February 8, 2018

2017: What a trip (May-Oct.)

(More) April In late April we took a family fandango to Dubai. It’s a cliché, but everything in that metropolis truly is immense, expensive, impressive and world-class. Superlatives everywhere! 
Except when I think of the SuperCrap breakfast at our economy hotel (blech!).

May was Marina’s month. She had a role in her class's performance of Aladdin and certainly dressed the part. 
We celebrated her birthday by renting out a game center for a gaggle of her friends to party with her! I think this was the first time that we have done a biggish party involving friends—and it was fun. I think she loved the attention but would never admit it later when I teased her about it.
Otherwise, May highlights were weekend pilgrimages to the Southpoint Mall and the Fun n' Food Waterpark to escape the escalating temperatures and pervasive humidity.

June: Amid India’s summer peak heat, we escaped the high temperatures by viewing a Bollywood-style live musical at the air conditioned Kingdom of Dreams
This jaded, cynical scribe enjoyed it tremendously!! KoD is highly recommended; it offers live song and dance numbers every five minutes during the two-hour spectacle which convey a morality tale intertwined with coltish romance. These performances are just an incredible visual spectacle.
Also in June, we went back to Japan for the first time in just under a year. 
Besides visiting family, we had a dash of Japanese-style storytelling at a kagura festival (Shinto-styled theatrical dance accompanied by music) in Shimane-ken, and kickass fresh seafood and together with dip in a hot spring, too.

July: The Rising Family™ ladies stayed in Japan, and I went back to India to work. 
I was a part of a media test drive for a new car in Goa, a state on the western coast of India. Goa has Portuguese colonial remnants in its local culture and is renowned for its white sand beaches, nightlife, and world heritage architecture. 
After the work was done I got to drive, a rare treat for me while I was resident in the subcontinent! And I was introduced to “the real Goa” by my mystical co-worker and friend, R. What an amazing trip and experience in one of India’s best places to live.

August: Y’know, I was somehow fine with the heat. As you can see, the peak heat had crested by August, the family was back, and I could feign being in shape at the Freedom Run on India’s Independence Day. 
The rest of the time we beat the heat in the family-friendly waterparks, the local pool, and sometimes playing ping-pong in the Park Place club’s icey-blast air conditioned common room.
The other great memory I have is traveling to Chennai for a work event and having a terrific time. What happened was this: my return flight's departure was delayed so much I had time to go see Chennai’s miles-long beach with work friends and catch a movie (Dunkirk) at the local movie theater. Seeing movies in India is great—super-modern multiplexes with most of the latest Hollywood flicks at very reasonable prices. Faced with hours until our flight departed, we ate together, went to the beach to see the stars and hear the ocean waves, and watch Dunkirk on the big screen. This is the image that I will carry with me of Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

September: India's annual celebration marking its becoming a sovereign nation happens in August. 
In September, Elena celebrated her own flourishing independence by taking a school trip to Sri Lanka without her parents and little sister! 
By this time, we also knew we would be moving again and the countdown began, reluctantly, to our impending departure. I worked on another car reveal event and went to a public relations conference with my co-workers--both terrific experiences.

October was a melancholy month. After we arrived in August 2016, Naomi had quickly become a member of a group of ladies involved in our kids' school activities and philanthropic work. She truly loved being in India. So leaving was not an easy thing for her, or for any of us. Truth be told we wanted to stay longer. So the girls started the separation process with a great goodbye party with their closest friends. A proper farewell. This happens a lot in expat communities, and it was our turn. We also were honored by being invited to have dinner with my friend R’s family during the Diwali holiday near the end of October. 
The craziness of Diwali that time was more muted than the previous year's fireworks blitzkrieg—or maybe it was our realization it would our last Diwali for the time being.
I also had goodbye drinks with co-workers. The girls bid so long to Kidzania, an interactive theme park where kids can gain an appreciation for over 100 different types of work through job role-playing. Lady E. liked making her own pizzas at Dominos.
In the end, the final days were a maelstrom of paperwork, hasty moving, many goodbyes, laughter and tears, and for me – beer. Ah, Kingfisher!
The death of Gord Downie in mid-October hit Canada, and me, hard. He was a revered rock star who transformed into a cultural shaman later on in his artistic career, and he was an interesting, thoughtful guy. I’d seen the Tragically Hip at least five times or more given the years I spent in Kingston and shows I’d seen in Syracuse, N.Y., Halifax, and in Ottawa. So maybe it was the fact that I’d not seen the band play live since 1996 (one small price to pay for living overseas, but a price nevertheless) also signaled the two decades I have lived overseas collecting other experiences. But what a great Canadian and genuine person in spite of his celebrity.
Bobcaygeon is one of my favorite songs ever. It's a quintessential Ontario cottage country tune that begets bigger thoughts about the universe.
            I left your house this morning
            'Bout a quarter after nine
            Coulda been the Willie Nelson
            Coulda been the wine
            When I left your house this morning,
            It was a little after nine
            It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
            Reveal themselves, one star at time

We left India with only a few hours left on our visas. Back to Japan to regroup and get the paperwork done for the next destination...

January 27, 2018

2017: What a trip (Jan.-Apr.)

People form habits and patterns as we go about our regular activities. One of my habits is to kick off the first couple of blogposts of the new year by describing the year just passed. The rearview mirror rarely disappoints. Memories are still fresh and not yet cloaked in rosy-colored hues.

The momentous year-plus the Rising Family™ spent in India deserves more storytelling. We all forged friendships and had life changing experiences. What an amazing country! What wonderful people. And what tremendous good luck for us to have had the chance to go and live there in the first place.
Enough rhapsodic tall talk. 
January: Akshardham” means the something like the divine abode of God. We had heard many great things about it through the expat grapevine and were eager to visit this magnificent-looking temple in South Delhi. Oft described in brochures and online as “an eternal place of devotion, purity and peace,” I had the impression it was yet another old temple. What astounded me was that Arkshardham's construction only began in 2000 and the complex opened in 2005. It is a terrific introduction to Indian culture and Hinduism. The Hall of Values is a cavernous theater featured a movie depicting Swaminarayan’s seven-year pilgrimage as a teenage yogi across India in the late 1700s. The movie highlights his efforts to bring about a revival of Hindu principles. Visitors then take a mechanized boat ride through a water route inside the complex with murals showing India’s history. This provides visual exposure to India’s antiquity and Hindu foundations. The entire visit takes many hours, capped off with a laser light show in the evening. With content and architecture celebrating India’s past, Arkshardam’s slick marketing reminded us we were living in India’s present. Even our easily bored daughters paid rapt attention during this visit.

February: By February, we had settled into our apartment and had a semblance of rhythm to our lives. We wanted to take advantage of the relatively cool winter weather in February (still short-sleeves for me during daylight hours!) to see different parts of northern India. Off we went to visit Jaipur, Rajasthan, some five hours south of Gurgaon by National Highway 8. Sometimes pristine highway, occasionally jittery, bump-filled unpaved roads, we navigated NH8 with our trusty Terrano SUV, local driver “R.” at the helm. 
First stop was the Amber Fort, a huge red sandstone and marble behemoth at the top of a hill outside the city of Jaipur. Oh the history! After that, on to Jaipur, with its Pink City at the center and relentless commercial buzz in the downtown. 
One memory is that I forgot my passport and our hotel’s manager refused to let us check in. As always, we managed some workarounds after some friendly banter and promises of sending paperwork later. “Of course, of course, later is tikke," he said. Tikke is my favorite Hindi word, meaning a blend of “OK, all right, no worries.”

Regular life often hinged on the girls’ school activities. They steadily became more comfortable with English, largely due to their excellent teachers, the support of friends, and their own Herculean efforts in extra language classes. Things began to flow a little easier. 
In February, familiar school events such as Sports Day provided some continuity. Both Lady E. and M. shone in their sprint races. I enjoyed assessing the differences in how the school approached organizing large-scale events compared with the ones I had seen before in Japan.

March was madness! My Dad took the opportunity of our living in Gurgaon to opt into a trip across India’s major tourist sites with a bunch of other Canucks. Upon its completion, he joined us for a week’s visit. I got a day off from work and took him to the Dilli Haat traditional market (but for foreign tourists, wink wink nudge nudge) followed by our usual banter and beers. 
More importantly, we all got some great family time with Grandpa, including some fun at the Worlds of Wonder amusement park in Noida.

Later that month we braved the fierce local traffic and took a few family trips into Delhi and other suburbs. 
One was to Humayun’s Tomb, a huge sandstone mausoleum built in the late 1500s. For us, it was hard to grasp the expanse of time and the history, but the tomb was impressive, the weather warm and inviting, and the grounds seemingly constructed for a family walkabout. It was another shot of India’s rich history for us to ingest.
The Holi holiday is fantastic. It is the way to say goodbye to the cold-ish season and embrace spring. It has cool elements such as flinging water balloons at each other, tossing dry colored powders, dousing strangers with water in a welcome way. General merriment abounded. We all got wet in the warm sun, vanquished the lethargy of winter and got multicolored with our friends and neighbors. Such a terrific holiday—my absolute favorite. I was heartened to hear that small Holi festivals have sprung up in Vancouver and Toronto!

April: How can you not get excited about visiting the Taj Mahal? 
India’s most famous tourist destination, World Heritage site, with the backstory of it being a mausoleum built by an emperor in memory of his wife. And for us, easily accessible via the Yamuna Expressway out of Noida. I’ve already recounted our adventure in Agra here in the blog

Let me add the one anecdote from the trip that I still find amusing but unrelated to the Taj Mahal. We traveled to Agra on April 1, and on that day my company began its new fiscal year. As we were going from Gurgaon to Agra I had a team member, a solid millennial type, announce his retirement from the company via social media channel WhatsApp. It being April 1, I was sure it was an April fool’s joke. I was wrong. 

December 25, 2017

Nick of Time

Season’s greetings from Tennessee
A merry Christmas to our friends and family. Oh yeah…hey family members, we’ve moved again! The Rising Family™ is now living in the Nashville area. In the age of near-instantaneous communication technology, I hereby announce we’ve moved back to North America through this blog. Yeesh. Needless to say, an email or a call from us to you is long overdue.
That doesn’t diminish the Yuletide spirit, though. Today, we indulged in a truly down home Christmas. Our sea shipment of household belongings from India arrived here on Dec. 23, just in the Nick of Time – ho ho ho--  so that we could erect our Christmas tree and adorn the house with green and red cheer. 

So Lady E. and M. opened their presents, we had a nice fire and a Skype chat with Dad and Steve-o, and I made my first-ever turkey dinner for the family. Thus, I declare our first Christmas here in the USA an overwhelming success.
Our house, peppered with moving red and green dots, is the lazy dad's way of lighting up the place without hours of stringing LED lights. Technology liberates!

December 19, 2017

Elena’s World 3: Gurgaon Redux

I have always intended this blog to be a way to capture how the Rising Daughters have grown up, log a few musings of my own, and occasionally bay at the moon. Thus this entry fits the bill. The interview captures Elena’s thoughts on leaving Japan to enjoy 15 months of experiencing life in India, especially now that she is beginning to taste life in the USA. 

the Humble Scribe

What's been the hardest thing for you since we last spoke (in March 2016)?
A tough thing for me was to say goodbye to my friends in Yokohama. I spent six years in Yokohama in the same house, the same neighborhood with them, so it wasn’t easy to leave. I still have a couple of special friends that I sometimes talk to by Skype.

What are three things that make you unlike any other kid at your school?
Well, I learned a lot of English from Japanese kids at first because I wasn’t so good at speaking, but my accent changed a bit from my terrific Indian teacher, like “tink” (as in “think”) and “mat” (for “math”). It is natural to do this when you learn, but I am a Japanese-Canadian girl with a slight Indian accent now. That’s cool!
On the other hand, I just cannot eat spicy food, which means a lot of Indian food is not possible for me.
What are your favorite clothes these days?
I like shorts and denim cutoffs because it is always so warm in India. But I don’t like skirts! I like the cat T-shirt that we bought (sometimes in this blog you can see it).

Embarrassing habits?
I bite my nails…but I am slowly learning to stop that nasty habit. (Ed.: The apples don’t fall far from da tree.)

What's your favorite ice cream/comfort food?
My favorite flavor at Baskin Robbins is cotton candy. Food…I just love pizza, any brand is OK but I will only eat three cheese or margarita pizzas.

Who is more fun to play with, boys or girls?
Girls. Hanging out and playing with them is fun, and we can talk about homework and stuff that is going on at school.

What is your average day like at school in India?
First, I wake up in my own room. I make my bed sometimes, then choose my clothes and get dressed. I eat breakfast with the family and leave for school. It takes about ten minutes to get to school in the car. Occasionally, there is a bad traffic jam. I walk with Marina into the school grounds because they won’t let mommy come in past the entrance gate.
At school, first I eat a snack and do the specials (PE applications such as shooting at the end of the semester; math, English, social studies etc.) At lunch, I usually eat bread and sweets—there were many sweet things at the lunch buffet. In the afternoon I studied English as Second Language (ESL), art, computers and some other subjects. I liked computers the best.
After school, mommy would pick us up and we go home. Sometimes I played with friends in our building complex courtyard, other times we went to Kumon to study English reading and grammar.
I usually went to sleep around 9:30 p.m.

What are you reading lately?
I am reading a lot of Japanese books. Mostly, I am really enjoying the Magic Tree House series.
When I went to Japan I bought a lot of them at the BookOff store.

Tell us about the past year in India. What have you learned?
It was hard at the start to learn English. But I had good teachers at my school in Gurgaon, and we also went to extra classes. So slowly I could learn to speak, read and write better.
I think that Indian people are nice. I went to many birthday parties of my classmates and we got to see how many people lived. We saw a lot of the New Delhi area, and went to Jaipur and Agra/Taj Mahal. These places are so different from other places I have seen so far.
I really loved Thailand. The beaches were great. But I didn't like getting sick.
It was fun to go to Sri Lanka because we could see many different places. I went with my classmates on a school trip for the first time -- no mommy and daddy -- so I felt a bit freer to do what I liked with my friends.
Being ten years old is good.
I think I will miss India a lot. I liked all the religious festivals and the local delicious fruits, and all the animals everywhere.

November 29, 2017

Transition to Tennessee!

We are in the United States now, specifically in the Great State of Tennessee. It has been a transition month from our life in India to this budding North American version. What a journey to get here, physically, mentally, logistically…and the Rising Family™ is still living out of a hotel as I write this!

At October’s end we were winding up our work and school, packing up our home in Gurgaon, saying goodbyes to the friends and colleagues with whom we had become friends, and starting the Long March of moving and visa paperwork. This isn’t a complaint, it is just fact: it takes many sheets of paper and many millions of bytes to leave India. Yet we were all sad to leave.

Then I had a week’s hiatus with the family in Japan; my time was mostly spent in dark internet cafes (they feel like casinos—time stands still) trying to figure out what comes next. I was out of The Matrix--no computer, smartphone or internet connection. Finally, I received the visa exemption which enabled me to head out to Tennessee, near Nashville, where my job has taken me. I went in alone to get a head start. The ladies in my life followed about a week later.
We’re quite lucky to have another terrific opportunity to see a new part of the world.

Beyond my moaning about how tough moving is, you might be asking, how is the family doing?
Answer: Pretty darn good.
Sure, Lady E. M., and the missus arrived a bit jet-lagged, but the Rising Daughters were excited to hit a new town to explore.
Since then, aside from getting them into a school, we have been getting our bearings in this new, lovely, green place. The girls are intoxicated by the shopping and all the new candy to sample. 
Naomi is eyeballing new furniture and the space we have to play with. Yours truly is parsing new beers, such as the succulent Lucky Buddha beer. Although brewed and bottled in China, I had to venture all the way to middle Tennessee to find it. But I must say I do feel enlightened! 
Courtesy of the Lucky Drink Co. 
Much more to come as I dig into our new lifestyle and outlook. Stay tuned.

October 21, 2017

More on M: Part III

It’s been around two years since we last sat down with Marina to chat about her life, likes and dislikes, and just how things are going. Of course, the past 15 months have been spent in India, and that has certainly added some spice to her life. We proudly bring you the third installment of “More on M.”
What's been the hardest thing for you since we last spoke?
I took some swimming lessons in Japan before we moved to India, but I wasn’t a good swimmer when I started at the international school. In fact, I was afraid to swim in the pool. But my friends at my new school —Korean, Japanese and Indian kids— helped me learn to swim during lessons at school. Dunking my head underwater has been one of the hardest things I have overcome.
Trying very spicy Indian food is difficult sometimes.
What are three things that make you unlike any other kid at your school?
Well, my beauty mark makes me unique and that makes me feel happy.
There are not very many bicultural kids in my school. We all play together anyway.
When I came to India I could not speak English very well and other kids had to help me. Now, I can speak English and I help other kids. It makes me feel good to help them.

Who are your favorite clothes these days?
I really like my light green strawberry shirt, and the crazy Goa navy blue shirt.
Embarrassing habits?
I still pick my nose but I don’t eat it now (laughs). I still sleep with Mommy a lot.

What's your favorite ice cream/comfort food?
I love chocolate ice cream and watermelon gummies the best.

Who is more fun to play with, boys or girls?
Still girls. Because I am a girl and I feel more comfortable because we like to play the same games.

Are you more of a guys' girl or still a girls' girl?
Actually, I strike the balance between both.
What's your average day like?
I get up at 0630. Change clothes and do bed jumps with Dad. Then I eat breakfast, which is usually rice with vegetables. I comb my hair and brush my teeth. Then I leave and go to school in the car.
This is my Patti Smith look
I usually walk into school with Elena, and then go my classroom by myself. Then I start cursive writing until the teacher comes to class around 0815 or so. She calls the roll and we start the day. Typical classes are English, gym (PE applications, which is squash right now), then we have snack time. We also have a computer class, gym class, then back to classroom to do mathematics, social studies, and buddy reading with older reading partner. It’s all mixed.
I come home at 4 o’clock. I go to Kumon some days and other days I play. After the lessons, we eat together with friends at the ice cream restaurant.
Generally, I am happy at school these days. I especially like free play after lunch.
Courtesy of Nickelodeon
What are you reading lately?
The Family Critters, Flat Man and Black Forest (in school), and still love SpongeBob SquarePants, and Disney books, with Dad at home.
Tell us about the past year in India. What have you learned?
I have learned a lot about Indian people. Most of it I learned from my very nice teachers and other kids in my class. They know about me. The teachers taught me that Indian people are funny, and they are very flexible, use the word “tikke” a lot. The other kids in my class give me cereal chocolate snacks and share them with me. I share Japanese snacks with them, but they don’t like them so much. I like Indian warm weather, it is a comfortable country. But sometimes the air is pretty brown here. 

October 7, 2017

Second home [confirmed]: Part 2

Day 4: Vehicle license renewals are easier! Meeting more old friends
- Up again quite early, out the door by 0530 to hear the frog croaking cease as soon as I was detected. Mist was coming off the rice paddies; old farmers were out starting the day's work.
- Motor vehicle license renewal. I felt instinctive hatred when I saw the Hiroshima Prefecture Driver's Licensing Center building again due to a difficult experience years ago (PTSD?), but then rational thought took over and I went in to start my license renewal. The staff there was perfunctory, efficient and unperturbed by my presence—having some of the language helps. I was processed and eventually found myself in line to take my two-hour driving safety lecture and learn about all the new laws.
- Old friends: Met the Vices for lunch and so wonderful to catch-up and hear about THEIR overseas adventure, hear about their kids. They are the first people from Hiroshima I met. And they are just great people.
- On country life in rural Japan: with no one around, you are at liberty to do whatever you want. Spelunking one morning, I decided I would sing “Wishlist” by Pearl Jam aloud in front of a lush row of rice stalks in a paddy near the town’s Buddhist shrine. It felt good to do something I would never normally do.
- It’s nice to take time to listen to the rain. It rained overnight, still drizzling in the morning when I awoke. I stayed quiet, quaffed an ice coffee, and listened to the thrumming of the rain on the roof, and on the ground outside. Small pleasures.
- One afternoon I went around the neighborhood rice paddies with Marina hunting for more frogs and geckos. The friendly neighbors all said hi to us.
- More old friends: Kanto Man Mike Penilski offered to get on a shinkansen mid-way through my journey to Yokohama for a catch-up chat and beer, stalwart fellow that he is. I talked him off the ledge and we settled for a Skype session instead. Next day, I reluctantly traveled to Yokohama for some business…

Day 5: Back in Yokohama (solo)
- In Yokohama, it’s nice to be able to get things done because I knew where stuff is located and how to get it all done hyper-quickly. Even simply walking around the Yokohama station area was fun, with all the throngs of commuters and crazy energy. As a visitor, I don’t feel a burden anymore because I know that I won’t face it every day. Plus, I witnessed a kickass sunset view.
- Back at the home office. Day of work catch-ups and relationship chats. Night of karaoke with K-7 friends and cocktails. Effusive banter with my work friends seemed like a Judd Apatow movie in that hilarious way.
Day 6-7: More, MORE friends, more baseball. Happiness!
- Took an early-morning train to visit old friend Jim Shortenance at his home. Supreme catch-up coffee and man-hugs. Next was a live baseball game with Jaker K. at hallowed Jingu Stadium. The game was entertaining as we watched the on-field action and trashed each other. This is the guy I climbed Mt. Fuji with and shared many other of life’s moments, not all good. But that’s the aquifer of true friendship. And two foul balls came to within 20 feet of us.
- On the way back to J.’s place something peculiar but wonderful happened. We were at Shinjuku Station about to board a train when heavy monsoon rains inundated the train platform, and we decided to wait for the next train. I dragged my heavy bag over to the passenger line-up lane where he was waiting. This prompted a sturdy North American woman of a certain age, with frizzy copper hair, to come over and launch herself into a conversation with me: “You don’t have to lift that heavy bag, just use the wheels on your suitcase…that’s what I have learned here in Tokyo,” she said. I was taken aback by this spontaneous-yet-pleasant banter. After a few more quips from her and my startled replies, she melted into the station area jammed with commuters, and Jaker actually mentioned something like “was that lady a reincarnation of your mom?” he said, kindly. Only after he mentioned it did the similarities really sink in. It was an odd but uplifting experience, and left me with a warm feeling.
- J.K., kind host of my last day in Japan this time around, and knowing well the dearth of beef in India, made a platter of delicious burgers and other succulent treats. I watched the Tragically Hip’s final concert on his plasma TV and marveled at his Canadian outpost in Tokyo’s suburbs. His family came home and we picked up from the last time I’d visited, one year prior, without missing a beat, and feasted.
- Early next day, I made my way back to Gurgaon’s 100-degree heat with a warm and fuzzy tranquility. I found myself at home singing Taylor Swift songs alone in the apartment, missing my family who were still visiting Nippon, and elated by the realization that I had re-claimed wonder and enthusiasm for my second home in the world.