Unpacking our baggage, the 5 week mark

5 weeks, Los Angeles, Soori Bali, Ubud Bali, Flora Sea, Komodo, Singapore, Tokyo.

Off to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Hakone, back to Tokyo, and then off to Hong Kong.

Exhausting. Exhilarating. And everything we could have hoped for.

Biggest upside surprises: Adaptation to everything. Foods, long hours, unpredictable schedules, cultural stimulation, and the genuine seamless interaction between Professor Gugick and the children.

Biggest downside surprises: Proximity. Being in close confines 24 x 7, difficulty in finding soccer fields and the ceaseless challenges that need be navigated by our rock star leader, Stacia. We salute you daily.

We're nothing without her #maman #welovestacia #worldeducation #bullettrain #Kyoto

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Culturally, Japan is simply other worldly. More on that later from the kids, in their own voices. Be it Sumo, food, cleanliness, respect, rituals, language, simplicity, and a seeming never ending parade of oddities, Japan is crazy cool.


Thus far, it seems that the teacher and student interface is completely natural. We can walk in the door and say, “school in 4 minutes”, and they jump and go (really). They genuinely like it. A lot. Frankly the only disruption is when dad sticks his nose under the tent to see what’s happening. But the truth is, Professor Arthur commands their respect, is engaged on a level beyond that for which we  hoped, and the kids adore him. Thank  GOODNESS!

Another surprise as relatively easy part has been the near daily transitions from “classroom” to “activities.” Regular “school” runs daily, from 8:30-9:00,  until 13:00, 14:00 or 16:00, depending upon availability of actionable “outside” experiences. And boy has each stop delivered experiences, from the mundane to the fascinating. Even just riding subways can be a a new experience.

Next stop , KYOTO, the former capital and cultural center of old Japan for centuries. Bullet train. We are all looking forward to this one.

Speaking of which, prior to any activity, we research the upcoming locale, read about and watch videos about the subject matter. Contextualizing as best we can in advance has provided perspective, made the visits relevant, has (nearly) eliminated whining. It also allows everyone to point to specifics we saw in the preview research, experience live, and share their knowledge. For example, the kids watched 12, two minute episodes of Sumo-Pedia (who knew that was thing)  before attending a day of matches. They got to teach me ans Stacia about the subject.

And they surely enjoy reminding me of proper etiquette while eating, for example reminding me to slurp my soup; or bring my rice bowl to my face, and not lean over. “Dad”, they’ll whisper, “you’re IN JAPAN…being rude…SO American.”

Finally, one of the best discoveries we’ve found to keep the kids informed of current events is an App called Newsela. It allows kids a daily news read on events across the spectrum of subjects, like an adult paper, based upon their interests. Sports, science, business, etc. Each section has a quick quiz, a series of questions to show reading comprehension that Arthur can monitor. And the best part, each article scales in vocabulary and sophistication depending upon the student.

So Annika, Alexander and Nicholas can all read the same article, but calibrated to their level. And Professor Arthur can move them up the difficulty scale as needed. Pretty cool, huh? It’s a winner. Check it out.

On a Wings Air and a Prayer

We are about to fly from Bima to Densapar to catch a connection. Glancing at the runway, I am watching Lion Air, Air Garuda, and Wings Air planes arriving and departing, and suddenly realized we are not In Kansas anymore. “Hmmm, are any of these the airlines in which the planes disappeared off the radar scope, never to be seen again?”, I ponder in passing.

Everything is a bit off. As we check in our many bags, I marvel at how free of possessions the Indonesians must be, given the 6 (SIX!) kilo baggage weight allowance. This doesn’t even cover the electronics allowance for the Best Buy store I carry on my back daily. Ah HA! It’s a scam. It’ a weight limit set so that every passenger has to ante up a bit more Rupiah. Done.

I look with envy at the Aussie who has a surfboard and a rucksack, that is large enough to hold only board shorts, an extra t-shirt and a toothbrush. I smile at the “change of clothes” he’s wearing, a tank top with a surfboard, looking like a joint, with a surfer on the tip, like smoke. “Looking for trouble at customs I see,” I remark, considering the strict drug laws in Indonesia. “Designed by an Indonesian”, he replies, as if this tid-bit will save him the pleasure of an impromptu strip search. “Good luck, mate”, he smiles, as we depart.

As Yoda would say, “Luck, we might need.” The baggage gets no tags at check in. Disappearing up the conveyor belt, this prompts a confused glance from Nicholas. Stacia has been asking me for a week, “Do you think there’s a difference between Lion, Garuda, and Wings?”

“Only if one of them lands in flames”, I sniff once again, hoping a splash of sarcasm shows confidence. It doesn’t.

As it turns out, there’s a method to the baggage madness. Only one plane takes off per century, and the 10:05 am to Densapar really isn’t a scheduled flight, it’s more like a suggestion. Because Annika, arms folded, has decided I’m the worst Dad in human history, I spend some quality time entertaining a skull-cap clad toddler, using the snapping gator toy that came from Miami B.I. (before Irma), courtesy of Professor Arthur.

He kept this remnant from a Spring Break trip he and I took in collage, in 1979, only to be resurrected for this trip nearly 40 years later. (THAT’s a hoarder!)

We finally hear our call over the loud (sic) errrr… mumbled speaker and stroll out the door in time to see most of our baggage being loaded into the cargo-bay. There is nothing unusual about the takeoff, or the flight, save the fine for smoking on board, which is a cool 200,000 Rupiah, or about 15 USD. I wonder if smoking a cigarette on board, and the ensuing blog post, is worth the fine and the hassle? I am reminded of our tight connection, and pass.

As I idly glance at the materials in the seat back pocket, there is an unusual bonus card I’ve never seen before. Kindly, Lion Air Group/Wings Air has provided prayers in native language, and in English, for 6 different religions.

Interesting reading. My personal favorite, was the one in Chinese language, that is special prayer so that the flight attendants arrive safely.

I look down the aisle, the entire length of the airplane, and hold up the card with a knowing nod, and smile at the flight attendant. She smiles back. I glance at Stacia and Nicholas, across the aisle, hands folded in prayer. Nicholas points out that the smiling attendant sports a seven-point attached seat belt. Prepare for impact, we joke. On approach, I refold the prayer pamphlet, and as I am placing it in the seat pocket in front of me, I suddenly freeze. It looks like this:

The Indonesian language often has repetitive words.

The video of the landing, and the consequent gratitude of a safe landing by my family, looks like this:

Namaste, dude.


The Vesuvius ExperiMentos: A Trial Run at Silly Video Making


In the spirit of beta testing the idea of making a fun video, the creatures spent a day researching the science behind the famous Mentos experiment. While learning about new subject matter, they didn’t realize they were developing their writing, public speaking skills, and general confidence through the history of the Vesuvius volcanic explosion, and the concept of making life learning fun. (A first attempt).