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I Climbed Taipei 101 and Lived

On May 7, I participated in the Taipei 101 Run Up, a race up 91 floors of Taiwan’s tallest building and the fourth-tallest building in the world. This year’s first place runner was an Australian who finished in 11 minutes 24 seconds, a time that I didn’t even come close to matching. It was the 13th year for the race, which attracted 4,500 participants from 36 101

My goal wasn’t to finish with a great time, but to simply finish and be able to say I’ve done it.

To put this race in perspective, I paid TWD1,000 (US$33) to climb the 2,046 steps of Taipei 101 when there is an express elevator to the 89th floor observation deck for  TWD600 (US$20). I wanted a t-shirt that says “I paid NT$1,000 to climb Taipei 101 when the elevator was cheaper.”

For those who don’t know, the view from the 91st floor outdoor observation deck isn’t great–you can’t see down because of the building obscuring the view, but you can get a better view from the 89th floor, which I didn’t get to stop on when going back down (via the elevator, of course).

Taipei 101 run up

The race pack with my shirt, bib, and tracking chip

Preparing for the race

I’m not in the best shape. Sure, I go on some long bike rides and hikes, but I’ve never been in great shape. And at 37, I’m a bit past my prime. I’ve never entered a race of any kind before this. But I wasn’t the oldest competitor, nor was I the most out-of-shape. There were plenty of people who looked like they were much worse shape.

I had one month to really prepare for the run from the time I got confirmation that I was signed up. I did not train too hard in the first couple weeks though. Unfortunately, the pay-by-the-hour gym around the corner from my apartment closed back October, so I had to find another way of training. A few months ago, Yonghe District opened a public gym that was only a short (free) YouBike ride away.


Only a short walk up the mountain for this view

I tried out the stair climber machine, but realized that it’s nearly impossible to move quickly and it works the wrong muscles for actually climbing stairs. I focused more on the elliptical with the tension set higher, which was a little closer to climbing stairs.

I also set out to hike a little more in between the rainstorms. The easiest trail to take was Elephant Mountain (locally called Xiangshan), which is really a quick hike straight up the stairs. It’s so quick that I realized I could hike it in nine and a half minutes. I figured this hike is a little less than half of Taipei 101 without the turns in the stairwell.

In my final week of training I hiked it twice (22 minutes for both trips up, plus about 30 minutes going down). Two days before the race, I hiked from Tiger Mountain to Elephant Mountain along the trail that brought me past 9-5 Peak for a total of two hours. I remember that last hike being easier and shorter, but the last time I attempted it I was three years younger.

taipei 101 run up medal

Because race participants are 3rd graders, we all got a participation medal

In between all that there were a few bike rides, including a 27-mile ride to the northwest corner of Taipei at the confluence of the Tamsui and Keelung rivers–the views out that way are beautiful and it is my favorite bike ride in the city.

Starting the Taipei 101 Run Up

I arrived early. My early sign up meant that I had an earlier start time and I had to go through a health and security check around 9 am on the day of the race. Of course, they neglected to put up any signs at the MRT exit pointing to the health check area, which was on the other side of the building. I had to ask multiple people who told me it was just around the corner (that doesn’t mean other side of a building where I’m from).

Taipei 101 run up

Waiting to start the race

Other than that inconvenience, the rest of the time was spent waiting around a trying to stretch a little before the run. Also, I had the chance to drink some water and use the restroom before my group started. I know, it sounds exhilarating.

The actual run

I started out just fine, but the stairs were a little crowded at first–it all thinned out around the 10th floor as people either pulled ahead or began to lag behind. At that point I began wondering what the hell I was doing. “This is only the 10th floor!?” I thought, “This is not going to go well.”

I kept going despite my legs screaming at me to stop. Most of the people in my race group stopped on landings for a breath or at the water stations on every fifth floor (I stopped once for water somewhere around the 70th floor).

taipei 101 run up tattoo

I didn’t get a temporary tattoo

It was around the eighth floor that I noticed one guy who appeared to be in good shape taking two steps at a time at quick pace, and I thought this guy came to race. A few floors later, I saw him stopped in the corner catching his breath as I passed him at my more moderate pace. I never saw him again.

I’ll admit I took a few stops along the way, but I tried to not let my tired legs linger for more than 10 seconds at a time. I caught my breath and continued–I found that a brief break allowed my legs to rest enough for at least another five or so floors.

Taipei 101 observatory

View from the 91st floor observatory

By the time I hit the 80th floor, I felt confident I could make it without any more rests. I was ready to get up to the top and finish the race.

I finally reached the top. I thought my time was better than reality (I guess some of the walk from the start to the stairs and the landings made it a little longer). I thought I had finished in under 25 minutes, but it turned out to be 27 minutes 43 seconds. Either way, it was faster than one step per second, which would’ve put me at 34 minutes.

taipei 101 run up

The crowded finish line

At the 91st floor, I found a large crowd waiting around the finish line and groups taking photos. I didn’t want to get stuck in the crowd and opted for a quick elevator ride back to the lobby (actually it was three separate elevators; seriously, who designed the building to be so inefficient with elevators?).

korean bbq

Mmm…Korean barbecue

After the race, I met up with a few friends for Korean barbecue nearby at Honey Pig. I stuffed myself stupid and had a bit of makgeolli before going home to shower and pass out.

Charity Run for Cambodian Landmine Relief Fund

My friend Sherry and I impulsively signed up to participate in the Taipei 101 Run Up on May 7, and we decided we could use the opportunity to raise money for the Cambodian Landmine Relief Fund (LMRF). I’ve mentioned this organization before as I visited their museum in Siem Reap while on a bike ride.

As the race is 2,046 steps and there are two of us, our goal is to raise a minimum of $2 per step for a total of $4,092. Obviously we hope to raise more than that minimum.

Why Cambodian Landmine Relief Fund?

I suggested the organization and Sherry agreed. I like LMRF because they do more than just remove landmines and unexploded bombs from Cambodia; they also help build schools and provide scholarships for local students.

landmine museum

Collection of landmines recovered by the Landmine Relief Fund

I also know that they have low overhead costs, so more of the donations go to help Cambodians rather than to pay people running the organization. After talking with former US Army Lieutenant Bill Morse at the Landmine Museum, I learned a lot more than I thought I could about Cambodia and the work that needs to be done.

For Americans who want to donate, LMRF is a US-registered non-profit and donations are tax deductible.

Where does the money go?

All funds will go directly to Landmine Relief Fund.

According to the LMRF website:

  • It cost $3 per month to support one child in an RSVP school. This includes a Village iPad (chalkboard), notebooks, and writing utensils.
  • The cost of a school for the Rural School Village program is $5,000 per room.  That includes desks and chalkboards. We usually build 4 or 5 room schools.
  • The cost for a toilet block and water well for the students and village is $1,250 each.
  • The monthly cost of running a demining mission is $20,000.
  • The cost to keep our EOD teams in the field is $6,250 per month per team

What is the Taipei 101 Run Up?

It’s a race up the stairs at Taiwan’s tallest skyscaper. We will run up 2,046 stairs, which doesn’t sound like much, but consider that if we climb one step per second it will take 34 minutes to reach the top. The record for the race is 10 minutes 29 seconds. Neither Sherry nor I plan on coming close to that record. We hope to finish in 30 minutes and not be dead last in the race. We will be racing against 2,998 other individuals, so there’s a good chance some people will be less physically fit than we 101 xiangshan

We realize that this run is crazy, but we’re willing to do it (and there will be medical staff at the race).

How can I donate to Landmine Relief Fund?

Go to their website or directly to their PayPal donation page. We are not handling any of the money. I had considered using a third-party website, but they charge high fees to raise money for non-profits. This is the most efficient way to raise money.

You can also send their US office a check if you don’t have PayPal or don’t trust it. Information is on their website.

Please add a note when donating to LMRF that it’s for Matthew and Sherry’s ridiculous run up the stairs (you don’t need to use those exact words, but you can just say its for Taipei 101 Run Up).

What do I get for donating?

You get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ll make a difference in the world. And if you make a significant donation, you can email me at matthew.lubin[at] and I will send you a thank you postcard. Or you can go to the contact page.

So come on and help us reach our goal and support a worthy cause! Donate today!

Fighting Crowds at the Taipei Lantern Festival

The Taipei Lantern Festival opened on Feb. 4, and I decided to check it out. I haven’t done anything on Lantern Festival (元宵節) since I lived in China, and back then it mostly entailed eating tangyuan (湯圓), a glutinous rice ball filled with sesame. It was not something I enjoyed eating.

mazu lantern

Cartoon sculpture of Mazu by Wei Zong Cheng

In case you don’t know, Lantern Festival is the 15th day of the lunar year in China/Taiwan. It marks the end of the New Year celebrations (at least that was about when the fireworks stopped when I lived in China) and its origins date back to the Han Dynasty. This year, the holiday falls on Feb. 11, but Taiwan likes to extend its celebrations.

Beimen Lantern Festival

Projections on Beimen

As I had to write an article about Lantern Festival celebrations around Taiwan, I decided I might as well check out at least one of them (the nearest one sounded best). I wasn’t too thrilled about it being held at Ximending as it’s a crowded area filled with tourists and locals shopping–I hadn’t been to this area of Taipei in over a year.

rooster lantern

A young girl holds a rooster lantern

What I expected to see was plenty of traditional lanterns hanging along the streets as well as artistic light displays–I saw some photos of the light installations at the Taichung Lantern Festival and thought Taipei might have something similar. I was disappointed. However, there were some interesting art displays.beimen lantern festival

The only light show I saw was the projection on Beimen (north gate), which was built in 1884, 11 years before Japanese occupation. Fortunately, I managed to get a lot of photos of the projections on the gate as it was the most interesting and least crowded display.beimen lantern festival

The closer I got to Ximending from Beimen, the more crowded the sidewalk became–and it’s a wide sidewalk along that road. At the center of Ximending was the main stage, where a Japanese band was performing (my friend said they were worth seeing). I couldn’t get anywhere near that stage.

Ximending lantern festival

Stage area in Ximending

As I gave up getting closer to the performance, I decided to take a few steps back toward the intersection to check out the art/light displays across the street. Even with the sound system, I couldn’t hear the music over the sound of the traffic that hadn’t been blocked from the area. The city expected 300,000 people to visit the area on the first night and they still allowed traffic to flow as usual!

taipei lantern festival

School lantern displays

It was difficult to cross the street as hundreds of people were bumping into one another in the crosswalk with cars and motorbikes in the cross street. This was absurd. At this point I gave up and headed back toward Beimen on the opposite side of the street.

taipei lantern festival

The street lights and traffic

I found some more fun lantern displays around Zhongshan Hall–it looked like they were all made or designed by local schools. Some were definitely better than others.

taipei lantern festival

Classical music performance behind Zhongshan Hall

There wasn’t much else going on along the walk back to the metro station, so I decided I had had enough. The crowd had drained all my energy (or what little I had for the day). I had finally experienced Lantern Festival in Taipei and I was fine with avoiding it for as long as I remain in Taiwan.

Have you ever attended a crowded event and only been disappointed? What was the event and why was it disappointing?

Remains of the Vietnam War

“So I guess every generation is doomed to fight its war, to endure the same old experiences, suffer the loss of the same old illusions, and learn the same old lessons on its own.”
Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War

My friend Lonnie at Veteran Traveler reminded me that this week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War.

Poster outside the War Remnants Museum in Saigon

Poster outside the War Remnants Museum in Saigon

I visited some of the memorial sites in Vietnam–the Hanoi Hilton, the War Remnants Museum, the Presidential Palaces in Hanoi and Saigon, and the Cu Chi tunnels. I also learned a lot about the horrors of the war across the border in Cambodia while visiting the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap. While the museums in Vietnam had plenty of propaganda, there was also truth in the portrayal of horrific acts of war–the long-term effects of Agent Orange were on display in the War Remnants Museum, and the pictures were difficult to even look at. Of course, Vietnam overlooks its own treatment of POWs during that time, but that’s par for the course around Asia (e.g. Japan’s actions during WWII, China’s actions in Vietnam and at home).

Most likely used by Vietnam during its invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent war with China

Most likely used by Vietnam during its invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent war with China

But I didn’t plan to write about the museums and perceptions of the Vietnam War. The idea was to reflect on the war and the people affected by it. There are still people suffering from that era–US veterans with PTSD, Vietnamese and Cambodians born with deformities due to Agent Orange. People in Cambodia are still dying because of landmines left behind by multiple countries that littered the country with the explosive devices–injuries related to such explosive devices increased 35% in Cambodia last year.

There were many more similar signs around Cambodia

There were many more similar signs around Cambodia

And while reading the news today, it appears that we have not learned from history. Our governments are still controlled by military arms manufacturers–just look at the bloated military budgets.

Collection of landmines recovered by the Landmine Relief Fund

Collection of landmines recovered by the Landmine Relief Fund

According to Veterans Affairs, 30% of Vietnam vets suffer from PTSD. Another 11-20% of the most recent Iraqi War veterans also suffer from PTSD. There has been a 50% increase in diagnosed cases in the last year.

There is more than enough pain and suffering to go around.

If you’d like to help relieve some of the suffering, you can check out these organizations (and I’m sure there are many more worthwhile ones out there):

Taiwanese Election Tanks

“I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth”
-John Lennon, Just Gimme Some Truth

I arrived in time for the political campaigns in Taiwan. There are campaign offices everywhere around the city and trucks driving around with loudspeakers telling people to vote for one candidate or the other (I can’t comment about the candidates because I have no idea who these people are). These loudspeakers around the streets get rather annoying, especially when I’m trying to sleep or work. At least the campaign is change from the huge protests I witnessed last time I was in the city.

Sometimes the campaigns are amusing and/or confusing.election-tank

The other day I came across this campaign vehicle while walking around Taipei. I’m not sure what the political party is or the candidate, but I would guess that the agenda is related to an anti-mainland China doctrine filled with larger purchases of military equipment from the U.S. Nothing says vote for me like a campaign tank.

Protests and Police

“And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go”
-Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

On this Monday morning I’m still catching up on the chaos in Hong Kong. The Occupy Central and pro-democracy movements came together on September 28, marching through the business districts in Central. The peaceful protest even attempted to leave at least one lane of traffic open but couldn’t contain so many people who joined the march. Police took action later in the day, demanding that the protesters disperse or risk being fired upon. Then the tear gas was fired, and the police response was harsh. Foreign Policy has a more in depth explanation of what’s going on in Hong Kong.

As I browsed Twitter last night to read the accounts of the police response and view some of the photos, I remembered how many protests I witnessed during my time in Asia. While I was in Cambodia there were worker strikes and political protests in Phnom Penh, but all I saw of it was police in riot gear guarding main streets while I rode in my tuk-tuk on the way to the airport. That particular day was filled with violence in the streets of the capital. The majority of the protests in Cambodia were for an increase in the minimum wage for factory workers–many make less than $100 per month, and fashion retailers recently agreed to raise the minimum pay to about $100 per month.

Guess I won't have that relaxing walk through the park today

Police barricades in Peace Park, Taipei, Taiwan

When I reached Taiwan, the student movement had occupied and effectively shut down the government. I visited the protest site at the Executive Yuan only a couple days before the police “evicted” the students with water canons and batons. A couple weeks later I stumbled on a peaceful march near Peace Park, which was surrounded by temporary barbed-wire barricades. I again found myself in the middle of a protest while walking around at night not far from my apartment–a smaller march converged at a major intersection just a short walk from the government buildings and blocked traffic for about 20 minutes.

Protesters and TV news at the Executive Yuan in Taipei

The protests were quite organized and not too difficult to navigate through the crowds

I arrived in Korea a short time after the Suwol ferry accident, and encountered many small anti-government protests in relation to the accident. The government was blamed for a lack of oversight and enforcement of safety regulations. The ferry accident led to the prime minister’s resignation.

The protest in Seoul was small and surrounded by police

The protest in Seoul was small and surrounded by police

The protests were small and confined to parks, but there was always a large police presence. I lost count of the number of police buses parked along the roads–there were easily a hundred. These protests had a few dozen people, but there were hundreds of police to ensure that the protests didn’t get out of hand.

This seems necessary for a small protest

This seems necessary for a small protest

I have witnessed the protests and even some of the police responses to those protests, but I have no participated in the actions. As I am not a citizen or even long-term resident of any of these places, it was not my place to stand in solidarity with the protesters even though, for the most part, I supported their causes.

Have you ever encountered protests or political unrest while traveling? How did you handle the situation?

Take Me Out to the Korean Ballgame

I finally got to see a baseball game in Asia.

Mokdong Stadium, Seoul

Mokdong Stadium, Seoul

I could go in Japan because I was there during the playoffs, and good luck getting a ticket for that. I tried again in Taipei, but the ballpark was difficult to get to–about an hour and a half from central Taipei by train and bus. Getting to a ballgame in Korea is just easier.

The pitchers in the home team bullpen look a bit bored

The pitchers in the home team bullpen look a bit bored

My coworker made getting to the game even easier–she lives near Mokdong Stadium, which is only about 40 minutes on the metro from my apartment. I have been talking to her about going to a game since my first week here–I suppose I was finally annoying enough that she agreed to get tickets.

Play ball! I have no idea who's at bat

Play ball! I have no idea who’s at bat

It’s not easy getting into a game when you have no idea who the players are and you don’t have a favorite team. I just went along with the Nexen Heroes because they were the home team. But it was an semi-entertaining game. There were a lot of home runs (hit by the visiting team), and a 9th inning rally by the home team that was just too little, too late.

The Nexen Heroes mascot is no Mr. Met

The Nexen Heroes mascot is no Mr. Met

I learned quite a bit about Korean baseball. Even the visiting team brings cheerleaders to its section–and they were quite loud while their team was at bat. And Korean teams have a lot of chants and songs for fans to sing. I also learned that the Korean pronunciation of Heroes has four syllables (I thought I only heard three, but I was corrected). If I lived here, I’d have to learn Korean to sing along with the team songs.

The programs have quite a few pages of fashion advice

The programs have quite a few pages of fashion advice

Seats in the outfield, from third base outward, are not assigned–you can sit wherever you want with those tickets. And the stadium doesn’t care if you bring your own food and beer into the stadium–we bought a few beers at the grocery store and fried chicken in the parking lot; other spectators brought in pizza. And concessions weren’t nearly as overpriced as Yankee Stadium (or any ballpark in the US for that matter).

Taipei Protests, Part 3

On my way to find something new for dinner, I encountered yet another protest in Taipei. This is again related to the China-Taiwan cross-straits trade deal. If we count the anti-nuclear protest during my second week here, this would be the fourth the protest I’ve witnessed.

First view of the protest

First view of the protest

Unlike the previous protests, this one seemed less organized, unless you count the police. The crowd obstructed the major intersection at Shandao Temple Station toward the end of rush hour. This area is not far from Executive Yuan and other government buildings, but those buildings are still blocked off by plenty of temporary barbed wire barricades. This time around, I noticed the police using a small surveillance drone to monitor the situation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a clear picture of it.Taipei-protest-crowd-4-29

I came across the protest at close to 7 pm, and it looked like a couple hundred people in the streets. Traffic seemed to avoid the intersection except for a few angry motorists who turned around. After about 15 minutes, more traffic approached the intersection–it seemed that the police stopped telling drivers to go around. At this point, it was mostly motorbikes that decided to push through the crowd, angering the protesters–there were a few shouting matches. Finally, the crowd thinned out and moved down the street.

A few protesters tried to direct traffic to avoid more confrontations with drivers

A few protesters tried to direct traffic to avoid more confrontations with drivers

Paper Pandas Invade Taipei

A couple weeks ago, I got to see the paper pandas from the World Wildlife Fund on display between the National Concert Hall and National Theater, which are right next to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.

Pandas hanging out near the gate

Pandas hanging out near the gate

The display contained more than 1000 pandas and some other bears that have been touring around Taiwan.

With the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in the background

With the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in the background

Unfortunately, the bright lights from the theater and concert hall made some photo angles a bit difficult–I would’ve liked to see the buildings more clearly as they are quite impressive.

Some of the pandas even wore hats for the occasion

Some of the pandas even wore hats for the occasion

The pandas are the work of French artist Paulo Grangeon and supposedly made from recycled paper.pandas2

Protest Marches on in Taipei

sunflower movement

The sunflower movement took to the streets on Sunday in Taipei

After stopping by the protests at Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, I figured I probably wouldn’t see much more during my stay. I knew there were still protests going on around the government buildings–some professors are even holding classes for students at the protests.

Protesters marching down the street outside Peace Park

Protesters marching down the street outside Peace Park

Of course, it would help if I’d pay attention to announcements about such things going on in my current home.protest-march2

On Sunday I headed to Peace Park and the National Taiwan Museum for a day out. When I exited the train at NTU Hospital Station, I was surprised to see so many people–and why were all these others taking pictures at the station? As I exited the station I was surrounded by people in black shirts holding sunflowers (the symbol of the protest movement) and police.

The friendly Taipei police are ready to stop you from going anywhere

The friendly Taipei police are ready to stop you from going anywhere

Peace Park was mostly blocked off with intimidating temporary barbed wire barriers and police. Even some of the nearby streets were blocked off with the barriers.

Welcome to Peace Park

Welcome to Peace Park

After I was finished with the National Museum, I headed back to the station to see what more was going on with all the protesters. The crowd had grown significantly and they were marching down the main street.

Guess I won't have that relaxing walk through the park today

Guess I won’t have that relaxing walk through the park today

Estimates of the size of the crowd ran from 100,000 to 400,000 depending on which side of the argument you ask.

That can't be good for business

That can’t be good for business

Taipei in Protest

It isn’t getting much coverage in the media outside Taiwan, but there is a huge student protest here in Taipei. I saw the news as it first happened, but really didn’t know much about it. Then I was invited to have a look on Friday night.

The protests were quite organized and not too difficult to navigate through the crowds

The protests were quite organized and not too difficult to navigate through the crowds

The protest started a few days ago, led by students and even organized by a few members of parliament. At issue is a trade pact between Taiwan and mainland China that the students claim serves no one but mainland China. The pact was supposed to undergo a close review in parliament, but President Ma Ying-jeou passed it with an executive order rather than parliamentary approval.

Have to have a map to know where you're protesting

Have to have a map to know where you’re protesting

In an effort to overturn this trade pact, the at least 200 students occupied the Legislative Yuan, the equivalent of the US Capitol. They have effectively shut down their own government. Add to that the thousands of others protesting outside.

Police blocking the entrance

Police blocking the entrance

The protests supposedly aren’t only about the trade pact, but about the perceived lack of government transparency and democracy in Taiwan. There are also many people who don’t want closer ties to mainland China–this seems to be the difference between average citizens and businesses that would be happy to have mainland investors and tourists.

Even some high school students got in on the protests

Even some high school students got in on the protests

There are reports today that riot police have been breaking up the protests and may remove the protesters from the legislative chambers.

Ai Weiwei at Princeton

fountainBefore I head out on my next big adventure, I decided to visit my friend at Princeton University. Unfortunately, my friend hasn’t been in the area long and doesn’t know most of the buildings on campus. We walked around a bit so I could see at least some of the architecture around campus. Fortunately, he did know of one stop that was of interest.

Last year, Princeton brought the art of Ai Weiwei (艾未未) to campus. For those who aren’t familiar with Ai’s work, he’s a controversial figure in modern China–he’s been arrested, harassed, and injured by China’s police. He is also banned from traveling outside China. He also helped design the 2008 Beijing Olympic stadium (the Bird’s Nest). He became more of political activist after the Olympics, for which he has faced a few charges. He has become more popular on the international stage in recent years.zodiac_heads

Princeton brought Ai Weiwei’s Chinese zodiac heads for a year-long display outside Robertson Hall. The zodiac heads are modern representations of the ones that were pillaged from the old Summer Palace by British and French forces in 1860. Some of the original bronze sculptures were auctioned off by Christie’s in France in 2009, generating outrage from China (and even a winning Chinese bidder who refused to pay).dragon

The original bronze sculptures aren’t all that interesting; the history behind them is all that makes them significant. Ai Weiwei’s recreation of the heads is more impressive–there’s more artistic detail in his version. Also, the surrounding fountain adds to the atmosphere for viewing such artwork.tiger

Despite spending three and a half years in China, this was my first encounter with the artwork of Ai Weiwei.

At the Ball Game After 20 Years

A few weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook that he and his relatives couldn’t use their season tickets for a Yankees game and were looking for someone to take all three seats. I got my brother and friend to go along–my friend and I had been talking about going to a Yankees game for over a year.yankees

I really wanted to see the new stadium. It had been a long time since I last saw a baseball game, and even longer since I saw a game in the Bronx. My last Yankees game was before the strike in 1994–my friend and I almost got crushed getting Don Mattingly’s autograph.

My last game was in 2005; my friends came to visit and wanted to get cheap seats to see the Rockies in Denver. I remember walking up to the ticket booth just before the first pitch and paying a few extra dollars for non-bleacher seats. I think our tickets were $7 each. Our tickets to Yankee Stadium were not even close to that cheap, even for the second to last row behind home plate.

Even from back here I can tell Brett Gardner is up

Even from back here I can tell Brett Gardner is up

Despite the nosebleed seats, we had a great view of the game and weren’t out in the sun. Unfortunately, the game was very boring–very few hits (even fewer by the Yankees). We did get a kick out of the guy across the aisle reading a book for most of the game–that about sums up the excitement of the afternoon.

At least now I can say I’ve been to a game, even though I didn’t get to see Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera (or A-Rod before he’s suspended into retirement).

Alligator Is Seafood, Right?

seafood_festivalOn Saturday, I joined my friends for the Belmar Seafood Festival. I haven’t been to the Jersey Shore in a long time (a few years ago I drove to Cape May during the off-season), and this was my first trip south on NJ Transit. It was two hours on the commuter train, but it was more relaxing than driving on the Garden State Parkway.

After a day of torrential rain throughout the state, the festival grounds by the beach were covered in hay, but we still managed to get muddy and sink into the ground a bit. I was certainly glad that I wore sneakers instead of sandals–I  saw a few muddy feet.Belmar_beach

My first stop on the seafood fest tour was a little Cajun booth that sold alligator sausage for $8. I have to admit, the meat didn’t really taste any different from a pork sausage, but the Cajun seasoning made it great. It was definitely the best food available.alligator_sausage

Most of the food stands were the same, but there were a few that stood out. I found buffalo fried clam strips, which were pretty good. The second-best booth was Jamaican fish–I ordered the jerk fish, which had an amazing sauce. I only wish the fish had been a little larger.

Crayfish and jerk fish

Crayfish and jerk fish

My friends also ordered crayfish, crab cakes, softshell crab (with a mango sauce), calamari, and a few other things I can’t quite remember. I’ve never been much of a fan of crayfish–I see it as too much work for too little food. The calamari definitely wasn’t as good as at the Hoboken Pilsner Haus. But the softshell crab and crab cakes were pretty good choices.

More seafood variety

More seafood variety

We also sampled the beer tent. It was a choice of four Leinenkugel beers from Wisconsin. I opted for the imperial IPA and Baltic Porter–I figured I might as well get the higher alcohol beers if I was paying $6 per beer in a plastic cup. The imperial IPA, at 8.9% abv, was quite smooth–the hops weren’t overpowering, but the flavor went well with seafood. The Baltic porter, at 8.5% abv, was much heavier and didn’t sit as well after all the seafood–as my friend put it, the beer had more of an alcohol flavor.

The flamingo looks hungry

The flamingo looks hungry

After we finished eating, we headed to Point Pleasant to walk the post-Sandy repaired boardwalk. I forgot how cheesy and expensive the Jersey Shore boardwalks were. But there was a shop that sold ice cream and waffles.

Jersey City on a Bike

Sunday was the 4th annual Bike JC Jersey City Ward Tour. Starting from Exchange Place, the 600-plus cyclists (I assume since my bib number was 624–I can’t find official numbers) leisurely rode 15 miles through the streets of Jersey City to see each of the six wards.Bike JC

Like last year, it was well organized (even started on time this year) with the police and volunteers blocking intersections for the participants to ride safely.

I decided not to stop anywhere aside from the three designated meetup locations for photos. Last year I ended up at the end of the crowd because I kept stopping for photos that really didn’t come out that great anyway.

Sure looks like a lot of people. And I think i was in the middle.

Sure looks like a lot of people. And I think i was in the middle.

Though it was a bit warmer than I would’ve liked, the weather was great for the ride–the huge thunderstorm didn’t roll through until much later.wardtour_exchangeplace

And at the end of the ride, it was nice to hang around Exchange Place and enjoy some empanadas and beer while watching the local bands on stage.