Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

last day on Island, Jamaica, May 24,2013

24th May 2013 | Closed

For breakfast, we cleaned out the fridge.  We tried the Sorel fruit juice which is faintly of cranberries but since they add ginger to it, strongly of ginger. Local oranges and grapefruits are mottled green coloured.  It doesn’t get cold enough for them to develop the orange colour that we are accustomed too.  So this means that some of the citrus fruit from our local supermarket has had food dye applied.

This is our rental apartment and car.  We were on the 4th floor really the 5th, since there was a G floor.  British thing.  We are packing the rental car, a Corolla.  They prefer you always park face out, probably to avoid accidents.  Signs all over requesting “park face out”.

rental apartment, Kingston, Jamaica

It poured rain yesterday after work.  It came down in buckets and then stopped, then sunny again.  On Saturday, they are expecting a storm.  August is hurricane season.  This explains the potholes.

The white van is a NOAH car.  And drive on the left side of the road.  Another British legacy.

Noah car

I missed the chapel on my walk around the campus yesterday. K mentioned that he had wanted to be married there but it wasn’t available. I will definitely visit it next time.    There was an accident with a bus, good thing it didn’t completely block the lane but when you see the bus driver on the curb taking pictures with his cellphone, it is serious.


Into the office, just for the morning, drop by the classroom, back to the hotel to finish packing.  We are supposed to be out by 11:00.  Drop by the benefits office and then to airport. A lot of the buildings are stucco and brightly coloured.

The Red-Billed Streamertail hummingbird is the national bird also called the Doctor BIrd or Swallow-Tail hummingbird.  It lives only in Jamaica.


My feelings about Jamaica: since we weren’t in a resort,  never saw the beach and was downtown a lot and New Kingston, I probably got to see what real life is like here.  People are friendly, everyone acknowledges everyone else. Lots of security check points like parking lots, restaurants (campus KFC had a security cubicle), malls etc,  Probably have eaten more red snapper during this visit than in my entire life.  Local produce reminds me that our supermarkets have higher quality imported fruits & vegetables.

The local water is soft which is great for bathing.  I didn’t have to use any hand lotion.

The middle class has left the country.  Corruption is rampant such that you can sell your bank account.  There is poverty, violence, government inefficiencies.   But from K, I sense hope.  His family would move to Toronto if his wife had her way but he wants to stay and help build a better country.  He mentioned that he would be treated as 2nd class citizen if he moved to Canada.  Being Chinese and the 2nd largest minority group here makes us stand out.  All this makes you appreciate home more.

oxtail stew, Kingston airport

Last Jamaican meal was Oxtail Stew at the airport.  It was delicious since that it what I usually order from the local Caribbean restaurant at home.  However David thought it was too salty this time. It was served with rice and peas, and callaloo.

Another example of how life is here, I had the  airport washroom cleaner just ask if  I would give her 100JMD ($1).  I declined.  Since I was asked, I gave a bottle of water to a bank parking attendant.  Although they aren’t supposed to be asking for anything from the bank customers.

At the boarding gate, there was a sniffer dog.  It checked out the lady in front of us but the handler and dog just  ignored us.

Flight home: I watched 21 grams starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn.  I surprised that they would show nudity and sex on an airplane movie, I looked around to see if anyone else was checking my screen.  I could see that the passenger in front of me was watching The Hobbit and I was glimpsing .

Menu choice: I had spinach and ricotta cheese pasta. Had enough chicken, rice and peas.

airplane lunch, pasta

It was interesting to look out the window.  Flying over the islands was very pretty with the swirls of  teal, turquoise and infinite shades of ocean blue water. Some of the islands were so small, I couldn’t tell if they were inhabited.  Then just clouds and the brown and green squares of urban landscape.

New machines at Pearson.  For Canadian residents, you can bypass the customs line, just feed your passport and customs declaration into the machine.  It scans and spits out a copy that you show to an official as you pass by.    So much faster.

Once home, I was surprised to find rice and lentils in the fridge.  First I thought it was rice and peas.  I did bring home plantain chips (sweet version) and 2 cans of Red Stripe beer that had been made in the UK.

Temperature in Jamaica ranged between 27-32C.  It was refreshing to be back at home in cooler, refreshing air.

Shopping in Japan

6th August 2007 | 1 Comment

Tokyo’s Ginza is a shoppers’ heaven if you are into designer names. I’m not but I do love the level of service you get any where here. You are greeted loudly once you enter and leave. You can actually find floor clerks everywhere in a department store. Every counter is staffed, every exhibit room in a museum or gallery is staffed (they are also given a chair and blanket to sit down with), there are train conductors all over the platforms. Everyone wears a uniform. I like the information clerks at the department stores. They wear pretty matching hats and shoes. Lots of uniforms even have matching shoes. Even the cleaning ladies at Kyoto Station had matching pink dustpans. Lots of service people like taxi drivers wear white gloves.

Back to the Ginza strip. There is a small mall with watch stores. However to access each individual store, you take its elevator. Each elevator is decorated with watches so that you can admire them during the short ride. I liked the Swatch elevator since the entire elevator wall was covered with hanging Swatch watches. The elevators are circular. One elevator goes up one floor, another goes down. David liked the Omega one.

I found the PAPER place here called Kyukyodo filled with Japanese paper crafts, cards and washi papers. I found the drawers with end cuts of washi paper which were cheap, cheap, cheap. Upstairs has brush painting supplies which explains the faint odor of sumi-e ink as you walk into the store. Rolls of paper line one side of the store walls. Its was very busy in here.

The other card store is Ito-Ya. It has gift items, art supplies, business supplies, rubber stamping supplies and cards. The rubber stamps are expensive here.

The best place for clothes is Uniglo which has Old Navy prices in a Gap like setting. It has mens, women and childrens?.

David has been checking out all the camera stores here. Its like technie heaven here since they have galleries featuring all the lastest products in places like the Sony store. The Sony store has its own outdoor aquarium and many floors. Canon store. Nissan store featured the new model Silverline with the car moving up and down on a turntable with the lady talking about it. We went to the Sheisido store. It has an art gallery in the basement. The ICC building has lots of free interactive activities featuring user interfaces.

Japanese Cuisine

1st August 2007 | Closed

Well, first of all, how do you order when you can’t read the Japanese menu? We are at a slight disadvantage since the Japanese think we are locals. We went into Mr. Young Man, Kyoto, struggled with the menu. Then we noticed non-Asian tourists being given the ENGLISH MENU.

What if there isn’t a English menu? Someplaces have photos and prices so you point to it. Most places have plastic models and pricing in exterior cases so that you can decide before going into the restaurant.

There are many fast food places offering noodles & rice dishes. We managed between 450-1200Y for meals. Then there was our first encounter with the ticket vending machines. You punch the buttton for themeal that you want, it spits out a ticket, you take the ticket to the cook and then receive your meal. Since it was our first encounter in Ginza, and there were no photos or menus, we took the cook outside, pointed to the plastic model, then the cook showed us what button to press on the ticket vending machine and we waited for our food. We later saw the upscale version of the machine in another restaurant. The buttons had photos. Now this ticket machine saves you menus, cashiers and would be great for tracking inventory. Typical menus have been noodles,rice, fish, pickled vegetables, miso soup, coleslaw, corn, eggs, roast pork, tempura, beef, seaweed. Your food is always served on a tray. Good since some of the places are really crowded.

We also had takeout boxes from our local butcher/supermarket that had chicken cutlets, ham sausage, shitake mushroom, tofu, coleslaw. It was 700Y which is great value for all the food.

And then there was the other incident with a restaurant that had no menus, or photos, or plastic models-Robotas. According to the Rough Guide to Japan, ‘you look for the restaurant with the basket of vegetables outside, and the owner will take care of you and it was moderately priced’. It was very rustic inside like a farmhouse with dark heavy beams, low ceilings, farm decorations, dim, all the tableware was earthenware. It was our first meal that wasn’t a fast food joint and David thought it was romantic. So you come in and the owner shows you the buffet and explains each item and there was a lot of dishes. The food was displayed on a counter on earthen platters. He also bought out a text book of fishes to let us know what was available. Still no mention of prices. There was a sign in Japanese but we couldn’t read it. However everything looked good and we were getting tired of pickled vegetables and wanted vegetable dishes.

So I picked out a chicken stew dish, eggplant dish, jellyfish, spinach with white crumbling stuff, smoked salmon and aparagus spears. In the chicken dish was also bamboo shoots and something that I recognized the flavour but havent had in decades – I think they were gingko nuts. The eggplant was really good and David agreed. I mentioned that why couldn’t he cook eggplant like this since he only cooks ratatouille. David said that it was ratatouille. What I thought tofu on the spinach was actually feta cheese. I said that the cook must have had some other European training. Then we realized we were eating French food. All our food was served on one huge big earthen plate. And then he gave us 2 little pistachio pastries as dessert with cups of green tea. Most places don’t serve you tea, its all iced water. Unlike Hong Kong and China, tap water is fine.

It was a bit unnerving since it was slow that there were 4 staff people just standing there until more diners came in. At this point, we still had no idea how much the bill was going to be, since it was French food, it was going to be more money, the Rough Guide said modest prices, what’s that mean?. Presentation was good with food being on bananas leaves, bamboo utentils- no plastic stuff. However the food was excellent, it was a dining experience, bill 8000Y for both of us. 1Yen is 75c. 5% taxes on everything. No tipping. I didnt think that I would go all the way to Japan to have French food, although with a Japanese touch.

Oh, the hotel here (Courtyard by Marriott, Tokyo Ginza Tobu) has a complimentary happy hour with 1 free drink and free finger foods. We did that for 2 nights but you have to be there at 6-8pm. I asked for decaf coffee and was given a pitcher of instant coffee granules, a teapot of boiling water, individually plastic wrapped sugar cubes. I’ll stick to regular coffee. About coffee, in the stores, you can buy coffee cups with a built filter with grounds. All you do is add hot water. Our hotels have the hotpots. The advantage is that it will keep the water warm and it has a button dispenser. Beats my electrick kettle at home. The finger foods are served in individual oval bowls and with forks. Things like roast pork, beef, seafood medley.

About pointing to pictures to order meals. Sometimes you are guessing at what the food is. We were in Kobe and in their Chinatown, which one of Japan’s 3rd chinatowns. Lots of the shops were serving dumplings and steamed buns which meant that it was northern style Chinese cooking. We wanted a restaurant that had photos, pricing and airconditioning. We found one that served tofu. I ordered what I thought was beef and ended up with LIVER! actually it was tasty, just not what I expected.

Its eel season now so we are seeing a lot of it on menus.

A huge phenomen is coffee and dessert shops. Gorgeous looking desserts ie pastries, eclairs, cakes slices. Yes there are Wendy’s, MacDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, pizza, italian, Thai and a Haitian place. The prices are about the same for Wendy’s, McDonalds and Starbucks. No we havent eaten in them. Local chains are Mos Burgers, Fresh Burgers.

A noodle shop featured soup served in these huge stone bowls which kept the food really hot. while you were eating it. The broth was boiling when it was served. Here you could chose your soup broth as soy based or miso based.

Miso or rather soy is in everything here. I can see why some Westerners would lose weight here. We haven’t had sushi yet.

Technology in Toilets

30th July 2007 | Closed

I think that you can tell how developed a country is, by the state of their toilets. Japan must be the world’s leader. I read about it in the guide books but its still a surprise when you have to use one.

There are 2 main brands: Toto and National. All beige. The first thing is that they have a control panel on one side. Once you sit down, the water reservior for the bidet starts filling up. The control panels on the basic model is for bidet functions. However in one of the upscale department stores, I encountered the deluxe model but didn’t try all the functions. It was just enough to read what they were: music (to cover up body noises), strong deordorizer button, dry, back wash, front wash and off. Then I realized that I didn’t know how to flush it. Japanese signage didn’t help, pressing other buttons didn’t help so I got up and left. Then it flushed itself. Then there was another time, different model where I came out and the attendant just happened to be by and she showed where the sensor button was. It had flushed once when I was still inside but I couldn’t figure where it was triggering.

Oh yes, especially in the high end department stores, the stalls are also equipped with toilet disinfecting spray dispensers with instructions that you take a recommended amount of toilet paper, put it under the spray dispenser etc. The upscale toilets are like little rooms with doors. They also have a built in baby seat in the corner for your infant.

Most sinks have water and soap sensors. And the first time I couldn’t find the paper towel dispenser, couldn’t see a hand dryer. Its a different style where you stick your hands down inside a wall can thingamigjiggy.

Toilet paper: cheap version is one ply and non perforated. Expensive version: two ply and perforated. I’m finding non perforated type annoying.

Such are the basic things of life that can be so different when you are travelling in a foreign country.

But there’s always cornflakes

28th July 2007 | 1 Comment

The lobby/lounge is on the 3rd floor or 3F.

Breakfast choices were:
Japanese item: triangular shape rice snacks filled with different toppings liked bonita flakes or salmon. Just like the ones Terra made for us. coleslaw, instant cream of corn soup make by Knorr which David likes, instant red or brown miso soup mix-just add water.

hardboiled eggs-already shelled, fruit salad -individual servings, different types of sweet buns, jams
yogurt – they like it really sweet here
green tea, orange juice, coffee

and of course cocoa puffs and cornflakes

There was a young American named Matt from Virgina Beach travelling by himself. So we asked him to join us. He was about Adam’s age so I thought he would appreciate some English conversation. He checked in last night and discovered that the youth hostel is close by so he will be checking out. There is free internet in the lobby here.

We will soon discover that most Japanese meals will include miso soup, coleslaw, corn and eggs. The water here is fine so we are usually offered cold water not tea.

Kyoto Comfort Inn

28th July 2007 | Closed

Our first dinner meal in Japan, was close to the hotel. It was Royal Host featuring curry specials. It was like an American style dinner. Smoking is allowed in restaurants and many other public spaces. As we will discover, any other cuisine will have their Japanese twist to it.

July 24th. Our first day in Japan started really early. We had went to bed local time of 9:30 and 10:30. David always sleeps earlier. But we were both up by 4:00am, plenty of time of time to get to the hotel breakfast for 6:30am.

OUr room is on the 7th floor and although it is one of the larger rooms since it had two beds, its compact in size. The total size would have equalled our master bedroom at home. The hotel room had 2 3/4 sized beds, a loveseat, a round table, a tub chair, a desk with a bar fridge under it. And of course internet connection. They have these ergonomically padded shaped pillows at least that what the brochure depicted. Although some things have diagrams, since we can’t read the text, you have to guess at the meaning. Japanese text looks like Chinese text but doesn’t have the same meanings.

You are provided with a button up nightshirt, disposable brush, toothbrush & toothpaste, razors, a room hotpot so that you can have your own tea or coffee. They have green tea powder packets which I quite enjoy. Each floor has its own pant press that you can borrow.

But the bathroom was a step up room meaning you had to step up into it. It seems Japanese plumbing is built above ground so that you can always hear the water draining. Since it was a small bathroom, so small that if you were 6′ or taller, if you sat on the toilet, your knees would hit the toilet paper dispenser or if you rotated your body, your knees would then hit the bathtub. It made me feel so claustrophic that I wanted to leave the door open but you can’t since the sign said “leaving the door open will cause the smoke detectors to go off because of the humidity”. The interesting plumbing feature was having the same faucet for both the sink and tub. You would just swing the faucet between the two. And the toilets…I will have a separate page for that.

Osaka to Kyoto

28th July 2007 | Closed

I have a Dream List comprised of things to do before ….
Visiting Kyoto can now be crossed off the list. Why Kyoto? It was the ancient capital of Japan and has retained much of its history unlike Tokyo.

We landed in Osaka. We stepped off the plane and once outside, you get blasted. After typhoon season is over, you get hot temperatures and high humidity for all of July and August. 30-40c.

You can tell that you are in a real foreign country when you are desparately searching for any English signage. Being in Hong Kong wasn’t nearly as bad because it was a British Colony so that there was lots of English. But here in Osaka airport, we had to figure out the train routes to get us to Kyoto. We bought a Kansai Rail pass which gives us 3 days unlimited travel between Osaka, Kobe, Nara on trains, subways and buses. Its a great deal.

So we got the train from Osaka to Kyoto. It should have been 2 hours but due to our inexperience much longer since we should have transferred from train to train not train to subway to subway. IF you think Toronto’s subway map is confusing, its peanuts compared to any Japanese city.

So we get into Kyoto and try to get to our hotel. What David thought was a 15 min walk from the subway station was once again longer walk since the map he had wasnt to scale.

We got off the subway station and got a bit of a local parade. It is the Matusi festival – giving thanks to the local deity for a good harvest’, lots of people walking in white costumes and drumming. Another aspects of Kyoto life – constant whining of cicadas. They are really noisy. Plums trees.

It a drive on the left hand side country and people also ride the bikes on the sidewalk. You have to remember watch traffic coming from the other direction.

We finally get to Kyoto Comfort Inn at 8:40pm after a 5 trip to Vancovuer, a 4 hour layover in Vancouver and a 10.5 hour flight to Osaka, 3 hours to Kyoto. The hotel clerk said we looked tired and yes we were.

Flying Forever (air travel to Japan)

28th July 2007 | 1 Comment

Last night, David went to bed at 11:00 pm and set the alarm for 3:45am since the limo would be picking us up at 4:15am. Such an ungodly that we couldn’t ask anyone to drive us to the airport. It was so early that I wish we didn’t have a chatty, friendly driver.

I never slept since I was packing and cleaning. It was like being a teenager and pulling an all-nighter with the boys. Since all the boys were obviously not interested in going to sleep, I got photos of them together. At least they were awake enough to see us off. And also to give us their wish list for Japanese gifts. Eric said no consumables since he wanted a durable souvenir. Chinglish t-shirts for all, a sushi poster for Eric or fake sushi, of course they would love electric games or toys!

The goal was to stay awake and not fall asleep until the flight to Japan. I had 2 cat naps. Since I had an aisle seat, I was woken up. I watched Time Machine (Jeremy Irons plays a villan) and Lookout (Jeff Daniels). Time Machine was predictable 2/5 but Lookout was much better 4/5*.

I writing at the 3rd Maple Leaf lounge today. Benefits of being an elite flyer. We had 1/5 hour before we board in Toronto and ate breakfast there. Cold cereals, toast, yogurt, fresh fruit were offered. I had mocha coffee from the machine. It was too sweet but I was looking a caffeine hit. The first lag wasn’t too bad and of course its raining when we landed in Vancouver. Then went to the 2 lounges in Vancouver. One in the domestic terminal and one in the international terminal. And they were serving breakfast once again. I can’t remember the last time I had a teenage burger but that the best lunch option at 9:30am Vancouver time. I confess that it was a double teenage burger with onion rings. Once a decade can’t be too naughty. We were hoping for steak & eggs at Milestones but they weren’t open.

So we are camping here until we board our flight to Osaka. I’ve never had a chance to walk around the international terminal here. Probably because it wasn’t built the last time I had to fly international from here, or it wasn’t finished when we flew here to Hong Kong. It has an ocean aquarium wall and running stream too.

Now the lounge is offering instant noodles and crudites for lunch. David took some noodles. I also found vegetable soup, bread & butter, vegetable chips and cookies for dessert. David said to eat as much as possible before boarding so that you can sleep on the flight. Sleep over food!

This is now being typed from the executive business centre in our hotel in Tokyo Ginza. David is working upstairs in our room which leaves me to type here.

Second leg of trip is a 10.5 hour flight. What does one do? I was supposed to be sleeping as much as possible but its not that comfortable. Unless you were in first class. They had the last in what looked like chaise lounges with the chair back that flip down. They looked like a space age cocoons. Back to our economy class seats. I watched 2 movies. The first was Air Hogs starring Tim Allen, John Travolta. It was really hard to hear the dialogue over the noise of the plane unless I squished the airphone to my head. The movie kept jamming so I never saw the end. The trick is to find a movie under the appropriate genre. David found Pan’s Labyrinth on ‘international’ listing. It certainly deserved all the awards despite the civil war theme and cruelty. The next movie was Children of Men starring Clive Owens. I am a Clive Owens fan. This movie probably had the shortest screen time for Julianne Moore though. It was predictable. Al together I would have had a 5 hours sleep.