Thursday, March 29, 2012

The city God forgot to colour in

Japan is celebrating the arrival of spring. Last week contained a public holiday to mark the Spring Equinox. Pink plum flowers are appearing throughout Tokyo and the city is preparing for next week's hanami celebrations where hoards of people will descend on the parks to gape up at the famous cherry blossoms. As I walked to work this week, I wondered if I too should be celebrating the arrival of the warmer weather...


… and decided, on reflection, no.

To be fair, the weather is showing signs of changing. It no longer snows all day, every day. It now snows all day some days and some snow all days. The periods of heavy fat flakes are shorter and a bold attempt at rain in the form of sleet has started to appear.

With only the smallest of considerations to confirm that 'The Day after Tomorrow' was indeed a movie, I can honestly say this is more snow than I have ever seen before in my life. I mean, the last time I saw a whole pavement must have been the best part of five months ago. If I had started building snowmen in November, by now I could have created an UNDEFEATABLE ARMY with which to rule the WHOLE WORLD.


Except the sticky heat of Florida. But that's going under water soon enough.

Then I googled images of Sapporo (to try and determine if we ever even had pavements) and discovered that the annual snow festival had already had the same terrible idea.

So enjoy your spring, Tokyo, but be warned: we're coming.

P.S.  Please send sweatshirts.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Balor's Needle


In my teens, my favorite author was Tamora Pierce. Pierce writes historical fantasy books about --and I quote the author-- "girls who kick ass". In one of the later books, her heroine Keladry is forced to confront her fear of heights by climbing down a rusty iron staircase that winds around an observation tower named 'Balor's Needle'.

I couldn't honestly say that the outside staircase to my apartment bore a strong resemblance to the decrepit death trap in the novel, but it was close enough to make me cling to the hand rail. While the concrete steps and their high outer wall did not suffer from rust, I was fighting large patches of ice and snow that always seemed to appear at the critical point where the stairs narrowed to turn the corner.

The reason I was taking the stairs was because the elevator was down for maintenance between 11 am and 12 that day. Why I was home at all during that one key hour when I am never usually near the building, was because I had forgotten my access number for the super computing system in Tokyo. It was the only time since I started my position in Japan that I had ever returned home for something. It was also the only time the elevator had been out of use. Since I had started that morning with my trousers on back-to-front, I couldn't honestly say the day was going all that well.

There is no inside stair to my apartment, just the elevator and the outside steps I was now slowly plodding up. Such a design is popular in Japanese apartment buildings, possibly because the probability of such an exit becoming unusable because of fire is low. That said, with Sapporo's snow fall, it seems likely the stairwell would become blocked by snow for half the year and dangerously icy for panicked getaways. I made a mental note to either wait for such a fire to take hold sufficiently to melt the outside snow or for the bodies of my broken neighbours to pile up in the stairwell to break my own fall. I am all about practical planning.

As I reached the 9th floor, I looked across at the opposite apartment building to where the giant Sapporo crows appeared to be attempting a break-in through the top story door. You had to wonder how those birds got so large. Was it from feasting on people escaping down outside staircases?

The problem with climbing stairs is you have far too much time to think about ice, rust and … death by crow.

I arrived at my apartment to find an immensely guilty-looking cat. The source of her crime never became clear however, so possibly it was reflected remorse at my wasting time to return home at such an hour. If so, her emotional pain continued since I decided my mental health couldn't take the walk down the stairs, and I lurked until the lift came back into action.  I replied to a few emails to make it look like I was really in my office … with the door locked just … hating the world… I'm sure that will give the best impression at work.

When I returned I discovered acquiring my access number was only half the battle to gaining entrance to the desired computer. After a frustrating afternoon installing a variety of programs and burying at least three toads in wiccan sacrifice, I discovered I wasn't allowed to begin using the system until next week.

Mondays. They're just there to annoy you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to glue your iron


Today, I covered my iron with glue. Twice.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give this idea no more than a 3. It misses the bottom score purely because it did come off and the first coating peeled away in a single layer, which was satisfying in a similar manner to popping bubble wrap.

This whole sticky scheme started with curtains. I feel I could be forgiven for not correctly predicting the outcome.

The main room in my apartment has a set of patio doors which lead onto a small balcony. In Japan, it is normal for every apartment to have a washing machine, but rather less common for them to have a tumble drier. People therefore hang their clothes out on their balconies which have built-in racks for exactly that purpose. If it ever stops snowing, I'll be able to give that a go.

Since I like looking at the city lights, acquiring curtains for these glass expanses has been low on my job list. The neighboring apartments near me are also not as tall, so I've been blithely waving away the possibility that my indecent state in the mornings can be seen by half of Sapporo. If anyone sees that the site '' has been registered, let me know. Nevertheless, the windows do look rather bare without curtains at least framing their perimeter and their absence is often commented on by visitors.

This weekend was not the first weekend I set out to correct this negligence. What had thrown my previous attempts asunder was the difficulty in acquiring the appropriate length of material. My measurements indicated I needed a 188 cm curtain, but the curtains on offer were either 178 or 200 cm. This was particularly perplexing because almost everything else in Japan is a neat standard size, so why on Earth couldn't I find the perfect fit in window outfitting? The architect for my building was clearly a rebel.

Anyone about to suggest I make my own curtains should finish reading this post first. You will then abandon such a notion.

After confirming that a 178 cm curtain would make my home look like a gangly teenager after an unfortunate growth spurt, I reluctantly purchased the 200 cm curtains. My bold plan was to hem these up to the appropriate length. Judging from the time it had taken me to raise the back of my trousers so they didn't trail in the mud, it seemed likely this project would be finished around Christmas.


Then I would do the second curtain.

On the look out for pet food, I found myself in a haberdashery. This happens when you can't easily ask for directions. Taking advantage of this discovery (since I had no idea what 'haberdashery' would be in Japanese), I hunted down some matching thread for said shortening project and then spotted a truly awesome solution: the no-sew tape for hemming. While I had never used this before, I understood the idea. You only needed an iron. I had an iron. It would shortly be covered in glue.

At home, I hung one of the curtains and pinned it to the length I wanted. I then examined the instructions with the no-sew tape. They were brief… and in Japanese. Still, it wasn't like I really ever read instructions even when in English. I looked at the picture. It appeared to show a strip of no-sew tape being placed just inside your desired hem and then this tape sandwich being ironed. Between curtain and iron there was a second wad of cloth, which I assumed was to protect the curtain from the iron's scalding surface. I shook out the pack and found the roll of no-sew tape and a separate bundle of cloth. This cloth was CLEARLY the curtain protector.

… or more no-sew tape in a sheet rather than tape form.

Sadly, the second option did not occur to me until I had pressed the hot iron down directly onto this second cloth. All layers of it.

For those not familiar with this product, it transpires it works by the finely spun tape or cloth becoming a glue when heat is applied. If it is correctly placed between two layers of material that need to be joined, it fixes them together. If it is in direct contact with an iron, it covers the iron in glue.

This was unfortunate. I unplugged the iron, ran it under the cold tap and began to scrub once it got cool enough not to melt my sponge. This had no effect whatsoever but the glue had been sufficiently thickly applied to form a pealable layer once cool. Pulling it off was a bit like removing dead skin after sunburn. Thought you'd enjoy that analogy.

Once the iron was clean, I went back to the task in hand. Since my curtains were made of machine-washable cotton, there wasn't really a problem with ironing them directly.

… Except for the fact that one end of them was also covered with glue from where the other side of the no-sew cloth had been resting.

Disappointingly, I forgot this until I pressed the iron to that area. We were back to square one, except this time there was much less glue so removal had to be achieved via elbow grease. This was annoying.

Fortunately, this second glue-your-iron experiment had burnt off the last of the outside glue. By the time I had reached the end of the first curtain (I had re-started on a clean patch after scrubbing my heart out), the remaining dregs were sufficiently dry to allow me to re-iron the failed beginning and seal the hem. The second curtain went much more smoothly. Ah, the great gift of experience

The end product is at the top of the page. Please feel free to add copious amounts of admiration below. And yes, that is a giant crayon in the right-hand corner. Why do you ask?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Revenge is a dish best served cold


Trouble with getting out of bed in the mornings is hardly an unusual complaint. The difference is that while most people don't want to leave the warmth of their covers, I physically couldn't. Carefully, I attempted to extract the leg that was bunched up by my chest. The knee emerged, but the shin was still trapped under my second leg. This limb was stretched out, but prevented from moving away from the wall by the stone-like object positioned perfectly centrally on the blankets.

My cat had found her revenge.

In the end, I tipped forward and fell ungraciously onto the floor. Tallis deigned to open one large yellow-green eye and yawned.

"Do you know how uncomfortable I am?" I demanded. "All my muscles are scrunched up!"

This didn't receive any form of verbal reply but somehow the image of the cat carrier was projected into my brain.

You would think one half-decent kick would shift Tallis along to a more acceptable position but somehow her body mass seems to increase by a factor of 100 when she goes into ball-mode. Remember the Pixar movie, 'The Incredibles' where their youngest son, Jack-Jack turns himself into a canon ball so the villain can't fly away with him? Yeah. Tallis recalls that too.

Perhaps to fully appreciate this problem, I should explain about my bed. When we lived in Canada, I had a Queen sized frame and mattress. To be honest, this was too large (or so I thought at the time) for what was normally just me and a cat. I had opted for that size to match the bedding I had bought while living in a furnished rental in New York. That apartment had a Queen bed, so when I came to buy my own furnishings, I matched the dimensions and reused the sheets. Despite the fact I loved the mattress, I knew a Queen bed was never going to fit in a Japanese apartment. I'm pretty sure that if you put such a mattress in my bedroom, you wouldn't be able to open the door. Actually, you would not be able to have a door at all, since my bedroom door opens inwards. It would have to be unhinged and propped up against the bathroom preventing me from ever using the toilet.

So, it was sell the bed or lose the kidneys. I went with the former.

Since my furniture took three months to ship from Canada, buying a new bed was actually a pretty good move. After some research, I discovered I had three main choices for bed design:

(1) The normal western-style bed with a frame and mattress. This is very common in Japan and almost all of my friends sleep on such a bed.

(2) The traditional Japanese-style futon, which consists of a thick foam pad on a tatami mat floor.

(3) A hybrid option, whereby you have a bed frame with a solid tatami mat top surface on which you then lay down a futon.

My apartment does not have any tatami mats, being pseudo-wood flooring throughout. However, I was reluctant to buy a normal western bed. For a start, I might not find a mattress I liked as much as my old one, which would cause me to SULK each time I went to bed. Secondly, I was IN JAPAN! It was exciting, new and I wanted to integrate by sleeping on a futon!

… Even if no one else was.

I therefore went for option (3) and, after some careful measuring, purchased a 'semi-double' tatami mat bed. A semi-double is in-between a single and double bed in size, with a width of 124 cm (49 inches). It is often the size newly wed Japanese couples buy, before they can afford a double bed. This brings me to one obvious conclusion:

Cats take up more space than husbands.

Or maybe they are just harder to kick.

A Japanese futon is somewhat different from the Western product of the same name. For a start, the term 'futon' refers to both to the foam pad underneath you (the 'shiki futon') and the blanket on top (the 'kakebuton'). The Brits would call a kakebuton a 'duvet' and the Americans… well, I'm going to go with 'comforter' and you'll have to live with the fact it just isn't the same kakebuton fluffy cloud of awesome. The shiki futon is thinner than a Western futon and can be easily folded into three sections for storage. Futons are often sold as a set containing both parts.

An advantage of opting for the tatami mat bed over a straight futon, was that I could have drawers underneath the bed for extra storage. When my bed was delivered, the men assembled the frame but not the drawer set. When I asked why, I received a monologue in Japanese until I decided I would just go and buy a screwdriver. As any Ikea fan will not be surprised to learn, I had to assemble the drawers twice; the first attempt having a key early panel placed backwards.

As a final touch, I purchased a Japanese style pillow which is filled with beans rather than feathers. It's a slightly odd sensation to lie on but it's not uncomfortable. I quite like rolling around on it as a DIY scalp massage. I confess though, that when my feathery pillows arrived from Canada, I did switch them over and leave beany pillow as the optional extra.

So there we had it; one perfectly Japanese bed. Tallis tells me it is exceedingly comfortable. Perhaps I should take the hint and move to the couch.

Monday, March 19, 2012


On the day I was born, my Dad went out to buy me my first toy. He chose a cuddly elephant; a simple design for infants with two big ears, a trunk, two feet and a rattle. The staff at the hospital were dismissive of this gift, informing my parents that babies were not interested in soft toys for many months.


Dad was later to say that this elephant was the most successful gift he had ever bought anyone. It became my constant companion and when I was old enough, I named it:


(Friends party to a recent discussion in which I attempted to name my iPod shuffle 'iPod shuffle' will now realise my inspired christenings began at an early age. Just be glad my cat isn't named 'cat').

As the months went by, concern started to grow that the loss of Jumbo might mean irreversible psychological damage. For my parents, that was, since it seemed likely I would scream for the next 20 years in such an eventuality. Since Jumbo came everywhere with me and had an adventurous spirit with a love of water, insanity was looming on the horizon.

In an effort to protect against the inevitable, Dad went out and purchased a second toy elephant. This one looked exactly the same as Jumbo, but its rattle had a different tone. I named this one:

Jumbo 2

Jumbo 2 was a popular addition but suffered from one very obvious flaw: She wasn't Jumbo 1.

In a desperate second attempt, a third elephant was purchased. This one sounded just like Jumbo 1 but was a different colour, having orange ears and a white coat rather than white ears and a yellow coat. Clearly, he too was also not Jumbo 1.

Oddly, while the second two Jumbos had clearly defined genders, Jumbo 1's gender remained ambiguous. Possibly this is deeply significant. Could these two Jumbos never replace THE Jumbo because of Jumbo 1's unique transsexual life perspective? Did Jumbo 1 feel constrained by the psychological pressures surrounding children's toys? Or perhaps the neutral colour of its original box left it without a feeling of identity that only intensified as I grasped my own. DID JUMBO 1 JUST WANT TO BE FREE?

... that would explain the number of times Jumbo 1 got lost.

Dinner guests at our house would often have to be introduced to the three Jumbos. I would stand by the door to our sitting room and hold up the first elephant.

"This is Jumbo 1."

There'd be the customary murmur of what I deemed was approval, but on later reflection was probably sympathy: This poor mundane child. She would probably grow up to became a physicist. Oblivious to this remorse, I would then proceed to hold up the second elephant.

"This is Jumbo 2."

A polite laugh would eminent from my audience. I would then hold up the third elephant.

"This is..."

"Jumbo 3." They would always chorus.


".... New Jumbo," I would say, astounded at the stupidity of the people before me. What sort of completely ridiculous name would 'Jumbo 3' be? Good grief. These people were supposed to be adults.

Nobody understood my genius. UNTIL NOW.

May I point you all to:

iPad 1, iPad 2 and the NEW IPAD.

When it was launched, Dad sent me an email asking if I'd secretly been appointed Head of Naming at Apple. I replied that my bank account suggested I had not.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to pack a cat: taking your pet abroad

Oddly enough, the most popular blog post I have ever written is this one; a list of 10 points on micro-braiding your hair. I'm therefore going to draw the bold conclusion (not remotely assisted by the news at present) that there are people out there in search of FACTS. Allow me to present the post I would like to have read before starting this process: 10 tips for moving abroad with your pet. For understandable reasons, this will be highly biased towards a move to Japan!

(1) Check your destination country's website for animal import requirements

Regulations concerning animal import vary widely but I'd found most countries put up fairly comprehensive and user-friendly details on the web. For example, Japan has a super-nice FAQ here. As a rough rule of thumb, if you're moving between countries that share a physical border, the process will be infinitely easier than those separated by sea since importation of new diseases can't really be an issue. When I moved from the USA to Canada, the only essential paperwork for my cat was a rabies vaccination certificate and, if this was missing, the vaccination would simply be performed on the spot.

(2) Start early

I can't emphasise this one enough. Due to its rabies-free status, importation of animals to Japan is a tightly controlled process. The reason my move went smoothly was because I started the paperwork a year in advance of actually moving my cat. The absolute minimum time you will need to import an animal to a rabies-free country is seven months and most likely it will be longer.

(3) Microchip your pet

Regardless of where you are travelling, microchipping your pet for identification will be essential. Each microchip provides a unique ID number that will be scanned when you arrive in the new country to ensure the documents you have correspond to the same animal. Since all your documents must have this number on them, do this step early on. The microchip itself is only the size of a grain of rice and is injected like a normal vaccination into the scruff of the neck. Tallis didn't even blink, unlike when she was subjugated to a gentle tummy examination. Make sure your vet uses an international 15 digit ISO pet microchip which are recognised world-wide. Even if you are travelling domestically, you don't want to have to do this again at a later date.

(4) Vaccination type

Even if your pet is up-to-date with his or her vaccinations, double check the country's requirements carefully. Tallis had several years of rabies vaccinations under her belt (or rather, fur) but Japan required 'inactive' rather than 'live' vaccines to have been administered, so Tallis had to have an extra one. If this happens, check to see if only having one vaccine of the accepted type is sufficient. Japan required at least two rabies vaccinations, but accepted the live vaccine as the first one so long as the second shot was with the required inactive drug.

(5) To quarantine or not to quarantine?

As I mentioned in (1), each country has its own regulations regarding this matter. The cases I am most familiar with are those for the UK and Japan which are both rabies-free countries. Rabies can take up to six months to show symptoms and so, until recently, both countries had a non-negotiable half-year quarantine period for any cat or dog brought in from abroad. However, the use of microchips makes it possible to guarantee correspondence of the pet to the vaccination records so this step can be performed at your home in advance of travel.

For our preparations, Tallis had to have an additional rabies vaccination and then an official blood test taken one month later. The blood works had to be conducted at a recognised laboratory for which there was only one in the whole of North America, situated in Kansas. The test confirmed that the vaccine was present in sufficient quantities in her blood stream to provide protection. Six months after this now-officially-proved vaccine had been given, we were allowed to travel. 

This six month period did not require special quarantine conditions, since Tallis was already resident in the country. We just had to wait, but act as normal.

(6) Paperwork

Japanese bureaucracy being what it is, the paperwork we had to complete was extended but well organised. Two months in advance of our travel, I emailed an application form into the quarantine service division at Tokyo's Narita Airport, where I would be arriving. They confirmed that they now were expecting us on the date and flight I specified and sent a further list of forms to be completed. These had to be filed in by both me and my vet and certified by the government offices of our current country of residence. In the case of Canada, this was all done by the 'Canadian Food Inspection Agency'. I still find that disturbing.

The final touches to these documents can't be completed until a week before your travel, since they require a recent health check of your pet, so make sure you have sufficient time in the crucial last few days. For my part, I downloaded all these forms and then...

... promptly forgot all about them.

Fortunately, Tokyo was more awake and a week before my arrival date, emailed to ask for copies of the completed documents so they could check them over in advance. In a panic, I called my vet to discover they had sorted all this out for me while I was watching hockey games. This brings me to my next point...

(7) Find a great vet

If at all possible, find a veterinary practise who has sent animals abroad before. Strangely enough, the small Blue Cross Animal Hospital that sat in a nondescript concrete hut close to where I used to live had already sent 3 pets to Japan in recent years. I still don't quite know what to make of that. However, if you are even remotely within driving distance of Hamilton, Ontario, I thoroughly recommend going to this Blue Cross clinic on King & Dundurn Street. Their administrative assistant, Trish, has extensive experience with handling the international exporting of pets. Before I arrived, her record for getting through Japanese quarantine was 20 minutes. Now it is 5.

(8) Cabin or hold?

You may not have a choice as to whether your pet can travel in the plane cabin with you or must go in the pet hold. Larger dogs cannot fit under the seat and so must travel separately while all planes to Australia (and possibly the UK) do not allow pets in the cabin. Air Canada won't fly to Hawaii with pets at all, but transports them separately via its cargo service. I have no idea why, since this seems to be an airline, not state, policy.

If your pet can travel in the cabin with you, then you get the peace of mind of keeping your furry friend within view at the cost of space. Crates that go into the hold can be considerably larger than a carrier that must stuff under a seat. That said, Air Canada will not fly with pets in the hold if the outside temperature is too hot or too cold, apparently due to the waiting time before flight. I found this quite off-putting (why should my cat be outside except for loading?) which is one of the reasons I elected to take Tallis in the cabin.

Pets must be booked onto the aircraft in advance and there is a limit on the number of pets a flight will take, so do this early. You will have to pay a fee, but it is likely to be relatively small. For Air Canada, it was $100 to take your cat in the cabin to Tokyo. Carriers (both for the cabin and hold) must confirm to certain size regulations which will be listed on the airline's website. Soft carriers are often labelled 'airline approved' to suggest they are good for in-cabin use, but each airline has different restrictions so check before you buy. The carrier I bought was made by Sherpa and I found it to be good.

(9) Drugs, food, water and toilet

I didn't use any drugs with Tallis. Reading the web suggests that this practice has gone out of favour, perhaps because complications mid-flight are impossible to fix. The vet did give me a natural spray that is supposed to release pheromones to remind a cat of its mother, but I'm unsure if this made any significant difference.

I bought a stack of puppy pads to line Tallis' carrier and then let her drink and eat as normal. In fact, the shock of what a perfectly normal Saturday had become, meant she didn't eat or noticeably drink at all during our journey. I changed the puppy pad a few times in the aeroplane toilet to freshen up the carrier. For water, I tried ice cubes in a cup as a way of providing a less spill-able beverage.

(10) Cost

The total all-in cost of moving Tallis to Japan was not negligible but neither was it prohibitively large. The single most expensive cost was the official blood works which cost over $300 CAD. Then there was the extra rabies vaccination, the health check, a final de-flea spray and the airline's charge. In total, it was maybe $800-1000, spread over a year.

My final advice (which I refuse to put as point (11) for aesthetic reasons) is don't panic. If you start with plenty of time, this isn't a hard process and it's not that tough on your pet. Tallis had no trouble with the long plane journey to Tokyo and was her usual self within minutes of us arriving at home in Sapporo. My fears that this was all a ghastly and cruel act were unfounded... but I was assured this shouldn't stop me producing copious amounts of Tallis' favourite cat food.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Flying pussy cats

The woman behind the desk at the 'Air Canada' check-in counter took my passport, glanced at the photo page and then down at my carry-on bag from which a pair of gleaming yellow-green eyes could be seen.

"Do you have any documentation for your cat?" she inquired.

I lifted a thick black folder and dropped it with a bang on the counter, where it dwarfed the small red booklet in her hands.

"... right." The woman hesitated before saying cautiously, "Is there a form that shows they're expecting you?"

I gathered from the singular choice of the word 'form' she wasn't after one of my three complete document copies. Pity. As it stood, I wasn't going to be able to fit a drink bottle into my bag.

Snapping open the elastic, I withdrew the sheet I had been sent from Tokyo Narita Quarantine Services, stating that my application to import a cat had been received. The Chinese lady working at the counter next to ours leaned over to take a peak.

"I can read some of the characters," she said with interest as she examined the Japanese-half of the bilingual script.

This apparently was enough proof that the document hadn't been forged, or maybe simply sufficient for the airline to declare it not-their-problem.

I understood their concern; like the UK, Japan is a rabies-free country. This means that their regulations concerning the import of animals are extremely strict. Once, this would have meant a non-negotiable six months quarantine (the time required for a rabies infection to show symptoms) but with the use of microchips to guarantee animal identification, this could all be waved with enough preparation... providing you had to right paperwork.

Tallis and I had been on one flight before, when I moved from Florida to Canada. While only a measly three hours compared to the 13 we were about to attempt, it had left me with some assurance that Tallis was likely to deal with it all relatively well. Unlike everyone else I talked to, I was not concerned about her causing a yowling scene on the plane. This was primarily for three reasons:

(1) I have a certain disregard for humanity.
(2) Planes are pretty noisy and Tallis doesn't have a very loud voice.
(3) ONE CRYING BABY and I was home and dry. No one talks about throwing an infant out the plane, though quite why is something of a mystery. See point (1).

Once in Tokyo, we had an overnight stop before going onto Sapporo for which I had booked Tallis into the airport pet kennels. Originally, I had done this because quarantine services threatened to take up to 12 hours even with the finest of leather-bond paperwork. On reflection, however, I realised a stop to stretch gave us both a much needed rest.

By far the most unforgivable event occurred a mere 10 minutes later as we approached security. Seeing what I was carrying, the airport staff waved me into a different line.

"Please take your doggy over there."

.... doggy?! DOGGY? I walked over to the designated line and pulled out a very ruffled and indignant cat.

"Is she vicious?" One of the security staff asked as they saw her struggle.

Well she didn't used to be until you CALLED HER A BITCH.

I plopped the cat over my shoulder and went through the scanner with a curt shake of my head. Humph. We went and sat in the airport lounge where Tallis chose to sit enthroned on my knee and be petted by the surrounding masses.

And after that ... everything went entirely smoothly. The flight was packed but my neighbours were nice, cat-loving types who didn't mind me sitting with the carrier on my lap after take-off. While she didn't use them, I had lined the carrier with a puppy pad against accidents, and changing this a few times during the flight freshened up the container. It also made me appreciate exactly how small a aeroplane toilet is. There truly is not enough room to swing a cat. Trust me.

When we arrived in Tokyo, I headed off to use the bathroom before approaching the quarantine desk, thinking I would be a while. While not a wasted gesture, this proved completely unnecessary since we were cleared for entry in a staggeringly short five minutes. I owe my vet's clinic a suitcase full of lucky waving cats. Or maybe not, since that might send them insane.

Indeed, the worst part of the whole journey (apart from the bit where Tallis was called a dog) came the following day on our short hop up to Sapporo. For this trip, Tallis was not allowed to travel in the cabin but had to go in the hold. When she was returned to me, she was wet all through and smelled terrible, which suggested she had been far more frightened on that short leg than at any point on our round the world jaunt. That notwithstanding, she recovered fast and vocally protested the remainder of our journey to my apartment.

"Meow meow meow!!"

"Look, we're nearly there!"

You've been saying that for DAYS.

Well... yes, but this time it was true. Adorably, there was no doubt Tallis knew she was home. Perhaps she recognised the furniture, maybe the smell of me was enough or she might have reached the stage where she was prepared to adopted any non-crate room as her home. Whatever the reason, she ran around the apartment then fell on her water as if she hadn't drank in days.

This was perfectly true but it was NOT BECAUSE SHE HADN'T HAD THE OPPORTUNITY. She'd just shunned any cup I'd placed in her carrier. My sympathy was limited.

I collapsed on the sofa. In all honesty, before this trip I'd been anxious about the wisdom of my decision to bring Tallis to Japan. Was it truly fair to take a pet on such a long journey? Should I have tried to find Tallis a new home in Canada? Now though, I can honestly say I'd do it again. The secret is an early start, since the paperwork takes the best part of a year to complete (minimum 8 months) but with the right assistance, it was actually a painless process.


"... You've gone in the bathtub haven't you?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The perfect carrier







So went our conversation as we headed back to the apartment after our final vet's visit before the flight at the weekend.

Tallis was in her spanking new red pet carrier. Since her old one was disintegrating and smelling strongly of cat pee, I had decided to upgrade her before we attempted the 13 hour flight to Tokyo. Extensive googling had revealed two highly recommended possibilities: a bag made by the manufacturer 'Sherpa' and one by 'Sleepypod'. The second of these two was about twice the price of the first but a few inches longer, with fold-up ends that enabled it to slide properly under the plane seat during take-off and landing. Both had good reviews, so it really came down to exactly how guilty I was feeling about taking my cat on this trip.

I'd put in an order for the 'Sleepypod' the week before.

However, it transpired that the whole of Canada was having some giant guilt complex concerning their feline friends and every shop and their supplier was on backorder. Deciding this was secretly a message from my bank manager, I asked a friend to drive me to the out-of-town Petsmart and purchased the Sherpa carrier.

This was the second journey we had tried with the carrier. On the plus side, the bag was sturdy, well ventilated and and a cheerful colour. On the downside, my considerable care and attention to this matter was being utterly unappreciated.

The sparkly clean interior of the carrier was already coated in cat pee. So was I since, as I mentioned above, the carrier was beautifully ventilated.

On our first visit to the vet's that week, I had purchased a pheromone spray designed to calm cats down by reminding them of their mother. Judging by its success this trip, I wondered whether we might be reaching the heart of Tallis' problem with other cats.

I let her out once we reached the apartment and set about scrubbing the carrier down. I was about to apply the same treatment to myself when my phone rang to let me know that my friend and that day's department speaker had arrived. I sniffed at my shirt. Well, I've never been one for suffering alone. I headed out down the stairs.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The tags for cows are changing. No more will our Canadian bovine friends accessorize with a triangular green ear ornament detailing their identification number, but instead will model a yellow round disc. However, cows already adorned with last year's fashion piece must not have it removed --since that is illegal-- but rather must have the latest earring added to their attire.

These cows are clearly going to be punk cows.

How did I know this detail about livestock imports? Because I was in the office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ...

... waiting for them to approve the export papers for my cat.

May I just say that going to this particular organization for my little furry non-consumable pet kitty was highly disturbing? I distracted myself by reading a leaflet on compensation for Government destroyed animals. Wonderful.

Mercifully, the not-for-consumption cat was not present; all that was required was me and the paperwork for her import into Japan. This was particularly good since I wasn't sure I could carry both. The folder containing the relevant documents was bulging at the seams. I glanced down at the top-most sheet of paper. In English and Japanese, the heading read:

"Application for import: dogs, cat, foxes, raccoons and skunks."

Now, it might be just me, but it seems a little surprising that the import of foxes, raccoons and skunks is sufficiently common to warrant inclusion on a standard form. I made a mental note to keep this sheet handy when I was on the plane. If my neighbor objected to being seated beside a cat, I could point out that should he complain and move, he might be located by a skunk.

At length, I was called through to the main office to meet with the Government vet. He stamped my paperwork and told me that he had wanted to be an astronomer when he was small. I told him I had wanted to be a vet for years of my childhood. We both eyed each other, trying to access who had made the right choice.

Then the stamping was done, the papers returned to me with three additional copies. I tied an elastic band around my folder and stuffed it in my backpack. One shiny bright kitty, ready for consumption. I mean, export.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Indecent questioning

"Why didn't you get married?"

You know, it wasn't so much the question that bothered me, but the tense. Namely, the fact it was in the past. Quite clearly the message was:

"Why didn't you get married when you had the chance, since now you're waaaaaay over the hill so there's no point in even CONSIDERING it at your age."

Frankly, I'm somewhat indifferent to the prospect of marriage. It's expensive, divorce doubly so and I just downright hate the idea of having to move any of my books to make room for someone else's lesser tomes.

BUT. That wasn't the point.

I looked down at the five year old as she sucked on her special curly straw the waiter at the Italian restaurant had brought with her drink. I should mention, this was the SAME 5 YEAR OLD who insisted on looking at a leaflet on complications with wisdom teeth extractions while I was in the dental waiting room waiting to have mine taken out. Basically, I deeply regret this child learning to talk. She was also going to get a way cooler dessert than me.

I debated what my reply should be. I contemplated telling her that marriage was hardly a requirement in today's society. That men were inferior beings with bad taste in books. Or pointing out that her mum was divorced and contemplating turning the coal bunker into a burial chamber for her dad, so really it led to nothing but hard work in crime concealment. I thought about saying I preferred women, furries, anime characters or her dessert, that a piece of paper wasn't necessary to prove you loved someone, that I was too young for marriage and no one under 85 knew enough to consider it, that marriage often led to children and she was currently THE LIVING EXAMPLE OF WHY I DIDN'T WANT TO GO DOWN THAT ROUTE.

Fortunately at that moment my dinner arrived. It was fettuccine with sausage. I speared a small sausage, smiled and bit down.

"I just haven't met the right person yet."