Thursday, January 26, 2006

Japan: Hiroshima 29 - How we stay in touch with America

Lance and I enjoy living in Japan. We try to get involved in the culture in many ways. However, there are times we are homesick and thru the latest technologies we're able to stay in touch with our friends and know exactly what's going on in the U.S. I am so thankful we moved during a time when all these things are available! Here's what we use so if you ever move out of the country, you're aware of them too:

Vonage: Voice Over IP phone service - We signed up for it in the US and brought the adapter to Japan. It is clear as a bell. If it wasn't for Vonage I would not be able to talk to my friends and family as much as I do. For $24.99/mo. we get a U.S. phone number that we can dial and receive calls to and from America, without international rates charged to us or the people who call us. And no strange international dialing. The only requirement is a high speed internet connection for the calls to transport thru. The best part is people can reach you at the same number anywhere you travel in the world.

Japan TV - One of the few channels that come in English is CNN World News and BBC. It's great to still be able to know what's going on in the world. I also started watching Fox channel here. However, the shows are somewhat dated and are dubbed in Japanese: The Simpsons, Roswell, Ali McBeal... It's a great way to learn Japanese. I also watch the Japanese Karaoke channel to help with my reading. Other than that Japan TV is filled with a ton of game shows. I'm disappointed that they don't air the MXC show from Spike TV. I always said I'm not leaving Japan til I can go to a taping or be a contestant.

iTunes: Music and TV shows - Thank God for iTunes! I get to keep up with my weekly shows - Desperate Housewives and Lost! For $1.99/episode Lance and I download them and project it onto our TV just as if we were in the U.S. It is amazing picture quality. The shows are posted about 2 days after they're on in the U.S. We also try to keep up with the latest music thru iTunes.

Slingbox and Tivo - When we left the US, Lance gave our Tivo to his Dad. Then he bought a Slingbox to install with the Tivo. Basically we are able to control our Tivo remote control from Japan and we can stream anything we want to our laptops and hook it up to our TV. I can still watch my Today Show and Katie Couric every evening (morning there). Problem with this so far is that it is not that clear. Kinda like a pixelized picture blown really depends on the streaming rate. Lance is hoping he'll be able to watch Superbowl!

Japan: Hiroshima 28 - Oysters and Karaoke

Hiroshima is famous for it's oysters. Apparently people come from all over the world not only to visit Peace Park, but also to eat this delicacy. So the Oyster Conclave restaurant is exactly where we went when Lance's Japanese co-workers threw a small Welcome Party for me. In the States I don't typically eat oysters. The times I have tried raw oysters I eat them with a ton of cocktail sauce and swallow them whole. Unfortunately this method cannot be applied to Hiroshima oysters because they are HUGE. If I wasn't mistaken, I'd have to assume they were either injected with horomones or are the gianormous ancestors of the dinosaur age, from which oysters originated. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture to post on my blog. Let's just say you cannot swallow them whole unless you want to choke.

The first course was raw oysters sprinkled w/salt and lime juice, next grilled oysters topped w/chopped tomotoes, then oysters Rockerfeller, next oysters on a bed of oyster rice, next oyster. At the end I was completely oystered out and do not want to eat any for a long long time.

Afterwards we did the next favorite Japanese past time which is to sing Karaoke! All Asian countries love it. We went to a Karoake establishment (much like the KTVs in Taiwan). It's almost like a hotel where you rent your own small room for a couple hours. The room is equipped w/an awesome sound sytem, TV, couches and tables. You get to sing your heart out in front of only your party of people. Also a server comes by every now and then to serve you any drinks or food orders. Lance's coworkers sang many Japanese songs. I was floored by how many American songs were available... including many recent songs. I sang appropriate songs in front of his coworkers, that I hadn't heard in a long time: Madonna, Bangles, Lisa Loeb, Beach Boys... Next time I want to go just w/Lance so we can sing inappropriate songs, get drunk and embarrass ourselves. They even had Busta Rhymes and Tupac...

Check out pic of how into it his coworker is:

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Japan: Hiroshima 27 - Hiroshima International Women's Club

I have recently joined the Hiroshima International Women's Club. And it is fantastic. I was told by other expatriate wives that this was a great club to get involved in while I am living in Japan. It is a social club made up of foreign and Japanese women. I've also learned there are such clubs in other countries as well, depending on where you live. It is wonderful to finally make some friends here. I have met women from many countries including, U.S., Ireland, U.K., S. Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan... They've given me advice on anything from where to buy foreign foods (like oatmeal, peanut butter, or Mexican food ingredients), to which countries are best for vacations (like what to do in Bangkok or Vietnam).

Everyday there are classes and activites to sign up for. For instance, last week I attended a cultural forum and volunteered to go play with children at a Children's Home for orphaned or abandoned children. The kids were sooo cute! And they weren't afraid of me because they thought I was Japanese. This week I took a class in Japanese cooking and Origami. I know you're thinking origami is just folding paper, cause that's what I thought. But boy, after an hour, I realize I should be in remedial Origami.

Next week I am taking a trip with some of the other ladies to a city called Kyushu to stay at a Hotel Onsen for 3 days. An Onsen is a hot springs, which are very popular in Japan.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Taiwan: Taipei 24 - Taipei Sightseeing: Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, National Palace Museum, New Years at 101

The subway and taxis make sightseeing in Taipei super easy. The three main places Lance and I really enjoyed and got great pictures of are:

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial -
This memorial is to commerate the passing of President Chiang Kai Shek. It is made up of gardens & ponds, a gate, National Opera house, National Concert hall and the Memorial Hall.

National Palace Museum -
As quoted from the website: "The National Palace Museum (NPM) in Taipei is home to one of the foremost collections of Chinese art and objects in the world. The extensive range includes bronzes, jades, ceramics, lacquerware, curios, calligraphy, painting, rare books, ..."

Taipei 101 during New Year's - Taipei 101 during New Year's transformed itself into something as crazy as Times Square in NYC. All stores in the area were open for 24 hrs. The waits for any restaurant for dinner was about 2 hrs. long and all movie tickets were sold out at the theater. The building itself put on a spectacular fireworks show at midnight. Lance and I went out for dinner, but the crowds kept us from staying any longer. Besides, we had the perfect view of the firework display on the patio of my Aunt and Uncle's condo:

Taiwan: Tainan 23 - Night and Food market, Temple and Anping Fort

After a couple days in Taipei, we traveled to Tainan. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan where my Grandma and other relatives live. By car, it is a 4 hr. trip; by plane, it is a 45 min. flight for roughly $60 one-way. We spent 3 days at my Grandma's house. Here are some of things we experienced:

Food market - Food markets exist everywhere in Taiwan. Fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are abundant. But beware the food market has a very distinct smell that I have never smelled anywhere else before but can recognize in an instant

Night market - People come out to play at the night markets in Tainan. Every night of the week there is as night market, but where depends on the day. Night markets are filled with vendor stalls selling everything from food, clothes, shoes, accessories to jewelry and toys. They are very cheap and you are expected to bargain and negotiate everything down. I love night markets where I can buy the cutest shoes for $10 or less. Also to be aware of, some vendors will not let you try on clothing so that is the trade off for their prices.

Temple -

Anping Gubao - also known as Anping Fort or Fort Zealandia, is a historical landmark. Construction began in 1624 and finished during the Ming dynasty 1640. It has been occupied by first the Dutch, then the British destroyed most of it, and finally during the Japanese occupation, it was razed to the ground. The steps and walls have been rebuilt and is now a sightseeing landmark for visitors.

Taiwan: Taipei 22 - Food

The food in Taiwan is yummy and the variety of food was so good to have after being in Japan.

Here is a fresh fruit cart that are sold everywhere. Taiwan is like a tropical island so the weather is not cold even in winter and the fruit is sweet and delicious year round. Some of my favorites are ones that are not sold in the US - wax apples, HUGE guavas and asian pears, yellow watermelon, some fuschia looking fruit with black seeds and whatever that green thing is called in the pic:

The food court in Taipei 101 is amazing, and filled with a variety of different choices. Lance got his fill of Korean food:
And we went to the Famous Taiwan restaurant - Din Tai Fung. Known for their xiao long bao and dumplings. The dough skins are made so thin and need to be eaten with a spoon because the hot broth spills out. From the time it opens til closing, it is busy non-stop. The line to get in is always long and many Japanese tourist go there to eat. . Check out the pics of all the workers who make them around the clock.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Taiwan: Taipei 21 - After 4 years

For the holidays, Lance had a nice long vacation off from work. Due to the cost and timing this year, we were not able to go home to the US for Christmas. Instead, we went to Taiwan. Lance was able to meet my extended family and experience Taiwan. The last time I was there myself was about 4 years ago. And it has changed dramatically since.

First day we landed in the capital of Taiwan, Taipei. There we stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in their nice condo in downtown. They're place is within walking distance to Taipei 101, which is the tallest building in the world today( 101 had not existed the last time I visited. Along with the construction of this building other shopping plazas, restaurants, clubs, and movie theaters emerged around it. It is amazing. Lance and I were astounded by how many American and European stores, clothing brands and restaurants there were. We got to not only enjoy good Taiwanese/Chinese food, but also enjoyed American restaurants like Macaroni grill, Chili's and Friday's (which we will not have for a while). For Lance, it was also very easy to get around and talk to people in Taiwan. Most everyone could speak and understand English. There is a stark contrast between Taiwan and Japan in regards to how open they are to foreigners.

Cost of items is also roughly the same equivalent as they are in the US. For example, movies are about $8-$10 per person. With the exception that shoes and food are cheaper than the US. Lance and I even went to Costco in Taipei out of curiousity. We love that store and was delighted to find it is bigger than the ones in the US and offered so many American and Asian brands at the same prices.

Taipei has a small subway system that is easy to navigate and there are cheap taxis galore. We were in Taiwan for a total of 10 days. The weather was about mid to high 60s. And Lance happily went on 3 golf outings with my cousin, uncle and their friends. The golf courses were gorgeous, and provided female caddies. Lance said the only English his particular caddy spoke was "bye-bye. bye-bye" whenever someone's ball flew into the trees.