Category Archives: Travel

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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Where I Was Last New Year’s

We have made it through a challenging year. And now I’m starting to reflect. Lately, I find myself thinking back to where I was last New Year’s, and where I’ll be next one.

As this year began, I was walking up the steps of a beautiful shrine in Tokyo, Japan in perfect blue sunlight. Just ahead of me were my wife and my sister-in-law, with her newborn in her arms. We made the traditional New Year’s Day visit to the shrine, where they asked for blessings for the coming year. Me, I mostly just looked around in wonder at the beautiful shrine and the clear blue above.

Today, my wife is in Japan again with her family, my family. I cannot be there by law. They won’t be doing the shrine visit this year because of the crowds. But they still plan to eat sushi at the same place we went to last year. 🙂

My little nephew is walking now. He actually remembered my wife! I wonder if he’ll remember me. Even if he doesn’t, we can start making new memories together.

At the beginning of 2020, I could never have predicted how this year would unfold. But here we are. We survived and we have new hope heading into 2021. We have not recovered everything we’ve lost…I cannot be in my second home with my wife’s family, nor can I go see my mother or grandmother. But the difficult days are, at last, numbered.

Where will I, where will we, be next new year’s? I don’t know. But I think we will have beaten this. And we will be feeling great joy at being together once again!

Until then, don’t give up the fight.

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I Went to Japan’s Magical Kingdom of Eyeglasses

I’ve worn glasses since I was four years old…30 years. As I write this, I’m wearing what is probably the best pair I’ve ever owned. They cost me about $50 and the eye exam was free.

How did I pay 1/10th of what some of you are paying? I went to Zoff, an outstanding eyeglasses store that’s omnipresent in Japan and rapidly expanding throughout Asia.

I went in, sat down right away with an extremely polite young man, and looked into a machine I’ve never seen before in America. It showed a small picture and gave an instant estimate of my prescription. The employee, who was little more than 20, took me through just a couple standard “is this lens better?” questions and then produced tester glasses for me to try.

His estimates were dead on, and I saw beautifully. In a couple of days, I picked up my new glasses (along with a pair of prescription sunglasses I also ordered). I paid about $50 equivalent, or around 5,000 yen, per pair. Eye exam: $0.00.

How can Zoff sell so cheaply? The employees, like those in most countries aside from the US, are not optometrists. But they are well trained and extraordinarily nice and this, my 3rd pair of Zoff’s now, is first rate as always. I bought my latest pairs in January 2020 (you know, before the world stopped), and they’re still going strong!

US law requires an optometrist to examine you and issue a prescription. Japanese law does not. It has good company: Germany, the UK, Italy, and countless other nations. Is everyone in these countries seeing poorly and dying of rare eye ailments the optometrist didn’t catch? Doubt it.

But we insist on Americans seeing an optometrist, who goes to school for 8 years and commands an average wage of $106,000, largely to diagnose rare eye problems. However, how many people are deterred from buying newer glasses with a more appropriate prescription due to the high cost? Then they don’t get the new glasses or the optometry exam either. It’s a lose-lose, and we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I suggest a different model: regulate the way Japan and countless other leading nations do. Let people get their glasses and contacts without a prescription, and they can see an optometrist from time to time, like how they see any other doctor.

What if ibuprofen required a prescription from a doctor the way eyeglasses do? There would be a lot of untreated pain and unnecessary suffering. We don’t do that, and yet, people still get check-ups. Is this about the patient, or is it really about regulatory capture?

My experience at Zoff was so good that I e-mailed them to thank them for their excellent work. They responded promptly (in English!) saying that they would congratulate the employees and “praise them firmly.” That kind of made it sound like they were in trouble, but I understood what they meant. 🙂

Zoff is doing a wonderful thing in providing real care to those who need it at an affordable price, while also giving great opportunities to a young and hardworking staff. I can’t think of a better way to do business.