benign existence

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

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

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

bbmm afternoon outing

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

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

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 06: sukhumvit area, flight

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

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 05: river, chinatown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 04: chatuchak market

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

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

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There’s a whole section of art too.

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 03: city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 02: bang krachao

More noodles for breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 01: sukhumvit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bangkok trip day 00: waiting to go to the airport

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

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

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

Napped for a bit, and then we arrived already.

don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bbmm aimless day

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

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

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

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

family morning, bbmm afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

big family outing

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

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

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

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

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

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

sushi train, escape room

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

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

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

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

lazy day and a still-funny video

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

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

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

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

family christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bbmm christmas eve

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

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

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

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

family visit

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

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

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

bbmm lunch, travel agent

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

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

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

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

duck, cable car, fishing village

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

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

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

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

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

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

walk, tram, ferry, minibus…and feral cows

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

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

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

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

saikungcows

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

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

hosting friends

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

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

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

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

a day of bad decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

kcl group drinks

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

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

happiness and people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

family and bbmm day

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

wontonfriedfishballs

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

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

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

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

family visiting | chow mein sandwich

chowmeinsandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bbmm mental health day

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

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

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

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

worldmentalhealthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

brooding

I’ve lived with this view out of my living room (East River, NYC):
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On this street (Chicago):
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And this (London):
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WIthin walking distance to this (Lake Zurich at Tiefenbrunnen):
Swaying Silently
image courtesy flickr user eric andresen because I haven’t scanned my pics

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

flat errands and happy hour

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

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

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

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

bbmm outing

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

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

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

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

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

An easygoing afternoon and evening, which suited us.

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

a day of errands, and a great beer to end

A day full of errands and running around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bbmm at travel agent

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

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

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

We’ll see.

day out with sis

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

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

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

uncle H (2)

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

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

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

A family kind of day.

uncle H (1)

psalm23

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

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

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

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

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

bbmm saturday

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

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

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

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

mm family dinner

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

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

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

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

happy birthday, papa

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Papa.

mm family dinner

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

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

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

bbmm social support day

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

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

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

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

errands

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

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

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

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

daikiya01sashimi

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

neighbourhood walk

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

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

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

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

lazy day

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

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

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

visiting friends

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

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

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

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

laundry!

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

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

the day before the flight

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

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

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

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