Smash cake and shabu shabu

The baby turned one recently and we bought a smash cake. He played around with it a bit, but he didn’t smash it like we thought he would. Surely, if we had put it out of his reach and told him not to touch it he would have tried everything to smash it with all his might.

In true birthday weekend style, the following day we went to have lunch with some family he hadn’t met before. It was in a private, tatami room at a shabu-shabu restaurant. Very Japanese set-up and quite comfortable. They even prepared a little futon for baby where he enjoyed a nice long nap while the rest of us, 11 in total, ate.

Before going to the restaurant, I didn’t really mind shabu-shabu. But I think I can now say I don’t care for it. My husband drew the same conclusion, and when I was telling another gentleman that we went to a shabu-shabu restaurant, he said he doesn’t really like it. I later asked a colleague and she didn’t like it either. Who loves shabu-shabu? How is boiling strips of unseasoned pork yourself and then eating it with sesame or citrus-based sauce so popular?

Anyway, the tempura, sashimi, mochi soup and bean paste ice cream were good, especially the soup and the ice cream.

I need to change the world

What am I doing for others? What am I doing for my community? What am I doing toward a greater good? What can I do to make the world a better place?

These are the latest questions I’m trying to answer in my quest to find my calling.


I happened upon some articles I had written in the past about some amazing people seeking to better their communities through empowerment or education.

Some of the articles were for an environmental agency and others for a development aid body. So these were people engaged in tackling issues such as waste reduction, community development, sustainability, biodiversity. The big stuff.

These people, to my memory, all seemed passionate or at least committed to what they were doing. And the necessity and impact of their work are inarguable.

So my new question is, can I find a way to serve interests outside of myself and still find great satisfaction and even enjoyment in what I do?

I think curating information and contextualizing issues and data play a huge part in arriving at solutions.

I think talking to people who are affected most by issues, talking to people who are working on solutions and presenting that information in easily digestible ways is something valuable that I’d find satisfaction in.

Wait a minute, that sounds like being a journalist, and I gave that up sometime ago. Well, maybe I have to wheel an come again. Maybe giving that up was a mistake.

I’m also convinced of the capacity of fiction to reflect the human condition and allow us a better understanding of ourselves. These days, I read more and I write more.

Maybe I’m just a wee bit closer to that elusive calling. And to at least trying to change the world.

Shock, Laughter, Pain

A few different thoughts


Today a student told me she slept for 22 hours straight over the weekend.

I thought she had made a mistake when she said she went to bed 9:00 Friday night and woke up 7:00 Saturday night. You mean Saturday morning, right? No, Saturday night, 22 hours sleeping.

I only want ten hours. How tired do you have to be to sleep for 22 hours? Now, I’m pretty tired after teaching four 90 minute classes today. And night feedings are a standard part of my life. So I generally exist in a half awake sphere. But I think I’d have to be dead, as some other students suggested, to sleep for almost an entire day.


What kind of people say ‘one stop’ on the bus? My husband asked me that over the weekend.

Cover of a Jamaica Observer magazine from a few years back.

Board a bus or taxi in Jamaica, and you might hear people say ‘one stop driva’ when they’re ready to get off. But as my husband noted, not everybody says it. Also, he said sometimes people laughed when he said it. Sometimes, he said, they asked him to repeat himself a few times.

I laughed throughout this entire story, but I am really left wondering what kind of people say ‘one stop driva’.


Saw a story about brutally raped women who were turned away from one hospital, and made to wait for an extended period at another. I almost cried. The story highlighted a number of challenges in a system that is simply under resourced.

I sometimes hesitate to read these kinds of stories but I feel reading is one small way we can honour the humanity of the victims.

Lunchtime in Tokyo

Tokyo Station

Because of uncertainty about my life’s path, I spend a fair amount of time with ‘what ifs’.

Recently, a short trip into central Tokyo gave me the opportunity to ponder a bit, what if I worked in the heart of city?

I live in Tokyo, but in what could be considered the suburbs. Where I work is even sometimes thought to be another prefecture, though it is still Tokyo.

I go in the opposite direction of the city centre at rush hour, so I’m never squeezed up against anyone, fighting to maintain the illusion of personal space by defiantly struggling to read a book or use my smartphone.

I also work in a school that’s quite removed from any commercial centre. No business district, no high rises, no lunch specials in dozens of restaurants, no lunch crowd.

The crowds I saw on my outing had mostly men wearing variations of light blue shirts and grey trousers.
Nowadays, there’s a lot of talk about increasing the number of women in the workforce.

There were many women too. Walking in pairs or small groups, the kind of causal but slightly urgent walk one assumes on a timed lunch break. Many of the women carried little bags on their forearms. The bigger, real work bags left tucked inside some drawer or locker or sitting on a desk.

Most of the men carried no bags. Their salaryman bags no doubt waiting patiently to be picked up in the evening to accompany their owners on the commute home.

Obviously, these things are not work. They are just made up frills around the edges of work. But I felt that these things form an important part of the sense or scene of work in a city.

Even though it felt removed from my current reality, it was nostalgic in some ways. Reminded me of a time I worked in downtown Kingston. When I was one of those women in a small group heading to a cookshop or sometimes a real restaurant. I enjoyed that part of work back then, even though it wasn’t work itself.

Still no clarity about my calling, but it looks like I like lunchtime at work. In a city. Now on to figuring out what to do before and after lunchtime.

[Kewpie] mayo on everything, please!

Japanese mayonnaise giant Kewpie has a building nearby and we went for a tour recently.

This is not the factory, but the research center and some corporate offices. And the entire first floor is dedicated to this very popular tour, which shows how mayonnaise is made. I think there might have been four or five separate rooms.

One room is even like a mini gaming arcade where some little kids competed in trying to choose the correct ingredients for mayonnaise and putting them on a computer scanner.

At the end of the tour, you are seated in a dining room, given a tiny salad, a bottle of mayo and a number of condiments to mix and match and find your favorite dressing.

The result: you leave wanting to fill your life with this creamy goodness. I honestly decided to stop buying creamy dressings and just mix mayonnaise with something if I really want something creamy.

The tour, which is free and fills up months in advance, is obviously very good marketing.

Driving across Jamaica, virtually

The most recent drive across Jamaica video I’ve watched.

Whenever I really miss home, I type ‘Jamaica drive’ into YouTube and I’m taken across the country via a camera on somebody’s dashboard.

In these videos, the sky always looks bluer, the clouds, always look fluffier, the sun always brighter than I remember. And the mountains always look greener, but undeniably at home in this shining landscape.

Oh! My words are saturated with nostalgia!

I pay close attention to the streets and the buildings in the videos. If it’s an area I know well, I check to see if anything has changed. Sometimes, without warning, a memory linked to a place comes rushing back.

But usually, there are no specific memories. I often just watch and watch until I’ve had my fill. Other times, I leave the TV while I do chores– the images of Jamaica becoming a natural part of the decor in my foreign home.

(Still) Learning to Swim

‘I’ve been learning to swim for fifty years,’ an older Jamaican woman said to me in a swimming lesson about five years ago. Yesterday, an older Chinese woman, my classmate in a different swimming class, said, ‘I’ve been coming here for half a year (and I still can’t swim!).’ 

It hasn’t quite been fifty years, nor has it been a brief six months, but I’ve been learning to swim for a long time myself. And I still can’t swim. But I’m not as bad as when I started. 

I’ve taken many breaks over the years, the most recent being when I became pregnant. Finally being able to squeeze it in my schedule again, I recently went back to my swimming lessons at the gym.

During the first class, I realised I just felt much more relaxed and focused than I’d ever felt in any swimming class ever. It’s as if the constraint of only being able to do this thing within this window of time allowed no distractions.

This is also the only time I get to move my body and I have nowhere to be except the other end of the pool, and nobody expects much from me. It’s really relax time. Of course the teachers want you to learn to swim, but they are all very laid back about it, like, ‘even it takes a lifetime, no big.’

That said, I ran into a classmate from my first spell at the gym, and learned that basically everyone who was in that class is now in the advanced class. Inspiration.

I don’t like mother’s day

No, that’s not accurate. I don’t know how to feel about mother’s day and teacher’s day. I’m both a mother and a teacher. But I don’t think I did anything special to be in those roles. Or that they are any more special than any of my other roles, so much so that I should be happy and thankful if someone says ‘Happy mother’s day.’

I just happen to be a mother. And I just happen to be a teacher.

This year both mother’s day and teacher’s day took me by surprise a bit. Teacher’s day is not a thing in Japan, but mother’s day is. I felt really awkward responding to the few teacher’s day messages I got from people back home. I think I didn’t respond to some of them. But on mother’s day, the volume of messages was surreal.

You see, it was my first mother’s day. I didn’t realise it was mother’s day until I noticed a flower shop that’s usually closed on Sundays was open. Then I saw about three messages on my phone. This was Sunday morning Japan time. Soon after that, I started to quietly dread the messages that would arrive once it was Sunday in Jamaica.

On Monday morning, I had 26 WhatsApp messages. By lunchtime, I had 17 more.

On the train, I slowly made my way through the messages. At some point, my response became, ‘Thanks for thinking of me,’ and my tension melted.

It was nice to see messages from some people I hadn’t spoken to in months; to catch up with them a bit. And I really appreciated that they had thought about me. I hadn’t sent a single mother’s day message, so it also gave me a chance to send return wishes to people who I truly think are great mothers.

I didn’t end up feeling a special feeling that, Oh, I’m a mother, and today is my day. But it was a nice opener to have a little chat with old friends and a good chance to big up some mama friends.

Tears of what?

I wrote this ‘poem’ as an assignment for The Writer’s Studio Online. The assignment was to take an object and tell its story.

I put it off for weeks. Then I sat down with my object, so I could get my one point for posting to the discussion. As I wrote the last line and thought of the many things one thinks about when thinking of herself as ‘foreign’, I felt an unexpected urge to cry.

But no one cries in Starbucks. Least of all a black woman wearing a burgundy sweater and a headscarf with all the colors in the world, in this winter of navy, black and brown.


Black dust

Brown flakes

Some once perfect spirals

Now broken from being shuffled around

Then cramped inside

This blue drum with three different blades pointing down the middle


Which of these flakes made way for the perfect point to write 質

To help execute the mild flourish for the thin upper strokes

What dust was shed after erasing and rewriting れ for the fifth time

And still seeing that a sixth would be necessary


Black dust stuck to the blades

Black dust in the corners of the blue drum

Black dust in the crevices of the screws pinning the blades to their white holdings


Is there a perfect pencil to write kanji

Lol, no. But I think you can try No.2


Rows and rows of packs and packs of No.2 pencils

No fewer than 12 in one pack!

One row of sharpeners

Choose quickly before the baby wakes up

Blue because not pink

Three-way because, well it must be better than one-way

Only 100 yen


Black dust

Brown flakes

Metal blades

White holdings

Blue drum

White lid

Holding the errors of a foreign fist


Full speed ahead!

I’ve finally decided to give writing a go.

And what a time I’ve chosen. I have a newborn baby, and I am working on two other courses of study.

I’ve enrolled in SFU’s The Writer’s Studio Online. Some months ago when I was reflecting on myself, it came clear as day to me that I should’ve done a degree in English. I’m grateful for the opportunities my journalism training has given me, and it was a practical choice at the time. But I don’t think it was the best choice. So I decided to redeem myself to myself and find a sensible creative writing programme.

Some people say if you want to write just write and these progmmes are a waste of money. I agree with them. But I’m the kind of person who won’t write much without some kind of big stick over my back. So I see the value of these programmes. This is only the first week. And I hope I am able to produce work that comes a bit close to what I want to see come out of me.

My other projects are the JLPT, and Trinity Dip. TESOL. Both have been on the table for a while and I enjoy studying Japanese, but I’ve developed palpable resentment for the Dip and what it represents in my life.

I’ve enrolled in Kumon’s Japanese correspondence course to help me prepare for N2 next July. I’ve put it off til then to focus on the writing. The Kumon course is basically completing worksheets and sending them in. First will arrive in October.

Now the Dip. There are four units. I’ve passed two, failed one once and the other twice. I don’t fail things. So this has been quite stressful for me. But I know it’s because deep down I don’t want to do it. I also don’t think the way the programme is organised is not best for me. But I’ve been trying hard to let go off this negativity. So I will complete at least one of the failed units November, and the other next May.

In a year’s time, I hope to be able to read this and think ‘whew, you did it’. And even if I didn’t, to be OK with it.

Oh, I’m also about to sign up and begin training for my first run (10k) since baby. It’s going to be on November 4, about seven weeks from now.