Archive | June 2020

Deferring my adult gap year

Mr S and I were to have our Adult Gap Year in 2021.

A year to

  • Potter
  • Daydream
  • Travel the east coast
  • Do some language study
  • Spend three months in the UK
  • Have a cup of tea and listen the morning peak hour and be happy we didn’t have to join it

Mr S wanted to postpone for two years, which is the maximum we could apply for.

We only get one chance to apply for postponement. So if this COVID stuff doesn’t resolve next year, we’ll probably be doing all of the above, except the three months in the UK in 2022.

I’m ready to just jump from work. I’m over it. Truely, it’s the money that keeps me going every day. I’m sick of the bureaucratic and politicians’ bullshit and the complaining parents. Not the kids. Love them.

I suppose Adult Gap Year might not be the right term for Mr S. He turns 60 next year. Lots of his friends with whom he started teaching, and who are slightly older, are retiring now. He is eligible to access his super next year. But he has to retire to do so.

He also has enough Long Service Leave to take more than a year off on full pay! So he’ll work on full pay next year; take 2022 off as the Deferred Salary year and if he can’t face work again, he can take LSL in 2023 and the first bit of 2024, before he retires at 63, and then access his super. (He’s in a different, and much better, super scheme than I am. He got into the one that made working for the public service an enticement. It ended decades ago. I think if I’d stayed in the public system, and not worked in the non-gov for a bit, I might have accessed it. Not worth looking into and kicking myself. I also don’t have as much LSL leave as Mr S thanks to my time in the non-gov system and that I have taken some to care for our kids.)

Mr S reckons he can work until he is 67, which is when the government wants people to at least work to, before they can access the age pension – not that we’ll be eligible for it.

Me still working at 67? No way. I even hope I’m not working full time when Mr S turns 67.

For now, I’ll gird my loins, which I think is the manly or biblical way of saying pull on your big girl pants, and face next year doing the same shit.

Going on a bear hunt in lockdown

I don’t know where it started, one of those urban trends that goes across countries, but during lockdown the call went out to put bears on your fence or front window. Somewhere that could be seen from the street.

It’d help parents get their littlies go out for a walk – “let’s go on a bear hunt!” They couldn’t go to a park. They couldn’t use the playground equipment. And a plain walk isn’t always that enticing for young ones.

But a bear hunt!!!

It you don’t know the book and song, here’s the story told by the author, Michael Rosen. Or a classic Australian version from Play School.

It gave me a smile when I spied a bear. In a parked caravan, spying out the window. Sitting on a verandah railing. Tied to a fence post. (Ouch!)

Here’s some from my neighbourhood. Some had added decorations for Anzac Day in April, when I took the photos.

Lucky, lucky, lucky

Day 4 in Japan

The morning broke clear and sunny. Oh no! How could our sightseeing day, Day 3, be overcast and wet. Yet the day we were to visit the Catholic school, the day we were spending time in classrooms and conference rooms, the day we would be inside, be clear and bright?

As we travelled by bus, we all cheered. A glimpse of Mt Fuji, sighted between buildings. No, lost it. We kept peering for a view between buildings. No, we were surrounded by buildings.

At the school, we all kept craning our necks to see Fujisan.

And then! Surprise! The principal arranged for us to go onto the school’s roof.

Wanting a global focus and to develop their students’ speaking skills, the school employed lots of English speaking teachers and teachers aides, from America, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. One of the teachers told us we were lucky as he’d never been up on the roof before. That’d be a rule I would break. Fancy not breaking rules! Do you know what bared the way up the stairs? A plastic chain strung across from railing to railing! Pfft.

We were lucky indeed!

And the view! Oh, the view!

Unobstructed by buildings.

Lucky. Lucky. Lucky.

Mount Fuji

Apparently it brings luck to see Mt Fuji.

Sightings are not a given. Fog, cloud, smog, rain. All get in the way. So if you do get to see it, you are already lucky.

Before I left Australia, I told people we were going to My Fuji. Partypoopers told me not to expect to see it, not to have my hopes up.

We visited the Mt Fuji World Heritage Centre. The building and it’s reflection imitates Fujisan.

Inside, you spiral up, learning about the mountain – it’s geology, importance, mythology.

Up to the viewing platform to see a view of ….

Nothing. It was raining. We saw nothing. The partypoopers were right. I won’t see it. It’s meant to rain all day. Well, I will just have to come back to Japan one day!

We walked to another shrine. And were lucky to see early cherry blossoms – if not cherry, then some sort of beautiful blossoms.

And we learnt how to cleanse prior to entering the shrine. I didn’t do it. COVID.

We were lucky to see a ceremony for a baby’s first visit to the shrine. Drums sounded by nuns in white. The big sister was beyond gorgeous.

We strolled around the beautiful gardens.

Then off to a fabulous lunch, served by the friendliest of owners. The hot pot was boiling in a paper bag with a flame below!

We went to another scenic spot – Nihondaira – but no luck. Fujisan would not show itself. It was overcast.

Oh well. I did get to smell daphne for the first time ever. And I always like garden art.

Such a disappointment, despite the wonders and fun and new sights of the day. I did see a mythical-looking, hazy Mt Fiji, almost the same colour as the smog and sky, from my Tokyo hotel room on my last visit to Japan. And we did catch a glimpse when we were driving from the airport to Tokyo when the sky was clear and sunny. Now, on the day we spent at lookout, Mt Fuji alluded is.

Visiting schools in Japan

Most of our second day was spent visiting a large public primary (elementary) school in Tokyo.

It is always interesting to see other cultures in action. Nothing shows you the values and norms of a society more than a primary school in action. What is valued? How do they train up (inculcate) their young? Where’s the money spent?

The building put most Australian public primary schools to shame. Although everything is enclosed, it was large, open and airy; clean and tidy; no graffiti or damage; wide corridors. The building itself was new, so that helped. But the government clearly values their young and schools.

We had to take our shoes off at every school we visited. Teachers and students do too. They have lockers as they walk in and swap to their inside shoes. We put on slippers they have for visitors. I tried not to think whose feet had been in the slippers before me.

The slippers were one size fits all. Unless you are a large Anglo man.

They had specialist rooms our primary schools do not have. Joint science, textiles and food technology rooms with tables that flipped to be multipurpose. Australian primary kids look forward to high school to access Science and food tech. They mightn’t want to come if they already had them at primary school!

Others, like the library, were not good. Of course, being a city school, space is a premium so there was no natural outside play areas. There were two large play/sporting area with artificial turf and netting or high fencing to stop balls flying off. One court was on the fourth or fifth floor. Eye-opening was the pool. The teacher with us said every primary school has a pool as swimming is part of the curriculum. The entrance to the pool had several rows of outdoor showers so the students could be cleaned before they entered the pool. The toilets were nothing like the horrid things we give students in Australian schools.

By mid-morning, I was desperate for a cup of tea. Maybe a bikkie. I’d even settle for a cup of green tea. When the recess bell went, I spiked up, eyes alert for any sign of morning tea.

No. Nothing. Turns out they don’t snack like us. The students may have a drink of water. But they don’t snack! They eat a decent breakfast and a hearty lunch. If we followed this, we’d end our obesity problem. But I do look forward to cups of tea!

Lunch is eaten together in the classroom, with students taking turns to serve. They all wait until everyone is served, say thanks, and then eat.

We had a bento box. A work of art in packaging – but I’d rather have eaten the rice and chicken dish the kids and teachers had. (We had to separate all the plastic so I think it may be recycled.)

After lunch, everyone cleans the school. Corridors are swept and mopped. Shelves wiped down.

All the Australians were waiting to witness the cleaning in action. “Imagine bringing this in at home.”

Ah, there’s the rub! You can’t bring in bits of a culture, of a society. They clean, not only because they have done this from early years of primary. They wait to eat, not only because it is the school rule. It’s part of bigger values.

  • Cleanliness and order
  • Group over individual
  • Structure
  • Conformity

These are clearly the values.

Parents don’t come up and complain. Demanding rights for their child. Parents don’t say, “My child will not pick up rubbish.”

Apparently they found some of my questions confronting. You don’t ask questions. (Yes, I am considered “direct” in Australia too. But my questions were not challenging at all by Australian standards. We were here to learn; how does one learn without asking questions? But one does not ask questions so directly. Apparently.)

They definitely didn’t understand our questions about students with disabilities and integration. When they showed us the room for “special” kids, those with learning difficulties, we were all shocked into silence. It was an almost bare room. A few seats. No posters. No life.

We visited two English classes. The students had to talk with us and write our answers for a later task. The questions were the same. And were the same ones I’d heard from school groups that had visited my school. (What’s your favourite colour?) As were the greetings. Clearly they all learn from the same hymn book, the same set texts. The words and phrases also seem set. There is one way to say and do things. “Pleased to me you.” Don’t confuse things with “Nice to meet you.”


There were a couple of European students. I wanted to know what it felt like growing up in a homogeneous mono-culture, with largely one race, when you were visually different. Was there acceptance? Racism? A cultural divide? Coming from a multicultural society, we are so used to diversity. Yes, we have racism and inequality but we also accept and celebrate diversity. We couldn’t ask the students and the concepts were beyond understanding of the translator. One of our tour leaders said my questions, eg on gender equity at a high school we visited, were not translated properly. So we got answers to totally different questions. Still, I also think, if you live in a homogeneous culture, it is hard to step outside of it. Just as it is hard for all of us to step outside ourselves, our lives, our society.

We also visited a private Catholic school in the shadow of Mt Fuji. The school went from pre-school to high school. Its buildings were not as flash as the government school, nor the private secondary school we visited. But of all the schools it had the warmest, friendliest vibe. It may be strange to have a Catholic school in a Buddhist Shinto country. Not many of the students or teachers were Catholic. Apparently it is the ethos parents like. Whether the warmth and friendliness was due to the origins of the school or the principal, I’m not sure. He was the nicest principal we met. Smiled and joked. (In the video you will hear one little boy, who is offscreen, really getting into the singing. I hope his enthusiasm and quirkiness is encouraged.)

Still, the very strict and hierarchical nature of Japanese society was evident. The principal gets the floor. No one less speaks unless spoken to. All the other staff had to stand around the room while the principal and guests sat. This happened at all the schools we visited. None of the staff sat at the tables we were sitting at, no one went out to get spare chairs so they could sit too when there were no spare seats. They stood formally to attention. (At one school, the Deputy and another leader it two also got to sit. But the rest were spread around the room, standing formally.)

The buildings in the Catholic school were not as flash. The student lunch not as elaborate. But I’d rather be at a place where staff and students smile. To see the kids get into the singing was a joy.

Schools and schooling are both a product and a tool of society. I’m. It sure how the quirky kid goes in Japan.

Watching the Tokyo primary students go home, the uniformity and conformity is evident in the uniform, hats and bags. And yet what’s not to like about the building of independence? Imagine infants and primary students being allowed to walk home in Sydney!

Hows this for a bike shed?

It was at the private secondary school we visited. Such infrastructure!!

My trip to 🇯🇵

Just before COVID, I visited Japan. Actually, not just before. It was in Japan and people were nervous. It affected our trip in some ways – crowds and queues were way down; we couldn’t visit some of the places on our itinerary; masks and sanitising were mandatory.

As everyone knows, the situation moved quickly so by the end of our week long trip, number of cases had escalated and tourism had tanked. Which meant the flight home was empty. Largely only the group I was with. Many of us had three to four seats to ourselves. I stretched out and slept the whole flight home.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the trip.

It was sponsored by the Japan Foundation, a Japanese government initiative to support the study of Japanese language and culture. My fellow travellers were primary and secondary principals from across Australia.

The most popular language to study in schools in Australia is Japanese. Getting school leaders to see the benefits of Japanese study and getting them onside by giving them a wonderful and free trip is a clever way to promote further study. Principals talk with other principals. We share ideas and successes. We can change what courses are studied at our schools. We can promote or relegate courses. We can locally fund and encourage a program.

Every day was packed with cultural experiences and visits to schools.

Day 1

We arrived very early. But no rest. Surely you did that on the 10 hour flight!

Straight off to visit a Shinto shrine, a shrine to an emperor. We were instructed on the correct way to approach the shrine – claps and bows; on different Shinto symbols such as the lightening strikes; and on leaving messages on the Rat boards. (It’s the Year of the Rat. Probably my least favourite animal.)

We were lucky to see a wedding photo shoot. The bride had two changes of clothes. It was all very stylised.

Our next stop was the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple, the oldest one in Tokyo. Leading up to it is the Nakamise-dōri, the shopping alley of little shops. Some with tacky tourist tat and some with beautiful arts and craft. I bought a print of cats. The alley was packed. I can’t imagine how crowded it would be if COVID wasn’t keeping crowds down!

We stopped for lunch just off the alley (why did I take no photos? Maybe I was too hungry?) and then headed for the Tokyo Skytree, with a visit to Chiba Institute of Technology which has a campus in the Skytree. The robotics and technology displays were interesting. But my feet were weary, actually the whole of my body was.

Off to dinner. Lots of little bits served in little pots.

Definitely a jam packed day.

COVID gardening

I’ve been pottering in my garden. A combination of having time as I am not able to fill my days with other things (like the gym and theatre and hairdresser visits and massages and visiting friends) and much better weather have wooed me out to the garden.

Autumn is so much more conducive to garden in Sydney. Spring seems to brief. It’s cold and then, wait a minute, it’s HOT! And when you plant something in spring, you’re likely to lose it in summer. The heat just desiccates plants. And with water restrictions and work commitments, it’s hard to keep new plants alive. With autumn planting, plants have time to establish themselves before they face the intensity of summer sun.

Gardening is a form of mindfulness in these crazy times. With our political leaders changing their approach to schools every two weeks, I’ve been on a continuous loop of planning, admin and emails. My mind just hasn’t felt like reading or watching movies; can’t sustain the concentration. But gardening let’s my mind switch off.

And gardening is addictive. Once you do a bit of a garden, you have to do the next bit.

Firstly I planted some sweet peas. Oh, and while in the hardware store where I picked up the seedlings, I also bought a rosemary plant. It can go in where one of the poor lavenders that got fried last summer needs to be pulled out. A bit lot of weeding. Oh may as well move a couple of agapanthus that having been madly reproducing into the other spot where a lavender fried.

Then I thought I’d try and propagate some cutting from a jade money plant I have. And while on a walk, I snaffled a few cuttings from a cute succulent growing outside Mr S’s school.

“Well,” said friend, “if you’re propagating, do you want some pups from my bromeliads and a couple of aloe vera plants?” Yes please! I potted up a couple.

But then I needed new potting mix so I went to the garden centre. I needed some pots to do all the repotting. Who can go into a garden centre and not buy other things? Not I. I picked up a camellia to fill a spot that is missing one. And a very pretty plant to cover the fence.

On the way home, I dropped in bromeliad friend’s home and collected some more plants.

All up, I potted eleven bromeliads and quite a few aloe veras and a few other things. Do you know how much they’d cost if I bought all these plants!!! Thanks, Bromeliad Friend.

Oh while I’m on a roll, may as well move another agapanthus from where it grew (with no human planting it there) that is blocking my access to the tap.

Then I engaged in some mattock swinging to grub out two unidentified plants – I think they may be small leaf privat. Who needs a gym!

Planted another plant. Cut back and sprayed some bamboo and plumbago. If they were not so rampant and were more desirable, one could have a very green and leafy garden in Sydney with these two.

Now, I have to return to the garden centre. Need another plant to fill the spot of one of the grubbed out plants.

As well as being soothing and having an end result to be pleased with, gardening in the front yard is a great way to interact with the neighbours. So many stop for a chat or make a comment by way of greeting as they pass. See you garden invites interaction that doesn’t happen if I were, say, reading.

I have spent time nearly every weekend pottering in my smallish front garden, slowly extending the bits under control and looking more like a garden than a yard.

Then I bought a vegepod. I am loving it, and will write about it more.

I wish I could give you more photos, but my iPhone lens is damaged. So I can’t. Until I buy a new phone or get my act together and use one of my cameras.

Striking cuttings and bromeliad pups

$32 for a large aloe vera! I’ve saved heaps.