The Great Torri

Quite a late post because well, life resumed but as I’m lying in bed with a sore throat and runny nose, I can’t help but reminiscent our recent Japan trip. This was the ‘must-see’ attraction in Hiroshima that I saved for the second last day and am glad it all worked out because on that day, the lowest tide reading was at 11.11am – perfectly timed for our visit.

It was also Nat’s first ferry boat ride to an island. Yes, most of Nat’s firsts were on this trip – our first family trip to the zoo was also in Himeji.

The quickest way to the Miyajima island is via train and then ferry. We had the JR rail pass so it covered all transport there.

That morning was rather overcast and had a slight drizzle so it was very misty. Yet, one could still see the Great Torri peaking out of the mist from the ferry.

The gate is known as the Great Torri because of the legend and religious significance that surrounds it. It is believed to represent the boundary between the human and spirit world. At high tide, it appears to be floating on the Seto sea but we went during low tide so we could literally walk on the sea bed and physically touch the gate!

Originally I wanted to book a one night stay at a traditional Ryokan on the island to see the Torii illuminated at night but I was worried that if we needed emergency medical attention, the hospital is on the main Hiroshima island!

And true enough, we had to visit the Doctor for an allergic reaction that Nat got from an insect bite. That’s another post altogether… but hospital visit aside, our day trip to the Miyajima island to see the Great Torri up close was the best way to end our holiday.

Just wished it wasn’t so misty so we could capture some clear blue summer skies but I guess the mist and drizzle also gave our visit a different feel and vibe that one usually does not get during summer.

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Day Trips to Himeji and Kurashiki

Last year when we were in Kyoto, Himeji was possible but not as nearby so I decided not to squeeze it into our itinerary. This time round, having our base at Okayama meant that Himeji was a mere 20 min train ride away. Another good place for a day trip out of Okayama is Kurashiki, in particular the historical Bikan canal district.

First up, Himeji Castle!

Getting there: Himeji can be reached from almost all major Japan cities such as Osaka, Tokyo and Kobe. So depending on where you are based, getting to the castle is relatively easy via the JR Shinkansen. Once at Himeji station, it’s a 15-20 minutes walk to the castle compound or take a 5 minute bus that drops you right at the entrance.

Did I mention how even the drain covers in Japan are so nice!

The special thing of this castle is that unlike most castles in Japan, it was not destroyed by any natural disaster or war. 2018 is also the 25th anniversary of Himeji being named a world heritage site.

Inside the castle compound, there is a Himeji city zoo so we brought Nat to see some animals. It’s 200¥ per adult while kids below 5 enter for free. While some of the enclosures are quite “cagey” with only one animal inside, it was still a very pleasant experience. Rarely does one get to visit a zoo in 20 degrees weather and see a castle in the background! Am so glad we have this memory of our first zoo visit with Nat.

In HJ’s words, the day trip to Himeji was “the longest and most fun day of our trip!”

Next up, Kurashiki!

An important point along Japan’s rice distribution route during the Edo Period, Kurashiki came under direct control of the shogunate and was named after its many storehouses (kura).

Getting there: One can reach Kurashiki from Okayama by local JR lines that costs approx. 320¥. From the train station, we took a bus ride that stops right outside one of the museums, the Ohara Museum and walked to the main canal district from there. Find out more ways to get to Kurashiki here.

The main attraction is the Bikan Historical Quarter, a central section of the former canal system. As it is now summer, the greenery was in its full glory as seen from the weeping willow trees that lined the canal. There was a slight drizzle that morning but the area was still very, very picturesque!

There’s also various museums and shops that line the canal which you can take a whole morning to see.

Am so glad I decided to spend four days in Okamaya so that we could make these two day trips!

– CK

Okayama

As with all of my Japan trips, I don’t remain in one city for the whole duration of the holiday so for our second base, I decided on Okayama. We spent 3 nights in Okayama because it’s near two other places I wanted to go – Himeji and Kurashiki. Here’s why Okayama was chosen over Kobe and a summary of sites to see on the first day.

Kobe vs Okayama: I initially selected Kobe as our second base after Hiroshima but I changed my mind. Not only is it slightly further away, it feels like it has the same city-vibe as Hiroshima. Kobe does have its fair share of sights but they just didn’t seem suitable for a trip with Nat. I wanted somewhere slower and more scenic.

Then I came across Okayama, and the more I researched, I knew it was the one; especially after reading that it developed as a castle town. This was more ideal for traveling with a toddler because I know that in Japan, every castle has an accompanying castle park that Nat can run around.

Getting there: We purchased a JR Kansai-Hiroshima pass from JTB that covers all the places we want to go, including local JR lines and the Hiroshima loop bus. So it’s advisable that you calculate the costs per trip vs. buying a pass to see which one is most worth it. As our pass allows us to take any of the Shinkansen trains, we took the fastest one (Nozomi) and reached Okayama in 30 minutes.

Where we stayed: Similar to my approach in Hiroshima, I picked a place to stay near the JR station – Daiwa Roynet Hotel Okayama. To our shock and amusement, the hotel occupies levels 5 to 10 of a building that has BIC CAMERA from levels B1 to 4. Anyone who has been to Japan knows about BIC CAMERA and how it literally sells almost everything! Imagine your hotel above our Singapore’s Turf City’s Giant Hypermarket but instead of 2 levels, there’s 5!

Must-see Sites:

This website has site recommendations by the season so on the first day, we went to the Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden.

Weather-wise, it was sunny but still a comfortable 28 degrees. The best part was when Nat took a midday nap, which gave us a solid hour to chill in a cafe across the castle. We just sat there speechless…staring out of the window to enjoy the moment and beauty of the whole place.

– CK

Hiroshima 2018

So we’ve been in Japan, Hiroshima since the 2nd of June and we have survived the first few days of our trip! This is my 3rd time to Japan but 1st foray into Hiroshima. It is also our 1st overseas trip with Nat, after taking 4 trips without him in 2017. Here’s a summary of the past 2 days and how we handled traveling with a 19 month toddler.

The flight: There’s only one direct route via SilkAir from Singapore to Hiroshima so we didn’t have much choice but no complains there because I usually fly with SQ or SilkAir. A drawback was that there is only one flight per day from Singapore to Hiroshima, at 0145 in the morning! So yes, Nat’s first flight was 6h15min to Japan at 0145. We’re either crazy or just mad over Japan.

I’ve also come to learn that when one travels with a toddler, whatever “norm” we have goes out the window.

  • For example, Nat is usually asleep by 2030 until 0630 and he’s quite a heavy sleeper.
  • However, he woke up when we carried him into car at 2330 and didn’t sleep until 0330! Yup, the flight took off at 0145, Nat was quite clueless during take off but our friend was wide awake until 0330.
  • It took 30 minutes of Netflix nursery videos to get his eyes finally heavy and thankfully, he slept on HJ until the plane landed at 0915.
  • Luckily, there was nobody next to me or seated in the row behind us too so I moved back and laid down for 2 hours before the sun rise woke me up.

I did think about whether a daytime flight was better but I rather have Nat knocked out for the bulk of the flight than handle him being awake for 75% of it. That’s going to be our return flight and I’m so dreading it…

The hotel: At my colleague’s advice, we chose Hotel Granvia Hiroshima because it was near the JR station. Unlike Tokyo where one needs to take the Narita Express to the city centre, there’s a limousine bus equivalent in Hiroshima. The bus ride is approx. 40minutes and it stops at the bus station of the Hiroshima JR station. To our pleasant surprise, the hotel was right next to the bus terminal (hooray!).

The sights: We took Day 1 (2/6) slowly because we only slept 3-4 hours on the flight the night before.

Our first stop was the Hiroshima Castle, after we deposited our bags at the hotel.

  • Getting around Hiroshima can be quite easily done via taking bus or the tram. We purchased tickets for the Hiroshima loop bus that stops at the major tourist spots.
  • After checking in, we spent the evening at the shopping malls around our hotel.

For our second day in Hiroshima, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and A-bomb dome.

Standing in the park today, I found it hard to believe that this was the site where the bomb dropped. Reading the signs about how there were school children doing volunteer work at the park when the bomb was dropped gave me goosebumps.

The food: Basically 3 things are “must-eats” in Hiroshima.

  1. Pancake with soba noodles or udon
  2. Oysters
  3. Noodles in a cold spicy dip

More info can be found HERE on the famous food Hiroshima has to offer.

So far, we’ve had moments of sheer exhaustion (especially on Day 1) to moments where we feel that we’ve got this traveling-with-a-toddler business under control e.g. Nat is adequately fed, slept enough, showered and most importantly, alive and safe.

The next 3 days will be spent in Okayama for the middle leg of our trip!

– CK

1.5 years old

Other than the rare but messy nap transitions, I guess 18 months is a milestone of sorts. Today was his vaccination appointment and the PD also had quite a bit of questions for us to check if Nat’s developing well. Maybe Nat also knows he’s grown up now because he kept pointing at other babies and said, “baby”. Yup, he’s no longer a baby.

So what do they typically ask at the 18 months check up?

Can he say 1 or 2 syllable words? How about Mama and Papa?

  • Yes and no. Nat doesn’t refer to me as Mama. I am “Ah Mee” to him haha because I prefer it that way but HJ is “Papa”. Other than that, his most frequently spoken words are animals and their sounds. So our PD said, “he’s fine, not slow, but not super also”. Love how she summed it up.

Does he take more fresh or formula milk?

  • Roughly the same actually. For his 1st and last feed, it’s formula milk but in the day time, Nat takes fresh milk mixed with formula.
  • I guess we need to increase the proportion of fresh milk vis-a-vis formula moving forward.

Can walk and run? How about climb stairs with support?

  • Yes he can (we didn’t tell her the part about how we wished he would stop climbing the stairs because I’m so afraid he would fall face flat and chip his teeth)… but yes, he can climb any flight of stairs holding our hand for support. Actually it’s us, the adults, who dare not let go of him.

Can he hold a crayon and doodle?

  • Erm, I guess he can but Nat prefers brush calligraphy pens to crayons and colour pencils. His markings are still quite faint. Mostly random scribbling.

Can he drink from a cup? And a straw?

  • Erm… yes but not by himself because the water usually spills everywhere. I guess we need to practice more as now he drinks from his water bottle with a straw.

Then I also had some questions of my own for the PD.

Can and/or should Nat sleep on a pillow?

PD: Yes! Anytime after 3 months.

Me: What?? So young. Oops. He sleeps flat on the mattress now.

PD: Aiyo so uncomfortable!

Me: So now what kind do we get? A toddler one?

PD: No la. Any one is fine just make sure it’s not too high. He’s so old and big already!

Well… I guess we’ll be searching for a pillow soon.

I think when he’s nearer 2 years old then I will ask about toilet training?? He’s not ready and we definitely aren’t!

Exciting times ahead.

Stools & more

After Morton’s this evening, we went to Marina Square and I added another ceramic stool to my collection! I think I’m slightly obsessed with these stools or just chairs in general but, I don’t have a lot of surface area in my house! HJ knows me best – every now and then, I get into a “mood” and feel like decorating the house all over again. Today was one of those days…

  • Left: newest addition that is now in my master toilet from LIM’S
  • Top right: this is the smallest one for Nat’s basket of shoes from LUSH
  • Bottom right: for more of Nat’s toys and/or to put drinks from Taylor B

And… I’m already thinking how to fit more in my balcony!

So as I look back rather fondly on my decor journey, I decided to snap a few photos of the living area for documentation purposes. Who knows, things may get messier as Nat accumulates more things.

  • Sofa – from DONE by Modus Natura. It came in a set with a single-seater but that’s in Nat’s nursery. Now the sofa has a throw lining the seating area because Nat keeps climbing up and down and may scratch it in the process.
  • Rattan chairs – these were meant for the balcony but we put them here as they can’t be exposed to the harsh elements outside. They were literally from a van that sets up shop around Toa Payoh and/or Ang Mo Kio so it was by pure chance that my mom and sis came across them. They are my fave part of the living because rattan chairs like these are a dying trade.
  • Frames – the posters were ordered from Etsy because they’re our 3 favorite cities as of 2016 (London, Berlin and Prague). Japan, our current favorite country isn’t represented on our walls [yet] but … it will be in the works soon.

This area is opposite our sofa and it is usually designated as a TV wall for most people but we don’t have a TV (yes… we binge on Netflix on our laptops).

As such, we placed a display/book shelf from Scanteak and next to it is what I call a “scoop chair”. It’s another sign of my chair obsession because it was meant to be for HJ to wear his shoes but there’s no space near the door so it is now next to our balcony door.

The good thing about the shelf is that it can be positioned upright (vertically) so if we need more space in the future for say a small writing table for Nat, then we have the option to change the current orientation of the shelf from its horizontal form to stand upright.

The last bit of our living area is near the entrance.

  • Shoe cabinet – this was our 2nd one from IconicHAUS because our 1st one from Scanteak had sawdust coming out of it after a few months! So it was very tough trying to find a replacement with a similar wood shade that can match everything else but thankfully we did.
  • Mirror – it looks black here but it’s actually a dark metallic bronze finish from Crate & Barrel. I’m ashamed to say that this is the most dangerous and not child-friendly furniture because we have yet to secure it to the wall. It’s held in place by stoppers on the ground but… I know we have to get it fixed to the wall soon (before Nat becomes even more active and crashes into it).

So that’s just a snippet of our living room. I think it’s quite obvious by now that I am not a fan of build-in fixtures because I like to have the flexibility. This meant that most of the items had to be sourced and purchased individually from a variety of places.

The overall style I had in mind was a blend of modern and eclectic. In terms of colour, we stuck to 3 main colours of black (furniture), grey (curtains) and shades of white (walls) with woody accents (more furniture pieces). So every room will also have these similar shades/elements. Finally, the eclectic parts are featured mostly via the accessories.

Up next… I’ll continue to mull over my balcony, which is always seems to be a work in progress!

It’s time.

I write this as I am preparing to go back to school next year, after 4 years in HQ. I guess everything is 20/20 on hindsight. In 2014, the notification of my mandatory posting took me by surprise. Thereafter, the decisions to extend my stint felt more logical. Looking back, the past 4 years was exactly where I needed to be.

It’s the next step that scares me but as they say, whatever will be will be. I just want to teach and hopefully it will not require me to drive halfway across the island.

Another thing that I need to do is to let go and let God but it is always easier said than done.

– CK

Room Transitions (Part 1) day

Over the past 2 days, we have taken the first step to transit Nat into his own room. Earlier on, I wanted to move him & his cot over when he turned 1 year old but that could not happen when Nat ditched his cot for the floor. The trigger for this transition was Nat’s bizarre sleep “migration” habits in the middle of the night. We decided to invest in a bigger kid’s mattress and will take this chance to let Nat have his weekend day naps in his room. The plan is to get him used to sleeping in his room so that he’ll eventually be able to sleep there in the night, hopefully around 2 years old?

On this topic of when should a baby/toddler move into their own rooms, I did some reading and also discussed it with HJ.

From very early on, we both decided that it was more convenient to room-share with Nat. Room-sharing is not the same as co-sleeping. In fact, while HJ is okay with occasional co-sleeping, I only let Nat co-sleep as a last resort i.e. when we’re too tired to soothe him back to bed, because of how it can potentially be very dangerous. This is because we can both be quite heavy sleepers and Nat has rolled off the bed a few times before.

As for when is the right time to shift Nat over to his nursery to sleep on his own at night, HJ felt that Nat is still not ready, and I agree. What do we mean by “not ready”? Sleep-wise, Nat is pretty easy-going as long as it’s not in the cot. Yet, that also makes it not safe because he could wake up in the middle of the night and climb up the armchair inside his room. By right, one should shift out all hazardous furniture but because we can’t move out the armchair anywhere else, we decided to gradually induct Nat by having him take his day naps there first.

Finding a bigger mattress was a bit tricky. As Nat is still a toddler, his cot mattress (120cm by 70cm) is good enough. However, since I am bent on letting Nat sleep on a mattress on the floor for as long as possible, it made sense to invest in a bigger kid’s mattress. Then we encountered some size issues. Nat’s room, being the smallest in the house, cannot fit a standard single mattress because there is also an arm chair and side table inside. Thankfully, we managed to find a 160cm one from IKEA that’s meant for children ages 3-7. Having only mattresses on the floor is very flexible because it can be positioned anywhere – either parallel or perpendicular to the wardrobe. The only extra things we have to do on weekends is carry his mattress back and forth between our rooms after his day naps because he will still be sleeping on the floor next to our bed in the night.

There are plenty of tips online for a smooth transition, so wish us luck as we try them.

On a side note, I wished we read this earlier and experimented with it.

A new study raises a reason why babies ought to get evicted before their first birthday: They may get more sleep at night in their own rooms. Babies who were sleeping in their own rooms at ages 4 or 9 months got more nighttime sleep than babies the same ages who roomed with parents…sharing a bedroom with babies interferes with everyone’s sleep because normal nocturnal rustlings turn into full-blown wake-ups. Babies and adults alike experience brief arousals during sleep. But when parents are right next to babies, they’re more likely to respond to their children’s brief arousals, which then wakes the baby up more. This then sets up the expectation from the baby that these arousals will be met with a parent reaction, causing a bad cycle to develop.

The last few lines = no shit Sherlock.

But, we’re very lucky because Nat at most wakes up once and as long as he finds a warm body or hand to pat him, he goes back to bed.

Or, we’re just plain zombies. There have been two occasions in the last few weeks where Nat somehow climbed onto our bed and found his way in-between our pillows. Neither of us was conscious enough to know what happened. We simply found him next to us at 630am and assumed the other person was responsible for his appearance hahaha!

Ipoh in 3 days!

For the March school hols this year, we couldn’t escape to Japan to see cherry blossoms because I was involved in a major work event. So our Japan trip has moved to June and we decided to go Ipoh in March. I was intrigued by Ipoh because it is not only historical but also very rustic and eclectic – totally my kind of place…

Day 1: We took the afternoon flight out of Singapore so only dinner was planned for our first day after checking in.

  • The ‘must-eat’ pitstop was the famous beansprout chicken at the Old Town side – Restoran Tauge Ayam Lou Wong

Day 2: Prior to coming here, I booked a day tour to bring us around the city. We booked our tour from Ipoh Secrets, which was highly recommended by my colleagues who have been to Ipoh.

What was initially a small group tour of 8-9 people became a ‘private’ one with only the two of us and our guide, John!

Here’s where we went in summary. The sites in the heritage trail are very near each other so they’re very walkable even without a guide.

Ipoh Heritage Trail – we started with the former Ipoh Town Hall aka the Taj Mahal of Ipoh.

The Town Hall is opposite the Ipoh Railway Station, which is still in operation. It used to have a hotel on the second level but the hotel has ceased operation for more than a decade. John also shared with us about the “Ipoh” tree, that collapsed in the 1990s. It apparently has poisonous sap, which was used to kill someone before. True or false – I think we won’t really know.

Nearby is the Birch Memorial Clock Tower where our guide told us the history of the first resident of Perak and how he was resented by the locals and eventually assassinated. The memorial was subsequently erected by his son, Ernest Birch, the 8th resident of Perak.

As a History educator, it was very interesting to see how certain versions of history are celebrated while others are purposely erased by something as simple as the renaming of street names.

Then we walked through some of the old streets, in particular, the Concubine Lanes. What was formerly a street for the second and third wives of wealthy men is now a tourist lane with small shops.

Before lunch, John drove us to a house selling handmade charcoal-baked pastries. Sadly, the coal oven isn’t fired up as often anymore because the owner is going to retire soon.

Post-lunch, we made a trip to the first cave temple – Sam Poh Tong. It’s an active place of worship and extremely tranquil. It also had a Japanese pond with koi fishes and turtles. I personally like to visit temples that have elements of nature like the relics in Siem Reap and those in Japan, that are surrounded by gardens.

Next up was the famous and supposedly haunted Kellie’s Castle, which was my main place of interest. It’s a 25-30min drive out of Ipoh town so one can also go without a tour guide.

I can now conclude that I’m a castle-junkie because every trip thus far that has castles to see, they have appeared on my itinerary. UK in 2014, Germany in 2015, Japan in 2011 and 2017 and now Ipoh.

Our last stop of the afternoon was another cave temple – Kek Lok Tong. It had started to rain but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because during wet weather, water will drip down the stalagmites inside the limestone caves.

After the tour ended, we headed to Plan B, a cafe/bar that was formerly an opera house for a late afternoon snack.

At night, we cabbed to the New Town side to shop at Ipoh Parade mall because shops at the Old Town close by 5pm.

Day 3: We had half a day to sight-see before flying back so we reserved a tour at Han Chin Pet Soo – the Hakka Miners’ Club, the oldest Chinese club in Ipoh.

Interesting fact we found out about our hotel – Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay & Event Hall…. it was the former OCBC bank!

This is one main reasons why we had such a fulfilling trip to Ipoh…everything around the Old Town is so rich in history and I personally prefer the slower pace of the place compared to Penang.

I highly recommend our hotel, it’s so eclectic and filled with antique furniture that I wished my home had more of. The staff are also very welcoming and helpful.

Ipoh, you were simply amazing.

And now, I need to get over my travel withdrawal because I have to go back to work tomorrow.

– CK

Parenting

I still want to do no.1 ! But this is quite funny and very true. As I’m typing this, Nat is having his 2nd nap at my mom’s (because we went for Yoga class) and we’re watching Netflix before we pick him up. Even if it’s the weekend, there’s no need to shop, eat fancy food or catch a movie… I’m VERY happy with a bed and Netflix!

I guess the thing I miss most about life before Nat is the personal and private space we had.

Most of the time, there was only our schedule to think about. We could wake up at 10am and do whatever we wanted on weekends.

Now there’s no such thing as waking up at 10am. We’re up at 645am by default, 7 days a week but we’re also very lucky Nat does a continuous stretch of sleep from 9pm to 630am on most nights.

Speaking of space, we also had to make room for our helper in our study and take Nat into account as far as our home deco and furniture was concerned.

Nothing too dangerous or considered too impractical for children. Invisible grills that costs over a thousand. Door guards and shoe cabinet locks that still look aesthetically decent enough. All because I want a house that doesn’t look like a kiddo has taken over it.

And I’m aware that such adjustments have just begun. Soon, Nat will grow into a bigger toddler and more revisions have to be made. I guess with a child or children, things don’t remain fixed for long. We’re always responding and adjusting to their cues and needs.

Guess this is what growing up and begin a parent means.