Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Chicken Is In Piccadilly Square

Lately* the Nagoya schools have been having trouble with their teachers. The problems are happening at both the top and the bottoms of the corporate pyramid, so no one person can be blamed for anything that’s been happening.  And failures can very rarely be attributed to a single cause, so thankfully I have a plethora of people to blame for the shit that’s been falling my way!  As everyone should know: shit doesn’t travel up, it only goes down.

 

Let’s start with how it’s been affecting yours truly: basically I’ve been turned into some kind of part time fireman as I haul my flat Asian ass into Nagoya two or three times a week to put out teaching related fires resulting from a lack of teachers. Individually it’s not a burden, but it gets to you when you’re being told to turn your fire hose on one small burning patch two or three times a week while the house is still on fire.

 

There’s a teacher problem because the schools can’t seem to keep them. In the last two years, give or take a couple months, the two schools in Nagoya have gone through about eight teachers. And that’s just foreign teachers. My school by comparison has gone through two teachers in two years: the one I replaced and one who left six months before I started.  Nagoya can’t seem to hang onto teachers.

 

Part of THAT problem is because the schools are really poorly placed. Both schools are in very expensive parts of town, with nice big offices in very central locations. And our services are really expensive. This means each school needs at least fifty regular students just to break even. Neither has reached ever reached this mark.  Another part is that both schools are open all weekend and closed on either Tuesday or Wednesday. So teachers in Nagoya have to work weekends. I at least always have Sunday off, working all my weekends would drive me to a very special kind of crazy(the kind of crazy where puppets sing songs on a galleon trying to find an island that resembles a skull).  The schools need loads of students to stay afloat so any teacher in Nagoya is going to be worked within an inch of their lives on their weekend.

 

To top this problem off our work schedules mean we don’t get off until 9 in the evening. So the majority of the time the foreigners in Nagoya not only have their weekends shot, they’ve also been trampled on with prejudice by French cavalry. It’s no wonder teachers don’t want to stick around.

 

This has been made worse by the fact that both schools have been repeatedly understaffed for foreign teachers and the schools can’t recruit locally. Recruitment and assignment only happens through HQ so when we lose a teacher we never know when the replacement is coming. My school didn’t know I was coming until a month before I arrived. The result of this is that the one foreign teacher Nagoya has between both schools has been working VERY full days and a teacher from Gifu and I have been picking up the slack between teaching our regular classes(As of writing this that teacher has moved to part time work, probably a precursor to resigning).

 

And of course HQ can’t see that there is a big problem out here, maybe no one is telling them how dire things are or because they don’t care. The former manager resigned a few months ago and her replacement was one of her counsellors who had started with the company a mere 6 months earlier. She did am admirable job(before taking training to be a teacher) but at the end of the day you can’t grow a steel scrotum overnight. The same goes for the other school.  When I first started covering classes the management job was being done by two different people who wouldn’t be be able to make a choice between Pepsi or Coke without a half hour closed door meeting and consulting a steering committee. Again, both really nice ladies who really just got thrown into a job that neither were ready for.

 

No one seems to understand you can’t pick up and toss just anyone at a problem and expect them to succeed. Especially someone who hasn’t ever been a leader before and hasn’t had the opportunity to grow and learn how to be one.

 

All of this coupled with branch managers who rarely get told anything by HQ and also seem like they don’t understand the fundamental problems they are faced with has me donning a yellow hat, fireproof jacket and boots that could curb stomp unobservant fowl. Hell, last year we got a memo from HQ telling us we could take our ties off starting May 1st. We got the memo halfway through June.  HQ manages information like this is a military operation and one of us might drop the ball and let zee Germans know Normandy is our target. Apparently teachers are mushrooms: keep them in the dark and feed them shit.

 

-GJ

*Lately seems to mean about 6-8 months these days.

Hitting the Sauce: Eating in Japan

Eating in Japan is a fascinating beast.  On one hand the Japanese clearly have an amazing food culture, from the amazingly good curry udon to the four course 70 dollar puffer fish dinner for ONE.  And then on your other hand grasping that rusty sawed off shotgun you’re hiding behind the counter are the cheap and dirty bento meals that have a bare sprinkling of vegetation and the exchange of all things chicken or fishy into karrage.  Sometimes you feel immersed in the rich and authentic food culture that you see on travel and cooking shows, but more often than not you can’t go to a supermarket or convenience store without seeing the true Japanese food of the masses and wonder how the hell these people stay so bloody thin.

Fortunately the following isn’t a rant about the dietary habits of Japan(or me for that matter).  Instead the following is a list things that may surprise you about getting grub in Japan.

 

The Rule of Starch and Meat

Japanese eat a lot of starch, be it rice, noodle or bread.  Your meals will come with a healthy dose of rice usually and the supermarket is practically overflowing with various wonder breads.  If you live a low carb lifestyle abandon all hope, it is not possible in Japan.  At the same time Japan eats a shocking amount of meat.  Really.  Having eaten sushi all my life, had Japanese relatives and friends and been part of a Judo club I felt extremely confident in my Japanese food expertise.  I wasn’t convinced I knew all aspects of Japanese food, but I was confident it was mainly going to be the weird and wild that surprised me.

I was wrong.

Japanese eat a lot of meat.  Festivals have fried chicken everywhere, its like the Japanese equivalent to a hot dog stand.  There are a dozen different BBQ joints in spitting distance of my work and at least half as many all you can eat BBQ places that are busy EVERY night.  There are far more bentos with meat than fish, and even then fish isn’t being eaten by the young whippersnappers.  The younger generation has a gotten a taste for red meat and they aren’t going back.

 

Curry

Ask yourself one question: have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver(or Seattle, LA, Toronto, etc) that serves curry?  I’m willing to bet a good bottle of scotch that the answer is no.  Back home I never saw Japanese curry.  Ever.  It wasn’t The Great White Whale of Japanese food, the philosophers stone or the Land That Time Forgot.  It wasn’t a thing in any joint I hit up.  Hell, Japanese supermarkets in Vancouver don’t have curry.  It is non-existent.

But hop on over across the Big P and what do I find? Curry! Everywhere!  Curry breakfast buns, curry udon, curry ramen, curry and rice, curry steamed buns, curry bento!  The Japanese are nuts for curry in ways I never expected in my entire life.  And in the typical Japanese fashion of overthinking and designing something, curry restaurants like CoCo Ichiban let you customize your curry in ways you never imagined. Choose your flavour of curry, colour of curry, consistency, spiciness, meat, vegetation, and extras.  This stuff can be ordered over the phone and delivered! Japan. Loves. Curry.

 

Kaiten Sushi

Back home All-You-Can-Eat sushi is the “fast food” sushi and for a lot of people its the standard way they eat sushi.  And sushi usually comes in roll or maki form.  But not out here.  Kaiten sushi is the “fast food” sushi of Japan, those restaurants where food comes around on a conveyor belt and you can order by tablet in Japanese or English.

These sushi joints mostly do nigiri sushi with an occasional smattering of roll or maki sushi.  Nigiri is the way the vast majority of sushi is done out here and they will put ANYTHING on that little lump of rice.  I do mean anything.  Fried talapia? Done. Roast beef? Check. Bacon? Check. BBQ salmon with a mint? You got it. Lamb with mango chutney? I haven’t seen it yet, but give me some time in Tokyo. If roll is your style of choice you better be ready to adapt and accept the odd and unusual.

 

Ramen

It’s everywhere.  Learn to love it because its basically THE fast food of Japan.  I can usual go in, sit down, order and eat all in 10 minutes.  It costs in the range of seven to 10 bucks(over 10 is considered expensive) and that’s with a set meal of rice and egg.  If you don’t like ramen, may I recommend you have yourself waterboarded until you do? I prefer pho to ramen, but thats not because ramen is bad.  It’s great and amazing out here and the ramen in Vancouver does not compare.

Oh, and don’t drink the soup.  Taste it, but don’t drink it.  It is shockingly unhealthy for you, salt and fat out the wazoo.

 

The Supermarket

If you want cheap food convenience stores are not the way to go.  Nor is McDonalds or ramen.  Supermarkets have by far and away the cheapest bentos you will find on a regular basis.  One place in town has a full sized bento(larger than the ones at the supermarket near my work) for 3 bucks.  Just let that sink in.  For 10 bucks a day you can eat a prepared meal for breakfast lunch and dinner.

And the supermarket sushi will not get you sick. This isn’t the 7-11 sushi you’ve heard about.  It’s properly done sushi that is honestly very solid.  I get it fairly regularly.  If you’re budgeting hard and cooking isn’t one of your fortes, supermarkets will do you right.  Combinis will have the same stuff for more and with less.  Don’t bother.

 

As a final note, you can’t take away any food you don’t finish in Japanese restaurants. They do not do it and will not do it for you.  Suck it up princess.  Japan is a very wasteful country, get used to it.

-GJ

All This Clapping is Hurting My Hands

Incoming rant.

Let’s talk dress code.

At The Company, there is a strictly enforced dress code here and it’s serious stuff.  If even one of us slacked off, well I hate to imagine the consequences.  Suffice to say, a fairy dies each time I wear a slightly inappropriate tie, when my pants don’t match the suit jacket I keep at work an angel loses it’s wings mid-flight, and a unicorn is impaled on it’s own horn if my shoes don’t match my belt.  Violating the dress code is just not done.

So things got hot and serious lately when I asked about “Cool Biz”.  For those not in-the-know, Cool Biz is the official government mandated period where anyone in Japan who has a day job doesn’t have to wear a tie or a jacket.  Thats right, it took a government mandate to make people over here stop wearing these easily dippable coffee and soup hazards.

<insert slow clap here>

I asked because it’s hot in Japan.  And Muggy. Not southern China hot, not Rome in the summer hot, but pretty hot.  And it, well, you know, seemed reasonable to me being a well informed gentleman, scholar and traveler of places unseens with people unmentioned that we follow this mandate given to us by the Japanese government itself! My boss’ response?

<insert giggle here*> Ano…I don’t know.  Maybe June?

So like any polite and respectful Canadian I sat down and shut up about it as the Conservative government has trained me to do so well.  But wouldn’t you know it, not forty-eight hours later she finds *gasp* a memo!  Dated last month! And it has important news! I can take my tie off! May first!

<insert slow clap here>

Back in Canada, and even China, I was always certain that when people followed the letter of the law it was because they feared the consequences.  I knew that if I did X then Y was gonna get my ass. And that seemed like a perfectly reasonable response.  Especially in China where not following the rules has often rewarded people with invitations to permanently stay in a nice building surrounded by barbed wire and walls somewhere with lots of other people who didn’t follow the rules.

But here in Japan there is a really unusual mentality about being a “trouble-maker”.  People don’t want to be labeled a troublemaker, they don’t want anyone to think they could be a troublemaker, they won’t take risks to the point of being called a trouble-maker.  A few months ago when  Japanese journalist was killed by ISIS, the reaction in Japan was heavily divided.  It was so divided that the family felt obligated to apologize to everyone for their child who WAS KILLED BY TERRORISTS…for being a trouble-maker.  

I’m not trying to bash on his family here.  I’m 100% certain they had good reason to appeal to everyone and appear modest about this issue and I feel for them.  What I’m not board with is that this seems like it’s part of the entire cultural mindset that taking risks and appearing even a little bit like a trouble-maker is just not done.  Ever.  Not even once, just after lunchtime.  This is a problem for me, because as I’m sure everyone can attest, I relish being a “shit-disturber”.  I like that people recognize I enjoy causing a little mayhem for everyone’s enjoyment**.

Taking risks is part of getting some kind of pay off.  If you don’t take risks, you don’t get any pay off.  But in Japan it’s practically an institution to not take risks, not bend or break any rules, and not get rewarded for thinking outside of the box.  Nintendo has made it an artform to think outside the box with every other generation of game console they’ve produced, and it’s paid off well for them.  Taking bigger and bigger risks gives you a bigger and bigger pay off and Nintendo has managed to do it alternating cycles.  Maybe this entire working culture could do with an adrenalin shot in the arm to boost it’s famously stagnant economy.

But then again.  Maybe not taking risks is why crime is so low in Japan.

-GJ

 

*She is Japanese lady after all.  Giggles are a constant and required opener to any silly statement made by an uninformed gaijin such as myself.

​**Mostly my enjoyment.​

The Uneducated Human Grub Complication

There’s really only one clear way to phrase this: I don’t like teaching children.  Also, I’m kind of bad at it.  Much like my amazing ability to not fly and not fall off bunk beds, being good at teaching the frenzied little buggers has evaded me professionally.  Teaching is a performance, and I know how to perform for all sorts of target age and ethnic groups.  But it’s just not happening with children.  My wit, my snark, my sarcasm, all wasted on them.

This isn’t to say that I have a problem with kids. I generally like them.  When I see them on the bus, walking with their parents or charging about a restaurant and I catch them looking at me, I like to smile and make a face.  When little kids come into the school and they like to pop their heads into the office I give them a little wave and say hi.  I’m not good at talking to them, but that is a different problem rather than the one at hand.  In the classroom? I would rather go hunting for geoduck than educate them in the fine art of speaking a horribly convoluted language that could do with a proper reorganization by someone sensible in a sweater with lots of lists.

It’s as if I intrinsically feel that children don’t want to learn when they get into my classroom.  After all I know for a fact that at their age the last thing I wanted to do was be taught something by a funny looking white guy in a suit after having been in that barless prison they called a school for six hours.  It seems so obvious to me that they don’t want to learn that I simply can’t get behind actually teaching them, especially since children just aren’t good at learning.

Okay, that’s kind of a heavy comment, so let me explain.  Consider for a moment how long it takes a child to learn enough French to graduate from a university, yes this is going somewhere.

Canadian public school kid: Grade 4 or 5 to Grade 12

Nine years of learning.  Seriously.  NINE.  YEARS. And this is with mutliple classes each week that are usually longer than the average university class.

University student: 4 semesters(12 months of classes)

A university student does the same thing in a year with classes four times a week.  I know what you’re thinking: Graeme you magnificent ball of stupid, you’re comparing children to adults!  Yes, I am.  That’s exactly what I’m doing.  Children are bad learners, probably about as bad as anyone would be at that stage of brain development.  And adults are better learners because we have more developed brains.  This isn’t rocket science, and I’m not trying to bash on children for being bad at learning.

Children can only learn so much so fast and forcing them to learn more sees like cruel and unusual punishment on the teacher who has to deal with your 4 foot tall ball of anger, growing pains and misplaced aggression.  A good comparison is decision fatigue.  Everyone has a preset number of good decisions they can make it one day before they start getting diminishing returns on their ability to make reasonable choices.  It’s the reason people who run multinational corporations or governments frequently don’t pick out their clothes or chose their meals.  Each one of those unimportant decisions chips away at their number of good choices.  Children have a similar fatigue: the vast majority can only learn so many things in one day that forcing them to learn more after a certain point in like decision fatigue.  Their parents want an extra hour not looking after the tiny man-grub they birthed so they drop them off with us for some expensive babysitting.

I seriously don’t want to teach someone who doesn’t want to learn, and I hate seeing parents waste money on something that isn’t helping their kids improve.  Their English is poor, and that’s fine.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that meeting me for an hour once a month is doing them any favours.  I’ve seen enough of these children  to know that I’m performing triage at best: the damage has already been done, and I’m just cleaning them up so they go right back out there so they can take another bullet for the team.

But I also don’t to teach someone who isn’t going to learn what I’m teaching.  Today I taught a class of six man-grubs  and I know deep down that each one of them has forgotten what we learned and it can never be recovered, not even with teams of spelunkers and canaries working 24 hour shifts.  They performed admirably and they were honestly great little kids that worked well with me to get through the material, but in the end that one hour class did as much good as walking a goldfish.

Thus here is my ultimate problem: It’s not that kids are poor learners, or that parents are jerks, or that I don’t want to teach them.  It’s that what I’m doing with them is so empty that I would seriously stop to think about singing Celine Dion songs in public rather than waste my time, the children’s time and the parents money.

Not for long, but I would stop and think about it.

-GJ

Some Thoughts Before I Work Tomorrow

So I just got back from work, it’s 9:30 PM and I wanted to share a couple things.  And it’s snowing outside.

Yes.  I had to leave Vancouver, move south of the 49th parallel, remain almost below sea level to find snow.  Its fluffy and white and beautiful. I probably had a grin wider than my waist line on my face leaving work. I hope it’s a foot deep tomorrow and I can’t get to work.

Also: the Japanese will turn just about anything into tempura.  The best bento I’ve found is 3.50 for a nice bit of rice with three pieces of prawn tempura and some vegetable tempura that never seems to be same.  Last week it was some kind of lettuce and beans.  This week its spinach and spring onions. Friggin fantastic.

-GJ

The Cast of The Company

I’ve taken to calling the people I’m working with as “The Company”, mostly because it’s somewhere in that tome of a legal contract that I shouldn’t mention The Company’s name in a variety of imaginative situations. It’s really not a big deal since it’s on my Facebook profile, but I’ll maintain the mysterious visage of “The Company” here.  I’m mostly teaching small classes of a few students in some clean and snazzy rooms.  My manager asked me not to share pictures of the classrooms, so I shan’t.  But everyone agreed to pose for the camera, so I have some pictures of the fellow members of The Company to share.  I’ve also pixelated the company name so I hope SOMEONE appreciates it.

DSCF0061

First up is Ai the local school manager who spends a lot of time putting together the weekly schedule and administrating the various paperwork floating around the office.  Her English is unfortunately the least of us, but she’s good at her job and maintaining the office.  She’s the one who met me at the station and helped me grab stuff for my apartment.  She’s been crazy helpful.

DSCF0067

 

Up next, we have Hiroko: a former airplane stewardess who’s changed jobs into the teaching field.  She’s an older lady and the office is more the speed she’s been looking for I think.  She’s also laser focused at work and she is from the old school of Japan.  She frequently over explains a lot things she’d like done. However, she’s nice to work with, always happy and very well travelled.  She does front desk work and counselling work to get us new students and answering questions from parents.

DSCF0062

 

There’re two Japanese teachers at this school, which is odd because I honestly expected three or more, but the work I’d sometimes expect for three is done by Yuu and Aiyumi.  They teach any adult students whose English hasn’t advanced enough for an entry level class with a foreign teacher.  The rule is no Japanese from the foreign teachers so the students need to reach a certain minimum before entering my presence! They also teach the little rug rats most of the time which is an incredible load off of me and I’m endlessly grateful for it.  I can only teach kids so much each day(and I’m honestly not great at it), so them being there is VERY important.

DSCF0074 DSCF0063

 

And the other foreign teacher at the school is Jackie, an American from Chicago.  She’s quiet and keeps to herself, but she’s a great teacher and has the stamina to do this job.  She’s been here for almost 2 years so she’s got the skill(I know as I  observed a few classes of hers before they sent me solo out of the bullpen.  I wish I could say more, but she really is that quiet.

DSCF0068

 

It’s not often I get to work with a great set of people.  I’ve found it odd that there’s aren’t any other men working here, especially since the numbers in the company are 80% men among foreign teachers, and 80% women among Japanese teachers(The company has apparently won several awards for their policy for hiring women and the number of women in management positions). It’s small here, but they’re an amazing bunch and I’m happy working with them.  Well, I’m happy working with them, but I hate drinking alone so it would be nice if they went out once in a while.  Drinking is very important part of…well it’s important.  Important enough that everyone should go drinking with other people at least once.

 

-GJ

Now Broadcasting from the Ground Floor

So I thought it was about time that I shared my new digs.  It’s larger than I had expected, but my expectations we’re pretty low and on the small size.  Everything in Japan is smaller.  13 meters-ish long, 5 meters wide.  The bathroom and WC are separate, there are only two rooms really tat are about the same size.  One is my bedroom and dining room, and the other is my WC, bathroom, hallway and kitchenette which also happens to have my washing machine in it.  To be honest I sort of wish it were all one room, but hey, it’s bigger than expected!

DSCF0053  DSCF0055

I definitely like it better than my up scale dorm room in China.  It’s not so big than the few things I have simply make it feel empty and the it’s not so small that I feel cramped.  Well, at least when I’m not in the shower.  The shower is really cramped.  I’m confident saying that, much like a fat man in a banana hammock, it’s a little small.  I can’t turn round fully without banging up against the curtain bar,  the shower head doesn’t go high enough for my to get in under it without bending over, and the hot waters’ more temperamental than a Dr. Who fan discovering an continuity error.

I should find a plant, or harass my landlord into letting me have a cat.  or both!  Any of you know me will probably guess my preference in those options. A dog isn’t feasible with me spending 10 hrs a day working. At least a cat won’t go stir crazy.  I really wish I had a grill though.

Not for the cat, in case any of you were worried about that train of thought.

 

 

 

The Curious Case of the Welshman in the Night

So I’ve finally gotten myself settled in Japan and I’m getting flashbacks of China.  My apartment is small, the shower is cramped, my bed is narrow, and my apartment block doesn’t have many people living in it at the moment.  So in other words, it’s completely opposite of my last Asian digs.  Here’s a run down of where I live.

Yokkaichi, otherwise known as “The Land that The Company Forgot”, is a pretty small city of about 400,000.  Its so small that my trainers didn’t know we had a school here and one of the trainers made a complete bork of who worked in the area, and so I’m SOL in the connections department.  This city reminds me a bit of home: it’s out of the way from Osaka or Nagoya or even Kyoto, it has all the amenities that make it a city of any consequence(malls, theatres, restaurants etc.), the weather is VERY similar, and it has access to all the big cities without any headaches.  It also has some high end developments(the malls in particular seem very stylish and hip), but the moment you leave the city core it turns instantly into suburbia Japan style!

I’m living about a 15 minute walk from the city centre, which is conveniently where my work is!  The walk is all back streets and narrow ally ways which sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable walking home at 9:30 at night(My work schedule is 12-9) until I remember I’m the tallest person in town who also outweighs everyone else by an easy 20 pounds.  Probably more.

And for anyone who’s ever seen a Japanese anime, I can assure you that narrow fast cars are a thing.  In general, they’re narrower and maybe a bit taller and this gives the impression that they’re moving very fast down narrow streets. I’m sure motorists have noticed me more than the locals simply because they can’t ignore me walking down the back streets and taking up enough of the road that it goes down to a single lane.

This isn’t to say I don’t stand out. I definitely stand out, like a loose lion stands out in the zoo.  So far I’ve seen two other Non-Asians in town not including the nice and slightly germaphobic American lady who works with me.  This town isn’t exactly swimming in Gaijin, and the school itself has 7 people working there:  Four teachers, 1 manager, 2 receptionists/counsellors.  Most classes have 2 students and I’m not teaching all the time at work.  Sometimes I need to give trial lessons for potential students and at other times I’m browsing google!  No cellphones for anyone so I’m sorta limited to using the work computer in unobtrusive ways that won’t be obvious time fillers.  I’m sure people have noticed me, and I’m not talking in a “sexy times” kind of way.

I’m looking into meeting up with some other foreigners who’re in Nagoya.  Its significantly bigger and metropolisy to warrant two schools from The Company and three foreign teachers at each.  Nagoya also has a geek culture than attracts a lot of my kind of people, so I’ll need to check that out.  Half hour by train, so that’s alright.

That’s all for now folks!  Next time: pictures!

-GJ

 

A Map for Everywhere (London)

Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.      

-Mohamed

 

Like any traveller, I’ve got a  list of all the places I’ve been to hidden somewhere on my person that I can whip out to impress people at a moments notice.  Don’t ask why, we do, the answer will include us showing you the aforementioned list(even though you didn’t ask to see it) and a five hour discussion of how each city we’ve been it some how better than the city you’re from.  But it occurred to me that while I like to hear myself talk, chances are you don’t.  Instead you can read about some of the places on my list here, beginning with that big beautiful comfortable and marvelous city: London.

Carnaby Street

 

CAVEATS

I only got the spend about a week in London and I was more tourist than traveller in this case. This was more the result of the friends I was travelling with than anything else.  We all had places we wanted to see with limited time. Do I care about the London Eye? No.  Did I really need to see Westminister Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace?  Hell NO(Seriously, I do not care about these places and frankly they won’t add in any way to your experiences in London.  Seriously.  SERIOUSLY).  But I did, travelling is also about compromise, so we all saw a few places we all wanted to see.

When I went to London, I was in the company of three of my favourite people in this world: Bryan, Dani, and Al(from left to right).

Al, Dani, and Bryan

I had the honour and pleasure of travelling with them for most of my time in Europe and almost all of London.  All three of them made it unforgettable and I salute each of them.

HOSTELS

While in London, I stayed at a hostel near the Oxford Circus subway station, and anyone who knows me will know I love hostels. Hotels have the pedigree with rooms where famous events happened and famous people stayed, but hostels have the people, the benefit of not sending me on frequent trips to the frozen throne.  At this particular hostel I got to spend a night chatting with

  • a girl from Quebec who quite literally put my geek cred to shame using a small handful of pictures on her phone,
  • three ladies who I played twister with from Leon who were making their way home after a concert,
  • two guys from New Mexico that literally spent an hour showing me how my entire concept of Mexican and American food was wrong,
  • and a retired Austrailian/Chinese woman who was shocked and horrified when we discovered we couldn’t order Chinese food for delivery at midnight.

In one night.  I spent one night at the hostel(jet lag was kicking my ass and taking names) and I met all these people in ONE NIGHT.  Stay at a hostel(a private room is absolutely worth the extra) and meet some of the most fascinating people of your life.

VHA Oxford Street

Not only will you meet a thousand interesting people, you’ll wake up without needing to shake the toilet with something you ate at the hotel restaurant.  It’s a personal rule when travelling: I don’t eat at that free breakfast buffet the hotel offers.  Almost universally I’ve gotten sick at them and they always give you some kind of breakfast you’d get in North America.  You’re travelling, the point is to experience something new and different.  At a hostel you will almost certainly get an inexpensive or possibly free(you prepare it) local breakfast usually with fruit and coffee.  If you actually want to have a “North American” breakfast then YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

The next afternoon I had a few hours where all three of us split up and did our own thing.  I didn’t have the time for a trip to places I really wanted to go, so back at the hostel I went to a convenient notice board that gave me directions for a ghost tour pub crawl of London.  We went to five different “haunted” locals and five bars with some very cool supernatural history(all of which I naturally bought at least two pints at).   Hostels get you right into the culture of the city you’re in.  Hotels will do it only after selling you a 100 dollar tour through the city on a party bus you’re sharing with Bob from Wisconsin.

THE UNDERGROUND

What an incredible experience.  In the London Underground you will be simultaneously cold, hot, sweaty, dirty, deafened, and constantly worried if you’re getting on the right colour coordinated train.  Some of the trains feel so old you’re left considering the possibility more than one person died on it, others run down tracks that make the car shake in a frightening and comforting way.  Honestly, use it. It connects to almost all of London and multiple trains will connect to the same place you need to go to.  Non of this waiting for the next train business, hop on this line, change at that station, and hop on that train and double back on this other line.  For someone from a city with a handful of train lines that only has two overlapping lines, it’s a confusing and wonderful introduction to the way subway systems work in major cities.  Get on, get ready to be lost, and be happy it’s all in English.

MONEY

Whoo boy.  This is a big one.  So, yeah.  London is crazy expensive.  I usually measure these kinds of things based on how much money I need to spend in a restaurant to get drunk.  In London, a pint of Guinness was 6 to 8 pounds.  Roughly speaking that’s somewhere between 11 and 14 and half dollars.  In Vancouver a Guinness for about 6 or 7 bucks.  The first pub I was taken to by some family friends of Al and Bry charged 7 pounds per pint.  It took four to get me buzzed.  I might have also been falling asleep like a cat in a sunbeam because of the flight, but it was clearly not the beer.  So four pints cost me 13 bucks each, 52 bucks for four pints.  That’s an expensive buzz.

007

(Thinking back, it IS called the “Dickens Inn”.  It might have just been that place which was so expensive for a pint)

On the other hand, that same night three of us went to a local supermarket that was selling 24 Strongbow for 14 pounds.  Yeah, things got pretty fun after than.  If you’re at a hostel, try and buy your meals and prepare them at the FREE KITCHEN that any hostel worth it’s salt will provide.  Buying food and drink at a restaurant in London is gonna cost ya.  To this day Dani still talks about a “scooby” sammich she got for 10 pounds.  It was a bloody brilliant sammich, just don’t expect to be buying one more than once.

The small places on the side streets were significantly cheaper(side street fish and chips being about 4-6 pounds) and Camden Market was also quite reasonable. But chances are it’s all gonna be more expensive than you’re used to.  Actually, Camden was a madhouse of food, clothes, gifts, colours, sounds and people.  Go there and shop, it’s a blast and you’ll find a little shop in there that you would have never expected to find anywhere.  The outdoor food court there had food from all over the world where the four of us needed a private moment.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Guinness really is better over there.  Honestly, that delicious black gold is somehow better the closer you get to Ireland.  Cardiff is even closer and Guinness was even more fantastic there.

My alcoholic predilections aside, London is a place where just walking down the cobblestone streets is an experience.  To visit a place and feel the history and movement of the city through your feet is a unique feeling you won’t get anywhere else.  The buildings bleed history and the food was honestly great. My last morning in London I purposely went downstairs in my hostel, asked the nice lady behind the desk(who I also spent half an hour chatting with the night before) for a place to get a classic English breakfast.  She sent me down the street to a joint with super low ceilings where the breakfast was exactly what I wanted, and it was great.  Don’t let anyone lie to you about the state of English cuisine.

English breakfast

London was brilliant, I’d go again, and again, and again.  Go with friends and have a ball, and be sure to get completely lost at least once.

-GJ

 

Living in Interesting Times

So in the new year, this blog will finally be a thing once again(if it ever was a thing for anyone other than my troubled psyche).  I’ve been offered a job in Japan!  The job is in Yokkaichi City in the Mie prefecture of Not-Tokyo-or-Osaka Japan, and it’s doing the job I really do enjoy more than any other job I’ve had: teaching ESL.

Yokkaichi sounds like a change only in culture: it has a similar weather pattern to Vancouver, similar yearly temperature, similar population to my area of the GVRD, but with decidedly less Graeme in it(a problem which I shall soon remedy).  I’ve decided to call this trip “The Flying Welshman: Living in Interesting Times” mostly because I’ve always found the curse to be very poetic. The runners up met my pun-quotient, but seemed in poor taste.  They included:

1) Japan: I Knew I’d Get There Sumo or Later

2) The Flying Welshman: The Anime-ted Series

3) The Flying Welshman’s I’ll Never Let You Gyoza Adventure

4) The Flying Welshman’s Pink Sake Safari

5) The Flying Welshman Does The Land of the Rising Sun

and (Insert drumroll here)

6) Japan: Approaching the Point of Nori-turn

As any reader or victim of my work and puns will know, these are not my worst.  On January 17th I will fly out of Vancouver and arrive in Narita on January 18th, just after tea time.  From there I have a week of orientation in or around Tokyo and then onto the school which I’ll be teaching at for the next year.

More to come as events warrant!