May 29th, 2009

Books in tents!

Ah, less than I week after I swore to never post pictures to blogger again, I’ve posted pictures to blogger. But, in my defense it’s on Thirsty, so technically that wasn’t part of my foreswearing. And in blogger’s defense, there was something I was doing wrong that made the process that much slower. So you never know: there could be pictures on Rose-coloured again someday. In the meantime, if you are into Japanese book fairs in train yards (and really, who isn’t?) the above link is for you!!

I don’t want to change the world / I’m not looking for New England

May 28th, 2009

Professional Interviews: Ben Rosenblum, English Instructor

I’ve been wanting to teach myself rudimentary interview skills for a while now, much the same way I worked on a way to write reviews that worked for me in the Rose-coloured Reviews. Obviously, reviews and interviews are both things I read all the time, and I feel like I can judge the good from the bad, but writing such things myself is very different, and very challenging, for me.

Interviews are that much harder, because they involve another person. When I write a review, I am ever conscious of working with an object that a real thinking feeling person made, and trying to be as respectful of them as possible, but it’s still not actually a personal interaction, the way reviews just are are are, no matter how scientific one tries to be with the questions.

I’ve tried to make this easier for myself in two ways. One, I’ll be interviewing people about their jobs. This is a subject that’s endlessly fascinating to me, so it’s easy to come up with questions, so much so that often my cocktail-party and bus-stop and first-date chatter often becomes a kind of what-is-your-job-like interview anyway. And two, I’m going to interview people I know to start (although, if you have an interesting job, or interesting things to say about your job, feel free to get in touch, and if you don’t seem scary, I will do my best to interview you!)

I’m starting with one of the least scary and most interesting people I know, my brother, Ben. I figured since we were in Japan together, I might as well make the most of the opportunity. Read and enjoy!

What is your job?

I am an English instructor.

Where do you work?

I work at an English-language studio in Tokyo. We give private lessons to clients, typically people who work in finance or other industries where the client or his company can afford to spend $80 to talk to me for 40 minutes. The world is strange.

What training or education or experience do you have that enables you to do that?

In order to get a job like this, you should have a Bachelors degree and at least moderately good hygiene. Sometimes, the Bachelors degree is not necessary. Personally, I have a little experience working with as a tutor at a community college, and also a certificate for having taken 40 meaningless hours of training for teaching English as a second language.

What personality traits do you have that enables you to do this?

The interesting thing about this job is that different teachers have drastically different styles. Clients can choose the instructor they want, so the important thing is to play to your strengths. Generally, I am a very patient instructor and I believe that I’m usually fairly aware if the client is confused, frustrated, nervous or sad. I think that having those qualities helps me to do this job.

Please describe a typical day teaching for you.

Typically I wake up at 4:45 am. Usually I mean to be very efficient but I’m often running down the strange Tokyo cityscape at 6am, trying to catch the Tokido Express which leaves at 6:11. Shortly thereafter, I arrive at work and trade insults with a 38-year-old Englishman who works 7 days a week and is fuelled purely by hate. Then I prepare for my lessons.

Each lesson lasts for 45 minutes with a five minute break at the end but it is very hard to get the students to leave so my lesson preparation, which is unpaid, is my last chance to come up for air for several hours.

The lesson begins; it is a private lesson. Sometimes the student has trouble finding my booth, which is actually a cubical. When he or she comes, I typically shake his or her hand, except not lately because everyone is scared of swine flu. Then they put their bag in a small basket and do something with their jacket; there is no hook. Then they look at me uncertainly, and eventually, we both sit down. I like to start with some small talk: “what’s new?” is for some reason a terrifying question. The more I think about it the more I understand where they are coming from. But I ask it anyway, because I think it raises useful problems. After 3 or 4 minutes of this, I have to make a decision: should I try to fill in the entire lesson with conversation, or should I turn to the book? This depends on the student, the book, and my mood. Some of the books have us discuss topics like, if man will be on Mars by the year 2000. I like those books. I don’t like the books where we endlessly practice the present perfect. Regardless of the choice, the important thing is to get the client talking.

What’s the hardest lesson to teach in ESL teaching?

In general I enjoy dealing with shy students because I am somewhat shy myself, so I understand how to put them at ease. However, some students are so incredibly uncomfortable with the entire process, that I feel as though I have to spend the entire lesson trying to put the client at ease and failing. This is difficult.

Why do you call them “clients” and not “students”?

My company refers us as instructors and the people we teach as clients. In training they taught us that this was because we weren’t some sort of nonprofit place of education but we were in the service industry and we basically have no goal besides satisfying the customer. So we have client-instructor studio. I suppose this somewhat removes the title of authority that a teacher might have but in the end, I think it’s just gibberishy corporate speak. I have been working there for 8 months now so of course I use it, just like the other goons.

What have you learned about the English language from this job?

I suppose I haven’t learned that much. What I have learned is ways of explaining the English language. I’ve gained a great deal of respect for people who are trying to learn the English language. At times, their style of Japanese-English has actually corrupted my own consciousness of the English language and I find myself saying phrases like, “Go to shopping,” and occasionally mixing up my Ls and my Rs.

Any fringe benefits of this job that you didn’t expect?

I wish I could could say there was.

What would be one thing you would change about the job if you could to make it better?

I would have preferred less unnecessary training.

What advice would you give to someone considering getting a teaching job in Japan?

It depends a lot on what they want. There are a lot more opportunities once you get your feet on the ground over here. For many people it’s best to have this kind of maximum choice but some would prefer to have a job before they buy a plane ticket. In terms of teaching, I think that you kind have to jump in on the deep end and hope for the best. The first few weeks is a process of learning to make decisions quickly and creating a structure that reduces the number of decisions that have to be made. After that, the chaos recedes.

Any final thoughts?

Actually, overall this has been an excellent experience for me. There were problems with the way it’s set up, but for me the pros have outweighed the cons greatly.


I’m back in Canada. I had an amazing trip, but am very glad to be home, despite the teetering piles of laundry, mail and (metaphorically) email (I’m going to write to you really really soon!) I am 31 years old. I was a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Award (sincere congratulations to Pasha Malla, the winner). I missed you guys, along with my bed, my plants, the TTC, plentiful streetside garbage cans, and an abundance of cheap fruits and vegetables. Of course, now that I have those things, I miss a comprehensive subway system, the mysterious 4:30 strong winds, the best convenience store lunches I’ve ever seen, temples in parking lots and (very much, already) my brother.

But you can’t have it all. And I’m doing pretty well–nothing like being thrilled to come home from a wonderful vacation to make a girl realize that.

Why would you lie about something dumb like that?

May 25th, 2009

Genki days

If there’s one thing these two weeks in Japan have taught me, it’s that even the few words of vocab in Japanese I have learnt may not actually be valid in context. Be that as it may, I am pretty sure “genki” means merry and happy and fun, and the past few days of celebrating my birthday (what, I’m celebrating all month, right? I mean, how often does one turn 31?) have definitely been that. Starting the morning of the 23rd (I was born at dawn, but not in this time zone) in pictures:

We leave at dawn for the Tskuiji fish market. The only time during my trip that I have worn eye-makeup. Just seemed appropriate.

The outside of the market. Very intimidating, but very exciting.

Fishmongers and longshorefolk ride through the market on these little motorized carts. They move fast, they are loaded with fish and ice that has to be somewhere pronto there are nolanes or laws that they subscribe to, and they hate tourists.

Beautiful fish (there are a dozen similar pics, on Facebook because of the upload problem and because not everyone finds fish as poetic as I do.)

Tuna butchery.

Delightful sushi breakfast. As it turned out, I was not at all weirded out by eating raw fish and wasabi at 9am. Very happy to, in fact.

Birthday monorail (to Odaiba).

MeSci–the Museum of Emerging Science (it was great, but all my interior photos such; perhaps I can sum of the experience with “robot-POV simulation”).

Odaiba beach frolic. I love being 31.

Cake buffet. Cake on one’s birthday is very important.

Eating cake for supper. Life as it should be.

On to the 24th. Ben and his friend Ichiro, and a whole lot of other people, at the Tokyo Dome to cheer on the Giants (down with the Kobe Buffaloes, although they did in fact win in the end).

Gosh, the fans were amazing and intense. They sang the “hip-hooray” song for the final half hour of the game. Intense and tuneful. I sang too–it wasn’t that hard to learn. You just sub in each player’s name as the line-up bats. In fact, it works with my name too: “Hip-hooray, hip-hooray, hey Rebecca, hip-hooray.” We sang that so many times I though I felt my teeth start to realign around the words. Probably not really though.

More singing. Ben and his friends Yuka (left) and Miu sing “Ring of Fire” in a kareoke box.

So ends this installment of pictures, although I fully intend to keep celebrating the birthday until the end of May, or possibly all year. Thanks to all who sent greetings–and if you sent me a card before I left Canada, please know that it is here with me in the small birthday shrine I have built in my room. Man, I love birthdays!!


May 22nd, 2009


Whoo, back in Tokyo and on free internet!! First thing, ok, the direct link for my short story Q&A at the Afterword. Now, pictures!!

Because the Blogger picture-upload interface is so, um, touchy, I have had to really be choosy about what I put on here, ie., no pictures that didn’t quite turn out, no pictures of Rebecca with a pretty flower, no pictures of cats in Shinto shrines, etc. If you want those, they are on Facebook-of-the-user-friendly-upload-interface. But here, on blogger, are a few highlights of my four days in Kyoto (and a couple from Tokyo before we left).

Me in a Tokyo bookstore. No, there doesn’t seem to be a way to make it not sideways.

Beautiful/spooky Buddhist cemetary in the hills, with view of Kyoto beyond.

There were many lovely girls and women in traditional kimono on our hike in the Kyoto hills. It was a pretty gentle hike, but still must have been challenging in these outfits. These two were the portrait of modest charm when I got my brother to ask for this picture.

Extremely large and awe-inspiring Buddha sculpture.

Traditional garden, outside a restaurant.

Impressive architecture at Kyoto station.

That would be Hiroshimamyaki on left, Osakamyaki on right (one in layers, one all mixed, both delicious).

A stand selling cookies you could feed to the deer in Nara. And deer, waiting for their chance.

Deer!! So cute. And pushy. You could pet them, but they didn’t really care unless you had a cookie.

Me, hanging out with the deer, pretending to be all chilled out about it.

Approach to largest wooden structure in the world (which housed the largest Buddha in Japan), with tourists and wandering deer. Deer as random occurance–so funny!

Largest wooden structure in the world. Pictures from inside didn’t turn out so hot (not hot enough for me to endure further congress with Blogger right now) but I thought this vista just lovely. Deer-free, because it’s in a courtyard where they can’t go. I would’ve smuggled one in if I could have.

Finally had to give her up / just about the time she begins to want me

May 20th, 2009

Post Not about Japan

When I sat down to write about Kyoto and shrines and candy filled with figs this morning, this note popped out of my diary:

E: That’s the idea, let’s abuse each other.

(They turn, move apart, turn and face each other.)

V: Moron!

V: Abortion!

E: Morpion!

V: Sewer-rat!

E: Curate!

V: Cretin!

E (with finality): Crritic!

V: Oh! (he wilts, vanquished)

I was thinking of that scene (from act 2 of Mister B’s *Waiting for Godot*) because of the new Revenge Lit critic-killing flash fiction contest that Biblioasis is doing to support Terry Grigg’s new novel, *Thought You Were Dead*. I meant to post that ages ago, cause it’s funny and I think reflects the tenor of the contest (though I haven’t read the book yet)…but you (and I) have until June 12 to send our entries. Deets at the link above.

In other non-Japan news, I will have a little Q & A about short stories for Short Story Month over at the the National Post’s The Afterword on Thursday. I’ll try to post a direct link then, but you know Japan… Or your could just read today’s Q & A with Pasha Malla, which is pretty good too!

Finally, ok, one thing about Japan: it’s 30 degrees here! I’m getting a tan, which is an unexpected bonus to everything else that is good about this trip! Oh, and that food I liked, in the picture post? Hiroshimamyaki (spelling=questionable); I had the Osaka version today, called Okanmyaki. Hiroshima rules, I think, but both are tasty.

Oh, and the deer of Nara are *out of control*–so cute and pushy pushy pushy. Thanks to Kerry for the day-trip recommendation. Shrines, botanical gardens, Buddha museum, giant Buddha sculpture, scary scary carp and adorable deer. And Okamyaki. All wins.

Well, that was more than one thing, but oh well!

Sometimes I think things are worse than they are

May 18th, 2009

Kyoto Hello

Ok, so this is pay-to-play internet and I have 10m18s remaining, so this will be typo-ridden but I just have to say–bullet train = bliss! It has a pointy nose like a hornet, and giant windows from which you can see the countryside zooming by, and when you pass another bullet train going in the opposite direction, the combined speeds (200k/h + 200 k/h!!) makes it impossible to even discern the windows on the other train. And the ride is as smooth as silk and the weather was gleaming sun, so I just watched the ride fields and the tiered stacks of pink and grey houses and windy roads around ponds where all the cars looked the same for *two hours* and didn’t even open my magazine once (and it was a good one–Exile Q).

And Kyoto, once we arrived, is also pretty impressive. Although we got lost lost lost (my fault) even that was sort of entertaining. When we were wandering around an appartment-complex parking lot (very very lost) a bemused security guard watched us walk by, and when we returned, he practically danced for the prospect of helping us. He walked us to a tiny path by the train tracks we never would have found, quite far in the heat, and left us with a map that he apparently kept around just for dumb lost westerners who strayed into his parking lot.

And then we went to the shrine of Fushimi Inari, of which I have many pictures (some with cats) which I will upload when it doesn’t cost anything to do so!! But trust me, it was amazing. After the main big shrine, there are these long winding paths that go up up up in the hills, and they are covered with archway after archway, bright orange holy things called toris, hundreds and hundreds, making a hike enough for threeish hours (we did perhaps half, because I am lame).

Oh, and I finally found a pineapple bun, one of my favourite Chinese snacks that I had for some reason been craving lately. And a fun arcade (really a pachinko parlour, but who understands pachinko? I’ll take Sega games any day). And and and…so much stuff!! Plus, I miss Canada. Well, parts of it. Well, you guys.

I am walking up the face of the mountain

May 17th, 2009

Tokyo and Yokohama in Pictures (well, a few)

Just to be clear: I’m not much of a photographer, and my camera’s not much of a camera. But Tokyo and Yokohama are both so amazing that I think it shines through personal and technical ineptitude. And if it *doesn’t* shine through these pictures, I am having a wonderful time and Tokyo and Yokohama are amazing. This photo upload session is a break to wait out the rain before we head to Harajuku to see the sexy punks!! Yay! Oh, and I was right–it *is* easier to upload pictures to Blogger on a PC. Not much, but slightly.

Reunited at last–the JR train from Narita airport into Tokyo. I have been awake for many many hours in this picture, but it does not diminish my happiness.

View of Tokyo tower (like a miniature Eiffel tower) down an unidentified street my first night in Tokyo.

The crowd at the station. My brother told me to stop taking pictures of strangers after this one. Good point.

View from top of a tall building. Sorry, Ben’s gone for a run and I’m useless about the names here. It was downtown and very tall–that’s all I got.

Sushi-conveyor-belt restaurant. Here this is cheap’n’easy fast food, as opposed to a kooky/expensive night out. But it’s still delicious. No, it’s more delicious.

Uh, not everything about Tokyo is perfect. But note UniQlo bagin my hand!!

Ah, pretty pretty park that I don’t remember the name of. But this is right in the middle of the city, a la Central Park. It’s shockingly gorgeous, no? I didn’t bother taking a picture of the crows; actually, I don’t like to slow down near them.

Us in Yokohama, just about to go into the Boats and Ports Museum (wait, it’s better than it sounds).

See! The Boats and Ports Museum has an actual *boat* you can run around and explore. Me, in a cabin, being a goof.

Ben, in the control room, being a goof.

Me, pretending to drive the boat (I am a very safe driver).

What Rosenblums do on a Ferris Wheel.

A bit of Yokohama, as seen from 3/4 up the Ferris Wheel.

We went to a Shinto festival in Akurasa. This is the top of the Shrine there, plus incongruous Lion Club sign. Why?

What the festival was all about was groups of people carrying very heavy portable shrines through the streets and chanting. It was very moving, somehow, when they pushed past us (the streets are very narrow there), all straining and sweating under the weight of the thing, but still so happy and impassioned. A few times, we got exhorted to chant too. Really an amazing feeling to be included in that.

The band (not called that, I’m sure) that came in between some of the shrines in the parade (also possibly not called a parade).

Most delicious food ever. It’s like a ground rice crepe filled with fried cabbage and dried shrimps and a fried egg, all doused with “bbq sauce” that tastes suspiciously like soy. Ok, that actually doesn’t sound good, but it was amazing.

Me, with eyes closed, in front of shockingly pretty bush.

Me, pointing enthusiastically at robot boat. In the end, we went on a normal boat, but at least I saw the one designed by a manga artist. Cool, no?

OK, whoo. That’s a lotta photos. More…at some point. We head for Kyoto tomorrow for a few days, and I think internet is tres cher there, so it may be a while. But I’ll be back!! Hope you guys are holding the west ok for me!

Don’t give me the small talk / give me the big talk

May 15th, 2009

Shocking News: I’m in Tokyo

I am sure I’m the only one who had doubts that this would happen, especially after I paid for the ticket and renewed my passport. But I suffer from a certain lack of faith in the future and when the wheels touched Tokyo tarmac, I was genuinely agog, and couldn’t have been prouder if I had piloted the plane myself. I turned to my charming Korean teenage seatmate, with whom I had exchanged no words in 13 hours, and I beamed and beamed. “Isn’t this amazing?” I would have said, had we shared a language. (on the mutant interantional dateline day that was Tuesday-Wednesday for me, I said almost nothing other than, “Excuse me,” and “Do I stand in this line?” and “I don’t eat beef.” It was a very very hard day for me.)

Even more amazing: after a horrendous half-hour on the tarmac being checked for swine-flu (apparently I don’t have it), they *let us off the plane* and into the rest of Japan. Which turned out to be significantly better than the plane. I guess I have only been here for 36ish hours, but I have seen so much so far. Including:

–dozens of beautiful women wearing smocks. Smocks are all the rage in Japan. It’s sort of a good look, actually.
–teeny little hole-in-wall bars on labyrinthine side-streets that are over a hundred years old. Drinking and hanging out here seems an almost mystical art.
–hundreds of Poe-style crows, cawing and skulking about and being generally terrifying. There are crows everywhere, and they seem to want to eat you. One of my brother’s roommates said there is a rumour that 5 or 6 ganged up and killed a cat.
–My brother!!! Tokyo’s great and all, but I would have visited Ben in Kentucky. With who else could I have a conversation like this:
(peering over the side of a bridge into a river at a bunch of carp)

Me (pointing): Those two are in love!!
Ben: Ah, all fish are male.

–giant Uni-Qlo (I’m sorry, this computer’s crap so I can’t deal with doing links; google to see the wonder that is Uni-Qlo and you won’t be sorry). I bought a smock.

Much more to do after I take a shower and my bro comes back from his run (I wussed out early to post this missive) and we head for Yokahama, where there is a beach and trees and a Ferris wheel from which you can see far away.

I’ll try to report back, although due to computer issues I’m not too sure about posting pictures. Very important: unlike every other time ever, I am not up on anything like other people’s blogs, Facebook minifeed, the general Toronto news, etc. But I am reading email. If something important happens to you, be it fame and fortune, crow attack, or giving birth, you know I wanna know.

Oh, and they put shredded potato on pizza here. It’s shockingly good.

I’ve been meaning to call you

May 11th, 2009

Feed the fish, water the plants

Once upon a good long time ago, I swore I would go visit my brother in Japan. And contrary to my actually, non-travelling personality, tomorrow, I depart.

Since January, I’ve been learning words and phrases and concepts from Japanese language and culture to help me on my way, and my bro has lined up a place for me to stay, a Metropass and many many good times, so I know this will be an amazing trip. Yet, of course, I am a basketcase over the undefined disasters that might overtake me en route. When I try to define them, my disasters become ludicrous–having my vitamins confiscated at customs for being in an unmarked container, not being able to go to *all* the different science museums I want to see, discovering that Japanese sushi is so good that the Canadian kind is ruined for me forever, etc.–and yet I still fret.

Because I often regard momentous events in my life as the end-all of everything, I am having a hard time remembering that things will continue to happen once I return from the east. But they will, and it’s good stuff, too. To inform y’all, and remind myself:

–Juneish–interview slideshow for Open Bar with Ian Daffern, photos by Dave Kemp on Open Book Toronto
–Summer–Two stories (“ContEd” and “Tech Support” in the Summer Fiction Issue of The Fiddlehead
–July 8 (not July 4, as has been previously, erroneously stated here)–reading at the Joyland Joy-a-thon, in collaboration with Toronto’s Scream in High Park
–Sometime soon–a 12 or 20 Questions interview with rob mclennan
–Also sometime soon–my short story “Do” shall appear in the Antigonish Review

It’s not at all as if I don’t *intend* on blogging at least a bit (at least pictures!!) from Japan, but who knows what will going on with me on the other side of the earth. So though you may well be hearing from me in this space at the usual much-too-much pace, then again, Rose-coloured may be radio-silent until June, so the promise of future writings has to get you through somehow.

If that’s the case, I hope you do have a delightful May, with many uncertain adventures of your own. And though I may fall off on blogging, email is forever (ha!) so if you need me: rebeccabooks(at)excite(dot)com

Stay with me / go places

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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