Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

Part travel blog, part philosophical musings. All tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.

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Beer: the cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems

Quoted from that great philosopher, Homer Simpson.

Moving on to the zero-to-hero task at hand, my most viewed post was the one about the mega waves on the North Shore. I’m guessing it’s because that post had a little bit of everything: a popular news story, pictures of crazy surfers, hyperlinks to save people money, and even some false advertising with the Pro Bowl picture. (Okay, so it’s not quite false since I did talk a little bit about how to get tickets, but still – if I’d lured in anyone with the false hope that I’d be writing about football, I apologize.) On a related note, I’ve noticed that my least viewed posts were the ones that I’d posted in the evening, which would have been in the middle of the night for most of the U.S., so timing seems to play a factor as well. Which makes sense, since I figure a lot of people peruse blogs during the day so that they can look busy when they’re supposed to be working. *looks over shoulder to make sure my boss isn’t standing behind me.*

So on that note, I’d like to talk about another popular topic: beer. 🙂

Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

Specifically, places to get it. I know a lot of people dig the local Kona Brewing Company although their brews are just okay in my opinion (Big Wave Golden Ale is pretty good; stay away from their IPA.) Lest any newcomers fear that this is as good as it’s going to get, just know that there it is possible to find beer from the mainland and beyond. Yardhouse in Waikiki is the obvious choice, and with over 100 beers on tap it’s easy to see why it’s popular with tourists and transplants alike. The downside? It’s popular with tourists and transplants alike, so in the evenings (especially Fridays and Saturdays) you could be waiting two hours to get a table. If you’re patient and don’t mind standing for a bit, you can usually get a seat at the bar… eventually.

Gastropubs are slowly starting to become more common here, and REAL is probably my favorite bar on the island right now. It’s located in Kaka’ako (near the Ward movie theater) and away from Waikiki so you won’t see as many of the tourist hordes. That said, it is kind of small on the inside so it does get crowded. If you have to wait to sit down, it’s worth it since they have a nice little selection of off-island beers, and the list changes pretty frequently. Imagine my delight when I got back from spending Christmas in Chicago and discovered they had beer from the Goose Island brewery! I felt so worldly for actually knowing what it was. If you need even more of an incentive to check this place out, their food is quite good too. Bacon French fries fried in bacon? Yes, please!

Well, there goes THAT workout.

Well, there goes THAT workout.

My boss – who is not standing behind me, I checked – recently alerted me to the Liquor Collection in the Ward Center. I haven’t been there so I can’t report back just yet, but I’m told that they have a huge selection of bottled beer from all over. It’s on my list, as I’m still looking for a place to buy certain East Coast beers (Yuengling, where are you?) and chu-hi (technically not beer, I know, but one of the many things I miss from Japan.)

Cheers! What are your favorite bars in Hawaii?



Surf’s Way Up

Well, this is embarrassing – last night I’d invited some friends out, including an old classmate who had just moved here, thinking that the Chinese New Year block party would be the happening place to be.  Well, we arrived at a fairly empty Chinatown in Honolulu, discovering that most of the New Year celebrating had happened the night before and now everyone was down in Waikiki at that other block party.

Happy Year of the Horse, here's some team mascots.

Happy Year of the Horse, here’s some NFL mascots.

The Pro Bowl is pretty much the only big sporting event that happens here, if you can call a fake football game an event.  Hawaii has no professional sports teams of its own, nor are most of the college teams any good at the moment, so unless you’re a die hard fan of the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team or are really into high school sports, you’ll just have to settle for this.  (This isn’t a diss on UH volleyball, by the way.  I’ve heard that they have a following akin to a religious cult; my friends who have attended the games have reported fights breaking out in the stands and everything.  I guess that’s what happens when your football team is 1-11.)  At least it’s usually pretty easy to score tickets, especially if you or someone you know is affiliated with the military since ITT has pretty good deals every year, and it can be a good opportunity to get autographs.

In other news, we got hit with the largest swell in decades last week, which had brought 50 foot waves to the North Shore.  I’d wanted to drive up there after work to check it out, especially since I have yet to see any of the big surf that comes in the winter (I’m always reluctant to fight the traffic to get to the surf competitions, since there’s only one two-lane road and parking is difficult even on a slow day.)  However, since I’d gotten roped into a mandatory fun work function that afternoon, I had to skip the road trip.  In retrospect it had been a good thing: apparently everyone else on the island had made the pilgrimage to the North Shore, and people had gotten stuck in gridlock for over two hours on Kamehameha highway.  Additionally, parking had been nonexistent, and the giant waves had washed sand up onto the road.

Boom.  (Photos from Hawaii News Now)

Boom. (Photos from Hawaii News Now)

That can't be good for the car.

That can’t be good for the car.

Hope you didn't have any plans for the rest of the week.

Hope you didn’t have any plans for the rest of the week.

Of course, that didn’t stop everyone.  All together now:

You IDIOT!!!

You IDIOT!!!

The experienced big wave surfers had been smart enough to stay away that day, since the weather had been pretty bad with lots of strong wind gusts and choppy waves.  But of course some amateur still wanted to get his surfing street cred or whatever – you know, the same guy who thinks it’s a gnarly idea to go paddle out in a hurricane.  Ah, Darwinism.

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FIRE!! The Insanity of the Nozawa Fire Festival

Oh man – I’m WAY behind on the zero-to-hero tasks so I’m combining a couple of them here.  Can a post be inspired by itself?  Sure, why not.  I’ve been thinking of doing more photo-intensive posts anyway, since people like seeing pictures and I like taking them excessively.  I mean, why take only one photo when you can take 10?  Besides, I had intended the secondary theme of my blog to be about my past and present travels, and I haven’t written anything on that topic yet, so…

Somebody call 911!

Somebody call 911!

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic for my time in Japan, and have been inspired by some of the great Japan-themed blogs I’ve found, like Japan in 365 Days and Made By Steven.  So for today’s post (combining today’s challenge with day 19) I’ve decided to share some photos of one of my Japan adventures.  The Nozawa Fire Festival is held every year in the middle of January in Nozawa Onsen, a beautiful town in the mountains near Nagano (site of the 1998 Winter Olympics).  I had the opportunity to go in 2012 since it coincided with our ski trip during MLK weekend, and it’s hands down the craziest event I went to during the two years I lived in Japan.  To summarize: a bunch of 42-year-old and 25-year-old men build a wooden temple during the weeks before the festival, having earned that honor since the numbers 42 and 25 are considered to be unlucky.  On the night of the festival, those men must then defend the temple from the attacking villagers, who come storming with torches, sticks of hay, and more torches.

When we got there, it was already nighttime and the crowds were gathering.

Like at any Japanese festival, much sake was being passed around.

Like at any Japanese festival, lots of sake was being passed around.

We had gone with an Australian tour group, and our guide had been quite adamant in informing us that “this is NOT a piss trip!” and told us to keep far away and observe from a distance.  Of course, being the silly tourists that we were, we chose not to heed his advice and got as close to the action as we could.

The 42-year-olds were singing drinking songs from on top of the temple, and clearly had already been celebrating for hours at that point.

The 42-year-olds were singing drinking songs from on top of the temple, and had clearly already been celebrating for hours at that point.

The brave 25-year-olds at the base of the temple were given sophisticated weaponry with which to fight off the attackers.

The brave 25-year-olds at the base of the temple were given sophisticated weaponry with which to fight off the attackers.

Good thing they were prepared, because the attackers came in force!  The defenders fought bravely, but eventually their poor temple succumbed to the flames.

Attack of the villagers!

Attack of the villagers!

Caption: no 42- or 25-year-old men were harmed during the making of this photo album.

No 42- or 25-year-old men were harmed during the making of this photo album.

All in all, it was a ridiculous and fun night, and I even ended up with a headband that one of the 42-year-olds had given me as a souvenir.  If you ever happen to find youself near Nagano in January, I highly recommend taking a detour to Nozawa Onsen.  Also recommended: a ski trip!  From Tokyo it’s a 100-minute ride on the Shinkansen to the Nagano station, and from there you can take a bus to the surrounding ski resorts .  (Or you could drive, which is what we did.  Be sure to bring chains!)

The perfect powder is a skier or snowboarder’s dream.

The powdery snow is a skier or snowboarder’s dream.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Japan without giant cartoon characters.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Japan without giant cartoon characters.

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Angry Dudes in Orange Spandex

I had a blog post all written and ready to go, but since my latest rant was weather-related I figured it would be in bad taste to publish it right now, considering what’s happening on the east coast at the moment.  No problem, it can wait until Snowpocalypse 2014 Part II eases up.  Stay safe and warm, everyone.

Anyway, getting back to work after a 10-day vacation on the mainland sucks and I’ll be spending the next week catching up on the zero-to-hero tasks, among other things.  I feel compelled to write something since it’s been over a week since my last post, even though writer’s block has struck me at the moment and I can’t think of anything else Hawaii-related to talk about.  I’m not even in that much of a whiny mood, really, having just coming off of leave.  I’m still reveling in the experiences of driving on wide open roads and having nice grocery stores to shop in.  (Man, I miss Publix.)  So for now I’ll just share a hilarious article I found earlier today when I was on the computer looking busy at work.  Okay, the article itself isn’t funny, but the pictures accompanying it are comedy gold.

Oh no you DI-IN'T!!

Oh no you DI-IN’T!!

(Why, oh why, is he so angry? Read the full story here!) Ice drama is the best , isn’t it?  I do love winter sports even the ridiculous ones, and so I’m anxiously waiting for the Winter Olympics to start. Only 18 days!

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

I’m excited to be off-island this week to attend a wedding in Florida, although that means I’m going to have less time for keeping up with zero-to-hero challenges and all the great blogs I’ve discovered this month since I started writing here.  That said, I’ll never complain about the time off from work!  One of my New Year resolutions was to read only non-fiction books during 2014, since I’d come to the conclusion that I read too much fiction/fantasy/sci fi fluff and not enough of things that expand my horizons and (supposedly) make me smarter. Since my last fiction reading was some historical fiction fluff about the Roman Empire, I decided to keep with the theme and have my first non-fiction venture be Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire by Simon Baker.  I like it so far; it’s interesting and doesn’t read too much like a history textbook at all.  The bad thing is that I’ve noticed a tendency to get too invested in characters who are doomed to fail.  It’s bad enough when it’s a famous figure whose story you know (“The Ides of March is NOT a good day to go the senate… dammit, Caesar, what did I tell you?!”) but it’s almost worse when you don’t know their story ahead of time.  And of course I feel silly cheering for dudes who have been dead for centuries, but it didn’t stop me: “Huh, this Tiberius Gracchus is a hero, but is he going to survive the senators calling for his head?  I hope so.  Oh no, now they’re coming after him!  Run, Tiberius, run!” (Spoiler: he dies.)

I’m sure this story would have ended differently if only Tiberius had been more like Russell Crowe.

One of the quasi-advantages of living in Hawaii is that you can get frequent flier status pretty easily, since any trip off the islands will earn you at least miles 5000 round trip.  I say “quasi-advantage” because chances are if you’re traveling that much, you’re also making a significant dent in your bank account because flights in and out of Hawaii are so very pricey.  It costs me more to fly to see my family on the mainland now than it did when I was living overseas in Japan!  That said, if you’re not traveling during a holiday season, and if you know well in advance where and when you want to go, you can sometimes find a decent price for airplane tickets.  For the west coast US, that can sometimes be under $400 for flights into major hubs like LA and Seattle.  I will admit that I’m not as versed in looking for east coast flights, but from what I’ve seen the good deals tend to be in the $500-700 range.  Following @airfarewatchdog on twitter, I’ve sometimes come across the oddball great deal, like $386 for a trip from Charlotte, NC to Honolulu.  I will be investigating east coast trips more in the future since my fiance just moved to Virginia, so I anticipate writing a “Leaving on a Jet Plane, part deux” post sometime soon.

Well, I’m off to Disney World to act like a five year old for a few days, and then to a wedding where I’ll be expected to act like an adult in front of my future in-laws. Wish me luck!


Star Searching

So apparently Anne Hathaway almost drowned in Hawaii the other day.


I need to get serious for a moment – December and January are the busy months for tourism in Hawaii due to mainlanders escaping the cold.  (And escape they should!  The tourist hordes annoy me at times, especially when they buy out everything in my size at the mall so I’m forced to order clothes online, which means I have to wait two or three weeks just to get an outfit that doesn’t look like it was made out of bedsheets from the ABC store.  But I’ve seen those pictures of Winter Apocalypse 2014, so I’ll relent for the time being.  Ditch your iced-over vehicles and come to the islands, where the only ice you’ll find is in your mai tai!)  Anyway, with lots of tourists come plenty of beach-goers, and while our beaches are top-notch and I encourage everyone to enjoy them, I also beg you to please, please be careful.  We get our biggest surf in the winter (to the delight of surfing aficionados) but even when the waves look deceptively small, they could be hiding a strong undertow or rip current that could take you by surprise.  Be wary, especially on the northern and western shores.  It was at about this time a few years ago that I was swimming at Hapuna Beach on the west coast of the Big Island, and even though I consider myself a pretty good swimmer I was still worn out by the effort it took just to swim back to shore.  And for anyone who’s done the famous Na Pali coast hike on Kauai, I’m sure you’ll recognize this sign:

Even just wading in shin-deep at Hanakapiai beach, the current was so strong that it almost knocked me off my feet.  So please be careful in the water, watch your friends and little ones, and remember your “caught in a riptide” procedures.

Okay, enough with the PSA.  Ms. Hathaway’s misadventure reminded me of something that’s been bothering me:  why have I never, ever seen a celebrity?!  According to TMZ and the like, they come here all the time.  Dozens of movies are filmed here each year.  And even though I’ve come across movie sets on occasion (like the time I went for morning jog down in Waikiki and literally ran into the camera crew setting up for a scene for the new Godzilla movie – sorry, guys) I have yet to see even a D-list famous person.  I think I just have the worst luck*, because my friends have stories of running into so-and-so from Lost or seeing some famous director in a bar.  I’ve been here a total of five years now and I’ve never seen anyone.  Come on, I just want to see one celebrity!  I would really like a glimpse of, say, David Beckham, but at this point I’d settle for KimYe.

*Also, I’m kind of cheap.  I hear the rich and famous vacation on Maui, and that’s the expensive island.  I’m not paying freaking $4.25/gallon so I can drive around looking for a Kardashian.

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A Night With Some New Friends

In keeping with today’s zero-to-hero task (to embed a new element in your blog) I’ve decided to post one of my photos from Instagram.  I’m a brand-new Instagrammer, having only started with the new year, and so far I kind of like it.  It’s fun to keep up with photographers far more creative and talented than I, although I’m not quite sure what I’m going to use my own account for yet.  So far it’s just a “best of” photo collection of my travels over the last few years, with no real theme.  I suppose when I go on another trip it will be a fun and easy way to keep my friends and family updated?  I’m not sure.  Anyway, lest I give anyone the idea that I’m only going to talk about negative things in Hawaii on my blog, may I present this:

When I came back to the islands, I’d told myself I’d try to alleviate the island fever by accomplishing some of the things I didn’t get around to the first time I’d lived here.  One of those things was getting my scuba certification, which I’m very glad I did although if I had to do it again, I would try and get certified somewhere other than Hawaii.  Like many things here, the price is quite inflated: I got my PADI open water certification for the “sale” price of $485.  A google search tells me one can save at least $200 by getting certified on the mainland.

That said, it was absolutely worth it!  Hawaii does have many adventures to offer below the ocean’s surface, my favorite so far being the manta ray night dive off the Kona coast on the Big Island.  As far as diving goes it’s pretty easy: you’re only about 40 feet deep, sitting on the bottom of the bay with a flashlight waiting for the manta rays to show up (and they do, as the light attracts the plankton that they feed on.)  It’s a truly surreal experience getting to hang out while these beautiful 15-foot manta rays swim right over your head.  I really wish I’d taken a video, because the whole dive was just spectacular.  There are several companies on the Big Island that do night dives; we went with Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii who was awesome.  For anyone who doesn’t dive, they also take snorkelers along. The kids who had been in the boat with us loved it!

Okay, that’s enough gushing. Tune in next week for the regularly scheduled bitch session. 😛