Saturday, January 27, 2007

On the fence

I just spent TWO HOURS on the phone with my parents and I still can’t decide whether or not to stay in Japan for an extra year.

I spoke to my dad for about 45 seconds. He gave me no advice whatsoever because he said he was too busy to talk. What was he so busy doing that he couldn’t spare five minutes to talk to his daughter who was having a major life crisis on the other side of the world? He was shoveling snow! My dad cares more about snow than he does about me! I was pretty mad about that.

Then I spoke to my sister, who is currently unemployed and living at home, for about 20 minutes. She said one year in Japan was long enough and that I should come back to Canada in August. She said I’d probably get bored if I stayed another year.

She also advised me to quit my job at the David Suzuki Foundation because she thought it would be “awesome” if we were both unemployed and living at home at the same time. I should have known better than to ask someone who is dating a guy with a bowl cut for help.

Since my sister was about as helpful as my dad in the advice-giving department, I spent the next hour and a half talking to my mom. My mom is a mental health nurse in downtown Toronto who is so good at her job the National Film Board of Canada made a documentary about her (to be released soon). I figured if anyone could help me make a decision it would be a woman who goes out on 911 calls for “emotionally disturbed persons” for a living.

But she wasn’t very helpful either. She had sent me an email last week encouraging me to stay in Japan. But when I talked to her on the phone today she said she changed her mind after reading all the comments on my blog. She said she especially liked the comment about “leaving the party 10 minutes early.” She thought that was really, really good advice.

She also said that she rented a couple of Japanese movies the other night and thinks that I should give up trying to find a Japanese boyfriend because the guys in the movies seemed to have trouble expressing their emotions.

So, yeah, not exactly the most helpful two-hour conversation I’ve ever had. I’m no closer to making a decision. And I only have six days left to decide. Argh!

Anyway, I’d love to keep obsessing but I’ve got to run because my new friend (the math teacher) is picking me up in 15 minutes and driving me to Kochi City for a night of bowling, eating and drinking. If nothing else, it will take my mind off the decision for a few hours.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay in Japan for another year or go back to Vancouver in August? I can’t decide.

I had originally planned to stay for just one year and then go back to my life in Canada. But then my supervisor dropped by my apartment with a new contract and begged me to stay in Japan for another year.

I don’t know what to do. I’m so torn. I love living in Japan and could easily spend more time here. Another year would deepen my experience and give me more time to travel. But I miss my friends and family back in Canada. Another year away from them would be really hard.

And then there’s the whole issue of my job to consider. I’m technically on a one-year leave of absence from the David Suzuki Foundation. If I come back in August, I’ll simply pick up where I left off. Easy. If I stay in Japan another year, I might have to give up my job at the Foundation and face the unemployment line when I get back. Not so easy.

Am I crazy for even thinking about giving up the security of my job back home? Will I be able to find another job after having been out of the country working in a completely unrelated field for the past two years? Is the chance to stay in Japan a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I shouldn’t let pass me by? Or is it career suicide?

I figure I have enough money saved up to survive without a paycheque for about five months. But after that, I’ll have to move in with my parents. Which means I’ll never get a boyfriend because who wants to date an unemployed loser who lives in her parents’ basement. And then I’ll probably fall into a deep depression and get drunk every night to numb the pain. And then my parents will kick me out. And then I’ll be unemployed, single, depressed and homeless all because I decided to stay in Japan an extra year.

Argh! I hate making decisions. Especially ones that could radically alter the course of my entire life.

I tried making a list of pros and cons (see below, click to enlarge) but that didn’t help at all.

So should I stay in Japan for another year or go back to Vancouver in August? I don’t know what to do.

If anyone has any advice, please, please, please post a comment below. I have to give my supervisor a final decision by February 2nd. Help!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Man drama. Who needs it?

I’ve decided to give up on the art teacher and move on. This is easier said than done, of course. So I’m inventing all kinds of distractions to keep my thoughts from wandering back to him.

Today, for example, I decided to walk around and take some pictures. Nothing special. Just a few images that captured what Saturday, January 20th, 2007 was like in small-town Japan.

Unfortunately, I didn’t come up with the idea until 3 p.m. so I only had an hour to take some pictures before it started to get dark. But I kind of like the end result. These images are like little windows you can poke your head through and look around.

So this is my town.

Saturdays are generally pretty quiet around here. Most people run errands or hang out their laundry to dry.

It’s a pretty small town so I almost always run into my students whenever I leave my apartment. Today I saw one of my favourite students riding her bike. She came to a stop when she saw me and asked me in perfect English, “Where are you going?” I told her I was just walking around taking pictures. She asked me if I could take one of her.

The small brick building across the street is the karaoke bar. This is where the art teacher and I went on our date. This is where he told me he had a girlfriend. I hate this bar.

You can’t walk 10 feet in this town without hitting a vending machine. They’re very convenient. You can buy beer from the vending machines. These ones sell hot coffee and cigarettes.

I love the road mirrors.

I also love the narrow roads.

My town is about 400 years old. It has some beautiful temples and shrines tucked away in the hills.

These red tori gates lead to one of the Shinto temples.

I live in the fourth poorest prefecture in Japan. A lot of people here struggle with alcoholism, divorce, domestic violence and poverty.

It’s a little rough around the edges. But I like it. I have friends here. I have a job. Little kids say hello to me when I pass them on the street. It’s starting to feel like home.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Man Hunt: Part II

I’m in love. Unfortunately, I’m in love with someone who doesn’t love me back. Not yet, anyway.

The object of my affection is a 28-year-old art teacher (see “Exhibit C” in Man Hunt: Part I). Our relationship is developing slowly. Very, very, very slowly. But we’re making progress. He actually talks to me now. I still have to initiate every single one of our conversations but at least he no longer stares at his feet and giggles when I talk to him.

The turning point came when I gave him a copy of my newspaper column -- the one that was little more than a thinly disguised personal ad.

I sat down next to him in the staff room and opened up my notebook. I pretended to act surprised when a copy of my column fluttered out and landed on the floor (“What’s this? Oh, look. It’s my column in the town newspaper. How did this ridiculous thing get inside my notebook? Here, read it!”).

When he finished reading it, I asked him what he thought. I was hoping he’d say, “I liked the part where you said you were looking for a boyfriend,” while sweeping me into his arms and smothering me with kisses.

Instead, he told me he liked the bit about the cockroaches.

But then the floodgates suddenly came crashing open. He started telling me all sorts of things about himself. He told me he grew up in a small fishing village. That he has a younger brother and several pet shrimp. His favourite music is reggae and his favourite singer is Bob Marley. He’s never traveled outside of Japan but if he could go anywhere in the world he’d go to the Netherlands to see the windmills. He plays basketball and goes fishing every weekend. He only paints abstract art.

Emboldened by his sudden interest, I decided to invite him out for a drink after work. (This, by the way, sent the school gossip mill into overdrive. “You two are going drinking alone?!? Just the two of you?!?! No one else?!? Hey! Everyone! Sarah and Kashida-sensei are going drinking alone!”)

It was a fun night. We talked and flirted and drank and sang bad karaoke songs. Even though he doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Japanese, we understood each other perfectly. I was smitten. At one point, I looked at him and thought, “This is the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”

But as the night wore on, I started to think he was too good to be true. How could someone so shy and sweet and kind and funny and smart and cute and talented and interesting be single? Something wasn’t right.

Instinctively, I knew exactly what the problem was. I had asked him five months ago if he was single and he said he was. But I have since learned that when a Japanese person says they are “single” what they really mean is that they aren’t married. So even if they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, they will answer “yes” when asked if they are single.

I realized what I should have asked him was not, “Are you single” but “Do you have a girlfriend.” And so, I asked him the question I should have asked him all those months ago.

Yes, he said, nodding his head, he had a girlfriend. They’ve been together for six years. But, he added, she lives near Tokyo, more than eight hours away.

I asked him if he was going to marry her. He hummed and hawed for a few minutes and admitted it was a difficult question to answer.

“I am poor,” he explained.

He said that money is important to Japanese women. He is only a part-time art teacher so he can’t get married until he has enough money to support a wife. I told him I thought this was sad. That love was so much more important than money.

He asked me if I had a boyfriend. I told him I didn’t. And then, in perfect English, he said, “But you are so pretty and beautiful.”

He could have left it at that and gone home. But he stayed. He stayed so late that he missed the last train home. This meant he was stranded in my town. There were no cabs. No way to get home. I assumed he intentionally missed the last train because he wanted to come home with me.

But when he walked me back to my apartment, he froze at the bottom of the stairs. He bowed and bowed and bowed and kept repeating something in rapid-fire Japanese. I told him he could stay at my place but he refused. I tried to explain that I had two bedrooms, that it was freezing cold outside and that he had no way to get home. But he said he would call a friend to come pick him up. A friend that would drive an hour each way at two in the morning? I told him he was being ridiculous.

But he refused to budge from the bottom step. He wouldn’t even come inside to call his friend. He kept bowing and bowing. I was so caught off guard that I just walked up the stairs to my apartment and called out, “Okay. See you.”

I haven’t seen him or heard from him since. Then again, he only works at my school on Tuesdays so it will be another couple of days before I see him again.

The whole thing has left me totally confused. Why did he agree to go out with me in the first place? Why didn’t he tell me he had a girlfriend? Why did he miss the last train home? Why did he tell me I was beautiful? Why didn’t he come inside my apartment? Why can’t I get him out of my head?

The smart thing would be to move on before it all gets complicated. But I really like him and I think he might like me too.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

And the winner is . . .

Wuzzam! This is the word that won the National Post’s coin-a-phrase contest.

I am not-so-secretly pleased that “wuzzam” won since it was conceived right here on my blog exactly nine months ago.

The proud father (er, author) is none other than Hot Rob. That’s right. Canada’s newest word was coined by a former catalogue model with a level of intellectual sophistication that rivals that of a drunken frat boy.

So what does wuzzam mean exactly? Technically speaking, it is a verb used as a response to a question indicating that you were and still are in the same condition. In other words, it’s a lazy way of saying “I was and still am.”

Here is an excerpt from the story in yesterday’s National Post, which (ahem!) credits my blog as the birthplace of Canada’s newest word:

You might remember the coiner of wuzzam from a Nov. 11, 2005 story under the headline "Beauty's burden: Would you date a man this hot?" Robert Funk is a 34-year-old former catalogue model who called a Vancouver radio station when he heard the hosts talking about people too good looking to get dates. Funk, a.k.a. "Hot Rob," said girls broke up with him because when he walks into a room "everyone notices me."

The radio station, Z95.3, decided to try and set Funk up with a lady who would see past his appearance. It turned into the station's most popular contest with many listeners registering their disgust over Funk's vanity. Normally, this would be where the story ended, but it so happened that one of those mocking Funk was blogger Sarah Marchildon. At the same time she was writing about how unhot Hot Rob was, she was also conducting her own coin-a-word contest.

His peanut butter fell into her chocolate, as it were, and, well, here's his post:

"Wuzzam: I was, still am and will continue to be what you heard about me. This is in direct response to the old 'has been' question: when people ask about your past. 'I heard you were a model.' The proper response is, 'Yes I was, and I still am (wuzzam).' There is only one exception to this word --ex-high-school football stars."

There you have it, not only is Robert Funk hot, but he is also witty.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

New year, new word

Last year, my New Year’s resolution was to coin a new word. Not just any word. A word that would one day make it into the holy grail of lexicology -- the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

Well, 2006 has come and gone and so has my attempt to create a new word.

Lucky for me, the National Post has picked up the torch. The newspaper is asking its readers to vote for their favourite new words -- words that were taken directly from my blog! At least the Post is giving me credit for the idea:

In the wee hours just after 2005 had turned to 2006, blogger Sarah Marchildon excitedly discussed her New Year's resolution at a party. She would create a catchphrase that one day would be written into an episode of, you guessed it, Corner Gas.

“I wanted to create a word or saying so pithy it becomes part of the pop culture lexicon, like ‘off the hook’ or ‘crackberry,’” Marchildon says. “It's fun keeping the English language fresh and confusing.”

Marchildon posted the idea on her blog, The Hollywood North Report. It turned out her readers were passionate about the project. Most voted for or against specific words, but a surprising number had their own suggestions. It seems a lot of people love to create language.

Lucky for us, Marchildon moved from Vancouver to Japan before a winner could be crowned. From her hands we take the torch. It's a new year -- let's brand a new word.

Awesome. Check out the National Post’s list of words. They might look a little familiar since I posted most of these words on my blog last year (here and here).

Voting is open until Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Welcome to the jungle

I spent the past two weeks exploring the steamy jungles of Borneo. The highlight of my trip was hiking through virgin rainforest. The lowlight of my trip was watching filthy flea-covered dogs eat people’s vomit as they were throwing up.

Luckily, the vomit-eating dogs didn’t make an appearance until the second week of the trip. The first week was pure bliss. The best part was the five days spent trekking in Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak.

The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true tropical wonderland. According to the park’s brochure, Mulu is home to a mind-boggling 75 species of mammals, 262 types of birds, 74 species of frogs, 47 species of fish, 281 species of butterflies, 52 species of reptiles, 458 species of ants and 20,000 species of invertebrates. But trying to spot all of these creatures in the dense jungle wasn't easy. There were too many hiding places.

The park boasts 1,500 species of flowering plants, including 170 species of wild orchids and 10 species of carnivorous pitcher plants.

Gunung Mulu National Park is also home to the largest cave system in the world. The caves were awesome. It was like going back in time a few million years. It was an otherworldly experience. None of my photos do the caves justice.

A local guide took us into the caves and explained the significance of the different rock formations. He liked to negate every scientific statement he made by saying “that’s what they believe” after every sentence. For example, he’d say, “This cave is 20 million years old. That’s what they believe.” Or he’d say, “These limestone formations were caused by the movement of ancient rivers. That’s what they believe.”

On our fourth night in the park, we hiked to a giant cave to watch 2 million bats fly out for their nightly feeding. They didn’t all fly out at once. They came out like a plume of smoke from a chimney, clustered together in a long, thin band that snaked across the sky. It took more than half an hour for all 2 million bats to come out. It was an amazing thing to see.

I went to Borneo thinking I would see lots of exotic wildlife. I assumed I would see boa constrictors curled around trees and orangutans swinging from vines. I thought I would see crocodiles resting on the riverbanks and elephants tramping through the forest.

Let’s just say my picture of Borneo was a little out of focus. I did see lots of wildlife but on a much smaller scale. I saw lots of termites and ants and butterflies and beetles. And giant cockroaches and centipedes too.

There were leeches galore. I was a little disappointed to be the only one not attacked by leeches. Everyone got bitten but me. I was even walking through the leafy areas to get them to jump on my legs but they just weren’t interested. Stupid leeches.

Aside from hiking, our main mode of transportation was by longboat. The river systems are the main arteries of transport in Sarawak. This is Kalang, one of our guides, using a pole to push us through one of the shallow sections.

Kalang also took us to visit his village where some of the locals were selling handmade crafts. Once nomadic people of the rainforest, these Penan were now living on a government settlement. They were also converts to Christianity, as evidenced by the religious messages stitched into most of their beadwork.

We grudgingly left the park on Day 6 and spent a night in the city of Kuching before heading out into the wilderness again. The next three days and two nights were spent at a traditional Iban longhouse.

I have mixed feelings about the longhouse. It had nothing to do with the Iban people. They were lovely. Like this old guy who tried to teach us how to fish with a net (we didn’t catch anything).

It was the longhouse itself I didn’t really enjoy. There was garbage strewn around outside. It was oppressively hot inside. The smell was almost unbearable. Everyone was smoking. There were mangy cats and skinny dogs everywhere. I got flea bites up and down my legs and arms and all over my ass from sitting on the floor.

There were chickens and pigs that lived under the longhouse. The roosters started crowing at 4 a.m. and didn’t stop until dusk. The chickens would wander in and out of the longhouse. I woke up one night with a chicken flapping its wings by my head. I hate chickens. They are filthy, mean birds.

On our first night there, the Iban people had a rice wine party to welcome us. It was fun with lots of traditional dancing and music. But some people got so drunk they were vomiting right where they were sitting and then the mangy dogs would come over and lick up the vomit. I almost got sick just watching that.

There wasn’t much else to see or do. We were trapped in the middle of the jungle. Most of the Iban didn’t speak English so conversation was limited. I found it difficult to spend a lot of time inside the longhouse because of the smell and the heat so I spent most of my time down by the river, sitting in one of the longboats reading a book.

After three long days at the longhouse, we went back to Kuching for a couple of days. Kuching is a vibrant little city with its mix of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and indigenous people and I would have liked to have spent more time there.

I spent most of my time in Kuching exploring the colourful shops in the market, like this store that specialized in Muslim headscarves.

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I was lucky to end up with a great bunch of people. It was my first time on a group tour and I was a little nervous about traveling with complete strangers but everyone turned out to be lots of fun. (On a side note, I booked the trip with Intrepid Travel and can't recommend them enough. Everything was well-organized and smooth. We had lots of free time to do our own thing. Our guides were excellent and took us way off the beaten path.)

The group was relatively small. There were only eight other people on the trip, ranging in age from 24 to 64. There was not one person in the group I didn’t like. My favourite people were a British couple on their honeymoon. They said their idea of hell would be to spend their honeymoon at a beach resort surrounded by other married couples talking about their weddings. I also took a shine to Evert, a 30-year-old chef from Belgium, and Paul, a 34-year-old archeologist from Australia. The five of us played cards and drank beer almost every night.

There’s so much more that I haven’t mentioned, like how we were invited to Christmas dinner at a local guy’s house where we gorged on wild boar and jungle ferns. I’ve really just skimmed the highlights (and lowlights) of the trip. But it’s getting late and I have to get ready to go back to work tomorrow. So I’ll leave you with one last picture of this tropical paradise.