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.

September 30, 2017

Second home [confirmed]: Part 1

The Rising Family™ returned to Hiroshima this past summer after more than a year without touching base in Japan. If you look for a definition for “home” in any search engine you’ll find hundreds of quotes, parables, old religious verses and thousands of average netizens’ thoughts on what constitutes one’s home.

What I took away from our visit to Japan, and what captures the essence of “home” for me is where I feel at ease, where I feel I belong, or at the least, where I can be happy and pursue life’s pleasures. When I left ol’ Nippon in 2016 I needed a break; when I came back, I came to realize that I did in fact have a second home in this world. I will always be Canadian, it is my forever home base, but it seems beavers can indeed thrive in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Courtesy of the CCCJ
Here are some thoughts and anecdotes from the trip that drew me to the conclusion that Hiroshima is my second home.

Day 1:  Japan’s national penchant for precision and predictability
We exited the airplane from India and within 30 minutes boarded the shinkansen bullet train that transported us to Hiroshima Station. Upon arrival, our rental car was waiting. All…seamless.
- I was in heaven driving again, on streets I knew and no navigation system necessary, no horns blaring, space to drive--just fewer driving worries. Nominal bliss.
- The islands are more global, less Galapagos. In an age where SIM cards are integral to a peace of mind during a vacation, access has never been easier. Sign of the global & 24/7 times.
- Local is accessible. 30 minutes from Hiroshima’s downtown you have pastoral options: our visit began with a healthy dinner with Naomi’s parents and then we all went to sleep around 2100. Wow—country style.
Day 2: Country peace and baseball
- Next morning, warm and quiet. Lady E. and M. went out to hunt ill-fated frogs and salamanders living in the rice paddies. They had been waiting months to do this.
- Naomi decided to go to the supermarket to buy food. There was no one in that place under 60 years old. Eye opener. Means even more room for others in the future, even gaijins.
- Viewing the skyline, sucking in the clean air. I went for a short hike up Takeda-yama with buddy Scolari McKillgore. It is good to have such great friends. We hiked and talked all the way from the train station to Takeda-yama.  A decent trail--I huffed in all the right places. Enjoyed the panoramic view, the beef jerky and mild philosophizing at the top of this hill overlooking Hiroshima. Then a cleansing dip in the public bath (sento) we all used to frequent 20 years ago. Good friendships evolve with the times but also value the past.
- We mostly ate healthy, home-cooked Japanese washoku fare, but with a side-dish of hot dogs from home base North America. Thanks to Costco, I had a hot dog and it tasted like a dream. Hiroshima Carp fans decked out in team regalia surrounded us and I felt envy because they could see the game. The Carpies are too popular now for us time-constrained visitors to get tickets.
- Shopping downtown with the family at all our old haunts, most of which are still there. Beautiful weather, robin-egg-blue skies, hot dogs and excited ball fans. BUT---
- NHK broadcast of the game cut off the Carp, tied 2-2 with the Tigers, exactly at 1730 as is the Japanese habit….for the latest breathless news exclusive on the status of the baby panda bear in Ueno Zoo. Some things do not change.
"If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with..."
- I still cheer for the Zoom-Zoom brand, which got me started in my career.

Day 3: Hamada visit
- We drove Route 191 to Hamada. Enjoyed a kagura traditional dance festival at Aquas Aquarium, followed by shopping fiesta at the local 100 yen store.
- Went to the Iwami Seaside beach on the Japan Sea to dip our toes in the ocean. I tasted the salt. I watched the facility staff guy with his Segway-like transporter and drone overhead. Neat technology. Then we went to a local hot spring onsen and washed and relaxed. I got a massage from the 100-yen-for-10-minutes chair and a recharge from the canned cold coffee. Naomi ate kaisendon (seafood) which made her immeasurably happy. In fact, we all were. The Rising Family enjoyed being back as much (or more) than I did. Because it is Home for them.

More to come...

September 27, 2017

Rickshaws rock

I remember my first tuk-tuk ride in 1997 in Bangkok. I loved the no seatbelt, no frills, no windows openness and exposure to everything that is going on around you. Tuk-tuk rides provide a primal rush, and depending on your driver, are just a little bit scary. I position them between motorcycles and cars on the adrenal spectrum. Yee-hah!
I still love tuk-tuks, in all their iterations throughout Asia, to this day. So let me gush a bit about these three-wheeled meisters of mobility and add a few anecdotes.
Described as tuk-tuks by Thais, autorickhaws (or just plain “autos”) by Indians, and with other local tags in other countries, they are basically people movers: no-nonsense ways for average people on a budget to get move from point A to point B. Autorickshaws are made to shuttle people around in urban areas which usually have tight, narrow streets and – these days – immense traffic jams.

Quick, yes. (Maneuverability in the traffic snarls is a bonus.)

Safe, no. Not really. (But to repeat what I wrote above, that’s part of their allure.)

Cute, absolutely.

And they enhance your cultural knowledge because you usually have to bargain with the driver to figure out a price before you get in. (No set price = you will get screwed, big-time.)

Environmentally friendly? (Debatable.)

Presumably tuk-tuks are so named so because of the sound their two-stroke gas engines make. In India, many of the autos have converted to natural gas, which generates an off-putting pervasive fart smell whenever a driver pulls in to top off his CNG tank. (And yes, there are no women drivers that I have ever seen anywhere.) But they all emit CO2 gas, which leads me to…e-autorickshaws!
In recent weeks I have seen new electrically-powered autorickshaws on the streets of Gurgaon. What a great idea. The Indian government’s recent push to have new vehicle sales be all-electric by 2030 seems to be have been kicked off with this e-auto initiative. Our lungs thank them for the effort. So we will be able to have the fun and adventure of riding in a tuk-tuk without adding to the hazy brown skies and alarming particulate matter figures in India’s big cities. 

Here are a few photos of the popular forms of mobility in my current city.
The family that rides together, stays together

Old school, baby!
The black-colored autos are designated routes that people use instead of public buses. Very cheap.

August 31, 2017

DLR for Prez in 2020

As August ends, I regret that I didn’t feel a “silly season,” as Allan Fotheringham puts it, a month when no one notices anything the government does because they are too busy fiddling with their BBQ and basking in the summer warmth. I grew up reading Dr. Foth in Maclean’s magazine, and his American compadre,  P.J. O’Rourke in Rolling Stone. I was thus schooled to value a wry irreverence concerning pols. This is a good thing because it keeps them human and us entertained.
Consider the vitriol and narrow-heartedness that has taken over a good swath of the world. And North Korean missiles flung hither and yon. I was daydreaming the other day and imagined what it would be like if David Lee Roth ran for president in 2020. Alas, it is not an original idea; it seems the prospect of President Dave was vetted in 2016, but not acted on. 
The flamboyant former Van Halen frontman can certainly turn a phrase and work a room. 
Beyond the rock star antics, there has always been humor and intelligence (all with a knowing wink) evident in his media persona. 

Makes you ponder what President Roth's political philosophy might be:

National economic policy
“Everybody wants some / I want some too / Everybody wants some / Baby, how 'bout you?”

“I live my life like there's no tomorrow / And all I've got, I had to steal /…runnin’ with the devil”

Foreign policy
Panama! Panama (waaaooo)

Domestic policy
California girls (his 1980s remake)
“I been all around this great big world / And I seen all kinds of girls / Yeah, but I couldn't wait to get back in the states / Back to the cutest girls in the world”

So, America, with love, vote David Lee Roth for President in 2020, and laugh a little more, willya?

Meanwhile, back at home…
Elena’s “baby politician” pose photo still cracks me up whenever I view it on the desktop.
 And perhaps Lady E. is showing a political bent in her latest snapshot…? Future ambitions? Time will tell. In one of her classes at school the students reflected on what they would do if they were made the Prime Minister for a day—what changes they want to make in their country? 
Fewer missiles, please. And David Lee Roth for president. The world would be a wackier, better place.

August 27, 2017

Accidental 10K: Freedom Run 2017

August 15 is a national holiday in India that commemorates its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. I celebrated the day off from work by participating in the annual 5K “Freedom Run 2017” in Gurgaon hosted by Delhi Land & Finance (DLF) Ltd., the largest commercial real estate developer in India. 
The DLF brand is omnipresent in Gurgaon. It is a city of about 1.5 million people south of New Delhi, where I live and work. In the 1970s, Gurgaon consisted of small villages and agriculture. Now it’s a rapidly growing mega-city with its development led mostly by private companies.

On Independence Day I expected to run the five clicks, exchange pleasantries with a few other residents, and get some exercise. Instead, I received an in-your-face lesson on the social contract between the haves and the have-nots in India, yet I had fun during the non-competitive, friendly run experience. All told: fascinating & thought provoking.

Part 1: pre-race complications
I woke early, left for the race start registration. It was a holiday, so no taxis or auto rickshaws were available at the usual spot near my apartment. At that point, I had 30 minutes left before the race registration desk would close--yikes. I made a snap decision to run to the registration desk at the start point of the race (no other choice, really.) Bad planning on my part meant I had to run this “warm-up leg” to the start point. No big deal, right?

Wrong. My iPhone directed to streets off the main thoroughfare that appeared to be shortcuts and took me into a new part of Gurgaon I had never ventured into before. It was a completely new world. Plagued by urgency, soon I was huffing and puffing amid people walking to work, people coming from a less privileged economic strata. I was glaringly out of my element, and I jogged though this neighborhood like an idiot, watching people TV (outside, sitting on lawn chairs or the dusty ground) who were watching the PM’s Independence Day address to the nation. They stared back at me, not aggressively, more perplexed: Whaa? I soon realized these streets were designed to cordon off this particular neighborhood from where I wanted to go, in a more affluent area. I either had to run back and start from scratch, or figure out a solution. I went all-in, and kept going. I knew this was going to be an interesting experience and started snapping photos with the iPhone.

Soon I was running through dusty streets with very few people on them, with abandoned lots populated by wild dogs that followed me until I left their territory. 
I pressed on, soon came across a pack of wild pigs feasting amid mounds of refuse. All this in section of the city located about 900 meters away from a Porsche dealership and with luxury condos in the background. The dichotomy obviously stayed with me.
Finally, I hit a main street I recognized, passed a demonstration along the roadside and hauled ass to the start point. 

Part 2: the race itself
I convinced a reluctant organizer to let me join in some 15 minutes before the race began. I plastered the number on my T-shirt and gulped some bottled water to hydrate (it was already 31 degrees out). It wasn’t an Olympic-class crowd; I fit right in. In fact, it was mostly families and people who clearly weren’t running very regularly. Again, I fit right in. It was, after all, a fun run/walk 5K.

The course was all on roads on DLF property. I got a nice view of my own apartment tower complex from afar. 
During the race, runners received orange, white and green wristbands upon reaching each of three stations. Getting all three bands showed you finished the course. I had a decent run, enjoyed myself. I fell into step and took a photo of a guy who ran the whole course with an Indian flag in his hand. Finished the course. What was my time and how was my performance? Answer: Amaging.
There were no other revelations or odd things, just a good run. I later calculated that the total distance I covered getting there plus the run was well over 10K. So I ran longer and thought harder than I bargained for that morning.

Part 3: the point?
People from different economic occupations lead different lives. They have different experiences and different social rules that apply to them. That’s true in India as well as most places in the world. Still, to get to this race I left the manicured lawns and guarded entrances of my beautiful residence and took a detour into a tougher road not traveled. This reminded me that there are two extremes in Gurgaon: wealthy, white-collar urbanites who staff the companies that have built this city, and not-as-lucky folks who live in shantytowns, but seem no less happy and friendly—at least toward me.

I counted my blessings during the Freedom Run 2017.