Monday, April 29, 2013

Two Years

Two years ago today we landed in Japan.  Last year at this time, I was feeling all sorts of nostalgic and homesick.  This year I feel nothing of the sort.  Our home leave tickets are booked, my parents have tickets to come to Japan in the fall, and summer is racing toward me at breakneck speed.  I don't know what happened to the month of April.  It hardly began and now it is over.  Bear got an email from his teacher with his homework for the next two weeks and she reminded the kids that they only have 30 more days together.  I almost teared up.  She is such a great teacher and Bear has had a fabulous year.  I can hardly believe 4th grade is so close to being a memory for him.  I feel like I need to gasp for breath.

Speaking of 4th grade, Bear had spirit week and sports day last week.  During spirit week they have the kids dress up every day leading up to sports day at the end of the week.  On "Career Day" Bear dressed up as a CAT engineer. 
After sports day they tally all the house points for the year.  This year Bear's house, Kensei, won both sports day and the house cup.  Last year they came in last, so it was super fun for Bear to be part of the winning team this year.  He came in second for grade 4 (they combine points from sports day and their academic work throughout the year) and got a nice medal for himself and a pin for the Kensei house.

Well done, Bear!  Go Kensei!

Did I mention that we had an earthquake a few weeks ago?  It was fairly strong - a 6 on the richter scale.  Maybe you saw it mentioned in the news.  Our Friday nights are always slightly crazy, because we've started a little tradition that the kids can sleep in our room on Fridays.  Usually they just sleep on the futon on the floor, but someone was borrowing it that week, so Beaver was sleeping on a camping pad at the foot of our bed in a fort he had built.  Bear had fallen asleep in our bed, so I was sleeping there with him and Mike had gone into Bear's room and was sleeping in his bed. At 5:33 Saturday morning we awoke to shaking and the sliding glass doors in our room rattling.  I jumped out of bed and pulled back the curtains to see if the rattling was from the wind blowing.  It wasn't.  I realized what was happening, and headed for the kid's rooms to get them, but of course they were both in the room with me!  At the same moment, Mike came rushing into our room, Bear sat up in bed, Mike snatched Beaver off the floor, and I just kind of stumbled about - heading for the doorway, then back to get the kids, and then it was over.  All of this happened in a matter of seconds.  There was no significant damage or casualties, for which we are thankful.  

And so begins our third year in Japan!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I decided to take Beaver to Akashi Park today, even though I thought the cherry blossoms were pretty well gone.  I'm so glad I did, because the trees there still looked lovely.  "Hanami" - meaning "flower viewing" - is the tradition of viewing cherry blossoms, and usually involves picnicking under and around the trees.

A little taste of hanami in Akashi koen today:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Our spring break destination this year....

We booked our flights with miles, so we didn't get to choose the airlines.  The first two legs of our trip were on Asiana Airlines.  I tell you what, if you ever get the chance to fly Asiana, do it!  So nice. These are the meals that were served.  Have you ever seen such pretty airplane food?

Our travels began in Osaka and our first layover was in Seoul.  Seoul has the most impeccable airport I have ever seen.  

Then it was on to Bangkok.  

We arrived in Bangkok at around 10:00pm, so we had booked a hotel for that night.  We got in late and left fairly early so we didn't actually get to see the city, but I can now say that I have spent one night in Bangkok!

The next morning we got back on a plane to Krabi.  We checked in to our hotel and spent some time in the swimming pool.  Thailand is so very hot!  We were glad for a chance to cool off.  A couple of hours later we had our first tour scheduled - kayaking in Thalane Bay.

Thalane Bay is a pretty bay that winds back among mangrove trees, but we were rather disappointed that for the evening tour, the tide is low, so we couldn't actually paddle through the trees.  We enjoyed ourselves, nevertheless, and we even spotted a few monkeys in the trees.  Afterwards we ate a sunset barbeque dinner on the beach.

The "beaches" in the bay were really muddy.  Beaver was getting a kick out of making deep footprints in the mud.

Showing off their muddy hands

Our first sunset in Thailand

This was our bungalow.  One room, two big beds, a kitchenette, and a bathroom.  The bungalow was lacking in some ways, but it was charming to look at, and the gardens around the place were absolutely beautiful and meticulously cared for.  At one point we saw the gardener sweeping up petals as they fell from some pink flowers.  The hotel also had a nice pool that the kids enjoyed very much.

This was an awesome plant just outside our bungalow.

Here we are eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant.

The kids favorite part of the hotel was probably the dogs and cats that belong to the owners.  I would like to know, is it just American dogs that are nuts?  If so, why is that?  Every dog I have ever known goes crazy when new people come around - jumping, barking, wagging, begging to be petted.  These dogs wandered around calmly, paying little attention to anyone, but wagging their tails politely when the kids tracked them down to be petted.  Of course, it could be that dogs in Thailand are just too hot to exert themselves.

Ao Nang beach.
This is where we spent the day Sunday and Wednesday.  It was a nice beach - great for swimming.  The water in Thailand is perfect.  Around 28 degrees C year round.  In spite of the heat, as long as we were around water, we were perfectly comfortable.

Monday we took a speed boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands.  This was Bamboo Island - our first stop.  It was an absolutely beautiful beach with powder soft sand.  I would have liked to spend more time there, but we had to keep to the boat schedule.

Here are the kids with a crab that we were excited to find, until we realized it was dead.

Maya Beach - one of the more famous beaches in Phi Phi.  Very beautiful, but oh so crowded!

The water was so beautiful.  No photoshopping here.  That color is real!

Even the trail to the bathrooms on Maya beach was lovely!

The boat made some stops for snorkeling.  The snorkeling was actually only okay, but it was still fun to swim in that lovely water.  Turquoise above, emerald at this stop.

Tuesday we had a family rock climbing course on Railay Beach.  Railay was fun because it is only accessible by boat, so we had to take a long-tail boat to get there.  Ask Mike the story if you want the details, but the boat driver couldn't get the engine started, so he used the battery from a neighboring boat to jump it, but he didn't have all the cables he needed, so he used some pliers to complete the circuit to jump start our engine.  That story is pretty indicative of how things are in Thailand.

That blue shirt clinging to the rock face is me. 

Here's Mike.

And Bear.  He did well for his first time rock climbing.

Beaver made a couple of attempts...

...but he preferred playing with this little friend, Rachel from Singapore, who was also there with her parents and didn't want to rock climb either.

He got very sweaty and dirty.

Mike at the top of the final climb.  I didn't make it to the top on this one.

Rock climbing was lots of fun, but very hot, so we were glad to visit this beach on Phra Nang Bay to cool off.  Another nice, sandy, but crowded beach.

Wednesday we didn't have anything planned, so we went into Ao Nang to do a little souvenir shopping and go back to the beach.  Ao Nang is just swarming with westerners.  We were rather surprised by this.  Thailand perhaps isn't such a common destination for Americans, but it is definitely a destination for Europeans and Australians.  

A tuk-tuk.  This is the most common kind of taxi for getting around.  We took one every time we went to Ao Nang.

Trucks like this are the other common way of getting around.  We were generally picked up for tours in a pick up truck like this, with benches in the back to sit on.  There were so many trucks in Thailand!  It made Mike happy.

Mike and I got Thai massages on the beach on Wednesday.  At a couple of points the lady stood up and walked on my back and legs, and I thought my ribs might crack!  She was a bit bigger than I am!   We both felt more stiff and sore the day after the massage.  Ha!

One last picture on the beach!

Thursday was our last day in Thailand, but we had one more thing to see: elephants!

Elephant trekking was the whole reason I wanted to go to Thailand so badly.  I wanted to ride an elephant!

You already saw the picture of all of us on the elephant.  Here are Bear's feet and my knees looking down at the elephant's head.  It turns out elephant trekking is very slow and it was very hot in the jungle.  I'm glad we did it, but the kids had more fun feeding the elephants bananas, so I think if we get another chance we will stick to feeding and visiting with elephants, rather than riding them.  Maybe I would enjoy it more if I was sitting on the head like the mahout, rather on the bench up on its back.  They told Bear he could sit on its neck, but he was a little nervous and preferred to stay on the seat.  I should have offered to jump down there instead!

Beaver was a little nervous at first, but after one banana, he lost all his fear.  I think this ended up being one of their favorite parts of Thailand.  Elephants are awesome.

Afterwards, we went to a nearby national park with a waterfall that we could splash around in.

And that was the end of our trip!  We left Krabi around 4:00pm, left Bangkok at 12:30am, and then left Shanghai at 12:10pm the next day, arriving in Osaka at 3:30 on Friday.  By the time we got on the ferry and got back home, it was about 5:30pm.  During all of this time, the only sleeping Bear did was the three and a half hour flight from Bangkok to Shanghai.  Crazy kid.  He didn't even seem tired.  But then he slept in until 10:45 this morning, so I guess he was pretty tired after all.

One more interesting thing we saw on the way to the airport in Krabi - a pick-up truck full of coconuts with monkeys crawling around on the coconuts.  They must be trained to pick the coconuts, because they had collars around their necks and were tied to the railing of the truck.

One funny thing Beaver said on the trip - I commented to Mike that he is a good dad, because he was playing some game with Beaver at the bungalow.  We then laughed a little and joked that I wasn't a good mom because I was just sitting around relaxing.  Beaver was quick to tell me, "Well, you are a pretty good mom, but not a VERY good mom."

Something we learned - we need more sun protection!  Bear got pretty burned, even though we applied and reapplied sunblock.  He is just very susceptible to sunburn.  He didn't want to wear a hat because it was so hot, but I've got to find him one that breathes well and make him wear a hat next time we are spending a lot of time in the sun.  I felt like such a lousy parent when I saw how his face burned.  Maybe Beaver is right.  

I should have worn a hat too.  I didn't think to get any sun protection for my lips, and they burned and then blistered!  My bottom lip has been all puffy and sore for the last two days.  Like botox gone bad.

I was really looking forward to eating some good Thai food, but I always end up being disappointed in the culinary aspect of my travels.  Not because the food isn't good - more because I just don't really know what to order or where to eat.  There were so many restaurants, how could we know where to go for the best food?  Also, it was so hot that I often didn't feel much like eating, and I just had a fruit shake for more than one meal.  There was lots of fruit around.  All of the tours served pineapple and watermelon, and the lady at the massage parlor kept bringing us pineapple, watermelon, and bananas.  We did eat some delicious spring rolls and noodles that Mike bought on the beach from a man selling them from a basket.  And Mike had mango sticky rice for the first time and loved it.  I liked it, but it was actually a little too sweet for me.  I think that I don't love coconut milk, which surprises me because I do love coconut.  The kids, of course, ate hamburgers and french fries for almost every meal. Sheesh.

Remember how I was so sad that I was going to miss the cherry blossoms here at home?  As we drove home last night, I was thrilled to see that the trees were still in full bloom!  The trees in our yard were still covered in their beautiful, fluffy, pale pink glory.  I was delighted to think that we could get up in the morning to take pictures and maybe visit Akashi park, which is a fabulous place for cherry blossom viewing.  And this morning, we awoke to rain and wind and all the blossoms blown right off our trees. Boo.  At least I got to enjoy them for an hour before the sun set yesterday.

So, my final assessment:  Thailand was not clean and it was not comfortable.  There is lots of litter, and it is so, so hot.  This was my trip - the one I have been wanting to take since we arrived in Japan.  But there were times when I felt like I couldn't wait to leave.  And now that I'm home, I really, really want to go back!  And I think Mike enjoyed it even more than I did!  He is already saying we should make it a spring break tradition.  It is one of those places that gets under your skin, I guess.  The landscape is beautiful, the water is beautiful, the people are beautiful.  We feel so blessed and lucky to have the chance to see so much of this wonderful part of the world.  The funny thing is that when I was younger, I remember saying that I really didn't have any interest in visiting Asia.  And now here I am - loving it more all the time.  Asia is forever embedded in my heart.