Hong Kong high tea at Mandarin Oriental

So many high teas which I have yet to blog about. This one dates back to May 2015. I was on a business trip to Hong Kong and managed to catch up with a friend over there and squeeze in a high tea.

There’s no shortage of high teas in Hong Kong, but I finally settled on the Mandarin Oriental Hotel as it was in a convenient location.

IMG_9072 IMG_9069

IMG_9071 IMG_9075

There’s nothing like a relaxing afternoon of tea and food.

Sadly, the afternoon tea wasn’t particularly amazing, but it sufficed.

IMG_9079

IMG_9087   IMG_9086

IMG_9083

Advertisements

10km Caramoan open water swim race

This summer in August, I completed a 10km open water swim race. The location was remote but amazing. Set amongst the Caramoan islands – a location popular for filming Survivor (the reality TV show) around the world including a US series.

The race was a 10km island hopping swim. My first 10km in open water.

I finished. An official time of 4 hours and 16 minutes which was slower than I would have liked. A great swim though. Couldn’t have picked a better location to do this epic swim.

There’ll be more to write about on this later but here are some pics from the personal milestone and one of many more racecations.

Coming up onto the shore with a smile.

IMG_1252 Feels weird to be vertical: IMG_1251

IMG_1247 Action finishing shots: IMG_1245

IMG_1241 Feeling chuffed to have finished: IMG_1261

The Caramoan 10km swim challenge

IMG_1289 IMG_1283

I got second place female in my age group which I thought was pretty decent. Didn’t think my time was very decent but compared to the field, it wasn’t too bad.

IMG_1336

I hit the proverbial wall at 8km. The first 3km I did an an hour, and I thought I was on track for a 3.5 hour finish. That time lapsed and I aimed for a sub-four time. 4 hours passed and by then, it was just a matter of getting to the finish line. The last 2km took me over an hour. 8-10km was brutal with very little left in the tank. I hadn’t ever swum more than 8km in the open water before, so it was a first and a great personal achievement to even finish a 10km open water swim. Would like to get a few more under my belt.

2015 Soy sauce cooking contest

One of the highlights of last year was that I entered a cooking contest.

I saw this contest advertised. I really only entered for the chance to win 100,000yen which at today’s exchange rate is about 1,200 AUD. I decided why not. Even if didn’t win first place, there were still second and third cash prizes. First step was to enter in a recipe and a story (based on the recipe). So actually both the housemate and I decided to enter. We would both submit a recipe, a photo of the dish, and our story to accompany the recipe. The contest was being run by the Soy Sauce Association (who knew there was even such an organisation) so the recipe had to feature soy sauce. We came up with our recipes and modified them to include a tablespoon or two of soy sauce. We made a pact that if either or both of us won any money that we would share our winnings with the other. (Stupid mistake that was.)

So anyway, we spent one weekend each perfecting our own recipe and our story. We have seen enough episodes of Masterchef Australia to know that everyone has to have a sob story. Your story has to touch people’s emotions either through tears or laughter. So we definitely made sure to include poignant heartwarming stories.

We submitted our recipe, our photos and story online. Too easy.
I decided on chicken-katsu parmigianna – basically a Japanese-style version of chicken katsu (schnitzel) parmigianna style ie with eggplant, tomato and cheese on top served with asparagus wrapped in bacon.

This is what I ended up submitting for my entry.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

It looked appetising enough. And tasted pretty flavoursome.
It was a matter of wait and see if I would progress to the next round.
As there were two categories, I actually entered in both the Japanese and Western cuisine category.
Housemate entered the Western cuisine category only with his apricot chicken, or maybe it was peach chicken. For the western cuisine, I didn’t really put in much effort and just submitted a spaghetti bol recipe. I was mostly aiming for the Japanese cuisine category. You were allowed to submit as many recipes as you wanted though.

About a month later, lo and behold, the both of us had been invited to the cook-off. We were one of the finalists in each of the categories. Of all the submitted recipe entries, we were in the top 5 for our respective categories. They had about 100 recipes in total split amongst about 70 entrants (accounting for the fact that some people submitted multiple recipes). It turned out that my recipe for the Japanese category was a finalist.

Wow. Pretty cool to have been a finalist. The cook-off was held in August last year. Both the housemate and I had a chance of winning 100,000yen each. Turns out though that the housemate wasn’t going attend the cook-off despite being one of the top 5 finalists. If I had of known that he wasn’t going to attend the cook-off, then I should not have made the deal to split our winnings, because it would now mean that any money we would win, would have to be earnt by me, and I would have to split it with him, even though he destroyed any chance of him winning despite making it this far. He did not attend because of work on a Saturday. I told him to take the day off work. He had enough notice to give, and really, was working on the weekend going to pocket him more than the possibility of 100,000yen? I think not. So off to work he went, against my bitter protests.

So anyway, I went along to the cook off on my own. It was a bit of a bizarre, surreal experience. You really never know what to expect, especially in Japan. The cook off was on a Saturday and practically an all-day affair. The recipe had to be cooked within an hour, so I didn’t think it would take that long, but we spent hours there. First of all I was a little late in finding the venue. It was held at a culinary cooking school institute near Shinjuku.

I got to meet the other finalists. I was curious as to where they were all from. (Here’s a photo of about half of the contestants)

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

Some had come as far as Kyushu and I think Akita. Most were from Tokyo or Saitama. The contest was also only open to foreigners living in Japan. The Soy Sauce contest for the last 6 years was previously only open to Japanese people, and now they were trying to make it more international. The travel expenses for all the finalists was also paid for, so it was really nice for those that were further away to get a free holiday to Tokyo. At least my 3 dollar or so train fare was covered.

From Soy sauce cooking contest

The day consisted of waiting around a bit, getting to know the other contestants – no one knew what the hell was going on, then a briefing by the organisers, opening speeches by the panel of judges, a tour of the kitchen, cook-off and then getting photos in the studio.

Pics of the organisers coming into the participants waiting room:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And then we got to go down into the kitchen where each of our stations were set up with our ingredients etc and we got to meet the panel of judges including I think a couple of famous people (but I’m not really up on my Japanese TV celebrities) as well as a chef at a hotel in Tokyo.

Fellow competitors:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

Panel of judges:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And oh, did I mention that they had photographers and camera crew etc, and yes, they came around whilst we were cooking and asked us questions in Japanese etc. I could never be on Masterchef, because I find cameras really off-putting when you’re trying to cook to a time limit. Talk about pressure.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

Here were some of the cooking stations from the competition:

From Soy sauce cooking contest

There’s a lot of mushrooms on this one. He must be a fun guy (funghi – get it?):

From Soy sauce cooking contest

This is MY cooking station:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And then it was time to cook. All a bit of whirlwind really. There was 9 other people cooking in the same kitchen and cameras and judges walking around to each station talking to us etc, while we’re trying to cook. I don’t really like talking to cameras. I was also going to be pushed for time. Was also a little weird to not be cooking in your own kitchen. Things like the utensils and oven were a little bit different. Everything here was all commercial appliances and large scale. It was a big stressful really. After the time was up, here was my final dish.

From Soy sauce cooking contest

When I had found out I was a finalist, I tried to practice my dish a couple more times at home and for the life of me, could not get it to look like it did in my original submission photos. I haven’t been able to replicate my dish since. Even on the cook-off day, it was different to my original dish.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

All of our dishes went onto the front bench for the judges to try. Everyone had to make 4 person servings, but a lot of it went untouched. I felt like I had made a lot of food, which barely went uneaten. I think the judges literally only had a forkful of each food. Granted they did have to try 10 dishes (5 from both the Japanese and Western cuisine categories).

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

We also didn’t get to try the dishes of our competitors. There was some serious competition though. I was up against one or two French guys (who can compete with the French?), a couple of Americans (one of whom cooks at a restaurant in Tokyo), a trilingual Canadian girl who has her own Youtube cooking channel and blog. Er, yeah no one pays me to cook and I’m no chef. I do like cooking though. Wish I had a better kitchen in Japan though. The standard though in hindsight really wasn’t that high though. Made me question the other 90 or so recipe submissions. Some of the finalist dishes were just spring rolls, or spaghetti bologanise but using packet udon noodles instead of spaghetti. At least handmake the udon! I mean, even my dish was not special. Anyone can make what I made. A pretty mediocre effort on my part.

We then had to go to the photo studio to get pro photos of our dishes and our beautiful selves. Apparently our photos were going to get published in something.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And then we had a bit of a closing ceremony and a group shot.

From Soy sauce cooking contest

We would now have to wait for 2 months until we found out the results.

You will have to stay tuned for the results. That is a blog post for another day.

Dolphin swimming in Japan

Another opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, this time I got to go on as crew.

It’s pretty amazing to be able to swim with wild dolphins. It didn’t get off to a great start but in the end, we saw a lot. I got in one particular awesome jump.

At one point, we got so close to them, it was pretty incredible.

Coming straight for me:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

A cool shot as they swam underneath me:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

These dolphins were particularly playful and stuck around for a while.

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

There were about 5-7 dolphins in this shot:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

And on a separate jump, we saw a mother and a baby dolphin, but they didn’t stick around to play.

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

Seeing dolphins from the boat:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

Oiso 10km swim race – the motion video

You’re in for a treat. So normally, I would write a swim race report, but this time I have a real video for your viewing pleasure.

Last Saturday, I did a 10km swim race. In a pool. 20 laps of a 500m pool. Same race that I did 2 years. You might recall the <a href=”http://memoirsofaleisha.blog.com/2014/07/01/my-first-10km-swim-race-oiso-10km-swim-race/”>race report.</a>

The only difference since is that I’ve gotten older and slower. I managed a time that was about 40min slower than last time. Ugh.

The housemate finished before me so was able to get some footage of me. Mind you, the footage was taken at around the 8km and 9km mark, so I was literally ready to die. Body really struggled and it wasn’t pretty. But don’t take my word for it.

You can view it for yourself:

1967, Tokyo Afternoon Tea

Another year, another afternoon tea.

For my birthday last month, I had a small low-key afternoon tea treat with a friend, just the two of us.
Tried out a different venue for afternoon tea – it’s getting harder to find placed I haven’t been to yet.
I had been to this venue for dinner before but not for afternoon tea. The venue was 1967 in Roppongi – an oriental continental bar.

Really nice venue especially in the evenings. The entrance is a little awkward – dark curtained corridor but it opens out into a nice bar area and a terrace lounge area.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

The afternoon tea seemed very reasonable with a Western-Asian fusion. I like when you get the best of both worlds.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

Tea selection was ok, but limited on the black teas. Only one pot allowed. One choice per person.

From 1967 afternoon tea

This place had a good sampling of foods. The savoury elements were particularly appreciated. I liked their modern take and the absence of sandwiches. I’ll take cheese and crackers and these morsels anyday.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

And a little champagne to wash it all down:

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

Presentation of the afternoon tea set was also lovely and modern.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

I was quite impressed with the sweets selection – very fresh, delicious and plentiful. And chocolate and strawberries aplenty.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

These strawberries were stuffed with ice cream inside. Amazing and genius:

From 1967 afternoon tea

And there were scones as well. Albeit very miniature scones. Super tasty. Loved the cream. Only complaint was that they were too small. But anything miniature is cute so it was redeemed by the novelty factor and flavour.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

And whilst there wasn’t jam, the scones were served with custard. I haven’t had custard in forever and dare I say it was probably even better than having scones with jam. A winner in this case.

From 1967 afternoon tea

The scones were so small they fit on a spoon. But still cool nonetheless so all was forgiven.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

All in all, this place definitely got my approval. It definitely ranks in my top 10 for afternoon tea in Tokyo and definitely a place I would recommend. It wasn’t busy on this particular Saturday afternoon, lovely outdoor terrace lounge, food was lovely – fresh, delicious, and plentiful. Couldn’t really fault it although tea selection was sufficient, it could have been wider. Also very reasonably priced at 2800yen which is hard to beat for this quality food, and extra for glass of Moet. Both are excellent value. The menu changes regularly which is a not bad thing. Could definitely go back here again. Was super satisfied.

Ishigaki 5km OWS swim race

First open water swim race for the summer and the year was a 5k-er. The destination – idyllic. Water temp – too hot.

I had wanted to do an open water swim race in Okinawa for a while now – Japan’s answer to paradise. Ishigakijima did not disappoint. A really beautiful island for water lovers. Even managed to round a few friends to join not only the trip, but also the swim.

Headed down on the first flight on Thursday and spent Thursday and Friday sightseeing. Saturday May 30 was race day. It was a scorcher. In the mid-30 degrees, but felt closer to 40. And the water was like a bath. Ugh. Much too hot and uncomfortable for my liking.

The race was held at a beach off the ANA resort hotel.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

This waterpark was probably going to be a lot more fun than a 5km swim:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The water was so clean and clear, but oh so warm.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The course was 1.5km and required three laps and a bit to make up the 5km.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Three of us had signed up for the 5km swim.

Aquaholics Anonymous:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The boys were gonna be fast. Was also going to test out my brand new Garmin in my first open water swim race for the year. My goal time was to do it comfortably under 2 hours, anything around 1hour 45 I would be happy with. The last 5km swim race I did back in November without training, took me just over 2 hours to do. But since then I’ve gotten back into the training.

Ready and genki:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

And we’re off:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The view from the water:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Scored some action pictures from the race organiser:

Me at the top in the pink cap:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Me again – check out the high kick:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

This is cool action shot:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Much of the swim was pretty shallow over reefs.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Coming into the finish:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Yay. Finished!

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Pleased to say I swam a time of 1 hour 40min which was on par with my expectations. Not overly fast but not bad for the first race of the season. Got to leave more fuel in the tank this year, as I have decided to do a 10km marathon open water swim.

I got first place in my age group for females, so not bad. Snared me a gold medal. It’s always nice to not go home empty handed. The boys also kicked arse. They took 2nd and 3rd place in the male age group with way faster times than me, both beating me by over 20 minutes.

Well done all round:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

As for the swim race itself – water was way too warm. Wetsuits definitely not required. It was also quite a shallow swim, as we swum over reefs. Got to see a few fish. Also a bit of a current, but all in all a decent swim. Course was a little tricky though with many overswimming the course. It was a 2.5km course, requiring 2 laps.
And much to my disappointment, something happened to my Garmin. Must have hit a button as a swum. Timing was pretty spot on, but it didn’t register the whole distance.

It was a fun swim to kick off the season:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Niijima Open water swim (ows) again

Another belated swim race report from last year.
Race date: July 2015
Venue: Niijima island

You might recall that I did this race back in 2011. Back then it was the longest distance open water swim race I had done before. Since then I’ve done a few 5km, an 8km and a 10km race. I’ve pretty much gotten to a point where I usually don’t like to enter in swim races less than 4km. Am trying to do more endurance swims, but I’m still pretty slow.

Last year, we got a small posse to come to Niijima island for the swim race again. In addition, a small group of Aussies from the Brighton Icebergs also came to Japan to do this swim and I got to meet up with some them.

The Niijima swim once again involved getting an early jetboat ride from Tokyo to the island. Perhaps too early for some.
Here is everyone passed out or perhaps they are just conserving their energy.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

Here we are wide awake!

From Niijima OWS 2015

We had rented a van for the six of us to make the most of weekend.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

Again we were blessed with another beautiful hot sunny day. And the water conditions were good.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

A beautiful day for a swim. And the water so clean and blue.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

I like this particular race. It’s always well organised and entry fee includes refreshments and a free towel for every finisher.
The bananas this year even had messages of motivation which was a really cute touch.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

Gaijin swimmers represent!

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

The race has a great atmosphere.

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

And yes, this is why we swim:

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

A cool close up of a grasshopper:

From Niijima OWS 2015
From Niijima OWS 2015

I did the 4.5km distance and my time was super slow. 1 hour, 49minutes. The last time I did this swim, I did it 1hr, 36min. I was 13 minutes slower.
Last year was not a great swimming year for me. In 2014, I ramped up my training to do some endurance swim races so last year I significantly cut back on swimming. This year, I am trying to ramp up again with my eyes on a couple of marathon races.

I’ve signed up for 4.5km swim race again this year on Niijima island and I’m hoping to improve on last year’s time. But I feel I’m getting slower as I get older.

Snowboarding weekend in Hakuba

I have a massive backlog of blog posts. I didn’t snowboard much this past winter. Only managed to get out a few weekend. But here is a post from Winter 2015 (March last year) of a snowboarding trip to Hakuba.

Just photos. No words.

From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba
From Hakuba

Break time:

From Hakuba
From Hakuba

Enjoying an apres drink:

From Hakuba

Japan open water swimming race calendar 2016

Out of the goodness of my heart, I have compiled a translated list of open water swim races in Japan for 2016. This is mostly for the benefit of the foreigner community in Japan, who can’t navigate through Japanese. Also, there does not appear to be a consolidated list of open water swim races in Japan (even in Japanese), and I have scoured the Internet to compile this list of races all around Japan. Mind you, I’ve already done quite a fair chunk of the swims on the list over the last 5 years, so I kinda knew what was out there, plus found a bunch more as well. There are about 50 swim races to date around Japan with probably a few more to be released. Not all dates are confirmed yet as it still early in the season.

The list can be found on a Google docs I’ve created here. Please note that this is a working document and I will try to update it regularly as and when race dates become available.

I’ve compiled and translated all the necessary info for free as a community service. Please do not republish or rip off this list. Instead, please link to my blog. This will ensure good karma!

I’m more than happy to help people out if you’re interested in the open water swimming scene in Japan.

Cheers!