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2019 Year End Trip Day 15

Local time: Tokyo 01/03/2020

Today ends our 15 day 2019 Year End Trip. So few key stats for this trip.

Number of Cities/Towns we visited: 7 ~ 8
Number of Onsen visited including today: 5
Number of country visited: 2
Number of Ryokan: 2
Number of Hotels: 3
Number of Happy Days: 16 !!! Counting day Zero!!

Anyways, today is a weird day because I get to do it twice. January 3r in Japan started off with a wonderful sunrise, we can see the sunrise from our Shinagawa Marriott hotel room.

Again the Marriott breakfast was pretty nice. I was discovery things that I did not know they had yesterday morning. Such as donut tick tack toe. No I did not get any.

I just got some light Japanese breakfast. Trying to be good for 2020.

Since our bus to the airport leaves at 1:30 pm, we still had some time for I was determined to get one more onsen experience in before we depart Japan. Vicky’s friend told us to meet us there a this local place at a near by train station which is around 30 minute walk. I convince Vicky to take the long trek instead of taking a bus or a train.

The walk was around 30 minutes, but it seemed longer than I was expecting. However we got a chance to walk through some interesting neighborhoods in Tokyo which was always very refreshing.

The onsen was actually inside the building on top of the local train station.

I could no take any photos inside so I will just describe it here. The place was more like a full service onsen spa. It is not natural hot spring water, but what it lacks in the nature water it makes it up in diversity. By that I mean the different type of pools. There were a total of 8 different types of pools to soak in. Including 3 outdoor style pools, carbonated pools, cold water pool, and jetted pools. They even had a sauna, which I did not go into not know how it works.

I stayed mostly at the indoor and outdoor pools, jumping between the hot and cold pools. So refreshing!!!

After our last and final soak of THIS trip, we met with our friends and grabbed some strawberry desserts and got ready to head to the airport.

On our way back to the hotel, we saw so many people on the street. I think it was the Tokyo Marathon.

It was a two hour bus ride from our hotel to Narita. I can’t wait until Delta starts to fly into Haneda Airport. It would save us so much time.

Once we were checked in and passed immigration, we went to check out the Delta Lounge at Narita. It is not a bad lounge, much better than few years ago when they only served Chinese fried rice.

And funny thing was this was the first time having ramen in this entire trip. It was not that good 🙁

We even got a chance to see one last Tokyo sunset with Fuji mountain backdrop too. You got to look carefully but Fuji mountain is there between the sun and the plane tail.

Our return flight was not as stylish as the arriving flight. We did not get upgraded, but with only a 9 hour flight to Seattle, it was not too bad. I finished off the entire last Season of Orphan Black and I was back home. The inflight food was ok. In hindsight, I should have focus more on sleeping than watching Orphan Black.

After approximately 9 hours of flying, we are back home in Seattle on 01/03/2020 @10:30 am. I got to Seattle before I left. See I told you this was a weird day.

And that my friends end our end of the year trip for 2019 in 2020. It was an amazing trip. I am so happy we had the opportunity to do this. I want to thanks my lovely wife for organizing this entire trip, without here, this adventure would not have been possible. Now few more days of rest and a new work year starts.

Happy New Year Everyone!!! Be your best in 2020!!!

2019 Year End Trip Day 14

Local Time: 01/02/2020 Day after New Years Day

Today was the last full day and the only full day of our 15 day trip that we will be in Tokyo. Sometime I feel like we need to spend few more days in Tokyo, but there are always so much stuff to do in Japan and all of the sudden we are at the end.

Today started with a workout at Marriott gym. This is the second time during the entire trip that we actually worked out in a gym. When we got to Fukuoka, we had the intent to be working out that the hotel gym, but for some reason, the gym at that hotel had banking hours were we are usually out and about so yeah…

What’s really cool about this gym was that they actually have a tennis court. I wish I new about this earlier and planned accordingly 🙂 Oh I missed playing tennis.

After a good workout, as with every day in this wonderful trip, a fantastic breakfast awaits us in the Marriott Tokyo dinning room.

The food selection at Marriott Tokyo was not bad at all. It has a good standard selection of western breakfast, which I did not eat at all, but it also had a great huge selection of Japanese breakfast. It was not Westin Shanghai, but it was one of the best breakfast that I’ve seen in hotels in Japan.

It was a beautiful morning in Tokyo. A peek outside our room window and we are ready to head out.

Vicky and I decided to have a free day. I will go meet with my buddy Raymond and Vicky will go shopping. So off to the Tokyo mass transit system. I love trains!!

I finally met up with Raymond and his wife near Akihabara. We met up at a Beef Katsu place and the first place was close for the New Years, but the second place was open but not until 12:00 pm, since we were number 1 in line we waited and chatted.

I never had Gyu Katsu before. It was pretty good definitely worth it.

The gyu katsu was deep fried on the outside and raw on the inside. So you put the small piece of meat on this stone grill and cook it to your desire. YUM!

After our wonderful lunch, we went over to Raymonds place and had a few shots of whisky and got caught up. We thought about catching Star Wars, but there were just not enough time. Soon we need to meet up with Vicky near Nihonbashi (Japan Bridge) area. The walk to the Nihonbashi area was pretty interesting. In fact walking around Tokyo was always interesting. So many stories that you can see just by walking around.

I did not realized that Japan also had lion dance as well. It is similar to the Chinese lion dance. The major differences is that the Japanese lion has 2 legs versus 4 legs in a Chinese lion.

Japan Bridge Kirin

After a fantastic and beautiful walk to Nihonbashi, we finally arrived at Takashimaya. Takashimaya is a old fashion Japanese department store that Vicky loves. To me it is like Nordstrom, but much much better!!!

When we finally met up with Vicky, look who also joined us! It was our friend from last night. They also brought us some unique beef pastry (Kobe Beef Meat Pie). It was yummy!!

After the delicious meat pie, we went for some soba to celebrate the new year. It is a Japanese tradition to have noodles on New Years.

Before the end of the night, we had good walk back to the train station and headed back to the hotel.

We ended our last night in Tokyo and the last night of our Asian trip tour at the Marriott lounge enjoying a view out at Tokyo at night.

2019 Year End Trip Day 13

Local Time: 01/01/2020 New Years Day!

Happy New Year!!! Today was New Years Day! Today we head back to Tokyo and leave our beloved Ito. Tokyo will be our final destination before we head back to Seattle, so our Asian adventure is quickly coming to an end.

During breakfast this morning, our Japanese host surprised us with a New Years gift. Our host said that it is Japanese tradition to give out these little envelopes on New Year’s Day for a wonderful new year. It is very similar to the Chinese New Year Red envolopes.

After breakfast, we packed up and said good bye to our cabin and headed back toward Tokyo.

Along the way, we stop by Mega Donki again to do some final shopping. Shopping was great but not my thing but out side of the store they are making traditional Japanese New Year sticky cake, while playing the Donki song ( Oh my god the song is an ear worm. I just can’t get that song out of my head for days…. “Don Don Don DonKi…”

Anyways, they offer to let guest, to help hammer out the rice into sticky rice. It was a lot of fun, almost like splitting firewoods.

Afterward, we get to try our reward! Yum!!!

On our way back to Tokyo, we also stopped at another onsen on the way. Our friend how’s this local onsen and it was a great way for a pit stop before returning to Tokyo.

The location was very popular, so I did not have any pictures of the pools. However, it was very clean and there were two outdoor pool and one indoor pool with natural hot spring waters. After 1.5 hours of onsen soak, I was total clean and refreshed. Of course, I had to top it off with a bottle of coffee milk! Yum!!!

Our adventure home continues after the our New Year’s Day onsen experience. Since we ran into traffic on our way back in to Tokyo, our Japanese driver decided to take a scenic route to bypass the congested area.

We took this small beautiful bamboo path, and then we found this AWESOME self serving orange stand!!! ! Bag for 200 Yen (approx $2 US)!!!

And check out the way they collect the money!!! It took us a while to find it, but it was just a long pipe! Just drop the coins in. So cool and such a great find. Oh and the oranges are sweet and fresh!!!

After few more hours of driving, we finally got to Tokyo. So for our final two night in Tokyo, we are staying at the Marriott in Shinagawa.

Right after checking, The first thing we did was to check out the executive lounge. The executive lounge was not nearly as great as the Westin Lounge in Shanghai, but it was still pretty good. It has a great view, you can even see the Tokyo rainbow bridge, however, it was pretty crowded during happy hour time and as far as food wise, it was ok. Closer to the US lounge style foods.

The lounge happy hour was not the main even for your New Year’s Day evening. The main event was the amazing dinner at a secret Japanese restaurant hidden in the neighborhood street of Shinagawa. Our Chinese Japanese couple that took us there says that this restaurant could easily be a multi Michelin star restaurant, however, the chef doesn’t want the popularity. The restaurant was ran by a Japanese couple, one is the chef and the other manages the customer and the restaurant. This particular restaurant is by reservation only and there was no menu, every day the chef see the reservation and buys the ingredients that morning for the difference customers. He keeps track of all his customers so he will be aware of allergies and the customer will never receive the same course twice. Because he didn’t really want any publicity, photography was not allowed, however, they gave us special exceptions to take pictures only when there were no one else in the restaurant. When we first got to the restaurant, we were the only ones there, which was just simply amazing.

It ended up being around 9 to 10 different course of food. Each one was just extremely delicate and tasty. I spend more time enjoying the meal and the company than taking pictures, so only few course are shown below.

After a fantastic dinner, we were the first and last customers there, so the chef came out and talked to us. He was a very nice man who only spoke a little bit of English, but we were able to show some of our appreciation of his wonderful meal.

And that concluded our first day in 2020. Happy New Year Everyone!!!

2019 Year End Trip Day 12

Local time: 12/31/2019 New Years Eve!!

Today was New Year’s Eve. It was an extremely winding and blustery day, however, it was an extremely clear and beautiful day outside, so our Japanese host planned for us a driving tour around the Ito peninsula. But first our morning started off with a healthy breakfast by the lovely Vicky.

After our breakfast, we headed down from the mountain toward the coast.

Living on the mountain was pretty interesting. So everything you bring up, you will have to bring down, this includes all the garbage and recycling. So for this little mountain village, there was a self run community recycling center. Basically, every time we are heading down from the cabin, we would stop by this small building and drop off our trash and recycling materials. We would sort it by things that can be incinerated, recyclable metal, plastics, paper, and cardboards. There was even a swap center right next door.

The weather was so fantastic today that we had a chance to see how the stream looked so beautiful.

And as we get closer to the coast, orange groves were every where, when I everywhere I mean every where. This entire area are famous for their oranges.

As we drove along the coast of Ito peninsula, there are many small towns, I think because of the weather, it was just amazingly beautiful. The water was just so amazingly clear, and this was inside a small fishing harbor. Typically, in a harbor, the water is usually pretty muddy and never so clear that you can see the bottom, but not so here.

Besides, oranges, the costal area are also famous for their big eye fish!

As our journey continues along the coast, we almost immediately stoped again, because there was a free foot onsen. What’s better than a free foot onsen on a beautiful day with friends.

Once our feet were clean and warm, our drive continued. And the coast is just incredible! We stopped at various scenic spots and each time spending more time admiring the incredible ocean view.

As we approach noon, our host tells us that we need to hurry, because we maybe running out of day light. It was so bright out and feels like we still have a lot of time, but our host tells us that we need to cut across the mountain to see the coast on the other side which is even more amazing. So since we had an amazing breakfast, our lunch was at the trusty Seven! Those sandwiches and Pocari Sweat are addictive!!

As we cut through the mountains, I pointed out how amazing those persimmon trees were and our friend yelled to the driver STOP! And she tell me go get some for us!!! I jumped out of the car and ran across the busy traffic, toward the creek and the persimmon tree, hoping to grab a few super ripe fruit. However, once I got next to the trees, I realized that all the low hanger fruits are gone and the rest are not easily reachable. So only the iPhone camera had a feast on these beautiful fruits and I return to car empty handed.

Once we cross the pass and reached the other side, the coast line is truly amazing and surreal.

Before we leave this side of the peninsula, we had to go for our final onsen soak of 2019. This time it’s at a small outdoor public onsen, not a fancy onsen like last week in a ryokan. This onsen only cost us 600 yen per person. But first you walk up these long steps from the parking lot to a tiny shed on the top.

The changing room was tiny, there was barely enough space to change with two adults. Also it made changing really really awkward. Can you imagine striping down naked in front of a stranger arm length away in a small room. Yep… Awkward!!!

However, once you are done and step into the small pool the view was incredible.

The wind today was extremely strong which made it very difficult to keep warm, even with the hot onsen, my head was still very cold from the wind. So after only around 15-20 minutes of soaking I was done.

Our drive back home was long, but it always seems faster on the way back even when you are going on the same path. Because of how comfortable everyone felt after the onsen, everyone was passed out during our drive. Hee hee!

Once we got close to our mountain hide away, it was almost sunset, and our Japanese host, pull out his google translator and said, “ I have one more stop for us, I hope we can make it in time”. We sped up the mountain to this wind farm to watch this amazing last sunset of 2019!!!

When we finally got home, it was time to prepare the end of the year dinner. We had so much seafood and food that we brought up and we had to finish it tonight, since we are heading back to Tokyo tomorrow, there was no point in saving anything.

Our dinner began with fresh oysters. The ones that were not super fresh or I messed up during opening we deep fried.

Our headline dish of course was the big eye red fish, we bought. I cleaned and Vicky cooked the fish.

We also had some amazing sashimi, specifically super fresh maguro (Tuna).

We also cooked up some left over trim from yesterday’s scallops.

Following typically Japanese New Year’s Eve, we had Japanese TV programming running in the background as we drank and ate a fantastic New Years Eve Dinner. Happy New Year !!!! Good bye 2019 and Hello 2020.

After a long night of celebration, I had some few moments of alone time which I wrote my end of year blog post reflecting on 2019. Right before we went to bed, our friend told us to look outside. It was amazingly clear night sky. I have not seen that many stars in many many years. And what is even more amazing was that I was able to capture it with my iPhone.

Happy New Year!!

Good bye 2019 and Hello 2020

Today is the last day of 2019. I will post a separate entry for my day blog for my trip in Asia. But this is my annual post on my review of the year. This year is one of the most craziest year of my life. This year is probably the year that I grew up the most, because this year my father passed away. My entire perspective on life, changed after my dad died, and for the first time I felt like an adult and I felt like I am actually a grown up.

There are many goals that I set last year that I know I did not met. Few goals in particular are my weight goals. I was doing so well in 2018, but in 2019, I fell off the wagon and I am actually back to around 190lb. Which is really bad.

As for work wise, I’ve worked the hardest in my entire career in 2019, but I don’t think it was as productive as I expected. Don’t get me wrong it was still a good year, but I know there will be few things that I will change in 2020. So as part of this hard work, I’ve stayed over 100 nights in hotel rooms this past year. The most I’ve ever done in a year. Pretty crazy!!

So the following are few of the places I’ve been in 2019
Auburn, AL
San Francisco, CA
Napa, CA
Boise, ID
Vancouver, BC
Phoenix, AZ
Dallas, TX
Houston, TX
Atlanta, GA
Taipei, TW
Tokyo, JP
Shanghai, CN
Beijing, CN
Fukuoka, JP
few other places

There are however few things that I did work on this year.
– I started to learn Japanese
– Started to look seriously at my retirement goals. Yeah I know retirement… pretty crazy hun

So my goals for next year!
– Regain my weight goal focus. Get back down to 180 or less
– Learn to speak Japanese conversationally
– I am hoping to have regular vacations planned for next year less stress
– Get back in to my tennis game. I am still stuck at 3.0
– Finally, I want to make sure everything with my mom is well taken care of for 2020 and the future

That’s it for now…
Once again, goodbye 2019. And Hello 2020!!!

I wish everyone a Happy and Wonderful New Year!!!

2019 Year End Trip Day 11

Local time: 12/30/2019 – Ito

Today was our first full day in our cabin in the mountains of Ito. It is a completely rest and chill day. The weather outside was very cloudy and raining. It was a great day to be inside and not out and about.

Our cabin in the woods

Life in the woods doesn’t start with fancy breakfast, but that was totally fine with me. We had some light breakfast and I helped our host go down the mountain to get some kerosine for heating the water at night.

While driving down, It was foggy and wet.

The gas station was just at the bottom of the mountain, next to the main road. It look just like any other typical gas station in the US except, it was Japanese and they also sell kerosene.

Across the street from the gas station was a 7-Eleven and of course we had to stop by and get some stuff to go.

After we got back and before our BBQ lunch in the rain, we had to do some work cleaning up and chop some wood for the cabin for tonight.

Barbecue in Japan is a bit different than in the States. While at home I have a huge gas grill, here we are using a small charcoal grill where the charcoal actually looks like burnt wood. Our Japanese host said that the charcoal flame gives it more flavor.

We BBQ’d a various number of good food, including crab legs, various extremely fatty beef and of course a very expensive steak.

The rest of the day we pretty much just hid in the cabin, drinking talking and just having a good times with friends.

On a side note, our Japanese host, doesn’t speak any English. His English level is about the same as my Japanese level, which is zero. But communicating with him was a lot of fun. He was a pretty easy going guy and I’ve learned a lot during the last few days.

2019 Year End Trip Day 10

Local Time: 12/29/2019 Tokyo

As you can read from the previous post, my day actually never really ended from yesterday. We did not arrive at our friends place until 3:30 AM or so and went pretty much straight to bed. We were told we were going to head out early in the morning around 6:00 so we thought to weak up around 5:30AM.

Around 4:30 AM, our friend woke us up and said that we are ready to go and we are heading first to the fish market. I was in a complete daze and I grab my backpack and we were on our way.

We stopped briefly at my favorite convenient store in Japan (7 Eleven) and grab some coffee and for me a Pocari Sweat.

Once we arrived at the market, we went straight for some breakfast. The market is located on the outskirts of Tokyo. There are many wholesalers, as well as some retailers. If we were here a bit earlier we would have caught the Tuna auction similar to the old Tsukiji market. Maybe next time. So the breakfast place, we ended up going to serves many of the workers there for some fast noodle breakfast in and out.

Vicky and I shared a bowl and it was delicious!!!

The market is pretty big with lots of sea food. We were a little bit late or else we would have caught them with lots of tunas have a bidding sale similar to the old Tsukiji market. But it was still pretty awesome buying some fantastic seafood for tonight and also some amazing fresh fruits!!

Once we got all our goods, we were on our way to Ito. Ito is a small town south of Tokyo. It took us around 3 hours of driving there. This was my first time riding on the Japan interstate in a personal vehicle. There were many part of our trip that we drove right next to the sea.

When we got hungry, out comes the delicious Kyushu strawberries!!

For lunch we stop by along the way at a local shopping center. And OH My gosh, there it was, a Mega Don Quijote or MEGA donki!!! It is a basically a super department store, almost like a Japanese super walmart! It has everything and super cheap too and we found more strawberries from Kyushu.

Right next to MEGA donki was HamaSushi. And that is where we went for lunch.

We were welcomed by a small welcome robot.

SushiHama is like a rotating sushi place, but everything is from an automated menu. You push buttons and sushi and fish appears. You eat and order until you are done.

During our costal drive toward our final destination, we saw a rock formation that looked like a resting lion. Do you see it?

Finally, we turned away from the coast and started to drive up the mountain. This little mountain village is famous for their oranges. There were orange groves everywhere.

When we arrived, the locals were welcoming us in the woods.

When we arrived the place was so nice and peaceful, I forgot to take a picture of the cabin. Our Japanese host welcome us in to his mountain cabin and started a fire in his fire place.

From our room window, we can see some wind generators on the mountain top, we can even see a little bit of the ocean.

Our dinner here was awesome. Since everything was super and super fresh. We had a Japanese seafood fest with scallops, otoro tuna, and uni. Our host even taught me how to properly open and clean a scallop and cut sashimi.

What a great way to end a night. Cheers!!!

2019 Year End Trip Day 9

Local Time: 12/28/2019 … not sure where I am anymore

So I am actually writing this 2 days after the events, why? Because it was such a busy day that there was no way that I was able to complete the daily blog that evening. Also connection back home, from China was not as fast as I expected, even via VPN, which made writing my daily travel blog very difficult. So I am actually sittinga in a small mountain village in Ito Japan writing this, so yeah… sneak peak..

Back to the events of the day. So the 28th was our last day in China. It was another full day of visiting family and then heading back to Japan to continue our adventure in Japan.

The day started traveling to different families across greater Beijing and then meeting up with another for lunch. It was a sunny day in Beijing, but extremely cold.

Since it was a cold cold day, it was a great day for some classic sour cabbage and white meat hotpot.

After returning home and having some fruit, we were off again to toward Tianjin this time.

Since we book our flight last minute to Japan, we tried to get the cheapest flight, so once again, we are flying budget airline out of Tianjin instead of Beijing. It was a smaller airport and much much cheaper. So our trip to Tianjin started back at the Beijing train station, and again we will be taking the HSR (high speed rail) to Tianjin.

It took us only about 30 minutes to travel 70 plus miles. So fast… I love the HSR.

From the Tianjin train station, we headed to the Tianjin airport via Didi again. It was very unfortunate that we did not have any time to spend in Tianjin as well, but it definitely made it to my next Asian trip destination city.

Once we arrived at the Tianjin Airport, it took us a while to check in and once we are in, the airport was extremely small, but there was a lounge. So I took advantage of my priority pass and gain access to the club. Once in there, the club was extremely small and almost nothing there, so I got some ramen instant noodle and had a quick dinner.

Once again, we took an airline called OKair. Not great air or excellent airline, but just OK airline. And yes it was just ok. The seats were so tight that I really wonder if anyone can get out of that airplane if we are in an emergency.

It took us 2 hours in flight and we finally arrived in Tokyo again.

We landed in Tokyo past midnight local time around 1 am and when we got to the Japan immigration and OH MY GOSH… Super long line

It took us another hour and half before we got through immigration. It was around 2:30 AM before we finally left the airport and headed to Shinagawa.

2019 Year End Trip Day 8

Local Time: 10/27/2019 Shanghai and Beijing

Today is our first day in China. After a wonderful evening in Westin Shanghai. The day started off really early with me working alone in our full dining room. It is just too bad that we had to leave early this morning.

Once Vicky woke up, I took a break and went to take advantage of Westin’s gym. It is the first time we are working our here on our trip.

After our 25 minutes workout, we had to hurry and tried out the Westin’s breakfast. Since I was Super Duper status, I get a choice to go to the Westin club from last night for breakfast for the main dining hall on 1st floor for breakfast. Of course we tried the first floor. And it is just amazing!!

Since we have an early 9:00 am train ride, We left the hotel around 7:30 am. It is too bad that we could not stay in Shanghai to much longer. It’s looks like a pretty amazing city and the weather today also looked amazing. I will likely try to join Vicky on her next business trip here to make up for this time. But before we left the hotel we had to say good bye to our robot attendant.

The ride and traffic from the Bund to Hongqaio train station was smoother than expected. In China, DiDi and WeChat pay are so easy everywhere, all the taxi and ride share drivers accept it. No cash ever exchange hand and more.

Once at the train station, we had to get our tickets and headed to our train.

This was the first time for me to ride the high speed rail between Shanghai and Beijing. For some reason, the train security will not let me take a picture from front front of the train. But I was so excited to ride on this train!!

It would take us around 13 hours to drive the distance between Shanghai and Beijing and over 2 hours of flying. However, the high speed rail took us only around 4 hours including 3 quick stops. That was pretty amazing time!!! So to put this in perspective, The distance between Beijing and Shanghai is around 1215 miles. It is similar to the distance between Seattle to San Diego which is around 1255 miles. The famous Japan’s Shinkansen tops out around 320 km/h (200mph). The China’s FuXing Train (High Speed Rail) max out around 347 km/h (215mph)!!! And it is FAST!!! Just imagine if we can take a train and be in San Diego in 4 hours!!! WoW!!!

We got the first class ticket seat. Which were very spacious and comfortable. So for trains, there are 2nd class, 1st class, premium class seats. So 1st class are the middle of the pack.

The train ride was pretty smooth, the best part of course was the large window and seeing the sceneries changes from Southern China to the colder Northern China environment.

The second best part of riding a long train ride if of course their bento box!!! Since my experience in Kyushu, I have much lower expectation. Especially, thinking that this is China, it can’t be better lunch box than Japan. And Boy was I wrong!!! The lunch box was amazing!!! First of all, I did not have to wait in line, they came right to the seat. Second of all, the bento box was HOT! Actually service hot food verse, cold bento boxes in Japan. And finally, the entire transaction was done with WeChat pay, completely cashless!!! AMAZING!!!

From the box and the wrapping, I was expecting a fried pork chop, every though the box says onion ribs and salmon.

What we got inside was ribs, corn, curry (which was a surprise) veggies, and salmon. Oh and some hot sauce in the middle. Of course the entire meal was temperature hot and it came with a big serving of rice!!! How does it taste? it tasted great! Much better than expected and we were full for both of use just with one meal. All in all, I rate this meal better than my Japanese train bento meal earlier this week!!!

Once we arrived at Beijing, it took use a while to find our DiDi ride, but one found our ride, we began our family duties. First heading home and than to visit our relatives one after another.

It was a long day, but it ended with a night of chatting with one of Vicky’s Uncle over home made dumplings. Such a classic Chinese reunion meal!!

After dinner we drove home and was stuck in Beijing traffic. When we were finally home I was tired and exhausted.

Tomorrow is another full day, of visiting family and then we will be heading back to Japan. Our amazing race tour continues….

2019 Year End Trip Day 7

Local time: 12/26/2019 Location: Shanghai

Today was our last day in Kyushu. We are heading to China for few days before ending our year in Japan again.

But meanwhile, our day begins again in Ryokan Sanga in Kurokawa Onsen. I was the first to wake up and I wanted to have one more soak before we leave. Our check out time today was at 9:00 AM, because we have to catch our bus at 9:20 am back to Fukuoka International Airport (FUK … insert jokes here :)).

After my morning soak, which was amazing, I was ready for some amazing ryokan breakfast. When we arrived at the dining hall our table was already ready for us.

What’s amazing is that everyday the breakfast and dinner are different depending on if this is your first day or second or third day at the ryokan. But how do they keep track of everything during our stay? We figure this was based on our room name. Our room name was tsuribana (which means hanging flower).

Once again, our breakfast was another wonderful set which included some local tofu and natto. Needless to say the food was fantastic.

Shortly after dinner, we got our bags and were ready to check out.

And amazingly, our shoes were sitting in front and center of the front door waiting for us. How did they know which ones was our shoes? Once again, room name 🙂

Our ryokan provided us a shuttle to the local bus stop. D The ryokan crew helped us with our luggage and greets us good by as we drove off.

This town was so small there is only one bus stop. Note that I said bus stop and not bus station, because it is exactly that a bus stop on the high way. There was even a hot spring foot soak at the stop itself but unfortunately it was not functioning today.

Once onboard our bus to FUK, it was a two hour bus ride. Once again driving out of the deep woods of Kyushu, we get to see lot of rivers and rural Japan living. It reminded me a lot of my early childhood in Taiwan and reminded me a lot of my father who worked on a major damn project in Taiwan when I was a kid. I remember sceneries that look like what is outside my bus window.

Because our destination is China, Vicky is really worried about me getting sick with some super bug in China, so she got me this face bra for me to try out. As soon as I put it on, she immediately started to laugh! I thought I looked like Optimus Prime 😉

Around noon, we finally got to the Fukuoka International Airport.

Our bus was delayed because of the traffic, but funny thing is the airline check in doesn’t start until exactly two hours before the stated take off time.

After checking in and pass security we headed straight for the Fukuoka airport lounge. Although, FUK is an international airport, it is a very small airport and there are only one lounge here for all the airlines to share. This lounge was not too bad, it was very quiet and provided pretty decent food relative to an US airport lounge.

Unfortunately, because of weather and air traffic control, our flight got delayed, but we were able to stay in the lounge a bit longer.

Although, both of us are Skyteam Elite status, our seat were at the back of the plane. This could be because we were both platinum status with Delta and not with China Eastern. For all the airplane flights, i took this year, I’ve never set so far back of the plane. This is a new experience indeed.

The flight to Shanghai was a little rough during take off and landing but the flight as over all pretty nice. They even provide some noodles for mid-flight food.

Vicky was very worried about the number of people coughing and sneezing going to o china so we both are now masked up.

After a rough flight and some delay, we finally got to China. It’s been a few years since I returned to China and it has been over 10+ years since my last trip to Shanghai. From the airport we were going to take the maglev train to town, but because of how late we arrived, we decided to take Didi instead. It is the Chinese version of Uber. The ride from the airport was soured 45 minutes with traffic. Once you are in town it was beautiful to see this old city.

So since we are only staying overnight in Shanghai and we were heading to Beijing tomorrow morning, I decided to use some of my hotel points and stay at a nice Marriott property in the center of Shanghai on the Bund. I did not have much of an expectation for this Westin property, but OH MY GOD!!! Was it amazing!!! I think we should plan all of our vacations from now on in China instead!!!

So we got upgraded to the China Suite on the top floor of the Westin Tower in Shanghai.

Once inside we were so shocked, the room we got from the upgrade. Remember, this was a free room originally from 30K marriott points. There was a living room, a full size dinning room, a small kitchen, a guest bathroom, and a bathroom and closet as big , if not bigger than our home bathroom. Of course, we also had a junior suite bedroom, which is equal to a typical upgrade. The place was so big and ridiculous that we could get lost in our own suite. I guess that’s the reward of staying 100 nights a year with Marriott!!

The Westin staff was so nice and sweet that they left a personal hand written note wishing Vicky a happy birthday and provide her with a small birthday cake and some fresh fruit and a bottle of wine!!!


Since it was passed dinner time already, so it is a great time to check out the hotel lounge here at Westin Shanghai. So in the US when the hotel says it’s happy hours with cocktail, they meant some cheap well drinks and maybe some finger food, if you are lucky maybe some appetizers, but there was no way that you can consider it a dinner meal. But here in Asia (at least in China and Taiwan), that is not the case. They will feed you!!! I mean OH MY GOSH! There was a noodle bar, a steam bar, a dessert bar, and even an ice cream bar. Not counting all sort of self serve alcohol, (whisky, gin, vodka, etc).I was so in love with everything here that I did not even take that many pictures. My photo do not do the place justice at all!!!

After dinner we walked around the hotel and went back and enjoy our suite and get ready for another full day to Beijing tomorrow.

2019 Year End Trip Day 6

Local Time: 12/25/2019 Christmas Day

Today is Christmas Day!!! Merry Christmas. The feel of Christmas is very different here in middle of no where Japan. There are no church’s around there and people are almost unaware of today being Christmas. But I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas.

As for me, my Christmas morning started with a morning onsen soak. We reserved an private outdoor onsen at 7:30AM. It is one of the farthest private onsen on the premises and it was really really amazing.

After our morning onsen, we went straight to breakfast. The breakfast here is not bad at all. The portions were just perfect. It even came with a small steamer to for the steam vegetables. YUM!

At the end of breakfast, I had my travel Japanese book with me and I said our attendant lady’s “Oh I am full” in Japanese. She laughed and was very happy. That made my day that she actually understood me

Since today was supposed to be a relaxing day, we decided to hang out at the lobby since the WiFi connection in the room is very very unstable. So I decide to work and finish up yesterday’s travel events there and Vicky decide to go for another round of onsen.

While I was finishing up yesterday’s blog post, I saw a traveling couple (mother and daughter) speaking in Chinese, so I asked, “where are you guys from?” They said, Taiwan. I said, “I was born there” and it started from there. They love traveling to different onsen, just like us. They are even going around collecting onsen stamps, like a passport. When Vicky returned, I introduced them and we talked almost until noon. It was awesome to meet new friends while traveling.

Since we are here in Kurokawa, we got to go and check out the village. We were there last night but we wanted to go and see it in the day time and maybe check out some of the shops in the village and also getting some light lunch. Our hotel ,Sango, has a complementary shuttle service to the village’s information center.

While walking the loop around the village, we saw a small sign of onsen eggs for 500 yen, approx 50 cents. Of course we got one.

Farther on the walking tour of this beautiful onsen village, we encountered one of Hugo’s buddies. It’s a burgess mountain dog puppy. It was hiding underneath the bench chewing on something. It was chewing on doesn’t sound right so I wanted to check it out. Vicky says to “be careful, he’s not Hugo” as I try to stick my hand in his mouth to see what he is chewing. I thought it was a plastic bottle cap and shortly after the pup spits out a small rock. I knew it was not right. I talked to the dog a bit and threw the rock away and the puppy went after the rock trying to find it again. Stupid dog! We try to distract it by playing with it a bit and it began to chew on me!

At the end of our loop around the onsen village, we were hungry, it was passed our lunch time. We found this Japanese Tofu place right next to the information center. We wanted something light so we ordered just one set to share.

After lunch we decided to walk back home to burn off some of this lunch. But first on the way back, our new friends told us that the cream puff place in the village was awesome, so we got to try it out.

With our tummy full of puffs and tofu, we are off for our 15 minutes walk back to the ryokan. Along the way it was just relaxing and beautiful.

Once we are back, at the ryokan, I want to go for another soak at the public outdoor bath. The onsen was very nice, however, there were this crowd of Koreans that was a little bit unruly which made the ended my soak and I headed back to my room to finish the soak in the private bath.

In the afternoon, I just chilled and watched some Mandalorian and enjoy some local drinks and snacks, before dinner

Dinner was another amazing experience, we were worried that this was going to be over filling, but Wow amazingly it was a perfect set. For some reason, I think I like this ryokan dinner better, even though some may not be as fancy, but I like the taste and the portions was perfect, no waste at all.

After dinner, or night ended with one final soak at the private onsen by the river that we went to this morning. However, the experience at night was completely different. One reason was because it was pouring rain outside and with rushing sound of the river and the lantern lights and the darkness, it gave it a completely different ambiance, which is pretty amazing.

Tomorrow is another traveling day… and we will be leaving Kyushu.
Merry Christmas!!

2019 Year End Trip Day 5

Local Time: 12/24/2019 Christmas Eve

Today was a traveling day. Today are relocating from Yufuian to an even smaller town and remote place inside deep inside the middle of Kyushu. Kurokawa onsen is where we are tonight.

But our story today starts back in Gettouan Onsen in Yufuian. The morning started early again since I was trying to finish up with yesterday blog, but I had some wonderful and amazing pre breakfast waiting for me. The strawberries were once again delicious and so flavorful.

After finishing yesterday’s post, I went to start my day with another relaxing soak at the Onsen (hot spring).

After a refreshing soak, we planned a later breakfast today since it is the last day here and we were not planning to eat any lunch during our travel. Breakfast was different today, but still amazing. So many different small dishes and they are all amazing. Even the local plain rice tasted really great.

Our check out time was at 11AM so we had some time to do one last foot soak in our room before leaving.

Amazingly, as I was having my post soak coffee milk, I discovered the old school paper bottle cap. Oh my gosh…. this reminded my of my childhood in Taiwan!!!

Once in town, we still have sometime before our bus, so we first visited a local bank to get some cash. That was a very interesting experience trying to exchange money. At first we thought we can exchange money at the local post office, but that is not true for all post offices, so we decided to go to the bank. We never been to a Japanese bank before. It was definitely a lot different than a US bank.

Then we took a walk toward a famous local lake, a popular local tourist spot called Kinrin Lake. And along the way we met some new friends.

Shortly after, we find ourselves on the same busy tourist street that we were on yesterday, so we decided to take a detour along a beautiful stream. It was very Japanese.

When we arrived at the Kinrin lake, it was a little bit disappointing. It is just a small lake, there doesn’t seem to be very special about it

Kirin lake doesn’t seems pretty special until I saw all the fish gathering near this one point. I was wondering why, until I touch the water.. and it was warm. So it seems that there are a lot of warm water run off here to this lake and the fish likes it.

The walk back from the lake to the bus station we grabbed some sandwiches from the grocery store and ready for our trip to Kurokawa onsen.

The bus trip to Kurokawa was not too long, it was a little over an hour, but during the bus ride we got to see some beautiful mountain sceneries.

When we finally arrived, I find out that Vicky has arranged for us another beautiful ryokan. This one however is over 40+ years old and is one of the top 5 onsen ryokans. Arriving there was a very special charm different from the last ryokan.

The check in was pretty smooth and easy, and they even gave us few welcome gifts. Once we are in our room, they prep us with some traditional tea and desserts. The room was smaller than the last place, but it was very cozy.

Of course when we are at a place with Onsen in it’s name we got to go and immediately check out their onsen. So the town has over 30+ onsen there and our ryokan has multiple ones onsite as well. Some are indoors and some are outdoors. The first one we went to was a private onsen indoor. Even though there was already an onsen in our room, this private reserved onsen is just slightly bigger.

We also checked out there outdoor public onsen briefly. Funny thing is they have a women’s only and then a mix onsen, but don’t get too excited. The nice lady tells us ,during check in, the mix onsen is “mostly” men.

After our soak, we walked around our ryokan and it is just beautiful and relaxing.

We relaxed a bit after our walk and soak and was ready for dinner. Dinner of course was another ryokan style multi course meal.

Course 1: Starters
Course 2: Seabream and turnip soup

So for the first time in my life, I tried raw horse. It was not bad .. but I would not go out and actively look for horse sashimi.

Course 3: Sashimi (Horse)
Course 3 : Seafood Sashimi
Course 4: Grilled Trout
Course 5: Leaf wrapped beef (Wrapped)
Course 5: Leaf wrapped beef (unwrapped)
Course 6: Duck hotpot

The duck hot pot was not too bad and it was just about perfect. We were pretty full by that time and the small rice and pickles that came afterward was almost just fillers just in case you were still hungry.

Course 7: Local rice and pickle vegetables

After our dinner, I was ready to hit the sack until Vicky noticed this sign!!!

And off we went to the village for some night time photography!!! I pull out my XT-3 and the battle is on between my XT-3 and our iPhone 11 Pro. Can you tell the difference and which is which?

I think both takes great, night time pictures. However, it takes more time to get the picture right with the XT-3 and for great pictures I need to set up a tripod. With the iPhone 11 Pro, it is just shot and go. At most is I need to hold the phone steady for 3 seconds and all the post processing is done instantly. Which is so amazing. For how dark it was on the creek, it is amazing what an iPhone can do. Just take a look my favorite photo shot of the night, below. That was an iPhone photo of vicky waiting for our shuttle back to our ryokan.

Tomorrow is Christmas, I am trying to convince Vicky not to do much and just to relax at our ryokan, but we will see. Merry Christmas everyone!!

2019 Year End Trip Day 4

Local time: 12/23/2019 Christmas Eve’s eve.
Today’s indicator number is 5 … that’s the number of showers I took today.

Today we are still at Yufuin. Jet lag is getting a bit better, I think the comforting water of the onsen may have helped me a bit. I woke up around 4:30 this morning and really relaxed. I got up before Vicky and I closed the sliding door separating our living and bedroom and started to finishing up on yesterday’s blog. So our breakfast is at 8:00 am so around 6:30 or so I went for my first onsen soak and that’s shower 1 and 2. (One before and one after the soak) It is amazing how onsen in the morning make you feel and so refreshed.

The sun was just up when we were walking to the restaurant and it was beautiful and I knew that it will be a good day today.

Breakfast was just as amazing as the dinner. The courses did not come out as slowly and one at the time but they were there waiting for us when we arrived a double decker bento box.

Once unpacked it is a full table food of small dishes. The variety ranges from grill mackerel, turnip salad, miso soup, yogurt and many more.

After our amazing breakfast we started another day of adventure. Today Vicky has planned for us to visit Beppu . Beppu is a small city on the eastern coast of Kyushu. The opposite side of Fukuoka. Vicky said that there are few places that she wanted to check out and the weather is fantastic for some Beppu sight seeing. So we took a taxi and headed down to the bus station.

We decided to take the bus to to Beppu instead of JR (Japan Rail) because, the bus is faster and more direct. JR will require us to transfer and wait. Since we want to get the most out of our time in Beppu, so bus it is.

The bus we took was a tourist bus, it was designed to head to the tourist destinations in Beppu. But since we were crossing the mountains, we got to see some amazing views along the way especially since the weather today was just perfect.

View of Yufuian

Our first of three destinations in Beppu was Umi Jigoku. It means “Sea Hell” in Japanese. The location was famous because the japanese royal family visited here and put Beppu on the map. It is also famous because of all different color of hot pool of water. It is almost like yellow stone, except much smaller and much more refined.

Umi jigoku was also famous for there collection of giant lily pads. These lily pads could grow big enough so that a small person can sit on it without sinking. I don’t think it would fit me though. Too fat ;). Unfortunately, it was not the season to see them outside, so we can only see some of them in the green house.

Before leaving Umi Jigoku, it was approaching noon, so I got to get some local food, there was an onsite cafeteria so we decided to give it a shot and also tried some of their famous Onsen boiled egg.

The Jigoku or hell in Beppu are all in same area. So the next one we visited was really close by. It was only few minutes walked away. The place was called Kamado Jigoku.

Kamando Jigoku was much Smaller than Umi Jigoku. I was supposed to be famous for one of its blood water hot springs. We got some nice pictures from this location and that’s about it… so on to the next destination.

Since, I want to get back to Yufuian before sunset, we want to make the most of our time in Beppu, so I asked Vicky how do we get to our next destination, she said, oh there should be a bus that is arriving in 5 minutes. The bus stop was also about 5 minutes away and there we started our AMAZING RACE segment of our day trip.

As we approach the Main Street that our bus was on, vicky says “I hope the bus did not leave already and then oh I think that’s the bus!!!” We started to run and chasing after the bus.

Once we got to the bus we realized that it wasn’t the bus we were looking for but the kind bus driver tells us that it is over there across the street and it is just arriving. So after risking our lives running across the busy street we finally made it.

The bus ride was amazingly hot. It was like a sauna hot. I started to strip down my layers, all the way down to a tee-shirt and I was still hot. But hey free sauna right?

Our next destination is Takegawara Onsen. It is an old classical local spot, but what it is really famous for was their black sand bath.

When you walk inside, there was a friendly older Japanese gentleman asking “Japanese OK?” He doesn’t speak much English so it is a prefect chance to practice my Japanese. This is not a fancy onsen joint, everything is a la carte, including towels, you will need to purchase via a vending machine for tickets then give the tickets to the old gentleman. The old man then gives us a time to wait and he will call us in to the the sand onsen when they are ready for us. Honestly, at this point, I don’t know what to expect, they just keep on telling us “no underwear”. Was I suppose to change here and go to the onsen or change before the onsen?

So it turns out, behind the curtains there were two separate changing room, one for women and one for me, but then it connects to a larger sand room, where then have a pit dug out for you so they will bury you in warm, very warm, black sand. And yes no underwear just their provided yukata (Japanese gown).