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Sam

Oct 13 '13

Tokyo Pt. 1

Tokyo-

I didn’t want to write a blog post everyday on this trip. I didn’t want to write any blog posts at all but, I think I need to so I can remember some details.

Day 1

I barely made my flight out of Hong Kong due to a long border crossing and a difficult time finding the right bus. No worries, many other passengers ensured that the flight would leave late. And the same thing happened in Beijing.
Anyway, everything else was in uneventful. I slept a little and made some small talk with a 中国人 from Henan. On his way to San Jose to purchase a house and see his daughter. Typical stuff nowadays.

I was stressed when I arrived because I had made a reservation at a capsule hotel for the night after taking some advice that I might not be able to crash in a Manga Cafe. Customs took too long and when I got on the train at 11:20 I knew I wasn’t going to make my check-in time (no later than 12). I got off the train and began searching thought the Shimbashi neighborhood based on a recommendation from a train attendant. I got there a little after 12 on a Thursday. Japan just looked and felt so much different from China. People were behaving differently. They were drinking in bars and laughing and many women were offering me “massaji” (ok, so not THAT different). Anyway, I needed to find a place to sleep. I felt a little discouraged because the Chinese I had been learning for six months was now useless. English also useless, kind of, until a lady came up to me and offered me a massage, I said no and then she left. But then she came back after she saw me awkwardly enter a building looking for a “manga kissa”. So I said I didn’t want a massaji, just sleep. I was very tired at this point. She took me to her massage “parlor” which was a small room on the fifth floor of a small building. I put my bags down and then realizing that this was sketchy as hell, decided to leave. She was nice about it. I almost caved and looked for a hotel to put on a credit card but I’m glad I didn’t (I think). I found another lovely place that I thought was a manga cafe, but no, it was a “private room DVD rental” place. I walked in and the shelves were lined with the finest Japanese AV. I confusingly worked it out with the guy behind the counter who spoke some English. 3000 for 12 hours. Same rate as the sketchy massage parlor. I took it because it was already 1 AM and knew I didn’t have any choices. I was given a towel that I paid extra to rent, a condom, three moist towelettes, and an imitation vagina. (Pics)

I didn’t take any DVDs. The room was ok, read more about it here.

Day 2

After having a surprisingly nice shower. I headed out to grab a quick breakfast (udon) and meet an old friend! I met Ichi at around 10 on Friday. We went to the Tokyo Tower, a nearby Buddhist Temple, a Shinto shrine (where I learned “the drill” - throw money in the box, coins with a hole are better, bow twice, pray, clap twice, deep bow, light bow while leaving…I have done this many times and will do it again today). I was treated to a Sushi lunch afterward which was legit. I had grown very tired of Sushi in China and the US at this point and this experience made up for it. It felt real. Good quality, nice environment, good miso and tea, etc. It was off to Shibuya after that where my wonderful host dropped me off at Tower records. I hadn’t been to a real record store in a long time and hadn’t been to a Tower records since…high school, at least. (Either NY or Seattle?) I didn’t buy anything although it was nice to see two of my favorite J-musicians and some others. I got lost around Shibuya, ate a shrimp Mos Burger, bought a gift for my host’s daughter who I was to meet that night, and watched people shop at the Shibuya 109 building. Hachiko statue, etc. the fashion is unique but not as outlandish as people would have you think. I felt very underdressed when I first arrived though. Most Japanese, even ones without fashion sense, are more formal than me! Friday night also consisted of a trip to Meiji-jingu near Harajuku. A nice shrine where a lot of weddings take place. Famous spot for Tokyo, around Meiji restoration time. Interestingly enough, Ichi had never been there either. He wrote a prayer for him to do well on his test for a higher real estate certification which he will take in a few weeks. I have been praying at every shrine since.

Anyway, dinner on Friday night was exceptional. I was taken to an Izakaya in Shibuya. (If you don’t know any terms, google it) The food was some of the best I’ve ever had. Better than Michelin restaurants in Chicago and, for me, a better atmosphere. I ate the best cuttlefish I’ve ever had (by far) and was able to try “basashi” or horse sashimi. Also, shirako (testes of cod?) and some assorted sashimi/pig guys etc. it was the perfect meal. After that meal, we went for a second meal of noodles. Noodles were dipped in a suave and then slurped up. Also served with an amazing piece of pork that literally melted in my mouth. Unbelievable. I was floored.

Anyway, we headed back to the suburbs where I would stay with Ichi’s family. I met his lovely wife who was very sweet and kind! I was very tired at this point and had to be up early the next day. I crashed on an extremely comfortable bed, more than what I was used to. I remember it being SO quiet. The feeling I used to have when arriving home from a loud rock gig in NC and still having that ringing in your ear. I wanted to move in to this little Japanese suburb. Maybe I still do…

Day 3

I was up the next day at 6:30. Had to be in the city early because my fearless host had an appointment. Traditional Japanese breakfast of rice and a raw egg. (Something I would be hesitant to do in China) I met my host’ daughter although she was kind of shy, very sweet two year old…I got off at Shibuya and went one stop to Shinakitizawa. Most places were closed that early in the morning but I had a walk around. Cool little cafés and shops. Seemed like a chill place to live…I saw an alternate life flash before my eyes. 
Anyway, I grabbed a bowl of Tonkatsu Ramen back in Shibuya and did some more shopping around. After Ichi was free again, we headed to Asakusa. Okonomiyaki and Man-jya (Tokyo specialty) for lunch. Went around and looked at Sensouji temple. ( A place I would re-visit). Rubbed some incense smoke on my bald head and bought some snacks and said my prayer and took my pictures, etc. Headed to Akihabara after that. The electronics and Anime/Otaku region of Tokyo. We headed to a miss cafe after doing some research “LittlePSX MAID Darts and Bar”. An experience that would have been less if I wasn’t with a Japanese person to help translate. Actually, I really like darts and I had a good time even if it was a little strange. The girls were dressed to look like cute anime Maids and said things like “welcome home” and “see you later” as if you are the master coming home for the day. I enjoyed that part because I know there is an uptight feminist that probably had a problem with all of this somewhere…we each ordered a drink. I got a nice coffee and she poured in the cream and sugar for me and stirred it with my straw…then made heart hand gestures and various other anime type moves towards my drink to “make it taste better”. Perhaps it helped. Long story short, we paid 700 yen ($7) to play darts with one of the maids for 10 mins. I was doing alright but she ultimately won the round with a minute to spare. We hung out for a moment longer and I tried to make some small talk with a Maid, because that’s what you do. There were some regulars there and an 80 year old man that paid 2500 to play for 45 minutes…I got my picture and left. After that we strolled the streets of Akihabara and went to a 7 floor manga and cosplay shop that had every type of manga/anime/hentai you would be willing to buy. Watching Western Otaku kids in there Mecca was either satisfying or like most things they do, really awkward. I like Japan and Japanese culture but serious white Otaku still seem strange to me. Perhaps they seem strange to Japanese too. I don’t know, I guess something has to be said for people that follow their dream and come to Tokyo to visit the holy land of over the top sci if and innocent animated young girl “almost porn.” Rock on, otaku gaijin…

Saturday nights dinner was bomb ass Japanese curry. So delicious. If it wasn’t so heavy I would eat it every day…

Returned to Yokohama where I proceeded to fall in to a heavy curry-induced food coma, not to arise from bed until 945 the next day (so late).


Day 4

My time with my old friend had come to an end. After a delicious breakfast of pancakes with REAL AMERICAN HONEY and the most amazing Japanese peaches ever, and a banana smoothie. A real smoothie with real milk that wasn’t a sketchy Chinese smoothie…ahhhh. Ummm, anyway. My time with my old friend had come to an end and it was time to meet another some more old friends (and a new one!) i was escorted to The New Sanno hotel in Hiro, Tokyo. A hotel that requires military I.D. Or a friend with it, to get in. I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s strange when I can go places in someone’s country that they can’t. More on that later. I met my old Chicago roommate Lorraine, her husband Tory, and their brand spanking new, 5 month old, baby Henry. We went to Yoyogi park, saw the greasers dance, a guy playing tambourine by himself on a small hill, and a Japanese man playing bag pipes in a John Deere hat. Yes, that’s right. It was a wonderful park and afterwards we went to Hooters. Hooter’s Tokyo. It was good. Considering I haven’t been eating much American food at all, chicken songs were a nice change (although, yes, I prefer karaage). Hooters Tokyo girls were all nice, loved my friends baby which worked out for me, and had a synchronized dance routine to Cheap Trick. All in all, a good day.

After being at the hotel and spending some QT with my friends, I headed to my lodging for the night = a Manboo! Manga cafe in Shibuya. This was my first real manga cafe and after all was said and done, wasn’t really worth the money saved. The room was a flat black floor with a black bean bag. I purchased the room for 9 hours(max without paying an overage fee) and settled in at 8:49 pm. So, yes, I had to check out at 5:49 am or I start paying 105 yen every 15 minutes. I made the check out time but with little sleep. I was able to watch DVDs and movies and check the Internet, which I found out was nicer than most hostels, but the sleeping conditions were rough for more. I’m not a good sleeper when there is light or noise. At this point I was still struggling to find an eye mask (I slept with a Tshirt over my eyes) and ear plugs. It was difficult to sleep when there are Japanese couples hooking up all around you and trying to be really quiet about it. After the hooking up, there was the snoring…of course, the hooking up inspired envy while the snoring just made me angry.

Day 5 

..anyway, I was out of the cafe around 6 am the next day and headed to Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo Time Square), it was pretty much dead except for a girl that seemed to still be drunk walking down the street and a morning news crew. I hung around there for about two hours and by 8 it still hadn’t really picked up. The Japanese are on a much different schedule than the Chinese and my fellow Americans. Chicago seemed to be busy with commuters from 6-10 every morning. China is probably closer to Japanese time most restaurants and cafés in Japan didn’t open until 10 or 11.
So, after creeping around Shibuya (again) for two hours I headed back to The New Sanno military hotel and ate a large American breakfast. Buffet style. I felt sloooow after that. I didn’t eat much the rest of the day. The prices were in US Dollars…it was all a bit strange but it reminded me that I still don’t miss the US. Sorry, but I don’t. I miss my friends in the US and movie theaters that show independent or cult films but that’s about it. Actually, being around some of the military crowd made me roll my eyes hard in a most snobby manner. On the bright side, I felt fucking skinny at that breakfast buffet.


The rest of the afternoon was spent meeting with some other foreigners and locals and getting to know the city. Somehow I ended up at Outback Steakhouse against my will. I went to my first hostel around 430. This one was in Asakusa. RetroMetro Backpackers. Very cool place with a trendy and earthy vibe. Reminded me of Boone. I took a nap and revisited some places in Asakusa. Went shopping, found my eye mask, tried to make some small talk but people couldn’t speak much English or were a little antisocial or just tired. Met a few Japanese girls, from Nara and Fukuoka. A student from Argentina, a Frenchman that had just arrived in Japan. There were some random Germans that I heard while sleeping. Spent some time planning for the next day.

Day 6

I decided to head to Ueno Park because it was close to the Hostel. I did not regret the decision. Ueno park had plenty of sights/shrines/monuments to see. It also had a zoo which was free that day! 1 of 3 days a year that it was free. It’s usually 600 yen. I saw some Pandas and many other standard zoo animals. It was equally as much fun to watch all the excited children seeing the animals and going to the petting zoo. I did wish the cages were a little bigger for some of the animals in the zoo, but, unfortunately that’s a zoo for ya. 

After the zoo it was the Tokyo National Museum. A lot of amazing Japanese art dating from at least the 6th Century. This is where I decide that I am not nearly as big a fan of pottery as I am of prints and architecture. A series that stuck out in my mind was a “Murders from Kabuki Plays” series that was very metal. Also, saw some Chinese and Korean relics that were interesting. I’m slowly putting together my Chinese history, dynasty by dynasty….

Life was pretty slow this day after the museum…stayed in the Khaosan Tokyo Ninja hostel in Asakusabashi. It was ok. Quiet roommates but the room smelled a bit musty. Lots of Otaku foreigners in the common area due to the proximity to Akihabara. That night, I made some friends who had a mutual “friend” of mine and got some Cinnabon. I was able to learn a little more about living in the Japanese culture. Some things are similar to China but they both still feel soo different to me. I have trouble coping with the fact that I don’t know a middle ground between the two where I could spend my life. Things are never that easy though….

The next day it was off to Nikko for some much needed nature…I will talk about that next time.


I’m listening to the Harlem globetrotters theme and eating a hello kitty Halloween theme donut…..

Jul 16 '13

Letter to my Alma Mater

I was recently sent a survey from my past school. This was what I wrote to them. I’m not sure if I’m right about it or not.

I had many amazing musical experiences at the Hayes School of Music during my four years there. I was a student in a department with little competition which created a lot of playing opportunities. I learned a lot and had a great experience. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that after I received my degree I was not ready to be a professional musician and I wasn’t really even ready for the graduate program I attended at a more reputable school. I don’t blame HSoM for all of my shortcomings but in hindsight, I was passed for my senior recital and was given a degree when I don’t think I should have received. Lower standards during my undergraduate made it difficult to be successful after my degree was completed. A degree should prepare you for a job and a competitive job market. A few years after I received my degree I realized I was not prepared for the real world at all. I know my experience, because of my major and department, is a little unique. I needed to be held to a higher standard while attending the school. HSoM is not a bad school and they deserve to be accredited. They are still growing and are growing quickly. Like I said, I had a great experience at the HSoM and ha the opportunity to play and experience an unbelievable amount of music in a variety of settings. I wish the HSoM the best of luck in the future and I can’t wait to visit when I come back to the U.S. and Boone some day.

Jun 14 '13

Hey, look at me, I’m bloggin’ again. I’m halfway through my first vacation in China and it’s two places I have been before. Hangzhou and Shanghai. I spent two days in Hangzhou with an acquaintance from Chicago. I think we are friends now. It’s strange because I can say I will return the favor, which is true, I don’t know if the opportunity will arise. She will at least get a Christmas present or Hongbao or something. I have to much guilt about everything to let her hospitality go unrewarded. Staying with a Chinese family just reminded me that while there are differences between people, it’s important to remember that we are all generally the same. Most people eat three meals a day, embrace theirholiday traditions, and they always have the wrong time displayed on their microwave.
Now I am on the train to Shanghai. To see some more old friends and reevaluate my perception of another old Chinese city.

In other news, the only time I am really homesick is when I am actually sick. I would do some regrettable things for Pepto bismol…

Jun 3 '13

Woke up this morning, looked out the window, came in pants, got on the bus back to the city and work…

May 22 '13

KTV with students and coworkers

May 10 '13

Hong Kong

I just had the realization, while sitting on a HK Diner, that I told someone with confidence about a year ago that I would see them in Hong Kong in 2013. I am meeting them for dinner. I just had that realization that you get when you accomplish a goal that you almost forgot you set for yourself. Just a reminder to not take things or granted and never talk yourself out of things. If you want to go to Hong Kong, go to Hong Kong. If you want a masters degree, get one. If you want to travel two hours to eat at some obscure restaurant, do it. Don’t let fear, apathy, and negativity or the “what ifs” drag you down, brother. Go do some shit. No matter how trivial, decide to do something and do it. Always into action.

May 6 '13

Friends

I am not sure if I actually have any friends here yet. I thought I did but sometimes my Chinese friends just feel like business partners…I wish I could great idioms. Foreigner friends, Chinese colleagues.

Apr 27 '13
did-you-kno:

Source


I’ve seen these in real life and the girl became instantly attractive!

did-you-kno:

Source

I’ve seen these in real life and the girl became instantly attractive!

Apr 27 '13

The second half if today has been shit. I’m frustrated because I have no real reason to complain. Straight, white, American men can’t complain about anything, anywhere - right? Just going to be thankful for what I have and stop annoying people with my excitement, interest, awkwardness, and never ending questions. Like usual, I am only mad at myself and I can’t decide if that’s good or not.

Apr 22 '13

Food so far…

I have been here for a month and one day. I eat mostly Chinese food everyday. I have no problem with this. It’s cheap, convenient, mostly healthy and its soooo fucking good. For example, baozi sold on the street is 5 RMB for 6. That is less that $1 for 6. To compare, Wow Bao in Chicago is $1.69 per bao (and they don’t have red bean). No offense to Wow Bao but I really love this aspect of living here, so I needed to share it.

Red Bean Baozi from earlier today…

I need to mention Ramen. The first thing I ate when I arrived in Beijing was spicy pork Ramen from Ajisen Ramen. It’s a large chain. It’s Japanese food. It’s simple and they have good ramen. In fact, the ramen is better than every pretentious hipster ramen joint that I have ever been to. It makes me happy and I eat there about once a week. Fuck you, overpriced $13 ramen. You are in my past and I hope you stay there.

The worst meal I have eaten here was at a sketchy Japanese (Chinese owned and operated) restaurant on the basement level of a shopping center which I should not have eaten at but did because, well, I don’t have a good reason. I got eel over rice. It was served with a soup that was not Japanese, it looked VERY Chinese and mediocre. The quality and age of the eel was questionable but the egg/onion side was alright. After I ate there, I immediately made up for it with fried octopus balls which will make up for anything. It is essentially Tako-yaki with a slightly Chinese twist (or at least the Chinese think that…). 

Fried octopus ball (covered in mayonnaise and dried fish shavings) and a blueberry milk tea:

Other Chinese and Asian favorites that I have had so far and love so much include:

Squid on a stick   (and lamb on a stick)

Ma po Doufu 麻婆豆腐 (still)

Mantou 馒头 - buns similar to bao but fluffier and with different fillings…

Hot pot 火锅 (hot pot train below)

Congee - I was eating every day but needed a break. Its the only thing ive eaten at KFC and I dug it.

dried squid, dried sweet potato, dried mango, Sichuan (and non-Sichuan) pickles to put in congee, LAO motherfucking GAN MA, tea egg, duck, Beijing duck, pig knuckles, sometimes chicken feet, pretty much anything with lamb, every eggplant dish has been wonderful, bacon, xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumplng), doufu。。。

last night I ate at Obama’s half-brother’s barbecue restaurant which there are several of in Shenzhen. It was delicious but like Obama, a little overrated. My two non Chinese/Japanese/Korean meals have been Pakistani and Indian. The Pakistani didn’t feel very authentic without the threat of US drone attacks but it was amazingly delicious. The Indian food was good but gave everybody the shits. Such is life.

After writing this whole blog post, I feel like kind of a pretentious ass but I am ok with that. I got invited to a Taco tuesday at some bar tomorrow and immediately found reasons not to go. I don’t want to eat tacos, at an Irish bar, in China. People make recommendations of where I can find American food and I nod and smile and have no intention of taking them up on it. There is one pizza place I would like to try but that’s about it. I have had a long and complex relationship with food my whole life and I am learning a lot about the foods I like, love, and loathe (it turns out I only really loathe things that are executed poorly and/or overpriced). It is very exciting. From a health point of view, I must say that not eating cheese is as fantastic as I remember it being. Except for the occasional milk tea, I am dairy free and loving it. It is one of the few recommendations I can give to fellow Americans. Lay off the dairy!

Tea, wulong - we will go in to more detail about this at another time…

Sign from squid/octopus on a stick vendor…