Travels


General and japan and Travels27 Nov 2012 10:07 am

From a young age, traveling around all the time, I’ve grown used to not saying good bye, just saying ‘so long.’ I live with the hope that I will see most people again in some way, and it’s paid off in unusual ways.

I first met Ron via his blog before I moved to Japan. It’s hard to find a unique voice that writes well in the sea of expats blogging on Japanese matters, but he definitely was one. He was real, he blogged about interesting stuff (living conditions, food, fashion) and he was prolific. And to add to the greatness, he was blogging from Okinawa, not far from where I would be living. I stalked his blog for some time and finally emailed him (or maybe Twitter DMd?)

When I arrived in Tokyo, I met some of the other JET teachers at the airport who were helping with the new teachers orientation, and met his girlfriend at the time. I’m pretty sure I creeped her out by running up to her (a familiar face through the blog, but we had never communicated at the time) and saying “HI I READ RON’S BLOG AND YOU ARE AWESOME, NICE TO MEET YOU” while shaking her hand really hard on the sky bridge from the Narita airport to our bus.

Over the next year and more, I had a few great times out with Ron. He took Mike and I to a great gyoza place, and we shared many a beer with him, and had a great pancake party that first fall after I arrived. I was worried for him as he changed jobs and looked for a new one, constantly on the verge of having to return home. But, he stayed, he 我慢’d (endured). Very Japanese of him.

Long story short, he’s actually from the D.C. area, and after a problem with a trip this summer, he finally made the voyage home this fall, so we hung out. It was great to see him, share a few (ok, many) brews and eat a few Costco hot dogs while he stocked up for his trip back to Okinawa. Lord knows I know what that is like.

God speed, Ron-sensei. I’ll miss you – but it was great seeing you again. Albeit in a place I never expected I would. Who knows the next crazy ass place we’ll see eachother?

Food: Washington DC and General and Travels31 Oct 2012 12:24 am

Twice a year, the White House opens their gardens to the public for tours, once in the spring and once in the fall. Tickets are free, you just have to wait in line to get a ticket, then come back at the predetermined time on it to gain access. As the Canadian Embassy no longer helps you get access to the White House interior, this was as close as I was going to get, so I was up early on a Saturday to get a ticket. The early hour was worth it!

There are a number of tickets, as they let about 150 people or more through every half hour, starting at 9am and ending at 4pm.

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I took a number of photos of things like the West Wing, Rose Garden and the presidential putting green, but I was most interested in the First Lady’s vegetable garden. Only three first ladies have maintained veggie gardens at the White House throughout its history – Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have all had gardens on the property, but Michelle’s is the biggest.

There is a bee hive that produces honey for the White House…

There are 50 varieties or so of produce, and the harvest this year totaled more than 1,000 pounds, all of which is used in the White House. There is a wide range of items, from bok choy to salad greens, artichokes, tomatoes and more.

These were a special heirloom variety of bean, cultivated from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello property. Hence the quote.

(Can you see the masses of people behind me? It’s a popular tour!)

This past weekend I visited Arlington Cemetery, too. I’ve been twice now, and I went specifically to catch some fall color before hurricane Sandy blows all the leaves away. It wasn’t as colorful as I had hoped, but there were still some shots to be made.

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I really like Arlington. It’s a powerful place, and huge. Over 400,000 people are buried there, over 12 acres I believe. I spent a lot of time at Section 60, which is the area where those who died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. It’s incredibly active, as families and loved ones visit those they have lost. I hope to return atleast one more time before I leave D.C.

Food: Washington DC and Travels and work (kinda)29 Oct 2012 10:50 am

Come with me on a tour of the World Bank’s cafeteria! If you aren’t familiar with the World Bank, it’s an international institution that loans money to developing countries to assist them with projects to fight poverty, improve health and wealth and stability.

If you mention The World Bank to most people in Washington, it’s likely that they will immediately mention the cafeteria. It’s legendary in D.C. circles. The main problem is that the World Bank, like many major buildings here, has heavy security. Because of this, you have to know someone who can “get you in.” As interns with the United Nations, we occasionally have to attend meetings in the building, so we were granted building passes a few weeks ago, which puts us in a special group of people who can access the fabulous cafeteria. What’s even better, our office is just a short jaunt from the place.

The day after finding that out, I was literally running down H Street towards the World Bank, so excited to see what waited. I had heard rumors of international food, fresh salads and wine. Could it be true?

After going through a screening and getting our photos taken for our security passes, we were finally inside!

I am in love with the typeface the World Bank uses.

The building houses some 6,000 employees at any time, plus those visiting on business…or just for lunch. From the outset it seems like a hospital cafeteria, but a little more futuristic. Also, the guy serving up lobster rolls at the entrance indicates there is something special inside.

You pick up a tray and real cutlery and head in. There are little booths selling all sorts of items, from a meatball bar (only on Fridays) to fresh salads, vegetarian African stews, an Asian noodle bar, a sushi bar, soups, wood fired pizza – and more. A protein grill has fresh cuts of salmon, chicken and steak ready to go when you decide what seasoning you want.

Fresh fruit, cheese and a variety of salads wait. (There was indeed wine at the tills if you wanted something to accompany your cheese platter.)

Another intern and I made a rookie mistake and beelined for the sushi. I mean, I was craving it, but it’s not the most value conscious item there. Especially when you can get a full three item Indian curry plate for $7, or a steaming bowl of pho for $6. But these sushi chefs were Japanese and the rolls were made to order. They also did chirashi bowls, nigiri sushi and sashimi.

This is the Indian bar, with fresh chutneys and naan. In addition to using real plates and cutlery as well as compostable take away containers, I read on another blog that they work their foods into leftovers, so these might have been made from yesterday’s salad bar.

Instead of packets of ketchup, there are dressing and seasoning bars featuring large communal bottles of Sriracha, soy, dressings and more. There are several recycle and compost bins near the tray drop off area. This IS the World Bank after all. Sustainability is one of their deals.

As you order,  you will hear people order in other languages all around you – I heard French, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese while I was there the other day. The servers switch back and forth as need be.

On top of it all, everything is fresh. These aqua frescas are made daily. Fresh grapefruit, orange and pomegranate are in coolers. The freshly squeezed juices go for $1.20-$1.85.

Dessert was varied, and although a little pricey, it was delicious. There’s even a serve-yourself frozen yogurt bar. The desserts and pastries change daily. There are theme days for the cafeteria as a whole – coming up on Halloween is Hawaiian days, and later in November a Mexican fiesta. The lobster rolls I mentioned at the top were just for that week because it’s the season here, apparently.

The dining area is huge – you can eat in the communal hall, near ancient doors from around the world mounted as art, standing at a bar, or on a bridge in the soaring atrium. Or back at your desk – every stand does food to go.

I got the eel roll (for some reason called the Vegas roll) with coconut agua fresca and carrot cake. It was really bang on.

A coworker got the African street food, and apple strudel. It was not as good as the carrot cake.

We took a stroll around after lunch, checking out the world flag wall and other interesting art and displays they have.

Lunching at the World Bank is going to be one of the many things I will miss about D.C. when I leave.

Travels and work (kinda)18 Oct 2012 09:12 am

Multiple complaints of lack of blogging on this blog have been heard – and shall be rectified. (Especially following five days of delicious eats when Mike was visiting)

Until then, here’s a photo of me in front of the US Capitol. Tomorrow I’m off to the World Bank to pick up my security pass and have lunch at their amazing food court. Should be awesome!

Travels and work (kinda)08 Oct 2012 11:55 am

It is completely amazing to me what a whirlwind this year has been. It began with packing up in Japan, spending time diving and meditating in Thailand, packing up in Edmonton while we picked a place to live in Canmore, a launch of a website I’ve been dreaming of starting for some time, a roadtrip across North America, a phone interview and then another move to Washington D.C. for an internship with the United Nations. I cannot describe to you the range of emotions the year has brought…so instead I will post some photos from D.C.

I’m living in a very vibrant area called Dupont Circle, just 15 minutes walk from work. There is a Whole Foods 7 minutes away, some amazing restaurants and food trucks steps from my door, excellent free museums and a zoo available due to the Smithsonian Institute’s wonderful system, and the weather has been great.

Hopefully there will be more to come soon!

General and japan and Travels04 Dec 2011 04:18 pm

I sometimes feel bad that updating this blog has fallen by the wayside. So here are some photos I took in November(ish).

 

Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels09 Aug 2011 11:33 am

We left Okinawa at 3am or some other ungodly hour. Everyone in Japan travels at three times of the year – Silver Week in September, Golden Week in May, and July/August. So my choices for cheap flights were really cut down and our options were leave at 3am or pay $300 one way for a flight to Tokyo.

Arriving at 7am, we hit the ground running and were on a train and headed into downtown Tokyo in no time from Haneda. This is the beauty of Japan.  We grabbed a snack, stored our stuff in a handy locker (they make them big enough for a standard rolling suitcase and a backcountry backpack) and went to pick up the bikes we had reserved with Neil at Tokyo Rent A Bike.  Despite being exhausted, I was elated to have our bikes and be on pedal power the rest of the day. It was exhilarating, and I will absolutely do this again and recommend it to anyone who is traveling to Tokyo.

With a general route mapped out, our first stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market. After visiting Sushi Dai three years ago, Mike had another place (Sushi Bun) in mind, but it was unfortunately closed. No worries – have bike, smartphone and back up plans – and will travel. We biked a short distance to a street in the outer ring of the market and tried to find a restaurant called Uogashi Senryo just after lunch rush.

It is not known for sushi (although they do serve it), but for chirashisushi bowls. It is behind a dried fish shop and kind of blends in with the other shops. The quality is not the best you can get in the area, but it is popular for a reason. I think my two kinds of tuna bowl was excellent, and Mike’s uni ikura bowl was salty, creamy and hit the spot. Just what we needed after an early morning of travel and bike riding, and just what we needed to power us up the rest of the day.

Uogashi Senryo from the street. They do have an English menu.

 

Recharged we rode around east Tokyo, circling back to the bike rental office while hitting a few big sights and neighbourhoods along the way. Again – I cannot emphasize this enough; renting a bike was insanely easy, relatively cheap and very safe. They come with wheel locks so you can park and lock wherever you are, there are bells to ring and let people know you are coming at them on the fancy shopping Ginza shopping street and 6 gears to make climbing hills in Roppongi easier. Most people ride on the sidewalk, and this is accepted and perhaps even expected (pedestrians beware!) Many many people in Tokyo have bicycles, if only to get them to the nearest train station. It is insane to think that the world’s largest megacity is bike friendly to even the lowly tourist, but it is. If the Neil the bike guy had not been going on holiday I would have totally rented for a few more days. Next time, Tokyo. Next time.

Food: Asia and Travels08 Aug 2011 10:32 am

I have been wanting to visit Another Hound for years. I remember strolling around Siam Paragon a few years ago with my brother and seeing the cafe and wanting to go in so badly – but I was intimidated for some reason. This time, I finally made it happen with my mom for a quick lunch on my last day in Bangkok.

Greyhound is a Thai fashion design house who happen to make clothes I really like. I actually thought that their cafe might be kind of crap they were so good at fashion, but I was wrong. The concept here is Italian bistro x Thai spice, and although that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it works here. Prices are good and the atmosphere is classy. A lot of black, crystal and silver, and a nice view of Siam from the windows.

The restaurant was full of lunching ladies and HiSo (the Bangkok term for high society) kids with too many shopping bags. Service was brisk, and they were sold out of a few things, but we still managed.

“Complicated noodle” Noodle sheets + fresh lettuce leaves + minced pork + chili garlic sauce + cilantro. No really easy way to eat these, but they are great, and judging by a quick look around the restaurants tables, very popular. I want to try recreating them at home sometime! 130 baht, or about $4.50

Watermelon mint shake.

My mom’s delicious ham and cheese grill, with a mound of fries. For something so basic sounding she was worried it was going to be a sad greasy tasteless mess, but it was crispy and fresh and they used high quality cheese and ham. About $5.50

 

Another Hound Cafe is a great stop if you are shopping in the Siam area and want to eat at something other than a food hall. The food is imaginative but well done, and the menu varied to all tastes.

Another Hound, Siam Paragon

 

Food and Food: Asia and Travels07 Aug 2011 09:49 am

After a sad high tea in Hong Kong, I was eager to get back on the horse in Bangkok, this time having an enjoyable experience. My mom and I strolled down the street to the Sukhothai hotel one day to take in high tea.

The Sukhothai is one of most serene boutique hotels in Bangkok. The grounds and architecture are stunning, and although it is being dwarfed by some nearby skyscrapers, it still retains a feeling of exclusivity and privacy.

We decided on the classic Sukhothai tea set. I got a Mariage Frères Earl Grey French Blue tea and my mom got a coffee. We also ordered extra scones.

The tower came out quickly, but not TOO quickly as to suggest they were sitting in the back ready to go out.

Delicious sannies. There was a smoked salmon croissant, pate sausage baguette, an italian job with prosciutto and provolone and then a few little fingers with various more classic high tea fillings. Everything was fresh and not cold like some high tea rooms.

The pastries were fantastic, with nothing overly sweet, and a good mix of melting, crunchy, chocolatey and fruity. Berry tartlet, orange almond mini cake, fruit cake, truffles and matcha shortbread.

The fig scones! It was kind of a mistake to get an extra order – although they WERE excellent and so were the preserves and slightly untraditional mascarpone. Just too much.

My favourite was the eclair. I still miss the ones I would get from Duchess in Edmonton.

Vanilla creme brulee. Neither my mom or I wanted it at first – we were too full. But then I cracked it and inside was silken filling I could not stop eating.

And then, to finish, “Green Goddess” dragonfruit lime sorbet. Surprisingly light.

Afterwards we strolled around the complex a little bit more. They seem to be doing a lot of refurbishing. There was also a wedding being set up, for a Japanese couple!

 

High tea is in the main hotel lobby Monday through Thursday from 2-6pm. The Sukhothai also does a weekend chocolate buffet for those looking for more sweets and less tea and sandwiches. Both are around 800 baht.

Food: Asia and Travels06 Aug 2011 12:47 am

I had originally planned just to do an entry on Soi Convent in Bangkok, but we have been stuck in the house for over 36 hours now because of a typhoon and I need something to do. So this is just a round up of some of the little bits of food we had.

 

Eating at the cafe of the extended stay apartment my parents have a place at.

Margaritas and more at La Monita.

Early morning Caesar and live UFC fight at Home Run Bar.

Lamb kebabs and phad thai at “The Fifth” Food Hall at MBK Center.

2 for 1 margaritas at Coyotes while we waiting for Isao, a Japanese restaurant to open

Bug & Bee is a great 24 hour cafe with a few locations scattered over Bangkok.

 

Food and Food: Asia and Travels23 Jul 2011 05:16 pm

Going to visit my mom in Bangkok this May was a game changer for me. Not everyday has been a party this first year in Okinawa, and I was in a pretty low place when I went on a last minute, parent-funded trip to Bangkok over “Golden Week” here in Japan. Mike was very kind and held the fort down alone as rainy season started.

Bangkok is kind of my home base in the east, and comforting in its chaos. I had no particular plans – do some shopping, hang out with my mom, work out, take some photos, sit in the sun … and eat, of course.

My parents have chosen a place near to one of the most famous food streets in Bangkok as their home the past two years – Soi Convent. It is not a long stroll to go up and down as it is just one long city block, and takes about 10 minutes to walk. But you can get a little bit of everything on or around this street at all hours of the day – in actual restaurants or carts that appear.

You can get breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. From Starbucks coffee, Mexican, Japanese and Irish food to baked goods, fruits, noodles, spicy som tam salad … it was so inspiring I wanted to do a post just dedicated to the sights along it.

Carts sleeping during the day

Taxis and tuk tuks whir up and down 24 hours a day, security guards for the hospitals and schools laze in the shade. Street sweepers work up and down with their oddly useless but effective wood brooms. Clientele ranging from ancient grannies to young school kids and nuns, expats living in near by skyscrapers and neatly dressed Thai office workers mix with the late night party crowd.

It is god damned magical.

Durian cart

Mangosteens were also in season

Hand squeezed nam som, or orange juice.

I made a point to walk up and down it at all hours and reveled in the different vendors and people. Early morning, with the blenders somehow plugged in somewhere to make fruit shakes, fried banana stands, coffee and Thai iced tea vendors.

 

Afternoon brings noodle carts, and fruit selllers with their icey sweet pineapple, crunchy green mango with spicy salt sugar mix and deep orange papaya.

 

As the blazing sun falls out of the sky, seafood platter makers appear, as do ka-nom producers with their hot pans for making sweet coconut and banana desserts or roti.

People drink, talk and eat sitting on plastic stools as tourists and Bangkok residents walk through the kitchen of the “restaurant” they eat at. I am certain if you sat here for long enough, you might see everything. Just like this guy, who I saw every day and is a fixture on Convent, with his big beer belly and, well, beer in a wine glass. Breakfast of champions.

My personal favourite stand is the southern Thai fried chicken lady that I have been visiting for over a decade. It has expanded from one lady who used to marvel I knew how to say simple phrases in Thai, to a fully staffed family operation with an English sign. Here they are, just setting up at about 4 in the afternoon.

In motion while arriving…

…in operation…

…in digestion.

Incredible.

I implore you to visit Convent when you are in Bangkok.

Nearest BTS station: Sala Daeng.

Food and Food: Asia and Travels26 May 2011 10:16 am

 

My favourite meal in Hong Kong was the one we had quite a distance out of the main city core. We originally traveled out to eat some authentic bamboo noodles at Ping Kee noodles – a place, yes, featured on Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations where he went to Hong Kong.

 

After a 30 minute train ride and ten minute walk, we reached Tai Po market. It was a large four floored concrete building with many vendors. There was not a lot of English, and I could not recall through my flu fogged haze what the stall looked like on the episode. Additionally, I did not have 3G connectivity for my cell in Hong Kong. Gahh!

Eventually we found a wifi signal and we sussed out which stall was Ping Kee…only to find out it was closed for some reason. I am still not sure if it was a regular holiday or closed for good. There seemed to be a lot of junk in the stall, which makes me worry that it is closed for good.

 

By this point we were ravenous. I started to feel the pressure of three hungry bellies plus mine and was not sure where to go next. Then I remembered I had also noted a BBQ restaurant nearby. The name? Yat Lok. Another Bourdain favourite, this restaurant was a short jaunt from Tai Po market, and happily still had a table available even though it was pretty damn close to lunch and it was far from empty in the restaurant.

Since he was an incredibly kind man, the owner/chef came out to help us with the menu (since it was all in Cantonese) and explain some things in English. We all ordered different kinds of meat, but mostly pork and goose. As we waited it got busier and busier, the ladies behind the counter hurling out cups of milk tea, and the sound of the cleaver on wood and meat at the front becoming more frantic.

Our meals came out quite quickly and were…delectable. Some of the best meat I have ever had, with apologies to my father, Guy Savoy and the Salt Lick in Texas. Mike and I both got mixed plates to sample the pork and goose, and I am happy we did. The crisp sweetness of the skin on the goose gave way to a shimmering layer of fat, and tender meaty protein. I shifted back and forth between the goose and the char siu, unable to determine which I liked best. My appetite was not up to full speed so I did not eat that much rice and I have to agree with Bourdain – there was no need for the rice. Just a plate of meat would have been the best. Additionally the owner sent out some soup on the house. What a great man.

Alas a woman cannot live on meat alone. Although I would, especially if it call came from Yat Lok.

Goose on the left,  char siu on the right.

Why did I wait so long to post about this? It is only making me crave it more. Good thing we had a really delicious yakiniku meal last night.

While I am not sure I would have gone out of my way initially to eat at Yat Lok (I had planned on eating BBQ at another restaurant closer to Hong Kong) I certainly would now. Recommended.

Ping Kee bamboo noodles
2nd Floor Tai Po Cooked Food Market

Yat Lok BBQ
5, Po Wah House A, Tai Ming Lane
Exiting the MTR, follow the signs towards “Tai Po Market.” After a jaunt, you will see Tai Po market infront of you. You’ll get to an intersection with a large building, which is Tai Po Market. To get to Yat Lok, though, head down the street to the right to an open square market kind of area. Yat Lok is on the square there.

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