September 9th, 2008


123. Writing, Voting, Bicycle, Mondays

I’m getting way behind on my writing. It’s freaking me out, but this weekend has a Happy Monday, and so I should be able to get caught up if I budget my time well. I’d like to be able to get lots of sleep and watch a few 007 movies, too.

It just seems like there’s never enough time. I can’t possibly write, and learn Japanese, and socialize in my all-too-short evenings and weekends. That reminds me – despite the progressive parties’ strong candidates in Halifax West, I might have forgone the Greens, Dippers, or Liberals for these guys, if they’d run a candidate. Actually, maybe I’ll try to be one next time. It’d be an interesting way to meet people…

Speaking of voting, I guess I’d better get on that soon. I’ll have to mail in copies of my identification, and then I’ll get a special write-in ballot sent to me, which I then send … to the riding’s CRO, I think, but I could be mistaken. I did it in 2006, but I forget the particulars.

I have one prediction, and I’m pretty sure of it: Between our election and our neighbour’s, we’ll get sick of hearing about elections. I mean, I probably won’t – I absolutely live for this stuff. But most people will get their fill fairly quickly, I think.

Today was Monday. I mean, it was Monday. Not that I had a bad day – it was just, you know, Monday. It began inauspiciously – after the students’ running time, the outdoor morning meeting was held in the cool shadow of the gymnasium. I was thinking to myself and only kind of listening to the principal speak (it’s all in Japanese, of course), and just as I was wondering if I should have been watching the kids closely like the Japanese teachers were doing, I heard a splat, and then all of a sudden a kid was being hauled away. He or she had projectile-vomited on the pavement. The kids just aren’t built for sustained, hard running on these hot and humid mornings when the sun is broiling. Heck, I can’t do it without becoming a sweaty, thirsty mess. I’m glad I’m not a kid; I’m really glad I’m not a Japanese kid. (The well-to-do ones have access to the coolest toys on the planet, though.)

The tube on my rear bicycle tire has given out almost completely – it won’t hold air even for 10-15 minutes, so this evening I took it to that elderly guy up in Kitajima. When I got there, I discovered to my horror that I’d left my phrasebook back here in the apartment. It was a frustrating scene! He was closing, and after getting my tire pumped he suggested that I go with my bike and come back another day. But I knew I couldn’t make it home on my tire, and I barely made it there, and so after a long while (and a lot of gestures) we came to the mutual understanding that I just wanted to leave my bicycle there now for him to look at tomorrow.

Today was also F.’s birthday. We had dinner and cake at Dear, a hip café-restaurant on the road to Aizumi. F. is using her half-holiday tomorrow morning (I used mine last Friday afternoon), and so we put her on a train to go see a friend in another town overnight.

At Dear, I spent quite a bit of time arguing with K. (and even with Ch. and F. to a lesser extent) – I was for some reason bitter and frustrated about a great many things. I just kept on finding things to be furious about. It was like the punk version of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket.”

Some of my ‘arguments’ reminded me of what it was like at Sainte-Anne when I kept getting frustrated with the language lab (truly, it was the bane of my existence there). After sweating and slaving in the hot lab (usually wanting all the while to go back to my room and write), it was easy to get annoyed with what I perceived to be technical limitations or outright mistakes. Since I was demanding excellence of myself, I ended up demanding perfection from others, and in the end I just looked ridiculous. At one point I was standing in the lab and shouting in the presence of someone whom I later learned was a Rwandan Genocide survivor about how I “just wanted things to be perfect.” Actually, it was a great experience for my language learning – the pure rage and frustration made the French flow as from a faucet. I don’t think it was so great in terms of social relationships, though. =)

One thing I was frustrated with is the inane “questioner” we’ve been given to fill out. Upon further reflection, it was a silly thing to get cheesed about. I just feel that English (or language in general) in any professional setting must be immaculate. Especially the written material. People make judgements based on one’s spelling and grammar. I am sometimes one of those people. And if you’re asking me to do something that I may, or may not, really want to do, the things that I perceive to be errors borne of carelessness are really going to stick in my craw.

Based on personal experience, I know that it is possible to speak and write in a second language at the native level. I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve looked up the staircase and seen the necessary steps. It’s a tough climb, but the way is pretty clear. What’s more, I’ve met people who speak English as a second language at what I might call a “beyond native” level – they have studied so carefully, thoroughly and methodically that they know the nuts and bolts of English better than we do. So I find it hard to be sympathetic towards people in a professional setting – it’s their job to utilize the language in question clearly and pristinely, and if they’re not willing to put in the hard work necessary to do that consistently, then they should probably find another job. K. does not agree with me on this point, and I admit my attitude is somewhat extreme. She pointed out that since I’m so critical of others, maybe I should be more critical of myself. I am. Take this journal: I reread and make little fixing edits all the time, but I’m still sure you can go back through it and find many stylistic and grammatical missteps, and many more outright spelling mistakes as well as simple typos. Please point them out; your input helps me inch closer to perfection (though I know I’ll never quite get there).

Submitted answer / Snappy answer

1. Do you have any hobbies?

- I enjoy creative writing, literature, and trying not to be an

- I enjoy sleeping, drinking, karaoke, writing, writing about Japan, writing about my job…

2. Have you been to other country except Japan? [sic, et alibi.]

- I’ve been to the United States, England, and Wales. I have lived in Canada, Poland, Ukraine, and now Japan.

- Yes, there are some!

3. Do you have any favorite words or personal motto?

- I believe that responsibility should lie in the hands of the individual.

4. What would you like to do if you have a time machine?

- I’d go to a time far in the future to see what has changed, then come back here to profit from the knowledge. This would be unethical, but it’s hard to imagine a noble reason for time travel – as tragic as the many mistakes of the human family have been, what would we know were it not for having experienced them?

- I’d go back in time and tell myself not to take this job.

5. What would you like to be if you could be any animal for a week? Why?

- I feel that being a human makes me animalistic enough! We are animals in our private lives, our politics are those of pack animals, and we live and die as any other animal.

- I’d be a bird… so I could fly away.

I think the feeling of being exploited is what’s making me such a crank these days. The banner on the website above these profiles ought to read, “Look at who we’ve suckered into coming here for sub-substandard wages!” but of course it won’t, and the website will go out of its way to imply that we’re all standard, certified teachers. (I thought that didn’t really matter before coming here. I was wrong.)

I often wish I could just stop the world and get off for a bit – one good use for a time machine, and K. had written about this, but she decided that a time machine would be a bother because you’d end up doing many more things in the course of a day, and it would just make life more hectic, not less. Wise. She also spoke about witnessing important historical events. I’d be reluctant to do that unless the time machine came with a phase cloaking device – and even then, whatever you observe, you change. There’d be a chance that the changes would be more than trivial. I’m confident that history would have taken the same general track, but the details could end up being quite different and you’d probably end up not being born. Travelling into the past just doesn’t seem worth the risk. General relativity also offers a plausible one-way ticket to the future (not to mention anywhere in the Universe), but don’t expect to be able to come back and call your broker – the stock market will be an archaeological dig at best.

OK. Hang laundry, go to bed. There just isn’t enough time.

Election '08: Opening Speculations

In 2000, the Alliance was not a threat. It was my first federal election as an eligible voter, and I felt free to vote as I pleased; in the end I voted for the NDP incumbent, who’d appeared for a candidate’s debate at my university in place of then-leader McDonough, and rather than being disappointed that McDonough couldn’t make it (it was understandable; she was a party leader, and we were in the heat of the campaign), I was impressed by his gentle confidence and his erudite disposition. So I voted for him, but he lost to the Liberal, but that was OK, too, because our Liberal is well-connected and has a well-deserved reputation as a hard constituency worker. (Now if only he had a blog…)

Despite voting NDP, in this election I was rooting for Joe Clark’s Tories. Actually, I was probably just rooting for Clark. Aside from Clark, the party was all but dead, and it was hard to stir up enthusiasm for their no-name candidates just to support a terrific but long-shot leader. Still, it was a respectable last hurrah, and Clark won his seat in Calgary Centre.

It should be noted that 2000 was an odd situation – there were no Liberal incumbents in my province: in 1997, not one Liberal was elected from Nova Scotia! In the wake of John Savage (who had to make many unpopular decisions), the Liberals were not popular there, and at the Maritime-level Charest’s Progressive Conservative remnant really cleaned up (the Reform wave mercifully missed us, so we still had A-list candidates), and the NDP made big gains at the Liberals’ expense. Unfortunately, the Tory resurgence stopped at the Quebec border.

By 2004, the Conservatives had by then stolen the branding and the lineage of the Progressive Conservatives, and the new wolf in sheep’s clothing was now a serious pan-national threat. Martin barely got a minority. You can be sure I voted for our Liberal incumbent.

2006 seemed like a toss-up. Confident that our Liberal would be re-elected, I voted Green, partly because I was going through a lot of trouble to vote by mail and the best I could probably do was to help confer a little bit of legitimacy on that party by voting for their candidate, even though he didn’t have a chance.

And now, in 2008…

The Conservatives (I refuse to call them the Tories – in Canada, that name died along with the Progressive Conservatives) will probably at least retain a plurality. However, the landscape could still change dramatically: The Bloc could become the daily kingmaker – if they perceive the progressive parties to be gaining ground and willing to grant Quebec-friendly concessions, they may support a Liberal / NDP / Green opposition bloc. In any case, after this election, the Conservatives will need the Bloc – the Liberals can’t afford to spend another parliamentary session abstaining from critical votes or being seen to prop up the Conservatives, so I wouldn’t expect more of the same behaviour.

The irony of the present situation is somewhat droll – you’ll remember Preston Manning and his exhortations to “Unite the Right?” Now we may need to “Unite the Left,” though I really hope it doesn’t come to that. I don’t want to see our five-party “system” reduced to two or three. A diversity of voices is good for democracy. I also happen to have a fondness for minority governments – they’re so much more interesting to watch. Although sometimes, like in Nova Scotia recently, they just find a way to get down to business, and kudos for that. But we’re not going to see that kind of civilized restraint in federal politics anytime soon!

Could we come out of this election with some sort of a coalition? That could be interesting. If Harper has a plurality but can’t command enough MPs, could Dion and Layton (and heck, maybe May – but the Greens will be lucky to elect May and keep Wilson) get together?

THIS JUST IN: predicts a Duceppe minority! Actually, mathematically anyway, it could happen if the seats were split closely / deeply enough. I wonder what would follow? Gee, it’s fun to speculate.

124. Pigeon Netting / Bicycle Slash-and-Repair

Oh, goodness - they put up pigeon netting over the whole front of the building. Way to lock the barn door after the horse has been stolen - where was this the first time they were nesting? And now there's a new problem - what do we do with the nesting bird on my balcony? It and its presumptive hatchling have no way in or out - save tearing a hole in the netting, which would then defeat its purpose. I'd better go speak to Mk. this evening.

Update, 5:30pm: I found Mk. at the dorms after work - she was working with a security video guy to review the records over the last few weeks because most of us foreign teachers have had our bicycle tires slashed or otherwise flattened over the last few weeks. I'd like to think that most of it was the fact that a cheap $100 utility bicycle from China isn't likely to have the world's greatest tires, but the fact that we've had such a spate of tire failures makes us a little suspicious. F. had a repair done, and then her tire was slashed less than a week later, and the whole thing had to be replaced (about $50 - not far from the cost of buying a new-to-you bike!). The people who live here know which bikes are ours. Not all of them like foreigners, and many may be envious of our so-called "freedom," as M. put it.

Anyway, that said, because she was there I was able to ask her about the nesting pigeon on my balcony. It just so happened a fellow who helped put up the nets was there, and even as we talked we saw pigeons hovering at the balconies, wondering why they couldn't touch down. He came up to my apartment and caught the bird, carrying it out the back door and releasing it into open skies. He cleaned up the whole nest, including the egg.

The birds are still fluttering around outside and making a racket, but they're, so far, all on the outside of the netting. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a nest or two that we missed, but that would be a simple matter of snatching the bird - it can't go far in the enclosed space of the balcony. I hope, though, that this is the end. If I never have to deal with one of these rotten flying rats again, it will be too soon.

OK! Off to pick up my bike! If my tires turn out to have been slashed too, I'm going to have to start parking my bike away from the dorms.

9:00pm: Slashed, no - punctured, yes. Perhaps I drove over something sharp and pointy. My tires feel as good as new, and the repair only cost ¥1300. Well, I can certainly live with that.

I parked my bike at our building, but I tucked it way way back as far as I could - which I had been doing, but then I stopped, and then I got the tire problem. (This is just an association; it's not demonstrable causation.) Making my bike the least accessible of the bunch is probably the best protection I have.

A lot of bikes fall over each other; I really like the baseball players here (they even helped Ch. bring up her suitcases), and it's hard to imagine any of them slashing a tire, but they can be kind of careless with their bikes. More often than not, a bunch of bikes lie sideways whenever I go to take mine for a ride. I'm sure some of the jagged edges of the old, rusty, possibly abandoned ones have claimed a tire or two over the course of S.G.'s storied history.

Ah... this is great; a weekday evening without a care in the world!

9/13: It soon became obvious that there was another bird trapped inside the netting. It's been flying around from balcony to balcony ever since the netting was installed. Q. and I just tried to make a grab for it, but it got away again. I hope someone catches it, but I feel like I'm the only one paying attention, and it'll probably end up just dying due to starvation and stress. Sigh.

9/14: Finally! Q. was able to get the bird to go into his apartment and fly out through his open door! Ah, finally, the pigeon odyssey has come to an end!