Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Meaghan's Graduation!

Congratulations Meaghan!

Tara's sister, Meaghan, graduated from The University of Western Ontario this October. Now she can go to the book store for FUN instead of just for text books.

Two UWO alumni on the old, marble staircase of one of the university's buildings.

It was cool and rainy on the day of the graduation ceremony, but the autumn leaves still make a nice background.

What a snazzy group of kids! Meaghan must really like that hat. She has been wearing it for over a week now. Maybe she will start a new fashion trend...

Even her grandfather seems to like the new fashion!

Way to go, Meaghan!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

View of London in Early Fall

One of the best things about our new apartment is the great view. We are on the top floor, the "26th," of our building. Of course, the 26th floor is really the 25th floor, because there is no 13th floor in the building.

Here are a few photos from late September.

The building across from us is exactly the same as ours. As you can see, there are not many other buildings as tall as ours around, so the view is unobstructed.

Here you can see a church in the centre, city hall (the white building on the right), and Victoria Park is beneath the tall trees beyond the church.

Looking north over "The Forrest City".

Some of the leaves have started to change colour already. The weather has been cool, but sunny lately. We had a small amount of snow one night already. I wonder what the city will look like in winter when it is covered in snow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September Changes

After a very busy August and early September, many things have changed. Tara and I have comfortably moved into our new apartment (pictures coming soon). I have begun studying ESL teaching at college. There are 5 courses that I must complete, and it may take around 1 year to finish all of them. Meanwhile, Tara has changed her study plan...again. She is now back at our university to study anthropology - 人類学 - once more.

Both of us have found 2 part time jobs. Between school and two jobs each, we are very busy! One of our jobs is very similar to the job I had in Japan, working for Geoff. We are tutoring Korean students living in Canada. The students go to normal Canadian schools during the day, and in the evenings we go to their homes and tutor them in English. Because the students are going to Canadian schools, they need to use English every day, so it is very important for them to improve!

このバイトは本当にGeoff先生の会社に似ているらしいです。Kings'のように楽しかったら嬉しいです。今週私とタラちゃんはこの仕事を始めます。ガンバリマス !!!

Friday, August 14, 2009


I love Tara.

That's why I decided to propose to her last month before we left Japan.
I guess she likes me too because she accepted!

I proposed on July 6th, and we left Japan on July 9th. Hard to believe that it has been one month already!
Things are good.
I am very happy.

- Ian

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Firsts and Lasts

We are now down to the FINAL DAYS!

As our time here is winding down, Tara and I have been trying to enjoy Japan as much as we can. There are many things that we love about Japan that we're trying to enjoy or buy for the last time (hot springs, sushi, ramen, bentos, photo booths, etc.) . There are other Japanese experiences that we have missed out on that we are doing for the first time before leaving. One example of this is PACHINKO!

Pachinko is a gambling game invented in Nagoya (the city Tara and I first lived in when we moved to Japan). The machines are a colourful mix between pinball machines and slot machines. When we first arrived in Japan and walked around in the evenings, we thought "Wow, there are so many bright lights. The night life must be so exciting here! There's so much to do!" But it didn't take us long to realize that most of those bright lights are attatched to pachinko parlours, and pachinko parlours are full of smoking, gambling, pachinko-zombies. When you walk past the entrance of a pachinko parlour the automatic doors slide open, and your senses are instantly overwhelmed. The smell is mostly smoke, but it's mixed with the smell of despairing sweat and crushed dreams. The sound is absolutely deafening - thousands and thousands of tiny metal balls pouring down through the machines, and a myriad of electronic dings and blips and voices shouting praises and encouragements. The sights - blinding lights, smiling winking animated characters, endless rows of flashing machines, and of course...

ALL THE HAPPY PEOPLE!!! Look, they're so happy they can't even smile. Rows of people completely mesmerized by the pachinko balls.

The Pachinko Machine
The pachinko machine is mostly made of meaningless distracting cartoons on a screen, or physical moving characters (like on old pinball machines). My machine featured a bikini clad girl swimming around with sea creatures, while Tara's machine sported some characters from The Mask who called out Jim Carrey lines at random. The main goal is to land the metal ball bearings in a hole. This is done by turning the knob on the lower right side of the machine to control the speed at which the balls shoot across the top of the machine. As the balls drop down the face of the machine they bounce off an arrangement of pegs and either fall into the intended hole, or (more likely) drop into the bottom of the machine where you can watch your money rapidly roll away. The more balls that land in the correct place, the more chances you get to spin the cards (or sea creatures) on screen - this part works like a slot machine. If you line up 3 of the same symbols you enter SUPER LUCKY MODE!!! Now you must land the balls in a separate hole, and doing so wins you.... MORE BALLS!
Don't understand? That's ok, neither do I. The whole experience was very confusing.

My First Pachinko Experience
The best way to experience pachinko is to have a veteran player explain the game to you. My friend Miho's dad goes to pachinko almost every day. When we sat down at the machines he stuck a coin under the knob so that it would stay in place when turned. He also started showing me sweet spots on the machine to rub or touch in order to increase my luck. I was confused about this and tried to ask why I should push all these different points on the machine, but it's so deafeningly loud inside that the conversation just went like this: I would point to "the sweet spot" and give a confused look asking "Why?" and Miho's dad would nod and smile. This went on for about ten minutes as my first 1000 yen (roughly $12 Canadian right now) of balls rolled away into the dark abyss of the machine. Later when I asked Miho about these sweet spots ("Do they affect speed or the angle of the balls?" I guessed) she laughed and explained that they are just the superstitions of old guys who spend too much time in pachinko parlours.

I did end up being super lucky though! After having lost 1500 yen with no pay offs at all, Miho convinced me to put another 500 yen into the machine and try once more. Next thing I knew, the bikini girl was going crazy! She was swimming all over the place, and the sea creatures just kept lining up in matching sets of 3, time after time. The machine called out "SUUUUPER LUCKYYYYYYY!!!!!" and my tray of balls grew into a small mountain of balls. Actually, I ended up with 3 full trays, and when we finished a man came over with a little wheely cart to help me transport my treasure.

The pay-out system used at pachinko parlours is probably the funniest part of the whole experience. Gambling for money is When I cashed in my balls I received a ticket that could be redeemed for chocolates, snacks, or small coloured pieces of plastic containing tiny pieces of silver heart-shaped jewellery. You can't take the jewellery out of the plastic case, so why would you want such an odd prize? Because out behind the pachinko parlour there is a booth with a person who buys trinkets at different rates depending on the colour of plastic. It's an odd and hilarious loop-hole in the system - the police realize that this goes on all over the country, but for some reason they've decided to just let it continue. So, in the end I walked away with 3000 yen, after putting 2000 into the machines. It was ... interesting.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Last Two Weeks

Dr. Neoは カッコイイですね!

Here is Dr. Neo performing a traditional Hawaiian karaoke dance.

It's hard to believe, but two more weeks have passed and I only have 10 days left in Japan (this time). The past two weeks have been filled with farewells. There never seems to be enough time to spend with everyone, but it has been great catching up with people here even if only for a short time.

Tsubasa does some head banging to Ian's singing.

Tsubasa and Mami show us their moves on the sofa!

Tara has been approved by this dentist.

We even got Mrs. Neo to sing a few songs.

An amazing duet. Trust me, it was beautiful.

~ Ian ~

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's Cooking?

Ian hard at work in the kitchen... as usual.

As many of my students know, I do almost all of the cooking at home. Students love to ask me what kind of food I make, and whether or not I eat Japanese food at home. I guess the best answer is that Western food is very expensive here in Japan, so I have adapted my cooking to use Japanese ingredients. I wouldn't call it "Japanese food" exactly, but it's certainly Japanese-inspired, or Asian-fusion cooking. Because I get asked about this so often (by people in Japan and elsewhere), here you have it...

Ian's Regular Lunch and Dinner Menu  (while in Japan)

> Japanese style curry with rice = カレーライス
> Japanese style curry with udon noodles = カレーうどん
> Fried soba noodles = 焼きそば

> Cold soba noodles = ざるそば
> Cold udon noodles = ざるうどん

> Fried beef, vegetables, and egg on rice = 牛丼
> Fried rice with vegetables = チャアハン
> Spicy tofu, vegetables, and ground beef on rice = 
> Omelette on rice/stuffed with rice = オムライス
> Grilled salmon with vegetables = 焼きサーモンと野菜
> Pizza = ピザ
> Salad = サラダ


でも、おいしいかな 。。。? 私達わ後二年間ぐらいでほとんど毎日イアンの料理を食べていて、まだ生きてるから何とか大丈夫と思います。
But is it good? Well, Tara and I are still alive after a couple of years of surviving on my cooking, so I suppose it can't be that bad.

Here's one of my attempts at Canadian-Japanese Fusion Cooking. It's grilled maple salmon with rice, boiled pumpkin and spinach, and fried eggplant in miso sauce.

On a related note, Tara has been taking a few baking classes recently at the local ABC Cooking School. She has been bringing home some tasty little puddings and cakes, much to my delight. In fact, I'm quite happy to continue cooking dinner as long as these desserts keep coming my way... hint, hint...

Here's Tara's marble cake. Yes, it did taste as good as it looks.

It WAS great, Tara!
Hint, hint...


Monday, May 18, 2009

Here for a good time, not a long time.

We had been gone for around half a year when we returned to Nagoya on April 26th. In our time we visited 6 countries that neither of us had ever been to before, and spent time with our friends and families in Florida, Toronto area, and Vancouver. The most difficult part about coming back has been trying to remember how to speak Japanese! Fortunately our many good friends here have helped us comfortably get used to life in Japan again.

Friends like...

Medama no Oyaji! This little guy loves us. He seems to show up at all of our big parties.

This is Yukiko with "Tomato" (or Tomohiro). He's Japanese, but his English is great. Of course Yukiko's English is great too; she teaches at Meijo University in Nagoya!

Here I am with Colin. Hmm, I think Colin has had a couple drinks. Oh well, we'll forgive him since he's such a nice chap. Also, he gave me this crackin' party shirt!

Some of the finest English teachers in Ichonimiya and Nagoya.
From left: Dave, Yukiko, Ian, Tara, Lydia, and Angela. Many thanks to Angela for letting us use her apartment while she's in America!


So far I'm having a great time catching up with my friends and students here. Many people have been asking me how long I'll be in Japan. The answer is: I don't know exactly yet, but around 2 months. Tara and I will be returning to London, Ontario in July and going to school again in September. So for those of you in Japan, I hope we get to have some good times together for the next two months. Those of you in North America can expect me back later this summer (ready for ball hockey).


Friday, May 01, 2009

You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

The great thing about having friends all over the world is that there are always people you're looking forward to seeing when you travel, and there's always a warm welcome for you at the airport or train station.
The hard thing about having friends all over the world is that you're always saying goodbye to somebody and always missing somebody.

(The Rocky Mountains in Beautiful BC)

Since mid-February we have been catching up with family and friends all over North America, and now are catching up with our good friends here in Japan. We had 10 weeks split between Florida, London (Ontario) and Toronto, and Vancouver. We had the best comapny in all cities; saw concerts, a hockey game, parks, and ate much too much good food. I'd like to say thanks to everyone who made us feel at home again. We didn't get near as much time to spend with any of you as I'd have liked, but c'est la vie, non? For those of you that we didn't manage to meet up with this time... well, all the more stories to share next time!

(Tara tries on a hat in the Granville Island market.)

(Ian falls in love again on Granville Island. That's one big cookie!)

(Ali shows off her martial arts skills on the dock. Aside from this attack she was very helpful in showing us around town.)

(The Sea to Sky Highway connects Vancouver to Whistler on a scenic route.)

(Ian and his brother, Kevin, on the road to Whistler.)

(Aww, brotherly love.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Up in the Air

Up in the air is where we were yesterday, and where we were supposed to be on Monday.  Our flight to Vancouver was scheduled for Monday at 1PM.  At 12:41PM on Monday I checked our flight itinerary.  Needless to say, we didn't make it to Toronto airport on time, but we were able to change our flight to 1PM on Tuesday... for a fee.
On Tuesday the plans went smoothly and we landed in Vancouver where we were met by our good friend Ali (see archive photo below).

Tara and Ali rock out at karaoke during Ali's visit to Japan in 2008.

We get to spend this week enjoying the company of some friends and family in beautiful Vancouver before flying again on Saturday.  And where are we going next, you ask?  Back to Japan, I say, where we're looking forward to seeing our friends and students again!

At this point I'm sure some of you are wondering how long we'll be in Japan, and what our plans are while we're there and after that.  Unfortunately some of those details are also up in the air for now.  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Welcome to the surreal landscape of Bagan. Thousands of pagodas punctuate the skyline here on the otherwise simple terrain. This stop definitely ranks in the top 3 sites we visited on our trip through Asia (the other two being China's Great Wall and Cambodia's Angkor Wat).

There are over 4400 pagodas in the Bagan area, most of them built around 800 years ago on the orders of ambitious kings with no sense of subtlety.

Here I try to play it cool in the shade.

Kakkouii deshou?

Preferred mode of transportation: horse cart. We hired a driver to take us around to some of the best spots in old-world style.

There are more temples than we could possibly see in the few days we spent here, but that's alright because I'd love to go back for more one day.

Bagan caters to tourists much more than other cities in Myanmar. As a result we found a few good restaurants here, which was a great relief after the first two weeks in the country. Burmese food consists largely of curries that are prepared in the morning and left out ALL day. Yes, I mean left out without being refrigerated OR heated. While Burmese people have adapted so that their stomachs can handle the bacteria that builds up, most foreigners experience some "digestion discomfort" to put it nicely. I won't go into details here, but it will suffice to say that I was unable to enjoy a meal for the first 10 days of our time in Myanmar. In Bagan I was finally able to enjoy food again, another reason to smile in this city!

Let's cuddle up and watch the sunset.

You are allowed to climb up on some of the temples. From there you can enjoy an amazing view of the temples, and the perfect sunset. Oooooh, how romantic!