Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bye-bye Thailand

Our flight left at 8am so we had to get up really early. Yesterday's fruit was mangosteens, so we had them for breakfast. They were really good! Now I know why people rave about them - they taste so much better fresh.

We had booked a car with the hotel to take us to the airport. While checking out of the hotel they couldn't get my credit card to go through and no one was at the visa office to do an authorization when they phoned. Too early in the morning! The telephone lines sometimes don't work so they couldn't get my card to work with the authorization machine. We just hung out in the lobby chairs and waited... trying not to think about how much the final bill added up to. LOL Finally they just had me sign a credit card slip and we were off.

We were blessed with another maniacal driver. Half-way to the airport all of our relaxation in the spa was destroyed when the driver braked hard and almost wiped out an entire family on a motorcycle! (In Thailand it is not uncommon to see five people riding on one bike). Our hearts were in our throats pounding wildly - it was a really close call. When we finally got to the airport, I didn't tip the driver. Not only did I not have any baht on me, but I figure if you nearly get us in an accident you don't deserve a tip.

We went to check-in and the woman was just rude. I was really surprised. She wouldn't let us take our small suitcase as carry on. Last time we were there, the woman at the check-in counter escorted us to immigration. This time she just waved her hand and before we had even left the counter had called over the one other person waiting to check in.

I went and paid my airport tax - as my ticket was an airmiles ticket I had to pay tax separately. Then they said Hiroshi had to pay airport tax too. The Thai Airlines office in Tokyo told us that he had already paid airport tax there! In the end the Thai office in Tokyo had lied to us and Hiroshi did need to pay tax. This was a minor problem because they only accept baht - of which we had none. So we had to wait for a foreign exchange office to open. I was not happy to say the least.

While we were waiting, a bunch of young Thai girls who worked at the airport stores came in and sat down on the benches across from us. They had a giant bag of fruit (the ones with hairy spikes - don't know what they are called either) and offered to share them with us. Their kindness and excited talking put me in a bit of a better mood. Finally the exchange office opened and I exchanged some yen, we paid the airport tax and rushed to the business lounge. Yet again, we only had about ten minutes to relax in it. I went to duty free and picked up some souvenirs for my students though. (It's a Japanese thing). This time the duty free had a nice selection of smaller gifts. Last time they didn't have much except $10 boxes of chocolates. So it was good that I was able to find stuff that didn't cost an arm and a leg.

The flight to Bangkok is short but we got breakfast anyway. (It is only a one hour flight). It was a tasty Thai noodle dish. The transfer at Bangkok airport wasn't bad either. Last time it was horrid - maybe because my feet were badly sunburned and it hurt to walk the 2 km to our gate! This time I was able to relax in the business lounge. Hiroshi had an upset stomach, so he was doing more running to the toilet than relaxing. We had wanted to get some souvenirs for ourselves at the airport shops in Bangkok but didn't have the chance. Oh well.

The flight home was fine. The flight attendants rushed the food though. They kept trying to take away our plates even though we were still eating. I don't know why. I was really surprised because the other three business class flights we've been on, they've been really patient and right on the ball in terms of serving times. Strange. During this flight, we finally watched a movie on our personal movie screen. We watched it while we ate dinner. Hiroshi watched Scooby Doo and I watched Brother Bear.

Arriving at Narita everything was pretty straight forward. We took our time walking to immigration and customs. By the time we got to baggage claim our suitcase was already going around the carousel. Then we got tickets for the train home. By the time we actually got home it was 10:30 at night. It made for a long day. While it felt good to be home, I missed the fluffy pillows, king sized bed and sounds of the waves when going to sleep.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Last Day in Paradise

I woke up to another beautiful morning. Hiroshi was sound asleep and not too interested in waking up so I went down to breakfast by myself. I walked around and took some pictures of the plants and flowers that were all over the hotel. Then I hung out on the lounge chairs on the balcony and did some reading while watching the palm trees sway overhead (above).

When Hiroshi got up, he was hungry so we went down to lunch. We had a salad and a pizza. I just picked because I was full from breakfast still. We also had coconuts as our drink - whole young (green) coconuts with their tops hacked off and a straw and orchid garnish. Young coconut juice is not milky, but more like water. It was nice and refreshing! We enjoyed the view from the restaurant during lunch too. It was one level down from the other restaurant so we could see the waves crashing into the rocks (below).

After lunch we just relaxed until it was time to go to the spa. Yesterday I booked us the super spa extravaganza - 4.5 hours of indulgence! We started with the herbal steam. It was too hot and hard to breath, so Hiroshi didn't like it. I had to keep leaving the steam room to cool down and get some fresh air. I wasn't too keen on it either. Then we had a body scrub. Hiroshi had the salt scrub and I had the yogurt coffee scrub. It was wonderful. It felt so good! The ground coffee was only mildly scratchy so it felt good to have it rubbed on my back and limbs, and it smelled really good too!

Then we moved on to our herbal bath, but first had a shower to wash the scrub off. It was kind of funny because Hiroshi was wearing disposable underwear (he was a bit unsure about going buff in front of the masseuses) but he was 9falling out the side. He ended up just taking them off because they were made of see-thru gauze like stuff anyway. After the shower we climbed into the bath. There was lemon grass, lime slices, lime leaves and other things. Very refreshing actually. Hiroshi and I were throwing things at each other, putting leaves on our body, making faces out of the herbs and splashing each other. Hey, no one was in the room so we could play! We asked for cool water (after the steam we didn't want hot) and it was really nice.

After the bath we moved on to the massages. We had foot reflexology - I wanted it because I'd never had it before. It actually hurt. My feet are really sensitive. I had the masseuse with fingers of steel! She was really good though and listened to me and ended up using the perfect amount of pressure. It felt ok, but I'm not sure if it actually did anything. I don't think I'd get it done again. Some people swear by it, but the other treatments were just so much better.

After the foot reflexology we moved on to our massages. Hiroshi had a Thai massage, so he got Thai pajama pants (because you have to move and twist your body) while I got to stay au naturale (covered with towels of course) because I had the combination massage. Hiroshi felt his massage was too rough - Thai massage uses a lot of pressure. He didn't realize he could ask them to be more gentle. He enjoyed it, but it hurt a bit. My massage, however, was the best massage I have ever had! It was so relaxing! This was because I am usually tense because the masseuse uses too much pressure and hurts me. This time, she had perfect pressure. At the very end she did this cool thing that cracked my back and I was in relaxation heaven.

But we weren't finished yet! We still had the facial to go. Usually I love facials. This one was ok. Hiroshi had fallen asleep and was snoring so it was a bit hard to relax LOL. I also had a bit of gas, and well, you just don't want to let one in the middle of the treatment room! While the facial wasn't relaxing in itself (it might just have been that I was already relaxed) it did wonders for my skin! My face was all glowing and soft and moisturized when we were done. So it did what it was supposed to. I love the spa!

So we ended feeling pampered and relaxed. Originally we had wanted to go to a spa one beach north of where we were, but we couldn't reach them on the phone. The hotel spa was much more expensive, but the treatment room was much nicer and the professionalism was fantastic. They even had flowers floating on water in pottery bowls so when you were face down on the massage table you had something pleasing to look at.

Afterwards we were hungry again so we went to the Italian restaurant in the hotel. It is only open Fridays and Tuesdays in the low season, so this was our one night to go there. Throughout our whole stay we just ate in the hotel. I had originally planned to go to the restaurants just down the street, but they are really quiet - which means there is a higher chance of getting food poisoning. Hiroshi didn't have health insurance (we totally forgot to get it) so we didn't want to risk anything. While our food bill was astronomically higher by eating at the hotel, the food was wonderful and the service was great. There is a big difference between having your chair pulled out from a linen-topped table and plastic backyard chairs too.

The food at the Italian restaurant was incredible. Very, very good. The service, however was lacking. It took them 10 minutes to come and take our order - despite making eye contact with the waiter and indicating we were ready. After our canape, they removed my plate and the table cloth underneath was moldy. I asked for a wine recommendation and it didn't go well with what we ordered... I think she just recommended what bottle was already opened (we ordered a glass rather than a whole bottle). And then I asked for regular water and she brought a US$8 bottle of Evian!

Once the waitress went away, we had a lovely dinner though. We had both ordered the same pasta - it had sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and other yummy things in it. Dessert was this yummy chocolate creation that had hot liquid chocolate oozing out of the center of a small cake - mmmmmm. Towards the end of dinner Hiroshi came up with the depressing comment when he asked "This is the last time we will do something in luxury, right?". Until he asked I had never even thought of that! How depressing! We hadn't planned on going anywhere until we leave Japan next October for our world trip (which will be backpacking) and when we finish travelling it is time for kids, so that will be at least 25 years of a restricted budget! I think we're going to have to go somewhere again to rectify this! LOL

After dinner we went back to our room and packed and got ready to leave. It was so sad because I wanted to stay at least another day. Well, another year would have been nice LOL.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Paradise Here I Am!

After a long, restful sleep we woke up to another beautiful day. I spent the first few minutes of the morning looking out over the ocean (above). We had a huge breakfast again and then got ready to hit the beach! First we went and did some shopping because Hiroshi needed some new flip-flops. I also wanted to get some postcards. We just went to the stores that were right outside the hotel. Hiroshi got some good flip-flops, but I wasn't happy with the postcards - they were a bit damp and grimy from being in the open air all the time. So I decided to just get them from the hotel later. I even bargained the price of the flip-flops down. Neither the owner nor I was too into bargaining so it was half-hearted, but I did get the price down by about US$2.

After shopping, we went and got towels at the beach desk and asked the attendant to set up chairs and an umbrella for us. While talking to him, he said that right then was a good time to swim if we wanted to because the tide was coming in so the undertow wasn't as bad. So we went into the water and jumped around in the waves for a while. I didn't want to be in the direct sun for too long (bad burn memories from last time we were on that beach!) so I went back to the lounge chairs and sat under the umbrella watching and listening to the waves. It was sooo relaxing! Hiroshi had fun jumping around in the water and I just enjoyed the view - which was great because there were only about 5 other people on the whole beach!

We wandered back to our room, and met the cleaning man. I was suprised because it is usually women who are maids. He was bringing our ice bucket and fruit for us. The fruit for the day was 'shampoo' in Thai. It looked like a red bell pepper without the green top. The man didn't speak English very well so he didn't have the English name for the fruit. It was really good though. It was kind of a mix between an apple and an Asian pear. Nice and light and refreshing.

I wandered down to the hotel gift shop to get some postcards and ended up buying some gifts for my parents... which I can't explain otherwise I'll ruin the surprise. I bargained with the shop lady and ended up with a 20% discount. There were some really beautiful things in the store. I'm sure all of them were way over-priced compared to what I would pay to go into town and get them, but I just couldn't be bothered leaving the hotel! And even if they were over-priced, they were still good value in my opinion - especially with my bargained discount!

After relaxing a bit more in our room we headed down to dinner. Tonight was the Thai buffet. We switched from mango smoothies to coconut shakes tonight. The buffet had two huge ice sculptures! One of a swan and one of a fish. The appetizers were really good, and so were the desserts, but the main dishes were only so-so. While eating we were searching for new animals and insects and found a huge green thing on the wall. Kind of like a praying mantis but it had a flat body and normal front legs. Toward the end of dinner I took a big drink of my coconut shake and it was just too much - too sweet after so much food. I ended up feeling ill - like a kid after eating too much Hallowe'en candy so we went back up to the room and I had a little lay down.

I ended up falling asleep for about 5 hours! Eventually I woke up around 2am and Hiroshi was still awake so we grabbed the bottle of champagne (from duty free), got two champagne glasses (which came with the mini-bar!) and headed out on the balcony. The night was clear so we got to watch the stars while we laid on the lounge chairs and sipped away. It was so nice and romantic! After about an hour the mosquitos were bugging us again (despite not having any lights on) and it was starting to rain a bit. We pulled out the mosquito coil and sat in the wicker chair area to finish off the champagne. Eventually we went inside and went to bed. All of a sudden there was a huge rattling and pinging - a storm had come in and the rain was boucning off the roof of our bathroom (it was an opaque sky light so the rain made a sound hitting the plastic). Then there was this giant BOOM! and the power went out! It came back on right away (I assume the hotel has a generator) Didn't matter to us though, because we were all snuggled in bed.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

So this is 5-star service!

We had left the curtains open when we went to bed last night so we woke up to the sun trying to break through the clouds, and the wonderful view of our balcony (above). Thailand is two hours behind Japan, so when we woke up around 10 Tokyo time, it was actually only 8 in Phuket. So we went back to sleep for a couple hours!

We wandered down to breakfast, which was included in our room rate, around 10. Wow. The breakfast buffet was huge! A man was on hand to make eggs as you wanted as well as pancakes and waffles. We both ordered omelettes with olives, mushrooms, onion, tomato and bell peppers. There was also bacon, sausage, potatoes, seared baby plum tomatoes and toast. And that was just the western breakfast side. There was also a Thai dish, Japanese breakfast food (rice, seaweed paper, raw egg, natto which is fermented soy beans, and some other stuff), a ton of multi-grain breads and pastries with a selection of homemade jams, fresh juice, fruit, make-your-own muesli and cereal.

The staff rushed to pull out my chair every time I came back to the table. They also re-filled our coffee cups with the little pot that was sitting on our table (it was really cute porcelain with little fish on it). They also put the napkin on my lap every time. So this is 5-star service! As we ate a leisurely breakfast we could watch the ocean and listen to the waves. Birds flitted by and were chirping happily and there were butterflies everywhere! One brave bird was even hopping among the tables looking for crumbs.

When we got back to the room, housekeeping had come and restocked the water, brought more fruit (green citrus fruits today), filled the ice bucket and tidied up our messy pile of clothes! They were all folded and the desk had been tidied into neat piles as well. So this is 5-star service! Of course after having a hard morning of eating breakfast, it was time for a nap. Hiroshi went to bed and I went and had a quick nap on the balcony and read a bit of a magazine.

At 1:00 there was a cooking demonstration. Hiroshi was still sleeping so I went by myself. It was just one hour, but it was free! A special activity put on by the hotel. There were about ten of us all together and we made Tom Yam Koong soup. It was so easy! I imagine a lot of this had to do with the fact that everything had already been cut up for us, but I really like the fact that the measurements for the ingredients were basically 1 spoon or two pieces. For example, two pieces of lime leaf or one spoonfull of fish sauce. I went easy on the chili sauce in mine and created a soup masterpiece. It was so good! I was so impressed with myself!

I ran up to tell Hiroshi about my cooking adventures, but he was still half asleep so I hung out on the balcony to do some more reading. The wicker couch was really comfortable! Finally I was bored around 4:00 or so I woke up Hiroshi and we decided to go to the beach.

Right now it is rainy season in Thailand so the waves are quite big and there is also a big undertow so swimming is dangerous. There are red flags all along the beach. We just sat on the lounge chairs and watched the waves. It was really nice. We also waded in the water up to our knees, just to get in the ocean.

We wandered back to the hotel (all of 20 meters) after about half an hour and gabbed to the towel attendants while we washed the sand off our feet in the foot pool. They also had showers there if you wanted to use them. The men were all bored because there were no people around so we gabbed and joked with them for a bit. Then I went to the front desk to ask about the lemon grass tea we had got as our welcome drink yesterday. I wanted to order some because it was really good. Well, the woman at reception called someone and said that they would bring some up to our room! No charge! So this is 5-star service!

We relaxed some on the balcony with our tea and listened to the ocean. Then we got dressed for dinner. The staff were still intent on pulling out my chair. While we were waiting for our food to arrive the mosquitos came out in force. I asked for a mosquito coil, but they didn't have any for the restaurant (it is open air so it is normal to put a coil on the floor by the table in Thailand). So they rushed around and five minutes later they came over with a bottle of repellant for us to use. So this is 5-star service! It worked pretty well too!

We had spring rolls and coconut soup to start. Both of these were fabulous. Then we had a chicken stir fry and Phad Thai (Thai noodles). The chicken stir fry was good - but Hiroshi ate one of the chili peppers and ended up choking in the bathroom. Those suckers are hot! We didn't enjoy the Phad Thai because we were too full at that point to eat it! It had big pieces of seafood and large shrimp in it though, so would have been great had we still had enough room in our stomachs. So overall a yummy dinner, and there were floodlights illuminating the ocean so we had a great view. There was also an owl that swooped by occassionally which was cool. 5-star service in the middle of nature!

So after a very large dinner we rolled ourselves up to our room and discovered that someone had been in our room - to replace the water, refill the ice bucket, give us more clean towels (because we had used some of them when we had showered earlier), replace the glasses we had used for the lemon grass tea, and turn-down our bed and put a fragrant flower on our pillow! So this is 5-star service!

Saturday, June 26, 2004

An Inauspicious Start

Today after a miniscule 3 hours of sleep we got up and rushed out the door to catch the train to the airport. Hiroshi was plodding a bit in the morning so we almost missed the train. We had to run to the platform to make it. The train ride to Narita was relaxing and we got another 30 minutes or so of sleep. There was some confusion over which terminal we were supposed to get off at. I checked on the internet and thought Thai Airlines left from Terminal 2 (the first stop) but our tickets were to Terminal 1. When I bought the tickets, the man at the train ticket office looked it up in the schedule book so we were a bit worried. I just went and checked the sign on the train - but Hiroshi was all freaked out because I didn't know where we were going. This stressed me out and the fighting began. Gotta love traveling.

We checked in without a problem and were able to take all of our luggage as carry-on. We went thru security and then bam! We were hit with a wall of people. I've never seen it that bad. There is a huge room for immigration that has about 20 desks holding 2 immigration officers each. Well, the room was full (each line extending easily by 50 people) and had spread around the entrances and into security where people were bunching up, craning their necks and pushing while trying to jostle for a better position.

It took more than 45 minutes to clear immigration (or is that emigration since you are leaving?) mainly do to the fact that I, of course, choose the slow lane. Basically there was a woman ahead with three kids on one passport who hadn't filled out the proper forms who was holding up the line. I felt for her, who wants to travel alone with three kids, but come on. We finally made it thru and I'm stressed because I don't like waiting in line (lack of patience - just like my father) and Hiroshi is bitching and we have all of our bags to carry, and so the fight continues!

We stopped at duty free to get champagne. I wanted to do other shopping but Hiroshi wanted to go to the business lounge (we went to the business lounge). We couldn't find the business lounge which notched the stress up a bit more and when we finally got there, we only had 10 minutes to enjoy it before boarding the plane. The tempers flared and so did our fight. So I won't go into the "he said she said" run down, but suffice it to say we were still fighting as we were sitting on the plane... and half an hour into the flight I was in tears, he was pouting and the flight attendant was worried. It was all so embarrassing. But the Thai Airlines staff were wonderful and eventually we both stopped nitpicking at each other and settled in to enjoy the fight.

The flight was uneventful and the food was pretty good. We had bulkhead seats which actually suck in business class because you get less leg room there (compared to economy class where you get more). Otherwise business class is just so much nicer than economy and well worth the US$200 we paid for our seats LOL

We had a soft landing, and as we were walking to immigration and customs the humidity hit us. Hot, sultry and heavy. I picked the slow line again to go thru immigration. We got in the line that had 5 people instead of the lines with 30. We were third in line. I figured I had it made. Ha! All of the other people, in all of the other lines, with the exception of 10 (of like 400) had cleared before we got to the counter. It wasn't too bad though because after sitting for 7 hours, you just want to stretch your legs a bit. We picked up some brochures on the way out of the airport and got a prepaid taxi too. For 650 baht (about 16 bucks US) we got a taxi to the other end of the island (about 45 - 60 minutes).

So far the trip hadn't been off to a great start, but we were now in Phuket and on our way to relaxing in heaven. The last time we were in Phuket we had the hotel come and meet us and I didn't realize it then, but that driver was incredibly safe and cautious. This time our taxi driver was practicing for the Indy. Driving 120 km/hr along a 90 km/hr road is fine, but difficult to do when there is a lot of slower moving rush hour traffic. By weaving, honking and passing, our driver managed to maintain his speed. Sometimes we passed on the inner shoulder. Once we fell in behind a car that was passing a truck. I guess the passer was going too slowly because our driver proceeded to pull onto the shoulder of the opposite side of the road to pass the passer! Talk about being white knuckled! Other tactics included driving along the shoulder at a light and pulling up in front of all of the other cars waiting so that we were halfway into the middle of the intersection.

About half way to the hotel both Hiroshi and I started to feel ill. It might have been the crazy swaying from side to side, but I think it was the air conditioner in the car and/or the huge change in humidity (from 0 in the plane to like 100% on the ground) and possibly even a bit of dehydration. Hiroshi was looking a bit pale and thought he was going to vomit so I asked the driver to pull over and Hiroshi went and hung his head between his knees near the ditch. After a few minutes of fresh air he felt better and got back in the car in the front seat and rolled the window down so he could stick his head half out to feel the wind (kinda like a dog LOL). This actually had a good effect on the taxi driver because he stopped driving like a maniac and slowed down. Phew!

Finally we arrived at our hotel and were greeted with a jasmine flower necklace, lemon grass tea and an icy cold jasmine scented wet towel. Ahhhhhh. Now we were talking. This was more like it. We were escorted up to our room which was stocked full of amenities. When we entered the CD player was on (a selection of CD's was included, and you could ask for a different genre if you didn't like what you had). There were real plants, including a colourful bird-of-paradise-like plant on the desk. There was an unlimited supply of bottled water (compared to the usual only one or two complimentary bottles), a hair dryer in a linen bag on the dressing table in the bathroom, an adaptor plug, an electric mosquito coil, huge king bed with duvet and two lofty down pillows for each of us. On the table by the chair in the room was a selection of citrus fruits and grapes.

After checking out our balcony, we decided to have a nap. We were exhausted from the flight and lack of sleep the night before. So we slept for about four hours and woke up a bit more refreshed. Then we went down to the casual restaurant (the other two have dress codes) and had an asparagus salad, pizza and mushroom gratin. We didn't feel like Thai food. We also had smoothies which were delicious! The banana one was a bit too heavy on the lime in my opinion (although still good) but the mango one was tops.

After dinner we went for a walk down the road from our hotel. Overhead the electricity lines were snapping and buzzing and actually sparking at the transformer. We decided to turn back for fear of being electrocuted by a fallen power line. Just before turning in, we went back out on our balcony and watched the starts for while. A lovely end to a stressful day. We had made it to paradise.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Scary stuff

Well, I'm glad I wasn't in Shibuya this morning because a man with a gun shot a station worker. What the heck? Apparently all the commuters panicked and rushed towards the exits. The English news doesn't have many details yet.
Other headlines from today:
- girl shoves 5 year old boy off a building to prevent him from tattling on her
- 2 women stabbed in Saitama (the prefecture north of Tokyo)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Tonight on my way home I felt lucky so wandered in to the pachinko parlour. I haven't been there in ages. Mainly because it is so smokey, so I haven't been since I quit two years ago. Well, maybe once in all that time. Anyway, I won! I won about US$300! So hey, our spa treatments in Thailand are paid for now! Now, if only I could win at Lycos' 3 Eyed Bingo... wouldn't mind the $4000 prize on that one!

Monday, June 21, 2004

2 days in a row!

Yay me! I went to the gym today again - this is really good because I usually slack off, find some excuse and/or get busy and don't make it consistently. I had a great workout tonight. I did timed laps and worked my butt off - literally I hope LOL I'm starting to feel it already.

Today a typhoon hit Japan. It was a bit unusual in that it jumped the main island and went up the west coast. Usually they get sling shot up the east coast. So we just got a bit of rain today and some strong winds this morning... which were heaven because walking outside early this morning was like walking into soup. It was disgustingly humid.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Wow, I cooked!

I went to the gym today and hung out in the pool for a while (good for me!). It felt good to be active - there always seems to be something else I have to do other than going to the gym, so I'm glad I made a point of going today. And I made a nice healthy dinner too. Last time I went to the international grocery store I bought some salmon burgers, so I made those with asparagus and sliced tomatos. Nice and colourful! Then we had coconut pudding for dessert. Ok, that wasn't so healthy, but wow did it ever taste good! It is an iron chef creation that they are marketing. Delicious!

I also did the grocery shopping so I have healthy food to eat this week - got some melon for breakfast tomorrow morning and also got some baby leaf salad to eat with lunch or dinner. Being domestic is so unusual for me LOL I've been so busy I haven't had time to do anything related to the house in months, which means Hiroshi has had to do it all. I even got around to doing two loads of laundry this afternoon! Wow, I actually did something productive on the weekend!

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Movie Mania

So I was feeling the beer I drank last night when I got up this morning. I haven't drank in a long time and well, I forgot that I now get mild hangovers. Oh the joys of aging. Anyway, I dragged myself out of bed and then dragged myself to the train station, squinting into the bright sunlight wishing I had sunglasses. And as I exited the train station, my student called to say she couldn't make her lesson. The same thing happened last week! Argh! Why couldn't she have called 30 minutes before then? You know, when I was still half-groggy and sucking back water to rehydrate myself... when I could have gone right back to bed! Oh well, I went home and went back to bed anyway.

When we finally got up (Hiroshi is still sleeping all day and staying up all night), I decided I wanted to be super lazy and that I just wanted to go to dinner and maybe a movie. Baked potatoes were calling, so we headed out to Outback. The service was good, the potatoes rocked, and they actually got the bill right this time. So they are back in my good books. Then we went to the gelateria to get some dessert. Blue salt gelato tastes so good!

When we went to buy tickets we discovered that Harry Potterwas playing! It isn't officially released until next weekend. But, the only tickets available were in the first row. So we went back to the original plan to see 21 Grams. And then we saw the sign that Harry Potter was playing all night long, so we bought tickets for the midnight show! Double feature so to speak.

21 Grams was amazing. What a fabulous movie. I thought it was excellent. Incredible performances by everyone. Hiroshi hated it - we have totally opposite taste in movies it seems. I recommend seeing it though. Harry Potter was pretty good. I felt it lacked the mystery of the novel though. Perhaps that was because I already knew the outcome, but I seem to remember that the book seemed much more involved and a bit darker. Sure this one was darker than the other two, but I don't think it quite made it compared to the book. So Harry Potter is entertaining, but not fabulous. I should remember that this is a movie geared towards children rather than adults, so I guess it can't be totally scary or parents would be upset.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Karaoke Marathon

Today at work, one of the office staff had brought in cookies. I asked her if she had gone on vacation (I thought they were Japanese style 'souvenirs'), to which she replied no, she was leaving the company! Colour me suprised! So luckily, I finished class early tonight and was able to go to her sayonara (goodbye) party. I arrived a bit late, but that is fun in a way because you get to see your co-workers half-baked.

After the dinner I convinced everyone that they had to go to karaoke whether they could sing or not. Gotta love peer pressure. Some people didn't take much convincing though. So we were off to karaoke for songs and more beer. I haven't been to karoke for a really long time - more than a year I think! Which really is sad, because I love singing. After one hour we still wanted to sing more but the place was too busy for us to extend, so we all went home.

I still wanted to sing though, so I called up my husband and we hit one of the karaoke places near the station. So we sang for two hours and it was fun. We haven't gone to karaoke in ages together. The great thing about going as a couple is that I get to be a mike hog. We pretty much split the time 50/50 and got to sing lots of songs. I should make a point of going more often, but maybe on a weeknight. It is so much more expensive on the weekend. Actually, during the week it is only a couple bucks an hour, including a drink, before 7:30 at night.

So finally after three hours of singing and countless hours of drinking I came home. Gotta suck back some water cuz I'm going to feel it tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Apparently you can now get orange cauliflower. Orange?? That's just weird. It supposedly has lots more vitamins in it, but orange? Now some of you know I have an aversion to the colour orange (ghastly colour), but I don't mind orange veggies and fruits. As long as they are supposed to be orange. I'd feel the same if they suddenly started marketing red cucumbers.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Cockroach invasion

They're here. Every summer in Tokyo around June the cockroaches come out like a giant army overtaking the streets. Tonight they arrived. Scurrying down the sidewalks, slinking into the shadows, zipping along at an incredible pace.

I absolutely hate them. Insects should just not be over an inch long. Sure the cicadas are bigger, but they remain hidden in the trees. And I have never had a cicada scurry out from under my futon or crawl across my foot - which traumatizes me all over again just thinking about it.

So this means we have to set up the cockroach defense. The darn things like to make their way into our apartment. Not because it is dirty - the things are just everywhere. It took me a long time to get over the fact that seeing a cockroach on the wall of a restaurant in summer is kinda normal. Although I refuse to go back to any restaurant where I spy them. They are also running along the floors in the supermarkets at this time of year. Anyway, we have our chemical spray which doesn't really kill them right away, but if you are fast and have good enough aim, you can slow them down, and even immobilize them if you are lucky.

Now I strongly believe that squishing cockroaches is bad. Not only because of the aweful crunchy noise and feel that they have, but because I'm convinced every captive cockroach is laden with little baby cockroach eggs. So, after spraying the suckers with super chemical, then we whip out the pink foam spray. This spray forms a little packet that wraps around the thing so you don't have to look at it. Which is good, because they give me the willies. Nor do you have to squish it, because a few minutes later you just pick up the pink foam pouch and throw it away. This stuff would be great for just killing the cockroaches, but the spray is so high powered, it just aids the cockroach in its getaway by pushing it along with a big aerosol powered wind. So it has to be a two step process.

In addition to our chemical extravaganza, I've also told Hiroshi that he has to clean up his pile of books in front of the sliding doors to the balcony. They are like a beachside condo paradise - all they have to do is run into town (aka the kitchen) and mosey on back to their dark, cool hiding place. The fewer hiding places the better!

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Why do the wackos always come up to me? This is the question I continually ask myself. Why can't nice people come up and have a conversation with me? Instead just the weirdos seem to seek me out.

On Friday I went to the kaiten sushi (rotator belt sushi) and was idly watching the fish go around and around and around, occasionally being distracted by shouts of "irashyaimase" (welcome)and the sushi master slapping individual orders together with a pat of rice, scoop and dab of wasabi and perfect placement of the fish filet. Some man sits down beside me with long, slightly dirty finger nails, wearing a slightly out-dated, slowly going threadbare suit. Then he proceeds to eat by grabbing the sushi with his (dirty) hands, patting it in the soy sauce and shoving it into his mouth.

Suddenly he turns to me and asks if I speak English, and not wanting to be rude, I answer yes. He then proceeds to tell me in a highly arrogant and very un-Japanese fashion how he is a very successful interpreter, and he doesn't just interpret but advises, and oh, I speak Chinese, oh, and German and, and, and. This guy was so full of himself. I tried to shrink into my chair to avoid talking to him, but with no luck. He was on a mission. In fact he wants to write a book with me. How this came about, or why he wants to write a book with me I'm not sure. But this guy was just weird.

Finally, he had a meeting to go to and he left, and I relaxed with the relief of knowing he was gone and that I could finish my lunch in peace. Only he came back into the restaurant. Twice. To tell me more information and ideas about the book we're going to write together. Finally, I could finish my lunch in peace and I slunk out of the front door like a spy on reconnaissance making sure I wouldn't run into him again.

So,looks like I won't be going to that sushi restaurant again. Don't want to run into him again. He gave me the creeps. And here I was trying to be nice thinking I haven't had a random conversation with a stranger in a long time. Ha - now I remember why.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Intrusive Media

There are photos splashed all over the web of the Reagans greiving at Ronald Reagan's funeral. Now, is it just me, or are these pictures in really poor taste? I mean come on. Do people really need to see a picture of Nancy breaking down in tears as she is getting into a car? Pretty tacky in my opinion. How do the Americans feel about this?

Friday, June 11, 2004

Naming children

The Japanese government controls names of new babies - meaning you are limited in what you can name your child. While I think this is a restriction of freedom, I think something like this is needed in North America to counter-act the trend of giving your child a weird name along with choosing the most bizarre spelling of it possible. Are these parents trying to torture their kids? Different, sure. *rolls eyes* Obviously they have forgotten that "different" means ridiculed to death by their classmates.

Anyway, this naming thing causes quite a lot of problems for foreigners married to Japanese. When they have children, they often choose a western name for their child, which must be written in phonetic script rather than characters. Apparently there are rules for this too. If the government doesn't agree with your phonetics interpretation, you need to go through a huge bureaucratic nightmare to change it. Basically it would be like wanting to spell "Ann" as "An" and being told that that is not acceptable, so the child's name will be "Ann" until you can prove otherwise.

Who knew that naming a kid could be so complicated? Whatever happened to just naming it after a grandparent or someone who means/meant something important to you?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I love the mailman!

Today I got lots of good things in the mail! My package from Land's End came (thanks mom and dad!) so I got some nice new shirts and stuff to wear. They even sent me a $15 off coupon for my next order - yippee! More shopping!
And, my ticket to Thailand came today too! So we're set! The hotel is booked, the tickets are in our hands, and I've found a nice spa that we can spend the day at. So the countdown begins - 15 days and we're outta here!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Good as new

Wow, the washing machine works great now that it has been fixed! you just throw the laundry in, set the wash cycle, set the dryer for an hour and a half, and when you come back later it is done! It used to be still wet, and took forever to dry. Reminder to self - next time something breaks, get it fixed right away.

Tonight I made Thai curry. I only used half of the curry paste packet tonight and it was much better. Last time it was way too spicy. Burn your face off, can't breathe spicy. This time round it was just right for me. I think we could probably go with 3/4 of a pack even. I added in a ton of veggies (eggplant, bean sprouts, mushrooms) and a whole bunch of shrimp. I even de-veined the darn things. Do you have any idea how long it takes to de-vein those wee tiny cooking shrimp? It seemed like forever! But who wants to eat the poo vein. Ewww.

Anyway, it was delicious and I can't wait to take a Thai cooking course in Phuket so I can cook even more yummy food. Something other than curry and spring rolls. Or at least learn how to make the curry from scratch. I was going to make it last night, but couldn't find curry paste at any of the three grocery stores near my house. So I had to make a trip to the internation grocery store on my way home tonight. Where I saw lassi mix... mmmm lassi. Lassi's are good. I want to know how to make them from scratch though. And will need to get some good Indian curry to go with it.

Cool volcano pics

Yahoo! News - Two Indonesian Volcanoes Spew More Smoke, Hot Ash
These pics are amazing! Too bad there aren't more of them.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Yucky veggie chemicals

My mother-in-law, who is a health freak, sent us some kind of powder that is supposed to remove chemicals and stuff from vegetables. When she called she was up in arms because she just learned that Japan was using toxic chemicals on their vegetables. Well, they've been doing that forever. That's why I peel everything. Scary stuff. Well, I no longer have to peel my veggies and now can get the good vitamins in the skin cuz I have the miracle cleaner.

I must say, while my MIL is a bit obsessed, she does find some really cool things. At first I was like, how can a powder get rid of chemicals? And it supposedly gets rid of the wax on some veggies that seals the chemicals in the skin. So I threw some of this powder in a bowl of water, threw in the veggies and came back a few minutes later and nearly barfed. Oh my god! There was a film of slime on top of the bowl! It was shiny and waxy and downright disgusting. Boy am I glad I always peeled stuff before!

So then I put in bean sprouts... and the same thing happened! Not as bad as the eggplant, but still very clear. Yuck! Of course the whole thing makes me laugh in a way. Instead of getting the government to ban the use of the chemicals, someone invented a new chemical to get rid of them. Gotta love Japan.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Rainy Season has started

Apparently rainy season started today. I'm a bit confused about the whole rainy season thing in Japan. I mean, it always rains a lot here. So I'm not quite sure as to why June/July is classified as rainy season as opposed to September typhoon season. I think it might all just be a big scam so the Japanese can say they have more seasons. (Japanese people are very proud that they have four seasons and don't understand why you look at them like "so what?" when they tell you this.)

On a completely unrelated note, Cal showed me an international food store on Saturday and I bought a bunch of things like hummous, rye bread, and KD (macaroni and cheese). I don't know what possessed me to buy the KD. Ok, I was suckered in by the 40% cheesier advertising. This is just stupidity on my part because KD always gives me heart burn. So I made the stuff tonight, took two bites and threw it in the garbage. That stuff is just aweful! How can people feed that to their kids? I swear, it tasted a lot better when I was 6. The recipe must have changed. It is foul, evil stuff. Please let me remember this the next time I get tempted in the store.

The hummous and tzaziki were delicious though! We had that Saturday night with a nice bottle of Chilean red wine. Just needed some better olives, but had to make due with canned ones. Oh well. It was delicious. And they have chickpeas and all of the other ingredients I need to make my own hummous, tabouli and felafel, so once I dig out my recipes I'm set to make a Middle Eastern style feast!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Visiting Kai

Hello cutie!

Today we went to visit Yasu and Eriko and their son Kai. We haven't seen him in about 6 months. He is even cuter than ever, and is now 13 months and just getting the hang of walking. He's at the stage where throwing things on the floor and making disasters is fun - and funny for the guests. I was quite surprised that he didn't make shy. We had fun playing with him all day.

There was a big festival in Yasu's house. I went last year to the festival as well. This year we got to hang out with the kids version. Usually you only see adults carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) around, but in their neighbourhood there are 3 things for the kids as well. The youngest ones follow a moving taiko drum around. For kids about 3 or 4 there was a mikoshi on a cart that they could pull with ropes. It was pretty funny because you'd walk 20 meters and then tehre would be a rest break. At every break the kids got a treat of some sort. There was also a miniature mikoshi for kids around 6-9. They also got rest breaks. At the very end of the route everyone got this giant bag of treats as well - it was like Hallowe'en!

After following the drum around and getting some pictures, we went back to Yasu's apartment and ate all of the snacks Kai 'earned' being pushed in his stroller behind the drum. Then we went out again and visited the food stalls for festival food. It was so crowded - and it was rainy all day so it was crowded with umbrellas. Lots of people were running around with bare bums - they were wearing traditional Japanese outfits. Usually, people wear a happi coat, which is like a short robe, that covers the bum (cuz the sarong (? wrap) thing they wear is like a giant thong). Here, however, there were lots of rather nice naked male butts running all over the place.

I got some cute kid pictures that I hope to get up in my photoblog in the next few days, but here's one of Kai in the mean time.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Updated the photoblog

I finally got around to updating the photoblog! The entries start from May 1 - so you'll have to go to the second page. The link is on the right.

I'm relaxing just thinking about it!

The beach I'm going to!

Friday, June 04, 2004

Yippee! Thailand here I come!

In three weeks, I'm going to be here! Relaxing, hopefully in the sunshine on my balcony overlooking the ocean.

Now I'm just obsessing over whether 20 extra bucks a night is worth a balcony that is twice as big. Well, as big as my apartment actually! Ha! The difference I think is that the big balcony has an overhang so you can sit outside in the shade ... or maybe more importantly, out of the rain.

So I ended up getting a airmiles reward ticket. I transferred my few miles to Hiroshi's account (cuz he has the most miles), and then I scammed some from my mom (thanks mom!) and then we ended up having to buy some more. Well, we didn't have to, but for about US$230 we got a business class ticket! How's that for scheming? It was going to cost $350 just for the upgrade one way! On top of the price of the economy class ticket. So we're laughing. Two business class fights to Thailand, currently listed at 3300 buckeroos each on the Thai website, or 2700 at the discount shops ! We just got like 6400 bucks worth free. This makes me happy! And to think we got two free miles tickets back in August as well! I'm starting to like this idea of free travel. And business class... I want to go early just to sit in the lounge and drink free coffee. Ok, I'm a loser. But, it is so relaxing compared to cattle class!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Stressing over tea

Yesterday when the laundry machine man came I was all stressed out over tea. In Japan, after a workman finishes the job, you over him something to drink. So first I thought water, but figured that was kinda cheap. So what about tea? Green or black? What if I make bad tea? Ok maybe water. But what if the ice cubes are stale (they'd been in the fridge for about 4 months) and make the water taste bad? Ok green tea. That's Japanese. Should it be hot or cold? Mmm, cold because it is hot out today. But what about those ice cubes? Ok, well maybe I'll just make a test glass. Hmm... it's kind of a funny colour. It doesn't look green. It looks kinda yellowish brown. I can't serve yellowish brown green tea can I? Wait, is this glass clean? Or should I use the tea cups? Or are they only for hot green tea? But they are kinda small, so maybe the glass.

I swear to God that is what was going thru my head. Can we say obsessing??! I mean, really, it was a cup of tea. (But he didn't drink all of the tea and after the first sip he waited a long time to take another so maybe my tea was really bad...) Ok, this is just sad. Do Japanese house wives go thru this agony?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Must be something in the water

Recently our washer/dryer has been acting up and stopping 6 minutes into the dry cycle. It also hasn't been drying very well either... and was taking like 4 hours to dry things. Which is silly because they'd probably air dry in that amount of time. So we called the repair man to come.

While he was here, he did general maintenance as well. He cleaned all the electrical connections which had fuzz on them, and then sat on the floor with a coat hangar and scraped all of the gunk that was stuck inside the discharge cavity. It was gross! Tons of wet lint gunk came out. No wonder there was a damp smell! Because the machine hadn't been taking enough water out of the clothes when it was on the dry cycle it wasn't washing away the gunk. Ewww.

Then he replaced a water valve. For some reason the water in certain areas in Tokyo eats away at the seal and then the valve doesn't work properly. Hunh? What exactly is in the water that is easting away at plastic?? Makes me glad that we use a good water filter. Geesh. I have heard that there is dirt in some water in Tokyo. One of my co-workers said today that the water in Shibuya and Minato wards is the worst in the city. But I don't live there, and as far as I know, there isn't any dirt in my water. So, that leaves the question, what is happening to the valve. Is it really the water or just an excuse?

It gets weirder too. Apparently, from what I understood of the Japaense conversation between Hiroshi and the repair man, this only happens in buildings with water towers (as opposed to water tanks) and only happens in apartments in the 5th thru 8th floors. Umm, is that freaky or what? And this only happens in Japan - the washer is a European model, and it doesn't happen anywhere in Europe. Which brings us back to, what exactly is in my water??

When we first called they gave us a quote of about US$150 to fix the thing. Hiroshi flipped, but I thought this was quite reasonable. I expected a couple hundred. What do you guys think? How much does it normally cost to fix a washing machine or dryer (mine is combined so it is a bit different). The good news is that they fixed it for free! How's that for lucking out? They said that next time we'd have to pay for the repair though. I'm just happy that we saved 150 bucks! Cuz that offset the price of buying my plane ticket to Phuket direct from Thai airways. We got it from the airline because we can upgrade it if there is space available on the day... but it was about $120 more expensive than the discount travel agency's quote. I figure $120 is worth the possibility of a fairly cheap upgrade to business class.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I'm not an illegal alien!

I went to the immigration office this morning to get my visa. I got off the bus at 8:40, lots of time before it opened at 9... but people were running from the bus into the building to start lining up! I couldn't believe it! By the time I got to my line there were already 30 people waiting... at 8:50!

Everything moved fairly quickly though and I got a 3 year spousal visa pasted into my passport. Yippee! I never have to go thru that aweful procedure again! We won't be here in three years. Then I zipped over to the counter to get a re-entry permit (allows me to come back into Japan if I leave) so I can go on vacation and whatnot. I was shocked. The whole thing took about 5 minutes. I filled out this big, long form while I was waiting before and I don't think they even really read the thing. Oh well, I'm not complaining!

So I am relieved to have it done now. I was starting to worry that they would decline it. Even standing in line I started to worry, because the notice you get in the mail just says to go to the immigration office "regarding your application" - not that it was approved. Now all I have to do is make a trip to the city office to let them know that my visa has been renewed and I'm on a spousal visa now instead of a working visa. How come none of these places are conveniently located near the station?? Geesh. At least I won't have to wait long at the city office.

The funny thing of the day was the erratic way they were calling people to the counter. In Japan, the machines that give you a number are everywhere. We are conditioned to grab a number and then wait. Well, at immigration today, while waiting to get your passport back, they were calling the numbers randomly. So first it was #21, then #35, then #8 and so on. People were running up to the counter asking why their number had been skipped over (assuming that they were going in order). Talk about total confusion. Especially since you sit there repeating your number in Japanese over and over again in your head (38,38,38) so it will click when the machine calls you (these really are fully automated ticket machines LOL). So you start to pay attention when it gets close to your number (36 - ok it's almost me!), but with this random thing it was impossible to tell (5 - what??!!). Everyone was sitting there with their eyes glued to the number indicator so they wouldn't miss their turn.