Archive for August, 2006

Canada trip

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

We all just got back from our Canada trip and it was a good time. It was very nice to get away from work and the stresses of the project.

I arrived a bit late in Toronto, since our plane was more than 1 hour delayed. Not sure why it was delayed, but I think it was technical reasons, or because a connecting plane was late. Anyways, I think I heard that we were using a different plane, which was good because it meant I was still able to go to Canada – I had fears the flight would be cancelled and restarted the next day!

I headed right to St. Catharines to spend some time with the kids and Nicole and her Mum. I got right back on schedule with the jet lag, which was good. The kids had changed so much since I had seen them off 5 weeks ago. Evan had changed slightly – he seemed bigger in general to me. Lauren on the other hand had big changes in those 5 weeks. Her hair was longer and perhaps lighter than I remembered. But she was speaking so much!!! She could pretty well re-iterate everything we said to her, and was coming up with sentences of her own, like “Dinner time, go home” or “how are you?”. Simply amazing. When she had left, she could really only say “Mumma, Dada, Bubba, ta”. Now she had a full vocabulary!

On the first day back, Nicole and the kids went off to visit some friends in Toronto, so I stayed back and did some shopping. It’s very difficult finding shoes of my size (13) in Japan, and in general trousers are difficult to find as well, so I stocked up on shoes (I left my pair behind that I was wearing because they were pretty well dead, and the day before my work shoes died as well) and a few trousers and dress shirts. That meant I was pretty well good to go for clothes and didn’t have to do any more shopping on the trip.

On Wednesday morning, we went to Luba’s for the family photo session. It was pretty good and in general was over very quickly. Both Lauren and Evan did really well in front of the camera, but Lauren particularly enjoyed herself. All the pictures were pretty good, with some of them being our favourites.

On Thursday we drove to Sherway gardens, where we met up with my parents and drove up to Midland. On Friday Fumio arrived from Japan and we had dinner and drinks afterwards. On Saturday, Bim, Vas and Maya came up to see me, and Nicole, Fumio and Evan went to Parry Sound to take a boat ride. It was great seeing Bim and the family again, and Maya has completely grown up! Neither Bim nor Vas had changed at all! Fozzie and family were in BC, otherwise it would have been good to catch up with them as well.

The next day, Evan, Fumio, Dad and myself (the boys!) went out saying for an overnight. I wanted Nicole, Lauren and Mum to come too, but none of the girls thought it was a good idea (Lauren wasn’t fussed). Nevertheless, we went and had a great time. Evan did very well with the sailing and wasn’t too fussed when we were healing. He didn’t like to come out of the cockpit too much when sailing, but he seemed to enjoy things. He wore his lifejacket the whole time and didn’t fuss once! Amazing!

We brought our fishing rod with us and Evan loved playing with it. We put it into the water while we were sailing, hoping to catch something, but we never did.

We had two mishaps in the sailing. The first was a sheet knot had gotten loose, and when we pulled in the line, it pressed against the dodger and broke 2 of the cleats, but Dad was able to fix those later. The second was that a sheet had gotten loose on the jib, and I ran up to hold the remaining one while we pulled in the sail, but I guess a loose sheet hit me in the face and knocked my glasses into the water so the next thing I knew was that I couldn’t see anything! Bugger. Evan cried when he heard that I lost my glasses (probably from Dad’s expression of “oh no!”), but I rationalised it with him and he soon stopped. He was just concerned for me.

We arrived in Pointe au Barrille in Georgian bay around 5pm or so and had enough time to go for a swim, do some fishing, cook dinner (steak) and then have some drinks. Evan still loved to fish, so we put the line in a for a bit. We didn’t catch anything, but we had some little fish nibble on our line for a bit, so that provided a bit of excitement!

Evan did very well with swimming. He had his lifejacket on and he swam all on his own from the stern of the boat, to the bow of the boat where the anchor was. The water was very warm and it was very nice to swim in. The water was quite dark though, and someone told us afterward we must have been swimming in soup, but that’s ok, we had fun! We also had enough time to go out in the dinghy and hoon around some islands.

The next morning when we woke up, there was a fine mist over the water. The air was quite cool, so that’s probably what created all the mist, but it was quite magical. We were up before the sun reached over the trees, so there were streaks of light shining through the trees and mist, it was quite impressive.

We made bacon and eggs (the bacon was almost all fat, so we didn’t get much meat unfortunately) but I think Fumio and the family liked it.

We sailed back and Evan had a good time on the way home. Unfortunately he fell asleep inside the cabin around 1/2 hour before we were to land, so he was a bit grumpy when he got up. He was really glad to see Mummy, Oma and Lauren and he seemed really proud of his sailing, fishing and overnight trip.

The next day, Nicole and Fumio drove back to St. Catharines where they did fun tourist things for the next few days and I took care of the kids. We had lots of fun in Midland though and went to the beach every day. The kids loved the beach and spent a lot of time in and out of the water. Lauren had her water wings (and a lifejacket one day) and she did so well all on her own. She didn’t want me to hold on to her and she kicked vigorously and did so well. Evan enjoyed having the lifejacket on, or going with out it. I had to take them out when I noticed they were cold, because they would have stayed in there the whole time! During this time, the kids and I got a lot of sun and the kids got a nice tan, while I got a good sunburn. Nothing too bad though.

Nicole’s Mum met us at the airport on the way out. The check-in guy mucked our tickets about and delayed us from getting our proper seats, which was a drag. He wasn’t very nice about the whole thing, so that put a bit of a damper on the last bit, but we had a nice time anyways. It was sad saying goodbye to the family and Nicole’s Mum but we’re planning on seeing each other in the next few months anyways, so we had a target to look forward to.

The flight home was uneventful and I got a fair amount of sleep with Evan next to me, but Lauren didn’t want to sleep, so she lost out a bit. We swapped places and for some reason, Lauren fell asleep on me, so Nicole got to sleep when Evan was sleeping.

It was nice getting back to our home in Yokohama after quite a trip. We had a good time, but it’s always nice coming home.

Tokyo (東京)

Friday, August 11th, 2006

I worked in Tokyo today and by 10pm there was nobody in the office that I knew, so I went into Shibuya and Shinjuku. I’ve never been to either, so I wanted to see what was up.

I didn’t really like either. There were hoards of people on this Friday night, and everywhere there seemed to be people soliciting things. In Shinjuku there were tonnes of black guys (American?) trying to rustle people up to go to their girly bars. They were mostly really persistent which annoyed me.

Then in Shibuya, there seemed to be mostly Japanese guys trying to rustle up people to go to their Izakaya or something. Not so good. I wandered up a bit of a hilly street, which I presume started to be Roppongi, and then there were all these girls asking if I wanted a massage! Yuck! So I hightailed it out of there and got home by 12:45 to write this blog.

I don’t think I’ll be going to those places again in a hurry…

Mito (水戸)

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

I went to Mito yesterday to meet up with Okada-san’s family. Mito is a few hours’ bus ride from Yokohama and we got to chat about all sorts of things, from work to family and politics. Very interesting stuff.

We arrived in Mito around 1:30 and went to check into the hotel. The hotel was right in the city and very close to the road where the parade/matsuri was happening. Once I checked it, we had a beer and we went to the matsuri. Okada-san’s wife was working in the parade, so she couldn’t meet us, but we went to her friend’s place, who owns a sembe shop! It was great! They had beer out front, and lots of yummy foods. I met her son who had studied english in Wellington, so we reminisced a bit about that. He went there 15 years ago, so I told him it’s probably quite a different city now! Maybe he’ll go back.

We ate some yummy omachi and some really great cucumbers and eggplant in soy and vinegar marinade. So yummy. Plus lots of beer!

All of the sudden, they brought me into the shop and got out a yukata (浴衣) which is the summer kimono. Lots of people were wearing it, as were our guests. So I looked a bit out of type with my western clothes on. Anyways, they wrapped a wide thick cotton belt around my stomach, put the yukata around me, then tighted it properly with a thin belt, then a wide belt over top of that! I think I looked pretty good! Then some sandals (geta – 下駄) and I think I fit right in. Okada-san then made me give some o-mochi to some of the girls in one of the floats, much to their surprise. I don’t think they quite understood what I was doing, as they gave me quite a bewildered look! They gladly took the beer that I offered to them, but perhaps because Okada-san came along with me with some beer too!

Around 5 or so, I got really tired, as I got up really early to make the bus and I usually try to sleep in later on Saturdays, after having a tough week. Anyways, I started nodding off and then the owner of the sembe shop told me to go lie down in the back, where they pulled out a thin futon and a blanket for me, and opened the large drawers giving me some shade from the light and I had a great sleep! A bit hazy when I first woke up, but that was really good! After that, we met up with Okada-san’s wife and then we went to meet their daughter Momoka, who had been shopping for a wedding party soon. We decided to go have dinner at a really fancy hotel, which was super yummy! Drank really nice sake and I had tempura. Yum! Okada-san didn’t let me pay for the food (thanks Okada-san!) and then we headed back.

The fancy hotel that we had dinner at deserves a mention. It’s an absolute mansion of a hotel, looking vaguely like the Louvre, with big pillars, lots of cool masonry and big windows. The inside atrium was completely enclosed and they had wedding-type things arranged around (pillars, flowers etc.). The rooms looked into the atrium as well and the ceiling was very high. Perhaps 8 floors or so! Amazing. Okada-san’s son, Taro, is a chef in the hotel. Very nice!

After that they drove me back to my hotel and I had a great sleep until 8am the next morning! Very nice!

Today we drove into the mountains, where we went to a waterfall and had some dango (団子) and ate yummy fish called auya or something. The fish was cooked in a lot of salt, and tasted so yummy! We spotted a place to stop by a stream and we put our feet into the water – nice and refreshing. Mito it seems is cooler than Yokohama, and the air definately is drier.

The driving about was amazing. We went into the mountains and found lots of interesting things. The thing that struck me about the mountains was how green everything is. There are still rice fields everywhere and the rice is an amazing green – not light, but not dark either. Momoka said that they were taught that each rice stalk has 100-200 grains of rice! That must make rice a very efficient plant!

Later, we met up with Taro and his girlfriend for some drinks before we caught the bus back home. On the way, they bought me some umeshu (梅酒) because they know I like it. How nice! On the bus home, I caught a nap (even though I wasn’t really tired) and got home to do some work before heading to bed.

What a nice weekend!

Baseball

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

I went to the baseball game this weekend, as well as walked around Tokyo for the first time. It was very interesting indeed.

I started the day by going to the imperial palace. At least the parts that I could go to. It’s about 5 km around and it’s surrounded by this really big moat and then a massive wall. On the other side, there are plenty of Matsu trees (Japanese pine) and lots of guards running about. I saw some cars leave with a police escort – perhaps someone famous!

The east garden is accessible for everybody for free, so I went and walked around. They had a lovely little lake in the middle with some great Japanese gardens. Definately the most manicured gardens I’ve been to in Japan.

After that I took the train to Ueno and walked to Asakusa. I didn’t really like Asakusa that much, but it was pretty interesting. I found Kamakura much more interesting. Asakusa seemed to be very touristy, with lots of kitchy things and expensive stuff. I bought a dango with sweet soy on the outside and the machi inside wasn’t good at all. So perhaps there were a few things that I didn’t like. Plus there were gaijin everywhere. Possibly more gaijin than nihonjin.

So I tailed my way out of there. On the way out I found something interesting. There was this old guy doing some sort of ritual – more of a song than a ritual, but it was very cool to watch! I wonder what he was doing? Execising the tourist demons from the area? Maybe.

After that I went to Ueno. That was really nice. I really enjoyed the big park and the big lake in the bottom part of it. There’s a zoo and in the lake the lotus flowers were blooming and the lotus leaves were gigantuan! Kinda like the King Kong movie! I’ve never seen such big water flowers before. I thought that perhaps Budda could have been born on one of those. That would make sense.

I then hooned it to the Tokyo Dome, where the baseball was playing. I exchanged tickets and ran into Geoff there. I had forgotten my mobile at home (doh!) and the others had tried to ring me. Nevertheless, I ran into Okada-san and Ines at the game, so that was great. Okada-san was doing pretty well from the drinks and got progressively more drunk at the game. He bought us all beer, which was very generous. The beer in the Tokyo Dome is sold by women wearing a tank on their back. The order for beer would come, they’d kneel down in front of you in a very submissive way, pour the beer from the tank (through a hose, like a draft would have) and then we’d gulp it down. Yum! Okada-san said that that system is patented and can only be used in the Tokyo Dome! Interesting.

Anyways, the game got off to a slow start, but then the Nippon Ham (Fighters) got 4 runs in one inning. The Softbank Hawks could only get 1 run in the next inning an then the Fighters got some more after, so the game ended with 7 points to 1.

The Fighters are quite famous and they have 2 celebrities on the team. Actually both of them got home-runs so I imagine they deserve their fame. The first in Shinjo (just “Shinjo” – kinda like Madonna or Cher, and also only in Romaji – the other players had their usual Kanji or Katakana (for foreigners) name). He’s a bit of a loaded gun, but he did deliver. Apparently he’s got an LED belt that flashes slogans on it. Too wierd! The other was some guy named Osagaru or something. Okada-san knew them all and went wild when they came up to bat.

We all did the YMCA dance at the game and we all had a good time.