Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Little New Year Celebration from Hong Kong....once again

Just about every international school in Asia gives a holiday
for CNY, and the closer in proximity you are to China, the more time off you get!  Indonesia being south of the equator, and a 4 hour flight away from HK, we get a good 4-day weekend which happened to be just perfect for our adventure.

The day we arrived, Thursday, February 19th marked the official turn to the Year of the GOAT!  They also say it could be the SHEEP or the RAM!  Guess it depends on how auspicious the year is to one.  Since 2015 has thus been good to us, we're inclined to believe the Year of the Ram suits it best for us. Each day promises some celebratory event in honor of the new year.  Day 1 (19th) is the kick off CNY Parade over on the Kowloon side. We decided to spend the day on that side visiting the touristy Jade and Temple Street markets, which for me makes it a complete trip to HK!  What we didn't bank on was that in honor of the biggest holiday in HK, the Jade market would be completely closed and the Temple Street market would be operating at a quarter of the stalls.  Bummed, we journeyed back toward the parade route only to find loads of people already camped out at 4 pm claiming prime spots when the parade wasn't even starting for 4 more hours!   We pictured some nightmarish additional two-hour return path to take the Star Ferry or metro back over to the HK side.  A shared nod of 'let's just watch it on TV' led us all too easily to the longest escalator in the world (2,600 feet), en route our temporary home at "the mid-levels".

Here's looking down the midlevels.  The escalator is the structure on the right, and a much needed set of stairs along side.  Much needed as there was only enough room to build one escalator between narrow buildings.  As far as I recall it runs 24 hours a day; 6am to 10 am it carries the inhabitants and workers down, and from 10 am it carries them back home!  Of course our tourist schedule didn't match the escalator's and we found ourselves doing a lot of stairs! There are tons of shops and well-patroned restaurants fully aligning this path.  You can imagine we spent about half of our time here just in transit.

Of all the great restaurants on the central-midlevels system, this one advertised something unknown to Jakarta - Fondue - just can't get this awesomeness back home.  So forget sticking to CNY favorites tonight.  Good thing my phone kept track of our steps taken that day bc the heavy, delightfully sinful fondue was only countered by the 24,300 of 'em by the end of the day. That is 10.44 miles and a grand total of 30.8 miles for the weekend. Now that is a lot of steps. The only disappointment, no place to watch the parade.

Day 2:  Set out midday...after all it IS our vacation, and therefore, our chance to relax!  It's great being an international teacher as no matter where you go there's always someone who knows someone, IF you don't already know someone there yourself!  It's not surprising that the brother of one of our really good friends here in Jakarta would offer to meet up with us in his home city, HK.  A very lovely encounter, indeed, full of great conversation and healthy food at LIFE Cafe!  It felt so normal, just like talking to our Jakarta friend, Brian, but Cork knew HK inside and out, including bus numbers to help get us on our way to Stanley market where we would shop and enjoy the rest of the daylight!  Feeling a bit sheepish (pun intended) with having skipped over Day 1 without anything of CNY, we weren't about to miss the Day 2 event, the Fireworks show!  Feeling Victoria Peak offered the best views in town, we were set to depart Stanley Market and enjoy dinner and show up there.


Fortunately/Unfortunately no taxis were coming to help us get there, and no bus driver would even talk to us about taking that route.  The taxi stand line just kept building up, and finally we gave up after an hour of trying multiple locations for taxis, and took the bus we came in on back to Central.  Now I also add "fortunately" taxis weren't available since it was particularly cloudy by then and unlikely to see past it for the colorful sky explosion.

Along the harbor, we spotted the ferris wheel, and while thousands of onlookers for the fireworks display were filling up the wide sidewalks, they somehow weren't thinking getting above the crowd!  Score!


DAY 3: We did what ever good HK citizen does for day 3 of CNY...
headed to the races to test our luck!  
There's even a dedicated CNY race...this year it was race #7!  What horse would we bet on but Gurus Dream, of course!  (Guru means "teacher"!)  The Chinese might read into Gurus' loss to tell us that it is not an auspicious start to the year for teachers!  But then again, we're not as superstitious as the Chinese who would.

Feeling particularly Chinese that day, it was about time we do as the Chinese do and partake some DimSum!  Peking Garden back at TST came by recommendation!  Easy to find right outside the Star Ferry entrance in the mall-type building, and certainly worth passing on!

As I mentioned earlier, it's not so rare to find people all over the world with one or two degrees of separation. Indeed, from a Facebook posting I made a day earlier, our friend, Dawn, from Korea realized we were both in HK! A few messages later, and we're meeting up with her, her husband, and co-worker/friend for some live music at the Hard Rock Cafe! It was a great surprise reunion in a land far from our homes.

Our final day in Hong Kong included a lovely send off by the pink dolphins near Lantau!  Truth is, they're not really pink, they're actually white!  Since they're mammals, the blood rushing through their bodies as they move displays a pinkish tone...much like we do when blushing!

Some dolphin watchers return to port sans any sightings.  We think the luck that bypassed us at the track, doubled up this day considering seeing 1 or 2 is "lucky" as told by our tour guides, and we saw at least 10 that hung out all around our boat swimming at the bow, passing underneath, breaching, and even doing flips in the air!  I'd say THAT's an auspicious start to the CNY 2015! :)

There's so much to do and so many interesting things to witness in HK, it'd be easy to return time and time again even when it's not CNY.

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's been a long time but I have not forgotten

So much has happened the past year.... plus. I finished a Masters degree, switch jobs and moved to Jakarta to teach at Jakarta International School and most importantly met someone, fell in love, proposed, got engaged and now planning to get married this summer to my fiance', Trisha.  Seen below glowing as always with her handsome male suitor...ME!

Anyway, enough excuses for not writing. I am sorry and I promise to write more.  And I will start now!!!  This is a post from OUR new blog together.

Add this to your list of blogs to follow. But keep in mind I'll still be wayfaring and writing.  So don't give up on me yet.  I have many more stories to tell and memories to pick out of this aging brain.

So enjoy a clip from Textbook Landing.  Peace Love and Chicken Grease.


Now that we are on our way into the third full week of school if feels much easier to sit down and write.

Here's a little ditty about Murf and Trisha. Two American kids growin' up in the heartland.

Enough of that. I won't continue to try and fit our life into that great John Cougar Mellencamp classic. However, I will try and let you know what has been going on for the past few days and weeks since our last update and it will be easy because there has been a lot of fun things. Have we mentioned how well JIS has taken care of us since we arrived? Well, just in case we have not proven that to you, our faithful readers, we will give another example.
Two Fridays ago there was a big street party over at "Admin Row" where all the top administrators open up their giant homes for a school party and invite all the teachers and families.  The block party starts at 3:30 and rolls smoothly into the night with excellent food, wine, flowing margarita machines and ice cold Heineken on tap. As the twilight moved into evening the party's momentum continued with the electronic sounds of DJ Jroo. (That's what I'm calling him.) Andrew is the son of the Head of School and mixed up some Mad Smooth Beats from the 70's, 80's and 90's with modern vibrations for today's top artists.  (Don't you think I sound like a writer for DJmag?)

This brought everyone out to the street to dance and start  "Gettin' Jiggy With It". (You have to watch this.)  Think back to the last time you were at a block party....... Got it???  Were you in High School?...Junior High?...Elementary?...or was it last year?  Whichever you are pondering all of the above were on the bricks gettin' jiggy with it that night.  One of the highlights of the night was seeing a dance-off between several teachers and students.
These kids were children of teachers who had moves.  They kept calling out the teachers to the middle of the street. Some in groups of three to four and even one-on-one.  It was amazing to see them match move for move. It was one of the most memorable beginning of the year parties we've been to.

This next part is all about me. Sorry honey!!  Sunday night was a hard rockin night.  Along with 18 other guys and girls we rocked it out with James, Kirk, Robert and Lars and the rest of Jakarta's heavy metal rockers that could not wait another minute to see METALLICA take the stage. With head banging and non-stop singing from the juiced Jakarta crowd the boys of Metallica put on a loud energetic show that finished off the Asian tour.  I won't go too in depth with the setlist and happenings of the concert. I will let you know it was one of the best concerts in the recent years that I've been able to see. Here is a link to some videos for you to choose from if you need to get a little Metallica fix. (For sure you have to watch one of these.)

We have been extremely lucky to be around so many great new people.  Everyone has been too hospitable and welcoming to us.  Last week we had 3 birthday parties. The first was with our friend Kim, who I worked with in Tokyo and is in Trisha's department this year. We celebrated her 50th at a Japanese restaurant located in a swanky hotel.  We toasted the night with shochu and fine Japanese sushi, unagi and great new friends.  It was nice to get out in the middle of the week but we paid for it in the morning at 5:30 am when the alarm sounded.  It makes for a long day at work when you start before the crack of dawn. However, finishing at 2:00 in the afternoon for me and 2:40 for Trisha is pretty nice as long as we don't have a meeting. We can't always be that lucky. As the case in many big schools, we have lot's of meetings.  It is just the life we have to get accustomed to here at Jakarta International School. We have Staff, School, PLC, DRE's, BS, BS, BS. Did I mention BS meetings?

When they were all finished and the weekend had started it was off to another MS Math party where the math jokes were kept to a minimum and the food served by Ally and Shawn was at a maximum overload.  Stocked with wine, drinks and beer they put on a spread that included, fresh grilled shrimp,
baked salmon, numerous salads and Ally's "secret recipe" scalloped potatoes that added a little extra love to my handles. Yet, the night was not over there.  Next stop was our beloved Eduardo's Birthday party (pictured here in the middle), who came in new with us this year. We continued the partying theme with mugs of beer from the local dive bar DeHooi.  This place has it all. Beer, food, live music, pool tables, darts, fun people and lot's of smoke.  Everything a bar needs.

Saturday provided us with a much deserved sleep-in. I can't think of the last time we slept in til...9:00. We had some much needed time to catch up on emails and especially time together.  We find that with the move to a new school there are many occasions to get out to mix and mingle with our new colleagues and develop new friendships that will last for the next several years and a lifetime. At some point we will have to actually turn down some of these invites... but not yet. There is just too much fun to be had right now and we sure showed that this weekend with one more bday party.
We made our way out to a nice Indian restaurant to celebrate the birthday of Kate, the first person we met here in Jakarta.  The spicy food just kept coming and the V&T's were hardly empty and always topped with ice and lime.  The night included traditional dancing and even a special showing of two cobras charmed by the magical sounds of the silent flute.  Hard to beat that on a Saturday night out on the town.

Unless its teaching Ani how to make pizza.
I guess next week we will head out to the JIS cabin. Yeah, they have their own cabin that sleeps about 15. Now you know what will be next on the blog.

One last thing and it is super important.  Happy Birthday Mom!!  We are sending you miles and miles of love. I hope you received the gift from Trisha and I. Love you lots!

Take care all and we will see you on the next landing.

Neal and Trisha

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Need to write to you about this place

Hey! It me, Neal. I need to tell my friends and readers sorry for the long delay in writing. Much has happened since my last post. Too much to get into. But this I know. I need to write tonight. I just spent the past 30 minutes reading some old posts. Drunken Kantor Man, The Day My Life Changed and a couple more. They get me thinking back to the times when it is less about work and more about play. So, it is time for some playin'. Let me see if I can take you back to a bar in
Tokyo about 6o years or so back. Back when times where better and cheaper.

In my neighborhood there is a little shop called Kayabara. It is just out of the exit at Kayabacho Eki on the Hibiya Line. My buddy AJ and I had walked around our neighborhood looking for a place to eat and drink. Then... we find this gem.

Well, AJ and I stroll up to this place that is conveniently located behind two parked cars in a driveway. The only way we found it was by the giant hanging red lantern. We walk in and grab a table. Instantly noticing there are only men in the place. Wait! There is one woman and she looks as she has never been here before. AJ grabs a bottle of Kirin Beer for 500 yen, which is pretty damn cheap for a liter of beer. Looking around the bar you can see why there are only men in the place. There is a thick cloud of cigarette smoke hovering above every table. Each table has about 5-8 guys crowed around a small table big enough to hold some small glasses, tiny portions of food and several ashtrays. Coupled with the small yakitori station in the corner where spewing out fumes from chicken fat dripping in the fire as the customers grill their own meat. This is my type of place.

The men are dressed in their standard black jackets, white shirts, black pants, black shoes and colored ties so to show some type of individuality. You know... normal Japanese Businessmen attire. Laughter fills the room as a new member joins the table. Everyone is letting off steam after a long 10 hour day of work. The men tip back the glasses of booze, beer, shochu and sake. Smoke a pack or two and tell lies, stories and jokes. It is a true happiness bar with everything you can want... except women. There is only one.

You see this type of place is not your typical Japanese Izakaya. It is special. It is a traditional Japanese place that has been off the map for decades. Only the good, the bad and the lucky find it. As I said no women are there. That is because they are not allowed. Yeah, that is right. Women can join men but the owner, an oba-chan (grandma), will not allow women groups. She told me 1. they talk too much, 2. complain about the state of the bathrooms, & 3. they do not drink enough. Those seem like good reasons. Right? Oh I failed to mention something very important. This bar is special, wait I said that. This bar is a traditional Japanese place. Oh, I said that too. Oh, I know. It is a coin bar. "Coin bar?", you ask. Yeah, a coin bar.

There is not a bartender, a waiter and for sure not a waitress. To get your drinks you walk up to a coin operated machine that dispenses your choice of three kinds of Shochu, Awamori, one Sake that you can get hot or cold, some Tory's a cheap Japanese whiskey and of course some beer. It cost you 100 Yen for a shot!!! That is basically ONE DOLLAR.

You grab a glass that is on the side of the machine, put it under the spout, drop in a coin and bingo; shochu, awamori, sake, whiskey or beer. Walk to the counter, where the oba-chan is selling food, and grab some ice cubes or water if you need then tilt back like the rest of the boys and enjoy the good times. AJ and I walked out of there filled up with bar food and booze and spent about 1600 yen together. About 16 dollars. We both had a liter of beer, tofo, veggies, meat sticks, 4 awamori and 2 beers. Yeah, 6 drinks each Anyone, want to come see this place? I think I am heading there now.