Friday, November 4, 2011

I Miss Real Cheese

Hokkaido is famous for it's "fresh dairy" - or so I'm frequently told.  When I did some research about my placement before coming to Japan, I was happy to find this bit of information.  I'm a huge diary fan.  I like milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and all the other things that come from cows. 

Yet, as I should have expected, their definition of these food terms is different here.  For example, ice cream never comes in a pint, let alone a gallon.  Mini individual cups are about all you can get for ice cream, they cost almost as much as a pint would back home, and every store carries Haagen Dazs but few stores carry local ice cream.  No more ice cream with birthday cakes then.  But, it turns out that it's easy to live without ice cream. I never really ate that much in the States, and I just have even less now which is probably for the best.

The difficult thing for me to live without is cheese.  I didn't realize how much of it I consumed until I moved here.  I wanted to make lasagna, but I couldn't find ricotta cheese.  I wanted to make a spinach and artichoke dip (sent from my loving mother in the States) but I can't find Swiss cheese anywhere. I wanted to make grilled cheese sandwiches - denied. Pepperjack? Non-existent. Sharp Cheddar? Nope. 

Basically, there is only some weird, unknown mix of white shredded cheese in most grocery stores. Some grocery stores carry tiny boxes of cream cheese as a "luxury" item.  Any non-white plain cheese is exotic, and therefore sold in tablespoon sizes at exorbitant prices.

In the past few years, the tide has been changing and real cheese has been invading Hokkaido. Ironically, it's due almost 100% to the fact that a Costco moved to Sapporo a few years ago.  They carry large blocks of cheese (definitely unheard of before) and now...occasionally...a grocery store by the name of "Tobu" will sell Kirkland Costco products in its stores all across Hokkaido - including the blocks of cheese! And, for Japan, the prices are reasonable. A few weeks ago I bought some of this flavorful (orange) cheddar cheese.  I've been enjoying the block of cheese as a snack, as additions to sandwiches, and as accompaniments to crackers and apples.  

Last month, I had my monthly "Lunch with Ms. Kim" session where any student can join me for lunch and a mostly-English conversation.  About eight students showed up and we were enjoying our conversation when I pulled out my lunch: apple, almonds and raisins mix, plus some slices of cheddar cheese.  It was mayhem. No one could believe that I was eating orange cheese. In fact, they had never even seen orange cheese before. I took out a slice and let the students split the slice so they could all try cheddar cheese. 

Friday, October 7, 2011


Because of the marathon on Saturday, I had Monday off.  However, most of my friends did not.  So, I decided to go off and search for outdoor onsens.  I've gone island-hopping, and I've done bar-hopping, so on Monday, I went onsen-hopping at Kussharo Lake.  

One of my favorite things about Japan are its onsens.  Onsens are a little like hot tubs but come from natural hot springs.  Because of all the volcanic activity in Japan, there are hot springs everywhere.  Onsens are purported to have health benefits, and are used for relaxation and bathing. I found a total of six onsens, but one was occupied the whole time so I didn't take a photo, and the other looked like it might have required opening gates or crossing private property - not something I'd risk alone! 

Here are just a few pictures from my mini road trip. Enjoy!

Bihoro Togue Viewpoint

A view of Lake Kussharo

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Running Festival!

Running Festivals are really a euphemism for a mandatory runs.  As far as I know, every high school in my city – and most in Hokkaido – have some sort of mandatory run for their students. 

At my base school, the girls run 30km and the boys run 42km (26 miles).  All students are required to be there, and the few students who don’t have to run still go to the school so that they can volunteer all day. Of the approximately 600 students at this school, only 10 students had medical reasons to not participate in the running, and almost all the students eventually finished.  The first students starting finishing about three hours after their 7:30am start, while the final students came in around 3:00pm that day.  
(Above) Me in front of my base school and the finish line

I really like the idea.  I still think the distance could pass for torture in the States, but maybe something shorter might be worth considering.  Though I saw a lot of students who just wanted the day to be over, I also saw a lot of camaraderie.  There was school spirit, and students were proud of their accomplishment.  All students – even the best runners – were challenged by this race, but almost none failed to complete the task.  

It’s weird, but 30-40km doesn’t seem too shocking anymore. To be fair, I wasn’t the one running. But perhaps I got used to the idea after last year’s marathon, or maybe it’s because I found out about what other schools do.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Weird Questions.

Before I came to Japan, I heard some rumors that students here in Japan ask questions that would be considered rude or invasive in one's own native country.  After I got used to the "Do you have a Boyfriend?" question, I didn't have too many offensive questions.  Sure, I got weird questions like "Do you like Mr. (teacher's name here)?" or the occasional brave soul would ask "Will you marry me?" But in the end, nothing really stood out.  

My other friends here tell different stories.  Some males have been asked their "size." Others have been asked "When was your first kiss?" or "How many girl/boyfriends have you had?" or "Do you play sex?" just to name a few that I've been told of.  To be honest, students may have asked such questions in Japanese, and if they did so in the first six or so months of my arrival, there's no way for me to know. 


I decided to write about toilets because of this picture I found in the ladies' room at a local rest stop: 

When I saw this, I laughed...hard.  Firstly, why, in Japan, does anyone need a reminder of how to use a western-style toilet?  Are there really people who have used only squat toilets their whole life and stumble upon this as their first toilet?  And can you imagine what sort of incident might have happened to encourage this place to put up the sign in the first place?  My imagination tells me that some little old obaachan (grandmother/elderly woman) climbed up onto this western-styled toilet seat, found it difficult to balance, and slipped.  Maybe she fell in, or maybe she got stuck somewhere, but in the end the station decided to post signs on correct toilet usage. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hokkaido Countryside

Recently I had the luxury of having a few days off from work during the student summer vacation.  My little Japan trip started with two days in Sapporo, enjoying the city atmosphere and seeing some friends.  The next day I flew to Tokyo and had a free day before helping with the Tokyo Orientation for all the new JETs! I can't believe a full year has gone by already - I was that new JET just last year!  And on top of that, my birthday is coming up so I'll be 23 soon.  I wish I could slow time down - it's going way too fast!

After helping at the Tokyo Orientation, I flew back to Hokkaido with my friend Miriam, and her friend Dan.  We spent two days around Daisetsuzan National Park and Biei, Hokkaido (central Hokkaido, near Asahikawa), then drove to spend the night in Kitami, followed by two days and one night in Shiretoko.  We returned to Kitami where I just said goodbye to two of the best roadtrippers that I know.  It's only been a day since I said goodbye to them, and about 10 days since I started this adventure, but I think I'm already having people withdrawals.  

Anyways, this post will be considerably less detailed and lengthy since some of my last ones since I'm still a bit tired from all the traveling.  I've posted a few pictures below to hopefully entice some of you to consider coming to visit me soon! 

Please enjoy!

Bihoro Togue view of Lake Kussharo

Friday, July 22, 2011

Emergency All-School Meeting

Today there was an emergency meeting. I was working quietly at my desk when I noticed that the staff room was filling up after 2nd period and the principal was in the room.  To be clear, the principal only comes to the teacher’s room when there is a meeting. 

Being that it was at a strange time – the 10 minute period between classes – and unplanned, I asked around and was told that it was an emergency meeting.  The meeting started soon afterwards and I listened intently, trying to figure out the emergency. 

I was proud of myself for catching most of the nouns, but I had a hard time piecing together the meaning.  The fastest talking teacher was announcing something about the incident, and the story that I caught went something like this:

This morning…7:40…junior high school…junior high school student…bicycle…high school students…two people…bicycle…Hokuto High School and Hakuyo High School…hospital...please notify the students. 

In my imagination, here’s how I filled in the blanks:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Year Reflection

I’ve been in Japan for almost one year now.  At this time last year, I had finished packing but I wasn’t ready to go.  In fact, I would’ve taken almost any other job if something had come up.  However, as fate would have it, no job offer magically appeared and I was on a plane to Tokyo within a few days.

Since living in Japan I’ve hit really high highs, and lows lower than anything I could have ever imagined.  I felt a whole range of emotions in the extreme – homesickness, longing, heartbreak, contentment, isolation, discontent, optimism, betrayal – and I continue to discover a new intensity to old emotions that I thought I knew, such as happiness and sadness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nonsensical Emails

What is up with the emails of people here in Japan? To be clear, most people don't text, they use phone emails to correspond with others in place of texting to someone's phone number.  That means that if you want to correspond any other way besides calling, you have to get their phone number AND phone email.  In fact, you can't text from phone number to phone number unless you're on the same carrier.  And maybe that's why it seems like my students don't have computer-based emails, only phone ones. So I don't know many Japanese people's computer emails, and when I've asked students to email me a file or ask a teacher for their email to correspond about work or to send them a file,  95% of the time I get a phone email.  It always seems to take forever to share an email address because there are so many numbers and letters and they always seem to be arranged so haphazardly that it't tough to get right.  Of course, this is added onto the already present differences in native language.  

It shocks me, though, that there aren't more sensible email addresses.  Not unlike at home, when you make an email you can't control what comes after the @ sign, but you always get to choose what comes before the @ sign.  You do this when you sign up for a phone in Japan.  Here are some examples of what I mean (they have been changed somewhat for privacy purposes but retain their original weirdness):

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flashing Season

Apparently it's that time of year.

With the changing of spring into summer, the rainy season is over, the chance of frost is over, the days are (relatively) long, and the sun is out.  It's the perfect time for a run outside on a warm and sunny Saturday.  It's a time when you don't have to wear a jacket at night.  It's also prime weather for creepy perverts to flash their little man parts at unsuspecting women. 

Within a matter of three days, I have had two experiences with this.  Let me give you a little background:

Case 1: The Adulterated Saturday Run 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dear Students,

I know it's surprising to see me anytime, and it's especially surprising to see me outside of school.  You're correct, I'm not Japanese.  I guess that means you would call me a "foreigner," but don't worry, I'm not offended. Yes, I'm real.  And yes, I can hear you.  And I know that you can hear me.  

When you see me outside in the evening, near my home, don't be afraid.  It is just as much of my natural habitat as the school is.  I know that you don't always enjoy English class, but all of you are high school students, and therefore have studied English - whether you wanted to or not - for at least four years. 

You may be surprised to hear and have to use English outside of school, but please try a little.  Humor me.  What is the point of learning English if you never use it outside of school?  When it is 7:30 at night, the sun is setting, and I say "good evening" as I walk by you, you do not say "good morning."  It is not the morning.  Having such poor English isn't something to be proud of and laugh about with your friends.  It makes you look foolish. 

I just wanted to let you know that it hurts a little.  Haven't I taught you well?  Didn't your junior high school ALTs teach you the difference between morning and evening?  You are old enough to know better.  All it would take is a little thought and that's all I'm asking for - some thought

Your ALT

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Do you have a boyfriend?

I have been in Japan for almost a full year.  I have visited seven different high schools and within those high schools, I have taught dozens and dozens of classes, seeing thousands of students at least once in the past eleven months.  Breaking that down into more manageable numbers, I have given 76 self-introductions of some form.  Sometimes I have the entire class period and a computer and can give a PowerPoint, other times I have only 10 minutes and a worksheet, and other times the teachers plan my self-introduction for me (no, I don't understand it either). 

I have gotten so good at introducing myself, that I can do it anywhere, anytime, to any level of English.  I can do it in five minutes or fifty.  With ten students or forty students, awake or asleep, as a game or as a lecture. I can size up a class in the first two minutes of entering the classroom and alter my introduction accordingly.  I know exactly what words are difficult for students and how to use those words so that students understand.  I know when I can speak slowly and when to speak faster.  I can pick out the potential troublemaker in the first thirty seconds of class and use preventative techniques to keep him (because it's almost always a him) in line. I know how the weather can affect student's attention spans and what to expect from a class if it's right after lunch or right before.  In short, I am the master at a self-introduction lesson. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

He's a Smooth Criminal

Being that I teach high school, not junior high school or elementary school, I tend to have fewer "cute kid" stories.  However, my students can at least speak selective English.  What I mean by that is that I may ask them "how is the weather today?" or "what is your name?" and they often (not always of course, but usually) become bashful, proclaim they don't know English, or give a horrendously off-base answer after five minutes of consulting with friends.  When it comes to the day-to-day useful English questions and phrases, students tend to have a difficult time answering.  

Most kids, however, speak what I call "Selective Broken English," or SBE.  SBE consists of words or phrases that come from English music, movies, popular English words or phrases adopted into Japanese, and supporting vocabulary.  This leads to some very interesting things that come out of my student's mouths. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

America's Next Top Model!

Almost two months ago I was contacted by an acquaintance who asked if I'd be interested in doing some hair modeling for the salon she goes to.  I gave it about 30 seconds worth of thought before deciding that of course I'd love to help them out! 

The people at World Love Salon were wonderful, super nice, and helped me feel comfortable.  I only hope that they had as much fun as I did!  They washed my hair, dried it, did my make-up, and styled my hair.  In all it took a little more than three hours from start to finish. 

The final product only came out a few days ago, so not many people have said anything or noticed yet - if it gets any notice at all.  However, I did come home from work today to find four Kitami Bis magazines sticking out of my mailbox.  No message or note - just the magazines with my picture in them...but don't worry, I don't get a creepy vibe or anything from it. 

Enjoy a few pictures from the photo shoot and at the bottom I share the final result!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creative Cooking

Being in Japan, it's sometimes difficult to find the comfort foods of home.  Things that I once took for granted, like my favorite cereals, breakfast foods, cheese, specialty health foods, and Mexican ingredients, suddenly became luxuries.  It's an odd feeling to be the one scouring the "Foreign Foods" section of the department store hoping that they have tortilla chips this month.  Added to the fact that I often can't find my favorite foods, I typically cannot read what foods are at the grocery store if I cannot tell what something is just by looking at it.  

On top of this dilemma, I'm still a relatively picky eater- I don't like fried food, mayo, ketchup, mustard, most BBQ sauces or BBQ flavors, pickled anything, anything that looks regurgitated (such as the popular Japanese dish Okonomiyaki or natto, feel free to Google them) or textures that invoke the gag reflex (like mochi).  Unfortunately, mayo is very popular here, used on everything from rice dishes, to salads, to pizzas and is a lot harder to avoid than I expected. 

It's been both good and bad for my diet.  On the one hand, fresh fruits and vegetables are safe for me to get because I don't need a sign or directions telling me what they are or how to eat them.  On the other hand, I am not very adventurous with trying new foods here.  I've looked into trying some Japanese dishes, but they use ingredients that I don't know how to use, and usually can't identify in the grocery store.  Thus, I've tried getting creative with the foods that I do know to get healthy, nutritious, and easy meals.  

Here are some of my favorite.  For most of them, I adapted the recipes from things I've made in the past.  Feel free to try them yourself!

Spinach Taco Rolls

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Into the Wild…

…kind of.  This past weekend I went to Shiretoko, Rausu, and Nakashibetsu – all Eastern Hokkaido small towns – to hang out with some fellow JETs and finally get out in the good weather.  

The ALT in Rausu put together an organized outing through a local Japanese tour group.  It included a 2-hour leisurely hike, a barbeque, and a 3 hour whale watching boat tour.  We followed that up with a trip to a hotel onsen, dinner at an izakaya, and socializing at the Safeway bar in Nakashibetsu. Yes, Safeway is a grocery store in the States, but the bar owner here seems to know that and embrace it – even the store logo is the Safeway logo.  U.S. Copyrights don’t really matter in this case. 

Our morning began at 5:30am, after only getting five or so hours of sleep, my predecessor and I went to pick up another local English teacher on our way out to Rausu.  It ended up being about a three hour drive because we stopped along the way for some photos and generally took our time.  It didn’t matter anyway because when we got to the mountain pass, we found that it was closed until 9:00am anyway so we had to wait a while regardless.
Megan, Me, and Ben at a waterfall on our way to Rausu

Operation Tomodachi!

I just found out through one of my Japanese friends that the rescue and relief operations by the U.S. Military after the 3/11 earthquake were named "Operation Tomodachi" which essentially means Operation Friendship.  I'm proud of how our military and government responded to the disasters and are continuing to provide assistance where necessary.  According to my friend, it was the U.S. Navy who cleared Sendai's airport so that the Japanese Self-Defense force could begin their operations.  It's examples like this that make me especially proud of our forces.  I like hearing about the military doing good and providing relief to those who need it in the world instead of just waging war. 

Here's just a quick article talking about Operation Tomodachi, if you're interested:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seismic Time Lapse

Here's an interesting visual of where the earthquakes in March happened, at what frequency, and where.  I'm in Hokkaido, in the center north/east region.  It's on the far right of the screen.  There is some dramatic music accompanying it, but I think the effect is pretty significant even without the sound effect. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to Help

I’ve gotten quite a few requests about what to do or how to help.  I would say the best three things are as follows:

1. Donate money – the best place would be to the American Red Cross who are sending donations to the Japanese Red Cross 

2. Write a letter – help the 3000 Letters for Japan campaign by writing a very simple and colorful letter to an affected child.

3.  Write or call your local senators and representatives and encourage them to look into our nuclear safety standards and disaster preparedness plans.

Japan is so much more organized than the United States for earthquakes and tsunami disasters, and yet they were unprepared for the aftermath of this one.  Our earthquake building codes aren’t as stringent as Japan’s, the whole west coast sits atop various fault lines, and more fault lines are discovered every decade.  This disaster has hit close enough to home for me and I don't want something like this to happen again anywhere, let alone in my own country to my friends, my family, or my fellow citizens.  There is never a perfect time to address disaster preparedness and nuclear safety and there will always be excuses – it’s bad for business, we can’t afford it, etc. – but if not now, when?   


An Improbable Trifecta: The Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Reactors

On March 11th, around 2:30 in the afternoon, I was at my base school and about to go into a meeting regarding my job and contract.  I was waiting in the English prep room with two of my English coworkers, when I noticed that I was moving.  It only took a second to realize that no, I’m not dizzy or about to faint, it’s an earthquake.  It continued, and got progressively stronger for over a minute until it reached a point where it sustained a significant tremor level for at least another minute.  As I write it, two minutes sounds like such a short amount of time, but that day it felt like time had warped and that the tremors would never stop.  It's unnatural to have the earth move beneath your feet. 

Dinner with Friends

Recently, I feel like I've gotten more and more requests to have dinner and people's homes.  I think it's a sign that I'm starting to fit in with my coworkers at the schools I visit and, perhaps, that my Japanese is getting good enough that people feel comfortable inviting me into their homes.  Here are just a few photos of dinner with some of my coworkers and friends. 

The man in the photo above works at my base school in the office.  He is super nice, and being that I'm a year younger than his oldest daughter (in white) I think he sees me as a sort of daughter to him.  

Daily Life: The Grocery Store

I thought it’d be fun to show you a little bit more of daily life in Japan.  Grocery shopping was one thing that took a little getting used to, and still can be difficult to maneuver.  Here are a few photos and facts about getting groceries in Japan.

Now, there is nothing weird about apples.  Apples are apples everywhere.  However, notice the prices.  Most apples are listed at 125 yen…each.  The unnaturally large apples are 198 yen each.  That translates into $1.58 and $2.38 respectively, per apple.  That’s a price that I still haven’t gotten used to.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A few thoughts about the teacher’s unions

Only a fool would deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower

Recently I’ve been a bit disturbed at the slashes, cuts, and layoffs many states have made to deal with the budget deficits.  Personally, I do not believe that decreasing corporate taxes and taxes on the über wealthy can be justified at the cost of cutting funding for education, public safety, and public works.  However, if this strategy proves to be successful in stimulating the economy in a long-term and sustainable way, I’m willing to re-evaluate my economic and political assumptions.

In the meantime, I have been very concerned at the preoccupation some governors have had at attacking unions, and public sector unions in particular.  Unions are groups of individuals who join together to work as a group for a common cause.  As defined by Merriam-Webster, a union is “an act or instance of uniting or joining two or more things into one,” “a confederation of independent individuals (as nations or persons) for some common purpose.”

I will be interested to see what the court system does with Wisconsin’s law, for example.  The recent news is that a court has postponed the implementation of Scott Walker’s ban on most public unions, which I believe is the constitutionally right thing to do if one looks at the 1st and 14th Amendments, for example:

Re-Contracting Fiasco

On the JET Program, the ALTs and their schools decide in February whether or not to renew the ALT’s contract.  Some ALTs only want to be on JET for one year, others change their minds and decide to stay another year, and some plan on staying several years the day from the first day that they arrive in Japan.

I fall into the middle group.  I was certain that I would stay only one year in Japan.  However, by October I was toying with the idea of staying for a second year.  When the time came, I made a pros/cons chart to weigh the factors contributing to my decision.  Here’s a summarized version:


Monday, March 7, 2011

Daily Life

Recently, I feel like I've really settled into a routine.  I work Monday through Friday until 4 or 5pm, depending on whether or not I have English club that day.  Sometimes I have a lot of classes in one day, but usually I only have a few and I have plenty of time to study or read.  My tutor comes over every Tuesday night and afterwards we go to taiko for an hour.  On Thursdays, I try to make it to taiko practice as well.  On the nights that I don't have any taiko practice, I'll use my time after school to run errands, catch up on the Daily Show or The Office, workout at the local gym, or meet up with a friend for lunch.  Here are just a few snapshots from life in Kitami. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Winter Fun

Although I wouldn’t claim that the winters in Hokkaido are necessarily worse than in South Dakota, sometimes it just feels so much colder.  For example, in all of my schools they heat the classrooms and teacher’s rooms, but not the hallways.  So I go from a comfortably warm teacher’s room, to a frigid (maybe 40-50 degrees F) hallway, to a comfortably warm and sometimes too warm classroom.  On top of that, I always return to a cold house since I turn off the heat during the day to save money on kerosene.  But even when the heater’s on, it doesn’t circulate well.

What would make my winter better?  If the school hallways weren’t so frigid, if my heater got to most of my house, if there was a legit coffeehouse in my town, if I had more friends nearby…and most definitely if the sidewalks were decently cleared and salted.  Right now they are deadly!  I go to the grocery store and everyone is doing a sort of shuffle in the parking lot because it’s so slippery.  I feel sorry for the really old men and women I see that are walking at a snail’s pace just so they can hopefully make it to the entrance without falling.  It would be a huge liability in the States.

Luckily, the people of Hokkaido celebrate winter.  Nearly every town has a snow festival and there is ample skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowball fighting, and snowmobiling.  Since getting back from Thailand, I have enjoyed the Drift Ice of Abashiri, a weekend of Yuki Gassen (a cross between snowball fighting and capture the flag), and the Sapporo Snow Festival. 

So here are a few pictures and words about making the most of the winters in Hokkaido.  Enjoy!



The crew for the Yuki Gassen competition

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Home Photo

Just since some people have asked, here's a photo of my dining room/bedroom taken from the entryway.  Due to the cold seeping in from all sides, I moved the desk into the dining room to make it more of a living room and I've since shut off the living room to help keep the cold out.  The elephant poster is from Chiang Mai - and almost perfectly covers up some of the marks on the wall.  The fresh flowers are just a bonus for myself. :)

First Stop - Bangkok: 10 million residents

The first day of the trip to Thailand was exclusively spent traveling.  We had left Kitami around 11pm Christmas Eve, had a Christmas dinner in the Beijing airport, and arrived the next day.  After 26 hours of traveling by car, bus, train, airplane, and taxi, we finally arrived at our hostel in Bangkok on December 26th, around 3 in the morning.  Our first order of business was to shower and get some sleep.  Once we were well-rested, we started exploring this city described as “a city of extremes: crowded, colorful, chaotic, and charming,” by the Lonely Planet guidebook.  There was so much to take in that I’ll do my best to just highlight a few of the adventures in Bangkok.

1. Shopping - Chatuchak Market and the MBK center

Chatuchak market is considered to be one of the biggest markets in the world, covering more than 35 acres and containing more than 5,000 stalls.  This was our first intro to bargaining and shopping in Thailand.  

 This is just a tiny, tiny portion of the covered part of the market

Next Stop: Koh Samui

Koh Samui was the perfect place to go while winter raged back in Japan.  We stayed on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui, which is one of the quieter beaches on the island - though arguably just as beautiful.  We arrived on December 29th, and stayed until January 3rd.  We enjoyed the beautiful weather, the quick access to the beach, wonderful food, and the company of tons of other travelers seeking to celebrate the new year in paradise.  Each day consisted of a variation of this schedule:

1. Big breakfast with lots of fruit
2. Hitting the beach
3. Delicious lunch, usually with real watermelon juice
4. A massage, maybe a little shopping, or back to the beach
5. A nice dinner somewhere along the main road
6. A drink or two at a nice or unique little bar that we happened to stumble across

Final Destination: Chiang Mai

1. Misadventure: Food Poisoning

Unfortunately, I began my time in Chiang Mai with a bout of food poisoning.  Luckily, almost any drugs are available in Thailand without a prescription, so starting antibiotics wasn't a problem.  After just one day resting in the guesthouse that we were staying at, I was ready to start getting out in the town. 

2. Tiger Kingdom