Events

Tampa FL, USA: Flying into TPA for some Rays baseball, 18 – 20 September 2015

It’s one of my close friend’s birthday, and as a treat, I decided to use my Delta Skymiles to fly us to Tampa, so he can attend games for his favorite MLB team – Tampa Bay Rays.

18 September 2015: Seattle, WA – Tampa, FL (direct on Alaska, redeemed with 12500 Delta Skymiles

19 September 2015: Tampa, FL

20 September 2015: Tampa, FL – Seattle, WA (direct on Alaska, redeemed with 12500 Delta Skymiles)

This isn’t a spectacular redemption or anything, but I am happy with it, because I got him a direct flight from Seattle to Tampa, on one of the best domestic carriers – Alaska, as opposed to my epic, multiple connection redemption to Panama City (SIX different airports! SIX!!!!).

I bought a ticket on Alaska separately for this trip ($385 initially), and used the $100 airline fee credit gift card trick from my AMEX PRG sign-up to offset some of the cost. After learning about the Alaska Airlines Lowest Price guarantee from this informative blogpost, I watched the airfare on Google Flights, and managed to get back $58 in Alaska credits, bringing the actual cost of this flight to ~$227 USD. That’s not too shabby for a 5 hr non-stop flight!

Categories: Events, Itinerary, Miles&Points, Sports, USA | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

USA: Day trip to San Francisco CA, 13 September 2015

San Francisco

Taking advantage of the Delta Award sale, I redeemed 10,000 Delta points for a same-day round-trip ticket to San Francisco. I had to plan this quite well, as my main goal was to check out AT&T Ball Park, and so, I had to ensure that I flew in on a day when the Giants were playing a day game at home. The stars aligned for today.

San Francisco

Getting to downtown San Francisco

Getting from SFO airport to downtown is easy. I took the free AirTran to the BART, which sells tickets at the station, and bought a ticket with my Citi credit card to cash in on the 3X transport bonus to Embarcadero ($8.65 – one-way, a fare chart is by the side of ticket booths), as I planned on eating lunch near there before making my way to the game.

Just a small note – you might want to get round trip tickets if you know your plans in advance. I had a lot of trouble locating a machine that took credit cards when I was buying my ticket back from the Montgomery Street Station. I had to try about 7 machines before I got one that took credit cards. The rest took debit/ATM cards. Weird. You do not get a discount for getting round trip tickets.

San Francisco

The BART trains are rather oldish, but comfortable. My tushy appreciates the padded chairs! The train to/from the airport runs every 15-20 min, and the journey takes about 30 mins. The signs should be fairly self-explanatory, and the driver makes announcements at every station.

AT&T Park

I was trying to eat lunch at Rubio’s, which was featured on Business Insider, but guess what? The Embarcadero location is closed on Sundays. Grr!!! It was nice to check out the Ferry Terminal building, and the buildings on Market Street, nevertheless. After striking out on my lunch plans, I simply walked along the waterfront to AT&T park. It was a pretty nice walk, where you see a mixture of older buildings, along with those modern tall glass buildings. I would say it was a 15-20 min leisurely stroll. San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco also has a bike share program alike Seattle (well, Seattle probably copied them, whatever). It costs $9 for 24 hrs, and you can check them out for 30 min stretches, but I have severely strained quad muscles, so riding a bike didn’t seem like such a good idea. So, stroll, it was. There are a number of little eateries along the way, if you want to get your munchies in before going to the ballgame.

I would say I generally liked AT&T park. At the bleachers, it has some nice views of the bay. My friend, who attended a game some time back at the terrace level, didn’t like how he couldn’t get to certain places because of his ticket. I was mostly on the main level with my bleacher ticket, and I thought it was kinda nice. The AT&T Park children’s play area also looked cooler than the Safeco field play area.

One of the nice things about the bleacher area is that, there’s a dining area behind the bleachers. While you cannot watch the game from this dining area, it has picnic tables, and a nice selection of interesting food options (i.e. not just ballpark food) – a crab shack, a seafood stand, a BBQ place, and a taco place. I got a crab and shrimp sandwich ($13.50) from Crazy Crab, which I thought was tasty and fresh.

One small little tip about drinks at the ballpark. They do have soda machines near the kids’ play area, and they sell bottled sodas for $3, and take credit cards as well. I would highly suggest this option, if you want to save some money, but don’t want to drink water either. It is a good deal for ballparks, considering how watered down sodas in cups full of ice cost at least $5.50 usually. If you did not get a chance to see/get on a cable car, they do have a sample cable car by the bleachers.

San Francisco

San Francisco

Unfortunately, after 7 innings, I had to leave, as I did want to check out other parts of San Francisco as well. I walked down 3rd Street, towards Market Street (and Mission Street further south), where the BART runs underground, as I was planning on catching the BART back to the airport. I was gonna check out a cafe, and do some writing in a cafe, but wound up at Ghirardelli chocolate cafe. Apparently, a store attendant handing out free chocolate is all it takes for me to walk into a store! In the short time that I was here, I did like the buildings clustered around Market Street. They have the early 1900s flavor, with ornate carvings, high ceilings. It is a shame that I had so few hours in San Francisco!

Costs:

Flight: $11.20 + 10000 Delta Skymiles

To/From SFO – San Francisco: $17.30

Lunch: $13.50 + $3

Ballpark tickets: $16

Hot chocolate: $5

Total: $66 + 10000 Delta Skymiles

Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa at Ghirardelli, San Francisco (Met Trust building in reflection)

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San Francisco, USA: Day trip to AT&T Ballpark, 13 September 2015

Delta Airlines is having a mileage and airfare sale. There are one-way fares going for 5,000 miles. I had 10,000 Delta miles lying around, which wasn’t good for anything (most domestic one-way airfares start at 12,500 miles), so I jumped on this deal. Because accommodations in San Francisco are prohibitively expensive, I decided to book a day trip to San Francisco, to accomplish one of my side projects – visiting all the MLB parks in the US! I found two non-stop one-way tickets, with the first arriving in SFO at 10.45 am, and the second one-way ticket leaving SFO at 7 pm. That’s time enough for me to take in the 1 pm game, and do some sightseeing around San Francisco!

So, for 10,000 Delta Skymiles and US 11.20, San Francisco, here I come!

Stuff I want to do:

1. Eat In&Out again

2. Ride the cable car

3. Check out a coffee shop

4. Watch a Giants game.

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Singapore – Singapore Turf Club, 19 October 2012

M was in town, so the whole crew decided that we were overdue for a trip to the Singapore Turf Club. It was a first for some of us, or first in a long time. This is my second trip – I first visited the Singapore Turf Club three years ago as part of my bye-bye Singapore project. In any case, not something you’ll do often. It also works out with our current group, as interest is pretty high for horse racing. In particular, partners of some of the guys are very interested gamers.

Getting there is fairly easy. Just take a train to Kranji MRT station. It’s beside the stadium. There is also a multi-storey carpark available if you drive. You can pay for the $3 entrance fee with your EZ-link card, and are encouraged to do so, as it is cheaper than paying by cash. This is for entrance to the lower grandstand. If you want additional comfort of being in the upper grandstand, where there is air conditioning, it is an additional $2 (or $3 if you pay by cash). The first time we were there, we went with the lower grandstand. There was certainly a higher level of intensity, as you are really pretty close to the horses, and you’re surrounded by people who have very intense, emotional interest in the outcome of races. It was, however, also really hot. This time round, the lower grandstand was under renovation. Also, this is a pro air-condition crowd, so we went with that. Props to C getting us a seat right at the finish line.

They generally have races on Friday evenings, and Sunday afternoons. They have more kid-friendly Sunday afternoons, whereby you can bring your kid to the marquee to check out the horses before they go for the races. Just check the schedule online. At the lower grandstand, they also have this pathway where they lead the horse from the marque to the race track. You can watch the horse go by, if you wish.

As a people watching exercise, horse racing in Singapore can be slightly depressing. Most of the people there are definitely avid gamers. While we were having one of those 30 min intervals between races and just chatting, around 10 min before the real time races here, we’d usually hear a mad shouting, as the gamers are also betting on the races in Macau. And while most of us bet 1-5 tickets ranging from 5-20 bucks a bet, other people actually collected their winnings by giving a stack of betting slips to the cashier.

Nevertheless, I’d say it’s a nice experience with a group of friends. There’s time for trash talking in the 30 min intervals between races, there’s some cheap food available at the food courts, and $4.50 beers available. Just try not to lose your pants betting on the horsies.

(photos from 3 years ago)

Singapore Turf Club on a Friday Night

View from Lower Grandstand at Singapore Turf Club

Race 2

Start of a race

Watching the last race of the night

Watching the last race of the night from the lower grandstand

Watching the last race of the night

 

Excitement at the lower grandstand

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Singapore – Singapore League Game, 18 October 2012

This was actually the legacy of my bye-bye Singapore project from two years ago, when I left for Seattle. I wanted to be a tourist in Singapore. Guess it’s never too late. And it definitely worked out better, as this time round, we had quite a group, including a Brit coming along, so there was a higher level of enthusiasm for this activity.

Singapore has a professional soccer league – the S League – which has been around for about 15 years, and currently has some 13 teams. They seem to have a system whereby some professional soccer teams from the region also visit and stay for a year. So you might want to watch out for those.

Prior to leaving for Taiwan, I actually looked at the schedule, and made plans for a specific game, as I really wanted to watch it at Jalan Besar Stadium – currently one of the oldest stadiums in Singapore. Unfortunately, it was not to be. This is a word of warning for others who want to watch a game in the future – they do change game fixtures at the last minute. Like on the day itself. Never mind, thankfully I discovered it in time, and we ended up at Bishan Stadium, watching a match between the Tanjong Pagar United Football Club and the Home Team. Bishan Stadium is a short walk from Bishan station. Entrance fee was 5 bucks.

Umm … Well, it was a surprisingly good stadium, and a surprisingly good turnout. I was expecting like concrete stands with no seats, but they had proper seats, and I’m gonna say more than 1000 people showed up. I’m really not good with estimating. It was certainly a whole lot more than I expected – I was expecting us to be the only ones. They don’t allow cans and bottles into the stadium, but you can get/buy plastic cups from the vendors outside to pour your beverage into.

The first half of the game was pretty boring, but thankfully, the second half made up for it. It was 0-0 for the first half, very few attempts on the goal, and lots of kicking the ball around. But they did score one goal each within the first three minutes of the second half, and Home United won it by scoring one more goal in extra time. So, yay! It’s a pretty good day out if you have some friends to trash talk with. Just be warned the the humidity is quite a killer.

It was surprisingly crowded with spectators - wasn't expecting this at all

Crowd at Bishan Stadium for Tanjong Pagar United FC vs. Home United

Tanjong Pagar FC vs. Home Team at Bishan Stadium

 

Tanjong Pagar United FC vs. Home United at Bishan Stadium

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Taiwan – Taipei & Taoyuan, 17 October 2012

Today was sorta my day, so I tried to balance fun and work. The night before, I spent time researching about food in Taipei, and stumbled upon this excellent food blog – A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei, and with some luck, she actually reviewed a Mexican place a couple of days before. I have been craving Mexican for the longest time, so I showed up when Juanita Burritos & Tacos opened at 11 am. It looks very much like a Chipotle, and tastes very much like it, too. I was very happy with my soft tacos, and tried their offering of steak, chicken, and carnitas. It was probably a little pricey for Taiwan (8 USD/260 TWD for three tacos and drink), but cravings don’t really have a price. Go check out their Facebook page if you want to learn more. The walk on the alley towards Juanita was also really interesting – there are plenty of cute cafes. I’d really love to check them out in a future visit!

After a snack, I settled down and worked for some two hours. This was followed by another trip to Taroko sports for another round of batting practice. Apart from doing my softball practice, I also tried the 80 kmph baseball cage. Man, that really scared me. I made NO contact, and for the first five pitches, was scared shitless. Really gotta admire baseball players who stand and face 90 mph fastballs! But it was a good experience.

After my little exercise, it was time for more excitement. Last year, I went to a Taiwanese professional baseball game between the Uni Lions and Elephants Brother. This year, I was in time for the Taiwan Series (sorta the Taiwanese version of USA’s World Series) to see the clash between the Uni Lions and the Lamigo Monkeys at Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium. It was interesting to see the changes to Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium. For one, they actually built the outfield stands, which I ended up sitting at. Probably not the best idea, given the drizzle. They also added a large TV screen, and I’m not sure if they do it all the time, but they actually had fireworks when the home team (Lamigo Monkeys) hits a home run.

Apart from the infrastructural changes, the atmosphere was also certainly different. The Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium is actually the real home stadium of the Lamigo Monkeys, and a lot of the Lamigo Monkeys’ supporters are from Taipei and Taoyuan. Needless to say, they came out in full force. Almost all the lower infield seats were filled up, and Monkeys fans also peppered the outfield stands. It sure was rowdy!

One of the many alleys in Zhongxiao area

An Alley Scene in Taipei (Zhongxiao E Road area)

Juanita Burrito & Tacos

Juanita Burritos & Tacos

Tacos from Juanita - steak, carnitas, chicken

Mmmm, tacos – steak, chicken and carnitas

Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium from the Outfield Stands

Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium

Taiwan Series 2012 - between Lamigo Monkeys and Uni Lions

Taiwan Series 2012 – Between the Uni Lions and Lamigo Monkeys

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Itinerary: Taiwan and Japan, 13-18 October 2012

13 October: Taipei, Taiwan

14 October: Taipei/Keelung, Taiwan (board Superstar Virgo)

15 October: Ishigaki, Japan

16 October: Naha, Japan

17 October: Keelung/Taipei, Taiwan (I have some plans to go watch the Taiwan series [baseball], but I’m not sure if it’ll work out)

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Taiwan – Taipei, 25 August 2011

Today was mostly a travel day. We flew by Cathay Pacific from Singapore to Taiwan, which meant that there was a stopover in Hong Kong, to change plans for our trip to Taipei.

We arrived in San Want Hotel in the heart of Taipei on Zhongxiao East Road at around 4 pm. It was located directly above Zhongxiao Dunhua station on the Taipei metro, making it really convenient to get around. It’s also a bustling shopping street for shopaholics, and the rooms are pretty nice. Recently, I’ve been hitting the gym, and I checked out the gym, which small as it was, was adequate with two good treadmills and a stationery bike.

Despite it being a travel day, it wasn’t a wasted day. My parents and the rest of my family went off to Danshui, while I decided to go check out some Taiwan professional baseball . They had a game going on in Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium, which was about 20 mins from Taipei via the High Speed Rail. They had a game going on that evening, between the Uni Lions and the Brother Elephants. I managed to get a student concession ticket for about 8 USD.

The ballpark was nice, but definitely way smaller than MLB stadiums. There are built more like college baseball stadiums, and the concession stands available were also kinda like that. So there were say, about six to seven concession stands. On a bright note, things were actually reasonably-priced in the ballpark, and I had the Taiwanese version of hotdog, which was a spicy sweet Taiwanese sausage wrapped in a glutinous rice sausage, that set me back by about 1.50 USD.

One of the things that Taiwanese baseball has going for it, is its incredible cheering. It was quite a mega affair. They have like a life band (like the school version), guys waving flags (at least three), and a guy yelling out team cheers with a loudhailer. The fans follow the commands of the guy with the loudhailer. It is really quite a sight to behold! Some of them include, “Get a hit, XXX [insert player’s name]” or “Hit a homerun, XXX [insert player’s name]”, and all the fans will chant that in unison. A second note about the fans – there are more stadiums than there are teams in Taiwanese professional baseball, and these stadiums are spread all over Taiwan. Some of the teams actually follow their team from stadium to stadium. That’s some true commitment there!

I didn’t stay to the end of the game. But it was definitely a good experience for me. Now, Korea is next on the list, and I’ll be done with Asian professional baseball!

Room in San Want Hotel

Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium

Taiwanese Version of Hotdog

Very impressive cheering in Taiwanese professional baseball

Categories: Events, Sports, Taiwan | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

USA – Peoria, Arizona, 20 March 2011

So, what could be so compelling, that I will drive more than five hours to the Grand Canyon, only to spend 1.5 hours there, and not a second more?

Baseball. Mariners Spring training to the be specific. That was the highlight of my trip. People have commented on my obsession with baseball/softball. I guess they realized it way before I did myself. Yes. I am willing to fly more than 3 hours, and drive more than 10 hours to attend a 2 hour game that is of absolutely no consequence. That is the distance that I am willing to go for baseball.

Well, after heading north from Peoria and dropping off the two at Grand Canyon, I backtracked, and drove solo for five hours to go for the 1 pm game at Peoria, Arizona. Despite my frustration at finding the Peoria Sports Complex, it was definitely worth it. The drive was pretty interesting; I actually saw some pretty huge cactus! And ball game was worth it. I got the super cheap seats, and Erik Bedard took the mount today. He had his stuff, and whiffed the San Diego Padres. Also, cheap as my seats were, I was actually super close to the bullpen, and guys like Michael Pineda, David Aarsdma and Brandon League were hanging out in the bullpen, so I got pretty close to them! I didn’t get to stay to the end of the game, as I had to drive back to Grand Canyon to pick the two, and head back to Vegas, but well, at least when I was leaving, the Mariners were winning. (I checked the scores a couple of days later – they won! :))

Another semi-highlight of the Peoria part of the trip was trying In-&-Out Burger. It’s a super popular joint in the Southwest, and I guess, particularly California? I asked for advice from J about what to order, since he’s quite a fan of it. His suggestion was great! I had the double meat, animal style, and fries well done (something like that), which translates to double meat burger with grilled onions and mustard, and super crunchy fries.

‘Twas a good day. Gave me enough adrenaline for the crazy 8 hour drive back to Grand Canyon. On the way, we stopped by a KFC that actually had a buffet. It’s a same that the KFC buffet was over by the time we got there. But as it was 10 buck 10 piece Sunday, we got ourselves a huge bucket, and stuffed our faces. It was oddly satisfying. KFC really doesn’t taste as bad as everyone makes it out to be!

A nice day of spring training baseball at Peoria, AZ

Mariners Bullpen

In&Out Burger. Left: Double Meat, Animal Style; Right, Cheeseburger

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USA – Las Vegas, 18 March 2011

After spending pretty much the whole of yesterday getting to Las Vegas from Seattle, today was our first touring day of our road trip. As the two have never seen snow or ski-ed prior to this, I suggested that we go to the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, after finding out that there’s skiing in Vegas (who would have thought!)

It was a pleasant drive for us getting to Indian Springs, where the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort was located (about 1hr from Vegas). Along the way, we passed by a penitentiary, where hitchhiking is prohibited! It was quite a desert landscape, with a lot of mirages. I probably wouldn’t want to be stuck out there!

Skiing – this was my second go at it. I definitely wished that I actually started out with this beginner hill, and not the one at Stevens Pass, and its steep straight stretches. This was definitely easy peasy, and not hard on the beginner. I did contemplate trying the intermediate slopes, but I chickened out in the end. I do have some slight regrets.

After we were done, we still had some time. After seeing the frozen custard of Las Vegas on some foodie show, I decided I had to try it (see Luv-It Frozen Custard . So, the other two obliged, and that brought us to north of Las Vegas Downtown. Instructions on the website are slightly vague, and while it was near the Stratosphere as mentioned, it did take us walking in four different directions before we found it. So you might want to download the specific address and check it out on google maps if you decide to go. Also, even though it might look closed from the road, walk towards the parking area. They have a window there.

I got a regular Western sundae with chocolate. At about five bucks, it was huge, and very rich and thick. For someone like me who can eat a whole pint of ice cream at one sitting, even this was a little hard for me to chow down. Lesson? Do not be greedy and go for anything more than a regular. It was worth a try.

After my fulfilling the foodie in me, I drove the two to outlet shopping south of downtown Vegas. Well, I can’t comment on that, since I just sat there while they went Singaporean shopping crazy. After their shopping trip, we finally headed to check out downtown Vegas. It was quite a fantasy land. It reminded me of one of those theme parks in China, which was supposed to showcase the world, with the Eiffel Tower of Paris Hotel and New York imported to the middle of the Nevada desert, and condensed into a one mile strip. It was quite an experience, and it was also crazy crowded. Driving through this took some patience.

We had an early night, as the next day involved a lot of driving.

Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

Luv-It Frozen Custard

Western Sundae with Chocolate

Downtown Las Vegas

Eiffel Tower in Vegas

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