September 10, 2008

Napa Valley Trip

Last week I packed up a bag, and flew from Tokyo to San Francisco. I'll be here in CA for about a month for training at my new job. It is really nice to be back in the US after two and a half years.

L. joined me after the first day, and stayed for almost a week. We only had one weekend together in CA, so I planned a trip up to Napa Valley.

I enjoy wine, and so does L., so I thought it would be fun to visit the valley. We drove from Palo Alto early on Saturday morning and took the scenic route, up 101 and over the Golden Gate bridge. The drive itself was a lot of fun, because the car I rented was a convertible, so we drove with the top down. Things started out pretty cold, but by the time we got to the valley we were both pretty hot! I had made a reservation at the Hennessey House Bed and Breakfast for the evening, so we headed there and dropped off our stuff. We made it just in time to catch our 11:00am wine tour.

Neither L. nor I had never been on a wine tour before, so I thought the best thing to do was to get someone to show us around and drive us around, in case we drank too much. That was definitely the right way to do things. The late harvest Riesling from Trefethen vineyard really left an impression on me: it was super sweet (like an ice wine) and probably wouldn't work well in quantity, but seemed like a good dessert wine. I really enjoyed going around to the different vineyards, and we met some fun people (a couple from Brazil) on the trip. There were also three younger American girls who got totally wasted and then had a huge argument over some boy that two of them liked, but that was kind of amusing also (once you get past the annoyance.)

I wanted to write this up sooner, but it has been a bit over a week, and the details are starting to fade.

After the wine tour we took a nap at the B&B, and then went to dinner at a nice Italian place (Tuscany) in Napa. The food was good, but we were still full after all the wine, and the portions were fairly large, so we ended up going back to the B&B feeling a bit bloated (but that has how almost every dinner in America has ended so far!)

Since it was the first time for L. and I to travel in America together, I wanted to make it memorable so I also made a reservation for a hot air balloon ride. We had to get up at 5am to make the 6am gathering time, but it was worth it. The views were great, and smoothly floating through the air was also really amazing. The only way to control the balloons is up and down, and the rest is up to the prevailing winds. It was really impressive that the pilots are actually able to target a field, and then get the balloon there. Of course, they have many options, but still they can't just land the balloons anywhere.

The landing on our balloon was a bit wild, since the balloon was still going at a pretty good clip when it touched down. I thought that the basket would flip over, but it just barely managed to keep upright after a few bounces. I don't know if I'll get a chance to ride another balloon, but I really enjoyed it, and I was surprised that I didn't have any sort of motion sickness. I usually have trouble on boats, elevators, and airplane landings, but I didn't have any trouble with the balloon. I don't really think it will replace planes as my preferred method to get to Japan and back, but still.

After the balloon ride we had a nice brunch, and then took things easy before the drive back to Palo Alto. If I do things again, I would go a bit easier on the wine tour, but it was a lot of fun.

June 28, 2008

Conference Honeymoon

After L. and I got married, we took a trip to Morocco for our honeymonn. Actually, I had made a committment a long time before to attend the 2008 LREC Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, so we went together as a kind of honeymoon. It was the best honeymoon conference ever.

Read more for notes from the trip, and a few pictures.    read more (8661 words)

January 3, 2008

The Seven Gods of Happiness New Year Temple Tour

The Tokai Seven: like Ocean's Eleven, but much older.  And less criminal.  They are both pretty lucky though.

The Seven Gods of Happiness represent different types of good fortune, and for some reason in Shinagawa there are seven temples, each devoted to one of the Gods.  One of the traditions of the New Year is the 初詣, the first visit to a temple of the new year, and while often this occurs at midnight, it isn't unusual for the first visit to be done anytime in the first few days after the new year.  The most busy time of the year is probably the First, and the most busy temple is probably Meiji Jingu.  I'm not going to brave those crowds, but since I was staying in Shinagawa, Lisa and I decided to make the rounds and visit all seven temples. 

At your first stop, you can buy a poster-board with a spot for each temple.  As you go to each temple, you can collect a stamp for that temple.  Collect all seven!  You can also buy a boat, and buy little figurines that go in the boat at each temple.  The suggested order for visiting the temples is:

  1. Shinagawa (Shinto) Temple, for Daikokuten God of Wealth 品川神社 (大黒天)5 minutes to
  2. Yougan Temple, for Hoteizen God of Good Fortune 養願寺(布袋尊) 1 minute to
  3. Isshin Temple, for Jyuroujin God of Long Life 一心寺(寿老人) 5 minutes to
  4. Ebara Temple, for Ebisu God of Wealth 荏原神社(恵比須) 15 minutes to
  5. Shingawa (Buddhist) Temple, for Bishyamonten Buddhist Guardian God 品川寺(毘沙門天,金生七福神) 20 minutes to
  6. Tenso / Suwa Temple, for Fukurokujyu the God of Happiness, Wealth, and Longevity 天祖・諏訪神社(福禄寿) 25 minutes to
  7. Iwai Temple, for Benzaiten the God of Music, Wealth, Eloquence, and water 磐井神社(弁財天)

I didn't know much about the different Gods when I was visiting the temples, but I did do a little bit of research when I got back home.  A "little bit" means that I looked them up on Wikipedia, and noticed that there was an English page as well as the Japanese page.  So now you know about as much about them as I do.  It took a long time to visit all of the temples.  I don't remember the order that we did it (although possibly you can reconstruct the order from the pictures on Flickr) but it took us two days.  We visited five on the first day, ending with Shinagawa.  Shinagawa temple was probably the largest of the lot, and had police managing the crowds.  We waited for about forty minutes or more to make our offering there.  I also picked up an Omikuji (お神籤), which is a written fortune.  I was lucky and got "The very best of luck" (大吉) so I'm hopeful that this will be a good year.  So far, so good anyway.  After the long wait, and previous hour or so of walking around going to the other four temples, we decided to go back to Lisa's parent's place. 

The next day we went to the last two temples, Iwai Temple and Tenso / Suwa temple.  I've never seen a temple with two names in it like that before, and I wonder what that is all about.  I'm sure I could figure it out if I did some searching on the Japanese web, but I'm not too interested in doing that right now.  The Japanese web makes my head hurt when I stare at it for too long.  Iwait temple houses Benzaiten, which I think is my favorite of the Gods because I've always been a fan of Benten Records, a record label that focuses on female Japanese bands.  In all honesty though, I think you would be best off with Fukurokujyu, since that God seems to be a general jack-of-all-trades Gods.  Also, unless I'm really bad at looking these things up, it looks like there are two Gods of Wealth (Can't have too many of those I guess) and some other overlap also, but nobody ever said that your pantheon had to be orthogonal.  If I was to build my own pantheon though, I would probably try to select both orthogonal and complementary Gods, but that's just me. 

I really enjoyed this trip around to various different temples, and now that I've looked into it, there are lots of these things.  http://park1.wakwak.com/~hisamaro/tokyo2photo.htm lists many different temple tours, and has a convenient list of temples and gods for the Tokai Seven.  So I'm sure there are lots of other temple courses I can try out - but to be honest, it is a lot of trouble, and probably not something I'll repeat. 

Note: while writing my post, I relied on http://www.evam.ne.jp/tokai7/index.html as a general site on the Tokai Seven Gods of Happiness.  But I didn't rely on it too much because it is part of the Japanese web.  

December 4, 2007

Bad Omens

Today started off with a bad omen: I slept in for an entire hour. Usually I'm very good about getting up on time, but I was up a bit late last night. Even though I went home early (home by about 7:45pm) I logged on to some machines at work, and (slowly, while watching House) did some work-related stuff. I ended up going to bed at about 1am, instead of my usual 11pm, with a 7am alarm.

I almost never use the snooze function on my alarm (which is actually my cell phone) but this morning it was so cold that I just couldn't stand it. I turned on the heater, and then somehow an hour passed before it was warm enough to get out of bed.

Now, this isn't really a big problem since I don't have strict hours that I need to be at work (I just need to get my work done.) The problem comes in with the commute: they way things are now, a slight delay on my part changes my commute from annoying to unbearably crowded, hot, and sweaty.

If I wake at 7am, wash my face, and then hop on the train I generally will be able to sit on the second leg of my trip (~20 minutes) and can sit after the second station on the third leg of the trip (~20 minutes.) If I can't sit, at least I can stand and can hold a hand-strap, and generally I have some space and am not too crowded.

If I am delayed by twenty minutes or more, I skip the first train leg of my trip entirely (only 2 stops, maybe 5 minutes on the train) and walk the 15 minutes to the start of the second leg because that fifteen minute delay means that the train is so packed that when the doors open, you just see a wall of people. To get on the train you turn around with your back facing the people, and then press your way in. If you can get some leverage on the train door side that helps. Usually, somehow, miraculously, there is enough space to squeeze in. Your face will pressed up against the glass, which is slick with condensation from the hot breath of the people jammed into the train, making cattle cars seem roomy by comparison. If you are unlucky, more people will be getting on after you, and you will find yourself bent into improbably shapes as bags and briefcases force your lower body and legs one way, while other pressures force your upper body another way. If you can reach a strap that helps a lot, otherwise it is a crazy balancing act in which unusual muscles start to ache from holding odd positions. It doesn't matter much in the end though because you are packed in so tight it isn't possible to fall over, only lean more awkwardly onto the people around you.

So generally I'll just skip that mess entirely and walk the 15 minutes to Jiyugaoka. It is a nice walk anyway, and I can do with the exercise.

At Jiyugaoka things are slightly better because I can choose to take the local train, which isn't nearly as bad as the express, or god forbid, the commuter express, which is just comically packed. Typically though, even the local train is unbearably hot and humid from all the people. Also, don't think that there is the up-side of at least sometimes being pressed up against cute women: the rush is worst from 7:20am until about 9:30am, which probably 70% of the ridership is male. The women are smarter and try to avoid the typical salary-man hours.

Of course, on the express and commuter express train there are "women-only" cars so maybe more of them crowd in there. I don't know; I always take the local because it is only about five minutes longer from where I'm at and substantially less crowded (which isn't saying much.) The women only cars are supposed to address the problem of men groping women, which I might talk about at some point, but in reality I don't know much about it: I don't do it, and I don't know that I've ever seen it happen. I'm not sure I would know if it was happening though, so I generally just try not to think about it too much.

Anyway, today with my delay of one hour, I was in the packed train at Shibuya. It is usually pretty back until you hit Naka-meguro where lots of people get out (yay!) but then you are only two stops away from Shibuya, so it isn't really much of a win.

I transfer at Shibuya to the Hanzomon line. Today things were strange: I got down to the ticket gates, and there was a crowd of people backed up to the escalator. The place was jam packed. A few of the signs had information on the problem: due to a "personal accident" (人間事故, literally human or personal accident) the trains were severely delayed. A personal accident is a euphemism for suicide. They happen sometimes here in Japan, someone decides that the commute is unbearable, and in a sarcastic lash back at the commuting system they jump in front of a train. This has happened a few times in the approximately two years that I've been here, maybe four or five times. Usually the trains are running within twenty minutes to an hour.

This time, the accident happened at 6:15am and they were not letting people into the gates. I don't really know what happened, but I decided I wasn't getting anywhere fast, and I went for a cup of hot chocolate at the Starbucks in front of Shibuya Crossing.

I really need to remember this, but I hate that Starbucks.

Every few months I go there, and I hate it. Then, a few months later, I decide I want some hot chocolate or something, and I go back. And I hate it. The problem is that the place is always packed. You always have to wait for a place to sit. Even once you do sit, it is unbearably hot. The building is facing East (I think I don't know these things), and gets the full brunt of the sun as it comes up. It has a large glass face, and it is always unbearably hot. The tables are small and always crowded. One of my favorite things to do is to read a book and have a drink at the coffee shop, but in this place I can't spread out much which is a major problem: when I read, I need space for my book, my electric dictionary (ancient, so huge by modern-day standards) and a notebook that I write down unknown Japanese words (writing is still the best way to remember things.)

So while I'm drinking my hot chocolate, in a cramped counter seat in front of a huge glass window with the full force of the sun beating down on me in an over-heated coffee shop, I'm sweating like mad. Finally, the last thing about this place is that it is always packed with foreigners. Now, I'm a foreigner and I'm not one of those people that feels like other foreigners around me are invading my own special private Japan where I'm the only unique guy. But I don't like when I hear a bunch of people talking English loudly about things that annoy me. And you tend to get a lot of guys in this Starbucks talking about picking up Japanese women or other things like that which can be annoying. Or people doing impromptu English lessons - which is common in coffee shops, but this one is just so crazy crowded that it makes no sense to do one there.

Anyway, I eventually finished my hot chocolate, and headed back to the subway. They were finally letting people back on the trains, and I picked up my little ticket that said the trains were delayed for an hour (they pass them out so people can prove to their bosses that they weren't, in fact, just hanging out at a coffee shop making disapproving body language at strange foreigners) and finished the commute -- still crowded because of the delay -- to work.

I'm usually here at about 8:30am, today I didn't get in until 10:30am. Already two hours behind schedule!

And I love my schedules. Ah well. At least I get to rant about it on my blog. :)

November 7, 2007

Overheard at the bar

When she said priori probability, I think she meant a-priori probability ...

Of course, I have to admit that this bar is the one in the hotel where many attendees of the TREC conference are staying, but still, I think it is a very funny bit of overheard conversation. I kind of like the idea of a bar in which conversations about statistics are commonplace. Perhaps that is what every bar in the MIT area is like, but certainly it isn't anything I run into at my favorite bars. I'm lucky to hear English being spoken at the bars that I frequent. :)

July 17, 2007

A Quick Trip to the MoMA

I came to New York for a few days for a friends wedding, and while here I stopped by for a brief visit at the Museum of Modern Art. I really enjoy the MoMA, and have visited there often. For the wedding of my friends Ron and Michelle my sisters and I got them a membership to the MoMA, which they have kept up ever since. I had about two and a half hours in the afternoon, so I stopped by.

The big exhibition that they have currently is 40 Years of Richard Serra Sculpture. I've seen some Serra pieces before, once in the Guggenheim in Bilbao, but wasn't really impressed with this exhibition. I liked his pieces in the sculpture garden, but the rest of the things that were exhibited didn't seem well utilized in the museum space. I think a lot of his stuff does better in a less formal environment, where you have more of an experience that isn't focused on the sculpture itself, but on the harmonization with, and contrast to, the surrounding environment.

I really enjoyed pieces in the Automatic Update exhibition. Particularly, 33 Questions a Second, an interesting piece that randomly generates questions in rapid succession using some natural language processing techniques.

Over in the Architecture and Design Galleries, usually my favorite part of the museum, they had a great exhibition juxtaposing modern and old design. There were some really great examples in there, particularly the iMac / TV combo I highlight to the left. I also have an iPod / Radio combo shot that is cute. There were a lot of interesting functional design examples, and interesting examples of industrial design. That floor is always lots of fun to check out.

In the same area was an interesting look at Helvetica, the first font in the MoMA collection. Coincidentally, my friend Ron told me about an interesting documentary about the typeface that is something I would like to track down and see.

There was another nice exhibition called "What is Painting?" with contemporary art from the MoMA collection. I thought that one was well worth checking out. As always, a short trip over to the MoMA is always worth the effort, even if it has the most amazingly hard and tiring floors of any museum in the city. I swear they've learned the secret of gravity-control plating and artificially increase local gravity there by about 20%. My feet are always sore after even a short trip to that museum.

July 15, 2007

Sable-Koo Wedding

On Sunday, July 15th, 2007 my good friend Carl Sable married the beautiful Cha-Eun Koo in New Jersey.

While I was a grad students at Columbia University, one of my first and best friends I made there was Carl Sable. I think the story about how we met is completely indicative of Carl's character. I went to one of the first classes that I had to take entering the Master's program in Computer Science, and I saw a guy wearing a Hoagie Haven T-shirt. Since I grew up in the Princeton area, I knew about Hoagie Haven and knew that I had to talk to this guy.

I went over and sat down next to Carl, and we struck up a conversation since the T-shirt made an easy introductory topic. Prior to coming to class, I had (for some reason) been thinking about palindromes. We started talking about those, and Carl let me know that he's been making palindromes since he was a kid, and had a great one with: "We? I vote cinema! ME! Nice to view!" Of course, it takes some explanation, but is completely understandable. Carl loves movies. In a hypothetical situation where a group of people are talking about what to do, Carl might suggest to go see a movie, which is quickly vetoed by everyone else. After lots of arguing about what to do, someone else suggests a movie and everyone agrees to it. Then Carl is mad, and utters his palindrome.

I was really impressed and even more so when I told Carl that I had been thinking that it must be possible to make some sort of palindrome with "flog" and "golf", but hadn't come up with anything. Carl almost instantly responded with "Re-flog a golfer". Since then, we've been great friends.

So when I heard that Carl was getting married, I made sure that I could make it out there for the wedding. The timing worked well, since it followed a business trip to Italy (which I'll hopefully write something about soon) and I was able to swing by Dallas to see my family for a few days as well.

I am very happy for Carl and Cha-Eun. I'm not positive, but I think that the first time that Carl and Cha-Eun met was when I invited Cha-Eun, a friend of mine through our mutual friend Lena Park, and Carl to a Bishop Allen and We Are Scientists concert at CBGB's. I'm not sure that this is correct though - I could just be misremembering horribly. I'll have to ask Carl about that actually. Anyway, it was a beautiful wedding, with great friends, great food (and too much of it!) and interesting music. One of the (controversial) highlights was when Carl and Cha-Eun walked into the ballroom after the reception. The music was the theme song from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Sounds strange, but it totally worked.

The ceremony was non-denominational, outside, and very brief. I was really impressed with how to-the-point the ceremony was. Cha-Eun's grandmother dressed in a Hanbok, the traditional Korean formal dress, while the rest of the party was in western formal clothes. There wasn't a very strong influence of Jewish or Korean customs, but some of each around the edges which was quite nice. I particularly liked how at the reception we sang and danced the traditional Hava Nagila song, and also raised the Bride, Groom, and their parents in chairs. Everyone seemed to enjoy the dancing and food after the wedding.

The one complaint that I would have is that, when I think back to Dave Han's wedding in Korea, one of the points that most stood out was when Dave Han bowed to Jiseon's parents, he got down on the ground and put his head to the floor. A full out kow-tow. When Carl bowed to Cha-Eun's parents, it was only a very small head and upper body bow! (Of course, I'm mostly joking Carl, I love you!)

March 24, 2007

Ishiyama-dera

After the Japanese Natural Language Processing Conference, I had a few hours before returning to Tokyo, so I went to the nearby Ishiyama temple, which is said to be where the Japanese author Murasaki began writing the Tale of Genji. It is a really beautiful temple, with very large grounds and nice areas in which you can walk around.

On the way back I walked past the Seta Karahashi bridge (also shows up in some old folding screens and some other nice pictures) before getting on the JR line to Ishiyama and catching the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo.

January 14, 2007

Eating too much in Korea: a wedding tradition?

On Friday January 5th I got on a plane and went to Korea for Dave Han's wedding. He married Jiseon Park, and the ceremony took place in Gangneung Korea, on the East coast. It was very exciting for me for a few reasons: I've been friends with the Hans since I was a kid, and it is always lots of fun when I can spend time with their family. I've seen Dave a few times at UT when I go there to visit my sister, and was excited to meet his fiancé. I also haven't seen Greg (the eldest Han brother) in a really long time, and I'm always happy to see Eric. I've also never been to Korea before, and one of my good friends from New York was in Seoul visiting her family, so I was really looking forward to seeing her in her native Korea. Finally, I really love Korean food and have been looking forward to eating the real authentic deal for years.

Since Gangneung (compare to Wikipedia's entry on Gangneung) is about three hours away from Seoul by express bus, it was an all-day affair getting there. The wedding was on Saturday, Dave was looking dapper in his tux and Jiseon was beautiful in her Christian-style wedding dress. Christianity is very popular in Korea, about a quarter of the population is Christian, so it makes an interesting comparison to Japan. The ceremony, was entirely in Korean except for a few bits that the preacher also said in English directly to Dave. The night before, when I just arrived, Eric, Greg, myself, and Jiseon's brother-in-laws all went out drinking (something that I did an unreasonable amount of in Korea) but Dave Han begged off because he had to study for the wedding. He did in fact have a few lines that he said in Korean. It was actually a very nice ceremony, even though I didn't understand anything. The choir also sung in Korean, and sounded amazing.

After the wedding everyone went downstairs and we had lunch and a reception. There were not speeches or anything, just lots of very good food. For the reception, Dave and Jiseon changed into traditional Korean outfits. We all sat around and ate for about an hour, and in fact had lots of food left over. Gangneung is right on the coast, so there was a lot of sashimi and fresh seafood. After the lunch, the "young people" and the newlyweds squeezed into a van and we went to the coast for ... four more hours of eating and drinking. I was going to explode. The food was excellent though. The table was just piled high with plates, and lots of very fresh food. There was some octopus sashimi that was so fresh that the autonomous nervous response system was still running, so when you grabbed one of the cut-up tentacles, it would wiggle around. After the post-lunch gorging, we went to Jiseon's family's house for more food. I was going to explode.

Back at the house, everyone played a very fun traditional Korean board game called Yut. You play with four sticks that can land either round side up or round side down (so basically four two-sided dice) and the point is to move five pieces around a board before the opposing team can move their pieces around the board. The Wikipedia articles gives an in-depth explanation, so I won't talk about that. But while our team was down at first (lost the first two games) we came back for a strong win by taking the next three games! We did have to extend to a best-of-seven series though.

The next day I went to Seoul, which again took up the majority of the day for the three hour bus ride, and spent some time in the large COAX shopping mall. My friend Lena showed us around the city, and we also were kept very well fed. It seems like there is a cultural tradition to keeping guests extremely full. Since the food is great though, I really couldn't complain. I did gain a kilogram over four days in Korea though, which is frightening. It is going to take me ages to work that off while in Japan (which also has great food.) We also did some Karaoke singing in Korea, which is very popular (just like here in Japan, but perhaps even more popular?)

Sadly since I only had four days in Korea, I didn't really get a chance to explore any temples or museums. I plan to go back sometime when it isn't so cold, and I have a bit more time to explore. Still, I really enjoyed seeing my friends in Korea, and eating until I was about to explode.

August 17, 2006

Salk Institute in San Diego

On August 17th, 2006, Ron deVilla, Michelle VanNoy, and I went to the Salk Institute for a tour. The Salk Institute was designed by Louis Kahn in consultation with Dr. Salk, who developed a vaccine for Polio. It is a really beautiful and flexible building for lab spaces.

July 20, 2006

Wednesday, 2007-07-19 Part II: Seasickness, food poisoning, or a heart attack?!?

We headed back to the boat, and I think the next stop was a two hour cruise with drinks. I decided that I wasn't too comfortable on the boat for two hours, so wouldn't have any alcohol.

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Wednesday, 2007-07-19

At Coling, traditionally one day is reserved for an excursion to see the sites in the area. I think this is a nice idea. I'm fairly bad at planning sightseeing when I'm on my own, so it is nice to have a large group to go with.

Part I: The Zoo and Manly Beach

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July 19, 2006

Tuesday 2006-07-18

I went to lunch with Min-Yen Kan and Kathy McKeown. We had a very nice lunch, and Kathy was very helpful with career advice.

Met up with a Group of Columbia related people for dinner.

July 18, 2006

Monday 2006-07-17

Yesterday I met up with Stephen Wan and got the keys to his sister's apartment. The plan was to take a nap and get up at 7pm to go to the welcoming cocktail party for ACL/COLING. I started my "nap" at 4:30pm, woke up at about midnight, and then kept sleeping up 7:30am. I somehow managed to find the convention center, about a fifteen minute walk from the apartment, although it took me closer to half an hour on my first try, and attended the conference. I've got blog posting with my notes from the talks over in my research section if you are interested. The first day was very nice.

Post-conference drinks

I met up with Stephen and his crew, which was large, and we went out to a bar for dinner and drinks.

During the conference I had a nice chat with Professor Nanba from Hiroshima University at the conference.

July 16, 2006

Sunday 2006-07-16 (Trip to Australia)

Part 1: To the airport

Today has been a long day. It started out as a Saturday morning, in a relaxed enough manner, at 9:30am. The previous evening I had gone with some friends from work to the Mitama (Soul) Festival at Yasukuni Temple, near work. Since the evening was late, I decided to leave my computer and conference announcements in the office and pick them up before going to the airport on Saturday. Since I have a commuter pass to work, it doesn't cost me anything but time to get to work and back, so I didn't see much of a downside to running out there to fetch stuff again in the morning.read more (1876 words)

January 14, 2006

49 hours in busses, planes, airports and taxis

So I left Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday morning, catching a bus to get back to Singapore. The bus ride, on Aeroline, took five hours to get to Singapore. We watched "The Princess Diaries." I can't believe that I watched "The Princess Diaries", but I did. Also, did you know that you have to go through customs and immigration when you pass from Malaysia to Singapore on a bus? Of course, that makes sense, but it just seems strange to go through immigration from a bus.

When I arrived in Singapore, I had to catch a cab to the airport, and then I had about six hours to wait until my flight to Korea. The airport at Singapore is very nice, they have free internet access (wired only though - wireless is pay) and lounges that come with power and ethernet. The plane ride to Korea was about 8 hours or so, from 10pm at night and we arrived at about 5:30am at Inchon airport in Korea.

I had a fourteen hour layover in Korea, and that was just terrible. I was able to access the internet using my Maxis broadband monthly service that I signed up for while I was there, but it wasn't economical because you have to pay a roaming charge. I tried to find places to sleep, and did find the nice commuter lounge, but it was pretty full. Even if it wasn't, I don't sleep well on a small half-sofa. If you are lucky though, you can push two of the sofas together and make yourself a pretty nice bed.

The flight from Korea to New York was about 12 or 14 hours. I forget. I was sitting next to a pretty big guy and he took up the armrest - through no fault of his own, he was just large - and I was already tired so it just wasn't very comfortable. At least I got to watch some Law and Order episodes before my laptop battery ran out.

About two hours before the flight ended, I walked forward to the bathroom (instead of back to the ones I had been using) and noticed that my friend Jung-yun was on the flight! She was flying back to New York after visiting her friends. How crazy is that!?

After getting our luggage, Jung-yun and I split a cab back to Manhattan, I arrived at my friend's place, and stopped the timer for the trip. Total time in airplanes, airports, taxis, and busses: 49 hours and 49 minutes.

January 1, 2006

Happy New Year!

Celebrated the New Year in Kuala Lumpur with Gyn-Ian Yap, Sue-Ling, Ken-Wei, and Elissa. Nice fireworks at Petronas towers, and then a crazy crowd trying to get into the subway to get home.

December 31, 2005

Coffee Shops in Malaysia

I'm currently in Kuala Lumpur visiting a friend of mine from my undergraduate days. I've been meaning to visit Yap for years, and since Kualu Lumpur is only a five hour bus ride from Singapore, I finally was able to make the trip here. I've really enjoyed Malaysia so far, Yap and his girlfriend Sue-Ling have been taking me all around to see the sights. It is strange for me because this is the first time my Christmas and New Year's celebrations have been hot and sweaty. I'm not sure that I'm cut out for this sort of humidity, and the sun certainly doesn't work well with me. I have enjoyed the nice internet access that I've been able to pick up in the coffee shops though.

December 24, 2005

Weddings in Singapore

I went to Singapore for my friend Min-Yen Kan's wedding on December 23rd. I met up with another Columbia researcher, Michelle Galley, and we had a blast running around Singapore doing touristy things. I don't approve of the Taxi system in Singapore though: we spent two hours trying to get one once. Singapore's Taxis have been a bit kinder to me than Malaysian taxis though.

October 12, 2005

Trip to Hiroshima, do I have to change this website to FuguTabeta.com??

On Tuesday evening I took a train from Tsu to Nagoya, and from Nagoya to Hiroshima on a Hikari Shinkansen. The picture is actually of a Kodama Rail Star train from Hiroshima because the shot I got of my Nozomi 700 Series Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo didn't turn out well.

On arriving at Hiroshima, I met with Professor Hidetsugu Nanba (難波 英嗣 先生) for a very, very nice dinner. We ate at a place called きっ川, proprieter 吉川 修平 (Kikkawa Shyuuhei). It was a fresh seafood restaurant, small, and with a very nice personable atmosphere. Every dish is described and explained by Mr. Kikkawa before you eat it. I really enjoyed the dinner, it was just excellent. We also had a nice local Sake with the dinner, 雨後の月 (Ugono Tsuki).

The first course was a nice Sashimi, and then there was a baked fish and a stewed fish? There was a great tempura course, and as Mr. Kikkawa explained, the anago (conger eel) was caught earlier that morning by Mr. Tiger, a famous Anago fisherman in Hiroshima that has been catching them for 40 years. It is said that he catches the most delicious Anago. It certainly was delicious.

The next course was a soup with many interesting things, mostly mushrooms and oysters, but there was also Fugu. Yes, Fugu. The namesake of this site, which I've been running since about 2000, but of course I've wanted to try Fugu for much longer than that. Maybe I first heard of it in 1996, in my first long trip to Japan. So, I had the Fugu, and it was delicious. Now, do I have to buy the domain FuguTabeta.com?? (FuguTabetai means "I want to eat Fugu", FuguTabeta would mean "I ate Fugu".)

So if you are ever in Hiroshima, I highly recommend Kikkawa. The phone number there is (082) 241-0002, but you had better know Japanese if you call there. It is a small place, so reservations are recommended.

 

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