elephants and cooking class

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I left for Thailand and I’m only half way through documenting the trip. Chiang Mai (after the very long train ride from Bangkok) was amazing! I loved it. Minus all of the mosquito bites I got. And here are the photos.


The elephant experience was amazing. I did a bit of research before heading to Thailand because I wanted to have more of an experience than just sitting on an elephant, so I found a place that actually does a lot in terms of elephant conservation. It was still a little crazy and there were moments it definitely felt a bit exploitative, but I would do it again.


And the mahout and guides were so great. One took my iPhone and just snapped tons of photos. So happy to have the photos.



Getting in the water with them was maybe a little questionable. I mean, the river itself was a little questionable…mostly because we’d been “white water” rafting (it was dry season…it was more like low water scraping) up the river earlier and there were so many people just hanging out in the river, eating, doing who knows what else…




After the river rafting and elephants, we went to this tribal village which was a little crazy. Kind of like a reservation back in the U.S., only these are Burmese tribes. And also a bit like a zoo, in that you go there to basically stare at these people. Kind of weird, but interesting, too.



And that night, after such a long crazy day, we got ice cream and it was awesome. I also got to go for a swim in a nice, clean chlorinated pool.


And the next day was our cooking class. One of the guys at work recommended this place and I have to say, it was awesome. This was probably my second favorite thing from the trip after scuba diving. No ambivalence here. Just awesome cooking. And some really interesting people. The inside jokes Maria and I now have from this day. Amazing. But I also have some great new recipes in my repertoire. I’m just sad now, looking at these photos, that I didn’t try and buy (or steal) the dishes. Talk about gorgeous.











So, in my original itinerary, I had planned on us taking the night train back to Bangkok and then hopping on a plane to Cambodia. But, after the one night and the unpredictable timing of arrivals and that we couldn’t get a private car, I asked Maria if she’d mind if we just stayed another night in Chiang Mai and flew to Bangkok and then connected to Cambodia. She was down with that, so we ended up staying another night and getting what was possibly the best foot massage I’ve ever had in my life. Amazing!


And then we were off. And I was covered in mosquito bites.


a perfectly ordinary weekend

Without getting too deep into the details (I’ve drafted a super detailed post, but I’m not sure anyone really wants to read that much), to say this past week was hard would be an understatement. There were some really good moments, but honestly, this week was by far the hardest one I’ve had since moving to Japan (and then some). It was long and exhausting and things kept going wrong. Like really basic things; missing my stop on the train, getting on the wrong train, my computer crashing, my email not working, not being able to find things on shared drives, forgetting to respond to an email I really needed to respond to, etc, etc. And that on top of a schedule that would have kicked my butt all on its own.


By the time Friday rolled around, I was so happy, I might have cried tears of joy. You know, as opposed the tears of frustration and failure that I’d cried on various other occasions during the week. In fact, I’m pretty sure God knew that I had hit my limit because, while I had made a commitment to myself to attend the temple, I was having a serious existential crisis trying to figure out how to keep that commitment and get everything done at work that I needed to get done, and just like that, five minutes before I needed be walking out the door, my computer kicked me off. I just stared at my screen as program after program shut down and I was logged off. I was done. That put enough of a pause in my work momentum to remind me that, contrary to what my actions of indicate, no one was going to die if I didn’t get this or that email sent or form filled out. So I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my coworkers (all of whom were still there) and walked out the door.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed my weekend whether I had made it to the temple or not, but I’m also sure that it was that much better because I did go. I just needed to be reminded of what is most important. Combine that with some warmer temperatures, and a perfect weekend was in the making.

After the temple and dinner out at this amazing kushiage place, Tatsukichi, that one of my business heads recommended, I was walking home and suddenly I was in this perfect Tokyo moment. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, except to say that I felt completely content and happy. One of those moments you wish you could capture in a photograph to put on your wall or bottle up to be imbibed later. I couldn’t stop smiling. Which was kind of incredible considering the week I’d just had. But that’s life, right?

Besides going to the temple, I made one other very important decision during the week which greatly affected the awesomeness of my weekend. I got a cleaning lady recommendation from one of my friends and scheduled her to come on Saturday morning. What an amazing blessing to be able to afford that right now. I know it won’t be a forever thing, but right now I can afford it and it’s totally worth it to buy myself some time.

Saturday morning, Norie showed up and, at first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. It was kind of like when the movers came to pack me up in New York. I’m not used to sitting by while other people do the things I would normally do and that I’m perfectly capable of doing. Seeing as how I’d just purchased myself three hours of time not cleaning, I didn’t let too much time pass before getting on with what I wanted to do. So, as Norie cleaned for three hours, I sat on my couch preparing my lesson for church today. In addition to teaching the girls on Wednesday about makeup and such, it was my turn to teach them at church as well.

clean apartment

So nice and clean! Now if the rest of my stuff could just arrive…

Can I just say that I am now convinced that there is no better way to start a Saturday than having someone else clean your house while you focus for three hours on the things that matter most? I read scriptures and watched videos (my favorite being one about this one) and listened to talks about the Savior. It was pretty much the best money I’ve spent in a long time. And it was exactly what I needed; a clean apartment and a clear, focused mind.


It was then time to get outside and enjoy an incredibly beautiful (almost) spring day. And what better way to do it than to go for a bike ride…which I needed to do because I had to go pick up my bicycle from my old apartment. (I’d left it there when I’d moved because it wouldn’t fit into my friend’s car with all of my things and it was too cold to ride.) And Saturday was a perfect day for a bike ride. It was warm and sunny and the air just smelled like spring. I was clearly not made for winter.

I had plans to get out to IKEA to pick up a few things I didn’t buy in the states, but as I started out on my way home, those plans just didn’t seem that important anymore. I had been rushing so much during the week (and the weeks before) that taking as much time as I wanted to stop and smell the flowers (literally) on my way was a luxury I did not want to pass up. And that bike ride confirmed to me that I had made the right decision to not miss Tokyo in the spring.


plum blossoms just outside my apartment building


cherry blossoms (or ‘sakura’ in Japanese) down a little alley on my route from Roppongi to Nishishinjuku


And then Saturday night my dear friend Jennifer (one of my favorite people here!) hosted a little dinner party (or in my case, dessert party) at her home in celebration of her new waffle iron recently arrived from the states. Any reason to throw a party is a good one…but fun things from the U.S. might be the best one when living overseas! Such a fun evening. No rush. No stress. Just good food and fantastic friends.

And finally today. I love Sundays, but today was a particularly good one. And while I have no idea how well my lesson went (it’s hard to tell when you’re teaching teenagers), I made it through it and was able to get the girls to share a little. And I was able to share a little bit of myself with them. And after church, I got to do a little singing as I prepped to sing in church next Sunday. Something I’ve been promising myself I would do for a very long time.

Definitely still needs a little work, but I’ve got a week…and I’m making someone else sing with me (she just wasn’t able to stay after today to practice). I’m not quite ready to solo but oh how I do love to sing. This makes me miss my college (and high school, for that matter) singing days a lot. Maybe I’ll have to add voice lessons onto the list of “things to do while in Japan”. You know, squeeze it in between work, church, travel, socializing, ikebana classes (which I’m starting again next Saturday), learning to play the guitar, and just normal life stuff. Why not, right? I mean, clearly last week is an indication that I can take more on…

christmas eve in hkg

On Monday, we headed out to Lantau Island to take the Ngong Ping 360 to see the Tian Tan Buddha. It was quite a trek out there and we got a late start, but it was totally worth it. The views from the gondola alone were worth it, but the buddha was pretty cool, too.

After we got back to the bottom of the gondola, I made Tanya go into the outlets with me where I found this gem on super sale.

And then we had a late lunch at what was by far the nicest Pizza Hut I’d ever been to. I know. Pizza Hut? But really, it was awesome.

Before heading back to Hong Kong Island, we “needed” to go to the jade market (we’d missed it the night before) in Kowloon, so that’s what we did. It was quite an experience. I got some awesome jade jewelry for super cheap (no idea why I don’t have photos of it) but I also got harassed and pulled, literally, by a few of the merchants. It was not my favorite thing ever, but it was totally worth it.

On our way back to the subway, we walked through another market. I did get photos of that.

And we finished the evening off with a little more high-end window shopping. I was tempted to actually shop, but then I did the math comparing the price of a purse with a plane ticket and realized it wasn’t worth it to me…right now. Even if it was Christmas Eve.

It was really fun to wander around the mall and feel like I was having a true Christmas Eve experience (at least in the style of my family). I even got a little dose of the Nutcracker during a mall performance.

We finished it off with a Christmas Eve meal (no Chinese food, though). One of my favorite moments of the evening was when the restaurant wouldn’t seat us at a table because we didn’t have reservations so we had to sit at the bar. I’m used to Asia and the necessity of reservations, but for Tanya, this was new and she truly believed we were on the receiving end of a xenophobic’s discrimination. I assured her several times that such was not the case, but we still joke about it. Such a perfect end to a great long weekend!

sunday in hkg

We spent Sunday morning exploring and doing a little shopping (mostly of the window variety). 

As previously mentioned, Asia apparently LOVES Christmas. It was quite interesting to see just how serious they are about their decorations. 

I did buy some new shoes. They’re no Louboutin’s, but I loved them and I needed them…poor planning on my part for walking up Victoria Peak left me a little blistered.
One of the most interesting parts of Sunday morning was a brief stop in Statue Square (I didn’t get any photos, apparently.) The guidebook I had (yes, I do use guidebooks) mentioned that on Sundays, Filipino women gather here to meet with each other. And it was totally accurate! So interesting to see other places and how foreigners live in them. And I have an entirely new empathy for such cultural cohesiveness. 
During lunch, I pulled out the map and book to plan the rest of our day and  Monday. Tanya was feeling too much pressure to make decisions because we didn’t have a plan. 😉

Tanya had done some great pre-trip planning and found a couple of restaurants for us to go to. So, I made reservations at one of them for Sunday evening. Because it was across the bay, we boarded a ferry and headed over a little early to want around and experience the area.

Well, Kowloon is a totally different experience from Central. I haven’t been to mainland China, but I imagine this is like China-light. Super crowded, but maybe a little nicer? Seriously, after the lovely streets of Central and the enjoyable strolls and window shopping, this was like enter a shark tank. It was INSANE.

Can you feel how crowded and claustrophobic it was?

That said, it was still super fun and interesting and we saw some fascinating things as we wandered around and did a little shopping.

Like this pink and purple camouflage sweat suit.

And this window display. Sorry if this offends anyone, but seriously, Tanya and I joked about this for the rest of her trip here. I wonder how many times we do things like this in America because we don’t understand. Although, I suppose we’re pretty multicultural, so maybe we don’t? (Wishful thinking?)

We like to refer to him as green, beatnik Jesus.

Wall of bears, anyone? 

It turns out this means something in Japanese (and it has nothing to do with clothes, but neither do lots of American store names). It’s an extinct freshwater killifish
So, after we wandered and window shopped and people watched for a bit, it was time for dinner. As mentioned, Tanya found this restaurant. It’s called Hutong (be warned, the site plays music upon opening) and was a recommendation in a NY Times article, both for the food and the view. It did not disappoint on either count.

Beautiful Hong Kong Island as seen from Kowloon. The photos do not do it justice!

I felt like I had to order the crispy duck. We were almost in China, after all. And it was amazing! 
After dinner we wandered around a bit more and hit up Temple Street Night Market. I didn’t get any photos, because I was too busy haggling (and still being swindled) over the price of some souvenirs. I did get some great bowls, but…I payed about $5 more than I should have. Which wouldn’t be so bad if what I had paid hadn’t been $10. Painful. But a fun story.

And then we head back to our island, enjoying some incredible views of the city as we went.

The buildings are always lit up, I understand, but this time of year they were lit up for Christmas. And while I know it’s mainly a commercial thing here, it still made me feel a little more Christmasy!

Loved the reflections in the water (even if the photo is a bit blurry). 

And thus ends day two in HKG. So much more to come of my cute cousin’s first trip to Asia! 

back in the u.s. of a. (part 1 – birthday weekend)

This post is waaaay overdue (and mostly my own journal entry), but better late than never. On the second of November, I headed back to the United States for a long visit. As part of my current assignment I get one home-leave trip. And as November 1st marked my halfway point in my current assignment and my friend Susan was getting married on the 3rd and my birthday was on the 4th, it just seemed like the perfect time to visit. So, I got on a plane and went back in time (well, according to clocks and dates) which was pretty awesome. I arrive in Arizona two hours before I’d left Tokyo.

And my first stop after landing in Arizona (while still at the airport)? Paradise Bakery. Mostly for a Diet Coke, but since I was already there…I got a cookie, too. The Japanese do a lot of things really well in the food department, but cookies is not one of them. It turns out that this was a very good decision as I ended up having to wait a while in the rental car line.

While I was waiting in line, and watching a number of things transpire, I came to the conclusion that Americans (I’m generalizing here) are rude, demanding, and incredibly impatient. And I was kind of embarrassed for all of us. The good news was there were no Japanese around to witness it. So, I just sat there pleasantly waiting because clearly the two women waiting for help were having very bad days. Or at least I want to assume that wasn’t their regular behavior.

When I finally got up to the counter, I was as nice as I could be, feeling extremely sorry for the agent who had just been berated. And apparently he appreciated my patience and overall pleasant demeanor (yeah, me) because I was rewarded with an awesome upgrade at no additional charge. Thank you Hertz. I was already excited to drive, but this just made it that much more enjoyable.

And then I headed to my sister’s.

One of the hard things about this trip home versus other trips when I’ve been coming from New York is that I want to see people and play, but I also have to get things done. I’m used to coming into town and just being able to have fun and play with my nieces and nephews and chill. Not the same when you are coming from the other side of the world. I wanted to see as many friends as possible. (Something about being on the other side of the world makes you feel more motivated to see people because I’m not sure when I’ll be back again.) I had my friend’s wedding to go to. I had my birthday to celebrate. And then I had a gazillion errands to run and things to get done.

Friday started with getting my hair chopped and face injected with Botox. (Yes, you read that right. And I am not ashamed to admit it. And for those of you who think I look too young for Botox…that’s the point. I’ve been doing it off and on for a while and it’s working beautifully.)

Just after the cut and injections. Happy birthday to me!

Friday night the family headed to Kona Grill for dinner and we had so much fun! Seriously, I love my family. And my dad was even there as he’d been in town for a board meeting before I got there, so he just stayed. It was great!

And then, after we got home from dinner, came the obligatory muddy buddies. My sister keeps a pantry like my mom, so there are always muddy buddy ingredii (yeah, that’s not a word, but it’s what we say) on hand. These are probably my most favorite treat ever.

Saturday morning started with my niece’s soccer game. One of my favorite things about being an aunt is when I get to be around for my nieces and nephews “stuff”, be it soccer games or choir performances. I just love getting to see them develop and grow and accomplish. And Saturday morning was no different. And my niece was so excited to have me there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see my other niece and nephew play in their games as I had a wedding to attended.

After heading home and changing, I headed to the LDS temple in Mesa to see my darling friend marry the love of her life. I was so happy to have been able to be there for it. It was this great reminder that waiting for the right person is totally worth it. And, seeing as how I was about to turn “old” the next day and being single makes that a little more depressing every year, getting that reminder was just what I needed.

And then I rushed home for my birthday party with friends. Unfortunately, this is the only photo I got from the party. But it’s an important one. My sweet and thoughtful friend, Jenn, brought me four of my favorite cookies all the way from New York. If you’re ever in New York, you must try Levain.

So, I’m not really one to throw myself a birthday party, but it was such a great reason to get so many of my friends together from various parts of my life. Arizona has my friends from my past life there, my very best friend from my mission, and now a number of really good friends from grad school. It was so fun to see people I hadn’t seen for a while (some, not since I graduated from my MBA program almost two and half years ago).

And then Sunday, my actual birthday, was my big family party including almost everyone in my immediate family (it was a little far for my younger brother and his family to come), my aunt and a number of my cousins, and part of my sister-in-law’s family…who are basically family. It was so fun! My brother-in-law kindly spent his afternoon making my favorite wings in the smoker, my sister made my favorite cake (yellow box and chocolate Betty Crocker frosting…I know, high class) and fruit dip, and I made my famous guacamole (at least famous with my family…I rarely make it for anyone else) and we just had a great time eating and laughing and catching up. It was the best gift my sister (and dad, who funded it) could have given me!

And my sweet aunt and cousins gave me this gift card which was just the right amount to support my DC habit while in the States.

And thus ends my birthday weekend. Up next? My whirlwind trip to Utah.