Menstruation and kids

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Today, I read a Facebook post and comments about when Indian men first learnt about periods and the attitude to periods in their families. While most of the men who responded were of a liberal bent of mind, most of them seemed to have properly understood menstruation in their late teens. I was pretty surprised.

I learnt about periods when I was about eight, maybe even earlier. Now obviously, I’m a girl so I was bound to learn about it sooner rather than later when my own body changed, but my parents didn’t wait till then or maybe I didn’t give them opportunity. I’ve mentioned in a previous comment how my parents were pretty free with their bodies around us, and our toilet door was never locked (because the lock broke and the door expanded and was not easy to fix.) In our house, a closed toilet door meant someone was using it, but if it was my mom or sister especially, that gave us licence to barge in and ask burning or non-burning questions anyway. And if it was urgent, we’d barge in on our dad as well.

Anyway, during one such barge-in, I noticed the blood in the loo before my mom flushed. I was alarmed. So my mum took the opportunity to give me a quick intro to menstruation. Honestly, the idea of blood leaking out of the body every month astonished me less than the idea of a whole baby coming out of a vagina. First, I had to be convinced that there were indeed two holes down there. Then, I had to be convinced that an entire baby can come out of said hole. I was pretty sure my mom was making it all up, because she had a scar on her abdomen (from an appendix operation) which we had assumed was where we had exited from and that seemed more plausible and palatable than some stretchy hole .

So, that’s how I learnt about menstruation, and that’s how my kids learnt about it at the age of four or thereabouts.

In the glorious tradition of my family, I regularly leave the bathroom door unlocked, even though I now have a properly functioning lock. I’m not sure why I do it, I don’t think it’s because I’m an exhibitionist. I think maybe because I’m just not used to locking doors before the urgent matter of sitting down to do my business. And of course, it’s a rule of the thumb that when mum goes in somewhere that could mean a moment’s peace, the kids will barge in. While most parents complain about how their kids bang on the door of bathroom, mine just waltz in and unload whatever urgent matter needs resolving (e.g. look at me eloquently scratch my elbow).

I think I tried to make half hearted attempts to lock the door when I’m on my period, but of course I wasn’t rigorous about it and the kids walked and wanted to know about the blood. So I told them. They already knew that babies live in mummies tummy for a bit. So I told them that every month, mummy’s tummy makes a nest out of blood in case a baby needs to come live in it. If no baby happens, the blood comes out. They asked me a couple of times, and then were satisfied with my explanation.

There you go. Menstruation done. They sometimes assist with removing pads from the pack and handing them to me, but usually, I try to lock them out mainly because I really would like some peace and quiet.

On the other hand, I find sex harder to explain. The idea of a penis going into a vagina is not going to go down well, I’m pretty sure (and anyway there are more than one way to have sex and/or to make a baby). I think I’m going to stick with daddy has a seed which he gives mummy and when you put them together they make an egg.

 How did you learn about menstruation? And how and when do you plan to explain it to your kids?

First days

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Nene started primary school today. Both of us were nervous about the day. Nene because he didn’t like the idea of big school without his friends (and he’s not a fan of school in general even when he had only half a day and his kindergarten was very fun and easygoing because in his words “I need more playtime”, even though he is only playing from 12.30 pm onwards), and me because I knew Nene was nervous and also because I know he’s going to struggle with the new environment, long hours, and independence required in tasks such as finding, opening and eating his packed lunch, undressing into a swimsuit, etc.

By the time the day came around, however, Nene was resigned to the idea, V had firmly told me that primary school teachers are used to kids not being confident and an ostrich approach was adopted. I sent V and Nene off to buy a new schoolbag over the weekend, with the suggestion of a superhero theme, and that helped pump up his enthusiasm, he really loved his new Batman bag even though it is ginormous according to me (it was the only superhero one and V says the shopkeeper told him it was fine for primary school).

It was also Mimi’s first day, and she was not pleased to be going back to school (she is not a fan either, for different reasons though – too little structure and not enough friends at school) and that she couldn’t go to the same school as Nene. Although she had a tantrum on these two counts the day before, and I reminded her that I had promised her a present if she did not do any drama about school for a week, on the morning of school, she was okay. In fact, there was an endearing moment in which Nene went over to her bed and explained to her how he had to go to the big school but she could come pick him up one day.

We set off and Nene was chatty and excited all the way there. He was happy to wear his new school bag, even though it was a tad heavy with all his textbooks in it (thankfully, the school will keep them there, though I’m embarrassed that I didn’t even cover them or label them nicely, short of scribbling on his name in pencil). As we neared the gates, I sensed he was getting anxious and I let him know that I would be going in with him and he relaxed.

However, once we reached the area where all the students had gathered and it was time for him to line up, he got very stressed out. Again, I told him I would be with him, but he was not happy. In fact, all the kids in the line looked nervous. I chatted with a mother next to me and we introduced our sons. The boy was small and crying and Nene was even less happy that he had to interact with him.

Then, the teacher began to lead the line upstairs, and apparently, we had to let go of the kids then. I kissed Nene and he brushed me off, because hello, the line is moving and must not be interrupted. The other mum told me our boys were holding hands.

Later, when I picked him up after the first half day, he seemed fine. He told me the “boss of the school” had spoken to them (he meant the principal!). Also, he couldn’t find his snackbox and the little boy had shared some with him. I tried to get more details out of him but he clammed up.

When he got home he raced to Mimi, and they had a good chat about their respective first days. Or rather, Mimi talked and he got a word in edgewise. Mimi is now in Nene’s old class and his old teacher is her class teacher. It is becoming apparent to me that my children are conforming to gender stereotypes – despite my best efforts to make my boy a communicator, he basically just does not want to talk about …stuff. Except for exceptional topics like superheroes. Mimi on the other hand is a total chatter matter, as we say in our household.

Mimi’s day was somewhat overshadowed by Nene’s. I couldn’t go with her for her first day, but it’s an old school, I know the teacher, most of her classmates, and I know she’ll be fine. Or as fine as Mimi can be being Mimi. I later asked her about the new kids in her class and she said, I have no friends, I played all alone. I told her to shut it, because I’ve noticed from a birthday party we attended two days ago, that the other kids in Mimi’s class call her, but she prefers to stand apart. I have told her she has to take that step forward or she will have to live with being left out. She is unfortunately not taking my point.

Olympics in retrospect

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After getting back from Japan, I got into the Olympics. Actually, watching the Games is always a struggle, first of all because of the time difference but also  because what gets shown and how is up to the whims and fancies of that channel, which is influenced by the local audience. So typically stuff in which the Hong Kong team is participating or at which China excels gets shown a lot – the latter means swimming, gymnastics, and diving which are my favourites but the latter means cycling, sailing, and lots of badminton and table tennis. Of course, the big ticket items like the important athletics races get shown.

However, there are commercial breaks, abysmal commentary and the odd switching of or choice of sports – for example wrestling or beach volleyball or even basketball, even when Hong Kong and China are not playing. On the one hand, part of the fun of the Olympics is delving into sports you wouldn’t otherwise watch (e.g. Nene insisted he wanted to watch the wrestling and I had to let him) but I prefer to catch up on these in highlights, ahem. And definitely not when important gymnastics events are going on.

To counter these deficiencies, I turned to a streaming site, where I search through streams and often found what I needed in Russian. Again, maybe the post-communist background means that there is an interest in the same sports as China (e.g. gymnastics).

While the swimming races were in the morning and were shown live on our local channel, the gymnastics happens at night. I tried and tried to find a replay, but couldn’t, and so I resorted to waking up in the dead of night for the finals. Unfortunately, one night I woke up and TVB switched without warning to cycling, and I couldn’t find a stream showing the event live. So basically, I had woken up for nothing. Ultimately, a tip on a mom’s group online led me to the TVB app which was on free trial and wonder of wonders I was able to watch replays of all the finals I missed as well as live broadcasts with better commentary than on the TV channel. Just wish I had known about it earlier, but I must say, I binge watched gymnastics to V’s frustration.

Below are some of the highlights of the Rio Olympics for me:

Swimming

  • Watching Michael Phelps in every event. Him going up to his mum, wife and baby. How emotional he was on the podium.
  • Joseph Schooling of Singapore winning the 200m butterfly. Schooling had the fastest time in the semis, which I also watched, and he had said that if he won silver or bronze, he would consider it a loss, which I considered not in the spirit of the games, but when he won it was an amazing moment. He beat three veterans, including Phelps. This article on his nanny who’s been with him from the start touched my heart.
  • Katie Ledecky winning the 800 m final in style, smashing her own record in the process.
  • Anthony Erwin’s 50m butterfly win. Like Schooling’s win, it was a morning of amazing races. On the one hand, Schooling showed you’re never too young or inexperienced. On the other, Erwin showed you’re never too old or jaded.
  • Dimitry Balandin winning Kazakhstan’s first Olympic gold in the 200 m breaststroke. He was in lane 8. Proving that being the outlier doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance. Never say never.
  • Simone Manuel becoming the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold in swimming, but also 16-year-old Penny Olenziak tying her for first place in that race. A nice article on Penny here. An important piece on the significance of Manuel’s win here.

Gymastics

  • The women’s individual gymnastics championship. Simone Biles is amazing, perfection always, but I was so impressed by Aly Raisman’s floor routine. Aliyah Mustafina took her loss like a pro, but I felt sad for the little Chinese girl who was so close to a bronze. An article on Shang Chungsong’s long and hard struggle here.
  • Biggest regret: Missing the women’s artistic gymnastics team final. I thought that surely I could find a replay the next day, but nada. I so regret not staying up at night to watch it, but the fact is I had just got back from Japan and couldn’t have.
  • Biggest frustration: Deciding there was no other way than to stay up and watch the gymnastics live and then still missing out the women’s uneven bars because bloody TVB didn’t show it and the Russian streaming channel wouldn’t load. WTF Russian streaming channel – your gal won! I think I have a girl crush on Aliyah Mustafina.
  • At least I got to watch the beam final, in particular, Dipa Kamarkar. She did well, and scored high because of the difficulty level of her vault. However, her ass touched the floor when we landed (the idiot TVB commentatory called it ‘posterior’) and so she got bumped into fourth. Wish she could have snuck in there for a bronze.
  • Samme Wevers beating out Simone Biles to win the women’s beam final. Biles had seemed invincible before the competition and was touted to sweep gold in all the individual events, but she wobbled on the beam in the favourite apparatus, and Wevers sneaked in from the outside. Never say never.
  • Thankfully, watched replays of the men’s gymnastics team event in Japan, because the Japan team won. I got quite invested in the Japanese team’s performance after that in all sports and V had to remind me I’m not Japanese now😉
  • The Brazilian team performed very well. It was nice to see the non-favourites do well.

Athletics

  • Of course, Usain Bolt winning the 100m was a highlight but I would have been happy if Gaitlin won too (having won a 100m gold way back in 2004. That would have been one for the record books too – though Gaitlin has a doping record and he was actually booed when he came on.) In the end though, Bolt had to push himself and won. What surprised me was how nice he was after. He went around to all the Jamaican supporters and hugged them and took photos with them. He accepted a mascot that he clearly didn’t want and didn’t just dump it (my kids were more excited by the mascot than the great man himself).
  • Just before the 100m was the absolutely stunning 400m final which Wayde van Niekerk won in style breaking a world record. It was one of those races that gives you goosebumps. As a very very amateur athlete way back in the day, I can tell you that lane 8 is noone’s favourite and yet Niekerk beat his very talented opponents (3 other guys ran under 44 seconds) from out there.
  • The US women winning gold, silver and bronze in the 100m hurdles. I’m not a particular Team USA fan but it was nice to see the elation and camaraderie between the women.
  • The women’s 100m and 200m finals. I love watching the women athletes, they are so flamboyant. They come to the track in full make-up, gold chains, headbands and hair in bizarre colours. They’re awesome.
  • Braz da Silva winning the men’s pole vault. It was a bittersweet moment because the French vaulter who came second was very upset because he was booed by the crowd. While I’m sure it’s not nice to be booed, he made a rude comment about it in the press con later and got booed again on the podium, and then was crying during the flag hoisting. While I should probably feel sorry for him, I felt there was a certain sense of entitlement and ungraciousness in his behaviour – the booing of the crowd during the competition, while not exactly in the Olympic spirit, was not personal but because their own athlete had a chance for gold, and that countries like Brazil rarely get a medal chance, leave alone gold.
  • I was happy to watch a couple of Indian athletes including Duttee Chand in action. Chand especially ran very well in her heat.
  • Castor Semenya winning the women’s 800m gold. Again, there were frustrations raised about her hormone levels (hinting that she should not qualify for the women’s event because of high levels of testosterone, which I think is bullshit).
  • Team Japan winning silver in the men’s 100m relay. Of course, Jamaica had an amazing run, but I love to see underdogs rise, and that it was Japan made it sweeter.

I trailed off watching the main big athletics events, much to the relief of everyone in our household I think. This was the kids’ first Olympics and here are some of my observations about watching the events with them:

  • The kids learnt about different countries. I was surprised that Nene could identify the Jamaican flag. While the Olympics seem to be an occasion for a resurgence of nationalism, for us it became an exercise in diffusing loyalties. I tend to root for Indian or Hong Kong and to some extent Chinese athletes where present, but I also rooted for Japan, for example. The kids liked to pick winners before the race and they did so on their chance or winning – they quickly twigged that certain countries tended to win (like Jamaica in athletics or USA in swimming) or even certain races – and they would then ask me about the country their chosen athlete was from.
  • My kids do not have a lot of exposure to Africans or African Americans in Hong Kong, and their reactions to seeing black people is not exactly what I’d prefer. One of the side-effects of the Olympics is that they could see black people as powerful, talented and worth rooting for (obviously black people should not have to be super athletes for this, but it was a positive entry point for my kids).
  • The kids had a chance to watch women demonstrate strength, speed and athleticism.
  • Similarly, they were exposed to the idea that different body types can be powerful. My kids have picked up some fat shaming behaviour. I pointed out during the shot put contest that while  people might look (and possibly be) fat, they could also be extremely strong and skilled.

So that was the Olympics for me. What were the highlights for you?

Sayonara Japan – Takamatsu

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The ticket we booked required us to fly out of Takamatsu, a small city. I had no real agenda for that day, though we had to check out of our Osaka apartment at 11 am and our flight was only at 9 pm so I belatedly tried to identify some points of interest to while away the hours.

Nene had gotten it into his head that he wanted to ride a Thunderbird which I wasn’t hugely keen on because I knew Nene’s interest was in the speed and the look of the train (it had a bigger head than normal) but that it actually wasn’t faster than a shinkansen. Ultimately, it turned out that Mimi didn’t want to budge that morning so V took Nene for a ride while Mimi and I hung out at home. This suited me as the gymnastics came on the telly. I had missed the Olympics till then but the Japanese men’s team had won the team artistic gymnastics final and there was non-stop coverage, so at least I got into the Olympics mode (though I had missed a couple of days) and I got to see some gymnastics events.

After Mimi got bored with the TV and cutting up pieces of paper, I took her down to the local park. The kids had been asking to go to a park since Day 2 of our trip, ever since we passed a park while in the train and I pointed out a sandpit. Here’s what a typical park looks like. Reminds me of the parks in India; Hong Kong parks tend to have more playground equipment and a padded floor, never mud.

Park and sandpit in Osaka.

The park was deserted though later another boy came along. Mimi was quite lost until Nene arrived from his ride, which as expected, had not entirely wowed him. Also, apparently that train is reserved for passengers going to the airport and V was questioned by the conductor.

We got home, had a bath, checked out and took a shinkansen to Okayama from where we changed to another train to Takamatsu. This was probably my favourite train journey because we got to see a lot of beautiful Japanese rural scenery (and if we were to return, this would be the area we would like to explore).

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Pretty much standard posture of kids in trains

Takamatsu is a small town with a friendly tourist office in the station. Our plan was to leave our suitcases in a coin locker, have lunch and wander around. I had identified a Japanese garden that was supposed to be good (with tortoises one could feed) while V had found an onsen (or traditional Japanese hot spring bath).

After lunch, however, we had a series of mishaps caused by me. First, we decided it was hot and there wasn’t enough time to do the gardens. I was fine with skipping them in favour of the bathhouse. However, I decided we needed to waste a bit of time because I was pretty sure we wouldn’t need more than an hour in the baths.

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Square outside Takamatsu station. Somewhere to the left of this photo is the notorious fountain.

The kids had seen a fountain in the main square which had fish in it and they were desperate to play there. I had promised they could return for a runaround, and so while V checked for how to get to the onsen, I let the kids run around the fountain. Now V was not in favour of it, warning that they would fall in, and at the last minute told them to remove their shoes and socks. In fact, he told me to do it, and I told him to do it. Instead, they just ran off and lo and behold, within five minutes Mimi had fallen in.

I was more pissed off with Mimi (for proving V right and me wrong) and myself (for letting them risk it), and of course there was the matter of her bottom half being sopping wet.

So I had to go off to the locker and retrieve our suitcase and Mimi’s clothes. Unfortunately, once I had lugged the heavy suitcase out of the top locker, got the clothes, repacked and tried to put it back in, I realised the key was stuck. That’s when I realised that there was a separate smaller keyhole presumably for unlocking the locker in between. Arrrrrgh. So basically, I had wasted 700 yen, AND I didn’t have enough cash on me to re-pay the locker. So I had to slouch back in defeat and get cash from an (understandably) frustrated V.

After I had found another (slightly cheaper) locker space and V had identified a closer public bathhouse because now we didn’t have time for the more elaborate onsen, we set off in a cab. When we stepped into the bathhouse, I was nervous because it was soooo local. There was this ancient woman at the counter who didn’t understand English and was just staring at us like we were aliens dropped from outer space (which we kind of were, this was not a tourist joint, but the neighbourhood bath). However, V was determined to enter, and kept talking to her and she finally called another old man, who was super friendly and told her to give us what we needed. Which was basically a coupon and a small towel and soap each.

Then we entered – males to one side, females to another – and it was another awkward staring session. The outer room was full of ancient ladies stark naked who all turned to us and stared in utter amazement (again understandably – I don’t think two brown people had strayed in there before). I got my things into the locker and Mimi and myself undressed and we went in.

From then onwards, the unexpected happened. Old ladies kept telling us what to do. I knew the basic – strip nude, shower before entering the baths, shower if changing baths. It turned out the bath was super hot. One old lady then pointed to another (probably medicated) one with yellow water that was not as hot, but also showed us that we could add cold water. We preferred to stay in the yellow bath. After a while in the bath, it was getting too hot, so we went back to the shower. Again, the lady told us to use cold water on our legs to cool off. Also she kept insisting that I need to scrubber to scrub Mimi. But I didn’t have one. Finally, she gave me hers. I was shocked! She literally let us – nay insisted – we use her washcloth. Which we did. I did another round of the bath, while Mimi played in the shower. We could hear V talking to some people in the male section.

The other ladies in the changing area tried to talk to us, but I couldn’t really say anything except nod and smile. The one that kept persisting was actually the one that I had thought was the most unfriendly initially. Which just goes to show…

We emerged refreshed and the friendly old guy at the counter had called us a cab and even came outside to make sure we got it.

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Scenery en route to the airport. There are these amazing looking wooden houses, fields of green which are obviously farmed, but sometimes right next to them, a concreted plot with say a Toyota showroom.

We took a bus to Takamatsu airport, where we had a very very hurried dinner. Apparently, all the restaurants there close at 7.30 pm. We pretty much slurped down our soba noodles at record pace, quite inelegantly.

Then, of course our flight was delayed by an hour. The kids ran riot a bit, but I basicalled confined them to the back of the seating area. I knew I’d have to give them some screen time on the flight and I refused to have another hour of it in the airport, even though this was pretty much what every other parent had done. Finally, they boarded and we were off.

 

 

 

Konichiwa Japan – Kobe

I had initially planned two days in Kyoto, but since we had seen the must-sees on my list and we were super keen on the Railway Museum anymore, V suggested we visit Kobe. We had a JR Pass that gave us free travel on lines in Kansai district, and V really wanted to eat Kobe beef. Now, I had been saying all along that one could eat Kobe beef in Osaka itself, but somehow he was stuck on the idea of eating Kobe beef in Kobe, and my research did show that there were many more choices there, so that was that.

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By then, I was exhausted with the research and the planning. I suggested Rokkasan Farm, which I knew the kids would love, but V shot it down on the grounds that the journey there was too complicated and I had to grudgingly agree. I threw the ball to him, and he suggested Kawasaki Goodtimes Museum, which has a number of bikes and hands-on things to do in, most importantly especially for V, an air-conditioned environment. And the Anpanman Kids Museum as another option, since the kids seem to be able to go strong for a whole day.

We exited from Kobe station and on our way to the Kawasaki Museum, we landed up in Habourland Mall. Immediately, the kids  spotted this lever and ball contraption and were glued to it for about half an hour. We had to drag them off in the promise that we would return, a promise that I intended to keep because the mall looked like exactly what I needed – very spacious, and a nice mix of brands, unlike the department store experience in Osaka that had been uniformly high end.

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The walk along the harbourfront to the Kawasaki museum was scenic but extremely hot and when we got there flustered and sweaty, it turned out that it was closed as it was a Monday. Thing to remember about Japan in general – almost all attractions (except possibly shrines) are closed on a Monday, a key fact that had slipped my mind. We were all so disappointed, especially the kids who had dragged their little feet there on the promise of sitting on motorbikes.

On the way there, we had passed a ferry pier, so we decided to take a boat ride instead. This is hardly novel as there are a dime a dozen boat rides in Hong Kong, but it was something to break the tedium of the walk back and in the end in proved to be a very nice outing. The boat is old-style with ropes and rigging, and the interior is rather plush, with tables to sit around. We got the kids icecream to cool down at a very reasonable rate.

The tour goes around the Kawasaki shipbuilding area and dry docks which was actually very nice. The kids got to see a submarine being built. Then we went into the open sea, and we stood outside enjoying the breeze. On the uppermost deck, there are binoculars and a steering wheel, which the kids enjoyed playing with.

Although we just chanced upon it, I would actually recommend this experience, especially for those that don’t have a chance to go out to sea that much.

 

Then, we headed into the Mosaic mall, where I found an awesome and cheap stationary shop and V found a place where he could get Kobe beef for lunch. I skipped on the beef and I must say I preferred the non-Kobe beef that we had in Osaka.

Then, we headed to the Anpanman Kids Museum which is in the same area. It turned out that one adult could take two kids in for the same price, but we’d have to pay for an additional adult, which makes no sense because shouldn’t the kids be charged seeing as the attractions are for them? So I decided to leave the kids with V and go shopping.

I was actually quite exhausted by then and ended up focusing ironically on Old Navy, where I bought two dresses (identical actually but in different colours) and two tops (again identical and in different colours. I also tried on some nice Japanese brand but in the end, realised I’d get more wear out of the Old Navy stuff. And then I sat down out of budget and exhausted and whiled away 45 minutes instead of doing more shopping. My energy levels are really not what they used to be.

In the meantime the kids really had a good time at the Anpanman Museum, which is more like a themed indoor play area.

That evening, our last in Osaka,we decided to go to a local grilled meat place we had spotted while strolling round our neighbourhood. It turned out to be my second best meal in Japan. Ironically, the style of preparation was Korean, but the meat was Japanese. In fact, the restaurant even had a very apt map of Japan as a beef steak on the wall.

Konichiwa Japan – Kyoto

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Kyoto is said to be the place to visit old Japan – it is full of important shrines, gardens, old districts and geisha culture. So obviously, it’s right up my street, but probably the least attractive for the kids.

I had to curb my enthusiasm and pick one shrine, and I think I picked well. The Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine is renowned for its orange gates, and the kids surprised me by enjoying the experience as well. Apart from the eye-catching orange details on the shrine, the kids enjoyed washing their hands with the wooden ladles and ringing the bells of the shrine. But more surprisingly, they enjoyed going through the gated walkway. While it veers up the mountain, the gates are so close together that the route is quite shady and the slope is gentle. I thoroughly enjoyed my temple fix.


We had originally planned to go to the Railway Museum as it’s (largely?) indoors and we thought the kids would enjoy it, but we figured we’d done so many train trips already it probably didn’t make sense to get into stationary trains, or even moving ones – they have a steam locomotive ride you can take.

Instead we headed to the Gion area, where one can see pre-modern-style Kyoto buildings and where the geisha culture still exits (though pretty much only in the evenings).

I loved wandering around though it was really very hot in the afternoon sun, so we soon ducked into a little restaurant in a side street for lunch. Ironically, it was Italian food, but it turned out to be my best meal in Japan so far. The thing with the Japanese is that when they decide to do something, they excel at it (e.g. chocolate, pastries, whiskey, and now apparently Italian food). We had thin crust pizza, perfectly cooked spagetti with beef, mushroom, chives and a local pepper and a lasagna. The kids loved it as well. Apart from the kiddie bowls and the very gracious service in Japanese restaurants, they always serve chilled water. This is a surprise in Asia, where I had begun to think warm water with meals is the norm, but it did hit the spot.

On the way back to our hotel, we headed into the Kyoto Tower mall, mainly to buy headphones for the kids so they could use our phones in transit and on the flight back (Mimi has inherited V’s weird ears so that earplugs won’t sit in her ears), and we found a 150 yen shop (where everything is sold at 150 yen). I’d be meaning to buy a fan for ages because of the heat in Japan (and also in HK these days) and the fact that the station platforms in Japan are not airconditioned, meaning you end you standing around sweltering for stretches. However, the fans in the touristy areas were quite expensive and since I wasn’t sure I would actually use it, I was happy to pick up a pretty one for 150 yen, not to mention a few more as gifts.

One of the things to do in Kyoto is for tourists to dress up in kimonos and wander around. There’s a facility for this in Kyoto Tower itself, and I was tempted, but the heat decided it for me. It was nice to see women wandering around in kimonos though most of them were likely tourists (except older ladies who were clearly not). In fact, the previous day on our return from Nara we saw a lot of people in kimonos and were very surprised. Later, we realised there was a festival going on. Still, it was a treat to see all the pretty colours.

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Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

 

Konichiwa Japan – Nara

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip here and here.

This was probably our best day in Japan. I had planned a trip to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, but more importantly home to wild deer that are tame enough to be handfed. In fact, they’re so used to eating rice crackers that the tourists feed them that they don’t bother foraging for food in general. Apparently, the deer are considered sacred and so noone was allowed to hunt them which is why they proliferated in the area.

The train ride to Nara was longer than expected, and then we decided to be smart and walk to the park/temple complex in the blazing heat. Tip for those travelling with kids to Nara in summer: take the bus.

We broke journey at a grassy patch, while the kids entertained themselves with a fallen branch.

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But all was forgotten once we got to the temple park and met the deer. The amazing thing about them was that their mouths are so soft. They just suck the food in without their teeth ever making contact.

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However, if they think you have food they can get pretty aggressive and crowd you (one grabbed my map out of the netted corner pocket of my bag and ate it to my horror), though they don’t really give chase if you run off and I only saw them nip someone once. They do tend to try to bully kids though, so don’t leave them on their own.

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Historical pagoda that we paid scant attention to

Finally dragged ourselves away from the deer in order to walk down the main street of Nara town. The town itself is quite pretty, and I’d have liked to have stayed there and explored.

On the way to the deer park, I had noticed an owl cafe, which is one of those quintessentially Japanese things, a step further than the cat cafes. Mimi loves owls so I had to take them.

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Basically, you pay to go in and look at and pet the owls. It’s not really to chat and drink coffee, though you get a drink with entry (we chose cold water because we were so thirsty). I adored all the owls, but on reflection, it is not entirely ethical that they’re in a room, tied down, instead of in trees. This is the problem with me, I get excited about animal stuff, but I need to think more about the ethics of it before rather than after. You can also hold them on your arm and feed a hawk, and the cafe staff are very helpful and knowledgeable about the owls and seem to love them and the owls do have space to retreat if they get bored of people.

We ended our day in Nara with a scrumptious burger at Mcdonald’s. One of the things I’ve noticed is that the quality of meat in Japan, particularly chicken (and of course beef) is of very good quality. McDonald’s in Japan is more expensive than in Hong Kong, but the chicken burger was so so much better!

 

 

 

Konichiwa Japan – Osaka

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Read Part 1 of our Japan trip here.

Think Japan and you think manga, temples, gardens, food etc. all of which is great, but not quite what our kids would have enjoyed. During my research I realised that there are a fair number of animal experiences that I knew my kids would love. In fact, what sold me on Osaka was that Nara, where deer roam wild, is nearby. More on that later.


Our first evening in Osaka, I dragged everyone out to the Dotonbori Canal area. It was a bit of a trek, but I’m glad I did, because our remaining days were action packed and we ended up having one of most memorable meals in Dotonbori. It’s basically the Mongkok of Osaka, with street food, covered shopping areas and the odd shrine (in the one I saw and was too shy to take a photo of, the resident God was a stoned covered with moss and other greens, which was worshiped by pouring a bucket of water over it).

We went into a little beef place, because we wanted to try Kobe beef. In the end, we decided it was too expensive and plumped for the “top choice” beef. We grilled it ourselves and it was excellent.


The next day, we headed to Kaiyukan Aquarium. Attractions included sea lions, peguins, sharks, dolphins, jellyfish and of course loads of other fish.  The way it’s organised, you take a long escalator to the top and then work your way down. It was crowded when we got to the top, during otter feeding time, though the kids managed to squeeze their way through to get a good view. Later, however, the crowds thinned and one could see the animals at leisure, even sitting on benches to watch. I particularly loved the dolphins, the sheer speed and grace at which they swam. The kids loved the turtles. Another hit was the touch and feel area, where you could touch small sharks and sting-rays. We felt a bit sorry for the fish in the end, as they clearly didn’t want to be touched and the sting rays smartly positioned themselves just out of reach. My kids refused to move from this area for over half an hour.

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One tip for anyone visiting, there are points at which kids can stamp a book. Mimi suddenly noticed this, and wanted her own and I was suprised she wasn’t given one. After promising to get her one, we realised we had to buy it. If I had to do over, I’d take my own booklet as the main thing is that the kids like to do the stamping. Lunch at the adjoining food court and an excellent ice-cream later and we headed back home for a rest.

In the evening, we headed to the Daimaru department store above Osaka station. This proved to be a bit of a mistake as after looking at some shoes with Mimi, she had a meltdown when I didn’t let her touch the expensive designer handbag. In the end, we headed back and had dinner at a small place near our apartment. I was quite stressed out by then, but people in the ordering queue behind me were very nice and helpful.

Konichiwa Japan – 1

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When V suggested we plan a family trip to Japan, I was skeptical. Apart from (or because of?) our annual trip to India, we haven’t been overseas with the kids. While I was ready to venture forth into the world with the kids, I was thinking more on the lines of a beach holiday in the Philippines or Malaysia, or even a minibreak to Singapore. However, V has been wanting to go on a Japan holiday for a while, and we figured that Southeast Asia was doable if and when we moved to India as well.

The holiday did not get off to an auspicious start, however. First, I went out to dinner a couple of days before we left and the next day I came down with the worst diarrhea. It was a Sunday so I couldn’t see a doctor right away. That night was awful, non-stop running to the loo with two hours of sleep in between, until I got to a doctor. I had one day in between to recover, and I barely did.

Except that when my waterworks stopped, the skies opened. Typhoon Nida hit Hong Kong and though we managed to make it to the airport that morning, our flight was delayed to the next day. Even then we had a scare: when we woke up at 4 am, the airline website said the flight was on schedule for 9:15 am but the airport website said 2 pm, and we were confused whether to go or not because the most updated information was the airport website and that would mean we’d be be waiting around in the airport for hours (again). In the end, we decided to compromise and go in to the in-town Airport Express check-in, so that we could come home easily if the flight wasn’t taking off. Turns out it was on schedule, and we’d have missed it had we gone with the airport website information!

So after all that drama, the one hour delay in flight take-off didn’t seem a big deal and we landed in Tokyo exactly a day after we had planned. Which meant I had to abandon a whole day’s worth of planning, which included trips to the Shinjuku and Harajuku area. We were too knackered, having had an early start two days in a row and after checking into our Airbnb, we had a quiet dinner of excellent and cheap ramen in our neighborhood and did a walkabout.

The next morning, we were due to check out of our Airbnb at 11 am, but since we woke up at 6.30 am, we had a bit of time to kill. So we decided to take the train down to the Imperial Palace gardens and do a walkabout. Unfortunately, we landed up in the trains during rush hour and it was not pleasant, not so much because of the crowds but because of the dour and unfriendly attitude of the commuters. It was hard keeping the kids under control, especially since they were part tired, part excited and part frustrated at not being able to sit down or look outside. Everyone was in shades or grey and looked unhappy to be there. Compared to this, Hong Kong commuters are a positive font of joie de vivre. Later, we had a coffee at a convenience store with a seating area and again we found the office goers quiet and isolated, not wanting to be disturbed.


The Imperial Gardens were just what we needed, enough space for the kids and not many people there so they could run around and talk as loudly as they liked. Of course, the gardens were beautiful, but kids tended to focus on the (dead) earthworms along the path and later the koi fish.

Headed back to our apartment and then off to the Shinkansen station for our ride to Osaka where we would be spending the main leg of our trip. Had a very nice lunch of teppenyaki chicken and rice; thankfully, the kids were really taking to Japanese food and its muted palate meant that it is probably the best option I could have hoped for with a stomach upset.

The Shinkansen ride was smooth with a few hiccups in actually buying the tickets, keeping the kids in check while V bought the tickets, and then finding the right compartment (compartments 1 to 3 are for unreserved seats). The train itself is Japan’s famed bullet, not cheap by any standards but an experience. One of things I’ve noticed in Japan is that they always leave more than enough leg room. The shinkansen is like taking a flight, without all the extra security, but it’s much more comfortable. Like a plane though, you don’t get to see much outside, and we had to resort to screen time to keep the kids quiet.

Found our Airbnb easily enough, we chose it as its close to the station. The sun is out in full force in August in Japan so we were glad to get into the A/C comfort of the apartment (though A/c in Japan is much less cold than we’re used to in Hong Kong and our apartment didn’t cool as much as we’d have liked). Our apartment was larger than the one in Tokyo, and the kids really enjoyed both “hotels”. Airbnb worked out well for us, as we got more space, a little kitchen, and pocket wifi that we could take out with us.

 

 

Minding my language

Last week, I had a conversation with my physiotherapist. It started with how long I’ve been in Hong Kong, then progressed to my kids and the inevitable question of their schooling (to his credit, he did not ask me the more inevitable question of whether I speak Cantonese). I said they were in international school, but felt obliged to explain that had we decided to be in Hong Kong long term, I would likely have chosen the local system.

Note that he did not ask. I volunteered. When the question of language in Hong Kong comes up, I feel the need to voice my guilt. Pre-emptively voicing my desire to and attempts at learning Cantonese usually mollifies people.

The physio said something I think I’ve never heard from a local person: it may be better to be able to speak good English, because that’s what you need to get the better jobs. (Incidentally, this is also a view I heard expressed my a researcher on ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, that it might be more productive to build on their existing English skills than aim for a never-going-to-be-good-enough command of Cantonese.) I’m not sure whether my physio was simply being polite in the way that Chinese people are, seconding the option that would enable me to save face. I’m not even sure I agree with him. But I appreciated his possibly unintended attempt at assuaging my guilt.

My language deficiency extends to both places I have lived extensively in, but with Indians, the inquisition is more fractious and I always end up feeling like some kind of weirdo.

For example, I go to wax at this Indian beauty parlour which really has the most annoying staff. This woman comes into the room I’m waiting in and shoots of something to me in Hindi. When I looked confused, she repeated it in English.

Later, as she was waxing my legs, she asked, “You don’t speak Hindi?”

“No,” I replied somewhat shortly. This is my new tack. I refuse to explain because explaining gets me nowhere. I was hoping she would drop it but she persisted.

“Why?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “My parents didn’t speak Hindi.” Now, the  easy assumption that every Indian must speak Hindi is problematic in itself – a friend insisted recently that this is so because we all learn Hindi in school, only if I only learnt Hindi for five years in school and it was very badly taught. V usually circumvents this with a defiant questioning of how many south Indian langauges the Hindi speaker speaks, but I don’t have recourse to this. It would be impossible to explain to these people that English is an Indian language, it really is my mother tongue, that my grandparents spoke it and I have no historically trauma except the trauma of being asked over and over again why I only speak English.

And it really is turning into a trauma. I find almost every conversation with a new person leads to this. Usually the trajectory is: how long in Hong Kong – do you speak Cantonese – here, I would volunteer that I don’t speak any language other than English even though I grew up in India – watch the interlocuters head implode. But because I’ve grown weary of the resulting inquisition, I bite my teeth, swallow my need to confess, and don’t volunteer the “shameful” information anymore. Nevertheless, it is somehow unearthed. I don’t know how conversations with new people seem to inevitably lead to this.

I have toyed with shutting down the why and how with “I must have some sort of mental deficiency in this regard”. Which is frankly quite possible, but I think it is really a matter of a combination of factors that have led to my language poverty. Nevertheless, I never realised that this lack is something I would have to apologise for to every new person I met.

V has suggested that I should say that I speak Hindi but not fluently so while I understand what they are saying, I will reply in English. This usually satisfies people, according to him. I’m not sure this will work because while it’s true that I can follow simply conversation in Hindi, my vocabulary is poor. Nevertheless, I’m going to try this. It’s that or the ‘mental deficiency’ line.

Anyone else in my boat? Do you get a lot of questions about language and how do you deal with them?

 

 

 

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