Why I went to Japan

Posted by Mark

The main reason I went to Japan was for the Electraglide music event which turned out to be so worth the trip. The event was held in two huge halls with a third larger hall between them that served as a refreshment area with picnic tables all around. There were 15 acts playing there that night with the event starting at 9PM and finishing by 6AM. There were always 2 acts playing at the same time so people spent a lot of time flip flopping between the 2 halls which was actually pretty fun to do.

My favorite acts that night had to be Orbital, Squarepusher and Flying Lotus. Once we were done from the event we headed straight to the Tsukiji fish market for some fresh sushi for breakfast which worked out perfect since I don’t think I would have been able to wake up that early any other day. I took a lot of pictures that night but I’m just gonna share some of my favorite ones I had up on Instagram which you can see below. Oh and I’m back.

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The strangest stuff I’ve eaten in Japan so far

Posted by Mark

By strange I mean borderline gross. Click on the link below to see all the pictures along with their descriptions.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Taxis in Tokyo

Posted by Mark

Just a little cool thing I like about the taxis in Tokyo. They have doors that open and close automatically! [YouTube]

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Japan: Day 1

Posted by Mark

I love this place! Make sure you follow me on Instagram I’m posting tons of pictures there. @mark248am

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Posted by Mark

I’m off to Tokyo for a few days and will be back next week. I’m going to Electraglide Friday night which should kick ass since Orbital, DJ Krush, Kode9 and Flying Lotus will be playing sets among others.

If anyone has any recommendation of where to go let me know. I am looking for weird stuff.

Update: I forgot to add that I’ll be constantly be posting pictures on my Instagram account so follow me @mark248am or check out my online profile [Here]

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Zuma Restaurant – Dubai

Posted by Mark

I don’t go to Dubai much but when I do a friend of mine always nags me to pass by and try Zuma. Zuma is a trendy contemporary Japanese restaurant located near Burj Khalifa in DIFC. I had to book a table a few days before arriving to Dubai since it’s pretty difficult to find a table on the weekends.

The place looked amazing at night with a really high ceiling and great use of light. When we sat down we were given the menu but I already knew what I wanted since I already had some recommendations from friends. We went with rock shrimp and a salmon dish for our starters along with steamed Edamame. For our main course we went with two of their specialities, the black cod and spicy beef. We also ordered sweet corn and sweet potato for our side dishes and I finished up with their chocolate fondant.

Since I had heard so much about the place I had very high expectations and so wasn’t really impressed with our starters. The rock shrimp was similar to other rock shrimps I’ve had in Kuwait and the salmon appetizer was also very familiar. But, things quickly improved after that. The sweet potato arrived before our main course and it was crazy good, I hadn’t had anything like it before. The sweet potato was glazed with teriyaki sauce and topped with sesame, I’d order it again in a heart beat. Our black cod and spicy beef dishes arrived a short while later along with our sweet corn with shiso butter. The corn was cut into blocks around 5 kernels high and had sticks in them. They were very easy to eat (like popsicles) and were full of flavor, another side dish I’d highly recommend. The spicy beef dish was super tender and had a sesame, red chili and sweet soy sauce. Although it was great I’d probably try something different the next time I’m there. Now the black cod dish is the reason why I decided to even post about Zuma. The black cod is marinated in miso and wrapped in hoba leaf. When it arrives the waiter opens up the leaf for you and rubs a bit of ginger onto it. I really don’t think I have the vocabulary to beging to describe the flavor, I didn’t expect it to be that good and I loved it. This is really the dish you have to order if you ever go to Zuma. We ended dinner with their special chocolate fondant. For some reason they thought it was Nat’s birthday and it arrived with a candle and happy birthday scribbled with chocolate. Luckily no loud banging and singing was accompanied with the dessert.

I really had a great experience and if you’ve never been it’s definitely worth passing by the next time you’re in Dubai. Our bill came out KD95 but that included a KD35 bottle of wine and a 15% tip. Without the wine it’s basically KD30 a person which is pretty reasonable for the quality of food you’re getting. The two main dishes cost around KD12.5 each which I think is underpriced compared to some of the more expensive dishes I’ve had here in Kuwait. If you’re interested make sure you call and book in advance so you’re not disappointed. Their number is +971 4 425 5660 and here is the link to their [Website]

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La Reserve – Lebanon

Posted by Mark

When I was in Lebanon over Eid a friend of mine told me about a place called La Reserve. It’s a location deep inside Lebanon where you could do a bunch of outdoor activities under the supervision of experts. We decided to turn it into a two day plan, first we’d camp for the night in a beautiful isolated area and then the next day we’d head to La Reserve which would be around a two hour drive from our campsite.

Camping was great, it had been ages since I had done it and I completely missed it.

Next morning we woke up at dawn and headed towards La Reserve.

Those of you who’ve been to Lebanon or know Lebanon, La Reserve is located in an area called Afqa and once you hit Jbeil (Byblos) it’s around an hour and a half drive from there. The road starts really great and wide but once we started hitting the old villages the roads turned narrow and slow. We finally reached the destination and we met up with the people running the place and they told us to choose our activities. We chose the zip-line, rappelling, rock climbing, mountain biking and caving.

We started with the zip-line which turned out to be pretty disappointing. The zip-line is a cable line that’s tied at both ends and you get hooked onto it and zip down the line. It was really unexciting and very short. A snoozer and I’d skip this activity. The second activity we did was rappelling. This was also unexciting. Rappelling is when you descend a rock cliff using a rope (pictured above). You hold the rope with two hands and when you open your hands you start to drop and when you close your hands you stop. The best part is your first step off the cliff but after that there really isn’t much to it. Looks harder than it is but really gravity is doing all the work. After rappelling we did mountain biking which was horrible. The bikes were rusted with deflated tires and the road was a brutal uphill filled with rocks. I kept wishing I had brought my own bike since the view was a killer and I just wanted to keep going but the bike was falling apart.

So really this whole two hour trip was starting to look like a waste and you’re probably wondering why I’m even posting about it. Well after the bike ride everything got so much better. First we had lunch which was your typical Lebanese mezza followed by grills but everything we had was delicious and unexpected since we weren’t really expecting anything good from them by this point.

Once we were done with lunch we headed to the rock climbing area. This turned out to be a lot of fun, like the best fun I’ve had in ages. It was exhausting, difficult and I personally left with a lot of cuts and bruises all over but I repeat, it was A LOT of fun. If you’ve ever done the climbing wall at Marina Waves then this is kinda similar except instead of climbing up an artificial wall you’re climbing up a real cliff. They have different cliff faces to climb each with a different degree of difficulty going from level 1 up to 7. It was such a blast that I’d go back just for that. We managed to get to complete levels 1 to 3 but by then the sun was starting to set and we had one more activity to do, caving.

We were all tired and none of us wanted to do it. We thought it was going to be a waste of time but they told us the cave was located on the road out of the village and we could try it out, 5 minutes in if we did’t like it we could leave. So we went for it and good thing we did since it turned out to be an unbelievable experience.

The cave is around 6km long and still not fully discovered. It’s not a cave that’s been prepped for tourists with lights and walking paths and it’s definitely not for anyone that feels claustrophobic. The only lights we had were the ones on our helmets. When we first walked into the cave we had to go through a hole in the wall (pictured above) that was less than meter in diameter and required us to crawl in the muddy ground for a few meters before we got to the other side. The idea of being in this dead space inside the mountain with no phone signal and no lights except for the ones on our helmets was just freaky.

We kept going in climbing down wet and slippery rocks in out of different large rooms only to go back into extremely tight and long crawl holes (pictured above) and then up steep ledges. It was scary and fun both at the same time. Since it was Lebanon the guides decided to take a smoke break half way through the trip. It’s like WTF we’re in a cave! Then at one point we had to choose between two options, a passageway with freezing water up to our shoulders or another tight low ceiling and long passageway. I think that was the only problem with the caving, is the fact we weren’t told what to expect and so we weren’t dressed appropriately.

An hour later we finally came out in another location from where we started and it was just breathtaking. After being in the dark cave for an hour we came out as the sun was setting into an open space that wouldn’t look out of place in Jurassic Park. It was so beautiful and it was a relief to finally be out in the open again. I loved the whole experience.

If anyone is planning a trip to Lebanon I highly recommend you book a day with La Reserve. I’d go back again and spend the first half of the day rock climbing and the second half freaking out in the dark cave. Lunch was also fantastic and the price for a whole day full of activities and lunch came out to be just $58 per person. That’s it. I can’t think of anything you could do in Lebanon for a full day thats as fun and for just $58. So if you’re interested in outdoor activities check them out. Here is a link to their [Website]

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Follow me on my vacation

Posted by Mark

I’m currently on vacation in Lebanon and get back to Kuwait tomorrow. While here I’ve been taking a lot of great shots of my activities which you can check out on Instagram [Here]

Will be posting in detail about them once I get back.

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Travel Bans

Posted by Mark

So it’s like 5 in the morning, I’m at the airport, just finished checking in and I’m about to go through immigration when the emigration officer tells me I have a travel ban and I can’t go through. Suddenly I turn white (whiter than my usual whiteness) and my whole trip flashes in front of me. So many things I had planned for this long weekend and now it’s gone! I nervously asked him what can I do he pointed to an office which I went to. The guy there typed in my residency number and told me I have “rousoom qadaeya” which translates to unpaid court fees (I think). He told me I might have a phone bill or something I hadn’t paid and I need to leave the immigration area to the other side and check with the Ministry of Justice office. So I do.

I get there and there is a small line which was taking forever. I had no idea if I was going to travel, if I could fix things from this office or what the hell it was all about. I was upset and I really didn’t know what I would do if I couldn’t travel. The person in front of me finished, he had like a KD5,000 payment he had just paid and it was my turn next. The guy takes my passport and plugs in my residency number and tells me I have KD50 to pay. I was like what is it for? He told me “rousoom qadaeya”. So I was like I just pay KD50 and I can travel? And he told me yes. So I did and I’m now sitting in the lounge waiting for my flight.

Now that ordeal is over seriously WTF? This had to be the most nerve wracking 30 minutes of my life. Imagine you’re looking forward to a long weekend, you’ve checked in, you’re mentally already on vacation and suddenly you can’t travel, and over what? KD50? And KD50 I have no idea what for. Shouldn’t travel bans be reserved for more serious cases? KD5,000 I can understand but for KD50??

Update: I’ve been going through all the comments and there are a lot of interesting points and examples of previous situations people have gone through similar to mine. The majority of commenters agree that a travel ban is overkill but there were a handful of comments who believed I was at fault for not checking my travel ban status before traveling. That is slightly true but why on earth should I be checking if I have a travel ban anyway?

– I pay all my bills
– I don’t have any unpaid bills
– I don’t have any speeding tickets
– I wasn’t involved in a hit and run
– I didn’t commit a crime
– My Benihana case was settled, I lost and I paid the court and Benihana

So why would I have to check if I’m banned from traveling when I haven’t done anything wrong?

Another thing I noticed is how travel bans have become the norm. Travel bans are not supposed to be the norm! A travel ban is supposed to be the last resort and shouldn’t be the first step to solving issues. How about something simple as notifying the person first that he owes money? How about a warning at least that if you don’t settle by this date you will get a travel ban? In my case I don’t owe anyone money and I had a KD50 I needed to pay and until now I have no idea what it was nor do I know how I can find out what it was.

Finally just want to clear something up regarding the Ministry of Justice stall at the airport. When I got to the stall there were 2 people a head of me. It took nearly 30 minutes for my turn and that’s with only 2 people ahead of me in line. Behind me there were at least 6-8 other people waiting. If I had arrived at the stall just 15 minutes later I would most likely have missed my flight because I would have had a lot more people in front of me. So for those who think the stall is convenient, it is to a certain extent. If the stall isn’t packed like in my case you could make it with time to spare. But if the line is long there is a big chance you will miss your flight. If you know you have a travel ban you can’t even come to the airport early to settle your issue because you NEED to have your boarding pass. Most airlines checkin counter open 3 hours ahead of time, that could be enough time but it also might not be.

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Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 as a media player

Posted by Mark

Just to be clear from the get go, this isn’t a review about the Galaxy Tab 2 as a tablet nor is it a review of Android’s new ice cream operating system. I have an iPad and I wouldn’t replace it with an Android device. The reason I got the Galaxy Tab is to replace my Archos 7 portable media player and this is what this post is about. So Android fanboys can put down their keyboards and relax.

Back in 2009 I bought the Archos 7 to use as my media player for when I traveled. Before the Archos I was watching movies on my tiny iPod screen (the classic iPod not the touch) so moving to the larger 7inch screen was a huge improvement. Not only that but my Archos also had a large 160GB drive, a replaceable battery that lasted 10 hours and would play any non-HD video format without requiring any time consuming format conversion. Over the years though I’ve started getting more and more HD files and the Archos started to choke. It couldn’t play a lot of the new formats and it also couldn’t play most of the HD stuff I threw it’s way so I started looking for an alternative.

I wanted a 7inch screen, a large hard drive, a replaceable battery and the ability to play HD files without an issue. Surprisingly I didn’t find a media player that had all that so I started being more flexible with my requirements and in the end went with the Galaxy Tab 2 with a 7inch screen. The screen size was correct, it would play any video I threw at it and the battery life was fairly decent coming in at around 6 hours of non stop video playback. But it only had 8GB of internal memory and the battery couldn’t be swapped. Two issues I figured I could solve easily. The Galaxy Tab has a microSD card for expandability and I figured I could take multiple 32GB cards with me on long trips. I also wanted a swappable battery for long trips and although I couldn’t swap the battery on the Galaxy Tab, I realized I could purchase one of those Mophie PowerStations which charge gadgets using a USB port and just run my Tab off it during long flights. Of course the Tab is also a full fledged tablet so I could if I wanted to browse the web or perform other tasks on it if I needed to.

After taking the Tab on two trips with me I’ve come to the conclusion that I made the right decision. Although I’ve lost some of the features that made the Archos 7 so great I did gain three important benefits (among others). The first is that the Tab is much lighter and thinner than the Archos 7. This makes carrying it in my shoulder bag a lot more pleasant. The second thing I also gained is a much better screen with improved visibility from all angles and better touch sensitivity. I’ve also thrown a whole bunch of video formats at it including 720p HD movies and the Tab has played every single one of them without an issue.

So if you’re looking for a great media player this is what I recommend you get. I purchased it from Amazon back in May and it cost me KD82 in total and that includes shipping to Kuwait using DHL’s Borderlinx. I couldn’t find it in Kuwait back then but they might be available here now. [Amazon Link]

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