Sunday, December 31, 2006

Coveniently-Timed Execution

Perhaps the execution of Saddam Hussein will call the attention of most people away from the fact that the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since the Bush Administration invaded the country is only two away from 3000. (Actually, it's much higher, according to a conversation I had in an airport with a soldier on leave who pointed out that any soldier who is fatally wounded, but dies while being transported out of Iraq, is not counted among the casualties of the "war." Figures of the number of casualties for both Americans can be seen at the, and those for Iraqui civilians at Iraqui Body Count.)

Even more insulting to Muslim people is the fact that Hussein was hung during Id al-Adha, "an important holiday considered a time of forgiveness and compassion." According to the International Herald Tribune, "Id al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, honors the biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son Isaac for God before God decided to spare Isaac's life" and is "the most important date in the Islamic calendar." The Tribune states that "Muslim countries often pardon criminals to mark the occasion, and prisoners are rarely executed at that time."

I'm not suggesting that Hussein should have been pardoned. However, regardless of the atrocities he committed, this was hardly an eye-for-an-eye or a tooth-for-a-tooth execution. It was a blatant political maneuver.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Alicia's Smile

Alicia is not her real name. It's the name she would most likely have if she were American and not Japanese. She's a college student in a conversation class I teach.

Alicia has not been the best of students. In fact, in class she often seems despondent, making little if any eye contact with me. I've had to ask her not to sleep in class a couple of times. If she were in American class, she might be thought of as a student with an attitude.

A week ago, the class activity was to write a letter about a personal problem, real or imaginary, and ask for advice, using a pen name. Alicia wrote the following:

"I'm sleepy everyday everytime.
Because school is hate.
Morning is hate.
Maybe, every night is very busy so, I'm tired
but I need money.
I must work every night.
I'm very tired.
I hope want holiday.
I want sleep.
I want go to shopping.
I want go to my friend's house.
. . . etc . . . [sic]
I hope get up time. What should I do?
Sleepy Girl"

I have no doubt that what Alicia wrote was very real. As I read the letter, I realized that the young woman is simply not getting enough sleep, mainly because of her part-time job. Knowing how grouchy I myself can be without enough sleep, I began to understand why she has an “attitude” in class. I was particularly dismayed, though, about her stating so blatantly that she hates school. I wished that I taught at the school full-time so I could be accessible for her or any students who wanted to discuss problems they were having with school, work, friends, parents, etc.

Then, yesterday, we were discussing a topic that was fairly easy for everyone, housework and chores. (Many of the topics in the textbook, such as abortion, cloning, and addiction, are much more challenging for this class of Child Care majors whose English grammar and vocabulary are extremely limited.)

The students were in small groups for discussion, as usual. After talking about who does the housework in their family now, and who they expect to do the housework in the future (when they have a roommate, partner, or husband), I had them do a kind of role play in which the people in each group were housemates. They had to come up with a schedule of chores, which could either be permanent or rotating.

I circulated the classroom, making sure the students were on task, helping them with vocabulary and spelling, and discussing the topic with them. When I got to Alicia’s group, I noticed they had written “walk the dog.”

I asked them what kind of dog they had. They weren’t able to answer at first, so I asked, “How big is your dog?” gesturing with my hands to show different sizes. Alicia replied with her hands, showing the approximate size, so I asked, “That big? It’s a pretty big dog.” Again, I asked, “What kind of dog is it? A German shepherd? A collie?” using breeds they might understand. One of the students in the group finally piped up, “A Dalmatian,” and everyone eagerly agreed.

At that point I saw that it was Alicia’s “job” to walk the dog 4 times a week. I asked her if she liked dogs and she nodded. “Alicia and the Dalmatian,” I said, to which she and her “housemates” responded with a giggle. I continued, “It sounds like a nice story for children, ‘Alicia and the Dalmatian.’” Alicia’s face brightened and, for the first time, I saw a genuine smile.

I don’t think Alicia hated school at that moment. She enjoyed getting special attention. What’s more, she understood everything I was saying. As for me, I’ll never forget Alicia’s smile.

Below is a photo of other students enjoying English conversation in Alicia’s class.

Alicia's Smile

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moments Teachers Live For

In my Advanced Writing class this morning, I experienced one of those rare moments that teachers live for. The class is small, only 6 students. This being Japan, the 3 young men sit on one side of the aisle and the 3 young women on the other. The students are busy with the final stages of the research papers they've been working on all semester.

One of the students was using a quotation, and I noticed that there was a quote within a quote. In my usual serious way of teaching, I said to him in a stage whisper, "I'm going to teach you a secret about using quotation marks, but don't let any of the other students know, OK?"

Naturally all the ears in the room perked up, and everyone listened in as I explained the usage of single quotation marks for a quote within a quote. As soon as I had finished, they all dashed over to his desk to find out the "secret" information. Peering over his shoulder, those who understood the usage were explaining it to others in Japanese.

I wish I had captured the moment on camera - students crowded around a desk, excited about learning and cooperating to help each other understand. If I had simply "taught" the usage by lecturing about it, about half of them would have been listening, and fewer than that would probably have gotten it right. As it is, I think they'll all do it correctly if their paper happens to include a quote within a quote.

The "secret information" technique is not one I use every day, but it certainly was successful this time, and I'll keep it in my bag of teaching tricks. The success of getting the information across was not, however, due only to a teaching trick. It also took a class that was comfortable with me and students who had bonded. That together with an unusually enthusiastic group is what made the moment.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I Can't Stop!

In 2 of my English conversation classes, I'm using a textbook called Impact Topics. This week, class discussion stemmed from one of the most popular chapters, entitled "I Can't Stop", which focuses on addictions.

In both classes, I made a couple of discoveries. One is that the students don't really understand the concept of addiction. A couple of them who have part-time jobs and work 5-6 days a week thought that they were workaholics. I explained that, unless they continued to work beyond the number of required hours and to do extra work without pay, they weren't really workaholics.

I gave the example of what happened the previous week when a couple of my TOEFL students asked me about the difference between "only" and "just." I ended up spending about 6 hours researching the two words on various Internet sites, coming up with several pages with numerous examples of usage. I'm still not satisfied that I can give a clear explanation and will most likely spend more time on it. Now that's a workaholic! (It's also the reason I haven't been doing my duty as one of the teachers at the ESL Help Center at Dave's Cafe. I simply was spending too much time except on the simplest of answers.)

After my discussions with small groups and talking with the entire class about the nature of addiction, many of the students (if not all) had a much better understanding of the difference between liking something (such as watching movies, which many of them enjoy) and being addicted (watching movies for hours and hours, often until the wee hours of the morning, interfering with their studies and/or work).

I always start out the class by telling them how I'm a chocoholic, and explaining other "holic' terms such as shopaholic. At the end of the class, I ask them what addictions listed in the text they think I've checked besides chocoholic and workaholic. They can usually guess surfing the Net fairly quickly, but it takes a while for them to guess alcoholic. In fact, today there were numbers of different guesses, and one student finally came up with "drinking alcohol." When I said, "Yes," there was a cry of astonishment.

I told them how I used to drink a great deal, a bottle or two of wine, every night, which they found hard to believe. I also explained quickly that I was a recovering alcoholic, through the help of a support group, and that I hadn't had a drink for well over 8 years. I added that I could never drink again, even a single glass of wine.

Students fill out Self-Assessment Forms every week where they can give feedback on what they found interesting in their group discussion, and can ask me questions. I somewhat expected some comments on my self-disclosure about my alcoholism. To my astonishment, not a single student in either class mentioned it. Most of them focused on their own possible addictions or those of others in their group. Some felt they might be addicted to something (a common addiction was use of cell phones) and others came to the conclusion that they weren't. My openness about my own addictions seemed to give them more permission to talk about their own concerns.

Although I always talk briefly of ways of getting help with one's addictions - everything from hot lines to professional counseling to (peer) support groups - very little of their discussion seems to get into those areas. Last year, however, two of the students who smoked decided to start their own quit smoking support group of two. For others, if they need to seek help some day, at least they've been introduced to the concept of support groups.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fake Priests in Japan

This is with regard to a BBC "news" story, Faking it as a priest in Japan, was published on the BBC Asia-Pacific site November, 2, 2006.

The first time I met Mark Kelly in the part-time university teachers' room, he mentioned his "side job" as a wedding minister. He seemed to do so almost apologetically and wasn't forthcoming about the details. I sensed, and later discovered, that he was not actually an ordained minister. That's why I'm surprised that he was so candid about his experiences with a freelance journalist, Kathleen McCaul.

I am even more surprised that, out of whatever news organizations she may have contacted, the BBC was the only one to accept her "story." From what I know, Mark only spoke to her casually when she travelling through Japan. Her whole report was anecdotal. She didn't get any statements legitimate sources, such as the wedding company for which Mark worked.

As far as I'm concerned, it was totally unethical of the BBC, as well as the reporter, to print anything that was off the record and dubious, at best. Going for the sensational is not up to former standards held by the BBC. Furthermore, since they are claiming they don't know who is telling the truth, the reporter or the source, they are not printing an apology or retraction of any sort.

Whether such fake priests are in existence is a whole other issue. While I would think there would be an appeal to traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies, couples these days seem to find it romantic to get married in a chapel with stained glass, a bell, ribbons on the pews, and foreign man [sic] dressed in a robe. Most aren't concerned with the Christian aspect. The decorative aspect is what counts, much like the colored lights, Santa Claus suits, and Christmas trees that start making an appearance in mid-November in department stores and supermarkets, along with such delightful numbers as "Jingle Rock" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." A bit of a return to Saturnalia.

This is not just an occurrence in Japan. There are certainly Americans who don't consider themselves Christians who celebrate Winter Solstice, not only with lights but perhaps even with an Xmas tree, and the exchanging of cards and gifts. As for weddings, my Unitarian Universalist minister in Racine, Wisconsin, was often asked by couples to perform ceremonies for those who wanted to be married in a church, but who didn't necessarily want a Christian ceremony. The only difference is that, in the U.S., someone with official standing must sign the wedding certificate, but it could be by any Justice of the Peace as well as someone was who had a "mail order" ordination.

What I'd really like to see explored is the number of fake English teachers in Japan. There are far more of them than there are fake priests!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

37th National Day of Mourning

Pilgrim: Illegal ImmigrantThe 37th National Day of Mourning was held on Thursday, November 23, 2006, at 12 Noon on Cole’s Hill (the hill above Plymouth Rock) in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was sponsored by the International Action Center.

The explanation of the event on the website is: "An annual tradition since 1970, Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day. Many of us fast from sundown the day before through the afternoon of that day (and have a social after Day of Mourning so that participants in DOM can break their fasts). We [the United American Indians of New England] are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. NDOM is a day when we mourn, but we also feel our strength in political action. Over the years, participants in Day of Mourning have buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed ku klux klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford, etc."

From a speech by Moonanum James on the 32nd National Day of Mourning, 2001: "The greatest single acts of terrorism to date were not perpetrated by Osama bin Laden, but by the US military when it dropped atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fast for a World Harvest

"More than 850 million people suffer from chronic hunger," according to Oxfam America. "In the US alone, almost 36 million people live in poverty. Globally, 30,000 children under the age of five die every day, mostly from preventable causes, including malnutrition.

An email I received from The ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History stated, "The problem isn't a lack of food. We have more than enough to go around. The problem is the distribution, something we, with other countries around the world, can be the first generation to fix."

Suggestions to raise awareness include participating in a Hunger Banquet on the Thursday before Thanksgiving (in the U.S.).

If the banquet included 20 people at the table, representing the world’s population:

  • 3 would be served a gourmet, multi-course meal, while sitting at decorated table and a cushioned chair.

  • 5 would eat rice and beans with a fork and sit on a simple cushion.

  • 12 would wait in line to receive a small portion of rice that they would eat with their hands while sitting on the floor.

The true power of an Oxfam Hunger Banquet is that as you eat your meal, unlike the real world, you see what’s on everyone else’s plate.

Fast for HungerAnother suggestion is to Skip a Meal for Oxfam. This helps to make one more conscious of the number of people all over the world who go without meals. The money saved can be contributed to Oxfam.

A third option, that could be used by teachers for their students or parents for their children (as well as for themselves), is to play the Hunger Game. One "sits" at a banquet table, but the luck of the draw could mean either feast or famine.

The site also includes a Hunger Quiz and some "Recipes" for Change.

Although I accessed this information too late to bring it to the attention of my students in time to participate this year, I will certainly include the "games" in future lesson plans. In fact, in Japan the Hunger Game may be more appropriate at New Year's, which is generally a time for feasting on traditional food. Older generations, who grew up during or just after World War II, may well remember when there was little on the table besides course grain and pumpkin.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Peace Pulse

I have recently installed the Peace Pulse on my computer. Every hour on the hour, there's a chime as a reminder to pause for a minute of silence, contemplating peace in one's own life and in the world. Another chime rings at the end of a minute.

The chime, which can be downloaded at , can be kept open in a small window. Such a wonderful, simple way to keep us focused on peace!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Getting Vetted

The following post is written by Mac (the cat).

Mac at the Vet's This morning we had an adventure! We didn't know what was happening at first. Mommy put Tippy in our carrier, but he really didn't want to be there, so he pulled at the door until he got it open and escaped. Then she grabbed me and put me in, but when she put Tippy in again, I got out. Then she tried to put me in again, but we both escaped. Since Mommy's bigger than both of us, she finally got both of us in. Our adventure began!

First she took us into the hall and down the stairs, where we almost never get a chance to go, but we were in the carrier so couldn't run up and down the stairs playing. Then we got into the back of a car driven by a man who smelled a little like smoke. We haven't ridden in cars very much, and I think it's pretty exciting, but Tippy was scared so he buried his head under my arm.

Then Mommy took us into a small building and put us on a bench. There was a nice lady talking to Mommy, but on another bench was a dog. I've never been so close to a dog before, so I watched him closely. He was really quiet, for a dog, and just sat there with his person, but I was kind of glad we were in our carrier.

Soon a man in a white coat invited us into his room. I remembered him from the smells. He opened the carrier, so I had a chance to get out, but Tippy just stayed in a corner of the carrier. The man put me on a table where he was touching and pushing me, and then he put something in me that kind of pinched. It didn't really hurt much, and he seemed like a nice man, but I made a few noises just so he'd know I didn't like all that touching. Mommy and another nice lady were holding me and talking to me, so I felt pretty safe.

Tippy at the Vet's
Then they put me back in the carrier and made Tippy come out. I could tell that Tippy didn't like it, but he was really quiet. I was on the floor and couldn't see what was going on, so I made a few noises.

Tippy got back in the carrier with me and curled up against me. Actually, I curled up against him, too, because I was still a little scared and I didn't know what was going to happen next. We got in the back of another car driven by another man, and soon Mommy was carrying us up the stairs. We were home again! Tippy and I walked all over the room, sniffing and checking to see if everything was the same.

An adventure to another place can be pretty exciting, but home is the best place of all!
Mac & Tippy Curled Up Together

Friday, October 27, 2006

Don't push too hard

What do a mechanical pencil and an iPod have in common. Both of mine broke down this week. Or, at least, I thought they did.

In the case of the mechanical pencil, it turned out that I was pushing too hard (not being able to read the warning written in Japanese on the side). The lead comes out by pushing GENTLY on the cap. Whenever I use mechanical pencils, I also tend to push so hard that the lead breaks, so I need to practice writing using a lighter hand.

As for the iPod, nothing was showing up on the screen, even after pushing on all the possible menus, turning the wheel numbers of times, and making sure the batteries were recharged.

During my lunch break, I rushed to the Apple store (10-15 minutes away by subway) and ran in more or less shouting that my iPod had died. I was stumbling my way through a long explanation in Japanese when the English-speaking "genius" at the genius bar calmly handed it back. It was working!

"How did you do that?" I exclaimed.

"You push on the center button for 5 seconds," he explained (not adding GENTLY, but I knew that a soft touch was all that was required.)

I muttered a quick thanks, adding "5 seconds" in Japanese, and ran out of the store, explaining that I had a class that started at 1:00.

I think the message is that I may be pushing too hard in my life!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Laws Enacted by My Students

In my class at Fuji Women's University, the topic for the day was what should be prohibited. The example in the text was about smoking, and we talked for a bit about how the rules against smoking were gradually getting more strict in Sapporo. For example, it's no longer permitted on public transportation and even in the stations. What's more, downtown Sapporo now has big signs painted on the sidewalks prohibiting smoking and littering (a new word for the students).

In small groups, they then had to make school rules, then laws for the city, and finally laws for Japan. Here's a slightly edited composite of what they came up with:

School Rules
  • No smoking in the school.
  • No pets in school. (They said that included my cats!)
  • Food and drinks should be allowed in class.
  • No cells phones in class.
  • No tardiness (being late).
  • No writing on the desks.
  • No sleeping in class.
  • No reading magazines in class.
  • No noise in the halls.
  • Driving cars to schools should be allowed.
  • No bullying.
  • No stealing.

Laws for Cities (Sapporo)
  • No parking on the streets.
  • No crossing against the light.
  • No littering, especially cigarettes.
  • No hiding trash in the snow.
  • People must buy their own trash bags.
  • No smoking while walking, including in Odori Park.
  • No abandoning animals or allowing animals to roam freely.
  • Cell phones shouldn't be allowed on public transportation.
  • No shoplifting.
  • No graffiti.

Laws for Japan
  • Going to school is required for 9 years.
  • Getting a driver's license is allowed at age 18.
  • No drunk driving.
  • No illegal drugs.
  • No drinking for minors.
  • No smoking for minors.
  • No sexual harassment.
  • No domestic violence or sexual abuse.
  • No cruelty towards children.
  • No kidnapping.
  • No illegal aliens.
  • No polygamy (multiple marriages).
  • No religious cults allowed.
  • No stealing.
  • No scams.
  • No fraud.
  • No sleeping during meetings of the Diet.
  • No nuclear inspections. (I'll have to check what they meant by that one.)
  • No killing people.
  • No war!!!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Doing My Civic Duty

I was surprised to receive an absentee ballot in the mail without requesting one (although I had done so for the last presidential election). Have I made the world a better place by filling it in and sending it back? I'd like to think so.

A couple interesting non-binding (whatever that means) questions were on the ballot. One was whether "the state senator from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow seriously ill patients, with their doctor's written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use." Far be it from me to stand in the way of anyone's healing process.

Another was whether "the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon the President and Congress of the United States to end the war in Iraq immediately and bring all United States military forces home from Iraq." I doubt if anyone currently in the West Wing is going to pay attention to any such resolution, but I was glad to see the question raised.

(Note: The color of the letters in this post is an indication of how I voted wherever it was possible, except for State Senator [where there was no candidate of color running].)

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Some would simply call them coincidences. I prefer the term "synchronicities." It has a kind of Taoist sound to it. What I'm actually talking about is running into people unexpectedly. It happens so frequently in Sapporo that it almost be eerie if it weren't so very, well, Tao.

This evening it was when I was coming home from a conference in a suburb. I stopped in Sapporo Station for my monthly cheeseburger fix, and standing in line right in front of me was a student from yesterday's (Friday's) class, in fact, one of the guys who's most active in the class. (Aside: yesterday I got a kick out of watching the lightbulb flash over his head when he made the connection between "auditorium" and "audience," and practically shouted, "So "audience" means "listening people," which I affirmed.)

I had thought that would be my synchronicity for the day, but just as I was coming out of my subway station, I ran into a part-time teacher from the same university whom I haven't seen for a while (a piano teacher who studied in Hungary for a number of years). She said that she's teaching Wednesdays instead of Fridays this semester, which is why I haven't seen her.

Last week Sapporo Station was also the scene of a synchronicity when, after chorus rehearsal (held downtown that evening instead of at the concert hall near my apartment), I ran into a student who was in my TOEFL class at Sapporo University the next day. Then, the American exchange student who had been taking my Teaching Development class, also at Sapporo University, was riding on the same subway car. I think he was a bit embarrassed because he hasn't shown up for the class this semester. I didn't have time to ask him about it, since I saw him just as I was getting off, so I said, "Email me." He didn't. And the other student I ran into didn't show up for class this week. Oh, well.

A few weeks back, I went to a concert at Kitara Hall. The friend who gave me the ticket wasn't able to go, but when I was looking for a seat, a student from the educational university was in the audience. Her mother, who was with her, was kind enough to give up her seat so we could sit together and talk about her experience student teaching.

Going back to September, when I was on my way to Singapore (actually to the airport near Osaka where I would change to the plane for Singapore), another student from the educational university was on the same plane. That's five times I can think of when I ended up on the same plane as someone I know, going from or coming back to Sapporo. So I guess the chances of that happening are 5 in 1,800,000!

One of the more pleasant synchronicities, again in Sapporo Station, was running into a friend, Kathleen, and her husband, Terry, last August right after I had finished the audition for Sapporo Symphony Chorus. The experience had been so intense, and I really wanted someone to share it with, since my cats don't fully appreciate it. Kathleen and Terry made a great audience. What wonderful timing!

These are only a few examples of the synchronicities that I have at least once a month. I don't know what to make of them, although others in Sapporo have also told me how they seem to run into someone they know everytime they go downtown. In fact, a couple of my friends are convinced that the population of Sapporo isn't anywhere near 1,800,000. It's really more like 40,000, but the same people just keep moving around so that it gives the illusion of there being more.

If you're from Sapporo and have "synchronicities" like this, let me know about it!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Pioneer in Hokkaido, Japan

Sally Kobayashi Giving PresentationA friend, Sally Kobayashi, gave a talk as a representative of the American Consulate about American "pioneers" in Hokkaido. I was one of the seven people chosen!

One reason she chose me is that I've been the only non-Japanese in Sapporo Academy Chorus for nearly 14 years, and I recently passed the audition for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus, again being the only non-Japanese.

She also talked about my doing hypnotherapy. As far as I know, I'm the only practicing English-speaking hypnotist in all of Hokkaido. Interestingly enough, although I intended to provide a service for those from English-speaking countries, nearly half of my clients have been Japanese, mainly seeking relief from stress!

Sally may have mentioned my forming SOAR, Sapporo Organization for Addiction Recovery, the only English-speaking support group for those recovering from alcohol or drug abuse in Sapporo or Hokkaido. Although we don't meet weekly, the few people who have come to a meeting stay in touch. In fact, a couple of us see each other at work. I don't know any other alcoholics in Sapporo who have "come out" about their addiction. Since Sapporo has such a small non-Japanese community, it takes courage. The main thing is that hope to reach others who may be seeking support.

Other pioneers included some people I know, one who has been a foster mom for more children than I can count; another who published The Couch Potato's Guide to Japan, the first book in English about TV; and another who started Project Santa, a volunteer organization that raises donations for child welfare homes.

Sally herself is a pioneer, who's written a book entitled Creating the Sapporo Snow Festival Sculptures. You can see Sally in the photo where she's speaking at the Edwin Dun Memorial Museum in Makomanai. She's considering writing a book about American pioneers in Sapporo and Hokkaido, of which there are many more.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Possible Nuclear Test in North Korea

This just in from the American Embassy in Tokyo:

On Monday, October 9, U.S. and South Korean intelligence services detected a seismic event at a suspected nuclear test site in North Korea. North Korea has claimed it conducted an underground nuclear test, but these reports are unconfirmed. The United States Government is monitoring the situation closely.

Comment by J.P. Scott (2006), who sends a satirical message daily from his website, The Daily Whale:

What do you think about North Korea's claimed nuclear test?

A. I can't figure out whether they faked it incompetently, or actually did it incompetently.

B. They're planning to deliver this bomb how? With the missiles that don't work?

C. Surprise increase in threat level, exactly as predicted.

D. Arright! Finally! The excuse for action!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fun with TOEFL

Zonked TOEFL Students
The course was a joke to begin with, but that's another story (including why I have no textbook or CDs to teach with). I actually enjoy teaching TOEFL! And I guess students enjoy my teaching because four of them who have actually spent a year studying abroad were in my Sapporo University TOEFL class, which just started today. (They're the ones you see in the photo after I had a hypnotism session with a private class to help them concentrate and focus better during the exam, as well as feeling very relaxed.)

I was feeling a bit crazy during the class and, perhaps because I had students at a high enough level that they could understand, I couldn't stop cracking jokes. At the end of the class, I told the students, "I'll probably be here next week, if my tooth doesn't kill me." (My tooth is hurting badly because I still haven't had it capped after having root canal a couple of weeks ago.) Then I asked the students, "Which is the correct answer? (A) CA is coming next week. (B) CA is going to die next week. (C) CA has a tooth. (D) CA has no teeth." The students laughed. I imagine they'll be back next week, for more craziness, if nothing else.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Smelly Remedy for Sleepy Students

When I walked into class this morning, about half the girls had their heads on their desks resting. Granted, it's a 9 o'clock class (I myself have to get up at 6 a.m. to get to school on time), but I thought, "Oh, no. I'm going to be struggling with a bunch of sleepyheads."

What I did was to get out small aromatherapy kit that I carry around with me. Then I told them, they could choose "Energy," "Relaxation," "Romance," "Cleanse," or "Concentration." I went around the room, as each girl chose, holding a small bottle under her nose as she inhaled and leaving a drop of her chosen aroma just under the nostrils.

The atmosphere of the class changed completely, becoming totally charged with energy. There was a fairly even distribution in their choices, but what made the difference is that they all began talking (in Japanese) about the experience. I don't suppose any teacher had ever tried aromatherapy with them before! :-)

That and a jazz chant helped everyone wake up, and the students ended up having stimulating discussions. Ironically, the topic was Dreams!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Talking with a Naprapath

Dr. Paul Mach, an expert in nutrition, visited our international women's group. At his site, The Center for Modern Approaches to Comprehensive Healthcare, there is a quiz you can take regardidng your own state of health. There are also numerous articles for free on the basics of diet and taking care of both your mind and your soul.

One of Dr. Mach's biggest concerns about the medical profession is that they tend to treat the symptom, rather than the cause. Also, because of the way the health insurance system works, they tend to overmedicate. (This is particularly true in Japan.)

I've had personal experience with this in that, when I woke up with a terrible earache one Sunday morning, I went to the only nose/throat/ear clinic that day and got drops for my ear. The earache cleared up to some extent, but I ended up with an even worse sore throat and went to another clinic near my apartment, receiving even more medication. I still had both ear and throat problems when I flew to Singapore, although I managed to survive without too much pain by constantly blowing my nose and yawning during both the ascent and descent.

When in Singapore, I got a terrible toothache and, by chance, was able to find an accomplished Indian doctor who, after looking at the x-ray, said I'd need either root canal or to have the tooth pulled. In the end, the cause for my sore throat and earache was a decayed tooth!

Dr. Mach's advice
, from a handout he gave entitled "Basic Human Care, 101", is:

(1) Drink PLENTY of pure water (most people are dehydrated and do not drink enough.
Drink at least eight- 8-ounce glasses of water each day.

(2) Homo sapiens require EXERCISE. ("The human species is a dynamic, vibrant, powerful creature designed for athletic prowess, not being a couch potato.")

(3) BREATHE. Breathe in the air. The body needs to be oxygenated.

(4) Eat appropriate to the species. (If we don't give junk food to our pets, why do we give it to ourselves?!) That includes plenty of veggies (means at least half of the food you eat by volume), avoiding deep fried food, partially-hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil, avoiding refined sugar, avoiding refined carbohydrates, avoiding chemical additives, eating slowly, chewing your food thoroughly, and never skipping meals.

(5) ELIMINATION: take in nutrients--eliminate waste.

His website is definitely worth exploring! Whether he remains in Hokkaido, where he is living with his Japanese wife, remains to be seen, but it would be wonderful for us to have access to an expert in nutrition and health.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Woot Canal

"Not today! There's no way I can do it today," I told my dentist on Tuesday when he said that root canal would be necessary. I had a very good reason. That evening was the very first rehearsal for the newly formed Sapporo Symphony Chorus [see entry from Sept. 12th].

The next day was also impossible because of doing the narration [see entry from Sept. 13th], and yesterday I had to teach. So the operation had to take place this morning.

Even though the left side of my jaw and tongue were loaded with anesthetic (I get extra since I still felt some pain after the first and even the second dose), I used self-hypnosis to make the whole experience more comfortable. Since I had just come back from India, it was easy for me to visualize a temple.

During the whole operation, using self-hypnosis, I was picturing the roof of a beautiful, golden temple being renovated. The construction was necessary to make the temple even more beautiful, so the noise helped as I imagined the replacement of eaves and statues. Every time the specialist moved, a light shown into my eyes, just as there would be a light streaming in through the roof of the temple, reflecting on the gorgeous, sparkling interior.

As a result, the operation was actually pleasant as well as comfortable. The team who worked on me is in the photo, including the specialist on my right, the assistant next to her, and my regular dentist on my left. All were part of the team that helped make my body, in particular, the roof of my body, a more beautiful place.

After Dental Surgery

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Singlish – a Simple, Direct Way of Speaking

Even before I went to Singapore, I had heard the term Singlish, but wasn’t sure how it might be different from “my” English. My friend, Kaori, who works at a company in Singapore, explained that it was much more direct and uses simpler grammar.

For example, at restaurants or shops, I’m used to hearing, “May I help you?” On the telephone, some use a formal expression such as, “How may I be of assistance?” In Singlish, the question is, “What do you want?” Simple. Direct.

Kaori also told me of the prevalence of the use of “can” and “can’t” as verbs. I thought she might be exaggerating. Then, after making an appointment with a dentist (a whole other story), I wanted to change the time of my appointment so called the office and asked, “Would it be all right if I came at 4:30 instead of 4:00.” The response from the receptionist (in the photo) was “4:30 can.” Simple. Direct.

Receptionist at Dental Clinic
When I was checking out of the Perak Hotel, one of the staff asked me, “Happy?” I was baffled. At first, I thought, I’m generally happy and today, on a scale of 1-10, it would probably be an 8 or 9. Then I realized she might be asking, “Were you happy with your room?” Or it could have been, “Are you enjoying your stay in Singapore?” Because I had no idea how to reply, I just said, “I don’t speak Singlish.”

Singlish would be a good language to learn. If I spoke it with my Japanese students, it would probably make communication easier. Simple. Direct.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As Scene from Singapore

Having the chance to talk with a Chinese businessman/hypnotist, a Muslim "information officer," an Indian dentist, an Australian artist, and a Vietnamese pianist, among others - this is especially what made visiting Singapore such an amazing experience. The beauty of Singapore is in its people, with so many cultures living together in harmony.

The only other place I've been that was so intercultural was Hawaii, but even there I didn't see the mingling of cultures that I did in Singapore. Granted it's made up of little "villages" - Little India, Chinatown, and so on - and some residents may never venture much beyond their neighborhood. However, when one does venture, the colors and variety are extraordinary. In fact, I wasn't able to choose a single photo that would capture Singapore as a whole because the whole is so multi!

To recount just a few experiences I had, I'll start with one of the least expected - a trip to the dentist. On the 3rd day of my stay in Singapore, I drank something cold that brought excruciating pain to a tooth on the lower left side. From that point on, I had a nearly constant toothache, a tragedy in a place with such delectable food. For temporary relief, I went to a drugstore and got a tincture of clove, which pretty much numbed the whole left side of my mouth.

Sign of Tooth in Little IndiaThe next day I was wandering around Little India and saw a sign with a big tooth. I took it as a sign! Rather timidly going up the stairs to the dental office, I was relieved when I opened the door and was greeted by a grinning Indian receptionist who was able to schedule me for an appointment later that afternoon. The dentist turned out to be a woman, very professional, who said I had the option of either root canal or having the tooth pulled, but it would be better to have it done when I returned to Japan. She loaded me up with antibiotics and painkillers, and, except for a slight case of diarrhea from the antibiotics, I was able to enjoy the rest of my stay, especially eating!

CA at High TeaAnother much more pleasant experience was when my two Japanese friends and I were having high tea at a hotel. It was my first time to have high tea - a bit like brunch in the afternoon, with all sorts of little sandwiches, fruit, a chocolate fountain (yikes!), and, of course, tea. I felt like such a lady.

Then a piano started playing, and it was wonderfully exotic and familiar at the same time, flowing with arpeggios and cadences. The truly gifted pianist was a young man and, when he took a break, I went over to introduce myself. He turned out to be from Thailand and appreciated having a fan. I loved his music so much, I asked if he had a CD. He asked me where I was sitting and told me to wait. A few minutes later, he appeared with a CD entitled "Just Piano." I asked him how much it was, but he said that it was a present for me! When he went back to play, I enjoyed the music all the more because of his generosity. The name on the CD was simply Jonathan. I've done an Internet search for him but can't find any website for him. At least I'll always have the music to remind me of my delightful high tea in Singapore.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Perak Hotel and Subways in Singapore

For the low-budget traveler who wants to be in the midst of Singapore, with all the sights, smells, and sounds of India, Perak Hotel (formerly Perak Lodge) is a great place to stay. The staff is extremely warm and accommodating. For example, when my roommate and I wanted to check out later than the hours posted, they graciously let us keep our bags in the room until we were ready.

Perak Hotel Staff

The hotel is in the midst of Little India, a truly colorful place to explore. I spent a couple of days, one with my friends and one alone, going through countless small shops selling Indian-style clothing, earrings, and sandals, as well as spices and food. Within a short distance of the hotel are both a mosque and a Hindu temple, which permit visitors. Naturally, there are restaurants all over, and I was able to have Indian food of various kinds for five days in a row!

Perak Hotel StaffAs for the hotel, the rooms were a bit cramped (not large enough to do yoga in), but not uncomfortable. Some of the facilities in our rooms, such as the shower (with water not as hot as it might be) and air conditioner (which was difficult to adjust to a comfortable temperature), were not in the best working condition, but with no major problems.

My roommate was bothered by the noise of the adjoining bars on the weekends, which stayed open until 2 a.m. One apparently was playing Indian music all hours. (They didn't bother me since I live in an apartment on a busy street so am used to noise.) At her request, the staff moved us to a quieter room on the other side.

Interior - Perak HotelBreakfast, with a huge fruit bowl and orange juice, is available in a small pleasant dining area from 7:00 - 10:00 a.m. Besides bread (including whole wheat), jam, peanut butter, honey, and cereal, there are hot dishes, sometimes eggs and sometimes noodles. The coffee and tea are both instant. One morning, at the tables around us, I heard at least 4 different languages being spoken by the various guests!

Had I known the hotel has its own wireless Internet set-up, I would have taken my laptop. It wasn't a problem, though, since less than a block away were at least 3 Internet cafes, charging $3 an hour, so I was able to check on my email. What's more, it was only 3-4 blocks from the subway station, so we could easily get around town, especially since my friend, Kaori, had bought us subway passes that only needed to be tapped at the ticket gate.

The subways in Singapore are so much more spacious than those in Japan, but just as clean. Electronic signs signal when the next train is due to arrive. People are generally courteous, standing at one side to let others off before getting on. For passengers who are standing, there are poles in the center to hold onto, so one can be near the doors and not treading on the toes of those sitting.

There are about 7 subway lines, and with all the escalators and long corridors, some of the stations can be a bit confusing to navigate. However, with a variety of artwork all over, even getting lost in the station can be pleasant.
Kaori in Subway Station

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Little Hoarse at the Zoo

CA in the Recording Studio
The laryngitis I was suffering from a few days ago had subsided, but my voice was far from normal. Nevertheless, the show, or in this case, the narration must go on. As a result, anyone buying the English version of the DVD of Asahiyama Zoo (Japan's #1 zoo, located in Asahikawa, Hokkaido) is going to hear a very sexy female narrator.

I couldn't control the huskiness of my voice, which was much deeper than normal. A number of times, I had to take a break to clear my throat in such a way that probably drove the producer up the wall. However, having performed for a number of years as a teacher as well as amateur singer, I managed to make it through the whole recording, which took at least 3-4 hours in order to make a 45-minute DVD.

Now the only problem is that if someone hears the narration and wants to hire the woman with that wonderfully sexy voice, I'll never be able to replicate it!

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Husky Narrator

Flying Penguins at Asahiyama ZooActually, I didn't do any narrating today, although I was supposed to. After having a cold for 3 days, I woke up this morning barely able to whisper, much less talk. The timing couldn't have been worse. This was the day to record the English narration for a DVD about Asahiyama Zoo. It was to start at 5 p.m. at Hokkaido Broadcasting Company. By that time my voice was audible but more suited to a narration about a frog pond than to flying penguins.

Polar Bear at Asahiyama Zoo
What we ended up doing was checking the captions, which consisted of putting spaces after all the commas more than anything. It could have been a real drag, but the footage of the animals in the zoo is so delightful that I really enjoyed the experience. Besides, it appealed to the "editor genes" that seem to run in my family.

If all goes well, on Monday I'll be narrating in my natural voice about polar bears, seals, spider monkeys, capybaras, penguins, orangutans, and other animals in the unique exhibits at Hokkaido's #1 Zoo.

(You can see the photos here and others at Macky's Flickr Site.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Creating DVD Labels

DVD Cover for Mac 'n' TippyWould you believe I spent the whole day, one entire day, creating labels for DVDs? I'd never done it before (actually, I'd never made a DVD until I got my new iBook G4 nearly a year ago), and it was really challenging getting the sizing right. The biggest problem was that the best part of whatever photo I used always managed to be right where the hole in the center punched it out. Anyway, have a look at a couple of my creations.
DVD Cover for Kyoto & Nara
The first DVD I made was , naturally, of my cats, including a slide show to the tune of "It's a Wonderful Life," and several home movies of them playing and fighting. I still have to develop a slide show for the trip I took to Nara and Kyoto during New Year's with my friend, Kazuko Otsu. That will take more time since I have a number of historical facts I want to add from the brochures I collected. Anyone interested, simply send me your address!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Just a Whiff

Tonight was LNO (lady's night out) with my international women's group. Besides 3 Americans, there were women from France, Belgium, the Philippines, and Canada. So of course we went to an Italian restaurant!

Only 2 of the women ordered wine. One was sitting right next to me, with the glass of red wine practically under my nose. The smell was really strong. I couldn't believe what started happening to me with just one whiff. I got transported back to a time when I was heavily into red wine, and I could sense urges beginning to surface.

It got so bad that I had to change seats with one of the other women. I did *not* want to sit there all evening thinking about *not* drinking!

When the woman with the glass of wine asked what was happening, I explained that the smell was too much for me. I also said, casually, that I'd be happy to give a presentation to the group sometime [about alcoholism], if there was enough interest. Even though I've known her for quite some time, she remarked, "Oh, right, I had forgotten," and it was said in a very supportive way.

It was to this group of women that I first "came out" over 3 years ago, and from time to time I make it clear that I can't drink. In fact, I purposely avoided going to last year's Christmas party because it was an all-you-can-drink affair at a restaurant, and I let them know the reason I wasn't going. For me, it was a big deal to make that decision and tell them about it.

However, as I discovered this evening, my not drinking is not a big deal to most in the group. "Oh, that's right, CA doesn't drink." About the same as remembering that a couple of the women are vegetarians, when we choose a restaurant. Just that simple, hardly worth batting an eyelash over.

So the surprise at what just a whiff of red wine could elicit, in addition to the surprise that my alcoholism is something these women are mildly aware of but it's no big deal to them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On Air

TakushokukanIn the photo above is a building in Nakajima Park that I've never seen. It played a prominent part, though, in today's TV broadcast by HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company) that "starred" one of my private students, Haruhisa Shirahama, and an American vet, Pat Olski.

The whole program started when Pat first came across photos of Nakajima Park on my website. He had been looking for information on the park because he was stationed there right at the end of World War II. He emailed me with a photo of the building in which the engineers had stayed, asking if it still existed. Because Haru, only 3 or 4 years younger than Pat, was a teenager at the time, I showed it to him. He not only recognized it but also knew what had become of it. Thus began a long and rewarding correspondence between our class and Pat, as well as many private emails between Haru and Pat.

The broadcast was scheduled today, August 15th, in order to coincide with shusen kinenbi, or the ending of World War II. Since the 6-minute segment followed a report on Prime Minister Koizumi's controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, it might have been watched by a large number of people in Hokkaidoi (in addition to my friends, that is).

Because of the TV broadcast, I learned that the building, called Takushoku-kan, was in the park from 1918 to 1979. Below is a view of almost the same place in the park taken this spring. It's hard to believe such a large building stood there for so many years and now no longer exists. The rowboats are still around, though.

Rowboats on Nakajima Lake in the Spring

Sunday, August 13, 2006

TV Crew Films at Nakajima Park

How is HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company) ever going to make only a 3 to 4-minute segment out of all the material they've gathered from us? Today they interviewed my student, Haru Shirahama. After saying, "I'm a shy guy," he talked to them for nearly 30 minutes, pointing out places in Nakajima Park that have changed and where buildings used to stand, particularly the one in photo sent to us by Pat Olski, the American veteran.

HBC must have at least an hour and half of footage altogether. Once edited, it will show on August 15th, the day of the end of the war in Japan. I'm hoping that there's so much, they'll want to use it for a longer program, perhaps even bringing Pat to join us. It would be great to have Pat and Haru meet in person, and have them share their different impressions of Sapporo as it was when Pat was stationed here, from November, 1945, to April, 1946.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The TV Crew Comes

Although the segment on TV is only going to be 3-4 minutes long, the HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company) TV crew spent a good hour filming my private English conversation class and interviewing me. The topic will be how we began a correspondence with an American vet, Pat, who was stationed in Sapporo for a few months just after World War II. Since one of the men in my class is only 3 years younger than Pat, a comparison of their views of Sapporo at that time is fascinating. (See my blog, Letters from Pat, posted June 8th, 2006). Sunday, there'll be more filming in Nakajima Park where Pat was stationed, and where my student, Haru Shirahama, and I first met while doing "radio exercises." Keep tuned!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Seals and Spider Monkeys

For the past two days I've been to the zoo, not literally but vicariously, through a DVD. The reason is that, at the end of the month, I'm going to be doing the English narration for the DVD, made by HBC (Hokkaido Broading Company). I've spent hours and hours going over both the narration and the subtitles, doing much more than proofreading them. The style used by the translator would have earned an "A" in my Academic Writing course. However, it was far too formal for the conversations in the video.

As I watched the DVD and edited the narration,
I developed a tremendous respect for the Vice Zoo Director, Gen Bando, who had the vision for the development of the creative exhibits that have made the zoo #1 in Japan. What he wants most is that the animals be allowed to play freely in as natural an environment as possible, without cages or bars. Also, he has come up with some fascinating juxapositions of animals, such as spider monkeys and capybaras (the world's largest rodent, with webbed feet that allow them to swim).

Working on the translation of the narration and the subtitles presented a challenge. I ended up shortening many of the sentences, adding a lot of contractions and exclamations - the opposite of what I do with my writing students.

I also felt that the use of the historical present would be more vivid and fit the action occurring in the video. For example, "Asako, the elephant, plays with snowballs," is better than using "played," since the scene is of the elephant actually throwing the snowballs.

A greater challenge will come at the end of the month when I record the narration, particularly the sections where there is too much text to fit the visuals, no matter how quickly I speak.

The biggest result of doing this work is that now I simply have to visit Asahiyama Zoo. Wouldn't it be nice if, as extra compensation for all my effort, they gave me a season pass!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Big Audition

Going to a big audition is ranks right up there being at an airport in England - hours and hours of sitting or standing around waiting. In this case, it was over 4 hours of waiting for about 5 minutes of singing. At least I didn't have to lug around any heavy baggage, only the score for Beethoven's 9th. (Of course, anyone boarding a plane to or from the British Isles doesn't have to carry around much else these days, either.)

The day of the big audition for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus arrived. I spent all morning getting my body into good physical shape, first doing half an hour of yoga. Then I warmed up with a CD by Claude Stein, whose workshop on The Natural Singer I had taken at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Finally, I listened to a hypnosis tape by my sister entitled "Standing Ovation for Actors".

When I arrived at the site at noon, I was delighted to see 5 other women from my chorus, 1 alto and 4 sopranos, also in the classroom filled with one-arm desks where we had to wait. There were 2 basses as well, with number of women, perhaps around 60, far outnumbering the men. In some ways, it relieved the tension to be with people I knew because we were all in the same boat and had a chance to compare notes [pun intended].

At 12:30, we were ushered up to another room with long tables. It got much quieter, many of the applicants intent on studying their scores or listening to music through headphones.
As each person's number was called, we had to proceed to the outside of one of the two audition rooms. There were 5 chairs lined up, and, after sitting in the farthest one from the door, we did a kind of musical chairs each time one of the singers came out of the audition.

When we got to the chair closest to the door, we were handed a one-page score which we had exactly one minute to examine, without making any sound. The one I got was in the key of C, not too challenging, with only one sharp and one flat thrown in for flavor. It would have been a lot easier, though, had I been able to hum through it and had there not been a young man standing in front of me with a stop watch.

It came time to enter the audition room, and I was surprised to find only one judge. I introduced myself, as instructed, by number (#89), name, and part (I emphasized that I was a Mezzo). The accompanist played a chord on the piano and the first note. I started sight reading the piece, which we were to do unaccompanied. In a couple places, I got a little lost, but the pianist was extremely kind in playing just a note or two in order to help me out. Under any other conditions, and with accompaniment, I'm sure I could have done it perfectly. As it was, I stayed pretty much on key.

Then came the bars I was to sing from Beethoven's 9th, a section of the quartet done by the soloists. That I got through with only one flub. In fact, I was surprised at my own confidence and lack of nervousness. Of course, I had sung the piece more times than I can count, although not that particular solo section. What's more, I knew that my pronunciation was superb, in that I had asked a German friend to help me out the week before.

Everyone in my chorus seemed relatively at ease as we went back to the first classroom to wait. We put our chairs in a circle, and some people had brought food to share (such a Japanese thing to do). I felt a bit sorry for those who had come alone, although I also had my computer with me to do some work while waiting. When the last bass to audition joined us, we thought the wait wouldn't be much longer, but we were wrong. An hour passed, and then another half hour. Our conversation died down. I got out my computer, and another soprano got out a book to read.

Finally someone came in to put up the numbers of those who had made the first cut. People rushed over, so I just took my time packing up my computer. After about 2 hours of waiting, 2 more minutes were not going to make much of a difference. The other women came back saying, "CA, what's your number?" "89," I told them. "Are you sure?" "Yes." I looked over, and the numbers were large enough that I could see the 89 on the board. Everyone in my chorus had made the first cut!

Again, we went up to the room with the long tables, this time fewer people, but still a considerable number of women, most of them sopranos. This time we were to audition in a quartet, so people were called out in fours. Since there were so many more women than men, they sometimes called only one or two numbers, always one of a soprano and sometimes an alto, whereas most of the men had to sing the section over and over again.

As each person in our group returned, we peppered her with questions, such as how fast the conductor was having them sing, and if they took a "cunning breath" on "welt," which goes for several measures. By the time my number was called, much more quickly than for the first round, the same tenor had been singing nearly the whole time, and the poor guy's shirt was soaked with sweat.

The alto and bass that I auditioned with had also sung with others before me, and their voices were all very strong. Mine, on the other hand, seemed weak, by contrast, since a high A is near the top of my range. (I keep saying that Beethoven never would have had the Sopranos sustaining those high notes had he been able to hear at the time when he wrote the Symphony.)

To my chagrin, I botched my entrance. In the section used for the audition, the alto starts, and then the soprano comes in. I didn't have the timing right because it was so sudden to start in the middle of the piece. We started again and, this time, I kept my eyes glued on the conductor.

My self-assessment, which I gave to the other sopranos, as that my notes were fine (I have a good ear and no problem staying on key), my timing was good, except for the initial entrance, and my pronunciation was great. However, my voice was so weak in comparison to the other three that it was then that I knew I probably didn't pass the audition. The others weren't as forthcoming about how they had done, but I knew at least one of them was a bit discouraged. We walked back to the subway station together, wondering how long we'd have to wait before we'd find out the results.

[Thursday, 4 days later]

I was teaching my intermediate English conversation class and telling them all about the audition. It was one of the women in that class who had first found the information about the formation of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus on the Internet and printed it out for me. I told them I'd let them know.

I went back to my apartment, across the hall from my office/classroom, and a letter from the chorus had arrived. I opened it, rather hesitantly, but couldn't understand it completely, so took it back to my classroom to ask my students what it meant. "You passed!" they exclaimed.

I really thought I hadn't made it, so I was stunned. Then I began jumping up and down, shouting, "I'm in! I'm in!" We all hugged each other, and I was so glad I had the chance to share the good news with them.

Later I learned that two of the four other sopranos in Sapporo Academy Chorus had also gotten in, one of whom has studied in England for a year, so I'll already have some acquaintances. The only sad part is that it means quitting my dance class, which I've been taking for over two years now. I'll keep taking private lessons from time to time, but I'll miss the other three women in the class.

I can still hardly believe it.
I'm a member of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Tipping Point

Substitled "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," this book by Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating exploration of how trends get started. He discusses so many phenomena, from how Paul Revere successfully aroused the Colonials in the Boston area to fight the British to how removing graffiti from the subways of New York helped to make the transportation system safer.

To quote from his conclusion: "The world--much as we want it to--does not accord with our intuition. . . . To make sense of social epidemics, we must first understand that human communication has its own set of very unusual and counterintuitive rules.

"What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. This . . . contradicts some of the most ingrained assumptions we hold about ourselves and each other. We like to think of ourselves as autonomous and inner-directed, that who we are and how we act is something permanently set by our genes and our temperament. . . . [But] to look closely at complex behaviors like smoking or suicide [he gives the example of an epidemic of suicides in Micronesia] or crime is to appreciate how suggestible we are in the face of what we see and hear, and how accutely sensitive we are to even the smallest details of everyday life. That's why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable."

The book has helped remind me what social beings we are, and to what a huge extent our actions often depend on our surroundings and the actions of others. A trivial example is how, in Japan, people are very obedient about not crossing the street against a red light. However, when traffic is extremely light or non-existent, if one person crosses, others will follow suite, as though they've been given permission.

Another more serious example is the difference I saw in reactions to the Vietnam War and the Gulf War in the 90s. I was in the Boston area both times. During the former, the Peace Movement was huge, with thousands marching down Massachusetts Avenue and congregating on the Boston Common.

During the latter, I was on my way to a class one evening near the Town Square in Waltham and saw a small group of peace activitists, maybe only half a dozen, on a street corner holding a sign against the war. This was at a time when it seemed that almost every building was plastered with yellow ribbons, and the few who had the courage to speak out were glared at, if not worse. Tears sprang to my eyes as I passed by; I wanted to show my support by joining them, but could only say, "Thank you."

Where were the thousands who had joined the protests in 1969? Surely many of them were still in the area. Yet, it was easier to join a popular movement than an unpopular one.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun

An absolutely fabulous, must see movie:
It really made me think about my priorities
and it's fun to watch!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Up the Ski Jump

CA at Okurayama Ski Jump
Hiked up Okurayama Ski Jump with members of my international women's group today. Weeks of training by going up the stairs at school and at subway stations helped. However, my calves were still sore the next day [added later: and for the rest of the week]!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Becoming a Spark Person

It was at 12:34:56 p.m. on 7/8/90 that I first began my venture in sobriety. If I had managed to stay sober since that date, it would be 16 years today (it being Saturday in Japan). As it is, I have around 8 1/2 years, and I feel good about that.

In celebration of my initial anniversary, I've joined Spark People. The past 2-3 months have been sugar and chocolate-free for me most of the time. Now it's time to get even more serious about developing good eating and exercising habits.

To do that, I have to add two major elements to my routine. One is putting about half as much on my plate as has been my custom. The few times I've experimented with that, I find that I can be just as satisfied by eating less. Often I end up finishing what's on my plate somewhat mechanically, rather than out of need for or enjoyment of the food. Nutritious snacks, fruit or some kind of protein, between meals also help me to keep my energy up. I have to make sure to stock up on these items. I can no longer eat like a 15-year-old or even a 50-year-old!

Second, I need to get moving. On a humid, albeit cool, day like today, that's easier said than done. (In fact, regardless of the weather, it's nearly always easier said than done.) I have plenty of *ways* of getting more exercise - a beautiful park to walk in as well as lots of yoga and dancing videotapes. Unless I make use of them, however, many of my clothes are going to continue to be snug or too tight to wear.

I sense that becoming a "spark person" is certain to help. To quote from the site, "The SparkDietTM is a four-stage process that helps you make the elusive jump from 'dieting' to a 'fresh, new lifestyle.' These stages zero in on the keys to a lifestyle transition that fixes the problem once and for all - motivation, healthy habits, and confidence." What's more, it's free, which is pretty unbelievable (although it's possible they get income from subtle endorsements for certain brands).

On the Spark People site, you can set goals in terms of weight loss, food intake, and exercise. It will calculate how long it will take to reach your ideal weight. (The date it gave me happens to be my 62nd birthday, although it doesn't really seem possible that I'll weigh under 130 pounds by then. However, I'm going to stay optimistic.) The site has ways of planning meals and keeping track of calories/carbs/fat and nutrition. It has a means of tracking how many calories you've burned through exercise.

Anyway, the timing seems right for me. My concert's over, I have only 1 more week of classes at 1 of the universities, and 3 more weeks at the other 2. I have 1 month coming up (August) when *all* I'll have is private classes (including a new private student), lesson planning for the 2nd semester, an audition for another chorus (connected to the Sapporo Symphony), a hike with my international women's group, my dance classes, chorus rehearsals, and my Macintosh Users' group - in other words, a quiet month!

Today I've already been happy with what I've done for my body - a 30-minute walk in Nakajima Park and 7-grain cereal with banana, raisins, and yoghurt for breakfast. As part of the Spark plan, my goals for today are:

Eat 2 fruits or veggies (ridiculously easy!)
Get 8 hours of sleep
Tell 1 person about my goals

Well, with this post I'll have accomplished all 3, so I'm a successful Spark Person today! Get a Free Online Diet

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July on the Kitty Hawk

Little did I know, as I enjoyed a reception on board the aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, that around 6 hours later, North Korea would be firing test missiles into the Japan Sea. It wasn't much comfort that the missiles landed closer to Russia than to Otaru, the seacoast city of Hokkaido where the Kitty Hawk was docked.

(Unknown to me at the time was the information put out by the International Action Center that "on June 14, the U.S. Air Force held 'a quality control test' for its 500 Minuteman III missiles. One of these missiles traveled 4,800 miles towards the central Pacific, and three test warheads landed near the Marshall Islands." Yet, the U.S. is going ahead with sanctions again North Korea.)

In addition, being a pacifist, I had somewhat ambivalent feelings about celebrating Independence Day on a warship. Nevertheless, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that ended up being fascinating, particularly talking to a number of officers at the party.

One question I had for the officers was about their ribbons, and I got explanations about what they meant - all the way from expert in shooting (near the bottom) to a commendation for serving in Iraq. Several officers told me how tedious it is to rearrange the ribbons each time they receive a new one, since they have to be in a set order. (Various ribbons and their order of preference can be seen at: U.S. Navy Medals and Ribbons. Also, if they get worn, they have to be replaced, at the expense of the officers. When wearing their dress uniforms, they must attach medals, which is even more time-consuming, although they assured me that the medals can all be mounted together.

When we went up to the flight deck, where my Japanese friends asked another officer, a mechanic for the jets, about the rectangular sections of the deck that were standing at an angle. He explained that they were to prevent the exhaust coming out of the jets with enormous thrust from sending any of the crew rolling into the sea! He told us all about the safety precautions. Of course there are initially classes on safety. However, after that, anyone who's going to be working on the flight deck simply sits and watches for a number of days. After that, they are taken around by a buddy, literally hand held as they learn the operations. Finally, they are ready to work on their own. Even then, there can be terrible accidents. He described one he saw in which the cable that catches the jets as they're landing accidentally broke and cut off the leg of one of the crew members. He assured us that he's seen such a hideous accident only once in his 12 years of service.

Throughout the evening, there were a number of ceremonial activities, including speeches by dignitaries and the cutting of the cake. The finale was a fireworks display in the harbor which we saw from the flight deck (which would have been more impressive if I didn't live near the place where Sapporo has a huge display of fireworks, that go on for nearly an hour, three Fridays every July).

We only got to talk with one female officer, a helicopter pilot, and I only saw one other. One of the female crew members who was cleaning the washroom told us that there were 150 women in the lower ranks and 50 more in higher ranks, although she wasn't sure of the exact number of officers. A friend who visited a different day talked with one who was truly enthusiastic about her job, which turned out to be lowering and raising the anchor. I would have liked the chance to talk with more women to find out what it was like being at sea as a minority.

As we were leaving, we saw numbers of sailors returning from Otaru with shopping bags. Probably several had bought gifts from the many glass factories in the city to send back to friends at home. We also saw a large "63" in bright white lights on the side of the ship and asked about it. The ship was the 63rd aircraft carrier built by the U.S. Navy. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to board the ship before it is retired in 2007.

For more about the Navy's oldest active warship, see the official website of the USS Kitty Hawk.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Honban is Japanese for the actual day of an occurence, in this case, our concert. It was a huge success, one of the best I've ever been in. The conductor, Michiyoshi Inoue (whom you see in the photograph with me), was incredible. In rehearsals he had just the right images to get what he wanted from us. Since he has studied ballet, he also uses a great deal of body language. In fact, during the concert, there were places where he was kind of dancing, and others where he'd be rolling his arms to indicate the movement in the music.

The tenor, in his solo about being a roasted swan, if you know
Carmina Burana, sang from the balcony behind us. He staggered like a drunk from the organ down to the railing and kind of hung over it. The conductor was also reeling during the piece, in a kind of imitation. In another comical solo, the baritone took off his jacket and, at the end, through it at the conductor (which was rehearsed), who stuck out his arms from under the coat to conduct the very last notes. Both solos got spontaneous applause.

Naturally, that had all of us enjoying the performance as much as the audience. One of the biggest criticisms of my chorus is that we always look so serious. Not this time! I was concerned that we might end up losing our focus on the music and make mistakes, but, instead, the heightened state that it produced resulted in a heightened focus. Our timing was great, and, for once, we were on pitch. (My ears actually hurt when we're not.) The silence at the end of each number was very telling. The audience was truly caught up in the intensity of it all.