Sisters in Japan, Day 4: Universal Studio Osaka

IMG_4876

Harry Potter, Har-RY Pot-TER!  Yes, it was Harry Potter World time!  Hooray!

IMG_4841
Crowd around the gate. View from hotel window.

I started the day with my Japan early wake-up (boo!).  I bought sunscreen and coffee for the group (yay!) and because everyone else was still sleeping, I headed into the park.  I went to Harry Potter world to check out the scene.

IMG_4846

I think I’ve said it before but I am so in awe of J.K. Rowling.  She is so creative to have dreamed up such a world and to see it come to life was really cool.  It almost felt magical!  I’ve never seen the movies but I’ve read the series twice.  I walked through the forest and into Hogsmeade.  The buildings were super cute, but I waited until I was with Brady and Ricardo to go into the shops.  I made a beeline for the rides, but I got confused between the Flight of the Hippogriff (baby roller coaster) and stood in that line for 5 minutes.  I left and went to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  I went into the Singles line, which moved quickly.  The line snakes through Hogwarts castle, with its many rooms filled with talking portraits that have mouths that move with English words but overdubbed in Japanese.

IMG_4842

The ride is awesome!  My favorite was the VR parts where I felt like I was riding on a broomstick right behind Harry (Potter, not the Prince!).  I definitely recommend it.

I had done some pre-reading about Universal Studios Osaka and one common theme was the crowds.  We went on a weekday and were charged the “low-peak” ticket price.  The park was crowded but the worst wait I saw during the day was 90 minutes.  The waits were also shorter than the estimates.  For our particular visit, I was glad we hadn’t bought the Express Pass, Since we were moving at a mellow baby pace rather than racing from ride to ride, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

One thing that I really think would make the experience better is if re-entry were allowed.  It seems crazy to me that a park with nearby hotels and catering to kids does not allow parents to take a mid-day break and come back.  Boo!  This should definitely be fixed!

IMG_4862
This is what kids look like without re-entry!

Anyway, back to our day.  I texted Brady and Ricardo and asked what house LR was in.  Gryffindor, naturally.  So, I played the part of proud auntie and bought LR a little wizard robe.  I was very excited for the photo ops and it should be big enough that he can wear it for Halloween.  I also rode the Hollywood Dream coaster, that was fun.

IMG_4871
Best family!

Next, I met up with Ricardo, Brady, and LR at the entrance and we headed back to Harry Potter World!  After several photos, we entered Hogsmeade and promptly bought a Butterbeer.  I bought mine in a souvenir cup because I am a big sucker.  Then, we went to the Three Broomsticks and sat by the Black Lake.  Brady and Ricardo ate but I wasn’t super hungry.  We did, however, graduate to adult beers.

IMG_4889
Maybe next time! Keep drinking milk, LR!

We went to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  LR missed the height requirement by a few centimeters.  🙁  Brady and Ricardo were set up with the “Child Switch,” which involved taking turns on the ride and waiting in a little child-friendly room in the interim.

After the ride, we walked through the shops of Hogmeade.  I had spent my allowance already on LR so it was just window-shopping for us.  I would have loved a wand but they were so expensive!  I felt like a Weasley.

IMG_4916

Ricardo wanted to check out a live show so we went to Waterworld which was stunt after stunt.  The pre-show entertainment was also very funny.  It felt like a Japanese game show with lots of slapstick humor. And lots of water guns and water pails, with contents aimed at an unfortunate group of Japanese students.

After WaterWorld, we went to Jurassic Park where we went on Jurassic Park: the ride and the Flying Dinosaur, which was an insane roller coaster.  The rider gets in and then the seats rotate 90 degrees so that the rider is hovering like a pteranodon!!  The hills, loops, and twists were super intense.  We all liked it but also felt like our head were partially blown off.

IMG_4946

We ended our night with the Hogswart Magical Celebration.  The light show was amazing although the best part was the houses being announced in Japanese.

IMG_4963IMG_4969

So.  You think our night is over?  Wrong!  Brady had gotten a recommendation for an Osaka izakaya and even though we alternated in thinking we were too tired (first her, then me), we decided to go!  KannoMiho is an izakaya with great sake and sashimi.  I also ordered “Ichiban gohan” after the guy next to us told us it was recommended by his rice connoisseur friend. [Note to self: Must get more niche-friends.]  We had a great night out and got back to the hotel after midnight.  It was a crazy, great day!

 

 

 

 

Sisters in Japan, Day 2: Yokosuka and Ebina

IMG_4763
Sun’s out, guns out.

My first full day in Japan started with coffee.  Perfect!  I hung out with Ricardo and baby Rickey for a bit until Brady woke up.  It was a very mellow morning even though some-one can’t keep his eyes open for too long.  Eating is exhausting.

IMG_4771
Carp flags strung across the river.

Ricardo gave me a ride to the station and I took the train to Yokosuka via Yokohama.  I was on my way to meet my friend Kazu-san for lunch.  I was very excited that it had worked out with his work schedule.  He is a friend of mine from Naval Hospital Yokosuka and even though it had been a few years, it was important for me to see him.  

We had a wonderful lunch at Hananoya (花野家), a French restaurant that is very special and delicious.  The set lunch consisted of a vegetable terrine, squid ink bread, chilled carrot soup, a main, and panne cotta.  The four options for the main were chicken, sea bream, beef cheeks, and lobster.  I had the sea bream and it was beautifully cooked with a crisp skin. 

Even better than the food was the conversation.  Kazu-san is a citizen of the world and it is so cool to hear about his life and thoughts on different subjects.  I feel very lucky to have met such a good person and be able to keep in touch, even if it is sporadic.  I am really hoping in a few years that his son stays with SMS and I during a Summer as an exchange student.  That would be so much fun and we would show him all the cool things in the Bay Area.  Kazu’s son is interested in science and math, so it would be a perfect place.  And SMS would have a new person to go with to the Computer History Museum.

IMG_4772
Graphic Art Latte!

After a leisurely lunch (with wine!  Kazu-san had the afternoon off), I headed to Ebina where Brady and I met for a quick coffee and shared pancake at Latte Graphic, located within Uniqlo. It was a delicious snack, followed by some shopping.  I bought the most jolie laide short-sleeve pajama set that I’m pretty sure I will also use as an outfit to a tropical party.  There is photographic evidence but I’m not willing to share.  Yet.

After our snack, it was time for baby Rickey to eat followed by watching Ricardo’s softball game.  It was a pretty good game apart from one soul-crushing inning (did you know the scoreboard can only indicate 9 runs in an inning?  It can’t handle double digits).  Softball, BTW, is an intense sport within military intramurals.  It is not a game.  It is the Thunderdome.

IMG_4776
Lots of spice!

After the game, we headed back to Ebina for dinner.  We tried to go to a delicious gyoza place but it was full.  So, we at a Korean restaurant instead where the spicy level was up! Ricardo was very happy since that’s an unusual find in the Japanese culinary scene.  I also placed an order for takeaway gyoza since Brady and Ricardo had hyped them up so much.  They were not wrong.  Deliciousness in a little dough-y wrapper!

Sisters in Japan, Day 1

I’m in Japan!  The flight was pretty painless. Since I’ve flown so much over the last 2.5 years, I’m now a Gold level United frequent flyer so I get automatic booking in Economy Plus. I had an aisle bulkhead seat so I got to get up a fair amount. There was a ton of legroom and it was overall a very comfortable flight.

A big key to this was my newest favorite purchase- the Trtl neck pillow. It’s so ingenious but so infuriatingly simple- why didn’t I think of it?!  Basically, it’s about 1/3 of a C-spine collar/neck brace that replicates the feeling of the best shoulder in the world to rest my head on. It secured into place with a fleece scarf that Velcros into place. It’s warm, comfy, and supports the chin so I don’t have that ridiculous looking mouth-open public sleeping posture. I love it and highly recommend!

While we’re on the subject of in-flight tips, I also recommend compression stockings and ear plugs.  Just do it!  
Brady, Ricardo, and Rickey picked me up at Haneda which was really nice of them. Pro tip: always fly in and out of Haneda if you can. It is so much more convenient to Tokyo via my favorite train line, the Keikyu!  

We hung out at the house, which is nice and spacious. It looked good on FaceTime but is even better in person. I took a 15 minute nap around 6 which was kind of a mistake but I also wouldn’t have made it through dinner otherwise.

We went to a yakitori place that was delicious. Good tsukune, chicken and spring onion, fried onigiri, and karage chicken wings.

I went to bed around 10 and although I woke up twice, I fell back asleep pretty quickly until I finally woke up at 6. Being sleep deprived before the trip helps with jet lag, although I don’t want to jinx myself.  I’ll let you know in a few days.

Sibling Week!

IMG_4691
It was such a busy week that I took very few pictures. So, bird siblings will have to do.

This past week was a completely crazy week of work and travel.  While I certainly don’t feel like  I have a problem saying no, this past week had so many interesting things smushed into it which I said yes to all. 

The week actually started out on the wrong foot the previous Friday.  When I was trying to make a walk-in for a patient the next Friday, the nurse and I realized that the main scheduler had scheduled both a clinic and OR for me that day.  This was especially stressful since I found this out during an hour with three scheduled patients and three complex walk-ins during my triage clinic where my “help” was an intern that was in so over his head, his help was completely worthless.  Sorry.  That sounds harsh.  I know that I, too, was in that spot at certain points in my training.  But still, it just added to my stress on that particular afternoon.  I finally got through the afternoon and, as part of the solution for the double-booking, my clinic schedule for the next week was pretty packed.

Over the weekend, I got ready for my trip to Japan and other assorted errands.  I worked a weekend call with one bad night that resulted in some intense sleep deprivation thanks to a very unfortunate patient with a posterior nose bleed who bled a LOT and was in pretty bad shape by the time I got to him.  I got the nosebleed under control but prior to me getting there, he had been intubated due to altered consciousness and had aspirated a lot.  So, he had a rough road to recovery coming his way, even with the nosebleed stopped.

So.  Onto the workweek.  I had initially planned on taking a 3 day faculty development course, so I was scheduled for a full day of clinic on Monday, which is not my normal day.  Then on Tuesday, I went to faculty development  classes in the morning and then had clinic in the afternoon. Wednesday was another clinic day thanks to the scheduling mix-up for Friday.  What made it annoying was that it was the second time in six weeks that this had happened to me.  I understand people make mistakes (I do!) but to make the same mistake twice in such short order was aggravating.  Anyway.  I’ll give you a second or two to dry your tears that I know you are shedding for me right now.  You’ll need clear eyesight to call the Whambulance for me.

After a clinic day, I headed off to the airport.  The prior week, I had accepted an offer to be a last-minute replacement faculty for the oral board review course taken by exam candidates the two days before their oral boards.  I had taken the course myself five years ago and found it to be helpful.  It is funny to be on the other side as teaching faculty.  It was a little more prep work than I anticipated because I thought the cases were prepared by the course designers and I was just a body to present them.  Nope.  So the day prior, I put together cases to present in private and public sessions.  It wasn’t hard but was another few hours of work that I hadn’t anticipated (but had totally signed myself up for).

Back to Wednesday.  A huge bonus about the course is that it’s held in Chicago meaning I got to see my brother and his wife.  Yay!  I was also happy that I made it into downtown alive since I had a very nice, very enthusiastic Lyft driver who initially seemed like a competent driver but then as we approached the city, starting changing lanes without really looking if anyone was in the next lane.  He would look out the window to make sure no one was immediately next to us but did not really consider how badly he was cutting people off.  There was another stellar move when, at one point, I was wondering why the car next to us was in two lanes but then when I saw the lane markers, I realized it was us.  

Ed and I met in a downtown bar where he was waiting for a text from The Purple Pig restaurant, which is a delicious foodie delight!  I had been a few years ago during a conference and was excited to go back.  Ed was a little disappointed he wasn’t showing me something new-to-me but it’s ok, we were both excited about the food and drink. 

The text message came through and Ed had me leave ahead of him to try and get to the restaurant quickly.  Since I was walking fast and had two heavy-ish shoulder bags, I promptly bit it on the sidewalk right outside the bar, tripping over a large crack that caused a level mismatch.  Ok, ok, I know what that looks like but seriously guys, give me more credit than that!  Wait, does it sound better that I fell because I can’t manage walking on a city sidewalk.  You know, walking, that skill I’ve been “perfecting” for the last 39 years?  Oh well.  I banged my right knee pretty hard which has actually continued to hurt and impact my running.  Since I was planning a race in May, TBD on that particular event.

The Purple Pig was awesome.  Meg joined us after her review class and the three of us ordered multiple sets of paired dishes, since our table couldn’t hold more than that.  Ed promptly told the waitress many lies about my military service, to which I embraced the improv comedy mentality of “Yes, and…” which opens up many possibilities in an improv sketch, rather than shutting down funny comedic flow.  Well, even though it was slightly ridiculous, it did cause them to ask for my id in order to give us a discount.  Which ended up being 50%.  That is totally insane!!!  I have never had a discount that big in a restaurant and TBH, I wonder if there was an industry discount applied since they knew Ed worked in restaurants.  Who knows?  I will take the gift horse!  And don’t worry, I tipped on the original amount!

The next day, I proctored the mock oral exams.  People were nervous, of course, but everyone did well apart from one person who did not have a large fund of knowledge for a certain subspecialty that is 1/4 of the oral exam.  I advised her to get a review book and cram in that particular subject.  I hope it worked out.  It may have been better to postpone the exam although I definitely did not say that aloud.  That would have been a little too discouraging for the role I was serving there.

After the mock orals, I got a ride back to Chicago Airport by a professional driver who had immigrated from Pakistan 25 years ago.  We talked for about half the ride and he was very interesting.  I flew into Norfolk by mid-evening and headed home to the apartment.

The next day, I had an OR day followed by a slightly crazy afternoon filled with catching up on work notes, followed by dropping off the birds at a friend’s house for birdwatching while I was gone for the next two weeks. Then, I drove up to Alexandria to sleep at my other brother’s house since I was going to be on a panel the next morning at a medical meeting.

I woke up before the rest of the house and went to Misha’s coffee, where I got a delicious Americano.  Then, I went to the meeting where I got CME and gave a good presentation, although I know I talked to fast.  But at least I had practiced so I didn’t stumble over my words, just spoke too fast.  The problem was the first person had gone over her time and I felt pressure since there were still two speakers after me.  Ah well.  I got a few compliments and although I know I could have done better, it was overall a good talk rather than bad.  Success!

I left the meeting after the initial afternoon lecture and went to River Farm where Joe, Nicole and the kids were hanging out and buying plants.  It was great to see the boys and excellent timing since they completely crashed for naps when we got home.  My nephews are so cute and I was so happy to see them.  I hung out with Joe and Nicole for a bit and then headed back home.  I actually had a few hours of work to do at the hospital and although it was a late night, I am going on vacation obligation-free and completely caught up on work, which is a very good feeling!

Sunday morning, I headed out to the West Coast where I spent a 23 hour layover with my favorite person- SMS!  He picked me up at SJC and we went to San Pedro’s Market for lunch.  We split Aloo Gobi and a plate of nachos that were pretty middling.  The afternoon was pretty mellow since I was so tired from the week prior.  SMS made a reservation at Oak + Violet, a restaurant in Menlo Park that was pretty awesome.  The decor was Scandi-chic and the food delicious.  We each had a Pinot Noir (we liked the Emeritus over the local Santa Cruz) and a drink.  Mine was a paper plane with bourbon and Aperol, was his was a dark rum Caipirinha.  They were both delicious but when I go back, I think I’m getting the Caipirinha with a little snack plate!

Monday morning featured a crepe and egg for breakfast, followed by being dropped off at the Palo Alto train station, which I greatly appreciated.  I took the train followed by the bus to SFO.  I shopped for my Japanese friend that I am seeing for lunch on Wednesday and then got some much-needed coffee from the Centurian Lounge.  And now I’m up in the air, landing in Japan in just a few hours to complete my week of sibling visits by seeing Brady, Ricardo, and my newest nephew!!  I am so excited and happy!  Vacation and adventure awaits!

Korean Spa Experience

*Warning: TMI and mental pictures that may be difficult to unsee.  Fortunately, no actual photographs exist.*

Although I had never been to a Korean spa, I had heard a few stories to think that I knew what to expect.  I was expecting a no-frills, matter-of-fact experience in which the sin of my benign neglect towards my skin would be expunged and a shiny, moisturized new self would emerge.  Good bye, epidermal chrysalis!  Hello, skin as soft as a baby’s butt!

So, yes, I decided to treat myself on my birthday.  I had the day off and SMS was working.  We had birthday dinner plans but the day was mine.  I went online and booked the “Goddess Treatment,” because why deny my true nature?  I drove to the spa about 45 minutes early so I could soak in the hot tub and steam in the sauna before my treatment. 

I paid up front and went into the locker room.  It was really nice and clean, which I expected for a spa in Palo Alto.  I stripped down, locked up my clothes, and went into the main spa area.  There were two shower areas, one Western-style shower and one similar to showers I had seen in onsens, with a hand-held shower in a chest-level holder, a mirror, a stool and a wash bowl.  I didn’t see the onsen-style shower until after I had taken my stand-up shower but next time, I’ll use that.  I went into the hot tub, which felt delightful. I would guess it was about 102-103 degrees F.  I sat for a bit and decided to brave the cold plunge, which felt so awful that I figure that in some twisted way, it has to be good for me, right?  I also went into the steam room with a hint of eucalyptus in the air.  I mainly focused on the tubs, though, since I wouldn’t be allowed to go into them after the treatments due to the oils and moisturizers used.

My number was called by Lisa, a small woman in a black sports-bra/granny panty set (bathing suit probably but cannot rule out underwear).  We walked into the adjacent treatment area. This back area had a bunch of tiled off stalls that each had a table in the middle with a pad similar to a diaper changing table- foam covered by a plastic-y wrap that was more comfortable than it looked.  I laid down on my stomach with my head turned and, since the partitions between the stalls were only 3/4 length, realized I could look directly into the eyes of the woman getting a treatment next door.  And that is when I closed my eyes. 

So, Lisa had an enemy and it was my epidermis.  She scrubbed with a vigor I thought I had been expecting, but the reality was far more impressive.  I started on my stomach, which seems a good way to begin since I feel that front nakedness is more exposed than back nakedness.  But then it was time to roll onto my back.  She put a folded up towel over my crotch, which at first I thought was for modesty but actually seemed more like a backstop to protect my vagina from an accidental overshoot of vigorous scrubbing.  Although I realize this sounds cringe-worthy don’t worry, it gets worse.

So, in David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day, he talks about how his sister Amy was so dedicated to obtaining a perfect, uniform tan that she would lay out in (un)intentionally lascivious positions to make sure that all areas were hit by the sun- inner thighs, side body, etc.    Well, those were the next two positions as I lay on my side with my legs posed in a way that would have been rather sexy in certain situations but in this scenario was anything but.  At this point, my eyes were closed because if I couldn’t see anyone or anything, maybe no one would see me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  It was just me and Lisa but still, that was two people too many to witness that awkward of a position.

After the scrub, I was sent to the shower to rinse off.  I craned my neck so I could look over my shoulder, since I was convinced I would see punctate bleeding.  I didn’t.  I know this sounds slightly ridiculous but this entire treatment was in the spirit of hurts so good.  

After the scrub and rinse, I had a massage that was nice.  Vigorous rather than relaxing still applied, but it felt pretty good.  The massage also made me think back to a time when a (female) dentist I worked with on the Kitty Hawk went to a couples’ massage session in Malaysia since it was cheaper to get the treatments in a shared room.  Well, I was super relaxed during my massage when I was slightly startled by the masseuse asking, popping up right next to my face, “Breast massage?!”  I had no idea of this was legit or totally shady so I said no.  When I asked my friend if the same thing had happened to her, it had and she had totally gone for it!   She said it was fine and mainly focused on the pec muscles rather than breasts proper.

Well, dear readers, life does give second chances.  

After the massage, I had a body wrap.  I know, if this is starting to sound like a lot, we are way past that but remember, it is the goddess treatment.

Finally, all the treatments were complete.  I showered off and sat in the dry sauna and steam room for 45 minutes.  I dried off and then lay in the heated Himalayan salt room.  

So, final verdict.  It was pretty awesome!  Definitely not as relaxing as most of my spa experiences (which aren’t that many), but very invigorating.  I would definitely go again, but I think a scrub alone will be my treatment of choice.  I know!  Even though it feels more like a endurance event than a beauty treatment, my skin did look pret-ty good afterwards.