Tips for skiing for kids – Manza and Karuizawa Dec 2015

Prince Manza Japan

Our recent holiday to Japan included a few days of skiing at Prince Hotel Manza in Gunma.

To be honest I was apprehensive about skiing because I am so averse to cold weather, probably because my early memories of winter have been itchy and scratchy. Isn’t it amazing how much technology has changed things, and thank goodness for Uniqlo?! On our trip to Perth last September, it was very windy and there were some points when I was feeling quite miserable even though I was wearing 4 layers. So once we confirmed the Tokyo trip, I set out shopping for proper winter wear, most importantly down jackets or down layers for everyone, which is really not as easy as it sounds because so many puffy jackets for kids are just filled with polyester or the like. I also bought some fleece-lined leggings and dresses off Qoo10 and they kept us really nice and toasty. We didn’t even need our gloves or beanies while we were in the city.

Manza Prince

The Manza Prince Hotel resort is located at Mt. Manza, and is approximately 3.5hours by car from Tokyo, or a 35minute car ride from the nearest JR station. Unfortunately, since we were traveling as a group and had to go by tour bus (all of us would have much rather go by Shinkansen, definitely!), it took us almost 6 hours since we had to drive and wait the first hour to pick up the conference participants and then another another 5 hours since we were traveling at night and probably were going slightly slower because of that.

Thankfully the hours passed by quickly with the kids napping for a few hours and we managed to keep them happy at the rest stops with some vending machine corn soup and hot chocolate, the first of many vending machine buys that the kids loved. The other hours were spent watching some very interesting videos that our guide had brought along. It was short videos that explained everything from tea ceremony to samurai to bunraken and many other things I had not known. We learnt so much just from them and from our wonderful guide. I do however really regret not bringing my travel sickness pills and although there weren’t any major incidents, I’m definitely going to remember to bring it on every trip from now on.

We finally reached the resort at around 9pm, had dinner, and picked out all the ski gear. We only managed to sleep at 1am that day.

Some of the lovely slopes just calling out for snow! (We were there in mid-Dec, still early in the season).

Some of the lovely slopes just calling out for snow! (We were there in mid-Dec, still early in the season).

The resort is simple but comfortable. In our Family Room we had 2 single beds and 2 single sofa beds which we were able to put together, so I slept there with the 2 younger ones. Usually we are divided between the snoring endomorphs and the non-snoring ectomorphs. It’s sad, but true. They also provide a humidifier in each room. There are several onsen pools, both indoor and outdoor, which are apparently one of the best onsens in Japan.

manza Prince Hotel

Epic kids meal

Enough sake?

Enough sake?

The food in the resort is very decent, and on our last night we were blown over by the kids meal at the Japanese restaurant (although actually everything is Japenesey, if you know what I mean).

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The next morning we had to have had breakfast and be suited up by 9am. We then took a shuttle bus to the bottom of the ski slope to have our ski lessons. I’d hurt my back the day before so thank goodness I’d decided not to ski, as I was SO busy tending to the younger two.

The ski lessons were not how I had imagined it would have been for the kids. There were 5-8 instructors to around 50 people, and the kids were not separated into their own group. It was also early in the ski season and this is central Japan, so the snow was rather icy.

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After a while, it was chaos with people everywhere, and with the lack of sleep and effort put into suiting up and walking around in their ski boots, the younger two were ready to call it quits. There was hardly any sun and not long after we started, the visibility started to get really bad with low cloud cover.

Eventually Scout fell asleep at lunch, and after lunch, most of the kids had also lost interest in skiing (due to the disorganized ski lessons) and were just playing with snow. The ski lessons went so well that that by evening everyone decided to abandon skiing for the next day and go to the nearby factory outlet instead. Says a lot, doesn’t it?

Lunch at Karuizawa

Lunch at Karuizawa

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza was a 1.5 hour bus ride away for us, and the view along the mountainside was breathtaking. The shopping plaza has plenty for kids – there are many eateries, and we were able to borrow a stroller (for free), for all our things. There is even a kids play area which we did not have time for because mummy and daddy wanted to do some shopping. Sorry, kids!

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We all thought that Karuizawa might have been a much better location for skiing since it is much closer to Tokyo, and the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza and  Prince Karuizawa Hotels and ski slopes are literally across one small road to the JR station (only 1 hour away from Tokyo by shinkansen!) and this outlet mall is apparently second only to Gotemba. In fact, we saw some guys wearing their ski boots to lunch at the Prince Shopping Plaza! That’s how close it is. We have friends who have been or just been (like last month!) to Karuizawa, and it sounds a lot more kid-friendly as they have sledding and tubing and specific ski lessons for kids. Unfortunately Manza didn’t offer any of those. And oh, did I mention outlet mall? Guess you can’t take all of the Singaporean out of me even when we are travelling :D

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza

Manza is a picturesque mountain and I’m sure the ski slopes are lovely, but perhaps the resort is more suited for the more seasoned skiers. They did have ski instructors who spoke English, and one from Germany and another from Australia while we were there, but they did not have the kids training facilities I’ve heard so much about in other resorts. But since it was not a trip that we planned ourselves, it was a great experience nonetheless, and I’m sure we will be more prepared for our subsequent ski trips.

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So the next time I bring the kids skiing, I will be sure to:

  1. Choose a resort that has child-specific classes with the proper equipment. This will be my number 1 requirement next time!! This is probably the most important point for newbies! Apart from a ski training area for kids, some resorts have a Magic Carpet, which is like a travelator. Going down slopes is easy, but if you’re a beginner who has to climb back up to try skiing down again, it can get tiring pretty fast. I have heard that even if the ski lessons are not in English (such as the famous Annie’s Ski School) it still works as long as the kids are having fun. 
  2. Make sure the kids have had proper rest the night before
  3. Get them used to their ski gear before the ski lesson. Because it wasn’t that cold in Tokyo that we needed beanies and gloves, they wore their equipment for the first time in the snow, so there was a lot of complaining (by them) and adjusting (by me).
  4. Plan to stay a couple of days to spread out the risk of poor weather days, kids not feeling in the mood, etc. But mostly for the weather since snow can be unpredictable.

I’m sure I’ll have more tips after our next ski trip! What are your best tips for kids who are just learning to ski?

Tokyo Dec 2015

Yup, sounds like a good plan to me.

Yup, sounds like a good plan to me.

From the desert to the ski slopes, our next adventure took us to Tokyo on a group trip of sorts.

Japan, ah, Japan. I have not met anyone who does not love Japan, and after a 10 year hiatus, not counting our most recent couple trip just in August, we brought the kids on their maiden trip to Tokyo (just the 5 of us), and we all totally loved it. From the food, to the snow, to Disneyland, it was a trip that felt like a real holiday, that I didn’t feel I needed another holiday to recover.

It was a pretty last minute arrangement. The husband was scheduled to attend a 1.5 day course with 3 other people, and we would travel with their families on an arranged tour to Tokyo and to a ski resort in Manza, Gunma. We arrived a day earlier than the rest and checked into the Tokyo Mariott Shinagawa. The Tokyo Marriott is a very understated business hotel. In fact the reception is even tucked away in a corner. On Thursday morning at breakfast it felt as if we were the only tourists there; subsequent days were understandably less stuffy. I loved the small but excellent quality breakfasts. I wouldn’t mind staying there again, but the location doesn’t do it for me as a tourist.

Prior to the trip I was doing research on the hotel, and it listed that each room had a washer and dryer, which I thought very curious since it’s not a service apartment. I even wrote to them to double check but they were never able to really tell me whether it was a laundry washing machine or not. Turns out it wasn’t, and I still can’t figure out what they mean by “washer/dryer”! Is it maybe a wash basin? And hair dryer? Or ?? Maybe someone can help me “translate” what a washer and dryer could possibly mean.

Tokyo Marriott Shinagawa

Apart from that, the rooms at the Marriott are of a decent size, which means they are large in Tokyo terms. But then again, we were located in Shinagawa, a 9 minute walk from the Shingawa train station, so I think real estate here should be cheaper than smack in the middle of Shinjuku. The hotel is next to an office tower, and there is a regular bus shuttle to the Shinagawa station. There is also a small convenience store (Family Mart?) within the building.

Shinagawa Nantsuttei

On our first night we walked to the famous ramen stores “under” the Shinagawa train tracks – these are definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, and even include a Keisuke which some of us Singaporeans might be acquainted with.

Shinagawa station ramen

There are signs pasted on each of the restaurant’s information, I suppose saying that they are closed until I think it was May 2016?

Unfortunately, 10 out of the 12 stalls there were closed, apparently due to an earthquake. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait to long for a wonderful warm dinner on an otherwise chilly night, and we ended up eating at Nantsuttei, which incidentally is also in Singapore! The kids loved it.

Shinagawa Nantsuttei

As it was a group holiday, it also came with a full day tour. We didn’t need to follow the tour, but since many of my friends had recommended Ueno Park and Asakusa, and the tour was heading to Asakusa, and I was going to have to look after 3 kids by myself, we joined the tour.

The bad thing about any tour is waiting around for other people, and I was a little bummed we spent 30 minutes waiting around Tsukiji instead of having some awesome sashimi for brunch. And the route was more or less fixed.

Our lovely guide showing us a cartoon drawing of an onsen. She was full of maps and other visual aids that really taught us so much about Japan!

Our lovely guide showing us a cartoon drawing of an onsen. She was full of maps and other visual aids that really taught us so much about Japan!

The upside was we had a wonderful grandmotherly guide, and we really learnt a lot from her. She was so knowledgable and the kids and I learnt so much from her than I could have taught them myself. She even taught everyone a catchy “Ohaiyo, good morning” song sung to the tune of Happy Birthday. The kids have even changed it themselves to Konnichiwa and Oysuminasai (good afternoon and good night). It was also helpful to be with a group since I had the youngest kids. One pair of grandparents were always eager to help carry Scout when she was feeling particularly needy. After the first day my back muscles were over worked and I could hardly walk without wincing! So it was really a relief and blessing to have so many other hands around.

The kids enjoyed kicking the stones at the Imperial Palace (sorry, royal family), but it was of not much interest to them. We enjoyed walking around Asakusa, but most of all the kids and I enjoyed the sushi lunch there. They would have so enjoyed Tsukiji. From there we headed to Omotosande, which really wasn’t the best idea on a busy Saturday afternoon, as it was far too crowded.

Tokyo Royal Imperial Palace

Tokyo Imperial Palace

The day before the tour, our plan was to take the kids to Tokyo Disneyland. It was pouring pretty hard in the morning, so we took our time to get ready, and by the time we left, lo and behold it was sunny! We had planned to take a train there, but as luck would have it at Tokyo station we found out the Keio line was down. I was really kicking myself for not checking one of the travel apps before we headed out, especially since I had been checking it the night before! Argh

So we then had to queue for a cab, which we could have actually done directly from the hotel had we known. By the time we actually reached Maihama, it was nearly noon so there was no queue for tickets. At this point I was definitely more excited than the kids. But oh dear, the ride I was looking forward to, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Busters, was not in operation. Then we thought we might do a tour but that was fully booked too! At least we managed to rent a stroller for ¥1000 which in my opinion is so worth it so we wouldn’t have to lug everything all around.

Tokyo Disneyland stroller

The weather was amazing. It was sunny, and my friend had warned me that it’s pretty windy since the park is by the bay, so we were ready with our jackets, which we only needed at the end of the day as the sun set. We started off with Star Tours, three rounds in total since there was no queue at all, and I would highly recommend it! I also think Scout would have enjoyed it but unfortunately she was too short for it.

After that we queued for quite a while for the Monsters Inc ride which wasn’t worth the queue at all. While the boys went on Space Mountain, Scout and I went on the Roger Rabbit ride, which wasn’t interesting either. I mean, Roger Rabbit is a little bit irrelevant to today’s age right? While the boys were still at another ride, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt which I loved in Hong Kong, was a 40 minute wait with no more fast passes. A short while later they closed the ride completely! So we missed out on the 2 best rides were down! Pinocchio’s ride was not too bad but my boys don’t know too much about the story.

I did study through Life’s Tiny Miracle’s great tips on maximising the day at Disneyland, and studied the maps before we went, but we enjoyed our time there together. I guess we’ll have to plan another trip back soon :)

In the end we had to leave early because we were trying to meet with the group for dinner. The taxi bay was completely empty at around 430pm, and we thought we’d have trouble finding a taxi, but soon 4 taxis arrived in a row (phew). I later saw that there were plenty of taxis at the Maihama train station. Just in case you happen to be there looking for taxis!

This trip was typical of our style, focussed on family time and experiences, rather than checking off the must-dos. Apart from perhaps the stroller-unfriendly stairs in train stations, Japan is extremely child friendly. The kids loved the food everywhere. People are polite and courteous. It is relatively safe, so we don’t feel the annoying paranoia that you might in other countries from which you constantly hear about kidnapping stories. We did however have to remind the kids that it can get very crowded and that not everyone can speak English to help them if they got lost. They learned a lot about the Japanese culture, about the varied use of Chinese characters (kanji), and I hope they were at least slightly impressed that this old dog can make use of her very rusty basic Japanese. This would definitely not be our last trip to Japan :)
Do read our next post on some beginners skiing tips for kids :)

Some tips: When we arrived at Haneda, we couldn’t find any booths to purchase SIM cards or Wifi routers, and were told that they don’t sell SIM cards readily, and you’d have to go to a particular area to buy it. In the end I saw this at the Lawson convenience store at Tsukiji. Pretty reasonable rates too.

Japan SIM card Family Mart

 

CNY flashcards downloadables

CNY Flashcards

Chinese New Year is upon us! If you are looking for some flashcards to teach your kids a few auspicious Chinese idioms that might garner them more ang pows (I might try that to bribe them into learning the idioms, ha ha!), you might be interested in my short (and very humble) PDF of 10 idioms that I made 2 years ago.

Download the PDF file from here.

Enjoy!

 

January 2016

We have survived three weeks of school! Everyone is getting used to the early hours, and I am relishing the time I now have without the kids, which is 3 hours of uninterrupted time before Scout returns for 1-2 hours before Abacus, and then another half-3 hours before Mittens. Thankfully they are all within walking distance, so it’s barely any trouble to be in and out of the house so often. I am now all for the concept of schools within walking distance for kids!

Since this is my second year in primary school, and I know my way around the curriculum (for now), I feel more at ease and on top of things. This will be an easy year, with the kids in N2, K2 and P2 meaning no major adjustments for anyone, so I am enjoying it while I can. Come next year with the boys in P1 and P3, it might be a different story altogether.

I have also been busy rushing to create an epic 100-page family photobook before my voucher expires, which I’m sure is a situation many of you would be familiar with. Why do we do it to ourselves? It’s taking quite a bit of time and sometime each month’s photos can take me 2 hours to select and lay. And I don’t even put any funny scrap booking cutesy fun items at all! Also I’m trying to clear up all the random unnecessary photos in my iPhoto since there is always so much nonsense that is synced from the phone that is quite unnecessary. First world problems, I know.

Last month we took a wonderful family holiday to Japan, which I will get around to posting about soon. It really felt like a holiday rather than a semi-holiday that requires so much work on the part of the mother (that’s me). Maybe the cool weather was good for everyone, maybe it was the copious amount of amazing food, or maybe they are just getting older and more manageable, and more duly occupied with everything and each other that they didn’t feel the need to annoy each other for entertainment. (That is THE worst thing about having more than one kid, isn’t it?!). Which also meant that everyone enjoyed themselves more rather than feeling the stresses that abound from travelling with kids, such as juggling everyone while navigating a foreign city.

This year, I have been hearing about everyone making travel plans for the entire year. Yes, some people have already booked tickets for the end of the year! I don’t recall everyone being such fastidious planners, but from the sounds of it (cheap air fares, hotels already booked up for June), it sounds like we should make some headway soon. Wanderlust is a terrible bug to be bitten by, isn’t it? Surely not a bad way to kick off the new year :)

Mercy Relief To South India – A Call From MAPIC

I’ve been asked to do a little publicity on a good cause, so here it is!

 

Mercy Relief, Singapore’s home-grown humanitarian non-governmental-organisation (NGO), will be disbursing funds raised in a public fundraising appeal in Singapore to support ongoing disaster relief efforts in South India where devastating floods struck over the past week. It was estimated that 3 million people have been affected by the massive floods, with over 5,000 houses submerged under water and their inhabitants now living on rooftops and flyovers. The city faces a huge shortage of emergency supplies such as safe drinking water, food and medicine.

 

This campaign, running from 4th December 2015 through to 31st January 2016, will be used for procurement and distribution of food items, water, household essentials and basic medical supplies.

 

One of the organizations that is moved to drive this campaign is MAPIC. The organizer has generously put up a Global Property Investment Conference (GPIC) for all who are willing to learn from the 3 investment experts and, at the same time, do a freewill donation to this fund.

 

Whether you are buying your first home or your umpteenth investment property, given how the property market has ‘shakened up’ in 2015, it is no surprise you and many other Singaporeans are feeling a little nervous about the property market in 2016…

 

unless you’re able to find answers to these important questions —

 

  • Is 2016 finally the best time to invest in residential private property?
  • Or are private home prices going to continue to slide?
  • How will higher interest rates affect local mortgages in 2016?
  • Will cooling measures finally be eased in 2016?
  • and much, much more…

 

It is for this very reason why the 2nd Global Property Investment Convention (GPIC) is happening this coming 25th January 2016…

GPIC is a 100% free Charity event. It’s not insurance, MLM or any other money-making scheme. Plus, you have our word that our speakers will NOT be selling you on stage. This is a 100% content-packed event.
All we asked from you is that if you enjoy the seminar and got value out of it, please be so kind to pledge a tiny donation to the Mercy Relief South India Fund. Your little donation will do much to these victims.

 

Links:

To register for the GPIC event: http://www.eventbrite.sg/e/global-property-investment-convention-2016-tickets-20404703016

For more information on Mercy Relief South India Fund: http://www.mercyrelief.org/mercy-relief-deploys-team-to-help-south-indias-flood-survivors-address/

 

Extra Yarn book & activities

I am always on the look out for great books to borrow for the boys, and I came across this lovely book entitled Extra Yarn by Mac Burnett with beautiful illustrations from Jon Klassen, from the Classroom Bookshelf website. It’s about a little girl who lives in a very grey town, finds a box of colourful yarn and knitting needles, and proceeds to knit for everyone and everything in her town, changing the outlook and mood of everyone while she’s at it. The story is about selflessness, as well as a special kind of magic that each of us have to make a change in the world.

She knits sweaters for herself and her dog, then the neighbour (and his dog) who made fun of her because he was jealous.

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And her very nice teacher asked her to stop knitting because it was disruptive.

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It certainly didn’t stop her

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And she even knit sweaters for the animals.
(Cue bear: This is NOT my sweater.)

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I searched for some activities to complement the book, and came across this lovely Autumn Leaf Yarn & Nail Art.

So I wanted to get some wood from Daiso, but they were out of suitable sizes. Just across the aisle from it were pinboards, and in an a-ha moment, I thought that that would be so much better – and reusable too! And also I’m really not very crafty, so a pinboard would mean many less accidents in the house.

So I bought some yarn, a pinboard, a box of pins and the boys have been having a field day with it.

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And the activity up close. Aww, doesn’t it look just like the maple leaf one above? NOT!!!

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I would also like to get Mittens to learn a bit of knitting from my mum, and once I can find a suitable needle, I’ll try doing this DIY Weaving loom activity! Ideally we should have all at the activities back to back, but what’s a busy mummy like me gonna do?

 

 

 

Growing with the Tans Friday Flips

2015 in blogging for MummyEd

WordPress has this neat little review of your blog each year, so this is what they had to say about my top posts on this blog so far:

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I am honestly amazed at how interested people are in the St. John’s Island Staycation, but I guess very very few people have done it since there is only ONE bungalow, or perhaps people are looking for some spooky stories. We had none, but after discovering that the bungalow is perhaps 50metres at most, from what used to be the solitary confinement cells, I am definitely not going back again TYVM. Also some of their mattresses were covered with plastic (and then a bedsheet laid over it), so it wasn’t the most comfortable situation.

And I love how nice wordpress is by telling me my writing has staying power, instead of saying I haven’t been able to come up with anything interesting at all in 2015.

Rightttt maybe I have lost my blogging mojo? Maybe 2016 will be the year I will be bigger and better?!

Sad to say, I don’t have such aspirations because blogging is still a hobby and not something I do for a living, so I’m more than happy for it to take a back seat since I do not have a zillion hours a day more to do everything that I want to do.