Sorry for the long hiatus. An update.

I’ve lost track.

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for the longest time in my ten years of blogging. Not writing anything for a month has been tougher than not eating chocolates for a month.  I expected it. I didn’t fully wanted it – semi-quitting blogging and all but it happened. I still couldn’t believe I did it, shrugging it off with thoughts like, “who’s reading anyway?”

Do people still read blogs? If you have been a visitor to mine before, are you still there?

I tend to blame the loss of my blogging mojo to social media – myself posting updates on Instagram, Twitter or my blog’s Facebook page that I lose the spirit to really sit down in front of my PC and write like a true blogger does. Like my old blogger self.

Then I thought I’d still want to write again so here I am. I still would like to read blog posts I wrote from x years ago, I am writing a part of my life’s story here so I will continue.

Moving on,

The holy month of Ramadan has started last month; we’re already halfway through it actually. I’m not a Muslim so I don’t fast but irrespective of religion, employees and workers in the UAE do get shorter work times. I only work from 8 am to 2 pm. I do extra hour of work every day to avoid the rush on the metro and the blaring hot sun at 2 pm (it’s still hot at 3 pm though) so I arrive home just before 4 pm. It appears that I *do* actually have ample time to blog and I didn’t because I was focusing on other things: exercising, playing with the kids as this month is bliss for working moms like me. I love Ramadan mainly for this opportunity to be with my kids longer.

And speaking of Ramadan, I just realized this is our 11th Ramadan in Dubai. ELEVENTH, people!

I admit, lately I’ve secretly wished every Ramadan is the last. More than 10 years in the UAE and I honestly feel our time is up and I am ready to move on, somewhere. But I just don’t know where. YET. I hope we come around to that. SOON.

And in between staying here longer and wishing to go away, the much awaited vacation time comes again. This year, I managed to plan to include JAPAN. The last time was four years ago!

Four years ago means Benjamin was still in a stroller, only less than 2 years old, still breastfeeding!

benjamin at subway

It was during that time I really felt Tokyo is a city not meant for traveling families with small kids. I lived just outside Tokyo for almost five years and never really realized that…because I was single that time. For one, there are so many train stations without escalators or elevators. There were times I had to carry the child in one arm and a folder stroller on the other (the husband wasn’t with us that time).

subway scene

It’s hot in Japan in the summer so we took breaks from the concrete jungle of Tokyo to parks. If you’re around Shinjuku, don’t miss to check out Shinjuku Gyoen when you’re tired from all the walking and want to lie down on green grass.

benjamin at park

P and B in Tokyo 2

P and B in Tokyo 3

We’ll be in Japan for just 9 nights. It is not enough but I’ll take it. The weather in Japan in June is unpredictable but I plan to make the most of it, especially now that the children are older and they actually know what they want to do while in Japan: from simple things as wanting to eat as much ramen, gyoza or curry rice to shopping at convenient stores for different onigiris to exciting visits to the Ghibli Museum (even this excites me – Pristine was only 5 when we last visited Totoro’s abode!) and probably, I may sneak in a surprise visit to Tokyo Disneyland, weather and health permitting!

We’re visiting their grandparents north of Tokyo. They’ll be getting to know Japan’s Shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time!


The last time we’ve seen them was in 2009 and since they’re the kind of folks who doesn’t have an email address or WhatsApp, Facebook or anything online, they will be shocked how big the kids have become. (They have not seen Benjamin yet since he was born and now he’s almost 6!)


After Japan, we will be flying to where my parents live where the children will be spending their summer vacation. I hate to be away from them for about 7 weeks but they’re better off there than spend the whole day indoors in Dubai. If only I could stay with them for the whole duration of their summer vacation but alas, work awaits. I’ll fly out again to pick them up at the end of August.

I will be active on social media, mainly on Instagram and hopefully, I could have enough material to write blog posts about our travel to Japan this time. Benjamin is bigger this time so I suppose I could take lots of better photos too. I am excited. Meanwhile, I need to get back on my feet really soon – I am so sick with bronchitis that fully transformed into asthma. Very bad timing as I need to pack, plan, work and actually fly out in a few days!

How I got my Japanese family name

wisteria in japan

I was doing the car registration renewal process a few days back when the Emirati guy behind the counter at Tasjeel chit chatted me while he holds my car registration card, “So you are Japanese? You have a Japanese family name and nationality but you look Filipino!” If I attempt to count this kind of query every time someone gets hold of my personal documents like passport, driver’s license, etc, the count would be the same as the number of hair strands I have. It’s a question I get all the time since I changed my nationality more than a decade ago.

“Oh so you are married to a Japanese that’s why you have his family name!”

Uhm, actually no. But more often than not, I just say yes and move on.

Today, I am going to share something about Japanese family names and how I got mine because – today is the anniversary since I became a Japanese citizen. I just realized that when I saw the above photo on a travel website. So here goes,

Japanese family names, in most cases are derived from nature. The family names usually consists of two kanjis (Japanese characters), a combination between the “geographic feature” group and the “adjective” group.

Here are 30 most common geographic feature used in surnames, plants and villages included:

japanese family names 1

As for adjectives, the most common are probably these ones (note that the 2 first are not adjectives, but act as such as they do not mean anything by themselves) :

japanese family names 2

The order can be both, geographic feature/nature first then adjective next or adjective first then followed by geographic feature/nature. For example, there’s Murakami (mura (village) + kami (above)) and then there’s Uemura (Ue (above) + mura (village)), both using the same two kanji’s though the other kanji is read differently when it comes first.


I’ve been living in Japan for 6 years when I decided to apply for naturalization. Applying for naturalization (citizenship) requires applicants to choose a Japanese name according to their wish. Basically, I could choose a Japanese first name and family name, ANYTHING that I like. I was in a relationship with my then boyfriend now husband for three years that time and we brainstormed what name I should use – honestly, it was kind of weird to rename myself. What if someone calls me by my Japanese name, how many times would they have to shout, for me to recognize it is actually my name they are calling out?

We learned that for the first name, we can use a foreign name to be written in katakana (katakana is most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages). I decided to retain my original name Grace as not to complicate my life too much but then what family name would I use? Or create for myself? I had only a week to decide.

Since we were contemplating on getting married anyway and I actually liked his family name, I asked him if I could use it. And he said yes.

The first kanji is FUJI, which is this.


Fuji means the wisteria plant in Japanese. Isn’t it lovely? I even like the word. WISTERIA.

(You might associate the word “fuji” from Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest peak and most popular mountain. However, the Japanese character or kanji for fuji in Mt. Fuji and fuji in my name is different, though their reading is the same in English. The Japanese language is complicated like that.)


Years before I met my husband, I’ve read a feature of the oldest wisteria plant Japan in the pages of an old National Geographic from the school library when I was in high school. I thought it was BEAUTIFUL and wished I could see it with my own eyes. Whenever I’m asked what’s my favorite flower, I’d say wisteria and people back home look at me with blank stares.

I’ve never seen a wisteria plant till my first spring in Japan in 1997. I chanced upon an old wisteria tree in a park near my school!


The next kanji in the family name I chose is MAKI, which means to wind, to turn or wraparound. The visual description of FUJIMAKI would be wisteria flowers wound up in a wreath of sorts.

So that’s the story of how my current family name came to be – although my husband and I have the same family name, I did not get this from him through marriage. I was already a Fujimaki before we got married and in Japan, one is able to retain her maiden name even after marriage so we’re technically two separate entities of Fujimaki’s.

(That even if we did not end up together, I would still bear the name “Grace Fujimaki”.)


Photo credit

It’s been 1o years since the last time I saw a beautiful wisteria. I miss it but every time I see or write my family name, I can’t help but have this vision of walking through a canopy of wisteria flowers over my head on a beautiful day in spring.

Japanese shrine

Things to do in Japan: Visiting shrines and temples

Japanese shrine

Thinking about it, I’m frequently asked: “What are the top things to do in Japan?”

I’ve lived there for more than ten years so people expect me to blurt out answers faster than Google. But actually, I always get stumped when asked that question.

I tend to over-think things. So I ask back, so many questions.

What part of Japan do you wish to visit? Tokyo?

Are you going to Japan with children?

When will you go? Summer? Winter? Spring? Autumn?

Do you prefer the modern, high tech face of Japan or the subtle laid back countryside?

Do you like sushi?

There are many, many things to do in Japan that it simply deserve another (long) post. Today, I’m going to go with: temples and shrines because this easily goes into my top ten list of things to do while in Japan. And it should be in your list, too.

First, it’s something cultural and historical. Maybe something you wouldn’t even find in your home country so it’s an adventure, a discovery. Then there’s something about these places that calms me, makes me sit in one corner and put things in perspective. I find quiet and solace and get out feeling better.


Japanese shrine

Looks dramatic, no?

When we were in Japan in the summer of 2013, Benjamin and I frequented shrines and temples while Pristine was at school. It has a great open space he can run around and as I have said, I really like the stillness of the place.

Japanese shrine

Summer in Japan is tough (coming from someone who live in Dubai, I know that sounds really weird!) so we sought refuge in the shrine premises. It’s cooler inside the shrines (called “jinja” in Japanese) because of the lush trees. You can hear the rustle of the leaves on a windy day which is kind of soothing. This particular shrine is very close to where we lived and I always took Pristine here when she was small.

Japanese shrine

In my ten years of stay in Japan, I’ve visited a lot of shrines and temples and friends and family would ask, what is the difference? To a foreigner,  yes, they can look all the same.

But they are different.

Japanese shrines (“jinja”) are generally based in Shintoism which is a set of Japanese spiritual beliefs. So many of these shrines have features and designs that are unique to Japan. For example, you’ll find torii archways at shrines.

Torii in shrine

The torii symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred. I’ve seen Japan’s most photographed torii some years back – this is in Miyajima, Hiroshima.

torii itsukushima

Photo credit

Looking from the sea, this torii serves as the gateway to Itsukushima Shrine.


Photo credit

Itsukushima jinja is a UNESCO world heritage site on Hiroshima prefecture’s Miyajima island. The shrine and its gate are regarded as one of Japan’s great views because of its large torii which stands over 16 meters tall.

Japanese temples (“otera”) on the other hand, are based in the facets Buddhism rather than Shintoism. Because of this, you can find similar temples in countries that practice Buddhism (i.e. China, Japan, and Korea). In the same fashion as the shrine, the name can be a dead giveaway as to whether you’re in a temple or a shrine. Simply listen for the ji sound at the end of the name.

One of the most popular temples I have visited are Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizudera) in Kyoto…


Photo credit

…and Todaiji in Nara.


Photo credit

Instead of finding tori archways, you have pagoda, the cool-looking multi-tiered towers that are often associated with Asian architecture. A small temple near our place (big temples have more lavish entrances):

Japanese temple

It’s very quiet in here.

Japanese temple

This one’s in Niigata, my husband’s home town when we last visited in the summer of 2013.

Niigata otera

These statues? They have their story.

Japanese temple

These statues are called “Jizo” or more endearingly “Ojizo-san”. It was believed that “Ojizo-san” would guide dead soul to heaven or the kingdom of Buddha and not to hell.

Statue in Japanese shrine

Now, this photo above intrigued me for years when I was new there (the time when there was no Google or Wikipedia!) – so I had to ask around. Why do the Ojizo-san wear a red bib and with children at his feet?

Japanese temple

The Ojizo-san is seen as the guardian of children, and in particular, children who died before their parents. He has been worshiped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses.

In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that the Ojizo-san saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance, by hiding them from demons in his robe.

You often encounter Ojizo-san in temples and graveyards and it is not unusual to see the idol adorned with a red bib and a red baby hat. The reason for this, is parents put it there to either thank him for saving a child from illness or to ask him to protect a child in the after-life.

So folks, so much about Japan’s temples and shrines. Sorry, I got carried away! Nevertheless, if you happen to visit Japan, a country in my opinion, that you should visit at least once in your lifetime, be sure to stop by those little temples and shrines. They are always worth your time.

Missing Niigata


My mother in law called me last weekend, and asked the perpetual question, as she does almost every year: “When are you coming here again, aren’t you doing the taiken nyuugaku anymore?” The last time we were in Japan was already more than three years ago and though we would have loved to go more often and earlier, there were some personal circumstances (in their part) that made us postpone going.

I smiled and asked her the same question. In two months, it will be TEN years since we moved to Dubai – and not once did they visit, nor expressed their wish to do so. Unlike other Japanese people who recently have been becoming keen to see the world, my in-laws ‘got out’ of Japan, all together only once – when their son and I got married almost 14 years ago in the Philippines.

For them, travelling is this big, insurmountable thing that takes too much energy to tackle and if they have extra cash, they’d rather use it to get another truck, farming tool or purchase more land. I never understood it at first but after a few visits to their town and I get it.

When I first visited in 1999, I learned how many of the townspeople choose to stay in their comfort zones. Some die without even leaving the small town or city. Travel is definitely not for everyone and definitely not for my in-laws. And that’s ok as long as they are happy tethered to their comfort zone.


My husband’s hometown is not a popular tourist destination in Japan. It’s miles and miles away from Tokyo. It’s dark after 8 pm. Ciccadas are loud in the summer and deers, wild rabbits and raccoon dogs appear out of nowhere any given time of the day.

The summers are hot and humid – believe me it’s tougher to spend summer there than in Dubai and the winters are long, wet and the snow…oh the snow.

I’ve been sorting out my old hard disk drive and found photos I took way before I started blogging so I thought, why not share the story behind these photos? My in-laws live in Niigata Prefecture, in the north western part of Japan, facing the Sea of Japan. Niigata prefecture, especially their town of Tokamachi is one of the biggest producers of premium quality rice in the country.


What you would find in the books about Tokamachi City in Niigata Prefecture are two things.

Rice and snow.

My father in-law owns a number of farm plots near his house. He tends to it ALONE. But forget the traditional farming in South East Asia where you see water buffalos tilling the soil and farmers having difficult time doing it alone.

ine kari

Like other modern Japanese farmers, my FIL (father in-law)  has these power tractors that make work easier for him. My mother in-law helps and during school breaks, when I didn’t have part time jobs, I was there to help out. {Even before getting married, I was already close to them.}


ine kari

So close that they allow me to help out in this seasonal task.

Actually, I would be there on long weekends in September too when the rice grains are ripe and ready to harvest because I had been enthralled with the whole process of rice production and wonder why this part of the country earned the honor of being “the best in Japan”.  Once you tasted the cooked Japanese rice from the first harvest…you somehow crave for it…along with awesome Japanese sake (rice wine)!

But before the bowl of rice reaches your table, you have to work for it! I was curious about how these machines work and my father in law allowed me to ‘test drive’.

Japan farm life

Now, my FIL is a typical Japanese who aims for perfection. I was surprised he allowed me to get into this thing!

Japan farm life

He was so detailed about everything and I have seen him during the planting season. This man takes his rice affair very seriously.


The Uonuma (name of their town) Koshihikari rice is the best in Japan, something that the locals of nearby Akita would contest.  The Uonuma district in Niigata prefecture is famous for producing Koshihikari of top quality, and this is why Koshihikari produced in this district, or Uonuma-san Koshihikari (“san” means “produce”), is called “burando mai” (brand rice). Uonuma-san Koshihikari is ranked as Toku A by the Japan Grain Inspection Association. (Toku means Special).

The other thing about this town is snow.

Tokamachi City is known for abundance of snow. In fact, the area receives the most snow compared to any area on the main island of Honshu and is the record holder of the most amount of snowfall with 463 cm. So that verdant green fields in the summer?

niigata snow

GONE by winter.

Japan farm life

Here’s a photo of my brother (left) and my husband’s brother taken just outside of my in-laws’ house during the middle of winter season. My brother who just arrived in Japan a few months prior wanted to see snow so I sent him off to my in-laws in Niigata prefecture. My family, we were living in Nagano prefecture where snow is less so I thought my brother need to see the real deal. I guess he got all the snow he wished for!

Japan farm life

The amount of snowfall is so ridiculous but instead of whining about it, the residents graciously deal with it every year and make gigantic figures out of it and also holds an annual “snow festival” in February. Tokamachi Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) was started in 1950 by the citizens and for the citizens of Tokamachi based on the idea “let’s not make snow our enemy, let’s make snow our friend.”

The fireworks that decorate the sky at the finale of the snow-stage carnival make snowy scenery that appears straight out of a fantasy.


I hoped you enjoyed today’s little tidbits about my life in Japan. If you’re a new reader, a little background: I lived in Japan for 10 years and a few months before relocating to the UAE.

I’ve not been able to visit my in laws during harvest time but one day, I hope to take the kids there to experience it. As I’ve said in the beginning of this post, my in laws’ little town isn’t as glamorous as the big and popular cities of Tokyo or Osaka but I miss it. It holds a special place in my heart.

The most common question expats get

home matsumoto

Another year is about to start so we get the most generic of questions from family and friends back home,

“You’re still there?”

We’re about to welcome another year in Dubai. Didn’t we come here and intend to stay for a few years? You know, just to test the waters? (As of this writing, it’s our 10th summer in Dubai).

All our furniture except for the white goods (fridge and washing machine) were all second-hand when we bought them seven years ago. We’ll only stay for a while so what’s the point of buying all new? But somewhere along the way, home had become the here and now, Dubai.

“How many more years?”

I thought to myself – after all these years and we still don’t have the answer.  A few more years.


Because the more time we spend here, the roots have gone deeper and it seems that moving back home is not as straightforward as it should be.

Japan. We’ve lived there before, how hard can it be? But we do know how hard it can be because the more adjusted an expat is outside of his country, the harder he falls once he repatriates. Once the excitement of homecoming recedes and the steady stream of well-wishers tapers off, reverse culture shock happens.

I should know, I’ve been there. Somewhat.

When I was 19 and studying abroad, I made some of the most significant friendships in my life. I met my husband and formed great friendships in school and later on, at work while there. After living in Japan for 10 years, going back to the Philippines even only for month-long vacations felt strange. It’s like I’ve known the place and the people all my life but then don’t know it at all. Somewhat disconnected with the used to be familiar things. New streets, new malls, that slower pace of life. Everything seems to be different. My former friends were busy with work, their own lives that it was very difficult to gather them all together, in one place. I was back home yet feeling strangely alien to the place. I get so excited when the plane lands but itching to leave only after a few days. (I don’t know if my other five expat siblings all feel the same)

I think when you’re a long term expat, it’s a constant tug of war. It’s like being stuck in limbo: neither here or there. You’ll miss your first home (or second) when you live overseas and then when you’re back home, you miss the exciting life abroad. And by ‘exciting’ – it’s expected anyone who has lived in Dubai will really miss it when they’re gone from here.

Start of my life as an expat


It’s Thursday again! I was drafting a little personal #ThrowbackThursday story that was meant to be published in my blog’s Facebook page but then it got longer and longer that I thought, what the heck, I’ll make this into a blog post instead!

As you may have noticed in my previous posts and in my social media channels, especially in my Instagram, I’ve been in the Philippines for vacation, staying at my parent’s house. One of the things I love and I always do when I am there? Look at old photographs! I never get tired of going through the old, dusty albums back home. I found some precious pics that could provide me throwback status posts for the rest of the year.

I shared my expat story before, but I think I’ve never wrote about how it started.

When do you start to become an “expat”? Does my time as a student qualify me to be called an expat? If being an “expat”, defined in Wikipedia as,  a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship, I’ve been an expat since I was 19. Hmmm, thinking about it now, that sounds overwhelming.

But if being an expat means one should be holding a job, i.e., earning, then my expat life started after I graduated from school. My expat life started a few days after this below photo was taken.

Grace in Nagano

My first job after graduation in the year 2001 was in Nagano Prefecture (Japan), some 200 kilometers away from my school in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture. From that comfort zone that was the school dormitory where I spent four and a half years, I was thrown into a totally different setting: living alone in a small apartment of my own in a small town where trains only come a couple of times in an hour and very cold winters that could freeze a huge lake.

The city where I lived in Nagano is about 800 meters above sea level and the winters are unforgiving. It may not snow much but the chill factor was something so different from the past winters I had in Kanagawa. In Nagano, you miss one train and  you wait for more than 30 minutes out in the cold – I learned this the hard way.

Frozen Suwa Lake

Anyway, I looked at these photos and thought, wow, I never really knew at this point when the picture was taken what the future holds. I only heard about the tough life of being Japan’s salaryman – Japan’s colloquial term for office worker, considered by many to be the backbone of Japan’s economy. These employees are expected to always put the company first and known for working long hours, as much as 60 hours per week.

I’ve had difficult time at first adjusting to the whole new system. My work life had its ups and downs but hands down the most wide-opening and reflective experience I could ever have. I got sick and realized wow, life in Japan, living alone, unmarried and without any relatives is only as good till you get sick. I got back up and continued on my salaryman everyday grind for 3 years before getting married and having a child. 

Fast forward 14 years after these photos were taken, I am still an expat. However, in a different land and my story continues. Related read: Our Dubai story

When people gather and talk about their autobiographies


I was at a function a few nights ago – a party to celebrate the Japanese Emperor Akihito’s birthday hosted by the consulate of Japan in the UAE. (If you’re a new reader, it may be worth a mention that my husband is Japanese that’s why we got this invitation.) It is a yearly event celebrated and hosted by the Japanese consulates all over the world. The Japanese community is not big here in Dubai so most of the people know each other. And like any other functions in a mostly expat community like Dubai/UAE, the most common question never fail to come up: “How long have you been living here?”

“It’s been a crazy six months.”

“Ten years in January!”

“Just over a year and loving it so much!”

“I just arrived last month.”

“35 years.”

We arrived in Dubai one desert winter day in January 2007. In a month, it will be eight years for us. How has Dubai change in 8/10/35 years? Let’s see, things change in Dubai every 5 minutes (we’re sort of living in a big construction site) so you can imagine the different stories you’ll hear from people who’s been living here for the past 35 years. The kind of stories that make you want to stop whatever you’re doing and sit with them as they narrate experiences and the things they’ve seen, how there was only one building standing in Sheikh Zayed Road or when there were still camels roaming on the main roads.

Listening to these stories of old Dubai is like playing a movie in black and white film.


It is in these functions where I tell people about our Dubai story. As expats, we think we lead an fairly interesting life, and we do, we are like vagabonds scattered in different parts of the world, captured by the pulsating heart of our new ‘home‘. But when you gather a group of expats with with different stories to tell, you’d be looking at a potpourri of many lives – some came here for money, some to taste the curiosity of their sun-drenched romantic dreams while others were propelled by mere sense of adventure, to live a life without what-if’s (that would be us!).

I’m proud of how we’ve come so far – humbled by the challenges we faced and feel awesome for the things we’ve overcome.

Sometimes all the lavish, sinful food and alcohol (and socializing…I am an INFJ) make me hesitate to go to such functions but the chance to hear different stories from new acquaintances and strangers who could become possible friends – that is always a pleasure. It makes me smile when I think back of our time when we first started here and hopeful and excited of what’s yet to come.

The longest and largest river in Japan and random foodie memories

chikuma gawa

I remember when my husband and I were still dating, we would drive to the north to his hometown on school breaks (we met while in university), we would pass this long, winding river from Nagano Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture from Kanagawa.

This is Japan’s longest and largest river and flows from the mountainous region of Nagano to the plains of Niigata and exit to the sea of Japan.

Now that we have kids, of course we wanted them to see it too.

The river is approximately 367 kilometers  (228 miles) long and we chose a road by the river as much as we can when we had a road trip to Niigata again last summer. It was a long journey and then we stopped to take photos. Benjamin was asleep in the car when we parked so only Pristine and I went out to take some snaps.

Pristine jump shot

In Niigata, the river is called Shinano River, maybe to remind people that this river flows from the prefecture of Nagano (Shinano is the old name of Nagano). In Nagano on the other hand, the river is called Chikuma River. The Japanese characters for the word “chikuma” means “a thousand bends”.

Because the land near the river is very fertile, there are a lot of fruit and vegetable farms near it. The rich soil of Niigata, home to Japan’s tastiest rice variety (other areas like Akita will debate this though!) owes its richness to this river.

farmers market 2

Summer in Japan meant farmer’s markets where the freshest produce can be bought at a cheaper price than the ones in the grocery stores. Every time we go to the in-laws, we always drop by to buy these luscious pears.

farmers market 1

The pears was meant for grandpa and grandma but almost always, we end up eating it ourselves. The kids loved it and asked, can we get this in Dubai too?


Erm, maybe but not as sweet and plump and fresh! It’s really different when the food has traveled a lot than when it’s produced locally. Farm to table food are always the best.

peach 2

One tray with 3-4 peaches is 580 yen (approx. US$5). I am not sure if it’s cheap or expensive but the peaches at farmer’s markets are cheaper than when they are in the grocery stores and definitely fresher so we buy them in bulk, no questions asked.


Last year, Pristine ate the peaches with gusto like it’s her first time. She really thought it was her first peach. Little did she know that these were her favorite summer fruit way back then! Indeed traveling with children is not a waste – it relieves them of memories lost!

satsuma imo

Then there was satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potatoes). They are my favorite kind of sweet potatoes. The ones which live up to their name…it’s really sweet. Usually their season is during autumn when the weather cools down and you can hear the shout of “yaki—imo!” outside. Compared to orange colored yams, the Japanese sweet potato (sometimes called oriental sweet potato, or Satsuma potato) is much sweeter and more densely textured – almost like a chestnut. A creamy chestnut.

yaki imo 6

If you’ve lived in Japan long enough to be there in Autumn, you would have heard of the cry of the ishi yaki-imo man, the stone roasted sweet potato seller. I loved rushing down from my school dormitory to buy some piping hot potatoes wrapped in newspaper. Ah, foodie memories of Japan!

Where was I?

Initially wanting to talk about Japan’s longest river and then the peaches and the sweet potatoes. Wow, this happens when your mind drifts away while looking at old photo files in the hard disk drive!

How about you? What are your favorite foodie memories from your travels?

traveling with kids

Traveling with young kids is not a waste

traveling with kids

We’re going away next month to travel for three weeks. We’ll visit two countries, be in six flights (2 in a sea plane!), some train and road trip by car/bus. Pristine is 10 and Benjamin is only 2 years and 8 months old. We will be spending time at the beach, hiking on a nature trail, they will see animals they have not seen before and probably, if we are lucky, there might be RAIN. This is a very exciting idea to me but, the inevitable has happened. I’ve been smacked in the face with the comment,


The people in my real world would add, “Why do you travel with your kids when they’re too young? They don’t understand what they’re seeing. It’s just a waste of time, effort and money!”

I tried to take that comment seriously, keep struggling through the years but I always come back to wanting to ask them back:

Why bother showering children and babies with love, cuddle them, kiss them or read them bed time stories? They won’t remember!

Ridiculous, right?

Just because young children don’t remember those moments and experiences don’t mean they are less meaningful. Or less important.

Travel is the same. It’s a bonding experience for the whole family. It’s about creating memories. I love the example comparing memory with experience through reading to your children. Why bother reading books to your young children if they won’t remember it exactly?

Pristine holding chicken

~ Pristine very eager to hold a live chicken in the Philippines ~

The thing is, it’s not about remembering specifically every sentence and picture in the book, it’s about the experience it brings. The sound of the words, the visual of the pictures. It’s stimulating their little minds and making them feel you are in this wonderful experience with them.

Pristine was 16 months when we travelled outside the country for the first time (just me and her). She didn’t remember any of it but when she looks at the photos, she gets very excited and says, “Was I a good baby on the plane, mom?” And I tell her that yes, she was while the other babies were screaming their lungs off during a bumpy ride to Manila from Japan. 

Pristine mosquito net

~ Pristine very overwhelmed with the concept of sleeping with a mosquito net in the Philippines ~

Pristine loves to hear these stories. She lights up when I show her photos of herself and share stories about what we all experience together. It makes her feel loved, important, special AND included.

We gathered our courage to travel all the way to Europe when she was 2 years and 4 months in 2006. It was our first long haul flight as a family. She was still good on the plane and she tells all her friends with pride every chance she gets: “I was a little traveller and did not cry on the plane.”

Pristine at 2.5 years old

And the stories are endless. “So I went to Holland when I was shorter than the tulips?” I actually laughed, yes! And this is what travel is about – creating and sharing stories they will cherish throughout their lives.


Travelling as a family also strengthens bonds between parents. Like, we learn to take turns who carries a heavily jet lagged toddler on a city walk!

London 2006 1

Travel teaches us lessons otherwise we wouldn’t have known if we didn’t get out of our comfort zones. Like, a stroller is a must and your back can only bear so much, for long hours!

London 2006 2

Just a note – she wasn’t always sleeping…only on those odd hours after we landed. See, after a while she’s just being herself.

Pristine in Antwerp

We learned our lesson when we took Benjamin to Japan for the first time last year. Stroller!

Benjamin in Japan

That said, I’d like to think that we are lucky to have Pristine who is very open to anything travel-related. (As for the other, well, he is two. He will go wherever I go!) Pristine loves packing, too and has learned to pack for herself since she was 5 or 6!

P and B in Tokyo

Parks, beaches, hiking trails, she is all game. She loves to eat local food and readily poses for photos with a smile, always. Benjamin on the other hand is the ever curious and I feel he loves our travels too.


I believe in living in the here and now so I won’t wait till my children *get* it before going out to see the world with them.

Now that Pristine is older (and Ben is catching up – being very observant and communicative), the memories they will be forming from the experiences we’re going to have in our travels will be incredibly rich. No book, lesson, movie, or YouTube could come close to leaving the same impression.

Overlooking Suwa Lake

~ A short pit stop on our way to Tokyo at Suwa Interchange, overlooking Suwa Lake in Nagano, Japan ~

But before the sights and scenes and new places and food and adventure, travelling allows us to give 100% undivided attention to our children. There are no deadlines to meet, work timings to catch. We are there with them, all day, every day. As working parents, this is a precious time for us to reset and focus on them wholly, without distractions.

Ben in Sagami koen

Travelling with young children is part of their developmental process. We do this because we want them to always understand that there are many different cultures, food, languages and that differences are normal.


~ paying respect to her dad’s grandma in her dad’s family’s home in Niigata, Japan ~

I see no reason why they can’t experience and retain this global perspective from a young age.

Perspective for parents: you will have 18 summers until your children moves out to college. Take out 1-3 summers when you feel they’re really small and young and can’t handle travel yet (I fully understand the hesitation!) and you get 15. Only fifteen summers (or less) before they get busy with their own lives to travel with you.

Why waste time and wait ’till they are older?

rest in peace

I close my eyes and I see her

rest in peace

I did not know Sarah* really well except for occasions I could count in my ten fingers that we would meet up at our daughters’ school or when we invite each other for dinners at our respective homes. Her husband and mine are friends. The first time I met her, she was withdrawn, only spoke little that I thought this was someone who clearly didn’t like to be friends with me. Or with anyone. But then maybe, she was just shy.

She brought cakes she made at home – dainty cakes that tasted and looked perfect, like bought from a store. I always loved her cakes.

Pristine, who was an only child then adored their only daughter who was 4 years younger. She baby-ed her. Pristine played with their girl tirelessly, unending. Sarah’s daughter started to ask about Pristine so much that we would set play dates for the girls to meet. Sarah opened up little by little and we became friends, sharing stories about being a mom, living in Dubai, etc. She was asking about what it feels like having a second baby, a boy, referring to my Benjamin. I told her, boys are very sweet and I am addicted to my new little human more and more everyday.

She was thrilled and said she wanted to have another baby, and a boy too.

The last time we met up was Ramadan in 2013 (last year), right after my family came back from our vacation in Japan. Sarah was not looking good – frail, pale and exhausted. But she was eating in front of me like someone who has not eaten for days. She ate with gusto. Then she looked up and smiled. “I’m pregnant!”

I was so happy for her, for them! She finally got what she wanted and whispered, “I hope it’s a boy.” She smiled gain, eyes hopeful.

They repatriated to Japan a few weeks after our last meeting. Ah, the Dubai expat life…just when you get close to someone, they leave. It sucks but goodbyes are part and parcel of the transient expat life.

Months passed. I wondered if she has given birth in January when the New Year rolled in. I sent her a message. No reply. A couple more months. Nothing.

“Do you like the cake? I made them this morning!”

Sarah was beaming in my dreams last night and was happy more than ever. I told her I love the cake and the green tea flavor was my favorite.

She smiled.

She was alive

In truth, my friend Sarah passed away exactly one month ago today. My husband got an email from Sarah’s husband last night telling us it’s been a month so he finally found the strength to tell their friends. And asked us to keep our beautiful memories of his wife.

Shocked is an understatement. She was only 33. I don’t know which is more heartbreaking: that she left too soon or that she left two small kids: a 6 year old daughter and a little baby boy only born last January. 

Rest in peace, Sarah*. It is so hard for me to accept and understand but I pray you are in a better place.

* not her real name

Sarah’s husband did not disclose the cause of her death. In Japan, it mostly means the saddest cause. I don’t want to speculate but Sarah had no health problems as far as I know and post-partum depression comes to my mind and the sometimes solitary lives new moms face there. I hope I am wrong though I know it doesn’t make a difference. She’s gone. Forever.

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