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

Week 1 of 2018

How apt… and quite funny too but yes, it pretty much sums up how it feels to have completed the first week of a new year. I regret not piling up my stash of Somersby or Kronenbourg the last time we were at Changi duty free. Every work day this week ended after 6pm but I don’t mind. I actually prefer work to the chaos beyond the office. Then on some days, I’m just tired of mom-ing. I don’t think I do very much, but even the little I have to do, feels tiring.

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-07 at 8.20.50 PM.jpeg

2018 is the year that I have to seriously think about where I would like to get posted to in 2019, which is also dependent on what’s available for me. Throughout my entire career (since 2012), things were pretty much decided for me i.e. being posted to my first school and then to HQ. I simply went with the flow and made some smaller decisions along the way.

This year is different in the sense that I have to first know what I want for my career plans and then, pursue it. To be honest, all I can think of is running away to Japan, or London or Germany (my favourite places), for another vacation… because sometimes, I am so avoidant, I just want to escape and delay the inevitable. Sadly, I can’t.

On the home front, some days it feels more tiring than the work front and I can’t see beyond the week as far as Nat is concerned. Okay, maybe the month because I know when is his PD check-up next month.

There was one day, HJ, feeling really exhausted, looked at Nat and asked me, is this all worth it? (A bit late right hahaha) but yes, despite how tired it may be, I would not have it any other way.

It also reminded me that since Nat is our gift from God, we are but stewards of him on this earth i.e. it’s our responsibility to take care of him until the day comes where either of us will be called back to heaven. So that certainly puts things into perspective, esp. on those days when we just don’t feel like being parents.

Yet, some part of me does miss the freedom and the ability to do whatever I wanted without having to trouble my mom to take care of Nat if need be.

So I guess like the picture says, I have to just continue winging it… for the rest of the year.

The year in summary

2017 in a grid. Let’s see.

• Took no-pay leave and spent two extra months at home with Nat

• Went on part-time scheme and worked 3-4 days per week

• Actually did some proper exercising and lost 18kg

• Attended Yoga and Pilates, something I’ve wanted to do but never got round to it

• Turned 30 years old and;

• Traveled to four countries in the second half of the year!

2018 already looks to be a really busy year…

I’ll be returning to work full-time, and would have to start finding a school where I’ll be posted to in 2019.

Nat would be one, going on two – so here comes the whole new ballgame of dealing with a toddler!

I just hope that HJ and I will be in good health so that we can do whatever we need to do for our family.

As for everything else that I’m anxious about… I know they will sort themselves out somehow.

As each year goes by, I’ve come to realise that life is indeed too short to be worried about numerous small things so in the same vein, I will try not to be ruled (so much) by fear in 2018.

Here’s to a more daring and fulfilling 2018!

– CK

What one doesn’t see

So while a baby and dog may look real cute in photos, trust me, it’s not always the case. Last week was my mom’s turn to take a break so HJ and I took leave to take care of Nat and Cookie, the family pet. I can’t say this in any better way – I am SO GLAD I can go back to office tomorrow! I really salute the moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas who stay home to take care of young kids and/or pets. Really.

This is just a snapshot of what usually happens with a baby and dog in the same small house.

  • Baby tearing tissue paper
  • Dog and baby almost scratching each other during play time
  • Dog hiding under bed and refusing to come out because of a thunder storm
  • Dog mistaking rugs for a pee pad and staining almost all of them

What isn’t captured is Cookie barking whenever our neighbour comes home because she thinks they are the “enemy” and then barking at 2/3am because she is afraid to sleep alone in the living room. After barking at such unearthly hours, our friend, Nat is woken up and has to be soothed in our adult bed.

Moral of the story: I know this cannot compare ever to having 2 kids but if this is anything of a preview, I am definitely not cut out for taking care of so many small beings.

This is a rant post.

I need to go back to work tomorrow.

To my mom who has to look after both baby and dog daily, I don’t know how you do it but you’re a superwoman.

– CK

Last trip without Nat

We’re in Japan for our end of year trip while Nat is having his own ‘vacation’ at my mom’s. This is our longest time away from him – 7 days. He still seems rather oblivious? Actually, Nat has never been very clingy but after 6 days, we are eager to see him ! For our next trip in 2018, guess he will be traveling with us…

Generally, 2017 has been an awesome year vacation-wise.

We managed to go to Hanoi (June), Hong Kong (Aug), Penang (Sept) and now Japan.

Partly, it was to make up for a whole year of being in Singapore when I was expecting Nat.

HJ also does not want to travel with Nat yet because it’s very different, traveling with and without a baby. Bluntly speaking, dealing with a carrier, pram, milk powder and diapers isn’t what we have in mind when we think of a vacation.

Yet, I think after a year of reliving our 2015 travel days, I’m ready to bring Nat along with us next year. He’ll be 1 year plus and not really a baby anymore. We’ll see how it goes…

CK

Nat & Art

This is a bit overdue but for Nat’s actual birthday last week, HJ and I took leave to bring him to the Children’s Art Gallery after the drizzle foiled our Botanic Gardens plans. We hope to make it a monthly thing where we try and bring him to such exploratory places aka “learning journeys”, as how my mom aptly put it LOL #teachersforlife

Details for this Children’s Art Gallery can be found HERE.

It’s located at the National Gallery and it was such a pleasant visit because we took leave last Wednesday and avoided all the weekend crowds.

However there were some galleries there were closed for school visits from 10-1130am but that’s also the time when Nat was napping in the carrier so we just chilled in the cafe until he woke up.

Previously, we have brought him to the ION Art Gallery on Level 4 but it depends on whether there are any exhibitions happening in that space.

Where to next?

Maybe our Botanic Gardens plan in Dec 🙂

– CK

Nat’s Hungry Caterpillar Party 

Nat’s party was a 2 month project in the making because we decided to do all the decor ourselves. After this, I told HJ I don’t think I can do anymore parties – 1st month and 1st year should suffice! All in all, everything went smoothly. It was very tiring but worth it.

The genesis for the theme was quite straightforward – Nat loves The Hungry Caterpillar. The book and toy was a gift for his 1st month and he seems to have a fondness towards it.

Nat around 7 months with his favorite toy

 

So with the theme settled, the deco naturally had to be everything related to Eric Carle. In terms of colours, we had to stick to primary colours since those featured in most of his books.

The brains behind the decor was mostly my mom and sis. We decided on using the following criteria to guide our decor decisions.

  1. We wanted to have another type of ‘happy birthday’ sign so instead of balloon letters or a garland, we decided to make a sign in the shape of a caterpillar. Google & Pinterest gave us a lot of ideas! One can buy ready-made Eric Carle party decor online from Etsy but I didn’t want to pay for shipping.
  2. We initially thought that the photowall could be the one with the ‘happy Birthday’ sign but my sis said that a photowall backdrop should be white so she bought pinwheels and balloon bouquets in Eric Carle colours to create the photo backdrop.
  3. As for the cake table, I was very sure that I wanted it simple and uncluttered. We also did not want desserts on the table because it would be a waste if people didn’t eat them. Conversely if people ate the desserts, then the photos would show some half-eaten desserts. Instead, we displayed Nat’s name using the TYPO letters from his room shelf and featured 3 of his Eric Carle books. This way, no extra money was spent on the cake table’s decor.
  4. The last bit of decor was the photo montage. We already had an album of Nat’s photographs according to his various milestones so my mom used the spare construction paper and some apple cut-outs to create the decor for the photo montage wall. I have no idea where my sister found the ‘Celebrate’ banner but it was less than $2. I was shocked. It was such a steal.

Food-wise, we catered from Elsie’s Kitchen as HJ and I previously ordered food from them in 2014 for our student wedding party.

Although Nat’s party was between 12-3pm, we ordered the biggest high tea menu, consisting of 11 food items and 1 drink instead of the usual buffet lunch menu.

I decided not to get the heavier lunch buffet menus because I rather have smaller food items with more variety and choice. In case there was not enough, we added on extra servings for the more popular savoury items such as chicken satay and drumlets.

As I was still worried that there might not be enough food, we supplemented with some sushi, cocktail sausages and jelly. The last two are some of my childhood favorites that we decided to make for Nat’s party.

Location-wise, we booked the function room and the adjoining KTV room so that some people could seek refuge there in case the crowd got too big.

I guess it was a cosier gathering compared to his 1st month which had all our extended family members. This time round, the guests consisted mainly of our immediate family and close friends.

I’m just glad it’s over because it was one hectic weekend and the best part is, Nat has no clue!

– CK