Thursday, 17 July 2008

Paying Attention

When preparing for exams it is very important that you first get as much information about the format of the exam, length of time to write, etc. Finding out if the exam is open book is also a very good idea as it could change the way you prepare for the exam. Because while discovering that you are allowed to use your trusty electronic dictionary to write an exam in a foreign language is a very pleasant surprise (yay! yay!), realizing you've spent the past week preparing for said exam in the completely WRONG way is not so pleasant (aaaacccck!!)... Not that I would know this from personal experience, of course, I ALWAYS make sure I understand everything completely. I'm just... umm... offering advice... yeah... that's it... offering advice. Wouldn't, uh... want anybody else to make the same mistake. Yeah...

(banging head on desk...)

One exam down, one more and an oral presentation on my proposed thesis coming up tomorrow.


Who's Your Daddy Two!

I didn't get the photo in time for my father's day post, but I wanted to add it anyways...

Geoff Pearson, his wife Landon, me, and my dad

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Last Thursday

I had my last Education Thursday yesterday - well, if except for the exam next week! (eeeeeep!!) I've enjoyed this particular class and feel I've gotten a lot out of it - surpassing my expectations in both regards. With one week left of classes (including two final exams and a presentation on my thesis to the entire department - double eeeeeeeep!), I'm feeling the same way about the term in general.

My first term as a full-time graduate student at my university has sped by. I've learned tons, have gotten a good start on my thesis, and really feel like I belong. But it has been tough too. I find the more I am able to do the more I realize I am missing out on... I can follow the discussions in my graduate seminars, but depending on the subject I can find it difficult to marshal my thoughts, put them into some semblance of coherent Japanese, and then actually say them before the discussion moves on elsewhere. The weekly response sheet for my education class is similar. Class ends and I'm usually still madly taking notes. By the time I've written my name, student number, and the class info, most of the other students are handing their sheets in. The prof has very kindly told me to take my time, but I nevertheless feel rushed trying to get SOMETHING coherent down on my sheet. It never fails that I am having lunch an hour later and suddenly think - "Ah! I should have said this!!!" or "Ah! Why didn't I think of that?!!"

All this has me rather worried about the upcoming exams. I love writing, and term papers or other such assignments have always been something I've enjoyed. Exams, however, well not having to write final exams was a definite plus of grad school! And yet here I am, back in grad school but taking undergrad classes and so having to write exams - in Japanese too! Sigh. Figuring out the question, sorting through what I want to say, and then writing it out by hand (without a dictionary, of course) just takes that much longer. Especially since both exams are in areas I've never studied before - bringing with them a whole set of specialized terminology... Aaaaaaa. But I am a regular student, and I don't want to ask for special treatment, so I will simply have to study hard and then do what I can on the day of the exam.

As my grade 8 social studies (I was in French Immersion, so it was actually sciences humaines, if you want to split hairs) teacher taught me, I will get a good night of sleep the night before, read through the entire exam before I write anything, and start with the questions I know I can answer, pacing myself throughout. I certainly don't remember my grade, but many of Mme. Clarke's lessons have remained with me to this day. In the same way, I'm going to try not to stress over how well I do or don't do on the exams, but instead focus on what I've gained from these two classes.

All the same... When it comes to picking out the rest of the undergrad courses I have to take for the curatorial certificate, I'm going to do my darnedest to make sure I pick courses with final papers instead of written exams!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Drunk Men... and Knitting

I am amused sometimes by the random conversations I end up having with people in Japan. People who speak to me for no other reason than I am a foreigner. A perfect example is the conversation I had with a semi-tipsy salary man on a late train a few months back. The original conversation was in Japanese, an English recap is as follows:

STS - "Wow... You are knitting!"
me - "Yes, I am."
STS - "A scarf?"
me - "Yes, a scarf."
STS - "Wow, your Japanese is good!"
me - (all I've said is a few words buddy, don't get overexcited!) "No, not at all."
STS - "It is getting warm, you had better hurry up and knit it soon!"
me - "Yes, I should!"
STS - "Your Japanese is good!"
me - "No, not at all. You see, I'm a student."
STS - ...

STS - "So where are you from?"
me - (I knew this one was coming!) "Canada."
STS - "Your Japanese is really incredible!"
me - (this again?!) "No, not at all."
STS - ...

This conversation went on, as every few minutes STS asked me another random question (about Canadian winters, did I know how to ski, how much could I knit in one day, how did I switch colours for the stripes, etc). I would reply. He would make impressed noises and compliment my Japanese. I would do the polite Japanese thing and refute my abilities and he would lapse into impressed silence. A few minutes later he would rouse himself out of his drunken stupor and come up with another question and we'd start it all over again. The entire conversation (if you can really call it that) was amusing and I felt in no way threatened by the guy, so I had no problems chatting with him (although I made sure to give him no personal info).

Being chatted up by drunken Japanese men of any age is a somewhat common occurrence for me (and many foreign females in Japan, I am sure). Most of the time said conversation can be avoided by simply ignoring the guy and moving away. While there are likely others who would disagree with me, I have found that this tactic works well for most circumstances. It is unlikely that the guy will pursue you or cause a problem. This is not always the case, I realize, and can be a bit of an issue if you are, for example, riding a long-distance train and are unable to get off or otherwise extricate yourself from the situation. Having headphones on (even if no music is actually being played) can help with the whole ignoring thing, and if spoken to then feigning no comprehension of Japanese or English can also work (a stream of random French caused one particular guy to move off rather quickly!).

As a result I have developed a defense mechanism. When approached I tend to brush strangers off as quickly as possible. After one incident, the comments of my male foreign friend got me thinking, and after another incident, this time with female Japanese friends, I got to thinking again. I know it is a defense mechanism, and in both of these instances it helped. It got me (and my friends) out of a potentially uncomfortable situation before anything happened. The trouble is what about when the person I'm brushing off is not drunkenly trying to hit on me in non-existent English? What about when it is a friendly and somewhat lost foreigner trying to chat me up on the train? Or when it is a kindly and cute Japanese guy with excellent English offering to help a lost-looking Canadian in the supermarket dairy aisle? How and where do I find the line between ignoring the drunks and crazies on the one hand, and not being rude to people who are honestly trying to help or be kind?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

10 balls of wool

Sometimes I just have to shake my head over Japanese trust and social conditioning.

Case in point:

When I ran out of wool the other night for a project I'm working on I discovered just how easy it is to go wool shopping in Japanese internet stores. I was quite proud of myself for finding the wool and for both getting a better price than at my usual place and saving myself the train fair to boot! I woke up the next morning and had a thank-you-for-ordering-from-us email with the bank transfer info to pay for my purchase (credit cards are gaining popularity in Japan, but the bank transfer is still the preferred mode of payment for many things). By that evening I had realized that the wool was superwash (duh!) and so wouldn't felt (double duh!). I frogged the first 4 balls worth of knitting and was relieved I had yet to do the bank transfer - cancelling my order would be easy, right? Or perhaps not. Welcome to Japan, a country where they mail off your orders BEFORE THEY HAVE RECIEVED PAYMENT. Seriously. There's the trust - trusting their customers will go forth immediately and bank transfer. The social conditioning? Well... you see... I COULD package up the yarn and send it back to them, paying only for the postage. But, well, I DID order it and... Sigh. 14 balls of black superwash anybody? Anybody?

Oh, and I still have to buy replacement yarn for that felting project I'm working on... My tiny dorm room is rapidly being taken over by yarn! I must arm myself with my trusty circulars and fight back!

On guard!!

Monday, 7 July 2008


Tanabata, the Japanese Star Festival, is a story of truly star crossed lovers. The story, based on a Chinese tale, tells of Orihime (lit. "Weaving Princes", the daughter of the Sky King. She spent her days weaving beautiful cloth for her father. She grew lonely, however, and so her father arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (lit. "Cowherd Star"). The two fell in love and were married, but Hikoboshi came from the wrong side of the Milky Way, and distracted Orihime from her weaving. She in turn distracted him from his animals, and the cows ran rampant through the heavens. With no woven cloth and cows everywhere, the Sky King grew angry, forbidding his daughter from seeing her husband. Orihime was so upset, however, that she was unable to weave any cloth for her father, so he relented and allowed the young lovers to meet one night out of the year, the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. With the Milky Way still separating the couple, they have to rely on a flock of magpies to form a bridge. If the night of the 7th is rainy the magpies cannot form a bridge and Orihime and Hikoboshi are kept apart for another year.

The festival is celebrated throughout the country on July 7th, but is especially big in Sendai, in northern Japan, where it is celebrated on August 7th. Celebrations differ from place to place, but the most common/basic is to display greenery such as bamboo branches and hang them with colourful streamers and papers with wishes for the coming year.

I went to the local public bath today and, because I'm rather nosey, I read some of the wishes people had written on the paper provided and hung on the branches. The first wish that I saw read:

(I want friends who are humans)

"Wow that's depressingly sad!" I thought to myself, and looked for another one.

(I hope to be able to have sex again after three years with none)

"Wha the?! Ummm, this is a family location!" I thought to myself, and looked again, picking one in a child's handwriting.

(I hope that everybody in my family smiles)

Now that's more the usual type!

My wish if I were to write one?
(I hope again this year to be able to work towards realizing my dreams)

What about you?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Pretty yarn... and a hat too!

I picked up some blue yarn at a small shop in Tokyo a few months back, and decided it was destined to become a fun and colourful scarf for a equally fun and colourful friend. I changed the pattern a few times, but think I am fairly happy with the way it turned out in the end.

We met up at a Girl Scout event while the scarf was still on the needles and I broke my no-spoiler rule and showed it to her. I simply pulled it out of my knitting bag and held it out wordlessly. She oohed appreciatively and there was a pause... then she began to squeal and gave me a big hug as she realized the reason why I was showing her a scarf-in-progress. She fingered the scarf appreciatively, said she loved the colours and, in the very same breath, asked for a hat too! The nerve! (I actually quite like her, and did stay with her and her family this past summer, so I suppose the least I can do is knit her two things, but honestly? I had to forgo my preferred circulars for DPNS, not so train-friendly I must say!) I ended up using up the rest of the colourful blue, and adding in some navy that I had in my stash (actually it was supposed to be for another project, so I'll have to go back to the yarn store, shucks...)

She says she is now impatiently awaiting winter! (this was taken inside a dark restaurant with my cell phone, I apologize for the poor quality!)

A number of knitting blogs I've read talk about having picked out yarn online. I couldn't quite understand why somebody would buy yarn online, and was convinced that it was silly to buy yarn that you had only seen in a photograph... Then I made the mistake of following a few links... The mega-stores didn't tempt me, but while on the site of a lovely small independent yarn store called Spirit Trail, I came across a thumbnail photo of a shiny silk yarn in blues and browns and... Somehow I now have a charge on my credit card and a scarf that I think is going to end up gracing my very own neck...

I finished the scarf and decided I wanted to do something with the leftover yarn. I knew I wouldn't have enough to make a hat and was not feeling adventurous enough to try something like gloves (obviously wouldn't have had enough yarn for that either!). So I settled on making myself a headband. I found a bunch of different patterns on Ravelry, but I'm not keen on being told what to do, so I improvised something myself.

I've worn it a few times already and I'm happily discovering it can be worn with most of my closet!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008


Ummm... So I wrote "June" throughout this post, but the date corrects me, telling me it is in fact JULY! Right... So it is July. Uh huh, I knew that...

I'm in shock that it is actually June already. Perhaps that is because the school year is still going strong. After six years in North American universities with the school year wrapping up in April, I find it hard to remember that this particular school year STARTED in April. Or perhaps it is just the crazy pace at which the months have flown by. Or perhaps it is just the sheer amount of STUFF that has happened over those months...

However unlikly it may seem, however, June is here. I know this for two reasons.

1) The June "Please do it at home" poster. (Creepy guy in glasses is looking ever creepier as he appears to be an exact copy of young thoughtless music dude beside him).

2) Canada Day
Last week a Canadian friend at the same university called me to ask me what we were going to do for Canada Day. Since I had a big presentation in one of my seminar classes (ゼミ zemi) on Tuesday morning, and had to TA all afternoon, but my evening class was cancelled, I was all set to celebrate! I've enjoyed events put on by the Tokyo Canadian Club before, but this time we decided to do our own thing. The fun group of 11 turned a simple nomi-hodai (all you can drink) dinner at the yakitori restaurant into a great evening. We had a blast and by the end of the evening you wouldn't have been able to tell that many people had only known one or two others to start!

There may have only been 2 Canadians (and I'm a bit suspicious about my friend, he doesn't like hockey and could only sing the first three words to 'Oh Canada'!!), but most of the group went along with my request to wear red. They also put up with my Canadian flag tooth picks adorning their food and the Canada quiz. One of my friends trekked in from Chiba to join the festivities, having told her bewildered boss that "it's Canada Day today so I need to leave work early!" (The fact that she is Japanese, her boss is Japanese and the company is Japanese, with no connections to Canada and no knowledge of Canada makes me giggle when I imagine her poor boss' thought process as he tried to figure that one out!) Another guy had been brought along by a coworker with the remark "its Canada Day - lets go drink beer!" (Okay, so they may never have been to Canada but they have the sentiment down!)

As I was falling asleep that night I realized again just how lucky I am. I may be far away from "home" but I love my life here. In addition to school, where I feel accepted and challenged but not impossibly so, and a part-time job that is truly a dream come true, I have a wonderful and varied group of friends.

Happy Canada Day, wherever you are. (although if you happen to be in Quebec, have a poutine for me, eh?!)