happiness and people

peopleinacircle

Went over to meet mm in the afternoon. And we were joined by her mum’s friend P. Didn’t do much, just walked along the seafront near her place to the shopping centre and bought ice cream using my almost-expiring coupons. P has been super supportive of her mum and the family during her mum’s illness. She’s close enough to their family to be able to offer honest and practical advice. But there are still things mm can only tell me, not only because I understand, but I, luckily, have her trust.

P had to go home for dinner and we stayed around the shopping centre, browsing around supermarkets. Walked back and had Japanese set dinner–chirashi for me, grilled mackerel for her. Didn’t do much, but it was necessary social support.

There’s an article in the NYT called Happiness is Other People that seems quite poignant today.

There seems to be a trend that promotes self-awareness, self-discovery and self-everything, the starting point being: the search for contentment is an internal, personal quest that doesn’t involve other people. I totally embrace the concept of finding happiness internally or engaging in activities alone or in a group without interaction (eg running in a race with tens of thousands of people). A fb friend posted a question on what would make a perfect birthday and most people replied along the lines of spending time with loved ones, a nice meal, receiving presents. I remember one year, I took the day off work and told everyone not to contact me on the day. I didn’t think people would appreciate me posting that as a comment so I stayed silent.

There’s some pushback on all the internalising. Pretending to live in a virtual desert island doesn’t work all the time. It may be harmful rather than beneficial. There are studies that say lack of social interaction is as dangerous to health as smoking and obesity. NYT:

Self-reflection, introspection and some degree of solitude are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. But somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the balance wrong. Because far from confirming our insistence that ‘happiness comes from within,’ a wide body of research tells us almost the exact opposite….if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

I think it comes down, as with many things in life, to balance. Imagine a spectrum that has complete social isolation at one end and constant social interaction on the other, each of us falls somewhere in the middle. Some peole prefer to be surrounded by people all the time, some people want more “me time.” What I think is also of extreme importance, is the quality and worthwhileness of the interactions. It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to maintain strong social connections; as someone on mefi said:

it’s about the same level of energy (emotional, physical, logistical) required for dating…it’s a constant struggle against a lot of ingrained ideas I have about what counts as a “worthwhile” investment of my time.

Also important, is having the strength to leave toxic connections. Is it a fear of losing out, or fear of isolation, or resistance to change? Most of us are guilty of keeping toxic connections that are draining and too needy. Almost impossible to leave when it’s family, and here is when those other quality and worthwhile connections that can help negate the negativity. Sometimes the mere availability of those positive connections can carry us through tough times. The thought that I can go to certain friends is enough, I don’t necessarily have to actually reach out to them.

At the moment, mm and I are each other’s social support and we’ve either isolated ourselves or through circumstances found ourselves isolated. All the more important to have more “us time” even if it’s just walking in the park to the shopping centre to get ice cream.

family and bbmm day

Met uncle A and auntie J to visit my grandparents and great-grandmothers at the cemetery. As usual we met at the flower market, but when mum and I got there, the usual flower shop has closed down. In its place is an empty shop currently undergoing renovation. Mum usually gets handmade small baskets but most of the other shops don’t do them. We walked around and decided to get some really beautiful potted flowers instead. For my grandparents we got a large pot of…some red flowers and for the great-grandmothers smaller pots of…other red flowers. Okay, I’m really terrible at flowers and I forgot to take pictures.

wontonfriedfishballs

Quick lunch of wonton noodles, this place used to serve giant wontons but nowadays they are definitely deflated. Also got a dish of deep fried fish balls, so piping hot when they came to the table they scalded the tongue. There was enough time to walk around before meeting my uncle and aunt and we ended up in a small supermarket that sells a lot of Tesco products. I have my eye on olive oil, juice and wine. Will need to make a shopping trip one day.

We were efficient at the cemetery. There were quite a number of people there today, unusual for a weekday. The weather was nice, a little cooler than before so may be that’s why.

Had tea and cakes afterwards and then we said our goodbyes. Mum went shopping and I took the bus to mm’s place. I was really early so I bought some snacks and walked one stop. We were going to skive but then her mum texted inviting us to dinner. There was about an hour before we had to get going so we tried to fit in a happy hour drink. Didn’t work. We’d only started on our drink when I glanced at the clock and it was already 5.20pm. We were supposed to pick her dad up and then drive to the restaurant at 5.30pm. Yikes. So we asked the bar if they had takeaway cups and thankfully, it being a mexican place, they had those plastic cups with dome lids they probably use for margaritas. We hurried and managed to get to her dad’s place at 5.45pm.

Dinner was nice, her mum’s friend P was also there. I managed to take an orange and some dessert home with me.

family visiting | chow mein sandwich

chowmeinsandwich

Met my aunt and cousin for lunch. They’re the Rhode Island relatives; I hadn’t seen my aunt in absolutely ages and I don’t remember her daughter at all. I think when I last saw them last my cousin was still a kid. She’s now all grown up and very tall.

Went to the peking duck and shark’s fin place, which we all agreed is a family favourite. Everyone has memories of going there with my grandparents as hosts. Whenever someone comes for a visit from the US and Canada, that’s where we all go.

My aunt and uncle have a restaurant (or restaurants, I’m not sure) in RI, their parents had a fabulous fried chicken place that I have vague and fond memories of. My cousin showed us a video of their signature dish, the chow mein sandwich. I asked her to send me the video but she hadn’t gotten round to it yet, so here’s a stock pic. My aunt says the dish was responsible for paying for their house and college education for my cousins. It’s been around for decades, so can be considered a precurser of the ramen burger that was the craze a while ago. But where the ramen burger is all hipster pretentiousness, the chow mein sandwich is more down-to-earth. The ramen burger has noodles as the bun, whereas the chow mein sandwich is

crunchy noodles soaked in a super salty, meaty, brown gravy until they’re no longer all that crunchy, then combined with ground pork, onion, celery, and a gelatinous brown gravy that tastes better than it sounds, and slapped sloppily between either half of a cheap hamburger bun

A little investigation, together with a very interesting article at the New England Historical Society reveals that the chow mein sandwich originated at the town of Fall River, Massachusetts which is less than 30mins’ drive from where my RI relatives live, in the Providence area. The sandwich is also unique to that part of southeastern MA and RI.

What’s intriguing is that the chow mein sandwich is attributed to Frederick Wong who started the Oriental Chow Mein Company in 1938. Their Hoo-Mee chow mein mix is what goes into the dish. Frederick’s son Albert and daughter-in-law Barbara took over the family business and the chow mein sandwich mantle. I wonder if they are related to my uncle, who is also a Wong.

There’s so much of my family’s history in that part of the world–my grandmother was born in Newport in 1916 so there’s history going back 100 years–I really want to know more about them. Need to plan and scheme.

bbmm mental health day

A rare bbmm day out on a weekday. Met mm for dinner because we hadn’t seen each other for a while, and we both needed cheering up.

I went there early to walk around and to scout for possible restaurants. There’s a sous-vide steak place I found online and the prices look okay. Reviews are not good though, a lot of service related issues. Even if the food is good, if the service is rude it’s a big no-no for a restaurant.

There was even time to explore the so-called bar street where a number of drinking holes have sprung up. Mostly the same prices and mostly beer focused–a bucket of beer for xxx or discount on tap and bottled beer. I found one near the station and had a pint of murphy’s. I don’t think I will go to those bars again, they charge for “nuts” which made the price of that pint way too high. I hadn’t expected it and didn’t read the fine print carefully enough so it’s a lesson learned.

In the end, we had an easy dinner of congee at a local place. Many other customers were there for full scale dinner but we were fine with something simple. Just give us a decent place to sit and chat without feeling rushed. Lots to update on her work, family and a mutual friend who is just admitted to hospital for a minor surgery. We debated whether to get in touch or visit the friend, who hadn’t told us. In the end, our conclusion is to pretend we didn’t know because that’s probably what our friend wanted.

worldmentalhealthday

It’s also world mental health day, so we talked a little about the importance of making sure we take care of our mental health. Sometimes it means other people will need to take a back seat because we have to take care of ourselves first. It’s not being selfish or inconsiderate. If we’re not in good health, there is no way we can take on the worries of other people.

This was a much needed few hours together. Nothing special in terms of location or cuisine but so essential to both our well-being.

30-sep

I don’t know what I did to my shoulder, may be slept on it wrong or something. Feels like mild rotator cuff injury. It’s not as bad as before, I can lift my left arm with some discomfort but can’t pull it behind me as much as usual. I’ll need to foam roller, I guess.

We asked my decorator to come in and give us a quote on stuff to be done. We told him our wishlist and may need to not be as ambitious depending on the cost. See what the quote comes back to be. He did a good job when he did my flat a few years ago. Probably wise to ask for another quote from another decorator though.

When the part-time helper was here on Monday and cleaning windows, one of my windows broke. So now the glass is being held together by tape. I think these are original windows, which means they are older than me. Just as well, one of the items on our wishlist is to replace the windows.

ptown036pilgrimtree

It’s still ridiculously hot. All week the forecast is temperatures still 30, 31, 32ºC. I haven’t been exercising (I haven’t left my room much tbh) so I need to go walking or running because I’ve put on weight. I hope it gets cooler soon. We don’t get much autumn here, no changing of colours. Not like this pic in ptown last time I was there.

brooding

I’ve lived with this view out of my living room (East River, NYC):
monterey02view

On this street (Chicago):
balmoral001street

And this (London):
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WIthin walking distance to this (Lake Zurich at Tiefenbrunnen):
Swaying Silently
image courtesy flickr user eric andresen because I haven’t scanned my pics

Running distance to this (Belmont Harbor, Chicago):
chibike008belmont

So why am I now a prisoner in a hovel of a room where two rooms-worth of stuff are piled on top of each other and there is no space to walk more than 3 steps. Pollution so bad I’ve needed antihistammine every day for the past 6 months. Always weary of dark spots in case there are undesirable visitors. No way out.

flat errands and happy hour

fridgebeer

Had to go back to the flat for a gas appointment. Every time the gas supply is turned on, off or transferred they send a technician to test it, free of charge. It’s a bother, but it’s safe. I turned the supply off after he left since no one will living be there for a while.

I probably need to do a little work to the flat. The main door hinge is broken and the wood pretty chipped so I may as well replace the whole thing. I’d like to redo the bathroom too but it may be costly. I’ll have a think think.

I was meeting sis for happy hour but there was a lot of time, so I stayed around to read. I only had my ex-tenant’s coffee table, but it seemed sturdy enough to sit on. Plus the beer and vitamin water he left behind were refreshment enough. The beer was mostly heineken so honestly not appealing but the vitamin water was good.

I was early getting to the hh place and they hadn’t started so I found myself at another place around the corner. They had a 2-for-1 deal which, in retrospect, wasn’t suitable because I had to finish 2 glasses of wine before going to the original place. Ah well #firstworldproblem. The hh place didn’t have any special deals, but they had canapes which made it a very popular location. They had small sandwiches, prosciutto, fried pumpkin and pasta. Enough to fill me up without needing dinner. Their wine selection was also much, much better than the around the corner place.

bbmm outing

We went out for a drive to one of the far away suburbs. 45mins from where I live, which is a long way here. (Okay, we took the longer way that didn’t go through an expensive tunnel, which added around 10mins or so.)

The covered carparks in the town centre were expensive, so we found one of those unofficial carparks just outside the immediate centre. There are altogether around 30 spaces there and the poor guy who was at the entrance was in a booth but no air-con. We decided we’d always find these types of carparks going forward.

Just wandered around for an hour or so at the shops, mainly a furniture/home accessories shop. It’s a chain so the shoe rack mm saw and was interested in she could get elsewhere near where she lives. Went to the market and poked around the vegetable stalls that were having a late afternoon sale. Cheap veg but quality not so good. We both ended up buying some noodles.

Dinner was ayce hotpot. It came with a small selection of sashimi, a plate of A4 wagyu beef, and assorted seafood–mostly clams with some fish and a couple of oysters. We don’t go crazy with ayce menus anymore, carefully picking the food we like. The normal beef was good too, and we also ordered lamb slices and lots of prawns. Most hotpot restaurants also offer noodles and dumplings, cheap filling food so people will order less seafood and red meat, most like.

Non-alcoholic drinks were included, as was ice cream. We both had 2 small tubs; my sesame and red bean were okay, mm had red bean and mango which she said tasted exactly like the three-flavour ice cream we used to have when we were young. Tasted artificial to me, but there was a nostalgic factor.

An easygoing afternoon and evening, which suited us.

whk105penguinselfie

And just because I’m feeling random, here are some penguins taking a selfie. (Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ)

a day of errands, and a great beer to end

A day full of errands and running around.

My tenant moved out. We exchanged emails around 2 weeks ago so I know he’s accepted a job offer in another country but I didn’t know that he’d be flying out so soon. He left the keys in the mailbox.

To his credit, he had professional cleaners come in and clean the flat. He also left his large coffee table, a dirt devil vacuum cleaner, a doorframe pull up bar and a modem which he should have returned to the internet provider. He also left lots of beer and vitamin water in the fridge–there must be 20 bottles of beer and 10 bottles of vitamin water. Now I have to figure out what to do with the flat next.

I didn’t have too much time to spend at the flat, I was rushing to a doctor’s appointment to clear my blocked ears. Yeah, I finally decided to get them sorted. It was nice to live at reduced volume but it’s not ideal. I’ve been to this ENT doc since I was young and he knows my ear health history. He poked and vacuumed the gunk out of my ears, pretty uncomfortable but effective. Expensive though, around USD80 and that was without medicine.

Took a bus back across the harbour to Sam’s. He out-did himself this time. Gave me an even better than normal haircut and within 40mins too. This time he cut it shorter than before and it feels so good to have so much of the thickness gone.

Went to the supermarket and bought a couple of bulbs of fennel. Seeing so many contestants use fennel on masterchef gave me a hankering after it. Organic and imported so very expensive. Almost USD10 for two small/medium bulbs. Ah well. Sis gave me a voucher for this supermarket and I still have quite a lot of balance left.

stbernadusabt12

By then it was around 5.30pm and I’d been running around since 1pm. Have over an hour till meeting mm for dinner. Decided on beer over wine so walked over to frites with their huge belgian beer selection. I wanted to see if they have St Bernadus abt 12, which I came across very often when I was googling Westvleteren 12. The story is shortly after WW2 the owners of St Bernadus brewery and the trappist monks from nearby St Sixtus monastery had an arrangement where they would share equipment and location. More importantly, the brewmaster from Westvleteren brought over the recipes, the know-how and the St. Sixtus yeast strain. The arrangement stopped in 1992 when the trappist monks decided that authentic trappist beer could only be brewed and sold within monastery walls. Nevertheless, St Bernadus continued with the recipe.

The long and short of it is, St Bernadus is the nearest alternative to the extremely rare Westvleteren 12.

I didn’t know enough when I was tasting the Westvleteren 12 to get a bottle of St Bernadus too. So I’m comparing a beer today with one I tasted a month ago. There are similarities and differences. Both are dark, creamy and complex. The Westvleteren was richer, smoother and had more dried fruit notes. The St Bernadus seemed more aerated and towards the end, I felt it tasted like any other dark ale whereas the Westvleteren was fruity and rich even at the end.

I still think the St Bernadus is a top-notch beer. Frites has happy hour monday to friday between 3-8pm and it was half price. With Westvleteren extremely difficult to get, I’ll be back again to taste the St Bernadus and I won’t feel like it’s a second choice.

bbmm at travel agent

okinawa

Met mm at the travel agent’s to get some information about cruises and resorts. Her mum’s doc says she can go on short breaks and it will likely be beneficial. But she can’t go too far away and preferably as little travel hassle as possible. It was the doc who suggested cruises. There are definitely advantages, mostly it’s the minimum amount of travelling and yet she can enjoy going away.

We’re limited by the total number of days, preferably under a week. There are only a few itineraries that fit the criteria. Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan. And the Japan one is only as far as Okinawa. I knew Okinawa is south of mainland Japan but I didn’t realise it’s that far south. It’s nearer to Taiwan. From brief research, it’s mainly a beach resort type of destination.

The Okinawa cruise is on the huge Ovation of the Seas. Over 4000 passengers, 167000 tons. One day at sea, then arriving at Okinawa at 1pm. Stay overnight then leave at 2pm the next day. Another day at sea. Truth be told, it’s an odd itinerary and doesn’t give a lot of time on the island.

We’ll see.

day out with sis

Sis and I went to the computer area to hunt for various gadget-related stuff for her. First, lunch at the vietnamese stall in the cooked food market above the market. Street food inside with air-con. The pho was good, and it came with a drink. We also ordered chicken wings, prawn cakes and vietnamese 333 beer. On the way out we saw several large tables with what looked like freshly cooked delicious food.

I bought a few small wicking towels and some superglue. She bought belts, straps, replacement sponges for headphones, hand-cranked survival radios, and all sorts of other fun gadgets. It’s okay to go on a weekday, still crowded but manageable compared with the weekend.

kan015calpis

There was still time and we wanted some drinks. Nothing in that area so we went back to PP and found a japanese restaurant. I had a sawa or calpis cocktail. It was surprisingly refreshing although there wasn’t much alcohol flavour. Calpis is actually one of my favourite drinks, slightly carbonated yogurt flavour a bit like yakult. Hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

uncle H (2)

port132rose

The actual funeral for Uncle H. Only Mum and I went, it’s a school day for G so Sis couldn’t come.

After a short service led by the same priest as yesterday, we went in a coach to the crematorium. The priest talked a little about green burial (yay us) and how our bodies and physical objects will remain, only in different states. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The lunch afterwards was at one of Uncle H’s favourite restaurants. Auntie F says there are fixed dishes that had to be eaten, and fixed number of dishes too. She had been heartbroken the past 2 days and I’m glad to see her smiling, joking and talking to everyone. All her siblings were there (except those in other countries). I sat next to her sister and they were telling stories of when they were kids.

A family kind of day.

uncle H (1)

psalm23

We said goodbye to our family friend Uncle H today. He’s not actually related but we call each other uncles and aunties out of respect. Both our families moved to the UK at around the same time; they are just a few years younger than us, not so much younger that we couldn’t play together as kids.

We went with Uncle H and Auntie F on our first ever cruise to the Mediterranean, so they are the “guilty” ones who introduced us to cruising. I won’t say I was impressed with that particuar cruise, but there were some new experiences. The last time I saw Uncle H was about a year ago when mum and I met them for lunch.

Their son J used to be this nerdy kid we made fun of. He is now owner of his own architecture firm and he has won numerous prizes. He looks exactly the same as Uncle H. It occured to me that we are now older than my parents and J’s parents when they moved to the UK with their young families.

There were many people paying their respects for Uncle H. A priest and a group of kind volunteers from their church came to conduct a service. It started off with a reading of Psalm 23, always appropriate. The choir sang Amazing Grace and a few other hymns.

Sad all around. Sis and I agreed we did the right thing not having this for Papa. It probably gives people closure and comfort, but we would have hated it.

bbmm saturday

Went with mm to buy a new fridge. She’s needed to replace her existing one for a while, but the available dimensions in her kitchen really limited her options. In the end there were only 1 or 2 models that fit the space. Seems like fridges have become deeper and less wide than before.

hhbizou20170826

After getting the fridge we went to PP where we were supposed to have dinner with her family. It was only 4.30pm so there was time to walk around or find somewhere to sit. Surprised to see bizou had happy hour. On a saturday, that was unexpected. 2-for-1 plus a small snack selection. Salad, cheese, prosciutto, watermelon, pineapple. We were both careful not to eat too much because of dinner. I had a few plates of just salad after my first plate with cheese and prosciutto. She had a tempranillo from australia and I had a petit syrah from new zealand. Two unexpected origins for these two grapes. No complaints.

Dinner was in the usual restaurant. Excellent ordering by her mum, there was a perfect amount of food and very little leftovers. I left with an orange.

Typhoon coming again–we had T10 on wednesday already. By the time I was at the bus-stop it was T3 and the wind was definitely picking up when I got home.

mm family dinner

Dinner again at mm’s parents’ place. Her mum had a return visit to the doctor’s in the morning and it’s continuing good news, so we are all very glad. I met mm near the market to go shopping for some small stuff. I gave her a jar of her favourite peanut butter that I found in our cupboards so we went to get her favourite marmalade too. Got some medicines and toiletries from a small drugstore and two fish for dinner.

chengdinner20170819

Simple, healthy food again. Lots of veg, steamed fish, bbq pork from metropol. Even the lotus root that was used to make soup was tasty. Auntie was teaching us how to select the best food from the market, she really knows good quality.

Auntie’s doctor suggested that if they wanted to go on holiday for a few days that a resort or cruise will be most suitable because of the low stress. I was telling mm a little about cruises, cruise ships and how they work. Let’s see how it goes.

Dinner was early so that the elders could start getting ready for bed early. Instead of taking the train (meaning a long walk home) i took 2 buses. Probably around the same time but air-conditioning. I was home by 9.45pm.

happy birthday, papa

westvleteren12

Today would have been Papa’s 80th birthday. We met at the foodcourt for lunch–korean food at 1/10th the price of jinjuu and the bibimbap actually had crust. The cemetery was very quiet, we were the only people visiting while we were there. Must have been papa looking out for us, our taxi driver was actually waiting at the taxi stand when we were about to leave. He claimed he was taking a break but he did let slip that he figured we would have problems getting a taxi. Smart of him.

One of my regrets is I saved up a bottle of westveleteren 12, the best beer in the world, for a special occasion and never got to share it with papa. Westvleteren has the smallest production of the Belgian Trappist monasteries and sale of this beer is limited to one crate per buyer who had to call ahead to reserve their purchase (if they get through on the phone). It’s been described as the holy grail of beer. This one treasured bottle I managed to find in Brussels five years ago during my chip- and chocwalk with my friend A.

Papa would have loved the beer. It’s dark and strong, at 10% alcohol. Rich, smoky, creamy. Tons of fruity, caramel notes–like it’s been soaked in dried fruit. It’s definitely one for sipping slowly. It’s a small 330ml bottle; but the complexity and higher alcohol content makes it more staisfying. It would have been great shared between the two of us.

Happy Birthday, Papa.

mm family dinner

Went over to mm’s parents’ place for dinner. Her mum is looking better, more energy and alert and she’s up and walking around. They have 2 helpers now, one to take care of household chores and the other is a carer for auntie. The household helper apparently isn’t a very good cook so mm and auntie were supervising the cooking today.

Simple home cooked meal, limited by what auntie can eat. Steamed eggs, steamed pork, steamed fish, vegetables. Yes, mostly steamed but there was plenty for everyone, tasted good and everyone had a nice dinner. We opened a bottle of wine and shared with auntie’s friend. After dinner we played a game of checkers then it was time for them to get some rest.

Staying with mm tonight. Initially we thought we might chat but after showering we were too tired and went to bed.

bbmm social support day

saltedpigbeercrackling

Went to the hospital to visit mm’s mum, she found out she was ill mid-july when I was in chicago. I’ve been trying to support and cheer up mm. I feel guilty about being in chicago when it all happened and she was all on her own taking care of her parents. I feel much better that I’m close by and she can talk to me more.

After the hospital visit we went for a quick drink at the salted pig, one of those places along the shoreline 5mins’ walk from her place. She had a wine and I had a rather expensive craft beer. It being saturday 8pm everything was full price.

Ordered crackling which inexplicably came with guacamole. Guac from a jar, no taste of fresh avo at all, ugh. The crackling tasted like it was from a packet too, which was surprising because this was supposed to be a pig restaurant.

Staying over with her tonight, so we can talk till later and I don’t have to take a taxi home. We’re both pretty exhausted, early to rest.

errands

I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, but I was still pretty groggy when I woke up in the morning. I unpacked my stuff, again thankful that I was able to do laundry and was using packing cubes. Paid the bills that accumulated over the past month. I don’t have that much mail, bank statements are online and I don’t get much spam.

After lunch, mum and I went out for errands. Bank, teachers’ union to get a form, look for storage boxes, and to buy a tv. After 9 years and going around the world a full circle, my trusted tv finally broke down a couple of weeks ago. Yes, mum waited till I’m back so we could go get a new tv together, I have no idea why aside from it’s a ploy to continually annoy me. She knew which brand and model already. The 49″ turned out to be about the same dimensions as my old 40″ because of much smaller bezel. So thin too, and light.

Took longer than expected to pay–I wanted to use credit card points, the remainder was on another card because there was a rebate offer. Had to register by phone, then add the card to my iphone wallet for a second rebate. I suppose with the tv being a high expense item, going through all the hassle is worth the rebate. I think altogether I get something like 8-9% back.

I’ve only just started using apple pay. It is very convenient but I have to make sure I’m using the right credit card. Well, not the card but using the card in the right country and currency. I haven’t noticed how widespread it is, since it’s not my default method of payment I don’t look out for the terminals. I get the sense that it hasn’t been widely adapted. The older generation will never use it, both my parents and mm’s parents still believe in going to the bank counter for transactions, they don’t even trust ATMs let alone asking them to use their mobile phone. In the US, where data is most widely available, in 2016 around 1% of transactions used apple pay. There’s a long way to go.

daikiya01sashimi

We stayed out for dinner. Tried out a new ayce jap place. Very crowded and the tables very close together. There was a large self-service area for salad, drinks and dessert. They had free flow umeshu and sake too. I was playing with the sake machine. Food-wise, we decided it was average. Sashimi was average, grilled food was average, the soup was nice. I’d go back for the umeshu and sake and most of these ayce jap places are pretty similar anyway. The platter of sashimi was no different from platters from other places.

laundry and burgers

dryer

The main to-do item today was laundry. Got that done efficiently.

Went to the store, bought a few things. Made cheeseburgers for dinner, they were great. Food made at home makes a huge difference.

neighbourhood walk

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Nice day to go out for a walk around the neighbourhood. Clear skies but dry enough that I’m not dripping with sweat. Quite pretty around St Walter Church.

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The houses in this area are pretty. To my standards, they are all large and even the ones that look small from the outside are deep so there is plenty of space inside. This interesting one has the remains of a wall around the front gate. I wonder what the story is.

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I walked to the orphanage again, and over to this small store. It’s a pokestop too. But I didn’t go inside, apparently it’s a dodgy place where suspected drug dealers hang out. Safe enough during the day (from across the road) but I won’t go near it when it’s dark.

There were very few pedestrians around. This being America, with drive-thru restaurants and ATM machines and even drive-thru postboxes, most people out and about were driving. I saw a postal worker delivering mail, a couple of people walking their dogs, a kid on his bike, people waiting for the bus, that was about it. There was a group of 4 women having a picnic at the lawn near the church. Perhaps having lunch? It was around noon.

lazy day

A lazy day. I did go out for a walk around the neighbourhood, it was a hot day but not so humid that would make spending any time in the sun horrible. I started playing pokemongo one year ago so I went round to the nearby pokestops. Either the signal was bad or the app was in its usual poor performing state I found myself having to stop every 2 minutes to restart it. So frustrating.

I went to the local church and the park outside, where I did a lot of running last time I was here. The park was fenced off, with a sign that said they were returfing it. I walked a little further and found an orphanage, with a pretty building and a gym at its front door. Couldn’t do much with the gym because the app wasn’t working. In the end, walked for about an hour and it felt good.

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The reward (and more than the calories spent walking) was a slice of three milk cake I bought at the bakery yesterday. Three milk cake is also known as tres leches cakes, where the cake is soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream. Rich in taste but still light in texture. Found a useful recipe with lots of pictures.

visiting friends

We drove up to the city to visit our friends C and A, who had recently moved into their new home in Jefferson Park, which they say is like living in the suburbs but still in the city. Their house is on the corner and the cross street is Balmoral, what a coincidence. They have just begun to decorate it and it’s already looking homely and comfortable. Lots of beautiful artwork. There is the front room with modern fireplace, a cosy library with books, books, books, stainless steel white goods in an open kitchen. Two bedrooms upstairs and tv room in the basement. Plus a porch and a two-car garage.

We chatted and chatted and chatted. Played with their friendly cats too.

ribsdinner

Made a simple choice for dinner, ordered from an italian place to pick up and eat at their home. Much more relaxed than eating out. I shared a full slab of ribs and got a side order of spinach. The ribs were good. Tasty and tender. On the way to pick up dinner, we stopped at a bakery and got cakes that looked delicious.

Long day, including a 2hr traffic jam when going there, but really nice.

laundry!

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I needed desperately to do laundry, after a whole week away at the conference. So that’s what we did. We went to the mexican place first for late lunch. I had a carne asada which is skirt steak with trimmings. I asked for the steak rare so it wasn’t overcooked. Tasted like they put it in baking soda to tenderise it, and needed seasoning. It was okay. I ddin’t eat the tortillas that came with it.

So happy to have a full collection of clean clothes. I lost a sock though, either at the laundrette or it’s stuck inside an item of clothing.

the day before the flight

The day before the flight is usually extremely boring. I’ve checked in, I’ve packed my suitcases, I’ve saved the episodes of mkr and masterchef australia that I will watch in parallel so I’m up to date when I get back. I even roasted a whole chicken so mum can have leftovers tomorrow.

I was looking on google maps, checking the bus schedule when I realised the normal bus will take too long. Plan B is to take the airport express. So it involved going to the nearby travel agent and getting tickets. They only have 2 single instead of a return but still cheaper than to use the regular fare.

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Met mm at dan ryan’s after dinner for a drink. Bless her, she came all the way over here so I didn’t have to travel. I was still extremely early so we could have met someplace more central. Ah well. They have all day happy hour so it was worth it. We had our usual glass of wine and ordered their daily bar snack, for mondays it’s philly cheesteak sliders. Very, very salty. We’re glad the sliders are small. It’s unlikely we will order these again. They have a hummous plate that we like, so next time that’s what we will stick to.

Instead of walking in the heat, I took the minibus home. Showered and now it’s a matter of tidying up and then going to bed.

bbmm tea, beer, dinner

Met mm after her appointment. Lots of catching up, just a couple of cups of tea. Then went walking for a bit, went to a gift shop so I can get some small presents then to a clothing store where she got a t-shirt. I was looking at some cargo pants and when I put it back my finger caught the metal hanger. At first it was an annoyance, then it started bleeding quite heavily. The staff reacted quickly and put 2 plasters over it. It’s like a paper cut but much deeper.

On the way to the restaurant for dinner we came across a small craft beer store with a blackboard outside that said free tasting. They were featuring beers by Singapore brewlander brewery and we got to chat with their brewer John Wei. He started as a home brewer and only started producing commercially a few months ago. The beer is actually brewed at premises he rented in Cambodia. The first beer we tried was a light, floral brew that is supposed to be perfect for the hot, humid tropical summer. We also tried their saison beer and liked both.

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For dinner we went to a japanese ayce place. I think I was there with my parents a long time ago but haven’t been there with mm. The usual ordering method by ticking various pieces of paper of sashimi, sushi, grilled, deep fried etc. The sashimi selection was good, although not fantastic. They had a special offer of complimentary uni which was well received. Drinks including sake, beer, soft drinks were buffet style so we can fill our own sake jug. I tried half a glass of Orion beer and it wasn’t as good as the brewlander so I stuck to sake and tea.

father’s day

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Father’s Day. Weather is still horrible but we still met up to go visit papa. Sis and I tried to be positive and cheerful but mum was just an unresponsive blackhole.

Afterwards, sis and I went to dan ryan’s for a drink. I was so fed up at that point I ordered a whole bottle of wine, a cabernet franc.

I’m this close to using the uber bag.

saturday adventures

Meeting mm’s family for lunch. The weather is grotty and heavy rain and thunderstorms all day. She said 12.30pm. When I arrived at the restaurant around 10mins early, I couldn’t see anyone. No one by the correct name on the reservation list either. I sat on one of those plastic circular stools in the lift lobby to wait.

Around 12.50pm, mm called. They changed the restaurant without telling her, which had the knock-on effect of not telling me.

I was pissed. Jumped on a minibus to go to the new restaurant but at the back of my mind I was considering not going. Poor mm, I took it out on her because she’s the nearest. It’s not her fault and she was very angry too.

I’ll probably not go to a lunch or dinner with them for a while.

The main purpose of us meeting up was to go to sam’s. I needed a haircut and she wanted highlights. I waited till he got her started then he cut my hair then I waited till she finished. I could have gone out to walk around or pokemon but the weather was simply too bad.

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Dinner was at passion, opposite sam’s. We got a whole bottle of house red and munched on a brie & onion palette (flat bread), braised pork rib with chickpeas and a 3 item salad of beetroot, quinoa & feta and orzo.

It was absolutely chucking down with rain when we left. I got a taxi and thought she would too, but she went to the sweet shop and took a bus.

home alone dinner

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Mum went out with her friends so I was home alone in the evening. I finished off the giant red velvet cheesecake factory cheesecake she bought the other day and was too full for dinner. I had cucumber with miso and an orange, that was it. Felt healthy, and my stomach wasn’t as bloated.

If I’m at home by myself I usually just eat leftovers or a whole packet of ham. There are days when I wish I could go back to those days and not have to cook 2 meals a day.

kcl group lunch

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One of the kcl group is here for a quick visit. She is now in India, having been to 8 countries over the years (her husband is in the diplomatic services). Everyone is a lot older now, although physically the change is subtle, all are recognisable.

Had lunch at a chiu chow restaurant. We were one of only 2 tables there so we had a great time. Good food too, ordered the set for 12 people. Assorted starters, soup, pepper prawn, black cod, whole chicken, really great vegetable with soup, fried rice, sugar & vinegar crispy noodles and a dessert of deep fried taro strips which are then covered in sugar.

Met mm afterwards, looked at fridges, bought some dvds then camped out for almost 3 hours at dan ryan’s. Two glasses of wine, complimentary olives and a hummous plate snack. Proper dinner was at the supermarket foodcourt of chirashi.

emergency uber bag

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Met mm for drinks. She had a rollercoaster day of expectations and disappointment. We’re both in need of social support.

I told her I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own room. The atmosphere at home is miserable. I have no patience to listen to pointless talk or answer inane questions. I can’t deal with stupidity and ignorance and laziness from a lifetime of having other people taking care of everything. I don’t know how much longer I can stand this.

Bless her, mm said she’s only an uber away and I should pack an uber bag in case I need it. What got me depressed was I couldn’t think of where I could store my uber bag. There’s crap everywhere. Things that no longer work and we’ve bought replacements for. Empty boxes. The clear plastic bag toilet paper came in.

I then realised I don’t need a full bag, definitely not my emergency go bag or stuff recommended on quora like a knife or documents. So now I’ve packed a plastic bag of basic toiletries, medicine, t-shirt and shorts. Small enough to quickly stuff inside my regular backpack. Everything else mm will have. Unless the situation is very dire it’ll only be for a night or two. If the situation is dire, I’ll be packing a suitcase.

With only so few items, I don’t really need to pre-pack. But it made me feel marginally better. I also learned about ranger rolling and skivvy rolling clothing. The ranger roll is very neat and skivvy roll puts socks and underwear inside a larger item of clothing.

family & bbmm day

Met Uncle P for lunch at queen’s café. Old styled “western” food like borscht and skewers and beef strogonoff. He brought a copy of the photoessay book he’s been working on. Photographs from the 1970s to 2000s. I really like the theme and the photos are of course top-notch. Tried explaining the concept of crowdsourcing to him but I think he prefers the traditional publisher route.

Everyone had plans afterwards so I met up with mm. Hot day, walked a little then found a happy hour place. I was going to have beer but had a glass of wine instead. Korean bbq for dinner although we didn’t eat that much.

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She was telling me about her supervisor who got her PhD in 2.5 years and is able to read 11 pages of academic journal in 2 minutes. Sounds really smart. So we were texting afterwards and we were both googly eyed. I was also trying to use the wordflow keyboard that I downloaded. I tend to type one-handed and thought the curved keyboard may help. Gave up after a short trial. I can’t figure out where to get stickers quickly. It wants to capitalise the first letter even though I turned it off. And I don’t like predictive keyboards. So three strikes and out.

family visiting

My uncle P is visiting. Haven’t seen him in years and years and years!! He lives in SFO, is focusing on his photography and gave me his email so we can keep in touch better. He is quite possibly my favourite uncle because he does engineering for a bit for money then he goes off to do photography, which is the way to live. Now he’s into cooking so I love him even more.

He’s already been to PRC and Burma to take pictures. He says he is focusing on trees. Hopefully when he gets home he can share some of his work.

Met for lunch with sis, mum, uncle A and auntie J, and sis. We’ll meet again on saturday so sis can bring my niece.

chocolate truffle ice cream

Met mm and lily for lunch to share japan travel experience. At first we talked about going together but extensive communication with lily showed that we have different travel styles so best if we stuck to sharing experiences.

We went to toast box and had laksa. It’s a casual semi-fast food place so we could sit there as long as we liked; and we ended up having more drinks. Singapore place, so teh-o for me. It was a hot day but dry so we walked around for a bit after lunch.

Lily went home for dinner and we continued to look for a replacement fridge. My credit card points run out tomorrow so we were especially in a hurry. The problem was the available space, width and height were okay but not deep enough for most of the models we thought we okay. The smart shop assistant suggested we call up the bank to check if I can extend the points and, yay, success! Three months’ extension which solves the urgency issue.

We had wine and pizza at hmv café to celebrate and then went to find this ice cream stall. I had 2 vouchers for a free ice cream cone that expire tomorrow and no extension this time. This was from a chocolate place called dalloyau that we’d never heard of. Their shops are in the high-end shopping centres and they seem to peddle expensive chocolate, cake and coffee. The vouchers are for specifically, chocolate truffle ice cream.

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As soon as the assistant handed me the cone I knew it wasn’t quite the chocolate truffle we were thinking of. Instead of truffle made from hot cream/milk and chocolate, this is truffle the mushroom-fungus that grows in the ground and gets shaved over food like pasta and omelettes. The smell is distinctive. The problem for me, it overwhelmed the rich chocolate taste of the ice cream and left an unpleasant aftertaste.

Adding truffle to a dish instantly signals it’s something luxurious and exclusive. And like the gold leaf ice cream we didn’t try in Kanazawa, truffle in ice cream screams of pretentiousness, pointlessness and frankly, lack of palette. At least gold doesn’t taste of anything. I have come across truffle in dessert before and mushroom dessert is unusual, but can be tasty. Obviously no one in dalloyau watched the episode on MKR where truffled truffles with truffle ice cream got creamed by the judges.

The conclusion is, this shop added a luxurious ingredient for marketing purposes and we are clearly not shallow enough to be in their target market.

bbmm filler day

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Met mm to go fridge shopping. Alas she forgot to bring measurements so we ended up just looking. There are a couple of models that we like. The preference is to have the freezer compartment at the bottom. The supervisor at the store told us to make sure to measure: a) available space, not size of current fridge; b) available width of kitchen with door open to its maximum. Good advice.

Went to the supermarket and bought ready-to-eat stuff: pork knuckle, whelks, chicken wings. Opened a bottle of wine. It’s not like in Japan where we have too many choices of places to eat. We couldn’t think of a restaurant so home was best.

nagoya trip summary

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Finished writing up trip and uploaded pics. This was a fantastic trip, and I’m very glad I insisted on going to a new destination rather than Hokkaido or Tokyo. It was a bit hectic, we tried to cram probably one or two stops too many, but we both agree it was worth the hassle. Having a car really, really helped. Some numbers:

  • duration: 8 days, 7 nights
  • hotels: 4 total
  • distance driven: 882km (548 miles)
  • pics taken: 976 original, trimmed to 696 in 6 sets

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Total spend excluding personal shopping around USD2,200 per person. The package was decent value, notwithstanding the 4 nights that the agent incorrectly booked. They confirmed they will refund my credit card, so it’s all good. Transport was expensive, between car rental, tolls, and the alpine route ticket. Looking a past Japan expenses, transportation is always expensive.

Posts:

flickr sets:

Some more interesting pics. Takayama traditional house:
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Saw a group of customised motorbikes in a car park at Takayama:
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Cannot get enough of the view from our onsen hotel room:
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Koi kites at Shirakawa-go:
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Tilt-shift Shirakawa-go village:
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Sake, sake, sake:
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Trolley bus through Tateyama tunnel felt like something out of a sci-fi film:
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Waiting for the bus, and then two comes at the same time:
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Kenrukuen panorama:
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Lanterns:
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Manhole covers:
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dark rainy day

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image via flickr user adrianvfloyd via cc

Mum was supposed to go out after lunch but it was dark and rainy all day. So I’m spending another day stuck in my room.

back to daily drudge

Current -- In Explore 14 Nov 2015
image via flickr user thadz, public domain

Tired. And feeling lost and stuck and hopeless. It’s uncanny how the negative feelings come back so quickly as soon as I woke up and realised I was back at home. There’s even a funny smell around the flat, like someone’s cooking cabbage and it’s way past overcooked.

Have to do through the daily drudge again. I really do not feel like any of it.

nagoya trip day 08: flight

Checked out at 10am. We had loads of time, slowly wheeled our luggage across the station to catch the train to the airport. In retrospect we should have left our bags with the hotel and gone looking for chicken wings, but ah well.

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The counter wasn’t open so we took our luggage with us to the food court. Had a decent local fish chirashi, then some shopping at muji and the pokemon store.

Flight was full, but we’d strategically picked aisle seats in the middle section and the seat between us was vacant, so yay. Watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which was very enjoyable. Too tired to get the bus home, took a taxi.

nagoya trip day 07: suganuma, nagoya

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Sniff sniff, our last full day. It’d been a hectic trip, we probably tried to cram in too much. But all of the places we visited had been worth it.

Went to a bakery café at the station for breakfast, bought additional bread and doughnuts for the road too. Went to the supermarket to get apples, and bought a small bottle of sake.

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The drive to nagoya was just over 3hrs so we had plenty of time, setting off at 10.45am. Around half an hour in, we saw the signs for gokayama so we decided to take the detour. Gokayama is another world heritage gassho heritage village like Shirakawa-go. Somehow we ended up at Suganuma despite following the signs. No matter, what a revelation. Smaller than Shirakawa-go but so much more peaceful and with only a handful of tourists. All the houses were concentrated around a small area and there were even workers working to replace the roof of one of the houses.

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Lunch was soba, fried tofu, hida beef buns and unfiltered sake. All the delicious food we have been trying on the trip. The other side of the main village, through a short tunnel, were more gassho houses. Completely empty, until we noticed a map that said it was a youth camp. Probably the off-season and it seemed like a great place to camp in the summer. Both Suganuma and Shirakawa-go offered ryokan accommodation; next time it’d be something we will consider. Tha facilities would be basic, no air-con and likely shared bathrooms, but the villages offered tranquility and the opportunity to get away into nature.

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Long drive back to nagoya and the GPS took us to some odd building, not our hotel. Google maps to the rescue, it was just a few blocks out. The hotel was a higher class business class hotel than the no-frills one we were supposed to be booked into. Double the price. Really nice room with large beds, a sofa and a large bathroom. Top floor with floor length windows offering views of the city. Just a few minutes’ walk from the station. We went to the petro station, returned our car (882km total, less than one tank of petrol and an eye-popping ¥18650 in tolls), walked to Jins to get our glasses and did some drugstrore shopping.

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Seemed like the Chūbu region is more famed for cooked food than sashimi so we walked around the station looking for chicken wings. This izakaya we came across was cozy and had a great Friday evening atmosphere. Our new favourite drink was umeshu soda and we ordered 10 chicken wings, plus an assortment of other small dishes. Another new favourite was cucumber with miso, this we could make at home easily.

Last minute shopping at lawson’s then back to hotel to pack and rest for the night.

nagoya trip day 06: kanazawa market, kenrukuen, higashi chaya

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At last, a leisurely day with no huge pressure to wake up early. First stop was the fish market, which after more walking than we preferred, we found a place that served sushi. We both got the tuna, ikura and crabmeat chirashi. Some Korean tv crew came into the restaurant whilst we were eating and filmed some tv star eating the restaurant’s largest sushi dish at one of the outside tables. It attracted a crowd, but we were never sure who the star was so we focused on eating our meal. The sushi was okay, nothing special. Had grilled eel and fish at another nearby stall and then we left for our next destination.

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The highlight of Kanazawa was Kenrukuen garden, one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens. It had all the elements of great garden design like tranquility, harmony, water feature. Although it was fairly crowded, we never felt bothered and we could always find a quiet spot. There was a beautiful lake, and the trees and flowers were in perfect harmony with each other. A great place to walk around, breathe in the fresh air and take in the features.

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Even the shops outside were nice, we bought even more folders and I got a salty soda which tasted like upmarket fizzy pocari. We saw a group of three women in kimonos, whether they were geishas or just women in traditional costumes we didn’t know.

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From the garden we drove to higashi chaya tea house district. Traditional wooden houses in a pedstrian district, the houses used to be inhabited by geishas, hence the tea house aspect. Lots of picture opportunities and we stopped at a teahouse–iced matcha for me, hot matcha latte for mm and we shared a tea-flavoured chiffon cake. One thing we did resist throughout the day was the gold leaf covered ice cream that seemd to be everywhere. Kanazawa produces the majority of Japan’s gold leaves and these ice cream are supposed to be unique. Problem was, gold leaves are tasteless and we didn’t see the point of trying plain vanilla soft serve. We had green tea and sesame ice cream near kenrukuen and it was much better.

A few minutes from higashi chaya across town was a shopping district. We hadn’t done much shopping on this trip so it was nice to stop by tokyu hands. Bought some stationery and mm bought more cosmetics. Looking at google maps we saw a nearby chicken restaurant. We were early so were the only customers. The chicken skewers and chicken wings were nice, but nothing to write home about, so we went back to the hotel for ramen, bath and dessert in our room.

Our travel agent had been in touch throughout the past two days, trying to find a hotel for us in nagoya. Not successful, so we’re keeping the one we reserved ourselves.

nagoya trip day 05: tateyama-kurobe alpine route

6.30am alarm, we set off before 7.30am. The destination was tateyama-kurobe alpine route 立山黒部, or alpenroute as they shortened it. This region of the japanese alps get huge amounts of snow every winter and the buildings at the top of tateyama are snowed in until they can get snow ploughs going in march. A narrow corridor gets opened along the road up to the hotel at the top and the snow can reach 20m. A few years ago they realised they could turn this into a tourist attraction, and in typical Japanese fashion, came up with a route that goes from Tateyama up the mountain, along the snow corridor, down via ropeway and cable car to Kurobe dam on the other side. Several different modes of transport on one ticket. There are also a couple of companies that lets people drop off their car and then pick it up on the other side. We opted for a return from Tateyama to Kurobe dam and I bought the ticket online earlier, with a specific start time of 10am.

The GPS guidance up to now had been stellar. The navi systems in Japan allows us to enter a phone number of the destination as well as name. There was a hiccup this time round to Tateyama, almost at the end it took us to a steep footpath with an abrupt dropoff on the driver’s side. I shouldn’t have followed it but I did. Luckily we got through and rejoined the road, but it was scary for a moment.

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We had experience with a planned, organised route through a sightseeing area before when we did the Hakone loop, but that didn’t prepare us for the sheer mayhem that was the alpenroute. We joined the queue at 9.55am for the 10am cable car, which was completely full. It took us up a 24% incline to the next stop where we joined another queue for the bus, which was also full. So full that a few people had to sit on the additional tour guide seats that opened up between the regular seats. The bus trip was almost one hour, and it took us from temperate temperatures to snow. Then we drove through the snow corridor, literally a corridor opened up with walls of snow either side of the road.

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We made an executive decision once we got to Murodo, the end of the bus leg and where the snow corridor attraction was. The place was pandemonium, people everywhere. The reason was it was around noon, and people who started their journey on both the east and west points on the route were converging at the same time on Murodo. Since we were going roundtrip as opposed to one way, we decided to get to our end point, Kurobe dam, then make our way back, to avoid the crush. So it was a matter of hopping on even more modes of transportation: a trolley bus that went through a tunnel in the mountain, the ropeway and another cable car.

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It was a good decision. The dam was really peaceful and the weather was good. Took around 15mins to walk across to the other side and then it was time for lunch; I had katsu-don and mm had tempura udon. Probably the most disappointing food on the trip so far, definitely below par and tasting like fast food. Served its purpose, filled us up considering we didn’t have a proper breakfast.

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Went through the clouds on the way back up and down the mountain, which was an interesting experience. By the time we arrived at the snow corridor it was around 3pm and the crowd had thinned out somewhat. The snow corridor was basically a stretch of road leading to the bus stop, with one side of the road roped off for pedestrians. A sign at the end of the roped area showed where the snow was highest, 16m this winter. People queued up for pictures and the gentleman who took our picture tried to get a bus in the background. As it was nearing the end of the tour day, there were plenty of buses along the road, which was the perfect way of showing how high the wall was. To be honest, at that point we were quite tired from all the travelling and found the snow wall a bit underwhelming. The light didn’t give pictures as good as postcards and the snow wall itself wasn’t pristine white. Still very nice and an interesting sight.

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The map showed a trail to a small lake at the back of the building and we thought we might try going there. Problem was the path hadn’t been ploughed and it was slippery to negotiate. We needed boots and poles. Gave up after about 100m and took the bus and cable car back to the bottom of the mountain. I like this pic that shows a bus coming up through the corridor. When we got back down the mountain to Tateyama station we still had a 1.5hr drive back to Kanazawa but it was a good day out and we were back in our room by 7pm.

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The hotel recommended a nearby izakaya, around 5mins’ walk. Unfortunately it was full and everyone was smoking so we left and went to one across the road. It was a good choice. I had a much needed beer and we ordered yakitori, chicken wings, chicken cartilege and a really yummy asparagus-mushroom dish. They were sold out of beef and gizzards, and chicken wings too when we tried to order a second portion. We went back to the hotel, went to the bath and had the hotel ramen. Did laundry too, the washers were free and the dryers ¥100 for 20mins.

nagoya trip day 04: shirakawa-go

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We asked for a window seat at breakfast and were not disappointed. What a view! The server told us that we were looking at umbrella mountain, the #1 mountain in Gifu Prefecture (Fuji is #1 in Japan, he acknowledged). The breakfast was even more satisfying than yesterday’s, if that was possible. The tray was positively brimming with smal dishes and we got to grill our own fish too.

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We set off at 10am to head to Shirakawa-go 白川郷, around 1.5hrs. The village is a UNESCO World Heritage site of gassho thatched cottages, or steep high-sided thatched roofs intended to withstand the heavy snowfalls in winter. The name gassho meant prayer hands, because of the shape the roof made.

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The entire site was quite crowded with many tour groups. There was the inevitable commercialisation of the village, with the main street full of souvenir shops and food stands. Didn’t detract from its natural beauty though; after the region attained world heritage status, the houses had to be maintained using thatched roofs but we could see a few that had been modernised before they got the status. We stopped at one of the shops that had a sake bar and ordered one sake and one unfiltered sake. The unfiltered one was absolutely delicious. The intense taste of the rice that was still present in the liquid, so sweet and so satisfying. We bought a jar to take home with us.

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We didn’t go inside the houses that were open to the public. At the top of the village was a steep path that led to a viewpoint up the hill. Good exercise and worth the walk. Stunning views of the village, surrounded by green mountains and there was still snow at the top of the mountains in the background. I played around with the tiltshift app on my phone, the small lego-like houses were perfect for this purpose.

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Despite the commercialisation, it was still a working village. Away from the main street, villagers were farming the land or in greenhouses. It wasn’t as remote as it seemed–there was no part of Japan that was truly remote–the villagers went about their business, there were plenty of cars around and we saw the post being delivered throughout the day. Lunch was soba with a small bowl of flavoured rice. The cold, refreshing soba dipped in sauce was the perfect lunch, not too heavy and no need for meat.

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Explored the lower end of the village and stopped at a café-shop. I had iced matcha latte and mm had coffee. The matcha latte was just like green tea milkshake and better than ice cream. The shop sold cute accessories and stationery; I bought a couple of notebooks for my niece. We’d been stocking up on folders along the way and I had a good selection already.

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The last stop of the day was the open air heritage museum. By the time we got there we were the last people to enter and the place was completely empty. Didn’t think the tour groups went there anyway. There were around 20 thatched houses that we learned were transported from the village to the museum and faithfully reconstructed. The interiors were large and open plan. We ventured up to the first floor of one but didn’t go to any more because the stairs were pretty steep and precarious. A couple of houses were showing videos of the village’s history and there was one video of how the thatched roofs were made. Very manual and intensive. Takes a lot of skill and knowhow to add the thick layers in the right way to ensure support and protection. Thick ropes and needles secured the bundles to interior beams.

From Shirakawa-go we headed to Kanazawa for the next 3 nights. When we got to the hotel we discovered to our horror that our agent had booked us on the wrong dates (June instead of May). The hotel front desk staff were wonderful, they got the manager’s approval to let us have a vacant room they saved for emergencies even though they were officially full. Additional cost, but we would claim this from our agent. We discovered the next hotel was also booked for the wrong date and the staff called for us, even though it was a different chain. Unfortunately there were no rooms so first thing we did when we got to our room was hit up hotels.com. Pretty full but I was able to find a room near the station. It was nice to have a bigger room for 3 days, the room was probably saved for VIPs as it was on the top floor and larger than the usual rooms.

Pretty tired after the long day so we walked to the station, found a supermarket and bought sushi to eat back in our room. The hotel had a sento, aka public bath. A small indoor pool, an even smaller outdoor pool and a sauna. The water didn’t feel like onsen water, we could smell chlorine. The sauna was great and much needed after a long day’s walking and driving.

nagoya trip day 03: takayama

tak404miso

Breakfast at this hotel was served in the restaurant, which was a change. A nicely presented selection of small dishes, with fish as the protein. What was outstanding was the miso heated over shiso leaves: a combination of salty, sweet, smoky. Yum.

Drove out to Takayama, parked in town today. Typical efficient Japanese carpark, only a few spaces with automatic sensor. A ramp comes up underneath the car when it senses movement, when we leave we pay at the machine and it tells us how much. The ramp lowers and we have 3 mins to move the car. We had been noticing yesterday, so were on the lookout for cheaper hourly places.

tak221coffee

The destination this morning was miyagawa morning market by the river. Mainly stalls selling fruit, vegetables and some craft. A mix of local and tourists. We bought really huge juicy apples and sake from a sake shop. Stopped at a coffee stall run by an elderly lady. Two things on the menu-coffee and iced coffee–I was even okay with the coffee provided I added lots of cream. There was a sign that the stall had been in business since 1975. We felt proud to be part of its history.

tak253beeflunch

Lunch was at a butcher shop-restaurant. Weekday lunch special, A5 hida beef that we grilled at the table, this time cut in cubes. The best beef on the trip so far in my opinion. Polished off with a bottle of cold sake.

tak046street

There was more time to walk around Takayama old town, and by the end of the afternoon we had covered almost all of it. It being a monday, there were definitely fewer people than yesterday and we were able to spend more time exploring the souvenir shops, sake shops or take pictures of the traditional wooden houses.

tak023house

There was even a visit to a miso / soy sauce shop and they were serving samples of miso soup. Discovered the souvenir find of this trip–plastic folders! We’d gotten to the point of not wanting to buy too many souvenirs, and tired of always buying the same mochi or sweets. Folders are cheap, useful and make great souvenirs.

We saved enough time to drive to a drugstore we saw yesterday. Bought tea and mm bought some cosmetics.

tak292deck

Time for onsen before dinner, and a little time to sit at the rest area to have a cup of tea or coffee too. The rest area looked out onto the deck, if we had more time at the hotel it would be so peaceful to sit out there and absorb the mountain view.

Kaiseki dinner started with a really refreshing yogurt liquor. The starters, sashimi, sticky dumpling. Hida beef was cooked as a shabu shabu, and the soup was used to make udon at the end. We were both full by then but the udon was so good we managed to eat a bowl each.

Time to pack and sleep.

nagoya trip day 02: takayama, onsen

Our hotel included breakfast. It was pretty much a mad scramble with around a hundred people in a canteen-like dining room with long tables and everything self-serve. Curry, rice, scrambled eggs, sausages, heaps of salad, fruit. I made tea from hot water. Even though it was a mad scramble, everyone was well-mannered and organised. No shouting, no pushing, no cutting in line. There was even a queue to return dirty trays and people wiped the table after them using the cloth provided. This is what I love about the Japanese people.

We checked out and crossed the street to pick up our rental car from the toyota rent-a-car office. Spending time on research means picking the correct location. Our car was a blue Aqua, which is the local equivalent of a Prius C so basically we were renting Ryan for a week. Added ETC card rental because we knew there would be lots of tolls.

tak176sake

Attempted to go to the central market but it looked closed so we headed straight onto the motorway towards Takayama. Easy 1.5hr drive. We drove around the town, through the middle of the mass of tourists at the old town area and ended up at a shopping street 10-15mins’ walk from the station. Parking there was free, ostensibly for the shopping street only so we made sure to visit there first. Already we saw stuff we love: Japanese sweets and local sake. The nice lady gave us samples and we tried valiantly to communicate with each other using broken English and copious domo arigatou gozaimasu.

tak243hidabeef

We walked around the old town quickly to find lunch. We knew we wanted hida beef, the local speciality that has similar marbling to kobe and matsuzaka beef. We chose the grilled thin-sliced A5 grade hida beef rice set. It was served hitsumabushi style, with condiments and broth. Fantastic. Tender and juicy beef and everything so well balanced.

tak011river

We had around 2 hrs after lunch to explore around town. Saw part of the old town main street, bought cute ceramic ornaments, sampled more sake. Ate green tea ice cream that was disappointing (too icy). Bought fruit and tea at the supermarket. Walked back to the shopping street to buy souvenirs and a bottle of sake from the nice lady.

tak321room

We were on a schedule. It was around 1hr’s drive to the onsen hotel and we wanted to get there before 5pm. It’s a big sprawling hotel with several wings. Luxurious lobby and an entire shelf of yukatas so we could pick the pattern we liked. We found out our dinner slot was at 8pm so that meant we had time to rest. Our room was absolutely wonderful and totally exceeded our expectations. It was a suite! The bedroom was tatami, with low mattresses and more than enough room to lay our suitcases out. Then there was a sitting room with sink and fridge, and a massage chair. The view from the sitting room out to the garden was spectacular, there was a small stream and daffodils just beginning to appear. Best of all, we had our own onsen bathtub, wow. Everything was clean too, so it wasn’t a case of not wanting to touch or use the tub.

There was time before dinner to go to the onsen. There was a large indoor pool, a couple of tubs outside and an outdoor pool. Not too crowded and all very nice. Oh, a low temperature sauna too. We needed the relaxation of an onsen, it was great to just soak in the hot water. Fresh milk was available for free in the small sitting area outside the baths, we shared one bottle so as not to ruin our appetite.

tak377hidabeef

The restaurant was quite posh and as usual the kaiseki menu had lots of courses. Started off with an alcoholic aperitif, then starters, sashimi, sticky dumpling before the main course. It was the local attraction, hida beef, which we grilled ourselves at the table. Really yummy. Finished off with beef pot, rice and dessert.

tak343bath

Even though we’d already used the onsen, I wanted to wash my hair because of the grease and smell from dinner. So I used our private onsen tub. It was okay, took a long time to fill, by then I was bored so I only soaked for a few minutes.

Long day travelling, picturesque traditional town and an outstanding hotel room. Totally worth it.

nagoya trip day 01: flight, nagoya

Early start, 5am alarm because mm was setting off before me and I wanted to make sure she got up. I was planning on catching the 6.30am bus, managed to catch the one before that. It was standing room only! Seemed like I was sharing the bus with airport workers going to work and a few travellers catching early flights. Since I was early I went to get the pocket wifi before meeting mm. Check-in was easy and we were inside quickly. Breakfast was eggs I made yesterday (perfectly soft boiled if I may say so myself) and sandwiches mm made. The alternative would have been Mcdonalds and we only got tea and coffee from them.

The flight was almost full. I got us adjoining aisle seats when I checked in, on purpose. Watched La la land which, for all the hype, was a little disappointing. Not the sort of film I watch on planes.

ngo001train

The plane was a litte early. We checked the transportation board and confirmed that the limited express train was the best way. The information centre had a helpful hand-drawn leaflet too, so cute. Only 30mins to Nagoya main station. Our hotel was around 10mins’ walk and the only difficulty was figuring which direction. Pocket wifi and google maps took care of that. We were only there for one night, so the no-frills business semi-double room suited our purpose.

ngo003tower

The area around the station was full of modern buildings and posh shops. Our first destination was Jins glasses shop. My research showed us it was at the station mall and we found it easily enough. Quite comical, trying to get my eyes tested and barely able to communicate with the optican there. I have the frame which I bought in Tokyo and it’s ¥5000 per feature–I needed graduated lenses and I added UV-sensitive coating. Economical price, and I’ll get the new glasses in 1 week.

ngo017hitsumabushi

More research told us foodwise we should be trying the unagi hitsumabushi. The eel in Nagoya are fatter and tastier river eels and they grill the entire fish instead of steaming then grilling in other locations. The idea is to add flavour and smokiness. Hitsumabushi means to sample three ways: plain, then with condiments, then dipped in a dashi broth. We found a restaurant in a mall next to the station and gave it a go. It was definitely tasty, as expected from well executed unagi. Plain, with wasabi and with broth were all great. I ended up mixing the eel and rice with wasabi then eating with the broth.

On the way back to the hotel, we visited drugstores we noticed earlier. Bought snacks and a 2l bottle of tea for travelling. We only started noticing drugstores last time in Tokyo, turns out they have an enormous selection of toiletries, cosmetics but also snacks, household goods, gadgets and interesting stuff.

mum birthday

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Mum’s birthday! We went out for an errand, had tea at mcdonalds. I left mum with her cheesecake and met sis for an hour at a wine tasting event. It’s an english sparkling wine company that is expanding and they had 4 different wines for tasting. I focused on the drinking and eating some of the canapés while sis was busy socialising. I did some small talk but found the posing, invisible social jostling and marketing speak way too fake for my liking.

Picked mum up from marks where she went after she fnished at mcdonalds. Dinner was at Jimmy’s Kitchen, an old colonial era restaurant. Except for my niece who opted for pasta, we all had the set menu. I had tuna tartare as starter, mum and sis had roast beef salad which sat on top of a chewy, hard cold yorkshire pudding. For mains sis and mum had rainbow trout and I had slow cooked lamb shoulder.

Sis ordered a baked alaska for dessert and they wrote happy birthday on the plate. Nice meal, predictable food.

trip errands, happy hour

Went to the bank, changed some yen for our trip. Then met mm at the transport department to get our international driver’s licences. I’m so used to using either my UK or US driver’s licence to rent cars that I almost forgot Japan didn’t accept them. They do accept, amongst others, Swiss driver’s licence but I’ll have to get a certified Japanese translation. Less trouble to get the international one. We tried making an appointment online but couldn’t get one so it was walk-in. Argh, there was a loooooong queue. As usual, it involved queuing up for ages to go to one counter to hand in our application and another queue to pay. At least we got the licence there and didn’t have to go to a third counter. Government bureaucracy. Took 1.5hrs.

tequila

Went to happy hour at the place sis and I went to in April. Two-for-one drinks plus a small cold buffet bar with proscuitto, cheese, bread, olives, fruit. Instead of wine or beer or even whisky (they only had Chivas and Jack Daniels) we ordered tequila, after our experience at frites. The drink came with salt and lemon.


There are right and not so right ways of drinking tequila. The clichéd method is salt on back of hand, shot in one then lemon wedge. Or neat, as zagat suggested in the video. We sipped it like whisky. Added a little salt and a drop of lemon juice, but mostly as a slow drink to enjoy the taste. We’re not yet at the point where we know what is good tequila, and I didn’t make a note of the brand. No wonder people get drunk off it, it’s so easy to drink. Good thing there was food. That was my dinner, I didn’t feel like eating anything else; mm had a meeting so I walked with her part ways until my bus stop. I was home by 7.30pm.

bbmm+dutch friend

kowlooncity2017

Our friend lily is visitng from amsterdam, we met for lunch today. The consensus was for thai so mm and I searched and decided on the area near the old airport that has a lot of thai restaurants. Google map tells me it’ll be 37min walk or 35mins by bus so I decided to leave earlier and walk there. I can cover the parks between home and there and do some pokehunting. I walked past what used to be the infamous walled city, which was bulldozed in the early 1990s and is now a park. The streets nearby haven’t all been developed, although patches now have tall apartment blocks. How much longer will these old houses last?

We went to a casual restaurant called mini bangkok that is #2 on the tripadvisor list (#1 is in the food court of the wet market and we disregarded it as we wanted somewhere we can sit longer). We were too busy eating to take pictures; plus casual food never look good. We had pomelo salad, greens with balachan, grilled squid and oyster pancakes. The two veg dishes were outstanding and the oyster pancakes (more like battered oyster omelettes) were filling.

We decamped to dan ryan’s to chat and take advantage of their happy hour. Mostly, mm and lily talked about cosmetics and occasionally our upcoming trips to Japan. I had a couple of beers and watched the football on the tv.

reypenaercheese

Lily brought tons of goodies for us. Last time she brought this brilliant dark bread, this time she brought herb & pepper flavoured foccacia. Smoked eel, calvé peanut butter (head and shoulders ahead of skippy), seasoning to make herb butter. And a huge block of reypenaer vsop cheese, a gouda using milk from grass-fed cows and matured for 24 months in 100 year old warehouses. It’s an artisanal cheese from a family business that has been making cheese the traditional way. We’re so blessed to have such a thoughtful friend.