Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Dad's Scarf

I don’t normally show my knitting in progress to the intended recipient until it is all done, but I wasn’t sure my father would actually wear a scarf I knit for him, so I showed him the yarn before I even started and asked him a few questions. I then knit most of the scarf while we were on vacation together this summer in Hokkaido. The first time I ran out of yarn I confused the wife of our ryokan owner by asking her if there was a local yarn store. I figured that given all the delicious lamb we had been eating there should be wool available SOMEWHERE, but apparently not. I ended up having to drag dad to the nearest department store so he could help me pick out a simple contrasting yarn.

When I realized I was going to run out of yarn again, I put the project aside until I’d have enough time to go to the specialty store in western Tokyo to buy some more of the beautifully coloured brown yarn, and moved on to other projects. With the holidays approaching and the cold weather starting to hit my father’s corner of the world, I realized I’d have to get cracking on his scarf if I hoped to give it to him while I was in Canada for the holidays. Finish it I did, and in perfect timing to use my brand new blocking wires too! (While I didn’t really need blocking wires for this type of a bulky project I was THRILLED to use my Christmas present and loved loved LOVED just how easy it made the whole process!)

As for the scarf, it is a reversible cable pattern, and despite what a number of people have said about how intricate it looks, it was a mind-numbingly easy knit – 23 rows of simple 1 x 1 rib and then one row with a big and somewhat awkward cable, then 23 more rows of 1 x 1 rib… Simple and very easy to do on the move.

Dad seems happy with the finished project – he’s contemplating buying a new jacket to match and has already started muttering about wanting a toque too…

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sutaba vs the S-buck

In Japan it's Sutaba, but apparently in Prince George it is "the S-buck." Or at least that is what one teenage girl called it - although given the number of times she had to repeat it, I'm guessing that the person on the other end of her cell phone hadn't heard the new name either. But you could excuse the poor confused individual on the phone, for it is hard to keep up with the changes this town has undergone in the 15 years since my father moved here. Every single time I come back for a visit I notice a new commercial chain that has moved in. Not all last - a branch of Vancouver's best-loved bagel store lasted only a few years, and both Eddie Bauer and Thriftys have both closed their doors - but on the whole the town is expanding and commercializing at a dizzying rate. I think what surprised me the most, however, was the smart car I saw yesterday, for this has always been the land of the pick-up truck. What once was a Tim Horton's town now has three S-bucks with drive-through windows, and people are swapping their double-doubles for soy chai lattes and non-fat extra hot mint mochas.

So there I sat, drinking my toffee-nut latte and trying to work on an analysis paper for my art history class, and becoming increasingly distracted by the chatter of the staff. I listened as they talked about how tired they were, how crazy busy they had been earlier, how they had botched up drink orders (mine included), how they didn't know how to properly dispose of old coffee and might clog the sink... And I got to thinking about professionalism. It surprised me a little that the staff had no problems having these types of conversations in front of customers and at a volume level that ensured that all the customers in the store could hear them. I don't think you would be likely to overhear the same sort of thing in a Sutaba. The Japanese staff would be much less likely to have private conversations at loud levels while they were working. The level of politeness towards the customer and the level of professionalism of the employee are different.\

Of course, that means that you the customer are less likely to joke around with the barista making your drink, chat with the cashier at the grocery store, be patted on the head by your waitress at the pub, or hugged by the manager of the liquor store. Some how an overly perky "IRASHAIMASE!" just doesn't compare...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Memory Lane

I'm back in Canada at my dad's (don't even ask about the trip back - I'm not ready to talk about that yet! garrrgh!)


The house my father now lives in is one he moved into only a few years ago, long after I had moved away. The house itself may not have a long history for me, but it certainly holds one. From my maternal grandmother's gorgeous wardrobe in my bedroom, to the boxes of books I read as a child, and all the other bits and pieces that my family of packrats have kept over the years.

One of my favourite things to do when I am here is to go through old photo albums. Sometimes I look through my parents' wedding photos, or my baby albums. Other times I look through the albums I made of my summers spent working in the Canadian Rockies or of my exchange to Japan.

With the number of times I've moved, you'd think I'd be good at moving on and starting afresh. But I've always hated goodbyes, and when I start looking at old photographs the first thing that I think about is the people that are no longer in my life. The family members who are not here to share the holidays, the friends I've lost touch with, or those with whom staying in touch was just too painful or awkward or difficult for one reason or another.

It is this last group of people in particular that I've been thinking about recently. I worry (I inherited my paternal grandmother's highly developed worry gene) about them and wonder how they are, hoping that wherever they are they are happy (and that maybe, just maybe, they occasionally think about me?). Today I got a holiday email greeting from one of them - an old friend that I worried I had carelessly scared off. His message was only two lines, but just getting it at all was what mattered. It made my day.

Happy Holidays! Whatever you celebrate, why don't you pass the greetings along, you never know who's day you might make.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

"Home" for the Holidays

I'm flying to Canada tomorrow. My suitcase is just about packed and I'm trying to overcome the feeling that I'm forgetting something drastically important. I'm also madly praying to whatever deities might be able to bless my trip. I don't have very good luck with the whole going back to Canada over the holidays thing. I really don't have good luck with the whole going back to Canada over the holidays thing! For example, last year my bags didn't make it to my destination with me either going or returning and a combination of a Christmas tree crash, delayed and soaking baggage, and general lack of sleep pretty much ruined the actual day of Christmas. Add to that the fact that I had a health issue and had to undergo a minor procedure only days before leaving Japan... Not the greatest holidays. The year before I got really sick almost as soon as I arrived in Canada, and spent most of my holidays asleep on the couch.

So you can see why I'm a little nervous this time, right?

My co-workers at the museum, upon hearing I was heading to Canada for the holidays, got very worried. Very worried. I mean, I could probably have told them I was planning to swim in shark-infested with a life jacket made of raw steak, or trekking across the Arctic wearing only my bathing suit, and they wouldn't have looked more worried.

I learnt my lesson last year. I refuse to have connections through the US if I can help it. This year I'm flying on only one airline, two flights I booked at the same time and that are on the same ticket. I have a direct flight to Vancouver, and nearly 8 hours to make my connecting flight (which is not even the last flight of the day). I haven't been able to reduce the stress and lack of sleep leading up to leaving that is the likely cause for my annual health crash, but I have been taking vitamins and my favourite "Chinese green pills."

Now I just have to hope that Snowmaggedon stays in the east...

Friday, 19 December 2008

Serves Me Right



I really should have known better.


I'm taking a library services course with two other guys in my department. A number of weeks back the professor asked one of the guys to write a piece for the annual report of our university's librarian certificate program. The student in question has a background working with individuals with disabilities and spent part of the summer assisting a man with severe cerebral palsy who enrolled in the intensive summer librarian certificate program. The student was asked to write a report on his experiences over the summer and his push to start a disability services office at our university. The teacher also made some mention about asking the other student to write a piece, but nothing further was said. A week or so later, at a department party, the other student was complaining about not knowing whether he was to write something, but not wanting to ask in case he then had to and he was hoping he didn't have to.

I teased him.

I pretended to comiserate with him and then said that the only thing that was clear was that the prof hadn't asked me to write anything.


I really should have known better.

The following week in class the professor asked me to write up my presentations - on specific terminology used in definitions in Japanese law concerning museums and libraries.


I, of course, am completely unable to say no and love a challenge.

My classmate was kind enough not to laugh at me.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A Scarf for a Gentleman

I've been struggling with this scarf for a while. It started out life as two balls of left overs that I paired with a new ball of multi-coloured wool. I cast on lengthwise but I didn't get too far before I realized it was too short. I didn't want to rip out the stitches however, so I put it aside and decided to simply ignore it while I worked on something else. Finishing the other project I came back to this scarf, and decided I could pick up stitches on the two ends and add some length. I knit on for a while, but then I realized that it was just not right for the intended recipient. Again the scarf got put aside for something else as I couldn't remain motivated to work on something without a recipient. I am surprised how long it took me to realize what now seems obvious, but finally I picked it up again, deciding it was right for a good friend and one of the nicest guys I know.

I was finally able to give it to him today - and it matched both his shirt and jacket!

We first met in Vancouver a few years back, at the language exams and interviews for the Japanese government scholarship. It wasn't until a half a year after we arrived in Japan, however, that I actually got to know him. We both attended the Tokyo Canadian Club's annual Thanksgiving Dinner at the Pink Cow in Shibuya, where we discovered a shared love of hockey and the Vancouver Canucks.

In the year since, I've gotten to know him better and realized that just how genuinely nice he is. He's super patient, very generous, and a great listener (even when I stress obsessively over things). He's kind and considerate, a real gentleman. He's crazy intelligent and its incredible how much his Japanese has improved in such a short time (he took level one of the Japanese proficiency exam a few weeks back!). Most of all, he's good fun and has a great sense of humour. Oh, and he rides a motorcycle!

Now that I've embarrassed him totally I might as well add that he is single - so ladies, if you're interested just let me know and I'll see if I can set you up!

Friday, 12 December 2008

A Newfie Scarf for a Newbie

Last spring a new girl joined the part-time curatorial staff at the museum. While the curatorial staff is predominantly female, I had been the only part-time girl pretty much since I started, so I was glad to have her join the team. She is bubbly and outgoing, making friends immediately and fitting in with everybody from her first day.

Quite soon after she started she saw a scarf I had made for somebody else at the museum and, despite the fact that we didn't know each other very well, she asked me if I'd maker her one. I was rather surprised but I agreed. It took me a few months before I finally felt able to pick the right wool for her scarf, but when I did I knew it was perfect - a chunky Noro in a bright bright bright pink mixed with various other colours. I partnered the wool with a similarly textured black and had a vague idea of what I wanted to make, but I didn't have the exact pattern until my wonderful cousin (once removed) sent me a gorgeous pair of hand-knit mitts. With only one false start I had modified the mitt pattern into a scarf, and the chunky yarn knit up really quickly.

I think it suits her free-spiritedness pretty well. She seems to like it too - she squealed when she opened it and then proceeded to wear it for the entire day as she was working in the object storage space - which is climate controlled and rather chilly!

(She was concerned about how freakishly large her hands look in the photo but after doing hand size comparisons it turns out it isn't just the camera adding ten pounds - her hands ARE freakishly large!!)

Another one of those days... and singing-dancing-penguin-Christmas tree!

Yesterday it seemed like no matter what I felt like a stupid foreigner at every turn. Just little things - like the little old lady on the train who barely came up past my waist and kept glaring at me. Or the clerk at the post office who decided my Japanese skills were non-existant and so proceeded to speak to me as if I were a three-year old with hearing problems. (I had a brain fart and couldn't remember why I had walked into the post office in the first place) Or being left out of conversations all day, like the one about pop idols from the 80s.

Of course, my brain was not plugged into its langauge socket either, so everytime I tried to say anything I seemed to be searching for words which frustrated me and getting frustrated I ended up making stupid grammatical mistakes. Being largely stupid mistakes I wouldn't normally make, I noticed them and got even more frustrated with myself.


I know these days happen when you live in a foreign country and communicate in a language that is not your first. Most of the time it doesn't bother me. But when I'm under stress and exhausted... Sigh.

So I came home yesterday, after my long, exhausting day. There were two parcels waiting for me. One was a book I ordered for my thesis - which is pretty exciting (its in English instead of the German one I've been using, and no, I haven't taken German since first year of university!) But there was also a parcel from a good friend in Canada and this...

I LOVE penguins. This little guy sings, dances, and ensures that I have a Christmas tree in my room to give me a little holiday spirit... Yeah. It TOTALLY made my day.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

December Manners

December is here and while it still seems nice out when the sun shines, my apartment is getting colder and colder. Convenience stores, take-out joints, grocery stores and high-end department stores are all starting to advertise traditional New Year's food (o-sechi ryori, 御節料理) and Christmas cakes. Christmas decorations are appearing all over the place - I especially like the two storey tall Christmas tree in the lobby of the main building of my university. It has lights and decorations and is surrounded by poinsettias - very festive and makes me start singing
Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a tree at the university,
Lots in the shops as well...

Most of all, however, its bonenkai (忘年会, lit. "forget the year party") season! You know the company Christmas party that people complain about, because they are worried the boss will get drunk and hit on the interns or the new guy will climb onto the table to serenade the room? Well, Japanese bonenkai can be pretty much guaranteed to include that sort of behaviour because they will always include lots of alcohol. Lots. They often include silly games or other organized antics to make sure that even the timid will embarrass themselves.

Which is why I'm amused at Tokyo Metro's poor excuse for a December manners poster.

Seriously? "Please refrain from drunken behaviour?!" What does Tokyo Metro actually expect to achieve with this poster?

Of course, I'm not saying that I enjoy taking the train when its full of post-bonenkai-ers! Makes me want to change my tune:
Its beginning to smell a lot like Bonenkai-season,
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look at the train platform,
Glistening once again,
With salary-men who throw...

Ahem... right... Happy Holidays!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Its beginning to look like Christmas

The other day I stopped at the florist shop in the station and bought myself a poinsettia. It is sitting beside my computer and makes be very happy!

What makes me even happier is...

My dad told me to pick out some items for my new place for my Christmas present. I love making fruit and yoghurt smoothies, iced coffee drinks, and other blender drinks. Now I can do it at home! Yay!! (I'm just hoping that the fact that this is a Christmas present doesn't mean I have to wait until Christmas to start using it?!)

My basic fruit smoothie has always been frozen blueberries and frozen canned peaches with strawberry yoghurt. Blueberries (frozen or fresh) are crazy expensive in Japan, however, so I am going to have to branch out a bit. I've already got some kiwi I cut up and froze, so I'm looking forward to trying that with peaches. I know a friend who uses persimmons and ice and yoghurt but I'm not big on persimmons. Any suggestions?

Historical Periods

A few weeks back I went to a talk by a Western scholar of Japanese art history. He is doing a series of talks in English at my university. I had met him once before, when he attended a conference and gave a talk at my old university. When I was contemplating switching from history to art history he was the person I wanted to work with for my PhD. I ended up switching from history in a whole different direction, however, and felt like I was in some weird time slip at the talk.

In his talk he spoke about history and periodalization, about how different historical periods are defined, described, and delineated. To demonstrate his point he asked us when the Edo period began. The most common date is 1603, when Tokugawa Ieyasu was named shogun. But really that was just a formality, as he was acknowledged as ruler after winning the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. But, there were still challenges to his rule until the Battle(s) of Osaka in 1614-1615. As is common in Japanese history, the period is named after a city, however, so the argument could be made for starting the period in 1590, when Ieyasu became ruler of Edo and the Kanto area. The 1630s saw the solidification of many of the laws that are now seen to symbolize the Edo period and the last large armed dispute in Japan for centuries, so this could also be the said to be the start of the period. The golden period of Edo period culture and art wasn't until later, however, and is markedly different so a date of somewhere in the 1650s wouldn't be strange either. The professor then reminded all of us that such a discussion, while usefull, is fundamentally anachronistic for none of those dates would have meant anything to the Japanese at the time. The contemporary Japanese calendar was based on era names that were chosen by the emperor and could be (and were) changed regularly. Nobody in 17th century Japan would have articulated that they were living in the "Edo period."

The professor further joked that nobody woke up and said "Yesterday it was the pre-modern period. Today it is the modern period!"

It got me thinking. It occurred to me that I had first met this professor in a different period of my own life. I was in my Boston period. I'm now in my Tokyo period. There was a Pune period in between. From the historical standpoint, all three have clear start dates and, with the exception of the current one, end points. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that this periodalization represents no more than my location. It just doesn't quite satisfy. Somewhere in between then and now I changed. I can't look back and pick out one specific date when it all changed. There was no revolution or imperial restoration, there were no bloody battles, but there were losses along the way. Its been a gradual process, built on each new experience and discovery, on thousands of little things that all add up leaving me looking back as if at snapshots in a photo album...