Japan is odd in many ways. Whether it's the products you find in stores (tentacles on a stick, no joke), or the cultural expectation of wearing slippers for particular types of floors (one set for indoors, and another for the bathroom). The oddest thing about Japan, in my opinion, is living here. You are transported to a reality that simultaneously places you in the past and future. Now, I am drawing a comparison between Japan and Canada (or more generally, between North America, and to some extent, Australia and the U.K. - perhaps other countries as well, but I'm drawing from personal experience). Why is Japan like simultaneously living in the past and future? Let me explain.
The Past: So if you think of bygone days, what comes to mind? What are some things that were common and are no longer but a memory? Well, let me give you some examples that are alive and well in Japan. Bicycles. Yes, I'm sure you're aware that bicycles are common in places like China, but were you aware of how common they are in Japan? They are everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Not just bicycles, but the type of bicycles remind me of travelling back in time to the 1950s. They're the kind of bicycles with baskets in the front and a bell on the handle. I'm not kidding. If you watch a movie from that era, you'll see people happily biking along on exactly the bike I'm talking about. How about trains? Trains used to be a common method of transportation. Guess what? They're everywhere here. Trains, trains, trains! So many different lines! Some of them are older and feel like they're from the 50s, I swear. In more rural areas, the train pulls away from the station with a tug, like pulling on a slack line. You can see the movement jostle everyone in the car.
Okay, okay. So bicycles and trains are a blast from the past. What else? Laundry. Yes, everyone owns a washer, but owning a dryer isn't actually common. Most people buy laundry clips and hang their laundry to dry on a line. It's true. In fact, I just finished hanging my clothes to dry. It's an odd thing having to take your clothes from the washer, and clip them to a string hanging outside your apartment. What year is this?
Remember fax machines? Well they're plentiful here. I use one every single day at work. I can hardly believe it myself. I find it so incredibly old fashioned. What about e-mails? What about computers? What about doing things that save paper? I'm not sure I understand myself. I guess Japan just prefers having hard copies of absolutely everything. So I spend my time filling out forms and dialing numbers. You think they're old, clunky machines? Nope. They're new. Yes, new, small, efficient, fax machines. Oh Japan.
Then we come to the topic of gas stations and convenience stores. You're probably thinking, "Wait, aren't those the same things?" Nope. They most certainly aren't, not in Japan anyway. I know travelling in North America is filled with gas stations and convenience stores being one and the same. Not in Japan. Take a trip back in time when those things were clearly separated. Your local "general" store carried everything you could possibly need in a pinch, and the service was always friendly. If you wanted gas for your automobile, you had to go to a different place, where it was always full service and they offered mechanical work if you needed. Welcome to Japan. In that sense, things are very much like looking back in time. Station attendants happily take care of your every vehicle need, and definitely offer any automotive service required. In fact, because it's Japan, customer service is always taken to another level. At some gas stations, expect the attendant to stop traffic and clear the way for you to leave safely, and in style. Now that's service.
If it isn't classic bicycles, gas stations, fax machines and hanging your laundry to dry, what else is a blast from the past? Simply put, gender roles. Japan is the place where women are exquisitely feminine and all the men wear suits. In fact, they're called "salary men". They work ridiculous hours and are never home with their families. Women graduate college, work as a receptionist for a few years then marry. It's true. They marry young and they have children. Then the men continue to work themselves to the grave, while the women take care of the offspring they've birthed. What's that? Is that the phone? Who's calling? Oh yeah, it's the '50s and they want their stereotypes back.
The Future: Honestly, I'm just going to talk about technology advances. For instance, the machines located in a train station. They can take bills, coins and most of them offer services in English. Then there's the gates. It's this elongated machine which you can either scan your pass through (you can buy a card that will scan electronically through your wallet, no kidding), or you can insert your train ticket into a slot and it will shoot through the other side of the gate. It's pretty amazing. It gets me every time. The city I'm from goes by the honour system. Kind of a huge mistake. In contrast, there's New York City, where you will actually get deported if you don't swipe your metro pass.
How about ATMs? Feel free to dump your change into these machines. That's right, ATMs process change. When you want to withdraw cash, a slot opens and the cash is presented to you in an expeditious and polite manner. (Not to mention the fact that everyone deals in cash. That's right, cash. Another blast from the past.) Or what about the presence of a copy machine/printer in every convenience store? They take USB keys, SD cards...whatever you can slap you files onto and print off. It doesn't matter, these machines will do it.
Japan is also very concerned about the environment. That idea is reflected in some city bus drivers that will actually turn off the bus instead of idling (even while at a red light). Although, I must say that I don't feel like it's helping much (if at all), but the thought is there. One hotel I visited, gave me a key card, which seemed perfectly normal until I got to my room. I attempted to turn on the lights but nothing happened. Then I saw a slot on the wall that asked me to insert my card. As soon as I did, all the lights came on. It blew my mind. They actually thought of a way to conserve energy even if you've left things on, because without the card, nothing would work. So if you go out shopping, and forget to turn the radio off, the tv, the bathroom light - whatever, removing the card would immediately shut it all off. Pretty cool.
I nearly forgot to mention trains again! Yes, there are old fashioned kind of trains, but there is also the shinkansen, also known as the bullet train! Oh my god. Prepare yourself for the most luxurious and comfortable train ride of your life. You have a lot more room than a plane, and yet it feels like you're flying. The train exceeds speeds of 300 km/h and feels like a soft glide just above the ground. If you're standing on the platform and watch the train go by, it rushes by with such speed and sound, that it's sure to surprise you! I grab my heart every time and feel the whirlwind wrap itself around me, like a plane passing you on the street. It's intense!
All in all, Japan really is like living simultaneously in the past and future. All of the technology (save fax machines) are a reminder that they are always ten steps ahead of everyone else. They have the ability to invent and implement everything right here, in their own country. Simple things like talking vending machines that can produce hot and cold beverages (depending on the weather), ice cream, beer and even cigarettes. Some ramen shops have a machine where you purchase your meal ticket before handing it over to the chef. Yes, technology wise they are "streets ahead". However, some things culturally remain rooted in old beliefs and traditions. Whether you're visiting a temple or shrine and witness apprentices wearing traditional clothing, catch a whiff of cigarette smoke from the numerous smokers (some places in Japan allow you to smoke EVERYWHERE), or observe the gender dynamics of a couple - the female wearing ultra feminine, frilly clothing and following behind her well dressed, male partner. Things in Japan are quite different from the rest of the world. Nowhere have I ever seen such a strange dichotomy of the past and future. I suspect that I will never experience this type of surreal reality anywhere else.
While looking for an interesting topic to write about, I searched for birthdays and events that occurred this day, October 7th. In my search I found something that made me laugh. On October 7, 1714, there was a riot because of a beer tax in Alkmaar, Netherlands.
I wondered, are there other riots related to beer? The answer: yes.
In 1844, during the early days of May, the people of Bavaria rioted against a beer tax levied upon them by King Ludwig I. Order was only restored after the King lowered the price of beer by 10%. This wasn't the first time a government official had to concede defeat.
In 1855, the mayor, Levi Boone, decided to renew enforcement of an old law and mandated that taverns be closed on Sundays. He didn't stop there, he also raised the price of a liquor license from $50 to $300 a year. Clearly, he was insane. The relative worth of $50 in 1855 would be over $1000 today! So a liquor license of $300 would be worth about $8,000! Which is absurd because a liquor license for a tavern in contemporary Chicago is only $4,400, or approximately $160 in 1855.
His greedy decision (probably one borne out of "Know-Nothing" ideas) caused the Lager Beer Riot. One Sunday, some tavern owners, largely German immigrants, were caught selling beer and were arrested. This spun into a spar between the police and protesters. At one point the mayor ordered the swing bridges to be opened in order to prevent more protesters from crossing the river. This left some people trapped on the Clark Street Bridge, where police opened fire over the Chicago river.
After 1 death, 60 arrests and 1 year later, Levi Boone was turned out of office and the prohibition was repealed.
Beer has been the basis for more than just riots, it was also the setting for an attempted coup d'etat by Hitler. (Not to mention the fact it also happened in Bavaria and this is the third time I mentioned Germans and beer riots.) Known as the Beer Hall Putsch (putsch means coup) or Munich Putsch. In November of 1923, Hitler and his loyal followers marched to a beer hall in Munich. They were attempting to overthrow the government by trapping an important figure, Gustav Ritter von Kahr, who was addressing a crowd of 3000 people. Hitler and the 600 members of the Nazi party surrounded the beer hall. Interestingly, despite being able to rile the crowd in his favour, Hitler was unsuccessful. He was arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison, however he was released after only 9 months.
Then there's the very well known Prohibition that took place from 1920-1933 in the United States. The reactionary measures of a few morally conscious people caused the birth of bootlegging and speakeasies. That period in the U.S. was rife with criminal behaviour. From the swinging '20s to the dirty '30s. Although I can't help but notice how after the market crashed in 1929 and the great depression occurred, it didn't take too long for them to repeal that decision. It seems that people just needed a good, stiff drink.
The last one I discovered, was the funniest. June 4, 1974, Cleveland stadium enticed fans to attend a baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers by offering 10 cent beer. That is CHEAP, no matter what year! Over 25,000 people showed up to the game! However, during the 9th inning, a fan attempted to steal a hat from the Texas outfielder, Jeff Burroughs. Burroughs tripped and this instantly sparked the Texas manager to order his team on to the field with bats swinging. Inevitably, this caused the inebriated crowd to start attacking as well. Who knew cheap beer and lots of people was a bad idea?
In short - beer has been a reason to start riots, attempt coups, and grandstand political, moral or economical ideals. Not to mention just behaving badly. BEER! Hey, I still love it. It's delicious.
Sooo...I've known for a long time that I would need to watch Game of Thrones because I'm a fan of fantasy - especially medieval + dragons fantasy. I mean, who isn't?
I'm presently watching season 2, episode 8 (I promise, no plot spoilers) and I'm grateful that I've waited so I can just power through a whole bunch in a row. I suppose there are two sides to that. On the other hand I know a lot of spoilers from being a citizen of the internet. In my opinion, it's a positive since I'm prepared for the mental and emotional anguish.
Believe me, there is anguish. Sometimes just disgust or perhaps a lot of loathing, maybe now and then a glimmer of victory, which you languish in briefly before it's cruelly snatched away. Oh Game of Thrones, she be a harsh and unforgiving mistress but she be beautiful. Ar, she be beautiful.
I don't know why that just happened. Anyhoo...I decided in my musings to list my favourite characters so far - that way you can pinpoint the exact moments of my unfathomable grief.
I can't believe it. I'm almost finished my TESL course. On Sunday I gave my practice lesson and this upcoming Saturday is my practicum. What's a practicum? It's a pass/fail test where I must teach a lesson to the class and my abilities will be measured as successful or unsuccessful. If I fail (unlikely) I will be required to try again. Luckily, I know I'll pass.
How do I know that? Well, I am confident in my teaching abilities (already!?) and I did very well on my practice lesson. If my practice lesson would have been my practicum, I would have passed. So that's great news! I'm less than a week away from finishing the first part of the TESL course. The second part is an online grammar class. That will be a breeze. Hopefully I'll finish it by August (they give you three months to complete the online component).
Who knows what will happen after that? I might stay here temporarily as a TA for an ESL class or I might just find a job and go, go, go! I'm going to take advantage of whatever opportunities I can find. I'm ready!
It's so exciting to think about teaching in another country. On that note, no, I haven't decided where I'm going yet and yes, I will be posting more information about different countries. I simply haven't had the time. When I do, I will! I already have a draft written up about Italy. I am strongly considering going there. It's a truly historic and romantic place. Not to mention, Ezio Auditore. Need I say more?
In the mean time, I'm putting together a lesson plan for my practicum and getting ready to rock it! I will keep you updated!
In Canada and the United States our observances are based on Christian beliefs due to the beliefs of the colonists who settled here. Valentine's Day is no exception.
The origin of Valentine's Day is at best, spotty. It's allegedly based on a man named Valentinus who lived under the Roman empire. He was imprisoned for apparently performing weddings for Christians. At this particular time in history, the Roman empire was heavily against Christianity. Valentinus was executed but before he died he sent a note to a special girl that ended with, "from your Valentine".
To be honest, it all seems a little too convenient to be true. Especially since the story isn't agreed upon. There were quite a few men named Valentine around that particular time period and different churches across Europe claim ownership to Valentine relics. That's the thing about Christianity, in my opinion it appears to be less about fact and more about ideals of morality.
Regardless of the alleged origin, Valentine's Day has evolved from religious worship by some to a commercialized "Hallmark" holiday observed by many. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that every year 190 million valentines are sent. In the U.K. they spend around 1.3 billion pounds (over 2 billion dollars) on Valentine related gifts annually. It is without a doubt a very profitable holiday for greeting card companies.
This reason might be why many are disenchanted with observing Valentine's Day. Coupled with being single can also be disheartening. I would argue and I'm sure some people would agree, that Valentine's Day is not just about celebrating romantic love. When I was younger every year my parents bought me Valentine gifts to show their unconditional love. Apparently I'm not the only child who receives such gifts since half the valentines in the U.S. are delivered to family members, typically children.
Despite the commercialization of Valentine's Day, I appreciate celebrating a day of love. You don't have to purchase an expensive greeting card or the typical chocolates and what-not. You can do what you like! That's the beauty of it. There are no rules. You're not required to do exactly the same thing as everyone else. You can make the day special by celebrating however you like. If you're single you could do any number of things. You could celebrate your friendships or family. If you're particularly touchy about Valentine's Day and prefer to be alone, then why not make it a day appreciating yourself? Make your favourite meal, watch your favourite movie. I'll be honest, when I was single I paid no attention to it. It was just another day. Mind you, I haven't been single in awhile and I think I would spend it a little differently now.
It doesn't matter how you choose to celebrate the day or if you ignore it altogether. It's your choice. I just like the idea of celebrating love. Love is truly beautiful in all its forms. So take the opportunity to tell someone you love them.
I love you, my readers! Here's a painting I did just for you! Have a great Valentine's Day!
P.S. If you feel like giving some loving back, please fill out my brief 5 question survey by clicking on this link. (No worries, it's still on my site.)
As a Canadian I thought it would be interesting to share a little about Canadian history. Today is Sir John A. Macdonald Day, he was the first Prime Minister of Canada. He played a very important role in Canadian history by joining the provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the province of Canada under the British North America Act in 1867. This act created a federal dominion and defined the government of Canada.
After the official creation of Canada on July 1, 1867, John Alexander Macdonald was knighted and designated the first Prime Minister. He is credited with creating a Canadian Confederation. In the 19 years he served, he took what was a small colony and spread the population across the land with the help of the railroad. Despite his great efforts he was never truly honoured with any fantastic monuments unlike his American counterpart, George Washington. It wasn't until 2001 that Canadian parliament named January 11 Sir John A. Macdonald Day, yet you wouldn't know it since it passes by unnoticed. Largely because it's not a holiday. It's a shame since without his hard work and dedication there might not be a Canada. Yet it truly speaks volumes about Canadian culture.
Everyday I do a little research and find events for that particular day. Sometimes it's a famous birthday or a bizarre holiday. Today it's a historical event. I learned about something that I didn't know before. I always appreciate learning. So I thought it would be a great idea to share it with my readers.
This day in history, December 6, 1917, Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) was shocked by something now known as the Halifax Explosion.
During the first world war, the Halifax Harbour was a crucial port for the Allies. Due to the success of German U-boat attacks, the Allies were forced to form convoys and used the Harbour as a starting point. The convoys would leave through the northwestern end of the Harbour which was guarded by anti-submarine nets and Royal Canadian Navy patrol ships.
In order to move between the Harbour and the basin, ships had to navigate something called "the Narrows". It was here that the Norwegian ship, Imo stubbornly refused to slow down or stop when they were met with warning signals from the French cargo ship, S S Mont-Blanc. This caused an inevitable collision, despite the Mont-Blanc's seasoned harbour pilot, Francis Makay. Unfortunately the Mont-Blanc was filled with munitions and the collision detonated a devastating explosion.
Smoke filled the air, rising over 6 100 metres (20 000 feet) and the explosion destroyed over 160 hectares (400 acres). The seismic force resulted in a 18 metre (60 foot) tsunami. Every building within 26 kilometres (16 miles) was destroyed or damaged while 1 600 people were immediately killed and 9 000 injured.
The resulting damages were worth about $35 million in 1917 but when adjusted for inflation, the damages would be over $531 million today.
The loss of life was horrific and what's worse, the relief efforts were not equally distributed. The black community known as Africville was heavily damaged but ignored by relief funds and reconstruction.
Death, destruction and on top of all that, racism. I wish I could say times have changed and this sort of behaviour is a thing of the past but unfortunately I can't.
Following the devastation of hurricane Katrina in 2005, I think it's obvious that the government was ignoring the citizens of New Orleans. Yet when New York was hit with hurricane Sandy, there was no end to the preparations and funds funneled into protecting the wealthy and white. I hope that people will realize sooner rather than later, that all lives are equal.
November 13, 1887 saw one of the most notable demonstrations in history. Britain had created a difficult social situation due to a severe rise in unemployment and suspension of many civil rights, mainly affecting the Irish working class. After years of unrest it had finally reached a breaking point. Around 10 000 protesters marched on to Trafalgar Square, a symbolic meeting point of the working class and upper class. In response 2000 police and 400 troops were called in to halt the demonstration. As in every political demonstration where the working class rises to defend itself against the tyranny of government and the upper class, the police relentlessly beat down the innocent protesters. Using their fists and truncheons they beat not only men but women and children. Most were injured with at least 200 being treated at a hospital and 3 suffering from fatal wounds and dying.
I wish I could say this behaviour was abnormal. I wish I could say that this type of thing remains in the past but unfortunately it doesn't. Unfortunately it's not unusual for the government to silence its people. The working class were merely trying to bring attention to their cause. They were practicing the art of free speech and bringing to light the atrocities the government refused to acknowledge. What was their reaction? To beat down everyone who attended. It didn't matter the age or sex, they were quickly and viciously shut up.
You wish to hear examples of present day demonstrations where protesters are mistreated? They are countless but here are just a few:
- Battle in Seattle
- Quebec Student Protests
- FEMEN Protests
- Bolivia Revolt
- Occupy Wallstreet
You'll notice one thing when reading about protests, past or present, they blame the protesters. They claim that they're violent and dangerous. Sometimes the media even paints them to be anarchists. What a ridiculous notion! Just because you disagree with the government or corporation or IMF/WTO/World Bank or whatever it is doesn't make you to be an irrational anarchist. It seems like "anarchists" are the next "terrorist", the next bogeyman the government and media warns you about. Well guess what, those protesters are defending you and me. They're defending their rights. They're simply trying to bring to light an atrocity. The Bolivia Revolt is a perfect example. An American corporation attempted to privatize water in Bolivia, meaning that everyday people would have to pay for a necessity, how absurd! They were punished severely for speaking out but that didn't stop them.
Another great example is the Battle in Seattle. The WTO (World Trade Organization) was meeting to decide the fate of the world as we know it. So peaceful demonstrations took place to try and stop their globalization agenda. Yet the media reported violent protesters, which wasn't the case. Yet it made everyone assume that the protesters were evil and the WTO were innocent victims. If you knew what the WTO were doing, you wouldn't believe it.
I could go on and on about this but I think it's important that everyone does their own research. Make your own decisions. It would be your choice to decide whether or not the media evaluated situations correctly. Yet I would urge you not to believe everything you see and hear on television. Think about who controls the media, it's not the people. It's corporate entities, bending and shaping it to their will as they see fit. Makes you think, doesn't it?
If you're really interested, there are some excellent documentaries. There's one entitled "Battle in Seattle" about the 1999 protest I mentioned. More importantly there's one documentary you must watch called, "The Corporation". It's on Netflix right now (if you have an account). I highly recommend watching it.
Remember, remember the 5th of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.
Today is Guy Fawkes Day, a memorable moment in history for Londoners. In 1605 Guy Fawkes (Guido Fawkes) and accomplices, all Catholics, planned and failed an attempt to destroy Parliament along with the Protestant King James. They had disagreed with his heartless political actions so they sought to assassinate him and replace him with who they considered to be the rightful heir, his daughter Princess Elizabeth.
Guy Fawkes had been prepared to set alight barrels of gunpowder when Parliament was back in session however as left his station the night before he was arrested. Following procedure he was tortured until they were able to obtain a guilty plea under duress. His punishment would not be a merciful one. He was to be hanged, drawn and quartered along with some of his co-conspirators. (If you're unsure what that means, I suggest not looking it up. It would make most people squeamish. I can guarantee that it was the worst way to die.) Guy Fawkes knew of the horrible death that awaited him so with the noose around his neck, he jumped. This caused him to break his neck, killing him instantly.
In my opinion Guy Fawkes and the others must have had an excellent reason for attempting assassination and destroying the entire parliament. They were prepared to destroy the very symbol of their government, most likely in hopes that the government to replace him would be significantly better.
King James was by no means an innocent man. He was like most royalty: cruel, narcissistic and arrogant. For example, he was personally involved in torturing young women who were accused of witchcraft. He must have been a very unjust leader since in his first year of reign alone there were 2 separate conspiracies against him, one to kidnap him and the other to remove him and replace him with his cousin Arabella Stuart. One reason that Guy Fawkes might have been personally motivated to remove him from power were the heavy fines levied at Catholics who did not attend the Church of England (Anglican Protestant currently). Not to mention the Anglo-Spanish war that never seemed to end.
Guy Fawkes to this day has remained a notorious figure. On Guy Fawkes Day in England they commemorate the event with fireworks and burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes. This serves as a warning that the treason will never be forgotten.
In recent years the image of Guy Fawkes has transformed from heinous conspirator to folk hero. This change in perspective is due to the popularity of a film entitled, "V for Vendetta" based on an American comic book of the same name. The story features a dashing, mysterious figure named "V" who seeks to undermine and uproot the fascist dictatorship in a futuristic England. He re-tells the story of Guy Fawkes, explaining the necessity to destroy government when it is working against the people. This film has become so popular that Guy Fawkes masks (featured on V) have been used in protests against governments and other organizations. Guy Fawkes has become a symbol for freedom from tyranny and oppression.
I simply love the movie "V for Vendetta". In honour of Guy Fawkes Day I will be watching it and remembering why the Gunpowder Treason should never be forgot. To my readers, always be suspect of your government, they don't always have your best interests at heart.
"Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villian by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengence; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."
- V for Vendetta (2005)
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