Isaac and Joy are currently on a road trip with me in Japan. We discuss things on the long drives.
Someone sent me this note allegedly written by someone affected by the recent move by the authorities to ban PMDs from footpaths, a ban that was announced on 4th November 2019 and was effective the next day. It was announced by Minister Lam PMD Min.
The issue of PMDs is a polarizing one, with some calling for a ban, others calling for regulation but not ban, and yet others calling for the authorities to maintain the status quo.
I got my youngest to read the post below out loud. And then my two kids and I had a discussion about it during our long drive, covering topics like:
1. Should PMDs have been allowed in the first place without infrastructure and legislation?
2. Was the PMD issue handled with the right wisdom and speed?
3. The impact the ban has had on livelihoods.
4. The impact PMDs has had on pedestrian safety.
5. The importance of personal financial responsibility.
6. What is the Locus of Control? (People who develop an internal locus of control believe that they are responsible for their own success. Those with an external locus of control believe that external forces, like luck, determine their outcomes.)
7. Should the government help those impacted by this ban and if so, how can it help mitigate things?
8. What other options are there for food delivery employees?
9. Who should take the blame for this fiasco? The government? The errant users? The retailers who imported these devices? The companies who encouraged the use of these devices in their food delivery business?
10. The tradeoffs between working in a job that pays less but has more stability, and working in a job that pays more but has less certainty.
11. The viability, benefits, and risks of the gig economy.
12. The tradeoff between having CPF and not having it.
13. The cost of housing.
I had a good discussion with my teens on this matter. I trust there will be many views here too. Keep it respectful please. Thanks.
“I am an ITE graduate who previously work in office job, it paid me $2,200 every month, no 13th month, no bonus, 3 days MC.
Since Grabfood come along, with my trusty PMD, I earn $3,500 every month.
Now overnight, my PMD is illegal and I cannot use it for daily work.
With my $3,500 salary, I thought it was good time to start family, I can provide for my baby. Combine with my wife $2000 salary, we buy $250,000 BTO in CCK.
Now my income suddenly become zero, if I go back old job, it drop by $1,300 every month, I have baby that need diaper, need milk powder, need infant care, now my expense is more than my income.
Govt ask me to buy certified UL2272 PMD, I support and follow.
Govt ask me be careful while riding on the footpath, I careful. Never hit anyone or get into argument before in my 2 year as PMD rider.
Govt tell me to register PMD, I register.
Govt ask me to have stable proper job, I found one.
Govt ask me to have children, I agree and have kid.
I do everything you ask me to, but you still ban me from doing my job, a good job that pay me well. Now my children childcare fee how? Now their daily expense how? Overnight my salary cut by 30%, how can I be a good father to raise my children responsibly?
I want to be good citizen and help the country by being employ and by having children.
I want to help my country, but now my country don't want to help me.
Tell me what I should do now? With one speech now my income drop so much, if I am irresponsible rider, u penalty me I nothing to say. I am safe delivery rider but I pay price for those YP black sheep.
How I face my wife now, how I tell my children I cannot bring them go out enjoy some family excursion?
Sad to be a loyal Singaporean. I want to be loyal but there is no care for me.
Written by: M Siva, Grabfood PMD rider since 2018”
The Wife and I took a 13-day road trip from the south of Spain to the north, and back again. I reflected on my relationship with my soulmate on this trip.
(Read the full post and see more photographs at brown.exposure.co or view the embedded version below.)
Singtel and HBO sent the wife and me to New York City to watch the gala premiere of Game of Thrones, Final Season, Episode 1. When we first heard from them, I was like, REALLY? We get to fly to watch the long-awaited final season of GoT??? Before ANYONE else on earth?
My wife is an even bigger fan of GoT than I am. And this was MAJOR brownie points. Even my second brother, who is a hardcore fan (he has watched ALL of GoT from Season 1 to 7 at least three times per episode) was jellies. He wanted me to pack him in my suitcase and take him along.
So we packed our bags in a hurry, grabbed the Singtel ReadyRoad SIM Card, and flew to the Big Apple for the Big Event. We visited the huge Iron Throne at 30 Rock and queued to redeem our tickets at the HBO HQ.
You can see how excited we both were. Like little kids off to see the circus. Of course, we had to go to the HBO store to get us some merch. I got my brothers some GoT tees, to share a bit of the excitement.
That very night, we got dressed up and went to Radio City Music Hall for the show. The wife asked, "Are we watching all six episodes of Season 8?"
"Er, no dear. You wish. Only Episode 1. I think the stars want to go home and won't be able to sit through more than six hours at the screening," I said.
A large number of the cast came, and they graced the stage to a standing ovation. It felt like forever that the series began in 2011, and to see the cast from the first season till now, made the hairs of my arm stand.
And the a hush came over the hall and the show began. We laughed, we cheered, we clapped. It was like a reunion with the show that took an almost two-year break from Season 7. And then, it was over.
We walked out of Radio City Music Hall with so many questions. So many feelings. I sent out a live video with my wife, to the fans back home. And then we walked past the red carpet area where the stars walked, as they dismantled the scaffolding. Then we realized we had to wait a few more weeks before we could see the rest of Season 8. Sigh.
Do sign up with Singtel and HBO if you want to catch the rest of the final season of GoT. It is with a mix of anticipation, at the conclusion of a story we have followed for years, and some sadness, that it was all going to end, that we felt as we walked home to our hotel in Broadway.
At least we still had a few nights left in NYC, to see some shows, to walk in Central Park, and to visit the MET before going home. It was one of the best trips the wife and I have ever had in the States. Thanks Singtel and HBO!
Going home is such sweet sorrow. It was such a chore not spilling the beans on what I saw at the gala. But mrbrown is no spoiler of shows. So my lips are sealed. That's what I do: I drink and I know things.
I found and developed a roll of Fujifilm Natura 1600 film I shot with in Tokyo, in 2011, and here is some of my street photography. I have to say, film gives me the feels.
(Read the full post and see more photographs at brown.exposure.co or view the embedded version below.)
When three families travel together, things can get somewhat topsy-turvy.
I share these photos, partly to share the silliness and fun that usually accompany my family vacations, but also to share the tiny miracles that happen on these trips.
This is Family Trip Tiny Miracle #2 (for Miracle #1, I will share that another time). Note Faith posing for the photographs.
She hardly ever does this. We can’t even get her to look at the camera most times. This time, she not only posed when we told her to, she held her poses for quite a long time. She looked like she really enjoyed the Upside Down Museum. You can see a silly smile on her face.
Travel brings all kinds of surprises. Some good. Some bad. But many are good and life-changing.
It’s a small thing to others, maybe. But a 17-year-old young lady with autism who pretended she was holding on to a chair for a photograph: that was like seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World to us.
So, I thought I’d share our little precious moment with you, as we give thanks to God for this tiny miracle.
1. Go to the Budget Airline’s site.
2. Site is down because they are having a sale and the site cannot cope.
3. Come back to the site another day when the sale frenzy is over.
4. Find and book ticket.
5. Next screen: Airline asks you to choose their bundle.
6. Select flight only. Dowan bundle.
7. Next screen: Airline asks you to choose Luggage options. Skip luggage because you are Hand Carry only.
8. Next screen: Airline asks you to choose their overpriced food.
9. Skip food, it’s only a three-hour flight.
10. Next screen: Airline asks you to choose your seats.
11. Spend a few minutes looking for way to skip choosing seats because you don’t want to pay. Finally find the button. Continue without choosing seat. You will chance it because it’s only a three-hour flight.
12. Next screen: Payment Page. You notice your flight price is $20 more than you expected. You begin your CSI.
13. After a few minutes, you realize the extra $20 is the travel insurance. Which was automatically added without you selecting it. And you had to scroll down to find it. You deselect the Insurance option. Warnings of Hellfire and Dire Consequences are shown. You ignore said warnings because you already have your own travel insurance. You deselect the Insurance.
14. You notice a checkbox to get an SMS alert on your flight. It costs $2. You laugh at the sheer audacity of the airline to charge for a stupid SMS.
15. Payment Page again. This time the price of the flight is exactly what you saw when you first booked it. Nothing extra. Nothing more. Nothing less. You choose payment options.
16. Credit Card: $10 to $20 per person per flight.
17. eNETs: $8 per person per flight.
18. Post Office or SAM or 7-Eleven: $5 per person per flight.
19. You choose the cheapest option because you want to save money. Then realize you can’t because that requires you to book 14 days in advance. You can only choose the credit card option.
20. You give up and book a full-service airline out of sheer frustration because it sucks to be nickel-and-dimed, and to have things like travel insurance foisted on you without your knowledge. Also, you realize that often, the full-service airline is only a few bucks more by the time you add the options of a LCC Airline. And why do you have to pay to pay for your ticket???
21. Curl up and cry.
Inspired by this article about a popular local photographer and instagram influencer, Daryl Aiden Yow, whose photos were found to look a lot like other people's, Kim Huat also decided to share his passion for his travel photography.
Kim Huat says he is Singapore's Number One International Travel Influencer and Photographer. He is happy to share his winning game in travel photography and can help you get your Instagram game on point. He spends many hours waiting to make these photos happen!
Kim Huat really really went to this Greece island call Mykonos. He feels like he shot it with a Sony A7RII camera!
Kim Huat spent hours waiting for this moment in Santorini! Then this charbor come and block his view! Chow turtle!
Kim Huat is a son of the beach and loves to wear his sexy beach wear and lie on the beach like those travel babes.
Los Angeles is where Kim Huat goes sunset chasing x.
Faroe Islands got so many houses like Lego Houses! Faroe is faroe faroe away!
Cherry blossom time inside Thailand. Or Japan. Or Taiwan. Kim Huat cannot remember which. Because Kim Huat travels everywhere and is an International Man of Mystery!
When Kim Huat was in New Zealand, he saw the stars. Kim Huat used a Apple Pencil to point at them. It was as if the sky was my blackboard.
Kim Huat went to South Pole and saw these cute penguins! It was so sunny there that he could just wear his favourite t-shirt!
Kim Huat loves the Mehlweg mountain near the town of Marktschellenberg in Bavaria! Such vastness reminds Kim Huat of just how little we are in this world! Do you feel the same?!
Kim Huat turns up the heat in the Sahara desert. His OOTD is on fleek here, because sleeveless is the way to go, when you are in the scorching heat of the desert. Hey, why the camels did not wait for Kim Huat??
Kim Huat can't get enough of Japan, and Shirakawa-Go in winter is his favourite place. Hey kids, why you don't tell Kim Huat where the toilet is?
No place is too far for our intrepid travel influencer. Not even space! Kim Huat is out of this world!
Kim Huat has not just gone as north as Woodlands, he has also seen the Northern Lights! Kim Huat was absolutely awestruck! To quote many Singapore Instagram XMM, the Northern Lights "never fail to disappoint"!
As you can see, Kim Huat is a well-traveled influencer who makes awesome photographs. Just like many Instagram Influencers.
I spent a few days with my younger brother and mom in Hong Kong, a city she loves but has not visited in decades.
It was in the twenties before we came but it became a balmy thirty-four degrees Celsius when we landed.
Not for mother the glitzy and touristy attractions. No, mom sought out the wet markets of Nathan Road, and made us take her to the grungiest, grimiest bits of Hong Kong we could find.
Mom grew up in Chinatown, Singapore, so she was in her element here. We helped to carry her marketing, like dried seafood. If she could cart fresh meat and fish past customs, she would have bought the entire wet market too.
She also insisted on visiting Wing On Department Store and even though the brother and I thought it was very OG, it turned out to be quite well-stocked with decent brands.
We made a side trip to Chueng Chau island, and visited my 堂兄 (paternal cousin) in Discovery Bay.
At Cheung Chau, they were preparing for the Cheung Chau Bun Festival on their Vesak Day. My brother and I purchased matching fedoras because we were vain. It turned out to be the best decision we made, because of the heat and sun.
We took a bumboat to see a temple there, because mom is a temple nerd. Every temple also must see.
Cheung Chau is very pretty and quaint. It is like time stood still here. And you can see a side of Hong Kong that you normally don't see. I was here some years back but it was too cold to swim. This crazy hot summer weather was perfect for a day at the beach.
Back on Hong Kong island, I insisted on taking the tram. It was slow and a corny thing to do, and my brother said he had never taken one before, so I insisted we all try, even though it added 30 minutes to our travel time back to our hotel in Kowloon East. I know, I know, the MTR was faster but I am a tram otaku.
In the end, mom said the ride was ok but "aiyoh so very slow" and "one time is enough". I guess she does not share my love of trams.
On the last day, mom wanted to see The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. In the mad heat and humidity, we climbed the hill. Only to realize it was the wrong temple. It was the Po Fook Ancestral Worship Halls next door.
It was still a lovely view from up there, but down the hill we went, to look for the right trail of Golden Buddhas. We did find it, but halfway up the hill, I decided the heat and exertion would be too much for my 76-year-old mother to reach the top, and declared Exercise Cut.
So we only managed to see One Hundred Buddhas.
It was great for spend time with my younger brother and mom, but next time I’m going to come to Hong Kong in a cooler season. I shall end this post with some photos of the other thing we did a lot of in Hong Kong: stuffing our faces with food.
I spent last week in Chicago, on the invitation of Apple, to check out their new education offerings. The event took place at Lane Tech High School in the Windy City, and we got to see a new entry-level iPad with Pencil support, in addition to the new school-based ecosystem that Apple made to make put Apple back into the classroom again.
Cheaper Chromebooks have made inroads into school environments, so this was a needful move on Apple's part. Besides making the Apple Pencil available for non-Pro iPad users via the cheaper new iPad, the Apple Schoolkit and other school apps aimed to make life easier for teachers to manage their classes, issue handouts, manage grades, and mark scripts digitally.
I will leave it to Kim Huat to give you the overview of the event via this video:
And since iOS 11.3 also came out soon after, here are the four new Animojis on iPhone X:
I had a great time in my short stay in Chicago. The Apple Store at Michigan Avenue is lovely, and I got to partake of the city's deep dish pizza, tacos, and blues music.
I also visited Cloud Gate at Millennium Park, a.k.a. The Bean. And took all the touristy photos one usually takes here. See if you can find me in the first photo above.
It was cold here but I had the right clothes. 0ºC to 2ºC at night, and surprisingly, 8ºC-12ºC during the day on the days I was there. Which is warm by Chicago standards.
The kids have been asking me for a pen-based device to draw and create stuff on. The iPad Pro was too pricey to be given to the kids. And a Wacom tablet would mean being tethered to the iMac at home. This new entry-level iPad with Pencil support came at the right time.
Now if only I can get over the jet lag sooner. Shuttling between Singapore, Austin (for the Ready Player One premiere at SXSW), and Chicago in the space of three weeks really wore me out. I will share the Austin photos soon, but do go watch Ready Player One. It is a fun little movie by Steven Spielberg.
In early January, I visited Tohoku to experience all the best that Iwate and Miyagi prefectures had to offer. I was given missions to complete. From dining, to onsens, to snow activities and more. You can check out my experience there in the link below.
mrbrown Go Tohoku Page: http://tohokusnowexperience.jp/mrbrown-in-tohoku/dj_tohoku/
This is the introduction to my journey.
My first mission was to experience the culture. And I did that in an onsen while overlooking some of the best views ever! And also checked out Geibikei in Iwate, one of the most beautiful gorges in Japan!
Then check out Mission 2, where I get to play in the snow of Appi resort and entered Chusonji Temple and Motsuji Temple, filled with centuries of history.
My legendary feat of consuming all those bowls of Wanko Soba in Morioka is also in this video. I really ate all the bowls you see in the video. No editing tricks were used. I thought it was going to be just for show, and I would be asked to eat a few bowls only, but they kept refilling my bowl and kept on filming.
In Mission 3, I was made to try the gourmet delights of the region, and I did not resist! The beef, oh my goodness, the beef. And the sake!
And no visit to Miyagi is complete without a boat ride around the Matsushima Bay.
I also visited Sendai Castle, to see the famous statue of the first daimyo of Sendai Domain, Date Masamune. You can see Sendai's cityscape from here too.
Do watch the videos of all the other folks from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand, who also visited Tohoku too.
As for me, you know it won't be my last time. I will return!
This has been my home for the last few days in Porto. Yes, I chose to stay in a hostel. I think I'm the oldest fella in this hostel. I came by train from Lisbon, where I attended the IFA Global Press Conference. Check out my review of the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset that can record 360° sound, on YouTube.
I've got two power sockets to charge my myriad of tech gear, a small light and two small shelves for my knickknacks. And a big drawer below to hold my Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30 carry-on and Synapse 19 daypack. I'm a happy camper.
When I find the time between walking tours and hanging out at the laundromat waiting for my clothes to be washed and dried, I'll share more stories about sleeping in a bunk bed with other folks in the same room, at my non-millennial age.
Now I'm busy sitting in the public lounge area watching Season 2 of The Expanse, one of the best science-fiction tv shoes in a while.
I'm on a road trip with mom through South Island, New Zealand.
It's not our first trip together. Among other trips, Mom and I have done Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen in Surabaya, trained our way from Tokyo to Hokkaido and trudged through lovely Japanese snow (including our favorite town of Higashikawa) and now we driving though the south of New Zealand.
From a very young age, my two younger brothers and I have been travelling with my parents and we learned to do it without joining a tour. Pa was airline staff and we got free tickets yearly but hotels and the rest were not free. So the only way to do it affordably was to rent a car and drive the brood through places like the islands of Hawaii (we covered pretty much all the islands) and the Grand Canyon.
And to save more money, we stayed in dodgy motels, or apartments with kitchenettes so that mom could cook, instead of us eating expensive overseas food (the US dollar was three Singapore dollars in the old days, and one Euro was more than SGD2).
There was a no-popcorn rule when we went to Disneyland as kids. We didn't understand why back then but look, a tub of that stuff was USD10. Which was SGD30. Which was a small fortune in the 1970s and 1980s. So, no popcorn. And meals were Mom's fried rice in a Tupperware, freshly cooked that morning in the hotel room with a Sanyo electric hotplate cooker.
This was the time before GPS and the Internet, mind you. So my old man drove, and my mom navigated the American continent or the Australian Outback with paper maps, and a lot of arguing. The entire family all developed the ability to adapt. After all, you can't google your way through your travel problems, or book a flight or a hotel room with your phone in those days.
Travelling solo with my mother in the recent years is still as fun as travelling with my parents and brothers back then. She is 75 years old now, and here are some random things I learned travelling with her.
1. Always be prepared for sudden toilet breaks. Old people need frequent toilet breaks. Myself included.
2. Always pack random food items. I'm an ultralight traveller and refuse to overpack. But I have to say, my mother's stash of 2-in-1 coffee and cup noodles were lifesavers when we were too tired to go out and eat.
3. You are never too old to play with ducks.
4. Destinations are just points between which you stop for New Zealand flat whites.
5. It's not where you go, it's who you go with. I am blessed to have a mother who is an awesome traveller. Traveller, not tourist.
6. Hotels or motels must have a television. No TV? Minus four stars. TVs provide ambient sound as you go about your business. And also become a source of shared entertainment as you both try to answer the questions on quiz shows together. Or laugh at local cop shows showing the mild crimes that highway cops deal with.
7. You can talk to any stranger. Mother has the amazing ability to befriend anyone on the street. Be it singers at the Oamaru Sunday Farmers' Market, baristas in a coffee shop, or an elderly German couple who are on a seven-week camper van road trip through New Zealand. Or birds. I suspect that is where I get it from, because I talk to strangers on Twitter and my Facebook all the time.
8. Always ensure you've downloaded your Oldies Spotify playlist before embarking on your next long road journey, so you can both sing along to Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. And reminisce about the singers and songs my late father loved.
9. Don't let Mom enter a supermarket. She will buy enough to last you two zombie apocalypses.
10. Do let Mom enter a supermarket. And let her buy what she wants. Because she know how to buy the best fruits, and snacks, and breakfast items at the best price. And you'll be thanking her when you tuck into the ham and cheese sandwich in the morning.
11. Your iPhone 7 Plus may be able to pull down travel and map info on the fly, but Mom's National-Library-borrowed Lonely Planet dead tree edition works without batteries or the internet. And works even when you're out at Milford Sound with no mobile coverage (shame on you, Vodafone).
12. Don’t ask your mother where small jars of jam, small cakes of butter, and the random banana come from. Just eat.
13. You never know when you might need these bottles of branded hotel-sized shampoo, conditioner, body gel and body lotion. Good for the kids when they go swimming back home. Good for the crappy hotels you may stay in, down the road, that may provide lousy unbranded toiletries. You might even want to start a shop with the collection one day.
14. She makes jokes about your snoring drowning out the TV she is watching at night. You make jokes about her morning farts.
15. “This looks like a nice little town on the map.” usually results in a drive through some off-road countryside, across several rivers, that leads to a town with just one building. Or the edge of Paradise.
16. You learn where you picked up the travel habit of washing your underwear and hanging them wherever there is a place to hang something.
17. Just when you think she has filled her one luggage, she whips out a folding bag made of the indestructible China/Thai plastic/cardboard that can take about 45 litres of shopping.
18. Travel with your parents while they are still mobile. They won’t be able to travel forever. Age, and two fractures in the ankle and knee from hiking in Vietnam a few years ago, can slow a mother down. Even the strongest trees grow old.
19. When she decides she really wants to have Indian food in the middle of nowhere in South Island, she will find it. And it will be worth the search somehow. That was some yummy Chicken Madras and Chicken Tikka Masala, man.
20. You can take the Geography and Art teacher out of the school but you can’t take the Geography and Art teacher out of your mother. And you appreciate the geography and beauty of New Zealand even more in her company.
21. It is ok to drive up the steepest road in the world, and acknowledge that your old knees aren't going to take you up Baldwin Street.
22. And above all, stay curious, open and always willing to see and learn new things.
[All images made by me, mostly with a Panasonic Lumix GH5 and Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm F2.8-4 lens, a Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 II lens, and an iPhone 7 Plus sometimes.]
The wife and I just came back from a trip to Japan. I can hear you all saying, “AGAIN?”
I don’t blame you. Last year alone, I think I was there almost every other month. I enjoy visiting Japan too much and never tire of returning.
This time, it was a special trip because we have not traveled together since 2012. And the wife has not been to Japan since 2010. Most of our trips together have been with the family and I thought it was time for some We Time. Also, it is to celebrate twenty years of marriage.
There is a contest at the end of this post where you can win a free trip to Japan! Link: Japan Dreaming Contest
I took charge of the trip and planned it all myself. I normally travel solo, but including the wife this time was not very different. I just had to make sure the itinerary did not include too long a train journey. When I travel solo, I tend to take these long and ridiculous train and ship journeys which I enjoy. But for the wife, I thought I would slow the pace down a little. But my itineary applies to solo travelers too. In fact, if I did the journey myself, this would probably be my path.
I bought us a JR East Tohoku Area Pass, which only costs ¥19,000 (about SGD240) if you buy it in Singapore or ¥20,000 if you buy it in Japan itself. The pass allows you to have unlimited travel on JR Shinkansen and limited express trains, within the Kanto and Tohoku regions, for any five days of your choice within a 14-day period.
Here is what that means. You can use the JR East Tohoku Area Pass for unlimited JR train travel within the region specified for five full days, but the days don’t have to be consecutive. This is unlike a 7-Day JR Pass, where you have seven consecutive days of unlimited travel but throughout Japan.
This means we could use one day to travel long distances, then stay in one city or town for two to three days, then use it again to travel to the next place, up to five times in total within the 14-day period.
It is very good for solo travel or couple travel, especially if you plan your destinations in advance.
Where did we go in our 9 days there? We started by heading straight to Karuizawa when we landed in Tokyo. That is one day of the JR East Tohoku Area Pass used. We spent two nights in Karuizawa, skiing and shopping at the outlet mall, and visiting the sights like Kumoba-ike or Swan Lake Pond.
Then we departed Karuizawa and headed for Nikko. The second day of five-day pass used. We stayed two nights in Nikko too, choosing to visit Chuzenji Lake and Kegon Falls by bus, and then the UNESCO shrines and temples. We tried to go to the Akechidaira Ropeway too, but it was closed due to high winds. Ah well, it was still a nice little visit there and the view from the ropeway station was also lovely.
People tend to make Nikko a day trip from Tokyo but I find it a bit rushed. Spending two to three days just exploring the area is way more pleasant.
Nikko, we used Day 3 of our five-day pass to head to Yamagata Station. Instead of checking into our hotel near Yamagata Station, we went all the way to Oishida Station. It is about four stops from Yamagata Station. Since this is part of our day of unlimited travel, we wanted to maximise our passes. We went to Oishida Station because I wanted to show the wife Ginzan Onsen. It is a lovely little onsen town where the tv drama Oshin was shot. The town used to be a silver mine area, but it is now a very pretty hot spring town in the mountains of Yamagata. In winter, the snow-covered old buildings make you feel like you have gone back in time.
We caught the bus from Ginzan Onsen back to Oishida Station and then back to Yamagata Station by evening. This was one of the longest journeys of our trip: Nikko to Oishida, then Ginzan Onsen by bus, then back from Ginzan Onsen by bus, then Oishida to Yamagata. All in one day. We really made the pass worthwhile.
While in Yamagata, we also spent a full day in Mount Zao, the famous ski and onsen mountain resort. We bought a special pass that covered the bus ride to Mount Zao from Yamagata Station, and the return journey on the ropeway. If the weather is not too snowy, you can see the famous “Snow Monsters” on the slopes. And if you like, you can also ski there. We just enjoyed the scenery this time, since we already skied in Karuizawa.
We did not use the JR East Tohoku Area Pass for our day at Mount Zao. There was no need to.
We departed Yamagata for Sendai with the fourth day of our five-day pass. Again, we did not check into our Sendai hotel first but used our pass to head for Geibikei in Iwate. About a kilometre from Geibikei Station is Geibi Gorge, where you can take a 90-minute boat ride on the waters. The boatman (or boat-woman) even sings folk songs, and you can order a meal to dine onboard during certain seasons.
The Gorge is beautiful in autumn, with the red and orange foliage. But I am also very partial to the winter season, when the trees and ground are covered in snow.
After Geibikei, we only had two days left of our trip. I was saving the last day of our five-day pass to return to Tokyo on the last day from Sendai. So we spend the second-last day of our trip visiting Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market. We just took a short train ride (using the SUICA, their stored-value card like our ez-link or FlashPay card) to Higashi Shiogama Station from Sendai, and walked about 15 minutes. In the winter, there are way less people visiting, so we thought the market was closed. But it was humming with customers.
You can shop for fresh fish and seafood to cook back home or, in our case, just buy all the sashimi we like from the fishmongers, then go to the dining corner to order a ¥300 set of rice and miso soup. DIY Sashimi Donburi! A meal like that would cost you way more in Tokyo, so I think it is totally worth visiting port where they have one of the largest fresh tuna catches in Japan.
After a hearty meal at Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market, we took another short train ride to spend the rest of our day at Matsushima Bay. We took a cruise around the bay and also walked to Fukuura Island, which is connected to the mainland by a 252-metre-long bridge.
Our last day in Japan came too soon. We set off from Sendai early so that we could do some shopping in Akihabara, mostly for our kids. And my wife got addicted to gachapon, the machines where you put coins into, and turn the knob for some cute little collectible. The wife wanted to collect the cup-clinging office lady figurine called Koppu no Fuchiko. I ended up changing my notes for many many ¥100 coins to fuel the wife’s gachapon needs.
Our JR East Tohoku Area Pass covered our final day journey from Sendai to Tokyo, and also from Tokyo to Narita airport. So you see, with a little planning, you can really see Japan for quite a reasonable sum of money. And enjoy seeing the views from the Shinkansen and regular trains as they travel through the snow-covered countryside.
Whether you try my itinerary as a solo traveler or as a couple, I think you will enjoy it as much as we did. If you are interested, I have created a simple itinerary at the JAPAN by Japan site.
There is a Japan Dreaming contest going on at JAPAN by Japan, a site where Japanese locals share their favourite attractions. To win a pair of return tickets and three Canon cameras. Simply sign up and create a travel wish list, also known as a Wanderlist, Add five attractions to your Wanderlist and share it on your Facebook for a chance to win.
Quickly go and submit your entries to win! Gambatte!
Contest details are here: https://japanbyjapan.com/contest?cid=soc_blog_japan-dreaming_14022017_mr-brown
It is very simple:
1, Go to contest page and click on 'Create button'
2. Sign up as a member (free) if not already one.
3. Create wanderlist by clicking on 'Create' button on contest page.
4. Add 5 attractions to Wanderlist.
5. Submit and share.
May you win the contest and visit one of my favorite countries in the world!
Let me tell you a sad story about my quest to find the right wireless earbuds (don't worry, got happy ending one).
It all began when I decided I didn't want wires anymore. I can hear the audiophiles amongst you gasp. Surely he jests, you say. Wired headphones and earphones provide the best sound!
I agree. I have many headphones and earphones that I love, that come with wires. But this was 2016, and I felt it was time to cut the cord. At first, I used wireless cans, the kind that went over the ears. It was great, I was no longer getting my wires yanked by people on the crowded train or bus. The sound of those headphones were also decent. But they were bulky and heavy, and when I traveled, I didn't want to pack them along.
Then I found some wireless earphones for sale that had decent sound, and I bought them. These were the kind that had a wire connecting the two buds but no wire to your audio jack. You charge them via the tiny micro-USB port on the earphones and the battery life was decent. I got a pair of Jaybirds like that. It sounded good, it was lightweight, it was wireless, and I was happy.
For a week.
Only a week? Yes, because soon after, I LOST that pair of wireless earphones on the bus. How did I lose a $200 pair of wireless earphones, you ask? Simple. When I was talking to someone, I took them off and let them hang around my neck. Then I FORGOT I had them around my neck, and bent down to pick up something or put on my sweater on the bus. And yes, you guessed it, they fell from my neck and I didn't know it.
Somewhere out there, there is a happy person wearing my pair of Jaybird X2s.
So I bought another pair of wireless earphones, this time, a pair of Under Armor ones. The fit was a bit dodgy but it sounded good, it was lightweight, it was wireless, and I was happy.
For a week.
YES. I LOST MY SECOND PAIR OF WIRELESS EARBUDS.
Same way. Except I lost them in the United States of America. Somewhere in New York state. Hung them around my neck. In a park. Forgot about them. Lost them.
This wireless earphones thing was getting costly.
Then the Erato Apollo 7 came along. I was asked to try them. I was apprehensive. These are expensive earphones. Will I like them? Will I lose them? Where is the wire connecting the two earbuds? They looked like two bullets.
I took them out the their aluminium case, that also acts like a charger. I paired them to my iPhone 7 Plus (yes, the one without the headphone jack). And I listened to them.
Wow. The sound. Just wow.
I took out the silicone tips and swapped them for the supplied Comply tips. These are softer and stickier tips that hug your ear canal tighter. WOW! Better isolation and better bass!
There were other accessories in the box, like wings that secure the earbuds better, for running, but I was happy with the fit of the Erato Apollo 7 with just the Comply tips alone. 4 grams only, you hardly feel the weight.
I took them on a few trips, like my Taiwan one. I was on a plane, in a hot air balloon, in a bullet train for that trip.
I used them every day, for music from Spotify, for phone calls, for watching movies on my iPad Pro. Everything worked nicely with the Eratos. The battery life is 3 hours, and then you pop them into the case and charge them. The case can charge them for another two times, for a total of nine hours of use.
At night, in the hotel, I would plug a micro-USB cable into the case and charge the case and the earphones together, ready for another day out.
The Bluetooth 4.1 connection means it supports the latest AAC, SBC, and aptX standards. The omnidirectional microphone is very clear during video and voice calls. And did I mention they are WATERPROOF?
I also like the little button on each earbud that lets me pause music, skip songs, control the volume, and talk to Siri.
If I have one complaint about the Eratos, it would be battery life. Most people won't need more than 3 hours at a time, really. But I was bingeing on the Daredevil and Luke Cage tv series and was watching more many many hours. So my use case is a little extreme.
And oh, did I lose them? So far, so good. Because there is no wire between the two earbuds, you don't hang them around your neck and forget they are there. I usually took them out and put them in the case when I wasn't using them. The case fits into my pocket easily, without any bulk. So there is no reason not to carry it on me. Take out the earbud, put it in the case, put case in pocket. Problem solved.
I even used them in the National Museum of Taiwan Literature located in Tainan. I downloaded their app and I was listening to the audio descriptions on my iPhone with my Erato Apollo 7 earphones on.
You can say I am now a happy camper, with my Erato Apollo 7 earphones in my backpack. They are going to be in the daily work backpack for the commute to work, and also in my travel packing list from now on.
I also used them to Facetime video call the wife when I was overseas. The only problem is, she saw me wearing the earphones during the call, and said, "Eh? Those wireless earphones look cool. Do they sound good?"
You can check out the Erato Apollo 7 at the Tat Chuan website. Mine are the Gold ones. I think gold is very chio, The Rose Gold ones are also nice.