Fatherhood Thus Far

So it is the end of the year- literally I am writing this on New Year’s Eve night. Lucas is about seven weeks old. It below freezing outside (about 24F to be exact) and I am having a nice relaxing evening staying in. We were invited to a friend’s New Year’s Celebration that I wanted to go to- but for Lucas’s sake we decided to stay in and have a bit of a quiet New Year’s Celebration. I decided to buy a nice Belgian Triple Ale and just relax. We fired up the fireplace tonight (Samantha our dog loved it) and just kind of shot the breeze. Now that I have a breath of free time I wanted to take a moment to write about some of my thoughts about fatherhood thus far.

So fatherhood- where do I start? I write this half expecting Lucas to read it when he understands it and half just out of pure boredom. In short- fatherhood is definitely experience, but it doesn’t change who you are as a core person. Sure there is the sudden huge influx of responsibilities that are associated with supported an infant child, but I would like to think that I am the same person now that I was two months ago. I still have the core values that I did and I still would like to consider myself a nice person.

Below are a list of “tidbits” that I have thought about enough to write about regarding my first month and a half of parenthood.

Parental Sacrifices

I’m lucky. My wife Asumi is awesome. If there is a happy hour planned at work or an hour or so that I want to go to the gym Asumi has been more the receptive to take care of Lucas for an hour while I go out. Likewise, when she wants to go out to lunch with friends or to yoga I try to be as accommodating as possible to help keep her sanity.

That being said- there are definitely scheduling sacrifices that you have to settle for when you are a parent. I have turned down more than one happy hour or outing with coworkers in the name of familiar responsibility. Today (New Year’s Eve) is a prime example of this as I turned down going to a coworkers party. The first sacrifice that I remember is skipping a 5K run that I signed up for to go to Luke’s first pediatric visit.

The one exception that I want to make is working out/going to the gym. Physical health is paramount. If you are unhealthy you cannot work as efficiently and thus cannot provide. Even if it is for just an hour I think it is direly important that new parents don’t fall into the “get fat” stereotype and actually stay fit.

Zippers instead of Buttons

This is meant more of advice to future parents- but when you buy clothes I would strongly recommend that you buy the “zipper up” onesies instead of the button ups. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to figure out the puzzle of buttons when Lucas is kicking/screaming at the top of his lungs post diaper change.

Crying Baby

Lucas cries. Babies cry in general. I categorize the reasons for crying into the following four categories:

  1. I’m Hungry
  2. I need a diaper change
  3. I want attention
  4. ????

Reasons 1-3 are pretty easy to address. Number four is the hard one and obviously the most frustrating. Lucas was a hard number four today for a few hours. When babies are a number four there really isn’t too much you can do and parents get so much stress. Do I let the baby cry it out? Do I try to comfort him? Do I try to force feeding him? It’s frustrating and I really do not have a clear answer. My best success is to try to rock him in my arms or but him on my knees and bounce him up and down.

Lucas’s Favorite Videos

YouTube is awesome. They have so many videos for babies/kids. Every day I play at least a few videos for Lucas. These usually range from tradition nursery rhymes to the latest concatenation dreamt up by Sesame Street.

This was probably the first song I sang to Lucas. Catchy and long enough where I can eat up enough of his attention

This was the first one where I think I saw him smile. He likes the “Here a moo there a moo everywhere a moo moo” part.

With this song I always do the gestures with Lucas while he sits on my stomach. He seems to really like the final “jump” part.

I also do the gestures on this one. He seems to like it.

I’m going to try to do more of these posts when I get an ounce of free time as I legitimately enjoy them and think they are a great way to express what I am thinking in my mind. Hopefully I want be completely balls to the wall busy with fatherhood and professional life to come on here and share my experiences.

 

Birth of Lucas

So it’s official- I am now a father. Baby Lucas came into this world on Saturday November 11th, 2017 at 8:13am. He weighed a healthy 7lbs 13oz and is still going strong a good eight days after birth. His due date was November 7th so he was four days late. We had an appointment to induce labor on November 13th, however it seems that he had plans of his own and decided to come out on 11/11.

On Friday night (the 10th) Asumi went to bed around 8pm and I did my normal “stay up and mess around on the computer” until about 10pm when I decided it was time to go to sleep. When I went into the bedroom Asumi was awake and told me she was experiencing contractions. We got out the cell phone and started timing them. The rule of thumb that we had learned from the childbirth classes was the “511” rule- that is wait until the contractions are five minutes apart, lasting for one minute each, for at least an hour before going to the ER.

After about 45 minutes we decided to make a game time call and go to the ER. Our logic was that worst case scenario we would just be sent back home, but it was always good to lean on the side of caution. Anyways at this point it was about 11pm on Friday and we drove to the ER at Richardson Methodist Health Center. The ER experience was pretty boilerplate- I dropped Asumi and her mother off, parked the car, and then ran inside to check-in. I remember at the ER I had to fill out a form and wrote down something like “I think my wife is in labor”. The ER nurse initially thought I was the one that needed care, but quickly laughed it off.

After about five minutes of waiting in the ER waiting room a nurse came out with a wheelchair and escorted us back into our ER room. Asumi was hooked up with a big sensor around her belly to monitor the baby and had an IV put in her (she hates needles). The OBGYN on-call doctor came in and measured her dilation to be 1cm (supposedly you need to be 8cm before being considered to be in full labor).

Since the contractions were so debilitating (and matched the 511 rule), after about an hour they decided to check us into Labor in Delivery. A nurse came with a wheel chair and and escorted us up to the labor and delivery floor on the fourth floor to our private room.

Bathroom in delivery room (complete with shower)

Delivery room bed

Baby heater

If you plan on having a baby at Methodist Richardson (which I highly recommend) the maternity floor (the fourth floor) is setup into two different partitions: one for delivery and one for postpartum care. The two areas are separated off by a waiting room with elevator access. Supposedly when the baby is born an RFID sensor is placed on his cord. If the baby tries to leave the hospital before he is allowed, the hospital will go on lockdown. After we were in our room in the delivery section we made it very clear that we wanted an epidural ASAP to alleviate the pain Asumi was having.

Within about ten minutes the anesthesiologist came in with the epidural kit. At this point Asumi’s mom had to leave (they only allow one visitor in the room for the epidural) and the doctor proceeded to insert the epidural catheter into Asumi’s back. From what it looked like the numbing shot was the most painful part. I stood in front of Asumi while they did it and she dug her nails into my hand to the point where it broke my skin. They had to try two different entry points before they got a clean line into the spine and were able to administer the medicine.

With the epidural in place the pain went down exponentially and they inserted a Foley catheter in order to help induce the labor and increase dilation. After we were settled in, I dropped her mom back off at our house and went back to spend the night at the hospital with Asumi. The one distinct thing that I remember about that night was that the lady in the room next to us clearly opted out of the epidural. We went to sleep with the excruciating loud screams of labor pains from the room next to us. Supposedly (according to the nurses) this was louder than normal and assured us that since we got the epidural the chances of Asumi having such extreme pain were relatively low. Still, I am sure that the lady freaked out anyone spending the night in the labor section that night.

When morning came around they checked dilation again only to find that it remained at 1cm. It was nothing extremely serious, but they also noted that his heart rate was somewhat fluctuating from high to low. For these reasons they decided the easiest and safest course of action was to have a Cesarean section. From here things happened very quickly- within about thirty minutes they carted off Asumi to the operating room. For C-sections, the spouse is also allowed to join the mother-to-be in the OR. After putting on the OR scrubs/bunny suit I accompanied Asumi to just outside the entrance to surgery.

Before going into the OR

I had to wait alone for about ten minutes while they prepped the surgery room and made sure everything was good to go. During these ten minutes I was coming up with conversation topics in my head to talk with Asumi during the procedure to distract her from the fact that there was major surgery happening.

Met waiting outside while they prep the OR

In the OR there was a big curtain that separated Asumi’s face/head and the more “gory” part of the surgery. I sat down in the chair next to her and we talked about everything that we could to distract away from the surgery. We talked about which Disney Land Lucas would go to first, when our next trip to Hawaii would be, and all of our travel experiences in the past. After about five minutes- at 8:13am on Saturday November 11th, we heard Lucas’s first gasp of air and crying screams that marked his entrance into this world.

Immediately they rushed him over to the heater and started to wipe him off and clean him up. I walked over to the heater (which was located opposite the operating table) to take pictures and say hello to Lucas. He was hooked up to a pulse oximeter and the doctors started listening to his hear to make sure everything was OK. He had a ton of hair when he came out (which is consistent with the rumor that the more heart burn the mom has during pregnancy, the more hair the baby has).

Initially his pulse was very high (close to 200) and his oxygen was a bit low (close to 86), but after about 10 minutes he stabilized. He was screaming a lot (which is normal given the trauma he just went through) but otherwise seemed very healthy. I remember turning around to tell Asumi something and accidentally catching a glimpse of the “other side” of the curtain while it was mid-procedure. I looked away as soon as possible, but it was definitely a sobering experience to see mid-procedure abdominal surgery. Gives me a renewed admiration for surgeons.

After Lucas was stabilized they wrapped him up and I took him over to Asumi’s head so that she could say hello to our new son. After a couple of minutes, I left the OR with Lucas and a nurse to go back to our delivery room. After a normal birth the baby is supposed to do skin-to-skin contact to “bond” with the parent and alleviate some of the shock of childbirth. Since Asumi was in the OR being patched up, it was suggested that Lucas go skin-to-skin with me (so called “kangaroo care”).

Fresh new baby

After about five minutes, Asumi came back in the room and I brought Lucas up to be with mom. We spent the next hour or so in the delivery room before we were carted across the hall to the post-partum care area. The private room here was a bit smaller than the delivery room, but still nice none-the-less.

Swaddled baby

The next few days were a bit of a blur. There are so many different doctors/nurses coming in at all hours of day/night to check up on both Lucas and Mom. After the surgery was over, they said that they found out that there was a “20% abruption” on the placenta and that it was a good call we did a C-section when we did. Recovery from the surgery (for mom) definitely looked hard- for the first couple of nights she was completely bed-ridden.

Methodist Richardson does not actually have a nursery (besides the NICU) and the baby sleeps in room with mom/dad. For the first couple of nights (since Asumi could not get out of bed) I woke up every two hours to change Lucas’s diaper and help him over to Asumi to nurse. I also had to swaddle him. Swaddling a baby (tightly) is harder than it looks. It seems that whenever I thought I did a good job, his hands would pop out of the swaddle within seconds. The nurses made it look really easy, but it definitely too me a few times each time to get it done correctly.

The doctors/nurses gave Asumi pretty powerful painkillers (everything from Tylenol with Codeine to Hydrocodone), however it was still a painful recovery. After about two days Asumi was able to walk (albeit slowly) to the bathroom.

On one of the check ups the day after delivery the doctor noticed that Lucas’s heartbeat sounded stronger on the right side of the chest. To rule out anything serious, they did a chest x-ray of Lucas and found that he had a pneumothorax that was causing the heartbeat to sound muffled on the left side (this also explained why it took so long for his oxygen to get to 100% right after birth). They said it did not look extremely serious and it would likely go away on its own. Because of this, however, they did come into the room every four hours to check his pulse/oxygen level. After a couple of days they redid the chest x-ray and found that everything had resolved itself.

Weight loss was another concern with Lucas. Right at birth he was 7lbs 13 oz. A day after birth (they check right around midnight) he had gone down to 7lbs 3oz. The day after he was 7lbs 1oz and at discharge he was 7lbs flat. Supposedly it is normal for babies to lose up to 10% of their body weight (and even more for a c-section), but since Lucas was breast feeding so well and eating a lot the hospital pediatrician did not seem to think it was an issue. Two days later when we went to the pediatrician for the first time (Dr. Daniel) we found that he was 7lbs 3oz.

There were a handful of other people that came into the room following the birth. The doctor came and took Lucas off to do a circumcision, someone came to test his hearing, and a photographer (from Mom365) came. Someone came in to take care of the application for the birth certificate as well as someone to give Lucas his HepB vaccine. Someone also came in to test his blood sugar to make sure everything was OK there since I had mentioned he looked a bit jittery.  A couple of religious people came in as well to offer prayers (which we politely declined).

The photographer caught Lucas at a bit of a bad time as it was right before a feeding, however they managed to get a couple of good pictures. As expected they price gouged for the pictures ($180 for eight digital copies). I’d recommend not using Mom365 and instead just going  to a cheaper and more reasonable photographer after discharge.

Overpriced professional picture

We stayed at the hospital for a total of three nights (including the ER trip). My Blue Cross Blue Shield TX plan from Texas Instruments would have covered “96 hours after c-section birth”, however after three days Asumi was feeling well enough to get back home. Surprisingly even after the hospital stay and surgery  we did not hit our out-of-pocket limit for the insurance. We had already hit our deductible, but did not reach the cap on our insurance plan. Since we hit our deductible- I made sure that I scheduled various medical appointments for myself (such as removing moles).

Bill for delivery as seen on insurance.

Food at Richardson Methodist- no complaints . Three times a day Asumi could call room service. The food was pretty good and there was also a cafeteria on the second floor of the building that had Starbucks coffee. They gave guests two free meal vouchers (which I used quickly) and would charge $7 a meal (for guests, not patient) after that. Highlights were the pizza, the french toast, and the turkey flatbread. Lowlights were the pasta, the burgers, and the carne verde. Everything was edible though and there was nothing terrible. There was also a “nourishment”  station with free tea/water/coffee for all and free pudding/soft drinks for patients.

The staff/doctors/nurses at Richardson Methodist are top notch. Everyone was super friendly, helpful, and I’d highly recommend going there for delivery. Asumi had a lactation consultant to give her some pointers for breast feeding and the nurses made sure that we were completely comfortable and that all of our needs were handled.

Discharge day was pretty uneventful. The nurse came in with all of the paperwork and explained to us everything that we needed to do the following few days. We already had our pediatrician visit scheduled. They gave us a nice gift bag with a very nice Velcro swaddle. After strapping Lucas into our car seat the nurse escorted us down to the front of the hospital where I drove around. If you could dog Richardson Methodist on anything- it’s the fact that their valet management is completely clueless. The valet had parked cars all in the front of the hospital making it impossible for me to pull up right next to Asumi. I would expect the ability to pick up patients would trump the need for parking. Putting Lucas into the car was pretty easy- we had gone through the NHTSA a month or so earlier to make sure everything was installed correctly.

Lucas strapped in

Lucas has been at home now for about five days and things are going pretty well. He does everything that a newborn normally does- eat, poop, and sleep. Asumi is doing better with her recovery (although it is still hard). Our pediatrician visit with Dr. Daniel went pretty well and Lucas seems to be very healthy. The weather in Richardson was great on Saturday so I actually took him out for 10 minutes in the stroller.

Stroller time!

I’m sure I’ll learn a lot about fatherhood and life in general. Definitely looking forward to the challenge of being a parent and am excited for the good memories to be made!

Sleepy baby

New House

So we bought a house. More specifically-  we put down a deposit to build a house. It was a little bit of a fast experience. Comparatively we probably bought the house quite quickly compared to some people. We have a baby coming in November so we wanted to get the house squared away well before so there would be no stress when baby Lucas comes into this world. I thought I’d go over some of the experiences we had looking for houses and the criteria if why we pass/bought.

Preowned Houses

We didn’t really look at preowned homes too much. The ones we did look at were open houses that were publicly advertised. DFW area is a pretty hot real estate market- so I got the impression that the houses that got to the “open house” stage were either grossly overpriced or had something emphatically wrong with them. I understand that you might have painted the house the way that you liked it when you were living there, but if you plan to sell it I’d suggest a more neutral paint tint than “maharajah purple”.

Ingram Terrace (David Weekly)

These were by far one of the best customer experiences we had when looking at new houses. The sales rep was super helpful and actually made a legitimate effort to show us around the houses.  The houses were beautiful and the location was ideal (Plano ISD). The main problem? The back yard was at max about two feet away from the neighbor. Same with the side yard. I swear I could’ve knocked on my neighbors’ windows from my own window. If they had made two less houses and given people an actual yard we probably would’ve gone here.  Land is a premium though and I guess a nice yard is not a big careabout for a lot of people.

Hudson Heights (Village Builders)

We were too late here- there were only a few available houses. The guy seemed a bit apathetic and uncaring. I guess he realized that the community was all but sold out and that he did not have a huge chance for a commission.

University Place (Ashton Woods)

Super nice houses, but again no yard. We actually had to hike up to McKinney to see a model house as University Place was still in Phase I. The “garden” homes were a bit cozy and at the top end of our budget. The model homes were gorgeous, but we got the impression that they probably had at least $60k worth of upgrades in them. On top of that the houses had literally (I say that knowing what literally means) a two foot by two foot patch of grass in the back that was supposed to be the “yard”. This is Texas- not Tokyo. I expect a yard.

Malibu Heights (Megatel)

Houses were beautiful but they were at the top of our budget. On top of that the sales lady was a bit discontent. She seemed to not really care and didn’t really make much of an effort to try to help us.

Creekside Estates (KHOV)

We ended up buying here. The sales rep was super helpful, the homes were modest yet luxurious, and we actually got a yard. On top of that there was a corner lot available- so our yard is actually going to be a good yard that Lucas can play in. Is it Plano ISD? No- but from what I hear Plano ISD is super competitive. You want your kid to actually experience the fun and joy of being a kid without having to endure the monumental stress of trying to place in the top 10% to get into a name brand college. Wylie ISD is ranked highly and besides- when he gets to high school who knows if I even will still be living there.

Catch Up – A Long Time Coming

So as I said in my last post it has been a long time since I last posted. A lot has happened. When I last posted I was a bachelor, still living in Shanghai, and writing about the business trips I took to various parts of Asia. Since then I have moved back to USA, got married (with someone that I met in Shanghai), and am expecting a baby boy in November. Life certainly does come at you fast and it seems like just yesterday that I was on a plane ride for my first trip to work at Asahi Kasei. That was really the catalyst that set the tone for my twenties (I am now thirty). Before living in Japan a year I was a twenty year old sophomore in college with only dreams of being able to even visit overseas. Fast forward ten years I am married, have lived in both China/Japan, and have made more overseas trips than I can even remember.

Instead of writing a full blog post on everything that I have done since in the two years since my last blog post I thought I would just summarize here and write my thoughts of each one of the events.I’ll try to “reset” from here and do my best to update the blog as I go along.

Korea/China Trip – April 2016

  • About a month after I came back from living in China I went on a business trip to South Korea/China.
  • South Korea was pretty uneventful. I was visiting a customer (Samsung). I remember them having more security getting into the Samsung campus than I have seen at most airports.
  • At the Samsung campus you have to catalog every single piece of electronics that you bring in so that they can account for it on the way out.
  • I stayed at the IBIS Ambassador Suwon. It was a pretty standard business hotel with no fluff. Still it was clean and they seemed to speak relatively good English.
  • Incheon Airport was a nightmare coming in. I carry-on only for business travel and good thing I did so on this trip. The line for security was about three hours long. Luckily I had coworkers that had already been in line for three and a half hours (they came in from San Francisco, I came in from Dallas), and I could just cut in front of them.
  • Pollution in Suwon was noticeably bad.
  • Food was awesome. Had the normal kimchi, barbecue, grilled octopus, soju, etc.
  • Went to Shenzhen to visit another customer. It was Shenzhen- a boring city with not a lot to do. Stayed at the pirate ship hotel.
Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

More Korean BBQ

More Korean BBQ

Random street in Suwon

Random street in Suwon

Me "working" at the hotel restaurant in Shenzhen. Not a strip club, this is the restaurant at the Intercontinental.

Me “working” at the hotel restaurant in Shenzhen. Not a strip club, this is the restaurant at the Intercontinental.

Wedding (in Hawaii) – June 2016

The wedding was at the Disney Aulani hotel in Oahu, Hawaii. The location was somewhat chosen as it was a good halfway point for her family (in Japan) and my family (in USA). Pictures of the wedding at:

http://wedding.timothylogan.com/

  • Mickey and Minnie Mouse came to the wedding. It cost an extra $1200 for that to happen. If I ever want to give up the life of being an engineer I should try to be the guy under the Goofy suit.
  • Even with the $1200 premium it wasn’t that expensive. The wedding was small (both my parents, her parents, her grandma, her sister, and my sister (and her boyfriend). Disney did a great job catering the event.
  • After the wedding we stayed at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki. The sense I got from this hotel was that it was really something in the 70s, but somehow has since become a little dated.
  • The wedding dinner was at Roy’s Ko Olina. Great food and good service. I remember my wife and I being the dividing line at the table of Japanese speakers (her family) and English speakers (my family)
  • American Airlines direct from Dallas was fine. The plane was ancient, but it got us there on time.
  • We actually got legally married in Richardson TX at a small ceremony in a court house. We did this so that Asumi (my wife) would be under my health insurance in case anything went sour in Hawaii
Wedding on the beach

Wedding on the beach

Me with Minnie

Me with Minnie

Us with Chip and Dale

Us with Chip and Dale

Poke!

Poke!

Near Disney Hotel in Hawaii

Near Disney Hotel in Hawaii

Tennessee Trip (July 2016)

  • Went to Tennessee to introduce my Grandma and my Uncle to my wife.
  • Stayed at the Holiday Inn in Columbia. It was adequate and a standard Holiday Inn.
  • I remember when we were at my Uncle’s house there were a ton of fireflies. Asumi said that fireflies only are in places with very clean air
  • In Nashville we stayed at the Indigo Hotel. The hotel was nice and the location was great, but the room was small. Somehow I preferred the Holiday Inn.
  • On the last morning we were walking around Nashville and say a 5K/10K that was being run. This is what first made me interested in 5K running.
  • We saw fireworks over the Nashville river. It was pretty nuts. Sheryl Crow was there live and it was on-and-off rain
  • We went to the zoo in Nashville. It was a nice walk.
Fish at the Nashville Zoo

Fish at the Nashville Zoo

Fireworks in Nashville

Fireworks in Nashville

Palo Duro Camping Trip (October 2016)

  • Went out to Palo Duro Canyon for a camping trip.
  • We tried to cook the first night. There were bugs everywhere. We had very small dinner and pretty much sprayed the entire campsite with hardcore DEET pesticide.
  • Went hiking the next day on one of the intermediate camping trails. Was a nice walk. Had the dog in a “doggy” backpack.
  • The second day we didn’t want to go through the bug camping dinner so we drove to The Big Texan in Amarillo. Had a big Texas sized steak.
  • Stopped by Texas Tech on the way back and walked around. Talked to some professors.
  • Sleeping at Palo Duro in the tent was an ordeal. The wind was strong so going to sleep was challenging with the constant violent flapping of the tent.
  • Wild packs of turkeys were constantly making the gobbling noises throughout the night.
Samantha in her backpack

Samantha in her backpack

Asumi and I at Palo Duro

Asumi and me at Palo Duro

Big Texas Steak

Big Texas Steak

Me making fire in Palo Duro

Me making fire in Palo Duro

Japan Trip (add-on to business trip) – February 2017

  • Took advantage of the business trip airfare to Asia and stayed at Japan for a few days on my way to China (see below)
  • Stayed at one of my favorites Hotel Century Southern Tower.  It has a nice view and is on the quieter Shinjuku Southern Terrace Entrance.
  • Visited the old bar that I always went to (Gina’s in Atsugi). Atsugi is so nostalgic to me. It’s nice how some places don’t change.
  • Bought a ton of stuff for my wife from Daiso in Atsugi as well as Uniqlo in Shinjuku. I had two bags that I had to lug back from Asia.
  • I went to Kappabashi (a place that sells those fake food samples that sit in front of restaurants) and bought a fake beer to keep on my desk at work.
  • Went to eat at Tsukiji at least once (and had the obligatory toro sushi)
Sushi!

Sushi!

Uniqlo in Shinjuku

Uniqlo in Shinjuku

Atsugi never changes

Atsugi never changes

Me with friends at Gina's in Atsugi

Me with friends at Gina’s in Atsugi

China Trip (return) – February 2017

  • Went to Shanghai and Shenzhen in February 2017 for work.
  • In Shanghai I stayed at the Hongta Hotel. Was nice because this is not too far from where I used to live in Shanghai.
  • I met up with a previous coworker and we all ate at one of my favorite restaurants (Ding Tai Fung in Lu Jia Zui).
  • Went to Kang Dao massage in Tangqiao (where I used to live). The masseuse did not mess around- my back was purple by the end.
  • Shenzhen was boring Shenzhen. Stayed at the pirate ship. I remember going to an awesome Sichuan food restaurant at a mall.
  • Getting out of Shenzhen was a bit hectic. Tried to get home a day early and really JUST got on the ferry from Shenzhen to Hong Kong airport. Was able to get back to Dallas for two full days before I had to ship out to Germany (see below)
Went to the Ritz Carlton bar in Shanghai

Went to the Ritz Carlton bar in Shanghai

Ding Tai Fung!

Ding Tai Fung!

Germany Trip  (Munich) #1 – February 2017

  • This was my first time in Germany (or rather my first time in mainland Europe).
  • I went from DFW->LHR->MUC (Munich). I remember being surprised that British Airways charges for any sort of drink on the plane from London to Munich.
  • In Germany I was staying at the Airport Marriott in Freising. Freising is where my company has their main office in Germany.
  • I had one day where I went into proper Munich for sightseeing. I went to Marienplatz and walked around downtown.
  • I distinctly remember in downtown Munich going to this place which had a ton of wooden picnic tables and places that were just slinging out beers for a few Euro. I had my nice morning beer at 11am.
  • I wrote post cards as a souvenir and sent them out from the Munich post office
  • The train getting from Freising to Munich was a bit confusing. I didn’t know if I had an assigned seat or what. I should’ve done more research here beforehand.
  • One night in Freising the guys at the local office took us out for a night of laser tag and drinking. It was super fun. I remember feeling in bizarro land running through the German laser tag arena while X’ gon give it to ya by DMX was blasting.
  • My go to restaurant in Freising is Weissbraeu Huber. They speak English, the food was good, and they take AMEX (my company card).
  • Went to the Weihenstephaner brewery. Oldest brewery in the world supposedly. A bit touristy, but the food was good and the beer was world class.
Beer!

Beer!

More beer!

More beer!

Downtown Freising

Downtown Freising

Downtown Munich

Downtown Munich

Morning drinking is OK if everyone else is doing it.

Morning drinking is OK if everyone else is doing it.

Israel Trip – June 2017

  • Went here for business to sync up with the team about some collaborative projects between Dallas and Israel.
  • Office is in Ra’anana, hotel was the Dan Accadia in Herzliya. This was probably one of the best hotels that I went to for business. Right on the boardwalk of the Mediterranean Sea and reminded me of Venice Boardwalk in California.
  • Getting into Israel was a bit tough. I took American Airlines from DFW to Frankfurt, and then El Al Airlines (Israeli) from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. Security to board the El Al flight was super strict. I got screened for “extra” security. They took me to side room and made me go over every single article of clothing and completely stripped my luggage to the bone to make sure there wasn’t anything dangerous. I had to specifically tell them what I was doing and which parts I was programming. They made me check my carry-on.
  • Security actually at Tel Aviv airport was not too bad. I think the amount of business travelers going to Israel is small compared to tourists so I was pretty easy to go through.
  • Food summaries:
    • Hummus restaurant. In USA hummus is something more to snack on- not a full blown meal. This was delicious, however was super filling. I wanted to pass out afterwards.
    • Gloria’s Cafe. A restaurant owned by someone from South Africa. Went there for lunch and had a Jem’s Beer. First time drinking beer for lunch on a workday.
    • Kosher McDonald’s. I had to stop by amall to get some Laline bath souvenirs for my wife. Had McDonald’s. It was very similar to USA McDonald’s except there was no cheese on the Big Mac (this is not kosher)
    • Hotel breakfast. No bacon (there is not a lot of bacon in Israel). A lot of fruit. Wasn’t my favorite, but it was good quality.
    • Yam 7 Bar. My “go to” as it was next to the hotel, had a great view of the Mediterranean, and had cold beer. Had burgers, fish dishes, etc. Was a bit pricey but they took Amex.
  • The office was nice. They have really gourmet coffee and these huge bean bag chairs everyone uses to take a break (these were particularly nice after wanting to pass out due to hummus).
  • Had one free day. Decided to book a tour to see Mazada and The Dead Sea. Chose this over Jerusalem as I only had one day and I did not think this was enough to really see all of Jerusalem. I am also not religious so the religious aspects would’ve been lost to me.
  • Tour bus booked online through some tour company. Wanted to do a canned tour as I wasn’t too familiar with Israel and didn’t want to get lost somewhere I was not supposed to be.
  • Tour group was about 15 people and was in English. They gave you freedom to walk around.
  • Mazada was amazing. History aside, the view from atop the mountain was breathtaking. The Dead Sea looked like something out of a movie. Words cannot do it justice.
  • Dead Sea was also awesome. After changing we had to take a trailer/shuttle to the actual shoreline. The Dead Sea is disappearing so the actual shore was a mile or so from where the resort was.
  • I’m sure people say this a lot- but I can’t believe how salty The Dead Sea was. A drop of water accidentally got into my mouth and it was one of the most disgusting tastes ever.
Hotel breakfast

Hotel breakfast

Hummus. AKA cement

Hummus. AKA cement

Mazada ruins

Mazada ruins

Me at Mazada. Awesome view.

Me at Mazada. Awesome view.

Me floating in Dead Sea

Me floating in Dead Sea

Sunset in Herzliya

Sunset in Herzliya

New York City Vacation – June 2017

  • Quick two day baby moon. The last trip Asumi and I took together without a kid.
  • Found awesome airfare. Round trip from DFW to Newark was $75 per person.
  • Stayed at the Holiday Inn Times Square. Location was great, staff was friendly, and it was relatively cheap considering we were a couple of blocks from Times Square. I think it was something like $220 a night.
  • Flying into Newark wasn’t that bad. Uber was easy to get and I don’t remember it being particularly crowded.
  • We saw Aladdin on Broadway. Show was good and cast was amazing. What you would expect from Broadway.
  • Tons of kids (it was Disney). Some kids were distracting.
  • As there were a lot of kids I decided to get a double Maker’s Mark neat from the lounge bar. It came to $30. Granted it was a souvenir glass I could’ve just bought an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark at a liquor store.
  • One morning we decided to go get some bagels for breakfast. Line for the bagel place was around the store so we decided to go a diner (as New York is famous for). We went to Brooklyn Diner. As we passed by I remember thinking “the guy in the window looks a lot like Jerry Seinfeld.” Once we sat down I realized “the guy in the corner IS Jerry Seinfeld.” Did my best to eat the eggs and hash (Asumi got Eggs Benedict) with Jerry Seinfeld in my peripheral vision. Didn’t want to be “one of those people” that bothered him or even stared in star shock.
  • Went to the Modern Art Museum. It was nice, but I think a lot of it was lost on me as I am not exactly  a scholar of art.
  • Went to Chelsea Market. A lot of nice looking food there, but it was crowded. A bit touristy.
  • Walked around Central Park. Was nice, relaxing, and free. Not everything in NYC will cost you that much money.
  • Had nice Italian food the first day at Casa Nonna. Hip and relaxing place. Near the hotel.
Both of us at Times Square

Both of us at Times Square

Asumi in Central Park

Asumi in Central Park

Asumi in NYC

Asumi in NYC

Asumi at the Aladdin entrance

Asumi at the Aladdin entrance

Aladdin on Broadway!

Aladdin on Broadway!

India Trip (Bangalore) – July 2017

  • First time flying to India from USA. That trip sucks. I flew from Dallas to Dubai and then from Dubai to India. That trip really sucks and you end up a zombie by the time you actually get to India.
  • I brought power bars this time as a backup so I didn’t have to eat too much of the food
  • More of the food- I ate breakfast at the hotel, power bars for lunch, and a mix of either power bars for dinner or hotel food for dinner
  • There was an alcohol ban in Bangalore when I was there. I tried to go to TGI Fridays to get a nice frosty Kingfisher, but had to settle for a luke warm Sprite instead. It sucked.
  • I stayed at the Hyatt MG Road. I wouldn’t stay here again. They were doing construction until late at night and it wasn’t that great of a hotel to stay at. Next time I am going to opt for the Leela Palace.
  • I remember thinking how dirty the roads were and how trash was caked everywhere. Cows were hanging out wallowing in and eat garbage piles.
Garbage cows. This was not actually the worst I saw.

Garbage cows. This was not actually the worst I saw.

Germany Trip (Munich) #2 – July 2017

  • I came here directly from India and was greeted with clean streets and safe food. I made up for the beer that I missed out in India.
  • I did laundry at the hotel. Laundry at the Marriott in Freising is expensive. It came out to about 150 euro. If I had known it was going to be this much I probably would have just bought new clothes.
  • The first full day I was there we went to some sort of carnival/mini Oktoberfest in the country. Pretty much a bunch of carnival games and a huge beer tent. Had a couple of liters of beer. Beer turned into schnapps. The rest of the day was a bit hazy after the schnapps.
  • At the carnival I was introduced to Wurstsalat. My new favorite German food.
  • Ate at all of the restaurants from my first trip to Germany. Didn’t make it into Munich proper this time.
  • It was Biergarten season this time around. First Biergarten we went to was Plantage in a forest area. It was nice, but I remember constantly having to dodge bees. Food was “Biergarten” food which included the jumbo pretzels and the “currywurst” (a sort of curry and sausage combined).
  • Second biergarten was a place by the lake that we went on the last day. Very local place and super chill atmosphere. Seemed like more of a family place where the locals go to wind down after work. Weather was perfect.
  • Coming back to USA I went through Chicago, and then onto Dallas. My flight from Munich to Chicago was delayed so I had to sprint through the airport in Chicago to make the Dallas flight. Thank god for carry ons and Global Entry.
Schnapps!

Schnapps!

Festival in downtown Freising

Festival in downtown Freising

Me at the carnival festival

Me at the carnival festival

Long time no Blog

It’s been a long time since I have written a blog post. In that time- I have returned back to the USA, married, and also have a baby boy coming in November. I am writing this while sitting in the Freising Marriott waiting for my room to be cleaned. I’ve traveled quite a bit over the past couple of years since my blog post and have been unfortunately lazy on updating the blog. If no reason other than to give myself something to look back at in 10 years I am going to make more of an active effort writing my blog. In the past month I have traveled to New York, Israel, India, and now Germany. It takes a bit of time time to write a proper blog post (which is why I’ve been so lazy), however I do enjoy it and I do like chronicling my travel. Look for an update soon!

Shenzhen Business Trip and Hong Kong Vacation

So it has already been a year since I have moved to China. A lot has happened and life has been very busy. Last week though I went to Shenzhen for business to attend (and give) a training. I was able to swing it so that I flew in and out of Hong Kong which gave me a couple of days of personal time in Hong Kong for vacation.

 

Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Hong Kong and Shenzhen

I left on an unassuming Sunday and took a taxi to the airport. After checking in, I learned that my flight was delayed for three hours. This was particularly a pain because the delay made the flight fall in between dinner time. You would think a huge international airport like Shanghai Pudong would have an abundance of restaurant options- but in reality the choice is quite abysmal. In Terminal 1, you are pretty much limited to Ajisen Ramen (a terrible ramen place), Burger King, and a catch all “western” cafe. I boldly attempted the western cafe and had one of the worst meals of grilled salmon which was almost inedible. Not even a Starbucks or decent coffee shop- all generic Chinese shops which were awful.

Anyways after about four hours the flight finally did take off. I flew DragonAir/Cathay this time. No big complaints about the flight- entertainment was good, food was edible, and there were USB charge ports at every seat. I finally arrived in Hong Kong at about 10pm. After collecting my luggage and meeting my coworker in the arrival lobby, I met my “limo” service to Shenzhen. Hong Kong (while now officially under China) is considered “international” travel. This means Hong Kong people have their own passports, money, elections (for now), etc. Because of this, when I took the limo service from the Hong Kong airport to my hotel in Shenzhen we had to go through immigration at the border. Usually you can go through in the car, but this time for some reason the driver said it would be quicker if we got out of the car at the border and walked through the checkpoint. Anyways, after a couple hours of driving and standing in line at immigration, I arrived at the J.W. Marriott Shenzhen at about midnight.

The hotel was super nice. For some reason or another (probably because I arrived so late), they stuck me on the top floor on a corner room. The view was great all week from my room and the weather was unusually clear/sunny.

View from my room

View from my room

As usual, I won’t really go into the specifics of the business here. All-in-all the training went well and the presentation/demo that I gave went down without a hitch. As it was a week long summit, I did have a couple of days where I had some free time. One day we went to Huaqianbei. Huaqianbei is a huge electronics district in Shenzhen and is known to have just about anything electronic (fake or real) that you would want to buy. There was a huge 10 floor (or so) mall that we went up in that had every manner of electronics, ICs, connectors, etc. I bought an all-in-one Miniport adapter for my surface for a cheap 30RMB. I thought about buying some fake Beats headphones for about $32, but I decided to wait until Hong Kong to just get real Bose headphones. I also ended up buying a selfie stick- not for practicality, but for novelty.

SEG store at Huaqianbei

SEG store at Huaqianbei

Selfie stick I bought

Selfie stick I bought

The rest of the week was filled with the normal work routine. There were a couple of company sponsored dinners where we went to traditional Chinese food places. I was also quickly able to locate the Starbucks next to the hotel so I could get my morning Americano fix.

At the end of the week, it was time for me to check out of the hotel and head to Hong Kong to start my vacation. One of my coworkers was heading to Macau, so I shared an Uber with him to the Shekou Ferry Terminal (the ferries to Hong Kong and Macau leave from the same port). After arriving at the port and picking up my ticket (I bought it previously online), I bid farewell to my friend and boarded the ferry to Hong Kong. For the ferry ticket, I opted to pay about 20RMB more and get a “first class” ticket. This granted me access to the first class deck. I would say that it was worth the upgrade- there were about 15x less people in first class and made for a very pleasant/quiet journey. The ride was a bit rough towards the end, but overall not too bad. I got to look out the window at the great views of Hong Kong bay.

 

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Terminal

Ferry in the distance

Ferry in the distance

Quiet first class

Quiet first class

Once arriving in Hong Kong, I had to somehow get to Tsim Sha Tsui station in order to meet my AirBNB host. Hotels in Hong Kong are extremely expensive, so this time I opted to try AirBNB for the first time. I arrived at the station (by taxi) around 4pm and the apartment owner showed me to the apartment. It was a very good experience overall. The location was great (right in the middle of the trendy Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon). I could walk virtually anywhere in Kowloon and the metro station was right outside. The apartment itself was clean and more than large enough to accommodate me. If I had a family it might have been tight, but for my means it was more than enough. This was the room I booked.

 

My AirBNB room

My AirBNB room

After walking around a bit, I decided to visit the iconic Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is known for its breathtaking views of the Hong Kong skyline. The most popular way to get to the to peak is by tram. I took the metro to the tram stop and was greeted with a horrendously crowded tram station. The line was estimated to be about a two hour wait. Luckily, I had a backup plan and walked to a nearby bus station to take the bus to the top. The bus was somewhat of an experience- the road was very narrow and the drops on the margin of the bus looked downright treacherous. Still, after about 20 minutes I arrived at the top of the mountain. From there I siphoned my way through a shopping mall and bought my ticket to the observation deck. Again, the observation deck was beyond crowded and filled to the brim with loud Chinese tourists. I didn’t spend too much time here- about 15 minutes or so. I spent just enough time to snap some pictures and take in the view.

My view from Victoria Peak

My view from Victoria Peak

 

Coming back I had a bit of a problem. The bus, tram, and taxi lines were all about two hour waits. Luckily, Uber (at the time) worked in Hong Kong. After ordering Uber, I was greeted by a Mercedes S-Class about five minutes later to take me back to Tsim Sha Tsui. Once back, I had a quick sushi dinner and conked out for the night. I had developed a bit of a head cold so I didn’t want to push myself with a late night.

The next day I had a full schedule of hiking planned. I had read that Dragon’s Back hiking trail was a great way to escape the crowds in Hong Kong and a good chance to get some fresh air. I had developed a little bit of a head cold, so I stopped by 7-11 and picked up some Dayquil equivalent. One thing that you consistently notice in Hong Kong are remnants of the British influence in the area. At the convenient stores, you see western medicine, foods, drinks, etc…. definitely more so than Mainland China. The fact that I could walk into 7-11 and buy something as simple as Dayquil is a convenience that I do not have here in Shanghai.

I found this very helpful guide on how to get to the base of the hiking trail. Essentially I took the metro to one of the outlier stations (Shau Kei Wan) and caught a bus to the trail head. The following hike was very very refreshing. I love to hike- but in Shanghai there really are no good mountains nearby (not to mention that the air is normally filthy). Dragon’s Back was simply stunning. The weather was great and it was the perfect mix of uphill and downhill. It’s called “Dragon’s Back” because it goes up and done repeatedly (much like a dragon’s back). All throughout the hike there were awesome views overlooking the bay with water as far as the eye could see.

 

Start of trail

Start of trail

At the peak

At the peak

You can see why they call it "Dragon's Back"

You can see why they call it “Dragon’s Back”

The entire hike took a few hours and was very relaxing. When tourists go to Hong Kong, they normally swarm around shopping malls. This is what made Dragon’s Back such a good experience for me- it was virtually deserted besides from some locals and the occasional westerner. It was definitely a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai city life. Instead of going to the beach front, I looped back to where I started on the trail and caught the bus back in town. After getting back to my apartment, I decompressed a bit and took a much needed afternoon nap.

After another sushi dinner, I decided to go see a movie in Hong Kong. Ant Man was showing and I really wanted to see it so I bought a ticket at Gateway Tower movie theater. I bought a special “D-Box” seat. From what I could gather, this means that the seat was special in that it vibrated and moved depending on what was happening on screen. After walking around a couple hours (and snapping a couple of great selfies by the harbor) I was seated and watched the movie. The overall experience was light years better than the experiences I had in Mainland China. Everyone was quiet, polite, and did not text. The moving seat legitimately was a good experience and added quite a bit of fun to the movie. I thought it was going to be gimmicky, but surprisingly it worked.

 

Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui

Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui

My D-Box Seat

My D-Box Seat

The movie let out late so I ended up getting back to my apartment and just conking out again around 11pm. The next morning I did a bit of walking around Tsim Sha Tsui. My flight did not leave until about 2pm so I had quite a bit of time to walk and shop. As my Bose headphones were at the end of their lifespan, I ended up buying a new pair of QC25 headphones for those long transpacific flights. At about 11:30am, I caught a taxi to the airport and flew back to Shanghai. Luckily, the flight going back was actually on time and I reached Shanghai at a very decent time.

Overall Shenzhen/Hong Kong was a good experience. Hong Kong has a completely different vibe than Mainland China and the people there have completely different mannerisms. I am glad that I could visit both cities and hope I get the chance to go hiking in Hong Kong again.

Facebook Pictures

Chinese Movie Theater Experience – Part Two

Well it looks like I didn’t learn. After my abysmal experience with the Chinese movie theater before, I decided to give the movie theater experience in China another chance. What made me do this? Well, the fact that The Avengers: Age of Ultron looked so badass was the main driving factor. Seriously- I love these Marvel movies and will relentlessly throw my money at them as long as they get released. Another driving factor was the thought that the time I saw Cinderella could have been a fluke. Maybe princess-laden Disney movies tended to attract rude/obnoxious moviegoers in China. Maybe I was being too harsh and just had a bad experience with the movie theater. In any case, I gave China the benefit of the doubt and tried to go to a movie theater again- turned out it was a bad idea.

This time I chose to go to the movie solo- “masturdate” if you will. I didn’t put too much thought into it this time. I picked the movie theater close to my apartment (in the pristine Raffles Mall in People’s Square) and bought an IMAX 3D ticket a day before hand. I bought a later show at 8:40PM on a Monday to hopefully deter some of the rift raft. Turns out it did not make too much of a difference.

The theater layout was a bit counter intuitive. Despite the box office being located on the first floor, the actual movie theaters were scattered between the second and sixth floor. Luckily, having an IMAX 3D ticket, my theater was easy to find on the second floor.  I got there a bit early and lounged around in the concession area for about fifteen minutes. Other people had got to the movie early too. From the looks of the crowd, it was mainly younger couples on a date with a few otaku/nerdy looking comic book enthusiasts scattered in the mix. There were only two other foreigners in the mix (a couple of guys that vaguely had the Australian surfer) look going for them.

After we entered the theater I took my seat on row number five right in the middle of the theater. I was actually a bit close to the screen- but nothing unmanageable. There were only a couple of people in all of the rows ahead of me so I thought this would “mask” any talking or cell phone usage- but boy was I wrong. Before the previews, everyone was talking. When the previews started, everyone was talking. When the movie started, everyone was talking. Talking Talking Talking. Not whispering (which is bad enough), but talking in a normal speaking voice. Add people regularly checking their phones and texting through the mix and you got a perfect recipe for a shitty movie experience. For a quasi-accurate visualization of what the movie theater experience was like, refer to the dome in this Oatmeal comic.

Again, the actual movie theater was an awesome movie theater. The screen was big, the sound system was booming, and there was everything needed to provide a great movie theater experience- the audience was just bad. The movie was awesome too. It had great special effects and further enhanced the infinity stone story arc that Marvel has been building with all of their films.

Talking with colleagues/friends, they don’t seem to share my frustrations with this experience. All I can deduce is that if you don’t know what the problem is- you are the problem. If you open your mouth during the movie for reasons other than eating/breathing/drinking/(reasonably)laughing, you shouldn’t be in the movie theater. Stay at home! Halfway through the movie I fantasized about taking the guy’s cellphone beside me and bashing his skull in with it. I thought, “Yeah, I’d end up in some Chinese black site medical prison for the rest of my life, but it would be pretty satisfying.” Alas, the sanity inside me convinced me that it wasn’t worth it. In any case, the whole experience reminded me of the classic Mastodon song from the Aqua Team Hunger Force movie:

It has to be something in the culture of mainland China. I’ve seen movies in Japan, USA, and Taiwan and never had this sort of experience. Maybe in a couple of generations when the education level of China catches up to that of the first world the movie theater experience will be enjoyable, but I doubt I will ever go back to a movie theater in mainland China.

Venue: Peace Cinema Shanghai (IMAX)
English Friendliness: No Chinese Ability Required
Cost: 180RMB per ticket for IMAX 3D
Recommended? Not if you like movies

Public Transportation in Shanghai

If you are a foreigner coming to Shanghai, chances are that you will need to take some form of public transportation. Many companies will include a car/driver as part of their expat packages- but for us with normal average Joe salaries we have to resort to taking public transportation. I wanted to highlight some of my experiences and insights with various forms of public transportation in Shanghai.

The Subway

The metro in Shanghai is huge and you can really go just about anywhere on it. It opens around 6am and shuts down around 11pm. As far as the actual experience- it’s hit or miss. Sometimes it is no problem (dare I say enjoyable) and not crowded at all while other times it is borderline unusable due to the crowds and pushing. Let me preface this by comparing it to the Tokyo subway. In Tokyo, the subway was definitely crowded- however the people there had decency. There was no pushing, cutting in line, and everyone waited until everyone else safely exited the train before trying to get on. Inside the subway everyone was considerate, quiet, and mindful to the fellow passengers. Even if the Tokyo metro is packed full- it’s still endurable.

In Shanghai- there are no rules. People push (violently sometimes) in order to get ahead of the line. When a train comes, instead of waiting for people to safely exit the train, people quickly try to jump on and throw people out of the way just so they can get a seat. People yell in the subway and shout at the top of their lungs on their cellphones. People cough up their lungs and spit on the floor of the train. I’ve also seen a couple of instances where parents will actually let their babies defecate on the train. Now I take the metro (Line 2 between Peoples’ Square and Jinke Rd.) every day to go to work, however my rule is that I have to ride before 7:30am or after 9:00am in order to avoid the crowd. During this time I am usually lucky enough to find a seat and blast music in my headphones while I read a book. It is the cheapest way of transport (only about 60 cents one way)- but depending on when you go it can be flat out hazardous.

Packed train- there was so much pushing.

Packed train- there was so much pushing.

The Bus

I’ve only taken the bus twice: once in Beijing and once when I went to Chongming Island. Since the Chongming trip was a little long distance, I consider the Beijing experience more relevant experience. It was crowded, smelly, and everyone pushed. I get the impression it is like the subway and depends when you take it, however I tend to stay away.

Normal Taxis

Normal taxis are hit or miss. Sometimes they will be perfectly fine while other times they will be a somewhat fleeting experience. My biggest beef with the taxis here is that they will often ask “Where are you going?” and deny you a ride based on that. Supposedly this is illegal, however it seems to happen to me quite often. For foreigners I suppose they just think that the chance of me actually reporting them is slim so they can discriminate based off destination. They never have functional seat belts and very rarely have any English ability. Your best chance is to have your destination printed out in large Chinese font (some of them have bad eyes for reading).

One good thing about normal taxis is that they will often know the streets a lot better than Uber drivers. Uber drivers tends to use GPS while the regular taxi drivers tend to rely on their street knowledge. They drive very aggressively (sometimes dangerously), however they always tend to know where to go. This turns into a bit of double edged sword as they will take the long way- however it still seems to be considerably cheap (especially compared to western standards) if you can catch a normal cab. For the base fare it is about $2 and slowly goes up from there.

An important thing to be careful for is what color taxi you catch. Avoid the dark red taxis at all costs as they have a terrible reputation and are normally from smaller companies. You’ll have a higher chance of getting ripped off in these and some of them don’t drive with insurance. Always make sure that the taxi uses the meter and have a general idea of how much it should cost and how far away your destination is. If you feel you are being ripped off, take a picture of the taxi/license (as well as his ID number) and get a Chinese friend to call in a complaint and get you a refund. When going to/from the airport- the taxi is the best bet, but make sure you get a legit taxi. From Peoples’ Square to Pudong Airport normally runs me about 170RMB (about $27). They do not take credit cards, but will take the Shanghai metro card that you use in the subway. When coming from the airport make sure that you go to the official taxi queue. There will be a lot of scam limo services that try to solicit you, however make sure you go to the official line in the airport. Finally, when catching a cab from the Maglev, be very careful as it is a known scam for taxis to ripoff unsuspecting foreigners who are coming from the airport.

Uber

Uber has been in China for about a year or so and is honestly one of my favorite forms of transportation. They never reject you based of destination, always have seat belts, normally have free water, and sometimes the drivers will have some degree of English communication skills. There are different levels of Uber from Uber Black (expensive, but you will get at least an Audi A6) to Peoples’ Uber (cheaper than normal taxis). The only disadvantage here is that coverage is hit or miss. Sometimes you will only have to wait for a minute or so before they pick you up while other times there will be no availability at all. Depending on the level it is considerably more expensive- however the cheapest level is on the same par (if not cheaper) than normal taxis. They have some interesting cars as well. There have been a couple of times when I had a Tesla Model S pick me up. As it tends to be a bit more expensive than normal taxis- usually the locals shy away from it. This makes availability during peak times (rain, concerts, etc.) a bit more reliable compared to normal taxis. It is all credit card based too which adds a certain level of convenience. It’s definitely worth having this app on your phone.

The Tesla I got from Uber

The Tesla I got from Uber

Maglev

The Maglev (magnetic levitation train) is a high speed train that runs from Longyang Rd. Station to Pudong Airport. It’s awesome. It goes at about 430km/h during peak times and is super impressive. As of writing this, it’s the fastest public train currently in service on the planet. It’s about 40RMB for a 10 minute or so ride. It’s not super convenient unless you live by the terminal station at Longyang Rd. If I am going to the airport from work (I work near Jinke Rd.) it is great, however from my apartment in Peoples’ Square it is a bit far.

Max speed on the Maglev

Max speed on the Maglev

Walking
Shanghai definitely is a walking city. Compared to Dallas where virtually no one walks out of necessity, it’s quite easy to walk just about anywhere in the city. You have to deal with garbage, spit, people blowing cigarette smoke, and a host of other annoyances, but sometimes walking even a far distance is the best choice.

Typical Shanghai Sidewalk

Typical Shanghai Sidewalk

Notice how I did not mention anything about riding a bicycle. There certainly are people who do it in Shanghai, however these people are a lot more brave than myself. Having to weave in and out of traffic is a bit more than I want to endure on my daily commute. I don’t think it is particularly safe for the health of my heart.

Public transportation in Shanghai definitely takes some getting used to, but once you learn the goods and the bads it definitely provides a pretty high level of convenience. Having a flexible position as a software engineer definitely allows for a better experience. I can go to and leave work at times that will help me avoid the rush. I hope this post will help any prospective Shanghai visitor navigate their way around Shanghai.

Sherpas Favorites – Brasa Chicken

Continuing with my series of favorite foods from Sherpas, this time I bring you Brasa Chicken. This weekend I caught a nasty cold and was feeling particularly lazy so I ordered from Sherpas. One of my favorite places to order from is Brasa Chicken. I order from them because of the great value and delicious taste. If I am feeling very hungry, I get the family package and that normally lasts me at least an entire day’s worth of meals. This time, I went with the individual combo with some chicken noodle soup to nurse my cold.

The order (on my phone)

The order (on my phone)

And about an hour later, this came:

IMG_2447

The chicken noodle soup was a good idea. It was piping hot and was exactly what I needed for my cold. The chicken and potatoes were classic soul food staples and filled me up right away. I definitely recommend Brasa Chicken.

Cambodia Vacation

Cambodia. Before coming to China, I had not thought a lot of people went to Cambodia for vacation. Growing up, it was some unknown eastern Asian country which had a somewhat dubious history. Nonetheless, after coming to China I noticed that many of my colleagues went on vacations to Cambodia. After checking airfare and realizing that direct flights to Cambodia are quite cheap (only about $400 round trip), I decided to book a week long vacation (with my girlfriend) to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Cambodia

Cambodia

Our first destination was Siem Reap. Siem Reap is world famous for housing such temples such as Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea. Out flight was at about 6pm on a Tuesday so I left after work via Uber and met my girlfriend at Pudong Airport. This time we flew with China Easter Airlines- which was not ideal, but a cheap mistake. The service isn’t too bad on China Eastern, but the problem lies your fellow passengers. People were really loud and inconsiderate, people spat on the airplane, the bathrooms were unusable within 15 minutes- not the best airline experience- not to mention the food is borderline inedible for a foreign stomach. Still, after a four hour travel we arrived in Siem Reap.

The first thing I noticed getting out of the airplane was how humid it was. I had a similar experience with Singapore, however going from dry/cold Shanghai to hot/tropical Cambodia was definitely a polarizing experience. Siem Reap airport seemed incredibly small- only a handful of immigration counters and only a couple of baggage claims. After getting off the airplane, we had a bit of a bizarre experience. We were a bit worried with being caught in the midst of a rush of Chinese passport holders in immigration. Chinese passports aren’t known to be the most versatile and usually have a bit more scrutiny taken on them everywhere outside of China. American and Japanese passports however tend to go relatively quickly through immigration. For this reason, I ran ahead of the swarm of Chinese to save a place for my girlfriend and myself. Turns out this was a bit of a mistake. At the entrance to the airport building, they were detaining all Asians. They saw me and waved me through quickly, however they detained my girlfriend and the airport employee seemed to want a bribe. After some confusion, they realized she was Japanese and let her through. It turns out they were only accepting bribes from Chinese passengers. Why this was, I don’t know, but it was a somewhat bizarre situation.

Anyways, after grabbing our luggage and going through immigration I picked up a SIM card for my phone. For about $5, you get unlimited 3G data which was definitely a good deal. Outside the airport we met our courtesy shuttle to the hotel. We were staying at Borei Angkor Spa which has an impeccable reputation on TripAdvisor. It was about 20 minutes away from the airport. After arriving, decompressing, and unpacking, we both fell soundly asleep. The hotel itself looked a little bit old, however I cannot recommend it enough. The staff was genuinely happy to help, the breakfast buffet was the highlight of every morning, and the pool offered a great escape after returning from a hot and dusty day of sightseeing. The price is right and I would easily recommend it to anyone traveling to Siem Reap.

Borei Angkor Spa

Borei Angkor Spa

After waking up in the morning and catching a great breakfast buffet, we were off to Angkor Wat. We arranged a Tuk Tuk driver to take us there. For half a day, I remember it came out to about $20 (he waited for us and took us back to the hotel). The Tuk Tuk driver first took us to the ticket gate. For a 3-day pass, the price was $40. Again, a little bizarre as they were very keen to ask for my girlfriend’s nationality. I’m not quite sure if they have something against Chinese tourists, but it seemed to be a continuing theme in the temples we went to. After getting the tickets, we were dropped off at the entrance to Angkor Wat. We arrived maybe around 10am and there was already quite a few people, however given how big the temple was it never really felt crowded. At the entrance, there was a huge river surrounding the actual entrance to the temple grounds. A big stone bridge led up to the entrance and the whole scene was quite serene.

Our Tuk Tuk driver

Our Tuk Tuk driver

River outside Angkor Wat

River outside Angkor Wat

Me taking pictures on the bridge

Me taking pictures on the bridge

After crossing the bridge and passing through a small entrance way you are in the actual temple grounds. Words cannot really describe the tranquility of Angkor Wat. The temple itself is made up of huge stone structures carved with intricate decorations in mesmerizing detail. There is a big courtyard leading up to Angkor Wat itself with big reflecting ponds on each side. During the rainy seasons these ponds are full of water, however when we went (during the dry season) they seemed about half full. Angkor Wat itself is truly a wonder of the world. Again, words cannot quite describe it nor can pictures. After entering the temple itself, you are lost in a world of stone carvings depicting everything for great battles to religious events. You could literally spend the entire week at the temple itself.

Outside the temple

Outside the temple

Looking back at the entrance

Looking back at the entrance

Me struggling with some stairs

Me struggling with some stairs

In the innermost part of the temple there is an elevated temple where you have to climb a set of really steep stairs to get to. For women, shorts are strictly forbidden. My girlfriend was wearing shorts so we settled for taking pictures from the outside. A common theme in all of the temples that we went to was the steep stairways. One of my fears are high places where I can fall very easily, so I struggled with a few of these stair cases.

Steep stairs

Steep stairs

Inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

After enjoying the temple for a few hours, we bought a few souvenirs (and a guide book) from the shops to the side of the temple. I bought some post cards to mail to my family. We met our tuk tuk driver outside the temple and headed to the downtown of Siem Reap. In downtown we walked around a bit and did some shopping. I bought a pair of fake Oakley sunglasses for $4 and my girlfriend bought a few t-shirts and various other trinkets. We had lunch at a lovely cafe in the heart of downtown. I had a sort of Cambodian curry and my girlfriend had a glass noodle salad.

Downtown Siem Reap

Downtown Siem Reap

Cafe

Cafe

After returning to the hotel we rested up a bit. For the evening I had booked an ATV (four wheel all terrain vehicle) tour which was very highly recommended by TripAdvisor. At about 4pm, we met the ATV tour guide in the lobby of the hotel and he took us to the ATV tour shop. I have never driven an ATV so I was quite nervous, however after a quick training session I was good to go. The ATVs are quite powerful (they have about as much power as a regular motorcycle). In any case, we had booked the “sunset” tour where we rode to a rice field to see the Cambodian sunset. The tour was very interesting and I recommend it to anyone visiting Siem Reap. You drive your ATV through rural parts of Siem Reap and see some of the more authentic aspects of Cambodian culture. Our guide was very helpful and very friendly. The sunset at the end was magnificent and being able to explore backwater Siem Reap was very rewarding. The one downside was that the ATVs were quite loud, so I felt that we were being a little bit inconsiderate to those who lived in the rural areas.

ATV after sunset

ATV after sunset

Me on the ATV

Me on the ATV

After the ATV tour, our guide dropped us off at the “Pub Street” of downtown. In the pub street in Cambodia, there are many restaurants and bars all with outdoor seating. It is a very lively place and full of nationalities from all over the world. After exploring the restaurants, we decided on a traditional Cambodian restaurant and had a barrage of Cambodian food. One dish that we seemed to get quite a bit of in our trip in Cambodia was fresh spring rolls (not the deep fried stuff). At all of these restaurants, 50 cent draft beers were advertised. The beer they served was Anchor beer (not to be confused with Anchor Steam). This beer may sound Cambodian, but in reality it is a bit of a scam. It is owned by Heineken and is actually very low end beer tasting like watered down Heineken. I’d recommend investing a little bit more and getting the true Cambodian Angkor Beer.

Pub Street

Pub Street

Fresh Spring Rolls

Fresh Spring Rolls

Angkor Beer (the good stuff)

Angkor Beer (the good stuff)

After dinner, we walked around a bit and stumbled into a massage place. It was quite small, however we got a one hour foot massage for only $7. Despite the inexpensive price, the massage was excellent and the masseuse was very good at her job. We returned to the hotel a bit early to prepare for the long day ahead. The next day we wanted to catch the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat. Since we also wanted to visit Beng Mealea on the same day, we rented a driver for the entire day (for about $100). Waking up at 5am was a bit of a challenge, but somehow we were able to do so and make it to Angkor Wat in time for the sunset. We had forgotten to bring a flashlight so I had to make due with the LED light on my phone. After finding a good location right by the pond, we waited in the pitch black for the sunrise. Boy was it worth it. Seeing the sunrise over the iconic structures of Angkor Wat was truly a wonder. The colors that the sunlight caused made the entire scene to look like a picturesque painting. It was definitely worth waking up early.

Right before sunrise

Right before sunrise

Beautiful sunrise

Beautiful sunrise

After returning to the hotel for a quick breakfast, we were off to Beng Mealea. We made a brief stop at a pharmacy where I picked up some cheap western medicine (without a prescription). Beng Mealea itself is about an hour outside of Siem Reap. It lays in a state of ruin and has not been restored like many of the other Cambodian temples. The drive there was a bit interesting, however we took the chance to get caught up on sleep. I woke up a couple times and glimpsed at rural Cambodian life. The temple itself was a very unique experience. Like I said before it has not been restored, so you pretty much just take a walk through the ruins. What is unique about Beng Mealea is that they don’t really have too much information about it. It is not known who made it or when it was lived in. The guide book I read mentioned that it’s demise into ruin was most likely from natural reasons (and not a war), but the mystery of the temple almost gave it a romantic notion.

Beng Mealea Ruins

Beng Mealea Ruins

More ruins

More ruins

Even more ruins

Even more ruins

Once we wandered around the temple for a few hours we headed back to Siem Reap. We decided to go into town again for lunch. For some reason or another, we went to Hard Rock Cafe. It’s about the same as Hard Rock Cafe in any other city- expensive, but the food is pretty tasty and familiar. We walked around a bit and bought some more souvenirs after Hard Rock and then returned to the hotel. At this point we were pretty exhausted (being up since 5am) so we decided to have a nice relaxing evening at the hotel. We relaxed by the pool and ordered pizza for the evening before retiring.

The next day was a bit of a wild card. It was our last full day in Siem Reap so we decided to visit Angkor Wat one last time as well as the adjacent Angkor Thom. Before that, we booked a two hour massage at the hotel spa. It was OK (definitely relaxing), however it was about $60 per person. While this is extremely cheap for USA standards, I’d recommend going to the $7 place in town. After the normal breakfast buffet in the morning, we booked a Tuk Tuk to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. At Angkor Wat something very funny happened. There was a monkey hanging out on the pathway to the temple eating some morsel of food dropped by a tourist. An Asian guy walked by the monkey with a bag full of food and did not notice the monkey. On queue, the monkey ran after the guy and ripped the bottom out of the bag and stole they guy’s food! It was so funny and the guy was so shocked. The guy’s wife tried to take the food back from the monkey, but the monkey adamantly defended it. The guy eventually gave up and left the monkey to his spoils.

Monkey thief

Monkey thief

Monkey enjoying his reward

Monkey enjoying his reward

After we were done monkeying around at Angkor Wat, we headed to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is a collection of temples in a relatively large wooded area. We were dropped off at the main temple and immediately noticed that it was a lot quieter than Angkor Wat. There seemed to be less tourist groups in this area and it was a bit more peaceful. After walking around the main bigger temple, we made our way to a smaller one that was full of steep steps. After a grueling five minute stair climb, we were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the surrounding area. Since it was quieter, you kind of had the sense that you could be explorers finding an unknown ruin.

Angkor Thom face

Angkor Thom face

Struggling with more stairs

Struggling with more stairs

View from top of temple

View from top of temple

After we got back to the hotel it was getting quite late. We decided to hit pub street one last time for one last souvenir run and a nice Cambodian meal. We ended up dining in a lovely Cambodian restaurant with a great second floor view of the street. We had the normal fair of fresh spring rolls and Cambodian curry. After dinner, we walked around the night market a little. I bought some Cambodian liquor and my girlfriend bought a few trinkets. It was a nice and relaxing night to top off our last day in Siem Reap.

The next day we woke up bright and early to go to the airport. From Siem Reap, we decided to spend one day in the capital Phnom Penh. We took a very uneventful flight using Cambodian Angkor Air to the capital. After getting our luggage, we got a Tuk Tuk from the hotel counter and headed to the Intercontinental Hotel. Right away from the Tuk Tuk ride you could tell Phnom Penh was a lot different than Siem Reap. It felt more “third world” and was noticeably more dirty than Siem Reap. The road was definitely an issue too. You would think the road going to the airport would be at least paved, however it was supposedly under construction and was about as bumpy as an old roller coaster. After about 20 minutes we did arrive at the hotel and rested up a little.

We decided to go to the waterfront area of Phnom Penh for lunch. The air was noticeably more polluted in the capital. Supposedly back in the day the area had a “French Riviera” feel to it, however you could tell that it is quite an industrial city nowadays. The riverside is full of quaint little bistros and cafes. After a lunch of a club sandwich and some curry, we stopped by Costa Coffee for a refresher. One thing I noticed about Cambodia is that there were very few chain stores that you would often see in Japan or China. There were no Family Marts, McDonalds, Starbucks, or just about any other chain that you see so much in the rest of Asia. Costa was the first one that we went to. We took at Tuk Tuk to the central market afterwards and did a little shopping. The Central Market was nothing special- more of the same fake sunglasses and cheap souvenirs. We decided to go back to the hotel and take it easy that night- which given that a monsoon like rain happened was in hindsight a good idea.

Riverside in Phnom Penh

Riverside in Phnom Penh

The next day I had booked a bicycle tour of Phnom Penh as well as the surrounding “Mekong” islands. This is something I wanted to do more than my girlfriend, however since she is so awesome she also agreed to come along. We woke up early and had a great breakfast buffet before heading out to the bicycle shop. At the bicycle shop we met the rest of the tour group that we would be with that day- a few Europeans, Hong Kongese, and a Canadian. After getting fitted for our bike, we were off. I was a bit nervous about riding a bike in crowded Phnom Penh, however the urban area was only a small percentage of the tour. We first rode to a small port where we took our ferry to a smaller island. The island was considerably more rural than Phnom Penh and was very enjoyable. It was really fun riding a bike through rural Cambodia and was honestly one of my high points of the entire trip. I love riding bikes, however I do not get to do so very often in China.

My mighty bike

My mighty bike

We made a few stops along the way. One was at a silk factory where a lady gave us an interesting tour on how silk was made. We enjoyed some very delicious and fresh fruit which included bananas, mangoes, and dragon fruit. We passed through a small farm where the locals explained how they made their living and we got a good photo-op with some cows. We also stopped by a peaceful temple where we got to take some really good pictures and learn a bit of the history. I cannot recommend Grasshopper Tours enough and do not have anything but kind things to say about our tour guide- definitely a must if you have any remote interest in a bike tour.

Rural bike path

Rural bike path

One of the boats we took

One of the boats we took

Silk weaving machine

Silk weaving machine

After the tour, we arrived at our hotel at around 1pm and took a much needed shower before checking out. We left our luggage at the hotel and headed back to the waterfront to kill some time. We had a 12am flight back to Shanghai so we had about 8 hours to kill before heading to the airport. We grabbed a great lunch at one of the riverside restaurants (I had a delicious Tom Yum pasta) and decided to get a massage to kill off some time. The massage was for two hours and only cost $14. I opted for a more expensive $20 massage where they use hot rocks to massage your feet. It was very relaxing. After the massage, we headed to AEON mall. AEON is a huge Japanese mall that is very famous in Japan. The mall itself showed a more modern side of Phnom Penh. It was very clean, organized, and had all of the high end designer shops. We had a quick dinner at a brew pub restaurant and wandered around the mall for a while. There was also a supermarket in the mall which stocked many western products. I took the chance to stock up on hand sanitizer.

After the full day we went back to the hotel, picked up our luggage, and went to the airport via Tuk Tuk. Somehow the ride to the airport was even bumpier than the ride from and it was almost hazardous. We had to hold onto our luggage to make sure it didn’t fly out of the Tuk Tuk when we went over a big bump. We did eventually arrive though and checked in with a couple of hours to spare. After moping around the duty free stores for a while, we boarded our red eye flight back to Shanghai. I hate red eye flights, however at that point I was so exhausted that I somehow managed to fall asleep.

All-in-all, Cambodia was a worthwhile vacation. While most travelers could go exclusively to Siem Reap and have an adequate Cambodian experience, I am glad that we did also stop by Phnom Penh. After getting back to Shanghai I felt that I could sleep for hours though. Whether or not I will be back in Cambodia in my life I don’t know, however I will definitely cherish the rewarding travel experience.

Facebook Pictures

Sherpas Favorites – Dos Locos

Sherpas is a food delivery service in Shanghai. Pretty much what they do is go to your favorite restaurant, get take-out, and then deliver it to your door for a small service charge (about $2.50). This is quite popular in Shanghai and you will see the motorcycle drivers buzzing around in their orange and black scooters all throughout the day and night. I get this service a couple of times a week so I figured I would share some of my favorites on my blog for others.

My go-to favorite is Dos Locos. This is more or less a Chipotle clone. When I lived in Texas, I went to either Chipotle or Freebirds quite often. Dos Locos does a pretty good job of cloning Chipotle. They have the normal burritos, burrito bowls, nachos, tacos, etc. I normally go for a barbacoa burrito or burrito bowl. This time, I got a fully loaded barbacoa burrito bowl, two coke zeros, and a jar of salsa.

Order on Sherpas

Order on Sherpas

After about an hour later, everything arrives. The time really varies depending on the weather and time. I’ve had it take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. This is what came:

Chipotle Clone

Chipotle Clone

Very tasty and worth every penny. Definitely try this out if you are in Shanghai and have a hankering for Chipotle.

The Chinese Movie Theater Experience

So last weekend I did something that I dreaded on doing for a while- I went to a Chinese movie theater. Now don’t get me wrong- I love going to movie theaters. When I lived in Dallas, I went to Alamo Drafthouse almost every week. I love movies and the movie theater experience that Alamo has to offer. They kick out anyone that talks/texts and offers a fine selection of craft beer and fresh food from scratch. The Chinese movie theater I went to was the polar opposite of Alamo Drafthouse.

My first big problem with movies in China is the censorship and government regulation of foreign movies in general. Even if a foreign movie does come out in China, it usually takes a few months after it was released in USA to actually go through the censors and get a theater release. When it does eventually get released, there is no guarantee that the government didn’t edit out or alter the movie to quell anything not in the interest of the government. The ironic thing is that bootleg DVD stores that sell the unedited version of movies (even new releases that are still in theaters) are all over China and are seemingly tolerated.

The second hesitation I had with going to a Chinese movie theater was the type of audience I would be sharing the theater with. Chinese people talk very loudly and I had heard stories about them being very inconsiderate in a movie setting. Even in USA, if someone talks or texts on their phone the entire experience is ruined for me. That’s why Alamo Drafthouse is so valuable- they kick everyone out that does this and leave the adults to watch movies.

Alas, despite my reservations, one Monday that my girlfriend and I had off we decided to see Cinderella. This is a classic Disney fairy tail with little that could be interpreted as revolutionary capitalistic propaganda by the Chinese government so we figured it was a safe bet to see in the theaters unedited. Furthermore, we decided to see it at the Palace Theater in IFC Mall. For those not familiar with Shanghai, IFC Mall is a super high scale mall that houses all the brands from Prada to Louis Vuitton. It is considered ultra high class and a place where we thought would be out of the typical loud/stupid moviegoer’s price range. On top of all this, we picked a time where most people would be at school or work (4pm on a Monday). With all of this going for it, how bad could it be? Turns out, very bad.

First let me say that the movie theater itself was very nice- comfortable seats, crystal clear picture, and a booming loud audio system. It was also very clean and deserved the name “Palace Theater” on account of its very Romanesque decor. The problem was with our fellow patrons. Buying the ticket was easy enough. They were about 100RMB ($16) a pop and the girl at the box office spoke adequate English. After finding our seats, the movie started at about 4:15pm and immediately I was disappointed- people talking behind us. They were not whispering either- they were talking as if they were sitting across from each other eating dinner. I thought this would stop as the movie started to go on- but no, this continued pretty continuously throughout the movie. There were also about two or three people that were on their cellphones constantly (one guy even answered a call on his). I understand that guys might not be dying to get out of their house and see Cinderella with their girlfriends, but does it even count as going if you go if you are texting all throughout the movie? Furthermore, even if just one person uses their cellphone, the glare of light it emits ruins the movie for everyone behind that person.

The really bizarre (and almost in a comical way) came midway through the movie where Cinderella was transformed into her gown for the ball. There was magic done by the fairy godmother to Cinderella’s gown to make it glow blue and emit a shimmering display of special effects. At this moment, about five different people sitting in different parts of the theater thought it was so magical that they had to record the video using their cell phones. Really?! Do I even have to comment here? That sort of thing will get you kicked out of any theater in USA and in some cases arrested by the police. What really blows my mind was that there were about five people doing it- meaning it was common enough to not just be a fluke. Everyone talking, using their phones, and recording the movie absolutely decimated the movie going experience.

The movie was pretty good (as good as it can be for a guy going along with his girlfriend). The cinematography was great and Disney proved that they can still tell the same classic tale and make it interesting to watch. About halfway through the movie I realized the actor that played the prince was the same one that played Rob Stark in Game of Thrones. I wanted to yell and warn him not to go to The Red Wedding, however I refrained.

In short, the best way to watch a movie in China is to buy the bootleg and watch it in your own apartment. Experiences like these make me really miss Alamo Drafthouse (or even a regular USA movie theater). If I can’t get more enjoyment out of going to a movie theater than I could by staying at home and watching the DVD- then what’s the point?

Typical Shanghai Workday – In Pictures

This is a post that I have been wanting to do for a while, however have not had the time to do it until now. I also wanted to catch up writing about my trips to Singapore/India/Harbin before I did it. I had an idea to more or less document a typical day from my Shanghai life in pictures. This involved me more or less just taking pictures at all of the steps between when I wake up and when I go to sleep on a workday. I finally was able to do this last Monday. Without further delay, here is a typical day in my Shanghai life in pictures:

Woke up and got dressed around 7am. Weather and air quality are good today.

Woke up and got dressed around 7am. Weather and air quality are good today.

I'm on the 13th floor. Usually the wait isn't too bad.

I’m on the 13th floor. Usually the wait isn’t too bad.

All bundled up in winter gear

All bundled up in winter gear

Walking down the stairs from my apartment to the streets of Shanghai

Walking down the stairs from my apartment to the streets of Shanghai

Streets of Shanghai. Sometimes I get fruit at the shop in the corner

Streets of Shanghai. Sometimes I get fruit at the shop in the corner

Not too crowded around 8am. Still a bit dirty with people spitting phlegm everywhere.

Not too crowded around 8am. Still a bit dirty with people spitting phlegm everywhere.

Getting closer to the station

Getting closer to the station

JW Marriott in the background.

JW Marriott in the background.

Exit 14 of People's Square Station

Exit 14 of People’s Square Station

A lot of stairs in my daily routine

A lot of stairs in my daily routine

Homeless guy singing. This is normally a scam so I never give money

Homeless guy singing. This is normally a scam so I never give money

Past the security check and to the ticket gate. I have a card that I reuse for tickets

Past the security check and to the ticket gate. I have a card that I reuse for tickets

In the main hall of the station

In the main hall of the station

Line 2 is on the other side of the station. Everyone is crowding up to go down the escalator

Line 2 is on the other side of the station. Everyone is crowding up to go down the escalator

Warning signs on the escalator

Warning signs on the escalator

Heading to Line 2. It is starting to get a bit crowded.

Heading to Line 2. It is starting to get a bit crowded.

Being cozy with the other passengers

Being cozy with the other passengers

Taking another escalator down to the platform

Taking another escalator down to the platform

Sometimes people do a mad dash to catch the train. I like to take my time.

Sometimes people do a mad dash to catch the train. I like to take my time.

My home for the next 30 minutes. Usually it is a few stops before I can find a seat.

My home for the next 30 minutes. Usually it is a few stops before I can find a seat.

Was able to find a seat at LuJiaZui

Was able to find a seat at LuJiaZui

Once I sit I can catch up on reading

Once I sit I can catch up on reading

Train gets less crowded as we head away from downtown

Train gets less crowded as we head away from downtown

I get off at Jinke Road

I get off at Jinke Road

People are so desperate to get on the escalator. What's wrong with taking the stairs?

People are so desperate to get on the escalator. What’s wrong with taking the stairs?

Outside the ticket gate

Outside the ticket gate

Taking the escalator to the outside

Taking the escalator to the outside

Exit 3 of Jinke Road Station

Exit 3 of Jinke Road Station

Right outside the station. There is always some dirty looking street food that I would never touch

Right outside the station. There is always some dirty looking street food that I would never touch

Cutting through the mall to get to the road to my office

Cutting through the mall to get to the road to my office

It is a really clear and clean day outside which is a bit rare for Shanghai

It is a really clear and clean day outside which is a bit rare for Shanghai

Almost at the street

Almost at the street

Entrance to mall

Entrance to mall

On the road to my office.

On the road to my office.

Crossing to where the software park is located

Crossing to where the software park is located

Parking lot outside the office. Always have to be careful here for motorists

Parking lot outside the office. Always have to be careful here for motorists

I cut through the larger building to get to my office.

I cut through the larger building to get to my office.

I grab my breakfast at Family Mart (a convenient store).

I grab my breakfast at Family Mart (a convenient store).

Pretty standard Asian convenient store

Pretty standard Asian convenient store

Hot foods at the front

Hot foods at the front

My loot- two steamed buns and some Woolong Tea

My loot- two steamed buns and some Woolong Tea

Right outside my office. I have to be careful crossing this road

Right outside my office. I have to be careful crossing this road

Texas Instruments Shanghai R&D center in all its glory

Texas Instruments Shanghai R&D center in all its glory

Feels so clean and modern

Feels so clean and modern

My desk. A bit messy because I've been busy.

My desk. A bit messy because I’ve been busy.

After being on the subway, you have to use some hand sanitizer

After being on the subway, you have to use some hand sanitizer

First bun is the sweet yellow bun

First bun is the sweet yellow bun

Next is one full of vegetables

Next is one full of vegetables

At lunch we go to a shopping center near the station and go to a Chinese burger place

At lunch we go to a shopping center near the station and go to a Chinese burger place

This is what a Chinese burger looks like

This is what a Chinese burger looks like

I also have some noodles from Xi'an

I also have some noodles from Xi’an

After lunch I decide to get some lemon tea

After lunch I decide to get some lemon tea

Very popular place

Very popular place

My lemon tea

My lemon tea

Today is fruit day. We get different fruit for free every month. This month's fruit is mandarin oranges

Today is fruit day. We get different fruit for free every month. This month’s fruit is mandarin oranges

Around 3pm I get a Coke Zero for the caffeine.

Around 3pm I get a Coke Zero for the caffeine.

Around 6pm I decide to go home

Around 6pm I decide to go home

It's dark by the time I get out.

It’s dark by the time I get out.

Lady selling sweet potatoes on the street. They look dirty.

Lady selling sweet potatoes on the street. They look dirty.

Before I go home, I will stop by the grocery store for dinner

Before I go home, I will stop by the grocery store for dinner

Big escalator down to the super market

Big escalator down to the super market

I always tend to go to the imported food section

I always tend to go to the imported food section

The loot- pasta, pickles, sauce, and cheese.

The loot- pasta, pickles, sauce, and cheese.

Checking out. In China you have to pay for bags.

Checking out. In China you have to pay for bags.

It came out to about 100RMB ($16)

It came out to about 100RMB ($16)

The super market is connected to the station

The super market is connected to the station

Ticket gate and security checkpoint

Ticket gate and security checkpoint

Good ol' Line 2.

Good ol’ Line 2.

Station isn't too crowded around 7:00pm

Station isn’t too crowded around 7:00pm

Every other train has a ton of seats. Waiting for the train

Every other train has a ton of seats. Waiting for the train

Got a seat right away. I can catch up on my reading

Got a seat right away. I can catch up on my reading

Got off at People's Square. Shops on the way to the exit

Got off at People’s Square. Shops on the way to the exit

Back out the main hall...

Back out the main hall…

and to Exit 14

and to Exit 14

Right outside Exit 14. Raffles City (the mall) is now open

Right outside Exit 14. Raffles City (the mall) is now open

I always pass by the police station near my apartment

I always pass by the police station near my apartment

I also cut through the strip mall that sells cell phone accessories

I also cut through the strip mall that sells cell phone accessories

Outside entrance of my apartment at night

Outside entrance of my apartment at night

Up the escalator to my apartment

Up the escalator to my apartment

There is a nice park at the base that keeps things quiet

There is a nice park at the base that keeps things quiet

After dropping stuff off at my apartment, I run downstairs to the dry cleaner.

After dropping stuff off at my apartment, I run downstairs to the dry cleaner.

This dry cleaner is very inexpensive and does a good job

This dry cleaner is very inexpensive and does a good job

It is called Elephant King

It is called Elephant King

Price list. I have a membership card and get a discount

Price list. I have a membership card and get a discount

I had a lot of laundry to pickup

I had a lot of laundry to pickup

Stop by another convenient store on my way back to get some drinks

Stop by another convenient store on my way back to get some drinks

… and that is it. I ended up cooking and watching the new season of House of Cards. This was a pretty standard day. Sometimes I will go to the gym and sometimes (more so than not) I will order delivery. It’s a pretty relaxed day and I am happy to say that this sort of day is becoming very normal for my life in Shanghai.

Harbin Vacation

Since even before coming to China, one of my dreams was to visit Harbin China and go to the world famous ice and snow festival that takes place every year. Since I moved to China last year, this dream turned into a reality. I decided to take advantage of the company holiday for Chinese New Year and booked my trip to Harbin China.

Harbin, China

Harbin, China

Since Chinese New Year is a big holiday where pretty much every single Chinese person travels back to their hometown it was imperative that I booked travel early. In the end my girlfriend and I booked travel about three months before hand and planned to stay three nights. The ticket came out to about $350 and the hotel (Shangri-La Harbin) came out to about $1000 for two people. Even before going to Harbin I started to prepare. Harbin is located in the far north of China and is known for its extreme cold and unforgiving climate. For that reason I had to buy a bunch of very warm cloths. In hindsight it was a bit overkill, but I bought:

  • Three pairs of thermal underwear/longjohns
  • Winter gloves
  • Ear Muffs
  • Winter Jacket
  • Russian snow cap (pictured below)
I'm a Russian ninja

I’m a Russian ninja

I bought the majority of these on TaoBao (kind of like the Chinese Amazon) with the exception of the winter jacket. I went to the fabric market here in China and got that custom tailored for about $200. It is a wool/cashmere blend and is very warm. I will definitely be using this jacket for many winters to come!

Winter Jacket

Winter Jacket

The airline that we went with this time was China Eastern Airlines. Since it was domestic travel there was no choice to opt for any better luxury airline. After catching an Uber from my apartment, we got to Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai early in the morning and boarded our flight. The flight had a quick stopover in Qingdao (famous for its beer). It was a bit odd because normally when there is a stopover (without a plane change) you get to stay on the plane while others disembark/board, however in Qingdao everyone had to get off the plane. We got to walk around the Qingdao airport for about an hour, however after that we just ended up boarding the same plane and took off for Harbin.

Getting off the plane in Harbin I was expecting an arctic chill that instantly froze any patch of bare skin, however it actually wasn’t that bad. It was probably around 25F and with all the layers of clothes I was wearing I didn’t seem to notice the cold too much. Anyway, after taking a bus from the airplane to the airport (it was the old school way) and grabbing our luggage we met our hotel provided taxi and had a 40 minute or so ride to The Shangri-La Harbin. I do have to say that I was very impressed with the service at The Shangri-La. The moment that we got to the hotel we were greeted by the staff and went directly to our room to check in.

The hotel room was nice. Since I am a frequent guest at The Shangri-La I was able to get on the club floor with a good view of the frozen river. The bed was warm and cozy and the view alone was simply beautiful. At night you could even see the ice festival off in the distance. After unpacking our luggage a little bit, we decided to see if there were any good places around the hotel to eat. At the advice of the hotel staff, we decided to go to a nearby Harbin style restaurant. Walking to the restaurant we got our first taste of Harbin City. My first impression was that it looked somewhat European. Being so close to Russia, the buildings had a very distinct Russian influence.

The streets of Harbin

The streets of Harbin

After fumbling around a bit we were able to find the restaurant (with the help of Google Maps through VPN). The restaurant was… an interesting experience. When we first entered the staff seemed somewhat surprised and confused to have foreign guests. After some more confusion, we were somehow able to understand that they wanted us to go to the second floor. When we went to the second floor it was somewhat deserted, however the waiter insisted on sitting us in the empty hallway by the window. They also shuffled in another group of foreigners, however they soon migrated downstairs to get a more “authentic” atmosphere. Even weirder was there was a guy who was randomly taking pictures of me and my girlfriend. At first I though he was just some random Chinese guy that rarely sees foreigners, however later (after he brought us printed pictures) we were able to guess he either worked for or owned the restaurant.

In lieu of a printed menu, we were handed an iPad with pictures of all of the different foods that we could order. This is where I made a major mistake. I guess the saying is that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”, however I (not my girlfriend) ordered way too much. To make things worse, the food wasn’t exactly anything special. It was OK- however nothing to write home about. I’ve highlighted a few of them below.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Dumplings

Dumplings

After dinner we walked back to the hotel. On our way back we stopped by the frozen river and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. There were bug chunks of ice on the lake and the whole scene was like something out of a poem.

Sunset at the river

Sunset at the river

So beautiful

So beautiful

I love the colors

I love the colors

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to gear up for the ice festival.This involved bundling up with all of those warm clothes that we bought. The ice festival is known to be prettier at night with all of the lights illuminating the ice sculptures. After putting on enough clothes to survive a winter hibernation we got a taxi to the ice festival. The taxi charged by hour (70 RMB an hour) and we were told by the hotel to keep him on the clock while we visited the ice festival as taxis were supposedly hard to get during the Chinese New Year festival. One surprising thing was how much tickets cost to the ice festival- about 330RMB (about $50). That’s even more expensive than Six Flags in Dallas! Still, for the experience, we shelled out the money for the ticket.

So how was the ice festival? Not bad. It was definitely quite impressive to see all of the different structures that they made out of ice. I had to constantly be on guard to not slip and break my tailbone on icy floors- however the entire experience was quite enjoyable. There were a few times we were reminded that we were still in China- a couple of times where there were urine stains in some of the more discreet snow sculptures, but overall it was a very beautiful festival. One of the big attractions was the huge ice slide, however the line was too long and we did not want to weather the cold to get on it. Below are some of my favorites from the ice festival.

Entrance of ice festival

Entrance of ice festival

Me on ice horse

Me on ice horse

Ice couch

Ice couch

After we saw all that we wanted to see, we found our hired taxi and made our way back to hotel. After winding down, we settled in for the night and prepared for a full schedule the following day. The next morning our plan was to go to the famous Siberian Tiger Park. After a wonderful breakfast at the breakfast buffet we caught an hourly taxi to the park. This park was a bit more reasonable (90RMB per person) and didn’t seem to crowded (we did get there early). After getting our ticket, we went into the entrance lobby where we could pay 50RMB to take our picture with a baby Siberian tiger. I think the tiger cub liked my girlfriend more than me (he kept gnawing on my gloves), however he was super cute and I got a great picture.

Baby tiger

Baby tiger

After our face time with the tiger cub, we boarded a caged bus and were taken through the tiger preserve. The whole experience is pretty amazing- in the park there are about 100 or so tigers just chilling out everywhere. You can tell that they are very well fed and most of them have a bigger belly than mine. In addition to tigers, there were different cats such as lions. At one point of the tour a caged jeep came around the truck and a guy through a bunch of live chickens out towards the tigers. The tigers definitely knew what was up and instantly tore the chicken to pieces.

Tiger chilling out

Tiger chilling out

A lion couple

A lion couple

That poor chicken

That poor chicken

After the bus ride, we were taken to a raised/caged boardwalk area where we could see the tigers a bit closer. Definitely an interesting experience being able to get that close to the tigers. There was a guy that was selling live chickens and dead meat that you could feed to the tigers. Not wanting to incur any bad karma by playing chicken executioner, I opted for the tongs of dead meat. The problem was that at first I pointed to the live chicken (I misread the Chinese characters). The guy proceeded to yank the chicken out of the cage and it made an awful squawk, however after realizing that I wanted the dead version he shoved the chicken back into the cage and gave us two tongs of dead meat. You took the tongs and placed the meat in between the links of the cage. The tiger would then leap up and eat the meat giving you the chance to take some awesome pictures.

Live chickens and dead meat

Live chickens and dead meat

Feeding the tiger

Feeding the tiger

There were also white tigers, leopards, lions, and a host of other cats. After we had enough of the board walk, we walked around to the exit and caught our taxi back to the hotel. The entire experience was very cool and I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Harbin. After getting back to the hotel, we wanted to go out and get some lunch. My girlfriend found a very popular Russian restaurant close to downtown so we decided to take a taxi. The restaurant was very posh and clean. The food was great and they had this very sweet and delicious homemade wine. They also had a very delicious borscht as well as an awesome pickle/sausage platter.

Yummy borscht

Yummy borscht

Pickles and sausage

Pickles and sausage

After dinner we decided to walk to one of the famous walking streets in Harbin called Zhongyang Dajie. We miscalculated how far it was from the restaurant and ended up walking about an hour through some “interesting” parts of Harbin, however eventually we found our way to to road. It was very picturesque and old fashioned. The road itself was closed to all but pedestrians and was made of old cobblestones that gave off a very European ambiance. We stopped at a Russian souvenir shop where I bought some Russian chocolates for my office and my girlfriend bought a Russian doll. Afterwards we stopped by a supermarket where we both bought some Russian fish eggs.

Zhongyang Dajie

Zhongyang Dajie

Very European

Very European

After taking a breather at a cafe, we went to go see St. Sophia’s cathedral. We were a bit tired at this point (and it was a bit crowded), so we decided to just take pictures and not go inside. We then took a taxi back to our hotel for a lazy night of eating an (uninspiring) dinner at the hotel Dim Sum restaurant and watching movies in the room.

St. Sophia Cathedral

St. Sophia Cathedral

The next day for lunch we had an appointment at the ice restaurant (everything is made of ice) for hotpot, however the weather was a little warm and the restaurant had to close because it was melting. Instead, we decided to go to another Russian restaurant that was on Zhongyang Dajie. After catching a taxi from the hotel to the restaurant, we found that it was packed. Determined, we took a number and waited for about an hour until we were seated. It was typical Russian fare and was very delicious. The highlights included borscht, pepper steak, and a strong Russian ale.

More Russian food

More Russian food

Russian beer

Russian beer

At this point it was pouring rain, however we were somewhat lucky and were able to catch a taxi pretty quickly back to the hotel. I decided to go for a nice swim and we both relaxed in the hotel until dinner. I had some food credits saved up from Shangri-La so we decided to try out the dinner buffet. We had high hopes, however the buffet was very mediocre. This was a disappointment because the breakfast buffet (that we went to every morning) was awesome. Still, it was free for me and we made the most of it before retiring for the night.

The next morning was super cold and by far the coldest day of the trip. Our flight was at 11am so we had a bit of time to walk around again on the frozen river. It was really picturesque and somewhat amazing that an entire river could be completely frozen. There were a few instances where it looked less frozen than other places. In those instances, we hastily retreated.

Very cold river

Very cold river

After walking around the river, we took the hotel taxi to the airport and returned to Shanghai. Overall the trip was quite enjoyable. This was one of the only domestic travels that I have done in China before. It was very interesting to see a city so different from Shanghai and taste very unique food. I would definitely recommend Harbin for anyone who wants a quick vacation in China during the winter.

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India Business Trip

If there is one Asian country that I did not have any strong desire to go to, India would have been it. I’ve gone out of my way a couple times in the past to prevent Indian business travel to be honest. There is not too much that is attractive to me. I’m not a huge fan of the food, it has the reputation for being a somewhat dirty country, and to make matters worse my company’s offices are located in Bangalore. Bangalore is known to be the high tech capital of India and not too much of a tourist area.

India

India

Coming off my flight from Singapore, I arrived in India about 9:30pm. The security/customs coming into India was a bit unique with what I am used to with eastern Asian countries. India is the only country I’ve been to where you have to go through the full metal detector and security screen coming into the country. This probably has to do with the increased terrorist activity and political climate that plagues much of the region- however after about 20 minutes I was through security and had my baggage. My company had made a reservation at the Hyatt MG Road Bangalore hotel. With this reservation, you got free shuttle service to and from the airport. After stopping by an ATM very quickly to pick up some Indian cash, I met my shuttle driver and was off to downtown Bangalore.

The shuttle experience was where my first taste of the “sleazy” India came in. Being a somewhat seasoned traveler, I was a bit guarded for taxi scams and tour guide scams. I made the mistake of mentioning to my driver that I had a day to myself in Bangalore and he took the opportunity to try to sell me his private chauffeur service. “$50 for the day is a bargain! The hotel will charge you at least $100!” he said. I later learned that even $50 would have been a blatant ripoff. After firmly telling him I had a friend/coworker to show me around, he gave me his number and somewhat backed off.

The actual drive from the airport to the hotel was… an experience to say the least. If there is one country that makes China look clean India has to be it. In Shanghai the trashy/slummy areas are largely hidden by the government (although absolutely present), however in India these sort of places are right out in the open. There will be mounds of trash muddled with dilapidated buildings right in the middle of a swanky financial area. The hotel itself was gated and surrounded by a huge cement wall. After going through the gate (we had to open the trunk and they checked for bombs under the car with a mirror), I was greeted by another metal detector and security checkpoint. This is the common theme that I’ve noticed with going to public places in India- metal detectors. Shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, department stores- they all have security checkpoints and metal detectors.

Metal detector at the hotel

Metal detector at the hotel

The hotel itself was a bit different than the normal Hyatt experience, but I had no complaints. It’s a bit smaller than the Hyatts that I have stayed at and the room at wooden floors and a more compact layout. Still, the staff was friendly and the room was adequate. I will say that the shower at the Hyatt MG Bangalore is awesome- it’s like a jet engine and can almost double as a massager. After meeting up with a coworker, I went passed out in the big comfy bed. The next morning I met my coworker downstairs for breakfast. The hotel breakfast was definitely the highlight of every morning. They had a selection of western and Indian foods and they made a killer french toast. Even more it was completely safe. I’d heard horror stories about dangerous food quality in India so I wanted to make sure that I was friendly to my stomach.

Hotel breakfast

Hotel breakfast

After breakfast, we grabbed a shuttle to my office (this was also included in the rate). Again, the shuttle driver tried to pull a scam on us. After giving us a somewhat obviously scam-like sob story about how he was a poor student and was scraping by money as a taxi driver as a part time job, he suddenly remembered it was his birthday (I’m sure everyday is his birthday). He then insisted that he wanted to buy chocolates for us, however he made a gesture reaching in his pockets that he was out of money. We weren’t buying it and he shut up after he realized we were a bit privy to these situations. Again, the drive was a bit enlightening. There would be random cows on the road and the traffic would give way to them (as they are considered sacred). Also mentioning again, there was tons of garbage and dilapidation everywhere. Below I put some of the pictures from around the city I took throughout the week.

Dog in trashy India

Dog in trashy India

Cow in the road

Cow in the road

Garbage Garbage Garbage

Garbage Garbage Garbage

The office was in a tech park and was a pretty decent building. I particularly liked the coffee machine in the office that was complementary for employees. I started each morning (and burned the midnight oil) with a fresh brewed coffee from the office coffee machine. The next few days were all work. Not going to go into the work here other to say that it was a productive trip. I post a lot of food pictures here, so I will go over some of the more interesting food experiences I had below.

The first day at lunch we had some sort of Indian crepes. Quite delicious and only about $3 for two very big crepes. This was on-campus at my company.

Indian Crepes at TI Cafeteria

Indian Crepes at TI Cafeteria

The first night we had some sort of North Indian food from a restaurant called Mast Kalandar. We went here with a friend/customer from Bangalore and it was in a smaller shopping center on the second floor. The food was quite good. Pretty much you got a plate with separate sauces and a plentiful serving of thin bread. You use your hands to take the bread and scoop up the sauce. The dessert was a very sweet Indian delicacy consisted of a deep fried doughball smothered in sweet syrup.

Northern Indian food

Northern Indian food

Dessert

Dessert

Went to some sort of Brazilian BBQ restaurant called BBQ Nation another night. They come around and carve off meat/veggies for you to grill at a grill in the middle of your table.

BBQ in India

BBQ in India

Group shot at BBQ

Group shot at BBQ

Went with one of the managers to some Bangalore-style restaurant. The food at the restaurant was very good (similar to the bread/sauce style of the North Indian restaurant), however the more interesting aspect was how we go to the restaurant. We took a tuktuk. It was barely big enough to fit three of us, but it was an interesting experience.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Bangalore food

Bangalore food

Other memorable dining experiences included Subway and TGI Fridays. At Subway, I got my normal Italian BMT, however it had lamb meat instead of pork meat (pork meat is considered unclean). TGI Friday we had pork ribs, however they double charged my credit card. I’m still trying to get them to reverse the charge (on my corporate card) and even had to call my bank as TGI Fridays Bangalore is denying it. Never go to TGI Fridays in Bangalore. I suspect they did it on purpose and were hoping to pull a quick one.

Another memorable thought was that Hyatt had snacks in my room each night I returned. The first night it was a delicious chocolate cake and the other night I came back to the hotel to find brownies. Very nice touch.

Free cake at hotel. Thanks Hyatt!

Free cake at hotel. Thanks Hyatt!

The last day was a Saturday and time to leave Bangalore. My flight left at 11:30pm so I had the entire day to “explore” Bangalore. I had plans to meet a friend in the afternoon for him to show me around Bangalore. After waking up, checking out, and leaving my baggage at the front desk I decided to check out the shopping center right next to the hotel. This turned out to be a bad choice as the moment I stepped out of the hotel I was harassed by taxi drivers wanting to take me to their junk souvenir shops. They kept insisting that I should buy “sandle wood handycrafts” as that is what Bangalore is famous for. I escaped the taxi drivers and went to the (gated) shopping center next to the hotel. There was a shop called “Big Bazaar” that I walked around a bit. Nothing special- kind of like an Indian target. After about thirty minutes I had enough and walked back to the hotel to hang out by the pool and eat a tiramisu.

Tiramisu by the pool

Tiramisu by the pool

By about two my friend came around to pick me up. As I mentioned earlier, Bangalore isn’t too much of a tourist city. The one landmark that my friend could find that was somewhat touristy was Bangalore Palace. This was somewhat a summer house to the various Maharajas (a ruler) in India. It wasn’t anything special. You paid an entrance fee and got a audio tour guide which told you about various rooms of the palace. You needed to buy a pass to take pictures. I didn’t want to pay money to take pictures, however my friend was lucky enough to snap a picture before the guards called us out.

Bangalore Palace

Bangalore Palace

After the palace we headed towards center Bangalore to a sort of restaurant and shopping center. We went to a place called “3 Monkey’s Brewpub” which is sort of restaurant that brews their own beer. We had a few very tasty beers and a selection of American bar fare.

In front of 3 Monkey's

In front of 3 Monkey’s

Once we finished dinner, we did some of the activities in the shopping center where the restaurant was. This involved a few carnival-like games like shooting bottles with an air gun and some archery training. After everything was done, my friend dropped me back off at the hotel and I caught the shuttle cab to the airport. Again, I had to insist to the driver that I did not want him to take me to his shitty sandlewood souvenir shop and take me directly to the airport. After getting to the airport a bit early (the cab had to be randomly screened and checked for bombs), I checked in and went through security. After a quick nap on the bench outside the gate, I boarded the plane and started my red eye flight back to Shanghai (with a transfer in Singapore). Red eye flights suck. Having nine hours in the air plus an hour transit in Singapore was not enjoyable at all and I really will try to avoid these sort of flights in the future. I finally ended up getting back to my apartment in Shanghai a little after 12pm.

India was definitely interesting, however I wouldn’t be too heart struck if I don’t have to go back again. My stomach definitely acted weird on a lot of the spicy food that I ate. Nonetheless, I did have an interesting travel experience and look forward to more interesting travels in my future!

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Singapore Vacation

Last week I was tasked to go to Bangalore India for vacation. While planning flights, I unfortunately found that there is no good easy way to get to Bangalore from Shanghai. No direct flights and it seems that all of the connecting flights had horrific layovers. After scouring through various flight plans, I found one that had a layover in Singapore. I had always wanted to go to Singapore so I jumped at the opportunity and turned the twelve hour layover into a two day layover.

Singapore

Singapore

On Saturday afternoon I caught a taxi to Pudong Airport in Shanghai and boarded my Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore. Singapore Airlines is widely known to be one of the best public airlines on the planet so I had high hopes. Even with my economy class ticket, I was not disappointed. The service was great, the food was delicious, and the stewardesses were all very attractive/tall Singaporean girls that jumped on every opportunity to provide excellent service. In Asia, airlines tend to hire stewardesses based partially on looks (a practice which would have severe lawsuits if done outside Asia). While I don’t necessarily agree with the practice- it was not a downside for me.

After a four hour flight I landed in Singapore. I have to say that customs in Singapore was the quickest experience that I have had anywhere in the world. I was through customs/immigration and had my bags in literally about 5 minutes. Definitely an upgrade from the two hours it took at LAX when I connected there. The first thing I noticed when stepping out of the airport in Singapore was the heat. When I had left Shanghai, it was about 0C and dry. I donned a big winter coat and had a winter hat on. In Singapore, being close to the equator, it was closer to 30C and as humid as a sauna. I immediately stripped down to the t-shirt I was wearing underneath my mound of winter gear.

I found the line for the taxi and queued up. Once in the taxi, I told the driver to take me to the Shangri-La Hotel. One thing that is also immediately noticeable in Singapore is that everyone speaks English… very well. This was a pleasant change from Shanghai where most taxi drivers speak no English at all. The taxi driver seemed to approve of my hotel choice. The most “popular” hotel in Singapore is the distinct Marina Bay Sands. While I would have loved to stay there, I decided to stay at the Shangri La as I have a loyalty account there and it was about $100 cheaper per night. At $350 a night, the Shangri-La was definitely not a bargain- however I couldn’t really justify that extra $100 just for a nice view. The taxi driver said that I made a right choice and that the Marina Bay Sands was a bit nosier and the air wasn’t as clean.

I got to my hotel in about an hour and checked into my gorgeous room on the 14th floor. I definitely recommend anyone traveling in Asia to stay at a Shangri-La. The service and level of quality you get are unmatched. My room in Singapore was huge, comfortable, and had a very interesting “home automation” panel on the night stand. You could control every single light using the buttons on the panel and even open/close the curtains. The bath tube was huge and the shower felt so good after the long flight.

Nice bath

Nice bath

Automated curtains in the morning

Automated curtains in the morning

So I was faced with a dilemma- what to do for dinner? Singapore is a country that is known to be a fusion of many different Asian countries and is famous for having some of the best food in the world. With this plethora of choice, where did I go? I went to the hotel buffet. I know, some will say that I was lazy and wasted a night and arguably the foodie capital of Asia- however this was my vacation. If I want to be lazy and spend $60 to knock down a couple of beers and eat gourmet seafood at the hotel buffet- who will stop me? Vacations are meant to relieve stress and by staying in the hotel and relaxing I did just that. The buffet was great (I know at this point I am sounding like the Shangri-La paid me). There was assortments of food from around Asia and I ate copious amounts of crab and sushi.

The next day I was scheduled to meet my friend Hung Lun and his wife Weng in my hotel lobby. I had worked with Hung Lun when I lived in Asia and had kept in touch via Facebook. After meeting in the lobby, we decided to go to the nearby botanical gardens and have a nice walk. We met up with his wife and enjoyed the scenery of the mark. Singapore has the reputation of being very clean and walking around the park it lived up to this reputation. One thing that I noticed was the surprising number of foreigners in the park- maybe even being in the majority compared to Asians. I’ve heard that a lot of companies are jumping ship from Hong Kong to Singapore (to escape the Chinese government), so perhaps this is what I was seeing. Perhaps I was just in a “foreigner” area. In the park there was a paid “Orchid” garden. I went in and took pictures of flowers (many of which I was told were rare).

Lake at Botanic Garden

Lake at Botanic Garden

Some flower that might be rare

Some flower that might be rare

Another flower that might be rare

Another flower that might be rare

After the botanical gardens, we decided to head to Sentosa Island and caught a subway to Harbour Front Station. At the station we grabbed a quick lunch at the food court. I had a sort of “pick and choose” soup that had quail egg, tofu, various vegetables, and assorted seafood. Very good and I remember the price being somewhat reasonable. After lunch, we dropped by a supermarket and grabbed some drinks to enjoy by the wading pool on the roof of the station (which was also a big shopping mall). Again, when we got out on the roof I was surprised by the heat. The sun was blaring down and I was afraid that I was going to get roasted- however fortunately we found a shaded area. Hung Lun’s daughter played in the water while we all took a rest.

Pick and choose soup

Pick and choose soup

Pond for kids to play

Pond for kids to play

We decided to take the cable car to Sentosa Island. Sentosa Island is an island on the southern part of Singapore known for its resort like areas. It has a few different beaches and even a Universal Studios. The cable car was really a pleasant experience. We passed high over the sound connecting Sentosa Island to Singapore and had some amazing views.

View of cable car from distance

View of cable car from distance

Inside the cable care

Inside the cable care

On the other side, it became quickly apparent that Sentosa was indeed a touristy area (some might call it a tourist trap). Admission was free (save the $20 cable car ride), however there were a ton of touristy shops scattered about. It was still very fun and the weather was great which allowed us to leisurely walk around. There was also a huge Merlion close to the cable car stop. The Merlion is somewhat like an icon in Singapore and is a statue of a lion mixed with a mermaid.

Sentosa Merlion

Sentosa Merlion

Chinese New Year Decorations

Chinese New Year Decorations

After walking around a bit, we caught a tram to Palawan Beach. After waiting 30 minutes for a tram that took us about 30 seconds down the road (we felt foolish for not walking), we arrived and Palawan Beach and was greeted with a gorgeous seaside view. After relaxing a bit with a couple of drinks, Hung Lun and I went to the obervation tower on the south side of the beach and took in the great views. There was also a sign saying that it was the “southern most part of continental Asia”.

Palwan Beach

Palwan Beach

Palwan Beach

Palwan Beach

We enjoyed the beach a bit and then caught a taxi back into town. Hung Lun and his wife invited me to their family’s house to enjoy a nice home cooked dinner. He mentioned that his father-in-law enjoyed liquor. I had brought some Chinese liquor as a gift for Hung Lun so it was a really good match. After a taxi ride to the apartment, I was greeted by a meal of seafood that could definitely pass at a five star restaurant. His inlaws are from Pudian (China) so I had a very interesting assortment of seafood ranging from soft shell sea crab to fish ball soup. There was also copious amounts of alcohol involved and I even go to try some homebrew rice wine which has a lovely fruity flavor.

Homecooked Meal

Homecooked Meal

After saying goodbye to everyone, I caught a taxi back to my hotel, took a shower, and then passed out. The next day I had to catch a flight at 9pm to Bangalore so I could enjoy a full day of sightseeing. The weather was not as good as the previous day (there was an on-and-off drizzle of rain), however I weathered it out. I spent a good part of the morning swimming and sitting by the pool reading a book. The pool was great and was very relaxing (and also very deep which I love).

Relaxing by the Shangri La Pool

Relaxing by the Shangri La Pool

When I was done with the pool, I took a quick shower and packed/checked out of the hotel. I left my luggage with them so that I could go see the sights of Singapore. Singapore is famous for “hawker stalls” in public places. Hawker stalls are pretty much a single stall that makes one specialty dish- very well. They are normally in an outdoor “food center” and are bunched together with many other stalls (about 50 or so). Hung Lun suggested that I go to one on Old Airport Road and I was not disappointed.

The first stall I had specialized in a sort of dried sardine soup. It had just the right level of spice and was very delicious.

Sardine soup

Sardine soup

The second stall was definitely the most interesting. They specialized in big prawn soup. After ordering, the lady caught a live big prawn from the tank she had outside and boiled it alive. Mixed with various greens and a spicy broth, it was great.

Giant prawn soup

Giant prawn soup

At this point I also got some fresh juice of green apple and sour plum to wash down my last dish.

Juice stand

Juice stand

The last dish was a chopped and roasted duck served on white rice. It was…. OK, however definitely the weakest of the three dishes.

Roasted duck

Roasted duck

At this point I was completely stuffed and caught a taxi to the main bay area of Singapore where the main iconic Merlion was located. This Merlion is right in front of the bay and provides a nice seaside view of The Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The Merlion was pretty impressive and I snapped a few good pictures.

The famous Merlion with Marina Bay Sands in the back

The famous Merlion with Marina Bay Sands in the back

Different view of Merlion

Different view of Merlion

At all of these touristy places, I kept seeing a theme of older western guys with smoking hot Asian women. Later (after looking it up online), I found out that prostitution is not only legal in Singapore, but highly regulated/taxed. While I would never partake, I think this is the right approach. Anyways, after grabbing a mango smoothie at Starbucks I decided to walk over to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. On my way there, I was caught in a bit of a flash rain, however I endured and made it to the hotel. The hotel itself has a casino and a super rich (think Galleria x5) shopping mall at the base. I wasn’t interested in gambling (or paying $50 for a Gucchi t-shirt) so I headed straight to the sky garden of the hotel.

Marina Bay Shopping Center

Marina Bay Shopping Center

Basically, even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can pay about $15 to go to the top of the hotel and enjoy the view from the observation deck. It was definitely worth it as the view was simply incredible. You could see the skyscraper filled metropolitan skyline of Singapore, however my favorite view was that of the bay area with all of the boats grouped up to dock. I could have spent hours just staring at the bay wondering and imagining stories for each individual ship.

View from observation deck

View from observation deck

Me on observation deck

Me on observation deck

I took in the view and then caught a taxi back to the Shangri-La. After enjoying a cheese platter in the hotel cafe, I got my luggage and went to the airport via taxi. I had about three hours to kill at the airport and the airport at Singapore is definitely the airport to kill time at. There is wifi access everywhere and even free massage chairs to relieve weary feet (which I welcomed). After a few hours, I boarded my flight to India (which I will write about next). Overall Singapore was a great experience. I felt like it was a bit rushed, however I am still glad I went and consider myself very lucky to have had native friends there to show me around. I definitely want to go back and look forward to hanging out by the pool again!

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Pizza Hut China

So the other day I was feeling particularly lazy and ordered Pizza Hut Shanghai. Looking back, over six years ago I wrote about ordering from Pizza Hut Japan. It seems that on that day I was also lazy. Anyway, the big difference with ordering this time around was that this Pizza Hut Shanghai website was actually in English. Also unlike Japan, the pizza from Pizza Hut China was very inexpensive. After quite a bit of deliberation, I settled on the following:

  • Medium stuffed crust Supreme Pizza
  • Two orders of popcorn chicken
  • Order of cheesy potato
  • 1.5L Pepsi
  • Fried Egg

I did not originally want the fried egg, however when I went to checkout they sold it to me at a discount. And what was the damage? Only about 130RMB (about $21 at the time of posting). Definitely an improvement over the 3600 JPY pizza that I ordered in Japan. It took about 30 minutes for it to be delivered after I ordered. As usual, I took pictures. I have to apologize for the picture quality (I was so hungry I just wanted to dig in as soon as possible).

All together.

All together.

Pizza up close. Slightly overcooked, but not that bad.

Pizza up close. Slightly overcooked, but not that bad.

So the verdict? Not bad for the price. Truth be told, I prefer the American and Japanese Pizza Hut better, but for what I paid I can’t complain. It’s greasy pizza that makes you feel guilty as hell after you eat it. I can definitely see myself ordering it again on one of those lazy weekdays where I do not want to cook.

Japan Business/Vacations

Japan. I lived there for a year and continually go back and forth for a mix of business and vacation. Japanese is my second language and it has morphed beyond the casual hobby that it was in college and into almost a part of my everyday life. Last month I went to Japan twice- once for vacation and once for a mix of business/vacation. Back in July I had bought a cheap ticket ($350 round trip from Shanghai) and the following month after I was approved to go to Japan for an embedded conference. Both times were amazing and there must be a tuna shortage in Japan after everything that I ate.

I don’t really know what to say about Japan that I haven’t already said in countless blog posts before. It’s a great country to be. It is clean, safe, free, and the people there are genuinely kind. I won’t go into the level of detail that I do with other travel trips, but instead just post some of the more interesting pictures.

Chinese Rice Liquor - I bought this as a souvenir for a friend.

Chinese Rice Liquor – I bought this as a souvenir for a friend.

The view from the Hyatt Regency Shinjuku. Not bad- that's Shinjuku Chuo Park in the foreground.

The view from the Hyatt Regency Shinjuku. Not bad- that’s Shinjuku Chuo Park in the foreground.

Whale sushi - I had this when I went to a conveyor belt sushi place in Tsukiji (the fish market). I didn't know it was whale until after I ate it. Quite good.

Whale sushi – I had this when I went to a conveyor belt sushi place in Tsukiji (the fish market). I didn’t know it was whale until after I ate it. Quite good.

At the same sushi place. At 12pm the chef caught a fish from the aquarium and killed the fish right there to make sushi as fresh as you can get it.

At the same sushi place. At 12pm the chef caught a fish from the aquarium and killed the fish right there to make sushi as fresh as you can get it.

After the kill. Definitely delicious!

After the kill. Definitely delicious!

Me at Gina's with the staff and Rumi. All are friends that I knew when I lived in Japan.

Me at Gina’s with the staff and Rumi. All are friends that I knew when I lived in Japan.

View from Intercontinental Hotel in Yokohama of Yokohama bay. This was the hotel that my company put me at. I stayed at a cheaper business hotel for vacation.

View from Intercontinental Hotel in Yokohama of Yokohama bay. This was the hotel that my company put me at. I stayed at a cheaper business hotel for vacation.

My company at the Embedded Technology conference. All the companies had very cute girls to wave in onlookers.

My company at the Embedded Technology conference. All the companies had very cute girls to wave in onlookers.

Fatty sushi (ootoro). I had so much of this in Japan. In Dallas, one of these will run you $20. In Japan, two for $5.

Fatty sushi (ootoro). I had so much of this in Japan. In Dallas, one of these will run you $20. In Japan, two for $5.

Hamburger sushi I got at a conveyor belt sushi place. I learned later it is normally for kids.

Hamburger sushi I got at a conveyor belt sushi place. I learned later it is normally for kids.

Narita Express that will take you from Shinjuku to Narita Airport in about an hour and a half. Definitely worth the money.

Narita Express that will take you from Shinjuku to Narita Airport in about an hour and a half. Definitely worth the money.

I’ll be back to Japan. Living in China, it is a bit depressing watching/reading the news as there is so much muckraking towards the country. Sure, Japan has it’s problems (every country does), however the news makes it out to be demonically bad. I think most people who actually visit the country from China are surprised on how clean/friendly it is and how it is not the demonic hellhole that the news makes it out to be. I’ll tell you one thing- I definitely have not had sushi that even rivals the freshness that I experienced in Tsukiji market. Traveling there for the fatty tuna alone is worth the plane ticket.

Being Guarded / Massage Scam

So in the past couple of weeks I have been to Japan twice- once for vacation and once for business (with a few extra personal days tagged on). I’ve been to Japan more times than I can recollect at this point. I’ve done all of the major travel destinations in Asia at this point: Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan. I’ve worked with people from all of these countries and have had an in-depth glimpse at life at every one of these countries. I feel like I have the qualifications to compare/contrast/rant about life in all of these countries.

As I write this post, I am sitting in a waiting room on the train platform to catch my Narita Express train to Shinjuku airport. Everything is clean, people around are quiet and considerate, and the entire time that I’ve been in this country (about two weeks this stint), I have not seen one person cough out their lungs on the street. I’ve been able to live in the 21st century and use Facebook/Google/YouTube on a daily basis.

Being in a country like Japan long enough is dangerous. Everything is so safe that you start to let your guard down and this is particularly a problem when you go to a third world country like China. China is the complete opposite- you always have to be on guard for people that want to scam you. When I walk from the train station to my apartment in China, I am approached by at least three different people asking if I want to get a “massage”. This is usually a crusty old Chinese guy and the conversation normally goes something like this:

     “Sir! Sir! You want massage!? Lady massage?! Sex! Sex!”

When this happens, I have had the following reactions:

  1. Politely say “no” and keep walking
  2. Ignore them completely
  3. Aggressively say “bu yao” and look pissed off
  4. Speak in another language

When I came to China, I always used to default to #1, however I have learned that #3 is actually the best option. If you are too polite, they will just try harder to convince you (same problem with #2). With #4, sometimes they will completely ignore you and continue to speak in English. Option #3 not only makes it clear that you know of the scam, but also that if they continue to proposition you that things can get messy.

Going a little bit deeper into it, any foreigner coming to China should know that even if you want a massage (or a sexy massage), you should never ever say yes to these people. While I have never partook or had the desire for a “sexy massage”, there are many horror stories on the internet about foreigners that did say yes to these people. More or less the common outcome is that they will take you to an unmarked building that appears to be a bar/massage parlor. In these buildings you will start to get a massage in a small room and then two or three Chinese thugs will burst into the room and rob you. There are many stories of people getting charged up to $7000 on their credit cards under pressure that “sexy massages” are illegal in China and that they will report you to the police unless you pay.

What should you do if this happens to you? As I’ve said, I’ve never been dumb enough to say yes to any of these scams, however I can give some advice off some observations. If you’re lucky, you didn’t give them cash and instead used a credit card. Call your credit card company and cancel the transactions immediately and report them as fraud. Any legit card company will foster this and you will not be charged for it. Don’t worry about empty threats from the Chinese “thugs” reporting you to the police if you cancel the transaction. It’s a bluff and there is no way the police would care enough to follow up.

If you paid cash, you’re out of luck and just need to cut your losses. You could report it to the local police, however it is most likely a fruitless effort as the police will most like not care enough (and are also most likely in bed with the scammers). If the thugs demand you go to an ATM, agree, however just tell them to f’ off once you get to the road.

Back to my original point though, staying in Japan too long makes you take for granted how third world China is. It makes you too soft. On the other hand, living in China too long makes it so you are always guarded and makes you too hard. I’d like to say USA is a balance of the two, but USA is really another can of worms. I’m sure it also depends in China where you are, however from the major three cities that I’ve been in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen), I can honestly say that the experience has been very similar. This is also of course a foreigner’s experience with limited Chinese. Perhaps I look like an easy target, however I can say that walking down the street at all hours of the night in Japan, Taiwan (I don’t consider Taiwan part of China), and South Korea I have never really encountered the same problem that I do in China.

Air Quality in Shanghai

One of the biggest differences that one will notice when moving from Dallas to Shanghai is the difference in air quality. In summer the difference isn’t too noticeable, however in Winter there is something that makes the air quality significantly worse. Honestly I have not really bothered to wear a mask until last week when I woke up and saw this outside my window:

Shanghai Polution

Shanghai Polution

At first I thought it might have been fog, however after a quick trip to my balcony I was able to tell otherwise. I don’t smoke regularly. I might have one or two cigarettes a year (to socialize at bars), but I am by no means addicted or have any sort of craving. When I stepped out on my balcony that day and breathed in however, it really felt like I was almost smoking a cigarette- it was enough for me to put on a mask when I went to work that day.

I really think this is a problem with life in Shanghai. Downtown in Puxi (where I live) it is considered worse, however where I work in Pudong it was also noticeably bad. Another thing that I think is borderline scary is how this affects kids. For a grown 2m tall strong white guy I feel that it is unhealthy enough, but wouldn’t it be that much worse for an infant/baby? To be fair, it isn’t always awful. A few weeks ago from my balcony it was gorgeous/clear and I took this picture (same view as the one above):

Clear day in Shanghai

Clear day in Shanghai

Perhaps I am just used to the constant blue sky and clean air that I had when I lived in Japan/USA. I realize China is a developing country and industrial output leads to this sort of pollution, however I think that since China is striving to become a first world country it needs to take drastic measures to curb this (not only for the environment, but also for livability). In the subway, there are a few people that wear masks, however the vast majority of people elect to breath in the polluted air. Honestly, I am not quite sure how much the mask helps, however the fact that I see black residue on the outside of the mask after I wear it long enough is motive enough for me to be the weird foreigner in the subway that wears it. For any foreigner thinking of moving to Shanghai, I’d definitely recommend buying a pack of masks from Amazon before coming.

Friend’s Farm in Fengxian

Last weekend my friend from work (Lixin) invited me to his farm in Fengxian (a suburb on the outskirts of Shanghai). I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a Chinese farm. My image was that it was a remote piece of land that is isolated and that he works on solely without any neighbors in sight. In reality, it was a bit different (and still a great experience). I invited one of my Chinese friends to keep me company just in case things got a little calm at the farm.

The hardest part of the trip was waking up early on a Saturday (which meant not going out late on the Friday before). My friend and I had to meet my coworker at Guanglan Road Station (near where I work) at 8:30am. This means that I had to wake up about 6:30am and leave my apartment around 8:30am. Not the first thing I want to do on a Saturday morning, but it was worth it nonetheless. After meeting up with my friend, we waited and Lixin picked us up in his car. He drives a Skoda (which we don’t have in USA) which is similar in quality to a Volkswagen. I’ve heard it described as a “value line” Volkswagen, however I’d buy a Skoda any day (his car was really nice).

Lixin’s wife and daughter also join him on his trips to the farm. I had met both of them last year when we took a trip to Huangshan and they were as friendly/cheerful as ever. About an hour drive later we arrived at the farm. The weather was beautiful- clear blue skies with the sun at full attention. The farm wasn’t quite as I had imagined it, however it was very beautiful nonetheless. The farm was more or less a collection of small houses each with a plot of land that people can rent out and use to grow vegetables/crops. There was also a common area, play ground, small pond, and soccer field where kids (and parents) could run free. It seemed to be geared more towards families who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of Shanghai city life and have a place where their kids can run around/play/have a good time outdoors.

Rural Fengxian

Rural Fengxian

Lixin’s house was a very cozy building that had everything that a family would need for a nice relaxing weekend away from the city. It had a bed, sofa, screen door, and a very nice deck/patio where you could relax outside and enjoy the peacefulness. He was even in the process of building an additional room which would have a kitchen and fully functioning toilet/shower. After enjoying the outdoors a little, Lixin had to water his plants. He was growing radishes, carrots, and various other vegetables. I offered to help him water the plants and had my first taste of gardening in 20 years (when my dad made me do it when I was growing up).

Lixin's House at Fengxian

Lixin’s House at Fengxian

Farmer Tim

Farmer Tim

After relaxing and winding down, we went to the common area and played with all of the children. There was a playground that my friend and I played a little bit on and then went to watch the kids play soccer. In preparation for the trip, I had cooked some deviled eggs (my go-to American dish) and shared it with a few people at the farm.

Tim's Cooking

Tim’s Cooking

In the common area, there was also a variety of drinks/alcohol that we could buy at a very reasonable price. My friend and I had a couple of beers and just relaxed outside while the children played some sort of game that involved a string maze/obstacle course. There was a big Chinese group of girls/guys that had arrived on a bus and were on some sort of “match making” retreat to meet each other (with the possible hope of finding a life partner). It was pretty interesting to see the different games that they played to break the ice and get to know each other.

For lunch, the kitchen on the farm was a bit overwhelmed so Lixin took us to a nearby restaurant where we had a variety of local Chinese dishes (that were very delicious). All throughout the trip, I was very impressed with out rural everything was (despite only being one hour from one of the largest cities in the world). After lunch, we went back to the farm and relaxed a bit. After a while the kids started to do face painting (for Halloween) and my friend helped paint everyone’s faces. It was getting later in the evening, so after about an hour or so Lixin drove us to the train station where we caught a train back to Shanghai (for only 6RMB). All-in-all, the trip to Fengxian was an enjoyable experience and a nice break from the business of People’s Square (where I live). When I have a family, it is definitely the sort of place that I would love to spend a weekend at relaxing/camping.

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South Korea Vacation

This time I went to vacation in South Korea. Korea has always been a bit of an unknown to me. I have had many Korean friends over the years and absolutely adore Korean food, however I am relatively unfamiliar with the country and especially the language. My very good friend in Dallas is Korean and she recommended that I go. After checking for flights on Kayak and booking a hotel through Priceline, I was all set for my Korean vacation.

South Korea

I have nothing but good things to say about Korean Air. They are definitely up there with JAL/Cathay as far as quality of service goes… in other words the best. I caught a taxi from my apartment in Shanghai to Pudong Airport around 11am. After killing about two hours in the first class lounge, I boarded and made the hour and a half journey to Seoul Incheon Airport. After landing, getting baggage, money, and a SIM card (from the convenient store), I was tasked with how to find a way to get to the Renaissance Seoul Hotel. I was a bit nervous before hand as I normally take a taxi to my hotel, however the airport in Seoul is so far away than a taxi would have run about $100 or so. Instead I wandered around the airport and actually found a bus from Korean Airlines that stopped directly in front of my hotel. At 16000 Korean Wong (about $16), this was a bargain. After a long hour and a half bus ride through Seoul rush hour, I arrived at my hotel in Gagnam District.

Bus from Incheon Airport

I went to Korea alone. My friend from Dallas had got one of her friends that was living in South Korea to meet up with me on the Saturday, however for the first night I was left to fend for myself. That night I wanted to get some Soondae as it is one of my favorite Korean foods. I soon found out that UberX was free in Korea due to it just being rolled out into a new market. UberX is a sort of ride sharing application where people with their own cars act as the taxi. The experience tends to be more enjoyable and the service/price (even when it is not free) is miles ahead of a normal taxi. Anyway, after the UberX picked me up at my hotel, I showed the address in Korean and we were off. The restaurant was in Gagnam in a pretty lit up street full of bars/restaurants. After navigating on foot a little, I found the restaurant and order some soondae soup, a combination soondae dish, and some beer/soju (Korean liquor). It was really good and delicious! Also, which is typical with Korean food, I was served kimchi (in this case kkakdugi).

Soondae combination with soju

A little bit tired, I walked back to my hotel (which was about 15 minutes away) and went straight to bed. The next morning was my chance to do some of the touristy stuff in Seoul. After waking up around 9am, I made my way to the Seoul metro station to make my way to Gyeongbokgung. After going to Yeoksam station and buying a T-Money/Pass card from a machine, I navigated through the subway (which required one transfer) to Gyeongbokgung station. My impression of the Seoul subway is pretty positive. A little less anarchic than the Shanghai subway, but a little bit more noisy than the Tokyo subway. Still, even during rush hour, it seemed to operate very smoothly and pleasantly. Once at Gyeongbokgung, I exited the station and walked around outside. After buying a ticket for about 3000 wong (about $3), I entered the palace. The palace itself is pretty impressive. It looks like a very typical Korean architecture. In the main area (where the main palace is), it was a bit crowded/loud. I specifically remember seeing a bunch of Chinese tourist groups. If you walked around to the side though, the crowds thinned out and it got more peaceful. The weather was magnificent and I enjoyed walking around/relaxing for a good hour or so (while taking pictures).

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Garden around Gyeongbokgung

After making a short visit to the folk museum next to Gyeongbokgung, I boarded the subway back to my hotel. After I left the subway near my hotel, I was a bit hungry (it was lunch time). I video chatted with my friend in Dallas, and she saw a really nice/cheap Korean food restaurant that is known to give you a good bang for the buck. The place is called Gimbap Heaven and specializes in Gimbap. Being next to my hotel, I ended up going to this restaurant a few times. I never spent more than around $5, so this definitely turned out to be a bargain. THe first time, I had kimchi ramen and a regular gimbap.

Gimbap from Gimbap Heaven

That evening I met with my friend at my hotel’s lobby. We decided to go to a park that boasts a very good view of Seoul called Namsan Park. We took a (free) UberX there and walked around a bit in the park. In the park there is a very recognizable tower called Seoul Tower. We walked/hiked around the park to the base of the tower. Again, tons of tourists here (many from mainland China) and the crowd was a bit overwhelming. The wait to get into the tower was a bit long, so we decided to just enjoy the views around the tower and take the cable car down.

View from Namsan Park

Seoul Tower

After catching another UberX, we went to a restaurant next to my hotel called Bono Bono. This is a sort of super buffet that has everything from king crab, to sushi, to German sausage. After a day of walking around this was definitely a welcomed dinner. A bit expensive (I think maybe around $50 a head), but the amount of king crab alone that I ate made up for it.

King crab from buffet

After dinner, I got my friend a free UberX back to her home and I returned to my hotel and passed out. The following day (after sleeping in until 10am) I had an early lunch of Tteokbokki and kimchi gimbap from Gimbap Heaven. I then took an UberX to a park my Korean colleague from TI suggested called Hangang Park. It was a very nice park and very relaxing to walk around next to the Han River. It seemed like a place local Koreans went to run/exercise/relax (and there wasn’t a tourist in sight except for me). After walking around for an hour or so, I made my way to the subway to meet my friend at Hongik University station. Around the station, we had some sort of Korean pork soup called gamjatang. It was very good (and spicy) and was accompanied by the usual array of side dishes/kimchi.

Hangang Park – so peaceful

Gamjatang and side dishes

After the late (second) lunch, we went to a Korean culture center where they showed you how to make kimchi. I was the only one here (in addition to my friend), but it was very fun none the less. They showed you how to mix the spices, cover the lettuce, and wrap everything so that the kimchi would be ready to ferment. The way that kimchi is made is that after the lettuce is spiced, it has to sit around for a week or so (in the old days, they buried the container in a ground). Since we didn’t have a week to let it ferment, they had some premade that tasted delicious! Afterwards, they had a few traditional Korean clothes that I could try on. I got some pretty interesting pictures of mean in Korean garbs.

Teacher explaining how to make kimchi

Me making kimchi

Me in Korean clothes

Afterwards, we went to a very tradition/touristy Korean road called Insadong to buy some souvenirs. After a quick ride on the subway, we arrived and started to walk around. It was a very interesting area and there were a ton of good souvenir shops. I bought some post cards to write to my friends and family in USA. We also stopped by a tea shop and got some really nice tea ice cream.

Road in Insadong

Tea ice cream

After we walked around Insadong for a bit, it was time to get dinner. I had been planning on eating live octopus on this trip (it had been on the bucket list since seeing it on the TV show Bizarre Foods) and it seems that it is one of the more notorious Korean foods. My friend did some research and found a very highly rated place in Korea to get the octopus. After a short subway ride, we arrived. The restaurant was a bit small and situated off a lively street close to the subway station. In the front, there was a small aquarium with a few live octopuses. After being seated, we ordered beer and a couple of octopus dishes (fried with vegetables, and an actual live octopus). The live octopus was truly a unique experience. The restaurant lady came with two octopuses in a small metal bowl of water as well as two wooden sticks and some spicy chili sauce. When I gave the word (after making sure I had ample beer), she grabbed the octopus (she had gloves one), pressed it against the stick, wrapped the tentacles around, dipped it in sauce, and I ate it in one bite off the stick. This was the first (and admittedly probably the last) time that I killed something with my mouth. The octopus is still alive when you bite it off the stick and the sensation is very unique. Each individual suction cup on all the tentacles grabs different parts of your mouth and is a little unnerving. At one point, a tentacle grabbed the back of by throat and made me slightly wanted to gag, but I muscled through the chewing and swallowed. I wasn’t really concentrated on the taste, but it was more or less like extremely fresh sushi. My friend also did this for the first time (despite being Korean) and had a similar reaction. We took a video of the entire experience.

Octopus about to meet his fate

After the live dish, we ate another dish where a bunch of vegetables were brought out on a large metal pan and put over a stove. A live octopus was cut/added and chili sauce was added. You could see the tentacles squirm even after being heated a little. This was a very delicious dish and was a bit more manageable to eat than the live octopus. Of course, like all Korean meals, we had the assortment of side dishes/kimchi to complement the main meal.

Fried/Cooked Octopus

After dinner, we took an UberX to the Intercontinental Hotel in Gagnam for a farewell drink in the bar on the top floor. I had read that this bar boasts one of the best views of Seoul and I was not disappointed. Despite paying about $20 for a beer, it was a nice atmosphere and the view was indeed splendid. There was a nice live piano/viola performance going and it was a nice end to a wonderful day. After spending some time in the bar, I bid farewell to my friend and caught a normal taxi back to my hotel to sleep (UberX was too far away).

View from COEX Intercontinental

The next day was a bit of a wild card. Originally I wanted to take a DMZ tour on this day, however I had waited too long to book tickets and was unable to go. Instead, my friend from Dallas sent me a link of an international festival going on in Itaewon. Itaewon is a district in Seoul that I believe is situated near a military base. As such, there are many foreigners/expats in this area. After waking up and getting ready, I stopped by Lotteria (a Korean fast food chain) and got a Bulgogi Burger. I the caught an UberX to Itaewon and was greeted by a lively street festival. There were many booths/souvenir shops ligning the street and the road had been shut to normal traffic. Each booth had a country associated with it (I remember the American one being steak themed) and there was no shortage of yummy food. There were a few street performances going on as well. One memorable one was a “K-pop magic show” where two street magicians did magic tricks to loud Korean pop music. There was also a Taekwondo performance and various musical/rock performances. One interesting thing I remember is a bunch of booths set up for craft beer. Having had the typical light/lager Asian beer for the past few months, I welcomed the opportunity to get a hoppy IPA beer.

Taekwondo Demonstration

Itaewon Festival

After hanging around the festival and buying souvenirs for an hour or so, I headed back to my hotel via subway. I got a quick snack of gimbap from Gimbap Heaven and decided to take a killer afternoon nap. The rest of the day I was busy doing nothing. This might sound like a waste to stay around the hotel for an entire evening in South Korea, however this was my vacation and I just wanted to relax. I did leave the hotel to go to a Korean barbecue place on a road next to my hotel. I wandered around a bit and found a place with an English menu. After sitting down and pointing to what I wanted, the waitress brought out a grill and a selection of vegetables/meat. I think she sensed that I was not direly familiar with Korean barbecue, so she actually put all the meat/vegetables on the grill and helped me cook it (normally you do this yourself). It was very delicious and a nice dinner on my last night in Korea.

Korean barbecue

The rest of the night was very relaxing with one exception. I wanted to relax and drink some wine while watching a movie/reading a book so I went to the 7-11 and bought a moderately priced ($15 is moderately priced for me) bottle of red wine and some snacks. When I brought it back to the hotel, I used a cork screw that the hotel provided to open the bottle. I got the cork out, but as I did I accidentally hit the bottom of the bottle on the counter and the entire bottom shattered. This left everything that I was wearing soaked in red wine (luckily I had taken off my shoes) as well as a colossal mess- needless to say it was not exactly the relaxation that I had in mind. After cleaning up, throwing away a nice pair of shirt/shorts, and having the hotel clean the carpet a bit, I went and got another bottle of wine (I was determined). Finally, I was able to enjoy my evening while sipping wine and watching TV. The movie Leon was on TV which I had not seen for ages.

The next day it was time for me to return to Shanghai. I slept in late (until about 10am) and went to Gimbap Heaven for a final meal of tuna gimbap and kimchi ramen. I then lounged around the hotel a bit and caught a bus to Gimpo Airport. The trip back to Shanghai was uneventful and I got back to my hotel around 7pm or so.

The trip was definitely a lot of fun and an interesting experience. It is interesting to travel to different parts of Asia and see the differences in cultures/societies. South Korea is definitely a lot more modern than China and is in the “first world” bucket. I remember walking down the streets a few times and thinking how nice that it was that cars weren’t honking their horns and people weren’t spitting on the street. People in Korea were definitely very friendly to me and I will think back on the trip with warm memories. Hopefully next time I visit Korea I will be able to take my time and visit other places such as Busan or Jeju. Seoul is definitely a modern city and I would without hesitation recommend anyone to go visit.

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Favorite/Worst Things about Chinese Life

The other day a family member asked me what the best/worst things about living in China. I kind of rushed to answer it, however afterwards I thought about it for a little bit. It is hard to narrow down into one thing in particular, so I thought I would compile a list of a few things that I like about Chinese life as well as a few things I dislike about Chinese life.

Likes

  • The Convenience – Shanghai is a big city and it is also a very convenient city to live in. You can pretty get anything you want delivered to your door: laundry, groceries, food- you name it. The taxis/trains are also very easy and cheap to use. It is definitely a step up from Dallas as far as convenience goes. Owning a car here is more of a luxury rather than a necessity.
  • The Food – Not only is the Chinese food awesome, but pretty much any sort of food in the world that you might want is an internet order away or a short train ride away. I live in Peoples’ Square and I can definitely say the wide range of choices near me allow me eat very well.
  • The People – The majority of Shanghai people are very nice and intelligent. It is the metropolitan center of China and the best/brightest tend to live in China. Most people seem genuinely friendly and eager to help if you ask.
  • The Cost – China is a second world country that is still developing. For this reason, if you compare it to developed countries like USA/Taiwan/Japan you will realize that it is incredibly cheap to live in. Sure, compared to other countries such as Thailand or Vietnam it might be expensive, however compared to my life in Dallas things are drastically cheaper here. I pay about $1400 a month for a huge apartment in a very nice part of town. In Dallas, the same sort of apartment in Uptown would range closer to $1600/$2000, and in San Francisco you would be hard pressed to find anything at the price (let alone in the city center). Food/Alcohol tends to also be a lot cheaper (as long as you avoid the 5 star foreigner/ripoff bars/supermarkets).
  • The Culture/History – China has a rich culture/history and there is no shortage of cool museums/temples/palaces to go visit. You could spend your entire life just studying Chinese history and people do. I am definitely looking forward to exploring some of the more historical places like Xi’an.
  • The Lights – The lights of Shanghai are gorgeous. I never get tired of walking on The Bund and staring at the Oriental Pearl and bright lights of Pudong. Even from my apartment you can see tall sky scrapers that tickle the sky and are an absolute treat to look at.

Dislikes

  • The Spitting – People spit in China- a lot. They hack out their entire lungs and clear their sinuses on the street. This happens in the USA also, however a lot less often and never indoors. In some cases I’ve seen people do it in the train station which makes me cringe even more. It’s dirty and unsanitary, however the next item is even worse.
  • Kids shitting and pissing on the street – Diapers for babies seem to be a rarity here. Instead, kids have these specialized pants with a slit where the genitals are. The parents actually let their kids shit and piss on the road. Sometimes they pick it up, but sometimes they just let it sit there. This is absolutely repulsive and parents who do this should not be parents. This is how disease/germs spread and I truly believe parents that do this should have their kids taken away from them.
  • The Internet – The internet in China sucks. It is heavily censored/monitored and as a result extremely slow/sluggish. Not to mention the most interesting/useful sites (Google/Facebook) are blocked. Me being a expat engineer, I have to make late night conference calls overseas quite often from my apartment. The extremely sluggish internet that China provides does not make this easy. A few weeks ago I went to Vietnam and enjoyed the fast/open internet that they had in their country. You know it’s bad when Vietnam has better internet that you.
  • The Noise – Shanghai is considerably more noisier than places like USA/Taiwan. People honk their horn quite often here. I’ve been told people honk their horns not out of anger or extreme caution (like the do elsewhere), but purely out of information. Usually the honking subdues after about 10pm, however it makes taking an afternoon nap quite difficult.
  • The Government – I think this one speaks for itself.
  • The Pollution – China is known for it’s pollution in it’s big cities. To be fair, Shanghai is not the worst (I hear that medal goes to Beijing), however there are definitely less blue days compared to when I lived in Tokyo or Dallas.
  • Being Approached on the Street – If you are a foreign guy and walk alone on the road you have to put up with people approaching you and asking “You want watch? Bag? Real bag! Massage!? Hello!!? You want massage!? Lady massage! Sex!?” I wish the police would do something to make these people go away.

This is by no means a complete list and I am sure I will make posts in the future that elaborate and give more insight. Overall, I definitely do enjoy my life in Shanghai. I think the dislikes are easy enough ignored (with the exception of the kid shitting thing) and I think as a whole I prefer living in Shanghai over Dallas. It’s definitely an experience and I do look forward to learning more as I live here!

Vietnam Vacation

Vietnam. The country has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people depending on generation and circumstances. For me, it was always a country that I associated with the Vietnam War. This might have been because I grew up watching movies like Forrest Gump and Full Metal Jacket, however the notion of visiting the country (much less for leisure) never really crossed my mind. However, a couple of months ago my friend from Houston contacted me and said that she was going to be in Vietnam to visit family/friends and offered to be my translator/tour guide if I could get myself over to Vietnam. If I did not have a local that knew the language/culture, I probably was never going to go to Vietnam which made this opportunity so unique. After checking flight prices from Shanghai (it came out to about $300 round trip on Vietnam Airlines) and booking a hotel using my miles, I was set to go to Vietnam. Originally I was supposed to just stay within Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), however after a coworker showed me some pictures of his trip to the island Phu Quoc, I decided to book a couple of days at a hotel on the beach.

I left my apartment in Shanghai about mid afternoon and made my way to Pudong International Airport. Getting to the airport is usually pretty intimidating, but I am getting used to the art of hailing a cab down from the street. After making it to the airport with time to spare, I checked into my flight on Vietnam Airlines. The flight was really nice and I remember being very impressed with the food served on board. I’ve had the sensation of smelling freshly baked bread on an airplane before (let alone in Coach), however Vietnam Airlines did an awesome job with their dining option and even had some of the best coffee that I have ever had (and I am not even a coffee drinker).

Anyway, after about a four hour flight (where I watched Braveheart on my tablet), I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is one of the rare countries that Americans actually need to get a visa (China an North Korea are also in the same bucket), however the process to get the visa is very easy. There are a slew of online services that will do the visa application with the consulate for you so that all you have to do is pick up your visa at the airport. I used MyVietnamVisa and it seemed about as good as any other. The one thing I forgot to do was to bring enough money to cover the visa fee at the visa counter in the airport. Luckily, they let me go through customs (keeping my passport as a retainer) and pony some money from an ATM. After catching a metered taxi from the queue, I was off to my hotel The Intercontinental Asiana Saigon. In the taxi, I was able to get my first glimpse of Ho Chi Minh and the ensuing traffic. The first thing that any westerner will notice is the shear number of motorbikes. I’ve been to Taipei (where motorbikes are also prominent), however in Vietnam the numbers are almost overwhelming. They swerve in and out of traffic like schools of fish and it is amazing how much coordination everyone has. I’d definitely get into a wreck if I tried.

The schools of scooters in Ho Chi Minh

Anyway, about ten minutes later I arrived at the hotel and met my friend in the lobby. The Intercontinental is a very nice western hotel and I was very impressed with the service and quality of the hotel. When I was in college, I opted for the cheaper hotels/hostels, however now that I have an adult job I normally tend to get the fancier hotels if price allows. After checking in and dropping off my luggage in my room, I walked with my friend to get a dinner. The place we wanted to go was about ten minutes walking from the hotel and was next to the “reunification” palace. Walking on the street, I started to get the authentic feel that I was in an exotic and different country than the USA (and even China/Japan). The city has a certain smell to it- not a bad smell (although in certain parts those also exist), but almost a spicy aroma that gives you the sense of being in an ethnic and culturally diverse city. At this point, it had already become dark and the streets were dimly lit by the scattered street lights. I remember crossing the road was somewhat stressful in Vietnam, however I had a local with me that was more than happy to keep this dumb foreigner from getting hit by a school of scooters.

The restaurant we went to had a nice feel and atmosphere to it. It was a restaurant that specialized in grilled seafood and had the layout that one might expect from a German Beer Garden. All of the seating was outside and various trees/vegetation decorated the restaurant to give a very nice and relaxed feel. Various mist machines where situated next to strong fans so that the customers would not get too hot during their meal. My friend and I opted to get a variety of seafood dishes. I also took the opportunity to sample the local Saigon beer and was not disappointed. Beer in Asia tends to be on the light side and you are lucky if you can get anything that isn’t a generic lager. Saigon Green, despite being a lager, was very smooth and refreshing. Sitting in the moist evening of Saigon while eating roasted clams with a coconut glaze along with charred scallops in a honey vinegar sauce really made be feel like I was on a legit vacation.

Great shellfish and beer

After dinner we walked back to the hotel (stopping at a Circle K to pick up some tooth paste that I had forgotten) and called it a night. The next morning we had to wake up relatively early to go to the airport to catch a ride to Phu Quoc. As said before, the original plan was to stay in Ho Chi Minh City the entire time, however after seeing a coworker’s pictures from his vacation I decided to take a detour for a couple of days to Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc is a small island situated off the south west coast of Vietnam that is known for its inviting beaches and accommodating tourist resorts. From Ho Chi Minh Airport, we were able to check in quickly and board a prop-jet plane bound for the island. I haven’t been on a prop-jet in ages (I think the last time is when I went from Dallas to Lubbock), however somehow being in the older plane made me feel more adventurous. After a smooth one hour flight (during which we saw the beautiful cityscape of Ho CHi Minh as well as the coastline of Vietnam), we arrived at the airport. I was a bit surprised by the airport- it was very modern. It gave me the false impression that the island was a little bit more developed than I had previously anticipated, however after grabbing a taxi to our hotel I found out that the airport was the most modern part of Phu Quoc (by a very large margin).

The prop-jet to take us to Phu Quoc

The taxi jetted from the airport to a main highway where we were able to see our first glimpse of the beach. Adding even more to the excitement/anticipation, the taxi turned down a very wooded/windy/small side street. We were a bit worried- this was rural. Sure, the hotel had good reviews online, but what happens if it was just some staunch shack in the middle of a Vietnamese beach? The hotel we stayed at was Mai House. After a few minutes on the twisty road we arrived at the hotel where I was pleasantly surprised. The hotel owners/staff were extremely friendly and our “bungalow” was about 20 meters from the beach (we could even see it from our window). It’s a little hard to describe the hotel/resort as I have never really encountered anything like it in the USA. It is almost like a summer camp layout. There is a main lobby and a bunch of individual huts/bungalows lining up to the ocean. We had booked the superior sea side bungalow that cost about $65 a night. I really recommend Mai House as the service/location are impeccable. The owner is really friendly and speaks great English (I sensed a bit of a French sounding accent).

Entrance of Mai House

View from Mai House’s beach

Our bungalow itself was like something out of a movie. A huge king sized bed with a mosquito net draped around the edges. Hard clay floors with the various commodities/furniture that you would find in any five star resort. As expected there as an air conditioner (I made sure there was before I booked) that worked like a jet engine. The bathroom was simple, but adequate. The shower in sort of an open setting and a separate outdoor washroom to clean sand off your flip flops after a long day at the beach.

Our Superior Seaside Bungalow

King bed complete with mosquito net

We decided to take the day easy (we arrived around 1pm or so) and just soak in the sounds and sights of the beach. The resort had their own private beach front cafe/restaurant and we ordered a variety of seafood dishes. The highlight of lunch was a sweet and sower seafood stew that included fresh squid, white fish, and octopus. I ordered a refreshing tiger beer and relaxed while overlooking the beach. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We went swimming in the beach and also walked along and enjoyed the sunset while eating grilled squid with a lime juice and salt dip. One thing I noticed about the beach is that there was a lot of trash. The water itself was clean, however slightly above the banks of sand you could see trash/litter from all of the resorts. Mai House appeared to do a good job cleaning it up, however the trash was still noticeable (however like I said, the view was not spoiled).

Sunset on the beach with a dog

The next day we had booked a tour of snorkeling/boating with one of the local tour agencies. After a quick breakfast by the beachfront (Mai House provided a standard breakfast of fruits, omelettes, bacon, etc.), the tour van picked us up at about 8am. The van took us to a larger bus where we joined other members of the tour group. You might remember that on my post about Chongming Island I mentioned that the bus ride was the roughest that I have eve been on, however the Vietnam tour bus was 100x worse. It didn’t help that the roads were pretty much non-existent (dirt bath with tons of bumps/potholes), however it was pretty crazy. There were a couple of times that I was airborne off my seat. Still, the bus took us through some of the more rural parts of the island (which is saying a lot). You could see Vietnamese cows grazing next to the beach and there were also rurals houses lining up the thick and muggy jungle setting. Our first stop was a pearl farm. They showed how to cut the pearl out of a shell and my friend bought an authentic pearl ring for a discounted price.

Road that the tour bus took- so bumpy!

Taking a pearl from a shell

After about 40 more minutes of the bumpy roller coaster bus, we arrived at the beach where our boat was located. There was a bit of an outdoor cafe lining the beach with various souvenir shops lining the beach side. Once we got to the beach it was absolutely gorgeous. This is the sort of beach that you see in movies and the word picturesque does not even begin to describe how beautiful it is. The beach had powder white sand sitting below crystal blue waters. Various tour boats sat a good 50 meters or so off the beach. We loaded up on a smaller boat that took us out to the main larger boat. The larger boat was pretty standard. It was two floors and pretty spacious. All in all, there were about 25 other people in the tour groups with nationalities ranging everywhere from Vietnamese to European to American. One lady that we made good friends with was French (although living in Spain). After taking a few pictures and sitting through a safety demonstration, we were off.

View from the beach

Small boat to take us to larger boat.

Me on the larger boat

The boat took us around the island and we admired the awesome scenery and views. The lush jungle mixed with the green hills mixed with the blue water really gave a euphoric feeling of enjoyment and vacation. Our first stop was a fishing location where we were given a few fishing lines and started to line fish. This was pretty much a bust and only a few people caught fish. I was a little boat sick at this point, however the feeling eventually subsided after I drank enough water. Our next two stops were definitely the high point of the tour- snorkeling. My friend and I were given snorkeling gear and we jumped off the boat to admire the gorgeous coral and sea life of Phu Quoc. I saw many fish, coral, crabs and vegetation. The one regret is that I forgot the sunscreen and ended up getting a pretty killer sunburn which was felt for the next week or so. One interesting thing to note is that the weather was absolutely perfect. This was a bit unusual because it was monsoon season. According to the hotel owner, it had been raining hard constantly for about a week before we arrived- so we were very lucky as the vacation could have been spoiled by an untimely monsoon.

Snorkeling! So fun!

After snorkeling at both stops we had a light lunch on the boat. For fear of my boat sickness, I did not partake in the meal however it looked like a good mix of fresh seafood and vegetables. After lunch, we also paid for the tour. It was absurdly cheap. It came out to about $20 for the entire day. This included the bus ride from the hotel, a 1.5L bottle of water, the boat ride, snorkel/fishing gear, and a lunch. For that price you cannot go wrong! After the lunch we returned back to the original beach where we were given some free time. My friend and I tried to get a jet ski, however there was some problem with the gas of the jet ski so we had no luck. At the beach I bought one of those Vietnamese hats for a dollar or so. After another bump filled ride, we arrived at our hotel.

I bought a Vietnamese hat

Somewhat exhausted, we decided to take it easy for the night. We walked to a smaller cafe that was near the main road of the resort and ordered some seafood dishes. This was one of those restaurants where you picked out the fish before they cook it. I picked a red snapper, a tuna, and a few squids. I was not disappointed with this food. The squid was some of the best squid that I ever had and was grilled with various spices/herbs and served with a lime juice chili sauce. The tuna/red snapper were prepared in a similar manner, however it was up to us to pick apart the fish with our chopsticks and navigate around the bones. Of course there was some ice cold Saigon beer to wash it all down.

Picking out our dinner

The result

The grilled squid- my favorite!

After dinner, we bought a couple of souvenirs (postcards which I mailed to friends/family) and returned back to the resort for an early night. We were set to fly out the next day around 4pm, so we woke up early to enjoy the beach life some more before we left. The seafood we had the day before was so good that we returned to the shop and had some more tuna/squid. On the way back we decided to get a massage as they were really cheap. My friend also wanted to get a pedicure/manicure, so I entertained the idea and went along with it. The massage/manicure/pedicure was very cheap (maybe around $10) and was very relaxing. After grabbing a tequila sunrise on the beach, we checked out of the hotel and headed for the airport. After an uneventful one hour flight in the prop-jet, we were back in Ho Chi Minh City and back at the hotel. We decided to order Vietnamese pizza hut (which to be honest was nothing special) and called it a night.

Getting a pedicure

The next day was the only full day that we had planned in Ho Chi Minh City. After waking up, we took Uber to an indoor market where we were set to buy some souvenirs. I bought some dried kiwis, mangoes, and coconuts for my coworkers as well as some snake/scorpion whiskey as my own souvenir. The whiskey had a full cobra/scorpion in the bottle which was bit intimidating. Of course I don’t plan on drinking it as it looks far too dangerous, however it is an interesting souvenir. I also stopped by a pharmacy where I bought some prescription drugs for dirt cheap. Nothing dangerous, just standard allergy medicine and antibiotics for if I get sick in China. We also stopped by the central post office where I mailed a couple of more post cards to friends./family. After shopping, we walked back the restaurant that we had gone to the first day and had another round of grilled seafood and glass noodle salad.

Cobra/Scorpion Whiskey

Market near our hotel

That evening, we met up with a few other friends and went to this sort of Vietnamese tourist city on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh called Binh Quoi. This is a small area that is situated along a river and has been built up with traditional Vietnamese architecture and gardens. The main theme of the area is the huge buffet that contains many traditional Vietnamese dishes. We took a few pictures and helped ourselves to generous portions of grilled seafood, sweet and sour snail soup, and other seafood dishes. Again, the weather was perfect (albeit a little humid) and the entire atmosphere was very enjoyable. There was also a band that was playing traditional Vietnamese music that added to the ethnic atmosphere.

Binh Quoi. Decided not to try the bridge

Nice and peaceful at Binh Quoi

Charred fish

Various grilled seafood

Vietnamese band

After dinner, we took a cab back to the hotel and hung out by the pool for an hour or so. The pool was a little bit interesting as the bottom part was see-through and you could see anyone that was in the pool. My friend took a couple of funny pictures of me.

Crazy pool!

The next day I had to wake up very early and catch an early flight back to Shanghai. It was a bit sad saying goodbye to my friend, however I am sure that I will see them again soon. The entire vacation was very enjoyable and I am glad that I made the borderline impulse decision to go. Vietnam might be a country that stirs a lot of bad history with Americans, but I can vouch and say that now it is a very welcoming and beautiful country with very friendly and hospitable people. The cost of living is also very cheap and makes it very easy for budget travelers to live like a king on a very small budget. I am glad I went and am looking forward to my next adventure.

Chongming Island – Day Trip

Before I came to Shanghai, I did a bit of research on a few places that I could go for a “day trip” to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I stumbled upon this article from CNN that lists a few “essential” day trips to get out of Shanghai. One of these day trips is Chongming Island.

Chongming Island

I had planned to go to the island on a couple of different occasions, however the weather would always interfere or something else would come up. Last week at work my coworkers said that they would like to take advantage of the recent three day weekend (Chinese holiday of the Moon Festival) to visit the island and get some fresh air. With the weather forecast good- I no longer had an excuse. My two coworkers Ling and Darren (and Darren’s wife) accompanied me. The plan was to meet up in the morning at 9:30am at Shanghai Science and Technology Station and catch a bus from there to the main city of the island. I made the mistake of going out to dinner/drinking with my Dutch coworker the night before (and inevitably drinking a bit more than I should have), however I was able to meet on-time (albeit a little hung over).

After arriving at Science and Technology Station (the metro stop is a few down from my stop, about 20 minutes), I met up with my friends. We then proceeded to the bus stop and purchased our one way ticket for 12 RMB (about $2). I remember at this point my stomach was acting up a bit (most likely from the previous night’s spicy food), so I took another Immodium and hoped for the best. I also went to the toilet at the bus stop to make sure there would be no emergencies once I was on the bus. The bus stop toilet was pretty dire. In addition to the usual (and very foul) stench, it was also the “Chinese style” toilet that had no seat. It is pretty much just a regular toilet, however engraved into a pit into the ground. I often wondered what an elderly person would do (if their knees were not as flexible)… but somehow I managed. Since I am on the topic of toilets in China, here is some very good advice that I will give to anyone thinking of traveling in China that might stumble upon this blog. If you plan on using a public toilet, bring two things: hand sanitizer and pocket tissues. Pocket tissues because none of the public toilets will have toilet paper, and hand sanitizer because none will have soap.

Anyway, after using the facilities I went back to the bus stop and we boarded the bus after a few minutes. I was hoping that the bus ride would be pretty smooth, but was soon sorely disappointed. I can’t really do it justice by writing it- that bus ride was pretty bumpy even for Chinese standards. The bus stopped and accelerated at roller coaster paces. This coupled with the bad traffic and hungover stomach made for a pretty rough ride. Still, my stomach survived and the nausea subsided. When I wasn’t busy trying to not think of throwing up, the view out the window was pretty decent. We went through a very long tunnel and also a really amazing bridge over the Yangtze River. I would have taken a picture, but (like I mentioned) was a bit distracted.

I was able to take this picture without throwing up, which believe me, is an accomplishment.

After about an hour and a half (there was a traffic delay), we arrived. The weather was really nice on Chongming Island. You could see blue sky and the sun was definitely not being shy. Immediately off the bus we were approached by a girl that was selling a taxi service. In China, it is not uncommon for locals in touristy spots to operate unlicensed taxis where they chauffeur you around the area (of course unlicensed). These are called “black cars”. I asked Ling if they are safe and he assured me that if you are with a group you are fine. At the end of the day we paid 300 RMB (about $50) which turned out to be a tremendous deal. While my friends were negotiating the deal, I took a few pictures around the bus station and remembered thinking that there was a lot of trash and dirty looking water.

Trashy/dirty river by the bus station

Once in our “cab” (it was an older looking minivan), we told our driver where we wanted to go. At first we were going to go to a place 15 minutes away from the bus stop, however 5 minutes in we changed our mind and instead asked to go to a more scenic area on the other side of the island (about one hour away). Our cab driver definitely was from the area and bared no limits when driving. We were crazy fast (and in case you were wondering, there were no seat belts) and went on the curb/sidewalk to circumvent traffic. Still, he seemed to know the good places and took us to a nice little restaurant on the outskirts of the park that we were going to visit. The restaurant had a variety of different fare, however we opted for the standard assortment of vegetables and local produce. The two memorable dishes were a set of mud crabs and some snails. The mud crabs looked boiled, however they were SO small. They were so small to the point where we substituted them out for the snails (which were spicy and delicious). I unfortunately didn’t take a picture of the small crabs, but they looked like they had at max an ounce of meat. Another memorable note was that they sold bottled water here which I made sure to take advantage of get get a couple. In China, it is more common to down your meal with piping hot water (some weird Chinese medicine about how hot water is healthy for you and cold water is bad), but given the temperature even my Chinese colleagues opted for cold water.

Yummy vegetables

After eating, I had to use the restroom again. This is by far the worst restroom that I have ever used my entire life. There is just one stone pit (no running water) to do both the ones and the twos into. I won’t go into too much detail, but even my Chinese colleagues said that this was terrible even for Chinese standards. After that, we went to the wetland park nearby. As it was a holiday weekend (coupled with the fact that there was no entrance fee), the park was packed with Chinese tourists from all over. The start of the park was a little lackluster. I remember comparing it to the pristine parks that I often visit in Taiwan/Japan and being sorely disappointed. There was way too much trash for such a beautiful park and it was a bit overcrowded. As we got deeper into the park (and it got later into the day), the crowds thinned out and the trash became less, however China has a long way before it can compete with Japan/Taiwan (and truthfully, even USA) on the cleanliness of its public parks.

One common theme of the park was that there were tons of little crabs off the boardwalk. The entire park consisted of a boardwalk surrounded by swamp grass and wetlands (which a few bodies of water sprinkled about). The locals sold these long bamboo poles with crab food attached to the end. The idea is that you place this food right near the crab holes in the mud and the crab grabs it (and gets stuck). You then reel the crab in and place it into the bucket. When I asked Ling what people do with the crabs they catch, he said they most likely keep them for pets until they die (in about a week or so).

Stick used to catch crabs (the animal of course, not the STD)

Crab on a stick

Again, like I said the park became a bit more scenic once the day went on and the crowds waned away. There was a very nice overlook where a bunch of stairs led up to. This was a really nice overlook as you got an awesome view of the Yangtze River as well as a surrounding lake. You could rent a boat to go cruising around the lake, however it looked a bit gimicky for our tastes.

Scenic overlook with The Yangtze in the background

After walking around a bit, we stopped at a coffee shop and ordered a round of cold drinks (I got lemonade and a mango shaved ice) as well as a snack of sunflower seeds. After basking in the air conditioned coffee shop, we set out to go see the Mingzhu Lake. Unfortunately we got there a bit too late (they had stopped selling 45RMB tickets), so we were forced to call our taxi driver to take us back to the bus stop. The taxi driver informed us that he would need about an hour to get to us (he must have driven back to the bus stop), we we decided to walk down a scenic looking road that was lined with trees.

Neat street with trees lining it.

Along the road, we were able to find a pretty posh looking hotel. After the security guard was nice enough to let us inside, we found a great view of Mingzhu Lake. It was very peaceful there and really reminded me of White Rock Lake back in Dallas. The hotel looked very boutique and would be great to take a girlfriend/wife for a weekend trip to escape Shanghai. After looking up the hotel price, it was about 100RMB (about $160)- so expensive, but not completely outrageous.

Peaceful Mingzhu Lake by the hotel

After enjoying the peacefulness of the lake, we waited around for our taxi and went back to the bus stop. The taxi driver was even more crazy going back and used the sidewalk to circumvent traffic on a couple different occasions. After an uneventful one hour bus ride back to Shanghai (it was dark at this point so I couldn’t even look out the window), I was completely spent. The bus ride back was actually smooth, however maybe I was just jaded from the bus ride to Chongming. I decided to forego dinner with my colleagues and instead just went back to my apartment and straight to bed.

All in all it was a worthwhile trip. Like I said, China has a long ways to go until it can match the cleanliness of it’s neighbors, however Chongming Island was a worthwhile escape. Looking back at it I probably would go with a date and spend a night in the hotel next time, but the trip was definitely served its purpose as a temporary escape from the big city. The air was definitely cleaner.

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Delivery Groceries in Shanghai

In Shanghai, everything can be delivered. So far in my brief one month here, I have had everything from groceries to McDonald’s delivered to my apartment. Before I came to Shanghai, I found this article on CozyRent on different things that can be delivered. I’ll try to explain each one of them in different articles, however for this post I will go over groceries. As I write this, I am waiting for my recent delivery of groceries from Epermarket. Yesterday, I picked out a few things to get delivered:

Grocery Checkout List

Just a few odd things for cooking and to supplement what I already have in my apartment. Next week I am going to try to bring my dinner often so that I might be able to sneak some time in during lunch to study Chinese. I like Epermarket because you can actually put when exactly you want your items to be delivered. I chose on Sunday between 5pm – 9:30pm. During writing this post, the groceries came:

My groceries

All in all very good quality. You kind of have to pick and choose what you order from the website. Some items (like fruits/vegetables) can be found cheaper at a local grocery store or market (there is a kickass fruit market right downstairs). Other things like meat though I feel more comfortable spending a little bit extra money so I don’t get sick. I can also find foreign foods such as canned tuna and pasta on this site with no problems at all. I’ve also used CityShop before with reasonable luck, however all the “foreign” super markets tend to be on the pricier side.

Business Trip / Vacation to Taiwan

So I went to Taiwan again for business. I guess you have been to Taiwan a lot when you lose track of exactly how many times you have been. This time, I was able to “tag” a few days onto the trip as vacation. I was supposed to actually spend a few days in Hong Kong at the end of my Shenzhen business trip, however urgent customer business made me reschedule these plans and go to Taipei instead. Having a few friends in Taiwan definitely made the vacation very enjoyable and I am glad I went.

Anyway, like I said I was in Shenzhen and had to run back to Shanghai to pick up my laptop and get some work done. During all of these last minute flights, I was flying China Eastern Airlines. China Eastern is considered on of the “budget” airlines and has a notoriously bad reputation for foreigners. It is funny though- whenever I asked my friend about China Eastern my Chinese friends had glowing reviews while my western friends told me to avoid them at all costs. My verdict? The service/plane/food is really not that bad, however they are almost always late. From what I hear this has something to do with Chinese airlines having a difficult time getting permissions to take off, however I will say the actual service inside the airplane was 10x better than the average American airline. One interesting note was that when boarding the plane everyone had the old school “stairway” to the plane instead of the bridge. I was a little bit confused when I had to board a bus after scanning my ticket, but I guess this sort of thing is quite common in China.

Loading into the plane by the staircase

Going to Taiwan and not having the normal jet lag was a welcome change. I flew into Taipei and arrived around noon on Sunday. Since I didn’t have any customer responsibilities until the next day, I decided to go on a hike to Elephant Mountain (深山). This mountain is a very small mountain that is situated very close to downtown Taipei. It touts some of the best views of the cities and was perfect for an afternoon hike. After taking the base of the mountain, I started my hike to the top. The one thing that anyone will notice when hiking to the top of elephant mountain are the stairs. There are so many stairs. This coupled with the high humidity and temperature made me covered in sweat. It was definitely a nice hike though and the view was pretty spectacular.

Stairs while climbing Elephant Mountain

View of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain

After getting back to my hotel, I took a quick nap and cleaned up for dinner. I was meeting a couple of my friends that I often hang out with in Taiwan (I had met them when I lived in Tokyo) for drinks/dinner. We went to Ding Tai Fung, a popular Xiaolongpao restaurant in Taipei. Xiaolongpao are a type of Chinese dumpling that are usually filled with pork/meat/etc. Ding Tai Fung tends to attract a lot of tourists from Japan/Hong Kong so it was pretty interesting hearing all of the different languages in the restaurant.

Crab dumplings from Ding Tai Fung

The next couple of days were all business. I was able to knock the customer issue out pretty quickly which allowed me time to relax and spend time with friends. On Tuesday after work I actually took the high speed rail to visit a friend in Taichung (a city in the middle part of Taipei). The high speed rail in Taiwan is pretty awesome and apparently contains elements from Japan/China/German high speed rails. The country is also quite small so you can get from one side of Taiwan to the other in about an hour.

On Monday night I met up with my friend to go to Outback Steakhouse and see a movie. In mainland China, movies are very controlled by the government and often times censored/altered if there is anything the censors do not like. For that reason, I took my time in Taiwan as an opportunity to see Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie theater experience in Taipei was pretty enjoyable and everyone seemed to be very polite in quiet. The Outback Steak we had before had was “so-so”. I asked for mine medium rare, however it came out pretty rare. A recurring theme in Asia is that you should always ask for your steak two levels above what the American standard is to get what you really want. Going back to the movie- it was awesome. I love Marvel movies. I am a bit afraid to see a movie in Mainland China though. I hear people are completely disrespectful, talk, answer their phones, and make the entire movie going experience a sham. I wish they would open up an Alamo Drafthouse here.

Wednesday was my first full vacation day. I wanted to walk around a little bit, so I decided to go try to take the Maokong Gondola to the mountains to get some fresh air. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard so the gondola service had been suspended. Still, next to the gondola station there was the Taipei Zoo so I decided to check that you. It was very cheap to get in (only about $6) and was very worthwhile- unfortunately the rain dampened everything. I was able to buy a $3 umbrella from some random umbrella saleswoman on the street, but inevitably I got a bit wet. The new feature at the zoo was a new baby panda that was born. It was definitely the most popular exhibit and everyone seemed very excited to see the panda. Unfortunately, the pandas seemed to be very lazy and were just sleeping. Still, it was fun to go around and take pictures of all the animals. I saw tigers, monkeys, elephants, and a few other animals. Because of the rain, I decided to go back to the hotel and take a killer nap.

Lazy Pandas

Swinging Monkey

After the killer nap, I went to karaoke with friends and coworkers. Karaoke in Taiwan is very similar to karaoke in Japan. You get your own room, copious amounts of alcohol, and sing all night and a very low price. Very fun. I need to practice my Japanese/Chinese songs though as I am getting a bit rusty.

I had a full day planned on Thursday planned with my friends from Japan. We planned on going to Shifen. Shifen is a very old Taiwanese town that used to be a coal mine back in the day, but has since transformed into a touristy spot. It is situated on an old set of train tracks and is about an hour away from Taipei by train. For lunch we ate at Chili’s in Taipei. Chili’s in Taipei is very similar to Chili’s in USA (albeit a little pricier). After a quick taxi ride to Songshan Station and a mad dash to catch the hourly train, we were off to Shifen. As the train went further and further away from Taipei the scenery got more and more rural. It was a nice sunny day so the weather definitely aided more to the vacation feel. After about an hour, we reached an intermediary train station where we were going to take a cab to the Shifen Station.

Station on the way to Shifen

Again, the weather was gorgeous. After talking with a cab and negotiating, we took a cab ride for about 390 minutes to Shifen Station. The cab went over a very windy and twisty mountain that reminded me a lot of Initial D (a popular Japanese anime about racing in the mountain). They even had the gutters where Takumi does his special AE86 trick. Anyway, after about thirty minutes we were at Shifen Station. I am not quite sure if it is Shifen Station (or another station in the same area), however they all looked pretty much the same. Small shops hugging a functional train track that sell traditional Taiwanese fair such as Taiwanese sausage and tea.

A unique thing about Shifen is that they sell lanterns that you can write wishes on and light up into the sky. Different colors had different meanings (I forgot what ours meant), but the thought is you write your wishes onto lantern, light it up into the sky, and eventually your wishes came true. We held off this at the main train station (we were going to take the old-timey train to another station), and instead walked around and took pictures. There was a bit of an ominous cloud in the background which made the lanterns look a bit scary. Also at this station, there was a pretty cool looking rope bridge that we took some pictures on.

Shifen Station

Ominous black clouds with lanterns

Rope bridge with me and my friend jumping.

After taking a pretty packed train to the next station, we explored around. I grabbed a snack of a Taiwanese sausage and some sort of a smoothie for energy. After going around and admiring the scenery/taking pictures, we made our own lantern. I wrote the typical nerdy things like “live long and prosper” as well as things like お金持ちになりたい (I want to become a rich person in Japanese). After lighting up our lantern it flew really high and eventually burned up and feel down. I was curious about what happens to all of the lanterns that fall down. I asked, and apparently they are made out of some bio-degradable material.

Writing wishes onto the lantern

Lighting the lantern with my friends

Up it goes.

Going into the sky

After we caught the train back into Taipei, we ate a nice meal of Dimsum and called it a night. The next day (Friday), my friends had to work so I thought I would give another try to the Maokong Gondola. The weather was perfect so I did not have to worry about it being closed. After talking the train to the Taipei Zoo exit, I walked about 5 minutes to the gondola station and bought my ticket. You can opt either for a “regular” gondola or a “crystal” gondola that has a see-through glass bottom. The line for the crystal gondola was about twice as long, however since I was only going to be there once I decided to opt for the crystal one. The view was amazing. Taipei has so many forests and mountains surrounding it that it makes the entire city very gorgeous. The gondola seemed to be very sturdy and provided excellent views of the city/mountains. I was in the same gondola as two girls from Singapore in Taiwan for vacation and we had a casual conversation.

Maokong Gondola Station

Crystal Hello Kitty Gondola

Glass floor led to some cool views.

View from gondola

At the top, I wanted to hike around and get some exercise. After buying a jumbo size of water from the convenient store, I started to walk. One thing I missed a little bit is that I didn’t take any specific hiking path- I just hiked around the road. This was still very enjoyable as I got to see some spectacular views of the Taipei 101 financial building as well as the luscious green scenery. I stopped at a roadside cafe called “The Cat’s got Nothing to Do Cafe” and had an iced green tea latte while admiring the scenery. I also ran into some random temple. I tried to video call my friend back in the states, however the 3G connection was a bit shoddy so I gave up on that.

Cat’s got nothing to do Cafe

Sipping green tea latte and admiring the view

My plan was to walk from Maokong Station (the highest one) to the next lowest station, however I underestimated the difference and instead turned back after about 5 miles or so (there was also an ominous looking rain cloud). I was a bit afraid the rain cloud would develop into something that would cancel the gondola so I rushed back to the station and took a regular gondola (not a crystal) back to Taipei.

After returning back to my hotel and taking another nap, I met up with my friend to go to the Raohe Night Market. In my previous times in Taipei, I have been to many night markets so I won’t spend too much time writing about it here. I bought a few Taiwanese snacks including a raw bamboo shoot dish that I always go for and a Taiwanese sausage. I wanted to buy a USB battery for my phone, but couldn’t really find anything that I felt was reliable/a good deal.

Raohe Night Market

Raw bamboo shoot with mayo

Stinky tofu. I did not eat this time.

After the night market, my friend and I combined with our other friend for a night of drinking. We wanted to go to Carnegie’s (a local bar that holds some nostalgic value), however it was in “club” mode so we decided to go to a different bar close by called “Music Land”. After drinking way too much at this bar (and making a side stop at the Shangri-La bar), I called an Uber. After dropping my friends off at their home, I headed back to my hotel, drank copious amounts of water, and fell sound asleep. The next day (Saturday) wasn’t terrible, however I was definitely tired and wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Still, after a quick breakfast with my friends, I muscled to the airport and flew back to Shanghai.

A few side notes about traveling to Taiwan this time. One is that this time I flew to/from Songshan Airport instead of Taoyuan Airport. Songshan is the smaller/mainly domestic airport and is definitely preferable. It is very close to downtown and customs/security takes a lot less time than the further away Taoyuan. Another side note is that I bought a SIM card for 7 days data for my unlocked iPhone 5S. This definitely was a good idea as I was constantly using LINE (a messaging app) and looking up stuff on the internet.

I’ve been back in Shanghai about a week now and definitely enjoyed my time in Taipei. I can’t wait until I can go back and also look forward to my next adventures. I have already booked airfare/hotels for Vietnam in September, Korea in October and Japan in November (all for vacation). It will be a very busy year and I look forward to making the most out of my time here in Asia!

Picture Albums

Elephant Mountain Pictures

Taipei Zoo Pictures

Shifen/Maokong Pictures

The Quest to get Internet in Shanghai

Well I finally have internet in my apartment. It was no simple task and involved a lot of steps, however now that I have internet I can catch up on my blogging.. It didn’t help that in the midst of it all I was flying to Shenzhen/Taipei for business (expect a blog post about those later). I shall attempt to document my quest for the internet here in case some other China traveler finds themselves in the same predicament.

The quest first started when I was in my hotel room and about to move into my apartment a few weeks back. In USA the process to get internet is relatively straightforward- call the cable company, make an appointment, pay an exorbitant amount per month, and you have internet. Since I was unfamiliar with the process in China, I enlisted the help of one of my Chinese colleagues with the promise of rewards of beer and ramen. On the same day we were also going to go to the phone store to get a SIM card for my phone.

For the phone, we chose China Unicom. This was mainly done as their network is the only network that plays nicely with an unlocked T-Mobile iPhone 5. Getting the phone was relatively straightforward. After going to the store I picked a plan of 3GB a month, signed a bunch of documents, picked out a number (supposedly you can pay more for premium “lucky” numbers, but I just took what they gave), and my phone was setup for business. Compared to the USA, the price is ridiculously cheap. I can’t remember the exact price, however I am ending up paying something like four times less what I did in USA. The speed? Well the speed isn’t as great (I am limited to 3G networks), however it will suffice. There are rumors that a major Chinese mobile network will release the iPhone 6 unlocked. Perhaps I will change to that when it comes out- but for right now the 3G is fine.

Internet was a bit harder to get. The fact that I am now just getting it (two weeks after going to the office) is a testament to this. After China Unicom, we went to China Telecom. China seems to share the USA’s method of making it so that for an apartment there is only one choice for an internet/cable provider. We walked to the Telecom office and it was pretty hectic. Very busy and from the way it looked the people working there seemed to be somewhat clueless. Still, my friend explained the situation and said that I wanted internet in my apartment. Previously, I had picked out the 50Mup/4MBdown plan for 1600RMB a year. Doing the math, this equals about $260 a year which is about $22 a month. This is immensely cheaper than the $70 a month I shelled over to Time Warner for 30Mdown/2M up. Still, I’d prefer USA internet anyday (I will get to that in a bit).

After copying my passport, signing some documents, and waiting around, we were told that the central office would need some time to “approve” my application. Approve? Ok, whatever- it looks like I wasn’t getting internet that day so I returned home. The next day at work China Telecom called and said that they couldn’t give me internet until the previous tenant of my apartment returns their modem/router. This was quite annoying as I didn’t even know this person. Why was China Telecom making it so hard for me to give them my money? After what seemed like a day or so of back and forth conversations between my coworker and China Telcom, we decided that we had to contact the previous tenant. Luckily, she was still in Shanghai and super friendly. She is a Spanish girl that was living with her boyfriend in Shanghai. She was able to tell me good things about the apartment and good bars to go around the area. On the Saturday (a week after I went to the office initially), we met up and took the equipment back to the office.

At this point I still did not have internet, however I was called off to Taiwan and Shenzhen for two weeks due to a business trip. The trail went a bit cold here as I did not have any need/time to spend getting internet. My first day back in the office my colleague called China Telecom and they said that they needed the order number in order to further the progress. They insisted that they could not look this up which was bad for me as I had left the order slip in my apartment (40 minutes away from work). Still, having internet was a priority so I sucked it up and spent an hour and a half ping ponging from my work to my apartment and back. After calling, they said that they would call me back within the day on the status of the order. At this point, every day that I did not have internet was torture. Working remotely in China, I had to have some means of communicating with my colleagues in the USA so internet in the house was a requirement to work with the timezones. Luckily, they did keep their word and called back saying that I had to go into the office the next day to pay the fee and make an appointment for the technician- finally some progress.

The next day I went alone to the China Telecom office. A bit worried that my Chinese was not up to snuff, I presented my order slip to the receptionist and was give a number to wait in line. Apparently everyone else had the same idea of me as going in early as the place was packed. It was a DMV type system where you get a number and go up to your assigned counter in turns. Unfortunately, when I went there my number was 3018 and they were only at 3010. This may not seem bad, but for some reason they were always going at a snail’s pace. I distinctly remember people taking a long time and one guy being pretty upset (at least he seemed upset, in China sometimes the normal speaking tone seems angry). I snapped a picture out of pure boredom (the angry guy is at counter 6).

China Telecom office in all its glory

After about an hour of waiting, my number was called. The girl at the counter didn’t speak any English, however I think with my broken Chinese we were able to get by. After making another copy of my passport (that’s a common theme) and paying the 1800RMB (1600 plus 200 for deposit), to my surprise she said someone was able to come the same afternoon to install the internet (between 13:00 – 17:00). Great! Finally no more obstacles. After returning home, the technician came at 12:45- an entire 15 minutes early. After some fiddling around with the equipment, I finally had internet!

So how is the quality of the internet? Granted that as of writing this post I have only had it for about 5 hours I can’t say too much. I will say for Chinese sites it is extremely fast. Unfortunately, the internet infrastructure in China is handicapped with all of the restrictions put on it. Sites such as Facebook/Google/YouTube are blocked completely from the central level forcing people to use VPNs and other methods to circumvent the block. Sure, there are sites like Baidu which claim to be the Chinese equivalent, however after a month or so in China I can say Baidu is completely useless. Searching is so terrible and you normally end up with results that don’t even remotely resemble your search query. Usually I use a VPN to get to Google, but if I can do that I at least use Bing. If you don’t know the tricks to get to Google, Bing is your best bet. Netflix/Hulu also have some restrictions in that they don’t allow IPs outside of the USA. Again, this can be circumvented with proxies, however from what I have seem most Chinese just use “other” methods to watch their favorite movies and TV shows.

So now that I have proper internet in my apartment I can start blogging more. I really like blogging as I think it is a good way to communicate how I’ve been doing with my friends/family back home. Furthermore, some of my blunders can be found by future ExPats and hopefully some lessons can be learned.

Apartment Hunting in Shanghai

I haven’t updated this blog as much as I should, however I am hoping that will change starting today. I am currently in Taipei on a business trip and found myself with some time waiting for a customer to get some software together.

A couple of weeks ago I set out on the goal to find an apartment in Shanghai. I enlisted the help of my Chinese coworker. I had a few requirements for my apartment:

  • Around the Peoples’ Square Station in Puxi. This station is considered to be very “central” in Shanghai and is close to many of the cool bars/restauraunts.
  • Maximum monthly rent of $1600 (10000 RMB)
  • Air conditioned
  • Furnished
  • High floor
My Chinese colleague helped me go through all of the listing on the Chinese apartment hunter website. We were able to pick out a few candidates and scheduled an appointment with an agent. After work, we set out to Peoples’ Square (which is about 40mins by metro from work) and met with the agent and then proceeded to look at different apartments.

Apartment 1
Was in a quieter part of town and had a fantastic view, however the apartment itself was kind of worn out. It seemed a bit older and in need of some repair.

Apartment 2
Had weird decorations and the apartment owner hadn’t really made much of an effort to clean. If clean, it would probably have been nice.

Apartment 3
Really nice apartment in a “serviced” building. Tons of foreigners— I don’t think I saw once Chinese resident in this building. Still, it had central AC, washer/drier, and a pretty nice layout so it was at the top of the list.
Apartment 4
Was nice, but I had to crouch down to get in the shower which was a turnoff.

Apartment 5 (what I ended up getting)
Really big living room with one bedroom and one bath. The couple that was in it before were foreigners and had good things to say about it. Nice layout and only 5 minutes away from the station.

Pictures of the apartment:

The apartment is very well furnished, maintained, and the landlord is an American Born Chinese (ABC) from New York. The original price for this apartment was 10,000 RMB. After my friend did a good deal of negotiating, we were able to get it to 9,000 RMB for a 1 year lease. The one problem in China though is that you have to pay for rent three months at a time. Also in China, not a lot of people use credit cards. Because of this, I had to carry three months rent, the security deposit of one month’s rent, and a 20% agency fee all in cash. This means I was carrying over six thousand dollars in cash on a crowded metro when I was going to sign the lease. A bit concerning (I’d never do it in USA), however I am glad I was able to find such a nice place.

My apartment has an extra bed, so feel free to crash at my place if you need a place to sleep in Shanghai!

Tim

Shanghai Medical Checkup and Bank Account

Today I had the medical checkup that all foreigners must have in order to apply for a resident permit. I woke up at about 5am (still not completely over the jet lag) and got ready to head to the hospital. I had to fast for the blood work so unfortunately there was no combini breakfast this time around. After getting ready, I showed the taxi driver the address in Chinese and I was off. If you have anywhere specific to be, always have the address in Chinese so that your cab driver can understand.

After meeting the person from the relocation staff, I proceeded into a back room for the medical check. In the first room, I was given plastic shoe covers and told to wrap them around my shoes for cleanliness. I wear a size 15 shoe so this presented a challenge, however somehow I was able to stretch them on. After changing into a robe (just had to take the top off, could leave on shorts), I went through a series of rooms where individual tests were performed. The tests that I had were:

  • Eye test
  • Blood pressure test. For some reason this number was sky high and I am a little bit convinced it was operator error. The last couple of times I got my blood pressure checked in the US it was fine, however for some reason the number they got made it out that I had hypertension.
  • Ultrasound. I’ve never had an ultrasound and I am not exactly sure what they were looking for, but whatever
  • Blood draw. I assume this is a CBC and HIV test
  • Chest X-Ray
  • EKG. Incidentally the last time I had one of these was at the medical check when I was an immigrant in Japan

All throughout the process there were other foreigners with the same dazed and confused look as me. I did do a checkup right before coming to China, so it will be interesting to see how the results compare- I’m not entirely convinced about the blood pressure check.

After taking a taxi back to the hotel I went to Family Mart and got some cold noodles, onigiri, stirfry flavored chips, and a big jug of water for every day use. Here is a picture of the loot:

Lunch from Family Mart

The chips were awesome, onigiri was so-so, and the noodles were great. I’m a bit worried about the noodles though as they kind of seemed like the sort of dish that screams diarrhea, however as of writing this post (a few hours later) my stomach is still in tact.

In the afternoon I was out to open up a Chinese bank account. I want to open up a bank account with Citi as it is supposedly very easy to transfer between a US/Chinese bank account, however I ran into some pitfalls while doing it today. First I went to the Puxi branch near The Bund. The girl in this Citibank seemed a bit confused and told me that I should open an account with Bank of China. After assuring her that I wanted a Citibank account, she said they could not do it at this branch and instead referred me to the main branch in Pudong.

Another subway ride later and a bit of navigating around to find the bank, I was told that I need to have a resident permit before I was able to actually open a Citibank account. This was a bit unfortunate as I had been walking around all over Shanghai to find Citi, but I understood and enjoyed the walk.

It was a day of walking around which I think is going to be quite common from now on. Tomorrow I start my first day of work so I should start to get a bit busier from here on out!

Arrival in Shanghai!

I have finally arrived in Shanghai. The road up to this point (especially the last month) have been tremendously stressful, however I am now sitting in my apartment in Puxi looking at my glorious smoggy view of Shanghai:

Smoggy view from my hotel room in PuXi

The preparation for the trip was very chaotic. A lot of things went wrong (and right), however I am now in a good position in Shanghai- it is all over for the most part. I’ll write another post about the “prep” work that I did in Dallas, but I wanted to just write a post to document my journey thus far.

I was staying at a hotel in Dallas for my last couple of days as my apartment was completely empty and I had already turned in the keys. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near my work. It was a nice hotel, albeit in a very sketchy area of town. They even updated me to a suite since I supposedly stay in hotels quite a bit. Anyways, the morning of departure I woke up at around 6:30am. After a quick breakfast with a friend and a tear-jerking goodbye I was off the DFW Airport.

After dropping off my rental car, I started to realize how difficult it is to transport all the luggage that you pack for living in a foreign country for one year. For me, I had two massive pieces of luggage for checked bags, one very heavy carry-on, and a laptop bag stuffed to the bring of explosion. Here is a picture of it all that I took from my hotel this morning (less a few items I have been using):

All of my heavy luggage
My heavy luggage for living in Shanghai

 

Most of what I packed are just shoes/clothes/suits/etc. I have the luxury of having a self storage back in Dallas (so I could stash stuff there), but when moving to another country for a year  you are surprised on how many clothes you pack. It’s worth noting that I was actually over the 50lbs limit on BOTH of my checked bags. In the back of my mind I kind of expected this. The fee for each of the bags was $60- so I didn’t really care too much. It beats shipping them. A few notable items I packed:

  • Playstation 4 –  I did manage to pack this so that I would still be able to game and watch movies in my new apartment
  • Asus Router w/ VPN setup – For my new apartment and to allow me to get to Facebook.
  • Packs of hand sanitizer / tissue – In China, these things are necessities for traveling
  • 220v to 100v Voltage Transformer – For use with the PS4. This was actually in my carry-on (as it is very heavy) and the security people called it out when it went through the x-ray machine because it looked suspicious.
Anyway, after commandoing my four massive bags to the airport, checking in,. and getting through security I was at the gate. American Airlines recently started direct service from Dallas to Shanghai so I was lucky in the sense that I did not have to do any transfers. The airplane that I flew in was an ancient Boeing 777.

My seat was really nice actually. For anyone who flies in the old 777s, I definitely recommend row 41 in economy class. It’s the section where the five rows in the middle turn into four rows, and in the middle section you get a ton of extra arm and leg room. After getting settled into AA127, the plane set off for its 14.5 hour journey to Shanghai. This is my eighth time to Asia, however this trip never gets easier. It doesn’t help that I am 6’5″ (196cm) and have no chance of sleeping either. The best best is to watch movies/TV shows. I watched the following:

  • Snowpiercer (on my tablet) – Very good sci-fi movie, but very very dark and violent. There was a little kid sitting next to me so a few of the scenes made me feel a bit awkward
  • Captain America The Winter Soldier (rewatch) – They can make these Marvel movies all day and I will watch them
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – I love this show
  • Thor The Dark World (rewatch) – Again, I can watch these sort of movies all day. This one actually jammed up on American’s entertainment system so I could not finish it.
  • Bad Words – This was actually a bit of a surprise that I found very funny. About a 40 year old that finds a loophole to get into the national spelling bee. Very funny and raunchy comedy.

After a mind numbing 15 hours, I was off the plane. After scrambling to find a pen and filling out my customs form, I went through customs without a hitch and actually pretty quickly- the hardest part was finding a pen. Note to future self, always pack a pen.

After customs, I stopped by an ATM and withdrew 2000RMB (about $320). When I was still an inexperienced traveler, I used to buy money in the USA or even bring USD and convert it at the airport. This is a bit of a scam as when you do this they always rip you off on the exchange rate. Citibank (and Wells Fargo when I had them) are really good in the sense that if you put a travel alert on your account beforehand, you can just go to any ATM overseas and withdraw money. This is the way to go.

Next I picked up all of my bags from the baggage claim and piled them onto a cart and walked towards the Taxi line. This is where the first major scam of Shanghai happens that many foreigners fall victim to. As you walk to the taxi lines, other “unofficial” taxi services will try to solicit you and try to make you take their fancy cab. Don’t do this- it is a scam. Their taxi is literally double the price. Last time I came to Shanghai, my coworkers did this (and I took the regular taxi). We went to the same hotel, however my cab fare was 200rmb ($32ish) and their cab fare was 500rm ($80ish).

I showed the address of the hotel (in Chinese) to the cab driver (Marriott Shanghai City Centre) and he was off. I was a bit jet lagged at this point, however I distinctly remembered that the air quality around the airport sucked. It’s not that great in downtown Shanghai, however there is a noticeable chemical smell near the airport (maybe it was the cab that I was in). After about 30 minutes (waiting through traffic in some points) and 250RMB, I arrived at the hotel.

The hotel is nice. I think they gave me a “long term” room as I am staying here for 13 nights (while I hunt for an apartment). The view of my room on the 30th floor gives me a pretty decent (if not a little smoggy) view of Shanghai (see the picture at the top). After taking a shower, calling the parents, etc. I passed out. It was about 5pm when I went to sleep so I woke up around 2am. This proved to be pretty convenient as it provided an ideal time for me to call/talk with all of my friends/family in The States. After taking an Ambien, I passed out again and woke up around 5:30am. After running over to Family Mart to get a cheap breakfast, I came back to the hotel and started to write this.

After seeing the plane on the gate, the gravity of the situation set in. I thought, “I am actually doing this. I have nothing right now- no apartment, no car- this is my only option.” Granted that I have done this before, this time it seems different and has a bit more gravity. I am no longer a student and this trip will have long lasting personal and professional effects on my life. When I went to Japan, I had a bit better understanding of the Japanese language while here I am still on the upstroke of learning Chinese. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t a little bit afraid. Definitely sad that I am not going to see my friends in Dallas/USA for a while, but I am very excited for this new challenge. I will keep this blog up-to-date with my latest adventures and thoughts on this journey!

And the adventure happens again! This time China.

So now everything is official- I will be doing a one year assignment for Texas Instruments in the Shanghai team. This has been brewing for a while, however last week is when it actually became official. I have booked a one-way (direct) ticket to Shanghai leaving 7/25/2014. I am setup in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks while I find an actual apartment. It’s going to be a challenge getting everything together the next few weeks and making sure that everything is setup before I leave. I look forward to this new adventure!

Japan/Taiwan Business Trip / Vacation

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here, but I figure I will start up again since I just got back from a two week stint in Japan/Taiwan. Both places were for business this time, however I took a few extra days in Japan to visit with friends and explore some of my old stomping grounds from when I lived in Japan.

First, to keep track, this was my seventh time flying to Asia. Below is a list of times/reasons I went to Asia:

  • July 2008 (Japan) – 1 year – Asahi Kasei Internship
  • April 2012 (Taiwan) – 2 weeks – TI Customer Project
  • June 2012 (Taiwan/Japan) – 3 weeks – TI Customer Project/Vacation
  • September 2012 (Beijing) – 1 week – TI Customer Debug
  • June 2013 (Shanghai/Japan) – 2 weeks – TI Training/Vacation
  • August 2013 (Taiwan) – 1 week – Customer Training
  • March 2014 (Taiwan/Japan) – 2 weeks – Customer/TI Training

As many times as I have been to Asia, that trans-pacific flight never gets easier. I’d say the most comfortable way is to fly direct to Tokyo from DFW. This way you get to minimize your time in crappy American airports and instead get to hang out eating ramen in the Narita airport if you need to transfer.

Also a good recommendation is to load your phone/tablet with as many movies and TV shows as you can. Sure, the flight will have inflight entertainment, however the aspect ratio and whole movie experience is completely distorted. This past time on my way to Japan the plane had an inflight entertainment of 12 Years a Slave. This movie, which received an academy award for its amazing and very serious/somber story, is the type of movie that should never be watched on a 4:3 aspect ratio with washed out brightness and audio quality that of a bootleg CAM release. Ender’s Game was also being shown and I refused to watch it for the same reason. Also, and maybe this is just me speaking as an engineer, but American Airlines seriously needs to replace their 30 year old resistive touch panels as half of them are broken and the other halve’s picture quality have been severely segregated from years of abuse.

But enough with the flight over there. I left Dallas at about 12pm on Saturday and arrived in Tokyo at about 4pm the next day (you fly over the international date line). Getting through customs was pretty uneventful and relatively painless. This time in Japan I decided that I would try to rent a portable WiFi router. Softbank offers this service for roughly $10 a day. I was able to pick up the router with ease (I made a reservation). In hindsight, I should have not rented the router. I found out later that T-Mobile now gives you free international roaming. The speed is not blazing (they cap it at about 150kbps), however it is “good enough” to use web, LINE, messaging, etc. The Softbank router had about a 1GB over 3 day cap, so defaulting to only use the T-Mobile roaming would have been the best way to go.

Normally, if I am on my own dime, I will take the regular train into Tokyo from Narita (which roughly runs about $20). This time, since it was the company’s dime and traveling to Yokohama, I decided to spring the money for the high speed Narita Express to Yokohama. The train was definitely a welcome improvement over the regular train as it had cushy leather seats and copiously air conditioned cars. After a jet-lagged hour and a half on the train I arrived in Yokohama. I’ve been to Yokohama station more times that I can count so I was able to find the Yokohama Bay Sheraton without issue. After checking in, ordering some overpriced Udon room service, and taking a shower I passed out for the night.

The next morning I was greeted with the lovely view from my hotel room. In the corner I could see Yokohama Bay:

View from Yokohama Sheraton Room

Traveling for business, the hotels normally tend to come with breakfast. I have to say that Sheraton Yokohama really did well with their breakfast buffet. Pretty much every type of food imaginable and the staff was extremely friendly and service oriented. Since I was still a little bit jet lagged, it was to be a light day in the Yokohama office. Pretty uneventful (and I make it a point not to talk about work on the blog), so I am not going to go into much detail about the work. I will say that we visited one customer on this day in Minato-Mirai and I was instantly jealous about the view from their office:

View from Customer Office

In the evening, I went to a Japanese style izakaya that was near the Yokohama office for ample shares of beer and food. One food that I always make a point to eat in Japan is a sort of raw horse meat that is served with garlic and miso paste. In the States, you can’t order horse meat at a restaurant. In Europe/Asia however, while maybe a bit luxury it is actually fairly common. The texture is like very tender beef and it very deliciously melts in your mouth:

Raw Horse

The next day I went to the Shinjuku office to give some training to a few FAEs. The training/work went pretty well, however that night was definitely the high point of the culinary adventures on this trip. I went with a few FAEs (some of which I had known from my first trip to Asia for TI) to a Okinawa Restaurant in Shinjuku. The food was awesome and it was all-you-can-drink for a good couple of hours. My favorite included this one seaweed dish that is really indescribable. It is like a cluster of balled up seaweed that is very juicy and exploded in your mouth when you eat it:

Weird Seaweed at Okinawa Izakaya

I also had a “high ball” drink which consists of soda water and Suntory scotch:

Japanese High Ball

Other favorites included a seaweed tempura, a very fatty pork dish, and a very strong Okinawa alcohol called Awamori. Overall the entire night was that of a typical company outing in Japan- one that involved copious amounts of alcohol, leisurely work talk, delicious food, and a ride on the last train back to the hotel. It really made me reminiscent about my own time working at a Japanese company. After the Okinawa restaurant, we went to a smaller Shinjuku restaurant for yet more drinks and delicious food. After that, it was close to 1am and we decided to call it a night.

The next day was strictly business and was overall very productive. I went to a couple of different sushi restaurants with coworkers, however the day was pretty uneventful. At night I wanted to take a break from drinking so I went to a combini and bought some nostalgic snacks/food. I bought some Asian pear Fanta and some chilled ramen that I always used to eat when I lived in Japan. I am pretty sure it is considered a cheap meal in Japan, however it was very nostalgic and I am glad I ate it:

Nostalgic Combini Food

I did manage to give some of the Texas souvenirs that I had bought to all of the coworkers in the Yokohama and Shinjuku office (over that past few days). If you ever go to Japan, be sure to bring copious amounts of souvenirs to give to friends/coworkers (this is tradition). I bought a bunch of Texas pecan sweets for all of my coworkers:

Texas Souvenirs

The next day marked the end of my business in Japan and the start of my few day vacation. I switched hotels to the Shinjuku based Century Southern Tower. I definitely recommend this hotel as it is a short walk from Shinjuku station and is very clean/comfortable. The view is great too and you can see the Tokyo Sky Tree from the lobby. It’s a bit pricey, however I had used my miles to get a subsidized price.

Sky Tree in Distance from Shinjuku Hotel

That day, after switching hotels, I met up with a Japanese friend that I knew from Texas Tech. She had been in Lubbock for a three month rotation for her company and we had kept in touch over the years. After a quick sushi lunch in Shinjuku station, we went to the Ebisu beer garden. This is definitely a great place to go to while in Tokyo. The tour costs about 500 yen and gets you two beers along with a tour of the museum. Ebisu is my favorite Japanese beer (and unfortunately you cannot get it outside of Japan), so the entire experience was great!

Ebisu Beer Museum

Ebisu Stout

After a great couple of drinks in the beer museum coupled with some gourmet cheeses, we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a great night view. This is one of the few free night views that you can get in Tokyo.We decided to have dinner up there (it is overpriced, but you are paying for the view). I recommend just going up to the top and going to the bar for a drink or two. The view is pretty awesome and you don’t even need to go to the bar.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The following day I decided that since the weather was so gorgeous that I wanted to go for a hike. I was originally going to go to Yoyogi Park, however I decided to go to Enoshima Island instead and enjoy the beach view. It is about an hour away from Shinjuku Station by means of the Odakyu Line. Enoshima Island is really awesome. After getting out of the station, you are surrounded by a bustling seaside town. You walk across a big bridge and get to a traditional Japanese island that is fully equipped with a Japanese temple. It is a great day trip and the views of the ocean are unmatched. I remember going up to one of the Pacific Ocean views and thinking, “on the other side is California.” I also decided to opt for going up in the Enoshima tower and was not disappointing by the stunning views. Overall a worthy day outing.

Enoshima Island

Great View!

Temple on Enoshima Island

After a great hike/walk, I returned to my Shinjuku hotel to prepare for the night. I had planned to go to the city I used to live in to visit a frequented restaurant with coworkers from my old company. I can’t count the number of times that I have been to GINAS at Hon-Atsugi, but it is always a blast. The night was full of nostalgic talk with coworkers and also huge (even by American standards) hamburgers. The owner (Shinobu) is always very friendly and I definitely will be back.

Me with Shinobu/Jenny from GINAS

Coworker with the “big” hamburger

After getting back to the hotel room at about 2am, I fell quickly asleep. The next day I had a few things planned. An old coworker from my previous company in Japan had invited me out to a Sakura flower viewing in Japan (hanami). There are only a few weeks during the year when you can see the Sakura trees blossom so I was very lucky to be in Japan during this time. I was even more lucky to be invited to an actual party considering I was a migrant. While I was a little bit early for the full bloom, I went to Shinjuku-gyoen. There were plenty of trees in bloom and it was overall a really good time. It was interesting talking to my coworker’s wife and her friend who were both Chinese. I try to practice Chinese as much as possible, however this was the first time I felt like I could have a conversation (even if it was drastically simple) in Chinese. Overall a great time!

Sakura Trees in Shinjuku Gyoen

Thanks to my friend for the invitation!

That night I met up with a friend (the same from the Ebisu day) and we went to another Japanese restaurant. At this restaurant we had enough sashimi to feed a family for a week along with a huge grilled onigiri. After that, we went to Harajuku for a short walk and also so that I could buy a few souvenirs for friends.

Tons of Sashimi

Big Onigiri

This night marked my last night in Japan for this trip. It was a very humbling trip and made me genuinely reminiscent of the year that I spent in Japan working for a Japanese company. Both inside and outside of work I was able to speak in Japanese quite frequently. This was really humbling to me as it was good to know that my Japanese is still sharp after all these years. I really hope to be back soon and like to thank everyone for hanging out with me.

The next day I had a flight to catch to Taipei early in the afternoon. After checking out of the hotel, taking an express skyliner from Nippori, and checking in at Narita, I was off to Taipei. Heading west, the flight from Tokyo to Taipei takes about four hours. I’ve done this flight multiple times, however this was the first time that I was not jetlagged (I don’t normally stop in Japan first). I flew JAL, which is an amazing airline and 100x better than any American airlines. I really can’t stress this enough- American based Airlines really suck as far as service goes. I can’t complain too much because at the end of the day I am getting into a small metal tube and flying across the world- but the common theme on this whole trip was that American Airlines treated you like prisoners while Japanese Airlines treated you like customers.

After arriving in Taipei, I quickly went through customs and got my luggage. I took a taxi to the Shangri La Far Eastern hotel. This is by far my favorite hotel in the world. The view of Taipei 101 is simply amazing and the service/quality of the hotel is unparalleled. The pool on the 42nd floor is also quite amazing! The breakfast buffet at the Shangri-La always makes my mornings great and has food from all over the world.

Pool at Shangri-La Taipei

View from roof of Shangri-La

Shangri-La Breakfast – with Ooolong Tea

Also, as it turns out, since I had stayed at this hotel so frequently in the past I had accrued about $650 USD worth of food/drink vouchers. Granted you could only spend $200 at one sitting, it definitely made it worthwhile to go eat and have a great meal with friends. On the last night I went out with a coworker/friend to the bar on the 6th floor and ordered a $60 glass of scotch.

Expensive Scotch!

Not going to talk about work here- other than it was productive and the customer visits seemed to go very well. The employees at the Taipei office are really nice and are very sharp when it comes to their work. During the nights, I went out with friends that I used to know from Taipei. I went to karaoke with them (and sang Chinese songs) and also went to the night market to buy a case for my new iPhone:

iPhone Wood Case

I was very happy that I could hang out with my friends from Taipei and hope that I can hang out again with them very soon. On the last day, I randomly met someone working at the Taipei office that went to the same university as me (Texas Tech). We went out with another coworker (and another friend of mine) to a traditional Taiwanese restaurant that included tons of delicious food and cold beer. After spending another $200 of vouchers at the Shangri-La bar, we called it a night.

The next day was the day that I flew back to America. After waking up early and meeting a friend for breakfast, I took a taxi to the airport. The flight going back is actually shorter (because of jet streams) and I transferred in Tokyo. Overall the trip was very productive and very fun. It was one of the more memorable trips as it wasn’t overly stressful and full of customer debug/support situations. I had a lot of very fond memories and am very happy I had the chance to practice my Japanese/Chinese. I hope I can go back soon (maybe even for an extended period of time) and visit and hang out with all of my friends!

Facebook Pictures

China/Japan Itinerary

China

Flight on 5/31
DFW->LAX Flight American Airlines 2421
(Depart DFW 10:30am, Arrive 11:55am)
LAX->PVG Flight American Airlines 183
(Depart LAX 2:30pm, Arrive 7:25pm (on 6/1))

Hotel (6/1 – 6/8)
Hongta Hotel Shanghai
(http://www.starwoodhotels.com/luxury/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1365)
Check-In: June 1st
Check-Out: June 8th

Hotel (6/8 – 6/10)
Huangshan Shilin Hotel
(http://www.booking.com/hotel/cn/shi-lin-da-jiu-dian.en.html?aid=311088;label=shi-lin-da-jiu-dian-tlBffM0jO_BnvPUlBprJYwS13687682043:pl:ta:p1:p2:ac:ap1t3:neg;ws=&gclid=CKHmtub1jLcCFcfd4Aod5wIAOg)
Check-In: June 8th
Check-Out: June 10th

Hotel (6/10)
Dazhong Airport Hotel
(http://www.dazhongairporthotel.com/)
Check-In: June 10th
Check-Out: June 11th

Japan

Flight on 6/11
PVG->NRT Flight Japan Airlines 872
(Depart PVG 9:00am, Arrive 1:00pm)

Hotel (6/11)
IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku
(http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-8620-ibis-tokyo-shinjuku/index.shtml)
Check-In: June 11th
Check-Out: June 12th

Hotel (6/12 – 6/14)
Atsugi City Hotel
(http://atsugicityhotel.com/)
Check-In: June 12th
Check-Out: June 14th

Hotel (6/14 – 6/18)
Century Southern Tower Hotel
(http://en.southerntower.co.jp/)
Check-In: June 14th
Check-Out: June 18th

Flight on 6/18
NRT->LAX Flight American Airlines 170
(Depart DFW 3:55pm, Arrive 10:15am)
LAX->DFW Flight American Airlines 2444
(Depart LAX 11:45am, Arrive 4:55pm)

Beijing Business Trip

So it has been a long time since I have blogged, but I think now is going to be as good of a time as any to start up again. No explanation, other than I was too busy with life and work- also mixed with some laziness.

Beijing

Anyways, a few weeks ago I got a call from one of the managers in my group at work. This was a pretty surprising (but welcoming) call. I answered the phone and the first thing he pretty much said was, “Do you want to go to China?”. I jokingly replied “Can I leave tomorrow?” To my surprise, he was completely serious and wanted me to leave tomorrow, but the visa would take at least a few days to go through.

I am not going to go into the details of why I went over there for work. The majority of the trip that related to business was tough.  Anytime a software engineer travels long distances (and it isn’t for a conference/show) they can expect to work long hours and hard days. On the bright side, I did learn a ton about certain modules of the MSP430 and got some valuable experience with customer interaction.

So this brings me to the first aspect of the trip; the Chinese visa. Literally I was called on a Friday afternoon and had to rush around and get all of the visa application material together. The closest Chinese consulate is in Houston and my company uses a courier service to send the passport/paperwork to Houston and express it back to Dallas. After scrambling around to get my passport, visa pictures, invitation letters, etc, I did the ultra mega-fast FedEx to the courier service in Houston. I was told that the visa process would take about five business days.

After that craziness, I booked my travel through my company’s travel site. A last minute ticket was not cheap (even if my company is paying for it, I don’t want to bankrupt anyone), but surprisingly I was able to get a round trip to Beijing for only a few hundred dollars more than the average advance booking price. I also booked my hotel arrangements. I always like traveling with my company as they put their employees at really nice hotels. This time they put me at the Beijing Crowne Plaza Zhongguancun.

The next week before I got my visa were pretty hectic. I was doing everything I could at work to learn about the MSP430 modules involved with the business of the trip. I wanted to do as much as possible before I landed in China. My visa was scheduled to arrive at my apartment on Friday morning and I was scheduled to fly out on Friday afternoon (so it was pretty tight).

Friday morning came, my visa arrived, and I was off to the airport in a taxi. My flight to Beijing was pretty straight forward with no insane layovers (Dallas->Tokyo, Tokyo->Beijing) with the same trip on the flight back. Regardless, it was a long flight. I flew American Airlines on the DFW->Tokyo leg. I was fortunate and got into an exit row seat, but unfortunately I was stuck next to an armrest hog. I flew Japan Airlines from Tokyo to Beijing and that was awesome (Haagen Dazs ice cream!). On the Beijing leg I was completely out of it. I cannot sleep on airplanes and was more or less like a zombie when I got to Beijing. We flew over Seoul and Dalian which was pretty neat.

I arrived in Beijing around 9pm on Saturday and quickly moved through customs/immigration. After a small monorail ride over to the airport entrance, I waited in line for the taxi queue. I am convinced that there is no stress-free way to get into a taxi in Beijing. The way the taxi queue worked is that a bunch of taxis would drive up to the line and they would let people through the line in chunks. This means when it is your chunk’s turn it is absolute chaos trying to find an open taxi. Some way or another I did and showed the taxi the hotel address in Chinese from my iPad.

The taxi ride over to the hotel was definitely an experience. I am convinced that I picked the “Fast and the Furious” taxi. He was literally going 180kmh(120 mph) only to slow down for the speed trap cameras. At first I thought that it was just how taxis drove in Beijing, but then I realized that we were the only taxi going this fast. In any case, I eventually arrived at the hotel and checked in. Since it was a last minute hotel reservation, they put my in the “club” level. The club level has a slightly bigger room, free breakfast (which I found about a couple of days in), and various other amenities.

View from hotel (17F) next morning

Hotel Lobby – Very Fancy!

Pretty standard room.

Rubber duck!

Since I arrived on a Saturday, the first opportunity I had to work was Sunday. The hardware at work wasn’t ready on Sunday so I had the day to get over jet lag and explore Beijing. I have a friend that lives in Beijing that I knew from Dallas. She wasn’t able to meet until later in the afternoon so I took the opportunity to explore the area around my hotel by myself. I was able to find a Chinese Walmart within walking distance.

Building next to hotel

Glorious Chinese Walmart

Stinky Durians

Smoked meats

After Walmart, I returned for the hotel and bummed around in my room a while until my friend arrived. We hopped into a taxi and headed to Tienanmen Square. This is where I caught my first experience of Beijing traffic. I am used to Dallas traffic- and in all honesty compared to Dallas rush hour the Beijing traffic wasn’t too bad, but the traffic made a 20 minute taxi trip into a one hour ride.

Tienanmen Square was peaceful. There were a lot of Chinese soldiers everywhere, but it was pretty interesting to see a place that had so much history. Walking around the square today you would have never known about the dark history that happened (and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it there to avoid conflict). I saw the picture of Chairman Mao and I saw The Forbidden City (from the outside, got there too late to go in).

Hello Chairman Mao

Me in front of “Long Peace Street”

Tienanmen Square

Next, my friend and I hopped on a bus and headed towards a popular shopping/snacking area of Beijing called Donghuamen, Wangfujing (东华门王府井). I can only describe this area of Beijing as the “Times Square” of Beijing. There were a lot of lights, a certain energy energy in the air, and overall showcased the “big city” feel of Beijing. In this district, there is a special street that is devoted almost entirely to Chinese street food. I only sampled the “tanghulu” (糖葫芦), which is a sort of candy-marbled set of crab apples on a stick. They are sweet and sour but very delicious.

Crowded Donghuamen

Chinese treat “tanghulu”

Live scorpions. I was told later that the sign says, “no pictures”. Opps!

After we got back to my hotel area it was already night. We went to eat at a Peking Duck restaurant and then called it a night.

Beijing duck!

The next few days were the stressful “business” days. Luckily, by Thursday, I (along with a magnitude of support from the team back in Dallas and the FAEs in China) were able to sort out the majority of business that we had with the customer. One of the nights I went out with the FAEs to a Chinese restaurant. One FAE ordered a couple bottles of 白酒 (baijou). This is Chinese white liquor which is about 50% ABV.

Tastes like a milder vodka– but still packs the same punch.

On Thursday, I woke up, caught up on emails/calls, and then headed to The Great Wall. My friend told me that you aren’t considered a real man until you visit The Great Wall. Another friend told me that it is a sin to go to Beijing and not visit The Great Wall. Since I was fortunate enough to have everything sorted with work, I felt that it would be shame if I didn’t go.

From my hotel there were two “sights” of The Great Wall that I could go to: Badaling and Mutianyu. Badaling is apparently closer to Beijing and has more smog so I opted to go to Mutianyu. The concierge at the hotel arranged a taxi to pick me up and take me to The Great Wall. He said the taxi driver would wait for me while I visited the wall and take me back after a few hours. The round trip taxi cost was 900 rmb ($143 USD). The taxi took me out of Beijing, onto the highway, and through the rural Chinese countryside. The ride alone was very interesting and I got to see a lot of rural China.

Once we got to Mutianyu, it was pretty breathtaking. Honestly words and pictures can’t do The Great Wall justice.The wall is just so massive and impressive- it’s hard to put in words. As an engineer I guess I was amazed at how something so massive was built (considering it was started over a thousand years ago). At the base of the wall were a bunch of touristy souvenir shops and food stands. I paid for the entry ticket and chair lift to the top of the wall with a toboggan ride down (which round trip was 120rmb). This was definitely the defining point of my visit to Beijing.

On top of the wall.

I went all the way to the end station in this picture and back.

Wonderful!

Want to know if you are in shape or not? Go spend 30 minutes walking on The Great Wall.

I definitely found out that I was not in the best shape by walking on The Great Wall. From the chair lift, I walked to the end point of the portion that was open to tourists and back to the chair lift station. I had to stop multiple times along the way to catch my breath and went through a couple of bottles of water. It was an awesome experience though and I am so glad that I was lucky enough to have the time to visit.

For the ride down I bought a “toboggan” ticket. I was a little worried about the safety of the toboggan, but convinced myself to do it anyways. I am a pretty tall guy, but nonetheless I was able to fit into the toboggan without a problem. I wizzed down the mountain side next to The Great Wall to the base station in about five minutes.

Toboggan!

After getting to the bottom of The Great Wall, I bought a few touristy souvenirs, found my taxi driver, and then headed back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, I caught up on emails/work, and then met the FAEs and my friend in the hotel lounge to go out to dinner.

We went out to a “Nanking” style restaurant. In this restaurant, we had our own private room with a table. It was a very nice “common” restaurant and the food was very delicious. After ordering a pitcher of beer and saying cheers, we dug into the food.

Restaurant entrance

A lot of food… including my favorite “stinky tofu”

Chinese crawfish

I was stuffed after this meal. I would have had more beer, but considering I had to wake up at 5am the next day to catch my flight back to The States I refrained. We caught a taxi back to the hotel, I packed, and then I passed out in the comfy king bed.

The trip back was pretty uneventful. I had a six hour layover in Tokyo (I got some delicious ramen and Kirin beer), but it was just a normal trip. I was lucky enough to get a seat with an empty seat next to me. I could stretch my legs and even managed to go into a half “sleep” state for about an hour. This trip did bump me into Gold status with American Airlines and give me copious airline miles that I will use for a vacation down the line.

Ramen!

All in all, it was a productive trip. Of course it was extremely stressful getting all of the work done, but the day or so that I got to visit the sites made it all worth the stress. I’d like to go back to China someday on vacation and have a little bit more relaxed schedule. Everyone I met was very friendly and I am glad I got to experience Chinese culture.

Picasa Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/103789651382123312406/BeijingBusinessTrip

On a side note, I also went on two business trips to Taiwan earlier this year. I was too busy and involved in the project that I didn’t have time to blog, but here are the Picasa albums from them:
https://picasaweb.google.com/103789651382123312406/TaiwanBusinessTrip
https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipM1TJHbWo95d_KkfKwRoTzr8hGAjwfRXamDufE2

Yu Darvish to Texas Rangers

Yu Darvish, one of Japan’s best pitchers is coming to Dallas to play for The Texas Rangers. I have always been a casual fan of baseball. I love going to the games, however it gets kind of hard for me to follow every game. Coming from Houston, where I had to endure through a disastrous Astro’s season, maybe having a team with a decent record will help me stay in the game. I was watching the heartbreaking loss in The World Series last season for the Rangers. That’s why the news of getting a new decent pitcher is very welcome news.

I did watch the press conference for when Yu Darvish came to Texas. Considering Yu’s contract is about 60 million dollars, I suppose he would be fine with living just about anywhere. I thought the parts where they ask him about Texas BBQ/Steak were kind of funny.

Tim’s Exercise Routine

Well it is another year and another time for me to make the resolution to not be so fat. During college I used to do a regular exercise routine with a friend. He made up the routine but I just followed along. I can’t take too muc

Monday – Cardio (10 minute warm-up, 30 minute zone), Abs (Three sets of 12 situps, crunches alternating, six sets overall)

Tuesday – 10 minute cardio warmup, Arm weight training. Bench presses and machine workout

Wednesday – Cardio (10 minute warm-up, 30 minute zone), Abs (Three sets of 12 situps, crunches alternating, six sets overall)

Thursday – 10 minute cardio warmup, Legs weight training. Squats, machine workout

Friday – Cardio (10 minute warm-up, 30 minute zone), Abs (Three sets of 12 situps, crunches alternating, six sets overall)

Saturday – 10 minute cardio warmup, Back and shoulder weight training.

Sunday – Break

Of course I reserve the right to switch around the week depending on the schedule. Let’s see how long I can keep this workout going. This combined with a sane diet should help me lose weight.

Japanese Vocab List

In an effort to study more Japanese, I have been keeping a cache of vocab words that I learn from various movies/shows. I hope to pass the JLPT 2 this year, so I think learning a little over a long period of time is a good way to prepare.  Here is a batch of words that I have learned recently.

干渉 ・ かんしょう ・ Interference
現在 ・ げんざい ・ Currently At This Time
文句 ・ もんく ・ Complaint
流れ星 ・ ながれぼし ・ Falling Star
掃滅 ・ そうめつ ・ Annihilated
大統領 ・ だいとうりょう ・ President
副大統領 ・ ふくだいとうりょう ・ Vice President
当たり前です ・ あたりまえです ・ Naturally/Of Course
準備 ・ じゅんび ・ Preparations
耳寄りな ・ みみよりな ・ Welcome News
情報 ・ じょうほう ・ Information/News
訴える ・ うったえる ・ To Sue
用件 ・ ようけん ・ Business/Stuff To Do
責任 ・ せきにん ・ Responsibility
急に ・ きゅうに ・ Rapidly

製品 ・ せいひん ・ Manufactured Goods
産業 ・ さんぎょう ・ Industry
農業 ・ のうぎょう ・ Agriculture
盛ん ・ さかん ・ Thriving
主な ・ おもな ・ Main
苦労 ・ くろう ・ Troubles/Hardships
目立つ ・ めだつ ・ To stand out
派手な ・ はでな ・ Gawdy/Loud Looking
伝染 ・ でんせん ・ Contagious
評判 ・ ひょうばん ・ Fame/Reputation
苦情 ・ くじょう ・ Complaint/Troubles
流行 ・ りゅうこう ・ Fad/Craze
会場 ・ かいじょう ・ Assembly Hall
拍手 ・ はくしゅ ・ Clapping of Hands
転ぶ ・ ころぶ ・ To Fall Over
足元 ・ あしもと ・ Under one’s feet
失業 ・ しつぎょう ・ Unemployment
引退 ・ いんたい ・ Retire
弱点 ・ じゃくてん ・ Weak Point
克服 ・ こくふく ・ Overcome/conquest

Interesting thing I found out, 流行 can be used to say that something is going around. For example, when the swine flu was going around people said 「新型インフルエンザが流行しています。」

New Hobbies

The new year is a time to pick up new hobbies and start fresh. This past year was really a mixed roller coaster. I switched from a company where I wasn’t being treated well to a company that I really enjoy working for. In the process I moved from Houston to Dallas. I intend to write a little bit more about the parallels between Houston and Dallas later, but I thought I would start out the new year by getting into a few new hobbies.

Photography

Depending on how the profit sharing bonus turns out at work, I was considering buying a digital SLR camera. More specifically, I was thinking of picking up a Canon EOS Rebel T3i.  Obviously with a $600 price tag this is a bit of a commitment.  I would most likely follow up on it with a non-credit class or read a tutorial online in completeness. As a side effect, getting into photography would force me out of the house more. There are only so many pictures that I can take of my apartment or cat. I would most likely go to state parks or even take an excursion to parks in California or Colorado. My parents live in Tucson Arizona which has some amazing scenery. It is also not too far away from The Grand Canyon where I could take some really nice pictures.

Hobbyist Programming

I’ve been always wanting to get into programming in my spare time. Sometimes it is a little hard to muster up the will power after I program all day at work. I have been reading more and more into Python and by extension Django. I have a background in Java so it is very interesting learning a more “script” oriented language like Python. The more and more I work with Python the more I am seeing its advantages over Java. On the one hand, Java is a lot more enterprise friendly. It has Oracle behind it, has an established code base, and compares a lot to languages like C/C++. Python on the other hand seems to have more of a hobbyist following.  One thing that is quite amazing about Python compared to Java is how easy it is to interact with SQL databases. There is no pain with mucking around with XML files like in Hibernate; Django simply takes care of all that for you. I will most likely write a post about Python vs. Java after I get into it more.

Foreign Language

I still intend to keep up my hobby of learning foreign languages. I have come too far with Japanese at this point to simply quit learning. A few times a month I will meet with various Japanese speaking friends and try to keep my speaking skills sharp. Needless to say they have deteriorated a little bit compared to when I was in Japan or at Texas Tech and taking regular classes. I have started to learn Chinese as well. Career-wise, I think this is one of the most useful languages to know. Tech companies are investing tons of resources into China and having the language would be a good weapon to have in my armory.


Other Christmas Gifts

Apart from the Christmas gifts that I bought with Christmas money, I also received quite of a few traditional wrapped gifts from my mom.

Fancy Mint Chocolates – These were gone within 15 minutes of opening.

Kitchen Towels/Pot Holder – You can never have enough of these.

Kitten Calendar – I always get a calendar from my parents every year. My parents, like me, like cats.

Ralph Lauren Rugby ShirtThese shirts are pricey, but they are worth it. I really do like Ralph Lauren quality shirts and tend to make them last a while

Starbucks Coffee MugsI got one of these from my parents and one from my boss’s family. I need to get around to buying a coffee maker so I can start putting something other than milk/juice in these.

I also got nice cards from a bunch of friends. I have a bunch of friends overseas so it is always interesting to see the type of cards that I get.

Christmas Gifts

Every Christmas I will get some money from my parents and relatives that I like to spend to get myself something nice. When I was younger Christmas and birthdays were the only time that I would officially get disposable income to spend on myself. Since I have a big boy job now this has changed quite a bit, however I still like to buy myself gifts during the holidays.This year I did all of my shopping at Microcenter.

The first thing I bought was a 23″ ASUS LED-LCD monitor. I had been making do with the 20″ Acer that I had ever since junior year of college, but I finally convinced myself to upgrade to a bigger size. This set me back about $200. I actually took in my old 20″ Acer to work so I could have  a dual monitor setup. It’s funny how much dual monitors are necessities for a software engineer.

Dual Monitors at Work

The next thing I bought were computer speakers. This was somewhat of an impulse buy. I didn’t do much research on the different type of speakers. I ended up buying a pair of 2.1 Genius PC speakers for about $60 at Microcenter. Could I have spent $200 to get a pair of speakers that go loud enough to deafen my cat? Yes. Do I need them? No. I honestly had just used headphones up until this point. In college, I had always been self conscious of playing music too loud and disturbing roommates. Living alone has its advantages.

New Monitor and Speakers

January TV Preview

I watch a good deal of TV. I have never been much of a power reader and TV is a nice way for me to kick back and relax without having to worry about the time. I thought I would spend a little time ironing out the shows I plan to watch on a regular basis.

Spartacus: Vengeance
This is like the Caligula of TV series. It airs on a premium channel (Starz) so they can make the series without holding anything back. There is tons of violence, blood, sex, and plot twists in the way. The main actor that stared as Spartacus in the first two seasons passed away due to cancer. It will be interesting to see how the replacement does.

 

Californication
This series is really one of my guilty pleasures. I hope this new season is good. The wife/girlfriend and daughter were by far the most annoying characters in the previous seasons. The end of the last season suggested that they will be out of the picture. If this is the case I look forward to seeing Hank and Charlie’s exploits.

 

House
There are some series (such as Heroes) that I think should end after a few seasons for the sake of the story. House isn’t one of them. House is like the Rambo movies; as long as new ones are still being made I will watch them.  I hope this new season has more Wilson/House antics.

Working Schedules – Strict vs. Relaxed

Now that I have been working at Texas Instruments about four months  I can start to draw some accurate comparisons towards my former employer, Texas Memory Systems.  One of the biggest differences I have noticed is the difference in working schedule policy (the times you are required to be in the office, work, etc).

First let me start with my previous employer, Texas Memory Systems. They are considerably smaller than Texas Instruments (the entire company consists of 100ish employees).  TMS was extremely strict with what times that you had to come in and be at the office. Everyone was allowed to choose their own schedule from a set of predefined time sets.  Since I am more productive in the morning, I chose a 7:30am – 4:00pm “shift” with a 30 minute lunch. The management apparently monitored employees’ working habits like hawks and would take disciplinary actions if there were any violations. Furthermore, what made this system stressful was the existence of many computer monitors mounted throughout the office with a list of everyone who has clocked in for the day and the times they had clocked in and out. This was particularly stressful for me in that I was in the minority of people that liked to come in early and leave early. Whenever I clocked out, I would get dirty looks from some people like I was slacking off (when in reality I had come in two hours before them). On top of that, from time to time there were executive “mandates” that required employees to work a certain number of hours a week (I remember once where employees were required to work minimum 48 hours a week). I hold the strong belief that more working hours by no means equals more productivity. The first couple of 48 hour weeks might result in a disproportionate increase in productivity, but  this effect quickly diminishes.

Pros Cons
A good way to weed out slacking employees that might only work 25 hours a week otherwise Inflexible for employees with kids/families that may have to work erratic schedules
No hunting around for someone when they are not actually in the office Ruins one of the major benefits of being a salaried employee (feels like you work at McDonald’s)
Fosters a more “routine” working environment Inflexible for those times where you might have to stay at home to wait for maintenance man, delivery, etc.
If you come in early, you still feel guilty clocking out early even though you will work the same amount of time than those that came in late

My current employer, Texas Instruments (at least the group that I am in) is a lot more relaxed with working schedules. It is typically what you would expect out of the standard salaried engineering position. Everyone is expected to work at least forty hours a week.  There is no rule about when you have to be in the office vs. working from home, nor is there any system to track the exact number of hours that one employee works every week. Pretty much it boils down to, “get your work done”. If you are doing that then you will have no problems working at least forty hours a week.

Pros Cons
Places more trust in the employees and feels like a real salaried engineering position Potential for abuse by less trustworthy employees
Complete flexibility. Ability to work from home when needed without taking sick/vacation Makes it hard to meet with people that frequently work from home
No feeling guilty about coming in early and leaving work early Can lead to a more irregular working regiment where you work at odd hours during the night
Your working schedule is not plastered up on the walls publically for everyone to gawk at

In the end I would say that I prefer TI’s system more. If management hires quality employees that they can trust then there is no need to worry about abuse. To me, if there are people that abuse the system, then they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. In the long run I think that these people go away as the quality of their work is usually impacted by how little they work.

Delfrisco’s Grille

On Monday I went to a new steakhouse in town called Delfrisco’s Grille with some of my Japanese-savvy friends. Let’s face it; opening up a steakhouse in Texas is tough. Texans love their steaks and they know how to cook them.

Was the food good? Yes. Was the quality/price on par with places like Pappa’s Steakhouse? Sure. Would I rather go to Central Market, buy a huge steak and six-pack of St. Arnold’s, and cook the steak on a grill in my apartment? Definitely. Don’t get me wrong; it was really nice to go out and talk with everyone. I did realize that my Japanese speaking ability has somewhat been lagging recently, however I can’t really justify going out and spending $40+ per head on a meal on a regular basis. Who knows, maybe I am still in poor college student mode.

Afterwards we went to a pretty nice and low-key bar called Breadwinners to catch the tail end of the Fiesta Bowl. It was a nice night to cap off a very relaxing vacation.


Delfrisco's Grille

 

Migration to WordPress

So after a long and good run on Blogger I have decided to migrate my blog to WordPress. I am starting to get into web development and have really made an effort to maintain my local slice of web space that I rent out from the shared host.

I have nothing bad to say about Blogger. For the period of time I used Blogger it was awesome. When I lived in Japan I simply wanted something to throw up travel experiences  without having to worry about any web administration issues. Now that I am a working man I can afford a steady web host and don’t mind maintaining.

WordPress was easy to install and the interface really seems clean. You might notice that I am using the default WordPress theme. This will not change. I really like this theme and refuse to change it “just because it looks like all the others”.

I think blogging is a good way to relieve stress. I will put it as one of my New Year’s Resolutions to blog more and get my mind out there. Until next time!

久しぶりの日記

日記は久しぶり。

最近、生活はつまらない。僕は新しい趣味に興味がある。冬なので、アウトドアの趣味はだめだ。寒すぎるよ~

外国語は面白いので、最近中国語を勉強している。ダラスは日本人よりも中国人の人口の方が多いので、中国語を話す機会の方が多いです。そして中国語の文法は簡単だ。 僕の仕事で中華会社のお客さんがたくさんあるから、中国語能力は役に立。大丈夫かな。。。

最近よく映画を見ている。コメディーは一番好きな映画だ。僕は笑うのが大好き。:-)日本の映画も面白い。先日、「Horrible Bosses」と言う映画を見た。超面白かった~ Jennifer Anistonはとても可愛い。

僕の会社でジムがあるので、最低毎週の3回行くことにしている。大抵トレッドミルの上で走る。でも時々でウエートトレーニングをするのが好き。ファイト!

ダラスの楽しい土曜日

昨日、日本語ぺらぺらな友達と遊びました。 

はじめに、アーリントンに住んでいる友人と韓国系のスーパーに行きました。韓国系のスーパーでも、日本の食べ物を売っています。このスーパーの名前は「H-MART」です。このスーパーで野菜と肉がたくさんあります。友達はおいしそうな蜂蜜入りの茶を買いました。スーパーの後に食べに行くつもりでしたから、たくさん買えませんでした。でも、いつかこのスーパーに戻って、たくさん買いたいです~  

次に「大阪」と言うレストランに行きました。ほかのレストランに行きたいでしたが、閉まってしまいました。レストランで、ダラスに住んでいる日本人とその人の彼氏を会いました。でも大丈夫でした。「大阪」レストランは素晴らしいです。寿司としゃぶしゃぶの食べ放題です。遠慮せずに食べました。おなかが超ポンポンでした。  

晩御飯の後に友達の家に行って、ビールを飲みながらテレビでアメフト観戦をしました。ダラスが勝ちましたから、超嬉しかったです。次に友達の友達の家のパーティに行きました。このパーティはすごかったです~日本語がぺらぺらな人がたくさんいました。私は日本語がまだ上手じゃないけど、なんとか日本語でコミュニケーションができました。 

真夜中近くに友達を車で家まで送りました。1時ぐらいに家へ戻って、寝ました。とても楽しい夜でした。次回は楽しみにしています~

英国の休み

先週、私はイギリスとスコットランドの休みから戻りました。すごく楽しかったですが、今疲れています。

イギリス:
初めにロンドンに行きました。ロンドンはすごく賑やかな町です。ロンドンにプレーを見に行きました。「Les Miserables」というプレーを見ました。このプレーは素晴らしいです!プレーの音楽は超強力ですよ~ 翌日、ロンドンで観光をしました。 Westminster Abbeyにいきました。この教会でロイヤル・ウエディングがありました。Buckingham Palaceにも行きました。イギリスの女王はこの場所 に住んでいます。

次に友達とオックスフォードに行きました。オックスフォードには有名な大学があります。この大学でHARRY POTTERの映画を撮影しました。超綺麗です。建築はすごいです~

スコットランド:
翌日に友達と飛行機でスコットランドに行きました。スコットランドの空港でレンタカーを借りました。アメリカで道の右側で走りますが、スコットランドで左 側で走ります。私はちょっと緊張でしたが、何とか衝突しませんでした。初日GlasgowとEdinburghに行きました。綺麗な教会に行きました。た くさん写真を撮りました。「STERLING」という城にも行きました。この城は印象的です~

次に北に運転しました。スコットランドの道はすごく綺麗です~ 風景は素晴らしいです。Fort Williamという町で滞在しました。この町の湖は素敵ですよ。

朝に車でLoch Nessに行きました。この町で有名な湖があります。この湖で化け物があるそうですが、見ませんでした。素晴らしいホテルに泊まりました。このホテルのレストランはすごく美味しかったです。

翌日、Glasgowに行ってロンドンに戻りました。あの夜にロンドンのホステルに泊まりました。次の日に帰国しました。

休みはすごく楽しかったです~ でも、帰航に風 をひいてしまいました。今、元気ですが、あの風は悪かったです。

海外旅行は楽しいです。次回、中国に行きたいです~

写真:
https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipM0xLKh4idP9fdl0oKA3t_CRnoG06vWAotXnVZw

The Cost of Air Travel

So I recently took a trip to The UK. I will post an update later, but thought I would hash out something on my mind in the meantime.

I caught a terrible cold on my way back. I’m glad that it was only on the way back. It would have been tragic to go all over UK with a bad cough. Is it just me or is it a requirement that you get sick whenever you fly by air? Even if one person is sick on the plane, the air is constantly being recirculated and the chances of that one person infecting many others is high. Maybe next time before I fly I should dope up on Vitamin C just in case.

I suppose I shouldn’t complaint too much. A hundred years ago I’m sure people would love to jump into a metal tube, wait 10 hours, and be across the country. Some people probably didn’t even survive the journey way back when.

結婚したい人

相手として結婚したい有名人がたくさんいます。私は凡人ですが、有名人と結婚するように頑張ります~

Katy Perry
Katy Perryはアメリカ人ですが、面白し、かわいいです。そしてKaty Perryの曲は耳に残ります。ビデオも面白いです。「Last Friday Night」は私の好きなKaty Perryの曲です。

MIXIの女の子
この女の子の名前をわかりません。でも、本当にかわいいです。この人はコーヒーを飲んでいます。私もコーヒーが好きです。 だから一緒に結婚したらいいですよ。 

Sammy Cheng
この人は中国の有名人です。私はSammyの映画がだいぶ好きです。でも、私は中国語がまだ上手じゃありません。 結婚したら、中国語が得意にならなくちゃいけません。[m:60]

倉木 麻衣
倉木さんはもっとも可愛い日本人だと思います。そして歌うのがすごく上手です!倉木 麻衣のライブに行きたいです。もしかして日本に行けば、ライブに行けます。

美味しいもの

アメリカでたくさん美味しいものがあります。アメリカ食はちょっと脂っこいですが、普通に超美味しいです~

カボチャのビール
このビールは超美味しいです!「PUMPKINATOR」というのビールです。 このビールはヒューストン製で、カボチャとニッケイの味があります。 テキサスでしか見られません。 テキサスに来たら、このビールを飲んだほうがいいですよ~

クリスピー・クリーム
私のアパートの隣にクリスピー・クリームがありいます。クリスピー・クリームのドーナツはすごく美味しいです!でも本当にダイエットの敵です! 私の好きなドーナツはジャム入りのドーナツです。 すごく美味しいですが、食べる後にジムに行けなければなりません。

テキサス的なBBQ
テキサスで面白い食べ物があります。肉のBBQはすごく人気があります。 皆はステーキを食べるのが好きです。そして牛肉のあばら肉は超美味しいです。テキサスのバーベキューのソースは面白いです。このソースはほかのソースとは違っています。 ちょっと甘くて辛いです。本当に特別だと思います。

Merkur Safety Blade Shaving

So a month or so ago I decided I was fed up with all of the Gillette multiblade razors that tore up my skin whenever I shaved. I was also tired of dropping an arm and a leg to buy a bunch of razor head replacements that probably cost 15 cents to make. After weight my options (single blade, electric, safety razor), I decided to buy a single bladed Merkur Model 180 razor. It had great reviews and the replacement blades were a reasonable price (30 blades, around three shaves each for $13).


I decided to go all out and buy some shaving soap, a novelty stand, and a shaving brush.


After waiting a couple of days for shipping (thank you Amazon Prime!) my package came in the male. I had purposely timed my shaving schedule to make it so that I could shave right when I got the new razor. My facial hair doesn’t grow that quickly and I normally just shave once every few days (less if I am feeling lazy). From all the reviews I read online, I was expecting to cut myself pretty severely the first few times I shaved. To my surprise, this wasn’t the case. There were a few minor knicks and cuts, but nothing that produced an unusual amount of blood. My shave was baby skin close and the soap left my skin feeling very soft. Definitely a learning curve, but not bad at all!

For all those people that are fed up with paying ridiculous prices for shaver replacements, I highly recommend buying a single blade safety razor. It’s not quite as hardcore as a straight edge, and provides a nice middle ground for us normal people. It does take a while to get used to (especially if you always used a Mach 3 to shave like me), but you get an awesome shave once you master it.

Linux Development

I have always considered myself a Windows guy. It is easy to use, powerful when you need it to be, and generally reliable. Yes, that’s right, I said Windows is generally reliable. I think it gets a bad reputation for being the popular/most commonly used OS. This means that the widely uneducated general public’s stupidy transfers over to people conceptions of Windows. Some people say that it is easy to get viruses on Windows.

Well yeah, Windows is unreliable if you you’re stupid enough to open files like “ParisHilton.jpg.exe”, but saying this is the equivalent of saying, “Linux is unreliable because I typed “sudo rm -rf / ” and now nothing works!” I never run virus protection and I have never got a virus. Learn how to use a computer.

I digress. I am not here to argue the merits of Linux over Windows… that’s for another post. At work, we primarily use Linux for development. I say that, but I still use Eclipse. Eclipse is great because it is platform independent, powerful, extendable, and easy to setup/use. You don’t have to learn 1000 different key combinations like VI/EMacs. People argue that Eclipse uses Java and is therefore a resource hog. To this I say, who cares? In a world where quad core computers with 4GB of memory are standard, is that extra 256MB of memory that Eclipse is using going to kill you? Do you really need to be programming when you are encoding a video, have five instances of Photoshop open, and are pegging your CPU with decryption algorithms?

That’s another thing I don’t really understand. Why use VI/EMacs? I can understand if you are in a shell and you need to quickly edit/modify a file, but there are people that use VI/EMacs for largescale/multi-stage projects. Not only is this programming practice archaic, it severely limits a programmer’s abilities. Ever try to debug with a command line debugger? It’s not fun. SVN interaction? Better learn a ton of unnecessary SVN commands. Context complete and mind-reading mode? Good luck on setting that up.

Now some of you might think I am a hypocrite. I said Windows (and also Linux) is powerful if you know how to use it in the beginning of my post. “But Tim, VI and EMacs are the same way, they are powerful if you know how to use them!” True, but the following statement still holds. In Eclipse, you can do everything that you can do in EMacs/VI, but it isn’t the other way around. In the end, I don’t really care what people use to program; to each their own. People tend to be overzealous about this sort of thing.

Cell Phones・ 携帯

前の日記はすごく良好な反応があったので、これから英語と日本語で書くことにしました。質問があれば、是非聞いてね。
一年間日本に住んでいましたから、日本の携帯電話を持っていました。でも日本の携帯とアメリカの携帯はすごく違います。まず、外国人にとって日本の携帯はすごく高いです。AU/KDDIと一年間の契約を結んで、月額は9000円 (90ドル)ぐらいでした。解約料は3万円ぐらいでした。結局一年間の契約は10万円くらいでした。アメリカで、月額は40ドルぐらいです。そして解約料は100ドルぐらいです。
でも日本で携帯は必需品です。アメリカでは電話の方が多いけど、日本ではメールを送るほうが多いです。彼女がいた時、5分に一回にメールを送りました。
それに、日本のエモーティコンはすごく面白いと思います!日本のエモーティコンはすごく可愛くて複雑ですが、アメリカのは簡単です。たまに意味がわかりませんでした。
m(_ _) m – おじぎ
(^▽^) – 嬉しい
♪ – 上機嫌
D: しかめ面
🙂 ほほ笑み
😉 まばたき
携帯のハードウェアにおいては日本の方が勝ります。私の日本の携帯は前文ができました:インターネットとかスイカとかテレビのリモコンとか赤外線があるんです。私のアメリカ携帯はすごく簡単です。そして機能が強力ではありません。
English:
Since I got such a positive response from my last English post, I have decided to write my diary in English and Japanese from now on. If anybody ever has a question, please feel free to message me.
Since I lived in Japan for a year I owned a Japanese cell phone. Japanese cell phones are a lot different than American cell phones. First off, especially for foreigners, Japanese cell phones are a lot more expensive. I had a one year contract with AU/KDDI and was paying about 9000yen ($90) a month. When I canceled, I had to pay about 30,000yen ($300). I must have spend about 100,000yen ($1000) for about a year of service. In the USA, an individual contract will cost about $40 a month with a $100 cancellation fee.
Although in Japan, owning a cell phone was almost essential. In America we tend to make more phone calls, however whenever I lived in Japan I found myself sending mails a lot more. Especially when I was dating a girl, I would receive a text once every five minutes it seems.
Another thing that I find interesting are the emoticons that people use. In Japan, the emoticons were really cute and elaborate. However, in America our emoticons are very simple. Sometimes I didn’t even understand the meaning.
m(_ _) m – Bowing
(^▽^) – Happy
♪ – Good Mood
D: Frowning
🙂 Smiley Face
😉 Winking
As far as the actual cell phone, I would have to say Japan wins. My cell phone in Japan did everything… internet, Suica, TV Remote, IR transfer. My American phone is really simplistic and does not have any of the features my Japanese cell phone did.

Sabino Canyon

It is Winter Break and I am staying at my parents’ house in Tucson for one week. Tucson is surrounded by mountains and desert and tends to be a very good temperature all-year round. I went with my mom and dad to Sabino Canyon. It is very scenic and there are tons of little hiking trails that go all throughout the desert.
Me in front of the desert
There are many wild cats around and also many signs warning about the danger.
Since it is the desert, there are many huge cactus.
With my mom in front of a mountain landscape

Picture of the landscape with the moon in the background
There are many other nice trails in Tucson that I want to go on. I go back to Lubbock in a few days so hopefully I will be able to see a little bit more.

Hibachi and Cricket’s

The other day I went out with Chiaki, Mayo, Yuki, Stephanie, and Larry to Yamagata’s Japanese Steak House. In America, by far the most popular sort of Japanese restaurant is teppanyaki. This is funny as it is not popular at all in Japan and is actually pretty rare. My language exchange, Kumiko, actually works at this restaurant so we were treated to free karage and free California rolls. It was pretty nice in the sense that it was bring your own beer. We bought a bunch of beer at the supermarket and then brought it to the restaurant. I also got a very generous portion of Hibachi Scallops.


Afterwards we went to Cricket’s (a local bar) and had a few pitchers of beer.


Chiaki, Yuki, and Mayo are returning to Japan on Saturday so it is likely to get a lot more quiet in a bit. Today was the last day of classes and now all I have left is to study for finals.

Tennessee Vacation

For Thanksgiving Break I am visiting some family that I have in Tennessee.


Tennessee is a fairly rural state that has a bunch or beautiful hills and nice country roads. A lot of my family grew up in Tennessee so I though I would visit it for the few days that I get off from university. I have been spending the last couple of days at my Grandma’s house in Columbia, TN. It is about an hour away from Nashville and is a very quiet country town.

The other day I went to my uncle’s house to have some steaks. He lives in a very very small town called Santa Fe, TN. He has a huge yard and also a very nice house. The lot where his house is on is about 17 acres (~70 sq meters) and seems like a very quiet and relaxing place.

We grilled up some steaks and had a nice dinner with sweet corn from Amish Country and green beans.

The next day I went to the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery. Jack Daniel’s is popular all over the world and every drop of it is made in a small town called Lynchburg, TN. It was really interesting to see the distilling processes. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take pictures of the distilling process, but I could take pictures outside.

I will post some more pictures once I get back to Lubbock. I have been hanging out with the Japanese exchange students lately and have really been enjoying myself. I sent off all of the application material for a few different Japan programs, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for a reply. 🙂

End of the Year Party

On Saturday we had the annual end of the year party (忘年会) for my Japanese class. Living for a year in Japan and working at a company at the year I knew all about how parties should be. To be perfectly honest this party was a little disappointing.

The first problem is where the party took place… Hayashi Japanese Grill. When I was going through the earlier classes (before I went to Japan) we held the party at a place called Yamagata. It was by far more authentic. The owners are Japanese and they always made a special menu just for the sake of our party. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and we usually go the entire restaurant to ourselves. Hayashi, however, is a hibachi type restaurant (鉄板焼き). Speaking from experience, I can say that despite how popular this type of restaurant is in the USA, it is actually quite rare in Japan. It would be appropriate to say that it is “Americanized” Japanese food.

Location aside, the price paid was also pretty steep. $14 got us two sushi rolls, a small bowl of rice and miso soup, a meager portion of hibachi, and also a small bowl of edamame. Novelty aside, I am sure if I went to Yamagata I could get all of this for around $5. Thank god Hayashi had a bar though.


That leads me to my next gripe… there was no alcohol. Anyone that has been to Japan (and isn’t a complete social recluse), will tell you that alcohol is a very important part of the culture. An end of the year party or company party without some form of alcohol is unheard of. Now I know I am complaining about impossible stuff here. This is America and it was a party of mainly college students. Of course the instructors can’t officially endorse drinking due to the fact that we live in a backwards country where the drinking age is absurdly high. Do you know what everyone did though that was of legal age? They started a tab at the bar. Before the party I went to my friend’s house with a few of the other Japanese students and we played drinking games.


To demonstrate how “authentic” Hayashi was, we spoke Chinese to the chefs. Still it was a nice show though.

I have enough to gripe about with how the Japanese program is run at Texas Tech to warrant another blog post so I won’t go into that here. All of the setbacks aside, I did enjoy talking with the Japanese people at the party. Kumiko, my language exchange, came and we talked quite a bit.


Like I said at this point I am nitpicking. It was really fun and I think that the instructors made the most of the situation. Part of the reason was that my Japanese had far surpassed 95% of the people in the Japanese program. Whenever the instructors spoke they always used dumbed down textbook Japanese. I did have a few good conversations with the other Japanese people though.

Google Photos

Friday Night in Lubbock

Last Friday I went with a bunch of friends to eat some Italian food, got to Main Event, and then go out to a bar to finish off the night. It was really fun and since I had been busy with school this semester. This was a really nice chance to just go chill out and have fun. Next week we get a week off for Thanksgiving, so I really didn’t have too much homework to worry about.

First we went to Johnny Carinos, a popular Italian restaurant in Lubbock. There I got a nice Italian draft beer and also some lobster ravioli. Mayo and Yuki got some nice looking pasta and also a nice bottle of wine. The food was really good and it was nice to socialize with everyone. One of my old buddies from Electrical Engineering came too. When I went to Japan he had graduated so I hadn’t seen much him.


Next we went to Main Event with everyone. At Main Event they have a big arcade, bowling alley, lunar golf, and also a laser tag arena. In Japan they don’t have laser tag so I think this was a really interesting experience for the Japanese students.

In laser tag, you wear a laser pack and also carry around a laser gun. The point of the game is to defend the beacons at your base while at the same time attacking the enemy base and scoring points by shooting their beacon. Usually there are a bunch of defenders and attackers. The arena is dark with strobe lights everywhere. There is techno music playing to enchance the mood too. You have a certain level of health and ammo also. If you run out of either ammo or health, you must return to the energizer on your base and it is replenished. Pretty much it is the closest thing to a first person shooter outside of the army.

It was really fun! My team (the green team) completely annihilated the other team. I was an attacker and was the second highest scorer on the entire team (35000 points). My engineering friend also scored high with 45000 points. Chiaki scored an incredible 310 points (it was her first time, so it is OK). Yuki and Mayo also scored quite a bit.


We went bowling afterward (I did terrible). It was a really good night and I had a lot of fun. We also went to the arcade afterward and I won a stuffed bear. I gave it to Chiaki.


Afterward we went to Bash’s (a local bar) and took advantage of the drink specials. It was nice just to sit down and socialize with everyone with cheap drinks.



The night was very fun and a nice break from school. I will have to do stuff like this more often.

Google Photos

Cajun Food

Today I went out with a few Japanese students over here to eat some Cajun food at Jazz Kitchen. A few friends wanted to take the Japanese students out to Jazz because Cajun food is very unique and not really found anywhere outside of America. I love Cajun food. I love anything spicy so naturally I like Cajun food.

They had a really good selection of microbrew beers. I ordered a nice Turbodog, while Yuki and Ben ordered a Big Easy.

Chiaki says that she likes shrimp. She is so adorable!


I ordered a pound of crawfish. They were so delicious! Since you can’t get crawfish in Japan I think that the Japanese found them fun.


It was freezing cold outside when we took this picture as can be seen by Yuki’s smug face.


It was very fun and everyone had a blast. This is one of the niche type of foods that I missed a lot while I was living in Japan. The beer that I ordered was really cheap also. A pint of Coors Lite only cost me $2.00! In Japan that would have been at least $6.00. I hope that I will be able to go out with the Japanese students more before they leave.

Google Pics

RISC Emulator

One of the more interesting classes that I am taking this semester is a microprocessor architecture class. The assignment that I have this week is to program an emulator in verilog that simulates the structure of a pipelined RISC CPU. It is a pretty challenging assignment, however I think it is actually very interesting.


Just looking at the diagram and translating it into code seems really interesting to me. Making sure all of the opcodes are accounted for and making sure all of the different components of the CPU are working seems cool. Obviously this is a trivial example, but maybe when I get more time I will look into making an emulator that takes the CPU of say an Atari 2600 or an NES. In any case it would test all of my skills as a Computer Engineer. Going deep down into the hardware does not only require software skills, but also an active understanding of how all the hardware communicates with each other.

That aside, this semester is completely nuts. I am always busy it seems and never really have time to update anything. I will try to keep this updated as much as I can though.

ティムのつぶやき

今日、仕事の面接から帰った。いい会社だけど、国内だからあまりしたくない。すぐに日本に戻れなかったらこの会社がいいと思う。でも最近、英語教師の仕事に応募をしている。僕の専門は電気工学だけど、日本に戻れば是非僕はうれしくなるよ。 わーい(嬉しい顔)富士山飛行機

日本授業のほかに、今学期の授業はすごく大変!月曜日に試験があるので、今一所懸命に勉強している。毎日図書館に行くことにしている。大丈夫かな~!メモ本

最近新しい日本人の留学生が来た。先日一緒に飲みに行った。すごく楽しかった!一人は小田急線に住んでいた。吃驚した!日曜日にメキシコ料理を食べに行くつもり。楽しみにしてる。電車指でOKビール

ニューヨークヤンキースはワールドシリーズを勝った!最後の試合は松井は最高殊勲選手。僕の出身はニューヨークだから、今すごく興奮してる!前の部長はヤンキースを大好きだから、プレゼントを送るつもり。野球指でOK牡牛座

毎週の金曜日に言語交換をすることにしてる。いつも楽しい!よく日本語を練習ができないので、いつか日本語で喋られたら、僕はうれしい!わーい(嬉しい顔)

先日デートに行ったが、あまり楽しくなかった。実は日本に住んでいた時、よく出かけた。でもアメリカの方が日本より楽しいと思う。だから今僕がデートがいけない!だからちょっと寂しくなる。失恋ビールあせあせ(飛び散る汗)

先週風邪をひいた!すごく大変だった!宿題があったら、風邪が大嫌い!そしてジムに行けないので、悲しくなる。走る人衝撃雷

僕のつぶやきを読んでくれてありがとう!手(チョキ)

Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy

I saw this clip by an American comedian today that I thought was very funny and also alarmingly true. Nowadays technology advances so fast that we take a lot of thing for granted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk

I was thinking about this when I was studying in the library today. Cell phones have pretty much exploded in the past decade. 10 years ago it was very novelty to have a cell phone it seems. In the library at Texas Tech, there is a huge “quiet” study area section with a bunch of large study desks/cubicles. I like to go there to do homework and study. In my room there are way too many things to get distracted with so I go to the library. Today there was some noisy person on there cell phone. You could tell everyone else in the area wanted to murder this person. This is probably my biggest pet peeve ever.

However, this just got me thinking back to this one clip though. 10 years ago we wouldn’t have this problem as that person wouldn’t have a cell phone. Cell phones definitely have their advantages, but it seems in America they seem to make some people become completely inconsiderate of those around them.

Anyway this has just been a random rant that I was thinking about in my head. This clip is really funny and I really like this one comedian (Louis C.K.). If you have time it is definitely worth checking out some of his other stuff.

Japanese Practice

Despite being in the middle of nowhere in Lubbock Texas, I do make an active effort to keep practicing Japanese and stay sharp. One of the things that I do is write a blog in Japanese once a week.

In Japan, MIXI is the most popular social networking site. I think one of the reasons it is so popular is because it limits its members to those who have a Japanese cell phone. This way a lot of foreigners are automatically filtered out and it can be kept a closed community. Anyway, one of the biggest parts of MIXI is the blog feature. Every week I write about something random (everything from college life to food). Sometimes I get messages from random Japanese people.


I wish I was in Japan so that I could actually talk to these people in person, however conversing online is the best I can do for now.

I also like to do letter exchanges (snail mail) with my old Japanese friends. I alternate writing letters to them in English and Japanese. I think that writing these letters is much more effective than typing emails on a computer. Writing out all the kanji and taking time to think of the grammatical structures is very beneficial to my Japanese.

West Texas isn’t the type of place that attracts the most Japanese, however I was fortunate enough to meet a Japanese student that is studying English. Her fiance lives in Lubbock so she decided to move here with him. I think that her English abilities are on par with my Japanese abilities so it is a good matching.

Nostalgia

I don’t really know what made me think of this, but it is heart-warming to see stuff from your childhood years later.

I used to watch this show all of the time. I remember sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room on a family vacation with my sister watching this.

Not much is new in my life. Just busy surviving in school and applying for programs/jobs that will let me return to Japan after graduation. I have an interview for the Fulbright program on Tuesday so I am excited about that. The JET Program is also about to open for applications so I will be busy gathering all of the necessary materials for that.

Curly Braces

You know what is one thing I hate? When people put curly braces on the same line as the function declaration. Look at the following example in C:

int fact(int a){

blah blah blah

}

That is dumb! It should be like this:

int fact(int a)
{

blah blah blah

}

It makes it a hell of a lot easier to read it than the first way. For some reason CS majors tend to me more guilty of this than other majors. You shouldn’t do this. I look at the code and I hate it when someone does this.

 

Computer Science

You know it is really amazing how much your viewpoints can change in a year. I’ve talked a lot about the fun times I have had in Japan as culturally, but I haven’t really mentioned how much I have grown professionally. I have undoubtedly grown as a programmer. If you take my knowledge as a computer scientist from a year ago and compare it to my knowledge now, the change is undeniable.

Before this job I, like many other students, shared an uncanny hatred of Java. There was no real sophisticated reason behind this. It was just the product of learning C++ as an introductory language. From a uneducated college student perspective Java was just a bloated and slow programming language. Through this internship I was forced to use Java. At first I was really hesitant, but I decided to just bite the bullet and go with it. Even I had known that Java was used widely in the CS field and I figured it would be better to be positive about learning it than to sulk about it. Luckily I worked with very experienced and resourceful programmers who were extremely helpful in teaching me the intricacies of the language.

I really think that you limit yourself as a programmer if you make a competition out of different programming languages. It would be the same as a carpenter who refuses to use a hammer because he likes using a screwdriver so much. Sure you can hammer in a nail with a screwdriver if you are really dedicated, but what is the point? Different languages have different purposes and it takes a real computer scientist to realize which tools to use for the job. I can’t imagine doing the stuff I did at Asahi Kasei with a language such as C++.

Another invaluable skill I learned at Asahi Kasei is how to properly structure a sophisticated programming project. Anyone can write a program. Anyone can pick up a Java programming book, read about the syntax, and write programs. I think the difference between a “programmer” and a “computer scientist” is that the computer scientist knows how to structure his project. He knows how to effectively break down a large problem into smaller problems. Most importantly, he knows his solution for the big picture will work before even writing a line of code. Through my job at Asahi Kasei I feel that I switched from being a programmer to being a computer scientist.

Anyway, this has just been me ranting about stuff I had in my head. This rant is no more reliable than my own meandering experience. I started my classes already so I am going to have a lot on my plate this semester. Hopefully, if all goes well, I will be able to return to Japan next year. I will try to keep this blog updated as much as I can!

Future Career Possibilities

Well now that all is said in done about my brief one year visit to Japan I am starting to look at future career possibilities that will bring me back to Japan. I’ve hashed out all of the routes that I am going to investigate.

English Teacher

As much as this doesn’t have anything to do with Computer Engineering I am sure I would enjoy it. I love working with children so I think maybe being an Alternative Language Teacher (ALT) would be a fun job. This is by far the most readily available job in Japan. With my credentials I would fair a very good chance of landing one of these jobs.

I am also going to apply for a few linguistic school jobs in Japan. This differs than the ALT jobs in that my students would tend to be professionals wanting to expand their knowledge of English for career related reasons. I think this would also be an interesting job.

The thing about an English Teacher is that it would just serve as a gateway for me to get back to Japan and build up my arsenal of Japanese knowledge. Ideally what I would want to do is go to Japan as an English teacher, spend a few years teaching English, and then find a job more related to my major once I am over there. From what it seems it is immensely easier to get a position in engineering once you already are residing in Japan.

Fulbright Scholar
The United States and Japanese government have a long-running program that gives college graduates the opportunity to travel abroad and conduct independent research. This program is fairly competitive, but I do plan on applying for it. The problem here is finding a good research proposal. Looking at past proposals they seem to be fairly broad in category. I could do anything from a technical research topic to a social issue. A lot of thought will need to be put into this before the application.
Graduate School
Going to graduate school in Japan is another possibility. Surprisingly it is considerably cheaper in Japan that it is in the United States. Right now I am about $20,000 in the hole from undergraduate student debts. I would have to take out more to go to graduate school and could very well be in $40,000 in debt by the time I get my Masters. My only realy worry about this route is the linguistic requirement. Right now I can communicate in Japanese just fine, but I dread to think of how a Japanese graduate course in electrical engineering would be. Still, often times these classes are in English.
Domestic Job
I could always get a job in the United States and then hope that the job involves some sort of traveling to Japan. I would definitely get paid quite a bit more money and would have no trouble getting a job within Computer Engineering. This wouldn’t be in Japan however and I would likely distance myself from Japan after I get the job.
Japanese Job

The other option would be to find a non-teaching related job in Japan. This could prove to be a little difficult as the economy isn’t doing too well right now in Japan and usually foreigner jobs are the first to go. Still I do have experience at a Japanese company so this option cannot be overlooked. I would be willing to take a dent in my salary just for the fact that the job location is in Japan.

I’m sure after living in Japan a while the novelty will go away and it will just become the place that I live. However, the aspect that I think will keep me wanting to live in Japan is the people . Sure it started to get redundant going to festivals/temples and traveling to cities, but the friends that I went with made me appreciate every single moment of it.

I think that the friends that you make will define how much you enjoy living in an area. From my experience in Japan it seemed like it was difficult to make a genuine Japanese friend (outside of the obligatory courtesy that most people display), however once you made a friend you had one for life. I love to get out but I also love to stay in sometimes on lazy weekends. It seems that Japan allows for a comfortable balance for both of these.

Anyways this has more or less just been a way for me to hash out what has been in my mind. This fall will be pretty hectic with applying for jobs, taking tests, hoarding reference letters, and also going to class in the midst. I am going to try to use this blog more as a personal blog for now on.

Kansai Trip

So before I left Japan I went on a trip to the Kansai region of Japan. The Kansai Region is home to some of the most well known cities in Japan: Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka.

Transportation
To get to and from Kansai I decided to use the bullet train. It seemed like the fastest and most comfortable way. The ticket was a little pricy, but since I was leaving Japan soon I did not mind so much. Both ways (Tokyo to Kyoto and then Osaka to Yokohama) averaged about 13,000 yen each. The train itself was awesome. I got to ride on the Nozomi Super Express train and it was very quick and the ride itself was very smooth. I definitely reccomend riding on the bullet train at least once in your time in Japan.
Kyoto
We stayed at the Chita Guest Inn in Kyoto. It was in a very nice spot; very close to Kyoto Station and one of the biggest temples in Kyoto. It was also very close to a bus stop that allowed very easy access to all of the big sights. The owner spoke English well and was very friendly.
The first temple we visited was the Kiyomizudera Temple known for its wooden pavillion. It was a very scenic and quite impressive temple. We took a bus from Kyoto Station that was about fifteen minutes. There were also tons of touristy souvenir shops along the walk to the temple.
After the temple we lounged around a little until about 6pm when we headed over to the Gion Festival. The festival is one of the biggest festivals in Japan and is held in the Gion area around the Yasaka Temple. The festival was really nice. There were tons of tasty junk foods lining the streets of Gion and around the temple. There were many taditional Japanese drum performances and the environment was really nice.
The following day we headed to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was a couple of stations from Kyoto. I really liked this temple. There were tons of Japanese Tori and the environment was very tranquil.

All in all Kyoto wasn’t bad. There were tons of tourists everywhere which I didn’t like, but I still definitely recommend visiting the city. It is very beautiful.

Nara

In Nara we stayed at Yougendo Guesthouse. . It wasn’t in Nara, but in Oji (a couple of stations away from Nara). Despite this, I definitely recommend staying here. The owner is British and it is a very comfortable place to stay. The rooms are beautiful and there is even a bar very close by that is operated by the owner.

Nara itself was very nice. There were tons of stuff to do outdoors and the hiking was very nice. Nara is famous for the thousands of tame deer that roam around in the park. There were many vendors/shops around selling rice crackers that you would feed the deer. It was really nice to be able to give the rice crackers to the deer and pet them. The thing is once one knew you had a rice cracker all the others started to swarm around you.

In Nara Park there were many temples. We visited the Todaiji Temple which is known for its huge Buddha Statue. The temple was gorgeous. It was very big and the architecture was just plain stunning. A picture cannot do it justice. In this temple there was also this very small crawl-hole in one of the wooden pillars. It is said that if you can crawl through it you can reach nirvana. I knew I was too big to go through it, but there were many girls/little kids that were able to go through it.

I also hiked around the mountain/hills area around Nara Park. It was a very enjoyable hike and the weather was very nice. I saw some nice views around Nara. I really liked Nara. It seems that I saw many less tourists/foreigners here than in Kyoto (especially when I hiked around a little).
Mt. Koya

To be honest I think this was the highlight of my trip. Mt. Koyo is about an hour away from Osaka and is home to the Shingon Buddhist sect. We took an hour train from Osaka to the cable car station, and then a cable car station up to Mt. Koya.

I stayed at Eko-in for one night. I looked at the best temple lodgings on TripAdvisor and decided to pick this one. We booked for one night.

When we checked in we were shown to our room and I was asked to fill out a card with all of my information. I was then explained the rules of the temple. It was explained that dinner was at 5:30pm and they would give us a call before bringing the food to our room. After a nice hot cup of green tea in our room and a bit of relaxing the monks gave us a call and asked if we were ready for dinner.

A monk brought the dinner to our room shortly after and set it up for us. It consisted of traditional Japanese cuisine that the monks eat. It was all vegetarian so don’t expect any meat or fish. I was feeling the moment and also bought a beer with my meal (700 yen for a big bottle of Asahi). The meal was really good and we had some lovely tea to go along with it.

There is no bedding in the room at first. After dinner finishes the monks come and clear away your table trays. They then bring Japanese futons to your room and set everything up. The beds are futon mats with covers. Pretty much all you need.

The room itself was a traditional Japanese style tatami mat room. It had a window with two straw chairs overlooking the lovely garden. It was really relaxing. There was a TV in the room (although we never used it). There was no air conditioner so know that before going. Koya-san is actually pretty cool (even in the summer) so the fan that they provide in the room was adequate even in the peak Japanese summer.

The bath/shower is open from 4pm-10pm. It is a traditional Japanese style bath so you must be comfortable with public nudity as it may be hard to catch the shower alone. It is big enough though so you really don’t have to worry about it. The bath water is very hot and a really great way to relax after a day of hiking. All towels, soap, shampoo, and rinse is provided to you along with a Japanese Yukata (pajamas). While there were definitely monks with English ability, having some extent of Japanese linguistic skills helped. I suppose this is the same anywhere you stay in Japan though. If you don’t speak a word of Japanese don’t worry.

The location is near plenty of useful shops: a restaurant, souvenir shop, and a grocery store. It is important to note that you cannot bring food onto the temple from outside so be aware. Eko-in is also close to a major bus stop that will take you all over Koya-san.The Morning Prayer ceremony feels authentic and is a nice experience. It is very intuitive what to do and is a nice way to start the morning. There are two computers set up with high speed internet so you can check your mail or upload pictures easily.

Overall it was a nice stay. If I had to do it again I would stay for two nights and enjoy everything the mountain has to offer. We paid 12000yen for one night so we didn’t want to make it too expensive. Overall though this was definitely a worthwhile stay.Mt. Koya was really nice. There was a ton of nice hiking to do and I could have easily stayed an entire week there if I wanted to. If you like outdoors Mt Koya is definitely for you.

Reflections
The trip was really nice but honestly a little expensive. I am glad I went once, but next time I am back in Japan I am definitely going to go to some of the smaller and less known prefectures. I also never had a chance to make it up to Hokkaido which I definitely want to do in the future.

To be perfectly honest, just going off my brief five days in Kansai, I prefer the Kantou (Tokyo) Region a lot more than Kansai. The people seem to be a little bit more tolerant of foreigners. I just like big modern cities more than average sized towns I suppose. I liked Mt. Koya a lot because it was so small and secluded though.

Google Pics

 

Back in Arizona (Finally)

Hello everyone,

Sorry that I have been a little late updating my blog. I have now concluded my internship at Asahi Kasei and am back sitting at my parents house in Arizona.

The flight back was incredibly tiring. I woke up in Atsugi at my apartment at around 8am. I had to finish up some cleaning before going to the station to run a few errands. First I had to go to the bank to cash in all of the loose change that had been accumulating in my room.

I took my bike to the station and started walking to the bank with my Tupperware full of loose change that I had been accumulating over the year. Unfortunately it started pouring monsoon rains on my way to the bank so I had to sprint. I went to the third floor and went to the machine that changed all of your loose change into a bank deposit. I was really caught off guard here… I had about 8000 yen in loose change! That’s crazy… it really didn’t look like that much at all! I definitely recommend anyone in Japan with a “loose change” bowl to go to the bank and cash in.

Next I had to cancel my cell phone. Somehow the rain started to pick up even more on my way to the AU KDDI store and to make matters worse I forgot my umbrella. I slipped and fell on my ass in front of a bunch of school girls on the way. It was complete fail. Anyways after talking to the cell phone clerk, waiting 30 minutes, and paying about 30,000 yen, my cell phone was canceled. I grabbed some McDonalds take-out and went to my room by cab (my bike was still at the station so by now it is probably in the impound lot).

I had about an hour before I had to head to the station to catch my bus to Narita airport. I did some final cleaning and finished some packing. I then realized a fatal flaw in my plan… I had no cell phone to call a cab with. I had already packed my laptop it the depths on my luggage so I couldn’t use Skype. I started panicking and then decided to go outside to try to find a payphone. After running around the block (or swimming through the 100% humidity air) I was able to find a payphone at the convenient store. I called a cab and then sprinted back to my apartment. At this point I felt sweaty, hot, and like death.

After taking the cab to the station and then catching a two hour bus I was at the airport. I had two HUGE bags that I needed to shuttle around. After mixing up the terminals, catching the bust to the right terminal I was ready to check in. Since I had two bags and two carry-ons I had to do something very unfortunate… I had to throw away my Mt. Fuji stick. It was either that or pay $150 for another checked bag. I was already over my limit for spending and had to conserve money so regrettably I had to throw it away. I will always remember (by pictures and memories) that I climbed Mt. Fuji so in the end it is ok… still kind of a bummer though.

Going through security I had another problem. For some reason in the midst of my packing I had packed a small bottle of sake in one of my carry-ons. Why I did this is beyond me, but security would not allow it. It was a decent bottle of sake so I decided to step outside of the airport and have at least a taste of it (no open container laws in Japan). It was good although I would have liked to savor it a little more.

Finally after getting through security and boarding my flight I was on my way back to America. It was really saddening in a way. I really grew to like Japan so getting on the plane was a little emotional. The flight itself was pretty uneventful. They showed god awful movies on the entertainment but all in all the flight was just long as hell.

I arrived in San Francisco and had to recheck my baggage. It turns out I missed my connection from San Francisco to Austin so I had to fly to Denver (2 hours), live through a 4 hour layover, and then fly to Austin (2 hours). In the end I got to Austin at 11pm (CST) on Friday. My parents had made a reservation at the airport hotel so I was able to have a decent bed to stay in (I had been away for a little over 35 hours). After ordering a nice American pizza I passed out.

The flight the next day to Tucson (where my parents live) was also uneventful. I flew to Dallas and then to Tucson. My parents picked me up at the airport and then we went out to eat at Applebees. I was reminded about how cheap beer was in America. A tall glass of beer (about 1.4 pints) was only $3.50 (about 350 yen). This was awesome considering in Japan a pint was about $10 (1000 yen).

It feels weird to be back in America. I am experiencing a little bit of reverse culture shock. Whenever I throw away a can or bottle I feel taboo placing it in the trash can with everything else. I feel the service here is about 10 folds worse than Japan (although airport service isn’t really a good benchmark). I do enjoy being able to speak English to everyone around and actually being able to read signs. My parents’ house is beautiful and I am enjoying the nice landscape of mountains and the nice refreshing pool.

To be truthful the trip to Japan not only changed me as a person, but also had an immense effect on my career goals. I think at this point it is a certain fact that I will return to Japan as a worker. I am a little anxious to get back to school and finish my degree so I can return to the land that treated me so well. I will still continue to study Japanese in college (taking classes) and also keep in touch with all of the friends that I met over the year. I will always look back at the experience with warm and fond memories. It was the first time I truly went abroad and I was given a taste of the international community; a taste that I will undoubtedly experience again.

I still have a few stories to write about my travels right before leaving Japan. Since I have essentially nothing to do for a week before school starts I will take my time with that. I will also have to keep updating MIXI in Japanese to stay sharp. It will be nice to be able to buy shoes in my size and also extra tall clothes. For now enjoy these pictures that I took of my parents house:




I will write more of my thoughts later as I become more bored 🙂

Mount Fuji – Climbing Reflections

So last weekend I climbed Mt. Fuji with my dad. I kind of did it on whim really. I figured I came all the way to Japan, could see Mt. Fuji from work, so it would

We started from the Kawaguchi 5th Station and planned on climbing the Yoshida trail during the night so we could watch the sunrise from Mt Fuji. After taking a two and a half hour bus ride from Shinjuku to the 5th Station we geared up. After buying walking sticks and suiting up we started climbing. It was pitch black so we equipped the lights that we had brought.

A small note on the lights. I brought a headlight that used a regular light bulb and by dad brought a LED one. The LED one was the better choice as mine just seemed to to be too dim

From the 5th to the 6th station we seemed to go up a zigzag type pattern for quite some time. It seemed to go pretty fast but as I later found out on the climb down it was actually a pretty big distance. The terrain wasn’t terrible here and the rate of ascent was moderate. Every now and then we stopped to take a sip of water but it really wasn’t terrible. The sixth station seemed to be way up there though. We kept climbing and climbing but the light of the sixth station for some reason didn’t seem to be getting closer. Finally we reached it.

We got our walking stick stamped at the station and rested up a little bit. We were so oblivious with what was to come. From the 6th station to the 7th station it was terrible. The terrain was absolutely horrific. Mt. Fuji is a volcano so there are a lot of volcanic rocks. I am really skeptical to call this section hiking… it was more mountain climbing. The ascent was really sudden and very treacherous. The walking stick that I bought really got in the way here. I needed to use my hand to grab rocks to hoist myself up. It was really like boulder hopping. Still somehow after a couple hours (which seemed like an eternity) we managed to get to the 7th station. After the 7th station was more boulder hopping.

At this point the altitude change really started to get to my father and me. We could only walk very short distances without stopping for air. At one of the 7th stations we got some oxygen which didn’t really seem to help me too much. Anyways we eventually reached the first 8th station. It seemed like it took forever though. It was more boulder hopping off sharp, steep, and treacherous volcanic rock.

A few days before we started climbing I made a reservation at one of the 8th stations on a whim. I figured that we got to the 8th station too late, but after asking the clerk it turns out that we were able to stay. Thank god for this. We were so tired, exhausted, and fatigued. After resting a few hours at the station we had enough energy to chug up to the top. We didn’t reach the summit in the time for the sunrise but it actually worked in our favor. From the 8th station we could see the sunrise while from the summit there were clouds obscuring the view. I took some really nice pictures.

From the 8th station to the summit was mixed terrain. Some of it was boulder hopping (more towards the summit), but a lot of it was walking on narrow paths of volcanic gravel. This proved very hard as sometimes the gravel would slip up under your feet leaving you on your ass. It was hard to take care of all the factors at the same time.

Finally after what seemed like hours and hours we made it to the top at roughly 8am. It was a cold desolate place. The wind was blowing really hard and it was very very cold. We wanted to stay there as little as possible. After taking a few pictures we started our descent.

The descent took just about as long as the ascent. There was snow on the “special” descent course so we were forced to go back the way we came. I don’t see how some people did it, they were just Mario hopping down the mountain. I was mortified that I would slip and break a leg or sprain an ankle… I couldn’t imagine what I would have done if I did do that though. It seemed like it took FOREVER to go down. More so than it took going up. It was very hard. I guess going up we were excited (for the majority) about getting to the top, but hiking down was so miserable.

After falling on my ass a couple of times and cautiously going down the mountain we made it to the bottom of the mountain. We were dead. We hadn’t showered or had a decent night sleep in over a day. Zombie would be the right word to describe me. After catching a bus to Kawaguchiko train station, taking about four transfers, we ended up in Hon-Atsugi. Taking a Taxi back to my apartment we both passed out after taking a nice relaxing shower.

The muscleache could be felt for days afterwards. Everything… legs, arms, butt (from the falling). Looking back at it, it was definitely the ultimate workout. I can say now (some 3 weeks after the fact) that I am glad I did it once… but there is no way in hell I would go again. It was an experience and it feels good now to say that I did it. I would reccomend anyone who lives in Japan to go. However, here are a few words of advice.

This is what I brought to Fuji:

  • LED Hand Light
  • Light bulb Head Light
  • 2.25 liters of water
  • Sweater
  • Snow Cap
  • Scarf
  • Onigiri/Snacks
  • Tennis Shoes
  • Camera

Looking back, it was very chilly and I could have done better with a bit warmer clothes. I am very resistant to the cold so it worked out fine, but a pair of gloves or a warmer sweater would have worked.

If I had to do it again (which I don’t see in the near future), I would do it as follows (in order)

  • Make a reservation at a mountain hut on the 8th station
  • Start climbing early afternoon
  • Reach the hotel in the evening (7/8ish)
  • Spend the night at the hotel (start climbing again at 2/3ish)
  • Reach the summit to watch the sunrise
  • Descend the mountain not tired

Like I said I don’t really foresee myself doing this again. The terrain was really rough and to be honest I believe there are many other superior hiking trails in Japan. I am glad I did it once though and it was a really good experience. I suggest everyone does it at least once. It kind of has a “wow factor” to it. You can say you climbed Mt. Fuji and even Japanese people are surprised.

Google Pictures

Tokyo Giants Game

I went with Steve, Andre, and Shozakai-san (the big big boss) to a Tokyo Giants game on Friday. It was really fun and I had a blast. We left around 4:20pm from work by bus and took a train to the Tokyo dome. From Hon-Atsugi there were a couple of transfers and it took about an hour and a half.


We grabbed some Subway before going in (food was very expensive inside the dome). After getting our bags checked we were in. Our seats were right in front of third base. The were really nice and were close to the action.

The game was really interesting. I followed baseball a bit back un the States. The environment was very festive and everyone was having a good time. The Tokyo Giants were playing the Yakult Swallows. The Giants dominated (7-2) and even hit two home runs.

It was also nice to talk to Shozakai-san. He showed up about 30 minutes after the game started. I talked to him about many things ranging from baseball to life. He is the big big boss who is busy with everything so it was nice to talk to him on a personal level and get along nicely.

Anyways even if you don’t like baseball I would suggest going to a Giants game with friends. It was one of the most fun things that I have done in Japan and when I come back I how that I can see more professional games within Japan.

Google Pics

Pepsi Shiso

I pride myself with being pretty relaxed when it comes to food and drink. I am not picky at all and the advantage of this is that I can eat and drink pretty much anything (this comes in handy in a foreign country). I was at the convenient store today however and saw a new green looking Pepsi called “Pepsi Shiso”. Intrigued, I bought it as well as a breakfast sandwich (salmon, letuce, bread, and cheese).


There aren’t a lot of drinks that I can only take one sip of and not finish. It tasted like grass and cough syrup. It was the worst tasting devil’s nectar that has ever touched my tastebuds.


This is one of them. It is saying a lot. I could not finish it and immediately gave it away to a friend. Not to my surprise, most of my foreigner friends shared my anguish.

I bought two of them so I could take a picture of it and post it on facebook/here. Later I learned that Shiso is actually a plant. In any case I did not care for it all. I thought I would share it here just to show some of the different drinks they have in Japan.

Bilingual

I know I am far from being fluent in Japanese, but it is fair to say that I have reached a certain level since coming to Japan. While my Kanji level is severely lacking, I can communicate in Japanese pretty well. I think that this elementary ability is good if I plan on staying in Japan for only a year, but if I want to live indefinitely in Japan it is not enough.

In America for example there are tons of immigrants (Mexicans, Chinese, etc.) who have a very basic understanding of English. Sure they can communicate in elementary and sometimes childish English, but it really does not say a lot to their intelligence. There is being able to communicate and then being fluent. I really want to strive to being fluent and having a good grasp of the language.

Lately I have been studying honorifics in the Japanese language. Before coming to Japan I read a few books on how a Japanese company is structured. In a professional company the language used plays a very important role in how you are treated. Foreigners in general are usually at a disadvantage in Japanese companies, however in reading all these books it seems that the more you try to assimilate in the company (pretty much act Japanese) the more respect that you get and in result more responsibilities. This is why I think it is important to study honorifics.

Talking with a couple of Japanese friends from work about how they speak to their bosses, the universal response is that they use keigo (a very polite, honorific way of speaking). I think that I as a foreigner would not be expected to use this type of language, however, this is the thing; I want to break this expectation. Since I want to live in Japan after I graduate I will not be content with simply being able to communicate. In any Japanese class, keigo (Japanese honorific language) is taught towards the end. After my experience at working at a company I can say that the language ability plays a very important role.

Anyways I still have a long way to go with my Japanese study. I have been stepping it up a bit within the past couple of months. I have been doing more language exchanges, practicing while watching TV, and also attempting to read a newspaper every day. I suspect it will take at least a couple years of living in Japan and intensively studying until I can even consider to be “fluent.”

Crazy Japanese Snacks

Japan has it’s share of snacks that you may find a bit weird from a foreign standpoint. Here are two snacks that I found in the convenient store.

The first is Coke with green tea flavor. Green tea is very popular in Japan so it seems only natural they would have Coke with green tea. To be honest I couldn’t taste too much difference between this and Coke Zero.

The next is a small hot dog snack that I think is supposed to be a breakfast food. I think the funniest thing is the English that is written on it.


As for my personal life there is not much going on. Right now I am wrapping a lot of stuff up at work and planning my trip to Kansai next month. It should be pretty hectic this next month but I am sure it will be a lot of fun.

Kabukicho Izakaya

Yesterday I went with a few friends from my Japanese class back in America, one of my coworkers, and my Japanese professor from Texas Tech to an Izakaya in Shinjuku. Incidentally, the Izakaya was in the biggest red light district in Japan (Kabukicho), but the drinks were cheap and environment was nice so it was ok.

For those who don’t know, an Izakaya (居酒屋) is pretty much somewhere between a bar and an actual restaurant. You go in and normally sit in a private room. You can order drinks and cheap appetiezers and socialize with whoever you brought. It is a good place to talk and socialize and often times I will do language exchanges there.

The room we were in was pretty unique. It was like a small mini bar where one person sat behind the counter. There was a door that led to the otherside under the bar that Stephanie managed to crawl through somewhere to the otherside.

Overall it was pretty fun. It was nice catching up with people from Tech and at the same time put into reality that soon I would be returning to America. As I stated in a previous post I plan on coming back to Japan after graduation. Japan is easy to live in, safe, and fairly financialy stable.

Next month is going to be really busy. Apart from having to wrap up everything at work (documentation), and packing up my apartment, my father and sister will also be coming to Japan to visit. I have to plan all of what we are going to do. I am taking a trip to Kansai with my sister so that should be pretty fun.

言語交換とHo!サマー!

今日友達と言語交換をしました。楽しかったけどぜんぜん英語で話さなかった。ちょっと吃驚した。 日本に来た時絶対上手じゃなかったけど得意になりました。

海老名の回転寿司に行った。ホタテや鮪をたべてすごき美味しかった。そして著安かった!多分15個を食べて会計が1000円ぐらいだった。

後でカラオケに行った。海老名では楽しそうな場所がいっぱいあるのでよく遊ぶ。友達に洋楽を歌われた。可愛かった。

日本語の楽曲を歌った!

Ho!サマー

漢字は全部理解ができた!日本語能力試験の二級よしゃ行くで!

Go-Karting by the Sea

Last weekend I went with Randy and Nicola to the seaside with bikes. The weather was really nice and I was exercising so it was a lot of fun. We traveled a good distance. About 43km (about 27 miles).

There were some beautiful cycling paths on the way. We went along the riverside both going there and coming back so we got to see some really pretty landscapes.

The ocean was really nice. It was tranquil and peaceful. There was something calming and settling about just sitting there on the seawall, watching the waves crash down.

Randomly when we were coming back we found a go-karting place by the river. Randy and I decided to give it a go while Nicola stayed back to take pictures. After grabbing a quick dinner at a local ramen shop Randy and I suited up. The guy explained the rules to us (in Japanese) and we were off.

Japan doesn’t mess around with go-karts. They were a lot faster than the ones we had in America. We had to wear gloves and also a helmet. I guess in America there are a lot of lawyers so you can’t have them go as fast.

Overall it was a good day. I forgot to wear suntan lotion so I got a little burnt, but nothing too bad. I could see myself going carting again.

Facebook Pictures

More Learning Japanese

One of the main reasons I was so interested in finding an internship in Japan is that I wanted to learn the Japanese language. I could have easily got an internship in America that payed double, but I chose this internship for the cultural and linguistic learning opportunities.

Sometimes I am a little surprised that some foreigners in Japan don’t even make an effort to learn Japanese. I figure if you live in Japan, you should speak Japanese (or at least try to). In America some people get mad when some Mexican or Chinese person speaks no English, and I’d imagine such people exist in Japan also.

I just figure that this is such a good opportunity, it would be a waste not to try to learn Japanese. I want to get all that I can out of this internship both technically and culturally. I’ve highlighted a few of my Japanese study habits that I have picked up in hopes that other people may find them useful.

Kanji
Ahh kanji, the juggernaut of learning Japanese. For those of you that don’t know kanji are Chinese characters that the Japanese language borrows… there are tons of them and they all have different multiple pronunciations.

The best way I have found is just to read print, look up the kanji you don’t know in a dictionary/DS, and write them down. Do NOT use rikaichan. It may be convenient, but it does not help you learn kanji. It is like god mode in Doom.

Recently I have been reading a newspaper. Newspapers in Japan are crazy… they are a different type of language. They are very scholarly and have many kanji that even native Japanese have problems with. Nonetheless it is a good way to practice all different types of kanji. Usually reading the same article more than once is a good way to memorize kanji. It doesn’t have to be a newspaper though. Sit down with a notebook, dictionary, and your choice of Japanese print, whether it be a newspaper, manga, magazine, whatever.

One good thing about reading is that you start to recognize the kanji you learn everywhere. The other day I was reading a newspaper article about the new flu, 新型インフルエンザ. I didn’t know the kanji for “new type” (新型) or (しんがた) so I wrote it down. The very next day when I was coming back from the grocery store I saw a Nissan billboard for the 新型ムラーノ (The New Murano). It just goes to show how useful studying kanji is.

Speaking
Living in Japan provides the greatest facet for learning how to speak in Japanese; everyone knows it. Speak every opportunity you get.

Speak in Japanese all you can. A lot of times people will want to speak to you in English because you are a foreigner, but usually if you show them that you have some Japanese knowledge they will speak to you in Japanese.

Language exchanges are nice too. It is good if you can get a weekly language exchange going though. Be sure to actually make it a language exchange though and not a pseudo-date. Speak in English for around 50% of the time and ask any questions. Be sure to correct your partner if they say something wrong and hopefully they will do the same to you.

Grammar
For grammar all I can say is go beyond the simple stuff. Make it a point to use new, more complicated grammatical structures. Being able to use the more complicated grammar fluently is what separates “dumb gaijin” Japanese from sophisticated Japanese.

Vocabulary
My study habits for vocabulary are pretty much the same as my habits for kanji. I carry around a small flash card book with vocab words and their translation. Every time I hear or read a word that I don’t know I find out the translation and write it down in this book. Later I can easily review the new words.

It is also the same as grammar. Go beyond the simple stuff. Once you have learned a certain level of Japanese it is easy just to stick with your known vocab… but in order to really master the language you have to go beyond this level. Make it a point to learn and use new words.

That is pretty much all that I can think of right now. I still consider myself extremely lucky for having this internship. Back in America I know people that would kill for a month, let alone a year to be Japan. I really want to make the most of it and learn as much as I can.

Excercise in Japan

Anyone living in Japan for an extended period of time may be interested in the various facets of exercising that are available. Even if the food is healthier than American food, it does little if you don’t exercise to burn those extra calories.

Gym memberships in Japan are expensive… to the point where getting a one year membership in my mind isn’t quite worth it. Perhaps if I was living here for longer than a year I would be inclined to, but there are many free alternatives.

I run with a few foreigner friends at a local sports park. Since I can’t be bothered to wake up extremely early before work, I go after work at about 8pm. Of course it is pitch dark but since this is the only time it cannot be helped. The sports park is free and has a pretty decent dirt track which is roughly 1.5km (0.93 miles).

Picture compliments of Randy.

Since I work with a lot of Europeans I always get left in the dust, but slowly I am gaining endurance. Running in the dark is interesting and I can only imagine what a Japanese person running on the track would think if they saw several large gaijin running at them in the dark.

I especially like it since it is by the river. I get to turn on the Rocky music and get pumped up. Anyways besides running I lift free weights in my room. Japan is pretty friendly when it comes to free outdoor places to exercise. There is also a sports gym closer to the station which is 300 yen per day, and has all the standard basketball and tennis courts of a regular gym (along with a nice big pool). I’ve lost about 20 pounds since coming to Japan and hopefully can get to a weight that I can maintain when I get back to the states in August.

Atsugi Food Festival and Billiards

Time for some catch up of what happened over golden week.

I went out with my friend that was visiting from America and a couple of Japanese friends from work to a local food festival in Atsugi. Unfortunately it was raining pretty hard so we all had to huddle under an umbrella the entire time. The festival was held in a local Atsugi park. There were tons of food stands set up and also a stage where local dance groups from local high schools were performing. Besides the rain it was a great environment.

The lines for one stand were really really long, so we decided to try one of the shorter ones. It was called a Zerry Fry (ゼリーフライ) and was kind of like a breaded fried potato. It was from Saitama, a nearby prefecture.

There were a lot of people dressed up in animal uniforms promoting all of their stand’s food. Chuck was kidpapped by a cow and extorted into buying some fried potatos which were actually pretty nice.


Afterwards we all went to play billiards. It was Kozasa-san’s first time playing billiards but despite this everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.


Google Pics

Birthday Nabe Party

On Tuesday is my Birthday (I will be 22), and Hunlun and a few people in the office wanted to hold a birthday party. My birthday fell very close to Rumi’s (the Japanese teacher’s) birthday so we decided to combine them. It was a “nabe” party and was really fun. A nabe party is where there is a big crock pot in the middle of a room with a lot of raw meat around it. You pretty much just cook it at your own pace and to your choosing.

The group picture. Everyone had so much fun.


The tequila was very popular… although I think it hit some people harder than others.

It was really fun and it is truly like I have a family away from home. Thanks to everyone who put it together and I had a great time.

Graduation

So today is graduation at Texas Tech University. It is kind of a weird feeling. I took a year off of school to go to this internship in Japan so sometimes I can’t help but wonder what if I stayed in Lubbock. I am glad I took this internship and there is no doubt that I not only grew as a student, but I also matured as a person.

I feel refreshed. I will be able to go back to school with a clear head and be able to do what I need to do. I am still going to have a few friends from the old days, but many of the people I knew (especially in my major) are long gone. It will be hard adjusting back to American culture (especially the food), but I think it will be fun.

This internship has showed me that I want to do something international after I graduated. Preferably Japan, but I love to travel overseas. It is just exciting to learn a new culture and get to know many people. I have thought about applying for an English teacher job, as I like working with children, or I have also thought about pursuing a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering or Computer Science in an international university. Either way it is safe to say that after I graduate I will be doing something overseas.

Anyways, I had a friend visit for Golden Week and I will be making a couple of blog posts about what we did. We went to Chinatown in Yokohama as well as a few other places.

Someone Dropped 50 Yen

The other day at work after lunch I got an email from one of the office ladies.


Apparently someone dropped 50 yen by the vending machine and she was sending out an email to the entire floor saying that if anyone wanted to claim it to go speak to her. 50 yen in the rough equivalent of 50 cents so this email really shows something about Japanese culture. In the USA, anyone would just pick up that 50 cents and not feel guilty about it.

I guess this type of thinking is one of the subtle things I will miss when I go back to America.

Costco and Red Lobster Japan

Last year Levi and I got a membership to Costco. Costco in Japan is actually very similar to Costco in America. The membership cost 4000 yen (compared to $50 in the States) for a gold membership. The only thing is that in Japan, none of us have a car to haul everything back.

The closest Costco is in Tamasakai, about40 minutes away from Hon-Atsugi by train. This means we have to bring a huge luggage container to Costco so that we can easily haul everything back through the train with ease. The first couple of times we went, we bought beer and had to carry back the heavy cases through the train, lately we have wised up and only got stuff we can put in the luggage.

This last time I went with Levi and Kozasa-san (my language exchange from work). Kozasa-san I think was a little overwhelmed with everything. With those who aren’t familiar, at Costco you have to buy everything in large quantities. For example, you can’t just buy 200g of ground beef, you have to buy 1kg (which I did). SO I think for her it was really fun seeing all of these imported foods in huge quantities. It was also I think weird for her to see everything all together in the same room Kitchen appliances, food, books, games, clothes; Costco had it all.

One thing that I particularly liked about Costco is the bakery. You can get really big and delicious bread/muffins/bagels for really cheap. The big twelve pack of muffins only cost about 800 yen.

Other than that I just got a lot of snacks and food to last me through the month. I forgot to take a picture of all the stuff we bought, but here is a small breakdown of everything and the prices:

Tostitos Tortilla Lime Chips: 460yen
Pace Picante Huge Salsa: 1000yen
1kg Ground Beef: 1000yen
12 pack Muffins: 800 yen
12 Cheese Bagels: 600 yen
Huge Block of Mozzarella Cheese: 1000 yen
7kg Angel Hair Pasta: 1000 yen


There are a bunch of other things too that I am leaving out, but generally everything was really cheap. When we bought beer it was about 3500 for a 24 pack of Corona and 2000ish for a 24 pack of Asahi. They had a good selection of import beer including Coors, Grolsch, Heineken, XXXX, and a few other European beers.


Afterwards we went to Red Lobster that was near by. Red Lobster is pretty much the same as it is in America except that it didn’t seem as popular when we went. Granted that it was a Tuesday night, there were only a few people there and business didn’t seem to be booming. It was also really expensive. I dropped about 3000 yen on my dish. I got a nice variety plater that was delicious but hard to eat. Kozasa-san got a lobster dish and Levi got a steak.

It was a really good night and I got a lot of cheap stuff that will last me through the month. We go to Costco about twice a month now and it really saves money in the long run. If you are in Japan for an extended period of time it is definitely worth getting a membership.

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Otaku Drinking Party

On Saturday after all of the festivals I went out with one of my Japanese co-workers (Katagiri-san) to meet with his Otaku friends. His friends wanted to see what foreign otakus were like and apparently I was one that fit that description. First, for the Japanese impaired, “Otaku” pretty much means someone who really likes anime/video games/etc. I often talked to Katagiri-san about this sort of stuff, and I’m sure he’s seen that in my music collection I have tons of anime/game music, so I must haveve fit this description.

Anyways I met up at around six in Ikebukuro with Randy and Marek. After walking around for a little bit and enjoying the great weather we met his friends at an Izakaya. Katagiri-san previously mentioned that all of his friends were girls, which made the entire experience even more interesting.

It Izakaya was a small quaint little place. Throughout the night we ordered various food and drinks. His friends were very interesting. It was really interesting getting to talk to a different social group and really networking. All of this otaku stuff that I usually hide when I am around girls was really fun to talk about to people with common interests.


At about 11pm we called it a night and returned to Atsugi. After a number/email exchange change and an hour trip back to Atsugi I passed out in my bed. It had been a long good day.

Kamamara Fertility Festival & Yokosuka Naval Base Hanami

**WARNING** This post contains pictures that are not safe for work. You have been warned.

Last weekend I went with Steve, Boris, and Levi to Kawasaki to visit the infamous fertility festival. The fertility festival (aka penis festival) is a festival that promotes safe sex and also raises money for HIV research.

From Atsugi, it took about an hour to get to Kawasaki-daishu where the festival was taking place. After a quick lunch at McDonalds we headed towards the temple. Right from the train station it was obvious that this festival is very popular amongst foreigners. There were so many different types… Russians, Australians, American…

Anyways as we walked down the street to the temple we apparently caught the parade. The parade was really interesting…. basically a bunch of people holding platforms of penis statues marched down the street singing and chanting.


The biggest penis statue was a pink one with all transsexuals holding it. Apparently the festival originated to promote safe sex among transsexuals, but the meaning expanded over the years.

The temple was gorgeous although crowded as hell. It was really hard to walk around and buying stuff was hell. They sold these penis lollipops that were extremely popular. We all gave money to Steve and told him to go buy a bunch of them as it was easier than all of us buying them individually. About ten minutes later Steve emerged from the crowd of people with a handful of penis candy.


There were these big wooden penises too that you could sit on and have your picture taken. It was really funny and people were really getting into it. Given this chance may never have reach me again, I decided to get a picture.

Afterwards I headed to Yokosuka to the American Navy base. They were holding a huge cherry blossom festival and were allowing everyone to come on base and celebrate. It was extremely popular among the Japanese. There were thousands and thousands of people. Honestly it was way more crowded than Comiket or Tokyo Game Show.

Anyways, after waiting in line, getting our bags searched (where they found penis candy) we were on base. Levi and I had come from the Taco Bell (they can’t be found in Japan), but we were devistated to hear that it was blocked off and reserved for military people only. Still they had a ton of American food and beer there and the environment was really nice. It was in a gorgeous area also and the weather was relatively decent.

All in all it was a good weekend. After the base, I went with a few people at work to an Otaku drinking party that I will write about in my next post. I am trying to do much more outdoors stuff since the weather is getting better. I have a lot of good stuff to write about.

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Sakura Tree Viewing (Hanami) in Atsugi

So today I just wanted to do something local, so I went with Randy, Marek, and Levi to a local mountain to view some Sakura Trees near Atsugi. We took a bus from the station and about 15 minutes later we were at the base of Iiyama.

There was a big local festival that was going on too that was really neat. A lot of local schools helped out and the decorations were great. There were many stands where you could buy some interesting food. I got pretty much a roasted fish that tasted really good and later on I got a grilled corn-on-the-cob that was delicious.


It was pretty funny too. When we got to the main festival area there was a dance show that some of the local schools put together. A bunch of students (mostly girls) would dance to different beats. It was really funny watching them dance to songs such as Beastie Boys and Black Eyed Peas, and it was kind of heart-warming too to see that American music was so popular among younger people in Japan. There were also some neat traditional Japanese dances.


The temple was gorgeous. It had a nice view of Atsugi and it seemed really tranquil and hidden. We were the only foreigners there and everyone seemed very nice.


After walking around a bit, taking in the scenery, and taking some pictures of the shrine/temple, we decided to go back. It was a nice little outing and the weather was great. If I was staying in Japan longer, it would definitely be a nice place to go on a date with a girl to.

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Sakura Tree Viewing (Hanami)

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while. It’s been a combination of having fun in Japan and being lazy. I’ll make it a point to update more from now on.

Anyways, yesterday I went with Marek, Hunglun, and his wife to Tokyo to meet up with some of his friends for Sakura Tree viewings. Every year the cherry blossom trees in Tokyo bloom on a certain weekend. I was suppose to go with another friend, but he ended up having a late night drinking and couldn’t make it.

But anyways we left the Youth Heim at around noon and headed to Korakoen. Korakoen is right by the Tokyo Dome and is also a very historic place. It was kind of neat seeing a really traditional Japanese park nestled away in Modern Tokyo. There was also this cool looking roller coaster that looked like it went almost 90 degrees.


The park (which was 300 yen entrance) was really nice. The sakura trees weren’t in complete bloom, but the ones that were blooming were amazing. It look very pretty and a bit majestic.


After Korakoen we headed to meet up with a few Chinese friends over at Yoyogi-koen. After a quick lunch at McDonalds, we headed to Yoyogi-koen. There were a ton of people there and the environment was really nice. After some searching, we were able to meet up with the Chinese friends. Everyone was really cool and the environment was really relaxed. Just sitting around and watching the trees, talking, drinking, and playing games.


After Yoyogi-koen we went to a Chinese restaurant and had a few courses of really good authentic Chinese food. It was a ton of food and also was really cheap (1100) yen. My favorite was the Beijing Duck.


After the Chinese food we went around the area to view some of the night flowers. I forget where it was, but it was very pretty. I even took some good night shots.


It was a really good weekend, probably one of the best that I had in Japan. I met a lot of really cool new people and experienced some Japanese and Chinese culture first hand. There is another Hanami next weekend at the American army base which I may go to also.

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Trip to Shinjuku

Yesterday I went to Shinjuku with one of my friends (Hitomi) and we decided to go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It is one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo and offers a great night view. We had a dessert and drink at the top of the building and enjoyed a great night view.

Afterwards we ate at a pasta restaurant near Shinjuku station. It was really nice and I got back to Atsugi relatively early (10ish). Problem is for some reason the next day (today) I felt crappy for some reason and had to burn a sick day :-X

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Kaiten Zushi/Sushi and Sukiya

So today I went with Alvaro and Randy to the Kaiten Zushi place close to work for lunch. Kaiten zushi is a type of sushi restaurant where the sushi comes around on a conveyer belt and you pick up which ever one that you want to eat. Each plate that you pick up is a different color that corresponds to a different price. The really expensive sushi plates can only be specially ordered. In our case the special order sushi was delivered by a small model train that was next to our seats.

The sign “Sushi-bee”, I thought the last supper thing was funny

The different prices of the plates

Salmon maybe?

In the evening I had a language exchange with Kozasa-san so I decided to get some food at Sukiya with Steve before hand. I got the cheese curry set, that came with a salad and a bowl of miso soup. We also got a couple of beers.

The sukiya across from AXT Tower (our workplace)

My set/combo

I try to eat as much authentic Japanese food as I can, even if it is just fast food, but sometimes I cave and just get McDonalds or Burger King. Anyways, I hope this post was interesting. I am climbing Mt. Onoyama on Saturday so my next post will probably be about that.

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Japanese Level Up

For some reason lately it seems that I have been way more confident with my Japanese linguistic skills. I’ve been doing as many language exchanges as I can (about three a week) and I have been studying at work every day. For some reason though lately I am just more confident when speaking to people. Maybe it is because I just reached the six month mark, but I really enjoy it.

So that brings me back to my suggestion for people coming to Japan; speak Japanese. Not only will you learn a lot, but you will also get a lot more respect from the Japanese people. I think it is a safe assumption to say that for any speaker of a western language, Japanese is fairly hard compared to other languages. Practice all that you can. Whether that means language exchanges or simply having casual conversations with people in the office, the more you speak the better you become.

Weekend Cycling

Today I went with Randy to go cycling to the seaside. It was a more spur of the moment decision, but I needed the exercise and I just needed something free to do on a boring weekend. We left at about 1pm and just cycled straight from Atsugi to Hiratsuka. It took about an hour or so and we wasted a fair amount of time just walking around the beach.

The pacific ocean. Somewhere on the other side of that is home.

Me with Mt. Fuji in the background.

It was very fun. It was a very nice day so you could see Mt. Fuji very well. Overall the trip was healthy, nice, and free. It is really amazing how you can go from really modern and urban environments to very peaceful countryside cities in Japan. The whole trip took about three and a half hours.

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Kabuki & Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

Last weekend I went with a few friends to Kabuki and then to an onsen afterwards. Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theater that combines traditional Japanese music as well as a traditional dancing style. Since I live close to Tokyo, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Kabuki-za.

After catching a train to Higashi Ginza Station with Boris and Steve, we met one of Junko’s British friends. The Kabuki theater itself was very beautiful. The architecture was really traditional and it was neat to see such and old and very Japanese building surrounded by new, modern Tokyo buildings.


After standing in line for about twenty minutes and paying 900 yen for a student ticket we entered the theater. Luckily there were English narration radios available that we used. The radios/earphone rental was about 400 yen and thank god it was there. Talking with Japanese friends, the language is hard enough to understand for native speakers, let alone my elementary Japanese skills. Since we arrived a little bit late we were only able to get standing room.


One interesting thing about Kabuki is that all of the performers are guys. Even the women characters are played by guys. Traditional Japanese music/song played all throughout the play. The story was a love story that ultimately was a tragedy. I am not going to explain it too much, but it was very interesting and I am glad I went there. Thanks to the translator I was able to understand the main points of the story and enjoy it to its fullest. Overall it was a nice cheap traditional activity to do in Tokyo.

Afterwards I headed to Odaiba with Boris and Junko’s friend to meet up with Junko at the Ooedo Onsen. Before the onsen we decided to walk around a popular shopping center in Odaiba (Venus Fort). In the shopping center there was some sort of NFL cheer competition going on where a bunch of cheerleaders from different NFL teams cheered and answered questions. It was kind of refreshing in a twisted type of way to hear a valley girl accent again.

Next we headed to the onsen. An onsen (hot spring) is a very big part of Japanese culture. This one was really nice. Again it was nice seeing such a traditional Japanese building in the middle of modern Tokyo. I found the sign outside to be funny as it explicitly forbade Yakuzas. It also prohibited people with tattoos, but that was acceptable.

After entering the Onsen we dropped our shoes off at a locker and then paid the entrance fee (2000 yen). After paying we went to the Yukata table and I got a yukata. Surprisingly, they had yukatas for 195cm tall people and it fit very well. Next Boris and I went to the mens’ changing room where we put on our yukata (with boxers on underneath). With the yukata on we headed to the common room.

The common room was really nice. Everyone was wearing a yukata and was barefooted. There were a bunch of restaurants, souvenir shops, and mini-bars set up and it was very open. Everything was also very Japanese: the souvenirs, the architecture, and all the food was Japanese. When we checked in we were given a locker key. Attached to the locker key was a barcode that you used whenever you wanted to buy something inside the onsen. It was a really nice system. You were even able to buy massages and entrance to different types of spas.

After hanging around the common room Boris and I headed to the actual hot spring. We went into another changing room where we were given two towels (a big one for drying and a little one for privacy). After putting the rest of our clothes in the locker we went to the hot spring. I guess a lot of people are uncomfortable being around a bunch of naked men, but to be honest I didn’t really think it was a big deal… it is part of the culture. In the onsen there were a few different bodies of water. The way you are supposed to do an onsen is to first wash yourself in the shower, then take a soak in the bath, and then shower again before leaving. The bath was huge and separated into a few different parts. All of them had stones lining them and looked very nice and traditional.

Boris and I liked the outside open-air onsen better. The water was hotter, the landscape was nice, and in general it was just more enjoyable being under the open sky. In the inside onsen there were a few jacuzzi style onsens that looked nice, but I didn’t actually go in them.

After staying in the onsen for about an hour we headed back out to the common room and met Junko and Shauna. I had a really tasty bowl of udon as well as a couple of beers and a bottle of nihonshu (sake). We spent a couple of hours talking and took a few group pictures (in the common room everyone is clothed so it is allowed). After we were done we got changed into our street clothes and then checked out. All the food and drinks that I ordered came out to about 2500 yen which was a really nice deal.

Overall the onsen was great. It is a must go to anyone visiting Japan. It was really relaxing and overall was a great experience that helped me relieve a bunch of stress.

https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipNCgumvQXFrU7J_dAauamOU2lTDJDefT2m1J3Q-

Mark’s Farewell Pizza Party

So Mark (Scottish) left yesterday. It is really a strange feeling having all the older interns leave and being left with somewhat seniority status, but I guess it just comes with the job. To see Mark off we held a surprise party for him in the Youth Heim common room.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, Levi and I recently got a Costco Japan membership. One good thing about Costco is that the little eatery inside Costco sells American pizzas (the same ones that they have in Costco America). I’ll make an entire post about Costco later, but right now I’ll just talk about the party/pizza. So for the party we thought it would be a nice idea to get beer and pizza at Costco. Pizza from Pizza Hut costs about 3000 yen for an American equivalent medium and is just really gourmet (see my Pizza Hut Japan post). At Costco, the XL American pizza is 1500 yen, and beer ranges anywhere from 2000 yen (for a 24 pack) to 5000 yen (for a 24 pack of the premium imports). So obviously we wanted to get our pizza there.

The thing is Costco isn’t exactly close. It is about 40 minutes away and two train transfers. Originally the plan was to bring three people to help carry four pizzas, two cases of beer, and one case of cokes, but at the last second Levi bailed on us and Nicola was feeling sick. So in the end only Steve and I were able to go. Getting to Costco was fine. It was coming back that was a pain in the ass. After picking up the beers and pizza at Costco, and wrapping the pizzas in a trash bag so that we wouldn’t get as many weird looks on the train, we took a cab from Costco to the station by Costco (the drinks were heavy as hell).

This is something I don’t want to do again. Don’t get me wrong, I lift weights quite routinely, but carrying three crates of heavy drinks through crowded stations wasn’t exactly fun. At one point I dropped the cokes and said some obsenities in English. Finally though, after much effort we arrived at Youth Heim. It seems that most people liked the pizza. I guess this type is really rare in Japan so it was nice to introduce a few people to the greasy, unhealthy, delicious American pizza.

As for Mark he seemed to have a good time. He worked late so it actually worked out in our favor for going such a long way to Costco. Everyone seemed to have a good time and enjoy themselves.


Randy was kind enough to take these pictures (my arms weren’t working after carrying the drinks).

Crew’s Cruise Burger

On Wednesday after Japanese class I went with Rumi (the Japanese instructor), Salvatore, Steve, and Levi to eat at a burger place (Crew’s Cruise Burger) close to Youth Heim. It was a pretty relaxed atmosphere and was very American. It was more or less how a bar is in America, however they operated under the guise of a burger shop. I ordered the double cheeseburger (the largest one I was told). The food itself, while the portions weren’t great, was actually pretty tasty. The tomatos/veggies were fresh and the fries and beef were seasoned very well.

They also had a pretty decent beer selection too at not off the wall prices. I had probably 3/4 a pint of Bass Pale Ale for 600yen, and even had a Coors Light for around the same price (beer, let alone import beer is expensive in Japan). The burger meal cost me about 1200 yen. All and all it was a decent place. To put it on American scales think better than any fast food, but not quite home BBQ. I would say it was gourmet for American standards.


Another interesting thing to note is that I got a Costco membership. At the end of the month (when I have more money) I will write a full blog post about this complete with pictures and an account of my trips to Costco Japan.

Japanese Vocab Lesson 5

Well since it is a new year I figure I’ll start studying Japanese again. I got a really good language exchange at work so right now I need to just build vocab. I think I might start doing the exercises in the Genki book with the language exchange as well just to get a Japanese perspective on them.

A lot of this might be review, but it is good to go over some of the simple stuff.

So yeah, adverbs in Japanese are pretty easy. For い adjectives you just drop the final い and add く before the verb. For な adverbs just drop the な and add に .

美味 (びみ) – Good Flavor/Taste
高級 (こうきゅう) – High Class
燃す(もす) – To burn, can also be used as in “Damn, I burned that much money at the bar last night”
屋 (や) – Shop, used at the end of other words like 本屋 and 電気屋
変更 (へんこう) – Change/Modification
遊び相手 (あそびあいて) – Playmate/Flayfellow (Used for little kids)
似る (にる) – To resemble, often used in the -te form
息子 (むそく) – Son
晴れやかな (はれやかな) – Sunny
布団 (ふとん) – Futon
膨らむ (ふくらむ) – To Expand/swell. Also used to “air out futon”
ぶつける – To run into/knock into

Got this one from a language exchange:
でも、日本はドアの入口の高さとかが低いから、頭ぶつけそうにならない?
demo, nihon ha doa no hairiguchi no takachi toka ga hikui kara, atama butsuke sou ni naranai?
But, Japanese doorways have a low height, so do you often hit your head?

Winter Vacation 2008/2009

Well I have a lot to write about here. What a crazy week it has been. There are a few different things that I did so I will split them into different sections.

New Year’s Eve/Day

First off is New Year’s Eve/Day. I went with a few friends to Roppongi to go to a club to celebrate New Year’s. Originally the plan was to go to an Izakaya in Harajuku and have a bunch of cheap beers, but the Izakaya turned out to be closed so we ended up just having a couple of beers at and English pub before heading out to Roppongi.

I think Azrael (the Gaijin Smash guy) put it best when he said “god doesn’t exist in Roppongi.” It is completely true. One of the things that I didn’t like about Roppongi is that there are tons of foreigners. I like to be in places where there are very few so I can have a little bit of the limelight.

But anyways after meeting up with a few of Dan’s friends we ended up going to a club called Feria. Feria sounded promising, and I guess if I was more into the clubbing scene I would have enjoyed it more, but Japanese clubs are just not my thing. Talking with Yuko (my previous Japanese instructor) later I found out that there is a certain group of Japanese people that go to clubs. It is considered somewhat delinquent in Japanese society and usually they type of girls that go there are the gaijin collectors.

To say the club was packed would be a gross understatement. First off it was 6000 yen for entrance and three drinks. While the drinks were strong (like three parts whiskey and one part coke), it really wasn’t worth it. Anyways on the main floor (the dance floor) it was so crowded that you couldn’t even move, let alone dance. It was so crowded that Mark (Scotish) said that he saw two girls cat fighting for a seat.


(Best picture I have)

The only somewhat enjoyable floor was the second and fourth floors. These were a little less crowded and actually gave you the opportunity to move around freely without feeling violated. The only thing is that once you ran out of drink tickets the prices were ridiculously high. It also seemed that a lot of the people there were very elitist. Mark and I ended up using all of our drink tickets and then just going to a bar. At least there we could sit down and have a drink with real people.

Somehow at the bar I lost Mark. I have no idea where he went and still haven’t heard from him. Steve said that apparently he made it to the station and got on the right train, but ended up missing his stop. I left around 1:30am or so after talking to random Japanese people. One thing to note is that trains run all night on New Year’s night. The only problem is that Odakyu (the one that goes out to my city in Kanagawa) was local only. This mean that instead of skipping the smaller stations it stopped at every single small city between Shinjuku and Atsugi. It ended up taking a couple of hours and it was about 4:30am when I got to sleep.

Overall, Japanese clubs aren’t my thing. I’ve been to a couple now and didn’t like either of them. If you want to try to pick up some random girl or “dance” then it should be your thing. Otherwise I’d just go to a bar. It will be cheaper, more interesting, and you will meet in my opinion cooler people.

Chiba
So a friend invited me to her parents’ house for a couple of days to relax and get a feel for a traditional Japanese family. Her parents live in Kashiwa in the Chiba prefecture. It is about two hours away from Atsugi and costs about 1000yen by train.

Her parents’ house was very Japanese and their hospitality was amazing. As soon as I got there they made me feel right and home and bombarded me with tons and tons of food. I must of gained at least 10kg throughout the trip. The first night we had delicious sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a kind of Japanese style of food where there is one big pot full of meat and vegetables, and everyone just helps themselves. There was a ton of meat. I pride myself with coming from the fattest country in the world but I still couldn’t eat all that they were giving me.For my bed I had a futon on a traditional Japanese tatami mat. It was very comfortable and I slept very well each night I was there.

The following day we went to Tokyo to meet with Steve, Nicola, and Levi to visit the imperial palace. On the 2nd of the year is the only year in the entire week that you can actually enter the imperial palace.

After a quick meal at Subway (yes, the sandwich place, it exists in Japan and I got a foot long Subway Club with double meet which I was ecstatic about), we headed over to palace. Unfortunately we got there too late. It was closed so everyone was a bit disappointed. We did manage to get a few good pictures at the park around the palace though.


The next day I went with her and a couple of her friends to a local shrine. The shrine was gorgeous as was the weather. There was a big line (that went pretty quickly) to the main part of the shrine. At the main part, everyone throws a five yen coin into the money slot, bows, and then makes a wish. Apparently your wish won’t come true if you tell anyone, so I’ll keep it to myself, for now.

Afterward we went to get our fortune told. After paying 100yen we drew a fortune stick at random from the fortune telling box. Each stick represents a different fortune, so after drawing I gave it to the shrine girl and got my fortune. I couldn’t read the kanji, but I was told that it was good luck. I am also going to meet a girlfriend this year and receive something that I deeply deserve (about time)!


After a quick lunch at a Japanese Denny’s, we to Tokyo to meet up with Steve and my Japanese instructor from Texas (Yuko). We met at Shinjuku and made our way to some Spanish Japanese restaurant. The food was really nice and I had probably the best glass of wine since coming to Japan. It was really nice catching up with Yuko. It felt nice talking to someone else that had gone to Texas Tech and reminded me that I did have a life before coming to Japan. We talked about things that we missed (driving, Mexican food, The Rec) and talked about what we were doing currently.

The next day I went nearby park. The weather was great and there were a bunch of people at the park exercising, flying kites, and walking their dogs. My friend told me that kites are very popular in Japan during January. It kind of reminded me of when I used to fly kites with my parents as a kid.

After the park we visited an old junior high school. Since it was Sunday, the only people there were from sports teams. It was still interesting to see the outside buildings of a Japanese school and also see the students playing sports for their clubs.

Afterward I went to the supermarket. This supermarket had a large variety of fish including squid, octopus, crab, etc. It was really neat and her dad seemed very anxious to show me around the fish department.


I headed back to Atsugi around 2pm and got back to my apartment at around 5pm. It was a really nice and relaxing trip. Her parents were very nice and I got to eat tons of tasty food. Her parents used to live on a farm, so they also had a ton of fruit that they kept giving me. I had so many apples- it was great. The thing that I really like is that I was able to see true Japanese hospitality. There was a very small language barrier between me and her family, but overall my Japanese seemed more than adequate. It was definitely a trip that was worth the time. Now all I have to worry about is working off all the weight that I gained 🙁 .

Comiket & Tokyo Tower

Yesterday was the last day of Comiket, the largest comic convention in the world. Since it was only about an hour away from my apartment, I decided to go. Nicola (German/Bulgarian) came with me also. Afterwards we planned on meeting up with Steve, Levi, and Levi’s friend to go to Tokyo Tower.

Anyways, waking up, leaving Youth Heim at about 9am we got to Tokyo Big Sight Convention Center in Odaiba at around 11am.

It was really fun. There were tons of people there so it was more or less like bumper cars inside. There were not as many gaijin as I thought there would be, and the ones that were there seemed to all be the “dumb tourist gaijin” that I mentioned earlier. There were a few cool foreigners though. It was pretty cool though, there were a few main halls with thousands of thousands of people in them. Thousands of tables were set up in the hall and tons of doujin authors would be selling their latest creations. The good majority of the comics were ero/hentai/echii, but it was still cool. You would just go up to an author’s table, pick up the book they are selling, flip through it, and then buy it if you wanted. The material ranged from 100 yen to 1500yen depending on quality. I’m really not too much of an otaku, but it was still fun to go through and see it from a tourist standpoint.


After a quick snack we met up with Steve over in Shinjuku. Levi needed to pick up an adapter for his laptop so we headed to Akihabara. Levi was wandering around everywhere with his friend, and it seemed like a hopeless search (which in the end it was), so Steve, Nicola, and I decided to go get a beer at a local pub.

After that fiasco, we went over to the Tokyo Oedo Subway line to Akabanebashi station. From the subway station we walked about five minutes over to Tokyo Tower. Just viewing it from the outside it was amazing. The lighting was brilliant, it was huge (bigger than the Eifel Tower according to Steve), and overall very majestic. We made our way to the base of the tower. On the base there were a ton of shops/restaurants, and museums. We bought our ticket and headed up to the main observatory. The view was very stunning. Pictures don’t do it justice. You could see why everyone raves about the night view in Tokyo.

My camera is good for taking night shots, but my hands are very shaky, so I couldn’t set the exposure time too high. Maybe I will get one of those mini tripods….

Overall it was a very nice experience. There were many different people at the tower. Foreigners, Japanese, a lot of little kids, and many couples. Afterwards we just headed to a bar in Shinjuku and got all-you-can drink for a couple hours. We took one of the last trains home and I got back to Youth Heim at around 1am.

Movie Review: Uchoten Hotel

Since it is Saturday, I am running low on money, and I need to practice Japanese, I am going to try a bilingual movie review of a recent Japanese movie that I saw. The English version will come first followed slowly by the Japanese version. I’ve been watching a few Japanese movies recently so perhaps this may be an on going thing, but on with the review.

The Uchoten Hotel (translated The Sweet Dreams Hotel) is a Japanese comedy written and directed by Koki Mitani. The main plot follows the operation luxury hotel in Japan on New Year’s Eve. Of course, this in itself isn’t really a movie, but all the crazy and unfortunately humorous accidents that happen throughout the night make this a memorable and worth while movie.

The movie starts out with various hotel staff greeting in new customers for the new year and hard at work setting up decorations for the New Years party that night. One of the main characters is the third in charge of the hotel Heikichi Shindo played by Kôji Yakusho. Shindo has a very serious demeanor but at the same time is a very likable character and seems to get along better with the hotel staff compared to the more uptight second in charge played by Katsuhisa Namase.

Immediately you are introduced to a variety of very unique and likable characters. Yoko the callgirl that sneaks around the hotel trying to find clients, Kenji the Bellboy who has recently given up his dreams to become a famous musician, Hana the maid who was involved with in a political scandal with Senator Mutouda, who is also staying at the hotel this night. A lot of characters are introduced quickly but the movie makes it work. All the characters have a very unique personality and you grow to love them quite well.

The Uchouten Hotel is one of those type of movies that is made up of many different subplots that all tie together throughout the end. One subplot that I found was really weird was that the Bellboy Nirou Tange was in a middle of a lovers’ quarrel with maid Noma Sakuragi. All throughout the movie he is trying to get back with her but she wants nothing to do with him.

The two maids get called on to clean up a suite that is notorious for looking like a bombsite. After praying outside the door for the tenant to reform her ways they go in and discover that it is in fact as messy as a bombsite.

While cleaning, Hana gets curious and decides to try on some of the tenant’s extravagant coats. While lost in the expensive clothing, the son of the tenant’s sugar daddy comes in. He mistakes Hana for the girl that has been with his father and tells her to come down to the cafe. From here he tries to bribe her to leave his dad and a bunch of hilarity ensues. I am not going to go too much deeper into this as it might spoil some of the plot, but overall it is an interesting plot and seems to keep viewers engaged.


Another tenant that is staying in the hotel is nominated man of the year, Professor Yumi Hotta. For some reason I really liked this character. The actor did a really good job of getting into the role and at times you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the character. Hotta was staying at the hotel for the night with his wife to accept the man of the year reward. Unfortunately Hotta had also had a history with the callgirl that hangs around the hotel, Yuko. Yuko has a very incriminating and very embarrassing picture of Hotta on her cellphone that she describes as Hotta doing the “Snake Dance”.


All throughout the movie Yuko is constantly being kicked out of the hotel and sneaking back in. She meets Senator Mutouda who takes her up to the high-end lounge on the top floor. Mutouda doesn’t seem too interested in her but yet she still tries to seduce him.

The bellboy Kenji supposedly has his last day on this night and plans to head back to his home town. He gives away his guitar, bandanna, and lucky charm to the hotel staff. For some reason the bandanna ends up on escaped duck “rub-a-dub”. Rub-a-dub is the partner of one of the performers that are performing at the New Years’ celebration. All throughout the movie you see the duck and for some reason it is very funny. It is kind of hard to explain. Something really serious will happen and then all the sudden a duck will just come out of nowhere.


I’m not going to go into too much details about the rest. There are loads more subplots to go into but it would be better to actually just to see the movie by yourself. At the end they all tie together very cleanly and the New Year’s party is a big success. There is a very nice musical scene at the end by the singer Cherry Sakura (played by singer You).


This is definitely a movie worth watching. It is a very distinct comedy that will be enjoyed even if you are used to seeing western comedies. At the very least it is worth a rental (or torrent). I ended up buying the film, so if you are in Atsugi just ask and I can lend it to you. Overall a great film.

Movie Rentals

Ah, rental movies. In America I went to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video all the time but in Japan it seems that for the longest time I never had a membership to any video rentals spots. At a language exchange with Kozasa (girl from work) this came up. I admitted that one of the reasons I didn’t have a rental membership is that I was simply afraid of going to the video rental place and having to get a membership. She graciously offered to help me get the membership.

The place that she took me to is Tsutaya. Pretty much your run of the mill video shop. Think Blockbuster, except with porn (in a back room), and a ton of anime. It was really uneventful. I walked around with her and we talked about what movies we liked. She gave me a reccomendation for “The Magical Hour” (which I will actually review later) and she rented some other Japanese movie. I’m glad Kozasa was there when I went to get the membership. Despite having to know my age in imperial years, I also had to write the kanji of my address. It was difficult.

Anything after all was said and done I got my Tsutaya card. It wasn’t too expensive at all. The membership was 300 yen and the movie for four days was about 400 yen. The late fee (which I ended up paying) was about 120yen per day. One thing that was a little odd was that instead of the generic plastic bag, they gave me a nicer real bag to keep my movie in. When returning the movie you give them the bag back with the DVD in it.

One really important thing to look out for when selecting a Japanese movie is whether or not it has English subtitles. My Japanese isn’t really skilled enough for full-fledged movies, so English subtitles are a must. A good amount of Japanese movies have the subtitles. So whenever you rent a movie, look on the back of the DVD cover for “英語字幕” (eigo jimaku), or English subtitles.

Care Package

I got a care package from my parents today. It’s really nice getting stuff from America as it kind of reminds me life is still going on as normal half way across the world.

Anyways, here is a small list of stuff that I recommend bringing to Japan if you are planning on coming for an extended period:

Two pairs of shoes:
I have big feet (14in, 32cm). These size shoes are impossible to find even in the Tokyo region. My parents sent me two pairs over in their last package and they were a life saver as my old ones were falling apart. It doesn’t help that in Japan you walk everywhere so shoes tend to go bad more quickly.

Sandals:
You take your shoes off before going into any Japanese apartment/house. That’s why sandals are so nice. If I am going over to an intern’s room I don’t want to deal with getting socks, putting on shoes, and lacing everything up. Sandals or flip-flops are a must in Japan.

Sweat Pants:
In Japan gym memberships are very expensive. That means that if you want to do any sort of cardio workout the best bet is going to be running/jogging outside. It also gets very cold in Japan so during the winter that is very hard to do if all you have is gym shorts.

Medicine:
I talked about this earlier, but Japanese medicine is too weak for me. There’s nothing like good old fashion Tylenol or Dayquil. Be sure to bring a mega pack over.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups:
This doesn’t really have to be Reese’s, but it is good to bring over some small sort of sweet that you can give to people around the office or share with friends. Something small that reminds you of your own country is nice just for those moments that you feel home sick.

Deodorant:
There is no mens’ deodorant in Japan. Luckily someone told me this before hand and I ended up buying about 7 sticks of old spice before coming over. I can only imagine if I ran out how akward it would be.

That is all I can think of for now. Sorry that my last two posts have been in Japanese, I really wanted to practice. I have a few ideas in mind for future posts so I will be sure to update more frequently

日本語ブログ

日本語能力試験が終わったのにもう日本語を学びたいです。だからこのブラグは日本語で書くつもりです。

最近仕事は忙しいです。ウワンとマルコは国に帰りましたから仕事は静かになりました。九州の旅行の跡でお金がない。でもクリスマスになるかプレセンッとを買わなくちゃいけません。日本に来るからたくさん友達を使いましたから、プレセンッとを買いたいです。

日本で血液型は特別です。面白いですが僕の血液型が知りません。Oは思いますけど本当にわかりません。

たくさん動物がいます。昨日美しい猫をみました.日本でたくさん人は動物アレルギーがあるなので触れません。猫よりが好きですけど日本に一年だけ住んでいるから、飼えません。

大統領選挙は面白かった。オバマが好きですからうれしいです。アメリカの南のほかにみなはオバマより好きです。

日本のファッションが大好きです。アメリカでセクシーな服は人気がありますが日本で可愛い服が今めかしいです.どうしてかな。。。

日本語能力試験とクリスマス

今週の日曜日に日本語能力試験をうける予定ですけど心配しています。たくさん漢字があるし言葉は難しいし心配しています。よく勉強しますがこの試験は難しいすぎます。でも頑張りますよ。

クリスマスに成っていますね。アメリカでクリスマスは家族の休みですけど日本でラブラブの休みですね。今家族はアメリカに住んでいるのでいまちょっと寂しいです。

Kyushu Trip

Wow, wheh, two days after getting back from Kyushu I am still exhausted. It was a really nice trip, but a little bit more expensive and tiring than I thought so.

For those of you that don’t know, Kyushu is the southern most island of Japan. The best way to reach it from Tokyo is by plane (see the transportation section below). We visited three cities, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima.


Fukuoka
As far as arrangements go, we stayed at a youth hostel in Fukuoka. It was OK. Not great, not terrible, just a place to sleep. It was relatively clean and had a great heater. My only real beef was that the very small showers had a time triggered water stop which cause me to hit the water button every minute to keep the shower going. But overall the people were friendly and it was a place to sleep.


In Fukuoka it was raining for a good part of the day. We took a trip to Fukuoka Tower via bus and went up to take a look at the lovely view. It was really nice… you could see a bird’s eye view of the city and a good view of the water north of Fukuoka. There were a bunch of elementary school kids on the top of the tower that kept saying “hallo!” at me. I’m guessing they were from a prefecture where foreigners are a bit more rare, but it was still pretty amusing and fun.


After the tower we decided to take a cab to Temjin (downtown Fukuoka) to try to get some famous Fukuoka ramen. After walking around for a while we wondered to the basement of a department store and sat down at a crowded ramen place. A third of the way through the meal a couple of Japanese businessmen sat down next to us and started conversing in English. The ramen was really just mediocre. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad.


After eating we headed over to the station to meet one of Boris’s friends. She showed us around Fukuoka and we visited some places like Canal City (huge shopping mall), some of the city center, and also a temple. It was very pretty and we were lucky to have someone familiar with the area show us around.


Nagasaki
Ah, Nagasaki. See travel below to see how I got to Nagasaki. After arriving on the train though we took the street car to Akari Youth Hostel. This hostel was very nice. The staff was really friendly, spoke very good English, and the rooms were a mix of Japanese straw-mat floors and western beds. The shower room was a typical onsen style washroom with two showers and a huge bathtub all in the same room.



Anyways after relaxing at the hostel a little bit we decided to go enjoy some of the Nagasaki night life. We headed to the city center and walked around an area that was swarmed with bars and people. There were a few Chinese girls that would randomly come up to us and offer shady sounding “massages” for 3000 yen. After wondering around a while we found an izakaya restaurant and had a few beers and some appetizers. Afterwards we wandered to this bar owned by an American. Surprisingly, he was also from Texas. He had grown up in Wichita Falls which was very surprising. Anyways we spent the rest of the night there. I had a couple glasses of souchu and everyone had a ton of fun.

The next day we woke up and headed out to view some more of Nagasaki. First we visited a very peaceful temple that was close to our hostel. Nagasaki seemed to be very queit and very peaceful. The weather was gorgeous and the temple was outstanding.


After the temple we headed out to the harbor part of Nagasaki. Since the weather was really nice we also visited the famous garden that was close to the harbor. We took some really nice pictures and again it was very peaceful.


After walking around some more we took a cab to the atomic bomb museum. No pictures are allowed in the museum so I don’t really have anything to post. The museum was pretty depressing and scary. I’m not going to try to debate whether the bomb was justified or not, but I think one thing that everyone can agree on is that atomic warfare is terrible. One thing that I though was particularly scary was the wall that had the shadows of those killed by the bomb silhouetted in them. When an atomic bomb goes off it generates a massive amount of light. It was really morbid seeing the shadows of someone seconds before they were vaporized.

Anyways after the museum we headed to the hypo center. There was a big monolith directly below where the bomb was detonated. Again it was very eerie to be at that exact spot. After visiting the hypo center we headed over to the peace park. It was a very nice day and the peace park was really something else. There was a large statue that represented peace and was pretty impressive to see.



After the peace park we went to Mt. Innae to see supposedly one of the best night views in all of Japan. We took a ropeway to the summit and the view was spectacular. After moseying around for about half an hour we went back to the hostel. I was dead beat at this point so I decided to take it easy and rest up for the trip to Kagoshima the next day.

Kagoshima
Kagoshima was awesome. As far as arrangements go this is by far the highlight of our trip. We stayed at a traditional Japanese ryokan. This included everything from a Japanese style room to a complimentary yukata for each night. Arriving at Kagoshima-chuo station I called Mr. Nakazono (the ryokan owner) and he offered to come pick us up in the ryokan van. After waiting around a while he picked us up and took us to the ryokan. It was very traditional. You had to do the typical take off your shoes before entering and also the floors were all Japanese style straw-mat floors. The rooms were also very Japanese style.


The first day we go to Kagoshima we just walked around and had something to drink and eat before retiring at our ryokan. The next day, the main thing that we did in Kagoshima is visit the volcano Sakurajima. Sakurajima is a volcano on an island south of Kagoshima that can be reached by a ferry. After walking from the hostel and boarding the ferry we were taken to Sakurajima. The Ferry was pretty cheap and only a couple of hundred yen if I remember.


Once at Sakurajima we decided to rent bikes to travel around. It was raining on and off but really wasn’t too terrible. The bikes cost about 300 yen per hour. Cycling on Sakurajima was wonderful, although it was an eyeopener to how out of shape I am. Going up the bigger hills I couldn’t help but take breaks occasionally, but overall the view you get from cycling is amazing.

At one point there was an onsen for your feet. You just sit down and dip you feet in the naturally hot water coming from the hot spring. We didn’t have towels however so we decided to skip this.

After getting about a third of the way around the island we decided to head back. The weather wasn’t the best and we felt that we had taken in enough of the beauty (also I don’t know if I could have made it around in a decent time). At the 1/2-way point, there was a bunch of souvenir shops. Once there I bought a bunch of postcards (which some people who may be reading this blog will get once I get time to address them). The owners were really nice too and gave us some free mikans.


Back in the ryokan we just decided to take it easy. We went out to dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant where I had a tempura dish. The next day was all transportation from Kagoshima to Fukuoka, and then to Tokyo.

Travel/Transportation
To actually get to Kyushu we traveled by Skymark Airlines. If traveling within Japan Skymark is definitely the best bet for airfare. It is very cheap if you book in advance (our round trip ticket was about 26000 yen) We left Thursday after work, took a bus from Atsugi to Haneda airport, and then flew straight to Fukuoka. After a lovely view from the air of Tokyo and some pretty rough turbulence we made it fine.

In Nagasaki and Kagoshima we got around town using the street cars. They were very cheap (100yen in Nagasaki and 160yen in Kagoshima) and went everywhere within the city. In Fukuoka it seems that we used Taxis more than anything.

To get between cities we used trains. All around this was a nice option, but a little bit more on the expensive end. From Fukuoka to Nagasaki cost about 4000 yen on the Mamome line, Nagasaki to Kagoshima cost about 9000 yen on the Tsubame Shinkansen, and Kagoshima to Fukuoka cost about another 9000 yen. The Shinkansen (bullet train) was very impressive. It went very fast and the ride was very smooth.


Summary

Well that about does it. Kyushu was a great place and it was very relaxing. Definitely plan a trip if you are going to come to Japan and have some time to spare. Many people will rent a car to keep transportation costs down, so if this sounds like what you want to do make sure to get an international driver’s license before coming to Japan.

Anyways, here are the hostels/hotels we stayed at
International Hostel Khaosan (Fukuoka)

Nagasaki International Hostel AKARI (Nagasaki)
Nakazono Ryokan (Kagoshima)

Also, here is a very useful site that we used to find which trains we needed as well as an approximate price:
Train Route Finder by Jourdan Ltd.

Here is Skymark Airline’s English website:
Skymark Airlines

And, as always:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.615088336048.2294651.16720765&type=1&l=08d5dc0d8b

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.615089603508.2294655.16720765&type=1&l=534f553c86

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.615091285138.2294657.16720765&type=1&l=6db15a184f

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.615092847008.2294660.16720765&type=1&l=5ef5bf4114

Take care!

How did I get here?

Well I have been in Japan for a decent amount of time, but even now I have my moments where I just ask “How the hell did I get here?” I mean really. I am just a kid from a regular middle-class family that goes to a public university in Texas. Usually you have to pay large sums of money to spend a year in Japan but somehow I got a free ride. It is almost unbelievable.

Today I was walking back from a restaraunt alone and was passing outside the station. It was colder than usual and there was a pretty decent live band playing. The Christmas decorations were up and the atmosphere was really nice. At that point two things crossed through my head. First off was the question that I explained above. The second was a bit different. Walking there in the freezing cold outside of Hon-Atsugi station in some weird way made me realize that I wouldn’t mind living in Japan indefinitely. Sure, for the most part only contract work is open for foreigners, and the pay is nothing compared to an engineering job in the states, but if I am in Japan I am happy and that is all that counts.

After I graduate I have decided to apply for any engineering jobs I can find in Japan and even apply for the JET program. While teaching English certainly isn’t my top choice, it would give me a chance to emerse myself in the culture and really get a good grasp of the language. Don’t get me wrong, I love the United States, but traveling abroad has been a dream of mine ever since I was young, and once this dream came true I realized how much I love other countries. It is different which is what I like.

Anyways, enough of this rant. Tomorrow I go to Kyushu with a bunch of the other interns. I’ll have a chance to see a bit more rural Japan and another region other than Kanto. I’ll be sure to take many pictures.

Kimisawa Grocery Store Trip

I went to Kimisawa today (the local grocery store) and did my usual shopping. I realized I haven’t posted pictures of my groceries and some people may find it interesting (my mom is always asking what I eat).


I also got dango at the grocery store. Last time I had them one of my friends asked me what type they were. I had no idea so here is a closer picture.


Time to go cook some deviled eggs. Going to bring them into work tomorrow for some of the other workers 🙂

Kamakura Trip

Last weekend Steve (English), Levi (American), Andre (Canadian) and I took a trip to Kamakura. Kamakura is a coastal town in Kanagawa that has many temples and is very historic.

Anyways on Sunday we woke up bright and early and met at the station at about 8:30am. From Hon-Atsugi station we took the Odakyu line to Ebina, the Sotetsu line to Yokohama, and then the Yokosuka line to Kamakura. The whole train ride cost about 700 yen and took maybe an hour or so. Once at Kamakura we tried to find some place to eat. We walked down a little shopping street trying to find some small place but were unable. Eventually we met up with a couple Australians and conversed a for a while. They told us that there was a McDonald’s opposite of the station. Anyways, after a little bit of backtracking we found our way to McDonald’s.

What happened at McDonald’s was the most tragic part of my day. I went in wanting a Mega Mac, but it seems they only were serving breakfast. Heart-broken and disappointed I settled for the breakfast equivalent Mega Muffin. Literally, 2 minutes after I had ordered they switched to the lunch menu. I was so sad. I know it sounds American for me to be heartbroken over a hamburger, but to be fair the Mega Mac (2 Big Macs in 1) isn’t served in the USA.

Anyways after McDonald’s we wandered to a huge Torii that marked the entrance into a shopping road. It was pretty impressive to see. We asked some random foreigner walking by to take a picture of the four of us together. It turned out pretty well.


After looking around for a few minutes we headed back to the station to the Enoden railway. The Enoden railway is a street train that went all the way to Fuji-sawa. It was very small and went slow, but was a pretty interesting experience. After we got off at the Hase stop we headed towards the Daibutsu (large Buddha statue). The daibutsu was pretty interesting. It was big and the area surrounding it was pretty scenic. There was also a festival going on around the daibutsu with some dancers. There was also a couple of older Japanese ladies playing this traditional Japanese string instrument.


After looking around the daibutsu some more and taking a look at a couple of local shops we decided to stop by the convenient store because Levi and Steve needed to take some cash out of the ATM. Turns out the ATM was closed that day. Yep, only in Japan can society be so anal about trains arriving on time to the min but at the same time not allow you to withdraw your own money on certain days from the ATM.

Anyways after the visit to the ATM we decided to head to the Hase Temple. The Hase Temple had a very nice garden out front. It was very scenic and had a very beautiful assortment of water and vegetation. Fish were also swimming around in the pond which added to the peaceful atmosphere.

There was this small cave beside the garden that was full of statues and small lit candles. The exit hallway to the cave was very small and I had to borderline crawl to get out.


The temple itself was awesome. It was very scenic and honestly pictures don’t really do it justice. There was also a pretty nice lookout point right next to the temple where you could see the Pacific ocean very nicely.

After admiring the scenery of the temple more we decided to eat at at soba restaurant right beside the temple. The soba was amazing. I loved the taste and it filled me right up.

After eating we looked around inside the temple a little. It started raining a little bit at this point. While looking around the temple, some middle school kids came up to me and yelled “HALLO!”. It turns out they were here on a school trip and one of their assignments was to go to random foreigners and ask questions in English. It was actually pretty heartwarming for these random middle school students to be so excited to speak in English to a foreigners. I spoke in Japanese to them a little and I think they were shocked. In the end they wanted a picture with all of us. I managed to get one too.

After the Hase Temple we decided to go back to the Kamakura main station and go to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. After another quick stop at McDonald’s to get a belated Mega Mac we headed down the shopping street that I talked about earlier. The shopping street was pretty nice and had all sorts of different shops. I bought a pair of chopsticks and the guy selling them engraved my name “ローガン” (rougan) into the chopsticks.

After wandering out of the shopping street we found ourselves on a bit more rural street. We spotted one Torii at the top of a very steep flight of stairs. After wondering up the stairs we decided that it was just a neighborhood with a bunch of houses at top and wandered back down to the main road. After wandering around a bit more we finally got to the temple. At this point it was starting to get a bit dark so the pictures did not come out too grand. Anyways at this shrine there were a ton of big red Torii. It was very beautiful. At the main shrine there was a traditional Japanese wedding happening and many people around. There was a big set of stairs that led straight to the shrine. The shrine itself was gorgeous also. It was very traditional Japanese architecture and looked great.

Anyways after looking around the temple more we decided to head back home. On the way back we bought some rice cracker treats to bring into work. Going back was pretty uneventful. We did however stop by in Ebina to go to Outback Steakhouse for some nachos and a couple of beers. It is kind of ironic looking back at it; this was a visit to tradition Japan but yet we ate at mainly western restaurants. The trip was very fun though. It is definitely a must visit for anyone that come to the Tokyo/Kanagawa area.

Facebook Pictures:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.606367357958.2283243.16720765&type=1&l=7248ec977a

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.606368306058.2283244.16720765&type=1&l=230c7d9e4e

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Japanese Vocab Lesson 04

More Kyuu-3 words. I apologize to everyone reading this blog that can’t understand/read Japanese. It is going to be pretty hectic this next month while I study for this test.

庭 – にわ – Garden
咲く – さく – To bloom
集まる – あつまる – To gather/assemble
事故 – じこ – Accident
大事 – だいじ – Grave/serious matter
難い – にくい – Difficult/hard-to-do
確り – しっかり – Firmly/steadily/reliably
一生- いっしょう – One’s entire life
池 – いけ – Pond
釣る – つる – To fish

A little a day is the way to go. I am going to start doing a lot more of these (probably daily) until my test. Somehow I doubt I am going to pass, but it never hurts to study anyways.

Odakyu Studying

One of these days I just want to get on the Odakyu line (the one that goes from Odwara, past Hon-Atsugi, to Shinjuku) and start studying Japanese. I don’t actually want to get off on Shinjuku but really just go back to Hon-Atsugi. Sitting down on the train seems like a good place to study. There are no distractions (aside from the occasional eye candy), there are tons of opportunities to practice my listening comprehension, and it also gets me out of my room. I think I am going to try this some weekend before too long.

Japanese Vocab Lesson 03

Today I inherited a JLPT Kyuu-3 practice test book from Juan. I decided to go through a test and write down any words that I found to be significant.

Grammar Note:
Whenever using the following sensory nouns as an action, you use が instead of を. This is some weird niche grammar rule that applies to senses.

匂い – におい – Smell/Odor
味 – あじ – Flavor
音 – おと – Sound
数学 – すうがく – Mathematics
値段 – ねだん – Price/Cost
大切 – たいせつ – Important
機会 – きかい – Chance/Opportunity
中々 – なかなか – Easily/Readily
ちょうど – Just right, exactly
玄関 – げんかん – Entrance way/Entrance Hall
美しい – うつくしい – Beautiful/Lovely
飾る – かざる – To decorate
掛かる – かかる – Can mean many things (to start, to come under, to attend)
噛む – かむ – To bite/gnaw
習う – ならう – To learn
力 – ちから – Strength/Capacity/Ability
重い – おもい – Heavy/Massive or Serious/Important
荷物 – にもつ – Luggage
泥棒 – どろぼう – Thief/Burglar

Grammar Note:
たかい can also be used to describe a tall mountain.

Wheh. That was just one section of one test. I could get a lot of the answers from context but I really plan on studying more vocab.

Pizza Hut Japan

Today I was feeling very lazy so I decided to not go to the grocery store and instead get a pizza from Pizza Hut with Levi. Pizza Hut is very expensive in Japan but I figured that ordering once wouldn’t kill me. Anyways I ordered online. After navigating through the kanji on the website I finally found out how to order online and picked my order. I decided to go all out and get a half broccoli, onion, squid and half shrimp, mushroom and green pepper pizza. Levi got a BBQ chicken pizza. After entering all of our information and a confusing email confirmation process our pizza was ordered.

About thirty minutes later I got a ring at my door. The pizza hut guy then proceded to read off my order and I paid him his money. In the end it was 7900 yen for two large pizzas, two drinks, two chicken sides, and some tuna puffs. Quite expensive.

Here are the pictures



It was actually very delicious. The crust was this weird curly cheese crust which just screamed fat but was amazing. I don’t see myself ordering pizza again in the forseeable future as the price was high, but it was very groumet compared to American pizza.

Mount Ōyama Hiking

This weekend I decided to take a break from drinking/clubbing and do something a little bit more healthy/traditional. I took a trip with Randy (Dutch) to Mt. Ōyama. Originally a few other people were supposed to come with us but they all seemed to cancel due to either being sick or staying up too late at karaoke.

Mt. Ōyama (大山) (translated big mountain) is pretty close and can be seen from Atsugi. I met Randy at the station around 9:00am. After a quick realization that we were the only ones going we boarded the Odakyu line towards Odawara. We got off at Isehara station where I proceeded to buy some onigiri and some water for the hike. We then took a fairly crowded bus to the Ōyama base. There was cable car that takes people to the halfway mark but we decided to tough it out and hike the entire thing.


While the mountain wasn’t exactly huge (1252 meters) I thought the hike was pretty strenuous. It was very steep at points. Imagine a huge stairstepper with hard rocks instead of stairs. Anyways before too long we stopped at the halfway point where there were a couple of restaurants set up. We ate at this soba/udon/ramen place where I had probably the best bowl of udon soup that I have had since I came to Japan.



After admiring the scenery we continued on. Right at the halfway point there was a big marble staircase that lead straight to a huge temple. Unfortunately the temple was under construction at the time but it still was neat to see. I even got a pretty decent picture in front of it.


At Japanese temples there are also these arches that are called Torii. Torii can be found at Shinto and Buddhist shrines in Japan and are supposed to mark the entrance from the “normal” world to the “sacred” world. There were a couple of Torii on Ōyama.


There were also a couple of water fountain type statues. With these statues you give a donation (I gave about 100yen) and then use the spoon on the statue to clean your hands and even drink the water.


After the halfway point the hike got a little more treacherous. One big slip and I could have fallen off the edge and have been seriously injured. There was apparently more people on the mountain than usual. I thought that it may have been because this weekend is a holiday weekend in Japan. Anyways after many breaks, lookout points, and onigiri later we reached the summit. The view from the summit was very impressive. Right when we reached the top a helicopter came and medevacted someone that was injured. I was right below the helicopter when it was hovering in the sky repelling the rescue worker and I got to feel the full blast of air and noise.


After this we went to get a snack at the ramen/snack shop on the top (the guy working there was surprisingly very rude for a Japanese person). We stayed at the top for a good couple of hours just admiring the view and taking pictures. We seemed to be the only westerners on the entire mountain (there were some Chinese foreigners hiking) which was nice in its own way. The summit was very nice and very peaceful with the exception of the 5 minutes with the helicopter. There were also a couple of nice looking temples on the summit.

The climb down was a lot easier as far as physical endurance goes. By the time we reached the halfway point though it was pretty dark. Fortunately there were lights scattered along the trail from the halfway point to the base. I had to be very careful and make sure that I climbed down without slipping though. At the base we caught the bus back to the station and then headed to Hon-Atsugi. At Atsugi we stopped at a restaraunt where I had some ramen and fried rice. We both even had a beer to celebrate the ocasion.

It was a very nice trip and I have decided that I am going to do more things likes this. Randy had mentioned that he went with Brian hiking to the Aokigahara last year. I think that this would be awesome to something similar. The newer interns seem like they would be up for this type of stuff also.

Here are the rest of the pictures:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.603871394888.2278923.16720765&type=1&l=be695ead36

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.603871993688.2278924.16720765&type=1&l=a1edbaf8e9

I will post more when I get them from Randy.

Three Months

Last Saturday marked my three month anniversary in Japan. In other words I have been in Japan for 25% of my scheduled stay. It’s hard to imagine that so much has already passed. Looking back at when I first came I realize how much I have learned not only about the Japanese language but also the Japanese culture. I’ve gone from being the “new guy” to one of the experienced guys. What’s even more intimidating is that after Juan and Mathieu leave, I will be one of the most knowledgeable ones in the Japanese language.

I’ve already been trying to build up my base of Japanese friends. I plan on going to a few international exchange parties to also make some friends. More and more I find myself doing stuff on my own. I’ve become used to everyday life in Japan and I am starting to grow more and more distanced from American culture. I joke around that when I go to a convenience store back in the United States I am going to say “arigatou” and also bow a ton.

Sometimes I do get the ocassional homesickness. Usually it is nothing big though, although I would kill a man for a burito from Freebirds right now. In the end though I am having the time of my life. From the first weekend in Tokyo where I stayed up all night for about 48 hours, to the crazy time I had in Thailand, and even to the relaxing weekends that I spent eating bentos and watching anime in my apartment I have had fun so far. One thing that I have made a point to do is to exercise more. I go running with Levi (American) five days a week. Hopefully before too long I can shed a few of those extra lbs. Also I want to do a lot more outdoors type things. This weekend I am going with a bunch of people from work to Mount Ooyama. It should be pretty fun and I’ll be sure to take pictures. It is going to be nice not having a weekend with a hangover for once.

Haircuts in Japan

Well since I have been in Japan I have only got my haircut twice. I tend to like shorter hair so this is somewhat unusual for me. Anyways the reason I haven’t gone as much as I did in the States is because I simply didn’t know what to do. I have dirty blond hair which isn’t common in Japan. I wasn’t quite sure whether to go to a fancy salon where they may have more experience or just a regular barber. Here are the experiences I had.

My first attempt for a haircut was a bit more pricey and quite honestly not worth it. Talking to Marco (Italian) he said that he went to a place kind of close to the station called “Cover with Earth”. He said that the service was very good and that they spoke broken English pretty well for Japan. The downside was that it cost about 4000 yen. Anyways, I figured to bite the bullet and just go there. When I got there and went in they welcomed me and asked for my name. After the normal gaijin spelling of my name they took me back and started shampooing my hair. They did a damn good job with the shampoo. The girl doing it paid very close attention to detail and they seemed to be using high end shampoo. The seat was typical Japanese size so I had to slouch down in order for my head to line up correctly with the seat.

Anyways after the shampoo was the cut. He asked me what I wanted and I figured I would just say “tekitou ni niau no harustairu wo shite kudasai” (please cut in a fashion that suits me). I didn’t really say much else about length or anything which looking back at it was a mistake. So anyways he started cutting and styling my hair.

In the end, I got a fauxhawk hairstyle. It wasn’t my type of thing and honestly that was the last day that it was actually up and styled. Anyways going into wasn’t really too worried. After another shampoo and 4000 yen less I was done. Looking back I should have said something more, but this place seemed a little out of my league to begin with. I was used to getting $15 haircuts at pro/super clips back in the states so to go to an actual salon was different.

The second time I went for a haircut was last Thursday. Randy told me that the place he goes to is close to the station and is relatively inexpensive. It was called something like “Popeye”. This time I went with Steve. Immediately when walking in I knew tha