First Day in Sydney

The view of the Sydney Opera House from the Botanic Gardens

We are spending Christmas in Sydney, Australia. We are staying at a friend’s apartment in Chatswood, an affluent suburb on the north shore of Sydney, about 10 kilometers from downtown.

On our first day in Sydney, we visited the the iconic Sydney Opera House and walked around downtown. Seeing the opera house is like seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, it is one of the world buildings that is instantly recognizable. The opera house is unique, although it is in need of a face lift as the roof has yellowed a bit and the dark wood beams scream 1980s. There were heaps of people outside the opera house and hanging out along the docks. The atmosphere is quite nice with outdoor restaurants, bars, and cafes. We escaped the crowds and spent the afternoon at the Sydney Botanic Gardens. The open lawns with a skyscraper backdrop reminded me of Central Park in New York. We had a fantastic, relaxing, and fun day with each other. We had running races, sumo wrestling matches, and I especially was interested in the trees and plants that were identified in the gardens. As I always say, it really doesn’t matter where I spend my holidays, as long as I am with my family, I’ll have a wonderful time.

View from the lookout in the Harold Reid Reserve – north Sydney (my morning run)

Nadia is happy to be reminiscing about her childhood. She grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne and left when she was 14 years old. It was funny that we couldn’t find a meat pie yesterday for lunch. There are lots of Asian restaurants but not Aussie meat pie shops. It may be a reflection of Australia being in Asia or the impact of immigration. We did get some fish and chips for dinner and a stop at the Woolworth’s super market resulted in a descriptions by Nadia of every product she remembers. :)

Regent Apartments – Chatswood NSW

We finished the evening enjoying some Australian wine. Nadia and I had a glass of botrytis semillon produced by the Nugan Estate here in NSW. I forgot how good Aussie wines were! We used to live in Perth 13 years ago (has it been that long since we left?) and we learned about wine through courses at Western Australia University and trips to the Margaret River wine region.

Some of my initial impression of Australia:

  • Osaka Japan is cheaper than Sydney. Things are really expensive here. I always thought Japan, Norway, and Switzerland were the most expensive places, but I would put Sydney on that list. I wonder if the economic statistics bear that out?
  • Owen nailed it on the head by saying he was reminded of Spain while were were walking to the train station. The sunlight here is like the Mediterranean and I would say Australia is a mix between California and Spain. I can see why people want to come here as it is so beautiful with perfect weather.
  • Sydney is much busier and cosmopolitan than Perth. We lived in Perth from 2000 to 2002 before moving to Venezuela.
  • Topics in the Sydney Morning Herald were breaking down the recent attack on the Sydney cafe by the Iranian immigrant and a horrific story of 7 siblings aged 15 months to 17 years old were found dead in a Cairns home. The mom was also stabbed but was alive and taken to the hospital. There was also an article about real estate, which continues to increase in value like in the USA before the bubble burst. I foresee a real estate bubble bursting here also. Incomes are not rising as fast as real estate prices are rising.

Well, that is it for this morning. We are headed off to the famed Bondi Beach today to give the kids a taste of Aussie lifeguard and beach culture.

The Climate of Osaka

Not much evidence, but we did feel the snow flakes – December 18, 2014

Men turn into their fathers as we get older. I am more and more interested in the weather as I age. I remember my father always mentioned the weather when I talked with him from afar and he had thermometers outside all sides of the house to check daily. I guess a part of it is my background in science and my interest in the earth sciences like geology, astronomy, and meteorology. Understanding and observing climate, wind patterns, tracking precipitation, etc. is fascinating.

After living for 13 years in tropical countries, my past two posts, Serbia and Japan, have been refreshing because of the change of seasons. This is my seventh consecutive year of living in latitudes outside of the tropics. Osaka is 34 degrees north of the equator, which generally the same latitude as Los Angeles, California, Atlanta, Georgia, Nicosia, Cyprus and Kabul, Afghanistan.

The awesome red color and comfortable weather of autumn in Osaka.

Osaka’s climate is classified as humid subtropical. It has hot, humid summers and cool “mild” winters and a definite change of seasons. The summer was incredibly hot and wet and the fall was gorgeous with perfect weather. This winter so far has been cold, not northern Michigan cold where I am from, the more like the Balkans cold with temperatures around 0 C. We even had snow flurries yesterday, which is very rare for December here, and over the year on average it only snows 3 centimeters (1 inch) per year. That is a bit sad because I love snow.

A warm summer day in September.

It feels much colder because of the lack of insulation  and central heating in Japanese homes. They tend to close off rooms in the winter, use small heating devices like electric rugs/blankets, pocket hand warmers, portable gas and electric heaters, instead of a furnace like in European or North American homes. I was joking that living in our house is like living in our summer porch in my childhood home in Michigan. We had a non-insulated room in the back of our house that was used for storage or sleeping in the summer (before the days of air conditioning). I find this interesting why the homes are not insulated well, as things here have a developed infrastructure, like highways, buildings, etc, why not have insulated homes? It is a mystery I hope to answer in my time here.

The students at our school from India and Brazil were very excited to see snow yesterday. I am looking forward to see how the winter progresses into spring.

Japan’s College Football Championship Game

KG in blue on offense against Nihon in red

Owen and I attended the 69th Koshien Bowl yesterday. This is Japan’s equivalent to the NCAA Football Championship Game. This is North American football, not soccer for my international readers. The bowl began in 1945, probably due to the American occupation after World War II. I happen to be working for the “Alabama Crimson Tide” of Japan’s college football scene, the Kwansei Gakuin University “Fighters”. They are known as “KG” to us. They defeated Nihon University 55-10 to win their fourth consecutive championship and their 27th in the history of the game, the most of any university. The game is named after Koshien stadium, the famed baseball stadium of the Hanshin Tigers professional baseball team. The game pits the east champ (Tokyo/Nagoya) versus the west champ (Osaka/Hiroshima). KG represented the west region.

The view from the field

It was a great atmosphere on a sunny, chilly, December afternoon in the stadium, located near Kobe, about an hour’s train ride from our home in Minoh. There were marching bands, cheerleaders, probably about 30-40,000 fans and most importantly,  some excellent football. Both teams were well coached, especially the KG Fighters (blue uniforms). The Phoenix of Nihon University (red uniforms) didn’t stand a chance however against the mighty fighters. KG controlled the line of scrimmage and had many long drives. I was surprised at the technical skill of the players, it looked like a very well played high school game in the USA, much like the Arctic Blast, a semi-professional team from my part of Michigan. They were not as athletic as American teams, but totally organized and fundamentally sound. There were screens, traps, misdirection, read option, KG even tried a flea flicker play. The field goal kickers were excellent as well, one being from 40 yards.

The Fighters now go on to play in the Rice Bowl next month. The winner of the collegiate championship plays the winner of the corporate league in a game called the Rice Bowl. No doubt this was made up by Americans. The corporate league are teams sponsored by companies, some with only employees of that company or teams that hold tryouts. They usually have an older and better quality of player. The college guys have not won since 2004, but KG should have a pretty good shot this year. The past three years they have lost to the Obic Seagulls, once only by 5 points. As you can see in the video below, the action was quite good in the game.

I enjoyed the day more just because it was father and son time. Nadia took the two little ones to Universal Studios Japan, while Owen and I had a great day at the stadium. We played basketball in the morning at the gym, rode our bikes to the train stationand ended the day with a stop at Owen’s favorite restaurant, Subway. It is a day that I would happily relive over.

The best part of the day was spending it with my son!

Happy Birthday Owen

It is a cliche that kids grow up so fast, but it does seem like it. I can’t believe Owen, our eldest son is already 12 years old. It seems only like yesterday that he was a little, chubby baby and in my jogging stroller drinking his bottle while I ran around Anaco. Where does the time go?

I took the photo above last week showing Owen in his basketball uniform and holding his MVP trophy. He won the award as the best player on his team at the Western Japan Athletic Association (WJAA) middle school boys basketball championships hosted by the Marist Brothers International School in Kobe. He really enjoyed playing basketball this year and we are very proud of him.

Yesterday we took him to the Hard Rock Cafe, made him breakfast in bed, and allowed him to use his iPad as much as he wanted. Typical of a boy nearing his teenage years, he was thrilled to receive headphones. We got him the popular “beats” by Dre type.

We are so proud of Owen and we love him very much! Happy Birthday!

The Towers of Kansai

Last Saturday we drove with friends over to the west side of Osaka Bay to see the lights of  Kobe. We intended to go see the luminarie, a display of lights commemorating the victims of the Kobe earthquake of 1995. We did see them from the highway, but instead, ended up at the water front, pictured above. There is a nice mall, Mosaic, with many restaurants, cafes, and stores. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and then strolled along the pier to soak up the view. As you can see is the prominent, Kobe Port Tower. a 108-meter high tourist attraction built in 1963. To the right is a hotel and museum and further on is the port. Kobe historically was a port city and one of the few areas in Japan open to foreigners during their long period of isolation. The port dropped from the second busiest port in Japan to the fourth after the earthquake as it is today. We hope to see more of Kobe.

The other tower I wanted to highlight in the post is the Tower of Sun located in Expo Commemoration Park near our home in Mino. The park is on the site of a former world’s fair that took place in the summer of 1970. The tower was designed by Japanese artist Taro Okamoto. Two of the three original faces on the tower remain and represent the sun of past and future. The red lines represent thunder. In its over 40 years, it has been opened and closed and refurbished many times. At the time of the expo, it was encircled by a plaza building, but today it is long gone.

The park is huge, although really crowded on weekends. We have been there a couple of times and it is a good place to run, ride bikes (outside only) and they hold distance runs there often.


Nadia Excels in First 10km in Japan

Nadia ran a 55:02 10 kilometer race on Sunday in the Suita Bampaku Marathon race. This was her first competitive race here in Japan. The race took place in the Expo ’70 Park in the nearby suburb of Suita. Our school’s biathlon team participated and Nadia joined several of the faculty. We all had a fun day with an exceptionally beautiful autumn sunshine and fall colors.

The race differed from others she ran in that the crowd was very quiet and the only people cheering loudly were the family support for our us. Usually in Europe or America, strangers cheer on the runners to give them support.

She was a bit nervous because of her back, but it did not give her problems. Nadia wanted to be under an hour so she completed her goal.

We would like to thank Marcella, Dawn, and Tara for inviting us to run with them. We are planning to all run as a family in January for our next race.

Christmas in Japan

We had a funny experience earlier this week when we tried to buy a Christmas tree. We heard that Ikea sold real trees so on the last day of our rental car, we drove south to the store. Ikea is located on reclaimed land in the Osaka Bay, close to the mouth of the Yodo River. The waterfront in Osaka is not developed as a tourist destination, but instead is very industrial with a large port and factories.  My guess is that land was cheap and it was easy to receive imported goods so Ikea put their store there. The store is not near public transport so Ikea runs their own shuttle bus from the Namba station.

After about a 45 minute drive we got to the parking lot and there was a frenzy of activity near the entrance. They were selling “trees” around the corner from the entrance and when Nadia asked a salesperson how to buy a tree, she tells us that they are quickly selling out and to hurry to buy a ticket for a tree and stand before they run out. Nadia left for the sales desk and I went out to select a tree. When I got there however, I saw that the “trees” were just large branches. The locals were presenting their tickets and wrapping their branches in newspaper and were carrying them to the cars like babies. Hilarious! They were very happy with their branches. I guess it is all relative and in thinking about the size  of most Japanese apartments, a large tree would not fit. I quickly called Nadia and told her not to spend the 2,000 yen on a branch. Being from northern Michigan and having spent several years shaping Christmas trees at Hanson’s Tree Farm in my home town, I couldn’t get myself to buy a branch. It was a full branch, but it would have been worse than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Instead we ended up getting an artificial tree. The main point was the kids, especially Ocean, loved trimming the tree and we infused some Christmas spirit into our house. We decided to put up the tree early this year because we are traveling to Australia for the holiday and want to enjoy the tree for a longer time.

The view from the Ikea parking lot back towards Osaka

I didn’t want to take any photos of people, so we sent Oliver to snap a photo of the branches to give you an idea of what they looked like. He took the photo that led this post, this branch sitting on a pallet, waiting for pickup from some happy customer.

I find it interesting as well that the Japanese love Christmas! There are decorations everywhere and Christmas carols playing in the stores. Nadia bought some ornaments and decorations at the local Ikea version, Nitori. Halloween was big here as well.

The view from the Midosuji Highway – downtown Osaka