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Spartan Race With Really Buff Friends - Wednesday, June 5, 2024
This past Sunday, I got to do the Monterey Spartan Sprint at Toro Park with 4 other guys from RBF: Joe, Wilson, Kelvin, and Frank. It was the first time doing a Spartan Race for all of them. I really enjoyed the camaraderie of doing the race with a group. During the race, we repeated the infrequently used joke that RBF stands for "Really Buff Friends", somewhat fitting given that we've been training together (well, sporadically at least in my case).

A few of the ladies from our church did this race last year (go them!), so this year was the guys' turn. I haven't been training as much this year, definitely not as much as I was two years ago when I did a Spartan Trifecta with Dan, and I had gotten injured at the gym earlier in the week due to overstressing the joints. So I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do some of the obstacles, but I ended up having no pain on race day and was able to complete all the obstacles successfully except for the spear throw. During practice in the morning, I stuck the spear 3 out of 5 times, but I just couldn't get it during the race.

Overall, the race seemed less difficult compared to what I've done before. The men's sandbags were definitely 60 lbs since that's what it said on the bags, but the gravel buckets for the Bucket Carry felt around that weight or slightly lighter, which is odd because I thought they were supposed to be 80 lbs. And my bag for the Hercules Hoist felt noticeable lighter than I remember it being before. Or maybe they had heavier weights for the Super (10k) but reduced them for the next day's Sprint (5k)? Some of these impressions are probably subjective, but what was definitely true was that all of the major obstacles had penalty loops (where you run a short distance) instead of burpees for failing obstacles. Kind of takes some of the challenge and the uniqueness away, IMO. But I can appreciate that Spartan wants to make the race more appealing to more people, and the Sprint in particular tends to be the first Spartan experience that first-timers have.

Everyone in our group failed at least one obstacle, but we all did great overall. And the training paid off - for instance, thanks to our practice with the rope that Joe bought, everyone was a pro on the Rope Climb!

After the race, we hit up The Butter House in Seaside for brunch. Everyone else headed back home afterwards in order to be able to make it to Sunday Evening Fellowship, but Priscilla and I drove over to Monterey so that we could walk around the area one more time before our upcoming move. We walked almost 7 miles between Old Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, and Lovers Point. The weather was perfect and we got to see sea lions, harbor seals, otters, and got to relax and enjoy views of the ocean.

The weekend was nice - spending time with people, conquering the race together, and seeing some sights like in years past. What a great way to spend one of our last few weekends before we move.
We're Under Contract! - Saturday, May 25, 2024
The last week has been a flurry of activity for the home selling process. We had open houses on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday a week ago. We stayed at the nearby Granada Inn from Friday to Wednesday in order to leave the house vacant for the open houses as well as the private tours with people coming by with their agents. On Friday, we had a private tour that was scheduled at the last minute and we were running around trying to get stuff straightened out and were out the door one minute before the tour's start time. We saw what looked like an agent waiting in his car; he was probably shaking his head at these people who obviously didn't have it together.

On both Saturday and Sunday, we had 30-35 people come by the house. Our agent Susanna said that a few people from Saturday came back Sunday to take a second look, so that was a good sign. Based on conversations with buyer's agents, she had expected 5-6 offers. We had priced low ("only" 1.569 million) in order to attract more bids, and in the end we had 4 offers, though she didn't bother mentioning one of them since it was too low - "just" 1.65 million, even though it was a cash offer. We also had an early offer of 1.68 on Thursday, but we turned it down because we thought we could get more by seeing the process through.

So this past Wednesday, when offers were due, we had basically 3 offers to choose from: Offer 1 at 1.68 million, Offer 2 at 1.71, and Offer 3 at 1.83. The third offer was by far the best, but they had opted for 3 days to transfer the deposit to escrow, which Susanna said was too long and needed to be changed to 1 day. I thought the 3 days indicated that the buyers might have another bid on another property and were considering backing out of ours. Offer 1 was from a couple who work at Google who stopped by Thursday morning before the open house and chatted briefly with me when I was outside sweeping. They've been renting in the area for 10 years and they're familiar with our neighborhood. I told Susanna that I'd be fine with giving it to them for 1.75 since Offer 3 didn't seem like a sure thing, but she told me to wait.

Susanna got Offer 1 to increase their bid to 1.828, and similarly she got Offer 2 increased to 1.825. She also got Offer 3 to change their terms to specify just 1 day to transfer the deposit. So now we had three comparable offers and were leaning towards giving it to the Google couple since we liked them. However, Susanna then sent us another update saying that Offer 3 had been increased to 1.85! Offer 3 was also giving us a month of rent back for free. So this was the best offer overall, especially since they had offered such a high amount to begin with, so we accepted that one. As much as we liked the Google couple, we were also concerned that the amount they would be paying for the down payment was nearly all of the amount in their proof of funds. It felt like they were getting emotionally tied up and probably bidding more than would be good for them long-term. Though it benefited us, I felt bad that Susanna got the buyers into a bidding war. I guess she was just doing her job and this is just how the market is, though. There's a reason why houses are going for this much in our area. And our area is still cheaper than Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino, etc.

At the end of the day on Thursday, after an agonizing wait, Susanna informed us that the buyers had taken a cashier's check to escrow and that we were now under contract. Whew! We're really blessed to have gotten such a high offer, and we're blessed that the process has been so smooth and that we have a shrewd agent who knows the market and knew what improvements to make to have our house appeal to today's buyers. We'd had doubts about whether anybody would want our house and whether it would even go for 1.6 or 1.7 million, so this has totally exceeded our expectations.

We're supposed to close escrow within 21 days, so we'll probably move around the end of June. We want to move down sooner so that we can start touring houses in SoCal. The hardest part is over and we're in the waiting period, but we've been trying to do small things like pull weeds so that the buyers don't think this place is terrible and get buyer's remorse when they move in.

We've also been spending more time with old friends from church. So far we've done dinner with Ryan and Steph (they bought us El Pollo Loco), dinner with Uncle Kenway and Aunt Susan and their family, dinner at Google with Tracy, dinner with Ruth and Albert with Richard and Michelle joining, dinner with Jerry and Vivian (she's an amazing cook), and brunch today with Tim and Irene. Coming up, we have dinner plans with James and Charlotte, a going away party with people from previous Family Fellowship groups organized by Emily, a going away get-together with the people on our worship team, a Korean BBQ meal with Jeff and Eleanor since we won their service auction, and a meal with Jean and Brion that we'll have to coordinate when they get back from traveling. Plus probably a final hangout with Tracy and my uncles and aunts, respectively. It's too bad that we're only spending time with people now that we're leaving. When we're in a new place, we need to be more intentional about meeting with others and cultivating relationships.

For now, we're enjoying a little bit of respite and a slower (but more intentional) pace of life. Priscilla and I did our annual hike at Mission Peak yesterday, followed by dinner at an old favorite, Layang Layang in Milpitas. I ran at Rancho with Yang last Saturday, and I trained at the park today and last Saturday with Joe and Wilson; we have our Monterey Spartan 5k coming up next weekend. We're learning to make the most of our time as our time in the Bay Area is rapidly coming to an end.
House Updates - Tuesday, May 7, 2024
After signing the listing contract to begin the process to sell our house, the work to do hasn't let up. Our agent Susanna has handled coordinating with the various contractors to fix up our place, but there has still been plenty for me and Priscilla to do.

The house has received a lot of updates including a new thermostat, a new toilet and refinished bathtub, ceiling fans replaced with LED light fixtures except in the family room where we got a modern fan (with its own LED fixture that's not very bright), two recessed lights in the living room and two in the hallway, all doors painted white, redwood mulch everywhere in the backyard, and flowers on drip irrigation in the front and back yards. I was not in favor of removing ceiling fans and painting doors white; we used our fans when the weather was hot and barely used the A/C, and I felt that the wood doors had more character and appeal than plain white doors. But Susanna felt that the changes would make the place look more modern and appeal more to younger buyers, so I deferred to her experience. When we buy our new house, I'm going to consider putting in ceiling fans if they aren't there already. ;)

Two Thursdays ago, we were extremely busy with fixing small things, packing for our trip to SoCal, and moving everything to the center of rooms so that the painters would be able to paint the baseboards. We didn't finish everything that night, and we were scrambling to get everything done the next morning while the guy doing the refinishing and the painters were in the house starting their work and covering everything. It was pretty hectic and though we packed a lot of stuff in the car, mostly the day before, we weren't able to load it as fully as we would've liked.

So Friday, we drove down to my parents' place and unloaded a few boxes into my old room, to be kept there until we have a new house to move into. We had a quick dinner with my parents before driving down to Camarillo to stay the night there. On the way, we hit up the gas station at the Oxnard Costco. Should we move to Camarillo as hoped, we'll be visiting this Costco a lot, at least until Camarillo opens its own Costco in several months.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and it was a little noisy because of its location next to the 101. Apparently, almost all of the hotels in the city are located next to the freeway. The next day, we viewed 3 open houses, walked around a couple parks, and had beef pho at Love Pho N' Mor where they had pretty big portion sizes. The houses we saw were a bit small and needed work. $800k is probably too low to get something that we'll be happy with; I'm thinking we'll end up spending $1 to $1.2 million. We're thinking we want to buy a place either in Camarillo Heights or Mission Oaks. The former would have older but more one-story houses, while the latter would have nicer but probably more two-story houses. Our preference is for a one-story house since stairs might be hard to use in old age, and the home we buy could be our forever home. We also value being able to walk to places, and Camarillo Heights would be closer to lots of stores, whereas Mission Oaks just has a Vons, CVS and Chase. But Mission Oaks offers nicer homes and nicer neighborhoods. Decisions...

We returned to my parents' place that night to have dinner to celebrate my mom's birthday. Aaron and Lauren and the kids joined us, but Lauren's parents had cooked a lot of food for us (I think my mom had requested that they bring a dish but they made a few) and were too tired to make it as a result. It was a low-key but good time with family, as usual.

The next day, we went to church at CCAC and ate with Gina, Weber and Cindy at California Fish Grill. Gina wanted to pay for Priscilla (since it was our anniversary) and she made Weber pay for me - it felt a little awkward accepting since he was compelled to do it, but he was a good sport about it and what's $15 between friends?

We drove back up on Monday and there's been a ton of stuff to do since then. This week is our neighborhood's turn to participate in the Santa Clara annual city cleanup, so we've put a lot of stuff out on the street, including our old sofa that is sagging in the place where Priscilla sits. Whatever we're not throwing out, we need to pack up and put in the garage since we have a cleaner coming in a few days, followed next week by inspections, staging, and hopefully listing. Most of our furniture will be used for staging, so the only large things that need to go into the garage are the bookcase, my desk, and the old area rug. I'm concerned that we'll have a lot of boxes and that will make our garage look unsightly, but we'll see.

I've been taking these last two days off from work in order to be able to focus on the things we need to do for the house. And I still need to finish installing door knobs for half of the doors. Okay, that's enough blogging, time to get back to work!
The House Selling Process Has Begun - Saturday, April 13, 2024
Until now it's just been something we'd been discussing, but now the plan has been set in motion. Yesterday we met with our real estate agent and signed the listing contract to begin the process of selling our house.

We're using Susanna as our agent again. She was our buyer's agent when we bought this house 10.5 years ago and though she's not working as much these days, she was touched when we reached out to her. We're grateful to have her help and expertise, and by yesterday evening she had already reached out to her HVAC guy, gardener, and handyman, and also picked out items from Home Depot that she wants to have installed.

Susanna is coordinating all the logistics of fixing up the house, and she's going for small but impactful improvements like painting the front, painting baseboards and trim, removing ceiling fans, tuning up the air conditioner, painting doors, painting bathroom cabinets, and replacing cabinet handles in order to make the place look more modern. She said that painting the whole house is not worth it since most of the paint still looks fine. Priscilla and I don't have to do much other than be home for the contractors and declutter and pack up stuff. Susanna is trying to save us money, and she asked for only 2% commission but offered to lower it to 1.75% if we use our own furniture for staging. Most of our furniture looks fine and she said that the stuff that staging companies provide is not always in the best condition, so her proposal seemed sensible.

Previously, Priscilla and I had thought we'd be using Redfin due to the lower commissions. But we read some poor reviews of the level of service that Redfin provides. In going with Susanna and getting a discount because of our previous relationship with her, we're getting a better rate than what we'd get with Redfin, and much better service. What a win!

We also thought that we'd have to rent a container and pack all our stuff and move out prior to listing, but now we get to stay in our house and avoid having to book a lot of hotel nights. It might make sense for us to be in a hotel during the two weeks that the house will be shown, since it'd be a lot of overhead to come back each evening and tidy up, pack up, and be out the door again in the morning, but we'll see. Either way, though there is a lot that needs to be done, Priscilla and I have the easy part. I guess this is why people like having a dedicated agent.

Susanna thinks that we'll be able to list the house four weeks from now. I think the process could be delayed if the pest or home inspection discovers things that need to be fixed, but Susanna is also on top of her game. So if there's a delay, I don't think it will be much.

So yesterday Priscilla and I went from having a fuzzy timeframe to having a more defined, accelerated schedule. Supposedly the closing process typically takes 30 - 45 days, so we could be moving out in June. At that point, we'll probably want to move down to SoCal and be in a hotel or Airbnb until we can find and buy a house. So that likely gives us two months to spend time with our family and friends here, and hit up the places that we might not have the chance to visit again. Time to get cracking!
Japan, Round 2 - Thursday, March 28, 2024
For international travel, our regular cadence has been one trip every two years. Before last year's Japan trip, we hadn't done one since 2019 due to the pandemic (Priscilla doesn't count our 2020 cruise to Ensenada as international). Since she felt gypped, we agreed that we'd do another international trip in 2024. We settled on Japan again because prices are still cheap, the exchange rate is even better now (about 150 yen for $1), and because we enjoyed our time last year.

We departed last Sunday and the day was pretty grueling. We got to SJC a little after 9am and headed to The Club for breakfast. Brandon and Josephine from church were already there; they were on our flight but unlike us, they were going to visit different cities in Japan for a whole two weeks. Our trip was 10 days and we were only staying in the Greater Tokyo Area this time, since the JR pass is a lot more expensive now and it wasn't economical to get to cities like Kyoto.

The flight was around 11 hours and was pretty uneventful until the last half hour. Tokyo was getting 40mph winds that day and there was so much turbulence during our entire descent. The wind was so bad that we had to abort the first landing attempt and re-ascend and circle around. The plane was shaking so much right until it touched down on the runway. This was the worst turbulence I've ever experienced and my stomach was quite upset. Another minute of that and I probably would've thrown up. At least a couple other people did.

At Narita, there was a lot of waiting. Half an hour to get through customs. Half an hour to get the Pasmo transit card (preloaded with 1,500 yen with the 500 yen activation fee waived), which is similar to the Suica card but only available to foreigners. At least there was no wait to get food from the Lawson convenience store at the airport; we each got a couple things since we hadn't eaten much on the flight.

Odaiba and Tokyo:
Then we took a Keisei train and a Yurikamome train (2 more hours of travel) to get to our hotel at Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel. The room was pretty small, just a little bigger than the room at Ibis Styles in Kyoto last year. We got more food from another nearby Lawson for dinner, and then we were pretty tired so we turned in "early". We woke up in the middle of the night because of jetlag, but we were still able to get 6 cumulative hours of sleep.

The next morning, we had a buffet breakfast at the hotel. It was 2,200 yen per person and the food was pretty good, though the buffet we had at the Hilton Tokyo Bay last year (free because of our Hilton Gold membership) was better. There was a decent variety of western and Japanese food, fish, meat, vegetables and more. I liked the gyūdon and sauteed bean sprouts the most.

After breakfast, we walked over to Odaiba and did Joypolis. We did most of the attractions, but I had to skip a couple of them because I don't do well with spinning rides. I liked the Sonic Athletics game where I competed with 7 others in track and field events. I had the raw speed but I came in 3rd overall because I suck at timing my button presses (for the long jump and hurdles). :p

Joypolis was okay but it's more Priscilla's kind of place than mine. I liked our time afterwards a lot more - we walked around the area and saw the Statue of Liberty, Unicorn Gundam statue, Odaiba Kaihin Park, and Daiba Park.

We started Wednesday with breakfast buffet at the hotel again. They didn't have the items I liked from the first day, and the place was more crowded, so we decided that we wouldn't do the buffet again the next day. After breakfast, we walked to Odaiba and crossed the Rainbow Bridge (terrific views) and walked over to teamLab Borderless.

Borderless was amazing! A lot of the art moves between rooms and it changes periodically. Some of it even reacts when you touch the wall. Every room was masterfully done. The room we liked most was the one with a 360 degree projection of celestial bodies in space. It periodically transitions through different scenes and the one that has crows flying through space is really something else. The other rooms that were terrific were the one with the forest of LED light strips hanging from the ceiling, the one with lighted metal balls moving around a track, and the one with hundreds of spotlights choreographed to music.

We also liked the tea room (only 600 yen for most of the teas) where you sit in a dimly-lit room and a projection shines into your tea cup. The projection shows flowers growing in your tea and then the petals all scatter when you pick up the cup. You watch as the petals blow away and fade once last time when you pick up the cup to drink for the final time. I thought it was a poignant metaphor for the beauty and fleetingness of life.

Borderless was truly moving and inspirational. At first I didn't see what the big deal would be, but I'm really glad that we did this. Priscilla paid $78 for the Joypolis and Borderless package through Klook, so each was around $20 per person. I don't think it was worth it for Joypolis, but it definitely was for Borderless!

Hakone:
On Thursday, we took the Yurikamome and then a JR train to get to Odawara. We picked up the Hakone Freepass from the train station and walked around Odawara Castle Park and also got some produce from the grocery store at the train station. The tomatoes in particular were really good - they looked like regular tomatoes but were very flavorful, almost like heirloom. Way better than all the tomatoes we get at grocery stores back home. Compared to the US, produce in Japan seems to be more expensive but higher quality. Even the hard-boiled eggs we bought at the convenience stores had orange yolks; hens in Japan are apparently fed a more balanced diet, while hens in the US are fed mostly corn and soybean.

From the train station, we took the free shuttle provided by our hotel, Hotel Indigo, to Hakone. This is a boutique hotel and they're very service oriented, which we're not accustomed to, though Priscilla didn't mind. This was by far the nicest hotel during our trip, and Priscilla redeemed all of the travel points in our respective Capital One accounts to book this. The room was quite large and had a lot of amenities, including a private onsen on the balcony and sliding wooden doors between the living area and the bathroom area that blocked out light. Since this day was mostly a travel day, we didn't do too much walking - we just walked 2.5 miles along the side of the Hayakawa River near the hotel.

Hakone is known for its hot springs, and every room at this hotel has an onsen. There was a 150 yen onsen fee (so just $1) per person per night, and we made good use of it since we used our onsen each of the three nights that we were there. The water is supposed to have healing and rejuvenating properties, and I did detect a slight sulfur smell one night, so it's probably the real deal.

The next day, we walked up some really steep steps to get to Gora Station, and from there took the Hakone Tozan Cable Car and then the Hakone Ropeway up the mountain. There are four consecutive ropeway lines, and once you crest the ridgetop of the Owakudani valley, you're treated to a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji in the distance and the sight and sulfur smell of the volcanic steam vents below. We stepped out at the lookout point to admire the landscape and peek at the gift shops. There were lots of shops selling black eggs, which this area is famous for and are said to add 7 years of life, but people say they just taste like regular eggs. Instead of eggs, we opted for black ice cream, which just tasted like vanilla. This place seemed like a tourist trap, but at least our ice cream was only 400 yen.

We took the ropeway down to Lake Ashinoko and did the pirate ship cruise to get to the southeast side of the lake. We went to the Heiwa no Torii, a famous torii (traditional Japanese gate) out on the water, but there were too many people in line waiting to get a picture, so we just took a picture from the side. After a quick lunch at Lawson, we found our way to the Kyu Kaido, a portion of the historic Tōkaidō road. The hike was very rugged due to the steep terrain and the large uneven cobblestones, and it was a little more difficult since we weren't wearing hiking shoes, but at least we did it in the eastward direction going downhill. Going the opposite way would've been quite challenging.

At the start of the hike, we were looking at the map on a sign and were met by a girl who looked to be in her early 30s. We ended up hiking together since we were all planning to visit the Amazake Chaya Tea House around the midpoint of the trail. We learned that she was from Perth, Australia and was on her second day of a 30-day backpacking trip through Japan. She gave us some travel recommendations for Australia and we chatted a bit when we settled down at the tea house. Priscilla and I had the amazake (sweet rice wine) and the sesame seed mochi. The tea house apparently has been operating for 400 years, and the recipe for the amazake is still the original. It's non-alcoholic and is sweet without sugar. After staying a bit, we exchanged well wishes and Priscilla and I continued on our hike while our friend waited for the bus.

We hiked to the eastern end of the trail in the town of Hatajuku, completing the approximately 3 mile length of the Kyu Kaido. East of the tea house, the trail gets more technical, including steep stairs with shallow steps, and occasionally crosses and even merges with the modern road. Finally, the old trail pretty much disappears once you get to the residential part of the town. We walked along the residential road for a short while, but it was a semi-busy road and the shoulder was narrow, so we decided to catch the Hakone Tozan Bus back. The bus took us to the Yumoto Station, and from there we took the Hakone Tozan Train, famous for its switchback railway, back to Gora Station. All the transportation that day was covered by the Hakone Freepass.

Saturday morning, we splurged and did the breakfast buffet at the hotel for 3,729 yen per person. Priscilla didn't mind doing this since she could get it credited on her Capital One Venture card. They had some fancier items that I didn't really care for, but I was still able to find some things that I liked that also agreed with my stomach. It was raining a good part of the day, so we stayed in the hotel and I caught up on work emails until the early evening, when the rain stopped and we hit up the Hayakawa River trail for a short walk again. Priscilla had originally planned for us to do more activities with the Freepass, but it was nice (for me at least) to have some downtime.

On Sunday, we used the Freepass once more to visit Hakone Gora Park. This wasn't the best time of year to visit since rose bushes and most trees weren't in bloom yet, but it was still nice to wander around the gardens and also see the plants in the greenhouses. Regular entry is 550 yen per person, and I don't think we saved money on all our activities by getting the Freepass, but convenience is worth something as well.

Afterwards, we took the hotel shuttle back to Odawara Station and checked into our new hotel at Toyoko Inn. We'd wanted to walk around Odawara Castle Park again but didn't on account of the rain. So we just chilled at the hotel and then went to Yoshinoya for dinner - our first time eating at a restaurant this trip. We were able to order more adeptly compared to last year. Yoshinoya in Japan is way better than Yoshinoya in the US. You get dine-in service, they give you complimentary tea and free refills on rice, food is made to order, and they don't have silly American desserts like cheesecake. And dinner here was only 1,453 yen - less than $5 per person!

Yokohama:
After stuffing ourselves from the free breakfast at Toyoko Inn (not bad selection for free) on Monday, we took a JR train from Odawara to Yokohama. We visited the Cup Noodles Museum and learned the story of the founder, Momofuku Ando, who invented instant noodles after a string of failures. It was neat to learn how he came up with the idea of flash flying noodles to dehydrate them after watching his wife fry up some tempura. We also hit up Chinatown for Priscilla to get some light bites. On the way back, we stumbled upon a fresh squeezed orange juice vending machine and had to try it out of curiosity. For 350 yen, the machine squeezed 4 oranges to make a cup of juice. The oranges rolled down a track and were loaded one by one onto a gear-like wheel, getting pressed between two wheels as they rotated towards each other. This was probably the coolest vending machine I've ever seen.

Tuesday saw us stuffing our faces for breakfast yet again. Priscilla got the breakfast option when booking our Yokohama hotel, The Square, for two nights. All the eating helped us not be hungry until dinnertime. It was raining fairly hard, but we walked over to Animal Touch Minatomira at the World Porters mall to go feed and pet animals. We liked the room with the capybaras, toucans, lemurs, and a sloth the most. At 1,800 yen per person plus 1,000 yen for 6 feeding vouchers, this was the most expensive activity we did.

Afterwards, we rode the giant Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris wheel, which Priscilla had booked for $4.26 per person. The ride lasted 15 minutes and gave us a nice view of Yokohama, though sadly we couldn't see far in the distance because of the rain and fog. But the coolest thing is that the Ferris wheel lights up at night with LEDs on every spoke. Its regular mode of operation is counting up the seconds of each minute, but every 15 minutes there's a 5-minute light show with different colors and patterns. Really a sight to behold. And our hotel room on the 15th floor had the perfect view of it! This was my favorite thing in Yokohama.

There's an OK Store a stone's throw from the hotel, so we went there for groceries and to the Hama Sushi restaurant there for dinner. This restaurant is really cool - you check in at a kiosk and it tells you what table to sit at, then you order individual items using a tablet and they are whisked to your table on a conveyor belt. The tablet plays a little jingle when your item arrives. It was really cool to see how everything was so coordinated and just worked seamlessly. Utensils, sauces, and a tap for hot tea are provided at the table, so there are no waiters. If the cashier was replaced with a self-pay option, you'd really not have to talk to anyone! We spent 1,804 yen here and got mostly full, and we had a second dinner from stuff we bought at the grocery store. I felt like the sushi was a splurge, but it still came out to only around $6 per person! What!

Wednesday, our final day, we stuffed ourselves at the hotel buffet one last time before taking JR trains to get to Narita. Learning a lesson from last year, we hit up the duty free shops first to get Tokyo Bananas (for my coworkers) before they ran out. We were able to use the remaining balance on our Pasmo cards and the rest of our cash here. We then got some light bites at the IASS NOA lounge. They had miso soup and some dehydrated seaweed and tofu that puff back up when added to soup; I wondered if those had been dehydrated through the flash frying method! The flight back was thankfully uneventful, though I wasn't able to sleep much and I developed a massive sore throat shortly after getting home. Looks like I'm catching a cold, but at least I got sick on the last day of travel, not the first day.

Overall, I'm glad that we went on this trip, though like last year, I was getting city fatigue and travel fatigue a few days in. Having some downtime definitely helped, even though some of it was because of staying at the hotel due to rain. I guess we didn't do as much this year, and that includes going to convenience stores even more this year. We got to see some cherry blossoms this time around; most of the trees were still bare, but some had started blooming.

Priscilla once again did a fantastic job with planning all aspects of our trip, including knowing the exact fare we would need for each train ride (mainly just to know how much we needed to load on our Pasmo cards), and getting some of our hotel stays, breakfasts, and some activities credited from her Capital One card. The total cost of the trip was around $2,250 and after credits, we spent around $1,775. Not too shabby given that the flights alone were $1,026.

Japan does so many things better than the US and there are a lot of things I will miss, but for now I'm glad to be home and I'm looking forward to catching up on rest.
A Busy Two Months - Saturday, March 16, 2024
Call it... February frenzy and March madness?

Over the past couple months, it feels like I've done a lot and also not done a lot at the same time. Where does the time go?

After my large project wrapped up in November, my workload at work has been manageable. The first week of February, our business unit started requiring employees to come into the office four days a week. I'm typically a lot less productive in the office - there are so many distractions in the form of meetings, people asking for help, having to walk around to use the bathroom or get food, and overall just not having long blocks of focused time. Last week, I was so behind on interrupts that I decided to just take a WFH day so that I could focus, and I was able to close/dispatch 50 tickets in our triage queue. Granted, I ended up working some extra hours that day, but there's no way that I could achieve that level of focus in the office. Leadership really needs to understand that everybody works differently and that people, and thus the company, benefit from flexibility.

Since I have to be in the office, I make time to go running with Frank almost every week. We ran together sporadically before the pandemic, but starting at the beginning of 2023, we've been running together after work one or sometimes even two times a week, with each run averaging around 5 miles. It's a good way to stay accountable, though he already runs most days each week, unlike me.

Two Saturdays ago, I participated in the annual RealOptions Walk for Life 5k race. Our church participates every year, though most people do the walk instead of run. Thanks to the generosity of our church, our team raised over $19,500 to support the work of RealOptions. This was my fourth year doing the 5k and I ended up getting 1st place out of 65 runners this year, though my time of 21:34 was slightly worse than my time of 21:31 from last year. It just depends on who shows up - when I first participated in 2018, there were 8 people with a time under 20 minutes! I had been hoping to get a time under 21 minutes, and my personal goal is to be able to run a sub-20 minute 5k, so I have a long way to go.

The day after, Priscilla and I sang in the combined choir during the combined service at church. We had 6 people total from the English congregation joining the regular choir members from the Chinese congregation. I think this was a record turnout from the English side! We sang an arrangement of "Then Sings My Soul" by Mary McDonald, which is a little different from the traditional hymn. It was actually kind of fun, and it was awesome hearing how the four vocal parts came together in a beautiful composition. I was actually the one who suggested joining, as Priscilla was thinking that I wouldn't want to do it. I guess I'd be okay with doing something like this again - but not on a regular basis, Priscilla!

On the home improvement side, I've been working on replacing the old blinds in the spa room and gym room. I ordered some basic blinds (still not cheap at $230) from blinds.com and I've had to find bits of time on random evenings to get the brackets installed. One of the windows is not totally square and so one of the brackets isn't flush with the other one. Since the design of these blinds makes it so that they just sit inside the brackets without being tightened down, the entire assembly wobbles when pulling on the lift cord. I'm trying to see if I can get something to act as a shim to sit inside the bracket so that the headrail doesn't have as much room to move vertically.

We're leaving for Japan tomorrow and need to spend today packing and getting things ready. After we get back, we'll try to find a real estate agent to get information on selling our house. We're thinking of listing with Redfin due to the lower commissions. There are still a lot of things we need to fix including reglazing the showers, replacing a toilet, painting (definitely exterior and maybe interior as well), cleaning grout, cleaning patios and walkways, landscaping, finishing the drip irrigation, and more. So we might not even list our house until May or June. We just have to take it one day at a time.
Purging is Fun - Monday, January 22, 2024
In my previous blog entry, I mentioned that Priscilla and I are planning to move back to SoCal this year. Not one to scramble to start on things at the last minute (well, usually), I've been having us preemptively get rid of things that we don't want to take with us when we move. I don't like having a lot of stuff and so I've always liked getting rid of stuff, but this has given me renewed motivation and greater opportunity.

I started with my old textbooks from college that I thought I would read again someday. I've had some of those for almost 20 years and I don't think I've opened any of them since finishing the respective classes. Well, our local library was happy to (or reluctantly, I don't know) accept those for donation, despite them probably being out of date.

I also filled up an entire paper grocery bag with papers to recycle. This included old handouts from courses at work, old Sunday school notes, old music sheets from worship, and manuals for stuff we didn't have anymore. And that's not including the hundred or so papers with personal information that went to the shredder. I've also scanned a lot of these papers so that I can retain a digital version.

I also collected several expired medications and took them to CVS for disposal. Apparently they have a bin there, though I had to ask the pharmacist to unlock it. I guess they don't want people throwing just anything in there.

In just the last two weeks, I've given away so much stuff online. Most of it went to people on Nextdoor, though I've also given away a few things on Freecycle and Buy Nothing. The full list of stuff: blackout curtains, a Paint by Number set, single place dining ware (left by our last renter), the black faux leather futon that we bought after getting married, hygiene items that Priscilla got for free, floating candles, a purse, some yard stuff to one guy (he originally came for my 32 gallon garbage bin but I also gave him an animal trap and tiki torches), ski goggles, percussion pad and drum sticks, wicker basket drawers (we bought these for our renters), an ottoman with a matching footstool, our old Tuft & Needle full size mattress that we used for only 2.5 years, my old Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card, 8 COVID antigen tests, resume paper, a Starbucks mug (this was the most popular item), and two 1-quart cans of paint that we were thinking of using to paint the fireplace but never did. And during this time, Priscilla gave away her bread maker, lots of burritos that she got for free from Safeway, and miscellaneous food items from the pantry.

Whew. We also want to give away our other garden furniture: the BBQ grill, patio table and chairs, and the wicker chest that's just holding the cushions for the patio chairs. We think we want to keep our portable fire pit, though.

Before we move, we'll also want to give away our pantry cabinet and secondary fridge (we also bought those for our renters), as well as our dining table and chairs. Priscilla has always wanted a dining table bigger than the one we have, i.e. one that can seat more than 4 people. We're hoping that the new house we buy will have more space, so no use in taking the old table with us. But we'll probably keep using this stuff until it's time to sell this place. And our sectional sofa, complete with a large depression in the spot where Priscilla sits every day, will probably be tossed during the city's annual cleanup in May (so that gives us sort of a soft deadline). We're guessing that nobody's going to want it, but who knows, since a lot of the stuff I've given away I also thought nobody would want!

Every item we get rid of brings us marginally closer to moving. We've been in the Bay Area for over a decade, but the timing and circumstances feel right to move back. We're mainly just waiting for the right house to come on the market. It all feels a bit surreal. During this time, we need to trust in God's timing and know that all will work out the way He intends. We should also not forgot to enjoy the time we have here, whether that's spending time with coworkers and church friends, visiting our favorite restaurants after hiking/running at our favorite open space preserves, or even just in finding satisfaction getting rid of things that we realize we never really needed that much in the first place.
Home for the Holidays - Monday, January 1, 2024
You know how the song goes. There's no place like home for the holidays.

For the second year in a row, Priscilla and I stayed home for Christmas since we made an extra trip to LA in July ("Christmas in July") in addition to our usual trip for Thanksgiving. Despite not traveling in December, we had a pretty eventful holiday month. Here are the highlights.

We went to WinterFest at Great America on December 1. We both had the Gold pass this year due to me getting an award at work. It was nice to see all the lights and the holiday magic, though it was a little sad to see that the "It's Christmas, Snoopy!" show had been updated and no longer has the scripture reading from Linus. It was an impressive show in its own right, just not the same and felt a little empty without referencing the real reason for the season. We did a couple rides - RailBlazer twice and the holiday version of the Barney Oldfield Speedway, the latter at which we learned the lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" due to signs and decorations they had up.

Priscilla visited Great America again last week to get food one last time, since she had the dining pass for the year. The Great America app said that she's been there 53 times this year, and that's not including the days where she visited twice (once for lunch and once for dinner). She's definitely gotten her money's worth from that pass.

I took two weeks off work to make up for the four weeks of overtime that I put in when I was scrambling to get my big project done. I'll take a couple more weeks off when we go back to Japan in March. I got back to work the week before Christmas, which was a light week. And then nobody was really working the week between Christmas and New Year's. So, while I've been doing some work here and there, it's been a good time of getting away and focusing on other things.

Unfortunately, I was battling a cold during two of those weeks, and it seems to have turned into a mild case of pneumonia. I'm almost over it now, but progress has been slow.

We attended my business unit's holiday party on December 15. For the second year in a row, it was held at The Plex in San Jose. We enjoyed the food (and got a decent amount to take home when they brought out the takeout boxes at the end of the night), hit up the arcade, and did a good amount of roller skating. This was a familiar and predictable holiday party and I can see how some people would be turned off by that, especially since the parties of yesteryears were no-expenses-spared amazing, but we enjoy this venue. We don't mind the simple things.

Throughout the last month, we've been better about meeting up with people. I ran 10 miles at Rancho with Yang, we had dinner with the Leongs the first week of December, ate with Sharon during church lunch, I had my third and final training session with Brian (through the service auction at church), we had Christmas dinner with Uncle Kenway and Aunt Susan and her family, did respective Zoom dinners with my parents and Priscilla's parents, and Sharon and two of her daughters came over the day after Christmas and we walked and ate ice cream. And Tracy came over tonight for dinner and then we walked around the Willow Glen Holiday Lights. Unfortunately, visiting on New Year's is apparently a little late, since a fair amount of the lights were turned off. Our previous visits there were on the 28th and 27th, so I think that's what we'll have to do next time.

But there might not be a next time for us, at least in the near future. Priscilla and I have been talking about moving back to SoCal to be closer to family, particularly since her parents are getting to the age where they're starting to need more help with things. Weather is a big factor for me and I wouldn't enjoy living in the San Fernando Valley where summers get pretty hot. But we've been eyeing a city called Camarillo in Ventura County since it's semi-close to family while still providing some separation, homes are more affordable there (most places we've looked at seem to be between $800k and $1.2 million), and the weather actually seems to be better than where we are now. Camarillo is more coastal and it's not in the San Fernando Valley, and it doesn't get as hot in the summer and doesn't get as cold in the winter compared to Santa Clara. The crime rates are lower as well. It's not the perfect place, but no place is, and it would seem to suit our needs. I'm pretty sure that my manager would let me work remotely since three of my coworkers are fully remote. Priscilla thinks there's a chance that her workplace can shuffle job duties so that she can also work remotely, but it remains to be seen.

We're thinking of moving this year once the right house comes on the market. So far, I haven't really liked any of the houses that have shown up on Redfin, though I have more criteria than Priscilla. Hopefully inventory will pick up in the coming months. But I don't think we'd really want to buy anything before our Japan trip. We've also been discussing whether to sell our current house first and the logistics around that.

At any rate, moving will be a big change. I've been in the Bay Area since 2008 and at RBF since 2009 or 2010. Priscilla married into the church in 2012 but, even so, has been there longer than most people. Though we're not super close to people here, we do have valuable friendships that we will miss. Who knows whether we'll be able to cultivate the same level of relationships when we move, even if we end up going to Priscilla's old church (which would be a 30 minute drive, doable but not ideal). And we've worked hard to make this house a home over the last 10 years; moving and going through that process again will be no small effort. So much is up in the air, but we do think we're intent on moving. We've been in the Bay Area together for nearly 12 years, but it didn't take long to come to this conclusion once we started seriously discussing it. The timing and circumstances just felt right. So we'll see how things go.

On a final note, my home improvement project for the past two weeks has been to install motorized shades in the family room. The wand on our old blinds broke and we had to operate them by climbing onto the couch and turning the mechanism by hand. Not great considering that we operate those blinds a couple times every day. The blinds also never worked that well. So I did some research and decided that I wanted motorized shades, and I found a company on Yelp that quoted me $1,700. But I found some shades on Amazon that came out to $400 when I selected my dimensions and options, so I decided to order those and attempt to install them myself. I had to remove the old blinds and patch the holes, and the first time I installed the new shades, the drywall anchors that were included started pulling out of the wall. The shades are mounted on the underside of the window frame and the anchors didn't provide much holding strength when used vertically. So I had to remove everything and patch those holes as well. I ended up buying 2-inch screws from Home Depot and used those to attach the mounting brackets to the window frame, with an inch of each screw secured tightly in the header of the wood frame. Those brackets aren't going anywhere now. So now we have some pretty useful shades that are programmable and can even be operated using a voice assistant. Priscilla loves the shades and loves telling the Google Home to open and close them. This was something that was time and money well-spent, and it should also enhance the appeal of our house when it comes time to sell!

I think it's been a productive month and a meaningful year. I hope that we can be intentional about how we spend our time, who we spend it with, and where we spend it, so that the new year is equally as purposeful.
Another Typical Thanksgiving - Wednesday, November 29, 2023
As in previous years, Priscilla and I went down to LA for Thanksgiving. We drove down Thanksgiving Day, leaving around 7:15 am and traffic wasn't too bad. We got to her parents' place and had a late lunch, then brought them to my parents' place where Aaron and his family were already there. Lauren's parents were also there, as they moved from China and have been living with Aaron and Lauren in their in-law unit.

Lauren's parents don't speak English, so I had trouble communicating with them. Her dad has his learner's permit and Aaron has been teaching him to drive. I guess he had a license in China, but driving here is a little different. Our niece has gotten better with math - she was playing with a cash register toy and likes counting money. Maybe she'll be an accountant one day.

My parents made a turkey and Aaron and Lauren made another. Priscilla's parents, per their own tradition, supplied a chicken and a duck from Sam Woo. So we had no shortage of meat. No dessert though, since people are now having blood sugar issues.

During our time in LA, we stayed two nights at Priscilla's parents' place and two nights at my parents' place. I helped her mom and my dad, respectively, with computer stuff. And we went to church at CCAC and ate at the Galleria food court afterwards with Gina, Weber and Crescentia. After that, Priscilla and I walked around Northridge Park and I got to remember some childhood memories from when my mom used to bring me and my brother there.

We drove back up Monday morning and only hit a few brief slowdowns on the road. Of course, my mom made a ton of food for us to take with us, and she also bought me sodium-free peanuts from Trader Joe's since she knows I like those. She is too loving, on everyone. So much so that she was feeling slightly under the weather because she's always serving others instead of sleeping enough. I can't really criticize, because while I too don't sleep enough, I have a long way to go in the area of service to others.

It was a very typical trip in pretty much every way, but it was still meaningful. Even though we don't really do anything exciting, the time we spend with family and friends is precious.
Dallas Trip - Friday, November 24, 2023
In October, Priscilla and I went on a 5-day trip to Dallas. And, more so than on previous trips, almost nothing went as expected!

Why Dallas? Priscilla likes to find places that have cheap flights and then plan the trip around that. Round-trip tickets to Dallas were just $101 on Spirit Airlines. Also, she wanted to visit the Capital One Lounge at DFW again. And there was a treetop obstacle course called Go Ape in Plano (20 minutes from North Dallas) that was the main incentive for me, since I'd always wanted to do one of those.

We departed Saturday morning and the flight was a little over 3 hours. Spirit is a budget airline that charges for everything, so we didn't have snacks on the plane. We did of course stop by The Club at SJC before our flight, and we effectively had dinner at a lounge at DFW called Plaza Premium. The food at the latter was pretty good!

We took the shuttle to Thrifty to pick up our rental car. We had booked the manager's special, the cheapest option, and to our surprise and somewhat horror, we were given a Chevy Bolt EUV - an electric vehicle! Apparently, Thrifty is owned by Hertz, and 10% of Hertz's fleet is electric. We'd had no prior experience with EVs, and vacation in an unfamiliar area was the worst way to get up to speed. But more on that later.

It was around 8pm when we checked into our hotel at the Holiday Inn Express. We walked to the nearby Walmart (nearby meaning a mile away) to get a few groceries for our trip. And that was pretty much it for the day - just a travel day.

The next day, we drove up to Oak Point Park in Plano where Go Ape operates from. The obstacle course is 30 feet up in the tree canopy. The height made me a little nervous at first, but I quickly got over it and started focusing just on how best to get through the course. Some obstacles required some strength and endurance, but there was nothing too crazy, except for one impossibly hard obstacle that I and others had to zip through instead of doing "properly".

Priscilla did the hard obstacles with me since we missed a transition point where she could've taken an easier route. She was tired by the end of Course 3, so she sat it out while I did Courses 4 and 5. That was too bad since Course 5 was easier than 3 and 4 and had arguably the most fun obstacle - the Tarzan Swing. Hopefully we can do something like this again and both make it to the end!

After Go Ape, we drove over to a nearby business park to charge the car. There was only a level 2 charger there and it was pretty slow, but it was the best thing we could find nearby. We'd found it using the ChargePoint app, which seems like the main way to find public chargers outside the Tesla network. We walked over to a nearby plaza where there were a lot of Asian stores including 99 Ranch and 85 Degrees. After a long lunch and a leisurely walk about, we returned to the car and found that it had charged 31 miles over 2.5 hours - barely enough charge to cover our trip to Plano and back.

The next day, we did some sightseeing in Downtown Dallas. We first drove around trying to find a place to charge, but the two free chargers at City Hall were taken, the one inside a residential garage was broken, and one was supposedly inside a public parking garage but we didn't want to go in since you had to pay starting from the first minute. We eventually just parked the car a mile from downtown, not charging. Our trip had become all about finding places to charge and we were failing. I can't see how widespread adoption of EVs is viable. The charging infrastructure is just not there.

Since it was lunchtime, we walked over to the Dallas Farmers Market and perused the different shops before deciding on jerk chicken at a Jamaican place. It was decent but wasn't as good as Back a Yard in San Jose, which in turn probably can't hold a candle to food in actual Jamaica.

After lunch, we walked around and saw the Giant Eyeball, AT&T Discovery District, JFK Memorial, Pioneer Plaza, and City Hall. And that was it for the day. A pretty low-key day, but I guess that's how we roll.

It was raining most of Tuesday, so we just stayed in the hotel and did work instead of visiting Fort Worth like we had planned. But the rain let up on Wednesday and we were able to walk around the Fort Worth Stockyards for an hour before returning to the airport. We missed the daily cattle drive, but we saw the longhorns in their pen afterwards. The Stockyards felt a little touristy and I wouldn't really call this place a must-see, but it was fun enough to walk around and explore.

We had decided to just return the car to Thrifty undercharged and pay the $35 fee. A minor fee to avoid a lot of headache. We returned the car with around 40% charge remaining, but interestingly, Thrifty never charged us the fee. Maybe they felt sorry for us, or just didn't want to process it.

Finally, back at the airport we headed straight to the Capital One Lounge where, after a 10 minute wait, we enjoyed a variety of hot food, sparkling water, and desserts. We tried to also visit Plaza Premium but the place was packed and we weren't able to get in before our flight. Which was fine because we were pretty full from the previous lounge!

Overall, this trip wasn't as restful or as eventful as we had hoped, but it was enjoyable and memorable in its own way. I'm writing this a month late because it's been insanely busy at work, with me putting in a lot of overtime to wrap up a large project that's been on the books for too long. Priscilla has already booked a trip to Japan for next March, so hopefully during that trip things will go a bit more smoothly and I won't have to think about work.