Let’s Go to Okunoshima!

The last time we were in Japan, we visited Miyajima island where deer roamed freely and peacefully mingled with humans. I remember being gently head-butted by a deer that was hoping to get his teeth into my corn on a cob, which, admittedly was one of the best animal experiences I had. This year, we decided to choose a smaller animal. Smaller than a deer anyway.

While the guide book and websites tell you how to get to Okunoshima island, actually getting there is a very, very long trip. And that’s just getting to the port to hop aboard the ferry that will take you to the island. A family friend brought us there this time around since one of our nieces was sick. The long drive may or may not get a bit dull due to the distance, but I still had a good time. And that small curry restaurant that we had lunch at along the way was a nice bonus.

A Wabbit!
A Wabbit!

So what is Okunoshima island exactly?
Well, if Miyajima was an island overrun by deer, Okunoshima on the other hand, is overrun by rabbits. Yup, welcome to rabbit island.

Waiting for the ferry
Waiting for the ferry

We bought feeds from the visitor center at Tadanoumi port before we even boarded the ferry to the island. You can buy them cheap and you would want to buy them because the point of going to the island is to see (and possibly interact) with rabbits. Feeding them is one way of getting their attention. And true enough, once you get off the port at Okunoshima, there are rabbits everywhere. And just like that, we went off on a long hike through the island. That is to say, we didn’t really think about the route that we were going to take.

Eat, sleep, hop.
Eat, sleep, hop.

Of course, with rabbits to your left and to your right, the hike wasn’t really a hike. It was actually kind of a fun walk. We passed a museum that showcased the history of Okunoshima. A dark history that unfolds in contrast to the fluffy and gentle-natured population of rabbits that roam the island. The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum represents a part of Japan’s wartime history. As the museum name suggests, Okunoshima was once used to produce poison gas to be used in the war. This was despite Japan having signed the Geneva Protocol banning the use of poison and chemical weapons some years before. The Okunoshima plant had been operating in secrecy during that time. Following Japan’s defeat, the factories in Okunoshima were destroyed. However, no one was prosecuted for the use of poison gas. This was because Japan never prosecuted any of its citizens for war crimes. The museum itself is quite small and entry is quite reasonable. It displays the actual weapons, some equipment used by the workers, historical photos and documentation.

Probably halfway around the island, we reached the hotel (and the café, yey!). We had a snack and got some souvenirs. This is the only place on the island to eat by the way, unless you packed your own food.

Feeding a furball.
Feeding a fur ball.

Continuing our trek, it has dawned on us that the last ferry out of Okunoshima is probably in two hours time. The fact that we were out halfway, and that we didn’t have a map stirred a bit of concern. So we braved the trail while feeding rabbits and still enjoying the scenery of the island. We hiked uphill and went through some of the island’s old ruins. We found the old barracks and the remains of old gun placements. We also managed to find the old storage structures but was not fortunate enough to find the old power plant and the tallest electricity pylon in Japan. There was a visitor center though that was surprisingly stocked with information about the islands flora and fauna. We may not have explored the whole of the island, but what we experienced was plenty. And more importantly, we made it to the last ferry (yey!)!

There are already numerous guides all over the Internet providing directions on getting to Okunoshima. We took our ferry from Tadanoumi, but there is another port on the Omishima. Have fun when you get there, and please take note of ferry departure times.

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Sayonara, Turtles (for now)

Turtles Everywhere!
Turtles Everywhere!

For those in Singapore who have not been living under a shell (pun intended), you should know by now that the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum closed their doors at the end of March. This is due to their lease expiring and not being renewed because of new development in the area (according to news outlets). They have been given some leeway by Nparks to stay open until their new place is up. Fingers crossed that they are granted temporary residence until then.

UPDATE: Their Facebook page has information posted for donating to help them set up their new place. So please do drop by their Facebook page.

Going to Turtle Land
Going to Turtle Land

When we heard the news, we decided to drop by for a visit one last time at their location in Chinese Garden. We live in Tampines, so getting there is a good long hour by train. Which is also the reason why we can’t go as often. This is our third time going to the place and it hasn’t changed much. I mean, turtles (and more so tortoises) are know for living very long lives. Everybody’s favourite part is feeding the turtles, however, because a lot of people have actually made their way to the museum, this may have caused a bit of over feeding of some turtles. As such, we were asked to take it easy with the feeding and only feed those turtles by the bridge. No problem with us. The last time we were here, when Matthew started feeding the turtles, a horde of them started making their way up the bridge towards Matthew. He had fun back then.

Feeding Time
Feeding Time

It has been a few years since that day. And now the museum is in a tight spot where it needs to be relocated. However, it does not look like smooth sailing with the tight deadlines and the apparent limits of relocating live turtles and tortoises. Frankly, Singapore is a small-ish island with new and renewed development projects that are dictated by growth. To find a suitable place for such animals is a bit of a challenge due to their special needs. Still, they seem to be hanging on for a little while longer at the Chinese Garden and that is certainly good news. Here’s hoping the shelled creatures find a new home soon.

Less Lights, More Energy for Sustainability

It has been a few years running and the main theme remains the same for iLight Marina Bay, and that is art in sustainable energy. I’ll be honest about being skeptical at how turning on a bunch of lights become a practice in sustainability when we are asked to turn off the lights during Earth Hour. But then again, it may make sense if we actually try and understand the different displays. And now should be a good time as any other time to do this.

Earlier that night...
Earlier that night…

Surprisingly, it was not so crowded the night we came to the festival. It may have been due to the rain earlier or we could be missing out on something. I really hope it was the former.

Octopoda
Octopoda

We started off from Marina Bay Sands The Shoppes where I met up with Judy and Matthew for dinner. We were greeted by the Octopoda when we stepped out of The Shoppes. However, Matthew was not interested in the rythmic drumming that Octopoda was offering. Walking along the boardwalk, we were supposed to go through the Passage but it was under maintenance. I needed to remind myself that it had just rained and we were talking about lights that are powered by electricity, so, safety first. As we continued along the boardwalk, we ended up at Light Play. A supposedly interactive installation that asks you to use a torch to get a reaction from the display. However, we never got it to work and no interaction with the people around us happened that night. Let’s not forget the side trip to the MADD flea market (which was an exercise in restraint from buying fantastic home-grown goodies that you may or may not actually need).

Klouds
Klouds

Turning towards the Promontory, we passed through some Klouds. It is another interactive installation where Geomag like clouds change colors when touched, tapped or otherwise banged on. We then gandered at some Chandelier of Spirits, well, cold brew coffee spirits. These brown bottles were turned into giant chandeliers giving off a soft amber hue in the night. We ended up at the MailboX where we sent some interactive emojis via Twitter with the hashtag #ilightmarinabay. It was actually fun seeing your message shown at the MailboX. Whareatua was not what we expected (because really, we expected more) so let’s just leave it at that. We continued walking around the Marina Bay area going towards The Esplanade where the rest of the installation should be. We realised that there did not seem to be as much as before (or the installations have become smaller) but at the same time, having less crowds make it a better experience overall. And you also realise how tiring it is walking around the bay which brings us to a pit stop at Starbucks.

Love is...
Love is…

Moving along after a perk-me-upper, we listened to the pulse of the city from the installation With Love… It was actually neat to see how the red glow from this heart illuminates the night, especially the façade of The Fullerton Hotel. The heart trail brings us to the Merlion which has become an installation called the Elements of Life. The projections over the Merlion were absolutely gorgeous showing the elements of earth, fire, water and air making it the base for the present and the future. Across the bridge then down towards the Esplanade area, we hit Transistable Plastic. It basically allows you to swim in plastic waste like some of our endangered sea creatures in a maze of vacuum packed plastic bottles. This however, paved the way towards Urban Rice Fields which is supposed to have been inspired by Singapore’s sustainable development. You really need to turn on your camera flash to get the full effect. Dancing Grass is just beyond this installation, where you shrink to the size of ants walking along blades of lit grass in the night. The night was turning late though so we were soon finding our way back to the MRT to go home.

Just some dancing grass.
Just some dancing grass.

But not before we were invited to see Flawless where the word is photoluminescence. The installation supposedly absorbs light energy in the day giving them the bright green glow at night. Unfortunately, we were looking at UV lit “falling leaves” here. We were about to call it quits when we were then mooved to have a look at some cows in the middle of the city. Milk Bottle Cows. It does promote recycling and up-cycling of everyday materials such as used milk bottles and they were kind of cute. We ended the night with a slow walk towards the train station to go home.

 

Going back to my initial thought, there wasn’t really any sustainability in the installations by any measurable means. The thought is there, or I should say that the message is there but it certainly does not show with all the pretty lights blazing across the bay. So, the art is there and the message is there, but the sustainability part needs to be worked on because honestly, it is the message that needs to be conveyed. Come for the art and appreciate the lights, but when you come home, remember that sustainability really should begin with each of us.

Make the Future with Shell

Team Philippines
Team Philippines

Fossil fuels are finite. In fact, we are running out. We have been racing to find alternative sources of energy for the better part of the last two decades, and this is where we are now.

 

Advances in technology and the human drive towards evolution has paved the way for more efficient machines, better production of power and the ability to harness energy from the sun, natural gases and food waste. When I was in secondary school, the future that I was looking at was a DeLorean time machine that flies powered by organic waste. Well, we haven’t gone that far yet, but we have gone far enough to see that it’s close. And that kind of technology is showcased at Shell’s Make the Future event.

 

Changi Exhibition Center was the venue for 2018 and we have been here before. While the venue is good for this kind of exhibition, the place has one major drawback. It is hot and it is in the middle of nowhere. Okay, that makes it two drawbacks.

Building a salt water powered car
Building a salt water powered car

The venue was divided into three zones. The Main Stage where the music is coming from along with science shows and event announcements about the Eco-Marathon and basically everything else. We didn’t really spend much time here except when we needed to refuel for lunch. Although you are allowed to bring your own food and drinks, we were not really going to lug a picnic basket and then some for lunch. We just made sure we had enough cash to gas up at the venue. The food isn’t really what the event is about so it is nothing to be worked up over. You can even buy most of the food from Shell’s Deli at their service stations.

Learning about Hydrogen power through VR
Learning about Hydrogen power through VR

The Energy Future zone was where we spent most of our time though. This is where people are asked to explore how energy is generated and the alternate sources of energy that can be used. The Bright Ideas challenge showcases the ideas from secondary school students for a cleaner energy future. Imagine harnessing electricity to power your classroom just by sitting down, yep, that was a bright idea (and in theory it works). And imagine harnessing electricity from vibrations, yep, that was also a bright idea. I guess with the proper guidance and technical know-how, young minds can really think up what works in the future. Also in the zone are some of Shell’s energy partners showing off their stuff. The Linde Group in particular showed us the future of Hydrogen power. Matthew had his first VR experience here and from the spectator’s point of view, it looked like he had fun. And yes, while the previous concerns with Hydrogen was its, ehem, explosive nature, it seems that we have once again jumped that hurdle and the future is looking good. The final piece in this zone for us was our salt water powered car. Yep. We were able to build a small toy car that can run on salt water. I can only guess that the two metal plates are responsible for creating electricity to power the small motor on the car. What they are and how they do it is still not being disclosed. But once again, it works. And that is what made the trip worth it.

Eco-marathoner
Eco-marathoner

The final zone was the Eco-Marathon. Students from across the Asia Pacific brought in their eco-marathon cars to see which is the most energy-efficient. A mix of solar powered, full electric, hybrid and internal combustion engine powered vehicles were in the field. This is not a race to see who the fastest is, this is a race to see who has the most efficient car setup. And it is not just about the type of power plant, but the whole design of the vehicles. You will see different ideas on different cars all designed to make the most out of their power. Aerodynamics plays a big part, and then there’s weight, there’s the strength of materials, the power delivery method, the motor, the wheels. Everything comes together behind those fiber-glass shells and I can only imagine how dedicated the drivers are to be racing under the sweltering heat of Singapore.

 

All the best to the competitors. Because for us, the real winners are the newest generation of folks who will benefit from the ideas of today. Because really, the future is being made for them.

Good Dad, Bad Dad.

Most of the time, we see the fault in the people around us but not our own. You can say that this is even more true when dealing with children. It may be because we are under the impression that because we are adults, we are always on the right. That can never be more wrong. We, as adults need to guide our children to be the best that they can be. But when we put ourselves in the position of being always right just because we are the parents, then we put up a wall. I only realised this when I was reflecting on a few things that have been happening in the past few weeks.

As parents, we expect our children to act like children in ideal worlds. We expect them to be cute, funny, obedient and disciplined among others. And in an ideal world, that may just be appropriate and expected. Unfortunately, the world we live in is not ideal (yet). There are so many real world problems that we have to manage and it can sometimes become a burden. And if we aren’t careful, we sometimes inadvertently pass some of these on to our kids. Whether we are aware of it or not is a question best left to ask ourselves when we are meditating.

Everyone is different. I can’t remember how many times I have been told of this. We need to remember that this is also true for kids (actually, especially for kids). We have to stop giving ourselves and our kids that image of what we are expecting our families to be. We should instead look at the future as a canvas that is blank. And our contribution to that canvas will be the colors of our lives. Be it light or dark or bright or gloomy. It is a canvas that can be painted as time goes by. It is not one of those “paint by numbers” kind of canvas but one that is free form. In our chase for the ideal world, we get lost in our own dreams and our own wishes. At one point we may even have gotten obsessed. But at what cost?

On my personal reflection, it has been a mixture of uncertainty. On one hand, I have always believed that I am raising Matthew into a strong-willed, brave and kind-hearted boy. An ideal boy who will not look out of place on a billboard showing off the best kid in the world. However, on that journey, I may have used fear instead respect, I may have used anger instead of care. I may have been seeing what I wanted to see but I may not have heard what my son was saying to me. It is this kind of paradoxical thinking that has led me to this uncertain train of thought. It is not a cry of madness. It is a deeper understanding of the world that is revolving around me. And I think that it has done me good. Hopefully, I now see and hear what the future of the canvas will bring.

Dad-borg
Dad-borg

Of course, the only way to find out is to go right out and ask Matthew how I am doing. And now should be as a time as any.

So far, so good.

It’s been a month now since we started in secondary school. And it has already been a ride. Back when I was in secondary school, all I had to do was pass primary 6 with decent enough marks and that was it. My school then had both primary and secondary so there was no additional criteria to get into secondary school. Well, all that calm was thrown out the window when we brought Matthew in for school in Singapore.

The PSLE is behind us now and it was a memorable journey that one would like to forget sooner rather than later. But no sooner than it had been forgotten that we were now thrown into a new learning journey. Apparently, just getting into the school of your child’s choice was just the beginning.

We managed to get Matthew into one of the schools that he chose after getting his PSLE results. His first choice. Choosing the school was one thing, choosing to be in one stream or the other was a different thing. We were one of those that had the option of choosing to go on the express stream or the normal stream. The main difference (for us at least) is choosing to complete secondary school in four years or five. That was our deciding factor, although the technicalities are far more complicated than that.

When school started, we were informed about having to choose our son’s Co-Curricular Activity. Another one of those technicalities that he would have to live with throughout his years in secondary school. One thing that I appreciated was the open house that gave us parents (and our kids) an opportunity to make an informed decision when choosing the CCA. Getting in to your CCA of choice though, is once again a different matter. That would mostly depend on the child’s willingness to be a part of that CCA. That meant tryouts and interviews. With time and choices limited, Matthew only had a chance to go to 2 tryouts. He could have gotten 3 if he was not so sick that week but health is the choice we took. After another week of waiting, it was finally revealed that he would be attending Military Band. So yes, we were like – speechless.

—–

We have had a great many weeks so far. Matthew has adjusted well to his new friends and new school. He has also gotten along well with his teachers and his studies. He and math still don’t get along quite as we would like, but he is getting there. This improvement in his school-life balance thus far, is being achieved by a little bit of work from him, us – parents and thankfully, the school itself. Honestly, we are very happy with how the school is looking after these rascals -err- pre-teens. After all, kids would be spending more time in school these days than at home. And for the school to reach out and work hand in hand with the parents is a good sign that they are after the well being of the child.

Intelligence, after all, can be taught and learned. It is the foundation of a child’s mental and emotional well being that would allow them to make decisions that would help them grow to be the person that they want to be. We can only hold their hands so far to guide them. They would be starting their own journey sooner than any of us realize.

But so far, so good.

A Coming of Age

Life is good!
Life is good!

Time has definitely passed me by.

It took some time before I realized that Matthew is now in secondary school. Or did it take some time before I accepted the fact that Matthew is now in secondary school? It just doesn’t feel like it at home. I’m not complaining though. Because at home, he still gives us hugs and kisses. He still asks us to open jars, wrap his books and find his spectacles. His room is still always a mess and his hair is still mostly unkempt. He still forgets everything and he still does not have a care in the world. He did grow up a bit in some way. It is no longer milestones but you could still say that the changes are mild improvements. He no longer wants us to give him baths for one thing (although I still need to drag him out of bed in the morning). He has his own choices when it comes to clothing him (preferring -ehem- to be comfortable at the expense of looking like a rag doll). He eats most of his food now if he likes it (it still takes him an hour to do so). And other little changes here and there.

I keep having to remind myself that he is twelve now. A pre-teen. And probably the start of even more headaches and heartaches. Sometimes I think about asking my parents how I was like when I was twelve, but they will probably only say that “I had been a handful but a good kid nonetheless”. It’s like those random psychology tests that you get asked on Facebook. The results are always answers so vague that you think that you already knew them all along. To be honest, Matthew does not really like being compared to anyone, including me. From time to time he would point out things that he has been doing that is similar to what we have done before (based on stories that we have already shared). But directly comparing what he is doing to others is a big no-no. What I’m afraid of though, is if he becomes more of a handful than I had been when I was his age.

 

I don’t want to think about the negatives because there will always be bad stuff with the good stuff. After all, balance is the key. It is a bit difficult writing about life only when there is absolute good in it. Because honestly, everybody has their good days and their bad days. There may come a change in the way this blog moves forward from here on in. I will still try and balance writing about things that can be discussed and of course keep things that are private, well, private. We’ll see how things go along this year and the coming years. Fingers crossed.

A Merry kind of Christmas and a Happy kind of New Year

Hello 2018! (from Matthew)
Hello 2018!

When I was younger, my memories of Christmas was a day that had always been celebrated with family. And we had a big enough family back when everyone was more or less younger. We would go to Christmas mass either on the eve of the 25th or early morning on Christmas day. Us kids would then go around to our grandparents houses where Christmas parties would be celebrated (it was a time to get re-acquainted with our cousins and aunties and uncles). There would be party games such as “bring me” and “make the longest line”. There are times that we would have programs as well (but that was very rare). And of course, Christmas parties would not be complete without exchanging presents. Throughout the years, people grew older and traditions started to disappear. I’m just glad that I could recall those memories because life was simpler back then and happiness could be served with just a smile.

We tried offering the same memories with Matthew now onboard. And with life away from “home”, we felt like we had never had a real tradition that we followed. We were more like “go with the flow” kind of people. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes our lives a lot easier to control when we don’t have to trouble ourselves too much with things that people say need to be for feeling Christmas. And so we make our own rules. Sometimes we are in the Philippines with family, and sometimes our family are with us here in Singapore. As long as there is love, it is pretty much Christmas to us.

This year is no different. We would wing it, like usual.

We didn’t have Christmas Noche Buena this year (for those who do not celebrate as such, it is having a celebratory dining at midnight). We were planning on having Christmas ham and assorted cheese board and maybe some drinks. Instead, we had an early Christmas dinner with healthy servings of meat, bacon and eggs at Wild Honey. We had a feast and only the Christmas songs in the background gave a hint of the season. We didn’t watch the animated Rudolph or Santa Claus movies that were Christmas favorites on the eve (for children anyway). Instead, we were watching Star Trek. In fact, we were so hooked watching that we didn’t even see Santa come in and drop off his gifts. We opened our presents after the movie and had a good sharing of hugs and laughs and love. And then we hit the sack like potatoes. Yup, we were dead weight by the time Christmas had come.

We do hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas. Happy birthday, Jesus!

Unlike our Christmas, our New Year didn’t quite pan out. Maybe it was because we were all tired (my sister and her family were here for a visit), or maybe we weren’t really that hyped up about new year celebrations anymore. Whichever the case may be, we had our dinner between early and late, keeping it somewhere between evening and midnight. Matthew had initially complained since he seemed to have wanted to welcome the new year. Still, our dinner was warm and cozy. An assortment of cheese and ham and just the right amount of sparkling drink to cap off 2017.

There were no firecrackers or loud noises. There were no door knocking and greeting your neighbours a happy new year (it was another old tradition with the family). There were no sparklers or poppers. It was a quiet and seemingly uneventful evening. It was just us and the rainy welcome of 2018.

On that note, there are things to do and a lot of improvement has to be made (both personally and in the world). I’m hoping to get the momentum going early on so that it picks up speed and eventually run us off the ground for take off.

Happy New Year to everyone. May 2018 bring about realities to our wishes and dreams!

Twelve

November 24. Matthew’s birthday. As always, it’s a wee bit more special than any other day.

Twelve
Twelve

The days leading to his birthday was actually quiet and uneventful. I’m not sure if there was something brewing on the back of his head that he just wasn’t telling me or if I was just being paranoid. But it was nice to get to his birthday without worrying about a party or a day trip. And as it turned out, I was just being paranoid and Matthew did not secretly plan on taking over the world. Instead of cake (that we would probably not finish), we bought some cupcakes and candles to celebrate his birthday. We handed him his presents and that was it. The rest of the day played out like a normal day. Except maybe for that trip that we had to make to the school. Because his birthday also happened to be the day that the PSLE results came out.

 

PSLE stands for primary school leaving exam. I have my opinions and views of the PSLE like every parent with their kid/s taking the test. I will, however, keep my opinion to myself as this isn’t really about the PSLE, but Matthew’s day.

Thankfully, the school that Matthew was coming from had a 100% passing rate for PSLE this year. We just considered it as a birthday present for him. On the back of the results, we had a deal with him. The deal we made was agreed on the week before the tests. His results would give him the chance to ask for something that he really, really wanted and there would be no questions asked. I still had to bring his wishes down to more manageable levels before we made the pact of course (seriously, he doesn’t need both a PS4 and a Switch). And once all parties were happy, we spat on our hands and shook on it. Okay, so we didn’t spit on our hands because that’s kind of a bit gross. But we did have an agreement and we were going to honor the deal on that day. So by the end of his birthday day, he was an even happier kid with a brand new handheld console (sorry bud, you didn’t get the top prize. but it was never about the prizes, it was all about giving your best).

We continued the celebration the next day by going out more and eating out more. Sometimes, just spending time with the people you love is enough to make it a celebration. And that’s what we did. We walked. We ate. We laughed. We joked. We irritated each other. We made fun of each other. We had a good time. Yes, some of our jokes hit below the belt. And maybe you wouldn’t understand that it’s just a joke if you don’t know us, but believe us, we can be annoying and irritating and still end up laughing and loving each other more.

Matthew, your journey has just begun.