[Thursday, December 24, 2009]

 
Happy holidays!

Back from Japan. Got to clear internet backlog.

Still congested.

Edit: Almost screamed when I saw my phone bill. Next trip, Mom, I'm texting all the way.

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22/12/2009: Nagasaki/Fukuoka, Japan
Final day in Japan before flying off tomorrow.

We went south to Glover Gardens--a very pretty park with historic buildings in a very pretty neighbourhood. Given more time, we would have gone into the Storybook Museum. It really is the best view in the city.

The downer of the day was the Atomic Bomb Victims Memorial and the attached Museum. It's another confirmation that the human race will end itself one day and it will be the decision of some crazy person giving a single order. And we've got so much better at it since 1945 too.

As I have been to the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, I could anticipate what was in store--all the sad, terrifying remnants of lives cut short. A, Ed and Xian were thoroughly horrified and I got horrified a second time around.

We decompressed on the train ride back to Fukuoka--Xian was seriously bummed by how the whole thing was so cold-bloodedly planned and executed by so few people. Yeah, that's how it'll all end.

Why can't we just stop killing each other?

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[Monday, December 21, 2009]

 

21/12/2009: Kagoshima/Nagasaki, Japan

Got up and went to the Ferry Terminal downtown where the ferries are frequent and cheap. We decided to rent a car to go around the peninsula formerly known as an island from Sakurajima Renta Car. 4500yen for 2 hours. Not bad.

The view from the observatory was not too bad. We could see that the caldera was smoking and leaking into the low-lying clouds.

This is a shout-out to the nice people at Sakurajima Renta Car--they gave us slightly over-ripe mikan when we returned the car and offered to drive us up the road to the Rainbow Sakurajima Hotel for lunch! I love the extras people throw in every now and then.

Lunch at the Rainbow Sakurajima Hotel was decent--the fried chicken set was good--and a word of warning for tourists, there are limited food options in the area around the ferry terminal. Ditto the entire peninsula formerly known as an island. There's a cafe and a combi across the road from the Rainbow Sakurajima Hotel--and that's all I've seen. Even after going around the island and stopping here and there.

Took a late afternoon train to Nagasaki and arrived at 9pm. Found a late dinner of steak at the mall attached to the station before going back in the cold and heading to our beds.

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[Sunday, December 20, 2009]

 

19/12/2009: Beppu, Japan
Left Hakata for Beppu in the morning. In the hot-spring capital of Japan today for a lot of soaking. We hope.

Checked into the ryokan I booked and strolled back to the station to get to the buses. We decided to go see the jigoku for a short while before heading to Hyotan--an onsen that A got the brochure for and I had researched previously.

We got the bus pass and set out to Kanawa. Stopped at the Umi Jigoku bus-stop and decided to look into that one. Doing all eight were a little much, so we tried sampling one. The jigoku are basically really hot springs and this one happened ot be turquiose blue. Very touristy, with the jigoku-tamago (eggs boiled in the hotspring) and purin (custard pudding steamed in the hotspring).

We decided that one jigoku is enough as it was freezing brass monkeys out there and decided to go for a soak.

The buses at the Kanawa end come with long intervals in between. Had to walk to Hyotan from the Kanawa terminal with me as the guide as usual. After swearing and declaring that I hated them all for indecisiveness, we trooped off in search for Hyotan Onsen.

With a sketchy print-out from Google Map that I had printed out before the trip and the sketchy map from the Hyotan brochure, I managed to get us there in 10 minutes.

Xian and I headed into our side and it was quite impressive. The water was mineral-rich and quite strong smelling. It had different pools and the trickling water that massages your back. I popped in and out of the sauna and realised that we have been swamped by Korean tourists.

We headed back to make it for dinner--the bus schedules are a bit spotty on weekends here. Back at Beppu Station, we settled down for late tea.

Dinner . . . could have been better in terms of the sashimi. It was the standard Japanese course with many small dishes--wish they did not leave the stuff on the table before you come in. (It can't beat my favourite ryokan in Hakone, that's all I'm saying)

Our private onsen session was very merry indeed as Xian and I had bought a can of Asahi 'Super Dry' beer and a tetrapack of umeshuu from the combi. We brought the beer and light plum wine into the private onsen, popped them on a stool beside the bath and drank while we soaked.

We got so merry that Xian told me about beer conditioner being sold at shops and I suggested that we dump the dregs of the can on my hair and leaving it for a minute before rinsing off. Yeah, it was that kind of day.

Did not sleep well at all despite the soaking. Weekends in Beppu . . . are noisy. The people exiting the bars and kareoke joints around the ryokan at 4am in the morning and the hostesses screaming "arigato-gozaimasu!" in the street made it a bit difficult to get back to sleep after being woken up by the freezing cold--unexpected cold front strikes again.

20/12/2009: Beppu/Kagoshima, Japan
We lazed about in the morning after breakfast and our scheduled soak until check-out time.

Managed to convince A to come along to Takagawara Onsen just down the road from our ryokan. The Hyotan sandbath experience was . . . not quite it.

The Takegaware Onsen has regular onsen and the sand bath. The sand bath involves stripping off, getting into a short yukata and getting buried up to the neck by vigourous obaasans wielding shovels. We had our pictures taken by said aunties and it's weird, really, your disembodied head perched on blackish sand.

Made it to Kagoshima after a long train ride, checked into the hotel and headed down to the main shopping drag for a bit of a look-see.

Drank the local favourite, imo-jouchu, with dinner at Watami--an izakaya chain that has also made its way here. Xian said it was like vodka, but I thought it went down more smoothly. (It's all root vegetables anyway.)

But the alcohol might not have been such a good idea. Almost lost my camera by leaving it at Watami. Thank goodness most Japanese restaurants are honest and very nice when you come back in muttering "Wasure-mono ga arimasu . . . kamera . . ." The dashing about was very warming and I rejoined them at Doutor Coffee.

I had been hankering for a milk crepe most of the trip. It's a cake at Doutor Coffee mad eof a lot of crepe layers sandwiched together with milk cream. Delicious with hot chocolate--with a marshmallow on top--on a cold night.

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[Friday, December 18, 2009]

 
18/12/2009: Fukuoka, Japan
It's snowing in Fukuoka--we looked out of the window during breakfast and saw it. Unexpected cold front has shifted winter a few weeks earlier--even the locals were surprised by how cold it was.

Lunch was at Yoshida at Yanagibashi Market. The Deluxe seafood don was excellent. For the first time in history, Xian actually had fish left in her bowl in the presence of other sashimi-lovers--the rest of us were too stuffed to eat anymore.

Did the shop 'til we drop thing and marched up Tenjin.

Ate dinner at a roadside yatai stall for the authentic Hakata experience. Hooray for experiences done while it's brass monkeys outside the flimsy tent shelter of the stall. The beer and umeshuu made it pretty cheer despite the cold outside--less cold than yesterday, actually.

Favourite phrase right now: brass monkeys (As in 'freezing the balls off brass monkeys')

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[Thursday, December 17, 2009]

 
17/12/2009: Fukuoka, Japan

Managed to get the rental car back in one piece. (But GPS-chan kept tipping over during sharp turns as usual.) Ed and I jokingly argued over it--'GPS-chan is a klutz!' 'You can't blame her for being clumsy!'

Flew into Fukuoka via Skymark and took the subway into the city--fastest airport to city transfer ever. Met up with Xian in Canal City--a shopping mall to make the most hardcore shopaholic weep for joy. Which was why she did not meet us at the hotel. She was having too much of a good time. (Btw, we walked to Canal City from Hakata Station.)

The optometrist said the screws holding the lenses of my specs were sticking out too much. And they should have caps. I suppose they should, but they did not come with my specs. He tightened the screws for me, trimmed the screws and capped them. All this free of charge before he even got started on making my new pair of specs.

Dear Mr Optometrist, can I take you home with me?

We ate like kings at dinner time--shabu-shabu for dinner and fondue and pancakes to follow.

Walked through the city without looking at the map to get back to hotel. They jokingly upgraded me from homing pigeon to 'Hedwig the Snowy Owl'. (But do owls have good navigational instincts?)

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[Wednesday, December 16, 2009]

 
16/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

This morning, the weather not good for snorkelling. The wind was coming in so strong and the waves were pretty high. No surfers in sight.

(It's nice to see the ocean in the morning from your bed.) I will miss it.

Had a late breakfast after doing the laundry. Decided to go south to Okinawa Cave World and the WWII Naval H.Q. after returning the gear to our instructor.

BTW: This is a shout-out to Dave from Lone Star Diving--if you are in Okinawa and you need a dive instructor, Dave and his friend Dave (with the boat) will be happy to show you the ropes.

The limestone caves were magnificent. Apparently, it is one long limestone cave and the part that is open to the public is part of the Okinawa Cave World, itself a museum site due to the stuff found in it. But it's basically a theme park above ground and the hordes of tourists and school kids around us made it a bit difficult to enjoy the experience. The habu museum and park interest me not, but to get to the caves you have to buy the ticket for the cave and the traditional village tourist thoroughfare (with sugar cane dye products and the local black sugar).

Had our first taste of sea grapes at lunch--they were great, as was the rafute--Okinawan style pork that reminded all of us of kong bakh. Did not try the goya.

We got to the Naval H.Q. just in time to see the underground bunkers in 45 minutes. It's pretty depressing down there and we kept thinking of Letters from Iwo Jima.

Flying off for Fukuoka tomorrow. Got to pack.

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[Tuesday, December 15, 2009]

 
15/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

After loads of crap wether, we went diving at last. As the shore is choppy like a butcher's block, we went out on another instructor's boat to do the basics and then go down to this reef of soft corals. Forgot the basics for a moment there, but I got around that. The reef was so beautiful and the water was so clear (so bloody clear--there's less algae and plankton growth in winter), I thought I was watching the Discovery Channel. Not many sea urchins, so that is good sign of a healthy reef. A could be right--Okinawa could spoil me for any other dive trips. *le sigh*

As it was a guided dive, the instructor had a hold of my arm--in the light of the current buffeting us around, this was a good thing as we were on a sloping reef. I was so scared of breaking or killing something, I barely used my fins. The instructor let me touch the corals--so soft and velvety. I was mostly wondering if it was all right to touch them--if it breaks off, I'd be pissed at myself.

We had A&W for lunch--something we have not seen in a while. Humour on this trip comprises of Ed accidentally sitting on his takoyaki and saying, 'My balls are flattened' while A and I snigger like ten-year olds. And GPS-chan, who cannot stay on the dashboard to save it's life. 'Bad GPS-chan!'

We went to the onsen after lunch--A's favourite part of the trip. Ah, onsen . . . There were doctor fish at the Chula-U onsen. I finally did what my countrymen have been doing since last year and stuck my feet in. They doesn't half tickle, I'll tell you.

Our gloopy warm sense of well-being was further enhanced when we went for dinner at this Okinawa fish place we passed a few times--Sabani in Chatan-Cho. Sashimi, sake and a set with tempura, fried fish, soup, pickles and rice. We got mildly plastered on the local sake--but not that plastered because we had to drive back. A very short distance, to be sure, but drinking and driving is unadvisable and A had the least sake, so he drove us back.

Nuaaa . . .

It is cold and wet outside. Glad to be warm and dry.

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[Sunday, December 13, 2009]

 
13/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

Started on the discover scuba diving course. Instructor is one of those jolly American ex-marine types who settled on Okinawa. Went through the basics, then headed out for equipment. That was where we ran into a snag or two. The first suit fitted me, but the guys could not get suits to fit them. We went to another place at a naval base to get the suits, but ran into red tape. Apparently, we are on a list of countries-not-allowed-on-this-base. Fancy that.

So the instructor had to get the suits. Alas, the suits did not fit Ed and me. We went snorkelling instead while the instructor went to loan more fitting suits. Weirdly enough, I was fine without a dive suit. There was a warm current going past, I'm sure. Corals and fish were pretty--water was very clear. I love snorkelling and looks like A does too. Ed looks like he needs to get used to the snorkel.

Went down to Kokusai Dori in the evening. Parked illegally--whoops, but we are poor and cheap to boot. Walking the entire stretch like the tourists were were. After ducking into Heiwa Dori Arcade, I found a pharmacy and A found a shop selling school uniforms. It hurt me in the special places when he said he wanted a high-school boy's winter uniform top to wear to work. Dude . . .

But as his birthday had been recent, Ed and I passed him some cash for the uniform tunic.

After walking down Kokusai Dori, we found a place that sold imo tarts. Red sweet potatoes are a specialty around here it seems. We decided to come back for dessert. After going to Animate and to Ootoya for dinner. Animate need more goods according to A. Went to the Ootoya on Kokusai-dori for dinner--without having to queue for over an hour!

It hurts my brain in all the special places, but it's nice to chat with a guy about BL. Seriously. Weird, but refreshing.

14/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

Weather looks cold and rainy.

Cannot go for diving lesson as it looks really choppy. If it were just me, I'd chance it, but it's not.

Drove up to Churaumi Aquarium in the afternoon. Or Ed and A drove and I navigated. Road trips (70km one way and 70km back) . . . are kind of tiring. We waited until we got to the aquarium for lunch, which was a mistake because the tropical curry they had at the food place was not that great. Filling, but not that great.

The aquarium was well worth the trip though. I am of two minds about trained dolphin/any trained animal shows. On one hand, trained animals--on the other, how else would people know how clever dolphins are?

Went to Emerald Beach for a quick look at the place before going back to see manatees and sea turtles. The manatee is a relative of the dugong, the local equivalent back from where we're from. They used to be mistaken for mermaids. We figured that the sailors were really desperate by that time if they thought manatees were mermaids.

The aquarium with the thickest glass panel and largest panel in the world was amazing. You could watch the manta rays and the whale sharks all day long. We almost did that at the Blue Manta cafe--only closing time reminded us that we had to go.

We made it all the way back to Chatan-Cho by 8pm and hunted up some dinner before going back to the hotel.

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[Saturday, December 12, 2009]

 
12/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

In Chatan-Cho, at a shabby hotel with a view of the sea. The free internet and view of the sea make up for the tiny single room.

First driving holiday ever. More accurately, Adrian and Ed are driving. But I am navigating. With a GPS that I don't know how to use. In surroundings that are alien to me.

Somehow, we survived the trip from the rental shop to the hotel. Then from the hotel to Sunset Beach and the Justco for a very late lunch at 3pm. We walked down to Araha Beach and saw the flea market down at Hambly--mainly to soak up the atmosphere. The sunsets along the seawall are gorgeous. Weather is very nice indeed--like walking in an air-conditioned room.

We were too tired to do much after dinner, which meant heading back to the hotel in the dark with me navigating by the GPS that will no stick to the dashboard.

Saw lots of stray kitties. Reminds me of Sweetie back at home. *sniffle*

Tomorrow will bring a diving course.

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[Wednesday, November 25, 2009]

 
Vacation plans:
So the diving is going ahead. In a somewhat rocky way, but we're only young once, so yeah.

Already planning for next year. Oh dear. (But I have enthusiastic friends.)

n + 1 post about kitty:
Sweetie chased a grasshopper yesterday. (My sister asked me how large it was and thought it was a praying mantis when I told her. I know what a grasshopper looks like when I see one.) It got out of the yard at one point and I brought it back in again because she had already wounded it. Sweetie played with it for a short while, then she ate its head. Eww.

Should rename her Ninja Kitty for her way-beyond Olympic level climbing skills.

RL:
I can only say that life is busy, full of stuff and I wish I had more time to do all the stuff I want to do. Money would help too, but as a friend said recently, you don't have to rich to have a good time. (That was said while eating cheap but delicious dim sum and kaya toast at a kopi tiam where the breakfast sets are so old school, the eggs are passed to you in a plastic container half-filled with boiling water. Taking them out too early will result in raw eggs and the withering scorn of the coffee stall's staff. Yes, life is better with $4.50 brunches after group exercise. Oh fuck I am getting old.)

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[Sunday, November 15, 2009]

 
Settled some more vacation stuff with Ad and Ed. (Poor Ad has been so stuck in work that he hasn't even replied to my messages, but he made up for it today by driving us down to get JR rail passes.)

Was terribly amused today when I followed Ad and Ed around and realised that they use more product than I do.

Read "Unseen Academicals" by Terry Pratchett. Cannot see why so many people are nit-picking its flaws. More on this later.

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[Tuesday, November 03, 2009]

 
Went to the talk by Neil Gaiman. Could have been a little more on actual graphic novels and fantasy novels, but whatever. Fangirling knows no time-limits. Queued 2 and a half hours to get one (one *sob*) book signed. Mmm, may be a little better than the 5 hours back in 2005.

Instead of signing up for NaNoWriMo, I think I will try to finish everything I have not finished fic-wise. *laughs at self for being overly optimistic*

Vacation plans may have hit a snag. Need to talk to travel buddies more. Another is how I might be planning next year's vacation before I finish the one in Decmeber. Hmm . . .

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[Friday, June 26, 2009]

 
Home again, home again . . .

Hokng Kong's humidity is worse than home--note to self, don't go to Hk or Macau in the summer.

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[Wednesday, June 24, 2009]

 

Wednesday is free museum day for some of HK's museums. What a brilliant idea. Went to the Ceramics exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the one with Chinese art.

Felt a bit under the weather and went back for an hour's nap before heading out again. The thing about the city centre on HK island is that it is quite walkable. I almost got lost, but managed to find my way again.

Had dinner at Mak's Noodles (wanton and dumpling noodles) and She Wang Fun (claypot rice and seasonal snake dishes) with kit, who made some time in her schedule to entertain me. I did not touch the snake soup. Not that I am squeamish, but it's not even winter yet and the need for warming soups is not very high.

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[Tuesday, June 23, 2009]

 

Took the ferry to Macau for sightseeing and to meet up with parents. That's three countries this holiday.

Made it to Macau and took a free shuttle to the Lisboa--or rather the giant golden mutant offspring of a pineapple and a turnip next door to the Lisboa. It's casino-centre here in downtown Macau--not my kind of thing.

So I didn't get to go to Robuchon a Galera (due to a fully-booked lunch room), but my parents are going for lunch there tomorrow. I missed a Michelin Star restaurant by a hair--ah well.

We had pretty good dim sum at the Lisboa's restaurant instead.

Dear Lonely Planet,

The shopping arcades of the Lisboa are still seedy post-renovation. My dad was propositioned by a few ladies of the afternoon while we were on the way to lunch--with my mum and I standing less than two metres away. Mum and I told my dad that we trusted that he had enought judgement to do the right thing. But later, when my mum caught sight some of the ladies , she grabbed my dad's arm post-haste . . .

*must remember that parents do not move very fast* *must remember that parents never moved very fast*

And Mum lost her handphone sometime after buying souvenir cookies. Blamed it on me as usual. *sigh*

A Filipina at the small park behind the church offered to walk around with me. She had just been laid off and had nothing to do. Nice of her to offer, but I was in a hurry and not in that great a mood. Limited time, limited patience . . .

I did most of the suggested route on my own, having lost the parents somewhere around the Leal Senado.

Made it for my ferry by catching a cab once I hit the main road down at the Leal Senado. Was so hungry that I ate at the Macdonald's at the ferry terminal building.

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[Monday, June 22, 2009]

 

Mildly stressed out by presence of the parental units. Make that very stressed out by the P.U.s.

Had dim sum for breakfast with kit at a restaurant near her place. They still push around the large metal carts with fried carrot cake and other dishes. According to kit, they don't do that in many restaurant back at home anymore as it is potentially painful and dangerous work.

As it turned out, my parents had not had breakfast and were a bit put out by the fact that I had good dim sum. (Communication, we all fail at it.) After breakfast at a nearby McDonald's--I know, I know--and a quick run to a Watson's to buy a brolly and some water for my mum we made our way through the rain to the church and sought sanctuary for a while. After a while, the rain slackened off and we went on to the Peak Tram terminal.

The sales person was trying to sell us combination tickets to Madam Tussuad's, but we were not interested in wax figures. ("No, Dad, a wax figure of Tiger Woods/Bruce Lee/Barrack Obama is still not the real thing . . . ") As it was a cloudy day, the view from the Peak could have been better.

Lunch at a dim sum place kit recommended us. Urp. That was a bit indulgent. Had to walk a bit after that so we went window shopping in Wan Chai.

Went up the Midlevels with the 'rents by escalator and on foot. Dad stopped for foot reflexology while Mum and I moved on to the Catholic church. It was a bit difficult to find, but we got there in the end.

After the excesses of lunch, we all were more than okay to eat pho at a Vietnamese place on the slope under the escalators.

Shuffled back to kit's place. I have dan tat!

Edit: I opened my work email and I am terrified by the new load of stuff waiting to fall on my head when I get home. *stress stress stress*

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[Sunday, June 21, 2009]

 

At Kit's place now. HK is very muggy and warm.

The day did not start out well as it was raining at 6am when I stepped out of the hotel. Yikes. Trundled down to the station in the rain--argh. Dragged damp and chilled self onto train and to Nippori to catch the Skyliner. Then daft old me stopped at Terminal 1 instead of 2. *runs back to Terminal 2* The queue at the check-in was awful.

Finally made it to HK Airport and to the main Island to meet up with kit. Bunking over at kit's apartment--it's nice to have a place for yourself. *quashes thoughts of moving out*

Went out for food (which was an exercise in the evils of pork-and-beef-based products shoved between slices of white bread) before crashing for a while.

Met my parents later for dinner on the Kowloon side before heading back by train. Got to try the ferry next time.

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[Saturday, June 20, 2009]

 
It's shopping time! Frankly, I'm not that kind of person who likes to spend more than 3 hours shopping, but the others are.

So we went to Harajuku in the morning. In Takashita Dori, it was very easy to feel old. My friends went into the stores selling the Korean-style cloths (fluffy layers are in) and the pharmacies (of course) before we hit H&M.

It was crowded in there. But not as bad as Forever-21 next door, which had a queue snaking out the front door. I went on walk-about along Omote-sando before rejoining them inside. To my surprise, at the end of it all, J's friend and I bought the most pieces. (I only bought 3 pieces--two tops and a dress.)

We walked up Omote-sando to look for a lunch venue. Found one in the side-lanes and had a good lunch before going back to Ikebukuro for a short rest before the evening.

J's friend has a friend whose family has a Vietnamese restaurant. So we went to Saigon in Ikebukuro after shopping at Loft for dinner. It was great--rice rolls, squid, pho and dessert.

The time has come for us to part ways. Woe is I. Parting is such sweet sorrow. It has been good--good food and good company. Great company in fact. T___T

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[Friday, June 19, 2009]

 

Ueno and Asakusa today with Ikebukuro to follow.

The Ameyokocho Arcade was a haven for my friends as they found a pharmacy right off and started browsing. (Shiseido products for under 1000yen!)

The pig-out continues. Then the waitress brought out a platter with three different types of tonkatsu on top of shredded lettuce and spaghetti bolognese. Cheese, miso and shiso--yikes. The second platter came out and there was even gyoza tonkatsu.

We tried our best to finish them, but there were two slices left. The staff bagged them in foil--they do not believe in wasting good tonkatsu, so good for them.

Still feeling the tonkatsu form lunch, we headed over to Le Maison for dinner and dessert--dessert being the thing girls have the auxiliary stomach for. (True fact--even the Japanese girls.)

Had the Mont Blanc cake. (I always have one when I'm in Japan.) And it was fabulous.


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[Thursday, June 18, 2009]

 

Tsukiji in the morning and I was planning to have a go at the queue outside Daiwa Sushi. *rubs hands in anticipation*

J left her huge pro-camera at the hotel because Tsukiji was going to be crowded and cramp. ML went to visit her company office in Tokyo halfway through the walk around the outer market while the others bought dried seafood. Played dodge with the vehicles across parking lot--one of the few places in Japan where no-one cares about pedestrians--and I suspect SX and J were terrified throughout it all. Saw the warehouses and shuffled off quickly towards the inner market where Daiwa Sushi still maintains a three row queue just a shop or two down from the rows in front of Sushi Dai. After half and hour, we were in!

Nomnomnomnomnom . . .

There's not much else to say. Really.

Ginza in the afternoon. It's a bit out of our price range, but there was the 100% Chocolate Cafe (Kiyobashi Station, Exit 5) by Meiji. With 56 types of chocolate!

J had an unfortunate reaction to that one raw shrimp on the sushi--she's allergic to them, poor thing--and we retired back to Ikebukuro for her to rest and detox. It got much better after a lot of water and a short nap.

J's Japanese friend joined us at dinner and we had dessert at Denny's afterwards because it's the only place that opens late (24 hours a day). Pancakes at 10pm! Girl talk is something very different, when done in groups like this. I tried my best, but it's not really my thing.

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[Wednesday, June 17, 2009]

 
16/06/09:
We went to Hakone with J's Japanese friend--who was not the one doing the guiding. It's onsen time!

The Hakone Freepass is a very useful thing. It covers all transport in Hakone (except for that bus up to the pension) and can give discounts at attractions. For once, we had the time to go visit one of those attractions.

We trained it to Hakone (after a slightly late start due to an "accident" on the Odakyu Line) and went to the Hakone Open Air Museum.

Lunch was at the Bella Foresta restaurant buffet. The chocolate mochi in the dessert section was fab. Then we remembered that we were there to see the museum. Eheheh . . .

It was a fabulous experience. "Man and Pegasus" was our favourite statue. And "Closer" was the gag favourite and will henceforce be known as the "passed out drunk position"/"ate too much and passed out position".

The lovely Hakone-no-mori Okada has been putting up with the likes of me since 2005 or so. I pop by with relatives and friends now and then and this was the second largest group I brought over.

I had asked for the "Japanese culture experience" advertised on the website and I thought it would be small individualised portions of sashimi and soba. The feast that awaited us was phenomenal assortment of dishes with sashimi on a small boat-like dish and massive fried shrimp that would give a guy penis envy. We forged forward bravely, no doubt regretting the large amount of lunch we had. I got unwarranted praise for organising the trip--dude, I only wrote an email to the pension and asked.


My travel-planning skills are apparently awesome. (You try travelling with people who leave all the planning to you for six or seven trips and you'd be good at this organising business too.) But I won't give up my day-job. Being a travel guide is almost as stressful as my real job.

The arrival of an unexpected complication has taught me to pay attention to the smaller details and not underestimate my body's ability to screw up. (I sound like a fortune cookie.)

17/06/09:
The anti-clockwise route around Hakone was punctuated with rest stops and much food sampling--especially at Owakudani. Like wasabi ice-cream. And black nikku-man. Pluse egg ice-cream (custard-flavoured). On top of the black eggs cooked in the sulphur pits (seven years extra on your life bar).

Back in Tokyo, weshoved the bags into lockers and went out to Shinjuku to shop and have dinner. Shinjuku is a kind of sensory overload plus neon plus a lot of people thronging the streets around the busiest train station in the world. I was feeling it when they were in the pharmacy and I was wut? because my hormones were at an all time low.

Dinner--after a mad search of crowded yakitori joints--made everything better. That and the shochu with lemon.

I don't normally drink during a meal--after, yes. The thing is, this group of my friends are non-drinkers. Outside of that one time at a club, I don't think I've ever had a drink with them. (My job and my friends probably kept me from becoming an alcoholic.)

Laundry time.

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[Monday, June 15, 2009]

 
This holiday is going to be the one where I might gain weight despite the walking. Went to the Yokohama Ramen Museum and had two bowls of ramen. Mini-bowls, they were labelled. Still filling though. The Sapporo ramen shop Eki was the best--with an inch of oil floating above the soup and springy, almost al dente noodles. (Slightly better than the bankara last night when the lard was floating on top of the stock. Delicious and warming.)

Yokohama's Chinatown is still a touristy tourist trap. We had to be the only tourists who were there and did not eat Chinese food or buy a large nikku-man. (Teh irony.)

PSA: The Curry Museum closed last year, but not all guidebooks are up to date--like my friend's guidebook. (Make your own--it's always better.) The walk was not wasted as we went to the nearest Uniqlo and Daiso to shop.

Got a bit damp today. It rained when we were going back to the hotel and I shared my brolly with my friend who forggot her own. This has been the rainiest season I have spent in Japan.

Hakone tomorrow.

(I doubt I will find any tigers for my aunt. Those things are made for the new year.)

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[Sunday, June 14, 2009]

 
Today was a leisurely Sunday with a lot of appointments and a lot of food. But at least I walked a lot. Shinjuku Park is very nice on weekends--everyone lolling around on the grass and me sitting on a bench reading BL manga I bought from Akihabara in the morning (half-way behind a bush because there were children running around). I'd have lolled on the grass too, but I didn't bring my poncho.

Met Ange for lunch, which was monjyu at an okonomiyaki place in Shinjuku. Smelling faintly of pork and cheese/seafood monjyu, we wandered off to Afternoon Tea for afternoon tea. For the price of the tea, we sat our butts down for two hours before heading for Nakano and the warren of shops that is Nakano Broadway (very misleading place name--it's a lot of narrow corridors), all filled with assorted goods and items of specialised interest.

Went back to Ikebukuro and the usual run-around Otome Dori--eheheh . . . An SMS from one of my friends brought me back to the station and the travel party was almost complete. Met J's Japanese friend a little later and we went out for dinner. The thing about going out with friends instead of family members is that you stay out very much later.

And I drank coffee for the first time in years. A very good macha latte.

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[Saturday, June 13, 2009]

 
Now I remember why I don't like transits. Expensive airport food, boring lounges and arriving in Tokyo very late. *yawn*

Note to self and for anyone else doing late flights:
- Food at HK airport is expensive.
- Trains from the airport get fewer towards the end of the day.
- Counters for discount tourist transport passes close at 9pm.

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[Friday, June 12, 2009]

 
RL:
In my everlasting quest to be a jack of all trades (and thus eventually the master of none), I took up Japanese clay craft--another not-that-cheap hobby.

Made a dim sum set for a friend (left), which I will be carting over when I go overseas. (First efforts, ehhh . . . Could have been better.) Got spring rolls too--on the square plate, but that was before the pic was taken.

I'm going overseas. Just as the WHO declared a pandemic. Joy.

First time going on-board the plane with the full kit-and-caboodle of surgical masks, hand-sanitiser and disinfectant wet-wipes.

But it's with friends and not-my-aunt. Fingers and all limbs crossed now.

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[Tuesday, December 23, 2008]

 
Day 10: 23/12/2008
Back in Ikebukuro after the 3 hour ride from Osaka.

An explanation of the things with the cows:
My aunt is born in the Year of the Cow. As CNY is early next year, the ceramic zodiac animals the Japanese use for ornaments make a good gift.

So that's 28 small toothpick-holder cows and 1 small cow for my aunt's friend, 2 pairs of cows for my uncle and aunt on the paternal side, 1 pair of celadon-hued cows for my aunt herself.

Moo.

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The cat left something in the box at [3:22 AM] 0 comments

 
Day 8: 21/12/2008
A-Bomb Dome and Museum in the morning. Should set aside an entire morning for this as the museum was informative, fairly objective and very, very depressing. Especially about how mankind is probably going to kill itself off if the arms race goes on.

Day 9: 22/12/2008
Himeiji Castle for most of the day. My aunt gets cranky when she gets tired.

We did, however, score more cows for her.

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[Saturday, December 20, 2008]

 
Day 7: 20/12/2008
Kyoto to Hiroshima by the Shinkansen.

Miyajima and Itsukushima shrime were beautiful, but not as panoramic as Amanohashidate. Or perhaps I should see the view from Mt. Misen. My aunt was tired, so we went back to Hiroshima to check-in.

The cow-hunt, it continues.

Or not. We stayed in for dinner and an early night. Tomorrow, the A-Bomb Dome.

The speciality of Miyajima is oysters. Baked, raw, grilled, bbq-ed oysters. In rice, in soup, in noodles. Shame I don't eat them. The manjuu here are called momiji and are shaped like momiji. I didn't get any as gifts as they expire too fast. I did eat one--dipped in batter and deep-fried--on a stick. Mmm . . . battered and deep-fried cheese-manjuu--it's the local version of the deep-fried Mars Bar with a choice of cream, red bean paste and cheese.

May not have Internet for a while. Withdrawl might set in.

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[Friday, December 19, 2008]

 
Day 6: 19/12/2008
We went to Amanohashidate today by direct train. It was an extra 1480yen for the line not covered by the JR Pass.

Even my Aunt admitted that the view from the hillside at Ichinomiya was spectacular. It just was. And I did the looking-at-the-sand-bar-between-your legs. Because everyone and their grandmother was doing it and it's a thing you do while on vacation. Like eating soft-serve vanilla ice-cream while looking at one of the three most scenic views.

And going to onsen! Chie-no-yu by the station is okay for a nice soak before getting on the train back to Kyoto. I just like soaking in lots of hot water . . . because the bath-tub at home has not worked since I was 15 and was converted into a shower.

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[Thursday, December 18, 2008]

 
Day 5: 18/12/2008

Went to Hikone to see Hikone-jo. As castles go, it does great job of making sure any foes who try to attack it would have a very hard time getting anywhere near the main keep. Which might be why it was never attacked between 1600-something to 1860.

Went back to Kyoto earlier than expected. A bit disappointing that I didn't get to see the Castle Road.

I must have screwed up when I booked the tix for Amanohashidate as I got the second train instead of the first. I think my kyuu-ji sounded like jyu-ji--argh, cannot even get the pronunciation right! But fortunately, the tix were changeable. Thank you JR Rail Pass!

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Apparently, there is a poll (about the importance of the internet in our daily lives) that shows that 46% of women would give up sex for two weeks rather than give up internet access.

Hmmm . . .

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[Wednesday, December 17, 2008]

 
Day 4: 17/12/2008
Made it to Kyoto in good time. (There was no snow over Nagoya like back in 2006.)

Nishiki Market before lunch at the Teramachi Arcade. Kyoto confections are so cute and pretty. Must resist until I get the green tea cakes with soy powder.

Gion and Ponchoto are still nice in the evening. It's the kind of thing that has to be experienced. Plus my aunt doesn't drink and I hate cigarette smoke, so going to a bar is out of the question. Had a long walk down Shijo, but not without stopping at Takashimaya to get more cows. I am beginning to think my aunt does it on purpose to see the salespeople wrap them up.

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[Tuesday, December 16, 2008]

 
Day 3: 16/12/2008
Did the Imperial Palace tour in the morning. There is not much to see as most areas are out of bounds, but the commentary is interesting.

Lunch at Tsukiji. Edogin has great lunch sets. Ikura sushi--nomnomnom. I knew my aunt would want to go see it despite her grumpiness. Instant expresso coffee and zodiac place mats make her day. As do ceramic cows. We found a new variant at Matsukaya in Ginza and she was over the moon again.

Did a very tai tai thing and had tea and coffee at Cafe le Doutor at Ginza. Very relaxed Tokyo visit this time around with no running around. One of the better holidays when I don't have to run around like a nutter.

I went to Bic Camera in the evening to find a camera battery charger and the Choro-Qs (toy cars) my colleague wanted. No Fuji chargers, but a Pentax one works just fine and the salesperson was nice enough to let me try it out first. None of the Choro-Qs my colleague wanted were there, but it was a terrible thing to walk into the toy department there and see airbrushes on display. Double-action gravity-feed airbrushes. And compressors. Argh. Want so bad.

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[Monday, December 15, 2008]

 
Day 2: 15/12/2008

News in the morning: No more gawking at the tuna auctions at Tsukiji. Tourists are disappointed. (Have not gone to the tuna auctions. Too early even for the likes of me. I just like to eat raw tuna.)

Ueno Park in the morning and Ameya-yokocho after that. Ameyoko is like Tsukiji Market with more clothing, shoe and bargain drug stores. Crowded, bright and noisy--good for bargains on seaweed, seafood, clothes, etc.

Lunch was salmon don eaten on the street at a hot-chair diner (you have to eat and be done in 30 minutes) in Ameyoko, which was reasonable for the price.

Aunt did not want to go to Odaiba as the one-day ticket was pricy. (Objectively speaking, it was pricy.) So we headed for Shinjuku where my aunt goes gaga over the service at Takashimaya. Yes, they do quality wrapping and give great service even when you buy ceramic cows. We are going to have a whole herd of them by the end of this trip.

Skyscraper distract in Shinjuku. View from the 45th floor of Tower 1 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building (aka Civil Servant Centre in Tokyo) was very nice, but shame about the glass windows--it's hard to get a shot with the reflection. Probably left camera battery charger at home--darn it. Wonder how much it costs to get another one here?

I confess--I went out doujinshi shopping again after getting back to Ikebukuro. And I brought all of them in my knapsack to the post office behind Sunshine City to mail them back by SAL. I don't usually sneak around like that, but my aunt bitches about mailing stuff home all the time. So for my piece of mind, thank goodness for the later closing hours at the Toshima-ku main post office. (On the other hand, would I have gotten printed matter rate if they were not in a box?)

And on a side note, cannot see Mutuality by CLAMP in bookstores--wow, it sold out fast.

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[Sunday, December 14, 2008]

 
In Ikebukuro.

Did the Otome Dori trawl and bought 4 kilos of doujinshi already. Oh dear.

--------------------------
Edit the first: Day 1 in Detail

Landed at Narita. First thing I saw after coming out of customs was the police cordon at the men's room outside. If the crime scene tape wasn't enough, the presence of large police dogs proved that this was probably something serious. Scary.

Got to Tokyo via the Keisei Line--which tries to grill your buttocks slowly on the way via its under-the-seat heating system--and got to Ikebukuro to check into the hotel. Crowds here are still intense on a Sunday. Quick dinner followed by shopping. Found the cows for my aunt and she is over the moon.

Doujinshi hunting on Otome Dori after my aunt was safely deposited in Sunshine City. In terms of second-hand doujinshi, most ex to cheapest: K-Books > Meikidou > Mandarake

But Toranoana has new books at good prices. Have not checked out the secondhand books yet. Eyes hurt from dryness.

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[Saturday, December 06, 2008]

 
I got a call from Ad which I missed because my phone is permanently on silent mode. He's in Japan and was wondering if I was there.

Not for another week, former travel-buddy, not for another week.

Speaking of which . . .
- Air tix: check
- Travel insurance: check
- Rail passes: check
- Money: check
- Hotel reservations: check
- Maps: check
- Itinerary: check
- Pack suitcase: not yet . . . only 30% done.

Though I wish I was going with Ad and Ed / any of my other travel-buddies. My aunt . . . is my aunt. It's hard to go doujinshi shopping with your aunt.

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[Saturday, June 26, 2004]

 
It's the first real official day of work and I've got deadlines as well as a stack of stuff to get through before tomorrow morning. And I'm trying to figure out how to see Japanese text on my original Enzai game. (Thank goodness for the Internet--you can find anything online . . .)

Got to get work done, got to get work done . . .

Yeah but it's really *porny* . . . and the fandom is porny and warped (one has to be if one is already in that fandom) because some people actually *like* Durer (doubtlessly because he's pretty).

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Travel Log: "Hida beef . . . so good you could even eat it on it's own."
16/06/2004--Nagoya to Takayama
Got up early to leave for Takayama by the JR line. The view from the train improved as we got out of the city areas and into the hills and mountains.

Ryokan was lovely--pity we could only stay one night. Lunch served as a reminder of how fresh everything was in the semi-countryside. (I didn't even like watermelon but the one they had in the set was amazingly sweet and cooling.) Honestly cannot say when these city-bred bones have had stuff that fresh before.

Set out after lunch to go to the Hida Takayama Folk Village, a collection of authentically rustic village houses. (Outside the main entrance and in front of the gift shops was the largest lucky cat figure I've ever seen. It's waving paw could probably send a grown man to his knees. I think Ange has a video clip of it somewhere . . .)

Will post pictures of rustic houses and rustic weaving looms and tools and wells and the like, once I get WSFTP set up here. (Unfortunately, at least two schools were there--a local design school and an overseas exchange group--hence it was not as quiet as it could have been.)

Had a combini dinner in preparation for tomorrow when Sabrina and I would go for a beef dinner. *rubs hands in anticipation*

18/06/2004--"Atsuiiiii . . ."

Arrived at midmorning for the morning market by the river. Should have bought them vinyl umbrellas when I saw them (I have crazy friends who want vinyl umbrellas--and they were the normal ones too).

Then we went off for walkies. Through the roads and up the hills. We saw the house with the best view of Takayama. We wanted that house.

Hida beef shabu-shabu--which is like steamboat only no seafood and no fishballs anywhere--rated amongst my top 10 meals ever. And we didn't even have the premium grade Hida beef, having settled for normal average grade Hida beef due to the prices. Did not regret the 1980yen for the shabu-shabu though. *sigh*

First real ofuro as the ryokan we were staying in had a common public bath for ladies. No comfy adjusting of the temperature in the personal tubs like before. I think I know what a boiled lobster felt like. (And they weren't kidding when they said that you could get faint after five minutes.)

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[Monday, June 21, 2004]

 
I have Internet in the room at last! *dances*

I had to take my mid-term test today--I fear it's not going to be good . . . *sniffle*

Travel Log: "They have God in their vending machines!"
15/06/2004--Tokyo to Nagoya
Took the Shinkansen to Nagoya early in the morning to meet up with Ange and Sabrina again. Plans for the day were to visit Nagoya Castle and, if time permitted, the Tokugawa Art Museum.

Time and aching limbs did not permit everything (and it was very, very sunny and hot). Was very impressed with the moat at Nagoya-jo.

Went to see the TV Tower and the shopping district around the Central Park instead. (Yes, the 9-floor Mandarake there probably had something to do with it . . . I was spending in moderation--not yet 30 dj in the bag . . .)

Buggered off back to the hotel to do a tonne of laundry.

16/06/2004--Daytrip from Nagoya to Inuyama

Walked from Inuyama Station on a route that would take us through most of the temples, samurai houses before getting to Inuyama castle.

This was also the day Ange found God in a vending machine and bought a can. (This spawned lame semi-sacriligious jokes that lasted the entire trip. Whenever someone looked at a vending machine, another person would say, "Are you looking for God?") Apparently, God was rather sweet. We took God to the temples and the old samurai-era houses. Then Ange made me put God into the recycling bin so that she could take a picture.

Inuyama-jo was excellent. We had an English-speaking volunteer guide (mainly because we got there before the tour buses did) and he was such a nice guy. Climbed up all the way and saw the view.

We had bought the pass for most of the main attractions in Inuyama. And it was good because we got admission to the castle, the cultural artifacts museum, the festival float museum and the Dondenkan for 600yen.

Tripped off to Jo-an in time for the last tea ceremony. Met a Japanese singing teacher who was nice enough to speak with us over tea. Promised her a postcard after she was nice enough to sing us a traditional song.

Back in Nagoya, I managed to get a soak in the bath. (For this, poor sad tub-deprived me brought bath salts.)

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The cat left something in the box at [6:48 AM] 0 comments

 
Travel Log: "Pots!"
13/06/2004--Osaka
Museum of Oriental Ceramics: My taste run towards the older stuff. Celadon looks much better to me despite the fact that it is an older kind of pottery. And the copper-painted Ming Dynasty basin looked much more delicate than the bright blue cobalt-painted ones too. There was a Gennai exhibit of Tokugawa Era pottery in shades of electric green. Very pretty indeed.

Shopped at the Shinsaibashi Arcade all the way to Ebisubashi-suji. Book-Off and K-Books are all along Shinsaibashi-suji. Namba area and Den-Den Town next. (Found book stores very easily. I don't know if it's the maps I got or the dj-radar though Ange swears it's the porn-radar. I've even found a Death Note doujinshi in the first shop I stepped into.)

14/06/2004--Tokyo
Shinkansen to Tokyo from Osaka. Activated JR Pass. Met up with Ange and Sabrina at the hostel before running off to Shimokitazawa to recreate that lunch we had in December with Ange's friends. Ran off afterwards to do the doujinshi run.

Completed the dj/manga/game run in about 6 hours: Shibuya --> Harajuku --> Nakano --> Ikebukuro (to meet up again with Ange and Sabrina)

Ange bought FMA dj. This is the start of a long and dark road, trust me on this. (It usually starts with denial.)

K-Books still has the best value for money, followed by Meikido. The KAC Shop and Mandarake are getting a tad expensive. (And I bought significantly less dj this time around, really.)

Ate very cheap hot-plate food for dinner near the hostel. Ange and Sabrina had to run to catch the bus for Nagoya so we had to split up again and meet the next day.

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The cat left something in the box at [6:20 AM] 0 comments

 
Kyoto, Palace Side Hotel:

Met up with kit and kit's family in Shin-Osaka yesterday. Ran into a spot of bad weather in Kyoto today. A little damp but still okay. Free Internet! (It helps a lot, it does . . .)

Bought lots of omiyage. Must keep better track of trip as I have only two and a half days left. Reading the manga Death Note right now (as I've already read Ange's copy of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown in three sessions and N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto on the train--I have to learn to slow down a little when reading -_-;;).

The laundry's cycling and this place provides drying racks, bless them for their foresight. Have to call my mother or else she will freak. (She would freak even more if she knew about the dark streets from Shin-Osaka station to the hotel that I walked down alone.)

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Dear Bravenet, take your damn counter and your pop-up ads with you and don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

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[Saturday, June 19, 2004]

 

Kanazawa, Freaks Cybercafe in Katamachi (Cos I will be a freak until the day until the dawn . . .):

Met Ange and Sabrina in Tokyo. Have been touring smaller towns between Tokyo and Osaka. Scenery is gorgeous, food is amazing and most people were kind to us confused foreigners.

Hida beef--Sabrina and I have waxed lyrical over you. No beef can ever compare. The shabu-shabu dinner was a tad expensive but it was worth in the end.

Watching Ange as a Travel Nazi makes life interesting. ^^

(Yahoo! has upgraded my mail. Whoo-hoo! More space for the spammers to fill up with crap about enlarging my non-existent schlong.)

Buggering off now until I can get to the cheaper cafe in Osaka again . . . and hopefully less smoky.

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[Saturday, June 12, 2004]

 
Location:
Internet cafe above Book-Off in the Shinsaibashi Arcade. (Not bad for 200yen an hour, despite the Japanese interface.)

12/06/04:
Transits are hellish. Double transits even more so. Made to Osaka in one piece. Staying in Awaza. The hotel rooms here have the amazing ability to make my former hostel rooms look spacious.

13/06/04:
Went to the Museum of Oriental Ceramics--antique jars, basins, ewers, vases and plates. (Which would no doubt lead to the following conversation later on:

Ange: We watched PoT on Sunday. So what did you do?
Me: I looked at a lot of pots.


Going to walk around the rest of Shinsaibashi and maybe even Amerika Mura. But first to K-Books . . .

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