Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, all!

Well, here I am, no longer DREAMING of a Green Christmas, but in the middle of one! It's 3:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Day. Randal and I woke up this Christmas morning at 8:30, got up and had showers, then had a leisurely breakfast of fruit salad (fresh bananas, papayas, and pineapple), scrambled eggs on toast (for him) and banana pancakes (for me) on our second-floor guesthouse veranda, overlooking palm trees, a Balinese house courtyard, the pool of our guesthouse and, best of all, the rambutan tree (who knew rambutans grew on trees?) that is so close to our veranda that we can almost pick the rambutans fresh ourselves!

We got here yesterday fairly smoothly. Taipei on Saturday was a bit exhausting and forgettable - we had a bad incident with the shuttle bus guys on our way out of the airport Saturday afternoon, and after the extreme politeness and deference exercised by ALL Japanese people, the Taiwanese seemed quite rude. Sunday morning (Christmas Eve), we had an early morning flight to Bali, and it's been simply magical ever since. I hadn't forgotten how beautiful Bali was, but it's every inch as magical as I remembered, and then some. We had a nice big lunch an hour or so ago, we've done a bit of shopping, and even the giant rainstorm this afternoon was magical (it also helped we were sitting in the open-air-but-covered restaurant at the time, rather than being out in the rain, when it hit).

Anyway, there will be more posts and stories to follow. I am currently sitting in the same Internet cafe that I used two years ago when I was last in Bali, in my pre-blog years when I would send some of you long lengthy mass emails.

Merry Christmas, all, wherever you may be. I am thinking of my family back in Canada - I'd like to say back in the snow and cold, but my understanding is that it's not so cold nor snowy in Toronto right now ... Anyway, have a great day!!!

Friday, December 22, 2006


We leave early this morning.* And that is all I have to say.**

In other news, tonight (Friday), we had our bounenkai at work, which is the end-of-year party. It was quite nice. We had Japanese-style dinner in a Japanese-style room. There was lots of food; I couldn't eat it all. It was (mostly) all tasty. Not much else to say other than, lots of food was eaten, lots of drinks were drunk, and there were many loud, red-faced Japanese people in the room before too long. (Those who are familiar with Japanese enkai will back me up on that point, I'm sure.)

* Please, no comments from the peanut gallery as to why, if we are leaving early in the morning, I am still up at this late hour. Pre-departure jitters? Hardly. More like unpacked bags (now packed) and Walkmans begging to be filled with music (not yet filled).

** I will do my utmost to post from overseas (can I be "going overseas" when, technically, I am already overseas?), but I make no promises that I will surface from my underwater explorations long enough to hit an Internet cafe.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


We just had an earthquake! I was sitting stretched out on my couch, talking to Randal on the phone, when my couch started rocking back and forth just a bit. Then the shaking got a bit stronger. It died a bit after maybe 5 seconds, then got stronger. I watched my heater rock back and forth, and I heard dishes rattling in the kitchen. In all, it lasted about 20 seconds. I actually started to get a bit worried because it picked up a bit in intensity. After the first wobble, there was no doubt - it was definitely an earthquake. Not up and down, like the one Randal felt the other day, but a lazy side-to-side motion, like a car being buffeted by very strong wind (except here, the "car" was a 5-storey concrete building).

JMA doesn't have final stats yet, but they show 3-or-more on the scale thus far. I added a red dot to show where I am:
earthquake, gifu, 18h34, dec 19/06

Somehow I suspect, however, that that was not the Big One everyone is waiting for...

OK, new pic is up on JMA site and it's dramatic (for a little shake). I've marked my area with an arrow. They list it currently as a 1, but it was stronger than that, I think - more like a 2. They had a 2 in Kakamigahara, which isn't very far from here, so it's possible:
earthquake, gifu, 18h34, dec 19/06 (2)

I feel less left out now.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


My dear friend, Elliott:

Just thought you might like to know that for the first time this year, the weather forecast for Nagoya (as close to Gifu as you can get, almost) is announcing a low BELOW zero. You heard it here first: -1 is the forecasted low for Tuesday, December 19. The high is +9.

With fond hopes that this will allow you to sleep better at night (maybe a little warmer in the heart, too),

I remain,
tropical julie :)

Is that your stomach rumbling???

They had a small earthquake south of here, in Aichi Prefecture, just over an hour ago, and Randal felt it in Kitagata-cho, slightly northwest of where I am, but in Gifu City itself, I didn't feel a thing, even though technically I am between Kitagata-cho and the epicentre. Darn geological movements and faults that don't follow straight lines. Nothing moved here, not even the slightest little bit. I didn't even knock anything over accidentally and get to blame it on an earthquake. It's not fair.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And the Oscar goes to...


Got the tix in the mail last week.** We leave on the 23rd (next Saturday!) and return on the 8th, with a few days in Taipei at the end. Can't wait.

Though, man, has this cold, damp weather as of late EVER chased my tan right away. I'm so not bikini-ready, but somehow I'll manage. Tough job, but I'll do it.

* It's only not-quite-yet 2007. High time I finally put the last of my pics from my 2004 Southeast Asia trip on my Flickr site, eh?

** I had a pic of the actual ticket online, but more cautionary minds prevailed, and I removed it. It is, however, available on Flickr, but only to those special folks listed in Flickr as "Family" or "Friends" (so, like 5 of you). Sorry to the rest of y'all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Where have all the bats gone?

Bats hanging out in a cave in Malaysia (pic from my 2004 trip).

I have noticed in the last week or two, that the bats, normally so prevalent in this area, seem to have disappeared. At first I thought it was just that I was leaving school later or something, and so the bats had already retired for the night. But tonight, as I was walking home at dusk, prime-time for bats, through a previously bat-infested neighbourhood, I confirmed the apparently complete absence of bats.

Any chiropterists amongst my readership?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A tale of saikuringu and woe...

If I was better at kanji, I would know the kanji for "hardware store" and would have been able to find a hardware store close to my apartment where I could buy a lightbulb for my front hall light (which has been out-of-order for about a month now).

If I knew more Japanese, I could have asked someone at the grocery store or the local konbini (neither of which sold the right kind of bulb) where the closest hardware store was so that I could buy said lightbulb.

But I didn't. So this evening, after bicycling to get some groceries, I decided to continue bicycling further across north-end Gifu to a large Valor Home Center (kind of like Home Depot) in order to buy a lightbulb for a whopping 238 yen.

It was 6:15 when I left the Home Center to start the long cycle home (about 25 minutes). Randal was coming over at 7:00 or so, and we were going to go out for Indian food (and, conveniently, he was going to change the lightbulb - it's a tricky fixture up a bit too high for me to reach).

But when I got on my bike and started pedalling, I became aware of a strange dragging sound. I had heard it shortly before entering the Home Center parking lot, but attributed it to the strange pavement I was on at the time. Now, on smooth pavement, the noise was still following me.

I got off, and inspected. Not good: I had a flat tire.

Not only flat, but apparently (it was dark out) a tear in the tire down to the inner tube. And I was in the middle of nowhere. There were no busses in that area of town, and besides - I had my bike and a basket full of groceries.

So I called Randal, told him I would be late (he was running late, too, anyway), and started the long walk home with my poor bike's wheel completely flattened.

I was dressed warmly, with gloves and a scarf, but having gone out straight from work, was still in my dress shoes - not the best pair for long-distance walking.

So this was going to be a post about how it took me over two hours to walk home and how, by the end of it all, I had had to sling my bike over my shoulder, with the grocery bags and purse perched precariously atop my head, since the wheel was now wobbling back and forth, in four barely-attached pieces.

But. The bike made it home in one piece, other than the tire.

And. It took me barely 45 minutes to walk home. What a kick in the pants to what otherwise would have been an interesting blog entry. I apologize to all my loyal readers (all two of you - hi Mom! hi, uh, Mom again!) - you deserve better.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

i can't resist

Ottawa has almost as much snow now as Hokkaido.

crash course

A word to the wise:

If you ever find yourself doing a Japanese language correspondence course, DO NOT leave the first set of monthly materials and test to the very last minute. It just isn't fun trying to learn the 27 different "giving and receiving" verbs" in a day. Then re-doing the entire test again the next night because you realized you are a dummy and did it all backwards.

I still don't understand all the uses of the "giving and receiving" verbs, but like the book says at one point, "But don't be afraid of misusing them - try to use them over and over again. As your mistakes get pointed out, you will soon master the proper usage." Uh. OK. The month of December is as good a time to start learning these verbs as the month of November should have been, I guess!

Anyway, if I had mailed in yesterday's version of the test, it would have been a spectacular BOMB. But my head kicked back into gear this evening, I re-read all the verb rules, then worked my way (again) through the 40-question test. Now that I've changed a good chunk of my answers, I might actually pass (I need 70%).

In more interesting news, we went to Tokyo this weekend. That should be the second word to the wise: Don't go to Tokyo for a long weekend (Thurs-Sun) when you should be staying home, learning the "giving and receiving" verbs. But you know what? I had such a good time, though I battled sickness and ill health for part of it. On Saturday, I started developing sores in both corners of my mouth (not quite cold sores, but dang did they ever hurt) - they're almost gone now, thank goodness - as well as a strange nasty leg rash on BOTH shins, which isn't gone yet, sadly, but also isn't getting any worse, thankfully. And, to cap it all off, Randal had a sore toe. But regardless, there was WAY more walking around Tokyo than should be attempted by persons of our advanced ages* - the main wanderings were to Akihabara for electronic goodies, Shinjuku (twice) for people-watching and seeing the view from the high-up-in-the-sky Government Offices, Kabuki-cho (red-light district of Shinjuku) for judging how Tokyo stacks up against Amsterdam, and Harajuku for ritzy shopping and cos-play kids (sorry, Simon, I found them slightly disappointing and somewhat Disneylandish).

It's late here, so I'm going to leave it at that for now and go to bed. I will post pictures soon, however. I'm hoping to get (mostly) caught up on picture posting before we leave for Christmas in 3 weeks (yay!).

* And, obviously, failing health. Aaaahhh, if only I were 22 again. (For those who don't know, Kaila is a fellow JET from Ottawa posted south(ish) of Osaka. She's very cool, but I had no idea she was so young (or that we shared a b-day).)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Too funny not to share...

So I woke up this morning, breathing and alive. Good start to the day. Thanks to those who sent birthday wishes via email - much appreciated. I also got a number of funny e-cards. But the "Best. Card. Ever." prize is awarded to Erin in Nagasaki, who sent me this (make sure your speakers are on). It's too funny. I had to watch it twice. Then again.

My supervisor came running up to me in a panic midway through lunchtime today. When she saw I was still eating (egg sandwich - what can I say? I like to live on the wild side), she started to back off, but I insisted I could finish the sandwich later and what was up? She told me to come to the physics staff room. We literally ran there, and it turned out that some of the teachers had gotten me a cake! There weren't any candles (they found one later, though), so one of the physics teachers found one of those moving fibre optic lamps (with the poufy, long strands you can run your fingers through), and we turned off all the lights and pretended that was candles.

Tonight we are going out for fancy French dinner. I am just waiting for Randal to arrive (probably in about an hour or so).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Photoblog #2

This past Saturday, Randal and I went to Gifu Nourin, the local agricultural high school in Kitagata-cho, to see their school festival.

Gifu Nourin Agricultural High School Festival

The taiko drummers were happy enough.


That's because they didn't see the giant katamari rolling its way into their lives.

i (heart) katamari!

We fled through this auspicious-looking archway.


But while taking shelter, I accidentally touched the dial on this machine.

what's that flashing???

Randal shrank.

honey, i shrank the randal!

And I became a duck.


All in all, it was a strange day.

Last day ever

Tomorrow is my birthday. And as Randal was sweet enough to point out yesterday, today is the last day of my twenties. Always full of reassuring words, that man.

It was fairly un-noteworthy. The only interesting things:

At the end of the day, as I was walking down the stairs to the parking lot at school, one of my first-years (I think) whizzed by on his bicycle. He always seems somewhat interested in class, but has never said boo to me. Today, he called out, "Bye!" Then, "See you!" Then, "I love you!" (I think. He was a little far off at that point.) I have apparently taught these kids all they need to know. :)

Then, about a half-hour ago, I stepped out onto my balcony to hang the laundry I had just finished doing, and as I went to clip a sock to the laundry hanger, I almost jumped off the balcony in fright as my balcony gecko had come back to visit and was stuck silently to the wall. Upon realizing it was a gecko and not Godzilla, I ran back in the room to get my digital camera, but by the time I got back out, he was gone. It made me think of the geckos in Thailand - they were everywhere, including probably 5 or 6 on the ceiling of the hotel room I stayed in in Chiang Mai. Freaked my roommate out, but I thought they were kinda cool.

Anyway, I plan to enjoy the rest of my last day ever by cleaning my apartment (Randal is coming over tomorrow - we're going out for dinner but then back here, so it should look somewhat presentable), eating instant noodles, and if I'm really lucky, playing some Rollercoaster Tycoon. A fitting tribute to the last decade that was. I'm sure I'll be dead of old age by the morning...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

for the bookworms in the crowd

I may not have updated this blog properly in the past little while, but in my own brand of cross-procrastination, I just spent the last two hours or so writing no less than 9 book reviews for your reading pleasure. You have to scroll down to see them underneath the booklist, since they're all books I read before coming to Japan. Japan books will follow soon! Uh, maybe.

And now, I am off to do what I should have done two hours ago: dinner and studying some Japanese.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Blogosphere + 1

You didn't hear it from me, but there is a new kid on the block. I think he's funny, but I'm a little biased, 'tis true.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

heh heh...

So I was just passing by my site here, with no intention of posting tonight (it's been a freakin busy week and weekend, so proper posts will just have to wait), when I noticed on the Ottawa webcam that there seems to be traces of SNOW on Parliament Hill. SNOW! Then I remembered that it is, after all, almost mid-November. Just because it is plus-10 degrees Celsius in the evenings in some parts of the world, doesn't mean it's going to be balmy everywhere, I guess.*

Anyway, I'm on my way to bed in my new-and-improved futon (extra futons brought over from Randal's place...and I desperately needed them!) after spending the evening puttering about and fussing over the placement of my new couch. (Yay! An item desperately needed even more than the futons, I might add.)

* Actually, to be fair, I saw a temperature reading around 7:45 p.m. today that said it was +10, but let me be honest when I say that it felt much, much colder than that. There was a wicked cold wind.

Monday, November 06, 2006

This surreal moment brought to you by ...

So I'm bicycling home like a madwoman, trying to dodge the massive drops of rain that have started to fall, full-on in a thunder-and-lightning storm. (This is after bolting out of school after I heard a crack of thunder so loud and prolonged I had to ask two teachers if it had been, in fact, thunder.)

I get to where I park my bike at the foot of the staircase to my building, and there's a Japanese kid there, maybe 11 years old, parking and locking his bike. (I've never seen anyone else actually locking their bikes there; in fact, the same 3 or 4 seem to be usually there all the time, wasting away, unused, but too nice to be abandoned bikes.) I wait in the rain for him to move out of the way. He looks at me quizzically. I gesture toward the parking. He looks at me quizzically again. I say, "Can I park my bike here?" and make bike-parking motions. He says, "Oh, yes!" I realize this is strange, but move forward and start locking my bike.

Then he asks me: "Do you live here?"

Not: "You rive here?" or "Koko sunde imasu ka?"

No. "Do you live here?" The kid looks Japanese, but he sure don't sound it.

"Yes," I answer. "Uh, do you live here?"


I swear, I am not making this up. I've just been answered "yup" by an 11-year-old Japanese boy, who then climbs up and jumps over the half-wall out to the regular parking and starts up the stairs.

A little weirded-out, I start up the stairs myself. He is standing on the second-floor front balcony, and I see he has rung someone's doorbell. The person answers the bell (for the uninitiated, you answer your doorbell through a phone and there is a speaker outside so you can check who it is). I don't remember if the phone was answered in English or Japanese, but the boy responded, "Mama."

As I turned the corner, he saw me and I said, "Have a good night." This one always freaks out my high-level academic senior high school students, even the ones who like English, and I figured it was a sure-fire way to test his level of English. Without missing a beat, he answered, "Good night."

Japan never ceases to surprise me.

Anyways, I am going to perhaps post again here later - the Homies were here over the weekend! - but for now, my stomach is yelling at me and my laundry - out on an ever-dampening balcony - also beckons.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Be nice to the ghosties and ghoulies*

Halloween is not really celebrated here in Japan, though like so many other things, it is becoming more popular. I teach at a high school, so other than my Halloween-themed crossword puzzle in those classes lucky enough to have me the past two weeks (we've had a number of cancelled classes for some reason) and a Monster board game I made, the day passed fairly uneventfully. Heck - not that I searched high and low, but I didn't even see a single PUMPKIN that I was tempted to carve. I didn't even see a SINGLE pumpkin!!!**

I have never been a huge Halloween fan (well, I liked the candy aspect, of course), but here, in honour of the day, is a Halloween pic from days of yore (thanks, Mom!).

My first Halloween (not quite 3 years old). Awww.

I would have posted more pics but Blogger is cranky and isn't letting me. Anyway, there are more to be found on my Flickr site.***

My favourite costume ever was the one I did twice (almost ten years apart). I sliced off my head and served it on a silver platter. Runner-up is, I think, the year Chris and I went to the library school Halloween party (in 1999, my first year at Dal, incidentally) as a Hamilton small-time gangster and his moll (you can guess who was who, though Chris does look pretty good in my heels and skirts) - it was very simple, and I wasn't a particularly sexy moll nor Chris a very dangerous-looking gangster, but that was part of the laugh - no photo, sadly, unless Rebecca maybe has one? (I know there's one circulating out there somewhere. Though of course that year Michele totally stole the show with her awesome Boy George routine; I only actually was introduced to her the next day, when I ran into her and Stuart downtown, and was I ever SHOCKED that she was the same person! But anyway, enough library-school in-talk.)

Happy Halloween, all!

* Ghoulies, not Julies. But be nice to her, too.

** God only knows where Brian found his.

*** Those of you who care will also note I finally gave my Flickr site a proper name. Yay me!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Photoblog #1

I call this "Camera Theft: A Tale in Two Horrifying, Dramatic Pictures":

The little bugger.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Watashi wa ...

I had such a weird day today. Really up and down.

It started off badly. I got in to school early because I had stayed over at Randal's last night, and because of the bus schedule (I don't usually bike there anymore), I am always early when I do that (for some reason, there is a bus from his place twice an hour every hour EXCEPT between 8:00 and 9:00, where there is just one bus at 8:00, so I have to take that one, otherwise I will be late for work). I was in a bad mood - general discontent with Japan, etc. etc., kind of thing. Thursdays are also my busiest day; I have three periods in a row, a short lunch, and then a fourth, and I wasn't feeling totally up to it.

Partway through my first class, I remembered that today the entire school was going to see a play in the afternoon. So there would be no class that afternoon.

Partway through my second class, the teacher who I was teaching with took advantage of a lull when the students were completing an activity to write down the schedule for departures for the play on the board(students were either bicycling or walking over, as the prefectural Arts Centre isn't far away), and I realized the departure times started partway through my next class. Which I then realized meant that I had no next class.


The depressing lunch (tiny salad and egg salad sandwich) I had bought on my way to school this morning turned out to be quite tasty.

It was really surreal seeing how this kind of school trip was organized - every single student went, plus most of the teachers; the theatre was booked entirely for us; the students, as I mentioned, made their own way over either on foot or on bike, without constant teacher supervision (though apparently the teachers did do roll call for each of the homerooms upon arival). They all parked their bikes in one of three temple yards near the theatre, with the teachers directing traffic so everyone parked in the same yard as the rest of their year. Like most things in Japan, crazy weird.

The play was quite good. Of course, I didn't understand a word, but I got the gist of it. It was about a famous wood-carver in the first part of the century who lived up in Aomori prefecture (northern tip of the main island, just south of Hokkaido) - his trials and tribulations, etc. It was a musical! In one of the main songs, where the woodcarver gets together with the woman who later becomes his wife, they sing a song that repeated over and over "Watashi wa" ("I am"), hence the title of this post. It was colourful and bright; it was fun - did I mention it was a musical?

Went back to school for about 20 minutes (we got back at 4:00 and I am supposed to work till 4:10) and then decided to go shopping at UniQlo, the place where all foreigners shop because it's the only place that sells clothes that fit us. (They are all across Japan and are kind of like The Gap but not quite as pricey.) Though my day had improved, I was still kind of in a residual bad mood. In Canada, the sure-fire way to improve my day was to shop for pyjamas (god bless Old Navy!), so I decided to do the same here (I wanted some warm ones for the upcoming winter anyway).

I bought two pairs of XL warm pyjamas and a pair of sweatpants. But Japan really needs to start making XXL size. XXL! Since when am I... Heh, welcome to Japan. Anyway, thankfully pyjamas and sweatpants are home-alone clothing anyway, because there's no WAY I will ever be seen in public in the clothes I just bought. (Too bad too - the PJs are really cute - one is a fuzzy dark red plaid pants with a pink long-sleeved fuzzy top, and the other is aqua pants and blue top. The sweatpants are just boring pale grey.)

Then I headed, on a whim, to the shoe store near UniQlo. I had been telling my supervisor just today that I really need some new shoes, since for some reason I only thought to pack one pair (of non-sandals or non-heels) for the ENTIRE year. I also had been telling her that whenever I go into a shoe store and ask the salesperson to see ANY shoe they might have in "ni-ju-go-han or ni-ju-roku" (25.5 or 26 - that's centimetres, btw), they usually laugh and then tell me "something-nai" (we don't have any).

Well, this store did. I tried on two pairs of knee-high boots - one slightly stylish but terribly practical pair and one pair that was much girlier though cool enough to be a biker chick in, though just a bit snug at the toes. I will leave it to your imaginations which one I bought. Trinity never had such good boots :) . I also bought a pair of black loafers - they have a bit of a heel but not a girly heel, so I can wear them with skirts (my current shoes look stupid with skirts) AND wear them when I'm bicycling (which I do a lot).

Then somehow I managed to get this all home on my bike. Not quite sure how I made it (I only have a front basket, and I didn't have my backpack with me today), but here I am, at home and in one piece.

I got home and there was REAL mail for me! At least, it was mail in an envelope with the address written by hand. But it had been mailed from within Japan and, as far as I could make out in the return address, also from Gifu. Well, I opened it and I am still slightly mystified - it seems to have something to do with the bills I paid at the convenience store the other day - there is a printout of the POS and then a lengthy handwritten note with a number of things circled, highlighted and underlined. Thank goodness my supervisor knows Japanese.

And that brings you up to date on my day.

Tomorrow night, I am attempting to establish a bit of a social life - I have been invited to a fondue party at the house of a girl I know. It will be me and a bunch of crazy party-loving Brazilians. Somehow yes, this is very Japanese.

That is all.*

* Till I think of something else.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

35 bottles of beer on the wall...

No, not more karaoke. (Thank goodness.)

Rather, it is Randal's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Randal!

Old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway. That's what I like about ya.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, please

I am an RCT addict. But I don't have #3. And now, after seeing this (thanks, Randal!), I think I must have it.

This is awful. And funny. All at the same time. And man, They Might Be Giants! How cool is that?

Ahh, decisions, decisions...

We have to decide where to go for Christmas. We are currently booked on two different trips and need to choose one of the two.

Should we go to:
(a) Bangkok for 10 days and Beijing for 3?
(b) Bali for 10 days and Taipei for 3?

It boils down like this:

Bali was our first choice for Christmas. Then it looked like it was going to be prohibitively expensive to go, and we started looking elsewhere. We have been recently quoted a decent price for Bali - after taxes, we're looking at just over $1000 each. There are no direct flights, however, so we would have to stopover in Taipei for at least one night, so we decided to make it 3 days and visit there as well.

Bangkok was the one place we had kind of decided we were NOT going, for various reasons. But our travel agent slipped it in somehow, and the price is right: $500-$600 each, after taxes. Again, direct flights were all sold out, so we would have to go via Beijing - this could be a straight transfer (ie., no overnight), but we figure it would be interesting to visit (though it's worth mentioning the Chinese visa is about another $100 each).

Bali pros: We love Bali. We want to go mainly to Ubud, the arts and crafts centre. Bali is just magical; like nowhere else on earth. We also want to scuba-dive. Did I mention we love Bali?
Bali cons: It is a little pricey.

Bangkok pros: Two words: Thai massages. Two more: Good food. Bangkok itself is a cheap city and we could probably get out of the city and to an island somewhere for a couple of days for not too much more money in order to do some scuba diving.
Bangkok cons: The main problem is that the outgoing flight is Dec 22, a Friday, and we are both currently scheduled to work. Our schools will not like us trying to take that day off (but it can probably be arranged). We are on a waiting list for a Dec 24 flight, but who knows if that will go through. Also, it's not Bali.

We have been to both before. We both like Bali better, but Bangkok is nothing to sneeze at.

We haven't been to either Beijing or Taipei (well, I transferred once at the airport in Taipei, but that doesn't count). Strangely, it sounds like we need a visa for Beijing but NOT Taipei (though last time I checked, Taiwan was still technically part of China).

What to do, what to do?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Weather talk

Faithful readers of this blog will recall that not only am I related to my father, I am turning into him. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you (or at least to those of you who know my father) to learn that I am slightly addicted to checking the weather. I used to live in Halifax, where it was liable to change every five minutes. Don't like the weather? Just wait. ...Like it now? :)

Anyway, my new favourite website is that of the Japan Meteorological Agency. Not only can you look up daily and weekly forecasts for all of Japan*, but you can look up weather warnings and advisories, marine warnings**, tropical cyclone information, and information on earthquakes and volcanic activity*** (yup, Japan has it all).

Living in the centre of Japan in Gifu has thus far translated to us missing most of the nasty weather systems - typhoons generally tend to lose most of their oomph whilst roaring across the Kansai plain or whilst swooshing down through the Japan Alps.

However, I have noticed recently an increase in the number of weather warnings which include Gifu. What are they warning about? Dry air. I don't even know what that means! Is that some strange Engrish way of saying, "Not raining"??? I've had drier, more staticky hair in humid-air Canada than in allegedly-dry-air Gifu. I don't get it.

* Check out those balmy temperatures, snow-bound Ontario, and weep!

** Gifu is completely land-locked, so I must admit I have never checked that page, but I'm sure it has useful information for seaside types.

*** Gifu doesn't have any volcanoes, but I *do* check this one periodically, just in case. I guess I should be grateful that, in a country that usually has about one earthquake a day (though most are very small and barely perceptible), we have not had one yet. However, this just heightens the feeling that the earth is saving up its energy to someday be unleashed in the torrent that will be the big Tokai Earthquake. I originally thought Tokai was just Shizuoka prefecture (the area south of Mt Fuji, southwest of Tokyo) - turns out to be Shizuoka-and-area, which definitely includes the southern part of Gifu prefecture. (Footnote to the footnote: Only Japan would name its earthquake disaster before it happens, right?)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The world must be about to end

Last night I did the unthinkable. I was actually sort of productive.

I got home around 5:00 and after doing some "necessaries" on the Internet, I decided to cook. Yes, me, cook. Yes, in my tiny kitchen. Yes, in the little kitchen with only one burner and a microwave and a rice cooker. Until this point, I had not been more adventurous than scrambled eggs for weekend breakfasts, and (instant) noodle soups for dinners. But I blew the doors down tonight, if I do say so myself. Whilst overly familiar with the microwave (and its complete inability to make popcorn from scratch, I might add), I resolved to tackle, in one fell swoop, not only the virtually-unknown burner but also the complete stranger of a rice cooker.

Thankfully, my rice cooker is not as complicated as Elliott's. I didn't think to take a picture, but suffice it to say, it is a pale grey rice cooker with one dial and only two settings. I was also lucky enough that my predecessor left me a little note about how to use it. Basically: (1) add rice; (2) add water; (3) rinse; (4) add water; (5) turn dial to setting 2 and when it is done, it will switch automatically to setting 1; (6) let sit at least 5 minutes. It truly couldn't be easier. Japan really is the future.

So I threw some rice in. I chopped and boiled an entire fat carrot. I steamed some green beans in the microwave. Then I chopped and fried two small pieces of chicken breast. The rice was done (25 minutes - amazing). I decided to go out on a limb and pulled a bean-and-sauce mix that I'd bought about a month ago from the cupboard, and threw the whole in the rice cooker onto the freshly sticky rice. Mix mix mix. Taste taste taste. Oh my god, it was soooooo good.

In fact, I think I must never cook here again, because I'm sure nothing else will ever live up to it.*

Then, as if cooking weren't enough productivity for one night, I cleaned out the entire futon closet. So now I can put my futon away properly in the mornings again. The slightly unfortunate thing is that clearing the futon closet did not necessarily translate into putting everything that *was* in the futon closet into a logical place, so there are strange piles of things here and there over the floor of my living area. But hey - Rome wasn't built in a day. I have at least another 10 months to clean up and organize this place, right?

* I did, however, decide to leave the whole glorious mess left behind in the kitchen as a lasting testament to the excitement and thrill of the evening's cooking experience...well, at least until this evening, when I will clean it up.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Best. Story. Ever.

Today I had a bad last class. The teacher had been convinced going in that his class would not like my lesson plan (storytelling, capped off with them writing a traditional Japanese story in groups of 3 or 4), and as is wont to happen, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy as he did nothing to encourage the students to participate, despite occasional flickers of interest on their part. I was grumpy-grumpy. I went to my ESS club (English Speaking Society, though the moniker barely fits at times), where we had a great game of Scrabble,* then back to my desk fully intending to grab my stuff and go home grumpy.

But on my desk was lying one of the stories written by some of the students in today's bad class. (I gave them extra time to finish their stories, with instructions to drop them off at my desk within the next day or two.) I remembered this group, a bunch of geeky-looking guys in the corner who had not progressed any further than "Once upon a time, there was" about two minutes before the class was to end, and who were anxiously poring through their electronic dictionaries for inspiration (and vocabulary).

And wow. What a story they wrote for me:

Once upon a time, there was bean-jum bread man.

"I am bean-jum bread man! Do you know me? If you don't know me, please search by the Internet."

Then, the "virus man" appeared. "Ha hi hu he fhooooo!"

And he took a strange gun - those who are shot become hungry - out, and shoot at citizens. The gun's beam made citizens hungry, so they fell down. Then, "Wait! Virus man!", bean-jum bread man arrived there.

"I'm right man. I hate bad man, like you."

"Be silent. Don't disturb me! This is my dream. My company sell grocery. If citizens become hungry, my company prospers."

"Pardon?" bean-jum bread man said. And he took flame gun out and shot him.

"Fire! Oh noooo... Heat is sore spot with virus."

However, citizens were still hungry. "You should eat my face," bean-jum bread man said. They ate him face, and finished eating, they noticed bean-jum bread man were still dead.

Brave bean-jum bread man died, but his taste remains in their memory forever.

Honestly. Just. Freakin. Awesome. They are getting 10/10.

It made my day so worth it. This is the story I will show to the teacher when he says again that his class is not so interested in my activity this week.

Turns out brave bean-jum bread man is in fact Anpan Man - anpan translates to bean-JAM (not "jum") bread - a Japanese cartoon character of long standing (around since 1968 and still going strong), and you can read all about him here. CLICK THAT LINK! :)

* The Japanese do everything differently. For Scrabble, we all started with 7 letters like usual, but the point was to combine all 7 letters on the desk in front of you into one or more words (as if it were your own private Scrabble board). First person to do so "wins" that round, and the rest have to take an extra letter. You can make new words each round (ie., you do not have to keep words you have already created). And so on. I busted one of the second-years for trying to spell words the Japanese way - "gavament" turned out to be how she thought "government" was spelled, "hangly" for "hungry" - I felt bad because I couldn't stop laughing but luckily she thought it was funny too when she found out the proper spellings.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pictures, pictures, rah rah rah

Tonight was strictly labelled as one to be spent cleaning the dump that I call my apartment. I have dishes outstanding from last week. I have travel brochures and items from our trip to Hiroshima almost two weeks ago. I have unfolded laundry from last Thursday sitting in a pile in my futon closet. I have a futon loosely folded on the floor for the past EON since I have aforementioned laundry in the futon closet (and other junk too).

So, um, instead, I spent the evening eating my dinner (edamame (salty peas in a pod) and unagi on rice (barbecue eel) for like two hours, then I surfed the web at random, then I spent the last hour and a half posting pictures on my Flickr site. From the Bunkasai in early September, the Cultural and Sports Festival. It was lots of fun.

Now, I am going to cap the night off in perfect lazy fashion - start a new garbage bag for some of the junk that has been stinking up my kitchen, then make a nice steaming mug of Milo and drink it in bed while munching on two Japanese Oleo cookies (I promise I won't make any crumbs - that would be too yucky). I'm exhausted from all this non-cleaning procrastination!

Just when I thought I'd seen it all...

In one of those classic "oh my god WHY don't I have my camera here?" moments, today I took a double-take when looking at the contents of my school lunch. "Um, Hattori-sensei," I whispered to the teacher who sits next to me in the staffroom, "my lunch is looking at me."

She couldn't stop laughing. For part of today's school lunch we had a little salad of what I had initially thought was that skinny, shredded up lightish-coloured nori (seaweed) that they seem so fond of here. As I was about to dig in, I realized the nori had eyes. Then I realized the nori was, in fact, little skinny fish. With little beady eyes. Yup, we're definitely no longer in Kansas, Toto.

After she stopped laughing, Hattori-sensei told me the name of the fish (which I now forget, of course) and advised me it was delicious and that she eats some every morning for breakfast. I bravely tried some. And you know what? It wasn't half bad.

At the grocery store tonight, however, when I happened to notice package after package of the same little beady-eyed fish, pre-wrapped and ready to go, I must admit I kept walking. I'll stick to cereal for breakfast for now, thanks.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No one must ever know about this...

Today we went on a school trip. All the second- and third-graders were going to Kyoto, and the first-graders to Takayama. I accompanied class 2-2 to Kyoto. We took a bus. I was warned ahead of time by Hattori-sensei, the homeroom teacher of 2-2 who is also an English teacher, that the students might ask me to sing on the bus. So I have been busy the last few days reviewing words to songs like "Kumbaya" and "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall", maybe even "Hey, Jude"... you know, the kind of songs students sing on long bus trips to pass the time (3 hours to Kyoto).

Wrong. I forgot Japan is the future.

The bus was equipped with karaoke. There were plugs every few seats for the mikes (2), so everyone could easily have a turn.

I managed to slip unnoticed through the morning karaoke. But in the afternoon, on the way home, I woke up from my nap JUST in time to be forced to lead a rousing karaoke rendition of the only English song of the day, "My Heart Will Go On." Yes, the Titanic theme. Yes, by Celine Dion.

The only worthwhile contribution to the state of the world from this whole karaoke fiasco was that, afterwards, Hattori-sensei told me that I had shattered a stereotype for her - she has heard four previous ALTs do karaoke, and she has assumed that foreigners must not be able to sing since they were apparently ALL terrible. (Japanese take their karaoke seriously.) It only occurred to me later that perhaps the absence of beer on the bus (and we hadn't even had a chance to take all the bottles down and pass them around!) could have had something to do my ability to stay (remotely) on key.

There are, fortunately, no pictures or video of this event to prove that it happened. So I deny everything.

And now, please excuse me: I must go wash out my mouth my soap, many, many times.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Time flies when you're having fun...*

...and suddenly your 60-day assessment is being written and posted on Day 67. Oh well.

I've been asked a number of times recently how I like Japan, and I never have a good answer. So here are some random thoughts (and pictures).

The Job

My self-appointed "Japanese mother", Tanaka-sensei, one of the "tea ceremony club" girls, and yours truly...

My school is good. I haven't done a lot there yet. I did a number of self-introduction lessons (complete with Powerpoint presentation chock'a'full of pics of my family, maps of Canada, and lists of my favourite things) between Aug 28 (first day of classes) and September 15, but haven't taught an ACTUAL, regular class yet. We had a modified schedule the first two weeks because of the school's cultural/sports festival which took place Sept 5,6, and 8 - speaking of which, I will post some of my great pics from that event on my Flickr site soon. Two weeks ago, none of the teachers with whom I teach (there are six) wanted to start a new lesson, because the next week, last week, was exams. This week I have been at a junior high school, which has been fun, except it has entailed a new round of slightly modified self-introductions (which I'm sick of giving, and the new handout and lesson plans I made for the classes works well in some cases and fails dramatically in others).

The teachers I teach with, however, are pretty nice. A little hard to track down sometimes, and I am not known for running around trying to get noticed. But they all seem to have a fair bit of confidence in my ability to teach, which is nice. I only teach conversation classes, though of course I can work in some writing/reading components, and I only teach first- and second-years. I wish I was more involved in the other English classes (reading and writing) - Randal does a whole range of class types at his school, for example - but you can't change the system in a day.

The whole concept of teaching English here is a little strange, and could entail multiple blog entries in its own right. In a nutshell, English for many, many years was taught here in a fashion similar to how people learned Latin: as a language worth translating but not actually to be used. While the JET programme puts ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) in a large proportion of schools across the country in an effort to get students actually using English in conversation and in an attempt to poise English as the natural second language of Japanese, the reality is far from this. Despite having the JET programme in place for 20 years now, the teaching methods are still often arcane (translation from Japanese to English, which never, never works, unless the students have a better idea of how English is actually used), and the ALT is seen as someone who comes to the class once a week (or so) to get the students running around saying "Iamfinethankyouandyou!" (It truly is amazing – I never realized that entire sentence was in fact just one word, not to mention one that must be stated quickly and even militantly.)

My high school does better than this, thank goodness, though it still has its fair share of moments. My instinct thus far tells me that they want the students to feel more comfortable using English as a spoken language, but they are hesitant to actually challenge the students to do so. I don’t want to bore the students with grammar and nitpicking, but at the same time, high school students should be expected to do more than ask directions in their second language. In my French class in high school, we were expected to debate and do presentations, etc. My French was higher level than their English is, but there’s no good reason for that; by my last year of high school, I had only studied French for maybe a year or two more than they have.

The Living Quarters

The beautiful night-time view from my futon.

I have already posted some pics of my little apartment, so not much to add. It’s small, it’s cute, the area is OK. Randal’s area is nicer – less urban and the people are friendlier, but I am more conveniently located to get downtown. But it is weird not living together and we wish we hadn’t decided to do that. Too late now to change our minds, unless we decide to stay a second year (which is looking doubtful at the mo’, but that’s another story for another day, and also subject to change at any moment).

The City

The streetscape of downtown Gifu (T) and inside the covered arcade mall, Yanagase (B).

Honestly, probably the best thing about living in Gifu City is that it is conveniently located in terms of getting elsewhere. The majority of places we are interested in visiting in Japan are within a four-hour train ride, so can be easily visited on a long weekend. Nagoya, the 4th largest city in Japan, is a 25-minute, 450-yen (about $4.50) train ride away, and from there it is easy to fan out to many other places. Similarly, Gifu itself is on the major local train lines (but not the shinkansen) and so well-positioned for local travel.

In all fairness, however, we have not really given Gifu a fair shake yet. We spent part of an afternoon a few weekends ago kind of lacklustrously (is that even a word?) shopping in Yanagase, the vast covered arcade mall downtown. There are some museums in town we haven’t visited yet. We have not even hiked up Mount Kinka yet (or been lazy and taken the ropeway, for that matter) and visited the castle perched on top. We haven’t even gone to see the ukai (cormorant fishing) yet, though I live right next to the river! Most of our Gifu excursions have been ones bogged down by logistics and practicality: Where can I buy groceries? How do I take the bus from X to Y? Where is the main Board of Education office? Where can I get a multiple re-entry visa stamp? etc.

Gifu is apparently a good place to buy paper items, especially umbrellas and lanterns. I plan on picking up a few before leaving. But as is so often the case, you get to know other places better than your own… I never visited the Parliament buildings in my two years in Ottawa, though I kept planning to (though in my defence, I did do a tour of the Centre Block about ten years ago).

The Country

Model of Princess Sen and maidservant in the "Cosmetic Tower" of the West Bailey at Himeji-jo, ca. 1618 or so.

Is Japan everything I’d hoped it would be, and then some? Well, yes and no. I think I initially came over here thinking that every day would be an adventure, and that there’d be enchantment for 365 days straight. At least, that’s how I felt for the 8 days I was here in Japan in 2004. But then I recall that, in fact, there was only enchantment for 7 of those 8 days. The last day was spent wandering the streets and shops of Osaka, feeling like a lost child, wondering where I could go to cool down, where I could sit and rest, where I could eat without breaking the bank. Until I got to my capsule hotel that night and the enchantment was renewed over the novelty of it all.

And that’s the main "problem", if you can call it that: Japan is not continuously novel. And really, it is unrealistic for me to think it should be. There are moments of novelty, wonder and amazement. But there are many days and evenings eaten up by much more mundane things, like sorting my garbage for recycling or wandering the grocery store in search of tasty-looking food whose cooking instructions I can actually understand. It is sometimes awfully like my life in Ottawa: I get up, I get ready for work, I have breakfast, I swear as I realize I am yet again running late for work, I get to school. Randal bicycles through rice paddies on his way to his school, but my surroundings are much more urban, though punctuated with the occasional garden or bonsai tree. At school, I prepare lessons, I chat with my co-workers, I run around and teach classes. Bento lunches at school are fun (I’ll take a picture of one in the near future) but again, the novelty quickly wears off. After lunch, if I don’t have classes, I sit at my desk and work, trying to stay awake through the afternoon doldrums. I leave usually between 4:30 and 5:00, and I either bicycle straight home or I go to the grocery store for aforementioned wandering or to the mall for shopping (I am addicted to 100-yen shops). Once home, I do laundry or clean (my floor is hardwood and constantly looks dusty) or read a book or waste time on the Internet chatting and surfing. I eat dinner. 85% of the time, I then stay up too late, going to bed after 11:30, and the next day it starts all over. There are no temples. There is no festival-dancing or sake-drinking with strangers who have decided to be your new best friend (for the evening). I have not yet learned even one of the 57 ways to wear a kimono, and no one sits outside their house in the evening playing traditional Japanese harp or practicing calligraphy.

So I could be anywhere. Though of course in Canada I would at least be able to communicate with the sales clerk that my bicycle light has burnt out, and I would be able to read the packaging which says to let noodles soak overnight before cooking. Heck, I would also be able to figure out how to use my washing machine!** However, I could be as functionally illiterate in any other country where they don’t speak English or French, right?

But then I wouldn’t be in Japan. And I guess that is the answer to whether Japan is all I’d hoped it would be.

If I wasn’t in Japan, I wouldn’t have spent last weekend train-hopping from Nagoya to Himeji and Hiroshima, where I visited one of the most beautiful castles in the world, discovered a small hall built into a hill that was filled with Buddha statues and hanging lanterns, and wandered through the rain past what I believe to be one of the most poignant monuments to remembrance and peace (the A-Bomb Dome). I also wouldn’t have been woken up, a few weeks ago while over at Randal’s place for the weekend, by neighbours asking if we wanted to accompany them and their children to a small picturesque town about an hour’s drive away for the day (I managed to climb up to and visit the castle there, oddly enough). Kyoto would not be a feasible weekend excursion, and Mount Fuji would not be constantly lurking at the edges of my mental horizon, taunting me to get into shape so that I may climb it (currently scheduled for sometime next spring).

Things can’t always be novel and exciting, and I realize that. So I look forward to the interesting moments when they happen. I still think it’s neat that at every day at 5:00 p.m., the Big Ben chimes ring out in electronic form from a nearby building.*** In Randal’s neighbourhood, apparently it is "Moon River" at 6:00 p.m. There is a guy who drives around my neighbourhood in a van with a loudspeaker playing flute music over and over – I found out a while ago that he is the tofu-vendor! If you want tofu, you come out to his van with a container, and he’ll sell you as much as you want. Little tiny hole-in-the-wall places turn out to serve tasty cheap meals, and small shrines pop up in the most unexpected places. There is a gecko that occasionally visits my balcony, and, well, when all else fails, there are the bats that swoop around every evening at dusk – surely they provide enough excitement for any girl.

So I guess for now I will settle for sitting in my little apartment, looking up at Gifu Castle looking down at me.

I’ve conquered the towering heights of Himeji-jo (T) (twice now, actually) and the much humbler Gujo-jo (B) … Will Gifu-jo be next? Stay tuned…

* AKA The Post That Caused So Much Grief And Anguish Yesterday

** Current standings: Julie = 0 ; Washing machine = 2. I think I will take a page from Erriotto’s book and check out the webpage he mentioned a while back, which allowed him to figure out his rice cooker (another piece of electronic equipment I own but have yet to tackle).

*** The Big Ben chimes are, of course, also used in what seems to be ALL the schools in the country for signalling the beginning and end of each period, rather than a regular bell or buzzer.

There, isn't that better?

I was heading for bed when I suddenly remembered the excursion to the grocery store had included a trip up the cookie aisle ... Thank goodness for the multinational corporate nature of Nabisco.*

* For the record, that is probably the first and last time the words "multinational corporate nature" will be used on my blog to mean an inherently good thing.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Is there a "stop" button on this thing?

I'm having a frustrating evening. I left the junior high where I am teaching this week a little early (ha! it was 4:00 - that's not really early) to go to my usual high school to talk to a few of the teachers about lesson plans for next week. When I got there, it turned out they were all in a staff meeting till at least 5:00. I thought staff meetings were usually the first Monday of the month. Apparently not. So I left.

I bicycled over to the grocery store at the nearby mall, which is farther away from home than my usual grocery store but tends to have a better selection, because I wanted to get some sushi or (preferably) chirashi for dinner. They didn't have any nice trays. I ended up picking up some fried chicken and rice.

On my way home, I took some side streets to explore, and I discovered a small grocery store that is about two blocks from my house, rather than the one about 10-15 minutes away, where I usually go. Didn't go in, so I can't swear to its quality, but I saw a nice selection of fruits and veggies through the front door. I'll never be able to find it again - Japan is like that. I bet they sell sushi there too.

Got home and tried to upload the blog entry I wrote at school today (what can I say? JHS is not very busy; I'm only there for one week so it's not like I can plan ahead). Blogger goes through all the motions of letting me add pictures, then ultimately fails to upload them. I spent almost an hour fighting with Blogger over this. Shelve my blog entry for another day.

Remembered that the other reason I'd decided to go to the mall was to buy some pins to stick in my world-map that I have up on the wall (I'm marking all the places I've been, and I ran out of pins - that either means I've been lots of places or I don't own enough pins; not sure which). Maybe tomorrow I'll go back to the mall.

The fried chicken and rice was mediocre and forgettable. I can get better (and healthier) food at the convenience store next door.

I'm doing some research for a lawyer back in Canada, and I'm sort of on a deadline (she never actually gives me a date, but I assume she wants this soon), and I can't find anything useful. She told me to spend an hour to see what information I could find on the topic (IP-related stuff); I have spent almost two so far, not wishing to declare defeat. It is not a tricky topic; the world is obviously just against me today.

I tried calling Randal a few times in order to complain about the state of my life over here (lucky him), but there's no answer at his place.*

To console myself, I made a bowl of microwave popcorn but less than half the bag ended up popping even though I set it for five minutes. (My microwave here takes twice as long to do anything as it would do at home.) I remain, unsatisfied. I may have to make another bag (they're much smaller than the ones at home), and then I will have to bicycle back to the mall tomorrow to get more.

Tried Blogger again. No luck.

Stared at my world map for a while, trying to figure out how France (where my good friend Mark now lives) could possibly be only 7 hours behind Japan while Toronto is 13. Isn't it later in China right now than it is in Japan, and thus later in Afghanistan than in China, and so on through the Middle East to the Mediterranean and Greece and so on? Which makes France ahead of Japan by logical (to me) extension, but then Canada would also be ahead - it's like horrid Grade 13 math conundrums all over again. I just can't wrap my head around it.

I should have quit while I was ahead.**

* In his defence, he has to get all his marks in for his class by tomorrow, and he apparently got two hours' sleep last night as a result of sitting up late trying to finish the marking, so he's probably asleep ...

** Sometime around 7:10 this morning, right before I got out of bed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Gifu, as I see it...

I am the last apartment on the fourth floor (#501, but there is no 4th floor in my building - "4" being a bad-luck number as it is the same word as "death").* I wasn't planning on making this a panoramic photo, so the pics don't match up perfectly, but you get the idea. Right next to my balcony is the rooftop of the building next door (the concrete that you see at the very left is the wall). The mountain in the background, also on the left, is Mount Kinka (Kinka-zan), and perched at the very tip is Gifu Castle (which you can't really see in this picture since I had to reduce its size). I don't know what the purpose of the round tower on the building behind me (one over) is - all I know is, it blocks a chunk of nice mountain view, and thank goodness I have never seen anyone up in it, as they would be able to see directly into my apartment if they were. I walked past the building it is attached to the other day, and it seems to be a perfectly normal I have no idea. Immediately behind me, below my balcony, is a garden where an old man comes to work almost every day from about 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Otherwise, it is mostly residential housing behind my apartment. The house next to the front garden is a private residence and has a nice little inner courtyard. There is another large garden across the street (now bare), that had some vegetation growing in it in August. I recently discovered that the patch of trees you can see behind the houses next to the bare garden hides a Shinto shrine, and that is where I take my paper, cardboard and can recycling on the 22nd of every month (the other types of garbage/recycling get picked up weekly from in front of my building). Finally, you can see a long set of taller buildings to the right of where the shrine is, on the right-hand side of the picture: that is the Gifu Red Cross Hospital.

Just past these buildings, and between me and Kinka-zan, runs the Nagaragawa (Nagara River). I plan on heading down there someday this fall and taking some pictures as it's quite pretty, especially now that the water-level is rising again (it was amazingly low in August when I arrived). On the other side of the Nagaragawa is downtown Gifu City - I live in the north end of town (Gifukita - kita means "north" - which is also, of course, the name of my school).

OK, random shot of apartment is next:

Mental note to self: Clean up apartment before taking and posting picture next time!

This picture doesn't do it justice. It really is a nice apartment. And I have a separate kitchen (no pics available), which kicks ass (many city-dwellers do not). The only thing I hate about my apartment is my uncomfortable futon(s), but I'm working on fixing that.

OK, the pic of my nighttime view is not available (turns out I haven't downloaded it off my camera yet, and I'm too lazy to go look for the cable necessary to do so), so here's my futon and me!

Which, incidentally, is where I am headed momentarily.

* Shi. "4" is also, and more commonly, said yon. Shi is, I believe, the word imported from the original Chinese - I don't know if it also means "death" in that language. Many Japanese characters (kanji) have at least two pronunciations (and often many, many more): the original Chinese pronunciation (called the on reading) and the Japanese pronunciation (the kun reading), since Japan "imported" the Chinese written language and applied it wholescale to its spoken language.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


tanjōbi = birthday

As in, getsu-yōbi wa ani no tanjōbi deshita.*

Today my brother Jerome turned 32-and-two-days.**

Happy Birthday, Jerome!

This auspicious occasion serves to underscore the fact that yours truly, in just over two months, will be turning...uh, 26. Yeeeeaahhh, that sounds about right. 26.

Jerome, your (actual) birthday was celebrated by me with a tasty tofu-and-rice meal with beer, and a mango pudding, from a lovely restaurant at the third-largest mall in Japan. All in all, it was a good day. Hope yours was too!

* I think my possessive is in the right order: my brother's birthday, and not my birthday's brother! If not, gomen nasai, and I leave it to Elliott to correct me if necessary. Getsu-yōbi, btw, is "Monday", which was my brother's actual birthday. Again, gomen nasai.

** Fact: I wouldn't be your sister if I wasn't a day or two late!!! :)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I woulda' if I coulda'

I was going to post a bunch of pics tonight to Flickr and here, but I left my camera at Randal's. So you'll just all have to wait.

Now I am going to try to sleep, though I was foolish and commented on Rebecca's blog in response to her having been unable to sleep after watching 28 Days Later. She is in a brand-new house in a brand-new town, of course, and I hear North Bay is a wretched hive of scum and... no, sorry, that's Mos Eisley.

Anyway, where was I? Yes, I am going to TRY to sleep, though I fear that is now unlikely as Rebecca's comments made me think about certain Japanese horror films viewed shortly before moving to Japan, and their effect on me my first few nights in my new apartment (sliding doors have a strange creepy effect if you let them get to you - I can see why Japanese horror films work so well), and now it has all come rushing back, and more! since I had to look up the links to both films on imdb and now it is all fresh in my mind once more. shudder

Ahhh, insomnia due to fear. Nothing a little Milo* and 4-hour Lord of the Rings can't cure.

* Milo is the Asian version of Ovaltine. It's bloody expensive - almost $4.50 for a small container, so I picked up its generic counterpart for $3.00. Hopefully as effective...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Pizza on the Blog

In order to celebrate my first evening with Internet-access-at-home, I decided to have some pizza that had been sitting in my freezer. (Who needs to go out when there's a whole world just waiting at your fingertips???)

The pizza:
2 or 3 kinds of cheese, basil and oil (in that little packet), and tomato sauce ... mmm-mmm, good! Now if only I could read the instructions on the back of the package ...

The problem:

WIDE???? Alas, reports of the toaster oven's wideness were greatly exaggerated.

The solution:

8 years of university and graduate school finally paid off...

Pizza dinner!

(The other two pieces are still toasting.)

Mandatory inedible:

A staple in so much Japanese packaged food, the mandatory do-not-eat packet. At least this one is marked in English. They aren't always, and it's difficult to tell "oxygen absorber" and yummy sprinkles apart, let me tell you.

The satisfied consumer:

Satiated and pizzafied.*

* It's my own blog, and I write and post what I want, so can someone please tell me why I felt compelled to post such an unflattering picture of myself? (My first attempt at "self-portrait", but since I can't flip my screen around to see what I actually look like while I take it, it may also be my last attempt.)


yatta: exclamation meaning, "I DID IT!"

Said in the cutest Japanese voice possible, of course: "Yatta!" Preferably accompanied with a little jump of joy and V-for-Victory sign. Usually heard after examination results are made public, when someone has finished a particularly arduous task, or when Julie has managed to connect her Internet all by herself.

This Japanese Word of the Week brought to you live from Gifu.

OMG, I have Internet!

It took me all of 5 minutes to set up my Internet connection; that was entirely too easy. Even my telephone is still working, the one simple piece of technology I was sure I'd botch up by fiddling with its wires (the phone now runs through the modem so I can use both at the same time...gotta love ADSL). Armageddon must be upon us. This is too good to be true.*

* What can I say? I impress easily.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blast from the past

Lacking anything better to do with my Saturday night, I have spent much time on my Flickr account, adding photos from ... drum roll, please ... AMSTERDAM. Yes, I know; it has been almost a year and a half since I went to Amsterdam, but I only got the photos finally developed in July of this year, spurred into action by my imminent relocation to Japan. In other words, I have no good excuse.

However, I am now a digital girl, and as soon as that Internet gets hooked up chez moi (whee! I can't wait!), I will be uploading pics much more quickly (and blogging much more, too). Which reminds me: I have a roll of film or two kicking around here somewhere with various pics from the early days in Japan. I need to figure out how to get that developed, hopefully straight onto a CD (like I did with my last set of photos), so that I can share them with you before another 365 days go by.

Randal has almost committed to starting his own Flickr account with his own pics (and perhaps a blog, too), and he has even better Amsterdam pics, but this is a good start ...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Life without Internet... But Randal finally got his hooked up this week - woohoo! I knew I kept him around for a reason. However, mine is supposed to be hooked up next week...Monday or Tuesday, I hope.*

So, in celebration, I am finally posting those two blog entries that I wrote on my laptop the first week I arrived in Japan. Here they are. Scintillating, thrilling stuff, no doubt. Enjoy.

Home Sweet Home, Gifu City Style

Wednesday, August 2, 2006, 9:20 p.m.:

So I have survived until Night 1 in Gifu. I don't have internet, of course, so here I am, sitting on my futon (which took forever to put down properly!), freshly showered, in my PJs, with my laptop, writing this in WordPad.

My apartment is, as expected, small, but so cute! I have a 1LDK, which I thought meant a separate bedroom from the kitchen and living quarters, but apparently not. I tried to take a picture, pre-unpacking (which I'm not finished yet), with my camera (going to buy a digital one soon) and will post it later if it turns out, or will post one once I have a fancy digital. After my Ottawa move, I swore to never live in a fourth-floor walkup again. Well. I live in a fourth floor walkup. I wanted to laugh and cry all at once when I learned that.

The building's a bit ugly from the outside: grey brick and each floor has about 5-6 apartments. You walk up an outdoor staircase (partially covered) and along a balcony to your door. Very institutional. But I quite like it inside. You enter into a little entranceway where you leave your shoes and then (as in all Japanese homes) there is a little step-up. A second door with frosted glass panes hides the rest of the apartment from the front door view, if desired. You go through that door, and you're in the kitchen, which, while it has virtually no counter space, is a decent size (ie., too bad my predecessor didn't end up leaving me her desk - I would have had plenty of room). To your immediate right is a sliding door to the laundry room (washer only), and the bathroom which, like so many other Japanese washrooms I've seen, is a complete prefabricated unit (kind of like what you'd see in a trailer, where everything can get wet). The sink is tiny but functional. Japanese baths are short and deep, and mine is no exception. There is a showerhead. Above the bath is a small frosted window which I can open (it tilts inward, so no one can see in) when I'm in the shower.

The kitchen itself, like I said, is a good size but has no counter space. There is only one burner (luckily my predecessor gave me a stand-alone burner) and, unlike most Japanese stoves, it is electric not gas. Nice deep sink. The counter is stainless steel. There are some (glass-fronted) cupboards overhead, and three cupboards below the counter. The fridge, which is like an oversized bar fridge, was on the opposite wall when I got here, but I moved it into the corner along the same wall as the cupboards, and stacked a microwave and toaster oven on top (I'm so practical).

Finally, the last room is the living/bedroom. There is another frosted glass paned sliding door between the kitchen and this room. There is a large closet which is mainly for storage and keeping the futon in (you have to fold up and put away the futon every day - if you leave it out on the floor, it will get mouldy due to the high humidity). The room is maybe 8 feet across by 14 long. Not huge, but a good size. The far wall is almost entirely a sliding door out to the back (private) balcony.

And oh, what a view! I am indeed in a concrete jungle, but within walking distance of Mount Kinka (I think that's the right name) - it's right outside my window. Perched on top, in direct view of my balcony, is Gifu Castle. (At least I assume that's what it is - I haven't studied the history of Gifu in detail yet, but I know there is a castle). Not too far away either is the Nagaragawa River,** which runs through Gifu City (caveat: I'm tired and didn't bother double-checking the name of the river, so I may have it wrong, but it's something like that). I went on a walk earlier in search of the supermarket that I had been told was nearby - I didn't find it (though I finally got someone to draw me a map, and I think I'll be able to locate it now), but I discovered that I am 10 minutes away from the Gifu Memorial Arena and the large park where I suspect I may pass an afternoon or two over the next year.

My supervisor, Tomoko, picked me up at the train station just after noon. It is SO hot in Gifu! I thought I was going to melt, in my black suit (I was wearing my pants, too, not the skirt). Little did I know that I was just going to get even hotter. The shinkansen (bullet train) does not stop in Gifu itself, but in Hashima City, about 35 minutes south of Gifu. We chatted all the way to Gifu - about me, differences between schooling in Canada and Japan, the students and academic goals of Gifu Kita SHS (it is the second-highest ranked school in the entire prefecture) - and then drove to the school where we picked up another teacher, then on to the real estate agent's office.

Many thousands of yen later and following much Japanese that I could not understand, we drove back to the school, where I briefly met a number of the other English teachers (it is a large department and there is about 10 of them) who were busy loading up their cars with all of my stuff - my suitcases, my new furniture from my predecessor, etc. Normally I would have taken over my predecessor's old apartment and so such a large-scale operation would not have been necessary, but Michelle had been transferred to a different school after her first year and hadn't swiched apartments, so the school had found me a new one. I met 4 or 5 of the English teachers, none of whose names I can remember now! Then Tomoko-sensei and the other teacher (who does not seem to speak any English, but she was super-nice and we had a good time trying to communicate somehow) drove me to the apartment. I had a quick view of it empty, and then the other teachers started arriving in their cars with all my things. I felt kind of bad - they then proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes or so carrying boxes and furniture and items from their car, up four flights of stairs to my the crazy hot heat. Everytime I tried to go down to help, I was told to wait upstairs and put other things away. I made it down once. I wasn't even able to offer them something to drink, as my cupboards were (and still are, at least to some degree) bare.

Finally, around 3:00, Tomoko-sensei took off after I assured her I could take care of myself for the evening, though she did give me her cell number in case I desperately needed her. I jumped in the shower and then headed off in search of the supermarket. As mentioned above, I didn't find it but spotted other interesting things. I finally bought some food, a giant bottle of water and some orange juice at Lawson, a convenience store / drug store that you find all over Japan. That's also where I got the map of the supermarket's location - I will go tomorrow. I have spent the rest of the day mainly puttering around, putting things away here and there as best as I could (still lots to go - I can't believe how much stuff Michelle had!). Crashed and half napped on one of my floor cushions for about an hour until just after 8:00. Never did eat the food I bought at Lawson (noodles and deep-fried tofu), but it will still be good tomorrow, plus I bought some nice brekkie stuff (a giant chunk of tamago, which is the egg you eat in sushi form, and some strawberry yogurt). I am exhausted and falling asleep in front of the computer, plus I can't upload this sucker now anyhow, so I am going to sleep now. Will update again soon! (Hopefully pictures shall be forthcoming as well...)

Gecko alert!

Monday, August 7, 2006, 8:00 p.m.

I just spotted a gecko climbing up the side of my balcony. Or at least, since I am no ichthyologist (or whatever it is), a small, gecko-like lizard.

Well, Week 1 is (almost) over and I'm still standing, though barely. Thursday I went to school and met a bunch of teachers whose names I can barely remember (but I have a "seating map" at my desk, luckily). Tomoko-sensei is nothing short of nice and sweet. She and two other female teachers (Yoko-sensei and Toyoko-sensei) took me out to lunch. We had a "ranchi-setto" (lunch set) at a little restaurant somewhere in my neighbourhood. Yoko-sensei spoke a bit of English and Toyoko-sensei very little; however, Toyoko-sensei decided she was going to be my Japanese mother, and then finding out she was the same age as my actual mother (a youngish 35, of course) and that her two daughters were around my age (31 and 28), cemented this idea for her. We bicycled home together, since she lives near me, so I got to discover the shortcut to school.

I had to borrow one of the school's bikes since the seat was WAY too high on mine (Michelle was obviously a giant, though I am no runt myself!), which was fun. I am enjoying my crash course in bicycling. Then, because my life isn't exciting enough, I decided that I was going to cycle over to Kitagata-cho, a few towns over, to see if I could find Randal's building (and hopefully him too, of course). I had gotten numerous directions from Tomoko- and Toyoko-sensei, with scribbled maps that sort of made sense, but of course, being Japan, no one was able to actually tell me where he lived, despite my having his complete address. Japan doesn't really have street names. You have a building name - in Randal's case, "Liberty Kitagata" - and then a region - I don't remember his exactly now (and am too lazy to look it up), but mine, for example, is 4-20 Soudensakaemachi. It took me well over an hour to cycle to the area! Then I picked a main street and headed down it until I found a kusuri (pharmacy) and asked for directions. Which consists of me whipping out my map, taking out the written address of where I am trying to go, and asking "X doko desu ga?" - "Where is X?", then hoping I'll understand something of the answer. Luckily, Fumiyo trained us well (I just haven't been studying enough) and I already know massugu (straight), hidari (left), and migi (right). I quickly figured out that shingo, or at least something that sounds like it (I really should look it up in my dictionary), are "traffic lights". Also, when they tell you "3 lights then turn left", they really mean, "2 lights after the first one" - LOL, as the pharmacy guy did.

I found Randal's apartment and Randal inside. He was pleased to see me though tired, since his start has been a bit rougher than mine. Not to steal his thunder (he keeps saying he will set up a blog once he gets online again), but his landlord has been trying to get the most money out of him possible. Anyway. It was nice to see him. But it was about 6:30 by this point, and I'd forgotten how quickly and early it gets dark in Japan. I didn't want to cycle in the dark. So I stayed over and left the next morning at about 6:15, which worked out well as I got home around 7:30 - it would have been earlier but I missed my turnoff and I got lost!

Poor Randal had gotten quite sick Thursday night, so in a way I was glad I was there to take care of him. I told him I'd come back the next day, so Friday afterschool, I did some errands in my neighbourhood, unpacked a bit, then around 5:45 headed back to Kitagata-cho for the weekend. When you don't get lost en route, it only takes about 45 minutes. That being said, I'm sort of glad we decided to not live together this year. It would have been rather unpleasant cycling all that way twice a day, without the ability to take a shower upon my arrival at school (have I mentioned it's freakin' hot!?!), though I did learn today that there is a fairly direct bus route which only takes about 15 minutes.

Friday night we played it low-key, with Randal still quite sick (he'd been sent home from school that morning, in fact). Though that didn't prevent us from getting lost on our way back home from the large grocery store near his house). Very lost. And when you ask a gas station attendant for directions to the Big Max pachinko parlour which is right near your house, I guess it is only normal that they will get a HUGE kick out of the fact that two gaijin are heading to a pachinko parlour with groceries in tow - those gaijin just can't get enough of gambling, eh. :)

Saturday morning I awoke with a sore throat. Ugh. We had been hoping to meet up with some of the other area JETs for a tour of the downtown and the big fireworks festival that was happening that night, but no go with us both down for the count. We spent the day mainly indoors, trying to avoid the heat. That evening, we watched some of the fireworks from Randal's balcony, but they weren't at the greatest angle so it wasn't very comfortable. Too bad - the fireworks were being shot from Mt. Kinka which if you remember I already mentioned is right near my apartment. We would have switched apartments and gone to be sick at my place, except Randal had to get up at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning for his apartment's Cleaning Hour. They have a cleaning roster and every Sunday, parts of the common areas of the apartment are cleaned by the tenants. Each apartment is up for Cleaning Hour duties about every 5 weekends or so. And there are fines if you don't go. Randal said he had a really good time, however; he got to meet some of his neighbours and they were all cheerful and got him to wipe down all the high-up, hard-to-reach places.

That afternoon, we bicycled out to Malera, the third-largest mall in Japan. We both wanted to pick up some odds-and-ends, the most important being curtains for my apartment. Malera is HUGE, and unfortunately neither of us was feeling completely up to the task, but we had a good time. We even checked out the pachinko/arcade/claw-machine area and Randal tried to win me a large blue alien-like stuffy. No luck there - those claw-machines are hard! (He was feeling lucky, as he'd won a small stuffed Stitch (the alien from the movie Lilo & Stitch which, incidentally, if you've never seen, is quite good) a few days before from a claw-machine in Tokyo after only two tries.)

By last night I was in rough shape. A guy Randal knows, Andrew, who is the husband of a JET in that area, dropped by to see how Randal was getting along. He stayed about an hour and while he is a great guy, I was really suffering. I guess in retrospect, I should have excused myself and taken a long cold shower. I was overheating like there was no tomorrow! I finally did get in the shower and it felt sooooo good. Then I hung out on the balcony, sitting in a captain's chair in the dark, and Randal made me some toast with apple jam. Tasty. I spent the night there again (I had originally planned to go home at the end of the afternoon, but the mall excursion exhausted me) then came back this morning, without getting lost this time. It's a fairly nice ride, except my bike seat hadn't been adjusted tight enough and on a bump about three blocks into the ride, it tipped backwards at a 40-degree angle. I couldn't get it forward and so had to cycle home that way - not comfy!!! Our school handyman has since fixed it and it feels okay - hopefully it will stay that way. At school today I went through about 50 tissues, plus in Japan it is considered rude to blow your nose in public so I had to sit there and sniffle and dab all day long. Sorry, Mom. I'm still sniffling and dabbing now, but with lots of blowing in between (I figure my house, my rules). I fell asleep on my floor chair for almost two hours once I got home and then I went out to pick up my dry cleaning and some food for dinner.

Oh, the excitement of Thursday before finding my way successfully to Kitagata: I dropped off dry cleaning all by myself, then I had gone to get some food from Lawson. When I got home and was putting the snacks away, I realized I had also been sold some cigarettes! I shrugged and walked back to Lawson and managed to get across to the salesclerk that I didn't want the cigarettes - suwanai - "I don't smoke" - and got a refund! I was quite pleased with myself. There are two regular girls who work there, plus a few others, and the two girls both know me now. Today when I went back, the clerk laughed and said something to me, I looked puzzled, and she showed me the cigarette package - I lauged and said, "no, no, arigatou, suwanai" :) Then I told her "Nihon-go o benkyou shimasu ga, muzukashii desu" - "I am studying Japanese but it is difficult".

I need some good furniture in my apartment, however. It is all at floor level, which is fun at first but not so good for some things, like napping. Randal has some floor cushions plus a couch and the captain's chair at his place (by "captain's chair", I mean those portable folding canvas chairs), the latter two which are both good for napping. I do like napping. You can only nap so long on a floor chair (it's like a chair with padded bottom and back, but no legs) before you start to feel stiff all over. And it is, of course, too humid to leave my futon out regularly (you are supposed to put it away every day and also air it out on the balcony regularly, otherwise it will get mouldy). I don't have room for a lot, but I may pick up one comfy regular chair, or even a captain's chair, at some point.

But first, I must finish unpacking! I was supposed to do so tonight and have spent my time sleeping, eating, and fake-blogging. I think I will spend about an hour puttering about - I also need to iron! - and then go to bed. As long as I can keep my temperature down. I need to get better, and fast!

* I'd like to formally retract the statement about keeping Randal around simply for the Internet access ... I am likely to need his help next week in getting my aforementioned Internet connection actually up and running ... ;)

**The Japanese-savvy folks in the crowd will be pleased to learn that I have since discovered that it is in fact the Nagara River, not the Nagaragawa River, since that is akin to saying the Nagara River River. I even know the kanji for gawa too, but currently lack the Japanese fonts on this computer to share with my adoring fans.