After a nice relaxing visit at the Omata’s we had one last big stop on our list – hike an active volcano. Mt. Aso, or Aso San, is known for being a temperamental hot spot that has been smoking for years. At its peak, Nakadake crater, there are about 8 inner craters and a small lake of boiling hot, blue water. The crater is off limits but there are zones outside the most toxic spot with a cable car taking visitors to its edge. Unluckily for us, Nakadake was misbehaving as recently as March, causing the closest safe zone (1 KM around the crater) to be closed off. That, combined with super foggy conditions, made our visit to Aso a somewhat disappointing one.
But before leaving the town of Aso however, we got a chance to ride a classical scenic train that wraps around the southern valley of the mountain. Between the quaint towns of Tateno and Takamori, this hour-long “tour” gave us a glimpse at the communities that live so close to this active volcano. Continue reading Mt. Aso and Fukuoka – The Final Leg
The Omatas welcomed us into their home as guests and showed us the most amazing hospitality. Having known Jun and Rika for years in China, and also tutored their kids, I had always promised I would visit their neck of the woods in South-Western Japan. Since this was an opportunity to do that I made sure that our itinerary included a visit to Oita and Beppu, the hot springs capital of Japan.
Across Beppu you’ll find white plumes of steam rising from cracks in the Earth. On our only full day together, Jun and Rika brought us to various jigoku or “hells” in Japanese. These hells were far too hot to swim in but we’re beautiful occurrences in nature. The sea hell was blue and the bloody hell was red. Other hells were different colors, including a white one. Continue reading Onsen and Hells in Oita
72 kilometers by bike, in 10 hours. This was the middle point of our journey through Japan. Actually, Jake and I had planned on more hiking and biking than we actually did, but this ride was almost more than we had bargained for!
The bike path starts in Hiroshima prefecture, spanning 6 tiny islands and massive suspension bridges, ending in Imabari city on the island of Shikoku. In order to do it all, we rented 2 bikes for 2 days and stayed at a hot spring beach hostel. Covered by orange and lemon groves, Innoshima was probably the most remote of our entire trip. And we sampled the oranges too as we rode through the little towns nestled in these islands. (See a pic below for the entire route.)
With heavy packs on our backs, we still managed to locate the hostel on day one and get a well-deserved hot spring bath to soothe our aching muscles. I honestly don’t know if we could have finished cycling the other 3 islands the next day if we didn’t have that chance for some deep relaxation. Continue reading 72 KM on a Ma Ma Chai in 2 Days in Japan
We all have learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki at some point in History class. But nothing prepares you for what we were about to experience in this city. As I got off the train in downtown Hiroshima I was a little overcome with sorrow. I had never felt a sense of national guilt before. It must be similar to how Germans recall World War II. And you only know what that’s like when you ’round the corner….. and see it – the Atomic Bomb Dome.
This singular structure, with rubble and bricks left in tact, is a visceral reminder of the devastation the Japanese people suffered at the end of World War II. It represents how hundreds of thousands of lives were changed in an instant. The museum, which was packed on a Tuesday, is raw and very emotional. Tattered clothes, melted skin, fused panes of glass, and stories from survivors made the experience all the more heartbreaking. Continue reading That Guilty Feeling in Hiroshima
Himeji Castle, or the white heron, was first built in the 1500s. It has survived 48 transfers of power (both peaceful and not) as well as a bombing by America. Somehow this amazing structure managed to survive after two duds hit it in World War II. (A footnote a British couple made sure to bring to my attention…)
The morning after we arrived from Yamazaki, we lined up to get tickets to visit the white heron. Since we were there early we were given a special ticket. We would be 2 of the first thousand people to visit the main keep that day! This made the visit so much more worth it and I suggest all who go to Himeji to line up by 8am to seize this rare opportunity. To be honest, the main keep alone was worth the price of admission. Continue reading The White Heron of Himeji
You could be forgiven if you thought that we had had enough history lessons after 4 days in Tokyo and Kyoto. But on day 5 we visited Nara, and this was really historical Japan. Only Japan can claim that their first “permanent” national capital was set up in 710 AD. Prior to setting up this ancient capital, says the Lonely Planet guide, Shintoism brought with it the belief that when a new emperor reigned, the capital must also be moved. (Continuing to rule where a past regent died was a bad omen, to say the least.)
In Nara, a park encapsulates the ancient sites of where this first capital was born. The largest Buddha sculpture I have ever seen was on display at the Todai-ji temple. Surrounding it was multiple holy buildings, gates, and pagodas. It was truly a magnificent slice of history that is being proudly preserved for the coming generations to enjoy.
I would be remissed to leave out the most playful and people-friendly wild deer which greet visitors around these historical sites. For $1.50 I got to share “biscuits” with these awesome animals. And when I wasn’t looking, my map got bitten twice! The 1200 deer that romp around the area are a major highlight of this park. I should actually say “town” because they would occasionally walk around the bus stops, enter shops, and pose for photos along the paths. Continue reading Nara’s History and Yamazaki’s Whisky
Kyoto is home to the largest concentration of UNESCO world heritage sites in Japan. This one city is a treasure trove of temples, shrines, and old palaces. You can walk in any direction and within 5 minutes you will bump into either a small Shinto shrine or a soccer-field sized Buddhist temple. Aside from the historical landmarks and visual smorgasbord on offer, I would have to say that our most memorable experience was where we spent the night – in an old, traditionally built Japanese house that I reserved on Airbnb.
Modernity collided peacefully with past twice that day. The first occurred when we took the Shinkansen train lightening speeds over to this majestic, classically Japanese city. The second was when we (finally) found this anachronism we were to call home for the next couple days.
After about 24 hours of domestic and international flying, Jake (my cousin) and I arrived in Narita Airport just before everything closed. Luckily the high you get from descending into a city of lights such as Tokyo gave us the boost we needed to start figuring out how to secure our JR rail passes, exchange money at a bank, and catch the last NEX train to the city. Groggy and half awake, we dragged ourselves threw the turnstiles and into the first of many trains we would ride.
In a flash we arrived in downtown Tokyo. A little video game chime alerted us to the fact that we had made it to the Shinjuku district. But by the time we got off the train we had realized our first setback – Jake’s cell phone had grown legs and went missing… With the jet lag, eyeing our bags, and countless other things to keep track of, it wasn’t hard to imagine that something was going to go wrong at our first destination. We chalked the loss up to bad luck and carried on. Continue reading Tokyo by Night – Cousins in Japan
2015 is the year I returned to Asia for a brief visit. After leaving China in 2013, and getting myself fairly settled in the Boston area, I felt the need to reconnect with my Asian roots! Although I’ve loved being home and getting re-acclimated, a piece of my previous life was missing… the unexpected adventures, the quirky misunderstandings, and the unbelievable cuisine that you find anywhere in East Asia. So, from April 8-22 I ventured back into the wild – this time it was Japan.
My cousin Jake and I have always talked about backpacking and cycling parts of Japan and that’s exactly what we’ve done. Today I start a series of posts about this trip through Japan from the foot of Mt. Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. (I’ll get to how badass this place is soon). We’ve taken wrong turns (and very right turns!) across this majestic land, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the friendliness and generosity of the Japanese people. They are without a doubt the masters of hospitality.
In the following posts I’ll take you on a journey across this mysterious and majestic archipelago – where the sun rises first every morning and the stars sparkle brightly every night. We started in Tokyo where the neon lights, funky costumes, and glorious Edo past is still visible. Then we’ll walk among the artifacts of previous realms in Kyoto and dance with deer in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara. After that, we’ll visit Japan’s oldest surviving castle in Himeji where the “white heron” was finished being renovated only 2 weeks before we got there! We’ll sip on fine whiskies at the Yamazaki distillery before taking the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Hiroshima. We’ll step upon ground once too radiated by an atomic bomb for anyone to visit and see the horror of those times through the Peace museum. Not far from there we voyage to Miyajima to visit the most frequently photographed landmark – the great floating Torri. And that’s just the first half of our trip!
Up-rooting everything and moving back to the US was almost as big a change as the initial move out to Asia. And when you make a big move (new job pending) it’s important to keep costs down and stretch your savings. That’s when the Repat has to tap their network, find deals, and hack the systems that drain your interim funds.
Even though the rent is too damn high (!) you have to find a way to ease into an affordable lease. When I just got back to the US I stayed with family in Boston and NH for a few months. Then I subletted a place and moved on to a lease, all of which were never more than 20% of my income. When your income is low (or non-existent) you have to create some rules for yourself and make responsible choices. It’s that simple. Tap your networks, be a guest, and allow yourself to owe friends and family. You’ll have plenty of chances to be generous to them later. Continue reading Keeping Costs Down as a Repat
It’s August and I’ve been living in Boston since I moved back from China at the end of 2013. A LOT has happened over the course of 9+ months back in America and I thought it was time to check in with AL.ME to recap what’s happened and the hidden challenges of my repat experience. Enjoy installment #4!
Speaking a foreign language everyday for 8 years is without a doubt a great way to build up that skill. You not only learn how to express yourself in a translated form, but you also experience social interactions in a whole new light. However, you will begin to find yourself behaving differently in your work and at home, with friends and your lover(s).
For years I’ve made specific comparisons between the way Chinese and Americans view and interact with the world around us. We have a lot more in common than we think, but the differences are noticeable. Here are a few changes that I’ve definitely noticed while I’ve been back in America the past year.
It’s July and I’ve been living in Boston since I moved back from China at the end of 2013. A LOT has happened over the course of half a year [back home] and I thought it was time to check in with AL.ME to recap what’s happened and cite the many hidden challenges of this repat experience. Here’s the 1st installment about Renting and Moving as a repat!
When you live in another country for so many years (8 in China, 1 in Korea in my case) you eventually accept and internalize how the local culture does things. In the case of finding an apartment for rent, signing a contract, and moving in, there were some surprise differences for me here in Boston. For starters, the value proposition of rent in a city like Boston is a horrible deal.
As Winter 2013/2014 ticked by, the experience of subletting from a “slumlord” (in the local lexis) was more of an exercise in price-gouging than fair accommodation. At $950 a month from each of the 5 roommates, this rickety old house with warped floor boards, drafty windows, unreliable water pressure, and noisy street traffic was a tough pill to swallow when compared to my previous living situation in Zhuhai. Back in China I was in a modern, newly furnished, single apartment with reliable utilities and an ocean view off the balcony for $300 a month. I know… location, location, location. *barf*
Locating an apartment and securing a lease is also quite different than I was used to. In China, I was expected to wait until 1-2 weeks before my move-in date to actually look for the new apartment, otherwise it wouldn’t “be available” on the date I was looking to move. It was all very last minute, but you could always find a place in the end. In Boston, I’ve experienced weeks of searching and interviewing just to sign a lease that would begin nearly 3 months later. All very much in advance and reliable, however, requiring $3000 up front upon signing the lease. Putting that money in the hands of the landlord (a stranger) so early threw up a red flag for this repat, quite naturally, but I later realized that this is how apartment-hunting is done here. I needed to accept this or go back to wherever it was “I came from.” 🙂 Continue reading Repatriating from China – Half a Year on
*This post is dedicated to AL.ME’s #1 fan – Thank you Saba!
A few years back I visited a little island off of the coast of Zhuhai (China) and found an elderly couple collecting seaweed. They were bending over and reaching around rocks that were covered in barnacles and salty sea grass. When I asked why they were collecting this brownish, bumpy seaweed and putting it into big plastic bags they said, “We’re going to make soup with it.” And I just thought… Chinese people have horrible taste buds… Slimy seaweed in homemade soup must taste awful!
But then a couple months ago I was on the phone with my mom who was walking along a beach near her winter home in Florida. She was looking for sharks teeth, as she does most mornings, when she bumped into a fellow snow bird gathering seaweed into a shopping bag. When she asked what he was doing he said that he was a doctor and that the seaweed has great medicinal properties. By the end of their chat, she had realized she was talking with a doctor who gives speeches around the country on cancer prevention. And this man in particular was sending all of the seaweed he collected to his brother’s clinic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Welcome to my list of the major festivals and holidays celebrated across Northeast Asia- Japan, North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Mongolia. This will be a continuously updated list as I keep exploring new and interesting festivals that have evolved in the East Asian cultural sphere, also known as Sinosphere (including Vietnam) because they are all historically influenced by Chinese culture.*
Consider adding some of these to your bucket list and I’m sure you’ll never regret the effort to cover them all!
NOTE: Celebrating some of these festivals usually requires physically being in the country. If travelling that far is impossible, see if you can get to your local Chinatown or East Asian neighborhood on the date of the festival.
Chinese New Year (Spring Festival 春节, Seollal in Korea, ) is celebrated across the world by Chinese diaspora. In 2014 it will be celebrated on January 31 and the final day occurring on February 15- see the Lantern Festival below. This is the most exciting festival I’ve ever experienced. It feels like American 4th of July but more dangerous! Get a more detailed overview on this amazing festival here.
For years I’ve been attempting to explain (and cook) the differences between real Chinese food and American Chinese food. At first, it surprised American friends to discover that the Chinese have never heard of dishes like Crab Rangoon, General Tso’s Chicken, Egg Rolls, Egg Foo Young, and Chop Suey. All were created in America for American taste buds.
Crab Rangoon was actually an American creation that has been served in San Francisco since the 1950s.
Egg Foo Young was an adaptation on a real Chinese dish and made its American debut in the 1930s.
Whenever I cook for friends and family I’m always asked about the ingredients I use and where to get them. And since visiting an Asian market alone can be a little overwhelming for some, I decided to put a short introduction together for buying my most common ingredients online. If you’d like to see some recipes first, here are a few on Asianliving.me.
Let’s start with a few well-known online shops in North America:
Amazon.com’s grocery section is loaded with Asian food options. If you have Amazon prime you obviously won’t have to worry about the cost of shipping. It’s probably worth visiting Amazon first to see if you can find what you are looking for. For those in select areas, you can try Amazon Fresh which is just like Peapod or FreshDirect.
Asian Food Grocer is a trustworthy shop that provides much of what you expect to find in a standard Asian market. Here are a few products that I commonly use in my cooking:
Lee Kum Kee’s Hoisin Sauce is something I use for a sweet, seafood flavor.
Actually, just about everything in the Asian Food Grocer’s “Quick and Easy Asian Cooking” section is delicious and, as the title implies, very easy to use.
Marukai’s eStore is a Japanese food shop online which serves North America. Some of my recipes have ingredients that you can find at their shop. Check out their amazing variety of fish options for at-home sushi making!
A blog that totes the wonders of Asianliving should really offer a fair slice of the other side: the health problems suffered in Asia. Suffice it to say the global news media frequently reminds us of the air quality issues across China, I decided to take it one step further and opine on the love of smoking here.
As Andrew Hales recently noted on his visit to Chengdu (where people use umbrellas in the daytime “like in the olden days”), China in the 20-teens seems much like America in the 1950s. Smoking is everywhere, all the time. And if you aren’t smoking, you will still smell (inhale) other people’s smoke. Restaurants, bars, shops, bus stations, train stations, bathrooms, and schools. There are virtually no tobacco-free zones in China, although in 2009 a policy was passed to “ban smoking in all health administration offices and medical facilities by the year 2011.”* That’s right, smoking in hospitals was common even just a couple years ago. City-specific legislation is still being carried out slowly across the country.*Continue reading 1/3 of World’s Cigarettes Smoked in China
My colleague’s wife had a baby last Christmas in a Chinese hospital in Zhuhai. It was a typical scenario. Meet your doctor in advance and decide whether to have a natural birth or a c-section. In this case, the choice was to go c-style at a planned date (that was not on an unlucky date, mind you. No number 4s.) Of course, there is a relationship that develops naturally with an expecting couple and their doctors, but in China there is an additional consideration to be made: how painful do you want this birth to be? That’s when red envelopes start to appear. Continue reading Red Envelopes for Better Health Care
This past summer my roommate and I made the switch from over-priced cable (in this case it was RCN) to Over-the-Air (OTA) television and Apple TV. Our major concerns were related to a potential lack of programming, specifically live sports and show-specific channels like AMC. You might be thinking: How did you survive without a DVR service and ESPN!?! Well, we figured we’d try out this simpler way of entertaining ourselves in the evening hours by cutting the cord and trusting our ingenuity. And you know what…? We realized that this experiment was totally worth it. Continue reading Cutting the cord: Making the switch to Internet-Only
Last week on August 15, 2015, I competed in one of the biggest physical challenges of my life, the Timberman Triathlon! And although it was my first endurance race ever, it was surprisingly quick. A lot happened: from my “swimming with the fishies” moment to the chain derailment/near car collision, to having the BEST fan base there! Let’s start with the swim…
This post starts at 4:45am.
Before the crack of dawn I was woken up by the sound of crickets and snores from the other room. I had my gear in two bags on the couch. One bag contained this morning’s swimming stuff and the other had biking/running gear. After waking Cherie up and getting my things in the car, we set out to Ellacoya state park. The sun wasn’t even up yet… but I was getting ready to race a 0.3 mile swim, 15 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run.
On August 15th, 2015 I’ll dive head first into the Timberman Triathlon in Gilfid, New Hampshah! Although this is a “sprint” triathlon I anticipate a competitive event: 0.3 mile swim, 15 mile bike ride, and a 5K. I think the triathlon was created for those who have difficulty concentrating on one thing at a time… 🙂
It’s now mid-July and I have been training through a left-leg nerve issue. My chiropractor/therapist suggests I keep training up to a point where the nerve behind my knee starts being symptomatic. Luckily I’ve been able to do 0.3 mile swims and 15 mile bike rides recently in Laconia NH and Somerville MA, respectively. But the next couple weeks of training are crucial. Continue reading My First Sprint Triathlon Experience
For the second year in a row, Beijing Capital International Airport ranked number two in the list of the world’s busiest airports, handling 83.7 million passengers last year and securing its position as the airport with the highest level of flight activity in Asia. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport remains on top with 94.4 million travellers due to it being a major port for domestic flights and a popular connection to destinations in Europe and South America.
Beijing Capital International Airport charges ahead of Tokyo-Haneda (68.9 million) and London Heathrow (72.3 million), UK’s busiest airport and third busiest in Europe overall. Europe’s busy airports list also consists of London’s Gatwick Airport as it continues to expand in various areas from parking options to possibly building a second runway in the near future. Continue reading Asia’s Busiest Airport at a Glance