Archive for category Life in Canada
For those new to my blog, I’m a Canadian man married to a Japanese woman living in Winnipeg, Canada. We have one child – an energetic boy who is quickly approaching his 5th birthday. For the purposes of the blog, he is named Tiny Dog after a nickname in The Secret Life of Pets.
It’s important to both of us that Tiny Dog grow up comfortable in either one of his countries. We’d like him to be fluent in both English and Japanese, and to understand the culture of Canada and Japan. At home The Penpal speaks to him in Japanese and I speak to him in English.
Living in Winnipeg, it’s much easier to have him exposed to English. He speaks it at preschool and hears it just about everywhere. Many of his friends speak English exclusively, with a few speaking English as their second language.
Keeping Tiny Dog exposed to Japanese takes a bit more work. Fortunately, even with the small Japanese community in Winnipeg, there are quite a few Japanese or half-Japanese kids of a similar age. When they get together, we try to keep them speaking Japanese as much as possible. There are enough kids to support a Japanese kids reading group, where the kids go to hear stories in Japanese. This group also organizes a book exchange, which is a nice alternative to everyone ordering Japanese language books from overseas.
At home, we subscribe to TV Japan and try to make sure that some of Tiny Dog’s TV time is spent watching Japanese language shows. His grandparents have enrolled us in an educational program called “Kodomo Challenge“; every few months we get a new educational DVD, workbooks, and some really cool toys. We also talk to his Japanese grandparents every weekend on Skype.
Our bilingual home has produced a few fun quirks. The first is that Tiny Dog refuses to watch any Studio Ghibli movies in English. He gets seriously upset if we try. The second is that Tiny Dog angrily reminds his mother not to speak Japanese around English speaking adults or kids. “No Mommy, you speak English now!!”
I expect that as Tiny Dog gets older, we will experience some of the pushback that other parents have reported. At a certain age, the kids don’t want to speak any Japanese at home because their friends don’t do that. I’m hoping we can find a way to work through this.
If you are raising a bilingual kid I’d love to hear some of your experiences. Let me know what has worked for you! In the meantime, I’m off to watch some Peppa Pig in Japanese.
Most of what I post on this blog happened years ago, but today I’m posting about something from the present. Yesterday was the first time I watched a wrestling match with my son.
One of my favourite things about being a parent is taking my son Tiny Dog (obviously not his real name) to different places and events. We have seen museums, theme parks, playgrounds, the circus, and live music, but I’m really looking forward to the day when I take him to his first wrestling show. I’m planning to take him when he’s a bit older (he’s only 4 now), but thanks to the wonder of Youtube, I decided to give him a bit of a sample of what pro-wrestling is all about.
I was lucky enough to grow up during the Hulkamania era of pro wrestling. The show was cheesy, over the top, and something that the family could watch. At the time I suspected, but didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t watching a legitimate athletic contest. It was a fun time to be a wrestling fan! My parents took my sister and I to see WWF (now WWE) every time they came to Winnipeg.
The good memories from my youth influenced the match choice for my son. I decided on a Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage match from 1985. This is during the second year of Hogan’s title reign; it was so old that he was still using Eye of the Tiger as his entrance music! The match itself is a textbook example of a cowardly, cheating heel vs. a superhero babyface. There were probably about 20 moves in total performed in 20 minutes and the crowd went nuclear for each one of them.
Tiny Dog’s reactions to the match were hilarious. He was upset that Hogan tore off his shirt and threw it at the start of the match. Why would he rip his shirt? He thought Macho Man was the good guy because he had a sparkly cape and a pretty girlfriend. He kept asking me where Hogan’s girlfriend was. There were some kids in Hulkamania gear in the front row – Tiny Dog wanted to invite them to our house for a play date. When I asked him who he thought would win, he picked Macho Man. What a mark – Savage never beats Hogan!!
I loved Tiny Dog’s reactions, but my favourite part was Randy Savage’s changing name. During the match, Tiny Dog referred to him as Macho Man, Macho Guy, and Macho Friend. Macho Friend was pretty cool, but I’m not sure that it would sell a lot of t-shirts.
After our viewing experience, I’m even more excited for the day that I can take my son to his first wrestling show. If we are still in Winnipeg, I expect we will see Canadian Wrestling’s Elite, a modern take on the classic wrestling territory operated by wrestler and booker “Hotshot” Danny Duggan. I’m looking forward to an afternoon of cheering the faces and booing the heels with my kid. Hopefully this will not be followed by any chairshots to daddy at home.
Long Live the Macho Friend!
Our wedding ceremony was held at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in West St. Paul, just north of Winnipeg. We picked the location because of the priest, the fantastic Father Mike. The small town prairie church also fit with our modest, sensibly sized wedding. Neither one of us wanted a lavish, fairy tale ceremony with hundreds of people. We ended up with a humble, intimate gathering of about 100.
Father Mike had known me for years, and when he learned that I was engaged, he insisted that he perform our wedding. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not what anyone would consider “active” in the church. The Penpal was not raised anything close to being Catholic. I brought this up with Father Mike, but he was not deterred at all. He even promised to learn Japanese if we asked!
During our marriage prep Father Mike contacted Catholic priests in Japan to get recommended readings and suggestions for a good bilingual bible. BTW – bible translation is a subject big enough for its own blog post. We didn’t end up making him learn Japanese, but we did teach him how to say “stand”, “sit”, “kneel”, and “pray” in Japanese to help The Penpal’s parents through the ceremony.
The ceremony itself was short and meaningful. We had readings in English and Japanese, and then Father Mike gave a brief speech about how The Penpal and I could share love with the world by being a good example for others. A common criticism of Catholic weddings or funerals is that the ceremony can be more about church and not enough about the people. Father Mike is an excellent speaker, and his sermon was just right for the occasion.
Other than being surrounded by family and friends, one of my favourite things about the wedding ceremony is that our photographer managed to capture what is possibly the only picture in existence of my father-in-law smiling. We obviously did something right 🙂
After an eventful start to my day which included communication problems and property crime, I returned home to start getting myself mentally and physically prepared for my wedding. The bride’s side of the family went to my sister’s house to get ready, while I was joined by Best Men Hippie and Triple D at my apartment.
We played video games and enjoyed a beer while slowly getting ourselves presentable for the wedding. (No, I don’t usually drink in the morning). Hanging out with my friends was a great way to keep me calm. Eventually we were all dressed and looking good, happy that our rented tuxes still fit despite getting measured a few months earlier. Right before we went out the door, Triple D decided to show us how comfortable and well fitting his pants were by jumping around. He assured us that there was no way the pants would possibly rip.
With an hour before the wedding, 30 minutes by car to the venue, one of my best men had completely ripped the crotch out of his rented tuxedo pants. We surveyed the damage which one of us accurately and inelegantly described as a “pants vagina”. The place we rented the tux was completely in the wrong direction from the church. I didn’t own a sewing kit, so Triple D suggested that we should try to buy one at the nearby Shopper’s Drug Mart.
Osborne Village Shopper’s Drug mart is always very busy. Hippie circled the parking lot while Triple D ran into the store, pants ripped wide open, to find a sewing kit. By the time we finally found a parking spot he had returned with purchase in hand. We were starting to seriously run out of time, so Triple D decided to make his repairs while we drove.
For anyone who hasn’t had the “pleasure” of driving in Winnipeg, the roads are generally in terrible shape. The temperature ranges from -30 in the winter to +35 in the summer, which is not easy on the road surface. On any other day, the cracks and potholes are merely an inconvenience. For Triple D, who was trying to stitch up the pants he was wearing while jammed in the front seat of a 2 door Toyota Echo, it presented a bit more of a challenge. Hippie, being a good friend, drove as fast as possible, suddenly swerving around the biggest holes. Somehow, despite the additional difficulty, Triple D successfully repaired the giant, gaping hole in his clothing just before we arrived at the church.
With a few minutes remaining before the ceremony started, Hippie pulled out a small football. Inspired by the cinematic classic “The Room”, we spent our last few minutes before the ceremony throwing the football very short distances to each other while wearing tuxes. Success!
This morning, the day of my wedding, I suddenly woke up at 6:30 am with a panicked thought: “what are my in-laws doing about breakfast?”.
This is unusual for two reasons: I don’t usually wake up before 7, and I rarely consider the breakfast choices of my in-laws. However, somewhere in my subconscious my brain realized that The Penpal’s parents (who don’t speak any English) had moved from a hotel with a breakfast buffet to a hotel where you needed to order breakfast from an English only menu.
I woke up The Penpal and she tried unsuccessfully to call her parents’ hotel room while I got dressed. I knew that my in-laws were early risers, so I assumed they would be trying to eat soon. Since we couldn’t get a hold of them on the phone, I decided to go to the hotel.
I rushed out to the car trying to wake up the Japanese speaking part of my brain when I noticed that I was unable to open the driver’s side door with my key. Waking up early without coffee, it took me a minute to notice that the lock had been damaged by an unsuccessful break-in attempt. I added “police report” to my already brimming mental to-do list and went in through the passenger door.
I got to the hotel, parked, and went directly to the restaurant. I told the hostess at the door that I was looking for my in-laws. She said that there was nobody in the restaurant other than an older, Chinese looking couple. Since “Chinese” is the default guess in Canada for any Asian looking people, I correctly claimed them as my family and was shown to the table.
In the entire time I have known him, The Penpal’s father has never looked happier to see me. They had wandered into the restaurant expecting to see a buffet and were given menus instead. After an awkward conversation between themselves and the waitress, they had managed to place an order for bacon, eggs, and tea. The food arrived as they were explaining their side of the story.
Does everyone’s wedding day start of like this, or is it just me?
Taking a short break from being seriously behind on my blog, I’d like to bring you from the world of 2006 into the present for a moment.
I’m writing this post in March 2018, just over 4 months away from my 40th birthday. This is a scary number for me, as I still remember how much I made fun of my father when he turned 40. My wonderful wife (aka The Penpal for those who have been reading my blog) asked me if I wanted to do something special for my big upcoming birthday. Inspired by eating 30 wings for my 30th birthday, I told her that I wanted to drink 40 beers for my 40th birthday.
My wife is an intelligent, caring woman. She politely and correctly expressed concern at the consequences of consuming 40 beers at the same time.
A few days later I was at Tiny Dog’s 4th birthday party and was telling this idea to my friend Junk (who also appears occasionally in my blog). Junk suggested that instead of drinking 40 beers at once and dying, I should try to drink 40 different beers in 40 days leading up to my birthday.
Drinking in Japan’s 40 beers in 40 days birthday celebration
I am looking for suggestions to help me drink 40 different beers in the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday. My guidelines are:
- The beer should be something I can get in or near Manitoba
- I’m not a fan of super hoppy beers. Suggestions to try a quadruple IPA hopsplosion will likely be politely declined
- I want to drink the 40th beer on my birthday, so I need to start in mid June
Start sending your ideas now! You can use the comment box below or reply on Twitter. Comments may not appear immediately due to the spam filters on WordPress.
For those who are new to this blog, I taught English in Japan from 2003 – 2006. One of the best parts about living in Japan was getting around by train; Japan’s train system is known around the world for being reliable, punctual, and inexpensive.
In my first year as an English teacher, my daily commute was 27 minutes each way between Noborito and Kawasaki, in addition to more trips around Tokyo and Yokohama than I can count. My second year commute was a modest 6 minutes between Numazu to Mishima. Despite not needing to commute in my third year, I still logged a lot of distance on the rails.
After being in Japan for a few months, teachers start to develop what we referred to as “train legs” – the ability to balance while standing on a moving train. This is a skill that develops over time, and it’s even more impressive considering the destabilizing effect of the average English teacher’s alcohol consumption.
When I was on the train with other teachers, we would occasionally compete to see who could stand up without any support the longest. Yes, we did get some strange looks from the Japanese people in the same train car, but we were lost in the friendly competition and didn’t care.
I have been back in Canada for 10 years now. Most of my trips to and from work are on the far less reliable and punctual Winnipeg Transit, with the bus riding over Winnipeg’s notorious potholes. Thanks to my train legs, I am usually able to walk from one end of a moving bus to the other with minimal support. It’s not the world’s most useful skill, but I still feel a sense of accomplishment every time.
December 28, 2016 marked my father’s 70th birthday. Since my dad is a regular reader of this blog and a recurring character, I have decided to post links to some of my favourite stories that he has been a part of.
- Pulling rank – when my dad accidentally interfered with my sister talking to American soldiers
- Meeting of the families – my parents meet The Penpal’s parents – somehow both fathers wore the same hat
- Kaiten Zushi – my dad’s first time trying conveyor sushi
- Final adventures 2004 – where my dad has a beer with a stranger in the park
- Canadian parents on the loose – my dad gets the hotel staff to demonstrate the automatic parking garage
- Osaka Castle with my parents – my dad bravely tries on samurai costumes in front of a golden tiger
- Kiyomizu Dera with my parents – my parents try to walk between the famous love stones in Kyoto
- No bathing suits in the onsen!? – my dad and I immerse ourselves in Japanese culture and extremely hot water
- Translating for my dad – my dad tries to have a conversation with a taxi driver in Osaka
- Izakaya with my dad – after a busy trip to western Japan, we relaxed with a few cold beers at an izakaya in Numazu
The stories on this blog only give a small look at my father – he is an avid music lover, tai chi practitioner, former gymnastics coach, science fiction fan, Tim Horton’s aficionado, and an international traveler. He is also the kind of person who will snowblow the neighbours driveway or make a special trip into Winnipeg to help with my car.
Happy birthday dad!
I have had a dodgy knee for years, which as you can see in a recent post, I occasionally re-injure. The story of my knee injury is in two parts, the first one is not so good, and the second one I stand behind proudly.
Part 1: Everclear is never a good idea
I joined Delta Upsilon Fraternity in 2002, and in the summer I went to my first “Big Ass” meeting. We had weekly meetings during the school year, but only one meeting during the summer. The summer meeting was usually held outside of the city, and included a full afternoon and evening of discussion about the previous year, the upcoming year, and a chance for brothers to air and resolve any grievances. Also, drinking. A lot of drinking. Due to the size of the meeting, we called it “Big Ass”.
After the meeting we were sitting around a fire drinking beer. During that time, someone pulled out a bottle of Everclear, which I had never tried before. For those unaware, Everclear is a grain alcohol drink that is usually somewhere between 75% and 95% alcohol by volume. At the time it seemed like a good idea to start doing shots (it wasn’t).
Everyone was already in a pretty good mood, and the combination of the beach setting, fire, and fraternity brothers led to some good-natured rowdiness. At some point I snuck up behind one of my pledge brothers and tripped him for some reason, which I can’t recall, but again probably seemed like a good idea at the time. I ran away giggling as he chased me. I am not the fastest of land mammals, and he was a hockey player with much better cardio than I had. He quickly caught up to me and gave me a shove / bodycheck from behind while I was at my unimpressive top speed. My right leg planted on the ground and my entire body twisted around it. I felt something pop and hit the ground in a heap. I was surprised to find that I could barely stand after that, and had to be helped back to the cabin. We laughed it off, but within a few hours my knee had swollen to about triple the usual size. After a very uncomfortable sleep on the floor I was returned to Winnipeg where I spent the rest of the day with my leg iced and elevated.
Getting hurt during alcohol fueled shenanigans – not the best story. Keep reading!
Part 2: Runaway balloon
Several weeks later my knee was feeling normal again, and I was out with my girlfriend at the time (The Ex) and her family. We went out for dinner with her parents and family. We had a total of 6 adults and 2 kids. One of the kids was just a toddler, and had been given a nice red balloon on a string. She was proudly carrying her balloon, waving it, bouncing it, and generally enjoying a balloon the way that only a toddler can.
Winnipeg is a windy city. The terrain is very, very flat, and the newer areas of the city don’t yet have tree cover to provide windbreaks. We happened to be in a big box store area off Kenaston, and it was a very windy day. As we were getting into the car, a gust came up and ripped the red balloon out of the happy little girl’s hands, blowing it towards the undeveloped empty field nearby. Without a thought, I took off running after the balloon. I reached the end of the parking lot, and continued sprinting in the nearby as yet undeveloped field trying to catch up with the balloon. Just as I started to get close enough to consider grabbing the string, I felt the familiar “pop” in my knee and my leg gave out.
When I was a child I spent 4 years in kids gymnastics. I credit this with training my body to roll and protect my neck when I fall. Thanks to this instinct, what would have been a fall on my face turned into a somewhat graceful roll to a stop. I watched from the ground as the balloon blew away, never to return.
I limped back to the car, looking and feeling ridiculous. However, my selfless sacrifice did manage to earn me some respect and sympathy from The Ex and her family.
When people ask me how I hurt my knee, I like to gloss over the first part of the story and focus on the balloon chase. Anyone can be a drunk idiot and hurt themselves, but there are few things more noble than trying to rescue a little girl’s balloon.
Today I took the day off and hung out at my parents’ house in Portage la Prairie. I decided to plant myself in front of the TV for a few hours.
There aren’t a lot of TV channels in Japan, so it was a culture shock to have hundreds of choices on my parents’ overloaded cable package. Even though there were lots of channels to choose from, most of them just show the same shows all day.
You don’t realize how little you will miss TV until you don’t watch it regularly.