Where it all begins …

This is a visit to the birth place of my passion of baking and love of software development . Before moving to Vancouver, I spent F1 to F3 (similar to grade 7 – 9 in North American system) in one of the oldest all girls school in Hong Kong: Ying Wa Girls School(英華女校). Experience from Ying Wa has fundamentally shaped my life.

I can still vividly remember in the cookery class kitchen where I saw eggs turned into pale fluffy batter and baked into delicious sponge cake.  The transformation was magical and I was hooked on baking ever since that sight!  I was one of those geek who joined computer club and spending my after school hours sitting in front computer (Apple II ;-).   It was fascinating to write some “for loops” with some “if.. then .. else” and see diagrams displayed on mono colour screen.   One day when I was walking pass connecting corridor between the lower and upper building, I looked at career bulletin board which has posting about jobs in computer. At that very moment, I was determinated that I have to be a programmer (and I was only in F1 – grade 7)!  I still feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to study in Ying Wa. This place has brought me so much good memory and also dearest life long friends.

This memorable building will soon be torn down.  I am sad but I know I should not feel too sad because it is all for the best.  There will be bigger and better campus for future Ying Wa Girls.

P.S. Specials thanks to Ms. Leung (from school office) who kindly let me visit the school and show me around to revisit this wonderful campus for one last time.

Click on the map to see how I “urban trekked” back to Ying Wa that day!


India Trip Planning Site Update Progress

I am pretty happy with progress so far after three weeks setting up my wordpress.org site in my home server.  I need something interesting to motivate myself to get more prepared with my up coming to to Indian & Nepal by the end of year.

Here is the site: http://india2011.aleung.ca

v0.1 – 2011-08-07: initial draft – installed apache, MySQL, PHP and wordpress.org.  wordpess.org installation is indeed very simple.  There was a little problem setting the redirect public link to work properly but I could easily find the answer from quick google searches.

v0.1 - initial draft

v0.1 - initial draft

v0.2 – 2011-08-14: added expense tracker after I get my first big trip related credit card monthly statement. Really need to track this expense closely to make sure I don’t easily go over budget. The way I do is pretty simple and fun. I am a simple Google spreadsheet to keep track of the spending and show the data visually using Google visualization to compare latest spending with my budget expense range with very easy to read gauge. The bar char on the side is nice and quick way to see the breakdown.

v0.2 - Expense Tracker  created with Google Visualization

v0.2 - Expense Tracker created with Google Visualization

v0.3 – 2011-08-21: added preparation page, shared button and count down widget. Finally made myself read through pages of preparation written in Chinese.  After understanding those and  research a bit, I put together a page that I don’t mind to read in detail

v0.3 - added preparation, count down & share buttons

v0.3 - added preparation, count down & share buttons

The feature I love the most has to be  the header pictures from 2008 Nepal trip!

First Day of Baby Trekking in Annapurna Region

First Day of Baby Trekking in Annapurna Region

Fish Tail mountain (Macchapucchre)

Fish Tail mountain (Macchapucchre)

Rice Paddy Field

Rice Paddy Field

Soft Trekker Buddies

Soft Trekker Buddies

Soft Trekker Breakfast with Most Amazing View

Soft Trekker Breakfast with Most Amazing View

Europe Hopping 2010 Tripline

I have been back from this Hoppy Europe trip for almost a year and I have finally find the perfect way to showcase my totally 4 weeks trip to Europe.  Check out the following map created by Tripline.  Click on to map access flash playable version which flies through all the cities I have visited along with short slide show of pictures for each city.
Putting together my map and importing Facebook and Picasa pictures is so simple.  The end result is really amazingly cool  Before tripline, I have been spending a lot of effort on my Google Site(Europe Hopping 2010) the end result is no where close to tirpline.  I still like Europe Hopping 2010 for planning and gathering trip idea because of the flexibly to request for input.  Tripline is definitely perfect for sharing any trip.  I will slowly and gradually enter all my trips into tripline.

Day 5: Suddenly Kagoshima

So far I have been following my originally planned schedule (which has never happened before).   The sun was shinning very bright in my room at 6-ish, so it is hard to sleep any longer.   I went down for my having my rice ball + miso soup breakfast and there was a big group of high school kids.  Looked they were getting ready kind kind of ball tournament game.  The hotel I was staying in was in Higashi-Hiroshima.  It has nothing but the shinkansen train station,  this hotel and a 7-eleven.  It is very nice and comfortable, but it is too far away and you have to time the train schedule well.  It is better to spend a bit more to stay in the main city Hiroshima.

Enough about that, but the location is very likely the reason why I suddenly changed my plan to went all the way South to Kagoshima.  After the breakfast, I walked to the train station and just missed my train by a few minutes (saw it leaving the station as I walked into the station).  I waited inside the enclosed waiting room for a few minutes and finding too stuffy to stay inside.  It was so comfortable outside, warm yet still breezy.   Why would anyone want to sit inside that stuffy waiting room?!  Ha! I finally find out why when faster Nozomi (のぞみ) passed by.  It was so loud!  Still I enjoyed sitting outside a lot more.

Anyway, the extra waiting gave me more time to think do I really want to follow my original schedule to Miyajima.  It was Sunday, likely a time a lot of local would also be visiting that place.  Going to crowded place only take a picture of the floating torii?!  Couldn’t make up my mind, so still thinking of that while getting on a train.  After a sitting down for a while, all of a sudden I felt really sleepy and the idea of spending the day sleeping inside the comforty seat seems just too appealing.  So I suddenly changed my mind and take 3.5 hours ride going all the way south to Kagaoshima.  Yes, the main reason.. I want a day of doing “nothing” so, I sleep in train and relax for most of the day.  That is likely the benefit of solo travel.  You can all of sudden decide to do something really ridiculous and not worry about affecting other.

Even the actual time I could spend in Kagoshima was about 3 hours.  I enjoyed every single second of it.  The streets were much wider and the weather was noticeably warm and a bit more humid.  Because of the popular NHK period drama – Atsuhime (篤姫), Kogashima , which was the birth place of that wife of a shogun at the end of Edo period, has become very popular sight-seeing city.  Honestly, that drama was a bit too long and boring, but overall, still worth watching for the magnificent clothes and setting.    Because of that drama, my primary focus of that city is  Meiji Restoration museum. As soon as I got off from Shinkansen in Chuo-Kagoshima, I went to get some map and travel tip in tourist office.  Unfortunately the lady helping me did not speak much English so I really only got a map and basic direction how to get to  museum.  I walked for 15 minutes (without getting lost at all =) and found the museum.  There was a lot of interesting interactive display.  There was even role playing game but unfortunately that’s Japanese only.  I am probably one of those nerdy kid, but I would love to have a place like that to learn about the history of a country.  I did not have much time left after the museum, so I hopped on the a bus route for tourist.  The seat was very comfortable and the best feature is the detail Japanese and English description of each stop.  It was very helpful for considering where to go and what to see.  There are so many place that I would like to stop by and see more if I would have more time.

OK! I have decided, my next trip to Japan will definitely focus on Kyushu and if possible, taking one of the slow ferry to see Okinawa!

Oh yeah.. dinner with “homey” food – McDonald’s McPork, Shaka Shaka Chicken =)  yum yum!!

Day 4: Oh deer.. oh dear… oh deer

Nara is no doubt the cutest city I’ve visited so far.  All the symbols, selling item has deer either cute or serious face.  But deer is still a deer, it just never looks serious enough for me =P

I got up at  around 3:50am and couldn’t fall back to sleep again.  At least the night before, I got up and still managed to go back to sleep for a couple more hour.  I still don’t feel tired (mind) but my feet are hurting.  Really, I haven’t walked that much today.  It just the accumulated physical activities that’s getting to me.  I am current sitting on the Shinkansen heading to Nagashi-Horoshima.  Odd, everything single time I am sitting on any train, I immediately doubt myself and think I must have gotten on the wrong one.   I do have track recording constantly getting on the wrong train regardless which region.  The worst one was in Austria getting on one that’s not even running and I felt so oddly empty for a long time sitting that and while missing my real train.

Anyway, but the the main topic – the deer, the deer town – Nara.  Since I was up, I end up watching a black and white English movie.  I did not quite follow the story line as I kept on channel browsing. I was so bored that I even took a video of my channel browsing.  It is kind of fun to show yet even when you have a huge selection, that still does not mean much when they all appeared pretty similar.

Oh well, I had a really nice breakfast looking over the JR train station and surrounded area.  Actually I have to say the setting is nice and pretty but the food is border line acceptable.  I shouldn’t have ate so much bread and pastry….because they were alll pretty bad.  There was a couple basic item that cannot go wrong were ok, the rest I barely force ‘em down my throat.  The miso soup was slightly better than terrible taste yesterday, but no way close to Toyama’s.  I really prefer simple, less selection of really tasty and warm feeling food.  The best thing of this morning was only the coffee which is finally strong and decent.   Come on, I know Japanese can be excellent coffee,can’t you just do a decent job when coffee does not cost at least $5 a cup. Now thinking, I don’t even know why I was willing to spend 800 yen on a cup of basic ice-coffee before.   That was 9 years ago… maybe the economy was not bad and everything was booming and costing a lot more.  But now, it is definitely much cheaper.  I actually had a pretty decent (not great quality, but no bad) set lunch for only 650 yen which include soup, veggie, a bean curd side dish, pickle and pretty big bowl of rice.  After that lunch, I was so stuff that I skipped dinner…

Nara must see is really just the deers and todaiji and around.  otherwise, it is just a pretty ordinary town to me.  Todaiji does not has the proper bright and glorious like other big temple in HK.  Arguably even poor country Naple’s temple is even better maintained.  I suspect it may have to do with shinto still more important religion for the Japanese.  I can see the neighbour shinto temple is so much prettier.  You can actually see people are actively using it for day-to-day worship.  I saw a bit of wedding there and a couple new born baby mothers bring their babies  warp in something looking like baby kimono and hanging all the well wishes card went to that temple for some special ceremony.

After the walk around the temple and deer park =P I was totally exhausted that I was like the old lady who has to sit on bench in the park to rest up before walking even one more step.   As soon as I went out of the park, i had to find a place for lunch, mainly looking for somewhere to sit down. Thinking back I would have been better off to just getting a nice pricy coffee than eating that oversize lunch.  I should just waste some food..rather than eating all…

After lunch, I was still too tired to find any more place to see in Nara, I just went straight to the hotel and unfortunately was was close completely till 3pm for cleaning.  I ended up stopping by a local drug store (kind of like London Drag in Canada but in much smaller scale, or  more like Watson’s in HK) I bought a couple instant packages of curry for fun and some candy because they are really cheap.

I really want to avoid Osaka for some reason that I ended up taking much much longer train ride to tonight’s destination.   The fact that a person in training was reserving my ticket is totally not helping.  She gave me wrong information and definitely waste at least one hour of my time.  Wonder if i can complain JR about that :P  Sorry, I was in  a pretty bitchy mood that I am not cutting any slack for that person in training

Day 3: Kanazawa – the city of gold

I am starting this blog writing in the middle of the Kenrokuen Garden because I have found the best spot of the garden. It is so comfortably breezy and lightly shaded.  Besides, my feet are hurting, so I have to find a place to sit =P  Just sitting on a wooden bench, looking up at the beautiful clear sky.  It is 28C today, definitely much much hotter.  It is still fairly dry so it is actually quite nice.  I hate those hot and wet weather.  I am thinking century ago when this garden was created for the local lords, they may probably writing they daily journal the under such pretty setting.  Two in two that my originally planned “highlight” of the trip turned  out to be not that of my expectation.  Yet, I have absolutely no regret going to those cities.  I ended up finding more interesting and memorable discovery by going to those places.

The garden is pretty, but is it no Butchart garden like the one in Victoria. It is some what comparable as the free QE park in Vancouver.  QE park definitely has pettier flower agreement but the garden here has very unique oriental landscape.  Maybe I come in the wrong time, I suspect spring sakura (cherry blossom) watching and autumn red leaves must be awesome in here.  Now, everything are just green, a bit boring =P

I was glad that I had dropped by the tourist info centre to ask for more advice for where to see in Kanazawa.  Going to Higayashi (the geisha) district was very nice.  Fun to get lost in tiny alley with almost endless and slightly maze like rows of old building.  Even I was definitely lost at times, I still felt so relaxed and comfortable.   I actually ran into an old lady reaching out to help me even without me asking.  I attempted to response with my limited Japanese and she ended up spending a LOT of Japanese explaining the direction in very detail that I did not understand a word what she was saying.   No sign of any geisha.  After seeing the old district, I just followed my gut feel and found my way to a local market street.  Pack jammed with small store selling fresh fish, various kind of shellfish, veggie, and a lot of wet slimy prepared sea weed.  I even found my beloved mister donuts there =P  I had my light snack/lunch there.  Also bought myself croquettes for snack later.  I think the only thing I would like to try is zaru-soba if I can find one.  Would be nice to eat with a bit of seafood tempura too.  Ok, this is my next mission, then head to 100  yen shop for some junk shopping =P

Ok, I am totally rested up now.  Ready to get started again.

Day 2: Loving the Charming Small Town of Japan

This is quite an wonderful experience to pick Takayama which lead me to Toyama and the local train JR train rides.  Not doubt the local trains are slower, but it is so comfortable..so soothing.  Yes, it is actually presently relaxed to see he pretty mountain and rice fields slowly passed by rather then rushing through on Shinkansen.  Some local train looked like they were built in the 70’s.  The operation was very manual.  It is quiet interesting to see the train driver was signalling with various hand gestures.  I really wonder if anyone will see those signal and why does he has to do that when apparently no one is looking at him?!  Anyway, another thing I love about local train is how close to nature I can be.  No AC, just an old fan with nature breeze.  The not too hot nor cold and still raining a bit just feel totally like home. Since I am visiting smaller than, the air quality is so much better.  People also walk a lot slower too =P  I shouldn’t say slow, but definitely not in constant ready to jump mode like Tokyo.

JR charm

I find so much commonality from Japanese small town to Vancouver that I think I have found the third country I am willing to live for long term.  Of course Canada is the first country, then Germany and now Japan.  I actually found the ride to Takayama was more memorable than the visit of the city.   I will not recommend other to see the highly hyped “Hida Folk Village”.  Even the entrance fee was reasonable for the amount of stuff you see.  Actually I consider that’s cheap for the time you could have spent in there.  However, I don’t have enough culture background to understand and appreciate the history and item it was showing.  The house was very dark an a bit scary to walk in when I was the only person in that house.  On the other hand, the walk to morning market was absolutely delightful and highly recommended.  It was interesting to see local craft, fruit & veggie and the unexpected sight of wild life in the river next to the morning market.  Takayama reminded me of Nagasaki because both be are so extremely touristy.  Though I am leaving Takayama loving that place unlike Nagasaki which I found unbearable.

After checking out Tokyo and Osaka, you MUST visit the smaller city/town in Japan.   You should see those two  exciting big cities without doubt, but the smaller city is just totally adorable and you are likely going to fall in love with it once you allow yourself to slowly absorb into the surrounding (both the people and face).  Knowing basic Japanese or at the very least being able to recognize Kanji is necessary to travel to those places though.

Hida Folk Village

Oh yes, met couple very nice persons during today’s trip.  An middle age man who was travelling likely with his wife were so interested in my travel plan he dropped by to ask to take a picture with me.  Too bad my Japanese is so limited that I couldn’t carry any meaningful conversion.  Otherwise, it would have been really fun to find out more about his background and where he is from.  The other nice person was a small snack shop middle age lady along the road to Hida Folk Village.  Bought a cheap and pretty tasty grilled  mochi smothered with miso paste.  The mochi was a bit more grainy that the other mochi that I’ve tried, but I actually like the texture.  The miso sauce was very favourful.  That lady was very friendly and helped me to take a picture while I was eating I was eating the mochi.  Both the people and the environment of smaller town is so attractive and charming.