Japan Ski Trip Jan 2015: Hakuba, Nagano, Japan

Geek fail! I never noticed that WordPress doesn’t keep draft revisions after an entry is published (my blank placeholder in this case; which makes total sense now that I think about it), so I didn’t think to keep a backup and lost a whole typed up entry pending photo upload. Let’s try this again. In dot points this time, the entry for the third ski trip of my life at Hakuba (白馬), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan!

10 Jan 2015 (Sat) Day 1: Arrival

  • This ski trip was a little different because Richard was travelling with me! We headed off for our trip straight after work. Having a pleasant travel companion during the long-haul flight made a huge difference.
  • It took us a long time to get to our destination from Tokyo. Bus (airport T2 to T1 to pick up Singapore team), train (to meet up with Hong Kong team), train, bus, bus… All that after the 10-hour flight.
  • It was already after 2:30 pm by the time we got to the hotel, and all shuttle bus out had already left for the day. No skiing today.
  • The hotel was ridiculously more modern and gorgeous compared to the two ryokans I stayed at in my previous trips. Richard you lucky fool.
  • I didn’t expect to see so many Australians here, either! It was 99% local Japanese for my last trips!

11 Jan 2015 (Sun) Day 2: Hakuba Goryu & Hakuba 47

  • Richard, the brother and I rented our gear from the shop in the hotel, while the others who didn’t already have their own went out to rent from other shops.
  • We took the shuttle bus out to ski field Hakuba Goryu (白馬五竜) and joined the others. We also skied at Hakuba47.
  • I actually remember how to ski?! surprised
  • This was also technically Richard’s first time skiing. He picked it up straight away. I lamented my lack of athletic abilities.
  • We took lifts up and skied down the long green trail, where one wrong turn could mean we end up on a double black diamond slope. It was hard to see too with the heavy snow. Shout out to Chee for scouting the route for us and leading the group all safely down.
  • There were also more hiking across fields than I’d like, but I still really enjoyed the day.
  • That was until it’s time to head back, and the queue for the bus was long and growing. People weren’t even really queueing at all and hopped on in random order. We had to stand on the small van, the last shuttle bus of the day.
  • At least I have Richard who earned a lot of boyfriend points by offering to carry my heavy skis for the entirety of this trip. heart
  • I actually remember how to ski!

12 Jan 2015 (Mon) Day 3: Hakuba Goryu

  • More Goryu today, this time for the whole day and with everyone.
  • It’s the last day of the long weekend in Japan, so the crowds for both the slopes and buses did seem to ease up a bit from the afternoon on. No standing on small vans again. Phew.
  • It also meant Chee was heading back home today. It was good to see you again — even though you told everyone else you were happy to see them and/or congratulated them on their progress, but only thanked me for bringing Richard. tongue

13 Jan 2015 (Tue) Day 4: Happo-One

  • Two went out to take professional ski classes before they joined us at Happo-One (八方尾根).
  • We skied down a very lovely green trail. Not many had been there yet so the slope was extra pleasant.
  • I then ditched Richard and spent time skiing with my brother down that trail two more times, until lunch where we regrouped with everyone.
  • Got my most favourite shot of the trip: my brother parallel skiing! Yep, I’m still just relearning, and he’s already moved on to parallel.
  • Did Richard seriously successfully attempt a red slope on his first trip as well? I should just quit skiing forever.
  • As the evening drew close, the group contemplated night skiing, but decided against it in the end. I wasn’t very keen myself because it would mostly be skiing down the same slope that we just went down, but at night.
  • The crowd at the bus stop at the end of the day worried me at first, but thankfully most got on different buses.
  • Another fun day I particularly enjoyed!

14 Jan 2015 (Tue) Day 5: Tsugaike Kogen

  • We taxied out to Tsugaike Kogen (栂池高原), which was further away from our hotel than the rest of the fields.
  • It’s quite sunny and warm today, so some of the more popular slopes were really icy and scratchy. Otherwise, these would make the perfect slopes for practice.
  • I discovered first hand that it’s impossible to ski on true powder unless there’s enough speed. That fluffiness, though!

15 Jan 2015 (Wed) Day 6: Tsugaike Kogen

  • There were still many slopes to cover so we returned to Tsugaike. We tried the connecting bus out. It took so much longer.
  • Richard and I split up with the group and let the more experienced try the harder slopes. We took it easy and enjoyed ourselves on the nice green ones.
  • Very heavy snow for our last day of skiing today!
  • Following our positive experience on the first few days, we decided to try the green forest trail here. It was a huge mistake, because the slope was very annoyingly flat. Back to gentle but not annoyingly flat greens!
  • It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And snowed. I was quite cold at the end.
  • Richard and I missed the bus while we took refuge in a cafe to have yakiniku out in town together as a farewell dinner. Yum!
  • Absolutely no boyfriend suggested, before the trip, for me to bring my hiking shoes so it’s easier to walk on ice and snow. I absolutely didn’t have to walk very slowly back to the hotel, requiring both said boyfriend and the brother to escort me. It never happened. rolleyes

16 Jan 2015 (Thu) Day 7: Last Day

  • The ski fields weren’t accessible by just walking out and there were also the reversed bus-bus-train-train trips back, so we didn’t have enough time for more skiing. We packed up and checked out of the hotel, and made our way to the airport with the Hong Kong team.
  • Sadly, the Hong Kong team were flying out from another terminal, unlike previous times where their boarding gate was directly across mine. We said goodbye on the train. sad
  • But happy to report that I have no bum bruises this time. Yay!


Sydney was hot. It took me a while to adjust back to real life, and for the next few days, I still woke up and expected to eat a big breakfast and head out to the snow for a full day of skiing.

Ski Trip Jan 2015 D2:
Group shot minus one

It was another absolutely wonderful trip. Thank you all once again! See you all in the next trip soon!

Hong Kong Trip July 2014

24 July 2014 (Thu) Day 1: Arrival

It was still dark when we got up for our flight from Sydney. I normally wouldn’t get ready so early, but Richard is one of those who prefer to get to the airport well ahead of time. A bit of friendly grumbling from me and some coffee from Macca’s at the airport later, we were on board a very empty and pleasant Qantas A380 for our trip to Hong Kong.

9 hours later, we met with Mum at the airport. Richard, Mum. Mum, Richard. Whew, that wasn’t too bad. Dad already prepared two Octopus cards (八達通) for us, so after I grabbed a phone card from the airport shops, we took a direct bus to our hotel.

We’re staying at Courtyard by Marriott Hong Kong Sha Tin (沙田萬怡酒店) that Mum booked for us. This conversation happened as Mum was doing the online booking:

Mum: Twin beds or king size?
Me: King size, of course.

Awkward. tongue But thank you, Mum.

Dad and Jacky met us at the hotel lobby. Family, Richard. Richard, family. After we dumped our luggage in our gorgeous 17th floor hotel room (thank you so much again, Mum!) that we took a little while to admire, we headed down to the hotel restaurant, MoMo Cafe, for a dinner buffet — a thing the family always do for me each time I travel back.

There wasn’t a lot of food choices, but I didn’t have as big an appetite as usual for some reason, which led the brother to joke that I was pretending to eat very little. Oi, I’m all real me in front of my beau. tongue

The people dearest to me have finally met one another. It’s a bit strange for me to switch between languages, but I thank both parties for a pleasant night.

25 July 2014 (Fri) Day 2: The Photoshoot

Boy did we sleep last night! We couldn’t do much for today because it would be a full day of family functions from the afternoon on. After I managed to get Richard out of bed, we went down to the shops to grab a few things, had a coffee at the dangerously conveniently located Macca’s McDonald’s directly below our hotel, then went for a walk down Shing Mun River (城門河) nearby.

I’ve been near this river so many times in the past, but have never looked and paid attention to it until now. I remember it being much stinkier and dirtier than it is now, but I wondered if it’s just my memory playing tricks.

Photos really don’t translate the heat. July in Hong Kong is just unpleasantly humid.

It was family photoshoot time in the afternoon. We headed to a studio in San Po Kong (新蒲崗) that looked like a dodgy factory from the outside. There, Richard met the rest of my mother’s side of the family. All at once. My cousin from Canada brought her boyfriend along as well, which hopefully made things a little more bearable for him. Dinner was a several-course seafood family event at Super Star Seafood Restaurant (鴻星海鮮酒家) in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀).

26 July 2014 (Sat) Day 3: Shopping for Him

The family didn’t want us to visit during the day so the morning and afternoon were ours. We took the MTR to these two fishing tackle shops that Richard found online. The first shop we tried apparently moved to some mysterious place that no-one could locate, but we managed to find the second one on Hitler Hillier Street (禧利街). We also shopped for camera lenses for him, then walked down to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal (港澳碼頭) to take a few more shots, before we got the heads-up that we’re allowed to visit the family home.

Photos really, really don’t translate the heat.

The family has been out of a domestic helper for a while, so we had some idea what they were doing during the day. Despite our protest, but as expected, the parents were frantically tidying up the place so it’s more presentable to Richard. I really didn’t think he would have minded at all. They entertained him by showing them my mildly embarrassing childhood photos. We ordered pizza delivery that night and planned for the next big day out.

27 July 2014 (Sun) Day 4: Tung Ping Chau

Dad wanted to all do something together, and suggested doing a day trip to Tung Ping Chau (東坪洲). Despite growing up in Hong Kong, none of us has ever been to that little island off in the northeast corner; I never even knew it existed. In our defence, that island is probably closer to Mainland China than the central parts of Hong Kong itself.

We woke up quite early for this and took the train to University Station (大學站) for our ferry, which apparently only comes once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We were told that once we got to the island, we’d be out there for a while.

The weather continued to be hot and sunny. We slathered sunscreen on ourselves while on the thankfully air-conditioned ferry and off to the island we go!

Photos really, really, really don’t translate the heat.

There were quite a few other tourists on the island, but most stopped at the Watchman’s Tower Rock (更樓石). We continued further up the tracks. I didn’t expect to be doing any extensive walking during my Hong Kong visit so I didn’t pack proper shoes. By the end, my feet were a bit swollen and blistered; but this walk would probably have felt even harder if I hadn’t done the other bushwalks in Sydney previously.

I’m glad Richard convinced me to bring my swimmers. The waters around Tung Ping Chau wasn’t icy cool or crystal clear, but that dip we took really helped wash off some of the heat and sweat. We caught the ferry back afterwards.

After a much needed shower back at the hotel, we headed to New Tak Kee Seafood Restaurant (新德記漁村海鮮酒家) in Sai Kung (西貢) for another full family seafood dinner (my family loves their Hong Kong style seafood). Dessert was a trip to the first and original branch of the famous Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品) nearby.

28 July 2014 (Mon) Day 5: Sightseeing and Night Fishing

It’s Monday and everyone else was back at work, so it was a full day of just the two of us. We decided to do more sightseeing around town. We took the Star Ferry (天星小輪), went up to the 43rd floor Bank of China Tower (中銀大廈), tried some street foods, walked around, took a taxi up to the Peak (山頂) because of the epic queue at the Peak Tram (山頂纜車) station, and took pictures.

Photos really, really, really, really don’t translate the heat.

We walked by a “siu mei” (Hong Kong style roast meats) restaurant, Sun Yuen Hing Kee (新園興記燒臘飯店), and thought we should tick this off our list, too. We filled ourselves up with delicious crispy skin roast pork, barbecue pork and roast duck (roast goose was out!). Only when we were about to leave did we realise the place has apparently been in the Michelin Guide’s “Bib Gourmand” (cheap quality eats) list for years.

Richard wanted to see if he could catch anything from Shing Mun River tonight and I decided to tag along. The spot he had his eyes on was free. He taught me how to cast.

It was quite late when we went there, but our night was cut even shorter due to, cough, unforeseen circumstances. Let’s just say I probably shouldn’t have had that free soup they gave us at the siu mei place.

29 July 2014 (Tue) Day 6: Cheung Chau

Another weekday. We went out to the pier originally undecided whether to go to Lamma Island (南丫島) or Cheung Chau (長洲), but given our schedule, Cheung Chau was probably the better idea. We got there in the afternoon, walked around for a bit and headed for a swim. Most people stayed within the fenced and lifeguarded water, but we swam outside, away from the crowd. Unlike Tung Ping Chau, the water there at Cheung Chau was murky and gross, but it sure beat staying in the heat.

Photos really, really, really, really, really don’t translate the heat.

As a semi-farewell dinner, the maternal grandparents, paternal aunt and my family took us to Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) for dinner. Dumplings is one of my favourite foods so I really ordered and ate up. We discovered from the printed paper placemat that they had branches in Sydney. Richard said he knew where we should go for our 6-month anniversary dinner.

30 July 2014 (Wed) Day 7: Last Day

It’s our last day. We had breakfast, Sausage McMuffin with Egg (豬柳蛋漢堡) served all day at promotional price HK$9 (~A$1.25), at the McDonald’s downstairs for the last time. We didn’t want to be stinky and sweaty for our longish flight back to Sydney and work immediately after, so after we checked out of the hotel, we just hang out in the lobby and used the free wifi until it was time to head to the airport. The whole family left work early to see us off.

We had a lot more planned for this trip. We wanted to visit Lamma Island. We wanted to visit various other touristy spots. We wanted to spend a bit more time fishing. We wanted to go to Macau for one day. I guess this will all have to be done in our next trip.

I never thought travelling back to Hong Kong could possibly be a pleasant experience. It feels really silly of me to spend so much time stressing over this trip now.

Day 7: Selfie at Hong Kong Airport Boarding Gate
Last low-quality selfie of the trip at the Hong Kong airport boarding gate for our flight

Thank you, family. Thank you, Richard.

Japan Ski Trip Mar 2014: Ishiuchi Maruyama, Niigata, Japan

Not even two months after the previous ski trip at Nozawa Onsen, the friends in Japan organised another one, the last trip of the season. It made sense for them to go because they’re from Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore; I was the only silly person who flew all the way from Sydney again.

The non-local of us arrived on 15 March 2014 (Saturday) from separate flights, but our planes landed around similar times and I actually bumped into them at Narita Airport customs. We didn’t waste any time and took the Narita Express to Tokyo Station as soon as we got our luggage, then went on the “treasure hunt” Chee Yee planned for us to find our tickets from a locker that got us straight to Echigoyuzawa Station (越後湯沢駅), the station closest to our ski resort Ishiuchi Maruyama (石打丸山). Yep, this time we didn’t take some crazy 8-hour overnight bus!

Our lodge was a 10-minute taxi trip from Echigoyuzawa Station. We got there, left all the luggage in the unattended lobby (I’ve learnt to fully trust the Japanese on this), got our rental gear downstairs (no queue and very efficient!), and straight to the ski field we went. And the ski field was only a few minutes of walking away. Everything was just too smooth this time.

Skiing for the second time after a 2-month break felt… strange. I had much better gear this time so that part I didn’t struggle, but I had to relearn skiing all over again. With expectations this time, I felt a little frustrated at my slow progress.

The weather was also a bit unstable. One hour it would be warm and sunny; the next it was snowy and rainy. In the afternoon one day, it started snowing quite heavily. The brother and I were done skiing and I thought I would grab a can of hot black coffee from the vending machine on the way back. As soon as I took my ski glove off, my hand just froze. I couldn’t take any coins out and couldn’t put my glove back on; it was so cold my hand literally hurt. We had to take refuge inside another lodge and I was fantasising about putting my hands inside the fire of the fireplace. That sexy fireplace.

But we skied non-stop for 5 days. Thanks to the friends (who were all super patient seasoned skiers) spending what must have been boring time with me on the green slopes, and the brother later pointing out a mistake he noticed I’d been making (putting weight on the wrong leg), I eventually learnt how to actually ski. I was getting braver, going on ski lifts alone, and even accompanied the group further up the mountain and got to the peak.

Vickie on Summit of Ishiuchi Maruyama
I made it! Summit of Ishiuchi Maruyama!

Next time I would probably wear sunscreen or completely wrap myself up like Deddy.

We also went to the more popular and touristy ski resort, Gala Yuzawa (ガーラ湯沢), nearby. I tried a green/red (borderline) slope there as well. I fell throughout, but was happy I attempted when I made it down to the bottom. Meanwhile, the brother tackled several red slopes voluntarily.

5 days was just about enough of skiing; I think I’ve collected enough bruises now! I do not regret digging into my savings and using pretty much my last days of annual leave for the year. Massive thanks to Kenneth, Deddy, Donny, Benny and Jacky the brother for all of their patience, amazing support and eating all the food with me!

Ishiuchi Maruyama Summit: Group Shot
March 2014 Japan Ski Trip at Ishiuchi Maruyama: the rare group shot at the summit

See you all again next year, I hope! smile

Japan Trip Reflections and Photo Dump

Miscellaneous Photo Dump

First, for great justice, miscellaneous photos of the trip that didn’t make it into specific entries.

Table of Events

Because I’m organised like that.

8 Jan 2014 Day 1 We arrived in Tokyo, checked in at Hotel Villa Fontaine Ueno, and had dinner at a CoCo Ichibanya nearby. Crappy rainy weather in Tokyo!
9 Jan 2014 Day 2 The weather cleared up enough and we went sightseeing all day. We had an unpleasant experience at a cafe. We also picked up some ski gear from Kanda, and had dinner at Ippudo in Ginza.
10 Jan 2014 Day 3 We checked out of our first hotel, stored our luggage in some coin lockers, then went to have all-you-can-eat sushi lunch at Tsukiji Tama Sushi plus did some shopping in the Shinjuku Takashimiya department store building. We met up with the other ski tripmates and had a big group dinner at Kakoiya in Shinjuku.
11, 12, 13 Jan 2014 Days 4, 5, 6 First time skiing, ever! Breakfast and dinner were provided at the ryokan, Yamasanso. I ended up with a lot of bruises, but made a lot of new friends and had a lot of fun. A lot!

On the last night, we went back to Tokyo and stayed at Hotel Princess Garden. We grabbed food from the Famima nearby for dinner.

14 Jan 2014 Day 7 Last day! We took the Narita Express to the airport and went on our separate flights back to Sydney (me) and Hong Kong (brother and his friends). Goodbye, Japan!

Final Thoughts

Public baths! Not as embarrassing as I thought because I’m very comfortable with my own body, but I did get just a little self-conscious when I got those epic purple bruises the size of Australia on my bum after the first day. My belly button piercing did get some attention, though.

Vending machines! Love love love them. I wouldn’t have survived without my hot black coffee in a can, available in almost every corner of Tokyo. They were certainly handy when shops weren’t open for any reason and I just needed that warmth and caffeine hit.

Public transport! The Tokyo public transport system was convenient but also somewhat confusing with all their different lines and companies that didn’t all share the same tickets — and I’m already one who could read enough Japanese to get by!

Smoking! Eck. I didn’t like how much the Tokyo population smoked, and the pretty much non-existent separation between smoking and non-smoking areas.

Overall, this has been the best trip in my entire life so far. The brother and I didn’t murder each other (we had a fight of about 5 literal seconds; okay, we just raised our voice a little tongue ) and I came home with over a dozen more friends than before the trip. What a great start to the new year!

Japan Trip Day 7: Last Day

It is the last day of our first trip in Japan.

I will really miss this…

Japan Trip Days 4-6: First Time Skiing: Nozawa Onsen, Nagano, Japan

After dinner, our big ski group took the overnight bus to our destination ski resort. It was a long trip of over 8 hours. The bus stopped for multiple toilet and food breaks during the night, but all I wanted was a warm bed in a dark room for some proper shuteye. I don’t know how much money we ended up saving like that, but I really wouldn’t try that ever again.

I woke up from my intermittent sleep to see all the snow outside the window:


We eventually got to the ski resort, Nozawa Onsen. We had to queue up for a long time in a super small and packed shop to get our rented gear. It took another long time before I was fitted, learnt how to wear them, learnt how to walk in them (read: waddle), learnt how to go up and down stairs in them (read: more waddle), learnt how to carry the skis without knocking the ceiling out or killing others… and we were finally at the bottom of the greenest of green slope.

It was my first time skiing ever. I quickly learnt that:

  1. I was dressed entirely too warm for beginner skiing.
  2. Once fallen, it is next to impossible to get up from the flat snow ground with ski gear on.
  3. The above point is apparently only true for total beginners like me.
  4. I am terrible at this.

Chee Yee, our friend and coach with the sprained ankle for the trip, taught us the very basics of skiing, which I failed at miserably. The brother was much more adept at this and was brought up on the ski lift to the top of the green slope. It took him a while to get back to the bottom, but he did make it down and we were all very amazed and proud of his progress.

We have never been more exhausted. We fell dead asleep when we headed back to the lodge.

On the second day, we wasted no time and headed straight out after breakfast. It was an unfortunately warm and sunny day and the snow was melting a little. Honestly, it made no difference to a total beginner.

Kenneth, another more seasoned skier, took me on my first ski lift trip. I still didn’t know how to turn or stop yet and had no fear of speed. Very deadly combination.

In about 5 seconds, I made it from the top of the slope to the bottom. I fell a lot, laughed a lot, and bruised even more.

I went up several more times, until I had one last fall that left me with both skis in the air, a sprained left thumb, a scratched nose, and taste of blood in my mouth. I slid on the snow for over 10m before I eventually stopped. I was okay, but was finally scared enough to stop and rest.

Another dead night of sleep back at the lodge.

We woke up to this on the third day:

So, so much more snow; we they were all very excited (still didn’t mean much to a total beginner like me). I did, however, get my courage back and was back on the ski lift and slope. More laughs and bruises, but thankfully no more bleeding — outside the skin, that is!

It was near noon and we had to take another long bus trip back to Tokyo soon. We couldn’t believe our three days of skiing was over just like that. This ski trip was really an experience of a lifetime.

Half of the Lovely Ski Group
This is only half of the lovely group of new friends; photo taken in the lobby of Resort Inn Chitose (I’m the one in pink)

Hopefully this isn’t the last — skiing, or hanging out with such an awesome group of friends. smile

Japan Trip Day 3: Time Before the Ski Trip

We had some time to kill after we checked out and stored our luggage at Shinjuku Station. It was a ridiculously gorgeous day but we didn’t have enough time for more sightseeing, so we decided to do a little (window) shopping and went into the Shinjuku Takashimiya (新宿高島屋) department store nearby.

Ridiculous Gorgeous Weather in Shinjuku
Ridiculously gorgeous weather; probably not for skiing, though!

The department store was a 14-storey building and upon entering, a staff handed us a coupon that told us we could get a 5% discount if we showed our foreign passport at the register. Sweet! We actually did pick up more ski and winter gear from the shops and used that discount.

Engrish in Japan
“It will become a sweet going.”

And of course found many an item with Engrish printed on them. That’s right, folks. You now have full permission to make fun of my Engrish as well. tongue

We weren’t even in a dedicated cosplay store, but saw several aisles of cosplay items in the store. I took these pictures to tease my colleague who’s massively into Japanese culture and cosplay.

Later, I went into Uniqlo and for fun tried on two pairs of their home brand skinny jeans. I never expected them to be so comfortable. The legs were a bit long for me, but the staff offered to alter them for me in-store and allowed me to pick up within half an hour because I had to leave the area before dinner. I was highly impressed with their service.

Uniqlo Receipt
Uniqlo receipt for my alteration, to be picked up within half an hour!

Uniqlo needs to come to Sydney, right now!

Shinjuku Night Time
It’s already dark when we headed back out

It was already dark when we got out to meet up with our ski trip mates (all strangers to me) at Shinjuku Station to head to our group dinner, and then it was our bus trip to the ski fields. The night was only just beginning!