Notes on Travel

Hi. Um, so, I'm in Canada. With my little side-kick, who is just a little uncertain of geography and asks for clarification every five minutes, seeking to determine whether this is, in fact, Canada or Jakarta.

 

We've been here for only two days, but already have eaten pizza twice, walked about a million kilometres revealing in the unobstructed sidewalks, enjoyed fresh air and blue skies, and done a circuit of the city's playgrounds. 

 

 

Meanwhile, I keep wondering what Stella makes of this trip. For a kid who's spent the majority of her life in Asia, Canada must seem weird, right? But when I ask her what she thinks is different about Canada, she responds with a blank stare.

 

So, I piece together a fractured understanding of her perception of this place based on her comments. Choo-choo buses (Street cars) are totally rad. Carseats and seat belts are bullshit. As is the rule that decrees "In Canada that children cannot run around in restaurants." Total balls. We watched the "gym people" running past the cafe window. I guess that's weird? And the cyclists wearing helmets. Weird. And there was an episode where Stella began screaming in absolute terror as a pigeon pecked away on the sidewalk in front of us. So, pigeons are weird?  And terrifying? I guess?

 

 

As for me, I'm happy to report the following observations:

 

Flying with a three year old is infinitely easier than flying with a two year old. Stella slept a whopping 4 hours on the flight. She played independently in her seat, and let me snooze in half-hour stretches. And, most amazingly of all, this kid walked by herself through all airports while managing her own suitcase. I mean, jackpot, you guys!

 

Three-year-old jet lag is not nearly as horrendous as baby jet lag. (Though this point may require a caveat; I let the iPad do all the parenting between 3-6 am.)

 

Canada is freezing. Duh, me.

 

This fact does not deter Canadians from dressing in shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals. Meanwhile, I'm worrying about hypothermia because It's 22 degrees Celsius, and maybe I should put a hat on my kid? And some mittens? Perhaps? 

 

Canadians are the friendliest. Really. I had forgotten about this fact. I've had at least 10 random strangers go completely out out of their way to open doors for me, warn me of an out-of-order elevator, or carry Stella's stroller up steps, or wish me a nice day. It's almost enough to make me crave the constraints of a mortgage and a over-priced shoebox-sized condo in Toronto. 

Parenting as a Westie in the East is hard, dear internet diary.

The other day, my daughter's nanny came back to work after a few days off. She asked me, "What happened with Stella on Monday morning? Why was she crying?"

 

Monday morning was totally unremarkable. We went through our usual routine of tidying up the detritus left by the weekend weekend (me), and tantrum-ing over the injustice of being forced to play alone with a room full of educational and aesthetically pleasing wooden toys (not me. Two guesses.)

 

"I don't remember….ummm, I guess she was crying because I was doing dishes?" I answered. "Or making the bed? Dunno. Why?"

 

It turns out that one of the hotel housekeepers had heard Stella screeching. She texted our nanny to find out why the child's incompetent mother was incapable of appeasing a innocent three-year-old. 

 

"I heard Stella crying. I felt so sad!" The housekeeper (who, btw, we love and adore), texted to Stella's nanny.

 

(Incidentally it's a good thing that the housekeeper in question wasn't around a few hours later when a certain small person was wailing in the hallway for a good 20  minutes because I asked her to walk 25 meters to our apartment door and therefore life is all bullshit.)

 

But still. COME ON!!! My kid was crying. What's so remarkable about that??? And PS, privacy is also a thing.

 

In  Indonesia, a screaming kid is kind of remarkable. The typical toddler does not tantrum. Or, at least, does not tantrum to the degree that Western kids do.

 

Kids here are cajoled and mollified. They are carried around by their caretakers, given sweets, spoon-fed and bottle-fed well into big-kid-dom. Their demands for attention are always acknowledged. Their requests for toys, playtime, or other sorts of entertainment are granted without question. Keep the kid happy. Don't let the kid cry. 

 

When faced with a crying child, the typical response is to give the kid whatever he wants: iPad? Here you go! Candy, Okay! No problem! All of my attention all of the time? YES! You can have it!

 

This sounds, on the surface of things, to be a recipe for a total parenting disaster. And were the children in question growing up in a Western context, I'd argue that it would be. But these kids are growing up in Indonesia where culture dictates that little kids can't be left to cry. And it works here. 

 

But I'm raising a kid according to Western parenting practices, and that means I keep running into cultural conflicts. People regularly question my competency and judging my parenting based on their cultural norms. 

 

For example, I recently got some serious attitude from my daughter's babysitter because I threw out a crappy, super branded plastic toy that just wasn't my aesthetic jam. My daughter's babysitter thought I was being recklessly wasteful, and mean in denying her access to a great (pirated!) mouse-shaped plaything! I thought I was controlling clutter and making good judgments about what type of toys come into our home.  

 

Or, when I shield my daughter from unwanted pictures, I think I'm protecting my kid, teaching her that she owns her image; would-be photags think I'm being an asshole, denying them an awesome photo op.

 

Or when I refuse my child ice cream at 3 PM, I think I'm making good choices about her nutrition; restaurant waiters think I'm being a grinchy miser.  

 

It all makes me want to announce to everyone,  Hey! Guys! I'm, like, dooin it rite here! Super A++ gold star glitter parenting! Look! It says so in this book!!!

 

Which is silly. And kind of useless.  

 

Still, the majority of Indonesians don't have any awareness about this vast parenting cultural chasm between East and West (and frankly, neither did I until I began parenting as a Westie in the East), and so they look at me (or listen at my door as the case may be) and assume that I'm a total parenting dummy, and my crying child is evidence of my cold, cold, bitter heart. And, dear internet diary, this bothers me way more than it should.  

Stella's Third Birthday Bash!!!!

This post is basically one gigantic humblebrag. You're welcome.

If gratuitous self-indulgent images of a ridiculously bonkers third birthday party are your things, well then, nice to see you. Hi.  If not, then uhhhh, sorry I'm not sorry. (But come back later for a give-away!)

 

Last weekend I hosted my first ever proper birthday party. And OMG, these things! They give me years of anxiety. I'm just not cut out for this sort of nonsense. 

Some may say that the only reason that was able to work up the courage to host this fiesta is the fact that we live in a hotel. So, actually the hotel hosted. Let's be real. All I did was throw together a few pompoms, made a gift bag, and then needed to sleep for a week to recover. 

 

My kid, though, thought the whole affair was glitterawesome, and that's what counts, right?

 

For the past four months or so, whenever her birthday was referenced, Miss Stella made clear her expectations:

 

"What kind of party do you want, Stella?"

"Pink."

"What do you want for your birthday, Stella?"

"PINK!"

"When's your birthday?"

"PINK!!!!"

 

Okay, so we made a pink party.

 

I found the sweetest little store that sells traditional Indonesian candies and toys. They went into the gift bags that was made from fabric scraps painted in pink ombre stripes.

 

We had a pink ombre cake (OMG that cake. SO MUCH STRESS. And no I didn't make it. But don't talk to me about the gigantic 18 inch pink barbie princess cake topper which mysteriously found its way onto the cake after I said specifically, NO PRINCESSES. I almost lost my mind.)

 

 

In keeping with the theme, the birthday girl wore the sweetest little dress courtesy of Baby Beau and Belle. I wasn't initially sold on the idea of a pink party dress, but I showed it to my girl, and she about lost her mind. So, okay. How can I say no?? And I have to admit, it was kind of all sorts of adorable. And Stella loved it. She showed it off to anyone who so much as cast their eyes in her direction. Oh, was she proud. And I mean, can you blame her?? 

  

 

Indonesian birthday parties tend to be pretty intense affairs. There's usually a massive guest list, tones of food, entertainers, and MC, plenty of prizes, and organised games. Guests bring total big deal presents, which are typically opened post-party.

 In my day, we ran around the back yard, ate some cake, opened presents, and then called it a party well hosted. We  were lucky if our parents threw a kiddy pool in the back yard and gave us a few balloons. So, I had a bit of a hard time coming to terms with a five star hotel party for 12 kids. 

To counter the totally extravagant nature of this party and to assuage my first world guilt, we collected donations in lieu of birthday gifts. On Tuesday we headed down to an orphanage and dropped off bags of diapers, wipes, formula and baby food. I felt really good about incorporating a charitable aspect to birthday parties. I like to reinforce the notion that birthdays are for celebrating people, not things. This is a tradition that I'm going to keep up. 

The kids ran around, ate some pizza, dug into a ice cream sundae bar, and then splashed around the kiddy pool in a sugar-coated haze. Stella had the best time. Like, seriously, the best. We're already counting down the days till next year. 

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Disclaimer: I was sent a dress from Baby Beau and Belle free of charge. However, the content, thoughts and opinions herein is mine alone.

Stella Turns Three. In Singapore.

Stella tuned three yesterday. Three. THREE??!!! Three. 

Since we hadn't taken a proper family vacation since, oh, um, ever, we decided that this was the weekend to make a long put off trip to Singapore. I mean, what self respecting jet-setting newly-three-year-old spends her birthday in her country of residence??I mean??!!!

(Plus we got a cheap flight, and a free hotel room. So.)

We started Stella's birthday morning off in style with a sleep-in (thanks to a one hour time difference! Three cheers for jet lag!) Then there was cake on a silver platter (I mean, obvs.), and a trip to the toy store (which is becoming somewhat of a birthday tradition). Wee S made out like a bandit with a stack of German books and a mini guitar. The day may or may not have also featured an ice cream cone, a swim in the pool and a plate of nasi goreng.

We capped off the day with a plane ride, a chance to pull her beloved suitcase through the airport one last time, and half a muffin for dinner because we win at parenting and also planing ahead. 

 

A delightful birthday, if you ask me. Though I fear we may have set the bar a little too high. I don't know what we're going to do when this kiddo turns four. 

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Little known signs that you may be raising a third-culture-kid

I was reading this post by Rachel about third-culture-kids the other day. Stella's about as third-culture as they come. Born into a bi-cultural family in a country where neither parent has citizenship, and now, she's growing up in a whole new culture entirely. 

And it kind of makes for some odd situations.

Like, for example, she knows the Thai word for watch, but not the English one. Or Swiss. Or Indonesian, for that matter. 

She has super odd ideas (I mean, in my opinion) about what constitutes typical breakfast fare

Her play is a mish-mash of various cultural inputs, as, for example, she spends hours bok-bok-boking her babies to sleep, prefers to feed them rice than pabulum, and insists on carrying them around in a salandang.

This kid can rattle off the names of about half a dozen different languages, can sing about geckos in Indonesian, say "yummie" in Japanese, "thank you" in Chinese, and "Sleep well in German."

My girl, at two-years-old has a greater grasp on the geography of South East Asia than she does of either her own two passport counties. She can name several East Asian cities, but approximately zero Canadian ones. She has spent more time in America than in Canada, yet when I ask Stella, "where are you from?" her anwer is usually CANADA! 

But what does she know of snow or hockey or Tim Hortons or loonies and toonies? I doubt she could spot a snowman if asked. She's never dug into a snowbank and built a quincy hut. She's never seen a tobogan. She has no idea about toques, Canadian Thanksgiving, CSAs and strawberry picking (btw, Tragic Sandwitch just wrote about her CSA basket, and now I'm homesick) Winterlude, or the connection between Victoria day and the first swim of the season. How rooted is she in Canadian culture, really, I mean, besides being force-fed maple syrup and pancakes at every opportunity. And does this actually even matter?

These cultural questions are confounded by the fact that she is the product of Swiss and Canadian parentage. Because my own culture is Canadian, and my grasp of Swiss culture does not extend much beyond timely trains and excellent chocolate, I feel totally ill-equipped to be my child's bond to Swiss-ness.

I will say that my child does apologize all the time, which is basically a law in Canada, so we've got that going. But in all seriousness, does any of this really matter?

I'm leaning towards no. I mean, I haven't lived in Canada, properly, full-time since about the year 2000. I still call myself Canadian, but I don't really identify with my home country anymore. I have no idea what's going on at home, politically, socially, culturally, or even saratorially. I can't vote there. I don't even know, really, what the government is up to, or who is the political leader of my province. I'm sure that there are aspects of my home culture that influence my behaviours, and shape my world view. But these have shifted and adjusted as I spent more and more time outside my own country. And I don't think that has negatively affected me.

But is it the same for a kid? I mean, I gather that culture, and history, and a sense of belonging are important in establishing one's identity, but is it necessary for one to basically transplant one's culture to a new environment to achieve this? 

I dunno. Just some random questions and now wise or insightful answers. If, however, you happen to have any ideas / answers / wisdome on the subject, pelase do share.

Oh, and ps, here's another blog about another TKC that I'd suggest getting to know.

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Normative Foodways as Defined by a Third Culture Kid

Food is, like, kind of a total big deal in our house. You know,  the male protagonist in this story is named Mr. Chef, so. 

 

We like to eat good food, we like our kid to eat good food, and sometimes I'm tempted to write in gloating and somewhat pedantic tones about how my kid will eat anything, and that is obviously down to my masterly parenting moves. But, first of all that would be kind of a dick move, and second, I fear the wrath of the internet.

 

Still. Food. Big deal. Also, kind of bonkers. Because, you see, a third-culture-kid has some really unorthodox ideas of normative foodways. 

 

Stella's hands down, number one favourite breakfast dish, for example? Noodle soup with basko (meatballs), bok choi, bean sprouts and tofu. Extra kecap manis, and a little sambal. So. Okay.

 

At two-and-three-quarters, my kid's got a decent grip on chopsticks, but knife and fork, nope. Can not.

 

She'll gladly wolf down tofu and tempeh, but present this kid with a peanut butter and jam sandwich and it's all, NOOOOO! I DONT WIKE BUTDER! Mama, can I eat your salad? Huh? 

 

70% dark chocolate, down the hatch. Tabasco? No problem. Sashimi will be eaten. But give this child a bowl of cheerios, and she'll act like it's poison. 

 

And when cooking at her stove, which is like 80 percent of the time, she's always whipping up a batch of nasi goreng pizza. Because fusion? I dunno. 

Stella's apron c/o Arty Apple

bunnies and other such nonsense.

Major religious / cultural holidays take on a different tone when you're living an ocean or two away from home. If you are the type to put a positive spin on things, you might say that living so far away from the Industrial Easter Complex distills the holiday down to it's true essence, without all the consumer trappings that go hand-in-hand with the holiday. Or, if you're a pragmatist, you might just say, meh, Easter.

We set up an Easter egg* hunt for our Bunny.

(*Side note: not too sure if this is a cultural thing, or just a difference in my family, but I'm pretty sure that Canadians do Easter egg hunts differently. We don't have candy-filled plastic eggs on the lawn {possibly because the lawn is covered in snow, gah! Canada, you're such a jerk about winter} but we hunt for foil-wrapped chocolate eggs in the comfort of our living room. So anyway, an outdoor Egg hunt was, like, a total thrill for me. Though I did learn a valuable lessons: chocolate melts in the equatorial sun. Duh.)


I hadn't really primed Stella for the notion of Easter and the Easter bunny. Living, as we do, in a Muslim country, she does not get much exposure to the trappings of cultural Christianity or the major high holy days. You know. She was a bit suspicious about the whole thing. A recent introduction to the concept of rats, which were explained to her as "small bunnies", may or may not have predisposed her to be distrustful of the Easter Bunny. I dunno. 


 

But with a littler persuasion, and some help from Nanny, she got into the game.


 

The garden provided all sorts of fun hiding places for our eggs (and lammbies). Balinese Hindu statue, FTW!!!


 

My attitude of, Meh Easter, left my poor kid without an Easter basket. A yellow bucket lined with Easter napkins and a little scrap of bow totally did the job, though. 


Stella didn't seem to mind her unorthodox basket, but she was soon distracted by a dust pan laying around, and thought that would make a much better Easter vessel. So, um, okay. 


So, we ended the day with half-melted chocolate, a swim, and a traditional Easter lasagna (???) for dinner, and cries of Happy bunny day from the tropics!!! 

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I lost my good heart and found it again at the park.

It's far too easy to let the frustrations of living here run away with your good heart. The languid chaos of daily life, the injustice and inconvenience make it easy to neglect the truth. Traffic snarls at two PM on a Saturday, a  house with three Roles Rocyces in the garage, or that abiding sense that you've been taken advantage of are enough to stir up disheartenment.
It's easy to let your good heart be gone.
 

But all you need, really, is a trip to the park where a group of seven year-olds befriend your toddler, and despite  a language barrier they learn each other's names and ages, and then small arms reach behind your girl's waist and hoist her up onto the swings, and when they see she's had enough, they help her down, and guide her up the play structure, shouting, watch out! The baby wants to pass! and lead her over the bridge, and help her down the slide. And when she falls, a girl bends over and brushes off her legs, and a boy crouches down, looks into her eyes, and pats her tenderly on the cheek.
That's all you need, really, to realign your good heart and be reminded that this is a good place where the people are kind, and notwithstanding the traffic and wealth and poverty, people will always show tenderness to a child. 
 

 

 

 

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I don't know how to talk about money.

About a month ago, Stella received her very first hong bao, a tiny red envelope stuffed with 40 000 rupiah in celebration of the year of the snake. Forty thousand rupiah sounds like a pretty sum. And actually, it is here. 

Forty thousand could be a day's wages. It could feed a family. It could transport a weary traveler halfway across Java. 

 

But in the US, it might only buy a medium sized frappuchccino. 

 

Stella's red envelope sits half forgotten on top of her bookshelf. She doesn't know it's there. She doesn't know she has money waiting for her. I haven't gotten her a piggy bank, I haven't told her about the spend, save, give system, I haven't really mentioned it. And that is mostly because I don't know how to talk to her about money.

 

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On Sunday morning, we took Stella out for a swim. We kicked and twirled and splashed and dove, fresh in the face of the equatorial sun.  As we swam, young men were toiling at transforming the modernist pool-side event hall into a classical European palace. A new facade was installed, complete with a two-story-high picture frame ready for the professional photographer to snap images of happy guests in too-short dresses and false eyelashes. There were spheres made from roses hanging from every tree. Lights ready for glittering. A walk way created. Everything perfectly sparkly pink ready for an evening celebration.

 

As we put our girl to bed Sunday night, the booming base was broken occasionally by the MC who presided over the party getting underway one story below us. A birthday party for a 17 year-old girl. 

 

A birthday part that, no doubt, cost much more than my husband and I could earn in a month.

 

 

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On Saturday afternoon I took Stella to the grocery store. Blue skies turned pea-soup dark and opened to tropical downpour. Traffic was terrible, as it always is when it rains. Stopped as the line of cars snaked around a traffic circle, a group of children approached the car, pressing up against the glass with their hands shielding their eyes for a better view inside. They were gesturing, making the universal sign for money money, food, please, eat, money, food, miss, please, eat, miss, food.

 

I searched for a box of raisins that I usually have stashed at the bottom of my bag, but found nothing. I said, sorry, I don't have anything to give you. My personal rule is to give only food to children, never money. They gestured harder, waved at Stella, smiled, waved, money, money, please, miss, food, money.

 

Stella turned to me and said, "Dese are mine fwiends."  

 

I nodded, and told her "That's right," because I still haven't figured out the right words for this type of moment. I still haven't figured out how to tell her that these kids maybe don't have a mummy and a papi, a home, toys, dinner. These kids are just like you, kind and good and worthy, but they want your money. 

 

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I got a text from my ojek driver today asking for help. On Sunday while we were splashing in the pool, he wrecked his motorcycle. A car made a careless turn and swerved into him, throwing him into the air, before speeding away. His phone and his bike were both broken, both his lifelines to income. His shoulder was injured and he hadn't been to the doctor yet.

 

People like my ojek driver, people who are good and kind humans, well they can be ruined in an instant. You can tell them, you should have saved money, you should have a safety net. But the truth is they don't have access to fat ofshore bonds, QROPS pensions, or international health care, let alone bank accounts or a simple doctor's visit. People like my ojek driver and his family might eat everything they earn in a day. 

 

The driver asked me to borrow some money, just a little over twice the amount my daughter was given as a gift for Chinese New Year. I felt uncomfortable and uncertain about this transaction, because I'm not accustomed to people I don't know very well asking to borrow money, because I feel guilty about how much I have, and how little he does, because I didn't want a loan to stomp on our relationship, because I resented him asking, because I knew I should give. 

 

I felt uncomfortable also because I don't know how to talk about money. I don't know how to explain to my child why a 17 year-old gets a birthday party that could feed an entire village and another and another while the man who drives me to the gym can't afford to pay a doctor to examine his shoulder. I don't know how to tell her what the right thing to do is. I don't know what the right thing to do is. An act like this won't bring someone out of poverty. It won't solve his problems. But maybe it will show him that we're kind?

 

The only thing I could do was take my girl with me when I went to bring him the money. One crisp red bill changed hands. He tickled my girl's cheek, then looked me in the eyes and said thank you. The next few rides will be free. 

 

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, but all content, opinions, and allegations are mine, and mine alone. Thank you to the kind people at WhichOffshore.com for sponsoring this post and allowing me to make a small income at home. I'm lucky, and I'm beyond thankful. 

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"You're So Brave" That's Not A Compliment.

This post is brought to you by the good and kind people at Aetna International. Thanks, Aetna, for supporting my blog and allowing me to write honestly about a topic that is so close to my heart.

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You sure are brave! 

 

I get that a lot. From Indonesians, from foreigners, from strangers and from friends. This utterance usually follows tales of journeys great and small that I’ve embarked upon with my kid. Be it a short jaunt across town on the bus, or a several-days-long journey around Central Java via train, bus, and donkey cart, the response is almost always the same: a raised eyebrow, slight shock and a “Wow. You’re so brave!”

 

You’d think that I’d take it as a compliment. But that phrase, “you’re so brave”? Well, it gets my goat. 

 

Implicit in that statement is the suggestion that experiencing this country as the vast majority of its residents do, as well as being in close proximity to its people, is somehow dangerous. You’re so brave! This phrase insinuates that experiencing real life puts me at great personal risk. That the choices I make to see this country, to get to know its people somehow brings my parental judgment into question. To which, I declare, CHICKEN SCRATCH!

 

Hi. We're in Beijing. 

 

Many expats (and let’s be honest, many middle and upper-class Indonesians) take great pains to avoid contact with all but their own. As I've written before, walking is not a thing in Jakarta. If you have more than two coins to rub together, you drive. Or, better yet, you hire someone to drive you around. Buses, trains and bajaj are all reserved for those who are down at the heel: the other, the lower, the dangerous. What a terrible, menacing risk to have to stand next to a stranger on the bus! In the middle of the day! Or sit in a train car full of other people! Who might jump out at any second to cut your throat! Or something.

 If I never traveled by train, I'd never see a vista this lovely.

To fear that which we don't know is a natural response. Fear of out-groups, of cultures different and indecipherable kept our ancestors alive while we were all hunched on the savannah. This fear is still lodged somewhere deep in our reptile brain. And that’s cool. I get it. But to live an expat life governed by this fear of difference, well, that kind of defeats the entire purpose of moving abroad, don't you think?

 

 

It took me a while to get to this realization; I'll admit to plenty of fear and revulsion at otherness, plus an outright refusal to ride buses in Shanghai. And I regret that. But after many years of practice I've gotten better at quelling this fear. And that’s made all the difference.

 

Travel by becak turned out to be my preferred method of short-distance transport. Ever see a city from the front of a bike taxi while the sun set pink and the call to prayer drifted through the evening? Then, my friends, you haven't lived.

 

 

When I was new to the expat game, fresh off of a disastrous Indian posting, Mr. Chef and I arrived in China. After a short period of "whoa! This place is big and awesome and look: I'm eating street food!" I started acting like the proverbial expat jerk. I turned my nose up at women washing pork tripe in a plastic basin by the side of the street. I fumed at the sound of nail clippers in the subway, at the parents of rosy bottomed children in traditional split-crotch pants, at the week-long fireworks onslaught that was Chinese New Year. I couldn't see the beauty of it all, because I was so transfixed by the otherness, the potential danger (of nail clippings? I dunno.) 

 

I traveled back to China after my kid was born. I think she gave me bravery muscles, or something. With her, we went from Beijing to Shanghai by train. Solo. And it was NBD. Also, she got manhandled by strangers a lot. And didn't mind a bit.

 

 

As a result, I barely got to know my adopted country. I didn’t travel. I made few Chinese friends, sampled only but a handful of dishes in the Chinese culinary cannon, and spent a lot of my time being unnecessarily annoyed. 

 

I'm not doing that this time around. 

 

And you know what? This time I'm a much happier expat. 

 

Some evenings I ride home on the back of an ojek. Real life is all around me; men in flip-flops pulling handcarts laden with rambutan; women by the side of the street carrying babies in slings while offering small spoons of rice porridge to their wee ones; boys barefoot and bold darting in and out of traffic; the sun so low that it makes everything golden. On the back of an ojek I can orientate myself to this city, its and its rhythm. I see things I'd miss from inside a leather-seated taxi. “Wow, you're so brave,” people say when the see me disembarking from a motorcycle. Not really. The vast majority of Indonesians travel this way. I bought a helmet. We don't travel very fast. NBD.

 

Similarly, getting out of Jakarta lifts me up. I'm reminded that there's real life outside of shopping malls and luxury hotels. People smile at me. We sit on the train and make friends with a grandmother and her little grandson. A woman hears my girl crying and makes her way down the carriage with a handful of mandarins. I can see through these small acts of kindness that people, mostly, are good. A man passes by, stops for a moment, then taps my girl's cheek and ask her name. Hardly the picture of danger. 

 

 This image of a toddler climbing over ancient and forgotten ruins is brought to you by level-headed adventure, not bravery. 

Certainly we do come across hotel rooms that we must share with geckos or train toilets of dubious sanitation. We’re occasionally over-charged for a taxi ride, and perhaps I look at a plate of nasi goring and wonder if it will send me to a days-long holiday in the WC. But usually, I put on my big girl pants, think about how geckos eat bugs, cross my fingers and dig into my fried rice. 

 

All of which is to say that while I step out of my comfort zone, I don’t take traveling with my two-year-old lightly. There are risks. I recognize that pick-pocketing can happen, so I carry small amounts of cash, and hide my cards in the deepest reaches of my pack. I always bring a first-aid kit, basic medicine and a thermometer. I use sunscreen and mosquito repellant. We don't go anywhere without expat health insurance

 

You know, there are also risks to living. I might get my heart broken or I might break my leg. Something unspeakable could happen, regardless of whether I'm on an economy class train on the way to Yogyakarta or holed up in a five-star hotel. 

 

There's just too much wonder out there, too much beauty, too many smiles to deny these experiences to myself or my child. So we travel, I let her eat street food, and we'll ride trains and busses together. We'll talk to strangers. We'll use sound judgement, and we'll see all the good that there is to see.

On expats, adjustment, and carseats.

 

This weekend I got chewed out by an Indonesian mother.

Granted I kind of deserved a stern talking-to because I did go in full blaze, when a more measured approach would have been adequate. 

You see, I have a way of being ornery when confronted with certain triggers (namely rich people with superiority complexes and rules that I deem totally inane). This particular situation had both. In spades. And, PS, if you didn't already know this about me, when my principles get trodden upon and I feel that justice has been silted, well, watchit. (See aforementioned orneriness.) 

Anyway, she left, shouting at me, "You live here. Adapt. Just adapt. Adapt, okay? Adapt." And that phrase has jammed itself into my brain. 

Because you see, I like to think of myself as a "good" expat, the kind that sees locals on equal footing, the kind that doesn't abuse humans, the kind that isn't super into endless discussions of Us v. Them.

 

That call, Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. Well, it stung, as it was intended to, I think. And the sting comes from my insecurity, my own questioning of how far I need to adapt, and how firmly I must cling on to my native norms. 

 

Let's take, for example, notions of safety, about which I've written previously in both the Japanese and Indonesian contexts.

 

We tend to infer a great deal about someone's parental fitness by the way in which they comply to standard safety practices. North American babies spend the better part of their childhoods strapped into some form of vehicular restraining device. My own daughter drove from Northern Ontario to Southern Michigan in a super-safe infant seat, and screamed all the way. Better she scream, purple-faced and angry, than risk the small chance of a car accident. An unrestrained baby, well, that's a marker of total immorality and parental neglect. Just look a the price Britney Spears paid.

 

Here in Indonesia, few babies are put in car seats. Partly because cars are beyond the means of most, but also partly because here babies are held, not left sitting restrained in a seat. A  purple-faced crying baby cruelly left tied down when he just wants to  be held, well, that's tantamount  to child abuse. 

 

We North Americans (well, a certain breed of us anyway) banish all forms of BPA, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and screen-time brain-rot. Here, not so. 

Here hands are washed vigorously, sick littles are set to the doctor at the first sign of a sneeze, and my choice to let my child ride out her illness unmediated is seen as a dubious one.

 

There are ways in which I absolutely have adapted to life in Indonesia. I'm okay with my kid eating white rice, and street food. I carry my toddler in a salandang. I let strangers pick her up, and pinch her cheek. I've adjusted my time clock and my child's schedule to keep pace with daily calls to prayer. I've left *some* of my aggressiveness (picked up in China, BTW, another adaptation, another country) in favour of a friendly smile, because pushiness gets you nowhere here.

 Lunch on leaves. Total adaptation. 

 

Strangers man-handling my kid. Adapted. Yeah.

Appearing in public like this = failure to adapt.

But there are other ways in which I have not adapted. I won't go around acting like we live in a caste system. I'm not following the convention of my social station and engaging a car and driver. I walk places. I take busses and taxis. I still eat Western food, most of the time. I wear shorts. I go places without my hair done. I still think like a Westerner. 

I still get really angry when the rich and privileged go around acting like are better then everyone. 

 

So, I'm just not sure, how far do I need to adapt here to be a "good" expat? Do I really need to adapt to practices and situations against which my values scream NOOOOOOOO! NOT GOOD!! Do I just silently stew, or do I say something (with a little more artfulness than I exhibited this weekend.) How far can you bend and adapt but still maintain your sense of self, your culture, your values?  I'm not sure. 

 

Do you have any insight here?

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This post was kindly sponsored by 21st Century Insurance. Thanks, guys! I really dig your community activism and social media outreach. 

 

Speaking of safety, here's a cool thing, 21st Century Insurance is running a contest to promote child safety while driving and they are giving away free car seats to creative people that can redesign the Baby on Board sign. The grand prize winner even gets $10,000 for a nursery redesign. You can find the contest here.

 


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Reasons Why Being Illiterate and Mute are Sub-Optimal When Raising A Child

Heyyyyyyy, let's lighten the mood up in here. I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself, and I thought that I could regail you with further tails about how parenting in a language in which you are unable to communicate is really sub-optimal. Are you down with that? Mkay. Good. 

And we're off.

So, you know when you get to that stage in toddler-hood when clothes breathe fire and pants in particular are the scourge of (mini)humankind? Yeah. We're there. Which is fine, I'm down with nakkie time at home, this dispite the fact that my child has yet to make the distinction between diaper and diaper-free, or between the floor and the potty. THough she can throw a mean potty sign with her baby fist. Oh, yes she can.

And also, apropos of something, I'm afriad of cutting my child's nails and they're abnormally long. And scratchy.

Anyway, nakkie baby, free bumming it, enjoying the fresh air, and springtime breezes, and weeeeeeeee, let's touch our bums (in a totally appropriate and non-weird way) with our exceptionally long fingernails, never mind the long red welts all over our backside.

I certainly didn't.

And then I dropped off my kid (diaper clad) at daycare without a thought in the world.

(...time passing...)

And later she came home. I undressed her for her bath. And the welts and scratches were still there. On her bum. It looked like she had met the business end of a cat-o-nine.

SHIZNATTT! Wasn't I just telling the daycare ladies in sing language how tired I was because my GD kid had been getting up at 4:45 am and not napping and I already look a sub-capable parent because I dress in cutoff jean shorts and I don't wear socks and my toe nails are chipped and do not own a designer bag or a floppy hat or potato sack dress like all the competent Japanese mothers omg they probably think I'm a bum spanker and baby miss-treater and I do not have the linguistic ability nor the charades skills to explain that actually, my kid just likes to be naked and her nails are too long.

So, the moral of this story is learn the GD language of the country in which you parent. I singed up for language lessons today. Truth.

 

 

 

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The Internet Ate My Homework and Other Obnoxious Tales of Blogger Woe

So, you know when you take a week off from your blog and then try to make a triumphant return to regularly scheduled posting with a (half-assed) superawesome links post, and even though it was half-assed, there were a few true gems in with the rough, and then you're like, oh, I'm going to be proactive and do this ahead and then schedule it and stuff, and then you take no notice of the error screen in Chrome when you open your laptop and then aren't really that bothered when you realize that the post hasn't gone up yet, and so you decide to delete all your links (even the gems) and clean up your bookmarks only to discover that your post and those gems are now lost forever to the sands of digital time. Arg. And also, eff you, technology.

So, no links for you, internet. No links for you. And there were some good ones, too. LIke images of levitation. And amazing yellow shoes that I love. And pretty, pretty necklaces. Okay, well, here are the necklaces, but only because I like their creator so much. And also, they're pretty.

But anyway, instead, I offer you a glimpse of what I was up to last week. 

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Remember this guy? Well, he was in my house! Eating my carrots! Snuggling my face! And I practically adopted him. Because, CHEEEEEEEKS! OMG.

We were hanging out with him and his Mommy who is really, really wonderful, doing such fun and exciting things like visiting shrines, and playing with mice, and eating noodles, beaching, stroller derbies, and playing wild rumpus time. So, really, no time for blogging. 

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And now, my Mum is here. So prepare for further posts void of insight but full of nonsensical ramblings and second-rate photography. And if that's yoru bag, well, why not send us a vote on the ol' Top Baby Blogs. We'd love us some of that.

 

 

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Uniforms and Foreignness

Late afternoon, as school lets out, children pour into the streets, lithe and exuberant. They are unburdened by the texts they must read, the exercises that must be completed, and the kana to be memorized, the heavy load carried by their blue and red leather packs will be ignored until after their okashi. 

 

They all carry the same backpacks. Red for girls. Blue for boys. Subtle differences can be spotted, if you look closely: this one is a pinker shade of red; this cheaply constructed, ignoble in it’s vinyl exterior; this one crafted of the finest leather, whispering of luxury expense, and doting grandparents. But they’re essentially all the same. Same shape. Same size. Same. Same. Same.

 

I asked my friend, a mother to a gaggle of Japanese-born foreigners, if the backpacks were a requirement, a uniform of sorts. “Not really,” she replied. “But what if they wanted, like, a Thomas The Tank Engine school bag, or something? What about individuality? What about personal expression? What about fostering a sense of uniqueness,” I challenged. “You just wouldn't do that. It’s not really done. And anyway, my kids are all blond. I wouldn’t want my them to stand out more than they already do.”

 

Japan is a nation of ingroups and outgroups. Its a place where belonging, and conforming are more important than in any other country which I have ever visited. Japanese wear uniforms their whole lives. At birth, babies are dressed alike, in a kimono provided by the hospital. They enter kindergarten with white shirts and blue shorts, knee socks and blazers. By high school they’re in mao suits or plaid skirts, all sporting the same hair cut --straight black hair, bangs, low pigtails. By adult hood the uniform is less obvious, no less important. Spiky orange hair, fussed over endlessly, and flashy suits for too-cool-for-school young men who hope to emulate red-light district pimps. Sensible dark suits, sensible blue shirts, sensible striped ties for salary men. Perfectly quaffed housewives, in perfectly matched skirts and twinsets, LV bags on the crock of their arms. Young women in the same floral romper, the same pot-pie hat, the same chambray shirt.  Belonging is important. Sameness evokes acceptance.

 

Stella is just starting to notice difference, I mean, for what I can deduce based on gestures and the odd utterance of ammmm!!! (cat). Last week at breakfast, she was mesmerized by a group of caucasian children pictured in a German magazine. She kept pointing to her hair and then stroking her own, as if to say, “Look! they’re like me.”

 

I don’t know when, exactly, children start to become aware of ingroups and outgroups, of difference, of race, of cultural vairances. I don’t know, really, if my child feels left out, if somehow she is, already, at the tender age of one-and-a-half, having a minority experience, longing for role-models who look “like her”, feeling the prick of isolation and exclusion, or if her heart aches, even if only slightly, for feeling different. I have no wise words to offer here, no thoughtful conclusions. I just wonder, and hope that she feels good. (Wise words and thoughtful conclusions would be greatly appreciated from you, though).

 

If she wants one, though, I’ll probably buy her a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack. 

 

 

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Christmas Preparations In Japan

Getting ready for Christmas in Japan means baking ginger molasses cookies that look nothing like actual ginger molasses cookies because instead of using molasses you used what you presume to be some crazy kind of rice syrup but you can't really be sure because in Japan you're functionally illiterate. 

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Ho! Ho! Ho!

Dividersblog loopdeloop

Wanna make my Christmas week? How 'bout a vote for us on Top Baby Blogs?

 

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Why Me? Why Now?

I spent much of my first and second winter bundled and be-toqued, perched upon a toboggan transformed by my father into the ultimate cold-weather baby chariot. A chassis set atop the toboggan, lined with foam padding and sleeping bags became the mobile nest from which I was introduced to the Canadian outdoors. Pulled by my dad on cross-country skis, we glided through Eastern Ontario woods, or skated down the frozen Rideau Canal.

 

My daughter, on the other hand, has spent much of her first and second year nursing in airport lounges or wandering up and down the aisles of a Boeing 777, as we make yet another Pacific crossing. She knows nothing of skates, or skis, or four-foot snow drifts. 

 

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My childhood was perfectly ordinary. Perfectly Canadian. Outhouses, mosquitoes, and springtime sugar shacks populate my memories. There were never-ending car trips up and down the length of Ontario in the backseat of a beat up station wagon. And summers on Georgian Bay where I learned to paddle a canoe, build a camp fire, and whittle the perfect bannock stick. It was the stuff of an Atwoodian short story, with, perhaps, a bit less pathos and certainly much less poetry.

 

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My daughter, too, is Canadian, but her upbringing thus far, has been vastly different from mine. Her youth, all 18 months of it, has been the stuff Therouxian travelogue: never-ending jet lag, three continents and three languages. Stella frolics on the grounds of Shinto shrines. She bows when she meets other kids. Stella has never been in a canoe. She has yet to be introduced to the delights of bacon with maple syrup. Rather, Stella chows down on sushi and soba noodles, and wields a fondue fork with deftness and skill. 

 

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In many ways, though, my daughter's experience is very Canadian. She's the child of an immigrant--her father proudly received Canadian citizenship in 2007. She is, in her Japanese-Swiss-Canadian self, the embodiment of multiculturalism, and will, one day, know more than I could ever hope to learn about culture and identity.

 

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I'm tasked with raising my third-culture-kid to be Canadian when much of her life has been spent outside her passport country. Standing outside of the typical Canadian parenting arena, I have distance (several thousand kilometers thereof) and thus perspective on the theories, practices, trials, and joys of raising a Canadian kid. While I am united with my Canadian peers by universal parenting struggles (notably #zombiemomism, monumental messes, and impending toilet training {oh help mah gawd halp}), I also face unique challenges: raising a trilingual child; navigating the myriad and sundry parenting questions that emerge from this tri-cultural tapestry; and figuring out a way to teach my kid that there's more to Canada than the Edmonton Oilers and maple syrup on bacon. I look at parenting through a different lens. Whether it be a new take on weaning a toddler, a recent internet co-sleeping controversy, or the joy that I have found in Asia's instance on letting children be children, I see things differently than the typical Canadian parent.

 

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And that, dear internet, is why I'm submitting this entry in hopes of becoming Today's Parent's next blogger. Wish me luck!

 

For three of my favourite posts, please see here, wherein I discuss one of the parenting lessons I’ve learned in Asia. And here, where I reveal that acceptance and tolerance of difference is much harder in practice than it is in theory, and here where I show you what traveling with a toddler is really like.

 

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Moving To Japan With Kids: Buy All The Things

 So, you’re moving to Japan with kids, and your first thought is STUFF. Where will I get children’s Tylenol? What about clothing for my kid? Baby food? Can I find it there? Or will I be slaving over bubbling pots of mush for the duration of my child’s babyhood? And diapers! And toys! And WINE! WHAT ABOUT THE WINE? Or will I have to switch to sake???!?!?

 

Well, the good news is, you’ll be able to find wine. It’ll be a million times more expensive, but you can get it. So, there’s that.

 

When I was pregnant, I was obsessed with baby paraphernalia, specifically WESTERN baby paraphernalia and the procurement thereof. Now, one might argue (Hi Mr. Chef!) that I took this obsession to an unhealthy degree of hysteria, but I was newly pregnant and in a new and strange country, and pregnancy crazysauce etc. so, we can all cut me a bit of slack. 

 

The truth of the matter is that kids really don't NEED as much stuff as we think they do, and  for the most part, Japanese kid stuff is fine. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however, notably clothing (in my opinion) and medicine. I find that Japanese kids’ clothing is not exactly to my taste, and what I do find in Japan that I like is super expensive, so I buy most things in the US on trips home. 

 

My basic advice when it comes to finding kids stuff is just accept that good enough is good enough. If you’re worried about BPA-free bottles, well, they may not have Dr. Brown’s bottles, but you can find a Japanese brand of glass bottle, and that’s good enough. 

 

Oh, one point to take note of, just FYI: Japanese cribs (and crib mattresses) are 10 CM shorter than American ones. And European cribs are a whole different size entirely. So buy both your crib and your crib mattress in the same country. I learned this the hard way. But let’s not talk about THAT whole episode. 

 

Medicine

OTC Medicine is another thing that I like to buy at home. Not that I doubt the quality of medicines in Japan - I’m sure it’s fine. Rather, I don’t read Japanese and so, rather than doing any guess work, I prefer the peace of mind of knowing that I’m giving my daughter accurate doses of Tylenol or whatever I might be giving her at 3 AM. So, I stockpile all sorts of baby meds on visits home and hand carry them into Japan. Which I kind of feel is a bit illegal, but I’m not sure, and ssshhhhh, don’t tell anyone.

 

Food

Okay, so one worry people talk to me about when they’re moving to Japan with kids is food. Will I be able to get the American baby food I’m used to in Japan. My answer: not easily. I haven’t found powered rice or oat cereal here. Gourmet purees of organic blueberries, beets and purple carrots are a no go. There is jarred baby food, but it’s often a mix of several different ingredients, and again, I don’t read Japanese, so I did’t use it. I made all my own babyfood. Now, you CAN order American baby food online (I’ll list some useful sites below), but it’s expensive.

 

Toys

You won’t find all the toys that you’re used to here, but you’ll find some. There are Toys R Us and Babies R Us outlets here that carry many American products (priced at a premium, sorry to say.) The one thing is that many electronic toys do their bleeps and bops in Japanese. So may not understand what your kids toys are jabbering on about, but it does present an interesting  opportunity for language acquisition. There’s also a wonderful chain of toy stores called Bournelund which carries beautiful wooden and educational toys. So, if you’re moving to Japan, your kids won’t be at a loss for things to play with.

 

Diapers

 I use cloth diapers. I think I’ll write a separate post about this, but on the occasion that I have used regular diapers, I can tell you they’re fine. Pampers is the main brand here. There’s also a Japanese brand called Goons which I think is totally hilarious, but that is neither here nor there. Though the one difference to be aware of is that in Japan they tend to start pull-up style diapers really early. Like 9-months-old early. I strongly feel that this style of diapers is super annoying because have you ever tried to get these things on a flailing infant in prone position? Impossible. Which I found out the hard way when I bought a pack and was like ARRRGGHATE! But WASTE NOT WANT NOT! SO MUST USE WHOLE PACKAGE BUT HAAATTTEEE! 

 

Organics / Fragrance Fee / Natural Healthy Hippy Fairy Dust

These types of things are harder to find in Japan. You won’t necessarily find organic produce in every grocery store, and if you do, selections are really limited. HOWEVER, there are organic and / healthfood shops popping up as the hippy fairy dust lifestyle gains in popularity. Ashley at Surviving in Japan has several good posts on where to find hippy natural fairy dust in Japan.

The reality is, though, that these things ARE much harder to find in Japan. You just need to accept that organic fragrance free diapers may not be in your future. But your kid's butt will probably not fall off because of it. So if you’re moving to Japan with kids, and are like I NEED ORGANIC GOLDFISH CRACKERS, you’re just gonna have to chill.

 

Online Shopping 

Okay...now, if you have your heart set on those organic goldfish crackers, you probably can find them online. Actually, you can find most things that you (think you) really really really  need online. Here are a few helpful resources.

 

  • Amazon Japan - You can shop in English, and you can find many American products here. 
  • Foreign Buyers Club - A good resource for American items. Most in bulk.
  • The Flying Pig - Order from Costco online. They have a lot of things you’ll find in America, but not everything. 
  • Rakutan - Like a cross between Amazon / and Etsy. You can find everything from pie dishes to French cheese to beautiful Spanish Baby Dresses
  • iHerb - A great place for supplements and hippy fairy dust. English. Ships to Japan. 
  • Vitacost - Another purveyor of Natural Hippy Fairy Dust that ships to Japan.
  • Loopist - Cloth diapers in Japan. In Japanese, but just fire up Google Chrome, and you'll be good to go. 
  • Etsy - I didn’t think of this when I was pregnant, but you can find SO MUCH on Etsy. From diaper covers, to onsies, to sleeping sacks, to wetbags, and cute hats and mitts and all sorts of wonderful handmade goodness. If you’re moving to Japan with kids, you’ll need to get acquainted with Etsy.

 

There it is. A poorly constructed and quickly slapped together piece of mumbo jumbo about finding baby stuff in Japan.  If you have any questions about shopping for baby goods, please leave a comment. I know everything there is to know about shopping for baby gear. Truth. 

 

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Moving To Japan With Kids Part I

I received a couple of emails recently from people asking questing about moving to Japan with kids, which is, lets be honest here, both incredibly flattering (blogs pay dividends in ego strokes) and entirely laughable (I’m no Japan expert, I mean I know about six words in Japanese and one of them is pee-pee.)

Still, I thought that I may have stumbled on a nugget SEO traffic potential here: a series of posts about moving to Japan with kids. Ergo, I present to you the first in my series entitled So You’re Thinking of Moving To Japan With Kids (creative!)

I’ll cover a lot of things here - some informative, some based on my opinions, but all snappy and entertaining.*

But for my first post, my general opinions and feelings about life in Japan with kids. 

 

*oh gawd. I may have just painted myself into the worlds worst bloggy corner by committing to this mini project. 

And so, with that, AWAY WE GO!

 

So, you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids. Your brain is swirling with questions. You’re wondering about housing, and schooling, language learning, adjusting, and transitioning, and Oh MAH GAWD will we be able to find goldfish crackers in Japan!?!?! (Doubtful). 

But before we get into the details, here are my impressions about wee ones in Japan. Take them under advisement (if you want) if you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids.

My overall impression: Japan is a great place for kids, but arguably, a less great place for mothers. Japan is extraordinarily child-friendly: it’s safe, it’s clean, and especially compared to it’s Asian neighbors, it’s pretty pollution-free. The demands on mothers, however, are significantly higher here, with strongly entrenched traditional gender roles and week social networks. If you’re thinking about moving to Japan with kids, you probably don’t have to worry too much about your children, for it is a lovely place for kids to grow up.

 

The Basics

Japan is really very safe. Crime rates are very low, and fears of "stranger danger" just don’t seem as prevalent here. I regularly see kindergartners walking and playing outside without adult supervision, and virtually all first graders make the trip to and from school alone. 

The environment is also relatively clean. In comparison to most other Asian countries, the levels of air pollution and smog are low here. The food system is safe; arguably safer than that of the US, and problems of food contamination that plague other Asian countries just don’t seem to happen here, (all fears of radiation contamination aside, that is. But still, on the scale of food dangers, this is not a big one, really.)

 

Child Friendly

Japanese people seem to love kids and are tolerant of all their annoying little foibles. Children are welcomed in most restaurants, and most people don’t seem to mind (or at least are too polite to say anything) if the kids act out. Kid free zones are not a thing here, there's no need for them. Everyone excepts that kids cry, make messes, and are sometimes a bit annoying. And it's no big deal.

Foreign children, especially babies, will garner a lot of attention. People will want to play peek-a-boo (or enai enai ba!), pat your kid’s cheek, or shake their hand. I willingly accept this and my daughter LOVES the attention. If that kind of thing would freak you or your kid out, sorry to say, but there's almost no escaping it. 

Japan is also pretty baby-friendly. Subways are easily accessible by stroller and have well maintained elevators. It’s pretty easy to find a clean place to change a baby’s diaper (subway bathrooms are surprisingly clean) or nurse an infant (there are wonderful nursing rooms in most department stores).

 

Recreation

There are lovely parks in Japan and some great playgrounds. Each neighborhood seems to have it’s own little play area, some better than others. The bigger parks have great features such as hand washing stations to clean up after playing.

There are also wonderful libraries that, in bigger cities, have English language books. And drop-in play centers that are free and full of fun toys and other kids.

 

Demands on the Mother

For the mother, however, things are more difficult. Most women do not work outside the home, and their husbands work long hours, leaving virtually all the child care and house work to the woman. It is pretty typical for the husband to leave for work early in the morning and not return until 9 PM. Every day. Oh, and many also work on Saturdays.

If you're a mother thinking of moving to Japan with kids and working while you're here, it may be a bit difficult to find anything beyond teaching English, that is unless you have strong Japanese language skills.

The Japanese school system requires a great deal of participation from the mother, with sport days and concerts and PTA involvement all being virtually mandatory. In addition, there are frequent holidays and half-days which can leave working mothers scrambling for child care. 

 

Lack of Support Network

Outside the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka where there are thriving expat communities, it may be difficult for a foreign mother to make friends in Japan. Japanese people are fairly reserved. Invitations to someone’s home for coffee are rare, so are neighborly chats. It is pretty easy to feel isolated and alone, especially when the husband is working such long hours. Learning Japanese is really important for getting along and thriving in Japan. 

Domestic helpers, quite common in other Asian cities, are not typical here in Japan. Just FYI.

 

Conclusion

Japan, like any country, has positive points and negative ones. Personally, I really appreciate the child-friendly life here. It’s reassuring to know that food and water are safe and that air pollution isn’t (such) a big problem. And so, while it’s not always easy, I’m honestly happy that my daughter was born here.

 

So, if you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids, it’s a pretty good place to be. 

 

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Crafts for Expat Children

An expat childhood has many wonderful advantages: diverse cultural experiences; an ingrown understanding of this wide and wonderful planet; the possibilities of multilingualism; opportunities to learn about flexibility and emotional resilience, for example. But one major drawback is distance, physical and emotional, from one’s extended family. 

How then, can we as parents of expat children cultivate a sense of familial closeness when we are oceans apart from grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts and all manner of wonderful people?

By crafting, obviously. Therefore: crafts for expat children. (Or any kind of children, really. This is an equal oppertuntity blog, not limited only to expat children.)*

Okay. So. First, a confession. I am terrible at art. I kind of hate craft projects. But I have a little girl. And the internet insists that I become some sort of crafting superhero, because without a degree paper maché, you can’t qualify for a parenting blog. Just so we're all aware of the facts, people.

But, I saw this idea on Paul et Paula (itself a wonderful international kids’ blog), and I thought to myself. TOTALLY DOABLE! Henceforth, I give you BABY’S BOOK OF SIGNIFICANT RELATIONSHIPS...da..da.daaaaaa! {I could not come up with a better title. Please deal.}

 

What I did:

I gathered up a bunch of supplies: washi tape, stickers, markers, a photo book, and had some pictures developed.

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I made a pretty title page with Stella’s name on it. (You do not understand the level of anxiety I had when making this. Like...”omg, this looks stupid. I’m trying to make a starburst of stickers. It looks more like a sick dog. GAH I THINK I SPELLED MY DAUGHTER’s NAME WRONG. Oh okay. It’s fine. Carry on.” Now you understand why I hate crafts.)

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Then I stuck in pictures of people and places which are important to us. Grandparents, aunts, uncles-in-common-law (we have 2); godparents; beloved granties; cousins; honorary aunties, cats, dogs, Swiss mountains, Canadian lakes, Japanese cherry blossoms etc. etc. etc.) I threw around some washi tape, because. Well. I donno. It looks pretty. And then handed it over to the baby and we were all very happy. 

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Stella can look at the pictures and be reminded of those who are closest in our hearts (if not in geography). We sit together and name people and things we see. We talk about who the people are, and I narrate memories in hopes that it helps her recall all of the fun visits we've had with our lovelies. 

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She loves this book. She brings it to me to look at and then corrects my pointing when it is not vigorous enough. It also keeps her busy for many minutes. And I am happy about that, too. 

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*Oh, pooper scoopers. You caught me. I'm trying to SEO the hell out of the phrase, "Expat Children". *cough, cough...douch bag...cough.*

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