Recently in on the relationship front Category

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

lambwhisky02

Went over to mm’s place to hang out and relax. We talked about going out, but decided against it. We did go outside for a little while, to get some food for dinner. Got half a roasted goose, some grapes and plums. Simple dinner. The goose was really, really good.

Made some inroads into our whisky collection. Started with macallan, moved onto taketsuru 17 and then one of the nikka pure malts. Watched tv, then frozen. It’s good to stay in and do very little.


in eating and drinking , how the day went , on the relationship front |

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It’s a special-for-this-year-only public holiday today, which has zero significance for me except mm has free time. We drove out to one of the beaches, sigh, it’s terrible with the public holiday crowd. No street parking so we headed straight to the paid car park.

My original intention was to walk around the beach then explore the shops around the town. I remember there is a cheese and wine shop that is interesting. Instead, we plonked ourselves at the outdoor bar at the beach and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. A cab for mm and a german pinot for me, both were good. Chilled, in chilled glasses, which was strange, but in the heat everything got to room temperature quickly.

Mostly mm did the talking, telling me about her new classmates in her new course. My job is to be supportive and to tell her to chill out a bit, it’s only been a couple of days, no need to get frustrated at people who aren’t perfectionists.

Didn’t go anywhere else after the bar, we were both hungry so we took ryan back to mm’s car park and took public transportation to a korean bbq. We noticed that no koreans ever tend to go to these buffet places. We had beef, lamb, pork, chicken, sausages, mushroom as well as lots of lettuce and chili sauce. The banchan wasn’t impressive, only the pickled cucumbers passed muster. Nice to have a day out to chat and catch up anyway.


in how the day went , on the relationship front |

blueskies mangotree

Met up with m in the afternoon, sat on the sofas in Ikea chatting. Moved on to walking around the supermarket then early hotpot dinner. It’s an AYCE place where we had to leave after 90mins so we decamped to a German pub. Lots of chatting, talking and catching up. She’s flying off tomorrow for 10 days on pilgrimage, then I’m off to the US for a month so we won’t be seeing each other for a while. Sniff. Even when we were saying goodbye we didn’t want to. She went to another bus stop so she could walk with me to my bus stop. Sniff.

What’s that got to do with the pics? Nothing. I snapped those when I went out. Blue skies over the park to show a rare blue sky day—and why it’s too hot to run. The mango tree is in the barracks next to the bus stop.


in on the relationship front |

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Very wet day, started with heavy rain, red rain warning in the afternoon.

We had a simple day out. Met at Ikea then went to a Korean restaurant for lunch, which lasted 2 hrs as we chatted. Then decamped to a pub for coffee (mm) and beer (me) and stayed there till past 4pm. Walked around a pound shop then a supermarket. That was it. Nothing stressful, nothing special. Just a good day together.

The wait for the bus was horrendous, normally the maximum wait is around 10mins, I waited something like 45mins. Rain and heavy traffic. Still, it didn’t dampen our good moods. May be we are getting simpler in our old age.


in going places , on the relationship front |

After 2 months’ of inactivity, mm’s car’s battery died. The mechanic from roadside assistance arrived quickly and we all spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the battery!! The car is a hybrid so there are 2 engines under the bonnet; ah, modern engines, we couldn’t find the point for jump starting the car. The mechanic had to call in to his colleagues for help. The battery is actually located underneath the back passenger seat, strange.

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Anyway, we got the car started and went off to charge up the car with a long drive to the countryside. We ended up at “village on the river” 河上鄉 where uncle wong lives. Had all-you-can-eat sweet tofu and walked around the canals and farms. Luckily there was a breeze otherwise it would have been a very hot day. The fields were photogenic and we saw a woman farmer crouched in the middle of the field.

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Between the fields and the canal there was a corner where we spotted a bunch of old pianos, just abandoned there. So sad. No clue how and why they were there.


in going places , on the relationship front |

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Had lunch with mm’s family, then we went back to her place to plan our easter trip. It looks like our original plans will need to be changed. Ah well.

Drove out to isolated south bay beach for a bit of peace and quiet. The beach was virtually deserted, the whole time we were there we saw only 2 other groups of people. By the time we left we were the only car there.

The weather was great, the sound of the gentle waves hitting the beach quite soothing. People had been there earlier, there were the remnants of a sandcastle.

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We found a bench and sat there for a while. So wishing we could enjoy such quietude and fresh(-ish) air more often. The beach was deserted, even the lifeguard tower looked lonely. We even managed to catch the sunset.


in going places , on the relationship front |

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We’ve been meaning to go over to the outlying islands for a while, so we met up at the pier and took the ordinary ferry over. It took around 1hr, twice the time of the fast ferry at half the price—we weren’t in any hurry. Surprisngly for a weekday there were quite a substantial crowd. We had a leisurely lunch at a small café and then headed out for a walk along one of the beaches at the side of the island away from the crowds.

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After the beach we headed inland with a soft target of one of the retreat houses. There are a few retreats there on the island—away from the main streets it’s peaceful and quiet. The Salesian retreat wasn’t actually open, but the hike was pleasant and we came across some nice views.

We came back to the main street and spent some time at a tea shop that was closing down. Dinner was quick noodles and congee. Another slow ferry back and we discovered that we both had direct buses home. A great day out.

in challenges , going places , on the relationship front |

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Task #83 of 101.1001 and task #19 of 30in30 is to do a new activity with mm. We are in seoul for holiday and as soon as we got off the plane and deposited our luggage at the hotel, we headed to a jjimjibang spa to rest and pamper ourselves. We got the deluxe package at KRW100,000 (USD100). We ended up staying from 10am to 5pm so it was worth it.

The spa says it’s the largest in Korea. At a sprawling 7 floors I can believe it. There are sauna, steam areas, baths, massage rooms, sleeping rooms, relaxation hall, restaurants, a rooftop garden, internet café even a cinema.

First we got keys to our locker. The key was a regular locker key as well as a smartchip that recorded any purchases or treatments. We had a quick shower at the large bath area. Korean baths are like Japanese baths, sexes are segregated and you don’t wear anything inside except a small towel to strategically cover certain areas.

First stop of our treatment was the herbal steam bath. We were seated on wooden stools with an opening in the middle. The herbs and water were heated and the steam rose up through the opening. We were covered in a sort of plastic tent to keep the steam in. Quite surreal, the herbs smelled really nice though.

After the shower and steam we changed into standard issue pajamas—t-shirt and shorts. Everyone inside the facility was dressed in these pajamas. The massage part was 90mins of a mix of acupressure and thai style. The young technician got almost every troublesome spot in my shoulders, lower back, arms and definitely hit the ITB around my left knee.

At the end of the massage it was around 1pm so time for lunch. The spa had a cafeteria and 2 restaurants. We went to the self-service korean restaurant and had tofu soup and beef rib soup. Came with banchans and I had a tasteless beer.

We found massage chairs in the main hall and fell asleep for around 1.5hrs. One of the features of traditional korean spas is the sight of people asleep at sleeping rooms and areas. Admission is 24hrs so some people stay the night.

Then it was time to check out the heat rooms. The traditional pine scented one was so hot inside we could barely walk, our soles were burning up. Lasted 10 seconds inside there, max. The himalayan salt room was a pleasant 52°C, blankets were provided so we lay down and rested on pink salt crystals. The charcoal heated rooms were good too, we went into the high temperature one, around the same as the salt room. In between rooms, we sat in the ice room to cool down, and then on the floor.

Last stop was the baths area. There was a steam room and half a dozen baths at different temperatures. We like the outdoor ones for the fresh air, the ones with jetstream massage and the cold 24°C cooling pool.

Great day, and the perfect cure for a night spent on a red-eye flight.

in 101.1001 , challenges , going places , on the relationship front |

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taio026village taio028village

Tasks #85-6 in 101 in 1001 are to do 3 new things with mm. This is 2 of 3.

We met up after mm’s piano lesson and took the train all the way to the end of the line, then another bus for almost 1hr to go to the fishing village of Tai O. It was an extremely hot day, the queue for the bus was long and it was crowded. We discussed for half a second whether to go, and decided that we should persevere since ee’d been talking about going there for ages. The village itself is more a tourist attraction now, although some of the traditional activities like fishing and preparing dried seafood still remain.

We walked to one end of the village, doubled back and shared a snack of fried rice and squid with shrimp sauce at a local place. Walked to the other end and went through the market and the pretty waterways area. One of the attractions of the village is houses on wooden stilts, many were destroyed in a fire in 2000, thankfully some are still standing. Other houses in the village were constructed from metal, tin or aluminium I think. They must be scorching inside, although some have been modernised with air-conditioning.

Right at the end of the waterfront is a hotel converted from the old police station. Very colonial in architecture and with great views out of the pier and sea.

A nice afternoon out, very hot and we were grateful for some shade and areas where we could feel the breeze. I didn’t have my camera, so everything was taken using the iphone. Not a bad set.


in going places , on the relationship front |

nikka101tastebar

Finished uploading pics and writing up the hokkaido trip. 790 pics, 8 videos. The trip can be summed up as: great food, great whisky, great scenery, great relaxation, great company.

Day by day:
day 1: travel, sapporo
day 2: sapporo clock tower, tv tower, nijo market, ramen alley, cake, pre-birthday dinner
day 3: sapporo curb market, jozankei onsen
day 4: jozankei dam, lake shikotsu, onsen
day 5: jozankei shiraito falls, nikka distillery, otaru at night, sapporo
day 6: sapporo historical village, outlet, nikka bar, kushidori
day 7: otaru
day 8: sapporo central wholesale market, travel home

Condensed into 2 parts:
hokkaido 1: sapporo, jozankei
hokkaido 1: nikka, otaru, sapporo

flickr sets: sapporo 1 | sapporo 2 | jozankei | nikka | otaru

in 101.1001 , challenges , on the relationship front |

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This is a combination of #84 of 101 in 1001, a new activity with mm and #22 of 30 in 30, to give thanks at 11.11.

Woke up early to go to mass with mm, I should try to go to mass at least at Easter and Christmas. We then lunch with her family before driving out to the NW, to a couple of places near Deep Bay.

First was Lau Fau Shan, which is famous for its dried fish and oysters. The oysters can’t be eaten raw, they are either braised, barbequed or deep fried. Quite a rich flavour and texture, great for snacks since we weren’t hungry.

About 20-25 minutes’ drive along a narrow winding and surprisingly busy road was Ha Pak Nai, just a tiny village with some fishing ponds and a couple of houses. A muddy path led to marshes at the bay, and quite a lot of people had gathered there to watch the sunset.

It was a hazy day, but we were still able to catch some of the sunset. It was a nice evening, not too hot yet and a little romantic. The first time we’d gone specially to watch a sunset. Went back to her place to watch Sherlock. I looked up and it was 11.11pm, sometimes it works this way. Perfect way to end Easter Sunday.


in challenges , eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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Task #20 in 30 in 30 is to treat mm for her birthday.

Our Hokkaido vacation is partly a treat for both our birthdays. We arrived at Sapporo and checked into the hotel late afternoon. First order of business was to find dinner. I’d already suggested that our first dinner here would be at yakitori, so we could enjoy a drink and order a bunch of skewers. We got a restaurant map at the hotel and found a small but popular place about 10mins walk. We both had umeshu and we ordered mixed chicken, vegetables, grilled fish, sashimi, tofu. Made a toast for her birthday, a great start to our vacation.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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I just got back from the cruise, the pics still need to be sorted and the trip written up. Already planning the next trip. Met with mm for korean lunch, then to travel agent to get information. Retreated to happy hour place to work out what we wanted. Too much information! Too many choices! We’ve narrowed it down to either Tokyo and surrounding or Hokkaido. Both we hadn’t visited for a long time. In any event we will end up in the land of fresh seafood, beautiful scenery and relaxing hot springs.

in on the relationship front , wheels in motion |

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We had buffet shabu shabu lunch and were very full afterwards. Walked around the mall, then took mm’s car out for a drive. More walking around, no particular theme or aim. Too full for dinner, just had a coffee and dessert.

Been doing this quite often lately. She doesn’t need a car, sometimes she doesn’t use it for weeks. But it has been nice, giving us something to do and places to go.

The licence plate starts with RY, so she named it Ryan. I don’t get the need to name inanimate objects like cars or computers, then I remember that she used to have names for our cars in London. Have to ask if she can remember the names, because I can’t. I guess when we go for a drive, it’s like there are 3 of us rather than just two.

in how the day went , on the relationship front |

Met up with mm in the afternoon to go cycling. Walked around some snack shops and had something to eat first, because she just came from her piano lesson and hadn’t had lunch. By the time we finished it was around 4pm, so we figured we had about an hour or so. The rental bikes were pretty rudimentary, I never quite got mine to shift gears. But the bike path along an urban river was flat and easy. I’d been using mum’s stationary bike so I was quite happily cycling along, but mm isn’t used to exercise so we took a couple of stops. All in all, about 45mins of actual cycling. Sigh, I wish I still had my bike.

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Took the train back into town and visited one of the markets that spring up at this time of year, the week before CNY. There were two main sections, one of young people selling soft toys and balloons and useless fun stuff. The other was a flower market. Lots of orchids, narcissus, chrysanthemums in all sorts of colours, and other flowers I don’t know the names of.

Dinner was sashimi set. She also had a grilled fish head and I had a umeshu soda. Good day. She was feeling stressed and teary and the outdoor activity helped lighten her mood.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

wildfireporkterrine wildfirespagvongole

I had a meeting with the prof in the morning (more about this in another post), then went over to mm’s place. She had been to the doctor’s in the morning to clean the incision, and to get further instructions from the doctor in monitoring going forward. All is well, so it’s a big relief all round.

She’d been at home since she came home on Friday and today was her first venture out. We went to a restaurant nearby for lunch. Set lunch was pork knuckle terrine, spaghetti vongole and panna cotta. I ended up eating my portion, and some of hers too cos she didn’t have her usual appetite.

Went to the market, got some fruit and veg then it was back to her place to rest. She was watching Korean drama and we switched to the totally incomprehensible English subtitles. I tried out Vine for the first time and grabbed some of those in a video. Then I totally fell asleep for half an hour. Too full for dinner, I let her get some rest for the evening and left at 6pm.


in on the relationship front |

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Why I need to finish nano because things will get busy #2: it takes 2-3hrs to get discharged from the hospital. Most of that time was aimless waiting, with mm resting or playing with the touchscreen computer looking at holiday packages; and me reading on my kindle. Finally it was time to pay the bill, get medicine and hop into a taxi back to her place. She took a much needed shower, we had lunch then I went home so she could sleep. I’m tired too, even though most of the time I was reading. Early to bed for me.


in on the relationship front |

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I spent 12 hours at the hospital, sitting with mm. She is in for a small procedure and will stay overnight. I got to her room after she checked-in at 9am and got changed. We explored the touch screen tv/computer combo unit, looked at the food menu and generally chatted while we waited for the time to get ready. The doctor came an hour before the procedure, and she was wheelchaired to the operating theatre at 1.15pm. I went out for lunch — chirashi set at a conveyer belt sushi place full of lunch time office workers.

By the time I walked back to the hospital (having stopped at 7-eleven to get coke zero for me and crackers for her) it was almost 3pm. I sat, firstly in her room then outside near the nurses’ station. She was wheeled back at 3.30pm. I whatsapped her brother to let him know, then sat with her. She was tired after the GA, but we chatted in between her drifting off. I ended up falling asleep on the uncomfortable plastic visitor chair too.

We ordered hospital dinner to share, then it was getting time for me to go home. She was already able to get out of bed and walk around.

It is only a small procedure that took 1hr. But even though you know it’s small, and relatively risk free, it’s worrying. There is no good time for surgery but the best is when you are healthy so it’s less disruptive to the body. It was still worrying, seeing her in the wheelchair going down and then coming back up in the bed still asleep. Health is so important, I think our prayers helped everything go smoothly. Thank you.

in easily amused , objects of desire , on the relationship front |

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Early start today, woke up at 5.45am and got the 6.30am bus. Every year in Sept and Nov we go to early morning mass in memory of mm’s sister. It’s 10 years to the day that she left us. I was at the church first, then their family started trickling in. Early morning mass on a weekday is short, so it was finished by 8am.

Breakfast at a nearby diner then went back to her parents’ place to pick up some stuff. Then had to bring th stuff back to mm’s place.

Lunch was just the two of us, I’d made reservations at a hotel café for buffet. We both agreed the buffet was a good one. Back to her place to rest, I actually did fall asleep while she was pottering around in the kitchen.

Drinks at the Marriott with her brother and his wife. Buy one get one free happy hour drinks, I had a malbec while she had a rioja. She drove me home, got home around 10pm.

Additional achievement today: we drove to an industrial estate and bought new watches. Both the same design and colour — taupe sports chrono. She got the smaller ladies size and I got the medium unisex size. Very sharp design, we like it. I haven’t worn a watch for a while, over a year, but I do find it a pain to have to dig out my iphone from my back pocket every time I want to know the time, may be I’ll start wearing a watch again.

in going places , on the relationship front |

osaka kuramon market, underground shopping street

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We packed up all our shopping, tearfully left our old sneakers behind and checked out of our hotel in the morning. They were fully booked so couldn’t offer us late check out. Stored our luggage at the concierge and headed back to Kuramon market for breakfast. Smarter this morning, we didn’t over-order. Got the same fatty tuna as yesterday, supplemented with a freshly opened uni.

The rest was snacking along the market street. Freshly shucked large oysters, red bean sweets and extensive tea tasting with a really nice proprietor at the tea shop. Bought powdered green and barley tea as gifts.

Went back to Uniqlo to pick up our trousers and walked around the underground shopping streets. Bought onigiri for home, mochi for Mum and had a quick lunch of ramen at a small place underground. Never knock these small home-styled places, the soup for the noodles was tasty, I had the pork bones one and it was milky white as it should be.

heading home

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All good things must come to an end, albeit briefly. All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel, get our suitcases, repack and make our way to the airport. Taxi to nearby Namba station, where we had bought reserved seats on the rapi:t airport express yesterday. It was a little more expensive, but we were guaranteed seats in a comfortable, fast train as opposed to fighting against ordinary folks on a commuter train. Worth the extra, especially since we were both very tired and fell asleep for most of the 30min journey.

Ah, back to the scene of our original crime. The bench where we had our first breakfast a week ago, the vending machines, the Toyota car rental counter. Sigh. Check in and immigration were straightforward and soon enough we were inside strolling through the duty free. We had reserved space for duty free purchases but were slightly horrified to find mostly Suntory products. Yamazaki 12 or 18, Hibiki and Hakushu. Where were the Nikka products? We didn’t want the fancy samurai warrior bottle, and was really hoping for a Yoichi or Taketsuru.

Thankfully, it was mm’s sharp eye that spotted the Taketsuru 21. Phew. We had enough time to sit at the bar for a farewell drink of Hakushu 12. And then it was time to board. Cry, cry, cry.

A bit of silver lining. We both got upgraded, mm to business class and me to premium economy. A bit bummed that we couldn’t sit together but it was just for 3.5hrs. The flight was actually too early, the gate wasn’t ready for us and we had to wait while they found some staff to put blocks on our wheels and drive the passenger bridge out. Hilarious. Luggage came out fairly quickly and we called a taxi to take us directly home.

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Our suitcases were full. Lots of biscuits and mochi and sweets. Powdered tea and blueberry vinegar. Plus a lot of heavy bottles:

  • special edition umeshu from shirahama
  • mature umeshu from wakayama market
  • miyagikyo 15 from the wine shop at nishiki market kyoto
  • taketsuru pure malt 21 from kansai airport
  • sample bottle of suntory old whisky, from family mart
  • sample bottle of royal whisky, from family mart
  • mars komagatake 22 from takashimaya osaka
  • nikka black clear from family mart

The sample bottles are for fun and probably will never be opened. Same with the Nikka Black Clear. The umeshu I’ll treasure and hoard until a special occasion. The whiskies will get added to the masterlist, currently at 46 so making it 49. They will be opened, eventually. I’m still working on the currently opened bottles of Glengoyne Burnfoot, Ardbeg 10 and Yoichi. Next on the list is a bourbon or rye.

The last time we went to Japan was to Hokkaido in 2008, just before I left for Chicago. Japan is and will always be one of my favourite holiday destinations. It’s one of the very, very few reasons that makes Asia tolerable for me.

in going places , on the relationship front |

osaka kuramon market 黒門市場

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The hotel rate didn’t include breakfast, but we weren’t bothered. We took the subway to Kuramon market 黒門市場 and had brunch there. It was a covered market with fruits, vegetables, pickles, seafood, grocery shops, everyday utensils, tea, coffee and sweet shops. A mix of where locals did their shopping and where tourists congregated. English was widely spoken, but there was also one stall that had a sign that said they did not serve non-Japanease speakers. No photos allowed at that particular stall, where a fierce looking uncle sat glaring at passers-by. Other stalls were much more friendly, one even asked us to please take pictures and share on facebook, twitter and everywhere.

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We didn’t mind being tourists and bought our brunch at probably the most touristy place. The reason was the box of fatty tuna that looked so fatty and yummy that we couldn’t resist. Also had unagi on rice, grilled pacific saury 秋刀魚 and grilled scallop skewer. Very full after that, we should have just ordered one unagi rice to share.

Other stalls had oysters, grilled scallops, and a few fugu places. The puffer fish was larger than expected, but we still couldn’t gather enough courage to try the fugu pieces on sale.

osaka shopping — doyugasuji 道具屋筋商店街, takashimaya, uniqlo

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A short walk from Kuramon market was doyugasuji 道具屋筋商店街, yet another covered shopping street. Loved this one, most shops there sold kitchenware. Cups, plates, containers, serving dishes, pots. And not just for home use, most were for professionals. There were all sorts of kitchen equipment, ovens, mixers, ice cream makers, and a few shops selling fierce-looking knives. I did want a new chef’s knife but they looked expensive, and my bag was rapidly filling up. Another trip.

I hadn’t had tea, so was very tired for some reason. Got to Takashimaya department store, found a chair and promptly fell asleep, leaving mm to walk around the clothing department for half an hour. Actually, that suited both of us. I was a poor clothes shopping companion anyway, and it meant she had time to look at stuff she liked.

Refreshed by my nap, I was better able to walk around the department store with her. Spent a lot of time at the basement food department. So many food and drink items, absolutely fabulous. Bought sweets and dried fish. Then at the whisky counter, sigh! We had the privilege of tasting a Benriach 30 year special bottling, so smooth, so wonderful. Also tried a Corryvrechan and an Ardbog. Wished we could buy them all. There was also a bottle of Ardbeg Galileo, a rare sight indeed. We could buy none of it because we saw something else. A whisky we’d never seen or heard of before, Mars Komagatake 22. Mars whisky is part of Hombo distillery, a maker primarily of shochu. They don’t make a lot of whiskies, and whatever they have, was worth snapping up. We already had the rare Miyagikyo, some umeshu and blueberry vinegar, we could afford just one more bottle of whisky and Mars it was.

Took the subway back to the hotel to rest and eat up some of our remaining snacks. Opened a bottle of sake too. Yums. I was going to stay at the hotel but decided to go with mm to the Uniqlo nearby. Ack, we ended up staying there 1.5hrs while she looked at and tried on what seemed like every single item of clothing in the store. I bought one pair of black trousers and she bought altogether 12 items — tops, trousers, sweater and a jacket. The store had trouser alteration for ¥300 overnight so we left our trousers with them. Took the rest of the shopping back to the hotel and went back to Dotonbori for dinner.

osaka dotonbori kobe beef shabu shabu dinner

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We wented beef shabu shabu dinner tonight, and managed to find a nice enough place. This one was AYCE, and on the 7th of 8th floor of a building. Kobe beef tonight, which was what we focused on. The rest, vegetables, mushroom, tofu, we got a little to flavour the broth.

The beef was really nice, melt in your mouth and took on the flavour of the soup. The first plate was good, but subsequent plates were quite fatty. The server told us that leaner beef was better and more expensive, and we had opted for the most expensive choice on the menu. I guess the other cuts of beef were even more fatty, huh. Undeterred, we polished off 4 plates of the beef, yay. Rounding off the meal, which had to be finished in 1.5 or 2hrs (can’t remember) was quite nice green tea ice cream.

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Walked back to the hotel via Shinsaibashi covered shopping street. Some shops were already closed, at 10pm. Heh, the large drugstore we went into, for a change didn’t have stacks and stacks of milk powder crowding its entrance. I’m so glad the idiot hordes have not discovered Japan. Stay away.

What was interesting throughout the trip were the small convenience stores. Not just the chain 7-eleven, Lawson or Family Mart, though they were always great for a wander, we never knew what we’d find. We would go inside every convenience store we saw to look at the whiskies. It’s all part of the learning process. Suntory dominated the market, with lots of their blends like Suntory, Torys, Royal. Saw some 5 litre plastic jugs of Suntory Whisky, for commercial use, guessing it was for making cocktails or as a mixer. The single malts we saw were generally limited to entry level Yamazaki no age or 12yrs. Nikka, which is becoming more our favourite, had a smaller presence. Nikka Black blends we saw quite often, and I saw All Malt occasionally but we were hard pressed to see any Yoichi even. Fascinating.


in going places , on the relationship front |

breakfast at kyoto, travel to osaka

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Breakfast was at a vegetarian buffet restaurant we saw whilst walking home yesterday. Breakfast was ¥480 and although we only had an hour due to later than planned waking up, it was more than enough. Pumpkin, natto, tofu, chickpeas, salad, rice and soup. Filling and healthy. They had lunch and dinner too, options to keep in mind if/when we return to Kyoto.

Check out was at 11am, and Sayuri-san very kindly called a taxi for us to take us to Kyoto station. Not too bad, ¥860, it saved us hauling our luggage to the main road and hailing a taxi there. Trains between Kyoto and Osaka were plentiful. We missed one, deliberately missed the next one (a local) and got on a semi-express to Osaka 15mins later. Only half an hour, it was a commuter journey.

shopping in osaka 大阪

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Big difference in cities. Shirahama was like a provincial town, quaint and pretty (but a hotel that had no internet, which in this day and age is unacceptable). Kyoto was full of history and had an underlying sense of peace and dignity. Osaka was busy and loud and crowded. Taxi to the Nikko hotel took us through Mido-Suji Ave. I turned to mm and said, “we’re living on Champs Elysées.” The hotel was opposite a huge LV which was next to Cartier and Omega. The other side of the LV was Chanel, Dior and a Daimaru complex. Like I said, very different.

We also went from a spacious Japanese style tatami room at Shirahamakan to a wonderful homely apartment in Kyoto to a bog standard business hotel in Osaka. Though we explored other hotels, we came back to the Nikko which was part of the vacation package. The semi-double room was actually quite roomy, the bed was lined against the wall but there was enough room for both of us to spread out our suitcases. The bathroom was also a decent size, we could move around in it.

We hopped on the subway back to Osaka-Umeda station, heading for the shopping mall at the Grand Front Building which opened in April. Huge mall with three towers and all sorts of shops. Our first target was the Suntory Whisky House. Unfortunately the bar was closed until the evening, and we could see available entry level whiskies only. The decision to hit the Yamazaki distillery first was looking better and better. Most of the shop was dedicated to an exhibition area of bottling samples and prizes. The rest of the shop sold accessories and furniture. Brilliant furniture, tables and chairs and wine racks and storage boxes made of whisky barrels. The garden furniture was comfortable and we wished we could take them with us, sigh.

After more happy (for mm) torturous (for me) clothing and accessories shop, we came across another furniture shop with a trunk that was again oh so tempting. Alas, couldn’t take with us. I even managed to restrain myself when we visited the international beer shop and bar at the basement. My thinking was, I’d tried many of those German, Belgian, British etc beers on sale at a premium. I was more interested in Japanese beers, which I could get at the convenience store.

osaka dotonbori wagyu beef dinner

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osa152dotonbori osa139sake

Dotonbori 道頓堀 is the Piccadilly Circus or Times Square of Osaka. Large amounts of neon, restaurants and shops. We wasn’t sure where to have dinner, but we knew we wanted some sort of beef bbq, so we picked one place on the hotel guidemap and headed there. Lucky that mm asked to see the menu, it wasn’t what we expected. Yes, it was AYCE but mostly it was chicken, vegetables and noodles. The good beef was extra, so what was the point?

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osa108filet osa117tripe

A little nosing around led us to a side street, where the better places are usually found. A small place offering beef bbq, only about 8 seats, with grills on each table. A la carte, which suited us, because we decided to treat ourselves. The restaurant served wagyu beef from osaka itself, at different premium grades. We ordered the superior plate of filet, back and belly; also from the menu tongue, diaphragm, cheek, stomach and tripe. The most expensive piece, the filet, was unsurprisingly the most boring. The diaphragm and cheek were great cuts, succulent and had great taste and texture. I tried the lime shochu, the potato shochu and mm stuck with umeshu. Even with all the indulgence the bill was a reasonable ¥14,000, or around USD140 for 2.

Walked back to the hotel, about 15mins. Explored some of the shops (and a liquor shop) nearby before going back to our room.

in going places , on the relationship front |

breakfast, arashiyama train adventure and flood cleanup

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Breakfast was at a fast food place that sold rice bentos. The menu was displayed on a machine next to the entrance, we selected what we wanted, got our tickets and gave them to the cook. ¥200 for rice, a fried egg, miso soup and some seaweed. Add ¥200 for a piece of grilled salmon we shared. We liked rice for breakfast, good for the rest of the day. Much healthier fast food than burgers.

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The plan was to go one stop on the Hankyu line to Shijo Omiya station, then change to Omiya station on the Randen line for the small, quaint electric trains. What we didn’t count on, was we got on an express train that bypassed Shijo Omiya, ending up at Katsura, 4 stops away. Normally it was just a matter of retracing our steps at the opposite platform. We were ecstatic to see signs at Katsura for Arashiyama directly, so we got lucky. It wasn’t the Randen line, just another branch of the Hankyu line. No matter. It got us to Arashiyama.

Rented bikes at a shop next to the station. Touring bikes, large and heavy with no gears. Easy to ride.

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ara051flood ara041flood

We rode a little in a park area and then crossed a small bridge. The sight that greeted us was unexpected. Tourist brochure pictures showed the famous Moon Crossing Bridge nestled across a pretty river with green hills in the background. Instead we saw debris everywhere. The storm had hit the area hard, the houses and restaurants alongside the riverbank had obviously flooded. Furniture was drying outside, tatami mats were ruined, glasses and crockery were completely covered in mud. The smell of mud permeated the whole area. People from the restaurants were hard at work cleaning every piece of salvagable item, or throwing away mats that were soaked, or brushing their floor and the pavement outside. The river was still raging with storm waters from upstream bringing tons of mud with it. The press was still there, reporting on the aftermath.

It was heartbreaking to witness, but also encouraging to see the community spirit. Hopefully insurance covered the damage and the people could get back to their lives quickly.

arashiyama 嵐山 tenryuji temple 天龍寺, bamboo forest

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ara127grounds ara136lake

Leaving the river area and cycling inland brought us to Tenryuji, the most important temple at Arashiyama and another world heritage site. Happily paid the ¥500 entrance fee, leaving our bikes outside in the car park under some shade. Beautiful, beautiful temple. Distinctive architecture, zen gardens and a spectacular sweeping lake. Much needed walk and peace. Found a bench in the shade, snacked on sponge cake from Shirahamakan and lemon tea from the flight.

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Retrieved our bikes and rode the short distance to the bamboo forest. A narrow walking path lined on all sides by tall, imposing bamboo trees. Slow going, having to avoid pedestrians. Very picturesque.

From the bamboo forest, we went downhill at the park back to the river and bridge area. Returned the bikes, ¥600 for up to 6hrs, and walked back to town. The flooding extended up to the bottom of the main street, we could see that shops there only managed to open in the morning.

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Late lunch at a local restaurant of tofu set for ¥1,300. I had cold tofu whilst mm had hot tofu. Simply served cubed with a clear dipping sauce. Small plates and pickles, rice and soup. I had a large beer, much needed for a hot day. Dessert was ice cream further down the road, mm had a soy milk ice cream from a tofu skin place and I had a swirl of green tea and roasted red tea ice cream. Both were perfect for the hot day and great after our cycling adventure.

We were destined not to go on the Randen line. We returned to Kyoto on the JR, having decided to spend some time exploring the shops at Kyoto station. Accessories and clothing for mm, food and drinks for me. We went one stop on the subway to Gojo station and visited first the ¥100 shop then the local supermarket. Bought shoe inserts (yes, really), grapes and chestnuts. Back to the apartment to rest and cook the chestnuts before heading out to dinner. Same place as our first night, the yakitori place. Mostly the same food which we liked. Shared a sake this time.

Laundry, resting and packing the rest of the evening.

in going places , on the relationship front |

koyamizu temple 清水寺, sannen-zaka 三年坂, ninen-zaka 二年坂

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kyo101temple kyo118temple

The sky was still overcast when we woke up, with some drizzle. The internet in the apartment wasn’t working so we had to trouble Sayuri-san to come fix it. She brought good news, that the rain would clear up mid-morning. Based on this, we didn’t even bring umbrellas out when we left.

First order of business was to return the car, just behind Kyoto station. Bought onigiri (rice triangles) and drinks at a convenience store. A visit to the tourist information office at the station netted us maps and bus info. The recommendation was to rely on buses rather than the subway as the subway didn’t go to sightseeing places. A one day bus pass was ¥500, which we did end up using quite a bit.

A sign of what was to come was evident on our first bus journey from the station to Koyamizudera temple 清水寺. By then the skies had cleared up and it was looking to be a good day. Just a few blocks from our stop and we hit traffic. The sort of gridlock that simply did not move. Took half an hour to crawl to our stop, ack.

Koyamizudera temple was located at the top of a hill, walking up the narrow street lined with traditional houses and shops was nice. Already shopping started when mm stayed half an hour at an earring shop. Ouch, for me. We ate the onigiri at the top of the hill at the temple entrance, then proceeded inside. A few of the shrines charged entrance fees, so we skipped them. It was nice enough to walk around the grounds. As per tradition, at the entrance to the shrines were basins for people to wash their hands and mouths. The idea was to purify before entering the sacred space. The shrines were ornate and even though the place full of tourists there was a sense of peace throughout. No wonder the temple is one of the most visited places in Kyoto and one of the many world heritage sites around the city.

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kyo139sweets kyo148kitkat

Leading from the entrance of Koyamizudera temple was a narrow pedestrianised cobblestone road completely choc-a-bloc with traditional houses and shops. This was their tourist strip, but done in impeccable Japanese manner. Traditional sweets, tea, pickle, earthenware, clothing, even a knife shop. Most gave samples too and we gorged ourselves with free tea and sweets. So much so that we couldn’t eat lunch, we were so sugared up.

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At the end of Kiyomizu-zaka were steps leading to the stone-paved roads of Sannen-zaka 三年坂 and Ninen-zaka 二年坂. More narrow roads full of shops and houses. We even spied a few maikos (Kyoto’s geishas) in traditional kimonos enjoying the day. A highlight of the walk was a brief stop at a place that sold soy milk products and steamed buns. We shared a soy milk ice cream that was simply full of smooth soy flavour. A sign of Japanese style was the simple plastic tub of ice cream and plastic spoons came on a tray together with two cups of tea. For a simple tub of ice cream. There were also seats outside the shop for us to rest and enjoy our snack.

Our initial plan was to walk from Koyomizudera temple via the stone-paved roads to Maruyama Park and ending at Chion-in Temple. At the end of Ninen-zaka and checking our map told us that we’d only done 1/3 of that walk and it was already early afternoon. It was either stay in the area or to find our way to the main road to catch the bus to another destination. We decided on the latter, got to Gion intersection and hopped on the #100 bus.

philosopher’s walk 哲学の道

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The bus hit yet another traffic jam, this one even worse than the one in the morning. Eventually the bus driver had no choice but to open the doors and let people off. We were only halfway to our destination, so we walked the rest of the way and reversed our plan. The Philosopher’s walk was located at east Kyoto along a canal, named after a famous philosopher who took walks there, mediated and presumably came up with deep thoughts. It was about a mile in length running north-south and lined with cherry blossom trees that would be so beautiful in April.

We hadn’t had lunch, and were quite famished. Luckily we had the sweets we bought at Kiyomizudera-zaka to tide us over. There was a small café at the beginning of the walk but it looked closed, and was expensive too. There were other tourists on the path, as well as local residents living at the houses on the canal and the side streets. The middle of the walk was a part of the canal that looked to have been flooded by the bad weather over the weekend. Sandbags, wheelbarrows and maintenance workers in abundance.

The walk took about 45mins, total about an hour taking into account stopping for sweets, photographs and hopping inside some of the small shops along the way. The end of the walk was Ginkakuji temple, which we didn’t visit. For another time.

nishiki market 錦市場

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Bus #32 took us back to Shijo area. All the large shops, department stores and the covered shopping street at Teramachi. Parallel to Shijo was Nishiki market, the main market at Kyoto. It was different from the other markets we visited, this one more everyday, with shops selling ready-to-use food such as pickles. The few fish and seafood shops were less interesting and some of them were closing already. We did get a snack of octopus wrapped in quail’s egg and grilled, it was interesting and tasty.

The market wasn’t a disappointment, not by a long way. At a wine shop, mm was looking at the sake and umeshu at the front of the store when I spotted something and dragged her over to see. A few bottles of Miyagikyo whisky. This is the distillery at Sendai that was briefly closed during the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Some rumours that its products may be affected in years to come, and on our list of whiskies to try and get. We bought a 12 and a 15 year, to the delight of the shopkeepers.

Dinner was a quick one, at a local ramen place between the market and our apartment. Stopped by the neighbourhood pub, the Man in the Moon, for a whisky. Then to family mart for water, yogurt and dessert. Quite tired after a long day, we took turns soaking in bath salts in the deep tub at the apartment.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shirahama errands

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Another lovely Japanese breakfast at the hotel. Today’s cook yourself item was omelette, with the egg already beaten and in a pot ready to be poured onto the small stove grill. We weren’t ready to leave quite yet so we stayed in our room as long as we could, soaked in the foot spa for one last time.

It had been raining all night, we could tell. There was a break in the weather when we couldn’t put off leaving any further and checked out of the hotel. Lots of errands to run this morning. To the small neighbourhood shop for cider and beer. Back to Sandanbeki shop to get more blueberry vinegar and sweets. The wine shop for umeshu, the lady there recommended a special umeshu for ¥2,000 which we thought was worth it. We did have plans to go to the market to get some food for the trip, but we got caught in a hour-long traffic jam and had to skip that part. Oh, and get petrol too.

So, goodbye to Shirahama and Wakayama Prefecture. What a great discovery, we’d never heard of this region before we booked our holiday, and we are sure to want to return. There’s so much more to explore further inland — the beautiful Kii Peninsula, hiking in the Kumano area and visiting traditional religious shrines.

travel through severe storm to rinku premium outlet

The weather turned nasty. Really nasty, with terrible visibility, high winds and rain so heavy it was like a wall of water. But we had to drive through it, mm took the wheels. The highway thankfully had only a few cars, the speed limit which was 80kph had been reduced to 50kph (around 35mph) and it wasn’t that safe to go much faster than that.

Eventually we reached Rinku premium outlet village just outside Kansai airport. Despite the poor weather, the place was packed. We had ramen and tea/coffee at the food court and planned our route around the place. If it weren’t for the clientele, we would have thought we were at an American outlet — most of the shops were recognisable names like Nike, Burberry, Polo, Coach. I bought a pair of air force sneakers at nike to replace the ones I was wearing; mm got a bargain 2 pairs of skechers for only ¥6,000-ish. We had to hurry, because there was still a long way to drive to Kyoto.

travel to kyoto 京都

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The way GPS units worked in Japan, you entered the phone number of the destination and that was it. It was fine with commercial places, but we could not get it to register directions for our apartment. Even after calling Sayuri-san, our landlady, we couldn’t get it to work. So we programmed it to the nearest landmark, Kyoto station, and hoped for the best.

My turn to drive from the outlet. Heavier traffic and fading light but I got some respite from the rain in pockets. It had been a while since we visited Kyoto, and not by car. Got to Kyoto station and somehow eventually we found the right street corner. Sayuri-san came out to greet us, and direct us to her apartment.

It was an inspired decision to go for an apartment rather than a hotel. Yes, it was more difficult to find being on a side street, but the street even in the terrible rain, felt quiet and nice. We parked overnight at one of the many small parking lots dotted around the area, dragged our bags 5mins to the apartment, located on the 8/F of a block. It had a kitchenette, small living area, carpeted tatami area which we used to set out the futons, a double bedroom (that we never slept in) and clean bathroom and toilet. And the best thing while travelling — a washing machine. Sayuri-san spent a patient half hour explaining to us how things worked and we chatted about nearby restaurants.

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kyo032chicken kyo039veg

We hadn’t had much to eat since the ramen at the outlet, so we braved the late hour (it was almost 9pm) and the still heavy rain and walked outside in search of food. Not many places around and open. A couple of fast food places, a couple of restaurants. I remembered the map in the apartment that pointed us to a yakitori restaurant, and was able to get us there. We had to wait about 5-10mins, a good sign that it was a popular restaurant.

What a find. We got seats at the bar, and they had an English menu. All the skewers were either grilled or fried and the menu was illustrated anyway. We ordered crab claws, chicken set (mince, pieces, skin, gizzard), fatty pork, lotus root, maitake mushroom, asparagus and a few more. Served as soon as they were ready and dipped in a tangy salty sauce. I had a couple of half-and-half beers (half lager, half dark) and mm had a umeshu.

The day started great at Shirahama, the middle part was horrendous with the weather, but we managed to get ourselves to Kyoto and a great end to the evening at a restaurant we wanted to return to the next day. Even though it was late when we got back to the apartment, we put in a load of laundry and set it out to dry overnight. Knackered, but feeling blessed and happy.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shirahama — coastal sights, sunset, onsen

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After a leisurely lunch, we drove south along the coast to see the sights there. First it was a brief stop at the marine lookout tower. Just a quick snap from the entrance. Then it was sandanbeki 三段壁 which means three parts cliff. A short walk brought us to a lookout platform with 180° views of both sets of cliffs. There was a tunnel inside one of the cliffs that led to underground caves, but we didn’t have time to explore them.

Parking at the cliffs was ¥500, which would be refunded if we spent at least ¥1,000 at the shop. Thinking that we didn’t have anything particular to buy, we thought we’d walk around the shop anyway. Ha! Ended up spending over ¥4,000 on a bag of green satsumas and bottles of blueberry vinegar. At least the bottles were plastic, our liquid haul was beginning to build up. We had 30kg allowance, but we were still relatively restrained in our shopping, there were still whiskies to buy.

Another few minutes’ drive from sandanbeki was senjojiki 千畳敷, flat slate-like rock formations on the coast. Worth spending a few minutes taking pictures and walking down to the bottom. No car park fees or shop temptations.

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We had a voucher for one of the public onsens, and we had about 1.5-2hrs till dinner back at the hotel. We had assumed that everything was provided for, but forgot towels. Ah well, ¥250 on a towel souvenir is okay.

This onsen was spread over a large hill, with spas at different levels. We started with the indoor one next to the showers and quickly moved onto a secluded one outdoors. That one was very nice and peaceful, sitting in the hot spring we could hear the wind through the trees and birds calling too. Well, until the peace and quiet was shattered by a group of mainland tourists. Ugh. These idiots are everywhere, can’t escape them.

We changed back to street clothes and went to explore the spas at the upper levels. What a shame we didn’t have time to try them out, some had great views and seemed a lot quieter than the main ones downhill. What we did manage to catch, with perfect timing, was the sunset. Spectacular colours over the bay witnessed from a wonderful vantage point, it was fate.

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Dinner back at the hotel was sukiyaki tonight. A huge platter of one small lobster, a variety of fish, squid, pork, chicken, beef, mushrooms and green vegetables. Sashimi, small plates and pickles at the side of course. There was enough for 4 people, especially if we took up the offer of additional rice. Could only try a small amount of udon at the end. Umeshu with the meal, as usual.

After dinner, we re-organised our bags. It was funny, we didn’t discuss it, didn’t agree on anything, but as soon as we got back to our room, we went to our respective corners and started the repacking process. It was a good use of the rest time between a meal and going to the onsen.

We didn’t have exclusive use of the onsen tonight, a few other people came and went. One woman brought her baby to shower and soak in the indoor spa for a while. We still went through each of the spas, even when it started raining we stayed at the outdoor one. Didn’t want to leave the comfortable hot springs, a bit sad, our final night at the onsen.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shirahama 白浜 — beach, engetsu island 円月島

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I’d set the alarm for 7am, our breakfast was at 8am. We went to bed around 10pm last night so we got a decent amount of sleep, hopefully catching up on lost sleep because of the red eye flight. One thing we had been looking forward to very much was Japanese breakfast. We were not disappointed. Another splendid selection — 6 small dishes including salmon roe, mashed potato, pickles and small mushrooms; pickles, grilled fish, salad, rice, miso soup. On the table was also the small grill on a stove from last night, already with slices of ham and sausage. Next to it was an egg. Aha, we were to make ham and egg ourselves, loving this cooking yourself business. A small bowl of yogurt and a slice of orange to finish.

We were in no hurry to go out, so we tried out the foot spa in our balcony. It was just above lukewarm and quite relaxing. Would have been great to enjoy with a cup of tea but I didn’t have milk.

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The hotel had valet parked our car safely in one of the covered spaces next to the entrance. We got the key but our first destination didn’t need the car. In advertisements and on tripadvisor we read that the hotel was 3 minutes from the beach. It’s an exaggeration! The beach is literally across the road so no more than 1 minute away. Perhaps the 3 minutes refer to actually hitting the sandy part and not just the pathway. Anyway, pedantic.

The beach was a revelation. Research before the trip had registered that there was a beach, but we did not expect the pristine white sandy beach and a sweeping secluded bay that greeted us. Not too crowded on a Saturday morning either. There were palm trees and tree parasols. There was even a public onsen with views across the beach. We walked all the way to one end and walked back, it was so pleasant.

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Coming out from the beach, we continued exploring the shopping streets behind the hotel but it seemed like it was off season as most of the shops were closed. Not just closed for the morning, but closed for a longer period. We visited a family mart opposite the hotel and a small shop selling fish cakes and sweet biscuits. Bought coffee, tea and coke zero at the former and biscuits for souvenirs at the latter.

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Back in the car, we drove north to see Engetsu island 円月島. A natural arch located along the coast, apparently sometimes the sunset hits it just perfectly at the arch. At the coastal point closest to the island were a couple of parking spots, but they charged money so we parked at a nearby small shop. The mean granny defending the shop wasn’t all that pleased at our presence, even though we ended up buying things from her. This was the only unfriendly Japanese person we met on the whole trip. Strange woman.

We tried to drive further up the coast but there was nothing more to see. So we headed back towards town in the direction of the market. But not before finding a wine shop and having more tasting. This time, we couldn’t get away from the Japanese insistence on no drinking for the driver so only mm was able to taste the sake and umeshu offered. She sneaked me a few sips when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking though. Ended up buying honey umeshu, so much choice.

shirahama — toretore market 南紀白浜 とれとれ市場

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shira110tuna shira101sushi
shira135juice shira141salt

Toretore market was exactly the huge food market we expected. It was full of people and full of great stuff. Seafood stalls selling fresh fish, prawns, lobsters, crabs, oysters and even whale, some of the food were for cooking at home but a lot of it was packaged and ready to be eaten as sashimi or sushi straightaway. Fruit and veg. Pickles. Juice. Sweets. Wine. Cooked food. Cans and jars. It was foodie heaven. We even managed to catch the fishmonger cutting up a whole tuna, down to gouging out the eyes and the delicious cheeks.

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We bought a large selection of sashimi for lunch — fresh whale, which I’d tried in Bergen but mm has never tried. Large scallops, white fish and fatty salmon. Chirashi of salmon roe and uni, two of our favourites. Got a cup of umeshu each from the giant glass tank displayed at the shop.

Would have been great to find space to picnic, but the available tables and chairs were part of existing eating establishments. So we made the quick and easy decision to head back to the comfort of our hotel room, only 10mins away. What a life, eh.


in going places , on the relationship front |

wakayama 和歌山

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I managed to nap for a few minutes while mm drove us from Yamazaki distillery to our next destination, Marina City at Wakayama 和歌山. A longer drive than from Kansai, about 2.5hrs.

We were aiming for the Kuroshio market that supposedly had a tuna cutting demo everyday. We knew we’d miss it, but was hoping to see stalls with seafood, sweets and local produce. True enough, there were stalls at two buildings — the fruit and veg nearest the car park was full of delicious looking fruits, juices and jars of honey. The main market building was a bit deserted, some of the fish stalls were closed for the day already.

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It was almost 2pm so the first order of business was to find lunch. Disappointed that the only restaurant that seemed to be still open wasn’t serving anymore but very grateful that the fast food section was still open. One stall selling grilled food — raw seafood and vegetables, that customers grilled themselves. The other was the typical Japanese fast food of seafood rice bowl. No brainer in terms of choice. Sushi wins every time. We had salmon, salmon roe and uni chirashi, and although not the best we’ve ever had, it hit the spot.

For drinks we each ordered a umeshu, famous local plum wine. I had a mature umeshu and mm had a yuzu umeshu. The mature umeshu was sweet, just how I liked it. Again, perfect for the time and place.

The good thing about an almost empty market was that we were free to wander around. Bought some sweets and visited a umeshu shop. They charged a nominal amount for a small sample and we tried umeshu flavoured with honey and another flavoured with tea. Bought a few bottles too, the start of our bottle-collecting holiday.

shirahama-kan onsen hotel 白浜 館

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shirakan004room shirakan010tatami

I took over the driving to Shirahama 白浜. We’d been awake since 5am after 2 hrs sleep so it was a long, tired 2.5hrs on a highway that was peppered with tunnels and tolls. The GPS brought us to the back of the hotel and it took us a few minutes to find the entrance. An old fashioned, rather basic hotel, it was well tended and we liked our room. Japanese style room with tatami floor, the living area converted to futon beds at night. A small balcony looked out to the main road and there was even our own private foot spa on the balcony.

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Dinner was included, and it was a fantastic spread that greeted us when we were shown to our table. Not quite kaiseki style, but close. Lots of small dishes already set out — starters, sashimi, pickles, vegetables. We ordered more umeshu with the meal, mm had one with soda and I had one on the rocks. The dishes were delicious and intricate, small bites and portions of food that is now familiar to us.

Hot dishes included tempura and the meat / seafood course we cooked ourselves. They provided tiny grills powered by burning fuel blocks and we had a few small slices of beef, prawn, seafood and vegetables. Nice to cook food ourselves and to be able to control timing and flavours. The rice was flavoured with mushrooms and vegetables; it too cooked in its pot at the table.

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By then we were tired so we couldn’t wait to go to the hot springs. Japanese styled, so segregated by gender and no clothing or towels allowed. Not our first time at onsens so we weren’t bothered. After showering, we visited each spa in turn. There were 4 different ones: an indoor one next to the shower area, a semi-outdoor “longevity” one, an outdoor one underneath trees and a tall tub accessed via a wooden staircase. Our favourite was the outdoor one underneath the trees — enough seclusion from the elements but with fresh air and breeze that made the hot water even more relaxing.

Needed to do some research on where to go and to get phone numbers for the GPS. No internet in our room (our biggest complaint) and even worse, the advertised internet in the lobby didn’t work. I couldn’t connect on either the iphone or the mba although somehow mm got through on her iphone 3GS. Says something about older models. I was too tired to function and was very grateful when she took advantage of the small window to gather much needed information. Was out as soon as the lights were off and my head hit the pillow.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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It wasn’t until 5.30pm that mm was able to come and pick me up. It would have been nice to go exploring, hiking or cycling but it was too late in the day. We drove over to the AYCE Japanese place where I had dinner with my parents on my dad’s birthday. The restaurant was opposite to where mm’s sis lived, it was a memory for us. It’s been years and years, I almost didn’t remember which direction the flat faced. Walked around the area a bit, then settled in for dinner. Not a lot was open when we finished, so we just went home.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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The lamb racks turned out pretty well. I had two batches. The first batch roasted in mm’s oven at 200°C, but hers is a small countertop oven and I didn’t notice that we had it on grill only. Once we turned both top and bottom elements on, it only took 10mins more to get to rare, by that time they’ve been cooking for about 30mins. The second batch I seared first then put in my oven at 180°C for 20mins. I can control it better with my own equipment. Then again, I also burned my palm on the handle of the pan.

We had a leisurely lunch with the lamb, and mm made a couple of nice salads — chili marinaded cucumber and sesame oil flavoured bean sprouts. And then we got started with our whisky flight. Mainly Japanese whisky and mostly pure malt blends:

  • Nikka from the barrel — Mr Murray described it as an unspecified malt; came in a cute perfume bottle like bottle; clean and sweet
  • Nikka Pure Malt Red — fruity and quite light
  • NIkka Pure Malt Black — sweet and big, quite like a Speyside
  • Nikka Pure Malt White — slightly smoky, with its Yoichi content, need to drink this very slowly
  • Yamazaki 12 — pleasant, typical Yamazaki
  • Macallan 12 — as a contrast to the Yamazaki, very typical, bigger than Japanese
  • Yoichi — I think this was either 10 or 12, slightly peaty
  • Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 — great value for money, easy daily drinking
  • Kavalan Bourbon cask (from Taiwan) — I remembered it as bering really good, but it tasted a bit rough compared with the others

Only a small sip of each, the total we each had was probably just a double. The Pure Malts were quite good, and each had its own character. The Nikka from the barrel was the real surprise. With a higher alcohol content of 58.6% it was sweet and smooth and very easy to drink. No wonder I tend to prefer cask strength whiskies.

p.s. There are different types of whisky blends. What is referred here as pure malt is a blended malt, ie a blend made from single malts only. It’s also known as vatted or sometimes all malt. Not to be confused with generic blends which includes whiskies made with other type of grains; or even grain alcohol itself.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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Badminton with mm after lunch. I went to her place early to try to fix her airport express, which was mine and is almost 10 years old. But to no avail, she’ll have to use ethernet until she can get the ISP to switch her to a wireless modem.

In terms of badminton, we’ve progressed slightly to the point where we were trying to win points against each other, slightly. Her way is to drop the shuttlecock just over the net and my way is to get some height and smash it. She doesn’t seem to like the shuttlecock heading straight towards her so I eased up on the smashing. Fun game, even though rallies were short, we played almost the full hour, just taking a few mins’ rest halfway through.

After showering, it was time for our feast. Salami and cheese from last year. Gigantic, thick scallops and sweet prawns we ate as sashimi. Chicken wings. Edamame and a cold starter she made from sea fungus, sesame oil, vinegar, garlic and ginger. Just one small glass of rosé each.

I napped whilst she played piano. And then it was time to leave. I felt weird. She gave me very little notice, only told me when I arrived, that she’d booked a foot massage session at 8.30pm. So it kinda meant I got kicked out just after 7pm, and I was a bit hurt that she didn’t ask if I wanted to join. She did drive me to a nearby station so I could catch the minibus home. I dunno, it’s the state of our relationship that always catch me unawares.

in on the relationship front |

She took the afternoon off and we went on a drive. First to a place where she bought coffee and we had a quick lunch at a nice diner place. Then onto Tai Po. Got a bit sidetracked looking for parking and stumbled across the famous wishing tree. Can’t throw wishes onto the tree anymore, it’s falling down. We had a snack then went back to town, market and walked around. I was coughy and not feeling too well so we skipped dinner and she took me home.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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It’s July 4th but it doesn’t have too much significance now that I’m not in Chicago. It’s really hot but I needed food so I braved the heat to go to the market and supermarket to get some vegetables, fruit, milk and the like.

A small nod to a July 4th tradition, met with mm for korean bbq. Went to the AYCE place my parents like. Took our time, ate lots and chatted. It’s good to be spending time together again.

in how the day went , on the relationship front |

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Met with mm and her mum for lunch. Turned out, her mum’s friends were also there so when I got there early a stranger was already sitting at the table. What would a norml person do? Sit down and introduce themselves. But I’m not normal when it comes to social interaction. I went back to the reception area and messaged mm, and then I stayed there to wait till they showed up. Nothing against the strange ladies, I just don’t like having to interact with strangers.

After lunch, mm and I drove to a new area. She wanted to go to a sauce and salt shop to buy dried soy salt, but they don’t have it available yet. So we bought some top quality soy sauce and some Australian sea salt. Then set off to explore the wet market where we went crazy buying very cheap fruit and veg. So much that we had surplus and ended up driving to my parents’ place and giving them some of the purchases.

Back to Admiralty for dinner (cos she has free parking vouchers). Fast food, waited for her mum and then she drove me home.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

We still have some vouchers left for Le Fauchon, so we had lunch there. A nice soup and salad starter, oxtail for mains and a small chocolate cake. Tea and coffee too. Good bargain, even though the oxtail wasn’t completely melt off the bone, and I only had two bites of the cake.

Hot, hot, hot day. Walked mm back to the office and was about to leave when I bumped into ex-colleague. Chatted for a bit, by the time I left it was almost 3.30pm. Headed off to the market to get fruit and veg.

in eating and drinking , family first , on the relationship front |

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Met up with mm, she came to pick me up in her car and I directed her to a new area she’s never been to. Just simple lunch of rib-eye and vegetables. Went to the library, window shopped at estate agents and went to a small store. Went over to the church so she can get a spare copy of her baptism certificate. I wanted to get my confirmation certificate filled out too, but apparently I have to return to the church I was baptised in, not the one I was confirmed. Strange.

Met with family at a pub near Sis’ place so we can have a family dinner for early celebration of Mum’s birthday. Nice pub, not too crowded and it was okay for my niece. I had smoked duck breast with mash and a big floret of broccoli. A couple of glasses of Hoegaarten too.


in on the relationship front |

CHF 10 - Wood Wine Rack

Lunch with mm at a Japanese restaurant near the office, no reason, just felt like it. She had grilled hamachi head and I had the sashimi set. I then went to the market to get some stuff for the cruise, went home then went out again, we were going to Ikea to take advantage of their 40x point shopping days. She bought wine racks and I bought a replacement kitchen scale. Back to her place to put the wine racks together. Not really dinner, my dinner was a hot dog and meatballs at Ikea. She did give me some soup though.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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Met mm for lunch, then went to an appointment with her. She had taken the afternoon off, so we took the car and drove out to a little bit further. It rained, but we were lucky to get a parking space quickly and managed a nice walk around. Explored the wet market, the pier, stopped for oysters (gillardo, cumbrae, holland live) and a small glass of wine. Back to her place for pizza and red shrimps. For the second night in a row, she drove me home.

in about me , family first , on the relationship front |

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In the past, I’d be asked what I wanted for my birthday and I’d say something like “no need, don’t waste money, I’m too old for presents.” I’d end up getting cute gadgets that are cute but useless, or something else I don’t want, or at best, amazon vouchers. This year, since it’s the first I’ve spent with family (and mm) in person for a while, I reckon they’d want to get me something. So I decided to be specific instead of wishy-washy.

And I got what I wanted.

Mum got me a backpack, since my old one’s falling apart. Parents gave me a red packet of cash, exactly what I need. Sis and family were on holiday, so I asked them to get me a whisky from the duty free. She was creative and got me a oddly named anCnoc as well as a Nikka from the Barrel in its perfume bottle like packaging. A cocktail shaker too. Seriously, I’m not that heavy a drinker!

From mm I got a nice selection of diffusers, I picked the flavours myself. All in all, I’m pleased with my presents.

in about me , family first , on the relationship front |

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Low key sort of birthday. Had lunch with family at Enoteca, a restaurant that can’t decide if it’s Italian or Spanish. They served pizza, pasta and small dishes. But the small dishes weren’t Venetian cicheti or Spanish tapas. Baked brie with toast, garlic mushrooms, risotto balls. Hmm. The Spanish influence came in the selection of sangria and chorizo pizza. Hmm.

Between us, we had mushroom pasta, lamb salad, fish & chips, the aforementioned baked brie with toast, risotto balls and parma ham pizza. A jug of sangria too. Okay, with the food confusion, it was still pretty good.

Sis brought a chocolate cheesecake which we all shared afterwards. Then she and mum went off to look for material so I took my niece back to her place and we played on my kindle for a while.

Rang mm, she picked me up and we went for a bit of a drive to one of the beaches. Little walk, then to a hotel near her home for a glass of wine. She’s been eating a lot and I was full from lunch so we just ordered a snack of crispy fried prawns. That was it for the day.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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It’s mm’s birthday. We met up after lunch for tea — she had fruit sponge and I had a nice chestnut cake. Rich hot chocolate and iced chocolate accompanied the delicate (and a little expensive) cakes. Wandered around the shopping mall, took the bus to the flower market street and bought some cheap diffusers.

Dinner at a new restaurant, one that serves seafood. We had braised eel with taro and pumpkin, stuffed peppers and noodles. The eel was sweet and the sauce very nice. The highlight was the stuffed peppers though, very delicious, a little spicy with the seeds left in. Large plates too, we both had enough to take home.

in on the relationship front |

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So mm and I were going to go out to the islands when a thunderstorm scuppered our plan. No good movies around, nothing much else going on. So we had a coffee and coke zero at mcdonalds, walked around a department store and went off in search of happy hour. A precarious taxi ride later we were at Dickens’ Bar, a couple of glasses of wine and a large plate of nachos. Nice save.

in eating and drinking , how the day went , on the relationship front |

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Met up for mm, she had car hunting on her mind having all of a sudden decided she wanted to buy a car. Had shanghainese lunch — eel noodles, snow peas with dried tofu and jellied pig’s trotter. It’s been a long time since I had the sautéed eels, used to have it a lot with my grandparents. Fried with bean sprouts and noodes, it was more filling and less oily.

Then went to a bunch of dealers, first to look at new cars. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford. Then to a second hand place. Saw a lovely BMW 118i that I liked. Not many golfs so we headed to the VW dealer. Booked a test drive for next week.

It was like going out with a good friend. That’s as much as I can expect nowadays. 10hrs together is better than sitting around like an idiot at home.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

innsideout

Feeling depressed. Tried to meet up with mm, did a bit of shopping. Went for a glass of wine at the place where you get unlimited peanuts and you throw the shells on the floor. On the floor, that’s what I feel like right now. In my life, in everything. Not sure what I’m doing here in a place I hate, not sure what I should do, not sure of anything, full stop. Feel like I’m struggling to push myself into a rare timeslot she has graciously made available for me out of pity. Need guidance from angels on what to do now, and what future to look forward to. Not in a good place.

in on the relationship front |

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I thought that mm and I could go out sometime over the weekend but she didn’t have time. She suggested that we met up today for happy hour and dinner. I felt like she did it out of obligation. And then she messaged me to say that there’s a memorial mass for the mother of her friend. So off we went. And had a quick Vietnamese dinner afterwards.

I feel so superfluous. She has so much in her life. One of these days, He will take her away from me. I should know, it’s been like this for so many years.

in on the relationship front |

antivalentine

It’s not like we’re anti valentine’s day per se, it’s just that we just spent a long weekend together, and she needs to go to work today, and help a friend of hers who just had a family bereavement. So we didn’t plan anything, and didn’t have much communication either. Ah well.



in on the relationship front |

By the time we woke up it was almost 11am. We were both tired. Quickly got ready and went out to the mall across the road to one of the few restaurants that were open. Nothing much else to do, went to the town centre and walked around.

Dinner was the purpose we all came up, mm’s mum’s birthday dinner. All the family was there. There was a bit of drama with her older brother losing his temper but everyone rallied around to save the atmosphere. Funny how mm and I got the scoop afterwards, everyone wanted to talk to her with their version of the events.

Efficiently did a couple of loads of laundry before bed too. Interesting day.


in going places , how the day went , on the relationship front |

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Didn’t sleep very well, ended up getting up and reading. Sigh, unfamiliar bed at mm’s. We didn’t get up till 10.30am. Had brunch of bratwurst and fried eggs, I played on her mbp and she practiced piano for a bit. Leisurely headed out to catch the ferry to the “opposite side” — a sort of traditional fishing village that served lots of seafood. Nice view of the boats moored in the typhoon shelter.

Caught a minibus into town, aimlessly walked around, then found another ferry to take us back. Dinner at a market restaurant, very very busy but very very good food — golden prawns, stir fried squid thai style, vegetables, fresh fish congee. I ordered a beer, which came served in a chilled bowl. Heh.

in on the relationship front |

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We were watching Fringe till late last night. Had a relaxing morning — mm played the piano whilst I played mafia wars and then read a little. Brunch was plain noodles and broccoli. By the time we made a move it was 3pm.

We caught the bus to TT reservoir, getting off at the stop just before the dam and finding a really hidden walkway down to the bottom. It was a nice walk around the reservoir, people were fishing, boating and there was even a middle-aged man at the side practising bagpipes. We didn’t walk a lot, may be around 45mins.

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Went to one of the houses where they have set up a large area into a bbq centre (not restaurant per se, more like a house converted to an eatery). Tables and grills are all set up, they make the fire for you too. Food is provided — the usual steak, pork chop, chicken wings, sausages, fish balls, fish, mushroom, sweet potato, corn and other vegetables. Refills available. What I enjoyed most was making toast — this style of barbeque involves stabbing the food with a bbq fork and grilling it over the fire, no wire mesh or grill cover in sight, just a small shelf at the side. The hardworking staff made sure to add charcoal whenever it was running low.

We also ordered a bottle of wine, I chose the savignon blanc because the alternative was a bulgarian merlot which sounded way too risky. Switched to beer (for me) and soft drinks after we finished the bottle. We started the bbq when it was still light out, by the time we finished it was dark. A little bit of an adventure to get home, especially for me, but I still managed to get back by 11pm.


in on the relationship front |

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Met mm after work and went back to her place. Dinner at home, relaxed, no need to go out. She bought salmon sashimi, whelks and edamame from the supermarket and we found a bottle of sake in her fridge. Afterwards, she practiced piano and I played on her new mbp.


sad

in on the relationship front |

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Made veal chop for lunch at home, then all too soon it was time to pick up the zipcar, load up mm’s luggage and take her to heathrow. She wanted to claim VAT, and the queue was so damn long! Over 2 hours. By the time we finished, she had to rush to the gate. I had to rush back too, I hadn’t booked the zipcar long enough and couldn’t extend because someone else booked it afterwards. I begged the rep to help me, he called the next person and got me a 30min extension. It was so stressful.

I had no appetite at night. It wasn’t because of the zipcar stress. It’s because mm is on her way home, after such a wonderful 3 weeks with me. All I can hold onto, is the rainbows we saw last year. Blessings.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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I took Mum to the ledbury for her birthday this year, and wanted to share the experience with mm. It’s her last full day in London.

Lunch again, it’s the best value. Amuse bouche, quail & fig salad, for mains we had brill with seafood, edible flowers, foam and beef and for dessert mille feuille and blackcurrant tart.

Borough market in the afternoon, plus vinopolis and the whisky exchange. To end a gastro day, dinner at Hawksmoor. I have a suspicion she prefers Hawksmoor, the food at the Ledbury probably too fancy and too high expectations after how I sang its praises.


in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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Third day in a row, mm went to piano practice. Wow, such diligence. She had lunch plans with her school friends so I stayed home for lunch. Met up with her at Brixton to show her the market. For some reason, none of the restaurants appealled. We stopped at seven for a brief drink before heading to Oxford Street HMV so she can look at classical CDs.

I had a sudden inspiration for dinner, took her to the tagine place. So yummy.

in how the day went , on the relationship front |

Stayed home while mm went to piano in the morning. Met up at Edgware Road police station to report the loss of my camera for insurance. Went over to the Abbey near Church Street (ack, it’s Santander now) to close our accounts. Short hop to Knightsbridge to walk around Harrods and M&S, bought some coffee for her.

in on the relationship front , outside interests |

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She’s been going to piano practice very diligently while she is in London, getting up in the morning and taking the bus to Edgware Road. Mostly, I stay home and meet her afterwards or she comes home and we cook. I’m so glad I found this place, it’s not expensive, £12 for a grand piano and £20 for the Fazioli.

Drumstick, ribs and brie for lunch. Soup and salmon for dinner.

in all about people , on the relationship front |

2012ldn002straws Took the bus to Golders Green to meet up with CC and M for lunch. CC picked a family-styled Korean place at the roundabout. Afterwards we went back to their house for wine and snacks.

Rested a bit then headed off to Parkside at Enfield for strawberry picking. Also got some really nice beans and spinach.

in on the relationship front |

I took the zipcar out and we went to Brent Cross. Most of our shopping was done at Lakeland and Tesco. No surprise. Had chicken drumstick and mm made pork ribs soup.


in how the day went , on the relationship front |

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While mm woke up early to go practice piano, i went to the library to return the library books. Met up at Khan’s at Bayswater. Ah, memories. It’s less crowded than before, and the food wasn’t quite what we remembered. There’s a buffet at lunchtime, and it satisfied our craving for Indian food.

Took a walk in hyde park to the other end, coming out at high st ken to go to whole foods. Nice. There was a small wine tasting too, tried a white, shiraz rosé, shiraz and a dessert wine. The winery is called Monsoon Valley. It’s okay, didn’t make us feel like we had to buy any of their wines, considering the stash we have at home from provence.

Big shop at Tesco, almost £50. We even shared a toilet paper 2-for-1 offer with a nice lady, a total stranger. Dinner at home, cheese, wine, salad, soup. I wish all our days were like this.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Breakfast at Mcdonalds, which is of better quality here than in the US or UK. Then it was off to find markets. We have great memories of going to markets in Paris, but weren’t able to remember where. Went back to the one we tried going to yesterday, at Place Monge. Lots of fresh fruits and veg, but not many stalls. When we asked the stallholders, it turned out that it was a holiday so not as big a turnout. Ah well, still some good stuff. There’s a cheese shop nearby that is open, so we bought some cheeses as well.

The market at Rue Cler was also mostly closed, but we did find a patisserie and some stalls selling fruit. Ended up going to Carrefour to pick up pâté and stuff. Then back to hotel to drop off our shopping.

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Lunch back at Dame Tartine, where they recognised us. Lovely steak and (I think) swordfish tartare. Walked over to Notre Dame, queued up to get inside. Crowded and we had to hush a lot of noisy tourists. There was an exhibit of St Theresa, which pleased mm a great deal. More walking all the way to louvre, tea at Mcdonalds, then it was back to the hotel to pick up our luggage.

Metro to Gare du Nord was pretty tough. First, we had a total of 7 bottles of wine between us. Then there were so many stairs and not enough escalators. Finally it was a very kind, and strong, soul who helped us with the final steps to the platform. Once to Gare du Nord it was fine. We even had time for a rosé at the station before boarding. It was late when we got back to St Pancras so we took a taxi home.

flickr set, again mm’s pics. Not as annoyed as losing the Provence pics, we’ve been to Paris many times and she took over photography the last couple of days.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Tried going to the market at Place Monge but it wasn’t open (tomorrow apparently). Headed to Sacre Coueur and Montmatre area, bought some magnets at a souvenir shop while sheltering from the rain. At the bottom of the hill, bought pastries at a Carrefour supermarket to enjoy at a small park.

Metro to Opera. Lunch of moules frites at Leon. Yes, it’s a chain but it’s still pretty good. Shopping at Lafayette where mm indulged her love of brand name handbags — Longchamp, BV, Maison. Big crowds, especially of rude Chinese tourists, I wasn’t happy.

Off to rue cler to look for another market. Even more unhappiness. This was the point where I lost my camera. My beloved s90. With all our provence pics in the memory card not downloaded because I didn’t bring the mba. Next trip, bring the damn mba. We traced our steps back to Leon but no luck.

Pretty dejected. Went back to hotel, ate some melon. Went out to Pompidou area and found a restaurant called Dame Tartine that served wonderful steak and salmon tartare. Cheered me up a little.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Easy metro trip from Gare de Lyon to Châtelet, although there weren’t any escalators and we had to haul our bags up the stairs to street level. We were staying at hotel louvre rivoli at Châtelet, within walking distance to the river and pompidou.

Late lunch at the bistrot near the hotel, salad and wine again. Took the metro to champs to visit LV, and then to the office where mm met with some of her colleagues. Shopping at Le Printemps near Opera.

Dinner at another bistrot near Le Printemps. Moules and steak. Although a touristy place, the standard was still high. Back to hotel area, walked around Pont Neuf, Notre Dame and back to the hotel.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Very early start, checked out at 7.30am. On the way, we stopped at Gordes for another view of the gorgeous village and valleys of Provence. Stopped at Auchen at Avignon for petrol and supplies. Returned the car and onto the TGV to Paris.

Au revoir, Provence. Lovely region. We’ll miss it and will want to come back. Base at Avignon next time. Or Aix.

flickr set, all mm’s pictures. I lost my camera in Paris. Don’t care about the camera as much as the memory card that had all our trip pictures.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Sunday market at L’Isle sur la Sorgue. It seemed to be the norm to park on the pavement, so that’s what we did. If possible, the market is even larger than the one in Apt yesterday. More crowded and touristy, stalls selling souvenirs, herbs, soap and honey. We stopped at a café to have tea and a rest, then set about exploring the vast market. Bought dried sausages, lavender, jam, bread, melon and pizza.

Returned to Avignon for a late lunch (salad and a cold meat platter). Bought lavender oil and wine at that shop near the Papal Palace we spotted on Friday. Time was getting short and we were somewhat in a rush.

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The next destination was Abbaye de Sénanque, which is where that notable picture of a church and rows upon rows of lavender comes from. It’s too late in the season, we’d missed the lavender. It was still nice to walk in the grounds and visit the souvenir shop. Too late in the day to go inside the abbaye.

From the abbaye, we headed back towards central Provence, to Gordes and Rousillon. Great scenery on the way. We got to Rousillon very late in the day, thank goodness for it being summer and long days. Lovely sunset pictures in the village on top of a hill and the sun hitting the clay cliffs. Time for more souvenir shopping and exploring the narrow streets on foot. We had dinner at a restaurant there. I had veal, mm had lamb and we had wine of course.

A delay leaving, an ambulance blocked the street for a long time. The streets were cobblestoned and narrow and the way back to the hotel was via that street where the ambulance was. At the end we couldn’t wait and used our instinct to drive the other way out of the village and double-backing back to our hotel.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Breakfast at the hotel, croissants, ham, bread. The hotel has a small book that describes the markets in the Provence region. In French, but we were able to read it. So following its advice we headed to Apt for the market. It was very busy, and we had a hard time finding parking. At the end, I had to reverse down a steep unpaved slope to a narrow space between other cars. Heh, Mum taught me well.

Loved the market. Lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, crafts, just fantastic. Bought sun-dried tomatoes, honey, olive wood board, grapes. We could go crazy at these markets, everything so fresh and so tempting. No wonder people want to come live in this region.

In the middle of the market is St Anne’s Chapel. Very small, quiet and peaceful. We walked around, prayed and made a donation. Made friends with one of the volunteer ladies there. Didn’t quite know what each party was talking — our French wasn’t good enough and she didn’t speak English. However, the warmth and friendship shared with fellow catholics didn’t need language.

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Bought a big slice of watermelon, which we took back to the hotel to enjoy, as well as offloading our purchases. Next stop, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Lunch in the car was apricots and peaches we bought yesterday. Parked at the tourist office, and had a late lunch of salad and the châteauneuf wine. Perfect food and drink for an extremely hot day, the temperature gauge in the car read over 40°C.

Visited a few caves for wine tasting, learned about the traditional 13 grape varieties allowed in a châteauneuf wine. Also found out they had whites and rosés. Walked up to the top of the chaâteau for the amazing views. There were weddings galore in town; a wedding party was taking pictures at the top of the château, and we stumbled across a wedding in a church while exploring. It could be the same wedding party, dunno.

Visited one of the wineries at the bottom of the steps and bought a bunch of wines. Red and white. They are able to ship overseas too, and it was soooo tempting to get a couple of cases. Such a lovely, wine-focused town. Beautiful Provencal architecture, great food, wonderful wine. We visited another winery on the way out of town, and we can safely declare our love for this region. Dinner was back at Avignon. Moules frites, dorade and we’re becoming addicted to rosé. Quite a long, dark drive back to the hotel which mm did, I’d finished most of our wine.


in going places , on the relationship front |

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We took a minicab to St Pancras and were on the Eurostar in no time. I was a bit concerned looking at the timing that timing may be a little tight. We had to get from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon with our luggage, via the RER. But it turned out to be quite straightforward although we didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until we were well and truly on the TGV to Avignon. It was hot in Avignon when we arrived, took us a few minutes to find the rental car area. I’d already prebooked and prepaid our car so it was just a matter of getting the keys. It’s a small Citroen C3, good enough for us.

We made our way to Avignon city centre, parked our car in the car park near the papal palace and went in search of food. There were a row of outdoor restaurants in what looks like the main square, so we settled into one. Lots of shops in the pedestrianised district, had ice cream, hit a small Spar for soft drinks and supply. There are more shops and things to see than expected, so nice. Found a small wine shop that looked interesting, saving it for later.

The drive to Rousillon was about 1-1.5hr. Our hotel is supposed to be near Rousillon, but we got to the town and couldn’t find our way round. Had to use our basic french to ask directions. Turns out, the hotel is pretty much in the middle of nowhere on a tiny D-road. We finally found the entrance, drove up the hill and there it was. Very well decorated, rustic yet modern. Our room led out to a small patio, and the whole place screamed style and coolness and Provence.

We opted for dinner at the hotel, which was served outside by the pool. A few other guests were also enjoying dinner. Proscuitto & melon, roast veal and vegetables, rhum baba and fig tart for dessert.

in on the relationship front , sports active |

ldnoly091diving10m

I had 4 tickets for the women’s 10m diving final, so we met up with CC and M at Olympic Park. Our second visit, so we know the drill now. The seats were a little better, less obscured by the roof, important because this is the 10m platform. The diving, wow. Very close competition, and M was especially pleased the Malaysian competitor got bronze.


in going places , on the relationship front |

prag056river prag103castle

Breakfast at the hotel was included, a buffet with the usual. Quite crowded too. Revisited the market at the square. Tried blackcurrent wine and honey wine, very nice. Bought some tomatoes for the day. Walked through the main square and onto Charles Bridge. The river is as beautiful as ever. Continued towards the castle, stopping for ice cream and cake at the foot of the hill.

We bought a short visit ticket that allowed us to visit St Vitus Cathedral, the old palace, St George’s basilica and Golden Lane. Quite worthwhile. The cathedral is very imposing, with lots of historical saintly statues. The old palace was pretty old and empty. By the time we reached the small basilica it was raining so we took shelter. The rows of colourful houses at Golden Lane were either sealed off as a museum piece or converted to shops, quite a commercial feel and not so quaint.

Walked the back way down, had kolbasa hotdog at the stall at the bottom. Walked back to town and rested at hotel. Lots of walking today.

Prague is full of advertisements for concerts. We decided on one at the Clementium church near Charles Bridge. It was okay, quite student-y, sort of amateurish.


in on the relationship front |

It’s going to be a busy. Olympics, Prague, Provence, Paris. So glad we’re well planned.

in on the relationship front |

Breakfast at Carlucci’s at St Christopher’s Place followed by more sale shopping. Managed to fit in M&S, Primark and vitamin shopping. Walked to the piano store on Edgware Road so mm can ask about practice rooms for next time. Bought cake from the shop at Warwick Ave then home for a late lunch. I even cooked my remaining stuffed rabbit for her to try. All too soon it was 5pm and the minicab arrived. I went with her as far as Paddington to see her off on the heathrow express. Quiet when I got home, missing her already. Only 2 weeks, but it can’t come fast enough.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

ldnhawkcheesecake

We are trying to cram everything into 2 days, get as much eating and time together as possible. Changed our reservation at Hawksmoor to lunch — had D-rump, sirloin, bone marrow followed by honeycomb cheesecake. I’m so happy that mm likes the place too. Bought cheese at Neal’s Yard diary. Resumed our trek to Foyles and then had ricotta cake at Princi. Went to John Lewis and bought towels, bowls, glasses and other kitchen stuff for mm. Took the bus home and had hoummous and cheese for dinner. I opened the bottle of peach wine from Georgia. Fantastic day.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

ldnrobochon040bream

I didn’t go to heathrow to pick mm up as it was too early, sis still here, and mm needed to check into the hotel anyway. We met up mid-morning at john lewis and walked around the entire store. Slowly made our way to covent garden where I had a reservation at l’atelier de joel robuchon. I’m losing track of how many times and who I’ve taken to all these restaurants, hahaha.

The restaurant was pretty full, but we still had a good seat at the bar. We opted for the 3 course lunch menu with wine pairing. To start I had sea bream carpaccio and she had asparagus cappuccino. For mains I had black leg chicken and she had hangar steak. We then moved upstairs to the bar for dessert — chocolate mousse and cheese plate. Just over £100 for the two of us. I ended up drinking most of the wine, including hers.

She wanted to go to foyles to look at music, which we did. Then her jetlag and wine got the better of her and we had to go back to the hotel quickly. Napped until early evening, went out to m&s to get dips and chicken wings and that was our dinner for the day. We’ve been looking forward to seeing each other for a while, it’s nice to simply spend time together.

in on the relationship front |



It’s mm’s birthday tomorrow. I rang her just after midnight her time, and we talked a bit. Sent this video to her, it’s a nice piano arrangement.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

2012hktooappe01 2012hktooprawn 2012hktooappe02 2012hktoosoup

Lunch buffet at Café Too at the Island Shangri-la. When mm rang up to book, they told us that the table would be in a high traffic area and do we mind? She asked them to move us to a better table if one is available, and when got there they took me to one next to the window and definitely low traffic, so good for them.

What can I say about that buffet? I’ve always liked it, many different stations: Japanese, salad, seafood, cold meats, dim sum, hot dishes, roasts, noodle bar, curry station and lots of dessert. I started with salad, sashimi and seafood, hot appetisers including dim sum, and a couple of bowls of chicken soup. The soup was made individually and steamed in this giant vat, when it was ready they rang this bell and people rushed to get the fresh soup.

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Didn’t have too much main course, they had these freshly grilled sliders and I had a slice of the roast beef. I was pretty full by then, so had the noodle station make me some vegetables (no noodles). Had a plate of colourful desserts and a waffle cone of mango and green tea ice cream. Stuffed!

The quality seems to have diminished a little though, no oyster, no lobster, and the desserts are either small bowls, the standard cake or mousses. Still a very nice lunch, especially since it was with mm.

Did a little more shopping, but not much. I don’t have a lot to buy this time round. Early evening we made it back to her place for a rest — I tackled playing on her pb2 and she practiced piano. Dinner wasn’t really dinner, we went to a tapas place, had some wine and a few tapas. She has to go to work tomorrow morning, so not a late night.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

2012hkbbmmcny02prawn

Had lunch with mm’s family at the usual restaurant. Lots of food, and I got to take some of the sago tart away with me. Had to carry it with me all day though, small price to pay for good food. After lunch mm and I walked to all the nearby computer malls to search for a wiimote and some flashdrives for mum. Normally these things are easy to get, but during the holidays almost all the shops were closed.

She wanted to look at some watches but when we got to the shop none of the models appealed. We ended up at the top floor bar of the excelsior where we had a glass of wine each (she had a gewurtz and I had a valpolicella) and then headed to her home. Went to the market nearby and got fresh prawns and some fish; at the supermarket we got vegetables and tofu. She made 2 simple and delicious dishes for dinner — cooked prawns and a quick soup with the fish, veg and tofu. After dinner we went to a nearby dessert place, just 10mins walk. It’s cold, she needs to break out extra duvets for us tonight.

in family first , on the relationship front |

nz1190christchurch

Dragged Mum to the glasses shop to get a replacement sunglasses attachment for the one I lost during the chicago marathon. Ended up ordering two, just in case, and getting a new pair of glasses with polarising lenses.

Met mm for drinks. We’re luckier than a lot of people who live in different countries that we don’t have to worry about long distance call charges so we do talk on the phone a lot. Plus whatsapp and we play words with friends. But it’s nothing, absolutely nothing like seeing her in person. I miss her so much. She suggested going to one of the hotel bars, but I saw that the French bistro place had 2-for-1 happy hour so we went there and had a couple of glasses of wine. Oh how we’ve grown up from those early days when we were trying out wine — this was a pic from December 2005 during our trip to New Zealand, at this fabulous winery we found. Time flies.

Dinner with her family was great, as usual. Played with her niece and nephew, rather, they played on our iphones. A four year old playing angry birds is no longer an unusual sight. I came away with goodies that her Mum ordered from the restaurant, all my favourites. Sigh.

I miss having family around. I miss mm. It has been lonely in London, where I really only have 2 friends (3, including SM’s wife I guess). And as much as I like hanging with them, it’s different from family, and mm’s family is as much mine, after all these years. By the time I come back, probably around Q3 this year, I would have been away almost 4 years. Time flies.

in objects of desire , on the relationship front |

mmpiano

mm has a new love, her piano that was delivered today. She whatsapped be this morning and sent a pic to me already. I can’t remember the specs like brand, height and other important details. I’m sure I’ll hear about it in glorious detail in the months and years to come. I jokingly call it not!3mins to encourage her to keep going. Not a problem right now because she seems very keen (obsessed) with piano. I guess I shouldn’t feel threatened by an inanimate object? Heehee.

in on the relationship front |

cwall143stives

I uploaded the pics and wrote up each day of mm’s visit. Pics are here: cornwall set, kent and london set. Daily posts:

  • friday — 5.5hr drive to Marazion to a wonderful b&b, st michael’s mount and seafood dinner
  • saturday — sort of leisurely loop around minack, land’s end, st ives and the lizard
  • sunday — padstow
  • monday — cheddar, clarks village, bicester village, home
  • tuesday — whitstable, westgate
  • wednesday — parkside farm, le relais
  • thursday — harrods, whole foods, home feast
  • friday — west end, steinway hall, haz
  • saturday — stockpot, m&m store, love never dies

We also managed to do most of the things and places I had on my mm prep list.

in on the relationship front |

bbmmldn061feast

The day that neither of us want has forced its way in. We wanted to go to Whole Foods to get ingredients for another feast, and then realised it doesn’t open till noon so there isn’t enough time. Luckily, the organic butcher at Warwick Ave opens early. Even better, we took a walk there and back. I made this impossibly huge meat feast — veal t-bone, sirloin, lamb shop, veal filet. And mm ate it all, I could fold her into my arms and never let go. She even finished the mint choc cornettos.

The afternoon slipped by far too quickly. She packed her suitcase efficiently and we tidied up the flat. Then it was time to pick up the zipcar. I’d forgotten it’s the notting hill carnival and that part of elgin ave was blocked. Had to call zipcar to find out where the car had been moved to. Uneventful drive to Heathrow, she checked in quickly and we shared a baked potato at the terminal.

Last time when we said good-bye physically hurt. This time was no easier but there wasn’t any actual pain. It doesn’t mean I miss her less, I think last time was missing her and being scared stiff about having to navigate London on my own. I’m more settled now. We keep reminding ourselves of the blessings we encountered this week — wonderful trip to cornwall, good food, full of nostalgia, seeing the sisters at her school, playing piano at steinway, and 2 rainbows — the one yesterday at covent garden when she was down, and today when we were on the A40 when I was sad.


in arts and media , on the relationship front |

bbmmldn040rainbow

I wanted to take mm to the southbank real food stalls to try the roast hog but there were no pigs there today and we didn’t feel like anything else. Walked back towards Piccadilly Circus and ended up at another old favourite, Stockpot. Had the lunch special — grilled halloumi, mm had fish and I had roast beef, then we both had apple crumble with extra custard. Can’t beat Stockpot for value although I think it’s now less of a poor student’s haunt and has been taken over by the tourist guide crowds in search of a cheap meal. We were surrounded by out-of-towners, the French family next to us ordered steak and kidney pie.

The afternoon was spent ambling around town. I showed her the new M&M store, and we had an absolute blast there. Onto Foyles to look at music books for mm (I escaped to the basement to read finance exposés). Tea at what I now realise is a gay café bar but at the time it was the first one we came across. Early dinner of roast duck noodles in Chinatown. She continued her piano playing stint at a digital piano store and there is such a huge difference between a digital piano and a Steinway (duh). She was a tad unhappy at herself for not playing very well, but we were cheered by the sight of a rainbow at Covent Garden. More blessings.

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So, onto yet another highlight of our week, the final performance of love never dies. Reviews haven’t been kind, but we really enjoyed it! I couldn’t afford stall seats so we were up at the upper circle, right in the middle though. We were riveted throughout the performance; the music was good, most of the performances were impressive (some hamming up by Ramin Karimloo notwithstanding), and, well, the audience was overly rambunctious. I even got 2 for the price of 1 for my interval drink — I’d only paid for 1 beer, but they had 2 bottles laid out when I went to collect, ah well. Andrew Lloyd Weber said a few short words at the end and I think they deserved every minute of the standing ovation. We even had a good laugh at the plot holes on the way home.


in on the relationship front |

steinway

Had lunch at home, then met CC for mid-afternoon drinks and snacks, she took us to a hip bar hidden at the back of Bond Street and we had a pleasant hour or so. We also met RM for dinner at haz where we had a great meal and tried red wine from Lebanon.

But the main memory today was how we spent the time in between the 2 appointments. Not much involvement for me, aside from sitting quietly and listening to mm play her heart out at Steinway Hall. First she tried the uprights, then the baby grands. The nice sales associate then took us inside to where the concert grands are and she played Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 1. Beautiful sound. I have it on video, but it’s something only between the two of us.

in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

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London shopping day. Bus to Harrods, but none of the food hall eating places appealed so we went outside to Brompton Road and found a nice Italian place. Beef carpaccio and Irish oysters to start and spaghetti vongole as mains. Had a couple of glasses of chianti too. The restaurant wasn’t that crowded, although there was a steady stream of takeout orders from regulars so it must be popular with office workers nearby. Spent most of the afternoon wandering around Harrods, including when mm played extensively on their bechstein pianos. Some people stopped to listen and some even applauded. So proud!

There was enough time to go to whole foods. We bought salmon for sashimi, cranberry bread, veal chop and a dry-aged sirloin steak. It’s always good to shop there, although the bill did come to £50+. The veal and steak came to £20, which is a fraction of how much they’d cost in a restaurant. I grilled them, cooked some of the fresh corn from yesterday, and opened my last bottle of snafu wine from Chicago. Too full for dessert even though we know we have to try the mint choc cornettos that are mm’s favourite.

in going places , on the relationship front |

pyo007tabletop pyo035strawberries

Our destination today was parkside farm in Enfield, which used to be our default strawberry picking venue. It has expanded and now has a variety of fruits and vegetables available for picking. It has been raining so we were worried, the info recording says that it’s muddy in the vegetable fields.

Their strawberries are table-top, and I wasn’t sure what it meant until we got there. Instead of planting at ground level, the crops are grown in troughs at shoulder level. I’m thinking it means the fruits are less prone to damage and pests. It also makes picking easier — no bending down. Even at late August there is plenty available, and according to their calendar they continue all the way through September. There were 3 varieties, and we discovered the best tasting one, Sonata, further back in the fields. The Sonatas are also smaller and, presumably since they are sweeter, attracted more wasps. We ended up with about 3/4 of a basket.

Other fruits included plums and raspberries. There was also brambles although I think they are wild. The vegetable fields were muddy. We got a couple of small squashes and a bunch of sweetcorn. Had to spend a good 20mins cleaning our shoes at their outside tap afterwards.

At the end, we were a bit rushed for time. I dropped mm off at St John’s Wood station so she can go to Bond Street to meet CC for coffee while I returned the car and went home. Met her for dinner and took her to Le Relais. She thought the place was called steak frites, but actually it’s what they serve. We shared a half bottle of their house red and skipped dessert. Nice meal, I think she liked it. We walked around a little afterwards before taking the bus home.

in going places , on the relationship front |

kent001wheelers kent011wheelers

We used to be crazy kids and drove all the way to Margate to play in the arcades. It was only very much later that we discovered Whistable and its famous seafood and oyster restaurants. I found Wheelers online and had it on my to-visit list. Driving through London was the pits, it took forever to get from Aldgate to the Blackwall tunnel. After that, the A2 was fine albeit foggy.

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The restaurant is a tiny oyster bar with just 4 tables inside. They’re always fully booked — I tried booking a few weeks ago but could never get anyone on the phone. We are truly blessed, we scored the last 2 seats at the seafood bar. It’s a BYO place so I got a bottle of gewurz from the off licence opposite. And then the feast started. Oysters were okay, the lady said they didn’t have a lot of stock which meant the quality wasn’t top notch. We also had fried calamari and enjoyed their homemade bread. For mains mm had skate and I had john dory. They were so yummy!! Better than Rick Stein’s, and cheaper. One of the freshest, best quality fish I’d ever eaten in Britain. The triple chocolate mousse was just icing on the cake.

There was a film crew and they interviewed us a little bit. Apparently the program will air in October, but it’s a daytime program so I’m not sure if I’ll remember to catch it. We had to sign releases and such.

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From Whitstable we headed to Westgate, where mm went to school. There used to be a traditional sweet shop there but it’s gone now. The convenient store has some, and we meticulously counted a big stack of flying saucers at 2p each.

Her school has changed, it’s now a college and seems to specialise in sports. Looked a bit more run down than before too. But there was a blessing — while walking around the grounds she bumped into her ex-headmistress and a couple of other sisters who taught her. She was very moved at the perfect timing. A sweet reunion. They say it was okay for us to walk around the school, it wasn’t very interesting for me but I could see how it affected her.

in going places , on the relationship front |

cwall238chedgorge

I’d originally planned to overnight at Cheddar, and was glad we didn’t as it would have been a longer drive yesterday. We did make an effort to visit though, a quick stopover to walk around to the gorge, buy cider and an ice cream.

This is becoming our nostalgia trip, we ended up at Clarks Village. It has changed, much bigger and a layout we’re not familiar with. Not much in terms of shopping though, we finished the circuit in record time. Since we had the car, we decided on something adventurous — hit Bicester Village on the way back. It’s a detour but not by much. I called to extend the rental by a day and there was no extra charge cos my rate was a weekly one.

Bicester was much nicer, we could have spent more money. In particular we had our eyes on Burberry jackets that we tried on for a long time. Finally though, spending £300-400 just wasn’t our style. I did buy 4 tall cocktail spoons for £10 at the cutlery shop. Hit Tesco on the way out and it was an easy 1.5hr drive home. Tonight we get to sleep in my bed. Happy again.

in going places , on the relationship front |

cwall172padstow cwall192padstow

We worked very hard not to eat too much of the delicious breakfast, opting for the minimum and taking as much of it away with us when we checked out. If ever we return to Cornwall, we’ll probably want to stay at this b&b again. But the main focus of today, and what we have been looking forward to, is our lunch reservation at The Seafood Restaurant at Padstow. I remember when Rick Stein first appeared on TV, promoting fresh simple seafood, a great complement to the flamboyance of Floyd, the practicalities (before the days of Norwich FC and Sainsburys) of Delia or the fussiness of Gary Rhodes.

But first, Padstow. If at all possible, it was even more crowded than St Ives. We scored a good spot in the car park, which became full shortly after we parked. The town (the term village seems too quiet for it) is pretty, interesting, full of shops and of course overrun with Rick Stein enterprises — 4 restaurants (with accommodation), one pub, a gift shop, a patisserie and a deli. I guess Padstow is a victim of his success, although the tourism income can’t hurt. Anyway, we bought some fudge, took in the harbour sights and window shopped.

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Our reservation was at 12pm, and the restaurant didn’t completely fill up throughout lunch service. Although we could have ordered à la carte, we decided on the set lunch menu at £37 instead. We did supplement with half a dozen oysters to start though. They were great, a mixed plate of Carlingford and Porthilly oysters. For starters, mm had mackerel salad and I had deep fried prawns, which were so crispy they could be eaten whole, skin, head and all. Very nice, very crunchy.

For mains, mm had baked hake and I had sea bass. Here came the problem, both dish was oversalted. Frankly, the hake from Ben’s was better. For dessert we both opted for the chocolate fondant, which wasn’t goo-ey or ooze-y enough. That was a bit disappointing. Everything about the restaurant — the décor, the service, the hype — was just as we thought, but we expected something extraordinary and got only “pretty good”.

Walked around the town afterwards, had an ice cream. Watched many people and families sitting on the quayside crabbing. The funniest thing is, they were all using bacon as bait. From the haul we saw, it seemed to be working. Most of the crabs will end up tossed back to the sea anyway.

The afternoon plan was to go to Lanhydrock House but nostalgia and sadness took over and we decided to drive back to St Ives to look for Eggbert decorations that we bought with mm’s sis. Unfortunately the shop that sold them is no more and the remainder of the stock hidden in a concealed old cabinet of the gallery that the owners now operated.

I guess we may get to go to Lanhydrock one of these days. Tonight we’re staying at the Apple Tree hotel in Bridgwater, halfway up the M5 and in Somerset already. Compared with Denham House, it’s like day and night, this £95 is not value for money — tiny end-corridor room that reminds us of a travelodge. At least it’s only one night. Slowly making our way home tomorrow.

in going places , on the relationship front |

cwall026bfast cwall030bfast

Breakfast came in a quaint wicker picnic basket left outside our door. The night before, we’d fill in a room-service like menu order of bread, yogurt, eggs, cereal and grapefruit. What a delightful idea to be able to have breakfast in our own room. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a full english, the bread was fresh, the eggs we boiled ourselves in the electric egg boiler, everything was perfect.

cwall104minack cwall110minack

If we didn’t have so much to do today, we would have stayed in our room. The weather wasn’t as good and I was almost tempted to detour to somewhere indoors. Then the showers stopped and we made our first destination, the Minack theatre, an open air theatre with seats carved from/into the cliff facing the sea. Very imposing view. Our visit coincided with the company of what looks like amateur actors arriving and forming a human chain to pass props, costumes and whatnots down from the top to the bottom. Very interesting place. We sat at the seats for a while just enjoying the view and each other’s company.

cwall132landsend cwall133landsend

Next stop was Land’s End. It’s like some sort of ritual, no one can visit western cornwall without going there. We ignored the tacky “attractions” and headed to the tip. Not a lot to see, just absorbing the view and the fresh air.

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We were full from breakfast, and decided not to have lunch. Instead we waited till we got to St Ives to have cream tea. Oh yummy!! I put so much clotted cream on, the scone had to be on its side. I’m more of a clotted cream person, I think I finished 3/4 of the pot. Don’t even want to think about the calories and how I will miss a whole week of running.

cwall143stives cwall147stives

St Ives is pretty, if a little touristy. Crowded too, and too much of a “we’re oh so artistic” feel. We have fond memories of the place, last time was with mm’s sis so many year ago. It’s changed a lot since then. We supplemented the cream tea with traditional english seafood — mm had whelks and I had jellied eels. We took a drive to the Lizard but didn’t stay — didn’t want to pay for parking for just a short visit. Dinner was at the pub back at Marazion, an entirely forgettable meal of some fish or other.

I don’t think I want to check out of this hotel, but we must tomorrow. Sigh.

in going places , on the relationship front |

cwall001denham cwall002denham

We set off early, first stop was to go to hertz to add mm’s name, we started on our way at around 9.30am. Traffic to the M4 was okay, it was so great to be driving together again through familiar roads. Stopped at around Reading for coffee and so mm can take over. She drives better on motorways anyway. We didn’t stop for lunch, instead ate bagels and chicken wings while in the car. She drove all the way to the end of the M5, and I took over for the drive on the A30.

We reached our destination of Marazion, east of Penzance and opposite St Michael’s Mount, just after 3pm so almost a 6hr drive. I’d booked 2 nights at the Denham House b&b, which had fabulous online reviews. £125 per night isn’t cheap but oh so worth it. At the top of a small hill, views of the sea, newly renovated huge room with superking bed, sofa, dining table, deck, jacuzzi tub, walk-in shower.

cwall051mount cwall064mount

There was enough time to walk down to the beach. It was low tide so we could walk over the causeway to St Michael’s Mount. We didn’t go into the castle, it was enough to explore the grounds for about an hour. By the time we made our return journey, the tide was coming in and parts of the causeway was beginning to be submerged. We always have great timing.

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Walked around the village, had a quick drink at the pub by the beach before dinner at Ben’s Cornish Kitchen. We didn’t have a reservation so we got there early at just after 6pm. The place filled up quickly so it was a wise choice. For starters we had the most exquisite fresh squid; for mains we both had the hake with fennel and romesco sauce; for dessert we shared (or rather, I ate most of it) a panna cotta knickerbocker glory. I ordered a whole bottle of pinot noir so I’m a little drunk at the end of the evening.

The day ended with a soak in the jacuzzin tub. A little stuffy and I needed lots of fresh air. Lots more to come tomorrow, I’m in a very happy place with mm right now.

in on the relationship front |

Managed to leave work a little earlier and picked up the rental car. Was going to relax for about an hour at home but when I checked mm’s flight it was half an hour early so I had to hightail it to the airport. The traffic was bad, I got there at 8pm, but in the end there was plenty of time. She came out quickly, we picked up some chicken wings at m&s and got home. Early day tomorrow so we’ll go to bed soon.

in on the relationship front |

sisuk181mm

Reminding myself of the places to take mm.

  • m&m store
  • parkside farm strawberry picking
  • southbank street food stalls on saturday
  • love never dies already booked
  • whitstable, margate, brighton
  • whole foods
  • sheekey’s, livebait, belgo
  • le relais
  • indian food (chutney mary’s?)
  • haz, bagel


in on the relationship front |

nz1373rotorua

Making the preparations for mm arriving on thursday. Laundry, cleaning, vacuuming. Bought shampoo, snacks, ice cream. Rental car and first 2 nights’ hotel booked, need to buy a map. We need some way to fast forward time.

in on the relationship front |

countdown

In 4 weeks, mm will be here, and I’ll have her for 10 days. I have enough airmiles to get her a ticket, so thank you [our employer]. So much to do! Book Barcelona flight & hotel, do research on Cornwall, find restaurants in London, schedule her days so she doesn’t feel rushed but there’s something to do. Our plan is to take it easy but it needs planning. I’m going to start looking at last minute holidays and b&bs and cars and restaurants and…everything. It’s been almost half a year, I can still remember the physical pain I felt when we said good-bye at the airport. Sigh. Can’t wait.


in arts and media , on the relationship front |


video link: http://youtu.be/PWKZVbG9egQ

mm sent me this, an old hymn called “I know who holds tomorrow” from the album by Alison Krauss & the Cox Family. I’m not as religious as mm, this was very beautiful though.

and each step is getting brighter
as the golden stairs I climb
and every burden is getting lighter
and all the clouds are silver lined
and, over there the sun is always shining
and no tears will ever dim the eye
and the ending of the rainbow
where the mountains, they touch the sky


in on the relationship front |

bspicecheesecake

It’s mm’s birthday today. I called her at her midnight, and then again her dinnertime. Not enough time to talk. I have to make it up to her somehow. Not just cake, take her someplace nice like south of France or Venice. This is the cheesecake we had at the place on Warwick Ave when she was here in Jan.

ldr

in on the relationship front |

mm has a long weekend, and it’s her birthday soon, so she’s going up to her holiday flat. Which means she’ll be less in contact for me, not that we speak a lot at the weekends. We were on the phone for over an hour the other day, watching the clock till I can leave. I’ve been away too long, I miss her.

in family first , on the relationship front |

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Lunch with mm took on more of a last supper feel than I liked. She took me to nha trang vietnamese restaurant and we had a feast — soft shell crab soft rice roll, prawns on sugar cane stick, roast suckling pig and beef mung noodles. Afterwards we just walked around the area aimlessly, knowing that I need to go home and she needed to go to work. It’s tough, although in a public place too near the office it’s difficult (perhaps a good thing) to let the sadness show.

Everyone had gone out so I had a couple of hours on my own. Then sis and my niece came for dinner. They brought homemade pasta bolongese and baked cheesecake. We took some family pictures and then they had to go home. My flight wasn’t till 1am, but my parents came with me to the taxi anyway. Found an empty desk at the lounge, hooked up the mbp, called mm, and just watched the time go by.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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Sunday lunch at the Star Fruit Tree restaurant where we had chicken and pigs stomach hot pot. Added lamb, chicken blood, winter melon, water chestnuts and a meat filled bun. Ate everything. I also got a chicken and 2 squabs to take home for my parents.

Back into town, stopped by the steamed milk dessert place then it was time to board the bus. We were too full to even go for a quick dinner. All in all we had one main meal a day during our trip, we definitely ate too much! Fantastic.

in going places , on the relationship front |

shunde101prawnveg shunde112roastchicken

Ran away with mm for weekend to mm’s home in Shunde. We met yesterday afternoon at the bus station, the 3.30pm bus took around 3 hours, including stopping for the straightforward border crossing. I daren’t take any pictures but there were at least 4 groups of young children who commute across the border every day to go to school. They were chaperoned, and then their mothers were waiting at the gate just over the Shenzhen border. Imagine doing this daily, wow.

We headed straight for dinner. I wanted lamb, but to our disappointment, the place is gone, only an empty shell of a building remained. We then headed to another nearby restaurant where we had seafood, veg and cheung fun. Equally good. The rest of the evening was spent getting foot and body massage, it was late when we got home.

Saturday we dragged ourselves out of bed and went to pick up a rental car. That was an experience. Because it’s not very common, the place couldn’t accept mm’s credit card so we had to go to the atm to get RMB10,000 in cash for the deposit. Eeek! The car was a BYD car, neither of us had heard of the brand before. It’s a fairly large salon that was just like a Japanese or Korean car. We drove to an outdoor restaurant where the speciality is chicken roasted in clay pots in a fire pit. Very succulent, with crispy skin. We could have the chicken whole or chopped up; we opted for the whole one so we could Henry VII it. The restaurant has its own farm, so the chicken and vegetables didn’t have to travel far.

After lunch we drove to chuan loo (giraffe) theme park. We thought it’d be a farm, but it turned out to be much commercialised with roller coasters and thrill rides and arcade games. The one interesting show was of pigs diving off a short platform. Hmm.

More massage in the evening and we were too full to have dinner. Bought a few cheapo DVDs, had popcorn, and mm fell asleep watching The King’s Speech.


in going places , on the relationship front |

shunde145hotpot

Sunday lunch was at the Star Fruit Tree hot pot place. We had the chicken and pork stomach hot pot and added sliced lamb, chicken blood, winter melon, water chestnut and a meat-filled bun. Very full. I also took a whole chicken and 2 pigeons home. Snack and fruit shopping, and a short visit to the steamed milk dessert place and it was time to catch the bus. Didn’t need dinner, so we ended up with just one main meal a day.

in on the relationship front |

I’m not purposely trying to ignore valentine’s day. I talked to mm this morning, and spent most of the day idly at work. Finished the cheese in the fridge, unpacked even more boxes to the point I can move the rocking chair to the balcony. Battled with the internet connection at home. That was my day. It’s not worth feeling special or celebratory or depressed about it.


in habitat , on the relationship front |

hazmezzelunch

I got may be 4 hrs’ sleep, woke up at 6am to an empty bed. This is hard. Returned the rental car and got the bus back home. Started working on clearing the kitchen. And then the Sky man showed up. He had to come back later when my landlady was home, but the prognosis isn’t good — he can’t go out to the roof to install the dish and it’s just too much hassle. I don’t know what to do.

The only positives are: I cleared out more than 10 boxes in the kitchen and bathroom. Talked briefly with mm. Went running while the sun was still out for 5k.

Last night at the temp apartment. Finished up the chicken wings and coke zero in the fridge. Chicken wings simply have no taste without mm.

What’s that got to do with the pic? It’s the mezze lunch we had yesterday at haz, that mm took me to.

in on the relationship front |

mm is on her way home, we waved goodbye to each other a few hours ago. Took me over 1 hour to drive back to the apartment. Feels so empty, and I’m not just talking about the apartment. I had half a mini-baguette shared with mm in the last 12 hours and I can’t sleep. I keep rubbing my heart, it’s so clichéd and pathetic, but I don’t know what to do or what to feel right now.


in on the relationship front |

sticksadkeanu

This is mm’s last week here. I have to remind myself, before I get totally despondent, that I’ve had her for 1 month, we’ll see each other in a few weeks and there is a chance of her coming here. At this point, we’re taking any and all the time we can get. On the one hand I feel like we missed out on so many years of being apart; on the other hand neither of us are sure of how we’d behave if we do manage to live together again. This month isn’t 100% realistic as we know it’s temporary, and we’re in a temp apartment. It is encouraging that we haven’t had any major rows and by and large we’ve been happy.

I’m can’t help it. I’m sad. The thought of having to deal with a much reduced living space, an unfamiliar environment and lack of support is pretty overwhelming. I’m very grateful, very very grateful, for the support from Car’s family whilst I was in Chicago. They made it so much easier, took away all the uncertainties and smothered me with their love. I have to be strong and grown up and all stiff upper lipped here now, otherwise I won’t survive. Well, take a deep breath.

I tried to draw something on brushes but my drawing skills are abysmal. So here’s a fun one I found on google images. What is it? Sad Keanu of course.


in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

mmvermicelli

Did our usual after work rounds at Tesco’s and then mm made me this very simple fried vermicelli with minced beef, bean sprouts and ready made stir fry veg pack.

in on the relationship front |

Originally we had loose plans to go out. May be see a movie, may be go to Camden Market, may be jump on a random bus. Then I got tired after running, and mm was lazing around watching Bones. Before we knew it we’d spent the whole day at home. It was very nice.


in on the relationship front |

ldn199bell

Went walking around covent garden in the afternoon, then home for dinner — chicken wings, mushroom pâté and pork chops. As a little celebration we went to the pub down the road. When I was living at the old temp apartment I kept seeing a sign outside this place asking us to support our local independent pub, so that was what we did. It’s a nice little place, not pricey at all. And they didn’t raise prices or add a cover charge for New Year’s Eve. We’ll go back there again.

in on the relationship front |

This is what it feels like to have a wife. I came home for lunch, and mm had salmon, potatoes and veg ready. After lunch we went to baker street to drop off my deposit but the agent is closed till the new year. I came home after work and we cooked dinner together. Now she’s napping on the sofa and the tv is on. It’s highly domestic and so far we’re finding it enjoyable. If we had to do this long term, we’ll probably find we need time to adjust.



in on the relationship front , outside interests |

Because of the pre-Christmas bad weather and the VAT increase in January to 20%, it’s expected to be a bumper boxing day sales. We made our way to lakeside in the morning, and spent the day walking around the shops. Didn’t buy anything though, nothing screamed out to be bought. On the way back, we went to the bagel shop to get plain bagels, then it was home early so I can make mediterranean chicken stew with cous cous. Another great day for bbmm.


in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

ldn196xmassoup ldn197xmaspheasant

I was supposed to wake up at 3am to get to Heathrow by 5am to pick up mm, but I was too antsy and ended up waking up at 2am. I did go to bed at 9.30pm last night, so at least I got some sleep. It was dark, and the roads were empty so it was an easy drive. It took me until the end of the Embankment almost to Earl’s Court to get used to driving this car, and driving on the once familiar roads.

Her flight was the first to arrive, and by the time I’d reached the meeting point the board showed that it landed at 4.43am. About 10mins later I got a text from her that she’d arrived. And then I replied that I was already there, heehee. It was so great to see her.

I introduced her to the crappy apartment, and she was generous enough to say it’s fine. She set about unpacking while I got our Christmas feast ready. The carrot & butternut squash soup I made yesterday turned out very nice, even though I could have done with a dollop of creme fraiche for presentation. We also had mushroom pâté on some krisprolls with the soup.

The main course took longer than expected because of the barely functioning oven. I’d already broken down the pheasants but they still took a while to cook. Made a rudimentary gravy with chicken stock and some of the bones. Served with carrots, parsnips and new potatoes, all of which had been par-boiled then roasted. Everything washed down with this fabulous châteauneauf-du-neuf from M&S.

We were too full for dessert. While waiting, she got tired so went to bed for a nap. I joined her for a little while and then got up in the evening. Watched tv, played mafia wars while she sleeps on, she needs the rest. What a great Christmas with mm.

in on the relationship front |

Carrot and butternut squash soup is done, I think it tastes good. Pheasant defrosting in the fridge with the stock. Root vegs parboiled, refreshed and in fridge. Trifle is done.

Went to M&S and got sticky wings. Not the Chinese wings that are our favourite, but this seems to be the closest.

Walked over to St Katherine’s Dock and got the rental car. It’s now parked downstairs. mm is on the plane. 10 hours, or hopefully less.


in on the relationship front |

jl009mm

Two weeks. Two of the best weeks of our lives. Two weeks ago I met mm at Orlando airport and we had a great week at Disney, followed by a wonderful relaxing week here at home.

This morning I took her to ORD and watched as she went through security for her flight out. We did not want to be separated, but sigh, what can we do. We’re doing this for our future. I couldn’t help crying, back in the car, when I stopped at a bank car park when she called, and at home. Everything and everywhere reminded me of her; she’s only been here a week and her imprint is already so strong. Even in the bathroom, eating the the leftover food she made, taking out the trash. I ran 8k for the first time since the marathon, and that reminded me of her too — that I didn’t get a chance to take her out to Foster beach or that it was too windy for us to go cycling. I’ve been tracking her flight all day, in its own window and I stare at the map every few minutes.

I kinda knew it, but I’ve basically avoided it but now only 10hrs after we couldn’t stop waving good-bye at each other, I can’t deny that my life has been lonely and how much I miss her. There’s still a few years of hard work to go, and I’m sure we’ll be fine, I can’t wait to be with her again.


in on the relationship front |

mm’s last full day. We made it to Lincoln Park market finally, had a sandwich picnic on the grass. I’m trying to savour every second. She made me minced beef rice, just like old times, and we watched Transformers. I can’t write more, sorry.


in on the relationship front |

chimm082salmon

Seems all very normal and domesticated, except it isn’t. Not quite. We were both at work, and I waited for mm to finish. Had dinner at home and watched Bones. I so wish today was a normal day for us. Sigh.


in on the relationship front , workstuff |

Drove in to work, cos of the weather and so it’s easier for mm. Showed her around and left her with her dept. She had lots of meetings and it was surreal to see her at odd times between her meetings. I got us sushi for lunch which we both ate in my office. Early night.


in on the relationship front |

chimm005bean

I was determined to take mm out to show her around. Even though she says it’s okay, cos I’m sick, I dragged her out. We hit the usual, the bean, the park, the lake. It was windy although dry. After visiting the town we went to Whole Foods. Made salmon at home, it was nice again. She’s now addicted to Bones and I just happened to have it on Netflix, so we’re watching it. Very domestic, watching tv at home.

in on the relationship front |

chimm066sather

Weather was crap today, rain and thunderstorms. I wanted to take mm to Lincoln Park market, but was discouraged by the weather and the fact that I was sick. What we did was to go to Ann Sather’s for brunch and I took her to Jewel’s. Just a relaxing day.

in going places , on the relationship front |



Checked out of the hotel and went back to Epcot. Did Soarin’ and Test Track again. Lunch of burgers at the electric umbrella and it was time to say good-bye to WDW. Sniff, sniff.

We had different seats on the flight back, she was up front in first and I was back in coach. I was really tired and we sat there in the food court and I fell asleep at the table! Taxi home and it was time to introduce mm to my apartment. I think she likes it. Neither of us want to leave Orlando, but it was nice to be home. I’ve been fighting a cold all week, and it was great to sleep in my own bed. Having mm there was a big bonus of course.

in going places , on the relationship front |

wdwak082giraffe wdwak099rhino

full flickr set: here

Our last full day here, full of memories. Today is the turn of Animal Kingdom. Again parking was organised and we were at the entrance in no time. We headed straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari and got a fastpass. There was time, so we did the Rafiki Planet Watch train ride and walked around the Pagani Nature Trail. Even before going into the safari we’d seen tigers, gorillas and bats. The Safari was modeled after a regular African safari, and the animals there did roam free. There were elephants, hippos, rhinos, wilderbeests, thompson gazelles, cheetahs, flamingos and warthogs. Reminded us of Kenya. So nicely done that we got another fastpass immediately to go on it again.

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Lunch was fairly standard American Chinese food in Asia — orange chicken, sweet and sour beef, with rice. We’d purposefully opted out of the meal plan, wanted more flexibility to what we ate. It’s a good plan, where you can have 3 self serviced or 2 self serviced and 1 served meals a day, plus snack. The thing is, we have to eat at disney resaturants. If we’d been on the plan we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to the lobster place last night.

Anyway, we took some pictures at the tree of life and against the expedition everest ride (no, we didn’t go on that). We did go on the Kali River Rapids, and luckily didn’t get very wet, compared with some people who were completely soaked.

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Then it was time for the parade. AK wasn’t very crowded today and we even managed to find a couple of stools to sit on the side of the road. Plenty of space to watch. This parade isn’t as good as the others, we still enjoyed it. There was time for pictures with Pluto, Goofy, Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore before catching the Nemo show.

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Animal Kingdom closes early, at 5pm. The day was far from over. Had dinner at the lobster place again, this time the quality wasn’t as good, so it will be our last visit. After dinner it was time to hit Magic Kingdom again for the Electric Parade and the fireworks. We didn’t get a very good view of the electric parade, stuck at the side with an official bang in our way. With our cameras (mm got a new s95 before coming here) we were doing pretty good.

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Oh. The fireworks. Absolutely beautiful, set against Cinderella’s castle. mm took pictures while I took videos. Afterwards we did not want to leave. We lingered to have a dole whip, and take pictures of the castle. Absorb absorb absorb the atmosphere. We had to practically trea ourselves out, because the trams to the car park were ending service. Sigh.

in going places , on the relationship front |



full flickr set: here

A really hot day today for Epcot. Lovely park, I can see why it’s a favourite. We started at Future World, got a fastpass fo Soarin’ and then set about exploring the rest. There was Nemo & friends, the shops at Innoventions, and Club Cool, where we could try for free different flavours of soft drinks from all over the world. Perfect for a hot day.

What can I say about Soarin’ but how amazing it is. It’s a simulation of hang gliding through different parts of California, from the beach to vineyards to downtown LA. I managed to video most of it. Very relaxing, very awesome.The other side of Future World was Mission: Space and Test Track. More rides that I want to go on again. We actually ended up going on Test Track twice, the second time I videoed as well.

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Our visit coincided with the International Food and Wine Festival, where in addition to the countries at world showcases, there were stalls from other countries with signature foods and wines. We had scallops from NZ, lamb and barramundi from Australia, mussels from Belgium and a beer flight of 3 different beers. A little expensive, still worth trying for the experience. We visited several countries, shops and boat rides. Very relaxing.

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We got a voucher for boston lobster feast. It’s not by any means an upscale restaurant, but the lobsters were good and kept coming. There was also clam chowder, shrimp, other seafood, prime rib and salad. I think I had 3 or 4 lobsters, by the end I was only having the tail, didn’t even bother with the head or claws. Made a change from all disney all the time, and I’m glad we have a car.

Went back to Hollywood Studios for a walk around and shopping. Still couldn’t get into Toy Story. We have to leave something for next time, right?

in going places , on the relationship front |

uni006main uni020seuss

full flickr set: here

Universal studios today. Or more precisely the Islands of Adventure part, there are 2 parks and this is the one everyone goes to, because of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But first, there was the main street and the Seuss section. We breezed past the Seuss section, cos we know nothing about Seuss. In any case we wanted to get to Hogsmeade.

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The village was authentic, with Hogsmead station and Hogwarts express. There was a Honeyduke’s for sweets, owl post, restaurants, Ollivanders and of course butterbeer. Yummy. The castle at the other end of the village was home to the ride. It was a very intense and occasionally dizzy ride. Strapped in a pod, we went up and down, sideways and rotating all around while play quidditch, or fighting death eaters. The line was long, about 1.5hrs, I thought it was worth the wait.

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Lunch of ribs, corn, rice, beans and it was onto the rest of the park. Jurassic Park, Toon land and Popeye’s boat, and another signature ride, Spiderman. This one was 3D too, following Spidey as he flies from building to building fighting villains. Good fun. The outside of the park, between IoD and the studios, is an area called Boardwalk. There are restaurants, cinema and a hard rock café. I wanted to get a shirt there, but alas, it looks exactly the same as my London shirt. Not worth getting.

On the way back, we stopped by the Premium Outlets. We were both pretty tired by then so we did the outlets very quickly. Dinner was drive-thru McDonalds heehee. I wanted the angus burger and mm hasn’t had it before. We sat at a comfy cushioned seat by the lake back at our hotel, proving that it isn’t necessary to go for fine dining to have a nice meal.

in going places , on the relationship front |

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full flickr set: here

Monday. Park #2. Hollywood Studios. Oh wow. What a collection of bright colours. From reading online guides, we knew that we must go to Toy Story Mania to get a fastpass first thing, but we were too late, all had been given out. So we went back to the entrance and started exploring. The centrepiece was the giant Mickey’s sorcerer’s hat in the middle, and it was a landmark. The long stretch of Sunset Boulevard on the right was full of shops, which led to the popular Tower of Terror and Rock’n’Rollercoaster rides. We went to the respective shops but didn’t go on the rides.

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What we did catch were all the shows, we were at the showtimes board constantly and managed to fit them all in:

  • Beauty and the Beast — where they fit the musical into just about 25mins
  • Indiana Jones — with the actual stunt doubles who did the stunts on Raiders and reenacting the scene with the WW2 plane
  • Lights, Motor, Action — driving stunts, including chases, leaps over trucks, motorcycles, speedboats and cars coming through a building
  • Backlot tour — gentle train ride through parts of the working studiio
  • Great Movie Ride — another gentle ride with a little action, presenting movie history

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We caught the block party parade, with singing and dancing cartoon characters. And then it was time for Fantasmic. I’d originally planned for us to start at Epcot then end up here for the show, I’m glad we just did Hollywood Studios in a day. By the time we got there, more than 1hr before the show was due to start, all the seats had been taken. We were lucky to get 2 standing places at the front of the standing area, which turned out to be pretty good locations. The signature Fantasmic show was all about water, laser and all the disney characters. Very spectacular and a great end to another wonderful day.

in going places , on the relationship front |

wdwmk033parade wdwmk090mickey

full flickr set: here

We had breakfast at the pepper market again, and then set off for our first disney adventure. Where else but the magic kingdom? We were there the whole day, and we could have stayed much longer if we weren’t so tired.

Parking was free for disney resort guests so we saved $14. The car park is huge, but very well organised and marked. Trams took us to the entrance and we took the monorail over to the park. Magic Kingdom is the one that other disney parks around the world is modelled on, so the layout is familiar. We had our first photopass pic taken at the main entrance, just below the railway station. It is as easy as they say, just hand the card over to the photographer and pose.

We were lucky to catch a parade straightaway, what a good start. The park was crowded, as expected. Our first ride was Stitch’s Great Escape at Tomorrowland, only a 5min wait, it was great. We got a fastpass for Buzz Lightyear and lined up for the Speedway. In between, we rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority ride. Everything was as magical as advertised.

After Tomorrowland we explored Toontown. I hadn’t expected to stay there long, we ended up spending a fair bit of time at Mickey’s and Minnie’s houses. Lunch was pizza and pasta, nice and simple. After lunch we did the relaxing rides — Snow White, Pooh, Philharmagic. The only disappointment was that Small World was closed for renovation. Onward to Liberty Square, the Haunted Mansion and a ride on the steamboat. Again, relaxing. We gave Big Thunder Mountain a miss but went on Splash Mountain. It was way less scary than I remembered.

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Before dinner we went to explore the shops on main street. Oddly enough, neither of us were tempted to buy, although it was great to explore. I had dinner reservations at the crystal palace, it was a character dinner with pooh, tigger, piglet and eeyore. The food was standard buffet fare of salad, chicken, roast, pasta. The characters came by and took pictures with everyone. It was great.

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It was almost dark by the time we came out of dinner. It turned out that it was one of the nights of the Halloween Party, which was extra admission. We were supposed to have a wristband but we kind of stuck around and managed to catch the parade. Tired but very happy.

in going places , on the relationship front |

wdwcs016sunset

December — I finally got the pics done and loaded, so I’ll be posting catch up posts for our vacation in Orlando.

My flight was in the morning, and I toyed with taking public transport for a second before deciding on taxi. Check-in and flight were uneventful, it actually arrived early. As I was on the way to pick up my luggage, mm called me, frantic. She’d missed her flight at Miami. I couldn’t get much details while I was trying to console her. She was first on the waiting list for the next flight, in about 1 hour, and I was hopeful that she’d get on. I guess she isn’t as familiar with domestic flights.

Her luggage came with the original flight, which arrived less than 30mins later. I grabbed it and found a bench seat. She called back and confirmed she had gotten on the later flight so all was well. Worse case scenario, it’s a 4hr drive to Miami, and I would have done it.

We got the rental car and to the resort without any more drama. I’d gotten a good deal at the coronado springs. Wow, it’s a huge hotel. We got a room in building 8A in the cabanas area, it’s a decent 3-star room with enough space and a large bathroom. Nothing fancy.

It was already dark, so we walked out to the El Centro lobby area and had dinner at the Pepper Market. That is a self-service place with different stations for different types of food. In keeping with the southwest theme of the resort, we had Mexican. It’s so good to be eating with mm again, even though she was pretty tired. Went back to the room and she was asleep right after showering. Took me a longer time, I played on the mbp for a bit while she slept.


in going places , on the relationship front |

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In less than 24 hours’ time I will meet up with mm at Orlando airport. I’m arriving from ORD, she’s arriving from LHR. Then we will pick up a rental car and drive to walt disney world. We’ve been planning this for a while, and been looking forward to it immensely. Everything is planned, and I’ve reserved tickets and done as much prep as I can:

  • flight — we’ve both checked in to our respective flights already; she’s coming back to Chicago with me
  • taxi — my taxi is booked for tomorrow morning; she is taking a taxi to Paddington, and has her Heathrow Express ticket already
  • car — I researched all the big car rental companies and finally got a deal at Dollar, for an SUV even cheaper than a compact at Hertz/Avis
  • hotel — booked through a travel agency, who found us a nice deal at the Coronado Springs resort
  • meals — we’re not taking the dining plan, as we wanted to be flexible…it’s not that useful for 2 adults
  • meals part 2 — I have a booking at the disney character dinner at the crystal palace; she doesn’t know about it, i hope she likes it
  • park tickets — I got park hopper tickets at pre-increase prices by buying them early; also got a 1-day pass for universal
  • maps — all printed
  • itinerary — have a high level idea of which park to go on which day, but leaving it flexible
  • photopass — prepaid for the photopass cd, saving $50

I’d say we’re ready for a nice time.

in on the relationship front |

Time is running out to spend with mm. Originally wanted to meet for lunch, but she was tired so I said let’s meet in the afternoon. A few more hours lost. We’ll have time, some other time.

Saw Up in the Air. Although I’ll never get millions of miles like the George Clooney character, there were a few similarities especially when I was travelling so much a few years ago, not least that I recognise that all admiral’s club lounges look the same. There was some serious product placement in that film — AA and Hilton and Hertz stand out. mm said she never wants me to become like that, I know she always worried whenever I travel.

Dinner at our usual korean place. We didn’t even need to discuss — korean for lunch and dinner were 2 different places, and it was automatic.

She showed me a couple of iphone games she’s been playing, and we eventually fell asleep at 1am.


in how the day went , on the relationship front |

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Went to the office after lunch. Talked for a bit with my colleagues but mainly it was spending time with mm. She was busy but was able to get away early so we can go to dinner. I had a couple of hours to spare, it was perfect to photograph the wan chai area. There are still old buildings and temples there, not sure how much longer they will be around. I’ve always always wanted to photograph the blue building, it’s kind of a mecca for photographers.

hk230rice hk224fish

For dinner, mm took me to a Japanese grill place. We had warm sake and the usual grilled food — ox tongue, fish, chicken wings. Our favourite turned out to be riceball skewers, the rice was grilled to perfection. Yum.

I had a legitimate excuse to stay with her tonight — I need to use her wifi to upload pictures. There’s no wireless at home, I couldn’t connect via ethernet, and Sis’ network was so screwed up by her network engineer friend that I couldn’t find a single connection. So, it’s over to mm’s place. One click and the airport was on. Of course that’s because she has my airport express and I set it all up myself. Heehee.


in how the day went , on the relationship front |

Another bbmm day. We had lunch at a “modern” chachantang (although they’ve been in business for decades) then aimlessly walked around. Eventually ended up where the marathon expo was happening and I picked up my kit a day early. Went for foot massage at the usual place then went back to our respective homes.


in how the day went , on the relationship front |

hk102cnytimes

Times Square CNY decoration is a giant vase and ball, very red but pretty nice. We took advantage of mm still on holiday to meet up there to check out glasses. I had my eyes tested. Sigh, slight presbyopia (old age eyes) has begun to set in, but not serious enough yet. The optometrist says I can survive as is for another year or so.

When we have no plans, we tend to want to go on a bus ride, so we took the #968 and ended up in yuen long. Had dessert, bought some snacks, walked the length of the main street and took the bus back out. No plan is a great plan.


in family first , going places , on the relationship front |

Flight arrived early at 6.45am, I was one of the first off and was out through Immigration quicker than the bags. My duffel came out first (as in the first off the belt) but the suitcase only came with the non-priority bags, brrrr. Got on the train, called home, off the train straight to the taxi and I was home by something like 7.30am. It’s cold. No heating. Took a while to unpack all the food I’d brought back. Showered and got online. Very frustrated that I can’t seem to connect my mbp to the modem, Mum doesn’t have wifi. So now I’m stuck with the 2004 PC that runs like a run/walk marathoner at mile 22. Sigh.

The good thing was, I had steamed fish for lunch and everything my parents cooked was great. It is nice to see them.

Went out in the afternoon to meet up with mm. It is valentine’s day after all. She was tired and asleep. What else could I do but join her? I was jetlagged too. Eventually we pulled ourselves up, cos otherwise we’d sleep through the night. She took me to a conveyor belt sushi place that was very yummy. The plan was to walk around but my energy level was fading so I called it a day.


in eating and drinking , on the relationship front |

korlunchoctopus

It isn’t exactly the food, although it does taste nice; what I miss is going out with mm. Aside from people at work, my family and the very occasional social event, mm is the only person I go eat out with. I’ve learned that I dislike eating out alone in a restaurant — I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done it, and all of those occasions I was on a business trip. Fast food, or even casual buffet, is fine. Restaurant? No way.

Japanese food is our favourite, and second will be Korean food. The clay pots, bbq beef, a whole table of side dishes. Yum.

in on the relationship front |

Been talking to mm a lot, ever since she remembered my number and been calling me during my evenings. just as well cos I have too many meetings my morning and sometimes I can’t catch her before she goes to bed. We need to work on: a) her visiting and b) where we go for holiday next year.

in going places , on the relationship front |

Ten years ago today, 29 Sept, I arrived at New York. It was the first time I’d moved from one country to another on my own. Even though I was familiar with Asia and Europe, I was less familiar with the US.

I found this when I was cleaning up my writing stuff earlier. I’d had these scraps of paper with scribbled words for ages and ages. This is what I wrote those first days, most of it for mm. I typed it up unedited.




Brand New New Yorker

29/9
Did I tell you that when I checked in the desk clerk told me that seat 83K wasn’t reserved, but it was available anyway so I took it anyway but it turned out the recline didn’t work! Luckily the seat next to me wasn’t occupied so it was ok, the entire upstairs was only half full anyway. Couldn’t sleep very well, wrong time of day, ate and watched the films — most repeats. The Matrix, Love Letter. What the hell it helps pass the time, quite comfy anyway. Thought about you, did you hear me say good night and to wake you up? Stopped myself from thinking too much about missing you. Soon it’ll hit me that I’m not on vacation, this is for real and going to be for a long time. Busied myself thinking about where to go for your last twentysomething do, and guess what, the west coast isn’t the only place between NY and HK, there’s the whole of Europe! What about Venice or Eastern Europe?

One hour stopover in Vancouver, first time in Canada. Forgotten how pretty things are here, well designed. I know how biased you are against Canadians (Chuey…) so I didn’t get you a souvenir. Still quite tired, sitting at a coffee shop near the gate writing to you after searching in vain for an internet connection. Walked around the duty free places but no concept of how much things are, too tired to convert currencies. Can’t believe how many Asians here, announcements in English Cantonese and Mandarin. Saw logs floating on the river first time with my own eyes. Guess I’ll be using ‘first time’ a lot. It’s 2am HK time, are you asleep yet? I miss you.

30/9
Amazingly I got out in 15mins! Plane landed and we had to wait for the previous plane to vacate the parking space but once we parked I was able to get through Immigration really quickly, no comments or problems. Luggage was one of the first out and nothing at customs either. Ernie was surprised. The apartment is nice inside, can’t believe how much it costs though. A one-bedroom apartment, pretty good size we’ll be quite comfortable even if we both had to stay here. I wish you were here. Neighbourhood seems ok decent, delis, supermarkets, laundries. Bought some pizza and ate back at the apartment. Bought a phone card, prepaid with a dial-in number and an access number. Supposed to be cheaper than using the phone here. I called Mum and of course I called you, want to tell you everything but now I can’t really put words into how I’m seeing things. Lots of TV channels but not sure what is on, far too confusing for someone like me who’s used to only 4 channels plus a few on cable. Went to bed at around 11pm but woke up twice. Woke up at 7-ish couldn’t sleep more. Watched TV and read the newspaper. Raining this morning but it got sunnier later. Quiet street here not many people around.

2/10
Forced by necessity and that sense of expectation to venture out of the relative familiarity of the apartment. Promised my grandma and aunt and cousin I’d visit them, so had to go take the subway (including buying a stored value ticket) and getting a monthly train pass. All so strange, such a long time ago that I took a train. Walked from Times Square to Penn Station with the sun in my eyes, felt like a tourist yet wasn’t a tourist. Had a salad in a deli salad bar, keep adding to the places I’d take you when you come visit. Trains all over the world are so alike, buy ticket, go to platform, give ticket to conductor, change trains, avoid dozing off. Suburbs everywhere also the same, just the size varies and the names on the storefront different. But the same mentality people go through the same motions.






I never wrote more. It took me about 4 weeks to find my eventual apartment on E96th, and that weekend of moving everything on foot was an experience I’d rather never go through again. New York was lonely, I was never very happy there. I never got any visitors, not mm, not my parents, because not quite 1 year after I arrived, I got pulled out to Zurich. I guess this is why I’m so grateful for this second chance in Chicago.


in on the relationship front |

Talked to mm for over 1 hour today, cos she had lots to tell me, and needed to talk to me about stuff she is working on. She had called around her friends — sf, people from church, other personal friends — to ask advice. I kinda commented on the number of people she approached. And then she mock complained that the person she really needed to talk to was me, but I was asleep half way round the world. I said no wonder i kept waking up.

Sigh. It’s tough. There are times I feel so guilty for taking this assignment. Sometimes I miss the simple sensation of physical contact. Most times I shut down those feelings so much that I know that I’m in danger of losing the ability to conduct a relationship. Oh well, it is what it is. What to do. What to do.


mm

in on the relationship front |

mm is in London for a business trip, so we’ve been taking advantage of the time difference. I call her when she’s back in her hotel room after dinner. It’s nice to hear her voice.

in how the day went , on the relationship front |

First the factual bit. We woke up early, the alarm went off at 6.15am. Was out of the door at 7am to go to the airport express. Check-in took only a few minutes, then we went to McDonalds for tea before I had to get on the train for the airport.

There was just enough time to go to the lounge to get a bottle of water before I had to sprint to the gate. Both flights (to Tokyo and from Tokyo) were virtually empty and I had 2 seats to myself throughout. Watched some films, ate the food served to me, and was able to sleep for about 4 hours. Immigration at Chicago was atrocious, it took 1.5 hours from landing to getting on the taxi. Did laundry, went to the supermarket and cooked dinner. Tried to stay awake till normal time.

Sounds clinical and boring. But what i didn’t add were the feelings. From the beginning of the day we tried to spend as much time as possible together. I lingered as long as possible at the airport express, until just before the train was due to leave. But eventually time catches up on us and we had to hold each other close and say our good-byes. Both of us were crying by then.

I spent most of the comfortable flight over wondering what the hell I’m doing, leaving mm behind like this. Good career prospect, opportunity for writing and perhaps being published, welcoming friends — are they enough? I know we have our share of problems in our relationship, and that we’ve done the long distance thing before, but this feels different. I’m not sure how long this assignment is, I know for sure I have no job back because I’ve outgrown the region, I know I don’t want to be moving around so much anymore.

So where does it leave us? We’ve not talked about it, like we never talk about us. There’s an understanding and expectation that we will stay together. There are issues I’d like resolved before we embark on the rest of our lives, this is my point of view. so many unknowns.

We are both at high points in our careers, coming up to real responsibility and with it, earning power. From a purely practical and materialistic pov, the next few years we can make enough to be really comfortable and not have to worry about the future. May be that’s the medium term goal?

Sigh. I don’t know. I miss her like hell. I don’t miss her as much as I thought. I’m in a confused place that is entirely of my own making. And so how am I supposed to do now?


in how the day went , on the relationship front |

hklym15geoduck hklym16fish

no spa today, but equally great. mm and i took the common ferry to the small fishing village on the other side. It’s quite a touristy area and famous for its seafood. You buy the seafood from a specialised shop then bring it to a restaurant to cook. mm treated me to a real treat — geoduck sashimi, a great steamed fish, steamed clams and cockles. The restaurant’s name was Happiness, and it was a happy meal.

We walked around the village a little, hitting a local temple and life buoys on fences that were marked decoration only. Stopped for a tea, then our walk was cut short when it started raining.

Resting back home, then went out to the wet market to get frog. Yes, frog. mm is so good at cooking that. Simply cooked with mushroom, and we both love frog. I even took a video of the legs and portions twitching when salt was added. A bit surreal and not for the squeamish, so I’ve put it behind the cut.

in easily amused , on the relationship front |

yet another facebook meme that my cousin tagged me. But i’m not posting on that account, and i’m emailing it to mm in private heehee.

You know the drill… copy & paste into a note, change your answers, then tag your friends. Oh, and make sure you send your answers to your spouse/significant other to let him/her check!

  1. She’s sitting in front of the TV, what is on the screen?
    korean drama

  2. You’re out to eat/what kind of dressing on her salad?
    oil and vinegar, or no dressing

  3. What’s one food she doesn’t like?
    no particular food, but if it’s not fresh or poorly made she can tell

  4. You go out to eat and have a drink. What does she order?
    she’s usually okay with the water or tea that is served, but sometimes she’ll join me for a diet coke or half a glass of beer if I’m having beer; for a more elaborate meal: wine or sake depending on the cuisine

  5. Where did she go to high school?
    I know where, but I’m not posting it in public

  6. What size shoe does she wear?
    4.5-5 (UK)

  7. What is her favorite type of sandwich?
    chicken, ham and egg (oh wait, that’s me)

  8. What would she eat every day if she could?
    chicken, fish

  9. What is her favorite cereal?
    Alpen, museli, not too sweet

  10. What would she never wear?
    a bikini

  11. What is her favorite sports team?
    she doesn’t really watch sports

  12. Who did she vote for?
    not american

  13. Who is her best friend?
    M, Y, from school: CC, M

  14. What is something you do that she wishes you wouldn’t do?
    too uptight, yell at her for no good reason, gets “darkfaced” when she’s late

  15. What is her heritage?
    and another one I’m not posting in public

  16. You bake her a cake for her birthday; what kind of cake?
    cheesecake or chocolate or just plain, she’ll like them all

  17. Did she play sports in high school?
    not a lot

  18. What could she spend hours doing?
    sleeping, watching tv

  19. What is one talent she has?
    she works so hard, and is so smart

  20. What’s her favorite color?
    something bright: red, white


in on the relationship front |

A day with mm, how much better can it be?

Lunch with her family — all of them. Both her brothers have kids now and we were playing and really enjoying ourselves. I sometimes find I relate better with kids than adults, kids ask questions but adults’ questions usually render me speechless or bored.

Then we went to the big shopping centre, didn’t buy much, just walked around. She didn’t go to too many clothes shops and I behaved and wasn’t too bored. Had a long sit down at a coffee shop, we shared a portion of waffles.

Went back to her place so I can pick some pudding that she forgot to bring with her. Showed her facebook, and relaxed a little.

Dinner was hotpot, wasn’t the place we wanted to go this was a little run-down, but okay. It was spending time together that was nice.

in all about people , on the relationship front |

I just came home from a wedding dinner of an old friend from college. Man, it’s a huge number of years since we were all students together (I originally put a number, but decided against it :P). Looking around the group, there’s so much achievement, we should all be proud. This is the largest alumni gathering I’ve been to, a good 5 tables were King’s people. Some I hadn’t seen for years but we chatted like the old days; some I hardly recognise; some were even before my time.

The dinner was at the Four Seasons, very posh, very grand. I’m glad I went home after work and changed into my nice $300 suit. There were people in jeans but mostly it was formal. Still, I was unconventional and wore my black and yellow Converse. Hee.

To my friend’s credit, he managed to seat people at the same table as their closest contemporaries. It was quite surreal. The only blemish was that mm couldn’t make it cos she’s on a business trip. I tried not to sound like I’m an expert on where she is, what she’s doing but sometimes people ask cos they care and I tell them. Well, we’ve known our friends for far too long, if they have issues surely they would have defriended us long ago.

in on the relationship front , photography is life |

nz1373rotorua

The theme for this week’s photo friday is relationship. While I have a few hundred pictures with mm, I didn’t want to enter those. It’s boring for other people to see pictures of us. Plus, I would never allow personal pictures to be seen in public.

This one was taken at Lake Tarawera near Rotorua in New Zealand. It’s a pretty lake, not the prettiest we saw on that trip. We were there late afternoon so it was quiet, it was nice to spend a few minutes enjoying the water and the small sandy beach. I took this picture of our shadows in the shallow water, it was a spur of the moment shot, the light was just right. [#262]

in on the relationship front |

When I spoke with her on Friday she said she’ll call me saturday night so we can arrange lunch on sunday. Well, there was no call last night. No call this morning, and I was up at 9.30am. When she finally called at 1pm she was on her way to her facial, so obviously it wasn’t to arrange lunch with me.

Under the guise that I’d go over for swimming, I went over to her place at almost 5pm. Ended up being a pillow on the couch while some godawful boring TV program was on. I was stuck with nothing to do, nothing to read, nothing to drink. Talk about utter boredom. I could have just stayed home and read.

It dawned on me that it’s all been a massive waste of time, all these years.

in on the relationship front |

spafourseasons
Met mm for lunch at our usual Korean restaurant, but that wasn’t the pampering for the day. After lunch we went to our hairdresser’s to get our hair cut, but that wasn’t the pampering for the day.

mm treated me to spa at the Four Seasons; and I treated her to dinner at the Marriott — those were the pampering for the day.

She’d booked a 90-minute relaxation massage for both of us. We got there 1.5hrs early to use the other amenities. The pampering started with the shower — not only rainforest, but 6 jets from the side. Then it was soaking in a large semi-oval whirlpool with waterfall feature. Sauna and aromatherapy steam room too. The relaxation room had reclining beds, personal TV screen and 3 choices of juices.

When it was time for the massage, we were led to the treatment area and allowed for rest for a few minutes. Initially we booked a double room but for some reason it wasn’t possible. It didn’t matter cos basically I fell asleep shortly after the massage started. I dunno, sometimes I wish I could stay awake during massages to fully appreciate it but other times I’m glad I’m relaxed enough to sleep. It included a hot stone treatment and I woke up for a minute during that.

After the massage we lounged around munching on dried fruit and hot tea. Then it was back to the steam room for one final soak before showering. Everything was available — robes, towels, shampoo, lotion, mousse.

Dinner wasn’t as pampering. We hadn’t been to lunch or dinner buffet for a long time. We agreed that even though it was at the Marriott, the standard isn’t as high as before. Or our expectations have risen up several notches. There was a giant seafood counter, but that was about it as far as wow factor went. It was a nice dinner though, it was great to spend time together and do something special to celebrate our birthdays.

in on the relationship front |

mm came over for lunch, so I spent the morning in and out of the kitchen making the preparations. It’s not often that I have guests for meals — she’s the only one and lately it’s been a couple of times a year so I thought we should have a decent meal This meals clearing the dining table and getting out proper cutlery. Beats sitting at the coffee table in front of the tv for once.

We talked about starter or no starter but then decided on something light. So I made a green salad of romaine hearts, celery, pepper with fried apple. For a special touch I used truffle oil and balsamic and threw in some Serrano ham.

07christmas01

For main course I made roast poussin, roast potatoes and 2 veg. The poussins turned out to be more expensive than I thought, though I bought them anyway. We agreed that a normal chicken would have been just fine.

07christmas02

I did open a bottle of Ch&#226’teauneuf-du-Pape from the bottom of my wine rack. After letting it breathe properly it was extremely nice.

For dessert we steamed one of the small Harrods Christmas puddings she brought back from London and I made custard.

The rest of the afternoon she spent sleeping on my sofa and I alternated between reading and watching this Gordon Ramsey marathon on tv. She has a party tonight so she had to leave at 6pm. I’m still full from lunch, perhaps later I’ll have some fruit, I’m making yogurt cheese. I like having such a quiet day.

in family first , on the relationship front |

Went with mm to see her one week old niece today. As it happened her parents were also there at her brother’s house and it was a nice, albeit short, visit. The baby is very cute and well behaved — even though she was passed around all the adults as well as her almost 4 year old brother — to be coo’ed and held, she slept all the way through.

We took the minibus back to mm’s place and went to a nearby seafood restaurant. Where we promptly had an extremely big meal, hee hee. A whole box of food to doggie bag home.

During showertime (um, please. no one track mind. We were chatting and separated by the shower curtain) we talked about my niece and how not only will she not have any siblings, she won’t have any cousins either. I mean, the only chance she’ll have cousins would be if I had any children. And that is a big no. I don’t mind other people’s kids but I’m too set in my comfy life and routine to change. I don’t even know if I can get used to not living alone. If I were to have any kids, I said, it’ll have to be mm’s. And she has too much on her plate, between family, work, church — to have any sort of time for that.

Isn’t it strange, that when you were like 5 or 6 you tended to think of your future as the typical one, like your parents — marriage, children and all that. But how life doesn’t turn out that way. The only regret is there won’t be anyone genetically descended from me, but that’s not a big deal.

in on the relationship front |

mm has been away on holiday for 10 days. There seems to be a pattern, with us going on holiday separately lately. On the one hand we’re not wanting to be in each other’s hair all the time, on the other hand it’s a little unsettling.

She’s not slept well since she came back on Wednesday so our original plan to spend the weekend together was scrapped, so she can catch up on her rest. She called me this morning and we decided that she’d stay at home and be lazy while I went over in the afternoon. She has dinner with her family so it’s basically just the afternoon.

We had presents to exchange — she got me a Harrods mug, some snacks, a set of coasters from Paris and returned the maps, adaptors and charger I lent her for the trip. I gave her some chocolate, Japanese sweets and the jar of kitkat I got from the office vending machine.

We watched tv and had tea. She made Earl Grey using a teapot (teabags still, but it’s a nice teapot). We had some of the Japanese dessert.

I did my grocery shopping and went home at 6pm. It’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

in how the day went , on the relationship front |

mm got a raise, yay! so she treated me to dinner tonight. We had lobster nachos, rack of lamb and a jug of Sangria. Originally we wanted to have a 3-course meal, but were far too full to have dessert. We were looking forward to either chocolate pudding or apple & blueberry crumble, but that’s for another day.

Walked around a little after, then I got a bus home and she took a taxi. She’s been working very hard these few days; between that and church stuff it’s like we don’t have any time to hang out. Sigh. That’s priorities for you.

in on the relationship front |

mm and I couldn’t stop calling each other today. She’s back from pilgrimage and we were talking quite a bit on the phone, even though the convos were short because we kept being interrupted. :)

in on the relationship front |

I tried checking mm’s flight departure details from Ben Gurion airport but kept getting server busy errors and can’t load the page. Checked Rome airport and looks like the flight landed at 8.34am.

I feel better now.

in on the relationship front |

mm is in Israel, on her pilgrimage. The Foreign Office advises against travelling to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and warns travellers to be vigilant in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and basically the whole of Israel. Terrorism and such like has never really bothered or scared me, there are 100+ people travelling with her and they’re on a religious journey.

Nevertheless, I asked her to email me more often so I know she’s okay. I’ll be more comfortable when they reach Italy next week.

in on the relationship front |

We hadn’t seen each other for almost two weeks, but mm is so busy nowadays with church causes. We had a few hours today in between her finishing work and needing to go to St Teresa’s for rosary service, mass and meetings.

I bought her a rosary bracelet from the catholic store in Chicago that my friend’s mom worked in. I hadn’t given her anything for baptism, I hope she likes it. :)

We went to a Portuguese restaurant for late lunch. By the time we finished it was past 3pm. Walked a little bit, to look for some preserved salted mandarins she wanted to give to Father.

I didn’t go with her to St Teresa’s. I would have wanted to attend the mass but I’m not sure if I can do the rosary prayer meeting beforehand. I did think of bringing the mbp, but that would have been extremely rude.

in on the relationship front |

It’s been a while since we spent more than 24 hrs together, apart from vacation. She’s been here since last night.

I woke up obscenely early, luckily she was able to sleep in a bit. Went out for a late lunch at a nice dim sum place (very nice!), went to the computer centre, then took the bus to the church where she was baptised. Attended saturday service again. Funny, I got on the bus without thinking, and 1/3 of the way there it occured to me, why was I going to church with mm? hee. I think she tricked me. :)

She stayed for meetings and I went home afterwards. I have a pile of ironing to do but I didn’t feel like it.

in on the relationship front |

mm got baptised tonight.

I got to the church around 6.45pm, the mass was supposed to start at 8pm but we were advised to go early to get seated. There were lots of people there already.

Her brother and sis-in-law arrived, and we decided to find seats elsewhere, we found some at the side of the church, so we weren’t facing the fathers, but it was nearer. Pretty good seats. I sat with her parents and her brothers, all in the family.

The mass was long, much longer than usual. Lots of singing. Plus, it was Easter. There were 140 potentials there getting baptised but the fathers and staff there made sure they were done efficiently.

I managed to get a clear picture of mm bent over the basin for baptism, even though it was a back shot it was rather good. The other pictures of confirmation wasn’t as good, let’s home mm’s dad took better ones.

The mass finished 3 hrs later, so it was past 11pm. Then everyone wanted to take photos of the group; with the fathers; in their little groups. People walked up to the “stage” which I always thought was off-limits.

Her brother drove us home. mm will be going to CC for mass tomorrow morning. But I won’t be going.

in on the relationship front |

Happy birthday, mm!

We didn’t see each other during the day, I was at work as usual and I forgot that she took the day off and called her office. Luckily her secretary reminded me. Ooops.

Busy at work but I finally got away and home for packing. There wasn’t time even for the work travel agent to bring the India tickets round for me so I had to pick it up from a strange location at the airport. But I jump ahead.

We met at the in-town check-in and got sorted. Then to the airport so I could pick up said India ticket from the waiting area for limousine transfers.

Flight was at midnight, we were quite tired.

in on the relationship front |

went with mm to the church she’ll be baptized, it’s not the one she normally goes to, but it’s the one I sometimes went to when I was young. I showed her how to get there by bus, cos she normally goes via subway. We walked a little way from the church and had a simple lunch. Walked around the street stalls afterwards, then it was time for her to go to a pre-baptism activity.

Part of me thinks I should have gone with her. Reading her post, her dad even came back especially. Sigh, I’m not being a good … what are we? What are bbmm in the eyes of God?

I read the essay she wrote for Fr Lok, it really flowed. And told a very moving story in simple words without being overly sentimental. It was a journey of someone who found the love of god, obviously written by someone with very strong faith. And I definitely think she ought to translate and post it. I’m not surprised Fr Lok asked her to write an article for the church paper, it’s a good example for all the people studying and even for people who are still pondering.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a specific path that God wants mm to follow — it’s like God has been waiting for her to find love all these years and now that she’s there, He has plans for her enthusiasm, openness and ability. I’m so proud, but there is a small part of me that wonders if I have a strong enough place in it. Well, it’s something we need to discuss and I shouldn’t be posting this on here and shocking mm like this. Sorry!!!!! :)

in on the relationship front |

I haven’t posted in almost a week. Considering how much effort I have been making since October, to have a post a day, it’s something … unusual. I mean, I have a whole stack of odds-and-ends links from sources like cnet and boing boing and newspapers to keep me posting regularly, all I need is to dust them off and write a few sentences. No biggie.

I dunno. Colours seem to be less bright nowadays.

Which is frustrating because this is the time that mm needs me most, to be super supportive. I’m very happy that she’s getting baptised at Easter, it is a reward for her dedication and hardwork ever since she started studying for the doctrine. It’s been something we both want for such a long time. On an intellectual level I totally get her enthusiasm, but on an emotional level, because I went through the “fast track” the most I can do is to be empathetic. It’s the same with toys — I grew up in a toy shop, so there isn’t the utter delight when someone gives me a new toy. I hope mm doesn’t mind and know that I am there for her 500%.

I’m also happy to see that mm has thought through a lot of inner stuff and seems genuinely happy. In fact she’s all glowy and radiant!! Is it what people describe as love? Love for god? I hope so, because god’s love is there, but not everyone gets it.

I just wish I could suss out why I’m feeling so lethargic. I spent most of this weekend at home, and I’m fine with it.

in on the relationship front | | comments (1)

We feel closer after our vacation, hard to say goodbye at the end of a weekend. So now today it’s sunday and I’m at her place. I’ll go to work from here tomorrow.

We touched on the subject of where to live, and whether we can live together again. We joke about too much furniture and mortgages and different hobbies. We want more closeness and intimacy — I always say trying to cram 5 days worth of expectations to 2 is always hard — yet we like the independence and mutual respect. It’s still an open subject. And good to know that we’re not alone.

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The plan was for me to go over tonight, but since I was sick, mm has graciously said she’d come over instead. She brought frozen scallops and cooked them with noodles. Simple but delicious.

Thanks, mm honey.

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The weather was supposed to turn bad, with stormy rain and gusty winds. So we took whatever advantage we could and had lunch outside, at our usual Japanese restaurants, so we could save the food originally earmarked for lunch for dinner. And boy it was very windy alright.

Nice lunch, as usual. I had chirasi set and she had the mackerel / tempura bento. That restaurant needs to start giving us frequent flyer miles (or at least the restaurant equivalent), heehee.

Walked to the nearby market and bought some vegetables and, um, frogs for dinner. It was kinda gross watching the guy skin the animals, but he did it so quickly. I pretended it was fish, cos I can tolerate that. Fresh frogs steamed on rice, yummy.

She has another Korean drama series that is grabbing her intererst, so she was watching it in the bedroom. I was playing around her Powerbook and switching between Travel & Living and BBC, cool. Not long after coming back for lunch, I got real tired and took a nap until almost dinner time.

Lazy day. It’s surprising how close we felt, even in different rooms.

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We met our financial advisor today. We have quite a neat sum, we want to think about retirement, but will we have enough to live on? Our investments are doing fine, she is doing such a good job of researching and keeping an eye on the markets.

What should we do when we retire? Where do we live? How do we keep ourselves occupied? I dunno, I just want to not have to work.

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Today was a public holiday. We started the day with no plans, which isn’t the best way to start a day. It looked like a hot day, even from inside, so I was in no mood to go outside. I should make more of an effort.

A college friend called her early afternoon and we remembered what we needed to do — pay respects to the father of another college friend. So that was decided. We even had dinner with the group and it was quite late when we returned home.

She still had to go home afterwards. Why are we in this situation of living apart? That everything we plan and want to do are crammed in the weekends, but when saturday and sunday comes along it’s like we can’t do/perform all these things like it’s an appointment. Sigh. What to do.

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Today the plan was for yoga. And what did we do? We stayed at home! Heehee. She was feeling crampy, so I rubbed her tummy and we took a nap.

Sometimes you don’t need to do fancy things to enjoy time together. Sitting next to her on the couch, she watching TV, me reading stuff on the PB — that’s heaven already.

I just wish it wasn’t so hot so I don’t drip all over the place, even after a shower. :P

in on the relationship front |

I don’t think I’ve ever been on many dates, and neither has mm. Ours is a practical and unromantic relationship. And I was crabby yesterday and made her worried, instead of being mad, she said why don’t we have a date? Oh how sweet! We went to lunch together too, just the simple congee and noodle place near work.

At first dinner date was karaoke, but it’s booked. Then we wanted to go for steak, but earliest was 8.30pm, so we went back to our normal Jap place. But it was still a date. Sweetness.

Then back home, and it’s just a simple, happy time. Even though it’s totally pouring outside and we got completely soaked (even with the giant golf umbrella), it didn’t dampen our mood.

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Did I mention I love the Garfield t-shirt, even though we joked today that it’s in the way, that we have Garfleid in between our skin and it needs to come off.

Why? Two reasons. First is that you forgot it when we moved from London. It stayed at the bottom of my pile of t-shirts those few years of not being together, cos I didn’t have the heart to throw it away. It reminded me too much. And now you’re wearing it again it gives me a nice feeling.

Second reason is I love how it feels, it’s a very old t-shirt that is quite worn down, which means it’s very thin and smooth. Thin means I can feel better. Feel what? I’ll leave it to your imagination.

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Flew back today, not recommended to fly when you’re sick, I tell ya. Apart from the coughing, it’s the pain inside your ears when the plane lands, no amount of swallowing, yawning or chewing gum can help.

It was hot too, so imagine a miserable me getting home, bone tired. And what a sight to greet me! My darling mm was home and she made me soup!!!!!

Every unhappy cell went away all of a sudden :) .

in family first , on the relationship front |

We had lunch with my family today, and dinner with hers. A truly “meet the parents” kind of day. Of course she knows my folks well, and I’m almost part of her family. But … there’s always the but.

Lunch we went to the club at the small island by the beach. My niece had a great time and we ordered food for the bbq the club set up outside. It was really hot and I wasn’t prepared, had only a vegetable-like T-shirt on and must have looked like a vegetable. Food was good though.

Foot massage in the afternoon, then dinner with her family. Proper served meal and private room. Very nice food, good company. Needless to say, I’m extremely full. Her Mum gave me some herbal tea, cos I was breaking out in spots and she boiled it specially for me.

Just to show how different our respective families are. Mine is more serious, have a more simple view of the world. Hers is more worldly, knows about relationships and in general more noisy, but in an endearing kind of way.

Don’t think they’ll mix terribly well though.

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We met up with our financial advisor today. Though most of our money is held separately, we have an investment account in our joint names. Actually it’s 2 accounts, one lumpsum and the other a monthly savings plan.

It’s grown, and we have a neat and tidy sum there. It was all her idea and I just latched on, so I’m glad she thought about it.

We’re going to open another one, to house the GBP I have sitting as cash in my account for so many years, not earning much. It’ll be spread between one fund is invested in college campus accommodations and another fund that’s a hedge of hedges.

I still don’t know what to do with my bonus. I want to buy more CHF but it’s dreadfully expensive, so is EUR and GBP. It’s frustrating when the dollar is so weak. With interest rates still low it doesn’t make sense to repay my mortgage. I have to do more research, but I know that I’ll just end up relying on her ideas.

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I noticed through bloglines that mm has updated her weblog with 4 entries! And I totally missed them, what sort of webmaster am I?? *Well, the sort that turned off email notification, that's how*.

They're such great entries, I have to go read them again and add my own. I feel proud of her achievement, but on the other hand, a little worried cos she's got so much pressure and expectations placed on her shoulders.

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It's the second Wednesday of me staying at her place. It's becoming a habit, yay.

Bonus communication today. Remember last year? I had no expectations, and even though it was less, I was happy.

This year's bonus was higher than last year's, and I got a 3% salary increase, which was unexpected. I'm happy. I know other people probably got more, but I'm still happy with what I got.

So we went out to celebrate, for a Japanese meal. Twitching fish, fish soup, extra sashimi, grilled fish. I had a choya.

It's a good feeling, hope it can become a habit.

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It does seem to be work out this way, but I don't think it's set in stone or mandatory. And she commented on it this morning.

It usually works out that if we're at my place I cook and if we're at hers she cooks. Witness today. We started the day at my place, so I made lunch of steamed sausages on rice and veg, plus dumplings. After lunch we hung out leisurely for a bit, she washed her hair, checked email. Then we took a bus out to the beaches and walked around. Ended up at her place. And now it's time for dinner and I'm playing on the iMac while she makes our dinner of crab, fish and soup.

Really, it's a coincidence but that's exactly how it happened.

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We had last weekend's episode of a program we needed to watch, cos we have to catch up. I recorded it on my video but we were at her place over the weekend. So anyway I took it as an excuse to see her. We met for simple dinner, walked home to her place and watched it together.

Just a rare weekday we can spend together. :)

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The weather's been shit. Either it's so hot it's like a sauna, or suddenly there's a thunderstorm. Which left puddles along the road.

So on our way out of the library to the café where we wanted to have afternoon tea we had to walk along a narrow stretch of pavement that brought us a bit too close to a few large pools of water. I noticed, I thought she'd too. But alas, no. She got royally drenched by this stupid car that was going very fast and straight onto the puddle of water. I watched the wheel hit the water and splashed all over her. Direct hit.

She was miserable and angry. Of course I helped out with the cleaning up and the commiseration. But inside a small part of me was laughing. At how she managed to get bullseyed. And how she didn't notice and got out of the way. I mean, I saw the car coming and stopped.

I feel like I'm a bad person. You're in a relationship, you expect to be supportive with each other, not making fun when it's inappropriate. what's wrong with me?

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It's so hot. But what am I doing about it? Zilch. Right now I'm in the study and I should have the aircon on but I don't bother, I just have the vertical fan giving scant reprieve from the stifling heat and humidity.

I feel sticky, even after a shower. mm says it's because I use hot water. She didn't say it like I should or should not be using water at that temperature, it was just an objective observation.

Last night was bad, very bad. I had the aircon on full blast and I felt myself getting hotter and hotter, even without any covering. My back and neck were burning up. We were getting a little flushed cos we hadn't seen each other in 2 weeks and we both wanted the same thing. But then I got far too hot and had to cool off and then, horrors, we both fell asleep.

Missed the golden opportunity. Ooops.

I couldn't have physical contact cos my skin'd stick to hers if I did. Took me a long while to actually get to sleep.

Heat.
Flush.
Feverish.
Steamy.
Passion.

in on the relationship front |

It's been a fantastic long weekend. We both subconsciously decided to put our problems aside and communicate more and make the relationship work. I think, hope, we've grown closer.

Today we took a long distance bus, had lunch walked around the shops and just enjoyed each other's company. It was nice. May be in the long run our lives can be like this all the time.

I have hope.

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So yesterday I took a half day and was gone by noon. Picked up some Easter Eggs and ingredients for soup then headed for her place. She originally said she'd stay over at mine's the night before my birthday but she was too sick, fever and stomach flu. I feel guilty because I let her sense my disappointment, even though logically and rationally she wasn't in any shape to travel.

She was really tired so I left her in bed. Had a quick lunch, did some surfing, played Dope Wars, which I haven't done in a long long long while.

Eventually I crawled into bed as well, although I didn't consciously intended to sleep I pretty much fell asleep immediately. I must have been dreaming or stressed cos later she told me I was grinding my teeth.

I woke up when she started shivering. She said she was cold and she already had 3 blankets on. The shivering got worse and no amount of holding or wrapping helped. I was really worried. How could she be shivering when her temperature was at 101. Called the doctor who told us to get to his clinic asap (doesn't he do house calls?). He was a bit worried as well and gave her new, stronger medicine.

Getting out and about may have helped, when we got home the shivering had stopped and after an hour or so she felt well enough to brave a shower while I stood watch. For a change no ulterior motives - well, not much.

I didn't stay over. I can't really say exactly why. I'm not going over tonight either.

I feel like I'm being an asshole. Not being there when I'm most needed. There's guilt. A fair bit of guilt.

My feelings are like a seesaw, up and down, hot and cold, and I'm thinking, thinking. I can't stop. Sometimes I have a deep, warm want that spreads up through me unabated. Other times I drift away, my mind on other things, things that have nothing to do with us, even though we're sitting right next to each other.

We both deserve better. Just that right now I don't know if I can give her everything she deserves, just like she's feeling bad that she's falling short of what she wants to give me.

So many words and I'm just skirting round the real issue and feelings.

in on the relationship front |

Yesterday was her birthday, I took her to this champagne buffet brunch, all limitless Moët and 8 kinds of fruit juices and 3 types of oysters and lobsters and giant tiger prawns with cajun flavouring and sushi and prime rib. Highest quality of every sort of luxury food imaginable. Even the pizza was great.

Overindulgence plus probably the result of eating 2 dozen oysters I came down with the mother of all food poisoning. We made it back to her place, just, and I got hit with a splitting headache and the constant need for the bathroom.

I feel so bad to have ruined my baby's birthday. She says it's okay and I know she doesn't mind. But I need to make it up to her.

In a couple of days' time it's my turn. Originally we'd booked another posh buffet but we might cancel and have something simple at home. It really doesn't matter how we celebrate, the most important thing is we're together.

Okay I'll knock off the sickly sweetness now.

in on the relationship front |

Two full days and I did not touch a computer once. Not being at home, my home, helped, still I'm giving myself a little credit for not touching her iMac, hell I only went into her study once to get a T-shirt out of the closet. Even when she's in the shower, or cooking. I was up to part 90-something of a fic that is currently at something like part 150 and just finished chapters that are arguably the best in the series. Lots of anticipation and wanting to read them over and over.

The thought was there. It whispered to me, quite insistently at times, that I can make time and read a couple of chapters. But I wanted to show where my priorities are, should be, that it's what I want. That she's not fighting a losing battle with the computer. Cos that has been mentioned, more than once. May be it's false promises because we both know full well what I'd be doing come Sunday night and all the other nights during the week. That I can't sustain a net-free existence for long and certainly where there is no end date.

Which means that at this stage we're in no way ready to live in the same house again. Even though a small notion, an inkling, is germinating in both of our heads, the way one of us sometimes mentions it in passing. Our lives have moved apart due to the passage of time and circumstances. And we'll need to grow closer and be more comfortable about this new incarnation of our relationship to even start thinking about building a life together.

So much has changed since those early days when we had very little money but so much more freedom. And at one stage, for some bizarre reason, 3 cars. That we didn't have to apologise to anyone, including ourselves, if we slept in till the sun was way up in the sky, or frolicked till the moon has done its rounds through the night, or spread a sleeping bag out in the living room and spent whole days and nights there.

Now, now we're different people. With jobs. And mortgages. And heads that would not stop churning out thoughts. That we talk about when we can afford to take a week's break rather that if we can afford the price of the holiday. That we debate the merits of the different investment fund choices for our portfolio. That we talk about drawing up power of attorney for hospital visitation rights and inheritance rights.

I still have some doubts. I can't forget what has happened before and I don't want it a repeat of the pain. I can't bring myself to say the words. I don't know if I feel them yet. Truly feel them. I wait for the earthquake, the tingles and the breathlessness to hit me but they seem to have passed me by. Perhaps it doesn't work that way any longer. Those are the usual manifestations of a new relationship. Ours isn't new. Even though it's only been 6 months or so this time round. There's too much emotional baggage and history for the earth to shatter. It might tremble a bit but most of the time it'll just rumble on steadily.

We've been together 5 or so years during the last 12. It's not been easy. But I hope we want this enough to make it work. I do.

in on the relationship front |

It's getting warmer, soon I'll have to dry clean and put away my winter coats.

It's a warm tingly feeling when you're buying a hot chocolate for someone who you know will feel all the sweet sugary goodness in that one small cup all the way to their toes.

It's a warm tingly feeling when you both say the same thing, react the same way, at the same time. It's almost like two brains are as one.

It's a warm cozy feeling, having dinner at home. Sashimi and chicken wings and sake. Such simplicity. Such luxury. Such warmth.

in on the relationship front |

I hate it when we argue, hate it hate it hate it.

I hate it even more when we hang up the phone still angry at each other which means we end up going to bed angry.

Fester fester.

Rot rot.

in how the day went , on the relationship front |

... for out of routine sleeping and waking patterns. Christmas Eve we didn't go to bed till like 4.30am, playing mahjong all night. Christmas morning woke up at 1pm, had a nice but rushed lunch and I had to go home to pick up the presents to go to my parents' place for Christmas dinner.

Boxing Day woke up real early, like 6am, to go to the last mass in Clara's memory. Had breakfast with her family and by the time I got home it was only 10am. Rest of the day spent by myself downloading songs, updating the website and reading a new fic.

Today when I opened my eyes finally it was 1.50pm. Lunch, washing up and chores later and it's already dark. Half the day's gone before I know it.

There's something about the quiet and solitude that makes it quite pleasant. What we've been telling each other it's our own private time. Can get addictive, this private time.