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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Light, Shadows and Sakushima Island


It's finally fall here in Nagoya.  This week, scarves alone are insubstantial and bare-handed bike riding causes the fingers to stiffen.  We shoved the neglected fan into the back of the closet only yesterday (traveling has replaced tidying these days) and the gas heater now sits on the tatami.  My favorite activity is nearly clinging to the heater, which is also bad for the hands, but we've resorted primarily to warm blankets and Japanese-style baths.  

Before I recount our trip to Taiwan I must write about our excursion to Sakushima Island last weekend.  Our student, Yoshiko, loves taking teachers on day trips.  This has been my favorite thus far with ideal light and autumn weather.  Thanks to local university students, the island is dappled with art and the population of three hundred finally has some visitors.  

Sakushima holds countless surprises. I loved the purple-sanded beach, dyed from the crushing of underfoot mussels, and the windy coastline paths. Depending on your route, you'll find sparkling quartz, white stone pebbles, or shrines with assorted offerings.

There's a flock of metal seagulls by the sea, squeaky on stilts, and numerous statues waiting to be climbed at the nose of peninsulas.  There's a creative spotting at every turn, like rainbow-tile benches, as well as features of local life, like decrepit watering cans and thriving gardens.  We saw numerous centenarians still pushing wheelbarrows full of carrots and daikon or stooping low to pick vegetables.  There are wooded areas vacant of sound and an ancient tomb, a thousand years old, shrouded by trees (said to be protected by the mountain god).  In total, eighty-eight small shrines are scattered across the island.  We learned that the town's characteristically black houses are meant to disguise the staining of saltwater.  They give the island its old nickname, "Black Pearl."

As we headed to the island's western side, we met a goat, a ridiculous ostrich, and plenty of Jizo (the protector of children) statues. Around noon we stopped at Yoshiko's favorite restaurant, which she's personally ridden with foreigners, for the local speciality: fried clams over rice with sides of miso soup, pickled daikon, and seaweed soaked in vinegar and lemon juice.  Eating local is always rewarding!

Light and shadows framed our day of exploration.  Everything looked crisper and almost theatric with the autumn rays at work.  Sakushima is an ideal place to appreciate the soul of the season, even with the deafening wind.  Just bring a coat!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Island Hopping in Hong Kong

Nay ho!

Hong Kong left us eager for more. While our expectations for skyscrapers and crowded streets were fully met, we were given an unexpected dose of greenery and local culture.  Imagine small villages and cows tyrannizing pedestrian roads.  Hong Kong is a fusion of urban and rural lifestyles connected by water.  The short ferry rides between the major and outlying islands offer nice views and a permanent swaying sensation.  We spent seven days sailing back and forth, enjoying the area's distinctive faces, and loved our findings (even the stinky tofu)!

We were lucky enough to have two spectacular hosts, Stephen's cousin, Fatima, and her Hong Konger boyfriend, Jackie. They made our trip one of the most unforgettable we've taken! Not only are they knowledgeable about the local culture and best places to explore, they're lots of fun.  And Fatima collects tea and pretty pillows. I felt unbelievably lucky to share our experience of Hong Kong with them and will always equate our trip with our time spent together.

Fatima and Jackie live in one of Lantau Island's many small villages surrounded by hills and vegetation.  At night, the path from the waterside town to their house is warm and full of crickets, and by day, narrowed by locals on bikes.  The village restaurants have fresh seafood and the markets astoundingly cheap fruit (If you're Japanese and used to paying over $50 for watermelon).  It was an idyllic place to create a home-base.

While Hong Kong was full of highlights, the scenic islands created a peaceful atmosphere in a place known for its intense metropolitan culture.  We spent the majority of our evenings (and a couple days) on Lantau with Fatima and Jackie but also stayed a night on Lamma island.  The weather was ceaselessly warm and the wildlife chirping and biting.  We ate a lot of seafood at open-air restaurants and loved the break from our usual Japanese diet.  Everywhere we went the menus were endless, hoarding page after page of Chinese dishes twisted with a Hong Kong influence.  While Japanese food is known for its refinement and simplicity, the food in Hong Kong is exciting, oily, and full-bodied.

And now, the most memorable parts of our stay:

On one hot afternoon, after lathering on the sunscreen, Fatima took us on a bike "tour" around Lantau.  We rode through brightly-colored villages, some houses bearing large Christian crosses, up tree-shrouded hills, and past docile cattle roaming and pooping uninhibited.  She took us to a waterfall framed by woods and Stephen immediately made the barefooted climb up the rocks to the cascading water's center for a bath. So far, he's sat in two waterfalls in two Asian countries.

Another morning Fatima and Jackie took us to "The Venice of the East," Tai O fishing village on Lantau.  The open-air houses stand on stilts above the water and are connected by railed pathways and bridges.  The village is doused with color, texture, and a distinct local character.  Residents sat in the sunny air of their living rooms watching TV, hung their laundry on rickety lines, and dried fish on the curves and dips of roofs.  It felt invasive to literally wander through the edges of people's homes but the paths lent no other option. In some areas the tide was out, leaving crabs and other sea-life naked by rocks beneath the houses.  What a backyard! Following Jackie's tour of the village, we took a speedboat out on the water to see General's Rock (a formation that resembles a soldier's face), dolphins, and the horizon of mainland China.  Speedboat rides always smear an enormous smile on my face (I feel like an excited dog) so I was happy regardless of not seeing the sneaky dolphins beneath the waves!

Hong Kong Island is thirty to fifty minutes from Lantau depending on which ferry you catch.  Constantly crossing water was refreshing and granted some spectacular night views of downtown.  One evening, before strolling down the Avenue of Stars on the Victoria Harbor waterfront (and taking combat photos with the famous Bruce Lee statue) we witnessed another prime view of the skyline. This time, the famous buildings were performers in a lights show and enacted a flashy duet accompanied by music and narration.  Though in Chinese, the show was pretty impressive and engendered the awareness, "I am in HONG KONG, a Metropolitan capital of THE WORLD!"  Afterwards, Jackie took us to an unforgettable hot-pot restaurant that completely overshadowed Japan's simpler version with its sauces, spices, and overall variety.

Not every dish in Hong Kong is safe.  Before going downtown, Fatima warned us of the infamous "stinky tofu" that's also popular in Taiwan and mainland China.  It's a local dish of fermented tofu with an incredibly powerful stench.  You know it's coming from blocks away.  After we visited the colorful fish, flower, and bird markets, Stephen stopped to buy some.  Honestly, it smells a lot worse than it tastes.  The problem is you smell like rotting fecal matter afterward. This was made obvious when Stephen finished his tofu, went into a store, and was asked to leave! Even the locals don't always appreciate stinky tofu.

If you're visiting Hong Kong, it's worth the short speedboat ride eastward to visit Macau.  This casino-country is an unusual blend of Asia and Europe.  Though Hong Kong was occupied by Britain from the mid 1800s until 1997, the Western influence doesn't bleed from every building and street sign (an obsession with high tea is one of the more obvious cultural remnants) like it does in Macau.  Portugal colonized this currently deemed "administrative region" of China for over four hundred years before it was ceded to the Chinese government in 1999.  Due to Portugal's leisurely stay, the European influence is obvious in the architecture, local cuisine, and ubiquitous Portuguese writing.  I never expected to experience such a hybrid of cultures in Asia.

The speedboat ride to Macau was ridden with gambling advertisements on flat-screen TVs that successfully made us fantasize about what we'd do with a million dollars.  After going through customs, our first stop was the Chapel of St. Xavier on the island's southern tip.  The church is a cheerful yellow with white curves and pastel frames.  It's as nearly impressive as the famous Portuguese style cafe next door!  There zonked travelers sit in the shade and drink sangria while enjoying the backdrop.  After a lunch of prawns and curried vegetables we went to check in at the Hotel Royal.  The cab ride provided an overview of Macau's glamorous casino scape and towering hotels.  It was strange to see the Portuguese architecture randomly juxtaposed with the Vegas-esque environment.  During our stay we attended a show, ate amazing nachos, checked out the ruins of St. Paul's cathedral, and Stephen got lucky at blackjack!

Stephen has good karma. His luck continued when Fatima and Jackie took us to the Happy Valley (horse) Raceway in Hong Kong.  Before each race, you can preview the horses brandishing their well-groomed manes and muscles.  The stadium's culminated energy is contagious and you can sense the tension and money-to-be-lost.  Everyone is drinking beer and screaming on their selected gambles.  Though I never bet in Hong Kong or Macau, I enjoyed the atmosphere and like to think that I contributed to Stephen's winning (and strategic stopping)!

Our last venture in Hong Kong was to Lamma Island, home to a trendy town full of seaside restaurants, bars, and boutiques.  There we found both an organic convenience store, where we stocked up on natural peanut butter and dried beans to haul back to Japan, and a vegetarian breakfast cafe.  I was surprised by the ubiquitous amount of "100% Organic" and "Vegan" products throughout Hong Kong, especially on an outlying island.  Lamma was a perfect place to spend our remaining HK dollars.  We purchased the bamboo tea tray we'd been looking for to accompany our new pu-erh tea and pot.  Chinese bamboo trays do well in humid climates, as they become stronger with water absorption, so it should absolutely thrive this summer in Japan!

Thanks for reading about our recent trip and another big thank you to Fatima and Jackie!  Our next destination is the US in August for two weeks. We're super excited to see everyone!  I'm also looking forward to the reverse culture shock bound to occur after nearly two years in Japan.  

See you soon! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012



It's a rainy Sunday evening in Nagoya and I'm enjoying the leisurely temperature of 55 degrees.  We've entered the ephemeral transition between gluing ourselves to the gas heater and sweating buckets and killing cockroaches.  It's such a perfect temperature, I'll be sad once it's gone!

Today, Stephen and I rode our bikes against the wind and downpour to a great Okinawan cafe in Osu Kannon.  I made the mistake of purchasing a plastic umbrella from the nearby convenience store ("combini") which immediately turned into a jagged mess of umbrella innards.  I was delighted, though, with all the reactions I got holding it with one hand all the way there.

Unfortunately, I lose every umbrella I buy and am therefore frequently stranded without shelter.  Yesterday I felt guilty as I half-considered taking the stray one I saw at the ATM.  As I've mentioned and is generally known about Japan, people don't take what doesn't belong to them. It's a comfortable place to live for that reason, and if you lose your wallet it's highly plausible that some honest person will bring it, unviolated, to the police.  So as I stood in line eying the nicely embroidered pink umbrella (that obviously hadn't ever turned inside-out), I realized that I couldn't be the stereotypical foreigner obstructing the holy moral law.  Even if only in my own perception.  Living in Japan will fine-tune your awareness of social propriety (even if it means you have to mummify your head in a sheer scarf to avoid getting soaked).  It will also make you realize how blunt the characters are on American TV shows!

Anyway, apart from weighty moral dilemmas, life has been bright and happy.  Our new contracts began last Tuesday (after a couple of irregular weeks full of fairly brainless trainings and annual meetings) and we've since had all our new classes.  I'm fortunate this year because I have a lot of fantastic, high level students (as well as a class that I love and carried over from last year) who are very engaged and eager to learn. I'm also teaching a couple news-based courses where we watch CNN and BBC clips and discuss recent stories.  It's been rejuvenating to meet new people and have a fresh schedule, and although I loved having the little turds (children) last year, I'm glad to have no regular kids classes.  I find that my days are less stressful and more clean without them!

Spring is undeniably the happiest time in Japan.  It denotes the arrival of cherry blossoms (sakura) and lighthearted enjoyment for all who attend sakura-reveling parties (hanami).  Everything begins with the cherry blossoms here, even the new school year for university students. In early April, our neighborhood Tsurumai park was packed with people sitting on blue tarps beneath the flowers.  Everyone was drinking sake and the area was dotted with food-vendors selling corn on the cob, takoyaki (fried octopus), yaki soba (fried noodles), and other hanami refreshments.  Since I started training for a half-marathon this August, I've been running most days in the park so have regularly enjoyed the sunshine and happy scenery.  At the blossom's peak, we went to Gojo river and the Inuyama festival with friends.  It was dubbed the happiest day in Japan because everyone there was clearly having such a great time!

Besides pink blossoms, the new school year, riding our bikes without heavy coats and taking weekly Japanese lessons with our private sensei, we've been singing a lot of karaoke and saying goodbye to fellow teachers and friends leaving Japan.  The life of an ECC teacher feels acutely cyclical at this time- new people are arriving and others are leaving at the culmination of Japan's beauty.

This evening I came across a list of things that foreigners miss after leaving Japan.  With a year left before we depart on our Southeast Asia/Europe adventure (which should span about six months), I've been thinking about what I'll truly miss about life here.

Here is my Top Ten list so far:

1) Hot springs and heat-circulating Japanese bathtubs: cheap, heavenly, mentally and physically therapeutic.

2) Sushi (especially conveyer-belt), soba, ramen, miso soup, edamame, taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry filled with sweet red bean paste), takoyaki, onigiri (rice balls with a variety of stuffings), okonomiyaki (Osaka-inspired famous egg/cabbage pancake), even natto (fermented soybeans)

3) Green tea vending machines

4) Karaoke: 24/7, private rooms, and all you can eat/drink deals.

5) Transportation:  insanely reliable trains/subways, some of which go 186 mph.

6) Safety (I very rarely feel the need to look over my shoulder, which is very refreshing)

7) General cleanliness

8) Combini: the convenience stores not only have a variety of snack choices but healthy ones.

9) Lunch deals: order a full lunch "set" and often get unlimited coffee, salad, soup, rice, etc.

10) Generally very nice and considerate people!

Others: Cat cafes, ping-pongs (buttons you push to call your server at most bars and restaurants), accessible bike lanes, not having to wear a helmet by law, drinking alcohol in public, trying to read and understand Japanese, seeing eccentric fashion, exaggerated, over-the-top advertisements for coffee and beer, going to the land of the supermarket, buying fresh produce at the farmer's market, izakaya (Japanese-style bars and restaurants), the sakura season, the general obsession with characters (such as Hello Kitty) and their paraphernalia, rice-cookers, and heated toilet seats.

It's so easy to live in Japan. I truly love living here.  Of course there are annoying aspects (that's for another post, perhaps), but overall it's going to be hard to leave.  Thankfully we'll have enough to look forward to to propel us onto a plane.

Speaking of planes, this weekend brings our journey to Hong Kong!  We leave on Sunday morning and are staying for eight days.  It's going to be an adventure, and I'm going to write about it afterward, I promise!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cosplay and Maid Cafes

It's December and far too late to be updating.  I figured I should post before the to-write list expands!

Recently, we've taken many trips (of all kinds: day trips, work trips, two day trips) and seen a lot of beautiful fall leaves and crazy outfits.  In November we had the opportunity to travel to Gero (with another teacher and good friend of ours) for a kid's Christmas event.  Though a month early, Stephen was the skinniest Santa in history.  The kids loved him!  Afterwards, we went to one of Gero's many renowned hot springs to cleanse ourselves of the hyper holiday spirit and germy five to eleven year olds.  We purchased a wooden pass, also a beautiful souvenir, good for three visits to the area's famous onsen.  It was only 1200 yen, which is surprising as the springs include spa-like amenities.

Last weekend, to my supreme delight, Stephen surprised me with a three-year anniversary trip to Yokohama, Tokyo, and Tokyo Disneysea.  We woke up at five-thirty on Sunday morning to catch the Shinkansen and were soon walking down the promenade of Yamashita Park.  The train took less than two hours, which is amazing as the bus ride takes about seven.  The view of Mt. Fuji was spectacular!  In Yokohama we visited the famous China Town and ate delicious and insanely popular oil-filled dumplings.  We also bought Pu-erh and Jasmine tea and drank mango tapioca smoothies.

From Yokohama we caught the subway for an afternoon in Tokyo, starting in Shibuya.  The four-legged pedestrian crossing outside of Shibuya station is the busiest in the world, though it doesn't seem like it when you're standing in the center.  Everything is efficient and orderly (minus the two foreigners taking photos and blocking traffic).  Outside the station we saw another interesting sight: a protest of the government's intentional starvation of contaminated cows in Fukushima.  The protesters held large signs broadcasting photos of the maltreatment and were yelling over loud speakers.

In Harajuku we experienced the essence of Japan's wild subculture and eccentric fashion.  This is where "cosplay"(short for costume play) originated and continues to scream in all directions since teenagers flock there to buy more of it. After wandering the narrow streets lined with boutiques and restaurants, we stood in line to try Japanese udon noodles with an Italian twist.  The bizarre pairing, pesto and udon, encapsulated the district's love for the trendy, modern and distinct.  It was actually delicious!

Next we headed to Akihabara, the nation's gadget capital.  It's a hot spot for "otaku" (the well known techie, or geek, subculture).  Stephen was excited when he found a new videogame for a bargain and I was excited to see Sega and Mortal Combat everywhere.  Here we also had our first Maid Cafe experience.  These cafes, throughout Japan, consist of women dressed in maid outfits who dote and serve you beer or cute desserts.  You can even pay an obscene amount to have your photo taken with your server (this was very popular ).  It was a little mind-boggling to see the lone Japanese men sitting, drinking, and staring, but there were also couples on dates.  Our waitress was really sweet - when we were ready to order we had to call her name (followed by "chan," which is endearing) and meow like cats.  No kidding.  And our parfait was shaped like a bear with Oreo ears!

Tokyo Disneysea was filled with elaborate fountain and lights shows (complete with jet skis and fireballs), miming characters including a shockingly tall Jifar, and Japanese people sporting Mickey Mouse ears.  We finally understood why even our lower level students use and understand "imagine" and "imagination" so effortlessly.  It's some of the only English used in the shows. We spent a lot of time in Aladin town and, appropriately, ate curry, naan, and curry spiced popcorn.  It was my first Disney-Anything experience and I liked how each district was distinctly themed, including the food.  In Japan, as Mom read in an article and told me, more adults than children go to Disneyland and Disneysea.  This is not surprising since everyone seems to be obsessed with Mickey.  Disneysea is also geared towards couples with its alcohol service and romantic restaurants.  Little Italy was especially "quaint," though we decided to skip the long line to ride gondolas (once you've done the real thing Disneysea doesn't measure up).

In other news, this upcoming week is filled with Christmas parties and kid's craft lessons.  We started to make a chocolate house but accidently ate chocolate vital to the procedure.  The weather has finally turned (fall stayed really late this year), mandating scarves and jackets.  We're actually learning Japanese.  I'll have more updates after the winter vacation!  Stay warm everyone!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy October!

Today the smells of simmering nashi (Japanese pear) and butternut squash suffused our apartment.  We drank hot green tea for the first time in months (as October brought a blissful rush of cool air) and lit pumpkin-shaped candles.  I made butternut squash stew and hummus. I feel the need to be poetic- can you tell? Lately I’ve been dreaming of dysmorphic squash, sitting on front decks like colorful, twisted mutants, and pumpkin seeds spawned from grinning orange gourds. Today welcomed long-sleeves and rich and earthly aromas.  I love fall and its prickling wind, watching red leaves turning on their bellies.

Fall also brought visitors! Last week we visited Nara, Osaka and Kyoto with Stephen's dad and brother, Bill and Travis.  Together we were harassed by brash, uncomfortably domesticated deer (that enjoyed eating maps), sang karaoke, burned our mouths on takoyaki, and enjoyed raw wagyu beef and tongue.  We stayed at the Apple House in Kyoto, a traditional Japanese home with a small tatami room, kitchen, a second-story bedroom with four futons, and apple paraphernalia everywhere. Together, over the course of the trip, we managed to eat soba, tempura, udon (thick noodles), oden (a convenient-store speciality), conveyer-belt sushi, raw meat of all kinds, ramen, takoyaki (Osaka's fried octopus balls), matcha (finely-milled green tea) tea and ice-cream, donburi (rice bowl topped with beef and egg), okonomiyaki (Osaka's "pancake"made with cabbage, flour, and egg), nikuman (meat-filled dumplings), motchi (Kyoto's sweet specialty), nabe (meat/vegetable hot-pot), and yakitori (fried chicken). As Travis and Stephen were ready for action, that's only a small sample of the menu. It was a great trip with the Morrissey monkey men and watching them in their natural environment was very interesting for an outside observer.  You can check out the photos on Facebook!

Our next major adventure will be to Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most island, for winter vacation.  We’re going skiing for four days, staying at a lodge, and then heading to Sapporo for New Years. Apparently Hokkaido has some of the top powder in the world- as a first time skier, the softer the snow, the better!

Today we've been invited to lunch by one of Stephen's students (he gets us a lot of home invites) in Arimatsu.  She kindly offered to cook us a traditional Japanese meal at her house.  I can't wait! 

Stay wary of hungry deer,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sawadee Ka!

-pronounced so-wa-dee-ka, means "hello" in Thai.  During obon, Japan's two week summer holiday, we grew accusomted to the round, friendly ka's and wa's of the Thai language.  After a while, the open syllables start to taste like mango sticky rice.  Thailand is a rich, wonderfully tactile country with golden temples, buzzing motorbikes, open-air taxis (tuk-tuks), and clean, white sand.  Vendors run fold-up restaurants parked behind their counters so you can enjoy your street food protected from the rain.  Smells of coconut and red curry follow you everywhere and golden Buddha statues greet you in unexpected places. Our experience with Thai people was very positive overall, and we were welcomed with sweeping smiles, hospitality and genuine kindness.  When you're handed the keys of a shiny motorbike for twenty-four hours for the equivalent of five dollars (never mind one helmet is broken) or a heaping plate of spicy papaya salad for a dollar, or a pint of Singha beer for less than one hundred yen, kop khun kha (thank you) feels inadequate.
Water taxi to Bangkok's Royal Disctrict
Always step over the temple's entranceway

Long earlobes= good listening

The overall amicability of Thai people causes you to excuse the few incidents of feeling accosted by persistent men pushing cheap wooden elephant paraphernalia, or being overcharged by aggressive tuk-tuk drivers, or finding yourself stranded at someone's friend's shady business with overpriced bus tickets instead of the real bus station.  As Westerners, two weeks in Thailand allowed us, mostly, to escape the psychological effects of finances.  When you can hypothetically buy five twenty oz lattes for less than the price of one beer from a bar in Japan, you begin to experience a startling, inconsequential outlook on money.  When you can have everything, what do you do?  Understanding why some people demand that you pay more because they know you can do so (strikingly reminiscent of other topics) is a good start.  We sampled Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, and finally the south-western island of Koh Liphe over our thirteen day stay. 
Dinner in Bangkok
Fresh grapes

Weekend market, Bangkok

Water taxi ride, Bangkok
We took a bus from Bangkok to the old capital, Ayutthaya, for a day trip before taking the twelve hour sleeper train to Chiang Mai.

The historic city, and its ruins, are preserved as a World Heritage site
Famous reclining Buddha (29 m long)
Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Mahatha

Our favorite city was Chiang Mai, where temples and shrines stand on every corner, dotting the map as thickly as Starbucks in Seattle.  There we attended a "Monk Chat" while visiting Mahachulalongkornrajvidalaya (wow!!) Buddhist University and the adjacent Wat Suan Dok.  This program allows monks to practice their English and visitors to learn about basic principles of Buddhism. We talked privately with a young monk for over an hour.  Chiang Mai and its verdurous countryside are easily accessible by bicycle and motorbike- our primary transportation during our three days there.

The rain didn't stop us 
Hiking to famous Mt. temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

A particularly memorable day on the outskirts of the city included an all inclusive hiking, elephant riding, white water rafting, waterfall swimming and bamboo raft floating trip.  We were accompanied by three other Americans, our age, and a hilarious Thai guide named Mu who provided unforgettable entertainment.  Our hike through rice fields, lush landscapes and across rivers was beautiful.  We even saw little children in their uniforms walking home from school through the valleys.
Planting rice patties
On the hike
School kids in the distance

Our friends during the elephant trek

Zip-lining at lake Huay Teung Tao, Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai we flew southeast to Hat Yai and then took a minibus to the port town, Pakbara. Thailand's south is eighty percent Muslim so mosques spot the streets and the atmosphere and lifestyle, not promoted economically by a strong tourist industry, is strikingly different.  While Pakbara wasn't too exciting, our guesthouse was charming, settled on a small pond, and served delicious pineapple and banana pancakes for breakfast.

The following morning we boarded the speed boat to Koh Liphe.  Our five night stay at Serendipity resort was unforgettable and best explained with pictures.
Speed boat to the island with mostly Thai people

The view from our balcony

Sunrise from our balcony

Room service one call away

The kitty who showed up and stayed for four days
Breakfast every morning


Overall, our trip was cheap as tofu (did you know that you can buy around 600 grams of tofu for about 45 cents in Japan?) but bursting with activities that would usually deplete our yen.  Our stay with Serendipity included a private snorkeling and island-hopping trip which was a lot of fun.  We also went on a night safari (during which I was licked by a giraffe) in Chiang Mai.  I drank too many lattes and Stephen once ate coconut mango sticky rice three times in one afternoon.  We had a total of four massages each and went shopping for leather products that cost five times the price anywhere else we've been. From one haze of delicious, spicy phad thai to the next it was tempting to quit our jobs and stay forever.  We realized, though, that this kind of absurdly lavish living is best in controlled doses.... but we'll be back!