in the town I've just settled in. Stay with me as I continue on this path to...I don't know where, self-actualization? Enlightenment? Jewellery from all over the world? We shall see.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Last year, in about May, there was a nest of pretty swallows by the entrance of the JHS. They had me entranced for a few weeks before they broke my heart and flew the coop. This year, a new batch were hatched and I spend several mintues of each day just staring at them in sheer wonderment. I'm having a sense of major deja vu, but rather than taking heart in the knowledge that I will see them again, I know that it will be the last time I observe them in this environment. It's getting down to the wire, less then 3 weeks and counting before I leave Neo for good. Everything is bittersweet, but in a good way. It's positive because I'm determined to go out in a high note and so far, it's been pretty easy. My elementary school kids are counting down with me, not because they can't wait to get me out of here, but because they know that each time I see them, we have one less class together (which means one less class of mind-blowing English fun). I'm bringing the noise/bringing the funk in my last few classes and we're killing it. I hug them every chance I get (such a huge change from over a year ago when they'd examine their hand after I slapped them five). At the JHS, we're cracking mad jokes, with me stooping to the humour level of a 14 year old boy. I've got nothing to prove any more. It's all about the fun. And it's fierce.
I've started to say goodbye to people and I'm handling it well. I guess it's because I've made peace with the fact that most of my relationships will end here. If we hook up again, it'll be glorious but I'm not going to live with baited breath that it will occur. But then again, I haven't said "peace out" to the top guns so who knows how that will play out.
I will be leaving Neo on July 25, leaving Gifu on July 26, spending three days in Tokyo before flying out of Narita Airport on July 29. I sometimes think of how things will play out when I arrive home. What it will feel like to sleep in my own bed and to hang out with my family. I also think about eating whatever food I feel like when I feel like. I especially think about re-adjusting to having choices and variety and understanding languages all the time. I remember reading an account of an ex-JET who broke down in the aisle of a supermarket because there were too many varieties of peanut butter. I love PB and have hardly eaten it in two years. I hope I don't go postal in Loblaws. Don't even get me started about bagels. Montreal bagels are the best in the world.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Monday, June 04, 2007
There are many words in the Japanese dictionary that are difficult to translate. One that you can hear on an almost daily basis is ganbaru, which according to the dictionary means to persevere or do one's best. Often, when I tell my kids to "ganbatte kudasai", I translate it to English and tell them to please do their best. Similarly, when people tell me that, I reply "ganbarre imasu", which means I will try my best. However, irregardless of how many times people are told and taught otherwise, the most common translation of ganbaru is fight! Or in katakana English, fa-i(ee)-to! You'll here it at competitions, before tests or when someone isn't feeling too hot. I've decided to adopt this ill-translated word as a personal mantra for my final 8 weeks here. See, I've been feeling amazingly underwhelmed and understimulated during working hours, which means I'm a lazy sack of shit after I'm relieved of my duties. A growing sense of apathy started to take over my mind during my hours of solitude and I began to look at my remaining time as a cold, desolate desert that stretched before me. It sucked. I would awaken for the weekend and then return to a semi-catonic state sometime around 8:15 a.m. Monday morning. But today, I said enough is enough. I don't want my final weeks in Japan to be filled with disdain and blinding anticipation so that I would forget my nearly 100 weeks here. So I will reach down into my spirit and savour the lasts of everything. I WILL FIGHT!
I had a good weekend and I felt like I accomplished a lot without over-exerting. I shipped four boxes of my belongings, got a quote for my return plane ticket, tried out a new recipe, saw Pirates of the Caribbean, ate at one of my favourite restaurants (mmm, miso katsu, how I'll miss you), thorougly enjoyed watching Snakes on a Plane (Samuel L. Jackson, you are still the shit), walked around near a brook and saw dozens of fireflies (tres romantique) and spent 8 hours making the Samurai doll that you see here. I royally messed up this doll and had to make the pants all over again, plus I forgot to not glue one side of them in order for the samurai to hold his swords in his belt, but it worked out well because my guy is holding swords in each hand and looks like a total badass. I love happy accidents. This doll took a lot out of me so please forgive how used up I look in the first pic. This doll will be my second to last and I'm going to miss these classes that infuse Japanese culture with laughter and conversation. Truly one of the best things I've done here.
I received a newsletter that contained information about reverse culture shock, which is something I might encounter when I return home. Basically, it's a phenomenom that affects people when they return home after they've lived abroad for an extended period of time. I felt culture shock when I moved here (and how!), and I anticipate feeling its companion when I go home. The newsletter suggested doing a few things to prepare for this inevitable part of living internationally. For example, it suggested making a list of the things that I like about Japan and thinking about which things I can take home, which I can try to recreate back home, and which things I must honour and say goodbye to. This is something that I'll be working on over the next little while. It's extremely important for me to say goodbye to this place properly so that I can close this chapter of my life and move on to a brighter future. The newsletter also suggested writing a list of the 5 people I will miss the most and thinking of the most meaningful way to say goodbye to each of them. Thinking about it makes me want to barf. Saying goodbye is truly the most difficult and painful thing for me. Lord have mercy, it's going to be miserable. Gotta remember my new motto though - FIGHT-O! You can just sense my false enthusiasm, can't you?
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I recently celebrated my birthday in Okinawa and it was one of those trips that will go down in awesome birthday history. It was so great, that for two days after I returned, I was still on cloud nine. Dave and I spent four days in Miyako-jima and each day seemed to go on and on, but definitely in a good way. We weren't running around trying to see every little thing. Instead, we spent three days on the beach and wandered around in our rented car. Miyako is a fairly large island, a lot bigger than Tokashiki, the island we visited last year, so I'm happy that I took Julia-jima's advice and rented a car.
There were so many highlights on this trip. The biggest one was seeing Julia again after nearly two years. Julia and I met in Japanese class and during JET orientation stuff in Montreal before leaving to Japan, and have been communicating exclusively through our blogs and email. Hanging out and talking with her was like having a little bit of home on this island was huge for me. Thanks Julia!
A few other highlights were eating Greek food while overlooking the ocean, Dave and I having a whole house to ourselves, eating a lot of great food and swimming in crystal clear waters. Being on this island with Dave made everything happen in technicolor and I was so happy to share everything with him. It was everything I wanted and more.
Today is Dave's birthday and we celebrated it this past weekend. I organized a surprise trip to Osaka and Universal Studios for him and invited a bunch of our friends to share in the fun. I didn't tell Dave that we'd be going on an overnight trip until the day before and arranged for everyone to meet us on the train. It was perfect: at 8:15 in the morning, 7 foreigners jumped out of their seats in a quiet Japanese train car and yelled "SURPRISE" for the delighted Scotsman. Oh man, it was awesome. But he still didn't know where we were going. I blindfolded him when we were about 30 minutes away and we led him to the entrance of the park where we unveiled in his surprise. A lot of hootting, hollering and hugs later, we entered the park where we would spend 9 hours waiting in lines, playing Catchphrase, talking too loud, eating and drinking overpriced food and beer and going on the fantastic attractions. The Spiderman ride and the huge rollercoaster were my favorites.
At night, we had a really late dinner at an Indian restaurant that stayed opened especially for us (thanks to Kana - arigato gozaimashita!). The food was delicious and spirits were high and I was happy that everything worked out. This past weekend was one of the best times I've spent in Japan (gotta make a top ten list before I leave).
So, I'm back at work and trying hard to get back to my routine. I feel like I haven't had a good sleep in ages. I have about 7 more weeks of teaching and then I'm done, but I've got so many things to do. It's getting a little intimidating. I had a craptastic teaching day today and I'm ready to get out of here. I'm sorry if my writing is lackluster but all my happy-happy joy-joy was spent this weekend. I'll be back on track soon. To everyone whom I've been ignoring through email/Facebook, a thousand apologies. I'll get to you soon!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Part 2 of your heroine's adventure took place in the lovely prefecture of Ishikawa. Shiloh, Gen, Alice, the Hot Scot and I piled into a mini van and made our way to the capital city of Kanazawa early Thursday morning. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones on the road. We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours and we didn't even leave our prefecture yet! But we were together, we had tunes and jokes, a beautiful warm day and the freedom of stopping and starting when and where we wanted to. We saw some beautiful cherry blossom trees in Shirwaka-go, a place well known for it's gassho houses which we stopped to shoot and then continued on. It took us about 7 hours to reach out destination when it usually takes about four, but we got there.
So the plan was to camp and BBQ for three nights and that's what we did. Unlike my previous experience camping in Japan, making camp in Ishikawa wasn't so easy breezy. Some camp sites required a reservation of up to 2 weeks prior to your intended stay! But we got lucky every step of the way and found sites that were convenient and somewhat easy to find. Since there were five of us, we had two seperate tents with Dave and I sharing one. It was pretty small but very cozy and warm even though it got a little chilly at night. A week prior to our road trip, it got pretty cold and it hit me that I was going camping by the sea in May. Oy...but a week and several sleeping bags later, everything was toasty.
We spent a lot of time in the van driving around the coast and I was amazed by all the amazing scenery we saw and the fine weather we had. I can't really remember all the notable sights (I guess they weren't so notable after all), but we visited one place that was breathtaking (see left). I don't remember the name of the place, but I really loved it. We only stayed one night but it was awesome. We also met a group of wild Thai boys who hooted and hollered late into the night. We chatted with one of them and he had the cutest/thickest accent I've heard here in Japan. He was a trip.
And that's about it. It really was one of those "you should have been there" trips. What can I say? We laughed, we played, we talked (maybe too much - my bad) and they went swimming. I want summer to come as badly as everyone else, but I haven't lost my damn mind. It was too damn cold. The water was so cold, it even looked cold. When Dave got in, I heard him hollering from from the other side of the beach. He screamed, "there is no pleasure in this". Indeed.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
All in all, I had a great time in Tokyo this time around. It's funny. When I visited the city during my first time in Japan 4 years ago, I didn't really care for Tokyo. I thought it was loud, crowded and obnoxious. But I've had several opportunities to see its softer side and I truly enjoy and appreciate it. Yeah, it's decadent to the max but it can be quaint and quiet when you go to the right places. I hope to visit there again right before I leave the country.
This dude here was a trip. He loves talking to foreigners (in Japanese) and I hope to bump into his stall again in a couple of months. He was funny, charming, and best of all, gave us discounts. My kind of guy!
I'll write about my camping experience really soon.
Love and mochi.
Friday, April 27, 2007
A hop and a skip down memory lane...
Monday, April 16, 2007
I was going to post my thoughts on the differences between Canadian and Japanese cultures in light of the recent visit by a contingency of Canucks, and my students impending visit to Alberta. I was also going to post some pics from my fantabulous weekend doing nothing with someone who means everything. But before I was to do all this, I wrote an email to one of my best friends who just had a very beautiful baby. We talked recently and while I wanted to talk to her again, I was out of money on my phone card, so an email had to suffice. While writing this email, I began to think about the "old days"- when I lived in Montreal and could simply pick up the phone and call one of my closest pals and talk, bitch, moan, commiserate, cry, fact-check and do any number of other important activities. But now here I am, thousands of kilometres away, sending an email to a woman whom I've known since before my first everything, asking how she was doing after the birth of her child. It struck me as kinda odd and a little sad. Then I remembered the other 2 babies whose births I missed, and the weddings that I will miss this year and it made me feel so mournful. I didn't cry (though I wanted to), but I thought about those lovely girls in my city of home as I frantically moved around my kitchen, trying desperately to distract myself (thankfully it worked).
If people can be home, then there's no place like home and I'm definitely homesick.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The sakura (cherry blossom) season is drawing to a close and it will be my last in Japan. Cherry blossoms don't last long at all (about a month) so you kinda have to remind yourself to appreciate its beauty while you have it. I think the sakura is a fitting symbol of my time in Japan. You sometimes take it for granted, you're sometimes underwhelmed by its presence and then sometimes, when you know it will count the most, you are awed by it. I find myself drawn to its trees at my school and I stare intently at it to the point where the colours and textures disappear. It gets me thinking about my life here and its frustrations and joys. Were it not for Japan, I'd be lacking in so many ways: in experiences, in challenges, in love. I came to Japan and fulfilled the cliche: I found myself. Uggh. It sounds so overdone, but it's so true. It's not that I was terribly lost before, but I guess I'm sure now.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Last week, I was hella busy with the visiting Canadians coming to my town. For some very strange reason, I was entrusted with translating and guiding duties. Luckily, they hired a pro to do the translation of official stuff for all but one of the events. You know, I quit studying Japanese about 2 - 3 months ago, but no joke, I've spoken more Japanese in the last little while than I have in probably forever. I have a lot more confidence and I'm more at ease when I'm communicating with folks. 'Twas good.
Anyway, I went to Kyoto and Takayama with the good folks from Devon, Alberta and wow, I'm temple-d the eff out. No more temples for me please, I'm done! Though the coolest thing EVER happened in Kyoto. We went to visit Kiyomizudera, a pretty famous temple complex and I saw a sumo wrestler!!! I LOVE sumo and I'm so PISSED that I lost the channels that I could watch sumo on, but I'm still a groupie. I plan on going to a tournament in July, right before we leave, and I intend on sitting so close, I can smell their thongs. How hot will that be??? I'm trying to figure out who this bad mama-jama is.
With all the changes going on in nature around here, I was thinking about changes on the personal level and how you can be walking around, doing your daily bizness, and you realize how much you've changed. I've felt like that fairly often lately: when I was listening to the Canadian teens talk about self-designed drama; when I've handled situations differently than I would have a couple of years ago; when I actually stop and think about the best way to act/respond when I did precious little years ago. It's really amazing to me sometimes, these things called life and growth. But on the other hand, I think about the things that haven't changed and how I'm grateful for their maintenance as they equal who I am. I think about the summer and how I'm going to get up to my old trips back home: putting on a slinky outfit and heels and strutting the streets; sitting cross-legged + bare-legged on a beautiful terrasse sipping cocktails, wearing shades and watching the humanity pass by; eating/laughing/making a scene and feeling COMFORTABLE doing so. 'Tis good.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part in this journey (my evolution is being "televised") from the sidelines and right in there in the mix with me. Special shot out to Hot Coffy, whom I don't even know but whose handle I love and whose messages make me feel special. Thanks to those who take the time to comment and to those who read and tell me stuff later. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Dan, don't work too hard. Life's too short.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I do believe that Spring is now here. I feel it in the air, in nature and in my bones. I feel like I'm on my way to being completely restored. School is out and I'm going to take the opportunity over the next two weeks to do some spring cleaning at work, organize myself for the new year, and get the ball rolling on organizing things for my successor.
I just got back from a short walk around the school grounds where I was thinking about how beautiful and clean it is here and how different it is from anything I've ever known. I'm having one of those "I love Japan" days and people, let me tell you, I'm going to miss it. I have tons to look forward to, but I know it's going to be extremely difficult to say goodbye.
I briefly chatted with a friend who had returned to Toronto after living in Japn for a few years and she's battling reverse culture shock HARD. I wonder what it's going to be like returning "home" to Montreal after calling some other place home for two years. And then moving away and calling yet another place home. I understand the meaning of what Dave has said several times to me in the past: people can be home. But what do we call those places where we physically are but are not technically home?
Yesterday, the visiting Canadians arrived and I got such a thrill from interacting with them and acting as a translator (my god, since "quitting" Japanese, I've spoken more of it than ever before). It's been awhile since I've felt that exhilirated at something work-related. I hope it's a sign of things to come.
The other day Dave and I were talking about doing things every weekend before we leave and I counted how many we actually have and there's on 17!! The weekends are hard because we basically have to cram everything into 2 days. So many places to see, so little time. BUT, we have booked our tickets for Miyako-jima in Okinawa for my birthday in May. We'll visit the lovely Julia, whom I've been communicating exclusively with during our time in Japan. Getting excited.
Hope all is well with you!
Monday, March 26, 2007
It's the end of the school year here, and along with the long boring graduation/closing ceremonies in the unbelievably cold gym, there are parties. Lots and lots of parties. Japanese teachers work hard, so not surprisingly, they party hard (okay for a few hours about 3 times a year, but they go all the way). Last week, I went to two. I'm not going to another one tonight. My liver, and my wallet, need a break.
I've mentioned before that alcohol is a social lubricant here but I wonder if it's also used for social cohesion. After over a year and a half of attending all manners of parties, I'm not really sure if I like how the drinking aspect of the soiree is handled. The unspoken rule is that you're not supposed to fill your own glass. This is especially true for the principals and vice-principals. You must be on top of their glasses all the time because they are the bosses. You don't want their drinks to run out lest you want to spend the rest of your career in office purgatory. Or so it seems to me.
So this is the scene: you're working on your meal and working on being entertaining to your neighbours while trying to understand their enquiries about your life outside work. Suddenly, out of the corner of eye, the lunch lady/gym teacher/school affairs officer is bringing the sake/beer bottle to your glass. But it's still full. What do you do? Well, you pick that sucker up and either take a polite sip (usually if you're a lady) or chug it down (if you're a big, strong man). At this point, the pourer (the aforementioned co-worker) gives the pouree (that's me) a hit of the jesus juice. Rinse. Repeat. Many, many times. I used to think this was charming. Now I find it annoying. The other night, I wasn't feeling well as I suspected I was coming down with a cold. I had an enkai to go to that evening so I soldiered up and went (backing out was not an option), but decided that I wouldn't drink. Easier said than done.
When I arrived, I explained to my seat neighbours that I was feeling under the weather and would not be drinking. Knowing that I like to whet my whistle on occasion, I was met with ridicule. My beer glass was filled. I obliged them and drank it. At this point, the warm sake came. Confirming my love for warm sake (for the 20th time), my sake glass was filled. Again, the lady doth protest. But apparently not enough. I obliged them. Then I turned both my sake and beer glasses over. Oh, the howls of protest that followed. For the rest of the evening, and when I attended the after party, my desire to remain not drunk was tested as my co-workers and city hall employees begged me to drink with them, to be one of them, when I so blatently didn't want to be. At 11:oo p.m. on a Monday night, I called it quits and bid their drunk asses goodnight.
Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case on this charge of beer pressure.
In Japan, there is an oft-quoted saying: The nail that stands too tall, must be hammered down. Often times, I feel that I am that nail, and my co-workers, my students, my neighbours and my Japanese friends are that hammer. I'm constantly told how to sit, how to eat, how to dress, how to pose for pics, how to behave and how to be. I am a foreigner in a land that believes in uniformity, conformity and the ever-mighty group. I knew this before I came and can accept it most of time. I don't often complain about this, but there are days when I'm tested.
The beer pressure, the peer pressure: these are things I cannot change but I fight them because if I didn't, I'd lose myself. I didn't come here to become Japanese. I came to become who I am and who I will be. I used to notice these little wrinkles I got on the sides of my mouth, the so-called laugh lines. But they looked so deep and I wondered if I got them from faking my smile for so long. Now, I don't spend a great deal worrying about wrinkles because my momma's got fabulous skin, and while such a thing is mostly genetic, I don't need to jinx myself and bring out things that don't need to be there. So what did I do? I stopped faking it. I stopped saying everything was delicious when it tasted like ka ka. I stopped laughing at jokes I didn't understand. I stopped doing things I didn't want to do and saying things in the hopes of pleasing everyone. I learned the importance of being me, and staying me, at all the times. I still act diplomatically as I know my role as a cultural ambassador, but I don't pretend anymore and now the wrinkles are gone.
That's not to say that their are still little trials everyday. I wrote the following poem the other day when I arrived at my elementary school's graduation wearing a gray-brown suit while everyone else was wearing black (keep in mind I'm [not] an artist and I'm [not so] sensitive about my shit - ref?):
They try to hammer me down,
but I'm strong, oh so strong.
My will is formidable
and I won't bend, I can't.
Then why do I feel the pinpricks
of their eyes
on my back,
I care, but I don't,
but apparently not enough.
But I'm different;
This is my life (July 2005-July 2007).
Oh, the joys and trials of teaching English in Japan. The beautiful struggle. I love it. I loathe it.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
I've been pretty emotional as of late for several reasons: It's winter which means trying to get out under the thumb of feeling SAD, the season of goodbyes has started, it recently snowed non-stop for three days, and I miss my someone special. I'm also thinking back on all the things I've experienced in this country, mainly remembering the good things because there are so many. That, along with my future plans, coupled with the fast-approaching departure from Japan in July is also having an affect on me. I'm in the early stages of getting ready to leave. My contract will end on July 24, my car insurance will be cancelled on July 26, and if all goes well, I will fly out of Tokyo no later than July 31. That means that I have just over 4 months to say proper goodbyes to my students, my co-workers, the friends that I've made here, the country, and to effectively close this chapter of my life. I have to plan speeches in Japanese, give meaningful gifts to the children and those that are special to me (this is of my own volition), pack up and get rid of all the stuff I don't want and ship stuff home, clean my apartment, create a good welcome package for my successor, sell my car, and mentally prepare for my life post-JET. I'm sweating just thinking about it.
But I'm getting excited.
I'm getting busy and keeping myself occupied during those long lesson-free hours at my schools. I'm in the midst of career planning and figuring out how to get into a new field and I'm SO EXCITED about that. This kind of stuff turns me on. I've also been planning/preparing for not one, but two huge moves: one back home and the other to...
the UK. Yes folks, not content to have one great overseas adventure in my life, I'm planning for a second one. As I type this, my heart is beating a thousand miles a minute and I keep making typing mistakes, but I'm putting this out in the universe. I've only been thinking about it for about, oh...at least a year, but I haven't written about it because I'm superstituous and believe that some things should be kept private. But this is great news, no? In a few short months I will apply for a working holiday visa (send me your positive vibes, ok?), and if all goes well and on schedule, I will be in England by September. Ok, everyone, let's scream a collective AHHHHHHHHH!!! Deep breaths, deep breaths.
So it's no big wonder that I've been all over the map, but I'm getting back to a more balanced me. Over the next few months, I intend to write about all these things with the purpose of not only keeping you abreast on all the going ons in my life, but to lend structure to my ping pong ball thoughts.
Ok, my stomach is just starting to unclench from all this future talk, so let's switch gears and do something fun, shall we? I've been getting "tagged" a whole lot and while I usually ignore those email messages from folks, I thought it'd be different to post answers to those burning questions people seemingly want me to reply to. Here goes:
4 things you didn't know about me (cuz I couldn't think of five):
1. I'm afraid of the dark. Seriously, I'm a grown woman and I sometimes have sleepless nights because I'm so afraid of what might be lurking under my bed, in my closet or out in the forests. I've watched too many scary movies and have heard/seen too many wacked out things, plus I have a vivid, technicolour imagination. While I can sleep fine the majority of the time, I sometimes have those nights where I sleep with the lights on. I curse the following movies: An American Werewolf in London, Signs, and The Grudge.
2. I sometimes have fashion shows in my apartment. By myself. Yes, I sometimes like to take out the cute things I have in my closet and strut around in my apartment like I'm Naomi Campbell. But I have experience; I've been in several (school) fashion shows and I can work it.
3. I love gross out humour. I'm a voracious reader of literature and non-fiction, I love art house and foreign flicks, and I read the news. But tell me about a movie or a show that involves fart jokes, diarrhea and double entendres, and I'm all over it. Anchorman, Dumb and Dumber and Family Guy are a few of my faves.
4. I hate shopping for gifts. I suffer from major gift-giving anxiety and I absolutely hate shopping for gifts. I'm afraid of the receiver hating my gift, ripping it to shreads and taking out my heart while it's still beating. I try to think about gifts months in advance, but if I forget and I'm stuck for time, I'll freak out, go shopping for hours, wear myself out and eventually get something that I don't love. Blech.
Hee hee. I feel good.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
As I mentioned in a recent post, a few friends and I hit a karaoke bar and sang our hearts out for a little while (okay, 3 hours). I'm not a karoke fiend like some others I know, but every once in a while, I'll strain the vocal cords for the sake of self-expression, stress release and hearing a good song. Regardless of your singing ability (howling dogs ain't got nothing on me), more often than not, karaoke is a good and not-so-expensive night out.
In Japan, karaoke, like onsensing (I'll explain shortly), is one of those things that you do to simulataneously expel the pressures of a hard day and embarrass yourself. Prior to coming to Japan, I'd done karaoke'd twice. In Japan, I've lost count. But it's pretty cool in Japan. I'm not sure if Canadian karaoke bars have undergone radical technological transformations, but I really love the computerized nature of this past time. Here's how it works: After setting up a room with the clerk, you can either used a handheld computerized song book or a tradtional paper book. You choose a song or three or five (which is usually against proper karaoke etiquette), punch the number into the remote control or the handheld thingy, wait for your song to come up on the screen, and belt it out. And the coolest part is while your singing and sweating and making love to the microphone, you can pick up the phone in your room and place a call to reception for drinks and food. Pretty hot, if you ask me.