cruise trip day 04: sydney

sydpost008fishmkt

More leisurely wake up, left hotel at 10am. Destination was train and light rail to fish market. Forecast is 37-38ºC today and the sun was relentless. Good news is beautiful blue skies and a beautiful harbour.

sydpost007fishmkt

We had looked into going to a restaurant and getting a seafood platter yesterday but timing / location wasn’t right. This was way way way better. Around A$100 (vs around A$170-200 for restaurants) and we could pick what we want. We had lobster: one half tail grilled, the other half tail lightly battered, plus grilled prawns and grilled octopus; seafood salad, a dozen pacific oyster, cooked balmain bug and fresh sea urchin. I especially wanted the bug since it’s regional specific and I hadn’t had it for a long time. It tasted a little tough, but I could taste the sea and the brown meat was great. The lobster were both overcooked, tasted nice. The grilled prawn and grilled baby octopus were really nice. I bought the oyster and bugs from the second store on the right which was was less crowded, must remember to go back there next time. Hopefully next time is not almost 10 years later, I was last in sydney in 2007. Mum bought white peaches for dessert, we just stood in the shade eating them, it was sweet and fresh.

sydpost009pyrmont

Took the light rail to darling harbour, mainly shopping and walking around. More beautiful scenery around pyrmont bridge.

Untitled Untitled

I walked around while mum rested. All the way to the end of the pier near the maritime museum. There was a navy cutter, HMAS Vampire and a submarine HMAS Onslow. A lighthouse and several other ships too. Entrance was per ship, I think, no one challenged me as I walked around and other people were exploring too.

Bus to circular quay because we wanted gelato again. Very crowded at Gelato Messina. I was greedy and got 2 scoops: salted caramel and blood orange. Mum was even greedier and got 3 scoops: chocolate fondant, passionfruit, raspberry. She gave more than half of the raspberry to me, hahaha.

Walked back to the hotel, around 10mins. I saw kangaskan again so spent around 20mins walking around the hotel adding to my pokedex. I’ve been trying to play pokemongo all day. Sydney has a good selection and most importantly kangaskhan which spawns at around the same rate as starters at home; definitely better than farfetch’d. I have 5 at the end of 2 days of sporadic hunting.

sydpost013tiger

After dumping our stuff and taking a rest, we headed out again for dinner. Bus to Haymarket, stop at Coles for more shopping and then dinner was at the legendary Harry’s Café de Wheels. I had planned for the branch at Wooloomooloo but was happy I found a more convenient branch at Haymarket. Harry’s is a stationary food truck that serves pies. More specifically the tiger which is beef pie with mash, mushy peas and gravy. Very Aussie, very British. Not fine dining but very iconic streetfood and a must-eat whilst in Sydney. As tasty as I remembered, and I’m glad mum liked it too.

Back at the hotel before 8pm. Shower, packing and watching cricket (Aus vs NZ ODI). I bought a bottle of wine at Coles for A$7, I was going for beer but even VB was around A$6 so a nice bottle of Jacob’s Creek classic pinot is a better choice.

Cruise starts tomorrow. We’re being ambitious and planning a return to the fish market for lunch then boarding. Let’s see.

cruise trip day 03: sydney

sydpost002roll sydpost003gelato

Took the train to the suburbs to carriageworks farmers’ market. The first sign was we got off at redfern station and saw people carrying bags of produce and flowers. Mostly locals at the market, families with kids. Our brunch was egg & bacon roll for me and apple croissant for mum. Juice to wash it down. It’s really casual, sitting at picnic tables or upturned crates. Bought a loaf of bread for breakfast the next couple of days, but couldn’t buy much else even though the fruit and veg were tempting.

Train back to the city, got off at tourist central aka circular quay. First stop was gelato messina. I had pear & rhubarb gelato and mum had chocolate sorbet. I tried other flavours but they were too sweet; this one was fruity yet the richness of the gelato came through.

Walked a lot in the area. From circular quay to the rocks, there was a market there today. A little rest then towards the newly developed area of Barangaroo. It started to get really sunny and hot, forecast was 27ºC and it felt like over 30ºC under the direct sunlight. We only stopped at a little pub in the new district for a much needed drink. The nature reserve is more like a small park, it led back to underneath the harbour bridge via another route. So we did a whole loop around that area.

sydpost004opera

Since it was such a sunny day, we decided to take a commuter boat to watsons bay. The catamaran was fast and I stood at the bow which got really windy. Great view of the opera house as we made our way from the wharfs.

sydpost006bay

Watsons Bay pier was very crowded, as befit a sunny saturday. What I remember is a walk uphill to a viewpoint back towards the city but we didn’t do that this time. Walked around the immediate area around the wharf and stopped for fish, seafood and chips. The fish, hake I think, was good. The calamari a bit soft the the fried prawns unmemorable. Had half a dozen oysters too, very fresh.

sydpost005bridge

Stayed on the same side of the catamaran on the way back, to catch views of the north shore. The harbour bridge against the sun too. I don’t know how but we found legs to walk around to the opera house and the botanical gardens. Took a rest at a bench at the gardens and watched a cruise ship leave harbour; this will be us in two days.

Dinner was at westfield underneath the sydney tower. Mum remembered lots of eateries there but at 7.30pm on a saturday almost all had closed. Yes, closed. We found a mexican place that was still open and had prawn ceviche and lamb taco. I guess the lamb taco is a local adaptation; it was tasty.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at coles for shopping. Tim tams for me and cereal bars for mum. Tired, lots of walking today.

cruise trip day 02: singapore to sydney

sgpost004pokemon

The alarm was at 5.15am but I was so tired I didn’t wake up till almost 6am. I went downstairs to check out the breakfast and ate a sausage and some eggs very quickly. We checked out and grabbed a taxi to the airport. Everything was quick. There was a display of pokemons near the departure gate so I stopped to get pics. Haven’t had data in Singapore aside from wifi at the hotel so I’ve only managed to hunt in the room. When the gps drifts I can catch a stop and there were a few commons around. I don’t mind that it’s pidgeys and rattatas, as long as it shows the Singapore location tag.

The plane was almost full, with many familys (with small babies). Watched Ghostbusters and Looper, napped a bit, ate everything they gave me including half of Mum’s pasta. Ghostbusters was funny and there were a couple of places where I must have laughed out loud, something not to do on a quiet plane. Looper was interesting and the sort of film I like too.

The plane landed at 8pm. We could use the e-passport lane so we were out really quickly. Took a long time for the luggage to come out though. It was around 9.15pm already. Had a little something to eat at the airport then took the train to our hotel. A closed gate and construction meant a longer walk than intended, it was around 10mins instead of 5mins. Our room is quite nice and we got settled. MKR is on, yay!!! I’m also set up electronically and tested the Three simcard I bought.

sydpost001pokesighting

And I’m already seeing kangaskhan on my nearby list. It’s almost midnight so too late to run out, from what I’ve read it’s everywhere so I’m not worried. Hopefully I’ll get it tomorrow.

cruise trip day 01: singapore

Woke up before the alarm before 4am, argh. Left at around 6.20am after lots of faffing around. To keep it simple, I decided we’d take a taxi directly to the airport. The nose rest on my glasses fell off in the taxi and although I was able to find it I can’t put it back because it was broken. As soon as we got to the airport I took out my spare glasses. Check-in, security and the rest was straightforward. We had breakast and boarded at 8.30am.

Plane was full. Noodles for brunch. I watched Doctor Strange in between napping. The process at Changi was extremely quick and luggage was out before us. Other airports need to learn from them. Taxi to hotel and we unpacked a little. Then there was a bathroom malfunction when the handheld shower head exploded with a leak and flooded the bathroom. Took 2 calls to reception to get their maintenance people to come around. Everything in the bathroom was wet.

sgpost001basket

We didn’t wait around for housekeeping to clean up. Went to the mall next door to try to get my glasses fixed. The opticans there said it’ll take 15mins and she’d do it free of charge. The best news all day. We walked around the shops, and saw these really cute handmade baskets. Large size can be used as laundry basket and smaller ones for knick-knacks. There was even a Nando’s at the mall! So tempted.

sgpost002gardens

Instead we took a taxi to gardens by the bay which sits next to the iconic marina bay sands hotel. We weren’t interested in paying SGD28 to visit the greenhouse domes. I’m sure they are really interesting but a bit pricey for us. The prettiest part of the gardens is the supertree grove. Supertrees are 25-50m vertical gardens that serve a variety of functions. There is also a skyway walk at tree level that gives an elevated view of the surroundings. We didn’t go up, it was enough to see the gardens on the ground.

sgpost003eastcoast

After some more faffing around including being misled by the taxi driver about Lau Pa Sat opening time, we ended up at East Coast Lagoon food village. Lots of choices at the hawker centre. We decided on satay, popiah, steamed crab and razor clam. I got a tiger beer for me and a freshly squeezed sugarcane juice for mum. Everything was delicious and we were full when we finished. Wanted to walk around East Coast Park but it’d started raining heavily so we hopped on a taxi back to the hotel.

The bathroom saga continued. Housekeeping hadn’t come up so I called. They discovered the water issue isn’t fixed so we ended up changing rooms. No big deal. Another early morning wakeup tomorrow, bed soon.

trip day -01

nclstar

The travel agent confirmed the changed itinerary this morning, and I gave her an earful. Not her fault but NCL and their cruise department dropped the ball. It’s not acceptable to notify the customer of changes less than 24hrs before departure. Hopefully we can enjoy the remaining ports. There’s also the additional nights at Sydney and Auckland so plenty to do.

Met up with mm for a drive, catch-up and shabu shabu dinner. Borrowing her suitcase because it’s the large size. I repacked and put my small cabin trolley inside the suitcase for shopping. We havd 30kg each on SQ so shopping is okay. Speaking of SQ, sigh, I have to grudingly admit that their website and check-in process are vastly superior to CX’s. I’m supposed to be loyal to CX but in this case, really can’t.

Leaving at 6am tomorrow so I’ve set the alarm for 4.45am. Still doing laundry, turned out we needed to run 2 loads. Ah well, I’ll sleep on the plane.

family day

Visited Papa in the afternoon. No taxi on the way down so we started walking, luckily one came by around 5mins after. Chatty driver, sigh.

pizza201701 pavlova201701

Early dinner at pizza express. We were there around 4.30-5pm for a 6pm reservation so we totally took our time. Sis had a voucher for a free pavlova, which turned out to be a ginormous portion. Delicious too. For mains I had mushroom truffle pizza, it was pretty good.

cruise change itinerary

nclstar201701

We leave on thursday and start our cruise next monday. I’m trolling through cruisecritic when I saw the news that NCL alters Norwegian Star itinerary due to propulsion issue. They’ve had the azipod problem since december and they fixed the one that was causing problems only for the other one to fail. They’ve already missed Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok and will miss three stops in Australia on the way to Sydney. I feel sorry for the passengers currently on the ship, missing the Great Barrier Reef and having their cruise itinerary changed on them while onboard. There was understandably a huge protest which attracted the attention of local news in Darwin.

So it looks like Tasmania, Milford Sound and Napier will be skipped for us. That’s 3 out of 8 stops. I was looking forward to Tasmania and Milford Sound of course is one of the highlights. It’s like skipping the Glacier National Park on an Alaskan cruise.

Rumour is that they’ll offer us onboard credit and x% credit towards a future cruise. I get that cruises have to change or even cancel ports because of weather, mechanical issues or other reasons. But the azipod problem has been ongoing since december and NCL has screwed up in terms of not getting them fixed and not communicating to passengers; I doubt we’ll go on NCL again. There are many many other cruise lines.

I haven’t heard anything officially yet. The cruise office and local NCL offices are closed until wednesday. My travel agent was checking email and responded but there’s nothing she can do either. I’m just annoyed at the lack of communication and timing. Whatever news I get on wednesday won’t help a single bit since we’re leaving 6am on thursday.

US politics #resist

Something heinous and sinister is happening in the US. The new president, KGB Agent Orange, enacted a series of measures in his first week of being president that are intended to bully, divide and self-promote. I watched my fb and twitter feeds this morning as the drama of people detained at various airports unfolded. People who have valid visas; green card holders. In which mature and civilised country is this right? This makes me think very carefully about whether I want to travel to the US. The last thing I want to experience again is the SSSS “random” screening every time I passed through a TSA checkpoint. It wasn’t random. It was racism, no denying it.

parkrangers

That said, it’s great to see how people are coming together with the same reactions and goals. The protests and marches. Friends who believe in doing the right thing becoming passionate activists. Urging people to contact their representatives to make their voices heard.

One of the best things that happened last week came about from another of those heinous and sinister measures. Orange banned staff at several agencies from speaking directly to the public, including via social media. This prompted the setting up of various unofficial alt-twitter accounts: the National Park Service, Forest Service, NASA, FDA, EPA, DOJ, State, DHS, Treasury, WH staff etc etc all have private accounts that aim to keep the public informed and not be gagged. Of course, we have to be careful about these accounts but they seem to all have good and honourable intentions. Definitely not what dystopian novels predicted, that park rangers will be leaders in the resistance.

What’s been very prominent in going through my feeds is that we all seem to be talking to each other in a bubble. I get why people unfollow or unfriend their friends / relatives who do not hold the same view. But not knowing, denigrating and arrogantly ignoring the opposition is perhaps one of the factors that cost the Democrats the election. In order to win, one must understand one’s enemies. I’m still subscribed to a couple of reddit threads that have right wing views, to see what’s on their minds and their interpretation of what’s been happening. It’s amazing how utterly different the perception is from the other side.

One of the vast number of post-mortem articles about the election is this thoughtful piece in the Guardian that paints one side of the picture of how Orange won in rural small towns

despite his vulgarity and his big-city ways

because the people who live in those dying towns are desperate. Not because they are ignorant or small-minded or ill-advised. Because there is no longer any industry in their town, there are no prospects, and they see their way of life eroded by corporatisation. The result is the rise of nostalgia. There’s been a lot of snorting and head-shaking about Orange supporters’ perceived yearning for the good ol’ days. The article suggests that we shouldn’t laugh it off.

There is nothing un-progressive about wanting your town to thrive, about recognizing that it isn’t thriving today.

And surely these are the people Democrats need to win over.

May be my blood pressure hasn’t shot up and I can read the alt-right stuff unemotionally because I’m no more than a distant observer in this. Yes, world economy and world politics will be affected, but America is only one country and it has a tendency of overestimating its importance. I’m closely watching what’s going on in Europe too. And of course our own upcoming CE “election” (a rigged vote cast by 1,200 people in a city of 7 million is not an election). Here, the feeling is positive about the US because relaxation in oversight and Orange’s obvious pro-business stance means more profits and better investment opportunities. Two different bankers told me this. I’ll absorb this piece of information, just like I’m mopping up all the news that is already overwhelming and it’s not even the end of January.

chinese new year

cny

Blah blah blah year of the rooster cakes.

Didn’t feel like a day of celebration.

Didn’t even get a red packet.

Made rack of lamb for lunch, which I managed to cook pretty nicely this time. Spent more time making the gravy than the lamb, carrots, kale and potatoes.

This 揮春 decoration is interesting. Look closely, everything is in English.

spring clean time

steelsponge

Spring clean time.

Scrubbed the hob with the brillo pads and the steel sponge I bought at the ¥100 shop. The steel sponge has a regular sponge on one side and the other feels like smooth sandpaper. It worked magic with the stubborn stains that had been ingrained in the steel parts of the hob. I haven’t been able to scrub them perfectly shiny clean, they look pretty good though. Perhaps less surprising, the hob that I use most often is the cleanest and the one I hardly ever use the grimiest. May be the heat and flame get rid of the food deposits. If only the store had more than just one of the steel sponges available; on the shopping list for next time.

Changed bedclothes too, which is a feat of engineering because I have a ginormous and heavy duvet plus 5 pillows. And barely any room to manoeuvre around my bed. Tried out this rolling method for putting the duvet inside the cover and it does work. I have to get better at flipping the corners but it’s quicker, I’m definitely huffing and puffing less, and the top of the duvet fits better.

next trip

cruise

I have to switch gears quickly. Just as I finish sorting and uploading Tokyo Hakone pics and get the trip written up, I have to go to the travel agent to pick up cruise tickets. First world problem, I know. I deserve no sympathy. 😛

Although the destinations will be really nice, I’m not looking forward to the trip at all. I’ve only been back home for 2 days and I’m already wanting to scream.

trip write-up

Trip is written up.

day 01: tokyo, sake tasting
day 02: hakone, hotel onsen and massage
day 03: hakone sightseeing circuit to moto-hakone, hakone-machi, lake ashi (with fuji view), owakudani, gora, open air museum
day 04: tokyo, new hotel, new glasses, old whisky tasting, old conveyor belt place
day 05: tsukiji, toyota car city, odaiba
day 06: ikebukuru, pokemon mega centre, shopping
day 07: ueno shpping
day 08: flight

flickr sets: tokyo | hakone

tok380phonewifi

One thing I have to mention, that we are extremely grateful for, is the pocket wifi we rented. Worked out to be local$96, or around £10, for the entire trip. Pick up and return at the counter at the airport and good connection via the Softbank network throughout. We left it on all day, and on a full charge it lasted around 8hrs. Since we both have external batteries, it was simply a matter of recharging it for about an hour in the middle of the day to ensure it lasted till we got back to the hotel at night. At one point we had both iphones, my ipad, and both macbooks connected and it was fine.

japan trip day 08: flight home

4am alarm, ack. Checked out at 5am and the hotel had called a taxi for us. The short trip to Tokyo station was ¥1230, no wonder people rarely take taxis. I’d done research and found keisei bus that goes from Tokyo station to NRT for only ¥1000. This compared with ¥3000 for TCAT and NEX train. We saved the map of the bus station on my iphone and the taxi driver found it easily. We would have struggled. We had aimed for getting the 5.45am but were early enough to catch the 5.20am.

Check-in for the flight was fast, and we had to wait outside at the waiting area for security and immigration to open at 7.15am.

Breakfast was ramen at the self-service restaurant and all too soon it was time to board!

tok386fuji

Last view: Mount Fuji from the plane. Hazy but visible and with no cloud cover this time.

Slept through almost the entire flight. This was a rare airplane–no tv screen whatsoever, not even a main screen. That’s very rare nowadays. This meant a quiet flight though, everyone had gotten early for the flight and most people were sleeping.

The plane landed early at just after 1pm but there was a long delay waiting for our luggage to come out. Original estimate of getting home at 3pm revised to 3.30pm. I took a longer way home via the station to avoid traffic.

japan trip day 07: ueno shopping

Shopping day. Headed to Ueno, to the pedestrian shopping street we remember from last time. Breakfast was ramen, something warm to give us energy for the day.

First discovery was another ¥100 shop. Bought laundry and cleaning supplies. I’ve been looking for brillo pads, it’s on my UK shopping list, and I was happy to see them in the ¥100 shop. Then it was onto more drugstores and more cosmetics and toiletries shopping.

tok359icecream

A little reward for me was really nice green tea ice cream from a shop specialising in green tea. They let us sit inside the shop to finish the ice cream too. There was more shopping, and we also bought fish and ikura to take home. It’s cold enough and we asked the shop to wrap the items carefully.

tok362tuna

Good thing we bought fish at Ueno, when we got to Tsujiki the shops there were all closed. Lucikly the restaurants were still open so our last dinner in Tokyo was fatty tuna don with a side of ikura, uni and salmon. The uni was the best on the trip.

Back to the hotel for packing and finishing the bottle of sake. The fish we put outside on the balcony, it’s colder than inside the fridge.

japan trip day 06: ikebukuru, pokemon centre

tok105salmontuna tok108clam

Brunch at the 24hr seafood restaurant nearby. Salmon and tuna plus clam sashimi and flame-grilled clam. Everything was fresh and delicious.

tok277pokemon

Took the subway to Ikebukuru, such a contrast to our hotel area. Most shops were closed near us but Ikebukuru was jam-packed full of people. Eventually we made our way to the pokemon center at sunshine city. A huge store, with statues of pokemons inside. The most striking is pikachu riding on charizard near the entrance. There are also other gen 2, 3 pokemons we don’t know.

tok289pikachu tok292pokemon

Shelf upon shelf stuffed with soft toys, accessories, souvenirs, trading cards. I bought the 2 soft toys my niece wanted and a few small souvenirs for friends still playing pokemongo. Bought a gengar soft toy for myself and a charizard collectible figure. Oh, and splurged out on a go+. The store was lured but not many people playing. Hakone was okay in terms of pokehunting but Tokyo has been disappointing. Pidgeys and rattatas everywhere. Some eevees too but that’s it.

Time for tea. We found a traditional coffee house near the station. Tiny cheesecake and iced coffee. I’m finding the coffee in Japan drinkable if I add lots of milk and a little sugar. It’s not very strong. The negative of a traditional coffee house is they allow smoking, like at certain restaurants and in all izakayas. Ironic, that smoking isn’t allowed on the street but inside confined spaces like restaurants.

Walked back up the pedestrian shopping street for Tokyu Hands and drugstores. Toiletries and cosmetics are much, much cheaper and mm spent a lot of time looking at them. I bought some eye masks for mum and face masks for sis. Mostly I browsed around waiting for mm to finish. Kinda boring.

tok323beef

We wanted grilled beef for dinner. The first place we went to, at 5.30pm, was full. Do they eat early or what? A little further away we found a place that advertised 8 different cuts of IIRC wagyu beef for ¥6800. The different cuts included sirloin, filet, tri-tip, skirt and tongue. Very well marbled and melt-in-the-mouth. We also ordered a plate of vegetables for grilling and a salad, which turned out to be banchan. We wondered if it was a korean place. No matter, the beef was delicious.

Back on the pedestrian street for more drugstore shopping, found a ¥100 shop too. We ended up walking up and down that street 6 times today.

japan trip day 05: tsukiji, odaiba

First things first, breakfast at Tsujiki. By the time we got going and got there it was more like brunch. It being a saturday, the market was packed. We went to the outer market and easily found two spots at the sushi place. Ordered tuna-don with a side of miso. The tuna was okay, we thought the quality would be better for ¥1600 per bowl but still nice.

The plan today was to visit Odaiba, the artificial island at the SE corner of Tokyo. We visited there many years ago, and it’s changed a lot since then. Many more buildings and spots for visitors. We took the monorail from Shimbashi station all the way to the other side of the island. Our destination was the Toyota car city at megaweb. It’s truly a city, with 2 level of huge exhibition space. Current cars in production on one level, we liked the new Tank and Roomy, which is indeed roomy. Distinctive Japanese box-like cars, with small abrupt boot and sliding rear doors for easy access.

The upper floor is devoted to racing cars on one side and future cars on the other. We were immediately drawn to the kikai, a cute concept car with visible parts, like the car equivalent of Pompidou. Very cartoonish, and it’s may be hard to envision driving one on the road. This is the vision of the future. There are other futuristic cars too, all electric and aerodynamic.

tok205toyota

The other side of the upper level is a display of Toyota racing cars. A large screen gave a first person view of driving a racing car, and it’s the deep vroom of a powerful engine that is the draw. We queued up to play a playstation driving game in recaro seats. Haha, no wonder we don’t play games, we were dead last.

Lunch was beef hotpot with udon noodles and wild vegetable tempura at one of the restaurants in the outlet next doors. We were quietly enjoying our lunch when the lights dimmed, shutters between the balcony (where we were sitting) and the main restaurant came down and we heard screaming coming from downstairs. A young pop singer came on stage and started singing. No idea who she is, but it seems like she has a lot of fans who were singing along, cheering and clapping. Bonus free entertainment.

tok251gundam tok265bridgestatue

It was almost sunset when we made our way around the outdoor areas of Odaiba. It was cold and very windy, we had to struggle to walk part of the way. Nice sights though–a Ferris wheel, a gundam statue, sculptures, the fuji tv building and a replica of the statue of liberty against the backdrop of the rainbow bridge that looks like Brooklyn bridge. A little NYC in the middle of Tokyo.

The subway back towards our hotel brought us to Mitsukoshi, so we walked around the food, stationery and kitchenware sections. My feet were hurting by then so I took a seat while mm did more shopping. Didn’t go out for dinner, bought oden ingredients, tuna sashimi and crab meat at the supermarket for dinner in our room. Great to put our feet up and enjoy some sake too.

Took advantage of the washer-dryer in our room to do laundry too.

japan trip day 04: hakone to tokyo

We had planned to go to the outlet at Gotemba but the transportation timings didn’t work out so we decided to check-out and go back to Tokyo early. We were selective with breakfast, it was salmon today but it was overcooked and I found too many bones for my liking. I liked the natto though, I should get it more often at home.

hak391beer

There was a little time between the shuttlebus dropping us off and train departure so we walked around the area around the station and mm looked after our suitcases whilst I did some pokemon hunting to hatch a few eggs. I caught a farfetch’d at the hotel a couple of nights ago but haven’t played during the day. Bought a souvenir can of Hakone beer for the train ride.

The train was faster than the outbound journey. We refilled our pasmo and took the subway to Kanda, around 6mins walk from the Tokyu Stay serviced hotel. We were too early so we left our luggage and went off to Tokyo station. It’s as huge as we remembered and with construction, it took us a few wrong turns and a lot of google mapping to get to the Yaesu end. Now we were in more familiar territory. Popped into the pokemon shop to find soft toys for my niece, visited the whisky shop to check out their collection and headed to our first Tokyo destination–Jins for glasses. The service at the shop was spectacular, and the prices were really good too. The optician helped us pick frames and checked our eyes. Normally glasses are ready in 30mins but with my prescription it’ll take a week so I wasn’t able to get new glasses. I did buy a frame for ¥5900 though, a bargain. Waiting for mm to get her eyes thoroughly checked and she can get new glasses. Ah well.

tok082whisky tok085whisky

As compensation (for me), we went to Hasegawa and tasted a few whiskies. No more aged whiskies in Japan nowadays, everything’s been bought up. The Yoichi, Miyagikyo and Taketsuru NAS samples were a poor substitute, but pretty decent. Also tried a Yamazaki umeshu which tasted like sweet plum juice. Saw some compass box bottles so I tried Asyla and Spice Tree, not bad.

tok072congereel
tok066ikura tok064fattytuna

Dinner was at Hanamaru conveyor belt sushi restaurant. We got there shortly after 5pm and there was already a queue! Waited around 15mins, and the food was as great as we remember. Everything was our favourite: fatty tuna, ikura, uni, scallop, prawn. There as a special white fish a chef brought out that was really good but we don’t know what fish it was.

Picked up mm’s glasses and took the JR to Shin-Nihombashi station, literally around the corner from the hotel. Saw a supermarket at the opposite corner which got us really excited. Stocked up on tea and fruit.

japan trip day 03: hakone sightseeing loop

Breakfast at the hotel is buffet-style. Again, traditional japanese food–grilled fish, pickles, egg, rice, congee, miso soup, tofu, natto. Average in taste, but lots of food so we were stuffed.

hak070loop

The plan today is to do the Hakone sightseeing circuit. Most guides say take the anti-clockwise route: train to Gora, cablecar then ropeway to Owakudani then Togendai, pirate ship cruise to either Moto-Hakone or Hakone-machi, walk the cedar path then bus back to Hakone-yumato. I was reading another leaflet last night which described the opposite routing. We decided on the clockwise routing, getting to the furthest point then making our way back. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

hak078lake

We walked to the station and caught a bus to Hakone-machi. It was a different bus than we wanted to catch, but it got us to where we wanted to go, so no complaints. It was cold when we got off the bus, and windy too so we estimated it was near or just below freezing. Hakone-machi is a small tranquil village on the south shore of lake Ashi. The sun came out just as we were walking along the lake and blessed us with a perfect view of Hakone shrine and Mount Fuji in the background. Fuji was partially covered by clouds but enough of it was visible. Peaceful and beautiful.

hak123checkpoint

The next stop was Hakone-machi, about 1.5km away. The guides say either take the bus or walk along an ancient cedar-lined path. So we took the path. The trees shielded us from most of the wind so it was less cold. It was a nice walk that took us to the Hakone checkpoint. We didn’t go inside, just poked around the shops nearby.

hak136ekiden

I was most interested in a statue of a runner at the pier in front of the ekiden café. I’m sort of familiar with the concept of university and corporate running teams in Japan and have heard of the Hakone ekiden, one of the most prestigious ekiden with a course between Tokyo and Hakone run by university teams. I didn’t have time to go inside the café but it was still nice to see something running related.

hak164fujiropeway

We caught the next sailing of the pirate cruise ship towards Togendai. Here was when we had a first inkling that we made the right decision to take the clockwise route. The ship was quite crowded, but we were able to still find seats. This was in contrast to the large crowd that got off the ship doing the loop in the opposite direction. Definitely when we reached Togendai and got on the ropeway, we were one of very few passengers, with all the other gondolas going the other direction full of people. We could vaguely see Mount Fuji whilst on the ropeway; it was hidden behind more clouds, we were very lucky we saw it at the lake.

hak183snowman

The ropeway stopped at Owakudani, a geothermal valley with steam and sulphur emissions. I remember being able to walk around last time we visited but the paths were all closed. The view of the valley wasn’t great, but we saw something cuter: someone made a mini-snowman on the fence facing one of the steam vents.

hak195tempurasoba

Part of the ropeway was closed for repairs so we took the replacement bus to catch the cablecar downhill towards Gora. It was past 2pm already and we were getting hungry. A stop at a small restaurant for tempura soba was just the right ticket. After lunch we caught the train for one stop, we had the freepass so why not take full advantage.

hak246museum hak282museum

The last destination on our loop was the Hakone open air museum. We’re both not huge art fans but we were so glad we took the time to visit. The museum has mostly sculptures, curated at spots inside the grounds. Extremely interesting pieces by artists from around the world.

hak221picasso

One of the attractions of the museum is the Picasso collection. No photography allowed inside unfortunately. There were a number of paintings, a series of bull-fighting sketches and numerous sculptures and clay work by the master. The collection showed us his progression from a more traditional style to cubism to his very distinctive style. Well worth the visit.

hak305diamond

Another piece in the museum is called the curved space — diamond structure. It’s a large jungle gym plastic installation designed along the lines of the covalent bonds in a diamond. The inside is hollow and they allow kids to play inside. The space is too small for adults otherwise I would have tried to climb inside for a bit.

We stayed in the museum until closing and caught the train back to Hakone-yumato. Missed the shuttlebus so decided to walk. Just as well, the sake shop was still open and we bought a small bottle to enjoy in our room.

hak364tarofish hak369beefstew

Dinner was actually worse than yesterday’s. The presentation was lovely but we didn’t find any of the courses tasty: appetisers were bland, sashimi was tasteless, simmered mushrooms were good, taro and fish were okay, the beef stew was gluggy and we struggled to finish it. The nicest thing of the meal was the sweet kiwi fruit we got for dessert.

Time for onsen, relaxation and bed.

japan trip day 02: hakone

For some reason my alarm didn’t ring, but I was only 10mins late, getting up at 8.10am. Made tea, packed up, checked out and caught the shuttlebus to the station. It was rush hour at Shinjuku, so imaging the sheer volume of people rushing about.

We found the Odakyu line counter and bought a 3-day Hakone freepass. Of course not free, ¥5640 that enables us to travel to and from Tokyo and Hakone and all the transportation within the Hakone sightseeing area. We didn’t catch the next train, opting for one half an hour later so we could get breakfast. After wandering around for about 10mins we decided on the place nearest the platform, curry rice. Sounds strange, having curried hamburger or egg with curry sauce with rice for breakfast. It was exactly the hot, filling breakfast we needed. The place was also full, so it’s not such a strange idea after all. There was a little time before boarding the train, we went to the food area of the department store and used our newfounded knowledge to buy a seasonal special new sake.

hak002romancecar

For ¥890 we took the romancecar limited express. Not much of an express, the advertised journey time of 1.5hrs was more like 2hrs, but the train was comfortable compared with the regular commuter trains. An enjoyable train ride on a sunny blue sky day.

hak036river

A ryokan shuttlebus (¥100) took us to our hotel, Hakone PAX Yoshino. Very traditional large Japanese spa resort hotel. It was only around 1pm so we couldn’t check in yet. They stored our luggage and we walked back to Hakone Yumato village to explore. The hotel is along the local river and it was nice to stroll with the sounds of flowing water next to us. Not a lot of traffic although there were more visitors that we expected.

hak045fish

First interesting sight was a shop selling dried flat fish. They set up a couple of small charcoal grills outside and encouraged people to grill pieces of sample fish. It was fun! The fish tasted really nice, there were different varieties and different flavourings. I found there to be too many bones, but mm was interested in buying some home. The shop also had fishballs, dried fish snacks and all sorts of pickled seafood. Love the pickles, but the glass jars are too heavy.

hak058soba

Lunch was delicious soba. I had wild vegetables (beans, mushrooms, bamboo shoots) and mm had the local specialty, yam that was grated and made into a paste.

The walk to the end of the shopping street and back didn’t take long, even though we lingered at any shop that grabbed our interest. Bought a couple of bags of snacks.

Went to the onsen before dinner. There are two baths, one inside and a rock bath in an outside area. We had the onsen mostly to ourselves as the other guests opted for early dinner at 6pm. Our choice of dinnertime at 7pm proved to be a wise one.

hak343sashimi hak344udon
hak347beef hak349dessert

Dinner was the typical multiple course menu at an onsen hotel. A selection of appetisers–eel sushi, taro, prawn with uni, chicken with radish, herring roe–started the meal. Sashimi, udon and vegetables cooked at the table, grilled cod, fish dumpling, baked beef, pickles followed. Rice was from a pot cooked at the table. Dessert was almond pudding, caramel tart and grapefruit. The food was decent, not spectacular. The presentation the usual Japanese high standard.

We spotted a poster for massage, so after resting for a bit after dinner we took turns getting a full body massage. Couldn’t do it together as there was only one lady in charge of the massage station. The massage area was in a really nice relaxation room so we stayed there keeping each other company.

Another relaxing day. Tried to relax and not hurry.

japan trip day 01: tokyo, sake tasting

5am wake up, leave home 6am. Taxi to airport express, very quick, got there around 6.30am. Went to pick up the pocket wifi from the counter and waited for mm at the check in desks. Everything was straightforward and we boarded the plane at 8.30am. Flight was around 4hrs, and it was also straightforward at the Tokyo end, we landed around 2pm.

tok011ramen

The airport limousine bus was ¥3,100 per person, took 1.5hrs and we checked into the Shinjuku New City hotel just before 5pm. Quickly dumped our bags and went downstairs but we missed the shuttlebus by a few minutes. Instead of waiting 20mins for the next one, we walked towards Shinjuku station in search of dinner. There was a maze of side streets around the station that had shops and plenty of restaurants. We spotted one that had a sign out front that said last day. Upon investigation, they were having a sale and it was the last day. The special on sale was dipping ramen, for ¥500. For an additional ¥200 we got a plate of roast pork slices, bamboo shoots and an onsen egg. The serving of noodles was very generous and the entire meal extremely tasty.

tok037sake

We google mapped to our evening destination, Kurand sake market. They have an all-you-can-drink sake deal, a large selection of around 100 sakes in a large wall fridge. In addition, another floor was plum and other fruit liquors, and yet another floor was sochu. The very reasonable price is ¥3240 for the entire evening session. For ¥5950, we reserved spots at a sake lesson. The instructor, Chris, is from the UK and a certified sake sommelier and sake educator. We were tired, from waking up early and the flight, but were interested enough to stay alert during the 2hr lesson. We learned about the history of sake (first brewed 2000 years ago for religious offering purposes), what it’s made from (rice, water, yeast, koji), the different types of sake, the specialness of the rice (denser with a bigger white inside), the process of making sake (rather like whisky), how to classify dryness / acidity, and much more. We learned that there are different types of cups and which one to use for which type. We can read a label better now, a negative number means sweeter and a positive number means dryer; with acidity is also a factor. And of course, we got expert tasting of more than 10 samples.

tok031sake

After the lesson finished, we stayed and tasted even more. They don’t sell sake on premises, although they have a shop. We took pictures of the labels of our favourites so we can look for them. The purpose of the sake market is to introduce sake made by smaller independent breweries. Many breweries are now operated by younger tojis (sake masters), similar to how craft breweries have taken over much of the beer landscape.

Even with the large bowl of noodles, we’d consumed a fair amount of sake so we tipsily wended our way, with the aid of google maps, back to our hotel. Showered and crashed into bed immediately.

nothing day

par023tuileries

Today, according to people who compile weird holidays, is Nothing Day. The idea is, well, to do nothing at all.

There is absolutely no purpose or intended structure for this pointless celebration.

I think I achieved it somewhat. I did my usual stuff, made lunch and dinner. Finished packing my suitcase. Watched tv.

Didn’t read, didn’t go out, didn’t even play pokemon.

I like this day. After all, no plan is the best plan.

paper centrifuge

papercentrifuge

This is so cool. Scientists at Stanford developed a human-powered centrifuge from bits of paper and string.

The idea of spinning something quickly via a piece of string is an old idea. Very similar to how survivalists teach us how to start a fire. The Stanford centrifuge can achieve

spinning speeds of 125,000 revolutions per minute (RPM), and exert centrifugal forces equivalent to 30,000g

The reason for developing this centrifuge is for separating blood samples in the field for testing, especially in third world countries. Conventional centrifuges are bulky and require electricity. This one can be constructed from paper, wood, plastic, fishing wire.

I love stories like this. Low tech solutions that make the world better.

macbook pro usb hub

hyperdrive

I haven’t bought my mba replacement yet. It’s still working and the frankly the reviews for the new mbp do not impress me.

But, if I had gotten the mbp or about to, I’d invest $69 for the hyperdrive, a fast usb hub with usb-c, usb 3.1, sd card and hdmi port. One hub instead of the bagful of dongles needed to convert to existing equipment.

It’s sad that the kickstarter raised $1.6 million. Not sad for the makers of the hyperdrive, just sad for mac users in general that it’s even needed. As petapixel said:

This is mind blowing when you really think about it.

I speak from the perspective of a long term apple user. When macs were expensive and compatible with nothing; before the windows version of itunes came out thus making the ipod mainstream. Increasingly, I’m feeling disillusioned about mac products. Seems like we’re an afterthought in amongst the plethora of iphones, ipads, watches and airpods that greet every customer in an apple store. I even seriously read the article that asks is it time to swap your mac for a windows laptop. I’ve owned a couple of windows laptops, but the last non-mac computer I’ve owned that was my primary machine ran DOS. So, it’s unlikely I’ll switch. I’ll just use my existing machine for as long as possible to maximise its value.

thai coconut curry

Mum visited a farm expo with her friends and came back with galangal. I’d only recently started cooking with more ginger so I was like, I have to learn a new recipe.

Googling ‘galangal recipe’ gave lots of examples such as curry, soup, satay. It’s used in several iconic southeast Asian dishes: beef rendang, penang laksa and tom kha gai. Kha is the Thai word for galangal.

thaicurry01

There are plenty of Thai, Indonesian, SE Asian stores around. Two already at the market. The nice lady there helped me gather all the other ingredients for a Thai curry in addition to the galangal: lemongrass, thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, chili, fresh lime. I already have coconut milk. I didn’t really follow any particular recipe or measurements.

3 chicken leg, skinned and deboned, cut into pieces
1 cauliflower, cut into pieces
about 2 tbsp galangal, finely grated
3 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 handful keffir lime leaves, sliced
1 handful thai basil, reserve some for decoration
3 cloves garlic
half a red onion
1 small chili
1 can coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
chicken stock
small block rock sugar
fish sauce

thaicurry02

Mise en place took a good half an hour. The chicken and cauliflower had to be cut into bite-sized pieces. All the herbs and spices were chopped or grated. I decided to use only one small chili because mum can’t eat food that is too spicy.

Brown the chicken, remove from heat. Sautée garlic, onion galangal and lemongrass until onion and garlic are soft. Add rest of herbs and spices. Return chicken to pan, add cauliflower and rest of ingredients. Season with salt, pepper, fish sauce.

thaicurry04

Simmer for about 1hr. The cauliflower got a bit soft and some of it melted, but I didn’t mind.

thaicurry05

Serve with rice. I added a couple more slices of chili to my plate, it was just spicy enough to feel the heat. Very coconut-y and tasty. I think leaving in the fridge overnight will improve the flavour.

Other ingredients that will work: potato, carrot, pork, fish, tofu. For a low carb version, make cauliflower rice instead of normal rice.

I had galangal, chili and thai basil left over. They all went into the freezer. The galangal directly; the chili after washing and drying; and the thai basil after blanching in hot water for 2 seconds then drying.

mm darth vader

mmdarthvader

I was asked to comment on mm’s application where she had to write a personality sketch. There was one paragraph where I knew what she wanted to say, but she didn’t articulate it as well. She was writing about how meditation enabled her to expand her self-view and to acknowledge that she has flaws like everyone else. I commented that talking about her “dark” side made her sound like Darth Vader and since it’s a school application, may be rewrite using more positive wording.

vaderchamber

She called me and we had a good laugh about it. I mean, say dark side and I immediately think about Anakin. Plus the association with meditation put the image of Vader in his meditation chamber immediately in my head.

Now I have to go and find a lego vader keychain to give to her.

one year on wordpress

cpuminutes201612

When my old website conked out because it became incompatible with Movable Type, I was forced to switch to WordPress. Exactly one year ago, I finished moving all 4,000 posts to WP. It was a massive copy and paste exercise that took a few weeks. I took the opportunity to put static pages to the travel and food sections, and the new look website went live.

So how has it been, one year on WP? Truth be told, I don’t feel comfortable using it. I can’t put my finger on it. There’s nothing wrong with the interface, it’s easy and straightforward to add a post. But still, it’s not MT. For some unknown reason it’s using up a lot of CPU minutes and try as I might, I can’t figure out how to reduce the usage. Googling hasn’t helped. My ISP says it may be due to the dashboard being open and I’ve gotten so paranoid that I’m writing posts on textedit and copying them over. It’s NOT how I want to operate. It’s gotten better recently though but again I cannot explain why and I hate being in the dark.

Posts take forever to save, tags need to be separated by commas, categories have to be selected via a long scroll in a tiny window, I can’t get the RSS to feed full post: these are all negatives in my book. Small things, but they add up to a not quite happy experience. I know there are plenty of add-ons and themes and stuff like that but I don’t feel like tinkering is intuitive. I still don’t know how and where I should be editing files.

There seems to be always someone trying to hack into the website. So much so that my ISP had to add a password to the admin files and it’s screwed up other files too. Annoying.

I know i can’t go back to MT and I’m stuck with WP. Story of my life, being stuck in a situation with no way out. Hate.

emergency go bag annual check

emergencygobag201501

Annual check of the emergency go bag. It’s pretty heavy but manageable if need be. Everything in order, added a bit more money. Previously I had USD22, GBP22. Added $10 and £10 respectively. Added € too. Everything has gotten more expensive and more money in an emergency is needed.

Switched out the teabags and chocolate for new ones that expire later. MRE is still okay. Still haven’t added shoes like I thought about last year. I figure, in an emergency I have to make time to grab wallet, phone and put on shoes. Worst case scenario, I’m at home I’m wearing crocs.

iphone 10th anniversary

iphone3gs

Ten years ago, 9 January 2007, Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone. To say it was revolutionary, that it would change the world, is not an exaggeration. Before that, I had a series of Nokias and I was super happy with them. I didn’t get the original iPhone when it came out because it was US and Europe only initially. I also had to wait till I had an address in Chicago before I finally managed to get my first one, the 3GS in 2009. Aside from that S model, my progression so far has been the even numbered versions: 4 when I moved to London and 6 when it got water damage and I had to get a new phone.

There’s a brilliant 10 year anniversary in pictures that gives a nice description of all the models. It’s also interesting to look back at what the original reactions were. Have to laugh at NPR:

It’s a cell phone, it’s a music player, it’s a camera, it’s a Web-enabled device, and much more. Ask yourself if you really need all that high-tech bling

Naysayers included Steve Ballmer at Microsoft (duh), my favourite Guardian and Techcrunch, with such a confident headline:

We Predict the iPhone Will Bomb

Others were more positive, taking a long view that even if this particular device failed, it would pave the way for a changed tech landscape. CNET:

this is about more than Apple. Even if it’s a flop–perhaps even more so if it’s a flop–the iPhone will change the way mobile devices are designed

And of course, it won Time’s 2007 invention of the year, because it took computing and platforms and design and usability to the next level:

computing doesn’t belong just in cyberspace, it needs to happen here, in the real world, where actual stuff happens

So, looking forward. I’m excited about the rumours that iphone 8 may be made from forged stainless steel. Drool.

random flickr

ork375tastingbottles

Haven’t played random flickr for a while. Sometime during 2016 I went past 30,000 on flickr and I have 302 pages on my photostream.

A random number generator gave me 170 so I navigated to page 170 of my flickr photostream. May 2012, visit to Orkney and the Highland Park distillery. Tasted 12, 15, 18, 25, 30, 40yrs and Thor; held a bottle of 50yr in my hand. The pic is of a row of tasting samples on the shelf in their tasting room. I haven’t been drinking a lot of whisky lately, should get back to a glass or two occasionally. Good times.

remote control wand

kymera

Drat, Christmas is over. But my birthday is in 4 months…

Here’s a gadget that will even break through the grumpiest, most curmudgeony anti-gadget luddite. Spotted via bb is the kymera wand, aka the coolest universal remote ever. It enables the user to program 13 gestures for remote control devices. So flick the wand up and down to change volume on the tv, or pull it back to open the dvd player, or swish to change the temperature on the dyson heater, anything that uses infra-red as control.

It’s currently selling for a ridiculous $256 on amazon and out of stock at amazon.co.uk. Possibly due to the boingboing article. There is a similar product, the harry potter remote control wand, for $58.95. Looks like a similar product.

anz data sim

Past cruises I got by with whatever free wifi I was able to find while onshore. There was one time a hop-on-hop-off bus was parked next to the ship and I was able to tap into the network sitting at the side directly over it. For the upcoming Australia and NZ cuise I wanted to see what options are available at the stops.

threedatasim

Pocket wifi for 19 days is very expensive, especially to destinations like ANZ. Data roaming on my iphone is even more exorbitant. I can get local cards when we arrive, but I don’t want to spend the time traipsing around trying to find a shop. There are a variety of international data sim cards available. The one that caught my eye was one for US, UK, Europe, Australia and NZ offered by Three. It’s actually part of the feel at home roaming package for UK customers. Three extends this to both contractual and pay-as-you-go customers, which means anyone can use this service and roam to 42 countries.

I found an online shop that sells the 30 day 1GB card for local $138, but I thought I’d go to the computer street to check if I can find alternatives. Turns out, this is the only card available, but the street seller was selling it for $60 (that’s £6 at current rates). No brainer, really.

The seller says speeds up to 4G, but reviews say 3G at most in ANZ. That said, the partners are Telstra, Optus and Vodafone in Australia and Spark and Two Degrees in New Zealand. Coverage should be okay. There’s uncertainty about whether tethering is possible. Again, the seller said yes and some reviewers said no. We’ll see. It’s so cheap that even if it doesn’t work and I have to get local cards it’s worth the experiment.

I looked at the back of the card when I got home and I actually get a UK number. Calls and texts to the UK are free, just like if I were using the card in the UK. That’s one benefit.

Aside from the 30 day card, they also have a 90 day 3GB and a 360 day 12GB card. If I’m happy about the set up, speeed and ease of usage whilst in ANZ I may get the 360 day card to cover the summer US trip and possible UK/Europe trip next year.

running errands

22kindness

Day out by myself today. What a treat.

Got the probate documents back from the land registry, refilled my prescription and had time leftover in the morning for late breakfast. Brought my ipad with me today, so I could read. Got to the hairdresser’s before noon (couldn’t get hold of him, tried calling) and he had 3 elderly customers there perming their hair! Luckily he was able to fit me in and did a great job as usual.

Lunch was pork chop sandwich from the traditional bakery and a beer from 7-eleven and enjoyed at the outdoor sitting area of central library. Borrowed a couple of books for travel research.

Backtracked to the market to get some fruit and veg. There was time so I went off to Elements, which is now a seel nest. I just walked seel long enough to evolve to dewgong this morning, and then within 30mins in the afternoon I caught 20 of them, enough to evolve another one. Pretty amazing. All I have left now to complete the pokedex are snorlax, lapras, chansey and porygon and these are pure luck. I’ll walk dratini, try to get a higher IV dragonite.

I need to be assertive enough and motivated enough to find more days like this for myself. Sounds boring, running errands, but I was so happy at the feeling of freedom and lack of parasite, even though I set myself a target to be home by dinner. It’s like I have a part of my old life back.

nyt 52 places to visit in 2017

places086matterhorn

One of my fb friends, R, generously gifted me a free 12-week subscription to the new york times. I can add it to my daily news reading list. I love the guardian, but I’ve missed the NYT. They just published their 52 places to visit in 2017 and it’s really inspiring. Bold means I’ve visited.

  1. canada — like that they basically say, visit the whole country. I’ve enjoyed every visit and even though it’s only been vancouver (a little victoria), toronto and niagara falls, I know there is a whole lot more. The country is pretty high up on my to visit list, I’d love to go there for a month or two and drive/fly around
  2. atacama desert — looks awesome, not in my immediate future unfortunately
  3. agra — there was a time when I wanted to explore more of india, but india doesn’t seem safe anymore
  4. zermatt — it took me till I left switzerland for me to visit zermatt, it was great
  5. botswana — safari, nice
  6. dubrovnik — seems to be the new prague, and every picture i’ve seen shows a beautiful city
  7. grand teton national park, wyoming — another wishlist is to go on a roadtrip of national parks
  8. tijuana — it’ll be great to add mexico to my countries visited list
  9. detroit — very surprised it’s #9, i don’t even remember if I’ve been
  10. hamburg — I’ve been to munich and a bunch of other german cities, but not hamburg. every year I say to mm we should go to a christmas market in germany. No, I’m not afraid of terrorist attacks
  11. marrakesh — i suspect like tunisia, I may be disappointed in morocco
  12. greenville — hmm
  13. pedregal, ecuador — that’s a real destination destination
  14. penzance — I wouldn’t base in penzance, last time we were based at marazion and it was much nicer
  15. osaka — absolutely, everyone should visit the kansai region at least once in their life
  16. stockholm — beautiful city, if a little boring
  17. sikkim — see agra above re: india
  18. ile de porquerolles — wow, a total off-the-beaten-track find, of course now it’ll be full of tourists
  19. madagascar — hopefully it doesn’t become like the maldives or seychelles and get spoiled by tourists
  20. sanya — no desire to go back, nothing to see
  21. cyprus — should be able to find good package deals when i’m back in the uk
  22. great barrier reef — sigh, have to see it before it disappears, what a shame
  23. minneapolis — i guess it’s a stretch to say i’ve been, i was at the conference and went to the mall
  24. kingston — jamaica is one of the destinations of a caribbean cruise, right? one of these days
  25. comporta — like canada, portugal is a all country visit wishlist
  26. kazaksan — so many new countries that need visiting, we used to be more adventurous
  27. gabon — that’s a dark horse
  28. athens — simply no competition in terms of heritage
  29. north west puerto rico — to be perfectly honest i never know where puerto rico is
  30. chiang mai — thailand has gone down in terms of countries i want to go to, for political reasons. they’re way too close to the CCP nowadays
  31. napa valley — wine! food! weather!
  32. puerto escondido — mexico, see above
  33. sedona — hopefully next year’s conference in las vegas i can get a chance to visit some of the south west US states
  34. madrid — increasingly I’m thinking madrid goes before barcelona
  35. ketchum — a hidden ski resort in idaho, how fabulous
  36. maldives — like the great barrier reef, go before the islands sink
  37. calabria — food and weather in italy
  38. antequera — the stonehenge of spain
  39. lofoten islands — northern lights in norway
  40. ibera wetlands — low chance of me making it to argentina
  41. istria — looks like the venice of croatia
  42. placencia — one of my ex-colleagues is from belize and she was always saying come visit
  43. langtang region — nepal is getting towards the quite unlikely part of the travel wishlist
  44. bozcaada — turkey is on the not feeling too safe to visit list unfortunately
  45. birmingham — as in alabama not the midlands. they’re putting these hitherto unimpressive US cities on the list, must be something interesting happening
  46. sacred valley — the whole of peru is worth visiting
  47. laikipa — a newer region to visit than the masai mara
  48. busan — it’s the one place on this list I have a high chance of visiting in 2017. I want to take mum to korea and may be bbmm can make a short trip there too
  49. portland — very impressed with portland, i have friends who live there and other friends who moved there after visiting, how much more of an endorsement is that
  50. budapest — will be interesting to revisit, we went there shortly after the fall of eastern europe, it’s likely very different now
  51. south bronx — um, okay
  52. ryukyu islands — we keep saying we need to try out new places and not go to tokyo or osaka or hokkaido all the time

tokyo all you can drink sake

kurand

Met mm yesterday for tea and walking around the last day of the brands expo. We also had decisions we needed to make prior to our tokyo trip. Hotel, train, pocket wifi. She brought her mb so i showed her kurand sake market which offers unlimited sake tastings for ¥3240 per session. Considering the evening session is from 5-11pm that’s pretty much unlimited time.

They have several branches and operate on a standing bar basis. Looking at the pictures, they have bottle upon bottle of different sakes in a wall of fridges and the idea is to drink all we like. Food not included, we’re encouraged to bring our own.

She was scrolling around and saw that they also offer tasting lessons. Two hours during the unlimited session. The lesson is conducted by a British sake expert and looks very comprehensive. There is a guided tasted of 10-12 sakes afterwards. Cost ¥5950.

I filled in the booking form and we’re in. Our first day is sorted; we get off the plane, hop on the airport limousine, check-in to our hotel, grab something quick to eat and head over to the sake market. Hopefully it will be a perfect start to the trip.

best of: 2016 pictures

best of: 2016

Really didn’t feel like doing any top 10 lists for 2016, but I know if I skipped top 10 pics I will regret it, like skipping nano 2007.

shatinunderbridge

Not very many pics in 2016 compared with past years, and many were taken on the iphone. The top 10 picks seem to end up being shape and line-driven. This one fits my current mood. Grey, floating, straight lines, harsh.

01.01.2017

After church we went to visit Papa. Lunch at the foodcourt and taxi up the hill.

sai01dragonboat

Instead of going home or going to the market, mum and I went to the coastal seafood area and walked around. Obviously it being new year’s day and a public holiday there were people everywhere. There were craft stalls, helpers singing and dancing, people playing with kites, a busker on electric violin and a huge dog meet & greet area which we avoided.

Mum queued up at a bakery for pineapple buns while I visited the wine shop next door. Bought a couple of craft beers: a chocolate stout and an oat stout. The chocolate stout was the last bottle.

Early dinner at one of the multitude of seafood restaurants lining the waterfront. Most offered a set meal depending on number of people. The portions were small, so they were able to fit in more variety. For two people we had razor clam, salt & chili scampi, lobster with noodles, steamed fish, bok choy and fried rice. They gave us seafood soup since mum asked for it. The quality is…just like mass produced food, not too bad. I liked the razor clam and scampi; the lobster portion was too small; the steamed fish was one of those with a very soft texture that I don’t like; the fried rice was way too salty. It’s a touristy area and the food reflects that.

masterchef desserts

Getting quite tired with the bingewatching. Last night the last episode didn’t finish till 2.30am and since it was a Heston episode we stayed up to watch it. Then today sitting in front of the tv from 11am. The grand final was 10pm-midnight, so an ‘early’ night. All finished now. Very pleased we managed to catch it, it was a fantastic season.

mystique pear

The memorable dishes were the ones at the pressure (elimination) test. They get a famous chef to bring one of their fancy creations, or get a Nobu to make them make a plate of sushi. The standouts were Christy Tania’s Mystique and the pear, walnut crumb, nest dessert by Dave Verheul which the contestants had to decipher from just a critic’s review.

choctop

The deceptively simple looking ice cream cone from gelato messina caught our eye. Not because of how complex it was to construct, but because it’s now on our list of places to try in Sydney. Good thing they have several branches around the CBD. I also learned that what we call choc ice they call choc top. Anyway, they have a lot of choices, may be we’ll need to go twice. And again in Melbourne.

sake kitkat

kitkatsake

Still bingewatching Masterchef Australia. But now I have snacks. Got these last week and only just got round to opening the packet.

Yep, it’s sake flavoured kitkat. It came out last february in Japan. 0.8% alcohol, so it’s really just for the taste.

Honestly, they taste pretty good. Can definitely smell the sake aroma as soon as the packaging is opened, although the taste isn’t as pronounced. I think they use white chocolate so it’s less overpowering, and so it looks nice. May be I’ll think about taking a supply to the conference this year to give out. They’re more expensive than regular sweets and chocolate, so it’ll have to be only for selected few.

masterchef australia marathon

Masterchef Australia marathon is on. The entier season 6 all day from 11am to 1am. Yep, 1am. We hadn’t seen this season, it’s before we got this channel. It’s on all this week until Friday and there’s no break.

Fantastic. Downside is I have to plan cooking and doing other stuff around this. The entire day is gone. I use the time before 11am to prep for lunch and commercial breaks during the afternoon to prep for dinner. It’s good practice. And why we have ovens. Pumpkin soup, chicken curry from the freezer, sausages, beef stew are on the menu for the next few days.

turkey and kale frittata

turkeykalefrittata01 turkeykalefrittata03

When I was stripping the turkey we got for Christmas I ended up with a box of small bits of meat too small to serve on its own. It’s useful for fried rice, soup, filling for baked potato, pizza topping. I made frittata.

Fry some kale until soft, add turkey and season. Pour in 8 eggs and cook until bottom is done. I had to add more eggs as the pan is too large. Put under the grill to firm up the top. Very easy and tasty. I drizzled some sriracha on my slice.

cruise trip research

More trip research. Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Not only where to go but transportation to, from and around each destination.

We have less than 24hrs in Singapore. There’s time for a short walkaround in between checking into the hotel and dinner. May be over to the gardens by the bay for views of the marina bay sands. Dinner either at the east coast lagoon food village or at the food court in the mall next to the hotel. The places at east coast are better (aka the stalls are more famous): chilli crab, popiah, bak kut teh, satay but it’s outdoors. At the mall it’s a food republic although I also saw that it has a Nando’s. Argh. We love Nando’s but go all the way to Singapore and the only meal we have is Nando’s, that doesn’t make sense.

Sydney we arrive late in the day so something quick that night for dinner. Our first full day is a saturday so we can find some markets. Carriageworks market which used to be eveleigh market, seems to be a perfect candidate: half an hour from the hotel, great looking produce and apparently Kylie Kwong has a stall there and may make a personal appearance.

syd104harrys

Fish market naturally. And Harry’s pies of course. Yum. I came across Mr Crackles for roast pork and crackling sandwiches. Yum yum. That doesn’t leave time for proper sit down meals so no time for Colin’s restaurant 4fourteen or the one at Darling Harbour where mum and I had this awesome seafood platter that year we visited.

The other destinations are day trips along the cruise. I detest that we only have limited time and always have to aim at getting back to the ship before 5pm. None of the excursions are any good. Too expensive, too guided.

mel125qvm

Melbourne has either a shuttle bus or tram to CBD. Plan is Federation Square, free tram area and Queen Victoria market. Lunch at the market hopefully. If there’s time we can walk around the park along the river. I remember it being very pretty.

Last stop in Australia is Burnie in Tasmania. There are excursions to Cradle Mountain and other scenic areas. If it’s running, I want to go on the hop-on hop-off bus that goes to a couple of scenic areas but most importantly, the Hellyers Road distillery. There are now 22 distilleries in Tasmania and Sullivan’s Cove near Hobart won best single malt in 2014.

First stop in NZ after 2 days at sea and one day cruising Milford Sound is Dunedin. There is a shuttlebus to city centre. Enough places to walk around, including Cadbury World and a couple of craft breweries. We’ll have to rent a car or go on an excursion to Penguin Place. We loved it when mm and I went, but I wonder if it’s worth it this trip.

Akaroa is a tender port and can be explored in around an hour. Or see what local tour companies offer. There are dolphin tours, nature exploration and specialist tours in vintage cars, for example. We’ll probably do what some guides suggest, find a nice restaurant and enjoy a glass of wine portside.

Wellington has a walkable city centre. A cable car goes uphill for views and the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. Back downhill, the waterfront is walkable and I came across a couple of seafood places for crab, oysters and native green-lipped mussels. There’s also a chocolate factory / store and something I’ve never seen, a craft soda shop.

Our first stop on north island is Napier. Doesn’t seem to be much there aside from art deco architecture, aquarium and Hawke’s Bay wines. People take excursions to Christchurch which doesn’t interest me.

My biggest dilemma is the next stop, our last full day, in Tauranga. There’s a beach and a walkable route around Mount Maunganui where we dock. This is one destination where I’m tempted to go for an excursion. Rotorua is less than an hour away and another popular excursion is to Hobbiton movie set. The Shire is pristinely preseved there and they have a 2hr walking tour around the set. It’s 2hrs from Tauranga and since we’re not allowed to explore the set on our own, the options are to join a tour (ship or local) or rent a car and book a tour beforehand. OTOH, it’s 2hrs from Auckland and we can go there ourselves. May be visiting the geothermal areas around Rotorua works better, it’s 3hrs from Auckland and I don’t want to drive that far.

We have a couple of nights in Auckland. If we take a day trip to Hobbiton, we’ll have one day left for CBD, which I remember there isn’t much to see or visit one of the outlying islands.

Research mostly done. Most days are planned and we have a few decisions to make.

family christmas

Christmas Day at middle island. Quite a long journey for mum and I, but the 260 bus came first and it turns out that it’s really, really quick–only 3 stops and no one got on at the intervening 2 stops. A long walk from the beach to the landing pier, we literally ran into Tony who was walking slowly on his own while R and D was out hiking. Everyone gathered at the small pier for the shuttle boat.

xmas201624lunch

Not very crowded at middle island. Mum and I ordered lobster roll and we all ordered stuff for the bbq: prawns, sausages, veggie sausages, potato, corn. The prawns were ginormous but the lobster roll was anemic. Since it’s something like double the price of lobster rolls I’ve had in the US, I won’t order it again.

xmas201652dinner

Sis and G didn’t come to lunch as G wasn’t feeling well. We went back to their place in the afternoon to rest. I helped sis cook dinner, mostly vegetarian–roast potato, carrot, parsnip, pumpkin, onion, garlic with vegetarian bacon. There was non-vegetarian fried rice from middle island too.

No turkey today, but we do have our traditional turkey. A whole cooked one from the gourmet supermarket. More like a large chicken, the label says 9 pounds. My parents always get this cooked one so I’m not going to go against tradition and make a roast one. I stripped it into several ziplac bags of meat and two bags of bones. Surprisingly not as much meat as I expected.

christmas eve at the yacht club

xmas201601yclub

Christmas Eve always means mince pies and Christmas carols at the yacht club. Sill as crowded as past years around the chairs set out for elderly guests. Still drank too many glasses of mulled wine. Still brought ziploc bags for mince pies and chestnuts. The choir was pretty inept, depending on one person who knew the lyrics and could sing. Ah well, it’s Christmas spirit that is important.

Went back to the brands expo since mum wanted to buy more vitamin E cream. Had frozen yogurt finally, enough for dinner after the mince pies.

tokyo trip research

Started doing consolidation and research for the trips. No need for Tokyo, have notes from last time. Cancelled the superhotel in favour of an apartment hotel in ginza, overall ¥17k savings, or one night. Yes, it means we won’t have onsen bath in Tokyo but since we’re at an onsen hotel in Hakone I’m okay with it.

Spent a lot of time on Hakone research. We last visited Hakone last century when we first started working. My ex-boss’ secretary’s husband owned a travel agent that was one of the first ones to specialise in Japan, and they’ve grown so much since then. Anyway, I have vague recollections of the trip–our first Japanese onsen, riding the local bus, visiting a volcanic valley–but no notes or even photos. It was before the days of evernote, flickr or even my website. I hadn’t switched to digital camera then so there may be physical photos in one of the boxes.

hakoneloop

I remember going on a cable car and a gaudy pirate ship on a lake. Turns out they’re part of the hakone loop. The hakone free pass covers all transportation in the area and they even recommended a circular route:

  • hakone-yumato –> gora by tozan train 35mins
  • gora –> sounzen by cable car 10mins
  • sounzan –> togendai by ropeway 30mins get off at owakudani
  • togendai –> hakone machi by pirate boat 30mins
  • hakone machi –> moto hakone by boat/bus 10mins or walk 30mins
  • moto hakone –> hakone-yumato by tozanbus 30mins

We’ll likely do the loop, or part of it. If we have time, I’m going to suggest visiting yunessun hotspring amusement park, which has 2 sections: a regular onsen and a swimsuit area that has wine, sake, coffee, green tea baths as well as waterslide, sauna and pool. Found a discount coupon for 39% off a combined ticket. Must remember to bring swimming costume.

We’ll have 3 full days in Tokyo. Depending on how cold it is, we’ll go outside or stay inside at department stores. We went to ueno, shibuya, asakusa and meiji shrine last time. This time may be shinjuku, ikebukuro (pokemon mega center!) and the articificial island of odaiba. Fish market of course.

22-dec

Met mm for lunch with mum at the nice jap ayce place. Her appointment ran late so she didn’t come till 1.30pm. We were still eating at 3pm but the restaurant was clearing up already. Unlike the other place, this one needed us out. Disappointing.

Went to the brands expo to walk around. Bought dried mushroom, honey, cordial and various home stuff like shower head, smelly wood and shampoo.

So full that I wasn’t even interested in the frozen yogurt stall.

christmas poinsettia

poinsettia2016

Lunch with sis, niece and her grandparents at the yacht club. It’s curry buffet day, which means something for everyone. Their taxi pulled up just as mum and I were walking into the club car park, great timing. Poor T, one of us always has to help him walk, he uses a scooter at home but obviously can’t bring it with him. The vegetarian curries ended up being better than the meat ones, only chicken was okay. Beef and pork were tough and the salmon in the fish curry was fishy, even smothered in curry sauce.

It’s christmas when there are christmas trees and poinsettia everywhere. It was raining this morning so drops of rainwater was still on the leaves. Looks a bit like snow. Pretty.

After lunch G is off to see rogue one with her friend. For some reason sis’ credit card didn’t work so i had to use mine to book the ticket. This means I had to go with her to the cinema to pick up the ticket. No big deal.

rogue one

Saw Rogue One. Took mum to the first showing at 11.30am, she even got a senior discount.

I’ve been not very in touch with what’s happening in the world lately, so I was less familiar with R1 than ep 7. I knew it’s coming out, I knew it’s about the rebels getting their hands on the death star plans, I knew it’s a spin-off / side story. And I knew I need to go see it.

rogueone

It was totally worth it. They chose the timeline and setting for this first spin-off perfectly. Eps 7-9 is on-going so we should get to ep 9 before tackling that universe. Eps 1-3, ugh. Nostalgia for the shappy space chic of ep 4 is more bankable and fan-acceptable. And every fan will have a great time spotting familiar elements. One of the first scenes, with Galen Erso standing next to a piece of equipment on his farm, an echo to a similar shot with Luke on Tatooine. So many nods to what we already know and recognise. And yet enough differences for it to hold its own as a standalone.

I haven’t seen ep 4 in a while, but like everyone who grew up with it, it’s ingrained in my mind. Variety called R1 Episode 3.9 and said,

for the original generation of “Star Wars” fans who weren’t sure what to make of episodes one, two, and three, “Rogue One” is the prequel they’ve always wanted.

It does the impossible, it explained one of the biggest plot holes of the entire series–how can the indestructable death star be destroyed by one single shot. That said, the journey to that single shot by Luke is not easy. The rebels are horribly outnumbered and R1 doesn’t cushion us with touchy-feely, feel-good vibes about their situation. It’s very grim. Vox summed up R1’s theme:

People die in wars.

It’s obvious, the whole franchise is called Star Wars. The Atlantic goes further, describing R1 a war movie, with

a different, and somewhat more impersonal, story to tell. None of its protagonists are discovering hidden blood relatives or training to be Jedi masters.

The majority of the characters are humans or normal of their species, only Chirrut Îmwe has a vague ability with the Force. Even the Imperial characters like the main villian Orson Krennic are simply human. It’s a bit like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. focusing on the humans of S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than the superheroes. That’s why Vader is so deadly and scary when he finally appears. The problematic part is that the rebel team, when we finally get to the action after planet-hopping in the gigantic interplanetary geography lesson that is Act 1, is a bit clichéd. The war movie is now interspaced with a heist movie

and like every good heist movie, it must assemble a motley crew of specialists.

There’s Jyn Erso, our hero with a tragic background who turns from being cynical to giving a rousing rebel speech. There’s Cassian Andor, a supposedly cruel, unfeeling rebel captain whom she has zero chemistry with. Bodhi Root, an Imperial pilot who defected to the rebels. The best characters IMHO are blind warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe and his guard Baze Malbus who has this awesome machine gun blaster. The team goes off, with Cassian’s snarky droid K-2SO to steal and send the Death Star’s blueprints.

We all know they get the plans. I didn’t expect them all to die, but towards the end I realised that’s exactly what will happen. It makes sense. None of the characters are in ep 4 and it solidifies the theme. War is horrible. People die in wars, good people and bad people both. It takes guts, to kill off the entire main cast, and points to director Gareth Edwards for making me not feel gutted about it. The breathtaking the last few minutes of the film helped. The precious data disks gets away by the skin of its teeth. It’s given to none other than Princess Leia who tells us about “hope.” We get the optimism even though we know what will come literally during the next 10 minutes. We know Vader (the only time a lightsabre appears) is about to chase after her and capture her. But we also know the rest of the story. That’s the beauty of this film. We can go from the very last second of R1 and seamlessly transition to the very first second of ep 4.

The special effects are mostly great. There’s one shot of a star destroyer coming out of darkness into the light and it looks like a tiny plastic model. The battles were nicely done but I wasn’t blown away. The CGI renditions of Tarkin and Leia, wow. Some people have commented about the creepiness of using a CGI-Peter Cushing. I thought he’d only be in a scene or two; with such a significant role, they could have used a real actor. The CGI of Leia looks like CGI, sorry I’m not convinced. What I really love is using original footage of Red and Gold leaders, and that sound when the death star’s ignition sequence is fired up.

The locations–Iceland, Jordan, the Maldives–are pretty and the cinematography stellar. Where the film falls below par, for me, is in the character department. Jyn and Cassian don’t even feel like siblings / friends. There’s barely time for character development. Reviews complained of a script that would even embarrass George Lucas, summing it up as a thoroughly mediocre movie which is basically a saga of data transmission when it’s hard to find a good signal.

Ouch.

I won’t go as far. I enjoyed it and want to see it again. After all, what’s not to like about a film that gets boycotted by Trump supporters because it’s too non-white (kudos for diversity!) or because the writers changed their twitter profile to add a safety pin, or, gasp, it’s about people who believe in fairness and freedom fighting against a swampful of autocrats. If ever a film set in a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away is a fitting commentary of this crazy 2016 year, it’s Rogue One.

buying presents

cheesechips2016

My cousin and family will be visiting, so mum and I went out to buy presents for them. Nothing too heavy or bulky. We’re poor present buyers so we decided to keep it simple and get food. Bought a variety of chocolate, biscuits and savoury snacks. Saw boxes of cheesey chips at a discount. The saleslady said they’re nice so we bought a few boxes for my niece and her grandparents who are also visiting. Opened a box ourselves to try and they are very good! Crispy and crunchy. Can taste the cheese flavour but not too salty. Went back and bought even more boxes, we ended up getting 15 boxes in total. I’ll give a box to mm and mum wants to give to her friends.

I was reading this thread about last minute gifts on reddit, this actually seems like a great idea:

I didn’t have any time or cash, so I bought a $2 photo album and photoshopped his face to a bunch of stock photos I found online. Made him laugh for hours.

I think it’ll be even funnier if OP had printed the stock photos and stuck the recipient’s face on them physically. I may do that for mm one day, find various generic photos like travelling, skiing, being a clown and replacing them with her head. Hahaha.

There are some hilarious gems in that thread, like:

a bottle of whiskey and a packet of white sauce

which people guessed was the gift buyer putting both items together at the shop and forgetting to take out his sauce. What about:

a pineapple, wrapped in newspaper

or:

A hedgehog exercise wheel.

I do not own a hedgehog.

or

a disposable emergency rain poncho

or (this is reddit, after all)

When I was 9 my grandmother got me a pubic hair trimmer.