Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The last week on Hokkaido day by day: Thursday

I had my last class at Nishi today. I had 2 classes of grade 1 students. They’re incredibly genki and I had a great time. I had wanted to take a bunch of video in the school but the teacher wouldn’t let me. I did however manage to snag the following video upon my departure!For some reason leaving this school wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. Perhaps I’m getting more used to the fact that I won’t be doing this anymore. After class I went by the town office in Memuro to say good-bye and get my last paycheck paid out in cash. I went to City Hall with my supervisor, picked up the cash and then we said our good-byes. I darted back over to Nishi because the teacher wanted to meet Keenan. It was near pandemonium but he kept good control of the kids and we had a great visit. Then I darted over to JA to close my bank account and Keenan got a free Anpanman fan for his unbearable acts of cuteness!

In the afternoon we got some more packing and cleaning done and then Eiko came over for what should have been our last visit. She brought us all nice gifts but the best one was for Keenan. Eiko and Keenan are very good friends and Keenan loves it when she sings Japanese nursery rhymes to him. So Eiko bought him a book of 6 nursery rhymes that are written out in hiragana and katakana and the book plays the melodies you can sing along to. He absolutely loves it and we do too cause we can learn the words to the songs and sing them to him. Eiko also brought some nice sweets over and we had tea and sweets together in the middle of our near bare living room. It was a really lovely afternoon and I just couldn’t imagine it would be our last visit for a long time. We talked about times gone by and how much we were going to miss each other. There were lots of tears and we were all filled with sadness. Sean and I left Keenan with Eiko and the two of us went to the post office to mail 2 boxes. In the car on the way home we discussed how difficult it was to say good bye to Eiko so we decided to invite her out for dinner the next night. Hopefully we could put off the good-bye as long as possible.

When we got home Eiko helped Sean with his Sayonara speech in Japanese. Keenan’s teeth were really bothering him and I finally got him down late for an afternoon nap. After Sean and Eiko were finished we made plans to get together for dinner on Friday night. Eiko went on her way and shortly after 7 Keiko showed up. We had a thrown together dinner of all the food items in the fridge and cupboards that would have otherwise gotten thrown away. We sat around and talked, played with Keenan and did lots of laughing. We shared the last of the amazing tea Keiko brought me from Toyko 2 years ago and had some more sweets. Keenan started getting very clingy and whingy and it was getting difficult to hear our own voices. As this week wore on Keenan became more clingy and whingy with each passing day. We were very careful about packing his things up last and not rocking his world too much. He’s generally all for change but we weren’t too sure how he’d react to his home being packed up. By Wednesday I think he know something serious was going on and found it very stressful to lose sight of either of us. We’ve had to really work at being sensitive to his feelings as we’ve been so wrapped up in our own emotions and to be quite honest a day full of whinging doesn’t leave you with much empathy. So after about 15 minutes of the 3 of us trying to have a conversation we decided it might be a good idea if Keiko went home. So I got my beloved rocking chair out of Keenan’s room and we talked about how much I was going to miss it. Keenan and I have spent soooo many hours in that chair together and it’s just terribly heartbreaking for me to imagine it gone. We talked about the new family it would be going to and I asked Keiko to tell them that if they ever wanted to get rid of it they’d have to get in touch with me. I don’t know, maybe we can arrange to have it taken apart and shipped to us. Or maybe in the coming days/weeks/months I’ll get over it. For now though it’s hard to imagine that point in time. I carried the chair downstairs for her and we loaded it into her SUV. Then we stood downstairs in the grass, in the dark and said our “till we see you agains”. We hugged for a good long time and talked about how much our friendship meant to us. We shared some tears and Keiko promised to get herself on the Canadian conference circuit for immunology! I went back upstairs and I didn’t cry, I bawled. It was the first time Keenan ever saw me do that and he looked very concerned. The 3 of us had a nice big hug and Sean and I talked about the pain of leaving our good friends behind. If we would’ve had to say good-bye to Eiko and Keiko on the same day I would have been a nut-job by the days end. Thank God we averted that disaster! So I put Keenan to bed without our beautiful rocking chair. I carefully laid him in his crib for the last night before we dissembled it and brought it to the recycle shop. Poor boy I hope that doesn't stress him out too much.

After Keenan was sound asleep Sean and I did lots of cleaning. He tackled the freezer and fridge and I did more sorting of our stuff, stripped the bed and put away the laundry. We went to bed very late and were even too tired to watch Lost.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The last week on Hokkaido day by day: Wednesday

Started my day with packing. The novelty has worn off but I don’t officially hate it yet so we’re still ok! Keenan and I took Sean to Obi-Ro (Obihiro school for the hearing impaired) for his last day. I got home, got Keenan to bed, did a bit more packing and then some blogging. I’m determined to keep this “last week on Hokkaido” series alive. Micky and her husband stopped by and left with my Cuisinart ice cream maker, 7 closet organizers, a Pyrex roaster, 1 fleece shirt, 1 cotton sweater, a sack of organic popcorn and the movie edition of Trivial Pursuit. O’Flanagan special leaving Japan price: 6000 yen or roughly 60 Canuck bucks. Lucky folks! My sister called late in the morning. Actually she called 4 times but we kept getting disconnected. It was great talking to you big sis. I really needed that down time! Keenan toddled and made lots of noise while we were on the phone but mostly he kept himself busy by unpacking and repacking the box in the living room. Lunch followed the phone call, then back to Obi-Ro to pick up Sean. When he got in the car he had tears in his eyes. The kindergarten kids all made posters of his likeness and they were the only kids in all the schools he visits that noticed he shaved his goatee off more than a week ago. We went and got some boo-hoo ice cream and a Blendy and sat in the car and chatted a while. Then off to Nishimatsuya to pick up a sling to carry Keenan in and to support him while he sleeps on us in the plane. We zoomed back home to do yet more packing. Got the 4th box done and threw out a heap of stuff. Then a fellow named Ross came over and bought our car! Finally! He’s in the business of buying and reselling cars so we made less than half of what we were asking but the most important thing is we made $500 which is $500 more than we were lined up to make if he didn’t come along and buy it. Thank God that’s over! We had celebratory Mos Burger for dinner, did more packing and cleaning and then we watched a couple episodes of LOST and collapsed into bed. 3 more sleeps.

The last week on Hokkaido day by day: Tuesday

No surprise I spent the day packing! Keenan was an awesome little man. He took up with a long handled scrub brush and used it as a broom most of the day. Must’ve picked that up from his dad as I don’t handle anything broom-like. How lucky would I be to have TWO men in my life to do the sweeping?! I finished Keenan’s room. It’s empty save for his packed bag, diapering supplies, crib and rocking chair. Friday I take the crib apart and take it to a recyle shop and Thursday Keiko comes for tea and to pick up my beloved rocking chair. I would leave everything else behind for my rocking chair. I’ve spent so many hours with Keenan in that chair. It’s a very emotional thing for me to give it up but it would cost $700 CDN for me to get it to Canada. So Keiko (the person who bought it for me) is taking it to another friend of hers that just had a baby. If she ever wants to get rid of the chair she has to get in touch with me and maybe I can figure some way to get it home when we’re a little more cashy. Keenan and I went out for a couple of hours in the afternoon. We went to Nagasakia for the last time and I bought him a toy and a book for the flight from Tokyo to Toronto. They’re my meltdown prevention implements. On the cusp of an impending meltdown new books/toys/plastic containers are the best diversion. Hopefully we won’t need more than the two. We also went to Homac to buy another box. We’re up to 4 now and that’s our limit. Whatever doesn’t fit stays in Japan. Thankfully I got all the most important stuff into it so we’re not making any heartbreaking sacrifices. Except of course for my rocking chair. We didn’t start watching Lost until 11:30 pm and it was a freaking unbearable cliff hanger of a episode so we stayed up until 1:15 am watching the next one. I was a babbling idiot by the time I pulled the covers over my shoulders.

The last week on Hokkaido day by day: Monday

We packed, packed and packed some more. Sean’s folks called us in the morning. Will likely be the last time they call us in Japan ☹. Keenan toddled amongst our piles stuff and us and made a game of unpacking things we had just packed. Sean tackled the kitchen and I packed our clothes and a box. Looks like we’ll defiantly be needed that 3rd box. Oh well. We heard from Sean’s successor and she’s buying pretty much the rest of our stuff so no need to worry about that anymore. Yippee!

I spent some time closely examining the tapestry Nishida-san gave me in the sunlight and I realized I could see very faint lines she had drawn to mark the pattern. That should help make things easier for me and I’m a little more excited about practicing the stitches and getting down to my first attempt. I’m am terribly worried about mucking it all up though. It’s very different from her usual work, very feminine with a green floral print on a yellow background. Gives me butterflies just thinking about it!

The evening was filled with more packing and more emotions. We discovered all kinds of good food we've been hording and never ate cause we were afraid we wouldn't be able to get it again! Now it's gonna get given away, tossed or left for Seans replacement. Oh well!

Sean made us a lovely pasta dinner and we stayed up way too late watching episodes of Lost (yes, we are addicted!).

The last week on Hokkaido day by day: Sunday

Good-bye for now Akan!
Originally uploaded by kuckibaboo.

We went to Akanko today. Sean’s folks had a tapestry made by Nishida-san, a woman we’ve all fallen in love with and our mission today was to pick up the completed work. We also, were there to say good-bye to Nishida-san, her husband and the sleepy lakeside village known as Akanko. The drive there was pretty uneventful. It’s been really chilly here in Obihiro for the last week so we were adequately bundled, as it’s always at least 5 degrees colder in Akan. As we approached we could see blue sky stretching out beyond the volcanoes and over the village. A sign that this was going to be a great day as we’ve been there many times but today is only the second time we’ve had sunny weather. Keenan slept for the whole ride including our stop at the Ryugetsu cake factory to pick up sweets for the Nishida’s and us. He was very genki when we got out of the car, which was a relief, and we loaded him into the stroller and headed for the Nishida’s.

We headed towards their shop to the sound of hacking and pounding on wood. When we got closer we realized there were 6 or 8 big logs in the middle of the cobble street and many of the Ainu carvers were removing the bark hence the weird sounds. We noticed Nuburi Toko, one of the elder master carvers was overlooking the work of the younger generations and he barely spoke a word. He just nodded or shook his head or moved his hands this way and that and the younger men corrected their course. We ran into the Nishida-san and he told us the logs came from Canada. They bought them to carve and erect in the middle of the main street. They’re going to rework the main road to include the poles and even a stream. Everyone from the community took part in the design and planning and the arrival of the massive Douglas fir logs from Canada’s West Coast was the first physical sign of the change to come. The sketched out plans looked really lovely and we were both instantly sad that we won’t be around to see the work finished. Somehow though we both felt very proud that good ‘ol BC Douglas fir were chosen to be the centrepiece of their new community project. The Nishida’s promised to email us photos when it’s all finished.

So we went into the shop and Mrs. Nishida was there. She had indeed finished the tapestry. It is absolutely beautiful. Speed did not affect the quality of her work. Words can’t really describe it and I know Tom and Pat will be both impressed and moved to tears when they see it. We thanked her very much and gave her the sweets and a card with silver embossing of a Bill Reid carving. We had a great long chat and just enjoyed each other’s company. We asked if she had any other embroidered pieces or tapestries and she didn’t. She had one that was unfinished on the wall but that was it. She then got out her catalogue and asked us what we wanted. Sean and I went thru the catalogue and decided we wanted both a tapestry and then one piece that was purely embroidery. Nishida-san showed us her patterns and we decided on the elements we liked and then I picked out some fabric and it was done! She’s going to custom make us two tapestries and send them to us in time. I was so very pleased. She really is a master at her craft and she’s always so busy. I couldn’t believe she took this on for us. Right about then it really started to get emotional for me. It was very exciting to be able to discuss what I liked and pick out how I wanted the designs laid out and then we were pretty much done and it was time to say good-bye. We went into the back of the shop so I could pay for Tom and Pat’s tapestry and she turned around and went back to the front of the store. She came back with the unfinished piece that was on the wall and gave it to me as a present with instructions that I was to learn the stitches and finish it myself. What? I couldn’t believe my ears! First of all I just learned how to knit and I’ve been doing it for 7 months and I’m not terribly good at it. I haven’t done embroidery in years and I’ve never done freehand. I was stunned to think she thought I could even make a halfway decent attempt at finishing something she started. Then some tears came and we hugged. The store got busy, I paid for Tom and Pat’s piece, and we went to the front of the store and finally said our good-byes. Then more tears came, this time from both Nishida-san and myself. So we had a big nice long hug while all these customers milled around us. Then she spent a few minutes giving Keenan smooches and we went on our way. I cried and cried as we walked away. I felt sick and sad and full of unhappiness about leaving Japan and our great friends.

We spent the rest of the day shopping taking in the beauty of the place. I passed up the opportunity to buy a particular item in Biratori and I scoured Akan for one for Tom and myself but to no avail. The good news is our persistent hunting led us to two places we had never been before. In one shop we met a very cool young man named Kengo. He went to high in Australia and he had amazing English. He showed us around his family shop, gallery and workspace. He told us about David Suzuki and Bill Reid coming to visit on two separate occasions. He seemed pretty impressed by us Canadians! He gave Sean a small amulet he carved out of deer horn. Just like that. 20 minutes of conversation and blamo “I’d like to give you this present”. We said our thank-yous and good-byes and headed off up the street. The carvers were back at the logs after their lunch break and then had a truck mounted with a crane moving them into position. The master carver raised an arm and the others were put into motion. Another gesture and the log was repositioned. They had a large pickaxe type tool they used to move the log a few inches at a time. Every time it came to bear the weight of the log it forced sap from the outer layers and it made the air smelled of that loamy fir smell. It was a bit of a mind bender standing in Akan a week before we were to leave Hokkaido and have the aroma of our beloved BC rain forests wafting around us.

I ran back to the Nishida’s to buy a storybook for Keenan I had forgotten to purchase earlier. We looked into one more shop took our last look into the village and were off. It was very emotional leaving that place. But we’ll be back again.

On the way home we stopped just outside of Ashoro and drove up the hillside so we could have a view of the lake. We ate our chocolate and then headed home. We finished off our day with heaps of packing, and 2 episodes of Lost. We couldn’t have asked for a better last Sunday living on Hokkaido.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last day teaching English in Utopia

Thursday was my last day at Kamibisei. After my near meltdown on my last day at Minami I was a little more prepared for my emotions. I woke up to rain and it suited my mood but I wasn't going to let it wreck my day. I took Sean to work and then parked just below Obihiro no Mori Park and did some knitting for about 45 minutes while Keenan slept in the car seat. Keenan cried when I left the room at daycare. Poor wee guy. I know he gets over it fast but it’s hard when my parting memory of him is a view of his tonsils. I took my time getting to the school. Took lots of drive by photos of the farms and misty mountains. The potatoes are in full bloom right now and they are a terrific sight. Beautiful bands of pink or white blooms alternating with wheat just on the cusp of turning golden. I’m sure going to miss that drive. I arrived at the school and found the accountant tending the petunias. This is a typical sight at my schools. Everyone tends to the flowers and the best part is they all seem to like it.

My first class was with the grade 3 and 4 kids. There’s a total of 14 of them so they have a combined class. They’re a great bunch of kids and the ones in grade 3 were in grade 1 the first year I started working here. It’s great to have that history with them. And it’s been amazing to watch them grow and change. Since it was my last class ever with these kids I decided to scrap any sort of lesson plan and let the kids play their favorite English games. So we played Line and Row and Battle Janken for 40 minutes. It was a riot and I got a good couple of minutes of video of the later. It’s intense. And it’s a good demonstration of how good kids are at playing Janken (Rock, Paper, Scissors) in this country. Janken is used to solve any dispute and the final result is rarely challenged. It’s quite remarkable actually! I had a great class with those kids. We had fun, laughed a lot and the kids even used lots of English!
My second class was with the Grade 5 and 6 kids. Another small class (there’s about 41 kids in the whole school between grade 1-6) and another full class of games. The kids had lots of questions about what I was going to be doing in Canada (me too!). So we started off with a good chat and then we played games until a few minutes before the end of class. I said a short speech and wished the grade 6 kids luck with going to Junior High next year. I managed to keep it together in the classroom and didn’t cry until they all walked me down to the genkan and then the tears kicked in as they waved me out. Gosh, I hope I can keep it together for my last day at Nishi-sho this Thursday! Anyhow I had a nice slow drive to the daycare and stopped to take lots of photos. The rain let up and I stopped and got out of the car to get into some wheat and potato fields. I just had to see them up close. I’m sooo going to miss that school and that drive. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have had such a great job here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

These are the days

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this but I went back to work on a part time basis in mid June. I’m teaching English in the town of Memuro again. Same schools I had before save one. Keenan goes to daycare and seems to really enjoy it. He’s usually the only kid his age so he gets full on attention from his caregiver, which suits him oh, so totally fine!

Today was my last day at Minami-sho. It was heart wrenching. The kids and teachers there are awesome. All the grade 6 kids made me a present and wrote me a letter in English. Upon my departure all the teachers and a couple of the students came into the genkan while I changed into my outdoor shoes. They lined up and I shook their hands, then bowed and thanked them for yet another great experience. At the fourth of 7 people I lost it. I started to cry and couldn’t really say much else. Thank God so much can be said with a deep bow. Three of the students followed me outside and saw me to my car. They chased after my car until I got to the road. Waving, calling my name and shouting “good-bye” as they ran. I nearly came undone. Such good boys and so difficult to wave good-bye for the last time.

Tomorrow will be much worse. It’s my last day at Kamibisei-sho. Don’t tell anyone but it’s my favorite school. The kids there are golden and their voices will follow me forever. Something about that place got into me like sunshine and it always lifts my spirits to be there. Tomorrow will be very hard indeed.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pooh Story # 3: Pooh breath

In this my second year of being a parent I’ve come to learn that all the vein popping, really terrible things about being a parent are temporary. I am as I type praying this theory plays out for the rest of my years. Hair pulling, biting, nose picking and gas to name a few are all things we’ve come to deal with and some have moved into the ranks of being a near distant memory. Most recently as in a few short hours ago, I nearly had a melt down over a diaper changing “incident”. We’ve thankfully moved into a phase of our son’s life where only about 1 in every 6-diaper changes is a full contact/tackle sport (people the world over should be knocking on wood as they read those words in an effort to cancel the jinx I’ve created by typing those very words). But this morning during his first diaper change of the day (read: before 6 am) Keenan engaged in a habit that is sometimes funny, sometimes brain splitting and nearly vomit inducing disgusting. Basically Keenan likes to toss his salad when he’s diaper free. Can’t say I blame him much, given the fact he’s wearing a hot diaper around his fixin’s pretty much 24/7. It’s gotta feel good to well, feel them. Anyhow, we usually get a kick out of this and it’s of course never a problem when we’re changing a pee only diaper the BIG problem is when there’s pooh involved. It’s such a freakin’ nightmare to get the pooh off his hands before he gets it everywhere. Keenan never sits still so there’s always flicking, clapping, waving, wiggling and kicking involved in every diaper change so you can imagine the horror when any one of those actions is paired with pooh. Baby hands + twig and berries + pooh = parental meltdown. Today and for the second time in about 2 weeks (please don’t let this be a pattern) Keenan put his hands in his pooh, waved them about and then put them directly in his mouth. The hands got in the mouth while I was trying to keep the kicking feet out of the diaper. Obviously my triage priorities were backwards. Feet in diaper are less likely to get into mouth than hands in diaper. It was before 6 am don’t forget. My excessive cursing roused Sean from our bed and he came to my rescue. Sean held the bottom end while I cleaned the hands as best I could. Then I finished up with the bottom end while Sean washed his own hands. Keenan was standing up on the change table while I snapped his shirt closed. His face was level with mine and he giggled his poohy breathe all over me…Flash back about 10 years ago to a child-less Nancy and Sean on our first camping trip together on Salt Spring Island. We hitch hiked into Ganges for a coffee and some groceries. We were sitting in a trendy little outdoor cafĂ© and there was a young woman sitting a couple of tables away with two young boys. They were about 6 and 8 years old. She had a dreamy Parisian accent but her boys were a little less than dreamy. At one point she looked at one of them and yelled, “You’re a horrible little boy”. I thought to myself “what an awful thing to say to your child, I’m never say that kind of thing to my children”…Well this morning I was calling our “pooh ingesting toddler” things that were way worse (I may or may not have called him a “shit eating nightmare of a child”). Oh, how my image of that Parisian woman has changed. By now she’s a wise, sagely, saint of a mother with kids nearly out of high school and I’m a recently minted mom left praying for the day we move out of this poohy hands phase.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Happy Birthday Canada!

Today is Canada’s 140th birthday and we celebrated by going to the Friends of the World Festival at the Tokachi International Relations Center. There was lots of dancing, singing, games, socializing and general good fun. But the best part is that folks from all over the world set up food stands and offered up a taste of their home countries culinary fare. So yesterday we tried fried plantains from Ghana, curry and rice from Peru, Lemongrass soup from Myanmar and salad rolls from Egypt. Yummy yum yum! During our lunch we were treated to an earthquake while sitting on the grass. A truly strange feeling indeed! After lunching with Bret, Sara and Gwendolyn we headed over to Memuro Park for an all-afternoon BBQ. We’ve come to really love this little weekend ritual with Bret and Sara. It was especially nice to have Jonah who is visiting from Vienna and who is on his way to work in Tokyo for the summer, Katie and Kajsa stop in for a wee bit too. After that we went home and Dan and his family came by to buy Sean’s bike and a few other house hold items. We had a pretty good day all in all but can’t wait to be part of the big Canada Celebrations in Ottawa next year.