A Winter Weekend Getaway to Thailand

Lately, it feels like I’ve been spending more time out of China than in (not complaining). A few weeks ago I left for the States to spend time with my family in Colorado over Thanksgiving. Two weeks after getting back it turned out one of my best friends, who I’ve known since freshman year of college, happened to be in the neighborhood (Asia), so I bought a last-minute ticket to go meet him down in Thailand! Bought the ticket on Wednesday, packed that night and flew out on Thursday. 9 hours later I touched down in Krabi…

I opted to rent a car for the weekend and get to my hotel that way. I had the reservations all made as of the previous night. Lots of great discounts were available because of the last minute nature of it all. Fifty percent off my hotel, $27 dollars per day for the car and pretty reasonable airfare made this trip pretty cost-effective actually, considering it just put me up into the silver medallion status with SkyTeam for next year!

Anyway, back to the car. It was midnight when I got through customs. The car was waiting for me. All I had was a printed map and a name to get me to my hotel. Plus, they drive on the opposite side of the road that I’m used to in Thailand, so simply getting to my hotel was an adventure. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d make it there… Amazingly, I got there only having to stop at three of the six 7/11’s I saw for directions on the way there before I saw the large blue sign in the distance. I felt good either way once I’d gotten into the more populated area of Ao Nang.

It was all smooth sailing from that point forward… that is, until I had to get back to the airport for my red eye home late Sunday night, haha!

Now, here are some pictures from my time there! Enjoy 🙂


The Red Beach

In an effort to see more of China, I went on a trip with a group here in Dalian called LocalRen, who often organize trips for foreigners just for that purpose. This was my first trip with them, but I’ll definitely go on more in the future. The itinerary was a bit crazy though: a four-hour bus ride there (with no in-board bathrooms and only one break), four hours allowed at Red Beach for sightseeing, then another four-hour bus ride home. ~12 hours total with most of it on a bus with no bathroom? Yea…. well, it was a lot of fun anyway!

Naturally the foreigners bring the speakers, music, dancing and booze, and then become a larger spectacle for the Chinese tourists than the Red Beach itself, but hey… there’s only so long one can take pictures of the scenery before you get bored killing the four hours we had there. It was a great time with great people!

Coffee Lovers

My friend Matt invited me to have lunch with him and a friend of his. Said we had a lot in common and had shared some stories about me to him and wanted to put faces to names. I thought sure, that’d be great! Someone else who’s into sustainability, air quality and coding! Little did I know that I was also about to meet (perhaps) the worlds most passionate coffee enthusiast.

I don’t know how it came up during our lunch conversation, but it did somehow. We were talking about our coffee habits and one thing led to another and he’s invited us back to his home a short walk away from this hole-in-the-wall restaurant that are so common in China. They, more often than not, happen to have some of the best Chinese food in the world. 

Just to clarify here, I considered myself to be a coffee connoisseur of a sort. I like to buy my coffee from a local roaster here in Dalian (Brian of Legacy Coffee), carefully selecting from his offerings of beans from Africa and South America and so on. Then I grind my coffee just like your average coffee drinker, and most times I’ll grind enough for a few days’ worth of coffee. Then I’ll pour a few scoops into my French press, pour in boiling water, wait about 7 minutes, then drink it black. 

My small-batch French press for the office
My favorite roast from my awesome coffee supplier

So we go over to his place, he pulls out a couple extra chairs and begins preparing the coffee. Little did I know, my new friend had started making this cup of coffee perhaps as early as one week ago when he roasted his 42nd batch of beans! Now, my new friend has a bit of a background that lends to his current taste for coffee, which happens to be of the espresso genre. Originally from the southern U.S. but having lived abroad for decades in places like the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, or in Spain or most recently China for a spell of years, he has developed his taste for coffee in a very interesting way that manifests itself in distinct ways, all of which I can’t claim to have picked up. 

Before doing anything else, he pulls out a precision scale, places a cup on it, tares it, and measures out the exact amount of water, then pours it into a relatively small, char-blackened container smaller than your two fists. He continues by measuring out 18 grams of dark, oily coffee beans which just so happen to come from the Yunnan province of China. A place that has gotten the attention of such names as Nestle and even Starbucks for coffee exploitation because of the currently under appreciated yet high quality of their beans. 

Once he had measured out the beans, he poured them into the container of a small rickety hand mill with a crank on the top whose handle had been inverted and wooden box base removed to instead be sitting on top of a modified pvc pipe fitting and held in place by his hand. After grinding some, he stops for a moment and indicates a box sitting next to me. He explains how this grinder is supposedly one of the best hand mill coffee grinders available on the market, but that his old grinder makes a better cup of coffee, so he doesn’t use it. 

After grinding all the coffee he takes out a small wire-mesh strainer and begins working the coffee grounds through it with the backside of a spoon, weeding out grains that are too large and pouring them back into the grinder for a second pass. He also suspects grating the coffee through the strain to have some additional affect this has on the quality of the coffee, but is only speculative. After sifting and grinding a couple of more times, he was left with only a small amount of coffee that wouldn’t get any smaller no matter how many times it was passed through the grinder.

He then began to systematically, almost ritualistically pack the coffee grounds into a circular container, one scoop at a time, tamping down all around the rim before finally tamping down the middle and adding another scoop. He did this one ata time until the container was full and all the coffee grounds had been used. He then sat the container into the top of the water pot, and screwed on the top part, which resembled a kettle. If you looked inside it, you would see an up spout through which the brewed coffee percolates. He places this on the stove.

In the meantime he prepares the coffee cups, which were two vase-shaped glass shot glasses essentially, and then a porcelain shot glass. Him and Matt use their regular glasses, and I got the shot glass. Matt’s glass was clean and clear, our friend’s was tinted brown. He doesn’t like to wash his. They take theirs with some sugar substitute derived from birch bark. 

He then pours out an opaque, dark-brown colored coffee into our respective cups. The smell is delightfully rich and there’s a glossy sheen on top from the oils. The first couple of sips adjust my palate to the bitterness of the coffee that I love, but I immediately notice the smooth mouthfeel and lingering aftertaste. Eventually, my tongue begins to distinuigsh the richness and depth of the flavor. I’m not adept enough to tell you exactly what it was that I was tasting, but I do know an amazing cup of coffee when I get one and this was definitely that, at least! At most, perhaps the most finely crafted cup of coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. 

We enjoyed the coffee while talking in chemistry and engineering lingo about the contributions and concentrations of suspended solids and particulate matter in the coffee, and of his experiments where he evaporated the water out of a sample of brewed coffee and compared the mass of what remained to the original mass of the coffee and the remaining mass of the dried coffee grounds used to brew the coffee. 

I witnessed something beautiful today watching this 70-years-young man prepare coffee for me. I said to him that it had been a privilege to try his coffee, and a pleasure to watch someone prepare with such passion. He responded by saying, “It isn’t passion, it’s fire.”

Germany (Days 1, 2, and 3)

Hello all! For those of you not aware, I’m currently traveling through Europe and am in London at the time of this post on Day 16 of the trip. I’ll try to keep my posts brief, but that’ll be difficult since so much is happening every day, but I mostly want to share my pictures with you, so that’s where the focus will be. I hope you enjoy!

Jan 17-Day 1: Bad Kreuznach 

I had about 24 straight hours of travel from Dalian to Frankfurt airport. Surprisingly however, I wasn’t really all that jet lagged! My first stop was in Germany to see friends and family there. First friend on the list was Felix. This was really quite a special reunion for me since it had been so long (4 years) since we’d seen each other, because of how we got along in Japan, and because of how short a time he lived there at the dorm in Japan. So, I trained out to a station near where he worked where he picked me up. He still had to work for a little bit, so I settled at Felix’s university lab/office while he held his lesson, then went to his house after and caught up for a bit. Went shopping for beer, came back, met his girlfriend Francie, then went for dinner at a nice German restaurant to eat schnitzel. It was great! And boy did I sleep well that night. 

Jan 18-Day 2: 

With a beautiful sunrise view from Felix’s house, we enjoyed a slow morning, eating a standard German-style breakfast consisting of crusty bread, deli meats and cheeses, eggs and lots of coffee. Made some plans and eventually settled on my heading south to Stuttgart earlier rather than later so that I could go see my cousins. Before I left we went to Bingen, a small town on the Rhein, which is where Felix lived right after coming back to Germany from Japan (which is where we met), so that I could catch a train south. The picture below shows just a taste of how picturesque the German countryside is. We wandered around town for a bit and stopping off for a very quick pint at the Swolen Heart before very nearly missing my €60 ICE train to Stuttgart!

Arriving in Stuttgart a couple hours later, I transferred to the S-Bahn heading to Ehnigen which is where I was to meet my cousins. This reunion was a bit different, since I barely remember meeting my cousin Leah when I was a kid and had never met her husband Bryan before then. They could barely recognize me with my hat and “reddish” beard, since the most they had ever seen of me was a likeness from when I was 11 years old at a Krausch family reunion. But after we’d identified each other with a “Dan?”, “Leah?” It was all down hill. We all got along really well and had a delightful time getting to know each other! They had plans to take me to a town called Tübigen, where I saw a castle and a neat little German college town. We drove around quite a bit though because they’d never approached the town from the direction we came from that time. But eventually we parked and began finding our way on foot.  

After seeing what we could see, we went back to their home briefly before taking to our feet again to go have dinner at their neighborhood Italian joint, which had some amazing(!) pizza.

Jan 19-Day 3: Mercedes-Benz museum, military bases, Lichtenstein castle, Motorcity. Not much more to say. Bryan and I must’ve spent a few hours at least wandering the vast museum that chronicled not just MB history, but the history of motorized transportation, Germany, and the world as well from a unique perspective. Very fascinating!Next, we picked up Leah from the school on the military base where she teaches before heading to Lichtenstein Castle. Unfortunately, none of us thought to check the hours, and we got there after they’d been closed for about 30 minutes. So we wandered around outside the castle and enjoyed the views.  For dinner we went to a cozy spot next to a place called Motor City! This place had a staggering collection of absolutely gorgeous vehicles for sale. But don’t take my word for it, just look!

And that was it for my time with Bryan and Leah! It was awesome! I’ve promised to come visit them again next time I’m I Europe. They said I can use their place as a hopping point to the rest of Europe, and you can bet I will!

Cheers from London 🙂

Japanese Inns, Monkeys and Bamboo Forests

Arashiyama, a region of Kyoto that, after the trip there which I am about to describe, has easily become my favorite area of Kyoto! Aside from being set amongst a beautiful landscape, 

Arashiyama has many other things going for it as well. For example, it is very easily accessible considering it has not one, but two train stations in town; a JR station and a Randen station. Depending on where you’re coming from or going to, both are very useful and convenient. Furthermore, there is a fantastic, quaint little town strip going through Arashiyama that has lots of shops for souvenirs, food, kimono/yukata rental, etc… Then there’re the sightseeing opportunities! There are an abundance of beautiful temples and shrines in this region of Kyoto, many of which have substantial cultural and historical significance. Then of course, there are the bamboo forests of Arashiyama, which are perhaps the region’s most famous landmark. And finally, after hiking a small mountain you will find yourself in the company of the only monkey species native to Japan, the Macaque. 

Despite all of these amazing opportunities being in such close proximity and allowing us to see so much in so little time, the highlight of Arashiyama for us was where we lodged; the Arashiyama Benkei Ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style inn. This takes us to where my previous post left off. After killing time in town, we were finally allowed to check in at 4pm. Once we did, we experienced nothing but serene relaxation until 11am the next day. Once we had been shown our room and allowed a few minutes to settle, a hostess came in to prepare some tea for us and asked us when we would like to have dinner. We said 7:30, and then proceeded to enjoy the hot springs. The ryokan has their own separated public baths, but our room also had a private open-air bath with views out to the surrounding mountains. 

After a few very enjoyable and relaxing hours we were called upon to go to the dining room for our meal, which was to be seven courses of exquisitely prepared Japanese cuisine of all sorts…

The next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast fairly early in order to check out and go see the sights of Arashiyama that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. We were able to leave our heavy bags there fortunately. As we left, one of the hostesses offered to take our picture for us out front of the ryokan, 

and then as we left, she maintained a very low bow until we were completely out of sight. Our first stop was the famous Tenryu-ji temple. In depth information about this historic temple can be found HERE. The short story is that this temple was the first of the five major Zen Buddhist temples to be established in Kyoto, dating back to the year 1345. This site has, unfortunately, been devastated by major fires no less than eight times! However, each time rehabilitation efforts have been made to great success. It stands today as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, a designation made by the Japanese government, as well as a UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site.

From here, we moved on to the bamboo forest! Unfortunately crowded, making it much less serene than it ought to have been, we didn’t linger here. 

Near the end of the walking path however, there was a pay-to-enter garden that had been designed and built by a famous Japanese silent film actor. We heard good things from a person walking out, mentioning in particular a lack of crowds as well as a complimentary cup of mattcha and a Japanese sweet. So we decided to check it out. The garden had particularly beautiful moss gardens, as well as beautifully built paths that wound up a short mountain to reveal breathtaking scenery. 

At this point we were all starting to get a bit fatigued. Of course, we enjoyed the tea and sweets offered at the garden, but then we made our way back across town towards the ryokan because in order to make it to the monkeys we had to backtrack a bit. That allowed us to hit up that nice coffee shop though which provided us with a nice pick-me-up. We were to need it too, because in order to reach the monkey’s lair we would have to hike up a not-so-shallow mountain. 

When we arrived, we were happy to see that the monkeys were, in fact, very free. It seemed to us that they all simply chose to hang out around there. The monkeys were all roaming around cage-free, even hanging out on top of buildings for shade occasionally!

They were incredibly cute, but having felt like we were invading their territory, we didn’t linger here either, so we began our hike back down after about 15 minutes. After that, we made our way back to the ryokan for a final time before beginning our journey back to Osaka. Mom’s time in Japan was rapidly drawing to a close, with her flight leaving the next day from Kansai International. A few hours later and multiple train transfers later, we had settled into our hotel in Shin-Osaka and decided to unceremoniously commemorate mom’s last night in Japan at an Indian restaurant! 

So that was Kyoto! Hope you enjoyed reading! 

Temples, Shrines and Great Food In Kyoto

Since my last post, we’ve done so much and traveled so far I hardly know where to begin! I suppose, a brief update as to our situation as I write the beginning of this post. Our mother has returned to the U.S. and it is now just my sister and I. We just spent the night in a mountaintop Zen Buddhist Temple south of Osaka and are now in transit to Tokushima Prefecture back on the island of Shikoku. 

Now, the three of us had three nights in Kyoto, two of which were spent over on the eastern side of Kyoto; just north of Yasaka Shrine but on the opposite side of the Kamo River. The highlight of that area was by far the food and nightlife! We had quite the culinary adventure, from gyoza (Japanese-style dumplings) to ramen, okonomiyaki to beef tail and tempura. I think we are all in agreement though when it comes to which was our favorite…

This restaurant, where we were fortunate to get into without too long of a wait, had the winning combination of atmosphere, service, spectacle, and delicious food at good prices. The name is Chaochao; it has a small dining area (about 4 tables) and about 6 bar spots, and maintains a healthy queue out front of people very willing to wait. Fortunately, they treat their queue very well, passing out fans and serving beverages. We happened to be the first ones to start the line, and waited for less than 1 beer’s worth of time. They serve all the standard Japanese dumpling flavors, but also offer some specialty flavors like okonomiyaki, chili, and curry! 

After eating what we had only intended to be an appetizer, (but what had ended up simply being our dinner!) we walked around for a bit and found a few other notable spots for future visitation. We spent some time near the river before entering a cool speakeasy named Glamour. 

At Glamour we enjoyed a cool atmosphere and friendly service before heading back to our hotel for some much needed sleep. The next day it rained all through the night and morning until finally, around 1:00 it lighted up and stopped, leaving us with some cool weather for walking about and sightseeing after having ramen for lunch. 

Our sightseeing goals were Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu Temple. 

After walking such a long distance, we were all quite eager to get back to the hotel as quickly as possible, so once we made it back to a main road we quickly hailed a taxi. We spent a the rest of the evening relaxing in the room until we finally got hungry enough to venture out again to eat dinner around 9:00 pm. For one of mom’s final meals in Japan, we opted for an izakaya. 

Afterwards, we returned to Glamour because we had such an enjoyable time there the first time. 

Not wanting to make it a long night because we’d be traveling across the city the next day towards Arashiyama, we had started heading back towards the hotel when someone called out to us in English, which intrigued my sister and mother because they’d been mostly relying on me for communication, so when we encountered some foreigners with whom they could communicate freely, they were happy to engage. It turned out to be a fruitful encounter because we got to meet a really nice and diverse group of people. 

The morning was slow. Not needing to rush considering the check-in time at our next stop, the Arashiyama Benkei Ryokan, wasn’t until 4:00 pm, we took our time packing up and finally making our way to the subway stop a short walk away. We took the subway a couple stops west in order to transfer to the local Randen train line which ends in Arashiyama.  

A short walk through town, we come to the river you see above and Crossing Moon Bridge 渡月橋. Then after turning right and walking along the river for another short distance, we pass a nice looking coffee hut just before arriving at our ryokan.

We arrived a few hours before we could actually check in, so we went for a stroll through town, looking for A quiet place to relax and enjoy some tea/coffee, and we found exactly what we were looking for. 

The deserts, coffee and tea were all exquisite. We left there feeling great and ready to go enjoy our ryokan. I, having stayed at Arashiyama Benkei once before, knew what was coming, but my mom and sister had no idea… and I was super excited to see their reactions to, what I assume to be, the quintessential Japanese hospitality experience. Keep an eye out for my next post, which will cover that and more! 

This post took much longer to write than I had wanted, and as such I’m way behind in documenting our travel experience in real-time. In fact, at this very moment I’m sitting in gazebo at our bungalow in Puerto Princessa, Philippines, gearing up to ride a motorcycle with my sister up to El Nido. Hopefully I’ll be able to fill you all in to our experiences up to this point sometime soon! 

Be well!

Reunion In Japan

After a couple of days of laying low in Osaka solo, the day had finally come when I’d get to see my mom and sister again for the first time in nearly a year! 
It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the high 80s! That morning I went to the Chinese Consulate of Osaka to inquire about some of the specifics for applying for the z-visa. This whole process has been (and still is) a nightmare for various reasons, such as new requirements that surfaced just this year which are virtually unnecessary and yet incredibly difficult to accomplish. To add to the difficulties, we got started on the process way late and now it’s taking much longer than we thought. Hopefully we manage to get it finished by the start of term this fall.
Anyway, it was a beautiful day…

After returning from the consulate and finishing up some work in the hotel (shown in the picture above on the right), I went and found some lunch just before trekking back out to the airport to meet my family. 

I had udon noodles! Though not nearly as good as the ones from my home prefecture of Kagawa, the nostalgia was strong enough to help me ignore that fact. 

Meg and mom’s flight went smoothly; no delays whatsoever! So 45 minutes after they had landed they were off the plane, through customs and duty and had met me in arrivals! I then began navigating them back to our hotel for some much-needed relaxation time on their part before taking them to the same yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) place as I had been to a couple nights ago. I didn’t want to chance anything for their first meal in Japan. The place was called Issho (一笑) and the manager there, Ata-san treated us very well! It was very near our hotel, the Mitsui Garden Hotel. Speaking of which, the hotel was also fantastic. A carbonated hot spring is up on the top floor along with a lounge that has a free-to-use espresso/coffee machine and free fresh juice. In case you’re wondering, “Why a carbonated hot spring?”, apparently the CO2 gets absorbed through the skin and expands the blood vessels, thus improving circulation. 

After dinner, we went for a walk along the river and found an outdoor seating area where they were serving food and drink along with music! We enjoyed the fresh summer air and each other’s company for a while there before returning back to the hotel for a good night’s rest before heading to Takamatsu in the morning to meet with my host family, the Oki’s! 

In the morning we all had another go in the hot spring before departing for Osaka Station where we would hop on the bus for the 3-hour ride to Takamatsu. 

And that brings us up to speed as I am writing this on the way to Takamatsu! We’ll be arriving in 30 minutes. The plan over the next few days is to introduce my American family to my Japanese family, see a Japanese festival, visit an island in the Seto Inland Sea, visit with my old Sensei, and then take the bullet train to Kyoto! I’ll update soon 🙂