Archive for the “Life” Category

Yesterday morning, my dog of 14 years finally succumbed to the lymphoma she’d been fighting for almost a year.

As Amanda said, it’s hard to believe we all watched her grow from a tiny little puppy to become an elegant old lady and pass away.

She came to Reno with me when I went to UNR and back to Vegas with me when I returned to UNLV. In 2000, she had a litter of eight puppies and was probably at least a grandmother by now.

Her last few years were spent with my mother while I’ve been here in Japan. Ellie enjoyed how busy my mom’s house is and all the people she got to meet while my mother taught music lessons.

She entertained younger siblings and parents alike, and she helped my mom’s house feel a little less empty after my brother and I both moved out of the country.

She will be sorely missed.

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My sister’s birthday is today, and my brother’s birthday is in a month. In honor of their birthdays, I’m going to post something each day between them, starting today. 😮

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Imagine, if you will, a grown man, approximately 30 years old. Now imagine him, running across a beach.

Now add an incredible downpour, take his clothes, and picture him leaping over suddenly-gouged runoff channels in the sand. Yep that’s me.

Last Saturday night I went to Imabari, a city near Matsuyama, for salsa night at a club there. They’ve recently moved; the new location was taken over from a burlesque revue (which I had no idea existed around here), so it was much bigger and brighter than the old hole-in-the-wall location and I was excited to see it.

Unfortunately, Yuko had already made plans with friends from work, so I went stag with Kevin. Manuel and a mutual friend of theirs rounded out the foursome, and Manuel drove us all in his minivan.

As the dancing was winding down, Kevin reminded me that I still hadn’t been camping on the beach, and he and Manuel both happened to have their camping gear in the car.

It seemed like a great idea at the time.

We left the club a little after 2am and stopped at a convenience store to get some supplies. By the time we finished setting up the tents around 4:30am, the sun’s first rays were just peeking over the eastern horizon, and the first small water droplets were falling pleasantly around us. In fact, I commented that the nice patter might help us sleep well for our anticipated day of fun, sun, and barbequeing.

Unfortunately, that small patter grew to a heavy drizzle, then a deluge. Manuel’s tent had not only been leaking while he slept, but it proved better at retaining water than shedding it, leaving everything inside soaked through. The tent I shared with Kevin was a little better off, we only soaked up a bit of water where Kevin’s lanky frame stretched the tent’s seams by his feet.

In the morning, Manuel was hell bent on getting off the beach as soon as possible. Because all his stuff was already soaked, it didn’t matter that he was taking down his tent in the pouring rain.

And because he was our ride, Kevin and I were faced with the difficult question of how best to keep our stuff dry while moving it from the beach to the car.

We eventually accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to let up any time soon. However, we only had the clothes on our backs, and didn’t want them to get drenched while we disassembled the tent and moved everything to the car.

Both of us being boys on an otherwise-deserted beach, we decided to strip down to our underwear and pack everything in the plastic shopping bags from the night before.

Cue wet, naked beach running.

After that, it was pretty easy. With our stuff safely in the car, Kevin and I even took a few minutes to jump in the sea. Heck, we were already naked and soaked, why not? The water was surprisingly warm compared to the cool late-summer rain falling around us, and unusually non-salty because of the downpour, but a few honks from the car reminded us not to stay too long.

Would I do it again? Probably not on purpose.
I’m glad to have the adventure, though. =)

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I normally wouldn’t post about something about as simple as a haircut. However, in the span of an hour, I recently went from having the longest hair of my entire life to having the shortest hair of my entire life.

Looking in the mirror post cut, my first thought was “What have I done!”, followed closely by “Wow, the temperature out here is suddenly tolerable,” which is why I did it in the first place.

I’ve discovered a few other gems too, like not having to use conditioner. I still use a little shampoo each day, as opposed to soap, because I don’t want my hair to dry out. And last weekend I learned how wonderful it feels to be able to put your head under a faucet on a hot day at the park.

I don’t think I’ll keep it this way, but it’s good to know my head isn’t horribly misshapen under the hair I’ve always had covering it.

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Yesterday was an interesting day. After a sleepless night of chills and sweats (which was repeated last night as well), I woke up with a fever of 37.9°C, and begged off work (and a party tonight I’d been looking forward to for months).

Yuko happened to already have a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so I went with, to see if they could fit me in. The doctor was delighted to have an opportunity to use his English, and even though he apologized multiple times for his poor skills, I had no trouble understanding him. (Doctors here all have to learn more English than the average person, I’m pretty sure it’s because medical record-keeping is all done in English.)

I noticed something other people have observed too; because Japanese doctors don’t speak English in their daily lives, they use technical terms for everything. For instance, when he wanted me to breathe in and out, he asked me to “inspire and expire,” and though the phrase isn’t as unusual in clinical settings, he also explained that he was going to “palpate [my] lymph nodes.”

He then gave me a really unpleasant flu test that involved swabbing my throat with a long flexible plastic swab designed to scrub your throat just below your tongue. After nearly throwing up on him a few times, he used the swab on what looked like a pregnancy test (the same test pictured above left with someone else’s results). Even though I didn’t test positive for influenza A or B, he suggested it was a false positive because it was still pretty early, and prescribed me a small battery of drugs, including Tamiflu.

When I went to pay for my visit and prescriptions (a total of about $35, thanks to my government-run insurance), I discovered that I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay the bill. Like most Japanese businesses, cash is all they accept. They very nicely pointed me toward the nearest Ehime Ginko ATM (there isn’t really any meaningful ATM interoperability, so you generally have to use ATMs owned by your bank), and even had me take the drugs though I hadn’t yet paid for anything.

On the upside though, it was a great day for exotic JDM Subaru spotting. On the way to the doctor’s office, I saw an early 2000s Legacy B4 Blitzen, the result of a collaboration between Porsche and Subaru. Then on the way to the ATM, I saw a (2004?) Impreza S203, basically a super souped-up factory STi.

I hope I can sleep well tonight and wake up sans-fever.

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Yuko and I just had a great Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas Eve is a big date night in Japan, even more so than Valentine’s Day as the occasion for a romantic evening.

I didn’t get the memo until it was almost too late, literally only a few days ago. By that time, it was too late to be sly about figuring out where she wanted to go and making a reservation. We ended up eating in a Japanese restaurant on top of the tallest department store in town, after I made a deal with Yuko that if she made a reservation anywhere she wanted, I’d pay for dinner.

After dinner, we went to “Betty Crocker’s,” a dessert cafe near the center of town, where they happened to have a live jazz duet performing jazz standards and jazzed up Christmas tunes. I was a little disappointed the staff wouldn’t let us sit closer because those tables were for larger parties, but I understood.

It was nice to relax in the ambiance the live music created, and if I go back it will be for the music, certainly not the paltry selection of sweets and basic coffee and teas they have.

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Last year, I attended a class that introduced foreigners to Japanese home-style cooking. We made takikomi, miso soup, an assortment of tempura, a hijiki and soybean dish, and some instant vegetable pickles (who knew there was such a thing?).

It was surprisingly fun, especially considering that my culinary experience has been rather tame. It was also neat to see how some of the dishes I’ve been eating are actually prepared.

And having worked up an appetite, we were all delighted to discover how tasty our creations came out. =)

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If you’ve known me for a while, you know that I can be a little… particular sometimes. I like clean things. I used to be a little obsessive about keeping my hands clean, but I’ve relaxed a lot over the last ten years or so.

A couple years ago, a friend told me that I’d relax my hygiene rules once I had a kid to take care of. You know, kids eat off the floor and stick their hands in the dirtiest… Anyway, Shannon Wood, this story is for you.

Friday afternoon, during a free play period for one of our younger classes (3-4 year olds), I was sitting on the floor between some girls playing with pots and dishes and a group of boys making “guns” out of plastic building blocks. Gender stereotypes aside, I was having fun playing with the kids, my participation going back and forth between the two groups.

This particular classroom has a restroom in the actual classroom, so I didn’t think too much of it when I caught a whiff of something that smelled like dirty diaper, especially because I was only a few feet from the door. As I was sitting there playing for a few minutes though, I was less and less convinced that the smell was coming from the restroom.

I asked the boy on my left if he needed to use the restroom, and he said it was the girl on my right, who also said she didn’t need to use the toilet. Slightly confused, I looked around a little more closely and discovered a small piece of poo on the floor near me about the size of a sunflower seed.

I grabbed a tissue, quickly picked it up, and asked my assistant if she knew what was up. She instantly knew which student it had come from, and took the girl I’d asked earlier into the restroom.

As it turns out, she’d messed her pants but continued playing, and it had worked its way out of her pants.

Hoping to keep the problem as contained as possible, I inspected that whole side of the classroom, but didn’t find any other untouched pieces. I did find one that had been rather effectively spread on the bottom of a plastic doctor kit next to where I was sitting. This disturbed me, because I was not interested in rolling around in some kid’s poo, whether it be on my clothing or skin.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky. I found a few strong smears along my outer left leg from when I’d been sitting with my legs crossed.

I don’t know exactly what words would describe how I felt. This was my first class of the day, and I had a parents’ observation in a few hours. But really, that was a secondary concern for me right after “I have poo stripes on my pants. I have freaking POO STRIPES on my PANTS.”

But I couldn’t just abandon my class, obviously. So I got out the hand sanitizer and cleaned up the floor as much as I could. I tried to put it out of my mind as much as I could. We had a drawing exercise we did after play time was over. And during a short break after that class, I went home as quickly as I could. (There’s one nice thing about riding a bicycle instead of driving a car- you can stand up to avoid getting poo on the seat should you need to do so.)

Disaster averted, I went back to school with clean pants.

My takeaway lesson is that I can handle the stuff like that that I know I’ll have to deal with around kids, be they mine or someone else’s.

But seriously? If you can avoid it, don’t sit in someone else’s poo.

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I know I’ve been a bit of an absent blogger lately. Work’s been kicking my butt, and I’m one of those people who falls into the “if I can’t do it perfectly, then I won’t do it at all” trap sometimes. So to combat that tendency a little bit, I’m going to throw up some information in what I know is a less-than-ideal format. That said, here’s what I’ve been up to recently:

  • I moved in with Yuko a few months ago. Her parents weren’t thrilled with the idea at first, but they’ve since come around, which brings me to my next point:
  • I met Yuko’s parents yesterday. They were supposed to come out to Matsuyama around Christmas, but her dad hurt his back. They brought a carload of stuff, including enough food to feed a small militia for a few days. Luckily, Yuko is a fantastic cook, and the veggies her mom brought are all really fresh.
  • I applied to JET for the 2009-2010 school year, and had to go to Guam in February to interview. This created a tricky timing problem. I had to tell American Language School in April if I was going to renew my contract (set to expire in July), but JET notifies participants through May (and sometimes later) if they’re hired for positions starting in August. I ended up not renewing with ALS but not getting a JET position either, which leads to my next point:
  • I started working for a different English school here in Matsuyama. I now work for Miki Study Pals (pictured at left), a school that caters to parents who can pay for their kids to become essentially bilingual. Even though the bilingual students only represent about 10% of the students at the school, they have a bit of a “halo effect”, much like the Toyota Prius makes people associate fuel economy with Toyota.
  • I mentioned that work has been kicking my ass. I’ve been tasked with designing the curriculum for the last three months of the school year (January – March) for one of my co-teaching classes, and decided to go with a music unit. So I’ve been reading a lot of lesson plans, worksheets, and exercises that teachers have put out there on the web, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the kids, who are all around ten years old, and mostly bilingual. Then I had to wrap my head around the best way to organize and present the material. My first lesson was Saturday, and it went quite well. =)

I think that’s all of the major stuff. I’ve done some traveling with Yuko recently that I should blog about. And I keep taking photographs of weird stuff with the ultimate goal of putting them up here. I’m sure I’ll figure out a way.

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Kinda sounds like some sort of parable name, doesn’t it? 🙂
Last weekend, I had my first training session for my new part time job as wedding minister. While I was at Dogo Catholic Church for that, a local singing group came to rehearse in the chapel, and when they started singing a couple of Christmas songs, I began humming along from the back room where we were working. On the way out, the wedding officiator with whom I was working stopped to tell the director that I was also a singer, and director invited me to come to what I thought was their next performance.

When I arrived back at the church last night, however, I discovered the director had invited me to a rehearsal. I was a bit surprised, but I stayed and sang for about two hours of their 3.5 hour(!) rehearsal. (Incidentally, one of the pieces they’re working on is “Hail, Holy Queen” from Sister Act, which I thought was a nice stretch.) I hadn’t realized how much I missed singing until I had the opportunity to do so. Another reason it was neat was that I was the only non-Japanese person there, and of course the rehearsal was conducted all in Japanese.

Thankfully, I understand numbers well enough to understand bar numbers, and most musical markings are in Italian, regardless of what country the music is being used in- I just had to adjust my ear to listen for highly accented versions of “diminuendo” and “staccato.” A lot of the Japanese was pretty basic, too: “<from the head>” means “from the beginning,” for instance.

Anyway, I found out the group is named “Seagulls,” and is mostly university students, but not all. Also, it isn’t associated with the church, but they rehearse there. I told the director I needed to go during a break, and he asked me to say a few words to the rest of the members about myself, at which time he invited me to join the group. Everyone seemed very welcoming, and they were eager for me to come to their performance next weekend. As a spectator, of course. 😉

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