Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunrise, Sunset

Due to unexpected recent events, we are not traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia after all this week, but rather flying back to the States to attend my father-in-law's funeral.

Jokingly, my father-in-law scoffed at our decision to travel to Vietnam at all, having been seriously wounded there yet surviving the Vietnam War and going on to accomplish many good things. The challenging times aside, what an amazing 70 years he enjoyed in his lifetime...

We'll return soon...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

Today was one of those rare wonderful days with absolutely no plans, nowhere to be, and nothing to do...

So, I did something that makes me supremely happy... I went flower shopping!

I love to buy a huge bunch of different flowers and then create smaller arrangements out of it. Flowers in the home give off such good vibes.

We're all busy all the time, but I wanna know from you-- when you have an afternoon of free time to spend exactly as you wish, how do you indulge in your guilty pleasure?

Travel and Foodie Friday: What Was Your Favorite Meal This Week?

There was some good eating here in Okinawa this week.

I had planned on proclaiming homemade Chilaquiles as my favorite of the week. Needless to say, it's challenging to find authentic Mexican food here... I brought back a few cans of chipotle chilis from the states a while back, and was able to make a great homemade savory spicy sauce.

But alas, another meal last night trumped the Mexican breakfast feast. I met with the other editors of Okinawahai, an English based website for which I write about things "to do" in Okinawa. We had a scrumptious 5 course meal prepared lovingly in typical Asian fashion-- a restaurant within a private home! I love places where the food tastes homemade like your grandmother made it from scratch. Of course, there was lots of great conversation and laughing!

Take a look at some of our meal. I must have been too carried away with the food and the company because I didn't even photograph the main course:

Japan does these antipasto plates so well... salad with prosciutto, broiled salmon, bruschetta, potato salad, and quiche. Just a little taste of everything, but not too much.
Tomato pasta with scallops. Yummy!
Finally, Pictured above, green tea cake with mandarin oranges and Japanese grapes... the grapes are huge, aren't they? They taste delicious, but the skin is thicker than a typical "American" style grape, so you have to peel it.

Some of you out there in Cyberland also shared your favorite food adventures this week.

Check out Lorna's meal at Alinea during her honeymoon in Chicago. This dinner is over the top!

Reese also enjoyed a fabulous homemade dinner party in Italy with friends-- the best kind!

Since I am still very much within my Latin food craving, I'm planning on making Marina's favorite this week, Tico Tacos, Costa Rican style!

What's your favorite food and travel experience lately? Post a link or tell us about in the comments!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Travel Preparations...

We're getting super excited... Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam is coming up soon.

This is a trip I've been wanting to do for some time. One of my favorite ways of getting "ready", or at least building anticipation is watching films that feature my destination.

So far, our list consists of:

1. The Quiet American

2. The Lover

3. Indochine

4. Lara Croft Tomb Raider

Anybody out there have any more favorite movies to recommend showing scenes of Vietnam or Cambodia?

What do you usually do to prepare for a trip?

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm Probably the Last to Know...

Some days living abroad can seem-- well-- isolated and out of the loop. Okay, there, I've said it. Do any of you relate?

In Okinawa especially, while I do genuinely appreciate Obon drumming and Eisa dancing, I often do feel deprived in terms of independent films, fashion, popular culture, but most of all, music from back home!

We do have an English radio program here and I'll admit that Lady GaGa is catchy, but come on! All the time?

This feeling of being out of the know isn't new for me. When I was in the Peace Corps in Africa from 94-96, I missed out on all kinds of radical popular culture happenings in the states... some of the big ones include the whole Friend's sitcom explosion, the proliferation of the internet, and Starbucks! These things mark my generation somehow, and I was wholly unaware of them for two whole years...

Luckily now, we do have the Internet so we're not completely cut off, but some times I still feel detached from things going on at home.

Recently, I made this little discovery. It's not exactly mainstream popular culture, but oh so satisfying, new, and fresh to me. It's "Song of the Day" on NPR, and I have to say, it's my little indulgence. I look forward to hearing the new selection as soon as I wake up in the morning.

Listen for yourself: NPR Song of the Day

How do you get your musical or artistic outlet while you're traveling or living abroad?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sled dogs and Icycles

Here in Okinawa lately, it's been Black Flag weather. Translation: really really hot.

All the American bases fly a black flag on days that people are discouraged from doing any kind of outside physical or exertion. So, while many places in the world are already starting to feel their first chilly evenings of fall, we're still in the midst of a summer heat wave.

Partly from the heat and partly due to the fact that we're nearing our second wedding anniversary in a few months, we've done a bit of reminiscing about our very first Mary and Sean Adventure together-- a trip we took to Alaska in March 2006.

This trip was special for so many reasons- the perfect white powdery snow, the sled dogs, the hot springs, but mostly because I can narrow down to almost the exact moment that I fell in love.

Here are a few glimpses of events leading me to the great realization.

We stayed at Chena Hot Springs resort outside of Fairbanks. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, you can see the sky was a brilliant clear blue everyday. Perfect winter wonderland, except of course that it was negative 10 degrees tops...but the reason we were there during that time of year was because March is ideal for viewing the Northern Lights.

One of the most fun experiences of my life was taking a sled dog ride through the wintry white forest. Those dogs are amazing!

We also spied some apprentice sled dog puppies. Seriously, the cutest most cuddly furry things ever...

We were also lucky to catch a bit of local color during our stay. Our trip just so coincided with a Dog Sled race...

If you ask me, Alaska really is the last frontier. During the races in downtown Fairbanks, we came upon a fur trading auction and people were buying...
One afternoon during our trip, we took a tour of the ice museum which included intricate ice sculptures of knights jousting on horses, a "honeymoon ice suite" where you can sleep for $600/night, and an ice bar with the genius invention of ice luge, or should I say evil evil ice luge.

This particular day happened to be Saint Patrick's Day and we met a young Irish couple in the bar, Patty and Rose, who convinced us in the spirit of the holiday to share an apple martini with them. Yes, I'm sitting on an ice stool at an ice bar drinking out of an ice martini glass.
Let's just say that one martini somehow became two and then maybe even three, and then I lost count. Needless to say, we missed our dinner reservation that night, stumbled back up to the room, and then spent the next six hours alternating throwing up side by side in the bathroom.

The next morning when we finally made it breakfast, every conversation around us was about how wonderful and amazing the views of the Aurora had been the night before-- right over the resort-- such a rare occurrence!

And of course, we missed the whole thing due to our misfortunate overindulgence with apple martinis.

How did it happen? After all, seeing the Northern Lights is often a once in a lifetime experience for many people, and it was the big reason for going there. We felt horribly cheated and disappointed about it all day since we were due to take a red-eye back home that very night.

So, after resigning ourselves to never seeing the Northern Lights, we headed to the airport that night. We noticed some green flashes in the sky, but honestly thought it was nothing. We decided to pull off the road and stop the car and check it out just to be sure.

That's when it happened. The Northern Lights appeared and swirled and danced around in front of us for a few minutes before disappearing again. And that's when I knew I had fallen in love...

On a final note, at our wedding to remember our first adventure, we decided to have a martini ice luge during the reception. Yep! You guessed it- those are apple martinis.

The day after our wedding reception, we received a text message from one of the wedding guests that went, "wedding very very good, ice luge very very bad..."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Travel and Foodie Friday: What Was Your Favorite Meal This Week?

Another great line up of food around the world to share for the second installment of Travel and Foodie Friday...

As for us, we dined at a nature hippie commune called Beach Rock Village in Okinawa. This place was way out there in the jungle and it had camping, teepees, tree houses, horses, and goats. We sat in a sort of strange igloo meet storage unit thing facing all the greenery and enjoyed the view of trees and ocean.

We had Thai curry (pictured above) and a pizza inspired by the Italian flag. I felt energized by the wanderlust book, "Wanna roam the world?" (yes, yes, I do!) and the perfect breezy surroundings.

Take a look at these other favorite meals out there... isn't it fun to see what people are eating around the world?

First off, I love travel and food vacations to big city destinations. Recently, Lorna and her husband enjoyed a belated eatfest honeymoon in Chicago... check out one of her favorites there!

We are huge fans of the show Mad Men, so much so that we download the episodes illegally here in Japan. I probably shouldn't admit that openly, especially since we've already been warned to stop by the Japanese internet provider. But Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake, whose favorite recently paid homage to the show, agrees. It's worth it! Think of this one as "travel" back in time...

Abi, the traveling doctor in Europe has a wonderful cassoulet experience in France...

Every meal of Kevin's from Closet Cooking looks divine to me, but check out his favorite this week.

Alex and Mina enjoy their favorite food at home before embarking on a round the world trip.

Finally, Nina of NinsRambling who is an Indonesian expat living in Bahrain longs for her familiar food from home.... don't we all sometimes?

Have a favorite meal of the week to share? Leave us a comment and tell us about it or post a link!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again...

It's Obon time!

Obon is a holiday that Okinawans celebrate each year. It's a time during which they believe their ancestors come to visit. They commemorate with different traditions such as offering food and drink to ancestors' spirits, performing special dances, and gifting each other $60 boxes of mangoes. (I'm not kidding!) 

But most important of all, as my friend Kanae warned me... "don't go swimming in the ocean during Obon because all the ghosts in the water will pull you under!" Okinawa has lots of them, according to her.

Last year when we moved here, we couldn't escape the Obon frenzy. Since we were new, our senses were really alive to it. It's like Xmas season in the states-- everywhere and in your face. 

But this year strangely, it sort of crept up on us, but then one night last week, we heard the familiar twang twang build up outside our window. We went down to see the commotion and there it was...Obon dancing and drumming in all its glory. 

Since last weekend, we've heard Obon dancing from our window every night. Pretty cool entertainment, don't you think?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Advertising Fantasy and Reality

Remember my wacky stint as a gold facial model a few weeks back? 

I was surprised to open up a local newspaper this week and see myself in the ad for the first time-- how bizarre to see myself lying there serenely all sudsed up. I look like a mummy in the last shot! 

On a side note, one of my Japanese students also saw the ad and brought it to me, inquiring whether it was indeed me...
I believe I learned an important lesson about the business world through the whole encounter. It's all staged! One amusing thing is that for the photography session, they were so careful to cover my whole face with the precious gold foil, so that I could get the full effect of the slight electrical current that is supposed to single-handedly rejuvenate my 37 yr old skin...

But when I actually had the facial FOR REAL the first time before any of the crazy model talk, this is what it looked like...

Lovely, isn't it? That 24ct. gold isn't anywhere near my crow's feet! 

Call me delusional, but I'm still siding with the nightingale droppings over this one...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tokyo Theme Dining

Ever wonder what it's like to dine in the dark while ninjas slink about to and fro?

Come with us and enter the world of the ninja past at a very unique theme restaurant in Tokyo...

For more information about this wacky place and reservations, check out their website

Make reservations well in advance, and be prepared for an expensive bill! Warning: Drinks are about two gulps each, but they cost around $10... expect tiny Japanese portions too.
Despite the cost, this was a very fun experience!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Travel and Foodie Friday: What was your favorite meal this week?

Attention all food and travel lovers! "What was your favorite meal this week?"  

Let's face it, whether it's homemade, fine dining, or simply hole in the wall, so much of the travel and living abroad experience involves nothing other than food, glorious food!

I'm starting a weekly post and invite you all to collaborate! I want to share all your wonderful stories and photos.

Here's the deal: Send me a link of your favorite meal this week, or lately if there was nothing to get excited about in the last 7 days.  It doesn't have to be anything beautiful or life-changing, either... just something that hit that spot.

This week's lineup:

For us at the Mary and Sean household, it was sizzling spicy juicy shrimp with huge hunks of garlic in oil with a baguette. Simple and wonderful, the way it should be!

Abi at Inside The Travel Lab had this wonderful gazpacho...

Ms Traveling Pants ate a fabulous meal at the exclusive Momofuku Ko in NYC

Marina, the Travel Experta  in Costa Rica had one of my favorites, rice and beans...

George from My Hotel Life describes heaven on a plate...

Prepare to salivate over this one... Kevin's favorite from Closet Cooking this week is Taco Burger...

Got a great meal to share? Tell us about it or Post a link in the comments section...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Get the Poop (oops, I mean Scoop) on Nightingale Dropping Facial

In my hand, I hold the secret to pasty white skin known only to Geishas for hundreds of years. 

That's right, none other than nightingale droppings, known as uguisu no fun to the Japanese and bird poop to Americans.

We found an old cosmetics store in Tokyo here that sells the stuff, and believe me, people were buying it. Why do you ask? Apparently, it has some lightening and purifying skin agent in it, not substantiated by any real scientific research, but since when does that matter?

It comes out of the bottle in a dried powder form. Thank goodness for that- I don't know if I could stand it the other way. Also, since I know you're wondering-- no, it does not have that familiar smell at all.  

Here's the deal: You lather it up with water, apply, and then rinse off. To be honest, the ritual was somewhat anti-climatic. I didn't feel grossed out or disturbed in the least, though I have to admit I was very careful not to get any of it in my mouth.

So I did it and you know what? 

I think it actually worked! My skin was glowing the whole day... I'm 75% convinced those geishas were on to something...

Come to think of it, however, it could have been the 10 hours of sleep I got, all the salmon and blueberries I've been eating, pregnancy, or even just self-delusion....

In any case, I've got a whole bottle of the stuff, so if anyone out there is know where to find me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Food Love in Tokyo

On our recent trip to Tokyo, we enjoyed so much delicious food. We're in the process of making a video of our food adventures, but here are some of the highlights.

Berry Baked Mochi Donut from Nevyn Handmade in Akasaka, Tokyo

Crispy Duck Fat Fries from the Park Hyatt Tower Hotel Bar (this was the site of the famous meeting between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen in Lost in Translation

The most delicious Prawn Tempura I've had in my life from a small tempura house in Asukusa, Tokyo

Blocks of Japanese style Potato Salad from Ninja in Akasaka

Vegetable hotpot with Miso Paste from Ninja in Akasaka

Duck, Sweet Potato, and Mushroom Tagliatelle from PCA in Akasaka

The most well-deserved Melon Pan Fuji Cake after our 10 hour climb in rain and wind!
There's lots more to show including our visit to the Ninja themed restaurant where we ate in near darkness as Ninjas slunk around serving food and performing Ninja tricks. We also have to show our drinks at the swanky Park Hyatt Hotel Bar on the 52 floor with stunning views of the city.  

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rickshaws and Temples

Our first full day in Tokyo, we spent walking around the Asakusa District. 

This section of the city is representative of the Edo period in Japanese history. Here, there are traditional old stores, crowds of people around temples, winding narrow roads, craftsman, kabuki, and rickshaws.

There was loads to see here and we captured it all on video. Hop on the rickshaw with us!

There's lots more to say about this day. Of course, now I also have to do a product review of the nightingale droppings, so stay tuned for that. But alas, other duties call...

In any case, I absolutely love the festive atmosphere in this part of Tokyo. What's your favorite part of any big city wherever you are?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Into Thin Japanese Air

The big question of the day: Did we make it to the Mt Fuji summit?

Watch our video travelogue and find out. Lucky you... you don't even have to experience the joy of altitude sickness...  

Post Vacation Blues

You know that sad feeling you get when you come back from a cool trip? I got it bad today. Anybody relate? 

Just got in late last night after 4 days of excitement and food and adventure in Tokyo. So much fun and a few surprises! As promised in our little teaser from last week, we managed to hit EVERYTHING on our agenda of sights to see.  

Are you wondering if we made it to the top of Mount Fuji? It will be revealed soon...

We've got loads of pictures and video to share, but also unfortunately, practical boring duties pending like groceries and laundry and work. However, we are in the process of editing it all.  

Please sit tight... here's what's up ahead this week:
George Clooney and $25 cocktails
Rickshaws and Ninjas
Nightingale droppings and more Japanese ancient beauty secrets
Special "shopping" in Tokyo 

The first order of business, however, is a video travelogue of our Mount Fuji hike. We'll post it as soon as we can.
In the meantime, here's a glimpse of some of our Tokyo adventures... 

Does anyone out there in blogosphere have any strategies for beating the post-vacation slump?


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