Category Archives: Travel

May travel

Today’s the 5th of May.  I’m in the Atlanta airport, international concourse, Delta Sky Club.  I’m sitting in my favorite type of chair, a very odd-ball chair whose ‘arms’ stretch above my head.  It offers a little cocoon of privacy on three sides and is pretty comfortable as well.

The last 3 weeks in the states have been a little bit of a blur as I look back on it.  I don’t know if it is just my current state of pre-flight sleepiness or if the time was just so busy that I can’t keep up with it.  As I work backwards in my mind I only catch snippets from the weekends prior.  I know that this past weekend was the highlight of the stay, with Olivia visiting Nashville, she and I getting tons of quality time together.  The weekend before that was my sister’s birthday and more time with Olivia.  Before that I was at home in Nashville, recovering from the long trip to Tokyo with friends.  I know that I didn’t take any time to do any exercise, which I’m a bit disappointed about.

Looking forward at the next 3-ish weeks, I’m not entirely sure what they hold.  I’m still working on the big project for my the Tokyo office I was first assigned to 3 years ago.  (Coincidentally, I moved to Tokyo 3 years ago this month!)  That project (web application deployment) is quickly transforming into their next big project (data center move) and I expect to spend time getting that started.  They are also undergoing personnel changes, with the person I hired as my replacement exiting the organization.  The manager covering that gap, unfortunately, is out of the country handling some personal matters.  This places me in the very interesting position of ‘covering the gap’ as all these changes take place.  I wonder about how this may turn out in the end… and I’ll leave it at that.  It’s nothing terrible or scandalous, I just don’t care to go into it.  Basically I just wonder if this is going to turn into a longer engagement with Japan in general.

Looking farther afield, my schedule for the coming 2 months is extremely challenging.  I’m in Tokyo for just shy of 3 weeks, then I fly back for a wedding in Indiana.  I’m in Nashville for 1.5 weekends, then I’m off – to somewhere – for another 3 weeks.  I land in Nashville, spend barely 48 hours there before I’m back on a plane headed to the beach.  Luckily I’ve been told that the beach trip should be a pretty significant disconnect from fast-pace situations, with plenty of time in a hammock with a drink.  Once I’ve recharged, it’s back to Nashville where, a week later, Olivia will be coming up to spend 2 weeks.  She has summer camp during those 2 weeks, one of which should be timed to be with her best friend Shaw.

With 45 minutes left before the boarding begins, as snippets of Japanese float through the club, I think about the last weekend.  I had the opportunity to visit Olivia at school on Friday and take her home early.  Through an interesting twist of events, I also took her all the way back to Chattanooga on Sunday, giving us a chance to say goodbye somewhere other than the Wendy’s parking lot!  She was an amazingly well-behaved, loving young lady all weekend long and I’m so happy to see her grow.  She was so excited about her new desk and storage furniture.  In the car ride up she wrote a note to her mom and I got to share some of my letter-writing accessories like the wax seal when we went to mail it out.  She was inspired to write little notes to all of her friends that we got to spend time with on Sunday.  It’s so amazing to see all of her energy being channeled in some many directions.

She has so many aspirations for her energy – she wants to continue in gymnastics.  She still enjoys the idea of ballet, even as she doesn’t find the class isn’t very exciting.  She wants to be a martial artist and when I showed her Bruce Lee, she was mesmerized.   She wants to ride / own a horse.  She is interested in basketball and soccer, with goal tending as a potential position.  She deeply enjoys art and writing, excelling at both.  I’m so proud of her and I can’t wait to see where she goes with all these opportunities.

I suppose I’ll close my rambling now.  I’ll try to write again in Tokyo.  To all my friends in the states, I’ll miss you (honestly, Facebook gets really quiet when all of you go to bed).  To those in Tokyo – I’m on my way!


Korea – Day 1

Let’s see.  I left Tokyo at 5PM.  The trip to the airport and the airport itself was just the same as every other trip I take through Narita.  I had my ‘last meal’ at the same restaurant as every other trip, except this time instead of noodles I had curry rice.  Yummm… curry rice.  🙂

I got a fair amount of work done ahead of the flight, boarded and watched a movie – ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ with Steve Carroll.  Nice movie.  Landed in Seoul around 7:30.  I managed to pack really well, getting everything I needed into my only laptop backpack.  As such, I had nothing to wait on at the baggage claim!  I got through immigration and customs quickly, moved to the currency exchange (picked up a few hundred thousand Won) and walked to the train station.  I was supposed to find a movie theater on the far end of the airport.  It was… odd.

The express train ride was just like every other express train ride except this time I was excited to hear Japanese because I have not a lick of Korean in my brain.  I arrived at Seoul station and made the loooooonnnggggg trek from the airport train to the metro.  Apparently the airport train is somewhere on the outer edges of the Earth’s core so it was a long climb out.

When I made it to the metro, I fought a bit with the ticket machine, but got it eventually.  I headed downstairs and used the my Tokyo Metro experience to guide me.  I made it to my transfer, switched lines and got off at the right station.  I made the walk (~8 minutes) to the hotel and checked in.  I was barely in my room when my co-workers from the local office showed up in the lobby.  I met them and we went for Korean barbecue!  We enjoyed a fantastic meal of grilled meats and Korean rice wine.  We discussed work history, work future, Seoul tourism, families, etc.  It was a blast, I’m so happy to finally get to meet these guys!

One funny thing that came up over dinner was a discussion about our work ‘anniversaries’ – one guy is Oct 16, the next guy is Nov 17, and I’m Dec 18!  Now they have 3 years more than I do, but it’s still a very amusing situation!  Of course I can always remember my anniversary date because it’s exactly 1 year before Olivia was born!

Friday morning I got up around 9, took my time getting ready and moved out around 10.  I had sort of dreamed of finding a ‘traditional’ Korean breakfast, but since I have no clue what that might be or where to find it I settled for McDonald’s… which, I guess, could be a traditional Korean breakfast.  Approaching the counter I could see the young lady brace – she wasn’t comfortable with an English speaker.  I used my standard Tokyo methods, though, and we proceeded very smoothly.  I was surprised by two things – one, the muffin on my egg McMuffin was the freshest I have ever experienced and two, the kitchen was apparently upstairs so there was a continuous dumb waiter / conveyor type device bringing food down!

Oh – I almost forgot.  When I was leaving the hotel I got in the elevator and a woman got off… but I was pretty confident that she didn’t want my floor.  I called to her, she returned and she spoke to me in Japanese.  Without even thinking, I responded in Japanese!  Now, it wasn’t anything significant – just telling her it wasn’t the 7th floor, it was the 3rd – but it was really funny how smooth it shifted for me.  In fact I’ve really been wanting to use Japanese in places… but maybe that’s just because I’m very clearly in an East Asian place…

I went to Gyeonbuk Palace and arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard.  I’ve got videos and I need to upload, but also photos.  I did a self tour with the audio guide and loved it.  The palace grounds are enormous.  One thing that strikes me about Korean architecture is the vivid color.  It has plenty of similarities to the palaces or temples in Japan, but the color is vastly different.  I hope that stands out in the photos…

The audio guide didn’t pull many punches about the Japanese occupation of Korea.  Apparently there were a number of palace building razed during the occupation for the purpose of putting in provincial government buildings.  On one description they actually said “[destruction of this building] clearly showed their intent to ruin the palace.”  Oh.  Yeah.  Ok.

It was also extremely proud of the creation of the alphabet, indicating that without it they would not have formed their own culture and would have remained a province of different foreign powers.  It mentioned the damages to the grounds made during Korea’s multiple historical wars, as well.  All in all it was a very informative audio guide and I’m really glad I got it!

After the palace I walked to the Bukchon village where a vast neighborhood of old, traditional houses have been preserved by private owners thanks to subsidies from the government.  Unfortunately it’s a huge area and I just didn’t have the time to explore much.  I might visit on Saturday, but I think there is a different area that provides more access / view into the houses because of a lack of private ownership.  From the village area I headed to the train station, stopping off for a lunch of bibimbap – delicious!

I got a bit lost walking to the office, but was retrieved and redirected.  We spoke for a while, I met another person, then after an hour or so I headed out.  I was thinking I’d go to the traditional street market Insadong, but instead went to the modern one Myeong-dong.  It’s a large area crammed with lots of chain stores, etc.  I wandered completely randomly through the streets.  The narrow streets are filled with vendors as well, but nothing really struck my fancy.  I couldn’t get into socks, phone cases or glasses.

OH!  Glasses.  Oh man this place has a such a serious habit with glasses.  I found an shopping area underground where there were at least 6 established stores with hundreds of pairs of glasses.  It was absolutely nuts.  Plenty of ironic chunky frames in addition to all the big name brands.

I eventually went to the Lotte department store and, similar to Tokyo, found the food basement on B1.  I wandered around for a long time and finally settled on noodles.  Udong… or udon as they call it everywhere else.  It was nothing special, but it filled my stomach.  I moved on to more random walking in the shopping district.  There are a number of food vendors but none of them really drew me in.  There is one type of street food that comes up regularly that I can’t figure out nor does it look too appetizing.  Maybe tomorrow…

Anyway, let’s do a quick Seoul / Tokyo comparison:

  • Driving – Right side Seoul, Left side Tokyo.  Messes with me when I cross the street.
  • Smoking – Seems to be ok most public places in Seoul; Tokyo it’s a no-no except in certain spots.
  • Cleanliness – Tokyo is cleaner, but Seoul isn’t dirty
  • Trains – Very similar, but Seoul’s trains are wider and the crowd is a good bit noisier.  Of course almost anything is noisier than a Tokyo train!  Stations are almost identical – yellow exit signs included!  I will say that I find Seoul’s payment system a little harder – getting a PASSMO type device isn’t done from a machine.  You can get a flat-rate ticket (actually a touch-card) from the machine.  I had trouble getting out of a station, however, and since they aren’t over-staffing every corner of the city I had trouble getting someone to come help!
  • Language – Korean pronunciation confuses me, but everyone seems to go straight for English with me and it is commonly good.  In Tokyo service staff barrel through Japanese most of the time.
  • Service Staff – Tokyo has more sincere service staff in my opinion.  Seoul isn’t rude, but it’s not got the same fervor.
  • General – I’m shocked at the amount of plastic surgery ads and shops.  There are at least 8 street-front plastic surgery shops between my hotel and the station.  In the station there are perhaps a dozen advertisements for plastic surgery, complete with before and after photos.  I saw two middle / high school girls standing in front of a pair of 5 foot by 8 foot ads… how discouraging in terms of body image could this be!?

Ok.  Its time to sleep.  Tomorrow will be the market for sure, as I need to get a nice souvenir for Miss Olivia!

Tokyo Metro Tutorial

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while… it’s part of the introduction to Tokyo routine I give to everyone that comes for a visit.

First, the trains in Tokyo are super easy to deal with, especially the subway lines.  The JR lines are a little less friendly, but not too tough.  There are English signs everywhere.  In fact, I don’t remember too much trouble with signage even in the far northern reaches we visited last October.  Every ticket machine we encountered had an English option, too!

Anyway, focusing on Tokyo Metro (and the private Toei line)…

All the station entrances have a nice sign around them, and as you approach them you’ll find something like this:

  by nolifeik

On this sign you find lots of handy info:

  1. There are two metro lines here, the Marunouchi and Namboku.  Their symbols are next to the names and these are completely consistent.  Anytime you see a red circle with an M, it’s a Maunouchi station.  Below the letter is the number of the station – this is the 22nd station on the Marunouchi line and the 11th on the Namboku line.
  2. You find the name of the station, in this case Korakuen Station
  3. You find the gate number – it’s cut off in this picture, but it’s a little black square in the upper right.  Lots of stations have lots of exits and given that navigation in Tokyo is done with landmarks, this is an important one.

Once you enter the station, you’ll need a ticket (unless you’ve got a PassMo card… we’ll discuss that later).

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Pune Travel – Day One (travel day)

It’s lengthy.  You’ve been warned.  And to think, you get the edited version!

Once on the flight from Tokyo I was struck by the absolutely ridiculous music that was being played in the plane.  I don’t remember if other planes do this at this point because my brain has been corrupted by these two most recent flights both doing it.  Over the in-cabin speaker system was “music” that sometimes sounded like horrible 80s MIDI WAV files – super cheesy renditions of songs I am not familiar with.  Then, when they weren’t playing those MIDI tunes, they had what could have been music stolen from “It’s a Small World” where the artist was rocking the Glockenspiel as the only instrument.  Wow.  This is great.  Could I just listen to the dull sounds of the engines or something instead?

After a while I began to realize that the online seat selection tool was not particularly accurate regarding how full the plane would be.  Well, maybe it’s not an accuracy thing, but there were a lot of people that hadn’t checked in or something, so they hadn’t been assigned seats.  Looking at the online check-in I had expected lots and lots of empty seats.  Wrong.  There were some – the guy a couple rows up (Mr Wandering-Eyes) was sitting in the middle aisle and had no one next to him.  This was my plan for the next flight, but I’m beginning to think that’s not actually going to happen.  Crap.

Mr Wandering-Eyes got that moniker because every time any of the female flight attendants would walk by, he’d lean out into the aisle to check her out.  They were wearing these nice floral-print, Asian-style dresses that fit properly.  Amusingly, though, the men were in these drab green suits that were really poorly fit – the jackets were too big, the pants really boring.

It was interesting to find that the overhead bins were being stuffed full of just-under-the-size-limit carry-on luggage.  Instead people were carrying very reasonable amounts of luggage and quickly stowing it before taking their seats.  In fact, boarding was really simple because everyone was so organized.  Ah, Japanese culture.

So we’re pushing back from the gate and taxiing to the runway.  The chief steward comes on, first speaks in Malaysian, then English, and then hands the mic to a woman to do the Japanese bit.  This is when I learn the flight time – 6 hours 55 minutes. The flight info I had never actually spelled out the flight times and I hadn’t bothered to work out all the time zones to do that math myself.  This is going to be a long flight.

They begin the safety video – no live demonstration here – and it’s the friendliest, most laid-back and smiling safety video ever made. The lady speaking is really cool about the whole thing, speaks to two little kids about their seat belts, etc. The part I love the most is when they go back to that family during the life vest part. Dad is on the far aisle seat with Mom next to kid #1 and kid #2 on the near aisle seat. They’ve all got their life vests on and the lady is speaking over the scene about taking care of your own vest before the others. All four of them are sitting calmly in their seats with the biggest smiles on their face, coolly securing kid #1’s vest. HAH!

They start bringing the peanuts around. The bags are sitting in a nice wicker basket and the attendant allows the passenger to take whatever they’d like. I begin eating them and I’m struck by something amazingly stupid. The bag has the word “peanuts” in English on the front, along with a picture of both a shelled and an unshelled peanut. On the back is an ingredient list – no, that’s not the stupid part – that says it has peanuts and oil or something. Right below the ingredient list, though, is the allergy information. “This product may contain peanuts.” It may? Thanks for the heads-up in the tiny print on the back left corner, all that other stuff didn’t do it for me.

Here I start flipping through movies. I didn’t realize I had an on-demand option until much later in the flight so instead I pick up the new Pirates movie about 10 minutes in. Instead of digging around for one of the other movies that I wanted to watch only to find it 20 minutes down, I stuck with Pirates. It was good – I actually enjoyed it. Not any sort of an instant classic, but fun with great special effects. During the movie came a meal. I had… chicken? I don’t quite remember. I know the plate also had cold udon noodles complete with the bottle of sauce and the thin slices of onion. Ah, I really like Japanese food.

After the movie came some uncomfortable sleep. The wine with the meal had helped make me drowsy on top of staying up pretty late the night before. I also remembered the trick I’d found during the New Zealand flight, too – the headrests on some planes will fold up on the sides, effectively allowing you to lock your head in place. I shoved my headphones back into my Zune and put on a recently recommended soundtrack – Transatlanticism from Death Cab. I slept for an unknown period of time until I was awakened by a sudden pain in my knee. I thought it was just a bit of stiffness, so I stretched it out into the aisle a few times. I placed it on the floor and pushed the ball of my foot down – PAIN. LOTS OF PAIN. What in the hell is wrong? Did they hit me with the cart? It hurts to the touch… I massage it a bit, stretch it, etc. What’s going on here? I give up worrying after a while.

At some point I found the on-demand videos and began another movie. I watched most of “The Trip” and it wasn’t too bad. Odd, a bit dry, but good. Very much like Sideways as I had suspected. I wasn’t able to finish it though. As we began to approach Kuala Lumpur they played a 5 minutes advertisement for Malaysia. It was piped over the in-cabin speakers and preempted everyone’s videos. It was a really long song about how wonderful a place it is. Then, after that came a lady talking about how awesome the airport is and then more about Malaysia I guess… I really didn’t pay attention. After all that was said and done, though, my movie suddenly popped back on. Of course I still couldn’t watch it very well because they kept making announcements… and the announcements were really loud in my nice headphones. Eventually I gave up and turned it off… probably only about 5 minutes from when they would have turned it off anyway.

Somewhere along the flight I also saw the end of the X-Men movie. Blah, whatever. Not my thing.

At this point I was really tired of being on the plane. Somewhere along the way we had a second “meal”, this time it was onigiri. Yummmm! It was basically the same one I had in the Narita airport right before I got on the plane – it was one of the complicated ones that has the nori separated from the rice until you open it in the right combination. The filling was salmon (I could read “sake” in hirigana!) for both of the onigiri I ate.

Finally we landed. Finally I found out my knee was really hurting. I couldn’t put my weight on it, so I limped out of the plane and part of the way down the relatively empty concourse. I called Susan to figure out if I was going to die. I let Christine know I was safely on the ground – I figure since I ask her to do the same when she travels that I should return the favor. I realized that I don’t think my or Susan’s family has any idea how to get us on the phone since my Skype number forwards to my cell. I need to fix that information gap.

KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) is supposed to be a really beautiful, awesome airport… but it still felt like an airport. Whats worse is just how dang empty it seemed in the international concourse. First, there were very few people around. Next, almost the only stores available were duty free shops, all selling the same things as every other duty free shop. Finally, after limping around (which eventually soothed my knee) for a while I found the one place that seemed to sell food as a meal as opposed to sweets or gifts or something. Of course I did my whole decision paralysis for a bit – I stood at a distance reading the menu, watching the order placing, the order pickup, etc. I nearly bailed out because I didn’t have anything but Yen for cash and I had no idea what a “RM” would convert to. I walked halfway away before I listened to Susan and Christine admonishing me (as they’ve done lately) for not eating, then I turned around, sucked it up and went for the order. I got a chicken curry dish and a black tea. I paid with my credit card. The girl didn’t know how to do the payment, so she had to get someone else. I still don’t know what a RM converts to, i’m just glad the card wasn’t declined. I got the food, sat, ate, and moved on. No big deal, you big baby.

I laid on the benches near my gate for a while. It was really strange – the gate area had a security checkpoint with scanners, etc, but it wasn’t manned until right before boarding. That meant everyone had to gather outside that checkpoint which was relatively okay because there were a lot of benches. I got there pretty early so for a while I could lay down and stretch out. I did a flaky Skype chat with Susan and Olivia. I napped-ish, but the tea was coursing strong through my body keeping that from going too far. My head hurt. My body ached. I took some naproxin, as that’s all I had for aches. I sat around for a bit until the gate opened up.

Eventually boarding starts, but I can’t understand the lady speaking. I see a crush of people. I decide to remain seated. I’m on the aisle anyway. And I’m quite unlikely to get that big free middle aisle like I was thinking I would, so why rush? I finally go on board to a very full plane.

(From here I slip into a bit of a conversation, rather than the narrative style from above. Sorry, as it might get a little confusing…)

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Disney update

Its been several days since we last posted and we’ve been having a fun time here in Disney World.  I can’t say we’ve had smooth nights, but the days have been very nice.

Olivia’s schedule, as we can all imagine, is a little off right now.  She’s in an odd place, with lots of people, and a small room.  Getting her to sleep has been a difficult task, complete with plenty of screaming.  Even when she naps, she ends up moving toward meltdown about the same time every night – about the time we order dessert at the dinner table!

A couple of  fun things from the past few days – Olivia loves to sleep under the stars.  On Tuesday night, during the Christmas party, we went through the TTA and when we pulled into Space Mountain, she saw the stars and passed out.  Last night, Wednesday, we went into Spaceship Earth for a quick ride and when we hit the stars, she hit the sack.  Fun part?  She adores Spaceship Earth’s scenes.  She watches them with great fascination and cranes her head as they go by.

This has been a very different trip from previous ones – Olivia changes a lot of the dynamic.  That, combined with the fact that Susan is the only person that will ride the fast rides with me, makes our time in the parks a little different.  It’s not that we’re spending lots of time on the kiddie rides – Olivia doesn’t care one way or the other, really – its just that it seems like we’ve been a little less organized about our time in the parks.

Food has been great, and I was very happy to find that Tokyo Dining served my favorite shochu, of which I’ve bought a bottle, by the glass.  The food there was good and plentiful, but sort of short on sushi.  With the dining plan, you can order their pre-set sushi platter, but the sushi selection isn’t exactly adventuresome… which, I suppose, should be expected.  Le Cellier in Canada was nice, but Susan and I preferred the New York Strip steak she got in the Coral Reef.  Not that the one we had in Canada wasn’t awesome, there are just varying degrees of awesome.

I’ve posted a few videos – fireworks and Christmas stories.  Of course there are a few hundred photos (400+) already uploaded, and that doesn’t even count Garrett and Amy’s photos or the PhotoPass photos we’ll have after the trip.

Today its raining very hard, and we’re technically under a tornado watch.  It should be wrapping up by now, so we’re talking about what we’re doing today.  Yesterday was a bit of a wash, and today got washed out, but we’re still having fun!

We’re in Disney World!

As I’m sure plenty of people know, we’re currently in Disney World!  I’m not going to write up a report (or even a brief) right now, but I can say that we’re having lots of fun and eating well.  Olivia has enjoyed several rides, watching the scenes going by with great interest.

We’re pushing a lot of pictures from our phones, so the quality isn’t amazing, but I’m also trying to put our “real” photos up each morning.  Like usual, they are in a set at Flickr.

Wow. Really not doing well with the posting lately.

The last few weeks have been so very busy.  San Diego first and then Ian’s trip to Chicago while I went to Chattanooga with Olivia.  It’s all a blur at this point.  We’re still in Chattanooga and I’m writing from my future sister-in-law’s computer.  Ian is with us, having driven here after he got off work Friday.

Let me catch you up with her cuteness, Olive.  She’s five months old now.  She fits quite well into 12 month clothes.  You really don’t notice how big she is (except her thighs… no hiding those puppies) until you compare her to other kids.  Our friends Adam and Megan have an almost two year old who Olivia could probably swallow whole if she were so inclined.  They wear the same diaper size.  Not kidding.

In the past week, she has learned to sit on her own.  She can’t yet sit up without assistance, but it certainly isn’t for lack of trying.  She’s amazingly apt at sitting, but now that she’s sitting she really wants to be standing.

She loves squash, likes carrots, and tolerates peas.  She eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner on top of her bottles because whenever the adults are eating she MUST eat too or there will be mutiny.  When I was young, I hummed while eating (much to my older brother’s displeasure).  Olivia is her mother’s daughter, happily humming and gobbling up her food.  Right now, I think it’s quite cute.  In a couple of months, I will probably share my older brother’s opinion.

Mimi gave Olivia an activity center.  It’s the type with the swivel seat and a suspended bungee base to build up those legs (not that they could feasibly get much bigger).  There are cute little toys to teach cause and effect on all the corners.  So far she loves all the dangly stuff.

Doodah bought Olivia two toy dolls.  One speaks Spanish and English when you press buttons on the hands.  The other is a little life-like baby.  Olivia was flabbergasted by the talking doll.  She may have a crush on the life-like baby.  She squeals and giggles just like she does with her boyfriend, Shaw.

Oh.  Yes.  Boyfriend.  Already engaging in heavy petting and makeout sessions, much to Ian’s discontent.  Olivia loves Shaw, the cute, tow-headed progeny of our friends, Mark and Laurie.  They have sucked face (literally, not figuratively).  Olive coos and giggles when she sees him.  He grabs her by the ears and plants big wet ones on her.  “The Talk” is apparently going to be needed much earlier then anticipated.

I know there is more going on in our lives than this but my brain is mush.  Mush, I tell you.