Thursday, March 27, 2008

A quickie before I disappear again

Just a quick post to show you some bits of our garden that we have been enjoying lately.

First the roses.
The red one is a Chrysler Imperial, a climber that I got from my Mum. It has a story. It was a climber that she had been given as a gift, and my Dad planted it out the front of the house on a larger frame. It got heaps of sun, and would go mad, climbing 7-8 feet high, covered in mid-sized scarlet red blooms with THE most knockout fragrance. In 1994 my Dad retired and within a month had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He loved this rose bush and I have a photo of him cutting back this climber for his last time. After he died (4 months to the day from diagnosis, 5 months after retiring, and 1 month after turning 65) we were comforted by the blooms of his favourite rose. And later in the season, Mum took cuttings from the bush and had four new bushes grafted as presents for us four girls. We all planted them at our homes and every bloom seemed like a present from Dad. I am the only one still living in the house with the rose. All the rest of my family have since moved house, including Mum. It is my favourite rose, and never fails to knock my socks off with its scent. Don built me the rose arbour to house it, and I have many memories of him building it, my sister sitting under it as she recovered from surgery for ovarian cancer, and family photos beneath it following my Nanna's funeral a few months later. I love it to bits. I plan to get new bushes made/grafted again for Mum and my sisters.

The other rose is either a little pink Iceberg, or a David Austin rose called Sharif Asma, both of which are near the back door in large pots. They are always producing little blooms and are fairly hardy and indestructible. The pink glass with it was a candleholder gift from one of my sisters.

This big bush is a Banksia near my front door, outside my bedroom window. It is quite spectacular this year. On one or two days a year, flocks of enormous black cockatoos alight on the plant and eat the blossoms from the banksia cones, leaving an incredible mess, but having such a raucous time doing it that one can't be cross with them! It is amazing to watch them having this 'flash-mob' style party. One year they woke me up with all the activity only 3 metres from my bed!
Anyway, that photo is there because Lesley arrived last week for a birthday cuppa, and just loved the Banksia, so we took our photo with it in the background, before having a spot of candle-blowing out with CAKE! She and her Mum then returned for dinner, after the day's visiting at the hospital finished.
Happy birthday Les! We had plans for posting the same photos on our blogs simultaneously, but Les is a bit computer and time deprived currently, so there will be a delay. We have had all sorts of fun together while she has been back, I will miss her dreadfully when she returns to San Diego. We splurged on vintage Japanese obis on Tuesday....there were so many to choose from. We were also spoilt by our local hairdresser friend with a gift of fabric from a local designer close-out. When I say fabric, I mean BOLTS !!! So much to choose from! Thanks Maggie, what a honey! I dare say its not the last you will see of that fabric. I'm sure some of it will make its way back to you! I definitely feel a few bags coming on (if I can just stay home long enough).
Anyway, really must dash. I have a to-do list a mile long to accomplish today before getting on a plane again for Melbourne and the last wedding of the month. Our niece's, it is sure to be utterly gorgeous, but she has just called me and warned me that it is pouring with rain and bitterly cold in Melbourne, so bring warm gear! Consider ourselves warned! I haven't even started my own packing yet!
Hmm, the red dress may be a bit cool, back up plans aho!
I'm away for 9 days and then work for 2 days straight away, so if I don't mange to post anything I'll be thinking of you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Holiday tales

OK so here's the goss on Japan - it was GREAT! I finished night shift Wed morning at 7.20am and slept for about 2-ish hours, then I got up and finished packing...I don't think I forgot anything except the phone charger - not important as it didn't work cos I'd been too busy to put it on international roaming. So the trip was even more special because we were so totally incommunicado.

I have now decided that we are not crossing the Pacific again without going business class. All the hassle of getting to airports hours early for international flights is negated by the convenience of the business class lounge. Food and drink laid on (esp. Singapore lounge - fantastic). Yay! The service on the flight was so attentive, I was fed literally all the way to Singapore. I practically had to beg them to stop bringing me food so I could get some sleep from Singapore to Fukuoka.

We arrived at breakfast time on Thursday and were met by a good friend Dr Takayuki Sueta who had spent two years in Perth. He took us to the university department adjacent to the hospital where he practises as an ENT surgeon. There we met various other staff members and had a tour of the hearing research facilities, and as a special treat for me a trip to the neonatal nursery attached to one of the maternity wards, where I saw some sweet little Japanese babies in their many layers of wrappings including tiny kimono style tops. It was very thoughtful to include my interests and to introduce me to the staff of the unit, I was most touched.
We then returned to the department where we were joined by Takayuki's wife and children and her parents, who we had met in Perth. It was a delirious reunion and we soon headed off together in a hire car to a mountain hot springs resort, the Kurakawa Onsen. Our room was third from the left top. We were accompanied by the wife of another ENT surgeon who has known us for many years, and who has also lived in Perth and the USA.

The resort was very like the area I lived in (also in Japan at Minakami onsen) as a young girl 27 years ago! The rooms were beautiful, two large single beds, and a tatami mat area, with a private deck overlooking the river and the mountainside, which included a private outdoor bath with piped hot spring water for round the clock bathing. Ahhhh ... when in Rome ... It was irresistible ... the sounds of the river bend below..the stark late winter trees beyond. Just gorgeous. We had an incredible and extravagant Japanese dinner in a special private dining room on tatami overlooking a small pond with enormous koi fish.
The little girls were relaxing in our presence. Rikako (6) was born in Perth and was with us there until she was nearly 2 years of age. Her mother Chihaya and I are very close. We hadn't met the new daughter Mami, who is 16 months. Both are delightful and full of fun. A lovely family. After dinner we all had trips to the outdoor baths. The men went first, then the women - me, Chihaya, Noriko and Rikako all trooped off wearing our hotel bathrobes and slippers through the hotel to the large public bath first where we rinsed off and had an initial soak. Then, clad in nothing but our small thin handtowels we ventured out into the cool spring night, and soaked in turn in various small rock hotpools, ending up eventually in the riverside pool, among the rocks above the rapids under the stars. It was a lovely way to spend an hour, naked with friends, exchanging news and relaxing in the hot water. We worked our way back through a cave pool and finally back into the big public indoor bath again where we soaped and scrubbed fully and had a last soak. A unique Japanese pleasure, which I came to understand more fully on this trip. We were so lucky to be there.

Presents for all the women were given and received with delight. I had made a handbag for ChihayaNoriko and another friend Fumiko, plus of course presents for the little girls including Easter chocolates.
After an elaborate full Japanese breakfast in the hotel (and another quick tub on the deck), and a quick walk we headed off to a nearby mountain Mt Asa. This is a volcanic area, with five peaks, but unfortunately it was very misty and the view was impaired, so we went down into the ancient caldera and went to a soba dojo where we made buckwheat noodles from soba beans ground into flour. This was great fun, and Don was the star! The instructor was very impressed that a man in his fifties took so readily to mixing, kneading and rolling the noodles (such a skill is not very common in Japanese culture apparently). They then cooked the noodles for us for lunch in a yummy broth. Then off to Kumomoto to visit the castle and towers- very picturesque, lovely grounds, and enormous winding stone walls to protect the towers. interesting historical displays from the edo period. There were plum trees in blossom but sadly it was a bit too early for the cherry blossoms.

We returned to Fukuoka and were deposited in a very nice hotel for an hour or so, before being picked up for a special dinner in a fine French restaurant on a hill overlooking the city. Oh. My. God. I have never had such an elaborate French meal. 8 courses including French wines and sobets and hand-made truffles. We were a party of 11 and included the retiring Professor Dr Kato, the current head of the department Professor Nakagawa and his wife, Dr Morizono and his wife Noriko, Dr Takayuki and his wife Chihaya, Dr Yamano and his wife Fumiko (also Perth visitor friends) and ourselves. It was a very special night.

How did we communicate? Mostly in English, but I was seated between Professor Kato who understood some English but was not confident speaking it, and on my left was Professor Nakagawa whose English was excellent. I understand a tiny bit of Japanese and blundered on when I could with small talk, but Noriko was my translator for the majority of the night. What a honey, she is really practical, and has such a sense of humour. Kato and I found we had things in common, including singing and wine appreciation (although I don't drink now), and that his wife (who would be present the next day) would be able to communicate with us in French as she was involved in the France - Japan society.

I was also able to see Fumiko and Takafumi. Noriko and Chihaya had told me the day before that they had lost a baby at term in August last year. Such sad, shocking news, Fumiko was so brave as she told me a little more about it as I crouched next to her at the other end of the table. His name was Kuroke, and his Mum is sure she will meet him again when he returns to her as their next baby. I told her about a similar story I had read here, which moved me so much. (I have since printed out a translation for her and will send it to her this week, along with a gift in memory of him). We were both a bit misty-eyed and had to retire to the loo, but I was so glad to see them both, and give them my hugs and sympathies in person. Birth truly is as safe as life gets. There is no known reason for his death, they had waited and tried for 5 years to have a baby. It is never fair.
Next day we were picked up and taken by train to the Kyushu National Museum, a fascinating building with beautiful displays of the history of the Asian region and its people. The most beautiful artifacts, things I had never seen before such as flame pots, and the use of earthenware clay for coffins/burial pots. Incredible. We then went to the Daizafu Shrine, where people go to pray for exam success. We prayed (someone, somewhere must need it). We then had lunch in a local restaurant before a lightning bit of 'Power Shopping' for some souvenirs and textiles before returning to the city by mid-afternoon.

The big function that night was the symposium and retirement banquet. This necessitated 3 speeches by Don including a half-hour scientific speech, comments for the retirement and presentation of a plaque to Professor Kato. It was a pretty big deal, and as the invited overseas guest(s) we were treated to the nicest tables and waited on, while most people milled around and served themselves. Professor Kato's wife was delighted to have some francophones to converse with (Don is very fluent, and I can get by OK), and I got thoroughly confused for a while about which language to answer in to anyone! It is funny that I have used French each time I have visited Japan, as a lingua franca of second choice, with either Japanese or European visitors I have met. All those years in high school were not wasted! The food once again was great. It was a great honour to be invited. Some of the staff were wearing traditional dress, and we managed a quick photo with them. They were a doctor and two departmental secretaries, who were looking after us so kindly. Hardly any other wives were invited. There was a bit of drinking in a hotel bar after the banquet, then off to bed, very relieved that the technical aspects of the talks had gone well and they were well received.

On our last day we went by train with all our friends to a town to the south called Yanagawa, a city of water with canals, where there was a festival for girls (March 3) and dolls (March 13). The whole town is decorated with little dolls and brightly coloured mobiles celebrating girls and dolls. We arrived a bit late for the water parade, but there were heaps of people in town, and visiting the ohana, sort of a town hall/museum place. We found some early cherry blossoms!Sakura at last! We ate a lunch of eel, a local delicacy, steamed with rice and despatched to dining parties with efficiency in lovely laquered boxes. Once again we were in a tatami dining hall on the floor, a bit of a challenge for some, including one of our hosts. But the company was great. Don made a toast to our friends, to thank them for being so hospitable and thoughtful during our stay, and for showing us so much culture and kindness. This left half of us in tears (the women), as we realised we would be separated again the next day, just when we were so enjoying being together again. That night we had another dinner together at a tempura restaurant in our hotel, as a party of 8 in a private dining room, another beautifully presented 11 course meal with a Spring theme, including cherry blossoms in the soup, and seasonal produce, and many local varieties of sake rice wine - each style served in a different sake flask and glasses. Just gorgeous.

And the next morning we were seen off by the Morizonos and the Suetas at the airport for the full day journey back home. We had been so thoughtfully taken care of during the trip - a whirlwind 4 days on the ground. Our friends were so attentive, even though their lives were so busy. Takayuki's mother was in hospital, about to have surgery for supected lung cancer and he was driving us around! We felt guilty for taking up so much of their time, but had a few hours to wander the streets ourselves and (not quite) get lost. I found a place with scapbooking supplies to make a card for her in my hotel room, as I couldn't find a card shop in our area!

Japan was much as I had remembered it, bustling, beautiful, civilised, polite, fascinating, friendly and very foreign and alienating to someone as text based as I am. It is quite odd to not understand ANY of the text that surrounds you. Speaking of which...

This is a Japanese western style toilet. Our hotel toilet to be precise, but similar ones could be found everywhere. We didn't sit on a cold toilet seat anywhere, because they are all heated to a cosy-bottom temperature! I kid you not! It was astounding. In addition, all the other contraptions are for, ahem, washing purposes. One can dial up a front wash, a backside wash, a single jet, a tidal wave full bowl fountain spray, or oscillating, just dial-up the pressure required. Is that too much information? And yes, I did try it out. Having a jet of warm water aimed with extreme accuracy is quite an experience I can assure you! I don't want to know how it aims, no, really I don't! Can you imagine the power consumption that goes into that bit of engineering? Keeping bottoms warm all over Japan!

The food was incredible. Don was in heaven, I tried most things, but I will never be a fan of everything on offer in Japan (even Don found some things startling). Why did I find it difficult to accept that 'tea' was usually salty, yet if they called it soup I would usually cope? We were fed raw horse, raw egg, miso soup, 12 different green teas, pickled plums, eel, Hokkaido Snow crab, Kagoshima beef, tiny whole baby cuttlefish, fugu (blowfish), tempura, river fish, sea perch, caviar, prawns, fungi, seaweed, agar, red-bean paste cakes, and every kind of seafood and sashimi known to man. Here is Don's lunch on Day 1 (minus the first bit)And of course rice, rice and more rice and more nori. Not to mention the French menu we were treated to, the banquets and more. It was truly amazing. Its all such an art form.

And the people in general. So polite. So kind. The service. Incredible. And our friends - I just wanted to fit them all in my suitcase and take them home. But the point was that I was seeing them in their home town, and they seemed so delighted to host us. I would go back again!
So...its a long story with heaps of photos. Somehow I didn't take many group pics, but I hope our friends did and send us some!
What a marathon post. Its late at night here and I've just come off 3 nights of night shift, so I'm still up at 3.30am. Many stories to tell from work too for another day.
Ah well... I'm on proper holidays now for 2 weeks.
Talk again soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ohaiyo Gozaimus

I'm back from Japan!

What a whirlwind and interesting trip! Treated like royalty, flying business class, spoilt rotten! We got back 48hrs ago and no-one has bowed to us in all that get used to it real quick! Great friends, good and sad news, amazing food, cultural wonders, so much to tell.

Having spent all morning adding photos to the previous wedding post, I will have to post details of Japan another day - with more photos of course! I have a kid on crutches with ligament damage to an ankle, no car, lots of appointments, Easter and night shift ... but I will get back to you ASAP.

Sayonara for now!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Weekend of weddings *Now with photos*

Well the weekend is over and it was LOVELY.

There were two beautiful brides. There was lots of love. There was lots of driving. There was not much sleep. There were termites (I kid you not). There was a cute daughter all dressed up. There was a girdle involved (sadly not as effective as I had hoped. Sigh. Blame the raw material. And don't get me started on the flabby arms! I felt like a whale, except whales don't have arms????) There were two stunning bridal dresses. There were two handsome grooms. There were kilts and bagpipes! There were many old and new friends. There was great food and drink. There were two stunning waterside settings. There were blessings for babies in the future, and for wedding rings. There was earth, air, fire and water. There were gorgeous bridesmaids. There was dancing! There were loving families, there were strained families, there were mix-and-match families. There was a flowergirl with a broken arm (I broke it at the hen's party, when I fell on her in a game, :( uh-oh). There were hugs and kisses and reminisces. There were cold shoulders and warm ones. There were babies, and babies-to-be, predictions for love, and wishing rocks in the ocean. Messages in the sand and earthy comments. Earthy deeds! Memories, regrets, gladness and pain. Seating arrangments, wedding cakes, tissues and tears. Too many photos and not enough. Absent friends and lost moments. Letting go and new beginnings. And now it is over. I have this morning to finish packing for Japan, wrapping presents, tidying the house, making lists and toys. Do I have time to make another bag as a gift? I made one on Friday. I could squeeze in a simpler one...Aaarrgh! And I start two nights of night shift tonight, so I need to sleep this avo too....I should get off the computer and stop procrastinating. I will edit this post and add photos later. (Done - OMG it took hours. This bloody new camera takes pics that are too ..time. .to ...manual)

Thinking of you...I'll miss you while I'm gone in Japan.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Laughing baby

Check out this cute baby. I am an absolute sucker for cackling children. They crack me up. I will ALWAYS vote for a laughing baby on "Funniest Home Video" type things (at least I would if I ever parted with my hard-earned dough to vote in those TV shows - which I never do). I found the link at Widget's site. Thanks Widget.

Went back onto the postnatal ward today. Busy as...well, I was. Re-entry sluggishness I suppose. Nice shift though. 4 women, only one baby, including the woman and baby I looked after in labour on LBS the day before. It was really nice to see their little one. An older couple (43 and 59!!!!), their first child.

Wonder how long it will take before the little tackers I saw today will be laughing their faces off like this little fellow?