Archive for category The Penpal

August 21, 2006 – Working overtime

A few days ago, my area manager came to my branch and asked very nicely for me and another teacher to work overtime today.

When I first started at NOVA, there were overtime shifts available regularly, especially in the bigger cities. In the past year, overtime has become rare in an effort to cut costs, resulting in cancelled lessons for students. I was asked to pick up an extra shift because there were only 2 teachers available, which wouldn’t cover the schedule at all.

I don’t like giving up my days off, but I do like making some extra money. Not only that, but my OT shift was an early shift which made for an easy day of teaching English. After work I got some food and played Mario Party with The Penpal. Best overtime day ever!

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August 20, 2006 – Like part of the family

Recently the Penpal’s family bought a new house, just down the street from the house where they have lived for over 20 years. Today I went over to help with their move.

Some of the Penpal’s relatives were helping as well. I got to meet an aunt, uncle, and cousin that I hadn’t met before. They had spent a few years living in the United States, so they could speak a bit of English. They also told the Penpal’s parents about how nice Canada was. The parents have been worried about their only daughter moving away to a strange, frozen country, so it was nice to have some extended family who could put in a word on our behalf.

I helped move boxes, trimming the giant hedge in front of the house, and then while The Penpal and her mother cooked dinner I spent about an hour chatting with her father. Somehow we managed to keep the conversation going the whole time. The whole day felt like I was becoming part of the family.

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August 9, 2006 – Final Fantasy 3 (or 6)

The Penpal came over after work tonight for an evening of video games. We are still working our way through Final Fantasy 3, which is known as Final Fantasy 6 in Japan. I still don’t understand why some games in a popular series are never officially released in North America.

I have good memories of this game – I got it for Christmas in 1995 and spent my entire Christmas holiday grinding my way through the game.

The Penpal didn’t have a game system growing up, so she had to get her Nintendo fix at friends’ houses. I’m helping her make up for lost time. I can’t think of too many better ways to spend an evening!

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July 2, 2017 – A very long day

Today we left Japan to return home after 2 eventful weeks of vacation. Our route was from Tokyo Narita to Calgary, and then on to Winnipeg. We woke up at 7:30am on Sunday in Japan, which was still 5:30pm Saturday evening in Winnipeg. It was a very long day.

We somehow managed to get 4 adults, 1 kid, two large suitcases, and three backpacks into a Toyota Vitz (the Japanese version of the Echo) to get to Mishima station. The Penpal’s parents got platform tickets which allowed them to wait with us on the shinkansen platform. They looked a bit sad as we boarded the train, although I’m sure they will appreciate peace and quiet returning to their house after 2 weeks with an active, jetlagged 3 year old running around. As our train pulled away, Tiny Dog alternated between waving out the window and playing with the tray on the seat in front of us.

We took the shinkansen to Tokyo and then caught the Narita Express to the airport. We all enjoyed watching Tokyo fly by through the window. When we arrived at the airport, I briefly considered buying a cream puff beverage from a vending machine, before reminding myself that I was about to be in flight for a few hours and that might not be the best idea.

We checked our bags and the giant, horrible car seat of doom, then killed time in the airport looking at some of the cool stores. I got a new toy for Tiny Dog and managed to distract him long enough for The Penpal to get some clothes at Uniqlo. She hadn’t had any time for shopping on our entire vacation. We went through security without incident, and then learned that our departure was delayed. TD and I rode the walking escalators and played with his Ipad until we were finally able to board, almost 2 hours late.

The flight to Calgary went reasonably well – we watched Lego Batman about 4 more times, but I only managed about an hour of sleep. Tiny Dog and I both looked down as we flew over the majestic Canadian Rockies. Looks like I’m going to have to fight him for the window seat as he gets older.

When possible I prefer flying home through Calgary instead of Vancouver – its a smaller airport and a shorter trip, although depending on scheduling the layover could be longer. Our layover was supposed to be over 5 hours, but due to our delayed takeoff we “only” had 4 hours on the ground. After an hour The Penpal and I were both struggling to stay awake while TD wanted to run around and explore the entire airport. We took shifts, alternating napping and keeping the kid occupied.

Our flight to Winnipeg was short, uneventful, and totally vomit free, all of which are excellent features of a flight. My parents met us at the airport and returned us home. Before picking us up they had stocked up our fridge, because my parents are pretty great. We all crashed hard after they left.

This was my 4th trip to Japan since my English teaching days, but it was the first time traveling with our son. It was very different than our previous visits, but still a great experience. We are already talking about a return in 2019 to visit again, or waiting until 2020 and trying to catch the Tokyo Olympics. If we do that, I have already warned The Penpal that I will be wearing a Canadian flag as a cape for the entire time. We still have about 3 years to argue about which flag(s) Tiny Dog will be wearing.

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June 28, 2017 part 3 – Vacation is very different as a parent

The Penpal and I love traveling together! Our destination highlights include numerous places in Japan, Korea (the nice one, not the crazy one), Jamaica, Banff, Niagara Falls, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, San Francisco, and even Fargo, North Dakota.

There is something about being away from work and home that really makes a person feel, how can I put this delicately, energetic? Our previous vacations have always allowed us freedom to spend some “quality spouse time” together. (Yes, even in Fargo)

This trip to Japan is the first out of town vacation that The Penpal and I have taken since we became parents. We found that while the spirit was willing, the opportunities were severely limited due to the presence of our wonderful child.

On previous trips to Japan, a visit to another city would have been a golden opportunity to really enjoy our vacation. This time we had a tiny person sleeping in our room. Making the problem worse is the fact that Japanese hotels have very small bathrooms which are not at all friendly for extracurricular activities.

Vacation just isn’t the same as it used to be.

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June 28, 2017 part 2 – The poo-splosion

As you may guess from the title, this story contains poop. Don’t worry – there is not a single picture to be found.

When traveling, it’s not unusual to have some issues with your digestive system. Diarrhea is the most common illness for travelers, however our 3 year old son Tiny Dog just had to be different and had the exact opposite problem. The poor kid was just not regular.

Tired kids are fussy and irratable. Adding constipation into the mix magnifies the problem and has the potential to create one miserable child. For the past few days my in laws have been giving TD some probiotics which they claimed would help, but we hadn’t had any success in the past few days.

After a full day of travel and exploring Nagoya Aquarium, we returned to Nagoya station to find some dinner and then check into our hotel. TD loves Japanese curry, which is not something he got to eat much at the in-laws house. The Penpal and I promised him curry on our Nagoya visit, so we stopped in at a nearby Coco Ichibanya, a national chain restaurant that has a great kids meal and multilingual menus.

TD demolished his kids meal of curry rice, sausage, chicken nuggets, corn, and jello. We were finishing our dinner when suddenly he got quiet. And then he got the look on his face.

The poopoo look.

All parents are able to recognize that look in their kids. It’s the look that tells you that you are too late, things are happening, and there’s going to be some cleanup required.

The Penpal took TD out of the restaurant while I settled up the bill. According to the good people at Google Maps, we had about an 850 meter walk to our hotel. We put our increasingly stinky child into his stroller, and set out through the busy streets of central Nagoya.

Most big hotels in Japan have staff that handle the check-in process in English. However, we knew that we were in a hurry so I let The Penpal handle things in Japanese. As TD sat in the lobby, I started to smell something nasty. I started pushing the stroller around to spread out the smell, hoping that it would be harder for other people to notice.

The Japanese service industry is famous for speed and efficiency. Usually a hotel check-in with a prior reservation should only take a few minutes. However, The Penpal was dealing with an employee in training who was having trouble processing the check in, foreign credit card payment, Legoland one day passes, and breakfast vouchers that were part of our reservation.

As we approached the 15 minute mark of our check-in, I noticed that the smell coming from TD was getting worse. I discovered the reason when he leaned forward slightly: his diaper was not able to contain the several day buildup, and thanks to the stroller the poop had escaped in the easiest direction:

Straight. Up. His. Back.

This wasn’t just a little bit – it was a full on level 5 poo-splosion. Doing laps around the lobby was not going to help much longer, we needed to get him cleaned up ASAP.

Just as I was starting to panic internally, The Penpal finally got our room keys. We raced to the elevator and down the hall to our room, where we spent the next 20 minutes washing clothes carefully.

I generally try to be a “silver lining” kid of person and realize that as bad as things are, they could always be worse. TD could have unleashed his intestinal fury on the 20 minute train ride from the aquarium to Nagoya station, although I am pretty sure that the curry had something to do with the situation.

Kids are disgusting.

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June 22, 2017 part 2 – Visiting family in central Izu

Today we went to beautiful Izu Peninsula to visit family. Both sides of the Penpal’s family have roots in Izu, and there are still numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins who live in the area.

Izu is one of my favourite parts of Japan. The entire Peninsula is filled with small towns, mountains, and natural hot springs. The few flat areas are home to rice paddies and strawberry farms. It’s about as close to “rural” as you can get near Numazu.

The Penpal’s father has a large family, and most of his siblings are in the 70-90 year old demographic. An energetic 3 year old looks even more energetic in a room where the average age is 80. While the family visited, I did my best to entertain TD with Lego, an ancient electric organ, and the small, friendly dog who was happy to go for endless walks around the house.

There were two interesting things I noticed during our visit:

  1. The Penpal’s father is the youngest of 12 children. At home he is absolutely the king of the castle. When he is around his siblings, some of which are almost 20 year older than him, he almost fades into the background. It’s an interesting things to see, and I’m not sure if this is unique to his family, all traditional Japanese families, or just large families in general.
  2. In Canada everyone says that Tiny Dog looks like his mother, pointing out some of his more Asian features. In Japan everyone says he looks like me, pointing out his many non-Asian features. It’s interesting how different things stand out to different people.

I’m happy we got a chance to visit so much of the family while on our vacation. It was a cool experience to introduce them to the overseas branch of their family.

Izu is beautiful despite it’s many mudslide monsters

 

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