2017 April – June

Sunday, April 2nd 2017

 

Hey Bud, how are you doing? Ophelia Hirakawa-Morice, here’s another quarterly missive, to you, for you, my daughter. These letters are for you, your eyes, your soul, your heart, and your future.

 

Our last visitation as dad & daughter was Sunday, September 11th 2011. Can you believe it? Almost six years since we’ve held hands. I don’t suppose we would hold hands anymore, anyway. But, hey, I wouldn’t say “No” to a BIG hug! You’re probably wondering how many hundred wrinkles Dad has added to his face??? A good many, that’s for sure. But, they’re happier wrinkles. Life is good, Hong Kong is awesome, I still have the best job in the world, and every day I grow more in love with my C.

 

I guess mathematically, it’s been some 2000+ days since we chatted together. Ouch! That’s way too long, don’t you think? I wonder what our first words to each other will be? What passes through your mind each night when your head hits the pillow? Am I still part of your dreams? For me, I’m not sure it gets any easier living apart from you, Phi. Sometimes missing you seems an easier pain to cope with, then other times the heartache is still as intense as ever. How is your heart & mind coping with this absence?

 

That last visitation, we met at Tokorozawa Station – do you remember? I’ll never forget you slipping your hand into mine within seconds of leaving your mother. I will cling to that truth always. That moment always brings me an inner smile. The genuine warmth and love of your tender little hand in mine makes all this worth it. Your love was so pure, so natural, so inspiring – it’s the reason I still write to you. I believe in you, and I believe in us. Your touch put such a spring in my step. Your eyes full of trust and care. Then, inexplicably, the following day I fielded a strange phone call from your mother – and we haven’t seen each other since. What does your heart tell you nowadays?

 

Next week, C & Dad will arrive in Nippon. Our visit has been on my mind for some time now. I wonder if I’ll have the courage to visit your school, again. I doubt it – last time, visiting your school tore me apart. It started with such promise, but it ended when I cried openly in front of your principal. The anticipation of seeing you was too much for my heart to take. My defenses collapsed. You were so close, and I had come so far. I babbled like a baby. But again, our meeting was thwarted by those closest to you. Why do they trample love?

 

But my love for you must be endured, embraced and suffered. To this point, it’s been an excruciatingly long journey, but, I still believe. In the end, truth prevails. Truth. Remember this Phi, nobility & integrity springs from the soul, not from blood or money.

 

Anyway, it’s time Dad got to work at the chalk-face (classroom). I arrived here (school) at 7.30am this morning. Yeah, Sunday morning and all, but as you’re aware, Dad is a nine to fiver – that’s bed at 9pm and rising at 5am. Nothing much changes on the weekend. So, this morning, what’s the plan? Well, on my list of things to tick off is: to work on a Biography display, prepare for the unit ahead, grade some math tests, tidy up my desk, and write to you. Later today, Carlton play Melbourne, so I’d like to be home before 2.30pm to watch that game. Go Blues! And looking ahead, Tuesday April 4th will be a public holiday!

Let’s see, last night, I cooked your favorite cream salmon pasta with a blue cheese sauce. It was pretty good and there was enough for you, too. Today, that third plate we set aside for you, will be my lunch… that’s if C hasn’t eaten it by the time I get back to Causeway Bay!

 

Alright Bella, let us give thanks to wisdom, grace and forgiveness:

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

Love Dad… XoXo…

 

 

Tuesday, April 4th 2017

 

Morning Ophelia! How was your run??? Public holiday (it’s called Tomb Sweeping Day – kinda spooky, right?) here in Honky Town, and no better way to greet the relatively quiet-ghostly streets than a morning run, some push-ups, chin-ups & crunches. What about you, strong and agile as a leopard?

 

Why do I run so much? I hear you ask. Nandee & Pa became runners in their late 30s and then it pretty much became a lifestyle choice for all us Morices. Besides, it feels good, right Phi?! It’s also my mental & physical rehab. It’s my quiet time, my thinking time, my own time with my thoughts. Typically, as I run, I’m thinking of you. In fact as the hills get harder, it’s you that gets me up that next hill. This morning I thought of you, but I also reflected on your mother.

 

In many ways, your mother and I have both been blind to your feelings. We only see what is in front of us. We choose what we see, and largely ignore the repercussions of our actions, and non-actions. When I think of your childhood, the loving bond we shared as dad & daughter, the naturalness of our company and interactions, it was total bliss, from my point of view. Imaginary perfection, perhaps. Sometimes it feels like our time together happened to another Gerard Morice. A luckier man than me. A single-father who had so much. A dad who was safe, confident and happy. A foreign man to the one writing to you now, because that fortunate dad knows how his daughter is growing up. A parent who everyday sees his daughter becoming a woman with integrity, passion, creativity and respect. A just person. A teenager who is everything her dog thinks she is, and more. A better version of herself. I wonder how many people can say that?

 

But for you, I wonder what your memories of your childhood are. You flitted between Numazu & Tokorozawa. You went to kindergarten in Numazu, but you also spent time with your Japanese family. Nandee & Pa joined us each year for months at a time, and your Japanese grandparents loved you equally. You shared the love of two families, and then very suddenly one family was shut out. Totally shut down. What did that deliberate, planned decision take from your pure heart? How could you understand the suddenness of the shut-out? Even now, none of it makes any sense. At the time, even as adults, your own Nandee & Pa found it incomprehensible, brutal, insane. The pain, anger, frustration and distrust monopolized our lives. For a long time it made us bitter, impatient, less trustful of others. It was horrible for us… But, it must have been much worse for you. So, how have you survived what happened?

 

And, that’s just it. I don’t know how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, I don’t even know what you’re doing. Even from a distance, I haven’t seen you for six years, and even before September 11, 2011, our court-instructed-visitations were nearly always shut down by your mother. So, in real terms, anything meaningful between us was being marginalized for more than the past six years. Eroded. Deliberatively broken.

 

Despite missing these precious years by your side, I still believe I am a fortunate dad. I have not always been so happy in my life as I am now. Life is sweet. I’m in love and loved. I have the support & warmth of the most amazing family, your family, too, Phi. I teach at one of the most prestigious international schools in the world, and I love my job. Love my students, and I’m surrounded by an ace bunch of super dedicated teachers.

 

Love, really does help us move forward. You’re still the light I look to at the end of the tunnel. There’s always light, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the positives always outweigh the negatives. Phi, you’re still my little action pack of memories giving me that little extra boost. And though I know my memories of our life together become more and more precarious through age & time, I also know, I was the luckiest dad in the world to have you as a daughter. Thank you, Ophelia.

 

Any dark days are behind me. It’s too numbing & draining to dwell on the “What ifs?” of the past. The more I thought about how vulnerable I was, the more it consumed me, swallowed me, turned me inside out. No more.

 

True, the Family Court made me feel small and insignificant. It took me years to realise that goodness doesn’t always conquer all. Life is no fairy tale. I think I’m a better person for going the distance, but it was a relentless, soul draining heartache that I would not wish upon my greatest enemy.

 

It wasn’t even what I thought it was at the time – an incredible injustice by the family court of Japan against me. It took time for me to realise that the family court was blind to individual cases; it just did what it had always done – give total custody to one parent, typically the parent who abducted the child, the Japanese parent. Strangely, “possession” of the child was nine-tenths the law. Barbaric. Empathy never lived within the walls of the Japanese Family Court, especially when it came to foreign parents who believed in co-parenting. Even in 2017, after Japan had signed The Hague Convention on Child Rights, seemingly, one case after another cannot change the mantra of the Japanese Family Court. Even in the face of the international media, its stubborn refusal to realize its crimes against children persist. Absurdly, fear drives the machine (I think it drives your mother, too), not love, acceptance, and compromise.

 

The Hague Convention on Child Rights was drafted to prevent injustices and protect the rights of children, but laws are useless if left unenforced. Monolingual, monocultural, stubborn prejudices are still embedded in the Family Court system of Nippon. Those within its hierarchy have minds like layers of bedrock. What was good for Japan forty years ago, was good for Japan two & three decades ago. And in their archaic eyes, what was good for Japan 20 years ago is good for Japan today.

 

In any case, most of those miseries were yesteryear, and comparative to the hardships many people experience in their lives, my journey fades to insignificance. Maur (Nandee’s cousin) has suffered and lost to cancer. Su (Pa’s sister) is still battling cancer. Nandee’s health woes cripple her at times, and Pa lost his other sister (Jan) too young. My mate, Mick, has fought paraplegia for the better part of three decades to become the inspiration he is today. A hero I hope you meet some day soon. Hayd has had prostate cancer, and Tim has battled hideous myeloma. Though I feel I have lost my daughter, life continues, and rather than wallow in self-pity, we all must strive to become the heroes our dogs think we are. My tragedy is not so great – overcoming what was thrown at me, made me stronger.

 

I love you… XoXo…

 

 

Monday, April 10th 2017

 

G’day Phi,

 

We’re here in Nippon, breathing the same crisp air you breathe.

 

This evening I ran along a river in Chiba at sunset. The cherry blossoms were out, and as the sun set on another day without seeing you, it was hard not to think of you, knowing that you’re not far away. I can feel you breathing, imagine you running, wonder what you’re reading as I pound the asphalt. Ophelia, my daughter. I try to focus on my breathing, in on two steps, out on three steps, in on two steps, out on three steps. Ophelia, my daughter. There’s the warmth of the rhythm, the gift of the routine, the endorphins from commitment. Ophelia, my daughter. You’re so near, yet so far. I wonder how many days it’s been since I sang you to sleep. So many sleeps since we cooked side-by-side. So many months since we chatted, smiled & laughed. So many years since we held each other. What will you think about before you sleep this evening?

 

Today we drove across to the house in Denenchofu. We tidied up the garden with the distant late winter sun on our backs. Somewhat depressing, but with Cc beside me, our strength overcame.

 

Yesterday (Sunday) morning before 5am we arrived at Haneda. Too early, no trains or buses, so we sat and enjoyed a coffee before the first buses started rolling. Later in the morning, we had a nap, then Dad spent a few wet hours in C’s parents’ garden pulling weeds and vegetables that had gone to flower/seed. It was wonderful to feel the earth between my fingers. Invigorating therapy!

 

Later we went to C’s favorite shop, Shinomura. I love that about Cc. She can take something very cheap, such is pretty much everything at Shinomura, and look glamorous & sophisticated. Dad didn’t get anything (would have liked some padded Mizuno running socks – but they were sold out), but C was as happy as a pig in mud purchasing her bargains. In the evening we met our friends, Yumiko & Katsu, at a local izakaya for some great Japanese pub cuisine – Oh, the sashimi was so, so, so much better than Hong Kong. Gotta LOVE Japanese food! What a great night with brilliant friends!

 

Well Bella, wish I were reading a chapter book alongside you now… Perhaps we could start Counting by Sevens. Oyasumi nasai… LOVE Dad… XoXo.

 

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

 

 

Tuesday, April 11th 2017

 

Tuesday, our C once again made me so very proud to be her husband. One day I’ll tell you all about her kindness, wisdom and drive. It was a bit of a wet and tragic day with Tokyo only reaching a maximum of 10 degrees Celsius. We were in and out of courts and law offices all day, and right now we’re sitting in the Tokyo License Centre renewing our gold driving licenses. Not sure why C is renewing her license, as she never drives, but anyway, here we are. Gotta love Japan, so efficient!

 

Tonight we’ll meet Reiko & Milton for dinner and a drink. Tomorrow I think I’ll visit Makuhari International School, and perhaps drop into the Makuhari Outlets to buy a new pair of running shoes. Would like another pair of minimalist running shoes. The barefoot running is definitely strengthening the muscles in my feet.

 

This Thursday, April 13th I’ll meet Greg, Jamie, Evan, DS & the gang from Saint Maur International School in Yokohama. After they’ve finished at school, we plan to meet at Yamashita Park for a kick of the footy, then we’ll watch a bit of Thursday night footy together.

 

Love Dad… XoXo.

 

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

Saturday, April 22nd 2017

 

G’day Phi Fai Pho Fum!

Does that nickname, “Phi Fai Pho Fum” ring a bell with you? Do you recall your giant Dad chasing you around bellowing, “Phi Fai Pho Fum!”? You, and often one or two of your mates would be squealing with delight as I stomped around searching for your hiding spots. Ah, grand memories, Bella. I wonder when I will once again get an opportunity to bellow, “Phi Fai Pho Fum!”

At school, I’ve been teaching my kids all about mean, mode, median & range, so we took to the gym for a little Mr. M Challenge. Each of my 22 students were challenged to grip the chin-up bar and perform a flexed-arm hang for as long as they could hold it. Ivan was our champ, lasting 64 seconds, but Mr. M outlasted him with 65 seconds. Just!

 

Next year, one of my fourth graders might beat me, so I performed my 100 Club this morning. I did my 100 crunches, 100 push-ups, 30 chin-ups, 40 dips, 3 x 75 second planks, 12 x 625m run, some lunges & squats! Gotta be happy with that!

Last night, our not so mighty Blues were thumped by Port Adelaide by the humbling tune of 90 points. Carlton played seven teenagers, so we were always going to be out muscled. There were a few promising signs by the kids before half time, but after that, we were blown out of the water. I wonder if you’ll try and play Aussie Rules Footy one day. My favorite female player is, Vescio. She’s a star playing with Carlton. A damn fine goal sneak, too – she topped the women’s goal kicking tally for season 2017.

 

Tuesday is Maker Showcase at HKIS, or Maker Mayhem if you’re a teacher. The kids have come up with all sorts of incredible science contraptions. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m sure the parents will appreciate the showcase.

 

Wednesday, I’m going to be mighty proud of the fourth grade Student Council. For months now, we’ve been preparing to celebrate the Support Staff at the Upper Primary. All those thankless tasks that are done every hour, every day during our school lives. We’re going to thank those who cook for us, those who clean up after us, those who act as security, carpenters, plumbers & gardeners. We’ve collected some 10,000HKD worth of gift vouchers as prizes, we’ll serve them beverages & cake, too. We’ve even interviewed each of them and written a biography about each of their lives. I think we’ll generate a few tears…

On Wednesday of last week, I ran home over the top, and along the trails. I don’t know how many steps it involves, but I forced myself to run up for 60 seconds, then I walked up for 30 seconds, and repeated the cycle. Felt great! Some pain is good!

 

Last Monday was a public holiday, but unfortunately C has been most sick, fever, cough, and headache. So, after my run & push-ups, we just had a quiet day at home.

 

We arrived back from Japan Saturday, April 15th in the afternoon. Again, I didn’t get to meet you. What to do? Maybe, it’s my fault that I don’t march up to your mother’s front door and knock. Are you expecting me? Perhaps I’m too much of a coward to once again face your mother. What should I do, Phi? When will your mother understand that I pose no threat to her lifestyle? Phi, how can we make this work? When will you have the strength to make your own way, to seek the truth? I don’t blame you for waiting, for hesitating, for not wanting to take the next step. Your mother is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Righteous and determined, but also frightened of her own conscience. You’ll need to be bold & possess a chest full of courage to take your next step. I know, through your beautiful, harmless eyes, it will seem like a giant leap. In insurmountable mess that you need to put behind you. You’ll need all the courage you can secretly muster to step beyond the past of your mother, a past that still haunts her, but it needn’t. It’s time we all moved forward.

 

Anyway, to help me take my mind off you & all those precious moments we’re missing together, pretty much immediately after we arrived home from the airport, we picked up Kaiser and Toro. Oh, Phi, you would love Kaiser. I think he’s an Australian poodle, but I could be wrong. He and Toro make a great pair. He’s very gentle, and is even shier (in some ways) than Toro. I can see you lying on the carpet, giggling & smiling, with Toro & Kaiser nuzzling you. I miss you, Ophelia.

 

Sunday morning, we had a long walk with the dogs as they peed all over Causeway Bay and surrounds. Wish you were holding one of the leashes beside us…

 

Dad… XoXo…

 

WICKED QUOTE

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” Bob Dylan

 

Tuesday, May 2nd 2017

 

Ophelia,

 

Good evening to you, Possum. What are you doing tonight? The TV didn’t go on tonight, instead, I started reading one of the books my kids recommended: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm. So far, it’s a good read and it got me thinking of you. It also helped me remember a quote I shared with my students that I hope works for you, too: “Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled, ‘This could change your life.’” Helen Exley. How true is that, Phi? So, which books have changed your life? I wonder if you’ve read Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo. I must have read it ten times to different classes over the years, and each time I cry. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper also shifted some of my preconceived ideas. Have you read them? I so hope we can sit down soon, coffee & croissant before us, and talk books.

 

Yesterday was a public holiday. Woop-woop! Gotta love a little sleep in. Well, a sleep in of sorts, ‘cause Dad was up & about by 6.30am. Coffee, Dad’s mega-mix of low sugar cereal (it’s got to be less than 4 grams of sugar per 100 grams to make the cut) and 20 minutes peacefully reading Dad’s newspaper of choice, The Age. Then, Dad jumped on the mini bus from Causeway Bay and  came into school to prepare a few things for my appraisal and the next literacy unit. Ah, the life of a teacher…

 

In big news, Carlton beat Sydney Saturday! Can you believe it??? We won by less than a goal, which made it even sweeter, as typically, it’s the stronger teams that win the tight games. So, maybe there is a future for a Baby Blues. And, early Sunday morning, your Dad ran his dozen laps in Victoria Park and banged out his 100 Club of push-ups, chin-ups, lunges, crunches & planks. When are you gonna join me, Bella?

 

Unfortunately, my dear Cc has still been sick. She seems to get a little better, then goes downhill again. Time to visit the doctor again.

 

Last Tuesday was the fourth grade Maker Showcase. It’s a fantabulous day, with our kidlets putting together some impressive projects involving circuits & Scratch.

 

So, Phi, let’s get back to our books. Looking forward to Book Clubbing with you…

 

Love Dad… XoXo.

 

WICKED WISDOM

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

 

 

Wednesday, May 10th 2017

 

Ophelia, here’s a disturbing article that you might be brave enough to read. It’s a hard read, but sometimes the truth has to hurt. It’s an article by Simon Scott and it was published in The Japan Times on May 1st 2017:

Three years after Japan signed Hague, parents who abduct still win

As he sat waiting in a van near his estranged wife’s family home in Nara, where his four children were living, James Cook felt very alone. It was an emotion he’d become all too accustomed to in the years since his wife had taken the children on a holiday to Japan and never returned, leaving him the sole inhabitant of their former family home in Minnesota.

 

“I was alone in our family’s home,” Cook says. “Alone with our children’s rooms just as they left them on July 13, 2014. My location was different, but the feelings of being all alone were the same.”

Meanwhile, at his wife’s family home just across the road, the most important thing in Cook’s life — whether or not he would be reunited with his children — was being determined in his absence. It was Sept. 13, 2016, and after years of seemingly endless court motions, filings, petitions, decisions and appeals in both the U.S. and Japan, finally, in theory at least, he would have his children — two pairs of twins, now aged 9 and 14 — returned to him.

 

Through the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, Cook had successfully petitioned to have his children returned to their home in the United States and a “return order” had been issued by the Osaka High Court. However, the children’s mother, whose name is being withheld out of consideration for the children, was still refusing to hand the children over, so the case had moved to the final “direct enforcement” phase.

 

The day before, Cook and his mother, who had come with him to Japan to help with the children, met with officials from the Japanese Central Authority (JCA), the Foreign Ministry agency responsible for handling Hague-related matters, at Nara District Court to formulate a strategy to ensure the handover of the children.

 

“Maps of streets and the neighborhood with locations of each group were displayed on the large conference table in the NDC conference room,” Cook recalls. “It looked very well planned and gave me a sense of hope that we might be successful.”

 

Cook and his mother departed their hotel in Osaka before dawn to make the 5:25 a.m. train that would take them, accompanied by their lawyers, to Gakuen-mae Station in Nara.

 

At a rendezvous point, Cook’s party met with JCA officials, got into a van and waited for instructions. Shortly after, a call came through to Cook’s attorney that Nara court enforcement officers had approached the house and confirmed that Cook’s wife and the four children were present. At 6:55 a.m. they entered the building.

 

While Cook and his mother waited in the van, a total of 17 people were now present at the Cook’s wife property just down the street: Cook’s wife, the four children, their Japanese grandparents, two police officers, Cook’s two attorneys, a JCA official, two JCA-appointed psychologists, a Nara court bailiff and two officials from the U.S. consulate in Osaka.

 

At around 8 a.m., Cook’s attorney delivered the news that the children were very upset and did not want to see him, although later they did agree to see Cook’s mother. Cook was left alone in the van with his thoughts.

 

At 10 a.m., Cook’s mother returned looking “very traumatized,” but he still believed that finally, his turn to see the children must have arrived. “My emotions were welling up and I was putting on my emotional armor in preparation. As I looked up to find my way out of the van, I was stopped by a sad look on my attorney’s face. She told me our children still refused to see me and that NDC officers had called off enforcement already. I was a block away for three hours from my children, waiting for my turn. I was in shock and just sat in my seat.”

 

Shackled by legal limits

Three years have passed since Japan became a signatory to the Hague Convention, which is designed to ensure the timely return of children to their country of residence after abduction by one parent to another member country.

 

The Foreign Ministry’s Hague Convention Division is quick to point out that of the requests to repatriate children from Japan made in the first two years after signing the convention, about 90 percent have been resolved. But the details of how these cases were “resolved” are less clear, as judgments are not published and the ministry will not comment on specific cases.

 

According to the ministry, of the 68 requests to return children to a foreign country under the convention in the past three years, 18 have resulted in returns. Twelve more requests were “dismissed,” 19 have been “settled not to return the child to a foreign state” and another 19 cases are still open. In other words, just under 30 percent of requests for the return of children made in the past three years have resulted in children leaving Japan.

 

The ministry confirmed that in two cases during the first two years of Japan having signed the Hague, direct enforcement was carried out. It added that there had been a “limited number of cases in which the children’s release has not been achieved” through direct enforcement, without offering exact figures. Based on these unsuccessful attempts, the Hague Convention Division said by email, “We will keep monitoring these cases and continue to review our implementation of the Hague Convention closely as necessary.”

 

In its 2016 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. government concluded that “Japan failed to comply with its obligations under the Hague Abduction Convention in the area of enforcement of return orders.” Citing a case in which a Japanese return order issued in early 2015 was still unresolved by the end of the year, the report raises concern that there may be “a systemic flaw in Japan’s ability to enforce return orders.”

 

Bruce Gherbetti, a director with the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion nonprofit organization, believes that failed direct enforcement procedures are inevitable considering the legal limitations placed on officials charged with carrying them out.

 

“They are following … Japanese domestic law, which is tied to the Hague Convention, and they are doing everything within their power, but their power is so extremely limited that … they are either requesting of the taking parent or requesting of the abducted child that they come voluntarily,” he explains. “So it is essentially asking permission of the kidnapper in order to enforce the return order. I mean it is a court order, yet they are begging and pleading.”

 

Under domestic legislation introduced to help Japanese authorities implement Hague returns, the only physical contact permitted is for a court bailiff to restrain the abducting parent if he or she tries to stop the child from voluntarily leaving.

 

Last year, the justice minister asked an advisory panel to look into revising the Civil Execution Law to set down specific procedures for enforcing court orders on the handover of children between divorced parents. The government is expected to submit a bill based on the committee’s findings next year.

 

However, Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, doubts this process will result in more Hague returns. “I think experts expected the enforcement procedures adopted for Hague cases would ultimately become the standard for domestic cases as well. So I don’t expect much more than that. I certainly don’t expect it to result in any improvements in enforcement of Hague return orders,” Jones says. “Absent a significant change of policy — starting to impose criminal sanctions for noncompliance, for example — the basic limits on how to forcefully transfer ‘possession’ of a child without harming the child physically or emotionally will always apply, and taking parents will continue to be able to effectively use the children as ‘human shields’ against the judicial process.”

 

Time is on the abductor’s side

Gherbetti believes time is a critical factor in abduction cases, and this issue is at the heart of Japan’s failure to successfully return abducted children.

 

The Hague treaty “calls for six weeks of adjudication because they don’t want the child held outside their habitual residence longer than that,” he says.

 

Gherbetti says that although the international standard for Hague returns tends to be closer to six months than six weeks, in Japan the process often takes considerably longer — around 18 months or more — giving the abducting parent time to bond with the children and acclimatize them to their unfamiliar new surroundings.

 

Gherbetti blames an over-emphasis in Japan on the mediation portion of the convention for drawing out the process.

 

“So, similar to their domestic system, they try to have an amicable resolution,” he argues. “They much prefer mediation and an agreed-upon solution than an actual court order.”

 

Article 13 of the Hague Convention outlines situations where signatory states are not bound to order the return of a child. One such situation outlined in Clause B of the article is when “there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”

 

When crafting domestic legislation to handle Hague cases, Japan’s lawmakers “came up with a document that allows them to greatly expand the 13B grave-risk category, and they have created a number of loopholes that ensure they don’t actually have to be in compliance with the convention,” Gherbetti says. “The ‘grave risk of return’ is originally intended for situations where you have a child abuser — you are not going to return a child to someone who has physically or emotionally, etc., abused that child and there is clear evidence of such. To say that someone has habituated to the new environment doesn’t fall under the original intention of 13B. That is for certain.”

 

Parental alienation syndrome

On Sept. 15, two days after the unsuccessful attempt to enforce the return order in the Cook case, a second direct enforcement attempt was carried out at his estranged wife’s house.

This time, Cook’s two youngest children were away on a school camping trip, but Cook was allowed into the house on the condition he would not take the children back to the U.S. that day. Cook says he spoke to his two older sons from a distance, although did not actually see them, as they were hidden elsewhere in the house.

 

Cook says the boys called out “You’re not my father anymore,” “I don’t want to know you” and “Can’t you see we are happy here and don’t want anything to do with you anymore?”

 

Cook believes his wife and her family deliberately turned the children against him, a classic case of parental alienation syndrome. He also thinks they coached his children to make these types of statements, which are similar to those they used in interviews with court officials during the mediation process.

 

Noriko Odagiri, a professor of clinical psychology at Tokyo International University, says that although she is unable to comment on specific cases, the risk of children who are victims of parental abduction developing parental alienation syndrome is very high, and children up to the age of 12 are especially vulnerable.

 

Odagiri says this condition, which she calls a form of “brainwashing,” develops due to the material circumstances the child is forced into, and also the behavior and attitudes of the taking parent. She adds that it is a violation of the will of the child. “The child has no choice because they are dependent on the alienating parent both financially and emotionally,” Odagiri says. “They come to believe the alienating parent is the best parent and they can’t live without them.”

 

Odagiri believes this is a form of child abuse that can have a serious, long-term negative impact on mental health that can remain through adulthood. “When they grow older they recognize the whole map of their life and what happened to them as a child,” she says.

 

Cook’s wife failed to comply with a Minnesota court order to surrender the children’s passports to the U.S. Consulate in Osaka by April 7 and release them into Cook’s care by April 23. Cook flew to Japan and was present at the consulate in the hope that he would be reunited with his children. But again, he left alone.

 

 

Cook is appealing a decision made by the Osaka High Court in February to revoke the earlier judgment granting him the return of his children, based on its opinion that Cook lacks the means to support the children in the U.S. He was granted the right by that court to take his appeal to Japan’s Supreme Court and is now preparing arguments.

 

“I am a loving parent and a loving parent never gives up, never gives in, never manipulates their children and, above all, recognizes that their children possess the same human rights as they do,” he says. “Children are not property, children love both their parents and a part of a child dies when they are denied the other parent.”

 

The Japan Times made a number of attempts to contact Cook’s wife for comment by telephone but she could not be reached, and no replies to emails sent to her address were received. An attempt was also made to reach her through her lawyer, Tomoko Kamikawa. Kamikawa declined to comment and said she was unable to assist with contacting her client, because she was not representing her in relation to her communications with the media.

 

Loving from a distance

Paul Halton’s children were abducted to Japan from the U.K. by his Japanese ex-wife in 2014, a year after the couple divorced. Dual custody of the three children was awarded in the English courts during divorce proceedings.

 

The courts also stipulated that the children should live in the U.K. and placed a travel embargo on the mother taking the children to Japan that applied until the country implemented the Hague Convention. Japan signed the convention on April 1, 2014, and in August of that year the children were abducted. On March 31, 2015, the Osaka Family Court ruled that the children should be returned to the U.K. under the Hague Convention . The mother’s appeal was rejected three months later and a return order was issued by the courts.

 

After Halton’s ex-wife continued to refuse to comply and return the children to the U.K., an order for “indirect enforcement” was carried out. Indirect enforcement, a mandatory part of the Hague return process, involves attempting to make the abductor pay fines to the other parent, usually ¥5,000 per day per child. This step must be carried out before direct enforcement is attempted. Halton says he never received any money from the mother, as she was able to avoid making payments by claiming welfare and thereby obtaining beneficiary status.

 

 

 

With two years having passed since he’d seen his children — now 12, 10 and 7 — Halton decided to take the next step and proceed with direct enforcement. This was attempted on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 of last year.

 

Officials and social workers were unsuccessful in executing the return order. However, they did manage to persuade his ex-wife to let Halton take the children for a day trip to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka a few days later, which he says was “a fantastic moment to spend some time with the children.”

 

A very special day for the four of them wrapped up at a branch of the children’s favorite Italian chain restaurant near the drop-off spot.

 

“Dinner again was wonderful, full of memories”, Paul recalls. But, he says, “I could now feel every second pass as drop-off time approached.”

 

Halton says he was tempted not to hand the children back at the end of their day trip, as he had the backing of both the Japanese and British governments to legally return home to the U.K. with his children. “But what would that do to my children?” he asks. “I couldn’t force them, rip them from their mother and for a second time turn their world upside down.”

 

Halton says that since this visit the situation has improved a little. Skype chat sessions have resumed, and gifts and cards to the children in Japan seem to get through, but the situation is still very fragile and out of his control. He and his ex-wife are supposed to be negotiating long-term, fixed arrangements about contact with his children, but no real progress is being made.

 

“Since I’ve reached the end of the current legal road, I fear that the children will have to grow up without me in their lives,” Halton says. “I hang on to the hope that one day my ex-wife will agree that the children and I can visit each other, at least in that I will have a few weeks a year to help them grow and learn, as a father should be doing.

 

“It’s a horrible reality to think that I will miss my three kids’ childhoods,” he says. “The next time I see them could be when they’re old enough to break free from their mother and independently seek me out, by which time they will be adults potentially with careers and families of their own. We’ll know each other but we won’t be close as nature intended.

 

 

 

“The likelihood is that they will remain in Japan for the rest of their lives and so even my unborn grandchildren will be distant and possibly unknown to me,” Halton says. “This is a thought that haunts my everyday life and I doubt will ever fade.”

 

Halton’s father, Richard, says that although parental child abduction hurts the children most of all, and then the left-behind parent, many others who were connected to the children are also deeply affected.

 

“Both I and Grandma find that it isn’t the same with these three small faces missing, and I know that other family members feel the same. The other children, their cousins, wonder where they’ve gone and why. We all feel a pervading sense of loss. We know that the children are safe but we never see them. Are they truly happy?” he asks.

 

Richard adds that the situation is made far worse in the case of parental child abductions because the “family that tries to correct the wrongs done has to contend with official indifference and inaction” and also bear a considerable financial burden in the hope of seeing the children again. “We are supporting our son Paul emotionally and financially in his quest, but the system is loaded in favor of the abductor and we have all come to the conclusion that The Hague Convention is an expensive waste of time.”

 

What do you think, Phi? My lawyer says I can claim monetary compensation from your mother for her refusal to allow us to see each other. She says, despite the High Court & The Family Court advocating visitation, neither court will enforce the ruling. But what is money compared to time with you? Nothing can compare… I love you… XoXo.

 

WICKED WISDOM

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Saturday, June 10th 2017

 

Hey Phi, this next chapter in Dad’s life, can only be written after the fact. Sorry, we haven’t written for so long, but one of your Dad’s best mates, Tim Lawson, yes, “Funny Timmy” as you used to refer to him has been hospitalized here in Hong Kong. Tim & Dad first met in year 7 at Aquinas College and soon after became best mates. Along with Hayd, the three of us have been pretty much inseparable ever since. When Tim & Dad were about 14, our parents formed a friendship, that they too, have continued to this day. Pat & Pete, Deirdre (Nandee) & Kerry (Pa). In our early twenties, Tim & Dad lived with one another in Nippon for five months. Timmy visited us in Japan, Egypt & Honkers, too. In recent years, Tim traveled with Milton to Egypt, then the three of us visited Jordan together.

 

Anyway, our Tim was visiting Cc & Dad after a business trip to China. He arrived in HK on Saturday, May 13th looking like death warmed up. That first afternoon, I met him at his hotel, also in Causeway Bay, he looked grey and exhausted. He needed rest, so he bedded down for the evening. Sunday morning, Dad waited for Tim in a nearby café for three hours. He didn’t call, so I figured he was catching up on some well-earned sleep. Later in the day, Toro & Dad picked him up. He was wheezy, having trouble breathing, and didn’t look any better. We jumped in a taxi for the short trip back to our flat. Tim dozed, watched a little footy, and sipped a few sips of Cc’s vege soup. Cc wanted him to go to hospital, then & there, but Funny Timmy was determined to wait until he got back to Australia on the Tuesday.

 

Monday, May 15th, Cc had tried to contact Tim numerous times. After no response, she went to the hotel and demanded to see him. Within minutes, Cc called me & I rushed to his hotel from school. He was a mess, but fortunately didn’t argue too much about the need for urgent medical attention. We phoned the concierge for a wheelchair, then we rushed him to the Adventist Hospital in a taxi. Within minutes they had Uncle Tim on oxygen, then they moved him to the Special Care Unit (SCU), but after just two hours, they moved him to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Initially, he was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and influenza B, but they also suspected he had legionnaires disease, which later turned out to be the case. Cc & Dad stayed on the bench in the waiting room outside ICU that first night, spending much of the night/next day relaying news to his family back home.

 

Fortunately, Tim’s brother, Marc, was able to board a flight the very next morning and arrived in Hong Kong Tuesday evening. Our amazing C took much of the week off to assist Marc… I can’t wait to introduce you to this amazing woman. Marc was terrific, very positive & upbeat despite his brother’s condition. It was comforting to have Marc with us beside Tim because his mental & emotional state had been adversely affected by the illnesses poisoning his body. Marc stayed with us, which turned out to be a great move. Somehow, we laughed, and despite Tim’s critical state, Cc, Marc & Dad got through a crazy ten days together. Marc & Cc spent much of the day at Tim’s side, or in the waiting room outside ICU, while Dad arrived every afternoon after school. By night, Marc or Cc cooked, then Marc & Dad sat down and watched an episode of the BBC’s Luther each evening. On the weekends, Dad & Marc would run. All the while, Tim’s condition was fluctuating, but never really progressing.

 

By Saturday, June 3rd Pat & Pete’s (Tim’s parents) stint by Tim’s side had come & gone. After Marc left, Tim’s parents took the baton. That particular Saturday, P&P left early-early, for their return trip to Melbourne. Marc had stayed ten days, and had been with his brother when Tim was put into an induced coma. His temperature ranged from 34 – 42 degrees Celsius, his heart rate rode the rollercoaster, too, and all the while dozens of tubes pumped medication into his sickly body. By the time Tim’s parents arrived, he’d had a tracheostomy for weeks. A tracheostomy is a hole punched through the throat into the windpipe to assist the patient’s breathing. After ten days in an induced coma, he was slowly brought back to consciousness. The doctors had been worried about his long term mental state, but after a few days, despite not being able to verbally communicate, I could see my mate still had some of his famous sense of humor left. He was still fighting.

 

The morning Tim’s parents departed, C waited for them in front of their hotel, but missed their departure by just minutes. Despite their obvious stress, it was wonderful to be with them once again. Pat & Pete dined with us several times, we watched quite a few footy games together, including a memorable win by Pete’s Melbourne Demons, and they joined Dad & Cc to celebrate my 49th birthday. Cc created an awesome four course meal with the highlights being pork glazed in an orange sauce, and individual chocolate soufflés.

 

That same Saturday that Tim’s parents left, we met Tim’s sister, Kate, at the same hotel it had all started at. Treen, Kate’s high school friend had accompanied her.

 

And right now, I’m sitting outside the Special Care Unit (SCU) waiting for Tim to wake from a nap. The good news is that he’s recovered a good deal, enough to be moved from ICU. Jacinta, Tim’s sister in law will arrive soon and take the baton from Kate.

 

Sorry Phi, I haven’t written recently, but as you’ve just read, it’s been a hectic month here in Honkers. In fact, it was just last night that Tim was finally moved from ICU after almost four weeks. All along it had been touch & go, just hoping he was going to finally recover.

 

Now that things have settled down with our Timmy, this morning C and Dad walked with Toro at 7am. We enjoyed a quiet & relaxing coffee at Pacific Coffee courtesy of one of my student’s gifted vouchers. Then Dad did some shopping at Tesco (UK) and found Aussie ribeye steak for 50% off. I bought three, just in case you drop in to say hello to Dad – if you don’t arrive, I’m sure Cint will happily eat your steak.

 

After a bit of a core workout & a shower, I headed to Quarry Bay with more gift vouchers from my students. Lucky teacher, lucky dad, lucky Ged! You see, yesterday was my final day with a gorgeous grade 4 class. A few of my kids had banded together & passed on 1300HKD of sports vouchers to spend! So, I bought a pair of Asics runners (a man can never have too many runners!), two polo shirts, and of course, a pair of running shorts. Yipee!

 

Wow, just checked in on Tim – he’s sleeping naturally, and looks calm, so I’ll keep writing to you. Yesterday, I met C here at the Adventist Hospital. We met upstairs at ICU, his last day in intensive care. We just had a short visit with Tim because he seemed so tired. Then C made her famous Japanese fried chicken, karage with ginger & garlic, but sadly Kate couldn’t make our dinner date. Wednesday, Thursday & Friday I arrived at school early and ran the stairs (seven flights), did my 100 crunches & push-ups, chin-ups, dips and planks. I’m keen to get together with a group of teachers next week, too. Wanna join us? I’ll race you up the stairs!

Wednesday, the G4 team went to Middle Earth (really it’s the yacht club – you have to take a boat out to this cool island). That same evening I took Tim’s suitcase to him. Well, what do you know, according to the nurse, Tim has risen… talk soon, Phi.

 

Love Dad… XoXo…

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” Helen Keller

 

 

Thursday, June 15th 2017

 

G’day Bella,

 

Today was Dad’s last day of school for the academic year 2016/17. Not much to do, as all my classroom supplies have been packed. This week we haven’t had any students as we’re readying to transfer to the Tai Tam campus for the next academic year. This campus, Repulse Bay, will take 12 months to be extended/renovated; we’re moving from nine classes per grade level to ten classes! Crazy, huh?!

 

This morning before school, Dad & Cint had a run in the rain at Victoria Park. Dad did his regular old man interval training, then jumped on the #40 mini bus for Repulse Bay arriving at a leisurely 9am. HKIS put on breakfast, and here I am in my classroom writing to you.

 

Oh, last Saturday, before I forget, the Mighty Blues (second last on the premiership ladder) knocked off the top team, Greater Western Sydney. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me cheering from Tokyo! It was ACE!

 

Now, fancy joining C & Dad in Spain & France this summer? In a moment, I will try and book our accommodation in Paris and scout out a rent-a-car for Bilbao and the Basque area, Spain.

 

This evening, after we visit Tim (we’re hopeful Tim can finally fly back to Australia with Jacinta this weekend) for the final time, C & Dad will fly to Madrid, Spain. We’ll make our way into downtown Madrid, then catch a bus to Toledo, only about an hour from Madrid. Our first three nights will be in Toledo, then we have a night in Madrid. From Madrid we will go north to Bilbao and the Basque mountainous country where we’ll meet Sonia (formerly from Saint Maur, Yokohama, but now teaching in Ho Chi Min, Vietnam), Yuki, and their son, Andoni. The plan is, we’ll travel with them for six days and then make our way farther north into France, and finally Paris. Sounds grand, don’t you agree?

 

What do you say, Phi? Sound like a plan for three? C’mon Phi, let’s do this SOON!

 

Love Dad… XoXo.

WICKED WISDOM

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon

 

 

Friday, June 16th 2017

 

Phi, we’re in Spain! It’s 5.12pm in Toledo = Hong Kong 11.12pm, and I guess, midnight in Tokyo. You must be tucked up in bed, dreaming of better days. So, Spain! Soccer, bullfights, tapas, wine, sangria, Desigual, Zara, TOLEDO! We flew into Madrid at 8am this morning and made our way to Toledo by midday. Spain is offering us a toasty 40 degrees Celsius. What a welcome! Just woke from a jetlag induced two-hour nap, and want to sleep more, but will be better for it if we can stay awake until this evening. C is still semi snoozing.

 

Jetlag sucks, but it also brings memory after memory of you, my Ophelia. I remember you settling into Nandee & Pa’s at Croydon, so tired but gallant after your 10 hour journey from Narita (12 hours if we had to fly by Sydney). So, we’re staying in a cool hotel right in the heart of the old town/fort of Toledo. Our accommodation is called, Hotel Carlos V. Wish you were here beside me, sipping water, contemplating two weeks of Spain & France.

 

Right, time for a wander around the streets. As the sun is still quite high, it’s still very hot, but there’s enough shade to explore the centuries old cobblestone streets. Will write later – I’m sure there will be much to share… XoXo.

 

Tonight, we went to a lovely tapas bar/restaurant. Of course, we arrived early, 7pm, but as the restaurant didn’t open until 8pm, we sat by the bar and enjoyed a cold beer. Then, we still had 30 minutes to wait for a table, so we enjoyed a large icy glass of sangria. The restaurant was downstairs in a sort of cave. We ordered a platter of assorted tapas. Perfect! Scrumdiliumcious! By 9pm, our tired old bodies were ready to rest, so we waltzed back to the hotel, still daylight, and still 30-something degrees. The streets are divine, Phi. Narrow alleys, priceless views, romantic vistas, uneven cobblestones, rustic window frames, sublime tall glasses of sangria, historic churches, delicious aromas from kitchens, oh, Ophelia, you’re going to love Toledo!

 

Time for bed, Phi… XoXo… Dad & C.

 

WICKED WISDOM

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” George Addair

 

 

Wednesday, June 21st 2017

 

Hey Phi. Dad’s had his morning run, and figures he has 30 minutes to write to you. So, it’s “Good Morning” from Santurtzi (Santurce), Basque Country. We’re in a seaside neighborhood of Bilbao, in northern Spain. We arrived aboard a bus from Madrid about 6pm last night and made our way by metro to Santurtzi where we met Sonia & Yuki. After a couple of drinks in a nearby bar, we walked to Sonia’s parents’ place, where we met the 8 month old Andoni. We also met Sonia’s brother, an elite marathon runner with a 2 hour 29 minute marathon time! Unbelievable! He’s a physio too, so maybe he can help me with my morning heel pain.

After a delightful get-to-know-you chat with Sonia’s family, Sonia took us on a stroll through local delicacies, TAPAS! First stop was fried ‘n’ crispy piggy ears. Dad ate all of his and then some of C’s! All washed down with a malty beverage, beer. Four beers, four tapas, only 8 euro!!! Next stop was a deep fried egg atop a piece of baguette, this time with a dry white Spanish wine. Four more tapas, four more adult drinks, only 8.60 euro!!! Our final stop, C had anchovies atop a piece of baguette, and Dad sampled ham & cheese on a piece of baguette. By then it was after 10.30pm, and well past Dad’s bedtime. What a night in this casual, friendly village!

So, Saturday (day 02 in Spain) even before sunrise, Dad went running before 41 degrees Celsius hit Toledo. I ran around the outskirts of the city’s great walls. Much of my run followed the river that is presumably Toledo’s. Gradually, the sun showed itself, promising to burn any green out of the nearby fields. Toledo is glorious, and I had it all to myself. Alone, I carved my way up steep city streets reaching magnificent viewpoints. Fortunately, I took my phone, so I managed a few happy snaps when the sun rose to bathe Toledo in gold. Perhaps, it was my favorite run of all time. I don’t know, but a pair of shorts, t-shirt & running shoes is all one ever needs on the first morning in a new part of the world. Discover the world while it sleeps. Please, Phi, we have to do this one day soon. Promise me you’ll live every day as if it’s your last. The world owes us nothing – everything is up to us.

A fine breakfast was included in the hotel deal, so fatten up we did on fresh fruit & bread, and coffee! Our first full day in Toledo started at the information centre, then we basically lost ourselves in the narrow streets taking it all in. By midafternoon with the temperatures screaming 40+ degrees, we retreated to Hotel Carlos V for our siesta. Saturday evening, we tried a local tapas bar, Santa Fe (forgettable), then we wandered farther and found something much, much better.

Sunday, was a repeat of Saturday, only better. I managed to convince Cc to join me at sunrise, and though she didn’t jog up the hills with me, we travelled far & wide making the most of the mild morning breeze. After our 90 minute walk, we again enjoyed a sizable, but well-earned breakfast. Prosciutto, cheese & olive oil of fresh crusty bread!

Later in the day, C bought a beautiful handcrafted red leather bag, more exploring, an afternoon siesta to beat the heat, and then we dined at a local tapas bar as the sun set. Delicious! And the large glasses of icy sangria at the end of the day… OH! Perhaps, we should retire in Spain… will you visit us?

 

Monday morning, we took the bus back to Madrid. We stayed near Opera, Le Latin & Calle, a very cool downtown area. At only 37 degrees, it felt surprisingly mild compared to Toledo. Weird, a dry 37 really did feel so much more comfortable than Hong Kong’s 100% humidity and 34 degrees. Through the streets of Madrid, we walked and walked and walked around all the tourist sites – parks, museums, galleries, main shopping drag, palaces, cathedrals, etc.

Love & more love, Dad… XoXo…

 

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato

 

 

Sunday, June 25th 2017

 

Hola Bella. C & Dad are on a bus from Bilbao, Spain to Bayonne, France. We said goodbye to Yuki, Andoni & Sonia this afternoon after meeting them for our final tapas in Sonia’s hometown, Santurtzi. This morning, Dad and C took a long walk south along the river. We took a cable bridge ferry across to the other side. The ferry-cable is a World Heritage monument, constructed more than a century ago and obviously still in operation.

I learned and used my Spanish for, “May I have a coffee with milk?” “Un café con leche.” And for C’s espresso, “Un café solo.” The locals are so friendly… really, I think we could retire here. We sat in this lovely little busy café and enjoyed our coffee with pastry.

 

Last night we took Mr. Ortiz and Carman, Sonia, Yuki & Andoni out for a “thank you” dinner. They took us to a seafood restaurant where we had mussels, squid, octopus, cheese, and of course, wine.

 

Yesterday morning, after my run and chin-ups, we walked to Sonia’s parents’ place and Sonia took us out for a day exploring the Basque Country. We drove to the quaint village of Gernika. It was overcast, with showers much of the day; but they didn’t dampen our mood. First stop after tourist information, was Euskal Herria Museum. It gave us a great insight into Basque history & culture. Thereafter, we enjoyed Gernika’s famous tapas and wine. We learned about Picasso’s Guernica; an enormous painting (the original we saw in Madrid) depicting the Germans “practice” invasion of Gernica in 1937.

 

On the way home from Gernika, we stopped at the Bilbao outlets. Dad & C bought you a Desigual purse we think you’ll like. C bought a cool Desigual top, Dad a Desigual shirt, and a cool pair of red strides.

On C’s b’day, June 23, we took the bus to San Sebastian. We walked around the old town, down by the docks, the beach, the heads, and climbed the hill overlooking San Sebastian. The tapas were divine, and by 11.30am, we’d already had our first wine… didn’t even feel guilty! Getting use to this European food & wine scene! That evening, we met Sonia & Yuki in Bilbao for C’s birthday dinner, paella. Delicious!

On the 22nd, we took the metro into Bilbao, and started our tour with the Guggenhein Museum of Art. Exceptional. In the afternoon, we wandered around Bilbao’s old town in 42 degrees Celsius, then that evening C & Dad did our own tapas crawl back in Santurtzi. We LOVE tapas! Especially, at these prices!

 

The evening we arrived in Santurtzi, Sonia & Yuki met us at a local bar, then brought us to Sonia’s grandparents’ flat. Here we stayed for the next four nights. That first evening in Santurtzi was magic. Son took us on a tapas crawl, starting with piggy ears, then a hardboiled egg tempura and placed on a slice of baguette. They were the two most memorable tapas, but there was also prosciutto, calamari, cheese and other Spanish delicacies.

 

Oh, Phi, I think we’re in heaven! Love Dad… XoXo…

 

Wednesday, June 28th 2017

 

How’s my teenager? Hello from Bordeaux!

 

Monday afternoon we arrived in Bordeaux from Bayonne. Yesterday we took an eventful day trip to Saint Emilion. From Bordeaux, we took trams & trains to the outskirts of this ancient fairytale village. From the station, we walked a few kilometers up to Saint Emilion, another World Heritage site. We rented bicycles from the tourist office for 18 euro each – they were good bikes, too. All day, the heavy clouds threatened to dampen our enthusiasm, but for the most part we were very lucky. Just before the heavens opened we rode into Chateau Haut Veyrac, where Camille who had spent two months working in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, gave us a delightful personal winery tour.

 

With map in hand, we took a scenic route around the wineries, churches, and chateaus of Saint Emilion. Public transport in France is a little like Australia – we almost didn’t get to SE as the train was 45 minutes late, then stopped several times turning our 30 minute trip into a two hour trip. On the way back, things were much the same – we had to wait 90 minutes for the train to arrive at the Saint Emilion station. Oh, well, such is life!

 

Last night we dined at Raviolon, a restaurant the owner of our Air BNB suggested. It was good, but not fantastic. Today at 1.55pm we head to Tours by bus. Wanna come?

 

Love Dad… XoXo…

 

 

Friday, June 30th 2017

 

Bonjour Mademoiselle Ophelia Hirakawa-Morice,

 

Another installment of memories comes to an end. June 2017… what are you up to, Phi? Where are you as you’re reading Dad’s thoughts?

 

Where’s my Dad? you ask. We’ll, we’re on a bus from Tours to the City of Lights, Paris. We’ve just spent two delightful nights in Tours, a charming city we are keen to return to… with you, Ophelia. Wednesday night around 7.30pm we arrived in Tours, found our lovely apartment, and headed off to the town centre for Thai. It was great to finally eat rice again.

Thursday, we met a small group at the Tours Tourist Information Centre, and headed for a full day of chateaus. The first chateau, Chateau du Clos Luce, was home to Leonardo da Vinci’s final three years of life. What a rock star! I can’t quite believe I knew so little about the great man’s engineering genius. In his study, workshop and the glorious gardens there were models and descriptions of his genius.

Next up, was Chateau du Amboise. Then it was onto the massive Chateau du Chambord. As we arrived, heavy black rain clouds threatened to explode, but they held off, making for some grand photos.

Finally, we arrived at Chateau de Chenonceau, surrounded by 32km of walls, enclosing forests of deer, boar and loads of pheasants. This was my favorite, particularly from a power perspective, as several women, beginning with Diane de Poitiers were the influential instigators in its creation. Phi, you might be interested in researching Catherine de Medici 1519 – 1589, or my favorite, Simone Menier 1881 – 1972. During WW1, the chateau’s matron, Simone, cared for more than 2000 wounded soldiers, and during WW2 she worked with the Resistance.

 

Phi, kick like a girl!

Love Dad… XoXo…

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