Category: Vacation experiences

Singapore night safari

When the tram guide tells his passengers to keep their feet inside the tram as they pass through the cayman area, and people actually pull their feet inside the tram, you know that people are feeling they’ve come pretty close to nature.

I don’t even remember exactly when I went to Singapore and visited the night safari, but I know I mentioned it in 2007, calling it a striking nature scene. I was also writing about visiting Singapore and Malayisa in November, 2004. I think that was based on experience so maybe I went in summer 2004 or winter 2003.

Anyhow, since I’m moving to America soon I’ve been looking through old papers and tossing many of them. And I found a little thing I wrote way back when. Most of the writing is embarassingly bad, but I thought that paragraph I shared at the top of this blog entry was OK.

Part of me doesn’t want to think of visiting a zoo as visiting nature. It’s kind of sad that the zoo is as close as I’ve been to seeing nature in a while. But I really did feel close to nature at the night safari so they do a good job there. Both my wife and I had one of those memorable experiences that became a favorite travel moment.

For me it was stopping to hear a wolf howling and then getting a real treat when another wolf joined in. I guess I have to share some poor writing now back from whenever this was: “The wolf music duet can be remembered as a sound and a feeling, the excitement you can only feel when mother nature shares one of her secrets, so profound that you don’t know what it means.

And wolf howls have become sort of a recurring theme, something I blog about every so often from visiting a wolf reserve in Minnesota to seeking out wolves in Alaska.

For my wife, it was spending a while – maybe 10 minutes but it’s impossible to say – looking a leopard in the eyes. My wife and the leopard were face to face a few inches apart, separated, of course, by glass. That was her exciting travel moment.

I think for both of us, the Singapore night safari was the highlight of our trip to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.

A Story from a Student

Please enjoy this story from one of my students.

About 3 years ago I spent my vacation in Japan. It was my first trip to another country alone, so I was excited but at the same time a bit worried. I have visited a lot of other countries like Germany, France, or England but it was with my parents, and I was very young so I don’t have much memory about them. From booking airplanes to searching local tourist spots, it was all very new to me.

Any way I got in to the plane bound for Haneda. It took about three hours to get there. The first impression of Japan was that it was so clean. It was quite a shock to me. In Korea it’s not hard to see some soda cans or garbage here and there, but in Japan there were no such thing as garbage, even in the streets where there is ton of people like Sibuya or Ginza.

Because I had a friend named Jinyong who was studying in Tokyo I didn’t have to make any reservation for a hotel. Jinyong was living with his girlfriend, the house wasn’t big but it had a little room what used to be a storage room, and that was good enough for me.

For a few days I was busy visiting famous tourist sites such as Tokyo tower or Asakusa, because I was intending to stay more than just few days, I wanted to see more than just tourist attractions. I wanted to feel the real Japanese cultures and wanted to be the part of the culture. When I told Jinyong that I wanted to meet some Japanese friends he said that he might be able to introduce some of his class mates.

The next day, my friend and some of his class mates took me to have some Yakiniku and some beer. It was my first time eating and drinking with local people. I was nervous because I wanted to use some Japanese that I learned in college but I couldn’t use much Japanese because most of them talked in English. While I was eating Yakiniku one of the girls seemed upset and she started to speak in Japanese. After listening to what she had said my friend started to laugh.

It turns out that she was upset because I had kept eating what she was cooking. In Korea when we go to a Yakiniku place, most of the time one person would be in charge to grill all the beef for everybody else, but in Japan they grill their own little piece of meat one at a time. At first she thought I had mistakenly eaten her piece of meat but as I had been keep eating what she meant to eat for herself, she thought I was being mean. I knew that in Japan people eat in separate dishes and don’t eat soup from the same pot. But I didn’t know they each cook one piece of meat at a time. I felt very strange and a bit embarrassed.

A few days later Jinyong and his girlfriend had a big fight. I didn’t understand what they were saying but the fight became bigger and bigger. Long story short my friend and her girlfriend broke up and Jinyong was kicked out from the house. The house I had known to be his house was his girlfriend’s. But she was kind enough not to kick me out. She said she would let me stay until I found a new place to stay. That night I realized how quiet Japan was. Although it was a bit far from the main streets, it was still part of the city, so I was surprised to hear nothing. I guess didn’t notice it before because I used to talk with my friend Jinyong and his girlfriend all night. It was a bit scary too because I couldn’t even hear any dog bark. In Seoul when we lay down and try to get to sleep we could hear lots of things, drunken people screaming, sound of TV drama coming from the next door, cars coming and going, Tokyo was a silent city. I guess it’s because of the culture “not to trouble other people”. I don’t know why but after realizing how quiet it was, silence started to bug me.

Because I didn’t have any other relatives or acquaintances in Japan I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t stay with Jinyong’s girlfriend any more. Fortunately my kicked out friend didn’t forget about me and said that I could stay at his uncle’s place which is a little hotel in the city. The next day I packed up my things and went to the hotel. It was a small hotel for Korean tourists. Jinyong introduced his uncle Jaeyong, he said I could stay with his son, but in return I had to do some chores for him. It was better than nothing.

A few days later when I was carrying laundry from the basement, I heard the windows shaking. At first I thought it was the wind blowing, but the sound became bigger. Then I noticed something was wrong. It was something I never felt before I couldn’t stand or walk straight. It felt like the ground was trying to attack me. I will never forget what I felt that moment. When I realized that it was an earthquake I didn’t know what to do. I soon found out that I was just in front of the exit so I crawled to the exit.

I thought everybody would be running and screaming but most of them were not in panic. They were very calm. Some girls were even laughing. I noticed that the panicking people were all tourist. No Japanese were frightened by the mild earthquake. (I thought the sky was falling) All of them were wearing a safety helmet on their heads (I later found out that in all homes there are safety helmets incase of earthquakes). It was one of the most shocking moments of my life. The earthquake itself was terrifying but it was very strange to see how calm people were. It must have been because of all the frequent earthquakes they encounter. But still it was strange.

I had much fun in my trip to Japan the food was great, the streets were beautiful and there were so many interesting things to do. But I also had some troubles like suddenly losing a place to stay and experiencing some culture shocks, like the individualism and people being so strangely calm at earthquakes. Overall I believe it was a very precious experience.

Happened across a farmers’ market in the subway today – Cheongdam Station in Seoul

I had never seen this before although my wife insists today was the second time we went shopping in a farmers’ market on a subway in Seoul. Naturally, I was too busy buying persimmon, fluffy rice sweets, and sweet potato to take pictures but I did find a few places where you can see what it is I’m talking about. KBS News has an entire article, the pictures I’m talking about are way down at the bottom. This Korean blog has some nice big pictures – just click the link and scroll down a little.

Here’s a Korean language story about farmers taking their produce to the market. You’ll eventually see them selling stuff in the station itself and then after that you will see the actual subway train market thing.

You can see another video of the market train here. It’s all in Korean but just click the link and click play on the video.

Oh and if anyone wants to see for themselves you can check out Cheongdam Station on line 7 Tuesday to Thursday. I think they’re open till about 7:00 although officially they say it’s supposed to be 8:00. We think they open in the afternoon some time.

Speaking of Seoul’s subway, I took a train during rush hour today for the first time in years and I remember why I hate it. I had about 7 flights of stairs to get up and the only escalator puts me on the wrong street so I usually run up the stairs as fast as I can to get a little mini-workout in.

This morning, there was a wall of people coming down the stairs. With the people coming down taking up the entire stairwell I hesitated for a moment before doing my usual sprint. I went along the right wall, where the arrows were on my side and figured the people who are walking against the arrow would just have to get out of my way.

Of course one middle-aged woman thought differently and we collided. She fell and I felt a little bad, but mostly I just felt frustrated. Do I really have to spend 5 minutes walking up the stairs in a crazy zigzag because people ignore all the nice little arrows?

And while we’re talking about Seoul subway etiquette, check out #2 on the official Seoul subway etiquette page. I guess they meant to say no begging on the subway, but it comes across much more hilariously.

Wrapping up our Hawaiian holiday with a taste of Japan

Day 10

On our second Friday in Hawaii, we had the alarm set for 8:00 AM. My wife couldn’t get out of bed so early so I went to Hanauma Bay all by myself. It was well worth the effort and the cost, about $24.50 I think – $5 for the round trip bus fare, $7.50 for admission to Hanauma Bay Park, and $12 to rent snorkeling gear. I had brought my own lunch and water so I saved a bit there. I think I spent about 5 or 6 hours in the park, alternating between snorkeling and reading on the beach (actually on the grass behind the beach where I found a patch of shade).

The snorkeling was good although the water was so shallow in places that it took a lot of work not to touch the coral. I saw some real colorful fish, some real big fish, and some really big colorful fish. Lots of blue, purple, and yellow. I also made some friends on the bus ride there – a couple who I saw again later that night and learned they’re in the same hotel as me plus a few Japanese college students. It seems you see a lot of Japanese women in Hawaii who came with their girlfriends but you rarely see groups of Japanese guys visiting Hawaii. It reminds me of Seoul where you see women going out with their friends all the time while men stay home or in the bar unless they’re with their girlfriends.

That night we went to Fatty’s Chinese Kitchen for the second time. We made some more friends there, a couple from Jamestown NY, before heading to Starbucks to get online.

Day 11

Today was a decision making day since our time in Hawaii is coming to an end. We have lots we haven’t done. We could rent a car and drive to Kailua and Lanikai and maybe Manoa Falls. We could spend $60 each or more for the Polynesian Cultural Center. Or we could just relax as much as possible on Waikiki Beach. I like swimming in the calm ocean waters and reading on the beach. We decided to stick around Waikiki.

And that’s what we did today. Nothing special to write about – swimming, reading, lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (may not sound exotic but we don’t have them in Korea), and a couple of free performances of Hawaiian music.

Day 12

Sunday was much like Saturday, just relaxing on the beach. Swimming, reading, music on the beach. We weren’t sad that we had decided not to rent a car and explore some other beaches. Sure they came highly recommended but I’ll just have to do it next time. Lunch was at a sushi place just near the beach that was good.

Day 13

Our last full day in Hawaii. Mostly beach time, one last sunset over Waikiki, one last meal at Fatty’s Chinese. We decided not to go looking at Honolulu apartments. The weather might be fine and we loved the food. Plus I would love to start off each day with a swim in the ocean. But we’re looking at $1500/month for a studio near Waikiki and the same for a 500 square foot, one bedroom place that’s not walking distance to the ocean. The condo my wife liked was 400k for 700 square feet plus a 700 square foot lanai. Sounds nice actually, except the condo fees were $1,000 a month so it’s like buying and paying rent at the same time.

Day 14

The morning we spent getting ready and at 10:00 we took our shuttle to the airport. TSA was, as you might expect, slow and inefficient so we waited about an hour on a short line before they confiscated my two little cans of protein pudding and sent us on our way. It tasted horrible, the sugar free protein pudding, but I missed it anyway because it cost me $6.00 and high protein diets are supposed to be good for you.

“We have to take this.”

“It’s pudding.”

“It’s liquid or aerosol consistency.”

“It’s pudding.”

“It’s not allowed.”

We had the option of leaving security, checking it with the airline, and then coming back through. No thanks. I should have realized, of course, that pudding would not be allowed since big tubes of toothpaste are also trouble even though I wouldn’t call them liquids either. Luckily, my hummus sandwich got though so I still had something to eat instead of fast food as I waited to board my flight. I would have said humus and pudding were about the same on my chart of closeness to liquid but whatever.

After the TSA took my pudding, I was reminded of all those people who want special treatment. Like Miss USA who says she’s obviously not a terrorist threat. Or the people who say the elderly and kids are obviously not threats so no searching diapers and such. I could fall into the same line of thinking – I know I’m no threat. And I know my protein pudding isn’t dangerous to anyone, not even in a food fight. But if TSA makes an exception for me or Miss USA or anyone then I think there’s a problem. Not that I’m defending their stupid rules – just arguing that the rules need to be enforced on all.

The ten hour flight to Japan went by fairly quickly, despite the 5 babies in the row in front of us. We got the bus from Kansai Airport to Namba, arriving at about 7:30. The love motels overnight rate is for 8:00 PM check in and 12:00 PM check out – perfect for our schedule. We paid just under 6,000 yen for our room.Whirlpool style bathtub from which you can watch TV (though it may not surprise you that 2 of 15 channels are porn), and a karaoke machine! After some confusion about how to lock the door (the front desk does it by computer on your way out – no key or anything and it doesn’t lock automatically like most hotels in the US) we went to the Dotombori area in search of food.

We enjoyed the strangeness of Japan. We had seen some boys, middle school I’d guess but maybe high school, practicing some dance moves that involved holding a light stick in each hand. Lots of women wearing short skirts and knee high socks with no leggings. We were wearing jeans, sweaters, and windbreakers, having decided not to bring winter coats. I was fine but my wife said she was freezing in the 40 degree weather. I actually quite liked the chill. Maybe living in Hawaii where it’s always 80 is not for me.

One guy from California who we had asked for directions had suggested Sex Machine. This turned out to be a Korean barbecue restaurant. We’ll be in Korea soon enough and my wife’s a vegetarian anyway so we passed on Sex Machine and found a sushi place where only locals were eating. They had no English menu so that made it fun too. My wife ordered the cheapest set menu while I ordered the most expensive. My wife ate the expensive sushi while I ate the cheap sushi. Not really, since she shared. And in most cases we didn’t see why one would be $30 and the other $10. But they were different. The cheap had a cooked shrimp. The pricey had a raw shrimp with the skin or exoskeleton or whatever it is placed neatly next to it. Expensive came with fatty tuna while cheap came with regular tuna, The expensive one came with some weird fish eggs we had never tried before.

We continued to walk around Dotombori after dinner. My wife got some Starbucks, including a limited edition Osaka tumbler. Buying a tumbler in Japan nets you a free a drink so instead of 1200 yen it’s more like 800 yen. We enjoyed the colors of Namba – the huge moving octopus on one restaurant, the dragon on another, the hand holding a piece of sushi on a third, and so on.

Hawaii days 8 & 9

So the hotel’s wifi no longer works. I’ll be posting sporadically from Starbucks.

Day 8

We still had the rental this morning so we set our alarm to wake up before sunrise and drove to Diamond Head. We had seen a sunrise tour advertised for $14 each and we’ve seen taxis going there for $10 (I assume they didn’t use the meter since they would drive by the bus stop where people were tired of waiting holding up a little sign). Buses don’t go early enough for the sunrise. So the rental car saved us some money even though we paid $5 to park.

The hike was alright. It was still dark and the moon was bright enough for me even the my eyesight isn’t strong. Still lots of idiots with flashlights out to blind people. Most of the hikers were Japanese – their sunrise tour filled numerous buses. We had seen an ad for a Korean tour. I guess not many Americans wake up early to hike to see the sun rise?

Toward the end, it got a little steep. And we saw people heading back down before sunrise. We’re not sure what they were up to – possibly locals who do the hike to wake up or see the moon and stars or something. For us, the sun rose behind some clouds so looking at the moon was the highlight of the hike. Maybe some people got up there and recognized that the clouds would somehow obscure the sunrise.

After returning the car we had some breakfast and then hit Waikiki Beach. We had a very late lunch at Fatty’s Chinese Kitchen. We had been talking about a trip to Honolulu’s Chinatown but saw some mixed reviews about how it closed down at 2:00 and smelled like urine. Luckily, the highest rated Chinese restaurant in Honollu on Yelp is Fatty’s in Waikiki. And it’s not too pricey, maybe $10 average for an entree. They had some prepared food that was much cheaper but all the reviews said order from the menu and watch them prepare it fresh so that’s what we did. It was good.

Then back to Waikiki Beach to watch the sunset on beach. Later that night we did some walking, which means my wife went shopping while I waited outside enjoying the Hawaiian air. We walked by a Denny’s. My wife had never eaten in one. I hadn’t eaten in one in over 10 years. We went in to look at the menu and next thing I know my says we want a table. We ate a huge meal at 11:00 at night or so, went back tot he hotel while it drizzled a bit, and then worked out for a few minutes before bed.

Day 9

This morning we woke up a little bit early, around 9:30, and got ready for a 2 or 3 mile walk to another highly rated restaurant I found on Yelp, Onotogo. This is in Makiki, a residential part of Honolulu next to Waikiki. It seemed that the restaurant, a truck with a grill outside, was frequented by locals who come often during lunch hours. They open from 11 AM to 2 PM. We arrived before noon and they were already sold out of some Chinese red snapper I forget the name of. My wife had some shrimp while I had a mixed plate of two local favorites – meatballs in mushroom onion gravy and hamburger curry. The food was real good.

On the way back we stopped a Walmart to buy a can opener. Amazingly, you can’t buy one of the manual can openers with the little wheely razor thing you turn. $166 later we walked the couple miles back to our hotel with bags full of coffee, cereal, vitamins, protein powder, eyelash stuff, dog shampoo, dog treats, things I can’t remember, and a can opener.

We spent what was left of the afternoon on Waikiki Beach. My wife saw someone collecting stuff that seemed to have been abandoned and had me go ask her if we could have a bodyboard. So now we have one though I guess we’ll be abandoning it in a few days. We probably won’t have much of an idea of how to use it by then but you never know. Right after the sunset, around 6:30 or so a free music and hula show began. We happened to have our beach towels laid out in the audience section because there’s a little roped off grassy area that my wife likes for the lack of sand and I like for the availability of shade. I did hear some worker complaining about how people didn’t respect the rope but the whole thing is a little weird since they only take the rope down an hour or so before each of the four weekly performances. There are lots of other times when people might want to use the area and it’s often crowded. Anyway, the performance was good.

Then we went back to the hotel and set off our smoke alarm cooking asparagus. A minute later the building’s fire alarm went off. It was pretty exciting but we managed to avoid sprinklers and fire departments somehow. Even though it took the maintenance guy 15 minutes to turn off the very loud and annoying smoke alarm.

Day 7 – Oahu’s North Shore

Our first rainy day in Oahu.

Today we rented a car. My wife is too cheap for a tour but no problem renting a car and driving around Oahu. I’d say the total was about $120. $56 for a Mustang convertible. $10 tax. $10 for a little navigation thing. $20 for parking. $22 for gas.

First we went to Waimea bay Beach Park. The waves there were pretty crazy – apparently the beach is known for a dangerous shorebreak and when it gets like that you should be an expert swimmer before heading in. The guys I saw swimming had fins or body boards or both. As we left, we got poured on.

We reached Waimea Valley Park around 12:30. It stopped raining and we paid $15 to get in so we could walk to Waimea Falls. This was the highlight of my day. The water was a bit chilly but this is a small beautiful lake with a fun little waterfall. They have life vests and pool noodles and boards you can use free of charge and life guards on duty. I think it’s customary to tip them but they’re very friendly and will take photos for you and stuff like that. We were in the water there for maybe half an hour.

On the way out I saw a tour group on the way in and I realized that Waimea Falls is probably best to do on your own because you have a chance of getting lucky, which I did. My wife and I had the entire pond to ourselves for a while so I got to sit under the waterfall pretty much as much as I wanted. On a tour, you probably have a line of people waiting for their turn to sit under the falls so you get a minute to pose for your picture and that’s it. At least that’s what I assume would happen on a tour.

We stopped by a few more beaches, but just to watch the waves crashing in. It was raining again so no desire to lay out on the beach or anything. we then went to Haleweia. They have a little shopping street that includes the famous Matsumoto’s shaved ice. I tried some since my friends said I should. It was alright, not the best tasting thing ever but it reminded me of the snow cones would sometimes get in summer at the town pool when I was a kid. We checked out a few shops and then drove along the west coast of Oahu to see if we’d be willing to live in a few towns that I guess no one ever visits so they don’t need to be written about here.

We didn’t feel any particular urge to live in these towns. We had told a real estate guy (who doesn’t think about moving to hawaii when they visit?) that we didn’t need the action of Waikiki. But these towns were ugly and soulless, at least in the dark. If we had seen their beaches during the day maybe we’d be thinking differently.

Oahu: days 5 & 6 – some real American experiences

Day 5

In the morning the sun was shining beautifully and I walked to the beach wondering if I should really leave Waikiki Beach to watch the Super Bowl. But I had never watched a football game in a bar before and I wanted the experience. Plus it was the New York Giants in the Super Bowl and I grew up a Giants fan.

So after a swim, I left my beach on Waikiki Beach and headed back to my room to change into shorts and my LT jersey. Then I walked most of the way back to the beach to check out Duke’s, the bar in Outrigger Waikiki that someone had recommended. I didn’t see any TVs with the Super Bowl on. So I headed most of the way back to my hotel to another bar I had passed where people seemed pretty into the game.

So I sit at the bar and hear a few guys behind me cheering for the Giants. So I turn around and ask if I can join them. One dude’s Canadian so i don’t know why he was rooting for the Giants but the rest were Denver fans and since New England had just destroyed Denver in the playoffs, they were rooting for the Giants. Doesn’t matter why, they were rooting for the right team and they were good company.

After the Giants won their fourth Super Bowl title (and eighth NFL championship), I found my wife in the hotel room. We went back to the beach and I did a bit more swimming. That night she bought some fruit and yogurt and stuff and we watched a little TV and surfed the web. I almost booked some tours but my wife persuaded me not to ‘waste’ the money. Which is funny because if she really wanted to save money we should have just stayed home like I suggested. So we spend 5 grand or so going to Hawaii and now that we’re here a few hundred bucks on tours is a life altering decision?

Day 6

Today I went to Pearl Harbor. No tour, so I saved some money but saw less stuff. What I did see was the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri. It was over an hour on the bus each way and when I arrived at 12:15 the next available tour of the USS Arizona Memorial was at 1:00. Not enough time to see the Missouri so i spent the time walking around the outdoor exhibits there. Some missiles, some machine guns, some historical information, some places to reflect – more than enough to spend 40 minutes.

Admission to the USS Arizona is free. They play a 25 minute video explaining how Japan came to see Pearl Harbor as a target and how America made it such an easy target to hit. And of course they explained the actual attack. Then it’s a short boat ride to the memorial that stands over the sunken ship / tomb. After that I headed to the USS Missouri – $22 admission. It’s pricey but so is building a battleship I guess. And I got to see where Japan signed the treaty surrendering in WWII.

I might write more about this later. They said on tripadvisor that every American should visit. I believe that every American should remember, but I’m not so sure every one of us needs to go to a particular memorial to help them do the remembering. But I do think it’s important to visit memorials. I have to think about this some more.

When I got back to Waikiki after 5:00 and another long bus ride, my wife was int he room after a day on the beach. I persuaded her to come back to the beach with me and watch me swim a bit. The evening I spent wandering around aimlessly while my wife shopped.

Oahu: days 3 & 4

Hawaii day 3 plus a little giveaway (read carefully)

Today we switched hotels. We went from White Sands at 85/night + tax to Hokele Suites at $69/night + tax. But check out was noon and check in was 3:00. Se we spent the morning packing, checked out, left our luggage, and hit Waikiki Beach. At noon, there are few people in the water but by 3:00 the water is pretty crowded. The beach is crowded by non though. Part of it might be because a section of beach is roped off and filled with construction equipment. Anyhow, I’m feeling lucky having gone swimming in the ocean in February 3 days in a row.

When we got to Hokele Suites, they wanted to charge us $89/night – probably some mix up by the guy handling the reservations. He actually sent us a confirmation email for 89/night and we had to call back and tell him it was 69/night online. He said he’d fix it and send us a new confirmation email. We did get the new confirmation email for 69/night but apparently no one at the hotel did. Anyway we got the room for 69/night and an upgrade from a studio to a 1 bedroom suite. So for $70/night it’s a real sweet deal. It’s near Waikiki Beach, has a kitchen / living room & separate bedroom.

We’re here for 11 nights so we unpacked and then went to a farmer’s market to buy some fruit. Then we took our first Honolulu bus ride to a place where I had a restaurant.com coupon. It was about a 30 minute bus ride to Honolulu Community College and then a short walk to the shopping plaza where the restaurant, New Violet Grill, was located. The plae was filled with locals this Friday night and the food ranged from good to interesting. If anyone reading this is heading to Honolulu and wants to try a local place, be the first one to make a request in the comments section here and I will mail you a $25 coupon for New Violet Grill. I don’t know how quickly I’ll be mailing it so it’s best if you’re going to Oahu soon but not too soon. Also keep in mind that all comments are held for moderation so you won’t see the comment right away.

On the bus ride back we got some free entertainment from a drunk guy. Extreme public drunkenness is so common in Korea but pretty surprising in America. We spent a little while walking around Waikiki. Friday night in Waikiki and there’s stuff to do. Not that I did any of it but there were some bars with live music, some bars without live music, and a strip club.

Hawaii day 4 – escape from Waikiki

I didn’t want to spend two weeks in Waikiki. Waikiki is cool and all but there’s more to Oahu and I want to see some of it. Today we had tickets to the first annual Bob Marley birthday concert at Sea Life Park. So we took the bus out to Sea Life Park and arrived around noon. They said to pick up our tickets at 4:30 (we had a Groupon) so we walked over to Sandy Beach a few minutes away. This was quite a different scene from Waikiki Beach – sometimes the waves got pretty huge and there were lots of bodyboarders, including a bodyboarding contest that I didn’t really understand and that was insanely boring. But watching the big waves come crashing toward me – some were maybe twice as tall as me – was great fun.The water was also very blue and beautiful.

Then at 4:30 we got in line to pick up our tickets. The concert started at 5:00. At 5:05 one of the windows opened and I got all excited and called my wife over from the bench she was resting on. Turns out they were just testing one woman’s Groupon because they had to figure out what to do. At 5:10 a woman waiting on line behind us passed out. They gave her a free water and let her keep her place in line. Then a window opened – cash only, no Groupons. Then a second cash only window opened. Finally a third window opened, this one for Groupons. We were maybe third in line and were in the concert grounds a little after 5:30.

We learned that the concert was scheduled for 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM. We figured we’d call the bus people to see when the last bus would be. 7:05 PM. So getting back to Waikiki was a $50 cab ride. At least the cab was much faster and more comfortable than the bus.

Hawaii day 1 & 2 focusing on Waikiki Beach

I begin this blog entry sitting on the bed my hotel in Honolulu, the White Sands Hotel. I should be sitting on the lanai, overlooking the pool where they’ve got a guy singing and playing guitar. Supposedly there’s a hula dance – it was supposed to have started already but they might just be running behind schedule. We have been all day.

Not that we have much of a schedule but we have run into some things slowing us down. It started off when the immigration officer led us over to a room with no exit. The door could only be opened from the outside so were basically prisoners until an immigration officer opened the door for us. Seemed like a fire hazard to me and we had to wait there for an hour before we met with an immigration officer who told us we should be spending more time in America because my wife’s green card comes with responsibilities. He was more polite than the immigration officers we’ve met at JFK but any delay getting to Waikiki Beach was unwelcome. If we’re lucky we’ll get an appointment with the Honolulu immigration office to try and do some paperwork to straighten things out. Not the greatest addition to our vacation plan but a necessary one.

We got to the White Sands Hotel at 11:00 AM and unsurprisingly the room wasn’t ready. Check in at 3:00. It took us a while but we managed to get our bathing suits and sunscreen and stuff out. We got changed in the lobby bathroom and hit Waikiki Beach. At 3:00 we were back at the hotel to check in. So far we’ve never seen more than one person at the front desk at any one time so it can take a while. After lugging our bags up to third floor (no elevator) we went to a local supermarket and bought some seasoned soy beans and tuna for dinner. For dessert, we split a fresh papaya – the first one I remember eating though I may have had some in Thailand in 2003.

Now it’s about 5:00. I’m ready for bed but I still need to find me an immigration appointment from some time in the next two weeks.

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As I finish this blog entry I’m using Wifi in a Starbucks. The White Sands Hotel was supposed to have wifi but doesn’t. We went to their sister hotel nearby last night where the Wifi worked but where I got bitten by mosquitoes. So no going back there.

Anyway, the INS appointment is a pain. We could easily submit the papers but they have some new thing (new to us anyway) where you have to go for a biometrics appointment after they receive your submission. We’ll be back in Korea by the time they get around to fingerprinting my wife (which they did for her green card and do again every time she enters the country but the more the merrier I guess).

Instead the plan is to move to America this summer, with me returning to Korea to finish up my contract by teaching the fall semester. Where to first? Possibly Hawaii so we’ll be talking to some real estate people soon.

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To return to the vacation, we spent last night at the sister hotel fretting about biometrics while getting bitten by mosquitoes and finally deciding to give up and go for a walk. My wife had already covered this ground on one of her previous trips to Hawaii so she played tour guide (which she’s pretty good at being a professional tour guide and all) and showed me around Honolulu. Honestly I wasn’t that excited as she told me how awesome it would be to live here.

What changed my mind was waking up at 4:30 AM and heading down to the hotel pool (closed at night) and courtyard area where I did some yoga in amazingly good weather. A friend posted on Facebook that Seoul was -17 celsius that morning. That’s 1.4 farenheit. I don’t love living in Seoul.

After that little workout I went back to bed. We woke up at 1:30 PM. For my wife that was about 14 hours of straight sleep. For me it was 13 hours of sleep with a little break in the middle. We were tired from the overnight flight to Honolulu – we’d been awake for more than 24 hours not counting little plane naps. On the other hand our bed was pretty uncomfortable. Something about the air here that helps people relax maybe.

We spent what was left of the afternoon on Waikiki beach. Swimming was real nice – perfect beach weather for the second day in a row.

For dinner we went to an Italian place, Bene Pesce, where we had a restaurant.com coupon. So dinner cost us $40 instead of $55. Once we finish up here, another night time walk is in order.

In search of dreads in Tallinn, Estonia

On Saturday and Sunday, days 5 & 6 in Estonia, I was at my travel conference. My wife was having a little adventure you might find interesting. Here is part 1.

Guest entry by Mia Trotta

It all started in Espoo. We met my husband’s online friend and he had cool dreads. He said he was able to wash them normally but that they took a while to dry. I decided to get dreads in Tallinn, figuring it would be cheaper in Estonia than in Finland.

Our first morning in Tallinn I wandered around the city alone and asking various hairdressers if they did dreads. Most did not know the English word dreads. I gave up after a few hours and maybe 10 hairdressers.

The next day, my husband I were walking around Old Town. We stopped at a few hairdressers but no luck until some hairdresser who spoke very little English seemed to say OK. We set up a time for Saturday but I kept going back to confirm because I wasn’t sure we really had an appointment thanks to the language barrier and her not writing down my information or anything. The price, 200 euros, was more than I expected but less expensive than Finland or Korea. I would later learn that 100 went to the dreadmaster who did all the work and 100 went to the evil hairdresser who set everything up.

So on Saturday I went to the hairdresser. The owner called the dread master (a guy from Ghana with cool dreads). The dreads were supposed to take four hours. After eight hours I still had nothing resembling dreads. I would have to come back tomorrow. Except that was Sunday, a national holiday celebrating independence from the Soviet Union. So we decide to do the work in my hotel room since the hairdresser will be closed.

That night my husband and I went to the big concert, celebrating the 20th anniversary of independence.

I would have been uncomfortable along with the guy in the hotel room but there was another customer who wanted some braids so on Sunday at 12:30 I met the dread master, Ibra, and the other customer, Natalie in the hotel lobby.