Monday, March 2, 2015

Thailand and Singapore Trip: Chalong Temple, Big Buddha, and Phuket Weekend Market

On Saturday, our first full day in Thailand, after swimming and playing at the beach in the morning, we went out and explored a few cultural spots in Phuket.  First up, the Chalong Temple.  I honestly don't know much about the history of the Chalong Temple, but the buildings were beautiful and it was fascinating to see all of the ornate architecture and gold statues of Buddha.



There were vendors lining the streets along the temple, selling everything from toys to food, and some of that food being roasted bugs!  Peter was lucky enough to try some silkworm!  GROSS.



After we visited the Chalong Temple grounds, we drove up to the Big Buddha.  And, let me tell you, that thing deserves its name!  It was HUGE!  Their goal is to make it the biggest Buddha in Thailand and they seem to me to be well on their way.  It was incredible, and the whole time we were there, there were monks inside of it chanting their prayers.  It was a really cool experience to see such a magnificent structure, hear the melodic chanting, and see the view of Phuket and the ocean below.  




Last on our list for the day was to visit the Phuket Town Weekend Market.  This was actually one of the top 5 things I wanted to do while we were in Thailand!  I'd heard that the markets were awesome, with food and clothing and souvenirs for super cheap.  And, we were not disappointed!  The weekend market was bigger than I had expected and had more than I could have imagined!  I wish we had taken more pictures of everything, but honestly, I think we were too focused on not losing each other and our kids in the madhouse to stop and take photos!  Peter grabbed a couple of pictures of some of the quail eggs and street meat that was being sold, but they had booths and booths filled with every other type of Thai food you can imagine!  And probably some that you can't imagine as well :)



In addition to food, you could really find just about anything your heart desired.  There were stores and stores of clothes--Clara and I each got a pair of Thai harem pants for about $3 each, and Will got a Japan National Team soccer uniform for $15!  (Although I wouldn't put money on its authenticity . . . )  Will and Clara also got a couple little knock-off Big Hero 6 toys and we picked up a cool, wooden carving of an elephant to hang on our wall at home.  

The market was insane--crowded, loud, and huge--with winding aisles, making it almost impossible to not get lost or find the exit, but it was a blast!  With Peter's and my love of shopping and of unique trinkets, had we not had 3 tired kids with us (it had been a long day--they were troopers!), I think we could have spent all evening there and done quite a bit of damage!  But, we're happy with our purchases and it's probably better that we saved some of our money for the rest of our trip!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thailand and Singapore Trip: Kamala Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Last weekend we got back from our epic trip to Thailand and Singapore!  We went with three other families and it was unbelievable!!!  All except for the flight that is . . .  We caught a military hop down to Singapore, but just two hours into the 7.5 hour flight, Clara was hit with a nasty stomach bug!  She threw up probably 20-30 times and also had diarrhea.  It was a disaster.  Then, a couple hours after she started throwing up, Will had a case of really bad diarrhea as well that exploded all over him!  It was such a nightmare.  I cleaned Will up as best I could in the tiny airplane bathroom (we had to throw away his underwear and I tried my best to rinse his pants out in the sink.  Then we put a diaper on him and put his wet, stinky pants back on--poor kid!  We just weren't prepared with an extra set of clothes for either Will or Clara, but from now on, you'd better bet we will be!  Regardless of how old they are!!!  The entire remainder of the flight, Peter and I were alternating between holding Bennett and cleaning up Clara's vomit/rushing the kids to the bathroom.  I honestly thought the flight would never end.  But, as bad as it all was, our flying situation was actually the best case scenario.  Since we were on a charted military flight, it only had about 20 passengers, so we had plenty of room around us.  And, the two flight attendants were extremely nice and helpful.  They supplied us with plenty of garbage bags and cleaning supplies so that we were able to keep everything relatively clean.  We actually had the same two flight attendants on our return trip, and I was happy to hear that neither of them got sick after that awful flight!  I wish could say the same for our friends though; one of the little girls from another family on the plane with us got what our kids had, but she had it the whole time we were in Thailand :(  Poor thing.  

Once we arrived in Singapore, we rushed to the international airport from the base to buy tickets and catch a flight to Thailand (we only had 2 hours before the last flight was leaving).  Clara had stopped throwing up (for a little while at least), so we were just going to try and get on the plane and get to Thailand so that she could recuperate there.  However, that just wasn't to be.  As we were standing in line to buy our tickets, Bennett, who I was carrying in our Ergo baby carrier, all of a sudden threw up all over himself and me.  Like, he completely drenched us both.  Covered in puke, I looked at Peter and told him, "I cannot get on a plane right now."  He was already digging through our suitcase finding me some clothes to change into, and he said, "You CAN.  Just get cleaned up."  To which my response was, "Okay, let me rephrase that.  I WILL NOT get on a plane right now."  So, Peter was disappointed, but he seceded and Bennett and I got changed and cleaned up in a bathroom and then we went and got ourselves a hotel room for the night.  We ended up spending more money than we would've liked, but for the sake of convenience.  We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which is connected to the Singapore airport.  It is a very nice hotel and, after all is said and done, even though we missed a day in Thailand, I'm glad we stayed there.  Bennett threw up two more times over the next couple of hours (which is when we would've been on the plane), and Clara threw up again in the morning.  The kids were also able to get more sleep than they would have had we continued on.  So, it ended up being good, but was a bummer that we lost money and time in Thailand.  Oh well!

We finally got to Phuket on Friday afternoon and we were ready for some relaxation!  Clara got progressively better over the next two days, and both Bennett and Will got better right away.  Everyone was ready for some fun!

We stayed at the Swissotel in Phuket (which was fine, but we wouldn't stay there again . . . ), which was right on Kamala Beach.  While we didn't love our hotel experience, we did love the location, which was easy to get places and was only a few minutes from the beach.  We only spent a couple of days on the beach, but I had so many pictures that I thought I'd better make it its own post :)  So, after that massive introduction to our crazy journey, here are some photos of us living it up at the beach!





The kids could have seriously spent all day everyday just playing in the sand.  They made tons of little sand castles and "goop", as Will called it, which was just wet, goopy sand.  And, they were in absolute heaven playing with their friends!






Clara tried boogie boarding for the first time . . . and pretty much hated it!  But she caught a great wave!!!  Her face in this picture cracks me up!


Will came leaps and bounds in his embracing the ocean during this trip!  He overcame his fears (or at least dealt with them) and played in the water, and he rode tons of waves on the boogie board.  He was awesome out there!


Stay tuned for the rest of our adventures in Thailand . . . 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Family Bike Rides with the Mamachari

Last week we made a very exciting purchase.  We bought a mamachari!  Since being in Japan and seeing mamacharis literally EVERYWHERE, I've been itching to get one!  A classic mamachari is heavy bike with a low frame so that's easy to get on and off, and it usually has one or two baby seats and/or one or two baskets on the front and back.  Riding mamacharis is so commonplace in Japan that it almost seemed that in order to fully immerse ourselves in the culture we had to get one!


Mamacharis aren't cheap though, which is why we haven't yet purchased one.  But, luck was on our side!  Peter and the kids were at Hard-Off (I know, weird name!  But, don't worry, it's just a second-hand store!) last week just checking things out and they came across a mamachari with two bike seats that was in great condition!  The price, being about half of what we would pay for a new one, was just right, so we went back a couple of days later and bought it!

We've taken it out and ridden around our neighborhood a couple of times, but on Saturday we decided  to go on a ride down on a river trail nearby.  So, we drove out to Tamagawa (the Tama river), which has a trail that runs next to it, from Tokyo all the way out to the mountains to the west of us.  It was a little chilly, but it was a great ride, and it was fun to be outside.  Will had a blast and the two little ones are starting to get used to their ride on mom's bike :)

If you look closely in the picture below, you can see Clara's purple helmet peeking out on the side--she was trying to smile for the camera!




"In with Fortune! Out with Evil!"

February 3rd was Setsubun, so what did we do???  We bought ogre masks and roasted soy beans and we threw them at each other!!!


Setsubun is celebrated on the last day of winter, according to the ancient lunar calendars.  By chanting, "In with fortune!  Out with evil!" while throwing soybeans at the ogres, it's believed that good fortune will come into your home.  So, we donned the masks, gave our kids and their friends a bunch of soybeans and we ran around outside chucking them at each other.  William loved it!  

We are completely enjoying learning about and getting involved in the Japanese customs and cultures, even if some of them are a bit silly!  But, hopefully we are creating memories and traditions that we'll be able to carry on, even after we leave Japan.  




Dohton Bori - Okonomiyaki Restaurant

This last weekend we went out for okonomiyaki (which is like a vegetable and meat pancake) here in Fussa.  We've made okonomiyaki at home in the past--it's super easy!  But, we had never gone out to an okonomiyaki restaurant before.  It was delicious and fun, although I don't think we'll be doing it with young kids again any time soon!  Or, at the very least, without a squirmy almost toddler in tow.  Bennett tried too hard too often to touch the burning hot griddle in the center of our table!

Aside from keeping Bennett from burning his chubby little hands, it was a fun experience.  After choosing what type of okonomiyaki you'd like, they serve it to you in a bowl like this:


Once you get your bowl of ingredients, you stir it up really well, being sure to combine the egg so that it all sticks together and then just plop it on the griddle!  Pretty easy and very delicious!  We also ordered some gyoza and yakisoba for the kids.  They ate everything, but both kids seemed to like the okonomiyaki the best!  I love being here and exposing my kids to new foods--and it's even better when they surprise by liking it!





Dohton Bori is in Fussa, just a couple minutes from the base.
GPS Coordinates: 35.738075, 139.332645

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kamakura Great Buddha, Fujisawa Beach, and Enoshima


Yesterday, we drove down to the coastal areas of Kamakura, Fujisawa, and Enoshima.  I've been wanting to see the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, in Kamakura since we arrived in Japan, and so yesterday we made it happen!  It was so cool.  And huge!  


We walked the grounds, took lots of selfies, and then the kids ate their bentos on benches near the Buddha.  It was freezing though, so we hurried them along :)



After hanging out with the big buddha for a while, we made our way down to check out the shore.  Fujisawa doesn't have the prettiest beaches I've ever seen, but on a clear day, Mt. Fuji can be seen straight across the bay, which makes up for EVERYTHING else.  Sadly, it was quite overcast yesterday, so Fujisan was hidden by clouds, but we'll back to enjoy the views again!  


Even though it was so, so cold, there were tons of surfers and stand up paddle boarders out in the water.  It made Peter and me excited to try and surf sometime this summer or next.  And, despite the fact that their fingers were freezing, the kids had tons of fun searching for shells on the beach.  Will said it was his favorite part of the day :)

Also, right at the top of the stairs from the underground parking lot, and across the street from the beach was a cute little playground.  We let the kids run around for a minute before heading off to the next spot.  It's little things like shell collecting and playgrounds that make sight-seeing with kids possible!


After checking out the beach and scoping out places to take my parents and brother when they come, we drove out to the little island just off the shore, Enoshima.  Enoshima is a little touristy spot built on the island, which is kind of like a giant rock.  It's full of vendors selling seafood (lots of mollusks and octopus!) and souvenir shops.  After walking through to the top of the little village is the entrance to several shrines, an observation tower, caves, a garden, and more.






The views from the top were incredible!



Driving down was pretty easy!  It's only an hour and a half away, although we got stuck in traffic coming home, which made the trip quite a bit longer.  Otherwise, it was great.  And there are plenty of parking lots (not cheap though . . . ) around all of these sites.

GPS Coordinates for the Great Buddha: 35. 317085, 139.535757

The beach we went to was literally straight down the road from the Buddha.  Once you hit the T in the road, turn left and it will lead you right onto the 134 coastal highway.  And, then Enoshima is just about 15 minutes west on that same highway.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mochitsuki

Last week, the Japanese ward that we share our church building with, invited us to join them for mochitsuki!  Mochitsuki is the pounding of rice until it turns into mochi, and  it's done at the beginning of every year.  It was really fun to participate in such a classic Japanese tradition!  We had a chance to pound the rice into mochi--which was surprisingly tough!  And then Peter and Will helped to roll the mochi into individual sized balls.  





Once all of the mochi was pounded and formed into balls, we were able to eat it!  The cute kids from the other ward were there to serve us; they offered chocolate pieces, peanut butter powder, nori (seaweed), lima bean powder (I have to admit that I didn't try that one . . . ), and an (sweetened red bean paste).  It was all so delicious!