Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Map of the Countries I've Visited

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Putting the Toothpaste Back Into the Tube

I wrote this on the flight from Narita to Seattle. And so it’s over. For now. Time to mentally put the toothpaste back into the tube, go home, put the ring back into my nose and get back to my same old used to be. Back to responsibilities of work and home ownership and being a 21st century civilized adult male. Oy! If I’ve learned one thing on these recent overseas trips it’s that age brings more impairment than wisdom. My feet hurt. I’m tired. No, I’m exhausted. And my feet hurt. They ache in that kind of needing to have them soaked and massaged kind of way that I’ve never experienced before. Instead of feeling my oats I’m feeling my age. I’m still not sorry that I go to a foreign countries and hit the streets brute force solo. But I fear that soon I’ll have a bigger appetite for overseas travel than my feet can carry. Asia is still calling me. I don’t know why but it still does. And I don’t want to answer that call from a window seat on a tour bus, I don’t want to be spoon fed. The only time I’ve ever taken an organized tour was back in 1984 when I went to Guangzhou because the xenophobic ChiCom (Chinese communist) government of the day said that tours were mandatory for American citizens, no solo travel was allowed. Will I go back to Asia and do it my way again? Hell yes. While I still can.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Friday, November 24, 2006

Akihabara and Christmas

Akihabara (or Akiba) is the well known Tokyo geek neighborhood. It’s home to gizmo, tool, electrical supply, manga and anime shops. For me it was must see JP. While there’s plenty of selection in Akihabara the prices are high, maybe 30% higher to someone used to shopping at Costco, New Egg and EBay in the US. It’s either a happy coincidence or price fixing but prices are pretty much the same from shop to shop. Whatever it’s failings the USA is a shoppers paradise. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t score anything in Akihabara. I couldn’t leave without a USB coffee warmer and a USB fan. No sign of the elusive USB butt warmer or USB butt cooler but maybe my shopping techniques are more set to shop but not to drop. I know that they’re out there somewhere in Tokyo because just about everything electronic and is. Japan’s industry is world famous for good reason. And Japan was well built with Japanese made precision tough tools. With so many lousy tools on the market back home I bought several Vessel screwdrivers. I also scored a few electrical plugs and connectors that are made for tight and/or angle installations, Home Depot and Lowes carry crap. I steered clear of the anime and manga shops. I peeked into a few and saw a staple of Japanese men, soft core pr0n comic books. I had heard that some of the women handing out flyers on the main drag of Akiba, Chuo-Dori, were dressed as French maids. It’s true but I have no idea why. One of the French maids I saw was handing out flyers for a restaurant called Melty Burger. The Japanese seem to borrow freely from other cultures. Americans borrow too but in the USA it’s because we’re borrowing from people who brought their culture to our culture when they came to the US and it gets smushed together somehow in the diversity we always hear about. Not so in Japan, aside from African and other exotic prostitutes the country is pretty much closed off from the immigration and melting pot ways of the USA. Japan is a homogeneous country, just about everybody here is Japanese. There’s a small Korean minority and the Japanese supposedly don’t let the Koreans forget who’s number one (and it's not the Koreans). So the Japanese are free to pick and chose whatever cultural elements they want, often from TV, and to interpret it any way they want. How they interpret a teenager in a frilly French maid’s outfit handing out flyers for a restaurant is beyond me, please email me with any suggestions. The Japanese have also adopted Christmas. It’s Christmas Jim, but not as we know it. For one thing, except for a small minority there’s no Christ in Japanese Christmas. Never had it, probably never will. But they go nuts with gift giving and trees, ornaments, ribbons, tinsel, Santa Claus and many of the usual trappings of the season. TV this morning was wall to wall with live shots of Christmas lights in Los Angeles and the Macy's Thanksgiving parade in New York. This year a special guest will be showing up in Tokyo, one who loves little children and knows what they want in the true spirit of the season. Michael Jackson is coming to town. Just because it has no religious significance doesn’t mean that stores treat it any differently here. At least in the US we pretend that the holiday is grounded in religion. Sometimes. But in Japan they don't even pretend. Stores play wall to wall Christmas music, some of it with quite religious lyrics. Since most of the population has no idea what the words mean the religion in some of the songs means nothing to them. Maybe the Japanese have more in common with we Americans than I originally thought.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Morning Coffee Tokyo Style

This is a Doutor Coffee shop. One difference from home is that coffee shops don't open until 7am in Tokyo. Another difference is that smoking is just fine in some coffee shops in Tokyo, smokers doesn't seem to carry the social stigma that they do in the US. You can light up nearly anywhere here without getting nasty looks or being considered a pariah. I sat down with my small cup of coffee ($2.20 US) and smelled cigarettes. The salaryman next to me was puffing away. And so was everybody else. The only person in the place who seemed to give this activity more than a passing thought was me.

One woman who appeared to be in her early twenties walked in wearing a surgical mask. Many people here do so that wasn't all that unusual. She ordered her drink, sat down, pulled the mask down exposing her mouth and instead of sipping her drink she lit up and began to puff away. So I guess that not everybody here who wears a surgical mask in public does it for health concerns, maybe it's just a fashion statement.

Mmmm, German Dog, Lettuce Dog and Bacon Spicy Dog.

Tokyo - Arrived

Greetings from Tokyo. My hotel room may be the size of a closet but it has Internet access and one of those squirting electric "washlets".
To go or not to go, that is the question. But first I'd have to eat something and so far the food looks kinda strange. I got in late and it's raining. Good thing that there's a 7-11 near my hotel. 7-11's and nearly identical convenience stores are everywhere, at least in this neighborhood (Nihombashi). I bought some food (I have no idea what) at the 7-11, I don't think I'll ever get used to having the cashier at the 7-11 bow. The hotel clerk who checked me in also bowed. I have a feeling that there will be more bowing in my immediate future Tokyo is neat and orderly. I could see it while the plane was still in the air, in parking lots cars were parked neatly with exactly the same amount of space surrounding them. The roads were orderly. Every time I've flown in the states in the last few years people whipped out their cell phones the minute the wheels touched the ground. Not so when my plane landed. I walked around for an hour or 2 and have yet to hear a car horn. The train from Narita airport had signs on the windows telling people not to use their cell phones and I heard nobody disregarding that request. There was lots of texting going on though. Bicycles are left in the street without locks, everybody waits for the WALK sign, nom matter how dead the traffic, people place wet umbrellas into holders outside of a store and know that the umbrella will be there when they return. This bears further investigation. But I've been up for nearly 24 hours, time to crash.