Five Things

The weather this weekend was so nice that men over sixty were wearing winter jackets, people under 40 were wearing jeans and a light jacket, and kids were wearing as little as their parents allowed. As one would expect, the family and I managed to spend a good bit of the daylight hours outside. While the boy was not always happy with what was going on at any particular moment, he did greatly enjoy playing in the 7-Eleven-sized sandbox at a park not too far away. Lots of pictures were taken, and I even managed to get some great shots thanks to the fast shutter speed of the Canon DSLR. The summer humidity is not far off, so we're trying to enjoy as much time outside as we can beforehand.

Weather report aside, it's time for another list of things that don't necessarily warrant a blog post. First up …

The $300 CD

There used to be a popular music store in Ontario called Sam the Record Man that would often import albums from around the world. In the fall of 2000, Hamasaki Ayumi's 3rd studio album Duty was released to much fanfare, and I wanted a real copy, not just the decent-quality MP3s from Napster. So on the week of the release I called ahead to confirm the store had stock of the CD and asked that one be set aside for me, and I would be up on Saturday morning. On Friday I rented a car from the nearby Budget and invited a friend to join me on the 2-hour drive from Hamilton to Toronto to pick up a CD from Japan.

Young people have so much time on their hands.

The drive up was probably uneventful as I don't remember much about it. When we arrived at the music shop I went up to the counter and asked if they had my CD on hand. The clerk checked and, as one would expect when a young person calls a store asking that something be set aside, the CD was not waiting for me. Fortunately there were still two discs in stock and I picked up the coveted album for the insane price of $44.95 CAD, which was before the 15% tax was applied. Of course, as I had rented a car and drove for two hours just to get this CD, I didn't stop at just one Japanese import disc. I bought three: the aforementioned Duty album, a TM Revolution album, and a compilation from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Not only was I young, foolish, and employed, I was stupid, too. All in all, the three discs came out to a little over $100, making the trip to Toronto come in at around $300 in total. Did I enjoy the drive? Absolutely. Did I enjoy the CD? Very much so, as I still listen to it today … on Spotify. Would I do something like this again? Probably not for music or some sort of collector's item.

Not the Target Audience

April is considered the start of the year in Japan for schools, TV shows, and a number of businesses that prefer fiscal years not follow calendar years. This year a number of shows that the boy likes to watch have seen regular cast members go and new people join. Animated shows such as Thomas and Friends has also started another season, with the voice actors the boy and I have come to know reprising their roles. There's just one problem: I strongly dislike the changes. Especially when it comes to Thomas and Friends.

The boy disagrees. He loves the changes. I haven't heard him laugh this much when watching his programs ever. Clearly I'm not the target audience, and that's fine. So long as the boy is happy, then my opinions on the matter are less than inconsequential.

Power Napping

In an effort to try and regain some semblance of sanity, I've decided to invest some time in power naps throughout the day. For the moment it's just five to ten minutes in the afternoon, but may try to squeeze in ten minutes after 4:00pm as well. With a slightly more rested mind, better things will happen … like being able to stay awake during meetings.

The Sound of Processing

Sleeping in the same room as the 10C server1 means I get to hear when the system is doing some heavier lifting. What's interesting is hearing the system and the hard drives work when it comes time to do the hourly and daily backups2. There's a certain rhythm to each backup and I've already worked out the sounds of a healthy backup.

I wonder if people who work at data centres also train their ears to catch anomalies.

Pre-Pre-Kindergarten

Tomorrow will be a big day for the boy as a nearby kindergarten opens its gates to neighbourhood children who will start attending school for half a day starting April 2020. There are three kindergartens in the area and we're not yet 100% certain which school would be best for him, so tomorrow's open house will be an interesting opportunity to see the facilities, the teachers, and how the boy reacts to everything. He's not particularly comfortable in areas with a whole lot of foot traffic, but kindergartens should be different given the size of the feet.

With just one week remaining before most of the country shuts down to celebrate the series of national holidays and the new emperor's coronation, it will be interesting to see how much work gets thrown my way. Given the amount of overtime that I've been clocking the last couple of weeks, I fully expect managers to start stepping in and asking that I do much, much less.

This is assuming, of course, that managers at the day job start to manage.


  1. My snoring is keeping people awake, so it's better if I sleep in a different room for the time being.

  2. The database is backed up hourly and the files are done daily. Spinning disks are used to store uploaded data while SSDs are used for the databases.

Fifteen Years

Back on August 1, 2002 I made the 4,880km trek from Hamilton, Ontario to the west coast city of Richmond, British Columbia, just a stone's throw from Vancouver. The move came at a time when I was under an extreme amount of stress in both my personal life and professional. The move from one side of Canada to the other was my way to run from all the problems, lay low for a while, and make a new me. A lot of mistakes were made, many of which resulted in regrets that persist to this day. But a lot of good came from the move as well. I learned who I was and, more importantly, who I wasn't.

The first few weeks were rough. Very rough. I thought I might end up homeless due to my arrogance and over-confidence.

You see, I decided to move across the country on Friday July 26th. On Saturday, I went to work, did what I needed to do, and then drove off to see my step-father and let him know of my plans. He didn't completely approve, but he understood and wished me luck. That night I began clearing out my apartment by tossing things from the fire-escape into the dumpster below. Sunday I bought a plane ticket for an August 1 flight, and afterwards continued clearing out the apartment with the help of some friends. Anything they didn't want, we tossed. One difficult item to lose was my computer at the time. I had invested over $8,000 into it at that point, and it was simply too large and fragile for me to carry it across the country. As I didn't have an address in Richmond, yet, there was nowhere to send it to. I had to let it go. Monday through Wednesday went by in a blur. I went to work, did what needed to be done, but kept my departure secret as the boss had one heck of a temper. I couldn't tell him becuase I was a coward.

The whole move was cowardly, really.

During the evenings I would go online and look for work in the Vancouver area. There was a lot of opportunity from the looks of the help wanted ads, and I got in touch with a company that was in the same line of work I was doing in Ontario; appliance repair. The role they needed to fill required a person with several years of experience who could tell the difference between a Maytag, Whirlpool, Frigidaire, and Bosch component at a glance. I could do that. We had a telephone interview and asked if I could start on August 1st. My response? "I'd love to, but I'm flying to Vancouver that day. Could I start on the 2nd?"

They were surprised that I was moving across the country and applying for a job that paid $10 an hour. I don't blame them. In retrospect, I'd be surprised, too. They asked me to call them when I landed and I hung up the phone confident I had gainful employment lined up. Finding an apartment was more complicated, as I didn't know the area, but I knew I needed to be in Richmond. Every place I called wanted me to come in beforehand, so I decided to wait until I was in the province to look for a place to stay, confident there would be a home waiting for me.

Wednesday night I went to visit my step-father one last time to thank him for everything he'd done, give him the keys to the office1, and chatted about what the future might have in store. The next morning a friend of mine came to pick me up in the early hours of the morning and we drove up to Toronto where I'd catch my flight. My heart was beating hard the whole time as visions of consequences played out again and again.

The move had to go on, though. I could not turn back.

After checking in and confirming everything was good, my friend and I shook hands. I walked towards the security gates, and he went back to his car. Though we'd see each other again, our relationship would not be the same. My relationship with everyone in Ontario would never again be the same. I was leaving everyone and everything, both the good and the bad, to forge ahead on a fool's errand.

Welcome to Vancouver

The flight across the country was rather uneventful. No turbulence. No weather to avoid. The passengers — to the best of my recollection — were all well-mannered individuals. After landing, everyone clapped and we eventually got to leave and collect our bags. One of the first things I did after picking up the two pieces of luggage that contained the last of my belongings was buy a newspaper. While I was confident I had work, I needed to find a place to sleep. I had enough money on me to stay a week at a motel if needs be, but cash was not something I had a great deal of nor access to.

The first few places I called all had the same story. A tenant was found a day or two before, and I'd have to look elsewhere. Eventually I did find a place that was renting a room for $400 a month, and that seemed decent. While shared accommodation is not always ideal, it is relatively cheap. The woman who answered the phone invited me to see the small apartment and gave me the address. Soon after, I was on my way to catch a taxi.

Interestingly enough, when I gave the taxi driver the address I wanted to go to, he started asking me detailed questions. "Where is that? Over by number three? Number four?" I had no idea what he was talking about and said as much, which is not what he wanted to hear. In a huff he grabbed his mapbook and looked it up. "Four and Francis" he scowled, and I repeated it to myself a dozen times so that I'd not make the same mistake again.

After a short 10-minute ride, we arrived at the house and I knocked on the door. A short woman came out and started apologizing profusely in a language I didn't understand. Her son soon followed her out and said that the room had been taken the day before. However, if I didn't mind staying in their part of the house, they'd rent me a room they weren't using anymore for $425 a month, a little more than the room offered in the paper. Not wanting to start the house search over again, I accepted the offer and moved in. The son and I quickly became good friends.

Later that afternoon I called the appliance repair shop I'd spoken to earlier that week to let them know I was in the province, had found a place, and was ready for an interview or to start work as soon as the next day. Unfortunately, they hired someone in the few days since my call. I was now back to square one on employment.

For the next seven weeks I looked for work as though my life depended on it … because it did. I stopped spending money. I walked everywhere to keep the $2 fare for food. I grabbed old newspapers out of the garbage to look at the Help Wanted section. My prepaid phone was fast running out of minutes, but I needed to make calls. In desperation, I called my step-father and asked for some money. He came through the very next day and I was able to eat for the first time in 3 days. As the job search went on, I started eating once every four days. Then five …

I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. The body does some strange things when you go from 232 pounds down to 173 in the space of five weeks. Strange … awful things.

My clothes were all a hundred sizes too big for me. My belt needed new holes to keep my huge pants up. I didn't want to call Ontario for help again. My ego wouldn't allow it. I knew my bank had given me a $1000 buffer with ATM deposits, and I was seriously considering depositing a napkin with an IOU and risking the wrath of the bank for a few measley dollars … but decided against it. That wasn't who I wanted to be.

On a sunny day in mid-September I received a phone call. A printing company in town needed warehouse staff for their busy season, and they were paying $8.75 to start. I jumped at the opportunity, had an interview I found confusing and repetitive, and was awarded a 4-month contract. My shift would be 6am to 2pm Monday to Friday, with occasional weekends if I agreed. I was so incredibly happy …

The work was not easy. I'd lost a lot of weight. Working in the warehouse meant moving pallets of paper that could weigh anywhere between 300 and 4,500 kilograms. I wasn't certified to use the forklift, so that meant using a pallet jack and physical labour. When a person eats every day, this isn't too hard to accomplish. When a person eats the equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich every 5 days, and walks the 4 kilometers to work then again back home every day … even a medium-sized load is a bit too much to bare.

But I persevered. One week later on a Friday, I was called over to recieve my first paycheque only to discover that there was a mix-up. It hadn't been printed. "If you could wait until Monday …" the manager started, but I'd gone too long without food at that point. I didn't want to go three more days. Rather than ask me to wait, we went to the office and had someone write a cheque. $173.74 it came out to, and to this day it's the biggest paycheque I've ever received. Not in terms of dollars and cents, but value. I valued every last penny. I bought some food. I bought $10 in phone minutes to call my family. I bought a pair of pants that fit.

Over time, that temporary job would become permanent as I started writing software to help me do my job better. That caught people's attention and, eventually, I was put in charge of the warehouse and a small team. A year later I was moved to logistics, and six months later to IT. My entire five year stay on the west coast of Canada was paid for by working at that company, and I'm still thankful for every opportunity they offered … and the ones they forgave me for manufacturing.

Fifteen years ago I left Ontario a scared, scarred boy who didn't know anything about the world or himself. The five years in British Columbia, while not always easy, prepared me for what came next ….


  1. we worked at the same place, and I had a set of keys.

Chlorine and Aluminum

At 9:30 am, the mercury is pushing 32˚ Celsius and people are taking refuge from the heat in any way they can. Many people have towels wrapped around their neck to prevent excessive perspiration from being absorbed into their clothing, children are wearing as little as possible, and nearly every woman over the age of 30 is carrying a parasol. Summer, like it or not, has descended upon central Japan. To mark the occasion, water fountains all over the area are operating during daylight hours to offer some relief from the heat and humidity.

Water Fountain Outside Hekinan Chuo Station

Many of the water fountains in Japan remind me a great deal of the ones I would see around Southern Ontario while growing up. There is one particular water fountain in Hamilton's Gage Park that I will always remember for its size and instantly recognisable smell. I would see it every time I went to the park and, while I haven't been there in over two decades, I'm reminded of it every time I come close to a fountain in Japan that matches two very distinctive attributes. The first is the smell of chlorinated water, and the second is the unmistakable hint of aluminium.

The fountain in Gage Park was not particularly large but, looking at it from a child's perspective, it may as well have been the size of a house. People would crowd around its sides and put their hands in the cool liquid. Others would kick off their shoes and socks to wade around in knee-high water. Others still would just sit in the path of the mist that was carried off by the gentle breeze that would occasionally flow by. In my case, I would typically do the latter. I never wanted to take my shoes off as I feared someone might make off with my shoes1. I never wanted to put my hand in the water as I didn't have anything to dry it off with later, and didn't like the idea of using grass as a makeshift towel2. Mist, however, was just great.

How many children try to intensely analyse the world with all five of their senses? I would think the answer would be somewhere between "many" and "most". I was certainly one of these sorts of children. While I didn't really like touching things3, I would sit in an area for a great deal of time and focus on listening to my surroundings, or really take in the smells. For the first 15-odd years of my life, vision was not something I had a great deal of. It wasn't until I bought my first pair of glasses4 when I was 19 that I realised just how much of the world I had been missing. Being near-sighted, shy, and excruciatingly introspective while growing up can leave someone with a very narrow view of the world. That said, when I sat down to "sense" the moment, I made good use of the other senses.

It's for this reason that so many of us are able to return to a very specific point in our past with little more than a whiff of lightly-scented air. Our memories, while not 100% accurate, are complete enough for us to reconstruct and experience life as we once knew and understood it, but with the perspective that only comes with age.

I will forever be amazed at how something I encounter here in Japan can remind me so clearly of something that is now on the opposite side of the planet. It's true that there are only so many ways to build a water fountain, but not every fountain can trigger the same memory.

Meeting The Rest of the Family

Much like the title of this post suggests, today I met more of Reiko's family. Reiko's eldest sister came for a visit with her husband and two young children, and we had a pretty good time enjoying a light afternoon snack and posing for some photos. As this trip comes to a close I'm finding it hard to turn my thoughts back to Canada.

The last two weeks have been quite a bit of fun. Reiko and I have visited so many places, and there is still much left to do when it comes to planning our upcoming wedding. While the counter on the side might show over 500 days, these things need to be planned well in advance. I think that I might just setup another site to track all the things that Reiko and I have had to do in order to marry. It could be useful for other Canadian / Japanese couples that have questions or concerns about what needs to be done and what to watch out for. Lord knows that Reiko and I have a bit of an idea, but there are many things that we likely haven't considered when it comes to us living and working in other nations, and even changing nationality.

The next stage for Reiko and I is the trip to Ontario to meet much of my immediate family. For the moment, this is planned to be during the Japanese Golden Week, which is the next time that Reiko can get enough time to visit Canada. To add fun to this equation, Reiko and I will be meeting in Toronto instead of Vancouver. Hopefully we'll land at the same airport, and within a decent amount of time from each other. I'd feel terrible if Reiko had to kill a few hours in Toronto before I arrived. I'd rather land a day before and spend the night sleeping on those airport benches (assuming they'd let me, of course).

Hopefully my family will be able to set aside some time to meet with Reiko this spring. However, if we can only really meet during evenings, then I can show Reiko many of the sites in Southern Ontario. Niagara Falls will have thawed by the time we arrive, and I've always wanted to try that rotating resteraunt. I don't think we'd go across the Rainbow Bridge to the US, though … the Canadian side is much more interesting.

This will be my first time back to Ontario in almost five years. I wonder how much has changed.

There will be some new family that I need to meet, as well as some others to reconcile with. It should be interesting to say the least. We'll likely only be in Ontario for three days before flying back to Vancouver and spending two days together before Reiko needs to return.

Long distance relationships are incredibly hard. Both Reiko and I knew this well before we started a relationship, and we had even discussed the difficulties beforehand. I have less than two days remaining in this country, and I really don't want to go back. My apartment feels cold and empty without Reiko. She was only there for a few days this past summer, and in that time enough of a mark was left that it can't be filled with anything else. And while MSN is a nice tool to help us keep in touch, it's just not the same as being in the same room.

MSN can't transfer touch, taste or smell. Without these crucial senses, the other two are just a tease. Yet despite these limitations and difficulties, I wouldn't want to be with anyone else.

To everyone that might be having a long distance relationship and finding it hard to keep going, I can only wish you luck with the venture. Don't think about how long it will be until you can meet again, always talk about how short the wait will be. Rather than talk in months, talk in weeks. Anything that can make the time seem less will help both parties. If you can make a relationship work with the distance, then the fruit of that labor will last a good long time.

Ganbatte ne.

When Doing The Right Thing Goes Wrong

Throughout our lives we will make important decisions based on what we think is right at the time. Sometimes these decisions pan out … other times, they fail in a blaze of colour.

When I had originally left Ontario in August of 2002 to work and live in BC, I had made the decision for several reasons. One was to start over where nobody knew my name, another was to work my way up the social ladder to become a semi-successful person who seldom worried about things like money. I had sworn to myself that I would never go back to work or live in Ontario because the province seemed grey and lifeless during the 22 years I had spent there.

However, it seems that there is a very real possiblility that I might just move back there for the sake of stable employment. This could be a very good thing as I would be closer to family, but at the same time I would be leaving behind everything I had ever worked for in BC. Sure, it might not be much to look at, but everything I've accomplished in this province I've earned. My few accomplishments have come at great cost, and each has included a lesson that I've had to learn the hard way.

So why am I so reluctant to go back to Ontario where I would have closer access to help?

Reiko has asked me to consider finding work in Ontario as I would be able to make more money there than in some other provinces in Canada. At the same time, I'm looking at attending a decent university to earn a bachelor's degree. I haven't yet decided in what subject, though … there's just way too many enjoyable courses to study. Since a degree will require four years of study, I should go with something that I can really become involved in.

Yet at the same time, I'd really rather stay in BC. Even if it means I need to work twice as hard for half the gain.

Perhaps I'm too stubborn. Once I set a goal for myself, I will not look back. Even if that goal needs to be rescheduled because other factors of life got in the way, I will one day accomplish that goal.

It's situations like this that I wish I had older friends who could give me a little clarity with their experience.