busy pre-trip day

todo

We leave for our drive to Las Vegas so need the full day today to do things, run errands, see people.

First stop was to Menards to buy some tape to repair the broken bathroom pipe. While there we stocked up on snacks, because inside a ginormous DIY store were several aisles of food too. I got gummy sharks, popcorn, cheetos, the usual.

We also went to the wine store and I bought a couple of bottles of wine and a bourbon. Then to a supermarket to buy water, bread and cold meat.

Visited with Car’s aunt and uncle, always glad to see them and chitchat.

Then it was back to the house to start preparing for the trip. Make sandwiches, clean up a little, pack. I already packed one suitcase with things I’ll need in Vegas when I flew over, it’ll stay in the car on the drive. The muji bag will have enough clothes, toiletries, that I’ll need for a few days plus camera, electronics, teabags.

I’m still jetlagged and tired. I totally fell asleep just sitting on a chair at one point. Early start tomorrow too.

big station heritage and arts centre

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Sis and I took my niece to visit tai kwun centre for heritage and arts at the site of the former central police station/prison. It’s free to enter but visitors need a reservation. Sis had lunch plans, so ony stayed with us for about 10mins, my niece and I explored the site together. Tai Kwun translates to Big Station, which was the nickname for the police station. It’s always been an imposing building as seen from outside, but we didn’t realise how large the site is. The station was decommissioned in 2006. The jockey club funded the 10 year, almost USD500million restoration to a heritage centre.

The visitor’s centre had a small exhibition showing the site’s history, from the first building put up in 1864 which then grew in size until the last building in 1925. Part of the site was destroyed by Japanese bombers during WW2, to newspaper clips of famous criminals and trials. The revitalisation project aims to set up the site as a centre for heritage and arts, with space built for concerts, exhibitions and education.

Our first impression, really nice. The complex was built in Victorian times and consisted of the police station, barracks, magistrate court and prison. There are 16 buildings in total and all meticulously preserved and restored. My niece says it feels very much like a National Trust property, a rarity here because the government has a habit of destroying and pulling down historical buildings so property developers can profit.

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The prison courtyard is now a pleasant sitting area with a smattering of sculptures and interesting pieces. Some of the prison cells are open for visit. None of the smell or dirt that presumably was there but we could see how crowded it was, they kept the beds in one cell and the entire cell is filled with one bunk bed and one extra bed. No space even to walk.

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The clever way they showed prison life is through projections of images and short animation onto the wall. We could see how many were placed in a cell, what they did during the day, hard labour, counting the days, and even an escape attempt.

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There are 2 new buildings, both will be used for exhibitions and concerts. Made from aluminium blocks, the modern and cubic designs contrast and compliment the century-old Victorian architecture of the other buildings.

Overall, 10 out of 10. We were both so surprised at the quality of the restoration, the aptness of the exhibit and the general sense of tranquility of the centre. We stopped at one of the caf&#233’s for mango smoothie and the café décor has the police staion feel. And the smoothie was made from real mangos. Even if they had charged a modest admission fee, it’ll be worth it.

flickr set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/invisiblecompany/albums/72157692568354080

bbmm home cooking

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Went over to mm’s for lunch. She made many, many jars of homemade tomato sauce so we decided to simply do pasta. I went to the market on the way and got some clams–both on the shell and shelled. The pasta turned out to be really nice, very homemade flavours. She thought it lacked a bit of character, may be next time she’ll cook out the sauce a little more and add more garlic and chili. I thought it was great. We also did the most sacrilegious thing–tomato seafood pasta and we sprinkled cheese on top!! Hahaha.

All of a sudden it got dark, heavy rain and a few bursts of thunder too. The hills visible from her living room were covered with clouds one minute, then they peeked out. I took a snap, then played around filters in snapseed.

Went to visit her dad, running into her brother’s family on the way out. She drove me home, I was showered by 8pm. Didn’t feel like dinner because I was still full from the pasta, just fruit for me.

lunch home

Met with sis’ and mm’s ex-colleague L and her husband W for lunch. W does all our conveyancing so he’s a lawyer too. Yum cha at a restaurant called Yum Cha that is quite modern and fusion-like.

Then have to go look at renovation progress. Long wait for the bus and I ended up getting the train instead. It’s getting towards the final stretch so there are builders everywhere and the place is like a warzone. Tiles for kitchen and bathrooms are done so it’s installing kitchen and bathroom, plastering, painting, changing doors.

raining sis lunch

Was going to go to yacht club lunch with sis and mum but it started raining very heavily, T3 was raised, so we thought we should postpone. I was already out with sis at the bank. We had a quick lunch buffet at dicken’s bar instead. How does quick buffet work, isn’t that an oxymoron? We didn’t have too many portions. The salad was nice, especially the grilled vegetables, beetroot and pumpkin. The roast beef was not very good, the server didn’t understand when I asked for a not too well done piece, he attempted to give me the end piece (I was the first customer), luckily the chef was next to him and told him what to do.

Main dishes were curry–beef, vegetable, chicken. They are good with their curries, so reliable. Dessert wasn’t impressive at all, fruit was the best. Sis ordered macaroni cheese to take home for my niece, the side portion was as big as a normal portion. Seemed to be lacking in cheese so I took a ramekin of cheese from the desser and we added it. Strictly speaking shouldn’t have done that, but hey.

Sis took a taxi home, she had a lot of stuff. I walked through the park a little bit for pokémon to get the minibus. Rain stopped a little, but there will be sporadic bursts for the next few days.

gcse art exhibition

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My niece’s GCSE art class held an exhibition today showing their coursework and the piece they submitted for their exam. They’re marked throughout the year as well as on their exam piece. They’re given a theme, this year it’s Fragments and they have to complete their pieces in 8hrs.

I like the simplicity and clean lines of her exam piece. Seems like just cardboard cutouts, but there’s more to it.

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Other students had different pieces. Some are larger, one included burned charcoal. Some of the students included their notebooks in the exhibit, and those really showed their thought process, practice pieces, and how they came up with their ideas.

I’m very blown away at the sophistication of their work, it’s very advanced and more than what I could have done at 16 years old. Well, more than what I could have done at any age.

flickr set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/invisiblecompany/albums/72157667895910337

bbmm meetup, sticky toffee pudding

Met mm for lunch at a new korean place. It’s a branch of the one I went to a couple of times with Mum. It was pretty good so we have another Korean place to go to, yay. I had cold noodles with barbequed pork and mm had her usual seafood tofu pot.

Walked around ikea, we both needed to look at stuff. I continued to look for ideas, a single bed for the helper, shelves and cabinets; mm needed a cabinet or shelf for her bathroom. There were different choices, in order of least expensive to most expensive: a wooden shelf, a pine shelf, an open metal shelf, and a tall cabinet with doors. Each has its own advantage and disadvantage. There’s time to look further.

I was originally going to go home for dinner but decided to stay with her. Her dad is being transferred to another hospital, this one to focus on recovery. She was calling once or twice an hour to check his progress and he finally reached there at 6pm. So we walked over to visit. Her mum came as soon as she knew he arrived, and later we all went to a pasta place for a quick dinner.

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In other news, sis made this delicious sticky toffee pudding and brought half over to us. She followed Mary Berry’s recipe to the tee and it was indeed gooey yet light. The pudding wasn’t too sweet, the sauce is sweet but used with restraint it’s balanced. Can really taste the yummy treacle in the pudding.

mother’s day

Mum went to mass and I met her at the Tesco’s nearby. I don’t know if it’s because of Mother’s Day, but mass ran very, very late. I was inside the tiny Tesco’s for a good 45mins. Silver lining is I got to look at every shelf on every aisle and found some stuff I want to buy next time.

friedchickennoodles taiwanesedessert

Met sis at a Taiwanese noodle place for…Taiwanese noodles. Mum had their signature beef noodles which proved to be the best choice. I opted for the fried chicken noodles, with the fried chicken served on the side. Whilst very crispy, it was way, way too salty. We shared one of their signature desserts. Mango, sago, chewy bits, and about 10 other ingredients. Very nice, refreshing. I’d have that again.

Went to ikea to finally order a bed for me. Or rather, it’s a sofa bed that rolls out into a single bed. When we move back, it can go in Papa’s room as a chair for relaxing. If we have visitors, which is rare, it can be used as a guest bed. Delivery on wednesday. Can’t wait. The sofa is fine to sleep on, except it’s getting hotter and the fabric doesn’t dissipate heat and gets itchy too.

Dinner with mm’s family. Both her parents are quite seriously ill at the moment, so it’s good to get together for a meal.

mum’s birthday

It’s mum’s birthday!

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We went to frites for lunch, where they have a nice semi-buffet. The salad bar has plenty of salad, and only 1 or 2 have meat so Robert also had lots of choice. I had mussels too, but should have just stuck with the salad bar, there was too much food.

Afterwards, mum and I went to look at bathroom stuff. We’ve looked for a long time, and finally decided on American Standard. Got all the model numbers and prices from one shop. TMI about buying toilets, it’s absolutely necessary to sit on all of them to find the one that is most comfortable.

i am shrewd, inner-directed and guarded

Inspired by kottke, I had my personality analysed by IBM’s AI platform IBM Watson Personality Insights. It allows me to either enter a body of text or it will analyse my twitter feed.

First, twitter. The analysis says:

You are strict and analytical.

You are organized: you feel a strong need for structure in your life. You are mild-tempered: it takes a lot to get you angry. And you are calm under pressure: you handle unexpected events calmly and effectively.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of organization.

You are relatively unconcerned with both independence and helping others. You welcome when others direct your activities for you. And you think people can handle their own business without interference.

I wasn’t sure how accurate it will be, most of my twitter are automatic IFTTT posts when I post on the website, or occasional RTs. But it turns out to be really accurate, especially with regards to being organised and being unconcerned.

It also says I’m likely to like historical movies, read autobiographical books, and read often. 1 out of 3 here. I’m unlikely to be influenced by social media during product purchases, prefer style when buying clothes, or like rap music. 3 out of 3.

Overall, twitter analysis is pretty accurate.

Now let’s try a block of text. How about the current front page. Total 50 posts between 12-mar-2018 and 31-apr-2018. 12000-ish words. This analysis:

You are shrewd, inner-directed and guarded.

You are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of organization.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and achieving success. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

I’m likely to be sensitive to ownership cost when buying automobiles, have experience playing music, and like historical movies. 1.5 out of 3. I’m unlikely to be influenced by social media during product purchases, prefer style when buying clothes, and be influenced by brand name when making product purchases. 3 out of 3.

I think this is probably more accurate although there are similarities with the twitter analysis.

personalityinsight

They present the results in a sunburst visualisation that is really impressive. The science behind the sevice is fascinating. Essentially marketers and psychologists found that how we use language is a reflection of our personality, thinking style, social connections, and emotional states. Based on these studies, IBM developed models that correlate between certain social media behaviour and real life personality. An example from a retail study is people who score high in orderliness, self-discipline, and cautiousness and low in immoderation are 40 percent more likely to respond to coupons than the random population.

The team at IBM claims a correlation in the region of 0.3 with mean average error of 0.12 for English. In terms of research norm in this area, correlations above 0.2 are considered acceptable.

It’s all very interesting, although I find it somewhat creepy. I hate it when the ultimate goal is to target people in terms of what to market to them and predict their buying behaviour.

visited papa

Visited Papa.

Normally we meet for lunch at the foodcourt then take a taxi. We were very early today so we thought we’d take a look around the restaurants inside the shopping centre. Decided to try a Shanghainese place that had 30% off for dimsum. Order a selection and a main dish. Pretty good, makes a change from foodcourt food.

Lots of people at the cemetery. Saw nearly 20 taxis going down as we were going up. There was a long, long queue when it was time for us to leave, but it only took 5-10mins for us to reach the top of the queue.

Went to an ikea nearby. This one is huge!! More like the size of ikeas in the UK and US. Plus a restaurant too. Saw some useful furniture and designs. I’m not taking my bed with me when we move; I saw a nice sofa bed that I can use, and we can use it if we hire a helper.

Pretty full from lunch, just had noodles for dinner.

birthday

Somehow it feels like a normal day, I had to look at the calendar to realise it’s a saturday. Days bleed into each other nowadays.

Mum and I went to central to the electrical appliances shop to look at ovens, fridges and washing machines. They also have air-conditioners. I saw a double door fridge that I like, will need to get someone in to measure the stairs and kitchen space.

Lunch was simple noodle soup. There’s some superstition that says must have noodles on birthday to ensure longevity, probably because noodles represent longevity. Anyway, suited our purposes. Popped back to my flat to check mail.

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Met sis and gis for tea buffet at the Conrad. Nice atmosphere, small atrium café with not too many tables, and we got a corner table to boot. Debated whether to get the free flow drinks but decided against it. In terms of food, there was more than enough to satisfy the most hungry: salad, dimsum, noodles (more noodles, I had laksa), satay, cheese, fruit, waffle, pastry, ice cream. When I called round the hotels to book, I asked if they offered anything for birthday and the answers were disappointing. The Marriott and Conrad both said they can bring a cake from the buffet selection and ice “happy birthday” on it. I was like, nope. I did the birthday cake myself, took a piece of chestnut cake–one of my favourite–and sis brought a candle. We did a low key birthday celebration, that was fine.

After tea, they all went home. I met up with mm for an hour for a glass of wine. She couldn’t join tea buffet, and she has a family dinner. The dinner as it happens is in the same area as the Conrad so it was convenient.

I was still very full, so didn’t need dinner. Only afterwards did I see a missed text from sis at around 7.30pm asking me to join her and R for dinner. Hahaha, I was already home by 7.30pm.

shunde day 06

Travel day. Lounged around in the morning, did laundry, took out batteries and closed the flat down.

At the HK side interchange, we had to get on different buses to go home. I was the first one on my bus, it stood there empty and then all of a sudden scads of people got on until it was full. When it got into town, everyone but 3 people (including me) got off. Eventually it made it to the my stop, close enough for me to walk home.

shunde day 05

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Last full day, more errands. Bank, market, checked out mm’s other 2 flats. She’s had them a few years as an investment. The flats are completely empty. Not only no plastering or paint, the bathrooms are an empty concrete hole and there are only wires and pipes in the kitchen. Apparently that’s how property is sold, all the buyer gets is a shell.

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She’s not feeling 100%, with the beginnings of a cold, so we didn’t do anything more ambitious than poke around the local area. The most interesting thing was we tried steamed milk dessert served in a coconut. Very nice.

shunde day 04

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Met up with mm’s contractor, who is local and has a car so he can take us to places a little out of the way. This one is a farm restaurant that has its own fish pond, chicken, vegetable garden. Not the fanciest setting or tables, the most important thing is the food is fresh and homemade. We had roast duck, steamed fish, vegetables and a soup made from the stem part of the choy sum and chicken parts. Okay, I love me some offal and am not afraid of trying new organs. The soup had a part of the chicken I’d never seen before, it looks like it comes from a rooster, and that’s all I’m saying.

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After lunch he dropped us off at the large park halfway between town centre and mm’s flat. Very nice place, with a lake and very pleasant walking paths. Where we started wasn’t very crowded, but as we headed to the other entrance there were more crowds. People also enjoying a walk in the park, lots of people cycling, and families camped out on the grass. Like literally camped out, they brought their own tents. Pretty good idea, a tent provides shade, storage and shelter if it rains.

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We walked the whole afternoon in the park, something like 3hrs. Took the bus to the local market and rummaged around for what to cook for dinner. Ended up with a simple meal of rice, chicken and these round courgettes.

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The fruit and veg in the market is good, some vendors simply spread their produce on a mat on the ground. Some are more sophisticated, selling from the back of their bike-vans.

Watched some tv during dinner. I understood none of it, the program we settled on eventually was a feel-good reality program where several presenters took turns telling the stories of brave and patriotic individuals. A father built actual working models of robots for his daughter; a woman waited for her soldier who was teaching at the borders for over 10 years; a group of 80- and 90-year olds told the story of how they travelled to a rural area and started a university. A bit tear-jerky and definitely state-approved tv. Gave up after a while and read my book.

shunde day 03

We finally made it to the dim sum place. The problem today is their system is down and food orders aren’t getting through to the kitchen so customers are having to wait a long time for their food. We were in no hurry and still had to cancel a couple of dishes and get the bill.

Then it was bus adventure to Walmart. Buses are really cheap, equivalent to USD 0.25 for the majority of city trips. There are maps at each stop and I can just about decipher the stop names. Plus mm’s complex has 3 entrances and therefore access to different groups of buses.

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Walmart was a bust. There was nothing there we wanted to look at, let alone buy. The whole store felt depressed and empty. Much, much worse than US Walmarts. We walked around the rest of the shopping centre and it was a bust too.

The silver lining was, we found a nice café that had 20+ varieties of swissrolls and another 20+ varieties of fruit teas. Perfect. We had iced fruit teas and shared a matcha roll. Quite expensive, more like western prices. The contrast between this type of modern place and streetfood at the market is quite stark.

Dinner was at the same restaurant last night, same table, same people, same food. Saw the elders and children off home and went for a massage with mm’s brother and SIL. The place was pretty cheap but mm and I found it extremely tacky and downright tasteless. All massage places have staff who wear uniform, at this place the massagers were all young women in short skirts and high heels. Completely unnecessary. I didn’t talk to the woman who did my massage, I closed my eyes and napped. I suppose she may be relieved but I’m thinking they are numb to this exploitation.

shunde day 02

Mostly local day. Brunch at a small diner serving noodles. For breakfast they have cheung fun too but we were too late. The fried noodles were nice, not too oily or too salty. These hole-in-the-wall places can be very good here.

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Rest of the day was pretty boring for me, sitting for a long time at the bank whilst mm sorted out her account. The most interesting thing was seeing this postal delivery van. No pokemon to catch, nothing to read, the tv in the waiting area continually showing either promotional videos or public service announcements. Had no idea what they were showing, couldn’t understand the subtitles. This is the downside of visiting a country where I can’t understand the spoken dialect and can only read 5-10% of the written language. I can usually get by, mostly by ignoring people and trying to understand written stuff by context. Many menus have pictures which help.

After the bank, we attempted to go to Tesco but sadly discovered that it’s closed. Sniff. We were headed towards city centre, since we had time we walked instead of taking a bus or taxi. Taking advantage of the nice weather. Browsed around various shops in the city centre. Bought biscuits, and mm bought a bedsheet & pillowcase set.

Two things we noticed. One is there are dockless bikeshare bikes everywhere. The dominant one is called hello bike but we see some ofo and others. We figured we need a local phone number and local means of payment to sign-up and I don’t have those. Speaking of payment, everybody uses WePay on their smartphone. Paying by cash makes us look old-fashioned or tourists! We were buying sugarcane juice from a street vendor and another customer paid by WePay. We got talking to the vendor and he said it’s a must. The amazing thing is, he told us even beggars have a WePay QR code. It’s actually be fairly widely reported that it may be a scam to harvest personal data. Ugh, when is begging not a scam?

Dinner was with mm’s parents, her brother’s family, and her brother’s in-laws. They seem to go to the same restaurant, they know the food and they get good service too. We rated a private room and the food was the best this trip so far.

shunde day 01

We’re going up to mm’s flat in Shunde for the Easter weekend. The aim is to do very little and try to relax. We anticipate little or no internet, since eveything is blocked or not available. Can’t even play pokemongo.

Since we live in different sides, we bought tickets for different starting coach stops. All coaches go to the SZ border where there’s a huge interchange for onward journeys. My coach was at 9.30am. I left early in case there’s traffic but sod’s law happened–the bus arrived within 30sec and there was absolutely no traffic so I got to the coach station before 9am. The ticket collector waved me onto a nearby coach and I was ready to sit there for half an hour. But no, 5mins later the coach left. May be it was an extra one on the schedule? I dunno. I still had to wait a good 45mins for mm to arrive at the interchange.

The rest of the journey was uneventful. We arrived at the destination and got a local bus back to her flat. Dropped our bags and she tried to turn on all the appliances. Thought there was no hot water but actually she forgot she’d removed the batteries for the gas meter! Hahaha. No issue at the end.

Lunch was at the local shopping centre, the regular dim sum restaurant was closed for a private event so we went to a new one. Not as good. There are definitely more shops and restaurants at the shopping centre. Tried going to the bank but the branch had been replaced by a lobby of just ATMs. We looked around and discovered that the branch had moved across the road.

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Took a taxi to where the big supermarket is and went to the massage place nearby. Shoulder, back and foot massage for 2hrs. A little sore afterwards because I hadn’t gone to massage for a long time. We wanted to browse around the supermarket quickly then go to dinner; next time we looked at the time it was almost 8pm and we’d been browsing for way longer than we thought. One of the ‘interesting’ things we saw was low alcohol pineapple beer. Scary.

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Anyway, the restaurants near the flat would be closed, so we went to one opposite the supermarket. Most restaurants in Shunde are small and tend to specialise in one type of food. Our dinner was a hotpot place, and their specialty is pork parts. We didn’t have the pork offal, though we did get chicken gizzards in addition to the standard beef and lamb. All in all, not too bad but not a place we’d be in any hurry to return to.

Really nice to return to a completely quiet flat. It overlooks a park and a government building complex (office, library, museum) so there’s almost zero noise at night. We did buy a 1GB SIM card that goes through hk servers so we actually could access websites outside the great firewall. Not a lot of motivation to do that, I stuck to reading and mm played her game. Pretty relaxing.

bbmm leisurely day 2

Lazy morning, watched tv mostly. We finally finished watching all the HP films.

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We had the remainder of the dumplings for lunch, then drove out to another beach for a walk. So surprised that it was so empty at the weekend. We remember last time we were there we had to wait for people to leave to get a parking space, today there were fewer than 10 cars altogether. There were people fishing at the pier and the students at the watersports school were finishing up their sailing and windsurfing lessons.

There’s a derelict bar at the top of the beach, with abandoned tables and chairs outside so we could sit and watch the sea. A family playing on the sand. A trio of young people lounging around.

And in the bbq area, a group of people enjoying a bbq party. They brought bottles of wine and had set up a couple of hammocks using the railings. Because it was so quiet, they had the use of 2 or 3 grills, one of which they set up a teepee system with two ginormous beef pieces that look like either tomahawk steak or bone-in rib. We got talking to one of the guys, he says he’s a food distributor and got the beef from a butcher friend. It’ll have to be something like that because it looks delicious and expensive.

We didn’t have beef ribs or anything like that ourselves. Went to the market to get clams and prawns. Made a soup with sweetcorn and apple too.

bbmm leisurely day

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We went out for buffet lunch at a small indian restaurant. They’ve recently renovated, and increased their prices. Still fairly decent value. The buffet is simple and tasty: papadum, salad, vegetable samosa, onion pakora, butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, vegetable curry, beans, daal, fruit, gulab jamun, and unlimited drinks–soft drinks, tea, coffee, beer and best of all, mango lassi. I ended up having 3 or 4 glasses of lassi, and we finished the meal with marsala tea.

The place was full, lots of office workers. We weren’t in any hurry so we sat around after almost everyone had left.

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Ran a couple of errands after lunch, then took the slow tram so we can spin pokéstops along the way. I dropped my bag at mm’s place and we took a drive to one of the beaches for a walk. Nice to get some fresh air, and it’s always great to go to the seaside. The beach was moderately busy, by the time we got there it was almost sunset and people were packing up to leave.

Popped by the market after the beach and bought clams and dumplings for dinner.

Leisurely day. Worked hard to destress.

bbmm homecooking take 2

After the success of home cooking and HP day, we couldn’t wait to do it again.

There was so much tempting and fresh food at the market, we were spoilt for choice. With great reluctance we limited ourselves to fresh clams, blue swimmer crab, and some very interesting small shell abalone that neither of us had seen before. On the way back to mm’s place, there was a pop-up stall selling still moving squid and clams. We got only the squid.

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Food this fresh doesn’t need much work. Steamed with a little garlic, and for the abalone some dried orange peel. One dish at a time so piping hot when we started eating. Very sweet and delicious. My favourite was crab and mm’s favourite clams. The abalone were okay, not a lot of flavour although tender.

The squid we’ll reserve for lunch tomorrow. At the market we also got some ripe tomatoes so it’s simply a matter of making a calamari and tomato sauce then throwing in some pasta.

Home-cooking wins again.

bbmm home cooking

lambrack04

Best day ever! And we didn’t do much. I keep saying I’ll cook lamb rack for mm so today I went over to her place with a couple of racks marinating in olive oil, rosemary and pepper. We can’t just eat lamb so we walked over to the market to look for inspiration. What a great market! We got there around 5pm and stallholders were beginning to discount their produce. Got some portabello mushrooms as well as prawns and clams for starters. The seafood was so fresh that all we needed was to drop them in boiling water. I overcooked the lamb slightly but it had lots of flavour and was still tender.

Opened a bottle of cabernet that a friend of hers brought back from California. Highly recommended, very fruity and not too tannic. Great for sipping whilst cooking and eating.

Watched HP 1 and 2, we decided to watch all 8 films as a goal this coming few weeks. Much more preferable staying home and cooking vs going out to eat.

snake soup

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Took my niece out for snake soup, because she wanted to try it and she asked me to take her. Sis won’t because she’s much more of an ethical/healthy type of eater, well actually she’s more squeamish. Rob won’t because he’s vegetarian lol. There are a few choices of restaurants but I picked one that is near my niece, has a good reputation and is a sit-down restaurant. Some other places I go to are holes-in-wall at markets and I wanted my niece to have a better experience first.

Snake soup is on many, many people’s bucket list. To be honest, it’s not so special although it’s not something I have all the time. I guess it’s like people don’t go out for clam chowder all the time. So, everything you want to know about snake soup:

  • it’s a soup made with snake meat, bones, chicken, mushroom, ginger, herbs and simmered for hours–since snake meat doesn’t have too much flavour it’s like a very rich chicken soup
  • the snake meat is shredded to thin slivers and looks quite similar to chicken, it can be distinguished in the soup because it’s slightly more brown and is a little bit tougher
  • snake soup has been around since the 3rd century and was a luxury dish enjoyed by the wealthy
  • it’s becoming more rare nowadays because special training is required to handle the snakes, most businesses are family-run

The place we went to has been around for almost 130 years and is currently run by the fourth generation family. It’s been in its current location since 1989. So, very traditional although it’s probably the one to take tourists and people who are trying snake for the first time.

And still a luxury. The soup is made from hours and hours of cooking and has additional ingredients to make it richer and sweeter. Equivalent to over £10 per bowl. I also had a bowl of rice with sausage and gis had rice with salted eggs.

The most pressing question, did she like it? Yes she did. She said it was unexpectedly good. She loves rich, almost gloopy soups and this one was exactly to her taste. The snake meat itself was pretty innocuous. May be next time I’ll take her to the really local one at the market.

visiting papa

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Visited Papa. I looked out from the terrace and realised I was looking at the same place mm and I went yesterday. The slightly curved shoreline with trees on one side that ends at a bunch of residental buildings? That’s one end of the waterfront bike path. It didn’t click yesterday because our attention was focused on the new residental buildings being built and were wondering what it’d be like to live there. Didn’t think to look beyond and up the hill. Plus, it’s further than it looks. Next time we go, I’ll know where to wave to Papa.

bbmm cycling day out

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The sun came out so we went cycling. There’s a waterfront bike path near the velodrome park that we’ve been talking of trying out for a long time. It turned out to be perfect! A little out of the way, we each have to travel around 1hr to get there, but once there it’s pretty easy. We explored signing up for one of the dockless bike schemes that seem to be everywhere nowadays but opted for the more expensive, but safer and more reliable, option of renting from a proper bike shop. We weren’t the only ones, plenty of other people were renting from him too; we’re glad the shop isn’t suffering because of the dockless bikes. The advantage of the dockless bikes is they’re so much cheaper, but that’s about it. Some of the bikes weren’t in the cleanest condition, and they had no gears. The bike shop guy let us try out machines until we found the ones we liked, he checked everything, put in a basket and gave us his mobile number in case of problems. The additional customer service is worth it. May be for other purposes we’ll try the dockless bikes another time.

Like I said, the bike path was great. Well used, but thankfully not overcrowded. Can imagine gridlock at the weekends. There were of course the usual idiots who think they’re Chris Hoy as well as whole families spread out along the entire width but by and large, fairly civilised. After negotiating our way past housing estates, the velodrome and a sports stadium we found our way to the waterfront area. Flat and straight almost the entire way. There was a bridge which provided the only gradient and even then for the lazy, there was a lift.

We brought snacks for a picnic, and there were lots of benches along the waterfront to rest and take in the view. A few boats moored around the end of the canal, a few people put-putting their small boats around. Other people running, walking, just enjoying the day.

We kept track of distance and out and back was only 5k, so a nice gentle day out with fresh air and a bit of exercise.

benign existence

Not much happened recently, so in the spirit of r/benignexistence here’s a list of mundane things I did this week that are, in the sub’s definition perhaps relatable but do not necessarily evoke a strong reaction:

  • low level headache that refuses to go away, ran out of paracetemol blister packs, went to pharmacy to buy some
  • visited a local small restaurant that apparently has been there since before I was born, their speciality is Thai food–chicken rice, braised duck, red and green curries
  • bought a small amount of global leisure fund, top 5 sectors:
    1. software
    2. media
    3. internet & direct marketing retail
    4. hotel, restaurant & leisure
    5. household durables
  • completely vacuumed under the bed, including taking out and cleaning shoeboxes
  • in addition to morning yorkshire tea, drank two large cups of mint or green tea in the afternoon
  • caught some gen 3 pokémons and participated in legendary gyms
  • removed ghostery because it’s on the side of the advertisers, installed privacy badger, which is from the EFF instead: why privacy badger is better
  • searched my flickr to see what ‘boring’ will bring up

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What flickr gave me as ‘boring’ was based on my description of the pics of Kiel on one of our cruises. Here’s some random crates we saw at the flea market. Benign existence enough.

bbmm afternoon outing

Cold but sunny day. We decided we needed some fresh air so we headed out to the wetlands countryside area. Late lunch at an AYCE Japanese bbq place, then followed the signs to an “eco farm.” It was a big letdown. They charged an admission fee and it looked from the map outside that the so-called farm consisted of walking paths, small gardens, a playground and a kids’ petting area. There was one other car in the carpark which didn’t bode well either. We decided to save our money and give this placa a miss.

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Ended up at the small village at Nam Sang Wai. First thing we saw when we parked the car was a row of dockless bikes that have invaded the city. No fewer than 3 different companies with yellow, green and blue bikes. To the credit of the users, the bikes were parked in a neat row. We saw others in poorer shape elsewhere–covered in mud or just thrown into an unsightly pile. How these schemes make money we don’t know.

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The famous “wedding bridge” had been slightly repaired, and handrails added. This is the place where a lot of people come to take wedding pictures, because of the beautiful scenery. The bridge is more a small wooden pier but its location at the side of a canal and the background of trees and a small hill is ideal for photography. This was taken on the iphone and with no adjustments whatsoever. I know, golden hour and all that. Still, pretty.

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Walked further into the small village. There are around a dozen houses, mostly metal-cladded and quite run down. People do live there though; we saw a young woman watering her vegetable garden, heard the sound of a tv or radio through the gap of another house, and there’s laundry out to dry in front of several houses. The concrete path turned into one that was basically rotten wooden planks, which is part of the charm.

The wooden planks lead to another small pier, this one at the side of a river/canal. There’s a boatman who rows people across to the other side, probably the shortest river crossing ever. Equivalent to 50p per crossing, add 10p per bike. Very sedate. A sign says it’s around 15mins’ walk to the nearest train station from the other side of the river. During the 10mins that we were there, we saw a good 5-6 people crossing, one came back to this side with his bike and 2 bottles of either detergent or comfort in the basket. Looks like it’s widely used by locals.

We caught the sunset as we were walking back to the car. It was quick! We were both full from lunch, so decided to call it a day. I was home by 7.30pm.

bangkok trip day 06: sukhumvit area, flight

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We’re a little tired of hotel breakfasts by now. Noodles or congee seem to be the best choice. We had a few different noodles over the past few days, sometimes they have more condiments, our favourite is when salted eggs made an appearance.

Walked over to emporium and em quartier after breakfast, mainly to check out the gourmet supermarket. I bought mangos and mm bought a large bag of passionfruit. We had late check-out at 2pm so there was time to take a shower.

Enough time in the afternoon to go for a quick massage, this one at the place directly opposite the hotel. Small and other customers were quite noisy, but cheap and the therapists were okay. Definitely liking the location.

Our driver came at 4pm to pick us up, 1hr to the airport in the rush hour traffic. We’ll keep his contact details for next time, he has a fleet of cars and taxis and is knowledgeable and experienced. Check-in, wander around the duty free and early dinner in the airport–thai styled raw prawns, green curry beef, pineapple rice.

Flight was full again, but we got upgraded, yay! The plane arrived late, there was a delay boarding but it caught up so not substantially late. By the time we got our luggage and on the airport express it was past midnight. Got home around 1.30am.

bangkok trip day 05: river, chinatown

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A day on the river. Took a taxi to the shangri-la hotel, after the taxi driver didn’t understand we wanted the mandarin oriental–he took us to a smaller, local hotel called the mandarin. The shangri-la is located on the river, but the area didn’t seem as versatile as sukhumvit. Anyway, the itinerary today included going on the river.

There were different types of boats available. First to approach us were longboat tour guides. They advertised tours lasting from 1.5hrs to 3hrs in a private longboat. I’m guessing the sky’s the limit for price, they’ll hit you for as much as they can. Next to the private pier is the public pier. Two types of boats available. The tourist blue boat offers a day pass for ฿180 (£4), operates like a hop on hop off bus in other cities. Seems like a bargain? Nope. The public river taxis are ฿15 (35p) for a single trip, and it’s not likely anyone will need to take 12 trips to make the tourist boat break even. So advice is, stick with the public express boats.

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The orange flagged boat goes to the piers at all the tourist areas. We were able to get seats on our first ride from sathorn pier all the way to thonburi railway pier. Some of the piers are numbered, like sathorn is #1 and thonburi #11. The boats are quick and the river quite busy, especially at the central locations. There are schedules and route maps at all piers.

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Great views of Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Royal Grand Palace. We also saw a number of other wats, the church of Santa Cruz, the 24hr flower market and lots of other sights along the river. It was so nice we didn’t want to get off.

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When we did get off, we headed towards wang lang market, around 10mins from the pier walking through a teaching hospital. Late lunch at a café at the market with river view. Tom yum soup, stuffed squid, sea bass & pineapple yellow curry. Not too bad, streetfood would have been tastier but this place had more comfortable seating.

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The market was part indoors and part outdoors. Mostly clothes, accessories, decorations that were on the cheap and cheerful side. There was a section that was distinctively camden like and we weren’t sure if the clothes and shoes on sale were second hand or new but grubby from being on display for a long time.

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The pavement outside the market was lined with streetfood stalls. Again, either fried food or salad. Not that the food we’ve tried hadn’t been tasty, I may lose weight if I lived in thailand for a long time because the style of food isn’t altogether suited to my palate. Or may be it’s because I’m sick this trip, dunno.

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Here’s a pic for my friends J&T, they’ve reached Australia in their trip. They posted pictures of entire families on motorbikes when they were in SE Asia, and here’s one with 4 members of the family on one motorbike. By and large, motorbikes in Bangkok have been well behaved and it seems motorbike taxis are very prevalent. Not sure if I dare go on one: no helmet, pretty precarious, can’t speak language so have to haggle for price. Seems to be used a lot by locals. Still have never been on a tuktuk.

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We headed to a nearby pier and caught another orange express boat downriver. This one was more crowded, still a nice experience to see the sights on the other side. Destination was Chinatown, and we stopped by sampeng market along the way. Nothing much to see, cheap goods and many stalls closing.

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The main stretch of chinatown is yaowarat road, which looks like nathan road in he 1950s. Houses are still in mid-20th century style, and it seems every shop is either an eatery or a gold shop. The neon lights are pretty though, the area really came to life after dark.

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We stopped at one of the side streets and took obligatory pics of the streetfood cook with his woks, and the vendor selling edible insects. If I were feeling better, I would have tried the insects: I’m especially interested in grasshopper and the worms though not quite there with the scorpion and large bugs. Actual dinner was satay at a stall where the auntie grilling the sticks wore plastic bag covered sneakers. My friend T told me to look for an auntie with camo shorts and wellington boots, may be this is the right one, or may be it’s another stall at the other side of yaowarat. Ah well.

Followed up the satay with a bowl of bird’s nest soup. Long time since we tried and it was pretty good.

Taxi back to the hotel. Had to walk outside the chinatown area to find one, and had to agree to fixed (no meter) price. No massage tonight, we had one every night on this trip. Resting and packing.

bangkok trip day 04: chatuchak market

Spent the whole day at chatuchak market, the largest market in Thailand and probably the largest in the world. Around 5mins walk from mo chit bts and no need for a map, just follow the crowd. It has over 15,000 stalls divided into sections and hosts something like 300,000 visitors.

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So much to buy and see! Accessories, decorations, clothes, shoes, socks, hats, bags, kitchenware, furniture, lights, herbs & spices. Plus much, much more. The best thing is, the products were rarely repeated. Which also meant, buy there and then because we’d forget and can’t find the stall again. Some stalls allowed bargaining but many didn’t. The only places we tried were when we were buying a few more items.

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There’s a whole section of art too.

Let’s see if I remember what we bought: t-shirt for mm, sneakers for both, notebooks, passport holders (with personalised decoration), tuk tuk souvenir, elephant souvenir, fridge magnet, bookmarks, lemongrass wardrobe scent packet, aromatic oil for room, handkerchief, slippers, belts.

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Lunch was quick noodles and we stopped at a craft coffee place to rest. The people at the coffee place really knew their stuff and seemed passionate about coffee. The beans come from thailand and they recommended me a blend that was quite light, fruity and not bitter at all for my iced coffee. It tasted more like tea than coffee, a big plus in my book. After more walking, we stopped for mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream.

By the time we headed out, I was exhausted and could barely put one foot in front of the other. We went to emporium supermarket and got rice paper rolls. My lack of appetite continued and I could only eat a few rolls.

Massage at a small place virtually next to the hotel. My back and legs were hurting from previous massages and walking all day, so I was a bit worried. Lots of time spent on feet and legs, and that was really great. The therapist said I felt hot and may be running a fever. Showered back at the hotel and put a cold towel on my head, and yes it felt like I had a temperature. Hopefully I can sleep it off.

bangkok trip day 03: city

The original plan was to visit ayutthaya, the old capital city around 80km from bangkok. We’d even arranged the car for the day. But with me being sick, we cancelled the day trip. I slept till 10am. Didn’t feel dizzy but not much of an appetite. Good thing for noodles for breakfast.

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Since we suddenly had more time in the city, we headed to the central shopping areas. Found a pop-up street market next to siam square station. Half the market had stalls selling mainly clothing and accessories. I didn’t have much interest in clothes but the accessories were cute. There were shoes, bags, watches, toys, keychains, and one stall selling nothing but pens.

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The other half of the market was all streetfood. We noticed that much of the streetfood was fried with some grilled. Pork is the main meat product with some seafood too. Vegetable selection mainly fresh and spicy looking salads. Pomegranate juice and sometimes mango. We were tempted by grilled prawns and they also had huge slabs of pork belly with crunchy looking crackling. The prawns were okay, some fresher than others. The pork was room temperature, the crackling was good and the meat was quite tender. Also ordered a vegetarian pad thai too. Today’s pad thai was made with the normal noodles, not spaghetti at the treehouse. All in all, a decent enough streetfood lunch.

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Took the bts one stop to chit lom. This was our first trip on the bts this time and i must be still sick because we got on the wrong train. This should be hard to do because there are only 2 lines, but that’s what we did, got on the wrong line. Ah well.

There’s an elevated walkway from chit lom station to the shopping centres around. Very much needed, because of the sheer amount of traffic. The elevated walkway went past Erawan shrine, so we stopped there for a minute. I vaguely remember the shrine being in the middle of the road, but I guess its location at a busy junction is similar. The small enclosure was heavy with smoke and incense from worshippers. We hadn’t planned on visiting any of the landmark shrines and wats during the trip, though it was nice to view it from the walkway.

Stopped at Central World and had two fresh coconuts. I’m not allowed cold drinks for the time being (no alcohol either, naturally) and fresh coconut water was perfect. Not a lot to see inside central world so we made our way to the Big C hypermarket. Two stories of food and household items. And extremely crowded with tourists. Compared with the frenzied mob, we were very restrained. I bought two boxes of cereal bars for mum and some snacks; mm bought coconut oil to make body lotion. We also saw bottles of 100-count paracetemol for some ridiculously low price and got that too.

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For dinner we headed back to central world where we saw a pop-up streetfood market. They had grilled salt-crusted whole fish, and we got grilled squid too. Took it back to the hotel to eat while resting. The fish we picked was tilapia, suited me because I still didn’t have much of an appetite. Came with an awesome dipping sauce that had a great balance between sweet, sour, and spicy.

The day wasn’t over! We’d booked a massage at another place nearby, this time it was four hands thai massage. It’s the first time either of us tried four hands and it was great. Normally I tend to focus on where the therapist was massaging, and sometimes would sub-consciously tense up in that area. With four hands, it was too distracting because too much was going on. My team worked well together and were quite synchronised; I could tell one was more experienced than the other but both were good. The two hour session was equivalent to a 4-hour session, so we came out feeling very relaxed.

bangkok trip day 02: bang krachao

More noodles for breakfast.

Destination today was the articifial island of bang krachao, located south of the city on the chao praya river. Technically it’s in another province, phra pradaeng, so when we asked the front desk manager, she was a little confused. Luckily, there is plenty of online information by other travellers. The island is mostly car-free and no commercial or high-rise buildings are allowed, to preserve its nature and culture.

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We took a taxi to Wat Klong Toey Nai and walked through a small street market with the wat to one side. We weren’t sure the instructions were to walk through the temple grounds or continue on the street and a kind elderly gentleman pointed us down the street. We weren’t even asking and he knew where we wanted to go! At the end of the street is a small pier for boats going to the island, just across the river, ฿10 per person. We let a bike tour group go through first, they all fit, together with their bikes, on a flat long boat.

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Our boat was much smaller and narrower. The trip across the river took just a couple of minutes. We walked outside the pier and found that there weren’t much in the vicinity that was walkable, so we rented a bike. ฿70 for the whole day; if ฿10 is 20p, then ฿70 is £1.40. That said, the bikes were pretty basic gearless models aimed at simply getting from one place to another. Good enough for us. We had to leave one ID with them for security deposit though. We hadn’t cycled for a while so both of us were rusty in the beginning. The island isn’t completely car-free and there are also lots of motorbikes so initially we were very careful on the narrow roads.

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We were given a hand-drawn (and later discovered to be not-to-scale) map, and I’d also printed one before we left so we had a good idea of our first stop. Sri Nakhon Khuan Khan park, otherwise known as bike park, is around 1km from the pier. Lots of trees, vegetation, a lake and a few bridges.

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Really picturesque, especially around the lake. Difficult to take good pics because of the intense midday sun and everything was green. We were in the park for around 30mins, then headed back to the main roads. Stopped at a roadside stall to get fruit, and skipped a few coffee places. There’s a weekend floating market on the island, which would have been interesting to visit. May be next time.

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From research and according to the map, a good place to head for is the bangkok treehouse, which has a restaurant and is also a hotel. We used a combination of the paper map and google maps, which took us along alleyways and eventually a narrow, unmarked path.

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It was worth it. The treehouse rise above surrounding trees yet blends in harmoniously. There’s an honesty bar selling snacks and drinks, and the restaurant has two upstairs decks with good views across the river to the mainland.

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There was a long wait for food, they told us there were a lot of back orders. It was okay, we found a table in the shade and enjoyed our drinks: watermelon smoothie and lime-mint smoothie; the smoothies are more like slush puppies made from fresh fruit. Eventually when the papaya salad and spaghetti pad thai arrived, they were tasty and just what we wanted. I ordered a local leo beer to try it out, tasted pretty bland. Anyway tt was nice to sit and relax after cycling for a couple of hours.

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It took us much less time to get back to the pier, because we weren’t looking at the map every few minutes and by then were more confident on the road. The boat had one stop on the island before making its way across the river and it gave us another view of part of the island, of the stilted houses overlooking the river. So much greenery and nature so near the city, it’s a must see and we’ll keep it on our itinerary for future visits.

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We’d booked a massage in the sala daeng area so we took a taxi there. Early enough to wander around the shopping centres around the station and dinner was chicken rice and mango sticky rice at streetfood stalls. The massage was at a place called chiwe chiwa, a small family-owned place. We had thai massage this time and the therapists were absolutely phenomenal. Took care of the stiff muscles from a day of cycling and hit the acupressure points on our feet perfectly.

The only issue was, I got unwell near the end of the massage. One minute I was dozing while having my head massaged, the next minute there was a loud buzz in my head, the room spun around and I was literally sick. The aunties took really good care of me, giving me sweet tea and their local tiger balm ointment. Got us a taxi and I sat on the chair in our room to try to get better. Hot shower helped for a minute but I was dizzy and sick again when I tried to lay down in the bed. We think it’s dehydration and heatstroke from the island. It was a hot sunny day, I guess I didn’t drink enough water. Sigh.

bangkok trip day 01: sukhumvit

Bangkok airport at 2.30am was surprisingly busy, lots of flights arriving. We detoured to the duty free, found nothing special, and proceeded to passport control. Our luggage got to the belt just as we arrived. We read that the best exchange rates are at the airport but weren’t impressed with the rates on offer. We had enough cash to last us a day, so we decided to check out the forex places in the city.

When I was changing my sim card, I discovered to my horror that the casing on my iphone had cracked open on the long side, the screen was warped and the inside circuit boards were showing. The phone still worked fine so there’s nothing I can do until I get home. Fingers crossed it keeps working.

We’d booked a private car transfer with a driver recommended by someone mm knows, and he’d texted us his picture, a pic of his car and the licence plate. We texted him when we arrived and went out to the pick up area to wait for him. It probably was a little more expensive than a regular taxi but there was no danger of him taking the long way (agreed fixed price) and he was polite and nice. Got us to the hotel around 4am. The street outside looked dark with not many streetlights, so we may have to be a bit careful.

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The hotel is hyatt place sukhumvit. It’d recently reopened after renovation, which was why the price was so good. There’s a small sitting area on the ground floor and the lobby is on 3/F. Nice modern and spacious area with sofa seating, a small bar, and a vending machine area. We never saw anyone buy anything from the vending machines the entire time we were there. Even the front desk staff told us that we’re better off going to the 7-eleven opposite. The room is large, with a bench at the end of the bed which meant we could both put our suitcases up. Long table with lots of space for me to put my mba and us to put food and other stuff. The best feature of the room is that there are SO.MANY.SOCKETS. For the first time in my memory, I didn’t need to use my extension cord, we were able to plug in all our electronics. There were 2 sockets at each side of the bed, and 2 sets of two at the table. What’s more, the sockets are multi-whatever the name is for being able to take different types of plugs. Our three-pronged UK plugs, my flat US charger for idevices, and if needed, circular European plugs too. I think only Aussie slanted plugs or less common plugs need an adaptor.

After some basic unpacking and shower, time to take a nap. Yes, booking the room the night before sounds like a waste of money, but believe me, it’s worth it simply because we didn’t have to worry about asking if there’s a room available (almost 12hrs before offcial checking in time) and we could get a few hours’ rest.

And since we were booked in the night before, we could have breakfast. The usual selection: bacon, sausage, eggs, salad, fruit, breads, cereal. There was an omelette station and a noodle bar. The noodle was really nice, and I wisely asked for the spicy looking chili sauce on the side. The other food was pretty unremarkable. I didn’t have to break into my own tea bags, they had english breakfast.

The plan today was to take it easy. We explored our street, sukhumvit soi 24, from one end to the other. There’s a 7-eleven across the street from the hotel and several more walking down the street. A couple of other hotels, a smattering of restaurants, quite a number of posh looking apartment blocks, and lots of massage places. One of the places that we noticed when we were researching was a large restaurant called seafood market, with a logo that said “if it swims we have it” where customers pick their seafood and bring it to the chefs to be cooked. We looked inside and were definitely not impressed. The counter was very, very long with lots of choices, from alaskan king crab to lobster to clams to fish. Didn’t look very fresh and pretty expensive too. All the way to the end of the soi was a petrol station and a tesco’s. Not very large supermarket, typical of service stations, we wandered around and headed back.

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Had our first street food! Skewers of chicken heart and liver from a street cart halfway down the street. Very tasty and fresh, no horrible stale offal taste. ฿10 each, that’s like 20p (30c for Americans). Looks like we’ll be streetfooding a lot.

The top end of the soi is phrom phong bts station, and the big emporium shopping centre complex. We found the forex place we were looking for at the basement of the emporium, giving a much better rate than at the airport. Explored around the kitchenware department and the gourmet supermarket.

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Walking around, trying to find more streetfood. Came across a noodle shop hidden behind cars and a huge sign. The owner waved at us when we stopped and the shop was definitely a land of curiosity. Obviously family owned, half the shop had tables for customers and half looked like their home, with tables, chairs, shelves and stuff everywhere. There were magazines were for sale, displayed on shelves at both sides of the shop. English, French, Italian versions of Hello, Vogue and such like. Wrapped in clear plastic, and looking pretty recent. There was a Hello with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle prominently displayed.

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The menu looks like it has 3 items plus a few add-ons but it’s in Thai so we couldn’t read it. So mm went up to the front and picked out what we wanted. I think she pointed at what someone else was eating and said we’ll have that. The proprietors spoke a little english so we weren’t completely lost. We got bowls of noodles with wonton and charsiu, plus coke in a bottle for nostalgia. The noodles were simple yet delicious. Love the place. It’s at one of the sois north of sukhumvit (33, 35 or 37). Total cost of the meal ฿100, or £2.

Rested back at the hotel for a bit, then headed to the asia herb association 5mins down the road for the massage we’d booked in the morning. This is one of the more expensive places we found when researching, but even the longest package that we picked was only around ฿3000. For that we get 4.5hrs: body scrub, aromatic oil massage, herbal ball, foot massage, head & shoulder massage. In most countries, that price (around £60) gets a 60min standard massage. Overall, the massages were good, but not spectacular. Mostly aimed at relaxation, so light pressure instead of the deep intense massages we usually like. Suited the occasion though.

Past 10pm when we finished. Had late dinner at nearby ramen shop.

bangkok trip day 00: waiting to go to the airport

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Mostly waiting. Flight is tomorrow at 0040 so have to leave for airport today. Google maps says it’ll take 1.5hrs on the bus so I left at 8.15pm to get to the check-in area to meet mm at 10pm. Turned out, google maps was being overly cautious and I got there around 9pm. Meanwhile, mm was waiting for her bus for so long that we decided she should get the train instead. I got a mint tea at the agnès b café but didn’t have to wait long.

Check-in and everything else was quick, we had plenty of time to browse around the duty free. I’d thought of getting a bottle of sake so we can enjoy it in our hotel but couldn’t find any. Whisky selection was okay, nothing special. I got a bottle of octomore that I’d been eyeing for a while.

Flight boarding was at 0000, very full. 2-4-2 and I got the last two seats at the window side when I checked in on sunday. Not a huge selection of films or tv, but the flight’s only around 2.5hrs. I watched ep7. They fed us a hot dog and it was perfect because we were getting peckish.

Napped for a bit, and then we arrived already.

don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm

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There was a mild incident earlier when someone yelled at us for something that wasn’t our fault; and this person wanted to let us know how much better, more knowledgeable, and more worthy they are compared with mere minions like us. It originated, ironically, from us wanting to be accommodating.

Ah well, can’t win them all. It bothered me for a minute, then I decided it wasn’t worth losing brain cells and raising my blood pressure for.

May be it’s my personality, or may be training over the years, I’m helpful but ultimately I don’t really care about things that have nothing to do with me. I’ll give up my seat for someone, but I don’t really care which stop they’re going. I’ll help you tidy up but I don’t care whether you keep that shirt or not. I’ll provide information but it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other what you do with it.

May be I’m being uncaring, or selfish, or unresponsive.

I’ve been trying to get mm to push back more too. She puts too much effort and invests too much of herself into situations and people who, while superficially appreciative, are basically using her. The charity she volunteers at, her lab professor, her family. From where I stand, I see them taking and taking and taking and giving nothing in return. I sent her this image to illustrate my point.

You’re not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

There’s so much self-help literature about this. You do not owe the world your nicemess. 5 signs you’re trying too hard to please everyone. 40 things about life I wish I could travel back in time and tell myself. On the last one, I don’t necessarily agree with all 40, some make sense:

  • #4 never be dismissive of things you don’t understand
  • #6 you only have so many fucks to give, ration them carefully
  • #17 you can’t argue with haters, because they’re not arguing with you
  • #34 not everything is someone’s fault

bbmm aimless day

Met mm in the afternoon to visit a friend of ours from KCL. He’s now a professor and manager at a new college that only started about 3 years ago. We wanted to visit the campus, learn more about what they are doing and plan on doing. He treated us to tea and scones at a nearby café and we had a long chat.

Dinner at a streetside place, we had lamb hotpot. It’s one of those places where the tables are literally on the street. Plastic tables, plastic chairs, plastic tablecloth held in place by large binder clips. A bottle of cheap, flavourless lager with the meal. Because that’s what you have.

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Walked to the computer district, more of our habitual aimless walking. By the time we got there, around 8pm, most of the stalls had closed or were closing. We found an open stall that sells sim cards and bought a couple of them for our bangkok trip. As regular stalls were closing, other people started spreading their wares on blankets on the pavement. Guess the night market is starting. Most of the good for sale are junk second hand stuff, but it was interesting to look at.

We saw a woman riding a bike that was covered in soft toys earlier and we saw it again, next to one of the closed stalls. The owner must like soft toys. It’s an interesting urban sight, my first pic of 2018.

family morning, bbmm afternoon

Although we said goodbye to my cousin’s family yesterday, we saw them again when mum convinced me to join them to visit our grandparents and great-grandmothers at the cemetery. We had an interesting time telling the kids about their great- and great-great-grandparents. My great-aunt (my grandpa’s sister) is still alive, and the kids know her, having gone to visit her in RI several times–they’re only like 4hrs’ drive away. So it was easier to have them relate to her.

They went back to their hotel for other appointments afterwards, this time it was hugging them goodbye for real, they’re flying home tomorrow, sniff. Mum and I had lunch at the foodcourt and she went shopping while I met up with mm. We slowly and aimlessly walked around, covering the flower market, the fruit market, the street that had fish (for pets) shops, and then looking for a birthday card for one of her family friends. It’s surprisingly hard to find cards nowadays and the place we ended up finding a suitable one was at the Catholic shop at one of the old buildings.

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There was still time before she had to go to dinner with her folks, so we headed to a craft beer place I saw a while ago. They had a selection of around 20 on tap. I had one called torikage birukatsugan, apparently named after a ninja leader. It’s a black IPA made with lots of hops and dark malts and is roasty and bitter but not overpowering. She had a blueberry fruit beer that is very different from mine–the scent of blueberries come through and it’s very refreshing without being tart.

Nice morning and afternoon. I was home by 6pm to cook dinner.

And, the modem failed. All the lights went off except the power one, which blinked so sporadically and weakly that I could barely see it. I even changed to another wallplug with no success. Called in and luckily the technician will come tomorrow. Meanwhile, I can tether.

big family outing

Big family outing day. Early start, everyone met at the train station to go take the cable car up to the big buddha. The cable car was very crowded but since there were 10 of us, we had our own. The journey was long, around 20-25mins, with really good views. I’d dismissed the cable car as a touristy gimmick but was as pleasantly surprised as when I went on it for the first time a few weeks ago.

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We walked along the shopping village, which my cousin A described as being like in Disney but in a good way. For some odd reason, we had a few free coupons for snacks at specified restaurants, including an ice cream place so the kids could get cones. Walked to the end of the village towards the big buddha. I still don’t know what record it holds, largest outdoor sitting buddha with a raised hand? My cousins and the kids walked up to the top while I went to explore possible lunch places.

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We saw several feral cows. They were just laying there on the grass enjoying the sun, people were going up close taking selfies and petting them and they didn’t seem bothered. My nieces were fascinated and J said it’s the best thing she’s seen all trip. I told them the story, that they are descended from farm animals that were abandoned. But looking at them, they don’t seem to be starved or suffering. If anything, helping with tourism.

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Vegetarian lunch at the temple starts at 1.30pm so we decided to go elsewhere. I ran ahead to check the bus stop and found the one to the fishing village just about to depart. The extremely nice stationmistress said she’ll hold it for me so I ran back to the group to tell them and got mum, my two aunts and my uncle (all retirees) to run for the bus, hahaha. Only 10mins to the fishing village with stilted houses. Not too crowded on a weekday, so a pleasant walk exploring the houses and shops. Lunch was at my “usual” deck café where we had the entire upper deck. Just pizza, fish cakes and soft drinks. But the view, wow, still spectacular even after so many visits.

We lucked out on the bus again, only 5mins’ wait back to the cable car. But the return trip had a 30min queue. My nieces were taking time lapse videos but for some reason mine didn’t work, sigh.

Dinner was buffet at the hotel restaurant. Really nice and everyone had a great time.

sushi train, escape room

Met sis, gis, my cousin and his kids for lunch at a sushi restaurant sis suggested. It used to be a conveyor belt restaurant, but now it’s a sushi train. We order via a tablet, the food is prepared in the kitchen and sent to us on a miniature train. We take the plate and push a button to send the empty train back. It’s very, very cool. Much better than conveyor belt because the food is fresher and we can actually pick what we want instead of sitting around hoping for something good to arrive. The kids loved it.

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After lunch, sis had booked us all to go to an escape room game at a place called Lost. The coolness of the day continued. We played a game called Alcatraz, where we were split into 3 teams and locked in 3 cells: Red, Green & Blue. We had to work together, solve puzzles and escape from the cells. The puzzles, in retrospect, were pretty straightforward, but in the moment when everything was unknown and we were all trying to scream at each other, it felt more stressed. Plus there’s always the time limit–45mins. We all managed to escape our cells but ran out of time to solve the last puzzle to escape from the room itself. A huge amount of fun and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The kids say it’s one of the best they’ve played.

Everyone had separate plans so I ended up sitting in a Mcdonalds for 2hrs drinking one small coke zero and reading on my ipad. This branch is pretty good, not very crowded. I was waiting for mm to finish to meet her to help her with shopping. Her family is having a gathering this weekend and doing a New Year’s version of Christmas Secret Santa. The budget is local$200, but the difficulty is the gift has to be suitable for her parents (in their 70s) as well as her nieces and nephew (teen and pre-teen). I gave her a magnetic noughts-and-crosses game I’d originally bought for my nieces and she got a box of nice biscuits and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. Under budget too.

We weren’t that hungry so dinner was just noodles. Went to HMV to have a beer and chat for a bit until time to go home.

lazy day and a still-funny video

It’s Boxing Day and I’m so glad I have no plans. Originally the family was going to do something like an outing but the kids are too tired and they made the decision to take a resting day to shore up energy for the rest of their trip. Very wise. I’m tired and I’m not jetlagged. I spent the day reading, playing candy crush and browsing reddit. Even cooking lunch and dinner were lazy, leftover jobs and I managed to scrounge around and find suitable fresh veg.

This is from 2013, but I was watching it again and it still gave me a big laugh. Background, in May 2013 Microsoft had a one of the worst marketing disasters ever when they launched the Xbox One, which was described by business insider as “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.” The Xbox One was supposed to be the follow up to the hugely successful Xbox 360 but they included features that instantly turned customers away:

  • the console had to be constantly connected to the internet because it needed to be verified every 24hrs and must be online to play
  • all games must be installed to the hard drive, and then the disk will become useless
  • cannot re-use or re-sell the game disks, confusing rules about sharing games with friends
  • $500 price point, $100 more expensive than its rival the PS4

Whoever at Sony came up with the “official playstation used game instructional video” that trolled Microsoft so hard is legendary. 22 seconds of pure genius. It’s almost 5 years old and still funny.

family christmas

Herding cats. I don’t recommend doing it. Still, it was a reasonably enjoyable day. And I don’t remember spending christmas day with so many family members.

Met the extended family and took them via the bus to Middle Island. At least my cousins and their kids were smart, followed directions and it was a joy to see them take in everything. The weather was brilliant, and the 15min walk from the bus stop to the boat pier was really, really nice.

Sis, Rob and Gis had gone there early to get a table, and the food was good as always. I was in charge of the barbeque and grabbed the kids to help me. There was way too much food and we took some away with us.

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Gis took the kids to the beach to play after lunch. So much fun with just sand and rocks. When I joined them we started building rock stacks and ended up with a village. Would have been nice to see the faces on the next set of people to visit the beach.

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Braved the crowds and went up to the Peak, had to split the group up into 3 taxis, making sure there’s at least one person in each that knows what they’re doing. A friendly taxi driver in Sis’ group told them that we should get the Madam Tussaud’s combo to skip the peak tram line, which probably saved us 1-2hrs because the queue was horrendous. The waxworks were quite interesting actually, there were movie stars, sports stars, a bunch of unknown K-pop singers and the biggest queue was for President Obama.

I did a bit of playing around on HDR on photoshop, which is why the pic above looks very processed. Uncle A is a big fan of lightroom and I see him play around with it on his phone whenever he takes a group pic. I tend to edit on the mba; on the iphone I just used the camera roll editing tool but I’ll start using either lightroom or photoshop cc.

By the time we escaped from the peak, everyone was tired and still full from lunch. Dinner was wonton noodles and steamed egg custard at the old places. Lots of nostalgia.

bbmm christmas eve

It doesn’t feel like Christmas. I turn around and it’s Christmas Eve already. We have zero decorations at home and only managed to get gifts for my cousin’s family yesterday at the last minute.

Met mm in the afternoon for a simple walk at the fishing village she can reach by ferry. I took the train and walked 10mins. We walked to the end of the promenade, where the shrine is, then back. Played a little pokemon go, some new gen 3 came out.

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Took the ferry back to her place and it was perfect timing to catch the sunset. Found a hotpot restaurant nearby with unlimited food and they had beer too. Not a huge selection, but suited us. The small selection is probably why we were able to walk-in at 6.30pm.

I was going to take the bus home but mm said she’d drive me. Which involved getting the emergency mechanic out to jump start the car, the battery is so dead that even the doors couldn’t open. We drove to a nearby dessert place but decided against switching off the car so I went and got takeaway dessert. We ate in the car at the park near me, still with the car idling. Hopefully the drive recharges the batteries.

family visit

My aunt L, cousin E and his family from Long Island–his wife A and kids K, M, J–arrived for a visit. I haven’t seen them since I visited them in 2016, and aside from my aunt and cousin, the others had never visited. We’ve been planning and organising lots of stuff to do with them.

Dinner tonight with the whole group at the traditional restaurant where my grandparents first took us. Poor kids, they’re so jetlagged. Little J, who is only 10, spent the entire dinner sleeping in A’s arms.

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The eldest, K, who is in college, wasn’t jetlagged so after dinner we took her and auntie L on a whirlwind tour to see the Christmas lights. Very crowded but pretty. Within about 2hrs we took in the harbourfront, Peninsula hotel, the star ferry and lights at Central. Not too shabby for a night’s work.

bbmm lunch, travel agent

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Met mm for lunch at the AYCE Jap place that opened a new branch in cwb. It’s very spacious, and offers set lunches too. Not many people for the buffet which suited us. Instead of ordering via the thick menu books, we order via an app. Of course, there’s an app. Items not on the app menu are at the central counter so we can take ourselves. Large drinks selection too, in addition to a huge fridge of soft drinks, juices, beer and cider plus another area for hot drinks, there were dispensers of cocktails, umeshu and hot and cold sake. Their other shop only allows one special ice cream per person but here it was as much as we like.

Quality was good, especially the sashimi and sushi selection. We found the grilled food selection extremely salty so kept to vegetables which were less salty. Despite the free-for-all ice cream, we only managed one. Oh, lots of hot sake too.

Walked around afterwards, at the dollar store and then at the park. Stopped off at the travel agent to get information about our long awaited running away trip. Not too far away or too ambitious, just to bangkok. Last time we went was coming back from safari in kenya, and that was almost 10 years ago.

Too full from lunch, didn’t need dinner at all.

duck, cable car, fishing village

Another full day of adventure with my friends J&T. Met them for lunch at Spring Deer. They told me that they like sake so I asked about it when I called to make a reservation. The lady said just ask the wait staff and they’ll take care of it. The problem is, I can’t be sure what sake they get and I don’t want to drink 7-eleven sake, which is more than likely the outcome. So I went out earlier to citysuper and got a bottle. I didn’t know if my friends like hot or cold so I asked for a recommendation. The one I got was really good, medium dryness, Junmai Daiginjō-shu from Niigata. The wait staff at the restaurant were wonderful, they put it in a traditional wine jug and warmed it up for us. Corkage only local$50 so well worth it. Basically, we only had hot & sour soup and peking duck. The soup was well balanced but the star of the meal was the duck. We managed to finish it all and I took the carcass with me. I thought the sake went extremely well with the duck, the smoothness and flavour cutting back the fattiness of the duck.

I gave my friends the option of going to the beaches or the fishing village and they opted for the fishing village. To get to the fishing village, we took the famous cable car to the big buddha first. It’s a first for me, and i actually enjoyed the trip. I thought it was all going to be a tourist trap, but it was okay. I get a discount by showing my ID card and most people had opted for the ride with the transparent floor. Honestly there is no advantage to the transparent cable car as most of the view is out of the windows. They crowd so many people in the transparent cars, we’re seeing 10 people inside each one whereas we only needed to share with 2 Thai ladies.

The cable car ride was very long and the scenery pretty good. Lots of greenery around and underneath us, and we could see a hiking path too. The airport in distant view. Eventually we went over yet another hill and saw the big buddha. It’s probably the #1 tourist attraction and is supposed to be the biggest buddha of some sort. Between the cable car station and the buddha is what can only be described as an artificial village that is full of shops and restaurants. Nothing authentic about it. We stopped at a couple of shops though, and T bought a fridge magnet. It was a nice walk anyway.

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We were just in time to catch the bus to Tai O, the bus arrived just as we walked up to the bus stop. And there were feral cows at the bus stop too. It was only 10mins, when I’d read somewhere that it’d take 20mins. We walked around the stilted houses of the villages, declined the offer of boat trips to see dolphins, and ended up at the Three Lanterns café. This time there was no thunderstorm and we got to sit on the terrace with a direct view of the river. Nice to relax and have a couple of beers. The nice owner lady remembered me and gave us a pot of lavender tea too.

Lucked out again with buses, only 5mins wait. The ride was long, back to the train station but comfortable. I was quite tired and we were all still full so I said goodbye to my friends on the train, got off at an earlier station to catch the bus home.

We covered a lot during the few days my friends are here. I hope it wasn’t too hectic for them. We did lots of walking, ate lots of food, chatted away and I for one had a really wonderful few days out and about.

walk, tram, ferry, minibus…and feral cows

Early start, was over at the flat to meet my friends J&T at around 9.45am. I did some research for hiking yesterday but decided against going on the ones that are too strenuous. J actually walked up to the peak yesterday and said it was really nice, but crowded.

Instead. I took them on a gentle stroll on Bowen Road, just a little past the park in the middle and turned around at the shrine. Walked down the steep path back to town. They commented on how quiet and peaceful it was, and yet we were right bang in the city with buildings and roads within view. Ended up at the Stone Nullah Tavern for a quick refresher and I took them to Crystal Jade for dumplings. I think I definitely over ordered! And I feel bad because T grabbed the bill and paid it while I was in the loo.

Took the tram then ferry then train then minibus to sai kung. Quite a long trek, but I thought they might want to see the countryside. We walked all the way to the beach and they took off their boots to dip their feet into the water. They told me it’s a tradition, to put their feet in different seas so this is a new one for them. How wonderful. I love how they are racking up experiences, rather than materialistic souvenirs.

It’s a weekday so the place was more civilised and less crowded. There were the usual fishing boats at the pier where customers pick out their seafood and the fishing people used a net to send it up and collect money on return. I had planned to take them for seafood but the harassing salesladies and remembering the last time I went with Mum how disappointing it was–cold food, small portions, mediocre quality put me off. We had happy hour at Classified and went to a Thai restaurant instead. This is the place mm and I went to and is Michelin mentioned. The food was really great but the portions way, way too large. I was quite stuffed so I had green curry veg. We even got a free yellow curry chicken that none of us could touch so I took it home.

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Oh, cows. On the way back from the beach next to the car park we saw 4 cows grazing on the grass where people normally fly kites or walk their dogs at the weekend. We saw collars on the cows so figured they must belong to someone although we couldn’t see any farmers or someone who looked like they were herding cattle nearby. I googled when I got home and found out that they are feral cattle descended from animals that were abandoned in the 1970s when industry transitioned from agriculture to manufacturing. There are over 1,000 cattle and water buffaloes scattered around, mostly inside country parks but some venture out to built-up areas. The government has been putting GPS collars to track them. They are not protected wildlife but the government recognises that they are more tourist attraction now. From the AFCD website:

cattle and buffalo are part of the heritage of rural Hong Kong and that it brings pleasure to visitors and locals alike to see these animals in a natural environment.

hosting friends

My friends J&T from London are travelling around the world and I’ve been following their adventures through Europe, Africa and SE Asia. I PMed them a few weeks ago to see if they were planning on coming this way and if they were, the flat’s empty. They originally weren’t coming this far north, but they took a special detour from Vietnam to come to visit me. How wonderful!

Between Sis and I, we managed to set up the flat so there is basic accommodation. I borrowed my niece’s camping stuff, a couple of sis’ fleece blankets and her garden chairs. From home I took a couple more blankets, pillows, towels, hairdryer, kettle and small kitchen stuff. I got them crisps, beer and wine in the hope that I can get them drunk enough to ignore the very, very basic setup. I met them at the airport express station and we took the train for 2 stops–the queue for the taxi was so long that it was quicker by public transport. I did the brief tour and told them where the important stuff were. Since they’ve been travelling so much, the least I can do is to offer the use of my washing machine. Except I forgot to bring the drying rack, so they will have to improvise with hangers and the pullup bar the tenant left behind, hahaha.

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Walked down the escalator to show them shops and the like. My plan was to go to the Globe in case they were homesick, but it turned out they were much more adventurous and they had turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving the other day. So whilst we chilled with beers, I called ahead to Lin Heung to see if they had availability. 7pm on a Saturday night, hmm. We lucked out, we only had to wait around 5-10mins for a table. We were looking at what other people were eating and decided on roast pork and a healthy looking mix veg pot. I added stuffed crab claws (one each) and what looked like their signature fried rice. The rice was brilliant, it’s Hokkien fried rice which came with a thick sauce that was just right–not salty, not overly oily, not stodgy. It’s been many, many years since I was at this restaurant last (2009, that’s the pic above) and I’m glad the quality is still there. The restaurant originated in 1889 when it opened in Guangzhou and came to HK in 1926, so almost 100 years. It remains one of the few places that has trolley dim sum and still a favourite with locals and visitors. The type of traditional place that families go generation after generation.

I think my friends liked the food. Afterwards, we went to M&S and they walked back up the escalator. Hope they have a good visit.

a day of bad decisions

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My head wasn’t right today. Distracted. One bad decision after another.

I needed to replace the spotlight in the bathroom. I should have gone to the computer centre district because there are plenty of electronics shops. But I walked instinctively towards the regular bus stop with buses that go to the opposite direction.

And then once I was committed to going to the flat and trying to find a shop over there, I should have taken the train, but again, I walked towards the bus stop and stood there waiting for 10, 15mins.

I saw the faster bus coming, it stopped at the traffic lights. Then the slower bus turned the corner and was in front of the faster bus. I should have waited one minute for the fast bus. What did I do? Got on the slow bus that took the longest time and the longest route.

To add insult to injury, I couldn’t find any shop that sells spotlights nearby. So all I did was remove the old light and now there’s a hole in the bathroom ceiling.

Try again tomorrow, when I’m feeling more human.

kcl group drinks

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KCL drinks tonight, at B’s office, ie the office I worked at for a little while. We ended up being 6 people and simply sat around the conference table and chatted. Drank 2 bottles of wine, and ate up snacks people brought: baguette, cheese, prosciutto, salami, melon, grapes, tomatoes. B made fresh bread rolls too, she has a bread maker and small oven in the office.

Our aim is to continue the meetup streak so we tentatively agreed the next meetup will be in January.