Monday, November 11, 2013

Patterns I'm noticing in japan

Subway makes me an idiot and results in change (three packs of people come and go through the ticket counters in the amount of time I try to buy one ticket)
Change weighs me down, and takes forever to discard.
The politeness and nodding is getting out of hand

and people don't speak english!!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Vacation Log - What Actually Went Down - Day 1 - Osaka

I get to osaka and it's raining. This kind of threw a wrench in my plans

I had originally booked a bicycle tour for the day through, and I now wanted to cancel it because of the rain. I emailed the company and the guy said it's up to me if want to try. I was mainly worried about getting sick due to exercising in rainy weather added onto the lack off sleep. Well, do i pussy out, call it a day and twiddle my thumb at the airport? Heeellll nah. I decide to go through with it because this was something I was looking forward to and I didn't want to see Osaka by having to go from site to site through the subway or bus system. Future me would have to take care of future-sick-me.

And guess what? The rain died down :)
The bike tour turned out really well. We basically biked through every touristy spot in Osaka (albeit we didn't really get off and enjoy each spot). Ben, the tour guide was really cool too. He was from the UK, was fluent in Japanese and knew more Chinese than I did, so he was able to explain a lot of Japanese terms to me in Chinese, and it made a lot more sense.

We started on some river front

Then we checked out the castle. We didn't actually have time to go in and Ben didn't really recommend it. He said a really good point though about how the the castle is famous for how it looks on the inside, and from the outside, you can't see the castle. He told me the story about how author Guy de Maupassant hated the Eiffel tower but always ate lunch in it, and when asked why, said that it was only from within in the Eiffel tower that he couldn't see the Eiffel tower. 

Here's me and the castle and the bike I used (it was a really decent bike). 

Then we had lunch near this retro, sci fi tower in a district call Shin-sekai. (The tower was built in the 1930s as a part of a theme park to represent "tomorrowland", melted down for steel in ww2, then rebuilt. It reminds of one of those different universe movies, where its like the 1930s and 1940s, but there are hovering cars. Btw, shin-sekai is 新世界 - xin shi jie in Chinese, which is literally, "new world")

We then proceed to other neighborhoods in Osaka. Such as this one in Namba with Glico running man:

This ad is super old and basically famous for being famous. Apparently, all the ads around this glico man ad changes, but not this guy. Sometimes other companies would rent out the words in the middle (like adidas, for example).

By the time we're done with the tour, I'm exhausted, it is pouring (it started raining hard the last 30 minutes of the tour). I find my way to the hostel by 6pm, get to my bed, set my alarm to nap for 2 hours so that I can wake up to check out Namba's nightlife and food. I knock out. (the hostel was Hana Hostel in Osaka, and it was great.)

I wake up feeling really refreshed. Really really really refreshed. It was 2am. Fuuuuudge. I missed out on checking out Namba's food and neon lights. By this time, there's nothing open except clubs. I go out to eat at some 24h restaurtant. It was aite. I consider going to a club nearby but decide against it. I get back and try to sleep.

I can't fall asleep and it's about 530am. (damnit, i should've just gone clubbing).
At that point I get up and look for hostels in Kyoto (cuz I still hadn't planned it yet). I found JAM hostel, and booked them. I get up and ask the current hostel's front desk about what I can do now to sample Osaka's food (Osaka is known to be a foodie place), and I'm told to check out Kuromon market. 

I head towards that area, passing through Shinsaibaishi and Dotonbuir (the 2 areas of Namba that I meant to check out last night that are bustling at night, but now closed in the morning - damnit, what's with me and getting to places when they are closed due to poor planning and bad sleep habits?)

But i get to Kuromon market and it turned out to be a wonderful local market with lots of good streetfood. (And unlike how Shinsaibahi was dead during the morning time, Kuromon was bustling because locals come here to do their morning shopping).

I notice a shop that was slicing a fish and packaging the slices for sale immediately. I never really ate a chuck of sashimi before as if it was steak (like getting a real mouth full), and i figured this was the time to try.

I bought this and ate it like a candy bar. It was good but I'm not sure if it was amazing (but that's because my taste buds aren't that refined, and i think everything is good)

So technically it's now day 2, and I had planned to be in Kyoto by now. So I get back to the Hostel, grab my stuff, and go to Kyoto.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Vacation Log - What Actually Went Down - Day 0

Day 0:
2am: I'm still doing my laundry!!! Then i need to run a few errands, go to work for 6 hours, then catch the flight.

Well, 2hrs of sleep and 6 hrs of work later I'm on the plane. Everything was a bit hectic. I was able to to pack much less than I expected. I only brought 1 pair of pants. (the one I'm wearing...)
But I really like the backpack that I got. I wasted a lot of time playing with it instead of packing though. But I did manage to book a hostel for the first night of where I'll stay.

I get through the work day (somewhat), and proceed to the airport, everything goes smoothly (i.e., I don't miss my flight). When i get to the gates, I'm always gravitated towards the planes: gracefully, majestically sitting there.

For some weird reason, the flight is filled with Japanese school girls. (Like literally, and just girls, very few Japanese school guys.) But I'm seated next to an oldish looking man who is apparently a professor; we both mutually agree to wake the other up if food service came and we were knocked out.

I unfortunately couldn’t fall aslseep while on the flight though. I kept watching movies or just didn’t feel sleepy. This stressed me out during the flight because my plan needed me to get enough sleep so that when I land in Tokyo at 1030pm local time I will be able to party until 730am, then catch the connecting flight to Osaka, then go for a bicycle tour of Osaka. Not being able to sleep was stressing me out and making it even harder to fall asleep. I ended up watching a few movies I've been meaning to see but never had a chance to: Pacific Rim (it was so cheesy, I didn't even finish it), the Wolverine (it was a freaky sort of movie, actually my least favorite of the x-men or wolverine movies. It had a lot of japanese stuff woven into it. I didn't like this move). In any case, I landed, and proceed with the plan of partying till sunrise. 

I meet another backpacker who was in a similar boat (no hotel booked for the night) and we talk about our plans a bit; this somehow caused indecisiveness (probably my fault, but eventually, at about 1am, we end up deciding to go to the Shibuya neighborhood). I specifically wanted to go to a club I read about called Womb. It took us forever to find it because it's really really well hidden.

But inside, it was pretty huge. It had 4 levels (a bar level at the bottom, 1 main dance floor level, 2 smaller bar/dancefloor area levels, so a total of 4 DJs). Unfortunately, they were ALL spinning the same music that I didn't really like. (Lyricless, repetiviely electronic music). But the production and lights were good, especially on the main dance floor:

We leave the womb and we walk into the Shibuya intersection. This is allegedly the busiest intersection in the world. (Not so busy now at 4am are we?) we take the opportunity to pose in the middle.

It was about 4am and I then go by myself to the Tsukigi fish market. There was no one at the gate when I got there so I just walked in. The whole place was empty because I was early.

I mean, really, really freaking empty.

I walk around about an hour, and the place should have opened by now. I'm a bit confused. But I gotta get back to the airport to catch my connecting flight. So I exit the market. I leave through a different entrance that I came in at, and I discovered this sign

DAMNIT! No wonder the place is empty. it's closed! it was sunday morning at 5am, and the place is ALWAYS closed on Sundays. SO DON'T GO ON SUNDAY. Now I'll have to do another all-night clubbing thing and come back again on a weeknight, ugh!!

I take the subway and get back to the airport. The entrance to the airport from the subway station probably had the longest escalator I've seen in my life:

And when I got to the top, I saw a guy knocked out on the chair. hehe... that could've been me throughout the night, but instead I was doing the above.

Well, that was an fun first 8 hours. Onward to Osaka!!

Day 1:

Vacation Planning - Boring Details of Finding Cheap Tickets

Update: I thought i was good at finding cheap plane tickets. But what i did was all noob child-play compared to what my friends told me about using credit cards for traveling. Basically you get new credit cards that have 50,000 mile sign-up rewards, and that covers large costs of your trip. A lot of those cards also have no foreign transaction fee.

Here's the backstory and my thinking process:

I haven't traveled outside of the US for almost 3 years and I've been itching to take a long vacation. At the same time, my grandpa has been sick in Shanghai, so it was my goal to go see him.

I decided I might as well combine my visit to Shanghai with also seeing Singapore and Hong Kong (two cities I've been wanting to visit for a while and had even thought about moving to).
I then decided to maybe also stop by Japan and whatever else cities that I can check out. (I like heavily densely populated areas.) So my trip basically evolved into visiting as many Asian Global Alpha+ cities as I can, and it required several flights to hop between the countries.

As I thought about the number of plane tickets I needed to buy to accomplish my vacation, the engineering side of me kicked in. At work I frequently deal with requirements. One thing I've been taught is that requirements (the goal) shouldn't define implementation (how to reach the goal). That is, you set your goals (e.g. I need to make a website that sells water), and you let the implementation part be separate from the goal (e.g. the website can be built on PHP, Djanog, Ruby on Rails, etc.). The idea behind this is that the people who set the initial requirements might not be the people doing the implementation, or might not even know how to to do it, while the people doing the implementation might be experts at what they do.

In my case, my requirements were to:
1) visit Japan, Singapore, Hongkong, and Shanghai, within 21 days,
2) with Shanghai being the last stop and taking up about 10 days while the other cities took 2 or 3 days each,
3) and do so at the cheapest price.

Those were the requirements and not much else mattered. (What airline, which city I visited first other than Shanghai being last, how many stops/layovers, etc.)

I wanted a site that allowed me to search like that, and the closest thing I found was The site allowed me to enter numerous cities as starting places and numerous places as destinations. The site was useful, but since it didn't search all the airlines (just like how Orbitz doesn't have Southwest), I often used it as a double check to see if I was getting a decent deal.

After some goggling, I luckily came across this site, which told me that there was a deal going on for flying to Asia through using Orbitz, and after tweaking around some Orbitz searches, I found that leaving LA on a Thursday or Friday and coming back on a Monday was the cheapest. I also found that I could set my return flight be from Shanghai to LA while having my "To" flight be a different city. Setting the "To" destination to be Tokyo Narita was the cheapest ($692 for LA to Narita and Shanghai to LA). This more or less caused my initial destination to be Japan.

Then I discovered that setting the To destination as Tokyo Haneda (Haneda = another airport that is closer to downtown Tokyo than Narita airport) was only a few dollars more ($716), and then I found that setting the To destination as Osaka was only a few more dollars than that ($725), but automatically included an 8 hour layover in Haneda. I decided that I also wanted to see Osaka, and train or domestic flights from Tokyo to Osaka would have been more than $9. At that time, my other searches for flights leaving Japan to my other destinations (see spreadsheet below) also revealed that there was a Tokyo to Singapore flight that leaves at midnight, whereas there wasn't one for Osaka to Singapore. I speicfically wanted to leave at midnight so I could sleep on the plane (save time and lodging costs). So I bought the tickets to Osaka and was planning on taking the train from Osaka to Tokyo, and then leave from Tokyo to Singapore.

After more goggling, I also found that that low-cost airlines of Asia that flew internationally were Tiger Air (Singapore), Air Asia (Malaysia), Fly Scoot (Singapore), Spring Airlines (China), Jet Star (Austrailia).

Also, Kayak did a pretty great job of revealing airlines that other flight search aggregators did not reveal. For example, it introduced me to Fly Scoot!

Once I was already set on arriving into Asia at Japan, I then needed to narrow down where to go next, and I made an excel sheet to jot down the cheapest flights I found, like so:

tokyoNA172, asia air241, itaNA250
singaporeNANA100? tiger air (128 or 144 on orbitz and ITA)220, airasia33, air asia
hongkongNA111, itaNA189, ita111, ita (134 air asia)
KLNA18, air asia130, air asia165, air asiaNA

The Tokyo to Singapore ticket for $172 (totaling out to $195 after i selected the option to sit in the quiet/no-babies area) on Asia Air was hard to beat. So Singapore became the next destination. The funny thing was, the Tokyo to Singapore ticket had a 6 hour layover in KL, yet it was cheaper than the Tokyo to KL ticket for the same timed flight. So I bought the Singapore to KL ticket and planned to visit KL. But if 6 hours was not enough and I don't get back into the airport in time, I also bought another KL to Singapore ticket (those 2 tickets together was still cheaper than the Tokyo to KL ticket).

Here are the prices i got the tickets for
  • LAX to Osaka (with 8 hour layover in Tokyo), Orbitz, $725
  • Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur (7 hr flight, sleep on plane), Asia Airline ($195.62)
  • KL to Singapore (1 hr flight), Asia Airline, ($18.80)
  • Singapore to Hong Kong (4 hr flight, sleep on plane), Fly Scoot ($117.90)
  • Hong Kong to Shanghai (2hr flight, 7pm to 9pm), Spring Airlines ($140.11)
  • Shanghai to LAX included in the $725 Orbitz price.

Vacation Log - What Actually Went Down - Day -1

Day -1:
I got to work at 530am today and left at 730pm to try to catch up and wrap up some work. I think i'm about halfway there...I left work to go shopping for a backpack and a polariod xs100 camera to record stuff while on my trip (they're similar to GoPro, but i'm too cheap to buy a GoPro).

Best Buy's website said they had the polariod xs100, so I go there. They don't have it in store.  I go to Dick's sporting goods (it was next to best buy) to check out backpacks. The backpacks seemed like whatevs.

I check out Fry's to see if they have good GoPro alternatives, they don't. By now it's 830pm, and I really need to shop for my backpack. So I go to REI. At 9pm they tell me they were closing, so i grab the backpack I was staring at the longest (it was also on sale). I then go back to Dick's sporting goods to see if they had anything similar (in case i find something better at Dick's because by now i can't remember what i saw there the first time, since I can return the REI bag) - yes, I know I am a dumbass. Dick's didn't.
I then go to Target to see if they had any good GoPro alternatives. They don't.
I decide that I'll get a camera when i get to japan. I don't know why I was so obsessed with buying a camera that night. I was being a dumbass.

It's 10pm. I go home to pack, pay bills, and stuff. and do laundry. and write a blog entry. i fail at life.

this was the backpack i got.

it looks kind of cool from the back too.

and it turns out my grandpa in china told my dad to tell me to bring some walnuts and raisins. so my dad bought some for me to take to my grandpa. (because they don't have walnuts and raisins in shanghai, obviously). i grudgingly agreed. but only the walnuts, because the raisins are way too heavy.

Day 0

Vacation Planning - Details

Update: I was trying to plan out the details of day-to-day for my 6 days in Japan, saving the drafts on this blog. I spent a few hours every week for the past 3 weeks planning. In those weeks of planning, I've managed to plan out the first 2 and a half days so far out of my 3 week trip. Don't read any furthur because it's just scribbles

So I'll be in Japan for 6 days (arriving in Osaka and leaving from Tokyo). So I need to figure out what to do in those 6 days. I started by reading a bunch of "Must-do" guides for Japan.

A lot of them listed go to Kyoto.
visit some fish market (Tsukiji)
cross the akahi kaikyo bridge
visit the Yasukuni Shrine and see what all the fuss is about
stay overnight at a temple

day 0 night
go buy a camera

day 1 in osaka (sunday)

go on this tour: 10 am to 4pm
visit this arcade:
visit Shinsaibashi

if the cycle tour fails, do this as a backup:
go on this tour:
go to nara maybe?

day 2 (monday)

go to kyoto.
Kyoto must-sees:
Fushimi shrine in kyoto with the words on them:
Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion
Ryoan-ji- rock garden
Arashiyama- forest looking walk
Kiyomizu Temple
Gion district tour
"Top priority should go to the eastern, Higashiyama district, where you can walk from the famous Kiyomizu-dera to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, taking in a whole raft of interesting temples, gardens and museums on the way."

Spend the night in Kyoto:
Possible places to stay:
stay in temple in kyoto:
Overnight Stay at Chion-in Temple's Wajun Kaikan Hall
Ninnaji Temple with Morning Prayer Service
Shunkoin Temple Guest House,31489,2049375_2049374_2049360,00.html
shrine in kyoto with the words on them

day 3 (tuesday)

day 4 (wednesday)

day 5 (thursday)

day 6 (saturday)

useful reminder for what to/not-to do in japan: