Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It only took me three months...

Homies in Honshu (Nov. 3-5, 2006)

The Homies in Hokkaido, Simon and Elliott, come to the "mainland" for a whirlwind tour of Gifu, accompanied by the spunky, irrepressible Erin-of-Nagasaki. Join us as we visit the Site of Reversible Destiny and Gifu Castle, take pictures of giant spiders, and generally attempt to irritate each other...

View the set here. Don't delay - see all 122 pictures today!!!

Coming up next: My Christmas vacation from six years ago. S'all good.

I feel so Japanese...

For the first time ever, the NHK guy just came to visit me!

For those who don't know, NHK is the public broadcaster in Japan.* If you own a TV, you are supposed to pay a monthly fee to NHK, regardless if you watch that channel or not. I think it's like 1,000 yen or something like that (about $10). But they don't send you a bill - they send people around door-to-door, and you are supposed to pay up when they show up. They aren't allowed to enter your apartment; they just ask whether you have a TV, and if you say yes, you have to pay up (just for the month - they don't charge retroactively). So you could lie and say you don't have a TV, and they couldn't do anything (unless they can see it clearly in view, I guess). If you were dishonest enough, which I'm not.

But I, of course, actually *don't* own a TV. "Terebi ga arimasen," I told him in my best Japanese. He thanked me and continued on his way.

Finally, I feel like I'm actually in Japan. It's only taken 6 months... :)

* But the real reason NHK is cool is this.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Nothin' like a good book or two or nine

We had a mid-term conference for JET on Friday. The conference itself was pretty forgettable, as they tend to be. But the book sale which was also going on there (JETs could donate books which were then re-sold for cheap).

So here's What We Bought and Why (in no particular order other than this is how they are currently stacked up on my living room floor):

1. Tom Holt, Mighter than the Sword = Because I enjoyed Falling Sideways, this book is actually comprised of two of Holt's novels (more bang for my buck), and it was cheap.

2. W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence = Because it's "real" literature, I enjoyed Of Human Bondage which I read many years ago, and it was cheap.

3. Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic = Because I figured I'd have fun confessing to the fact that I actually bought it, I hear it is funny, and besides, it was cheap.

4. Joe Haldeman, Forever Peace = Randal's pick. Because this is (apparently) one of Haldeman's best books, and it was cheap.

5. Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha = Because I have always wanted to read this, and it was cheap.

6. Pico Iyer, The Lady and The Monk = Randal's pick. Because Pico Iyer is just a good, good writer (I agree on this wholeheartedly), and it was cheap. It's also about Japan, incidentally.

7. Michael Ondaatje, Anil's Ghost = I convinced Randal to pick this one up, because Ondaatje is better than God. He was willing, because it was cheap.

8. Charles Bukowski, Tales of Ordinary Madness = Ummm, because Randal likes Bukowski? (I certainly don't.) Also cheap.

9. Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient = See Anil's Ghost above.

We paid 100 yen (about $1) for each of these. Sweet.

I have given up on the other books I was reading recently (though I plan to go back to Dogs and Demons, and probably Cryptonomicon, sometime soon, I never want to crack open the cover of The World is Flat ever again), and I have been devouring The English Patient. If you only know the movie, do yourself a HUGE favour and read the book instead. The movie blew chunks - a number of key things were changed from the book, and it just sucked. The book is magical.

And now, I must go decide whether or not I am recontracting to stay here for another year. My school is expecting a decision tomorrow, though technically I have until Friday to let them know. I need someone to cause a diversion, please!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A sad farewell to a good friend...

There's been a death in my 'sphere. I felt it coming for a while, as Simon became more and more unresponsive. And now, I sadly must bid farewell to Homies in Hokkaido. *sniff* I can't even link to it one last time - the site is no longer there. Oh, Simon, why hast thou foresaken us? (at least electronically)

Don't worry. The Homies are still, indeed, in Hokkaido, at least for now. You all know where to reach Eriotto-sensei if you should so desire. But Simon is offline, perhaps snowed in beyond any electronic reach (OK, I exaggerate: he does email me from time to time*).

In fact, I had a sobering moment about 10 minutes ago as I logged in to Blogger and, looking at my list of "Friends and Family" links, realized that many of them may follow Homies to the Big Blog in the Sky this summer. A number of them are Japan-based, and I know, have reason to believe, or wildly suspect that the majority of those persons involved in their creation and maintenance shall not be remaining in Japan after July. As for me, well, we'll see. Perhaps pixxiefish and her compatriots will have to find new reasons for being. (Though, really, "Teaching English in small-town Japan" would be a silly name for a blog should Elliott, for example, decide to return to the Great White North and his computer-y job.)

The real question I'm sure you are all asking yourselves, however, is why I am not in bed despite its being 1:00 a.m. Well, the answer is quite simple: I poured a beer to drink with my (pizza) dinner hours and hours ago, and in my Rollercoaster-Tycoon-induced stupor, I forgot to drink it. Now, one cannot let a beer go to waste, right? But never fear: it's almost done and the bed is laid out and I am hitting it momentarily.

* Random question: Can someone explain to me why, whenever I use the phrase "from time to time", some of my friends snigger and mutter things about "lawyers and legalese" under their breaths? Is this not a regularly-utilized expression?

Sprechen zie Nihongo?

In my never-ending litany of Stupid Parlour Tricks, I would like to remind all and sundry that Japanese language correspondence courses are meant to be studied over lengthy periods of time (say, oh, a month or so), with preparatory work done along the way in order to be able to better master the material. This will ease the pain of the test that will inevitably be due at the end of each section. Otherwise you will spend the last two days before it is due running around like a chicken (niwatori - I don't know why I know that - it wasn't in the materials - but I do) with its head cut off, stuffing your brain with little bits and pieces of grammar rules that you probably will not now remember since you didn't feel it important to reinforce these rules with practice and hence lost the chance to internalize them.

Anyway, the test is done except for one question on the listening portion about which I remain clueless (I know, I know - you're all shocked). The question is: "If the conversation were to continue, what would the receptionist say next?" There are four possibilities on the question sheet, each of which I duly translated and was therefore able to eliminate two on slim technicalities. But I cannot choose between the other two. So I listened to the first part of the receptionist's conversation about 43 times and tried to write it down. I came up with the following:

Niji no yakushita meijiroshoji no sakai tomoshimasu.

Otherwise translated as: I've not the foggiest what you are babbling about.

So unless enlightenment strikes me (dead?) between this evening and tomorrow evening (when I am reviewing it and preparing to mail it off), I will simply flip a coin and choose between A and C).

In the meantime, I'm off to see if Rollercoaster Tycoon has anything to add to my kanji-edification.*

* What? I promised myself that if I finished the test tonight (a whole day early), I could play some Rollercoaster Tycoon before bed. So I'm obligated to now do so!

Almost Famous...

We can't all be superstars like Elliott and get written up in the daily newspapers and be threatened to be interviewed by the local radio stations. But please, allow me my 15 minutes of fame.

In December, I spent two days "teaching" at the local special needs school. Many of the children there are very, very disabled, and teaching involved singing songs (Jingle Bells, anyone?), talking a bit about myself, and generally being genki (happy-go-lucky). A few of the children are less disabled and thus have some English ability, but the majority of them do not.

So I got written up in the (weekly? monthly?) newsletter to the PTA:

The newsworthy ALT #1

Then I went back to the special needs school for another two days in January. While my sojourn was generally treated with the same level of excitement from the teachers and students (Hokey-Pokey, anyone?), my presence in the PTA newsletter was somewhat more muted, though still deemed newsworthy:

The newsworthy ALT #2

Sadly, as I have not been as studious as I ought to, I really can't tell you what either of the newsletters say. I know the second one has something to do with the fact that when the principal (who makes the newsletter) asked me for a quote, I said something about the students always being cheerful, and that the teachers seem to do a great job of trying to ensure the students are happy and involved to the best of their abilities. That got in there somehow.

And now, speaking of being less-than-studious, I must finish my Japanese Language Test which is due in two days. I have left all the listening test portions till the end - ack!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Christmas Trip, Part the First

Six Days in Bali

OK, so Randal has a really good write-up on our time in Taipei (afternoon/evening of Dec. 23, then Jan. 6-8), so I'm going to jump straight into our arrival in Bali, the morning of December 24, Christmas Eve.

What can I say? We have both been to Bali before, and it did not disappoint. From the airport, we headed up by taxi to Ubud, and, after visiting a few places, we settled into the Sayong Guesthouse (we later found out it's been written up and recommended by the Lonely Planet, and I can see why). We had a second-floor room with our own private verandah overlooking the courtyard and the swimming pool.

View from Sayong Guesthouse

Randal relaxing on the balcony rail (the stairs go down right there) with the pool in the background.

It was just paradise. In the mornings we would get up anytime between 8:00 and 10:00. We'd shower then order breakfast, usually an egg with toast or an egg or cheese jaffle (which, for the backpacker-uninitiated, according to Wikipedia, is like a toasted sandwich that's been through some kind of sandwich-maker but with sealed edges - tasty tasty), and of course the ubiquitous and obligatory fruit salad.

My mother is right - I don't take enough pictures of food. But thank goodness Randal does, though this breakfast pic is, sadly, minus jaffle.

We'd head out usually between 10:00 and 11:00, and hit any number of shops in town, including at the Central Market. Ubud and the surrounding area is one of the main arts-and-crafts centres of Bali; people go there to bargain for beautiful wood and stone carvings, silver and metal work, furniture, jewelry, clothing - you name it, it's there.* We did a lot of shopping, though most of it recreational rather than acquisitional. I am always reluctant to start bargaining, but once I get my feet wet, I enjoy diving right in. And, to the chagrin of shopkeepers who continually seem to think I will be an easy sell, I can be a hard bargainer (though Randal wins the competition between the two of us hands-down), and won't hesitate to walk away when I feel the price just isn't right. (Well, OK - I might hesitate a little bit. But I'm too stubborn most of the time to cave in to a bad price.) Anyway, long story short, we walked out of Ubud with our arms and bags full of nice things - largely clothing and wood carvings of various types.

Mostly we kicked around Ubud and took it easy. We signed up for a day trip of the area one day and visited a number of temples.

Dragon and rain
Randal, in the rain, on the dragon-flanked steps to the top part of the temple at Bekasih, the largest temple in Bali on the slopes of Mount Agung.

Preparing for the ceremony
There was a ceremony going on in full-force at the beautiful Temple of the Holy Springs, which we got to watch in part.

Randal had been to most of them before, but I had only been to two. Our travel partners that day were a couple from Thailand - she was a civil servant and he was a lawyer - how appropriate!

The other reason to go to Ubud is that it boasts some of the best traditional dance troupes on the island. We went to see three dances while we were there: the Legong, the Kechak**, and the Barong.

Legong dance

Barong and monkey
Barong dance

The weather in Bali was lovely. It would be sunny and hot in the morning, then every afternoon it would rain for about an hour, usually starting between 1:00 and 2:00. This suited our schedule just fine - we would head for lunch around that time and thus miss the rainstorm. Then it would dry up and heat up again. Evenings were warm. Nights were fairly comfortable for sleeping in our non-air-con room.

Now, where did I pack the umbrella?
Heavy rainshowers every afternoon (pic stolen from Randal).

Highlights involving wildlife:

Giant, giant snails on delicate foliage.

Giant snails, small girl

Geckos from the sky!: One night, we're sitting on our verandah, and some small geckos are hanging out in the rafters above us. But then we realize they are fighting (for territory by the light - geckoes eat insects). One snaps at another, and the second guy loses his footing and tumbles about six or seven feet onto the table between us! He made a nasty splat. The fall itself was like slo-mo. He lay there stunned for a second and then, upon realizing he was between two humanoids, gathered himself up, scurried over to the wall and away to gecko safety.

More geckos from the sky!: The very next morning, Randal opens the door to our room, and a tiny gecko goes falling from the top of the door to the floor. This one does not get up and move. He lays there a very long time, only moving slightly when Randal tries to help him along. Finally Randal put him in his palm (apparently he made a tiny squeak at that), and put him in the garden. We hope he was OK.

Dogs: Everybody has a dog in Bali. And they have some real personalities. At least it wasn't like last time, where when I'd go home late at night, all the dogs would stand outside their homes and growl or bark at me, one at a time... Ack.

But the best, the best, the best moment of all in the whole island of Bali was discovering this in the local convenience store:

Best. Product name. Ever.
What a great name for toilet paper. Of course, I had to buy some. (Pic also stolen from Randal.)

More to come later, plus I'll get a proper full set of pictures from the trip up on Flickr in due time (whatever that means).

* For those of you lucky enough to live in Toronto, you don't have to travel to Bali to see Balinese furniture: there's a great store on Yonge Street (between Wellesley and Bloor on the west side) called "Morningstar" that sells furniture from Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and much in the Bali style, for reasonable prices (though nowhere as cheap as buying the same items in Bali, though then again there would be shipping costs). There's also a store in Ottawa just outside the Market that claims to sell Balinese furniture, but I'm not entirely convinced of their claim.

** My pictures of the Kechak dance didn't really turn out because of a badly-placed spotlight. Go see Randal's instead (once he puts them up). Or look at my pictures of the Kechak from the last time I was in Bali - that was a better dance troup (in Ulu Watu, on the southern tip of Bali), anyway.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Yes, Mom, I do eat sometimes...

My mom complained recently that I don't post enough pictures of food.

So, just for you, Mom, this is what I ate for dinner tonight:

Tasty home cookin'
Chicken nuggets from the grocery store plus salmon and tuna sashimi. I made some rice and mixed in a red bean sauce thingy. I also steamed some green beans in the microwave. Some soya sauce and wasabi on the side, plus a glass of Coke to wash it all down. Three Oreo cookies (not pictured) for dessert. Mm-mm, good.

And now, for everyone's viewing pleasure, other random pictures from Julie's Food Files:

Yakiimo, the famous sweet potato. There is a truck that drives around my neighbourhood in the evenings, at a super-slow speed, playing a recording over and over of a slow, somewhat melancholy song, and I found out recently that this was the yakiimo truck. Japanese winter-time snack food. I didn't buy this from the truck however (I should at some point, though I hear it is pricey) - this particular sweet potato snack was made for me by one of the women at work.

Japanese fast food
Hungry, hungry hippo. Burgers from Johnny Burger (I think that was the name) in Hiroshima back in October.

Plastic food model from a designer with a sense of humour, from the plastic food model factory/shop in Gujo-Hachiman where we went in September.

Lunch in Gujo-Hachiman
Non-plastic food and model in Gujo-Hachiman.

Liquid diet
Oh wait. That's not food. This is me cozying up to the merchandise at the weird liquor store near my apartment.

I will endeavour to post more food pics periodically. Call it a New Year's resolution, if you will, or an empty promise with little chance of achievement - take your pic.

Don't they know it's the middle of January???

This is what's currently growing in the garden behind my manshon:

Don't they know it's the middle of January???

Let me repeat that word for the Hokkies in the audience: growing.

It's kind of ridiculous. Kind of.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

OK, five things...

Usually I don't bother with these things, since I am lazy, lazy, lazy. But Rebecca tagged me to tell you five things about myself, based on posts I've written over the last year.* So here goes nothing:

1. I took two Japanese language classes, but my Japanese still sucks. However, I made two new invaluable friends in the process.**

2. I made an inordinate number of excursions to Toronto, having travelled travelled there no less than five times, in the first half of the year. The Great Travelling Julie Roadshow also went to Montreal, and Vancouver and Winnipeg.

3. Oh yeah: I moved to Japan. Further travel has since ensued: Kyoto, Himeji, Hiroshima and Miyajima in one fell swoop, Tokyo, and Bali, as well as Gujo-Hachiman, Seki, Mino, Yoro, and Nagoya (many times), also all in Japan, and Gili Air and Taipei during my recent Christmas travels (all referenced, but yet unblogged at any length).

4. I also turned 30, but who's counting, anyway?

5. I'm an earthquake junkie, and was pleased to experience two small quakes last year alone. I still rue the one that got away, however...

Now I think I am supposed to pass this along, but I don't know many people who have had a blog long enough to do this justice (well, that, and who might actually respond). Well, let's try you, you, you, you, and, uh, either you or you (it's worth a shot) on for size.

* This took way too long. Instead of thinking about what I've written about and picking five things (which would have taken five minutes), I sucked myself into reading every post I wrote over the last year. It was interesting but it took about 2 hours and, man, am I ever starving!!! Furthermore, in compiling this list, I made a discovery. I discuss the weather far more than could possibly be healthy. A few samples: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. If nothing else, my dad is sure to be proud.

** Simon informed me before the holidays that he is never updating the site again (to which I respond "never say never") so don't wait with bated breath. You can go say hello to Elliott instead.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Oishii desu ka?

The "Funniest. Blog. Posting. Ever. Award" goes, hands-down, to my pal Elliott in Hokkaido. If he's not digging himself out from underneath ten-foot tall snowfalls or playing yet another round of "Red Rover", he's battling giant, disgusting, slimy seafood.* Yuck.

* The guy has a M.Sc. in Mathematics, with a thesis on some obscure aspect of integers, but if you ask me, he has missed his true calling.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What's that white stuff?

I was walking to work this morning when I espied, here and there, some small piles of half-flaky, half-icy white stuff. Upon further inquiry, I learned that there had indeed been a bit of a snowfall here over this weekend, including a large snowstorm in Nagoya that apparently delayed many flights, but goshdarnit, I missed it, and now the snow is pretty well gone.* All that remain, then, are my memories of sun and sunshine and shorts :)

In other, non-weather-related news (sorry, Dad), I will post about our trip soon, even likely sometime this week. But I need to recover first.

* All together now, "Awwwww, geeeeez, I missed WINTER!" LOL :)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Happy New Year!

It seems if you show up to an international flight check-in counter at the airport only 15 minutes before your flight is due to leave, the counter is already closed and you have, effectively and thoroughly, missed your flight from Denpasar (Bali) to Taipei.


Anyway, we had a lovely though unexpected night in Kuta Beach, and we are attempting the international flight again this afternoon. It seems Taipei is still standing after last week's earthquake, so that's good.

Details to follow.