Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Inuyama Part II

So the journey continued:
With - MORE GATES!!! These ones larger, but still quite unprotected. Truth be told, I was kind of looking forward to seeing Ian fight past the Samurais....

Once through, this guy tried to thwart us, but I think he was only angry because we interupted his meal. I like his bib though...
(it really is unfortunate that we cannot read Japanese, otherwise we might be able to give you some "factual information" as opposed to our um...storyline

My bib is soooo wet...I've been drooling for 800 years!!!

Anyways, continuing through, we came across these interesting looking stone pillars. Again I have no idea what they are, but they were quite beautiful and impressive in person.

You've got mail, you've got mail, you've got mail, you've got.....

I was just happy to see some actual vegetation in Japan! It really was a gorgeous place, and only made me more disapointed that we were stuck in Nagoya!!

There are also hardly any insects in Nagoya. This isn't so bad... but a bit disturbing that humans are the only lifeform for miles. How do you say "Concrete Jungle" in Japanese?

These red pillars were even more impressive however. I am pretty sure that all the wooden plaques hanging from the walls are prayers that people have made through the years. They do a similar thing with paper. They create these massive banners out of prayers that people have written and then tied to string. Its all very interesting, and you can tell that these mean more to people than we will ever know. The entire area is filled with a hushed reverence.

The walkways were all very beautiful and made of stone. The castle was impressive yes, but I would have payed just to wander the grounds. You have no choice but to feel at peace in a place like this.
Really, I tried so hard to be angry, but it was impossible. Fighting ...peacefulness...can't resist... super anger diminishing....increasing desire to embrace all humankind...blast!

Before we entered the castle we had to take off our shoes and put on slippers. There was a sign in english saying that stepping on a drain with your shoes is forbidden. It didn't explain, but I am curious to know why. Anyways, we removed our shoes, donned our slippers (some better fitting than others...), and into the castle we ventured.
Inside it was quite like a museum, with ancient artifacts and information on what the rooms were each used for. Inside one room, was this very impressive wooden replica of the castle itself.

No no, my friend, thanks for the slippers, but you're mistaken. You said "one size fits all" when what you meant to say was "one size fits most of us, but not you, Godzilla."

This room was originally the armour room, where the samurais kept their gear, ready to leap into action. That is actually only half the room...I couldn't get the whole thing on my camera. Now it holds pictures and information on all the castles across Japan.

I was disappointed that the armoury was not fully stocked. What would have happened if we were under attack??? I was fully prepared to defend the castle.

The view from the top was quite amazing. After ascending 5 flights, you reach a room in the top that is lined with red velvet, and photos of some of the most important people in Japanese history. We caught an english tour guide explaining some interesting info about this castle. Apparently it was the last privately owned castle; all others had been bought or given to the municipality or region. It was just in the last 2 years that the owner donated the castle to the region. The tour guide described that man as Japan's last lord.
I fully intend to buy back the castle and build a samurai army. Long live the new lord of Japan! Long live Sandalstoonarrow-San!!!

The top floor has doors on 2 ends opening up out onto a balcony that wraps around the entire top of the castle. Walking out into it we saw an amazing mix of mountains, rivers, and lush vegitation...it was brilliant. Much better than our view of the train tracks...haha.

"Yes...this river will protect us against invasion from the North. Now to position my archers at the south gate."

It was very windy up top....

Not really. Tara just likes to eat hair.

Ok, more pictures of the castle and its view will come in Part III, and we may even have to extend this to a 4 parter...

Sheesh- by the time we get this post up it will be our weekend again and we will have even more for you!!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Inuyama Part I


Ok - First off, I have to thank my AWESOME parents for saving us in a time of need with a wonderful package filled with : LIFE!!!! (and much more...)
It was very appreciated, and what perfect timing too - we had just been debating what to have for breakfast!

Hooray! Tara finally gets a life!!!

Yeah!!! I have always wanted a life.....thanks guys :)

Anyways. As exciting as that was, the weekend just kept on getting better. The next day we decided to get out of the city and head to Inuyama, a town about 45 minutes away, with what they call, "a national treasure". Our mission: to invade a castle and then spy on local fishing habits.

Infiltrating the gates was quite easy. The samurai were on lunch break.

The national treasure, otherwise known as Inuyama castle, as seen from afar...

I also seen it from afar.

Along our path we noted some brilliant looking flowers, so we took a moment to stop and smell the....umm...prickly red things??


Oh wait...its not real. Good trick guys, but not good enough.

I tried using the ladles that were placed across the bamboo bars, but as far as I could tell nothing special happened. Perhaps I have been blessed with the luck of the dragon now, and just don't realize it yet. Or perhaps I have offended him and wakened the ancient evil spirits. Only time will tell.

OK - our mode of transmission won't let us post more than this at a time, so please see Inuyama Part II and III if you want to know how successful this outting was!

It was very successful.... oops I ruined the surprise. Oh well, tune in for more details anyway.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

OK, I apologize for the delay but blogger is being stupid and wouldn't let me post my exciting new shots.
This week was a bit better than last though the whole 'not getting paid until oct. 15th' thing is reeeallly starting to wear thin. Nagoya is a Japanese city yes, but perhaps not the most interesting one and Ian and I are quite ready to get on with the exploring!
That said, we have managed to find our own fun here and there. Karaoke is always a blast, especially when you have super fun Aussies who join you! And of course, concerts are always good. For example - No Use For A Name played at a club here in Nagoya tonight. I actually knew about this long ago (thank you Meaghan) and was keen on getting to it. However, EVERY site that tells you were to buy tickets, is completely in Japanese. Not very helpful to us...Haha. In an act of Love however, Meaghan decided to email the band and ask them if they knew how I could get a ticket. Apparently the band and her were emailing back and forth over a period of days and in Meaghan's words "Even Tony Sly HIMSELF couldn't figure it out!" Anyways, Steven (the friendly Aussie) also happens to love punk and ended up knowing how I could get a hold of some tickets. So Ian and I ventured downtown tonight and actually managed to find the place! The show was amazing - AND they even knew who I was (Thanks again to Meaghan!)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I think it was possibly the most entertaining show I have been too, simply because of the crowd. Imagine trying to entertain people when they have absolutely no idea what you are saying. They just kind of stand there quiet and stare at you in awe....it was hilarious.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After the show was over we hung around to try and catch a glimpse, and luckily enough 2 of the band members headed out our way. I headed off one of the guys and told him it was a good show, and wouldn't you know it he asks "are you the girl who's been emailing us?" Go Meaghan!! I laughed and said it was my sister, trying to help me out. I guess I shouldn't be too suprised that he thought it was me though - considering I was one of only 2 white girls at the show, he had pretty good odds of finding the right one! Anyways, he was nice enough to chat and I thanked him for his help and got a cool pic!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Anyways, after the show we headed on home and picked up Ian's bike from the station along the way...too bad we still can't get the hang of the way people here ride. Every day people speed by with a person sitting on the back of the bike. Anytime we try we can't even get the balance to go anywhere. I don't know how they do it but I want to learn!! But until then I guess we ride solo...

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I didn't mind though. I was still excited from the show!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

On the way home we were feeling a bit peckish so we decided it was a good time for some Daily Yamikazi sushi..mmmmmm. Tasty

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Ian sure likes his rice Dumplings!!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We aren't sure 'exactly' what they are but they sure are tasty!!

Oh, and one last thing:
We got a plant!! Now its officially a home...

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Ok - I hope these satisfy you all for now. Tomorrow we are going to try to catch a train to Gifu or Inuyama and do some hiking and temple seeing. Lots more pictures will come from that!!

I miss everyone!!

Love Tara

Monday, September 18, 2006

Wow Lois, this is a Great Pumpkin Soup!

A new favourite! Tara and I made a Japanese pumpkin soup, with ginger and cinnamon. The recipe came from one of my Japanese cookbooks. It was delicious, and healthy. Japanese pumpkins look similar to our pumpkins, but they're smaller and green on the outside, but still bright orange interior. The soup was supposed to be blended, but since we don't have a blender I just cut the pumpkin really fine, and we boiled it until it was mashable into a pumpkiny paste.

Elevator encounter:
As I was waiting for the elevator to descend to the ground floor, an older Japanese man came wandering into the apartment from a back entrance. He didn't seem to see me. He was looking at the bulletin board in the lobby - all the signs were posted in English (a lot of teachers live in our apartment remember, but it's not a Nova building, so there are Japanese tennants as well) - and he was kind of muttering to himself. Maybe trying to make sense of the signs, or perhaps complaining about how they didn't make any sense to him. He had his back to me when the elevator dinged at our floor and the doors opened. He turned to see me, and looked surprised and smiled. "Ah!...." But didn't say anything.
We entered, the doors closed, and then he turned to me with a huge grin and said "Youu-a look like-a Clarke Kent....... SUPERMAN!"
I laughed and told him that I had been told that before. He smiled more.
I said "Well, I'll take that as a compliment." He smiled some more.
The 9th floor dinged and I bowed myself out of the elevator.

My Mondays seem like they'll be nice days. I only work from 5-9 at night, leaving me the whole day to get things done. Hopefully I'll be able to track down a Japanese class, or karate class (or both!) to do on Mondays. Today I made a trek to an international food store where such classics as Kraft Dinner and Old El Paso taco kits can be found.

I've now had one of my absolute WORST lessons. One class with 2 low level students who just did not seem to understand at ALL what I wanted. It was a pretty simple topic too...travel. We went over some example language like "I want to go to ________. I want to go shopping." The books are illustrated with pictures and lots of examples, so it shouldn't be that hard to put together. Even the kids class I had, we were using "What did you do?" "I went to a baseball game." and they caught on fast! These were highschool students and they didn't seem to have any clue what I wanted. I finally got "I want to go to hawaii" out of one, but then when I asked her what she wanted to do in Hawaii I got the scared blank stare again. I really don't think it should have been that hard, because the example of hawaii was illustrated on the page, and there were things like scuba diving and shopping and going to the beach all written in front of them. Anyway, that was a painful 40 minutes of pulling teeth, but I've had some pretty good discussions and group activities. It's certainly MUCH easier to work with the higher level students who just need adjustments on their grammar, appropriateness, intonation, etc. Even the lower level students are fun when they're excited about it, but when they're just quiet and terrified it can be quite painful. You feel like you're torturing them sometimes.

Alright, time for me to finish eating, study a little Japanese, then hop on my bike and ride on down to the train station with my breifcase in my little basket and my tie flapping in the breeze.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Fridge is Full and the Floors are Clean

Hello all!

We've been very busy finishing up our training and getting our lives sorted out on this side of the world. Monday and Tuesday we had kids' class training. The kids' classes seem like they'll be a nice break from the regular Nova routine. In kiddie classes you take your shoes off and enter a carpeted room, then sing, dance, and jump around for 40 minutes...there's a very basic English theme to the lessons, much akin to being a host on Polk-a-dot-door, or Sesame St. In our training, we alternated acting the part of the class and instructors, and didn't get to play with any real little Japanese people. My first attempt at a kids' lesson will take place tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon.

My main branch is easy to get to, just a short train ride north of Nagoya, and it seems I have a good team of friendly coworkers.

In a voice lesson (that's the open discussion room) last week I posed this question:
"How would you describe philosophy?"
How's that for a nice discussion topic for ESL students? One of the girls was quite fluent and able to give a good response. I told her I was very impressed as I actually had no idea what it was, or how to define it.
The topic arose naturally because the class was eager to inquire about my personal details - me being the new instructor in town - and they were curious as to what I had done before coming to Japan.

Things are slowly but surely coming together here. I haven't been able to find any karate classes yet, but I'm sure those will come. We're still struggling to master some of the basic language, but that's coming along.
We have acquired some shelves for our room, so we no longer have to sleep amongst our own clutter.

We put up our Canadian flag, a picture that Dave gave us, and 2 prints that my friend Vince drew, giving the apartment a comfortable homey feeling.

EVERYWHERE there are Beatles' tunes playing, if you listen carefully. They are usually instrumental versions, but they are used as elevator music, in department stores, even when I called work and was put on hold.....wait...what is that? Let it Be???
We have found peanut butter!!! It tastes great, and we both missed it terribly.
Whenever you buy ANYthing it is wrapped about a hundred times, very neatly, and taped up just perfectly. Ex. I bought ketchup, and they gift wrapped it. The next day, I gave myself a bottle of ketchup as a present. I was very grateful and thanked myself very much.
We got a good deal on some speakers, and now have our mP3 players hooked up so we can listen to all our music all the time. It adds to the atmosphere and comfort of the apartment. It also adds to the Beatles theme that Japan has going on.

We went out for karaoke again, this time to a 24hour karaoke bar. Approximate price is $10 Canadian for 2 hours, all you can drink. The drinks are syrupy and watered down, but still....cheap drinks and entertainment....I'm not complaining. We went out with a bunch of other teachers, only one of whom Tara knew by name. All the teachers are friendly like that.... we're all lost in the supermarket here, so it's easy to fairly easy to find people to hang out with for a night.

We finally made our way over to Nagoya castle, though it was quite late at night and we couldn't get up close to it. From afar it looks impressive, illuminated against the dark sky with golden dolphins crowning its roof. We biked all the way around the castle grounds, which are encircled by a moat. There were many people sitting and walking around the grounds as well. A group of about 40 highschool students were playing a large group game in an open field. It looked like a cross between red-rover and freeze-tag. They were silent and still for quite awhile, and then shocked me when they went screaming and running across the open field.

On Thursday we discovered a huge market shopping area. Many used clothing stores touting "Authentic American Style Vintage Clothing!" It was all pretty cool stuff. Rock n' roll t-shirts, and "real Levi's denim", and such things. The clothing here was all very cheap, but cool! This was a relief since we had previously only seen shopping in and around Nagoya station, which features the sorta designer names I thought only existed on Fashion Television back home.
Interestingly, we found this shopping district by passing through a buddhist temple. There were people making wishes (tossing in a coin and pulling a large rope to ring a bell), and wafting the smoke from burning incense into their faces. The whole temple had a powerful feeling to it.

Ok, those are my random observations for the day. Hopefully I'll have some more adventures to report soon.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A bit of the ups and a bit of the downs

Ok, so as most of you know, Ian and I began our first week of 'real' lessons on Saturday. I know he has told you a bit of what we do, but I figured I would elaborate a little.
First off, Nova is HUGE. Seriously, it's like the Starbucks of the English schools. There is one on every corner. Take for example our training locations. Regular training and kids training were done at two different schools, however both the schools were about a block away from one another (on opposite ends of the train station really). With this in mind, you would think that Nova may have been able to place people in branches that are within a reasonable distance from the instructors homes.

You would think.

In total I have about a 3 hour commute to and from work. I get to ride my bike to one station, get on the longest subway line, ride it right to the end (on the side of the city absolutely the farthest from us), and then I get to walk 15 minutes up a hill in heels all while being smothered by a blanket of humidity that could make Florida feel dry.

But then again, there is the upside that I actually get the privlidge of working at THREE branches in total! Lucky me....they are all so small and so close together that they like to move the employees around all the time. And guess what? One of my branches doesn't even have a washroom! I get to go outside, up some stairs into another building, through an arcade, and down a hall, where the washrooms are mere holes in the ground! Woo hoo!!! I have yet to be at my 3rd school (that will be my Wed. location), but I will be sure to let you know of any pleasant suprises!!

Ahhh...yeah I needed to rant about that for a bit. I am trying not to be negative about the job but it gets frustrating. The work itself is something an English speaking Monkey could do, and gets quite mind numbing. I just need to find some hobbies that require a bit more high level functioning and then that will be fine. The good part is that we are here to have fun and to sightsee and have adventures, and working this kind of job won't get in the way of that. Its definitly a 'leave it at work' kind of job. It is disappointing however that since my branches are so small I am never working with more than 1 person. So in total, in a 5 day week, I will work with 5 people at most. I was really hoping to have a chance to interact with fellow workers and make some friends, but when its only 2 of you, and you finish, start and break at different times, that rarely leaves any space for chit-chat.

The good thing is that our apartment is chalk-full of friendly people whom I could and have easily spent time with. The living arrangment really helps to level the work arrangment a bit. Also, the guy we have been training with is super friendly and we all have hung out a bit. It's nice being able to talk to someone in our exact position. He came over at the same time as us so he knows exactly what we are going through.

And really, I can't be all negative about my work - though the walk is a pain, since it is so far out of the city it is quite a bit greener, and, yes - there is a forest filled with chattering monkeys across from my branch. That was pretty awesome. I also get to walk past a small temple, which was a nice suprise, as it is actually the first I have encounted in what I thought was a temple rich country. And work really isn't stressful. Since we don't have many students I often end up with 'empty lessons' where I have no students, but still get paid. So I figure as long as I can keep a good book on me at all times, I should be fine.

All in all, it's not really as bad as I may have made it sound. It is just a strange adjustment and the lack of real food has probably made me more irritable that I should be. I still think this is awesome and I am very glad we came. Once we start seeing some of this money we are making things will improve drastically, as we will be able to begin some serious sightseeing. I believe our first venture will be to Kyoto - probably in mid October. As for now, it's grocery searching and language learning (for them AND us!).
I know this was a heavy 'text' post, so I promise some eye-candy for you all next time!! Pictures Galore!!

I miss you all!

Love Tara

Monday, September 11, 2006

Voice Lessons

Voice lessons are open discussion forums. One instructor sits in on the discussion for a full (40 minute) class length to encourage discussion, and help with language when necessary. For my first few lessons the class was just interested in talking about me, where I'm from, and why I came to Japan.
They ask "Can you use chopsticks?" and "Can you eat raw fish?"
When I answered yes to both, the whole class "ahhhh" 'd in approval.
Funniest thing I've been asked so far - "I am wondering... in Canada are there many houses made of wood?"
I didn't comprehend at first... "well, yes, they normally use wood for the frame of the house..."
"but the logs? Are there houses made out of the logs?"
"Oh! Log cabins??? You want to know if Canadians live in log cabins???"

Kids training begins today. Should be fun!


Friday, September 08, 2006

Dinner video and first impressions of Nova Classes

Ian sure gets excited about food...

***Ok, I admit, that one was MY fault! I uploaded the wrong file. Great...make fun of me for that, then watch the video and make fun of me some more. Should work fine now. Sorry about the initial difficulties!***(im)

You may notice that the recipe reads "Chicken", but I make it with pork. That's because some of the hypochondriacs I serve think they're going to get the avian flu. The recipe also calls for peas, but I made it with asparagus to suit some of the pickier eaters I serve.
What a silly film. I can't believe they allow this stuff on the internet.

Many have inquired about some sort of teaching that we're supposed to be doing over here as well. Nova is quite careful to always refer to us-types as "instructors," and the work we do is a much over-simplified, and dumbed down, teacher role. Every lesson is planned out for us step by step (practically down to the wording they want us to use), and our primary task is to pull the Nova-approved stages of the lesson off within the 40 minute lesson limit.

After a 3 days of training Tara and I have taught 7 and a half of these 40 minute lessons. They have been getting progressively better. I'm working hard at keeping my instructions simple and minimalistic. The more succinctly I can explain the lesson, the better it goes. Being direct and to the point.... good skill in any job. And those who have worked with me (especially Caprice who had to read some of my notes to head office) can understand why I might need to work on simplifying.

Point form summary. First impressions:
- it's alllllll laid out for us ahead of time, so there's virtually no prep time (once you have the hang of the lesson order down.
- the students are paying to be there, and they are mostly quite eager to learn, so we don't normally encounter the kind of difficult kids that real teachers have to work around in their lessons
- THE STUDENTS! As I'm getting more comfortable with lessons, I'm more relaxed, and it's becoming easier to just talk to the students. You get a lot of really interesting people, and they're so polite and respectful, they are great to work with.
- the start of the lesson is just a stage act. You have to catch their attention and work them in right off the start, or the whole lesson can crash and burn. If you get off to a good start, you can practically ride it to the finish (with the help of Nova's colourful picture book English lesson plan).

Anecdote: (things still get off track at times) A grammar question that began with a differentiation between "dead" and "died" somehow sidetracked ten minutes of my lesson, ending at a point where...well, I'm not certain... but I think the man was trying to ask me "Well, I want to know...for example... who killed JFK?"
Sorry, man...I'm not qualified to answer those kinda questions. That stuff isn't in the teacher's manual.

- anyone who has been with Nova for awhile knows the prepackaged lessons by heart (honestly, they can name off hundreds of lessons by name), and say that it gets painfully boring
- 3 days of training and now we start full time this Saturday. I really don't feel qualified enough given what students pay for these lessons. Then again, I suppose some university teachers never really did much for me, and those classes cost a good deal more.
- the students pay about 30-40 bucks for these 40 minute lessons.... I've talked to myself for 40 minutes before, and I can tell ya it ain't worth that much.
- you get exactly 10 or 15 minutes between classes (depends on the time of day) to evaluate the previous group (where "evaluation" means checking off a series of boxes which are later translated into Japanese and given back to the students so they know what to work on), and then look over the next 4 students' files, decide on which lesson to teach them, look it over, and get into class. This will happen either 5 or 8 times a day for us - we have 2 shorter days and 3 longer days each week.

As for the living situation, our apartment seems to be one of the coolest places in town for English teachers to be.
Every person we meet either gives us helpful advice, takes us somewhere useful we didn't know about, invites us out for drinks, invites us over for drinks, invites us to a party, or offers to help if we need anything. Actually I think EVERYONE has offered to help if we need anything. I don't think I've ever in my life had so many people I don't know offer to help me out with so much. That much is very encouraging, and on that note I must leave you all for now.
We begin at our regular positions tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!

- Ian

Some city shots for your viewing pleasure!

This was our first attempt at going downtown during the day: Our misson - Cellphones!!
Since we can't yet read maps (or rather - the streetnames ON the maps) landmarks have been our saviours. For example, the good ol' TV tower:

We knew once we found this guy that we were headed in the right direction!!

These Dancing Ladies aren't really landmarks, but they ARE in the first real 'park' that we have seen here in Nagoya. Supposedly there is nature somewhere, but I am getting kinda skeptical. I think our next mission should be to find these mysterious "parks" that dot our maps.....

Ahhh - and who could forget our trusty Oasis 21 (or giant space water ship thingy). It looks alot different during the day, but still insane. We discovered how to get to the top of it, and hoped that the view from above would make the structure make a bit more sense.....

Low and Behold!! It was actually pretty nice up there!! I believe they must light it up on top at night, so we will have to make an evening trip up to the top some time. There really is running water on top of the roof. Its pretty relaxing and the breeze was welcome (it is wickedly humid here (yes - maybe even more than in Florida!), and the view was impressive!

A nice shot of the city we have been trying to figure out! I'd like you to pay attention to the oval figure in the middle right:

YES: The city does have a GIANT ferris wheel attached to one of its central downtown buildings, thus confirming our suspicions that circus folk MAY have helped design Japan....(please refer to earlier Osaka pictures for further evidence)
All in all it was a successful weekend day for us! We finally have phones (Hurray!!), and we managed to venture farther than 10 minutes from our Apartment without getting lost!! Wooo!! Go us!

Miss you all!!


Thursday, September 07, 2006

How is it possible we missed THESE?!

OK - for all you people who think we aren't getting our veggies I have picture proof that it is really quite the opposite:

Look at those green onions?? Have you ever seen any so massive?

Take that you wimpy North American veggies!

-Love from Tara!

Here are the Much Anticipated Bikes

As you might have guessed, our Japanese bikes look very much like BIKES.

They have made our lives a heck of a lot easier already though. We can zip around the city with ease, weaving in an out of the sea of people, just like the locals. People are extremely responsive to a slight ring from the bell. Several times Tara and I have accidentally brushed our bells while just standing at a crosswalk, and had people jump to the side! It's amazing how the streets can be so packed, but people never seem angry or rude, they just move with the flow and everyone gets where they need to go.

Ahh....Felix-san. Dozo yoroshku.

These pictures were supposed to be posted last time, but there wasn't enough room on the page.
Ok, NEXT we'll be talking about the teaching experience!


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Working hard through the night to share life in Japan with all of you!

Heyyyy look! It's that big....twirly thing downtown. I don't know what it is, but it's a handy landmark just a few blocks South of our apartment, right outside the trainstation.

Observe the eating habits of Matsutaro in his natural habitat: Japan! Actually don't observe Mats... Tara and I are better with chopsticks than he is. But he definitely looks more authentic!
I'm enjoying toast with some dijon mustard... at the store, it was the only recognizable condiment. Mmm...I sure do likes them biskits wit mustard sauce. ("Slingblade"...anyone?)

Ian and Mats play it cool while waiting to cross the street. Tara had flown ahead on her new bike, and looked back long enough to take a picture. Tara was off riding her brand new pink bicycle for the first time. Ian and Mats were very proud.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Strangers in a Strange Land

It's hard to believe that we have only been in Japan for six days now. So much is different that it's hard to post all the details. I'll try to give you some interesting little details here, to give you a better picture of our current lives.

Firstly the important things, that all you family members are worried about: our apartment is spacious, safe, and comfortable! (If you haven't seen the video yet, please find it on the previous posting! It may take a little while to download, as it is a little over 5 minutes in length). We have been eating - lots of rice and noodles- despite the fact that grocery shopping has proved tobe one of the most challenging projects thus far. The frustrating/difficult aspect of it is the inability to read most labels on food. Nonetheless we have been able to locate real fruit juices, canned tuna, fresh & frozen vegetables, bread, honey. So, rest assured that our base needs are covered.

Now for a few other interesting details and stories:
- 100 yen shops (equivalent to a "dollar store") are a great source for pretty much anything, and we've been able to get some extra home furnishings there for quite cheap (cleaning supplies, tupperware, etc.).
- there are lots of snacks around, even potato chips and cookies, but these seem to be quite overpackaged, and only available in small portions....this probably isn't a bad thing!
- so far the only things I have seen in vending machines are drinks (mostly iced green tea, cold coffee beverages, sodas, juice, and occasionally a beer vending machine) and cigarettes.
- when sales staff speak English it is extremely limited, but they try their best to accommodate us. Yesterday we had a guy at a cell phone store call his company to get a translator. They are often extremely appologetic for their lack of English, to which I say "Hey man, it's better than my Japanese!"
- bikes are parked everywhere here, and usually not locked to anything. They have a keyed mechanism that locks the back tire in a vice. In the video of our apartment you can see the area where people on our floor park their bikes.
- I bought crazy Japanese Felix the cat bubble gum
- Mats was our first official guest here! Matsutaro was born in Japan, but grew up in Canada. He lives in Oakville, but his family still lives here.
It was lucky for us that he was visiting his family in Osaka (about 40-50 minutes away by bullet train), and was able to come stay with us. Though he only speaks a liiiiitle bit of Japanese it was enough to help us through some of the first challenges.
- our apartment building houses about 200 English teachers, we've met our neighbours on both sides (also teachers), and both have offered to help with anything we need
- everywhere there are tons of restaurants, pachinko parlours (a strange sort of pinball slot machine gambling game), arcades, and karaoke bars
- the public transit system seems pretty great, though we're still getting the hang of it
- alcohol in stores is hilariously cheap: ex. 750mL Smirnoff Vodka = about $10-11 Canadian, or a 750mL bottle of tequilla for around $14.
For my dad, and Des: a 750mL bottle of Glenfiddich single malt 18 year old Scotch goes for about $44 Canadian (compare with approximately $88 on the LCBO website). They also have Maccallan's, and I think that was even cheaper.
- you do see a lot of funny English t-shirts, and the popular style seems to be punk/80's inspired.
- just because there's English on a store sign, or in their ad, don't assume that anyone in the store will have any idea how to read it. It seems to be popular advertising scheme to have an English slogan or sign, but most people don't really seem to know what the signs mean.
- people will go out of their way to help you without questioning you at all.
example: asking directions in a convenience store, the clerk came outside and took a good 5 minutes trying to explain directions to us. In the end we still didn't know exactly where to go, but we were headed in the right direction. Later down the street we asked a random pedestrian who actually took us down into the subway station, made sure we bought the right tickets, and then walked us over to the right spot to wait for the train, then just left without saying anything.

Like I said, there's so much happening at once, and so much that's different that it's difficult for us to even keep track of it all. Hopefully now you have a slightly better idea of how things are for us here. We already have much more to report including our first day of training and a party with our Aussie neighbour.

Much more coming soon!
- Ian

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Our Surprisingly Spacious Japanese Apartment!

Hello everybody!

We finally have a video for you to view our fine Japanese Home. The first scene is from our balcony, and then we take you on a quick tour through the place from the front door. We are very happy here so far, and we're looking forward to having guests come stay with us, as we have a full extra bedroom with plenty of closet space.

- Ian and Tara


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Spaceships and Dinosaurs - The age old pair

I promise that there are pictures/video of our apartment coming soon, but the past few days we have been busy walking through our new city, trying to get our bearings and explore this place we now call home.

I am sure that some of you recall us speaking of the two city landmarks "Oasis 21" and The TV tower. Well, last night with the arrival of Mats (Ian's friend who is visiting family in Japan right now), we decided to venture out into the big city (remember 9 million people....)

We figured we would do the tourist thing and walk to these landmarks, and check out downtown Nagoya on a Friday night. Well, after a very confusing hour or so, we finally managed to locate with joy, the TV tower. Let me just say, it is VERY hard to read a map when you have no idea how to read the street names (we have gotten lost a number of times now). Anyways, we turn a corner, and there in the middle of a park is what looks like a giant space ship hovering above the ground, all lit up and everything. It is hard to explain but I will do my best. Imagine someone dug a hole in the group and built shops in it, but never gave it a roof. Then imagine they somehow suspend a giant oval glass plate in the air, way above the hole and where the ground starts. Then imagine that person dumping gallons of water on top of the plate to make it look like there is a river flowing on top of said plate. THEN, after all this, imagine wanding over to this hole in the ground, looking down, and seeing dinosaurs.

Yes, Dinosaurs on what is called the "Galaxy Platform".

I have no idea what is going on in this place.

Imagine some of the other floor names : Grassy Field, and Aqua Spaceship. We never saw "Grassy Fields", but Aqua Spaceship at least made some sense...it was the roof with the water. But Dinosaurs on the Galaxy Platform?

After finding this place we headed to a resaurant called the 59's, supposedly an american style 50's pub. First off, what they consider American is hilarious, and secondly, it is all VERY expensive. We stayed for only a drink, but in that time we discovered how small the world really is. Our waitress was white and english speaking, and asked us at one point where we were from. When we said London Ontario she got very excited and said she went to Western (or Kings actually). As a shot in the dark, Ian askes her if she knows a Justin Sanchez. Apparently, they were on a Soph team togeather. Yes, Justin, you officially know EVERYONE.

And as if that wasn't baffling enough, she comes back a minute later with a business card for me, and asks if I want a part time job at the bar. I'm in Nagoya 2 nights and already I'm getting job offers! I took the card, confused and not knowing what to say and we all left the bar in a daze. The rest of the night was not as exciting, although we did get pretty lost at some point. But eventually we managed to make it back home, sore and exhausted from the walk. I will hopefully have some more city shots for you soon, so keep checking up!

Boring General Website Instruction (no bum pictures here)

Hello everyone. As many have figured out, instead of posting anonymous comments you can select the option marked "Other," and you will be given a space for your name and a space for your personal website. If you enter your name without a website, your name will still appear in black at the start of your message. If you have a website and list that, your name appears in blue as a link to your page. Posting anonmyously is still fine as long as you sign your name. That helps us respond promptly and appropriately to your questions and concerns!
- The Administration
Proof that everything on the internet eventually degrades to porn: less than a week we've been gone, and what does everyone demand? Pictures of the bums. Well we don't have the bums, but here I am between the giant heads. We also have a few more pictures from our one night in Osaka.

The "circus" area that we walked through was very daunting. Everything was either a restaurant or a gambling parlour. Everything was lit up, flashing, making noises. I've never been to Vegas, but I imagine it must be like that. We ended up eating our first meal in some kind of clown. We didn't understand anything they said, but many restaurants have picture-menus, and you may just point at what you want. "Kore o kudasai" means "I'd like this, please." That's a helpful phrase. It is also helpful that many restaurants have a display case out front with very realistic plastic replicas of their dishes. We were somewhat able to determine whether restaurants contained things we wanted to eat this way.

We didn't understand anything they said at the restaurant, but we kept thanking them, and they kept smiling, and everyone was fed, so I guess we did alright.

The karaoke place had only one staff member who spoke any English, and his was very limited. We eventually negotiated an hour in a private booth, and a round of drinks.

All in all Osaka was a positive experience. Very colourful and very exciting. But also very exhausting, especially after the long day's travel.

Next up we'll have stories from our first few days in Nagoya. We now have an internet connection in our apartment, so the posting won't stop any time soon!

- Ian