Saturday, October 3rd 2015
Hey Phi, another massive missive to my beautiful daughter. It’s your birthday month, October 15th 2002. How about that? In less than two short weeks you will become a teenager. Thirteen. Wow! 13!!! I can hardly believe it… it’s like I need to step outside myself and look at your birth date in your Australian passport… can it be true? Where did all those years go? I wonder how life at school at thirteen goes for you. How do you feel? What’s the hierarchy of the sempai – kohai system within the track & field club to which you belong? What’s the latest “to-do” thing at thirteen? Phi, I so wish I could just sit down and listen to you… just listen.
Here’s a little something you might like to listen to:
So, more words, more thoughts, more visions of my life with Ophelia Hirakawa-Morice. My journal to you continues, weekly, bi-weekly, when I make the time. I should write every day because I think of you every day. Every morning I sit in the bus at 6.30am Monday to Friday & I think of you. I can’t help but think “what if?” I think of you when I open my wallet and see your photo. I pause when I see you on our wall in our home. When I read a book, watch a movie or just experience life, there are connections to you everywhere. I imagine you turning thirteen when I see my G4 girls chatting away happily in the classroom. Though you’re far away with oceans separating us, you’re really never far from my heart & mind. You might say, you’re forever with me, and you forever will be.
Some of what I write has just been/will be fluff. I’ve tried to capture fragments of my life and describe them to you so that you may glimpse life through your Dad’s eyes. Some entries are better than others, not so rushed, revised & edited with some care. Other letters may seem detached & read as lists of things Dad has been up to; sorry about those. Some letters may be somewhat deep & meaningful and other entries lighthearted with much less thought. These are letters for you Ophelia. Your letters. Letters to you from your Dad. Me – Gerard Daniel Morice.
So, here we are in Hong Kong awaiting your arrival… soon we hope! It’s been a lovely Autumn Break; a whole week off school to explore the food, the sites and our local neighborhood. It’s still very warm here; it hasn’t dropped below 30 degrees Celsius all summer, and the heat is still going strong. There is no sign (yet) of those lovely Autumn days that seem to come quite suddenly in Tokyo this time of year. The leaves haven’t changed, and we’re still using the A/C, even if it does hover around 28-29 degrees Celsius.
In more good news for you & me kiddo, we went shopping for your birthday present. Isn’t she wonderful? The joy she brings your Dad when she does unexpected good deeds for you (and me – we’re a package Kiddo) is unimaginable. She found you a beautiful bracelet and to go with it, a smashing cat key-ring holder. I’ll take a photo to show you and say a prayer that it reaches your birthday hands.
In some sad news, last week we discovered that both Tim Lawson & Hadyn Hewitt are sick, sick, sick. Really unwell. Scary unhealthy. You’ve met them both many times back in Australia. In years to come you’ll notice that Hayd & Tim feature in most of Dad’s photos from our youth till now. There’s plenty of rock photos from national parks in Australia, but also some pretty incredible outdoor sites around the world we’ve shared. The boys are special; friends for life. Friends who know. Friends who understand. I went to school with both lads and we’ve been famous mates ever since.
I first met Hayd in G3 at Saint Francis de Sales Primary School. Then Hayd & Dad went on to Aquinas College (year 7 – 12) where we met Tim in year 7. So many adventures together, so many laughs, so many smiles. In May of this year, Hayd joined us in Egypt. He brought his dad and brother with him. Hadyn’s brother is Dad’s namesake – Ged. I’ve known Ged for decades now but hadn’t seen him in years, so it was lovely to catch up. Actually, Ged was your mum & my accountant when we resided in Australia… interesting connection, hey? Together, the Hewitt lads charmed my C. And in March, Tim ventured to Egypt with Milton (from Tokyo) for a few more laughs. We went to Jordan together and Tim made another great mate, in Toro (Toro is still looking forward to meeting you!); Timmy’s quite a canine lover.
Anyway, it wasn’t until this weekend that the fact that they’re both most unwell really hit me. Hadyn has prostate cancer and has opted to have his prostate removed, and Tim’s white blood cells are pretty much poisoning him (cancer). Tim will have chemotherapy and doses of those rotten drugs that bring on vomiting, hair loss, weight loss & a number of other adverse side effects. Incredibly, both my mates go into hospital Tuesday for their respective operations. Separate hospitals, but still quite the coincidence.
I wish we could be in Oz, not so much to cheer ‘em up, just to be with them both to show them how much we care. We’re so far away in so many ways… just like you & me Buddy. Take care of yourself… and your friends.
Love Dad… XoXo…
“Being lost in Australia gives you a lovely sense of security.” – Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
Saturday, October 10th 2015
Morning Phi. How’s trix in the lead up to your thirteenth birthday? Five sleeps to go!
It’s 10.35am. We’re at Toro’s jail on the Kowloon side of the harbor – well to be more precise, his quarantine centre. Toro will be released three weeks’ today! Happy days! We’ll celebrate with a get-out-of-jail PARTY! He’s been patiently biding his time for over three months now – ever since we left Egypt. Quarantine regulations are very strict here; much like Australia.
I’m sitting in a white plastic chair surrounded by concrete and grey tiles. We’re monopolizing exercise area 03 and exercise are 02 as there is nobody else here to play with their quarantined dog. The site is opposite the former HK airport, so there’s constant noise as they do whatever they’re doing to transform the new building site. Today the thermometer outside cage 10 reads 31 degrees Celsius, but the App on my phone says a top of only 28 degrees. It feels like the App is closer to the mark. There’s rusted barbed wire atop each of the walls and each cage is padlocked to keep us out, and the dogs in. All in all, it’s a pretty morose setting, but Toro is so happy to see us day in, day out that one kind of shuts out the stainless steel grids, the gates & doors we must lock behind us until we’re able to pet our Toro.
It’s not until now, sitting here with you, my C, and our puppy trying to describe this scene before me that I realize it’s quite the drab, ugly, oppressive setting. I guess with my mates Hayd & Tim on my mind, it kind of compounds my depressive thoughts.
Still, Toro is a happy-chappy and he’ll be released soon enough. His positivity is infectious! Also it’s been a great week at school; look what we made with our hands this week! It was great to see the kids again and to continue building community with a class art project. It’s been a busy week starting a new unit on energy & programming in Science, and Dad is just starting to get on top of new units in Reading & Writing Workshop.
On Wednesday we had a bit of a scare; we received several phone calls from the quarantine centre informing us that Toro had blood in his feces. They were worried, but curiously didn’t do much about the situation. Fortunately our Aussie-Hong Kong-ese mate Tobie took both C & Toro to the vet for a checkup. All fine.
Also on Wednesday I sat down and wrote a birthday card to you. Thirteen years young. Pure, good, stoic & beautiful… that’s you my gorgeous daughter. When I put pen to paper, it somehow feels more meaningful than typing away missives to you, but it’s also harder to pen my jumbled thoughts. When I finished your card, I took a photo of your gift. We set out the bracelet beside the key-ring holder. Your gift sat there alone on our red & white tablecloth awaiting your hands. I took a snap of the card I had written and a tear slipped from my eye. Just imagine your own eyes reading Dad’s scribble… XoXo… It’s never easy being so far from you, especially around your b’day, Xmas, Easter, your cousins’ birthdays… I would never wish it upon another human being. It’s cruel, preventable and just plain wrong. So often, all I can think about is why… why… why?
Friday faculty had a few drinks after school. Dad is having a month off alcohol, so instead of sipping cold beer, I sipped green tea and felt pretty damn good about it! It was quite odd in that I felt quite empowered not drinking and curiously I didn’t miss it. I think I’m sleeping better too.
We haven’t heard from Tim recently, but we know things aren’t going well. Nandee is great mates with Tim’s mum, Pat, and through the week they have a coffee & a chat. Tim doesn’t want visitors, which is understandable… I kind of get it. I try & put myself in his shoes, but truth is, I’m not too sure how I would react. When I can’t put a brave face on any more, I can’t cope with people being kind to me & inquiring about your welfare… I just can’t do it. I don’t know how you are, where you are, what you’re thinking, and Tim doesn’t know what’s ahead, nor is there groundbreaking news on his condition daily… So I understand him wanting to avoid all the questions.
Fortunately Hayd seems as though he’s on the mend. It can’t be easy though; prostate cancer is wickedly wicked, but his sense of optimism & humor is coming to the front. He sent me some pretty graphic images of his pre and post-op… YUCK. He says it feels like he’s just finished 1000 sit-ups and then someone went to town punching his gut. OUCH!
Tokoro de, we have cable TV. You’d probably love it. I seem to hate it (most of the time) and have become more and more frustrated flicking through channels. I think in total there are 125+ channels. We even have a few NatGeo channels, Discovery, and the sort, but I find it so infotainment-esque that it turns me off. Most of what screens stems from the States and much of the documentary type stuff that I once typically enjoyed is now borderline reality TV stuff, with Hollywood voiceovers that torment me. Sometimes I turn the sound down and just watch.
We have the Australian Network, the channel you and I once enjoyed Play School and Humphrey on (perhaps it still screens), but now that footy season is finished, they don’t have anything besides the news… how I wish for SBS Australia. Just one channel would surpass the sum of these 100+ channels in terms of quality, depth, and insight.
Luv & licks,
Ged & C… and Toro (one-one, woof-woof!)
“We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.” – Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Thursday, October 15th 2015
Happy birthday Phi. Thirteen years ago on this very day you came into this world in a small hospital in Mishima.
I love you Bella, Dad.
Wednesday, October 21st 2015
Hey Bella, how are you? Today is Dad & C’s third wedding anniversary; it’s also a public holiday in Hong Kong! Hooray!!! So last night we went to a French bar / restaurant to celebrate. Even though Dad is supposed to be having a month off alcohol, I cheated last night. I ended up having a glass of wine and two beers. We went into Mid Levels, Central. It’s a really cool area with loads of cafes, bars, and restaurants. For dinner I chose the pork sausages, and C had the duck. It was okay, but in a way we were a little disappointed. In Hong Kong it’s so easy to find ace dim sum at fantastic prices, but unlike Japan, they don’t seem to do fusion or anything European very well. Even so, it was lovely to be out with my dear C, especially as Dad could stay up past his bedtime (9pm) and not have to worry about being up at 5.40am!!! Happy holiday!
Then today we had our first trip out to Lamma Island. Actually we had another amazing coincidence as when we were standing in line for the ferry at Central, I called Sophie & Maurice to say hello, and it turned out they were in the same queue just 50m back! Sugoi desu ne!
So we jumped on the ferry together and off we went. When we arrived we went our separate ways as Janet, a friend from the quarantine centre had invited us for lunch. We had a delightful lunch with her four dogs, a French couple, an American couple, and a few of Janet’s Hong Kong-ese & Chinese coworkers.
Time for bed Phi Chan… Dad’s a little exhausted.
“If you want to propose marriage to your girlfriend and you live in England and she is in Sicily, do the decent thing and walk down there. Travelling by car or aeroplane wouldn’t be right at such a moment.” – Werner Herzog, A Guide for the Perplexed
Monday, November 2nd 2015
Hey Possum, fancy playing with our dog Toro? At long last, after four months in quarantine, Toru was released from jail Saturday. He arrived home around 10am. Delivered to the door. He was happy to see us, but very unsure of himself and what was going on around him. Saturday we just took it easy with him, giving him loads of cuddles, spending a pretty quiet day close to home. We took him for a couple of walks, but he was very timid in his new surroundings.
Sunday was a wonderful day as we took him out to Lamma Island. It was great fun, just the three of us. The ferry took us to a different location to the first trip. We then hiked overland to a dog-friendly beach. Toro loved it. His first trip to the beach! He reminded me of you frolicking in the shallows.
Love Dad… XoXo…
P.S. Any time you want to go to the beach, let us know, I’ll be there.
“Even from the simplest, the most realistic point of view, the countries which we long for occupy, at any given moment, a far larger place in our actual life than the country in which we happen to be.” – Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
Sunday, November 8th 2015
How’s my marathon daughter? Training hard? Dad’s been running home from school once or twice a week. I didn’t think it was possible because it seemed to far, but I’ve discovered a trail that leads over the mountains that shortens the door-to-door route by several km. All in all, it’s probably not even 10km. On the trail I’ve seen an awesome bright green snake and had the scare of my life as I came across a pack of wild pigs or dogs. I couldn’t tell what they were as it was getting really dark. But oh, how they bashed and crashed their way through the jungle undergrowth. When I run I often think of you. I do some of my best thinking when I run… I wonder if when we meet I will be able to keep up with you… what’s your best time for 10km?
BTW, there’s girl in my class who reminds me so much of you. Olivia is a new student, originally from Shanghai where her mother taught Chinese at the Shanghai American School. But most recently they have come from the Singapore American School. She’s tall, a quiet achiever, and she has a smile for everyone. She also has your taste in clothes and colours. Needless to say she has become quite a favorite of mine. Being quiet and shy I worry about her, but last week I asked each student to write down the name of two boys and two girls who they think they can collaborate alongside at a table setting. Olivia’s name came up on top despite the fact I sometimes see her alone in the playground or in the cafeteria. But I have to admire her pluck and resilience. I wonder if she loses sleep each night worrying about who she will sit next to in the cafeteria the next day, or who will ask her to join their group during recess play. I worry about you too and that stoic demeanor you made famous.
I love you Phi… XOxo
“When you’re travelling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways
Monday, November 9th 2015
G’day Phi, how’s life in Iruma Shi? Did you run the 800m, jump the long jump, sprint the 400m, hurdle 100m, throw the javelin over the weekend?
Today I had my appraisal meeting with the primary principal. She’s a good sort with wonderful vision and the knack of making me feel most comfortable in her presence. I also ran home from school, and tonight it’s the fourth episode of the sixth season of The Walking Dead. I quite like this morbid comedy. C claims to detest it, but each Monday evening she’s there beside me watching the central characters avoid more & more zombies.
What do you think of Mr. Monopoly? Stan & Dad dressed up as Monopoly pieces for Halloween. Stan is a great man. He’s Dad’s Canadian colleague. Stan has two daughters, so it wasn’t long before I told him about you. I hope you & Stan meet some day soon.
Sunday we met a new teacher, Sarah & her partner Trey in Admiralty and watched the new 007 Bong movie, Specter. We all arrived together and spent two weeks at the same hotel, so we often met them at breakfast. Mr. J. Bond saved the world in just two & a half hours… just Dad’s cup of tea. Do you think Dad should audition for the next Bond movie if Daniel Craig stands down??? Perhaps I could audition in my Mr. Monopoly kit! After the movie we went to a place that specializes in hamburgers – they even import all their beef from Australia. 135HK$ for a burger and fries, mind you, the fries are fried in duck oil & DELICIOUS. But at around $25US each (no drink), we won’t be going back for quite some time.
Last Saturday we had a celebration for Toro – his get-out-of-jail party! Tobie & Jin joined us, and Janet came from Lamma Island for a fun night. During the day we did some shopping, and then cooked most of the afternoon. I made sausage rolls (wish you were there to help – my sausage rolls are almost as good as your Pa’s SRs), some chili con carne that I placed in mushrooms and grilled with cheese, and C did her JP karage, a fruit salad, a side salad, and together we put together our own homemade pizza. Loads of food, some good laughs and only one thing missing… you.
Friday night we celebrated the end of conferences, again with Sarah & Trey. It would have been grand if you could have joined us. You could have worn that dress I saw for you in France… it had your name written on it… let me find a photo of it to show you. Anyway, C had discovered a bar/restaurant on the 34th floor of the nearby Excelsior Hotel. We went along for happy hour, a few drinks and some tapas. The beautiful night view of the bay was something very special… I can just picture your smile. For dinner we took our buddies to Genki Sushi. What’s your favorite sashimi? Dad is pretty easy to please, salmon & tuna please. Hotate is pretty tasty too.
Love Dad… XoXo…
MIGHTY INSPIRATIONAL… DON’T YOU THINK PHI
“Is he not sacred, even to the gods, the wandering man who comes in weariness?” – Homer, The Iliad
Sunday, November 15th 2015
Hey Phi, what’s the world coming to? On the news we’re probably both watching the horrific attacks in Paris (this weekend). What will our leaders do? More “us & them” rhetoric that will create even greater divides?
Dad telephoned Maur today. Maur Ford is Nandee’s cousin. She’s a laugh-a-minute, one of a kind, a blue riband miracle woman. Maur is dying of cancer. The doctors say she has but weeks to live. So much as been taken from her; her hair, her health, almost her voice, but she soldiers on regardless. On “death” she says she’s not very good at this dying business. “It’s only my first time at it,” she went on to say. Maur met you several times too. She’s the one who took all those great photos of you, Allie & Luca down by the Yarra River; cousins with their dads, cousins with baby-chino moustaches. Maur is also the person who provided the idea & inspiration behind all of these letters to you. In actual fact she gave me a beautiful notebook to start my thoughts to you. She also said she will visit your mother once she dies. Nothing malicious, just to ask her some questions, and perhaps blow some papers off her desk… we’re going to miss Maur in more ways than one. Though I write to you, I know that wherever Maur may be, she’ll be reading along too. I hope you feel her presence & support too.
So, what else is news? Here’s a test for how well you’re reading Dad’s letters: how did Dad & Chinami meet? Answer below. Here’s a hint: Thursday night Dad & C had the good fortune of being invited to a wine tasting put on by an HKIS teacher and his partner who is in the wine business. Unfortunately C wasn’t feeling too good, so she stayed on the couch and Dad went off alone. It was a good night all the same as there were a few familiar faces from the upper primary school.
It was a good week of running. What about you? Getting stronger, faster and more flexible? Monday & Thursday Dad ran the trails home from school. The quickest route takes me straight down to Happy Valley. When I say down, in parts it does go straight down which is playing havoc with Dad’s knees and toes. Already I have one black toe, so recently I have been running further, running around the valley, nursing my knees & toes as I do. I also had a run to South Beach with Jay on Friday.
Gotta run Phi. Go with care… XoXo…
Answer: Dad & C met at a wine tasting.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Sunday, November 22nd 2015
Howdy Cowdy, how’s your running going??? You working on being a sprinter, a middle distance runner, a jumper or a long distance runner? I hope your coach(s) has vision and isn’t conservative about you and your young peers trying a bit of every discipline. Who knows, you might be a high jumper, or a hurdler, or you may have the power & coordination to throw the javelin 20 meters plus. Oh Bella, I wish we could visit the track together tomorrow…
Check out our class masterpiece. Individually we’re unique, but as a whole we’re a masterpiece!
This morning Dad ran in and around Victoria Park. I haven’t run there for a while as I’ve been running home from school twice a week recently, so it was kind of nice to get back there and do a bit of Dad’s version of cross-fit. I managed to squeeze in 30 chin-ups, 100 sit-ups and 50 push-ups. By then I was beat, so I walked home instead of jogging the final part. It’s much milder now. Perhaps it’ll reach 27 degrees Celsius this afternoon, but the humidity has mostly gone, so it feels so much more comfortable, especially for running.
After a shower and one of C’s lovely pancakes, together we cleaned the windows, inside and out. You should see the view now! BTW, we’re on the 11th floor and we have a view of Kowloon Bay. By night it’s spectacular, especially when they have fireworks. Tonight it’s going to look grand! I think we’ll have to light the candles and have a glass of wine together. Would you like a small glass of vino too? Why not! You’re a teenager now! Just don’t tell your mother!
With the windows sparkling, it was time for a ham & cheese toasted sandwich, followed by a nice cup of coffee. And right now, well, we’re just about to head off to AEON here in Causeway Bay. We’re members, and today we can get 10% off sushi. Fancy some sushi for lunch? I’ll finish this correspondence off later… jya ne!
Back again Phi. Dad went shopping (more of that in a minute), had a lovely nana-nap, and now it’s time to sit down and fill you in on my week.
Firstly, Dad’s mate, “Funny Tim” as you used to refer to him, has at last started to feel better, although he’s staying non-communicative. Bloody middle-aged men! Most of us don’t seem to be able to voice our emotions, or to be able to reach out for help. Nandee and Hadyn keep me up to date. Nandee is great mates with Pat, Tim’s mum, and of course Hadyn, Tim and Dad all went to high school together and have been best mates ever since.
Evidently Maur, Nandee’s cousin had a better day yesterday too. So that’s great news, because I must admit, I thought I had said my last goodbye to Maur just last weekend over the phone.
Anyway, just an hour ago, C says, “C’mon, we’re going shopping!” With nothing better to do, I tagged along. Our first stop was a bag shop she had researched. It’s called Che-Che New York, and their symbol is three hearts that don’t look dissimilar to a fallen cherry blossom. So, we’re in the store, and it’s very flash & fancy, but rather cute and stocks products that might more often appeal to younger women. Now, I didn’t say anything… I don’t want to get into trouble! So, I’m just minding my own business, and C asks, “What do you think of this one?” I kind of pinched my lips together, and wondered if it was a trick question. She raised her eyebrows, awaiting a response. So, I told her I thought it was kind of too cute for a beautiful, sophisticated woman like herself. Well, she just laughed. Then my GORGEOUS C told me the bag was for you, for Christmas… Oh, how I love her… and you!
So, then I became really interested, and together we chose a really cool Che-Che NY cream/beige bag with a white & pink poodle on it. The poodle has a pink bow around its neck that’s a real bow, and there’s another larger beige bow by the carry straps with gold freckles. It’s very cool. I think you’re going to love it! This particular gift we’ll send to Milton in Tokyo, and ask him to forward it to you in Tokorozawa… hope you like it… XoXo…
Friday was adventure day over at the main campus. It wasn’t nearly as good as CAC’s Kids’ Day. The best part was hiking back to the UP campus from the main campus. The kids had a picnic lunch, so we stopped by some picnic tables then continued on around a reservoir. I was mighty impressed by my students’ banter, song & games. Sometimes that’s all they need, a trail, some wilderness, a small backpack & a drink bottle; no complaining, no X-boxes, i-phone 6s…
That night we joined Trey & Sarah for some noodles in Wanchai. Then we had a beer back at their flat. Saturday Dad teamed up with Jay, Johnny and LaRoy for HKIS’s version of the Amazing Race. Talk about Honky Honkers; Dad’s team were the HK Globetrotters. It was a fun day exploring HK at speed, but after 6 hours I was ready for the couch.
Monday night Dad ran home from school. Midway home C called to see if we could spend part of the evening with the French community after what had happened in Paris over the weekend. So Dad picked up the pace, raced home for a quick shower and then into Central for a minutes silence on the lawn. There were perhaps a 1000 people there, maybe more. We held candles & prayed together. Let us hope and not forget…
Love you Phi… Dad… XoXo…
“Culture shock is often felt sharply at the borders between countries, but sometimes it doesn’t hit fully until you’ve been in a place for a long time.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Mind’s Eye
Wednesday, November 25th 2015
G’day Phi, how’s life at Kamiyamaguchi Middle School? It’s 6.45pm, Dad’s just out of the shower after running home from Repulse Bay (school) and C has some news for me. News, news, news: First, we tracked you down to Kamiyamaguchi MS.
For some time now, we’ve thought that you have moved schools, and today, our hunch came to fruition. Evidently you were mentioned in an article on track & field in your school’s newsletter. I don’t know how she does it, or how many hours it takes to find news of you, but somehow she manages to find you. Dad’s heart leaped hoping it was something to do with distance running. It turns out your name was down for the long jump. How about that! Awesome! Those long legs of yours are now helping you project yourself through the air! Oh, how I wish I could be with you right now. The past couple of years coaching alongside Coach Hatem Morsel I learned a trick or two about coaching long jump. Coach Hatem, you might recall was at the Sydney Olympics in his pet event, none other than your event, the long jump. The man jumped an incredible 8.31 metres on the European athletics circuit! How about that? Can you jump half that distance?
So Bella, how’s your new school? It’s so close to Baba & Jiji’s house. You must be first year MS, or what we term year 7 in Australia. How’s your homeroom teacher, what’s your favorite subject, who do you choose to sit next to at lunch, who’s the cutest boy in the class, what’s your least favorite subject, how many days a week do you train for track, what’s the coach like, how do you get to school, are you still attending juku??? On and on, so many questions, so many things to wonder about… what’s your Dad to do? He knows so little about your life right now… so very little. But, one thing is for sure, he’s very happy you’re doing track & field… see you in the 2020 Olympics!!!
Love Dad… XoXo…
“The Australians, it seems to me, thrive on their remoteness from the world and see it as a way of keeping up a code of “No worries, mate,” while peddling their oddities to visitors: nonconformity is at once a fact of life for many, and a selling point.” – Pico Iyer, Falling Off the Map
Monday, November 30th 2015
G’day Phi. Less than four weeks until Christmas… have you put up the Xmas tree yet? Can I help? I’m sure you can reach to the very top; you won’t need Dad to launch you and the Christmas star to sit at the very pinnacle of your tree. Is it a real tree? Do you remember grabbing Xmas pine trees with Allen down in Numazu?
We just came off a Thanksgiving long weekend. It was wonderful to have three sleep-ins! Thursday night we went to Sarah & Trey’s for a superfluous Thanksgiving meal. Trey had gone all out and prepared a feast! There was so much food, and just the four of us. We needed you there to eat a full plate full of yummy-yummy specialties! There was of course turkey with stuffing & gravy, mash potato, and pumpkin with toasted marshmallows on top! But that’s not all, there was pumpkin bread, more stuffing, and even pumpkin pie for dessert. If that’s not enough, there was also a delicious cheesecake C had prepared and matching wine to accompany the glorious food. We had great intentions of walking home, but we felt as heavy as a one of the double-decker buses here in HK, so we ended up jumping on the tram; a double-decker tram no less.
Friday morning I took Toro for a run. It was his first real hit-out with Dad, and he did okay. I’m not sure he knew what was going on, and struggled to keep a consistent pace. His rhythm was okay, but I would much prefer to be running alongside my track & field star daughter! Most of the day I spent preparing reports for my G4 students, all 22 of them. Later in the afternoon we prepared some koroke (is that how you say fried mashed potato with mince in breadcrumbs?) Friday evening Suanne, a colleague of Dad’s had invited us for another Thanksgiving meal! This time, we were a little more sensible about not consuming numerous plate loads!
Saturday, more reports, and then we prepared pizza together and opened a bottle of wine. After my month off alcohol in October, I’ve only been drinking on the weekend. Now each time I have a drink, it feels rather special. Still, looking forward to one day sipping a glass of wine with you Phi.
Then yesterday, we joined in the Global Climate March. 60,000 people had marched in Melbourne on Friday (public holiday), but only about 500 marched in Hong Kong. Toro joined us and received a few pats on the back. Sophie, Maurice, and the girls also joined us. The march started in Central, just near pier 8, and wound up in Wanchai. After our hike, we enjoyed a beer in a nearby bar.
It was also your cousin Billie’s birthday yesterday. She said she wanted family at her party more than any presents or friends. She wanted her cousins, Allie, Christopher, and you Ophelia to celebrate her day. I wonder when we’ll have another opportunity for you, me, your aunts & uncles, your cousins, and your Pa & Nandee to be together again… I love you Phi… go with care this December… LOVE Dad… XoXo…
“It was one of those moments that you know at the time will stay with you to the grave: the sweet pie, the gaunt man playing the old music, the coals in the stove glowing orange, the scent of kerosene and hot breath. “Here’s ‘Evening Rhapsody.'” The music was so heavily romantic we both laughed. I thought: It is for this that I have come.” – William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways
Monday, December 7th 2015
G’day Phi. How’s the Christmas feel in Tokorozawa? It’s just not quite the same without you. No Xmas tree, no childlike energy & excitement, no gifts beneath the tree, no Christmas stories to read to you. What I would do to read you Charles Dickens Christmas Carol this festive season…
Once upon a time we would have set up the Christmas tree together. In fact just yesterday I sent a message to Allen reminiscing about the pine trees we used to take down at Senbon, or up in the hills surrounding Numazu. Fun but naughty times! I wonder if you have put your tree up… is it real, or one of those plastic jobs? Are there presents already wrapped beneath the tree? And what about all those many lights we had inside and outside our home in Numazu… do you remember? Will you be leaving Santa some cookies and a glass of milk like we used to?
Last week wasn’t a great week for Dad’s health. Once again an ear infection hit me. I even had two days off school with a throbbing head. C discovered an ear specialist in Central, so we went to see him. His suctioned both ears, which almost instantly cleared the gunk out. He then put a camera up my nose and pocked around inside my head! Doctor David discovered Dad has a number of polyps growing at the back of my nasal passage that somehow or other accounts for the number of infections. I then had a CT scan to determine their size and impact on the connecting passages. Now I’m cleansing my passages with a saline wash that removes the mucus. It goes in one nostril and out the other, charming, huh? He also put me on a dose of steroids to reduce the polyps size. I go back this Friday to see the results.
Friday night, C & Dad just had a quiet night home together after Dad had bought C a nice bunch of ‘thank you’ flowers. Much of Saturday & Sunday Dad spent writing reports, but on Sunday we walked into Wanchai and did some shopping. We found some nice boutiques, where Dad bought C a beautiful pink shawl, a skirt, and a top. We then wandered back to Causeway Bay and had a coffee at a place Tim had recommended, Coffee Academics.
And last night Dad whipped up a green curry for dinner. There was plenty for three; in fact there’s always enough for you Phi… always.
BTW, we’re booked for Chennai, India for Christmas, but the poor people of Chennai are experienced flooding and the heaviest rainfall since records began. We managed to call our friends there, despite the fact that they have had no power, internet or hot water for five days!
Hope this finds you well & excited for Xmas & a prosperous NY. Love Dad… take care of that beautiful heart Phi… Dad… XOxo…
“Travelling through the world produces a marvelous clarity in the judgment of men. We are all of us confined and enclosed within ourselves, and see no farther than the end of our nose.” – Michel de Montaigne
Thursday, December 10th 2015
Hey super model… Dad came home from school this evening, ran actually. C was teaching our landlord Japanese. Anyway, after dinner she showed me some photos of a young model. At first I hardly recognized you. Your hair is a rainbow of colors, and clouded is your beautiful smile. Does your smile hide something within? I hope it’s your choice… 100% your choice. Phi, there’s no doubt you’re very beautiful… go with care Ophelia… go cautiously… XoXo…
“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” – Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari
Monday, December 21st 2015
Morning Bella. Four more sleeps to Christmas! What’s Santa bringing this year? Some new running shoes? What size are you? I have a gift voucher to a sports store; I can nip out & buy you a pair!
You can do anything Phi, ANYTHING!
Dad & C are on a flight to Chennai, India. We’re lucky to be on this flight, but more about that later. It’s 9.30am, and we’re still sitting on the tarmac in Kuala Lumpur. Last night we arrived in KL from HK at about 1.20am. We stayed in the Sama Sama Hotel inside the airport. It was nice to get some sleep considering we had an eight-hour layover between flights.
The day before we left HK (Saturday), Dad met Bill, my outdoor education lecturer from Deakin University. It’s such a small world. Our relationship started at uni. I guess I must have been somewhat of a favorite of Bill’s ‘cause he asked me to work at his son’s 21st b’day party. Shortly thereafter I left for Japan; it just so happened Bill had a daughter in Japan who I soon met and we’ve been mates ever since. Cool hey!
Also Saturday afternoon I also Skyped Nandee & Pa. Nandee is determined to visit us here in Hong Kong despite poor health. The chronic fatigue syndrome has lingered and recently she’s woken up in hospital (twice) with bleeding on the brain. It’s the start of dementia Phi… She’s a brave soul, determined, and with a soul that is all about family, your family Phi. Your Australian grandparents are thinking of making the flight to the Orient in February, which could work out nicely, because it’s the Chinese New Year, and Dad has a week off school.
Dad finished up at school Friday afternoon. Later a group of G4 teachers took a small boat out to a nearby boat club for a few drinks to celebrate. Friday was also pajama day, but as Dad doesn’t have any pajamas, that presented quite a problem. We celebrated with champagne & macaroons courtesy of some Xmas gifts from my students. Thursday was green & red day at school, and on Wednesday it was come as your favorite Xmas character. Dad came as Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens Christmas Carol… the same book I would love to read to you.
Take off! Gotta fly! Love Dad…
“I came to realise that I travelled best when I travelled no faster than a dog could trot.” – Gardner McKay, Journey Without a Map
Tuesday, December 22nd 2015
Hey Phi, we’re in Fab India! Our buddies Jan & Beth were waiting for us at Chennai Airport; just as well, it had been a long & eventful flight. Firstly, they took us to Bombay Brasserie, a delicious Indian restaurant serving south Indian cuisine.
Here’s a letter I penned to family that I thought you might like to be included in:
Fam (that’s you too Phi),
A short missive from Chennai.
We made it… JUST!
Firstly, there were two flights flying to KL & onward to Chennai leaving at 8.25pm Sunday evening (what are the chances of that???), and we didn’t know about the second one. Duh! So in ritualistic Ged-fashion, we’re the last to board with the stragglers, and of course the gentleman tells us that this isn’t our flight.
That’s when Forest Gump and marathon champ Naoko Takahashi (think 2000 Olympics marathon gold medal) kick it up a gear. We had 15 minutes to get to our flight, and one of those shuttle trams to navigate because of course, our flight leaves from a different terminal. Takahashi streams ahead as Gump isn’t quite as nimble & agile. Finally we arrive at the gate. The lights are out. There’s a single attendant ticking off a few boxes. The gate is closed. Gump, despite lagging behind on the marathon route is in better nick than Takahashi, skips greetings and asks the chap if there’s any chance the plane is still on the tarmac. “Don’t panic sir, the flight is delayed and leaving from a different gate.” Kisses all round!
One night in KL, then onward to Chennai. Just to mix things up, Geddy leaves his passport on the plane upon landing in Chennai!!!
But we’re here now, passport found, and despite spending a good 30min being fingerprinted (the fingerprinting machine needs an overhaul), we’re with Jan (Swedish) & Beth (US), our great mates from Cairo. Less than 18 hours into our India adventure, and we’re lovin’ it.
Picked up at the airport and taken to an ace Indian lunch. A nap, then a walk along the beach dodging human one or two feces, and later, several gin & tonics; what else would one drink on the subcontinent?
Up at sparrow’s fart and writing to you guys… Phi next.
Today, a spot of Xmas shopping and then a Bollywood movie with the locals.
Internet here is good, but we’re off to Bangalar for Xmas. Staying at a $100US+ hotel, so one would think the www will be up & running, but Beth & Jan say that’s not always the case. Hopefully we’ll be Skyping Dec 25th.
Luv & licks,
Ged & C (Chennai, India – below).
So there you go Phi. Kind of funny now that it’s all over & Dad’s passport is safe. Tonight we went to the movies, Bollywood!!! It was all in Indian, but it didn’t matter too much. It was spectacular to say the least. We also went to the cotton stalls across town where we bought C a gorgeous Xmas sari. Tomorrow evening we’re taking a train trip to Madurai. It’s on the banks of the river Vaigai, near the southern tip of India. Second class for we subjects. Fancy a train journey? Don’t drink too much water before departure; we hear the toilets aren’t too clean!
Good night Ophelia… love Dad… and merry, merry Christmas! XoXo…
“I’m leaving on a jet plane; Don’t know when I’ll be back again.” – John Denver, Leaving on a Jet Plane
Friday, December 25th 2015
Christmas day… Merry Christmas Ophelia… we hope it’s a special Christmas for you. Your first Xmas as a teenager, WOW! We hope you’re feeling loved, cherished, supported, nurtured and cared for. We hope you have the freedom to release whatever is in your heart, the voice to tell a friend, and the courage to speak the truth. Dad misses you so much… Did you receive the Che Che NY bag & card we sent you? Hope you like it… So, what was under the tree for you?
Tokoro de (BTW), you would love it here. Yesterday (Thursday) morning we arrived in Madurai. It was an interesting train journey, but not one I’m keen on repeating. A car drove us two+ hours to Karaikkudi to the Bangala hotel, a beautifully restored whitewashed home that is to be our Xmas residence. There are homey pictures of the original family members displayed everywhere, a cool pool and their famous Chettinad food. The food is outstanding! It’s actually quite mild as far as Indian cuisine goes, and the variety is astonishing.
Today we just wandered around the village. There are several antique shops, a market, and the same hustle & bustle that is India. Dad had a haircut & shave for 100 rupee; that’s about 200 yen!
Here’s Dad’s favorite Xmas song:
I must have listened to Tim Minchin’s emotional family classic 100 times, and each time I hear him sing about his daughter… the tears flow… you my baby girl, my jet-lagged infant daughter… these are the people who will make you feel safe in this world… we’ll be waiting for you in the sun Phi… whenever you come… all your cousins, Chris & Luca, Billie & Allie… XoXo…
Well Phi, enjoy your day… hope we’re giving gifts together next Xmas… Love Dad… XoXo…
“Paris (India) is always a good idea.” – Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) in Sabrina, & Dad in Karaikkudi, India
Sunday, December 27th 2015
Hey Phi, any NY resolutions you’re thinking about? Being stronger, more creative, more resilient, more collaborative? Running a 5km road race in sub 25min, jumping 4m+ in the long jump, doing 25 consecutive push-ups, holding a plank position for 90sec+? What about becoming a sassy, surly teenager & tracking down your Dad? I’m ready… whenever you are Phi… XoXo… here’s to an ace New Year Ophelia, here’s to you… here’s to us. XoXo…
Dad & C are still in India… and still lovin’ it despite my traveling companions all becoming sick. Jan was first to come down with some stomach bug, then C and now Beth. So far, Dad has escaped the virus… fingers crossed his iron guts will prevail! This morning I had my second run along the foreshore. Again I ran for 35 minutes with many of the locals walking the same route. The breeze was out, so the remnants of everyone’s trash wasn’t as foul on the nose as my first jogging experience here in Chennai.
Later we walked around Chennai, took a few tuk-tuks here & there, & bought Jan & Beth a hamburger lunch. Yes, a hamburger in India. It was good too. Dad also bought three pairs of strides. 100% cotton, cheap, and well made – whoo-hoo!
Saturday we enjoyed a hearty Indian breakfast at the hotel then took a car the two hours back to Madurai. We visited the Sri Meenahshi Temple, the abode of the triple breasted, fish-eyed goddess Meenskshi Amman. Apprantly she lost her third breast when she married for love. There are 12 towers at Sri Meenahshi, the highest of which is 52 metres. Much of the temple is off limits to non-Hindus, but it was still very interesting.
My favorite part of the day was visiting the Gandhi museum. The detailed English-language signs pull no punches about British rule. I was enthralled by his selfless life. Many, many years ago I read a biography but not much had stuck to my brain. I remembered he studied law, lived in South Africa where he protested against Apartheid, but my mind had forgotten the horrendous part the British had played. It was enlightening to hear how the British wished their subjects, the Indians, would fight for them during WW2, but at the same time they didn’t want to talk about Indian people not having any rights under British rule in India. The British hierarchy wanted to postpone any talks about concessions to Indian people until after the war. What hypocrisy hey!
Time to tend to C and help Jan prepare a little dinner. It’ll be a busy few days leading up to NY & our return to Hong Kong, so just in case I don’t get a chance to write, here’s a little something from Adele to close the year. Go with care Phi… Someone like you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLQl3WQQoQ0
Love Dad… XoXo…
“No one has ever described the place where I have just arrived: this is the emotion that makes me want to travel. It is one of the greatest reasons to go anywhere.” – Paul Theroux, The Pillars of Hercules