LETTERS TO OPHELIA
These letters are for you Phi, and anyone who loves you…
Monday, January 3rd 2011…
Ohaiyo gozaimasu… Akemashite omedetto gozaimasu! It’s been 50 days since I’ve held your warm hand and marveled at your beautiful smile. Tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Tokorozawa to have lunch with you… 90 minutes, a hug and some Chrissy presents to brighten our spirits! My guess is, you’ve grown again, not just in height and maturity, but in resilience, and in the many ways you miraculously cope with this crazy world. It’s always throwing us curve balls, and you my precious Bella, have already dodged and weaved so many. Kudos kiddo!
On December 30th, C and Dad returned from Melbourne, Australia. We had a lovely time, although the weather was a little on the cool side, and of course, you my dear, were not swinging between the two of us. The last 3 days were nice, as it hovered around 26 degrees. As it often happens, two days after we left, Melbourne recorded a sweltering 41 degrees! Timely departure!
Christmas was great with the cousins running amok on food and presents. Overdosing on both! We all missed you… especially your Dad, but I didn’t cry, not this time anyway. At one stage, Christopher asked where Ophelia was, and Allie explained to him very patiently about your fine self and your absence. Your two cousins were packing the car and readying to leave, and I had to turn away for a moment as my heart reached out for you… you’ll always be missed Phi.
Anyway Bella, see you tomorrow… I HOPE! Dad… XoXo…
- You were born in Mishima, Japan. It’s near Mount Fuji, a strato volcano standing 3774 metres that last erupted in 1707. Did you know that Japan has a whopping 10% of the world’s active volcanoes?
- When you lived with me, we used to try and talk to your Mum everyday on the phone; even when you didn’t want to, I insisted. It was the right thing to do. BTW, the telephone was first used in Australia in 1878.
Tuesday, January 4th 2011
Afternoon Phi… we’ve just said our goodbyes. Baba dropped you off at Tokorozawa Station, and even after 51 days without your Dad, you casually took my hand and off we skipped. WOW, any Dad has gotta LOVE that! It was good to see Baba; (I wish she’d be braver, and do more for us) but for what it’s worth, she gave me a genuine smile.
First, we went to Starbucks for a hot cocoa and to open a few presents. Shame there’s not a good Aussie barista in town… Starbucks coffee sux! The first and biggest of your presents was an art & craft set that brought big smiles to your face; the second present was a Magic Tree House series chapter book in Japanese. Do you remember I used to read to you every night? Together we’ve read Jack & Annie’s adventures with the ninjas in Japan, with the kangaroos in Oz, and with the pyramids in Egypt… they’re the ones I remember, but I’m sure there are more. The story I chose seemed to be about fairies, so I thought you’d probably enjoy that, as the pictures seemed similar to those of The Magic Faraway Tree, which you also loved.
Your third present was a necklace from Nandee & Pa. Again your face lit up as you tried it on. I had taken a few pictures of the Xmas tree and the presents beneath… all presents from your aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents in Australia for you… so many presents in fact, that I couldn’t carry them all. Yes, there’s still a few presents back in Yokohama awaiting you! In any case, you seemed a little uncomfortable about taking any presents back to Mum’s, but you made an exception on the book. At my request you even read two pages… very impressive, I might add! I’m very proud of you… in fact I told you today that I’m writing letter after letter to you, so that one day soon I can give you this bundle of thoughts and good wishes.
Oh, that’s right, you had had a haircut, a cute bob that really suits you and must save you considerable time in the mornings before school. Again you seemed taller, in fact you told me you were 130cm tall… not the tallest in the class, but not far off.
For lunch we went to the 8th floor of Seibu to the Casa restaurant. You showed me where you had danced the day before. Apparently you, and 3 other gals, all older, but all shorter than you, had danced for the patrons of Seibu. I would have loved to be there, especially as only Baba was there to cheer you on. I wonder where your mother was…
Anyway Princess, time to change trains at Ikebukuro… hopefully we get a chance soon to open a few more Chrissy presents, and to sit down for a decent play, and some art & craft. Your dancing Dad awaits!
- The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is (unknown)
Sunday, February 13th 2011
How are you gorgeous? I dropped you off at Ikebukuro at midday today. Jiji picked you up and we had a smile and a small chat for each other. He’s still crazy about golf! He seemed somewhat shy and embarrassed… I kind of felt sorry for him.
It was great to finally host you for a night, even if it was only a short & sweet 21 hours. I picked you up at 3pm Saturday and as we left Mum, you ever so naturally took my hand and made me feel like the luckiest person on Earth. You’re magic Phi!
I had planned to take you ice skating at the outdoor rink by Akarengakan, Yokohama, but light rain prevented us from doing so. Instead we headed to the fun centre opposite Chinami and my new apartment. They have trampolines, a jumping castle, an adventure playground, as well as the usual arcade games.
After a jump and a play, we headed back to the new apartment, #801. It should have been the weekend I introduced you to C, but silly Dad has been fearful you won’t be comfortable with the idea of Dad having someone special in his life. C went back to Chiba for the weekend to be with her parents. I feel like I’m lying to you by not telling you about my happiness. Indeed C has been waiting for me to introduce the two of you since she moved into our new home #801 in October. It’s not fair she vacates our home; it leaves a cloud of doubt and untruth over us all. Next time we meet, I’m going to tell you all about my Parisian Geisha!
Anyway, back at #801 it was time for Princess Ophelia to open her Christmas presents from Australia. There was a big bag of presents from Nandee & Pa, Richie, Rachal, Allie & Christo, Sean, Cate, Luca & Bilstar. To Dad’s surprise and joy, you seemed to select your bead-maker machine (one of Dad’s presents).
We Skyped Sean & the kids and had a little chat, and then we had an epic Skype with Nandee & Pa for 1 hour 50 minutes. You were gorgeous sitting up on my lap, leaning into me, showing your grandparents different things and making different bead accessories. During which time we tucked into C’s yummy curry rice, you preferring a lot extra cheese to top off your gourmet curry.
After our Skype, we returned to our old favourite, lego. We created a farm scene for the animals, a visitor centre, and a riding area for the family of four to attend. Lots of fun Bella!
That night you slept in C & my bed, and I sensed you realizing there was someone special in my life. Her smell, her presence, her aura are everywhere. We read a few horse stories, but Dad regrets not telling you a made-up story. You used to beg for a story every night after I’d read you your 3 books. How about tonight? I think I could tell you stories until sunrise… XoXo…
In the morning you discovered C’s small room off the bedroom; you were curious but you didn’t pry. You are always ever so mature and thoughtful. But you must be thinking all sorts of things… I hope you’re okay.
In the morning we had some yummy bread we’d selected at Saty supermarket late Saturday afternoon. A bit more bead making, a tad more imaginary play with our lego world, and then it was time to catch up with Jiji.
I love you… I always will… XoXo…
- You are not who you used to be, and that’s OK. You’ve been hurt; you’ve gone through numerous ups and downs that have made you who you are today. Over the years, so many things have happened – things that have changed your perspective…
Sunday, February 27th 2011
Bonjour Mademoiselle Ophelia! We’ve had a busy weekend. Yesterday I picked up a rental car in Negishi at 8am, and drove to Chiba to pick C up. C had gone to Paris for her friend’s wedding, and had a good deal of luggage to transport back to Yokohama.
Part of the morning was spent fixing the O’s staircase. The balustrade had come loose. It was great to get my power tools out and into action. Then I had a go at fixing their shower piece in the bathroom. Quite a bit of fun for your Dad!
For lunch we went to Sitar, just about the best Indian restaurant in the world. We’ve been perhaps 4 times, and someday Bella, I sincerely hope you, C & I, can dine there together.
Then it was off to Nitori to buy a few things for our apartment, and then onwards to Ikea for a few more furnishings. By the time we got home, we had a rental carload of odds & ends. A busy, but great day… and the wine tasted sweeter than usual at the end of a long day.
Love you Phi… XoXo…
- If your life was a novel, what would be the title and how would your story end?
- Do you remember writing & drawing Christmas cards at our table in Numazu? It’s one of my favourite memories…
Sunday, March 6th 2011
Evening Sunshine… C & Dad have had a grand weekend. Friday night C cancelled her French class and so we met in Sakuragicho. She was feeling down, and contemplating quitting her position with BMW. Anyway, we went to a French/Spanish tapas restaurant. The food was great, and the wine quite well priced and a damn fine drop. We had a lovely evening.
Saturday it was Gabrielle’s 30th birthday party. She’s from Switzerland and bilingual in French & English. C and Gab have become quite friendly, so C was happy to join a bunch of teachers at an izakaya, and then we even continued for a bit of karaoke (C can’t stand karaoke!). It was a fun night!
Sunday, we cycled to the top of the Bluff, above Motomachi. We strolled around some of the old expat houses, with their beautiful gardens and European architecture. It’s an historical walk, past buildings that have weathered typhoons, earthquakes, and world wars.
It was the perfect afternoon of sun and breeze, capped off with magnificent pancakes down in Motomachi.
I hope your weekend was equally memorable… Love Dad… XoXo…
- Some mornings between sleep and wake, I think nothing has changed. A part of me knows it’s a dream, but the Tinker Bell part, hopes it’s real, and I’ll never wake… I so miss you Phi!
Tuesday, March 15th 2011
Hey Phi… Wish I could hold you now and read you story after story. Last Friday we both went through the magnitude 9 earthquake. With all the phone lines down, and the mobile network jammed, it wasn’t until Saturday morning that I heard you were okay. Fortunately it was the grade 6 graduation at your school, so you had gone home early, and I guess you were with Mum at the time.
My school has been cancelled for the week, so I’m feeling rather helpless at home watching news of the devastation on the TV. Yesterday I went into school and again this morning to set my students some work they can do at home on our class wiki.
After school today, I cycled into the ward office to see where I could donate blood. After which I cycled into a Red Cross centre near Yokohama Station. When I used to teach at Sayamagaoka HS, I used to donate blood twice yearly. The Red Cross had a terrific system, visiting our school for pretty much a whole day. But today was a bit of a minefield of papers and documents. Understandable really, because they need to screen people. In any case, I walked away not having contributed anything. Feel pretty miserable at being so helpless. I want to help my adopted country. Japan has been good to me… I owe it.
On a brighter note, your Mum actually called me yesterday. It was ever so nice of her, I really appreciated it. Selfishly, I’m hoping that this disaster brings us all closer together. It would be so great if I could sit down with your Mum and just talk.
I’m thinking of you all the time Ophelia… go with care… Dad.
No facts today… maybe next time… XoXo…
Wednesday, March 16th 2011
Evening Phi. Guess what, I telephoned you at 5.30pm and your Mum answered the phone. You were at Noribaba’s, but I was able to talk with your Mum for 2 minutes & 37 seconds. It was really nice to just talk. She told me she hadn’t seen her husband since the quake, which understandably must be very stressful. I asked her not to let you watch any of the horrific events coming out of the quake zone; fortunately she told me you hadn’t seen anything on the TV, which is reassuring.
Had a great day with the kids up at Saint Maur this morning. We made banana bread in the kitchen area, and then we took it to a municipal centre that is housing tsunami survivors. My students were ever so humble, offering their fresh bread, and talking happily. I was ever so proud of them.
Anyway, I’m glad you’re having a good play at Baba’s… ENJOY!
Love now & forever… Dad… XoXo…
- The only way to discover the limits of the possible, is to go beyond them, to the impossible (A. C. Clark)
Wednesday, March 23rd 2011
How’s my Princess? I wish I could receive a hug and a “I love you Daddy” from you right now. Tonight I went to a Peace Boat orientation meeting in Takadanobaba, Tokyo. They’re a volunteer group who have set themselves up near Sendai at the port town of Ishinomaki. The town was devastated by the tsunami, so there are many people without homes who are sheltering in temporary evacuation centres. Peace Boat have set themselves the goal of feeding 500 people three good/warm meals every day.
I was hopeful of joining their effort for a week, but they had so many volunteers I missed the cut. Actually at 42 years of age I wasn’t even considered… so I’m feeling rather old & miserable at the moment.
At school this week, despite it being the extended Spring Break I went in each day to work with the few kids who were able to come to school between 10am and midday. I spoke to my head, and managed to convince her to allow me to do a write up on the school’s webpage regarding Peace Boat and their needs.
So tonight C & Dad carried in 2 huge pots on the train, both with diameters of 48cm, soya, miso, dashi, 200 toothbrushes and a 100,000 yen donation. I had been in regular contact with two of the organizers, and though I had never met them, I was hopeful of being able to head north to lend a helping hand.
Tonight I missed the cut, but I am determined to repay the good will this beautiful country has shown me over the years.
Sleep well my most precious… XoXo… I love you… and always will.
- Phi, are you free to see who you want to see? Talk with whom you want to talk? Listen to whom you’d like to hear? The basic test of Freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do, than in what we are free not to do (Eric Hoffer)
Sunday, March 27th 2011
Bonjour Cher Ophelia. I haven’t chatted with you for a long time now, but your Mum answered the phone Friday night. I had spent my first day in the area of Asahi, Chiba, as a volunteer laborer helping tsunami victims. Thursday night C & I went to stay with her parents in Chiba. I took the 6.14am train from C’s parents’ for Iioka Station in my new gumboots and my Aussie size shovel. A volunteer bus was waiting at the station and transported us to the evacuation centre. It was all tremendously well organized. We filled in our particulars, then went through an orientation, before being divided into groups of 5. Next we were shown where we were headed on a map, collected some tools, and boarded another bus for our destination.
As we drove closer to the beach, our eyes couldn’t quite believe the devastation this far south of the worst affected areas. We passed a boat on the road, and we were forced to go around a two-lane bridge that had been pushed a metre inland, we even saw fish in trees… and smelled death. Dead pets mainly.
We joined another group of 5 where our assigned task was to remove sand & muck from a house that was still standing. Houses on both sides were demolished, and the owner told us his nearest neighbor had refused to flee and perished. We were all strangers, shocked by what we had seen, but we worked shoulder to shoulder. We worked quietly, but worked hard, speaking softly only when we took a break.
We took the wet, heavy tatami mats from the house and then pulled up the floorboards. Beneath the boards was a thick layer of about 20cm of wet smelly sand and mud. It was calming to concentrate on the manual labor I enjoy. We hauled the sand in tough Hessian bags over the bearers to the waiting wheelbarrows. Though it was cold, I didn’t notice. It wasn’t long before I was in a t-shirt.
At lunchtime we walked to the beach marveling at the size of the tsunami that had crashed over the jigsaw of concrete stars tangled into an artificial reef/barrier 50 metres out to sea. The tsunami had then crashed over a concrete wall between the beach and the road and then headed inland. Way inland. This is Chiba… my mind couldn’t fathom it.
After lunch I worked closely with 2 men. Shibayama San, a 63 year old retired teacher, and Owada San, a retired engineer with JAL at Narita. Shibayama San used to teach mentally & physically challenged students. We talked quite a lot and he was interested in the fact that I had done some volunteer teaching at Kirigaoka Shogaisha School near Ikebukuro. He knows it well. Actually, I took your Mum there once or twice; I remember we attended the Sports’ Festival together.
Many people spoke to me, even a journalist from the Asahi newspaper. I felt very proud to be a part of my adopted country, and determined to attend again on Saturday.
So yesterday I went again to Asahi, Chiba. Again, it was more than two hours by train, but I enjoyed thinking of you, thinking of C, and reading my book, The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle. Doyle also wrote a book titled The Commitments that became a classic movie; I hope one day soon we can sit down together and watch this movie.
When I arrived, I was greeted with a smile by Owada San (the chap I had worked alongside day 01), and invited to join his group. He is a man of few words, but I feel a certain camaraderie, and by his actions, he makes me feel welcome. It was a good feeling to be part of a team knowing our sweat would be helping someone in some small way for the next 6 hours. We were taken to a restaurant where we did much the same work as the day before. We ripped up the floorboards, and extracted the sand, hand over hand, side by side. By 3pm we were finished our assigned task and transported back to the evacuation centre.
Four days, four wonderful days. It feels good, and even without you beside me, somehow empowers me. Heals me.
I took the train back to Inage where C met me, and together we headed back to Yokohama. C had booked a steak restaurant for dinner. We talked a lot about what was happening, about you, and meeting you. I miss you. It’s so very hard to be near you but not with you.
When people have light in themselves
It will shine out from them
Then we get to know each other
As we walk together in the darkness
Without needing to pass our hands
Over each other’s faces
Or to intrude into each other’s hearts (Albert Schweiter)
Wednesday, March 30th 2011
Hey Beautiful. Missing you… haven’t been able to talk to you for a while but tonight you answered and we had a little chat.
I didn’t tell you what C & I have been doing (working to help the tsunami victims), instead we chatted about you and your friends and what games you had played today.
C & I went back to Chiba Sunday night after she had cooked a delicious Korean meal. I had a scotch with C’s Dad. He’s a sprightly 77 year old who works as an engineer for his own company 6 days a week, then spends much of his Sunday gardening his quite considerable vegetable patch.
Monday Morning C & I raced to the station on the bicycles to catch the 6.14am train. We just made it! Despite the tragic events of Friday, March 11th we’ve become much, much closer. I love her, I love you, and I love my adopted country.
When we arrived at Asahi, Owada San & Shibayama San were waiting. My good mates. I proudly introduced them to my Parisian Geisha; that’s what I call her sometimes as she lived in Paris for 5 years. We joined their group and set off for our cleanup area. C had chosen a tough day to attend, as our assigned task was to break up a concrete block wall that was precariously half standing. It was back breaking work, but manual labor I love so much.
When your Mum & I lived in Australia, it wasn’t always bad. I would spend much of the weekend in the garden. My favorite times at our house in Montrose were when your Mum was in Australia with me. She would occasionally bake fresh bread. She would bring out the bread and a cup of coffee and we would sit on our magnificent deck and chat & admire the view.
C worked tirelessly. She was amazing, and I was ever so proud of her but worried she was pushing herself too hard. That night, she had a severe headache and was in bed by 8pm. Fortunately she was fine Tuesday morning when she went off to the office. I spent another day smashing up concrete walls that had collapsed. These walls are in tight alleyways that the bulldozers can’t quite get to. At times, I’m surprised we’re allowed in to such areas, as it wouldn’t take much for one of these walls to crash and crush a man to death.
On the long way back to Yokohama, I thought a lot about you and my students’ fears when they return to school. I must have looked a sight! Dressed in dirty overalls, gumboots, and balancing my whopping Aussie shovel between my legs.
There’s a lot going on in the mass media. Many people are scared, foreigners and Japanese both. So much of what we see on FB, and indeed the nightly news, is from unsubstantiated reports. I sent a message to my colleagues, basically stating that I think it’s important that we don’t add to the mass media’s scaremongering (despite our personal opinions), nor appear to be skeptical of Japanese politicians, Japanese nuclear experts, WHO (World Health Organisation), and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), all of whom have stated that we are quite safe here in Tokyo/Yokohama. Further, I think it’s even more important that we focus our energy & good will toward the forgotten 30,000 missing or deceased. It disturbs me that each time I turn the news on, or read the newspaper, the main points of interest are the nuclear reactors, and not those suffering the loss of family and friends, homelessness, hunger & cold…
You take care my Ophelia… I love you!
- My favourite animal is the cheetah; they can run up 110 kph reaching 80 kph in just 2 seconds… Wow!
- You rarely cried. You were always stoic. Sometimes you would blink trying to hold back the tears. Did you know the average person blinks 25,000 times a day?