Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hostel III - November 2008

At the end of October I moved out of my apartment and back into the hostel - the same one I stayed at when I visited Vancouver in June, and also when I first arrived in the summer. It was thus my third stay there, but fortunately it only lasted a month. I began apartment-hunting again, and was fortunate enough to find one right away, but I couldn't move in till the beginning of December. So I was at the hostel for all of November.

Hostel life is inconvenient in many ways. You have no privacy, you can't unpack your stuff, and you have to share the kitchen (and fridge) with dozens of other people. But in other respects it's very nice. The hostel was full of people from all over the world: lots of people from Japan and Mexico, as well as some from Australia, Europe, and, of course, various parts of Canada. The environment of the hostel itself was warm and friendly, and so were the people who stayed there. While I was there, I was never lonely, and I had opportunities to learn about different countries and to practice my speaking skills in languages like French and Japanese.

The Japanese is especially important to my goal of joining the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. This programme takes young people from different parts of the world and places them for a year as English teachers in Japanese schools. This is similar to my last job, where I spent nine months teaching English in Hong Kong, and, indeed, the reason I got into ESL in the first place was with the aim of joining the JET Programme. The application process is lengthy and competitive. I spent a month and a half preparing the necessary documents in time for the November deadline. Now I have to wait for at least two months to find out if I get accepted or not. Your prayers are appreciated.

Back in October I was at a used book sale and picked up a beginner Japanese textbook. I've been using it ever since to try and teach myself Japanese. It's been going pretty slowly, but it's good to have a hobby. I have another hobby, too. For the past couple of months I've been learning the guitar. We have one at work, and one day I picked it up and began asking my co-workers to teach me chords. Now I can play several chords and a couple of songs, and I'm working on my strumming.

I didn't do much exciting in November. The highlight of an otherwise uneventful month was the U.S. election. It seemed to sneak up on me unexpectedly. The campaign had been gradually building up for two years - so long that it had almost become a fixture of day to day life. I was momentarily distracted by elections up on this side of the border, and next thing I knew, November 4th was upon us! I watched the results with as much enthusiasm as anyone else around here - and more than I'd expected to feel. I hadn't been rooting for anyone in particular. Both of the finalists were strong contenders with serious shortcomings, and I'd always been skeptical of the hype surrounding Barak Obama. Hype, after all, cannot fix the world's problems. But when it was all over, I had to marvel at what had just happened. A lot of the people who supported Obama did so because he was black - not a terribly good reason to vote for someone. Yet I couldn't help being impressed when the results came in. Because I really didn't think it would happen. If you'd told me six years ago that the next president of the United States would be a black man, I wouldn't have believed it could happen. In my lifetime, sure, but not before the end of the decade. And whatever else the Obama administration does (or does not) bring to the world, it is at least historic in one respect.

At work I talked about the election with my students, and explained its significance to them. Most of my co-workers were thrilled with the results. On Wednesday, one of them brought in doughnuts for everyone; the next day, there was chocolate cake. Hey, if I'd known a vote for Obama was a vote for free goodies, I would have become a fan of his a long time ago!

Weather-wise, November was a miserable month. Not that I can recall ever having a good November, but this one proved that all the stories about Vancouver are true. A few days before Hallowe'en it started to rain, and it didn't clear up for the next two weeks. We got a week of brilliant sunshine, and then more rain. After a couple more weeks of that, I looked out my window, to see something I barely recognised: clear sky! (Turns out that when the clouds are gone, the sky is actually blue underneath! Who knew!) One thing I will say for Vancouver weather: when it decides to be nice, it really goes all out. You can have non-stop rain one day, and cloud-free sunshine the next. The problem was that in November, the cloudy days far outnumbered the sunny ones, and half of them were rainy, too.

There's something worse than cold and rainy, though, and that's cold, rainy, and dark! Last year in Hong Kong I was spared Canada's long winter nights; now I remember how much I hate them. This is the time of year when dawn is at 8:00 and sunset is at 4:00. When it's dark on your way to work, and dark when you get out of work. When the sun never rises above 18ยบ, and even at noon your shadow is taller than you are! I can deal with the rest of Canada's weather, but the eight-hour days really get to me, and having the few available hours of sunlight obscured by constant rain only makes them even more soul-killing.

On November 11 I got something I'd never had before: a holiday! I don't know if it's a work holiday in Ontario or not, but I distinctly remember that I never got a day off school for it. Indeed, the whole idea of taking a holiday for Remembrance Day seems strange to me; most holidays are for happy occasions. This year it fell on a Tuesday, and I really didn't know what to do with myself. I considered going down to the war memorial and observing the Remembrance Day ceremonies, but it was raining (as usual), so I ended up just sitting around doing nothing. I think that's one holiday I can probably live without.

I mostly went to the Anglican Church this month, because I thought it was high time I settled on one. I'll probably make it my home church for the duration of my stay in Vancouver.

In closing, I'd like to do a bit of un-solicited advertising on behalf of the C&N Backpackers Hostel in Vancouver. I stayed there for a cumulative total of more than three months, and found very little to complain about (well, except for the flaky wireless service, but hey, it was free!) The staff are friendly, the environment is warm and homey, and the location is convenient. Beds go for $20/night or $120/week - which in Vancouver is cheaper than a lot of apartments! If you're ever in this city looking for a nice, clean, cheap place to stay, this is the place I recommend.

Movies I've seen this month:

The Laramie Project - They did a screening of this movie at church. It tells the true story of a small town where a young gay man was beaten to death, and the town's reaction to the killing. I liked the script, but I wasn't big on the execution. Every other character was played by somebody famous, and I think that distracted from the story. It's based on a play, and I think sometime I'd like to see a theatrical version of it; I might like that better.

Books I've read this month:

The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley - Somewhat opaque family melodrama about a group of people who are all either crazy or suffering from some form of emotional problem.

The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes - Teen science-fiction novel. I read it back when I was in elementary school, and loved it. A decade and a half later, I found it just as meaningful as I remembered it, if not more so.

Howard's End by E. M. Forster - Forster's a difficult author, but I think I like him. Maybe. Sometime's I think I understand what he's trying to say, but his writing style is so meandering that it's hard to tell. I did like the book better than I remember liking the movie, although I saw it a very long time ago. I should watch it again now, to compare.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker - Pretty good story about a poor black woman dealing with racism and sexism in the first half of the twentieth century. I should see the movie some time.