Spring Break 2016: Bali


Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Work lately has been pretty demanding—I got nominated to participate in Nike’s Xcelerate program, a leadership development effort that combines some elements of a condensed MBA and a strategic priority project with a global team. Marshall likens it to having two jobs for six months. It has required a bit more travel than we prefer, and when we were planning for all it would require, Betsy said, “that’s all fine, and I will support you but WE ARE GOING ON A SPRING BREAK AS A FAMILY.” She didn’t shout, but I wasn’t to argue.

So she booked us flights to Bali, a smallish island in Indonesia, and found us a little villa that was absolutely amazing. It was spread out with several structures; the kitchen/dining room/living room was more like a pavilion with open sides, and the bedrooms had walls; the bathrooms were outdoor, shower privacy was provided by plants. It was fairly remote, outside a pretty small town called Ubud, and we went on several lengthy walks and saw nothing but rice fields and irrigation ditches.

We lazed about in the humid hot air, swam, got sunburned, and did a few activities. Among them, Betsy signed us up for a Batik class. You outline a drawing with beeswax, then paint it. The beeswax keeps the colors from mixing and then you boil it out so it looks pretty cool. We managed to hook up with Chloe, who was in our ward in Tokyo but moved to Hong Kong a couple months ago for that. We also went to a place called monkey forest, which is chock full of smallish monkeys that aren’t afraid of jumping on you and stealing your tissue that you brought in case you need to pop a squat with runny poo again because you aren’t sure what you ate for dinner. They’ll then get in a fight over it and try to eat it. Stupid monkeys. We went to Tanah Lot, a cool temple on a bit of rock out in the ocean. While there, we ran into Joey, Afton’s school teacher and his fiancé (whose name might be Gabbi). We went to an amazing ropes course place with about a dozen different courses with increasing difficulty, ranging from easy for Lea to hard for me. Their philosophy on safety was fully aligned with mine—they told you to be safe, showed you how, and then it was up to you. I loved watching the kids exercise safe practices and then letting them go off on their own way up high. Only saw a couple times where one of them accidentally unclipped both safeties.

We were supported by Made and Agung, a cook and a driver. They helped us a ton, were friendly and kind, gave the kids rides on their scooters, and Agung even invited us to his home where the kids met his family and were completely oblivious to the fact that they lack many of the things we take for granted, being happy to hold the puppies and goggle at the pigs and chickens.

All in all, Bali fully lived up to its reputation as one of those exotic islands somewhere in the Far East that you hear about amazing adventurous families visiting and wish you could someday be that cool.

There’s a whole collection of pictures here and a sampling below.

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2016.03 Spring Break &emdash;

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Cambodian Thanksgiving

The kids get a break from school for Thanksgiving, even though we’re in Japan, thanks to attending the American international school. Someone Betsy knows had recently gone to Cambodia and told her it was the greatest place since Disneyland and so we started looking into it. Trevor Hall served his mission there and also gave us some good advice.

For reference, Cambodia is in Southeast Asia, in between Vietnam and Thailand. It shares a great deal of cultural heritage with Thailand and is home to world heritage sites like Angkor Wat. It’s where Lara Croft found some cool treasure in the movie Tomb Raider.

Starting in about 800 AD, there was a big empire based out of Cambodia and they built a lot of awesome temples that are now amazing ruins. A few are really famous but for every famous ruin, there’s a dozen equally cool but somehow not famous options to explore. We spent a few days with a Tuk-Tuk driver taking us around and stopping whenever we said we wanted to. (A Tuk-Tuk is a chariot but the horse is replaced by a small engine scooter. You can hire one for a day for around $20.) Whenever we stopped to explore, we took turns letting one of the kids lead our explorations, and the Cambodians seem share my view of safety—which is to say, they hope you stay safe. The ruined temples were awesome with maze-like layouts, with varying levels of decay and stability. We definitely climbed on stuff that wasn’t safe and Betsy for sure had some heart-squeezing moments but nobody died.

Lea’s absolute favorite part was that we got to ride an elephant. It was about as fun as you’d expect—slow and slightly wobbly. But the girls’ elephant handler played a tune on a fat leaf and Lea talks about how awesome it was still. They let us overpay for some small pineapples and feed them to the elephants, which was cooler than the actual ride.

Our hotel had a salt-water swimming pool and we forgot water wings for Afton and so she learned how to swim. We’re pretty happy with how that worked out. One of the days, we went to a local street market and there was a barber who would cut the boys’ hair for $0.50 so we eagerly signed them up. Sadly, Reid’s haircut was so bad that we didn’t make Porter follow him into the chair. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever seen a worse haircut. Luckily it was Reid who went first—Porter’s got a lot more vanity about how his hair looks and gets pretty worked up if it gets cut too short and we ended up buzzing Reid’s head when we got home. All through the market, people kept trying to touch Afton and Lea and whenever they were able to speak English, they told us how lucky we are to be able to have four kids.

Reid had been studying the life-cycle of a silk-worm at school and Betsy found an opportunity for us to go to a silk-worm farm that was really fun to see. They showed us the whole process from larva to woven cloth and it was one of those things that makes you pause and say, “yeah, but what made that first guy say, hmmm…if we boil this cocoon in this odd liquid, and then use a funny fork, we can get a really delicate string that…” I mean seriously. The fact that we humans can innovate like that is amazing.

All in all, great trip that we highly recommend.

Here are some selected photos and the full album is here

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Nov. 2014 Cambodia trip &emdash;

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Taka’s Studio

We like to get family pictures taken each year around Thanksgiving. The timing stems from our habit of using the photo in our Christmas cards. I mentioned it at work one day and Stewart said that Taka was an amateur photographer whose father owned a studio and he might be interested in taking our pictures.

We had a great time with Taka and it was fun to watch his father giving him tips and helping him out but definitely letting him run the show. We were joined by Stewart and Tara and their daughter, Amu.

The full shoot is here and below are some highlights.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Family Portraits (studio) 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Family Portraits (studio) 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Family Portraits (studio) 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Family Portraits (studio) 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Family Portraits (studio) 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Family Portraits (studio) 2014 &emdash;

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Mount Fuji

Each year the Boy Scouts in the Tokyo 1st ward hike up Mount Fuji. Google refuses to answer the question of the actual distance you cover, preferring to give insufficient comments about time expectations (5-7 hours)and altitude (12,000 feet).

The scouts open the invitation to the whole ward and we decided to go, because it seems like the thing to do in Japan-eat sushi and hike Mt. Fuji. We figured we’d start out with the scouts, let them rush ahead and we’d go as fast as our kids would allow and stop when we had gone far enough. Don’t forget, Lea was only recently three years old.

The hike was pleasant for the first five or ten minutes. Nice wooded trail through foresty space. One unfortunate drawback is the common challenge in Japan—a million people trying to do something at the same time, but that was not unexpected. After the first five or ten minutes, we left the forest and moved on to lava gravel. If you’ve never hiked up a hill through something like that, let me tell you, it sucks. You slide back half a foot for every foot forward. And you just signed up to do this evil stairmaster for 5-7 hours.

So we did it. We hiked up switchbacks in a gigantic pile of gravel for hours. And our kids were so tough they amazed all of us. We caught up to the flagging scouts around lunch time and finally turned around after station 8. If you ever have a chance to hike Mt. Fuji, I highly recommend you just charter a helicopter and photoshop something. Reid wrote about it when he got back to school and I think he pretty much nailed it.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Sep-Oct 2014 (Fuji hike, Tokyo Game Show, MarioKart, typhoon, lake Motosko camping, halloween) &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Sep-Oct 2014 (Fuji hike, Tokyo Game Show, MarioKart, typhoon, lake Motosko camping, halloween) &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Sep-Oct 2014 (Fuji hike, Tokyo Game Show, MarioKart, typhoon, lake Motosko camping, halloween) &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Sep-Oct 2014 (Fuji hike, Tokyo Game Show, MarioKart, typhoon, lake Motosko camping, halloween) &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Sep-Oct 2014 (Fuji hike, Tokyo Game Show, MarioKart, typhoon, lake Motosko camping, halloween) &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: Sep-Oct 2014 (Fuji hike, Tokyo Game Show, MarioKart, typhoon, lake Motosko camping, halloween) &emdash;

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Fun Foods

One thing that Tokyo is famous for is amazing food. Particularly if you are one of those people who enjoy food. Sadly, Betsy and I are more the “eat for sustenance” type, rather than the “eat for enjoyment” types, and haven’t quite gotten the hang of food appreciation. Combine that with a Japanese tendency to offer the oddest foods to the newest guests and you have a recipe for some rough meals. For at least the first six months, it didn’t seem that you could even purchase cooked food in Japanese restaurants. It was all raw. The other sad part is that no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to build an appreciation for seafoods, which, of course, Japan is famous for. (I can already hear what you’re saying in your mind, “what about…?” And the answer is “NO. Not even…” Feel free to insert whatever relatively innocuous seafood option you personally love and can’t imagine someone hating: shrimp, salmon, crab, whatever. If it could ever call the water home, we do not like it.)

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
Seemingly friendly names like “Taco Yaki” are malicious deceivers.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
That beautiful rose is a very recently deceased horse.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
When you bread and deep fry it, it’s called Tempura, and I will admit that with enough deep frying, most things are far more edible.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
Crystal was more willing to pretend to enjoy the odd foods.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
Yes–those are weird little white wormy things, not rice.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

I got this when I tried to order the “American Hamburger” option off the menu. Close, but not quite.

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Schools in Japan

As we were looking to move to Tokyo, we spoke with a number of folks about where they sent their kids for schooling. It’s a significant concern. Some people opt for the three-to-six months of torture and frustration known as linguistic immersion and enroll their kids in Japanese school (think our good friends, the Krebs) while others (more rightly) insist on English tutelage. We heard opinions about the all-girls school, the American School, and the International School. In the end, despite Frank Ha’s support for Tokyo International School (TIS), we opted to follow Archie’s much more enthusiastic endorsement of the American School in Japan (ASIJ). It seemed to have better after school programs, a connection to the Early Learning Center (ELC) where Afton and Lea would be enrolled in kindergarten and pre-school, and quite a few fans among the expats. It didn’t hurt that during the tour of the ELC I was able to watch the little tinies learning to sumo wrestle with full-size sumo wrestlers. Any chance you get to watch a 30 lb 4 year-old try to push around a 400 lb sumo wrestler, you’ve gotta take it.

Turns out, all the great things we heard about ASIJ were true. They had numerous after school programs, great teachers, active student counselors, an elementary school principal named Dan Bender, who always remembered all our kids’ names, and a wonderful facility. We had no trouble getting all our kids in, which surprised a number of the members of our ward who had kids on waiting lists for quite a while, but I suppose that comes with the territory when your kids are as stellar as ours are.

The things nobody really talked about, though, began to add up:
The school was going through a pretty serious leadership crisis, and couldn’t keep a board of directors, PTA president, or a head of school during that time.
The campus was located in Chofu. If you’re thinking, “wait, I thought you lived in Tokyo,” that’s a reasonable think. We did. Chofu was about an hour west of where we lived by bus. That might not be too bad, until you remember that when we got there, Porter was 8 and Reid was 6. Bus came at 7:00, and if they didn’t do any after school activities, it came home between 4:30 and 5:00. If they did after school activities, which was one of the big plusses for this school, they got home around 6:30 to 7:00. Their days were as long or longer than mine at times.
It was pretty tough for Betsy to be an active participant in the school. Because it was so far away, it cost about $30 in tolls to go out there, and the policies for volunteering were pretty rigid: at least two hours, scheduled at least ten school days in advance, and train schedules that took about 30 minutes longer than driving all combined to make it pretty challenging for Betsy to get out there and back within the confines of the half-day schedule the girls’ were in at the ELC (located in Tokyo).

When we arrived in March, we didn’t feel most of these challenges because there was so much new and challenging going on associated with the move. After the first summer, when Afton joined the boys on the bus and we got them into after school programs (karate, soccer, chess), we started to notice some fraying edges in our kids’ behavior, most notable in how easily anger became the default response. Now, you may not know it, but Andersons are not known for their patience, and that patience is particularly absent when we lack sufficient rest. Our kids start to show it about the same time I do. They also need time with their parents. So we switched them to TIS, and it was like a Robert Frost poem about making all the difference. The school was a 10 minute walk away, welcomed parental drop-bys with enthusiasm, and gave our kids two hours a day back to just be kids. We loved it and cannot endorse the Tokyo International School more highly.

The kids still got to ride a bus (very important part of going to school for them), but Betsy could drop by with lunch if they forgot it, while still being close to the ELC. She got to be the official yearbook photographer for the ELC, and an active volunteer at TIS in all three classes. The student body was significantly more diverse at TIS as well. Our kids seem to have American friends through church and international friends through school, and we love it.

We came to realize that the folks who were extolling the virtues of ASIJ all had older kids who were more able to handle the long commute, probably resented any parenting time they were forced to endure, and for whom the whole thing was an escape. We also saw that there were different styles of living abroad, and one of them was characterized by creating an American environment for familiarity and comfort. Some folks really enjoyed things like the American Club, the American School, and other things that helped them stay connected with home. I expected to be in that camp, as I am quite patriotic and proud of America, but we found that it wasn’t so. We were often uncomfortable at the American Club, and were fortunate to find our tribe with the parents of kids at TIS.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

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