Personal update, the bad news first:
My bike was stolen. Trusting fool that I am, I thought it would be ok to leave my bike unlocked for 5 minutes while I ran into a store. I was on my way to dinner with one of the teachers I work with, and my contribution was to be some cake (along with the wine in my backpack). I guess I took too long deliberating chocolate mousse versus strawberry cheese-, because when I came back out, my beautilful 5th hand, 3-gear, mamacheri was gone. Idiot that I am, I had also left my backpack outside. So, along with the wine and some other random stuff, and the backpack that I`ve had for ages, I lost a bright and shiny and new digital camera, used just once. (If you remember, before I left Vancouver I debated buying a dSLR, or a compact digicam, or both. Well, since I only got to use the compact once, I think fate only wants me to have the SLR.) I can just imagine the fun the thief is having with it. Probably dropping it heaps in drunk parties with his crack-addict friends, knocking it against the bricks as he scurries away after scoping out places to hit up - none of this damaging the camera because of its awesome shockproof shell; probably taking nasty pictures in the shower with his ugly girlfriend, and, when he makes it to the beach once this summer, stupid pictures of himself making the peace sign underwater - which he can do because of the camera`s awesome waterproofing. Well, some greedy amoral asshole or underprivelaged and pitiable youth is going to have a delightfully picturesque summer.
Let this be a lesson to you (meaning me). Even in CrimeFree Japan, only trust people when you can see them, and always lock your damn bike up, idiot. Alternatively, have a crappy bike that isn`t worth stealing, and don`t own expensive possessions that will hurt your wallet if stolen.
The good news. Things are pretty good otherwise. I have enough positive thoughts and memories to swing the balance in the right direction.
Let`s see, a few weeks ago I hiked Mt. Yotei with some friends, staying overnight in a mountain hut. At about 1900 metres, Yotei is one of the tallest mountains in Hokkaido. It`s also called Ezo-Fuji because of the similar conical shape to the namesake volcano in the south. On the first day, we hiked up through the mist to emerge on top of clouds as far as the eye could see (always a cool feeling). The next morning broke clear, and we took in a 360 view of the surrounding farmland and lush, green, rolling hills receding off into the distance. One of our crew wrote a detailed and thoughtful post, with pictures, about the hike. So, I just point you in that direction if you`re curious. http://happyinhokkaido.typepad.com/happy/2008/06/yosh-mt-yotei.html
What else? Well, after my bike was stolen, I continued on to the dinner anyway. The dinner was a special request from my coworkers mother in law, who studies English and wanted to practice. Plus, my coworker (Hey Mori Sensei!) is an awesome guy, really good to me at work, with whom I was glad to share a relaxed evening away from the hullabuloo. The four of us (add his lovely wife) finally did relax after I forcefully shifted focus away from my recent idiocy (losing the bike). I feel like this small family was representative of a good possible future for Japan. All three were, on top of being very kind people, open-minded and interested in broader perspectives of the world. They all see value in speaking multiple languages, and communicating with people from other places, and talking about interesting issues rather than just exchanging pleasantries. We didn`t spend the whole time talking about how old I was, or how tall I was, or how I would rank the top ten most common Japanese foods. And they didn`t compliment my use of chopsticks - though you might only understand the significance of this after you`ve lived here. Best of all there was actually some nice cheese and fruit (as well as the scrumptious Japanese foods), which I have yet to see at any other dinner here.
Anyway, it was a nice time, and it made me realise for the first time that I finally have a relationship (can you use the word friendship with coworkers?) with a Japanese person that time has helped develop, where we understand each other better than we did at the start, and I believe we actually engage with each other as people, rather than as the functions we serve for each other.
After the dinner, at 1030, I got on a train heading north out of the city. At Toubetsu, in Ishikari (small city North of Sapporo), I took a ridiculously expensive taxi ride out to an old abandoned junior highschool in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere on the edge of this town. There were candles glowing everywhere. In the gym at this most random of locations, an all day alternative (ie not shit JPOP that is the ONLY option pretty much everywhere here) music fest was quietly kicking ass. Alice (who is responsible for anything halfway youthful and exciting in my life) and co had already enjoyed the music all day, which ranged from improv spoken word jazz to people playing little bamboo mouth harps (or so I was informed). In the evening, the Ainu groups took over. I got there in time to see Oki (see earlier post) and his lovely accompanying ladies, doing their waves of rythmic, hypnotic traditional singing. I like it more every time I hear it. Regardless of whether or not there were intoxicants involved, the scene was awesome. Similar to the concert in Obihiro, there were people of all ages, little kids and little dogs scurrying underfoot. The only lighting was candlelight. There was a woman making a line/dot piece of art on the wall over the course of the night. As soon as I jumped out of the taxi at the beginning and asked where Oki was, a couple people jumped on me in conversation. You can feel the energy of this kind of place as soon you as show up, and it`s so indescribably different from anything you can find here in the city. Relaxed but charged, human, alive. The music went till 5 in the morning. Well, actually, I went until 5 in the morning (the music kept going), at which time I took in the last of the sunrise quietly, and then retreated to our tent on the school field.
Not sure if this link into Facebook will work, but my friend Emma Rowbotham has some photos of the night in her `trivia times - Ainu I knew you` photo album. They capture but a fraction of the magic, some candles, a delightful child, the drawing on the wall (and there`s nothing indecent, so dont worry).
My hiking partner from above, Michael Snyder, has two relevant posts. One is copied news article talking about a recent government panel formed to discuss ongoing discrimination against the Ainu.
In the other he talks about an Ainu Solstice festival he took in one night in Asahikawa (you just have to scroll down a pinch).
OK. Back to the the good stuff. I`ve had a good week at work.
On Monday, I spent the day at the school I will be moving to in August. It is a highschool. It is a very big, flash, advanced highschool with students who can understand quite a lot of english. I followed around the JET who I will replace, met the teachers, and saw a few classes. Just about everything about the situation there looks different from the situation I`ve found so far in Junior Highschools: the ALTS are used far more effectively, far far more extensively, and the focus on actually communicating in English is very high. I`ve only got three weeks left at my current school, which I will be sad to leave in a lot of ways. Nonetheless, I`m pretty excited to test out the new scene of highschool.
Then Tuesday was Canada day. After a rare delicious and filling breakfast, courtesy the lovely Canadian Emma and the lovely Alice Alice, I went to school with lots of energy, a good out look, a canadian flag worn as a toga, and lots of Canadian stickers to hand out (thanks for buying those and sending them to me mom). I surprised a lot of kids out of their apathy with my enthusiasm all day, plus it just so happens we were actually doing a fun class activity that day, so, all in all I just felt great about being at work, and unequivocally enjoyed my job. Forgive the cheese factor, but I think I will always remember the smiles on those kids faces, and the energy with which they shouted `Happy Birthday Canada!` Shiny stickers and energetic bribery: have to employ more of that.
Today is a bit of a quieter day, so I have time to write this here blog. Yet, I`m still riding the energy from the past couple days, and I feel pretty content with my work situation at the moment. I feel like I have continued to relax more, and figure out ways to connect with these kids (meaning illicit a few more precious words here and there). Partly I think they are just becoming more comfortable with me, after three months together. So I do have mixed feelings about leaving, as I look forward to change and new things, but also feel I`ve started to find my place here.
I`ve got much to look forward to in the near future as well. We are taking off a couple days before the end of term to head down to Fuji Rock Festival (which I `ve mentioned before). After that, I`ve got a week to explore the area. I think I`m going to do a day or two in Tokyo, then hop down to Kamakura and see some old temples and a big budha and take pictures that a million other people have taken before me, followed by a wee hike up that well-known mountain, you know the one, that a million other people will probably be hiking at the same time as me. Yup, I`m meeting up with a friend (Lexis Lum) to hike Fuji on August 2nd, then returning home for some down time before starting a hopefully exciting and fulfilling year as a highscool ALT.