Life in Tokyo and Brussels

Life in Tokyo and Brussels

Week 451 - March 28, 2016

LifePosted by michael Wed, March 30, 2016 05:05:46
Tuesday was a black day in Belgian history. At around 8am a double suicide bombing struck in the departure hall of the Brussels airport. One hour later another bomb exploded in a fully packed subway train in the Maalbeek station. Both these attacks killed 35 people and made more than 300 injured (of which 100 are still in hospital a week later and half of these still in intensive care).

The attacks follow the attacks that took place in Paris in November and have also been claimed by the terrorists of the Islamic State. Even though the situation has calmed down in the meantime there still is some fear that more is to follow. It seems that this fear and new reality is something we will need to learn to live with.

Luckily these events passed by without Matías noticing and realising. Alex however is aware of what happened. We explained him (in terms he can understand) what happened and also at his school the teachers have done a great job in explaining what happened and in helping the kids understand and deal with the uncertainties and fear that comes with it.

Right after the attacks people started gathering at the Beurs Square in downtown Brussels to pay their tribute by leaving flowers, burning candles and writing some messages in chalk on the pavement. On Friday i had a day off and decided to head downtown as well. When I arrived there I was surprised (shocked even) by the amount of camera crews, reporters and news gathering vans (with satellite dishes on the roof) that were standing all around the square.


While looking inside the vans I was happy to see that many of them contained devices that are built by the company I am working for. And so it is the work from my engineering team that ends up in those vans...

Since I had the day off I also went to pick up the kids from school at 3h15pm. On the way home Alex and Matías suddenly noticed a couple of toads that were crossing the street at a pedestrian crossing. So we stopped the cars and helped the toads cross. In fact one toad was carrying the other, something I had never seen in real life yet. The kids too were impressed and impatient to tell marina at night when she got home.


The weather forecast for this long Easter weekend was not good, but in the end the weather was still relatively OK.

So while Alex enjoyed goingto the movies with Hadrien and some other friends for Hadrien's birthday, and while marina went shopping in the (not very inspiring) center of Waterloo, I took Matías to visit the famous Lion of Waterloo. The Lion stands on a huge hill that was built specifically to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The huge lion is forged from the iron from the canons used in the battles. The Waterloo site has a new visitor center and a very nice interactive museum. At least that is what people say. Since Matías is still a bit young I did not visit the mueum with him but stayed outside. While walking around the site a group of 7 soldiers dressed in military costumes from the 19th century arrived on horseback and we spent most of the time just looking at them.


On Sunday we then went to the market for our weekly chicken roast but also bought some plants. Spring started last week so this is a good time to start cleaning up the garden and make it ready for the summer months. So all of us worked a bit in the garden. Some of the trees already have flowers, clearly showing that spring arrived indeed.


After working in the garden I went for a run and Alex joined me on his bike. This time he took a backpack with him in which he carried his rollerblades. in the Ter Kameren park we then put on his roller blades and went for a 25min tour. I was pleasantly surprised by how well he manages already. So if all goes well i hope to be able to take him with me on one of the Friday evening rollerblading events in Brussels in Summer.


Today we then had my parents over for an Eastern lunch. Bram was invited as well, but since he is in the middle of some renovations in his apartment he could not make it.

After lunch we went for a nice long walk in the forest. We spent 2,5h walking and we were happy to see that both Alex and Matías walked the whole time without complaining. Only the last 10 minutes of the walk I heard some complaining, and not only from the kids, because it suddenly started raining pretty heavily...

Tonight my parents took the kids with them since as off tomorrow they will all go for a midweek holiday in a holiday resort with cottages and swimming pools.

Marina and I will use the time to go out a couple of times, but more about that next week.

In between all the outdoor activities Alex also helped me to bake a bread. We used the flour that Alex received when we visited the water mill a couple of weeks ago. And the resulting bread was really very nice.


The pictures of this week are here.



Week 450 - March 20, 2016

LifePosted by michael Tue, March 22, 2016 05:21:35
A bit over two years ago when I left my previous job I received a free Family Weekend Bongo Bon as farewell present. A Bongo Bon is a very popular type of present where you get (for different price levels) a booklet with a series of activities , restaurant or hotels you can choose from. At the restaurant of hotel you can then exchange your Bongo Bon for an actual meal or accommodation.

We took until very recently to actually book our offered weekend and decided to do it in a hotel (with swimming pool) in the Netherlands in the area of the Hoge Veluwe (around Arhnem). We new the hotel because we went there about 7 years ago when Alex was only a couple of months old.

So this weekend we headed to the Hoge Veluwe. Unfortunately, the weather was not so nice. But we decided not to stay simply at the pool but headed for a visit to Nijmegen and Arnhem on Saturday. Nijmegen is supposedly the oldest town in the Netherlands, but it suffered a lot in the second worldwar and so not a lot of hitorical buildings remain. THe result is a pretty modern city with not too much charme. Arnhem also suffered a lot, but we enjoyed it a bit more than Nijmegen.


On Sunday we then headed to the Kroller-Muller estate. This Estate of more than 55 square kilometers once was the privte property of the Kroller-Muller family and now houses a large museum of modern art and a huge sculputer garden. We used 3 of the free bikes to drive through the dunes, forests and fields of the estate. We did a total of more than 20km that took us from the southern entrance all the way to the Hunting Lodge in the North.


In fact instead of Lodge I'd rather call it a castle as you can see below. This building was built in early 20th century and is an impressive architectural building by the architect Berlage.


The building is a piece of art in itself where even the furniture was made to fit specifically at particular positions in the house. For example, in the dining room, there is only concreet in the center of the room (and no coloured tiles like in the rest of the room) to make sure that at that exact position in the room a carpet is placed with the corresponding table. Also, the lady of the house wanted to hang a painting in the dining room, but the architect did not like that since he saw the house as a piece of art in itself. But since she was paying he gave in but bolted the painting in a frame he designed to the wall to make sure it could never be put in another spot. The result of all this is a very impressive construction.

When we arrived at the Lodge it started raining. As a result we did not return all the way to the car together. I left marina with the kids in a restaurant (in the warmth of an open fire) and headed on my home to fetch the car.

So the weekend ended a bit wet, but all in all it was a relaxing moment.

All the pictures of the week are here.



Week 449 - March 13, 2016

LifePosted by michael Wed, March 16, 2016 05:12:57

It took 2,5 months and not 30 days, but today we finalised the 30 days of Yoga course we followed on YouTube. The average of 2 sessions a week is something we can keep up with, but more is difficult taking into account the running I also want to do, and simply the family life we also want to have of course.

We enjoyed the sessions (most of the time) and are getting ready for a new set of 30 days. The yoga helps us to relax and improves our flexibility and core strength.

And for the moment I can use relaxing sessions. There is a lot of stress currently at work so 30 min of Yoga at night are welcome.

On Wednesday we caught Alex for the first time with a very elaborate lie. For some time now we notice that he is not enjoying his fencing classes on Wednesday afternoon so much as he did in the beginning of the year. And this week he told my parents that the teacher had called Marina to inform her that he was ill and that the classes were cancelled. This was clearly not true but shows how little he enjoys going. We will likely inform the teacher he will not go anymore; there is no point in forcing him to do something he does not like.

Matías is not yet actively lying; but given how he acts and challenges us already at his young age we expect some interesting challenges in the future. Many weeks ago i commented on the fact that Matías was a bit difficult to handle. But recently he is a lovable, happy and joyful boy again.

Last week I mentioned that we got results from tests of Alex at school that were not very good. We met with the teacher this week and she told us that the test was indeed not good and that she was a bit surprised as well. She was not too worried about this and told us that since the test (that was done a couple of weeks ago already) she already had noticed improvements. And she recommended us to simply keep on exercising at home. With this things will evolve just fine. So it's something to monitor but not worry about.

This week we also had a moment of stress when we learned that Abuelo was taken to the hospital this week. He went for a regular check with his cardiologist who immediately forwarded him to the hospital because of a way to high blood pressure. We are now a couple of days further and everything is back to normal. Abuelo however still is in the hospital for a couple more days for some extra observation.

Our weekend was not stressful at all. For the first time this year we enjoyed a spring-like weekend with a lot of time outdoors with the whole family: a visit to the Zoo in Antwerp on Saturday; a walk in the fields and a visit to a working watermill in the Pajottenland (east of Brussels). In the watermill Alex and Matías got an explanation of how the mill is used to make flour and could help in the preparation and sifting of the flour. When Alex told the miller that at school they would learn about different types of bread next week, he got some of the flour he sifted to take to school.

On a completly different level, this week marked an important milestone in computer science. For the first time ever a computer (with Artificial Intelligence SW) won 3 consecutive games of Go against the best player in the world. For many years now computers are better at playing chess then humans. With chess however a lot of processing power is sufficient to calculate the moves that optimise the chances of winning at every move. But for Go, it seems that there are more combinations possible in the game than the amount of atoms in the universe, making it impossible (even for a super powerfult computer) to simply calculate the winning moves. So, a more complex method of artificial intelligence is needed. Until recently it was expected that it would take more than a decade longer for a computer to succeed in winning. But the engineers at Google succeeded. The big question now is: what's next... (or as I read in an article in Wired magazine on the topic: "Many years ago a computer already succeeded in winning a game of chess. Machines have conquered the last games. Now comes the real world."

Let me end this week with a thought for the victims of the Japanese Earthquake of March 11, 2011 (now exactly 5 years ago).

The pictures of this week are here.

Week 448 - March 6, 2016

LifePosted by michael Mon, March 07, 2016 04:08:25

From time to time we get surprised by the answers kids give to some questions. This week we received some results from tests that Alex did at school and both had to smile when we saw some of his answers. The test was about winter and the month of december. One of the questions was: what are 2 important events in the month of December. The expected answer of course is New Year and Christmas. Alex however answered:

- Play in the snow

- Make a snowman


Unfortunately the results of the tests also came with a general evaluation of Alex and we both are a bit surprised to see that he scores rather low; especially on maths. Up until recently he was scoring OK on the various tests we got to see at home so we did not expect such bad overall scoring. Iti is true that during the carnival holiday Alex already did some additional exercises with my parents after comments from his teacher. We had the impression that since then things were going fine. But when I did some exercises with him this weekend he again made some very basic errors. We have the impression that for some reason he blocks on basic questions and then gets all stressed and incapable of concentrating. So we will need to work a bit more closely on all this. The good news is that after a weekend of many exercises he did no longer make errors tonight. So we hope he got it. On Wednesday we will meet his teacher for more news and guidance.

On Friday we met with Tim and Kim in their new home in Antwerp. They had also invited Evert and An. It was a nice night in a very nice house. When 2 architects buy an old city house and renovate it with a modern touch you get a place that really looks great. We often think, after visiting other houses that we still prefer our own house. But I must say that I could live in a house like theirs as well...

While we were in Antwerp Matías and Alex stayed at home with my brother. It seems like they had a nice night as well. And Alex was happy that he agreed in secret with Alex that he could come back to the living room after waiting for 10 minutes in his bed until Matías slept.

Bram stayed to sleep and so we had our weekly breakfast at the cafe together with him.

And today Zoe, a friend from Matías came over for a play-date. They have been running around the house together with Alex for a full 2 hours. I guess they will sleep tight tonight.

Over the past weeks we have been cultivating mushrooms on the rests of the coffee-beans we use. I had gotten some mushroom "seeds" and a special box from my brother for XMAS. Until last week, no mushrooms where to be seen. But over the past 7 days they suddenly started growing like crazy. You can see the evolution on http://photos.gj146.be/#!album-295.

There you can also find all the other pictures of this week.



Week 447 - February 28, 2016

LifePosted by michael Mon, February 29, 2016 05:18:57

It took Matías exactly one day to fall ill as well. So those of you betting on 24h have won the bet of last week. Matías came home with 39 degrees on Monday after school and I took him to join Alex at my parents place. By the time Thursday came along Alex was fully recovered but Matías stayed an extra day to fully recover. When my mother brought him home on Thursday evening he had been more than 24h without fever. Unfortunately at 5am on Friday morning he woke again with 39 degrees fever.


Since my parents had to leave for holiday (to the snow in Austria) on Friday I decided to work from home and take care of Matías. Luckily he slept a lot and was very quiet allowing me to focus on my work.

Because of the illness we had to stay home 9 again) this weekend, making for yet another quiet weekend. We did however manage to do a couple of things, but unfortunately separately to make sure that there was always someone home with Matías to allow him to fully recover. By now he is all fine and ready to return to school.

In fact we had planned to spend the weekend in Antwerp together with Carolina, Thomas and Tobías, but had to cancel. Marina however still went for a couple of hours to Antwerp to meet up with Carolina and to enjoy some girly shopping in a nicely sunny Antwerp.

Today I then got a couple of hours of time to go for a long 2h run in the forest. I started my run together with Alex on his bike and dropped him off at Hadrien's place. The run then took me to the Forest de Soignes where I discovered, after many hours spent there, a couple of new tracks. And on those I met a Frenchman who had gotten lost in the forest. The guy recently settled in Brussels and had trouble finding his way back. So I proposed him to accompany him to get him back on course. We ran for about 20min together chatting about life in Brussels. The guy gave me a nice compliment by saying that he tought that I did not have the typical Belgian accent when speaking French...

After the run I was tired and relaxed a bit reading a book while Marina took her time out in the sunny Sunday afternoon for a short walk as well.


After i had dropped Alex at Hadrien's place they went to Waterloo to visit the big Lion on an artificial hill (the Lion is made from the canons used in the battle in which napoleon got defeated at Waterloo). he came back with a sword and very exited about the climb up to the lion on the 216 steps and the museum they visited depicting the war that sounded the end of Napoleon.

In the meantime we got news from my parents. They arrived safely in their hotel in Austria. Unfortunately the weather is a bit too warm, and the valley they are staying is free of snow. So they will need to head higher up in the mountains for the full winter experience.

To end let me return to a comment i made 2 weeks ago about the monastery hidden inside the museum of antiquity. My statement was: "I am sure the Roman temple was built/erected when the museum was constructed. For the monastery gallery I am not so sure. It really looks like the more recent museum (from the end of the 19th century) was build around an existing construction. But I can not find any reference to an existing building on the location of the Cinquantenaire from before the constructions of the current buildings..."

My uncle Kris (brother of my father who is an architect by education) clarified the situation for me stating that the monastery was build together with the rest of the museum site as a demonstration of Belgian capabilities. A nice feat if you ask me.

The pictures of this week are here.



Week 446 - February 21, 2016

LifePosted by michael Tue, February 23, 2016 02:03:22
The rainy and cold weather is perfect for getting sick. And this is exactly what Alex did on Friday. He woke up with more than 39 degrees of fever and so we had to quickly arrange with my parents for them to help us out.... again. On Saturday morning he was OK again, but by the time it was 5pm his fever spiked again and so we spent most of the weekend at home. Tonight I brought Alex to my parents for them to take care of him the first couple of days of the week to come. The big question now is how much time it will take before Matías gets ill as well. The bets are open...

The rainy and cold weather are also perfect for us to be longing more and more to nice weather and holidays. We are all suffering a bit from the winter blues, but to remedy this a bit we took a couple of steps this week in arranging holidays. We booked various hotels in the Como-lake area in Italy for the first week of July. That first week we will take Abuelo Daniel on a trip to Italy.

The rainy and cold weather is also annoying Cedric and Dawn. Cedric is the cook that has a nice bed-and-breakfast in Southern-England where we spend a couple of days some years ago around Easter. He is visiting Belgium and suffering from the rain for the sight-seeing. On Saturday night we went out for dinner with them together with Susanne and Richard (Richard is family of Cedric). We headed to the Belga Queen, one of the well-known addresses in Brussels set in an impressive building that served as a bank many decennials ago. The bar of the restaurant is located in the old Vault, the eating place is in the old hall of the bank.

The rainy and cold weather is also not helping with traffic. Causing many accidents and the associated traffic jams. In Brussels these days we are not only suffering from accidents, but also from tunnels that are being closed because they are deemed too dangerous to drive through because of bad maintenance. There is an ring-road around the micro-center of Brussels that uses many tunnels to allow, in theory, for fluid traffic. It now seems that many of these tunnels are suffering from old-age and bad maintenance over the past years. As a result one of those tunnels (at the end of the Louiza-avenue) was already closed a couple of weeks ago causing major traffic jams throughout the day. On Friday they then also partly closed the Montgomery Tunnel, another major access road to Brussels, for the same reason. Marina is passing by this tunnel every day on her way to work, so we hope it will not cause her too much trouble.

Since it is assumed to cost more than 500MEUR to repair the tunnels there are a lot of political discussions and finger-pointing between the Brussels, Flanders and national governments. The tunnels are in Brussels, but the users are mainly people from Flanders and Wallonia coming to work in the capital. So the Brussels government wants contributions for the reparations from the other regions who do not really see it as their responsibility. On the other hand, the Brussels government would love to reduce traffic in Brussels, but to accomplish this the public transport network around Brussels should be extended which is the responsibility of the other regions. So everybody looks to everybody. A good example of the strangeness of the public transport is that the area around the Brussels airport (located not in Brussels but in Flanders and full of offices) is not served by the public transport of the city of Brussels. The metro and tram service of Brussels gets you to around 2km from the office area around the airport, but the last kilometers are on Flanders territory and thus not allowed for the Brussels transport company. As a consequence people working in that area can only get there by car, causing plenty of traffic (jams).

The good news with stuck traffic is that deadly accidents are much less likely. I heard today that for youngsters between 20 and 24 years of age, fatal car accidents are still the most important cause of death (30% of deaths are caused by this). A frightening number if you ask me.

Week 445 - February 14, 2016

LifePosted by michael Tue, February 16, 2016 04:43:13

For a big part of the week the Smeyers-Pascuzzi family was an extended one with both my parents staying over from Monday to Friday. This week was a school holiday week and instead of having Alex and Matías go over to their place, my parents came to our house. This had the advantage of us being able to see the kids every day and my parents giving us a hand as well in the household. In doing so this was a week where we had a somewhat more relaxed time. Especially for Marina it was less stressful then normal since she did not have to hurry to school after work and then home to get food ready for the kids. Both Marina and i could come home to prepared food and relaxed kids every day, a real luxury. Once more a very big thank you to them.

We had plans for using this opportunity as well to go out a bit, but apart from a very nice diner on Tuesday we used the time mostly for relaxing. We also thought about going to the movies to see the "The Revenant" movie. But since I found out that it is based on a book i started reading it and that took away the need to go see the movie...

With my parents around we did not do any yoga sessions from Monday to Friday. We did not feel like doing that in front of them. But we did 2 sessions this weekend thus limiting the damage ;-)

On Sunday the Sarcophagi exposition drove us to the Royal Museum of Art and History at the Cinquantenaire park in Brussels. The museum houses collections of of national archaeology, antiquity and non-European civilisation. The Sarcophagi exposition exhibits a series of mummies and sarcophagi which obviously interests the kids (especially Alex). Inside the museum there were a couple of games for the kids and also a series of papers they could take home to build mummies and a sarcophagus. That kept them busy part of the afternoon as well.

The entrance to the exhibition also allowed us to walk around the permanent collections. It was more than 10 years ago since i went and i did not remember that it is such a big and impressive building with very eclectic architecture styles behind the exterior which is typical neo-classical. For example, the antiquity part looks like a big Roman temple build around a huge original Roman mosaic floor


and the collection of clocks and sundials is housed in a gallery that you typically see around the internal courtyard of an old church and/or monastery complex.



I am sure the Roman temple was built/erected when the museum was constructed. For the monastery gallery I am not so sure. It really looks like the more recent museum (from the end of the 19th century) was build around an existing construction. But I can not find any reference to an existing building on the location of the Cinquantenaire from before the constructions of the current buildings...

There are also some 19th century halls typical for the museum from that era.



So apart from Indian Totem poles, Chinese traditional beds and decoration items and a whole series of statues in all sizes and shapes, the architecture inside is worth the visit.

Today I once more went out running together with Alex on his bike. But to make it a bit more adventurous for him (the 15km is no real challenge for him anymore) we left home at around 5h30pm to make sure that we would be spending a big part of the run in a dark forest. Alex got to use my headlight throughout the run/cycle tour. And apart from an occasional statement that he was a bit scared whenever we stopped to see how dark it got without the light we had a great time. We plan on buying a new bike for Alex' birthday in May and will then be able to make even bigger tours. And in a couple of years I then hope to be able to also take Matías along as well.


We ended the week with a simple Saint-Valentine dinner at home. For the past years now we do not go out for dinner on this day anymore, but rather enjoy a nice fish-inspired dinner whcih resulted in fish-soup and a fresh seafood platter with things like oyster, langoustine and snails.


The pictures of this week are here.



Week 444 - February 7, 2017

LifePosted by michael Tue, February 09, 2016 04:21:18

Matías is getting bigger and bigger and on Saturday he was invited to his first birthday party. Jeanne, a girl from his class, invited him together with 6 other kids for an afternoon of fun and cake. When I went to pick him up I found back, not a tired little boy, but a very active little lion as you can see below.


I mentioned that Matías was a bit more difficult recently (at home and at school) and that we were giving him a more strict treatment at home. This is working really well and he is much more enjoyable and upbeat the last 2 weeks. On Thursday morning we also met with his teacher who confirmed that also at school his behavior improved visibly. Matías suffered a bit from the reduced attention he got at school from the teacher (Juf Ilke) after 7 more kids joined his class after the XMAS break (there are now 20 kids in his class). He reacted to this by being more aggressive both towards the teacher and the other kids (as a way to attract attention). The stress this brought was probaly also the cause for him being difficult at home. But after seeing (both at home and at school) that we do not tolerate this behavior he adjusted again and is going back to being the nice loving kid.

The teacher was happy and so are we.


While Matías was partying Alex spend a lot of time with Hadrien. Hadrien had invited him to spent the night on Saturday. On Saturday afternoon they went to a laser shooting game and was clearly enjoyed this very much. We are not really fans of (playing) guns.

With both Matías and Alex out of the house Marina and I had some time on our own and we used it to go for a bike-tour and walk in the city.


Tonight my parents arrived with a car full of food and luggage. They will be spending the whole coming week with us. Next week is school holiday and normally the kids who go spend it with my parents. But this time they will come to our place. This has the advantage that we get to see the kids every day and also gives us some additional help at night and will allow Marina and i to also go out together. So we are looking forward to that.


The pictures of this week are here.



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