Sunday, January 10, 2010

Full Metal Entertainment

The kids and I have recently begun watching "Full Metal Alchemist". It started off slowly, but we've begun to really enjoy it. The story line is fairly compelling, with surprisingly dark moments. These are relatively far and few in between, but the first one certainly caught me off-guard. I found myself wondering if I should actually be letting E and M watch the series. It wasn't so much that the scenes were violent (though there are several of those), but rather that there were scenes that were heart-wrenching and hard to watch. Very emotionally taxing. It's sort of the same reason I haven't yet let them watch "Hotaru no haka"

The FMA universe has a distinctly European feel to it. The towns that pop up through the Elric Brothers' journeys all appear to be from the industrial revolution. Edward and Alphonse, the two main characters are well-rounded, and draw the viewer in fairly quickly. Ed, the archetypal brash anime character still manages to convey a likability that many authors fail to realize in their leads. But author Arakawa Hiromu manages it admirably.

FMA has received wide acclaim, both in Japan and North America. Over 40 million volumes are in print in Japan alone. Initially, I was put off by the amount of face-fault/chibi usage in the first few episodes, but as the series has progressed and become increasingly complex, this tendency seems to be decreasing.

At the end of the day, if you're looking for a new series to watch, I think FMA is well worth your time. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Self-Defeating Procrastination...

So I'm procrastinating. Again. Big surprise, I know. I should be working on a final report for the Tour that I took the NAC Orchestra on in October and November, and so instead, I've decided to write a blog. About the Tour. That I took the NAC Orchestra on in October and November. It seems fitting, since I'm about to take them to Toronto this weekend.

Tour is a pretty big component of my job at the National Arts Centre, and this was the first real full-blown tour on which I'd taken this orchestra, or any orchestra, for that matter. Suffice it to say that I was a little nervous about how things would go. And as tours go, cutting my teeth on the Western Canada Tour 2008 was definitely a challenge. You can have a look at the NAC's comprehensive website for a formal presentation of the tour at - there are great pics and some fantastic blogs, among the pages there.

Among the challenges faced on this tour were hotels that always promised to have rooms ready for check in, but rarely actually managed to deliver. Weather was also a factor. In the photo to the right, we're boarding our flight from Whitehorse to Victoria. There was quite a lot of fog, and we were concerned about being able to take off. Though you can't see it in this photo, behind the tail of the plane, there is actually a fairly dense, large forest. It's maybe three hundred meters across the tarmac...but the ground crew told us this was pretty normal for Whitehorse, and we should be able to take off.

Speaking of flights - we also chartered a plane for much of the tour. It turned out to be a fairly cost-effective way to travel given the remote locations to which we needed to go. Our limo (pictured to the right here), was provided by AirNorth. The crew was great, and provided 5 safe, fairly enjoyable legs of our travel.

The only part of the charter that was a challenge was the first flight. I needed to figure out how to effectively communicate the needs of the orchestra to the charter company - i.e. the plane needed to be ready to board by the time that the group arrived at the airport. Otherwise, they end up hanging around a small Charter Terminal lounge, wondering what in the hell is going on.

The tour ended up comprising 21 days of travel and performance, including an absolutely stunning number of Education activities in which members of the Orchestra visited schools in the communities in which we performed, conducting Masterclasses, clinics, and even one on one lessons. This was a pretty unique and memorable experience for students who in some communities only have access to itinerant instructors.

We all worked pretty hard on the tour. The volume of what needed to happen was amazing - both on the road, as well as back home in Ottawa to keep things on the right track. The staff all grabbed whatever opportunity they could find to sneak in a phone call, set up the day's activities, and communicate with the office back home.

On a lighter side, the three weeks on the road was also a chance for me to really get to know this orchestra. I've been in the position for a year, but those 344 days of regular hometown concerts have nothing on the 21 days of travel, hotels, new concert halls and various modes of transportation when it comes to learning all the personalities in the band.
For example - I started the tour with a fair mane of hair, but in Vancouver, I elected to get a haircut (as you can see in these comparison photos). It was an interesting experience - it took 90 minutes, and cost me $55. It was a sore blow for someone who is used to getting a haircut for $12, in under 12 minutes. Needless to say, when I showed up at the next performance, I took no small amount of ribbing (actually, a lot of it came from Pinchas...and the Production Crew of course). And yes, I know I'm sleeping in a bar in the photo above. Classy. In Victoria, I very nearly lost the little hair that Vancouver's failed Sweeney Todd left to me, when, after a late party, I decided that the offer to shave my head (made by one of the Orchestra Members) was pretty generous. Thankfully, he ultimately decided that I wasn't in the best frame of mind to make that decision.

You can also see that the tour provided the staff with a chance to bond. Or, at least I provided the other staff members with a chance to bond while mocking me...Nelson McDougall, our Personnel Manager certainly didn't miss the opportunity.

Ultimately, this was an immensely enjoyable experience for me. As you can see in this photo (the last photo taken of me before we returned to Ottawa), it was exhausting, but I can't begin to tell you how rewarding it was as well. I'm still recovering from this tour, but I can't wait until the next. My parents always told me that you get back what you put into something. I guess this is one of those times that they were right. But don't tell them I said that...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Experience Delayed

So I realized it's been far too long since I posted, and reading a friend's blog which mentioned a blog game seemed like an easy answer to me.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence on the page.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

So, the nearest book to me is "The Japanese Experience." It's my lunchtime reading at the office. Here goes:

Another was to reduce the temporal power of buddhism, which had grown immensely during the years of turbulence. Tendai Enryakuji, for example, had the temerity to oppose Nobunaga's attack on Asakura in Echizen. In September 1571, he turned his army against it.

The Japanese Experience is an interesting book - if a bit of a slow read. It's a fairly in depth look at pre-Meiji era Japan, with a small epilogue dedicated to the Sino-Japanese and 2nd World Wars. It's something that I've had kicking around for a while, and had never had the time to read. Not that I have a lot of time now, but over the odd lunch break I can pick my way through it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Big Chill meets East...

Hello again. I'm making a second post, which I suspect is a good sign. I've been thinking about what I want to write about on this blog, and I decided that I should write about a number of things. Those of you who know me know that my family and I recently moved to Ottawa. We're enjoying the city immensely, despite being in the depths of winter. Or perhaps it’s because the kids are experiencing their first real winter.

We certainly didn’t get much of that in Windsor. It’s been a big change, but the kids seem to have adapted well. Anna, on the other hand…

One of the challenges that I have found living in Ontario, one that certainly isn’t unique to Ottawa, is the inability to find good sake. It was abysmal in Windsor, and has only improved slightly since our move here. For those of you who aren’t in Ontario, all alcohol, with the exception of beer, is sold through a provincial store (called the LCBO – Liquor Control Board of Ontario). Needless to say, having a single distributor in the province means that the selection is not particularly good, and getting my hands on a reasonable bottle of sake has been challenging.

Generally, sake is broken into 2 categories, with subdivisions within each category addressing the quality of the sake (or specifically, as I understand it, the amount of milling the rice goes through prior to the brewing process). Of the two main categories of sakes – those made by adding alcohol, and those made without the added alcohol, I prefer those without added alcohol. I’m currently trying to get the LCBO to import one in particular: Juyondai – Junmai Ginjo.

I have yet to try this particular sake, but it's been recommended as a top pick by a number of people to me. The kura , or distillery is in the Yamagata prefecture, and is well known for it's sake throughout Japan. However, the Juyondai brand name has only been used in the last few years. Juyondai indicates that this is the 14th generation that the kura has been in operation, and so only came into use when the 14th president took over. As I understand it, this sake tends to be a little more fruity, with a bit more body than some of the other popular Japanese picks, so I'm definitely curious to try it out. I’ve only really just started my hunt for this sake. A couple of e-mails that have bounced back, and I’m planning on stopping into a store this afternoon that I’m hoping can help out. I’ve been told that LCBO will specially import items for customers, but that the catch is you have to bring in a case, rather than a bottle. However, as I understand it, what defines a case is rather loose, and could be 2 bottles, rather than a dozen, or even 6. I'm planning on hitting the Rideau and King Edward LCBO, so I'll let you know if I was successful or not. While I'm there, I can also pick up a couple of bottles of Hakatsuru junmai ginjo. That should tide me over until I find the other.

So until I find it, and until my next post, kampai, and good health.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Onigiri and Nose Stickers...

So - I've finally gotten around to trying my hand at a blog. I'm not sure yet how this will work, since I'm notoriously bad about being consistent in my personal life, but figured that it was about time I gave it a shot. I'm writing this up while I wait for the rice-cooker to ding. I've been wanting to make onigiri (oh-nee-gee-ree) at work for a while, but haven't had the time in the morning, nor the forethought in the evening to cook the rice. I finally remembered to set everything up tonight, and now just have to make them. If you haven't had onigiri, you're missing out. It's a pretty simple dish, and is easy to make. The trick, my wife tells me, is using freshly steamed rice (i.e. not the rice in the zip-lock bag that I'd been trying to use). They're easy to take to work, and to eat at a desk.

So, now I'm on to the nose stickers. For those that know me, you know I have two kids - 1 daughter, Mia who is 4, and my son, Ethan who's 18 months. My daughter, who is the more...strongwilled of the two, provided us with our first trip to the emergency room not too long ago. My daughter has found a deep love of all things stickers. If it has a sticky backing on it, she's going to find it, and put it on something. The walls, her brother, your arm. I think there are still The Little Mermaid stickers on the floor at our old house. In any case, my wife turned her head just in time to see Mia sniff a gold-foil sticker up her nose one quiet afternoon. For the life of me, I can't figure out why she did this, since it wasn't a scented sticker, but, there you have it.

Mia, coming to the realization of what she'd just done, and I suspect upon seeing the look of utter horror on her mother's face, immediately screamed and launched into hysterics. [side note - I now have three onigiri for lunch tomorrow, as well as burnt hands...] Anna called me at work and let me know what our cherubic child had just done, and to find out what I thought we should do. When I got home that evening, we determined that neither of us could see anything. We spoke to a nurse, who told us that, since she didn't seem to have any trouble breathing, that we should leave well enough alone. Likely, she had simply sniffed it back down her throat, and was processing it along with the yakisoba she'd had for lunch that day. We didn't really think much of it after hearing those comforting words.

Until...Anna had to stop by a clinic by the house for some booster shots, I think. By chance, the physician on at the clinic was an ENT (Ear Nose Throat), and so Anna mentioned the sticker incident. The doctor was kind enough to have a look, and after Mia was subdued, screaming, he figured out that the sticker was indeed in her Nasal cavity, and would have to come out. But he couldn't do it at the clinic. To make a long story short, two nurses and Anna held Mia down while the doctor went fishing with a pair of forceps. After all of this, I spoke to her on the phone from a meeting, and asked her: "So you're not going to put stickers in your nose again, right?" to which I got a resounding "Meh."

I was torn by her response. Part of me was horrified to think that we'd likely be making a series of trips to the hospital for her. The other part was...I guess proud that she'd had this clearly unpleasant experience, but that it was not going to slow her down for a second.

Long story short - encourage curiosity, be thankful for resilience.