Archive for category The Penpal
The Penpal and I love traveling together! Our destination highlights include numerous places in Japan, Korea (the nice one, not the crazy one), Jamaica, Banff, Niagara Falls, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, San Francisco, and even Fargo, North Dakota.
There is something about being away from work and home that really makes a person feel, how can I put this delicately, energetic? Our previous vacations have always allowed us freedom to spend some “quality spouse time” together. (Yes, even in Fargo)
This trip to Japan is the first out of town vacation that The Penpal and I have taken since we became parents. We found that while the spirit was willing, the opportunities were severely limited due to the presence of our wonderful child.
On previous trips to Japan, a visit to another city would have been a golden opportunity to really enjoy our vacation. This time we had a tiny person sleeping in our room. Making the problem worse is the fact that Japanese hotels have very small bathrooms which are not at all friendly for extracurricular activities.
Vacation just isn’t the same as it used to be.
As you may guess from the title, this story contains poop. Don’t worry – there is not a single picture to be found.
When traveling, it’s not unusual to have some issues with your digestive system. Diarrhea is the most common illness for travelers, however our 3 year old son Tiny Dog just had to be different and had the exact opposite problem. The poor kid was just not regular.
Tired kids are fussy and irratable. Adding constipation into the mix magnifies the problem and has the potential to create one miserable child. For the past few days my in laws have been giving TD some probiotics which they claimed would help, but we hadn’t had any success in the past few days.
After a full day of travel and exploring Nagoya Aquarium, we returned to Nagoya station to find some dinner and then check into our hotel. TD loves Japanese curry, which is not something he got to eat much at the in-laws house. The Penpal and I promised him curry on our Nagoya visit, so we stopped in at a nearby Coco Ichibanya, a national chain restaurant that has a great kids meal and multilingual menus.
TD demolished his kids meal of curry rice, sausage, chicken nuggets, corn, and jello. We were finishing our dinner when suddenly he got quiet. And then he got the look on his face.
The poopoo look.
All parents are able to recognize that look in their kids. It’s the look that tells you that you are too late, things are happening, and there’s going to be some cleanup required.
The Penpal took TD out of the restaurant while I settled up the bill. According to the good people at Google Maps, we had about an 850 meter walk to our hotel. We put our increasingly stinky child into his stroller, and set out through the busy streets of central Nagoya.
Most big hotels in Japan have staff that handle the check-in process in English. However, we knew that we were in a hurry so I let The Penpal handle things in Japanese. As TD sat in the lobby, I started to smell something nasty. I started pushing the stroller around to spread out the smell, hoping that it would be harder for other people to notice.
The Japanese service industry is famous for speed and efficiency. Usually a hotel check-in with a prior reservation should only take a few minutes. However, The Penpal was dealing with an employee in training who was having trouble processing the check in, foreign credit card payment, Legoland one day passes, and breakfast vouchers that were part of our reservation.
As we approached the 15 minute mark of our check-in, I noticed that the smell coming from TD was getting worse. I discovered the reason when he leaned forward slightly: his diaper was not able to contain the several day buildup, and thanks to the stroller the poop had escaped in the easiest direction:
Straight. Up. His. Back.
This wasn’t just a little bit – it was a full on level 5 poo-splosion. Doing laps around the lobby was not going to help much longer, we needed to get him cleaned up ASAP.
Just as I was starting to panic internally, The Penpal finally got our room keys. We raced to the elevator and down the hall to our room, where we spent the next 20 minutes washing clothes carefully.
I generally try to be a “silver lining” kid of person and realize that as bad as things are, they could always be worse. TD could have unleashed his intestinal fury on the 20 minute train ride from the aquarium to Nagoya station, although I am pretty sure that the curry had something to do with the situation.
Kids are disgusting.
Today we went to beautiful Izu Peninsula to visit family. Both sides of the Penpal’s family have roots in Izu, and there are still numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins who live in the area.
Izu is one of my favourite parts of Japan. The entire Peninsula is filled with small towns, mountains, and natural hot springs. The few flat areas are home to rice paddies and strawberry farms. It’s about as close to “rural” as you can get near Numazu.
The Penpal’s father has a large family, and most of his siblings are in the 70-90 year old demographic. An energetic 3 year old looks even more energetic in a room where the average age is 80. While the family visited, I did my best to entertain TD with Lego, an ancient electric organ, and the small, friendly dog who was happy to go for endless walks around the house.
There were two interesting things I noticed during our visit:
- The Penpal’s father is the youngest of 12 children. At home he is absolutely the king of the castle. When he is around his siblings, some of which are almost 20 year older than him, he almost fades into the background. It’s an interesting things to see, and I’m not sure if this is unique to his family, all traditional Japanese families, or just large families in general.
- In Canada everyone says that Tiny Dog looks like his mother, pointing out some of his more Asian features. In Japan everyone says he looks like me, pointing out his many non-Asian features. It’s interesting how different things stand out to different people.
I’m happy we got a chance to visit so much of the family while on our vacation. It was a cool experience to introduce them to the overseas branch of their family.
Today the Penpal had lunch plans with one of her friends and the freind’s daughter. Instead of tagging along, I decided to go off and have my own adventure.
It was a rainy day, but I stayed mostly dry thanks to some expert use of my umbrella. I’m only mentioning this because I live in Winnipeg where many people don’t own a single umbrella, and the usual response to rain is to stay inside or run while outside in hopes of not getting too wet. I felt a sense of accomplishment in being able to get to the station mostly dry in the rain.
I took a short ride to Numazu station, and walked towards the Bivi building on the north side. Bivi was built during my last year of teaching in Japan, and houses a movie theatre, internet / comic cafe, Game Center, and a bunch of restaurants. Many of the restaurants had changed since the last time I was in Numazu, but everything looked good. After making a quick loop around I was drawn in by the delicious smells coming from Ohsama No Curry.
A Canadian walks into an Indian restaurant in Japan sounds like the start to a bad joke, but it was actually the story of a good lunch. The lunch special had curry, a choice of nan bread or rice, salad, and a drink for just under 1000 yen. SOOOO GOOOD!
After lunch I made a visit to the Game Center and played whatever the newest version of Guitar Freaks is called before shooting some zombies and checking out the claw games. Most of the machines have cute anime characters as prizes, but one of them had something a bit different for “ladies day”.
I’m assuming by the picture in the background that these were actually hand massagers, which would be very useful after playing too many video games. It is possible that they may have some other uses as well.
No, I didn’t play this machine. If I want a “hand massager” I’ll buy it from a specialty shop instead of trying to win one in front of random strangers in a place frequented by teenagers.
I returned to Numazu station and took the Gotemba line towards Gotemba station at the foot of Mt. Fuji in the hopes of getting some pictures. Unfortunately the rain kept getting worse as the train climbed the mountain. By the time I reached Gotemba it was a total downpour. I managed to snap a few rainy pics from the station, but didn’t trust my prairie boy umbrella skills in rain that the Japanese people were avoiding.
My ride back down the mountain was delayed by 15 minutes due to weather. Delaying a train in Japan is NOT something taken lightly, so the weather must have been really bad. Instead of being lined up on the windy, rainy platform, everyone was politely lined up in the enclosed stairway leading to the platform. For the record, politely is the default way to line up anywhere in Japan.
I ended up getting home about the same time as The Penpal. We both went out for lunch, but had very different experiences. I may be biased, but I think mine was better. When you are on vacation, even a quick bite to eat and a train ride can be an adventure.
Japanese mosquitoes are vicious little bastards.
Yesterday we all woke up with mosquito bites that we had gotten while sleeping the previous night. Tiny Dog got the worst of everyone, with several bites to his legs and one side of his face. We all assumed that it was a one time problem. We assumed wrong.
I woke up around 2:00 am to the annoying sound of a mosquito buzzing around my head. After swatting blindly for a while, I turned on the lights to find that I didn’t have one persistent mosquito, I had a small battalion who had all been taking turns. Each one that I squished released a splatter of my blood.
In the morning I found that Tiny Dog, a heavy sleeper, had fared much worse than The Penpal or I. He had almost 20 bites on his face alone, looking like he had come down with a case of chicken pox.
The Penpal’s father discovered the problem: The Penpal and I had no idea how to operate the complicated assortment of sliding windows, screens, and storm shutters in our rooms. We thought everything was closed, but the stupid mosquitoes had a clear path inside to feast on us while we slept. Looking at TD’s red, swollen bites made me feel like a terrible parent.
The bites were bothering him so much that we took him to a pediatrician in the late afternoon. Fortunately there were no allergic reactions, just the discomfort of a whole lot of mosquito bites. The doctor prescribed ointment to help heal and medicine to reduce the itch.
In the evening before we put TD to sleep I hunted every last mosquito that was in the house, leaving some of their squished corpses on the wall as a warning to the others: nobody gets away with eating my kid!!
This morning we drove to Izu Mito Sea Paradise, an aquarium in the south part of Numazu on Uchiura Bay. The first time I ever went to Sea Paradise was in 2014 with The Penpal on my first ever trip to Numazu, and I have been to a few times since. Tiny Dog (TD) has never seen the ocean or been to an aquarium before, so we were excited to show him something fun and new.
When we arrived, I noticed artwork for some kind of animated idol pop group all over the building. Since I hadn’t seen this on my previous visits, I assumed (correctly) that “School Idol Project” is probably one of those things in Japan that is massively popular for a while but then disappears suddenly. We must still be in the massively popular stage.
Sea Paradise has an impressive collection of aquatic life from near and far. Usually I take the time to read all of the signs and learn a bit about the animals on display, but this time I had an excited 3 year old dragging me to see the next thing. “So cool” he assured me as he spent about 10 seconds looking at the octopus before moving on to the jellyfish.
After a whirlwind tour through the main building, we went outside to kill some time before the dolphin show. TD fed some fish and then got into the kids wading pool where children can walk in knee deep water with small fish swimming around while their parents alternate between taking pictures and hoping the kids don’t fall because they didn’t bring a change of clothes. TD loved the dolphin show; he was excited and clapping every time they jumped out of the water.
The real highlight for TD was not the fish, the amazing dolphin show, the wading pool, or even the idols plastered all over the place. It was the kids play area in the gift shop that featured a ball pit and indoor sandbox. We could have come to the play area without even buying a ticket!! He was having so much fun that we let him play for almost an hour while I shopped for souvenirs.
Sea Paradise is a great place to visit in the Numazu / Mishima / Izu area. It’s a lot of fun for kids of all ages, but I would recommend that if you’re traveling with small children that you avoid the gift shop until end unless you want to hear “ball pit! ball pit!” for the duration of your visit.
For fans of the animated group Aquors, there are a bunch of cardboard models in the gift shop. I didn’t know anything about the group before I arrived, but I knew that I had to do what any mature adult would do on vacation:
In Winnipeg, our 3 year old son TD (Tiny Dog) usually wakes up around 7:30 am and goes to sleep around 9:00pm. After an early morning followed by flights and train rides in a time zone 14 hours in the future, we didn’t really know what to expect for the morning.
He woke up at 4;45am dammit.
The Penpal and I have been back and forth between Japan and Canada several times, so we know what jetlag feels like and how to deal with it. This is not something that you can just explain to a kid. The Penpal stayed up for an hour with TD, and then tagged me in for the next hour so she could sleep longer.
Thankfully he was happy to watch marble run videos on YouTube while we sat around like overtired zombies.