A Day in Naha

We woke up this morning to news of a big earthquake in Anchorage. All our friends and family are OK, with minor damage to property. As far as we know right now, there are no reports of fatalities nor serious injuries. It’s a world away to us right now, but we’ve seen pictures of huge damage to roads and bridges, shops and houses. Sending love and good wishes to all in Alaska.

Liquor store in Anchorage

We took a gentle stroll to nearby Fukushuen Garden. Naha and Fouzhou in China, are two close and similar cities bonded by friendship that share ties of amicability. BFFs, in modern parlance. The garden has many interesting Chinese features, including a pair of pagodas that are modelled on Fouzhou’s twin pagodas.

Mount Ye and the Pavilion of Ye

Pavilion of Ye, waterfall and rainbow bridge
I thought this was a negative too, at first
Cheers!
Hobbitses live here

The entrance fee was ridiculously cheap: the equivalent of about £1.40. You have to wonder, how can they maintain the gardens with such a small income? Or, conversely, what do gardens in England do with all the money from their (relatively) extortionate entrance fees?

One of two enormous Chinese vases, behind glass

We fed the turtles. Well, we tried, but they’re just not as fast as the fish. If a turtle doesn’t grab a pellet of food within a microsecond, a big, greedy carp comes right up and devours it. We watched the heron too, wondering if it has its eyes on a fish supper. It walked silently from rock to rock, a ballerina en pointe, its eyes gazing a gazely stare into the water, but there was no bird on fish action. Liesel was just grateful there were no baby ducks on the menu, like that day in St James’s Park!

Turtles v carp: ¥100 for a box of carpfood

We wandered home, ate, read and wondered what to do on our final day here in Naha. As I write, it’s just gone midday and mainly we’re just sorting stuff out, a prelude to packing tomorrow morning. Not very exciting, I know.

This is more interesting

This is very pretty… we need Shazam for flowers. Or, alternatively, we could just take notes from the captions by the plants in the garden.

Anchors Aweigh

All good things come to an end. I will miss my all but daily trips to Kaladi Brothers Coffee shops. I don’t think I’ve visited all possible branches, but I’ve been to quite a few!

On the way back home on Sunday afternoon, I noticed how bald the trees are now. They were green when we arrived, yellow for a while and now devoid of all foliage.

Naked trees

Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon joined us for dinner one more time. It reinforced how hard it will be to move on.

That, plus we’d chatted with Martha and William on Whatsapp (and Jenny and Liam to a lesser extent) earlier; and on this day, William’s 11th month birthday, the slippery slope to homesickness beckoned for the first time, really.

Lovely William

On our last full day in Alaska, we started packing. We’re still tryig to travel light but somehow our bags are now heavier than they used to be! I have a couple of new shirts, but I did throw away a holey, bloody pair of socks (blood from small stone burrowing into my heel).

Liesel had her final appointment with the physiotherapist who showed me the spot on Liesel’s back where I can poke and prod in an effort to ease her discomfort. (By spot, I mean the location an inch to the right of Liesel’s sacral shelf, not an actual spot, although there is a nearby freckle to help guide me.)

We visited Amy and her folks Wayne and Cathy one last time. This was another emotional parting.

After another spell of packing (here’s a tip: refolding items and rotating them doesn’t reduce their weight), we went to see the boys one last time. Amongst other things, we grown-ups discussed whether the boys should be allowed to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I don’t know, all I could remember was the song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. We also mentioned the the larger-than-life character Mr Creosote who came to grief in The Meaning of Life. Could such a person really exist?

Again, saying goodbye was hard but they, and Anchorage, will still be there, and we hope they visit us in England one day (hint, hint).

Jodi, Gideon, Aaron, Asa
Klaus and Leslie

In the evening, we joined Una, Phil and Kiran at Seoul Casa. As the name implies (does it?) this is a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant. The kimchi-rito was a very fat burrito with cabbage and tofu and very nice but again, too much for this Englsih stomach.

Seoul Casa

Another sad but fond farewell. We’re going to miss the people and places of Anchorage but, let’s be positive, we are continuing our adventure for several more months and that can only be a good thing.

We rose at sparrowfart Tuesday morning for our early flight to Seattle. I finished my packing just in time before Klaus and Leslie drove us to the airport. The final emotional goodbye but we soon forgot about that when we entered the airport.

We used a machine to check in. It knew about Liesel but not about me. So we had to go to a desk and get help. There, we were told how busy it was, the security queue was miles long and we only had ten minutes! Holy moly. Because we’d checked in at different desks, we were seated ten rows apart. I was randomly given TSA Pre-check status so I went striaght to the front of the security queue while ordinary people such as Liesel waited and waited and waited.

We made the flight ok, and we were both in the middle seat of our respective rows. The other day, we found out that airline etiquette says that if you’re in the middle seat, you have the right to use both armrests. But guess who I was sitting next to? That’s right: Mr Creosote. There was no way I could pull down the armrest between me and him!

We appreciated the entertainment provided by the Alaskan Air crew. The girl at the gate sang for us and the chief steward on the plane was very funny too, with her commentary, especially telling people to wait for the ‘ding’ before being allowed to stand up when the plane finished taxiing.

I read for the duration of the flight

We were a little late arriveing at Seattle and our next flight is delayed even further.

We checked in for our next flight on the only airline that I know of named after a John Wayne film: Hainan. There was a problem with my passport (I think) but I don’t know what it was, or why it took so long to check me in. Confusion between UK, EU and GBR? We don’t know whether our veggie meals are still on the system, so we’ve acquired some snacks, just in case.

We had a nice lunch at Floret, a vegetarian restaurant in the A Gates area. Don’t be put off by the fact that it looks like a wine bar. I had shepherds pie made with lentils, very nice, but not as nice as Jyoti’s dahl, of course.

So here we are, sleepless in Seattle waiting to board our flight to… wait for it… Beijing…

Basketball

Today’s afternoon walk only took me as far as KBC. The initial plan was to walk to the nearest barbershop, but it proved to be too far. If I could walk in a straight line across the international airport, it would have been a 20-minute walk. Going the long way round would take well over an hour and half. So my hair is still uncut, unkempt and certainly not making growing fast enough to give me a ponytail any time soon.

In the evening, we went to watch Kiran playing a couple of games of basketball. As we left the house, Liesel pointed out the moose. What moose, I asked, looking into the distance. That moose, said Liesel. Right by the car!

There’s a moose, loose, outside the hoose

Phil was coaching Kiran’s team and we watched from the gallery, with Una. Basketball is a very fast game, a lot more scoring than soccer, of course, and all the players were very skilful with the ball. Between the two games, Una took us to a nearby coffeeshop that shall remain nameless. No, it wasn’t the Voldemort Coffee shop.

Goal!!!
Yes, a very fast game

The venue was BHS. Not the now defunct UK chainstore, but Bartlett High School, way over on the other side of town.

The students are Bartlett Bears.

To round the evening off, Una took us to the Anchorage Ale House to watch and listen to an ’80s music covers band, I Like Robots. Really, ‘I Like Robots’ is the name of the band. (The copyrighted name for the Alaskan-based tribute band that we’re putting together is AnchoRage Against the Machine.)

I only had one beer, thanks
I Like Robots with all the best hits from the ’80s

We had a good old-fashioned singalong and had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Una’s friends, Lesley and Tina.

The place was heaving, really crowded, the music was loud, the hubbub was louder but man, was it a relief when we finally got seats! I think this is the latest we’ve been out, getting back home just before midnight. The Moon was peeping through the clouds accusingly.

Meanwhile, we’d missed the People’s Vote march in London. An estimated 700,000 people made it the second largest march ever in the UK. More people even than the total population of Alaska! No trouble, no violence, no arrests. A few weeks ago, 7,000 people attended the Leave Means Leave march and caused plenty of trouble. I hope I’m able to participate if there is a second referendum, especially if the option to remain in the EU is included.

Over the last few days, I’ve caught up on a few radio programmes and podcasts. Highlights include Danny Baker talking to Sir Bernard Cribbins and playing Right Said Fred by Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford! Who knew? And the now award-winning podcast Fortunately! with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, which you sometimes have to listen to through your fingers.

Bear Trouble

It was a long walk to the nearest Post Office, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t check before I left the house. So I ended up walking three sides of a long thin rectangle rather than along the fourth, short side.

Actual Sunflowers (and yes, that dog did bark at me)
This is where boots grow

Not that I’m complaining about long walks. I also spent some time looking for 100% cotton socks in a couple of department stores. I don’t think they exist in Anchorage and yes, I should have ordered them from eBay a few weeks ago.

Arty farty photo of the day, taken in downtown Anchorage:

One building reflected in another

A couple of people have commented on my addiction to Kaladi Brothers Coffee shops. Yes, I’ve been a few times, it’s very nice coffee, thanks. But it’s a bit much when even the phone comments on the frequency of my visits:

My phone knows my habits

One night after finally persuading the boys to get ready for bed, Asa came out and said it might be a good idea to practice his cello. Liesel and I looked at each other and said, yes of course, dear, 9.30pm is the ideal time to play a loud musical instrument while your young brother’s trying to get to sleep. (We didn’t say that.)

It’s Hallowe’en season and there are some scary sights around town. This chap is just down the road form us:

Ooh, spooky!

We took Asa and Gideon out to buy costumes and I can confirm, they look just as scary with their outfits as they do without! We went to a Chinese restaurant as Gideon wanted Mongolian beef. Mongolian beef but without the green stuff, which we learnt was onions. In his excitement, he knocked a large glass of water, with ice, off the table.

Thursday was Alaska Day, a day off work for Leslie, so she and Liesel went shopping. I had a massage and walked back home. Asa went to a school dance, but didn’t stay too long because it was boring: all the boys chatting on one side of the room and all the girls on the other. Some things don’t change with the passing years. Asa and Gid stayed with their grandparents: there was no school the following day, so Liesel and I were able to tidy up Jodi and Aaron’s house in peace.

On Tuesday, a black bear had demolished part of the fence in Mom and Dad’s back garden. No photos, but the neighbours heard the sound and saw the bear not going over the fence, not going under the fence, but pushing the fence over and going through the gap. By Friday, the fence had been repaired. In England, we’d still be waiting for a man to come round and look at it it and then wait several weeks for the actual repair.

On Friday night, Asa had a sleepover with a friend. The rest of us stayed at Mom and Dad’s: by this time Liesel and I had tidied the boys’ house and done all the laundry.

It was interesting living ‘downtown’ for a week, but it was a lot noisier than being close to Kincaid Park. Apart from the nearby airport, of course.

So here we are. It’s our final weekend in Alaska. The snow continues to settle further and further down the mountains. I think we’ll be flying out of Anchorage before it lands on us, but I don’t think the city will be free of snow for too much longer.

Chugach mountains with the ever descending termination line

We’re confidant it will be warmer in Japan and we’re looking forward to being in a totally different cultural setting for a few weeks. Our only contact in Tokyo hasn’t responded, so we’ll be on our own. Our main concerns are getting by without speaking more than a couple of words of Japanese and in my case, keeping to a vegetarian diet. It’ll be an adventure but it is a little scary, especially compared with the last few months here in Anchorage, in the bosom of friends and family! I think that’s the first time I’ve used the word ‘bosom’ in this blog.

Apropos of nothing at all, here is the car number plate of the day:

Blymee o’Riley

Crabs

A few more-relaxed days while Asa and Gideon are at school. We’re into our final week here in Anchorage and so we have been planning our trip to Japan. We? A million thanks to Liesel who has been so much more pro-active in this respect.

I walked around the neighbourhood a couple of times, even though it was drizzling slightly.

No idea what inspired this bike rack design

We watched Star Wars on TV, Chapter 4, ie, the first one made but later enhanced with more special effects. I particularly enjoyed the ‘ding’ sound when the startrooper bangs his head on the door frame, definitely not in the initial release.

We had lunch with Amrit and her husband Siri. He’s a retired teacher and has spent a year demolishing a house and recycling anything that could be reused.

Liesel, Amrit, Siri

We ran a few administrative errands in town under cover of battle grey clouds. In fact, I was reminded of chilly, grey, cloudy November days at home. In food news, we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I think those two statements might be related.

Pizza: we each customised our own pizza. We? I am indebted to Liesel who made mine perfectly!

In wildlife news, I saw some crabs in Sagaya, a nearby supermarket with, by luck, a Kaladi coffee bar.

They’ve got crabs

In sailing news, here are some yachts correctly sailing with the wind.

The boats on the post go round and round…

And in gardening news, this is a great idea and a great pun!

Garden of Weedin’
One bed per gardener
How to make a boring fence look attractive

Homework

Gideon went to a birthday party where the highlight seems to have been consuming a whole bowl of pilfered Doritos! Kids, eh?

Asa went for a bike ride, something we weren’t too keen on: suppose he got kidnapped by a bear? Liesel and I went for a walk with the dog. It’s alway great exploring a new city, you’re always finding new things. I didn’t know about the Martin Luther King memorial until today.

Dr King
Hmmm, food for thought

The snow on the mountains is a few more inches lower down. It’s now officially a race: does the snow reach Anchorage before we leave? Or will we have to beg, borrow, buy or steal snow shoes? Watch this space!

Icing sugar sprinkled on a slightly stale and chopped up chocolate sponge cake

Another thing you don’t expect to see in the city centre, a long way from the railroad, is No 556, an S-160 class locomotive. It was one of 2,300 locomotives built for the US Army in 1944. They lacked the typical steam engine domes because many were sent to Europe where the bridges and tunnels were much lower than in America.

Funny place to park a steam engine

No 556 was built in 1943 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania. They were stripped down for war action and acquired the nickname ‘Gypsy Rose Lee’ locomotives, after the famous striptease, burlesque dancer.

In the evening, we watched Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark on TV. Asa and Gid played video games where far too much was going on for us old farts to keep up with. Learning to use the X-box controller really is, for us, beyond rocket science. We happily accepted that Gid had no homework and that Asa had finished all his.

Sunday morning, Gideon played a couple more games of Futsal. In the afternoon, while Asa was having his cello lesson, Gideon and I went to a nearby school where we had a go at soccer.

Calm down, girls, but these are the socks I was ‘encouraged’ to wear. With shin guards that flew out whenever I kicked the ball.

Cool socks

I displayed limited ball skills, but it’s fair to say, my goal-keeping days are well over: mainly because I didn’t want to get my clothes dirty by diving onto mud where the grass used to be.

Gideon’s drop-kicking is very good

But he really is good with the ball, and this was a good way to pass an hour while Asa was bowing away.

We happily accepted that Gid had no homework and that Asa had finished all his, so we went to the movies and the choice today was Goosbumps 2: Haunted Halloween. It was very funny, scary in a cartoony way and I think the boys liked it!

Can’t wait to see this film in December

Back at home, Asa revealed the Time Capsule that he’d made for his project. Fallen Autumn leaves stuck to an oak chest with real mammoth blood.

Time capsule to be opened in 2118

Then, an hour bedtime, Asa realised that he did have more homework to do, after all. Kids, eh?

Once upon a time, a man went into the car registration service center. The clerk asked him “What would you like your six-character number plate to be?” The customer thought about it for a long time, umming and ahhing. The clerk got fed up with waiting.

Mmmmmm

Socktober

A very lazy morning: I ate breakfast while messing up a Sudoku puzzle. In the afternoon, I walked to the coffee shop and back, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the cold. It’s borderline right now: too cold without a jacket, too warm with it.

Jewel Lake branch

It’s Socktober: a campaign to donate socks to homeless people. Elsewhere it’s Inktober, a challenge for artists all around the world to draw an ink picture every day and post it online. And it’s Stoptober, the campaign in England to help people give up smoking. But I like Socktober as a word…

Socktober

After dinner, we went to Aaron and Jodi’s. They were packing for their trip to New Orleans. Asa and Gideon went to bed after we watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Conchords on TV.

Gideon likes to go to Campfire, the big breakfast party at school. Which is fine, except that it starts at half past seven. Far too early for civilised people. Liesel drove him while I stayed behind to look after Asa, who then walked to school on his own.

Liesel had another physio appointment and we walked there as it’s not too far from the house. We took the dog, Zipper with us, and while Liesel was being treated, Zipper and I found the coastal trail. Zipper pulled a lot and sniffed everything. I didn’t.

Someone had a placard in their front yard which I thought was quite sad.

The caption speaks for itself

After meeting up with Liesel again, we walked home via a baker slash coffee shop that we’d been to before: Fire Island: On the way, we passed dear old Star, the reindeer. Not the same Star that was here before, apparently. Like the good Doctor, Star regenerates every few years.

Star the Reindeer

It’s a pity he, she or it has to be behind such a dense fence though, with just a small area of dirty perspex to look through.

Ain’t nobody gonna get outta here

But we did like this park bench, seemingly inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Front porch bench project

At Fire Island, we had a second, late breakfast.

In the evening, we took Gideon to play Futsal. He and his team wear the red shirts of England, hooray! It’s an indoor version of soccer, similar to 5-a-side football that I was no good at, at school. The indoor court is probably about the same size as a basketball court. The ball is smaller and less bouncy than a soccer ball and the goals are smaller too. But there are still five players on a team.

Klaus and Leslie met us there to look after the boys while Liesel and I went out for a Thai meal with Bob and Margot. Bob was Liesel’s boss in Anchorage until I dragged her kicking and screaming away to London. It was good to see them again, and Liesel and Bob caught up on news of many old acquaintances.

Bob and Liesel

We collected our charges from their Opa and Oma. I read Gid the first chapter of The Wolf Book after which he pretended to be asleep.

Here’s the first of today’s bonus pictures:

Registration number of the beast

My Dad had a Vauxhall Viva with the number THO666H, and you can imagine what teenage me and my sister thought of that! It was seen on TV once. No, not as a getaway vehicle on Crimewatch. More innocently, in the car park at Epsom races.

And here is the optical illusion of the day. I’ve seen it posted several times on Twitter and Facebook recently, so here it is, just so you know what you’re missing.

You want it to stop, but it won’t ….