Monday, May 28, 2007

Universal Studios

We spent an amazing weekend at Universal Studios! We left on Friday afternoon by train, then caught a ferry to Osaka, arriving in the morning. After a long day at the park, we got back on the ferry and arrived back in Kokura on Sunday morning.

FRIDAY We caught the train at 5:30. Fortunately the trip was only 30minutes - but even that was long enough - 8 children can make a heck of a lot of noise even when they are being constantly shusshed! Actually that was the main reason we decided to go with the ferry - we knew we would have trouble with the kids over a three-four hour train trip. We got enough space to sit together only in the smoking car, but the upside was that we got to sit directly behind the driver, which was cool.

I was excited and nervous about the ferry - I had horrible visions of various children running too fast and slipping over the edge! You know how you go all soft and emotional when you're pregnant. Makes me think pregnant ladies should rule the world, if only we didn't keep forgetting stuff (I walked out of a supermarket with my basket the other day, having forgotten completely to pay! 'Excuse me, Ms Customer' goes the door hostess'. Only in Japan will you be reprimanded for stealing so very gently and politely! Perhaps she realized I was having a mummy-brain moment).

One of the Mums knew the purser, and when she told him I was pregnant, he upgraded me to the second best room! I was quite prepared to sleep on a narrow berth - at home I have switched from my soft bed back to the firm futon on the floor, because I seem to sleep straighter. I have no back pain so far, in fact my back is even better than it was before I was pregnant, when my penchant for sleeping and reading on my tummy was affecting my back. But I couldn't complain about the spacious Japanese tatami cabin, with its HUGE window. Downstairs, the others got a TV screen video of the outside of the ship!

We had dinner, which we had bought at the supermarket at the train station before boarding the bus that took us to the ferry. A very healthy Japanese lunchbox - mine had beef, salmon, and 3-4 salads; the girls had rice balls. Then we had a bath! Yes, there is a full-size Japanese public bath on the ferry! Although the last thing I wanted was a rough journey, I was kind of hoping the wind would whip up just while we were in the bath. It didn't, nor could we see through the frosted windows, but it still felt quite like we were on a boat, with the engine noise and shuddering. The whole ship shook and shuddered and rattled all the way to Osaka and back.

The kids slept well, and I was comfortable, but I can't say I slept well. I read myself to sleep, but once I woke again a few hours later it was really hard getting back to sleep. The gentle rocking was okay - we were lying cross-wise, so it was head-up, head-down, but only very slightly; but the shaking and rattling were very off-putting. I think I got to sleep again around the dead hour, for a few more hours before dawn.

SATURDAY Breakfast was bread we had purchased the day before at the station. In the middle of breakfast, we passed under one of Japan's spectacular over-ocean bridges connecting the mainland to various islands. We took the obligatory photos, and Amy loved looking over the edges into the sea. Since it had gotten dark soon after we boarded, it was really our first feeling that we were really on a ship. Lena was a bit more wary, which didn't bother me at all - one less to watch at the edge!

A bus took us from the ferry to Universal Studios. After the obligatory group photo, and finding a locker to store our bags, in we went - and the first person we met was Hello Kitty. USJ has tons of characters, including Sesame Street, Kitty, Snoopy, Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker, Oz, ET, Shrek and characters from other movies.

We came back on the bus, and boarded the ferry. Having no bought food this time, we had to use the ferry's restaurant, which was very utilitarian. Cafeteria-style, with a tray and pre-prepared food covered in gladwrap. The kids had curry, and I had a beef stew and salad and fruit. Then we hopped in the bath again. I was more careful with the location of the children after a brief scare the day before, when I let Lena run off with Maia, and went separately to the bath with Amy, by a different route. When Maia and her mother arrived though, all they had was Lena's shoe. That was a dreadful five minutes as I wandered around the ferry with one lonely shoe wondering where my baby was!

Another sleepless night! It was a little rougher this time, but my main worry was the lovely Japanese paper-screen fittings in the room, which rattled all night! I hunted down one rattle, but gave up on the rest, and I realized that all that would happen is that I would then start to hear the rattles from the next room, and the corridor...visions of a wild and crazy sleep-crazed pregnant foreigner chasing down phantom rattles all over the fery....

We bussed back to the station, and after a drink at the station, some of us visited a nearby famous bakery. I am always wary of 'famous' bakeries here - Japanees seem to have a completely different idea of what is good in bread to me, so I am often disappointed. But I went. First regret. As I walked out of the restaurant door, I turned and saw Lena looking deserted, and told her she could come. Second regret. Because while I selected my buns, she and a friend played with the precious Kitty balloon - which broke away and sailed over the station building. I was so sleep-deprived I nearly cried! Lena was laughing, inspired by her friend who seemed to think it was really funny. I was very angry and hissed "It's NOT funny!". To her credit, the string was still wrapped around Lena's wrist, and the weight still firmly clutched in her hand. The string had actually broken. It didn't really sink in though, until we got back to the restaurant and she saw Amy's balloon. Then the tears flowed.

It was still only 10am when we got back to Nakatsu. We picked up our car, and gave Baachan her souvenir cookies, and went to the 100yen shop, because I had promised Amy that morning that I would buy her some clay to make a fairy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Clinic Visit

I wasn't intending on discussing anything important this time, except to check that Kanji can indeed come to the birth! But I ended up with a hospital tour, so I learned quite a lot.

It started out badly with a grumpy nurse who made things worse by gesturing at me, making me feel like a child. She could have at least graciously pointed the way, instead of curling her finger to indicate 'come'. I hope she realized in the end that, having mastered words like 'childbirth' 'labour' and 'episiotomy' I can understand simple stuff like 'this way please'.

But I got over her and enjoyed the u/s as usual. It's grown of course, no surprises there, and the doctor was quick to reassure me that all was well, baby was 'genki' (healthy, energetic). I kept to myself my comment 'as far as you can tell with U/S, which is not so much really...'. In reality I feel very healthy, no protein, no blood sugar problems, no aching bones, eating healthy, baby moving heaps. I don't need him to tell me we are fine!

Then he asked if I had decided to give birth there, and when I said Yes, he sent me on the tour. I waited in the corridor, and along came his sister, who has some administrative role there (part of which, I found out, was devising the menus, which she assured me were delicious). She speaks English very well - Mum will be pleased to hear! We did switch to Japanese though, as it became clear that my Japanese was better than her English. That happens most of the time these days! I am happy to know that they are making an effort though.

We went upstairs to the nursery, and I knew this was my chance to ask about rooming in. I was assured I can have my baby with me. We looked at the standard shared room (only two beds) and the more luxurious room, 5000yen extra, which has a table to eat at and a fold-out sofa-bed so Kanji or Mum can stay with me! All rooms have ensuite bathrooms, with showers with a little shelf to rest on so you can shower sitting down. There is a separate dining room, but it looks like you can take your meals in your room too. We also looked at the kitchen, were I assured them I eat anything, especially raw fish.

I also got to see the delivery room, which I was very pleased about. Very utilitarian, except the birthing chair is pink. I asked about birth positions, and how high up the chair goes. It can hike up quite high, but you are still lying back a bit. I briefly explained how it worked in NZ, that it's a normal bed and you pretty much choose your own position. One nurse assured me that the standard position you assume on the chair, with legs spread-eagled and holding onto hand grips near your bum, is the easiest or best to give birth in. We fiddled a bit with the legs rest, and I discovered that with them down, I could scooch up into a sort-of squat, leaning back a bit, very similar to how I was with Amy and Lena, but with my feet up by my bum, not up in the air. I told them I would try their method, but asked if I would be able to change positions if it wasn't as comfortable or easy as they insisted.

Next I wanted a blow-by-blow account of what happens directly after the birth. It was not too detailed - even as I asked I knew the problem would be that they would be so used to doing things their way that they are probably largely unaware that there are other ways of doing things. I was told however, that the baby would be wrapped and cleaned, then brought to me for breastfeeding. But at that point they started talking about having the baby in the nursery, apparently to make sure her temperature stabilizes. Rubbish, in my opinion, as the baby's temperature can be equally well monitored when it's with its mother! So I have gotten a bit worried about that, as I kind of missed the start of it - we had also been talking about who can be in the delivery room and how long I can stay. I intend to stay the whole six days, but I will be able to go home after four. And Kanji and Mum can come into the delivery room.

Anyway, as I recall it, after I cuddle and feed the baby on the table, they take her away to care for her, while I 'rest' and I was asking her about how long, and she said 5-6 hours, which is WAY too long for me. I was triyng to see if there were excpetions, trying to be negotiable, not dump on the whole idea and offend them, but just see if they would let me, if we were both healthy, take the baby myself. On the other hand, the doctor keeps saying, 'give her what she wants' so I think I have some wiggle room. It's definitely at the top of the list for the next visit!

It's difficult to reproduce the nuance...I do miss things, for sure, and I know you can't just jump out and attack people's thinking or way of doing things. I have to appear flexible, but I don't think they have any idea how many things I am tolertaing that I would rather not do, how different everything is right down to the littlest detail. And in Japanese, you can't just disagree, you have to gently squeeze the new thinking in. Well, take it slow. I'll make sure next time that it's on my chart that I am to be given my baby when I ask for it.

Baby photo

Well here she is! Or he, or more likely she. This is a computer screen image of a digital photograph of a print-out of a 3D rendering of an electronic image of a sound echo. Nevertheless, kind of cute how she seems to be smiling, even if she somewhat resembles Voldemort in the 4th Harry Potter movie.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mother's Day

And the only thing I didn't get around to is calling my Mother! Well that will have to be on the agenda for today.

I had a very busy weekend, so much so that I feel rather resentful that here I am back in weekday-land, with OBLIGATIONS and no time to slack off.

But I had a great weekend. I started out Saturday morning at the monthly Jusco flea market, bought a few kitties, a rocking horse, an umbrella stroller, a photo album, a jubako and a bizarre bottle cover. I'm not sure what I'll do with that, probably sell it!

Then we went shopping in the mall, and true to my last post, found a nice top in the 'normal' clothes that will do for bump-covering. It's white broderie anglaise. I had to go to work in the afternoon, and when I got back to Baachan's, I found the kids had already arranged to stay the night. So I was sent off for the pyjamas and the morning glory seeds Amy got at school and wanted to plant with Jiichan, then I was on my own. Kanji was in another town for a meeting, unsure if he would be making it home or staying overnight.

Unlike some young mums I don't desperately crave being alone (though I don't mind it) so I wasn't jumping up and down going yay! or anything. If I wasn't pregnant I might have popped out to my local bar for a drink, but as it was, I just had a normal night at home. Without the bedtime routine, you do get a lot more done, but being tired, after I cleaned up and ate a dinner of leftovers, I just messed around with the photos on my laptop, which needed cleaning up, and watched American Idol before collapsing into bed. Kanji came home in the middle of the night and scared the living daylights out of me, so I didn't wake up alone.

We slept in until 9am! That's the advantage of the kids staying at Baachan's! Then we picked them up for our planned day out. We went to a nearby town, Bungotakada, to visit a 'Trick Art' museum. I won't bother explaining it, I'll just post the photos and you can see for yourself.

We had lunch in a cafe that had only two choices - curry or beef stew. We were just so desperate to find a place because of the old lady following us. Why was an old lady following us? Well, the owner of the museum's son had gone to kindy with Lena, so we kind of knew each other from the school door. We chatted a bit before we went it. Her mother was caring for the boy while she sold the tickets. After we went through, it was lunchtime. Kanji suggested we walk, and ask if we could leave the car in their carpark (Japanese can get very zealous about carparking, so it pays to ask). I suggested, why don't we ask if there is anywhere we can eat around here, thinking that they would know places that kids would like. So we asked, and rather than just tell us the streets, the Baachan and the boy came with us. Okay so far, that's not unheard-of in Japan, many a tourist has reported being personally escorted by a stranger. But they just kept coming. I thought they would surely turn back when we reached the main shopping street, but no, along she trotted, pointing out every restaurant. Every now and then we'd stop and say thank you, expected them to say 'oh no it's nothing' but turn around and go home. And each time she would say 'no no it's nothing' and keep walking on and pointing out another place up the road. In then end we just ducked into this cafe do get away from her! Later on we found a much nicer looking shop right near where we came into the main street, which we probably would have found quite nicely on our own if we hadn't been obliged to follow her up the steet!

After our mediocre lunch, we did a bit more shopping, and bought a scarf for Baachan and a lovely beaded mobile-phone accessory for me, which Grandma is going to love. Don't worry Grandma, I know exactly where the shop is. I think you are going to adore the red hot chilli pepper one...

We drove to Jusco shopping mall after that. Wonderful spring day drive - with my new iPod FM tuner! Kanji was dj, and he is a softie so we had to listen to 'Numa Numa' several times. He does a mean Gary Brolsma impression. Jusco has a Baskin Robbins ice cream store (since Lena has been asking for a crepe for days), plus there is a new store open there that had some nice Mother's Day presents. Kanji suggested getting something for Mie, since her younger daughter is at university this year, so it's her first Mother's Day without them. Amy, who often goes shopping with Aunty Mie, said that she likes to look at bags and clothes. I said we can't get her clothes, and there just happened to be a nice, pink, Chanel-esque bag there. So we got that for her, and a hat and gloves set for Baachan, and a bath set for Aunty Toyoko, and then I spied some nice jewellery, which Kanji got for me.

He also bought me a top at the same shop I bought the white one yesterday. An indication of the shape of fashion this year is that, when I showed him the rack, he thought it was maternity clothes! No, it's the fashion this year! I said, haven't you seen girls wearing these? No, he doesn't notice young women's fashion. No surprises there I suppose!

There were no crepes at the ice cream shop in Jusco, so we went back into town to the Baskin Robbins there. I had a banana Sundae with triple-chocolate ice cream with fudge, and the girls had the promised crepes. Kanji had nothing, which made me feel fat. Really, that shouldn't be allowed! Men should always eat more so we ladies can feel like we are eating like birds.

We delivered Baachan's present to her, which she liked very much. She needed a new hat, since Amy keeps wearing hers and she said she'd been thinking about getting some gloves. They were driving gloves, with long arms to prevent sun damage. Then went to the culture centre to find Mie and deliver her present - she was there cleaning up after a flower arranging display. After that the kids wanted to play in a park, so we didn't get home until after 5. We rested a bit then went out for dinner, but the kids were so tired they started falling asleep at the table. We finally got them home to bed before 9pm, and I promptly fell asleep too!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Baby update

20 weeks! It's the Day of the Dog in Japan, the day I am supposed to start wearing the haramaki (tummy binding). To tell the truth, just in the last few weeks I've been starting to feel the strain on my lower tummy muscles and have been considering starting to wear my maternity belt, but since I'm not wearing honky great maternity clothes I'm a little reluctant to break my line.

I'm still wearing my old clothes! The weight I've lost seems to be even with the tum I've gained. I have three pairs of jeans that fit under the belly, including a - gasp - pair of skinny jeans. That was a revelation. At least I have distant memories of the first time they were in, so they don't look totally bizarre to me, but the kids laughed. I persisted however, despite a suspicion that they make my bum look huge. But I even got a little bit of satisfaction there over the Golden Week holiday when a friend predicted a baby boy (who she thinks should be called Guy or Hugo) because my bum was skinny. I know I have no faith in gender predictions from shape, face, morning sickness or pimples (seems everybody has a different theory) but I kind of like that the skinny jeans don't make me look too fat!

Of course the low pants means I have to wear very long tops, but luckily for me, they are in fashion this year. I'm getting to the stage where I have to go for either maternity pants plus a normal top, or normal pants or skirt, but with a maternity top, but I can still get away with normal top and bottom.

So far my skin is cooperating nicely, but if I remember rightly, the really big, triple-header pimples and red nose didn't really kick in until the later months anyway. Something to look forward to!

Oh, and the baby! She is kicking quite a bit - I got some huge wallops over the holiday. And general wiggling and fipping. Most of all I can feel a lump in there, that is starting to affect my ability to bend over. I can just lie on my tummy, for a few seconds, but I can feel the big lump and the baby starts to protest - or is it that with everything squished up, I can just feel it better?

I went to the doctor last week. Well, I decided I just had to get around to asking the Big Questions and stop putting it off. I was not looking forward to getting the 'wrong' answers. It turned out as well as can be hoped, I suppose. I was elated at the time, but have calmed down now, and remember that promises are, well, not actually promises. I've heard that story too many times!

I chose Tuesday to get the guy, because I didn't like the lady doctor, who is a bit grumpy. He is very cheerful, and throws in a bit of English, but not in a patronizing way. It helped my moood also that I had a very competent nurse. It helped that, again, they did my bp twice - for some reason that machine just hates me gives me a really high reading, but their policy is obviously to do another one with the old-fashioned hand pump, while resting on the bed, which gives me a much better reading.

Next came the ultrasound, still can't tell if it's a boy or girl, but I made him laugh telling him I needed to know so my mother could make the right colour clothes. He tried the 3D u/s but it wasn't very good - to be honest, bubs looks like the elephant man. He didn't seem worried though, which is a good sign. I just went 'huh? kowai!' (scary) Also helped that I have not yet put on weight; he commented that I was 'gambatteriu' (doing a good job), actually I'm nauseous, but hey, I'll take the compliments when I can get them! Japanese doctors are notorious for bullying women into putting on no more than 9kg for the whole pregnancy, less you if started out big.

Then came the scary bit. I asked about rooming in and breastfeeding first, and that was all okay. I said right from birth. He seemed surprised that I'd want to (it's very much standard around here to let the nurses take the baby so you can 'rest'), but seemed happier when I said I'd hand it over when/if I felt tired, but clarified that I would get it back when I wanted. Still not sure about the breastfeeding - I know they can say, 'yes, yes, yes' but still come at you with formula or glucose water for every little thing. I'm sure I said 'right from birth, breastmilk only' and that was agreed to. I hope.

Next I asked about labor, would I be free to move, and what kind of rooms did they have. He thought I was going to ask about drugs, but I waved away that idea, which probably made things easier for me. Western women have a bit of a reputation for being wimps. And noisy. He drew me a little picture (a tour would have been better,but) and it seems I do have to move to the delivery room from a separate labour room. I talked about only being on the monitor sometimes, and being able to walk. Seems I will have to stay in the room, but be able to move around in there. I'm not sure what that means in reality! I forgot to ask about drips.

The coolest thing though was that he took my book on Active Birth to read. It's in Japanese, and I got it from a friend a few months ago along with several other old birth books. I can't read it, and I know dh, despite his best intentions, won't either, but I thought it would come in handy for situations just like this, when I needed to explain that not wanting a drip or continunous. monitor was not just dumb ignorance or fear, but a valid philosophy. I said I can't read it, so take it please, and he did! Maybe if I'm lucky, he'll get curious and want to see it in action. I just hope the book isn't too far out there and turns him off! It's full of photos of butt naked ladies laboring all over the place. I forogt to say I had no intention of wandering about in the nude, labor or not.

But the best news was the episiotomy. He said only if necessary, but I knew not to stop there - there all say that! I pointed out that I hadn't had one for my last two, and he seemed confident that I wouldn't need one. I asked how many 2nd the 3rd time mothers get them, and he said 'hotondo nai' (most don't) which is as good an answer as you can get. But then he added that it would be just a little snip and some stitches, but not a big cut. Hmm, not sure what that means. It's not an episiotomy if it's less that 1cm or something? It still hurts! But, with that, and my history of short second stages, it's looking good. Hopefully, if I stay home in my bathtub until the last moment, rush in and push that baby out before he can even reach for his scissors, I'll get a nice comfy bum to sit on post-partum!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Golden Week Family Camp

Thank Goodness! I just spent five minutes typing the same password into blogger and hitting enter, like a moth banging into a lightlbulb, until I finally cracked it! Just add

We are spending a quiet Sunday at home after a three-day holiday at Victoria's temple in the mountains of Miyazaki. Check my blogs from May 2006 and 2005 for our previous trips there!

It was the same as usual and completely different as well - the coolest different thing being that Kanji was able to come this year! This is quite unprecendeted, as Golden Week is normally very busy for jobs like his, with other people going on long car-trips, and needing car washes. He could only stay for one night, so we took two cars.

Here he is, talking to some of the other husbands over the barbecue. The next day was cold and rainy, so swimming in the river was out this year. We did go wading, however, to see if the boys had caught any fish. After chilling ourselves thoroughly we warmed up and filled our tummies upstairs in Victoria's kitchen with scones with jam and cream (made by me) and cups of tea. We spent the rest of the morning playing scrabble while the children scattered to the four winds, I still have no idea where they went.

After lunch, we visited the hot spring in the nearby town, and then Kanji had to go home. He was a little concerned about the route - to avoid the holiday traffic, we take roads over the mountains, very windy with several tricky turn-offs, but he got back okay.

The rain continued, so we had to abandon the barbecue idea, and instead had dinner indoors. Luckily, the temple has bags of space, and we ate in a reception/dining room next to the main temple hall (where we all sleep). We still had barbecue, just cooked on gas grills on the table-tops.

After dinner we had a ghost walk! With all the lights off in the temple hall, Victoria's husband started the ball rolling with a spooky story. Meanwhile, the grown-ups snuck away and got dressed up in weird outfits. Then the kids went for a walk through the temple garden and into the mausolem, with us jumping out at them. Poor Lena was terrified, and Amy wouldn't even come down the temple steps. But she very much enjoyed trying on the outfits afterwards! Here she is in a zombie wig and feathered mask.

On the final day, we got up to do yoga and clean the temple, after a bacon and egg breakfast. Here is Amy washing the wooden verandah. Everyone left at about 2pm, including us. Lena slept all the way to Oita, where I took them to Toys'r'us. It was Children's Day, and we had some gift money left over from their school and kindy entrance ceremonies, so I let them choose some toys. The got Lego, a fluffly poodle and some doll clothes. We had McDonald's for dinner, followed by hot chocolate at Starbucks, got home at 8:30pm, and collapsed into bed!