Sunday, September 19, 2004

Slightly Surreal Weekend

Attended an academic conference in Kananaskis this weekend, where my wife and I presented a paper & poster session (on an analysis of the functions of stakeholder advisory committees in government). The venue was a smart move on the part of the UofL organizers, because the locale attracted delegates from as far away as India and Australia and the Canary Islands, where I somehow doubt that Lethbridge would have had the same drawing power.

Unfortunately, the scenery was largely wasted on my wife and I, since our ten month old is still too young (i.e., still nursing) to be left behind, so we had our kids with us. Consequently, aside from our own presentation, when we arranged for a sitter, and one or two presentations we desperately wanted to take in and had the other parent cover for us, we basically had to spend all our time parenting. While our colleagues were out hiking the trails or horseback riding or etc., we were dealing with a sick baby (third virus since starting day care three weeks ago) and a bored six year old.

Coping with a crying baby in a single hotel room at 3 AM is not fun. At home, we often switch off responsibilities, with one parent sleeping soundly in the spare room while the other takes a shift on duty pacing with the baby. But what do you do in a hotel room when the baby is keeping the whole floor awake, let alone both parents and her older sister?

So I found myself walking with Kasia through the halls late Saturday night, trying to give my wife time to get the six year old settled and asleep. As I stood window shopping in the hotel's mall, a tiny, aging Japanese woman walked down the hall, so stooped over that I wondered how she could manage without a cane. But she took one look at Kasia in my arms, and came over and began bowing deeply to her while speaking to me in Japanese.

Now, I am fairly use to strangers complimenting us on our baby, and I certainly agree that Kasia is pretty adorable (see photos in previous postings) but this woman was really bowing. I know enough about Japanese culture to know that the deeper the bow, the greater the respect being shown, and this was way beyond "your baby is cute" adorable, to "your child is the second coming" adorable. You know? I kept thinking of that case where a group of monks showed up on the lawn of an unsuspecting couple in California and told them their child was the next incarnation of some revered religious figure. Nice and flattering and kind of surreal at the same time...

Once the elderly woman had moved on, a second group of Japanese tourists came by, and immediately came over and politely asked if they could have their picture taken with Kasia. They seemed a nice enough family group, so okay, but as they are madly clicking away, I am bemused by the celebrity status Kasia and I have suddenly acquired that everyone wants their picture taken with us. The experience is repeated again and again as (I presume) a busload or two of Japanese settle into the hotel for the night.

When I get back to our room and relate the experience to my wife, her first response is, "But you're in you're in your pajamas!" But that doesn't really bother me in this context, because in Japan, it is not only acceptable but actually expected that patrons wear pjs in the hotel lobby -- the hotels provide robes for this purpose (as did ours, obviously used to dealing with Japanese.) So to the folks back home viewing their friend's slides, the guy in pjs makes perfect sense. But it is still a bit surreal to think of all those folks admiring my baby as one of the wonders of their trip...

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