Monday, February 26, 2007

Fear and Reading in Gifu City

So having finished Looking for the Lost last night, I wanted to start a new book. But as so often happens after reading a book I really, really enjoyed, I decided it should be something light. So I picked up the science fiction book Forever Peace and read the first 20 pages. It was okay, but not really the kind of book I wanted to spend my time reading when I had so many other, better choices. So I returned to the bookshelf.

Hmm, Memoirs of a Geisha... ... No, I just finished a book about Japan. Somerset Maugham? Too serious. Wild Grass? No, let's read a novel (it's about cultural undercurrents in China). Ahhh, Will Ferguson whom I love and adore. Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw. I read one paragraph, then realized that if I read this hard on the heels of Looking for the Lost, I'd be reading two books in a row about travelling. Also, it wasn't a novel. Furthermore, I knew it would leave me nostalgic for Canada, and I'm just not in the mood for that right now. Finally, reading it now would also leave me with a sad lack of Will Ferguson for the next 5 months. Back on the shelf it went. A-ha! Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Perfect! I opened it at random and read about a policeman (this was Love in the Time of Cholera). Too wordy for tonight. Sigh. OK, it's Confessions of a Shopaholic or nothing. There's nothing lighter on this shelf than that.

I took Confessions of a Shopaholic to the washroom (when you gotta go...), reading all the while, then stood a while in the kitchen and read some more. I felt myself starting to be captivated. But then I wandered, half-reading, back into the living room and caught a glimpse of the bookshelf again.

No. Can't read this. Too fluffy.

I snapped the book shut and returned it to the shelf. Stared at the books a few moments. Memoirs (again) - no, about Japan. Pico Iyer? No, about Japan. Anil's Ghost? Too much Ondaatje too soon (yes, it is possible). Ah, selected works of Murakami (Japanese author). But, no, also about Japan. God, how many books about Japan does one girl need??? Nevertheless, I read a few pages. I liked what I saw, but it wasn't quite what I wanted. I stared some more. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I slowly pulled out Charles Bukowski. Maybe he wouldn't be so bad.

I read the first entire short story. 8 pages. While it wasn't wretched, I distinctly disliked it, barely skimming the last 3 pages to see if it would redeem itself. It didn't, and I couldn't fathom reading another 25 stories like it. Back on the shelf it went.

Uh. So many books. None of them right. Am I the only person who has this problem?

I fished around my Miffy clock (the cutest little rabbit you ever did see) and from behind it, pulled out Tom Holt. Another science fiction writer. I didn't want to jump into this one - it's a big, big volume. But then I remembered how much I'd enjoyed his book Falling Sideways (you can look for the review in the stacks yourselves - I'm too lazy to go over there and find the exact link - it's in January 2006, I believe). And this book was actually two books compiled together ("Who's Afraid of Beowulf?" and "My Hero"). So I could just read one of the two, right? Plus, I could probably read it at the same time as a second book, once I get my urge to really read back. Warily, I read the first page. It made me smile, just a little bit.

I think it will do. At least for now.

But I'm not adding it to the "Currently Reading" spot until I've decided for sure.

And now, I've spent all my reading time on blogging about reading. Figures.

An exercise in frustration...

So the Japanese are notorious for being indirect. They don't have words in their language that mean exactly "yes" or "no". No never quite means no here. Sometimes it means yes. Sometimes it means yes but. Sometimes it means yes maybe. It can be a little frustrating sometimes trying to pin someone down to a definite answer.

I have encountered this on many small occasions, and found it amusing more than anything. But I have also found myself avoiding asking someone a question because I feared it would lead to the awkward song-and-dance Japanese people do when they're going to have to refuse you something but don't want to.

Well, this afternoon, I had to ask my supervisor a question about vacation - specifically, Randal and I were planning to go away for a week (in which I knew there was nothing special planned, nor classes or anything). If I could extend our vacation by one day, it would be much cheaper for me to fly home. So I ask her if there is anything special going on that day.

"Graduation ceremonies," she says, "but ahhh, maybe, I don't know, maybe you don't have to be there but maybe you do."

"Oh, graduation ceremonies," I say. "That sounds like something I should be there for, no? All the other teachers are going to be there, no?"

She hemms and hawws and finally we find ourselves consulting with one of the vice-principals (unfortunately, the one who I usually deal with was away today, though from previous experience, his song-and-dance routine is as well-developed as the other's, so that would have made no difference in the whole fiasco).

"Ahhh, hmmm, uhhh, well, it is graduation and there will be farewells for teachers who are going to be transferred - it will be their last day here - and, ahhh, you say it's cheaper if you fly home that day rather than the day before? Well, ahhh, how much cheaper?"

Already I have been squirming and trying to get out of this conversation. If they want me to be there for graduation, I will be there. I think I should be there, though I don't actually know any of the third-years who are graduating. But I'm part of the staff and it seems proper for me to be there. If I had realized graduation ceremonies were that day (I get a schedule but it's all in Japanese, and I always have a difficult time pinning anyone down on what any one item on it is - I guess I just missed that one or gave up before getting there or something), I wouldn't have even entertained the thought of the cheaper flight.

I try to explain to them that I should be there for graduation ceremonies and that I will therefore take the flight home the day earlier. That should have solved things, right? Ah, but you forget I am in Japan. This results merely in more squirming and, finally, from kyoto-sensei (VP), "Ahhh, well, if your flight gets in earlier in the day, on Monday, say in the morning or early afternoon, you can skip the ceremony, which is in the morning, and come for the farewell parties that evening."

My supervisor quickly interjects, "If you want to come to the parties, of course. You don't have to. They will cost some money."*

I assured her as long as the farewell parties that night didn't cost tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars), I'd be glad to go since I know some of these teachers who are transferring,** but that, since the graduation ceremonies were so important, and all the other teachers were going to be there, I would just pay the higher fare and come home a day early since I understood this was important.

No, no, not so important, I am reassured.

But this is the Japanese way of talking. They say it's not important, but it is. And all I wanted was for one of them to say, "No, you should be there. Come home on Sunday. It's important for you to be there." Since I had already said 7 times, "OK, I'll come home on Sunday then," one would think that this would be easy enough to say without losing face.

One would think.


Anyway, the upshot of the whole thing is that now Randal and I are re-evaluating whether or not we are going to Hokkaido that week or not. We want to, but it will cost us almost as much to go to Hokkaido for one week as it did to go to Bali for two! So we might just go somewhere else that week and go to Hokkaido the day AFTER graduation ceremonies.

Double argh.

* The teachers were all surprised when they found out, a few weeks ago, that I'd agreed to pay about 8,000 yen (~$80) for a gift and dinner party for our principal who is retiring at the end of the month. The party is this Friday. Again, I figured as a member of the staff, I had a duty to be there.

** Actually, we don't know who is being transferred yet, so maybe I won't know the teachers being transferred (since there are so many of them and I only know maybe half). Every three years or so, teachers are rotated to different schools. I'm not sure why. If you ask, vague comments about the efficiency of the Japanese education system are made. Teachers are shocked when I tell them in Canada, many teachers spend their entire career in one school.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I just can't help myself...

Since I haven't raised the topic in a while (yesterday's mention-in-passing doesn't count), and as I note the Ottawa webcam Ottawa shows still much snow on the ground,* I feel compelled to inform you all of the weather here in Gifu for the week. The JMA doesn't list Gifu itself, but being only 30km north or so of Nagoya, I figure their weather is a good bet for us (we being all on the same floodplain).

I can't unfortunately copy the information with its pretty pictures (sunny sunny sunny) directly here, but the gist of it is as follows:

Mon: low of 4, high of 15
Tues: low of 4, high of 14
Wed: low of 4, high of 11
Thurs: low of 0, high of 13
Fri: low of 2, high of 16
Sat: low of 6, high of 16
Sun: low of 7, high of 17

Those kinds of temperatures, at this time of year, just strike me as stupid. Stupidly good.

Now if they could only do something about the food here,** I'd stay forever.

* I also haven't taunted Elliott about it in a while. But, since I may be going to visit him soon, I will be nice and not mention the utter and complete lack of anything resembling a winter here this year.

** And shoes. I need to find shoes in my size. That goes for pants, too, and blouses.**

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Two years in the making...

For the bibliophiles in my readership, you probably already know that about two years ago, I started a second blog with reviews of all the books I was reading. I am pleased to announce that two years later, I actually have reviews of every book up! This means I might actually be able to start reviewing them now shortly after I finish them.

pixxiefish in the stacks

In other news, while it might look like I haven't done a lot of posting here this month, I've actually been doing a lot of background stuff. I added labels to every post, both here and in the stacks. I made some small Template changes (nothing earth-shattering or indeed very interesting, so I'll spare the details). I also have been hard at work updating my Library Thing site, which is my newest favourite toy, and, of course, putting up oodles of pictures on Flickr for you to enjoy. I spend Thursday nights drinking beer and knitting with some other girls downtown. I went to a doll-making class about two weeks ago, and really ought to put up pictures of my doll for you to all enjoy. There have also been two abortive trips to Nagoya (one ended in downtown Gifu instead, and the other never left the house), as well as Osaka (that was downgraded into Nagoya, which in turn was downgraded as mentioned above). I've barely even been out to Kitagata this month to visit Randal! God, what have I been doing with my time all month???

The weather here is getting nice. We are probably too late in the year now to do any snowboarding (though Randal may still try one day). There was virtually no snow. I have almost permanently stopped wearing my momohiki for the year. I had my balcony door open all afternoon yesterday to get some fresh air in here. But I will keep the long underwear handy, however, and not get too revved up about open windows, as we are in the process of planning a trip north to Hokkaido in mid-March (heads up, Homies!) during Spring Break; if, that is, we can actually make it past the Gifu JR station this time. :)

And now, I must stop procrastinating (you all knew that this was what this was really about, right?). I must go clean my bathroom, take a shower, eat some breakfast (yes, at 2:00 in the afternoon) and finish my Japanese language test for the month. (I have over halfway to go still, and I don't understand a thing. In fact, I haven't looked at it in almost 3 weeks, and I don't even remember what I'm supposed to have learned this time 'round!)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Christmas Trip, Part the First - Take Two

Christmas in Bali

Pictures of Bali. Enjoy you will 3 of Taipei and 124 of Bali. Yes, you will enjoy.

But wait. There are others. Gili Air (Part the Second) and Taipei (Part the Third). But not yet. Time there is. Patience. Patience learn you must.*

This girl, filled with sleepiness she is.

* Question: Why did Yoda say Anakin was too old to teach, yet he eagerly took on Luke later? Is Yoda guilty of classic excuse-making???

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ma chère grandmère, c'est à ton tour...

Ma grandmaman Cosette fête ses 91 ans aujourd'hui. Elle fût née en 1916.

Birthday girl

Ceci est un photo d'elle dès son retour des Caraïbes en mars 2001, où elle est allée avec mes parents pour un séjour, mais je ne me souviens pas quelle île ils ont visiter.

One of my favourite stories that I like to tell about my grandmaman:* When I was a small child (like 5 or 6), she would speak to us in a mixture of French and English. As I grew older, she spoke less and less to me in English. By the time I was 14 or so, and consistently ever since then, I have never heard my grandmaman speak English. She would sometimes be in Toronto visiting us and would seem slightly perplexed upon meeting some of my unilingual anglophone friends. Or sometimes, since my parents and I always speak in English together, she would remark (in French) how she couldn't follow our conversations. And she has often said how proud she is that my older brother and I have worked so hard at learning and maintaining our French so that she can have good long conversations with us (Robert is a lost cause - he will dig out his French somewhat unwillingly only).

So. Two or three years ago, Randal and I were heading to Montreal for a visit. He had never met my grandmaman before. He also does not speak (much) French. I apologized multiple times before going that my grandmaman was a sweetheart and spoke beautiful French, and that she used to speak English (she did live in Ottawa for over 30 years) but that I was sure she had lost any English she used to know. Randal says OK, that's fine, he'll fumble through dinner, etc., in what little French he knows.

When we arrive at my grandmaman's place, I introduce them, and she asks Randal, "Est-ce que tu parles français?" With a sad face, he responds, "Ah, juste un petit peu." She then proceeds to spend the entire weekend yammering away with him in ENGLISH. Almost perfect English, just like I remember her speaking. She shows him everything - her stamp collections, her photo albums from way back when, her extensive library collection. All in English. I couldn't believe it. Randal couldn't stop laughing at me. I think my jaw spent the entire weekend on the floor. When I asked her about this, she replied simply that if she'd let me speak to her in English, she knew I wouldn't want to speak with her in French. And she was right. And I thank her for that.

Obaasan [grandmother] wa suki desu.

(Now, I just need a Japanese grandmother who will refuse to speak to me in English, and I'll learn Japanese in no time flat. ...Oh, wait. I have an entire COUNTRY of Japanese grandmothers! So why isn't it working? Gah.)

* As I am much wittier in English, and besides, not all of my readers know French (though, of course, they should), allow me to make the switch. I plan on taking classes to further improve my French (especially written) upon my return home, however.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Who Am I?

This is just weird:

And, uh, it doesn't get any less weird:

I think I need to do these tests on a different day when I'm in a better mood. But for now, excuse me - I must go watch Platoon. I've never even seen it!!!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Capping off the week

Capping off the week for pure farce (yes, I know it's only Tuesday) is the email I got on Monday evening from a girl I know who works at the Board of Education head office in Gifu. She was reviewing the computerised version of our recontracting decisions (Yes/No).

Subject: Re-Contracting Question for Julie!

Hi Julie-

We have on our forms here at the kensho that you ARE re-contracting. In a previous email, you had told me the you were not going to stay another year.

So just for the record, I need to tell them in case a mistake was made (not a big deal, it's a matter of a few computer clicks away on excel).

Are you and Randal re-contracting or not?

Just let me know when you can so I can set it all straight.


I laughed so hard I almost fell off the couch. After all the fuss and nonsense of the whole to-recontract-or-not-to-recontract, it seemed someone had hit the wrong key over at head office and had decided I must have been deluded when I said no, and that what I had really meant was yes. Just too funny.

Apparently what JET doesn't tell you is that it's actually the Hotel California. LOL.

bienvenue chez moi

I was feeling a bit under the weather (still am - I'm battling a low-level cold) this weekend, and I stayed home in my jammies and cleaned almost the entire apartment (there's a few corners I left untouched). Then I took a bunch of pictures for posterity. Since it's become obvious to me that no one is going to come visit (well, OK, the Homies and Erin did, and they were most welcome), I decided to stick these up on Flickr in the form of a tour. You are invited to view the set here. Many of the pictures are worth (I use that term loosely) viewing in their full size, as I have taken full advantage of the "notes" function this time around.

And if you DO want to visit, you have till the end of July to do so!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lordy, lordy...look who's, uh, sixty-one!

It's his party...

It couldn't possibly be the Chicken Man!*

Yes, while I wasn't there myself to witness this event, I have been advised and do verily believe that 61 years ago today, this man, who we like to call either "Pierre" or "Dad", was born. Let me repeat that: 61 years ago today.

I did a quick Wikipedia search and have learned that February 5th is the 36th day in the Gregorian calendar. OK, I could have figured that one out on my own by counting from January 1, but it sounds really cool anyway. I also learned, amongst other things:

February 5th is Constitution Day in Mexico. Also on this day, Pakistan observes the public holiday called Kashmir Day. The national poet of Finland, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, was born on this day in 1804 (so a bit older than my dad). Also born on this day were Sanjo, a former Emperor of Japan, in 976, writer William S. Burroughs in 1914, and, in 1934, the most important Canadian ever, Don Cherry!!! As if that wasn't enough, February 5th is also the feast day of Saint Agatha of Sicily, the patron saint of firework makers and glass blowers (cool! partay!!!), and also of Saint Bertolf, whoever he was.

For political junkies, in 1963, Diefenbaker's minority government was defeated on this day over its nuclear weapons policy (that was a good thing, for sure). For sports fans, Gordie Howe played his last all-star NHL game on this day in 1980. For music junkies, Joni Mitchell was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame on this day in 1981. For monarchists, on February 5th, 1811, the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent after his father George III was declared insane. He later (the Prince, not the King) became George IV (and I guess Victoria's father?).

Finally, since my dad likes weather information, the coldest day in the province of Quebec in recorded history happened on this day in 1923 in Doucet (I'm not even sure where that is), when the temperature dipped to -54.4 degrees Celsius. I don't know if that's including windchill or not.

Anyway, Dad, have a good one!

* Yes, I grew up with a chicken coop in our backyard. I hated having to go collect the eggs - invariably, the nastiest hen of all would be sitting on 'em, and she would snap at me. No, I did not grow up on a farm. We lived about 30 minutes outside Halifax, N.S., in dear old Cole Harbour, and we had a large yard with a lot of woods around us, and one year, after a neighbour gave my brother and I baby chicks for Easter (what kind of a present is that???), my dad decided to get a whole brood of 'em. Yikes. It was kinda cool.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

It's official.

La décision finale

We have joined the not-so-exclusive club known as One-Year JETs.

We almost recontracted. We agonized all last weekend over whether we should recontract or not. I handed in my form saying "no" on Monday. My school was disappointed. So was I, to be honest. Then Randal and I almost asked to have our forms back (he handed his in on Tuesday) so we could change our answer. But, in the end, we chose not to. We like Gifu alright; our schools are good and the job is somewhat enjoyable (more for him than for me - I feel slightly unfulfilled with the job here, despite being well-used). But there was just no way we could commit to another 18 months here (6 remaining on our current contract, then another year's worth).

We're not 100% sure we're coming straight home yet - we might try a few months of living in Tokyo or elsewhere - but I'll keep you posted as to when those welcome-back parties should be planned.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

An evening of excitement...

So, two things of note to report for the evening:

1. It snowed!!! Well, OK, it snowed for about 10 minutes. Fattish flakes that melted almost the second they touched the ground. I was out for the evening, and we saw it snowing through the front window of the bar we were at. A few people ran outside to savour the snow. (I did not. Viewing it from the window was adequate for me.) As I walked home later from the bus, there was not a speck of snow to be seen as proof of this occurrence, other than a few car roofs with the barest dusting.

2. I learned to knit!!! Well, OK, I was taught the basics of knitting. Whether or not I have actually managed to internalize these teachings into anything remotely resembling "having learned" remains to be seen. I met up with some girls, mostly other JETs from the area, who get together every Thursday at a bar or cafe downtown (this week it was the bar), and they knit and chat. There was about 7 or 8 of us. I was taught how to cast on (put the yarn on my needles to start) and how to do a basic knit-pearl stitch. I am making a 27-stitch width baby-pink scarf (3 knit - 3 pearl). I debated taking a picture of my first night's accomplishment, but during the 3 hours I was there, I had to re-cast and re-knit my first row four times. So there's not much to photograph just yet. Maybe in another row or two. (If I make it that far!)

I must sleep now. I have a sore throat, and tomorrow I have to teach 5 out of 6 periods (including going in early for an 8:35 class) because of a few rescheduled classes from earlier this week (the schedule at school is just messed up these days). Now, off to dream about knitting a snow-white fleece... (it's cold in here right now).

As a side note, Blogger made me upgrade tonight (in order to post this) to a Google Account Blogger account, and I can add *labels* to my posts. I shudder to think of all the time I am going to waste in the next while, retroactively labelling my posts...