Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Japan - Summer 2013

Originally, my friends and I had plans to head to Tokyo and check out the Ghibli Museum. However, they were flying standby and didn’t catch their flights. Instead of criss-crossing back and forth between Kyoto and Tokyo, I went straight to Kyoto. I spent the next two days going from shrine to temple to shrine.  

On the third day, I headed to my hotel in Tokyo. Shibuya. The weather was cold and rainy, so I didn’t venture outside. However, I did spend plenty of time in Tokyo Hands before dropping by the office.

Taiwan - Summer 2013

 As soon as I got off the airport bus, the heat and humidity hit me like a wall. It took the will out of me. I didn't want to do anything or leave the cooling AC. I had plans to see sights (or at least the National Palace with all the historic Chinese treasures), but I didn't want to walk outside.

I stayed with my friend Rick and his roommates. They have a 4 bedroom apartment with a Japanese room (commonly used to play mahjong) as a guest room. Since I didn't see many sights, I spent my time eating and hanging out with folks I haven't seen in a while (Regan and his bride Sharon, the out of town folks, etc). We went to Din Tai Fung which still blew me away after all these years.  We also had a 10 course omakase lunch at a Japanese restaurant. This cemented my opinion that Taiwan is a great foodie destination. 

The wedding was at a restaurant on the 86th floor of Taipei 101. Breathtaking views, and a beautiful wedding.

Even though we stayed out late at the wedding after party, I still woke up early due to jet lag. Rick’s roommate was up and preparing for a 10K with her friend. So, I hydrated and did part of the Nike women's run. I had a hard time in the heat, so we cut off back to Rick’s place after 4 miles or so. Good way to say goodbye to Taiwan.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Asia - Summer 2013

My high school friend [and college roommate] Regan has been an expat in Taiwan for several years and got married in June. Several of his friends traveled to Taiwan to celebrate his wedding.


My first stop was Korea where I met up with Regan and Do for Ultra Music Festival. I went to Ultra with Do and the Lambda's eleven or twelve years ago in Miami, and it's always been a fond memory. UMF Korea took it up a notch.

The only things we did other than going out was eat (my favorite meal was a traditional Korean meal with a table full of kim chee), sleep and sit in traffic.


After Korea, I headed to Singapore. It was my first time traveling outside the US by myself, and it was the perfect place to do so (except I ordered food for only one). As Malaysia's neighbor, it's very similar with its mix of cultures. As a financial hub, there are more expats and wealth. With tight government control, it has less crime. Many of the tourist t-shirts refer to it as a "Fine City" due to fines levied for small offenses like jaywalking. It wasn't always this way. My cabbie to the airport described Singapore as dirty and mafia-run about 50-60 years ago. As the government cleared out the shanty towns and replaced them housing projects, the criminals had nowhere to hide. He mentioned that gangsters could be thrown in jail without trial.

Since the land area is so small, the government can provide great infrastructure for very low taxes. The low taxes and rule of law then attract multinationals. The subways and buses constantly run, so there's little need to own a car. Even during rush hour, there was little traffic compared to Seoul.

Fires in Indonesia caused a massive haze while I was there, so I didn't ride around the island as originally planned. I still walked about quite a bit and got in several good meals.

Since I was still jet lagged and sleeping odd hours, I made it a point to find an early breakfast place. I had an amazing eggs benedict at Toby's Estate (sometimes, you just want a "normal" breakfast). I then headed to the Gardens by Marina Bay and the Cloud Forest exhibit. Aside from the much needed cool air, I loved how the exhibit took me from the "top" of the cloud forest to the bottom with different plants in each section. I made my way to Burgis Junction for a quick lunch in the AC (the random soup at Soup Spoon was flavorful and satisfying) and decided to have a look around. The Burgis Market was tightly packed with hundreds of stalls selling clothes, electronics, accessories and food. I grabbed a mango juice from one of the stalls, and I spent the rest of the time in Singapore looking for a similar juice. So refreshing and tasty.

I made it back to the hotel, and set my alarm so I'd make it out for dinner. After reading online reviews, I decided on the Chinatown hawker stands (as the Newton and Maxwell ones were too touristy). Following the instructions from this website, I chose the Mixed Claypot Rice and was not disappointed. The chicken was juicy, the Chinese sausage salty and fatty, and the rice was properly burnt at the bottom. As a future note, the seafood market in Chinatown seems like a good spot for seafood -- the patrons were all happily eating (opposed to some very glum folks I saw at Jumbo's on the riverfront).

The next morning, I headed into the office to say hello to some folks I'm working with. Always nice to meet folks and put a face to a name. At the office, I learned that school lessons were taught in English and that there weren't many Chinese writers anymore (different from Malaysia). Tired from running around the previous day (and from the heat), I made my last tourist stop the botanical gardens. It was amazing to see such a massive lush garden in the middle of the city (right by the Orchard Road shopping district). The Orchid Garden was top notch, and I took several photos there.

All in all, the food was amazing. I ate every time I was hungry at random food stalls, mall courts, markets. I never had any issues - all the vendors have a "cleanliness" grade displayed prominently by their signage. I randomly had a red bean pancake and a lychee pop drink from Mr Bean (amazing!). I ate at a fluorescent lit shack by the hotel (just around the corner from new developments). The only downside is that Singapore seems much more like a running town than a cycling one. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bay Area in May

Blue Bottle Coffee, Ferry Building

I started a new job recently, and the company sent me out to Cupertino for the week. I had a great time meeting with  smart, friendly and dedicated folks. I also brought out my road bike and explored South Bay. Many of the major streets had bike lanes, and the hills were a short ride away. Originally, I was going to stay in Palo Alto and ride the hills on Saturday morning, but decided to head into the city with my [high school] friend Cathy instead.

I woke up with the sun on Saturday and convinced Cathy to get some food and head for a run. We went to the Ferry Building and grabbed a waffle from the Blue Bottle company and then went on our run. After our run, we went to a farmer's market and TCHO for a chocolate factory tour before heading to brunch. I've been on a Rickshaw Bags kick lately, so I convinced Cathy to walk to the factory store about 3 miles away. After customizing my new bag, we walked around the neighborhood and stopped into Chocolate Labs for a quick bite. The soufflĂ© and chocolate cake were my favorite meal of the trip. We went back and forth a bit more and ended our day with about 15.5 miles of walking. 

Mural by Cathy's building

Where's Waldo atop Cathy's building