We now have 2 teenagers in the house after Oliver’s 13th birthday on Monday! It is a Kralovec family tradition that the birthday person is the boss and gets to do what they want on their special day.
It started with Ocean and I preparing Oliver’s favorite breakfast. He loves chicken pesto with eggs on toast. We gave him breakfast in bed along with his gift of two Nintendo Switch games (Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) (Poken Tournament). He invited several of his friends over for homemade pizzas. We went to Avengers Infinity War at the local 109 cinemas in Q’s Mall.
Oliver also had volleyball games on Saturday. His team won both games and he is a pretty good player. He is shown below with an impressive serving form. The ball is quite high!
Oliver is growing up into a fine young man and it has been wonderful to guide his journey into adulthood.
Sunday afternoon we went to the Hanshin Tigers versus Yomiuri Giants at the hallowed grounds of Koshien Stadium. Despite the Tigers losing 1-11, we still had a lot of fun. To sit for an entire game is boring, especially for young people, but between eating stadium food and walking around the stadium, we did pass the time in a pleasing way. It is nice for Owen especially to watch live baseball and see if he can improve his own play. He is playing left field this year for his high school team.
The Giants are the most popular team in Japan and the oldest and most successful in the history of the NPB similar to the New York Yankees. They had 16 hits and really shut down the bats of Hanshin. They are in fourth place at 9-11, a 1/2 game behind the Hanshin Tigers, who are 9-10. In the Central League, the DeNA Bay Stars from Yokohama and Hiroshima Carp lead the way with 11-7 and 12-9 records respectively.
With much of the crowd leaving in the eighth inning, I walked down to the first row and took some photos. The setting sun and the yellow-clad Tigers supporters made it a really great photo! The iPhone cameras are really good!
Spring is here and the past week has been absolutely lovely with blue skies, a cool breeze and azaleas blooming all over the city. Yesterday Owen’s baseball team opened their season with a 12-0 victory over the Marist Brothers International School. Owen made the varsity as a freshman and is playing left field. In the video above, he doubles to left field, his first hit of the season.
Ocean had a delightful time at the grades 4-5 parent/student dance on Friday night. She is shown above with her friends in the foyer of the conference room, where they set up a photo booth. It is such a great idea to have a social event for parents and students. School dances are a foreign concept in Japan so introducing these types of events is part of the intercultural understanding we are developing at the schools. Ocean is a party girl and loves dancing and socializing with others. She takes after her mother!
Oliver has a volleyball game over in west Kobe so no photos for this blog post. I did snap a photo of him at lunch the other day. The students were eating the courtyard, can you spot Oliver?
On the way back from visiting businesses downtown Osaka, I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge over the freeway. A new apartment tower (Cielia) is under construction and the azaleas in the median are in bloom. It is really difficult not to be in a good mood with such fine weather!
A pretty domestic Sunday today. It was cool and rainy in the morning so I spent time tidying up the house and watching the NBA playoffs. Nadia had a list of places (the famous Honey Do list) to go so we rented a car from the local Toyota Rent-a-Car, about $35 for the day. We went grocery shopping at Takenoko, the budget supermarket in the neighborhood and Kansai Supermarket for some specialty items. I dropped Ocean and Nadia off at Q’s Mall so they could buy a dress for the upcoming grades 4-5 student/parent dance.
We have been going to the Suita Catholic Church lately. When my family came and visited over Easter break, we started going because they were faithful Catholics. Both Nadia and I enjoyed going to mass again, it brought back memories of our childhood. Going to church reminds me of my parents and it is nice to be part of a community. Despite the boys complaining, we made them go. The 2:00 PM English mass is a good time for us on Sundays and with a car, it was an easy drive.
The majority of parishioners are from the Philippines and so the English of the priest has an accent. It has a totally Latino feel, however, with a bit of late start and disorganization and warm feelings all around. We are considering getting the children First Communion and Confirmed in the church, but will see how we go.
On a personal level, I do not believe in anything supernatural, but the weekly quiet reflection time, the sense of belonging to a community, the rituals are relaxing and it does bring up some good discussions with our family about how to treat others and live our lives.
After church, we had a couple of more places to go. I had a few laughs near the end of the shopping trip. When we got to a stop light near our home on the way to the last supermarket after church, Owen, followed by Oliver, bolted out of the car and sprinted home. They had enough shopping for the day and with our consent, they took off running! Then we rewarded Ocean for staying with us by going to the drive-through at Starbucks. She ordered a chai latte with ice, but instead they sent a cold coffee latte. Nadia selfishly wanted the first sip so took a deep drag on the straw, thinking it was chai latte. She hates the taste of coffee and almost threw up. It was so funny to watch her struggling and watching the stunned employees in the drive-through window. Nadia is always entertaining, being so animated! After explaining the situation, we got a chai latte. This time I took the first sip when it was passed into the car and I faked vomiting like Nadia did to give the women working at Starbucks a hard time.
It was then back home to finish packing my bags for two days of meetings in Tokyo, returning the rental car and getting to Shin Osaka trains station to take the Shinkansen. I arrived safe and sound in the lively Ikebukurosection of Tokyo and my hotel. I went out to buy a razor and stopped for a meal at a pretty good sushi restaurant.
I should be writing more as it relaxes me and allows me to collect my thoughts. I also capture those small, fleeting moments in life.
Oliver last night was in a panic. At 8:30 PM he tells me he left his uniform and shoes in his locker. He has a volleyball tournament today and needs to be at the train station at 7:00 AM to travel to Kobe. The school does not open until 7:00 AM. I calmed him down and this morning we rode to the school at 6:45 AM, asked the guard to open it early and we rode to the train station and got him on his way. He was truly thankful for my support. It was nice to help him and hopefully, he learned his lesson to prepare the night before. Procrastination runs in our family 🙂 so I know what he is dealing with and to lower stress in one’s life, one should be more on top of things. I love those mornings when Oliver or Owen have to get to the train station for a sports event. It is quiet and I get to share some time with them. They are a bit groggy being teenagers and need my help in packing their bags and getting them to the station on time.
The highlight of the day was running with Nadia, Owen and Ocean. We did Nadia’s 7-kilometer loop around Osaka University and Kita Senri park. Nadia is leading an elementary “Girls on the Move” club and Ocean is now into running. I bought Ocean some running gear tonight at Sports Depo.
Oliver wanted to see Pacific Rim: Uprising tonight so I rode with Ocean and him and watched the movie. I enjoyed watching Oliver’s reaction more than the movie, but there was a bit of science fiction to the movie which made it tolerable
Catching up in the past week or so, my friend Ilan and I rode the Saigoku Highway to Kyoto. The road was made in the 1600s during the Edo period and has a lot of very cool traditional Japanese homes and temples. We ended up riding 52 kilometers, more than either of us expected. However, it was a really nice day and fun to spend some time with a friend and ride. If I was independently wealthy, that is about all I would do, cycle and hike and explore the outdoors.
Finally, a Japan post would not be complete without an earthquake story. The other night I was up, as the past few weeks I’ve been suffering from insomnia. The house started shaking and about a minute or two later, I went to the Japan Meterological Station website had the quake map on their system. On the map below, we live in the blue, which was a 3 and the quake originated in Totori, the orange section, which indicates a 5.
During my university days near the end of the month when money was tight, I would buy instant noodles for some cheap meals to make my budget go a bit longer. I didn’t really think about the origin of instant noodles until I moved to Osaka, Japan. Momofuku Ando invented the technique to fry-dry noodles, add flavoring and dried vegetables and meat and most important, put all in a sealed styrofoam cup perfect for warming up the noodle soup.
His background is interesting. He is Taiwanese and grew up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan. He attended Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Life was tough after World War II in both Taiwan and Japan. Momofuku saw people waiting in long lines for hot noodle soup. There was plenty of flour around after WWII from the American occupation forces and that led to Momofuku experimenting in his modest home. He perfected instant noodles, first coming out with them in 1958. Eventually after some stop and starts and a bankruptcy, he hit the right formula as head of Nissin Foods. He turned the company into an international company with over $100 million dollars in profits, and factories all over the world, including Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
He built a museum in Ikeda, a suburb of Osaka where he died in 2007 at the age of 96. We took the tour and made our own instant noodles. You can decorate the cups, choose your flavoring and four ingredients. I chose “seafood” flavoring and added shrimp, green onions, edamame and kim-chi.
Quite a legacy he left as the inventor of instant noodles. The number of companies and types of instant soup-style cups has proliferated. They are not the most healthy food to eat, being high in sodium, but on a cold day or while traveling, a convenient, hot cup of noodles really hits the spot!
Living in Asia I’ve learned how to eat noodle soup with chopsticks. It is proper etiquette to slurp noodles, as it is acceptable and expected of eating companions. Scientists showed that the increased air intake of slurping enhances the flavor of the noodles. We went for the real noodle, called ramen, which is technically, a wheat-based noodle in a pork or beef broth. Americans call instant noodles ramen and the two terms have become synonymous.
We have a famous ramen chain restaurant called Ippudo near our house. They specialize in the tonkatsu ramen, which is from Kyushu, the most southern of the main four Japanese islands and is pork-based. They are one of my favorite meals in winter.
After spending 3 days in the capital Beijing, we took a high-speed train to the city of Xi’an, located in central China. It is famous for the 8,000 terracotta warriors buried with one of the emperors in 200 BC.
The warriors were amazing! It is like seeing a video or photographs from over 2000 years ago. You really got a sense of what they looked like and how they dressed. Each one was an individual, so there were all different kinds of soldiers, some fat, some skinny, tall, short, etc.
The emperor had three regiments of soldiers, horses, chariots, etc. lined in deep ravines of hardened clay. Archaeologists believe they were built to protect the emperor in the afterlife. It is crazy that something this big was forgotten over time, but I guess 2000 years is a long time. The warriors were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. The site of his well is preserved.
I thought the statues were found intact, and some were, but most were in pieces. Archeologists carefully reassembled the statues and put them in their original places so people could get an idea of how they were arranged. Many of the statues remain buried, being preserved for future studies. Sadly, they were painted when they were made and when exposed to the air after so many years, the mineral paint faded within minutes when exposed to the air. The tourism infrastructure that has grown up around the site is a bit off-putting, but educationally, it is such an incredible piece of history that it doesn’t matter. It is worth the time to go out to the site.
Xi’an is about the size of New York, and as many cities in China, I never heard about it before coming here. City officials went crazy over decorative lights and it is very entertaining to see so many lights.
On our last day in the city, we rented bicycles and rode the almost 14 kilometers of ancient city walls, surrounding the old center of Xian. The wall was perfectly preserved, as most city walls are only preserved in fragments, but in Xi’an, the entire wall is intact, with a moat on the outside. There is a marathon on it next month that I would love to have run. Riding the entire length of the walls gave me a good perspective of the old China inside the walls, which were temples and small, Socialist-style apartments. It contrasted from the new China, huge, glass and steel apartment towers on the outside of the wall.