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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Leena sets up Samurai

My little girl sets up the samurai army for today's game. Sylitherin's Field of Glory Renaissance is on display


Trevor and my kids

Spring vacation means I can have fun with my friends. I had my buddy come over for some wargamming, Kraft Dinner, and brownies! It's the simple comfort foods from home which we miss the most. Also, Ian wanted to show off his new NERF dart gun.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

King Stephen and Prince Hummingbird

This shot was from our dance recital yesterday. We did Sleeping Beauty. I was King Stephen, Emi was the Queen. Leena was a butterfly and Ian was a humming bird. Though his costume looks like he is a palace guard.
My wife enrolled our two children in a community dance club which is called Friends Dance Club. Every two years, they put on a show. The dance styles run from Hip Hop, to modern interpretist to ballet. The ages run from children to adults. There was even a local samba drumming group made up of Japanese who play samba drums.
I`m calm, I`m at peace, I`m enlightened

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Gear for emergencies

This kit contains a space blanket, towels, a first aid kit, 12 hour candles, water proof matches and nylon para-cord.

After this event, my family kept all of these items at hand. We also have about 40 liters of water and tea in case the water is cut off. We also have emergency food in the form of Ritz Crackers, retort boil in the bag meals as well as pasta.
We also have camping gear which can be used in the event that our house collapses.

Radio flashlight combo

This is a combination Radio/Flashlight. For myself, the only radio station which would be of use to me would be AFN, the American Forces Network as they broadcast in English. NHK may also give announcements in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portugues, and Tagalong.

Kids kit

Ian's bag consists of a complete change of clothes. He also has a protective hat which covers the head and neck.

Contents 2

Another shot of the contents, showing tissues, and cans of barley biscuits

Contents of earthquake bag

As can be seen from this shot, the bag consists of:
A. a collapsable water container.
B. forks, spoons, plates, cups, bowls, chopsticks
C. 3 cans of barley biscuits.
D. 2 pairs of cloth gloves.
Most families keep bags like these for diasters.

March 11 2011 14:46 earthquake commeration

Today, Japan pauses to remember the 15,000 people who died in this disaster & those who are missing & those who are still affected by it.
At 14:46 today, Japan will stop for 2 minutes of silence in rememberance of this diaster.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Teaching English in Japan Volume 3

A life of adventure and excitement, Teaching English as a Foreign Language

 I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language in Asia, both in South Korea and Japan. How I got into this career is an interesting story.

In the spring of 1996, I had just finished my fourth year at Saint Mary`s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I had graduated with my BA in History in 1995. Initially, I wanted to either work with Parks Canada as a historian, or to pursue further studies in Library science. Unfortunately, I was unable to enter a library science course and was sitting down over a cold one in the Goursebrook Lounge on Saint Mary’s campus.

One of my classmates from Newfoundland was waiting the tables and I told him my tale of woe. He then informed me he was going to move to South Korea to teach English. I was surprised as he had not studied education. However, he informed me you didn’t need an education degree, just a university degree to teach English as a Second Language.

Now back in the late 1990’s the TEFL field in Halifax was limited. There were a few schools teaching English to foreign students who were studying at any one of the universities in Halifax. I went down to one school looking for any jobs overseas. At first, I was interested in Poland, but was told that the working conditions in Eastern Europe were not that great. If I was looking for a good salary, Korea was the place to go.
So, I took down the name of the Korean trading company who were operating in Halifax at the time and off I went. I had a standard interview and within a week, had a job offer and contract to sign.
And so it was, in November 1996, I left my home and native land to experience the Land of the Morning Calm.

Long flights and culture clashes.

At the age of 23, I left Nova Scotia to travel to South Korea to begin teaching English. I remember Halloween 1996 as being a night where I passed out candy to kids and was reading up on as much information about Korea as I could. I had studied East Asian and South East Asian history at university, so I had a basic grasp of what to expect from a historical perspective. This was in the time prior to the internet, so information was rather limited on what to expect in other countries.
My flight route would take me from Halifax to Toronto to Chicago to Kimpo International airport in Seoul. I had only flown once before, and that was to Denver Colorado with the 78th Highlanders as part of their drill team for the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish festival. That trip was only about 6 hours.
My first flight to Korea went like this. Halifax to Toronto 2 hours. Layover in Pearson, 90 minutes. Flight to Chicago, one hour. Layover in Chicago, 2 hours. Flight to Seoul, 18 hours! The idea of economy class syndrome was not an issue, but my goddness, I didn`t want to fly for awhile after that.
Upon arrival in Korea, I went through customs and was wearing my first suit, designed for the -10c temp when I left Halifax. Upon arrival in Seoul, it was 15c and bright sunshine! I felt like I was melting! I was wearing a tweed blazer, wool pants and thermal underwear with wool socks! On top of the weariness I felt, I was now 12 hours ahead of the time back in Nova Scotia and the next day, having crossed the international date line somewhere over the Pacific.
My contact was the school vice owner Mr. Cho who had previously been a flight attendant for Korean Airlines. Helping me with my luggage, we got into his car my first lesson on Korea was observed.
First of all, South Korea is a small country, about the same size as Nova Scotia and PEI combined. However, the population is around thirty million, so traffic was always heavy. And the drivers wanted to go fast! Then it was my first Korean lunch which was Kimchee, a very spicy cabbage dish made of garlic and red pepper. Imagine having a propane tank explode in your mouth and that would be a hint of the spice.

I was then shown the school, which was actually a tutoring service for Korean children and adults who wanted to either study English, or improve their grades in school. I was shown my office/classroom, then taken down into the basement of the building which was a bathhouse.
First of all, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Asian culture, the bathhouse is  a communal place to wash and relax in hot tubs and to wash, in a room with other people! Ok so let’s get this straight. You go into the locker room, strip down, then go take a bath in the section your gender is. If you ever felt shy about your body, this is where culture shock comes into play. Add on the fact that nothing is in English, or that no one speaks English and eh viola, you have CULTURE SHOCK! Did I also mention my boss told me my first class was at on that day? The day in which I had had no sleep for going on 36 hours without the benefit of even having a change of underware?

That night when I did settle on my futon on a heated concrete floor I made myself a vow. If I survived a month, I would stay, if I couldn’t hack it, I`d go home.
When you have a set goal, things begin to go better for you.
Later on that fall, we had another Nova Scotian join our company to teach. However, the teacher was not someone who should have left home. There are some people who can do this job, and there are others who can’t. If you do choose this career, you have to bear in mind several things.
1)     The world will not bow to what you demand life should be. The old do as the Romans do rule applies here. If a culture has existed for two thousand years without your presence, then they will not adapt for you.
2)     Understand that in certain parts of the world, gender bias, sexism and old fashioned thinking still occur. If you were brought up in an ultra-feminist lifestyle, don’t go to Asia.
3)     If you have special dietary needs, make sure you can cook, or have the ability to know where to shop for said items. One teacher I worked with was a vegetarian and was appalled at the amount of meat Koreans ate.
4)     Despite the fact that you don’t have to change who you are as a person, you will have to adapt your personality to being bombarded with personal questions, evaluated on your mannerisums and dress sense and generally be considered the local celebrity, both in negative and positive ways.
After a year in Korea, I came back to Nova Scotia. I left Seoul with an environment of 25c to arrive at Halifax in 10c weather! It was the little things that really freaked me out.
1)     The road signs were all in English, and the roads were free of traffic congestion.
2)     I sat down in a steak restaurant to order my food and couldn’t because I had to think of how to say it in Korean. Also the menu was in English and had food which I had not seen in a year.
3)     I could understand everything people said around me. I didn’t need to translate what everyone was talking about.
4)     My friends knew nothing of what I did and would never understand unless they did this themselves. I now understood how many veterans feel when they come “home”. It’s not “home” anymore, the “home” you left stayed there, you moved on and it’s like a trapped time warp. Everyone else continued on. Your life then stopped, it began anew and from this day forth, you would be set apart from everyone else.
5)     After the initial welcome home, nobody wants to hear about what life was like there. The fact is, most people will never leave their home area. You square yourself away into your life experiences and continue on.
The hardest part for me was the life decision I had to make. I grew up thinking that you had to always honor your promises, and to believe in the good of all people.
I had signed on to go back to Korea, but in the time I had left, the economy of the country failed, and I went back into a job which was not for the faint of heart. My salary was reduced as the boss said they needed to keep the school open. (This was the first cut, as the year went on, we went without our salaries for months at a time). Not everyone in the world is honest, or willing to follow the rules. My boss virtually enslaved me in his school working long hours, with insufficient pay so that I could not escape, or have the time and energy to find new work. When my contract came up for renewal, I attempted to look for a new job, only to be thwarted in my attempts by the boss scheduling a new class on my day off. This was on a Friday night with the class to begin the next morning. I also had my immigration card stolen by the boss who attempted to imprison me within my job. His thinking being, if I tried to leave the country, I would be arrested for overstaying my immigration visa and be sent to prison. Afterwards, I found out that they only would have deported me and kept me from returning to the country.
I then realized that I was now being part of a human traffic system where my boss passed me off to another company to teach classes while taking my salary. When I then told the pre-school what was happening, the staff was alarmed. I had not been consulted on this new class, but was forced to teach there. Eventually my friend seeing what was going on helped me to contact the Labor department which in the Asian way, had no enforcement powers, and could only suggest that they actually follow the law. Eventually, my friend bought me a ticket home, and I left Korea, literally screaming.
The moral of this side story being, if you are going to leave your country, make sure you know what you will be doing, and know your rights according to the laws of the country you will live and work in. NEVER trust the word of your employer until you have checked the laws.

I went back to Nova Scotia in the spring of 1999. I was suffering from mild PTSD due to the stress I had experienced in my final 6 months. It took me four months to come to terms with the fact that I had done nothing wrong. Even now close to 15 years later, I still have nightmares that I have ended up back there and am trying to get back to the life I know. It took me a further two years to get back my possessions which I had stored with my friend, while other things were stolen from me. You must know who you can trust. I grew up alot from this experience.

I then began to look for work back in Asia, but this time, I would go to Japan.
I felt that being a G8 country, Japan would be a much safer, and stable environment to work in. I forgot several things about working in Asia.
1)     Never take anything for granted. As an EFL teacher, you are the face of your school/company/country that you work for. If there are ever conflicts between you and your employeer, they stay that way. Never involve your students thinking they will be on your side. I once made the mistake of telling my students the fact that the company was unhappy with our performance. When faced with the loss of staff, I bluntly told my friends in an email that the company needed us more than we needed them. While this might have been true, one of the contacts forwarded this message to my bosses, who used me as a scapegoat and fired me. Looking back over the years, I can see why they did this, however, the company itself did not treat their teachers fairly, having given us insufficient training. When your boss tells you that you are not doing a good job, then comes back two days later and tries to tell you that you need to help them, you know your job is not going well.
2)     Always appear professional, act mature and try to be reasonable when dealing with problems in the work place.
3)     There are other places to work. Just make sure you learn from your mistakes and look at what kind of place you will work in.
4)     Size in a school doesn’t matter. Little small schools who are run well, will do better than large corporations. In my eleven years in Japan, two major English school chains have folded.
5)     Never think you can slack off while at work. The other teachers are watching what you are doing. Always appear to be busy.
I look back at what kind of a teacher I was in my mid 20's. I made a lot of mistakes, due to inexperience. Over the years, I have read up and begun post graduate study in the EFL field just to understand what I should be doing.

The first anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake in Japan.

This sad event is coming up. I'd like to share some thoughts I've had since this terrible tragedy.

3.11.11 The day Japan shook, and in an instant 15,000 were gone, 3800 were never found.
Now I remember my grandmother telling me bad things happen in threes. She was right. A 9.0 quake, a 30 meter high tsunami, then a nuclear power plant meltdown.
If this had been a Hollywood script, it would be a blockbuster. For us, it’s life.
Watching TV only to feel the floor begin to shake, watching my wife trying to hold up the TV, diving under the table as the whole house began to shake, not knowing how bad it was going to be. First it starts side to side, then up down, then a circling motion, all the while my wife begins to whimper Daddy, Daddy, referring to me, holding her tight, wondering how many of my children are going to make it. Earthquakes are usually over very quick. This one wasn’t stopping but just kept getting stronger!
Everything stops, I jump up, grab my sweater, flak jacket and bush hat, jumping into my car and driving off down the street honking the horn so the people in the street would move. All the while, I’m listening to the US Forces radio as it’s the only English source of news that I can get.
 Getting to my children’s daycare.
Silence, the only time I have ever heard Japanese children be silent. Seeing the fear in their eyes wondering when their mummies and daddies would come.
I spoke with their teacher and in swift movements, the teachers and my kids get their gear and move.  We then ran out to my car, holding my Leena who was shaking with fear, holding Ian’s hand as we ran to get in before the aftershock hits again..
Then it started. This time, I was shielding my daughter’s body while a cook was shielding my son. As he begins to cry and scream I’m scared daddy, I vowed that I would take his hand. By this time both children were crying. And what goes through my mind is, when I tell them it will be ok, am I lying?
We jumped in the car, drive home, and then turned on BBC World, and holding my kids with each aftershock.
As I watch the footage my mind flashes back to when I was in Iwate in the summer of 2000. The beach I went to with my students and friends in Iwate, those lush evergreens, crystal clear water, clean sand…
All gone.
As I watched the news , we got to see live, the Tsunami coming in, and taking out what was there. As you watch, you know that the people in the cars, homes, buildings and fields must have been in terror. You know that they were going to die, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. The strange sight of seeing a whole town on fire being carried by tsunami.
Water, the giver of life, became the taker as well.
Ian then dragged out his blanket, spread it on the floor, tossed his toy cars on it, tossed his lego blocks on it, then using his foot to push the “tsunami”. He began his commentary. “This is the tsunami, this is the water coming in pushing the cars, buildings and people. So sad, all those people are gone.”
6 years old, and he could comprehend. With each aftershock came his plea, “I want to go to Canada.”
After 5 hours he then said, Daddy, can I watch cartoons. So, I changed the channel. Anything to give him hope that his world would be alright.
Now with each rainfall, we wonder how much radiation we get exposed to.
Each aftershock, we wonder if the shaking is going to start again. Our smartphones have an Earthquake Alert function. When the nearest monitors get sensing that a quake is going to start, they go off. 24/7. You get to hate hearing the thing go off at and nothing happens. A year on, the shakes are not so bad, my kids don’t ask me when we are going to Nova Scotia so much now. I’m still putting emergency kit together. Ian and I have emergency bags packed with clothes to last 3 days. My family still has water, tea and sport drinks to last us about 3 days.
A year on, and they are still looking for the missing. My co-worker volunteers his time to go up and help those who lost everything. In the days following the earthquake, life was really strange. It has been the only time in Japan where bread, canned food and any drinkable liquid was sold out. For a few months afterwards, when you went to a supermarket or convience store, they were actually rationing bottled water to only 1 per customer. Due to the fact that the power supply was cut, the commuter trains that are so much a part of daily life for millions were not running. In order to get to my job site, 30 km away, I had to first walk 5km to a station which was still on a train line that was running. On the way home, I was amazed as several hundred people were quietly waiting for the station to open and allow passengers to board trains. Everyone was silent, which was usual, but it was all the more erie as everyone was tense about another quake hitting us, or the power giving out as we would be trapped inside a train for god knew how long.
Life has gone on, as normally as it can here in Japan. But now, scientists are warning that the Tokyo region could be hit by a massive quake within the next 4 years. Now everyone pays attention to the earthquake drills. Next pay day, I should stock up on some boil in the bag curry.

EFL in Japan volume 2

There are some days in a class that I can’t help but laugh. Some of the activities we have to use with our students can seem rather interesting considering the content we have to work with. For instance, many Japanese junior high schools use the Sunshine English course. For the second graders there is a reading section. Program 10 is entitled Her Dream Came True.
Dear Kind Person,
I’m a junior high school student in Japan. My father died of cancer this year. He wanted to travel abroad, but he couldn’t. He was a doctor and was always very busy.
I would like to send this teddy bear, Mack around the world in his place. Would you please take him with you? Then, please pass him on to another person.
Thank you,
Megumi Kasuga.
This is a beautiful story about how a teenager was able to realize her father’s dream of world travel by passing along a stuffed toy bear. Her ALT took it to his home in the states, then passed it along to other travelers. Mack made it to Sweden, Spain, The UK and Italy.
Now in class with a bunch of unmotivated 14 year olds, presenting this can get dry. The message can be lost when the teacher has to following the boring teaching method which is required by the Japanese education ministry.
The following vocabulary to be introduced was dear/person/die of/cancer/abroad/teddy bear/Mack/in his place/Would you/pass/ pass on to.
Ok, nice terms. A bit dark, so after a few classes, the teacher is drilling the students with the vocab.
I then began to crack up, when the teacher began to mix up the words.
Dear/person/would you/ die of/cancer/in his place.
Mack/pass/abroad/person/pass on to/cancer.
By this time, I’m doubled over with laughter. When the teacher looks at me and the students are laughing, I then explained to the teacher what words she had just used. She turned purple when she realized how strange it sounded. We both had a laugh, explained to the students what had happened. They then laughed.
I’m sure Dr. Kasuga would have enjoyed having some laughter as would Megumi.

Cycling and Camping gear Volume 2

This shot shows what I like to wear when I go camping. On the left I have my woodland camoflage pattern vest, centre are my DPM t-shirt and trousers, on the right, my faded Eddie Bauer bush hat as well as an Eddie Bauer flannel shirt. From a distance, the flannel shirt looks like it's in a military camoflauge pattern but actually, it's a duck hunting scence with dogs and ducks. Rather comfy. On the far left is my kit bag my wife bought me for Christmas.

My hot weather gear I wear for camping and cycling. At the top, I have a British forces issue towel, Canadian Forces issue summer combat trousers, which I bought close to 20 years ago from an army surplus store in Nova Scotia. My bush hat again. Centre are my British army desert DPM pattern trousers, and t-shirt. Then we have another Eddie Bauer item, a pair of shorts, which look like camoflage but are actually a pattern of many differnt trees and leaves.

My wolly-putty sweater which me Mum sent me from Canada. I added the RA TRF as I was a paid reenactor with Parks Canada back in 1995 as a member of the 3rd Bde. Royal Artillery who were the gunners garrisoned at the Halifax Citadel at the same time as the 78th Highlanders (1869-71). My NBC suit is a Mk II British Forces issue. After the Fukushimi-Dainichi accident last year, there were fears that with the rainy season, the rain would be contaminated with radiation. As a precaution, I bought myself this suit to wear while cycling.

My current rain gear consists of a DPM bergan cover (on the bottom), an AFV balaklava, an ex Highlanders balmoral which I added the current TRF of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I couldn't find one of The Highlanders or Seaforths. The 78th Highlanders were merged into the Seaforth Highlanders in 1881, becoming their 2nd Battalion. The other DPM item is a nylon rain suit which I picked up from a shop called "Workman" which supplies construction workers or those working outside in Japan. The packinging read Green Camoflage. I wear this under the NBC suit as an added layer during the late winter and spring. On the left, is my new small day sack which my wife got for me at Christmas.  As I cycle in Japan, I usually get stared at, as I seem to be the only foreigner who cycles to my job in this area. My feeling is, if you are going to stare, have a reason. Though cycling by the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Base does make for fun as the armed sentries try to figure out who I am. Though I have chatted to one of their officers who was outside picking up trash. All these items I have collected either via, or Eddie Bauer. Incidently, Eddie Bauer seems to be the only clothing shop which sells large sizes for non-Japanese. When my waist size got to the point where their largest size was still too small, I decided to begin cycling to work. It's paid off, as I can now buy clothes from them again.

Nagashino 1575

Click for larger image, Click for larger image, (photo courtsey of
Nagashino 1575 refight 3/4/12

Continuing with the theme of Pike and Shot, my son and I decided to refight Nagashino.
This battle was fought between Takeda Katsunori (who incidently is the ancestor of my son via his mother’s Japanese name) and Oda-Tokugawa.

Having viewed the Osprey Warrior Samurai 1550-1600, the color plate of this battle influenced our choice of battlefield. My son has also seen The Last Samurai, and thought that he’d like to use Samurai Cavalry smash into Samurai infantry. What he didn’t truly understand is the concept of entrenched infantry.
At this battle, the Takeda Samurai attempted to use their tactic of cavalry charges to break infantry. The Takeda were the samurai who believed that firearms were not pure enough for Japanese warfare. They also believed that the weather would be in the pouring rain. Thus when they charged the barricades, they were surprised to meet concentrated musketry. Roughly 10,000 Takeda Samurai were killed in futile frontal assaults. After this battle, firearms were no longer sneeared at.

In our refight, the Oda were entrenched in three redoubts. Each contained musketeers and were fronted either by yari armed pikemen or by chiveaux du fries. The Takeda army aligned themselves with their left flank comprising all of their archers. Their centre was formed by katana and pike armed warriors while the right flank was comprised of all their cavalry.

In the Takeda opening move, they advanced toward the redoubts. The archers began to rain arrows down on the musketeers before they could pour their fire into the approaching charge. As their gunners began to fall the Oda rushed their pikes out which momentarily forced the charge back. As the cavalry honed in, the muskets began to shoot them down. However, the Takeda were using their horses to draw the fire of the gunners. The archers shot down the defenders who were overwhelmed by the Takeda advance.

The end result was the destruction of the Takeda cavalry including Katsunori, however his infantry was able to smash his nemesis off the field.
Ian then told me, he copied my tactic of the musket block from our last battle. Duh-oh! He’s a clever little fellow for 6. Guess Daddy will have to hone up on pike and shot tactics.

The aftermath of a Takeda Arrow barrage.

Oda is left on the battlefield. Contrary to the way of Bushido, these samurai have run away to continue the fight in the hills.