Thursday, January 27, 2011

Towada February Events

第21回とわだ雪見ラリー Towada Yukimi (Snow Viewing) Rally
Date: Wed. 2 Feb. 2011
Time: Sign-in: 17:00~; Start: 18:00; Finish (for Prize Draw): 20:00 
Location: (受付・抽選会場)十和田商工会館 
(Reception/Prize Draw) Towada Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Fee: 2500 yen (in advance); 3000yen (day of)
Description: Your fee gets you one drink (of your choice) at each of five specified bars. Get a stamp for each finished drink and bring the completed stamp card back to the Chamber of Commerce & Industry (by 20:00) to be entered into the prize draw.

十和田湖冬物語Snow & Light Fantavista Towadako Fuyu Monogatari (Lake Towada Winter Story)
Date: Fri. 4 Feb.-Sun. 27 Feb. 2011
Time: 学びの旅と十和田湖食彩ドームActivities & Food: Weekdays 15:00-21:00; Weekends 11:00-21:00
ステージStage: Daily 19:00~
花火Fireworks: Daily at 20:00
乙女の像ライトアップ Maidens Statue Illuminated Daily 17:00-21:00
Location: 十和田湖畔休屋特設イベント会場 Lake Towada Yasumiya Special Event Venue
Admission: Free (fees may be required for specific activities but performances are free)
Description: Enjoy activities in the snow, live performances, fireworks and more! Get all-you-can drink mulled wine and keep the glass as a souvenir for 500yen! Sip cocktails and sake inside kamakura (kind of like igloos) bars. (View photos from the 2010 Towadako Fuyu Monogatari here. Read the 2010 blog post here.)

第21回十和田市伝統芸能まつり Towada Dentou Geinou Matsuri  
Date: Sun. 20 Feb. 2011
Time: 13:00~
Location: 十和田市民文化センター・大ホール Bunka Centre Grand Hall
Admission: Free
Description: Watch traditional (performance) art performances from various areas of Towada, e.g. Horanai, Ofudo, etc. (See pictures from 2010 below.) 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

年末年始 End of 2010, Beginning of 2011

The end of 2010 was super busy for me (hence the lack of updates here). I spent most of my free time in December making/wrapping Christmas treats.

I went a little crazy this year and ordered four 1.5kg bags of Holiday M&Ms off of eBay. Somehow I didn't realize exactly how much 1.5kg actually amounted to--see, last year I used 2-3 bags of M&Ms for Christmas cookies, but after I saw the 1.5kg bags, I realized that I had probably used 750g bags before!! So yeah, 6kg of Christmas M&Ms was about four times as much as I actually needed!

So this year, on top of giving cookies to the Board of Education and students and teachers at the small schools (schools/classes with less than 30 students) I visit regularly, I also ended up giving Christmas presents to the entire sixth grade at the only large elementary school I've visited regularly this year (~120 students in total). I put some Holiday M&Ms in a small bag with some Japanese cookies/candies to make it fill up nicely.

The second last week of school (Dec. 11-17) in particular was crazy. I spent practically the entire weekend baking cookies, and then all of my spare time after work, dance practice and taiko wrapping everything! But even though it made me insanely busy/tired, it was totally worth it!

Money spent on Christmas cookies/treats: ~$200
Time spent baking/wrapping: ~20hr
Spreading Christmas cheer: PRICELESS

(Ok, cheesy, I know, but so true! I really look forward to making Christmas cookies every year!)

Then we had our office trip to Hakodate. It was my third time there so the sightseeing wasn't so important to me as the food!! I had いくら・ほたて・とろサーモン丼 (salmon roe, scallop and toro salmon rice), いかすみソフト (squid ink soft serve ice cream) and かにまん (crab meat steamed bun) all within the first 2-3 hours upon arrival!

A co-worker also had the Lucky Pierrot (a local Hakodate burger chain) 函館山バーガーHakodate Yama Burger. It's a massive burger roughly three and a half to four times the size of a regular burger and costs 1100yen. There are only 20 burgers available per day at each shop. My co-worker happened to get the very last one of the day at the shop near the station! (Apparently someone tried to order one after we ordered and was told that they were sold out.)

Other than eating, we did actually manage to see some Hakodate sights: the night view from Mt. Hakodate, the (daily) lighting ceremony for the giant Christmas tree (from Halifax!) at the Bay Area, and Goryoukaku.

December 23rd I flew back to Canada. That night we (my parents and I) had dinner at Canyon Creek (steak!) and then hit up the Chapters to get my Christmas present: a Kobo eReader!!

Christmas Eve was the church's English service. A bunch of us hung out at Ollie & Cheese's place afterward. The next morning (Christmas day) my parents and I had to be out of the house by 4:30am to catch our flight to San Francisco. My brother joined us there the next day (Boxing Day).

Some highlights from the trip:
Sea lions at Pier 39 (Fisherman's Wharf)
Mint Bliss sundae @ Ghirardelli Square
Lombard Street, "The World's Crookedest"
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Park
Boudin Bakery's turtle-shaped sourdough
On our last night we were also able to meet up with my aunt, uncle, cousin and her family for dinner at Park Chow. It was my first time meeting my cousin's husband and daughters since I was in Japan when they came to Toronto for a visit. Another cousin who is studying in a nearby university also dropped by our hotel room later that evening for a visit. It really was a family trip in more than one sense of the word! ^_^

We got back to Canada on the night of the 29th. The 30th I met up with Steph and Lisa and we went to Hubert and Angela's for dinner (Ceci was there too, of course)! It was my first time at their new place and meeting Caleb--such a cutie! And I was surprised at how social/talkative he is! Steph and Lisa taught us a fun game--a cross of pictionary and broken telephone--and we nearly died laughing over some of the results...

Basically every starts off with a piece of paper and writes a sentence or phrase (movie title, song lyrics, etc. are fine). Then everyone passes the paper to the next person who draws a picture of the sentence/phrase and folds the paper down so the text isn't visible to the next person. The next person looks at the picture and writes a sentence/phrase based on the picture and folds the paper down so the picture isn't visible to the next person. And so it continues until you get the sentence you originally wrote back.

(The above are from our very first round, I believe.)

The 31st was brunch at Cora's with Steph and Lisa.

Then I headed downtown to hang out with Liz and Clara until Alan came home and Huston, Ivy and Elizabeth came over and we all had dinner together.

After that I headed to Syv and Justin's for the countdown. Jen and I slept over and Syv made us pancakes and eggs (and smoked salmon!) for breakfast New Year's morning.

My parents picked me up and I spent the rest of New Year's Day reading and sleeping. The second was breakfast with the girls at Cora's (again!) before service. After church I headed downtown to have lunch (steak crepe--yum!) and hang out with Carly.

The third was the BSGE hot pot!! We actually did a good job with buying the food this time and didn't have too much leftover. We also played the pictionary-telephone game--again, with hilarious results.

My final day of vacation  (Jan.4) was another do-nothing-day at home, but in the evening we had a family dinner (i.e. Nate came to Mississauga) at Pho, of all places. (Mostly because I had overeaten throughout the holidays and really wasn't up for a big meal.)

All in all I had a pretty good end of 2010 and start of 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Airport lounges

Even though this is my second year as an Aeroplan Elite (Star Alliance Gold) member, today is my first time using the lounge.

I've got to say, it's pretty sweet! I had no idea that you could get free food and drinks in one! Unfortunately I ate a larger than usual lunch at the train station (a cream cheese & salmon sandwich, a mixed fruit sandwich, and two anpan with, respectively panda and penguin designs!) so if I ate now it'd really just be out of simple gluttony.

Still, seeing that I have access to free food I'm very glad that I gave away the 2000yen food voucher I got from the airline (because of the delay). I knew there was no way I'd be able to eat anything, so rather than letting it go to waste I "accosted" a couple standing and looking at a restaurant window and offered them the voucher if they were planning on eating at a restaurant somewhere today. Thankfully they accepted it so I didn't have to force myself to eat close to 2000yen worth of food just so it wouldn't go to waste. (I really would have!)

Oh well, since I'm here maybe I'll just nibble on something, or at the very least have something to drink. Still another 2.5hr to go!

[Update: So much for nibbling! I totally pigged out on inarizushi, sushi, sandwiches, senbei, shortbread cookies, chocolate and soup! And I actually had a second plate, too! ^_^;; ]

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The power of desperation

(Note: This is a continuation from my previous post.)

So flight AC003 was supposed to arrive in Tokyo at 17:25 and in order to catch the last Shinkansen to Shichinohe-Towada Station at 20:04, I needed to catch the 18:15 Narita Express (N'EX). (Actually, I later found out that I could've also taken the 18:48 N'EX but that would've left me with only 15min to catch the Shinkansen which is doable but difficult.)

I was hoping that the third time would be a charm and I'd arrive on time or early just once this trip (to recap: my original flight was delayed 4hrs, and the AC103 flight to Vancouver arrived almost 30min late) but my bad luck held and we arrived 20min behind schedule--leaving me with only 25min to catch the N'EX.

As soon as the seatbelt sign was off I jumped up, grabbed my stuff and raced to the front of the plane saying "Sorry, excuse me. I need to catch a train that leaves in 25min!!" I managed to be one of the first five passengers to get off and as soon as I had enough space I literally ran past the people who had gotten off before me and booked it to customs.

I'm horrendously out of shape so I only managed to sustain the run/sprint for about 15m (although in my defense I'd just gotten off a 10-hr flight and was carrying a fairly hefty backpack and duffle bag) and thereafter had to settle for a fast walk.

It was 17:56 by the time I hit the first movator (i.e. moving walkway) but thankfully the distance between the international gates and customs at Narita is a lot shorter than the distance between the domestic and international gates at Vancouver Airport! I made it to customs right around 18:00 and was lucky to have been able to go straight to the front of the line because they were just splitting one line into two when I got there. (I felt bad about basically butting in front of a bunch of people, but I was desperate, so...)

The one minor bump in my journey from the plane gate to the train platform was the fingerprinting. I'd forgotten that I had a bandage on my right index finger so I wasted a bit of time there first getting an error message and then having to hurriedly pull off the bandage.

But still, I managed to make it onto the N'EX train by 18:08--with 7 minutes to spare! I was embarrassingly out of breath and huffing and puffing like mad, but at least I was safely on the train!

So the lesson I learned is that it *is* possible to make it through customs within 15min of getting of the plane with a little luck and a lot of desperation.

To save myself from the stress, next time I'm not going to bother buying return train tickets. So even if my plane is super late (and with my luck recently I'm fulling expecting to get hit with more delays) at least I won't have to worry about the money I spent on train tickets going to waste.

Oh, and on a slightly random but related note, I *did* actually end up writing Air Canada to compliment them on their helpfulness in re-booking my tickets so I could have a chance to catch my trains. And as thanks for the email, they actually sent me a code for 5% off of a future ticket purchase (for travel up to Jan. 13 2012)!! Sweet!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hoping lightning doesn't strike twice in the same day

It's 11:19am (PST) on Wednesday, January 5th and I'm currently sitting in the Vancouver airport. I was supposed to be on a plane to Tokyo by now but thanks to my colossal bad luck I realized late last night that my direct flight from Toronto to Tokyo was listed as being delayed by FOUR HOURS.

This was a huge problem since it pushed the scheduled arrival time to 19:10 but the last possible Narita Express train (to Tokyo Station) that I could take to catch the last train to Towada was the 18:15. And I already had tickets purchased. (Once a train has left you're pretty much out of luck and just have to buy a new ticket--no sympathy for situations beyond a traveler's control...)

On calling to inquire whether I'd be able to receive any compensation for the new train tickets I'd have to buy after missing the last possible train out to Towada, I learned that since the delay was due to mechanical problems I had a slim chance of being able to make a claim. (If it was a weather delay I'd be out of luck.)

After that call ended, I thought, maybe I can get re-booked onto a flight to Vancouver and then Tokyo! So I called Air Canada yet again and found out that there was space on the flight to Tokyo, but no seats on the flights to Vancouver (from Toronto).

Following a couple of calls to Japan (to see if I was completely out of luck with the train tickets or if I could cancel them from Toronto and get some money back), inspiration hit: could I go on standby to Vancouver?

So I called Air Canada for the third time in less than two hours and confirmed that it was indeed a possibility.

The tricky part was that even if I got the flight from Vancouver, I'd have a very small margin for delays. The Vancouver flight was scheduled for 13:55 and would arrive at 17:25--giving me a mere 50min to get through customs and to the train. (On a good day I can get off the plane and be out of customs in 30min but with my luck recently...)

Anyway, I figured better to take the chance of being able to catch the train rather than waiting for the delayed flight which would give me no chance at all. (My dad also had an experience where a mechanical delay ultimately ended up getting the flight canceled so he had to go back home and try again the NEXT DAY!!)

So I re-packed my bags so I wouldn't have any checked luggage--only carry-on--and then my poor dad had to take me to the airport around 5am!

I managed to get onto the 7am flight to Vancouver on standby. Once I got on that flight they were supposed to try to check me into the 10am flight to Tokyo but since it was a special/added flight (AC2003) I guess they made a mistake and put me on the regular AC003 (13:55) flight instead.

Unfortunately I didn't know that so when the flight arrived in Vancouver at 9:38 I nearly killed myself running to the absolute farthest international gate (for future reference going from a domestic flight to international gate D63 in less than 20min is VERY painful--particularly carrying bags). I made it just before 10am (9:56 or so?) and only found out at the gate that I was actually checked in for the later flight.

Not that I'm complaining because before this morning I hadn't even known about the 10:00 flight and had been planning to take the 13:55 flight originally anyway, but I really wish they had told me that when I got onto the 7am flight to Vancouver so I wouldn't have had to kill myself running through the airport....

But anyway, I'm extremely grateful to Ms. LG who was at the AC ticket sales desk in Toronto this morning. I know it was a lot of hassle to re-route me and I suspect that since it wasn't an emergency (family illness, connecting flight, wedding, etc.) other staff might have just said: "Tough luck, wait it out." But she was really helpful and I'm definitely going to email AC to tell them how thankful I was/am for her help. (I'm pretty quick to complain about poor service, so I figure it's only fair to praise good service as well.)

Now I'm just waiting an hoping that lightning (i.e. delays) won't strike me twice in the same day and that I'll be able to catch trains to get home "tonight" (Thursday) as originally planned.