Japanese Friendship Garden

3/28/12

I vaguely remember coming to the Japanese Friendship Garden as a kid on a school field trip. The things I remember most are feeding the koi fish in the ponds and being shooed off the grass by park rangers. When I went back to visit yesterday, there were neither koi fish to feed nor rangers on patrol.

The garden is a living reminder of one of San Jose's sister cities: Okayama, Japan. The Japanese Friendship Garden was dedicated in 1965 and its design is inspired by the Korakuen Garden in Okayama. The original koi fish were brought over from Okayama, too. It's a beautiful backdrop for photos and a great place for a quiet stroll.

I think the park, like others in San Jose, has been affected by the city's budget cuts. The tea house in the garden looked empty and there was not a single koi fish to be seen. Luckily there is still enough of a budget to keep up with the park's landscaping, because the gardens are clean and manicured. Maybe when times are better, the koi will be back, too. 

A Night at the Shark Tank

3/27/12

We were at HP Pavilion last night to watch the San Jose Sharks beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-1. The Sharks played really well and won in regulation. The Tank is usually a loud place, but last night it was especially noisy with lots of love for the home team. The Sharks are now in first place in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference, in case you were interested.

I love seeing all different types of people come together to cheer for the same team at Sharks games. Sharks fans have a lot of pride in their hockey team; just look around and you'll see Sharks logos emblazoned on car windows, jackets, hats and more. It's hard not to notice the "This is Sharks Territory" signs all over town, too.

Photos, from top:
-SJ Sharkie, the mascot of the San Jose Sharks, revs up the crowd before the players take the ice
-Sharks players enter the ice through a big Shark head
-A sea of teal and black
-The starting lineup at last night's game: Marleau, Pavelski, Vlasic, Thornton and Boyle
-Sharks score, fists up!

Notes on Repatriation

3/22/12

Drinking lime juice in a plastic bag. 
Joo Chiat, Singapore. 

It's been a little less than two months since we moved back to San Jose and, to be honest, the settling in process can be summed up in one word: underwhelming. Even our most routine days held some sort of discovery for us while living in Singapore. That's not to say that we are miserable or unhappy here; it's just taking us some time to get used to the predictability and familiarity we once took for granted.

I stripped down to the bare basics of what I needed to live comfortably and happily while I was abroad. Jeff, the dogs, and a little bit of personal belongings. We lived pretty minimally and it was wonderfully liberating. Now we're dealing with "stuff." We've started accumulating things to replace what we got rid of before we left.  I am trying to moderate what we have so we don't get too weighed down with things. The biggest purchase so far has been a car, which we need. California is big.

As familiar as my hometown might be, I'm trying to approach it with a fresh perspective. I am curious about the places I used to drive past and not give a second thought to. I have a lot of exploring and rediscovering to do, like how I used to do in Singapore. The entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley runs rampant and as a result, there are lots of things for San Joseans to experience. (I'm hoping this will give me more to blog about, too.)

Sunset in Half Moon Bay.

Here are a bunch of other assorted observations I've made since returning to California:

-Gas is expensive. I remember it being a little more than $3 a gallon before we left. Now it's over $4 a gallon.

-Alcohol is cheap. I have to do a double-take when I see the prices for beer and wine sometimes. I can buy a good bottle of red wine for about what a glass of wine would cost me in Singapore.

-Customer service is great just about everywhere, usually. Waiters and waitresses are observant and polite; sales associates are knowledgeable and usually know how to solve a problem. I have yet to encounter the "cannot compute" attitude of customer service in Singapore.

-Businesses have websites that are actually helpful, not just Facebook pages (if that). And while we're on the subject of businesses, people actually answer the phone with "Name of business, how can I help you?" instead of a confused "Hello?"

-Fresh produce is a beautiful thing. A lot of the stuff sold in our grocery store's produce department is grown a few hours away in the Central Valley. The fruits and veggies I buy are fresh, flavorful, and not individually wrapped in plastic. Avocados are our biggest indulgence lately.

-I can find pants and shoes that actually fit. I found a style of jeans I liked so much that I bought three pairs of them.

-People are so friendly! This has probably been my most favorite observation since I moved back. I have had great chats with people in my building's elevator, at coffee shops, and at hockey games. Even runners on the street will manage to huff out a "hello" as they pass me by. Sometimes, eye contact and a smile are all it takes to make my day.

I read somewhere that it takes about a year to fully repatriate to one's country of origin. Readjusting definitely isn't happening overnight, but I hope it doesn't take as long as a year. With expatriation came a lot of external changes, the most obvious being moving abroad and living somewhere completely new. But as I'm repatriating, I'm realizing that the changes are taking place from within. It's frustrating and emotional at times, but I know I'll be a better person because of it. 

St. Patrick's Day

3/20/12

Cousin Sarah and Jeff
L to R: Me, Jeff, Jess, Nick, Sarah, and Dan

Three years ago, we spent St. Patty's Day in Tacoma, Washington at the Friends of Cancer Cure Annual Crab Feed with some of Jeff's family. Jeff's aunt and uncle are one of seven couples who have been organizing the event for the past 25 years to raise money for the American Cancer Society. We had a lot of fun at the crab feed and decided to make it an annual tradition, but then moved to Singapore. We went back to the crab feed this year and picked up right where we left off. 

Part of the tradition includes a trip to Party City to stock up on the tackiest St. Patty's Day accoutrements (mission accomplished this year, as you can see). The crab feed raised a lot of money that night. And we ate lots and lots of crab. 
We also saw a beautiful and appropriate rainbow along the Tacoma waterfront over St. Patty's Day weekend. Did you do anything fun for St. Patrick's Day? 

The Last Kampong in Singapore

3/19/12

When I used to live in Singapore, I often wondered what it looked like before the gleaming skyscrapers and sterile HDB flats took over the skyline. In less than 50 years Singapore has gone from being a lesser-known island in Southeast Asia to being considered one of the Four Asian Tigers. The city-state might be young, but little time has been wasted in developing the island into a modern and efficient country. 

Not all traces of "the way things were" have been erased or modernized in Singapore, though. Hidden away in the north-east is Kampong Buangkok, the last kampong in Singapore. Time has stood still in the small village, which has 28 houses in a neighborhood the size of three football fields. The small homes, dirt roads, and overhanging power lines paint a picture of what Singapore was like before the malls and freeways took over. 

If you're interested in visiting, the closest bus stop is 67071 (opposite the Church of St. Vincent De Paul) and is serviced by buses 70 and 103. Check out this blog for more detailed directions. Like so many other places in Singapore full of history and nostalgia, the kampong probably won't be around much longer so visit soon before it's too late. 

Head for the Hills

3/6/12


Jeff and I took a break from the world this weekend and went up to his family's cabin in California's Gold Country. The cabin was a big part of Jeff's childhood and triggers lots of happy memories whenever he returns. Our dogs love coming up here, too. They are free to run around the woods and explore without leashes. I imagine all the new sights and smells must be exciting for them. 

There was a bit of snow on the ground when we arrived, but by the end of the weekend it had all melted. Despite the warm temperatures and bright sun during the day, the weather in the mountains is chilly in the mornings and evenings this time of year. We had a fire going most of the weekend to keep the cabin nice and cozy. 

We've decided to spend more time exploring California on the weekends and taking road trips, and hopefully this will include more trips to the cabin. Ever since we moved back we feel like there are things we want to take advantage of that are only a relatively short drive away. 

While at the cabin, I filmed Little Joe doing something I've never seen him do before. Is he trying to bury a treat with his head? Do all dogs do this? Once I took the treat away from him, he just laid down and went to sleep. 

What is a Fiddlehead?

I never paid much attention to superlatives until I moved to Singapore. Things and places in Singapore are often lauded for being the First, the Tallest, the Only, the Largest, etc. Now whenever I see something described this way, I can't help but laugh and roll my eyes (and think of some of the silly Singapore superlatives, too).

Before the World Pond Hockey Championship put Plaster Rock, NB on the map, the village's claim to fame was for being home to the World's Largest Fiddleheads. In case you're wondering what a fiddlehead is (also known as Ostrich Fern), there is a handy plaque at the base of the structure which explains it:

Named for their resemblance to the musical instrument 'the fiddle', this plant can only be picked at a certain time in the spring of the year, and is eaten as a green vegetable. 

They are also pre-cooked and frozen by food plants and shipped all over the world as a delicacy.

Local literature tells us, 'Fiddleheads were discovered by the New Brunswick Maliseet population, who in turn told the white settlers. The Maliseet called the fronds 'ma-sos-i-ul', and said that the fiddlehead served as a medicine, as well as food.

That's probably more than you or I ever cared to know about the fiddlehead, but you can say you learned something new today. While I was researching the World's Largest Fiddleheads, I found a list of the world's largest roadside attractions. I smell a road trip coming on...
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