31 Months in Japan

31 months

by Larry K. Collins and Lorna Collins

Larry and Lorna are two Californians who became part of the Universal Studio team to oversees the construction of the theme park in Osaka, Japan.

Anybody who has traveled or stayed in Japan will resonates with the authors’ experience:  the inconvenience of changing slippers inside the houses, the complicated recycling and trash schedule, the confusing street layouts, the friendliness and honesty of Japanese, the overcrowded subway, the miniature size of everything, and the various food items.  Anybody who has done business with the Japanese will also nod sagely about all that tatemae, nemawashi, meshi exchange, saving faces and keiretsu that requires business handbooks to decipher…

The stay happened in the 90’s, so by now, most of those experiences have been written a million times over and sound a bit old.  The authors were able to develop close relationship with some of their Japanese friends and coworkers, so some chapters provide in depth looks into Japanese lives usually not captured by a gaijin’s eyes.

What fascinates me most, in this book, is the story about the construction of a theme park.  Little did I know so much goes on behind everything when I visited a theme park!  Who knew that they need water quality control for all the pools and lakes, includes the water that may splash on you in a ride?  How they have to measure the water level every 1/10 second?  What the crew went through to get the right look of a setting?  The construction project is complex enough without the complication of translation and cultural difference.  The incident of Jurassic Bonsai makes me smile.  As a project engineer, Larry provided a lot of interesting anecdotes that will surely make me look at the rides anew the next time I visit Orlando.

There are laughs and tears, sweet moments of friendship and exhilaration of a job completed.  As the authors group their experience under topic rather than timeline, once in a while things get a bit confusing.  The writing at times feels like a journalistic reporting and mildly impersonal.  Some editing would make the book more enjoyable.  Overall, it’s a good read for the unique experience the authors present.

Published in: on March 2, 2012 at 11:46 am  Comments (1)  

Orchid Fever

by Eric Hansen

This is such an entertaining book! Well, how could one with a chapter titled Fox Testicle Ice Cream not be?

Orchid is not a particular favorite of mine, but after reading, this book does pique my interest a lot. I went googling for pictures of the flowers mentioned in the book, and started noticing the orchids when I go shopping. I am even considering of attending an orchid show the next time one comes to town. Though thankfully I don’t think I will ever get bitten by the orchid bug.

Being a foodie, my favorite chapter is naturally on the ice cream. Hansen traveled to Turkey to find out about the origin and production of the said ice cream. A little bit more googling brought me to this website:

While some I won’t care for – I most certainly will hate the licorice ice cream – I am pleasantly surprised that I have tried two out of the listed eleven. I did get to try the garlic one at Gilroy’s festival itself, and durian… that’s my favorite. In fact, I do still have a cup in my fridge. It has been there for a while, as for several months now my local grocery store seems to stop carrying it, so I can’t quite bear to eat the very last cup of the six pack.

Er, back to orchids… This book is a fascinating look into a world I’m an outsider of. The absurdity of laws forbidden someone to remove and rescue wild orchids but allow bulldozers to uproot them; the variety of personalities of growers; in some way I am glad my passion is books, not orchids. Well, maybe as an ice cream, but I will have to try that first.

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Accidental Explorer

by Sherry Simpson

One day Sherry Simpson realizes that she has never scaled the mountains or trekked across wild tundra, despiting having lived in Alaska since the age of seven. However, what is wilderness in a place where black bears can wander into your backyard. Or consider the fact that natives who survive for thousands of years on these lands explorers tried and often failed to conquer?

This book is not such much about travelling, but rumination of it. The mapping and the map, the finding versus the found. It is a very honest and humble reminiscence that touches the heart of the reader.

“On that first difficult day, I realized I am not one of those people of whom it is said, after something terrible happens to them outdoors, ‘She died doing wht she loved.’ I did not want to die out here at all.”

I just read Into The Wild a few weeks ago so it was interesting to read of Simpson’s visit to the bus, the site where McCandless died. I also enjoyed her description of Inuksuit, as I’ve fallen in love with those human-shaped cairns when I visited Vancouver.

Another passage that made me paused for thoughts:
“One night in bed, I said (to her husband), You’re a speed bump in my life. It may have bee the cruelest thing I’ve ever said.”

I thought about it. Maybe a speed bump is not a bad thing. It makes you slow down when you are going too fast. It gives me time to notice the neighborhood. If you relax you can even enjoy that funny little wiggle as the car rolls over the bump. In some way I guess I am thankful to my husband, for being the speed bump in my life.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo

All Elevations Unknown

by Sam Lightner Jr.

Ever since seeing a black & white photo of a phallic-shaped mountain shrouded in mist, Lightner and his friend Volker had decided to climb it. The problem was, they didn’t know where exactly it is. The mountain is not on any map, though it’s known to be deep in the jungles of Boreno, where much of the land are uncharted, “all elevations unknown”.

During Lightner’s research, he found out about Tom Harrison and the Allies’ fight in WWII against the Japanese in Borneo. Harrison was parachuted into the jungle of Borneo. He and his army had to hide from the brutal Japanese; to survive in a jungle that has the world’s highest density and variety of poisonous snakes, not to mention deadly parasites which larvae fest on the lung or brain of the host; and to befriend the native headhunting tribes renowned for their lethal blow darts and whom would most likely consider a white man’s head a prize addition to their head collections.

The book juxtaposes Lightner’s adventure to the summit, with a vivid recreation of a little-known piece of WWII history. Together they created a highly entertaining and exhilirating read.

Batu Lawit

After reading the book, I naturally wanted to google for images of Batu Lawi. Interestingly, almost of all what I found was taken against a sunny blue sky.

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 2:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Books Gone Wild in Kansas City

A lot of BookCrossers love leaving books in the wild, but for a shy person like me, I usually prefer the comfort, safety and laziness of online swapping or leaving my books at OBCZs. Moreover, I figure, why risk a book going into the garbage when I could give it to someone who’s interested.

Thus, it was with some curiosity, excitement, and nervous anticipation that I did my first big wild releasing, as a reverse scavenger hunt at the BookCrossing UnConvention in Kansas City. It was totally fun reading the map and preparing books to release, a combination of creativity, knowledge, map reading skills, and walking/running exercise. Totally addictive fun that kept me recounting the details to anybody who chanced to ask how my vacation was. ABout 20 of us turned out en masse to the Country Club Plaza at Kansas City, and leaving book here and there, all over the place.

My first release was at the JC Nicholas Fountain for the fountain theme, using the book Hole in the Water. Well, a fountain is technically speaking, a hole of water, sort of… (*all book titles contain BC journal link)

Hole in the Water

Hole in the Water released at the JC Nicholas Fountain

For the statue theme, I found that the stone horse statue at PF Chang bears remarkably resemblance to the unicorn on the cover of The Camelot Caper, so I left the book at the horse’s foot:

The Camelot Caper

The Camelot Caper

Next I left the book Flower (a great book by the way) in a flower pot. Okay, rather unimaginative, but hey it is themed.


Flower book left with some flowers.

For the numbers theme, I wasn’t quite sure where to release my book until I came across this sign. Funny thing is, originally I had planned to use the book The Four Agreements, which would have been PERFECT at this address. But that book was such an old BC book I couldn’t bear just wild releasing it and end up using Three Junes instead.

Three Junes

Three Junes released at 444

I found a White House/Black Market store, a perfect spot for Blackbeard’s Ghost as a Colors themed release.

Blackbeard's Ghost

Blackbeard's Ghost showing up at Black Market!

Now on to hot and cold. First is The Grilling Season at The Capital Grille. Spot the book? It’s at the paw of the left lion.

The Grilling Season at The Capital Grille

The Grilling Season at The Capital Grille

Then, at my favorite ice cream shop, Coldstone Creamery, a copy of Cold Company. If it weren’t so cold (for me) and if I had more time, I’d definitely have gone in for a pumpkin ice cream.


Cold Company at Coldstone Creamery

There are lots of fountains everywhere, so at this Mermaid fountain I released my water book, Beneath the Surface, though the book remained stubbornly afloat. Should have learned from the Mafia and tied it with some stones…

Beneath the Surface

Beneath The Surface stays afloat in the Mermaid Fountain

I had quite a few dog books. This one, Why We Love The Dogs We Do, awaited a dog + book lover at the Three Dog Bakery.

Why We Love The Dogs We Do

Why We Love The Dogs We Do at the Three Dogs Bakery

I didn’t plan to release this book here, but Benji spotted this fire hydrant and simply refused to leave…

Benji at Fire Hydrant

Benji loves this fire hydrant

Morning, Noon & Night was left next to a string of lights for the lights release.


Lights Release: Morning, Noon & Night

Again, a book that I planned to take home but released instead. This one is for KC Connection, as the author of For the Beary Best Mom lives in Kansas City. Left this on the Kansas City Star newspaper box.

KC Connection

Released for KC Connection

I also did a bunch of themed releases.

You’ve got Nickel ad Dimed at the bank!

You've Got Nickel and Dimed at the Bank!

You've Got Nickel and Dimed at the Bank!

Some Uncommon Grounds (a coffee house mystery) showed up at Latteland (book on front table).

Uncommon Grounds

Latteland has some Uncommon Grounds!

Kind of wish I still had Cold Company, as the eagle would work great over here too. Anyway, a chocolate themed book, Like Water For Chocolate, at the Panache Chocolatier.


My Toy Voyager toys bravely left a book in the eagle's nest.

Love and Other Recreational Sports looked right at home at the Diebel’s Sportsman Gallery.

Sports book

Love is a recreational sport!

This is one of my favorite releases. Why Me? Guess!

Why Me? Guess!

Why Me? Guess!

I had looked for a while to find this perfect chair for Three for the Chair. I believe this is at Brio Tuscan Grille.

A chair release

Chair book on chair

You have to admit that Bead on Trouble looks right at home in the Brighton Collectibles store, though I doubt the shop assistant would agree.

bead on trouble

Beads release

It’s Zero Hour at the Clock Tower of Fogo de Chao. This is the only catch I got so far from this Scavenger Hunt. Plus the very photogenic tower makes this one of my favorite releases.

Zero Hour at Fogo de Chao

It's Zero Hour at Fogo de Chao

As I am not inclined to hang myself under a cliff, this little book Over Sea, Under Stone has to be contend with under a little stone ledge.

Under Stone

Not quite over the sea, but definitely under the stone.

Sorry, dear shop assistant, I knew photography was not allowed in the store. But hey when I have a book called Shades of Earl Grey and you have some boxes of earl grey, what do you expect me to do??

Earl Grey

Earl Grey!!

There is a bonus for finding a pay phone, and I have the perfect book for a themed release. Except that I couldn’t find a darn payphone!! Well, I never did pay attention but just presume them to be everywhere, but never did I imagine that even hotels don’t have payphones anymore!!

Anyway, it wasn’t until we got to the Hallmark City Center that we spotted one. Here you go, Superman Returns. Maybe not. Guess he has to use the men’s room and hopefully not get arrested.

Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Also, about twenty steps away from the payphone, we found this book lying on the bench. I was like, no way, that was the book I released two hours ago! It couldn’t be showing up here! Turns out it was another copy from the same BookCrosser… I guess this is my second wild catch of my BC life!!

A wild catch!!

A weird moment of deja vu indeed!

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 4:52 am  Comments (1)  

Travels With A Tangerine: A Journey In The Footnotes Of Ibn Battutah

by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

I have to say it’s not a fast and easy read, but I am glad I did persevere to finish it. My first book to finish in 2009!

At moments the book does feel a bit repetitive, as the author visited one tomb after another, in unfamiliar places, of people I’ve never heard of (the maps in front were indispensable). He was following the 400-year-old footsteps of Ibn Battutah, the most famous Arabic traveller from Tangier (hence the Tangerine in the title – no other citrus was featured in the book). I am sure if I were more knowledgable about Middle Eastern culture and geography, I may find it more interesting; on the other hand, even were he to travel in search of European castles, Asian temples or Napa vineyards, things could still go stale after a while. What makes the book interesting was the human contact throughout his journey. Most of the people he met were friendly, easy-going, tolerant, cultured and generously hospitable. Incidentally, a few days ago I watched an Anthony Bourdain show, where he travelled to Saudi Arabia. His conclusion of his visit was in a similar tone, that he found the people open, generous and fun-loving, very different from the images we were usually shown or conditioned to conjour up.

The author is a scholarly traveller, and the amount of research he did about IB, his work and his period was evident. He did, however, write with a witty sense of humour. Not the laugh-out-loud type of J. Maarten Troost, but a subtle type that is more likely to joke at himself than his subjects.

Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 8:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Finding George Orwell in Burma

by Emma Larkin

Emma Larkin is the pseudonym for an American journalist born in Asia. She embarked on a journey to visit places in Burma, following the footsteps of the author George Orwell. George Orwell was stationed in Burma during his youth, his first post as an imperial policeman. Burma was an unpopular first choice for overseas posting, but was Orwell’s because of his family connections, his mother having grown up in Burma and part of the maternal family still living there.

In Burma (now Myanmar, although the new name is not recognized by opposing parties and minorities within the country), George Orwell was known more than an author though. He was known as “the prophet”, because his work, 1984 and Animal Farms, had eerily described the future of Burma, as the military took control, oppressed democracy and turned the country into a totalitarian regime who seriously repressing its citizen. Current residents feel that they are living through the story of 1984, where their every move and word is censored and reported.

Larkin travelled through Burma, to cities such as Mandalay and Rangoon. While many travellers see the poetic scenery and gentle people, a peaceful tropical paradise, (as a matter of fact, Burma used to be among the richest Asian countries and a major exporter of rice grown from its rich, delta soil) Larkin reported the undercurrent of oppression and hardship. She recorded some of the experience of ex-political prisoners and other freedom fighters, but the thickness of the air permiated the book: in conversations which ended mid-sentence, until a comment of food or weather brought the topic back on safer grounds; in mysteriously appeared men who suggested the author to retreat to her hotel; in the author’s growing paranoia: is the potted plant next to her coffee table bugged? Did someone steal her diary?

The quoted passages from George Orwell’s books echoed the present condition of the Burmese, as Larkin travelled in the seemingly timeless landscape, imagining Orwell’s life as she stood among the ruins of the colonial buildings. An excellent travelogue that capture the essence of the places she visited, interweaving fiction and fact, past and present. Well worth a read.

Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad

edited by by Christina Henry De Tessan

This is a nice selection of works, with different styles of writing and all sorts of places represented; from trendy Paris to boa-filled jungles and everything in between. (I was thinking of saying “all continents represented”, but then realized that somehow there is no homesick letter from South America, just Mexico and Berlize.)

My favorites are the Before and After Mexico, of a family uprooting themselves to move to a remote Mexican village for a break from the frenzied San Franciscan life. Watching Them Grow Up, of a mother noticing how different the child rearing philosophy is for her husband’s Eypgtian relatives: instead of raising a child, you sit back, relax, and watch them grow. Never-Nnever, a humorous growing up story of a child being teased for being a Yank in Australia, then suffered through the pains again when the family returns to America. Desperately, she wrote to the Australian Embassy in hope that she can go “home”. A Mediterranean Thanksgiving, Take Two, is a woman’s attempt to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in France. Her guests were overwhelmed, not by the quantity of food, but by how all dishes are served together and everything heaped onto one plate, rather than an endless meal of one course after another.

The book reminds me of one episode. Once on vacation visiting my parents back home, my mom asked my husband and I to prepare a salad as part of a feast. On the assumption that Americans eat salads and that we are sort of vegetarians (she once lamented, If you haven’t gone to America, you won’t have become vegetarian!! in her belief that no one, fed on her excellent cooking, could have turned against meat.)

So we thought we had an easy task until we get to the supermarket (one supposedly caters to foreigners). We couldn’t find white mushroom! I held up a fresh shiitake, but my husband insisted it won’t work. Even vegetables by the same name look different. Pampered by aisles of selection, I was shocked to find only Kraft Thousand Island and Miracle Whip for dressings. I wandered all over the supermarket, hoping to find one lone can of olive misplaced somewhere… And I realize that, after spending half of my life each in two different countries, I have became a perpetual expat, a sucker forever paying outrageous price for that taste of a home half a world away.

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The River at the Centre of the World

by Simon Winchester

First of all, the way I came across this book was something of, if not a miracle, an amazing serendipity.

I learnt of this book at a swap on Book Obsessed, and decided to wishlist it. However, on Bookmooch, I guess I clicked on I HAVE IT instead of I WANT IT, so the next thing I know, another moocher requested the book.  How embarassing to have to reject the request and explain the situation.

Then, a few hours later, I was volunteering at the library, packing donated books for the booksale, when a sorter came by and put down a book with the comment, hmm, this one looks interesting. And it’s The River at the Centre of the World!! Unbelievable!  What’s more, I am in charge of paperback fiction, and this book technically belongs to travel. If she had routed it to the correct box I may never have seen it.

The moment I decided I like this book came when I read the writer’s observations in Shanghai.  He saw a Chinese navy ship, and commented on how leisurely the navy walked around on board, with lines of clothes hung to dry… and in general how it seemed inconceivable that China would militarily threaten the world.  He then went on to say that, Chinese afterall invented gun power, but did not put it to much use except for fireworks.  I went aha, that is exactly what I always thought.  Chinese people invented gun power but are now known in the world for making firework displays.  They put out a big envoy of navy, went all the way to Africa, and brought back…giraffe!!!  Not to say that Chinese are exactly a peace loving, gentle breed, but then for the record, over the long historical timeline, they did not invade Japan, their close neighbor, but Japan set her troops onto the country during WWII.

The writer has keen observations, and I like his stance that he neither looked down nor worshipped the country he visited.  The exchange between him, a gentleman from the Royal British Empire, and his companion Lily, a woman grew up on Chinese communist ideology, while heated at times, proves interesting and contrasting. 

Very well researched, entertaining and informative.  I love this book a lot.

Published in: on October 8, 2007 at 3:14 pm  Comments (1)  

The Obsessive Traveller

by David Dale

This book is a pure delight! I kept reading passages to share with my husband.  Some of my favorites:

(on cuisines from different countries) “The English don’t see any point in trying. The Americans try very hard… The fundamental culinary principle here is: nothing succeeds like excess.”

(on different tour guides) “Let’s Go tells you how to avoid bad drugs and where to find a hamburger in countries that don’t serve them.”

(on the search for a White Christmas for a guy born on the wrong hemisphere) “Manhattan does a highly satisfying real Christmas, but there is one vital detail to remember: you can’t call it Christmas.  You must wish people only “happy holidays” or “compliments of the season” to avoid making the arrogant assumption that Christianity is any more important than the other religions followed by large segments of the city’s population.”

“In 1756 M. Boulangerm who sold very good soup in his Dining Room in Paris, put up a board outside which said Venite ad me; vos qui stomacho laboratis et ego restaurabo vos (Come to me, those with laboured stomachs and I will restore you).  M. Boulanger’s soup became known as a restaurant (restorative) and the word came to be applied to the establishment itself and finally to any Dining Room which provided high quality food.”

Rather than a travelogue in chronological manner, Dale compares notes on various topics (waiters, museums, public transportation, etc.) drawn from his extensive travel (mostly to Europe and U.S.)  It is an interesting perspective to read a travel book by an Australian writer, and I definitely hope for a chance to read more of Dale’s work.

Published in: on July 5, 2007 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan

by Bruce Feiler

Another excellent book that I won’t have come across were it not for BookCrossing

I thought I know a bit about Japanese school system from all the mangas I read, but this book is so educating!  It delves from the funny, such as Bruce’s not-too-auspicious nampa adventures (concerns that Bruce is too “big” for Japanese women), to the thought-provoking, such as the little-known caste of burakumin and the conflict between the inaka and the metropolis. 

I also garnered interesting facts such as the perfect lenghth of chopsticks (15% of your height), and that Japanese school days are a whooping 60 days longer than American school days.

The book provides an excellent insight into the heart of Japanese culture. Certainly there are pros and cons for both school systems, the two are probably as far apart as can be among industrialized nations.  From the education of children, you can see the big picture of the national identity, business practice and the possible future of the countries.

The book is however a bit dated.  I didn’t have a clue how old it is until I came across pop culture references like Hikari Genji that are, in terms of pop culture, two generations ancient.  I don’t know how much things have changed, but certainly students are still required to clean the classrooms, hazing and suicide is still going on, and cramming for entrance exams still very much part of a student’s life.  Therefore, while the popstars are stars no more, the observations made and messages conveyed still hold true.

Published in: on May 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Cook’s Tour

by Anthony Bourdain

This is my first Bourdain book and I enjoyed it tremedously.  (I gave him lots of bonus points for professing his love for durian, but had them all deducted for his rabbit killing spree and vegetarian bashing…) 

Like an excellent dish, the book is craftily prepared: colorful, flavorful, authentic, with complex layers of tastes, slightly exotic, teasing you to indulge in forkful after forkful. I wonder if Bourdain has a ghost writer.  Otherwise, his talent with pen certainly matches the one with pan!

Bourdain is not shy about exposing his intimate thoughts and feelings, which makes this travelogue and food guide that much more entertaining.  Very often, he would start talking about a dish, a cuisine, and then it will delve deeper.  Like when he visited France, in the end he realized that he didn’t go there to look for the perfect meal.  He didn’t go there to look for his childhood home. He went to look for his father, who was no longer there, or anywhere.   Similarly, his visit to Cambodia unleashed some very strong comments about US foreign policy.

Something I find weird about the book though – it looks like the editor hit a shuffle play button on his computer.  The chapters hop around, from Portugal to Vietnam to Spain to Japan then to Vietnam and Japan again… Not that it matters much as each chapter pretty much stands along, just kind of weird.

Published in: on February 5, 2007 at 10:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Namma – A Tibetan Love Story

by Kate Karko

My first book to finish in 2007. : )

I can’t help comparing it to The White Masai and notice the difference of the two protoganists beyond the similarity of their exotic marriages. For starter, by page 3 of the prologue, the dating is over and the couple is married, whereas in TWM, a good portion of the story was spent on the chase.

Kate Karko is, by comparison, more observative and reflective, delving deeper into the nature of the people she spent time with – their social structure, the effect of modernization and sinonization, their spiritual belief and so forth, from her unique position as both an insider and outsider. The life she painted is quieter and deeper, the dramas less exciting, whereas in TWM the plot pulls you. This gets me wondering, at this risk of sounding stereotyping, whether their natures draw them to the guys, the cultures, they fall for.

This Tibetan Love Story is more about love for
Tibet, its land and its people, rather than for one Tibetan.

Tsedup, Kate’s husband, made an interesting comment. Kate’s friends from
England came for a visit, and at the end of the day, she commented that it was a good day. Tsedup said that the westerners always like to measure their days. His words got me thinking. Maybe because we measure the days, we are depressed by the sad ones, and become overwhelmed by the need to make each day a happy one? How do we not measure the days and still be immersed in life’s experience?

One common experience in both stories saddens me though: in both places, the husband, as a native tribeman, was discriminated against when he tried to enter a premise reserved for rich foreign visitors.

Published in: on January 3, 2007 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment