Our discussions began via the internet and on the phone, but by late February this year, it was all becoming very concrete, as Yuji and Yuko began to plan their trip. By early April, we had fixed dates, so that Alex and I could help them or
ganise their time here. Firstly, let me explain who Nashville (Yuji) San and Yuko San are and why they hold a very special place in my heart, and now in Alex’s too. I met Nashville San (San is Mr or Mrs in Japanese) and Yuko San more than 10 years ago when I was working in an English school called Nova, in Tsuchiura, some 60 kilometres north of Tokyo. It was in this school that I met my (still to this day) very dear friend Sayuri. And it is through Sayuri that I met her wonderful parents. Also in those first few months (Nov 1998 to March 1999) I met Tony Roberts, who ended up teaching English with me…and subsequently became Sayuri’s husband (another long story). I won’t leave you in suspense: In brief Tony and Sayuri got married in Hawaii in June 2002 only months after Alex and I got married in New York….and we actually attended their wedding on the way back to Australia! They now have Kai, who is 5 and Alyssa who is 2! Now, who says I can’t be brief?
OK, so early in 1999, Sayuri invited a select group of English teachers from Nova to her house (an invitation via her parents), in what ended up being one of the most memorable moments in my life! Yuko and Yuji were the ultimate hosts; Yuko spoke very good English (she is an English teacher) and Yuji certainly got by in mixed English/ Japanese and hand movements. We were firstly placed before a feast fit for a king, with the most amazing Japanese food ever. But it’s what came next that would forever remain in our hearts and memories……out comes Yuji with cowboy boots, matching belt, western shirt, stetson hat and guitar, and……wait for it….he starts serenading us with country and western music….in English! You gotta love that! Yuji then proceeded to take us upstairs and show us all of his country and western memorabilia….several more hats, belts, boots, western shirts and guitars. He clearly loved all things western and had been to the southern states in the USA several times. Back downstairs, the singing, dancing and drinking (Asahi beer
) went on until the wee hours of the morning. This revelry had me dub Yuji, Nashville San! The name stuck and even his own daughter and son-in-law call him this to this day. Nashville San…….yeh, it stuck allright!
The week before Yuko San and Nashville San arrived, Alex and I helped organise their accommodation in Melbourne and Sydney as well as their internal flights between Sydney and Melbourne (they were flying in and out of Sydney with Japanese Airlines). As we chatted we could tell that they were getting really excited, as were we. They were effectively coming to Australia to see Alex and I. You may recall that Alex and I also spent 5 magnificent days with them in Japan in August 2007 when we were travelling around the world. They flew into Sydney on the 20th April and a day later they flew into Melbourne, where Dad and I went to greet them. I was ready with some balloons and a poster which read, “Welcome to Australia Yuko San and Nashville San”. Hugs all around…they were finally here. They were so happy to meet my Dad, as I had spoken so much about him. We went back to my house, and Alex literally arrived as we stepped in the door. More hugs all around. That night we took it easy and had a nice easy Italian meal (ravioli, garlic bread and salad) whilst we sat around chatting. They also brought us some lovely gifts from Japan, but for us, the biggest gift was their presence with us here in Australia! Later we drove them to their hotel in the city centre.
The next few days were full on. That is really the only way I can describe them. They had less than a week in Melbourne, and I would be taking a couple of days off, in order to be able to show them around. Dad and I took them to Healesville Sanctuary
, which they loved. Luckily the weather was beautiful. We packed a picnic lunch, and stopped at a park in Healesville before continuing on to the sanctuary (which is basically a zoo of native Australian an
imals). Needless to say, the highlights were the kangaroos and koalas, which most tourists love as they are so unique as they are native to Australia. That night we had a traditional Aussie BBQ at our place, with my brother Fulvio, his wife Karen and my nephew James. I had also organised a surprise: Nashville San had brought his book of songs along, but had mentioned that we would only be able to sing together as he had no guitar. Nothing a phone call couldn’t fix! I invited my friend Linda over and asked her to bring a guitar. Well, you should have seen the look on his face, when Linda walked in, and I introduced her……and the guitar! He was rapt! In no time at all, we were all singing along to the country and western songs he was belting out. And…..he sang one song in Japanese and another in Spanish, for good measure. Impressive! A great night was had by all.
The next day, Dad took them to Sovereign Hill
, a recreated 1850’s Goldfields Township, in Ballarat
(just over an hour west of Melbourne). They had a great time walking around, shopping and even taking a ride in a traditional horse and carriage. That night Alex and I took them to Thaila Thai
in Brunswick, our favourite Thai restaurant.
The next couple of days were taken up cruising along the Great Ocean Road, via Geelong. We decided that we would go as far as we could on the Friday, and sleep wherever we ended up. Again, lots of fun was had by all. We stopped in Geelong, and then in Torquay, where we had a traditional “fish and chips” lunch, which we ate on the foreshore. Yuko San and Nashville San were truly enjoying themselves. We then passed through Anglesea, Lorne, and ended up in Apollo Bay. The coast line in this area is truly spectacular. I love the way in which your breath is taken away as you come around a bend and see yet another view more spectacular than the last.
The Great Ocean Road is, without a doubt, one of Australia’s treasures, as well as one of the world’s most scenic roads. That night we ended up at the Dolphin Apartments, where all of us shared an apartment on the third floor. It was a funky set up with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and toilets, yet a shared living area and balcony, with sweeping views of the sea. Yuko and Yuji loved it! After the boys shared a whiskey, we made our way to The Vista Seafood Restaurant, which had been recommended to us, as Yuji loves seafood. I had a lovely vegetarian gnocchi option. It was a relaxing night enjoyed by all.
The weather seemed to get increasingly colder, and the next day it was quite windy. After a not too early get up, I went to the bakery, bought some pastries and came back and organised breakfast….on the balcony, overlooking the sea, of course! After we got ourselves organised, we made our way to the town centre, where our friends took a stroll through the shops before we
continued on. We stopped at the Maits Rest Rainforest Reserve
and took a stroll through some beautiful natural scenery; Giant myrtle beeches tower in this untouched rainforest, creating a protective canopy above a delicate understorey of tree ferns, lichens and moss. Continuing on, it was the Cape Otway Lighthouse
, which is the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. We all walked through the grounds and were treated to further breathtaking views. The piece de resistance was the view from the top of the lighthouse. I think our friends were blown away…both physically and metaphorically speaking. Nearing Port Campbell, we visited the infamous Twelve Apostles, another Aussie icon. The remnants from constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland that began 10–20 million years ago, these structures never fail to impress.
No sooner had we arrived back at our car, after seeing the Twelve Apostles, than it started to rain. Perfect timing! A quick (late) lunch stop in Port Campbell for lunch, and then we made our way back home, via Colac. I think everyone was exhausted upon our arrival back in Melbourne. We helped Yuko and Nashville get all of their luggage to St Georges Motor Inn, only a block from our house, and whilst they were freshening up and getting unpacked, I whipped up a quick risotto and baked a cake. Dinner was enjoyed by all, but we made it an early night, as all and sundry had had a long last couple of days.
On Sunday morning I organised a buffet breakfast at our place. Yuko and Nashville wanted to spend today doing their own thing; catching a tram to the city, shopping, walking around and whatever else took their fancy. Before catching the tram though, we called Sayuri. It was fantastic – there we were all talking to each other. Much of what Yuko and Yuji said was in Japanese, but I could clearly “understand” how happy they were, and furthermore to be able to share this with their daughter. I felt quite emotional actually. And it suddenly hit me…….I was finally able to repay not only some of the kindness that Yuko and Nashville had shown me, but the kindness that so very many people had shown me on so many trips. This was my way of saying thank you, inadvertently, to so many people. What goes around indeed comes around, and I am a true believer that one has to give in order to receive. I have be
en given so very much over so many years and by so many people. Now, it was my time to give, and it was my absolute honour to be able to do so.
We briefly saw Nashville and Yuko at the Victoria Market
, but left them to their own devices. They did quite a lot that day including going to the top of the Rialto for a bird’s eye view of Melbourne, and of course ….shopping! Later that night we all went to La Porchetta in Carlton, for some traditional Italian fare, aka pizza. Another enjoyable night, yet I felt a little sad as our time all together was coming to an end. It had been and gone so quickly – they would be leaving tomorrow.
Their last morning with us was spent rather tranquilly. Although Alex had said his goodbyes the night before, they crossed paths houses away from our home as Alex was leaving for work and they were coming for breakfast. We sat and did one last round of chatting over breakfast, after which we went and sent off a small parcel to Japan…..and Yuko San fitted in a tiny bit more shopping, buying herself a top at K-Mart. I have given Yuko a new name…….Shopping San! What do you think Tony and Sayuri? Nashville San and Shopping San!
Finally, time to go to Tullamarine Airport, and share one last coffee together. So, it had all really come to an end! I love hellos, but I am not so fond of goodbyes. Dad and I walked them to the gates (although they were only going to Sydney, they were going on an international flight which was bound for Honolulu), and we hugged lots, took several more photos, and waved goodbye. What amazing people! What amazing friends! Just as Nashville was about to walk through the door, he stopped, opened up a bag which had several hats in it, and passed me the hat he wore upon arrival to Melbourne, and asked me to give it to Dad. We eyes welled up with tears, as did Dad’s when I passed it over to him. I gave him a big kiss, and waved them both goodbye one last time. Actions truly speak louder than words! And off they flew to Sydney.
Yuko and Nashville will spend another couple of days in Sydney, before flying back to Japan. I have been calling them each night to see how they are enjoying themselves and they are loving Sydney. They fly back to Japan tomorrow.
To all the amazing people over the years who have taken me (and Alex) in as we have travelled and given us a place to stay and a meal to eat. Thank you, thank you and thank you again! Finally, I have been able to give to others what others have given to me. No matter what angle you look at this from, what goes around comes around! And thank you Yuko and Nashville San for being our very, very, very special friends. In all of my travels you are two of the most wonderful and special people I have ever met! You are part of our family!
NOTE: This is part of what Yuko sent me in an e-mail upon her return to Japan: “Ombi, Alex and Dino san, you are kind to us and I thank your hospitality. We talked and talked, laughed and laughed, ate and ate together. They are all my good memories in my life.”……..this is what makes travel so special for me!!!
NOTE 2: You may recall our last Samoa blog, where I mentioned Jacques (spelt with a c!!). I promised that I would set the record straight in my next blog if I stuffed up his cultural background. So…to set the record straight, and straight from the horse’s mouth: “By the way I was born in South Africa to South African parents, Great Grandfather was French, Great Grandmother was Dutch.”
“You make the world a better place by making yourself a better person.” – Scott Sorrell
NEXT: On the 16th May, we leave for a 5 week trip to the Americas; two weeks in New York, and three weeks in Ecuador. Only one day to go!
(Photos: 1.- Welcome to Australia Yuko San and Nashville San, Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne. 2.-Back at Dino (my Dad’s) place in Thornbury, Melbourne. 3.-Nashville San doing his thing, Dino’s house. 4.- An Italian meal at Dino’s house…with the cook (Dino) in the background. 5.-Yuko San and Nashville San at Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville. 6.- Ombi and Nashville San singing away, at Dino’s house. 7.- Nashville San checking out the merchandise at Sovereing Hill, Ballarat. 8.- All of us, somewhere along the Great Ocean Road. 9.- Maits Rainforest Reserve, along the Great Ocean Road. Lto R: Nashville San, Ombi and Yuko San. 10.- Yuko and Yuji at the Cape Otway Lighthouse. 11.- Dada…………here we are infront of the famous Twelve Apostles. 12.- Talking to Sayuri (Yuko and Yuji’s daughter) via skype from Dino’s place. 13.- L to R: Yuko, Ombi, Alex and Dino at La Porchetta pizza and pasta restaurant in Carlton, Melbourne. 14.- Yuko and Yuji catch a tram a tram to the city from close to our house in Thornbury, Melbourne. 15.- Saying goodbye at Tullamarine Airport. 16.- Yuji’s new hairstyle (aka Alex’s hair)!! 17.- BBQ at Dino’s house. Lto R: Alex, Fulvio (my brother), Karen (sister-in-law), James (nephew), Yuji, Yuko and Dino.)