Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ten+ Since Taiwan

It's been over ten years since I've visited Taiwan, where all but one relative (who's on the other side of the country) lives.  I had just graduated from High School, the last time I came.  Since I was in Japan and so close, it would've been a pity not to make a stop by, especially as relatives are getting older.  I had considered it on previous trips to Japan, even considering making a quick weekend trip of it... it would've been worth it to me, just to see them for a few hours.

I arrived late Friday, past midnight, and I took the taxi to my mom's parents' house.  My mom happened to be visiting, too.  I ended up sleeping in the next morning.  My first activity was to visit the open-air market with my mom.  We passed by the  house where she grew up, and the alley in which she played when she was a kid. 

My 2 cousins (who were small last time I was here) visited, with the older one's girlfriend, and their cat.

And we went geocaching that night!  To get my first in Taiwan. My cousin actually found it.

The next day, we went to the Grand Hotel in Taipei, for a set menu lunch.

And a chef came to cut up a sweet tofu "flower" dessert.

Afterwards, we got a private tour of the Head-of-State Banquet Room and the Emergency Escape Tunnel for VIPs.

From the outside of the hotel, you could get a good view of the city, including Taipei 101, which used to be the World's Tallest Building.

Then, we went to Taipei 101.  We didn't go to the top, but we browsed the shopping mall on the lower levels, and also looked at sculptures around the area, including a promo for the new Angry Birds movie.

Then, we went to a popular street to get some Taiwan specialty foods.  Mango snow dessert, and Beef Noodle Soup.


Monday, May 16:
After work, I went to the elementary school where my mom went, and where my cousins also went, for a track session.  It was an itty bitty 200m track, so the turns were tight and frequent.  It was good to get in a bit, though, and I certainly worked myself hard.  2.9 in 24:30 (estimated distance.... I hope it's really more), 8:27 average.  I tried to stick to the outer lane as much as possible, to maximize the distance and to make the turns less tight.  

The workout: 4 lap warmup (2:25, 2:23 per 2 loops).  Then, sprint 1 lap, jog 1 lap.  Splits per 2 laps: 2:14, 2:03, 2:05, 2:08, 2:10, 2:12, 2:14, 2:14, 2:17.  Could've gone on, but had to use the restroom, so called it a day.

Tuesday, wished I could've run again, but I went to visit my dad's mom, after work.

She's fun/funny... it's fun to imaging what it would be like, if you were the same age as your mom or grandma, and what it would be like if you were friends instead of directly related.  

Got a geocache while there, too, at a Go-playing pavillion in a park - a pretty Taiwan-specific geocaching experience!

I went out to dinner with my uncle and his family, too, at a famous Michelin-starred chain restaurant for traditional foods.  

Friday night, went to the night market with my mom.  Night markets have street food, vendors selling clothes and other random things, and kids' games.

(stinky tofu... mmm)

Saturday, May 21:
Got in my second run in Taiwan.  Intervals, this time in a parking lot that was closer to home, but also slightly larger than the elementary school's 200m track.... it was maybe 300m per loop (I used 212 as the estimated distance of the other track).  3.2 in 25:57, 8:07 average.  4 lap warmup in 6:20.  Then, 4-lap splits (1 lap sprint, 1 lap jog, repeat) of 4:58, 4:56, 4:54, 4:47.  Wasn't very long of a workout, but every little bit helps.  I went clockwise, instead of counter-clockwise, to try to balance out the strain placed on my right side during the previous track session.

Sunday, I went to the trampoline park with my cousin and his GF.

(He's pretty awesome)

I ended up staying a week longer than originally planned, which was great, because I got to spend more time with my relatives.

Tuesday, May 24:
Did another run at the elementary school.  It felt good, more controlled than the first time.  I made it 4 212m laps farther than last time, too.  3.2 in 27:44, 8:40 average.  First 4 laps in 5:22 as a warmup.  Then, 10x 1 lap on, 1 lap off, with 4-lap splits of 4:27, 4:26, 4:29, 4:25, 4:34.  I really needed this run, to de-stress from the workday.

Wednesday, May 25:
50 min strength session at my grandma's.  

The night before I left Taiwan, I watched some old home videos from about 24 years ago, with my grandpa.

 (My sister was so cute)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Japan : Grand Finale (May 1-13)

I get an odd feeling when I visit a place for what I expect will be the last time, at least the last time for a long time.  I felt it first in Argentina, where I had my first international business trip and went maybe three other times as a part of that project.  Although in the case of Argentina, I ended up going back a few years later for a different project (which also had a series of visits), and I got the nostalgic special feeling of coming back home to old stomping grounds. I feel like I saw pretty much everything I had wanted to see in Buenos Aires, although there are several other regions in that vast country which would be worth exploring one day.  Patagonia tops the list, but I've also heard good things about Salta (desert-like) and Malbec (producers of my favorite wine).  Then again, the US is so vast and has an incredible spectrum of diverse places to explore, too.  Hmm, the world awaits.

Anyway, this was the last "Go-Live" visit for Japan.  Time to see what all the work done in the preceding year would yield.  Fortunately, it wasn't a sudden start, like it normally is, so we got to gradually ramp up. The first week in May this year was "Golden Week" in Japan, a series of three national holidays that were scheduled mid-week, meaning a lot of people were off on Monday and Friday, too.  Not so with us, as we had to prep for the following week. 

Thursday, May 5:
But, it did mean that I could squeeze in a run at the Imperial Palace again, at 5am.  I ran there from my hotel, did 3 loops, then went back, for 11.2 mi in 1:40:28, 8:58 average.  Not many people or traffic, due to the early start, plus the holiday.  I knew I was out of shape, so i just chugged through to try to salvage some fitness and maybe hold onto it for a bit longer.  Splits> 37:43 to the palace plus the first loop, 27:16 second loop, 26:54 third loop, 8:35 back to the hotel. I was tired at first during the work morning,b but it got better later on.

Saturday, May 7:
Strength session in the hotel room at 7am.  550 crunches/side, 2:30 plank barely held it, 100/190 adductor/abductor leg lifts, 90s 6 inches, 80+90 single-leg squats, 35 tricep dips, 70-55 clam, 110s side planks, 25 military pushups, 65 normal double-leg squats.  Don't be impressed by the numbers.  I don't do the full range of motion.  It still feels like I'm doing something, though, and I get a bit of cardio in the process. 

Later that day (and again the next day), I went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.  The observation decks are only half the height of those of the Sky Tree, and I haven't been to the top of Sky Tree to compare, but to me, it was still good, and you get the benefit of seeing Sky Tree, rather than being in it.

Here's the building itself:

I kind of Jeally-beared the weekend and didn't do much again... I guess I was tired, maybe?  I don't know.  Maybe one day I'll wish that I had done more while I was there. 

Thursday, May 12:
I woke at 4:15 that morning to squeeze in another run before work, back at the Imperial Palace.  11.2 mi in 1:38:18, finished by 6:05ish.  Splits> 9:34 to the palace, 26:46 first loop, 26:19 second loop, 26:38 third loop, 8:59 back tot he hotel.  I was afraid that I might've forgotten how to run, going into this, but it wasn't that bad.  May sound crazy, I know.  I normally run 3x/week, but going to 1x/week feels like a huge difference to my body.  Little blood flow, little movement and muscle activation.  Now that I was really familiar with the course, having racked up many loops across the trips by now, I could really zone out this time and let my mind wander.

Friday was my last day there (although almost everyone else, who had come in a week after I had, would be staying).  The team all came out to send me off at the elevators, and it was so heart-warming.  It made me already miss being there with them. 

I didn't get to climb Fuji, but I did get to see it again on one of the days, when I was visiting a plant.  I didn't take a picture in the morning when I saw it, and by the time I had gone back down to take a picture in the afternoon, it had already faded into the clouds.  The climbing season doesn't start until July, anyway, but maybe one day...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Melbourne 2016 : Carpe Noctem

Australia has been on my bucket list of places to visit, and I had the opportunity to go for a week for work.  I wish I could've taken off some time to be able to see more of it, but work's on a tight timeline right now.

I arrived on Sunday and tried to make the most of it.  Picked up some geocaches along the Yarra River, which runs through the southern side of the city's center.

(Love good cammo)
(Grabbed this one off of a ledge under the bridge)

Saw some cool things along the way...

My first official stop was the NGV Australia Ian Potter museum for Australian Art.

 (Aboriginal art)

 (Stylized Melbourne)


Next, I went to a Thai food place.  I got soup that might've been made of pure pureed peppers... it was so painful to eat, but I downed maybe 2/3 of it, with probably a 5:1 ratio of water to soup.  I was so full of water by the end of it.

Visited an old Gaol (jail) next.  It reminded me a bit of Alcatraz.

 Then took a look at the Royal Exhibition building and Lygon Street, where I stopped for Italian desserts.


Then, I went back to the Yarra River to watch pyrotechnics that they do on the hour each night.

I went out to a Rugby match on one night:

Got in a single run on Thursday night, for 5 mi in 41:21, 8:16 pace, 2 degrees of incline.  Should've run more and taken advantage of the treadmill when I could.  Oh well.  Man, my body has been under a lot of stress and work and odd sleep and travel.  My running's never been this slack in like 6 hours.  Oh well, work's gotta come first.  Work makes the running and travel possible.

Got in a couple of other geocaches, one of which was a letterbox, giving me a new stamp from another country!

Got in an Australian Rules football game on Friday night:

Even after watching almost 2 hours of it, I still can't figure out what the rules are supposed to be.  They throw, punt, bounce, hot-potato the ball in unpredictable ways.  Rugby was more straightforward, with them having like 6 tackles to get the ball to the goal, with only being able to do backwards passes and forward runs, with lots of wrestling along the way.  In AFL, they were jumping all around, very little wrestling, and super acrobatic in their changing of directions and moving the ball all around in all kinds of ways.

Had to work a full day plus partial night on Saturday, but a local colleague had given me a tip on where I could find penguins in the city.  The most popular time to see them is just after sunset, but after finishing my last meeting at 9pm, I decided to give it a go.  Even if I didn't find them, it would be a good adventure just to try.  I went to St. Kilda by tram, met some fishermen on the pier, who pointed me the way (which was actually just down the pier).  And there they were!  They were hard to see, since it's not good for them to have photos with flash.  Red lights are recommended, to protect them.  They were on the rocks, hiding in the gaps and hanging out on some of the rocks, and unless you had a light, you wouldn't realize that some of them were there.  I stayed for a couple of hours.

This left me about 30 minutes to sleep before I had to speed-pack and head out to the airport at 3am.

Carpe Noctem.

If I ever come back, I want to see:
- Kangaroos and other animals
- The 12 Apostles (rock formations)