Thursday, March 31, 2005

Quick question for ya...

So I ask you this... what is the point of accepting car reservations online if you don't make the car the client reserves available?

Dropped by Thrifty's today to pickup my midsize (Ford Focus or Dodge Stratus type) vehicle only to be told that they didn't have any available. Now, about 60% of the reason for me renting a car for my trip down to Chatham this weekend was gas mileage, which ain't too too good on my truck. So the guy at the counter apologizes and says instead of a small yet comfortable and economical Focus:

They're giving me a great big honking, leather interior, top of the line, luxurious in a gas-guzzling kind of way Lincoln Town Car!

Now, I must admit it is a very nice car, lots of gadget (took me 10 minutes to figure out how to adjust my seat) and will be very comfortable to ride in for the two 7-8 hour trips I have ahead of me in the next few days but damn... 25 miles per gallon... the Focus gets 35... my truck gets 24 miles per gallon, so I guess I'm a tad better off with this behemoth of a car and its V8...

So that's that... hope I won't feel like an old man driving this thing... or a Pimp or something... we'll see...

Have a good weekend.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Another step closer...

A mere 42 days to go until my departure and things are starting to get crowded... too much stuff to do, running out of time!

Just dropped off my truck at my friend's place, he'll see what he can do about the clutch... hopefully we can get that sorted away... This weekend I'm driving down to Chatham to see Kadance, my little one year old god-daughter... haven't seen her since Christmas so I'm sure there'll have been plenty of changes... Next weekend is the Firm's IT group retreat at Mont St-Sauveur, the following weekend I think I'm going to Klaus's place for a visit, then more plans for the weekend of the 22nd... and that takes us pretty close to May 12th... sheesh!

Oh and I went and picked up my Visa today from the Japanese Embassy, they've decided they'll let me into their country! Yay!

Ever felt the need to demolish a website? Now you can! Just go to www.netdisaster.com, enter the URL you want to destroy, select your weapons and go at 'er! (I had an especially good time taking out the PETA web site... Riiiight, eating meat causes impotence...how the hell did we all get here then?)


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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It's a small world... at least as far as ESL teachers go

Very pleasant surprise today. Back when I attended the Group Interview for AEON in Toronto, I met a bunch of different people of course. I think we were 8? 9? essentially locked in this room for hours on end, you get to talk to people. Anyways, after the interview, I ended up heading out to dinner with 2 guys, Steve and Wasim, who interviewed at the same time as I did.

Now, what made the conversation really interesting was that Wasim had just recently returned from Japan where he taught with the JET program for 2 years. He was a great source of information, and the three of us have kind of kept in touch through email these past months.
So last night, I check my email and there's this mass email from our Recruiter telling us there's a special on TV tonight that we should tune in to... by chance I glanced at the recipient list and spotted Wasim's email address, which made me drop him and Steve a quick email asking how their plans were coming along.

Found out today that not only will Wasim be living in Oyama, about 50km away from Utsunomiya, by we'll be training together this May and get this, we're on the same flight out of Chicago. Guess the world of Canadian ESL teachers in kind of small, quite the series of coincidences though. It'll certainly be nice to have a friendly face in Japan, and the fact that he knows the language will certainly help!
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So after work tonight, I headed out for dinner with my dear friend Sean. We were initially heading for Chinese, but were diverted away by a sign on the door about "equipment failure" and settled on Capones Ristorante instead. I'd never been before, and I'd heard it was a good place. Well good is putting it lightly, it was an amazing meal, the best I've had in a long long time, and priced more reasonably than some of the other Italian places I've been to.

Not only did they have my Grey Goose, but our server was amazing, the food was fantastic and the atmosphere was great. We started out with Veal Scalopini, which was excellent... then I had the Chicken Amaretto (chicken marinated in Amaretto with an Amaretto and Mushroom cream sauce) served with breaded egg plant, baby pea shells and potato... my dear god it was good. Topped it off with fresh brewed coffee and rice pudding and I am very sad to have only discovered this place now. Dare I say? It ranks right up with a few of the restaurants I've had the pleasure of dining out at (on the Firm's tab of course) in Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto. Maybe I just hit it on a good night, but damn....

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Baffling level of security at the Japanese Embassy

I had received my Certificate of Eligibility from Japan last week, which means whatever ministry in Japan has decided that I'm a good kid and fulfill whatever requirements to enter the country for work. So this morning, I made a quick run out to the Japanese Embassy which is nearby and was staggered by the level of security I encountered.

First of all, the compound is surrounded by a high brick wall with a heavy automatic gate across the lane and another heavy Iron gate for pedestrian access. Stepping up to the gate, you have to hit a button which I'm assuming buzzes reception. I was told to wait a few moments, which I did. A security guard then came to the gate, checked my ID, radioed in my name and then escorted me the 20 some yards to a door and directed me to the left. The interior was totally secured, no way to get anywhere but the Visa office which had a bulletproof glass and a small transaction slot. I dropped off my paperwork, went back outside and was promptly escorted off the grounds.

I find this quite interesting. I could understand such a level of security for the Israeli embassy or something but Japan??? Are they under some kind of threat I'm not aware of? I understand North Korea and China are concerns at the moment, maybe that's it?

I guess I've had limited embassy experience... I see some Israeli diplomats arriving some morning across the street where I get my coffee, surrounded by the requisite RCMP diplomatic service guards carrying automatic weapons under their trench coats.... but our office was on the same floor as the Mexican Embassy for the last few years and other than a buzzer for access, they don't have any of that... I've even ridden the elevator with their ambassador once or twice and she doesn't have any security at all...

Anyways, paperwork has been dropped off, should be ready next week when I get to head back in to the "Compound" and pick up my freshly stamped Passport.

We also found out yesterday that our IT Director who works out of Toronto but is in charge of our office had a serious accident this weekend while tubing. Seems she was pushed down a wrong trail or something and impacted with an inanimate object which was less than friendly to her. No air ambulance was available so they had a doctor sit in the ambulance with her for the ride from Bancroft to Toronto... Suffered some broken ribs, chipped vertebrae and a punctured lung... apparently she's doing better today, walking around and such... hope she has a speedy recovery.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Free VoIP phone calls... what a wonderful thing

A friend of mine bought a telecom\technology magazine last week and passed on an article about a wonderful product called Skype (www.skype.com) which allows for free Voice over IP calls from between any two high speed internet connected computers in the world.

I gave it a quick run using 2 machines here and it seems to work quite well. There was a small lag but it was only noticeable because I could hear the actual "live" voice before it came out of my speakers. Should work fine as long as both machines have a good internet connection. My username is michellafleur if anyone wants to download it and give it a shot.. send me an email at mitchamaphone@hotmail.com and we'll arrange for a time to give it a run. All you'll need is a microphone and speakers connected to your computer. I'll probably be buying a headset for it, and maybe a USB phone for my parents to use... very cool technology.

They make their money on their SkypeOut package, which enables you to make VoIP calls to normal phone lines for a relatively minor fee (a few pennies per minute between Japan and Canada) which I may also use since I don't think I'll be getting a land-line... unless I need one for Net access....

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Quarter of a century...

Well that's it, it's official. Twenty five years ago today (tonight at 11:43 to be precise) I was born. 24 was a good year, 25 should be a mind-blowing amazing year. Just got an email from someone who taught in Japan for a while and came back married. He says Utsunomiya is an AMAZING place to live. All the amenities of a large city but not as crowded, and being right in the mountains is amazing. This is a heck of a boost for me, I'd been starting to feel anxious because I haven't found that much info on Utsunomiya, but hearing that from someone who's been there is great.

Had a great big shindig last night, the whole clan came down and we had great fun. My plan was to finish off my litre bottle of Grey Goose and the little Peach Schnapps I had left.... didn't take much to finish both, I think it's the first time my family's seen me drink. People kept coming up to me saying "I thought you didn't drink" and I kept answering "I don't usually drink, but that doesn't mean I can't"... so I polished off both bottles and stumbled into bed around 1... no headache or anything this morning, that's just one benefit of drinking a premium Vodka....

Got the most amazing travel speakers for my laptop, they clip on to the sides of the screen and are powered through USB, they work quite well. Also got a lovely engraved tie-clip from my parents, and a couple of ties from my aunt... and cash, always good.

Today I got breakfast in bed (fruit with a chocolate dip) and then went out to lunch with my parents and brothers, then went to see Robots, which was awesome. Tonight for dinner it's BBQ, and then doing something with little B after dinner tonight, not sure what yet.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Unearthed a Global Japanese conspiracy...

Serious news here folks... I was given secret surveillance video today which depict two people discussing a worldwide Japanese conspiracy. See the video in question and pass the word to all your friends and family.


ironically, I'm going to the Japanese Village for lunch tomorrow with some people who have birthdays around this time. Mine is this Sunday, hitting the big 25!

In other news... I went out and used my Sony Store Gift Certificate, which I received for Xmas from my dear friend Sean, to purchase a for my Sony DSC-W1 digital camera. I already have a 2.5x Telephoto lens for it, so I've got pretty much all the range I'll need for my travels to Japan. I have yet to decide whether or not I'll be bringing my kick-ass Nikon F65 35mm SLR with me or not... it may be one of those last items I decide to bring along if I have the room.

Aaaannnnd, I've accepted some extra evening on-call shifts from work. They're having problems hiring someone for the evening position in Montreal, so we're all pitching in to lend a hand. So on Monday and Tuesday for the next two weeks, I get to be attached to my cell phone from the hours of 5PM-10PM, helping people from Vancouver, Toronto, here, Montreal and Quebec City... hurrah. It's not that bad, it's just that when you're on call, you're not off-call... makes sense right? The extra money (one sixth of my hourly rate for every hour on call plus my full rate for any actual work I do) certainly isn't worth the hassle in my mind. I shouldn't complain, they had asked me to switch my shift to 2PM-10PM to cover the staffing shortage in MTL, which would have essentially killed what little social life I intend to have in the next 4 weeks I'll be working at OR.

Oh and happy St-Patrick's day, I even wore Green today, by accident but still... will be heading out for a few drinks, or at least an Irish Coffee at Monkey Joe's shortly.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Not allowed to leave....

Well I keep being told by people I am not allowed to leave. Apparently a vote has taken place at work and they have voted for me to stay on the island in some sort of anti-survivor ritual. They picked someone else from the staff to leave the continent in my stead, how nice of them.

Cleared up some question with an email to my recruiters in Toronto today.
1-I will be a resident of Japan, and thus my application for canadian non-residency for tax purposes should go through.

2-I may have a problem using a baggage forwarding service to send my skis from the Airport to the school. I was advised in a letter last week that all but one of my bags will be shipped to the school upon my arrival at Narita airport. The AEON recruiter seems to think they don't ship sports equipment but will have someone from the Tokyo office look into it.

3-I'll be able to get information about my apartment from the teacher whom I will be replacing. I am assuming I'll be taking over his apartment??? I'll be put in touch with him\her by email about a month before departure and all my questions should be answered then.

4-cleared up the dress-code for training

5-I have to clear US Customs in Ottawa because I will be flying through Chicago. I will not be leaving the airport, of even the specific terminal I think, and yet I have to go through that crap... sheesh! Guess I'll have to be careful not to bring anything along that would get me dinged by duty twice, once for US and once for Japan. I'm assuming I'll have access to a duty free shop in Chicago... I'm going to need to get a bottle of my Grey Goose Vodka for my stay out there....

6-The seminar house, where I will be training for the first week, does NOT have internet access. Apparently there's an internet cafe in Omiya, but the commute involves a 25 minute walk and a train ride? What's up with that? You'd figure they'd provide some kind of service for the trainees... oh well, I'm sure I'll make due, just don't expect daily updates from me during my first week...

And that's about that for now... I'm looking at another quick ski trip on Saturday evening, unfortunately the season is almost over. Also in the very early stages of planning a final camping trip with Sean and possibly others... just enough of a taste to remind me of what I'll be missing in Japan.

Oh yeah, and I've started rolling an idea around in my head regarding my return in 2006. I guess I shouldn't be making plans quite yet because I really have no idea what will happen in the next year and whether I'll want to come back immediately after a year but... After watching a "sales" type video for Kewaydin, a canoe camp for youth up in the Temagami region (I've been, amazingly gorgeous country up there) I think I may need a summer of canoe tripping when I get back. I should be able to find employment as a canoe tripper at one of the many camps either here in Ontario or in Quebec. I think that would be an amazing return to the wilderness of Canada for me... but more on that in March-April of 2006... lol

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Now it's starting to feel real

OK, well I jumped off my first cliff today, burned my first bridge, past my first point of no return...

At 3:30PM, I sat down with our Office Manager, asked her to call in my boss and dropped the bomb shell. Handed them my well crafted leter (if I do say so myself, see for yourself here) and announced that I am leaving Ogilvy Renault after three great years. Obviously, their first response was to ask where I was going. When I answered "Japan" they were obviously shocked, and excited and happy for me and stuff, and it diverted the conversation away from the fact that I'll be leaving them with quite the hole to fill.

Talked about Japan and teaching and stuff for a little bit. I was very impressed by how Marc handled it all, I didn't know how he'd take it at first. He seems genuinely excited for me, though he is sad to see me go.

So all in all it went very well. And man does word ever travel fast! The office manager immediately sent out an email to all the Practice Group Chairs announcing my departure and I have a feeling I'll be fielding alot of questions tomorrow. I've also been put on notice that the planning for the goodbye bash has begun...

After work, I had a meeting with a Financial Planner to figure out where I can stash my millions while I'm gone... I think we've got things pretty well sorted out, just have to forward some information to him and we'll get the ball rolling before my departure.

So that's that, I'm off to grab a bite to eat.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

What a yoyo of a day

Oy. That's all I've got to say about it.... yeah not really so here goes...

For the last few weeks, I've been juggling two possible dates to give my 4 weeks notice at work. If I was to take 4 weeks off of work, I'd hand in my letter on March 18th. It I was to take only 3 weeks, I would hand in my letter on March 24th. Finally, early this week, I decided that I needed 4 full weeks off of work to prepare for my departure, visit with family and friends, maybe make a last trip out to Algonquin Park, etc etc etc. So March 18th was the day, there you go, all set in my mind and everything.

Early this morning, I realize that next week (March 10-15th) is March break for kids, and that people tend to take holidays during that time... sure enough, I look into it and our Office Manager is off all next week. Fine, I send her a quick email and ask for a meeting the Monday following her holidays... So March 21st was the day, there you go, all set in my mind and everything.

This afternoon, another marvelous event comes and jumbles things around. My boss wants to meet with me tomorrow to go over the "Goals and objectives" part of my Performance Evaluation. Now, I considered stalling him for a while but I think he'd like to get this done with so that wasn't possible. And I can imagine the conversation if I sit down with him tomorrow:
Marc: So what kind of objectives would you like to set for yourself for 2005?
Michel: Learn Japanese?
Marc: How about training? Any courses you might be interested in?
Michel: How to cook Japanese food?
I just cannot see myself pretending to set goals for the next year only to hand in my letter of resignation the following week. Not only would it be insulting to Marc, but it would be unprofessional, and hey, that ain't me.

So after discussing this with a few trusted advisors (you know who you are) I decided that it would be best if I give my notice tomorrow, March 10th, for a final day at work of April 15th. This would mean a little over 5 weeks notice for the Firm, which they should be grateful for, and almost 4 weeks off to get my stuff done before I leave.

Now that I've taken the decision, I'm kind of relieved I guess. It had begun to be a little weird at work, making plans and hearing about what was going on after my departure... kind of hard to stay motivated for stuff I won't be here to roll out.

So that's that, I'll post tomorrow to let you know what's what.

Ciao... or Sayonara I guess...
M.

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Boarders suck!

Thursday ski day at Edelweiss: ended with a kiss and a hug and an excited girl thanking me for getting her out to ski for the first time.

Friday ski day at Camp Fortune: ended with my brother Christian (Boarders suck!) with a fractured wrist on his way to the hospital for x-rays. At least he got to ride in that tobogan thing the Ski Patrol uses to cart injured people off the ski hill.

Guess which day of the two I liked better?

So we were skiing (I was, Christian was boarding) the far right lift at Camp Fortune last night (Clifford?) and doing the intermediate and expert runs which come off of it since they were the only runs on the mountain with snow on them. At about 9:00, Christian decides to take a small series of moguls (where the arrow points in the pic below) which are not on the map for some odd reason... and quickly proceeds to wipe out and land on his arm.

He'd gone down before me so I didn't see him head for the moguls or see him fall. When I noticed he had fallen, I stopped, checked up on him, made him lie still, all that fun stuff and proceeded to place my skis (skis rule!) in the X shaped distress signal known to summon the gods of the ski patrol.

Sure enough, within a minute or two, a ski patrol team starts yelling down at us from the lift asking questions about what happened and says there's a team on their way up to check him out. Sure enough, here comes a 4-wheeler blaring up the hill with 2 First Aid people on it. They check him out, make sure there's no concussion (he was wearing a helmet) and such, put his arm in a splint and strap him to the tobogan for the trip down.

I guess I'm just glad he's ok, but I can't help myself from saying I TOLD YOU SO!!! Upper Body injuries are very common in snowboarders since you upper torso and arms take the brunt of any fall. And of course, as you're toppling forward or back, you first instinct is to break your fall with your arms... never good.
http://snowboarding.about.com/cs/safety/a/injuries.htm

I'm not saying skiing is safe... but snowboarders have a much higher risk of fractures than skiers... and now that his wrist has been broken, I don't think he should be boarding again, could cause him some major problems down the road if he keeps aggravating the injury. He's actually a pretty good skier...

Anyways, that's my rant about snowboarders for the day.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

March.. in like a Lion...

Well the month of March finally rolled around with most people hoping for some relief from the long Winter we've had up here. There's been snow on the ground since way before Christmas for the first time in years, I went skiing in December for the first tiem EVER and the conditions were quite good.

Starting last night around midnight, we've been getting dumped with a constant barrage of snow. It's finally letting up now but they're calling for another 5-10cm overnight. All of this makes for some great skiing conditions, I've made my plans for the week.
  • Booked the day off on Thursday, going to Edelweiss with Little B, her first time out.
  • Friday night after work, I'll be joining my old high school (and my brother Christian's current) ski club at Camp Fortune for some night skiing.
  • Saturday night, trying to get a group from work to get to Camp Fortune for night skiing. 2 for 1 on both lift tickets and rentals!
So that'll be pretty much that, I'd been hoping for a dump of snow before I'd head out again, so here I go.

Ended up at the Motley Crue concert at the Corel Centre on Sunday night, was the most amazing show I've seen... ever! They were great, even if their lead guitarist just had a hip replacement not too long ago... lol My friend Sean has gotten tickets for Xmas, floor seats,
7 rows from the stage, just a little left of Centre Stage. AMAZING! Unfortunately, he had a bad migraine and couldn't go, so I took my brother Christian, we had a blast.... got Sean a tour t-shirt and a promise of tickets if they come back to town. The band mentioned something about a second tour this summer but I don't know if they'd hit Ottawa twice... then again Metallica is coming back so who knows.

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