Sunday, February 21, 2010

Clearly Canadian

As Lee Eun-Byul's name was announced at the beginning of a women's 1500m speed skating semifinals event, the camera panned over the crowd and there was a family all wearing Team Canada jerseys while excitedly waving a giant Korean flag!!


"Only Canadians" I thought with a sigh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Next year...


It's a good thing I'm staying in Japan for another year because I just found out about the Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival (弘前城雪燈籠まつり) which was going on from Feb. 11-14. =(

Next year for sure!!!

Oh well, at least I managed to finally go to the Lake Towada Winter Story Festival (十和田湖冬物語) on Wednesday night (Feb. 10).

The fireworks were really lovely and the bar in the kamakura (kind of like igloos) was pretty cool. (No pun intended.) Apparently you can pay just 500 yen for all you can drink wine or something, but since I'm pretty much a non-drinker, I wasn't able to take advantage of that.

You can see the rest of the pictures in my Facebook album: (Although I didn't take many because 1) I was more concerned with enjoying it than documenting it, and 2) my hands were kind of cold. =P)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

すっきりした! (Refreshed!)



So yes, after growing it out for about four years, I finally cut my hair on Friday!! It was SO refreshing ! And I mailed the chopped off hair to the Japan Hair Donation & Charity in Osaka on Monday. (The organization was apparently inspired by "Locks of Love" in the US/Canada whose purpose is to "provide hair pieces to financially disadvantaged children . . . suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis" (for example, undergoing cancer treatments).

The minimum hair donation length for the Japan Hair Donation & Charity is 31cm, but I think I actually chopped off roughly 75cm and sent in about 60cm. I didn't measure it exactly, but the braid was pretty close to the length of my kotatsu table (75cm), so I think 60cm is a good estimate--and probably another 10-15cm ended up on the hair salon floor.

I'd actually been wanting to chop my hair off to donate for a while, but since I've been a "night shower" person since coming to Japan, I thought I'd wait until I moved back to Canada (where I'm a "morning shower" person) before cutting it. But after deciding to re-contract for another year, I figured I couldn't wait any longer. Plus I've been feeling more and more sluggish in the mornings (probably because lately I've been sleeping between 1am-3am) so I felt like I needed some incentive to go to bed and wake up earlier. 

(Basically having short hair means that I need to shower and spend a fair bit of time styling my hair in the morning--particularly with this new do. Consequently, since getting my hair cut I've been giving myself an extra hour or so to get ready in the morning. And in order to wake up earlier, I've also been sleeping earlier--around 12am. Vanity is a pretty strong motivator for me, apparently. =P)

Actually, the "new do" you see in the picture was a multi-step process. First I went in for a hair cut Friday evening. And there's actually a bit of a story to that, too...

See, I'd been planning since the previous week to go in around 4:30pm on Friday (I'd even gotten a recommendation for a good place to go from my stylish friend S). But after school on Friday, I got a call (~3pm) from my supervisor asking if I'd be willing to do an interview for a paper that has a regular column introducing ALTs in the area. So I ended up driving to Kirita and doing the interview.

The interview didn't take that long, but my kocho-sensei (school principal) kept the reporter afterward to talk with him about our school so I didn't feel like I could leave until he (kocho-sensei) had re-emerged from his office. That was around 5pm @_@ (We've got a special English program so only 1/3 of the students are from local elementary schools while the remaining 2/3 apply to come from other schools around Towada, so I guess he was hoping to drum up some extra publicity for the school.)

Even rushing home (still driving carefully, of course!) and washing my hair as quickly as I could, I didn't make it to the hair cutting place until right around 6pm. I felt a bit bad since closing time was 7pm (and not 8pm as I had thought), but after eagerly anticipating it for so long, I didn't want to postpone the hair cut even for just one night.

So once I was there, I explained that I wanted to take my hair home in a ponytail to donate. I was worried that they'd think I was really strange (it seems like most people I've talked to don't know about hair donations), but they understood what I wanted right away and didn't seem to think anything of it, so I guess they've done it before?

While my hair was getting chopped off, I looked through some magazines to try to figure out what type of cut I wanted. In fact I'd bought a couple of hair magazines featuring short/bob cuts shortly after deciding I'd cut my hair, but hadn't managed to find anything that I really liked. Thankfully I was able to find a style that I *did* like (and felt could work with my hair) fairly quickly.

After cutting my hair, the stylist offered to curl it for me so it would look more like what had been pictured in the magazine.

Seeing how it looked curled compared to when it was just cut, I thought maybe I should get it permed after all. (The magazine suggested a perm as well as a cut, and T-san at Kirita had also suggested that getting one would give my hair more volume, but I'm not a huge fan of putting lots of chemicals in my hair, so I resisted the idea.) Anyway, I asked the stylist whether getting a perm would enable me to have hair that looked like the hair I had at the moment, and she was like, "Well, if you get a perm and use some mousse or something, you can." Although I wasn't 100% committed to getting a perm yet, I did say as I was leaving that I would probably be back the next day.

After washing and blow-drying my hair the next morning, I realized that I really did need to get it permed--otherwise it would just be too flat and boring (although it was a nice cut).

So back I went to the hair place (Address in Towada Jusco, if you're interested...) for the second stage of my hair evolution. Thankfully the stylist who had cut my hair was there and available, so I didn't need to explain what I wanted to have done. And a 1.5-2hr later I walked out with a nice and natural looking perm. ^_^

The stylist at Address was really nice and friendly. (I recommend the place if you want to get your hair cut!) My friend S had tried to make an appointment for me (they don't make them for just regular haircuts, apparently) so she told them at that time that "an English teacher who speaks Japanese well" would probably be coming in. Anyway, since it was pretty clear from our conversation that I had never had a perm before and didn't really use any hair products, the stylist kindly explained to me how I could style my hair by myself. Her explanation was evidently pretty good, because I managed to get my hair looking pretty decent the next morning!

Oh, and a nice thing they did was, since I had just gotten my hair cut the day before, instead of charging me the regular (full) price for a perm, they calculated the cost as if I'd gotten a cut & perm. ^__^ So I used the money I saved to buy the wax and spray wax that the stylist had used when doing my hair. (I would've bought the stuff from the salon regardless because it was more convenient than trying to figure out what to use on my own, but anyway...)

So there you have it: the chronicles of my hair.

Oh, and just for the heck of it, these are pictures from the first time I decided to donate my hair way back in 2000. (I gave it to Angel Hair for Kids.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I have a bad habit of giving too much information to students when they ask me personal questions.

Recently, I was at an elementary school and talking with some 6th grade girls during lunch break. Since it was at a school and with a grade I've taught regularly this past year, they felt comfortable enough to ask more than the usual "Do you have a boyfriend?" question.

For example, they asked about if I'd had been hugged by a guy before, kissed before, when my first kiss was, whether I was living with anyone, if I had plans for marriage in the near future, and the kicker: if I'd ever had sex. @_@;;

I was so surprised by the last question I simply blurted out the truth: an appalled "NO!" (したことないよ!). It's not that I'm a prude or anything (or so I hope), but it's just that I was shocked that sixth graders would even ask such a question.

Since my answer was "no", I don't think it was such a problem that I answered them honestly, but still, I immediately realized that I shouldn't have answered that question at all and probably many of the earlier ones as well. ("Give an inch and they'll take a mile," right?) I mean, it wasn't a big deal to me, but I don't want them getting the mistaken impression it's OK to ask ALTs overly personal (失礼な) questions simply because we're ALTs. It's a matter of maintaining boundaries.

Part of the problem for me is that I feel like the line between "teacher" and "playmate" is quite blurred for ALTs. And because the line is blurred, I tend to treat my students here more like "my WAY kids"--the teens in the church youth group where I served as a counselor--than like the students I taught when I was working as a teacher in Mississauga.

I mean, part of the role of a youth group counselor is to be open about your life with the kids so they can see how God is working in it. And I think the kids get more out of our interactions with them when they feel like they know us and vice-versa. Conversely, in my first (and only) semester working as a teacher at a high school, I was very conscious of maintaining a professional distance and made it a point not to share much personal information because I knew it would be easy to fall into the trap of trying to be "friends" with my students...

Another thing that put me off my guard, I guess, was that I was with elementary students. It's probably not a very accurate image, but I feel like with the ES kids it's more "innocent" curiosity so I don't think twice about answering questions that I probably wouldn't answer coming from JHS students. [Ah, that reminds me, one of the girls asked me "What does it feel like to "like" someone?" which I thought was really cute. But I digress...]

Anyway, apart from recognizing that I need to be a bit more vigilant in establishing/maintaining personal/professional boundaries with students, the conversation also made me realize that growing up in a Christian environment and being a Christian really does actually set you apart from the prevailing culture.

To me it's quite natural to think that sex is something to be saved for marriage. But when I stop and think about it, that's really quite an uncommon value/ideal/belief to hold in today's society.

It's really a shame that I didn't think to say something about that to the students when I answered their question. I would've liked to have at least made them aware that some people actually choose to remain and/or believe in staying chaste until marriage--and that it's not necessarily just something resulting from a lack of interest/opportunity.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A graceful woman

Found this through Ceci's Xanga:

A great scene of modern grace on '30 Rock' the other day:

Liz and Jack went out to dinner at a very chic restaurant. As they sat down at the table, Jack immediately moved the candle from the center of the setting to the side of the table. Liz looked at him kinda funny, not understanding why he did that but, not really caring either. Later, however, when Liz reached across the table to steal some of Jack's food (as she always does), she realized he moved the candle so her sleeve wouldn't catch fire when she reached across the table. Jack's manner and grace were so attuned to her as a friend, that he knew her moves before she did. That tiny gesture ended up becoming the pivotal moment of the episode and changed the course of their business relationship.

"A Graceful Man, A Gentleman." [Weblog entry.] The Sartorialist. 2 Feb. 2010. (

The whole post isn't very long, so I recommend that you follow the link and read it for yourself!

Reading that blog entry made me want to become more of a "graceful" woman.

One of the things I've always admired most about my mother is how since I was a child she has always been able to find/get me the best presents. And it's not just because I got things I really wanted! What I truly appreciated was knowing that she was able to find the "right" gifts for me because my mom really paid attention to my interests/likes/dislikes.

And it wasn't just related to gifts. Growing up we always had both orange and apple juice in our fridge because Nathan liked orange juice, but I preferred apple (I was OK with stuff like Sunny D, but I wasn't a fan of anything that had pulp and/or tasted like real oranges). And even now when I go back home for visits, my parents always have boxes of Cheerios ready for me to take back to Japan, and they always ask if I want to go out for steak.

Of course when you live with people for over 20 years it's only natural that you would figure out their preferences/habits and vice-versa, but simply having the information doesn't necessarily mean that you'll do anything with it, so...

In short, I want to show that kind of consideration to the people around me, too. I want to pay more attention to the (spoken & unspoken) needs/preferences of the people around me.

Monday, February 1, 2010

??? months left...

Some regular/astute readers may have noticed that I didn't start off this year (i.e. January) with my usual "# months left..." post.

And this is the reason why:

Yes, I changed my mind about moving back to Canada in August of this year.

I actually started seriously thinking about staying in Japan when I found out that I wouldn't have to pay anything for the repairs from my car accident and that my monthly insurances premiums wouldn't go up.

I couldn't/wouldn't say anything about the change in my thinking, though, until I'd spoken with my parents about it. So pretty much the first night that I was back home during the Christmas holidays I asked my parents how they would feel if I wanted to stay for another year.

Being the awesome supportive parents that they are, they encouraged me to make the re-contracting decision for myself, without worrying about them.

Suddenly freed from the "I have to go back to Canada" mindset, I spent the past month or so since that discussion endlessly debating with myself about the matter and soliciting advice from many many friends.

I think that in the back of my mind I knew that I'd pretty much made the decision once I asked my parents for their "permission", but for various reasons (which I won't get into here) I was afraid to change my (October) decision and commit to staying in Japan. (I actually purchased an electric oven--to make baking cookies for my students more time efficient--on Sun. Jan. 24th without even thinking about it, so I guess I'd already subconsciously decided by that point, even though I was still consciously doubting my own judgment.)

And even thought I recognize that I was being a little self-indulgent in playing "the conflicted heroine" for so long, I think I really did need that time to hash everything out in my mind and to make certain that this was what I really wanted to do.

Now that I've made the decision, though, I've also committed to not regretting it, no matter what happens in my fourth year.

As well, I've made a couple of personal resolutions for the rest of my third year and/or the duration of my fourth:

- I will find a church to attend at least once a month, if not every week
- I will try to cook a proper meal at least once a week
- I will call home at least once a month
- I will write the JLPT this year (probably only level 3, though, because I don't want to spend that much time studying)

Food & memory

Inspired by Vicki. ^_^

Hot green tea: Long conversations shared sitting under the kotatsu table  
Smarties: Struggling to stay awake during Mr. Davis's Ancient Civilizations class 
Lai-cha & bubble tea: Hanging out on Fridays after fellowship 
Warm tea biscuits: Family celebrations at Red Lobster 
White hot chocolate: Second Cup study sessions with Steph & Howard 
Eggs benedict: Breakfast with the girls 
Congee with minced pork and bak hu: Being taken care of when sick 
Timmie's Ice Caps: Summers working at Scotia 
Profiteroles: Chubby Bunny at WAY Summer Camp (Profigeroles! What?! ProFIGeroles! WHAT?!) 
Giant cream puffs: Kirita School Festivals  
Sweet potato "sticks": Matsuri (Japanese festivals) 
Hot tea with honey: Small group meetings at Vicki's during the winter 
Firm Jello: Hockey Night in Canada parties with Steph and the guys 
Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting: Visits to the Hockey Hall of Fame 
Cold veggie subs: Helping with school lunch sales at Dolphin  
Toblerone: Fellowship (Swiss Chalet) Christmas dinners and one very bad day after the sleepover with Nate, David and Sandra 
Mint chocolate chip ice cream: Childhood birthday parties
Mango shakes: Lunch at pho after church

Please share yours, too!