Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Summer Heat

Well, we are finally getting some of it! After days, weeks, of rain, today is a scorcher. My little house, with its long row of windows facing the sun all day, struggles mightily to keep cool, with the help of one hard-working air-conditioner. I didn't get to the pool today, though it would have been nice. Lena went swimming at kindy. Joanne and Emily and Masaki came to visit today. They went upstairs at one point, and though they opened the windows, they all came back in ten minutes sweating. It is SO hot up there!

Mike gave me a pile of sketchpads for Amy today. Here is the picture she drew - I call it an allegory of weather. She calls it The Whole World:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer Hols

Which actually started for Amy last Friday. All of August, and the last 10 days of July. You know the summer holidays! Days spent rattling around home, trying to think of what to do next. Here are some of the things my two thought of today:

Amy modelling a ribbon choker of her own devising:

Lena was being the baby sleeping:

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tooth and bruise

Amy has another wiggly tooth! My baby gets bigger every day. This time, it got wiggly by itself, no kicks in the teeth to help it along.

Meanwhile I had a stupid accident. I was carrying two large rubbish bags of laundry from the car to the house (after visiting the laundromat to get three days of laundry dry) when I tripped. The bags messed up my balance, and I fell, hitting my knee and whacking my left arm into the porch's corner post. I managed to meet with two angles of it somehow, and ended up with a right-angle bruise, that, typically for me, blew up out of all proportion, despite being iced.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mike and Katy

It's pouring with rain and threatening floods but we went for a drive today anyway. First stop was Oita city, where we went to an art gallery. A New Zealander from New Plymouth who has been working for Keio Academy for a year had an exhibition there. He does pencil drawings, very skilled and imaginative. I thought it would be nice for Amy to see some work done by someone she knows. We bought a few postcards, and I have my eye on another picture that I might have to hint to Kanji about for my birthday...

Next, we went into town and visitied Starbucks, and the bookstore. I grabbed a couple of books and the kids got a magazine each - then I realized I had left my money in the car. Rain notwithstanding, I did not want to give up my books, so we trooped back to the car - down from the 6th floor, cross the road, go down the street, through the pachinko parlour and up to the third floor parking. Down again through the pachinko parlour and snap - my sandal broke. I tied it together, still not willing to give up and we rushed back to the bookstore in the rain, me limping and dragging my sandal, over the road, up the elevator and I got my books and was very happy.

Next we visited another Kiwi, living around the coast in Kunimi. Katy just had a baby boy, Shou, and he is a lovely plump and sweet-smelling baby. We were running late and couldn't stay late, but hopefully we'll see them again on a sunny summer day, when we head out to one of the peninsula beaches.

Amy and Lena at Starbucks:

Friday, July 21, 2006

Kodomo Kai Barbecue

I hated the fact that Kanji had to work and couldn't come! I had met the mothers before at the meeting, but I was still walking into a barbecue with a bunch of people I didn't know. It just would have been nice to have Kanji there too, he is so much friendlier than me! I sit there wondering what to say next, but Kanji always knows what to say! And that's not just a language issue either, he's just better at making friends, fullstop.

But I had the kids, and I brought my video camera so I would have something to do. We all stood around awkwardly for the first half hour or so, while four guys fired up their barbies. Lena and Amy found it a bit awkward at first, as there was one stupid girl who gasped and cried out 'Eigo da!' (English!) whenever we said something in English, and if we spoke in Japanese, she laughed and repeated it. It took a while for her to calm down, but once she did, the girls made friends as quickly as kids always do. Soon they were playing hide and seek, which was extra fun, as we were at a temple with gravestones out the back!

Then the barbecue officially started with a mini-speech from the Kodomo-Kai president, and we finally opened a beer and began to relax. We all fed the kids first - it was scary how fast the teenage boys ate! I thought there wouldn't be a scrap left for us! So we mums started digging in too. I hardly saw the kids - one minute they were in the temple's main hall with all the kids playing musical instruments, next they were scaring themselves in the graveyard, then jumping on the sofa. They each got adopted for the night by a kind older girl, Amy had a high school girl called Madoka and Lena had a junior high school girl.

Kanji dropped by at about 8pm, and greeted everyone with mini-speech. He had to leave again soon though. But by then I had relaxed, ate, and started to chat. I met a couple whose son works at Kanji's father's gasoline stand. I met my neighbor, a woman from the Phillipines, whose son Amy walks to school with. I ended up having fun. At the end of the night, all the children together, then all the adults together, played rock, paper, scissors for the leftovers. Amy got a packet of snacks, and I got a can of beer, which made a nice nightcap.

Rajio Taiso

What do you think of getting up at 7am, heading down to the bank parking lot near your home, and doing exercises in public to a tinny tune played on a tape-deck? Not your idea of summer holiday fun? Well, 'rajio taiso' or 'radio exercises' are a time-honoured tradition in Japan. You've probably seen whole parks-full of Chinese doing it on TV.

It's not done here to such a large extent, but some companies do it, and school kids on holidays (and their long-suffering mothers) are encouraged to join in, to maintain a regular schedule. It is organized by the 'Kodomo Kai' (see July 11), and the children are furnished with a postcard with the dates of the holiday, and one child takes care of the stamp pad and stamps each child's postcard.

Today was the first rajio taiso of the summer break, and our first experience ever. I set the alarm to a killing 6:40 - until Amy got sick I was waking up happily at this hour, but it only took two weeks of her being off for my natural slug-a-bed state to take over. Lena was even harder to shift than myself, although Amy leapt out of bed with her usual early-bird exuberance. Lena was still sleeping, in my arms, as I joined the circle at 7:02, much to the amusement of the others.

I got her on her feet in time for the end - it turned out to be only one song! So much for the 'exercise' component. Aerobics it is not. Amy also didn't join in, she saw her friends and suddenly went shy.

I'm not sure if it'll do the trick yet in fixing my schedule - I went back to sleep on the sofa for half an hour!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Shu and Groovy and a New Lesson

My old boss Yoshida Shu, from way back when I first came to Japan, called me before I went to New Zealand, to ask if I could teach him English. Odd, I thought, but agreed. We are having the lessons at Groovy, the cafe where I taught lessons when I first came here. It's a jazz club, with a tennis court and the best ice chocolate!

Shu is planning a trip to New Zealand, where he has all sorts of amazing things planned. Sometimes I think my job is not to teach him English, but to teach him common sense - No, you can't walk the Milford Track alone, in the middle of winter. You must start training now. You cannot take fossils out of New Zealand. We do know the value of dinosaur bones, you're not going to be able to find one sitting around in the dust that no-one had any idea of the value of, and take it back to Japan and become a millionnaire selling it. No-one is going to give you a bed and food in exchange for teaching them geological and palaontological Japanese. Nobody on Stewart Island wants to learn Japanese. And please, please come back to Japan to your long-suffering wife and daughter!

Meanwhile I picked up a new lesson. A private, about three times a month, on various days according to her schedule. I hope I don't get too annoyed with this one, I suppose if I do, I can always declare myself 'busy' on the days she chooses. How did I get into this? I am just not very good at negotiating in Japanese yet, plus I am hamstrung by my desire for the cash! I went into it intending fully to offer her ONLY Wednesday nights and Monday mornings, but she got me to offer Friday mornings too. I suppose I should put more little squiggles in my diary, if I really want to bargain hard!

Monday, July 17, 2006

At the hospital again

Amy complained of chest pains on Monday night. She said she'd had them on Saturday night after the Kindergarten Festival, and again on Sunday night at the barbecue, and that it was worse tonight. She said it felt tight, and her heart was beating too hard. I was pretty sure it was asthma, but as ventolin affects the heart, I was not sure about giving it to her. My doctor student was due to come for her lesson, she's a cardiac/thoracic specialist! Ironically, she chose that day to not turn up. I gave Amy the ventolin, and then checked the internet, where I read that chest pain is indeed a symptom of asthma. And that chest pain in children is almost never related to the heart, and is usually symptomatic of relatively minor, self-limiting complaints.

Next day though, I took her to the hospital, as a relapse of asthma needed to be looked into. She had stopped the flixotide about three weeks earlier. After being reassured by the five or so pediatric websites that started out with the reassurance that chest pain in children is almost never the heart, I almost had a heart-attack when the doctor kept checking her heart, then said he was ordering a chest x-ray and electro-cardiogram. That she had arrythmia.

So, I spend another nasty awful hour in that place, wondering why my little girl has to be so ill, over and over again. I was optimistic, but you can't help but worry. But I held it together enough to make her laugh during her electro-cardiogram - I told her she looked like a sheet on the clothes line, because the huge pegs they used on her arms and legs looked like the pegs we use on our clothes poles. Ask Jo about our pegs!

Her lungs are clear, and she has a small arrhythmia, but within normal range. She is back on flixotide, but since her lungs are quite clear, only one puff a day, just to stop it getting worse over summer.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunshine, Beef and Beer

We had a barbecue at our place. I'm getting better at this! All you need is sunshine, beef and beer! Oh, and people. We managed to get some of those too.

The biggest challenge was converting the mess of our back yard into something at least resembling socially acceptable. The tables are still there from last year, but the table-tops got a bit warped in the weather extremes. So I went out and bought a couple of table-top wood slabs for the small table, and put the two long ones together with an all-purpose picnic mat on top. I also bought two tiny chairs, two big chairs, and two 2-person stools, and an umbrella. I figure we'll be doing this again, so it's worth it. I also bought a barbecue set.

The Harada family came, and from Keio Jorge, Ruth, Donella and Rich. Rich talked about manga and heavy metal all night with Kanji and Takuya. Ruth and Donella didn't drink much, but I made up for them, and we talked and talked. Maki was a whirlwind as usual and cleaned everything up, while I tried to keep up with her. The kids ran wild, and collected insects, and drew pictures, and played dress-ups.

We drank beer, and New Zealand sauvignon blanc and ate tons of beef, and a few veges and some great seafood. We finished up with fried noodles. Everyone went home when Momoka went to sleep, at about 11pm. And I didn't take even one photo!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Youchien Natsu Matsuri

Which means Kindergarten Summer Festival. The children prepared for weeks, and Amy was looking forward to it with all the excitement of Christmas. They worked really hard to create festival stalls selling all the things that are sold at festivals in Japan. There were fried noodles, crushed ice, goldfish, ice cream, toffee apples, lucky dips, water balloons and other games, with all but the water balloons made by the children out of paper.

Amy's team were working on the mask stall (at left, proud Amy in her 'hapi' coat). She'd been telling me for days that I would take one look and know her mask, and I had no idea what she was talking about! Each child made a mask, either a Hello Kitty, an Anpanman, or a princess, then they pegged them to a frame, and sold them to the parents and each other. Above, Lena is wearing the mask Amy made.

When we arrived, our children gave us an envelope made and decorated by them, full of tickets for all the stalls. They also had their own tickets. Half the kids played the part of the stall-keeper while the other half shopped, and then they swapped. At left, Amy and Lena visit the toffee apple and toffee strawberry stall.

Next came the 'Gion-guruma'. Copying the real Nakatsu Gion Festival later this month, the kids got into two teams and pulled floats (Gion-guruma) they had made themselves around the kindergarten grounds, out the gate, up the road and back. Real festival drummers provided the music, creating a very authentic atmosphere.

Below, Amy poses beside her team's kuruma. She thought up the name for it - Star. She was especially proud of the colouful dragon she had drawn on the side. Above, her team are lined up to pull the kuruma with ropes. Amy is second from the left, behind the boy in the green shirt.

After the two teams completed their circuits, the kids put on a dance for us, then invited the parents to join in a dance as well. Finally there was a fireworks display and ice blocks, which I helped hand out as my duty for the night.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Frogs and Sparrows

If you thought I was going to talk about joys of spring in a pretty park - wrong. I'm talking about dinner.

Once again, we ate with Marcia and Slyvia, this time all the mums in Lena's kindy class took them out to dinner in a Japanese yakitori (chicken kebab) restaurant. While the children ran wild, we had a few drinks, and ordered a huge variety of dishes for Slyvia to try. Typically for Japanese hosts, they were very anxious about getting things she liked, while she simply told them she'd try anything. So I ended up the go-between, assuring them over and over that she meant it when she said she wanted to try anything, and 'Yes, xyz will be fine'.

On the menu were sparrows. Skewered sparrows. It's my fault. The word for sparrow is 'suzume', and the word for dried squid is 'surume'. I said, "Yeah, sure, go ahead and order the (squid)." I got a bit of a fright when the skewers came with two whole plucked birds , complete with tiny blackened skulls and tiny tiny black eye holes. I'm not sure if you were supposed to eat the heads, I certainly did not, and tried at first to restrict myself to the 'meat' before giving up and eating it, bones and all.

After that ordeal, some lightly fried frogs' legs were a breeze! They were really nice, I'd recommend them to anyone. The sparrows, I think, will be a one-off.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Posole and Kodomo Kai

Lena's kindy teacher Marcia's mother Sylvia is in Japan, and came over for dinner tonight. Marcia is from the US, but her mother is originally from Mexico. Maia's mother Harumi arranged the dinner, and it was originally going to be at her house, but we changed the venue when her father-in-law became ill.

Harumi loves to cook and loves to try new foods, so she was very eager to get Marcia to cook something Mexican for her. Marcia insisted she can't cook, but lined her mother up to cook something for us when she came to visit. They decided on posole, a corn-based soup, and Harumi ordered the canned 'hominy' corn from FBC.

I decided to cook some Japanese dishes too, because we couldn't expect Sylvia to come all this way and do all the cooking! I cooked 'nikujaga', a beef and potato dish, and fried tofu with a mushroom sauce. Harumi brought miso soup, and Emiko (Takumi and Eri's mum) brought a yam and pickled plum dish.

The Posole was a chicken stock soup with the hominy corn. The soup was made with just chicken, onion and garlic, then we put in the cans of corn. When it had cooked through, we put it in bowls and added the condiments - shredded cabbage, chopped radish and onion, oregano, lemon juice and a red chilli pepper. It was delicious!

Slyvia and I had a glass of wine, and after Marcia turned up after she finished work, I gave her mother a framed photo of her on her birthday a few weeks ago.

Everyone had to leave early, as I had a meeting to get to!

At 7:30 I had to be at the Kodomo Kai. Literally meaning 'Children Meeting', it's a group of mothers, or sometimes fathers, of the children who live in the local area. The main purpose is to arrange to have the children walk to school together, meeting up at each successive house. The parents also share out street patrol duties, and a few other things. It was quite a challenge for me to sit through the meeting, 90 minutes of Japanese, and pick up enough of an understanding of what was being discussed, and anything I was supposed to do. Luckily, kindergarten mums seem to get away with not doing much, no doubt to give them some time to get used to things.

They arranged dates for 'rajio taiso' (see July 21), people to go on street patrols and on duty at the school swimming pool in summer, and organized a barbecue. I'd never met any of these people before, and had no idea what to do or say. So I just sat! Luckily you can get away with that here, and people will put it down to your being shy or unsure, not rude or snobby. At least I hope they did!

Monday, July 10, 2006


Which is Japanese for 'red eyes' and is what kids yell at each others as they chase each other around pulling their eyelids down or up trying to look as scary and yucky as possible. A game which Amy is the queen of this week, as you can see.

Her problems began about ten days ago, with headaches. Within a few days she had a fever, and coughing, so we took her to the hospital, as I was not sure that it was not her asthma coming back. He said it was just a cold, not to worry. That night she had an itchy foot, which I put down to an mosquito bite. We put an itch-patch on it and left it at that, and I felt a bit mean in retrospect because when she woke a second time, I said it was just an itchy foot and go back to sleep!

But in the morning, she got half way down the stairs before crying out that her feet were red and sore. And they were bright red! It appeared on her hands too. So back we went to the hospital, were told it was a 'summer cold' and given antibiotics. Go figure. By Friday the rash was clearing, and I thought we were home free, but that night the coughing brought on vomiting, and the next morning the above is what happened to her eyes. We took her to the pediatrician this time, as I was beginning to feel that the young recent graduates at the hospital didn't have the diagnostic experience to tell what was happening to her. He sent me straight back to the hospital for blood tests, to rule out a 'bleeding disorder'. Scary! At least I had him pointing the nincompoops at public in the right direction. So we spent a worried few hours getting her tested and getting the results. No nasty blood disorders, but the tests showed she has coxsachie/entovirus, the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease. The subconjuctival heamhorrage she has in both eyes is one of the possible symptoms of the virus. It looks awful, but is pretty much harmless and heals on its own. It takes a few weeks, though, so we went out yesterday and bought her some sunglasses so she doesn't look like too much of a freak in public!