Merry Christmas 2012

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Mom still puts up a tree and the kids (Dannen and I) just love it. I'm sure she is looking forward to the days that young toddler eyes will stare up to the glistening lights but she is polite enough to never mention it. 

On Christmas Eve my family usually goes out to a "special" place for a nice dinner. We had reservations at Mitchell's Steakhouse near Polaris but before we left, I snapped the traditional "self portrait" by holding the camera myself with the family crowded in the background to take the photo. The fifth one turned out like so:

Yes, I need to just get a tripod and then we can all pose nicely and grin but what's the fun in that? I like saying, "Dad! Why do you INSIST on putting your head directly behind mine in the photos!?" Then he sighs, moves his head and we take more pictures. 

On Christmas morning before we open gifts we have a lovely breakfast of Monkey Bread (biscuit mixture with brown sugar and cinnamon topping), bacon, scrambled eggs and Mimosas. 

As a child I remember I couldn't WAIT to open gifts and would wake up early with anticipation. This year on Christmas it was a miracle that I was up before 8am. We enjoyed opening gifts and afterwards dad and Dewey (the cat) cleaned up the wrapping paper while mom and I cooked Christmas lunch. 

Mom and I also put together a floral arrangement for holidays. She has a three-section urn that we use for a centerpiece. We put bowls inside the segments and add floral block, cover the block with moss and then just stick flowers in one by one. Roses with stronger stems go in easily. 

Please post about what your family did this year and about any traditions that you love. Happy holidays!

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tuesday, 25 December 2012
I've watched programs about the Tsukiji Fish Market for years so this was certainly a place I wanted to visit while in Tokyo. All of the huge tuna comes in to the dock (via fishermen) and restaurants bid on it during the daily morning auction. Because we were there close to the holiday season, the tuna auction was closed to tourists. Bummer! But we did get to walk through the market at 9am. 

This was certainly not a "tourist" stop. The market is very busy and locals take it very seriously. Since seafood is such an important part of the Japanese diet, the market is the place to be for restaurants, chefs and cooks. There is an unbelievable amount of places to eat in Tokyo and this is where the fish comes from.

Every type of seafood available could be found here. Eel is part of a traditional Japanese dish. I ordered it (Unagi) at the Four Seasons Tokyo and although I wasn't too fond of the smoked taste, I finished it. 

We walked through at the least busy morning hour and people were still cutting portions of fish, calculating sales and unpacking items. Chefs were still negotiating but mostly business was winding down. 

James and I really loved walking through the market taking pictures. We could have spent hours here. If I ever get to return to Tokyo, I'd like to attend the tuna auction. Amazing!

Traditional Tea Ceremony

Monday, 24 December 2012

One of the highlights of my time in Japan was attending a traditional tea ceremony. It was fashioned for educational purposes so our hostess performed the rituals and told us about her actions in English. We removed our shoes before entering the main living room and sat on the floor on small cushions.

The main tools of the preparation of tea include: a bamboo whisk, tea bowl and tea spoon. The wooden spoon is used to scoop powdered green tea into tea bowls. Then a bamboo ladle is used to pour boiling water into the bowl. Finally, you are to whisk the tea into a froth. 

When drinking, you are supposed to put the tea bowl in your left palm and support it on the side with your right hand. Before drinking the tea in three gulps, you are to turn it clockwise three times. This allows guests to admire the painting on the bowl. 

After learning about the tools and process, our hostess also explained the importance of the tea ceremony in the Japanese culture. It is a form of art and motions are slow and deliberate. Each step has special meaning. Guests are to show full respect to the hostess at all times, even admiring the tools used to make tea.

During the final part of the session, we made our own cup of tea, learning how to use the scoop and whisk. This was an incredible experience! (The woman siting next to me was in traditional Japanese dress. Many women still wear kimonos in Kyoto.)

Kyoto Morning Tour

Thursday, 13 December 2012
We took the bullet train to Kyoto from Tokyo and arrived in just two hours. Train travel is where it's at. No long security lines and quiet, calm passengers and attendants.

Instead of doing private tours like in Tokyo, we joined a JR group Sunrise Tour. The guide was fabulous and really knows his Japanese history. First, we visited Nijo Castle which was originally where a Shogun resided. We weren't allowed to take photos inside and had to remove shoes before going indoors. The entry halls are all made of wood and have metal springs under them so that the inhabitants could hear intruders. Very interesting.

We then went to the Golden Pavilion at the base of North Mountain in Kyoto. This is a Buddhist shrine and is made of wood and 200,000 sheets of gold leaf. The original shrine was burned by a "crazy" monk in 1950 but a new one was built as a replica. The gardens surrounding the site are original and more than 600 years old. 

After walking the path along the gardens, I stopped to have traditional powdered Japanese green tea and a "sweet" rice square in the tea garden. The sun was bright but the air was crisp this morning so the warmth from the tea was appreciated!


Sunday, 9 December 2012
I'm having a problem with iPhoto so I'm not able to upload pictures right now which is, of course, killing me but I'll survive. We had yet another wonderful day in Tokyo visiting temples and shrines       plus Tokyo-esque places like the four story Sony showroom.

The food here is to die for as well and I've never loved Green Tea as much. James and I didn't feel the earthquake on Sunday evening. We were busy doing something when it struck and didn't even know it had happened until we started getting emails from concerned family members.

Tonight we are headed to Paul Bocuse's Brasserie restaurant in Roppongi. It is located in the National Art Gallery and we're going to view a Japanese artist exhibit before hand. The weather has been sunny and 50F. Perfection.

Singapore River Cruise

Thursday, 6 December 2012
This morning the weather was absolutely gorgeous so after a nice breakfast we decided to go for a river tour of the city.

The "bumboats" are charming despite the unfortunate name (ha!) and some of the best views of the skyline can be caught from the water.

Our hotel, The Fullerton is on the water and we could buy a ticket and hop on almost just outside of the front door. There was just one other couple on the boat so we felt like we were on a private tour. The boat has an audio guide so we learned about landmarks along the way.

The ride provides a nice opportunity to check out the quays along the way. Our favorite is the Boat Quay but the below photo is of Clarke Quay. This is where goods used to be unloaded after coming into the port and up river. Now the warehouses are home to fun restaurants and bars.

Another interesting part of the tour included the Merlion Park. This is where tourists snap photos of the Merlion. It's a figure that is part lion, part fish. The significance centers on the city's history. 

The fish part of the fountain represents Singapore's beginnings as a fishing village. The lion part represents the "lion" for which Singapore was named after. Singapura means Lion City.

The ride lasts about 40 minutes and we got a little sun while putting along. It was very enjoyable.

Singapore is even lovelier at night

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

We had a nice dinner last night at The Lighthouse, the roof top restaurant at the Fullerton Hotel. The draw is the view but the food and service is also impeccable. After enjoying rich Italian cuisine, we went out onto the roof top bar to enjoy the view and snap a few photos. 

Today we went to Little India and visited an amazing Hindu temple, then visited the Gardens By the Bay and had lunch on the river at Robertson Quay (pronounced "key"). I cannot wait to upload more pictures. The sites are impressive!

Sunny Skies in Singapore

Monday, 3 December 2012
Things are better and I'm feeling 90%. There is a short break in the JMComm 2012 conference this morning so I'm taking just a moment to contemplate this gorgeous setting. I am pleasantly surprised at how gorgeous it is in Singapore. Granted, I'm spending time in likely the most gorgeous parts of the city (downtown, near the bay) but wow, it is tidy, clean and the vegetation is beyond amazing.

The Ft. Canning Hotel (conference venue) is surrounded by the Ft. Canning park and the setting is breathtaking. I can understand why everything is very green and lush because the rain fall is heavy and often. Just like other tropical locations, people just bring an umbrella and use it as needed. As quickly as the rain starts, it stops and the sun returns. This lends to a very humid climate and sad hair days but luckily academics aren't that concerned with looks. :)

I cannot wait to get outside and take photos. 

Sick in Singapore

Sunday, 2 December 2012
Our flight from Atlanta to Tokyo was going smoothly, until it wasn't. James surprised me with business class seats that were comfortable and roomy (he's amazing). I watched a couple of movies, worked on grading and a research paper and slept. At about hour 11, I started to feel queasy. That began a cycle of vomiting and other horrid symptoms that shall not be named here for the next 14 hours. I even had to call for a wheelchair (!!) to get me from the plane, through immigration, to baggage and to the car. I was too weak to walk and stand for very long plus I had to stop at the ladies room along the way. James was a trooper and just pretended like he didn't know me (kidding).

I've never been so sick.

Day one in Singapore had me laying in bed still feeling bad but happy to be in such a nice, clean, comfortable room. I still wasn't able to keep down even water but I managed to sleep some.

This morning I felt much better, showered, dressed and went to breakfast. Sadly though, after eating only tea, water, crackers and half of the white portion of a hard boiled egg, I was throwing up again.

The conference started today and I wasn't even able to go! I'm in a city that I'll probably never visit again and I'm down for the count! I haven't cried yet but was on the brink a few times.

James had pre-booked a city tour so he went out today and (God bless him) came back with Gatorade and more crackers. I'm trying to drink it slowly and I think it is helping. I WILL go to the conference tomorrow and present as scheduled...even if I have to crutch my way there with a Delta "sick" bag tied to my face and sit at every park bench along the way to rest. :)

In other news, can you believe it's December already??