One to Grow On

November 30, 2009

Heaven is a little chilly

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 6:31 am
 
Ferry to Waiheke

Leaving Japan was quite a chore and an adventure in public transport.  We left the World Friendship Center on foot at 9:30 in the morning, walked 15 minutes to the street car stop,and  took that to the train station.  Two bullet trains and an airport express train later we took a shuttle to the departure gate to board our overnight flight to Sydney, Australia.  We changed planes there and arrived to Auckland, New Zealand, some 30 hours after we left Hiroshima.  Imagine our utter delight to be met at the airport by Esther, a friend from New Zealand whom we met when we lived in Virginia.  

But before I get side-tracked with friends and delightful vacation homes, let me tell the real story of arriving into New Zealand:  Biosecurity.  Yes, folks, we have regular airport security, with concerns about bombs and shampoo and nail scissors, but imagine if you were trying to defend your country against potentially invasive moth larvae or genetically disfigured apple seeds.   While we watied for our luggage the Biosecurity Force (not their real name) came around with bio-danger sensing dogs.  Yes, these highly trained hounds sniffed the crowd, the packs, the luggage.  What were they trained to sniff out?  Not drugs.  Food.  That must be a tough sell to a pack of hungry beagles.  Well, they had a field day with us.  I never go anywhere without enough food to sustain my refugee family,  in a dairy and gluten-free way, of course, for days on end.  Knowing that I was coming into New Zealand, zealots for agricultural purity, and forewarned stridently by Esther, I had carefully ditched all produce, meat, soy products, and anything opened.  We were down to one packet of rice crackers and a sesame cookie and that I had in one bag.  The dogs, bless them, specially trained to hunt for food, mind, loved us.  They sniff and sniffed at all our bags.  Over and over.  I answered questions.  I showed my one bag with rice crackers.  When I mentioned that we’ve been hauling salami and bananas all over Japan in different bags for 10 days, the Biosecurity Force was satisifed.  Or so I thought.  We went through customs, careful to declare the rice crackers and the camping gear we were bringing into the country.  They took my tent and gave me a slip like you’d get at the dry cleaners and told me it would be ready in 15 minutes. A trip to NewZealand is an expensive way to get your tent cleaned, but I can say with authority that they are fast and very thorough.   That went fine, the lady was very friendly and nice, asking,  “Have you delcared everything?”  Let’s see: I’d gone past the beagles and their handlers, signed my name to the customs card, and gone through the lane marked To Declare.  I had.  “Are you certain you have no more items secured in your bags?”  I don’t believe so, no.  “Is there anything you want to tell me?”  Um, no.  “Do you understand that if you voluntarily surrender contraband there is amnesty, and you will not be charged a $250 fee on the spot?”  I start to think, well, who knows?  For crying out loud, who can really say what’s in the bottom of any of these bags?  I start to feel, well, less than fresh.  Maybe even sweaty.  “Yes.  I mean, no.  I mean, this is everything.” I answer.  She looks deeply into my eyes.  I try to look back, trying not to blink so I won’t look shifty, but finally my eyes start to water.  The kids are 2 seconds away from breaking down and making something up, just to break the tension,  ‘Mom! Just tell her mom!  Yes!  We have a plum pit in the red bag!  The red bag, I tell you!”   “Fine.”  she says, “Just take your bags around the corner to the x-ray machines.  All standard procedure.   Thanks, and enjoy your stay in New Zealand.”   I mean, really.  For the love of Pete.  All that, and you’re going to x-ray them anyway?  

After all that (and I do totally understand about the biosecurity thing, really I get it) when we finally came through the doors, there was this wall of people waiting.  Teeming humanity, I tell you, and to be honest I started to wonder if I could even pick Esther out of a crowd.  So we’re creeping along with all our crap and this whoop goes forth, and Esther bursts out of the crowd and runs at us, and it’s such a wonderful feeling to wash up on foriegn soil, tired and grainy and sniffed, and be grabbed up and held tight  in a huge hug, that I got teary, right there in the Auckland International arrival lounge.  Esther, I’ll always owe you big for that fabulous welcome.  

Off we go to the wharf, trying to catch up on 2 years of news, while Rory and Nora try to tell stories and explain about things l at the same time.  It was great.  We zip onto the ferry and are whisked from busy Auckland onto Waiheke.   Let me say it again, Waiheke.  Ahhhh… sweet name.    Esther’s charming parents, and I’m not just saying that because I stayed as their guest  in their fabulous home for 8 nights, have got a great place on the hill overlooking Onetangi Beach, one of the best in the world.  You can see the sea from almost every point in the house, and the one or two rooms which don’t face the water look out onto a protected nature preserve and forest.  Heaven.  Just a tad chilly, but, still, close. 

The next few days are a blur of getting to know Nelson, no longer “Baby Nelson” but now big 4yr old Nelson, and meeting Abe.  We had a blast, going to the beach in the morning, coming back up to the house for lunch and quiet time.  The kids would run wild in the back yard all afternoon, playing in the tree fort or on the flying fox or jumping around off the deck and the terraced garden.  Our very first day at the beach 2 orcas, a mom and a baby, swam so close to shore that we could have swam out to meet them.  In from the sea came 6 or 7 more.  It was unbelieveable.  Eveyone on the beach (all 11 of us) were watching those huge animals.  They came up just enough to look out and let us see the white around their eyes, then dive back under.  It was amazing.   And have I mentioned the food?  A family friend, Tim, kept dropping off treats like fresh oysters and smoked kingfish, and we ate like (starving) princes the whole week, finishing it off with a huge blowout meal at Te Whau, a boutique winery, just me and Esther and Steve, with Dola watching the kids.  I’ll always remember that week at Waiheke as full of laughter, music, and great company.   Esther. Steve, Sandy and Paul, you all have got it right.  Thanks for sharing it with us.  

From the deck of the house

 

Rory and Nora going native in their "singlets"

 

bucket bathtime for beautiful Abe

dancin' on stagefresh oysters, NZ-style

the biggest, fattest oyster I've ever seen- I ate 2

Saturday lunch

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November 23, 2009

Hiroshima: It starts out heavy, moves onto food, and ends with some bubblin’ crude

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 7:14 pm
 

Flame of Peace

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Some of the paper cranes at Sadako's monument, made into something more

Flame of Peace

 

What can I write about Hiroshma? In some ways all that really matters is that on August 6, 1945, it became the target of the first-ever atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” and dropped by the American plane Enola Gay. It exploded in the air above the main shopping district at 8:15 in the morning, and almost immediately the blast heated the air on the ground to 4000 degrees Celcius. Seventy thousand people died pretty soon thereafter, most incinerated on the spot, others alive but with burns all over their body. Some crawled into the rivers that bordered the neighborhood on two sides. Weakened and injured many drowned; according to local legend many died calling for water. Within a few years 130,000 would die from complications of the exposure to the radiation.  

 

 Today the once-bustling neighborhood has been made into the Peace Park, with a museum that preserves not just photos but also the stories of the hibakusha, the bomb survivors, along with more than 70 monuments and memorials. Through the World Friendship Center, the great place we stayed of which I’ll say more in a minute, we arranged a tour of the park and maybe 15 of its monuments. Akiko-san guided us around, turning stone into stories and making the events of those days and weeks come alive for us. Nora tuned out most everything, just strolling around and balancing on the curbs, but Rory took a lot of it in, asking great questions and thinking hard and being revolted more than once. I thought Akiko-san did a great job of being senstive to her young audience and still sharing true stories. One story that is pretty well known is of a 10 year old girl named Sadako Sasaki who was diagnosed with leukemia. She set out to fold one thousand paper cranes, an animal that lives for one thousand years in Japanese legend and symbolizes health and longevity. She folded them out of the paper wrappers that her medicine came in- talk about transformation through faith. She believed that if she got all one thousand folded she would live. She didn’t finish, but she became a legend herself. School children, first in Japan, then all over the world, folded cranes on her behalf, and now thousands and thousands and thousands of paper cranes are dispayed in the peace park around a statue of Sadako. Every year thousands more arrive. Kids all over the world are still folding these cranes.

 

  

 

There is so much to say about the park, and about the monuments within it, and the stories of the victims of the bombing, that it’s overwhelming to visit and especially to write about. At the center of the park is what they call the Flame of Peace, which was lit almost 50 years ago and will burn until the last nuclear weapon is destroyed. Rory asked why a flame, which got us talking about what fire means and the parallel of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. This is definately stuff that wouldn’t have just come up for us. In front of that is a monument shaped like the most basic shelter honoring those who died, and around that is a reflecting pool of water to provide the lost souls with the water that they begged for when dying. But I think the park and people like Akiko-san and the folks at World Friendship Center want Hiroshima to mean more than just “look what can happen with nuclear weapons.” It should mean, look what war can do to people, both aggressors and victims, and how easily the lines between those can shift. The whole city and its history begs for peace.

 

Where do you go after the Peace Park? To bed? Nope! To the excellent Hiroshima Children’s Museum, which is oh-so-charmingly free. Rory and Nora climbed in the Space Center-slash-Playground, they played 5,674 games of virutal soccer, they ran the humungous model train set of Hiroshima (complete with a separte line of the famous streetcars, 2 of which have survived the bombing and are still in use!), and made a whole load of friends when a school group came pouring in. The kids took great pains to let Rory and Nora go to the front of the line several times and worked to be sure they each got a fair go at the exhibit that timed a short sprint. We’re no stranger to children’s museums, and this was a great one. My favorite exhibit was translated as “playing with lightning”. Wow.

 

I’ve mentioned the World Friendship Center without explaining anything about it. It’s a center which is run by volunteers from the Church of the Bretheren in the US and which works for peace. They hold seminars, teach classes, arrange tours, and generally work to build understanding, friendship and respect between cultures. In addition to this work they have rooms available, in kind of a hostel/homestay arrangement, at the center. We stayed there, and we were so fortunate to get to know Barb, one of the current volunteer directors. We also had the pleasure of meeting Miho-san and Chiyoko-san, who helped to make us feel so at home. Rory and Nora still ask, “Okay, what do you like better, this place or the World Friendship Center?” They are building peace one person at a time, and we loved every minute of being there.

 

Now that I’ve gone over death and destruction, let’s get serious: FOOD. Yes, what you’ve all been clamouring for, more tales from the dining room table. Well, the first day out we went wild. For lunch we walked halfway across the city to the Cusco Cafe in search of tacos. Sure, ridicule me for giving my kids tacos at a Peruvian restaurant in Japan. Go on. They loved them. And, I could speak Spanish with the wait staff and get just what we wanted. I ended up with paella, no luck in the arroz y frijoles department, and vowed to myself and my children that if they would be less picky I would embrace all the products of the sea. So there I sat and ate everything on my plate. Five mussels and 4 shrimp, plus a heap of yellowish rice. I’m an adult and a mother to boot, so of course I wouldn’t say that mussels are icky and shrimp are gross. That would be very childish indeed. And I am very grown-up, so just won’t say anything. But I ate every bite, so there.

 

Our next adventure was the following night. We were headed back to the Center, hungry enough to be adventerous but not yet cranky, and we passed the corner spot, Tomozo. Outside was the traditional red paper lantern and through the windows we could see a small group in one corner laughing and sharing little plates, like Japanese tapas. The griddles gleamed in the middle of the little tables and the smell coming from the open door was heavenly. This spot had been recommended as a great place to try hirosima-yaki, a version of okonomiyaki, a specialty of Hiroshima that is in no way dairy or gluten free. It starts as a kind of pancake-crepe thing, then on a griddle they add an egg, rice, cheese, meat, any number of veggies, noodles, then cover it with a creamy sauce. Reputed to be delicious, far better than I’ve made it sound, I’m sure. Without question, though, Not Our Kind. Still, we walked past this little joint and it looked so inviting. We went in. Two guys ran the place, one taking orders and the other doing the cooking. The order-taker was so funny and helpful, assuring us that they would make something perfect, no problem. The cook guy looked a little confused, then fully perplexed when he heard all the limitations. Still, he bravely struggled on, until we were served an omelette-type dish that was upsettingly cheesy when we bit into it. The cook went to great pains to show me that the stretchy, slippery stuff was some kind of grated tuber, I could never work out the name, but he used it as the starchy base of the dishes. Great. Rock on. We polished that off, then he presented us with another omelette-thingy, this time made with potatoes and grilled cabbage. Yummy. We got salad with freshly made-to-order vinagerette, then lollipops for the kids. The bill? Remember this was Japan- about $15. I almost cried. It was the cheapest thing we’d had, made with the most care. We exchanged business cards, the kids swore their undying loyalty and were presented with Mario racing toys that have becme their favorite of the trip. What a great meal.

 

So, that was Hiroshima in three days. We didn’t go everywhere we wanted. We all wanted to see Mazda’s longest assembly line in the world, seven kilometers long! I had my heart set on going to Miyajima to see the famous floating torii and walk up the mountain, but instead the kids watched their new favorite show, the Beverly Hillbillies, over and over while I uploaded photos to the blog (hmm-hmm). We now try to use the phrase “cement pond” at least once daily. Move over, Little Rascals, Jethro has come to town.          

 

Our Little Mermaid, making good use of the play silks we packed

nothing like omelette with chopsticks

our wonderful hosts, Chiyoko-san, Miho-san, and Barb-san
standard photo of a $50 melon- but it is pretty!

  What can I write about Hiroshma? In some ways all that really matters is that on August 6, 1945, it became the target of the first-ever atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” and dropped by the American plane Enola Gay. It exploded in the air above the main shopping district at 8:15 in the morning, and almost immediately the blast heated the air on the ground to 4000 degrees Celcius. Seventy thousand people died pretty soon thereafter, most incinerated on the spot, others alive but with burns all over their body. Some crawled into the rivers that bordered the neighborhood on two sides. Weakened and injured many drowned; according to local legend many died calling for water. Within a few years 130,000 would die from complications of the exposure to the radiation.  

Rory and Nora with our guide, Akiko-san
Rory with a paper crane he folded

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyoto, on the fly

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:29 pm

view into a shop on Teapot Lane

new friends

glimpses of geishas in Gion
Glimpses of Geishas in Gion

 

 

London, Paris, Florence… Kyoto? Yep. Kyoto has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other city in the world except Rome. So, how many days did we get there? One. Well, two nights, but only one full day to get a feel for the place. We did our best, out there by 9 am, back to the hotel after 8pm, the kids completely pooped, but still we didn’t even scratch the surface. We did love the little alleys full of shops and teahouses (and other tourists), and we had a fascinating lunch at a Japanese vegetarian buffet which served daikon radish at least 16 different ways (Rory enjoyed the rice very much). Our time at the Kiyomizu-Dera temple was a mixed success. We began by taking a walk that takes you down stairs, though a pitch-black cellar, so all you can do is hold onto the handrail, which is shaped like giant prayer beads, and stare uselessly into the void. Finally after several minutes of carefully feeling ahead, one foot at a time in the blackness, you come to a huge backlit rock and then to a flight of stairs which return you to the light. So in this literal world you’ve just had a few minutes to feel what it must be like to be blind. Symbolically and in the Buddhist tradition the path through the darkness represents being lost (the human condition?) and then you’re supposed to focus all your prayers on the rock. If you can do that then the force of your faith will turn the rock. After that the acsent into the light means rebirth. You can imagine that Rory and Nora found the darkness both fascinating and totally repellent, and the climb up the stairs was less about rebirth than relief and a return to the familiar. I was unable to budge the rock. Hmph.Nora got for her birthday a DVD put out by the travel site Little Travellers. It’s two girls who travel around with their mom who videos their trips and produces great DVD’s that my kids really love. Anyway, since June Nora has been watching the Little Travellers in Japan, and in so many ways she was the one who knew what was going on in the temple. When we came up to this one kind of trough with long-handled dippers Nora said, “This is where you purify yourself to enter the temple.” She dipped out the water, splashed it over hands, and dumped out the rest into the waste water. Right, then. We all followed suit. We wandered through the temple, trying to keep from getting swept up in the crowds of school groups and tour groups of vacationing Japanese retirees, watching folks ringing the bells and tossing coins and clapping and breathing in the smoke from incense. I peeked into the main room of the main temple, hoping to get a shot of the Buddha in the foreground with people in the background, and found myself face to face with a long line of fire extinguishers. Good thinking in one of the =biggest wooden buildings in the world.

 

We strolled down the hill, passing little altars and lanterns tucked into the hillside, to Otowa-no-taki, a waterfall down from the temple whose waters are believed to have healing powers. We lined up along with everyone else to use long handled communal cups to drink from. Now, half of the folks who were lined up whom where wearing surgical masks (a common site in Japan, and available in Hello Kitty, of course!). I wondered if the healing power of the water would be enough to cancel out the germ exposure, and, lo!, when we got closer we saw that after each use the cup was placed in an ultra-violet sterilizer set up behind the sacred falls. I love that about the Buddhists- have your beliefs, but let’s not be silly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 11, 2009

Can you say allergic to gluten and milk in 43 languages?

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 11:35 pm

Friends and family, and more than a few strangers, worried plenty before we started this trip. I was asked if I’d planned for safety, homeschooling, money.   Folks wanted to know how I was going to carry everything, handle parenting issues (read: tantrum),  keep in touch, pay bills…  One person even asked how many pairs of underpants we were bringing.  Most of this stuff has turned out to be no big deal.  It’s like when people ask homeschooling parents about socialization; it just works itself out.  But the one question for which I had no great answer was this:  What in the world are y’all going to eat?  Almost 2 weeks into the trip I’m still not sure.   I planned to do what we always do when travelling, stock up at the grocery store and picnic.  In two months of travel this summer we ate exactly one restaurant meal, at a Chipotle in Portland.  However,  I wasn’t prepared for the grocery stores to look like this: 

 

  

 

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These are all variety of tiny dried fish. It's like eating krill. Thar she blows!

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Found these in the egg section. I suspect quail.

Don’t get me wrong- I love that people all over the world eat such a variety of things.  And, provided it is milk and gluten free and comes from the plant kingdom, I’m as game as the next gal for trying new things.  Really.  But when I gaze upon row after row in market and cannot distinguish vegetable from grain from sea product I feel at a loss.  Never before have I wished so much that we were allergy-free (well, maybe standing in boulangerie in Paris, gazing at the baguettes and croissants…  )  My unease in the markets and when gazing at a menu all in Japanese goes beyond a concerns with familiarity;  we are travelling to experience the unfamiliar.  My concern is that we will eat something that will make us sick.  So far, with care and lots of questions and even mooing and frowning  at a poor, surprised barista in a coffee shop while trying to order soy  cocoa, we’ve managed to stay pretty healthy.  Thank goodness. 

 

So,what are we eating?  In one market a lady pointed out soymilk and soy yogurt, which have proven to be easy to find.  They’re even available in convienence stores  in train stations.  We’ve also been able to find  bags of peanuts,walnuts, and cashews, although not cheaply.  Nora is in heaven with little bags of cut up cabbage everywhere you turn.  Fruits and veggies are available, at a hefty price.  While we haven’t seen the mythical $100 watermelon we did spot a pint of strawberries at $16.  Ever wondered what a $4 apple looks like?  

 

 

 

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Unfortunately nuts and fruit and salad won’t keep two kids satisfied forever.  We eat in restaurants once or twice a day, usually with mixed results.  Nora, it turns out, may have been Japanese in a past life.   We had breakfast in the  hotel restaurant in Igaueno and ordered two set breakfasts, one Japanese and one Western.  Rory ate the Western, two scrambled eggs and what passes for bacon in the UK.  He declined the juice of indeterminate origin (carrot? maybe mixed with papaya?), the eggplant and the tomato.  Nora polished off almost everything on her tray, small plates and bowls with varied things… the largest plate held salmon and something revealed by the waitress to be egg loaf simmered in soy (I ate that), a bowl of sticky rice, a small plate of fried tofu strips with julienned daikon radish and carrots and a little chicken, a dish of pickled sour cucumbers, a bowl of miso soup, a lychee and orange slices, a cup of Japanese  tea and an aperatif glass full of clear liquid.  Nora tasted it, got a funny look on her face, and pronounced it delicious.  She was going for more when I realized with a whiff that it could well be wine!   More help from the waitress and we came to understand that it waa apple vinegar.  With breakfast.   Nora loved it.  Hmmm… 

 

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Remains of the Breakfast...

  

 

At another memorable meal we were served the crunchy-krill things.  Nora and I tried one (I’m trying to be add the Products of the Sea to my happy list) but Rory flatly refused.  I think they are meant to be sprinkled over your food like big salt.  They certainly were salty, and fishy, and no doubt high in calcium and trace minerals.   Still, one taste was enough.  Rory did eat the pork lying on top of the steamer basket, so I give him some credit. 

 

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lunch in a stylish place in Harajuku, Tokyo

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Yes, those are the eyes.

We have had some great meals, from Japanese-style barbeque (where Rory tried-and hated- chicken livers while the whole place looked on) to a vegetarian buffet with more ways of serving radish that I thought possible.  Iwish now I’d taken more photos of our food, and maybe I’ll start.  One treat we see cooked on the street is a pastry fish filled with what I guess to be chocolate, but could just as easily be something from the Kingdom of the Sea.    I didn’t get a photo, but this is a common sight and the same shape- 

 

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Japanese peeps, maybe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 9, 2009

A Visit to the Ninja House, or, Going off the Lonely Planet Path in Japan

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 7:49 pm

190130196182157              All my research (okay, one google search) lead to one magical, 8th birthday place, the Ninja House of Iga-Ueno City, Mie Prefecture.  It was just what the birthday boy asked for, an original house, relocated from the countryside, complete with ninja to demonstrate trick doors and throwing stars and to do mock battle.  Only, no mention of Iga-Ueno in the trusty guidebook, 10th edition.  A quick search in a 4th edition Lonely Planet Japan did include Iga-Ueno, with a write-up of the Ninja House  [“…wooden”], but with no information about sleeping or eating, merely suggestions about using the left luggage service at the train station.  Hmmm… not encouraging.  I wonder at what point it was cut?   Still, I’d brave a dozen underdocumented, dull Japanese towns and their tourtist trap shows rather than dissappoint Rory on his birthday.  So off we went.  The trip there was long, with 3 changes of train in stations that lacked escalators between platforms or even those funny little mini-conveyor belts we used in Germany.   It ’twere many a trip up and down stairs, one bag at a time, all the while worrying slightly about where we would spend the night.  Alas, we pulled into Iga-Ueno to find a perfectly serviceable city filled with folks who went out of their way to see that we were settled.  From the train station a woman took us to the right bus, arranged our fare with the driver, told us where to get off, drew us a map to a hotel, and then, at the other end, got off the bus and walked us most of the way to the hotel, before she ran back to the bus to continue her own journey.  The hotel was fine, with a great bathroom but also a great number of mosquitos in the room.  Poor Rory woke up swollen from bites, with a puffy eye and 4 bites on one cheek.  But, hark, this was the day to visit the Ninja House, and nothing could dampen his enthusiasm! 

              The Ninja House was everything he hoped for, plus the bonus of an opportunity to throw 5 shuriken (throwing stars), supervised by a Real Ninja.  He was thrilled.  All five of his throws stuck in the door, much to his credit.  Nora had a go, too, and got one of hers almost fully embedded within 2 rings of bullseye.  Brandon, what have you been teaching them?  As we walked around we saw lots of kids in full Ninja regalia (at a whopping 7900yen in the giftshop- almost $85!)  as well as at least 10 adults.  Looked like fun.  I did have occasion to wonder about all the celebration of ninjutsu, the art of ninja.  Okay, let’s think about this.  Ninja were sought after for their ability to assasain and commit espionage.  They used stealth to accomplish their goals, dressing in one of 7 disguises as farmers or laborers to pass through the country undetected, and wearing farmers’ clothes dyed navy blue to conduct their business of breaking and entering on moonless nights.   I’m not sure if they’re the forerunners of the CIA or terrorists, but either way I’d choose another fixation for my kid.   Something healthy, like Pokemon or Star Wars.  Oh, dear, he’s ruined…

              We mosied down the hill, back into town, with the bright idea to stop by a market before we got our train to Kyoto.  Oh, did I say train?  I mean, our 3 trains, with 6 bags, and that’s before I went overboard in the supermarket and bought enough groceries for 2 days.  Sigh…  as my friend Cindy used to say, if you’re going to be stupid at least be strong.  I would add, and well fed.

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manhole cover, ninja-style

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Notes from Rory On His 8th Birthday

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 7:44 pm

115091In his own words…

I woke up in the morning very happy.  My mom said, “Look, the birthday fairy must have been here. ”  I looked and it was all set up with birthday food to eat breakfast.  It was all some of my favorites, two big presents on the table, and a candle that looked like a piece of chocolate.  My mom brought out a kiwi that she sliced up very fancy.  She cut off the top in little triangle shapes.  We put the candle on it, but we weren’t allowed to light it in the room (and we couldn’t anyway).  So, I took the chocolate candle off and started to eat my kiwi.   Then Mom pulled out another kiwi and sliced it for Nora and her.  Then I started to open all of my presents.  First I opened one that was from Mom and Dad, and no one knew about it except my mom.  I opened it up and it was Pokemom cards!  I got a Heatrans that I already had in English but not in Japanese!  All these cards were in Japanese.  I got a Japanese Rigagigus, a Japanese level X Mue2.  THen I opened up my other present and it was more Pokeman, this time figures.  My sister told me she had picked them all out but Mom had bought them.  I got a Mue, a Tyflowzone,  Emploleon, Infernape, Requeza, Flygon, Torterra, and Salamance.  Then I opened them all up, and Nora started putting them back in their oxes like they were houses.  And I said, Thank you, everyone, for all my surprises.  Then my mom went and made us some special soup.  It was Progresso lentil with rice, one of my favorites.  We thought there was a microwave to heat it up, but there wasn’t.  We ate the soup cold but I love it cold as well.  Then we started getting packed up to get on a train to the Ninja House.  We started out and after 3 minutes my back was aching from the backpack.  I started complaining, but we got there and it was okay.  We went to get our tickets, but found out we couldn’t get to the town before the Ninja House closed.  So, we’ll just stay in the town and wait until tomorrow.  Then we went to a Starbucks in the train station and got ourselves some chocolate milk and a coffee for Mom and that’s where we’re writing this right now.

November 6, 2009

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:44 am
Konnichiwa  from Tokyo!  And, it turns out we knew some Japanese after all.  Domo arigato means thank you, and the kids have been cheerfully lobbing it at everyone who’s helped us all day!
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When last I typed, from the long-haul terminal of Heathrow airport, we were tired, a little hungry, and the jokes about being homeless weren’t that funny anymore.  Well, happily, we feel much better now!  The kids thought the flight to Tokyo was perfect.  Only the lack on in-flight peanuts marred their satisfaction.  I mean, come on- someone strolled the aisles delivering orange juice while you watched your own private tv.   The lure of the tv was so strong that sleep was tough to come by.  Well, maybe not for me.  I tossed on my eye pillow and stayed only alert enough to manage potty runs for the 12 hour trip.  Thank God for British Airways.

Once in Tokyo we found our Ryokan, like a Japanese bed and breakfast, with little trouble.  Of course, ours serves neither breakfast nor dinner.  We are in the Ueno district, an area dominated by a huge old park, most of the museums, and the venerable Tokyo University.  It’s far from the neon lights and skyscrapers, and that’s fine with me.  We got checked in, remembering to take our shoes off at the entrance.  The lady who checked us in found small slippers for Rory and Nora to wear, then led us up a flight of stairs so narrow with such short treads that even Nora had to place her foot sideways.  I took one look and thought I’d do better to make multiple trips with our luggage.  Our room was ready, three sleeping mats covered in fluffy duvets.  A low table along one wall hid under it two mats for sitting.  Rice paper mats called tatami cover the floor.  In short, perfect.  The toilet next door was sufficiently complicated to please Rory and Nora.  What more could we ask?

Resisting the fluffy duvets was hard, but we had walked past the Ueno Zoo and had vowed to return.  Back we went, stumbling upon the Tosho-gu Shrine on the way.  Built in 1651 it celebrates the man who unified Japan.  The path leading up to it has stone lanterns along  either side which were gifts from feudal lords back in the day.  The shrine has withstood all the disasters to strike Tokyo, from massive earthquakes to US bombing, but it’s closed for renovation now.  Outside it are little, I don’t know, mini-shrines were people write a wish or a prayer on different things and leave them there.  We were pretty taken with these small lightweight wooden plaques, called emas, with a beautiful painting on one side; on the other people wrote their wish.  We debated buying one and leaving it, but I thought it was too pretty to leave, and it didn’t feel right for us.  We just stood and each said a little prayer in our way, and that felt better.  But the emas were quite beautiful.  We had to try not to stare as a man approached the front of the shrine went through a complicated ritual involving clapping and exclaiming and throwing money into a coffer-thingie.  Pretty interesting to watch.  In fact, more interesting than the zoo, although Rory and Nora loved it.  We watched penguins at feeding time, but funnier than that was watching the sea lions next door watching the penguin feeding show.  I couldn’t tell if they were waiting for their turn with the zookeepers or shopping for a penguin dinner.  The sea lions were very enthusiastic eaters, barking insistently and showing off quite a bit.  Nora and Rory were delighted. 

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We held out until dark, strolling around the lake in the park, laughing at the paddle boats shaped like swans.  Had I had an ounce of strength left after the staircase at our ryokan we would have had a go.  Alas, we barely had enough umph left to make it back to the ryokan, where we collapsed at 5:30pm for the night.

 

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12 hours, 12 glorious hours, later, we deigned to rise from our beds.   A little Japanese cartoons on tv for the kids, a wonderfully hot,, strong shower for me, and we were out to explore the rest of Tokyo.  A sidenote:  a certain British family is doing a round-the-world trip and keeping a very thorough blog.  I read it almost daily leading up to our own trip, and I admire it very much, but I have to confess I’ve snickered gently to myself at their exhaustive coverage of everything that goes in their mouths.  I mean,  “Little Suzy chose apple jam while Little Timmy went for the strawberry.”  Well, I’m having to work ,really, really hard not to be a hypocrite.  I’m dying to go blow-by-blow through each meal, but, no.   Suffice it to say our breakfast on barstools around a u-shaped counter, ordered off a picture menu, was great.  It was like a Japanese diner, but fast-paced.  We all left a little hungry, but we gave such joy to the Japanese business men watching as Rory and Nora tried to eat their rice with chopsticks.   One even laughed out loud.  The kids loved that, and the guy working there brought out 2 spoons.  We learned that Nora loves Miso soup, and Rory likes  neither miso soup nor cabbage salad nor beef soup for breakfast.  But the boy can put down some rice.

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After two consultations with the information guy in the metro and 10 minutes spent messing around with the automatic ticket dispenser, which, yes, was technically in English, only not in any arrangement of words that held meaning for me and set on a timer to accomodate the most gifted speed-reader, I stood, chewing my lip trying to devise a back-up plan, when, lo!  a little square in the wall popped open and a uniformed Metro Man popped out to the waist, cranked around, pressed all the magic buttons, and two tickets issued forth.  What took so long, brother?   Off we went on the way to the Imperial Palace. 

I had, um, forgotten to mention to the kids that the Tokyo subways could be a little crowded.  I mentioned it, just in passing, on was to the platform.  Good thing.  I took was look at the train pulling into the station and thought, Wow, human wallpaper.   No space was visible within the compartments, just body after body after body, faces staring without expression.  The doors opened, 3 men got off, we followed about 5 other folks in, and miraculously there was room.  Granted, the doors physically pushed two guys further into the compartment when closing, but, still, we fit.  Rory and Nora had their faces pressed into me, and I could keep my arms around them, relieved of the need to hold on as I was supported by my fellow Metro riders.   Rory came off it muttering about celery and military planes. 

The Imperial Gardens were fine.  The bridge over the moat with the palace in the background was beautiful, and we even got to see part of the changing of the guard, but the kids didn’t seem to interested.  Their sole concern was how soon could we get to Kiddyland, a 6-story toy store they had been anticipating for weeks.  I failed to entice them to stroll farther into the grounds, even with the lure of ancient castle ruins and huge boulders to be clamoured over.  Nope, Kiddyland or bust. 

Soon thereafter we found ourselves strolled along one of the great shopping streets in Tokyo, and, therefore, the world, in the noted district of Harajuku.  I like it because I can remember how to spell it.  It was wonderful.  The people were beautiful, the shops were beautiful.  I felt frumpy and ridiculous in my serviceable clothes.  I kept chanting to myself,  It’s just for today, it’s just for today…  I was too intimidated to go in any clothing stores, so that was good for our bank account.  If fashion moves East to West now, then here’s a heads-up:  Invest in cuffed shorts, black tights or leggings, and tall boots.  It’s a good look.  Oh, another news flash:  Scrunchies are HUGE.  Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out!

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 Kiddyland was the splendour that Rory and Nora had hoped for.  Rory grinned foolishly at the rows of Pokemon items, and Nora was delighted with the assortment of, well, almost everything.  I admit I found myself captivated by most of the Hello Kitty things.  Honestly, the things they think up.  Hello Kitty USB stick, anyone?  In fact, the whole collection of USB sticks interested me, especially the ones shaped like very life-like sushi.  I wanted one for my niece for her birthday, but was deterred by price (70 bucks!).  We also picked out one for Brandon that looked like a ninja’s throwing star stuck into the computer, but, again, too cheap to buy.  If you’re reading this, honey, sorry.  We got a few things (hmm-hmm), and made our way up the street for a few hours. 

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Up-scale boutique for pet clothing

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Jeans for a cat? Phoebe says, No thanks!

Rory liked it so much he asked if we could stay here in Tokyo longer, rather than leaving to explore more of Japan.  I can see the attraction.   Clean, safe, something new around every corner, yet familiar enough and with enough folks who speak some English not to feel totally strange.  And I bought them chocolate milk both times we saw a Starbucks.  Turns out soymilk isn’t so easy to find here after all, but Starbucks comes through.  I love that, and I hate it.  I think we’ll try to get to the fish market early enough to still head out of town before lunch.  We are going to head off tomorrow to celebrate Rory’s 8th birthday in Igo Ueno City, site of a famous old Ninja House museum.

Thanks to everyone for your comments!  We love to hear from you.

November 4, 2009

Let’s Talk About Cushioning…

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 12:34 am

019Rory and Nora love that Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories. Lines from that movie have leaked into our lives, like World’s Fastest Irish Jig, and Sir Fix-A-Lot. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about Uncle Skeeter’s Cushion of Protection. Around here, the Cushion of Protection feels thin. Very thin. Usually, I think about cushioning as a negative quality, uh, largely as it relates to my rear end. But these past couple of weeks have me thinking differently. Brandon left last Thursday, headed to Iraq by way of Kuwait.

 

 Rory and Nora miss him terribly, but they also worry that they are less safe now. One parent just isn’t enough for them. My parents were able to come down to Georgia the day after Brandon left, so then the kids have some Grandparent padding to make up for the lack of paretnal padding, but getting the house cleared out, and cleaned, and the storage units oragnized… all of this ate up our time. Instead of heading up to North Carolina on Sunday we were limping our way along Tuesday (with Nora vomitting spectactularly into a plastic sack in the car)… and Wednesday. No sooner do we get to my parents than the bug that Nora had been handling so cooly wipes me out. I came around Thursday night, ever so grateful to have been at my parents for my infermity and not on my own in Midway nor on a flight over the ocean with two kids who count on me. Now I’m thinking, was I really planning to fly on Wednesday? This past Wednesday? So Friday we get down to business, really going to plow through and get ready. Well, the list of things that went inefficiently or badly or just didn’t go at all- it’s long and tragic. I think, officially tragic. I had a good Lacking in The Cushion of Protection meltdown (at least one), but we kept going. This morning (Saturday) while double-checking the flight we were hoping to take (and I mean “checking” in the loosest sense with space-a flights), I found the flight we had hoped to take on Sunday had been moved forward to Saturday! No more illusion of time or days or planning. We threw our stuff into our bags, skipped almost all of the really good farewell photos (maybe a blessing…)

 

 

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 and picked up a one-way care rental 4 hours early. Rory and Nora and I drove from Greensboro, NC, to Dover, Delaware, in a shockingly short amount of time, to arrive at the Air Force Base and find that we missed making the flight by about 5 seats.

Now, I’m reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Big Country, a collection of columns for British readers about America, and he ends each column with a plithy line or two. Hmph. No plithy endings here. Have I discovered some inner secret to Cushion of Protection? Well,okay, yes, God, in a larger sense (and God in a smaller sense, in the kindness that I see my fellow stranded passengers showing to each other and that Nora went straight off to sleep on airport chairs)… but not to turn into ole Billy, I still desperately miss a sense of Cushioning! Since my puking marathon even the cushioning on my backside is diminished! I want a big, fat, excess for a while, of things like days to make a flight, and seats on a plane, and room in my daypack, and spare power cords for computers, and passwords for itunes accounts! I want more, darn it! Until I look at the pictures of our storage cage. Maybe it’s time for less padding.

 

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You Never Sausage a Place

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 12:22 am

017Weiners(with apologies to Pedro’s billboards for I-95’s South of the Border)

Rory and Nora were crazy about Germany.  Rory was taken with the many pork products available; he particularly like the strung-together weiners (You’re always a weiner in Germay!) Nora was delighted tolearn she was born in the home of all things Gummi. 

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I just wrote a long, long entry, and I lost it when Windows 7 decided to shut down ( a little hard earned vacation time, no doubt).  So, I’ll just do a recap:

We left Greensboro in a hurry on Saturday afternoon, driving to Dover Air Force Base to catch an evening flight.  We didn’t get on that flight, but made many friends and heard heart-warming tales while waiting 24 hours for another flight.  Everyone waiting got on, which felt like we’d all won the lottery.  We got to Spangdahlem without too much incident.  Let me add that flying on a military plane is weird.  The crew is genuinely friendly and eager to help.  That’s strange.  The aricraft was designed and built not to have windows.  Rory was crushed and may never get over that.   The seats are rear-facing, something I may never get over.  And, when I wanted to fill up my water bottle, I had to stand on a grate TWO stories over 100 tons of cargo to get water out of a water cooler.  When  was the last flight you did that?  And some of you may know how I feel about grates… and speaking of bridges, I drove, truly I did, over the Cheasepeake Bay Bridge with my children in the car at night in the rain.  Honest.  That’s how badly I wanted to get to Dover.

Back to our trip, one of the other passengers interested us in a hostel in a town called Bacharach.  Well, it wasn’t a tough sell.  It’s in a castle overlooking the Rhine.  We loved it.  You would love it.  Don’t miss it, next time you are anywhere near the Rhine River.  We stayed in the Konigselker in the Turm.  If any of you good homeschoolers figures out what that means please share!

This evening we drove to Hahn airport to catch a 11:20pm flight (bad idea!) that left late.  We didn’t arrive in London Stansted until 12am Britsh time, then we stood in line at immigration for almost an hour.  Rory was beside himself and Nora had to pee.  Not a highlight of the trip by any means, and I don’t know why I’m sharing it here!  So we made our way to the National Express bus office to confirm the seats I’d bought online, and we decided to take the bus then to Heathrow rather than wait for the 6am bus.  Another rough time with Rory, but now he and Nora are totally sacked out here in Terminal 5, right where we need to be to catch our plane to Tokyo in 7 hours.  We may crawl into our beds in Tokyo and not come out. 

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Just a recap:  Of the last 4 nights we’ve spent one in a hostel, one on a plane, and 2 in airports.  And still Nora announced yesterday that it was the happiest day of her life, and today Rory commented that it would be really hard to go back to regular life.  Pretty hardy souls.

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