Introducing Charles Emmett Zink

On Friday July 6th, we welcomed our son Charlie into the world.

Charlie came in at 7 lbs 2 oz and 20.5″ tall. He’s doing great — eating and sleeping like a champ. Mom and Dad are both doing well too.

We’ve got some more photos of him on Flickr.

Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi – Our beachfront paradise

OK, we’ve got to be honest with you. Our plans to permanently move to Santhiya Resort didn’t work out. Maybe it was for cultural reasons, maybe the lack of a long-term Thai visa, or perhaps it was the hotel’s unwillingness to give us room and board for free. In any case, after two wonderful nights, we decided to move on to a new hotel on the other side of a rock outcrop in the bay. Our new home was Rasanandra, a new boutique luxury hotel in the center of a larger beach: Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi. Santhiya is technically part of this beach as well, but the rock outcrop separates it from the strip of accomodation on the other side, which included our new place.

The modern pool at Rasanandra. The benches on the side had buttons that turned on jets.

Upon arrival, we received the typical coconut-milk welcome drinks (western culture really needs to adopt this custom), and were led to our room. The room was amazing — modern in design, clean, it included a small private pool (as all rooms at this hotel do), and oddly — free alcohol. We had a selection of gin, rum, and whiskey, which we were informed would be refilled daily. Strangely, the mixers (tonic, cola, etc.) were in the mini-bar for a charge. Still a pretty good deal. As the cheapskates we are, we bought tonic from the local store down the street and mixed some drinks.

Free booze

The hotel was amazing. From the pool, to the excellent restaurant, to the complimentary beach snacks (courtesy of the chef), this place was top-notch. Over the course of four days, we were continually asked by the hotel and restaurant managers if there was anything they could do better. There wasn’t.

The beach was great too. Many Thai beach areas are over-developed:

Parts of Chewang Beach are not so relaxing. Careful with those power lines!

Or underdeveloped (no services). This strip was perfect. There was a selection of good local restaurants and bars at the other guesthouses along the beach, along with a couple convenience stores, an ATM, and laundry services. The sand was white and pure, and extended far out into the water (no rocks). We were in heaven.

Looking north from our hotel

The beach in front of our hotel

The palm tree that we sat beneath in front of our hotel one afternoon

The one last thing worth mentioning during a trip to Ko Phangan are the infamous “full moon parties”. Our little beach was way too chill for serious ravers, and the moon wasn’t full while we were there, but we still got a taste of the action. The “Beach Club” bar down the beach had a fire dancing show (free for anyone to watch) one of the nights we were there. Abby and I had no idea what to expect, but were mesmerized when it started and stayed for a full hour. We will always associate this scene with the Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face”. Definitely worth seeing, even if, like us, you’re not into the rave scene.

Fire dancing

Sawasdee Khrab, Koh Samui!

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we made it all the way from Seattle to Koh Samui, Thailand. The flight was easier than expected, especially since we were able to get a pretty good night of sleep on our red-eye from Seattle to Taipei.


Taiwanese airport food

Once we landed on the island, we took a taxi from the tiny airport (complete with an open-air luggage carousel) to our hotel just north of Chaweng beach. Here, we were upgraded to an ocean-facing villa, specially decked out for our honeymoon.




What a way to start the trip! The hotel (Nora Beach Resort) is wonderful, and despite some overcast skies up in Bangkok, there’s no sign of any monsoon down here, but I won’t go on about that since I don’t want to jinx us. We did a little exploring on foot that first night, walking down to Chaweng beach for dinner. Jet-lag quickly set in though, making it an early night for us.

Jet-lag does have its upside, as we woke up first thing Monday morning in time to enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the beach with a cup of coffee.



What is it?? Honeymoon edition

Abby and I just completed the first segment of our flight to Thailand and are now sitting in the Taipei airport waiting for the food court to open (it’s 6:00am here). The flight was pretty uneventful, though we had a classic “what is it??” moment after I ordered porridge for breakfast on the plane. My food came with “Flavored Tuna Floss”. Sounds delicious, but What is it??



Introducing the Something to Declare photo gallery

After spending countless hours in Adobe Lightroom narrowing down and editing the photos from our trip around the world, I’ve finally put together an online gallery with about 800 of our favorites, sorted by location and various other attributes. Many of these photos are geotagged and visible on maps (like this), since we carried a GPS which recorded where we went, and thus where our photos were taken.

Here’s the link:
The Something to Declare Photo Gallery
I’ve also written an article about the photo equipment we took along:
Photography guide


Tokyo! Hai!

See our gallery of photos tagged with “tokyo”.

After breakfast and some late-morning Christmas shopping on our last day in Kyoto, we made our way to the south side of the train station where the Shinkansen high-speed bullet trains depart for Tokyo. We paid a small premium to take the super-fast Nozomi service on the new N700 series train. This bullet train is capable of traveling 270 km/h (170 mph) and does the 476 km (296 mile) trip to Tokyo in 2 hours 20 minutes. It was fast.

N700 Shinkansen
N700 Series Train, Kyoto Station

We got there in the late afternoon, and navigated the subway system to the Hanzomon station, just west of the Imperial Palace, and right in front of the Hotel Monterey Hanzomon. The hotel was great, and became our home in Tokyo for the next six nights.

Our first mission after arriving in Tokyo was to find a good bowl of ramen. Remembering an experience I had in Shibuya on a work trip a couple years ago where I struggled to use a vending machine for payment but was rewarded by a tasty bowl, I talked Abby into trying to find the same place. We took the subway to Shibuya, wandered the crowded side streets for a while, and finally stumbled across Kamakura Ramen. Yum!

Kamakura Ramen
Kamakura Ramen

We spent the remainder of our time in Tokyo wandering through what Lonely Planet listed as one of the 10 weirdest cities in the world. During our time we saw washlets (the future of toilet technology), a sumo wrestling stadium, umbrella cover applicator machines, banks of vending machines, karaoke bars, and even a cartoon video of a singing pea in Kiddy Land. Great stuff!

At the same time, we did a lot of shopping, since Christmas was quickly approaching:

Prada Building
Abby posing in front of the Prada Building. We didn’t buy anything here.

Shoppers in Ginza. We didn’t buy anything here either.

And of course spent a lot of time wandering Tokyo’s various neighborhoods.


One neighborhood we spent a lot of our time in was the up-and-coming neighborhood of “Marunouchi”, which we read about in a recent article in the New York Times. The neighborhood was a short subway ride away from our hotel, and had a great range of food options, as well as the store where I bought Abby her official temporary engagement ring.


Abby with ring

And finally, here is a short video taken while crossing the street in the heart of Shibuya. We were amazed by the number of people in this area and had to capture some of the action on video to give you just a taste of Tokyo’s energy.

Okonomiyaki in Osaka

See our gallery of photos tagged with “osaka”.

With our tight schedule, we only had one full day to explore Osaka, our first stop in Japan. We began our day by visiting the ever-popular “Mr. Donuts” chain for a quick donut, but decided to save our yen by skipping the restaurant’s three dollar coffee, and buying a one dollar hot canned coffee from a street-side vending machine instead. More on these later…

Typical Osaka side-street

Now caffeinated, we took the subway to Osaka-jo, the famous castle in the middle of the city and Japan’s most visited sight. Here we wandered the grounds with a few other tourists and school groups.


However, before we knew it, the US military police had stormed in with a recruiting bus.

Wait… what’s going on here?

After talking to one of the personnel, we learned that a TV drama was being filmed here. Too bad they didn’t need any extras!

After the castle, we wandered along the river and then went to “City Mall”, a large shopping mall nearby and headed for the restaurant floor at the top of the building. Here we found a nice sushi restaurant with a good lunch deal that included sushi, miso soup, and tempura.

After a brief break back at the hostel, we headed out to Dotombori, a popular entertainment district in Osaka. This neighborhood is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and most strikingly, large neon signs:

Abby in front of the famous neon Glico sign

In this neighborhood, we headed to Dotombori Gokuraku Shotengai, (also known as the Osaka Food Theme Park) a restaurant complex recommended by our guidebook. This food center occupies the top three floors of a building in the center of the neighborhood, with an early-1900’s theme and over fifty restaurants, many featuring Osaka specialties. Here we found a restaurant serving okonomiyaki, one of these specialties, which is a large grilled meat and vegetables pancake. First cooked by the chef, it was then transferred to a grill in the middle of our table where we further cooked it to our liking.


By the time we finished the okonomiyaki, we were beat. We wandered the streets a little more, then headed back to our cozy hostel.

What Is It?? Round VIII – Official Results

After a brief hiatus, Allison springs back into action and wins the eighth round of “What is it??”. Yes, the delicacy being produced here is Yomogi Mochi, also known as Kusa Mochi. We found this machine in Nara, Japan with an audience of spectators and patrons. As Allison noted, Yomogi Mochi is infused with mugwort, which gives it its green color, and inside was a sweet red bean paste. Tasty!

Also note that this machine represents a huge advancement in the production of Yomogi Mochi, and is far safer and less tiring than the traditional method:

Courtesy of

Hong to the Kong

See our gallery of photos tagged with “hong kong”.

While our time in Hong Kong was limited to a single day (cut down from the four we had planned before the PAD protests), we thoroughly enjoyed it and left feeling that it was a city we could happily live in. We didn’t have any preconceptions of the city, but found it to be a very clean, modern, and welcoming place. Its compact nature makes it quite walkable, but a convenient system of trains, ferries, and even outdoor escalators makes it a breeze to get around. With some help from my friend Joanna and some other tips from our guidebook, we were able to devise a one-day itinerary that allowed us to get a great taste of the city.

View of Hong Kong skyline from the top of the peak

The taste we had been most looking forward to was that of dim sum, which we enjoyed at the famous Maxim’s Palace City Hall restaurant. We had researched its hours, so we arrived at 11:00am on the dot (its opening time) in order to beat the Saturday morning rush that we had heard is a given. It was a good thing we did, because while we had our pick of tables, the entire place was packed within ten minutes with a line forming down the hallway. The food was fantastic. For the uninitiated, dim sum is a Cantonese specialty that features many small dishes that you share with your table. Rather than ordering food off a menu ahead of time, you simply wait for the carts of food to come by and indicate your interest in given dishes. The wait staff keeps tally of how many dishes you’ve had, and you pay accordingly at the end of the meal. This means that you can keep trying lots of small dishes until you’re completely stuffed, which is exactly what we did. Our meal included shrimp dumplings, sticky rice, chicken, yellow pork/shrimp dumplings, and lots of tea. Delicious!


After dim-sum, we took a tram to the top of “the peak” (Hong Kong Island’s highest point), where we got a great view of the city, and even ran into Bruce Lee:


Afterward, we headed back down, then checked out Hong Kong Park, filled with people escaping the crowds of the city, and with many, many couples posing for wedding photographs. The park itself was beautifully landscaped, with fountains, paths, gardens, a designated Tai-Chi area, and even an enclosed aviary. We spent quite a while wandering the elevated wooden walkways of the aviary pondering how cool it was to be in this sanctuary while surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.
Resident Bali Mynah voicing his opinion

We spent the next few hours checking out Kowloon, the district across the water from Hong Kong Island. Here we wandered some very busy shopping streets with offerings that ranged from Vivienne Westwood (Abby tells me this) to the infamous Chungking Mansions filled with fake watch and purse touts, and tailors of questionable suits. One of the more interesting areas was around Temple Street Market, pictured below:


Around dusk, we boarded the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island and got a good look at the beautiful skyline lit up at night:


After that, we got dinner and a drink in the Long Kwai Fong district, which is a popular and lively neon-lit nightlife area. At this point, we decided it was our mission to see the worlds longest outdoor people-mover, a short walk away. Unbeknownst to us before we visited Hong Kong, this city boasts an 800m long system of covered escalators and moving walkways that serves as a common mode of public transit from the downtown offices to the Mid-Levels residential neighborhood. Many people even make a daily commute to work on this system, which runs in reverse (downhill) during the morning rush. We rode just about all 800m.


As I read back over this, it’s hard to believe we covered all of this ground in one day. I guess the people movers helped. We know we’ll need to come back some day to experience it in full.