I’ve Moved!

Hey everyone! So it has taken me a few weeks to get my new site live. It proved to be a bigger pain than I ever anticipated. It still isn’t perfect, but I thought it would be easier to maintain only one site instead of two. I decided to make my new site go live, despite it still having some kinks I need to work out.  I  have no way of knowing if the transfer was successful. So, I invite you go to and check out my current work in progress and make sure you subscribe to my new site. Thanks for reading it and I look forward to having my own domain and technically owning everything.

See you on the new Adventures of Salty Sally!

 

 

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Cinco de Mayo

If I could summarize my 2016 “Cinco de Mayo” I would use the word Asian. Wow, did I just go there? Yes, I did. I use to love this holiday, going to an annual block party at a local Mexcian Restaurant every year in South Florida (that is, until it because over priced). My favorite Cinco de Mayo happened maybe 7-8 years ago (Wow, how time flies) when I went to said block party with my usual Cinco de Mayo pair of friends. We had invited a friend of ours to join us that evening, but he turned us down saying he had to spend the evening hanging out with his grandma. Imagine our surprise when see him at the block party. We were further surprised when he was toting a group of males and not his dear old grandmother. We walked up to him and said hello while asking where his sweet grandmother was. He was caught in his awful lie, and every year on this day we remind him how he almost made us believe his grandmother truly liked to party.

However, this year was rather uneventful. My sister and I even ate Indian food for lunch. We had this grand plan to make Baja Shrimp tacos for dinner, but my sister had to work a graveyard shift so she came home the rest of the afternoon and slept. I think we’re saving those shrimp tacos for tomorrow night. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to party, or maybe celebrating Cinco de Mayo seems a bit silly to me. I’m not a university student. Eh, maybe it was a bad year. I can’t pretend like I don’t like to party anymore.

Anyway, when I arrived home I happened to check my facebook and immediately saw a posting about an error fare. Round trip NYC to Hong Kong….342 USD….September to December. This was too good to miss, so I bought a ticket on a whim! Yep, I’m going to Hong Kong in September. My internship is until the end of August and I think I can manage a holiday in there before starting a new job. We’ll see. Either way, I’m really really excited and impressed that I did something so spontaneous. I may like to travel the world and have adventures, but most of my plans are calculated, or I at least have a general outline made. I have never taken advantage of an error fare, and I have definitely never purchased a ticket on such a whim. I am already looking forward to September.

As if my Cinco de Mayo couldn’t get any better, a job position I’ve been diligently watching has finally opened up again! I applied to this post a few months ago (it is in Japan) before it was randomly cancelled saying that it would be re-advertised. Since a few months have gone by, I thought that the new posting somehow slipped through the cracks or that they simply decided not to re-advertise. However, I decided to check again today, and it is up again! Now I just need to update my CV/Resume and apply for this posting.

While this Cinco de Mayo may have severely lacked Mexican culture, it was still a great day.

Mother Daughter Reunion

The end of another work week is here (well, it was here this past Friday when I first drafted the majority of this post during my lunch hour at work. So, keep pretending it is Friday). I had long forgotten what it felt like to count down every week day, urging Friday to arrive sooner than later. Actually, I had easily grown accustomed to not even knowing the day of the week, waking up to perpetual Saturdays, never groaning about how the weekend flies by faster than should be permitted. I can safely say, I miss those days. I’ve been working 3 weeks, and I already miss those days. Maybe some of you are thinking that I’m not appreciative of my new opportunity (which I am), that there are plenty of people that are without work and it desperate need of a job (keep looking you’ll find something my hunt never ends), or that I simply like to complain, which at the present time I do, because I want so much more than this cookie-cutter, hum-drum life. Adventure is out there, and I’ll be damned if in my prime I settle down behind the dim glow of two computer monitors number crunching.

Like I mentioned in my last post, I enjoy what I do, albeit it frustrates my brain 80% of the time. I know I enjoy actually making a “livable” income (I would hardly consider au pair a livable income, but I always had enough pocket money to go out and travel. From au pair I’ve upgraded to an intern, so I’m not exactly making big money either). Unfortunately, I’ve seen my spending increase since then as well: new car, new phone (although, no mobile plan. I am investing since I want to keep living abroad), tablet (blogging from my mobile is something I will never commit to again), clothes (I donated most of my things during my backpacking), and an array of American comforts I once cherished, learned to live without, and reintroduced back into my life.

Alright, enough complaining. I would hate this blog to turn into a Whine and Cheese blog (hah, you see what I did there?). Focus on the good, Sally, focus on the good. Well, since I have been working, I have been enjoying my weekends as much as possible. In fact, this will be the first time I’ve stayed in Orlando in probably a month, mostly due to events others have planned, I want the opportunity to discover North-Central Florida. The first weekend of April, I went to the company picnic at my mom’s place of employment (Germans, French interns, beer, bratswurst, all you can peel crawfish, churrasco, and whole lobsters). I had not been in near 8 years, so it was nice to stuff my face and practice my French with the interns.

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March Madness

Can you believe that we are already one quarter through 2016!? Seriously, where does time fly? I haven’t done much this year in terms of adventure and blogging, but I’m determined to make the rest of this year memorable (and document it along the way). Starting today.

March came and went faster than a blink of an eye. As as April unfolds, I find myself where I never expected, in Orlando, Florida. I had a clear image of my mind to be on my next step by now, whether it be at my new, international engineering job or backpacking through Italy and learning a fourth language while searching for said international job. However, a simple holiday to Orlando, Florida, to spend time with my younger sister changed everything. I originally planned on visiting and spending 3 weeks of March with her. She recently bought a foreclosed house that, at the very least, needs A LOT of work. I spent my days gardening, job searching, studying Japanese, catching up with old friends, and puttering around the house.

The first weekend there was intense. My parents and I spent the whole weekend working outdoors, cleaning up her landscape. To the naked eye, it may look like that yard hasn’t been touched, but we’ve already come such a long way.

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Collection of trash bags from a weekend’s worth of raking leaves. 

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Half of the bamboo bundles we assembled that are tied up and ready to be collected.

After a week or so of hard work, my sister was nice enough to drop me off at Disney one morning before work. I spent the day taking in the magic, free to make my own itinerary. I’ve never been to a theme park alone, but considering I’ve backpacked the world alone, I didn’t think a trip to Disney would put me out of my comfort zone. I found that strangers were a bit less friendly to talk to, but I did strike up a few polite conversations throughout the day. I mostly kept to myself and walked snapping photos to my heart’s content (oh, and stalking Disney princes of course). I haven’t had so much Disney prince action since I ran that Disney Princess Half Marathon back in 2011.

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Flynn Rider looking for Rapunzel and being surrounded by fawning fans

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#relationshipgoals

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He’s so dreamy! He also, most definitely caught me creeping. I walked back and forth at least 3 times debating whether to stand in line and get a photo with him or take a creeper shot. He obviously noted my creepiness.

One day I was struck by a brilliant idea. Well, at the time it seemed brilliant. My parents and I had gone to my sister’s office to meet her colleagues and take her out to lunch. They explained how swamp they were (which my sister confirmed and informed me that they were interesting in hiring a new employee). That is how it all started. I proposed to intern until the end of summer; they would have help to lighten their work load, I’d make some money while transitioning back into engineering and the working world, and my sister would have some company and free help around the house. I sat down with them one Friday afternoon for a casual interview and on the last Monday of March, I started a new job.

Flash forward three weeks and it’s been a whirlwind ride. My parents came up a few weekends later, and helped me pick out a new car (yep, talk about commitment). I have committed myself to car payments for the next 4 years, which for someone who wants to continue living abroad, may not be the smartest decision. In all fairness, my sister is driving around an eleven year old Fold focus that is on the verge of dying, seriously, this thing makes crazy noises. So, I figure that she can take over the car at the end of summer, when I (hopefully) move abroad.

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My Pitufo, which means “smurf” in Spanish.

I’ve made a new best friend: my sister and her boyfriend’s dog, Wolfie, who hails all the way from China.

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Look at the ears! Isn’t she adorable?

And I’ve learned to hate swimming pools. I already knew I wouldn’t buy a house with a swimming pool. Yards in Florida are small, and I rather have the space. But after the commercial grade pool my sister has combined with the problems we’ve had trying to get it clean, I am CERTAIN I never want a swimming pool in my backyard.

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Green Lagoon

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My sister didn’t know you’re suppose to clean the filter. That could be a reasonable explanation as to why it stays that green hue.

On top of all that is work life. Ah, the joys and frustrations of the corporate world. What can I possibly say? I like my job, I do. I find the work interesting. My sister works for a small, family-owned structural design company, specializing in work for Orlando’s theme parks. I specialized in structural engineering at university, but my work experience is in water and wastewater design. Thus, I haven’t thought about structual engineering in at least 5-6 years. It is great going back to my first love, yet unbelievably frustrating. I have forgotten so many calculations, theory, and AutoCAD skills in those years and I find myself constantly frustrated at my memory loss. It is nerve racking not being able to remember the simplest calculations that I did on a daily basis, almost as if it were a former life I dreamed once upon a time. However, in the few weeks I’ve been working, I’ve already noticed the progress I’ve made. I look forward to see how much I’ve progressed as an engineer by the end of this “internship.”

Mostly, however, I realize that working……sucks. Returning to the working world has been an overall disappointment. Although I find the work I do interesting, I find working itself as a soul-sucking activity that, while gives me a means to live (money), prevents me from doing all the things I really love and developing my personal skills. Gone are the days completely to myself, mine to own and organize as I wish. I now find myself meticulously planning every single minute of free time, cramming them with all the hobbies I’ve picked up and refuse to let go of so soon. I find myself competing between sleep and a constant quest for knowledge. As of now, the only saving grace is that I am able to listen to audiobooks at work, starting with a biography of Thomas Jefferson. I know, I have great literary taste.

Matsuyama: Spirited Away to the Dogo Onsen

I spent the last of my solo travel days in Matsuyama. I was scheduled to meet Clark Kent in Tokyo on 1 December, where he’d be joining me for my remaining three weeks in Japan. Sunday morning I enjoyed my daily muesli in Miyajima before taking a speedboat from Hiroshima to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island. I enjoyed the scenery of the Hiroshima Bay and napped for the 3 hour boat ride.

When I arrived in Matsuyama, I had no idea how to go from the port to Dogo Onsen where my hostel was located. Dogo Onsen is a small town outside of Matsuyama where the famous onsen, or hot spring, is located. I found a really wonderful guesthouse around the corner from the hot spring that peaked my interested. Plus it was brand new, which I decided to gamble on versus the dingy reviews the hostel in the city center had.

I went to sift through the information and picked up a few guides. I saw in the back of one of the booklets that there was an inexpensive shuttle bus (probably at around 300 Yen from what I remember) that picks up at the port and goes to the JR Station, the city center, and Dogo Onsen. However, when I walked outside, I saw that I had missed the departure of the shuttle bus by 5-10 minutes and the next bus was scheduled to depart in an hour and a half when the next ferry arrived. I didn’t want to pay 3,000 Yen for a taxi, but I didn’t want to wait either. I looked at the sign for the other bus, trying my best to determine whether it would take me close to where I needed to go. Suddenly, a middle-aged Japanese man approached me in his car asking where I needed to go. I told him I was going to Dogo Onsen. Conveniently, he also lived in Dogo Onsen, and offered to drive me there. Paranoid that I would get kidnapped but really not wanting to wait 1.5 hours, I jumped in the stranger’s car and hoped for the best.

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Miyajima: Shrine Island

Friday, November 27 we had spent the day in Hiroshima and taken a late afternoon ferry to Itsukushima, or more commonly known as Miyajima, which means shrine Island in Japanese. Originally I was going to stay across the bay in a hostel because the  hotels available on the Island were quite expensive. My friends were able to change their reservation from two to three people, and I was able to change my reservation from Friday to Saturday night at the hostel. So, in the end, everything worked out perfectly and we got to stay on the island together. We stayed at the bunny-themed (well, more like decorated) Hotel Oyado Tsukiusagi, a traditional Japanese ryokan. We drank tea and lounged around in our free yukatas.

Sunday morning when I left my hostel in Miyajimaguchi, there was a crazy long queue of people waiting for the ferry. So, perhaps it was a good thing I stayed on the island with them because they would have wasted a good part of the morning waiting for me to take the ferry. Side Note: The Hostel & Cafe Bar Backpackers Miyajima is a great place. I would definitely recommend staying there. The staff was incredibly friendly, a reoccurring theme in Japan. I guess you really can’t go wrong.

Saturday we woke up relatively early and went to the Itsukushima Shrine. It was full of tourist and Japanese wild deer. We walked around the shrine grounds, wishing we hadn’t been too lazy to visit the night before when there was low tide and you could walk out to the tori.

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Entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine, protected by shisa dogs.

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Shrine with Japanese Deer

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Itsukushima Shrine with beautiful mountains in the backdrop

After the shrine, we walked around the few bustling streets and hiked Mount Misen. There was a discount in our ferry pass, and we had the entire day on the island. The hike was great. We had some fantastic views and got a little bit of exercise. We almost didn’t hike up to the top, but in the end we did and realized that is where the real beauty was waiting.

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Taking the cable car up to Mount Misen

We took one of the last ferries back to the mainland and the streetcar back to Hiroshima. We had a light snack (I had a coffee), and decided to walk around some of the shopping streets before parting ways. I’d spend Saturday night in Miyajima before heading to Matsuyama, and my friends were heading to Fukuoka before flying back to Okinawa the next day. Luckily, I planned on visiting them a week later in Okinawa so our goodbyes were brief.

At the hostel, I talked a bit to the staff and ate homemade sobayaki, or fried soba noodles. Since the hostel is located next to the port terminal, I assumed there wasn’t much night life going on. Plus, it was cold and I had zero motivation to go outside. I’d save my partying for Matsuyama.

Hiroshima: A Painful Past and a Wish For Peace

I arrived in Hiroshima Thanksgiving night and took the street car to the Hiroshima Sunroute Hotel where my friends were also staying. Sunroute Hotels are a chain of hotels in Japan (they remind me of a Holiday Inn) which are pretty nice and rather inexpensive. Like I said, it’s always a treat staying in an actual hotel. This one was much nicer, albeit pricier, than the hotel in Osaka, but I got my own bathroom. Additionally, this Sunroute was located walking distance to all the major attractions in Hiroshima. My friends weren’t scheduled to arrive until at least 22h30 so I had a few hours of downtime. I brewed myself some green tea before leaving to grab a light dinner a few doors down at Kohinata, an okonomiyaki restaurant. I didn’t know it at the time, but Hiroshima supposedly has the best style of okonomiyaki in Japan. This restaurant surprised me with a simple menu translated in English, the staff was friendly, and the food delicious (no surprise there). I made a quick stop at the convenience store to grab a beer and some breakfast for Friday.

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Enjoying the Lights in Hiroshima

When I arrived back at my hotel, I rode the elevator with two middle-aged Asian business men, one of which struck up the following conversation with me:

AM: “What Floor?”

SS: “Sixth.”

AM: “Where are you from?”

SS: “America…Miami”

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Himeji: The White Heron Castle

It was Thanksgiving, except no-one around me cared. I hardly cared either, except for the fact that I had a long anticipated date with my two friends in Hiroshima later that day. After my morning Sake tour of the Nada District in Kobe, I made a half day stop in Himeji before continuing to Hiroshima.

Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s most popular and famous castles. Plus, it is one of the only ones that hasn’t been destroyed by a fire (a really common reoccurring theme in Japan. You think they’d start building things out of different building materials). The castle was under renovations and re-opened earlier this year.

Himeji Castle is also known as the White Heron Castle because of its pristine white color and rooftop.

Thanksgiving day, this place was packed with Japanese and a handful of western tourists, which are strangely hard to come by in Japan. I spent 2 hours visiting the main keep and the castle grounds. For my first Japanese castle, it was exquisite, inside and out. I took off my shoes, and threw myself into the frenzy.

 

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Himeji Castle. I’m sure it is a lovelier site when the cherry blossoms are in bloom and the grass isn’t dead.

Here are some interesting general observations of my experience and tips in case you decide to visit Himeji:

The JR station is very conveniently located. It is maybe 1.5 km from the castle on foot and it’s a really beautiful and pleasant walk. If you plan on spending more time in Himeji, the tourist office in the JR station rents bicycles for free. I think it is available until 16h.

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The fanned wall on the left prevented ninjas from climbing, while the windows on the right allowed for defenses to throw stones and shoot arrows at their enemies below.

I was surprised to find the castle empty. I expected to see furniture inside to illustrate what the castle interior looked like when it was used and to provide a further glimpse of Japanese lifestyle. Although, all the castles I visited in Japan are empty inside, with the exception of Hiroshima Castle, which houses a museum with really interesting artifacts. Perhaps because the furniture was simple and they had futons, which are still widely used today?

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View of Himeji and the part of the castle grounds.

I felt like I was in a herd of cattle. No-one else stopped and read the panels placed throughout each floor. It’s as if they didn’t care about the information regarding the architectural and defense features of the castle. People sped by, climbing the stairs, snapping quick photographs until they reached the top story where you had the best view of Himeji.

I saw a lot of men dressed in suits. Most of them were. Do men wear suits on tourist visits? Are these men on a late lunch break? Are they treating their client to a visit of Japan’s most famous castle? Are they conducting a business meeting despite of the craziness inside? I’m not really sure. It was too early to be out of work and too late to be on a lunch break.

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View from the top story looking towards the JR Station.

Princess Sen lived in Himeji Castle, and I remember my guidebook mentioned her. In the castle the provided information regarding her story and how she came to live at Himeji (you can see it if you visit her dressing room on the grounds. It is not part of the main keep). She has an incredibly sad story, filled with loss and heartache. I found myself reading more about her after my visit to the castle.

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Himeji Castle

The paths leading to the main keep are similar to a maze, meant to confuse any enemy invaders. A direct path may actually lead below the level of the entrance to the keep, while the longer path is actually the fastest way. It was interesting to learn about the defenses and strategy built into the castle.

I expect the castle to be busy year-round, so I would recommend visiting during the week, if possible. After my visit to the castle, I grabbed some snacks at a convenience store and bought a Shinkansen bullet train ticket to Hiroshima. It was my first experience using high speed rail, and it was really cool. I was riding in the dark, so I didn’t have much of a view, but it was a really convenient way to travel. The US needs to invest in high speed rail….and blablacar.com, but that’s a whole other story.