Vegas Trip: Gilbert, Ethel, Gordon, Yuki

May 15th, 2007

From: Gordon

Mom, Dad, Yuki and I just got back from a week-long vacation in Las Vegas. Things have been super quiet on the HeeFamily site so I thought I’d share some photos with you.

Here’s a really cute one (my favorite) of Yuki and Dad that I took when we were meeting up to go to dinner.

(Click on the photos for larger images.)

And here’s one of Mom and Dad in front of Mom’s chocolate shop at the California Hotel.

We arranged a surprise visit with Mom’s best friend and her husband, both of whom accompanied us to the Celine Dion show at Caesar’s Palace.

It wouldn’t be Vegas without Dad’s “buffet face”, seen here as he stands in line for prime rib at the Paris buffet.

 ..and saving the best for last, here’s a video of a winning moment for Dad at the Wheel of Fortune slot machine.

Video: Dad Wins In Vegas

2 White Dogs With Megaphones

February 26th, 2007

Yesterday, I saw an advertisement while riding the subway. It made me think of Hachi. Can you see the resemblance?

Hachi, you’re not supposed to wear the megaphone around your neck!

Dew Claw Injury

February 16th, 2007

Tonight Hachi had an accident while running around the apartment and somehow tore his dew claw and it was bent and bleeding. We took him to the 24 hour pet hospital via taxi and they removed it and bandaged him. He had an antibiotic injection and has to take medicine for the next 2 days. He seems to be ok and is recovering now, so there’s no need to worry. He’s sleeping now.

Valentine’s Day And White Day

February 14th, 2007


In Japan, men carry zero responsibility on Valentine’s Day except to be showered with chocolates by women who adore them. I don’t know who decided this, but on V-day, women give men chocolates. Women give men love letters. Women make their proposals and confessions to the men they love. The men just sit back and wait until White Day. All they have to do on V-day is decide whether they want to accept the chocolates or not. By accepting chocolates, they are giving women the hope–no matter how false–that they may get something in return on White Day.

White Day is on March 14th, and that’s when men give women flowers. But it’s a month later, which means they have a few weeks to decide whether they want to respond. When–and if–they do, that’s when they know they like each other. So between Feb 14 and March 14, hundreds of thousands of Japanese girls are sitting at home, pulling on their hair, nervously waiting for the day when they find out whether their feelings are reciprocated.

Why is this like the only time when women go first?

Yep, I was in the candy section of Odakyu as the lone male fighting to buy chocolate among hordes of women. The store workers gave me weird looks and were hesitant to let me buy my box of Godiva chocolates. I explained to them that the custom in America is reversed (is this not common knowledge?). They asked me about White Day and I said there isn’t a White Day in the US so reciprocating isn’t part of the equation. They were like.. wow… Godiva in hand, I left smiling and waving as hundreds of desperate choco-seeking women glared at me.

Taiwan Trip

November 9th, 2006

From: Gordon

Just got back from a quick business trip to Taipei, Taiwan and Yuki came along too. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt which was built on the site of a wartime execution ground and cemetery. The hotel is infamous among all the locals for being haunted. After 3 nights of some eeriness we decided to move to a different hotel. Here are some photos and a video from our trip.

Yuki at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial with the Taipei 101 (world’s tallest building) and the haunted Grand Hyatt in the background:

Taipei 101 at night (lights cycle through various colors):

Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung, world famous Shanghai-style pork dumplings:

Here’s the line outside of Din Tai Fung:

Yuki in front of Haw Ji ??? (can’t remember the name) which was a wonderful local eatery. 5 of us ate superb Taiwanese food for $20:

Last but not least, a movie taken inside of the food court area of the Shihlin night market: (The guy in the white shirt is a co-worker and he’s showing us around.)


September 10th, 2006

Here are some photos from my Shanghai trip in late August. It was my second visit to Shanghai (first was 12 years ago, in 1994). The city I remembered was totally different from the one I saw this time, especially in the Pudong area. 

Before leaving, I read my Lonely Planet Shanghai guide with some free udon at the ANA Star Alliance lounge at Narita Airport. Like the ANA-branded kamaboko?

Realtime aircraft map of the flight to Shanghai.

The hotel sent a car to pick me up at the airport. It took 30-40 minutes to get to the hotel. On the way, I got lucky and caught a shot of the world’s fastest train (maglev) passing by.

Below you can see the Jin Mao building in the background (the Grand Hyatt takes up the upper half of the building; floors 56-87). Currently, Jim Mao is the 4th tallest building in the world. The building under construction is planned to be the world’s tallest. You can read more about the Jin Mao Tower at Wikipedia by clicking this link.

Grand Hyatt Hotel entrance at the Jin Mao Tower.

Looking up from the lobby of the Hyatt on the 53rd floor. You can see all the way up to the 88th floor.

Walking to my room - I’m not looking down!

Nice room with a view. I’m only on the 61st floor.


Taxi rides in Shanghai were pretty crazy. I’ve been told that Shanghai people haven’t really had cars until recently, so they all drive like teenagers. It feels that way, especially when they change lanes without looking. If someone honks their horn, you pull back into your lane. That seems to be the norm and it works, oddly enough. The taxis are also high-tech. When you enter, an automated voice says “Hello passenger. Welcome to take my taxi.” (Yes, that is the exact phrase word-for-word.) The interiors usually have some sort of LCD video panel that shows advertisements and video programs. The driver is encased in a thick plastic shield. I asked about this, and my Chinese co-worker said it keeps robbers at bay and gives the driver a chance to escape. China didn’t really feel that dangerous, but I guess maybe things were bad before the plastic shield?

We were visiting to meet with potential Chinese partners and also to attend China Joy. Here are some photos from the event.


There were lots of Starbucks in Shanghai. See the particularly ornate one below.

“Dumpling stuffed with the ovary and digestive glands of a crad.” (See below. It really is spelled that way.”)

During our day off, we visited the Yuyuan Gardens. See this link for more information if you’re interested.


Our host took us to do some antique shopping though I can’t remember the name of the street. Looked like everyone was selling the same stuff from the same souvenir factory.

From there, we were on our own and had dinner at the modern and trendy XinTianDi district. It was loaded with upscale shops, theaters, malls, and high-end restaurants. There were even German beer houses (real ones from Germany). This area was nothing like the China I remembered from 12 years ago. To learn more about this, check out this page.

Now that dinner’s done, on to the famous Bund district! Here’s a description from the Wikipedia entry:

The Shanghai Bund has dozens of historical buildings, lining the Huangpu River, that once housed numerous banks and trading houses from Britain, France, USA, Russia, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the consulates of Russia and Britain, a newspaper, the Shanghai Club and the Masonic Club. The Bund lies north of the old, walled city of Shanghai. This was initially a British settlement, later the British and American settlements were combined in the International Settlement. A building boom at the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century led to the Bund becoming a major financial hub of East Asia. The former French Bund, east of the walled city was formerly more a working harbourside.

By the 1940s the Bund housed the headquarters of many, if not most, of the major financial institutions operating in China, including the “big four” national banks in the Republic of China era. However, with the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war, many of the financial institutions were moved out gradually in the 1950s, and the hotels and clubs closed or converted to other uses. The statues of colonial figures and foreign worthies which had dotted the riverside were also removed.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the thawing of economic policy in the People’s Republic of China, buildings on the Bund were gradually returned to their former uses. Government institutions were moved out in favour of financial institutions, while hotels resumed trading as such. Also during this period, a series of floods caused by typhoons motivated the municipal government to construct a tall levee along the riverfront, with the result that the embankment now stands some 10 metres higher than street level. This has dramatically changed the streetscape of the Bund. In the 1990s, Zhongshan Road (named after Sun Yat-sen), the road on which the Bund is centred, was widened to ten lanes. As a result, most of the parkland which had existed along the road disappeared. Also in this period, the ferry wharves connecting the Bund and Pudong, which had served the area’s original purpose, were removed. A number of pleasure cruises still operate from some nearby wharves.

In the 1990s the Shanghai government attempted to promote an extended concept of the Bund to boost tourism and land value in nearby values, as well as to reconcile the promotion of “colonial relics” with the Socialist ideology. In its expanded form, the term “Bund” (as “New Bund” or “Northern Bund”) was used to refer to areas south of the Yan’an Road, and a stretch of riverfront north of the Suzhou River (Zhabei). Such use of the term, however, remained rare outside of the tourism literature.

The view of the new Pudong area skyline from the Bund is incredible. You can see the Jin Mao Tower with it’s illuminated “crown”. Right after I took this photo, all the lights shut down simultaneously which was really strange - perhaps as part of a power-saving rule?

The next day, I got up early to check out the Jin Mao observation deck before heading to the airport.

The oriental pearl tower.


Next, I took a taxi to the Maglev train station. At the advice of a colleague, I paid an extra $6 to get a first-class seat. I was lucky enough to be in the front car where the cockpit can be seen through a glass window.

Wow, 431 km/h! Too bad it’s a really short ride so the top speed segment only lasts 2 or 3 minutes. It was odd to see all the cars going “backwards” on the highway due to our high speed. Although this train was much faster and rode on a magnetic field, it didn’t feel much different from the Japanese shinkansen and the European Eurostar trains.


Arrival at Pudong international airport.

Pudong Airport.

The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

July 16th, 2006

Yesterday Yuki and I went with Rob and Cindy to the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama. It was really hot and humid outside, but the short 19 minute shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Shin-Yokohama was cool and enjoyable. The tray table on the shinkansen even has a map that shows where restrooms, phones, vending machines, etc. are located.


The ramen museum was a short walk away from the station. The inside is pretty neat, designed “Disney-like” to look like 1940s Japan. 10 famous ramen shops were chosen from all over Japan to represent different regional tastes and styles. There are signs to indicate the wait time for each shop, just like a theme park. You can see Yuki, Rob and Cindy in the photo below (center, towards the back).


Here’s a closer view.


We decided to try the Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen at Komurasaki, which was pretty crowded. That seemed like a strong vote of confidence.



Yuki and I also had a mini kara-miso (spicy miso) ramen. Rob and Cindy had shoyu ramen.



More photos of the interior of the museum.


Upstairs, there’s a store with ramen-related goods. You can even make your own “cup noodles” by custom designing the package and ingredients!



Rainy Dubrovnik Today

May 6th, 2006

Hello from Dubrovnik, where Yuki and I are at an Internet cafe waiting for the rain to stop so we can catch our boat to Lokrum Island. There are police and US secret service agents everywhere as VP Dick Cheney is visiting Croatia today. I’ll post photos later.

Honeymoon: Venice (Day 6)

April 30th, 2006

After a pleasant visit to Florence to enjoy its artistic and culinary charms, we departed today for Venice. We originally intended to take the 12:39pm Eurostar from Florence, but it was sold out and the only train available with first class seating (equivalent to standard class quality in the US) was the 16:49 train to Mestre.

Ticket-selling machines at Florence’s train station.

With a 4 extra hours to kill, we decided to check our suitcase in for holding while we took the hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus for an hour-long city tour. The tour came with headphones and channels to support 7 different languages. The bus drove us around the city and to the other side of the river. That side of the river was very different from the central city and I’m glad we got the chance to see it. It was very green with trees and beautiful natural landscapes surrounding some very expensive-looking mansions. We drove through Galileo’s old neighborhood and observatory on the way to the Piazza Michelangelo from which we had an amazing view of Florence. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t so great as it started to get gray and rain, but we took a few photos anyway.

A bridge across the river Arno.

Tree-lined roadway on the other side of the river.

Florence under rainclouds as seen from Piazza Michelangelo.

Yuki and the view.

Another angle.

After some confusion about which platform to take our train from, we boarded our Trenitalia ETR500 bound for Venice.

Trenitalia ETR500.

Ready for boarding.

Normally it would have been an pleasant-3 hour trip through the Italian countryside, but a group of noisy Australian boys next to us kept the volume high and the relaxation low. Still, I was happy because I had bought some white chocolate before boarding the train.

Upon arrival at Mestre station, we checked-into our Best Western Hotel. It was quite old and the elevator was ancient, but seems to have been recently renovated - sort of an IKEA makeover. The room was nice, new and clean, with a big bathroom. Things don’t quite work here though - the hot water pot they gave us has a plug that doesn’t fit into any of the sockets. The TV mysteriously shuts down every few minutes for no obvious reason. Still, the place is confortable and suits our needs just fine.

Hotel room at the Hotel Bologna in Mestre, near Venice.

Newly renovated.

Earlier tonight we decided to take it easy and to stay in Mestre for dinner instead of taking the train to the island (Venice). Although the hotel’s restaurant is reputed to be pretty good, we walked around the block to see what other options were available to us. Surprisingly, the street adjacent to the hotel was lined with Asian stores and restaurants - like a strange Chinatown. We bought some water and drinks from a local Chinese store and took the risk of having dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby. Of course, it’s a scary thing to eat Chinese food in Italy, but it was run by Chinese people and we were craving Asian food, so we decided to chance it. The food was… interesting. Yuki had some kind of beef noodle soup in brown sauce and I had sizzling beef with vegetables and rice. Mine was ok, but Yuki’s noodles were quite awful. We also ordered “fried vegetables” thinking they would be stir-fried Chinese veggies, but instead we received deep fried carrots, zucchini and bell peppers. Very odd indeed. The British couple sitting next to us had some fun being surprised by their order as well, with “coco” ice cream being “coconut” and not “cocoa” (chocolate) as they originally thought. Rice pudding turned out to be some kind of pastry. Turns out they were from London and had lived not far from where Yuki stayed. We had a nice chat with them and they told us some horror stories about the hotel giving them an awful unrenovated room and getting ripped off by overpriced tourist trap restaurants in Venice. They shared some useful tips and advice, which we appreciated greatly.

Buying drinks from the Chinese store.

What kind of fried Chinese veggies are these?!?

What a weird Chinese restaurant!!

Honeymoon: Florence (Day 5)

April 28th, 2006

(Photos and more text will be posted later.)

Florence is much more enjoyable than Rome, probably due to its small town atmosphere and complete focus on art and tourism. The place feels like a Disneyland (ok well, a very dirty one) that caters to art lovers. It’s nice because the attractions are all within walking distance and if you plan ahead (thanks Rick Steves!) and make your reservations in advance, you can skip the lines at the museums which can be several hours long! Florence is also the birthplace of gelato and wonderful dishes such as Bistecca.

One interesting observation:
Florence forbids entering museums and churches with bare shoulders or shorts, yet all the art is of naked people. Weird.