Tuesday, July 31, 2007

frantic farewells

Sojourner's Highlight: Time won't stop on account of your departure; neither will life become less hectic for you or your friends.

My departure imminent, I spend two days running around Vancouver Island, trying to spend some quality time with my sister. Of course, she's got a million things going on - what with buying a house and all - so she's preoccupied as heck. Then when the tire on her car suddenly needs to be replaced, our final quality time is actually interrupted and ended as she heads to Canadian Tire, and my mother and I head to wait in BC'S Famous Ferry Line-Up.

I guess all I'm saying is the fact that you (ie me) are leaving does not make other people's lives instantly quiet down; they can't drop everything to spend time with you and focus on your upcoming adventure.

Likewise, even if you take a month off work, and commit to spending large amounts of time in relaxation and contemplation, you will still be rushed and frantic a lot of the time as you prepare for your journey. Life has been awesome, very enjoyable, this last month off from work, but it hasn't been slow.

I think the upcoming week provides me a chance to see all the people I want to see; in fact, tears began falling already in some of the preliminary goodbyes. I tried my best, and my friend and I managed to agree to save our tears for the actual last visit together, which will occur as close to Saturday as possible. Hopefully without sounding callous, I've discovered that the closer you are to people, the later you say goodbye to them. Acquaintances might bid you farewell for a week or two in passing. Friends you'll probably see around a week before. Close friends rate a good two days previous. Family and or significant other, of course, deserve both the evening before and the day of - saying goodbye at the last possible minute, at the airport.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

the preliminary goodbye begins

Sojourner's Highlight: Plan time for farewell's and snailmail.

Every hour counts!

I'm trying to find time to finish off my last minute shopping (still don't have nice clothes for work, or a nice formal suit, or a gift for my supervisor when I get there) and frantically trying to schedule in meetings with friends and family. Life has a way of keeping people busy, but there's no simply putting off that beer or coffee or walk or chat when there's only ONE WEEK LEFT! When a dear friend rainchecked last night, we both nearly started panicking because we might not be able to find any time to meet before I go.

It's doubly hard to be motivated to finish my runaround errands because I'm so relaxed after my hiking trip, and I'm so confident that everything will work out that it seems I almost expect everything to wrap itself up (which it won't).

I also didn't realise how close I cut it with a couple things:
My car - just lucky my friend is interested, because clearly two weeks of advertising was not enough to sell it.
My driver's licence - had to renew, and should just barely get it in the mail in time before I go, and in time to get my international license.
My camera - just got in the mail, but if anything had happened at the factory or the border to delay, I simply might not have got it in time.
My laptop - my dad just discovered a problem with the new-to-me laptop he's giving me, because I didn't pester him sooner to hurry up and prepare it for me. It was easy for him to fix, but if we'd waited any longer, it might have been discovered by computer-illiterate me.

I'm not too mad at myself, because I've stayed fairly composed so far, and I do think I'll be able to get it all done in time. It is DEFINITELY frantic right now trying to squeeze people in or fit around their schedule's.

By the way, I am quite in nonromantic love with my new camera, and I haven't even given the price a second thought since I turned it on and started taking pictures.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

soaking wet and it's suddenly soon

Sojourner's Highlight: Plan a Distraction Vacation

Well, I survived.

[Next three paragraphs describe my backpacking camping trip.]
I just returned today from the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on Vancouver Island. All told, we hiked about 50km's in 5 days, with about 50 pounds on our backs. After weeks and weeks of sun, this weekend poured record amounts of rainfall on the Juan de Fuca trail, concentrated especially in the 500 square metres above our heads. My friend had the flu so bad that she puked, couldn't sleep, couldn't really eat, and for a day or two could hardly walk. We were hiking on slippery rocks, logs, leaves, and as often as not mud as deep as our ankles - or sometimes our KNEES! Rainy logging roads meant the shuttle that was supposed to pick us up was late, and suddenly we had to stay the night in a hotel because we missed the last Ferry back to Vancouver.

The good news is that, somehow, I had an awesome time. My friend was amazingly determined and spirited considering the mud up to her thighs, rain the tent could barely keep out, and the vomit in the sand next to the tent. And I'm simply not going to mention the mosquitos, because then I'll start itching again. We were well prepared in terms of equipment, so I guess our guidebook "Giant Cedars, White Sands" worked well.

It was a personal challenge to not only make the distance, but to keep a smile on (almost) the whole trip despite the dampening circumstances. The trip was a success, and I look forward to more in the future.

What's really nice is that I haven't been stressed about Japan for over a week now! Planning for this hike helped distract me (as well as my funds, for better or worse) from J-Spot prep and stress, and I couldn't spare a thought for Japan the entire time we were out in the rainy woods. So, I recommend planning a small Distraction Vacation before embarking upon a long journey or far reaching adventure.

Of course, suddenly the J-Spot is a mere TEN DAYS away. No matter what you do, something like that will sneak up on you with lightning speed; if you go away for a week, it comes even faster!

What have I accomplished since my last post?
-Ordered camera online (should arrive soon, with a kick ass wide angle through telefoto lens)
-might sell my car to a friend, which is what I wanted in the first place (because she (the car) will be treated better that way)
-Got my mom to buy some clothes for me (some even have name brands on the tags and, for a change, NONE have been worn before by brothers or Sally Ann others)
-Bought a few random articles for gifts and novelties when I get to Japan (Canadian stickers, playing cards, pens)

What have I NOT accomplished?
-HAVEN'T been practicing my japanese language (Nihongo) books, at all. I have been reading two 'historical fiction' novels (both probably stretching the strictest parameters of that genre label): Gai-Jin by James Clavell, and Harpoon by C.W. Nichols.
-HAVEN'T finished buying all my clothes, including a suit and some work clothes.
-HAVEN'T researched any more into Sapporo's history, or climate, or any random info that might be interesting or useful once I get there.
-HAVEN'T started practising eating Japanese food.
-HAVEN'T finished getting gifts, souvenirs, gimmicks, teaching aids, etc.
-HAVEN'T thought anymore about how I'm going to pack, when the flight is, etc.

I couldn't give you a whole list of what I haven't done!
But now I must go fold clothes that, after two washes with extra rinses and extra soap, hopefully, but not likely, no longer stink like sweat and detritus.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

stressed but blessed

Sojourner's Highlight: Research and rethink to avoid returning important purchases (ex camera)

To add to my last post:

I undid what I did, that is, I decided to unmake the decision that I didn't really make when I bought both an SLR and a compact camera. I took them both back. I'm going to buy the same Nikon from a site called digicombo.com - sounds sketchy, I know - because it comes with way more stuff for the same price. I might just hold off on a compact to save that bit of extra dough. Or I might go down and buy a waterproof one, which would be even more expensive. See, the new Olympos is waterproof up to 30 feet and shockproof up to five!!!!! How can one resist? (Again, not getting paid for product placement, but if anybody wants to pay me for some, I can use every dollar...)

Despite my self-indoctrination in karmic financial philosophy, I have definitely been getting more and more stressed about money concerns, and the big camera bill jumped my stress levels even higher.

For years now I've tried to be independent in terms of financing my life (besides not paying rent... and not paying for food...ah hem), but I may have to accept a bit of generosity from my extremely devoted parents. The good news is that I'll have great camping gear, great camera gear, a laptop, and some nice clothes, which will just have to last me the next 5 years because I'll have no savings, no investments, and probably just enough income to survive:)

Some other things that aren't all peachy in J-Spot prepland:

First, I tried Chapter One in the language textbook sent to us from the JET Programme. I've been working through another language book a little bit, and somewhat enjoying it, so I thought I'd try the JET book as well.
After five minutes, I slammed the book down in frustration and stormed out of my room thinking that I'll never learn a word of Japanese. The accompanying CD has people speaking Japanese, and you're supposed to fill in the blanks, pretty simple, you know. But I couldn't catch a single word, let alone fill in any blanks.

I've also started stressing about how little time I have left, for several reasons.
Most importantly, I won't get to see all the friends/family/random people I wanted to visit with before I go, because some aren't even in the city.

Randomly, I won't get to participate in my roller hockey play-off finals because they occur the week I leave.

I'm stressed because I still have stuff I want to buy, for my Juan de Fuca trip in three days, as well as for Japan. AND I am having trouble dealing with my car, which I've tried selling and giving away.

I've started (probably prematurely)stressing about how little baggage we can take on the plane, and just what exactly I will take with me.

Most generally, I can't believe I am leaving Vancouver when it is so incredibly beautiful, day after day after day. The people, the landscape, the cityscape: it all shines with vibrant beauty and glows with youthful exuberence. I love Vancouver in the summer - it's the reward for surviving the TEN dreary rain-filled months.

On a more positive note:
Another thing I wanted to expand on from my last post: my rent. I'm not sure I conveyed just how excited I am to be renting an apartment in Sapporo, Japan, for the more than reasonable price of $300. Even if it did turn out to be a 5 feet by 5 feet cubby hole, I wouldn't care! I need to say (and remind myself) how fortunate I am to have this opportunity. I am very grateful for the JET programme (flying me to Japan), and to the Sapporo Board of Education (helping to pay for me to LIVE in Japan). I'm not trying to score brownie points with these organisations, because I doubt they'll ever read this blog. Like I said, though, I feel like life and the world are treating me very well right now; I simply don't want to take it for granted. Even having parents kind enough and able to help me out is certainly a cause for great appreciation.

I'm agnostic at best, so I have no deity to whom I should send my praise. Maybe my karmic autoindoctrination is paying off, because I want to send a big "Thanks!" out into the world in general.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Money news: Good and Bad

Sojourner's Highlight: Expect the ensuing panic, but accept the inevitability of spending

I shouldn't let money be my only concern, as even if I do end up a little bit poor, the experiences of preparing myself for Japan and actually living in a new place will definitely be worth it.

The last few months, I've been living what is, for me, a fairly expensive lifestyle, probably living beyond my means, really. I'm not going to lie: I've enjoyed it. Going out lots, doing fun stuff like camping and whatnot, on top of spending muchos for the Juan de Fuca Trail and with more yet to be spent for Japan.

I've tried to let a karmic philosophy endow this spending with virtue and ease my worries. Money is like positive energy that I send out into the world, when I spend on myself or on others. If I don't cling possessively to it, the energy/money will circulate and, in times of need, return. On top of that, my father always taught me that you need to seek the lifestyle you want to live, and then find a way to work towards (affording) that lifestyle. This instead of simply letting your current bank account totals dictate the lifestyle you will adopt. Everything has been working out really well for me the last few months, and consequently I have a lot of trust in the world/fate at this moment.

For example, my friend and I wanted to head to the U.S.A. to camp for a night, but she didn't have her passport or other suitable documents. We decided to stay in country, and camp in Hope. However, in the morning, in the five minutes I was at her house to pick her up, about 30 seconds before we drove away, a mailman walked up to the car and said he had a package to deliver. It was her passport! We had a nice night down in Point Roberts, Washington, USA.

With coincidences like this, I hope, I believe, that my finances will all work out OK.

With that said, there is good news, and there is bad news.

BAD NEWS: I finally made a decision about cameras, or, rather, I DIDN'T make a decision. I wanted a Digitial SLR for quality and a compact DigiCam for convenience and rather than choose... I simply bought both. The result was a $1400 bill at Future Shop that got me all the accessories I need to head to the J-Spot tomorrow and start merrily clicking away. Even though I spent Waaayyyy too much, at least I'm doing J-Spot prep, right?

I was very happy playing around with my Nikon D40x yesterday evening (by the way, I'm not getting money for product placement, I swear). I also toyed around with my Pentax Optio M30 - who new such a tiny camera could be 7 megapixels! Truthfully, a tiny camera with 7mps would take very high quality pictures, and I really don't need the 10mp Nikon SLR... but 'need' is such a complex term.

And, of course, I woke up this morning freaking out because I spent a quarter of my puny savings on appareils photo (Ha - the direct translation of 'Digital camera' is actually 'appareil numerique': Caitie, you better read this posting!) That Nikon camera means less doing other activities, though hopefully nothing so dire as less eating. Does photography really take up a quarter of my life, to deserve a quarter of all my energies employed toward saving money? Probably not. Hmmm. 15 day return policy, but I already love the camera.

GOOD NEWS: I finally found out my rent. With a partial subsidy, the rent works out to around 30,000 yen, or say $270 canadian. I'm not 100% sure whether that includes utilities or not. The appartment sounds nice, and I'm quite happy with that rent. Oh, and it's actually big enough for two people (I think), so if you're coming to Sapporo, and you're not a weirdo, and especially if you know how to cook well, come stay with me!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

home is where you cook your breakfast...

Sojourner's Highlight: Set your expectations high but remember: You CHOOSE to need to buy.

Yup, I know the address of my apartment in Sapporo and I finally got emailed from its previous tenant (JET is great for hooking you up with former participants to learn from their experiences). Apparently, it is plenty spacious for one individual, and has the requisite fixtures: a stove, a washer, a microwave, even a TV - though I wasn't so concerned about the last.

I've already received quite a few emails from former ALT's (assistant language teachers )trying to lighten their material loads and sell off their possessions that won't fit in a suitcase. I've decided to basically wait till I get to Japan and see what appliances/etc I have a serious need for. So far, I've been sorely tempted by a coffee maker, a snowboard, and a really cool futon/bed.

I don't actually snowboard, or ski, despite having grown up on a ski hill. However, Sapporo is surrounded by skihills (from the sound of it), so I thought maybe I could try and become a little more adventurous and alpine inclined. If I don't have the energy, opportunity, or funds to get involved with the speedier of those pursuits, I thought maybe I could get into snowshoeing, which better suits my patient personality, which is well adapted to hikes and long treks in general. I'm not a huge thrill seeker, though I've been trying to work on that as well.

Returning to living conditions, I'm not too worried about the size or even condition of my apartment. I've never lived on my own before, so I don't have the pain of past squallor to temper my enthusiasm for having a place, ANY place, of my own. I am a little concerned about my rent, which sum I have yet to find out.
Hmmm. I have a lot of thoughts tonight. Two other quick points:

One: concerning my financial concerns, I realised that all the shopping lists and budgets I made for myself are over and above what I already own. Worst comes to worse, I could leave tomorrow, taking only what I have, and probably get by OK. Yes, I want a laptop. Yes, I want a camera. And Yes, I want a new, 'cooler' wardrobe. But all these things I want because I have set my expectations so high. I'm not saying my high expectations are bad, I'm merely saying I should moderate my worry with a reminder of the voluntary nature of some of these expenses.

Two: I talked to someone who just got back from four months working in the J-Spot. Basically all he had to comment on was the immense expense of... EVERYTHING! Pretty much everbody I talk to contributes to the stereotype of extremely high living costs in Japan, which can't help but lend the rumour credence. In short, I've got to dump any thrifty tendencies I may have had and accept that money is like water, it may flow through your hands, but it never really belongs to you. Of course, if you knew how much I was spending on equipment for my Juan de Fuca hike, you might remind me that I don't seem to have any thrifty tendencies to get rid of - in which case I'm all the more ready for the J-Spot.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

meat, plastic and morality

Sojourner's Highlight: Time off from work allows for relevant contemplation and necessary relaxation. Entertain notions of paradigm shifts ahead of time; how flexible will you be?

Yay! I finished work yesterday, which means I have the next month off to prepare, play and to squander the meager savings I've amassed. And, so as to not feel unproductive, I wanted to get a good jump on actually DOING something in prep, instead of just writing about thinking about going about doing something about my trip.
To that end, I mailed in my Japan Visa application, and also posted my car for sale on craigslist. Sniff. I'm gonna miss my baby. (1996 Chevrolet Cavalier, ~$2500 if you're interested :)

I also browsed for cameras in a couple of shops. {Following paragraph deals entirely with camera confusion, just so you know} I love the feel and quality of SLR's, but I'm thinking a small compact digital might be better for travelling, as you can just slip it in your pocket wherever you may go. The Digital SLR, on the other hand, would require constant consideration and lugging around in a seperate bag. And if I'm doing something adventurous, say, going out to a club, or snowshoeing, or something, am I gonna want to take along a large, pricey, and fragile SLR? Quite possibly not. But when I hold one of those point and click digicams in my hands and look at the LCD screen I feel like i'm holding some expensive and extremely high-tech dirty diaper in my hand. It just feels like an insult to the beauty of photography, even if a testament to the age of technological revolution.
{Anywho, enough about cameras.}

I also [pat on back] went shopping for clothes. Now, I went to a thrift store, which may or may not be defining or representing myself in exactly the way I want. However, I do enjoy reducing unnecessary garbage, and lots of these clothes are perfectly good. Plus, I obviously saved a bunch of money, while still getting some pants and shoes that I think will be appropriate for work. Perhaps this is all too much info. Oh well.

What really stuck out about my day, though, was when I refused the plastic bag at the store. See, I don't take new plastic bags from stores, just like I don't use paper cups from coffee shops. As I was walking out the store, though, I remembered reading a book about how highly packaged all commodities - everything! - is in Japan. And I thought to myself, I'm not going to be able to save on packaging and wrapping and bags and whatnot in the J-spot. Here it's easy because of the chic cultural concern for it. Over there, the excessive wrapping is part of the aesthetic (or so I've read).

And that got me thinking once more about trying to be a vegetarian in Japan. Apparently it's possible, and you can always fall back on the 'it's part of my religion' line that they suggested at the JET seminar. But I'm not very good at saying No when people offer me food. And it's going to be really hard to be picky if people invite me out to dinner, and even more so if they invite me into their homes for dinner. Also, as one JET peer commented, a huge part of culture IS food, so cutting off a huge portion of the diet cuts out truly immersing yourself in the culture. But am I, as i suggested last posting, ready to lose myself in learning about this other culture? Because not eating meat is important to me at this point in life, and I would have to knowingly sacrifice my own values to eat meat in Japan.

Packaging, waste, and meat-eating are, of course, only a few of such concerns - the ones I've thought of so far - and perhaps even the least of those I shall encounter.

In other news, I finished the Hesse book I was reading, played a hockey game, and painted part of my fence. For brief periods at a time, NOT working is far better than working, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is considering it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Blessings and Warnings

Usually when I tell somebody that I'm going to Japan, they have a friend or family member who has already done the same. Usually I'm told that it was an amazing experience, worthwhile, fantastic, eye-opening, life-changing, etc. I'm always glad to hear that, of course.

Yet, I also get my fair share of less positive responses. Some people look at me like I'm crazy. Some people immediately embark upon vicarious horror stories of exchanges gone wrong and overseas teaching adventures much regretted. I don't mind these stories too much, as it's probably good to keep my fantastical imagination grounded in coloured reality and accept that there WILL be challenges, or even the possibility of immense difficulty. Something could go wrong, though the fine repute of this particular exchange program should preclude any major financial or contractual mishaps.

Wo. I need to sound way less pompous in my writing. Sorry, I've been reading Herman Hesse, who uses so many striking words and poetically crafted sentences; my years of training at University have poked many holes in my brain to turn it into a sponge that absorbs and spits out other peoples ideas and, apparently, writing styles. Not that I'm comparing my writing ability to Hesse. Ok, digression complete, back to J-Spot concerns.

What's worse than these horror stories, however, are the random warnings with no background context. For example, 'they'll treat you like crap.' Or, 'you'll lose yourself out there.' What else, hmmm. 'If life's not good enough for you here...' (and yes, somehow they included a ... in their spoken warning.)

In all these cases, I'm not sure if the people are xenophobic, or speaking from personal bad experiences, or what. All I know is the random warnings - threats almost - really frustrate me. I'm trying to be openminded, and I'm trying to accept advice and info from anybody who offers (just as a general practice in life). But that means every once and a while I'm confronted by some fearful and bigotted statement that just makes me angry/disappointed in the speaker, while at the same time ever so slightly increases my own anxieties.

I just got another warning tonight about the Japanese mafia coming after me. See, I didn't really take it seriously, or personally, but I still had to unwillingly absorb some of the negativity and fear couched in this ridiculous statement.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to accomplish with this. I want people to tell me what they've heard and what I should expect but I don't need their negativity and fear, especially when it's based on no experience whatsoever. The whole POINT is to lose myself out there, to be squashed by whatever I encounter, in order to see how I truly shape up, in order to find myself. (sorry about the cheesy line). (and sorry about ending on a chessy line).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

a couple o' caveats

First of all, this is my first foray into the wonderful world of blogs, and so, while I promise to strive for entertainment value as well as honesty, I make no contractual agreements as to the quality of this blog.

I hope that this blog will be interesting and maybe even useful to other people teaching overseas, or even going to Japan with the JET Programme. I hope it's interesting to some other random people as well.

However, second on this list of caveats, but first and foremost in my mind (once I get all this introduction stuff out of the way) I need to write this blog for my own sake, and not only attempt to cater to an imagined audience.

Subsequent to that statement, and third on this list, I need to start trying to write with shorter, less awkward sentences.

And so... where do we stand thus far? I am not only excited for Japan but beginning to get nervous. I am not yet nervous about the whole 'stranger in a foreign land' thing. So far, I have only started worrying about money, and about possessions and packing. I will likely have less than the recommended $3000 when I set foot in the J-spot, and that's before I pay my first month's rent. And THEN I have to survive two to three weeks until my first paycheck!

Yet, before I can even really start worrying about that worry, I have to worry about buying all this stuff I need, including: a laptop, a Digital camera (SLR or compact, still can't decide!), tons of tooth paste and deodorant, plus, an entirely new wardrobe because all of my clothes are 5-year-old handmedowns and whoknowswhats from Nowhere Inc that I probably shouldn't even be wearing in public.

You see, since I'm trying to 'realise' my life and start growing up, I figure I should make this trip a starting point and get out of all these embarrasing clothes. You know, tailor the way you look on the outside to both represent and to shape the way you think and feel on the inside. My wise and well dressed brother taught me that, or something like that, and I also thank him for suggesting this whole blogging venture.

In terms of preparation for Japan, well, the more the better. To that end, I've done not very much whatsoever. I did, I suppose, take an anthropology of Japan course at university. I've read a total of 5 books about Japan, and some random chapters in other textbooks about Shintoism, and Buddhism. I've looked up random facts about Japan on the internet. I've tried quite unsucessfully to be disciplined in practicing the Japanese Language from a self-teaching book over the last couple months. All of this is to say that I know next to nothing about the J-spot and I am exceedingly ill-prepared for the journey.

What I do have [cue combatitive optimism]: fond memories from a brief highschool trip to Japan; a personality generally calm under stress; growing curiosity about the world; determination to have a challenging and enlightening experience; I'm tall. I know that last lacks a certain poetic nobility, but I've heard it has a big impact on the treatment travellers can expect.

I must also divulge another adventure that diverts my thoughts and doubles my worries: a four day hiking trip on the Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island. I love the outdoors, but I've never done a multiday hike before. This, my first, is happening mid-July and so I am having to rush around preparing for that, while the expected stresses of planning for both trips compound and expand.

There, I've got all that off my chest, and now I need to go read some Herman Hesse, which boggles and calms in turns.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

a journey not yet begun

You never know how you will start until after you've already begun. And so, to remove that uncertainty as soon as possible, I begin.

To cut to the proverbial chase, the purpose of this blog will be to act as a personal record of my experiences, as well as provide others the ability to share in those experiences, if for some strange reason they desire to do so, which I doubt will be the case after they read this incredibly generic introductory sentence about the purpose of blogs.

My 'experiences,' to be more specific, shall centre around an exciting new development in my life: moving to Japan for (at least) a year to teach and to learn. Once flown to Japan by the government-funded JET Programme, I will be teaching the closest approximation to English that I can muster. Concurrently, I will be learning... everything else. I have so much to learn about the world around me, and I am very excited to start at the opposite end of the Earth and work my way back home over the course of my lifetime. I have so much to learn about myself, and so much of myself to formulate as I grow up and move out and move on.

Hopefully you sense the sense of potential with which I attempt to imbue my words. At this point in my life, I am trying to realise - you know, to truly feel, in my breath and my bones - how much of life lies before me, undetermined potential that craves definition.

On the other hand, I need constantly remind myself that life is not only potential to be explored later, but also the excitation of that potential in every instant. In that regard, I am super stoked to begin my adventures in Japan, affectionately though perhaps not humourously known to me by the appellation J-Spot.

BUT, as far as the J-Spot is concerned, my adventures are a month away since I do not leave until August 4th. And so, all this blog can be until then is an account of my anxieties and, perhaps, hopefully, of my preparations mental and physical for said approaching adventures.

In other words: Holy moly, I'm Going to the J-Spot!