Friday, January 30, 2009

Money matters...

I recently purchased and read "The Money Book: A Survival Guide for Canadians under 35" by Kevin Cork (a.k.a. "The Screaming Capitalist").

It was a pretty easy and informative read, even though it didn't really give me as much detail as I was looking for about different savings/investment options--GICs, CSBs, mutual funds, etc.

Anyway, the point it hammered home to me is that I really should've started investing my money the year after I started earning an annual income--i.e. when I was 18 years old!! And that even though I can't regain the 7 years I've wasted, I shouldn't delay but should start saving now!
"Anyone who is currently less than 35 and does not have a million saved at retirement won't have "nice" life; they'll have a "fridge-box under the bridge" life filled with dogfood." - Kevin Cork

So currently I'm looking into RRSPs (I didn't realize you could carry forward your tax deductions for RRSP contributions!!) and am trying to figure out how to best utilize the tax-free savings account I already opened with Scotia. Currently it's just a cash account, but I think it would make more sense to purchase some GICs or mutual funds for it as well...

Honestly, I would really like to find a financial advisor to help me with all this, but I guess I'll just have to muddle my through until I move back to Canada permanently.

It's pretty ridiculous when I survey my accounts and realize that I've got probably less than a third of the money that I've sent home is actually still in accounts at home--the rest has gone to paying off credit card bills, buying manga, etc. etc. Even if it's only $25/month into an RRSP, I need to start doing something to save for my future (and not just for my next trip)!

The recent car accident also made me realize that I really ought to build up an "emergency fund" here in Japan. Even if it means sending a little less home each month (painful considering how well the exchange rate is working in my favour currently), I've realized that money in the bank in Canada doesn't do me much good when I'm facing the possibility of paying a 100,000yen insurance deductible for car repairs and payday is still 3 weeks away! Sure I can get money sent back to Japan from home, but in a real emergency, I might not have the time to get the transfer set up and everything.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Haste makes waste

Subtitle: I'm a such an idiot!!

I was a little worried about making it to school on time today, so I took the turn just before the bridge on the (country) road leading to my school a little too fast. I hit a patch of ice, tried and failed to control a slide, spun around, hit the railing of the bridge, and possibly spun around again before stopping back on the proper side of the road.

In short, I had a car accident.

Thankfully there weren't any cars too close by at the time, and I had my seat belt on and the airbag didn't deploy so physically I was fine. Mentally I've been kicking myself all morning/afternoon for being such a careless idiot, but overall I'm just really thankful that the only real damage was to my car.

As Tomabechi-sensei and everyone else pointed out, it could've been worse: the river would've been very cold today!

Anyway, the first thing I did was call Kirita to tell them about the accident. They called Mukainakano-sensei for me. The mother of one of my ninensei students happened to be passing by right around the time of the accident, so she helped me place the call to JAF. When Tomabechi-sensei and Takasugi-sensei (the art/P.E./sannensei teacher) arrived, Tomabechi-sensei took over the call to JAF. The two of them stayed with me until Mukainakano-sensei came.

When Mukainakano-sensei came, she called my insurance company for me. Nagasue-sensei (a co-worker at the office) also came and advised us to call the police. The JAF truck came but we
had to wait for the police to come and look at the scene before moving the car.

The police came and took measurements and asked questions about what had happened--how fast was I going, about where did I start sliding/spinning, etc. etc. Once they were done, Mukainakano-sensei drove me to the dealership where I got my car (with the JAF truck following behind) and there we learned that we wouldn't be able to get a repair estimate until the following day.

On the advice of Nagasue-sensei, Mukainakano-sensei took me to the Higashi Hospital to get my head/neck checked out. Even though I felt totally fine, he said it was better for me to go to the hospital in case I turned out to have whiplash or something later; if I didn't go first, I might have trouble filing for any medical insurance claims related to the accident later on.

After the hospital, Mukainakano-sensei treated me to lunch before taking me home.

At home, I called my parents and emailed people to te
ll them what had happened.

So that was my first major driving accident (I don't count backing into parked cars or even getting rear-ended last year).

All in all, I have to just keep reminding myself that it could've been a lot worse. The lessons I've learned from the experience?

1) sleep early, wake up early, and leave early so you can take your time and drive carefully
2) getting the JAF (Japanese equivalent of CAA/AAA) membership was totally worthwhile
3) deciding to get car insurance that covered damage to my own car (instead of just for other people's cars, injuries, property damage, etc.) was absolutely the right choice
4) it's important to stay positive; I feel like a the biggest idiot in the world right now, but at least I've only suffered mental/emotional damage, rather than physical injury!

Oh, and as luck would have it, I had my camera with me because the ninensei had a cooking class scheduled, so I've got pictures of the damage!

(Picture 1: Where I hit the bridge. Picture 2: Car damage.)

Check out the rest (along with my comments) in my Facebook album!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Re: A job or a calling?

I was going to post a comment in response to the last two questions a friend wrote in a blog post ("A Job or a Calling?"), but then realized I had way too much to say to confine it to a comment post.

Her questions were: "Are you willing to go the extra mile in your job?" and "Can you picture a future in it? "

Probably I've talked about this before in this blog, but the sad thing I've come to realize is that, as I am now, because my answer to the former is "yes," my answer to the latter has to be "no."

And that, more than anything tells me how immature I still am.

I throw myself into things wholeheartedly and end up getting burned out because I still haven't learned how to balance all the various aspects of my life: work, relationships with friends/family, down time, etc. And I'm still selfishly lazy enough that I don't want to spend years of my life overworking so that I can learn how to make that balance.

Even though I'm passionate about education, right now I feel like it's more important for me to have a job that I can enjoy but that won't consume my life outside of my working hours. And teaching--assuming you're a teacher who cares, of course--is NOT that kind of a job.

One of the reasons (maybe not the biggest one, but a reason nonetheless) I haven't signed my re-contracting papers yet even though I'm 90% sure that I'd like to stay for a third (and likely final) year, is because I've been feeling so worn out and tired of working all the time recently. I think I can last a third year, but I'm a little worried that partway through I'm just going to burn out and stop caring about the job. And I've been so frustrated this year feeling like far too many ALTs only do what's asked of them--without even thinking of doing more--that I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I turned into one of them.

I guess what I lack is perseverance and faith in myself. People keep telling me that if I just give teaching a couple of years, I'll get better at it and start being more of the teacher I want to be, but I honestly don't think I'm capable of a) learning that fast; and b) sticking it out that long.

And because all that ed psych talk about the lasting effects of bad teaching really stuck with me, I'm not willing to subject students to my bad teaching if at the end I'm just going to give up (on a teaching career) anyway. I know, it's a completely pessimistic, defeatist attitude, but there you have it. Guess I'm just not a "yes, we can" kind of person.

When faced with the choice of regretting something I did NOT do or regretting something I did, I'm pretty sure I'd choose the former every time.

You might ask, "where is God in all this?" And, to be frank, I'm asking the same thing.

Going home and back to MCBC for Christmas really showed me just how ungrounded I've become. In "Christian-ese" we always talk about going through the valleys to reach the hilltops, but I'm feeling like I'm wandering around on a plateau in a huge crater or something--not necessarily going down, but definitely not going up anywhere either. It seems like in my time in Japan I've become more aware of my flaws, but less inclined to act to fix them.

Well, maybe that's just my current state of mind casting a feeling of languor over everything. (Actually, I really hope that's the case!)

But enough of the depressingly honest talk! I finally uploaded some photos to Facebook, so enjoy!

- Office Year End Party, Part 1
- Office Year End Party, Part 2
- Soroptomist New Year's Potluck

Thursday, January 22, 2009

When in doubt, ASK!

I'm usually pretty good about asking for clarification/confirmation when I'm not 100% sure about things, but in the few cases where I just make an assumption, it usually comes back to bite me in the behind. ^^;;

The school visitation schedule we get from our supervisor usually has non-working days (i.e. weekends and national holidays) 'x'-d out and highlighted in a different colour. So, when I saw that March 27th-31st (Friday to Tuesday) was 'x'-d out and highlighted, I thought, "Sweet! The office gave us some bonus holidays!" and made vacation plans accordingly.

I'm going to meet Steph in California (Los Angeles/Anaheim) that weekend for the Sunday Colorado @ Anaheim game!! Considering how difficult it was to find a long weekend when both of us were available AND there was a game we'd be interested in seeing, I was pretty thrilled at how perfectly it all worked out.

But talking to my supervisor recently, I learned that apparently we don't have those days off and are, in fact, expected to go into the office--meaning that if I want those days off, I need to use my vacation days (nenkyu).

ARGH!! I felt like a total idiot when I found out.

Normally it wouldn't be a big deal, except that thanks to trips home this past August and December, not to mention the school trip to Tokyo in November, I've only got five more days of nenkyu left! If I have to use it for the 27th, 30th and 31st, I'll only have two days left. But I also need to go back this summer for WAY camp. And since we don't get our next year's nenkyu until around August 4th or 5th, I'm probably going to run short!

Double ARGH!!

I never thought I'd be able to use up 20 vacation days up so quickly. That makes me really regret even the one day (two half days, actually) I spent doing moving stuff in the spring (particularly since the other ALT who moved a couple of months later didn't have to use nenkyu but was given time off to go apartment hunting).

Andy's told me that our office is pretty nice about nenkyu and isn't likely to mind if we use a little more than we actually have, but I just HATE asking for stuff like that. And even though it's not fair of me--since it's an unrelated issue--running short of nenkyu makes me feel irritated that I can't get daikyu for all the weekends I spend doing Kirita stuff.

Well, it's done, anyway. Our flights and hotel are already booked, so I'll just have to suck it up. I guess in some ways it's better that I made that wrong assumption, since if I'd known I would've planned to leave on the Saturday instead of the Friday to cut down on my nenkyu usage. But that would've made the flight more expensive and overall less worthwhile since I'd be paying all that money for only two-days away, rather than a three-day trip.

At any rate, this is the trip that Steph and I promised to make together five years ago, so even if it messes up my nenkyu planning, it'll definitely be worth it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Travel woes & why Air Canada SUCKS!

Before I get into my main topic, let me give a little bit of background:

I was scheduled to leave Narita Airport at 17:20 on December 22nd. Unfortunately, it started snowing on December 21st in/around Towada and didn't stop. So the local Towada-Misawa train that I planned to take wasn't running.

Canceled train #1. Taxi #1.

Luckily I arrived a good 20 minutes early for the expected train departure time, so when the station offered to send the people who needed to get to Misawa Station by taxi (at the same price as the regular train fare), I was there to take them up on the offer! I made it to Misawa Station in time to catch the train to Hachinohe, but the train wasn't running from Misawa Station because the snowfall had caused some tree branches or something to fall on the tracks. As a result, I had to take a taxi from Misawa Station to the Hachinohe JR Station. Unfortunately I was too shy to ask other people if they were interested in sharing a cab, so I ended up going by myself and paying for it--a little over 7000 yen, plus 200 yen for the toll road fee!

Canceled train #2. Taxi #2.

Thankfully I had no difficulty getting my Shinkansen and Narita Express tickets changed at Hachinohe Station. In fact, when I told them I'd had to take a taxi from Misawa, they refunded the train ticket from Misawa to Hachinohe (it was only 500 yen, but it was something, anyway)!

From there on it was smooth riding to Narita Airport. As it turned out, though, the flight was delayed five hours, so the one hour delay in getting to the airport ended up not making a difference at all.

Once I got to Vancouver, though, that was another story altogether. So the short version is that I bought a Tokyo-Toronto ticket with a stop in Vancouver. This usually means that you get off the plane so they can clean it and then get back on the plane with the same seat, etc. For some reason, though, they decided to boot all of the Toronto bound passengers off at Vancouver and stick us all on different flights on STANDBY. The staff at the domestic transfer gate were even confused as to why this had happened. In trying to figure out what was going on, one staff member even asked someone (presumably higher up in the Air Canada chain), "How can you justify NOT putting these people back on the plane when it's still there and going to Toronto?"

Unfortunately she didn't have the power to put us all back on the plane, so we all ended up going on standby at various times. Since there had been snowstorms across Canada in the preceeding days, several flights had been canceled before we arrived and HUNDREDS of people were on standby. I ended up spending an entire day/night in Vancouver airport and, as a result, ended up missing seeing Dirty Dancing (I was supposed to arrive on the night of the 22nd and then watch the show on the 23rd) with my brother.

And all because Air Canada decided to hijack our seats for some reason. See, I would've understood if I'd missed a connecting flight or if a connecting flight had been canceled, but it WASN'T a connection. I had a confirmed seat all the way from Tokyo to Toronto, so there's no reason why I (along with everyone else on that flight) should have been put on standby.

This is the complaint email I sent to Air Canada:
I am writing to file a complaint against the gross mismanagement of ticketing for flight AC002, which was scheduled to leave from Tokyo at 17:20, December 22nd and to arrive in Toronto at 18:25. Although the flight itinerary from booking confirmations as well as boarding passes were issued up to Toronto, when the flight stopped at Vancouver, instead of getting back onto flight AC2 or receiving a boarding pass for the next connecting flight, passengers Toronto-bound were put on STANDBY for various flights scheduled to leave several hours later.

As a result, I and at least thirty fellow AC002 passengers were forced to spend the entire day and night at the Vancouver airport, with no meal vouchers, hotel accommodations, or even explanations given. Thankfully, due to the much appreciated efforts of the Vancouver Air Canada staff, most of us, I believe, were able to catch flights to Toronto on December 23rd. While I was grateful to be home in time for Christmas Eve however, I was angry to have missed the Dirty Dancing musical that I was supposed to watch with my brother at 8pm on December 23rd.

I understand that the large snowfall combined with the Christmas season caused a lot of difficulties with the flight scheduling. However, this entire ordeal is inexcusable given that all of us had confirmed seat tickets to Toronto on a flight that—as far as we were informed—did go out Toronto. The reason most of us (AC002 passengers) were forced to spend the night at the airport is because passengers with confirmed seats are given priority, while passengers who had cancelled or missed flights went on standby. So why is it that all of the (confirmed seat) Toronto-bound AC002 passengers were not given priority for the flight for which we had paid? In essence, Air Canada hijacked our seats.

In the past year and a half, I have flown between Tokyo and Toronto on Air Canada three times prior to this incident. In fact, I have even recommended Air Canada to friends in Japan interested in visiting Canada and vice-versa. I believe that Air Canada owes the Toronto-bound passengers of the December 22nd AC002 flight a full explanation and apology, not to mention remuneration. (Given the situation, I believe that the AC002 passengers should have received meal vouchers and hotel accommodations at the very least.)

Until I receive what I feel is a satisfactory response to this complaint, I can only believe that this incident reflects Air Canada’s complete and utter disregard for customers and customer satisfaction. Moreover, I intend to dissuade friends in Canada and Japan from using Air Canada and will personally look into other airlines for the Toronto-Tokyo and other various flights I have planned for the future.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to receive a response to my complaint in the near future.

And this is the completely unsatisfactory reply I received from Air Canada:

Thank you for choosing Air Canada and for taking the time to write to us. We know that the holidays are a special time of year and that travel during this period carries special meaning as families and friends unite.

As you know, Mother Nature was not very cooperative this year and we experienced severe weather conditions all across Canada. While trying to transport more than 100,000 passengers each day, we did our best to operate as many flights as possible. Nevertheless, we recognize we disappointed many customers and, for that, we offer our sincere regret and our heartfelt apologies.

Customers have told us that we could have done much better in taking care of their needs while they were in our care. Our employees, both the frontline and behind the scenes, worked very hard but we certainly agree that we could and should have provided better customer service. We would like to let you know that we are reviewing the feedback received by our customers and employees to look for ways to improve our service when our operation is challenged.

Although we normally do not offer compensation or reimbursement of expenses for the situation you mentioned, as a gesture of goodwill and concern we are pleased to offer you a one time saving of 25% off of the base fare on a future booking on It is our hope that you will take advantage of this offer and fly with us again to one of our many worldwide destinations.

Simply make your booking between January 13, 2009 and January 12, 2010. All travel must be completed by January 12, 2010.

To receive your 25% discount, enter the one time use Promotion Code ******** in the Promotion Code box on when you make your booking. This offer is available on a new booking only and applies to a maximum of four passengers, provided all passengers are booked at the same time, for the same dates and destinations.

The 25% discount applies exclusively on Air Canada published fares and cannot be combined with any other discount or used for a Flight Passes or Multi-city purchase. Please note the fare displayed on the Select Flights screen will reflect the 25% discount rounded to the nearest dollar.

If you have any unused transportation on your Air Canada ticket, please contact our Refund Services Department with your ticket number or travel details at

Thank you again for contacting us and all the best for 2009!

Customer Relations

And the follow up message I sent:

Thank you for your response, but I would still like to know what exactly happened. I could understand if our flight had been canceled due to the weather, but that wasn't the case. I'm angry because, as far as I know, the plane that all of us were supposed to be on went to Toronto with other passengers in OUR SEATS. And I think I have a right to know WHY that happened and what action is being taken to prevent that from happening again.

So again, WHY did flight AC002 drop its passengers off in Vancouver and fly onto Toronto with others in our places?

(Note that it's considerably shorter and the tone is more irate.)

You know
, I'm usually a "whatever" and shrug it off kind of person, but I feel strongly enough about the injustice of what happened to all of us that I'm not going to let go of the issue until I receive what I feel is a satisfactory response to my complaint from Air Canada. If I don't get a satisfactory reply to my follow-up message, I'm going to file a complaint through the Canadian Transport Agency. If that fails, I'll look into taking legal action against Air Canada.

It's a matter of principle: I refuse to allow Air Canada to blame the weather for an act of mismanagement/incompetence.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Getting old

I'm still lucky enough to not suffer from jet lag, but I am tired from all of the traveling (and waiting in airports, train stations, etc.) that I've done recently.

There's a lot for me to write about, but right now I'm so tired I just want to curl up with a book before falling asleep. (Coming back and jumping right into preparations for an elementary English teaching conference--it was today!--probably didn't help.)

Look for some actual updates later. Hopefully.