March 29, 2017

Diwali, not Hallowe’en, is supreme

“Sir, no excuses Sir, so far I have been negligent in writing in the blog about India. I will do better going forward, Sir!”

Let’s spend the next few blogs on our India experience. This one is about India’s most popular holiday, Diwali. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year in autumn. In 2016, it began on Oct. 27 for a duration of five days, peaking on the 31st.
Courtesy of NASA. This is just a cool look at India at night from space
On the 30th, we took advantage of the relative lack of traffic on the long weekend to go downtown and visit some places that we had been planning to see but had put off. First destination was the Dilli Haat, a government-run bazaar featuring goods and clothes from around India’s regions.  It’s aimed at tourists: one-stop, all-of-India represented convenience—even Hilary Clinton had dropped in for peek during a state visit. Because it was targeting foreigners as customers, it featured products like silk scarves, bronzed statues of Hindu gods or lacquered elephants. We enjoyed meandering around and haggling with the store owners. Marina and I bought a small figure of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of good fortune and prosperity, because the vibe just felt right.

After this, we literally crossed the road to visit the Indian National Army Market, which was more in line with our “wild India” image. It had frenzied masses of shoppers frequenting the small shops. Imagine narrow stalls with varying dimensions all crammed into tight, dark passageways, with a soundtrack of squawking chickens in hutches, skinned animals hanging in the air surrounding by buzzing clouds of insects, touts trying to get your attention and draw you in for the kill…err…sale. It was a terrific experience. Colorful, loud, vivid. This is the real India.

But Diwali's Grand Finale was right at our apartment complex. You see, India goes bananas in celebrating Diwali. We had been warned by skittish long-term foreign residents of Delhi to hunker down in the apartment for the night. Psssshaw! No way we were going to miss the real Diwali fireworks. As we have come to expect, the start of the fireworks fiesta began late, but man oh man it was worth the wait. Here’s why…

We live in a very nice block of apartments with a landscaped garden that is zealously guarded by a small army of private security and curious groundskeepers, all of whom address me politely and unfailingly as “Sir.” The residents are invariably well-heeled locals and expats. It is a safe and staid residential complex, and we are lucky to live there.

But not on Diwali. Once the sun set, the banshees came out for a hullabaloo. Normally demure family men unloaded their cache of fireworks and whole families lost their minds. It was true anarchy. Laws? Waazat. Safety concerns? Fuggedaboutit. Grown men and women with jobs and responsibilities had the look of merry mayhem in their eyes and eschewed all semblance of propriety, instead lighting and shooting rockets into the sky, running over and through low starbursts, cackling while lighting screeching circle smoke blowers and big, loud pipe bombs. It was a sight to behold. The Rising Daughters were aghast at the way little kids were empowered to light off these monstrosities. Dads were running around with armfuls of serious-looking rockets and smoke bombs, lighting them, and kicking them around or aiming at the fields. It was like the scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey” where the apes were flinging bones at the heavens. Primal. I wished I had something to make explode. We just kept back to marvel at the whole spectacle.
Courtesy of WSJ
I’ve seen some terrific fireworks in my life to date. I was reared on Canada Day fireworks in my hometown. I have been amazed by the precision and choreography of Japanese fireworks during Obon (especially the Miyajima fireworks festival). But in terms of the sheer spectacle of it all, this was the most fun I have just sat and witnessed in a long, long time. We all enjoyed the pandemonium. As the explosions grew in intensity, through the thickening smoke we could see other nearby neighborhoods were all collectively doing the same thing.

After a long day of sightseeing and shopping, then this visceral show of violence, bright streaks of light and joy, we were all tuckered out. Our Indian neighbors, though, were just getting started. Indians take their Diwali fun seriously—these fireworks went on for hours. I cannot really capture the entire vibe of the evening with words. Joy. Mayhem. Love. Explosions. Families together. The threat of injury. All rolled into one massive, nationwide yelp at the heavens amid the festival of lights. It was a beautiful disaster, a night to remember!

January 28, 2017

2016 Lookback in pictures - part deux

By July my work transfer to India was sealed! Amid Yokohama’s summer heat and incessant paperwork for the big move, we managed to continue to enjoy the summer. 

Witness the perennial neighborhood Obon Odori summer festival (the girls love it, as do I).

And a bit of frolicking at the Sagamihara Park. (I just like this shot; the girls are at the top.)

In August, I took off on my bromance motorcycletrip from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West and back with Mike and Bill. Outstanding!

This was followed by camping with my dad and brother. This shot is my dad and Uncle Pat paddling away.

Finally, it was the dog days of summer. I must have a baseball shot: Infiniti ad on the Green Monster. Never would have thunk that one, but glad and proud to see it nevertheless.

September. This was one of our last photos taken in Yokohama, actually done in late August to support Usain Bolt at the Rio Olympics. It was a work thing. But the photo is a keeper!

By the time this photo was taken, we were already living in Gurgaon, India (southwest of Delhi). It is a shot of the girls in front of a mosaic of Mahatma Gandhi that was made of thousands of pins stuck in the wall connected by black thread. 

As you might expect after moving, our frenzied activity to adjust and get used to our new home took some time. Eventually we ventured out to see a few sights– like India Gate pictured here–in October.

And this photo is us at the crowded Dussehra festival at the Red Fort in downtown Delhi. My co-worker Rahul kindly escorted us there. It is a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. That works!

The girls in their traditional Indian dress for a special school function in November.

Late December. We let off some steam together in Thailand! A super day at a water park marked our terrific tropical Christmas in the Gulf of Thailand.

Our first elephant ride!

This is the two rugrats and me on Khaosan road in Bangkok. It felt very different from my first visit there many years ago. That means I have changed; based on appearances alone, Khaosan has not. It remains the boulevard of a young person’s dreams. 

January 20, 2017

2016 Lookback in pictures

In January every year I tend to do a lookback at the prior year with new pictures not used in the blog. 2016 was a big year for the Rising Family™ and I would be remiss in not depicting such a momentous year in pics, no?
The first day of January, we went to Tokyo Tower to begin the new year with a view from the heart of the city. It’s about time we visited this famous landmark—we’ve been here nearly five years!

It gets fairly cold in February. Very occasionally there is snow. Even less frequently we go skating. The experience injects a little bit of Canuck into the kids—the rink even has a Zamboni! And crowds, of course…

I’ve told the tale of my Dad and me starting the 88 temple pilgrimage in mid-March. This shot captures the spirit of adventure of my dad!

By this time we are sick of the cold and escape for the warm waters of the Hawaiians hot springs in Iwaki-ken.

April ushers in spring and hanami (cherry blossom viewing). The cherry tree blossoms are as beautiful as my wife (vice-versa?). And the evening light-up at HanamiIlumination was simply amazing.

Marina started a new year at school...

and took no prisoners at the sumo competition.

 Elena had her school sports day in May.

We also went to Disneyland to celebrate Marina’s birthday.

In June, camping season starts!

And that camping weekend at Mother Bokujo farm was when we broke the news to the kids we would be moving…

December 25, 2016

Tropical Season’s Greetings

Christmas Day! Merry Christmas to all our family and friends.
We are doing an "alternative" Christmas this year: no stockings hung over the chimney with care, no gifts under the tree, no turkey…and yet...
Instead, our presents were beaches and warm water in Thailand. But the song remains the same: we are grateful for the day and for our many blessings.
Peace, joy and a Joyeux Noel to all.

December 17, 2016

Lady E. is an athlete

It’s all about equal air time, folks. Like most children, the Rising Daughters™ are sensitive to getting an equal share of…EVERYTHING. Their view of natural justice is made clear to me nearly every day. No parental favoritism here--hence this column.
Lady E. recently came home from school sporting a gold medal from a sprint competition that she won. In prior posts I have regaled you with tales of her running ability at school sports days. She has continued to excel  in her running exploits here in Gurgaon.

At an athletic meet involving three local international schools, Elena took first place in the sprint event. Naturally we are proud of her that she won. Honestly, though, it is more important to us that she was smiling about it. Why? One thing I didn’t fully consider before moving here was the beating her self-esteem would take due to the new environment and the normal challenges associated with living in a new place—language, making friends, new culture, school, and living space e.g. her own room.
That she derives some pleasure from competing and gains back some confidence is a good thing. Win a race, gain a smile=happy day. That’s why we’re glad that Elena is a sprint champion.

November 30, 2016

M is a risk taker

My wacky daughter Marina showed us her inner moxie during a recent school assembly. Every student in her grade had to recite something in front of all the other classes in the elementary school--in English. She has been immersed in English for less than four months. Here’s what she said:
“I am a risk taker because I try new things like new foods and living in a new country.”

We could not have been more proud of her. 
I don’t know why this little episode has struck such a cord with me, but it has. I want it on the record in the Rising Daughters’ compilation of stories.

November 27, 2016

It’s not about the fish

Me and my Dad (late 1970s?) admiring our catch
Usually around Father’s Day dads are often described using flattering words that appear on refrigerator magnets—heroes, teachers, providers, role models, beer drinkers, and BBQ masters. My brother and I are blessed with a great dad. This post is about the last part of my summer trip home in August 2016 when I went fishing and camping with my Dad and Steve-O at the annual father-son weekend trip in Frontenac Provincial Park

These father-son August weekend gatherings first started over three decades ago with a group of young dads who worked together and decided to take an annual fishing/camping trip to spend time with their sons. My uncle Pat introduced Dad and Stephen to it after I had left home for Japan, but I have enjoyed both times I have been able to go with them. It’s a way to bond with my Dad and maintain the bonds to my Canadianness.
How does it work? All the "elders" (the original young dads), their sons and grandsons form up vehicle convoys and head out. They meet for a casual greeting and beer at a favored gas station along the way. The convoy arrives at the park’s campsite registration office. No vehicle access—you either hike or paddle to the camping areas. Put in the canoes, load ‘em up with gear, grub and beer, and head off on Big Salmon Lake. (The lake's name alone would make Tom Thompson proud.) What campsite is selected depends on the number of participants. The two times I’ve gone on the trip the father-son group has numbered somewhere between 15-20 dudes. 
We sell these weekends to the womenfolk in our lives by emphasizing the importance of fathers spending time with their sons. The relationship a boy has with his father greatly shapes the man he will become in the future. Camping, canoeing and fishing allow you to spend some needed one-on-one time with your old man. There’s no overt face-to-face “talking about their feelings” (not that there’s anything wrong with that…nod to Seinfeld here). It’s much easier to impart life lessons to your kids when you’re doing something side by side, and just let the talk flow naturally as you cast a fishing line or tinker with tools, set up tents, or light camp fires.

Most of the time on these father-son outings the action involves a fair amount of beer drinking among the adults. And there is definitely nothing wrong with that. So the basic line of activity goes like this:
Paddle out to campsite. Set up the tent, tarp and cooler. Quench thirst. Maybe drop a line in from the shore, maybe go for a swim. Uncap, quench thirst, repeat. This past August, the first day on site was wet. It rained overnight. I was bunking with my polymath cousin Mike, his friend Mitch and assorted kids. The rain delayed things but eventually the skies brightened – and thus did our mood -- and I went fishing in the canoe with Dad for several hours on Big Salmon Lake. I caught six bass but they were all too small to keep. About the same level of success for the Old Man. 

Some random thoughts I scribbled down:
- The assembled group changes slightly every year but they are all great guys from every walk of life.
- Chili for dinner one night, beer battered fish the other. Yum!
- I spoke a lot about Nissan cars with the guys—our common ground for conversation. Some chatter about the Toronto Blue Jays. I can talk with real live Blue Jays fans, not just listen to Mike Wilner’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan podcasts from halfway around the world.
- Dark nights and stars above, campfires, quiet, and unhurried conversation which starts with who caught what fish and where.

- I got up at 0530 to take in the morning sun and absorb the quiet. I make a note to self about modern working life defined by 24/7 connectivity and the tyranny of passwords.

- More fishing with Dad; Steve and I get equal time. Dad needles me: “You gotta keep the rod, up. Constant tension on the line.” I am a father myself, well into my mid-40s...and you gotta laugh, because regardless of age or life stage fathers cannot help but continue to dispense wisdom in the form of mild critique. I love my Dad.
- Pancake breakfast on the day we go back to real life. Dad’s spicy sausages. I take a break from the tent and gear tear down to read about Dirk Pitt’s sea adventures in a Clive Cussler thriller while I lean against a fine-smelling cedar tree.
- Bro Bonding: Went out with Steve-O in the canoe. What a great person. We canoe into the headwinds. Neither of us are coureur des bois. But this time we did not tip over and soak his iPod. Progress! 

- We canoe back to the dock/access point. Everyone does a methodical and logical tear down, say goodbyes, and pack our cars for the trip home. Steve-O heads off in the Impala, I go back with Dad in his new Nissan Maxima and we stop at the Dairy Queen in Carleton Place for manly vanilla cones (no sprinkles, please, we're men), hit the Beer Store, and cap the trip with a dinner at Shawarma Palace in Britannia.
- I savor a final Bud Light and watch the Jays one last time that evening. I am on the plane back to Japan the next morning. 

So, these father-son outdoor adventures are about much more than fishing!