Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hello again! Some updates on life

I thought it might be time to revive this blog. A lot has happened since the last time I updated this blog! Since then (May 2015), I've moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area from Hong Kong. In the summer, Yalu and I went on an epic tour of Southeast Asia, renewing my belief in long vacations. I stayed in HK for a few months, waiting for a transfer that never happened. So I resigned and came back to the States on my own, in time for Thanksgiving. This post is a short recap:

  • After the hike to Tai Mo Shan, Sally and Durand left Hong Kong.
  • Yalu arrived in Hong Kong and we set off on an adventure:
    • Flew from Hong Kong to Hanoi. Ate a lot of food and went on a boat cruise in Ha Long Bay
    • Flew to Ho Chi Ming City. Stayed in a very Japanese part of town. Went to a beach resort.
    • Took a bus into Cambodia and arrived into Phnom Penh where Yalu got more pages in her passport.
    • Took another bus to Siem Reap where we stayed at an amazing 5 star resort.
    • Toured Angkor Wat by tuk tuk and then by bike, during a monsoon.
    • Flew out to Laos and arrived in the UNESCO Heritage city of Luang Prabang.
    • Ate some really good food and visited an amazing waterfall
    • Flew to Chiang Mai where we went to the highest peak of Thailand
    • Then we ventured into the mystical country of Burma by taking a nearly empty flight
    • Arrived in Yangon towards the evening and stayed at a sketchy hotel and was joined by Yalu's friend Ariel
    • Took an early morning flight to Bagan and stayed at another nice resort where they let us check in at 7am. 
    • We took bikes from the hotel to visit the temples where we have to walk around barefoot in the really hot day. Surprisingly, ate some more really good food.
    • Ariel and I found that we have a lot of mutual friends.
    • Ariel flew back to Yangon while Yalu and I took a van out to Inle Lake
    • Went on a lake tour and got caught in another monsoon on the way back. Really don't know how the boat driver managed to find the way back, in the middle of heavy rain, thunder, and lightning.
    • Burmese food is pretty good.
    • Flew back into Yangon where we stayed at a really stuffy hotel and went on a train ride where we nearly freeze to death in the highly air conditioned car.
    • Flew to Bangkok where we enjoyed the moderness of the place. Stay with one of Yalu's friends at a 5 star hotel and enjoyed her amenities.
    • This is where we parted ways. I flew to Singapore while Yalu went to Phuket. 
    • After all this traveling, I got sick in Singapore and slept on the couch of my friend's apartment for a couple of days.
    • Flew to Perth and arrived in winter. Got to Sally's house and proceeded to borrow her clothes, sleep in her bed, and eat her food.
    • Perth is really, really nice, even in the winter.
    • Flew back to Hong Kong via Singapore. 
  • Joined Pure, a really nice, expensive gym and went there several times a day, many times a week. Feel like I'm getting old because it took about two months before I saw any results.
  • Resigned from Arup and flew back to Oakland via Japan. Had an adventurous day in Tokyo.
  • Home for Thanksgiving.
  • Helped my brother applied to $2,000 worth of colleges
  • Met up with a lot of Bay Area friends. 
  • Flew to LA after Christmas and hung out with a family friend. Also got to see Sally and Durand while they were in LA.
  • Flew over the Pacific on New Year's Eve and landed back in Hong Kong. Spent the transit in an airport lounge.
  • Arrived in Bangkok after taking three consecutive flights on separate reservations so I had to leave the security area and check back in every time.
  • Attended a Thai wedding.
  • Flew back to Hong Kong where I spent a week visiting friends and taking care of miscellaneous things. Packed up the last of the stuff I left at my previous apartment and flew back.
  • Sent out many applications and contacted a lot people for work.
  • Worked part-time for Arup SF as site staff and found site work in the US to be even more boring than in HK.
Hope I didn't miss anything. The last part of 2015 involved a lot of flying. Now that I'm back in the US, I've been applying for some new credit cards with nice welcome bonuses. Hopefully, I can get this job thing sort out, start making money again, and go on some nice vacations in the future. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hiking Tai Mo Shan

Couple weeks ago, I went hiking up Tai Mo Shan, the tallest peak in Hong Kong. The weather has steadily become warmer and warmer so we thought this would be the last chance before it gets unbearable. We met up in Tsuen Wan station where we got a lot of food and drinks. It took us a while to find the bus station, which was on some kind of expressway. There were a lot of people waiting at the bus stop so we abandoned this plan and hailed a taxi instead. The taxi took us up to the country park. It turns out that the road up to the peak from this side is pretty much all paved and you can taxi it all the way up. Instead we walked along the steep path. The view is really nice. You can see out to the Tai Po area as well as out to Yuen Long. You can also see Shenzhen in the distance.

 There is a nice area with benches at the end of the public road.

The public road ends after the bench area and the climb to the top begins. I think it's foggy up there all the time. At the very top, there is a large weather station that's the property of the HK Observatory. The fog was so dense that you can only see the sphere of the weather station once in a while. At some point, we were couldn't even see the people in front or behind us and only heard their voices.

The walk back down the mountain was really pleasant. I really enjoyed this part. The path was a gentle walk and the surroundings was really pretty. I think this part is one of my favorite hikes in HK so far.

We followed the path to Lead Mine Pass and then out to Tai Po. The part from Lead Mine Pass to Tai Po consisted of a lot of stairs down, which I didn't like as much. When we finally reached the road at the end of the stairs, we were pretty exhausted and it was clear that we were still some distance to the Tai Po Market area. We looked for the minibus but couldn't find where the stop was. Luckily, we found a green taxi and took that into town. 

Taiwan again

It's been a long time since I blogged. So here's a quick one about another Taiwan trip. I really like Taiwan and I was really excited to do this trip with my friend Lena. I was there for 7 days, which is the longest I've been in Taiwan continuously. We went around the entire island in 7 days! I flew into Taoyuan and met up with her in Taipei. 

Finally tried Din Tai Fung:

We headed north from Taipei to Jiufen, which is supposed to be the inspiration for Spirited Away. It turns out that most people go there to go hiking. We just walked around and ate a lot of food.

Then we head to the east coast to the Taroko Gorge. I insisted on staying inside the gorge so we managed to book a room at the Youth Activity Center. The place is not listed on the usual hotel booking websites and not many people know about it. But it's really a nice hotel. This is the view from our room.

After a good amount of hiking all over the gorge, we headed to the southern tip. We arrived in Kenting, to a really cute bed and breakfast near the Sail Rock. This part is a short distance away from the main town so it's less crowded but really difficult to get around by public transportation. The wind was strong and the waves made it too hard to swim but it was nice to just enjoy the sun.

Then we headed back up the west coast to Taichung. I didn't really get to spend much time in Taichung. We arrived on afternoon and I had to leave the first thing the next morning for the airport. It takes around 2.5 hours to get to the airport.

Not sure when my next trip to Taiwan will be!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ten Thousand Buddhas

Finally went out to one of the remaining touristy attractions in HK. Sally and I went out to the Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery in Shatin. It's just up the hill from the mall with Ikea. I used to go out there all the time to buy stuff from Ikea but never made it up to this hill. There were lots of statues of monks all along the walk up. I imagine that it must have been a relatively quiet place tucked away in this hill when it was first built. Now residential and commercial developments have crept closer and closer. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Taiwan: Sun Moon Lake

After the failed sunrise, we ate breakfast and packed up for the next adventure. We're scheduled to go out to Sun Moon Lake and our driver arrived to pick us up at the hotel. It turned out that we were the only ones so we basically got a private driver. The driver is a really cool guy and had some really funny stories. He's really knowledgeable about all the touristy things and answered a lot of our questions. He's a really smooth driver which was much appreciated on the windy mountainous road down from Alishan. I took motion sickness medicine anyway, just in case. Halfway down, we ran into a road that had recently poured asphalt so we had to wait around 10 minutes for it to finish drying before being able to drive across. This was the first of the unfortunate events of the day.

We arrived at Sun Moon Lake to find heavy fog all around us. This was the best view of the lake we got from the visitor's center:

Our tour had included a day of a hop-on,  hop-off boat rides that would have taken us between three different parts of the lake. When we got to the first hop on point, the ferry people said that there might be a chance of service suspension due to heavy fog. Our driver told us to call him if we happen to be stuck somewhere. We were supposed to have 3-4 hours on our own to explore the lake before he takes us to Puli and then to the high speed rail. We opted out of going to Puli since it seemed like a mostly industrial town and we would have just gone to see chocolate and beer factories. We thought this would give us more time around the lake. 

We hopped onto the boat and sat in some really heavy fog. The boat ride included some commentary but we really couldn't see anything that they were trying to point out. As soon as we got to the second hop off point, they suspended the ferry service. This was unfortunate because the second check point was mainly hiking up to see temples which included some scenic vista points of the lake. We figured we wouldn't be able to see any views of the lake so we called the driver to pick us up to go to the third ferry station. He was nice enough to come and pick us up. 

We got to the third station and ate some street food. We debated to stick around the area or to go up to this aboriginal themed park via gondola. We decided to go to the aboriginal village since there wasn't much to do around the lake due to the fog. So the driver once again drove us to the entrance point for the gondola. We arrived at a scene of fire trucks and ambulances. It turned out that this was their monthly emergency drill so the gondola up to the park was closed! So basically we encountered blockage of road, water, and air all in one day. The driver ended up driving us up to the theme park where we managed to get student prices for entrance. They wouldn't give us a discount on the gondola not being opened because there is another gondola service in the park itself and that's still running. 

The park itself had a mix of performances, amusement park rides (yes, there was a roller coaster and other large rides), and parts dedicated to showing the traditional houses of different tribes. 

There weren't a lot of visitors at the park and we had a lot of it to ourselves. They opened the rides just for us, basically. The driver picked us up after we were done and took us to the high speed rail station where we got bento boxes for dinner. We played a card game on the train and got into Taipei later that night.

The next day, we did a lot of the sights around Taipei, going to the Elephant Mountain, Longshan temple, CKS memorial, and eating a lot along the way. I left for the airport after we went to to Sunnyhills to eat their pineapple cake.

Taiwan: Alishan

Since I got a one way flight back home, I had to find another one way flight back to Asia. One way direct flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong are really expensive so I was looking around for a good stopover when some of Yalu's MBA friends happened to be in Taiwan around the same time. So I joined them for a few days as a short stopover trip. We booked a 2 day tour to go to Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. I usually don't like organized tours since they tend to make you feel like cattle. But this one was really good since we had a lot of time to do whatever we wanted. The tour basically organized all the necessary transportation. Let's start from the beginning.

I flew into Taipei airport and quickly repacked my luggage. I had a big luggage, small luggage, and a backpack. I packed everything I needed for the Taiwan trip into my backpack and stuffed the small luggage into the big one and left the whole thing at a "Left Luggage" near the baggage claim. You can leave bags there for a small fee for up to 30 days. I thought I would be able to get the bag back when I check in but apparently for big luggage, they just put them right onto the plane for you. For carry-on size items, you can get it after you get through security. It was a bit annoying to not know this beforehand but it's a convenient service. After getting out at arrivals, I got a sim card that gives me unlimited data and some amount of minutes for 3 days. It was all very easy. I got on a bus and met up with friends all within 2 hours of landing.

I got in at night and we got up early the next morning to take the high speed rail to meet our tour group in Chiayi. The tour group turned out to be a van with 4 other people. The driver took us up to Alishan with short stops for lunch and such.

Arrived at the Alishan visitor's center:

There used to be train service from Chiayi all the way up to Alishan. But part of the railroad got wiped out by landslides after a typhoon. The railway is a private one and they haven't been able to come up with the funding to repair it. So the only way up is by car or bus. It's a shame we couldn't take the railway since it seems to be a very scenic one. You can see the part that's damage:

After the driver dropped us off at our hotel, we had a couple of hours to wander around the visitor area. We went to a couple of tea shops to try out the famous Alishan teas. The second place we went to had really good teas at decent prices. It's run by a family and the father and son poured us many flights of tea and had some great stories about how to tell good quality tea. The tea leaves I got from them are some of the best I've ever had. So fragrant and the taste doesn't fade even after making many cups. 

We then met up with a guide who took us through a short hike. She described different sights and was a pro at knowing which angle to get the best photos at each spot. I really enjoyed the hike as we got to see some really beautiful areas and it was not a strenuous hike.  

Our tour gave us vouchers to one of the restaurants where we had hot pot for dinner. The tour was all very do-it-yourself. We could have chosen to eat somewhere else but we didn't really want to think about it. The hot pot was decent. We had two options to see the sunrise the next day. One was a train ride somewhere and the other was a car ride to another part. We chose the train ride and the next morning we got up in the dark and was met with a ton of people at the train station. I really didn't know there were so many tourists. Unfortunately, we couldn't really see the sunrise as there were too many clouds. Apparently it's really hard to see a good sunrise. There's about a 30% chance to see a good one. It was kind of strange as well since there were two older men who stood up on a ledge and talked about random stuff the whole time. The scenery was still nice though.

This was the start of our day of unfortunate events. I'm going to save that one for the next post.

Christmas at home

I'm supposed to be studying for a project management exam so this is where I procrastinate and blog instead. This post is long, long overdue. For some reason, I always think that when I go home, I should have a lot of time to blog and catch up on other things. But it never happens. So here's a post about spending my first Christmas at home in a long time.

I was home for about 2 weeks. I managed to redeem some miles from Singapore airlines for a one way flight home. 

Snowball hogging all the slippers:

So many presents! I basically brought home a suitcase full of presents for everyone. Both of my cousins are also back for Christmas so we had a feast at our house and a really great time opening presents. Just like the old days when we were all still living at home and going to school.

Victor sleeping with a huge bear:

Snowball sleeping in his "tent". We got a dog toy for Snowball since the dog dogs are all much bigger than cat toys. He didn't seem as enthusiastic about the toy as we thought. Maybe cats are just not that into big toys...

The weekend after Christmas, we went on a snow trip to a ski resort in Lake Tahoe. We joined a tour group that basically took a bus full of us from the Bay Area up to Reno on Saturday. On the way, we stopped by Lake Tahoe. It's really beautiful. My mom, brother, and I went with my aunt, two cousins, grandma, and my brother's friend's family. There were 12 of us in total. The next day, we got up really early to go to the ski resort to go skiing. We got beginner ski package tickets that included rentals and lessons. The resort became packed with people really quickly and the lessons took forever. At some point, my brother, his friend, and I got bored of the lessons and we were itching to go up the ski lift. It's the boys' first time going so I warned them about getting on and off the lift. We managed to go up and down the slopes twice without any incident. The third time, my brother's friend fell and got soaked near some melted snow. He managed to walk down and we got him back inside. Then my brother and I took our cousin up the lift for one last run. We lost her on the last part down the slopes and waited for a while before she showed up. She said she literally rolled down the last hill. Anyway, incidents aside, I think we all had fun.

New Year's Eve dinner from Sushi House! I think American sushi places are really creative with the sushi, especially the rolls. You don't really find rolls with all the different toppings and such in Asia. I find that my American friends are always after "authentic" and "recommended" places to eat. I'm always skeptical when someone says something is "authentic". What makes something authentic? Does good food have to be authentic? Or is good food just a category by itself?

I got this snowman cake making kit from Muji and made it with my brother. It took us forever! The pieces were tiny and it was so hard to keep the chocolate melted so that we can decorate the snowmen. There's a toothpick on the bottom of the first photo for scale. Anyway, not sure if this all got eaten. We made it the day before I left.