Thailand is one of only three countries which I have visited more than once, and I will always carry a fondness for its culture, its food, and its incredibly gracious people. I visited Thailand a second time in September of 2022, and ended up staying in the same regions as I had in 2018: Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Bangkok. While on Koh Samui, I had a strong desire to go to the beach, but my cousin and I had only three days to fully explore the island, so I wasn’t sure if we could squeeze in a beach day. In addition, there was a bit of rain which, pun intended, put a damper on our beach plans for the first two days.
Then on our third and final full day on Samui, the weather cleared up, and we decided to spend the day at Chaweng Noi Beach, the beach which was a stone’s throw from the resort at which we were staying. We ended up ordering lunch right on the beach, and also managed to polish off a couple of bottles of wine over the course of several hours. When we felt ourselves overheating, we decided to go into the Gulf of Thailand’s waters, and were rewarded with crystal clear water which was the temperature of a perfect bath. We had also discovered that some previous hotel patrons had left two pool floats there for other patrons to use, so we grabbed them and went back into the water, atop which we floated for a good hour or more.
Whenever I return to Thailand, and specifically find myself on Koh Samui, I plan to visit Chaweng Noi Beach to experience the same perfect beach day that I had been so fortunate to have experienced in 2022.
A nice sunset shot from my final evening in Porto, Portugal
During the spring of 2022, I traveled to Spain and Portugal on a bold solo trip which had its share of frustrations and glitches, but I was very proud of myself for enduring all the problems. Since I speak a decent amount of Spanish, Spain presented no language issues for me, but it was an entirely different story when I was in Portugal, because I only know a few Portuguese words. Nevertheless, I was bound and determined to enjoy my stay in Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto.
I stayed at a lovely AirBnB in Vila Nova de Gaia which had a beautiful view of the Douro River and the town of Porto across the river. For four days straight, I would explore the wine caves on Vila Nova de Gaia (VNdG) side, walk all over VNdG and Porto, visit the grocery store to get authentic Portuguese food items, and dine in various restaurants in VNdG. I was completely free to do whatever struck my fancy, and I loved the entire experience so much that it was hard to leave and move on to Lisbon, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much.
On my final night in VNdG, I decided to stay out as late as possible so that I could absorb as much of the sensory stimuli as I could. That final night turned out to be extraordinary, punctuated by a fantastic meal at a riverside restaurant, some lovely vinho verde, and fun conversations with other travelers. The sun began to set around 8:20, which was incredibly late for that time of the year. Even after the sun had completely set around 8:50 pm, the sky was a very vivid cobalt blue.
Another beautiful image from that magical night…
Live music was playing at a couple of restaurants, the river water was glistening, the crisp air was refreshing, and my heart felt so full while taking it all in. That night, I honestly fell in love with VNdG and Porto, and resolved to visit again. At some point, I will definitely return to VNdG and Porto, hopefully with a romantic interest in tow, because the area is so replete with romantic energy.
One more image from one of my favorite evenings of my life…
If you are looking for an absolutely gorgeous place to visit which has plenty of fresh seafood, great wines, and interesting culture, consider visiting VNdG and Porto.
Anyone who loves gorgeous beach destinations should put the Maldives on their list of must-visit island paradises, because it will not disappoint. A beach lover myself, I had spent decades fantasizing about traveling to the Maldives before making that dream come to fruition in 2018. I was fortunate to have found an excellent package deal for travel to Nalaguraidoo, also known as Sun Island, and ended up spending 6 days and 5 nights surrounded by some of the most captivating azure waters and white coral sand beaches I had ever seen in my life.
Before I dive into the morning experiences I had on Nalaguraidoo, I will mention two negative aspects regarding the Maldives, the first being that making the trek to that part of the world is abysmally lengthy. Between the three planes, the bus, and the speedboat we were transported on, the total travel time (mind you, this does NOT include the time spent on layovers, which added another 14 hours) was almost 24 hours. By the time we were on that final speedboat ride which took us to Nalaguraidoo, we couldn’t remember what day it was, and the fact that it was almost pitch black while on that boat didn’t help with our awareness of time.
The other negative feature of the Maldives was that there was absolutely no local culture to be found. The island was teeming with tourists, mostly from England, Germany, and Australia. The workers on the island were from neighboring India and Sri Lanka, and they were all lovely people, but none were Maldivian.
Despite those negatives, the time I spent on Nalaguraidoo was absolutely magical. I stayed in a villa which was right near the water, and upon exiting my villa, I would be rewarded with the following view:
The climate was almost egregiously humid and hot, but I could always very easily submerge myself in the clean water of the Indian Ocean, which was replete with nurse sharks and a dazzling assortment of different species of fish. The temperature of the water was about the same as our body temperature, incredibly inviting and relaxing. The fact that I could spend five mornings of my life waking up to such conditions was absolutely wonderful.
I traveled to Budapest, Hungary in September 2014 and spent a week taking in the sights, struggling with the Hungarian language, and consuming Hungarian cuisine. I was very fortunate to have connected with two photographers in Budapest shortly before I left the U.S., and I was able to schedule photo shoots with both. The first photographer was extremely hospitable and took me for a city tour of Budapest the day before our planned shoot. The next day, I got even more of a tour of the city since the photographer and his girlfriend were so enthusiastic about showing me certain parts of the city.
About midway through my stay in Budapest, I shot for an entire day with the second photographer, and though I became a bit fatigued after traveling and shooting all over Pest side, I looked forward to shooting on Buda side as well. We didn’t reach Buda side until early evening, and since the temperature was starting to drop, I quickly changed into my final look for the last set of the day, a black minidress with black heels. The photographer set up in such a way that Hungarian Parliament would be in the background of each image in the set. If you haven’t seen the Hungarian Parliament building, it is an architectural marvel, and it is especially dazzling at night because the entire building is illuminated.
The photographer asked me to stand near the Danube River so that he could check exposure and framing, so I walked over to the designated spot. As soon as I did so, a very fine rain mist started falling, and though I was in a sleeveless minidress, the drizzle and the air felt refreshing. We began shooting, and the church which the photographer was standing in front of chimed 7 times, marking the 7 o’clock hour. I will never forget the church chimes, the light rain, the crisp air, and the glow of the illuminated Hungarian Parliament building. It was a beautiful, magical moment.
The first weekend in July of 2013 was one of the most meaningful and thrilling weekends I have ever experienced, and strangely, I had a gut feeling that the events of that weekend would turn out that way. I was returning to an NPC (National Physique Committee) Pro-Qualifying event at which I had competed for three consecutive prior years, and I was bound and determined to bring my best physique ever to that show for my fourth run. It was no easy task, since I was spending 4 to 5 hours daily at the gym, enduring double training sessions, double cardio, and struggling to fit in TEN mini-meals throughout each day to fuel my body. To top it off, I had been dumped by my boyfriend three months prior, and he was still living in my house with me, which added more strain on my contest prep.
Nevertheless, when I arrived at the host hotel in Teaneck, NJ, I just felt different, as if I had already won an IFBB Pro Card, and I was oddly relaxed. Even my friends noticed that I seemed different, and they became excited at the prospect of me most likely going Pro at the NPC Team Universe event that weekend. I also made a last minute change with my posing suit, simply because the tangerine hue of a new suit which had been custom made for me resonated more than the pale blue suit I had originally planned to wear. As soon as I tried on the orange suit, I could see that it fit me better, and somehow imparted a glow which popped against my competition spray tan.
Normally I would feel a bit jittery right before stepping onstage at any show, but on Friday, July 5th, 2013, I felt completely calm as I glided onto the stage. It was as if I was dancing onstage, rather than hitting mandatory poses for the judges. When I got first callout, was placed in the center of the lineup and remained there, I just knew that I would indeed earn my Pro Card at this event. The first time I stepped on that stage, I was in the 40+ age group, height class B, and I nailed that class. Then I returned to the stage moments later for the 35+ age group, height class B, and once again got first callout and remained in the center of that lineup. By the time I walked onstage for Open Bikini height class D, I was already floating with joy, but I got yet another treat by making first callout.
Once prejudging was over, I knew I had to remain on task with my food intake and also get lots of rest, because although I believed I had locked in a first place finish, I wouldn’t know until the next day, when we would all return onstage for finals. I spent part of the late afternoon and evening hanging out with my good friends, and made sure to avoid contact with anyone (particularly my ex-boyfriend) who might distract or upset me. My performance onstage that day was the culmination of five years in the competitive bodybuilding world, defined by extreme sacrifices and hard work. I wasn’t about to mess this up!
The next day, July 6th, the 40+ bikini competitors hit their individual routines, and when height class B was up, I heard the MC announce the 5th place winner (not me), then the 4th place winner (not me), the 3rd place winner (not me), and then quickly announce the 2nd place winner, followed by my name as the 1st place finisher. I had FINALLY WON MY PRO CARD!
All I needed was one first place finish in any of the three classes in which I was competing in order to become an IFBB Pro, so when I won first place in 40+ B, my heart burst with gratitude, because I had officially attained IFBB Pro status. When I was called back out for the Overall title for 40+, I didn’t know whether I would win that title as well, so when I did in fact win the Overall title, it was icing on the cake. I also ended up winning First Place in 35+ class B, and because I was already awarded Pro Status when I swept the 40+ Bikini Class, IFBB Pro Status was awarded to the 2nd place finisher in our lineup. Finally, I won 4th place in Open Bikini height class D, which was an incredible feat for me at 3 days shy of my 47th birthday.
That weekend remains one of my proudest snippets of time.
Even though I consider Hawaii my second home, I have always been most familiar with Oahu, since my grandparents had settled there from Japan and raised a large family. Some of my relatives migrated to the Big Island, Kauai, and Molokai, so I ended up visiting those islands as well. The one island which I was extremely curious about was Maui, but since none of my relatives had moved to that island, I never had a reason to visit.
Then in June of 2007, the guy I had been seeing for close to a year and I vacationed on Maui for a little over a week, and in that small period of time, I fell in love with the island. The ocean was clean and warm, the local restaurants served incredible food, the scenery was beautiful, and we enjoyed daily rainbows over the rental property we booked. Every day on Maui was magical and held new discoveries, such as the afternoon when we decided to buy some pineapple from a roadside vendor and were rewarded with the sweetest, most delicious pineapple I had ever tasted.
On one particular day we jumped into our rental car and decided to explore the south border of the island. We found ourselves in Kihei, a casual, laid-back beachfront town with many turnoff points which gave us access to the beach. We settled on a small cove and set up our towels and snack foods for a nice afternoon, and because it was a small, hidden area, there was no one else on that stretch of beach with us. After we had been there for a couple of hours, my boyfriend remarked, “Hey! I saw a dorsal fin out there! I wonder if that’s a shark or a dolphin?” I told him I wasn’t about to swim out to the spot where he spotted the fin, and the next moment, he was rushing into the water so that he could determine what sea creature he had seen,
As soon as Dameon swam out to the area where he saw the fin, he dove underwater and I didn’t see him for close to a minute. He then popped his head up and yelled, “Get your ass in here, and bring the underwater camera! There’s a bunch of dolphins out here!” I grabbed the underwater camera, making sure the strap was secure around my wrist, and jumped into the water. Once I reached Dameon, he told me to go underwater and check out our new buddies. We were in the midst of a pod of dolphins, about 14 or 15 of them, including a couple of youngsters. Two of the large adult males kept bumping up against me and pushing me around in the water.
We ended up swimming with the dolphins for close to 10 minutes, alternately bobbing on the surface and diving down so that we could swim along these playful creatures. Dameon made sure to take numerous shots of the dolphins, which we developed that same day. We began to get tired of swimming, since we were relatively far out and in deep water, so we swam back to shore. Within a few minutes, the dolphins headed southeast, but not before jumping out of the water numerous times as if to say, thanks guys, we had fun!
Despite the fact that I had wanted to become a doctor from the time I was eight years old, the idea of going through grueling training intimidated me, so I kept putting off that goal. It was actually quite rewarding and fulfilling for me to zigzag through a number of different jobs (the most prominent were personal trainer, personal assistant to a famous stand-up comic, and optometric technician) after I graduated from college. Because I allowed myself some wiggle room, I finally came full circle and realized that the most fulfilling career choice for me would be in medicine. After prepping, taking the MCAT, and applying to medical school, I was accepted and spent the next four years studying the discipline which had attracted me so much as a child.
The day of my graduation from medical school was quite special, partly because my mother was beaming from ear to ear, my then-husband was excited for me, and my father actually made a point of attending the event. I will never forget my mom placing the Kelly green and white graduation hood (the color combo for medicine) over my head and across my back, signifying my graduation from medical school, It was indeed one of the most meaningful and special moments in my entire life.
With my mom a couple of months after being selected as SFVJACC Queen.
When I was a little girl, my mother told me that one of her dreams was for me to be in a Japanese American beauty pageant which was closely tied to a week-long festival in Los Angeles known as Nisei Week. The first Nisei Week celebration took place in 1934, and a year later, the queen pageant was added. With the exception of the years during which World War II took place, the Nisei Week Festival has taken place yearly. I knew how much my mother wanted me to participate in Nisei Week, but since I wasn’t that interested in vying for a queen title and being in a pageant, I tucked the idea of pursuing such a goal in the back of my mind and kind of forgot about it.
Shortly after I turned 18, I decided to contact the Japanese-American community center close to where I lived and inquired about the pageant, only to be told that the age requirements for queen candidates were changed to 19 to 25. The following year, I inquired again, but the area’s queen selection had already been made at that time. After that, I simply forgot about the Nisei Week queen selection. Then the year that I turned 25, I figured that I had one final chance to see if I could win a queen title and advance to the Nisei Week pageant. So I submitted my candidate profile and waited for the queen selection day to approach, while also keeping my plans completely hidden from my mom. I thought that if I wasn’t selected as the San Fernando Valley queen, I wouldn’t say anything to my mother, so as to spare her any disappointment.
While at the queen selection event, I noticed that I was up against only one other candidate, but that candidate had competed for the queen title for two consecutive years previously, and since she was also 25 years old, the event was her final chance at being selected as queen. I made an assumption that since the judges were familiar with the other candidate, she would most likely be chosen as their queen.
We were assessed on our physical appearance and poise, were asked impromptu questions while standing on a small stage, and were interviewed individually by every single judge. When it was time to announce the 1991 San Fernando Valley Japanese Community Center Queen, who would then go on to compete at the Nisei Week pageant with 8 other regional queens, I prepared myself to hear the other candidate’s name, so it was a complete surprise when I heard my name called. Next thing I knew, the judges and guests were congratulating me, and the former queen placed a bouquet of tulips in my arms. When I arrived home, I called my mom to tell her the news, and she was incredibly proud and thrilled.
At Mayor Tom Bradley’s office with fellow Nisei Week Princess and WLAJACC Queen Alice Akahoshi
Over the next three months, I went to pageant practice 3 days per week, attended events with the rest of the court, and was primed and polished for business visitations and parades. It was like attending Japanese-American charm school, and I was grateful for the experience. I wore a tiara to many events, and also wore a sash whenever clad in kimono or in the matching outfits the court was expected to wear during events and visitations. We performed in front of 1,200 guests during the pageant, and though I didn’t win the Nisei Week Queen title, I was a Nisei Week Princess, still held the Queen title for my region, and became part of an incredible community.
During my final year at Occidental College, I was invited by my academic advisor to go camping in Yosemite with a group of other Exercise Science classmates. Since I had never gone camping before, I was a bit nervous about the prospect of answering the call of certain excretory processes by squatting in the woods, as well as the idea of sleeping in a sleeping bag on the cold forest floor in a tent. It turned out that my concerns were unfounded, because my advisor chose a campsite at Upper Pines, very close to restrooms and showers, and the sleeping bag which I borrowed was incredibly cozy, comfortable and warm.
We went on our camping trip in April of 1992, and though we were rewarded with relatively sunny but brisk days, the evenings were quite chilly, and we also experienced sudden torrential downpours during a couple of very random points during our trip. The landscape was ostensibly breathtaking, and the hikes we went on were strenuous and fun. We also had a great time cracking jokes while eating breakfasts and dinners back at the campsite. On one particular morning, we were all eating our breakfasts, when a sudden heavy downpour of rain befell us. Instead of us running for cover, every single one of us remained seated at the picnic table and continued to eat, allowing the raindrops to fall upon us.
The shower abated quickly, so we were able to go hiking that day, albeit on more level terrain so as to avoid slipping down any embankments. We returned to the campsite shortly before dusk, and prepared dinner. Once we finished dinner, a classmate and I decided to take a walk around the nearby area. We became so engrossed in chatter that at one point, we found ourselves on a paved road, but it was completely empty. My classmate said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we just decided to lie right on the asphalt and look up at the stars?”, to which I replied, “Let’s go for it.” She and I then proceeded to lie down on the asphalt, which wasn’t too uncomfortable since we were wearing parkas, and we turned our attention to the sky.
In all my years on the planet, there have only been a handful of times during which I was able to see such a shocking display of stars, and that night was one of those times. We were absolutely blown away by the massive collection of stars in that inky black sky, and saw constellations we had only learned about in textbooks. It was mesmerizing and magical. We enjoyed the moment, which lasted a good ten minutes, until the headlights of a pickup truck startled us and made us rise from the pavement!