December 25, 2010

Season's Eatings

To our friends and family, many far away
a few pics for you of Christmas which we enjoyed today.

I could go on and on with this annoying word play
but, atypically, without further delay…





Peace. Out.

December 15, 2010

Channeling my Inner Morrison

Jim Morrison was posthumously pardoned last week by the Governor of Florida for his convictions on having exposed himself to the crowd and profanity at a Doors’ concert in Miami in March 1969.

Photo credit: some guy on Wikipedia

Why a gubernatorial pardon now? Beats me. I have read that Gov. Charlie Christ is a fellow Doors fan and since he is leaving office, it might be construed as a parting shot of 1960s happiness from a baby boomer leaving the national stage. Anyway, this is a funny societal turn given all the problems in the world.

What’s the connection to the Rising Daughters blog, you may ask? At my company’s Christmas/new year’s party I once again had the opportunity to get up on stage and belt out a few oldies with our division’s band, called the SKY-B Band. I enthusiastically -- if not all that successfully -- did a cover version of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and sang backup on a few other classics. But it was effectively a tribute to my inner Morrison, admittedly the cherubic version circa 1970.
Break on through!

The Lizard King in court, September 1970 (Photo credit: Miami Herald)

The office king on stage, December 2010. (Photo credit: my co-worker, HK-san)
Please note I planned on wearing the beard and hair before I heard about the official pardon. It was just very karmic timing, man.

Similarly, I think that if they allow Shoeless Joe Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I may hit a home run if there is a company softball tournament this year!

December 8, 2010

Red Antler Earmuffs Diplomacy

In my corner of the world, the shocking news on November 23 that North Korea had just launched an artillery barrage on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island made the prospect of a full-blown war on the Korean peninsula less remote than it had been before. It is a real and dangerous ratcheting-up of regional tensions that has global implications. But I have found a potential solution to this geopolitical crisis: spontaneous laughter induced by red antler earmuffs.


Last Friday I was driving down the hill near our apartment on my regular commute to the office. There is a special North Korean school near the top of this hill. So every morning I usually see a long line of students dutifully hiking up to school in their austere, dark uniforms. There was a slight difference this particular Friday. One young female student had put on very colorful red reindeer antler earmuffs which were very visible above the bobbing sea of heads. As I drove past, I glanced in her direction -- she recognized I was a westerner – and then she and I, and all of her immediate coterie of friends, spontaneously cracked up in a burst of laughter. Their faces lit up and I chuckled all the way to the office.

I reckon that if a pair of red earmuffs can bridge generations, language, culture and politics in a split second of sharing, there is no reason why a similar lighthearted government effort cannot keep the peace in northeast Asia. Force the diplomatic and military leaders to have a couple of glasses of soju together and let the laughs fly instead of missiles! I believe humor can trump politics, despite the lunatic and homicidal behavior by the North Korean government. I presume that even the leaders of despotic regimes have a reservoir of humanity, and that’s where the work should start…with a laugh.

November 30, 2010

Shooting Fish in the Language Barrel

There are different versions of English used in Japan: English the foreign language, English words that enter the general vocabulary through Japanized pronunciation, and in smart-but-contrived quasi-“English” (for example: remote control = ‘remokon’). Use of English in Asia is growing and often results in hilarious and inexplicable gibberish that is subsequently celebrated in websites such as Engrish.com. (The opposite of this is Western people who get tattoos of Chinese characters of which they are unsure of the meaning, occasionally resulting in permanent ink-induced hilarity indelibly marked on their skin…)

Anyway, I’m not heading into a rant about English in Japan or a lecture about pedantic Westerners and their attitude toward Asians’ use of the language. I don’t really care. I think language morphs with time and that the Internet is wreaking havoc on linguistic conventions in a way that global society has yet to really grasp, so why worry about it? If people want to speak understandable English, they’ll learn it. I just like the humorous elements of it all. Irony is a universal concept.

It’s too easy to find oddball English to hack on as it’s an almost-daily occurrence. I do, however, want to add a few unique signs that I have found over the last few months, viz.

Fukku: a hair salon in my neighborhood. Want your stinkin’ hair cut? Oh fer chrissakes, alright. Gimme your damn money. And Fukku you, too. This salon’s marketing tagline: “Service with a forced smile of contempt.”

I Heart Working: really? Japanese people are renowned around the world for their work ethic, but come on. Gimme a break. (I expect this shop to go bankrupt any day.)

Hard-Off Eco-Stadium (in Niigata prefecture):
Too much saltpeter in the hot dogs? Something in the water supply?

Beat Myself: I don't think this magazine cover's intention was to imply this Hiroshima Carp pro ballplayer "waxes his bat."
(Thanks to SDM for this addendum, added 05DEC10)

Season’s Greetings!

November 23, 2010

Standard Catch-up Post

The weeks have flown by and the Rising Family™ has been swept away by a tidal wave of motion. The calendar has been so filled with full-on fun your humble scribe has been neglecting to chronicle the latest feats of the Rising Daughters. To keep the blog fresh! Keep it crisp! Keep it raw! I will offer a snapshot of our girls’ goings-on written like New York Post headlines. 

“KAGURA” WARRIOR–DEMON KILLFEST ENTHRALLS LADY E.
Elena loves kagura, a type of traditional Japanese music and dance associated with Shinto religion fables. We’ve been to three shows in the past month or so. Hiroshima is one of leading regions for kagura in Japan, and there is no way we can keep Lady E. from watching once she knows there is a show on. Click on the link for a short video I shot at the shrine in our neighborhood.

video

SPORTS DAY SHOW OF STRENGTH SPAWNS TERROR TOTS TEMPEST
Elena’s school recently held its annual sports day mini-Olympics. Parents relished the skirmishes of rabid preschoolers in frenzied competitions on the immaculate gym floor. This is sold as part of the national holiday in late October to promote sports and physical and mental health.

CANDY CRAZED KIDZ TEAR APART POOR PARENTS IN SUGAR-FUELED SPREE
Otherwise known as Halloween trick-or-treating. Elena was a princess; I was an out-of-shape ballplayer. It was a blast despite lousy weather.


SIX MONTHS WITH PSYCHO SIBLING: M’s STORY OF SURVIVAL
We celebrated Marina’s 6-month birth milestone by going on her first overnight trip outside Hiroshima. The trip featured a visit to a terrific aquarium near Hamada, a small city on the Japan Sea coast about 90 km north of Hiroshima. The aquarium has an adjoining jungle gym complex that was also a hit with the family. On the way back, we swung by the Sand Museum (with the world’s largest hourglass timer!!) —a major boondoggle and source of endless mirth and jokes for me.

Marina, super-happy at six months old



10K MADNESS
-- Foreign Fogey Feigns Fitness in Running Feat --
On November 3, I participated in this year’s Hiroshima Peace Marathon. I ran the 10K and came in at 56:09. Not my best result, not my worst.

Naomi had her hands full with the kids and couldn’t snap a photo of me in action—I wonder why?

October 29, 2010

As My Motorcycle Gently Weeps

The weather is growing colder, reminding me of the wind’s cold lick on my face and hands at 100 km/h as I blazed down the highways riding motrocycles I owned in the past. I have been meditating about fatherhood today, concerned about morphing into being a parent and nothing else.

I’m frequently defined as a “father of two”, but I have not given up on my other life titles: “motorcycling and scuba diving enthusiast.” Nevertheless, time and financial constraints have dictated a pause in the pursuit of these hobbies. I am passionate about riding bikes and, as prior posts have noted, I am reluctantly taking to the road on a scooter these days. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing and I am extremely lucky to have two terrific children--but kids have higher running costs than motorcycles! A quick glance at past epic riding tours keeps me going for the time being. A positive view of the future – like someday teaching my girls how to ride responsibly – keeps me confident that there are more motorbike adventures that lay ahead.

A few images from my two-wheeled past

Okinawa, Dec 1998, on identical Suzuki RG250 Gammas (with MMP) 

Alaska's Arctic Circle milepost, Aug 2006 (with MMP, Billy and MM [photographer]) on Kawasaki KLR 650s

My enthusiastic embrace of the (four-wheeled) present

Once again with MMP and Lady E., with Combi Do! Kids4 (Sports Version) baby strollers

And the future!


Does being a father mean you have to give up your passions? Of course not. A couple of kids are not the death knell for the motorcycle man. A motorbike is a symbol of freedom, and everyone loves freedom. You gotta fight for what you love, and for me, riding is fun...and for life.

October 14, 2010

Babysitting M: Harper’s Index

 Date on which I did my first solo babysitting of Marina: 10/10/2010

Hours spent alone together: 5

Number of M’s crying jags without mommy around: 2

Number of coos and smiles: 9

Number of minutes spent sleeping (Marina): 29

Number of minutes spent sleeping (me): 0

Incidents of vomiting on shoulder: 1

Number of poo-poos: 2

Versus average on a normal day at this time: +200%

Of these poo-poos, really runny, multicolored, truly stinky ka-ka: 1

Average time between poo-poo delivery, said poo-poo’s discovery by dad, and diaper change: 6.5 minutes

Total number of diaper changes (including pee-pee): 5

Feeling of relief when mommy arrived home: immeasurable.

Estimated number of months until the next time dad will babysit: 2

September 30, 2010

M on M: My Life So Far

We caught up with Marina, also known as ‘M’, for an exclusive one-on-one interview a few days before she turned five months old. We wanted to ask how her life was unfolding; how her skin keeps that youthful glow; how she stays centered amid a busy schedule; and what it is like to hang with her famous older sister. At the interview M was wearing a variation on her usual uniform — snap-button shirt speckled with formula residue puke, stained white diaper — and her mannish short hair in disarray. She was radiant, and we love her more and more with each passing day.

What is your personal style?
I favor busy-looking bodysuits with easy snap-button closures for quick diaper changes. I like to mix new clothes — usually gifts — with items handed down from my older sister, the fabulous Lady E. Right now I’m really into a mix of different styles and periods, with a tendency toward the frumpy. It's easy to dress casually wherever I go. I don't want it any other way.

How is your social life?
Well, I am still single (laughs). Y’know, I’m sleeping a lot better these days, so I’ve been more attentive to my relationships with the people around me. I spend my time wailing for food, pooping, or just watching the world go by. No stress is the goal. People are fascinating.

How's infanthood treating you?
I have a very quiet, happy, simple life. I lay there most of the time, but I’ve been attempting to turn over. Recently, I’m totally into discovering the world of objects, developing my sense of space, form and texture. I’m into this whole life thing, big-time.

What’s it like working with your older sister.  Is she excited to have you around?
Frankly, there have been some personal space and attention issues. She wasn't overjoyed with my presence at first, but we are working on it together. With some time and compromises, we’ve found a middle ground where we can both get along.

You’re turning five months old. How does that make you feel?
Many tots of a certain age dread the idea of getting older. But I’m OK with it. I am proud of what I've accomplished and what I've done with my life so far. I feel empowered.

What is your favorite thing these days?
I can suck my toes.

Do you stay cool under pressure?
For the most part I think I'm okay under pressure. Sometimes the things that irk me are very trivial. I'll lose my cool because I can't grasp my teether, which is embarrassing and stupid. I mean, come on motor skills…

How do you stay looking so good?
I work out. I eat whatever I want, but nobody seems to attack me for gaining weight.

Cloth or Pampers?
Actually, I’m into this local diaper called ‘Merries’ at the moment. Light, nice cut, wrinkle-resistant: this brand hits all the right notes. When I’m traveling I’ll settle for Pampers in a pinch.

Anything about yourself you would change if you could?
I’m fine with my own body image because I reject society’s objectification of the female form. So, yeah, I’m a little political. Aside from that personal weltanschauung, I do have some drooling issues right now, but I’m told they go away with time.

On dieting:
I've gained about four kilos over the last four months, which, for a small person, is a lot. But I think it's not good to diet – so I just cry a lot and keep on sucking down the milk. Just find the perfect balance. Highlight what you consider the positive parts of your body and camouflage the parts you don't like.

Any thoughts on your career going forward?
I’m working on sitting upright right now. Eventually, though, I would like to direct.

Any words of wisdom for the other infants out there?
Babble to yourself and do not be ashamed of it. Talk to your toys, for they have the wisdom of the ages embedded in the plastic. Listen to William Shatner and Henry Rollins recording “I Can’t Get Behind That.” It will change your life.

###

September 19, 2010

Modeling Lady E.

Elena got her first job a few weeks ago as an international supermodel. To be more precise, the international element is that she is bicultural and has two nationalities. Also, we always consider her a super kid, and the fact is her first job was modeling for a local hotel’s promotional brochure. In this post, I’ll take you into the story behind the modeling gig—an insider’s look into kiddie modeling.
In late August, friends asked us if we would like to give Elena a chance to pose for pictures for a glossy brochure to promote a local hotel that specializes in weddings. Naomi thought: ‘why not?’ Meanwhile, I had visions of millions of yen rolling in. So we saw no harm in her trying something new and exciting. Why can’t our kid be one of those adorable little models hawking clothes or cars or, in this case, the dream wedding? Thank God Elena got a great amount of good DNA from Naomi, I thought.

On the day of the photo shoot, the Rising Family™ geared up in the morning and drove to the hotel, where the dresser and makeup artist were waiting. Elena immediately threw a temper tantrum and refused to wear any of the cute dresses on hand. Not a good start.

Once our friends arrived with their daughter, Lady E. settled down. Peer pressure, dear readers, is a great thing sometimes. She finally agreed to put on a dress, got her makeup done (another first), and then the photographer came into the room. He was clever; clearly, he wanted to establish a rapport with the girls, see their disposition, and make sure they could interact with the photography team. Somehow, our temperamental little tot passed the test. Time to start shooting the pictures.
The first scene was the grand staircase in the hotel lobby. The stylist arranged the dresses, the makeup artist dabbed some powder on the girls’ faces and smiled reassuringly, and then the photography began. The high-energy photo team was very good at keeping the girls’ attention focused on or near the camera, and the photographer began to click away. The team was fun but professional: they called out, persuaded, and occasionally enlisted our help in keeping the girls focused.  Each scene took about 60 minutes of preparation for each half-hour of shooting. Once the photographer was satisfied he had the perfect smile framed by the right image, we all moved on to the next location in the hotel and repeated the process.
Elena showed uncharacteristic poise, and of course, the resident ham in her came out with the right kind of cajoling from the photo team. I was genuinely surprised at how quickly she obeyed her instructions from the handlers, although they were often delivered in a soft and cunning way, with the bribe of snack breaks. Most of the time, the girls delivered radiant smiles on cue. As the day wore on, there were bouts of impatience, tears and occasional boredom.
The day flew by and, before we knew it, it was a wrap. Our experience as the parents/managers of our ‘talent’ was great: I demanded all the red M&Ms be removed from the bowl or “we would walk, babe.” Nah, just kidding. It was just a fun experience in kiddie couture that we likely would not be repeating anytime soon. One thing I learned is that the Rising Daughter #1 really does know the camera and she has the composure of a professional model…when she wants to. Why doesn’t that kind of self-control ever happen at home?

August 16, 2010

Top 11 Things I Love About Summers in Hiroshima

To those people who are hostile to high temperatures, a.k.a. heat haters and humidity humbugs, here are 11 reasons to get with the program and learn to love Hiroshima’s summer sizzle:

1. It’s hot because it’s summer, stupid. DAMN hot. And I LOVE the humidity and heat. (Try an Ottawa winter, and you’ll understand why.)

2. Chirping cicadas: the din of these singing bugs wakes me up in the morning and lulls me to sleep at night. The buzz, however, lasts all summer.
This little beauty can really bust out the insect jams

3. Fireworks: huge booming explosions and arcs of color lighting up the night sky. Picnics outside with the kids in tow--sold! I am delighted by the growing pleasure I see in my oldest daughter’s eyes as she learns how much fun it is to blow stuff up, or watch it being blown up.

4. Tranquility: average people are lounging on park benches, or in the shade of trees, and pondering the sky and clouds. Daydreaming! Very trivial, unproductive—thus wonderful to see. A short period of the manana mindset in Japan?

5. Gulping watermelon: a summer staple of our diet. Cheap, cold and refreshing. A constant supply of home-grown watermelon in August from my father-in-law brings us juicy, sticky joy.

6. Family pools: escaping the heat in the overflowing family pool complexes. A satisfying way to play all day long in the water. The kids seem to enjoy it, too.

7. Yukata and other summer clothing: it’s too hot for regular apparel, so you opt for light fabrics. Also, less coverage=bonus for middle-aged men.

8. The smell of burning mosquito coils: nothing else says summer like the familiar, acrid smell of a burning mosquito coil’s insect-repelling vapors.

9. Sitting on my balcony very early in the morning, sipping ice coffee, absorbing the humid stillness.

10. The red meatball. Ever wonder why the flag of Japan has a red circle in the center? It’s the sunset. Evening sunsets here are spectacular.

11. Summer is the planet’s sweet spot. The 11th thing I love about summers in Hiroshima is the hot brew of: a long vacation, going commando, camping, BBQs with friends and family, sweaty tropical nights, and the flavor of lime green popsicles and the ocean. Summer simply kicks the ass of the other three seasons.

August 6, 2010

Lady E’s First Peace Memorial Ceremony

View of the atomic bomb victim's cenotaph and the A-Bomb Dome in the background (credit: Reuters)

For the first time, the United States, France and Britain all sent their top envoys in Japan to Hiroshima’s annual Peace Memorial Ceremony, which commemorates the atomic bombing of the city on August 6, 1945. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was also there. We sent Lady E.

That said, I’m not going to crack wise on this contemplative day which marks a human tragedy of historic proportions. Elena is three-and-a-half years old, which is old enough to start learning about her hometown. The nuclear bombing left an indelible mark on the city of her birth and it is the reason the word ‘Hiroshima’ resonates globally. All politics aside, I think it’s important that she be conscious of the catastrophe that happened here and its impact: she is, after all, as much Japanese as she is Canadian.

So off went the Rising Daughter #1 and I to the ceremony, held in the Peace Memorial Park in downtown Hiroshima. The Peace Park is adjacent to the Aioi Bridge, which was the target for the Enola Gay’s bombardier on that fateful day. The ceremony starts promptly at 0800 every year and follows a strict protocol that I have come to know well…I have been to more than a few of them since I began living here.

The mayor of Hiroshima, the governor of the prefecture and the prime minister of Japan all give speeches on the theme of peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Two local school kids follow with their own peace declaration, representing children of the world, and a large school of doves are released over the assembled crowd. Ominous-sounding tolls of the Peace Bell commence at exactly 0815, the moment the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. This is followed by a minute of silence and solemn prayer for the souls of the bombing casualties. It’s a very somber ritual.

Elena, I must say, behaved herself far better than my expectations. Maybe the seriousness of the event somehow permeated her otherwise mischievous little girl’s brain? Here a few pics from this morning:

View of the crowd from our vantage point

Elena with the A-Bomb Dome in the background

The crowd disperses after the speeches (on Aioi Bridge) 

Democracy in action

July 26, 2010

Summer Nosh

Midnight Run to Funairi Hospital
Just as the monsoon rains were nearing their end in mid-July, Elena got sick with a recurrent fever that seemed most virulent late at night. The poor girl tossed and turned for a few nights in a row, not sleeping well at all. One night around 0200 she passed 40 degrees, our threshold that initiates a midnight run to the Funairi Hospital’s nighttime emergency clinic that specializes in pediatric care.

Naomi and I responded to this health crisis as the “diverging duo.” She stayed with M at home, and I packed Lady E. into our car for the trip to the hospital.

It was the middle of the night, very dark with low-lying clouds, few other cars sharing the roads, and with none of the normal city racket. I kept the windows down, it being warm, with moist air swirling in. Our car hissed along the still-wet streets. I felt like I was in a Michael Mann movie—the streetlights blurred with the pastels of the convenience store neon. One major anti-cool factor was that instead of Massive Attack or Billie Holiday or such, we were merrily bopping along to “Old MacDonald” as I tried to buoy our sick little daughter’s spirits and help her forget her yucky tummy.

Elena was definitely sick and she puked in the fairly deserted emergency waiting area, but the doctor was great. He didn’t figure out the cause of her illness, but he politely did a few tests to reassure us, and Elena recovered a few days later. One of those things.

Like most parents with young’uns, our midnight runs to the overnight clinic, while infrequent, are always more memorable than the day visits. Why is that?

Neighborhood Summer Festival
Every year the local community association hosts a summer festival in our neighborhood. A cul-de-sac in the middle of the area’s commercial heart is roped off, dozens of small food stalls and toy vendors line the sidewalks, and various entertainment groups are invited to perform.

Saturday, July 17 was the Rising Family’s public debut. We bundled M into her special car seat/carrier stroller and plunked Elena onto my shoulders, and off we went for merriment. Since the rainy season’s torrents of rain stopped it has become blistering hot very quickly, and we can’t stay out too long. Nevertheless, strolling around the food stalls and greeting a few friends along the way was a great morale-booster. Elena had fun, Naomi enjoyed being outdoors and walking, Marina drooled adorably. And everyone slept very well that night!

The next day, as part of our tag-team parenting style of late, just Elena and I went out to see the action at the same festival. She was excited because her soft-touch daddy would likely buy her lots of crap food such as cotton candy, French fries and so on. (I did.) I ran into a few foreign comrades, lots of friendly neighbors, and I had a few cold ones with a fellow-traveler American friend who was also minding his kids. It was just plain fun.
I’ve lived in various apartments in this neighborhood, called Ushita, since the mid-1990s. I was never particularly interested in these local festivals prior to the arrival of our kids, but now I view them as a great way to revel in some family fun. Does that mean I am becoming a “real” member of the community…hmm. Jury’s out on that one. But my life has become PG-rated and I can’t say I don’t like it.

July 11, 2010

Vote Kan-Toe

I’ve decided to seek a mandate from the people of Japan to govern by creating a new political party, forming a new cabinet under my leadership and, ultimately, becoming the Prime Minister. Why? Many pundits have opined about the revolving door of Japanese PMs over the last few years and the country’s need for a strong leader who would not be constrained by conventional political rules and party faction infighting.

What better candidate than an itinerant foreigner with absolutely no ties to politics or government?

Moreover, I share many of the qualities and quirks that catapulted recent PMs into power:
- average Japanese people often have no idea what I am talking about when I speak with them due to unintelligible diction
- I have serious trouble reading Japanese Kanji characters
- questionable decision-making skills and chronic money problems
- tone-deaf to the concerns of the people around me
- wear out-of-date clothing that cause people question my connection with contemporary society
- as a gaijin, I am considered an alien, certainly originating from “out there”

Yet I am confident I have the vision and courage to lead Nippon into the future. The Kan-Toe (in English, the Canada Party) has been formed under the slogan “Maybe We Can.”

Today is the upper house election in Japan, destined to be a landmark in the electoral history of this fine island nation. With five PMs having come and gone in the last four years, I think the time is ripe for the polity to choose a bright, shining maple leaf-hued vision of the future. I am escorting my lovely wife to a local school where she will cast her ballot as part of the democratic process. Thus, I’m sure that I will get at least one vote—but I’ll have to make outrageous promises to get it: "Maybe We Can."