Christmas Letter 2016

Kobe, Japan, December 23, 2016

Dear Friends,

I am adding our Christmas letter to my blog site this year so that it is available to all my Facebook friends. We have just returned to Japan for the holiday period and it is pleasant to be able to relax by the Seto Inland Sea and watch the ferries passing by en route to Hiroshima, Singapore, and other ports.

I think all our years are busy but 2016 perhaps especially so as we both combine careers with raising a new family. Our twins turned one on October 2, and we celebrated with an Italian meal at the Sicilian Restaurant in Edmonton, along with Carlton and Keelan. They are very different personalities but somehow complement each other. Akiko is more outgoing, cheeky, and good humoured, but very determined. Kaella is quieter but very quick to learn, and although she has always lagged behind her sister as they gain skills, she was the first to start walking–and mightily proud of it too. We enjoy every minute with them. Even the lengthy journey here turned out to be quite enjoyable and they adjusted quickly to the new environment.

By late August we finally hired our full-time nanny Cecile, who is from the Philippines. She was a nanny earlier for her sister’s child and was currently living in Edmonton but we still had to go through Service Canada and it took several tries to get the form into an acceptable document. There then followed a short phone interview and now she has a two-year visa that she hopes to turn into permanent residency. She comes on weekdays and the twins certainly like her.

Aya ended her maternity leave on April 1, returning to the position of Director of the Prince Takamado Japan Centre at the University of Alberta. Almost immediately upon her return the Centre was reviewed by the Faculty of Arts, and she is finding that her part time role is essentially a full one. It is hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. In June, she went to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to meet Princess Takamado, the late prince’s widow. Aya has a number of projects that have taken us to different cities: we were in Vancouver twice during the year for week-long visits, and then briefly to Regina in October. In the summer, we spent five weeks in Japan and Aya had a couple of research trips to Kyoto. She really enjoys the work though the Centre is small for its workload with only one part-time staff member other than Aya.

The lengthy summer visit to Japan was especially notable for the reception the twins received from their Japanese relatives: grandparents, and Aya’s sisters and brother, along with their families. I hope Akiko and Kaella can grow up speaking Japanese but it will take a serious effort on our part to ensure that.

My sons remain in Edmonton and happily we see them quite often. Carlton is amazingly good with the twins and they have simply taken to him as a big brother. He lives out in the west end in a house he bought last year. Keelan is now studying at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) for an IT certificate to follow his business degree. He and his girlfriend Jenny have also babysat for us and attended our major occasions. We were able to get together for a pre-Christmas dinner before we left for Japan. I regret that it has been so long since we saw our relatives in England but do promise to visit in 2017.

My own year has been seen me reach the midpoint in my five-year term as Chair of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. Frankly I have never seen myself as an administrator and I cannot say that I am particularly fond of most administrators, who are often quite withdrawn from the usual university routine of teaching and research. But there are interesting aspects and the job is certainly challenging. My overriding thought is that at Alberta we are very privileged. We could hardly ask for better conditions, pay scale, or working environment. Even during the recession that has just ended, when oil prices plummeted, professors were largely sheltered from layoffs and cutbacks. The Arts departments are shrinking because we do not often replace those retiring. But we remain relatively healthy and on our Classics side we are hiring a new assistant professor next year.

I have continued to do research though at a less frenetic pace and in August I revisited Ukraine–to Kyiv and Lviv–focusing on the process of ‘Decommunization’, which is taking place amid a nasty conflict in its eastern regions and constant political upheaval. I spoke on the same topic at Columbia University in February at a workshop at the Harriman Institute. Though I have not been able to return to Belarus, I have continued to follow developments and conduct research, and twice briefed the US State Department in Washington this year, in July and December. I also gave a series of talks at the Strathcona Public Library in Sherwood Park on three successive Sundays in February and March on Russia and Ukraine that were all very well attended.

Aya and I watched most of the 2016 US presidential campaign, which together with the events in Syria and Ukraine, and various terrorist attacks left the impression that the world has become a very dangerous place, and one in which accurate and truthful perceptions of events no longer seem to matter very much, especially over social media. I didn’t have very strong feelings about the various US candidates–though I slightly preferred Sanders to the others–but the two who ended up as party nominees seemed particularly weak and difficult to like. In 2008 and 2012 I had thought the Republicans had been cast adrift, a party of old white and bitter men whose privileged position was no longer so secure. But now they are back, with even more bitterness and bigotry and with a leader who is not from the Republican establishment but has never known poverty or hardship. Nor has he ever learned to express a complete sentence, but that is another matter. Above all, it is tolerance that is lacking: of other lifestyles, religions, and, regrettably in the 21st century, even appearances. I hope it is the last gasp of a dying breed.

We wish you a happy holiday season and a more peaceful 2017.

With warm wishes on behalf of Aya, our Albertan family, and myself.

David

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