2017

As I did last year, I’ve decided to reflect on the past year on my blog. This time I actually find myself in a bit of a different situation, writing this on New Year’s Eve itself. Last year on December 31 I was frantically sorting out a ton of shit that was going on in my life so the post was quite late. This year I’m sitting in a tropical paradise with no plans for the evening and no plans for tomorrow morning. I feel like that’s generally a good metaphor for how my life has changed in the past 365 days too. To be honest, this past year has gone by so quickly that I have a hard time distinguishing between what happened last year and this year.

Early this year, I went to Hokkaido to see the Sapporo Snow Festival. It was the first time I had seen proper snow in Japan and it was tons of fun! In hindsight this was probably the best Japanese festival that I’ve seen so far. The weather in Hokkaido was also the best possible winter weather I’ve experienced. It fell somewhere between the dry Swedish winter and the creepingly moist bonechills of Kansai. And of course there was real snow.

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I also experienced my first Golden Week. I heard that things are a bit crazy in Japan for Golden Week (the largest holiday week in the country) so I opted to take some budget airline flights to get myself out of the country and into Taiwan and Hong Kong. I also saw Korea for the second time and almost fell off the top of a mountain and died. I also almost died from a meat coma. 😀

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This year was also great for friends. I had some friends from exchange and also my best friend from Canada come to visit. We explored Kansai, partied in Tokyo, and basked in the rays of tropical Okinawa. I also went on (and planned) the annual Hyogo AJET Shikoku Rafting Trip with both old and new friends.

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I’ve also made a lot of new friends at work. There is a group of teachers that invites me to play sports with them during the exam breaks. I haven’t quite improved at tennis (I still miss serves all the time) but it seems I’m the person to beat in badminton. We often go for drinks after too! I have also taken to joining gym classes almost daily so the gym teachers seem to like me more. Some of my teachers are also talking about going on a road trip together in the new year. I feel like it took me a year to work myself into the teacher social circles but I love it now!

2016 was also a good year for new skills and hobbies. With the abundance of spare time at my desk, I’ve taken up a few new things to keep myself busy. I have been practicing card magic mostly. It all started with a bit of inspiration from the most recent Phoenix Wright game but it grew into an idea because I realized that magic transcends language. Even my lower level students who may not understand my English very well can still enjoy magic I do for them after school or even (occasionally) in class.

Recently I also took up salsa dancing every week after a friend brought me along. I’ve only been twice but I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was. It’s also a great way to use a Wednesday night and to see your friends! I’m really grateful for the invitation since salsa is something I normally never would have tried.

Lastly, this winter has been really amazing. The winter holidays have been really special to me and I have been lucky enough to do so many things with so many great people. I had a Christmas party, I’ve spent lots of time with friends new and old, and I have been in Hawaii with my family for the past week. I am so grateful for everyone and the great vacation my parents have brought me on. Even though I don’t live with them anymore, or even in the same country, I love my family as much as ever! Thanks for being great.

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Even though that’s a rather lame rundown of what I’ve done this year, I feel like the pictures really do present a better story than my words could.


Now on to more important things! Last year I gave myself 7 resolutions. Here’s how I did.

1. Save $200 a month. SUCCESS
Though I did spend most of it on a new computer at the end of the contract year…

2. Go on a run at least once a week. FAILURE
I took up biking to school this year so that was my new form of cardio (40 mins per day) so I quickly gave up running.

3. Reach (or exceed) the level of physical satisfaction that I had on exchange. FAILURE
I’ve definitely made improvements in stamina and strength but I still have more work to do before I’m where I want to be. This year I successfully got a gym membership (despite the difficulties I had last year) and I also took up new physical activities such as salsa dance and cycling.

4. Blog at least once every month. FAILURE
Yeah nah. Not even close.

5. Pass the JLPT N5. PENDING
Results come out in two weeks so we’ll see!

6. Be more positive. SUCCESS
About a third of this year I was in a very dark place because of a certain event that occurred in my social life. Since then, I’ve managed to repair the damage done and also rebound stronger than before. I feel like I am more positive now than I have been in a very long time.

7. Perfect at least 5 new recipes. FAILURE
This year I tried to learn a lot about Japanese cooking and managed to master a few staples such as katsudon, oyakodon, and cream stew. That being said, I didn’t quite make it to 5 new recipes. I find that my social life is driving me away from my kitchen lately as I opt to go for dinner or lunch with friends instead of cooking at home.

With a failing score of 2/7 I should feel horrible, but I really don’t. I did a lot this year and looking back on it like this has forced me to realize that I’m happier now than I have been in about 2 years. Even many of my failed goals were partially completed or replaced with an alternative. This is what I’ve come up with for this year.


New Years Resolutions 2017

  1. Read at least one book per month.
    I want to get back to reading like I did on exchange. Lately I have only been re-reading the same things over and over again.
  2. Limit my spending on video games to one purchase per month.
    I spend too much. That’s it. Those Steam sales break me.
  3. Pass JLPT N4.
    Assuming I have passed N5 of course…
  4. Focus more on meaningful relationships with the people I know.
    This year I think I spent too much time trying to meet new people and I didn’t really nurture the relationships with people I already know.
  5. Reach (or exceed) the level of physical satisfaction that I had on exchange.
    The only goal from last year that I want to carry on to this year.
  6. TOP SECRET.
    This one will be revealed if I succeed.

And that’ll do it. To those of you who helped make the past year of my life great, I owe you a great thanks. To those of you that I may not have made enough time for, I hope we can all have a great 2017. Happy new year!

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June Update

It’s been about 3 months since I’ve published anything and I’m feeling pretty okay about that. Life is moving ahead at a terrifying pace and I’ve already begun to think about my second year on the JET Programme.

Despite the fact that I haven’t even been here for a whole year yet, I feel like I’ve already got all of my second year planned. People are coming to see me, I’m going to see people, I’ll eventually run out of vacation days again, and then I get a new batch of kids to terrify with “good morning”.

The novelty of living in Japan has worn off and under all the luster and shine, I still feel like I’ve got it pretty good. It’s like when you find out your shiny new coins aren’t actually solid gold, but were actually filled with chocolate all along. Everyone loves chocolate anyway.

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The past month has been fairly big for me for a number of reasons. I’ve had visitors and I’ve also been lucky enough to meet a lot of people. One of the big perks of being near Osaka is that people can come visit and not be bored out of their minds. My good friend Jon spent about 10 days here and we were able to find something for him to do every day within 2 hours of my place. It was really great to see him and it kind of reminded me of the days when we lived together in that shitty apartment back in Winnipeg. Jon was my first roommate after I moved out of the university dorms and we went to both elementary and junior high together. He helped keep me connected with the ongoing drama of back home and all the changes that had taken place (read: almost zero).

Next month I expect to meet up with Nikki all the way from Brisbane. The month after that I’m also lucky enough for “The Champion” to bless me with his presence. Jae is coming too. Somehow all these people from Stockholm over 2 years ago still like me. I don’t know what I’ve done or not done to deserve this, but I’m very excited. I’ll actually be visiting the tropical paradise of Okinawa with them.

I also recently took on two more volunteer positions for the JET community. I will be representing my region of Hyogo in the Hyogo Prefectural Association for JETs and I am also taking on the position of Director of Digital Resources for the National Association for JETs. Looks like I’ll be pretty busy from now on so I’ll have even less time to write here.

I know this post is kind of shit and low effort, but I feel like that’s a good way to describe my blog now. I hope some of you still read this in hopes of keeping updated with me.

2016

As I start off the new year, I recently looked back on the past one. 2015 was not nearly as great or eventful as my 2014 (the best year of my life), but it was still a year for the records. Here’s why.

The year kicked off with a bang as two of my long-time friends came to Calgary to go skiing. During our ski trip, the conditions on the mountain were not so great and there were many icy patches in addition to the normal holiday hazards (families, children, ski lessons). I managed to have a fairly spectacular fall after swerving to avoid a small child, which resulted in the separation of my collarbone. What I originally thought would be a pretty minor injury turned into 3 months unable to do any sort of physical activity and a massive loss of physical progress that I had made in my last semester of university.

Though that put a damper on my spirits for a while, it’s hard to fully write off that time of the year. A month later, I was finally able to say that I’m a university graduate. Shortly after that, I became a university graduate making minimum wage in retail ($10.50/hour).

Looking back on it, it was really a demoralizing experience. As someone who was regularly told that my degree in environmental sciences and ecology would be perfect for the oil companies of my province, I felt so unwanted. My job search quickly lead me from from applying to big corporate names and multinational conglomerates down to applying to the local pet shop and liquor stores. I once went into an interview for a part-time retail job at a store I used to work at and was straight up told that my resume was intimidating. I felt like the world was telling me I was either overqualified or underqualified for everything it had to offer. After over 35 (I counted) applications, I was only offered two interviews and one job. I began my part-time work at a local board game shop and during that time, I felt as though I had hit the lowest point in my life. Thankfully something soon managed to turn that around.

As many of you likely know, I was accepted into the JET Programme and now live in glorious Japan. In the second half of this year alone, I’ve managed to meet tons of new people, see three new countries, begin learning a new language, and become a claw game enthusiast. As of right now, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time and the start of 2016 couldn’t have been better. I rang in the new year with great friends, delicious food, and a new outlook on my life.


Excuse the vertical video please.

As I write this from Sydney, I can’t help but think that this trip was really what I needed to figure out my life in Japan. I never really thought that so many insights about my new home would come from being away from it, but the world works in mysterious ways. It’s a little bit late for Turkey Day musings but either way, this holiday season has made me realize how thankful I should be for certain aspects of my life. Here’s a shout out to all the special people in my life.

My Family

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This is my first Christmas away from family and although I’d like to think I’m generally a pretty competent adult, I still rely on them. This isn’t the first time I’ve been away from home for so long but it’s never easy for them to see me go. Although my parents and sister continue to amaze me with their general lame-ness and ability to make every picture look like it was taken on a flip phone, I miss them. They manage to message me nearly every day, but sometimes you just really want someone to bother when you get home, or a dog (or 3) to cuddle.

My Friends at Home

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Though time zones are a bitch and there’s now an ocean between us, it really helps me to know that regardless of what country I’m in or how long it takes for me to return, everything will always be just as I left it when I go home. In the past few years, I’ve had friends come and go but I’d hazard a guess that there are a few of them stuck with me for the foreseeable future. If you’ve put up with me since high school, I’m likely not going anywhere, sorry. Even if we don’t talk as often as I’d like, thanks for being around, all you beautiful people.

My Friends in Japan

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After living here for the past 5 months, I can safely say that I haven’t been alone the whole time. In fact, I’ve managed to make some pretty great friends. It’s awesome that the JET Programme brings all of us together from different backgrounds and places. I’ve somehow met people who live all over Japan, and even gone to visit a few of them already. Just by working the same job and having a shared interest in surviving in Japan, it’s pretty easy to find something to talk about with other JETs here. That being said, I’ve met a few people who can tolerate my humour, enjoy doing the same things as me, and will occasionally indulge me in my pursuit of beer. Unfortunately, some of my friends are camera-shy and are absent from the photo above. You guys will just have to deal.

My Friends around the World

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I’m sure you’re all tired of seeing my exchange photos for the millionth time, but the reality is that I’m still extremely grateful for the friendships I made in Sweden. I now have friends all over the world thanks to that experience and it’s comforting knowing that I’ll have people to visit almost anywhere I go in the world. In 2015 I reunited with people in Sydney. Who’s to say what 2016 holds?

With all these great people in my life and my current state of (arguably) putting my career on hold, I feel like I should improve myself in other areas. I’ve never really found New Year’s resolutions to be a useful idea but this year I’ve decided to finally give them a try. Here are my 8 resolutions for the year.

  1. Save $200 a month.

    I’ve more or less been living paycheque to paycheque because all my excess money has been going to travel. I think it’s time to finally start saving a bit.

  2. Go on a run at least once a week.

    I’ve gone for a few runs in Japan so far, but if I make it a consistent commitment, it should help me with 3 and 4.

  3. Reach (or exceed) the level of physical satisfaction that I had on exchange.

    Finding a gym in Japan has been a bit challenging for me for several reasons. The ones I have tried to sign up for so far will not accept my bank card for payment. I believe this to be a problem with my bank which I cannot control. That being said, I have recently been granted a Japanese credit card. This month I’ll see if I can use that for a gym membership.

  4. Blog at least once every month.

    I realized that many of my friends and family who I don’t talk to often are in the dark about my daily life. I’d like to remedy that.

  5. Pass the JLPT N5.

    The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) has 5 levels with N5 being the lowest. I’m currently taking weekly lessons in Japanese and plan to attempt the N5 this summer.

  6. Be more positive.

    This is a big one. I recently had a bit of a wake-up call from a dear friend and realized that I tend to put out a lot of pessimism and negativity. I need to stop comparing myself to others as doing that will only end poorly.

  7. Perfect at least 5 new recipes.

    If I have ever cooked for you, it’s likely that I’ve made one of four things. I don’t consider myself to be a horrible cook but I often find my own meals disappointing. That needs to change. I use my small and ill-equipped Japanese kitchen as an excuse, but from now on, I’ll think of it more as a challenge.

This year looks very promising and I can’t wait to see what it holds. I’ve already got some big things planned so keep an eye open for more posts. Until then, がんばります!

Renovare Part 3: The State of the Blog

I’ve thought about what to do with this blog for quite some time now. I’ve decided that I’d like it to be largely Exchange-related. This blog has done its job at recording all my important memories and occasions from exchange. I do want to keep blogging but I will be making a separate one for my future endeavors and it will be made on WordPress due to the fact that I believe it satisfies my formatting requirements better. 

I’ll be finishing my travel posts from my post-exchange travel then making the new one with a focus on my path to JET and beyond. Once I make it, the link will be put here as my final post. To anyone who still reads this, thanks. It’s been a journey.

-J

Renovare Part 2: What I’m planning.

After I accepted how mundane my life would be until I finished university, I began to research more ways to get out and tried to find more things to fill my life until then.

I signed up for as many volunteering opportunities as I could fit into my school schedule. I became a mentor for incoming exchange students, hoping I could live up to the high bar that one Armin Hadzic set as my mentor in Sweden. I also began teaching school children about science through a group called Let’s Talk Science. I realized I actually didn’t mind kids. This was a bit of a startling realization for me at the time because I had always hated children when I was younger. I came to the conclusion that our family friends must have had devil’s spawn and normal children were actually alright! I also had a pretty strong aptitude for teaching. Perhaps this has something to do with how much I like to talk? Or how much I like to subject small people to my authority?

At this point, I kind of did some basic math. I wanted to leave the country, and I appeared to like teaching children. I had also seen pictures on Facebook from a couple of my friends who had been working in Japan.

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Like this. But more adult-ish.

I concluded that I should apply for the JET Programme. To explain it briefly, it is a program run by the Japanese government that places English-speaking university graduates in English teaching positions around Japan. You work in concert with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) and help run the classroom.

It seemed like the perfect fit for me at the time. Japan was my favorite country among the many I saw during my travels. It was also clean, safe, and developed. I literally saw no reason to NOT apply.

The application process is quite long. I started in November and I had an interview for the job just two weeks ago in early February. Even still, I won’t hear about acceptance until April.

That brings us to today. Until April, I’m basically in a holding pattern. It’s put me in a strange situation because I don’t feel like I can ethically apply for serious jobs in my field knowing I may be leaving in a few months. On a positive note, this waiting has given me a lot of free time to catch up on the things I love to do, including blogging!

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“Blogging”

I told myself in December that one of my New Year’s resolutions would be to start blogging again. Another was to finish my travel posts. Hooray, one resolution accomplished.

Renovare Part 1: Where I’ve been.

To my loyal readers…

I know that all 4 or 5 of you have been in dire straits without your weekly dose of my literary wit. To make it up to you, I’d like to offer this meager post on where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to.

The largest admission on my part is that I’ve basically got no really solid reason for my extended break from writing. For a period after I returned home to Canada in July, I was trying to adjust to life at home again. I kid you not when I say it took me about 3 weeks to get back to a normal sleep schedule. As a positive note, the sleepless nights left me lots of time for workouts. For the first while I told myself that it was jet lag but I don’t know if that makes the most sense in retrospect. Was it the longing for companionship in the form of Mario Party? The need for near-daily social interaction? The hunger for that beautiful Lantis hummus? We may never know.

Either way, I will say that my return home was less than perfect. The remainder of my summer was fairly insignificant and went by rather quickly. My final university semester began in September and along with it, some changes to my life occurred. I was blessed with a new roommate who ended up being great for me. He brought our whole house together and by the time I left in December, we had all become friends instead of just people who happened to live in the same house.

September was also the starting point of my very feeble attempts to live as I had in Sweden. I quickly realized that a lot of this would be in vain. It made me realize how unsuitable suburban North American living is for me. I apologize to any Canadians who may read this. I do admit I may be embellishing slightly.

You want to run out and buy fresh ingredients for a nice dinner? Well the grocery is a 40 minute walk away and a lot the produce is imported for weeks because Canada. You also rely on a car to get to a specialty store if you want anything more than basic or high-quality.

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No one ever: “We should farm this frozen wasteland.”

You want to go to the gym for an hour in your spare time? Good luck. It will take you half an hour to get to the gym each way. May as well just read.

Want to go to a bar that’s got more than basic domestics? MGD is technically an import… right?

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Winnipeg. The farthest place from culture in the world?

I was beginning to feel the limitations of living in a smaller city in the middle of Canada. I missed all the convenience and amenities afforded to me by living in a world-class city like Stockholm. I missed talking with cultured and like-minded people from all over the world.

I felt like a fish out of water.

Continued in next post…

Lux novis

I decided the name of this blog should be something with meaning. I’ve always had a minor interest in Latin because it can sound so beautiful and I actually use it to some capacity in my education as a biology student.

Lately I’ve been feeling tired of being a student. I feel that I’m just so done with university life at the University of Manitoba. I hope that this trip will serve to rejuvenate me and my thoughts towards my life.

Lux novis means new day or new light in Latin. This trip is a once in a lifetime experience and I hope that the events of the next 8 months will be full of defining moments and memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

This blog will chronicle the events of my life for the next 8 months from my flight out of Calgary on January 8 to my flight back to Winnipeg in early August.

Enjoy!