In less than two weeks I will be in Japan in a place that I have never visited with a clear mission in mind. After all of these months studying Japanese I want to have the chance to use as much Japanese as I possibly can and listen, read and absorb Japanese for a week out of my normal life. I am flying to Osaka and I will be there from Thursday through Thursday. In order to put myself into Japanese speaking situations I have some concrete plans. For three nights I am going to stay with a Japanese family and eat dinner together with them. Some people I was telling about thought that I would be too old and set in my ways for a home stay but that is to miss the point of my trip. I want to experience as much of the real Japan and what better way can there be than to experience life in a family home.
That part of the trip will give me an opportunity to speak Japanese whatever happens but I will spend the first three days a hotel. On these days I want to see the sights but I am thinking of activities like maybe a cycling tour that involve interacting with different people. I was also checking out language exchange meetings in the city so maybe I can get to some meetings. Of course I will also be trying to hit cosy restaurants where I might get to exchange a few words with the staff. Basically my mission will mean that I have to be a lot more outgoing than I am naturally. That’s one of the reasons I am going somewhere new. Even though I am hardly a Tokyo connoisseur, the fact that I have been there quite a few times means I am more ‘home’ there and the more accustomed I am to a place the less likely I am to do anything outside my comfort zone. So I will be flying blind, it will be a language adventure and I will have the chance to really use all of the Japanese I only really get to use with my teachers and language exchange partners.
At the end of the quadrennial sports binge a.k.a the olympics the focus turns towards rhythmic gymnastics (at least for those who are inclined to watch). The complex was sold out for the individual qualifiers yesterday so the sport definitely has appeal. We have been watching it on an NOS live-stream because it doesn’t make the regular broadcasts on Dutch television (which is no surprise as all gymnastics funding in Holland goes to artistic gymnastics and even that was kicked off the main channel when hockey matches were being played). Rhythmic gymnastics is visually appealing but the scoring system is far too complex for a regular audience to understand and even for a jury there are too many possible deductions to make for a transparent points total. From that point of view artistic gymnastics is easier to follow. Interestingly the pirouettes which score D points in artistic would often fail to score in rhythmic because of loss of balance. In a sense the rhythmic sport is reducing its appeal by having so many ifs and buts in the Code of Points.
We were very keen for Luna (and Nadia) now to do as well as they could in rhythmic. Luna did get to the number 2 position nationally for her age group this year but the lack of international development opportunities is definitely undermining her long-term growth potential. After girls start secondary school many do drop out of the sport. That is partly natural attrition but not having a national training centre is a big deterrent for talented girls to keep going like they do in other countries like Canada and even in tiny Ireland.
Earlier this year Luna got a chance with two of her RG friends to take part in a television show. It was a difficult task as the girls and their trainer had so many other commitments. They worked through injuries and tiredness to develop a ‘television-friendly’ routine. On this talent show, called ‘Superkids’, different children get to show their special talents. For dancers or musicians or jugglers there is less that needs changing but pure rhythmic gymnastics was not what they were looking for so our girls did a lot to adapt to the demands. It was all a long time ago now (certainly in a child’s life) but the broadcasts of the show will begin in September. It’s exciting for all of our family.
It will be great to see the girls on television but watching the olympics and seeing gymnasts from weaker countries get the chance to perform on the greatest stage I feel a sense of frustration with the choices that the Dutch sports system has made. They only support sports where there is a chance of medals while the olympic ideal is about participation. There cannot be winners without losers and I don’t consider any gymnast anybody competing in the olympics to be a loser. No Dutch girl will ever get the chance with the current set-up in The Netherlands.
It’s an unfortunate side effect of getting away from it all and letting yourself go but the weighing scale never lies. Three weeks away has taken its toll and the damage has come in at more than two kilos. In a way I preferred when I cared less about these things but my body has become so unforgiving as I have gotten older that I need to take action quickly or before I know it the whole cycle of being overweight and hating it and feeling out of control takes over. It is hard to believe that I allowed myself to balloon in my twenties but the photos that survive show what that meant and I am not going back there.
Thankfully I lose weight almost as quickly as I put it on once I go back to a strict diet with no eating between meals. The main challenge is getting over hunger pangs in the evening but once my mind is set that’s it. I am going to Japan at the end of August so I want to have lost the excess from this last holiday before I go. It’s a challenge to switch modes and getright back into work and Japanese studies but I need to have that goal in mind. There are so many other things going on in the next few weeks to get the girls ready for school and sports. It’s time to focus, slim down, and get ready for the next challenge.
So we come to the end of the road and it’s time to fly home. We had sun on our last day in Santander and met some friends at our favourite beach (Playa del Camello). We did some packing and tidying up before walking into town for the last ‘paseo’ and shopping. We met Aga’s cousin’s family for the last time in a really busy pintxos bar called Casa Lita. There was so much choice and you could easily eat there for a week without getting bored. The walk home was longer than normal but it was nice to experience the walk up the hills for the last time on this trip. We all had a feeling of nostalgia for a place we hadn’t even left yet. The time in Santander was so special. Spain is always in my heart and now more so than ever.
In our last days in Cantabria the weather has been perfect. To be honest it’s a wonder that there are so few foreign tourists with the beaches around these parts (although there are many domestic tourists). We have adjusted our rhythms, rising later, late lunches and evening meals long after we would gave eaten at home. There is always a part of me dreading going home but another part looking forward to it just the same. Spain is definitely my favourite country and this trip has only reinforced that sentiment. Although I have spent so much time on Japanese lately my Spanish has held up well enough but I would really like to get back to it more once I have got to the level I want in Japanese. On this holiday I gave done quite a bit of Japanese study so that is something that I can just keep doing on my return because the next trip us to the land of the rising sun.
The ubiquity of Netflix is a big bonus now when you are on holidays. No more being restricted to a few local channels and BBC World, the Netflux shop remains open. We have been watching documentaries on the usual suspects – obesity, relationships, child psychology. One US documentary called ‘The Mask You Live In’ has been thought-provoking because it’s all about the hyper-masculine male stereotypes that boys are growing up to conform to. What I find very interesting is that I can never remember finding any of the superheroes or macho characters in films to be role models. I guess that I missed something in my life because many of the people I admire are women and it makes me sad to think that boys are only ‘supposed’ to have male heroes. If I think of the men I have admired the most in the world – Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, Peter Høeg and their ilk – they are all men who have done many creative things and used their talent to inspire people. The whole male/female dichotomy is limiting and pointless, ultimately it’s about being a good person and not about the kind of man or woman you are.
Yesterday we went to Aga’s cousin’s home in a village outside Santander called Escobedo de Camargo. The people we have met here have been so kind and friendly. A really nice and funny friend gave us a lift out there and although the weather was poor the atmosphere was really nice. They prepared a barbecue with some of the tastiest meats you could imagine including fresh lamb from farm next door and tuna that had been caught on a line in the Cantabrian Sea the day before. There was a real mix of languages and it was so nice to listen to rapid-fire Spanish in one ear and Polish in the other. Ironically I am more confident speaking Polish because I do it so often but my Spanish vocabulary is way bigger. I did speak some Spanish but sometimes it was easier to converse in English. It’s something I see a lot now, it’s very hard to have a situation that you speak Spanish/French/Japanese etc. better and more confidently than a person who uses English regular for work or socially. The only way to bridge the gap is to spend more time speaking the target language, preferably in the target country. There was one friend at the barbecue who was very interested in languages and she told me some interesting things about her knowledge of Basque and other language environments. The Spanish people are so warm and genuine around children, you can see how they put the needs of children first in a way that I am not used to. At the barbecue they organized games for the children like abseiling down the side if the house, skipping games and a tug of war. It was pretty amazing to see that. All in all it was a really lovely day and Aga’s cousin Kasia and her family have been so kind that they have helped make our time in Santander unforgettable.
Today was a different day because our three angels were picked up in the morning so that they could go to spend a night at their aunt’s house. The weather was bad so we devoted the day to food. We visited two different places for lunch and dinner where they had the casita’s serving pinxtos and a drink (for 2.50!). The evening session was better because we understood the system better, which casita had a star item and some of them were divine including dim sum and one with crunchy chicken, vegetables and a curry sauce. At lunch we had meatier ones like a black pudding one and small hamburgers. We had a nice time downtown and finished with monster ice creams at the heladoria before coming back to our very quiet piso without las angelitas.