I’m spending a couple of nights in Fredericton. Camren is attending a UNB swim team recruiting event, and it made more sense to stay instead of making two trips. It is also a chance to experience a different environment for a few days, something which feels necessary.

I’m staying at the Carriage House Inn, and the first descriptor that comes to mind would be ‘quirky.’ The innkeeper who lives onsite is extremely friendly, and if my limited interaction with her so far is any indication, the main reason the business continues to exist.

This isn’t a holiday, so today will be spent trying to keep on top of my writing. A local coffee roaster is nearby, so I will visit there to work for the morning, grab a bag or two of beans, and spend the afternoon in the dining room here at the Inn.

Fredericton looks similar to every other Maritime city, with the same architecture and the same dearth of activity downtown. Close your eyes, and UNB could be UPEI or Mt.A.

Hoping for good weather for the drive home. I’m not the winter driver I once was.

Thailand redux?

I run my life via my Aeroplan Visa card and have over the course of the past few years slowly accrued a lot of points.

Yesterday I found out that I have enough points to fly the four of us from Halifax to just about anywhere we might want to go. Flying to Thailand would leave some points for a flight elsewhere.

For some reason I hoard points like its real money (see Loss aversion) – I have enough PC Optimum points to buy weeks of groceries – but perhaps it’s time while we are all still under the same roof, to have a family vacation in one of our most beloved places, and enjoy some sunshine during the cold Canadian winter. Now if only we can get our passports renewed before 2023.


I got back from Montreal last night after a four night stay. I went up with the Canada Games swim team to an International meet primarily to support and spend time with Camren, but also to help the team wherever required. I spent most of my time outside in the hot sun, pool side, watching, listening, learning and occasionally yelling kudos to the swimmers.

Originally I planned to fly up as I couldn’t fathom sitting on the coach bus for 12 or more hours, but luckily I didn’t, as those few that did fly suffered at the hands of Air Canada. Their trip was far longer than ours and without a nights sleep.

There were many highlights during the brief trip: watching kids compete is a powerful thing, Montreal unlike Charlottetown has wonderful mango and watermelon, my son was thrilled to eat rice triangles again, apartments and condos seem built to last unlike the ugly rickety structures built locally, and I love how much space is given to bicycles and pedestrians.

While I enjoyed the trip, I’m not sure I can ever live in a big city again. I feel more settled in small towns like Charlottetown. We’ll see if I feel the same way when we decide whether to move back to Asia in the next few years.

Saint John Redux

We are in Saint John again, this time for Canada Games trials. Camren is trying to join PEI’s swim team to compete this summer.

Swimming as a sport is not something I completely understand, and not just because I myself can’t swim, but due to its extremely technical nature. Also, at the amateur there is often a disparity in skill levels which makes the races, less of a race.

It’s interesting to watch Camren progress through all the training and effort he puts into everything. With 6am CrossFit classes, 5 swimming practices a week, work, school and even a social life, he is the epitome of grit. If the people of my generation don’t succeed in destroying the world, I see a wonderful future for him.

As we are here for 4 days there was no way we were going endure the hotel experience we had last time. So we booked an Airbnb which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, in places like Charlottetown I see STR’s as a contributing factor to the housing crisis and the decline of the downtown. On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that this experience we are having is far superior to any hotel we could have booked. I don’t see hotels in this part of the world stepping up their game anytime soon.

I noticed this the last time we were here, but uptown Saint John is sketchy as hell. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt I had to be aware of my surroundings. In Charlottetown your greatest concern is cars vs. pedestrians/cyclers, especially monster trucks. I almost got hit by one of those tanks last week at an intersection crosswalk when he couldn’t see me and I am 6ft too short.

See you again St. John

This past weekend found us in St. John, NB, a city I don’t think I have ever visited but may have driven to when I would have been too young to realize where I was.

We were there for Camrens swimming meet, his first off-Island meet and the largest since COVID turned kids lives upside down.

The uptown is full of wonderful architecture with intricate detail and I loved the sturdy old brick homes. At the same time there was a certain edge to the place, which might be due to it’s current and past industrial activities, but also the poverty that was evident for all to see. The uptown suffers from the same fate as Charlottetown, as it’s extremely quiet, with few locals about, as most prefer to live in the outer edges and shop and eat at the soulless big box stores. It’s a shame that it is only tourists who appreciate an interesting downtown.

St. John is home to not only Crosby Molasses, but also a couple fine coffee roasters, which I will get to brew over the coming week. Drinking copious amounts of coffee there re-affirms to me just how lucky we are to have The Shed. There is no comparison.

We are looking forward to going back to St. John in the first week of May for Canada Games trials, and we’ve already booked an AirBnB for that period. The hotel’s in Saint John look like they haven’t had much in the way of investment for 20 years, and at least in the place we stayed, it shows.

By train

A short clip taken while travelling the Chinese countryside by train enroute to the Xiamen marathon.

Yiu Fat Seafood

With our painful inability to travel anywhere, even Halifax seems like an exotic destination at this point, Apple Photos and DayOne have been helping me travel vicariously through our past.

During this month in 2006 I was in Hong Kong, exploring the side streets and alleys as I always did. I travelled to Hong Kong many many times, for work and play, but most often as a waylay point enroute to a quieter locale.

Time and understanding of a culture

Twenty-one days isn’t enough time to really understand anything about a place — we’ve been on Prince Edward Island for twelve years and we still don’t understand. Most of what I relate above is more about comfort and familiarity than about realizing French life, culture and history.
Vicarious Travel

We lived for upwards of 21 years in Taiwan and still were dumbfounded by many things. Even after spending close to 6 years studying Chinese, much at the undergrad level, I still only seemed to be skimming the surface. A professor I studied with a National Central University said that I must marry into the culture to acquire a deeper level of understanding, a shallow remark considering she knew I was married, and something I discounted as just another person repeating the “you foreigners don’t understand Taiwan culture” trope.

This apparent lack of understanding did not take away from our experience there; Taiwan, and all the other places we have travelled, have shaped our view of the world today.

Vietnam 2003

Best wishes have been trickling in and a lovely piece of art is in the mail but we won’t be celebrating the lunar new year this year. The kids were deeply invested in the holiday but Sheryl and I were at best interlopers. For much of our time in Taiwan we were stuck in the middle of 2 cultures and seemingly never really fully invested in either.

Though the time stamps on the photos say 2000, it must have been about 18 years ago that we spent the lunar holiday in Vietnam. I took an interest in their political posters of the time and a few I’ve shared below.

It wasn’t as much of a holiday as we had hoped. Sheryl was pregnant with Catriona at the time and developed complications which necessitated a trip to the women’s hospital nearby. Though the hospital looked like any other and the doctors treated her well, we didn’t place much faith in their medical system but it all worked out fine, as Catriona is with us today. Unfortunately it meant for the rest of the vacation Sheryl was confined to bed rest in our hotel room.

We never returned, but hopefully in the future we can grab our backpacks and explore the country again.

Recharge stations at Taoyuan International Airport Terminal 2

In all the areas that matter to me, Taoyuan airport favors very well when compared to the other airports I’ve flown to, especially large North American centers. Customs I find especially good, transportation options unfortunately not so good.

Which is why I was a bit surprised to day to notice that paucity of charging stations for mobile devices. With mobile devices being such a major part of peoples’ lives here it seems like a big oversight.

Usually I travel with a big battery but left it home this time due to it’s heft and borrowed my sons card sized.

There are two spots I notice which had a place to charge your devices. One was the Tokuyo chair display just before the “T” intersection which leads you to your gates, and the other were repurposed public phone installations right at the gate.

This is in contrast to Tokyo Narita where I am at present, able to sit in a comfortable chair, charge my devices, drink nasty Starbucks coffee, and write some email.

Kubrick Cafe

Nice spot in Kowloon but unfortunately too cramped as most independent shops like this are in Hong Kong (I tried to get a seat in Urban Roasters in YauMaTei and they said to come back tomorrow). Food and coffee is good but not exceptional. The theatre looked interesting but I had no time to see a film.

A recent day in Hong Kong

I usually stop here for a snack before boarding the airport express train. There is decent snacks and ice cream in the adjacent shopping area.

I spent most of the day yesterday recovering from Tuesday trip to Hong Kong – it was a day of coffee and books. I hadn’t slept much the night before my trip and spent all my time in Hong Kong tramping the streets.

After 19 years of living in Taiwan it’s hard to believe that I still have to do visa runs. Since my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) expired while I was in China this year I haven’t had the time or now the necessity to go through the process, especially since I have been told that the Hong Kong TECO doesn’t do fast tracking of VISA applications anymore. As long as I don’t make a trip to the hospital I should be fine with my current status as interloper.

Of course this is all my own doing. Many long term foreign residents here apply for what is called an APRC, which if you qualify, allows for open work rights. Many are excited about the reduction in friction when its comes to changing jobs, and the elimination of yearly or bi-yearly ARC applications, but I never really saw much in the way of other advantages. Since my wife has only had 2 different jobs over the past 19 years, she didn’t see much benefit to going through what was once a lengthy time consuming process either. Even with an APRC you still face at the very least hassles in acquiring basic services here, like phone, credit cards, and etc.

My time in Hong Kong was spent walking from one side of the island to the other – visiting a couple coffee shops and a number of running pro shops along the way. Hong Kong, like Taipei, has all these interesting narrow alleys where you can discover all kind of interesting slices of city life. There is an advantage to the density of a place like this – you can fit in so much visual information and experience with little physical effort. Try to gain the same experience in Canada and you would be exhausted from the distance traversed.

I have been to Hong Kong many many times. I used to ensure that I visited western food establishments, as Hsinchu of the past didn’t have much in the way of quality food from abroad. That isn’t the case now, and though Hsinchu can’t compete with Hong Kong on selection, its good enough for my tastes. Especially coffee, as Hsinchu has some of the best roasters I have seen anywhere.

One of the many changes I have noticed with Hong Kong can be found in the city’s drug stores, which admittedly is very important. Coming from Canada where the toothpaste aisle overwhelms you with a 100 different types of toothpaste, Taiwans drugstore selection always seemed very limited (lack of choice does reduce anxiety). Things like deodorant, toothpaste, and other products that help keep a man clean and smell free are still lacking in selection. Hong Kong used to be a place I might stock up on these items, but all the shops I visited are now “China-fied” with an over abundance of Chinese medicine, heat rubs and cheap vitamins. I guess the Chinese tourist dollar has spoken.

I always make the same mistake when visiting a place. I try to cover too much ground within a short space of time. I try to experience as much as I can in the little bit of time I have. The result is usually exhaustion. I think for my next trip I’ll simply pick a location to sit, drink coffee, watch the locals and maybe be little bored. That I think might be a great luxury.

Lunch time lineups

Hidden coffee shop

The Cupping Room

A latte from The Cupping Room – Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Good friendly staff and a good respite from the busy streets.

The more I drink coffee elsewhere, the more I appreciate the coffee we have in Hsinchu. 18 years ago it was difficult to find a coffee shop let alone good coffee and now each time I am away I miss the quality we find here. What a change time has brought to this city.

Newstand in Fuzhou

I love these newsstands scattered throughout Fuzhou. They are reminiscent of what I have seen in Paris and to a lesser extent Hong Kong. Unfortunately they have largely been transformed into places to buy cigarettes and/or water, and in what I have seen in Paris, they remain to sell items for tourists. What a good opportunity these represent as a community hub where you can have an opportunity to meet people or connect with someone who sees the comings and goings of the neighborhood. Maybe if they offered free wifi and a charging station it might entice people to linger.

Travel Tip: For the love of God, stand at least 10 feet away from the luggage carousel at airports when awaiting your luggage. Avoid human pile-ups. Respect your fellow travelers and only approach when you see your bag. Occasionally, you’ll catch the glance of another observant traveller and just nod in silent frustration.
Jamie Rupp, Founder/Designer, Relwen

Haneda Skylounge


I am sitting in the Skylounge at the Tokyo Hanaeda International departures terminal waiting for a transfer to Toronto. $10US gets you access to a quiet environment with plenty of power outlets, and all you can drink bad coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks. Considering the cost of a coffee on the concourse is about $5 it’s not a bad deal. There is no food inside, so by coming inside you miss the Japanese fast food, which though over priced has a decent selection.

There are few people inside, the whole terminal itself is not at all crowded, and you basically have the run of the place.

The only downside was that while I could connect to wifi via my phone, my laptop can not. So I am forced to do real work vs. procrastinating by reading the news (later it turned out to be a DNS issue and procrastination ensued).

Hanaeda is a weird transfer point enroute to Canada. The first time I flew through here I had the kids with me and was a bit concerned about arriving without a boarding pass. There are no ticket counters or customer service people from Air Canada to answer your questions. They issue your boarding pass at the gate so it’s useful to book your seats ahead of time unless you like getting squeezed in the middle of a narrow 4 seat row.

Sometimes travel can show us how our life is… Or can give us a glimpse of how it can be. Being untethered, I could float away, lifted to a great height where everything is new, and I could look back on my life with new perspective and go, ‘Oh!’
Lucy Knisley – “An Age of License”. Via Ruk.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

I arrived in Bangkok late a few nights ago via Taipei. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport arrivals section seems quite unfinished or is it supposed to look like this? If you like a dull modernist aesthetic, than you will love this airport, but for one of the warmest and friendliest cultures anywhere is it a fitting way to greet guests? So cold and uninviting. The departures section has some of the best bread I have tasted in an airport, certainly a world a way from the best bakeries south of Taipei. The cost of course has the usual airport mark-up but compared to what awaits you in cattle class it might just be worth it.
The structure is impressive but I somehow miss the old one – inefficiency and all. Why don’t they design airports with a sense of warmth? For the frequent flyer this airport must look just about the same as every other – lots of gray, glass, and stainless steel with the odd cultural artifact thrown in the aisles. Thai. culture is full of colour but you won’t see that at the airport.
It does stand in stark contrast to the newly renamed Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan (Taipei) Taiwan. I recently had to take a flight out of their new ‘D’ wing and it has the look of something thrown together with little thought or aspiration. With all the airport expansions in the region Taiwan just can’t compete or doesn’t really care to. It’s so amateur that there really isn’t anything to be critical about. But it does work – they get you in and out as quickly as possible. Which is likely the objective most people visiting Taiwan will have. It takes a some time to appreciate the good things here and certainly there is little help organizationally to make the experience any different.

How to Take Travel Pictures Like a Pro

“With the assistance of author and photographer Jeff Wignall, Fodor’s has put together an invaluable guide to shooting great travel pictures: Nearly 100 easy-to-follow tips, with accompanying photos, covering every aspect of travel photography.” Read.

Laos and Thailand

I have been spending the last couple of days recovering from a 16 day trip in Laos and Thailand. I’m still getting used to “have to get up for work” sleep patterns and bland tasting food. Bland food is a welcome respite after a 3 day bout of mild food poisoning from eating spicy squid off the street.
One of the highlights of the trip was the surprise of eating such amazing food in Luang Prabang. My God it was good. Here I was in this sleepy tourist town surrounded by jungle, river, and mountains, eating mighty fine French cuisine for the price of some small weird western concoction with rice and cheese here in Hsinchu. And the bread! You can see the French influence as the bread was lovely, fresh, and as God intended it to be – not sweet! Ate excellent pizza. Perhaps one of the best pies I have ever had. The Lao food was fresh and interesting. With my limited culinary vocabulary, I can only describe it as a milder than Thai. or perhaps a cross between Thai. and what I have eaten in the wilds of Taiwan. Naturally some of he food was unique to the area. Lao beer may not win at the World beer cup but the wheaty beer certainly quenches your thirst after a long day of walking. It goes down smooth and before you know it 3 large bottles have been emptied. Though the city deserves to be on some culinary tour of Asia list it I certainly had to do something work off all those calories. I had some great walks through out the town, had some really interesting conversations with some young monks, and a wicked game of badminton with some kids at a remote Wat. I’m already thinking about the next trip.
Most of my time on this trip was spent in Thailand where I am constantly amazed by how kind, friendly, and gentle the people seem to be. After spending time here I found that my all too familiar serious expression was replaced by smiles, laughter, and relaxation. I felt more balanced, much like when I used to play music, and how it would lift my spirits. Naturally, it’s easy to be happy there when you meet the right people. On this trip I met some amazing people who will influence my thinking about life for some time to come.
While in Thailand most of my time was spent in Bangkok – with some time in Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and a short trip to Petchaboon. A bit of a change or me as I usually spend my time hiking in the North. But the sedate activity of siting at a computer all year has made me soft and fat. I thought best to just hike up escalators instead of jungle trails this trip. If you are ever in Bangkok and you have some extra cash you must eat in the restaurant at the top of the Banyan Tree. The views are absolutely incredible and the food is fine. Just don’t wear a hat as it tends to be a bit windy. Pattaya lived up to it’s reputation as a party and girls meca. All of which I just observed. Really. Chiang Mai never seems to change much, which is part of it’s charm. I had my obligatory dinner at the Riverside, a restaurant with westernized Thai. food and live music, drank Singha at ba ba bo bo, and felt like a king as I was pampered with between 2 – 3 hrs of massage a day.
All around a good trip.

It all costs as much as Hong Kong

Another good one from Travel Intelligence.
“From its early days as the capital of the Kuomintang Republic of China, it has become used to being the Gorgon of Asian cities. One look at it and one is turned into a grey block of four-storey concrete.”
“Taipei is a young keen city with a smudge on its face and dust on its shoes. It is heyday Manchester or Pittsburgh with newer, smaller Chinese bones. “

Read: Taipei – wish you weren’t here by Stuart Wolfendale

Cities and Signs

“Of all the changes of language a traveler in distant lands must face, none equals that which awaits him in the city of Hypatia, because the change regards not words, but things.”

” I realized I had to free myself from the images which in the past had announced to me the things I sought: only then would I succeed in understanding the language of Hypatia.”

“True, also in Hypatia the day will come when my only desire will be to leave. I know I must not go down to the harbour then, but climb the citadel’s highest pinnacle and wait for a ship to go by up there. But will it bo by? There is no language without deceit.”

– Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Back from Thailand

I made it back safe and sound from a wonderful trip to Thailand. Chang Mai is great. Everytime I go I don’t want to return. The only downside was the actual flight to and from Taipei. No fun at all. Mandarin Airlines has the only direct flight to Chiang Mai and they primarily serve group tour companies. If you have travelled on flights with Taiwanese tour groups you will understand why it could be annoying. If you haven’t, just take my advice and avoid these routes.