We had a pretty low-key Easter Sunday at the Bright house yesterday. My niece, Laniah showed up in her pretty pink dress and cardigan and the munchkin was READY to hunt for eggs.
Dad had hidden them in and around the plants in the front yard. NiNi enjoyed the hunt, but was a little timid to stick her hands into some of the shrubs. She hates ants and bugs and was fearful that either was going to mistakenly crawl onto her hand.
After her bee/beetle/lady bug eggs (they were really cute) had been found, we went inside where she opened them all up to find candy, coins and dollars and in her giant eggs, a pink cuddly bunny, a new outfit and some summer sandals.
Merry Christmas! I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday with your family and friends. Coming home this month was really good timing, I think. Most folks are in holiday mode, not a lot of work is getting done, and it seems more than appropriate to just chill out this month than to worry too much about getting settled in and what not.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been home for Christmas. During the five years in Japan, I was home just once. It was a lesson learned, as the airports were ridiculous (especially LAX) and most people were too busy with holiday plans to squeeze in a visit. After that year, I either traveled or simply stayed in Japan and prepared for the New Year.
After I returned from Japan, I spent Christmas of 2007 here in San Diego. But by the next year, I was off in Vietnam and spent the last two in Hanoi.
My parents love the holiday and they decorate the front yard with lots of lights and winter scenes. We have penguins sledding down the 2nd story balcony, an ensemble of critters riding a holiday ferris wheel, little snowmen lining the grass and a big polar bear wishing you a happy holiday.
The inside of the house is also decked out with fake snow in the living room and lots of Christmas critters, which NiNi finds fun to play with. One day, she determined that the Christmas bear was hungry. And so my parents helped her put some cookies in front of the bear. When she wasn’t looking, my dad took a bite out of the cookies. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that the bear could eat!
One of my other favorite things about Christmas is the cooking and baking. I’ve baked dozens and dozens of cookies this year and tonight we enjoyed the lasagna I usually make for the occasion. I love being in the kitchen, but have eaten far too many cookies already! They are too yummy!
But by far, the favorite part of the evening was watching my niece open her presents. She’s 2 1/2 and very expressive. Her first present was an zebra print track suit of sorts. She opened it up and exclaimed, “OOooooh! An outift! I LOVE it!” And then she held it up and showed us all and did that little wiggle that little kids do when they are happy, excited and can hardly contain themselves.
I’m glad I made it back in time for the festivities. I hope I started a new tradition of being here instead of missing it all!
Of all the people I missed while I was away, this tiny little one made my heart ache the most. I could occasionally see my niece, LaNiah on skype when she was with my folks, but she couldn’t quite figure out why I was trapped in the computer and often did not want to talk to me via the screen.
I was glad that when she first saw me that she had not forgotten me and that she quickly warmed up to me. She is full of personality, loves to play tag, can’t be without her juice and loves to color, go to the park and watch Wow Wow Wubbzy. We all look forward to her visits, can’t get enough hugs and kisses and simply adore this little one. And how could you not? She’s such a cutie patootie!
About the photo: While she’s not in one of her princess gowns, she is bundled up for unusually cold weather in San Diego. I love her fierce grip on her sippy cup. She’s ready to rumble (aka go to the grocery store with Papa)!
I’ve mentioned before how lucky I am to live in the home that I do. I have a two bedroom apartment and the landlords are just about the nicest people I have met in Vietnam.
Both of their sons, Trung and Duc study and speak English. Trung has served as the liaison between the tenants and his parents. I’ve enjoyed the handful of times they’ve invited me into their home to have a meal, chat about their schooling or my lack of a husband, and other significant topics.
Trung is 23 years old and he seeks a better opportunity to speak English fluently and to gain international experience. So he’s signed up with a program in Australia and Deakin University. In order to send their son to Australia, Mr. & Mrs. Phan have moved out of the two-story apartment in the building and enclosed the downstairs, ground-floor area which is not really set up for living. Prior to being their apartment, this was the motorbike parking. It had been set-up with gas and water connections, but I would never anticipate the area being walled-up to serve as an apartment.
Trung’s parents will live in this one-room apartment for two years while he’s in school. I’ve already had the conversation with Trung about the sacrifice his parents are making for him. I’m in such awe and admiration that they would sacrifice so much to further his education. They are truly wonderful parents!
Today Trung left for Melbourne. I saw the family for a bit last night after I returned from my trip to Bangkok. I met up with them again this morning to take photos and say goodbye to Trung. Tonight when I came home, the family had their front door open and I said hello. Duc recounted that many family members went to the airport with Trung and everyone cried upon his departure. Mr. Phan still had tears in his eyes, but said that he was ok. To me, he just looked like a loving father full of pride. Same look you’d find in any father anywhere in the world who was able to provide the same for their son. So touching.
Duc is researching exchange programs in America. He starts his senior year in high school in September. If anyone knows of a good exchange program he could participate in, please let me know in the comments or via email. I’m happy to see this family so eager to provide a good education for their kids!
Trung – you have an amazing support system here in Hanoi. Keep in touch, keep us posted and make your mother and father even more proud than they already are! We all miss you already!!!
(Trung is in the green shirt)
The group of friends in this picture is the group I used to teach on Wednesday nights. I only taught them for one year, but we became so close and traveled often. It was with this group that I took a lot of road trips in Japan. They even teased me on this visit how I don’t fall asleep in the car, but have wide eyes and look out the window (little do they know I’ve been that way all my life – ask my parents!).
With them, I saw the amazing thatched roof houses in Shirokawa, a much more rural part of Kyoto, went tonbodama hunting in Osaka and visited the old postal towns of Tsumago and Magome. We also had a cooking exchange; they loved the Mexican food I made for them!
With a jam-packed schedule for this visit, we had just one evening together. We organized a home party at Katsumi and Setsuko’s, the place where we used to gather for our class. I made guacamole, or as the Japanese love to call it, “avocado food.” Everyone made tasty dishes and Katsumi made sure there was plenty of beer!
I was, again, pretty surprised how much Japanese I remembered. They had lots of questions about my work and life in Vietnam. And for whatever I couldn’t say in Japanese (I can’t get too technical about what I do in Sales & Marketing….my Japanese definitely doesn’t cover that!), I used the white board. You would be amazed how pictures, even poorly drawn ones, help in getting your point across.
The next day, they drove me to the train station, and I’ll tell ya, all these terrific visits made it so hard to say ‘mata ne’ again. This is a special group of friends and I have missed them very much. It was wonderful to see them again!
Kanpai! – Katsumi, Michi, Setsuko, Machi, Emiko and Yuko. I love them!
My group of friends in Fukuroi are super special to me. I taught at their school only for two terms, but created such a close bond with them. They are such a fun group, and it was because of them that I became such a devoted soccer fan (we went to many games together). It was also because if them that I met my crush, the goalie Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.
Little Rieko is the teacher who was my partner in the classroom, and she is, by far, one of the most energetic people I know. She’s so small, but has the personality as big as 10 people! WIth her help, I was able to meet my Fukuroi friends, as well as my former and fabulous boss, Suzuki Sensei. Ozawa Sensei, one of my favorite and funny friends, also came along. Both Suzuki and Ozawa live and work now near Fukuroi. So glad we were able to coordinate it all!
Koyama Sensei is the former school principal of the elementary school I taught at. He is the one who pushed for me to meet the soccer star and also the organizer of our Fukuroi Fireworks party. He’s now retired. He’s also a light drinker. He has one beer, gets a little sleepy and then drinks cola for the rest of the night. We all have no shame and tease him endlessly for not being a strong drinker. He is such a good sport!
You can see some of my friends in Fukuroi, starting with this picture HERE. What a great night it was, and like all my other groups of friends, so fun to see them!
A few of my Fukuroi friends. – I only worked with these teachers for a school year, but remained good friends and went to many soccer games together.