Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Tradition of Marathons

It's hard to find a site where you can compile your races so I decided why not put it here. This is a list of all the marathons I've competed in, with times and photos if available!

2009--Honda Los Angeles Marathon (3:49:16)
Not too bad.

Damn, I was skinny though.
Overall, a very fun race. It was very weird to run through Downtown LA, through Crenshaw, and then through Beverly Hills. You could definitely feel the difference as you ran through neighborhoods. (Crenshaw, spectators gave out oranges and water... Beverly Hills gave out shots of Grey Goose. Just saying.)

2011--Yodogawa Osaka Marathon (3:48:14)
So young and naive...
This race was not too bad. I was running in Japan and I wanted a reason to run. So why not sign up for a marathon? I convinced my friend that this was a good idea... and we ended up in Osaka.

2012--Sukumo Hanahenro Marathon (3:48:44)

Terrible picture but I only remember being cold and miserable so I didn't care

So by now, it was becoming an annual tradition to run a marathon. This one was brutal--ferry over from Saiki on Kyushu to Sukumo on Shikoku. Rainy. Cold. Hilly. Not fun. Fun fact #1: Hanahenro is Flower Pilgrimage in English. Fun fact #2: I didn't see a single flower.

2013--San Francisco Wipro Marathon (4:30:17)

Nothing satisfies after a run like a cold beer.

This was a poorly trained for marathon but switching from the Japanese teaching lifestyle to American corporate lifestyle did not help. Hilly, cold in the beginning, hot by the end, the only saving grace for this race was running across the Golden Gate Bridge. That's pretty awesome.

2014--Kona Marathon (5:12:09)

(Missing a photo... possibly lost when I switched photos)

So definitely trending the wrong way on times. Out of shape and on the same course as the original Ironman Triathlon, this race destroyed me. No excuses.

2016--Great Ocean Road Marathon (To be raced May 2016)

And so we arrive at the most recent challenge. After breaking my thumb this past month, a new challenge and external reason to get into shape. Here's to restarting the annual marathon tradition!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Favor of the Layover

I've been to Bangkok, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Hagatna (Guam), Osaka, and Narita these past couple years. I've been to other cities and countries too but these cities were not for tourism nor for business.

You know I'm a sucker for ramen... and Ichiran has a chain a short 45 minutes for Osaka Airport. Throw in a shorter immigration line than Narita and you're there and back in under 3 hours.

You see, I visited these cities while on a layover. I'm not talking about a short, running from gate to gate layovers. I'm talking 4+ hour layovers that for some reason come up while traveling abroad. Most of the time, these flights are more inexpensive because of the preconceived notion that they're a hassle or boring.

They don't have to be. Check your heavy luggage and pack some extra clothes in your carry on. Then leave the airport. Go eat something you've always wanted to try. Or maybe, you've already been there. Go eat something you loved the last time you were there. For me and Japan, it's always ramen.

If it's the first time in that city, walk around and explore it. Get a little lost. Keep an eye on time and if you're ever too lost, you're always a taxi away from a train station or the airport. Get a feel for that city so you know what to do the next time.

Shanghai on a layover. You can leave the airport on a transit visa for free as an American for 72 hours. Not bad, considering a Chinese visa is normally a couple hundred.

If you're uncomfortable, research Trip Advisor or other forums beforehand for similar situations. You're not the first person to take that flight. Someone else has had the idea to leave the airport. See where they went. I found a random mall in Bangkok for a quick bite and cheap shopping on a long layover. In the end, it was cheaper to take a cab and eat there than it would have been to eat airport food.

I recently had a crazy long 16 hour layover in Guam. It was so long, I couldn't check my bag all the way through. I was frustrated because I had to carry my checked bag around as I explored. I took a cab to the closest hotel where there happened to be a public beach next door. I walked over to quickly explore. There, I saw a random guy swimming in the water... with a snorkel on. So I figured since I had my snorkel and swim suit in my bag, why not check it out myself.

It was incredible. It was easily some of the best snorkeling of my life. So many fish, so clear, so close up, and so... random.

Ypao Beach Park, Tumon Bay. Amazing (and free!) snorkeling

So the next long layover you get, leave the airport and explore. If you get lucky, maybe you'll find something amazing... or at least, get a good meal out of it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Hooker Hotel, Panama

First of all, I know I'm behind. It's been a couple years since my last post, so I'm going to try and catch up. It will not be in chronological order though--it will be in whatever order comes to mind. Whether it's a funny story or something happens that reminds me of a trip, who knows.

The hooker hotel. Also known as the Hotel Veneto by Wyndham. Panama City, Panama. But before we get into that, I need to explain the circumstances of events that lead us to here.

So the first part of our trip to Panama was nice. We stayed at the Westin Playa Bonita Panama Resort. The resort itself was really spectacular--the kind of nice that I can only go to if someone else was paying for it (thank you Chairman's Club!). Great views, multiple pools, swim up bar, full gym and spa onsite. 

Can't complain about the view from the room

However, in the end, it was, dare I say, sort of bland. Like vanilla. Don't get me wrong--I love vanilla and there is a time and a place for it. But when I went to Panama, I was expecting Panamanian culture. I wanted to be put out of my comfort zone. We really only experienced resort culture in a very contained, Disney-like environment. We saw the company-sponsored Panama.

Sure there were company outings, dinners, and the like. There was even a safe, hosted "cultural night" with professional dancers and vendors hand selected to perform and display their wares at the hotel's expo center. 

The most cultural experience of the first part of the trip--wearing a Panama hat

And as the taxi to downtown costed about $30 (that's USD as Panama uses American currency), we pretty much stayed at the resort. And as resort food goes, it was pretty bad. Think overpriced burgers and bad pizza. It was also full of Americans (for obvious reasons, but it had to be said). All the staff spoke fluent English.

(To be fair, we did get to take a trip into downtown twice. Once was a company lead trip to the Hard Rock Casino. It was really like a clubbing event on the roof in downtown. Really cool, but not cultural. We also did a quick trip on our own to the fish market and old town a la Anthony Bourdain. That was really neat and by far the best tasting beer and meal of the trip.)

Top floor of the fish market in Panama, Panama. Highly recommend.

But really, those first 5 days/4 nights were quite tame. Where was that X-factor? Nothing was really that surprising. We could have been in parts of downtown LA and not known the difference. 

So when we were given the option of extending our trip at our own expense, I jumped on it. I added 2 more nights to our itinerary which meant that while most of the company left, we had the chance to do our own thing. I wanted to pick something safe, but edgy. Something in the heart of downtown where we could get the kind of food Panamanians eat and shop at places they shop. So while looking for a deal on a hotel in downtown, I found a Wyndham hotel, the Veneto. Now I thought, "Hey this doesn't look too bad. About 50 bucks a night. Perfect location. There's a casino and pool onsite. Plus it's a large hotel chain so it must be pretty clean. Let me check Tripadvisor for the reviews."

The reviews were pretty split between great and awful.

“Don't bring sand to the beach, i.e., leave the wife or gf at home.” 
-User richinanchorage

"The casino is good for MEN if you're seeking for women this is the right place." 
-User kirsy182

“Nice hotel/casino/brothel” 
-User Jim K 

"Yes the Casino does have its share of funny painted ladies, None crossed the line with me.perhaps, I didnot [sic] give it chance" 
-User paknflyguy

Well, it can't be that bad. Some people really liked their stay. Good location and decent restaurants? I figured we could stay here, get some food, go to the nearby shops, hang out by the pool, gamble a bit, all not for a bad deal. Right?

You get what you pay for was quite the understatement here. 

We checked in. The room was gross. "Keep your shoes on and do not sit on that comforter!" as I surveyed the room. The a/c was busted to add to the overall experience. I've stayed in motels that had more class than the first room.

After a couple drinks and complaining to the management, we were "upgraded" to the executive level. All that really meant is that they cleaned the room more often and the a/c almost worked at full capacity. At least the carpet was clean...ish. 

What the hell, let's check out the pool. I mean, we weren't there for the room anyway, right? We head upstairs to the rooftop pool. At first glance, nothing strange. A couple guys chilling in the pool. A poolside table with a bucket of beer surrounded by a couple girls and guys. Some more guys lounging around.

Wait a second... that's a lot of guys. I look over to the girls again. They're about half the age of the gentlemen they're with. That's not too strange I guess... then I notice a whole lot of woman hanging out of various and rather creative string bikinis. Top it off with high heels, full makeup, and fashion jewelry--these ladies were not planning on doing any swimming.

After a quick decision to not swim in that pool water, we explored the neighborhood a bit. On the way out, we noticed a sign in the elevator--$1 beer and 25 cent chicken wings during happy hour at the hotel bar. 

This we knew was a frequent haunt of some of the local working ladies per our friends on Tripadvisor. But I mean, for 25 cent wings? And $1 beers? It's practically a steal and an insult to not at least get one round there.

We were seated immediately at the bar. By bar, I mean casino with a section of tables sprinkled in with the table games. No matter. We ordered our food and drinks and proceeded to look around.

Table of young guys. Table of old men. Table of girls. Table of more girls. One random old couple who was there to actually gamble. More tables of guys.

And surprisingly, not much mixing between the two.

Most of the working girls had a beer or some other drink. They were hanging out, gossiping, sharing stories, and looked like it could be any other girls night out. Some were even getting in on the wings too. Others were gambling at the nearby tables with their friends. The only thing that was recognizable was a certain dress code that they all followed. High heels, tight jeans, low top, midriff showing, but interestingly enough, no leg showing. No shorts. No miniskirts.

Then there was the interaction between the two groups. A guy would walk up to one of the table full of girls, say a couple words, then seemingly get turned down. Was his price too low? Was he not attractive enough? We couldn't figure it out. My best guess is that it was still early (before midnight) so they were still on their own time. Unless it was a guy that they really wanted, they would keep on rejecting. You'd see a group of guys pounding back beers until one of them mustered the courage to get up and talk to one of the girls at a different table. She would entertain his conversation briefly. Then straight up reject him. He would sulk back to his group of friends and drink some more. Then the cycle repeated with someone else. It really wasn't like anything I've ever seen before, like a weird mix of 合コン ('gokon' or group dating in Japan), middle school dance, and Las Vegas clubbing all rolled into one.

So technically you can't take pictures in the casino... so we asked our server if we could take a picture with her. It just so happened that there are a couple tables of girls in the back. 

We finished up our chicken, got another beer for the road, and headed out. It was sort of Panama's way of saying, "Want a cultural experience? Want to be out of your comfort zone? There. Pretentious jerks." 

I still have no idea how that all works. However, if you're in downtown Panama, I highly recommend the chicken and beer at the Veneto Hotel. I vehemently do not recommend getting a room at the hotel. 

Sometimes, it's better to stick with fancy vanilla.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Worst Kind of Tourist

There is this tradition in Luang Prabang. Every morning, the monks from all the local temples walk along the street collecting alms, or their food for the day. Residents wake up early to give their respects as well as some rice to each monk as they pass by their house.

This is the Luang Prabang I came for...

This ritual is why I went to Laos. I really wanted to see this and I heard that tourists can even participate too. I know it may not be for everyone, but the chance to be a part of something like this was supposed to be really special. We planned around this specific tradition. We arrived early the day before, went to bed early, and made sure to wake up well before dawn to not miss what was arguably the only reason why we went to Laos. This even took precedent over tubing down the river in Vang Vieng.

It was awful.

It's not the monks' fault--they are semi-forced by the government to continue this facade. However, it is no longer the beautiful tradition that it once was. It is overrun with tourists... and not the good kind.

Do you know the tourist with an SLR around their neck, snapping "artistic" pictures, who claim to be a "world citizen?" That in itself is bad, but take that same person, put them inches away from a monk's face (often times children), flash on, taking picture after picture. The kind that has no shame. No remorse. No sense of dignity, and due to this lack of even the slightest strand of dignity, feels no need to respect the humanity anyone else.

He's so excited to shove his camera into these monks' faces, he can't even hold on to his umbrella.

It made me absolutely infuriated.

How can anyone treat another human being like that? It wasn't just European tourists or the Chinese tourists either... though they were admittedly the worst. But even at a zoo or aquarium, you turn off your flash for the animals. So why would you think it's ok to shove a camera into the face of another person? It's not a circus act. They aren't statues or artifacts. They are people. This is their home. You are a guest. Would you put a huge lens in front of a chef as they're cooking your dinner? At a respectful distance and as long as you aren't being distracting, it can be fine. But remember--you are NOT a professional photographer. These are NOT professional models. DO NOT treat another human being like an object. Why do I even have to say this? Don't most people from most countries claim their culture to be "civilized"? Don't most travelers love bragging about how "cultured" and "refined" they are? Have you no sense of decency or respect? Then, how can you turn around and do something so awful and heinous to a fellow human being?!? How can you wake up in the morning and look at your smug self in the mirror and feel good?

Me trying to keep up with the steady stream of monks

I did participate in giving alms, which made me thought, am I any better? Sure, I wasn't right in their face with my camera, but aren't I objectifying them just like these other tourists? Aren't I, by taking pictures to share, tweeting my thoughts, and eventually, writing this blog post, promoting the very thing that I hate? Won't more people come and in turn, perpetuate this shameful shadow of a once great tradition? Am I any better?

While we did had some great experiences while in Laos, this was not one of them. If you do decide to go and participate in this tradition, please remember to do so with respect. And if you go to Laos and decide to skip out on this, I would not blame you.

Here's to the monks. I'm so sorry.

At least I was able to get a Beerlao overlooking the Mekong River. One of the highlights of my trip was simply relaxing and reflecting while sipping on a cold beer. After this morning, I definitely needed it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Curse of the Traveler

I have a lot of posts left about my month of traveling, but before I get to them, I found a post by darien_gap on Reddit the other day. It really struck home with me and I wanted to share it as well as my thoughts on it.

"The Curse of the Traveler.
An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that's perfect (we all know there's no Shangri-La), but just for a place that's "just right for you." But the curse is that the odds of finding "just right" get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.
Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can't travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you've seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while."

I'm not so sure about Part A. Now that I'm back in the US, I realize that San Francisco feels right, right now. I do want to start a new chapter of my life. I know there may not be a "right fit," but being in California where I can meet people from around the world is pretty close. I can get good Mexican food next to authentic Italian, and still get tonkotsu ramen a few blocks over (though it's not Hakata Ramen, and there's no 替玉). To put it in perspective, I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore... and yet my first Burmese meal in my life was in San Francisco last week. Although I deeply miss traveling, my time abroad has really made me appreciate other cultures.

I would argue that unlike the times I spent in France or Paraguay, I have finally lost that jadedness that comes with being Californian. After 2 years in such a mono-ethnic country, I realize how lucky I am to have grown up in the United States, and in particular, the San Francisco Bay Area. Just the other day, while hiking up a mountain in the East Bay, I couldn't help but notice that English was the least spoken language around me--there was dialects from the Indian subcontinent, Mandarin (or Cantonese or some other dialect... it's hard for me to tell), Spanish, Tagalog... and a little bit of English. Some of my favorite cities, like London, Hong Kong, and Singapore, were the best in my eyes, not for their sights, but for their culture and people. Each was a melting pot in the truest sense of the word, and yet, this same love never really extended to California until I lived in Japan.

Part B is the most thought-provoking. My time spent abroad... or even just far away from home like LA... I've met a lot of people in my life. I would like to keep them in, but it's not easy. People drift apart. People change. I have friends scattered across the world. It's not just that the friends I had before have changed--I've changed too. I had my cousins over a few weeks back. I left for Japan, they continued on the fast track to the American Dream. Now, they talk about buying a house and the last dinner party they went to. What can I add to that conversation? Oh, that reminds me of the time I drank cobra venom in Hanoi? Admittedly yes, I may be jaded from traveling, but at the same time, when people have never even left their country or when the furthest they've been away from home is Las Vegas, how can I relate to that life? I know I'm extremely fortunate to have been able to travel. But if you're still doing the same things that we used to do 3 or 5 years ago, does it make me a bad person to say that I can't really relate to that life?

darien_gap goes on to mention his own thoughts about to what extent he agrees with this message and what can be done to solve it. For me, I have to agree with his one big takeaway. To solve this problem of drifting apart, you can travel with other people. I have written in favor of solo traveling before and this shouldn't take anything away from that. It's not just about being in a different place with someone--it's about seeing them in a new light. Traveling with other people makes your friendships stronger. You learn about each other in ways that you never would have thought. Seeing how you react to new experiences, culture shock, unforeseen hiccups, and becoming more cultured reveals more character about you than even living with another person. The most mind-blowing experiences for me were meeting my friends in countries so different to both of us--meeting my high school friend in Paraguay, my study abroad friend back in LA, my Japanese friends in Southeast Asia... It always occurs once the initial shock and adrenaline wears off, normally at night and you're hanging out. Catching up and reminiscing over a beer after dinner like normal, and somewhere along the way you realize--wow, this is weird... we're in Thailand/Macau/Berlin.

That's the moment I live for. It's not possible without the traveler's curse.

So the question then is where to next? Who's down?