A Very Merry Melbourne Christmas

Posted by Julia

We went to Melbourne last week to spend Christmas with my aunt and cousins who live there. The first few days were spent walking around the city center and enjoying some great food. Melbourne definitely has a different vibe compared to Sydney. The city seems more ethnically diverse and certainly lives up to its unofficial title as the food capitol of Australia.

Market Lane was an alleyway in the city where we found some great Asian cuisine. Shoya was a good Japanese restaurant that served an incredibly delicious wagyu udon noodle soup. A few doors down was Hu Tong Dumpling Bar - the best xiao long baos we've had outside of Shanghai (Nan Xiang). Another restaurant in the alley we checked out was The Flower Drum. It is supposedly the best Chinese cuisine in Melbourne. But upon hearing about the dress code (collared shirts and long pants), we were turned off and decided to cancel our reservation. They probably would not have welcomed a 7 month old either.

Melbourne is a very walkable city with a beautiful river terrace. Aside from the pesky flies everywhere, it was nice to stroll along the river.

We also walked to the Victoria Market, a large open air market with fresh produce, meats, seafood and goods.

We left the city on Christmas Eve and headed to the suburbs where my aunt lives. We hung out at the house, BBQ'd, hiked the Kokoda Walk and spent Christmas day singing, playing instruments and eating with my aunt's family.

Wishing you a very happy holidays!

Tiger craziness reaches every corner of the globe

10 Random Observations in Sydney, Australia

Posted by Julia
  1. Christmas appears less commercialized with fewer window decorations /trees /store promotions
  2. Home internet plans are billed on usage basis. (We maxed out during the first week and got dropped to dial up speed. Ouch!)
  3. Subway system is very expensive for the daily commuter
  4. Do not call it 'shrimp on the barbie', they are prawns
  5. You need to bathe in sunscreen before you step out the door (Australia's proximity to the ozone hole means very intense UV rays)
  6. Deodorants/antiperspirants are mostly available in the liquid roll on form only
  7. Parents rooms are available in most shopping centers (private areas to nurse, change and relax with baby)
  8. The shows Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother and Sex and the City are on back to back -- seemingly all times of the day. (Most US shows are a few episodes or seasons behind)
  9. Lots of Westfield shopping malls. (The company is based and founded in Australia. Who knew?)
  10. It's not Raisin Bran

Australia and Travel Gear

Although New York was the beginning of our trip, given that we had family and tons of friends in NY, Australia has really been the mental beginning. So far so good. The weather here has been a bit spotty, with a mixture of rain and sunshine that seems to switch at a moment's notice. That has made venturing out with Jackson a bit more difficult. It'd be very tempting to just stay inside the apartment anytime we thought it MIGHT rain, but I figure the only way we'll deal with it is by forcing ourselves a bit and dealing with the consequences later.

We are living in an area called Potts Point, which is not too far from the Central Business District. It is right next to Kings Cross, which is a seedier part of town that I remember well because all the hostels and rowdy clubs/bars are located there. The apartment we rented is in a modern high rise called the ikon. As far as we can tell, about 90% of the building is young, gay, male, and yuppy. It's quite a change from the massive Soho loft that our friend S lent us in NY, but it is comfortable. Jackson misses the swing and the view of women strolling out of the H&M across the street though ;)

A few people have asked me what kind of stuff we are carrying on the trip, so I thought I'd post about it.

The first rule of travel, as far as I am concerned, is that if you even ask yourself whether you should bring something, the answer is already No. Otherwise, all the little things add up and make your bags too heavy. Here are some of the things that DID make the cut:

This thing is awesome. It is ultra-lightweight, folds into a suitcase shaped bag that is easy to check in, and assembles/disassembles in about a minute.

This camera is also awesome. With the 20mm lens, it is small (still bigger than most point and shoots, but significantly smaller than a digital SLR), but the image quality is much better than point and shoots. It is basically a perfect compromise between size/portability and picture quality. If you've noticed an improvement in the quality of photos on our blog starting sometime mid-New York, now you know why ;)

Another popular camera on the quality:size ratio is the Leica D-Lux series, which Ev and Sara use. I think we opted for the GF-1 because it has a built in flash, but really I think you can't go wrong with either.

The other nifty thing about it is it has good depth of field, which I've never had before in a point and shoot.. so you can take nice, artistic shots where the background is blurry, like this:

This stroller is perfect for travel. Maclaren makes an even lighter one called the Maclaren Volo, the main difference being that the seat does not recline at all. It was a tossup between the two, but in the end I figured a few extra pounds was worth it if it made a difference to the likelihood of the baby crying versus comfortably falling asleep. The stroller quickly folds up and can be slung over your shoulder.

Before switching to the Ergo Baby Carrier, we used the Baby Bjorn. The Ergo is a bit harder to get the baby into, and when putting the baby in front, is more easily done with two people (because clipping the cross strap across your own back requires some serious flexibility that I lack). On the other hand, the ergo carrier is a LOT more comfortable, and you can put the baby on your back too whereas the Baby Bjorn carrier we had only allowed for putting the baby in front. The other difference is that in the baby bjorn carrier, the baby's feet dangle straight down whereas on the ergo, the knees typically bend. This makes a big difference when sitting down, because on the baby bjorn, Jackson's feet would touch my lap, which started him on some sort of instinctive kicking motion. Not pleasant for daddy. With the ergo carrier, things are much better for everyone. Plus if it's good enough for julia robert's kid, it's good enough for our's.

NY --> Sydney in 24 hours

We arrived in Sydney yesterday morning after a full day of travel.

NY - LA (5.5 hrs)
Layover in LA (3 hrs)
LA - Sydney (14.5 hrs)

We flew on the new A380 to Sydney. The plane was huge and very comfortable. Jackson was such a good baby throughout the flight. He smiled at everyone who passed by and slept for the first half of the trip. The built in bassinet was pretty nifty but there wasn't much wiggle room. The great thing about these bassinets is that there is a top layer that buckles across so you don't have to pick up the baby when the seatbelt sign turns on. That said, the seatbelt sign rarely came on and Jackson still spent a lot of time on us.

The only hiccup on this trip was that my suitcase didn't make it on our flight, but got on the next flight over. It was delivered to us a few hours later so all is good. We're now all settled in an apartment in Potts Point and excited to explore the city.

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New York City Eats

Posted by Julia

Going out to eat became a novelty ever since the birth of our baby. Luckily my parents live in New York and were able to babysit every week so we could go on date nights. We managed to cover a decent number of restaurants in the short time we were here:
  • BonChon: Yummy Korean fried chicken joint that feels more like a nightclub
  • Boqueria: Vibrant tapas restaurant. My fave was the Pimientos de Padrón (peppers with sea salt)
  • Civetta: Tastiest gnocchi with roasted mushrooms
  • DBGB: Liked the open kitchen with all the pots donated by various chefs as decoration. The food was forgettable (great selection of homemade sausages though)
  • Fatty Crab: Cute Southeast Asian restaurant that made me look forward to Singapore's chili crab. The free coconut dessert was out of this world good
  • Hakata Tonton: Japanese restaurant that offers a generous prix fixe focusing on pork and pig's feet
  • L'Artusi: Good pastas and I loved the scallop and uni appetizer
  • Lupa: Best beet salad and delicious homemade pastas
  • Masa: An unforgettable dining experience. Would top my list for last meal
  • Momofuku Ko: I played the internet reservations game for a few days before snagging one of the dinner spots. Wish I wasn't so "lucky" because the food disappointed (disliked the raw shavings of foie gras that everyone raves about and butternut squash should not be made into an ice cream flavor. No, no, no.)
  • Sushi of Gari: Great omakase of creatively garnished sushi
In addition to these restaurants, our favorite lunch spots included bahn mis from the Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1 in Soho, sandwiches from Despaña (my infamous $25 iberico ham sandwich) and burritos from the Calexico Cart down the street.

And only in NY will you find cupcakes this small selling for $1 each. Gotta love it.

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Tourist in the City

Posted by Julia

Traffic seems to have gotten worse in New York yet Times Square appears less congested than I remember. It was always the part of town that I avoided but we headed there today to take some photos for the Roaming Jackson project.

There are lots of pedestrian only zones in the middle of Times Square allowing visitors to appreciate all the bright lights. I never understood why people would stand around on frigid New Year's Eves, but standing there today I definitely felt the appeal and energy of the city.

Coming back to the city as a visitor is an entirely different experience than as a resident. I was surprised to see the Empire State building peaking out as we strolled down Sixth Avenue. It was a sight that I had clearly taken for granted since I worked a block away and never noticed. Looking back, living in NY was about getting from point A to B as fast as I could.

In my mind New York was never part of our "world tour" because I lived here. But it is very much a part of our journey. New York is an ever changing city that will always feel new to me each time I visit.

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I ♥ NY

We have been in New York for over a month now, splitting our time between an apartment in Soho and my parents' house in Bayside. Since New York is my hometown, this pit stop on our tour is a chance to catch up with friends and family.

The weather here has been fickle in the last month, ranging from sunny highs in the 70s to cold and rainy days. On one of the nicer days, we strolled the High Line on the west side. We took a detour during the visit since President Obama was in the area, but eventually finished touring the mile and a half long elevated park. It's definitely nice to see more greenery in the city.

Cold day in the city

From the High Line on a sunny day

Jackson is adapting well to the city. The loft in Soho overlooks a very busy shopping area on Broadway, and he seems to like people watching (especially the girls coming in and out of H&M). But the bustling streets are not great for strollers so we've mostly carried him around town in the Ergo Carrier. It is so much more convenient than trying to lug a stroller up and down subway stairs and in and out of cabs.

Via subway and cab

Although we've stayed indoors a lot lately due to the colder weather, New York is still an exciting place to be. Today Old Navy was shooting a commercial all day outside our door and created a winter wonderland. Since we'll be spending the rest of our trip in summer weather, this was a real treat to see.

Our NY trip is now more than half way complete. Only a few more weeks to see, eat and scout a location for the roaming gnome project :)

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...and we're off!

Julia had the idea of buying a Travelocity gnome outfit for Jackson and taking pictures of him in it at iconic locations during our trip.. so here's the first shot in the series:

Although we tried to pack light, including heavier clothes for New York definitely made things bulkier. So bulky in fact that we had to pay an extra $50 in overweight luggage fees. Here's a pic of what the sherpas are carrying:

Julia's efficient packing is what enabled us to make the bag too heavy:

The flight to NY was great. This was Jackson's third trip so far, the first two being Hawaii and San Diego. Being older, he did not sleep quite as much as he did on the Hawaii flight, but luckily he did not cry or otherwise make a nuisance of himself (at least we think so, you'd really have to ask other passengers for confirmation). He did squeal a little bit here and there, but generally he just slept on mommy or hung around quietly.

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Tickets are booked!

I somehow managed to convince Julia not to go back to her job post-maternity leave and instead plan a year long trip living in various cities around the world.

The thinking is that it'll be hard to do this sort of thing as Jackson and any future kids get older, and hey, you only live once.. and life is short... and any other cliched rationalization we can think of :)

The places we are visiting are a little bit more tame than we would have preferred, but we had to incorporate the fact that we will be traveling with a baby! Here is our current itinerary:

NY: Oct 1 - Nov 27
Sydney: Nov 29 - Jan 22
New Zealand: Jan 22 - Feb 13
Singapore: Feb 13 - April 8
Hong Kong: April 8 - April 11
Taipei and Penghu: April 11 - April 21
Shanghai: April 21 - May 15
Barcelona: May 15 - June 26
TBD: June 26 - July 13
Amsterdam: July 13 - Sept 7
TBD: Sept 7 - ?

The schedule is subject to change, especially for the European portion.. subject to weather, how we are feeling, and any wild swings in the the Euro-Dollar exchange rate! The around the world ticket that we bought actually starts on the Sydney leg, so we can technically extend our trip until November 26 I think.

We are hoping that friends show up and visit, so do not disappoint us! Some friends we expect to see more now that we are joining their jet-set lifestyles.. You know who you are!! :P

We're gonna post updates of the trip at http://world.jhong.org

*Elephant in Youtube video for demonstrative purposes only. We are not actually going anywhere with elephants, unfortunately.
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