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Posts tagged ‘kids’

the sacred deer of Nara

Much as we loved Kyoto, after a couple of days of jam-packed sightseeing, it was time for a change of scenery. The crowds might have been less oppressive had we planned our stay midweek. Instead, as luck would have it, our visit to Kyoto fell on the first pleasant weekend after a massive typhoon had rocked the country. After two days of battling the crowds and trying to squeeze in a representative number of sights, we realized we needed to take the intensity down a couple of notches. Instead of spending a third day shuttling between temples in Kyoto, we headed south for a day trip to Nara.

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kimono watching

In addition to history, culture, art, and food, we would add one more reason to the list of rich experiences that make Kyoto a must-see destination: it just may be the best place in Japan to people-watch.

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city of emperors

Kyoto, with its overabundance of temples and shrines, fantastic food scene, and a wide array of small artisan shops filled with intricate handcrafted wares, is widely considered Japan’s most tourist-friendly city. Our first 24 hours in Japan felt more stressful than relaxing. It wasn’t until we checked into our AirBnB in Kyoto, took a stroll around our neighborhood, and immediately stumbled on a covered arcade lined with cute shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we felt like our vacation had truly commenced.

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fools in the rain

The upside of hitting rock bottom at the outset is the knowledge that there is nowhere to go but up. After our many misadventures on arrival in Japan, we hoped that a new day would help us turn the page and make the most of our vacation.

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welcome to Japan

Japan – the land of chatty appliances and heated toilet seats; gas station sushi, seaweed snacks, and breakfast udon bowls; tiny hotel rooms and indoor slippers; inscrutable signs with dubious English and incomprehensible (to us) kana and kanji characters – has long been on our travel bucket list. In fact, before D landed an eleventh hour assignment that forced us into a three-month separation, we had planned to visit Japan during our transfer from Washington to Manila. It was only fitting that we’d make the land of the rising sun the first international destination during our first Asia tour.

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parting shots

From an early age, Munchkin exhibited a keen curiosity for photography – an interest we have nurtured, especially because it kept him engaged and occupied during our travels. Although he sometimes treated the camera as more of a handheld video game, he managed to produce quite a number of interesting shots on our trips to South Africa and Europe. It was also fascinating to see the things that attracted his attention closer to home during the year that we spent in the States.

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rules and regulations

D’s mom, comparing life in America to the one she knew in the Soviet Union, once succinctly summarized the difference by pointing to a sign at a public beach, which enumerated prohibited behavior: “In America they tell you what you cannot do, and anything that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed. In the Soviet Union, it was the opposite: if it was not expressly permitted, then you couldn’t do it.”

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volcanic walk

While D was still fighting the fog of jet lag, S was burning up with wanderlust. It’s not that her first three months in the Philippines were uneventful; far from it. Moving to a new country, then moving again a few weeks later from temporary housing to our permanent apartment; getting the kids settled with school and daycare; figuring her way around Manila while tackling the steep learning curve of her new job – there were more than enough challenges and new experiences to keep S thoroughly occupied during our separation. After spending a couple of months in Manila, however, S longed for a break and an opportunity to begin exploring our new country.

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homecoming

The best part of D’s Manila homecoming was the two weeks of leave he took upon arrival in the Philippines. Ordinarily, we try to maximize our vacation days for travel. In fact, this might be the first time during our nine years in the Foreign Service – other than when our kids were born – that either one of us took an extended period of time off and just stayed home.

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what you make of it

If expectation management is the key to happiness, then we came to the Philippines well prepared. Good friends from all three of our previous posts have either served or lived here, and a friend from our Nairobi days now calls the Philippines home. We did not know exactly what to expect – as so much of one’s experience of the Philippine capital depends on where in the city one lives – but, based on what they shared, we had a fairly good idea.

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