Saturday, April 5, 2014

Globetrotting: Japan, Part 4

We got up early the next morning to catch our tour bus to the fairy tale village of Shirakawa-go, tucked away in a mountain valley in the Gifu Prefecture. Shirakawa-go is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List of historical villages. (UNESCO = United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Though it looks like a preserved historical "stage," it is a functioning village and people actually live in most of the homes.

{our crew--so grateful when kids start getting old enough to carry their own stuff!}

{Upper level of Wada House, where we learned a bit about one of the original economies here: silkworm-farming}

{Umm . . . I could totally live in a place like this.}

{Bright green of the rice fields}

Shirakawa-go was the kind of place where everywhere you turned there was an image you wanted to capture. So dreamy. Shadows of a by-gone era that we romantically call "simple." (Truth: not simple. Quiet, yes, simple, no.)

After our deliciously charming morning, we returned to Takayama and walked around, ready to stumble on anything that looked interesting.

While my son and I checked out a museum of ornate festival floats (don't have good pictures of that), my husband explored the surrounding area with the girls. 

{I love the paring of this architecture and the surrounding forest in this photo by my husband.}

The two groups met back up and headed closer into the center of town for strolling along the main street. 

Now everyone has his or her own kinds of things that call to them as "souvenirs." For my older daughter it's sparkly things--necklaces, bracelets, hair clips, jeweled mirrors, etc. For my son it's shiny intricate tchotchkes--like golden dragons--or weapons. The littlest is happy with whatever--something pretty or cuddly or, frankly, edible. As for me, I have learned that I gravitate towards wood, preferably old. Wooden plates, wooden spoons, and now, here, big wooden bowls.

I discovered that I was usually not drawn in as much by the artisanal offerings displayed as by the antique vessels used to display the items for sale. When my husband asked the clerk for me if the large display bowls were for sale, he was told "no" but then was directed to an area of town where the antique shops were. Man, I wish I had taken pictures of these antique shops. The coolest shops ever. (The lighting was too dark anyway, and flash wouldn't have been flattering.) Just packed with anything and everything. Among the bowls (they are soba-making bowls) in the first shop there was a BEAUTIFUL one carved out of a truly stunning wood.  Hmm, let's take a look at the price tag. It was only $1000 (U.S. currency). Uh . . . yeah, this isn't going to work.

But, my husband is like a bulldog when it comes to making a dream of mine come true: will. not. let. go. It was at the third such shop that I found, in a hidden stack, an old, humble bowl--worn edges and a crack down the side. The price? $60 (U.S.) SOLD! (Photo to be added later . . .)

I contributed to the local economy AND bought second-hand--how green is that?! :)

{I love the bike culture in Japan--everyone rides, even grandma running her errands.}

{Came to this bridge then decided to follow the canal as we moseyed our way through town.}

It was a hot, hot day, so when we found a set of stairs leading from the street level down to the river/canal, we took the chance to dip our aching feet in the water.

{This is how I do selfies.}

It was summer festival season in Takayama, so we made a dinner of street food (grilled cuttlefish offered the most "culture points") and had fun taking in the local scene.

This activity pictured below looked like so much fun. The box city extended quite far and children delighted in crawling through the tunnels and popping up in the middle of the creation somewhere. Culture note: see how the practice of removing your shoes before/upon entering homes is still valid here?

{Reusing cardboard here. And afterward, recycling.}

Up next: traveling green . . . -ish.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Globetrotting: Japan, Part 3

{photo by my son--from the observation deck}

This was the day we were to get a closer look at the Japanese Alps. We didn't have as much time as we would have liked--missing our bus would have caused a big headache--but we still wanted to fit in a quick visit.

{rise and shine}

{traditional breakfast--salad, egg, meat, fish, soup}

{in the tram, heading skyward}

{photo by my husband--observation deck, stunning views, a little chilly}

{older daughter photographing the view}

{just enough time for a mini hike in the lush alpine forest}

Had to leave too soon. Back down the two trams to the bottom, where the kids enjoyed some ice cream while we waited for our bus. Culture points went to my son who got the wasabi ice cream.

The bus dropped us off back at Souen where we enjoyed the village a bit more while waiting for our next bus to take us to Takayama, where we would be staying the next 2 nights. We met a local girl who played with us at the old-school playground and walked us back to our ryokan (pictured below). She didn't speak English (so she spoke with my husband) but was very friendly.

Picked up our luggage, had our new young friend snap a family photo, and then waited at the bus stop. While waiting I strolled along the road to find endless inspiration in the gardens. Most homes in rural areas and in the suburbs have gardens--flower and vegetable. I am a lousy gardener . . . er . . . rather, I am still learning, so I love, love, love seeing gardens that work, that thrive, that produce so much goodness and beauty.

{view of our dream stay and part of the garden--oh, I was going to miss those mountains}

Caught the bus, made it to Takayama, and found our hotel, the Rickshaw Inn. (To make the more splurge-y parts of the trip possible we opted to go a little more modest on some other areas. Though our hotel in Takayama was more humble than what we had experienced the night before, the staff was top-notch and so very friendly and helpful.)

Our day ended with a long walk around town to find a 7-11 convenience store--the ONLY chain in Japan, apparently, that had ATMs that accepted our cards. We were out of cash so the party was going to have to wait until we had reloaded. Once we were rich again, we grabbed some snacks and headed out to find where the local festival fireworks show was happening.

{photo by my son--this was how we ended our night}

I remember being so tired that I wondered if we should just skip the next day's activity (next post). We were scheduled to meet so early, it seemed, and it was just some bus ride to see some old village. Blah, blah, blah. I was tired.

But we went.

Oh, man. Sleeping in would have been a big mistake, folks. The place was . . . magic. 

Like a fantasy landscape. 

But real.

(That's up next.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Globetrotting: Holiday in Japan, Part 2

{looking out the front door of the ryokan}

For help in crafting our time in the beautiful countryside of Japan, I turned to TripAdvisor where I found: Rural Japan Explorer.

[Please, please, please, if you are planning a trip to Japan, please tell me you will at least contact Rural Japan Explorer to see if it can work for you. I promise you will not be disappointed! And no, I'm not getting paid to say this.]

We did the "Discover Traditional Life in Hida Area 5 days" trip.

Our first stop was in the mountainous Okuhida area at Souen, a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) associated with the nearby hot springs.

Oh, my goodness.


Nature-therapy at its best: lush mountains, river, butterflies, flowers, cicadas, birds. So peaceful.

Warm welcome: tea, mochi (pounded rice), orientation of the property, kids fitted in their kimonos, and then left in peace to just blossom and breathe and feel one with Nature.

Ahhhh . . . .

{view from our balcony--I wish this photo also could share the sounds, the feel, the fragrance;
heaven on earth}

{our room}

{dinner around a traditional Japanese fire pit--this is the first of what felt like 20 courses--no joke (I lost count); it took 2 1/2 hours to eat dinner}

{resting--and rolling around--after what was probably the most elaborate meal we've ever experienced--I know, I know, life is rough, right?}

{quaint local summer festival just up the hill from our ryokan}

{the kids trying out the carnival games}

{when everyone had gone home}

{more from the festival}

This photo shows a little honor-system roadside shop. We nicknamed it "Granny's" after a character in Miyazaki's children's film "My Neighbor Totoro." There were vegetables, canned drinks, and bottled water all labeled with price tags and kept cold by the icy spring water that perpetually ran through the rigged-up trough. You picked what you wanted and dropped the money in the labeled can. Such a quaint little way to enjoy a crisp Japanese cucumber! (There was even a compost bucket for our stems.)

Coming up soon: the Japanese Alps, being green in Japan, communal bathing, and other cultural discoveries.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Globetrotting: Holiday in Japan, Part 1

{Konpira Shrine, Nagoya}

Our dream to do a family trip to Japan began several years ago. With a husband who is fluent in Japanese, has a B.A. in Japanese, has lived in Japan on two different occasions, and who feels so at home with the Japanese way of life, I knew this holiday trip was inevitable. Twist my arm, right?

I was completely game for an adventure in Japan! (So were the kids; they had been familiar with Miyazaki's films for years at this point.) I was NOT, however, game for spending the entire 9 days in the busy, crowded cityscapes of Japan. So we planned to split our time: cities and significant historical sites at the front and back ends, country living in the middle. Loved the mix!

It had a bit of a rough start, though. Our flight left Singapore at 1:00 a.m. and arrived in Nagoya at 9:00 a.m. A late night and lousy sleep on the plane left us exhausted right from the get-go.

And then it was raining. A lot. All day.

But we forged ahead. (Because, really, what else are you going to do, right?)

We took the communter train from the airport into town and then chucked our luggage into some lockers at the station so we could tour around town unencumbered. Umbrellas and day-packs were all we needed. (Having lived in Singapore we knew that umbrellas were a standard accessory in most Asian countries and so came prepared.)

By this point we were ready for lunch. The goal was to eat as authentically as possible--no chicken nuggets and fries on this trip, kids! We found a little joint and read the menu.

This is when the children and I got a glimpse of what illiteracy must feel like.

This is also when my husband realized that this "vacation" was going to be constant work, constant translation.

After lunch we meandered through town, taking in the day-to-day pace of life. And the not-so-day-to-day pace of life.

{This pedestrian street was especially decorative, I believe, because it was almost festival time in Nagoya. Photo by my son}

{Outside Nagoya Noh Theatre, a convenient place for us to take a bit of refuge from the rain and for my husband to take a work call.}  

Next up was Nagoya Castle. I would have loved to have taken more photos but the rain just made it super tricky.

{Nagoya Castle--photo by my son}

{Inside the castle. I cropped out the kids*, but wanted to show part of the castle wall behind us. It always blows my mind how engineers, centuries ago, got stuff--like monstrously-sized walls made of unbelievably-huge stones--built without the conveniences of modern technology/equipment. 
Just fascinating.}

Stopped off for an ice cream and fried rice-on-a-stick thingie, then headed back to the train station for our trip to Kyoto, where we were going to stay for the night.

{Ah, Japanese trains. This is where the magic happens, folks. Such a robust rail system makes travel all over Japan so very convenient and efficient.}

Checked into our hotel in Kyoto, dropped off our stuff and got a tip on a favorite local restaurant, which I just LOVED. I was fighting to eat the last of the, yes . . . onions. (Which, for anyone who knew me as a child, is quite telling.)

Before bed we had time for a little "Culture Points"-experimentation with the, ahem, commode. (For those of you who have been to Japan, you know.) It involved a wee 4-year-old's bum that was too small to cover the geyser erupting before us. It involved screaming and laughing. It involved asking myself--very quickly--do I swoop in to rescue the tender bottom from the spewing beast or do I try to push all the buttons hoping that one of them is OFF or do I get so flummoxed that I hold my baby daughter directly in the line of fire until I can figure out how to stop it.

And it involved towels.

(Doing one's business is serious business in Japan. More on that in another post.)


Sleep, my loves. For tomorrow we take one bullet train, one regional train AND one bus up a winding mountain road to get to our next destination in the Japanese Alps.

{bakery at the train station--we got a variety of pastries for our breakfast-on-the-go}

We traveled first through the city, then the suburbs with their many inspired home gardens, then up in lush green mountain passes where we saw rushing rivers, small towns and striking bridges. The bus went deeper into the Takayama countryside, up the mountains and arrived at our stop. We got off. I took a good look around.

Big breath in.

I fell instantly in love.

(*I avoid including photos of my children where their faces are recognizable. In the first version of this shot of me and the children--next to the castle wall--I had essentially erased their faces. It was super creepy. So I just cut them out altogether. Fewer nightmares this way.)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Home? (And Winter Coping Strategies--you'll love/hate it)

We have been home to Utah for over two weeks now. Unpacking our Singapore stuff. Unpacking our Utah stuff that we had just shoved into boxes and thrown into closets before we left. We're slowly getting back to "normal" but it's still a mess. And I'm moving slowly. (It's just so c-c-c-cold here.)

And we're homesick.

Don't get me wrong; coming home to all our friends and family and familiar routines has been fantastic. So many warm welcomes, homemade bread, cookies, cakes from neighbors, dinners with family and cousins, easy and plentiful play dates with friends, our car, yes, I'll say it, Costco, and our washer and dryer that make me almost giddy about doing laundry. Oh, and my compost bin.

Leaving our life in Utah was hard. But we knew we were coming back.

Leaving our life in Singapore is hard as well, though we were only there one year, because who knows if we will ever see our new friends--truly, truly amazing people--again?

The world is a very big place, folks.

And it is stunning, and majestic, and delicious, and strange, and frightening, and diverse, and vibrant, and awkward, and full of surprises.

Our year in Singapore has made me greedy.

I want it. I want it ALL. I salivate at the thought, my pupils dilate, my heart races.

The world, that is. I want to see, hear, taste, touch, smell, yes, even dance, the world and all of its wonders.

So this brings me to my coping strategy for this cold, dark winter: yep, travel reports. I didn't get to it during my time in Singapore (except for our trip to Indonesia), so I'll do it now. I'll try really hard to edit down the number of photos, but, man, it's going to be tough. This may be something you will love or something you will hate. Or both.

I will also add in "green" notes either within the travel posts or bunched together in their own themed post. Haven't yet decided which. Maybe a little of both.

Up first: Japan.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Vacationing, Hosting, and Moving . . .


Moving back to Utah in one week.

Christmas. Final regional trip (Australia--more on that later. I know, I know . . . I'm not allowed to be a whiny baby). Hosting my awesome sister and her 2 kids. And packing up, cleaning up, giving away furniture and food and appliances and dishes and whatever else . . .

Wish I could be posting about something more interesting than this.

Wish I could spend my final days in Singapore soaking in these dear, dear friendships here.

Alas, I am sinking in the storm of moving back half-way across the world.

This is a boring post.

I gotta go.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Life and Energy

All my energy--creative or otherwise--is consumed simply by daily living.

Before coming to Singapore I really didn't know how different day-to-day life would be for me. I had so many plans: I was going to become fluent in Chinese, I was going to become an Indian dance goddess, I was going to volunteer in my kids' classrooms, I was going to volunteer as a folk dance teacher for a community after-school program, I was going to travel to a gajillion places, I was going to get involved with the "green" community here, I was going to set up a free s:w.a.p., I was going to study the many different religions of Singapore, I was going to meditate daily and commune with the Divine, I was going to write/blog more, I was going to . . .

Yeah. Not so much. I did do a tiny fraction of almost all of those things.

But mostly, I was: grocery shopping and doing laundry. For reals.

Yes, Singapore is a dynamic place to be.  It is an exciting global community and a great jumping off point for international travel and cultural enrichment. But, man, the day-to-day living here (well, my day-to-day living) is much harder than at home in Utah. Though we do not have a live-in helper, I completely understand why many people do get help. (That conversation about live-in domestic help can--and does--get controversial, but I am not interested in controversy right now.) Shopping and laundry take so much more of my time here than back home in Utah. (Rough guess would be around 3 times longer. That's a lot.)

It's wearying.

The other daily challenge regards the children and a local support network. Because the children go to an international school and not a local school, the student body comes from all over the island. So the children's friends are not really in the neighborhood. Impromptu play does not happen here. I can't taxi one kid to a play date far away (where I will likely have to stay the whole time) because I need to instead be home making dinner or helping someone with homework. It's not like back home where I could send them down the street, around the corner, or even a 4-minute bike ride away. Same with church friends here. Great friends, just not convenient distances.

What's my point? I guess it's my way of explaining my absence.

Creativity is elusive these days. I get hungry for it.

It makes me realize that creativity is a luxury.

It also makes me realize that creativity is, indeed, a necessity.
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