Owen Competes at World Scholar’s Cup Global Round – Kuala Lumpur

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Owen with his teammates at World Scholar’s Cup 

This week Owen is participating in the World Scholar’s Cup (WSC) Global Round – Kuala Lumpur. WSC is an academic competition featuring debate, writing, knowledge bowl and other fun stuff. It is such a clever program with a curriculum that is much more interesting and engaging than students get in their regular school.

Owen’s team competed in the debates yesterday. The motions they were debating were as follows:

  • It should be allowed to access the memories of the dead.
  • Negotiations between the US and North Korea have been a success.
  • Secrets can make relationships stronger.

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The topics they study are fascinating. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Science – The Science of Memory
  2. History – The History of Diplomacy
  3. Social Studies – Black Markets
  4. Literature – Voices of the Inseparable

Under the Literature category, there is an extensive reading list that includes poems, novels, films and include guided questions and case studies. I would love to dive in on the works!

The founders include much theatre and comedy that really resonates with teenagers.

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Saigon: Scooters & Coffee

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Scooters Rule the Streets of Saigon

I spent a few days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam this past week for work and wanted to give my impressions of life there. After seeing so many movies and reading so much about the Vietnam War, I was interested in seeing what it was like there.

In some ways, it is another big Southeast Asian city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. In living in developed and sedate Osaka, I am struck by the noise and traffic, masses of electrical wires and general disarray of city life. When I lived in Europe I was getting used to all of the cities having their historic centers with plazas and Hapsburg era buildings. Southeast Asia is like that because of the tropical heat and the huge number of people on the streets.

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Landmines in the War Remnants Museum

Saigon had two characteristics right away that jump out.

When you disturb an ant nest, thousands of ants scurry in every direction and create a web of movement. The streets of Saigon are similar, but with motorized scooters (mopeds) instead of ants. Literally, at major intersections, you will see over a hundred scooters shooting through. There is obviously a helmet law and the different styles and colors made my taxi ride in from the airport colorful. There are mostly single men and women, but I noticed several families, including one guy with his wife on the back and one child on the gas tank in front of him and another squeezed between him and the wife. They weave around cars and trucks and even go on sidewalks, so when crossing streets or walking in the city, I needed to be alert and agile. There is no staring at an iPhone and walking in Saigon!

The second characteristic that stands out is the numerous coffee shops. There were several upscale chains, Starbucks and Highland Coffee the two most prominent, but there were also coffee houses for the poor, with plastic chairs set out on the sidewalk and independent shops set in old colonial buildings. I tried the famous “Vietnamese Coffee” as described by Nicola Graydon from the Guardian.

I ordered the classic Vietnamese coffee known as ca phe sua da – literally “coffee, milk, ice”. It comprises strong coffee, dripped from a small metal filter into a cup containing a quarter as much sweetened condensed milk, then stirred and poured over ice in a glass.

At first I couldn’t bear its cloying sweetness, but three days in I’d grown addicted to the sweet buzz that follows a refreshing coolness on the tongue. It suits the humidity of the place in a way that an ordinary latte wouldn’t.

I love coffee and so I like the French introducing it to Vietnam in the 19th century. You can see remnants of the 60+ years the French colonized Indochina in the architecture of the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office and in the street names.

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Government Public Service Announcements 

Because the conference hotel was located downtown, I had time to visit the War Remnants Museum and see the famous front gate of the Independence Palace. For Americans, the country is known because of the 20 years of the US fighting the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Over 50,000 US troops were killed and over a trillion dollars spent in trying to stop the spread of communism. The museum is well worth visiting, telling the story in photographs of the tragedy of war. I was troubled by the images of fleeing families, traumatized children, young men killed before they could experience the full arc of life. As always, war is such a waste of life for everyone involved. I was particularly interested in the section documenting the use of Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the US military. The government and NGOs are still trying to clean up areas that were sprayed 50 years ago. The room dedicated to the reporters that were killed in action was also poignant.  Definitely worth a visit. I will continue watching The Vietnam War: A Film By Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. 

 

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Scene of the famous photo of the North Vietnamese Tank crashing through the gate symbolizing the end of the Vietnam War

The city is vibrant and I felt the energy of the place. Perhaps because of so many young people and me staying downtown. The walking street, a huge long plaza running perpendicular from the Saigon River, was full of families. At the end was a statue of the father of Socialist Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Thankfully they have a good open public space because trying to cross the street is difficult because of traffic. It took me 10 minutes to cross the main avenue that runs along the Saigon River. It reminded me of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya, with many barges, small boats and mats of floating vegetation.

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Panoramic View of the Saigon River

Owen’s First Prom

Owen putting on the corsage

Last Saturday our school held the annual prom. The event is open to all high school students and Owen being in grade 9, attended his first prom. We invited some of his friends and their dates to our neighbor so the parents could take photos. As you can see, it was quite exciting. The milestones just keep coming and I can’t believe our oldest son is in high school.

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The whole process was fun, from shopping for a suit and tie, to talking to Owen about social etiquette at a dance, to watching him dance to his first slow song. I always chaperone the prom and Nadia and I tried not to embarrass Owen too much. The prom took place at the KKR Hotel near the Osaka Castle downtown. It was nice to see the students socializing, dancing and dressing up. I felt that the majority really liked the experience.

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Some of Owen’s classmates

Tokyo Broadcast System (TBS) was filming as a follow up to a program they were doing at our school a couple of weeks ago. This gave it more of a sense of occasion. The food was really good and I actually recognized a few of the songs. Thanks to having two teenagers in my house, I am up to date with pop music.

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Seongnam, Korea

 

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The Hotel Gallery in Seongnam

 

I spent a couple of days in Seongnam, the first planned city of South Korea. Two of the international schools in our athletic conference are located there. This was my second trip to Korea and I gained a few more impressions of the neighbor of Japan.

Korea is very similar to Japan in many ways. It is modern, clean and a fully developed nation. The Koreans seem to have a bit more of an edge, both in their demeanor and the architecture and infrastructure, compared to the more sedate Japanese culture. The citizens of both countries come from the same gene pool and both were heavily influenced by China throughout their history. Both countries have extremely homogeneous populations.

 

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Trails along the Bundangcheon River 

 

There seemed to be more and larger apartment complexes than in Japan cities. The restaurants and hotel were more spacious than in Japan.

My new favorite Korean dish is Bibimbapa bowl of rice mixed with veggies and some type of protein. Delicious, especially when served in a hot stone bowl and lots of red chili paste and kimchi. 

 

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Ginpo Airport has a temple decor

 

Seongnam started to relieve the congestion of Seoul, but the city has overtaken it. It is a really nice area and similar to our suburb of Osaka. There are lots of parks and they have kilometers of bike trails along the rivers. Our hotel was near a large mall and plenty of really good restaurants. I was working a lot and didn’t have time to really enjoy much of the city.

 

 

Latest Reading: The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative

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I loved Florence Williams’s book about how wilderness and nature are good for human physical and mental health. She travels the world talking to researchers who are trying to pinpoint, why time spent in a forest, desert, beach or even a park, lowers our blood pressure, helps us think, lifts our mood, alleviates symptoms of mental illness, etc.

The chapters are varied. I particularly like the idea of “forest bathing” shinrin yoku that is popular in Japan and Korea. It hearkens back to a time before penicillin and the cure for tuberculosis was going out to a spa or retreat and taking in the healthy air. Although now, scientists are looking for what triggers these outcomes. One researcher showed how spraying cypress tree oil on someone, immediately lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. What other oils do trees and plants give off that are beneficial to us?

Different cultures view the healthful impact of nature in different ways. The Finns, who live in the most heavily forested country in Europe (74%)  really get into the woods, with the idea of metsan peitto, which means a deep surrender to the forest. I also like jokamiexhenoikeus which means that anyone can go on anyone else’s forested land to pick mushrooms, berries or to camp. Nature is that important to the collective good, that ownership of land cannot deny people having access to it. She came to the same conclusion I did about Singapore which has a lot of nature, but it is mostly artificially set there and controlled. With more people living in cities today on earth than ever before and the allure of games and screens, getting unplugged and out into nature is more important than ever.

Williams describes how time spent in nature can help everyone from former soldiers with PTSD to students with ADD/ADHD, etc. There is a chapter about walking in nature and how it helps creativity and thinking.

She ends the book with the idea of a nature pyramid, similar to the food pyramid. It is the recommended allowances of nature that humans need for optimal health.

daily – nearby nature – birds/trees/fountains in our neighborhoods – pets/houseplants, architecture that allows for natural light, fresh air, patches of blue sky

weekly – outings to parks and waterways where sounds of city recede; 1 hour per week, the larger and wilder the park the better

monthly – forests, state parks, etc.

yearly – multiple days in a wilderness; backcountry hiking and camping; kayaking, etc.

PYP Osaka Olympics – Golden Week

We had a couple of days of school last week during the “Golden Week” here in Japan. Golden Week is a series of holidays strung together to give everyone some extended time off, hence, the week is Golden because you do not have to work. Outside of New Year, this is one of the few times that the entire country is on holiday, so we usually stick close to home to avoid the crowds.

Ocean is shown above running the 50-meter run on Wednesday as part of the PE department’s Osaka Olympics. Our family loves track and field so it was fun to watch Ocean compete. She is not the fastest runner, but she has good endurance. Nadia is prepping her for a 5-kilometer run at the end of the month as part of her Girls on the Move club.

 

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Canal Views in Ibaraki

I have been cycling a lot this week, getting out daily. The cool, sunny weather has been perfect to be outside. I took the photo above on my way back to my house. I usually go for loops of 10-20 kilometers, depending on how much time I have. This is a typical “river” in suburban Osaka. The sides and bottom have cement or stones to prevent erosion, good to prevent flooding, bad for wildlife. There is usually a paved path next to them which makes them ideal for running or biking.

 

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A hot and tired Oliver

Besides Ocean running, we also have Oliver running with us. He beat Nadia and I in a 7 kilometer run yesterday. He complained about going, but once on the route, he ran strongly the entire time. Ollie is getting taller and slimming down as he ends grade 6.

 

 

 

Counting Sheep (err Major League Baseball Cities)

I suffer from insomnia often, waking up in the middle of the night and I cannot get back to sleep. I seem to be getting more of it as I get older. I’ve been experimenting with ways of calming my mind of all of the tasks I have to do and my concerns. One method I use is going through mentally,  lists with sporting themes.

Last night the topic was Major League Baseball and I was comparing the American and National League cities. I took the perspective of a player and considered which set of cities would be more enjoyable to visit and play in. I took into account the quality of the team, the history of the stadium, attractions the city has to offer, etc. I came to the conclusion that is slightly better to have a predominately American League schedule. I rated the American League East and Central over the National league’s East and Central divisions. The National League West would be better than the American League. For example, traveling to San Diego, Denver and Phoenix, in my opinion, is more interesting than playing in Dallas, Houston and Seattle.

I then made my ideal league from this perspective. What would be the ultimate League schedule? I came up with the following:

Kralovec League

East Division – Boston, New York (Yankees), Toronto, Washington and Miami

Central Division – Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis, Detroit, Minnesota (I am biased towards the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region where I am from.)

West Division – Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego, Seattle, Colorado, San Francisco