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Monday, June 22

Where Monkeys and Irises Totally Go Together

Living in a society where your neighbors are often so close that they can reach out of their own windows to touch your house, it is of the utmost importance to be considerate and polite. To do this, you have to live your daily life while trying hard not to let either sound or visual disturbances escape from your walls. If you are outside, you are outside quietly, with perhaps a slight boy and low greeting to the oft passerby which they will sometimes return in the same quiet fashion and other times walk on by as if they don’t even notice your existence. If you are inside, you are inside quietly with the radio or TV down, but better yet to just read a book quietly. And on days and nights like these where the weather has turned warmer, but not necessarily warm enough to close up the house and turn on the air conditioning, it is difficult to keep sound and lights from spewing out of your windows and assaulting your very-much-next-door neighbor, especially at night. Now add an infant into the picture.

This is pretty much the picture of our day-to-day lives.

When we first moved in, we did the traditional gift giving to our neighbors where we discovered that few speak English. Our neighbor to the left seemed to speak the best English and to this day they will often invite us somewhere or bring over some Japanese specialty made for us. It was rice balls last week with salmon, tuna and ume inside. These neighbors are separated by only our very small yard. When they hang clothing on their downstairs porch or upstairs terrace, they can look directly into our living room and dining room. Now if a Japanese person lived next to them, the curtains would never be open for them to see inside. But as an American, and specifically one from the open country, I can’t stand to have the large sliding glass doors closed and the curtain shut over top of them. I leave everything open as I was bred to do and they pretend not to notice our existence so close by as they were bred to do. And thank God they do because I often forget to bring clothes with me for when I get out of the shower and have to make a run for the stairs. In these cases, if they were looking… they certainly wouldn’t miss a freaky, pale white birthday suit in their peripheral. So I’m thankful for the relationship that has emerged between us.

I’m also very thankful for their frequent invites. Which brings me to last week. It is the rainy season here, so when my neighbor first suggested we go to the Iris Gardens, we both knew it would be best to wait until the following week to check the weather report before committing to any specific day. On Tuesday, my friend pops by with a bright yellow windmill she found in Kamakura for Kimono Pipsqueak. We settled on the following day which was to be the sunniest of the bunch. Now she speaks very good English and my Japanese is so-so when it comes to numbers so I thought we were clear on the time: 12:30. Both naptime and lunchtime would be past, hopefully quelling any potential crankiness. So when the doorbell rang at 11:30, finding me propped on the couch with a book and sandwich and enjoying a quiet moment, I was a bit shocked. Our doorbell is an intercom style with video, so I knew it was my neighbor arriving much earlier than I expected. I shoved everything I could grab into the sink or closet before rushing to get the door and hoping I wouldn’t be judged to harshly for my own appearance. It took us only moments to realize that we had both misunderstood the other. No matter though. I invited her in and told her we would go wake KP a bit early and get ready to go. She was all too excited to get a peak at him in his room and help with his lunch as I threw things into his diaper bag, readying us to go.

In our preparations, she noted that there were often monkey toys strewn about here or there. I don’t know why we have so many. We just do. She asked if KP liked monkeys and I said yes… or well… he at least seems to like his mother making ridiculous monkey noises while shaking some stupid toy in his face. She mentioned that there is a monkey park here in Zushi and wondered if we had ever been. Since I had never heard of such a place, nor even expected it in our small beachside town, the answer was an emphatic no. It took her only moments to decide that we would add this place to our plans for the day.

With me driving and her directing, we ended up in the small mountains that surround and cut through Zushi, driving narrow, winding roads until we reached the top of one such mountain. After a short walk, we come up to a series of cages with everything from doves, to rabbits, to guinea pigs, to some other strange birds of which I can’t translate (they looked like little fluffy white chickens) and finally a gorgeously plumed peacock While I was honestly enthralled, KP barely acknowledged their presence. It seems he is learning his Japanese traits young. We left the cages behind and walked over to the edge of the mountain, where a huge circular monkey cage sat overlooking the ocean far below. Tan monkeys with their bright pink bottoms hanging out played on the log rafters, climbed the metal side walls and frolicked on their floor far below, tossing cabbage leaves here or there as they went. Again, the reaction from KP was… less than animated… but at least I now know of a place that some day he just might show some excitement over. After enjoying the view for another moment, we headed back to the car.

The drive to the Iris Gardens took me down some roads I knew of and a few I didn’t, but allowed me to make some connections that will give me shortcuts I previously didn’t know about. We didn’t even make it past the ticket boxes before we were stopped by the first group to fawn over the little gaijin baby in our mix. I think it took my neighbor aback for a minute, but she recovered quickly and would spend the rest of our time there merrily pushing the stroller around the garden paths, eager to talk with those who stopped to offer a flattering comment or two to her and the baby. I got many bows at the same time, and the translations usually came a moment or two later, once my friend thought the baby had his fair share of compliments.

Often, I would find myself some distance from my friend and baby as they got swept up in chats and I got lost in the beauty of the gardens. Everywhere you looked, there were varying shades of purple and white lining the garden beds. Women in period dressing and galoshes stomped through the muck, plucking dead or dying blooms from the garden, ensuring that the picture was laid out immaculately for the garden guests. We guessed that there had to be at least 100 different varieties of irises in the two large gardens. After completing our walk through both gardens, my neighbor asked if I was tired. It is the very Japanese thing to do to get some sort of refreshment after any task… even if it was a task strictly for entertainment/enjoyment purposes. Not one to turn down ice cream, we wandered over and grabbed ourselves refreshments, then found one of the few empty benches where we could sit and gaze and enjoy.

We got home late in the afternoon and went our separate ways. It had been a wonderful day spent walking and talking with her. Later in the evening, as the dusk began to settle, KP and I would find her on her porch, removing the day’s now dry laundry. She wouldn’t look over and we wouldn’t either. It was back to our invisible wall of separation until we would get together… another day.

Saturday, June 20

Japanese Peculiarities #9

One of the things I remember about my childhood, that I always used to love, was how my mom hung our laundry out on a clothes line in those sunnier months. Our clothesline hung parallel to the side of our fenced-in yard separating the vast woods from our well-trimmed lawn. The metal fence and clothesline poles were always entwined in lilac that would scent the small stretch of land where my brother and I spent most of our time playing G.I. Joe and eating mud pies. Well, he ate them anyway… but only because his older sister made him. Mean, that little girl was. I digress.

I can still see my mom hanging up shirts by their tails, our skimpy unmentionables, and our long bed sheets while our dog Gizmo (Pinky as many of you know him) circled at her feet. With everything hung, it was a virtuoso fort in our young eyes. Looking back now, the scene was pretty idyllic of a very good childhood in the country, the same kind of childhood I hope KP will be blessed with.

But here we are in Japan, where the country is hard to find, with any patch found either covered in rice fields or

hills covered in thick foliage. Certainly KP is too young to know much of his surroundings at this point and we will probably move somewhere new before he is actually aware, but in the meantime, there is one thing I can give him… a clothesline.

Of course, this is nothing like the clothesline of my distant past, but it is a clothesline nonetheless. And I honestly admire the Japanese for their version, when they are so tightly packed in between neighbors and often lacking any sort of yard at all. A version where the Japanese women take whatever small space they can find out of doors, albeit a lanai, terrace, or just an open window where a small hanging device can be attached. And here hang not only their shirts, pants and unmentionables, but oft, their whole bed, which is now slung over a wall that functions more as a clothesline than its intended role as an architectural detail of their home. Remember the traditional Japanese bed is a futon, or thin mattress, rolled out onto their tatami floor every night. Tatami mats and the futons on top of them do get bed bugs just like those American king-size mattress babies do. So you clean them up and hang them out on your ‘clothesline’ to make them all nice and refreshed.

But Japanese take the clothesline process one step further and use it all year round. This is a great idea in the face of all of us who want to be a little bit more green in our daily lives. I hang out many of our items of clothing, just like every one of my neighbors does, although our queen mattress does stay where it always lies. Not only is all this Japanese green-ness wonderful, but it just plain makes sense when a Japanese drier takes about 4-6 hours to dry one load. I wish I was exaggerating. But it is indeed that painful. And, consequently, very energy wasteful.

While it may not be the beloved scene from my childhood, and it may seem a bit odd, I really do love the many makeshift clotheslines here in Japan.

Friday, June 19

Japanese Peculiarities #8

So here’s something that after three years in Japan, I have never seen before, and yet KH tells me that it is pretty much an every day occurrence for many occupations in Japan… a line-up meeting every single morning that starts the work day. For this morning meeting, the staff apparently all line up, often in circular fashion if inside and office, and repeat a sort of mantra of polite formalities. Perhaps I was running errands earlier than I normally do on this particular morning to catch this act with my own two eyes, but this struck me as quite bizarre. It isn’t that the idea of a morning meeting was bizarre, but I just can’t imagine making everyone line up in such a particularly overly orderly fashion. It seems almost… militant… a rather old-fashioned part of Japan’s conformist ways.

Maybe they do this at every fire station in the states… but if they do… I’ve never seen it there either. I’m really thinking it doesn’t happen back home. And I really can’t imagine such a custom being accepted on American soil where we have gotten excessively lax on a great many of things.

I’m not trying to be rude or overly political here. Just a personal observation that struck me as odd between the differences of Americans and Japanese. And it was just darn funny to see them line up in a row like that, chins all raised to a precise height, chanting into the morning sun.

Wednesday, June 17

Bye, Bye ’08-’09 I.I., Goodbye

The 2008-2009 Ikebana International year has come to a close. I must admit that I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. This was the close of my third year as a member and second year as a Board member and the year with by far the most ups and downs for me personally. I don’t want to get into the reasons for those ups and downs, especially in this format, and I think the best thing is to just shake it all off and move on. I will continue my membership next year and look forward to what is in store for the Kamakura chapter, but I will not be on the Board again next year. It is this point where I feel most of my mixed feelings. But no matter what caused those feelings, it will never lessen the friendships I have made with many people in the chapter and organization, particularly several of my fellow Board members, and even more particularly on the Japanese side. They have allowed me an amazing insight into not only their culture, but their everyday lives. I have learned the true nature behind many of these women and been allowed a glimpse into Japanese society which would have been difficult if not impossible to become so immersed in without all the time spent with them, not only as a fellow Board member, but mostly as a friend. These women took me under their wings as someone who not only wanted to learn and to share in their culture, but wanted to get to know what was in their hearts and have them wish for the same in return. When I was at my lowest, it was our chapter’s President who called me to tell me that we were not just Board members, but we were family. And she meant it. I can only hope that I was able to adequately demonstrate the depth of my feelings for her comment, but mostly for her presence in my life.

To end our year, our final Board meeting was held at our President’s home, kneeling in her familiar tatami room. Following this meeting, she had organized a seven course luncheon for us at a Chinese restaurant tucked into the side of a mountain in Kamakura. Myself and another Board member both had babies in the past I.I. year, so our President went above and beyond to make them (or really their mamas) feel included by having the restaurant create tiny baby beds, in traditional Japanese fashion, on the tatami floor of the narrow adjoining room where windows faced the ocean in the distance.

Our final program was only a week afterwards, which included a piano and opera singing duet from Shuko Kobayashi, a professor of music from Yokohama’s Ferris University, and Sachiko Mori, the internationally-trained daughter of one of our longtime chapter members. The performance reminded everyone that summer was here, another reminder that a busy year was now behind us. The new Board was installed only moments afterwards, pithily bringing an end to my role on the Board.

No matter.

I am looking forward to next year, with my newly adopted less hands-on part… back to being just a plain old member, looking to know all she can about Japanese culture in my short time left here.

Tuesday, June 16

Ah. Mah Hair Again.

You have no idea how difficult it is to be a gaijin in Japan when it comes to having blond hair. I knew when I moved here that it would be a challenge and it has surely lived up to my expectations.

I talked about this almost three years ago… the difficulty of finding a hairdresser who can do blond highlights and low lights. Sure, there is the Navy base nearby of which they have a hair salon explicitly for foreigners working here, and yes I have tried them. Sadly, on the four occasions throughout the past three years that I have broken down and gone there, only when there was no other choice, they had botched my hair anywhere from mildly to absolutely terribly. Hot spots, bad haircuts, bimbo blonds looks, you name it… they’ve likely done it to my hair. So please excuse me if I have lost faith in that route.

For about a year and a half in the middle of it all, I get spoiled. A hairdresser from San Diego moved here with her husband. She was phenomenal! Exactly the quality I am used to from back in the metro DC area. She did the perfect light highlights in summer and darker ones in fall. And then she got pregnant and moved home. After she became not only my favorite hairdresser, but also a good friend, so it was a double edged sword to my heart when she left earlier this year. She left behind two recommendations, neither of which I was ever able to get on the phone or to return my messages. With nowhere else left to turn, I returned to the base hair dressers and let a girl not long out of high school and just out of beauty school do her thing. She wasn’t half bad. She got the color right and although it could have been blended in better, I was willing to return to her. And then she left there. After only a few months of being there. They told me she went to the new salon off base and provided me the number of which I called, but after a strange conversation, I still don’t know if she really works there or not, but they did have someone… a Japanese woman.

Now, years ago, one of the stylists at the base salon was Japanese and she did my hair. I can’t even talk about it, but it left me a bit scarred. So to hear that my only option was again a Japanese woman, it set me to quaking a bit. I know I shouldn’t blanket all Japanese hair stylists into one lump, but I do have good reason for this. Often when Japanese people say they can do highlights and low lights, they totally can… on Japanese women. Blond women’s hair takes color very differently than a Japanese woman. Besides that, the hair color that is used on dark Japanese locks is not going to work on blond hair. You need coloring products that lift way more than the 25ish percentile that the Japanese use. So to find a salon that carries the right product AND the right hairdresser, I was just very skeptical. But when you are left without a choice and a wedding only a short time away back in the states, you get desperate.

It had been three months since my last hair appointment. With the speed that my hair grows, I looked hideous. I got to the salon early and the stylist was quick to pull out a book of colors so we could discuss options. Now here is where I usually rely on their expertise to interpret what I am looking for, but to still make it look appropriate on my head. My Japanese hairstylist’s English skills were wonderful, but I think that the culture and language gap is always still there is small part. Often things are taken very literally, when I am hoping they will take what I want and make it work for my hair and skin tone. I’m used to this treatment, but then, my hairdresser was American.

She mixed up the colors I chose and then proceeded to spend two full hours putting foils into my hair. I know I have a lot of hair. It’s very thin, but there is an exorbitant amount of it. This new hairdresser said that ten of my hairs would equal one Japanese hair. But she meticulously and deftly put those foils in. The process was a bit different, as she didn’t skip a line like I was used to, but I figured all hairdressers must have those little quirks. Once they were all in, I sat. And sat. And sat. And sat. And just when I thought she had totally forgotten me and was consequently frying my hair, she came back and started the rinse and wash process. And this is where I fell in love with her.

After carefully laying a little thin towel across my face while she flattened the chair into a bed, she rinsed and washed my hair and scalp for what had to be at least twenty minutes. She rubbed her fingers over every inch of my head, pushed on certain pressure points as she went and then repeated the process again and again. At the beginning, she had asked if this was my first time in a Japanese salon. I said yes, but had no idea why this was important until this moment. Good Lord in Heaven, it was wonderful! Just writing about it now makes me woozy again with feeling. When she was done with this part, she gently lifted my head, working the pressure points again and eased a hot towel under my neck. Then another over my forehead. More pressure points and she slowly removed it all and eased me back into a seated position. When it was time to move back to the chair for the haircut, I wasn’t sure I could actually stand up.

The haircut ended up perfect. I talked her through what I was looking for step by step, just to make sure no where on my head would get too snipped. Lastly, she blew dry my hair with a flat brush into it was silky smooth.

The end product… perfectly golden blond, silky strands fell past my shoulders. I must say I did immediately love it, but there was something about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on in the yellow lighting of the salon. I had also been there for over four hours and was sure that KH would be wondering what happened to me, so I didn’t take much more time to think about it. It was only when I got home, got through the baby’s nighttime routine and headed back down to my own bathroom for a closer inspection that it struck me… oh, I was blond alright. And yes, it was pretty. But no, it is not natural looking. My friend here assures me that it is pretty even though it definitely isn’t a natural shade, and I do believe she is telling the truth, but I do think that next time we made need to make some slight adjustments in color choice… like say no more warm tones from here on out. They just don’t match my face or naturally dark blond roots. But for now, it is looking pretty sharp. I pray it stays that way before my friend’s wedding. I would hate for her to have to oust me at the last moment.

But if you are ever in Japan, get your washed, cut and styled by a Japanese person! You’ll pay a pretty yen penny, but you will walk away feeling lighter than you have in years!

Oh, and yes, I will go back to this, my new favorite, hairdresser.

Wednesday, June 10

Wabi Sabi & The True Spirit of Tea Ceremony

There have been several occasions in my time here in Japan that I have done tea ceremony. Some were abbreviated versions, other were definitely not. But in all of those times, I have never gotten much of its meaning beyond its sacred aspects to Japanese culture due to its antiquity. I think this consistently has something to do with my lack of knowledge of the Japanese language and the tea master’s lack of the English language. While they were able to get across the ritual facets of tea ceremony for me to learn, the meaning behind each part was left rather ambiguous.

I was, therefore, thrilled to hear about our special guest at the May Ikebana International program, Mr. Soshin Kimura, member of the Urasenke tea school and head master of the Hoshinkai tea school, who also recently appeared in a BBC documentary called “In Search of Wabi Sabi” which aired just a few months ago here in Japan. It has been said that Mr. Kimura is the spokesperson for the “tea ceremony world” here in Japan. He is also noted not only for his many oral locutions on the subject, but also many articles to the same. For the program, he planned a talk on Japanese “tea-ism” and how it ties in all aspects of Japanese culture… everything from flowers to ceramics, calligraphy, interior design, architecture, poetry, religion to philosophy. It is this last characteristic that is most important, as the philosophy of Japanese aesthetics was the title of his lecture as well as the name for the true spirit of tea ceremony – “wabi sabi.” While I need to be honest and admit that I cannot recall all the details of his speech, I do recall how impressively his homily introduced the subject and tied in each and every one of these aspects for a pretty complete reflection of wabi sabi. The biggest point that came across to me… and one that surprised me… was the fact that he believes Japanese tea ceremony shouldn’t be only about the very ritualized form of hospitality and the specific aesthetics of the art form. This was the very thing I learned in all my previous experiences with tea ceremony, so it seemed odd for the spokesperson to be so adamant about it not being all about the rituals. To illustrate his point, he provided slides of a tea house in Germany that he studied and taught in. First, let me state that the vision in my mind… and most minds… of a tea house is one that adheres strictly to ancient Japanese architectural aesthetics: low ceilings, small tatami rooms, corner cubby for Ikebana and calligraphy display, all wall structures in some type of wood. What Mr. Kimura showed us from Germany was a giant peanut. I’m not kidding. It was a large, white cloth covered structure, very light and airy inside, that was shaped exactly like a peanut laying on its side. Totally not what one would anticipate to be a tea house. Which is exactly Mr. Kimura’s point. In the word’s of our Programs writer: “In spite of all it’s physical trappings which are so famous, he believes that the philosophy of the tea ceremony is much more important than the form of the tea ceremony.” In his words, “To have no tea is OK, to use no cup is OK.” While I didn’t get a chance to speak to any of my Japanese friends before we left that day, I can only imagine that this way of thinking is a bit shocking to them. He also believes that many Japanese people do not understand the true essence of tea ceremony, which would also probably shock and, even, offend many.

What I took away from the program was… in all honesty… more questions in my mind about Japanese culture and its ability to maintain the sanctity of its art forms in this modern world. Perhaps I didn’t understand all of Mr. Kimura’s lecture post translation, because I am left to wonder, is he preserving the antiquity of wabi sabi, which I totally believe is his every intention, but it seems to me as if he is almost… unintentionally progressing Japanese culture to our modern times. Again, I do not believe that is the case. I do believe that he is trying to teach the spirit of wabi sabi and I am guessing it is probably a combination of the short time we had available for a lecture of such a broad topic and the translation of his comments that has left me a bit confused. I’m really hoping to come across his documentary to hear more on this subject.

After his lecture, he did take the time to perform a much abbreviated version of tea ceremony for some chapter members who had never tried it before. At the board meeting a week prior, I had thrown the name of my friend into the ring, and then quickly forgotten all about it. So I was thoroughly relieved when she was informed that she would be getting up on stage to do this in front of everyone and instead of being angry at my oversight in telling her about her volunteerism, she was thrilled at the chance to try it. She and two other international members of the chapter knelt down Japanese style for enough time to realize that a full tea ceremony sitting that way would be tricky to endure. I have never managed to stay in the proper position for an entire ceremony and have had to move my legs to the side on more than one of my tea ceremony attempts.

The rest of the event consisted of a delicious four course lunch of fancy foods I can’t recall, or spell even if I did, and then an Ikebana exhibition and auction of the flowers and containers. I rarely do the auction part because I always feel like Board members shouldn’t partake and win items away. I feel like I would be cheating, even though I absolutely wasn’t. But on this occasion, one of my fellow students in the Kozan school had exhibited and I really wanted her gorgeous black containers so I could practice more at home. The containers are quite expensive! So getting them as a steal through an auction is totally the best way to go. I bid way high. I won. I totally don’t know how to do this auction stuff the proper way, but… mweh… I got my containers and called it a day.

Sunday, June 7

Kimonos Down Under: Day Four and the Final Hours on Day Five

When we woke up on our final full day in Australia, the worst weather so far drenched everything outside of our open windows. We didn’t have any major plans for the day except to explore Cairns, which we had only seen snippets of when we left the marina there. A little rain never stops us though, so we were ready to head off bright and early again.

Our rental car was to arrive at 10:00 am, and they were surprisingly prompt. So far, many people were often a bit late to pick us up or drop us off in the land of “no worries, mate!” And I swear… every local person we talked to said this at least once in the course of conversation. I have since adopted it for my own use, much to KH’s chagrin. One little glitch with the rental, though…. it was a stick shift. Neither us can drive one. Years and years ago, I could have at least made it a little ways, but that training has long since eluded me. It never occurred to me to specify when we booked this. But the guy’s response… “no worries… I’ll be back in an hour with another car.” This actually worked out to our advantage as I got to head back to the room and finish watching some strange Australian program that had me previously engrossed and the rain had a chance to slow to a fine mist. The rental was indeed back in an hour, car seat installed, and we were off.

Even with guidebooks in hand, we honestly still had no real game plan for the day. Driving directions in Cairns weren’t that tricky and we knew how to get down to the center of the city without a map. You just keep going straight through the 800 roundabouts scattered down the highway, hang a left past the massive Captain Cook (whom I was certain was George Washington) and then follow the water line down to the main part of the marina.

We parked, and since it was so close to lunch, headed down the main street in search of the restaurant our tour bus driver had been so kind to share with us the day before. KH had chatted the guy up so friendly-like, that he even dropped us off right in front of the hotel instead of the designated location at the bus stop down the street.

His recommendation was Barnacle Bill’s. From the name of it, we honestly were not expecting anything fancy, which made us very surprised to see white linens and wine glasses on every table. But, no, this place would not disappoint. As adventurous as my husband and I are with our traveling, so are we with our food. There were several things we had heard about, but had yet to try. This place would prove to be the absolute perfect location for real Australian food. We ordered two platters and split them both. The first was your land lubbers’ grub… complete with a trio of Australia’s special fish barramundi, medium rare kangaroo and grilled crocodile. Good God in Heaven… kangaroo is damn delicious. Who would have known?? I had alligator before, which was chewy and salty, but Steve Irwin’s croc?... yummy would be the only word that sufficiently covers it. The second platter we ordered was your sea-faring platter full of natural oysters, cold cooked prawn and bug, beer battered fish, calamari and scallops. A fellow blogger who hails from Down Under had told me that I had to try the bug. I thought she meant real bugs were served. I cringed, but if that was what the locals eat, I was willing to go for it. So when the bug was delivered to our table and it looked like a giant crayfish (which it is), I was very pleasantly surprised and much less grossed out at the prospect. Although my brother would later tell me that crayfish were essentially bugs of the sea. Gag.

After our feast, we really needed to walk it off. Not really choosing a particular direction, we meandered street after street, letting glimpses of my shopping interests lead us in whatever particular direction. It continued to drizzle as we walked, but it didn’t slow our enthusiasm for the rather quiet day of doing something, but not necessarily anything spectacular. Once we thought we had seen all we wanted, and spent all I should, we headed back to the car.

Mid-afternoon at this point, it seemed way too early to head back to the room, especially since the rain would keep us off the beach. We threw ideas around as we headed out of Cairns and back to Trinity Beach. I think in the end it was only that our interest was peaked on what could be so dang wonderful that everyone we had talked to kept talking about Port Douglas, several miles north, that we decided to pass Trinity Beach and keep going. We pulled off the highway into the other area we had debated, Palm Cove, and it was nice… a bit larger and busier than Trinity… but nothing in the end that changed our minds about how much we loved the area we had chosen to stay in.

Back on the highway, we continued north, where there wasn’t much to see but trees, rocks and a few signs of particular interest. The first told us that this was a very high accident zone. The second showed insanely twisting roads, complete with lots of falling rock. It would only be a mile or two until we realized why it was a high accident zone. It is pouring outside now on this already dangerous road, and yet every car around us seemed that they insisted on going at least twenty kpm over the speed limit. There were several areas where slower cars could choose to pull over into a short slow lane and I insisted that we take advantage of each one. This didn’t stop the very next car to come barreling up on our ass as KH navigated as best as he could on wet roads that dangled precariously on steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. I sat in the back with KP and closed my eyes several times, trying not to think about the obvious insanity of these other drivers. At least there were a few overlooks where we could pull off, take in the view and mostly begin breathing normally again. That drive was 100 times worse than our drive along the narrow, cliff roads in Santorini. At least there, everyone moves at a reasonable snail pace! And the road went on forever!

We drove and drove, sure there had to be a ton ahead because of all of the cars coming towards us, and yet we weren’t certain we would ever arrive. No one ever explained just how remote this resort town was. Nor did they explain that since it was further into the rainforest, on an already rainy day, that it would be hammering down the rain in the resort. We finally found the main street, full of gorgeous little restaurants and boutiques, but neither of us could even imagine getting out of the car to enjoy them without a bucket on our head and galoshes on our feet. The thought of ice cream was tossed around for less than 30 seconds before it was tossed right out the window into the torrents. Instead, we both thought of our nice, dry, and overly large apartment back in Trinity Beach and decided to head straight for there.

We had yet to spend much time in our room, and we still had all that beer from our first drunken day chilled in the refrigerator, so dinner seemed an easy choice… head down and grab some gourmet pizzas and salads from one of our favorite restaurants down the street and chill on our balcony while we ate and watched the waves roll in and out.

Later, I would spend some time repacking and trying NOT to bring any of the thousand ants home with us that had invaded our room since we got there. Seriously… they sure do like baby formula! Yikes!

The next morning, I awoke before sunrise thanks to a tiny peanut enjoying his favorite pastime of kicking mommy in the stomach. Outside the window were glimpses of the day to come… and it was going to be gorgeously sunny. Of course it would. We were leaving.

At least we got our blue skies for a few hours before we headed to the airport. And back to Japan.

Tuesday, June 2

Kimonos Down Under: Day Three


Mother’s Day. My first with the baby on the outside.

We wake up before the sun does in our gorgeous room in wonderful Australia. We rush through the morning ‘getting ready’ routine and we are out the door fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Anyone who knows me knows that timeliness was never my thing. Usually a kid makes it worse and yet here I am arriving early of late! I rock. And I digress.

The shuttle bus that picks us up can probably fit about twenty and yet there is only one other couple on board as we head to the marina in Cairns. We are escorted out to the large sailing vessel that Ocean Spirit Cruises will be using to get us out to the Great Barrier Reef. That’s right, my first Mother’s Day, and I get to spend it on sailing gorgeous turquoise waters and snorkeling with the local wildlife of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. As the boat heads out for its hour and a half ride to the reef, I ask KH what he is going to do to top this for next year’s Mother’s Day.

“I’m thinking brunch,” he quips.

Exuberantly, I respond, “In Brazil??”

His answering chortle will not stop me from at least trying next year.

As I mentioned, it had rained pretty much every day we were in Cairns. Despite that they thought otherwise, it really didn’t help that every damn local kept telling us how it never rains there. But this day happened to be the most clear so far. When we arrived on the reef, the only sincere shower cloud we saw that day was just starting to threaten us. We quickly took in the fish feeding frenzy the company had started on the side of the boat and then decided to look into the semi-submersible tour of the reef which was being offered. With the sky looking the way it did, this seemed the best option and hold off the snorkeling part until later. KH strapped KP into his Baby Bjron and down they both crawled into the sub, with me right behind. We had heard a few comments when we got onto the regular big boat about the rough seas… bringing a baby… and more blah, blah, blah. I could only imagine the looks we must now be getting. Just to prove the naysayers wrong, my little angel not only slept most of the cruising part of the boat trip… both ways even… but he even fell asleep on the sub. So please reserve your tsk-tsking, Scarlet, for someone who gives a damn.

The semi-submersible gave us some great views of the reef, despite the rain’s attempts at clouding up the reef and dimming the bright coral colors. The cruise line even gave little talks explaining what we were seeing – everything from sea turtles to giant clams weighing over 400 pounds each to the 400 species of different coral covering the ocean floor. This actually did make the snorkeling later way more interesting. I actually knew what I was looking at instead of just admiring all the pretty colors like some simpleton.

Arriving back on the boat, the real one, lunch was being served. While I really was ready for the snorkeling, who can pass up a good buffet lunch? KH filled me a plate. Twice. We downed our food, shoved some solids into the wee ones mouth while simultaneously hiding the bottle part of his meal from him, so we could make ourselves the first ones to catch yet another boat out to the cay. Don’t go swimming for thirty minutes after you have eaten? Bah. I live for the danger… and the cramps!

Again… we had an audience as we climbed onto the smaller vessel with our baby boy.

The cay. It’s essentially an island, but not an island, because it apparently moves. Cool. So the island in ‘Lost’ really does exist!

This smaller boat pulls you right up onto the cay so only your tootsies get wet if you want. I personally don’t see the point of paying the exorbitant price of the cruise if you aren’t even going to snorkel on the reef and instead plan on sitting on the cay and watching the water. I just can’t agree that that would be a true reef experience. One guy from the boat stays on the cay and acts as a lifeguard. Considering it was a really quiet day for the tour, only about 50% of their usual partakers, this guy’s job was kind of cake if you ask me.

Now, we really aren’t nuts. No, we would not be snorkeling WITH the baby. We took turns, KH going first to map out the reef for me. While he went out, one solitary soul had his liquid lunch on the cay, our little travelin’ man, as I sat with him and listened to the birds that swarmed in the off-limits sanctuary area directly behind me. When KH returned, it was my turn at the reef.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog, but I am DEATHLY afraid of water. Thanks to my dear cousin who, years ago, tried to drown me on a drunken vacation in Cancun. I’m not one to let my fears take over me though. I do everything I can to fight them. Water be damned. I was snorkeling. Okay, so I did put on a life vest to do it. And, yes, I did keep pulling my face out of the water because I was sure I was going to drown myself inside my snorkeling mask. But snorkel I did. According to Kimono Hubby, who kept his ever protective eyes on me, I went the whole way across the darkest parts of the reef. And then I… floundered… he said. All of a sudden there was a lot of kicking and splashing that he couldn’t seem to figure out. That would be exactly the moment that I almost crashed into the reef. You see, I can’t turn my head well to see what is to either side of me without causing the freak out in me to rear its ugly, little head. So I stare downward and peer out of the corners of my eyes. Only this got me a little too close for comfort to the many reef organisms that would surely suck me down into them and eat me alive. In my hasty retreat, I managed to swim myself directly over the most massive giant clam in the area as it opened and closed its gaping mouth, just trying to grab a toe that would allow him to get ahold of the rest of me. More freak out ensued. It was all I could do to get myself back to the shore as quickly as possible without peeing myself. I would hate to mar a natural wonder like that.

And so ended my afternoon of snorkeling. KH, who is much more calm about it than I am, did a second, longer round while Kimono Pip and I played in the water along the shoreline until daddy was ready to head back to the bigger vessel.

As stressed as I was upon return, KH calmed me down with a nice cold beer. On the cruise back, the tour company added a glass of champagne to ease my troubles while the prior lifeguard now became Jimmy Buffet and sang us some songs. The wind was perfect to sail the vessel back in to the marina instead of using the motors. We would have liked to sit on the top deck, but apparently that was pushing our peanut man a little too far. I don’t think he appreciated the wind up his nose much.

It had been a long day already, but it was Mother’s Day, and my dear husband would not let the occasion pass without a proper day long celebration. We got ourselves cleaned up and dressed and chose L’Unico to walk back down to for that proper dinner. Several courses of rich foods and strong drinks later, we finally called it a day and dragged ourselves back to the room and bed.