Like most people, I occasionally make New Year’s resolutions. In 2022, rather than resolutions per se, I set myself quite an ambitious list of things to achieve. Here’s how I got on.
Race a Triathlon
I really wanted to get back into triathlon so I resolved to get one done in the year. So, I did the Pasadena Triathlon and was very pleased with my result (at least compared to the amount of training I did!). Here’s my recap.
Do some adulting things
I had three things on the list and managed to do two – the last one I left a bit late and then couldn’t get the attention of anyone I wanted to pay to help me. It’s on the list for 2023. Being a grown-up can be so boring!
Read 12 must-read books
I’m not getting any younger so I thought it was about time to read some proper books. I started with this list from Brittanica. I’d already read some, so I supplemented the list with a few of others. My main revelation was that even though these books were classics, they were very enjoyable to read — the opposite experience I had with classic novels in high school! Here’s what I read:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Don Quixote (part 1) by Miguel de Cervantes
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My absolute favorite from this list was The Grapes of Wrath: brilliant writing, and a beautiful, heartbreaking story.
Get the cat a social media presence
Ah, the cat. The cat has rather dominated our lives this past year. Even though she has our attention 24-7 and the whole house and garden as her territory, she gets bored easily. I decided she needed a social media presence. So, in September while my Dad was cat-sitting, he set up an Instagram account for her. I try to post 2-3 times a week but it turns out Peppa doesn’t like having the camera in her face! Find her at @lazypeppa.
Write 12 Blog Posts
I produce content for a living but I wanted to see if I could bring the same discipline to my personal work. I really enjoyed this challenge because it allowed me to revisit some of the fun trips I did with my late mother and late grandmother, and to record some of this year’s adventures. It was a daily effort and most of the work was done only between 6:00am and 6:30am as I passed the time before work (after the cat got me up at 5:00am). I didn’t promote any of the posts, so most of them weren’t read by anyone!
Many things are in flux for next year so I will likely keep my ambitions small. However, having used my diary extensively to write my 12 blog posts, I was reminded of its value: so in 2023 I will aim to write my diary every day.
I found my 2022 resolutions/goals to be very valuable this year, and I’m pleased to get 99% of them done. Happy New Year!
Because my mum was awesome, she offered to take me on holiday somewhere special for my 30th birthday in 2009. I got to choose a destination somewhere more or less halfway between the UK where she lived, and Australia, where I lived. Hong Kong seemed pretty exotic and it would be my first time visiting. We timed our visit for Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox.
We coordinated our flights to arrive on the same day. Mum arrived earlier in the day, and I arrived very late on a half-empty plane. I was the only one on the 40-seater coach that the hotel had sent to pick me up and arrived there at about 10pm after getting stuck in endless traffic. No matter: I made it in the end, and the first order of business was to get some sleep!
We were staying at the Island Pacific Hotel (now temporarily closed) in Tai Ping Shan. In the morning we got the bus to Sheung Wan station where we had some breakfast. Then we picked up an Oyster card each and got the bus to Central… except we missed the stop and had to walk back. We were awed by the malls and markets.
We quickly discovered that it is actually pretty cold in Hong Kong in January so Mum bought a small heater for the hotel room, as well as some warmer shoes and clothes!
That evening we attempted to get dinner but somehow didn’t quite manage it – we ended up with Pot Noodles from a 7-Eleven.
On day 2 we got the bus to Stanley Market. It was a hair-raising journey across the island in a minibus whose driver took every corner on two wheels. At the markets, we stocked up on souvenirs, including the popular custom calligraphy name drawings, and a rosewood and jade Chinese chess set.
Then we got another bus to Aberdeen Fish Market (known as a wet market). It was very crowded and it was an assault on the senses with fish flopping about in trays and guts everywhere. Obviously, we didn’t get any souvenirs here!
Day 3 was Chinese New Year and a holiday in Hong Kong. We decided to go to The Peak via a bus from Central. This is the literal high point of Hong Kong, offering stunning views over the city. I couldn’t believe the height of the apartment blocks below us which felt nearly as tall as the peak. We walked around for a bit then got the funicular railway Peak Tram back down. We walked back to the hotel, which I recorded was “miles” away – but it seems, in reality, it was probably only 30 minutes walk…
That evening we got the Star Ferry over to Kowloon side to see the New Year Parade, I presume somewhere along Nathan Road. We got there early as recommended, however, we waited over two hours to see a very meager parade come by. We left early (perhaps too early to see the good stuff – I don’t know) but the best bit of the evening was seeing all the city’s lights on Hong Kong island from the ferry on the way back.
The next day was another holiday. In the morning we got the trolley tram up to Causeway Bay and the Times Square Mall, first for coffee and then in search of the Noonday gun. This was where we really needed a guidebook: we were on foot and we had to get across an impossible-to-cross road to see it. After going around in circles Mum finally spotted a doorway to an underpass/subway, accessed via a car park, that got us to the right spot with about a minute to spare. A man was there to fire the gun, which I noted was extremely loud – like a cannon.
Later that day we went to the famous Peninsular Hotel for afternoon tea. I noted in my diary that there was exactly the right amount of food but they were a bit stingy on the tea refills. This was where we spotted another guest attempting to eat a scone with a knife and fork. It was an amusing change from the 50 times on the trip that we had looked ridiculous trying to eat unusual (for us) food with the wrong implements. There was a welcome array of posh cars outside the Peninsular including a red Ferrari and the hotel’s fleet of dark green Rolls Royces.
That evening there was the New Year fireworks display which we watched from the shore near Central. The fireworks were lit off from barges in the harbor. There was a lot of smoke, and we found out later that was because one of the barges had caught fire! The fireworks were otherwise excellent.
Day 5 was the third day of the Chinese New Year holiday in Hong Kong. We went for a walk up to the Man Mo Temple. Older men were playing chess on metal boards built into stone pillars, and we stopped to watch for a while. Inside the temple commemoration area, Mum lit some incense for her Dad who had passed away two months earlier at age 88.
Nothing much was open so we had brunch at a European-style cafe before heading back to the temple to see a Lion Dance, with a brightly colored lion costume and energetic performers. This was one of the best bits of the Chinese New Year celebrations that we saw (and somehow I managed not to get a photo).
Later we caught the ferry over to Kowloon side to visit the Cultural Center and New World Center and to see some of the floats from the parade a few days before. We walked to Kowloon park, a nice city park with a duck pond. For dinner we went to a fast food Chinese food chain restaurant called Cafe de Coral which was ok – I have recorded that my duck had a lot of bones in it. I also think this was the place where we were amused by the way someone on a nearby table ate their bony pieces of duck – by shoving the whole thing in their mouth, chewing vigorously, and then spitting the clean bones out onto the plate.
On our second last day in Hong Kong, we had breakfast at the hotel and then ventured out to check out the Central-Mid-Levels escalator system that takes you up (or down) the hill between Central and the mid-levels in a series of mostly covered escalators and elevated walkways. Part of the attraction is that the escalator system is the longest outdoor covered system in the world. We had a brief stop at the Hong Kong Zoo to see monkeys and birds then headed back down to the harbor for a Junk Boat sail around the harbor which was a lot of fun.
That evening we met up with one of my school friends who lived in Hong Kong. We had dinner at a posh (for us) restaurant, which was on a high floor of a place in Causeway Bay. For dinner, we had duck pancakes, fish, hot and spicy soup, something with spinach and garlic, and a lot of tea. It was delicious.
Day 7 was our last day in Hong Kong. We packed and checked out, leaving our bags at the hotel. We got the ferry over to Kowloon and had lunch at the YMCA – perhaps for historic reasons as Mum and Dad probably stayed there during their travels in the 1970s. Mum had pork noodles and I had deep-fried sweet and sour Garoupa fish. After lunch, we had another walk around the park with ice cream from McDonald’s. Then it was time to go back to the hotel, get our stuff, and head to the airport. We had coffee together overlooking the runway then my flight to Australia departed first at 7pm, and Mum had a few more hours to wait for hers to the UK at 11pm.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hong Kong – there was a huge energy in the city, and a lot of stuff going on, even during New Year. I found it a contrasting experience from the 4 years I had spent in the rather dull Canberra. I realize at the moment Hong Kong is not a good travel destination but I hope one day to go back.
Back in November 2007 we went on an Australian road trip with some work colleagues. Starting in Canberra, we did a 1,200 km loop through New South Wales over 3 days/2 nights.
The classic way to leave Canberra is to head north and west on the Hume Highway in a loop to the first natural stopping point of Gundagai, about 2 hours or 160km away. Just north of the town is a statue of the Dog on the Tucker Box whose inspiration comes from a 19th century Australian poem called Bullocky Bill. One feature of the Australian bush is the flies. And the statue had plenty. We had coffee and a danish with our flies.
Just before lunch we stopped at the town of Holbrook, another hour or 115km further on the Hume – now heading southwest. The main notable point about Holbrook is that it has a real submarine on display by the side of the road, an object that was acquired by the town to honor the town’s namesake Lt Holbrook.
We had lunch by a lake as we passed through Albury/Wodonga on the New South Wales/Victoria border, a further 60km or 45 mins away. We set up a picnic and the ducks were very keen to see what we were doing.
Our next stop for the day was Yackandandah, half an hour (30 km) south. It’s a small town with a few antique shops that we got very absorbed in, nearly deciding to buy an antique pedal organ. Luckily we managed to resist.
We spent the night at nearby Beechworth, a gold rush town. For tourists, it’s famous for its spectacular Beechworth Bakery which has a wide range of imaginative cakes and pastries. We stayed the night in what was La Trobe University’s hotel school (closed in 2011 according to this history) at the Mayday Hills Asylum.
The next morning we had breakfast at the bakery, then for reasons that escape me now, we visited the Beechworth Cemetery. The cemetery is a historic place with several different parts to it including a Strangers’ Area, a Pioneers’ burial area, and a Chinese section with two Chinese burning towers. Memorialized here is Jean Macnamara, a doctor who worked on children’s health, including working on the disease polio.
Half an hour (30 km) west of Beechworth we stopped at another unusual spot – the Eldorado Dredge. This huge and highly complicated piece of machinery was used to dredge 30 million cubic meters of the El Dorado plains in the production of gold and tin.
We continued west then and headed north for about 30 mins (50 km) towards Campbells Wines on the outskirts of Rutherglen, a famous wine town/area. We did some wine-tasting, then went 5 minutes further on to the next winery, called Pfifers, for a picnic lunch on the bridge over Sunday Creek. The food was excellent and the view over the creek was calming and beautiful.
After lunch we headed west to the small town of Echuca – 190km or 2 hours away. Echuca is also on the Murray River and has a thriving industry of river cruises by paddle steamer. We stayed the night here and according to my diary in the evening we had a big cooking session and a long game of trivial pursuit.
The next morning we went on the Emmy Lou paddle steamer for a short cruise. It was wonderful to experience the mighty Murray from a boat. The engine room of the paddle steamer was impressive too. Then we checked out the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre – and visited the blacksmiths shop nearby where we got a 3-D puzzle. The afternoon was spent wine tasting, where we discovered white Port, followed by napping.
Later on “we” decided to go for a swim in the river. I remember it being brown and very muddy underfoot, but thankfully it wasn’t cold. We had a big dinner of pizza and wine to celebrate our trip.
The next morning we tackled the 6 hours/ 600 km trip east back to Canberra. We stopped for morning tea at what I assume was Jerilderie, where they had a small Ned Kelly museum. Then home via Lockhart for lunch and Gundagai for a stretch of the legs.
When we got back home, I discovered that my car, which had been parked in the driveway over the weekend, had been paint-bombed with white paint… so that was fun!
This was a great trip for us to discover more of Australia than just the big cities. A few years later we did parts of this road trip again with my mum!
In September 2018, Mum came to visit, and among our adventures (including to Hawai’i) we spent a Saturday afternoon at Mount Wilson Observatory, in the mountains behind Los Angeles.
Mount Wilson is a historic center of astronomy and the place where astronomers discovered that the universe was bigger than just our Milky Way galaxy. The observatory was founded in 1904 and it still has some working telescopes today.
We drove up the Angeles Crest Highway, winding through the mountains, and arrived at the Cosmic Cafe where we bought our docent-led tour tickets ($15 each) and met our guide, Bob. There were about 15 people on the tour, which began at 1pm.
150ft Solar Tower
Our first stop was the 150ft solar tower – one of two solar towers that are just visible from Pasadena. The solar tower was used, you guessed it, to make observations of the sun. It has a lens and a mirror at the top of the tower which projects the light of the sun into a scientific instrument called a spectrograph at its base.
Bob took us into the base of the tower to meet a staff member who had been with Mt Wilson for over 40 years. He showed us an image of the sun projected onto a screen – and a tiny sunspot was visible. He showed us a comparison with the largest ever sunspot from 1947, compared with the size of Jupiter and the Earth. Inside the control room, much of the original equipment was still in place.
Our next stop was the telescope that was once the world’s largest: the 100-inch Hooker telescope. “100-inch” refers to the diameter of the primary mirror that collects the light to allow astronomers to do their science (the biggest telescopes today have mirrors 10 meters in diameter – close to 400 inches). Bob showed us the underside of the 100-inch mirror blank: its production was difficult and the final glass disk is actually full of bubbles due to flaws in the process used to cast it in 1908.
We explored all parts of the telescope and dome, including seeing a drawer of blueprints for the telescope and going under the main floor to see the telescope pier (the concrete structure that holds up the telescope) which also seemed to be a storage area for huge miscellaneous pieces of metal.
The best bit for me though was when we got to go outside on the catwalk of the dome to see some great views.
By this point, the 2-hour tour had been going 2.5 hours but there was more to see and no one wanted to leave. We headed over to the 60-inch telescope, also once the world’s largest telescope, with a stop along the way to a spectacular viewpoint.
Inside the 60-inch, another guide, Tom was getting ready for a public observing night. Tom slewed the telescope for us so we could take a look at the mirror – it was a much clearer piece of glass than the 100-inch.
Our tour finished after 3hr 15 mins. No one was complaining!
More to see
Going to Mount Wilson means climbing to 5700 ft, and naturally the views of the city are spectacular along the way.
This was probably my third or fourth visit to Mount Wilson, having been lucky enough to come on private tours and an evening observing session as well. I highly recommend a visit, or even getting a group together for an evening session.
In late July and early August of this year, I had the chance to visit Korea on a work trip. In my previous post, I described how to get around Korea, and in this post, I’ll share a few things I managed to get up to in Seoul and Haeundae, between work engagements.
General impressions of Korea
Korea is a beautiful country.
Cleanliness-wise it was almost unreal: I didn’t see a single scrap of paper on the floor in any public toilet, someone was mopping the already spotless train platform in Busan, and there was no litter in the bushes, no overflowing trash cans.
Safety-wise, I never for one millisecond felt unsafe or that I had to keep an eye on my bag. I walked all over the central part of Seoul with my phone in my hand looking like a total tourist and no one gave me a second glance.
I know that Korea is not a common tourist destination, but I really enjoyed my brief time there. There is so much more to explore, and I have a feeling I will be back.
A few things to do in Seoul
We were staying at the Millenium Hilton, which is quite centrally located for tourist things. Right in front of the hotel is a small park through which runs Hanyangdoseong, the Seoul city wall, dating from 1396. The park was very steep but the paths were easy to walk. We saw a few stray cats there. The views were lovely, especially so at sunset.
Walk up to Seoul Tower
The next evening we decided to be more ambitious and walked through the park and continued up the hill to Seoul Tower. Once through the park and through the parking lot of some government building, we saw the cable car station. We went past it and continued up the steps.
With the temperature outside at more than 30C and with humidity at 100% it was a hot and sweaty walk to the top – but somehow it only took 30 minutes (about 1 mile). There were plenty of people doing it, and it looked like it was a popular after-work activity. At the cable car stop, which was really only 3/4 of the way up, there was a little cafe and vending machine.
Right at the top though there was a full-scale mini-mall with cafes and restaurants. We got beers and looked at the excellent view in both directions.
Then it was a knee-trembling 30 minutes back down the hill.
Someone in our group had recommended going to see Cheonggyecheon, which is a restored waterway in downtown Seoul. I decided to walk up there in the early evening as it was only about a 30-minute walk from the hotel, and my Naver Map was very helpful in getting me there (see my previous post). It was on this walk that I noticed how well-dressed everyone was. I made it to the river, sweaty again, and went down a few steps to below street level.
The river is only about 15ft wide with paths on either side. There were a few places to sit and stepping stones to get across to the other side. The river goes under all the street bridges, obviously, and sitting under these bridges were families with kid dangling their feet in the water, with a yellow-vested guard making sure no one decided to go swimming.
So, unless I missed the best bit, I would rate this as a medium-interesting thing to do. I probably wouldn’t make a special trip for it.
Markets and cat cafe
On our final evening in Seoul, we decided to walk up to the Namdaemun market which is a shopping area somewhat devoted to tourists. We had a quick look around and made a few souvenir purchases then my colleague spotted a sign for a Cat Cafe (Cat Playground), so we absolutely had to go there.
This was my first time in a Cat Cafe but I roughly knew what to expect. We put on slippers to enter, then had to put our gear in a big plastic bag (which we kept with us). The charge was 12,000 KRW (about USD $9) which included a drink. The sign had promised beer but it wasn’t on the menu, sadly… There were about 25-30 cats scattered all over the cafe, mostly sleeping. After about 30 minutes they all seemed to get up (as cats do) and start cleaning themselves and generally livening up. My colleague spent a few KRW on treats and we each gave one to a cat.
The cats mostly seemed ok though how that many cats live together without massive fights is beyond me. The air in the room seemed very clean and perhaps that’s why my cat allergies didn’t play up (that and we had to wear masks, obviously).
After that, we went to dinner in a random restaurant where the waiter in very limited English told us everything we were doing wrong with eating our dinner (fair enough) and the only other patrons were Asian-Americans who were talking loudly in English about how rubbish Los Angeles was…
And then we walked home in the dark and no one looked at us once.
A few things to do in Busan – Haeundae
I transitioned down to Busan over the weekend. I was actually staying in Haeundae which is a famous tourist beach area. Like when I was in Seoul, I didn’t have that much free time, but I did manage to do a couple of things.
By accident, the hotel I booked was quite close to the beach, so I was sure to make the most of it every day, even if it was just for a few minutes. The beach is sandy and quite wide. The water looked ok but perhaps a bit deep close to the shore.
The beach is about a mile long with a wide promenade, going in front of hotels and restaurants, and malls. It seemed to be continuously packed with people walking along and Instagramming. On the promenade, there were toilets and showers (spotless I assume) and I even saw one area with an air hose where you could blow the sand off your feet. On the beach, there were changing rooms and lifeguards. It looked very well organized.
On the last day, I got my feet in the water and found it pretty cold. At the water’s edge, there were people collecting stuff into black sacks – I assume it was seaweed.
APEX house loop
At the western end of the promenade by the Westin Josun hotel is a small prominence called Dongbaek Island, which has a car-free 1km walking/running loop. This loop was apparently built for an APEX conference in 2005 and the “house” is now a tourist attraction.
I went around the loop a couple of times in the early morning on hot and sweaty runs. Everyone else had the same idea and it was well-populated with runners and walkers. At the far end of the loop, there are nice views.
Markets and Main street
As a tourist destination, Haeundae has the usual array of postcard shops, restaurants, and miscellaneous attractions such as a splash-pad type fountain in the middle of the main street.
There is also a small market, which is an alleyway with hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small shops. The main attraction here seems to be the live seafood in tanks, and on a few stalls, restauranteurs skinning and chopping up eels while they are still alive. Needless to say, that was more than my stomach could handle.
While I wasn’t too adventurous in terms of food, and I ate far too many burgers and fries, I did get the chance to eat some local food on a few occasions.
I started out with western food. On my first morning in Korea, I was 100% famished, having arrived late, and woken up early. I was not technically supposed to go out because my Covid test results hadn’t arrived yet, so I ordered room service for 41,000 KRW (about USD $30 Hilton prices!). I got the big western breakfast and it really hit the spot. The only minor issue was that I wondered where the tomato ketchup was…. and I found it later when I went to put jam on my toast…. I swear the picture on the sachet looked like a strawberry!
The coffee was plentiful but in most coffee shops it was served with soy milk by default. Yuck. There was plenty of chocolate and sweets/candy to be had in the convenience stores, so that was a bonus. I also had a sandwich or two from convenience stores: they had no crusts and were perfectly serviceable.
In terms of Korean food, my first experience was when my colleagues and I ventured out from the Hilton to a side street where we went to the “Korea Best Restaurant” and got a fairly authentic experience. We sat down and within 30 seconds we had ordered (including time for patient explanations for westerners). The food came approximately 2 minutes later, along with a wide selection of kimchi. At the next table, a big group of Korean businessmen arrived and went from walking in the door to maximum sweaty enjoyment in seconds. The whole thing cost about USD $9 each. Here we learned not to wait for the check: pay at the counter on the way out.
My favorite Korean dish turned out to be Bibimbap (hot or cold). It requires a bit of table preparation and was doing it wrong of course, but my Korean friend who I caught up with in Busan showed me the proper way to mix it. Delicious! Recommended to have with the local Cass beer.
I hope one day to return to Korea with more time to explore properly, and make the most of this beautiful country.