Ho Chi Minh City - "Independence, Freedom, Happiness"

On May 11, 2014 I was assigned by the Japanese company that I work for to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) for 41 days to work on a project at the local project office.

The skyline of modern Saigon from the window of the project office, a rapidly changing city. What will it look like 10 years later?!

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei Back to Tokyo

April 4, 2011 was our last day in Taipei ending our week long trip to Taiwan. On this day our flight was in the afternoon so we still had the morning to explore a little bit of Taipei before we left.

Takeoff from Taipei's Songshan Airport on a cloudy day with the Taipei 101 building sticking out in the background.

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei - Martyrs Shrine, Grand Hotel and Maokong

On April 3, 2011, during the last full day of our Taiwan trip in 2011, we explored a bit more of Taipei. We went to visit the Martyrs' Shrine had a buffet lunch at the Grand Hotel and went to Maokong.

Changing of the guard at the Martyrs' Shrine.

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Presidential Building (總統府) and Tamsui (淡水)

During our Taiwan trip in 2011, on April 2, 2011, we explored a bit more of Taipei after getting out of the Taipei area for the previous 2 days to visit Taichung and Kaohsiung.

We were lucky that our trip coincided with the official open house of the Presidential Office Building of the Republic of China (Taiwan) that only happens once per month and on that month it happened to fall on April 2 so the first thing we did that day was visit the Presidential Office Building.

The Presidential Office Building from a distance.

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Taiwan by High Speed Rail - Taichung (台中) and Kaohsiung (高雄)

On March 31, 2013 and April 1, 2013, on our week long Taiwan trip, we went to Taichung (台中) and Kaohsiung (高雄) respectively.

One of the major reasons was to try out Taiwan's high speed rail line which opened in 2007 and to see how it compared to Japan's Shinkansen. Unfortunately, at the time, Taiwan High Speed Rail did not offer a rail pass for tourists like Japan and other European countries, but luckily the ticket prices were not so expensive, compared to say, that of Japan's.

Also we wanted to see how other cities in Taiwan looked like outside of its capital of Taipei. Since our hotel booked for the week was in Taipei, we had to pick some destinations which would work for a day trip. From the guidebooks it seemed like Taichung and Kaohsiung would be interesting places to visit...

The high speed trains of Taiwan with the distinctive orange stripe. What is interesting is that the only other places that uses Japanese Shinkansen trains for high speed rail are Taiwan and China, with Taiwan using the newer model while China uses the slightly older one. The trains that Taiwan uses are actually a derivative of the trains that run on the Tokaido Shinkansen line in Japan.

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei - National Palace Museum, Official Residences and Markets

On our second day in Taipei on March 30, 2011, visiting museum and museum-like attractions took up the bulk of our day.

The main museum that we visited on that day, the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) from the outside, designed as a fusion of 1960s architecture combined with traditional Chinese architecture.

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei - Presidents and Towers

March 29, 2011 was the second full day of our week long trip to Taiwan. It was my first trip to Taiwan and my mom's first trip to Taiwan in 20 years. On this day we mostly spent the time exploring Taipei.

My mom had heard that Taipei had been "completely rebuilt" after the devastating 1999 earthquake and wanted to see how "modern" Taipei had become since the last time she had visited ages ago.

The symbol of Taipei, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

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2011 Taiwan Trip: Flight from Tokyo Haneda to Taipei

On March 28, 2011, as a continuation of the almost one month long trip that I took with my mom when she visited me in Japan while I was studying there, we flew to Taiwan for a 1 week trip.

I booked the hotel and flight package from Rakuten Travel and it was surprisingly cheap. The 7 nights, 8 days package including the airfare cost 140,000 yen (US$1400) for 2 people. That is like 70,000 yen (US$700) per person for 7 nights in a hotel and the airfare!

The airline in the package was All Nippon Airways and the flight was from Tokyo Haneda airport to Taipei Songshan instead of the much farther Tokyo Narita airport. Because international flights from Tokyo Haneda airport are usually targeted to business travellers, the flight tickets are usually much more expensive, thereby making this hotel and flight package even more of a deal!

Historically, Tokyo Haneda airport was designated for domestic flights while Tokyo Narita airport was designated for international flights. At the time, they changed the laws to allow for short distance international flights to Asia at Tokyo Haneda airport so an international terminal was newly built.

The brand new international terminal at Tokyo Haneda airport.

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The JR East Railway Museum in Omiya in March 2011

During the week at the end of March when me and my mom were visiting the Tokyo and Yokohama area, on March 25, 2011, we took a day trip to the northern suburbs of Tokyo, to Omiya in Saitama Prefecture to visit the JR East Railway Museum.

Now normally visiting a railway museum would seem like a dull experience for people who are not railway fans but this museum seemed designed to cater to everyone of every demographic.

One of the reasons is that railways are to Japan how cars are to America. Railways are embedded in the ordinary life in Japan and also in the cultural psyche. If one lives in a large city in Japan, he would most likely take the train to go to work or to go shopping and if he was to do any domestic traveling, he would probably also take the train to get there.

In fact, one of the high speed Shinkansen rail lines in Kyushu was opened on March 12, 2011, one day after the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami disaster, and as a result, all the opening ceremonies were closed and an excellent heartwarming commercial produced to advertise for the Kyushu Shinkansen was not aired on TV. (Its popularity exploded on the Internet and it ended up winning international awards for advertising)

The entrance of the railway museum, because of the ongoing power shortage caused when all nuclear reactors were ordered to be taken offline following the nuclear disaster, the opening hours were cut short to 10 am to 4 pm.

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Tokyo and Yokohama During the 3/11 Disaster

I visited Tokyo and Yokohama from the March 23 to March 27, 2011 when my mother came to visit me in Japan during the spring of 2011. This is a continuation of our trip that started in Osaka on March 10, 2011, one day before the biggest disaster to hit Japan in recent memory occurred. After visiting the Kansai region, we went to Okinawa and then flew back to Fukuoka, stopping at Nagasaki for a day before spending a couple of days in Hiroshima. Afterwards we took a night bus (never again) to Tokyo on March 23, 2011.

At this time, it was my first time back in Tokyo after I had left in 2006 when I was as an exchange student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Because the Tokyo area was moderately affected by the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster (the 3/11 disaster), many foreigners living in Tokyo at the time were hysterically leaving for home via their embassies or for "safer" areas like the Kansai area or even places like Hong Kong because paranoia over radiation concerns. Instead because we had already booked and planned everything, we decided that it was safe to visit and it was indeed safe during our time there. In addition, there were less crowds!

The only odd thing that happened was that due to all the nuclear reactors being in shutdown mode as a precautionary measure, there were fears of a power shortage so in order to conserve energy, the train operators decided not to turn on any of the lights inside the trains during the overground sections. It felt weird to be riding the JR Yamanote Line in the dark with only sunlight coming through the windows.

The Nakamise-dori in front of the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

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