Wednesday, November 30, 2016

End of the year update

The view from the Tokyo Dome Hotel

I was writing an email update to a relative and realized I should probably put something up here.  Here's all the news of late:

Life is pretty quiet for us, Rowan is going to school at Faith Academy in the Philippines, we are just living life, and the time seems to fly by.  I'm sure it's crawling for Rowan, but that's a curse of youth.  Rowan will be home in two weeks for Christmas break, so we're looking forward to that.

Kerri's heavily involved with Roller Derby, attending and running multiple practices throughout the week.  Last Friday night we both went up to the Tokyo Dome to attend a 10pm informal scrimmage with men and women's Japan team players.  Since it was so late we booked a room at the hotel there on premises and had a fun day on Saturday just exploring the area.  Kerri's supposed to be joining Team Japan and is on track to play at the world cup next year which is supposed to take place in Scotland.  That'll be a trip!  I've also been roped into derby and am still in training to be a referee, so I have to go to 2 practices a week now too.  There will be another Okinawa tournament next year around March, so we'll be going to that together.

We are both involved with a new church plant that is just getting off the ground.  It will be located downtown Tokyo in Ueno which is quite a trip for us.  Our first church meeting is this coming Sunday actually, though we are not meeting regularly yet.  If it gets off the ground for real we are considering moving closer into Tokyo such that I will have an hour train commute, but we'll at least have a chance of being close enough to other members of the church to have relationships outside of Sunday.  And eventually I'll need to get a job off base, so that may be a good in-between place for us while I look for one.

The job on base is going well enough.  Our current contract expires in January, but it has been extended out now possibly for 2 more years, so that was good news.  Still as the transition between comes up there will be a mad scramble to get all the paperwork done and extend our SOFA status.  Hopefully they get it all done before Rowan goes back to the Philippines otherwise he may have to re-enter Japan as a tourist which might be fraught with its own issues.  We do *not* want another repeat of what happened in the airport in Manila last time!  Briefly, we were told multiple times that even though he was under 15 he did not need anything to fly into the Philippines by himself.  Well, turns out we were told wrong, and they wouldn't let him out of immigration and were going to send him back to Japan the next day.  So Kerri had to fly to Manila and work with the immigration office in town to get the deportation order cancelled so he could come into the country and go back to school.  Amazingly, she was able to get it cancelled, spent the night and flew back to Japan the next day.  It was a tense situation for several days.  Anyway, he'll be 15 from now on, so that shouldn't be an issue again.  Still, we'd like to avoid unnecessary stress at the airport for him in the future if possible.

We are planning on coming back to the US next summer for 2 or 3 weeks, haven't decided exactly how long yet.  I have to renew my drivers license and it's been around 6 years since I've been back.  The reason we are waffling on the length is that while Kerri and I were in Bahrain (for work) a couple of months ago we were finally able to reconnect with our dear friend from Kuwait (Mohammed/Abu Khaled).  He came over to Bahrain and spent several days with us.  I have always told him that some day he should come to the US to see where we were from and meet the family, so I need to ascertain if he is serious about doing it and if so one of those weeks will be to ensure we can take care of him while he's there.  He's a lot older than I originally thought and was having some back issues when we saw him, so I'm not sure if he's up for it.  Once we get a solid read on that we can finalize dates.

So that's the latest going on with us.  Christmas is ahead and we are looking forward to celebrating Christ's birth!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Okinawa Trip

We've had a trip to Okinawa planned for several months and we just got back the other day from a restful and enjoyable vacation there.  We went originally so Kerri could attend and assist an international Roller Derby tournament.  There were some great games played, but the best was the Adelaide vs. Copenhagen bonus game (it wasn't originally scheduled, but everyone wanted to see the two best teams play each other).  Check it out below for some excellent roller derby:

Victory laps!

During this time I made it to Okinawa World, a theme park with some awesome caves and lots of Okinawan culture on display.  Also, they have a Habu museuem and show (habu is a deadly snake in Okinawa, yay!) and Rowan and friend got to hold a python:

And there were giant tortoises:

I got to make a trip to my favorite awamori distillery, Zuisen:

And then it was off to the beach at the Okuma Beach Resort, a Kadena Air Force Base run resort up in the northern part of the island.  It was super nice (and cheap!) and we just lounged about for several days, with one day spent down at the huge aquarium located nearby.  Best of all, the temperatures never got above 20 C and the humidity was nonexistent!  Okinawa in March is wonderful, much nicer than when I last visited for work in July.

Just a stop by road

Okuma Beach (north)

Northern Okinawa

Northern Okinawa

Northern Okinawa

Local weeds...very painful

Okuma Beach (north)

Okuma Beach (north)

Okuma Beach (west)

Okuma Beach (west)

Okuma Beach (west)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Jinmuji/Takatoriyama hike

Kerri and I decided to go on a hike the other day in the hills around where we live.  Rowan and gone to his friends house and I had a US holiday to burn.  We had heard about the Jinmuji trail that leads up past the shrine of the same name and then continues on to Takatoriyama, past that to an old quarry that is used for climbing walls now, and then further on eventually to Keikyu Taura station.  We had a great time, though it was unseasonably warm at first, and then later the temperature plummeted and we were freezing and being rained on by the end of the 3 hour or so hike.  We found a new Chinese restaurant at Taura and ate there before heading home.  Here are some pictures:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Horse and His Boy in Manila

Morning view from our hotel apartment

We just got back from our Thanksgiving holiday in Manila.  My dad and his wife (Mayen) were in a production of C.S. Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy" and had mentioned casually to us that it would be fun if we could just pop over to catch a show.  We had recently had to reschedule our vacation plans due to interference from work, and had not yet decided exactly on what to do.  At first we laughed at the idea since we had just visited last year, almost to the day, and it seemed ridiculous to go back so soon.  But then as we got to thinking about it, the Philippines is not that far away (4 -5 hours), the tickets aren't that expensive, and my son had never seen his grandfather in a live production.  So after thinking about it, we decided it would be worth it after all.

Meralco Theater!

We stayed at a hotel near my dad's apartment in Makati because their place was going to be full up.  We were worried we would only be able to find expensive places to stay in that area, but were glad to find a place called Salcedo Suites that was quite reasonable, and it was a 5 minute walk from dad's building.  It was small but serviceable, and other than the rather pathetic air conditioner (it worked, but barely), we had no complaints.

Poster for the show

We flew in on Saturday from Haneda, got ourselves by taxi to the hotel, ate dinner and went to bed.  Dad had 2 shows on Saturday so we didn't expect to see them til late the next morning.  We went over to their place later in the morning on Sunday and had breakfast together.  Towards lunch we hitched a ride with them to the Meralco Theater, which is where I have all sorts of memories of previous shows my dad has been in over the years.  We got dropped off at Robinson's Galleria mall, where I used to hang out as a teenager, to wander around, kill time, and eat lunch prior to the final show which was a matinee.

The stage before the start of the show

The show itself was very fun.  We were concerned most of all with how they would do the horses and the riding scenes, which are so integral to the story.  Impressively, the horses were the part most everyone was pleased with.  They used a two part horse that was controlled independently by two different people, each with a harness to hold the horse part on their shoulders and with their heads poking up through the body.  The parts could separate or come together as needed, which was important for how they did the riding.  When a rider was absent, the two parts simply stood close to each other and synchronized their "hoofs" to simulate a horse.  When a rider was needed, a 3rd person (all in black) would come on stage and stand in between the horses while the rider would "mount" the third person's shoulders.  Then all 3 parts of the horse would move together.  As with all aspects of theater, there is a level of suspension of disbelief that is required to make it all work, but this worked great for me, and after a while I was able to believe that the 4 person machine in front of me was really one horse and its rider.  The effect was best when the horses were galloping directly towards the audience in combination with lighting effects to give the illusion of forward movement.  You couldn't see the third person of the horse, nor could you see the other 2 heads of people poking up, all you saw were the horses' heads and the rider moving like they were galloping.  It was quite striking.  Overall we were very pleased with the show.

Fans in the dressing room
Afterwards we got to go backstage and see their dressing rooms.  Then the cast came on stage for some final pictures, and the puppets were brought forward so pictures could be taken as well.  We helped dad and Mayen move out of their rooms as Mayen apparently has a tendency to really "move in" during a production ;-), and took a taxi home.

Dad and Mayen in full regalia
Most of the rest of the time there we just ate and hung out with dad and Mayen, eating great food (many new reviews are up on my other blog) and having good conversation.  Rowan and I also got to go to a spa (aka Korean version of an onsen) with my dad and his good friend Jaime for more great conversation.

Cast photo

 On our final day there my dad drove us out to Faith Academy, the school where he and I both went.  We visited there last year just for a tour of the facility as we were considering maybe sending Rowan there.  At the time we ended up deciding to go with homeschooling through high school, but since then we have been reconsidering things and this time we wanted Rowan to actually shadow someone through some classes and tour a dormitory.  He had never actually been in a real classroom and had no idea what it was like, so we are hoping the experience has helped to educate him a bit.  Also, checking the dorms out allowed us to see what that situation is like, as I have some probably skewed feelings on the subject and needed to be corrected by reality.  Faith Academy is a truly lovely school, much more so than I recall.  A little perspective in life really changes how you look at things.  Also being able to talk with several people on staff there in administration and at the dorms, we got a very strong sense of everyone's competence and care for the kids.  Best of all they really understand homeschoolers as so many missionaries start homeschooling and end up sending their kids to Faith for middle or high school.  We are now thinking the best option for Rowan might be to send him to Faith for highschool (or possibly starting at 8th grade) staying at the dorms.  We were not feeling positive about the dorm option before, but now that our fears are allayed, it really seems like the best approach.  It may take some convincing to get him there, but we are hopeful.

Dad, Mayen and director Jaime

After that we headed back into Manila, and got the pleasure of enduring the horrible traffic that it is famous for.  It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get back home, most of it sweating in a car whose air con could barely keep up with the situation...ah the memories!   At least there was an air con at all!  When *I* was a kid...let me tell you!

Front end of Bree

We had a great time and got back to Japan on Thursday in time for lunch at Haneda.  The only unfortunate thing during the last 2 or 3 days in the Philippines was that I got a cold :-(.  May not seem like much, but I hardly ever get sick and this was a doozy.  As I type on Saturday morning I'm still sneezing and sniffling.  It's been forever since this happened, but on the flight back, despite taking "dry up" pills, the decent was intensely painful on my ears.  All the tubes were blocked up so there was no way for the pressure to equalize and I was genuinely concerned about my eardrums perforating.  After looking it up on the Internet I found that sure enough, flying with a cold is the main cause of perforated ear drums.  Thank goodness that didn't happen, but the pain sure made me worry!
On Friday, the day after we returned, we had an appointment to go visit another high school option for Rowan, the Horizon International School in Yokohama.  This would be a stretch for us, both in terms of distance to commute and cost, but it was an outlier, so we felt we had to look into it.  It's a nice, small school with k-12 and great programs.  But after our visit all 3 of us were unanimous in concluding it wouldn't work for us.  I don't want to go into details, but suffice it to say, it's off the list.  So now we are left with 1) continuing homeschooling through high school, 2)  pay for some classes on base, but homeschool the rest, 3) full online high school, 4) Faith Academy and the dorm, or 5) move to the Philippines and go to Faith Academy.  We will make our decision by the end of the year, but at the moment we are leaning most towards #4.  The main issue is that we feel Rowan really needs outside influence now.  He wants to stay homeschooling, but only because he perceives it as the least amount of effort for him.  He does not yet realize that the workload will increase regardless of the option, and that if we have to force him to do it, it's going to overload our homelife with stress.  If he was a willing and eager student, that would be a different situation.  Given his resistance to exerting himself in any way, we feel it would be best to send him out into a situation in which he would be accountable to others.  And maybe they will have greater success than we have had in motivating him to do well.  There are no perfect solutions, and we continue to pray about the best option.

Big scary Aslan for the chase scene
So there it is, our vacation and school decisions.  Now we have what remains of this 3 day weekend, and Kerri woke up this morning with what appears to be the stomach flu or food poisoning from dinner last night (I stayed issues here).  She sits miserable upon the couch behind me, periodically trekking to the bathroom to perform one or the other of the horrible things that such a condition requires.  She is very sad, but I don't know what to do for her at the moment as nothing seems to stay down.  Hopefully we can get at least one day of rest before real life starts up again on Monday.

The view from behind Faith Academy

Monday, November 2, 2015

Volunteering in Joso

This last weekend we had the opportunity to go up to Joso (about 2 1/2 hours trip from Yokosuka north) with members from our church to help clean the exterior of a house that had been hit by the terrible floods earlier this year.  The area we were in wasn't completely destroyed, but the houses had water up to 3 meters deep flooding the entire area.  Needless to say, the interiors of most of these houses are a total mess and need a ton of work.  Driving around the area, everything looks pretty cleaned up on the outside, and the only thing you notice is the line of dirt that stops about the same spot up all the walls.  But if you look inside you see the devastation.

The house we were working on consisted of 2 apartments on the ground floor and one on top.  Our job was to take the screen doors off (new Japanese word!  amido = screen door) scrape what dirt we could off before getting it wet, then do our best with water and towels to clean the rest of the dirt off.  By then the power washer was working (someone had to stretch several extension cables so far off we couldn't see where they went) and we went to town on the exterior walls/windows/doors.  After this it was the interior of the doors/windows.  At first I was worried about getting water inside, but then I realized it was so bad they would have to tear everything out anyway.  That power washer was a blast, I think I want one someday.  Then it was wiping down the windows until they gleamed.  Lastly we had to get the dirt and mud out of the concrete area surrounding the house, which was a real pain (actually the pair of Japanese ladies with us worked mostly on that part, there wasn't much room to maneuver).  Then it was a final sanitize spray with a hand-pumped pressurized bottle and we were done a bit earlier than the 4pm time we had been told originally.

In the afternoon, while we were finishing up still, a huge crew of Japanese workmen arrived and we were told to get out of their way as they started into ripping up the interior floor of the house.  We think they were a Japanese reconstruction company or something.  When we were done we went next door to where our "leaders" had been doing something else and it turns out they were doing something similar, rebuilding the flooring in a house where the family has basically been living up in the 2nd floor since the flood about a month ago.  It's hard work and we realized we'd been given a fairly easy job by comparison, but it would have been much more difficult for them to give us instructions for such work.

It was a great experience and we were glad to be able to help out at least a little bit.  I can't imagine how awful it must be to have your home destroyed so unexpectedly.

Afterwards, on the way back to the church where we had started from in the morning, we were driven to the true devastation.  This was the area where the river broke its bounds and swept everything in a raging torrent.  It was surreal, with vast swaths of sandy soil and the occasional house or car poking up from the ground.  Rowan said it looked post-apocalyptic.  I tried to get some interesting pictures of it, but of course this represents people's lives completely leveled and cannot do it justice.  They were still putting electrical poles back into place very nearby.  There is quite a long way to go before things are back to normal up there.