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!