Friday, July 28, 2006

A very weird day at the office

Claire Martin left me a surprise message on my voicemail. She called me “girl” and said I “rock.” Thanks to the wonders of digital technology, you can listen to her message too!

this is an audio post - click to play
It was all part of an elaborate going away party at work yesterday. I’m still not exactly sure why my coworkers threw me a going away party, especially since I’m not really leaving. I’m just taking a year off to go to Japan. What kind of an office throws a farewell party for someone who is going on vacation? Then again, what kind of an office lets someone take a year off to go to Japan in the first place?

A nice little gathering with some tea and cookies would have been acceptable. But this? This was way over the top. I mean, they arranged for my all-time favourite CBC personality to leave me a bon voyage message for crying out loud! (Claire Martin, if you are reading this, I am so sorry they put you up to this. I hope it wasn’t too weird. As you can probably gather, my coworkers are a bit odd. You, however, are awesome.)

And then the entire staff gathered in the office lounge to wish me well. There was a lavish spread of my favourite food, including Timbits, sushi and Skittles.

I also got a bottle of wine, an autographed copy of David Suzuki’s newest book, a pair of silver earrings, a gift certificate from Amazon and a feather boa. There were even speeches.

All of this just for a vacation? Don't get me wrong. I loved every minute of it but it was a bit much. Imagine if I actually quit my job. The party would be off the hook. They wouldn’t coerce Claire Martin into leaving me a voicemail, they’d fly her out to Vancouver to see me off in person.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Japanese pick-up lines

I’ve been trying to learn a little Japanese before I go to Japan next week.

I’ve got a few basic phrases down. I can say, “Hello. How do you do? My name is Sarah Marchildon. I come from Vancouver, Canada. It’s nice to meet you. Goodbye.”

I’ll be fine as long as no one says anything back to me. If they do, I’ll just slowly start walking away backwards while bowing a million times and smiling like crazy. That seems to work in the movies.

Learning a new language doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work really, really, really hard at it. It’s like math. It’s all about formulas and structure and rote memorization. It makes my head hurt. I don’t know how I’m supposed to memorize 800 new words when I can barely remember my own postal code.

One phrase that keeps tripping me up is “domo arigato” (thank you). I have to bite my tongue to avoid adding “Mr. Roboto” to the end. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say “domo arigato” with a straight face. Or at least without wanting to break into song and dance.

While my language textbook and CDs will come in handy for things like ordering food or what to say when meeting the mayor, they contain no information on how to pick up guys in Japan. Fortunately, I found a little phrasebook at a discount bookstore that has an entire section devoted to “romance.” Unfortunately, it only has one page of pick-up lines.

My favourite line is “You’re a fantastic dancer.” It’s comforting to know that pick-up lines are equally lame no matter where you are in world.

I've only got one more week to learn as much Japanese as I can (and to come up with better pick-up lines than the ones above). I haven't studied this hard since I was cramming for final exams in university.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

So long, Mr. Floatie. We'll miss the crap out of you

There’s good news and bad news out of British Columbia this week. The good news is that the provincial government has ordered the city of Victoria to stop dumping untreated sewage into the ocean. The bad news is that this means Mr. Floatie is now out of a job.

For those of you who have never heard of him, Mr. Floatie is the costumed mascot for People Opposed to Outfall Pollution (POOP). For the past two years Mr. Floatie has been dressing up as a giant piece of poo to draw attention to the fact that Victoria shoots almost 130 million litres of raw sewage into the ocean every day.

He's done a great job. Mr. Floatie is a huge celebrity in British Columbia. Children, tourists, journalists -- everyone loves Mr. Floatie. Maybe it’s the jaunty sailor’s cap or the weird falsetto voice or the catchy songs (“I’m Mr. Floatie/The ocean poo/If you live in Victoria/I come from you”). Or maybe it’s just because he’s a no bullshit kind of guy.

My favourite Mr. Floatie story is when he tried to run for Mayor of Victoria and the city went to court to keep his name off the ballot.

It’s great that Victoria is finally going to stop dumping raw sewage in the ocean. But it’s shitty to think that Mr. Floatie is now out of a job. So long, Mr. Floatie. We’ll miss the crap out of you.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

So bad it makes Jerry Springer look good

It pains me to admit this. It really, really does. But I have to say it. The new American reality TV show hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos is really, truly, embarrassingly awful.

This, of course, has nothing to do with George. As the host of The One, George is great. He’s doing a bang-up job. But is he really enjoying the gig or just acting like he does?

I caught the show’s premiere last night but I had stop watching after 20 minutes because I felt so terrible for George. Surely this isn’t what he thought he was signing up for. He must feel misled. I mean, George has always railed against manufactured pop stars and reality TV shows like American Idol. So did he sell out or was he led down the garden path?

The One is an unoriginal, uninspired, cheap knock-off of American Idol. It pretty much follows the same tired formula, but with a “twist.” A bunch of moderately talented wannabe musicians compete in front of a panel of judges for a chance to score a recording contract and a turn in the spotlight. The twist is that the contestants on The One live together and are on camera 24/7.

The whole thing looks like it was slapped together and pushed out the door in less than two weeks. It is really, really, really bad. Even worse, it’s boring. And this is coming from someone who actually likes reality TV. You know a reality show has got to be pretty bad when even I can’t stand it!

The most embarrassing part was watching George urge the viewers to call in or text message their vote just like Ben Mulroney does. I kept thinking, “Oh, George. Why, why, why?”

I suppose you’ve got to respect the guy for going out there, taking a risk and trying something new (I’m trying hard to be positive here). It’s just too bad the show turned out to be such a train wreck.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A few more weeks in the old apartment

This is my apartment building. In a few weeks this will just be a memory of a place I used to live.

The manager slipped a letter under my door telling me I have 60 days to pack up and move because the suite I rent is now up for sale. Not that it matters. I’m leaving anyway. But I’m glad the decision to give up my apartment is now out of my control. It makes leaving a little less painful.

This is one of the best apartments I’ve ever had. It’s big and bright. It has beautiful hardwood floors and lots of windows. The rent was only $795 a month even though they could have easily charged more. They even let me paint the walls purple.

But what really makes this place special is its location. If it were any closer to Stanley Park it would be in the park. I’ve been living here three years and I still can’t get over the view from the front door.

That’s not to say living here hasn’t been without its challenges. The pipes rattle, the appliances are older than I am and the upstairs neighbour listens to Radiohead so loudly it feels like Thom Yorke is in my living room.

I have to wear earplugs at night to drown out the sound of dumpster divers pushing rickety shopping carts full of empty bottles through the alley. So many homeless people urinate below my bedroom window it's practically a public toilet.

My living room faces the parking garage next door, which means my apartment fills with exhaust whenever someone idles their car. And don’t get me started on the unbelievably anal-retentive laundry room schedule -- I’ve already devoted an entire post to that subject!

I will miss some of the cranky, elderly people who live here. But I won’t miss the ones who voted against selling one of the suites to a guy in a wheelchair because they didn’t want to spend the $3,000 it would cost to build a ramp. (The president of the board eventually overruled them.)

I laughed when I saw the real estate agent had listed the building’s wheelchair access as one of its selling features. Of course, there’s no mention about the bitter fight that went down just to get that ramp built in the first place.

Nor does he mention the fact that someone in the building dumps the stack of gay newspapers that get delivered to our door into the garbage every single week. When I complained about this to the manager he shrugged his shoulders and said he had enough battles on his hands, especially since the debate on whether or not to replace the hallway carpet was raging out of control.

In a way, all of the absurd and weird stuff that goes on here is what I'll miss most about this place. I'll even miss the view of the dumpster from the bedroom window.

Friday, July 14, 2006

All I want is one more chance to be young and wild and free

I’m moving to Japan in August. I’ll be spending the next 12 months living and working in a small mountain town on the rural island of Shikoku. I’m both excited and terrified about this.

I’ll be teaching English (hi, I’m so original!) in several elementary schools, which should be interesting considering I have zero teaching experience. My duties will also include delivering impromptu speeches at the town hall and attending banquets and drinking parties with my Japanese co-workers. (I always knew my mad karaoke skills would come in handy one day.)

I will be living in a spacious three-bedroom apartment that I will have all to myself. It should be nice and quiet since it’s on top of the town library. The best part? The rent is only $140 Canadian a month!

Since I will be living practically rent-free, I plan to spend the majority of my salary on travel. I want to go to Korea, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Australia. Or maybe I’ll just tour around Japan. Who knows?

It’s all very exciting but I don’t want to romanticize my upcoming adventure too much. I’m sure there will be moments of loneliness, isolation and frustration. Maybe I’ll suck at teaching. Maybe my co-workers won’t like me. Maybe the culture shock will be too much. Maybe my apartment will be infested with cockroaches. Maybe my mad karaoke skills will go unappreciated.

Honestly, the whole thing is a little terrifying. There are times when I’m drifting off to sleep at night and I suddenly bolt upright thinking “What the hell am I doing?”

But the panic attacks eventually subside. I just keep reminding myself that no matter what happens it will be an incredible experience. The fact that I’ll be living in a small place away from the major cities will only make it that much more rewarding. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

It would be easy to stay in Vancouver. I have a great life here. I love my friends. I like my job. It’s all very comfortable. But I’m worried I’ll wake up 10 years from now still single, still working the same job, still living in the same apartment. And it scares the shit out of me.

I need to shake things up. The highlight of my week is watching Canada’s Next Top Model, for chrissake.

Moving to Japan might sound brave but I’m not really chucking it all away. My boss has agreed to give me a one-year leave of absence so my job will be waiting for me when I come back. I don’t have to worry about finding an apartment in Japan or even paying the plane fare to get there. Everything’s taken care of.

All I need to do between now and August 5th is pack up my stuff and learn as much Japanese as I can. I’ve been trying to research my new town (Sakawa, pop: 14,000) but there isn’t a lot of information out there. The town has its own website but it’s in Japanese.

The Lonely Planet guide isn’t much help either. There are only a few pages devoted to the whole island of Shikoku and just a few paragraphs on the southern area where I’ll be living. Apparently, the region is famous for its incomprehensible dialect and, um, dog fighting.

Like I said, I’m both excited and terrified. But as long as there’s a good karaoke bar in town I know I’ll be okay.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

George goes to America

Remember the controversy over the CBC’s decision to bump The National to a later timeslot in order to air -- gasp! shock! horror! -- an American reality TV show?

Well, the story gets a little more scandalous with the announcement that -- gasp! shock! horror! -- George Stroumboulopoulos is hosting the show.

Yep, our favourite black-shirted boy has moved to L.A. to host an American reality TV show. The show is called The One: Making a Music Star and it features a bunch of musicians in tube tops and low-rise jeans bitch-slapping each other for a recording contract. Or something.

Is this the beginning of the end? Is George Stroumboulopoulos about to become the next Ryan Seacrest? Or, even worse, the next Ben Mulroney? Will he steal Angelina away from Brad? And, more importantly, will the American tabloids spell his last name correctly when he does?

In case you’re wondering if this means George’s days at the CBC are numbered, don’t worry. George isn’t heading south for good. He says the Hollywood gig is only temporary and will return home in the fall for another season of The Hour.

You’ve got to admit it seems like a strange career move for a guy who made a name for himself by railing against manufactured pop stars. All of a sudden American Idol’s biggest critic is hosting a TV show that will pump out another Kelly Clarkson?

Some people might accuse him of selling out. Others might accuse him of being a hypocrite. But not me! I think George should do whatever the hell he wants and if this is what he wants that’s fine with me.

The show premieres Tuesday July 18.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Writer's block

My sister: You haven’t updated your blog since you’ve been in Toronto. How come?

Me: I don’t know. I don’t have anything to write about, I guess.

My sister: You could write about Amy’s wedding.

Me: About how Grandma was rocking out to AC/DC on the dance floor?

My sister: No, about how Grandma was busting a move the entire night! Or about how all the cousins were doing shots? Or about how crazy Uncle John is?

Me: Uncle John is crazy. I danced with him for, like, 30 seconds and he almost threw me off the dance floor. I was worried he’d re-break my arm. I ran away from him every time he came near me after that. The wedding was fun but I don’t know if it would be of interest to anyone who wasn’t there.

My sister: Yeah.

Me: I could write about the Tour de France.

My sister: No! You’ve already written too much about it. It’s boring.

Me: It’s not boring. It’s exciting. The crashes! The scandals! I could write about how the decision to kick Jan Ullrich out of this year’s Tour will go down as one of the biggest injustices in history if he’s innocent.

My sister: Don’t bother. No one cares. Write about the World Cup instead.

Me: The World Cup? I have no idea what’s going on. I tried watching one of the games but our idiot brother wouldn’t let me.

My sister: What? Why not?

Me: Well, the game was about to begin and the cameras were zooming in on the faces of the players and I started talking about how gorgeous some of those guys were. Daniel got mad and said I was only allowed to comment on the fouls or the goals and that if I was only going to talk about how hot the players were, I shouldn’t bother watching the game. So I left.

My sister: He’s no fun.

Me: I know. What’s the point of watching soccer if you can’t talk about how hot David Beckham is?

My sister: You could write about how you’re going to Japan next month. Or is that a secret?

Me: No, it’s not a secret. I’ve been meaning to write about it. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve been so preoccupied with my broken arm and the trip to Toronto and the Tour de France that I’ve hardly had time to think about Japan.

My sister: Well, if you have nothing to write about you could always just post some pictures.

Me: Of what?

My sister: Of us at the wedding!

Me: Okay.